Monday, April 29, 2013

Notes from a move

This is my second morning in the new apartment. I'm sitting at our kitchen table writing and I can hear  birds chirping madly in the trees out back. Unfortunately I can't roll up the shades and enjoy the sights because we don't have curtains yet, and I'm sitting around in my bathrobe. But it's still lovely to listen to!

Most pictures are from the keys handover, which happened on Friday afternoon. I'm glad that I took some pre-move, before I exploded bags and boxes all over the floors.

The kitchen. It's small, but I love that it's open on both ends. All pictures were taken with my phone, unfortunately - I have yet to find my camera in the boxes.
Brand new stove! (Ok, well, 2 years old or so). I'm not saying this is the ONLY reason we chose this apartment, but...

Here are my notes from the move and the new place:

- Family is invaluable. B's brother and parents came down from Basel to help us, and there is no way we could've done it without them. In one day, we managed to load/unload 2 van fulls of stuff, including an absurdly large, heavy clothes closet (also cheap - I admit, I was half hoping it would fall apart in the move and we'd be forced to purchase a new one). We also cleaned the entire old apartment top to bottom (saving us hundreds on hiring a move-out cleaning). Also, family makes things more fun. Not that I totally approve of tossing bags of clothes from a 2nd story balcony to try to catch in the street (ahem, B's brother), but having them help made the entire experience more enjoyable. (Note to self: Learn German faster. Become fluent, then learn Spanish. Work on that).

Living room (+ some of B's leg). This is only about half of it - it's really quite large and over looks our patio and the hill behind the apartment building.
- The walls/ceilings must be way thicker here than in the old place because even though we saw several people on Saturday while moving our stuff, I haven't heard a soul yesterday or this morning, even though our patio overlooks a playground (I thought surely someone would be there on a Sunday). It's kinda creepy, just me and the birds. If I think too hard, I can imagine that I've somehow missed the zombie apocalypse.

Master bedroom. So many windows (need so many curtains)!
- I was thrilled to discover that our patio has two (very small) flower beds! I already had plans to do some fruit/vegetable container gardening, but now I also get to dig in the dirt for decoration.

- B's first priority was to get the internet working, and he did so at around 6 am on Sunday morning. I ragged him about it pretty hard, but I'm just as addicted to it as he is, and I was happy to have it so quickly.

- I was proud of myself b/c I packed an overnight bag for us, so we had clothes and toiletries on Sunday morning when we woke up surrounded by boxes. I think got the idea off of Pinterest, and it was a good idea.

Spare room. I'm pushing for B's desk + gaming computers (yes, plural) to be in the living room so that I can make this into a craft room. Negotiations are ongoing.
- I also saw a tip on Pinterest about putting hanging clothes in trash bags, so they are easy to transport/rehang. This was a crap idea, frankly. I gave up on it after doing B's shirts. My dresses/skirts/tops are all different lengths and it was a mess. I ended up keeping them on hangers and just placing them in boxes.

One of the two half-bathrooms. Not that interesting, but I wanted to show it because we put the cabinet in and I bought some hand soap for it. PROGRESS. (also, in case you're wondering, the other bathroom has the bathtub/shower. And TWO SINKS - what luxury!).
- I thought "Well, we don't have that much stuff, so I don't really need to label the nine boxes I've packed." No no no - ALWAYS LABEL THE BOXES. I still haven't found my German class books, which I will need in approximately 3 hours.

- Moving across an ocean is tiring because everything had to fit in a box or suitcase (or get thrown out/donated). Moving across a city is tiring because packing/moving/partial unpacking all must occur in the same day. Given the choice, I'm not sure which I'd do again. Oh wait, yes I do - neither. I hate moving.

- My parents are in for a not-so-fun surprise when they visit. My sisters and I have had tendencies to live on rather high-floor apartments without elevators in the US, and my parents were always willing to help us move, even if it meant driving cross-country to do it. I was excited to tell them that this time, we have an elevator in the building (yay!). What I failed to tell them is that the apartment building itself is on a rather steep hill, and there are at least a flight or two worth of stairs before the main door. At least they won't be carrying furniture...

- It's going to be a long, slow process to fully settle in. B didn't have much furniture (understatement - monks have more items in their cells), so we have a lot of future purchases. Which of course means deciding what type of couch, bed, desk, etc, to buy. Which of course means deciding how we want to arrange everything. Which of course means we need to decide what furniture we actually want (sofa and a separate bed? love seat? sofa with a long part so you can lie down? sofa bed? trundle bed? People who are planning to visit, feel free to weigh in - your vote counts!).

- None of the big ticket items are actually our top priority, as I initially expected they would be. Instead, I'm desperate to get my hands on simpler things, like a shower curtain rod, curtains, and (for me) kitchen storage units. Unfortunately yesterday was Sunday, and the Zurich Hauptbahnhof (the only place that allows stores to be open on Sunday) does not have any stores that feel the need to carry shower curtain rods. Possibly because they assume that people who move into a new apartment aren't so stupid that they fail to notice such a critical item is missing. Well, I showed them!

Entryway looking through to the bathroom (if you look VERY carefully, you can see the absence of a shower curtain rod - I probably should've done that on Friday).
- Despite the lack of furniture and boxes in piles, I am so, so excited to be here! It truly feels like a place where B and I can make a home together. Even though it's currently so empty it echoes (and the bed is still the only comfortable place to sit), the apartment makes me feel more permanent in Zurich, and less like I'm crashing at my boyfriend's dorm room. And I like that :)

Instead of showing the mess, I've decided to show you the success. This is my pile of successfully-emptied-bags, and it grows daily. You gotta find what works for you, and I find that the growing pile gives me a sense of accomplishment that all the half-filled boxes and containers strewn around does not. Positive outlook ftw.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thoughts after graduate school

B and I are safely moved into our new apartment! Yay, I'm so excited and...totally overwhelmed with unpacking and all the items that need to be purchased. But mainly yay!

