Friday, December 10, 2010

Good Morning Paris

The sun has risen but has not shown its face from behind the clouds. It's just a mite chilly in Jillian's apartment but I have enough blankets to burrow in like a mole setting up for winter. Even the unexplicable construction occuring outside at 8 am is a pleasant change for my ears.

Last night I arrived after the world's most unnerving train ride (police men and drug dogs, I'll leave it at that)
and was greeted by a friendly and amusing Scotsman, who walked with me to await Jillian in her apartment. We were soon joined by Jillian and a cheerful Canadian and whiled away the evening hours with some pasta and copious amounts of tea. It was a pleasing introduction to what looks to be another fantastic weekend.

This random post is my excuse to say I wrote something this week. I'd say more but this French computer has the world's worst organized keyboard and I'm reduced to picking out the letters with two fingers like a sad overworked, underpaid 55 year old receptionist who never took a typing class. Also there is the promise of bagels if I venture outside today.

Until next time then. Start your weekend early today, I won't tell.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Things I Love This Week

My TILT basket is full to brimming of lovely things because it's been so long since I've done a regular post! So here we go, grab a sandwich, this might be awhile.

Getting Thanksgiving dinner after all- last week I had a nice little getaway on Lake Neuchatel. The Indermuhles invited me up to their gorgeous house for a Thanksgiving dinner on Friday with the family. Julie is from Canada so she cooked up all the traditional goodies (including my favorite: sweet potato casserole!) and it was like a plate full of home. I don't remember much of the conversation because I was at the end of the table sighing in happiness. It was a pleasant, relaxing weekend filled with sledding, cookie decorating and incredible views of the lake.

Images of America in the late '30s, early '40s - Incredible color photos of America emerging from the Great Depression.  I don't know if you thought life was lived in black and white until the '60s, but here's proof that it wasn't.  Color photos from this period are pretty rare but they exist, and thanks to our wonderful Library of Congress, we have access to them. These are not the world's most interesting photographs, but I love them for their honesty. There is no posing or Photoshop wizardry. This is an actual glimpse into life.
I swear these kids are the incarnation of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. 

Movember success - a big noisy CONGRATS to cousin George! He exceeded his goal by raising $1,107 in the name of mustaches and prostate cancer research. And a big digital hug to the Internet community, for proving that some good can come of all us and our excessive bandwidth usage. 

Facial hair and Scrabble tiles = ultimate hipster photograph nonsense.


  • Getting not one but TWO lovely silk/pashmina scarves as gifts. One from my mom and one from Spain from my host mom.
  • Having hot chocolate in my marshmallows. Yes you read that right. 
  • Being legit, letter writing pen pals with my favorite newly-minted Texan. You know, like stamps and smudged ink and jazz.
  • Getting excited for round two of a weekend in Paris with the ever delightful and snarky Jillian.
  • References to Switzerland in TV shows: "The chocolate! It's so milky!"
  • The pure bliss of waking up whenever I want on a Saturday and doing absolutely nothing productive all day, guilt-free.  Well except update my blog. But one could argue about how "productive" that is...
  • Spontaneous emails from my dad. He's hardly as garrulous as his daughter but it's always nice to hear from him.
  • The book my sister is making for a class. Teaching the pythagorean theorem using sandcastles. It's very clever and expertly illustrated.  You read here first, kids. Consider this a review before it has even been published. Which reminds me, Eva: if you use that title I suggested, I want a cut of the royalties.
  • Wintery floral arrangements with purple beautyberries. Which is a really "My Little Pony" kind of name but they are gorgeous.
Julie's centerpieces

What do you love this week?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 88 - "Elle arrive, la neige!"

Got my wish!

Goodbye, I'm going out to play again.
Happy Friday. :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving, I Love You

Well you knew this was coming. 
Honestly, though, I can't believe I've had this blog since 2007 and I've never written about Thanksgiving. But it's actually kind of perfect, because it's all fair game.

Let me start by saying I don't think I've ever been more thankful on this day than I am today. There's nothing quite like being totally on your own in a foreign country to make you count your blessings.

Today was a completely regular Thursday in Switzerland. The buses and trains kept to schedule, the mail came, my host parents went to work, and my host dad's mother tapped on the kitchen window at 8 am and scared the daylights out of me because I was still half-asleep, getting breakfast ready. Ok that last part was not a regular occurrence. I don't think I could take moments like that on a weekly basis. Please don't come tapping on the window until I have all cylinders firing.

