Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Words and Pictures

It's been a very very busy past few weeks here and I'm worn out! The last week in November I managed to finish my novel for National Novel Writing Month. Much to my own surprise, this year my novel actually had an ending. In the six or so years I've participated in this exercise in insanity, this is the first time I've finished a story and not just written the requisite number of words! Now I'll take a few weeks off from it and in January I'll pull it back out again and see if there's anything at all salvageable about it - I'm not overly optimistic.

When I wasn't writing, I've been frantically trying to finish some cards and paintings for a nearby Christmas Market where one of my friends had a stall that she was kind enough to share a corner of. I sold a few cards and I don't know what else - I'll find out tomorrow, though I expect just the cards, which is still very exciting for me. I've never sold anything before. Early next year I think Mr K and I are considering opening a small shop on Etsy to sell prints of paintings and photos. I know my little doodles aren't exactly high art but I think they would be fun for brightening up kids rooms - we'll see!

Once the Christmas market work was done, it was time to start stocking up on the remainder of Christmas gifts we still needed to pick up and to finish a few small projects. Mr K and I stayed up way too late last night finishing up two of them - it was nearly three by the time we got to bed.

More fun this week - Wednesday is the last jiu jitsu class of the year. Thursday I get a haircut that, in my excitement to make an appointment entirely in French, I neglected to notice was at 8 in the morning. Friday is our jiu jitsu class dinner and Saturday is last minute shopping and packing before we fly out on Sunday. Too much to do!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oooooooo it's Thanksgiving time and everybody's feeling fine!

So says the singing card my parents sent us - and it's true!

Yesterday was a big day for me - my very first time cooking the traditional Thanksgiving meal all by myself. We invited nine of our Swiss friends for dinner, so I was cooking for eleven, which is also the most people I've ever cooked for at once. Add the size of a Thanksgiving meal and the number of people involved and I think I'm done cooking for the next couple days!

I split my grocery shopping over three days to keep my grocery-toting manageable. I ordered my turkey breast in French with a little bit of guidance from a friend. I borrowed one table, four chairs, three plates, four wine glasses, and one hour of baking time from Steph and Dani.

And then the cooking... I started at 10 in the morning on Sunday and finished at 7:15 Sunday night - just in time to eat around 7:30! Here's our menu and links to a few of the recipes I used.

Spinach Salad
with Cranberries and Nuts

Turkey-Bacon Roulade

Stuffed with Chestnut-Apple Stuffing

Cranberry Sauce
with Red Wine and Lemon

with Apricot Horseradish Jezebel Sauce

Macaroni and Cheese
With Cheddar and Gruyere

Honey-Glazed Carrots

Traditional Green Bean Casserole
Topped with Fried Onion Strings

Sweet Potato Casserole
with Marshmallow Topping

Mashed Potatoes
with Butter and Cream

Pumpkin Pie
with Vanilla Whipped Cream

Joining up to demolish this massive pile of food were our neighbors, Monsieur et Madame Favre, Dani and Steph, Olivier and Celia and Danae, and Mr K's awesome co-worker Nipun (of shoe-swappin' IKEA-hikin' fame). We put a good dent in the food, completely finishing off 2 pounds (1 kilo) of ham and 3 pounds (1.5 kilos) of turkey. Mr K and I were lucky enough to end up with leftovers of all the side dishes, meaning I get the next couple days off from cooking! (Our guests are probably not aware of the fact that thanksgiving food always tastes better the next day when you eat it right from the storage container while standing in the kitchen... if they did, I imagine they would be over here right now!)We sent everyone home with some pumpkin pie and then, early this morning headed to Bern for the ONION MARKET...

But that post will have to wait for another day!

Also coming up this week "Son of Thanksgiving" - starring a boatload of Bern-dwelling-Barbers and even more turkey! Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Attack kittens
Originally uploaded by hellomizk
So I've been slacking off on the blog posts, but it isn't because I haven't been writing this month - oh no. I've written a ton this month - just not things that any human is ever going to read ... that's right (I originally typed 'write' - my brain is fried), it's time for NaNoWriMo once more!

NaNoWriMo, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is National Novel Writing Month - this uniquely American invention (who else would think a novel could be written in thirty days, right?) takes place every November and this is the fifth or so year I've participated.

The normal response to having to write a 50,000 word novel in one month is to spend as much time as possible procrastinating and taking part in non-writing activities that have suddenly become pressing. For me, this meant breaking out my sewing machine I bought a few months ago but never got around to opening since the instructions are in a variety of non-English languages. Finally the other night I couldn't bear to look at my laptop anymore, so I figured it was a good time. To get myself and my machine warmed up, I started a couple stupid sock creatures inspired by the book of the same name.

In addition to mutilating some perfectly good socks, I also destroyed a pair of old jeans that are way too big for me now and turned them into a pretty okay jean skirt! I was actually able to wear it out and all the seams lay nice and flat - what an accomplishment! I'm eager to stock up on sewing stuff while we're back in the US over Christmas as Fribourg doesn't have much in the way of fabric and what you can find is, as expected, expensive.

Anyway, this is probably enough procrastinating for me - I have another 30,000 words to write this month!

P.S. Cats eat stupid sock creatures.....

Friday, November 7, 2008

Martina Topley-Bird

Have I mentioned how much I love it that I can walk to concerts here? No more driving 40 minutes, paying 15$ to park and then having to drive home - nope. The local concert venue is only a 15 minute walk away.

Tonight Steph and I went to see Martina Topley-Bird (previously of Tricky-associated fame) play and it was one of the better concerts I've ever been to. She came out on stage dressed in a glittering pink strapless prom dress - very Barbie-chic. Throughout the night she chatted with the crowd (small venue - maybe 150 people - I don't estimate well) in French and English and also gushed about Obama on multiple occasions, at one point dedicating the song "Phoenix" to him.

She played several songs from both of her albums, including Carnies, Valentine, Baby Blue, Poison, Da da da da, Too Tough To Die, as well as a cover of Kate Bush's "Army Dreamers".

After the show, she stayed around to chat and sign CDs. I was amazed at how sweet and approachable she was - not what I expected at all. I wish I could go see her show in Geneva tonight as well!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The excitement continues...

We made it

So on Saturday we decided to see if it was possible to get to IKEA without a car - it is. It is not, however, easy to get to IKEA without a car - oh no. Mr K figured out our route online and we printed off our itinerary of train, regional train, bus and set out for Bern. Before leaving, we grabbed sandwiches and cokes - this was to prove to be very smart move as we were going to be needing those calories later.

Our on-train entertainment was listening to a couple American students chatting - and this was the first time in at least 6 months I've heard someone use the phrase, "And so I was like, whatever, you know."

We got to Bern in good time and, after a couple minutes' worth of confused wandering, we found the track for the little regional train - which would be leaving in 25 minutes. Rather than standing around, we went off to find the hot pretzel counter where we bought and rapidly consumed a giant buttered pretzel. Just like it sounds, this was a big salted pretzel that was sliced in half and spread with mounds of fresh, cool butter - it was heaven! Our tanks full once again, we headed back to the gate just as our tiny train pulled up. We took our seats and, in ten minutes, were on our way back out of Bern.

The fun started when we got to the little village where we were supposed to catch the bus to IKEA only to discover the next bus wouldn't arrive for another two hours. We checked the little map and saw IKEA was only four bus stops away. Mr K and his coworker popped into the grocery for cold drinks and directions and then we set out.

The girl at the grocery said something like "Go right, go left, go through the forest and you're there - you do have a car, don't you?"

We walked and walked, passing cows and green fields on both sides. We were pretty convinced we were going the wrong way, but it was a beautiful day and we had nothing else planned, so we just enjoyed the walk. This was the first place we've walked here without sidewalks, so we stuck to the side of the road.
Here you can see our route from the regional train station...

