When David & I moved in with my mom last summer before traveling abroad, we had a goal : we would enjoy time with my mother, dog, and hometown, and by the spring, we would move again.
Here we are in May and we just finished packing up our “moving pod.” Next week we will start our 2500 mile drive to our new home in Idaho. David got a great job out there in the data analysis field, so we’re headed west again!
Our time in New York has been so special to me. We’ve gotten to spend lots of quality time with my mother (and with Pip the Kerry Blue Terrier!), and being in my home environment has been so nourishing. I love my childhood house and I love the wood paths nearby, where I’ve run or walked daily. I still dream that someday we will settle in New England, but for now, this job opportunity for David was too good to pass up. We’ll enjoy being close to David’s family and my extended family and friends on the west coast, too.
We found a sweet little apartment with the help of my best friend Lindsey who lives in Idaho (another perk of moving!!), and we’ll be setting up house out there in early June. Maybe I’ll get back into writing a bit more often again (how often do I say that?). Lots on my mind lately : slow/sustainable fashion, baking, how to make a new place home…but lots to DO as well, like, you know, moving across the entire country.
I used to be (perhaps I did this three times?) in the habit of making monthly “what I’m into” posts — books, television, music, etc. It was a clever idea, and one I didn’t keep up. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading habits, and I figured I’d share some of the best books I’ve read in the past year.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead : I read this early in 2017. It was a very challenging book, with many depictions of violence and suffering (as is appropriate for a book about slavery). The ‘magical realism’ element of the literal underground was cleverly done, I thought, and something about Whitehead’s writing of the protagonist, Cora, pushed me to really think about how I relate to characters in novels. The plot reminds one of the ways that the past returns even when we might think we are safe.
The Girl with the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf : This novel, about a young Muslim woman in Indiana, was captivating. I didn’t realize when I got it out from the library that it took place in Indianapolis and Bloomington, but the many location references, which were familiar to me, helped ground the book and added a level of interest.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King : I downloaded the first four of the many mysteries in this series onto my Kindle and read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice while in California to be with my beloved grandmother as she died, and then as I helped plan her funeral. It was highly enjoyable escapism, and although I still haven’t read the next three in the series, I am looking forward to them. I haven’t read a lot of mystery books, but I have read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and Laurie King writes about a young woman apprenticed to Holmes. If you’re looking for something diverting that still feels intelligent and rich, this is definitely a good series to try.
The Emigrants Series by Vilhelm Moberg : When David and I were visiting his distant relatives in Sweden, this book series came up over and over. It seemed like everyone in Sweden had read these books, and they all insisted that I ought to read them. So, I dutifully downloaded the four-book saga to my Kindle and began to read. The Emigrants is about a Swedish family that travels to the United States in the 1850s to escape the famine and poverty in Sweden (more than a quarter of the population of Sweden emigrated in the 1850s – 1950s. The population of the country has still not recovered from this mass exodus). The books were written in the 1940s and 50s, and I was completely drawn in. They were pretty strange at times — there are a lot of stories within the story, some of which are quite bizarre — but I was deeply fond of the characters, specifically Kristina, the mother of the family that emigrates. The books follow them from childhood until the end of their lives, and I cried a lot as I finished the final book.
Amazing Grace : A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris : I read Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis while David and I were in Oxford, and I was really disappointed with it. I thought Lewis wasn’t particularly clever and felt distanced from him by his sexism. I’ve loved some of his other work (I love the Narnia series, and I really enjoyed an essay collection of his as well as The Screwtape Letters), but I’d had high hopes for Mere Christianity. After I finished it, I asked for recommendations on a Facebook group I belong to : intelligent yet readable theology, from a woman. And boy, did this book hit the spot. Norris is articulate and thoughtful, but never conceited or obnoxious in her writing. I share a lot of her thoughts and was convinced by her arguments in favor of seeking meaning within the religion of your own ancestors. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, and if you are a progressive, feminist Christian struggling to reconcile your modern views and the ancient, often “problematic” religion of your ancestors : check this out.
Stasiland by Anna Funder : My mother traveled in Germany and Eastern Europe last spring as a chaperone for a school trip and read this book while there. I borrowed it from her after David and I returned from Europe and it was fascinating. I never felt like I knew very much about East Germany and the Stasi, but Funder’s journalist eye provides facts and good stories within the context of her own story of living in East Berlin shortly after the fall of the wall. (If you read this book, pair it with the film Goodbye Lenin, a really excellent German film which, unlike most German films, had East Germans involved in production and shows a different “side” of East Germany).
Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird : I was interested in Queen Victoria after watching the first season of the PBS Masterpiece Theatre show, Victoria, and picked up this massive paperback when I saw it at Costco. I read it all fall and into the winter, finishing on December 31st. It’s magnificent! Baird is a journalist but also has a PhD in history, so she has the perfect blend of rigorous research and historical knowledge with captivating and intriguing writing style. I learned so much about Queen Victoria and also British history, Europe, and the industrial revolution. She really was a magnificent queen, and some of the popular imagination of her — that she disliked her children and was largely not involved in the politics of her country — are clearly disproven by Dr.Baird’s research.
The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto : My dear friend Lindsey gave this to me as a birthday gift. I love Winnie-the-Pooh, I loved the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, and I loved the tiny bit of hiking that David and I got to do in Southern England, so this was a perfect gift. I learned a lot about Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A.Milne, and Ashdown Forest (the “real” Hundred Acre Wood). It’s also just a beautiful book to look at — lots of photographs, clever page design, and handsome red cloth covers.