This post is something I wrote last week. I promise I have more awkward neighbor and moving encounters in the future, but it's something I have been processing ever since arriving in Zurich, and I wanted to share it.

According to my parents, I first declared my intention to earn a science PhD when I was around 8 years old. I clung to this goal throughout college and 2 years after, when working as a research technician. When I finally started my biomedical PhD at an elite university, I was full of high hopes and secret ambitions (secret, but perhaps not unusual – at the beginning, we all daydream about the Nobel prize). Six and a half years later, I emerged with my degree. Along the way, I lost my hopes, ambitions, and – worst of all – my enthusiasm.
In science research, enthusiasm is a necessary trait for survival. When setting up new systems or experiments, you basically learn how to fail in every possible way. It’s hard to imagine another job in which a 90% failure rate is accepted – but in science research, it’s expected. If you can’t retain your enthusiasm, science research quickly becomes an exercise in frustration, in which you beat your head against the same wall over and over again because there are endless variables and tweaking any one of them may make the experiment work. Of course, frustration can set in from a number of other factors as well: never having a weekend off, working 60-80 hours a week, working through holidays, or advisors who utterly control students’ fates but have never been trained in how to guide, advise, or manage.
Through it all, however, students were always told we should persevere – why? Because we should have that much dedication – and it should never falter. I have friends who did not pursue PhDs, and I can’t recall any of them ever talking about bosses who called them into their office and talked to them about their apparent lack of desire or interest in their job. In most jobs, people are judged on their performances – being on time, being responsive, getting tasks accomplished, etc. You can dislike your job and still be good at it. For an experimental science PhD student, however, this is not the case. Perhaps because a 90% failure rate is expected, students are much more likely to be judged on how much we are thought to care. This is measured by such parameters as how much time we spend in the lab, how upset we are that experiments didn’t work, how dedicated we are to prioritizing a repeat of an experiment that has failed multiple times. Supposedly this all adds up to our interest in science.
So what impact does this have? Well, often it means that students who may have families – whether it is a male who occasionally wants to go home to spend time with his young children before they go to sleep or a single mother who must leave every day by 5:45 to pick up her child at day care – are perceived as less dedicated. Students who get married (or, god forbid, pregnant) are warned not to let such activities slow down their academic progress. Or maybe students simply want to have other, dedicated outside activities or hobbies (such as, say, volunteering at a place where they could learn valuable skills for careers outside academia). But such outside distractions are discouraged because they make the student a less attractive bet for an academic advisor. And that’s what PhD students are for academic advisors – we are gambles. Professors at large universities don’t actually perform their own experiments. Instead, they rely on PhD students and postdoctoral fellows to churn out results, which the professors can then use for writing grants (aka, getting money for future experiments) and publishing scientific papers, which are the lifeblood of academia and how scientific clout is measured. Professors and advisors have no reason to encourage their students to have any interests outside of their work in lab.
And, unlike many jobs (even the professors themselves), students can’t take our work anywhere with us. I worked with an infectious agent that had to be dealt with under biohazard safety conditions, and even our recordkeeping books couldn’t leave the lab. Some types of science produce large data sets that take hours or even days of analysis to sift through, allowing productivity away from lab or even part-time work. My work didn’t – nor did the work of most fellow students I knew. The only way to do ‘important’ (i.e., experimental) work was to be in lab. Thus, students who desired to do other activities with their time (whether extracurricular or family-oriented) were directly poaching from time that they could have spent on being worthwhile PhD students.
After obtaining my degree, I was in an extremely fortunate position in that I didn’t need to immediately find another position. I took time off, confident that what my advisor, many other professors, and even peers had told me was true – that I was just burned out and needed a break. I perused post-doctoral positions online and waited for my enthusiasm to return. I thought maybe three weeks of idleness almost four over three months, and I feel with growing certainty that my lost enthusiasm is a permanent state. The thought of walking into another lab and picking up a pipette fills me with dread, regardless of how fascinating the unanswered scientific question may be.
At my university, professors traded horror stories of students they mentored that walked away from the research bench after they defended – some found positions in consulting or law firms, others joined startups as entrepreneurs or scientific advisors, one even went to seminary. Others become administrative assistants or – the worst crime – don’t work at all. These former students are always talked about in quiet, sad tones and with a regretful shake of the head. The implication is clear – these students are disappointments. They were a waste of time and resources. I used to gasp and shake my head on cue at these stories. There was a strong belief even among students that once you obtained your PhD, you were then obligated to use it in an ‘acceptable’ way (academia, biotech, or pharma were all considered options). I now struggle with guilt as I realize that I am on my way to becoming one of those stories of disappointment. But in leaving scientific research, I also leave behind the view that myself and others like me are failures.

Luckily, being in Zurich (and the unwavering support of B) has allowed me to begin to successfully change my perspective, although it is a process. The number of spouses/significant others (mainly women) that I have met here who left careers or jobs to come to Switzerland is significant - and the number of them who have reinvented themselves or carved out new jobs and niches is completely inspiring. I'm still not sure where I'm heading job-wise, but I am beginning to understand that there are options out there that do not depend on my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for experimental science.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Showing off our apartment (and my language skills)

Due to the events this week and my subsequent addiction to streaming the local Boston NPR station online, I've fallen behind in my Camp Nanowrimo word count goal. So now that I'm finally sitting down to write, I'm of course doing a blog post. I may have to add up word counts from this month's blog posts and add them to my story....that's not cheating, right?