We finally arrived at the forest and, just a matter of minutes later, at IKEA. We arrived at 3:45 only to find they close at 5:00 on Saturday. No matter - at least we made it! We rushed madly through IKEA, and while Mr K and his buddy stood in line, I made the obligatory hot dog run since the hot dogs were easily 50% of our desire to go in the first place... I don't know why, but they just taste better after the stress of IKEA-shopping. We headed back out and caught the bus back to the regional train station, then caught the regional train four minutes later. Upon arriving in Fribourg, we picked up Chinese for dinner (ugh too much food) and swore to never eat again as we munch and sorted through our loot.

All in all, it was a really enjoyable day and the walk was probably the best part.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another exciting day

Originally uploaded by hellomizk
So last night we're on our way to jiu jitsu on our trusty 7:30 bus. As always, it was crowded with people heading home for the day, but we were lucky enough to snag a couple seats right in the front. A rumpled-looking guy with a beer got on and took a seat near ours. Holding a beer in one hand, he gestured wildly with the other, pausing occasionally to talk to the empty space next to him. As the bus started moving, he continued chatting with himself while flipping off the nothing outside the bus window.

But that wasn't the really exciting part.

Out the right-hand window, we saw a car approaching the bus and signaling his intention to make a left turn.

But that wasn't the really exciting part, either.

The car's driver was looking to the right and, in his looking, managed to completely not see the huge bus directly in front of him, which he promptly drove right into the side of. This was the first auto accident of any kind we've witnessed since we moved here a year ago. As the driver realized what had happened, his jaw dropped and he covered his mouth with one hand - a poignant expression of "oh meeeeerde".

But that was only the semi-exciting part.

As we all looked out the window, flames started shooting up from the hood and wheelwells of the car.

Now, that was the exciting part.

Everyone started gasping and, as one body, all the passengers stood up and rapidly headed for one of the three exits of the bus. Our exit out the front door was only mildly hampered by the bus driver trying to pull a fire extinguisher from some hidden spot near his seat. The bus emptied in about 30 seconds, at which point all the passengers stopped, opened their umbrellas, and stood in the rain to watch the burning car. (We did, too) Of course, neither Mr K nor I had a camera with us, so all I have for you is the poorly-made dramatic re-enactment to the right.

Two police happened to be right there, so one started directing traffic while the other talked to the drivers and kicked random exploded pieces of bumper and headlight out of the road and under the bus. The driver of the car was unharmed and the bus was barely dented, so there were no injuries to anything other than vehicles. We watched for a few more minutes before catching the next bus to class.

Ta da!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This is Music

Wandering through the Youtubes tonight, I hunted down a bunch of my favorite old songs and something struck me - this stuff is OLD! I was amazed that several of my favorites were 8, 10, 12+ years old. I remember when these things came out and, despite my terminally poor memory, I actually remember them pretty vividly.

The whole video-adventure started with Spiritualized "Do It All Over Again." In my brain, the album that song came from is still 'the new Spiritualized' (to differentiate it from Ladies and Gentlemen We're Floating in Space, Pure Phase, etc I guess). As I'm murmuring along with the lyrics, I notice the video is from 2001. If asked, I probably would have guessed I got this no more than three years ago. In some ways, it seems like my time in Virginia didn't ever register on my mental timeline.

I also found video of a show I was at way back when I lived in Atlanta (the video isn't dated, but I'm almost 100% sure this was the show I went to. I think I've seen them three times, but I forget.) I remember Acetone was the opening band and it was one of the best shows I ever saw.

A few more of the favorites I found:

Verve "Gravity Grave" (Seen live once)
Lush "Hypocrite" (Never saw live)
Slowdive "Ballad of Sister Sue" (Never saw live; saw Mojave 3 live)
The Cure "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea (Live from 1992)" (Seen live seven or so times)
Placebo "The Bitter End" and also "Song to Say Goodbye" (possibly the saddest video I've ever seen)
Radiohead "Karma Police" (seen live twice - one small show, one huge show)
Catherine Wheel "Judy Staring at the Sun" (Seen just once live, at the old Cotton Club)

I miss going to concerts. If you're reading this, did we ever go to a show together? If so, what did we see? All my ticket stubs have gone black with age...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Part the Third: Scotland

Edinburg Rain
Originally uploaded by Arsmor
We're now approaching one of the highlights of the trip - the ferry ride to Scotland! I've never been on a big boat before (at least not that I can remember) so this was a new one for me. The boat had a couple little restaurants, a shop, and most importantly a video-game arcade! I tried to talk Mr K into a game of Dance Dance Revolution but, upon further reflection, we decided jumping up and down on a raised platform on a moving boat on some choppy water might not be our smartest move. We walked around, looked off the back of the boat, had some snacks, walked around some more, and did a little bit of reading to pass the 2.5 hour trip.

We arrived in Scotland and drove three to four hours (can't remember) to the crappiest bed and breakfast I've ever seen in my life. The house had a lot of potential from the outside, but all that fell apart when we got in. Mr K spent most of the night removing tiny spiders from his bed - they were obviously as cold as we were, which comes as no surprise when you hear that the heat in our room didn't work at all. The windows were frosted over on the inside! I spent the night sleeping in jeans, socks, and a sweater and trying not to roll out of my steeply-tilted bed and onto the ice-cold floor.

We got up in the morning and quickly took our hot, but entirely pressureless showers before heading down to breakfast. The hostess made a nice breakfast but the sense we were inconveniencing her that she exuded made it a bit harder to enjoy - as did the mild burns we sustained while trying to remove the blazing hot plates she left in a plate heater for us, while she took the oven mitt with her.

We spent the next day exploring Edinburgh Castle, which was really really amazing. We had a great day and were all dreading the return to the B&B.

We decided to leave extra early the following morning to get Mr K and I to the airport and Mom and Dad to the rental car return followed by the train station. We opted to settle our bill that night since we were leaving at six the following morning. The hostess gave us the total, which we were surprised to hear was double what we had expected (and 30 pounds PER room PER night over what local hotels charged...). There was really nothing we could do, so we paid up, packed up, and left the next day, the four of us swearing off bed and breakfasts for all future vacations. Despite the poorly run and dilapidated B&B, we still had a nice time and I think we would definitely go back to Scotland (to a hotel, of course).

After a pleasantly uneventful flight back, Mr K and I were happy to once again be in Switzerland. Seeing snow on the mountains from the window of our train coming home was a nice added treat!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Part Two: Northern Ireland

Why yes, I am a slacker when it comes to updating sometimes. My parents are still here visiting, and between cooking and walking and visiting, I've been having too much fun to keep up with my little bloggie like I should.

So from Ireland, we headed to Northern Ireland for two days. We stayed at another bed and breakfast. There was nothing hugely wrong with this one, but it was just really blah. The house was completely uninteresting as was the breakfast. It seemed like every radiator in the house was topped by a sachet of potpourri and I found the smell overpowering but no one else noticed, so I might just have an overly sensitive nose. It wasn't an unpleasant place to stay, rather it was just unremarkable.

Our first big touristy goal was a tour of the Bushmills Distillery which was really interesting. The inside of the building smelled phenomenal - like whiskey and wood and fresh air - Yankee Candles needs to take a trip our there and work on a candle because it would be a great scent for at home.

We had a little lunch and headed out to see the Giant's Causeway. The weather was crisp and clear and the mist from the water made rainbows in every direction. Mr K took a ton of pictures. At one point, in order to get a better view, Mr K and my dad went scurrying up the rock, which went fine until my dad managed to descend a bit quicker than he had originally planned, sustaining some interesting scrapes and bruises in the process. We got him on the bus and back up the hill and into the car and headed back to the B&B to relax and get band-aids and aspirin. On the way back, we stopped to take a break since it was a pretty long drive and Mr K and I stumbled on some really cool old ruins. We walked around for about 20 minutes and then piled back into the car.

