Friday, January 13, 2017

My Life As A Hausfrau, Part the First

I pack my husband's breakfasts and lunches for him Monday through Friday. Happily, and gratefully, he has made it clear that he would prefer to eat basically the same thing most days. Through some trial and error we have arrived at the following: one strawberry yogurt and one banana for breakfast. For lunch, a sandwich (typically egg salad or cheese and salami) and one carrot, peeled and slivered. A clementine for a late afternoon snack.

He could eat at his work cafe, but an average lunch there costs 25 chf (Swiss francs are roughly equal to dollars). That adds up.

When we were living and working in Chicago, we would start most mornings with coffee in bed together and then go our separate ways. I would pick up a scone or some other sweet, bread-y sort of thing on my way into the office where I would arrive and immediately pour myself another mug of office supplied coffee. Lunch was typically a sandwich or soup at a chain like Panera or one of the smaller mom and pop restaurants around my office. Sometimes I would bring leftovers from dinner the night before if there had been anything leftover. In the evenings, if we had both had long days at work (typically the case), I would pick up a roast chicken and ready-made salads from Whole Foods, or we would (far too) frequently order delivery for dinner.

When we moved to New York, we ate out a lot. Quite possibly, we could own a vacation home now for what we spent eating out in restaurants. But there were so many wonderful places to eat there! Every food from everywhere on earth was available. And why spend the time and effort making a curry when you could buy one for far less that tasted far better on your way home from wherever? 

Anyway. Switzerland? Not exactly a culinary capital. Though I've had a few nice meals out since arriving in Zurich, it's a bit of a hit or miss proposition. And if you are spending 32 chf for a cheeseburger, you really want that cheeseburger to be just short of mind-blowing. Eating out is insanely pricey. We don't do it much.

As I am not working*, it stands to reason that I can and should shoulder the whole food part of our life here. I do the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. Three meals a day for 2 adults. This, it turns out, is a not inconsiderable amount of work.

We don't have a car, so the acquisition of sufficient groceries to make all these meals means several trips to the store every week. Which, even without a car, would be necessary given the diminutive size of our fridge and freezer. Which isn't really a complaint. I like our kitchen here, I like the smaller fridge. In all of our apartments in the States, the refrigerator was always some hulking stainless steel monster that stuck out a good 6 inches beyond the countertops. Always bugged me. Why can't these things be produced compatibly? (I do miss automatic ice* makers, though. Sigh.)
I usually annex the kitchen table for additional work space.
Fridge. At least it blends.
Barbie-sized freezer. Those drawers are only about 10 inches deep.
Grocery stores tend to be quite nice (particularly in contrast to our skeevy Brooklyn markets), and the quality of the food is very high. Lots of cheese to be sure and lots of chocolate. The eggs are incredible. The tomatoes are very good. The meat is sort of weird. Instead of the styrofoam tray and plastic wrap you find in US supermarkets, it's sort of shrink-wrapped in a way that leaves a lot to be desired, aesthetically. That's okay, though, because it's got me eating almost no meat as a result. I've been a little disappointed in the bakery/pastry area and I miss American donuts. Specifically the dulce de leche donuts from Dough. I miss American diet coke, too. It's called Coke Light here and tastes not the same. Mind you, I still drink it, but not without bitter complaint.
Kinda gross, right?
And they hang on a wall like socks or something.
The Coop Grocery store. This is one of the largest ones. With sufficient room for 2 carts to actually pass each other! Such novelty!
A side effect of cooking every meal at home is the amount of cleaning up that has to be done afterward. No just chucking the Chinese take-out cartons in the trash like in Brooklyn. I try to clean as I cook, in part out of necessity, as we only brought like 2 bowls with us when we moved, and in part due to the lack of counter space in our kitchen. You can run out of room to work pretty fast if the available space is cluttered with dirty pots and stray carrot peels. Still, there are evenings when I can't face the after dinner mess and just shut the door on it. God, it is so boring to do the dishes over and over and over again. Second-wave feminism got that right, that's fo' sho.

