Monday, June 24, 2013

Furniture day!

I may have mentioned previously on this blog that we have no furniture. And that I was very, very tired of having no furniture. Well, I am happy to report that I can no longer complain about this sad situation. Our Ikea order was supposed to be delivered by last Monday (which was 23 days after ordering), and we hadn't heard anything by then, so B sent several emails and placed several annoyed phone calls to see what the issue was. Apparently our order slipped through the cracks, but once B started making noise, Ikea pushed our order to the top of the priority list and it was handed over to the delivery company on Wednesday. We had been told that the delivery company usually calls about a week beforehand, so I was super excited when B called me on Thursday morning and said he had just received a call for delivery Saturday morning!

So I was definitely excited. Then I got more excited when my wonderful in-laws said they would come down and help assemble things that same day. I prepped the day before by baking snacks (all previously done: oatmeal chocolate chip cookies - with chopped crystal ginger added, nutella brownies - with sea salt added, and stuffed bacon onion rolls - with some pancetta and parmesan added to the filling). 

Some of the tasties!
The delivery went smoothly - the man called 20 minutes before, so I had time to empty out the living room in preparation. The total delivery weight was 369 kg, which means delivery was a good way to go, rather than rent a car/do it ourselves. It also meant that both B and I were a bit in awe of the one man who hauled it all up and from the elevator (he may have had a partner down at the truck, but it was still quite impressive). We also had time to head to the mall and pick up a vacuum cleaner (lonnnng overdue) before B's family arrived. We splurged and got a Dyson, which is super fancy and, thus far, has proven to be a wee too complicated for me (this is why I shouldn't own nice things).

Pre-delivery living room!

20 minutes after delivery! That's a lot of boxes...

369 kg of boxes, to be exact.
The afternoon was spent assembling a total of 16 pieces, ranging from various chairs to an enormous TV/entertainment system. We then had well-deserved rest and birthday celebration (both B's brother and father have birthdays in June) at Lola's restaurant, the only - as far as I know - Peruvian restaurant in Zurich. 

The entertainment system all set up!

Some action shots - the Dyson is hidden behind the box. So many boxes.

Desks/chairs all set up, B and his father working on a big red cabinet.

My wonderful mother-in-law organizing the stacks and stacks of cardboard. New green patio table and chairs  to the right!

Ugly Betty on a Monday morning. Half-complete bookshelf to the right - it's top of my DIY paint list, so we didn't mount it on the wall yet.

Desks and chairs! Mine is in the forefront, B's is the behemoth in the corner. He picked it out himself, it has space for four screens/monitors...
So yayyy! Now B and I both have desks, which means our dining room table is finally clear of laptop computers. As a bonus, my computer chair arrived in Dietikon, and my in-laws picked it up on their way from Basel, so I now have a comfy chair to hang out in and a space that feels like my own. 

As an additional bonus, we met our neighbors! Well, neighbor, singular. The family that I've seen around, with a young son and daughter. It was the daughter's birthday (apparently a costume party), so the children were running around on the hill, and the mother came over in the mid-afternoon with some leftover cake. She was very sweet and nice, and spoke fluent Spanish with B's family and English to me, although apparently German is her mother tongue (ahhhhh, so jealous). I sent her back with some of my brownies as a thank you, and it was wonderful to finally make contact (especially with someone outside the context of laundry).

So, basically, B's family is wonderful and awesome, Saturday was great, and I've already made a mile-long list of additional items that we now need and DIY projects that I now plan to do. We are still awaiting word on when our couch will be delivered, but the apartment is now (almost) ready for visitors!

I hope everyone had a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Swiss summer

So, it turns out that Switzerland decided to skip spring entirely (who needs crisp weather with bright green wonderfulness everywhere?) and has now careened directly into summer. Hot summer. Icky, super sunny, rather sticky summer. The Swiss don't believe in air conditioning in individual homes (wanna get cool? Go hike up a mountain, check out the temperature at the top). And even in malls, (some) trains, and other large public areas that are air conditioned, it's very different from in the US - the temperature seems to be set higher. Which could be nice - there is no need to carry around a sweater for the grocery store, for example. However, it also means that I never actually feel entirely cool.

