Monday, October 29, 2007

Drop Kick Dogs and Daylight Savings Time

So it's been a while since I wrote anything of substance or otherwise, so I thought I just might add in a couple of the more fascinating stories that transpired over the past week.
1) Last Monday I randomly decided to go home in the middle of my long school day. On Mondays I teach 4 90 minute classes which means a lot of time spent prepping and trying to get students to talk. In the middle of this mayhem I have a 4 1/2 hour break. Usually I spend that time working on lesson plans, eating lunch, wandering randomly around town and browsing the internet. However, after arriving at school I realized I'd forgotten to bring some pictures that I was going to use for my second evening class. In order to remedy this situation, I decided to walk home after lunch, and maybe even spend a few minutes sitting on a couch rather than a stiff office chair.
It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to walk back to our flat in Skalka, and I enjoyed the extra exercise, even if it meant I didn't have much time to do anything in between. I was just heading down a very steep hill when suddenly I heard the most obnoxious racket. A small dog, maybe 8 inches tall, was yipping wildly at my ankles and the scarf that was fluttering down around my knees. I shouted at it, but to no avail. The drop kick dog continued to bark and bare it's teeth and make threatening jumping movements at me.
Someone had parked on the hill above me and honked at the dog, which brought it momentarily back to it's senses. I continued down the hill, only to have it yipping around my ankles once again a few moments later. Eventually it did concede and back off, but I was less than impressed with it's desire to disturb my afternoon stroll, and I opted to walk back to school along the river so as not to come across it again.
2.) And now the story of Sunday...So Tammy was away for the weekend and Naomi and I decided we would try out a different church. We've really been enjoying the church we've been attending, but since Tammy was with the youth group, and the youth group members are the ones who translate for us, we decided to see if we could find someplace else instead.
Naomi had written out directions, and decided we should leave extra early, just to make sure we could find it. We had no trouble finding the place and were there about fifteen minutes prior to when the service was supposed to start. The church is held in an old folks home, and we went inside only to discover that the door was still locked. Naomi, wanting to keep on the positive side of things, decided we should sit on the bench and enjoy the beautiful paper fall leaves on the windows and the cleanliness of the room that she felt looked like a post office.
As 9:30 came and went, we began to really be concerned about being in the wrong place. Naomi decided to be brave and went looking around, but we were at the only entrance and there was clearly no one there. I said that if they didn't come soon I was ready to leave. At 9:45 she decided we might as well just give up. I wasn't feeling well, but I had lessons to plan, and figured I was only likely to feel worse the next day so I might as well go to the office and get as much done as possible.
I was surprised to find Andrea, one of our other teachers, in the office working on her lessons as well. I proceeded to go over things and then went to the computer to type up a few vocab exercises. I glanced at the clock and was surprised to see that the time was wrong. I'd just recently managed to change the clock (which had previously been about 15 minutes fast) and was frustrated to see that it was now an hour slow!
Clicking on the clock, and making sure I'd read my watch correctly I was about to change it when a thought struck me...D'oh! I felt like a total idiot! I hurriedly tried to call Naomi to let her know of our pathetic error, but she didn't answer her phone. In the end, I decided I really ought to tell Andrea the story, just so I could share it with someone. She found it uproariously funny and couldn't seem to stop laughing. She would stop for a moment or two and then start laughing again. At least I managed to make someone's day :)
Once my lessons were planned I was happy to head back to the house, where I pretty much didn't move for the rest of the day. I watched The Bourne Identity with Naomi, ate our chocolate chip (aka chopped up Milka) cookies, and then proceeded to watch a documentary about the Huns and the Vandals destroying the Roman empire. It was really quite fascinating to see how much the Catholic church has had a hand in the writing of history. Makes me think of The People's History by Howard Zinn. Ah Sophomore history.
Well, my head is all clogged and fuzzy so I'd best end it here before random nostalgia gets the best of me.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Um, snowing???

