Saturday, August 31, 2013

Moje Kopf Spins

Nothing like a weekend spent mixing three languages to really make your brain whirl. Let me also note, that while standing up or walking might not usually feel fast paced, when your head comes into contact with an immovable object (i.e. a shelf) it seems a little different. I manage to smack my head once on each side, only adding to my lingual confusion, and leaving me feeling awkward, stupid, and in pain. Not my finest moment.

English is definitely my strongest (make that my only) language, but when you mix it up with German and Czech, I can follow about 70% of the conversation (if I'm lucky and know the main topic). When it comes to speaking, on the other hand, it's a mess for everyone involved. I throw languages together, which works okay, since the family can understand both, but it definitely doesn't make me look intelligent in the least, and is particularly confusing for the six year old twins.

All this to say, the trip to visit my husband's sister and her family went well, but I can't say my language skills improved much. Thankfully, there was a cute dog there, which always helps to alleviate the tension of feeling incompetent. Everyone who cares at all can speak the language of dogs. It's not hard to read their looks of curiosity, especially when food is involved.

Perhaps I hit my head harder than I thought, because this is all coming out weak and confused, but I'm trying to squeeze all the writing in that I can before we leave. It's not very late, but the added thinking required to communicate with a houseful of non English speakers is exhausting. Now for a good night's sleep before the trip to see Babi (Grandma) tomorrow.

One final note, while my general speaking skills might not have been I passively, I did enjoy showing the kids that's could count to ten in six languages. Not a very useful skill, but at least something :)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Here Come the Lasts

Three weeks I not much time to be home. It is so short that some of the firsts were also lasts. I was blessed to have visits with three special friends, but there were many others that were missed this time around. I am not ready for our time here to be over, even though I know there are so many things to do back on the other side. These days have been so precious, and I feel as though I am breathing better, and seeing things more clearly than I have in a long time.

Today was our last day working in the garden. We have filled holes and dug them, sifted rocks from dirt to create usable soil, mixed and moved cement for a stair base, eaten loads of fresh fruit, pulled countless (my autocorrect just chose the word pointless for countless, hmmmmm) weeds, and today we got a load of premixed cement that we hauled to fill the base of the future green house. We also spent time studying and following ant trails, we found a giant toad and an enormous grasshopper, and yesterday I discovered a mamma cat and her tow adorable kittens. There wer some long days, and seriously back aching work, and today was the last.

Yesterday was my last train ride, my last visit with friends, and my last time in Cheb. The moments I spend with dear people will remain with me, but it is always hard to say goodbye.

And, of course, in the next four days there are more lasts to come. We head to Germany tomorrow for some time with my sister-in-law and her family (this means ultra goulash in my head as I deal with Czech speaking parents, German speaking kids, and the bliss of occasional English from my husby.) On Sunday we're heading south to Susice to visit Grandma. Sadly, the dear elderly man who was her companion for the past few years passed on a couple months ago, but it will be lovely to see Babi again.

Then Monday will come. There will be packing, last minute shopping, and hopefully everything fitting before early Tuesday morning when we will get back on an airplane. Did I mention yet that I hate goodbyes? But that is one of the prices to be paid when you live life as a transient drifter. I have dear ones spread across the globe, which is a beautiful and heart wrenching thing all mixed up at the same time. I'm just going to hope these next few days slow down so the lasts don't pile up quite so fast.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Doing More Weeding

Working at the garden involves a mixture of heavy labor and waiting. There was a point in time when I wanted to be in perpetual motion. This came from a skewed perspective on body image, along with an inability to hold still in general. While I no longer twitch my legs constantly before sleeping (husbands don't take fondly to endless bed shaking) I do need to keep busy or I go a little stir crazy. It doesn't have to be much, but I need something to do. Just sitting and staring at space doesn't do it for me.

So when we are between jobs, or I am considers incapable of helping with a certain project, I weed. I guess I was in training before I came with the work I was doing in my own yard. Thankfully, I haven't gotten blisters this time around, and I have gained some patience in hunting them all down.

It is amazing how liberating spending time at the garden can be. Sure, there is a lot of hard work, but when I am there I am transported back to a simpler time in life. Breathing in the fresh air, feeling my muscles burn, and knowing that I don't have an alarm set for the morning is so refeshing. I'm not going to lie, I'm going to miss this life, but I'm hoping to bring the peace I've regained here back with me.

I've also been doing another kind of weeding. I am busy in my spare time going over my book for the fourth time. There are so many little details to dig into deeper. There are unnecessary adjectives to prune, useless phrases to dig out, and frustrating repetitive moments to eradicate. If I can convey the same meaning with less, I am. If I can make a sentence more direct, I do. I am learning more and more about my original drafts with each passing perusal.

