Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Here. I've got a hint for you.

If you want me to do freelance work for you:
  • DON'T call me 3 times over the course of the 2-hour-long meeting I have with the Big Boss of my organization on Friday morning.

  • DON'T leave a message that does not tell me who you are or include the name of the organization you want me to work for and the nature of the work you'd like me to do.

  • DON'T ask me to please call you back at MY telephone number.

  • DON'T keep your Sabbath day holy but text me 3 times on mine.

  • DON'T wait until the 3rd text message (in other words, the SIXTH time you've contacted me) to finally give me a number at which I can actually reach you.
Because you know what? That makes me think that maybe you're not such a great person to work for. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I guess I've finally recovered from Vermont

It snows a lot in Vermont. Usually from mid-October to mid-May, with everything that falls from December through February piling higher and higher because usually there's no thaw until March.

Moving from San Antonio to Middlebury was a rude awakening, let me tell you.

Three years of lots of snow, little sunlight and temperatures as cold as -40°F/C (not factoring in wind chill!) was enough to last me a lifetime.

The one winter I spent back in Texas was a relief. No snow. Lots more light and very few days where the temperature hit freezing. No reason to put on more than one layer of clothes at any given time.

Then I moved to Switzerland. It snows a lot in Switzerland, although not very much in Geneva. We had two days of snow the first winter I was here, and about five days of snow the second winter. After Vermont, I should be able to handle that, right? No way. On mornings when I woke up to snow outside, I cried. I hated snow so much. Even one day of snow a year was too much for me.

And now, this winter it has snowed countless times. Supposedly it is the snowiest winter Geneva has had since 1985. And you know what? I love it! It's so soft and quiet and soothing. It makes the town slow down and be less busy. And, let's face it -- 25 above is a heatwave compared to 40 below.

I'm still never moving back to Vermont, though.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hey, ho, nobody's home

It's a gorgeous day in Geneva. Blue skies, warm (for winter) weather, little chirping birdies all over the place. Perfect day to go walk around town.

This morning I went down to the rues basses, which are normally chock-a-block full of pedestrians. Not today. The stores were really empty, too, which suits me just fine -- I had a nice, leisurely shopping trip where I got two winter/spring skirts that were originally more than 100 francs each for just 35 francs total. And the buses and the streets were empty... I guess everyone is out skiing. I don't know why. I'd much rather walk around town with my coat unbuttoned than freeze my butt off on the slopes, especially after four months of colder-than-usual weather.

Especially since it's supposed to be gross outside tomorrow...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Could somebody please tell me

why the French call gear hobs "mother strawberries"?

This has been bugging me all day.

Thank you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I hate uncertainty. I am the sort of person who likes knowing exactly what lies ahead, exactly what step to take to achieve her next goal... and for the past 2 1/2 years, I have been able to do just that.

Not so much anymore.

Here's what I'm certain about:
  • My contract at my current job will end in March.

  • I will defend my thesis and earn my MA in June.

  • I will be moving out of my apartment in June.
Here's what I'm not certain about:
  • Whether or not I'll keep working at my current job past March (the person I'm replacing has not been straightforward about when she's coming back -- the date has already been pushed back once, and it looks like it may get pushed back again).

  • Whether or not I'll find a permanent job that will issue me a work permit before my student permit runs out.

  • Where I will move to when I have to leave my apartment in June.
Here's what I'm bound and determined to have happen:
  • No matter what I have to do, I will be in Switzerland (and preferably Geneva) after my current permit expires in September 2009.
I'm handling this better than expected, actually, especially given that I have no family on this continent that I can rely on and given that most of my friends are more or less long-term out of town. I've got two plans in mind:
  • Plan A: Find a permanent, full-time job that will issue me a work permit. (Advantages: stability! At last! Plus the satisfaction of knowing, for the first time ever, that I'm completely self-sufficient and can provide for myself on my own. That would be nice.)

