Saturday, December 24, 2011

Vaclav Havel - the end of the official 3 days of morning

The government declared thee days of mourning in recognition of Vaclav Havel's passing.  During these three days casinos (non-alcoholic establishments) and gambling bars (alcohol is served) were closed, concerts and performances were cancelled and citizens were asked to moderate their personal celebrations.  A lot of holiday work parties and other events were toned down, including the for-profit Christmas markets - they're still out there and still operating but apparently in a slightly more reserved capacity.

As I mentioned earlier a few days back I saw black flags being flown by the neighborhood schools - this turned out not to be an anomaly - local government institutions were sort of split between the Czech flag at half mast and a black flag, and some residents flew black flags as well.

Yesterday was the official state funeral. There was a bit of an political spat about the planning of the ceremony which I found interesting. Vaclav Havel and the current president, Vaclav Klaus, were not friends. In fact they were political rivals and on opposite dies of everything - Klaus was a major thorn in Havel's side, gate-crashing his parties and events in order to draw publicity, their conflicts were so infamous a documentary was made about their dynamics . (You may know Klaus best as the presidential pen thief, just in case his name alone doesn't bring him to mind.) Upon Havel'a passing Klaus took charge of planning the funeral. One of Havel's close friends, his  long-term personal adviser and a current major political figure, the Foreign Minister Karl Schwartzenberg, likened Klaus's lead in paying tribute to one of Havel's absurdist plays, an unintentional homage in it's own right.

As it turns out it was a religious ceremony, despite Haven's lack of ties to Christianity,  held at St Vitus Church located within the Prague Castle compound.  There were over 40 dignitaries representing nations around the world.  Throughout the city the emergency sirens marked the start of the funeral - we were up in an area of town near the castle running holiday errands and so heard the gun salute when it as delivered.  Havel was the last Czechoslovakian president and was given a funeral in the style of the first Czechoslavkian president.  While all of this state business was going on there were other events under way.

Haven's wife and his brother, along with a major support team, put together a memorial concert last night. It was a six hour event that took over the entire Lucerna complex.  The top Czech bands, both current and pre-revolution played, and performers flew in the from the US, both Czech and American.  The initial lot of tickets were released on Wednesday, and without publicity were gone in less than 2 hours - that is 3,000 free tickets released at no more than 2 per person without any news of the event.  The second lot, another 1,000 were released on Thursday and were gone in 12 minutes.  I was lucky enough to be gifted a set of tickets  - and when they were delivered to me I was given a third ticket as someone had become ill.

I have never felt such an affinity with this country before.  I took a friend and gave the ticket to a colleague whose family had close ties to Havel - his brother was a recent adviser wrote a book that Havel wrote the forward to.  My ticket benefactor had suggested a spot to meet inside the main music venue and his suggest was excellent - my friend and I were stage level just off the foot of the stage and were located right at the backstage entrance... when bands were waiting they stood with us to watch the show and when they came out for interviews it's where the interviews were held too.  We weren't crowded but occasionally had to move an inch as the press wanted our spots for photos and some video.  In other words - we were had a great spot.  Upon meeting she had expressed some doubts on lasting the full six hours - but each band played 30 minutes - the stage was divided in to different sections and they rotated spaces.  When one band ended the next started. We got there at the beginning and nearly 5 hours went by before we knew it - it was my sprained knee that made me realize I need to sit down for a bit, so we went to the other music hall, grabbed some chairs and watched a few more amazing bands.  After that we went to the movie theater and watched part of a documentary... and then it was ending.  We walked outside while the final band was still playing - and watched in on the giant screen set up in the middle of Wenceslas Square.

After she left, and the commotion was over, I walked up towards the museum to look at the public memorial. It was huge - truly impressive.  It had spread a bit and 2 areas are full of candles and now the front of the museum has a large image of Havel.

This week has been a little draining. Locally the country has been consumed with Vaclav Havel's passing, personally I have a friend who passed away at this time of year many years back that brings some sobriety to the holiday and that was compounded by the death of another friend this past weekend.  As a family unit we were already feeling a bit low about not being with any of our rather large extended family for the first time, ever. However, the week has passed and we're ok. We've done all of our shopping and meal planning, we have options to connect with friends here and things to do together that we're both looking forward to. Tomorrow we'll connect with family and friends via skype and take lots of pictures to share.

My heart goes out to the Havel family and to my friends' family as well as all others who have lost someone during what is supposed to be a season of joy and laughter.  I hope that each of you reading this, regardless of the time of year or your religious persuasion, has love and laughter in your heart and joy in your daily life.  Peace. And Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Vaclav Havel - his return to the Castle

This morning was the formal procession from the church where Vaclav Havel lay for public mourning to the Castle, where the formal state funeral will take place.  There were well over 10,000 people who walked the path from Old Town, across the Charlies Bridge, through Lesser Town and up to the Prague Castle in the drizzle and the cold. I was told to come to school a bit later as those 10,000 formed a wall between my home and my school, so I did.

And on the way I saw something I've never seen before. Not a massive gathering of people, not people teary-eyed and blank faced, but rather black flags.  The schools in my neighborhoods had strung up black flags on their flag poles. While official buildings were flying their Czech flags at half-mast, they were flying black flags for mourning.

There have been a few other remarkable things in the past few days - the comments and recognition that have been coming through form all parts of the world. The local embassy has been sharing numerous links and quotes which I will share with you here (some are excerpts from articles and not properly credited, sorry):

‎"Vaclav Havel believed in freedom, and had the courage to speak out about the evils of communism. He will be remembered as a hero to the people of the Czech Republic and to lovers of freedom around the world." -Nancy Reagan, widow of ex-U.S. President Ronald Reagan

‎"We have lost a hero of our times, a friend of freedom, who lived his life with integrity and sent forward ripples of hope into the world. He will be missed and remembered..... In an uncertain, always evolving world, I am certain of this: Vaclav Havel's words and example will endure and continue to provide inspiration, lighting a path forward, reminding us that history takes place in the here and now and that we all contribute to making it." CNN           

‎"All Americans loved him, regardless of party or creed, because of his courage and his extraordinary commitment to the values he exemplfied and that we share with the Czech nation. We will miss him greatly. But I am comforted with the knowledge that the spirit, ideals, and wit of this great statesman and man of letters will live on in his writings, in the memory of all who knew him, and in the thriving democracies which he helped nourish." -U.S. Ambassador Norman Eisen on the passing of Vaclav Havel

‎"Vaclav Havel went from being a playwright to a symbol of the new Czech state and democracy in Eastern Europe. Along the way he became Czech's first democratically elected president, nominee and winner of prestigious peace prizes, and one of the world's preeminent anti-communist revolutionaries." CS Monitor  - and in the American version of the paper the he was remember as “Czech president, playwright, and peacenik” and “one of the world's preeminent anti-communist revolutionaries”.

‎"Barbara and I join in mourning the death of Vaclav Havel, a gentle soul whose fierce devotion to the rights of man helped his countrymen cast aside the chains of tyranny and claim their rightful place among the free nations of world. His personal courage throughout that twilight struggle inspired millions around the world, including those of us who worked with him during a historic period of transformation for Europe." - Former U.S. President George Bush (1989-1993)

‎"President Havel spent his life removing chains of oppression, standing up for the downtrodden, and advancing the tenets of democracy and freedom. When communism threatened the peace and prosperity of our world and covered Eastern Europe in a cloud of hopelessness, he wrote plays so powerful they changed the course of history and created new democratic opportunities for millions." -Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 

 “…a politician whose vision and wit embraced not just the art of the possible but of the impossible too… (All the states of Europe)  have to be open to the new, the brave and the difficult without abandoning the moral, the wise and the treasured. In that sense, Vaclav Havel's Europe belongs not to the past but the future.” UK Guardian

 “(Havel) came to personify the soul of the Czech nation. His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution”. NY Times

TIME magazine, in an overview of their coverage of Havel dating back to 1968, “rarely do politics and art find such a tempered combination as in Vaclav Havel”

The Spanish press noted “Václav Havel, the Hero of Prague, has died", and the German stated simply “The Conscience of Europe is Dead”, while Al-Jazeera noted “The leader of a small country but a giant on the international stage, a statesman equal to any of his contemporaries, Václav Havel’s standing and influence stemmed not from his leadership of armies or command of political institutions, but from his commitment to the freedom of the individual, and to the power of ideas and human rights.”

