Saturday, December 31, 2011

And, wait for it, wait for it...it's here!

Well the moment is now very nearly upon us. 2012. My friends in Hong Kong have already arrived, it's about two hours away here in Czech, and the US is just behind the times. They'll catch up eventually, but it's interesting to think of the time wa that is the world. I don't know that I have much to share about new Czech traditions I have learned for New Years because I really haven't learned any. We've been eating little chlebičky bites all day, and there is a serious pyrotechnic planned when the time is right,mbut that's about it besides parties on tv. Not a whole lot different from the US, except I thi the fireworks are a bigger deal here, more like 4th of July stateside. It's been quite a year. There have been ups and downs a plenty, but in the end I am happy I have found my Live and that we have the chance to ring in this new year together. So at the end of my record breaking post year, I wish whoever reads this all the best and a very Happy New Year :)

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Ways of Our Lives

It is so interesting to see the way that things play out for different people. None of us have the same life to live. Whether you believe we were all born for a specific destiny, or that life is a set of chances, predestined or just random, the truth is, no one can say what is going to come in the future. Sure, there are plenty of people who try, but there is no way to predict what is to come. In all my wildest, craziest dreams, I never would have imagined myself married to a younger Czech man. I always wanted to travel, but had no clue that I would end up with passports stamped in so many different lands, and a family stretched over continents. But here I am, and this is the world that I inhabit. Over the past couple of days I had the opportunity to visit with a couple of American friends. One of them has come to the point that Czech is so much her home that she has no desire to return to America at all. Visiting family is fine, but Czech is the place she has set down her roots. The second girl also married a Czech man, and currently lives in a small, remote Czech village with her husband and baby girl. I am sure that neither one of them ever thought their lives would become so centrailzed on a country so far away from their beginnings. As a new year is about to begin, it's always tempting to start making resolutions and plans and trying to figure out what the next year is going to hold. There are those certain this year is going to be the last one for all of us, but they thought that right before the year 2000 as well, and look at how many people are left with rusty generators, and cans of food they have no desire to ever eat. Life is unpredictable. That's just the nature of things. There are always things in life I would like to change. There are personal things, and societal things, and so many things in between. 2012 is going to be another year of fresh starts and new beginnings. I have no idea how it will start, and even less of an idea how it will end. Sometimes my life feels mundane to me. If not predictable, it is at least some sort of normal. Regardless of the fact that I live a life quite unlike anything I ever dreamed that it would be, it is just the life I live. I think the main thing I need to remember that each day, whether full of new adventures, or spent in quiet repose, is a gift. That day will never return. I hope that in the next year I will take more advantage in that truth. I might not have the chance, or the financial means, to run all over the place, but I want to appreciate the days that I am given, and really live in the year to come.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Record Breaking

Well, I've done it. I've managed to write more posts in a month than I ever have before. This has been quite an up and down one in my own personal blogland. I've had months where I didn't write a single post, or only one or two, then I've capped it off with a mind boggling best personal posting record here in December. In a skype chat with a friend a couple weeks ago she was pointing out how she can always tell when I have too much time on my hands. Those are the days when the posts become more frequent, even though there isn't a whole lot to say. At least it's good to know that people can benefit from the time I spend sitting around on my back side. I've actually done all sorts of writing this month. My book has more than doubled in size since we arrived here in the Czechlands, I've written a ton of blog posts, and the big 200 page journal that I brought along for the trip is more than half filled. I did bring an extra tiny journal along, as well as my Gadanke become journal and a journal for writing notes on thankfulness in, but I'm thinking I just might have to make an extra journal purchase as well, seeing as three and four are just specialty journals. Some might see this as overkill. And perhaps it is. Most of my journals are not meant for any sort of wider dispersion than for my and God's eyes only. My blog is read by a handful of friends and families (and the odd hits that I get from bizarre Russian URLS that make no sense to me whatsoever). I have no idea if the book I'm currently writing will end up being published, let alone a best seller (although I have a nephew who has already said he'll make the movie and a second who has asked to be the star character after hearing the briefest synopsis). I guess it all just goes to show that writing is something I do because it is a part of who I am. As much as I love comments, as much as being published is a huge dream, I don't write for that. I write because I love it. Well, I'm heading out to Cheb again today to hopefully meet up with some former students. Then tomorrow Tammy and I will go an see another former teacher who also married local. Should be an interesting couple of days, so I had to be sure to post a little something to get ahead of things. See I'm at 80 posts for the year with this one included, and my record for posts in a year is currently set at 82. Let's just see what I can do :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Begendings...

It's hard to believe that the end of 2011 is already looking us in the face. Hard to believe that a year ago I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to plan my wedding. In some ways, so much has happened, and in other ways so little. I don't really know what I was expecting. I'm kind of bad about expectations. The thing is, I have them. I have ideas about how things should go. I make plans in my mind, generally not telling them to anyone else, and then find myself stupidly disappointed when they don't turn out the way I invisioned them. So another year seems to have snuck past me, and I'm left trying to figure out what I have accomplished, and what I need to figure out so I can do it better the next time around. There were definitely some big events in this year. Marriage being the primary one. Hard to even describe how all of that has come to pass. A few years ago I was all prepped to write the story of the loveless. I was so tired of reading about happy endings where people just magically find each other and things get tied up all nice and neatly. I wanted to let people know that there are those of us out there who strive and strive and strive, and still end up alone. But I'm not alone in that way anymore. Out of nowhere, love did find me. I still find myself in awe of the fact that I have a husband. It's not an easy thing to wrap my head around. Especially seeing as how, almsot a year later, we're still living with one set of parents or another. I managed to find a job, get promoted, and then quit set job. It's one of those patterns that doesn't make it easy to think about going out and finding another one. I've got a pretty lousy track record. I'm an excellent worker when you have me. I only take sick days when I am honestly and truly deathly ill. I work whenever I'm asked and I'm incredibly dependable. But then that transient nature of mine kicks in and I'm off again. It would be great if I could say I have a plan for how all of that is going to work out, but employment plans tend to be something I'm not so great with. (sigh) I am still working to finish up my writing challenge. I'm at about 83,000 words and 166 pages. I'd like to get to somewhere around 100,000. That's a nice even sort of goal. Of course, it doesn't look like I'll be finished by the first, but due to extenuating circumstances I've recieved a 6 day extension, so I'm hoping I can iron things out and call it a novel by then. I've been reading several blogs talking about goals and plans for the new year. Seems that resolutions are out, too easy to break and be done with, and goals are in. I'm not quite ready to spell out all my goals just yet, but it's given me some things to think about at least. I'm not expecting the world to come to an end in the next year, so hopefully I can manage to get my head on straight and come up with something worth while to apply myself to in the days that are to come.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Czech Christmas