I have never been good at editing. I like to write something once, and be done with it. Sometimes, when I do edit, I have not waited long enough, and the words sound right, because they have freshly come from my mind. But even in my journal writing I have tried to cut down on repetitiveness. Words like "really," "just," "always," and "only" can easily be overusd. I have also found a number of incidents when I have used a more unusual phrase twice on the same page. Horrifying.

There is another thing i have discovered that is diaconcerting. I shy away from being direct. Rather than saying, "he was angry," I say, "he appears to be angry." It bothers me that in my writing I am afraid to say things straight. If I do not know how my characters feel, how can anyone else? Why am I afraid to give voice to the reality? Does this issue run deeper than my writing? A few things to ponder as I clear the way for my book to be purified and ready for mass consumption.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Gift of English

When I stop and think about it, being a native English teacher really is a unique situation. While I generally think it is unfortunate that most English speakers don't learn other languages, the truth is that we have been given a gift that we scarcely realize. We speak the international language that is desired in every country, and this simple fact can make all the difference.

Over the past week or so, I have journeyed back to the city where I taught for three years in the Czech Republic. Cheb is a smallish town of about 33,000 (according to Wikipedia) and it is all easily walkable. Again, I would have some great pictures to post, if only... Anyhow, the first time I went back I visited another teacher who has been there for 8 years, and is about to return to the US in a couple of weeks. While I was there with her, she was in the process of saying goodbye to friends and former students, and I tagged along with her.

When I was there teaching, I didn't think about how unique our situation was. It didn't take long for a large portion of the community to know us. Whether we were in grocery stores, cares, or on the street, we were recognizable as "the Americans." We had a certain position that was respected, and curious at the same time. We were allowed a level of freedom that most other language speakers would not have. For instance, if a German person came to teach in a medium sized US town, few people beyond that person's students would know who he/she was. They might be noticed for their accent, but that is about all. And the likelihood of them forming friendships with their students, and spending time with them outside of class would be slim to none.

I am not trying to say that we native English speakers are in any way better than speakers of other languages, only that we have been given a tremendous opportunity to see the world, and be welcomed into a global community. It makes me wish more of us were willing to go out of our comfort zones and be changed by the beautiful people and cultures at the world has to offer. I am so thankful to have been, and through my husband to continue to be, a part of the Czech culture. To anyone out there who has the freedom to pack up their lives and see the world, I say, go, teach, and I so doing, learn.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

české Zahrady: Czech Gardens

From the first time I came to the Czech Republic, I was always fascinated by their adorable cottages and gardens. I often listened to stories from my students about their weekends at the garden. Whether for work or relaxation, family outings or barbecue parties, the garden is a place many Czechs hold dear.

Having never been very good at expressing my personal wishes, I was unable to secure an invitation to a Czech cottage and garden until near the end of my second year of teaching. When I finally went, it was just as much fun as I had imagined it would be. There is something about being in the little cottage villages that makes an outsider finally feel like a real part of the community.

Since becoming a genuine part of a Czech family, my relationship with the garden has changed. I know it now in a much more intimate way. Ere is a combination of hard work, and the sweet fruits of our labor as well. Something about being back in the garden, smelling the fresh air, and feeling the strain in my muscles as I help to haul away rocks and dirt to complete various projects around takes me back to a different point in time. I can suddenly imagine myself living here again, teaching English, traveling by train, and not having to worry about running a store. Even though there is constant work to be done, it is so different from my daily life that it wipes away time completely.

We have been at the garden almost every day. We have eaten fresh peaches, plums, blueberries, and even a couple stray strawberries. There is the smell of dirt and grass, decaying fruit and fresh dill, fruit, flowers and sweat. Yesterday afternoon, after a hard working morning in the garden, I made a huge mistake. I let myself sleep. Not just a little nap, but serious exhausted sleep. It went on all night. So much for the invigoration of a hard mornings work, but at least it gave me something nice to write about :)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Landed On The Other Side

Well, we made it safely back to Czech. The flight was not as bad as it might have been. In truth, the five hour New York layover broke things up nicely. It would have been even better if it was long enough for us to see so e of the city, but I guess that will have to wait for some other time.

I meant to be keeping up with blogging better, and filling up my posts with pictures,but things have not gone quite as nicely as I would have liked for that to work out. For whatever reason, we are having troubles with our Internet connection, which has made it impossible to upload any photos. I guess I'll just have to post pictures when we get back to the US. Not quite as exciting for the moment, but it means there will be something to look forward to.