I read a book by Jill Alexander Essbaum shortly after arriving in Zurich. Hausfrau: A Novel is the story of a young American woman named Anna living just outside Zurich with her Swiss husband and children. The heroine is modeled (sort of) after Anna Karenina, and is bored and unhappy with motherhood and the suburbs. She falls into a series of steamy and unhappy love affairs. The reviews make a big deal about the sex scenes as well as the general passivity of the main character. To me, Anna seems quite obviously clinically depressed. But the thought I kept returning to while reading her story was: How is this woman able to care for 2 small children AND keep a house clean to Swiss standards AND still have the time and energy for all her various sexual assignations? Impossible!

*More on these things in a later post.

Friday, August 12, 2016

6 months in

I've written about a hundred posts in the past few months, in my head. It's hard to know where to start describing my life here sometimes, when everything is still such a new experience. But Melody A helped jolt me a bit and I decided I would write a little post (of interest possibly only to myself) about Swiss laundry.

Yes, laundry.

We had two apartments while we lived in Brooklyn. In Williamsburg we had a combo washer dryer in the unit. It was the worst thing ever. Aghh, I hated it. It took 3 hours to wash and dry one load. Ridiculous. At a certain point I just gave up on it and started hauling our stuff up the street to a laundromat. At the time, I didn't realize how exceptional this particular laundromat was. It was sunny and bright, and most importantly, clean. Instead of coins, you put money on a plastic card and used that to run the machines. The multiple TVs were permanently tuned to too loud telenovelas, but it was easy enough to walk over to Grand Street and run other errands while your stuff washed/dried. The whole loading up the laundry bags, hauling them down to the car, driving around looking for somewhere to park, plugging the meters, getting cash out to load your laundry card, actually doing the wash and dry, hauling it all back home again, draping the "delicates" on a rack (along with a fair amount of other stuff that didn't get fully dry after 4 spins in the dryer) took a considerable chunk out of the day, but what was the alternative, really? I've never paid to have my laundry done, that's always seemed like something only 1%-ers did.

Anyway, after we moved to the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, this all changed. There was a washer/dryer hook up in our new apartment, but no appliances. The idea of buying major appliances as a renter and then having to sell or take them with us when we invariably decided to move again had exactly zero appeal. I was already used to my laundromat routine so I figured I would just find me a new laundromat. What I didn't factor in, though, was just how seriously janky the laundromats were in my new hood. My default one, the closest one with parking, was possibly the filthiest, most broke-down laundromat in the history of ever. If you wanted to buy a soda or some soap, you had to shout your request through the bulletproof plexi while sliding your money through an inch-wide slit. A fourth of the machines were permanently broken, the floor was filthy and usually flooded, and I was invariably hit up for cash by random folks whenever I pulled out a bill in front of the change machines. Well, go somewhere else, you are probably thinking. It's not the only laundromat in the city of Brooklyn, you might say to me. And you would be right, and you would be wrong.

Self-serve laundromats are disappearing in NYC and Brooklyn as property values have escalated in recent years. I can attest to that fact. The smaller laundromats in both my Brooklyn hoods tended to be packed with users. There was rarely anywhere to sit while your load was washing, and there was inevitably a wait for machines. Doing laundry became one of my most onerous weekly chores. And it's not as if I was having to wash for a family with children. Just 2 adults. You don't really think about the ability to be able to just thoughtlessly do laundry as a quality of life issue until it becomes one. Which is all an elaborate preamble to the wonder and magic of Swiss laundry!
Laundry card. We keep it tucked next to our intercom by the front door as advised by the previous tenants. So as not to lose it, which I would have done 20 times by now, had they not made this wise suggestion.

We have two rooms in the basement of our apartment dedicated to laundry. Each side of the apartment building gets their own laundry room. There is only one washer and dryer in each room, but somehow this is more than sufficient for the 5 families that share it. There is a clipboard and pen outside each laundry room with a schedule on it. You sign your name to whatever block of time you wish (about 5 hours at a go) and that time is now reserved for you. Each apartment has a plastic credit card with a chip in it. This gets plugged into the little device by the washer to activate the electricity. That way your unit is charged by the power company for just the amount of laundry you do. No coins or cash needed. No having to pay for a neighbor's greater use. Just yours.
Sometimes I forget to remove it after I am done, however. But it is always sitting on top of the dryer waiting for me when I finally remember to go back down and get it.

