Thursday, February 25, 2010


It's a beautiful day! I'm not even kidding. Sure the streets are littered in chunky snow piles that are rapidly showing how many people allowed their dogs to "foul in public place" under cover of snow, but there is blue sky! And I'm talking BLUE. With some fluffy white clouds and everything. I'm super duper excited about it, and definitely planning an afternoon walk to take as much advantage of this moment as possible.
In other highly happy news, I have a place for my parents to stay in town for free, which only means a slight amount of inconvenience, rather than the large expense it would have been otherwise, and Mark found some open castles! Things are definitely looking to be on the brighter side, and of this I'm ever so glad.
Yesterday I had a little free time in the afternoon and I was looking over a story I started writing whilst in Alaska. It's based around Mother's Choice and connected activities, and I found myself smack dab in the middle of memory lane. I could almost feel the little infant bodies, all soft and sweet in my arms. I'm not sure if I'll be able to bring myself to work more on it, or if the nostalgia will be too much for me to handle. The Czech Republic has clearly made a huge impact on my life, and I really enjoy the time I've spent here and the people I met, especially one particular young man ;) but Hong Kong will always have a home spot in my life. It's the place where I really grew up. Where I discovered what it was like to be me on my own in a big big world. Even as I enjoyed the slight warmth from the sun on my walk to work this morning, I was thinking how much I miss that tropic touch. I was remembering when Mom and Dad visited HK and the sort of climate they had to deal with that time. Quite a contrast.
Anyhow, all this to say, I liked seeing what I had written. It had the feeling of reality that a truly good story needs, but at the same time it was so tied to another era in my life that it's hard to know if I can really continue it, or if other people would be so attached to the thoughts contained therein. Tough to say, but I really want to finish re-reading it to see if I can come up with a plan that can take it on to completion.
Well, I'm not just going to sit here all day. Instead I'm going to get some things done and take a walk. Definitely must not let this glorious weather go to waste. I figure it might need some encouragement to stick around, and far be it from me to deny the sun what it needs :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Plans, plans, plans!

Only two short weeks until my parents are upon me. That's right, I'll be travel guide extraordinaire once again. It's actually been quite a while since I've had the chance to play this part, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's just the planning bit that rather gets to me. Looking for hostels, thinking of the best places to go, how to fit it all in, etc. It's not like living in Hong Kong and having everything right there at my fingertips. There was plenty of space for them to stay in my house, and plenty of activities to take part in within easy walking distance. But Europe's big. And there are SO many things that they should see. Obviously we can't do it all in two weeks, especially when I have to work most of that time, but I'm really hoping to make it a memorable experience.
This week I had to turn in my official decision for next year. I've known all along that I wasn't going to stay another year, and sending it in was more of a formality than anything else, but it had such a ring of finality. Last year I waffled up until the decision, and after as well, having decided to leave and then opting to stay. This time, the choice was easier, and yet it still left me feeling a bit strange after I'd sent it in.
It's true that I'm ready to head stateside and be closer to my family again. True that I feel there are things for me to do and figure out that I can't do so well here. True that my school situation is likely to change dramatically as my boss is moving on to something new, and the person taking her place is someone that I really never want to work for. So many things that make this the right time for a change. But I've put a lot of time and effort into this place after all. I've made a sort of home here, and I've connected with lots of different people during my three years here. It will be strange to pack up and say goodbye. Granted, I'm hoping to take a piece of this place with me in a very tangible way, but it's still the end of an era, and that's always monumental. Not to mention the fact that I have no idea what in the world I'll do when I get back to the US.
I've also been thinking so much about writing lately, and yet feel so dry on the topic. I'll have a line or two that could make a good start to a story, and yet no feeling for what should come next. When I was a kid I had stories in my head all the time. Granted, there are few people who would ever have been interested in them, but they were endless. Characters floated about various plot lines and I felt that they really did exist. Now I'm left wondering what I still have in me that could be of value to anyone. What words can I speak to the people of this world? Do I have anything left to say that can inspire? Are there stories yet within this little brain of mine? Or do I need to set aside the dreams that have been with me as long as I can remember. I've ALWAYS wanted to be a writer. So why haven't I managed to produce anything? For so long I had aspirations of getting into the field while I was young. I wrote two novels in high school, and even sent the first one to some publishers. I attended writer's workshops and subscribed to writing magazines. But I'm not so young anymore. At the age of 31, what do I have to show for my dream.
People, especially Mark, tell me I need to just write. But what? I could sit and do a stream of consciousness, bringing back visions of Ms. Staley's classroom, Enya lilting in the background, but where will that really take me. Nostalgia for nostalgia's sake isn't really worth a whole lot on the literary market. (sigh)
So I'm trying to make plans about so many things, and yet finding myself with the desire to just curl up and finish reading The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, which I've been working on since Christmas break. At least I'm getting out another blog, another attempt to remain in touch with my ability to put words on the page, even if they're read by only a scant few...

Monday, February 22, 2010

As February Flees...