One exciting element of reading Victoria The Queen was realizing that I actually can read history books. I find history very interesting but have often felt intimidated by history books — and quite honestly, a lot of history books seem very dry and dull to me. However, after I finished this massive biography, it occurred to me that there must be a lot of other well-written, interesting books on history. I asked around and am now reading To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild, which is about World War One, and finding it absolutely fascinating and quite engaging. It’s pretty exciting to feel like I have a “new genre” to explore.
What are your favorite books about history? Any I should add to my to-read list? 🙂
Since David and I returned from our grand European tour, we’ve been living in my childhood home, with my mother and the family dog, Pip. While I know moving back in with your parents isn’t exactly on everyone’s late-twenties bucket list, it’s really been lovely. For one thing, I think something about losing a parent at a relatively young age (in my case, I was twenty when my dad died) shifts the way I think about my family. Even if most of the time we’re just doing regular stuff like watching TV together, going for a walk, or running errands, I really value my time with my mother.
Also, as any of you who know my in real life are already deeply aware, I am absolutely passionately obsessed with my dog, Pip. You know how some parents worry that they’ll finally cave and get a puppy, and then their kids will lose interest? Yeah, I’m not that kid. Pip is thirteen years old and I still think (know) that he is the greatest animal on the planet.
While we’re here, I’m doing a hodge-podge of home and personal projects while applying to jobs (no luck yet, but I’m not exactly rushing), and most importantly, David is working very hard to try to finish his doctoral dissertation. It is all that lies between him and his PhD, and y’all, it is a lot of work. He’s in his office most of the day and has Skype meetings with his advisor regularly. Living at home has allowed us the luxury of time : David has lots to focus on his work, and I have lots to take care of projects and decompress from the world’s most stressful job. I loved my time at the domestic violence shelter/rape crisis center/human trafficking service center but, I mean, as you can guess from the workplace, it was extremely high stress.
So here we are, living a calm and cozy life that feels a bit like a break from real life (but, I must always remind myself, is in fact a real life). I read a lot, I try to cook all the meals and keep the house tidy, and I daydream and worry far too much about what our future holds.
On that note, I’ve got to go tidy the family room and do the dishes. And perhaps have a cup of tea while I’m at it…
In December I was looking around for holiday treat ideas and remembered that I’d seen the idea of funfetti biscotti floating around Pinterest. I’ve never made biscotti, so rather than use one of those recipes I decided to return to the mother ship : King Arthur Flour. I’ve barely modified this recipe for Vanilla Biscotti to make it more ***fun*** and rainbow. They turned out amazingly & were sent out to family in holiday treat boxes. Sorry the photography is the literal worst, usually I have my husband help me but he was on a Skype call with his dissertation advisor and I’m impatient so I took the photos left-handed while my right hand did the baking things. (I am right-handed, as you can tell from the photos!)
Also, fun idea : I did a random mix of sprinkles for a rainbow/funfetti effect, but you could do anything!! Red and green sprinkles for Christmas? Blue and yellow or white for Hanukkah? Red and blue for Fourth of July? Your friend’s fave color for a custom batch as a gift? SPRINKLES ARE AMAZING!!
And : this was a genuinely fun recipe to make. You get to do weird stuff, like pull it out halfway through and spritz it with water. It smells delicious. They traveled well. UGH I’m just so excited about SPRINKLES BISCOTTI. Tomorrow, BTW, is the first day of February. HAVE YOU CONSIDERED making these with RED AND PINK sprinkles?? VALENTINE’S DAY BISCOTTI? I’m just saying…
Ingredients six tablespoons of unsalted butter (at room temperature)
two-thirds of a cup of white sugar
one-half a teaspoon of salt
two and half teaspoons of vanilla
one and a half teaspoons of baking powder
two large eggs
two cups of all-purpose flour
one-third of a cup of sprinkles*
(unusual equipment : a spray bottle full of room temperature water)
Preheat your oven to 350* Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with a silpat or some parchment paper.
Beat together the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking powder until creamy.
Beat in eggs. At this point, the dough might look pretty funky — “curdled,” says King Arthur Flour — but do not panic.
On low speed, add the flour until it forms a smooth, sticky dough.
Plop the dough on the baking sheet. Divide into two equal lumps and shape each one into a log that is nine-and-a-half inches by two inches, and about three-quarters of an inch tall. Straighten the logs, and smooth the tops and sides with a wet spatula (just dip it in some water).
Bake for twenty-five minutes.
Now, here’s the fun part. Remove the baking sheet and spritz the logs — getting the sides as well as the top — lightly with the water. You want to do so lightly, but cover all the exposed bits of logs (AKA, don’t try to pick it up and spray the underside, leave that as is).
Let it sit on the sheets for five minutes.
Use a serrated knife (in my case, a bread knife worked) to cut the logs crosswise into half-inch to three-quarter-inch slices. Be careful to keep the knife perpendicular to the baking sheet so that the thickness of each slice is even.
Lay the biscotti on their sides (now they’re biscotti! not logs! yay they graduated!!) and bake another twenty five to thirty minutes until very dry** and beginning to golden.
Remove to a rack to cool. Instagram those babies. Eat too many of them while packing treat boxes, so that you have to bake a second batch to have enough for the treat boxes. (Oops.) I haven’t tried dunking them in coffee, because I h a t e coffee and will never apologize for it, BUT I love people who love coffee and I bet they’re great dunked in coffee!!
gift box assembly. also included : gingerbread cookies & candied orange peel.
enjoy with a nice cup of TEA. in the SNOW. because WINTER.
