Monday, December 21, 2009

oh, the places we'll go

Last year around this time, I went on a little road trip around Northern California, and saw things that made me think, "Only in America..." A museum dedicated to hand fans, an alley covered in gum, a "castle" made out of junk.

This year, we had more ambitious plans, and were hoping to go to Rangiroa for some diving, but alas, it was not meant to be.

We are making more modest plans to take a road trip to Las Vegas (which is an "Only in America" kind of place by itself), with some stops along the way.

Some of the things we might see (all of which are in California, by the way):
My parents went to Costa Rica, and my sister is in Mexico, but we all know that my holiday plans are the ones everyone will be jealous of, right?

Happy holidays, and may the last days of your year be safe, healthy, and filled with large boxes of raisins.

Friday, December 11, 2009

fa la la la la

I haven't been Christmas shopping in a brick-and-mortar store in the States for at least six years. This year and last year, I was living in the States, but my extreme dislike of annoying crowds and my paralyzing laziness add up to me doing almost all of my Christmas shopping on Amazon, and now that I live in the suburbs, I don't really wander into random stores the way I used to when I was living in New York or Boston. For the four years prior to that, I was living outside of the country, and did my shopping online or in Switzerland (and yes, if I bought it in Switzerland, I schlepped it all back in my luggage).

I think that my lack of in-store shopping is the reason that I really haven't heard Christmas carols in years. They pop into my head now and then, but I haven't been immersed in, bombarded with, and assaulted by Muzak, pop, or classical renditions of all those classic and not-so-classic hallmarks of the holiday season.

So much the better. Thinking back, it seems like the only three songs I ever heard while out and about in November and December were "Jingle Bell Rock," "Jingle Bells," and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

Upon further reflection, however, this makes no sense at all. Do you realize just how many Christmas carols and Christmas songs there are? I've been annoying my boyfriend like crazy by singing as many as I can remember, as they come to me, and off the top of my head (and this is after at least six years of not hearing them, so there must be even more that I'm forgetting), these are the songs I can think of:
  • Jingle Bells
  • Jingle Bell Rock
  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  • O Holy Night
  • Silent Night
  • Away in a Manger (American version)
  • Away in a Manger (British version -- yes there are two entirely different tunes for the same set of lyrics; this is true for several carols that I know of, and probably many more that I don't, and the first time I found out about it, it was like I had suddenly discovered a parallel universe that I had thought was the same as mine, but was only very similar, with strange but subtle differences, like Christmas carols with the same words but different melodies, and sweaters, apartments, and elevators that are called jumpers, flats, and lifts)
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem (American version)
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem (British version)
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (American version)
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (British version)
  • Deck the Halls
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Little Drummer Boy
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • The Christmas Song ("Chestnuts roasting...")
  • I'll Be Home for Christmas
  • Blue Christmas
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • Angels We Have Heard on High
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Twelve Days of Christmas
  • Good King Wenceslas
  • The First Noel
  • Carol of the Bells ("Hark how the bells...")
  • Ding Dong Merrily on High
  • Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
  • Do You Hear What I Hear
  • O Christmas Tree
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • Christmas is Coming ("Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat...")
  • Silver Bells
  • Let It Snow
  • Here Comes Santa Claus
  • What Child Is This
  • Here We Come A-Wassailing
So that's well over 30 songs that I was able to come up with off the top of my head at least six years after hearing them. So why do stores only ever play three of them?? Or have they gotten better about this? If they played more songs and got rid of some of the crowds, I would perhaps do less of my shopping online, but I'm guessing that it's still the same...

Monday, November 30, 2009

careful what you wish for

After living in New York, where no student apartment is big enough to hold a washer and dryer, and Zurich, where you're lucky if your laundry day isn't scheduled a year in advance, I was very excited to move into an apartment with what I thought was the Holy Grail of real estate -- "W/D in unit."

It is convenient, except that my washer sounds like it is violently assaulting my dryer every time it goes into spin cycle. Repeatedly. For long periods of time. My dog is so scared of it that he won't eat when the washer is in spin cycle, and my dog would probably eat during Armageddon.

I also can't do laundry when anyone comes over to hang out, because it gets kind of uncomfortable, sort of in the same way that watching a rental movie with your parents when the main characters start making out is uncomfortable. All awkwarded up, and nowhere to go.