We were all hungry, but dad wasn't feeling so hot, so we skipped finding a restaurant for dinner - which worked for me as we got KFC to go instead! I haven't had KFC in over a year and it was a pleasantly unhealthy treat. Back at the B&B we had a little KFC picnic, spreading our wealth of chicken fingers, popcorn chicken, french fries, coleslaw, baked beans, beer, and cookies all out on a fluffy white towel. After eating everyone got some sleep in preparation for our trip to Scotland the following morning...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

First in a series : Ireland

Well, hello!

We're back from our vacation after many adventures - some good and some bad, but all exciting! I'll be breaking this up into a number of smaller posts for ease of reading for you and typing for me.

We started our vacation in Trim, outside of Dublin, at a beautiful B&B called Highland House. This was to be the beginning of a downward-slope of B&B quality, but we'll get to more on that later.

Mom and dad met us at the airport in Dublin, where we all piled in the car and marveled at the mis-placed steering wheel and pedals - crazy stuff! At first the GPS unit the car came with wasn't working, but a couple changes to the wires set everything right and we were soon on our way.

The B&B was just perfect! Mr K managed to contract my cold while at the airport in Geneva and was feeling pretty bad by the time we arrived in Dublin. The beautifully-accented owner of the B&B welcomed us inside and, when she heard Mr K was ill, gave him a pat on the arm and said she would be right back with a warm whiskey - it was delicious. Thus fortified, we headed out to walk into town and see what there was to eat. We found a promising-looking Indian restaurant and, since Mr K and I have been craving good Indian for months, mom and dad went along with it despite an unfamiliarity with Indian cuisine. The restaurant was beautiful and the food really, really tasty. We had butter chicken, chicken korma, chicken tikka masala, and tandoori chicken washed down with Cobra beers. The woman working the door seemed to be new (maybe to this restaurant, possibly to the whole concept of restaurants and food in general). This led to one of the funnier experiences of our trip. Mr K ordered a second beer from her and, looking confused, she went off to find one. When she came back to our table, she set down a glass, poured half the beer - and then, taking the still half-full bottle with her, wandered off. That beer didn't end up on our check, so no harm done I suppose.

The next morning we woke up and had a tasty Irish Breakfast before crossing the street to explore Trim Castle. The weather was perfect and we were all happily full from breakfast. We walked around for about an hour and a half before catching the bus into Dublin.

We walked around Dublin for a few hours, doing a little shopping and a lot of people watching. I was beyond overjoyed to find whole stores of books in English, but I was good and only picked up a couple. We had a nice lunch and walked some more, before heading back. All told, we walked just about six miles on our first day - not too bad! For dinner, we had sandwiches and soups before heading back to go to sleep before 10 PM - a trend we continued for the duration of the trip.

From here we headed to Northern Ireland - come back soon for more stories!

Friday, September 26, 2008


Mr K and I are joining my parents for a whirlwind tour of Ireland and Scotland. We'll be sure to have a drink for you...and you! And you and you and you!


Sunday, September 21, 2008

A little walk...

So today I went on a little 5k walk in memory of someone I don't know.

For the whole story, you can read this blog.

I should warn you that it's seriously depressing and uplifting at the same time. I wouldn't advise reading it without some tissues nearby.

It was a nice opportunity to do a little bit of thinking about life.

Keep it up, Matt and Madeline.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Counting down!

In less than two weeks, we're off to meet up with my parents in Ireland for vacation and I can't wait! As far as I know of, none of us have been so it should be a really great trip. My dad is a meticulous planner and has everything laid out in spreadsheet form - who arrives when and on what flight, where we stay, where we drive and how far - it's impressive! We'll spend a week driving around and exploring and then Mr K and I fly back here while my mom and dad make their way to Switzerland at a more leisurely pace by train.

This trip will be the first time my parents have been to see us here and I'm so excited! They're going to be visiting us for several days and I'm busily trying to narrow down the most fun things we need to make sure we go do. Any suggestions?

The weather here has been pretty nice as it starts to cool off for fall. Some days have been cloudy and moody and other crisp and cool. On Tuesday the low is 37F last time I checked - that means bring a warm coat, mom!

Now I'm off to walk some recycling and then complete my French homework. Au revoir!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fun Facts about Switzerland Part 2: Group E(vil)

Every three months since we've moved into our apartment, we have received a bill for 50 CHF from Group E - the friendly local power company. With each bill, we would cheerfully pay, while marveling at the cheap electricity in this country of hefty price tags. After paying, we would go blissfully on with our lives of washing and drying clothing, running the dishwasher, and leaving a light on for the kitties.

Last week I stopped as I always do to grab our mail on my way to pick up groceries. The only envelope was a skinny little thing from Group E, which I opened as I walked back into the mall. Knowing the above about the 50 CHF/month bills of the past, you can imagine my surprise when I opened one for... 780 CHF. "Gosh darn!" I cried out. "Well, dang it all! Oh my gosh!." I can't remember exactly, but suffice to say this wasn't a pleasant surprise.

So, apparently power here isn't super cheap, it's just paid by a different system:

1. Every three months you pay a small flat amount.
2. After a year, you make up the difference between the small amount and the actual cost of the electricity you used.
3. If you are new, the power company sets the rate very low since they don't know how much you will be using. After the first year, the small flat rate will be adjusted upwards to prevent another huge bill in the future.
4. Power is cheapest between 8 PM and 6 AM and also on weekends. This means I ought not be doing laundry at 3 PM on a Tuesday - sigh.

After the initial shock wore off, we got a laugh out of it. Then I spent all weekend doing laundry - lesson learned!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fun Facts about Switzerland Part 1: Snails

There are snails everywhere here. These are not tiny snails - they're often the size of a large marble or a small meatball... possibly two of the worst examples I could have come up with, but I have a headache so we'll let that one slide. Let's say slightly larger than a quarter.

I don't remember ever seeing snails outside of small streams and aquariums in the US. Here I see at least one snail every time I go for a walk. They cling to branches and leaves. They hang from posts and fences.

The yellow one pictured to the right is a pretty common color. Near Mr K's office, there are various small, white wildflowers along the sidewalk. Clinging to the stems of these flowers are tons and tons of small black and white snails - these closer in size to a penny. Near the lightposts, piles of empty shells sit - I don't know enough about snails to tell you why.

One of my friends told me a story - when his parents were younger, they would spend some weekends collecting big baskets of mountain snails that local restaurants would buy. Since then, I think the mountain snails have become a little more rare and a little less snacked-upon.

One thing that hasn't become rare here - the most gigantic slugs ever. I also see these guys each time I go out for a walk and they're easily 4-5 inches long... if not more.

This concludes this week's "Fun Fact!" Stay tuned for more fun facts and cat updates.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An interesting article about ... oo look, a monkey!

Earlier this week, a friend on Facebook shared a link to a really interesting article. The premise of the article is that the computer and internet have done more than provide a new means of accessing information - they have also changed the way we approach information and, potentially, the ways in which we process it.

"Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore."

Those few lines really hit me. I read a lot. A book a week is not unusual for me, but I've also noticed that I tend to have a harder and harder time sticking with longer pieces. When I was younger, people I knew would casually complain about trying to read before bed but falling asleep - I could never understand this. I was amazed that anyone could fall asleep reading, especially because I always had the opposite reaction - more than once, I've stayed up several hours too late, trying to finish a particularly riveting story. I typically read two or three books at a time, with fiction making up the majority of it.

The problem I have with Google and with Wikipedia and so many other online treats is I use them to waste time - time that a few years ago, I would have spent on the couch with a book. I don't know why - I don't know what makes it all so addictive, but when I find myself with a free thirty minutes, I sit down at the computer and start scanning various articles and blog posts. I read quite a bit but, as the author mentioned, I'm not reading deeply - I skim.