And here is where it gets interesting - there have been so many more memories, tributes, formal recognition of his passing it's nearly impossible to keep track. President Obama has released a statement and the Clintons will be attending the funeral, as will a number of heads of state.  There is one place that, will their local Embassy has sent condolences, the heads of the government have yet to do so - that country is Russia. I hope that they are able to step beyond any past official resentment they may hold for Havel and his peaceful path to democracy and recognize that this was a great man who devoted his life to a fight against tyranny and oppression in all forms and actively worked, until his death, to create a more peaceful and united world. I hope that more people take the time to learn about his path, his work, his organization, Forum 2000, and realize that living your beliefs can be the impetus for great change.

Monday, December 19, 2011

May truth and love prevail over lies and hatred. - Vaclav Havel

Yesterday the greatest modern Czech stateman , Vaclav Havel, passed away. He was an author, a music lover, and the figurehead of the Velvet Revolution. He was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first of the Czech Republic. On a more personal note, he was one of my very few personal heroes and the founder of the organization that helped attract me to Prague. He actively worked to make this world a better place, not just for his countrymen but for all citizens. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak on a few occasions and a very brief, albeit for me, memorable, introduction. While no man is perfect, Vaclav Havel was inspiring.

"Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." Vaclav Havel

If you don't know much about this man I'd suggest you pick up a book or two.

Here's a link to a condensed review of his life.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More on the Martins

So many Martins, such a big mess! Here's an update on a few Martins, as derived from today's news.

Martin Kokoureck - the minister whose mother had an inexplicable bank transfer of a few million crowns after her son awarded a tender, is now being sued by his ex-wife.  Turns out this Mr. Martin mentioned that he had given his mom 16 million crowns a few years back in order to hide his assets prior to his divorce.  Probably not the best way to try to explain away a problem.

Martin Vimr, the IT Director for City Hall, is out after the public disaster related to the OpenCard debacle and the loss of hundreds of millions of crowns.

Related to Vimr's situation is Martin Dvorak who was finally removed as chairman of Prague Transport Company.

Another good day to not be a Martin.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One too many "C"s for my sanity

Wrapping up our rainy day sunday in a cozy house with coffee, my kid, the cat and crimes. The drawback to being a single parent and teaching criminal law - as i read for class i'm becoming more and more anxious about all the bad things that happen in the world (or at least in the UK) to young women while waiting for the bus/tram/a friend and there's no one here to say - "hey lady, cool it on the crazy!" I don't want to become one of those overbearing mothers who freaks out if their kid doesn't answer the phone - actually, I already am and it's a problem as she tends to turn the ringer off or let the battery die - on a regular basis.  Fear-inducing at 12:30 am. Infuriating once I know she's fine.

Helpful Holiday shipping/shopping tips

The laws here regarding packages from outside the EU have changed in the past six months. If you're trying to send something to someone here and you're away over there - and you want it to be a surprise - don't bother.

The intended recipient will get a notice informing them that they have to account for everything in the package - list it all off and provide proof of payment, receipts and the like.  Then they'll be charged VAT.  And it will still be a month or more before they see their stuff - if it's even delivered at all... and even if it is, it won't necessarily be intact.

If you love someone here and want to send them something special - I'd suggest you go on-line and find a retail store within the EU.  Probably going to be a big one, or something like that, but one where you can order and track your package until it makes it's way to it's new home.

This is nonsense and ridiculous.  I am still waiting for a box that was sent in October via USPS.  A FedExed box incurred over $250 in shipping charges! One had some gifts in it - I had to ask for an itemization - and their value - and then supply it to the local customs agency for them to consider processing it for release (they have yet to do so).

At all other times, if they're not gifts - here are a few tips:

  • remove all indications that the items are new - labels, tags, original boxing - and rumple them up - crease the spine, wrinkle clothes, etc.
  • clearly mark that they are used (if relevant) aAND solely  for the recipients personal use
  • include copies of receipts, if any
  • itemize and list the value of the items - make sure you don't overinsure
  • GET A TRACKING NUMBER - they're less likely to put your stuff in an indefinite hold if someone is actually charting where the item is.... my friend has had her box of books stuck in customs for nearly 3 months now whereas I got the first step done with my FedEx box within the week it was sent!
  • if you have something that would fit in a big envelope - put it in a big envelope and mail it that way - sticking it in a box means it won't be received for a good long while but envelopes are passed by.
  • send an email itemization and copies of scanned receipts to the recipient if you can - that way, on their end, they can immediately supply Customs with a duplicate of what they already have (yes, lame and redundant, but keep in mind - this is where Kafka is from.... and I am beginning to think he wrote what he lived instead of taking his life as a base point and fictionalizing the extremes)
Right now - that's about all I can think of - some of these techniques have been tried out and recommended by friends - some I've already used.  It's a hassle.  The sender must have some affection for you, the recipient, in order to go through all these steps (or be getting some major compensation.) Either way - good luck!  And don't be surprised if your chocolates disappear.

odds and ends on a rainy December Sunday

Spending a rainy sunday with the jazz greats, coffee and about a full foot of law books. I thought I'd left that last part behind... law school was the only time I regularly watched sunday morning football. I'm sorta missing it right now - not that it would meld well with nina...

BTW - it's raining. It's December and while we had on truly minor dusting of snow - some say it was industrial snow (aka as frozen smog) we have yet to enter a true winter here.  Which has me nervous that either it will stay like this - bitterly cold but rainy and the worst type of weather possible for my body - or it will head in to a deep frozen winter cold - and while that's better for my body, it's not a pleasant experience.  Each winter has been different here so it'll be interesting to see what this one brings.

AND ANOTHER THING!  We've already passed our one year anniversary under the SAME ROOF!  This is a milestone.  Seriously.  We move so often - a year is about our max.  I really think, as long as Mr. Co-Op Man signs our paperwork, that we've found a good long(er) time place for us.  For the first time in a long time.  Unfortunately I really am waiting for Mr. Co-op Man to sign our paperwork - and it's making me a bit nervous as the guy doesn't like me.  I locked the door once when he didn't want it locked, and I didn't know the building has a different way of reporting the water usage, one I've not encountered before, so I didn't do it correctly.  He can decide he doesn't want to deal with us and we won't get our housing paper signed.  It's a wait and wait type of thing.

Another Prague video :)

I recently posted a Christmas time video of Prague.  Here's another video of the city I love and live in.

Prague. from Marco Santi on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

premature Christmas calculations

I recently reflected that this Christmas was going to be the first year I did not have to stress about financial concerns... that anything extra, work or otherwise, would be free to put towards something of my choosing rather than be obligated towards tuition or field trips or medical expenses and the like.

Then I got the visa update.   The most recent visa was issued in July.  It expires this month.  Actually, they both expire this month. The new biometric visa format has about tripled the cost of the actual visa.  Then I have to pay for all the notarizations they require from the multitude of owners listed on my building (it's a dang co-op and each board member plus the actual owner of my flat have to sign multiple pages), plus the agency fees... and I need a new passport as the airport people don't like to use pages that already have a stamp on them. One month ago I had 3 empty pages and a number of half-filled pages.  Today I have one empty page, the same number of half-empty pages, and 2 pages that each have one stamp.  The foreign police require 3 empty pages.

Additionally, the insurance requirement has changed. Basic/emergency insurance is no longer enough.  I must now purchase comprehensive insurance for a full year term - payment in advance.  The comprehensive insurance policy is so comprehensive that the co-pay at the doctor is only 30kc - just about $2USD.  When you have it it's great, but pre-paying a year in advance is really, really rough.

And - now the taxation laws have changed as well - they're jumping up the tax withholdings by something like 1/3.  There are other funky changes going on with that too that I don't fully understand just yet.  I know it was supposed to be beneficial for workers but the actual law got the wording wrong and it's being interpreted in a way that is taking more taxes than was ever intended and making it so people who make less then 10,000kc don't pay any taxes and people who make 10,000 get taxed on the full amount and not just the amount beyond 9,999 as was meant (the difference is so big that many contract teachers want to drop their contracts to the lower amount as after taxes they'll be taking home a truly minimal amount of money).

I know - I was counting my chickens before they hatched, but all that I really wanted was, for each of us, some new boots, some new clothes and to have some money to save towards a trip home.  I wasn't planning on going to Tahiti or Thailand or anything... maybe eventually to Budapest but that's just a short train ride away.  Instead, I am back to where I usually am pre-Christmas - already feeling overextended and waiting to pay bills before we buy a tree.

I started to write... maybe next year, but it just hit me - EACH Christmas, for at least another year or two or three, our visas will expire and EACH year I will have to pay the agency fee, the visas fees, notary fees, and buy insurance.

Maybe by 2015 I'll have it figured out. I'm going to hold out hope.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nope, no corruption here... or Martins, for that matter.

