Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Zermatt Me

A little addition to my cooking post:
Tonight I volunteered to make dinner
(I've got to stop doing that) and since we had pasta last night I figured my options were fairly limited. I opted for a dinner that was the staple of my childhood: salmon, rice, and steamed vegetables. (When I mentioned that today to a friend they said, "FISH was your everyday meal growing up!?! I didn't realize how lucky I was!) The rice was great (cooked in a bag! Didn't know they had such neat inventions did you?), the vegetables were fine, and the salmon... Well it was terrifying! All the directions (my mother's and the "how to grill salmon" I found on Google) said be sure not to overcook it. Well I was afraid of undercooking it. After 10 minutes it looked pretty raw still... Although I love sushi and could eat it by the bucketful, the idea of serving raw fish to my employers and the children I am in charge of keeping alive was mildly terrifying. I ended up breaking it into pieces (sorry fish) to make sure all the insides were the same color and cooked the way through... Whatever, everyone still ate it!

Alright Zermatt. Zermatt is a town in Switzerland about 4 hours from Zürich. It is essentially a resort town as it is at the foot of the Matterhorn mountain. Zermatt is great because it is only accesible by train, or if you're really ambitious, hiking. There aren't any cars in Zermatt save for some taxi/bus things. My friend Kristen and I took the train (a bit later than intended) to Zermatt Saturday morning. Despite the terrible weather forecast she and I were determined to have a blast. The train was great--one forgets how great it is to be with a girlfriend who you can just "shoot the breeze" with and laugh about nothing. We arrived in Zermatt around 3:30 to a gorgeous day--so what is the first thing that we do? Shop. (I told you she's a great friend!) After Kristen's sunglasses purchase (I refrained) we decided to take the train up the
Gornergratt mountain and check out the view.

On our way back down the promised clouds moved in and the weather became not so beautiful. We found a place to stay (a great hotel room for really cheap!), grabbed some dinner from the market and attempted to hit the town of Zermatt. Well we didn't get far... All the tourists that were milling about during the day were noticeably absent at night so we ended up grabbing a couple drinks and meeting fellow Americans. These guys are avalanche specialists in Jackson Hole and after chatting with them I now know more about avalanches than before but these specialists did nothing but increase my fear of avalanches (and decrease the thoughts that I might ever survive one). We woke up on Sunday to a beautiful fall morning and a great view of the Matterhorn. Kristen and I took the series of cable cars up to the "Klein Matterhorn" or Little Matterhorn and had some pretty spectacular views! There were a lot of people skiing (of which we opted out--there could be an avalanche!) and hiking, which we did on the way back down (not from the top clearly).

We left Zermatt after lunch and headed to Bern to tour (and to wait until 7 so I could get home for free) and enjoyed our couple of hours there. All in all a fantastic weekend in Switzerland!

See the little black spots? Those are people hiking up there!!

Kristen & I in front of the Matterhorn!

See the middle of the picture? The tan building thing? That's where I was standing the day before--where I took the above picture--that's how high we were!

A Little Editing

I got a message from my brother on Skype the other day--it started off by saying, "hey winkie... we gotta get you off this "brother used to be mean thing" on your blog. " (Get over the Winkie thing already--when I was shunning my nickname of "Pinky" [tomboy phase] I got the nickname "Winkie" and although the nickname and color are back in my life Jack has continued to call me "Winkie," I kind of like it). But he's right, Jack and I used to fight a lot but we haven't in years (save for that whole hissy-fit camera memory card loss of summer 2008). We used to fight over the use of our shared car, the attention of our parents, the mismatching clothes he wore (being colorblind does not excuse you from wearing navy & black Adidas track suits!) et cetera. Now that we don't share a continent, let alone a car, we get along famously. We now share a love of traveling, living abroad, Blue Moon & seasons of The Office (preferably watched and consumed together at our house) and making lame jokes about being named after a nursery rhyme. So to clear the air: Jack & Jill went up a... wait no! (Couldn't resist) What I mean is that Jack & I get along and it's wonderful to have such a cool Korea-living, bungee jumping, (I'm going to attempt it in two weeks--aghhhh!) great brother.

Now come visit me Jack! Thanks.