It's Christmas morning in the Czech Republic and I've just been doing a little research. In my years of teaching here, my favorite times were always when students shared their traditions or stories of their lives. The main reason I was here, after all, was to become a part of their world while sharing my love of Jesus, the reason for the season :) The irony here, is that after all those wonderful classes learning about Czech Christmas traditions I just did a blog survey and realized that I never really shared any of them here. Now as a part of being in Europe, I wanted to make the most of the time. Whenever I had a holiday I hit the road. So every time Christmas came around with it's glorious two week holiday, I was outta here! Consequently, that meant I was either too busy getting ready to go, or too bursting with stories of my travels and all those photos, to share very much about what a Czech Christmas is like. Well, this year is different. This year, I'm going to share with you some Czech traditions along with what I actually got to experience. It is very different from the way things go with my family in the US, and naturally different from being on the road as well. So now, I give you, A Very Merry Czech Christmas. As in most European countries, the main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve. The preparations, however, begin much earlier as I have shared my stories of making Christmas cookies. In the morning on the 24th the cookies were put on beautiful plates atop festive napkins, and set in different places around the house to make them easily accessible all day long. Seeing as how we weren't going to be starting things until around 5, there was a lot of day to use up somehow. One of the things Czech's love on Christmas is watching "Fairy Tales." Some of them actually are what we would call fairy tales in the US as well, but others are just old classic movies. They even had "Elf" on in Czech, which I found highly amusing. We watched bits and pieces of different ones all morning and into the afternoon. Then Mark and I spent some time out with some of his friends to greet them for the holiday as well. In the early evening we got together for Christmas dinner. One of the Czech traditions is to buy a live carp and keep it in the bathtub until Christmas time. Then they kill it as can bee seen in this commercial. Really worth watching :) Seems Chuck Norris has a weakness after all. Thankfully, my family here doesn't do the whole carp thing, so our Rižek was either Pork or Turkey. I went for the turkey option since it's closer to my own Christmas meal of choice. This meant that we could not participate in another random tradition in which people save one of the carp scales in their wallet for a year in order to be lucky in money for the year. To begin the meal we had a toast with champaign and strawberries. Then it was time for our feast of breaded and fried filets (turkey for me) and the classic potato salad made by my father-in-law. The meal was delicious, and it was nice to sit around the table with the family. Next we gathered around the tree which Anna and I had decorated earlier in the morning. It was a sparkling vision in silver and white. Very fitting to my mom-in-laws taste. We even put up the decorations in order of kind. First white puffs, then snowflakes, silver balls of different varieties and glass ornaments. We opened presents together, and enjoyed the time of sharing. Then our little Czech Christmas was pretty much finished. We cleaned up the paper mess, put our gifts in our rooms, and spent the rest of the evening watching more "fairy tales" and eating chocolates and Cukrovy (cookies). It was a lovely evening really. We were a bit too tired to go out and find a church having a midnight service (another Czech tradition) but we did watch part of the live broadcast from the Vatican, which was interesting since Mark and I went and saw the Pope when he visited Czech a couple years ago. And so it went. Here are some other traditions I have heard from students in the past: * cutting an apple in half the round way to see the Christmas star * not eating anything all day long in order to hopefully see the golden pig which will signify luck for the coming year. * There's something about dropping molten metal into the bathtub. It actually happened in one of the movies we watched. I'm not really sure what it is supposed to signify, but it makes some interesting shapes. * Naming the carp in your bathtub "Pepa" which is the nickname for Josef That's most of what I can think of for right now. Just some nice things to add to my list of Christmas traditions. But despite all these things, the best part of Christmas for me is thinking of the reason we celebrate. What a miracle to think of how God sent a part of himself into the world to show us what love is all about. How blessed we are, despite our personal difficulties, to live in a time where we can turn to a Savior and be forgiven. Were it not for this silent night a good two thousand years ago, this world would be an even more desperate and hopeless place to live. I am so thankful to God for us indescribable gift. Merry Christmas to All, Peace On Earth and Goodwill to All People, and Oh So Much Love from the Czech Republic on this Christmas Day 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Moment In History

I'll be completely honest. Before I was planning to come to the Czech I didn't know much about the country. Sure, I knew it used to be called Czechoslovakia, and at least was aware that it wasn't that any more. However, the name Vaclav Havel didn't mean anything to me. I wouldn't say I grew up in a cave, but, except for when I was in Senior Soc in High School and wanted to win the daily trivia challenge for my team by knowing anything and everything that was going on in the world, I have never paid much attention to world events. I knew that the Clinton's daughter was Chelsea because she was a kid in the White House when I was a kid, and that had a sort of significance. However, when my husband asked me today what Obama's kids names are, I had no idea. I know there are a couple of them, and they're cute and little and apparently when he was first elected you could learn exactly what they ordered for school lunch on a daily basis, but I wasn't around for that and I didn't pay attention. I'm the sort of person for whom checking the news means seeing what my friends and family are up to. That is what matters to me. But sometimes there are things that happen in the world that make me stop and take notice. I just so happened to be in the Czech Republic at the time of something very significant in their history, the death of Vaclav Havel. He was a writer, a dissident, a peace maker and a politician. I can't say I know a lot about his politics, but I know he was a man that was respected the world over. He became the first president after the fall of communism, largely due to his part in leading them through the Velvet Revolution. There aren't a whole lot of examples of a total governmental overturn when there is no bloodshed. I'm not going to write some sort of serious memoriam. I really don't know enough, but I can tell you that when you see the response of the people to his death, especially in comparison to the insanity demonstrated by the North Koreans at the death of Kim Jong Il, you can see what sort of man he was. After three days of national mourning, today was his actual funeral. The streets were full of people who came out to give their respects, including the Clintons and Madeline Albright. Have to say, it was pretty impressive to watch the old Barracuda speaking in Czech at the funeral. The Czechs have made a mark on the world to be sure. So I end this now, with a couple pictures of the little candle memorial set up for him here in Marianske Lazne.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Food

I missed my cooking lesson today. Oops. I got the run down of the ingredients, so at least I typed it up, but I wasn't there to see how the mixing looks or any of that good stuff. The cake is only half done, however, so tomorrow I get to help with the gelatine and fruit part. Should be interesting. Being a cross cultrual international person is just something that sort of happened to me. I always wanted to travel, but I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be blessed to do so much of it. Especially not with the sort of budget I have. While I firmly believe that people should expose themselves to different cultures whenever possible, I realize my lifestyle is not avialable to most people for one reason or another. Their time is taken up in other ways. That's just the way it is. So I'm not going to say that everyone should travel, because I know that isn't possible. And I won't say that people who travel are better, because that isn't true either. But I know that the traveling I have been blessed to do has changed me in many ways. And one of those ways revolves around food. Today I'm going to talk about something pretty simple. Baguettes and yogurt. These are the sort of things you can get pretty much anywhere in the world. But everywhere you go they're different. I've never been to France, except passing through on a bus ride to London, so I can't speak to the beauty of a true French baguette, but I've had some pretty good ones in my day. I can still remember a time my first summer in Hong Kong, when I went for a little trip to Stanley Market all on my own. I was twenty years old, and so fascinated by being some place so totally foreign and fascinating and beautiful. In my youthful mind I wanted to do something that could be equated to really feeling like a traveler. So I found a little cafe and bought a baguette, then got a bag of the most enormous red grapes you can imagine. I took them to a big concrete barrier near the water, and I climbed on top and sat there watching the waves and the sky and feeling like I was having a very existential sort of moment. I don't remember how the baguette tasted, but I do remember there were huge seeds in the grapes, and that I had a horrible time finding a place to wash them before I ate them. What I really remember is just the feeling of being alive and oh so very present in the moment. I grew up on your basic white wonder style bread. The reason for that was because I refused to try anything more interesting. I loved my mom's homemade bread too, but even there I went for white and fluffy and avoided the crust. It wasn't until my summer in Italy when I was seventeen, that I discovered the beauty of a nice crusty loaf. The bread there was so tough that it took some work to chew, but somehow that made you value the experience all the more. I have now discovered that, in my opinion, a really good baguette should have an almost buttery flavor. The crust should be flaky and crisp but not too tough. Today I ate such a baguette. It was part of my breakfast, and it made a bit of a mess as it flaked away, but it was oh so good. With that baguette, I also had yogurt. Here is where American sensibilities get things wrong. In America, it's all about health. Or someone's idea of what health should look like. Low fat, sugar free, artificial but somehow natural. I've had some good yogurt stateside, but it's nothing like the stuff you can find here. The Czechs, it seems, are not afraid of fat. They aren't afraid to use a nice thick cream, and boy can you tell the difference. The yogurt here is thick and creamy and just all kinds of amazing. So my day started off with a nice crusty baguette and a smooth creamy strawberry yogurt. I'm not really sure where I'm going with all this. I think it's largely due to the fact that I finally finished reading "Julie and Julia" as well as the fact that I've been watching two cooking challenge shows every day all this week. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to turn into one of those people who lives to eat, but it sure is fascinating to watch the people who love to cook get all excited about it. I'm just hoping that one day being faced with the task of preparing a meal for more than myself (since I'm quite happy with another baguette topped with meat and cheese and a nice creamy spread as a meal thank you very much!) won't fill my entire body with dread. Here's to hope says I.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's VIP Prostreno Time!

