Bon Voyage!

dancing elephant

Adam and I head back to the US today. We’ll be spending the next two weeks there, visiting family and spendings lots of quality time with Adam’s dad and mom. It simultaneously feels like no time has passed since we left in March and like it has been the longest year of our life. 

As I have mentioned before, there are so many emotions that encompass what the last five months have been like for us. And every time I think of the chaos and overwhelming feelings I’ve experienced, I remember that they are nothing compared to Adam’s mom. This past Sunday we were of course thinking about our moms and reminiscing about what incredible women they are. Adam’s mom has been so impossibly strong, brave, and courageous through everything and she is a true inspiration to all of us. I can’t wait to give her a big squeeze!

As in the past, this space will probably be pretty quiet for the rest of the month while we’re at home. I might pop in and out but I can’t say what the next two weeks look like so I won’t promise anything. There are loads of archives, however, if you feel inspired to go digging through them : )

Lastly, you know I’m not one for inspirational quotes (I seem to remember posting at length about it here, specifically saying, “These false mantras don’t do a lot for me and sort of make me question the sincerity of those who purport them.” So, let’s just all commit to not committing to anything), but I may have found one that’s really sweet and beautiful and perfect for right now.

maya angelou

There are a lot of directions I could take this in my own life, but I let it sit with you for a bit. That Maya Angelou, she just got us, didn’t she?

I hope you are doing well and feeling well and letting your own light shine bright for others. When you are feeling taxed, what is your initial response? When you are feeling overwhelmed and sad, for whom do you reach? When you are joyous and abundant with happiness and pleasure, how do you celebrate?

Wishing you and yours a very happy spring xo

(image 1 via // image 2 via)

Slovenia: Lakes Bled and Bohinj

IMG_7663

IMG_7652

IMG_7655

 

Phil had heard from a coworker that you can see Ljubljana in a day (without trying to sound like a snob, you can) and she suggested we rent a car to see some nearby lakes. Chances are you’ve seen a misty lavender photo of Lake Bled with its church floating on an island in the middle. It’s a pretty popular destination for tourists and our cab driver suggested we drive a little further past that lake and see Lake Bohinj, a quieter “more natural” spot.

Saturday was another lovely day–until the rains moved in later in the afternoon–and I’m so glad we took the chance to get out of town and see a few local favorites. Below are quite few pictures of our day if you’d like to see…

IMG_7658
IMG_7660

IMG_7662

IMG_7665

 

You can get to Lake Bled from Ljubljana in less than an hour. It’s a very easy drive and rather scenic, especially once you get past the airport. We decided to press on toward Lake Bohinj first, which is about another 20-minute drive. There are a smattering of cafes and one big hotel at the end of the lake, as well as a few rental shops where you can get canoes, paddle boards and other water equipment. You can also sign up for canyoning, paragliding, and more extreme activities, but we decided to simply check out the little church (the most photographed church in Slovenia, in fact) and enjoy a leisurely lunch on the shore. We dined at the hotel, and it really was quite good, but if we had been a little more organized a picnic would have been especially nice here.

IMG_7667

IMG_7674

IMG_7679

Our driver also recommended we drive yet further past Lake Bohinj and visit Savica waterfall. It’s about 10 kilometers down a very windy road that somewhat hugs the lake. A couple of signs will help guide the way to a parking lot. From here you walk about 20 minutes to the waterfall, which is really beautiful and quite powerful. It’s within the only national park in Slovenia so there are a lot of other hiking trails that connect here. It was a somewhat unexpected detour so we weren’t really wearing the right shoes, but I would definitely recommend some sneakers, even if you only bring them out for this portion. It’s not difficult by any means, just a little uncomfortable in you’re in, say, flat booties with zero traction : )

