Thursday, December 13, 2007

Who's on First

"...leave a message after the beep."
"Say hi Grandmom and Grandpop."
whispers "hi gramomgrapopnannie loveyou"
"Say it louder so they can hear you."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What to do with your glow in the dark devil horn headband.

Yippee we have contact once again. I was so lonely without the internet to connect us to family and friends abroad. We discovered Skype right before we lost the internet, and had no way to consistently communicate. We survived through the first snow, a weekend of glass tours/entertaining in our town for the fulbright folks, a really nice Thanksgiving day with friends (we totally forgot that it was Thanksgiving), a Thanksgiving celebration the next Saturday with the Fulbright folks (and a wonderful stay in Prague), the melting of that first snow, and Mikulas celebrations. Who is Mikulas? St. Nicholas. The celebration happens on December 5. Mikulas walks through the country knocking on doors with an angel and a devil asking children if they have been good. He gives them candy if they have been good, and if they've been naughty, they go to hell with the devil. Part of the fun here seems to be the fear of the devil. They also visit an advent celebration in every town square where rosy cheeked school children sing carols, and shy preteens show off their dance moves on mobile stages under brightly lit Christmas trees and Nativity scenes. Thomas and I visited several different Mikulas celebrations in the surrounding towns. Once children grow out of their fear, they seem to love to imitate the devil and do so with glow in the dark devil horn headbands used on Halloween in the US. I always wondered what other market there was for that stuff & well now I know. Thomas wasn't phased by Mikulas or the Devils, or the many men yelling devilish jibberish at small children after drinking the ever popular warm wine with lemon and honey. The drink made me want to shudder and roll my tongue too. Christmas cookies are amazing here, though, and the spirit of the advent celebrations in the small town squares transcends languages. The first week of December was filled with a lot of advent fun for us. It was amazing to feel the Christmas spirit while not really having to translate what we were seeing or hearing to something familiar.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bad News

Argh!!!!!!!! We don't have internet from our building anymore, none, nada, zip. We have to connect from the office at school, when the shared faculty computer is open, if someone is available to unlock the room for us. We are still waiting for an antenna to be installed so a signal can reach our building, so until then I won't be able to update the blog much. We went to Vienna this weekend and I am still collecting my thoughts on all that we saw. The trip was packed with art history, and Thomas did very well most of the time. We are getting more comfortable in our flat, due to some great care packages from family and some generous friends of Chad's. We now have enough dishes, chairs, tables, cooking utensils, etc. The first snow arrived just as we got on our bus for Vienna, Friday morning. It didn't stick, but the ground is frozen already. Thomas is going to have a blast.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Say Cheese