The washing machine is spotlessly clean. As is the dryer. It is assumed that each neighbor will keep it as clean as they found it for the next user. The floors are spotless. The whole basement is amazingly well-maintained. Everything is set up for maximum ease of use.
Hanging lines.
Magical air blowing blue thing.

The lines strung along the ceiling are for hanging up things that need to air dry and there is a magical machine that blows air into the room and sucks moisture out of it so there's no need to drape your brassieres and granny panties all over your apartment or out on your balcony. On laundry days, our NYC apartments invariably looked like something out of a Jabob Riis tenement photo with stuff draped or hanging over every available surface. I have a lot of feelings both good and bad about living in Zurich 6 months in, but I can attest to the fact that at least my laundry life is 100% improved.
You could eat off the floor, for reals.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

...and so we are here!

By the lake.
Pretty house and garden.
Random park.
Running in rain for the tram.
Okay! And so started this entry a week and a half ago? Maybe 2 weeks now? Just reread it and decided to leave it. Will pick up on further tedious details of life as an ex-pat three paragraphs down.

Week one as a new Swiss resident has officially concluded. I'm feeling pretty good overall, but there's lots to do yet. We're currently in an Airbnb, the "legality" of which seems a little uncertain. The dude who's renting it to us has been pretty active as a host, but we were still asked to keep a low profile. One of the many obligations of a new resident of Switzerland is to register at your local Canton (district or county) within 3 days of arrival. We did that the next day we were here, hauling all of our paperwork with us. Frau Mittel, the efficient bureaucrat helping us, did not understand Airbnb. Was it a hotel? No, not exactly. So you are staying with a friend? No, not exactly. Hmmmm. She did not approve. And without an approved residence, you are not granted a permit (legal residency). We need to have our Airbnb host sign a paper stating that we are, in fact, installed at the address we listed. But he is out of the country. So for right now, we are in a sort of legal limbo. Not sure exactly how we'll resolve that yet, but given everything else we need to do, it's getting shoved to the back burner.

We opened up a bank account on Monday and it took one and a half hours. Getting a Swiss bank account is no easy thing. In addition to an accounting of all our financial assets and what I have come to refer to as our "dossier" (permit application, work contract, passports, marriage license), we were asked to provide the names and ages of our son and grandchildren (at the permit meeting, we were also asked for the full names of both sets of our parents, states where we were born, and our religion). I had read that the Swiss were generally very private, but evidently not within their bureaucracy. Next tasks: signing up for health insurance (legally required to be done within the first 3 months of residence) and finding an apartment.

Evidently, finding an apartment in Zurich is as challenging as finding one in NYC. Awesome, right? We went to see one last night and there were 8 other people waiting in line in front of us. If we didn't have cats, we would have a larger selection of places to consider, but what can you do. Applying for an apartment here is a process closer to applying for a job in the states. Or admission to college. It was recommended to us to include photos of ourselves and bios along with the usual financial data and references. Unlike in the U.S., where the first applicant with proof of appropriate income gets the apartment, here other considerations may come into play. Like, do you seem like a "good fit" for the apartment building in terms of age, interests, etc. I can't help worrying that the younger and prettier applicants will outshine us.

As of this morning, we were accepted for both apartments we applied for—so much for that worry! We're going with the one that is my favorite, and also less rent than what we were paying in Brooklyn. Yeehaw! Alright, italics off now.