As you may be aware, B and I are moving into a new apartment soon. We finally found a place after a very slow, long, painful search, and I am soooo excited to move out of the one-room place we've been squatting in for the past 3 months (yes, that is one-room, not one-bedroom). However, since our search was taking so long, we didn't want to give notice to move out of this cell (I mean palace) until we had another place and date confirmed.

And of course in order to give notice in Switzerland, you have to send a letter to the rental agency and then sign something that the rental agency gives you and then they have to send you the forms for other people to fill out and you have to send something back to the agency again saying yes, please put an advertisement up. (When I say "you," I really mean B. I'm not on the lease so that was my official excuse to not participate in any of this process). Anyway - the whole thing takes a while. But the advertisement finally went up and B started fielding phone calls from interested parties.

We tried to set up only one viewing last Thursday, but of course people couldn't make that day, so maybe Wednesday, and then some people can't come THAT day, so maybe Friday? Basically, we ended up having three nights in a row in which people invaded and I couldn't make dinner until late (I have such a wonderful attitude about this whole thing). Then it turned out that out of at least 10 applicants, the mysterious black box at the rental agency only found one acceptable, so we had to have another viewing this Thursday (which means we really had one Wednesday AND Thursday - that's five viewings for the price of one).

For the most part, I did a great job of buzzing people into the building, shoving B at the door to answer it, and then lingering silently near our (four) computers to make sure nobody tried to steal them. I totally wasn't creepy.

Apartment viewing is fun - it's a pretty random slice of humanity that walks through the door. We got some strange ones, including a woman who cheerfully spoke Gerglish (Engman?) the entire time, even though it was obvious that neither were her native language. There was a group of three Puerto Rican girls who were REALLY excited that B spoke Spanish (3 of them, but they only took one form - B claims this is because Hispanics must always travel in groups). There were several English speakers, or at least ones that were more than happy to switch into English. Those who didn't, I let B handle.

Except twice. The first time B abandoned me to show the cellar storage to some woman who had an irrational number of questions, and my worst fear was realized - the bell rang, and I had to let someone else in. The following conversation, as best I can recall, ensued:

(Language key: G - German, F - French, E - English, italics - my thoughts)

Me: [G] Hello!

Very nice girl: [G] Hello!

Me: Please don't ask me about taking your shoes off. I never understand if people are saying OFF or ON, and I inevitably give them the wrong answer.

Me: [G] This is the kitchen. <appropriate grand gesture>

VNG: [G] Nice - something something something.

Me: noncommittal noise. <awkward pause> Crap, I should've said something. [G] Sorry, I'm learning German.

VNG: [G] something something since something?

Me: Ah, she's probably asking how long I've been learning German! [G] Since two months.

VNG: <looks very surprised>

Me: Damage control! Say something! What else could she be asking about for a length of time? [G] For [E] me. [G] My husband live since two years in the [F] apartment. [E] Crap, that's [G] French.

VNG: [F] We can speak French, if you'd like.

Me: <blank stare> No one in my entire time here has spoken French. OMG IS SHE FRENCH? She IS fashionably dressed. (Narrator's note: I get really, really self-conscious about my French in front of French people who are fluent in other languages. So...most French people). [F] Yes, ok! [G] This is the bathroom. WTF was that? Didn't we just agree to switch to French? How the hell do you say bathroom in French? I'm pretty sure I knew it five minutes ago.

VNG: <cautious look>

Me: Uhhh...PANIC PANIC PICK A LANGUAGE. Where the hell is Bruno? [G] My husband is coming. He is in the [E] basement. [G] There is a washing machine and cellar.

VNG: [G] something washing something?

Me: Ok, definitely asking about the washing. [G] At the end of month is there 10 days free. On 11th and 12th have we washing. Two days for every [F] apartment.

VNG: [G] ..apartment. <sympathetic smile>

Me: Oh hell. How many questions can that other woman POSSIBLY have? I need a panic button. [G] My husband is coming. He explain better. Here is the room. That is the balcony. <sneak to door and check it to see if B is coming back up the stairs>

VNG: [G] something with without furniture something?

Me: [G] without <checks door again> If B comes back and I've given away our first born child, it's totally his fault.

VNG: [G] something something something?

Me: Uhhhhh.... [E] Uhhhhhhh....

<door creaks open>

Me: <runs to door and grips B's arm in inappropriate desperation> [E] Talk to this woman!

B: [G] chit chat chit chat

VNG: [G] chit chat chit chat.

B: [E] She wants to know if we'd be willing to sell any of our stuff.

Me: [E] If it's up to me, she can have all of it.

VNG: <laughs> [E] I just moved here, so I have nothing.

Me: ......Did she just understand me AND REPLY IN ENGLISH?

....Yep. So that's what happened. Turned out the girl was actually from Italy and perfectly nice....and, of course, spoke English (that brings her language total to four, in case any one is keeping track. I have jealousy issues).

Apartment viewing is fun. More stories later!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thoughts for Boston

I learned of the explosions near the finish line at the Boston Marathon around the time I would usually head to bed here. I stayed up for another 2 hours, desperately trying to track all my friends in the city (everyone I know seems to be ok), live streaming both radio and television. I fell asleep before the full extent of the explosions was known. I fell asleep to 2 dead, 23 injured, and woke up to 3 dead and well over 130 people injured.