IMG_7692

IMG_7696

IMG_7699

IMG_7702

IMG_7706

IMG_7708

IMG_7712

IMG_7715

IMG_7721

IMG_7723

IMG_7729

One thing I really liked about this visit is how alone we felt. We certainly saw other travelers around, but once we arrived at the waterfall there were only two other people there. And two other people arrived just as we were leaving. We weren’t battling any crowds or big tourist groups, which was refreshing. Granted, we are early in the tourist season, the shoulder season as it were: right after the rush of spring break trips and before the hectic summer season. Airfare and accommodations tend to be cheaper at this time of year and as I mentioned you aren’t faced with the same crowd of other travelers that you will find in June-August. We traveled to Bali in the fall shoulder season and experienced something similar. The cooperating weather, coupled with the previously mentioned benefits might just make it my favorite time of year to travel.
IMG_7731

IMG_7736

IMG_7742

IMG_7757After our walk back down we took an alternate route to Lake Bled. Unfortunately there was a big rowing race that day so the lake was very populated and covered in various competitions. Of course it would have been exciting if one were a part of the day’s festivities, but it didn’t make for a very scenic view. I know I may be coming across as entitled and out of touch (which, fair enough), but sometimes it feels a little crummy to have reality exist lower than your expectations.

IMG_7766

IMG_7767

IMG_7775

IMG_7771So, really, what am I talking about? It was very lovely, indeed. We visited the castle perched high on the cliff and rested there before we saw the curtains of rain drawing ever nearer. We hopped in the car and booked it back to Ljubljana, where it was fresh and dry. For a while at least…

IMG_7787

IMG_7797

IMG_7802

IMG_7803

IMG_7807

IMG_7813

IMG_7818We had every intention of relaxing outside by the river for a while but the lightening and thunder sent us in search of shelter. We walked further down the river to an area we had seen the night before. It had a cool, hip looking crowd and we decided to see if they were back. In short, they weren’t. Every little bar and cafe we walked by was almost completely empty. It could have been the rain keeping everyone at home, but we came to find out that Ljubljana really is a quiet town that doesn’t ever get too rowdy or crazy. So we landed at Repete , a jazz bar that also makes dynamite cheeseburgers, and played 18 holes of Golf while it poured outside.

IMG_7819

IMG_7843

IMG_7856

IMG_7846

IMG_7839

IMG_7830

IMG_7826After more or less imprinting our butts into the seats at Repete, we briefly stopped by Daktari at the bartenders suggestion. It was a very cool spot with both an outdoor patio and underground maze-like cave, located right by the funicular to the castle. We were all pretty wiped from the day, however, and scooted home rather early.

Overall, it really was a lovely 48-hour trip. We wandered around a bit the next morning before catching an early-afternoon flight. It was fun to see somewhere that was new to all of us and get a little breather from busy Bern life (insert joke here). Looking forward to yet more travel this summer–suggestions welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Book Club: Blurbs

IMG_7498

How do you choose books? I know we’ve talked about this before, but since it’s a quandary I find myself in quite often–that is, what should I read next?–I think it’s worth re-examining. In fact, my brother-in-law has asked me a number of times how I choose what books to read and I usually mumble something about looking through the New York Times bestsellers and the “Sunday Review” (which is true!). But more often than not, I’m checking out those blurbs on the front and back covers of a book to find out those little nuggets of truth that tend to speak volumes about what’s inside.

Most recently I had been looking for buzz words like “funny” and “unputdownable” so I bought Absurdistan. And thankfully it is funny and mostly unputdownable. I like the novel’s intensity and Shteyngart’s irreverence and the unapologetically critical eye he turns towards in-groups ranging from Russian Jews to Brooklyn hipsters. It is most definitely absurd and ridiculous and in line with The Times‘s blurb on the back that Misha is “one of the funniest narrative voices in recent fiction.” He’s basically insane.

What other buzz words am I after? Last week I bought The Opposite of Loneliness and I would remiss if the single word “triumph” right above the title didn’t immediately catch my eye. Shortly before that I finished Beautiful Ruins and NPR’s Fresh Air considered that book “a literary miracle.” A miracle! It says so right there, by the author’s name.