Another month is whirring by. Soon to be nothing but another list of memories. Thoughts of moments spent and celebrated. So it's time to share a bit more of what has happened this month before the month is totally gone. I bring to you, once more, a visually aided recollection.
Now, I've never really been a fan of Valentine's Day. Not that I haven't enjoyed handing out little cards, or eating chocolates, but the theme or the day has generally been something I found more depressing than uplifting. I can also agree with all the skeptics who say things like, shouldn't we celebrate the ones we love every day, rather than having a particular day set aside for it. But there is something about being in a relationship that shifts my perception on the topic. I still think it's predominately a marketing scheme, but there is really nothing wrong with finding a reason to express love. True, we shouldn't need to be told to do so more on one day of the year than on another, but there's nothing wrong with using the day that has been set aside to remind us that it's important to hold tightly to the ones we love.
This year I really appreciated the opportunity to share the day with someone extra special. There were no chocolates or flowers, but instead acts of thoughtfulness. A conscious effort to remember why we do the things we do, and to express our thankfulness for time spent together. It's easy to get caught up in the day to day of life, and to forget to show deliberate time and care, and having a holiday around as a reminder is helpful. So while Mark and I spent a truly lovely day together, and enjoyed the beauties of God's creation by going for a walk in the snow.

It's really worth taking a closer look at the photo with the snowflakes because you can see the individual flakes and it was really impressive. Usually snow all just molds together quickly, but these flakes maintained their shape and were delightful to see.
As we walked up through the town we were blessedly under the rays of the sun, but were allowed a very impressive view of a black sky as a backdrop for the lovely buildings of Marianske Lazne.

It was all truly lovely. And Mark topped the day off by making me some yummy pasta for lunch as well. Super sweet ;)

I've been enjoying the opportunity to get to know Mark's family a bit better as well. It's challenging because they don't speak English, and my Czech skills are far below what I'd like them to be. But we find our ways to communicate, and one of the ways they've discovered works well is to feed me :) So on the 13th we went out to dinner in a town near where they live. We went to a very interesting restaurant that is situated beneath a hill. The Chodovar Brewery makes beer here, and in earlier days I'm pretty sure the caves were used for some sort of mining operation. As you can see by the sign over the doors the caves have been in existence for a LOOOONG time! We had a nice dinner and I had Svickova, a very popular and famous Czech dish, for the first time. I was only able to make it through about 1 1/2 dumplings because they're so heavy, but the food was quite good. It takes a little imagination to get beyond the fact that you're eating meat with whip cream on top, but it works with the sweetish sauce and the cranberries. In all a very interesting eating experience.

This past weekend Mark and I went with his sister to her house in Germany and once again I had a chance to hang out with his adorable nieces and nephews. The language stretch was a challenge, but I managed to have some little conversations with the girls, and his sister as well. They're quite patient with me, and when I don't understand they find new ways to say things until I can mostly understand and try to respond. By this point, the boys who turned three a couple weeks ago, are used to me coming with Mark, and have lost most of their shyness, so it's a lot of fun. Exhausting, but fun.
So that pretty much sums up my past couple of weekends. The days are really flying by, as I mentioned before, and soon and very soon Mom and Dad will be here. Hopefully I'll have some place to put them and some interesting things for them to see. It will most definitely be interesting :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Death Van

On Friday I saw the death van on my way to work. It's the Czech version of a hearse. All black. Dark windows. A gold cross painted on the back. I've seen it before in front of the church near my house. Even saw them loading the coffin once.
Friday was different. I saw them stopping near the top of our square. There is a little glass window box that carries the death notices of the day. The man was there changing the papers. Such a fascinating job. I wonder what it must be like to deliver the postings of the daily dead. Cheb isn't a very big town, but every day there are names added to the wall. A reminder that life is short. Sometimes very short indeed.
To add to the eeriness of meeting the death van so early in the morning I walked into albert (the grocery store under where my office is located) and heard the song "Tears in Heavean," by Eric Clapton playing on the radio. It was just an odd way to start a Friday...
I came through Friday unscathed, but it did make me think about the brevity of life and the importance of living each day that I'm given. It's so easy to make trite sayings like "carpe diem." But the truth is, none of us know the hour of our death. I've been watching a show called "Dead Like Me," recently. It's the story of a young girl who was killed by a toilet seat falling from a Russian space station, after which she became a grim reaper. I can't say I agree with all the things that happen in the show, but as they show people reaching their end of their days, often in freakish and totally unexpected ways, it makes me think about what I'm doing with my life, and how I'm taking advantage of the time God has granted me here in this world.
I want to be a writer. I do. I want to somehow speak to those with ears to hear. But when I do it I want to really have something worthwhile to say. And while I reach for that goal I want to keep on living. I want to seize the days placed before me like wrapped mystery gifts, full of innocence and wonder...

