Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bridal Showers, Czech Cottages, and a few of my favorite things...

My internet has been a thorn in my flesh recently. It seems every time I really want to be able to use it, it goes on the fritz. And while I could easily walk to Bartholomeus and use the internet there, it's just so much nicer to use it from the safety of my own home. Today, I actually drug my computer all the way up to school, because here it is free and there are no distractions and no one smoking. So this post is going to be a bit of a conglomeration. I'd really planned to do several posts this weekend, but now it's all just getting shoved into one. I do apologize.
Last Friday I had the privilege of throwing a bridal shower for my dear roommate Laura. Laura has somehow managed to survive this year away from the man she's going to marry. Very impressive. Really, it's hard to express the emotional roller coaster this has been for both of them. But as I type this, they are currently together in Prague with her family. What joy for them all. She's leaving here a week early in order to have two weeks before her wedding so she can hopefully be over jet lag by then:) Since there won't be a whole lot of time stateside, I got to throw the party for her here.
Having been to a LOT of bridal showers, I was up to the challenge. Laura had, surprisingly never been to any, or possibly only to one, so it was definitely up to me to make sure things went off in true American style. We played the name game, where all the guests had to write as many words as possible using the letters from Laura's new name, we played the toilet paper wedding dress game, and then there was the extra fun quiz where Laura had to try to answer some really random questions about her future husband. It was a lot of fun, and she got some great gifts as well ;)

The next day I was really excited to have my first Czech cottage experience. I'm not sure exactly when I first saw a Czech cottage, but I think it was around my second day here when Tammy took Naomi and me for a walk by the river. There's a nice little collection of tiny cottages nestled down near the water. They all have lovely gardens and seem like children's play houses. I thought they were pretty much the cutest things ever!
Right away it became my dream to visit one of these cottages. But my first year came and went without the opportunity. I never wanted to push the issue, but it remained a sincere desire of mine. This year, when I found out I wouldn't have any of my same students from last year, I had this extra sinking feeling that it would also mean no opportunities to visit a Czech cottage. I mean, after all, no one invited me the first year, so if I had to meet all new people this year, why would it be any different.
Much to my great joy, this fear has come to naught. Last weekend one of my daily students set up a party at her cottage and invited me, as well as other students and teachers. I headed out early to join Anicka in helping set things up at the cottage. I was seriously bubbling with excitement and my first view was not disappointing. I mean, just look at how adorable this place is!

And the weather was absolutely perfect as well! I helped Anicka make the beds in the little upstairs section. This place was so tiny on top. There were stairs that had to be pulled down, and then an area with a slanted roof, the highest part being only about 2 1/2 feet high. There were mattresses spread everywhere on the floor and we put comforters on them all and made it look very comfy. There was yard work to be done and some other cleaning as well.
Slowly people started to come, and the barbecue got started. It was so nice just to sit in the little yard and enjoy the lovely weather and good conversation.

We had a lovely fire that lasted all night, and I ended up talking to people until around 5 AM! There is just such a relaxed atmosphere there. I should probably explain a little bit of why the Czechs have these little cottages. During communism they weren't allowed to travel very much. The cottages allowed them with a place to escape the daily routines. Also, things like vegetables and fruit were really limited, so by having their own little gardens they were able to sustain some variety in life. They still really love their cottages and gardens, and have this fascinating relaxed culture. Can you imagine American young people spending their weekends in a tiny cottage with few amenities, doing garden work? But the Czechs really seem to love it, and these barbecues are really important to them. I was so happy to have the chance to take part in this tradition, and I was able to have some really interesting conversations, like why I don't consume mass quantities of alcohol, and how I believe God is in control of my life and want to please and serve Him. It was all really great.
Now to finish off this post of randomness, I thought I'd throw in some pictures of the pottery I bought in Poland, as well as a few of my other favorite purchases from this year. So I hope you enjoy these little trinkets that make me smile :)
First we have my lovely set of butterfly cups:

Next we have some bowls to match and my little vase:

Here are a couple other things I enjoy, a little candle holder from Prague and a painting I got in Florence:

Then Friday I took a little trip to Germany. I had an extra day off because I'd taught extra lessons for Tammy last week. It was fun to be able to just cruise over to another country for the afternoon. I did some shopping and a little wandering around, but it was too cold to do a whole lot. In the end, I didn't do much but have lunch and look around, but on my way out, I stopped in this little shoe shop and was totally overtaken by a pair of truly amazing shoes. Now I've been living in pretty much two pairs of shoes for the past two years. When I leave Czech, they will not come with me as they will have been worn to absolutely nothing. I'd been thinking it was time to invest in a new pair, but I wasn't sure exactly when it would happen. I thought I'd just look around and see what there was to see, and this lovely pair of Josef Siebel shoes were just more than I could pass up. Not only are they comfortable, durable, and adorable, they were also on a really good sale. So take a gander and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Polish Pottery is Pretty!