What's super fun to coordinate with the first heat wave of the summer? Why, working out of course! For the past three weeks, I have been working to get back in shape, which involves 30-60 minutes of looking like an idiot to anyone who would happen to glance in our living room window. Whenever I decide to get in shape (it happens about once a year), my body never seems to want to lose weight or tighten up. Instead, my body decides that it will re-learn how to sweat efficiently. So that's where I am now. My groceries are still heavy and I still have a little muffin top, but man, I can drip sweat with the best of them. Which means, of course, that my body is poised to begin sweating when I just vaguely think I might be warm - which here, means even in places with A/C. In the US, I'd get headaches in the summer from the heat contrasting with the unnatural A/C coolness (or downright chill). Here, I just get headaches from dehydration because I never, ever stop losing water.

Some people look like this after they work out. I do not.

This is closer to reality - but without the body to go with. I couldn't actually find a picture online that shows exactly how red/splotchy/sweaty I am. Probably because nobody is stupid enough to post such unflattering pictures online.
So how hot is it here? It has been up to the low/mid-30s (centigrade) each day this week. What does that mean in Fahrenheit? Hell if I know, I've spent the past five months trying to figure out what Celsius feels like (science has given me reference points, but there's a difference between knowing refrigerators are kept at 4C and actually feeling what 4C is when you step outside). Ok, I looked it up: 33C is apparently about 91F - now I feel all justified for complaining, because damn, that's hot.

I am not the only one who feels the heat. I didn't even know the Swiss owned summer clothes, but apparently they do, because short shorts and flip flops have suddenly appeared everywhere. Also, half-naked people. In fact, as I type this, the lawn behind our apartment building is being mowed by an old man without a shirt (I accidentally typed this word first as "short," then "shit." I amuse myself). And yesterday, I was on a bus that drove by a construction site and about 1/3 of the workers were shoveling asphalt and driving heavy machinery in just a pair of shorts and a hard hat. It seemed both terribly illogical (any sort of accident and that would really hurt!) and logical (well, it's hot out!).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Losing the garden battle

In my last post, I mentioned that the garden was a separate beast altogether. So, here's my post about that beast. Basically, I feel that I am fighting a losing battle to the plants that were once cute and green and are now insidious and looming.

My plants have fallen into five basic categories:

1. Plants that are being awesome. This category is smaller than I would like, but it includes the raspberries in a container (I'm very, very glad I put them in a container, they would've taken over the beds), my (now two) tomato plants - although one of them is teetering very close to being a category 3 (see below), the peas, and the peonies that were already in the bed. Yay for things growing and blooming!
Artistic shot of the peonies

Raspberries! They're looking great, but I'm still a wee suspicious, no berries yet.

Peas! My sad attempt at trellis won't be sufficient, I'm going to need to  make a much bigger one.

Tomato plant - I should've been pruning this, it's a bit large.

Second tomato plant - you can see a hint of my first ripe tomato, yay!
2. Plants that, despite my best effort, keep dying or getting eaten. Top of this list are my cilantro, which I've tried three times (in order: accidentally let go to seed, eaten, eaten within 2 days), and basil, which looks like whatever insects are eating it are learning how to make doilies. Also the rosemary goes in this category, although I suspect that is due to the fact that it prefers dry, poor-quality soil, which it doesn't have. My problem is that each time I buy replacement plants for this category, they seem to get eaten/die quicker.

Empty seed trays that never sprouted in the back, basil on the front left, cilantro on the front right.

Rosemary on the front left, cilantro attempt #3 in the blue bucket. 
3. Plants that are nowhere near under control. This category includes most of the plants and shrubs that I inherited. A prime example are the strawberry plants, which I was all excited to see when they started growing leaves, but now I've realized that they are everywhere, but well past their prime and produce only microscopic berries that mock me with their bright redness. Other plants include ones that I don't know the name of, but they are stringy and widespread and produce only piddling little pink star-shaped flowers. I've started ripping these out. Also, an enormous bed of something that is related to lilies of the valley, judging by the leaves, but have yet to produce any flowers - your clock is ticking down, mister.

Barely even worthy of the term "flowers." You are not long for this world.

This was much smaller when it first showed up in the spring.

Three of the five bushes that are perhaps supposed to be some sort of border, but have started to bear a striking resemblance to the trees in Snow White.
4. Plants that seem to have hit a wall. Specifically, my pepper plant in a container. I have no idea what its deal is. I got it, replanted it, it was all happy and growing, and then about 3 weeks, it ceased all activity. No bugs, no eaten leaves that I can find, no dying. It just completely stopped. Also in this category, my container strawberry plants. Wtf, I'm counting on you, sad plants!

Bell pepper plant. You can glimpse the strawberries on the left.
5. Plants that have straight up died. Unfortunately, this category includes all of my attempts to add something to the flower beds. My blackberry plant barely made it back from the store, so perhaps it was doomed from the beginning. And the loss that hurt most, two irises that were growing leaves when I purchased them, and which wilted and died within a week of me putting them in the ground.

