Thursday, December 5, 2013

Snake dream

I've been thinking about taking this painting workshop for a year. It's in Morocco. It's with an artist I've never met, but if I could corner just one pastelist out there and ask him or her all my pressing questions about how to draw haze, how to better nuance those annoying perky colors I always seem to use, how to draw faster but improve the depth, how to fix my rocks on the face of the mountains that I've been stuck on for months--Well. It would be Aaron Schuerr, and that's an educated opinion based on many years of reading the Pastel Journal. I've been thinking about this workshop as PhD motivation ("If I promise my supervisor that I'll write x number of drafts of chapters a, b, and before I go paint, then I'll need--nei, DESERVE--a drawing break!"). I've been thinking about the workshop as the natural combination of two of my interests (Africa and Drawing! what could say Stephanie more?!).  I've been thinking a workshop in Morocco is easier to get to than a similar workshop with the same dude in Montana.

I've had lots of thoughts about this workshop, even in my sleep. The other night I dreamed I was almost bitten by a poisonous snake while camping in the Atlas mountains. Luckily, in my dream, one of my braver and cleverer friends was in the sleeping bag next to mine, and while I was busy going, "ooh, look at the stars!!" he was busy saving me from deadly snakes. I managed to go back to sleep by telling myself there are certainly no snakes high up in the mountains. 

The next day when I told that friend about my dream, he said, "I held a snake once in the Atlas mountains!" 


Still. I'm going, I'm taking my sleeping bag, and I'm hopeful. I'm think I'm going to get better at drawing rocky mountain faces and hazy mornings, and I hope that I sleep next to someone brave! 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

liebe Gott mir danked dir

Mid-November Canadian Dave and I co-hosted Thanksgiving again this year for a group of our overlapping friends and colleagues. We plan it in between their Thanksgiving and ours, and though Dave was the only Canadian present, we tipped our hats to our neighbors to the north and their earlier harvest season.  Eighteen people filled my dining room and living room with cheer. I wish I had a picture of the whole house at mid-meal or just after, when everyone was chatting with their neighbor and acclaiming Rebekkah's sweet potato pone, making new friends and telling funny stories with old ones. And the men were talking about Dodge Vipers. A house full of that is a recipe for a happy Steph. Also, I think the purple candles are happy, even if Dave did think they were tacky and hillbilly and tried to hide them by the printer before dinner so I couldn't put them out.

I planted flowers for the event.

Basel looked honest in November colors and overcast skies.

Dave conjured up his redneck roots and turkey roasting skills by wearing plaid flannel.

I ordered an 8 Kilo turkey from the turkey farm, via the grocery store butcher. But when I went to pick him up on Friday night, the butcher looked nervous and joked that the bird "had eaten very well." It was 11 kilos. Dave and I learned that an 11 kilo turkey is the biggest bird that will fit in my oven. And by 'fit,' I mean that's the biggest bird that can be crammed in, inches from the bottom and top, and there's no room for a pan to catch the drips, and you might have a smoked-filled kitchen at the halfway cooked point. Two weeks later, I'm still cleaning my oven.

Apero in the entry way. One of the few things I don't love about hosting parties in our apartment is that people tend to congregate right in that spot instead of spreading through the house. I've tried scattering the food around the house. I've tried adding chairs to the living room. I'm stumped. I think I'm going to give up and just add lights to that corner for parties, so at least they aren't standing in the dark.

Dave was concerned people wouldn't know that the pears were decorations and not for eating.

This week for real thanksgiving, like Dave with his flannel, I also noted the holiday with an apparel choice: this Bambi sweater grandma knitted for my aunt more than 30 years ago. Grandma made the sweater for Aunt Cathy when she was a kid. Cathy probably got tired of it and then it moped around Grandma's house for a while, drinking martinis and asking why life has no meaning anymore and what's-the-matter-with-kids-these-days. Then, Grandma got sick of listening to it whine when I was, oh, around 15. So she suggested the sweater get out there again! get to know some new people! So it came to my house. I liked it, and it fit, but I felt it was a little too...hmm..homeschooled, shall we say, and I wouldn't wear it in public. But the last couple seasons, there's this and this, not to mention this. Grandma and the sweater were just ahead of their times, and now when we go out together, the sweater gets compliments every time, and nobody seems to be thinking "there goes that homeschooler" or "there goes that 1970s Bambi has-been with a martini problem." 

