Secret Santa

In the past I have taken part in many “Secret Santa” gift exchanges: dance team, dance studio, ADPi pledge class, groups of friends, education organizations, you name it. I was a little bummed to be missing out on the tradition this year. Never fear, however, because Michelle had the great idea to do it within our au pair group. So eight of us got together and using Elfster, picked names and began shopping.

Last night was our exchange. It was originally designed to have an ugly sweater theme, but that proved a little difficult to find in everyone’s closet or in Zürich. So the limits were loosened and one was allowed to wear a Christmas sweater, bought or homemade. I stretched the boundaries a little more and did away with both the “ugly” and the “Christmas” part of the sweater description. Instead, I wore mom’s San Fransisco sweatshirt from over a decade ago. This sweatshirt has some spectacular illustrations on it, including the Golden Gate Bridge, anchors, a compass, and a sailboat. Maybe not festive, but definitely awesome.

We met at a beer hall inside the main train station (where else would you exchange holiday gifts??) and enjoyed trading gifts over some brews. Thankfully, Nicole is such a good sport and found humor in the “wrapping job” of the present I gave her. It was cleverly wrapped in a “Drinks of the World” shopping bag, with the handles tied in a bow to give a least a little flair. It’s the thought that counts, no?

Rachel was my Secret Santa and she gave me a most incredible gift. As a reader and fan of my blog (thank you!), she will be editing it and turning it into a book. I heard this was possible, but hadn’t looked into how to go about it. Thanks to Rachel I will have an amazing keepsake of my travels here this year. Thank you many times, Rachel!

Nicole, Rachel, Michelle, and Rebecca

Anna, Shelley, Me, Whitney, and Zoe

Another special part of my day yesterday was visiting the store, A Cupcake Affair (read more about it here) in the Old Town. On Wednesday my friend, Anna, and I went looking for this store, searching high and low. We walked the Niederdorf three times and were out for well over an hour trying to find this confectionery. We had to give up and go our separate ways for the day, but I would not lose hope. That night I looked up how to get there, and turns out we were within 100 feet of the place numerous times throughout the day. Yesterday I finally went there and was not disappointed.

This little shop is run by a woman originally from Basel. Her store is unique, as little cakes like these are not traditional desserts for the area. It’s only been open for three weeks, but after chatting with the owner, it turns out business is doing really well. Her treats include specialties such as chocolate with raspberry frosting, a seasonal gingerbread, vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, and the one I had yesterday, vanilla cake with passion fruit frosting, aptly titled, “Casanova.” If you are looking for a sweet treat to help you re-energize after a long afternoon of shopping for presents, or just a way to unwind, I certainly recommend one of these little delicacies.

Cupcake Affair
Spitalgasse 12
8001 Zürich
Switzerland
http://www.cupcake-affair.ch
+41.76.461.04.64
Monday to Friday: 11am to 7pm, Saturday: 10am to 5pm

Finally, a new holiday song to put you in good cheer. If you listen to the lyrics, they are not what you are used to hearing in a Christmas song. I like the melody, however, and I can’t resist a good Coldplay tune. Enjoy!

What Is For Time?

This happens to be one of my favorite phrases. It’s a direct translation from German to English (Was ist fur zeit?) and the kids use it all the time. I’ve picked it up and use it in everyday conversation, along with, “I have a hunger” (Ich habe hunger) and many other turns of phrase. If I had a Franc for every time I said, “genau” (exactly) I would be able to buy out all the banks in Switzerland. I know that these phrases will stick with me long after I leave.

Speaking of zeit, I have recently come into a wealth of watches. For mein geburtstag the family gave me a very nice Swiss watch. I have mentioned once or twice that I really wanted to buy one this year, yet I never seemed to budget well enough to afford one on my pauper’s salary. Who knew you couldn’t save money working as a live-in servant in one of the most expensive cities in the world? But that is neither here nor there.