Martin Bartak, a former defense minister, is going to be charged with seeking a bribe in a Tatra truck deal.
Martin Kvietik of Slavia Capital is suspected of taking kickbacks for selling Skoda Plzen to Appian.
Martin Roman was presumably on both sides of that deal too and is seeing his world collapse around him.
Martin Riman had to get out of the way as Roman fell upward at CEZ.
Martin Kokoureck had to leave as as industry minister after his nest egg as exposed.
His replacement, Martin Kuba, is now under the magnifying glass.
Martin Dvorak's head is on the block at DP Praha.
Martin Knetig's  sticky fingers brought down Environmental Minister Pavel Drobil.
Martin Borovoka of Eurovia is feeling the wrath of the VV construction mob.
Martin Pecina's name keeps coming up when analyzing the secret to Andrej Babis's success.

(The above was lifted from a friend who took it from Fleet Sheet's Final Word)

 I once dated a guy named Martin. I wonder what sort of mess he's gotten himself in to.

Forum 2000 & the Dali Lama

I think the best thing I've discovered in this country, besides the intangible personal growth and development, is Forum 2000. I know I've written about them a few times during the past few years - I went a few years ago when the Dali Lama was supposed to be there but became ill and was there again just a few months ago.

Well, the Dali Lama is better now and he's coming to Prague.  The Facebook notice went up on Forum 2000's page on Friday, tickets went on sale first thing Monday morning and then email notice about the event went out Monday midday.

Unfortunately, for those affiliated with the Forum but not connected to their FB page, it was nearly sold out before I received their email.  How do I know?  I get both. I bought my ticket based upon the information I got from the FB post.  When I bought my ticket it was nearly sold out.  A short while after I completed that transaction I received an email telling me about the event.

Next Sunday I will spend my afternoon listening to the Dali Lama speak on Searching for Happiness in a Troubled World. 

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

another funny headline

Czech man lost for five days while mushrooming

Upon viewing my first thought was, if he was on mushrooms he probably didn't mind. Then, five days on mushrooms?!? He probably needed medical attention. But, actually, he was probably just lost in the woods while hunting for regular old mushrooms. They do that frequently here.  It's surprising more people don't get lost.

Christmas in Prague

This year we're staying put.  We did once before but that year we had family come over to spend the holiday with us.  Not this time.

Thanksgiving has already passed and as Christmas approaches I'm feeling a bit wistful and somewhat homesick.  Then this morning I saw this... and was reminded how lucky I am to be here.

Night in Prague from Metron on Vimeo.

While I may miss  loved ones, and the warmer temperatures, all in all, this isn't a bad place to be.  Just in case you watched and were wondering how much of this is part of our regular experience - the answer is a lot.  That iconic bridge is around the corner from our school and a number of shots are from within a one block radius.  The other areas are the squares we go to for Christmas shopping, to watch the traditional seasonal performances, or walk through to get to a club, movie theater and a few restaurants we like. In other words - this video may be a highlight of the pretty stuff, but it's also showing you areas that are part of our practical life.

Prague really is beautiful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

herding cats...

I recently received an invitation for a birthday dinner... it's not meant to be an excessively large gathering, it's been sent to a rather insular group of friends and will be held in a restaurant.  Here are the responses from those who will not be attending:

They all start with  "Sorry but I'll be in..."

Germany (offered by 2 people in addition to the one who will be in Bavaria)
and some place "out of the country"

I think I may be the only person in town other than the birthday people.  Fortunately there are three people celebrating, so that will be at least four for dinner.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hello.... is it me you're looking for? (poland)

There has been an influx of 80s ballads in dance clubs recently... I don't know why and it's weirding me out.

Anyway, I have neglected this blog for a bit - you may or may not have missed me - but life has been rather busy. I have time right this instant because it's late, I'm tired and I'm in a hotel in London... don't have the energy right now to go explore any more than what I have already but I have a few evenings left to make up for that.

So... let me backtrack to last month, if you don't mind...

I was in Poland for ten days
- I  volunteered for an English immersion program (no teaching experience necessary) which was located in the Polish countryside at a remote spa resort (the other 3 days were in Warsaw).

It was an adventure before I even got there.
Shortly after departing Prague, say, less than an hour in to an eight hour trip, the train caught on fire. Yes, there were flames coming from the back wagon . Obviously we stopped and they put it out. It was a Friday and the train was full from the get-go but all the people in the back wagon had to push on up to the other wagons, all of the wagons were full of smoke and there was a bit of confusion with people who'd evacuated the train and went in to the fields nearby in order to get away from the smoke - and the flames. After rounding everyone up they detached the last wagon and we went on our merry way.

Until it happened again.
I kid you not. The train caught on fire again. And yes, again, it was the back wagon.  This time the firemen came and put it out, not just the engineer with a little fire extinguisher.  They repeated the process - push the people up, reclaim the evacuees, detach the wagon and on our way.

And yet... a short while later there was another burning smell.  At this point my wagon, what had originally been the third wagon from the back, was now the last wagon and the burning smell was coming from us.  There was a station shortly ahead of us so we pulled in there.  The firemen came and did an inspection, gave us the thumbs up, attached a new back wagon and we were off, again.

Fortunately that was the end of burning.  Many hours later I made it to Poland.  I stayed with a friend and his new and growing family and had a great night.

The next day I met up with people from the program I had volunteered for for the first time. We had a private walking tour of Warsaw and then a lunch.  They were all quite nice, which was good as I was about to spend a week with them in intimate conditions, and we had a great time.  That night my friend took me out and introduced me to some of his friends and we had another good night.

On Sunday, bright and early, I caught the bus to the location - it was 3 hours east of Warsaw.  We met the Polish contingent for the first time and it was... interesting.

The program was to match native English speakers with Polish speakers who wanted to improve their language skills not through class and lessons but through an immersion experience.  They started off quiet and shy - hard to talk with them, really had to draw them out - but by the end of the week they were AWESOME!

I'm not going to write a lot about it - it was a unique and wonderful experience and really quite rewarding.  I've never seen an individual, let alone a group, so obviously increase their confidence and shine in such a short period of time.   We had one on one sessions, group sessions and entertainment hours.  We went swimming, walking, drinking, hot tubbing, in the sauna, dancing and had a bonfire. We played cards, charades and other games. And we all had a great time.I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat.  The people were lovely - the other native English speakers, the Polish participants and the administrators.  It was an incredibly rewarding experience.

When we got back to Warsaw, a week later, we all had dinner together in one of the Polish men's flat.  Then, my roommate, had booked a room at the Marriott with two double beds rather than one queen and invited me to stay with her for my last night.  I did. That should serve to show that we all felt close, comfortable and happy together even after a week of talking and togetherness.

Friday, October 14, 2011

but I live in Prague!

I had an appointment today at the hospital... the good thing is that the pre-cancerous marks are still not cancer! Woo hoo!

The bad - I've developed an aggressive skin condition. It's treatable (not too effectively so far) but not reversible or curable. While reviewing the care and diagnosis the doctor gave me some flyers, in Czech obviously, and asked if I could have them translated. He said they were important and I need to follow them. I said yes, okay, and then looked at them while he filled in some papers. I can't speak for squat but I can read a bit. And I was not happy with what I was seeing and asked him to confirm my understanding...

This says, no smoking? (Not a problem, I'm a non-smoker).

And this, no caffeine? No alcohol?

No sun?

No cold weather?

And this - what... no water?!?
No chlorinated water, no Prague water.

OK, but, I mean... I live in Prague... All of this...I live in Prague, how am I...?
It's not so important the alcohol and smoke. Don't worry. Just don't wash with the water.

But you told me to follow this...
Yes, but it's not reasonable all these limitations. You live here. You would have no life. It's too much. Don't worry.

food, the Forum and food for thought.

I got another chance to attend Forum 2000 this year and while I missed Vaclav Havel's speeches I did get to hear plenty of others... like the President of Georgia (after the talk his entourage nearly mowed me down, but we were just saying hello, I'm no threat to security, I swear!), the President of Kosovo who was greeted with indignation and protesters, the former President of Nigeria, the former head of National Security from Guatemala, the Speaker of Parliament from Albania, a number of Ambassadors, quite a few Russian (opposition) politicians, quite a few attorneys working against corruption - primarily in the former USSR but other nations as well, and some religious leaders.

Not bad for the start of the week.

Free admission, made sure to pre-register my students so they came too, and the Forum keeps you well fed too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

mortality and opportunity

It's not the first time this has happened, but it's entirely unsettling for me to hear of yet another peer and childhood friend that has unexpectedly passed away.