Monday, February 8, 2010

An Eclectic Collection of pictures from the past week

That was a rather ridiculously long title, but I really couldn't think of anything much more cohesive to say about what I'm about to post, because they're totally unrelated events. I always like to throw in some pictures of students, and so I thought the best way to do that was to cover the top events of the past week. Last Friday, as in the 29th of January we had our pub night. It was a pretty low turnout, but I actually prefer it like that. I was able to have some good quality talks with several students. One of my students had her cousin and his wife come with her. They have recently moved to Sokolov, a town near Cheb, after the man lived in the US for 30 years. It was really nice to chat with someone who has perspectives on both types of life and who is trying to deal with the reverse culture shock in the country he left when he was 14. Through talking I told them my family lives in Idaho, and they told me they'd visited Idaho in September. Come to find out they were actually in Moscow where a friend of his works at the University. How random is that? Talk about a small world.
Only one of my daily students came for the evening, and I had a really nice talk with her. She was able to help affirm me in my teaching style, which is always helpful. She said that she really feels her English has improved a lot having me as her teacher. At the beginning of the year she was quite self conscious, but because of my limited correction style, the goal of which is a greater level of fluency, she's become more self confident in speaking, which helps her to improve a lot. It was good to see that there are people who believe my techniques are helpful. She said this as a direct contrast to a fellow teacher who gives constant correction which she finds quite unhelpful. So I suppose the balance is really what helps create improvement. Either way, it's nice to know that my style is appreciated ;)
This is me and Martina. Her cousin is the one who lived in the US.
This is me and Tyna. She's the one daily student who came.
Since I mentioned Sokolov, and since the next pictures I have are from Sokolov, I'll talk about it briefly next. On Wednesday I headed out to Sokolov to do another mid-year reflection. Because of strange train schedules I had to take a train an hour early, so I was able to wander around the city for a while. I went to the square and enjoyed the snow covered monuments, taking a moment to enter the old church where and old man and woman mumbled their holy prayers in the presence of so much ancient glory. Then I wandered through the park and checked out all the ducks on the frozen waterways. It was a sunny afternoon so that made it all better, despite the slushy trails I had to muck my way through.

I had a fairly busy week, despite the fact that I was still enjoying some extra free time in the mornings while Jonathan covered for me as payment for his holiday. Amazing all the things that manage to fill up every empty space I manage to make room for in my schedule. As I said in a recent post, I'd really love to be officially writing some greater project, but I somehow can't seem to even find time to get all the other practical things I need to be doing in my life taken care of, so it's not surprising that I don't find time for things that seem almost frivolous. Although the idea of a great life work isn't really something to laugh at I suppose. All the same, it's hard to make it happen. I suppose that's true at every moment in life. I keep waiting for that time when I suddenly have all this extra time. I had that in Salem, but managed to fill it up with "friends" (aka TV programs :P)
So the week flew by and suddenly it was Friday again, and with that came my first real ples. Now I did manage to go to a ples (similar to a high school prom but much more ceremonial and open to family and friends, not just students) my first year, but it was only a side invitation. I sort of knew the girl from church, I at least knew who she was, but she would never have invited me to the event. Tammy just managed to get us tickets. But this time I was really and truly officially invited. And not just over facebook, as I've been invited to at least 5 other pleses. I don't really count those because they aren't directly making contact. But I knew that Eva actually wanted me to come, and that made me hugely excited.
All this means that Friday night I got all gussied up and headed to the ball with a very handsome man in tow ;) I do love an occasion to dress up every now and again, and this was the perfect one. We even ended up with a nice table to sit at, because we went with Karina and another Eva who is a teacher at the gymnasium. So we sat together with them at the teacher table because there weren't very many other teachers there. Super cool.
I had a great chance to talk to my student at the beginning, which was a blessing since she was so busy the rest of the night that I only saw her from a distance when she was performing. She's a professional belly dancer, so besides the group dances that the class did, she gave a solo performance as well. She did one really traditional belly dance and then one with a sword. Most impressive. I was excited to finally see her dance because she'd told me so much about it before. A lot of my other students were there as well, so it was fun to see them there all dressed up, and to watch their expressions when they recognized me 8) That smiley face was to represent just how big their eyes were when they realized that I could actually dress up. Of course the hair is all to Tammy's credit and not my own. I'm still hopeless at hair preparations. Ah well. It was a lovely night.

My last picture is a tribute to the continued domestication of Sarah. Mark's parents have been super sweet, and have sent food home with me on several occasions. Last week they sent two bananas along with enough meat for a week. Now, for those who know me very well, you realize that bananas are far from being at the top of Sarah's choice of favorite foods. So they sat on my table, and I contemplated what to do with them. I didn't want to just waste them, but neither did I want to eat them. In the end, I had the brilliant idea of making banana bread. And therefore I went to the internet in search of "easy banana bread recipes" and found one that called for only 2 bananas, and I proceeded to make it. Naturally I was short on some supplies, and simply didn't have any shortening or grease for the pan, so I substituted butter for those, and added in some coarse flour because I didn't have enough of the regular kind, and ended up with banana bread all the same in the end. It actually looked really nice when it was done, and tasted lovely and buttery in the end so it was all good.

And there you have a week in review with a photo accompaniment. Dobrou Chut!