The Czech Republic is a small country. Again, I claim no absolute knowledge of geography, but by train you can travel all the way across the longest bit in about 8 hours. And trains are slow and make frequent stops and have delays in between. Due to the size, it is a lot easier for them to have a closeness that does not exist in Mega-Countries like the United States. The Czech's have a much longer history than Americans, and this also serves to hold them together. Perhaps this is a possible reason that shows like Prostreno can exist. The basic premiss of the show is that a group of 5 strangers takes turns hosting dinner one night of the week. The person in charge for the evening creates a menu and sends it out to each of the other members. As part of the show they interview the people to make guesses about what the person will make, then ask their take on how the dishes will be when they have a chance to read the menu. Throughout this time they cross back over to the cook of the day and watch their preparations. The guests arrive and have a chance to snoop around the person's house, giving commentary of course. Then they all sit down to dinner and share opinions on the food and the atmosphere. There is usually some sort of game for entertainment somewhere in the middle. Each host offers up a starter, soup/salad course, main dish and dessert. At the end, the others are interviewed on their own to give a score out of ten. On Friday, the person who scored the most points is rewarded with 10,000 KC. Not quite like the $10,000 prize on most Food Network shows, but while those tend to be a production on a grand scale, Prostreno looks more like something you could actually do with your friends. In the process of my Czech cooking training, I think I have finally amassed enough knowledge to take my shot on Prostreno. Okay, maybe I'm not quite up to that (the word literally means "intermediate") but I now have the correct number of dishes in me repertoire. Starter: Smazenky - a slice of bread fried with an egg and flour mixture on one side, then topped with mustard and veggies. Salad: Light green salad with a homemade dressing. Main Course: Beef with an onion sauce served on rice. Dessert: Almonds caramelized with cinnamon and sugar. I'm not saying it would be the meal that wins the money, but it should at least count for something. I have all the recipes stored on my iPad complete with my rough approximation of ingredients and instructions as well as photos to help illustrate how it all should look. This week they are having the special VIP version of the show. Four famous Czech couples are taking their chances at cooking. I'm not sure if there is any monetary prize in store at the end. I think it's just the pleasure of knowing that they won, but it's still pretty entertaining. Last night the final couple to arrive didn't even know who they were coming to see somehow, maybe they lost the number they were supposed to ring, so they just started calling up to all sorts of different flats to see if they'd found the right one. Pretty entertaining. The whole show is so intimate, that I'm not sure it would work on US television. Perhaps on a local channel they could tuck it in after the nightly news. There is just such a lack of continuity in the US. Sure, people put on some sort of patriotic front, but they all seem to stand for such different things that it's hard to even define what American culture is. I guess it doesn't really matter, but there's something nice about the cozy feeling of national identity that people have around here. Guess that comes of having a language that only 11 million people speak, instead of most of the world. Note: according to my Love, google translate is wrong. Prostreno actually means: set the table. makes a bit more sense at least :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas in Bayreuth

Christmas markets are a pretty big deal around these parts. They are especially popular in Germany. On numerous occasions I have made it over to Nurnberg to visit one of the oldest Christmas Markets in Europe. I'm not going to act all overly educated and pretend I know exactly how old it is or anything, but it's been around for a long time and is seriously huge. It's also a wee bit far away. So this year, Tammy and I decided to try a market we'd never been to that was also a little closer and still in the cheap zone. (Note: I lived over here for several years and the prices of things never really went up much, but after a year of being gone suddenly everything is more expensive. From food, to train tickets, and even the local ML bus. Inflation is not my favorite. Now let me ask you, should a ticket for a train with a heater that looks like this:
really increase? I think not.) Anyhow, we headed out on Sunday to check out the market in Bayreuth, a town just slightly farther away than Marktredwitz. We had a street map with a vague direction to go, but no real idea where to find what we were looking for. Thankfully, being the expert European travelers that we are, we managed. On the way we passed sights like this:
We passed through an ancient archway and spotted the drink booths, which let us know we were definitely headed the right direction. And then we were there.
I always love checking out the little booths and seeing what the popular ornaments are for the year. Being in Germany, and having prices in Euros, it was a bit out of my comfy range, but it's fun just to look. There are also the architectural gems that make it even more interesting.
We also discovered that they don't get a lot of American tourists around these parts. When we were looking for a hot drink, some men working in a booth tried to woo us with their wares. When we explained that we didn't speak much German, but English instead, they were very curious to learn where we were from and what brought us to their little town. When we half way explained, the older man who spoke some English decided that we should have a free sample of their special Christmas brew. It was a unique concoction that mixed red wine, rum, and citrus juice and I believe some cinnamon, all warm and toasty in a cup. I'll admit, I was rather glad it was a free sample, and there was no further pressure to buy, which was nice. It also did really warm me up all the way through, which was very useful on such a cold wintery day. Tammy needed her traditional market sausage, and I decided on a baguette with garlic butter, tomatoes, and melted mozzarella cheese. Tasty little snacks to help us along our way back to the station. The market was rather smaller, and much less crowded, than we had anticipated, so it only took us a couple hours to feel like we'd done the town. We jumped the next train back to Marktredwitz and when we arrived there we learned we had a while until the next train back to Cheb. Not wanting to waste an opportunity, we walked around through the streets of M. It was actually quite snowy there, but we were still able to enjoy the market they had there, as well as visiting a cafe. (Note: in Germany everything is generally closed on Sundays, especially in smaller towns. Despite Christmas being only a week away, even the shopping malls are closed.) The cafe we found open was one my friend Nicole and I visited several years ago on another day waiting for a train. It's a bit of a stuffy place in a hotel. The set up is odd and if you order a pastry you have to pay extra to sit inside and eat it. The usual set that takes a coffee there on a Sunday afternoon is rather cautious of strangers. The elderly ladies either ignored us or looked at us as though we had clearly stumbled into the wrong place. Ah well, at least the cappuccino was tasty.
It's only about a five minute walk back up to the station, and we thought we were doing just fine, but when we arrived we watched the train pulling out. The very train we were supposed to take. If we'd realized we should hustle it would have been no problem. Instead, we had another 45 minutes to spend in Marktredwitz. So how did we spend that time, you ask? Well, we went and had our photo taken with Santa. Isn't that what all the 30 something women you know do on a Sunday afternoon? Seemed reasonable enough to us. There is joy in being able to just enjoy life sometimes. And believe, the Santa and photographer greatly enjoyed our amusement. The picture is supposed to be e-mailed to Tammy, so I don't have it just yet, but when it comes I'll try to post it too. We did finally make it safely back to Cheb, where all things remained as they should be. We had pizza at Jakubska, and spent the night relaxing in her Skalka flat. Come Monday morning, she still had to go to work. The school system here isn't quite as set on always giving a two week holiday, so I think she works until the 23rd and only has off until the 3rd. Not so cool. My walk back to the train station was quite lovely. I decided to go down by the river and enjoy the place I've walked so many times. I wasn't disappointed.
And who knew there would be a tribute to me right there on the graffiti wall?
It was like it was my special day or something :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bravery Really is...