I really hope that my downstairs neighbors, who complain when we play Rock Band with the volume pretty low, know to blame it on my crazy washing machine.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

a year and a half later

So it's been almost a year and a half since I posted this and this. I've had a garbage disposal in my kitchen sink for that entire time, and I use it, I do, but I am still highly suspicious of it.

For a while, I thought this suspicion was something to work on and get rid of, but upon further reflection, I realized that I think I will always be suspicious of garbage disposals, the same way I would be suspicious if they started building wood chippers, chainsaws, or rabid pit bulls into sinks.

Yes, it might be a quick way to get rid of food waste, but that doesn't mean that I won't get a little nervous each time I turn it on and it devours food scraps while making that hideous noise, or worry that it will mysteriously activate and eat my hand when I have to reach into the blackness and gingerly fish around for a rogue spoon that has disappeared into its maw.

Monday, September 21, 2009

indian summer, california style

It's late September, and the weather forecast for tomorrow says high of 99 F (37 C). I love the warm, sunny weather we get here, it's probably my favorite thing about California, but that's a bit extreme, especially for September.

The weather seems confused this month.

It rained last week. Water fell from the sky. I hadn't seen rain in months, and was so dumbfounded that it didn't even occur to me that I could stay dry by getting an umbrella. I just walked through the rain and wondered why it was raining in September.

It only took me a year of living here to forget about the five years in Boston, four years in New York, and four years in Zurich (a combined thirteen years, not to mention the nine years in Delaware before that, plus the seven years in Houston and Denver in my earliest, mostly unremembered years), when rain could come at any time of year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

the perfect life

If I could cut-and-paste my life into the perfect patchwork existence, I would take the pieces as follows:
  • The responsibilities (or lack thereof) of Denver and Houston (oh, to be four years old again)
  • The real estate prices (or just prices in general) and tax-free shopping of Delaware
  • The winter snowstorms and unlimited sleep schedule (ah, college...) of Cambridge
  • The food, bars, culture, convenience, energy, randomness, stores, people (I love New Yorkers), population density (I like the cozy anonymity of crowds), and 24-hour availability of public transportation of New York
  • The public transportation (the infrastructure, not the hours), cleanliness, stress-free lifestyle, travel opportunities, dog-friendliness, gummy candy, cheese, chocolate, and walking-distance proximity to friends of Zurich
  • The job, weather, fresh produce, and proximity to family of Mountain View

Thursday, August 13, 2009

typical bay area experience

Dear Comcast,

My rate went up, and I called to cancel -- I would never pay $110 a month for something I could get for half the price somewhere else. I was offered a new rate. The new rate is higher than the old rate, but low enough to make me too lazy to switch.

I am getting the same services for a higher price. My bill, however, is higher than either price, because it was pro-rated according to the unacceptable $110 rate. I asked the supremely unhelpful Carolina (employee #0531) and her equally unhelpful, ruder supervisor Randy (#0641) to change the statement amount or to give me a credit on the next statement to make up for the difference. They unhelpfully noted that the amount is higher because it's prorated. I KNOW, BUT IT'S PRORATED ACCORDING TO AN UNACCEPTABLE RATE THAT I TRIED TO CANCEL.

I am getting the same service.

When the rate went up to $110, I tried to cancel.

I was offered a new rate.

For this bill, I should pay the old rate or the new rate, NOT the rate that would have made me cancel. "It's pro-rated" makes no difference. If I won't pay $110 per month, why would I pay the same amount on a daily basis?

You claim to be Comcastic. What does that mean? Have Randy and Carolina ever made anyone feel Comcastic? I'm guessing no. I suppose they were more memorable than other CSRs, because they were so unhelpful. Is that what Comcastic means? Memorably unhelpful?

In the past, I have written glowing emails and letters to companies whose products and service I loved. Comcast is not one of them. It's pretty astounding how many disgruntled customers you have. Please add me to the list, unless you have a better idea.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

mountain view wins on this one

I've recently become a big fan of the Mountain View farmer's market, which is open every Sunday, all year, only two blocks from my apartment. The downside is that it is only open until 1 p.m., which requires that I wake up and leave the house in time to get there before it closes (which, if you know me, is not that easy). I complained about this a little bit until I remembered that the stores aren't even open on Sundays in Zurich, and that the farmer's market in New York was not within walking distance of my apartment.

