Tuesday Book Club: Us

IMG_9647

I’m a big fan of David Nicholls. His third novel, One Day, sent me over my head in literary lust and I quickly proclaimed it my favorite book. I’ve since calmed down from those heady days and reorganized my list of favorites, but One Day still remains a tender book for me.

In fact, Adam surprised me with tickets to see David Nicholls speak in Zurich and I remember feeling such awe for Adam, having organized a night with an author whom he’d never really heard of before. Then, for Christmas that year, Adam gave me a signed, personalized edition of the book and I knew then for the millionth time that Adam was a gem. No wonder we’re married!

There’s something about the love story in that book that pulls at my heart. Is there anything more unbearable than unrequited love? Of course there is, but it still tugs at all those raw bits of your emotions and makes for such visceral reading.

IMG_9648It’s a trope well-suited for Nicholls, who explores this concept yet again in Us, except this time the story is told in flashbacks instead of yearly installments. And, our protagonist is a priggish 54-year-old instead of a pragmatic twenty-something girl and wild-child boy. Douglas Petersen’s wife tells him in the middle of the night that she would like to leave him and start over. She wants a new chance at life, since this one has run its course. Douglas, shocked by this revelation, uses their pre-planned Grand Tour of Europe as occasion to win her back.

The novel has a Griswolds-go-to-Europe feel to it at times, but for the most part it’s an examination into the undoings of a family and how easy that can come about. While Douglas is our only narrator, he is self-deprecating enough to show us his faults and failures as a parent and spouse, effectively giving the reader perhaps more reason to side with his wife Connie and son Albie. Yet one cannot help but feel sorry for this man who so genuinely wants his family to stay together, even if he is horribly inept at communicating that.

Some critics complain that Douglas’s narration is too censored, especially since he’s been given over 400 pages to share his story, but I find that’s true to the nature of the character. Douglas is not an over-sharer, he will never participate in TMI, so why would he here? I may be stretching the limits of character, but unlike several readers, I wasn’t disappointed in the lack of disclosure.

The novel is incredibly funny. It won’t split your sides, but it will make you wish you possessed a dryer, wittier humor. If only I could come up with such salty one-liners! In my quest for light, mostly easy-breezy books, Us fit the bill perfectly.

On the Weekend

This past weekend was absolutely perfect. After having been out of town for the last three, I was looking forward to taking it easy and indulging in a few of my favorite leisure activities: coffee in bed, magazines on the balcony, naps in the sun, and decadent meals (fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, anyone?? I swear they’re South Beach-approved! ; )

IMG_4009
IMG_4016And while it’s hard to put big expectations on the weekend (I WILL relax and we WILL have fun!), everything was just as I’d hoped it would be. In fact, and it’s hard to use this word without sound insincere or glib, it was perfect. It was such a lovely weekend. Yet we didn’t do anything glamorous or spectacular. We had homemade coffee and meals, we found a body of water and swam in it, we read. Everything we did this weekend we’ve done in the US and it all cost very little or no money.

IMG_3025

IMG_3544

IMG_3550It’s funny trying to explain our life to other people. What do you do? You went where? How? When are you moving back? Will you have kids over there? But really, when are you moving back? Living abroad is of course exciting and novel and at times extraordinarily special. But it is also very similar to the life we lived in Charleston. Sometimes it feels like I could be doing a lot of this in Kansas City.

That’s to say I’ve been spending a great deal of time trying to no longer divorce “my life in Switzerland” from “my life.” They are not mutually exclusive. Life didn’t really start when we moved here and it won’t really start when we move back. It’s just still going and will continue to with varying degrees of success and whimsy. I’m feeling very content with how things are right now. I love my life and it makes me feel good to be so happy. I understand that I’m lucky to have this opportunity, lucky to feel so content, and I am embracing it heartily and with heaps of gratitude.

IMG_2574

IMG_4892I’m happy right now because I love spending time with Adam and pursuing activities and pleasures that I truly enjoy. It has little to do with the fact that I live in Switzerland or the fact that I don’t live in America. I suppose I’m waxing poetic on it now because I’ve spent a lot of time being lonely or homesick and it’s as though I’ve come up for a big gulp of fresh air and I can breathe a tremendous sigh of relief. Life is good.