Feel like I've got myself in such a backlog sort of mode. Somehow this time of year makes it so much more difficult to keep caught up on things. I've been quite busy every weekend, then it takes me a while to catch up in my journal, and the lovely weather just calls me outside, rather than to my computer. But now I'll see what I can do to remedy that a bit.
Last week I had a really long week. Tammy was busy at one of her other schools, and then she had visitors, so I covered a couple extra classes for her, plus it was already my long week when I have 5 classes on Thursday (10 teaching hours) but now I get to reap the benefits. Tammy can only fill in for me on Fridays, so I get two three day weekends in a row! Now I just have to figure out what to do with them. Laura's family is coming this weekend, so I'll be on my own to fill the time up. Sure I'll manage somehow ;)
Anyhow, two weekends ago (May 15-17) I went with Laura and Kelly to Poland to go pottery shopping. Perhaps Polish pottery is not something that rings a bell in your mind, but believe me, it's pretty impressive stuff. Kelly has visited the factory shops in Poland about 7 times now, bringing back all sorts of lovely pieces which she uses to tempt the people who come and visit her to dream of pottery shopping. It worked perfectly on Laura, and she began scheming right away how to get us to Poland. If you still aren't getting the picture, check this link It's pretty amazing stuff, I must confess. All the same, besides always liking to travel and be where my friends are, I was more exciting about the chance to drive than I was about the pottery shopping. Silly me.
We have a student at Winfield who works at a car dealership and he was able to hook us up with a rental car. We got a Mazda 6 for the weekend. It was silver and really so nice. This was my first time driving a car in Europe and I could hardly wait. I really enjoy living someplace where it is easy to travel on public transport, and where I can walk to work every day, but I still miss my car. (sigh) This was the perfect chance to get behind the wheel and really go for it!
Kelly, Laura and I headed out of Cheb around 2:30 on Friday afternoon and were soon cruising our way through Germany. The most efficient route we found took us up past Chemnitz and Dresden, then we curved into Poland and on to BOLESŁAWIEC, a small town not far over the border where there are a large number of pottery factories. The trip only took about 4 hours, so it was still early in the evening when we arrived. After checking in to our little hotel, we headed off to see what the town had to offer. Kelly has always traveled there from Prague on short day trips, so she'd never actually looked around the town either so it was perfect.
There is a cute town square that we enjoyed wandering around and photographing. It's amazing the way the posing just takes over us!

Laura and I worked on our contemplative stances, and then Kelly and Laura decided to work on the new look for the Central Europe Directors circle for next year :)