(And I will post, and post pictures, about my weekend in Zermatt. Just hold your horses!)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cooking Woes

I was a very fortunate child. I had loving parents, a brother who was, on occassion, very nice to me, a good education, friends and best of all: excellent food. Now I know everyone says their mother is a great cook but it would be an understatement to say that about my mom's food. She is a great cook, even her "don't have a lot of time for a fancy meal" dinners were fresh and delicious--I am 22 years old and the closest I've gotten to a box of Hamburger Helper is at the Supermarket. My mom even went to culinary school after our move to Minnesota, perhaps just to reinforce her kitchen-god status--so my line of thought has always been: Why learn to cook when you live with a chef?! And her culinary talent was not passed down to me, maybe Jack got those genes...

I know a few au pairs that have to do all the cooking for their children and/or family and luckily my job doesn't require me to do that. I have had to, or offered to (why?!) cook a few times for the kids. Here are a couple of my culinary feats, or should I say defeats:

-Anna called one day and said she was running late so could I start dinner? No problem, I thought, until she got to the part of the menu that said "fried potatoes." I'm sorry what was that? You want me to fry something? Well I figured it couldn't be too difficult since there are tons of kids younger than me working at McDonald's all over the world... right? I put some oil (olive) into a pan (frying, naturally) and let it heat up. Sliced some potatoes and thought "Hey this isn't so bad!" The real trouble started when I put those potato slices into the pan with the hot oil... Sure the potatoes came out fine--crispy and fried--but it was on that day that I learned a valuable lesson. Wear an apron. It was a beautiful summer day and I decided to wear a Lilly Pulitzer skirt (you can take the girl out of Denison...)--I know I'm too old for Lilly but it was just this once--well once those potatoes hit that oil the oil started to hit me... RIP Skort.

-Another day a couple weeks ago I decided to try and make cookies. My history with cookies in America hasn't been so great and the trend continued in Switzerland. (Ellen you know what I'm talking about) Well they all sort of melted together and then turned into hard slabs of sugar--the kids really liked them though! Anna said the flour is different in Europe so I might have to try using a European recipe for cookies--I think I'll just wait for Allison's!

-I was cooking a Rösti, a typical Swiss dish which is essentially hash browns (don't worry it came from a package) in a pan. And the directions and pictures on the back of the bag said after eight minutes one can just flip the frying pan over and the hash browns will be golden brown and perfect--not so. I think I lost half in the flipping process and the other half were stuck to the pan...

-Last but certainly not least: what I like to call the "New Jersey special" mashed potatoes from a box. Will asked me to put some water on for mashed potatoes and silly me I put a huge pot of water to boil the potatoes... When he asked why I boiled such a large pot of water and I responded for the mashed potatoes he laughed, got out the BOX (mom you can gasp here) and proceeded to make them from a box. Now my dad grew up with mashed potatoes from a box but they were never allowed in our house, but you know what dad? They weren't half bad!

I have a few other cooking woes but this post is getting a bit long already! The last thing is a funny story that happened just last night. I am very fortunate because these kids love vegetables, I have yet to have an argument with them about eating their food (except sometimes I have to tell Stephanie to eat more pasta or something before she can have more salad/vegetables/etc). Last night I asked Stephanie (who is 5 by the way) "Would you rather have a bowl full of candy for dinner or gazpacho?" (Gazpacho is a cold soup, mostly tomatoes and other vegetables). She didn't want the candy.

Off hiking (yes mom & dad, that's right!) for the weekend in Zermatt. I will try my hardest to take pictures because the Matterhorn is quite a site.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Semi Swiss Lacrosse

Today was my first lacrosse game as a Zürich Lion, and it was definitely different than the games in America. Instead of arriving by bus with the whole team, I arrived by train and walked the 0.5 kilometer in search of this school. I met more of my teammates, yes met (I meet new ones every practice it seems!) all of whom are good lacrosse players, especially a woman from Japan who played on the Japanese National Team! I received my uniform there (number 7-just like Langsam) but it had the name "Patricia" on the back--Patricia now plays for the other team, the Wettingen Wild. Before our warm ups I saw players from both teams smoking cigarettes, drinking Red Bulls and even beer!--definitely against NCAC rules...
The game was fun despite the small field making the attack stay behind the midfield line instead of the restraining line--nice for a lazy attacker like me! I was a little nervous to start the game since my time at Denison was spent "polishing the pine," but it only took 40 seconds for me to score the first goal! Two minutes later and I scored again--talk about different than my time at Denison! Our team was playing well and we were having a great time but right before the end of the first half a girl from my team said, "They're swearing at us." I guess ignorance is bliss sometimes... At halftime our center went to go play goalie and our coach asked if anyone knew how to play center...Well I don't really but that didn't stop me from volunteering, and at least this way it forced me to run up and down the field. I managed to make it through the second half but I was especially grateful for the shorter field! We ended up winning 16-5--I added a couple more goals and assists (I don't mean to sound conceited but seriously, this never happened to me at school!)--a great game and great fun.

