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!

And the Time Went Where?

If I hadn’t been so productive this morning and early afternoon, I would have been a little mad at myself for piddling away so much time this afternoon. Earlier in the year I wouldn’t have felt this way, but now that my days are numbered (sounds a little morbid, no?) I’m trying to make the most of the time I have left. In any event, I came thisclose to finishing my Christmas shopping this afternoon, therefore I feel some mindless Interwebbing was in order.

This morning at the au pair gathering in the Coop, Michelle, Rebecca, Whitney and I were sharing some of our favorite “time-wasting” websites. FMyLife* kicked off the sharing, and we all agreed that many of the entries sound contrived or too absurd to be true. I know there are a lot of crummy situations, but come on, let’s get real. This one I thought was quite humorous though.

Today, I have to choose between one eyebrow or none because I’m a heavy sleeper and my brother is a moron. FML

Another questionable site of this nature is LameBook. Again, some of the wall posts, photo uploads, and status updates can induce a full belly guffaw, but others seem so impossibly lame that only a bunch of teens sitting around a table chugging energy drinks could have dreamed them up. I passed this photo along to some of my friends this afternoon, although I’m not sure it provoked the same reaction in them as it did in me.

The caption reads: "This is terrifying." It is.

The next three sites were shared with me this afternoon by Rebecca and Michelle. When I got home this afternoon from a couple hours of power shopping I opened up my Facebook to find these gems on my wall. Knowing what was in store, I put on my favorite pair of tattered boxer-short jammies, curled up in bed with my laptop, and perused these sites, which then of course led to more sites, for too long. If you have some time (or don’t, and are looking for some decent procrastination material, give these “time-wasters” a glance and watch the afternoon disappear.

Below I included a couple of my favorites I stumbled upon whilst reading.

Things 90s Kids Realize:

Before school, after dinner and every Saturday morning with cartoons – breakfast cereal was being consumed. To this day I still eat massive Jethro bowls of Fruit Loop but it’s simply not the same. The thrill is gone. Back then there was so much more to enjoy. You had the cheap a[zz] prize inside the box, the crossword puzzle or maze on the back of the box AND the sugary milk to drink afterward. I mean, I actually judged kids based on what type of cereal they ate because I believed that your breakfast defined you. If you were a Frosted Flakes eater, you were an athlete. Trix, you were a spazz. Lucky Charms you were artsy. Cocoa Puffs/Cookie Crisp you were persuasive because my parents refused to believe anything flavored chocolate was a healthy part of a complete breakfast. And if you ate Cornflakes or Shredded Wheat you were lame because honestly, that cereal is for when you’re old and have to eat bland foods due to diabetes.

Dear Blank, Please Blank:

Dear Talent,

I’ll take it from here.

Sincerely, Autotune

 

MyLifeIsAverage:

Today, I went to the library. I was wandering in the Non-fiction movie section, when I saw The Matrix on the shelf. I’m worried. MLIA.

 

*Mom, in no way do I condone this type of offensive language.

I’m On Call, To Be There

Vienna, that is. This magical city is where I spent this last weekend, with two strapping travel companions. This is not the first trip I’ve taken with two dudes, though this was much shorter than Portugal. Despite being outnumbered, we really had a tipp topp super time.

The gang's all here!

Jill sent a extensive list of sights for us to see whilst in the city, which was sehr useful. With all the goodies on that list we would have been set for at least a month of “touristing,” but alas we only had two days. When Nick, Adam, and I arrived on Friday night we made it a point to get our rumbling tummies to a restaurant for some legitimate Wiener Schnitzel. We scooted over to a place Jill’s dad recommended, but unfortunately they stopped serving food 20 minutes prior. We hopped around the corner and fueled up at a Bierhof, stuffing ourselves with local brew, schnitzel, and potatoes. We were ready for the next day of traversing Vienna.

 

Our dining companion for the evening

The Graben lit up at night

Invigorated by an impressively early start to the morning, we left our ho(s)tel and set out for more food. Jill name-dropped her favorite restaurant in the city, which happens to be a French joint, Le Bol. It was a super suggestion, and we were fully satisfied with our meal. Not to mention it was the perfect brunch haunt. If we hadn’t been kicked out for a reservation taking our table at 11, we could have stayed there for the rest of the day.