Someday I'm going to speak Czech. I wish that someday was now. I wish it was a language a bit more closely related. A language I could just fall into. I could spend all my time being frustrated with the fact that I sound like a toddler at best when I try to choke out as word or two here and there. Sometimes that is exactly what I do. Other times I say, sure I'll go shopping with you all day my dear parents-in-law, without the company of my husband. (He had to stay home and keep an eye on Katcha, who does happen to be doing better. She's walking around and eating and drinking, and even went outside a couple of times today which is definitely a relief for all of us.) As soon as we were in the car my phone rang. Just a little quick question from my Love, but it was enough to alert the parents that I do have an operational phone now. Which led to them asking for my number. I'm not quite sure what we would be able to say if they did need to call me, but it was a nice gesture all the same. And I even managed to tell them that my phone is very old because I bought it when I lived in Hong Kong. I felt relatively pleased with the exchange. It was very nearly an actual conversation with at least a couple complete sentences. We headed out toward Plzen, but made a cemetery stop first. I came out here once before last summer. There is something so powerful about visiting a family grave site. I'm not sure how many years it has been since Mark's grandmother passed away, but it is obviuos that his father is still very much attached. A Christmas bouquet was placed beside the headstone, and an electric candle, that flickers like a real candle, was added to the glass candle box. Czech graves are quite different from the ones we have in America. They are often more like little stone boxes and they're set so close together that there is now way of knowing where the body actually lies. We stood a moment, admiring the new additions, and then said goodbye. An emotional experience, even though I never met the woman. After that it was shopping time. It was the final shopping weekend before Christmas, so there was plenty to get done. Our first few shops were busy, but not over the top. I've been in American malls at this time of year. I've experienced the frenzy. It wasn't really like that here. There wer lots of people, but they weren't so frantic. Christmas is a big deal here, not like in Hong Kong where it's more like just another excuse for grand displays and materialism. They get really into it, but I feel like the focus is more on making millions of Christmas cookies, and preparing for the big day than it is about spending every spare moment shopping. Or at least not until after lunch. We took a break at the classic food stop, the York Hotel. Lunch was nice. Being the conscientious Czech parents that they are, they insisted that getting a small salad and krokety did not a proper meal make. After scouring the menu for things they thought I might like, they know I like pizza and pasta, they accepted my choice of a salad with chicken. At least it involved meat. We returned to shopping and it seemed the floodgates had opened at last. The parking lot of the next place we tried was ultra full. Full to the point that after ten minutes of driving around we totally gave up and drove off. We had better luck at the next couple places (did I mention that Plzen has a LOT of shopping malls?) but there were definitely bigger crowds. There are some people who get all antsy about Christmas shopping, but I'm just not one of them. I actually enjoy being out in the crush and rush. Probably partly because it does remind me of Hong Kong on a normal day. I also just love looking at the rows and rows of fresh clean things. I suppose you could call it some twisted materialism, but I don't even need to buy anything. I just like to see it. I like to see things and get ideas about how it must be to have stuff like that. Totally bizarre, I know, but there it is. In the end, I know everything I'm getting for Christmas, but it was all fun anyway. I also know what Mark is getting, and I just have to enjoy that he, who doesn't like surprises, doesn't know, while I, who do like surprises, knows. It's a bit odd, but sometimes you just have to accept doing things differently, right? By the time we got home it was about 6PM. It had been a long language overload sort of day. I didn't succeed in talking as much as I would like, but I was there. I spent the whole day struggling to understand, and trying to make myself understood at least every now and again. It will get better one of these days, I'm sure of it. Just not sure exactly when that day will be or how it will be achieved. For now I just have to be content with the small things and thankful for every victory in overcoming the language barrier.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Foreshadowing

I've been thinking a lot about foreshadowing recently. It's one of those things that writers often use. Sometimes they're little hints you don't even realize until you've finished the book. I have to say that J.K. Rowling was always very good at this. When you have a plan and know where it is going to go, it's hard not to slip in little clues. Perhaps it's out of some sense of duty to prepare your readers for a big event. And even when you tell a story about your own life, it's hard not to slip in little previews of what is to come. But on a daily basis, foreshadowing does not exist. Sometimes things you aren't planning for just happen. It's like Katcha, Mark's beloved dog, having a stroke two nights ago. He had spent the whole year missing her, looking forward to spending time with her, and remembering all the good things about her. Then two weeks after we arrive, she has a stroke. Wednesday night she was perfectly fine, and Thursday morning she was vomiting buckets. She's a bit better today, and the doctors have apparently given her some hope, but she can hardly move on her own, and scarecely nibbles at food. It's a horrible tragedy, and we didn't see it coming. This happens so often in life. The end of this month will mark the one year anniversary of my dear friend Becky's death. She was just on her way home from work on a Thursday. Nothing remarkable, except that it was a rather nasty weather sort of day, but her family, and she herself, did not have some lurking feeling that horror was on the horizon. Now in retrospect, we can often see signs. If I were writing the story of us, I might say that the way Katcha responded to Mark when we arrived was a sign that she was pulling away, preparing for disaster. He was so thrilled to see her, and she was reserved, almost resentful even. I teased that she was giving him the cold shoulder for being gone so long, but now it can be reinterpreted as something deeper. Perhaps the very fact that I was thinking about foreshadowing before this happened was foreshadowing enough. I continue to make progress on my book, but I'm writing it in a different way than I normally do. After reading a book in High School, by Gilbert Morris of all people, I got in the habit of layout. This is actually a very usefull tool when getting something accomplished. If I plan out what will happen in advance, all I have to do is fill in the pieces. It's also useful to have models written up of each character, so you don't accidentally change them from being brown eyed to blue somewhere in the middle. I suppose an editor would help with things like that too, but this time, I'm just wingin' it. There can be no foreshadowing because I don't exactly know where I'm taking it. This is rather dangerous, because it often leads to "Never ending story" Syndrome. But it also means when things happen in the story they happen more organically. They come to pass in the moment, rather than having informative music playing in the background, telling you exactly how you should feel about the upcoming scene. I'm sure when all is said and done, we should be thankful that we cannot see the future. While it might force us to hold the ones we love a bit more dear because we know the exact moment when we will lose them, it would most likely also blind us with fear. It must be enough to say that God is in control.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Flashback Photo Frenzy

At long last we have the computer working with the internet. That means full access to pictures with ability to post them. Hopefully it also means no crankiness on the part of the server when I try to make this post a reality. Today seems as good a day as any for doing this, seeing as how I'm not leaving my room much on account of a barfing dog. Poor Katcha has been all kinds of pukish today, and so we're trying to keep things nice and mellow for her, which means me sitting on the bed and being present if she decides to up-chuck again. Yummy, isn't it. Let's just say I've had a lot more experience with bodily fluids than my husband has, which makes me the prime candidate for doggie sick duty. But enough of that, lets go for that stroll down memory lane I've been promising for ages. We're going all the way back to Moscow for the start of this trip. Back when my dear little white mac decided it was full and didn't want to accept any more photos. Silly little thing. Hopefully after a three month respite it will be ready to accept me with open arms once again. So here are those little autumn lovelies from Idaho.
This water was actually kind of sickly looking, but the reflection was so nice I just couldn't resist.
And what would a little photo montage be without a poser shot? Do you know how hard it is to get a camera to balance on a branch at just the right angle? It's tricky. I have nice tripod that would make it all easier, but I often forget to carry it around in my purse all the time. Our next segment recalls those brutal cookies I whipped up for Halloween. I did post a few of these photos off my phone as well, but these are gloriously awful. You can see in the first one that they looked even more fingerlike before baking, but they puffed up quite a bit. I'll know better if I make them again.
Apparently I find it shamelessly entertaining to post photos of food I've managed to make. Perhaps it's because I'm so not a "foodie." So here are the Thanksgiving cookies my mom and I made out of another Rachel Ray mag. They had a lot of cream cheese in them, and were stuffed with apricot jam. A definite hit with the men in the house :)
A small nod now to the lovely Starbucks cup I got from Amy and Nate. I was extra excited to learn that you get a ten cent discount when you order your drink in the cup. So here you have Christmas (that's peppermint mocha for those not in the know) in a Hong Kong cup :)
We now have a bizarre little segue involving some food that I did not make. I must say that my wedding cake was a bit of a disaster. The cake lady delivered it basically as the wedding was starting, probably to avoid actually having to deal with anyone directly involved. It was more than a little off balance, and the longer you looked at it, the more obvious it was that it was essentially patched together with excessive quantities of frosting. At the same time, she made really beautiful sugary flowers, and it didn't taste bad. Wanting to hold with tradition as much as possible, although I've always been curious how a tradition like saving the top of your cake for your first anniversary came about seeing as how it started before refrigeration, we pulled the cake topper out when we were in McMinnville right before heading to Czech. Amazingly, it thawed out into a moist,delicious, chocolatey mess. You can see how the frosting mostly separated off revealing what a hack job it was, but at least it was tasty and the flowers remained in tact.
Next we have a picture of my most recent crochet job. A blanket I made for Jessie's new baby, Daniela, who entered the world the day after I left. At least I got to deliver the blanket in advance :)
On the day we flew out we decided to enjoy a little bit of Seattle. I feel like I have neglected Mark's education of cool things to see in the US, so it was nice to at least give him something before we left.
Yes, this is the first Starbucks. How could we resist checking that out.
I just couldn't resist that last photo of the Ross store. It looks a wee bit classier than our little Moscow Ross, but I imagine it isn't nearly as neat, clean and organized :) After our flight this was the first real Czech advertisement I saw. It was so absolutely bizarre and creepy that I just had to take a photo.
And here you can see the lovely little room that my mom-in-law had made up so nicely for us. It's where I'm sitting at this very moment as I type, with Katcha down at the end wrapped up in Mark's comforter and thankfully not barfing.
And the final photo on our little journey is of the cookies I put the cream on. I have yet to taste them, because all the cookies have been boxed up to take out at Christmas time, but at least I know they look beautiful.
So there you have a quick tour of photos from the last couple of months. Sorry for leaving it all as such a blur, but so it goes. Now that I know this computer will go online I'll try to keep things better up to date photo wise. It really helps to break up the posts, which I think makes them a bit less intimidating.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And Then It All Went Away...