Kutna Hora

Stand in the Place where You Are

Thomas is just approaching 28 months and we're learning quite a bit about each other, while we explore our new stomping grounds. I say stomping because he is a boy and he is two, so everything is loud-except, I would like to add, the word no, because I am proud of us for limiting our use of "NNNNNOOOOOOO, NNNNOOOO, NOOO, OMIGOD NNNNNOOOOO," for situations that are dire enough for it's use. We are working on, "STOP," as in "Stop running before you fall down that unmarked cliff, uncovered man-hole, broken balcony, etc. etc." The absence of internet service came at an unfortunate time, and in the future I will write more down as it occurs because looking back over the last few weeks is difficult to adequately tell our tale. We have been blessed with generosity and kindness. Thomas's godparents were in Europe on business, and spent a bit of time with our family, showing us places they discovered while living here in the 90's, and introducing us to some resident artists who have bestowed us with some modern appliances, toys for Thomas, and overall friendship and kindness. Frantisek, the director of the school Chad is working in has also been extremely gracious, and I can only hope that while he was teaching abroad, people were as accommodating. I may have stated that he took us to his summer home over the weekend south of Praha, north of Ceske Budejovice (cheska buduvitsah), I include that because it is my favorite set of words to say right now. I am somewhat jealous of the Fulbright grantee who is living there right now because she can say it all of the time, I am also jealous of her wardrobe, because she always looked great during orientation. I'm off track. We left Frantisek's lovely home on Sunday, and he took us on a first class tour of Kutna Hora, second only to Praha in tourism for it's lovely preservation of architecture from Medieval, Gothic, Baroque periods, etc. Chad wrote a bit about this in his blog & I won't reiterate, but we went to the ossuary of bone sculptures. I was referred to it because of my use of pattern and body parts in my artwork & thought only someday would I have the opportunity to travel abroad to visit such a thing, and Sunday we stood in front of the bones of 40,000 people all delicately stacked and bound in beautiful religious harmony to remind us of our place in life, death, and heaven. Thomas thought they were pirates, and wanted to throw coins at them. It was very nice to return to our small mountain, and continue the local grocery expeditions. I was urged to explore Ceska Kamenice, just down the mountain on the side opposite Novy Bor. It is a beautiful little city, with a nice waterway, and a prettier town center than Novy Bor. Unfortunately the bus schedule isn't as good for Thomas's nap. We left at 9am and didn't make it home until 2pm. He needs quiet time and a nap between 11 & 1 so we had some rough times. He is old enough to recognize playground equipment, but not old enough to accept that he is too young to attend the schools they belong to. So sad for a tired toddler waiting for the bus. This episode was not in vain though, a woman recognized English while my voice was raised, and introduced herself as a caregiver for the elderly who works between here and London. She is a Czech citizen, from Cesky Kamenice, and was thrilled and somewhat surprised at our decision to live so far from Prague in such a little town. I told her she had a large heart for working with the elderly, and she responded with, "You have a large heart for coming here with your family, it is not so easy." It meant a lot at that moment, especially after we were charged double the bus fare when I had counted out the exact change before boarding, and had to dig (while holding Thomas, a 20 ton backpack filled with groceries, eggs included, and a stroller) for 3 crown. She offered us change, but I wanted the overcharging bus driver to wait. Anyhow her Zen lulled Thomas to sleep on our hour long, winding ride through Prsk, back to Kamenicky Senov (5 minutes up the hill from Ceska Kamenice). I will continue to grocery shop in Novy Bor, and save trips to the other side for more special occasions. I hope to one day meet that nice woman again, as she said the world is quite a lot smaller than you would think. I have to remember that it is also quite large for small Thomas, and he is ready to take it all on headfirst, sometimes. He is a Gemini, and that means when I least expect it he will run to me for protection from something I don't quite understand. He is gregarious, timid, ruthless, gentle, a boy, and a baby. This morning he obliterated a bunch of lego buildings, then ran screaming, "Mommy, mommy, crab kissing lizard, crab kissie lizard, " because you see his animals like to share flowers and give each other kisses when they are in their lego homes. The lego mail truck also likes to deliver cards and presents to the snail shell we found on our doorstep.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hunting and Gathering