A classic example would be an online forum/news site that Mr K and I both love. When browsing this site, I have a bad habit of reading headlines, maybe skimming the related article, and then immediately going to the comments section to see what a bunch of random internet strangers have to say about the article. This has a way of making time go by, but I'm not sure I'm getting anything else out of it. I find myself very familiar with the headlines of what's going on in the world, but knowing next to no details about any specific event. Additionally and even more embarrassingly, I know way more about a selection of stupid celebrities than I should. I like to tell myself that this improves my Jeopardy game and my crossword abilities and that it's important to stay in touch with popular culture even if you don't like it, but basically it's just a big nasty gossip mill.

“What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

This thought, shared with the author by another blogger, bothers me as well. Some days I feel like my brain is so sluggish and thick. My eyes slide over enough text to fill a novella, but all those words just leave the slightest traces in my mind. Books tend to stick better and I've found when I really want to take information in - like I did with this article - I'm better off printing a hardcopy to read. I used to think it was just a love affair with paper, but now I'm starting to wonder...

What do you think?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Je vous presente.....

Waffle St. John
Originally uploaded by Arsmor


So, your votes are in, and "No no no" won by one vote... which was convenient as Mr K had a last minute flash of inspiration: Waffle (you know, like the tasty treat OR like what we've been doing with picking a name for the past three days.) St Jean is the small church where we found the kitties, so it seemed like a good second name.

On Thursday, *Waffle St Jean and his brother **Taco Killer Qu'est-ce Que C'est (fa fa fa FA fa fa fa fa FA fa) had their first trip to the vet, which went fine. They got to take their first trip on l'autobus. They got checked for feline leukemia - clean. They got some Frontline for any nasty little passengers (les puces et les vers) they might have picked up from living outdoors. They got small patches shaved on their legs so they could have blood drawn. They got to hiss at two new people. All in all it went great - when we got home, they hopped right out of their carrier - Taco to the litter tray and Waffle to his food bowl. Both are still eating well, pooing well, and sleeping really well - then they're not busy throwing each other off the top of the futon.

* "Waffle" for short. "Waffa-waffa-waffa" for less short.
** "Taco" for short. Just "Taco".

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Naming cats - serious business!

Originally uploaded by hellomizk
Drama drama - the naming dilemma continues. We've named the white one "Taco" and he likes it. That leaves little brown kitten with no name! To the right you should see a poll - please vote this kitty a name! If you don't like any of these, that isn't a problem - vote "no no no" and leave your suggestion in the comments. Personally, I would like the names to be at least a little bit related, even tenuously. Foods, things that begin with "t", four letter words - help us out!

In other kitty news, today we had our first visit to the vet. Both kitties are, as we suspected, boys. They got shots and blood tests and some Frontline, in addition to the chance to hiss and spit at new people. By the time we got home, they were both ready for some cuddles and some play time. Now both little guys are asleep, no doubt resting up for a long night of dumping the water bowl on the floor and trying to fling themselves into the bathtub at high rates of speed. Ahhh, the life!

Please vote!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Caught - The Story

Cat #2
Originally uploaded by Arsmor
Last night, when Mr K got home from work, we collected all our various cat accessories - the cat carrier, a little toy, some tuna to lure them out with - and set out to give catching them another try, though we were fairly pessimistic about our chances of success.

Once we arrived at the church, I put a spoonful of tuna on a little plate and slipped it inside the gate. The smell instantly lured the kittens out of the underbrush in the garden, but wasn't quite enough to get them outside the gate. It might have been, given enough time, however it was at this point a small mob began to assemble. First came a woman who ran a small restaurant directly across the street - we'll call her Madame Restaurant. We communicated mostly through gestures and the occasional snippet of French. Gesturing wildly, she drug Mr K around the side of the building, insisting he climb the fence and showing him the best place to get over it. Within two minute he was inside and the kittens were so far back in the underbrush, we couldn't even see them.

Mr K gingerly stomped around in the brush for a little bit and Madame Restaurant eventually wandered back to her restaurant. At this point, a very stern looking older woman showed up (we'll call her the Stern Madame) and starting speaking in rapid Swiss German, which of course we don't understand at all. The scary thing about German is - and I know this is cliche - from tone alone you can't get much of an idea whether someone is cheering you on or about to call the police on you. Mr K hopped back over the fence and we returned to our original tactic of waiting outside the gate. Stern Madame slipped back and forth from French to German, speaking so quickly I could barely pick up a single word. She kept repeating something about needing to talk to "monsieur" and don't take kitties without talking to "monsieur". When I name-dropped the nice woman I had met before, the stern one visibly relaxed and nodded her approval - this neighborhood has an impressive grapevine!

As this was going on, an old man smoking a hand-rolled cigarette showed up to watch in silence and smile, nodding at me and Stern Madame both in equal measure. Then came another older woman, walking her dog - we'll call her Madame Avec le Chien. The crowd must have gotten the attention of Madame Restaurant, because she and two of her staff came back over. Just as all this was beginning to be way too much to follow for us, the man who I talked to before showed up - and it turns out that he's "monsieur." He assured Madame Avec le Chien and Stern Madame I was the one who he said could take the kittens. With this, Stern Madame walked off, only to appear a moment later with a key to the gate of the church!

Our hunt now had the necessary air of legitimacy. Mr K and I and Stern Madame walked back around the church, this time entering by the gate. It was back up into the shrubbery for Mr K and Stern Madame and I gave directions around the most dangerous obstacle to our hunt - the very angry maman chat who had returned a few moments before. Madame Stern, now very involved in the proceedings, kept shouting out the current location of maman et les chatons for Mr K as I translated. To the left! To the left! The white, by the wall! To the back! Attention la mere! It was exhilarating and exhausting. The first to be caught was the small striped one featured in my previous blog post. The kitten was passed from hand to hand (bucket-brigade style) out of the garden and, after a brief field trip across the street with Madame Restaurant (she took him inside long enough to show him off to the whole dining room) he was safely in the carrier.

At this point, we lost track of the little gray kitten who had been our second choice. Mr K was able to capture one of the white kittens and, as la mere had begun jumping out of the bushes at us, we decided that was close enough and quickly walked back out the way we came, the growls of mama cat loud behind us.

When we got back around to the front of the church, we were greeted by a mini-mob of jubilant locals and a carrier of two very scared kittens - no doubt nervous at the dogs nosing at the carrier - eek! We quickly lifted the kittens to safety and, after spending another 10 minutes thanking everyone and exchanging handshakes, we were on our way home with our new kittens!

Monday, August 18, 2008


K and Cat
Originally uploaded by Arsmor
Longer post coming soon - I'm worn out!

On the prowl

Evening Kitten
Originally uploaded by Arsmor
Woot - my one hundredth post - and of course, it's about cats!

Last Sunday evening, Mr K and I went for a nice long walk to stretch our legs after dinner and show a guest around Fribourg. During our walks, we're always on the look-out for cats to pet as we had to leave ours with my parents in the US. On our route, we passed a small church that seems to be only used for private functions. Around the church is a neat little garden, secured behind a large gate complete with rusted old pad-lock. Just beyond the gate, we saw a pretty kitty sitting and staring at us. We looked back at her for just a moment before four tiny kittens poured out of the plants behind her and began playing at her feet.

Naturally, we dissolved into ooohs and aaahs.

Naturally, we determined to make two of the four our own.

Thus began my frequent trips into the old town, a ziploc bag of cat food in my purse. Since the first visit, I've also acquired a small litterbox, some litter, three kinds of kitten food (I found a brand called "babycat" - too cute) and a bottle of cat-milk.