I didn't grow up in Boston, but I've never felt more like a Bostonian than I did yesterday. I lived there for almost ten years and it is my adopted hometown. People here ask where I am from in the US, and I say Boston. It felt like an affectation, as if I had to explain that really I only moved there after college.
It doesn't feel that way any more. I've looked at the pictures and watched the videos. I know that street, walked it many times, been to the finish line on Marathon monday and felt the waves of energy from the crowd. Bostonians don't get excited about much (except for maybe the Red Sox), but they do a wonderful job of welcoming people, regardless of where they are from, into the city after those people have finished the extraordinary feat of running 26.2 miles. I used to watch the marathon live or on television and be inspired, harbor crazy ideas that I could train for one.

Now, in the quiet of the Zürich morning, I read articles about the chaos and blog posts from people who were there and I cry. I cry out of a sense of helplessness, at not being there, though what purpose would I serve if I were? I cry to see the palpable excitement that I recall altered into horror-stricken silence. I cry to see my city changed.

Boston is at its best on Marathon Monday, and despite the senseless violence, I almost still believe that. There are pictures and videos of police and the emergency personnel, assigned to handle enthusiastic crowds and dehydrated runners, running towards the explosions and blood. There are stories of marathon runners running to the hospital to donate blood. There is this list of hundreds of people who opened their homes so that others would have a place to stay. There is this story of people giving away cell phones and coats to runners who were stopped just short of the finish line. On my facebook feed, a quote from Mr. Rogers has appeared a dozen times or more: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" Boston had many of those yesterday.

I don't have any clever thoughts to close this post with, but I would love to help in any way I can from afar. If anyone knows of ways to do so, please post in the comments. For those local to the Boston area,  the Red Cross has stated that blood donations have been generous and they have a sufficient amount, but if you want to donate, here is a list of centers.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tea and artisan bread (attempt #1)

This past Saturday, B and I went to an English afternoon tea at the Carlton hotel in central Zurich (available from 2:30 to 5 pm, Wednesday through Saturday, September through May, CHF 39 per person). I went to a proper British tea when I visited friends in Manchester, England, 9 years ago, and I've been trying to recapture the wonder ever since. In the US, my efforts were usually stymied by the lack of clotted/Devonshire cream with the scones (butter is not the same, fake American tea places!), so I wasn't sure what to expect.

We saw and heard no Brits, so I couldn't quiz anyone about the authenticity (not that I would have - how do you start that conversation?). But we quite enjoyed ourselves. They had a lovely and quite varied selection of sandwiches and sweets, with usually one piece per person, although there were extra mini cucumber sandwiches (I took care of those). The food was good, although I did expect slightly higher quality at the Carlton (assuming that Carlton is the same one as in 'Ritz-Carlton'). The tea menu was decent but not extensive, with around 25 types on the menu.

I'm ready, serve me.
There was some confusion, since B first tried to order some iced tea and was told that it was not part of the Afternoon Tea options. However, about ten minutes after serving us, the table one over from us, occupied by around 6 German-speaking ladies, were served - and they all received iced teas. It wasn't a big deal, but such occurences do not instill confidence about the quality or knowledge of service.

I chose a chai - not terribly traditional - and in what is most likely sacrilege for both the Brits and the Japanese, B chose matcha, the green tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. It was too bitter for me, while B didn't mind it - although it did not pair well with the food options.

Matcha. I just finished a book last month that involved a lot of traditional Japanese ceremonies, so I was excited when the waiter used a bamboo whisk to make it. I hid my weirdly inappropriate reaction well, I think.
Scones, the centerpiece of the tea, were served separately than the food tower, and B and I ate them all (2 each) before I realized I had failed to take a picture. The accompanying jam and cream were definitely the highlight for me, and I drowned my scones in them. The scones themselves were soft and warm, but felt like they had been reheated. They were mini scones, so not much more than a few bites each. However, we did walk out quite full and felt no need for dinner that night.

The tower of food. I had already removed several sandwiches from the bottom in my hunger. I am SO BAD at remembering to take pictures. B and I both agreed that the best sweet was the one almost entirely hidden by the cupcakes, in the back of the second tier. It was pastry with a chocolate glaze on top and custard in the middle.

The cream and jam containers. We ran low on the raspberry preserves, even with only four mini scones. It was that good. Also tasty - the super mini berry tartlet in front.
We enjoyed ourselves, but I'm not sure we would return, and I probably wouldn't bring any visiting family/friends unless they had a specific urge to go. Maybe my search for a proper English tea just means that B and I need to schedule a weekend trip to London. Sounds like a good excuse.

Also on Saturday, I set up my first attempt at artisan bread. I used this recipe because it had tasty add-ins and involved no kneading. I didn't let my dough rise for 3 hours - by 2.25 hours it had overflown my largest mixing bowl (note to self: get big-ass container for future preps), so I had to deflate it some and then stick it in the fridge for the overnight step. I was a bit worried that the next morning would reveal a dough blob oozing its way across our refrigerator, but it actually didn't rise much in the fridge.

The next morning, post removal of cling wrap, which took a good portion of the dough with it.
 I was particularly excited to read about her approach to humidifying the oven for baking. I've read multiple places that having a humid oven is key to getting a contrasting, truly crispy crust, but no practical way to approach this. Professional ovens have built-in spritzers, and home approaches I've read usually involve a spray bottle and carefully timed superfast oven openings. I love bread, but I am also lazy.