* There are so many types of sprinkles! I had to look up sprinkles to figure out how to discuss this and I found a wonderful blog post titled Sprinkles 101 on the appropriately-named blog With Sprinkles On Top. Take a glance at that to catch up on your vocabulary before reading on. –Okay, you back? So, I have tried both quins and rainbow jimmies and they both work well. I do not think that sanding sugar would work quite as well, but I haven’t tried it. My personal favorite is quins. Do note that if you use quins, which are sometimes in fun shapes (ducks, trees, hearts, etc.), the shape will disappear as the sprinkle melts into the biscotti.
** Vague, right? I know. I texted my bosom friend, Lindsey, while I was baking these, and she was casually all like oh yeah I’ve made biscotti a bunch. I was like, WHAT how come you didn’t TELL me because sometimes I’m a bit unreasonable — but anyway — she told me she has fallen into the trap of overbaking because OMG, biscotti need to be DRY AS THE DESERT. In fact, your biscotti may still be a teensy bit moist in the centers when you take them out and that is A-OKAY, they will dry more as they cool. So don’t overbake your biscotti!! Thank you Lindsey for your BAKING WISDOM.
Well, it’s been a few months since we finished our trip and you may have noticed a lack of updates on our travels. We got so busy and involved in experiencing our trip that blog-writing fell by the wayside…so I’ll give a quick overview of our last few weeks of the trip.
After our wonderful time in Sweden, we spent about a week in Cologne, Germany. My good friend Peter lives in this city, and it was great to see his life there, experience the city, and meet his girlfriend. We also met up with our friend Matt, who had been in Berlin for a conference and came and spent a night at our AirBnB with us.
it’s really hard to explain this picture except to say that Matt and I made “brelbow” a thing
You may have heard that the Kölner Dom is large : you have been misinformed. It’s impossibly large.
Germany was, as always, a fun opportunity to brush up on our German skills. We’re always rusty, but it’s always fun to practice.
We were good guests and ate all of the delicacy that Peter ordered for us in a restaurant one evening — Mettbrötchen. This consists of…raw ground pork on top of some bread, with raw chopped onions on top of it. It was a deeply challenging food to eat, but Peter and his girlfriend raved about how delicious and beloved this food is.
After another visit to Cipressa — documented in a previous post — we went back to the U.K. Our first stop was a London suburb where we stayed with an online friend of mine, Katharine, at her family home. Internet friends are not (always) serial killers, guys!! Katharine is super nice and not ONCE did she or her parents attempt to kill us. In fact, it was relaxing and fun and delightful to get to know Katharine “IRL,” meet her lovely parents, stay in their beautiful house, and explore their town. Said town happens to be the site of a, er, famous agricultural experiment. What famous agricultural experiment? Well, if you knew as much about the history of statistics as David did, you’d know. 😉
David at Rothamstead
with Katharine in Brick Lane
visting nearby St.Alban’s Abbey
David and I dipped down to Alfriston, England, for a two-day trip. Why Alfriston? Well, we knew we wanted to spend some time in small-town/rural England, but we didn’t know where to go. So we spent one long evening in Cologne choosing. I set up a complex system involving each of us choosing three possibilities from a list, researching one another’s choices, and presenting the options before having a final vote. My goal was that this way, neither of us would feel bad that the town “we” wanted to visit won. In the end, we both felt guilty : David initially chose the town, but I researched it, so we both felt like we were getting our way while denying each other their choice. But we got over that pretty fast once we got to Alfriston and both fell head-over-heels for the town. We stayed in a 13th-century inn…
the Starr Inn
fireplace in the dining room
which provided hiking trail directions & sack lunches for folks wanting to explore the South Downs trail. There were two hike options : one was a 1.5 mile hike of the town, the other was a 13 mile hike to the ocean and back.
We took the 1.5 mile hike the evening we arrived, after visiting the Clergy House, the first property ever purchased by the National Trust. It dates back to around 1350! It was amazing to visit.
We took the other hike the following day. The long hike ended up being more like 15 miles because we occasionally strayed from the path, either on purpose or because we were confused.
And it…was…AMAZING! David had the map, and I had the directions, and together we followed this beautiful hike that took us up into the hills, through pastures of sheep and fields, into forests straight out of the Shire, through little towns, and to the Seven Sisters cliffs on the coast. The entire day was like a dream. We stopped for tea in the afternoon, and when we finally got back to our hotel in the evening, we had time to shower and head downstairs for dinner in the beautiful dining room of the inn. It was honestly one of the best days of the entire summer, and it’s in the short-list for best days of my life. We have a new dream of someday hiking the entire South Downs trail now!
We returned to Katharine’s home and spent a few more days with her lovely family…and one day with ALL THINGS HARRY POTTER. We spent six hours at Leavesden Studios, where the Harry Potter films were created…but I could have spent days, literally. It was an incredible place to visit and we saw SO much cool behind-the-scenes stuff.
the cupboard under the stairs
The Weasley kitchen
the Knight Bus
Butterbeer ice cream
Platform nine and three quarters
#4, Privet Drive
After this excellent finish to our visit to England, Katharine’s lovely dad drove us and Katharine to Cardiff, Wales. We spent two days there, exploring Torchwood landmarks, admiring the bay, visiting the Doctor Who Experience, and visiting the National Museum. Katharine hung out with us for part of the time before heading off on a camping trip with her friends. We are so grateful for her friendship and help!
a Torchwood reference
Laura & Katharine with The Tardis!