I’d just like to give a big shout-out to the weekend for making it everything I wanted it to be and more. And I’d like to document this reminder to myself: when it gets tough–and it will–look to the little joys and amusements that make you feel good right this minute.

(images from around Bern)

Tuesday Book Club (on Thursday): Euphoria

Euphoria by Lily King coverI really should be reading this more slowly, but I honestly can’t help myself. Euphoria is a page-turner in the most surprising way, given that I’m 100 pages through it and nothing has really “happened” yet. But there is beautiful suspense and a slowly unfolding narrative and I’m hooked.

I recently read this passage about language and couldn’t help but think about how its truths so easily apply to my own life:

“There is such caring and mutual observing that goes on without [language]…I am learning the chopped rhythm of their talk, the sound of their laughter, the cant of their heads. I can feel the relationships, the likes & dislikes in the room in a way I never could if I could speak. You don’t realize how language actually interferes with communication until you don’t have it, how it gets in the way like an overdominant sense. You have to pay much more attention to everything else when you can’t understand the words. Once comprehension comes, so much else falls away. You then rely on their words and words aren’t always the most reliable thing.”

For the most part, living in a country where I don’t speak the language feels like a tremendous burden. Making an appointment or reservation takes on new weight and scheduling a delivery of lost luggage (phew!) is a frustrating affair for both parties. I can get by at the grocery store and post office, at a restaurant or the pharmacy. But, my lack of fluency is always there, marking me sharply as an outsider.

It can be a blessing, however. There is no real eavesdropping and I can sit in cafe without distraction, melting into my surroundings or simply daydreaming. There are no awkward pleasantries to make at the check-out counter, which are never really that fun anyway. If I am observing people while I’m out I pay more attention to their body language and their physical presence, a practice that often leads me to make up my own ideas about who they are and what they’re up to.

Not knowing the language can end in disaster, especially if I understand that someone is trying to tell me something rather important. But for the most part it’s kind of nice. Often when we’re conversing with someone we are already formulating our response to their idea or question, or off in another hypothetical conversation. When we we’re talking and listening to another’s words, we don’t always pay enough attention to what the eyes may be telling us: do they betray their owner’s sentiment or suggest a fuller sadness? Body language is so much more revealing that mere words are.

I’m loving Euphoria so far. The cover art alone is worth examining, though I trust you’ll find yourself involved in its contents quite quickly. The back blurb informs me there’s a love triangle brewing so methinks it’s about to get very steamy.

What do you think? Listening words versus translating body language? Communication is endlessly fascinating to me. Perhaps I should have been an anthropologist…

(image via)

Back from the West

IMG_3776

IMG_3829

 

IMG_3872I arrived home yesterday after a tremendously spectacular trip to the west. It was everything, everything I wanted and even more than that–not surprising given how wonderful all my beautiful friends are.

Unfortunately, it ended in a semi-disaster that included a cancelled flight, a five-hour wait at baggage claim for reclaimed luggage that never showed, a surprise layover in Denver, and luggage that at this moment is still missing with all my treasures inside. Hence the nachos and beer above. When I’m stressed, I have no control over judgment or calories. As the cab driver told me on our way to the hotel by the Denver airport, though, “this happens to everyone so it’s not that big of a deal.” Ah, perspective. You’re right there when I need you.

Travel snafus are bound to happen (train to the Amsterdam airport, I’m looking at you), but I have found it’s best to remember to be kind and patient. Be kind to the people who are trying to help you fix what’s gone wrong. I stood next to a man at customer service who was so impossibly rude and stubborn I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the agent attempting to help him. For the most part, they are trying to help you and insulting them will certainly not earn you any favors (or potential seats on the next flight out). And, patience is critical here. I always try to remember that eventually I will get home, even if it’s not when I originally thought. So many factors are out of my control and releasing any perceived power over them helps me relax and feel less anxious. And lastly, stuff is just stuff. If they never find my bag then, yes, I will be disappointed (currently they aren’t even sure where it is in the world. literally), but I am safe and at home, which is of course the most important thing.