  • Plan B: Enroll for a BA in Arabic language, literature and civilization, enroll in Judaism classes at a local synagogue, and find a part-time job that will pay for 3 more years of studies. (Advantages: Arabic is a great language to add to my combination both for international organization translation work and for humanitarian work. Learning about the history of the Arab people and about the Coran will give me a better understanding of the situation in the Middle East, as will learning about the history and religion of the Jewish people -- a definite advantage if I decide I'd like to do humanitarian work. Disadvantages: It's really hard to find a part-time job that can accommodate the very irregular schedule that I would have as a student! Getting CELTA certification over the summer and teaching English would probably be my best option.)
Now, here's what's weird. Even if Plan A works out as early as tomorrow, I probably won't have enough time to find a place to live before I have to move out of my apartment in June. And let's face it -- Plan A isn't going to work out tomorrow. Or the day after that. It probably won't work out before my current job is up. So I actually have to put Plan B into motion first in order to be able to register for student housing in time to be guaranteed a place to live. I've gotten everything I need together (or, at least, everything I think I need!) and will be going to register for Arabic and student housing tomorrow. That way, I can drop Arabic and move out of student housing and into my own place if I find a job without being stuck between a rock and a hard place because I didn't find a job and waited too late to register for classes and housing to be accepted.

Keep y'all's fingers crossed (and thumbs held) for me!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I love this statue

I saw this statue outside the Royal Palace in Budapest last August and just had to get a picture of it. It reminds me of my favorite poem:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

--William Carlos Williams

I'm not much on plums (can't stand them, actually), but it was so hot outside that day that I might well have been tempted to steal one out of an icebox and eat it to finally cool off a bit!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

38 down, 12 to go!

My thesis was my Valentine's date this year. Not very romantic. (Although we did break my bed together once...)

I finally got my head in the right place to work on it after a conversation I had with one of my friends a few weeks ago. She's in the same boat I am -- working 50% (for those of you in the States, that's 20 hours a week) at a job with a fair commute, tired and needing a break from work when she gets home in the afternoon, and having a hard time succeeding in putting aside enough time each day to do research. And not stressed out about it yet, since the written version of the thesis isn't due until mid-May, with the defense in mid-June, but definitely feeling guilty about not doing as much work as one thinks one ought to.

Where our stories differ a bit is that I already started writing the analysis portion of my thesis last summer, but got seriously bogged down with a pesky chapter back in October. I had a lot to say in this particular chapter, but hadn't really done all the research I needed to do and hadn't narrowed down what I wanted to talk about quite enough. And so I thought about it for a couple of weeks, decided on how I wanted to narrow things down, spent a couple more weeks taking notes, wrote the first few pages and then got completely sidetracked by life for awhile. Then I told myself that I would churn the chapter out during the week I had off for Christmas/New Year's... but then I got very sick with bronchitis and was too miserable to do anything but lie flat on my back in bed. And all the putting off and waiting and dragging things out made me feel guilty. And the more guilty I felt, the less I wanted to think about my thesis and the more paralyzed I became.

And then my friend and I talked about it, and I realized that I'm not in such a bad place. At the time of our conversation (late January) I had 28 pages already written and turned in, and I had an 8-page rough draft of the current chapter happily stored away on my hard drive. These 8 pages still needed a bit of an overhaul to get the theoretical argument structured the way it should be, but at least I had already spit out most of the chapter. And when I had to write a thesis for my BA, I didn't even start writing the analysis portion until April (with a mid-May deadline to turn everything in, just like my current thesis). So, 28 pages done plus 8 more in very rough draft form at the end of January wins out against 0 pages at the beginning of April, hands down.

Funny how getting rid of guilt can free you up so much. A few days after that conversation, I went to check out the last few books I needed to take notes from to finish the chapter. I spent two weekends taking notes, and then this weekend I sat down to put it all on paper. I finished the (now 10-page) chapter this afternoon and emailed it in as quickly as I could! That milestone felt so good.

So now I have just 12 pages left to go! It will feel so good to go to the library tomorrow and turn in all the books that have been sitting in my room these past few weeks.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Spring is on its way...