But the best part of the game was when our coach's husband (who plays on the men's team) came up to me and said, "You're fast, very very fast." I don't think I've ever, ever been called fast before--yess!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Near Death Experience

Now as most of you know I can be a tad over-dramatic, but I assure you this is not one of those times. This morning, as I was preparing to write an observant yet still funny Blog entry about Swiss culture the worst happened. I picked up a shirt from my clean laundry pile to fold and then put away when I saw it. A MASSIVE spider fell out and onto my bed. Now I said I was getting used to spiders (especially at their house in France) but HOLY COW this thing was huge, and ugly and on my clean clothes! I'm fairly certain it is the spouse of a similar spider that I killed a couple weeks ago--I knew those Jack Rogers would come in handy again! This spider was so surprising and revolting I seriously couldn't stop screaming. And not just any scream it was the "girlie scared of a spider" high pitched screaching. I documented this beast, for proof, before I knocked it off my bed and threw a book on top of it... Sorry I can't have things like that living in my room and nesting in my clothes!!!

When I pick up the rest of the clothes the pile I shake it vigorously and get the chills... This calls for one thing and one thing only--new clothes.

Sorry it is blurry--I couldn't get any closer. But seriously it was HUGE!

Monday, September 14, 2009

From Mahtomedi to Milan & Münich

I have a friend from home who had a wedding in England and then decided to travel throughout Europe for the days following the wedding. I was fortunate enough to meet up with him for the past two weekends in Milan, Zürich and finally Münich--a long way from Mahtomedi!

The two weekends were not only different from one another in location but also in experience. Here are Milan & Münich: a comparison.

I arrived in Milan after an uneventful train ride a little bit after midnight. The train station was architecturally beautiful and not even the homeless and/or scraggly travelers (sometimes it is hard to tell them apart) who were asleep on the benches could take away from the beauty of the train station. I immediately liked Milan, despite 1) hearing how gross it was 2) my mother potentially being on a Milan's Most Wanted List for skirting her driving tickets and 3) the faint smell of urine that wafted throughout the train station. I made my way to our hotel/hostel and for once I wasn't anxious about not finding it--I think it had something to do with the reassuring fact that if I couldn't find it I could, at least, sleep at the train station. Luckily I found our lodging, perhaps not the greatest looking building but it definitely had character! and my friend Jack. (Yes, I know the irony. I think when you are named after a famous couple you are destined--or is it doomed?--to make friends with people who complete the pair. Even if your sibling already completes the nursery rhyme...) Jack & I decided to explore a bit and since we were weren't quite in the city center it was hard to find a bar that a) was still open and b) that didn't resemble a brothel. Needless to say it wasn't a very wild evening!

Saturday started out with breakfast looking over the Duomo which was one of the more stunning cathedrals I've ever seen. After breakfast we explored the city (sans map--which is hard for a map-control freak like me!) found a great street market (where I got a jacket for 3 Euro--water bottles in Zürich are more than 3 CHF! And sadly I'm not even exaggerating) and had a wonderful pizza lunch at a restaurant. I am continuously amazed at the prices of things outside of Switzerland (a pizza for 5 Euro?! Welcome to heaven) After lunch we headed back towards out hotel where I decided to do what Milan is known best for... shop! I went to stores that I could actually afford (as pretty as the Prada store is I'd rather try things on than just window shop) and had a great afternoon of shopping. That evening we finished our massive pizzas from lunch, drank wine that came from a box (Heaberg Italy style--And old habits die hard, sorry mom) and introduced Jack to an old friend I know & love: Nutella. How he can have spent a lot of time in Europe before and not have had Nutella is comprable to living in Minnesota and never having eaten fried food: it just doesn't happen! After we went for dessert (Nutella is not dessert, it is its own food group) and drinks that overlook the Duomo again and had a great evening.