Our last stop was DUBLIN, and we went hard. After three hours of sleep and an incredibly early flight from Cardiff, we literally went straight to the Guinness Storehouse and had a tour (complete with pints) at 11 AM. Our AirBnB in Dublin was beautiful and cozy, and we had a quiet evening in due to pouring rain.
learning to pull a pint
Our final full day of the trip was packed…and amazing. We took a walking-tour of Dublin and learned a lot of history about Ireland. In the afternoon, we saw the Book of Kells, which was truly incredible. In the evening, we ate traditional Irish food and spent the evening in a pub listening to live music.
We got up early on the day of our flight home, in order to have time for fresh doughnuts and a visit to Christ Church Cathedral.
It was hard to believe that our trip was coming to an end, but we enjoyed our last morning nonetheless, and left Ireland even more in love with the country and each other than we were when we’d entered it. Our long flight home passed over Greenland, which has been since added to our list of future trips. I’m so, so glad that we did this slightly crazy trip when we had the chance, and so, so grateful that we were able to do so.
Another post written by my wonderful husband, David!
Here’s some backstory: in the late 1800’s, Sweden was desperately poor. Many children, particularly those who weren’t first-borns, could not hope for a good future in their home country. So, many left: about a quarter of Sweden’s population emigrated to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This often divided families, and for family members who stayed behind, it was as though their émigré sons, daughters, brothers, or sisters had died. Most people in Sweden today know that they have some ancestors who emigrated, but not many are in touch with the American cousins descended from those ancestors. Many Swedes are curious about these cousins, though. There’s even a popular Swedish reality TV show in which Americans with Swedish roots compete to win trips to Sweden and find their long-lost relatives!
We’re lucky that we didn’t have to become reality TV stars to get in touch with my Swedish third- and fourth-cousins. My paternal great-great-grandfather was one of those younger sons who left Sweden in the late 19th century, in 1889 at the age of fifteen with his older brother. He was from the southernmost peninsula of Sweden, a region called Skåne (SKOH-nah). He eventually settled in Tekoa, Washington; his youngest daughter, Helena, was my great-great aunt. When Helena was little her father would tell her about the home he had left behind, a big house called Dalsjögården (DAHL-fwah-gor-don). When she grew up, Helena talked often about what she would do and whom she would visit “when I go to Sweden” – so much that her husband finally just said “Enough! We’re going!” and bought them tickets. Helena was able to get in touch with some of her cousins in Sweden and visit Dalsjögården; she even recognized some of the boulders and old roads in the forest nearby from her father’s descriptions. Years later, when my parents were planning a pre-parenthood trip to Europe, Helena insisted they look up “the Swedes” and visit them. After another twenty years, my folks took me and my sister there to visit, and now I’ve had the pleasure of introducing Laura to them…
On the way to Sweden, though, we spent a day in Copenhagen, and it doesn’t seem fair to leave that out of the story completely. The big event was a walking tour of the city by a free tour company called Sandeman’s – walking tours seem to be our preferred form of big-city excitement. And the Sandeman tour company is worth looking up in major European cities, the tours are excellent and, officially, free, although it’s considered polite to tip the guide $10-20 per person. We learned about the founding of Copenhagen by Bishop Absalon (who is often pictured carrying both a bishop’s staff and a sword), famous battles against the Swedes, the Danish language, the life of Hans Christian Andersen, and the Danish royal family (the queen, by the way, is known for having painted the illustrations in the Danish edition of the Lord of the Rings). One of our favorite stops of the day came just after the end of the tour, when we wandered to a lovely Anglican church called St. Alban’s out near the citadel and the statue of the little mermaid. (Laura’s note : we also learned that Copenhagen burned to the ground twice. The second time they had tried to apply their lesson learned by installing a fancy water-pump and assigning fire watchers to watch from towers of churches and other tall buildings. Well, a fire watcher spotted the beginning of the second fire — and then they found that no one could find the key to the fancy water-pump, so the city burned down a second time anyway. Whoops.)
We also learned, though this was not part of the tour, that 7-11’s in Copenhagen have very good free Wi-Fi and surprisingly tasty chocolate croissants.
above water statue 😛
in the harbor
The next day we took an early train to Hässleholm, the Swedish city nearest to the small towns where my relatives live. Or rather, we tried to take a train to Hässleholm – it turned out that after we left on one train from Copenhagen we were supposed to transfer to a different train in Malmö, which we did not do and thus took a beautiful ride 40 miles out of our way along the wide sound separating Denmark and Sweden. Fortunately, Laura realized something was wrong and proved it to me with Google Maps just in time for us to backtrack and arrive in Hässleholm by 6. We then went to dinner at Birgita and Pelle’s beautiful home in the woods with Karin, Tore, and Hillevi. (Karin, Pelle, and Hillevi, for the record, are my third cousins once removed; they are descended from Martin’s sister Johanna, who stayed behind in Skåne). After that, Tore and Hillevi took us home to stay with them in Bjärnum (BYEHR-num).
Tore and Hillevi were two of the first Swedish relatives I ever met, because they have both visited my family in the U.S. several times. Tore is a member of a Swedish Lutheran big band called Röke Blås (ROKE-eh-blahs) that got its start in the town of Röke near Bjärnum – he plays the trumpet. That band has toured in the U.S. ten times over the past few decades, and some of the tours have brought them near enough to Washington that Tore and Hillevi made side-trips to see relatives there, including us. Hillevi has an encyclopedic knowledge of family history, and the first night that we stayed with them she shared some documents and bits of knowledge she had recently obtained about the history of her side of the family, the side that stayed behind in Sweden when Martin and his brother emigrated in 1889. We stayed up a little while talking about family history; she and Tore both recommended a famous series called The Emigrants (Vilhelm Moberg) that tells the story of several Swedish families in North America. (Laura’s note : Ingrid, Linnéa, and Johannes recommended this series as well so I bought the eBooks. It is now several weeks later and I am nearly through book three. They’re fantastic!)