As I sat at lunch, staring into my leftover leftover pasta (that's like a whole other dimension of leftovers), a solitary tear rolled down my cheek as I thought of the succulent steam-cooked turkey, my nana's dinner rolls, and sweet potato casserole that my family would be sitting down to in a mere 6 hours. Oh sweet potato casserole, you delicious pile of carbohydrates, why are you not in my life?

(answer: in Switzerland, sweet potatoes must be imported from Israel, thus hard to find and not so cheap. Who knew Israel had agriculture? I thought their main export was political and social unrest.)

And then I got on Skype, and saw these guys:

And then a few hours later, this good-looking bunch:
(That's all four of my grandparents in one room! On one skype conversation! What a rare and spectacular event it was!)

And I thought to myself, man, what a beautiful life I have. If I could choose, I don't think I'd ever be able to pick such a stand-up group of people. My family is so awesome. And yes, I searched the lexicon of the world but found no other word sufficient to describe them.

Granted, nigh upon three months without having seen any of their faces in person has caused my memory to gild each one of them as shining beacons of humanity. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. True, but it also messes with your eyesight. Flaws? What flaws? Not that I want to remember people's flaws.....where was I going with this?

In all seriousness, even though my life was missing the good old traditional Thanksgiving noms (that honestly aren't that interesting the other 364 days of the year), I was happy as a clam today because I got to talk to a few of the people I care most about in this world. I was reminded that there are people I love out there who love me too and that's all I really need to get through the day.

And maybe some sweet potato casserole.

So to all those of you I didn't talk to, I love you, I miss you, and I think about you daily. I hope you had a truly satisfying day. And for goodness sake, stop wasting time on my blog. There's more pie to be had!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Arcade Fire + Google Earth = AWESOME

Note: this is just a screenshot and not actually a link, so don't click on it. The link is at the end of the post.

Normally I'd save something like this for a TILTw post, but this is too cool. Now I'm not one of those people who finds all these rad links before everyone else. In fact, this may have been around for awhile so I apologize if it's old news. However, my host mom just showed it to me this morning.

Arcade Fire and Google Chrome got together to make an interactive film, called The Wilderness Downtown.  You go to the website, enter in a street address and it pulls images from Google Earth to incorporate into the film.  World's most awesome music video? I think so. 

Downside: you must have Google Chrome installed to view and it doesn't work if the address you enter does not have Street View photos taken of it. I had to use an old TN address.

Check it out:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Moustache Pleas

Friends, Romans, Countrymen....Behold the power of the Moustache!

Hercule Poirot, my all-time favorite detective!

What a dapper fellow. Anyway, he's not why I'm here. This is about George again. 

Photo blatantly stolen from his Facebook. The jazzy sunburst is not photoshoppery. He actually emits that ambiance. Hence the shades.

He's almost there! George has now raised $765 for Movember. Just days ago he was not yet at $500, and now his goal is $1000 before the end of the month. 

And so, I shamelessly come to you once more, asking for your help. Time is drawing nigh! Donate your spare change or if you're fresh out, your internet connections to spread the word! 

Why? Because it matters. Do you know the odds of getting cancer? Prostate cancer: 1 in 6 men. Cancer in general: 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men. That is terrifying. So anyone looking to change that? I'm right there with them.  And that's why I'm pushing this. 

Go forth, readers! And by go forth, I mean, click that link to go to his page. Help us in the fight against prostate cancer. 

Would it help if I told you he's a Boston Bruins fan?

Fight on, you mustachioed heroes!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snow? I Think So

Can't believe I'm tempting fate, and certainly come March I will be kicking my November self for wishing this, but LET IT SNOW. 

Sure it wreaks havoc with transportation, but it's the most beautiful form of precipitation. I could wax poetic, but I won't. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Now after all that, don't you want a little snow too?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Things I Love This Week

Hello Friday, oh bearer of the weekend. I love you so.

What am I loving this week?

Toulouse, France

Those are just a few of the photos from a weekend trip. Toulouse is a fairly small city, close to the border of Spain.  I'll be honest when I say it was not my first choice for a weekend trip, but by matter of circumstance, I found myself there last weekend.  Two of my American friends joined me in exploring this unknown city in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France.

Fortunately, I had an amazing time.