On my first visit bearing food, I found the mama cat near the river, hunched over and waiting for someone to drop their lunch she could scrounge from - such a pitiful sight. This was my first day trying to feed her and she's obviously a stray (un chat sauvage) and terrified of people. I tossed pieces of food out and she munched on them, coming within about five feet of me. As I was feeding her, a very stylish middle-aged woman also approached with a plastic dish full of food. We start talking, French and English, and she told me she had been watching the mama cat for a few days and trying to feed her. She railed against her neighbor who refused to help feed the cat, even though he had three of his own ("Il est mechant! C'est affreux!"*) I told her about the kittens and we immediately headed back up the hill to look at them. I told her Mr K and I would like to adopt the two gray ones. She invited me to her house (amazingly gorgeous place - never seen anything like it before) to give me her contact information in case we caught them or just if I wanted to talk to her about them. She also told me she would be leaving for vacation in a week and I should feed them while she was gone.

Two days later, I went to check on the kittens again and found another man feeding them. He had replaced the plastic dish with a glass bowl of water and a nice glass plate of wet food - these kitties were getting spoiled! He introduced himself to me and told me about his 12 years living and working in Canada. He told me he preferred living in North American to living in Europe, adding that Europe had "too many nationalities." As I was admiring the cats, he said I was welcome to take the white ones, but some American lady (me, though he didn't know that at the time) wanted the two gray ones. Apparently the woman I had spoken to earlier about the kittens had gotten the word out - impressive!

So tonight we try again - to my arsenal, I've added two small cans of tuna, a cat toy on a string, a kitchen towel, and a cat carrier. Keep your fingers crossed, because if this doesn't work, we're going in the middle of the night and I'm climbing the fence. How exciting would it be if my first arrest was for breaking into a church garden while trying to catch some little Swiss kitties...

* "He is mean! It's horrible!"

Monday, August 11, 2008

A funny thing happened at two AM...

So, one of the things we didn't really consider when we first chose this apartment was its proximity to the Irish Pub (aptly described to Mr K by our Irish relocation agent as "nearly as Irish as you"). Our first thought was, "How convenient - a bar walking-distance away." However, two 14 CHF Jack and Cokes later, we decided we were more drinking-at-home types.

One factor of walking-distance-bar we had not considered was the scores of other people who also lived walking distance from the bar... and the fact that outrageously drunk people don't usually tend to walk home via a point A to point B route... they stumble and stutter. They take detours. They stop beneath our balcony (which, being four floors above them, they don't even notice) and engage in long, loud, nonsensical conversations. Because of the noise, we have to sleep with the big doors in our bedroom closed, despite the perfect temperature of the night air. The problem is drunk-chatter isn't the kind of white noise like traffic or normal conversation you can ignore - it's crashing and sporadic like thunder. It sneaks up on you, shattering dead-silence.

Mind you, this one small inconvenience is more than made up for by the general fabulousness of our apartment, but some days it gets a little annoying. Here's where we get to the funny part - apparently some of the neighbors are even more annoyed about the drunk-chatter than I am. Last week I watched one of the neighbors get into a screaming match with the drunks below, him telling them to shut up and go home, them drunkenly apologizing in French before all piling into a minivan and swerving their way out of the parking lot of the bar. That was funny, but not nearly as entertaining as what happened around two in the morning on Sunday.

I had wandered out on the porch to see what all the noise was and saw a group of eight or nine guys standing around, hollering at each other. My French isn't good enough to know if they were going to fight or just agreeing with each other, so I quickly lost interest and came back inside. Not two minutes later, I heard an angry roar coming from outside. I went back out on the balcony and saw all the guys looking up at an apartment a couple down from ours. On the pavement near the drunks was a huge splashmark that clearly originated from our neighbor's third floor balcony - fed up, this little old couple threw a massive bucket of cold water off the porch at the drunks! The guys started screaming and swearing in a variety of languages, but the neighbors didn't come out on their balcony or reply. It gets better - one of the guys started fumbling with his pants, either to flash them or to pee on something (classy). Mr K was in his office, organizing his camera stuff so I called him and he brought his super-mega-flash out on the porch. Just as the guy started to drop his pants, Mr K set off the flash (he didn't take a picture, he just used the flash) and we ducked down behind our balcony railing, hidden from view but still able to see just fine. Well, you would have thought lightening struck the way those guys scattered! One guy "bravely" continued shaking his fist in the general direction of the apartments, but one more flash quickened his pace. Within thirty seconds, they were gone and it was silent once more. Sweet dreams!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

No helmet, no waiver - no problem!

So you've seen how much fun we've been having since Thursday or so of last week, right? If not, a short recap:

Thursday morning Celia and Olivier had their baby, so Thursday afternoon I got to meet little Danae. Thursday night we went to see WALL-E, which was a really really great little movie. Friday was Swiss National Day, so more food and more friends and some fireworks. Saturday we lazed around the house and Mr K played truly epic amount of Guitar Hero. Sunday was a tasty dinner with Steph's parents. All this brings us to...

Charmey Aventure Monday! Before you say anything about it, that is the correct spelling - we're all Frenchified now, remember? Ok then! So on Monday morning, I got up and sent poor Mr K off to work. Then I put on my most sportif clothing, packed myself a little lunch, and set off with Dani and Steph for an afternoon in Charmey (same little town we to go for our thermal bathing - mmmmm). We parked just a little ways down from the baths and bought our tickets.

Our adventure began with a sky cable-car ride up the mountain side. Once we arrived, we were harnessed up, given a seven-minute introduction on how to use our various pulleys and ropes, after which we set off to explore - no helmets worn and no waivers signed - amazing, huh?

Basically, Charmey Aventure is like a big playground - like the most extreme version of the playgrounds you remember from your childhood - all wood and cables and their attendant bruises and scrapes. There are five different difficulty levels of courses ranging from yellow (easiest) through green to blue to red to black (we'll come back to this one.) We started on the green track, walking across tightropes and zooming down ziplines. The majority of the stations were no more than ten to twelve feet off the ground - a nice, easy start. From there we went on to the blue before taking a little break to catch our breath, rest our legs, and chow down on the contents of our backpack o' sandwiches.

After our short break, we confidently headed to the red track. By this point we had over two hours of making our way through the various stations and we were feeling good. When we arrived at the beginning of the red track, however, we ended up in a short line behind a family with five kids, most of whom were a bit young for that specific course, so they were taking foreeeeeeever. We conferred amongst ourselves and decided to just head to the black course (I admit I had my misgivings but figured 'how bad could it be').

Well, let me tell you - my arms and legs are killing me today and I think about 75% of that pain can be attributed to the first station of the black course - a humongous spider web, about 15 feet off the ground. I made it about halfway across this thing and my arms and legs were shaking like leaves - at each little section of web, you had to let go with one hand so you could move your carabiners from one web section to the next. This only took a few seconds for each move, but it felt like forever, hanging my whole weight on one arm, my feet clinging to a thin wire underneath me. Dani had gone first and was waiting for me on the platform at the other side. When I finally made it all the way across, he said we had to go back - that the second station was too hard. You read right - if you got stuck at a station you have two options - go back the way you came or let the staff of the park come rescue you with ladders - how embarrassing is that?!?

I wasn't yet convinced the second station was all that difficult - it was just a 15 foot rope ladder leading straight up to the next platform. Dani headed back across the spiderweb and then Steph gave it a try, quickly joining me on my little platform while we contemplated the rope ladder. I took off my big work gloves, tucked them in my shirt and started to climb up the ladder. Wow, I had no idea it was so hard to climb a free-hanging ladder. It spun and the rungs slid unevenly as I moved from one to the next. As you may notice in the picture, there was also a huge distance between each rung, so you really had to pull with your arms to get to the next one. I was just too tired from all our previous exertions and only made it halfway up the ladder before giving up and heading back down again. Since we clearly weren't ready for the black course, we had to head back across the giant spiderweb once more. Somehow I made it and we decided to give one of the easier courses one more go before we headed back to Fribourg. Dani and I went with the blue course while Steph forged on ahead to the red.