I thought I would write a bit about what we’ve been discovering during the “Great Internet Absence of Fall 2007.” We use it to talk and write to family and friends, and while I’ve gone through lonely times I’ve managed to come through that funk by learning more about this place. I now have a fairly regular bus pattern, know where to get fresh fruit and vegetables, band-aids, toilet paper, and am able to do those things before Thomas needs a nap, what more can one ask for? AND no, you don't necessarily find all of those things in one store here. There are paper stores, drodgerie stores (drugstores without any medical stuff at all, and often house-paint), bakeries for bread, grocery stores that carry one brand per product, pharmacies that carry over the counter medical stuff (like asprin and baby things) & fill prescriptions, and then there are the miscellaneous Vietnamese import stores that carry produce, housewares, knock-off toys and cheap clothing. Many of these stores are closed on the weekends, and close for lunch between 11 and 1:30pm, and I must take a bus down the mountain to shop and bank in Novy Bor. Our town, Kamenicky Senov (pronounced Kuhmininzky Senuhf) is a town on top of a mountain comprised of many villages, we live in the town center, & thus can walk to a couple of smaller expensive convenience stores. The Czech mountains are small, and not marked with altitude signs. This detail is not an insult, because the mountains here are beautiful and romantic. The Rockies and Cascades of the United States are more like testaments to endurance, or thrill seeking athletic monuments, while the mountains here are like fairy tale illustrations. Yesterday we saw one with a medieval castle on top. The forests are tall with mossy floors perfect for exploring unencumbered by brambles or brush and littered with an amazing spectrum of fungi. Mushroom hunting is often referred to as a national sport because it is so popular. People here are very knowledgeable gatherers. The country owns and protects quite a bit of land for environmental preservation reasons (and I will write more about that later, because some of it is just so fantastic. It is law that people are allowed to gather fruit, nuts, mushrooms, etc. from any land, private or public, as long as they don’t pick things from privately grown plants, do damage, or litter. Anything on the ground is fair game for gathering, and you cannot be shot while doing so. I am amazed at the hordes of cars lined up along the roads from basket carrying people of all ages. I am wildly jealous of the kind and smelly old men who board the buses with baskets overflowing with mushrooms. The collections are a sight to behold, and it is hard not stare at all the different varieties, but rule #1 for women on buses is no making eye contact with old men who smell of beer and B.O. That said, a nice one kept Thomas occupied with some cute little clucking noise game last week,. My lack of linguistic prowess comes in handy sometimes. Chad has been more than a little excited by the mushroom crops here, and was dying to go hunting, but rule #1 of mushroom hunting is to only pick what you know. We don’t know anything. Frantisek took us to his summer home this weekend in a small village on the countryside an hour or two south of Prague. The drive was long, and curvy, but as we sped around the last curve before the village we entered a tall dark wood with a floor speckled with bright spots of all colors. I gritted my teeth, so as not to make worried faces at our racecar driver, (more on Czech driving and my equilibrium later) but Chad had the presence of mind to ask if Frantisek knew anything about mushroom hunting. He does and very patiently took us early the next morning. We had a ball, and filled two huge baskets, with just three or four varieties. You only pick what you know. I used the small brown spongy ones for pasta that night and Frantisek cooked us a traditional mix of onion, eggs, caraway (kmin), and the other varieties for breakfast the next day. They were both great & much to my surprise we had no digestive trouble. Frantisek never really examined our basket, so I was quite distracted by fears of radical health issues due to our lack of supervision, so either he watched us closer than I thought or we just got lucky.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fairy Godmother Visited

One of the teacher's at the school gave us a stroller, it folds, it takes on the cobblestones like a champ, and it is the perfect size for our growing little boy. Yippeeeeeee, Wheeeee, here we go up and down the hills on our mountain. Now we just have to wish for a speedy internet service...patience has it's virtue, I guess.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Need Praha for Dummies

The excitement leading up to our trip to Prauge for the Fulbright orientation was wonderful, the accommodations excellent, the company we kept was diverse and excellent as well, but the cold we caught, was not. Several others on the trip had the same thing, and I hope they are all feeling better. We hoped to stay in Prague over the weekend, my traveling spirit thinking a move to a cheap hostel Friday night would be no problem. However diaper supply (yes we are STILL potty training, or ignoring it until we pass the total pee-pee in the potty tantrums subside), clean clothes, energy all spoke otherwise, and we returned to Kamenicky Senov Friday afternoon. The city is really wonderful, but a city nonetheless, so while I appreciate much of what Prague may offer us at another time, we were rather limited, especially without a stroller, and I once again appreciate the slow small village life. Thomas’s little legs can’t carry him very far, and while the Fulbright organizers so generously provided us with a date to the opera (a date with the other grantees) and a babysitter that kept Thomas smiling, we will probably have to make several trips to fully appreciate what the city has to offer culturally. My pictures are limited, as I spent two of our days sleeping in our cushy hotel room with Thomas, two days traveling on buses and subways, and one locating diaper wipes & a playground. My attempts to wipe our surroundings into a sanitary state obviously didn't fool the cold germs. I can’t believe I am so glad to return to our little village. It is comforting to know where we can get home grown potatoes and tart apples to cook meals other than fried cheese & plum dumplings, where the bus stop is, and where we can find a friend with a washing machine in the land of no Laundromats. We did return to an unstable internet connection, so I apologize in advance for the lack of updates. We are waiting for the school to install something for our wireless connection. I’m feeling homesick, so please wish us luck with that.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