One thing I like about the farmer's market is that you can sample most of the produce before you buy it. It's all local stuff, and probably picked only a few hours before you taste it. I'm a big fan of "try before you buy."

The other thing I like is the produce itself. It's all delicious, because it's all in season, and all picked only once it's ripe. They have everything -- lettuce for my BLTs, fresh eggs, blueberries, cheese, bread, pretty much anything that is currently ripe in northern California is laid out on tables, ready to be chosen, taken home, and eaten. The white peaches are amazing, and somehow impossibly sweeter than canned peaches. The strawberries are enticingly red and shiny.

But two things in particular make me love the Mountain View farmer's market more than any old market or supermarket.

Pluots and heirloom tomatoes. Sun-ripened, juicy, and delicious enough to warrant less sleep on Sunday morning.

Sorry, Zurich, you may have my favorite airport, excellent lake access, and the most efficient public transportation system, but you never gave me pluots. New York, I miss your convenient delivery services and infinite possibilities, but heirloom tomatoes never appeared on my doorstep or at a museum or bar while I was there. Do you have any idea what you're missing out on? Maybe it's best if you don't, because it would be pretty hard to know about such things and live without them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

happy belated fourth of july

I think that some things are more American than apple pie or baseball. Apple pie and baseball can be replicated pretty well when you're abroad. For the pie, just make some crust, add apples and spices, bake, and you've got your slice of America, ready to eat. Baseball -- just bring a bat, ball, and glove, and find other people willing to play a game that only matters in America, the Caribbean, and Japan.

BLTs, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to recreate properly outside of the States. For one thing, American bacon is very different from the stuff they call bacon elsewhere. And some parts of the world don't even have anything that they call bacon. For another, no one has quite the right kind of sliced white bread. I'm not saying that sliced bread is the greatest thing since, well, sliced bread, but it's just different. The sliced bread you can buy abroad is just... wrong, somehow. Not the right texture or taste, I can't explain it, but it's wrong. As for non-sliced bread, a French baguette or a Swiss Zopf are both lovely, and in many ways superior to plain, sliced, pre-packaged white bread, but not for a proper BLT.*

Same goes for hamburgers. No one outside of the States -- person or restaurant --seems to be able to make a proper burger. The buns are wrong, the meat doesn't taste quite right, and it just doesn't work the same way. It baffled and frustrated me while I was away, but now that I'm back, I don't eat them that much, and when I do, it's sometimes in a different form, like the Luther burger.

Now that I think about it, peanut butter and jelly is hard to get right outside of the U.S., as well. There's the bread thing, and then there's the fact that peanut butter is a very American product (it can be hard to find a good substitute brand once you're abroad), and even if you find good peanut butter (or import it in your luggage), not a lot of places have that clear, wobbly grape jelly that is used in 90% of PB&J (and doesn't really have any other use at all).

Deli sandwiches? The rest of the world has excellent meats and cheeses, but they aren't really sold in sandwich format. Pre-made sandwiches in Switzerland usually consist of a roll, butter, a slice of pickle, and a few slices of salami. Where's the tomato? Where's the lettuce? Where's the cheese? Basically, where's the sandwich part of the sandwich?

So on a scale of 1 to American, I'd say that sandwiches rank much higher than apple pie or baseball.

* (I rediscovered BLTs a few months ago and have been eating them almost obsessively since then. I've settled on farmer's market heirloom tomatoes, Trader Joe's buttermilk bread, red lettuce, and Trader Joe's bacon as the best combination. Plus mayo, and if you're feeling unconventional, ketchup and a fried egg. Heaven and a heart attack, both at once.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

two questions, california

First question: If there's a drought (and there always seems to be a drought), why does everyone insist on watering the grass until it turns into a muddy swamp? I know that you don't want your treasured green patch to dry up and die, but do you want it to drown, instead?

Second question: Why must you build your parking lots and roads to always have a ditch that is so (im)perfectly designed that it is nearly impossible not to scrape the bottom of your car when you leave the parking lot? Is the ditch there to catch the runoff from your drowning lawns?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

sad truth

Before leaving New York in 2004 at the age of 25, I had only been to 20 countries, including the one I was born in. That's an average of 0.8 new countries per year. Not bad, but not that impressive, either.