So this woman's approach was perfect. She suggests putting a metal (not glass) pan filled with water in the bottom of the oven before turning it on for preheating. Our oven comes with one wire rack and one metal tray, so I just put the metal tray in the bottom and filled it with water.

The dough was still REALLY sticky after overnight refrigeration, so I used a lot of flour and did some minimal kneading (I just...can't seem to give it up) before separating into loaves. Unfortunately we had no cornmeal, so I just sprinkled flour on the tray instead - which kept the loaves from sticking, but also meant that we had no crust on the bottom. I was a bit concerned because, after her suggested resting time (30 minutes) pre-baking, the dough was still cold. It turned out just fine, but I think I might let it rise more next time.

Overall, the humidity approach totally worked! Also, through the magic of visible steam, it allowed me to see that our oven doesn't close entirely on the left side and this may be why I have struggled with temperatures/cooking times in this place (I've said it before, but WE CANNOT MOVE SOON ENOUGH).

It tasted even better than it looked!
Three days later, we have only half a loaf remaining. Even B, who isn't overly fond of things made with flour (he claims the flour gets between him and whatever taste the food has), has eaten a half loaf or so. Next up - the roasted garlic/rosemary version!

Starting the garden

Just before Easter, I bought several herb and strawberry plants and a variety of supplies, thinking that I would get them planted during the long weekend. Unfortunately, the Zürich weather did not cooperate and continued to drop to freezing regularly at night (as well as being grey and cloudy and all-around depressing during the day), and I was hesitant to put the plants out on our balcony. So I delayed, and somehow ten days went by.

Very sad herbs. Of course the sun was out for the 10 minutes I took pictures.
The plants are obviously not meant to stay in their original containers for such a length of time, so yesterday morning I decided I needed to repot despite the uncooperative weather. Such activities should probably take place outside, but it was cold and I wanted to stay in my pajamas (coz I'm classy like that), so I just spread out the supplies on our floor.

Post herb-replanting. I did clean up after myself (so B never saw the apartment in this state - hi honey!), but we seriously need to get more than a dustpan and brush. 
I was surprised that the strawberry plants actually survived the best out of all the plants in their tiny little cases. I chose the 4 best looking (out of the half-dozen purchased) for replanting - I hadn't bought a large enough planter for all six.

You'd never guess they were in these tiny little containers for 10+ days! Well, unless you look closely at the front left one.
Of course, by the time I got them up on the windowsill, the sun had disappeared and it started raining about 20 minutes later.

Immediately post-replanting. Note the wet pavement outside. Zürich is like the Seattle of Europe. Also note how disappointed all the plants are about this as well. Me too, fellows.
I am happy that all plants - except perhaps the rosemary, which it may be too late for - look in much better spirits today.

This morning, in the 5 minutes of sunshine. Seriously, how does anyone grow plants around here when there is no sun, ever? Despite that, they have definitely perked up.

Happy strawberry plants. They are definitely planted too close together, but I had no more soil or containers. I will probably replant post-apartment move.
I still have several packets of seeds that I am not sure if I will get to before we move - we don't really have room here to set them up - but I also got some tips from a local this weekend about where to get plantlings instead of just seeds, which makes me feel better about getting such a late start on the garden. She suggested a nursery close to our new apartment, so I will definitely be checking that out immediately post-move. It's probably a good idea to remember how big our new patio will be before I go crazy. In my mind, we have limitless space, and I want fruits and veggies and flowers and tubers and fruit trees in those big pots! This is why B accompanies me on shopping trips. That, and to help carry the items he can't talk me out of - our relationship works on many levels.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Since moving to Zürich

I've now been in Switzerland for just short of 3 months - a time frame that seems absurdly short (Boston seems quite some time ago) and very long (shouldn't I have more accomplished by now?). I am still adjusting in a lot of ways, both to Switzerland and life post-PhD.

For 3 month anniversary fun, here are a random assortment of things I feel since moving to Zürich.

- I miss Boston's one-stream recycling. In Zürich, not only do we have to sort paper from cardboard from plastic from glass, but also there are often subcategories within each one. Everything must be flattened and often tied up in neat little bundles. Different categories are picked up on different days (don't get it wrong!), vary in frequency of pick up, and those that don't get picked up have multiple drop off sites.

This is at the local grocery store. Batteries, water filters, and clear plastic bottles - white ones go in a totally separate bin. Obviously. 
These are located at random places around the city. Separate bins for brown glass, green glass, white glass, tins, old kitchen oil, and other stuff I know I am forgetting. There are only certain hours that you can drop off, and no dumping on Sundays or holidays (too noisy).
This is where the bags in which you brought your glass/tin/other are placed. Everything make sense now? 
- All those US websites/pins about grocery lists or craft projects or budgets "for only xx dollars!" makes me want to punch those people in the face. Maybe where you live, honey.

- I have conflicted feelings about most stores being closed on Sunday. One has until around 4 pm on Saturday to run any and all weekend errands, which often makes for hectic Saturdays. But when Sunday comes around, I do love the quiet.

- Stores that are exceptions to the closed-on-Sunday rule should be avoided at all costs. The Migros grocery store at the Hauptbahnhof on Sundays is a dark, crowded, scary place.

- I need to be better at making time to email people - both those at home that I constantly think of yet fail to send a message to as well as new contacts here. I'm a social person at heart, and there is no substitute for good conversation or emails from friends.