We've just downloaded Skype. We've heard great things from the other grantees, and hope that we can utilize this service, and keep in touch with our family and friends as well. It seems to be idiot proof to install and use, since I just managed to do it by myself. Hope to hear from you all soon!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Efficient Packing Ability

I pride myself on the the fact that I can roll up an elephant, her herd, and several tusk accessories into a backpack. I have amazing packing ability, but somehow while preparing to visit one of the most beautiful cities in Europe for a week I packed our camera, without the cord to download images. So while the Fulbright Commission spoils us and we enjoy staying in a wonderful villa for the week, I have to wait to share it with you.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bata Shoes

We went shoe shopping yesterday, courtesy of our wonderful friends pictured below, Carolina and Arthur. I hope I spelled the names right, because they are way cool. They packed us into Carolina's Volkswagon and drove us an hour to Liberec to show us the best places to shop. I had heard fairy tales of the wonder that is Bata shoes, but never experienced it. Chad found some awesome boots, and Arthur had similar luck. I did not, and am convinced that my quest for decent leather reasonably priced shoes is ridiculous, even in a country where the dollar is just slightly up. I must accept the fact that I need to pay at least $100 for a pair of stylish and practical shoes that are not made of man made materials, feel free to let me know if you know of the best place in the world to get shoes. I just can't deal with the smell of pleather on feet, so I have to pay for that option. It was a very nice evening, though. We thoroughly enjoyed our time out with our new friends, saw the City Hall fashioned after a building in Vienna, and got a personalized tour that has inspired us to return. We closed the night by eating a table full of fried cheese and potatoes while drinking beer and discussing politics together. They are vegetarian artists, too, so a fair amount of Bush bashing was involved.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Last night I saw my little boy sleeping, not my baby, or even my little toddler chunk, but my little boy. His head was lying on the pillow, face completely peaceful in dreams, and somehow the shadows erased the chubby cheeks, button nose, and overall baby qualities. He is perfection, and is growing into it each day. He is completely weaned now, and I was scared of introducing too many things all at once, but needed to get rid of that final nighttime crutch. My biggest fear was that he would be hurt, and feel like I abandoned him during a challenging time. Much to my surprise, he has become more affectionate, well rested, and a sense of humor has blossomed. He thinks puns are the best, guess he got something from me after all. The best thing is that now I don't have to ask for kisses, he randomly grabs my face, pulls me toward his little face, and goes MWAW.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Today in Kamenicky Senov

The sun came out today & we took a walk in our neighborhood. We looked for Thomas's new favorite things, snails, and found dandelions instead.
We receive mail care of Chad at the school.

Stredni umeleckoprumyslova skola sklarska Kamenicky Senov
Havlickova 57
471 14
Kamenicky Senov
Czech Republic

Prague Preview

We saw a bit of Praha, Prague, yesterday afternoon before attending the opening of, "Moser 1857-1997." What magnificence! The city isn't littered with commercialism, yet. We did spot a KFC, and McD's but they're probably already franchised on Mars. I bet the only place you couldn't find them would be the Antarctic. We found a wonderful little pub tucked at the end of a street whose name we could not find, after a 2 1/2 hour winding bus ride, and a 10Kr trip to the restroom. If you were in the restroom at that point you would have overheard me tell Thomas, "I've paid for you to go pee on the potty, so you will go now!" Anyhow, the food at the pub we went to was great, I had spinach gnocchi with blue cheese sauce, not too blue, and the staff was totally nice. They even showed us where we were on the map because the downside to a city that is not too commercial, is a lack of obvious street names. We bumbled along the water for a while, saw the Charles Bridge and went to the opening with a rather tired and cranky Thomas. The sun set over Prague's castle, I got a shot of the "The Dancing Building," after Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and the dome is Medusa, the rest are just images we happened upon while walking. Frantisek took us home in his car, yippeee, but he parked at the edge of the city so we spent a nice journey on the subway with some exchange students from UW, Seattle, of all places. They made me miss the states, one was even holding a fresh lily just dripping in pollen. Sweet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We Brought the Weather with Us