While we were home I bought A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon because it was displayed in a section of Barnes & Noble to the effect of “if you liked this book, then you’ll like these others” that threw me into a panic of indecision and a case of the wants. The only blurb on the front says, “I haven’t been so overwhelmed by a novel in years.” I wanted to feel that too.

Another book in that same section, The Inheritance of Loss, similarly pulled me. Ann Harleman for The Boston Globe writes, “If book reviews just cut to the chase, this one would simply read: This is a terrific novel! Read it!” OK!

Book reviews are critical, for writers and readers alike, but Ms. Harleman brings up an interesting point: those blurbs do cut to the chase and sometimes they make or break a sale. I guarantee you thousands of people, myself included, will now read All the Light We Cannot See because it will have a blurb or a sticker or some kind of mention that it won the Pulitzer Prize. They are truly important.

So, Jared, I choose books based on the blurbs. And then when I’m really stuck on what to read next, I go through some of my favorite books and look for authors who wrote blurbs on the covers or inside the jacket and read their books. I have found lots of great new writers this way.

The secret is out! What about you? What do you do? Do you read all the Man Booker prize winners? Or National Book Award winners? Do you consult any lists or blogs or specific people? I’d love to hear.

 

 

 

 

Slovenia: Ljubljana

IMG_7624

IMG_7525

Way back in February when it was cold and miserable, and the cold and misery felt like it would last forever, Phil organized this weekend trip to Ljubljana. Swiss Air was having a giant sale and the ticket prices were too good to pass up. Of course, we were in Kansas overwhelmed by all the events that had taken place, but still we knew this would be a good idea; it would be something to look forward to. It turned out to be just the thing we needed, a quick trip out of town to somewhere completely new. It’s yet another case of just go, do, don’t over-think it.

IMG_7601

IMG_7535

IMG_7586The weather on Friday could not have been more perfect. The capital city is easily walkable and charming with its winding river and numerous sidewalk cafes. Ljubljana certainly thrives on the cafe culture and we were more than happy to follow the locals’ lead and walk around, stopping for food, a cold beer, or just a moment’s rest. We stayed at an airbnb in the center of town (just around the corner from that church above) and it was very easy to get around.

Our host had recommended Open Kitchen for lunch, an open air market with food stalls highlighting area restaurants and specialty shops. You can get a variety of small plates or entire meals and relax on the steps with the rest of the city. According to our host, it is very popular at the moment, but it runs from mid-March through October. We would highly recommend it.

IMG_7512

IMG_7516

IMG_7518

IMG_7519

IMG_7523

IMG_7530We had a little bit of everything–Slovenian, Egyptian, Chinese (when in Rome…)–before heading toward the castle. The medieval castle sits on a stately hill above the city and offers a beautiful panorama from the viewing tower. There was a large event at the top that prevented us from seeing a lot of the courtyard and other parts of the fortress, but overall it’s worth a visit. You can walk up or take a funicular for a modest fee. Can you guess which option we selected? : )

IMG_7551

IMG_7554

IMG_7558Of course even if you do decide to take the funicular, you’ll eventually come to a big stairwell that leads to the top of the tower, though it pales in comparison to some castle and church stairwells in Europe. This particular double-helix was a genius idea as you never had to run into people or do any awkward maneuvering while one person goes up and the other does down.

IMG_7561

IMG_7565

IMG_7567

IMG_7568

IMG_7569

IMG_7576

IMG_7578We walked around a bit after that before finally relaxing at one of the ubiquitous outdoor cafes. The architecture in the city is interesting given the storied history. Slovenia is of course a relatively young country. In 1991 it split from Yugoslavia to become its own independent country. It has had dalliances with the Roman, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires, and the city doesn’t quite seem to lock into any one of those ideas. Rather, and perhaps this is the main point, it is a melting pot of ideas, architecture, personalities, and influences. Its bordered by Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary and it feels like a little bit of all of those. It is definitely European but decidedly its own.