They've gone and changed something. I'm really not sure why they feel they have to do this. Whoever they might be, they really out to check and make sure before they just do things. Especially when the things they do cause lovely blogs that are all nice and neatly typed to suddenly disappear. Now I'm not even sure I want to go through with even trying to recount it all. The worst bit is, that I actually saw that something was askew after hitting publish twice and getting a big fat nothing, so I specifically made sure to copy it all so I could just reconfigure things and paste it back on. But the thing is so irritating that it refuses to paste it. So, post gone. Self, irritated. What I had done was share the story of today. It was all full of the little trip I went on with my mom-in-law today and how I had to be brave to just put myself out there and go shopping with her on my own. I talked about how it was a glorious day to begin with. The sun was shining brightly, the sort of thing you just don't ignore in the middle of December. We took a crowded bus and wondered together why there were so many people not at work on a Wednesday morning. I felt like I was even somehow being clever with my tale. I wrote about our visits to the expensive shops, and how she fit right in there. In contrast, when I tried to go in the same places during last summer I always felt a bit out of place. And it wasn't just because of my lack of Czech skills. There was also a nice little anectdote about going into the Vietnamese shop, the sort of place you'd find in Mong Kok, full of cheap imitations and odd smells, and how she actually found a couple Czech's working there to make her feel a bit less out of place with her mui mui bag and her Guess boots. Then, just because my world seems to have been doused with domesticity, I shared about my pathetic attempts to peel potatoes in the face of her quick strokes, and then about how I actually copied down her recipe for green salad, but mostly because I was so intrigued that she added powdered sugar to her little dressing mixture. Now I've just gone and slopped this all together into something far from brilliant, and I'm filled with dread that even this will turn out to be a waste of time, because chances are that it won't post either, leaving me seething. I forgot to add that in the middle of our shopping trip the weather turned, as promised, to rain, and when Mark and I took the dog out later it was an absolute downpour. I suppose that's just what's to be expected at this time of year. Now I'm just going to put this grumpy little post to the test and see where it gets me. (sigh) I really do wish they'd learn to leave well enough alone!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Adventures in Czech Cookery (Part 3)

Okay, so I didn't lable part's one and two, but I think you can figure them out. The mom-in-law came home early with an intense eye ache, but insisted that she'd brought a chunk of meat out of the freezer with the intent to continue my education, and therefore, It just had to be done.

I must admit I'm getting a bit worried about the wordiness of my blogs. They miss the pictures I'd love to insert, but iPad and photos continue to refuse to work together with blog. So. I regret to inform that the picture of my beef with onions in sauce (my own name for it) will just have to wait.

I brought only two books with me to Czech this trip. It's week two, and I'm already half way through with the second. Oops. At least I have a few downloaded on my iPad. I imagine War and Peace will take me a while. (The beauty of free classics!) Anyhow, the book I'm devouring at the moment is Julie and Julia. I saw the movie with my mom and sisters (Jessie included) a couple years ago, and really enjoyed it. I have to say this might be one of those times when the movie outdoes the book. I know, those cases are few and far between, but style, while entertaining, isn't exactly friendly for all audiences the way the movie was. Regardless, it seems a fitting book to read while taking my own stab at culinary something or another. After reading the chapter about her murdering lobsters, it seemed only appropriate that I should have to touch raw meat.

Today's process started out with mom-in-law chopping a chunk of partially frozen raw beef into chunks, then having me pound them with a pokey metal mallet. That done, she began the frying in oil bit, whilst giving me the task of peeling onions. Now, in general I'm a pretty fast person. Maybe not always as fast on the uptake as I'd like to be, but I do things quickly. I walk fast. I clean fast. I write five to ten page papers fast. It's how I roll... Until I find myself in the kitchen. Then langour is probably a better word for it. Mostly because it sounds like a mixture of being really slow and a little horrified, and maybe kind of bored too because I know it's all going to take so long and that I'm going to end up looking inept in the process. I have peeled my fair share of onions, back in the Great Harvest days when I made Curry chicken salads, and fresh slices for sandwiches it was part of my daily routine. Always healthy to have a good cry in the morning, right? But it seems like everyone has a method, and hers involved being faster and less frightened of knives than mine. Likewise, everyone has their own way of chopping onions, and so I did my best to follow hers, but I'm sure that if given the task on my own, I'd probably do it differently. Either way the meat got it's sear and the onions got in to become brown and translucent and things were well underway.

The funny thing about people who know how to cook in general, is that they think it's easy. Okay, maybe it's not rocket science, but easy? That's a bit of a stretch. Yeah, I know following a menu is about reading. I can do reading. And I know that prepping ingredients is so basic that kids can do it. Well, I can do it too. It's not so much all of that part that is the issue really. It's knowing how to know that it's done, and having it turn out like it does in the pretty picture books.

In the book I'm reading, Julie had that problem too. Julia Child would talk about everything like it was a mixture of ease and a thrill. When attempted in real life, however, it was often a disaster. Because how is a person just supposed to know or feel when it's exactly the right moment between perfection and granulated, or charred, or straight up mush? Now imagine trying to figure all that out when someone is speaking a language you don't really know all that well.

Each time "easy" and "finished" were spoken with glee, I knew that when it came my time to cook it on my own it would be more like: Now build the great wall of China in thirty minutes and when you're done it will look like the Eiffel Tower decorated in twinkly lights for Christmas. Just gonna have to wait and see how it goes I guess.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jiste Jedno, Noch Einmal, Once Again...

As "anyone" can plainly see, I've been in Germany again. I must admit, I always tremble a bit when I enter tri-lingual situations. Hard to know if I can possibly be up for the challenge. The truth of the matter is, I know one language. Sure, I've dabbled in this and that in the lingual sense, but most people don't consider being able to count to ten and say I love you sufficient evidence of language mastery.

Surprisingly, speaking to four year olds in German ins't quite the daunting task one might think it to be. They're used to people asking them the names of things to test their brilliance, and see nothing wrong with this practice at all. They also speak simply, if not exactly slowly or clearly. You know, you get used to being called "Sigh-ya" and "Mall-ek." Of course try to repeat these words in the way they say them and they'll look at you like you're clearly lacking something in the intelligence category.