So I am beyond excited at the prospect of settling into new perma-digs. Our stuff is still on its way across the ocean, and with any luck will only sit in storage for a week or two until we get into the new apartment on March 1. I am not quite desperate to be sewing, but something close to that. I have been without a sewing machine or workspace since December, when I had to pack it all up. I had thought I could use this interim time to try to write more/better/regularly, but I've found myself unable to do so. This change is very exciting, Zurich is beyond pretty, but navigating all the details of this relocation has been exhausting. From the smallest to the largest: learning Zurich's recycling system (they are deadly serious about this, you don't want to get caught throwing anything out that should be recycled—a good thing, but takes a bit of work to manage), learning and navigating tram, bus, train and boat schedules, trying to figure out where to buy ice cube trays for less than $20, translating forms and paperwork from German to English, etc. I miss the relief and mental distraction of sewing.

For the month of February we are in a temporary apartment, sublet from a very nice individual named Tudor. He is taking 6 weeks to explore Australia and New Zealand, and we are sleeping in his bed and using his flatware. His apartment is located in the red light district. It is considerably noisier at night, but only by Swiss standards. Nothing compared to Brooklyn. It's a one minute walk to the tram with a grocery store immediately opposite. Not maybe my first choice for a neighborhood (it has a Hooters! Srsly!), but it's just fine as a temporary arrangement.

Anyway, to date everyone is surviving, including the cats. The Swiss version of Fancy Feast—"Sheba"—is super stinky, though, both going in and coming out, if you know what I mean. Going to have to try out some alternatives, these apartments are way too small for that, omg.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Jolie laide

Another finish! And though I use an exclamation point at the end of that short sentence, as if I feel triumphant, I am in fact ambivalent about this quilt. This is one of those "almost" quilts - it's almost what I wanted it to be, it's almost good, I almost like it. Which makes me feel a little sad for it. Maybe it will grow on me. There are definitely aspects of it that I feel good about, and certainly I learned new things working on it, so there is that. But still. I guess it's particularly apt, the name I've been calling it as I work on it—Jolie laide. Such a great phrase. Beautiful ugly. I guess it is properly only feminine, but I can certainly think of any number of men who could be described the same way: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Abraham Lincoln, that actor on Girls with the wonderful torso and enormous ears, what's his name? Adam Driver.

The bits I am digging are: the long vertical strips of that old Amy Butler print, the way the big flowers are fractured in places with other pieces of fabric. The yellow and pink combination. The fact that I was able to use all those half-square triangles originally created for a different quilt. The kinda vintage-y feel it has, overall.

The bits that bug me: somehow, the dimensions are wrong, it should be a rectangular quilt instead of a square one. It should also be bigger, with maybe another sort of block introduced to mess it all up a bit more. I quite consciously put on that red binding, thinking I'd like that bit of clash, but now it reads more McDonaldland palette to me. I wonder if I wash it, if I'll like it better? More wrinkly? I might try it.

Anyway, in other news, I have loaded some yardage and scrap bags in my Etsy shop, if anyone is interested in taking a look. I have a lot of fabric to re-home before we leave in January, so if you're in the market, please check it out. I feel a little weird doing this bit of promotion, but it's GOT TO GO.

Friday, November 20, 2015


I've named this quilt Gertrude. After a painting by Ferdinand Hodler (Swiss!).
Gertrude the quilt.
Gertrud Müller the painting.
I've Americanized the spelling of Gertrud for my own purposes. Is titling or naming quilts hopelessly pretentious? I am inclined to think so, but after enough quilts you've got to have some way to differentiate them, yeah? But also, apt! Look at that dress she's got on, those marvelous pinks! And bits of orange and purple! I kinda think it's a perfect name/reference for that quilt. Anyway.

I started this quilt, when did I start this quilt? It was back in September (?) of 2014. I originally started it with the idea of doing a tutorial (of sorts). As suggested by Melody A. I thought I'd sort of remake this quilt*, taking snapshots along the way and then write it up in a how-to sort of thing. But that was about the time that my camera seemed to stop focusing properly. So I took pics with my phone, but they looked like crap so I could never get myself to really execute the whole thing. But I did finish the quilt eventually, so there's that.