After grub we went out into the bitter cold. It was tremendously cold. I am fully aware I have a teeny tiny tolerance for cold, but this was absurd for anyone. Not only were there frigid temps to combat, there was also a generous layer of snow and slush on the ground from the previous day’s precipitation. It made for difficult walking around, but we managed to visit several sights throughout the day. St. Stephan’s Cathedral, the Rathaus, Graben & Kärtnerstrasse, Parliament, and the Kunsthistoriches and Naturhistoriches Museums were some of our stops. Naturally, we needed to spend some time at the extraordinary Christmas Markets, dispersed in various squares and streets. I managed to pick up a few gifts along the way.

 

St. Stephan's

 

Brrrrrrrr... but schööööön

One of the highlights of the afternoon was a most spectacular snack: käsekrainer. This delicious, artery-clogging treat was the perfect mid-day warm-up. A sausage filled with melted cheese? Served with a side of mustard? Accompanied by a little fork? Yes, please! I could have eaten many more of these, but didn’t want to embarrass the dudes.

 

My mouth starts to salivate just looking at one of these hearty beasts.

 

Rathaus and "cheesy" Christmas Market (according to our Viennese friend)

 

Our trio finally had to wave the white flag and surrender to the cold. We headed back the hotel for a power(cat) nap before the concert. After a wee slumber we were revved up for the show. We met up with a Viennese gal who bought Jill’s ticket (tear emoticon) at the venue and headed in for the concert of our life!! Perhaps that is an exaggeration as we have all been to some pretty great gigs. But, to be honest, this one goes high on my list, simply because I have been waiting so long to see these fellas. But first, we had to suffer through the most horrendous opening band I have ever seen in my entire life (requisite dramatic moment of the post). I mean this. They were terrible. The lead singer actually had a fan in front of his face so his hair would blow back while he was singing in the mic. When he wasn’t enjoying the cool breeze he was swinging his arm like a maniac, pumping out power cords and jumping on one leg, while tucking the other one into his body. Honestly, it was embarrassing.

After that frightening display of musicianship it was time for the real deal. They came out with a bang, “Crawl,” and the show only got better from there. I think they must have sifted through my “Most Played” on my ipod and created the setlist from there (similar to the Band of Horses concert I saw in Cambridge). Favorites such as, “Fans,” “Closer,” “Knocked Up,” “Pyro,” “The End,” and “On Call,” melted my face off as they were performed. Kings of Leon are such outstanding performers. They bring an incredible energy to the show and look like they are genuinely having a good time. In one interview frontman, Caleb Followill, said that when they record a song they do it two or three times. After that, if one of the sound guys (super technical, I know) asks them to do it again they say, “Why? You’ve already got all you’re going to get. It’s not going to change any.” I like this so much about this group. They are what they are; no pretense. And that’s how their concert sounded: genuine, honest, and face-melting good.

 

Doodes at the show

Kings of Leon

Want You Some More?

What a fantastic weekend! Despite the almost-unbearable chill in Vienna, we had a great time exploring and seeing some sights in this beautiful city. In addition, the Kings of Leon concert was out-of-bounds awesome. I promise to tell you all about when I’m feeling a little better. I’ve got a bit of a tummy bug that the Mom enjoyed last week. Honestly, I believe this family is slowing trying to kill me with all these little sicknesses. Either that or they’re building up my immunity to be so strong as to be able to take on 1,000 robots in immune-system-to-immune-system combat.

For now I want to share a funny moment from this morning. After putting together breakfast for everyone and cleaning it up I knew I needed to come back upstairs to lay down a for bit. Luckily the grandma is here so I can do this and the kids will be supervised. I came down to make a cup of tea a couple hours later. I sat on the sofa with Little Bean while I waited for the tea to cool. She asked me if I was hungry and if she could feed me. Giving in to her squeaky voice and unfailing charm, I said yes.

