Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Case of Green Meat, and other tales from the weekend

I know you're all just dying to know about the Case of the Green Meat, but you're going to have to wait for a moment or two as I go back in time to last weekend. It wasn't an overly exciting weekend, but it was ridiculously cold. So cold, in fact, that the Ohre River by my place totally froze over. The part above the dam was really solid, and last Saturday (the tenth) I went on a nice walk out there and ended up walking on the river with countless other folks. It was pretty impressive. I sort of wrote about it somewhere in the midst of all my posts about my trip, but here, at last, are some pictures of my little corner of the frozen world.

It has warmed up a lot since then. No longer am I having to bundle up like a marshmallow in order to survive outside, but even on Friday I was able to get this great shot of St Mikolas all covered in crystalline splendor.

And now for...


It all began as another great party idea by Laura and Jonathan. In light of the great success of their Italian party in early November, they decided to try another movie themed night. This time Jonathan chose his favorite movie: Dr. Zhivago.
This 1960s movie is set in Russian during the Revolution. Therefore, the party had a Russian winter theme. For weeks Laura was picking up this and that decoration in silvers, whites, and blues. She's a genius at party planning for sure. Jonathan chose the dishes for the menu, and found her pictures and Russian poetry to go along with the theme.
On Saturday, the time had finally come. For my part, I spent a considerable chunk of the morning cleaning. First the bathroom, then the colossal task of making our muddy snow soaked floors look clean. While a floor designed to hide stains is great in small instances, it's really just obnoxious when you want to try and clean it and can't tell if your scrubbing at dirt or just the flooring. I used vinegar on the wood floors, and Mr. Proper (the Czech name for Mr. Clean) and by mid-afternoon had things in shape for guests.
Jonathan had spent most of the afternoon preparing things for the meal, and making the soup. Laura was in and out helping him, as well as working on the decorations. The place looked fabulous, the soup was just simmering, and it was time to begin work on the main course. I meandered into the kitchen, just to take a look. That's when Jonathan held out a piece of beef for me to inspect. I'm not much of an expert on meat, but even I could tell that the forest green blotch in the middle of the red cube was not as it should be. At first we thought that just throwing that bit away would be okay. We were a bit leery, but really didn't think it could have affected everything. After all, the package said it was good until the 20th and this was only the 17th.
Laura and Jonathan persevered, separating the meat from the fat, a task that I just can't stomach personally, which never fails to amuse my mother who finds it totally normal. Eww! Blech! Yucky I say! Anyhow, they did their best, but several more funky bits appeared. Then Laura opened the second package, hoping for happier results only to find the meat there thoroughly infused with the dark green gunk.
A moment of desperation overcame the party planners. Even denying what was on the menu, all the back up dishes they had recipes for called for beef as well. The only thing to be done was for Jonathan to make a run to Tesco, the nearest and hopefully safest supermarket. (It's actually more like a Walmart.) So run he did.
While he was away, Laura and I did what we could to keep things moving along. Mostly Laura did, and I stood around to encourage her. When Jonathan got back, things were moving along nicely. He'd gone to the butcher in the back and had him chop up the meat into cubes, so it was already taken care of and they were able to quickly put them to use.
While I did help stir the cooking meat and sauce, I really didn't have a whole lot to do with the prep for this party, but I was glad to contribute at least a small amount. There was a bit of chaos, but in the end the guests were a bit late, and we were able to serve them as soon as they arrived.
For the first course we had Borscht. It was quite a bit different from the variety made for us by the Ukrainian students earlier in the year, but it was really tasty. Then we had Beef Stroganoff for the main course. In the end we had three desserts. The first were apricot glazed pears cooked by Laura, and during the movie we had little breaks to eat apples with nuts and cinnamon and then a Czech ice cream cake. Gotta say the pears were my favorite, but it was all really good. This time we were joined by Jonathan's girlfriend Misa, bringing our party total to 6.