By the end of the day, we were all completely worn out, having spent nearly four hours up in the trees. There were two other activities we wanted to try - one was the 1000m long zipline and the other was a giant-wheeled offroading Razor-style scooter for zipping down the mountainside. We were just too tired, though, and decided to save both those activities for our next visit, which will definitely include Mr K.

All this fun and I only managed to get three or four little bruises - that's less than our average jiu jitsu class!

Meeting The Parents

Originally uploaded by Arsmor
We've been keeping so busy and eating so well these past few days!

On Sunday, our good friend Steph's parents invited us to a wonderful dinner at their house, which by the way, is just stunning. They have an amazing view of the mountains and surrounding countryside and Steph's mom has the greenest thumb I've ever seen - there were gorgeous flowers and trees everywhere you looked. They also have the tiniest pretty little cat, Simba - you could easily pick her up with one hand!

We had met Steph's parents briefly before (her mom took Steph and I plant shopping earlier this year and then Mr K and I bumped into her mom and dad at Fribourg's Jazz Parade a month or two ago but it was too loud for conversation), but this was the first time we got a chance to all sit around and chat. They have family in New Orleans and Steph's dad worked with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina.

We had drinks and snacks in the garden, admiring the kitty and the plants and enjoying the perfect weather before dinner. Steph's sister Anne also came for dinner and we got to meet her super-cool boyfriend Marc, who had all kinds of entertaining stories about his extensive travels around the US and the rest of the world. We ate in the garden, under hanging candles and colorful strings of lights. Dinner was a variety of perfectly grilled meats, a potato gratin that would make you cry, and grilled veggie skewers. Dessert was a tasty currant tart with double creme. We sat and chatted, sipping wine and fresh herb tea until the stars came out, before all heading our separate way, happily full and relaxed. It was a perfect end to a great weekend!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bonne FĂȘte Nationale!

Originally uploaded by Arsmor
Yesterday was our first Swiss National Day - the Swiss equivalent to the American Fourth of July. We had planned earlier in the week to head out to Olivier and Celia's to celebrate and everyone was looking forward to getting together - including Danae, who arrived on the 31 of July, just a couple days ahead of schedule!

Baby and mom were both doing well and were able to move back home in time for the 1st so, at Celia and Olivier's insistence, we happily stuck with our plans and got together to BBQ and watch fireworks. We arrived with bags of groceries, and while the guys tended the grill (rumor has it this involved a hair dryer, but we'll have to wait for Mr K to post the videographic proof to know for sure) Steph and I chopped onions and tomato, fried bacon, cleaned salad and set everything out. Danae sat quietly snoozing in her swanky carrier while Celia tried to get a couple minutes of sleep before dinner.

Once the burgers and hot dogs were ready, we all stuffed ourselves full (more of that bad American influence). We then grabbed flashlights and jackets - Dani, Danae, and Celia stayed behind to relax, leaving Mr K, Steph, Olivier and I to go exploring - and headed out to crawl around in an unlit and heavily spider-infested (read: super cool) barn, trying to see (read: catch and take home) some adorable chatons (kittens). Of course, the little kitties outsmarted us, so we went back outside to watch a chauve-souris (shaved mouse = bat) chasing bugs.

After a few minutes, it was time to gather our cameras, coats, tripods, and a tarp together to go see the fireworks. We walked about 10 minutes from Olivier's house to a big field overlooking the lake. Olivier and Mr K got their cameras all set up as smaller fireworks went off in every direction. Each little town has their own celebration, so in any direction you turned, you could see huge bonfires on the hillsides and small and large fireworks exploding overhead. We had a great view when the big fireworks display started, the lights reflecting disjointedly on the lake and illuminating a tiny armada of boats.

The fireworks display lasted almost half an hour, after which we headed back to Olivier's house, stopping only long enough to play with a friendly black cat and get peed on by our first Swiss toad. Dani was passed out on the couch and we were soon to follow, so we kissed our goodbyes and piled into the car to head home.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Food and fit

Dani ski jumps
Originally uploaded by Arsmor
On Saturday, Dani and Steph picked us up and we all headed to Olivier and Celia's for a nice BBQ dinner. The weather was starting to look stormy, so the guys got to grilling immediately after our arrival (stopping only long enough to feed a snack to the neighbor's horses and to grab more beers) while the ladies hung out in the kitchen, Steph and I sipping drinks as Celia prepared a tasty pasta salad to compliment the grilled meats. As in keeping with nearly every meal we've eaten since we arrived here, it was wonderful and we were all happily filled up by the end of the meal - even the Fromaginator (Dani)!

What's the best way to wind down after a great meal? Lots of physical activity, of course! Olivier and Celia have the much-coveted Wii Fit and we were all eager to give it a try. I've read a ton of reviews on the thing, but this was the first time I actually got to use it - and I have to say it's even more fun and much more exhausting than I expected.

(On a totally unrelated note, I have to say most rap and reggae sounds even more lame in French and I'm seriously considering going down to make this point to the little Swiss gangsta-wannabe blaring his car stereo outside. Hey you kid, get off my parking lot - or at least spring for some decent speakers - your car stereo stinks and you should be mortified that other people can hear that tinny mess.)

End rant. Now where was I... oh yes!

Wii Fit is amazing and we all had a great time playing with it. I don't think it's technically meant to be a party game, so the little scale inside the thing was in a state of perpetual confusion as Dani, Steph, Olivier, Chris and I all took turns. We had a great time playing with the Hula Hoop game - I think you could convincingly argue that the people heckling from the couch were having just as much fun as those of us swirling around like crazy people, precariously balancing our imaginary hoops. Maybe even more fun, now that I think about it. The ski jump game was also entertaining and the yoga moves were just plain hard - it's humbling to see how unbalanced your center of gravity really is.

We have to get one of these things!

Friday, July 25, 2008

More Friday Fill-ins and a lift in the block!

You know you want to play along, too!

So between all my whining yesterday about writer's block and the time I went to bed, I managed to start two more blog posts (saved in draft to be cleaned up before being released later this week.) This afternoon I got yet another idea that I've been playing around with, also in draft, so maybe I get a break from the block for a little bit. (Now before you get your hopes up, notice I didn't say I got three great ideas for blog posts ... or three good ideas... or even three passable ideas - I just said I got three so, you know, keep that in mind.)

On to the fun (my answers in bold, as usual):

1. I believe whatever doesn't kill you would probably taste good on toast with tomato and mustard.

2. If you're good at something, you still don't have to do it.

3. Why so many verbs in French have to be complicated, yo!

4. Something is out there, it's hiding behind the door.

5. If my life were a sitcom, it would be titled something with three words or less.

6. Sitting on my balcony [if you don't have one, use your imagination] I see a big ugly hotel, a small stage set up in the park, surrounded by Cardinal beer tents and, behind the haze, the Alps.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to Faux Pho and Guitar Hero, tomorrow my plans include a nice walk and taco salad and Sunday, I want to continue playing Guitar Hero and eating random things!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rewind almost one year...

Our first meal in Switzerland
Originally uploaded by Arsmor
So yeah, the writer's block is still hanging on. I've been sitting at my computer, staring at the screen and trying to think of anything at all to write for the past one and a half hours. As a last ditch effort, I started going through Mr K's Flickr stream to see if anything caught me eye. If you're at all familiar with Mr K's photography (he's really really good) then you just know something will catch my eye - and here it is! This picture got me not because of what it shows, but because of the memories it brings back - this picture was taken a matter of hours after we landed here.