In just under four years spent living in Zurich, I took 56 international trips to 34 countries, 27 of which I had never been to before moving to Switzerland. I'm not even counting the dozens of day trips I took within Switzerland during my time there. That's an average of 6.75 new countries and fourteen international trips per year, which is quite respectable.

In the thirteen months that I've been back, I've only managed to make three international trips, all of which were to countries I've already visited in the past. That's a completely unimpressive average of zero new countries and three international trips per year. As for domestic travel, there hasn't been much of that, either. Lots of weekends spent 45 minutes away up in San Francisco, but otherwise, just a few weekend road trips around northern California and a few days spent in New York.

It's great living near family in a warm and sunny place, but my passport and frequent flyer account feel rather neglected.

Maybe it's time to start planning a trip to Chad or Belarus...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

not my kind of bandwagon

Things that are popular that I just can't seem to get into:
  1. Goat cheese (it tastes the way goats smell)
  2. Blonde hair (unless it's natural)
  3. Really big handbags
  4. Having kids
  5. SUVs
  6. The Great Outdoors (exceptions made for picnics and dive trips)
  7. Cats
  8. Going to the gym
  9. LinkedIn (I'm on it, but don't see the point)
  10. Uncomfortable shoes
  11. Mexican food (I don't like wraps, beans, overly spicy food, or flavored rice)
  12. Coldplay
  13. Skinny jeans
  14. The revival of 80's fashion
  15. Twitter (it's like Facebook, but without the interesting parts)

Friday, June 19, 2009

share the wealth

Not content to look silly in just one measly corner of the internet, I started making embarrassing comments on my friend Wendy's blog. That wasn't enough, and so I contributed an actual post, to make sure that as many people as possible would read of my self-imposed moron tax. If you're looking to tell the world about your own moron tax, she is eagerly awaiting (and dying to post) your stories.

Monday, June 8, 2009

idiom idiot

One thing that I really used to take for granted was being able to speak English as quickly as I wanted to, with slang or puns or idioms, and knowing that it would be understood, as long as the people I was talking to were roughly in the same age group as I was.

Living abroad for four years made me appreciate both how much English is spoken around the world, such that you have a very good chance of being able to converse with random citizens of other countries, and also how much more English is spoken by native speakers, such that you need to remember to speak more slowly and simply to minimize the misunderstandings that might crop up with non-native speakers. You don't realize how strange and complicated the language is, and how much it is constantly changing, until you find yourself trying to explain the meaning of certain turns of phrase. Eventually, you just try to speak basic textbook English, to make it easier for the people who are nice enough to spare you the pain of struggling along in their native tongue.

And then you come back to the States.

I came back, and was excited to be able to speak at will, to hear and use words with many syllables and hard-to-define meanings. I soon realized that in four years of trying to learn German and speak simplified English, parts of my English-speaking brain had gotten a little bit rusty. Even now, a year later, I sometimes find myself searching for a word, fumbling around in a dusty corner of my brain, thinking, "I know there's a word for that, now where did I leave it?"

And idioms. Idioms have proven to be just as tricky as words that had been put away for safekeeping.

Note to self: Having a "wandering eye" and having a "lazy eye" are two very different things, and one should avoid saying that someone has the former, when they actually have the latter.

Friday, May 29, 2009

greatest hits

Got back from an action-packed trip to New York, Zurich, and Spain on Monday, and can compare them all side by side and back to back.

So, in overly simplified terms, very short lists of what I loved best at each place this time around.

New York: I love that people are out doing things at all hours on all days. Impromptu brunches, random drinks, afternoon shopping, there is always something going on, and there are always people doing whatever it is that they're doing. I love that as long as I'm not too far downtown, I can navigate without help. I love that you can walk or take the subway just about anywhere, or if you're feeling lazy and extravagant, you can take a cab.

Zurich: I love that people live and work on a predictably relaxed schedule. I love that everything is so ridiculously organized and efficient. I love that when it's sunny and warm, you can walk to the lake, and it's one of the prettiest city-accessible places I've ever been. I love that there are funny old traditions that include things like accordion music and yodeling that people of all ages embrace, especially when it's open mike night at a campy local bar.

Spain: I love that some Spanish ham is worth traveling to eat. I love that in the north, they speak Basque, one of the least useful languages in the world, in terms of number of people who speak it, and relevance to other languages, but you can get by if you know French or Spanish. I love that they have ridiculously good food for $3 (in bars) or $300 (in Michelin 3-star restaurants). I love that there is a cathedral that focuses on a 14th century miracle that involved chickens, and showcases two live chickens in their own special altar-display.