I hardly took any photos while I was there, and unfortunately my lovely camera is inside that missing bag so I couldn’t even share them with you if I had them. I’m not disappointed by this, however, because I felt even more present and aware without the “burden” of capturing everything perfectly. This idea about hiring a photographer to take pictures of you on vacation (and then deliver 20 “social-media ready” images each morning. Yikes!) sounds somewhat intriguing, and could help solve the specific conundrum of wanting to capture your travels but also wanting to be in the moment. Overall though, I find it too vain and narcissistic. What do you think?

That all said, I had the best time in the US and am so grateful for friends and relationships that I hold very dear to my heart. America, why do you keep them all hostage?! It is nice to be home and I’m savoring time with my sweet husband before I bail on him again this weekend and head to France. More details to come : )

Personality Test

adam-kristina-0358

Confession: I’m mildly obsessed with taking personality tests. I don’t go all in for the BuzzFeed quizzes (for the most part…), but if there’s a test out there to tell me whether I’m introverted or extroverted, social butterfly or wallflower, consider me game.

I recently took this personality test, which promises to give you a “‘freakishly accurate’ description of who you are and why you do things the way you do.” It was the perfect way to kill time on a Monday when I should have been getting ready for my board meeting.

Turns out (for, oh, the hundredth time) I’m an ESFJ, otherwise referred to here as “The Consul”. Some of the descriptors could not have been more accurate:

  • ESFJs continue to enjoy supporting their friends and loved ones, organizing social gatherings and doing their best to make sure everyone is happy…If things aren’t going right, or there’s tension in the room, ESFJs pick up on it and to try to restore harmony and stability to the group. (Middle child here! Classic peacemaker)
  • ESFJs are concerned with fashion and their appearance, their social status and the standings of other people. Practical matters and gossip are their bread and butter, but ESFJs do their best to use their powers for good. (Oof. Guilty as charged)
  • ESFJs are altruists, and they take seriously their responsibility to help and to do the right thing… people with the ESFJ personality type will base their moral compass on established traditions and laws, upholding authority and rules, rather than drawing their morality from philosophy or mysticism. (I heart rules and boundaries)

There were a few missteps along the way, but overall I thought it was a pretty accurate reading of my personality. I am definitely comfortable in a crowd, like social settings, and wish to be surrounded by harmony and joy.

What about you? What is your personality type? Do you ever put in stock in these quizzes? Let me know “who you are” in the comments!

P.S. Here’s what each personality type does at a party. Mine made me laugh out loud.

West Coast Bound

adam-kristina-0311

I’m on my way to San Fransisco today! I haven’t been since I was nine years old and I’m really looking forward to exploring the city as an adult with some of my very best friends.

I’ve known the above girls since I was in elementary school (and obviously I’ve known Courtney since I was thirteen months old). We’re all within a couple years of one another, though in pretty wildly different stages of life. Laura, second from the left, has lived in the city since last fall and we are eager to storm her apartment and catch up. We haven’t been all together since my wedding this time last year so there will be a lot of gossip, hugging, laughing, and probably crying. Not to mention eating and drinking our way through one of the most culinary cities in the country. I literally cannot wait a day longer.

From there I’ll be heading up the coast to Portland to see Nancy! I’ve never been there but have heard all the best things. Exciting and creative food, coffee, beer, wine, ice cream, donuts, parks, bikes, and historic charm. Count me in!

If you have any tips on either of these cities I would love to hear them. I’ll be taking the next week off but you can always follow me on Instagram.

P.S. These are the same girls who threw me a surprise bachelor party. They’re the best : )

In Season: Zucchini

grilled-zucchini-and-leeks-with-walnuts-and-herbs-940x600

Chances are you’ve been cooking with zucchini all summer long, but it’s at its absolute peak right this minute so I’ve rounded up some inspiration in case you’ve found yourself in a recipe rut. Zucchinis can be found in the markets year-round, but they are at their most delicious from June through late-August. It’s one of those fantastic ingredients that can go sweet or savory and you’re just as likely to find it on the grill as you are in a cake. Below are some recipes I’ve tried myself, as well as others I’d love to give a whirl within the next month.

How do you like to cook zucchini? Honestly, it’s one of the most versatile types of produce, in my opinion. I’m always adding it into pasta dishes or cutting it up really thin for salads. This week I’ve been dipping it into this french onion dip, which is so delicious.

(Image by Ryan Liebe for Bon Appetit)