Gratitude Friday: New Life

This “Gratitude Friday”, I am so excited to be thankful for new life, in many forms.

At the Tuesday Plainpalais market, I picked up 6 different types of potted herbs and was so excited to plant them on our nice window boxes outside the kitchen. It feels good to have living breathing things as a part of our environment. We also enjoy beautiful newly planted flowers of our neighbors as can be seen above.

Setting in is going great. Our things arrived safely from the US and we are busy making it home. We are meeting lots of wonderful people here as well. We are so grateful for everything falling into place for us as we start our new life in Geneva.

And, the most exciting thing to be grateful for this week is that two of my dear friends had their babies! Melissa had her baby, Barclay Mclean, on Monday and Carla had her baby, Amy Rae, yesterday!

Photo of the babies “attending” our wedding, 5-7-11

Everyone is doing well and Gabe and I are so very happy for that news. Although, I’ll admit – it is hard to be so far away during exciting times like this! I love visiting people in the hospital to visit the new little ones. But, since I am a zillion miles away, I’ve posted photos of them in my office so they are close-by so I can think of them often!

What a week filled with gratitude and thanks for these wonderful new things in life.


The day I almost cried over toothpicks

Those who follow our blog know that usually one in seven days ends up in tears for me. Don’t feel too bad……in comparing notes with new ex-patriate haus-frau peers, this is about par for the course, so I feel like I am doing quite well!

I’ll preface this story with the comment that we really really love our new apartment. Settling in is going great! We promise to post pictures soon. And, one of the best things about our apartment is that it is a 8 minute walk to beautiful Old Town, the high-walled city. Hmm….one might have realized that its quite a hike to get up to to our apartment based on its elevation with a spot where medieval warriors built their town to defend it from attacks. But this had not quite occurred to me until this week, when five-grocery-trips-in-two-days later, I feel like I have quads and hamstrings of steel from carrying all our groceries up these hills from the Co-ops and Migros down on lake level. Plus, I am coming down with a cold so the energy isn’t as strong as it usually is.

Things I learned from this:
-Four bottles of wine is too many. Maybe every trip, grab one. Not four. Hiking uphill with a third of a case of wine is not a good idea.
-Remember your list. In passing the store, I always get the idea that I should just duck in and pick up the groceries. But, with my memory, I always forget to bring the list which results in more trips!
-Just expect to get some things wrong. I happily discovered goat cheese the other day and learned that the goat on the front must mean goat cheese. “Score!”, I thought…. I love goat cheese in salads which I happen to eat most days for lunch. The second time, I bought some more cheese with a goat on the front for my spring salads and realized I got some kind of gooey cheese, similar to brie. Whoops! This also happened today when I trammed 30 minutes out to the one hardware store and meant to get matches to start enjoying our candles and I got some kind of camping sticks??

The wrong cheese and wrong matches purchased earlier in the week….

Back to the story. I am quite excited that the women’s club had their spring luncheon planned for tomorrow. I volunteered to bring my friend Noelle’s caprese bites (a cherry tomato, mozzarella ball, and basil on a toothpick, doused in olive oil & balsamic vinegar with fresh ground pepper) since it was delicious, but easy. Time is limited with the settling-in.

At the second grocery trip yesterday, I remembered to grab the tomatoes. Luckily, we have basil now growing on the porch, so I had that. But I forgot the mozzarella. And forgot it the third and fourth time. However, today, I was out for a meeting, I grabbed it (fifth trip).

Since tomorrow morning was full of back-to-back errands & activities already, I settled in to make dinner and prep my delicious app.

So, I pulled out everything to assemble and realized……no toothpicks. Toothpicks are something I always had on hand so never thought of this.

I started to feel familiar culture shock frustration set in….the sinking feeling….“Why can’t this just be easy?”…..“Curses, why didn’t I pack my $%^^ toothpicks in the shipment??”…… “What is the French word for toothpick anyway?”

But this time, I turned it around. I had a glass of wine (thanks to one of the four bottles I had bought yesterday) and made myself dinner (Gabe is gone all week in Brussels, so solo).

Afterwards, I walked down to the Migros and started to look all over the store. They don’t really have a cocktail / mixer aisle, which is where they would be at home. So, I started walking down every aisle. Then, all of a sudden, the lights started flashing and went off. Darkness. A French voice came on saying something that I imagine was “We are closing….get out now!”. I scrambled around the store rushing to find the coveted toothpicks. People were rushing to the cashiers.