What are here are two new watches. Why two? Well, unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of the watch they gave me. I wear a watch like I wear my skin, it would be freakish to be without it. (Too far, again? Anyone else noticing a dramatic flair coloring my posts recently? Not sure what it is…). I suppose I’m a wee bit particular on what I strap to my arm. When I opened the gift at the table in front of the whole family I believe I was genuine in my enthusiasm for the watch. It’s a nice watch. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not my style. I know it’s something the Mom would love, and apparently Little Bean also because she helped pick it out. In any event, it was incredibly generous of them to get me such a nice gift.

Today, though, I set out to purchase a watch I’ve been looking for for about, oh let’s say, two years. I have been wanting a gold men’s watch sooooooo (dramatic) bad, but just haven’t found the perfect one. A few special people made it possible for me to run out and find the timepiece of my dreams, and this afternoon I made the big splurge. After trying on a few uhren and sleeping on it for a couple days I decided on this Tissot watch. I have wrists like a baby (literally, Little Bean and I have the same circumference of wrist) so finding a big watch was difficult. I didn’t want anything comically large that would inevitable cause me to drag my knuckles. At the same time, I wanted a statement. So, here it is. And thank you once again Mom, Dad, Aunt Winne, and Uncle Ken!

I have thought about doing some hand modeling. Thank you for asking!

I had two other indulgences today. The first occurred on my way into town. I stopped by a little bar called La Stanza located on Stockerstrasse. This little gem of a hangout has been mentioned in magazines and newspapers around the world as the perfect place to grab a cup of coffee in the morning or a drink in the evening. Courtney was able to grab a few drinks at the bar when she was here in October so she can vouch for it’s kEwLness (who just had a flashback to middle school?). I’ve come once before for a cup o’ joe and I couldn’t resist another visit with my eminent departure so close. It is truly the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. The foam on top is like velvet, so smooth and thick. I wish we could all sit at La Stanza and drink coffee and talk about intellectual things. Wouldn’t that be the life?

I have a soft spot for "coffee art"

Mein andere indulgence of the day was shopping in the Christmas Market in the Hauptbanhof with fellow au pairs, Michelle and Rebecca. All over the city vendors are set up selling their finest wares and trinkets. It’s so much fun to walk around and see what’s on offer. Definitely got plenty of ideas and a couple gifts strolling through the aisles. In the middle of the market is a giant Christmas tree adorned with Swarovski crystal ornaments. This massive, sparking, jewel of foliage is the perfect centerpiece for the bazaar.

What a beaut.

Risky Business

The Mom decided to take the kids to see her Grandmother, Grosse, in Bern yesterday and they don’t plan on returning until this afternoon. This means I have had the house to myself, for the most part (the Dad slept here last night, but didn’t come home until 10:00), for a day. When I told my brother Matt this good fortune last night on Skype he asked if I was pulling a “Risky Business” and running around the house with shades on and the music blaring. As he asked this I was just about to don one of the Dad’s button-up shirts, but thought better of it. Alas, I have enjoyed the simple pleasure found in having the place to myself; no crying or screaming, no fighting over toys, no terrible German TV shows. I threw on my Mom’s San Francisco sweatshirt (probably the best on all of Planet Earth), made some grub, and saddled up in front of my computer for some serious Skyping. This was a perfect night to do this as the family wasn’t here and I didn’t have to worry about them overhearing me. Sometimes when I am in the middle of a pretty serious Rapunzel-bashing or a heated critique on their parenting (or lack thereof) skills I worry that they are listening in, despite me being in the princess suite on the third floor. The acoustics in this house are just shy of non-existent so I know first-hand that sound carries. But, I usually can’t here them chatting downstairs so I am assuming, however naïvely, that they can’t hear me either. In any event, I was able to catch up with Dad, Elizabeth, and Madeline. It was brilliant. Besides being slightly bleary-eyed by the time I headed to bed from all the screen-staring, I was in great spirits and happy to be caught up on all the goings-on at home. I love hearing updates, so keep them coming! On a similar note, I want to say CONGRATULATIONS to Brendan and Claire for the birth of their first son, Sawyer. I saw pictures of him and he is a most precious baby, and I know you are going to raise a heartbreaker over there; some may say it’s too early to tell these things, but I just know. You are both going to be outstanding parents and I could not be more proud of you or happy for you. I love you! And I cannot wait to meet this beautiful, sweet baby angel.