Yes, definitely snowing. Last night. Flakes falling all around. It seemed that they surrounded only the light posts. White shapes falling densely. Sometimes fast like a strobe light. Then slowly floating down and coating the cars in a light dusting. It's only been fall for a month. How do we have SNOW???
Last night we went to a party at our boss, Jarmila's, house. It was a lot of fun. It was mostly just the other staff and their families, as well as a relative of Jarmila's husband, and a former teacher. The party was out at Jarmila and Tonda's farm. The place was absolutely amazing! We're talking a storybook sort of farm with steep ceilings and old stables made into extra rooms. The furniture is all antique. There were a number of pieces from the early 1800's. Tonda has done a lot of work renovating the place, which has been in his family for years. He was actually born there.
We took a brief detour outside to meet their 4 horses. I did my best not to let their dogs, which are the size of ponies, knock(keep in mind that the k is silent!) me over or get me all wet and muddy. They also have a small herd of sheep with huge tails. The place was pretty much amazing. Sadly, I didn't end up taking any photos, but Jara, one of our students, was there and he got quite a few so maybe I'll get some later.
There were also a couple of really cute babies there. I got a bit of a fix, but have yet to work up the courage to ask one of the doting mother's if I can hold their precious offspring. I keep hinting to the fact that I know a LOT about babies, and would be more than willing to, say, babysit, but have yet to have any actual offers. We'll see. It's still rather early.
However, for all that, we've been here just about 2 months now. How time does fly. I still feel like I have so much to learn, but classes are starting to feel a lot more comfortable. I had my second teaching observation, and feel like it went a lot better than the first. She had a lot of really positive comments to make. The main thing she wanted me to work on was using the names of the students to make it all feel more comfortable. I know this is really important, and usually don't have any trouble doing this in classrooms. In fact, this was one of the things that tended to really impress students when I was a sub. I'd learn their names as quickly as possible, and use them at all the opportune moments. Here, however, I've found it really difficult to remember their names. Many of them only said their names the first day, and since then they have gone by nicknames that I can't manage to keep straight. But I'm hoping to work on it so that the next time she observes me things will seem more natural.
Right now I'm enjoying the fact that it's the weekend. Right now Naomi and I are enjoying using the internet in a cafe' which is a nice change of place from always having to go in to the office. I must admit I feel some envy when I think of the teachers who have internet in their homes. At the same time, I know I'm a lot better off than those who have little or no internet access. So I try to keep it all in perspective and enjoy that I really do have a pretty easy time of it. And look at the beautiful place I get to live! So for now I'll do my best to enjoy this moment. To live and breathe (but not too deeply because there are people smoking nearby) and take advantage of the life God has laid out before me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I hear you're speaking Enlgish...

So maybe you'd like to have English menus."
It's amazing how happy simple words in English can make me feel. I love languages and coming into contact with new cultures, but I can't deny that I really am pretty passionate about my own native language. I won't be all excessive and say that English is the best language in the world, but it is the one that makes my heart most glad. It is the language in which I have been blessedly immersed and in which I can describe my every thought and vision in ways few people can. So when, in the multitudes of people oblivious to the meaning of the things I'm trying to say, I hear such an open invitation of understanding, I can't help but feel a thrill of joy run through my entire body.
Needless to say, we took him up on his offer and read over the English menus. We'd mostly figured out the Czech menus, but it was comforting to see our ideas translated correctly. It still took a long time to decide on the drinks we wanted. We were mostly just relieved to be basking in a coffee shop that could have been nestled snugly at the heart of any American city, complete with In Style magazine, and American music in the background. In the end I settled on a thick hot chocolate, topped with a pile of whip cream and chocolate shavings. A nice warm up after a day of wandering out in the cold.
On Saturday Naomi, Tammy Crystal and I went to Loket to check out the Wine Tasting Festival at the castle and to attempt a hike out to see the Frozen Wedding party (Svatosske Skaly). In truth, the Wine Festival turned out to be pretty cool. Tammy had been given a couple of free tickets, so we got into the castle for only about $2.50. After wandering around the castle for a while (Crystal and Naomi had never been in it) we checked out the festivities.

After enjoying the festivities, which included traditional cooks serving massive sausages, assorted cheeses, and potato pancakes as well as some amazing caramel roasted nuts, and traditional music complete with dancers, we headed out to find the Svatosske Skaly, a rock formation that looks like a frozen wedding party.
The walk was fairly long (6.5 km one way) but well worth it. To top it off, the weather was pretty much perfect. Cool but clear. We stopped along the way for a few photo ops:

At long last we came to the amazing rock structure. It is so difficult to fathom how people can see such amazing design and not be drawn to praise the Creator. I stood with eyes uplifted and full of awe. The rocks stood straight and tall, a solemn procession heading up the side of the hill above the river.