However, much to my delight, I found skewers and considered just putting them on the ends of those. But finally, much did my happy eyes find, but below were the toothpicks! If you are wondering, their name in French is – cure dent en bois!

So, I headed home and successfully made my appetizer, as seen below displayed in lovely new Rubbermaid Glass container.

Whew….disaster averted. Let this be known as the day I almost cried over toothpicks but turned it around. Maybe wine can cure all culture shock?

Nous avons des velos! (We have bikes!)

So its official – we have moved into our new permament apartment. Since our stuff has been on an ocean liner for the past two months, every time I opened a box, it was like receiving treasure.

Some of my treasures were:
-food storage ( I had been saving tin foil & baggies and reusing them to Gabe’s disgust)
-our own silverware
-the rest of my clothes since I’d been wearing the same thing for 8 weeks solid

Some of Gabe’s treasures were:
-the Apple TV
-the wireless router (yes, a treasure for me too!)
-our bikes

In fact, when they pulled the bikes off the truck, he went for a ride before they could take into into our apartment. And, on Monday, it was a Swiss holiday for Pentacost, so his office was closed and he worked from home. We went on a bike ride mid-morning for a break.

One of the coolest things we saw was a windsurfer park his car, assemble his apparatus, and then set sail on Lake Geneva. It was pretty chilly this day although you can’t tell from Gabe’s attire.

We look forward to many great rides and me hopefully not getting hit by a car, since I am not the most graceful on a velo!

Swiss Made

A few of our readers have been concerned about us getting e-coli poisoning from the recent scare with the produce in Germany. Have no fear fair readers….it is actually very hard to find produce from anywhere but Switzerland, here in the local markets and groceries.

One of the things we noticed off the bat was that all goods are labeled with their country of origin. Whether it be meat, produce or even cereal, its clearly marked where all ingredients were sourced. In the later case of cereal, it lists where every single grain came from. Same with menus…all meats have their country listed.

The Swiss take a ton of pride into buying local goods. In reading, one of their reasons is that they are less dependent on others, stemmed from the wars of this past century. Whether or not that is actually true, I find three personal benefits from having Swiss made items:

1- I think it is pretty awesome that they support their local agriculture to such a degree…their pride and commitment is a neat thing to see amongst a nationality.
2- the goods have to travel from shorter distances which is better for the environment and usually means they are fresher.
3- in most cases, their meat and produce is already organic. It’s top notch and of upmost quality and you don’t have to pay more for this feature. In fact, the best strawberries I have ever had in my life are the Swiss berries at our neighborhood Migros grocery.

I have to admit that most times, I had no clue where my food came from in the US. But, here I take more notice. Take a look at a kaleidoscope of Swiss goods from this week’s shopping basket, all clearly labeled with “product Suisse” or a flag:

A collection of Swiss items from a trip to the store

Gratitude Friday: Curiosity and Learning

This week’s gratitude post goes out to curiosity & learning.

This is top of mind because we traveled to the U.K. this week. So, after 3 jam-packed days of absorbing everything we could culturally, visually, and culinary about London, I did what I always do when we go on a trip that involves a historical destination….search for all possible books, movies, wikipedia articles, etc. to learn even more about where we just were.

When Gabe and I went to Greece last May, even before arrival back to the US, I was watching Alexander in our hotel room, shortly followed by 300 and Troy. Much to my happiness, my bible study group was also starting a study on the book of Esther the week I returned and so that whole 2 month study included more snippets and context about Xerses & the Persian Empire around the Grecian times. I think I may have driven the ladies crazy trying to encourage them to watch 300 & Alexander to get a better picture in their minds of that day & age!

Exploring Greece, 2009

So, in London this week, we learned a ton about the monarchs, particularly Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and Lady Jane Grey. So they are on my list to absorb all literature, information I can about female monarchs and the wives of Henry III. Last night, I watched Elizabeth for the second time – it put our Tower of London visit and the story about her time in captivity there into vivid picture vs. my first viewing. I also need to re-watch The Other Boleyn Girl…its been a few years.
Also, another fascinating area for me was the devastation to London during The Blitz and the stories from those who lived through it. This was started in the US, when my book club read The Postmistress and The Gurnsey LIterary And Potato Peel Pie Society last year. We had also read Sarah’s Key that shed some light on that horrific time. Reading historical fiction helps me have more empathy and understanding for what the people who lived through that time went through. Both Gabe and I really wanted to go see the Churchill Museum (recommended by our friend Nick) but we didn’t have time this trip.

