Bravey [Alexi Pappas, 2021]

I found a review of this book on a blog that I read and, as someone who likes to run, who likes memoirs and who is also curious about mental health and things humans struggle with, I thought it would be a good read.

Alexi Pappas is a young women with some important experiences to share: training to be an Olympian, growing up without a mother and facing clinical depression and serious mental health issues during a trying period of her life. In the book, she writes openly about all of these struggles and the lessons she learnt from them.

I believe that in sharing her difficulties and speaking openly about all of these issues encourages young women to not be afraid of having conversations about their struggles, while facing some of the challenges that come with being a teenager or young adult.

The thing is, as someone who is not at that stage of life anymore and who has very different dreams and aspirations than those of a young athlete, I did not quite relate to the inspirational messages that are inherent to the stories. I found that they lacked some depth, especially the one about achieving dreams and suggesting that most people don’t work hard enough to achieve their dreams. This, for me was the low point of the book.

What I did appreciate was how she spoke in detail of her downward spiral into depression and of her effort to get better. I found interest in her approach to pain as a sensation and not a threat. I also enjoyed how she spoke about recovery from fatigue, injury and depression as hard work, which I thought was a very healthy approach.

Despite finding myself thinking, more often than not, that this book would be more suited to a teenage girl, I enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it to a young girl.

Mont Pélerin

Sunday’s outing took us to Mont Pélerin, just above Vevey. We went by train, bus and then the funiculaire that takes you up to the starting point of the hike. This was definitely the best part for the three toddlers who were tagging along.

Mont Pélerin is supposed to be an easy family hike. From Easter onwards, you can go up to the TV tower, which apparently has a lift, and from there you can see some incredible views. But it’s not Easter. It’s supposedly Spring, but here… not quite.

After a small walk up the road, we headed off into the forest, which was still full of snow. With three toddlers in backpacks, this turned into a very slow walk up, trying not to slip on ice and trying to manage the cold.

It is easy to forget, when you are walking and begin to warm up, that the toddler in your backpack is not walking and will eventually get colder faster than you do. So, we loose a lot of time during our walks being vigilant that this is not happening. And, when we got to a part near the summit of Mont Pélerin where the bise lifted and it felt like we were in Apúlia, but in a below zero °C version, where it’s the icy bits of snow that prick your face instead of the sand, the babies started screaming and we turned around.

We headed back down into the forest.

And back to the top of the funiculaire, where there is a playground with a magnificent view, where the kids could play and we could all picnic.

Playgrounds are a key element when organising outings with toddlers. And if there is a view, it’s definitely going in my list of favourites!

The hike can be found here.

Snowshoeing: Rathvel

January and the most part of February were long, grey and as dreary as endless, cold winter days can get. When some sunny days came up as a surprise on the weather forecast, we headed for the mountains. In the weekend, some gentle hikes with the not-so-baby-anymore in the backpack, letting her walk and explore the snow. But one day, during the week, I took the day off from work and headed to the mountains for a real hike, with some other friends who are also parents and know how precious a day like this is.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that, having lived in Switzerland for five years, this was my first time snowshoeing. Getting used to the snowshoes is very easy and it’s very pleasant to walk on the snow and especially to make your way up the hills without slipping.

We chose a nice, slightly challenging, but not too long hike in a place not far from home – les Paccots, in the Prealps. We started off climbing, coming down again and crossing the road to head off into the forest and then across some ski pistes. After this, there was a sustained climb until the top of the Niremont, from where we could see the Moléson and the Alps in the background.

Here, we settled for lunch.

A very nice fondue, with some wine from the region and a good conversation, while stocking up on much missed sunshine.

After that, a quickly paced walk down the mountain, heading back just in time for a quick shower and picking up our not-so-babies-anymore from the crèche.

Perfect day!

Hike: Snowshoe path Rathvel (nr. 7) at Les Paccots. My walk on Strava.

Quick dinner to warm up the long winter

This winter is beginning to seem long. Reduced activities due to covid, baby colds, fevers and whatever else she brings home from crèche, and especially cold days have made it so that we’ve been doing much less outdoors than what we’re used to and would like.

But today I heard birds sing.

And we have vegetables from the farm to cook with. So, we keep going and if there is nothing else to do but cook, we cook.

Now. I am aware that this is a terrible, terrible picture. But that’s OK. It’s just to put into writing for one of those ruts that come along frequently during long winters, and especially for those, because it is quite a warming meal and it’s not meant to go cold while pictures are taken.

I used the vegetables that we bought at the local farm and are, of course, mainly winter vegetables. But whatever the season, roasting all the vegetables is always a good idea.

Here is what I used: chioggia beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips and couve tronchuda (a portuguese variety of kale that we can also find here, thanks to the portuguese workers at the farm, I guess). I cut all the vegetables in small cubes, tossed them in a tray with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and paprika and roasted them in the oven until they were tender and nearly caramelized.