This wasn't a super close guy but we were friends growing up - and I admired and respected him then and the man he became. He had an ability to be himself, truly not concerned with societal ideals or other people's perceptions, he knew his strengths and he excelled. He had a gift he honed and he shared with the world, literally. He may not have been the most educated or the most financially successful, may not have worn designer clothing or driven the latest model car, but he had a vitality that is missing from so many who jump through the hoops on their way to their notion of success. He had it. He lived it. Without analyzing it he embraced life and he shared his energy with those around him. He made his name in his field and he left a mark - and he did it with a fearlessness, not only not hesitating but not seeing a reason as to why he should. He took what was given to him and made it more. He didn't change the world but his presence made it a better place.

I've been trying to stay open to new experiences that come my way but too often I'm too caught up with what's right in front of me to take advantage of what is just a few steps away. The same day I got news of his death I got an invitation to go to Poland for a week to participate in a new type of language learning program. It's something I've been interested in and would like to participate in, I did the research on it a while ago, but I wasn't inclined to pursue it as I'd have to take time off of work during the school year. The set-up is nice - no pay but a week in a resort that's reserved for this conference, full meals, pool, sauna, spa, private tours and other activities. I'd have to pay my way to Warsaw but everything else is covered. Thinking about my friend while reading this invitation made me face that I've been wanting to travel more, wanting to expand my experiences - experiences that will benefit me both professionally and personally - and that I'm the biggest obstacle.

I'm going to Poland this month. It doesn't really matter to most of you, but it matters to me. I don't know for sure but maybe engaging in this world in new and positive ways and sharing what you have to offer with others is the best way to honor the life you have. Or maybe it's just my way of honoring the friends I've lost.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A hundred bucks of fun

What weekend entertainment can you plan with $100?

It’s amazing how things are valued differently around the world. Here, it’s normal for people to go to the countryside for the weekend – and costs reflect the fact that this sort of outing should be accessible to the every-man.

The two of us just joined about 20 others in Hradec Kralove for a joint birthday celebration: two nights away, from Friday until Sunday, in some cottages on a little lake, bonfires, BBQs and more… much, much more.

We went to an adventure park with a ropes course, zip lines, trampoline, bow and arrows, blow dart guns, ninja throwing stars, paddle boats, row boats, an upright water bicycle, and more. The next day we took over a paintball field and had a war. Each night was a bonfire and a BBQ, some music and games and good moods. I drove through the town – it was old and beautiful and mixed with some amazing modern organic looking architecture – did some grocery shopping and we ate out twice at an on-site restaurant. It was indulgent non-stop entertainment.

With 2 buses there and a train and a bus back – for two people – the total trip cost $100 USD.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

an unexpected emergency

Remember how I saw that tram accident earlier this week - it made me realize I didn't know the emergency numbers and a few other things... Well yesterday I got that all sorted with a friend. He'd come in from out of town for a weekend visit after moving to Europe from the US. We went out to listen to a band, but they were sold out so we sat in a restaurant and had a nice chat. The events of the week, that accident, were reviewed, along with my lack of we went through all the various emergency numbers here and couldn't agree on the best one. We raised the topic again a few hours later after a nice walk through town and along the river. In the elevator in my flat is a sticker with the different icons and associated numbers. We settled on 112 being the all-purpose any-emergency number and the best one to call if needed.

Good thing we did that, cause not even half an hour later he tripped or slipped or something and went face first down the circular stairwell inside my flat. He ended up face down on a tile floor, knocked out cold - bleeding profusely from a large gash in his head and blood trickling out his nose - I was unable to wake him. Fortunately I remembered that number that had been such a topic of conversation and an ambulance was on it's way - they arrived 10 minutes after his fall, about 2 minutes after he regained consciousness. He will be ok, nothing life threatening - fractures, fissures, concussions but his brain is ok and so is his neck. That was probably the scariest thing I've experienced - there was a very brief moment when I thought he was dead. The monkey-kid was woken by his fall and she too thought he was dead when she came to check on the commotion. She went downstairs to let in the medics while I stayed with him, trying to wake him up and monitoring his breathing.

General information here - 112 is the all purpose emergency number. There are specific numbers for fire, police and ambulance but 112 will get you whatever you need in one call. I dialed it immediately, moments after his fall - I ran down the stairs and tried to wake him, saw the quantities of blood and found my phone and called. I was met with a Czech speaker but before I could finish asking for an English speaker I had already been transferred. While I could have given my address and apartment info in Czech I could not possibly have communicated the situation. The woman on the other end of the phone had perfect English, understood me without hesitation and was able to talk me through the steps I needed to take to make sure he was breathing with some regularity and how to try to wake him without risking further harm. I have had to call 911 in the US before and what I experienced here, in Prague, was a faster phone response, quick ambulance response, and a calm, calming and highly efficient emergency operator for which I am truly grateful - and a bit in awe.

Friday, September 9, 2011

pleasant surprise with the foreign police

For the past few months I've had today hanging over my head - another trip to the FP to pick up a replacement visa (passport and paper visa stolen back in June). The visa was only issued in May and had some time left on it - when we went to the FP to get it reissued they'd let us know they'd adopted biometric visas and new fees.

Lost, stolen or other missing visas now incurred a fee - 4,000kc where as previously reporting a visa stolen did not incur a charge.

Issuing/re-issuing a visa now cost 3,500kc where as just a few weeks earlier it was only 1,500kc.

(These don't address the new passport, agency fees or other related expenses.)

My agent and I argued that the new fee was a penalty which isn't allowed - the related expenses it was meant to cover only applied to bio visas and not paper visas. Half of the agents agreed but not the ones we had to deal with. Most recently we were told to expect to pay a fine of 1,500 rather than the full 4,000 - which wasn't a complete reduction but better than no break, so that's how much I sent - 1,500 for the fee and 3,500 for the new visa plus the agent's fees.

Well, I got a call that the full fee was being charged and nothing was getting us around it - calls to the Ministry reinforced that. Resigned to having to either pay and get the visa released or stick to principles and face having my kid deported I obviously chose to... pay.

Turns out, and here's a shocker - the FP are terrible, terrible, god-awful communicators... or maybe it's just that no one there understands their own rules. The fee for losing the visa actually includes the cost of the new visa. No where, on the pages info we received, or on the Ministry pages we researched, no where does it indicate that the fee includes a newly issued visa - instead it states that the fee is to cover costs incurred in notifying the EU and Schengen member states that the visa is no longer valid - and that is the explanation we were given in person too, when they told us to expect to pay the 4,000kc plus the 3,500kc.

I'm used to going to the FP, sitting around and waiting for a while (even with an appointment) and then meeting with people who are uncertain or not clear of the rules (the rules are constantly changing) and not once has their confusion worked to our advantage... not until today. Thank you. This was a very, very pleasant surprise. I can afford groceries for the rest of the month :)

last week - real bombs at Ikea... this week - fake bombs in the airport

Here's an article from one news site about another news agency's reporter who gained access to highly restricted areas on Prague's airport while carrying a cell phone that had been modified in to a fake bomb. He was in the area where previously checked and cleared international cargo was being loaded on to the planes, was on the runway and wandered around for about 10 hours.

This article should never have existed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Having another one of those - why the hell am I here and what am I doing days. Feeling pretty low right now and not sure why everything suddenly got so difficult.

Yesterday, while stopped in a tram, I saw a guy get run over and trapped by a car. At the next tram stop there was a little lost hysterical child being ignored on the street. Even though I was stuck in a tram and unable to provide assistance, my level of ignorance was reinforced - I realized I couldn't remember the emergency number here, that I need a CPR refresher course, that my language is so limited and not yet embedded in my brain so that I couldn't think of the words I wanted under pressure even though I "knew" them, and that I was disgusted by the way the mothers, teens, grandmas and business people at the tram stop ignored the little girl - when even I understand she was lost and couldn't find where she needed to be. It took a dirty homeless-looking punk rock guy walking up the hill to stop and give her directions.

Those most likely affected my mood but it's not what's got me down. It's not the dreary weather either. I think it's being sick again and then suddenly having aggressive argumentative people around. I don't get why people choose to carry hostility with them. I don't understand. I am feeling constricted and a little suffocated. And my ability to be effective a bit stunted. This is not a good start to the school year or for the beginning of the cold weather. I really hope things change soon.

(I found a new Czech teacher. I've been working on learning Czech with friends and colleagues but it's not nearly enough. I lack structure and integration. Words here and here help me to understand others' conversations but don't allow me to participate at all. We were supposed to start this week but then I got sick so it'll be next. That I'm happy about.)