The next morning we met another member of the family: Hillevi and Tore’s well-behaved robot lawnmower, which we saw trundling around outside while we were eating breakfast.
The day was quite full: we visited Dalsjögården (the old family home where Martin lived and Helena visited), took a walk around the lake nearby, met Hillevi and Tore’s daughter Emma and her husband Lasse for lunch, went out for waffles with Bengt, Viveka, and Hans, and attended a string quintet concert in a very old church near Hillevi’s hometown.
Dalsjögården, the old family home
David and Bengt
Tore and Hillevi
The next day we met moose. It turns out that this is a popular thing to do in Southern Sweden: not far from Bjärnum is a place called “Älgsafari,” where tourists (many of them German) come to take a train ride through the woods to say hello to a dozen very tame, very beautiful, moose.
After that we had fika (similar to afternoon tea) with the family of Greta, another one of Hillevi and Tore’s daughters. Then we went back to Bjärnum to rest for an hour or two before the big event of the evening, a barbecue at the home of another set of cousins, the Ivarssons: Ingrid, Stellan, Johannes (who was staying there with his wife Linnéa), and Erik (though Erik was not home for the summer).
Johannes, Ingrid, Bengt
David, Ingrid, Johannes, Linnéa, Stellan, Laura
The Ivarssons live by a lake called Humlesjö (HOOM-leh-fwah – the name translates to “hops lake,” as in the flower used to flavor fancy beers). Their home is a restored farmouse, painted Swedish red, with a back patio that makes it very convenient for parties. They had been hard at work all day preparing food, the centerpiece being a delicious platter of grilled meats: pork, lamb, steak, and… moose (it looked tasty, but we didn’t have any – too soon!). Since we were staying with the Ivarssons for the next two nights, we didn’t leave when the party was over, but sat up and talked with them for an hour or two until past midnight. The main topic of conversation was the Swedish welfare system, which is much sturdier than the American one and makes us a bit envious. It’s not perfect, and people do take advantage of it, but it seems to serve them well.
The next morning (not too early) we went for a swim in the lake, had lunch, and then stayed behind while the Ivarssons went to the graduation party of Stellan’s niece. While they were out, Laura and I took a walk around the lake and generally relaxed until they returned after dinner. In the evening, before we were all driven in by mosquitoes, we played a stick-throwing lawn game called Kubb. Laura’s team won, but only because the mosquitoes helped by guiding their sticks through the air – I saw them, I swear.
(Laura’s note : David is just bitter, and my team was just better.)
The next morning, our last full day in Sweden, Laura and I rode with Johannes and Linnéa back to Helsingborg (HEL-sing-bor-yuh), where they live. Before going to their apartment, we stopped at the Museum of Failure downtown – a tiny one-room museum whose director is, according to Johannes, a “PR genius” because he managed to get the museum written up in so many big newspapers and magazines. The museum is dedicated to products, especially tech products, that failed spectacularly, many in the last couple of decades. Some of them were familiar to us, like Laser discs and Segways. Others were bizarre. Seeing them gives you the same feeling as seeing depictions of the future in old science fiction movies: electric face-rejuvenation masks, hula chairs, and all the rest were part of imaginary futures dreamed up by the unlucky (or dishonest) entrepreneurs who hoped to make money from them. Before you leave the museum, there’s a place where you’re supposed to write down and post your own favorite personal failure. We didn’t write any down, but we read a few of the ones in English; one of our favorites was, “I asked a one-legged man why he was limping.” Oops!
We went to Johannes and Linnea’s apartment, and Linnéa and Laura cooked an excellent lasagna for our last dinner in Sweden. The next morning we toured Helsingborg with Johannes for a couple of hours before our train to the Copenhagen airport. We miss you, Skåne!
We had two visits to Cipressa this summer, and both were lovely. My Opa (grandfather) bought a hundreds-of-years-old house in Cipressa, Liguria, Italy in the 1970’s, and vacationed here for the rest of his life. Since his death in 1998, my step-grandmother, Caroline, has continued to come stay in Cipressa often, and has good friends here. It is a very small town, with views of the Mediterranean. Originally, the plan was to meet up with Caroline here along with my mother. Sadly Caroline was unable to come out and meet us, nor was my mother, but Caroline sent us instructions for the house and had many phone calls with across-the-street neighbors, Rina and Franco, asking them to help us out in a variety of ways.
We flew from Geneva to Nice, planning to catch a train to Taggia in Italy, where Franco would pick us up and drive us to Cipressa. Due to a variety of shenanigans — traffic in Nice, the train station being in some kind of insane meltdown — we missed the last train to Taggia and ended up spending the night at the Best Western in Nice. Initially grumpy, we celebrated AMERICA by eating a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner while watching American Ninja Warrior YouTube videos. I am not kidding…and it was amazing.
Luckily the next day we had a lot of time before our afternoon train, so we enjoyed visiting the old town in Nice and even put our feet in the sea. It’s a beautiful town and we really enjoyed our unexpected stay there. After a brief train ride, we were in Taggia and met Rina and Christel, another neighbor. Christel speaks German and has been an immensely helpful translator because David and I speak about ten words in Italian, and Rina speaks continually. They drove us to Cipressa and Rina gave us a detailed tour of the house, explaining how various appliances work, where to find towels, and showing us that she had stocked the kitchen for us with eggs, milk, butter, peaches, and bread.