Spring always seems to sneak up on me each year. My brain knows that the days start getting longer starting on December 22nd, but my conscious self doesn't pick up on the changes until, oh, say, this week. I heard little birds singing when I woke up on Monday... it's the first time I've heard that in months. Then, a few days later, I realized that the sun was still shining outside at 6pm. It was a beautiful moment.

Of course, winter is in no hurry to go away... it snowed a lot here on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, and I woke up to five positively miserable pigeons huddled together on my windowsill. When I got up, they sort of nervously glanced over at me as though to say, "Please stay over there so we can stay over here. Please?"

But slowly and surely, spring is on its way...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Do you KenKen?


It's a brilliant new little math/logic puzzle on the New York Times website where you have to fill either a 4x4 or 6x6 grid with the right numbers. Here are the rules:

1. 4x4 grids must be filled with the numbers 1-4.
2. 6x6 grids must be filled with the numbers 1-6.
3. A number cannot repeat within the same row.
4. A number cannot repeat within the same column.
5. Each heavy outlined area (called a "cage") must be filled with numbers that make the mathematical equation correct. (For example, in a 6x6 grid, if you have a cage comprising two squares, and "11+" is written inside, you must fill in the squares with a 5 and a 6 in some order because 5+6 is the only way to make 11. If you have a cage comprising two squares in a 4x4 grid, and "3-" is written inside, you must fill the squares with 4 and 1 in some order because 4-1 is the only way to make 3.)

New puzzles posted every day -- try not to get addicted!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where did January go???

I cannot believe that it's the middle of February already! January went by in a blur because I was sick. Two weeks of bronchitis, a week of a cough, and a week of bad allergies. I think I singlehandedly made Kleenex sales in Switzerland skyrocket...

Being sick didn't keep me out of trouble, though. Back while I had bronchitis, we had a business/social dinner with a VIP and his wife. I didn't have much time to get ready, and my ride came to pick me up early. She called me and told me to get my behind downstairs ASAP... so I threw on my skirt and boots as quickly as I could and ran downstairs to the car.

Now, mind you, having bronchitis meant that I could only talk like this. I could barely make myself heard to the person sitting next to me, much less to the entire room. Before going to the restaurant, we had a bit of a social hour, and I was stuck there in the middle of everybody, unable to say a word. Then, as we were leaving for the restaurant, my Swiss mom pulled me aside and said, "Hey... You know you're wearing one black boot and one brown boot, right?"

Um, no. I didn't know. And I think I would have been better off not ever finding out, thanks.

Then, when we got to the restaurant, I ended up sitting across from the VIP's wife. Right after we sat down, she asked me a question and I answered as loudly as I could. Her jaw dropped, and she exclaimed, "Oh my goodness, you've lost your voice! I was wondering why you weren't talking to anyone... I thought you were really aloof or shy or something." Nope, sorry. My vocal cords just don't work.

Between the mismatched boots and the whispering, she must have really thought that I was crazy... (!)

Monday, February 9, 2009

How to make an American birthday cake in Switzerland

1. Decide to make a cake for your coworkers to celebrate your birthday.

2. Put off that plan because nobody else is at work on your birthday.

3. Put the plan off some more because your boss broke her ankle.

4. Dig out the only cake recipe you have. Read the list of ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 oz melted bitter chocolate
5. Decide that this is, indeed, a feasible list of ingredients to assemble in Geneva. Oh, except the buttermilk. Can you make buttermilk from scratch?

6. Google "how to make buttermilk". Google hit #1 says to mix 1 cup of milk with 1 Tbsp of vinegar. Yuck. I don't like vinegar.

7. Keep browsing Google hits until you find a palatable buttermilk recipe. The winner? Mixing 1 cup of milk with 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Lemon juice is good for you.

8. Put on all your winter clothes and heavy coat. It's snowing outside.

9. Realize, just as you're walking out the door, that you don't know how to say "baking soda" and "baking powder" in French, and that come to think of it, you've never seen them in the store before, either.