So, what lessons can we learn from this? Apparently, I only know how to grow things in contained spaces, but even that's no guarantee (also, I'm bad at judging what size container to choose). Also, inheriting someone else's flower beds is WAY HARDER than tilling and setting up your own, where at least you start with nothing and don't have to play guess-the-flora. Thirdly, I should've been much harsher on weeding and ripping crap out of those flower beds (I still haven't ruled out doing such an action). Fourthly, I blame some of my troubles on the fact that the ground floor has things like slugs and nasty critters and birds and deer (and probably rabbits) that will stop by for a snack. And lastly, the answer to the question of whether I inherited my mother's green thumb is a resounding no (and my apologies to her, because I definitely took the beautiful flower beds that surrounded our house growing up for granted).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Random assortment of thoughts that are bouncing around in my head:

- I surpassed 4000 page views yesterday on this blog! Either my parents just like to check in hourly to see if there is a new post, or there must be lurkers on here. Hello lurkers!! I love you guys! Feel free to introduce yourself (or continue to lurk, that's ok, too).
Honestly though, I see this blog as a way to let everyone back home know how life is going, and I love hearing that friends and people are reading (even enjoying!) it. As for the growing Swiss audience (according to my audience posts) - if you're an expat, I hope that you can relate to some of my stories, and if you're Swiss, I hope you know that I actually like this country very much and I'm sorry I can't speak your language better.

- Yesterday was a total productivity loss because I started a book by this woman. Connie Willis is one of my all-time favorite authors (possibly even rivaling Jane Austen - yes, I said it!), and reading this interview (and this more recent one) of her makes me like her even more. Even if you're not a huge SciFi/Fantasy fan, I would highly recommend her stories. Her research into the topics she writes about are unparalleled and she's not a scifi writer in the stereotypical sense (no aliens, etc. Just people being - well, very human). I just spent ten minutes typing and erasing attempts to explain why she is so awesome, but I can't. Instead, please just check out her stuff. The first page of one of my favorite short stories, "Even the Queen," is online here, and is very representative of her writing.

- I need to pick up the pace on the baby blanket, although there is progress being made! Just not enough for a baby that is due next month (and needs to be shipped internationally). (As an aside, if anybody could email me the actual due date, that would be great - are we talking, say, July 2, or do I have a couple weeks into July to finish this?)

I started carrying the yarn with me up the sides - it's much faster, and I'm hoping that a large enough border will disguise the resulting unevenness.
 - The baby blanket hasn't been getting done because I started an attempt at fingerless gloves. I had to frog it twice; the first was because I used the wrong hook size and they were too big, the second was because I followed these instructions and it turns out my wrists must be super, super tiny. So I threw out the directions and just started adjusting it for my wrist. And now it looks great!

Something about the perspective in this shot wigs me out. It's like my arm is unnaturally large, infinite ,and not connected to my body.
Of course, the only problem is that technically gloves come in pairs. Or they're supposed to, I've heard. And in no way do I remember or noted the rows where I decreased/increased nor how many stitches I adjusted. Oops. As a stalling tactic, I'm going to make a slouchy hat to match the glove. Hypothetical gloveS.

- I was wrong about our apartment being a fortress of solitude (or at least silence). Either we previously had no upstairs neighbors or it was a silent single person, because the past week I've heard voices and screaming that sounds threateningly like a young toddler. Also, I would like to point out that I've seen at least two moving trucks in the six weeks we've been here, and no new neighbors have knocked on our door to introduce themselves. Is that something that is really done in Switzerland, or is it a bit of a myth, like the one where you will get a ticket for jaywalking? (Yes, it's technically illegal, but I've never seen or heard of anyone ACTUALLY having to pay a fine. And people do it regularly).

- Stores here are ramping up for the summer sales, and it's oh-so-dangerous. Unlike the US, where there are sales at seemingly random times, most stores here (and in France - anyone know about other European countries?) have big sales twice a year - in January and July. In January, I didn't really take advantage of the sales due to sticker shock ("Holy crap, they want 60 swiss francs for a shirt!?"), but now my mindset has adjusted ("Holy crap, that shirt is only 60 swiss francs?!"). Although the danger for me isn't really the clothes - it's the home decor.