David at the door
Looking up the street towards our house
Dissertating on the deck
David and I enjoyed several very quiet days — long walks, cooking simple meals in the kitchen, lots of reading (me) and dissertating (David). I was slammed with a bad cold and spent several days mostly napping and listening to podcasts.
Once I began to feel better, we took the Marebus down to San Lorenzo al Mare, where we spent a morning swimming in the sea. That night, we went to Christel’s cantina for a huge dinner cooked by Rina. Over four hours we ate many delicious courses, drank a lot of wine and beer, and enjoyed conversation in Italian, German, and a lot of gestures. It was a fantastic night and we finally went to bed at 1 AM with grins on our faces.
In the days following, we enjoyed many good times with our lovely Cipressa neighbors. Watermelon at Rina’s, a tour of Christel’s beautiful house (next door) and a conversation with her over pastries. We went with Rina to Santo Stefano and accompanied her through the street market — David wandered around examining various goods and I trotted behind Rina, carrying her shopping bags and weighing in on purses and dresses that she examined. (She ended up buying a nice beige purse that is machine-washable.) We then went to a small beach where we swam, got completely sunburned, and swam again when Franco arrived on his bicycle. It was a beautiful moment, wading into the water with this sweet, gregarious, Italian woman in her eighties, carrying her swimming flippers that she then put on and swam with. David and I swam out and back to a red buoy twice, and Franco told us that it’s 250 meters. Not a bad swim, really.
We then took our “Northern Europe” trip — Copenhagen, Sweden, and Cologne, Germany — before returning to Cipressa. More posts to come on those trips later!
Sadly on our way back to Cipressa the second time, David’s shoulder bag was stolen. The saddest bit is that it contained his camera, with photos from Sweden that we hadn’t yet backed up online. We will miss those photos, as well as David’s Kindle & some of our souvenir postcards and whatnot. However we were relived that we still had our passports and other important documents, and that we weren’t hurt. (We didn’t even see the thief — the bag just disappeared from David’s feet.)
After arriving at the house and comforting ourselves with big bowls of homemade carbonara, we focused on enjoying Cipressa once more. During our stay we tried both restaurants in the town (we preferred La Torre), went swimming in Santo Stefano, strolled around San Lorenzo al Mare, and had two big dinners in Christel’s cantina — one to say goodbye to her (where we met her daughter Annette and Annette’s two children, Leona and Max) and one just before David and I left. On our last afternoon there we were hanging out in Rina’s kitchen with Rina and Leona, and using gestures and Leona as translator, Rina insisted over and over again that the next time we come to Cipressa we must have a baby. She volunteered to watch said baby while we go to the beach. 🙂
San Lorenzo al Mare
dinner on the deck
pizza at La Torre
view from above the town
Cipressa was so lovely and I was so happy to share this bit of my childhood and family with David. We’re excited to go back!
(Blog post title written in one of the Swiss languages whose region we did not visit. Did anyone get the book reference?)
Our next stop after Tübingen was St.Gallen, Switzerland — the hometown of my Opa (my mother’s father). We took a train from Tübingen to Lindau, a beautiful town on Lake Konstanz, and then another from Lindau to St.Gallen. Our AirBnB there was absolutely lovely, with breathtaking views and nearby walking trails. The only odd thing — which wasn’t a problem as it ended up being just me and David, not also my mother as originally planned — was that the second bedroom was actually a bed inside a large closet inside the bathroom. Kind of a stretch to call that a second bedroom, in my opinion.
Our first evening there, we were quite tired. So we dined on a frozen pizza in our kitchenette before going for an evening walk. By taking a steep hill into the forest, we found not only a pasture containing two cows (complete with bells, echoing through the valley), but also Wildpark Peter & Paul — an animal sanctuary. We watched some kind of mountain goats frolic on the side of a rock outcropping until an ant bit me on the toe and we hurried back to apply ice. Man, did that hurt.
view from our AirBnB
The next morning — ant-bitten toe feeling better — we walked down into St.Gallen with a short checklist of tasks. We wanted to visit the house that my Opa grew up in, eat in a very old restaurant (where Opa had dined many times, including with me when I was seven and he brought us all to Switzerland), and visit the Stiftsbibliothek — the ancient library at the Abbey of St.Gall. After a bit of searching, we found the house and admired it. David took a few photos of me in front of it, and we headed off to find Weinstube Bäumli, the old restaurant, for lunch. We finally found it — only to discover that it is closed for renovations until August 1st. Shocked, we wandered around for a few blocks before returning to dine directly across the street. It was a fun meal. The server spoke to us initially in Swiss-German, and then noticed our blank, panicked stares and switched to Hochdeutsch. We got on well and she seemed pleased with our efforts. We ordered two classic dishes and shared everything between the two of us — local beer, a bratwurst with Rösti (sort of like a giant Swiss hashbrown), and geschnetzeltes (usually veal — in this case chicken — in a creamy sauce). My favorite combination was the nontraditional mix of geschnetzeltes sauce with Rösti. Two of my all-time favorite foods. 🙂
After lunch, we visited the ridiculous, rococo cathedral of St.Gall before going into the library. The floors are so old and beautiful that one must wear large, fuzzy slippers over one’s shoes and slide around. David was in his element as we slid inside. He spent a long time studying a replica of an 18th-century globe — complete with absurd sea creatures painted in the oceans. There are books in the Abbey Library that are over a thousand years old, and the room itself is beautiful. I looked out an open window to what appeared to be a school recess yard, with soccer goals and rubber balls. While delighted at the idea of children so near to the ancient library, I did wonder what would happen if a kick sent a rubber ball not into the goal, but soaring through the window.
a door within a door
you can’t actually take photos in the library so they made a “selfie-spot”
We left St.Gallen the next morning, but not before a quick hike up the hill and a face-to-face encounter with the big, brown cows. I was pretty thrilled.