- Normal interactions with people at shops and such can usually be gotten through with a fair amount of guesswork, even if I don't understand Schweizerdeutsch (or Hauptdeutsch - or if I can't even tell which one they are speaking). Guessing wrong leads to new learning experiences. Or just lots of embarrassment.

- Living in a place where you don't speak the native language is a constantly humbling and nerve-wracking experience. I may have a Ph.D. from Harvard, but to that Starbucks cashier who has to repeat his question three times to know whether I want my drink to go or for here, I'm just another idiot.

- Having this blog as a way to share my uncomfortable experiences gives me more confidence heading into situations ("Hey, at least it will be a good story!" has become my mantra).

- Taking German classes is important. Attempting to have conversation with classmates with whom German is the only shared language is even more important.

- Expat women here are wonderful, wonderful people. Every single one I've talked to has been warm, welcoming, sympathetic, and completely understanding of how tricky or difficult an international move (particularly one-way ones) can be.

- I am still holding out hope that there is a secret, magic store somewhere in this country that sells slow cookers/crockpots. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Yarn stores in Zurich

Update: For (yet another) yarn store in Zurich, see my more recent post here.

 I'm in the beginning stretch of my Camp Nanowrimo marathon, but so far still on target towards my goal, so I'm feeling encouraged. Although I have started skipping around in the story, writing random scenes that may or may not actually occur later. But that's why I actually enjoy Nanowrimo - focusing on the word count forces you to just write and not get too bogged down in details (like, say, plot).

My completed basket! I had to frog (ie, take apart) large portions of this twice,  and the bottom was still a little wonky - getting cotton jersey that thick to lie flat was a real challenge. Halfway through, I had to buy more jersey to finish it, and of course they didn't have the same color, so ripped out half of it and introduced the stripes. I still have some of the pink, but I switched to more typical yarn for my next project in order to prevent carpal tunnel.
I've been crocheting steadily (B claims maniacally) over the past month in an attempt to reduce the size my yarn stash - a noble goal, but unfortunately the more I work, the more I feel the need to purchase yarn, a vicious circle. Particularly when dreaming of tackling a goal the size of an afghan, for which you often need 700 yards or more of a single color.

Successful yarn containage. Unfortunately I have 2 plastic bins full of yarn as well. I'm gonna need a bigger basket. 
So, I did some poking about online, and I found several yarn stores in Zurich that I decided to check out - for investigational purposes only, of course.

Current project: in the round afghan. I'll go until I run out of these yarns, but since I purchased them in the US and can't buy more here, it will probably end up being more of a lap blanket (or baby blanket?) than full size afghan. Pattern inspiration here.
I had previously purchased a few skeins of yarn here in Switzerland, but most of my collection was brought over from the US - it's not heavy and it makes great padding for packing any delicate items, such as an Xbox. Before starting my investigation, the only known yarn locations I had were Manor and Coop City, both large department stores with decent-size craft sections.

Opening hours/addresses for all stores are listed at the bottom of the post.

The main wall of yarn at Manor.
Manor is the Swiss equivalent to department stores such as JC Penney or Macy's and has a sewing/craft section on the fourth floor (the Zurich store is located on Bahnhofstrasse). The selection is varied and I would compare it to the selection at Michael's (although the yarn is overall better quality), in that they have many basics and a few novelty/fun ones. If you just want something to scratch the knitting/crocheting itch, it is easy enough to pick up a few skeins here. Prices are clearly marked and run from CHF 1.50/skein - CHF 13/skein for the nicer yarns. This is the only place I found with the heavy cotton jersey "yarn" that I used to make the above pink/maroon basket. They do occasionally have yarns on sale (sales are rare here, stores don't have an almost-constant "sale/clearance" sections as in the US), so I try to drop by regularly. As a side note - I am allergic to wool, which often restricts my yarn possibilities, and this restriction felt most limiting here, although there are many cotton blend options. (Also note: in German wolle is simply 'yarn,' despite what google translate says. 'Baumwolle' is cotton, while Schurwolle is traditional sheep's wool, I believe. However, most yarn labels here do have details in English, so don't fret about knowing your textiles in German.)

Coop City:

Coop City is one of the multitude of store types under the Coop banner (we do most of our grocery shopping at the local Coop), and also has a sewing/yarn section. I've been to a few around the city, and by far the best selection is at the large Coop City at St. Annahof (also on Bahnhofstrasse, pictures below are from this location). They carry a lot of the same brands and options as Manor, and prices seem comparable. I did feel that this location had more non-wool options, as well as perhaps a few more novelty yarns (in terms of multi-color, not necessarily texture). Prices are also marked here and run from CHF 3.70 up to 13/skein. I did not find any sale yarn, although that doesn't necessarily mean that they never have any.

The main yarn wall, although there were at least 4 sets of shelves facing it, also full of options.

Ok, this isn't yarn. It's shoulderpads. Are those still big here in Switzerland? Coz they had a LOT of options.
Another place that carries basic, 'cheap' (by Swiss standards) yarn is Migros Do-it + Garden, but the one I went to had a very poor selection, almost entirely involving some percentage of wool. So I mention it here to be fair, but I wouldn't recommend it.

After the somewhat familiar chain stores, I switched gears. I found three yarn stores in searching online (well, I thought I found four, but one of them was a general craft mecca) and went to check them out.