Mountain View: I love that at this time of year, it's sunny and warm every day, and the jasmine is in full bloom everywhere you go. I love not living out of a suitcase. I love having a job that is fun to come back to after vacation. I love seeing how excited my dog is to have me back.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

my jetlagging lifestyle

I'm spending a few days in New York en route to Zurich, where I will spend a few days en route to Spain, where I will spend a week before turning it all around and doing it in reverse, but with less down time at each pit stop.

I've been walking through my days here doing my best impression of a non-brain-eating zombie. I admire the people in New York who dress up and stay out late on random nights of the week, daytime schedules be damned -- I used to be one of them, on occasion, but I can no longer convince myself to give up sleep in favor of shoes that pinch my feet. If New York is the city that never sleeps, I've become the person that never quite wakes up.

Ever since finishing high school, I've needed more sleep than your average bear in order to retain my ability to put together complete sentences and not walk into walls. In lean times, I average eight or nine hours a night, and make up for it on weekends. In times when sleep is plentiful, I've been known to sleep eighteen hours out of every 24 hour period. In college, I considered it to be an all-nighter when I stayed up late writing a paper, and only got six hours of sleep. I grew an inch the year after I graduated from college, when I was sleeping twelve to fourteen hours every night, probably because my body didn't have to fight much gravity, since I was sleeping so much.

Despite this personal elevated need for an unreasonable amount of sleep, I am a lawyer (how do lawyers work those hours?), and I miss New York (how do New Yorkers live those hours?).

I left SFO on Friday night, and I still haven't recovered. I'm not sure whether to blame it on jetlag (even though I've had 3.5 days to get over a three hour time difference) or lack of sleep (even though I've been sleeping about seven hours a night, which is perfectly reasonable for most people).

I leave today for Zurich, and I'm bracing myself for an even more brutal round of jetlagged sleep deprivation. Oh, the sacrifices we make for travel, friends, and fun...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

granola with extra fruit

California is called the Golden State, but it would rather be called the Green State. There may very well be more vegans than Republicans in the Bay Area, and people say "organic produce" and "locally grown" as if they were holy words. I admit that I have some green tendencies -- I bring my own bags to the grocery store, and I drive a Prius, but I draw the line well short of growing my own vegetables to feed to the chickens I'm raising in my backyard in order to be 100% sure that they produce organic, cruelty-free eggs. (Yes, people actually do that. It's commendable but insane, especially if the people have jobs and kids. Who has time to tend to chickens?)

I've met many people who are at various crunchy stages on the granola continuum (see chicken owners, above), but I met my first completely, ridiculously over-the-top one recently. Oddly enough, she is originally from Texas, not a state I really associate with crunchy granola types.

Over dinner, this self-proclaimed "free spirit" informed us that:

(1) She and her husband still "co-sleep" with their two kids (ages 7 and 10) in one bed.
(2) She is a recent subscriber to the "raw food" movement, and will be getting her very own food dehydrator soon.
(3) She only gives her children raw milk, because heating the milk during pasteurization kills all the good stuff (presumably she meant something other than dangerous bacteria), leaving nothing but "cow pus." (Is "cow pus" more nutritious if it hasn't been heated? If she thinks milk is basically just pus, why drink it at all, heated or unheated?)

She spouted a lot more entertaining fruitcake dogma that I won't go into. What I love, though, and what she doesn't know, is that her husband secretly gorges himself on chicken wings and pizza when he's at work. I don't blame him, if the food he gets at home is not only raw, but dehydrated. Yum.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

too late

This came too late for me. I suffered through a lot of transatlantic flights sitting next to wheezing rhino behemoths who couldn't keep their massive bulk out of my seat. No amount of passive-aggressive elbows and lowered armrests can save you from The Fat Travelers Who Refuse To Acknowledge That They Can't Fit Into One Seat And Then Give You Dirty Looks For Trying To Use All Of The Seat That You, The Reasonably-Sized Person, Paid For, But Which They Think They're Entitled To Encroach Upon Because They Can't Resist Hostess Cupcakes.