- Speaking of home decor/furniture, we still don't have any. We've been furniture shopping twice and successfully have obtained...(drum roll) computer chair! Woohoo! -.- Switzerland is known for its efficiency, but - unfortunately - not for its speed. We don't have a car, so we've had to order everything for delivery. We went to Ikea sometime around May 25th, and they scheduled delivery for June 17th. Last weekend, we ordered a couch, a computer chair for me, and a trundle bed for the spare room (which we need before we can figure out any other furniture for that space). The trundle bed will be the fastest - they said they'd deliver June 18th. Unfortunately, the couch and other chair aren't available until the "end of the month" (I bit my lip on asking WHICH month. The saleslady didn't look the type to appreciate sarcasm). At this point, that's not too far away, but I must say I am very, very tired of having only one tabletop space that must double as two desks and a dining room table. Moral: If you have no furniture and are so spoiled as to want some, order it before you move, or as soon as humanly possible after.

- The garden is a separate post, but let's just say that my impression that I could just weed the flower beds that haven't been tended in 2 summers was vastly wrong. Don't mistake me - things are growing. The problem is that they are growing everywhere. I'm not sure what vision the person who originally planted it had, but I'm fairly sure it wasn't "overgrown jungle with strawberry plants strewn throughout."

Even my succulents are starting to slip out of control and grow many babies. But at least they're cute still.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

More crafting...

Last week I wasn't assigned any editing jobs (nor was I quick enough to grab any group assignments), so I had a bit of time on my hands. I was feeling a bit aimless, and my usual answer to that is baking. So I made chocolate chai snickerdoodle cookies and ate at least a dozen of them (I believe I've posted this recipe before, possibly on my old blog. I always double the amount of spices and add several shakes of cardamom as well. It's a specific taste that may not be suited for everyone, but I absolutely adore them). Then I realized that was not a sustainable solution, as I am really really trying to be more aware of what I eat, so I turned to crafting.

I made this crocheted market bag in one day (the link actually has several lovely patterns, some free):

Cute and sturdy as well - I carried several large cans of refried beans home from the Mexican grocery store in this.
I bought the yarn, a mercerized cotton, on clearance at Manor, and it was perfectly suited for the project - it was almost like crocheting with small ropes rather than yarn. So I went back and purchased another half-dozen balls in various colors and plan to make several more. One on request for one of B's cousins, but I'm also starting to crochet items with an eye towards possibly grabbing a table at the American Women's Club of Zurich (AWCZ)'s Christmas Bazaar and trying to sell some things. We'll see.

On the same day I made the bag, I also transformed one of B's old shoe boxes from this:

Into this:

I'm not sure why we had the shoe box - when you buys shoes here in Switzerland, the store usually asks if you want to keep the box and if you don't, they break it down and recycle it for you. Dead useful, but I was glad that for some reason B kept this one. It has resided, emptry on the floor of the apartment, since before I arrived (also, I'm not sure why it made the move with us), so I co-opted it for a gardening supplies container. I had been keeping all my stuff outside on our patio, but we received a flyer in our mailbox warning us about not feeding the foxes (füchse) and how they love biowaste, food, and gardening supplies (the paper even specifically stated gardening gloves). We haven't been proper Swiss neighbors already (I accidentally used the wrong washroom last month, and also we haven't knocked on people's doors and introduced ourselves, which is apparently supposed to be done within hours of moving in), so I didn't want to be the stupid American in the building who attracts the foxes.

Anyway, the shoe box was nice and sturdy, so I bought some washi tape, paint, and brushes to decorate it with.

At least, what I thought was paint.

It was like coating the box in a thin layer of clay. Between this and the crocheting, the tendons in my fingers actually  ached the next day.
Turns out, it totally wasn't. I'm still not sure what it was - it felt almost clay-like in texture and was very thick. The box was textured, so I was able to rub the color in to great effect. Perhaps I was supposed to add water? I have no idea. I am glad that I learned my lesson with this smaller project before buying more of the same type for the Ikea furniture we have arriving in 2 weeks.

Then I made this hat the latter half of the week:

I just loved the pattern, and I'm happy to report the result was a much greater success than my first attempt at a hat last year (it ended up fitting a hypothetical flattened, enormous diameter-head person, not actual humans). Unfortunately, I didn't quite pay attention to the pattern and it wasn't until I was stitching the last row that I realized I had followed the instructions for a children's hat. Oops. I don't really know any 6-8 year olds (my best guess as to what age would fit in this), so it's definitely going in my pile of potential items to be sold.

This week so far has been a little quieter, but I did just finish a hat adapted from this pattern today:

Ta-da! This picture makes it look like a seat cushion...
I used some yarn that my mother passed on to me when I was in the US, so I have no idea where she got it from. It turned out not to have the appropriate gauge from the pattern, at least in my hands, so I had to adapt the pattern some, but it turned out to fit a real human (me!), and I'll probably hold onto it for myself.