But there was more to the trip than just wracking my brain for the right word. I've discovered that I can speak German more easily yet I understand Czech better. I think this is partly because I actually studied German so I have a good feeling for the sentence structure and while I might not always have the vocabulary I can wiggle around it a bit more than I can in Czech. As far as the understanding part goes, I've been listening to Czech a lot more often, be it in conversation or on television, and that has definitely helped with my comprehension. Just don't ask me to string words together because I'm certain to put them in the wrong order and with totally incorrect endings. Thankfully, I was able to pull it off well enough that the twins probably don't even realize I don't speak German, the girls at least felt like I could follow what they were saying and make basic replies, and I was able to carry on a conversation with my sister-in-law during which we both communicated successfully. Granted, I might have occasionally agreed to things that weren't exactly true, but what's life without a few micommunications, right? Even when both parties are fluent in a mutual langauge they don't always get the whole story straight, so I'd say we did pretty well, all things considered.

Of course, there was more than just talking that took place. Saturday morning I had a completely new experience. I'm not sure if this is cultural or what (probably some health regime I've just never heard of) but we had garlic soup for breakfast. That's right, a nice water garlic soup with a few random chunks of potato on the bottom and little crunchy balls of some time sprinkled on top. Considering the fact that my husband thinks eating syrupy waffles in the same meal as bacon (especially for dinner) is the strangest combination ever, I have to say that I've never heard of anyone having garlic soup for breakfast.

After that odd start to the day (well, actually the day started much earlier, seeing as how we still woke up at - gasp - 5 AM, but that's beside the point) Mark left me to fend for myself. This is when I not only impressed myself with my ability to cope, I also learned a new cooking skill. First I helped the kids a bit with putting jam in the middle of sandwich cookies (not nearly as complicated as it sounds unless you're four and think that you should lick off the excess around the edges...). Then I was called upon to make cinnamon sugar coated almonds. I've often bought these tasty little treats at holiday and festival markets in Czech, but this was definitely my first attempt making them. While I did have a large amount of helpful supervision in the form of my sister-in-law, I think I could actually produce said nuts again on my own. I even went so far as to use my iPad skills to document the process and translated the recipe from German to English. Nice.

Later in the afternoon, after the men returned from their shopping trip (oh the joy of electronics stores) the entire crew headed to the ice skating rink in Weiden. Now let me first say that I've only been ice skating once before. It was either Junior or Senior year of high school, some sort of youth group event I believe. I spent the entire time just barely not clinging to the wall. Much as I hate to admit it, 16 or 17 was a long time ago. I won't say quite how long, but suffice it to say, I can basically call this my first time ice skating for all the good that prior trip did me.

For those not in the know, ice skates are really very painful contraptions. My ankles are bruised just from strapping them on. And there is really nothing natural about the stance you have to take in order to drift across the ice. Perhaps, once you really get into the swing of things, your body naturally bends to the point that the skates are somehow comfortable, but I never got there. I just did my best to stay standing. By the end of our outing I felt just about confident enough to allow for several feet to separate me from the wall, and I even got to the point where I would actually lift one foot completely off the ice for more than the briefest of moments. I wasn't about to start trying a triple sow cow (yes I'm quite certain that is not how you spell it, but that IS how it sounds) and my one nasty fall was enough to make me think that being even a little bit daring was a little bit too much, but I still managed to have a good time, and even let Mark take me out into the middle for a couple fast loops. Note: I was clinging tightly to his hand the whole time.

In the evening, the girls made dinner for us all. They were very cute about keeping us all out of the kitchen while they prepared it all. There were name cards set for everyone, and all the makings for sandwiches were spread out on the table for us to enjoy. Very fun.

I would also like to note that the two reptiles - Gary the turtle and Gary the chameleon - somehow met their demise over the past year and were replaced by two rodents. One is a rabbit (okay a bit better than a rodent, but still a nocturnal creature in a cage) and the other was some sort of creepy albino sort of something. The rabbit seemed to be allergic to something and kept sneezing all the time, and during the night the other thing kept making sounds like it was trying feverishly to escape. Not the most encouraging sound to hear when you're trying to sleep.

Overall, it was a really great weekend. Even though I'm still not sure what language to speak or even think in at times, I'm doing my best to get a hang of things :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

I'm Not a Dancer

No matter how you look at it, I'm just not. I'm not graceful. I can't make my body sway, unless holding a tiny baby, in which case I naturally rock back and forth to that mysterious music that is an infant.
The point of all this, baffling as I'm sure it no doubt is, is that I have a new Denise Austin workout video. I've been a fan for quite a while. It all started in a tiny apartment in Albany, OR. It was a cheap place to live, complete with "special" neighbors, and a gang of children who oddly decided "tu casa is mi casa" or something to that effect. (No Spanish is not a language I have any sort of fluency in.) Seriously, these kids would just walk into our house and ask for candy. Had to start locking the doors and pretending not to be home in order to get any peace.
This is all beside the point. I could do a long post on all the weird that went down at that flat, actually it's part of a book I started writing way back then which continues to sit incomplete on my computer along side quite a few other beauties. One of these days... But I really will focus. The point is, Jessie got me hooked on Denise. There is something about this woman who is now in her fifties and still looks and moves like she's 25 fhat is positively infectious. She has some of the best catch phrases EVER!
"If you don't squeeze it, no one else will."
"Burn that butter."
"Shuffle, Shuffle, Shuffle, Squat."
"You'll look GREAT in a bathing suit."
Just a few faves there. She does it all with a smile. Workouts that make my whole body burn, and the air come in little painful bursts from my body, and she smiles and chats just like you're sitting in a cafe drinking coffee. It's the sort of thing that would generally make me want to slap a person, but you just gotta love Denise.
Beyond all these things, she manages to make every move she makes look like she's dancing. I don't care if it's kick boxing, or basic stretches, the woman has moves! Sadly, I just don't. I'm sure that if anyone actually were to watch me through the lace curtains on the fourth floor (which I swear is literally - and thankfully - impossible) they couldn't help but laugh.
Right now I'm still just trying to get a basic handle on the new routiens. I'm sure that in a few weeks, if I manage to keep it up, I'll at least look slightly less like a bumbling idiot. I'll figure out where she's going next, and hopefully my body will respond in a positive way to the exercise in order to counteract all the heavy greasy food we eat around here. I don't care what people say about American cuisine (or lack thereof) the Czech's definitely know how to lay it all on thick. From creamy sauces and hearty dumplings, to fried cheese and krokety, my only hope is that Denise will keep my rear in gear, even if she can't make me svelt and graceful.
Just a little heads up here at the end, we're heading to Germany this afternoon for the weekend. Time to wrap my mind back around language number three. I did manage to send birthday greetings on the phone to our niece Jenny who just turned 11. Quite a feat actually. At least in person you can rely on body language, but talking on the phone has to be one of the most challenging skills to master.
So, language overload, here we come. Should be good fun. :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jet Lat? Or Something Like It...