I also added Oliver Twist and The Canterbury Tales to my must read list too based on seeing some of the streets in our touring. I particularly felt more compelled to read some of Dickens work since Gabe and I enjoyed a few beers in the pub basement which he frequented. Just kidding…but still, its time to re-read some of these classics, especially since many times the classics are free on Kindle.

Seeing a show at the Globe was a highlight for me. I must re-watch Shakespeare in Love as it provides a fun look at this Elizabethan era, while not historically completely accurate.

Also, for more regarding the last century, Notting Hill, Alfie, Love Actually and Bridget Jones Diaries. Mainly, just so I can continue to hear more British accents (love them!) and potentially see familiar scenery from London.

Anyhow, back to gratitude:

-I am just very fortunate to be able to go on these trips to historical sites to inspire me to keep learning more and more.

-I am grateful for living in a day and age where travel & the quick dissemination of information is possible. Building on that, I am thankful for Wikipedia, iTunes and Amazon for letting me feed my habit from Switzerland. If it wasn’t for that technology, I’d be impatiently waiting for my first trip back to the US to stock up on knowledge in the English language. And I’d have less room in my suitcase for enchilada sauce.

-I am grateful for still having the love of learning. I love being a “sponge”.

-I am also grateful for my husband putting up with my habit and not minding too much. Thanks, babe (didn’t you want to see Young Victoria this weekend??)!

-A bonus “shout-out” to my book club ladies in Charlotte, NC for contributing by recommending these great historical fiction novels!

Book club at my house, circa 2008

My last Book Club @ Tara’s April 2011

So, what do you love learning more about??

Reason I Wish I Knew French #23

Today I am starting a new series entitled “Reasons why I wish I knew French,” in order to bring some humor to the language barrier.

We now have 4 large mattress/bed parts in our teeny shoebox of an apartment.

I think that they are renovating the apartment and this is part of it? Although I am not quite sure as the building guy (who I have seen before, so I do know I didn’t accept some random mattresses) only speaks a little English and I basically speak only a teeny amount of French. It would have been better if he asked me things about food or farmers markets, or ordering at a restaurant, as I am getting better at this part 🙂

Anyhow, I think they are coming back to do something with these in an hour and I am supposed to stay put until they return because they don’t have a key. If only I knew for sure….I kind of wanted to go to the gym today before it closes at 5pm so if my French were better, I would really understand!!!

On the bright side, Gabe got an email from the customs/moving people and we are supposed to move in to our new place on Saturday…..yippee!!!! I wish you could see my smile right now!

The Office

Post by Gabe

It appears that my blog post count is just “slightly” behind Lauren’s…. I suspect that may always be the case though.

Regardless, I thought I would give you a look inside my new office. The company that I work for is in the process of establishing it’s EMEA headquarters in Geneva. It currently has many offices spread through out Europe but over the course of this year will consolidate many of them into one Geneva office. This consolidation is what created the opportunity for Lauren and I to live in Geneva. The new office is largely empty at this point and I would put myself in the first third of people to begin working here. Thus, most of the desks around me are empty. That won’t be the case after the summer though. Several new employees move to Geneva every week so it won’t take long to fill it up.

So as an American in Switzerland (Europe) here are my observations after two weeks of work:

1) Tram = Awesome – No more Atlanta traffic! All I do is walk a few blocks from our temp apartment. Get on the cool looking tram (see below). Then 25-30 mins later I am at work. It takes about the same amount of time is it would in a car but I just chill, read or use the time to catch up on emails. Brilliant.

1) Damn, the food is expensive – My average cafeteria lunch the first week cost around 13 Swiss Francs. ($15USD) I am little smarter and selective these days and can have a nice lunch for $9-$10 dollars. The $2 little cokes in the vending machine still get me every time though. (i need to kick that habit)

1) Energy Efficiency (Star Trek Style) – I knew before coming to Geneva that we Americans generally aren’t as conscious about the resources we use compared to many other parts of the world. (water, energy, etc) My new office is a perfect example of that…It doesn’t screw around when it comes to conservation. I am typically one of the first people into the office but luckily I don’t have to worry about turning on the lights. That’s because the building monitors movement in sections of every floor and then turns lights on or off based on activity. I feel like I am on Star Trek as I walk down the hallway to my desk and the lights turn on in anticipation of me walking into that area. Very cool.

