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.