Monday, September 5, 2011


I went to the doctor today - sick again- this one was new and young and, even though working in an English language office, not quite confident with her English. She was trying to tell me how to take some medication and wasn't sure of the translate is apparently her friend too:)

So - she looked it up, mouthed it to herself and then told me I could buy XXXX in tablet form or I could get it to "jar-jull". Jar-jull? Jarjull. Let's try that with the J being a G like in giant...Gargull.... now let's put that in to English and use the G like you would in good or great or gosh... GARGLE.

(Side note - I had to go back later in the week and saw the main doctor. She was great. The nurse who did the medical testing was adorable and my visit turned in to a czech-english/english-czech lesson at the end.)

why would anyone target Ikea?

I had no idea Ikea was so controversial. Apparently all over Europe someone - in the loosest sense of "one" - has been putting bombs in Ikea. A few countries have been affected however after the bomb is placed, someone - again, loose term, maybe not the same someone - calls in a bomb threat. Prague was affected this past week when a bomb was placed in the Prague - Zlicin location. Fortunately the police had evacuated it and found it before it detonated.

I don't understand this.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

things to do at 4 am

We were in the US for a while recently. When we got back to Prague it was in the middle of a heat wave - too hot and humid to do anything. I had brought back some new cookbooks I wanted to try, and without thinking about the weather I started buying ingredients for some of the recipes. It wasn't till after we were done shopping that I realized what a mistake that was - it was too hot to turn on the stove, let alone the oven!

A bad combination of insomnia, jet lag and oppressive heat kept me up for a few nights in a row. One night, after giving in to not sleeping, I got up. It was about 4 AM. With 2 fans on full blast and all the windows opened it was finally only moderately hot in our house... so I opened up the cookbook and tried my hand at making meatballs... and then meatloaf... and then experimented with pasta. The kid and the cat woke up about 6 - we had quite a hearty breakfast that day.

BTW - I make really good meatballs now.

chocolate - not just for eating anymore

Apparently you can sniff it too. With a special chocolate sniffing machine that sends the chocolate powder in the air and up your nose - and when you put chocolate up your nose, you do, in fact, taste it.

Who thinks of this stuff? Apparently this guy... and he has his chocolate shop here in Prague.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

trends i don't understand

This week I spoke with a very pleasant young woman. She was pretty, elegantly dressed, bespeckled, quite bright, articulate and yet there was something off. Half way through I figured it out. Her glasses didn't have any lenses.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

College ?!?

College orientation has been completed! The kid has registered for her first college classes - they start next week.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hard to find a good egg

I think a few years back (HOLY COW! We just passed our 3 year anniversary here!) anyway... a few years ago I think I wrote about the kid's disgust with finding feathers stuck to the store bought eggs. I say I think I wrote it because I really think I did, I know I meant to at least, but I'm not going to take the time to confirm it by sorting through all my past posts as they're mostly missing any sort of label...

So - eggs. They come with feathers here. It's a little unsettling when you come from a culture where eggs come with a shell and maybe an expiration date stamp but definitely nothing more than that - they're always really, really clean without a trace of their farmyard origins. However, we've adapted and finding a fistful of feathers in a carton of eggs is really no big deal anymore. Maybe I should start saving them to stuff a pillow - it would take a while but with the frequency with which we find them I bet we could collect enough.

Back to the point. She doesn't even notice the odd feather or two any more and neither do I. However,yesterday she was in the kitchen making herself breakfast (yes, she was in the kitchen! cooking! for herself and without having been directed to do so!) and she grabbed the carton of eggs. I wasn't paying much attention to her actions until I heard a big groan of disgust and then I asked what was wrong. She said, "This egg!" as she placed the offensive egg back in the box and headed towards the sink. "This egg is covered in bird poop!"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

birthdays and buds

Yesterday was my birthday. Fairly soon I'll be returning to the US for my longest visit to date. I wanted to gather all of my friends and just be around them for a bit. Not a birthday party - no cake, no presents - just time to be with my friends. I sent out a facebook invitation to a number of people and contacted a great new outdoor restaurant, Bohe(my)a (more on that later - if you're around you should check it out). In the end I had to increase the reservation to 35... I was a bit concerned as people always cancel and I tried to take that in to consideration when finalizing the number, even so I was worried that 35 people wouldn't show up and I would have overbooked and taken away business. Fortunately I was wrong.

In the end more than 35 arrived but everyone was comfortable. We stayed nearly an hour past closing and everything was lovely. It was exactly what I'd hoped for - lots of tables and couches where people could sit and mingle or talk more intimately, blankets for those who were cold, excellent food and incredible service - it was perfect. There was only one unexpected happening.... the number of flowers that arrived .

The restaurant gave us a large ice bucket which is usually more than enough - last night it was far from adequate. We had to run in to the housewares shop and buy two very large vases to fit all the flowers that needed to be in a vase (there were a few potted plants two).

To put it in context you can see a champagne bottle in there - it's not a small personal size but a full bottle - those two outer vases are huge.

It was overwhelming. In the elevator on the way out a colleague looked at me, struggling with a giant vase, two potted plants and large shopping bag (birthday gifts for the kidlet tomorrow and a rather challenging game from some friends) and I dropped my purse. He laughed "A lot of people really like you."

I had wanted to bring together people I care about. I succeeded. And their presence is a wonderful confirmation that it's truly mutual affection. That was the best birthday gift I could have asked for.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

best video i've seen in a while :)

It's to a song by Michael Buble - he's seen it, loved it and hopes to be able to visit and sing with them. I hope he does. This was a continuous shot and they did 8 takes - not easy for anyone, especially not for more senior senior citizens. They must have had a blast creating it - and what a great place to be :)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Monster thunderstorm effects

There was a gigantic thunder and lightening storm on Wednesday. I have never seen anything like it before - and our little kitten was stuck in between the windows in the kitchen and the windows in the living room, hit tiny ears tucked back, crouched down, his head flipping back and forth like he was watching a tennis match but it was which side of the house was going to light up brighter. We had lavender skies. It was beautiful, loud, brilliant - over 60,000 strikes - and destructive.

I watched the news reports on Thursday - cars and houses destroyed all over the country, trees blocking roads and in rivers, creating some flooding, massive limbs down in a number of cities. Today, I found another news report - in Sumava, a Czech national forest (the Czech portion of the park) over 20,000 trees were destroyed, more than half on the outskirts of one town.

Nature is amazing. I think of earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes as being devastating but is the first time I've heard of massive destruction by lightening, not flooding, lightening.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Friday night food experience

Last night had a lot of things happening - an art opening, a beer tasting party that turned in to a Czech/Slovak world hockey watching event and then an opening party for a festival. Surprisingly and unexpectedly I found time for dinner with a good friend - we left the art opening and took a walk towards Stare Mesto from Mala Strana and found ourselves at Lokal just next to the Charles Bridge. It's a new local chain run by a group that's had some success in Brazilian and other types of foods. The Lokal chain is meant to focus on traditional homey Czech food and a more Czech experience.

It was both a hit and a miss... in the best ways possible!!!

The Hit

When we walked in the restaurant was either full or clearly marked reserved. It looked like maybe we could squeeze in someplace in the smoking section but when non-smoking is available that's what I'll pick. A waiter approached us immediately and directed us to the back and down the stairs - we were actually walked back and guided to the basement where we were again immediately greeted and given our choice of tables in a very large labyrinthian type brewery/restaurant area. We were seated at our table with menus awaiting - and English menu sheet was immediately procured for me, no request was made, it was just tended to.

Another waiting appeared asking for our drink order - we weren't ready and he smiled and left us for a few minutes. The first waiter returned asking for our drinks and again was quite pleasant. After we got drinks we needed a bit to pick the food. Again, the staff was attentive and pleasant during that encounter.

The food was fast and delicious. I was impressed by the flavor and tenderness of the chicken and the fully flavor of the side I'd order. It was heavenly - so much more than what I'd expected and at really reasonable rates. What as most curious to me was the drink - homemade orange soda. Sort of like orange juice and flat soda water - yet not carbonated, sweet but tangy and full of pulp.

The Miss

I don't write about food or restaurants often - this is an exception.

Throughout the meal the two waiters each checked on us and confirmed everything was all right - they addressed us both in Czech and English individually. The courteous consistent attention we were given is not a part of the Czech experience.

My Czech friend was overwhelmed by the staff's attention but I found it quite refreshing - it was exceptional for this area. They weren't overly familiar, they were formal, polite, efficient and made you feel as though your experience and enjoyment were a priority without in any way being a burden or imposition. They had a presence but weren't intrusive upon our meal or conversation.