What I loved:
  • The weather: 70s and brilliantly sunny. A welcome break from cold and rainy Switzerland. 
  • There are lots of hidden architectural gems, if you look close enough you can find them. I went a little nuts with my camera, taking photos of all the patterns and colors. From the old monastery that houses the Augustine Museum to the fence on the pedestrian walkway over the bridge, there were interesting shapes and plays of light. 
  • Sitting next to a young man who wore a light blue pashmina sweater and smelled faintly of vanilla definitely made four hours of my train trip a delightful trip down memory lane. Considered telling him he reminded me of my grandmother, but then thought better of it. 
  • Eating a Pain Suisse on the banks of the Garonne River and watching the sunset. True contentment.
  • Favorite moment: Saturday night, sitting a sidewalk cafe talking with friends over some excellent tea, not realizing that nearly 3 hours went by.  Hands down, the thing I miss the most about home is having friends who've known me for longer than two months. I'm not good at the pleasantries, I like to hop right into those wildly silly or deep and pensive conversations. Ones you can't have unless you have some history with the person. 
  • Staying in a hostel for the first time. I've been fortunate to travel from couch to couch but this time I was going to a city where I knew no one.  So I put on my big girl pants and got myself a room in a hostel. Surprise: the room was clean and no one tried to rob me. I'm going to chalk that up as a win. That said, I have no qualms about admitting I'm a total pansy. At the slightest sign of danger I would have taken my credit card to the Grand Hotel L'Opera. Fortunately for my bank account, there were no shady characters hanging around my hostel. 
  • Sunday morning meeting = three different languages were spoken. Communication barrier? BROKEN.
Speaking of sunshine, it's lighting up the afternoon for the first time in weeks! The countryside is calling. 

A tout a l'heure, mes amis! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mo Money, Mo Problems? NAY.

November seems to be the month for causes. Everywhere I look it's "National doing something Month". A lot of them are quite useless, but there's one in particular that is doing good for the world. Proof that social media can help social activism: I present to you my cousin George.

Everybody wave now.

He's good at letterpress, carrying a conversation, and growing beards. Right now he's putting his facial follicles to use for Movember, a joint effort between the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong to raise money for prostate cancer research.  He's growing a mo (mustache, for all you plebs) in an effort to raise awareness and money to this end. And he's doing great, almost $500 raised! 

This affects everyone, whether or not you have a prostate or facial hair. As a female, it would seem odd that I'm speaking out now and not last month (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, anyone?) but I don't think I'm far off to say that Movember is far less widely supported.  Both are equally important on the spectrum of cancer causes, but I'm just trying to do my part to get this one on your radar too. Also, I have always secretly been jealous of my male friends and their excellent beards. 

So. If you have a moment, go check out George's Movember page. If you can, donate. If not, do your part to spread the word. 

In the meantime, I'll be over here growing mustaches with the help of Photoshop. 

And a good day to YOU sir.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 70 - Holding on to Fall

Living and Dying with Dignity - Alessandro Gottardo

Autumn is over too soon. Winter, go away.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Things I Love This Week: UK Edition

In an effort to be more blog concious, (it is National Blog Posting Month, after all) I'm updating today ALL THE WAY FROM ENGLAND.
Not that makes any difference to all my American readers...nonetheless, here we are.

I've been in the Manchester area since Wednesday on a vacation and this is what I'm loving:
  • Visting my dear cousin Lindsey and her husband Norman. No one quite understands you like family, and family time is just what I needed after two months on my own. Hold me.
  • Speaking in English in an American accent all day long and forgetting that I'm in a foreign country.
  • SEEING THE OCEAN. Note: This is not the first time I've ever seen an ocean. I just really, really love the ocean.
  • The fortitude of the English. Despite the fact that it's poured every day I've been here, they go out walking and shopping and carrying on, not letting the weather keep them indoors. Though, as Lindsey said, if they never went out when it rained, it would be a country of hermits.
  • Watching the ducks make their way down the canal behind the house.
  • Being in an English-speaking meeting for the first time in 2 months. I wept with joy.
  • Having someone to go shopping with and increasing my already impressive sweater collection.
  • The British noms: Roast beef and yorkshire pudding, jacket potatoes and drinking a Hot Chocolate Milano (so rich, you almost have to eat it with a spoon)
  • The American noms: hamburgers and getting to eat brownies for the first time since I left home!
  • Blackpool: it's like Britain's version of Atlantic City. All the ghetto fabulous of the Jersey shore but with a West country English accent.
  • Visting an aquarium. I love learning about sea life. And jellyfish are the coolest.
  • Guy Fawkes night: fireworks galore! The air was thick with the smell of bonfires.
  • Helping Lindsey use public transportation. I just widened your access to England, you're welcome.
  • With the time change, I'm only 4 hours apart from everyone at home (instead of the usual 6), which means Skype times galore!
And now I must go because I smell pancakes cooking. Life is hard.
I'll add pictures when I return to Switzerland.
What do you LOVE about where you are?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Having Married Friends/Friends with Kids

This is yet another Mama Kat writing prompt but I'm powering through 'til I find my rhythm again.