So far we have mostly been just settling in. With only tee weeks, there isn't a whole lot of time to waste, but jet lag is a powerful beast to reckon with, and spending time is the primary reason for this visit, so it sorta makes sense.

I have been once to Cheb already, and was able to visit my former colleague, Tammy. We taught together with the same organization for three years, so it was nice to catch up on things. This is actually her last month in Czech, and after eight years here, she will be returning to the US a couple days after us. She is currently planning to move back to Washington State, so there is an option for more visits in the near future, which is nice.

During the few hours I was in town we randomly ran into two other of the local native English speakers who are attached to Czech women. It's a small town, after all, and we English speakers do stand out. We also saw our former Czech co-teacher, Tomas, and former boss, Jarmilla. Clearly it was all destined nicely to be. Amazing how things work out :)

Besides that visit, we have been working on the garden, and I have already had another Czech cooking lesson. There is hope that I will yet learn to feed my husband properly :)

Today, Sunday, we took a nice trip in to Prague to see the exhibition of Tutankhamen. Everything in the exhibit is a replica, but it was still really fascinating. On the drive home we stopped at the Koneprusy caves. These are the largest caves in th Czech Republic. It was quite a warm day, so an hour underground was a pleasant respite. Interesting note, these caves were used as a hiding place for a money counterfeiting operation back in the late 1400s. Pretty fascinating bit of info.

From there we headed into Plzen where my mother-in-law and I had a very brief (in our opinions) shopping expedition. She says we will take the bus one day and leave the men at home so they won't have to endure the horrors of shopping :) should be good fun then.

So there you have a decent update. I've been working on the final draft of my Challenge novel, and trying to reconnect with my journal as well. Little steps to reconnecting with myself on this brief journey.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Only 2 Days Left Until...

The rush is on. Three loads of laundry were completed yesterday, now it's time to start packing. Usually, I make lists to make sure I don't forget anything, but a three week trip isn't quite like a year long relocation, so I've been slacking is time. I already know I can easily purchase any toiletries I might be in need of, and I still have a little of this and that waiting for me in a cupboard, so I should be all right. The real key is not to pack too much, so I have room for bringing back things we might pick up.

I was just thinking that I really could be of service to people who are making long term travel plans. I've done it so many times now, you'd think I know a thing or two about it. The trickiest part is not bringing too much. Maybe I'll do a series on that some day, like so any other bloggers seem to like doing. We'll see.

For now, I'm going to make sure all those clothes we washed are dry, then get a few last minute gifts so that we're ready to go tonight. We aren't flying out until Tuesday, but we will leave the house around 3 AM, and we do have work tomorrow, so there won't be much time left after today.

I am so so so ready for this.

Friday, August 9, 2013

4 days until THIS!

Of course, we will only be flying into Prague, not staying there, but we will be very close to the castle.

And I know I will spend some time back in Cheb, my old home of three years. Hoping to connect wi old friends, and breathe in all the culture and history.

But mostly, we'll be back in Marianske Lazne:

Okay, it is taking me forever to get these pictures up, so I'll stop. I'm just a little excited, is all. And, of course, there won't be any snow this time around. I'm actually hoping for some pretty good weather this time around. Seriously, can't wait!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

5 More Days!

The countdown is seriously on. Five days from now, we should be somewhere over the Atlantic, exhausted by our 6:45 departure time (meaning leaving our house somewhere around 3:15AM) and excited beyond words. It has been almost a year and a half since we were last in Czech. Strange to think of how much has changed. We've gone from unemployed newlyweds, to business owners. That's a lot of change, believe me.

I know we are both really looking forward to having a little time to pull our heads together and just breathe. Of course, three weeks isn't a whole lot of time, and I know it will fly by, but hopefully we'll be able to really soak it all in and enjoy every minute of it.

The really exciting part for anyone who happens to read my blog is knowing that I will soon be somewhere with really interesting things to photograph. Plus, I should have a wee bit more time for writing in my schedule as well. The plan is to write as much as possible. I'm hoping to reconnect with my journal, the sad truth is that I still haven't finished filling the journal I started last time we were in Czech. Anyone who knows anything about my usual journaling habits will be shocked and maybe even saddened by that statistic. It saddens me, and I'm hoping to pick it up again, and reclaim that piece of my life. I plan to take lots of fun Euro pics, and write some fun travel posts. I'm also hoping to go over my challenge book one last time, so it can be ready to publish before my birthday in November. That's a long list of goals, especially knowing we will also be visiting family in Czech and Germany, as well as hanging out with friends as much as possible, but what's life without some big dreams, right?

So my guess is, next post will be from the other side... :D