I don't know who trained them but I really hope this restaurant model catches on. It was quite a refreshing change and I'll definitely be returning for more.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A cat, a duck and a cat

Well, here are a few random happenings from the past few weeks...

I was at a cafe with some friends on Kampa, a little island near my school. We were drinking beers when we hear this strange pecking coming from outside the window, from a side of the building just a few feet away from an ivy covered stone wall. It was a duck sitting in the ivy. It was a little lost as the river runs along the cafe, but on the other side. It was still quacking and moving about and it seemed a bit flustered - then we noticed above the duck, level with the top of the window, was a wrought-iron grating - sitting on that grating was a cat.

The cat was stalking the duck and had it caught between a building, the wall and under the grate. It was just playing, waiting to pounce. A man at the table next to us got up, opened the window, reached out on the ledge and picked up the duck. He carried it through the cafe and out to the little footbridge you have to cross to get back to the island and there, where it was safe, he let it go.

The cat hopped off the grate a moment later and could not figure out where the duck had gone.

That's the first cat I have to write about right now. The second is Odin. He's ours. He's the newest addition to our family and is a little under 2 months old right now. He's awfully cute and sweet and has (not surprisingly) very sharp claws. He also looks like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, but isn't striped in silly colors, just shades of gray.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wednesday - The Red Carpet Ball

OK, I didn't find a gown and  the Kid wasn't able to return on time but the evening was not a miss. In fact, it was awesome - incredible, if you will, and an absolute blast. I grabbed a dress I had, threw on some heels and stuffed some flats in my bag. The weather has turned unseasonably cold (snow was forecast) and so a warm coat and hopped in the taxi - and the driver promptly got lost, in my neighborhood.

Other than going the wrong way down side streets he was hilarious - chattered at me in Czech the entire way, asked if I was going dancing and then did a driving-dance imitation of the polka, obviously with sound effects.

The ball was incredible. Scroll down for a video of the venue - and the chance to listen to some Czech. I was a few hours late as I was dealing with the Turkey debacle but when I arrived there was still formal ballroom dancing taking place, accompanied by a live band. Then there were some dance exhibition, a few student musical performances, more formal dancing, more dance exhibitions, a rock band,more dancing, a dance competition, more general dancing and then a DJ and then more dancing... and then the after-party. Somewhere in the middle of the dancing and more dancing, yes, I did change from ridiculous heels to reasonable flats. I was definitely not the last to leave but I got home at 4:30. By pre-arrangement school was closed until the afternoon. There was only one complaint I heard from the guys and girls alike - sore feet. Overall it was a great night - students, parents, teachers, friends - lots of laughter, great entertainment and a lot of fun. I sincerely hope this was the first annual and not the only ball the Student Council organizes.

Here is the video of the venue, Narodni Dum na Vinohradech- it was so beautiful :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The turkey is stuck in Turkey.

The Kid's school group missed their return flight this afternoon. She is currently stuck in Istanbul.

I have a school commitment tonight - the ball. I don't have a dress and I don't really want to be there. I'd rather be at home welcoming her back!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

ball gown countdown

I've got 6 days to find a ball gown. Apparently on Wednesday I am expected at a ball and shockingly enough I don't have a gown. Or a date.

This may end up being lame.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"I'm so scared."

Since Friday I've been waiting to hear from a friend from Sendai. She now works at the Naval Base in Yokosuka. She was at work when the earthquake struck and the trains between work and home were stopped. It's Sunday morning now. She's just arrived home.

She is safe and trying to connect with her friends and family. So far she's not entirely successful. Now that she's home she's been updating her facebook status. It's like a narrative of what's happening for so many people in her situation, surrounded by devastation, struggling to connect with loved ones, and then having to face the increasing possibility of a nuclear meltdown. She mentioned "another Chernobyl" but actually, it could be that but times two. The world seems without foundation at the moment. She's scared. Really scared. Pick one - earthquake, missing family, tsunami, nuclear meltdown. Each alone are terrifying. She's trying to stay focused on doing the next best thing in the situation. Right now that's securing food and clean water. And continuing trying to locate her family in Sendai.

I don't know the extent of the organizations that are supporting earthquake and tsunami relief, but if you can, please donate to the Red Cross. And then go home and makes sure you're as prepared as possible with extra food and water (and a can opener) in your own disaster relief kit - and no candles or open flames, but flashlights and extra batteries please. In the pictures that are coming out, I have to say, I was impressed with the forethought in the little paper masks and the hard hats that so many office workers were wearing. You may consider adding those too - if there were to be a large earthquake in CA you know it's not just the initial shock that damages but the aftershocks too and the dust won't settle for a good long while.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oh, let the courting never end!

I'm in London for some dealings for work. It's been a great few days but now it's time to pack up and return to Prague. I love London, and while I haven't had time to do any sightseeing I have had a lovely time here... my days have been full of work and wooing.

The meetings were scheduled for 30 minutes each - they last all day but never last too long. Each meeting is a different speaker. We're given ample time to ask questions, to return to previous speakers and to eat. Oh the eating. The food has been glorious. Yesterday's lunch was at a very popular Italian restaurant - wild boar wrapped in fresh handmade pasta - followed by a truly extravagant meal at the Montague - I've got the menu somewhere and will fill in my meal later. It started with goat cheese wrapped in a delicate pastry and ended with creme brule - my absolute favorite dessert. Yesterday's lunch included all of the delegates and a number of the speakers plus a few others, my dinner was much more intimate with only three attendees, myself included, but was also quite warm, very friendly, and had an overall lovely work-free feel. Today was a more focused business luncheon and I loved it - it was a one on one preparing me for a much larger and more important meeting later in the day. My companion was Chinese and she explained to me that she prefers to do business over a meal, to work out the details then and really go head-on in to potential issues and the like while eating, as people are more relaxed... that you can be effective and efficient in your job when you're not in a "work-mode" and also able to enjoy yourself. She was definitely right today.

I had an incredible meal at the British Museum. It was my third venture in to that building during this trip, and while I didn't see anything other than the stairwells I got a lot out of it.

The care and concern and the courting I've experienced while here are amazing - (outside of my family) I've never been treated so royally before and I have to admit, I love it! I've been in what can only be described as quite posh places and been treated to some elegant experiences and it's been lovely. It's also a once in a lifetime sort of thing as they're all beyond my means... and for that I'm grateful. I've been able to come over, be effective, be efficient and be courted all at the same time. I just wish it didn't have to end so soon. (Maybe, if this all translates in to numbers for us, I'll be able to come back fairly soon - I've already been invited to return in May for very practical purposes) :)

me and my army, that's who!

According to the party remaining on the premises I have my own army. An army of nice people. I wouldn't say that party is feeling smothered, not necessarily, but rather... well monitored, fully checked up on and with an abundance of offerings for food and friendship. My army has no need for training or coordinated attacks... they're independently functioning extensions all successfully working for the same goal - and they're succeeding - the party on the premises has not had a party, nor is she starving, lonely, staying up too late or sleeping too late but rather is well fed, homework and laundry are done, sleeping appropriately and at school when expected - and she's even checked with me about going to after school events and quite responsibly passed on an invitation for video games and pizza.

I adore you all, the party person and the army.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

money makes the world go round, the world go round...

If you're ever in London and you find you're suddenly Midas but your gift is GBP not gold then I'd suggest you touch a lot of things then put your hands in your pockets and check in to The Montague, right around the corner from the British Museum. If you're Midas gift doesn't give you pounds, only Euros or USD then you may want to consider just dinner or possibly, depending on the weather, high tea in the garden. Luxury and opulence are appropriate words for the experience.

However I'd double check those magic money making hands of yours first, and ensure that they're make the current version of those lovely pounds as there seems to have been a bit of confusion at the bank... yes, the bank issued outdated forms of currency to the finance officer who then gave it to me. Try taking all the money you need on holiday with you in the form of cash, get far, far away from the world as you know it, and then discover your cash is useless. For some reason it brings to mind this song...

Monday, February 28, 2011

A truly English play on words

I saw a McDonald's billboard shortly after landing in London.

Gherkin or

It had a white background and to the right of the words was a photo of some sort of burger. That was it.

It took me about a year over here (Europe) to figure out a gherkin was in fact a pickle. Even knowing that doesn't help me to make sense of the ad.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


The Kid had her renaissance choral performance this weekend - it went well. They provided the choral interludes and some comedic songs for Shakespearean scenes and some short morality plays. After the closing performance she joined me at a dinner and then we took the tram home.