I'm just going to go ahead and get it out of the way:
I'm single.
Not just "between relationships", but like, perpetually alone. I'm not old though, so I'm totally fine with it. But as I get older, more and more of my friends are getting into serious relationships, getting married, and popping out babies like they just announced last call for reproducing. Which I should mention to those of you in this category, if we can just take a quick sidebar: there's lots of theories about 2012, but no actual deadline for perpetuating humanity. 

And we're back. Anyway, it's a strange feeling to have friends who are married and having kids and something I'm still getting used to. Here are a few things we don't have in common:

(1) "I have to go home and dust my plants" is not as effective an excuse as "I have to go home and make dinner for my husband" when I want to get out of doing something at night.

(2) I can't contribute to conversations about morning sickness or breast feeding. Nor do I want to. 

(3) Couples Only parties/weekends. Which is a stupid idea anyway. How does excluding your single friends make the party better? Do you sit around eating leftover casserole and discuss joint checking accounts and his and her sinks? If so, please continue to pointedly exclude me in the future.

(4) Having absolutely no obligations to anyone or anything made it incredibly easy to press pause on my life and move to Switzerland. Should I decide to sojourn to Africa after this adventure is over, the only conversation I'll be having is with my financial advisor. 

(5) I, too, end the day exhausted with bits of food and occasionally snot stuck to my clothes from chasing children around. The difference is no one calls me Mommy and I get paid to do it.

(6) I can sleep spread-eagle and hog all the pillows and anyone who says otherwise has some explaining to do. Creep.

Not that I think I come out better in the end. There are definitely perks to this party of one but I know there's an immense joy in having a husband and kids that's unattainable by those without. Also some really hilarious couple's costumes I'm missing out on. 
Sidebar #2: will someone please be the Calvin to my Hobbes next year? Without one, I'm just awkwardly dressed in an adult-sized tiger suit.

And though there are times that I feel somewhat separated from my married friends, I don't love them any less. I've got some really great examples of married life around me. And some of you make some pretty adorable babies.  It just means sometimes I'll be eating dinner standing in the kitchen while you're enjoying each other's company at the table.  Conversely, sometimes I'll be in Toulouse for the weekend while you're shopping for a new washer and dryer. You win some, you lose some. 

And that's life. We grow and change but we don't have to allow it to separate us from one another. In the meantime, keep a spot for open for me on your couch and I'll give you advice on the best restaurants where they don't stare at you for eating alone.
Which, in case you are wondering, I have only found one: the Friendly's in Gettysburg, PA.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

10 Reasons I'm Glad it's Fall

In lieu of a regular TiLTw post, I'm using one of Mama Kat's writing prompts to shake it up.

Why I Love Fall

(1) The drama. Fall is like that person you know who stops in to say hi and you never know what to expect.  It can be gorgeous and warm and colorful or stormy and dark and it changes at the drop of a hat.  Of course there are days when I wish it would stop playing Russian roulette with the temperature and my immune system. But it's exciting. Until it snows in early November. That's when I'm over it.

(2) Fall fruit. Apples, figs, grapes, and cranberries are all in season. Am I doing a jig in an orchard? Maybe.

(3) Sweaters. Anyone who knows me knows I have a problem and it's called grandpa cardigans. Yes, make all the Mr. Rogers jokes you want but I love my button downs.  I wear them in every season (yes, even summer) but in the fall I can expand my sweater wearing horizons with cowl necks, cable knits, dusters and wool. Sweaters every day and you can't make fun of me.
Grandma called and she said I could keep her cardigan. It's from Zara though so it's legit.

(4) Scarves. Same reason as above. Fall : the season when you wear scarves not to be a hipster but because your neck is actually cold.