I like that I have a tangible pieces of my family's generosity, creativity and hospitality here in my Swiss home. Tea pot from Gregg, rug and quilts and pie recipes from mom, sweaters from grandma. This week at some points I felt like I still don't quite fit here, even after 6 years. I can't say nearly as much as I'd like in Swiss German. I'm stuck listening, especially in groups, when people make more jokes and I'm not familiar with everyone's dialects, and I'm not always quite sure I got it all. Then I worry that people will decide I'm no fun and not interesting and won't include me anymore If I don't hurry up and start talking. But then there's the trouble of divergent interests. I'd rather make stuff than go dancing, would rather draw the mountains than slide down them on death sticks. I have enough plates to serve 18 people dinner and dessert without washing anything in between, and I do it. That's not normal here. But I think it's me...and I'm thankful for the plates (lots of hand-me-downs!) that let me invite so many people over, and the recipes (not afraid of my kitchen) and the artsy crafty skills my family gave me. 

And I've decided I'm not talking in English for the rest of the year to anyone who can speak Swiss German better than I can, and instead of spending money on ski lessons, I'm 90% decided I'll go take a painting workshop in rural Morocco in the new year. Normal schnormal, right? Be who you are. But do try to speak the language, cuz, geez. We don't need to feed that unflattering stereotype about Americans.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Quilt for Amelie

This week I finished the quilt for Amelie. It's called "Spring Flight Over Grindelwald." I'm trying to think of a place and a way to photograph it outside without it getting dirty...

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo: PhD edition

It's National Novel Writing Month again, folks, and this year, I've decided to observe the tradition by doing two things: first, I'm marking the start of NaNoWriMo by surprising you with a blog post (suprise!! are you surprised?! I think you are). And second, by trying to write 50,000 words of my PhD dissertation Draft 0 this month. 

Why would I try to wring 50,000 words out of 30 days, you ask? well. Mostly because my 'to do' list looks too much like this PhD comic, and also because my contract deadline is in 5 months, so it seems like a good idea to get a first draft out ASAP so I can get on to the real work of rereading, rethinking, rewriting, and possibly re-tramping around Zambia if I decide it would help.

Last week one of our colleagues finished his dissertation defense. We had champagne and snacks for him (finishing a phd is fun!) and I found out that you're not allowed to use the letters after your name until you publish the darn thing. WHAT?! nobody told me that part. (The champagne is clearly intended to distract from this unpleasantness). This new info probably explains why Pierrick and I had an offer from a publisher in the first 6 months of our contract. They weren't excited about our work, turns out...

In other sort of phd-y news, research trips to Burkina Faso and Tansania may be in my future. :) More on that when and if it materializes, but both are looking promising. 

A few weekends ago, we had an "Africanists in Motion" PhD hiking retreat to Franches-Montagnes in Canton Jura. Pierrick planned the hike--or the "workshop" as he called it, which "aim[ed] to (re)consider the notion of wood pasture by addressing methodological (and ethical) challenges related to its fragile balance: should we cut or plant more trees? Should we hire more cows for sustaining the pastures? Aren’t horses more appropriated? Any theoretical or empirical contributions to these crucial issues are welcome." :) 

If that doesn't strike you as funny, you don't read enough social science conference calls for papers.

Some pictures from the day (I discovered my camera does things I didn't know it could do):

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Whiskers and baby quilts

This morning I drank my coffee out on my balcony, and I listened to the quiet. One of my favorite things about being home now that I live in the city is that I can hear crickets clearly every night and humming birds and blue jays in the morning. And no busses. And no trams. Just beautiful country quiet. And cats!

Mom and I made a baby quilt top on Monday. It's for Ed, unless they unexpectedly have a boy, and then it's for one of my other 2 expecting friends, whoever first blesses the world with a girl who would appreciate the florals and vintage novelty airplane bunny print.  You probably can't tell from this little picture of the quilt top, but this quilt is loosely based on an a spring flight over Grindelwald--that time of year when the peaks are still snowy white rows out to the horizon, but the valleys are bright green fields and flowers and baby chickens. Ed's a pilot. I think he'll appreciate the airplane bunnies. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Just a beautiful old song. I like the original better, but can't find it on the internet...