Maybe this will end their reign of terror. Although I'm not sure that the airlines will actually enforce it, since there were similar policies already in place, which I always hoped would be used, but never were, at least not when they could have rescued me from on-board hippo-wrestling.

Next, they should let passengers of below-average weight bring more luggage. Seriously. It's only fair.

And don't even get me started on babies and young children. Do you remember when there used to be smoking on planes, and there was a smoking section and a non-smoking section? Yeah, they need to do that with babies and kids now. Put them in their own soundproof cabin, and everyone will be happier, except the parents, perhaps.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

a few of my favorite things

When people ask me for recommendations in Zurich, this is what I tell them.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I never thought I had seasonal allergies, having made it through 30 years of seasons without issue. Apparently, however, I am allergic to Mountain View in late March. March has passed, as have my allergies, but now the mystery remains: what is in the air in Mountain View in March that isn't in the air anywhere else that I've lived at any time of year?

My only other allergies that I know of are cats, rabbits, large quantities of dust, and Sulfa drugs. Maybe someone tossed all of those into a wood chipper and sprayed it all over town, but just for a few weeks, until it got old?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


It's all relative.

The typical desk job in the States starts you off with two weeks of vacation per year, plus some standard company holidays. You gradually work your way up until a trillion years later, when you get four or even five weeks off per year.

Law firms start associates off with four weeks per year, plus firm holidays, but it's all for show. No one really takes all four weeks off, and chances are pretty good that you'll end up working on a fair number of the holidays and weekends, as well.

Then I left New York firm life for Swiss NGO life. When I first learned that I would get five weeks off, plus about two weeks of Swiss holidays, I couldn't imagine how I would use that much vacation up each year. Weekends and holidays? They were mine, as well. The first year I was there, I ended up with a few days left over, but after that, I used up all of my vacation days, and by the end of my time as an expat, I was finding it difficult to stretch my days off to fit my travels. My friends and I wondered, "How did we ever get by on less than seven weeks off per year?"

And then I moved back to the States. I get three weeks off, plus twelve company holidays, for over five weeks off total, which is quite generous by American standards, but still not quite the same as the Swiss seven. I worried that I would find it difficult to adjust back to the American way. As it turns out, I've been back in the States for over ten months, and have only taken two vacation days. In fact, by the time I hit my one year move-a-versary, I'll only have taken seven out of my fifteen vacation days. How things change...

On the other hand, that number is quite deceptive, because I'll also have spent thirteen days working from our offices in London, Zurich, and New York (to avoid taking vacation time while traveling), taken all twelve of the company holidays, and spent several days at company or department off-sites (wine blending, eating, doing pub trivia, skiing, going to the beach, and so on).

I'm not really sure which system works better for me yet, but at least I can say that, contrary to expectations, I don't feel vacation-deprived.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

spring is when...

...the temperatures start regularly hitting 70 degrees most days, and we get more sunny days than cloudy days, and fewer rainy days than in winter. OK, I can understand that, that makes sense. Apparently, however, it is also when some of the trees grow new leaves or burst into bloom, and others let their leaves turn red and fall to the ground. Couldn't they come to some sort of consensus on proper arboreal seasonal behavior? The six month perfect summer is only a month away. Schizophrenic as the climate is, I have no complaints. Just mystified confusion.

Friday, March 20, 2009

what is this madness of which you speak?

The other day, I was at work and I walked up to my manager and another coworker as they were engrossed in conversation. My manager turned to me and asked if I had filled out a bracket. 

It was the beginning of the day, we were about to go into a meeting, and I had no idea what he was talking about, and was momentarily concerned that I had overlooked some work-related thing that I was supposed to have filled out. 

My confusion must have been very apparent on my face, as he then said, "March Madness? ...Basketball? ...College basketball? ...The championship? ...Are you filling out a bracket for the office pool?" 

Oh!! Much relieved, I said that I had not, and did not plan on filling one out, due to my (very obvious) total lack of knowledge and interest when it comes to sports. 

I was better able to seem less ignorant in Europe, where the only sport that anyone ever talks about is soccer. In the States, however, there is always something going on -- football, basketball, baseball, hockey -- and they overlap, so a non-sports person can never be sure what kind of game people are referring to watching "the game," and someone who is completely uninformed about sports (like me) is clueless about what kind of playoffs are going on at any given time. 


At least it wasn't some work-related thing that I had forgotten to do.