Anna Lana:

This store is near Stauffacher and rather small, but manages to pack quite a bit into the space. About 2/3 of the store is devoted to yarn, while the remainder has a fairly wide bead selection, although I didn't take the time to explore that part thoroughly. When I first walked in, my main impression was simply the explosion of color. They had a lovely selection and I could've lurked for hours, but I managed to pull myself out after 20 minutes of fondling the various selections. They definitely had a much wider variety of yarn textures and materials/blends than the non-specialty stores - alpaca, bamboo, linen, merino, acrylic, mohair, silk - although it didn't have quite the range of the other two independent stores (below). They have a basket of clearance yarn to the left of the entrance with skeins for CHF 3- or 5- each. My only critique, as a budget-conscious wallflower non-German lurker, is that there were no prices anywhere for their regular yarn stock. It would have been nice to have some idea whether I could possibly afford the yarn I was fondling.

Side wall.
Back wall.
Yarn that didn't fit on a wall.


The next two yarn shops took me to the east side of the city, on the side of Zurich lake that I don't get to very often. My first stop was Vilfil, easily the largest yarn shop in the entire city. The place was simply enormous - they have two rooms towering with shelves and shelves of yarn. They only display one skein of each color/type of yarn, because apparently they have a basement where the actual stock is kept. The organization seemed rather random, but it must have made sense to the people that work there, because upon inquiring about wool-free yarn (the lady was more than gracious at slipping into English), she knew right where to go. I managed not to buy skeins and skeins for an afghan that I really want to attempt, but I did break down when I found their basket of clearance yarn, and I bought 4 skeins of white/silver/black for CHF 3.- each.

This was the only shop where I actually interacted instead of lurking, and the woman was more than patient with me. Unfortunately she was very much a knitter, not much of a crocheter, and this - coupled with the facts that I don't much care/know about yarn weight, the weird US vs. rest of the world crochet hook size, and yards vs. meters - led to lots of me leaning towards heavier yarns than what she thought I wanted. I probably should've just asked her to show me nice stuff.

This places was like your eccentric great-aunt's den. It was awesome. There was an entire second room, almost as large, to the left. I thought I got a picture of it, apparently not.
In addition to the actual yarn, the shop also had dozens of knitted items for sale - hats, jackets, skirts, accessories, etc. I suspect these were made by the employees themselves when the store wasn't busy, and this seemed like it would be so much fun that I wanted to inquire if they had need of a non-German speaking intern. They also had pre-packaged yarns/supplies for various individual projects (most of them appeared to be knitting rather than crochet), which might be nice if you don't have time to browse all the options. As with Anna Lana, they had a huge variety of yarn materials, not just cotton and wools.

Also appreciated - price lists! They weren't always 100% up to date, but they hung from each shelving unit and corresponded at least somewhat to the yarns.


My final stop was also on the east side of Zurich Lake in a lovely part of town - much of Zurich isn't perhaps what one would expect from an old European city, but this area had it all: cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, small family-run shops. I'm definitely bringing B back for further exploration.

I was the youngest person in the shop by at least 30 years, and got a little side-eye from some of the Swiss ladies, but this may have been due to my camera and loud Desigual coat more than my lurking. The saleswomen didn't bat an eye. This shop also had their shelves arranged by color in columns, while the rows were the same yarns. It made for easy and aesthetically pleasing browsing, although there was no sign of any listed prices, so I was again left wondering if I could afford anything I had my eye on. They also had a display full of already-made items available, and a display afghan that I wanted to curl up under with a book and some tea and never leave. I didn't find any clearance yarn.

In terms of selection, they also had many, many wool-free options, and, based on the 100% silk ropes spread through some of the color displays, I suspect they had some pretty pricey yarns. I did see a repeat of some of the basic yarns as well, though, so there seemed to be a wide variety.

Yes please.
I love the mini granny squares peaking out.

100% pure silk, and they had every color in the rainbow, which I realized after I snapped this picture. My favorite was an emerald green. WANT.
Overall, I was pleased to discover that Zurich has such a wonderful selection of yarn shops. I was also happy to realize that a small city can support three independent yarn stores - all shops were doing a bustling business when I was in them, and I had to wait to snap pictures without browsing customers. I also was happy to have an excuse to venture into unknown parts of the city - something I definitely need to make an effort to do more often.

Now, back to that afghan.

Store Addresses/Hours:

(All stores are located in Zürich)

Bahnhofstrasse 75
Mo-Sat 9 am to 8 pm

Coop City St. Annahof:
Bahnhofstrasse 57
Mo-Sat 9 am to 8 pm

Anna Lana:
Rebgasse 5
Closed Monday
Tues-Fri 9 am to 1 pm/ 2 pm to 6 pm
Sat 9 am to 4 pm

Kreuzstrasse 39
Mo 1:30 pm to 6:30 pm
Tues-Fri 10 am to 6:30 pm
Sat 10 am to 4 pm

Closed Monday
Tues-Fri 10 am to 6:30 pm
Sat 10 am to 4 pm

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Swiss Easter (and more April holidays)

As I mentioned in a previous post, most people in Switzerland have at least two days off for Easter - Good Friday (the Friday before) and Easter Monday (probably a fairly self-explanatory date, even if you aren't Christian), making for a four-day weekend.

My German class was no exception, which meant that we had almost five entire days off from the language. It seems that several of my classmates traveled or were otherwise occupied and failed to get around to their homework - and none of us had apparently practiced the language in our time off. To put it delicately, some of us suffered more from the break than others (No, I am not going to tell you which group I belonged to. I will say, though, that at the very least, I hadn't lost the ability to conjugate "to be" unlike at least one classmate. Day 1 of class, people, come on!).