Meanwhile, I cooked some lentils, which I then added to the roasted vegetables. I mixed in some goat cheese cubes.

This was enough for several meals: one with rice, one with pasta and one with a fried egg on top.

Quick lunch: Roasted cauliflower and pasta

I’ve been in a meal rut in the last few weeks. It is inversely proportional to my baking mojo, which has been riding high. As we now have less time to improvise, meal planning is becoming serious business at our house. But. When it’s time to plan the meals for the upcoming week and the shopping list for them, I go *blank*.

Then, sometimes Z. suggests something that I haven’t cooked for ages and have completely forgotten about. Or I find something lost and lonely in my fridge and end up building a meal around that. This was the case today.

To help my meal rut, I’ve decided to keep track of quick meals we whip up, some staples that I cook over and over and are winners at our house, and whatever I feel like I want to remember. Like that, some lunches that are improvised from lonely vegetables in my fridge might end up being on the planned list for the week.

For lunch today, I made some roasted cauliflower pasta. Easy peasy, approved by O.

  • I chopped a whole cauliflower into small florets, tossed them with olive oil, salt and paprika and added two chopped garlic cloves. I put everything in a tray and in the oven at 180°C-200°C until the cauliflower was cooked (golden but not charred). Around 40 min? I don’t know, I go by feeling and taste.
  • Cooked some ordinary wholemeal penne.
  • Put some almonds in the oven to roast but forgot about them.
  • Chopped some parsley, added some tinned mackerel and put everything together.

Some variations I thought would be nice to tray:

  • Remember the almonds. They would’ve been a really nice addition. Or walnuts.
  • Goat cheese.
  • Capers.
  • White beans instead of mackerel.
  • Chopped spinach leaves or rocket (depending on the season) instead of parsley.
  • Soft-boiled egg on top, of course.

Le Siècle d’Emma [Fanny Vaucher & Eric Burnand, 2019]

Even though a large part of my life is now in French, I have not read many books in French. This is for several reasons, which I might reflect upon some other time. A friend gave me this book on my birthday last year and, as it was a graphic novel, I was more motivated to read it.

It tells the story of Emma, a young girl born in the beginning of the 20th century, in Switzerland, and of a few members of her family. According to the generation to which they belong, they take part in historic events or are affected by currents, movements and lifestyles of that specific point in time. For instance, Emma is a young woman when her fiancé gets involved in the general strike and is killed. Emma is interested in social movements, is active and becomes a teacher, but she has no right to vote, and when she has children, she gives her career up in order to stay at home with the children. Her granddaughter, who is born in the 70s, grows up with a right to vote, lives in a squat, and becomes involved in activist movements which advocated for the end of nuclear energy production in Switzerland.

What I appreciated in the book was how it told the story of several key moments and movements which still impact Swiss life as I’ve come to know it in my life here for the past five years, and how this was woven in the characters’ lives.

Les Diablerets – Villars-sur-Ollon

Hiking. Saying that it is one of the things I most like to do makes it seem bland. It’s something I need, something I crave. This year seems to be the year that I have hiked less than in many years, and probably needed it more. There was a pandemic, and out of respect for the whole situation, we avoided activities that put us at risk of being injured. There was a baby, who we did hike with, but who has needs that don’t fit with the kind of leg-stretching, head-clearing, high-sights hikes that I love to do. I have happily adjusted my expectations because a baby is only a small baby once in a lifetime. But still, I was craving a hiking day without nappy changes, regular feedings and baby-amusing stops.

So I took a day off. I took the train from Lausanne to Les Diablerets, which in itself is a very beautiful experience, with Autumn colours settling into the hundreds of thousands of trees that weave into the background and make it seem like a tapestry. I started walking from Les Diablerets and the first kilometres are just hiking up through the woods. It was pretty, but I avoided spending too much time on pictures, knowing that I would want to spend more time soaking in the view at the top. My legs were heavy. My physical condition is weaker than it has been for a few years. Hiking up, I needed to concentrate on my breathing. Silence follows you when you walk alone. I heard, and then saw a woodpecker.

Getting to the top, near Col de la Croix, I was rewarded with this view. It’s a classical Swiss Alp experience when you hike up, get near the top, and the view slaps you in the face with a dramatic mountain covered in snow. Sometimes, it’s even irritating, as when something is so perfect it almost tickles your nerves. Sometimes, it even makes me miss the rough, crude patches of granite from back home even more. But it always leaves me speechless and I might even swear a little.

These Alps provide very classy lunchspots.