COWS ARE SO BIG!
Instead of traveling directly to Cipressa, we stayed one night in Geneva with an old friend of mine, Anya, and her husband, Sam. We were expecting to entertain ourselves and then just crash at their apartment in order to make our flight out of Geneva the next day, but Anya and Sam went above and beyond in their hospitality to us. Anya took off work early and met us in the train station before leading us on a walking-tour of some of Geneva’s highlights, including an enormously tall fountain, a chapel where John Calvin had led a congregation, and statues of very serious Protestant reformers. We were caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of this, which was really enjoyable after so much hot, dry weather in London especially.
After returning to Anya and Sam’s lovely apartment and changing into dry clothes, we met Sam and all went out to a local restaurant. It was still drizzly and cool outside so we had a very traditional meal of fondue!! Both cheese fondue and meat (with hot oil). We had a wonderful time getting to know Sam, sharing about our travels, and enjoying the delicious food. Later in the evening, back in their beautiful apartment, Anya and I reminisced about our days in Girl Scouts together before we all went to bed.
with Anya & Sam!
In the morning we enjoyed breakfast — including wonderful strawberries — and David and I commuted into the city with Anya. We said our farewells, and David and I spent the morning strolling and talking in the waterfront parks before taking the train to the airport and catching our flight to Nice. Our unexpected trip to Geneva was such a treat, and we’re so glad we got to see Anya and meet Sam!
In case you don’t know any of David and my background as a couple (which you probably do, because if you’re reading this, you’re probably either my mom or David’s — hi Mom!), I’ll give a brief overview.
David and I met in the spring of 2011 in the city of Tübingen, Germany. We attended different universities but both schools sent students to the same study-abroad program. (In fact, the program was part of the Oregon University System — which I attended — and David’s university system in Arizona was testing out whether they could send students to the same program successfully. David was one of two students from Arizona whereas the vast majority of our cohort attended school in Oregon, including myself. I think Arizona’s test was a MAJOR success for me personally. Thank you, Arizona university system.)
We first saw each other at a Greek restaurant on April 1st, but didn’t speak until the next day during a walking-tour of Tübingen. I noticed David’s boat shoes and polo shirt and thought he looked like the kind of preppy boy with whom I’d attended high school. This made him seem familiar and unthreatening to me, so I awkwardly walked up to him, stuck out my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Laura.” We chatted throughout the rest of the tour, along with another person who has become one of our dearest friends, Jenny.
At the time that we were attending study abroad, I was in a relationship. I had met my then-boyfriend Peter (still a dear friend today) in high school and we dated for the first three years of college. He saw me through incredibly difficult experiences, including the death of my father the year before I met David. Peter and I were already drifting apart by the time I arrived in his home country of Germany, but didn’t formally break up until a few days after I returned to the United States. So, when I met David, I wasn’t looking for a significant other, and I didn’t think about him in that light for quite a while. His experience of meeting me was rather different, but being the respectful person he is, I did not know that for a long time.
Throughout the semester, David, Jenny, and I became friends. Jenny and I were (and are) very close and David often joined us on outings. In the final week of the semester, through a series of conversations, David and I developed a deep emotional bond. In the weeks afterwards, while we traveled our separate ways (David solo, and me with my family), we each began to realize the extent of our feelings for each other. (Well, David had known since he met me that he was attracted to me, but had quickly pushed those feelings aside out of respect for the fact that I had a boyfriend. I hadn’t realized that I was interested in David — probably also out of respect for my boyfriend, subconsciously — until I was writing in my journal while in Italy with my family. I still remember the moment that I realized that I was writing an awful lot about David, paused, and quietly said, “oh, shit” aloud.)
We ended up finally deciding to try a long-distance relationship in October of that year, and here we are six years later, married and increasingly smitten with one another.
The point of this long tangent is that Tübingen, while sort of the ‘birthplace of our relationship,’ really felt less significant to us than Bloomington (where we had most of our visits, where we moved in together, where David proposed to me, and where we lived for two and a half years after we got married). So much so that we nearly skipped visiting Tübingen, because neither of us felt that it was important enough to us to visit. It would be fun if it made sense, we thought, but wasn’t really a priority. When we were planning to meet up with my mom in Zurich — a plan that fell through due to some family stuff — we booked a plane ticket from London to Stuttgart and David found us a place to stay for a couple nights in Tübingen. It was less expensive to fly to Stuttgart than Zurich, and we’d be able to take a train to Zurich and meet my mother there before continuing on our trip.
As Tübingen grew closer, we each got more and more excited. Rolling into the city on the “Airport-Sprinter” bus from the Stuttgart Airport, we looked at each other and asked, “how could we have considered skipping Tübingen?”
We stayed in the most ridiculous AirBnB, a bizarre, tiny turret-shaped house beside one of the streams that leads into the Neckar River. You have to cross between two apartment buildings, down a driveway, through a lawn and down a set of stairs to even reach it. It was absurd but delightful and took us forever to find, even with directions. After laying down our packs and taking quick showers, we set out for dinner at the Neckarmüller, a beloved Tübingen restaurant where we enjoyed Käsespätzle & Flammkuchen, and of course beer (helles for David, dunkles for me, as always). Our conversation during the meal turned emotional as we reflected on our love for one another. The only detail I’ll share is that I knocked over David’s glass (and broke it) while reaching for his hand because my eyes were too blurry with tears to see properly. After finishing the meal — and apologizing profusely for the broken glass to our server (who said merely, “oh, es geht” — oh, it happens — with a tone that indicated it must happen about ten times a day — indeed, we’d heard it happen behind the bar about thirty minutes earlier) — we went out to enjoy another German tradition : ice cream cones while strolling.
with a sign to tell our friend Jenny we missed her
before I knocked over his beer
our tiny castle
The next day, I finally got to eat some Krauterquark, one of my favorite foods. It’s basically a soft yogurt-cheese with herbs. It drives me nuts that I can’t buy it in the United States, and I’ve been saying to myself that I just need to learn to make it for six years. Maybe I’ll finally do that this fall.