Monday, March 9, 2009

rage, rage against the dying of the light

One of the random benefits of living in the States is that Daylight Saving Time starts two weeks earlier and ends one week later than it does in Europe, so we get three more weeks of light lasting later in the evening. This makes an even bigger difference when you take into consideration the relative likelihood of sunny days in California versus Switzerland. 

Perhaps in Switzerland, where people wake up at ungodly hours to get to work by 9, 8, or even (gasp!) 7 in the morning (and where clouds often obscure any direct sunlight), it makes the morning commute darker for a while, but here, where people wake up a bit later (and the sun is more likely to shine cloud-free), it just means that the sun is around for more actual waking hours. Sweet.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I've lived in a few different places before moving to California -- Denver, Houston, Delaware, Cambridge, New York, and Zurich -- and they are all very different places, but one thing that they have in common is the way the seasons work. 

In the spring, the grass starts growing and the trees start budding and growing leaves. In the summer, everything is green. In the fall, things turn colors, then turn brown and die. In the winter, the world just waits for spring to come back again.

Not here. Here, the seasons are all backwards, inside out, and upside down. Confused. In the summer, the grass is brown and yellow, fried to a crisp in the dry sun, but the trees are green. In the fall, nothing changes. In the winter, some of the trees get with the program and shed their leaves, but the grass gets confused by the sudden appearance of rain and turns green, and the flowers come out. 

I'm not sure what will happen in spring. Probably something weird. Spring is probably when the marshmallow bushes grow Peeps, which are then picked by hippie elves and sent to drugstores around the country.

not so flexible

In an attempt to use up more of my 2008 flex dollars, I went to the eye doctor to get new contacts. I wear contacts maybe once or twice a month these days, but it's good to have them for scuba diving and for days when I want to wear sunglasses. We went through the whole rigmarole of eye tests, ordering various brands of lenses, trying them out, and having followup visits. We finally settled on a brand, and I went to pay for them.

Apparently, if your eyes are bad enough, and your vision plan is good enough, the checkups, fittings, and lenses are all free, because they are a medical necessity. So the good news is that I got free contacts. The bad news is that my eyes are really bad, and I still have to use up my flex account.

To make matters worse, I found out that the handy dandy debit card that they issue for the flex account, and which I've been using to avoid having to submit expense reports, has been drawing from my 2009 flex account. So a bunch of my hard-spent expenses haven't even gone towards my goal of using up my old flex dollars.

In a last fit of desperation, I bought a bunch of random things from, like super duper first aid kits for home and car, and will go get prescription sunglasses. And if that doesn't work, then I guess I was never meant to use those flex dollars.

Monday, February 23, 2009

college days

Going back even further, before Zurich and New York, I spent five years in Cambridge.

Five things I miss about Cambridge:

(1) The lobster stand in Faneuil Hall, where twelve bucks got you a lobster, a soda, and corn on the cob.  
(2) Snowball fights.  
(3) Living within walking distance of all of my friends.  
(4) The Lomo de Buey a las Frutas at Dali in Somerville -- I have repeatedly tried to reverse engineer this dish, but have never managed it so far.  
(5) Hot chocolate at L. A. Burdick's.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


One of my favorite things about living in Switzerland was that my dog Fiver could go almost anywhere I was allowed to go. Fiver went to work, he went to bars, he went on trains and trams, he stayed in hotels. He went to restaurants, and in some restaurants, the waitstaff would bring him special treats or dog food, so that he wouldn't be left out of the dining experience. I loved it almost as much as he did.

The U.S. is not quite as dog-friendly as Switzerland is, but I was lucky enough to get a job with a company that allows dogs at work. Fiver stays home when I go to bars and restaurants, however, and I have to sneak him into most hotels and hope he stays quiet. Public transportation isn't an issue, since I live in the suburbs, and he just rides in my Prius wherever we go.

Today, however, I found one pocket of America that is more dog-friendly than Switzerland. I went to the dentist to get a filling repaired. My dentist usually keeps one of her dogs in the back of the office. She knows I have a dog, so she told me to bring him in, and Fiver sat in my lap the entire time I was in the dentist's chair, and he alternated between zoning out and watching the proceedings with great interest. My dentist said that her dog often naps on patients' laps while they are getting work done, and that it calms them down. 