10. Make an emergency call to your Swiss mom while she's stuck in a snowstorm in France. (How was I supposed to know that she ignored the French weather report that said Do not leave the house unless it is an emergency and went to Megève anyway?) Find out that "baking soda" is "bicarbonate de soude" and that you have to buy it at the pharmacy.

11. Wonder why on Earth baking soda would be sold at the pharmacy as you make your way out to the bus stop in the snow. (It was the French weather report that said to stay home, not the Swiss one!)

12. Pick up all the ingredients you need at the local Coop -- oops, except for the bitter chocolate. They seem to be out.

13. Go to the two largest Coop stores in town. Hmm. They're out of baking chocolate, too. Ask around and find out that they don't carry it anymore.

14. Silently curse the Swiss grocery store monopolies. Coop was the only grocery store chain that carried bitter baking chocolate. Nervously pick out powdered chocolate for crème dessert and buy it as a substitute.

15. Go home. Start feeling sick. Put off making the cake until you're well.

16. A week later, decide to make the cake. Assemble all the ingredients and measuring tools on the kitchen counter. Um... how big is a cup? I haven't seen one in over a year.

17. Decide that a cup is about the size of one of the glasses in your cabinet and pull it out. Begin reading the instructions.
  • Cream sugar & butter.
18. Decide to let the butter sit out on the counter for half an hour, since you have to cream the butter and sugar by hand. Go to your room and take notes from Vinay and Darbelnet's Stylistique comparée du français et de l'anglais for your thesis.

19. Return to the kitchen. Cream the sugar and butter. Read the next instruction.
  • Add vanilla.
20. Pry the teeny cap off the teeny vial of (fake) vanilla. Reminisce about the wonderful Mexican vanilla they sell in San Antonio.

21. Try (and fail) to pour the vanilla in the mixing bowl. Take a knife and stick it in the top of the vanilla vial to widen the opening.

22. Try (and fail -- again) to pour the vanilla in the mixing bowl. Shake the vial out of frustration. Oh, that's how you're supposed to get the vanilla out. Well, at least most of it made it in the bowl. Next instruction.
  • Add egg yolks.
23. Hmmm. I've never separated eggs before. Will a spoon work?

24. Yes, the spoon works. Awesome. Three perfectly separated eggs.
  • Add dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk.
25. Oops. Forgot to make the buttermilk. It has to stand for five minutes.

26. Twiddle thumbs.

27. Add the dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk. Mix by hand.
  • Mix in melted chocolate.
28. At least this part is easy! There's just a hair too little chocolate (had to use what little was left of my baking chocolate) but oh well.
  • Fold in beaten egg whites.
29. Crap. (Am I allowed to say "crap" on my blog? It's an accurate representation of what I thought at the time...) We don't have a beater. How on Earth am I going to get stiff white peaks by hand?

30. Lose track of time as you beat the living daylights out of the three egg whites.

31. Holler out at your roommates in frustration, "Any of y'all feel like helping me in here?!"

32. Have your roommate pull out the beater that you didn't know you had. Let her finish beating the egg whites while you preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C, right? Don't feel like going to look it up).

33. Come to think of it, maybe I'll set the oven to 160°C. It cooks mighty fast.

34. Fold in the beaten egg whites.

35. Pull out your cake pan and realize that it's a 10" round, not a 9" round. Pour half the cake batter inside, decide that making a two-layer cake isn't going to work, and pour in the rest of the cake batter. Cross your fingers that it doesn't overflow in the oven.

36. Stick the cake pan in the oven. Check after 20 minutes (the oven cooks fast, remember?) Stick it back in for 10 more minutes. This time, the knife comes out clean.

37. As the cake cools, make the icing from memory. 250 g (1 cup) butter, 1 package powdered sugar, another vial of (fake) vanilla, heavy cream, and 150 g melted baking chocolate. No, scratch that last part. 90 g powdered chocolate, plus a little extra heavy cream.

38. Beat by hand and wonder whether your arms are about to fall off.

39. Once the cake has cooled and acquired a bizarre slant, ice it. Make the icing thicker in the places where the cake has sunk so that it looks flat on top.

40. Take the cake to work. Serve. Yum.

The end.