(5) Pumpkins. As you may have gathered from my pumpkin quiche recipe post, I am a lover of all things  pumpkin. You may love pumpkin pies and pumpkin spice lattes but it takes a true enthusiast to enjoy it with bacon in a quiche.  I love eating the seeds too. Wash them, salt them, let them dry, and then roast in the oven. Also, who doesn't enjoy a good pumpkin carving?
This year's attempt. Much less snarky than last year's attempt, which was literally a pumpkin with the word "pumpkin" carved into it. 

(6) A visit from my North Carolinian relatives. A fairly new tradition that involves some of my awesome relatives, who drive with their babies all the way out to Indiana for 3 or 4 days.  Fun times include bowling, trips to the zoo, children in adorable costumes, and lots and lots of laughter. In fact, this coming weekend they will be making the trip again but sadly, I will not be there. 

Sorry, adorable baby ladybug not for sale.

(7) Halloween. Free candy. And dressing up in an awesome costume that's not degrading to my gender and everything we've accomplished in the last 100 years. Due to lack of resources, this year I will be answering the door looking completely normal except for perhaps a paper moustache. 

(8) Building fires. I love a good campfire, but nothing feels quite so nice as a fire in the stove on an especially cold day. Coming from the land of gas fireplaces I can't tell you how nice and cozy it is to live in a house with a wood-burning fireplace. Just beautiful. Bonfires? Also nice.

(9) Elections. It's that time of year! Now politics generally seem to bring out the worst in everyone and a lot of people don't like discussing it but I find the process fascinating.  I love living in a democracy because the system is constantly being re-evaluated by elections. There's the big ones, (presidency, congressional) but every year there are also the local elections. While people pay less attention to these, they actually have a more direct effect on your day to day life. So I don't care if you are Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, or Ambivalent. You can't have an effect (or justify complaining) unless you vote.  Vote for yourself and for those people whose absentee ballot never came in the mail (cough). And now I'm stepping off my soap box. 

(10) Thanksgiving. Um more food, duh. Oh and also the being thankful part. It's going to be my first Thanksgiving in a country that doesn't celebrate it but you best believe I will make pie and eat a ridiculous amount of food all by myself. Food coma, party of one.

Well there you go. A whole post about fall that doesn't mention football. Whoops...
What do you love about fall? 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Checking In

Bon soir.

Sorry to be so sporadic with posting but today's excuse brought to you by the weather.

 The crystal blue horizon and warm west wind have packed their bags and headed elsewhere. Now it seems the sky is competing with the landscape to see who can be more dramatic. Black clouds billow and clutter the space overhead, obscuring the mountains and draping the ground in shadows. A bitter cold wind rips the pretty leaves off the trees and throws them on the ground, swirling to the mountains and then back again to rudely push against me. These two unwelcome characters make me want to construct a tent out of the bed covers and never leave. In these times, I write random thoughts on note cards and toss them in frustration on the floor on top of yesterday's sweater. Go away Internet, I don't want to share my life with you.

Alas, what is one psych visit away from being diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder puts me in a cold weather funk. But I'm trying to shake it off.

I have stories for you. And things I love. But it is late and I am tired and cranky, so I leave you with this beautifully constructed stop-motion animated story.

These aren't tears. Stop looking at me like that, it's allergy season.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 48 - Looking for Color

Today I went for a walk on a day that was cold, windy, and overcast. The kind of day that enhances dead leaves and empty trees and a general feeling of melancholy. A day that looks like this:

A day like today needs color and that's exactly what I set out to find. So here it is:

A lone sunflower in a field, despite it being way past sunflower season

The red Swiss flag, flapping cheerily in the breeze

And all the wildflowers I could find, in a bunch.

Day made. :)

If everything looks grey, you just haven't looked hard enough. Go find the color.

Have a fantastic fall day! 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Day 47 - Welcome to America, Land of Red Plastic Cups

Whether or not I like it, I am a representative of the United States. The way I look, talk, and act is a product of American culture to a certain extent. Now, I don't think I necessarily do such a bad job at this. I'm certainly trying my hardest not to feed into the European stereotype of a typical American. Thus far I have avoided the following stereotypical behaviors:

  • Speaking loudly in English regardless if people understand me or not
  • Wearing a fanny pack
  • Eating at McDonald's
  • Drinking myself silly in a bar
  • Starting all my sentences with "Well, back in the States we do it like this"
  • Calling things "quaint" or exclaiming how small everything is
  • Having a "my way or the highway" attitude
  • Being morbidly obese
It's not that I'm ashamed to be American. I love my country, but I'm also mindful of our bad reputation overseas. Thus, I do not feel the need to march around waving the flag while singing the Star Spangled Banner.  But I also can't hide it either.  Let's be honest: my entire wardrobe is from Gap, Ann Taylor Loft, and Old Navy.  Even if I were head to toe in H&M and Zara, the minute I open my mouth everyone knows that is not real French coming out.