She sat on my lap with a bowl and a spoon and proceeded to shove “food” in my mouth. As she happily filled my belly with her imaginary food, she laughed and giggled, exclaiming that the meat she was giving me, “is so alicious!” I always ask her if he food is delicious when we we’re eating, and this is her two-year-old take on the word. She then scrapes the remaining food off the plate and yells, “last bite!” as she pops it in my mouth. Little Bean hops up and asks, “Want you some more food, Bistina?” Of course, my little friend. How could I deny her?

After four more plates of food, she determined it was time for me to sleep. She pushed me down on the sofa and covered me with nooshies and toys for a good night’s rest. “Gut nacht,” she said as she patted my arm, rubbed my back and ran away screaming that I was schlaffen on the sofa. I love her. So much. I am going to miss her terribly when I leave. I asked her last week when just the two of us were eating breakfast, right after she smashed our heads together and threw her arms around my shoulders, if she wanted to come back to America with me. She laughed and said no. Naturally, I’m a little upset she doesn’t want to become my adopted daughter but I can somewhat understand her reluctance to leave behind her family. But, she still has two weeks to change her mind…

Final Trip

Oh man, oh man, oh man. I am about to depart for my final trip of the year. And if I do say so myself, it’s going to be stellar.

A few weeks ago I mentioned the release of the new Kings of Leon album, Come Around Sundown, in this post. I checked out their website in the hopes that the stars would align and KOL would be playing a show near Zürich. Unfortunately the dudes aren’t making an appearance anywhere in der Schweiz, but they are coming to Vienna this weekend. What are the odds?! So, I rounded up a few comrades and we made immediate plans to go.

Jill was supposed to come, but due to the suicide bomb in Taksim Square several weeks ago, she had to ship out of Turkey and is now living at home until her big move to Norway in January. Of course, this means that she won’t be joining us, which makes me terribly sad. She studied abroad in Vienna and has a wealth of knowledge about the area. And natürlich, I would have loved seeing her one last time before I move home.

In any event, Nick, Adam, and I will definitely have a b-last and enjoy ourselves and all the city has to offer. I can’t wait to see these guys live. I think this will be the perfect last trip to round out my year.

This song is from a couple albums ago. Check out how awesomely long his hair is.

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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What? It’s not Thanksgiving?! I’m late again? Fair enough, but while you’re all sick of turkey and can’t think of eating poultry ever again, I indulged in the feast on Sunday and I must say it was wunderbare. I was invited to share in a Thanksgiving celebration hosted and attended by a few people Adam works with. I am so grateful to have been included in this family tradition. I tried not to think too much about what the holiday would be like at home, and instead enjoyed a new memory I made of eating fondue last Thursday, sufficiently stuffing myself with bread and cheese. And although I was sehr sad to have missed out on making my stuffing, I was so content on Thanksgiving and felt only the tiniest pang of homesickness.

Sunday’s lavish dinner came complete with a gigantour turkey, mashed potatoes, Indian-style green beans, stuffing, rolls, and gravy I could have taken a bath in (too far??). For dessert, there was a choice between pumpkin and pecan pie with ice cream or whipped cream. Really, it was the whole setup. The only thing slightly different were the people around the table. While I wasn’t related to anyone, and have known them all for less than a year, it was one of the few family-dinner experiences I’ve had in Switzerland– despite having lived with a Swiss family for a year. Of course, they are great people, but with every meal there is an expectation; it will be my duty to clear the table and clean up; I am still the employee. It was refreshing to feel like an equal in the group. There was just something in the air. The couple hosting and their two girls, and five other people gathered to celebrate a long-standing tradition. I could not have been more grateful to be surrounded by their company. This dinner reinforced how a family can be created from whomever. I’m so thankful for my family back home, and all the people I’ve met this year who have filled in for them while I’ve been away.

After the fantastic feast, we walked down Banhofstraße to see the Christmas lights. The twinkling, sparkling lights are perfect for bringing people into the holiday spirit.

 

Some of my friends and I on my birthday:

I’m so thankful for them!

UPDATE: I just ate a big plate of Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and now have no choice but to crawl into my bed for an afternoon nap. These are the realities of my life.