She had a new experience, or rather encounter, with something I took for granted, sporadic in my exposure but definitely not unheard of. The tram jam. It happens on metros too, but the trams are pretty cool. Last night when the tram pulled it there was a group of young-ish guys with their instruments out just playing away and dancing up a storm for all the passengers - they had out an accordion , hand drums and a recorder that I could see and had brought good humor and joy with them as well. Unfortunately they got off as we went to get on, but it made the kid laugh - she'd never encountered that before. I have a few times on the metro and the tram.... one of the best was some music students got on with their instruments and all of a sudden the guy with the upright bass started plucking away and then the rest joined it - they played for a few stops then got off and went inside their school. Another time it was a bunch of much older men with their guitars and their voices - they must have been old songs as so many people joined in... it was great. I love moments like that here as it breaks through the isolation and brings people together for a moment - you can look around and people make eye contact and laugh and smile. It's lovely.

Monday, February 21, 2011

more things from home

I still wish had remembered to bring back a clear shower curtain liner with the magnets in the bottom. I hate it when the shower curtain doesn't stay put.

And a large bottle of Tylenol. And lots of jelly bellies. I know the Kid wishes we had Henry Weinhardt's Root Beer.

And guacamole seasonings.

And my family.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Oh Eddy St. Scone Works - how you've stuck with me!

One morning, many years ago, I went for a walk with a boyfriend down the Eddy St. hill heading towards Van Ness (San Francisco, CA). We stopped at this tiny little whole in the wall for some food and coffee. It was one of those places where the hours and days don't always make sense and by the time you get to the counter they've usually run out of most of what they were selling. It's a treasure. Scone Works. Can't recommend it enough - freshly baked scones and muffins in a little store front shop run by the baker. You are lucky to be graced by her tasty goodness.

The best scone I have ever tasted - one of the best flavor combinations I've ever encountered - was delivered to my mouth from her shop - still warm from the oven the flavors combined to form an ever lasting impression. I've been searching for another Banana Pistachio scone ever since.

I have never encountered it again.

Tonight - for the first time ever, we made Banana Pistachio bread. Not quite the same as the scone but still, the flavors didn't let me down. I wish, one of the few times I'll wish for corporate spread, but I do wish the Scone Works I experienced so many years ago, and on the other side of the world, was a franchise. I wish I could walk in and get a fresh hot scone and a cup of coffee from the baker who seemed to bake more for baking than her customers, I wish I could have that taste explosion again. I've never tried to make the scone - I can't match her recipe and anything less would only taint the memory. But if you've made one let me know how it was. And if you're ever in San Francisco and want a warm weekday breakfast treat, you should check out Scone Works. I hope she's still there. Maybe next year I'll be able to see for myself.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

wish me well

So, it's taken me a while to get here but tomorrow I go see a specialist. I've been pretty sick on and off for a long time and recently went for some testing. I've got to meet with a variety of specialists now and have more testing done. It's been a long hard road finding people in those fields, in this country who speak my language. I haven't been able to locate all the ones I need but this newest one should be a good resource. I'm nervous. I don't like doctors, hospitals or tests and really abhor those things over here - I don't have the flow of the system ingrained in me and people look at my like I'm a giant polka dotted python eating a family of unicorns when I enter a room. I can't even begin to explain how alien the process makes me feel. Right now, however, my focus isn't my vanity or temporary feelings but is much more so on getting better. I would love to breathe freely. I'd love to breathe deeply. I guess I can sum it up with - I'd love to breathe. Hopefully tomorrow the doctor will be able to get me started on that path again.

Making a house a home

We've lived in a lot of places. Well over a dozen. In this country alone we've had four residences. The thing about living in a place is that while it may be your house (or flat/apartment/duplex/whatever) that house is not necessarily a home. The transition from house to home can be a lot more complicated.

I've tried to make our houses homes - to different degrees of success. Most often, though, I think we have a home - but most often means not always. Sometimes it takes many months for the homeyness to come through... but if you're lucky, like we've been with this most recent move... you get a place that is home from the get-go. Maybe the smell of fresh baked goods adds to the home impression, maybe the laughter and love makes it a complete experience, but whatever it is this place is our home... and last night was the ultimate compliment in that respect.

I had a few people over and as they came through I heard "I love your home - it's so cozy" or comfortable or some other equally pleasant word. I got to watch a friend have the same reaction we experienced when we came to view the place for the first time - she stopped in the entry way and so "Oh my gosh - this is wonderful!" But the one that affirmed for me that we've got a home and not just another house was when someone said "I love it! You've got a proper home, not just anther flat... I'm more comfortable here than in my own home."

That's the environment I want for my child - what I've always wanted and what I want to continue offering her. A place to come home to, that embraces you, one that makes you feel comfortable and at ease, one full of happy people and joy and where you want to be and your friends want to return to. That's what every child should have. A place that loves them and where they feel like they belong. I don't know the magic formula. It's a lot more than just the furniture and fixtures. It's not comfort food cooking away in the kitchen and it's not just happy people in the house. It's something else. And I'm so grateful that this time we've definitely got it.

architectural treasure trove

If you like your beer warm and foamy then you may have an unabated affection for Social Realism as well... you know, the socialist architectural overhaul in the east during the 50s, 60s and 70s... the innovators of the panelaks.

Well, open up your google translate and copy this link in - or not. You may just like the pretty pictures.

And yes, a number of the local buildings are still standing. They may be ugly and the panels falling off but the damn buildings just wont fall down.

Zack Wahls and his moms

Here's a clip I love. Love. Love. Love. Tears to my eyes love.

Free football for all fans

Apparently a top Euro court issued a revolutionary ruling today... EU nations are now allowed to ban pay-channels from being the exclusive providers of the World Cup and European Football Championship matches in order that a larger percentage of the public may appreciate the skills and the sport for free on public channels.

Love it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

student remarks

Today during our break the students went a bit off-topic for a bit. It happens frequently, but it's not too often they make me laugh.

Somehow, I'd come back from break and missed the segue in to this, but somehow one guy was talking about not being religious - and since he's not, if there's a heaven and a hell he'll end up in hell when he dies but he'll be ok with that since he loves Bush - and Bush and Cheney and a few other of his idols will be there too... I missed the logic behind it and there was some debate about Bush as he's so religious, blah blah blah... I really had sorta tuned it out for a bit, until the other guy (yes, there are 2 men and 2 men only - if you want to meet a cute smart girl in this city that will have to engage with you in a friendly interactive and intellectually stimulating environment to you I suggest you contact me asap) the other guy chimed in, "Bush is not going to hell. Bush is retarded. He can't be held accountable for anything." It was said with such a matter-of-fact you silly boy sort of attitude I couldn't help but laugh.

It's interesting as the make-up of the class is so culturally and geographically diverse there's not one student that shares a similar socio/cultural/political reference point with another and I am never quite sure if their comments are meant to incite others (about half are, I think), or devil's advocate statements (maybe 1/4) or are actual reflective of their beliefs (maybe, possibly the remaining 1/4 but a portion of this percentage could very well just be students running at the mouth to take up time and avoid classwork, speaking for the sheer pleasure of hearing the sound of their own voice, talking to fill time while struggling to find their train of thought, and things like that). However, today I believe both boys made heartfelt statements.


Last night, about 3 am I was woken to a cacophony of sounds - I couldn't figure out what was going on but there so many voices and noises and thumps and bumps and clashing snippets of music... I didn't really want to know. BUT it was in my house. Downstairs. Where the kid's room is. So I got up to investigate.

My laptop - which was closed, locked and sleeping - had suddenly triggered every stored movie/tvshow that had been streamed and paused (there were a lot... we tend to find the shows we like once or twice a week and load all the new ones we need to catch up on so they're ready when we're ready). Every single episode was playing... on a closed laptop at 3 in the morning. I found myself looking at the latched black triangle, wondering what in the hell happened and then thinking... I don't really, not really, want to know.

I had to open my laptop, unlock it, and stop each video. It was tremendously loud and totally freaky. A locked and sleeping computer should never spontaneously start playing stored data. Not ever never.

While I was sitting on the couch pausing all of these screens and trying to calmly think about the freaky happenings so late at night/early in the morning, from the far end of the room came the cascading sound of glass. The neatly stacked and washed dinner dishes that had been securely set to dry collapsed in to the sink. There wasn't a strong wind, it's freezing out and the windows are closed (although based on the reason I was down there to begin with things being closed don't seem to matter) and there weren't any little pets or pests running around. The dishes spontaneously moved after I came downstairs to check the computer that was spontaneously spitting out sounds.