IMG_7582

IMG_7590

IMG_7593

 

IMG_7616

IMG_7603After a brief catnap we walked around a bit more in search of the happy hour crowd–a rustling, bustling spot where we could do some prime people-watching. It was a little more touristy than we would normally would go for, but sometimes those end up being the perfect places for what we might consider to be anthropology, a study of the natives.

IMG_7632

IMG_7634

IMG_7645

 

That evening we had dinner at Julija, which was fantastic. We ate outdoors and tasted a variety of typical Slovenian flavors, as well as some tried and true favorites (gnocchi, I’m looking at you). We retired pretty soon after that, totally beat from our day exploring the city. I’ll share some pictures from the rest of our trip later this week. IMG_7647

IMG_7651

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off for the Weekend!

IMG_2216

What are you up to this weekend?I’m signing off early this week because Adam, Phil, and I are heading to Ljubljana for the weekend! (It’s in Slovenia, by the way). We desperately need a little break, and though we will only be there for 48 hours I’m so excited to see new sights and have a breather.

Has this week felt a little wonky to anyone else? I’ve been having dreams about my teeth either crumbling or falling out of my mouth and it’s been really disturbing. Obviously I must be feeling a little stressed or uncertain about something and I’m looking forward to shaking off some of that anxiety. Adam and I rather impulsively booked tickets for a trip in June and I can’t tell you how excited I am for that week.

I hope you have a lovely, restorative weekend. I caught a little flak last week for not posting my usual round-up (all in good fun, of course), so here it is! Enjoy, friends.

A song for the weekend. (I realize I’m so behind on this…)

Made me laugh. “Symbolism, right?”

“Foot fungus is better in America.” Expats, you can relate : )

What a perfect soup for spring!

My favorite thing about camping

11 tips to improve your baked goods–I could really stand to bookmark this, right?

A pretty top for warm weather. I’m partial to the lavender one.

Over-the-shoulder trick shots. Very impressive.

Mind-boggling photos of the “Chinese art of the crowd”

A buying guide to fine jewelry

This month’s pick for wine school. Will you try it? It’s a controversial choice ( you love it or hate it!) but I’m intrigued.

 

I Never Bake

 

 

IMG_7465

IMG_7480Honestly, I don’t like baking. I don’t have a sweet tooth so baking cakes or pies or cookies really doesn’t appeal to me (though I know they do to a certain someone in the house…). I also find baking to be too precise for my style; I like the flexibility of most savory cooking, adding a little of this or a touch of that in substitute of another taste I don’t particularly favor. It’s too tricky to mess with measurements and substitutions while baking. And honestly, it intimidates me.

Ah, but savory baking. Deb at smitten kitchen is really on to something here. Sure, there’s the precision of a baked good at play (the usual suspects, baking powder, baking soda, flour, salt, all make an appearance), but there’s also cheese. And there are caramelized onions.

IMG_7478

 

So Saturday became an experimental day for me. I tried my hand at baking and I must say it went well, like very well. These little biscuits are pure delight and may have convinced me that baking is worth looking into (more than once or twice a year that is).

We had them with cured meats before digging into spaghetti and meatballs (carbo-loading over here! hey, I’ve got a race to train for…) and then again on Sunday morning with scrambled eggs. I imagine they work in a variety of other situations…in which I am present.

IMG_7481

You can find the full recipe here. I’d rather not reproduce it in full because I truly didn’t change anything. The gruyere is critical so look in specialty stores if you can’t find it in your regular grocery store. Mine are a bit flatter than hers, so maybe a hazard of high-altitude baking? I will say, however, that it takes me a lot longer to get onions to caramelize than what is suggested in the original recipe. I’ve never done it in less than an hour and gotten the deep flavor I really want. Therefore, this becomes a recipe you want to try when you have some time on your hands. (As I thought about it, though, you could caramelize the onions ahead of time and then put the dough together when you want to bake them)

As Deb mentions, these are superb right out of the oven (oh, the scent of these babies) with a little butter. But we reheated them in the toaster oven the next morning (325 degrees for about 5-7 minutes) and they tasted just as good. Pro tip: you definitely want them warm.