1) Snow In June? – It got cold here on Tuesday and the Jura mountains near Geneva were topped with snow. Below is a picture of the snow on the mountain top I can see from my desk.

Loving London

Our London weekend was quite lovely. Here are a few highlights from our trip that we wanted to share:

The Tower of London

We really enjoyed seeing the Crown Jewels and the Beefeater Tour

Pubs & Pub Fare

We loved Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – it was rebuilt the year after the great fire, in 1667. We happily noshed on fish & chips in the 700 year old wine cellar, and tried to imagine what it was like when Dickens, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conon Doyle were there.

We also hit up a few pubs in Mayfair and I got to try a Pimms.

Evensong service at Westminister Abbey

This was a really cool experience.  We sat and enjoyed the Evensong Service and the magnificent choir of Westminster Abbey.  We sat right next to the altar where William & Kate were married just a month before. 

Shakespeare’s Globe

We thoroughly enjoyed Alls Well that Ends Well in the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe, as he intended his shows to be displayed – open air (yes, it was raining) and without acoustics.  We imagined what is was like in the original, just yards from the new version.

General Site-seeing

It was nice just to see some of the beautiful landmarks of London and true to form against the stony grey sky!

Lauren ventured off on her own on Monday when Gabe’s conference began and here is the quick recap:

Buckingham Palace (Guard rainout!!)

The Tate Modern Art Museum ( I was in heaven and I think Gabe was too that he didn’t have to stay 4 hours with me here)

 Abbey Road (Beatles studio site and scene from their famous photo.  Quite funny to watch all the tourists almost get hit by cars and buses not amused by the traffic hold-up.

 Regent Park & Queen Mary Rose Garden, recommended by friend Andreas who went to school in the park

The British Museum – I saw the parts of the Parthenon that were “saved”.  We heard in Athens last year that the British stole these artifacts from them in a bailout and refused to give them back. Quite interesting to hear both sides of the story.  Also, the Rosetta Stone was a highlight.


Thanks to all our friends for the great tips!

Keeping change in check

Most readers know I am OCD in terms of organization. So, I always had to have to a billfold that had separators – a divider in the larger cash section – one for bills, one for receipts and lots of little side pockets for keeping various things separate. I never fully took advantage of the dividers in the change section of the billfold though….until now.

Since Switzerland doesn’t use Euros (they aren’t a part of the EU), we use Swiss Francs day to day. I also keep a small amount of Euro change since we are on a border town of France, and in case I need a bus ticket there, etc. When we arrived in London this weekend, the pounds and pence added a third dimension. I surely have to keep them separate as you can’t tell the coins apart at a glance (or at least I have not become that skilled yet). So, I have my little change purse divided up with all the different currencies.

I can’t imagine what is was like before the EU & one monetary system for most of Europe!

Planes, Trains, Trams, Buses and Tubes, but no automobiles

These are all modes of transportation we took in a 3 hour period while going from Geneva to London. Granted, I’ll take fault on actually using both trains and trams in Geneva instead of a simple bus connection, but that is a really long story and we’ll just leave it at 3 simple tips for our Genevan friends:

1. When you plan a better route and the other bus option rolls up, stick with your pre-planned choice, especially when it involves an early airport connection
2. Never connect in Bel-Air with a 2 minute change unless you really know what you are doing, especially when it involves an early airport connection
3. Don’t rely on the train station always having an instant train to the airport, sometimes it can be up to 20 minutes. While this 20 minute wait allows for a delicious latte and roast beef sandwich train station breakfast for Gabe, its not a comfortable amount of time, especially when it involves an early airport connection.

Nonetheless, we both boarded our 7:30am flights to London, on separate airlines. Upon arrival, we realized we were in different terminals so actually just met in Hyde Park via the Tube. Which, by the way, is awesome! Mind the gap!

It is pretty amazing how we both ended up getting there and meeting without using a single automobile. Its so cool how this is so common all over Europe.