Well, we are in for week two of uncharacteristically cold, wet, gray weather here. Go figure, must be our fault. All is well though, we're accustomed to it. Unfortunately, the language may take years to develop an ear for. I am overwhelmed by it, and will totally consider myself a stupid American after experiencing Shrek last weekend.
Our friend pointed out that Shrek would be playing at the local cinema. It is an American film, so we asked how they handle that, and he replied that they do it differently, sometimes they have Czech subtitles, and sometimes English. Well, I think something was lost in translation because, why would an American children's film have subtitles? We didn't think about it, we just got excited at the prospect of watching & listening to something else in English other than the Backyardigans DVD's we brought. "Your backyard friends..." if you don't know the tune, you really are missing out. Anyway, we got ourselves together with snacks, the appropriate amount of $ and carted Thomas off to his first movie theater experience. The woman at the ticket counter was perplexed by our presence, and kept repeating some word in Czech louder and louder and faster and faster as we attempted to pay for our tickets. Well, contrary to popular belief, speaking louder and faster in a foreign language doesn't help a someone who doesn't speak said language understand. The ticket attendant at the door came to our aid, but unfortunately in the confusion of being yelled at and thumbing through my Czech dictionary, and trying to control a very excited toddler Chad & I missed something. I kept repeating "It's okay, " (translation,"Chad, please ignore getting yelled at and help me find this phrase in our book") while wildly grabbing for my book as the attendant, who did speak a bit of English repeated "In Czech, in Czech," and the counter woman was yelling a stream of words I have yet to find in my dictionary at Chad. The attendant looked at me, heard "it's okay," and we got our ticket, I mistakenly said good day instead of thank you and we got in. We happily settled in for a rollicking good laugh, started crunching on fish crackers with poppy and sesame seeds, and the opening began. I sat there for the first 30 seconds of the film, wondering why the sound quality was so poor and why prince charming was speaking in old english, so thick a child couldn't understand it, I mean it was a fairy tale and all, but what child would actually understand the thick old Shakespearean accent, and where were the subtitles? Then my brain actually started to work and I remembered that I was in a foreign country that spoke, get this, it's crazy....the Czech language, and the movie had been dubbed in that language. Thomas still enjoyed about an hour of it, and I have to say the graphics told the tale well, so hats off to the animation team. I'm off to find some milk for my humble pie.

Our Town Square

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Finer Things in Life

Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to take pictures of Prague during our quick driving tour on our first day, and even more unfortunate is the fact that I do not have the ability to adequately describe Prague's beauty. Hopefully both will come to me soon since we will go to this Wednesday for an art opening and again next week for the Fulbright orientation. It is a shame since I can complain in vivid detail about the mundane of an airport experience. I did note however, we drove around the best views of the city unencumbered by traffic, and were told that is how weekends are here. Wow, couldn't say that about Seattle. I have to admit after a week here, the bumps are smoothing out and I appreciate not driving. We travel by bus to Novy Bor, a short but curvy 6 KM down the mountain, for groceries. There are several clothing, toy, and miscellanous shops there too, which is nice and Thomas is getting accustomed to the walking. He is so excited about riding the bus, that he gets impatient while waiting at the stops. The villiage we live in has a little center square, a bakery, a school, cinema, some pubs, a couple of convenience stores, post office, and of course the Stredni umeleckoprumyslova skola sklarska Kamenicky Senov, school Chad is attending, but alas no playgrounds. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, Chad and I found an info kiosk touchscreen that is in several different languages including English in the square, way cool for a small town. There are wonderful views down the mountain, a basalt outcropping we want to climb, and some exquisite stone cottages in the neighborhood. I've met a couple of really enthusiastic and kind ceramic artists who teach art history here. They have both been very generous to Thomas and I, he has been given an indoor swing. We have made plans to get together for several different occasions in the near future, shoe shopping, clay making, and travelling! Our friends who have cars are taking good care of us. On the other hand, oh I see a bad pun in the future...I miss having laundry facilities. I'm doing a lot of hand laundry. We are potty training Thomas, and well tonight it took a lot to control my frustration when he wet the 3rd pair of pants. I am also still working out the finer details of our stovetop, and how to cook between rip roarin' hot, and ice cold. It is very cheap to eat out here, but unfortunately as vegetarians, Thomas and I can only live on fried cheese, fried cauliflower, and fried potato so long. Salad here is pickled cabbage, but the strawberry juice is excellent, as is the beer. So some more cuisine research is in order. We've eaten a lot of hard boiled eggs lately.