Fortunately the Swiss are kind, accommodating people. The moments where I've felt silently condemned for my citizenship have been limited to one interaction with a really grouchy waitress.  But I'm pretty sure she was just having a bad day.

In general I don't get asked very many questions about what it's like back home because, let's be real, everyone gets an idea from turning on a TV.  I have only met one person who was eager to talk to me when he found out I was from the U.S. Here's how it went.

My French class is a mixture of Swiss Germans, Portugese, Scots, and then there's me. One of the Swiss Germans is a teenage guy who, like every teenage guy, spends the whole class cracking up at what he thinks are double entendres that the instructor is saying.  (Clearly needs to pay more attention to what she's actually saying...) Well on the first day we were introducing ourselves and his eyes lit up when he heard me say I was from the U.S. The instructor stepped out of class for a minute and he comes right over.

Him: "You are American?"
Me: "....yes."
Him: "I have a question I have always want to ask an American!"
Me: "ok, what is it?"
Here I get excited thinking, what sort of political/economical/social conundrum does he want to discuss? It's my first international meeting of the minds! Alert the U.N.!
Him: "When you have the house parties, do you really have your drinks in red plastic cups?"
Me: "...what?"
Him: "You know, the cups, for the game of drinking and with the small balls? I see this in the movies and on TV!"
Me: "Are you asking me about red plastic cups? and BEER PONG?"
Him: " Yes, yes!"
Me: ".......yes. that's uh...that's a real thing."

Glad to know the youth of Switzerland are concerned with top international issues. Thanks, MTV Europe. What a disappointment. I doubt there is anyone is less qualified to discuss the college party scene than me. If this is what they're looking for in an American well I should just pack my bags now.  
Otherwise, if you have any other questions, I'll be over here in my bright blue wind-breaker pretending to like sausage.

God Bless America.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Things I Love This Week

Some weeks are easier than others. This was not one of those. Fortunately there are still little things that bring moments of pure joy. Thus I can say, I love this week too. 
  • Making mini chocolate cupcakes with coconut cream cheese frosting
  • Belle and Sebastian's latest album, Write About Love - like you stepped into the sounds of a Wes Anderson film. 
  • Meatballs from Ikea
  • Walking to the farm, buying fresh eggs, and then promptly eating them all for lunch. Nothing like toast and fried eggs in the middle of the day.
  • Feeding leaves to the goats next door. I crack up every time. Those crazy goats will eat anything.
  • The sights along my walk: wildflowers, cows with clanking bells lazily chewing cud, the horses that always stop what they're doing, ensemble, to watch me run by. I like to think it's my excellent form, but it's probably because I always wave and shout "BONJOUR, LES CHEVAUX!" (Translation: HEY HORSES!) as I pass.
  • Getting new piano music in the mail
  • After a shower, drying my hair in the sun
  • My new navy v-neck sweater from H&M. Less about the sweater and more about only paying 14 CHF for it.  I feel like I cheat the Swiss economy every time I buy something on the cheap.
  • Being happy purely because something good happened to another person
  • This article in the New Yorker on social activism and social media. Summary: tweeting about the need for clean water in 3rd world countries is not as effective as going to Kenya and digging a well.
Keeping it short because I have other posts up my sleeve. Sorry for the lack of pictures. Haven't taken any new ones in the last week.

Smile like you mean it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Recipe: Pumpkin and Bacon Quiche

Quiche à la courge et aux lardons
(Thanks Audrey for the translation!)
Quiche with pumpkin and bacon

26 oz (750 grams) of pumpkin puree

9 oz (250 grams) of diced bacon
4 eggs
3/4 cup (150 ml) milk
7 tblspoons (100 grams) of melted butter

  • Boil or steam the pumpkin, drain and mash. 
  • Mix melted butter with the eggs until well mixed. 
  • Stir in pumpkin puree and milk.
  • Lightly fry the bacon, dice, and add to pumpkin mix. 
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Spread over uncooked pie crust and bake about 45 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius (~392 degrees Fahrenheit)
Type of pumpkin to use: butternut, potimarron, buttercup, Sweet Mama