It took a couple tries for us to find a place to eat. The first place we went looked really good, but the menus were exclusively in Polish, and it's just not quite close enough Czech for us to feel comfortable. In the end we had pirogies in the main building in the square. They were super tasty, filled with potatoes and cheese, and topped with caramelized onions.
After dinner we wandered around a bit more then headed back to our hotel for the evening. Several tour buses had deposited their crews in the hotel while we were away, but fortunately none of them ended up in our little suite as we didn't really want to have to share our bathroom with total strangers. We tried to watch TV, but weren't very successful. There was a really poorly dubbed movie on (Bird on a Wire with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn from the mid-80s) but we couldn't take the voice overs or the acting, so we gave up. Instead, Kelly entertained us with shadow puppets. I know, I know, it sounds juvenile, but her ferret had us laughing so hard we could hardly stop.
Hard beds are not my friends. It's just the truth. I tried to sleep, and as the driver they'd decided I could have the last shower, but I ended up before the others anyway. Ah well. We had breakfast in the hotel, and then we were off to shop, shop, Shop! Kelly, having done this sooo many times, has a system. The plan is to go to all the different shops first, taking notes about models and prices, then have lunch to think about what you really want. After that the buying actually begins.
We headed off to the first shop and were immediately overwhelmed. You can't begin to imagine how much stuff there was to look at. It was really endless and all so beautiful. Then there were all these people speaking English. It seems that the Americans stationed at military bases in Germany really like to take tour buses out there to load up on pottery. Some of them apparently even take it back and resell it at better prices than you can get online. On top of all that, there were the window washer boys. It was a rather drippy day, but there were a couple teenage boys out to make a buck or two. They pounced on our cute little rental car the instant we were inside and began circling it, washing the windows endlessly. Rainy day kids! Not very effective! But they made us nervous, so we left one person watching them at all times.
Shopping for general, but shopping for pottery specifically, is not exactly a male dominated pass time. Needless to say, it wasn't surprising that the military man who was there with his wife, was happy to have something to put his mind to. He chatted with me for a few minutes about where we were from, what we were doing here, etc., as well as the situation with the window washers. We decided they didn't really have plans to break into the car, but they definitely were going to want some sort of financial gain from their "work," and we certainly weren't going to give it to them. After all, we didn't ask them to wash our windows. It was nice to have another person taking note of the situation. When we moved to another store, he continued to keep an eye for us, and a few minutes later came and found me with a proposition. He asked if I'd like him to give them a dollar to get them to go away. Well...if he was offering...And so money exchanged hands and they finally stopped scrubbing the rain drops off the windows. There was still one lurking about, hoping we'd double pay before we left, but we escaped with no broken windows or money spent.
We proceeded to travel from shop to shop. Some of them were just so immense I had trouble taking it all in. It was interesting to see how patterns quickly emerged for all of us. Laura, who wanted to get a set of dishes for her new life in the US, was drawn to patterns involving grapes. Kelly looked to traditional patterns in swirling blue circles. Randomly enough, I was sucked in by butterflies. I wouldn't generally categorize myself as a butterfly sort of girl, but all the butterfly patterns seemed to be calling to me. They spoke of summer days and the whimsy of children in flowered meadows. Fascinating.
After several hours of searching, and picking up a couple gifts and a lovely butterfly vase, we took a break for lunch in order to recollect and refuel. Once again we treated ourselves to pirogies. Seriously good stuff!

Then we headed back to make actual purchases. I'd been feeling poor, and like I shouldn't spend very much money, but in the end I decided, I'd spent enough getting there, I probably wouldn't get there again, I might as well buy some things to make it all worth while. And the butterflies just sang such lovely songs to me, rather siren like I suppose, that in the end, I caved. I bought 4 butterfly mugs, one of each pattern, a couple of bowls to match, and then some gifts for people. In all, it was a very successful day for all of us.
Once the shopping frenzy was complete we headed out of town and back toward Germany. It was a great day to be on the road, and while Kelly thought about all the work she has to get done, and Laura dreamed of serving delicious dinners to guests on her new dishes, I basked in the joy of driving.
Our last mission for the day was to find a Burger King to have dinner. Today Laura's brother graduated from High School, and he's a huge BK fan so she wanted to honor him in this way. Plus, we don't have BK in Czech (except one new one in Prague that we've never been to), so we don't get there often. We were almost out of Germany and still hadn't seen one, though Kelly had seen a couple at truck stops along the way on Friday. We were about to give up and just go out to dinner in Cheb, when Kelly looked back at one last stop on the opposite side of the road and shouted gleefully, "Burger King!" We then faced the task of finding a way to get to the other side. It did take a little doing, but eventually we made it and the day was complete. Perfect!
That's the end of the pottery trip, but I just wanted to throw in a couple more fun pictures from Sunday. We had our CA meeting here in Cheb and went out to our favorite Italian restaurant, Pulcinella. They have a wide assortment of amazing pizzas there, and we were excited to show the place to David and Kelly. Much to our horror, however, David opted to buy the most disgraceful pizza on the menu: USA pizza. And what, you ask me, is a USA pizza? Well, I'll tell you. It's got a base sauce of ketchup, covered in mozzarella, with chopped up hot dogs and French fries on top! Can we say horrifying? David, however, refused to cave in to our insults, and even put up with harassment from the waitress, and maintained that it was really tasty.

The pizzas there are huge, and definitely for more than one person or more than one meal. David was not up to the challenge of polishing the whole thing off, and, therefore, decided to leave it for us. We were all pretty grossed out by it, and yet curious. So in the end, against our better judgment, we all tried out the pizza. To make it even more ridiculous I even put beautiful yellow American Mustard on top. And the verdict? Well, it was surprisingly edible. It actually tasted like a corn dog. So bizarre!