Fuzzy, sorry. Turns out that taking pictures in the bathroom mirror is quite challenging. Also, yes, I am in my workout clothes. No judging.
I hope that everyone is having a great week! Have you done any crafting recently?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Recent German experiences

I'm officially on break after three months of daily, intensive German classes, and I'm supposed to be studying on my own. Surprisingly, I actually am. I haven't yet tackled the German version of the first Harry Potter (although I have re-read the English version as a refresher, and the German book version is currently mocking me from our kitchen table), but I've been working on my vocabulary with a set of German vocab cards that my parents had in a hidden corner of their house. The cards look as if they date from the 1960s or so, but I'm assuming that the language hasn't changed that much in 50 years - and if it has, it's been the introduction of words such as "der Computer" or "<unknown article> E-Mail." Which are obviously not the words that cause me trouble.

I've taken my father's suggested approach (why are parents always right?) and, every day, I introduce 3 new cards to my "learn/know" pile. I've been pulling the cards at random, so sometimes I already know them ("tanzen" - to dance), and others are of questionable usefulness ("das Pferd" - the horse. Basic, yes, but how often do horses come up in conversation, really?). I make sure that I never pull more than one card a day that I already know. It feels slow, but it's rewarding to see the pile grow and realize that I am actually remembering the words. B often quizzes me when he gets home about what I've learned.

I've also been watching a fair amount of German television now that we have a cable box and tv set up (yes, still on the floor). Since we got back from the US, it's mainly been French Open coverage, so I've been listening to some English interviews with players, French chair umpires shouting "Merci, s'il vous plait" at the crowd in an attempt to get them to stop screaming (and lots and lots of review of the numbers 15, 30, and 40), and tons of German commentators. I've only picked up a few new words ("versuchen" - to try), but I like that it's a lot of repetitive vocabulary, so I can find the words I know (play, to win, won, there is/are, it was, s/he had, quick, also, tomorrow, next week, other, again, to last, several numbers). Watching TV is, of course, very passive - and for that reason I usually try to avoid it - but I appreciate that aspect now. It allows me to repeat phrases or sentences, rolling them around, trying to mimic the pronunciation as well as take as long as necessary to tease apart words and understand what is being said. It's also nice to get used to hearing the language at its normal speed. It no longer seems like a hopeless, random assortment of syllables that people are mocking me with (I totally don't take not understanding a language personally. What kind of crazy person would do that?).

So, how has all this translated into the "real world"? Mixed results, of course. I stopped by a bakery with a friend last week and while she ordered, I grabbed a lemonade from the cooler. Another bakery worker asked me something and I froze, my usual cat-caught-with-paw-in-the-fish-tank look. It was not "Ist das alles?" - which I can understand - although apparently it was the same intended meaning. The bakery worker switched to English and even gave me the price in English. I resisted the urge to pettishly claim that I understand "four francs" and shamefacedly handed over my money without protest. Perhaps she was speaking Swiss German - I still am completely unable to crack this oral language, and rarely even recognize it.

However, I had a small (very small, perhaps) moment of triumph last Friday. I found myself in town and hungry around lunch time, so I went to a food stand outside of Manor. As usual, I hung back until I had decided what I wanted, steeled myself for the likely conversation that would take place, and gotten out my money (half-franc coins are exactly the same size as dimes, and I still haven't cleaned US coins out of my billfold). I stepped up and requested a frühlings-brot, and the woman asked me a question in response. I went into panic mode, felt the whites of my eyes grow, and had time to think "She can't be asking me if it's for here or take-away [a question that has tripped me up a few times at Starbucks], crap, it's been too long, say your "I don't speak German" line." And I opened my mouth to say it, when I realized I understood what she had asked me. She was asking me which type of sandwich I wanted - apparently there were two made with the same type of bread, which I hadn't realized. She had, in fact, said "Gemüse oder Camembert?" and while I had opened my mouth to confess my ignorance, I was able to switch tactics and say "Camembert, bitte!" with an inappropriately large, possibly creepy, smile. I paid for the sandwich and left without further incident. Yes, it was only three words, but it was the first time ever that I experienced an unexpected German question and actually fielded it. VICTORY! My sandwich never tasted better.

Of course, I had originally wanted the vegetable (gemüse) sandwich, not the cheese one. I chose Camembert because I simply latched onto the last word she had said.

Baby steps.