The day we arrived was easily one of the longest days of my life. For our 12 hours flight here, we were seated in the very back row of the plane in not one, but TWO middle seats. Our flight left in the evening on the 17th of September and arrived the morning of the following day. I managed to not sleep at all on the flight and Mr K only slept for about two hours, meaning we were pretty much dead when we arrived at the oh-so-tiny Bern Airport.

(It was on the connecting flight from Munich to Bern we learned an important lesson - when the seventeen little old people on one's flight, all laughing and chatting together in Swiss German, pause their conversations just long enough to press their hands against the seat back in front of them during landing, rather than giggling, one would be wise to follow along otherwise one will smash one's face into the seatback in what can only be described as an uncomfortable manner - the landing is that abrupt.)

So, rubbing our recently-squashed noses and grabbing our bags, we leave the tiny customs-free Bern airport and head to our hotel. After nearly destroying a cab with the weight of our massive amount of luggage, we checked into our hotel. Just as I was preparing to collapsed on the gigantic and fluffily-made-up bed, Mr K insisted we go to open our bank account and also find some food. Though I really wanted a nap, I grudgingly agreed as I had been wearing a pretty healthy amount of travelers checks around with me and was a bit nervous I was going to lose the whole pouch of them at any moment.

We managed to open a bank account despite some linguistic complications and then had one more item to deal with before Mr K would finally let me sleep - food.

(By this point I had been awake well over 30 hours in addition to several nights of next-to-no-sleep right before we left. All our furniture was gone, so we were sleeping in blankets on the floor of our house right up until the day before we left.)

The problem with us wanting to eat was we weren't hungry during the nationally-sanctioned-times-of-meals (noon to two in the afternoon and six to late in the evening). It was around 3:30 or so in the afternoon and there was no way I was going to be able to wait until six in the evening to eat. Fortunately, Mr K remember we could get some hot food at Migros (grocery and department-type store chain) and there was a location located between the bank and our hotel.

The food was served cafeteria style, so we grabbed trays and tried to make a choice. I was so hungry I couldn't make up my mind, so I just got the same thing that Mr K got - pork on a stick. With gravy. He was good and got veggies but I also got noodles with mine - I was dying for comforting-carbs. Throw in a couple glasses of orange-kiwi juice and a kinderegg for me and I can honestly say it was one of the top five most enjoyable meals we've had since arriving here - not as much for the food quality as just for being hot food - I was almost in tears. After a heavy meal like that, we headed back to our hotel, too tired to even pay attention to the elephants out front, and collapsed.

We actually haven't eaten at a Migros since that day, but that meal will always be a memorable one for me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Writer's Block

It's what I have!

Ugh - I'm rested up, my chores are done, I'm at my fabulous desk, it's nice and quiet so why aren't the words coming? For the past week, I've noticed I keep starting and stopping other writing projects I'm working on and all my paintings have switched from squid to fat birds, which is all fine and good except I have a project to work on that requires people... and I don't really paint people. Not even cartoony people. Sure there have been one or two exceptions, but in general, no people.

So, not feeling the people-painting thing, I sit down to catch up on the blog. Then...... nothing. It's isn't that we don't have news, it's just that the news isn't getting my brain going.

1. We finally sold our house in Virginia - yay! (Problem: Excellent happy news, but not that interesting to write about.)
2. We had a great visit with Mr K's parents! (Problem: Mr K already wrote it up really really well!)
3. I have new recipes and new cookbooks! (Problem: Ya'll don't wanna hear about it!)

We have French class tonight, which always has a numbing effect on my brain. Our instructor is pleasant enough but for various reasons we just hate and dread the classes. She moves too quickly and we never review. She doesn't speak English so even the most basic question of grammar leads to a 30 minute explanation as she tries to basic-French and pantomime her way through it for us with the end result that we nod and wait to look it up after she leaves... These are questions that 3 minutes of English explanation would instantly clear up but instead end up completely derailing the lesson. Topics seem to be chosen at random and nothing ties one lesson to the next. One week we did reflexive verbs... the next? Fruits and vegetables. Stuff like that.

So that's enough of a mini-rant for one day. Tell me something interesting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A big brown desk, a small address book, and what it means to be a grown-up

I don't know where it came from, how much it cost, or whether it had any particular significance to my mom, but her desk was a source of fascination to me. It was a small to medium-sized, medium-brown-colored wooden roll-top desk. Two shallow drawers on the top held small items out of reach of little hands, while two wider drawers at the bottom held paper and folders and less interesting items. When the roll-top was opened, it exposed several small nooks and drawers for envelopes, stamps, and other miscellaneous office goodies.

The general rule of the desk was that we ('we' being my sister and myself - dad was probably implied, but not as strictly monitored) stayed out of mom's desk and only removed items from it with her permission or when asked by her. The really sharp scissors typically lived in the top drawer and were the item we would most commonly beg to retrieve. The scissors themselves changed out over the years, but the all-metal, shiny, unbelievably heavy sewing scissors were always my favorite.

The second-most-commonly-retrieved item was almost a sacred relic in my mind - my mom's address book. Small and spiral bound, the book bristled with various scraps of paper - some with neatly cut edges, others torn carefully from a larger something. Each time someone moved, my mom would carefully cross out the previous address and neatly add the new information in her enviably perfect cursive on the following row. The address book was typically only fetched during one of the two prime thank-you-note-writing times of the year (post-Christmas and post-birthday) and was immediately returned to the desk after use.

I've always wanted an address book of my own like the one my mom had - it was a fascinating work, detailing the movement of family and friends across the country and world. It followed the creation of new families and, in a couple sad cases, the dissolution of old ones. The pen changes, the ink color changes, but the handwriting remains the same throughout. I've never successfully kept an address book myself, preferring (out of frustration with my own attempts) to keep all my addresses on my computer - convenient but impersonal, lacking the subtlety and depth of my mom's book. On more than one occasion, I've selected a book and entered a few addresses, only to become frustrated with my inconsistent chicken scrawl and mixed use of nicknames and "real" names.

A beautiful address book, like a handwritten thank-you note, has become a much rarer item these days. Most people I know keep their addresses online or in various digital gadgets, sending emails and texts for all but the most serious occasions (weddings and funerals are still paper-only affairs nine times out of ten). When I was little, my mom's desk and address book were to me the most concrete displays of what it meant to be a grown-up. Now that I'm arguably approaching grown-up myself, I realize my mom, through these two everyday items, taught me a few important rules to live by: be organized and prepared, be conscientious, care for others and follow their lives and lastly, it's okay to keep a couple nice things (like the really sharp scissors) for yourself!

Friday, July 11, 2008

A poem.

So sorry this blog's been neglected-
We have company, as you might have suspected.
Two parents are here
And there's much drinking of beer
And walking outdoors, pink-complected!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pulling four pounds of chicken is more fun than you think

On Sunday, I set a new personal record - I cooked for seven solid hours. I consider this good practice for the marathon of food that will be this Thanksgiving, when I give it a go.

My goal for Sunday was to give our Swiss friends a taste of a Southern Fourth of July (as close as I could get without an actual grill) and a couple of our local American friends an always-welcome taste of home. The first step was to get groceries - this took about three separate trips, since I have to be able to carry everything home by myself. Then I started prep work on Saturday. I hard boiled a dozen eggs and soaked then cooked a kilogram of dried beans (that turns into five pounds of cooked beans, in case you were wondering.)I chopped a couple things that wouldn't brown and made my Ambrosia Salad, since it gets better as it sits out. Now for the fun part - I proceed to grate almost a pound and a half of cheese by hand on my box grater. I see that it was good, and I rest.