So I may not be able to take my dog out to eat anymore, but he can come hang out at the dentist's any time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

flex those dollars

During my very brief stint at a law firm in New York, we paid less than $100 a month for our insurance premiums, and the rest was covered by the firm. We had the option to put pre-tax dollars into a flex spending account, to be used on any non-covered medical or dental costs. Pretty standard stuff. I don't remember how much I put away, but I remember that it was pretty accurate -- I was able to basically predict how much I would need to pay out-of-pocket, and set it aside in my flex account.

Then I moved to Switzerland. We paid our insurance premiums totally out-of-pocket, and it was about $200 a month, but to be honest, the insurance was pretty irrelevant. It didn't cover dental work or vision costs at all, so if you went to the dentist and had a filling done or if you had to get new glasses, you paid for it yourself, and as much as people complain about how expensive dentists and eye doctors are in the States, they are far worse in Switzerland. And the annual deductible was high enough to make the stated co-pays pretty irrelevant. Unless you spent more than $3000 a year on doctor's bills and prescriptions, it was all out-of-pocket. (Of course, there was an option to pay a much higher premium to bring the deductible down, but it didn't seem worth it if you were fairly healthy).

I moved back to the States, and my employer now covers 100% of my insurance premiums, and my co-pays are pretty minimal. I have dental insurance and a vision plan (a company full of nerds needs a good vision plan), and I can once again set money aside in a flex account. I made my election for 2008 when I showed up in May, and then in November, I had to make my election for 2009. The 2008 money needs to be used up by the middle of March 2009. Yay for using pre-tax money on my expenses, right?

The problem is this: I made my elections before I started doing any relevant spending, and I forgot that I have no overall deductible, and my co-pays are so low that it's very hard to actually spend all of my flex money. I set money aside as if I were still living in Switzerland, paying for everything out-of-pocket, and now my pockets are too full.

I think I will have to get laser eye surgery to use it up.

Say what you want about American health care, but if you're lucky enough to have health insurance here, then your out-of-pocket medical expenses are much cheaper than what you get elsewhere.

And so far, unlike in Switzerland, I haven't had to pay $200 out-of-pocket for an ultrasound that determined that there was poop in my intestines. Thanks, that was the most expensive piece of useless information I've ever been forced to pay for.

Friday, January 30, 2009

i still heart new york

It has been almost five years since I left New York, and I still miss something about New York every week, if not every day. One of the things about moving every few years is that you accumulate a longer list of things to miss from all the places you've been.  

Ten random things I miss about New York: 

(2) My doorman  
(3) All-night diners  
(4) Skyscrapers  
(5) Sunday walks through Central Park to the Met  
(6) Easy navigation  
(7) Unbeatable restaurant and bar scene  
(8) Quirky shops and boutiques  
(9) New Yorkers  
(10) Same-day book delivery from Barnes & Noble

Monday, January 12, 2009

rat on a cat on a dog

I was walking around in San Francisco yesterday, and my friend and I did a double take, because there was a man walking a dog, and on the dog was a cat, and on the cat was a rat. It was like a modern-day version of the Brementown musicians, or something. The dog was walking along quite normally, and the rat and cat were perched on top as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

We immediately whipped out our BlackBerrys to do some on-the-spot Googling, and it turns out that the dog-cat-rat-man is something of a (crack-smoking) San Francisco institution, and he makes upwards of $100 a day from random admirers and passersby.

Monday, January 5, 2009

only in america

Happy New Year!! 

A friend and I took a little road trip around Northern California last week, and in between wine tastings and crab eatings, we explored some of the lesser-known sights of the Bay Area and environs.

Only in America would there be an alley covered in people's discarded, chewed gum, and only in America would it be well-known enough that people (including us) will make a point of stopping by to take pictures of it. We bought a pack of gum, chewed two pieces, and left our mark.

Only in America would some nutjob try to build a castle (which we went to see) to rival a nearby, better-known castle (which we didn't go see), using nothing but junk.

Only in America would some weird lady (who probably has a lot of cats) start a museum dedicated to hand fans, which takes up one small room.

Sorry if you miss my old habit of posting pictures -- I really ought to start a Flickr or Picasa for this, but instead, I just post all of my pictures on Facebook. Find me there, if we know each other, and if not, you'll just have to imagine my American adventures... If it's any consolation, I take very few pictures these days -- I took eight pictures during the road trip, and they all involved used gum.