Stookey/J. Mason/K. Gold
©1968 Pepamar MusicCorp.
Sunday morning, very bright, I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture.
I visited some houses where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving.
They passed a basket with some envelopes;
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was "I believe in You."
Passing conversations where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that You had been replaced by Your assistants.
The discussion was theology,
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was "I believe in You."
I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I'd never find You.
My mother used to dress me up,
And while my dad was sleeping
We would walk down to Your house without speaking.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Flower boxes

My plants have grown so big that it's hard to take pictures of my window boxes! They looked like they'd all fit just fine when they were still in their little pots on my dining room floor...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Places to go, People to see

I make a lot of lists for a lot of reasons, but I ran across this old packing list recently and it made me laugh. Malaria medication, whisky, snow boots, and a semi-formal dress on the same list?  That's my odd schedule for sure.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

For Love of Wednesday Mornings Off

It's May day, so no mandatory going to work today for me! There is the practical going to work I still might have to do for class prep, and the voluntary going to work for PhD scheming sessions with other similarly employed individuals, but let's just focus on how nice it is to sleep in mid-week, on a spring morning!

It's super nice.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My favorite thing!

It's a wonder I'm such a cat lover when I'm so much like a dog. This morning I had coffee in bed--My favorite thing! Then on my way out, I recognized a friend's handwriting on the letter in my mail box. A letter! and no kidding, completely unbidden, I thought to myself: My favorite thing!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Attacked by lions

Met two darling, rough and tough, baby lions today. Was attacked. Was bit. Lived to tell about it, and also to tell you that I have no interest in getting this close to any lion older than 6 months or bigger than these.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Kudu in the headlights

I've been slow to recruit research participants this trip, but I (finally!) have 4 appointments with people willing to do my water diaries in Lusaka. I was starting to really consider getting worried that I wouldn't find anyone at all..and I'd say I'm still not out of the woods yet, but things are certainly better. Unfortunately I have trouble talking about or explaining my work. I met a doctor here. She talks about her work like a champ. It's invariably interesting and focused (and to the non-medically minded, usually heroic-sounding, too!). I try to talk about my work and it's scattered, fragmentary, and includes a lot of "" even though I've spent two years mostly working on the precise problem of "what is my focus?" You'd think I'd have it down by now! Today I had lunch with some friends with a vested interested in the water sector and they asked me again, "what is it exactly you're studying?" I'm sure I had my deer in the headlights look (kudu in the headlights around here?). I wanted to say, "you know? good question! beats me!" But, since that's generally not good for networking, I stumbled along trying to explain in 30 seconds or less what it is about everyday water technology that merits three years of work. Ugh! and then I went shoe shopping and the world is now a better place, though I still feel like a loser of a PhD student. Now I'm a grumpy phd student with cool green shoes. 

It's St. Valentine's day, and while I don't have any romantic news or thoughts to share, I can share with you my recently discovered (new) way to inspire men to holler at me on the street: walk on their nice new cement curb before it's dry. If you haven't had your fair share of attention this valentine's day, or this decade for that matter, let me tell you: THAT draws attention! It reminded me of the time years ago when I was driving to Newberg on a nice empty road, and pulled up to a construction truck and an exceptionally handsome man with a stop sign. I rolled down my window. He said, "There's some road work up ahead; you'll just have to wait a few minutes." "Ok, thanks!" I said, and drove off. When I looked in my mirror a second later, he was yelling and jumping and waving his arms at me. Apparently, I was supposed to infer that he meant wait right there by him, but honestly, the things construction workers expect you to figure out on your own these days! gosh! 

I'm headed out to dinner tonight with a group of friends. I'll wear my green shoes and I'll stay off the curbs.

Friday, February 8, 2013

First Book? We'll see!

Small celebratory moment here in my little room in Zambia! I just submitted my first book manuscript to a publisher! Boom! I know rejections (and lots of them) are standard, but I'm pleased I've sent it. I started this book in 2007, sitting in an MA course on Biogeography in Africa...or was it biodiversity? Something like that. I don't really remember too much from that class because I was, you know, writing a story. I also remember the teacher was Simon Loader, and he really likes frogs.