Can you still call it jet lag after more than a week? I'm beginning to feel oddly suspicious that it is simply a deranged new sleeping pattern. I can remember times flying back from Hong Kong, typically an emotional mess, that I would go more than thirty hours without sleep and then turn into a gooey mess of time flipped confusion that seemed to go on for ages. Typically this was because I coddled to myself. If I felt tired I let myself sleep. Worse yet, I would let myself sleep whenever I felt like it for as long as my body felt like sleeping. Rookie mistakes that spread the adjustment process out for far too long.
I no longer have any excuses. I am no novice flyer. Okay, so it's not like I'm some sort of world traveling journalist or something, but I've done my fair share of getting around the planet. I know that, while it's fine to sleep as much as you want on a flight, when you arrive the goal is to stay up as late as humanly possible, then wake up when your body prompts you in the morning, regardless of how early that may be, and then press on actively all day until you collapse into sleep at the end of a long day at a reasonable hour. It's not an easy thing to do, but if followed the system works. This is especially true on holiday trips when you have only a couple of weeks to enjoy whatever distant land you have come to discover.
However, this trip is not like that. We have three months. That's almost enough time to be sloppy about it. If we spend a week in mindless self indulgence, we aren't going to waste our entire trip. There is still time to go into town and bask in the golden glow of the ancient spa hotels. The oplatky isn't going to all be consumed without us. The trains will still be there.
Then there's the whole issue of the snow. It's not really piling up just yet, but in a short lap around the house with Katcha the other night, I came in completely covered in white. It's sort of messy and all tied in with cold and wet, two things that have never been my faves.
At the same time, another thing that has never been my favorite, is the early morning. True, when I was a tiny tot I would miraculously wake up before 7 every Saturday morning in order to curl up in front of the television and watch the fuzz until the cartoons would be begin. The house was generally still asleep, except maybe for Dad, and I would keep the volume so low that it required me to sit within a few feet to hear anything at all. And I can't deny that Redding sunrises are a spectacular sight to behold, but I was always more than happy to curl back up in bed after witnessing them during my work mornings in college.
Anyone who knows me very well at all, or who has ever seen, or even worse HEARD me in the mornings is well aware that they just don't do it for me. I'd rather stay awake until 5 AM than get up at that heinous hour. But that is exactly what I have been doing. True, this is largely due to my sweet husband, who doesn't have my strict rules about getting over jet lag having only made this back and forth journey once in his life, and has been taking long afternoon naps that sometimes stretch until 3AM and then being fully awake through all those early morning hours. On both Tuesday and Wednesday he came in cheerfully at 5 and informed me that it was morning and therefore time to get up. The pitch blackness beyond the lacy curtains was more than enough to convince me that he was a liar. Mornings are supposed to be about warm sunlight stealing gently across the floor and sweetly nudging me into wakefulness. Apparently not any more.
While I was able to groan and squeal, and mostly convince him that what he was doing was sick and wrong, the damage was done. I was awake. The fact that his parents were up and getting ready to head off to work didn't make escaping back into blissful oblivion any easier. So on both occasions, by 5:45 or so, I gave up. Sure, it's true, you can get stuff done in the morning. I caught up in my journal, finished reading a book, and got back into my Denise Austin exercise videos. These are good things. They make it easier to be at least slightly energized and ready to go by 9 AM when I've been beginning work on my book writing.
Unfortunately, it also means something more sinister. By 8 PM I find myself getting downright groggy. 8. P. M. This is NOT okay in my book. Not even a little bit. So I know people who put their toddlers to bed that early, but I scarcely remember a time when 9 was not my earliest bedtiem. And I didn't even go to sleep right then. That was when Dad would start reading to us, not to mention prayer time that I always tried to stretch out as long as possible with the hope that he would fall asleep on the floor meaning I wouldn't have to fall asleep in the room alone. This was in large part because my dad IS a morning person.
Anyhow, I've been using whatever devices I can to keep myself up just as long as possible, but it's depressing to find myself falling asleep before ten, completely unable to keep my little eyes open. Then, this morning, my body had the audacity to wake up at 5 AM of it's own accord! Talk about total rubbish. I put off turning my lamp on until 5:30. The other half of the bed was already empty, seeing as how he had slept through most of the afternoon and evening, and had only come in for a little visit between 2 and 2:30 when he have up completely and went back to watching TV in the other room.
I'm really hoping a pattern isn't being established here that will run on for very long. Eventually I'm going to need to be up at night. It's just a must for my general well being. So for the state of my nerves, I think I'm just going to keep calling this jet lag a little bit longer and hope it all evens out in the right direction soon.

Maybe It's a Touch of Pixie Dust

Driving around through the Czech Republic might look a lot like crusing through the Willamette Valley of Oregon, but there is a distinct difference. Nestled amongst the forested hills, beside the resting fields, and tucked securely in river bends are ancient villages (not small towns but definitely villages) where ancient cathedrals stand with spires sparkling in the sun, and castles make apperances along teh way. It jsut isn't something you can compare to America. It makes this place seem other worldly somehow.
It's hard to explain just how enchating this place can be. I have yet to visit any of these fascinating places since my arrival. I guess knowing we'll be here for three months has us moving a little more slowly than we would if we were only here for two weeks. There's also the fact that for my Love, this is just home. Fantastic, wonderfully glorious, home. He is more than content to curl up in the room of his childhood and just be here.
Much as I love it, I want a little bit more. I want to go out and explore. I want to take my ancient digital camera and discover new details. I want to feel that I'm having a European experience, not just spend all day in our little room here. (sigh)
I know we will do more as the days go by, but it has started snowing, and that makes it less than appealing to just wander about on my own. Snow can be lovely, don't get me wrong, but with no personal mode of transportation except my own feet, the idea of just going anywhere means being cold and wet. Not really my favorite things.
On the positively bright side of things, I've really been getting back to the challenge. After a week of not feeling capable of holding on to any type of schedule, I've spent the past two days writing seriously. Due to some complications in transferring the data from my macbook to my iPad, I'm not able to track how many pages I've written, but I'm gonna guess it's quite a few :) And the magic of this place seems to be working for my story as well. I'm not quite ready to hand out details just yet, but living in a fairy tale sort of land lends itself well to the task at hand.
I've been working on preparing some pictures to post, because I know that is far more interesting than miles of basic text, but for some reason I haven't figured out how to get the computer to hook up to the internet, so for now, I'll just end this post with some suspense. Maybe there will be pictures next time...maybe there won't.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Making Christmas, Making Christmas, Making Christ-mas, It's Czech This Time...

First line of business this morning? Making Czech Christmas cookies with my mother-in-law. Now I woke up around 7:30, thinking I should still have a decent amount of time to get ready for the cooking plan, but by 8:30 when I'd finished my journal writing and getting dressed, she already had things well in progress.
Perhaps before I get any farther under way I should explain a couple of things.
Thing One: The Czech Christmas Cookie Tradition
Czech's really go all out with their holiday cookie making. Yeah, we like cookies and other sweets at the holidays in the US too, but here it's a big deal. When I was teaching my students would start talking about how they were already making cookies for Christmas a good month in advance. The cookies, or cukrovy, are really something special. Most people make a number of different varieties, I think we have four or five here this year. They're tiny little delicacies, more mouthfulls than the American variety, and are passed out as gifts and shared at parties and consumed in mass quantities at home.
Thing Two: My Mother-in-law
She's really quite a wonder. She's a full time nurse and an immaculate house keeper. After a long day at work the first thing she does when she comes home is to clean. As spotless as the place looks to me, she always seems to have this need to make it even cleaner. She reminds me a lot of my Grandma in that sense. Everything she does, she does to perfection. Cooking, cleaning, and her other passion - shopping - are all perfectly executed.
So back to my story, I got up thinking I could really learn something today about making Czech Christmas cookies. I was all set. I had my iPad prepared to write down recipes and serve as a translator when necessary, as well as taking photos to better illustrate what was going on. However, there wasn't really anything left to mix up when I got there. I still got to help, but it was beyond any point of actually learning what went into them, so in the future I guess I'll just have to look up recipes and figure it out on my own.
The first thing she had me do was pipe a nougat paste onto some nutty crescent cookies. At first I thought it was going to be a filling, but once they were all topped with the cream she put them out on the balcony (this is what she uses instead of refrigerator space) to cool and harden. Later on in the afternoon they were topped with a chocolate drizzle, but I missed out on that bit. At least I played some small part in their creation.
Okay, so I've just discovered that for some unknown reason my iPad doesn't want to let me upload photos to my post. I'm really not certain why, I mean I even figured out how to do it on my phone, but for now I guess this is going to be a rather bland post. I have some fun photos too :( Ah well.
Guess I'll just have to make do with words. The next cookies we worked on were my favorite ones. They are pretty similar to sugar cookies. I was responsible for rolling them out and cutting the shapes. It was fairly easy at first, but as the dough got softer and softer it became really difficult to get it to hold together. The very last shape Anna had to do for me because after I don't know how many pans of cookies I just couldn't make the last one come out in one piece. They only cook for about five minutes until they're lightly brown. She was in charge of the cooking and cooling bit, and she commented on how thankful she was to have me helping because it really makes it easier to manage it all.
Two more things I should add:
Thing One: my mother-in-law speaks no English.
Thing Two: despite having already baked cookies all morning there was no evidence of any dirty dishes becasue she just keeps it that clean. This isn't any huge American kitchen. I can just hear the annoying chicks on House Hunters complaining about how small the galley style kitchen is and how they'd never manage to do anything there, but she does it all and keeps it spick and span. Yes it can be done.
While keeping the cookies cooking, she also boiled off the skins of a huge bowl of almonds. She talked about making a final kind of cookies, but if she did them today it was while I was out with Mark and his friend so I wasn't involved.
The cookies we were working on had to cool and were later filled with jam and closed together, then were finished off with chocolate drizzle on top. The first pan we cooked I'd just been cutting shapes at random, but then she pointed out that there have to be an even number because they're little sandwiches. We really managed to communicate quite well, or at least she communicated and I did my best to keep up. She also made sure to separately bake the ones I didn't roll out thinly enough from the ones that were the proper thickness. She didn't actually point it out to me, but I noticed and was glad she was the one in charge.
In the end, we have a great little collection of cookies. She told me that most Czech women these days don't take the time to make the cookies and buy them at the store instead. We both agreed that the store bought variety are not nearly the quality of homemade.
Overall, it was a great practice for me, even though I still have no idea how to make them on my own. The plan is for me to continue cooking with her to learn how to make other traditional Czech dishes. Next time I'll just have to be sure what time she's going to start so I can actually be awake for it. :)