Hiking up some more, the view is even more astounding. You can see Alps for miles. I have fun trying to name the peaks, and I know quite a few without having to look at PeakFinder. Knowing my peaks is comforting. I am not sure I can explain it, it just is. In the picture above, you can see the Mont Blanc in the background, and the Dents du Midi just in the centre. Then I crossed over to the other side of the mountain, and there was snow and a lot of slippery mud. I fell on my backside because I was trying to save the time I had been gawking at the mountains by running a little. People were watching and I felt goofy, of course.

The hike led me to Lac des Chavonnes. On this side of the hike there were many families, making the most of a beautiful Autumn day. I hastened my step so I could catch the train home in time for baby O.’s bedtime.

Back into the woods with the Scex Rouge (if I’m not mistaken) and Sommet des Diablerets peaking at me.

This hike is one of the stages of the Tour des Alpes Vaudoises.

Distance: 18km, 1100m up, 1000m down and here it is on Strava.

on becoming a parent

Photo by ritagoesaround

Becoming a parent is difficult to talk and write about, not because the words are hard to find (though they are), but because when you find them, they feel too intimate to share. The smells and sounds and stirrings of the heart are individual and holy. There’s a sense in which the universal experience is yours alone when the opposite is actually true. You hesitate to say anything at all, as if staying quiet better preserves the miracle.

from Rose & Crown

I read this a few days ago in a blog I found when I was going down an internet rabbit hole, working from home on a very rainy and foggy day. It’s pretty accurate.

The Fixed Stars [Molly Wizenberg, 2020]

I have been a fan of Molly Wizenberg’s writing for such a long time that my Gmail account is more recent than my following of her blog. Orangette remains one of my favourite blogs, even though it has sadly died down in the last few years.

What draws me to Molly’s writing is how she can craft words to talk about her everyday life, her memories, sometimes her intimate thoughts. Much like a diary, but in a simple, beautiful way, as if her writing was an analogue photograph of life instants. When I read her what she wrote, it felt comforting, reassuring, like putting on some slippers, drinking wine, scratching the cat’s head and knitting. Cliché? Probably. But the simple comforts of everyday life. Almost always, her stories were associated with a recipe, a formula that is very dear to my heart.

In the Fixed Stars, Molly’s writing is just like that, but it not about food. It is about her experience, shifting from a straight, married woman and mother, to someone who is in love with a non-binary person and the ensuing changes in her perception of herself, of what love means for her and of the structure of her life and family.

I felt that the whole book reflected this process. In the beginning, the story is more factual. Towards the middle and the end, it is more philosophical; more questions are raised and Molly writes about her own quest to come to terms with all these changes and to find her own answer to these questions.

The theme of queer sexuality and identity is something that I don’t usually pursue and I mostly read the book because, as I said before, I am a fan of Molly. Hence, I am not sure if the book is a good representation, in general, of what it means to be queer and I don’t really have any insights into how this story would be viewed by the queer community. I do wonder, though, how other experiences are portrayed. It also left me thinking about how little we read about other people’s experiences when they are not relatable to our own (this was something that stayed on my mind after the BLM events a few months ago).

In the end, I do appreciate honest, confessional stories about the human experience, whichever form it might take and, as usual, I felt that Molly excelled at that. It is a story about dealing with something that happens, that transforms life, how to come to terms with it and how to make something better of it.

Too Much and Never Enough : How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man [Mary L. Trump, 2020]

When I heard this book was coming out, I wasn’t exactly interested. I always have a feeling that this kind of tell-all book, launched in specific points in time, has several agendas besides the story and is never free of bias.

Then a work colleague told me about it, and I was curious. I read it, always aware that it is not free of political and social bias. It is also not free of emotional and personal bias. The author is a well established clinical psychologist and the claims around the book suggest that she uses her expertise to analyse her family history. I don’t think that was exactly the case, and I found that the stories and anecdotes were thrown in, sometimes without context, sometimes without reason and often without much of a point. For instance, she tells a story about receiving a golden shoe from Uncle Donald and Ivana for Christmas, but you never get the point about this story (I guess she didn’t either). For me, the storyline was a bit all over the place.

However. This book is about a dysfunctional family, and it sheds some light on the familial and social contexts in which Donald Trump grew up and which gave him the opportunities to be exactly where he is. It talks about his parents, his upbringing and the financial and social scaffolding that he was afforded to turn himself into the mogul that we have always heard about. However, it also tells a much more credible story about his path, which was not at all of the self-made man that he claims to be (shocking, I know). What was even more striking to me was how this story is not at all unfamiliar. There were patterns that I’ve seen in my own family, in the family next door, in the communities where I grew up. It is an inglorious illustration of how far lying, arrogance and cheating the system can take you.

Book-wise, it is not exactly a great book, a great memoir or even a great story. But in the context in which we live, I think it is an interesting exercise to reflect on how families and communities sometimes allow, and even promote, the ascension of corrupt, self-serving and mentally ill people to positions of power and leadership.