This book has nothing to do with frogs, or Africa. It's a picture book manuscript that will take a good illustrator (and, let's be honest--probably a good editor, too) to make it cool. It's about being in a new country, and encountering the unfamiliar with expectancy and persistence. It's for 3-7 year olds. Don't worry, I don't use any of those big words in the story.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Zambian highlights

These pictures make Lusaka look calmer than it really is, but these have been a few of my favorite things so far. There are kittens where I'm staying. This one likes my bed. I've tossed him out three times this morning, and he comes straight back each time, hops up onto my bed and resumes his bath. And he purrs, as if that's going to convince me it's fine. I actually don't mind him being there, except that he's only 3 months old and I've been told he occasionally forgets to notice if he needs to use the facilities. I'd prefer he not forget while he's in my room. Next up, lovely evenings! The sunsets and evenings here really are beautiful. Those dirt roads get muddy, though, with all this heavy rain. The last two nights, the rain has been loud enough to wake me a few times, and it's been raining all day so far. I lent my umbrella to my assistant yesterday, and I forgot to bring my rain jacket, so I guess I'm staying in for a while today. Flowers in bloom are also a bright spot in Zambia this time of year. I'm sure I appreciate their colors more since I came in from winter's white and brown. And finally, good things to eat. Always make friends with the cook--especially if he's a particularly competent one. He might bring you steaming dishes of nshima, duck and vegetables, or add chocolate to his weekly shopping list just because he knows you want some. :)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Monkey Pools

Went swimming and had a picnic here at the Monkey Pools today. I admire the hospitality and kindness of people who invite strangers on picnics in the woods! 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Victor Hugo and PhD comics

The first time I saw Les Misérables was 9 years ago in London. I went with Emily, who was 10 years older than me and familiar with the story. She loved it. I thought the characters had confusingly similar names, and from the nose-bleed seats, it was hard to tell who was who. Ten year jumps in the plot didn't help and, since I was lost anyway, I decided halfway through I would just try to enjoy the experience of watching a musical play in London. I did enjoy it, but Emily had to explain the story afterward. Going to shows in London with her ended up being one of the most memorable things from my first trip to Europe, along with our Paris room that looked like it had been designed for the red light district, and a late-night skinny dip in the Rhein in Germany with all the girls on the trip. I think I saw Les Misérables another time after that, though I can't remember where or why. Last night I saw the movie (also with a friend 10 years older than me! how poetic!) and the third time must be the charm! I got the plot. Maybe understanding all the words in the songs and being able to clearly differentiate characters' faces instead of looking at specs on a stage from the upper balcony helped, too. I recommend the movie. 

I also recommend the PhD comics adaptation:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Best Loved Chameleon in Zambia

I know I told some of you this already, so I'm sorry if it's a repeat. On Sunday I went to church and was invited to join a few families for lunch afterward. I met a Swiss family. They found out I was looking for a place to stay, and even though they have guests coming soon for a month, they said I was very welcome to move into their guest room until then! By that night I had moved my things and was tucked in under a mosquito net in their house, listening to the crickets and thinking, "maybe I am too quick to trust people..." But, nah. I think not.

I've really enjoyed their kids. Six year old Timon and I were off to a good start when he spontaneously began calling me Auntie Stephanie on the way home, and we were definitely friends by the time he lassoed me and tied me to a chair and informed me I wasn't allowed to escape. Ok, I said, but if I was going to be a prisoner, could he please bring me a glass of water and something to read. He dutifully went off to get those things, and I slipped the ropes and hid in the corner to see his surprised face when he came back in. :) Now I'm obligated to admire paper airplanes and lego helicopters and sit by him at dinner.
Levy is three, and he is also a fan of legos. We browsed through a backhoe and heavy (lego) equipment catalog, and he's shown me how the bucket on this particular vehicle works.  
The boys come barreling down the hall as fast as they can, take a flying superman jump to land on my bed, and ask, "Auntie Stephanie, are you done working yet? can we play a game?"

Levy is a Lightening McQueen fan. :) I watched Cars 2 for the first time.

Levy loves this baby chameleon--so much so, i'd say it's hands down the best-loved chameleon in the country. He has to wash his hands at least twice before every meal, because after washing them the first time, he forgets he's supposed to sit down for food and picks up the chameleon again. He wanted to let it sleep in his bed tonight, but his mom said absolutely not. This afternoon, I said, "Levy, does your chameleon have a name?" "Yeah," he said. "Chameleon." "Hmm." I said. "Maybe he needs a real name. Would you like it if we just called you 'boy'? What about calling the chameleon Henry?" No, he didn't like the name Henry, he said, but he seemed to see my point about names. "how about a more Swiss name then? What about Hansruedi?"

 Chameleon is his first name; it's what his parents call him. But Hansruedi is his middle name, and it's what his friends call him.
 Tabea says she hopes this chameleon really is a boy. Otherwise, we're thoroughly insulting her! :)