Beneath them I felt ever so small and insignificant. Who am I to be allowed to behold such beauty.
I didn't have a chance to add the pictures to go along with my post about hanging out around Cheb last weekend, so I'll just toss a few in here at the end.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A chill in the air...

Well, fall is definitely here. From the many colored leaves sprinkled crisply over the ground to the biting breeze that encourages more leaves to make their way earthward, there is no denying that the seasons are changing. It's nice to be in a place with such defined seasons. Maybe I should rephrase that. I'm not sure I saw a very evident summer. It was quite nippy even when we first arrived. But it has clearly grown colder over the past couple of weeks. I'm starting to wrap my neck in scarves and warm my fingers with gloves.
It's a little scary how cold it is here already. While I doubt temperatures are likely to plummet as low as they did in Alaska, I'm still a bit nervous about how winter in Cheb will look. At least in AK I had the protection of my car. Here, the only way to get to work is to walk. While I appreciate the forced exercise, it's nothing like being a pedestrian in Hong Kong. Already the temperature has dropped lower than I have ever seen it in HK, and it's only October!
Things are going pretty well. This was a rather long week. Thursdays are, by far, my most difficult days. I only have two classes in the evening, but I have to prepare for 4 because I have two morning classes on Friday. The morning classes are primarily conversation classes, so I have to come up with all sorts of activities off the top of my head. It's really a difficult thing to do when you aren't even sure of what topic to teach, or how long each activity will last. Not to mention the fact that students like to make the weekend longer, meaning I often have smaller classes that finish activities more quickly.
Besides all the classes I have to plan for on Thursdays, I also have my Czech lessons on that day. While it is nice to be learning more Czech, it takes up an hour and a half that could have gone toward my lessons, so it can sometimes be stressful and hard to keep a positive attitude. I'm grateful to be learning some of the language, but it's quite difficult and hard to find time to keep up with the homework. Fortunately, I keep realizing how much German I actually know. It's amazing that, after 10 years, I still remember anything. In some ways I feel like it would be easier to just focus on learning German better, but I know it is nicer for people if I try to speak Czech.
All this to say, I'm glad that it is now the weekend. I just finished most of my lesson planning for Monday, and will hopefully be able to just relax over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A little dose of Heidegger

Recently I've been reading a book by my theology professor in college. He is a big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and has written a book about his place among the martyrs of the modern age. It's very fascinating, and as I read it I can almost hear Dr. Slane lecturing once again. All good fun.
Today I was reading his treatise on Heidegger's thoughts "Dasein" (which loosely translates to "Being"). One of the main elements of this treatment was that all of life is heading toward death. The only way to really understand Being is to see it in it's entirety, and that can only be done after being ceases to exist.
At the risk of prolonging this into an in depth philosophy lesson, or merely repeating the text I've been studying, I just want to point out what really caught my attention. There was a line that read: Impending death is what makes life worth living. That's not a direct quote, but it gets the essence of the idea out there. The thing that makes each day on earth precious is the fact that time is short. We must take advantage of the days that are here before us.
On my walk into work, this thought was solidified through the words of a song. I've been listening a lot to a band called "Sleeping At Last." There is a line in their song "Volcanoes" that says "Death is the only thing that makes us alive." It was almost exactly what I'd been reading. So crazy.
I really felt a link between what I had been talking about the last time I wrote, and these messages I was receiving today. It's not about my typical fascination with death. Slane even pointed out that it this focus on death has nothing to do with morbidity, or an unhealthy attraction to death. It is merely being aware that death is impending for all of us. Our life is like the grass that is here one day and withers the next. Even the words we store so carefully on paper and now computers can easily be lost by fire, flood, or virus.
So what is it that makes this life so special? Is it worth caring about every moment?
I would say that it is. We may be temporarily breathing dust on the earth, but that thought should drive us to really live the days we have here. None of us can know when our being will cease to be seen above ground. Neither can we know exactly what the fulfillment of being will look like when we move on to the next state of existence. All we can do is live the days that God has numbered for us on this earth.
Okay, enough of my attempts at philosophy for the moment...