Thursday, November 29, 2012


My husband and I spent 15 glorious days traveling through Switzerland this past May in celebration of our 30th (!) wedding anniversary. It was a fantastic experience. We used their rail system to get around and it was fast, easy, and fun. I wish we had something like that here in the States... imagine all the extra reading or writing or napping we could get done while being whisked to and from... of course, maybe it works so well there because everything is relatively close together.

Getting to Switzerland took a LOT of work. I first dreamed of the idea several years ago, then we made the commitment to make it happen about a year before we went (deciding on the date, etc). But the real work was in the reading and planning and reading some more during the 6 months prior to our departure. I spent hours upon hours researching various activities and options, learning the lay of the land and the customs. The single smartest thing I did was purchase Rick Steves' book on Switzerland. It gave me a starting point. I made lists of possible cities to visit and then more lists of things to do and see in those cities, places to sleep, restaurants to try. In the end, we visited the following cities in this order:


We took TONS of pictures. I took over 2000 myself; my husband took nearly 1000. It was fun to see our different perspectives. (On our trip to Ireland in 2010, he took a picture of every restroom he visited, but THAT'S a different story.) We put together a slide show for the family and had them over so they could experience Switzerland through our eyes. Here are some of my favorites:

Cows were everywhere, and some wore huge, melodic cow bells. These two greeted us on the road to/from our B&B into Appenzell proper.

This is the Aescher Restaurant where we enjoyed a plate of Rosti, a local favorite made with potatoes and cheese. The restaurant is built into the side of the mountain... one wall in each of the restrooms is actually rock, with the room built around it. To get here, we took the train in Appenzell and rode it to Ebenalp, took a cable car up to 5,380 feet, then followed a very picturesque trail to the restaurant. We hiked back down and learned our 1st important lesson: take whatever time the Swiss give you in terms of how long something will take and TRIPLE it. Their estimate for the hike down: 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Our reality: 4 hours. We missed the last train back to Appenzell, tried hitchhiking (with no luck), and finally flagged down a bus. What an adventure!

I LOVE the look and feel of this little alley... the curve, the warm colors, the bikes are all very inviting to me. This is right off the main thoroughfare in Luzern. We'd just dropped our luggage in our room and headed back out, eager to explore. I looked to my right and stopped in my tracks, absorbing the homeyness of this sight.

Night falls over Lake Luzern with the Hof Church lit up in the background. Isn't this gorgeous??

A night view of Piazza della Riforma in Lugano. We ate at the Olimpia Restaurant and had the best pizza we've ever had! If only we could find a crust like that in the States.

A trail marker in Pontresina. We had a GREAT time in Pontresina... we hiked, saw some wildlife, and when the sun came out, it was breathtaking.

Check out our walking sticks... everyone should have one. The views were fabulous! Imagine waking up to this landscape every morning.

Chateau de Chillon on Lake Geneva just outside Montreux. It began raining just after I took this picture, but the rolling clouds were fantastic, adding drama and mystery.

Talk about clouds! This is the Black Monk shrouded in layer after layer of clouds, taken from where we were staying in Murren (accessible only via a train or cable car) at 5381 feet. We couldn't fully appreciate just how impressive these mountains were until the sun came out. Being so high up, they appeared enormous... and it felt like we could reach right out and touch them. But when the sky cleared and we could see just how big they were... WOW.

Murren was, by far, where we enjoyed ourselves the most. The views are indescribable. Nature's beauty is everywhere and beckons in subtle and grand ways. Being out in it was invigorating and awe-inspiring.

What a difference the sun makes! The Sonnenberg Valley just after sunrise. We got up early and hiked uphill for an hour... the valley was still in shadow when we arrived. But as soon as the sun cleared the Black Monk, light flooded the valley.

When sunlight hits the Sonnenberg Valley, the cabins look magical. Imagine waking to these views every morning... what a fabulous life that would be.

The tulips were glorious here in Murren.

Staubbach Falls (at 300 meters) in the Lauterbrunnen Valley is the 2nd highest waterfall in Switzerland. The highest waterfall (Murrenbachfall - 417 meters) is in this same valley, just down the road a bit. The valley is filled with waterfalls, cows, and wildflowers... just gorgeous.

The big three, from left to right: Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau. They are magnificent!! Truly something to see and experience.

Zurich is a vibrant, exciting city. Here, boats are docked on the Limmat River, which feeds into Lake Zurich.

Night falls on the Limmat River in Zurich, but I'm not sure the city ever sleeps. There were so many folks out and about while we walked the streets, camera and tripod in tow.

This was a trip of a lifetime, magical and enchanting in so many ways. Switzerland is divided into four regions with four official languages (German, Italian, French, and Romansh - an obscure Latin dialect), and each region is distinct from the others. My least favorite was the French, though, to be fair, it was the area where we spent the least amount of time. Maybe another trip to more fully round out my exposure is in order? The folks in the German-speaking regions were very warm and friendly and were, in our experience, the most accommodating to conversing with us in English.

For a girl who absolutely and unequivocally loves and is IN love with mountains, there is no greater place on earth in which to experience their unadulterated grandeur and majesty than Switzerland. It was pure magic, and I feel blessed.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Two Acceptances

I received an acceptance from Santa Fe Literary Review for a short story of mine and I'm THRILLED. This particular story started as a rather brutal scene between a father and mother as witnessed by the young son. I'd initially wanted that scene to stand on its own but couldn't seem to make it work. So I went at it a different way, backing up, going forward, filling in the blanks while trying to keep it short. It comes in at just under 1500 words. I'm SO pleased that it found a home, and the warm acceptance email from the editor made my day. "Picture Window" will be in the next issue, which comes out in June 2013.

I received an acceptance last month from the editor at Blue Lake Review for my short story "Counting Proper." This story was originally published in May 2009 by Bryant Literary Review, and it's still one of my favorites. Every time I reread it, I'm instantly drawn to the place in my mind's eye from which these characters emerged: my neighborhood during the short time I lived in Wheaton, Illinois as a teenager. I'm THRILLED that this story has found a second life. It will appear in the January 2013 issue.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Good Read:

I wanted to read this because I thought it would give me some exposure and insight into what sorts of stories are considered the best of the best in the sci-fi and fantasy world. I've always considered myself a sci-fi fan and, more recently, came to understand that I also enjoy some of the fantasy genre as well. What I've learned after reading this anthology is that I'm more of a middle-of-the-road kind of gal when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy. Or maybe I just need it (the story, the concept) to be somewhat plausible, or, if that's not possible, then it needs to be well written in order for me to make the leap. Now, since this volume is "the best online," that means the stories within are clearly well written and chosen for these and other merits from someone who is well versed in the genre. And, still, I didn't care for a good number of the stories. They were too bizarre, too out there for me.

I find it interesting and ironic that my two favorite stories, ones I really liked and enjoyed, are anything but middle-of-the-road. Yoon Ha Lee's "Blue Ink" begins and ends with sections that are in 2nd person POV, which is almost always an instant turn off for me. But it quickly morphs into 3rd person and a storyline that is just fantastical enough to border on brilliant. Catherynne M. Valente's "Urchins, While Swimming" has a magical realism component that is really well integrated and very engaging. Both of these stories are grounded in three dimensional characters, in elements of the every day... maybe this is the structure in which sci-fi/fantasy works best for me.