Sunday morning we woke up early and headed back to Zürich. As Jack was my first visitor (of many, I hope!) I was a little nervous to ensure that he had a good time and loved Zürich as much as I do. We explored and toured around and I rattled off any and all the historic information that I had learned in the last months and he didn't seem too bored so I think it was a success! He left Monday morning for Vienna (lucky!) and we had plans to meet back up Friday in Münich.

My arrival in Münich was even easier than Milan--the train station wasn't nearly as beautiful as the one in Milan but it didn't have the same aroma so it was still pleasant. I found the hotel in minutes, and remembered the way to the Oktoberfest grounds that I had been to two years ago with my Denison friends! Walking around in the hour before Jack arrived showed me that although I had "been to Münich" in 2007 for Oktoberfest I hadn't really been to Münich. I had been in a secluded corner missing out on all the gorgeous architecture that was the city center. After Jack arrived (at our hotel which was incredibly clean and nice--very different from our Italian one!) I devised a game plan (this time with a map) and we headed out to the heart of Münich. After a bit of touring we stopped for our first, of many, beers, followed by an enormous pretzel and even bigger beers! After we headed back to put on warmer clothes (is it fall already?) and attempted to go to the Oktoberfest grounds for more beer--unfortunately they were closed in preparation for Oktoberfest which starts next weekend--but we ended up having kebabs (another favorite food group of mine) and having a couple drinks at our hotel.

Saturday we got breakfast and explored a bit, then headed out to the Olympic Stadium. Jack & I are both big Olympics fans so this was really fun to see, although it was hard to envision the stadium jam-packed with people in all its former glory. After more pretzels and beer (a trend for the weekend) we headed back to the city center for an evening sampling all the Weiß beer (me) and the Lagers (Jack) from a few of the restaurants which was, of course, really enjoyable. We went out to dinner, where I ordered in German, which sounds more ompressive than it is because what I ordered for Jack was literally four hot dogs (right up Howie's alley) and I got a salad but in place of the lettuce there was basically meat... Guess I should practice my German a bit more! After we saw some fantastic street performers, classical, pop/rock, and one guy that we were convinced was the artist Colin Hay (I swear it was, aside from his appearance that is).

Jack had an early flight back to London and then home Sunday so I had the day to spend in Münich. I explored the churches, climbing up all the stairs--my dad would have been proud!--which then necessitated one last Weiß beer next to the Rathaus. I had a great weekend but was always glad to be headed back to Zürich!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wait, What?

I know I haven't updated this week about my trip to Milan, and I will try to later today. But I just had to share this:

Yesterday two boys who are family friend's of the family I work for came home with us after school. They were perfectly well-behaved and great boys and would be happy to have them again. The only thing with them that threw me for a loop was when I heard a phone ringing and the 11 year old answers his iPHONE! I mean first of all he's an 11 year old with a cell phone, second of all it is a phone nicer than all of the phones I've ever had (and probably my computer) combined! Only in Switzerland..

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Year I Ate Standing Up

If I had started this blog after I arrived it wouldn't be called "Semi Swiss" (because I have embraced almost nothing of Swiss culture, save for being on time, and it hasn't really embraced me) it would be called "The Year I Ate Standing Up." (Which will be the title of my best-selling book about this year--sort of like the Nanny Diaries, but funnier and with a better movie). It would be called that because pretty much every breakfast and lunch is spent on one side of the counter, with the kids sitting on the other, or if they are at the table I'm essentially running back and forth grabbing stuff I forgot or tidying up. Rarely do I eat a meal in the standard, seated, position. This got me to thinking about the other stuff about the job that I don't particularly care for... Since I'm a huge fan of lists I give you:

The Top Ten Worst Things About My Job

10. The gross things that children do: picking noses and eating it (I mean you're 8, I know my brother did that--haha Jack! I remember-- but I am pretty sure he didn't do that at the age of eight!) and those lovely marks that an insufficient butt-wipe produce on underwear. (I swear seeing underwear with track marks was definitely not in my job description).
9. Living in the suburbs. It sucks. I always liked the suburb; the quiet, the safety, the greenery, my friends living in a 30 second walk from my door at Denison. But now I hate them. Public transportation stops running to and from suburbs much earlier (and why shouldn't they--the families don't need to be coming back from Zürich at 2:30 am) in the suburbs leaving most au pairs racing to their train once the clock strikes midnight. 
8. Always being at the mercy of some one else's schedule.
7. Ironing. Now I know that ironing was a part of my job description, but ALL of my ironing (seriously, p.j.'s for a 5 year old? And boxers? Who irons boxers?!) could be avoided if, when the clothes came out of the dryer, they were folded instead of being tossed in a ball, into Jill's Ironing Bin. 
6. Not being at Denison surrounded by my closest friends.
5. The fear that I am becoming a nag. I am constantly reminding the kids to do something, or asking/telling them to stop doing something, or making sure they are doing what they should be--I'm starting to annoy myself.
4. Frozen food. Granted I was on a meal plan for the last four years so I shouldn't be complaining about food but we have so much frozen food here. (Yes Anna drives to France to get it... but it's still frozen food.)
3. Paying for my cell phone. Woof.
2. The fact that I am a.) essentially a servant and b.) that because I am a.) the family assumes I am some down-home, backwoods hick. Yes, I am from Minnesota, but that does not mean I have never seen a bottle of champagne before. I think all their previous au pairs were excited about the copious amounts of champagne that the family consumes, but I went to Denison, clearly I have been around a lot of alcohol. One of their past au pairs collected the top of champagne bottles--the metal part above the cork--and so now the father thinks that I would like to start a collection. I don't know how to politely decline, so I end up just stuffing it into my pocket and chucking it into the garbage later. They also try to "culture" me explaining that, "In Europe, it's customary for people to have at least one glass of wine with dinner"--they obviously don't know my parents! And I didn't quite think working at a wine bar at the age of 16 was resumé worthy so although I know that their wine glasses are a.) incorrect for the type of wine they are drinking b.) holding more than the correct pour and c.) not nice wine glasses since they can go into the dishwasher I don't exactly think it's my place to inform them!
1. Living with your employer. Think about it, yeah, I thought so.

But my job has it's (very, very nice) perks so I'd thought I'd offer a list of:
The Top 10 Best Things About My Job
10. Sometimes the kids are kind, or well-behaved, or just really, really funny. (Like when we were at their house in France and the dinner table is quiet and Stephanie looks up and says, in all seriousness, "I wish to be Dora [the Explorer]," and you find it so funny that you're crying--that's when I really like the kids.
9. The other ex-pats I've met. Everyone is so welcoming and kind, I guess it's because we're all in the same boat.
8. Other au pairs--you can talk, bitch, empathize, and share funny stories about your kids and they will listen and understand. (And the au pair meeting where one can trade clothes, books and the all-important and much too expensive English magazine).
7. Actually just all the people I've met are really great (well except the ones that Allison and I manage to meet)
6. The ability to travel. Easily. Like in a few hours I'm hoping on a train to Milan (and because they have this wonderful ticket called the Gleis 7--if you're under 25 and traveling after 7 pm any train in Switzerland is free! So my ticket to Milan was 15 CHF--I've paid more for a drink here). 
5. I don't pay for room/board. Which is really helpful since my Denison education never taught my the useful skills of how to pay a bill/rent..
4. That the kids are old enough to do things on their own and that they go to school. Thank goodness I don't have to cart a stroller around!
3 My daytimes and nights are free. (I essentially work 3-5 hours a day... and yes I still complain about it!)
2. Weekends off.
1. Uhh, I live in Switzerland.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lessons In Rejection

Tomorrow is my two month anniversary (time flies) so I figured it was high time to open a bank account and really get settled into my Swiss-ness. First I went to UBS, then to CreditSuisse, then Zuricher Kanton Bank, then Die Riefsbüro: reeeejecccted! Why? Because I'm American. No joke. They take one look at my card (saying that I live and work in Switzerland legally) and say, "Oh.. you're American? Umm.. well hold on let me check." They then call someone who is higher up to give me the bad news, "Sorry, we've been having a lot of issues with our American accounts and it's really quite complicated to set up a new account. And since you're only an au pair and you're only here for a year... Well we can't do it. Sorry."

So this is what rejection feels like...