Friday, December 2, 2011

And Now I'm Here...

Things change. That's just part of this life that we live. Things change, and yet there are so many things that stay the same. Perhaps being in Europe provides a greater sense of that. After all, here you can see buildings that have been around for much longer than my home country. They whisper the memories of those long gone, yet even in their seeming permanence, they too have changed, become decrepit whispers of former granduer.
It is good to be back in Czech. There is something here that feels like home. I have such a strange sense of home really. Little pockets around the world fill me with a sense of belonging, a memory of long days passed in familiarity. All around the world these home thoughts call to me. Horse Creek, Blodgett, Redding, Hong Kong, Salem, even Eagle River and Moscow, not to mention Cheb and Marianske Lazne. It makes me wonder if there will ever be a place that can pull them all together and feel like my home in the moment. It all gets so complicated.
Anyhow, we made it safely here on Wednesday evening. The eight hour flight from Seattle to London literally flew by. There wasn't nearly enough time to watch all the movies I wanted to see and sleep as well. After a three hour layover at Heathrow airport, we zipped on over to Prague. One moment US the next CZ. Crazy now fast it all happens. It didn't really feel real until we were there.
The rest of the night was a bit blurry. The car ride home, the Czech meal at a restaurant in Plzen (the place I first ate with Mark and his parents together) then more driving. I slept a lot of the time to be honest. We arrived safely and unpacked, then later we headed out to see one of Mark's friends. By the time we got to bed it was ultra late and any hope I might have had of being on a sleeping schedule was out the window. It was all made even worse the next morning. I know better, I really do. It's not like this is my first time or anything. But after waking up around 6:30, I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore by 11:30 and I slept about 3 hours. Um, stupid much? (sigh)
Anyhow we spent a quiet day on Thursday just trying to recouperate. We didn't really even go out much at all, just a brief trip down to the nearest store. I decided to keep myself up as long as possible in order to get into a schedule. So I went to bed around 12:30 or so, thinking I'd try to even things out. I wanted to sleep til my eyes popped open so I could start fresth. The only problem was, my eyes popped wide open at 11:30 AM. I slept like 11 hours! I honestly have no idea if I've ever slept that long in my life except when really sick.
Well, I had other things I was going to say, but this got interrupted and I lost the thread so I think I'll leave this as it is and try to post more regularly to keep up the flow. Posdravuju na Ceske Republiky ;)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Short timer

I've come to the point again where I'm a short timer. It always puts me in a strange mood. Regardless of the life change, it's always somewaht disconcerting. I'm back in the land of the unemployed. My future is once again up in the air. Having always been the sort of person who enjoys a certain amount of control over things, a wide safety net and all of that, I have to admit I'm a bit uneasy. I'm sure things will all work out, and of course I'm excited about the travel that's about to happen, but it's hard not to let the concerns and worries of this life crop up.
For some reason I'm suddenly reminded of this article in one of my old English teaching books about this man who just decided to give up everything and live in the woods. He still had a job, still had friends and family, but he slept in the woods in his one suit and that was pretty much it. I'm not sure what all he was trying to prove, but the fact of the matter is that he did it. He went out and just slept on the ground and cooked food in a pot over a fire like a classical hobo. Of course he also still had connections to technology and wrote a blog about it as well. I just can't imagine having that sort of dream.
Granted, it's equally hard for me to imagine the life I see lived on HGTV. These young couples just starting out and buying expensive homes that I could never even concieve of being able to afford. They nit pick about absoultely everything. I saw an episode of "House Hunters International" where this girl was moving to Abu Dhabi, and she kept complianing about the tile on the floors, like that having ugly floors would ruin her entire experience there. Still a lot better than sleeping on the ground, right?
I know I'm not likely to be buying a house or sleeping on the ground anytime soon, it's just that my head is a bit of a mess. I have to pack, both for my trip and also for moving, and my motivation is at an all time low. I'm not really even sure why. I just can't manage to get myself to get anything done. I just want to play with my iPad, or read a book, or stare mindlessly out the window. I've been getting little things done. I've finally finished my thank you cards, but I still have wedding pictures I need to send to people. All these little things that aren't hard to do, but I can't seem to get them done. (sigh)
Anyhow, I am excited about the trip. It will be lovely to be in Czech again; to see family and friends, to experience the culture and the history, to eat a few different kinds of food (much more for Mark's benefit than mine) and just to get a different view of life. I just wish my bags would pack myself, my life would magically get itself in order, and my motivation would return with the boundless energy of a three year old. I know, asking a lot, but a girl's gotta try.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two Weeks Notice...

I feel like my job status is endlessly in transition these days as well. Right after getting my promotion, I've now had to give my two weeks notice that I'm quitting. I don't regret taking the job for the short term. It has helped the store out, as well as providing me with more hours, higher pay and a greater range of job experience over the past couple of months. Of course the fact that I've worked CLOSE every single day that I've had this job is pretty annoying. Okay, that's slightly wrong. I was the mid shift one day I think. But otherwise I've had to close by myself since I started working in the Moscow store. That's not exactly cool. Especially since previously I was working only in the mornings.
I haven't actually talked to the store manager yet, that'll come today in a few hours (ugh) but I told the assistant manager. She fully understood, and I think I should still be able to get a good reference, as well as possibly being able to get a job at the same store over in Oregon when we come back. Not sure if I really want that, but it's always good to have options.
So two weeks from Saturday (that's Nov 19th) I'll work my final shift. While I'm totally ready to move on, and really excited about our trip back to Czech, it's also a bit nerve wracking to know that I'll be unemployed once more. Not really my favorite way to be. I pretty much abhor having everything up in the air. I like plans, and having everything lined up and in place. Right now I'm looking at a black hole sort of future again, and, quite frankly, that freaks me out.
It's one of those times when I have to pull back again and remind myself that God is in control, and while I don't have all the answers, he certainly does. I know the road might still be far from easy, but He will make all things right in His perfect timing. Just have to count on that to get me through.
Which reminds me, I got an absolutely lovely gift box from my friends Amy and Nate. Included in the box was a book about Creative Worship from my old church in Hong Kong, The Vine. It's a great workbook, focused on using all aspects of creativity to worship God. I really appreciate that it stresses how music is not the only outlet we can use for worship. This is especially poignant since the main author of the book is married to the music leader at the church. Anyhow, quite a few of my friends were involved in the project, and I'm so excited to see how God will use this book in my life. It's been a hard and strange disconnected sort of year. I feel unsettled and distracted at best, so it's great to revive a little focus in my life.
Here's to the next chapter about to begin...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Secret's in the Sauce...

Here's just a little glimpse into what I did for Halloween. And you???