So there you have the Polish Pottery and pathetic pizza weekend!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sumava day two

Wow, I've really been negligent. This time of year tends to get super busy. There are so many big weekends, and so much busyness during the week that it's easy for me to fall behind. Sometimes I feel like I'm just trying to keep my head above water, but in a good way. Because it's mostly all good stuff.
Anyhow, I still have some fun pictures to put up from the Sumava trip, which is now two weeks ago. Since then I've also been to Poland, and I'd like to put up some things from that weekend as well. And then today I'm super excited because I'm going to a Czech cottage for the first time for a barbecue! The cottage belongs to one of my students and a lot of students will be there so it should be a really great time. I can't wait.
But first things first, a bit more about Sumava.
So on Saturday I got up fairly early, without really sleeping in the meantime. It was just too difficult to stay in bed. Surprisingly, most other people managed to get up before too long as well. In fact, but 10:30, when we were ready to start the next hike, pretty much everyone was there.
The goal today was to walk to a waterfall. To get there, Tomas led us up a ski slope. Now let me just inform you all that ski slopes were designed for people to go down...not up. It was a task to say the least. But when we finally reached the top of Spicak, gasping for breath, the view and sense of accomplishment were really worth it. Or maybe it was just the sense of accomplishment. Along with the thought that this would all have been sooooo much easier if the ski lift had been running!

Here you can see a small map of what we climbed up. Spicak is, I think, the second tallest mountain in Czech, and we pretty much went straight up it.

We continued on after a little break, and hiked back to one of the lakes we'd been at on Friday. Then we continued along a much easier trail for a considerable amount of time. Eventually we came to the waterfall. It was supposed to be the largest waterfall in Sumava. Having stood at the foot of massive falls, like Multnomah Falls for example, it rather paled in comparison, but it was still beautiful.

We continued walking for a really long time. There wasn't really much in the way of civilization out there, and the crew was starting to grumble about food. It got rather intense, but the views really were worth it.

While I think Laura was about hungry enough to eat the sheep, she contented herself with enjoying their cheerful bleating, and was happy to pose with them :)

We did eventually manage to find a place with food, and we were able to catch a train back to our pension. The estimates of how far we hiked ranged somewhere around the 15km mark. It was definitely a hike, but I really enjoyed it. All the same, when we got back to the pension I was happy to sit for a while, amused by those who immediately started playing volleyball or badminton. Ah well.
In the evening we had a bonfire. It was fun to sit around and enjoy the flames soaring into the night. Some people roasted sausages, and one of the owners of the pension came out and played the accordion. I enjoyed listening to them all singing classic Czech songs. Originally we were going to have at least one guitar there so we could all sing, but it didn't happen, so I had to content myself with listening to them :)

The partying went on until about 6 AM again. I think I went to bed around 1:30. I didn't exactly sleep, but at least I wasn't running around anymore. We didn't have to be up very early, our train out was around 11, but I woke up pretty early again and had some time to wander around one last time before we had breakfast.
At the train station we were able to look back up at the mountain we'd climbed. It really was pretty impressive.

If you look closely at this photo you can see the ski slopes that we hiked straight up. Seriously!
In all, it was really a great weekend. It was so nice to get to hang out more with students and just enjoy the beautiful Czech countryside. What an interesting life I get to live. I am so blessed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Least of These