In truth, there isn't that much to convey in terms of how-to. It's sort of a matter of: 1) Gather a bunch of similarly colored fabric scraps together. 2) Sew like-sized pieces together, trimming as you go, until you get a bunch of blocks. 3) Sew all those blocks together and voila! A quilt. Okay, here are some crappy in progress photos for anyone interested:


I love the fabric for the back for this quilt. Kaffe Fasset, bought on super sale from Hancock's of Paducah. Is there anything sweeter than the finding the perfect fabric at 40% off? NO. 

*That quilt has been eyeballed 9,392 times according to flickr, "favorited" 104 times. It enjoys a healthy pin-life on Pinterest, too. I have no idea why. I've come to think of it as the hot blonde cheerleader of my quilts.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What's Next

These 2 photos depict pretty much everything I knew about Switzerland at the start of the summer. Also banks. And chocolate.
There is nothing like the prospect of moving to make you reevaluate your relationship to things. I think, on the whole, we own less stuff than the average American couple. We have a small apartment by most American standards, though a fairly roomy one by NYC standards. We shed a lot of stuff when we relocated to Brooklyn from Chicago six years ago. But we were still obliged to leave a few sizeable piles of stuff on the curb outside our old Chicago apartment the morning we packed the moving truck. It just would not all fit.

We now have another move on the horizon. An even bigger move than our last one to New York. We are relocating to Zurich, Switzerland by the end of this year. I know! Who'd have thought it? But an interesting job prospect was presented to my husband and now this is what's next. So: Exciting! But also: Terrifying! Terrifying insofar as we've decided to chuck almost everything we own. This will be my primary occupation over the next 2 months. Sorting, selling, donating, or tossing almost all of our worldly goods.

Getting rid of stuff is not a major personal strength. Growing up with my mother, a benign hoarder, influenced the subsequent habits of my sister, brother, and me in different ways. My sister is happiest in a supremely pared down space. She readily throws things away. The very few objects she has of sentimental value she has had for years and I can count on one hand. My brother, a much more ready consumer of stuff than either my sister or me, has zero tolerance for shabbiness or wear. He and his family, though they've moved multiple times over the past decade, have only ever lived in brand new houses. The thought of moving into a space that has been lived in by someone else previously makes him shudder. He, too, has the ability to discard stuff with remarkable ease.

Me? Not so much. Paper is my biggest weakness. Books, magazines, letters, photos, drawings, and so on are incredibly difficult for me to get rid of. I still have the essays I wrote in grad school in 1992. It wasn't until a couple years ago that I finally recycled my undergrad drawings (and only after first photographing them digitally). I've kept every letter I've received since 1983. I have accumulated a not inconsiderable archive. And it's gotta go. But first I have to look at it all again. I really don't have time to look at every scrap of paper I've filed away and carted around for twenty years, but I can't NOT. I keep sorting books into piles and shuffling them around our apartment. THEY HAVE TO GO BUT IT IS KILLING ME A LITTLE. I am feeling smothered at this point and exhausted by making decisions. I hate stuff! I've actually had an itch for the past year to strip away as much stuff as possible, so why is this so hard? Partly, I know, it's because I feel the need to dispose of it all in as responsible way as possible. To redistribute it consciously, being aware that there is no "away" in throwing something away. There was a great Roz Chast cartoon I ran across lately that was perfect to me. Here's a screenshot:
I suppose the immediate anxiety of disposing of all our stuff is good insofar as it keeps me from ruminating on the fears I have about this move. For instance: I do not speak anything but English. Zurich is going to be very small in comparison to NYC and I don't know anyone in the entire country. How will I make friends? And so on. I am doing my best to repress this for the moment, and trying to concentrate on the adventure part, instead. I'll turn 50 on a whole different continent! Change is good!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The $500 dollar pillow. Or: money, money money.

Well, more accurately, the $525 dollar pillow. It is rather large, 35" in length. Though the back is a plain fabric. I'll admit, my eyes bugged a bit at the price (and sold out, too!), which is telling given where I live (land of over-priced everything). Not that I begrudge the artist a penny. Which will be 50% of that number, most likely. And I understand that people will charge whatever the market will bear, etc. etc. But. Still. Holy Cow.