We also visited our old class building — peeking our heads inside to see unfamiliar teachers — and walked around the town, commenting on changes we noticed (and more often, on how many things had stayed the same). Dinner was Döner from a beloved shop by the train station, followed by a bus ride up to Waldhäuser Ost — the dorm buildings where all the students had resided. Jenny, David, and I all had lived in building #15. If I recall correctly, Jenny was on the fourth floor. David was on the first, and I the eighth. We went for walks in the nearby woods and fields, where David had enjoyed long walks when we lived there, and where I used to run.
our class building
hall outside classrooms
Our visit was brief, but by the time we left we were already hatching plans about a couples trip in future with Jenny and her husband Matt. I’m very glad we ended up staying in Tübingen, despite our initially casual attitude towards it.
This post was written by my lovely husband David. 🙂
Oxford (June 23rd – 25th)
My birthday is June 23rd, a day that we were originally planning to spend either in London or en route to Germany – but sometime back in May Laura started planning a surprise birthday trip, and this morning (see pic!) I finally found out what it was. We made our way to the Marylebone Station (without my knowing exactly why) and had breakfast nearby, after which she handed me a large envelope that had been hidden in the back of our red binder. Inside were train tickets to Oxford! There were also details of an Airbnb reservation, a list of pubs to choose from for dinner that night, and tickets for a walking tour of Oxford organized around places important to J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (really got my nerdy heart racing!).
We caught our train, spotted a few sheep on the ride, and then hoofed it to our Airbnb (our favorite so far, largely owing to the presence of a dog named Tig).
Some Googling from our room revealed that there was a trail called the Thames Path that passed our location just a few blocks away and led into the city along the river, so in the early evening we took a beautiful walk into Oxford to look for the pub I had chosen for dinner.
Along the way, though, we passed a restaurant with enough comfortable outdoor seating right next to the Thames that we abandoned our plan and ate there instead.
During dinner Laura presented me with another birthday gift, a box of chocolates – a good gift in itself, and even better with the following quote on it: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years,” attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Laura found this hilarious, because of course Abraham Lincoln never said anything of the sort. I chuckled and wondered how long I should wait after dinner before stuffing the chocolates into my face.
Our Saturday in Oxford started slow, which suited us just fine: London had tired us out. The only planned activity for the day was the Tolkien- and Lewis-themed walking tour in the afternoon. This is a tour that runs once a month, people – and Laura discovered it and made sure we got spots. She’s good. Anyway, in the late morning we took another walk along the Thames, found the meeting place downtown, had lunch, and met our tour guide Alistair.
Our guide Alistair telling us about how much leisure Oxford dons had in the 1950’s – lots of time for drinking beer and writing books…
The story goes that Lewis’s character of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia was inspired by the lion on this door, which Lewis passed on his way home from a pub
Merton college, where Tolkien taught. He must have had to stoop – he was a tall man, and these doors are quite low.
Alistair was exactly the kind of person you would expect to lead a tour like this: an elderly retired professor with a lovely accent who had himself attended Oxford decades ago and remembered, he said, the excitement back in the fifties when The Lord of the Rings was published. He showed us all around the city, starting with the pub where Tolkein and Lewis and their friends liked to meet on Thursdays (Thursday mornings, mind you) to drink beer and read each other whatever they were working on. The pub is called “The Eagle and Child,” or more commonly and irreverently, “The Bird and Baby.” Our favorite story of the tour came early on, just after visiting the pub. Alistair told us that C. S. Lewis (who went by “Jack” in honor of the family dog who had been hit by a car) and his brother, Warren, had had a very unhappy childhood after their mother died and their father moved the family from Ireland to England. To comfort each other the two boys used to tell each other made-up fantastical stories, hiding at home in a wardrobe – hence, a wardrobe serves as the door to a magical land in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Tower of Exeter College, where Lewis and Tolkien studied in the new English Literature department after WWI
Tower of University Church, where Lewis attended and delivered some of his theological lectures
University Church again
We stopped by the various colleges where Lewis and Tolkien studied and taught at, visited the University College Church where Lewis attended regularly and gave some of his theological lectures, and saw the small gated-off street where Tolkien retired late in life, having left Oxford to avoid fans knocking on his door and returning years later only when assured that his residence would be a secret.
Interior of Christ Church Cathedral
Laura in the Great Hall at Christ Church – AKA inspiration for the Great Hall at Hogwarts!
After the tour we visited Christ Church college (the biggest and richest college) and then made our way back to the Eagle and Child for dinner. Our impression during the tour had been that it was a fairly dark, stuffy, crowded little pub, but when we returned for dinner we found a large, bright room at the back with an empty table for two. The food was great, the beer even better.
C. S. Lewis’s picture in the Rabbit Room of the Eagle and Child
Known affectionately as the Bird and Baby
Tolkien’s picture in the Rabbit Room
We slept like rocks that night and rose early the next day for our bus to the airport. We were already talking about how much we’d like to spend some extra time in England at the end of our trip – but for now, on to Germany.