I didn't sleep very well last night.

Monday, February 14, 2011

resistance to rules

A lot of my time is spent rewriting and refining rules. Many of the rules were created impetuously without any consideration to the web of other rules in which it must exist. That leads to a lot of confusion and resentment about all of the rules as so often the rules are restricting, contradictory and unclear.

Go figure. People hate rules.

Unfortunately there's a lot of resistance to new rules. The helpful rules to ensure continuity and support our staff are being rejected out of hand - simply because they're more rules. And not every individual has had the face the area that's being addressed so they don't see the value in having the rule in effect.

I wish that more people understood that rules don't necessarily need to rectify a situation but can be put in place to prevent the need for rectification. I'm not trying to hobble you. In fact I'm giving you more support and ensuring that you're not faced with what the guy next to you had to go through.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

medical recommendations, please

If you've been reading for a while you know I get sick a lot. There's now a medical crisis looming over this country with thousands of doctors prepared to walk out - permanently - in a few weeks. According to my physician I have to find an immunologist, a rheumatologist and an endocrinologist before that happens. I've been looking and calling but English speaking specialists aren't the easiest things to come by.

If you have any recommendations please leave them for me in a comment - comments aren't automatically published, and I won't publish them, in this instance, if you don't want me to. If you'd like to leave a comment and the information share for others who may be interested that's always cool too :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

i've become accustomed to the way you sound

I recently realized I've been living here long enough and surrounded by enough non-native English speakers that heavily accented and speech filled with fillers has been sounding "normal". In conversation with people I've now known a few years every now and then I speak more rapidly or with more natural language (for me) than I do with my students or other newer people... and then I have to back-track a bit - and it's cause I've forgotten that English isn't their language. Anyone else would hear it automatically, but I've become accustomed to the voice, accent and intonation, pauses and substituted words - so much so that I don't hear it. And so I fall in to my more familiar pattern of speaking, my natural speed, language, shortcuts, etc. realize it, stop and start over.

On another note - you know when you're angry or upset or something and you have something to say but can't find the words - that's my daily life trying to speak Czech. Last night I was out and somebody took something that wasn't theirs. I was stuck trying to reclaim it and explain the situation. And failed. It wasn't that big a deal, truly minor, but really frustrating. And I got frustrated with myself for still being restricted in my ability to communicate. I couldn't find the words to say what needed to be said. A while later, on my way home, I was thinking about what had happened and discovered - I did know the words after all! They just weren't coming to me when I wanted them - and that happens to me in English sometimes, too. As frustrating as the experience was in the moment, ultimately it turned in to a bit of a personal triumph.

Friday, February 11, 2011

could you spell that for me?

I recently encountered a surname with 17 letters and 8 syllables - it wasn't broken up with "de la" or "von" or any sort of punctuation - it was 17 letters straight, start to finish. Try fitting that on your driver's license or you signature on your credit card!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

exchange students - my new cultural divide

I know that going to college doesn't magically change you in to a spoiled idiot. I know that to be a truth but I'm not observing it as a reality. These exchange students are horrid over-indulged unprepared little pills. And they're stupid too.

Trying to get a bagel the other day I was stuck next to a few waiting to order some food. A young woman was complaining that her stomach was unsettled and she couldn't eat any food in this country. We were in an American style bagel shop with no distinction between Americana and Czech food. My initial, cynical, thought was it wasn't the food - it was the alcohol... then I thought to myself that I was being horrid for thinking that. I guilt trip myself over unguided mental trips. Lame. There - did it again.

Anyway - the girl kept talking and I found out... I was right. She can't eat but she sat there and relayed 5 nights of heavy alcohol abuse - not drinking but abuse. As her exchange program is affiliated with my school I know she'd only been in the country for - 5 nights.

How can you reach adulthood, be reasonably educated, drink yourself sick for 5 nights in a row and fail to connect the toxic level of alcohol in your system with a queasy stomach. It isn't the food. The food here is too bland to be offensive!

Her classmate joined her in her misery - but on a different topic. At first I thought this second girl and had a smidgen more reason - she was complaining about the smoke. A totally valid complaint and one also have - the stifling prevalence of cigarette smoking makes my hair and clothes stink, makes my lungs sick and makes my skin looks old. She touched on hair and clothes - but what divided my sense of camaraderie was the follow-up complaint... she was irritated by the lasting smell of smoke but more irritated that their flat didn't have a dry cleaning service established for them. How was she supposed to survive? And then the waiter didn't get there fast enough when she snapped her fingers at him.

The disaffection, the boredom and disgust - the sense of ennui in the midst of this beautiful city... the lack of connection with their being - I don't understand it. I don't want to either.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Making a house a home

We've lived in a lot of places. Well over a dozen. In this country alone we've had four residences. The thing about living in a place is that while it may be your house (or flat/apartment/duplex/whatever) that house is not necessarily a home. The transition from house to home can be a lot more complicated.

I've tried to make our houses homes - to different degrees of success. Most often, though, I think we have a home - but most often means not always. Sometimes it takes many months for the homeyness to come through... but if you're lucky, like we've been with this most recent move... you get a place that is home from the get-go. Maybe the smell of fresh baked goods adds to the home impression, maybe the laughter and love makes it a complete experience, but whatever it is this place is our home... and last night was the ultimate compliment in that respect.

I had a few people over and as they came through I heard "I love your home - it's so cozy" or comfortable or some other equally pleasant word. I got to watch a friend have the same reaction we experienced when we came to view the place for the first time - she stopped in the entry way and so "Oh my gosh - this is wonderful!" But the one that affirmed for me that we've got a home and not just another house was when someone said "I love it! You've got a proper home, not just anther flat... I'm more comfortable here than in my own home."

That's the environment I want for my child - what I've always wanted and what I want to continue offering her. A place to come home to, that embraces you, one that makes you feel comfortable and at ease, one full of happy people and joy and where you want to be and your friends want to return to. That's what every child should have. A place that loves them and where they feel like they belong. I don't know the magic formula. It's a lot more than just the furniture and fixtures. It's not comfort food cooking away in the kitchen and it's not just happy people in the house. It's something else. And I'm so grateful that this time we've definitely got it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

i wish...

I wish

  • that I could fall asleep before 2:00.
  • that the Kid was well rested and less grumpy.
  • that there was less homework in the world and other ways of ensuring necessary information was successfully transmitted.
  • that I was supported by a more responsive team.
  • that my homes weren't quite so far away from each other.
  • that the sun remembered to visit the sky on a regular basis.
  • that people would realize that feeling love is not the same as conveying love and would start letting other know they care rather than keeping those lovely feelings all nice and cozy inside.
  • that I had a bed that wasn't breaking my body.
  • that not one more person would be injured or killed in Egypt.
  • that some crazy celebrity would hand me a check for $30k - and that I had the balls to cash it.
  • that more people paid attention to the looming global warming and energy crisis and would focus on finding sustainable energy sources that didn't consume petroleum fuel in the development process.
  • that African nations weren't jeopardized by their lack of water and that this very real issue was given appropriate attention. In many areas, in the coming year, many people will die of starvation as there isn't enough water to support agriculture - unfortunately those who don't die of starvation may be because dehydration kills quicker.
  • that my hands and fingers didn't burn from typing this little blurb.
  • that more people, myself included, sent letters and postcards.
  • that I could find one doctor who would stop my constant cold without having to do any more tests.
  • that the Kid finds and keeps a permanent inner peace very soon (probably won't happen until after her Physics class the earliest).
  • that we all find joy in our daily lifes and remember to share it with those around us.
  • to truly laugh at least twice a day, every day, for the rest of my life.
  • that I didn't have to get up to turn off the light... I'm tired now, so good night.

Monday, January 31, 2011

senior trip bake sale

Yes, there is a bake sale... ARE bake SALES I should say, as it's not limited to just one or just one day. The high school seniors are raising money for their senior trip and they're doing it by baking - breads, cakes, cookies, brownies... I think it's pretty much you name it, they'll bake it. So, if you want something baked lemme know - the kid will be spending plenty of time in the kitchen in the near future. Snickerdoodles, banana bread, peanut butter cookies, blueberry muffins... place an order and help her on her way to Istanbul.

(My senior trip - we took a bus to Disneyland, quickly changed into required dresses/suits in a hotel at dusk, then went and listened to C & C Music Factory, ran around, rode some roller coasters then piled back in the bus at dawn and slept the whole way home... I think, no, I know, I drooled on some guy's shoulder. Still sorry about that Ruben. It was a blast - no planes or hotels stays or a week off school but fun nonetheless. I tracked down some C & C to share...)