Yossarian would know the way to our gate.

We made it! Chad made reference to our Frankfurt experience, so I'll elaborate. Let me just say, I love the people of, Germany and Frankfurt, a culture, city I've never seen, etc. but the airport was something out of Catch 22. We flew 8 hours from the US to a connecting flight in Frankfurt with a 2 hr layover. 2 hours seems like plenty of time to catch a connecting flight, right? We got off of our plane outside and the entire contents of the plane were to fit on one tiny airport bus that took us to a lower back entrance of probably 1000 unmarked terminals all under major construction (think hanging electrical wires, random lighting and NO SIGNS). We faced two long lines, one moving & one not. The 2 airline employees present told us-no kidding here, they both told us exactly the same thing-we could go in either line, but we SHOULD be in the one to our left that wasn't moving, but it was up to us, we could go either way. They had never heard of Czech Airlines, our connecting flight's carrier, and would repeat the former lunatic statement while shoving us to the left, into a stationary mass of confused foreigners. Thomas wasn't having any part of it, and boy am I glad, because after 30 minutes of standing in a stationary line, when there is a possibility we could have gone another way, but there are now 100 people standing behind us so we probably shouldn't leave the line, but what if...I start to cry like a sleepy two year old. Chad remained in line while I toted my screaming child to the front of the line to see what was going on & luckily another mama toting two sleepy toddlers was there & security wanted all of the sleepy crying toddlers out of the way, yippee! But wait, our bag had to be tested for explosive residue, no kidding. We still have no idea what the hold-up was about, it involved three unfortunate travellers who were not communicating well with security, we heard someone punch a bag in frustration, but after our printer tested negative for explosive making chemicals we got the heck out of there, I bet there is still a line, because no one else got through while we where there. This is where it got fun. There were no signs, just random hallways. Now after standing in a stationary line & going through an exhaustive security check, and not wanting to enter any area that could possibly put us back out on a runway or through another security check, what do we do? Ask for assistance, right? Ha ha, no one we stopped had ever heard of Czech Airlines, one employee actually looked like she had never heard of the Czech Republic. We were told to go to the Info desk. Oh why didn't we think of that? There was none, or maybe it was behind one of the 50 unmarked doors we passed. Finally after bumbling around for a mile or so, and feeling tears close by, we found an employee who took our tickets behind some locked doors to find us an answer. Talk about trust and despiration. We were sent back on a bus to another terminal, through security again, and low and behold to a place with signs that had gate numbers similiar to where we were supposed to be. The light at the end of the tunnel you say, oh but it couldn't be that easy. Our tickets stated we had to check in with our new carrier. We looked down in horror upon the ticketing area for our airline, at about 1000 stationary people checking in. No way, we were going to our gate, and no one was going to stop us from getting on that plane. We cautiously made it down a 2 mile corrodor, and ran into some passengers from our first flight (I bet they went to the right) going in the opposite direction, toward the 1000 or so in ticketing. They needed to check in as well. I groaned, had they been turned away at the gate? No? They thought they were headed to the gate. Aha, it wasn't just us. The happy ending is that we got to a quiet, unpopulated gate, very well customer serviced counter, and onto a pretty empty plane with lots of leg room, free food, and even a very cute little hippo finger puppet for Thomas. Well the happier ending is that all 6 pieces of luggage made it with only one minor toiletry spill, we made it through the passport/visa check without stress, and our ride was waiting for us with beer, chocolate, soda, and a tour of Prague.