What do you think? Will you try these? Do you like baking? Is it more of a chore for you? A confession: this was the first time I used our rolling pin!

 

(all photos my own: )

 

Tuesday Book Club: Beautiful Ruins

IMG_7486

 

IMG_7507

“Fiction has the power to slow time, to speed it up, to dilate it, to flash it forward and back, to make it as precise as today’s date or as wispy as a distant memory. We read about a woman arriving by boat in a small Italian village in 1962, where a hotel owner in the sea watches her while three hundred years of the village’s history wash over us, and we flash back eight months to the death of the man’s father and then to the day the man took over this hotel, then forward again thirty minutes and fifty years ago–the woman still climbing out of the boat, the man still watching her from the water. Back and forth time goes in fiction, as we contemplate lifetimes in a few hundred pages.”

Not only does this quote hold true in the literal sense of the book Beautiful Ruins–the plot does indeed flash forward and backward between 1962 and the vague “Recently” with stopovers throughout the seventies and early 2000s–but in a more abstract sense, more specifically the time you spend actually reading. Do you ever find that an hour has passed and you’ve been lost to the world and everything not directly related to your book? Or have you slogged through pages of density only to find that ten (no way!), ten minutes have gone by. Time is dilated and stretched and sometimes wickedly manipulated when we read.

This rereading of Beautiful Ruins was much like my first go through: a constant battle between wanting to zip right through it (must find out happens next!) and savor each hilarious, thoughtful, and surprisingly insightful page. Jess Walter’s sixth novel is a novel about time, yes, but it is also about love and patience and forgiveness, all marbled with social criticism and satire. It’s clever and frank and probably one of my favorite books. Can I commit to that? Check back with me later.

Dee Moray, a “dying actress”, arrives by boat in Pasquale’s tiny Italian village just down the crags from Cinque Terre (the literal translation of the fictional fishing port is “village of shame”). It’s 1962 and she has just come from Rome and the set of the disastrous film Cleopatra. She’s dying of stomach cancer and has been sent to the remote seaside village to rest before heading to Switzerland to undergo a special procedure.

Flash forward and across the ocean to the present in Hollywood and “Claire wakes jonesing for data; she fumbles on the crowded bedside table for her BlackBerry, takes a digital hit.” Claire Silver is the assistant to the legendary film producer Michael Deane (whose face has been pulled and poked in the most horrifying way: “It may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch-ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals and stem-cell injections that have caused a 72-year-old man to have the face of a 9-year-old Filipino girl.”) and is sentenced to listening to a series of wild movie pitches on this particular Friday.

Of course, this is no ordinary Friday and calamity ensues when a certain Italian arrives looking for answers about the mysterious Dee Moray. Micheal Deane has those answers and we, the reader, are dying to know them as well.

The novel’s final epigraph is a quote from Milan Kundera, reading, “There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact.” It seems contradictory and yet it makes complete sense. The present moment, what surrounds our consciousness in this exact moment is so real and seemingly concrete, but we wait and plan and scheme and attempt to make predictions on what comes next, often modeling behavior on what we think may occur in our future. We so often miss the present, the now, in favor of preparing for what comes next. The moment when we physically feel ourselves crystallize into what we were truly meant to do is eschewed in favor of what feels safe or secure. When do we really act in the present? Are we not usually living in the future or reflecting on the past?

Walter plays with a lot of these ideas with Pasquale’s search to find Dee, Michael Deane’s frighteningly distorted face, Claire’s deal with fate. We are waiting for time to tell us something, to tell us what to do, instead of acting on our impulses. For a book that shifts around in time, it’s a beautiful meditation on the power of the present.

Have you read Beautiful Ruins? What did you think? Are you a read-it-all-in-one-go sort of person or would you rather let a book linger?

(first quote from an interview with Jess Walter in a 2012 issue of the Kenyon Review)