There are some things that make me sad. Sad in a way that settles deep down inside. Things that seem so pointless. So empty. Things that make me wonder who life can get to this point. How do people end up in these situations? What can be done to change them. Who am I in the face of these tragic life stories.
There is a woman who wanders around town in a constant state of decay. Her mind has long been fried. She stumbles through the streets, haunts the train station. There is little left to identify with. Last night she tried to talk to Laura and me as we were walking to the grocery store. We hurried past, hoping she'd give up quickly. Thinking she might just as well be talking to herself. We couldn't understand her anyway. She would only have asked us for money. But Jesus loves her. She is one of the least of these...
I see so many pictures of people I know or have only seen. Snapshots of desperate lives. Some seem unaware of their plight - Sweet Marketa smiling so cheerfully as she says, "I'm and Atheist so I don't believe in that." Others become so entrenched that they are constantly at war with themselves - Patrik, slamming his head on the table in his drunken state in an attempt to make some pain in his head go away. And then there are the people I only pass in the street. The prostitute standing so confidently and tragically beautiful on the street, waiting for someone to come by...Or the prostitutes that look so dried up and dirty in their tall boots and short skirts, pledging their experience to passers by. Or the little girl who couldn't have been more than 8 who I saw nonchalantly smoking a cigarette last night.
Sometimes it is all just so overwhelming. Usually I push it to the back of my mind. What, after all, can I do. What but pray. While I know that praying is the best thing of all, there are times when it seems lacking in the action I wish I could be a part of. How can I help the young mothers learn how to love their babies? To give them the chance they need to break free of the vicious cycle that will lead to further sorrow.
This afternoon I sat out on a bench in the sun, writing in my journal. It's a lovely day. Everything felt fresh and clean down by the river. I wrote about Poland, about being satisfyingly behind the wheel of a car again. My pen, however, was being ridiculous. For whatever reason it decided to die constantly, even though I know it has plenty of ink. On one part of the line it would write just fine, but at the end it would act empty. After half an hour or so of battling, I decided to go home and change for a different pen. As I started to walk away I heard someone calling in my direction. Thinking I might have dropped something I turned around and saw a woman looking at me. She was an outdoor worker who had been busy in the garden while I was writing. Her skin was dark, leading me to believe she was likely of Romany background, and her curly hair flew wildly around her heavily lined face. I couldn't really understand her, so I started to walk away again, but she seemed quite intent to call me back. I turned again, and saw a flower in her hand. I was uncertain. Still, I felt compelled to see what it was she wanted. I walked back toward her and a toothsome grin split her face, hideous beautiful. She was wearing a boldly patterned black and white shirt under the green overalls that signify her working class. As she walked toward me she said something I didn't really understand, but that sounded something like charity. She extended a delicate purple iris toward me, and I wondered if she was expecting me to pay her for it.
Somewhat flustered I mumbled, "Nerozumim Cesky" (I don't understand Czech) and she seemed surprised, but not deterred. She changed her speech a bit and I was able to make out that she was offering me the flower as a gift. Here she was, one of the least of these, giving me a gift. Humbled, I took it from her with words of thanks and smiled as I turned to walk home. My irritation over my pen had been quelled and I felt so blessed.
How can I better serve? How can I better love? How can I better give of myself to the people God has put in my path?

Monday, May 18, 2009


Okay, so this might be a bit of a hurried update. I only have about half an hour before I have to hurry away to class, and my internet has been a bit unpredictable of late, but I felt that I'd really been slacking.
As the end of the year is rapidly approaching things are getting really busy. And with big weekends, it's easy to get behind on things. So I'll just quickly give an update of our big weekend in the mountains.
It was really a wonderful weekend. We were in the southwestern corner of the Czech Republic, and it was really beautiful. There were 30 of us in our group, and we all stayed in this little hostel on the side of Spicak (It's pronounced Shpichak, but I don't have the right markings on my computer to type it correctly. It was a really nice little pension, and we had it all to our crazy group.
We took a ridiculously early bus out there on Friday morning, and arrived around 10:30. By then I was mostly awake enough to be friendly, so that was good. After putting our things away and having a small lunch, we headed out on a hike. The Pension is right next to the ski slope, so we hiked part of the way up the slope, which was seriously steep, and then headed into the woods.

We hiked, and a few biked, to a couple of lakes. The first was called Devil's lake. It was so beautiful there and we took a lot of photos.

Anicka and Honza are the couple in the picture. Anicka is the one who set up the entire weekend. They're both in my L2 Daily class and they're a whole lot of fun. I've really enjoyed getting to know so many great students this year.
Honza, who normally wears glasses, was wearing his contacts this weekend, and this lead to some problems with the sun because he had no sunglasses. Therefore, my sunglasses had a chance to travel once again. And a bit later Vasek decided he just had to have a chance to wear them as well, so the tale of the transient sunglasses continues...

We headed on to the next lake, which was called Black lake. It was also really beautiful, and had this nice lot running out into it that I just couldn't resist ;)

Here are a couple more shots from this lake, as well as one of my colleague Tomas in a contemplative moment.

From the lakes we headed back to the pension, taking in the view as we went. I really love this picture of Mambo the dog, protector of all he surveys.

We got back in the evening and had dinner, then the partying really began. It was a good time, but the alcohol was a bit excessive. Not surprising, but quite exhausting. Still, it was a nice time to get to sit and talk to people and get to know them better. I think I went to bed around 3:30 (I was the last native English speaker who was still awake) and I heard them partying until around 6 AM. What a day!