On Tuesday, when we all regathered after various adventures, our teacher spoke briefly about Easter - I was hoping for a lively conversation a la David Sedaris (if you haven't read his story about his French class and the Easter bunny, click on the link and do so - scroll way down to find it. It's one of the funniest pieces of writing I have ever come across. Ever.).

Unfortunately, everybody in the class seemed to agree that indeed a Hase (rabbit) is responsible for the delivery of eggs on Easter morning. Although the instructor did stress that the Hase did not bring die Kinder chocolate - my first attempt at this sentence was shot down, although I was unclear if it was due to atrocious grammar or incorrect information. Instead, he carefully mimed his way through his version of a traditional Easter morning in which the rabbit must first hide the eggs, and the children must then find them. It may have just been he was trying to ingrain some new vocabulary, but overall his version didn't feature enough chocolate for my taste (no pun intended, but now I'm keeping it there), and also didn't resemble my Easter mornings as a child, in which there was chocolate waiting for my sisters and me in baskets in the morning and the egg hunt was later and just involved bonus candy.

Certainly there were bountiful chocolate displays in the months (yes, actually months - these things showed up practically right after Christmas) leading up to Easter, and I am hoping that my trip to the grocery store today will reveal that, as with Halloween in the US, somehow chocolate loses its value post-Easter and I can grab some on the cheap. I have no children, so I don't mind if the rabbit visits me a week later than usual. Especially if he's made of chocolate.

I still have high hopes that other Swiss holidays will lead to German class confusion; sometime in the next few weeks, there is a Zurich-specific holiday that involves the (literal) burning of a snowman effigy, which sounds promising. 

Craft supplies in Zurich

I should be working on my Camp Nanowrimo story or emailing my former PhD advisor about a review or finishing a manuscript edit or doing my German homework or at least getting some of course I am writing a blog post (also, if you think that being minimally-employed means that I have nothing to do....yeah, I thought that too, once upon a time).

With my increased crocheting over the past month, I have been feeling the siren call of purchasing more yarn for my stash, aided greatly by browsing patterns on Ravelry that require many, many skeins of one or coordinated colors. (Come on, how geeky cool is this Avatar; The Last Airbender afghan? And the pattern maker said it only took her 100 hours!). Yesterday I went to check out some stores I had found online, and one store in particular was a surprise.

From this website. All other photos are my own. Looks small and rather kitschy from the outside, but the inside is a whole other story.
The store didn't end up having yarn (which speaks to my ability to understand store websites in German), but it was a craft store of a caliber that I had no idea existed in Switzerland. Leibundgut (details at the bottom of the post) is located near the Rennweg tram stop in central Zurich and looks small from the outside, but has several twists and turns that give it more square meterage than I would've suspected (I checked - turns out it's 220 sq. m).

No craft store is complete without a wall of fake flowers.
During my last two years of graduate school, impromptu weekend runs to Michael's or A.C.Moore with other craft-enthusiast friends became an escapist way of relieving pent-up stress, so I was thrilled to find a genuine craft supply store here. And if you can imagine my delight, I'm sure that you can easily imagine B's (lack of) enthusiasm when I excitedly told him about it when he got home. My post-move not-so-stealthy plan to mark off a space of our spare bedroom for a craft corner continues to develop.

The stamp corner. I have some stamps that made it here from Boston, but one can always use more! Also, random note - "Happy Birthday" in German is REALLY long.
Parts of the store reminded me more of my mother's large, clearly labeled craft supplies stash in our basement growing up. Other parts of the store reminded me that I need to buy a glue gun because one cannot possibly do crafts properly without one.

Only half of the ribbon display.
The first time I was allowed to use my mother's glue gun, I couldn't have been older than 8 and I am fairly sure I promptly burnt the hell out of my fingers (perhaps not as dramatic as shooting one's eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun, but the general warnings pre-handling the glue gun were just as strong). Despite me doing exactly what my mother was concerned about, it felt like a rite of passage - I wasn't just helping my mother or sisters with their crafts, I was making my own. Independence and all that.

The bead/jewelry section of the store
Also, I have a vague memory that I actually burnt myself on purpose, because I was testing to see if the glue was really as hot as I had been warned. Experimental result: yep, it was. No repeat needed.

Display of some miniatures. Look at that cute little picnic set! Made me want to build another dollhouse - but since I never actually finished the one that sat in my parents' basement for 10 years, probably not a project I will pursue. 
The sheer variety of craft supplies was overwhelming. They have beads, stamps, miniatures appropriate for dollhouses, ribbon, fabric flowers, FIMO and other  modeling clays, dowels, colored craft paper, huge reams of paper that had no immediate purpose, stamps/supplies, buttons, felt, styrofoam forms, wooden letters/figures, paints for fabric/wood/glass, wood burning supplies, and dozens of other items. The store was roughly organized, although the sections often faded into each other, and the entire store, despite its size, seemed to be struggling to contain all of the goods.

I'm not even sure what exactly was in this corner. Paper, felt, cloth? But I know I want to buy some of it.
Unfortunately, they were not immune to the occasional kitsch items:

I am not a fan of those cake toppers that show the bride dragging the groom (supposedly to the altar?).  I can't say that I like those one much more, but I do appreciate that she's managed to use his own tie against him.
I managed to walk out without buying anything - possibly because if I had opened that door, I would've blown B's new attempt to track our budget out of the water. But I'll definitely be back.

And this will be top of my list to buy. Not that I have started loaning out books here, but when I do, I'll want this stamp. 

Store details:
Kuttelgasse 8
Open Mon-Fri 9 am to 6:30 pm
Sat 9:30 am to 4:30 pm