The party was a success, and except for Roshani and Tammy falling asleep during the three hour long movie that we started after 9, everyone seemed to have a really good time.
On Sunday, there was another whole round of "excitement" planned. Jonathan and Tammy have both been talking about wanting to go skiing for a long time, and they finally managed to work it out with several of our students for us to go. Having never skied in my life, I was a bit resistant to the plan, but after being offered the free use of Jarmila's equipment, I was out of good excuses not to go.
Sunday afternoon Tammy and I headed up to Jonathan's place, where we were supposed to be picked up around 1. Unfortunately, to Henry around 1 actually means 2:30. We spent an hour just sitting around the flat wondering if he would ever show. Jonathan and Tammy both ended up napping, and I watched out the window as four boys had a snowball fight. It was actually really cute. It was one against 3. The oldest boy was about 12 or so, with two who looked to be around 8, and one little guy of 3 or 4. The little one was way too adorable in his massive marshmallow suit, throwing snow for all he was worth. I'm sure in his mind, he was just as much a part of the action as any of the others :)
At long last, our chariots arrived. Henry had two cars from his hotel. He brought along his daughter, Sara who is 13, and another student, Anicka rode with him as well. Tammy, Jonathan and I got in with my student Vasek, and away we headed for Germany.
We went to Mehlmeisel. If you click on this link you can actually see the live webcam of the slope where we were. Let me just tell you right now, this is NOT a slope for a beginner. Not even a little bit. And believe you me, I had NO idea what I was doing!
All the same, I'd come this far and I was committed.

I could go on and on for ages about the entire experience. Ski boots are tight. They hold your legs at an awkward angle. Anchor lifts are really difficult to figure out. It took at least 5 tries for me to get on one, and then when I did I was so freaked out I almost fell off a couple of times. Vasek was really patient with me, but I was a basket case. I had no idea what I was doing. It was all ridiculously steep. There were lots of people. The only way I could manage to stop was to sit down. So I did that. A LOT. Basically every time I'd start going down the hill with any momentum at all, I'd freak out and sit down. Poor Vasek. I really felt bad for him trying to help me. He hadn't skied in several years himself, and wasn't exactly sure how to explain things to me.
After about 45 minutes, and I couldn't even begin to guess how many episodes of me sitting down, Henry came to us. He'd been snowboarding, but for my sake, switched to skis. He actually knows what he's doing, and took the poles from me right away. He gave a few instructions about what to do. This, added to what Vasek had been telling me, gave me some ideas of what to do. I still felt really helpless, but Henry took my hand and began to lead me back and forth across the slope. I was still really freaked out, but he was patient and kept me from going too fast.
I did have one pretty major flip. It was probably the only time I really fell, and didn't just sit down. My hat was torn off my head and I flipped over at least once. Still, it didn't actually hurt. The most painful but was always the standing up. It's really incredibly awkward.
When at long last (about an hour after I first tried to go up!) we reached the bottom of the hill. What relief. And the sound of Coldplay called to me from the little snack shack. I was so happy to see benches. I sat right down and was determined that I was done.
Henry, however, had other ideas. I drank some hot tea that Anicka had brought, and enjoyed about half an hour of rest before Henry came back, determined to get me to do it all again. I tried to resist, but eventually did succumb. It all went a lot more smoothly this time, and had I not been soaked through already, I might have been willing to try it again. This time up the hill I sorta had the swing of things, and on the way down I only really sat down a couple times, and once I was able to get back up without going all the way to the ground.
After the second time I felt a lot better, but was still content to sit and wait for the others to get their fill. Sadly, there was no after photo, or group photo. I did have a good time, but wow are my muscles killing me now. Going down stairs isn't exactly a happy prospect, but I have to do it every time I leave my house and have go climb more when I get to work. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to manage to do my work out in the morning or not. Part of me says it'll help stretch out my muscles, and the other part says, sleep! Sleep will do you well. We'll see!

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