Feel free to use a premade pie crust or the recipe below:

Basic Pie Crust:
7 tblspoons (100 g) unsalted butter
200 gr flour
2 eggs 
1 pinch of salt 
A bit of water

  • Pour flour and salt on the table and make a well in the center
  • Cut the butter into pieces. Add to flour and mix well.
  • Break eggs in the middle of the dough and mix until soft. Add a bit of flour or water if needed.
  • Break the dough with your hands and knead until it does not stick to your fingers.
  • Let rest for 2 hours before using. Can be stored in the fridge or freezer for later use.
This is light and delicious and perfect for any meal. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How Gruyere Cheese is Made

Ok so I am a huge nerd (this is not news) and I am really interested in how things are made. This goes for pretty much everything. With the exception of hot dogs and other meat products. No thanks, I've read The Jungle, I think I've got the gist of the beef industry.

In fact when I used to babysit back in the States, one of the families I worked for had a billion TV channels and late at night I'd watch...the Science channel. Purely to watch episodes of "How It's Made". Not joking. Ask me how down comforters and golf balls are made.

So last weekend my host family took me and my first ever visitor (!!) to the village of Gruyere to see how they make the world-famous cheese. And since clearly you all would also want to know how it's made, I'm going to share it with you. With pictures.

Here's the heart of the factory. The big copper vats are for stirring and heating the milk. They only use milk from Swiss cows and they heat and stir for hours and hours, adding in a curdling agent.

After the curdling process, they take out the curds and press them in the round metal containers, to separate out the whey (a by-product) and create the big wheels.

When the pressurizing is finished, they remove the wheels to a salt bath where they soak for 24 hours to absorb a large portion of the salt and take on a lot of their flavor. Here is the salt room.

This is when it officially becomes cheese. Then the wheels are removed to a storage cellar where they sit and age. Every day for the first 90 days, a little robotic machine removes each wheel, coats it in brine, flips it over and puts it back. 

The cheese is ready to be eaten after 3 months but can be allowed to age up to 9 or 10 months for a stronger flavor. They sell the cheese in all ages.  Personally I like it mild.  Although this type of cheese is made all over the world, only cheese from this factory is allowed to be actually called Gruyere. So unless you see "Made in Switzerland", the cheese you're buying is not technically Gruyere.

The final step is to take pictures in the face cut-outs in front of the factory. Obviously.

So there you are. It's a good cheese for melting (particularly fondue) and also good for grating and serving over other things. The Swiss eat a LOT of it. I'm more of a soft cheese person myself but it's a good hard cheese. 

Ok class, wake up now, that's the end of the lecture. So what'd you think?

Things I Love This Week

Happy Saturday!

Letters and Packages - for real this time. In a week I received them from three different people! I guess my online pleas worked. Thanks to Mom, Ariana, and Danielle!

Travel Plans - Taking a mini vacation to the UK at the beginning of November. I'm excited for this for a few reasons. I will be
a) visiting family
b) there for Guy Fawkes night
b) celebrating Thanksgiving with a few other American/Canadian ex-pats
c) visiting a primarily English speaking country

Grooveshark - three cheers for the only ad-free music streaming service that works in Switzerland! Both Pandora and fail in this.

This. Nothing like ridiculous internet humor to lift me out of a blue mood. Thanks for sharing Jillian!

Also this. A spoof on the Old Spice "Real Man" ad. Watch here first if you haven't seen it.

I heart Sesame Street.

Little Bits

  • Taking pictures in a real photo booth in a train station
  • Waking up to find video messages in my inbox.
  • Seeing/learning how Gruyere cheese and Cailler chocolate are made
  • Eating a traditional Swiss meal - raclette!
  • Sleeping in
  • Driving through the vineyards by the lake when all the leaves are just starting to turn
  • How my full name sounds when spoken in a French accent - so cool
  • A really excellent recipe for pumpkin quiche - if you like pumpkin and quiche, then you'll love this!
  • Apple season
Hey, SMILE. You're alive and it's the weekend! 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things I Love This Week

So the beauty of TILTW (though clearly not the acronym) is that I can post it on Tuesday and it's totally legit. 

Note to self: in the future, try to avoid the word 'legit'. 

(1) Vitamin String Quartet cover of Switchfoot's "Dare You To Move"
I know I totally already used VSQ in a previous TiLT post but I am continually amazed at their covers. Listen to this one and you'll forgive me for a repeat.