After two missed trains and a missed bus I was a little peeved on my way home from the gym yesterday. As great as the public transportation is here, it’s still frustrating to not be in control of my way to and from places. The cold and dreary weather only compounded the problem, and on my walk home from the train station I was feeling a little peeved and was well on my way to a pity party. Like a kid coming out of a tantrum, my spirits were immediately lifted upon seeing what waited for me in front of the door: a care package from my mom!! She sends/brings the best stuff, and this loot could not have come at a better time. My favorite dress from Anthropologie was sitting on top of the goodies, which you can see below. Each layer of bubble wrap and/or plastic bag contained a new, and often delicious, surprise. Thank you Mom for taking care of me. And, Dad, you rule too. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for you helping to make this year o’ fun possible. You two are the best.

Essentials from home that make surviving that much easier

Below is a hodge-podge of pictures I have taken recently. Enjoy!

The most recent project Taz and I worked on

Above: Taz really enjoys anything we can “up hang” by his bed or Little Bean’s, so we’ve been doing a lot of mobiles.

This is what I see when I look out my window.

A view from the top of our hike up Üetliberg

My outfit for Kristen's Going Away party: White Trash Bash

Above: Kristen had a party to celebrate her time here and decided to give it a specific theme. I came over without the proper attire and managed to get outfitted for the event. Socks with sandals? Anytime.

What I Saw Today

An acrostic poem for you:

  • White people everywhere! I almost forgot about the complete lack of diversity here.
  • Hangover-free-me. Surprising… But, hey, I’ll take it.
  • A horse manure obstacle course in front of me at one point during my walk this morning with the baby.
  • Tan lines! Oh yes, the sun is beautiful thing.
  • Incredible amounts of candy by my desk. Thanks to my mom, my sweet tooth has reared it’s ugly head.
  • Seasonal depression leaving my system. Seriously, winter was far too long.
  • A couple making out on a street bench. Oh wait, make that 50 couples.
  • Woman walking a bichon frise in her heels at 9:00 A.M.. France called and they need you back!
  • Tractors heading toward me as I navigate a pram on country roads. I am basically a Gladiator at this point with my hand-eye coordination.
  • One stack of Swiss Francs on my desk–payday was yesterday. Now comes the easy part, spending it.
  • Danielle heading toward me on the running path! I’m sorry we didn’t meet up sooner!
  • Apples on the counter. Coupled with peanut butter, it’s the new POWER SNACK. According to Shape magazine, that is.
  • You all on my Stats! Apparently people actually read this thing. Thank you!

There’s No Place Like Home

It has been so great having my mom visit me. When we planned her trip back in January, I remember thinking how at this point in my journey I would definitely be ready to see some one from home. I certainly nailed it, because I could not have been more eager for her arrival. After making our way home from the airport Mom proceeded to pull out all my “requests” from her suitcase. I must pause to share that the suitcase weighed 63 pounds. That’s right, Mom had basically been toting around a fourth grader. About half of the contents were goodies, some of which I had asked for, and some were the sweetest surprises. I will share with you:

-9 magazines

-4 books

-2 jars of JIF crunchy peanut butter

-2 bags of pretzel Nibblers

-1 jar of cashews

-clothing I bought online

-3 tubes of Crest toothpaste

-1 batch of her extra-delicious cookies

-And, an extra-special Easter Basket with an outrageous amount of candy

Phew! I never knew how much I would appreciate these little comforts of home. It’s been fun catching up and just spending time with each other over a banana or apple and peanut butter and reading our books and magazines at night. We’ve had fun during the day as well. Yesterday, we explored Zurich by foot. I was able to show her some of my favorite spots and we enjoyed nice at a cute little restaurant. Most importantly, we imbibed in a little retail therapy along the most expensive street in the world. Today was great as well. After working in the morning, we headed to Einsiedeln, the second largest pilgrimage site in Europe. A beautiful monastery is located there, along with the Black Madonna, which is said to have miraculous power. It was a picturesque town and perfect for an afternoon activity. Mom and I still have a lot more to look forward to for the next couple of days. After seven weeks here, it’s so refreshing to have a little taste of home.