The real work began at 10 in the morning on Sunday. Step one: poach and then shred 4 pounds of chicken breast. Poach in two batches. While poaching, begin browning bacon, onion, and garlic for baked beans. As browning happens, move on to batch two of chicken. Once chicken is all shredded, throw into gigantic heavy-bottomed pot and add a whole bottle of Jack Daniels BBQ sauce (from my stock of imported American delicacies) and then throw in half of a second bottle. Add a splash of ketchup, some molasses and dark brown sugar (also from my stock)and just a splash of cider vinegar. Cook on low for the next 5 hours. Mix up sauce for the baked beans and cook on low for the next five hours as well - this means I'm now down to two burners on the stove.

At this point, I'm feel hot and yucky from so much leaning over the stove and my arm is beginning to ache from stirring so much, so I move on to cooler tasks - deviled eggs. I made two different batches: one hot and spicy and the other with a hidden surprise - an olive underneath all the gooey yolk-tasticness. I got the recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks ever. Seriously, if you like deviled eggs, PLEASE buy this book. I've now made five different recipes and they've ranged from fantastic (springtime herb eggs) to sublime (spinach and bacon eggs - these almost made me cry). Once eggs were done and in the fridge, it was time to drag out ye olde box grater once again for some coleslaw-makin'. I grated a whole head of cabbage, a carrot, and cried my way through an onion. I should also mention that all this kitchen work was made much more fun by the slew of NPR podcasts I downloaded to keep me entertained while I cooked. One episode of radio goodness later and I'm sliding a bowl of fresh coleslaw into the rapidly-filling fridge.

Honestly, at this point, everything is starting to become a blur. I'm a clean-as-you-go cook and it was even more important to do so for this meal as I don't own enough big pots, pans, and mixing bowls for a meal of this size without using and reusing. All this cleaning means my fingers were completely pruned up by about four in the afternoon - this was a boon as it meant when I nicked myself with a paring knife or with my guillotine..sorry... mandolin (both of which happened) I didn't bleed at all! At some point I made a big batch of bourbon iced tea from Everyday Food magazine that was a huge hit.

Now that I think of it, ours was a very Martha meal (except I bet she's never run out of mixing bowls). My coleslaw recipe, macaroni and cheese recipe (cheddar, gruyere, and tilsiter cheese for me), drink recipe, and baked bean recipe (sauce section only) were all from various Martha publications.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

Happy Fourth of July! Tiny Playmobil Guy is asking you all(ya'll) to briefly lower your weapons and raise high your burgers and dogs in thanks to all our buddies in the military (past and present) who do so much for us. (I know I know - we're not all this heavily armed or thin. It's just that my Playmobil collection is still pretty limited, so this is the best pre-party reenactment you're going to get. Personally, I was just excited I had a little guy with a "4" on his shirt!)

Due to various scheduling conflicts, we won't be having a party today (the 4th) or tomorrow (the 5th) however on the 6th we'll finally get around to celebrating the fourth American-style! We're going to be having friends and a couple of Mr K's coworkers over for dinner and games. I have my menu picked out and about half my grocery shopping done. In the interest of keeping it a surprise for any locals who might be reading this, I'll wait to post the menu til Monday or so (not that anyone reading this cares - I saw the ZERO votes for food writing and recipes) but suffice to say I'll be spending almost all of tomorrow cooking - hurrah!

Back when I was an obnoxious little teenage (nothing personal against me - all teenagers are obnoxious at some point, right dad) Miz K living in Tennessee, the highlight of every Fourth of July was the neighborhood Pig Roast - a yearly tradition big enough to dictate tee-shirts be printed and distributed before the big event. The event centered around an entire pig (approximately obnoxious-teenager sized) slow-cooked for upwards of 24 hours in a humongous grill rented specially for the occasion. While all the men-folk were tending the pig (read: guzzling beer while sitting or standing near the pig), all the mamas in the neighborhood were busily putting together a mountain of side dishes: casseroles, salads, sauces, desserts.

One of the hardest parts of the Big Pig Roast was the wait for the now-cooked pig to be pulled apart and served (for those not in the know, you pull the pig apart, dress it with BBQ or just its own juice, and serve it on a bun). The kids, like small sticky vultures, would get as close to the growing mountain of pork as possible, snatching pieces of meat whenever we thought we could get away with it, and burning our mouths and fingers in the process, our eyes watering as we denied any porcine theft. Meanwhile, the neighborhood dogs were underfoot, fighting over the singed but still curly tail and crispy ears that had been cut off the pig especially for them.

Without fail, even after we gorged ourselves beyond reason (USA!USA!) there would still be a pile of pig left over in addition to multitude tins, pans and bowls still half-full of mac and cheese, baked beans, seven layer salad, ambrosia, and chunks of watermelon. The dogs would be passed out under the tables and chairs and most of the people would be in almost the same state.

I've never lived in a neighborhood quite as close-knit as that one since we left Tennessee (though my parents' current neighborhood sounds pretty close) but I hope someday to be able to organize that kind of feast on my own. What Fourth of July memories do you have?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Catch-up Bloggin' - Sunday

Originally uploaded by Arsmor
On Sunday, Mr K and I had planned to go to Murten to have a little picnic and play around and in the lake, however Mr K turned out to be on call and we had to stick a little closer to his computer(s). We spent a lazy morning in before heading out for a little walk and to feed some bread ends I've been saving to the ducks.

Mr K got some really amazing pictures of Fribourg as we walked around - you should definitely give them a look! It was nice and warm out, but we weren't too concerned about the sun as we planned to only be out for a few minutes. On the way, we happened upon the Swiss Puppetry Museum, which seems to only be open for a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Excited to be there at the right time, we paid our five francs each and headed in.

The museum was small but very interesting - I had no idea there were so many different kinds of puppets. We saw several shadow puppets as well as glove puppets and thread puppets. Some were very funny and some were serious, some were morbid, and some were amazingly ornate works of art.

After the museum, we made our way back out into the sunlight and headed down to the river to search for ducks. As we walked along, the urge to wade became too much and we spent a good hour stomping around in the river. the water was ice-cold and wonderful. We saw an armada of baby ducks and watched them fight with some fish over our bread crusts. At some point I noticed my shoulders were sizzling, so we made our way out of the water and made a bee-line for the funicular. We made one more stop to grab some Chinese (too hot to cook) and headed back into the cool darkness of the apartment.

Catch-up Bloggin' - Saturday

Originally uploaded by Arsmor
Bonjour, y'all! I'm a few days behind here, so let's try and catch up a bit!

On Saturday, Mr K and I headed to Lucerne to join what turned out to be about 349,998 other people to enjoy the Yodeling Festival, which takes place once every three years. The weather was beautiful and sunny, if a bit warm. This was our first trip to Lucerne as well - we'll have to make a return trip during a non-festival weekend to see what else there is to see.

The train ride took around an hour and a half - plenty of time to enjoy our tasty mozzarella sandwiches and the scenery. The train got busier as we went along, with several people in their yodeling garb boarding at each stop. The train was packed by the time it arrived at the station - but that was just the beginning. The station itself was chaos and it just got more and more crowded as we got out into the festival area.

A large portion of the crowd was dressed up, which was really fun to see. Some of the women had the cutest little flat straw hats that I just loved, so when I found a stall selling them, naturally I had to have one of my own. A quick glance at the 200 CHF price tag took care of that problem and instead we had a couple cold drinks and relaxed in the shade.

All in all, we spent a good five hours walking around, listening to the yodeling and people-watching. Five hours in the heat left us pretty tired, so we grabbed some gyros from a stand near the train station and caught the next ride back to Fribourg to nurse our sunburns. Halfway through the day, we found the sunscreen girls - a few girls with giant bottles of sunscreen who would give you a palmful of free lotion but didn't volunteer to apply it for you (maybe our French just isn't good enough yet) - but by that point we had both gotten a bit of pink to our faces, arms, and necks (yee haw) and were past the point suncreen would help and our only choice was to get out of the sun.

Sounds interesting? Next festival in is 2011 in Interlaken!