(2) Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt. Sounds strange but the salt is like a flavor elevator for the chocolate. Your tastebuds are like, "Going up? Yes, please!"
My host mom is too good to me.

(3) Really excellent potential film plot - It was recently suggested that my time here in Switzerland is rife with potential for writing a screenplay. It involves two quirky but awesome crime fighters chasing a man on a crime spree of Swiss banks. There's a talking goat named Fitz in there too. Naturally, unintentional but hilarious hijinks ensue.*  I love it so much, I would actually pursue this for my own amusement, if I knew anything at all about writing a screenplay. Thanks for the inspiration. Feel free to leave comments with other potential plot elements. 

*Screenplay is a work of fiction and not based on real events from my life in Switzerland. Maybe.

(4) This photo of Nana and Papa
I wish I could call them up right now just to hear their voices. I also really wish they had Internet...

Points of Interest
  • Words the Dog Knows by J.R. Carpenter. Extremely well-written, entertaining book.
  • Managing to get past the language barrier to make some kids laugh by making a giraffe out of chestnuts and toothpicks. Wish I had a picture. It is the saddest most heartwarming piece of arts and crafts you ever did see. 
  • Getting real mail. I haven't actually received any but I hear it's nice....hint hint....
  • Meeting more awesome new people in one afternoon than I have in the previous weeks combined.
  • The way a horse looks when it runs
  • Plain white dinnerware. Makes the food look brighter, more interesting.
  • Having a clock on my desk specifically so I can always know what time it is back in the States
  • Plaid
  • Blog comments - means so much more than IP address footprints on my feed, thanks for all the responses last post!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 26 - Lonely

Today was rainy and cold but I spent a pleasant afternoon walking the streets of Lausanne, taking pictures of cheerful sunflowers and shopping for shoes. I made good on my promise and purchased a pair of faux-oxfords so my feet don't have to shuffle in the shame of clunky American shoes.  In reality, I went shoe shopping because I literally forgot to bring any practical, flat dress shoes with me.  Now I am the owner of two brand new pairs for less than 60 CHF.
You dig them. Don't deny.

But this is not about shoes. I had a nice relaxing day but I couldn't shake this nagging sense of loneliness. It's been following me around like a hungry cat. (Odd simile but my host family's cat circles my feet the minute I come downstairs, no matter what time of day it is, and I nearly always trip over it.)  It sneaks up and takes a little bit of the shine out of what are otherwise pleasant moments.

I've always been the kind of person who is happy to disappear and spend hours by myself.  In fact, if I go too long surrounded by other people, I grumpy and just a little twitchy.

The problem here is that I've gone from having friends everywhere I go (or at least ones I can pick up the phone and call at any time) to having two in a 600 mile radius.  And visiting them involves train/plane tickets, a passport, and exchanging currency.

Now, before I draw a picture of myself walking the moors alone by day, sobbing into my keyboard by night, I must clarify that love my host family and all the people I've met so far. And I'm really eager to make new friends but patience is not one of my greatest virtues.  In the world of instant communication, it's been really difficult to get used to only having a few hours in a day where I can talk to friends and family.  And while Skype is probably my favorite invention after electricity and indoor plumbing, there's still something missing. I firmly believe the most meaningful interactions between people happen when you're face to face.

I miss running into you at lunch and spontaneously eating together (Windsor...sob).  I miss when I'm talking and you finish the story because you remember when it happened. I miss having inside jokes. I miss you handing me a quarter when I don't have the right change. I miss laughing with you about something that isn't really all that funny. I miss passing you the salt and pepper. I miss you making fun of my taste in shoes when we're shopping. I miss making fun of your taste in music when we're driving. I miss your hugs. I miss drinking in the view with you.  I miss companionable silence.

That got really depressing. Not sure if I'll post this....
I don't mean to sound whiny. I've been away just shy of a month so I feel like the sheer force of how new it still feels should keep me happy. This is an unexpected side effect. One I'm not sure how to deal with. Do I sit online for hours every night and wait to talk to people or do I run around hugging strangers?  Neither sounds very appealing.  One day at a time, they say.

So here's a photo of me from today, smiling like a loon from Loonville just so you know I mean it when I say I'm not Debbie Downer all the time.
In real life I have a neck. Just not in this awkward self-portrait.

In the meantime, be sure to leave a comment because clearly I'm desperate for attention!
But seriously.....

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