Saturday, December 18, 2010

This Moment

This Moment: One photo without words that reminds me why I'm here.

(Inspired by SouleMama)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This Moment

This Moment: One Photo without words that reminds me why I'm here.

(In the spirit of SouleMama)

Monday, December 6, 2010

I live here now!

As I've kind of explained, I finally moved from Kolín to Prague. However, I am still working in Kolín until the end of the month. Then I have to go through all the stress of getting a license to teach independently, then get a new visa, and all the paper work that goes with it. I'm not looking forward to it. I'm trying not to think too much about it and to instead focus on how wonderful this new chapter of my life will be--beginning with living in a wonderful new flat in a really easily accessible place in Prague. It couldn't be more different from my life in Kolín and that is so much of its appeal. Also, I have roommates who play the ukulele and leave things like chocolate cake on the table for the taking.

I've got another week of commuting and/or sleeping at school ahead of me. But this rainbow of paper lanterns which I spent most of the weekend making are giving me a sense of calm and hopefulness. I am ready to make this place a home.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

This Moment

One Photo. No Words. A Reminder of Why I Am Here.

(In the tradition of SouleMama)

Friday, November 26, 2010

This Moment

This Moment:
One photo, no words, that reminds me why I am here.

(Based on the tradition of SouleMama)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meta-Blogging/This Moment

From Guide to Online Schools

I got a totally surprising e-mail today that I have been chosen on this list of ECE blogs. When I started writing here two years ago, it was simply a way to keep in contact with my family and friends back home. I write about personal experiences, both silly and important. I write for the sake of writing. It's a passion I've had since the second grade. Lately, I've been talking a lot about committing myself to writing more, to focusing on really writing. At the end of October, I even toyed with the idea of NaNoWriMo. In the end, I decided that I would be far too busy this month to work on such a project, that I should save it for another month. Having my blog recognized as something more than a way to update people at home is kind of inspiring. I'm definitely going to work harder at this, for better or worse.

Additionally, I've been trying to find inspiration for school projects anywhere I can. I am sick of the project books we have at school (why would I ever buy a book with that dreaded little red Scholastic label on the bottom? What was I thinking?) and tried to find blogs that are a bit more Waldorf and/or a bit more modern. I became obsessed with filling my Google Reader with inspiration. I want to be able to check it at any time and see 10 new posts. Many of the blogs I follow have a Friday tradition inspired by SouleMama, an incredible blogging mom. The tradition is called This Moment and she describes it as this:

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

For me, This Moment will not necessarily be from this past week, as I don't have my camera around often enough for that. I'll try to make it from this month, or this season at worst. Mine is not necessarily about a "simple, special, extraordinary moment" but more of a "There's no place I'd rather be" moment. And now, here goes nothing, my first This Moment:

This Moment. A single photo that reminds me that there's no place I'd rather be.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I just wrote and erased a few paragraphs of explanation about how November is the longest month. And then I realized that writing them was enough and I don't need to share them, now that the thoughts are out of my head. However, the conclusion was that writing is the best way to get through the November Dark'n'Stormies, so write I shall! I promise quantity over quality in the coming weeks. At least you know what you're getting into now.

When I hear the word "swoon," I think of a world before color. I imagine a blonde woman with the back of her hand to her forehead being caught by a man in a suit whose speech is characterized by an excess of clichés and adverbs.

I do not imagine holding a towel to a kid's bloody nose. But somehow, it's be best word I've got to explain the situation. I don't pass out. I don't faint. I simply get a head rush and crumple to the floor, falling--sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I'm mostly coherent, though not quite in control of my own body. Sometimes it's my initial response to seeing blood but sometimes it's after I've assessed the situation.

And I have no idea where this came from.

I am not consciously bothered by blood. I've never been one for gore but blood doesn't freak me out. I used to get blood taken a lot and I never had any problem seeing a vial fill with my own blood. I would always feel faint afterwards, which I attributed to my having lost blood. Completely logical! I took an intense course in first aid during my senior year of university and had no problem learning about the gruesome stuff. A woman getting mauled by a bear while delivering her child through emergency C-section preformed with car keys? No problem!

So why is it that instead of finding gauze for my girlfriend's nosebleed this weekend, I found myself slumped on the bathroom floor unable to feel my own limbs? I was so embarrassed and assumed that this was a normal response that had gone a little haywire. I mean, someone I care about was bleeding excessively and there didn't seem to be a logical cause. It makes sense to be worried. Maybe I hadn't eaten enough that day. Maybe I had low iron. I wondered if this was just going to be my response to seeing blood from now on--that I hadn't really seen a lot for a while that wasn't my own. Maybe I felt so faint when I cut my finger just because of the sight of my own blood. But then, I figured that as I don't see blood a lot, this isn't something I have to really think about.

Which brings us to yesterday. Child trips, falls, gets a bloody lip. I pick the child up, inspect his mouth to make sure he didn't bite off his tongue or anything. I determine that the blood is just coming from his lip which isn't cut very badly. And then I fall to the ground. Slowly and only to my knees. Suddenly, I'm grateful that the kids never put away the foam blocks and that it's not such a long journey for me to get to the floor. Thank goodness I'm not any taller! After all of this, I ate some chocolate and tried to steady myself. I went home and did some internet research on it and apparently this is a phobia. It may be purely biological, some innate sense of self-preservation that makes one play opossum in battle. I felt slightly reassured by the knowledge that I'm not just freaking out--my body is doing this. Again, I thought, it's not such a big deal because people don't bleed around me that often.

I should probably stop saying that to myself. Today, at nap time, one of my kids called for a tissue so I walked toward him and saw blood dripping out of his nose. I was down. Quickly, this time, without even time to assess the situation. His cries brought me back soon enough and I took him to another teacher. Focusing on the other kids helped. I went back and read to the children still trying to sleep. I got some candy again, which seems to help. But, I did not reassure myself that people don't bleed around me all that often. Instead, I am making a request that people please stop bleeding around me so often. And also, carrying candy and a dark colored (blood hiding) bandana with me at all times.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hacking Reality

The train is already moving when a girl slides open the door to the compartment. There's one empty spot, which she eyes with a look of travel-weary desperation. Never knowing with whom to make eye-contact, who should decide such things, she asks the occupants in a sweeping glance if the seat is free. No one assures her it is; however, as no one objects, she approaches it. She drops her backpack on the seat while she removes her pink pashmina scarf and green corduroy jacket, hanging them on the free hook in front of her. She notices that the overhead luggage racks are full, so she lifts her backpack and sits down, placing it on her lap and hugging it against her chest. A coffee-cup shaped felt brooch pinned to the outer pocket of the grey North Face backpack looks to her like it should signify something more though it is mostly ornamental.
The train is a standard Central European intercity train, on a typical journey. Perhaps on a short trip, from a capital to that country's second city. Or possibly it is headed from Budapest to Berlin, stopping at every city of appropriate size in between. It doesn't matter to the girl, who is only on it for an hour. She pulls down the maroon armrest to separate her half of the bench from the father to her left who is trying to get his 3-year-old son to sit down and stop touching the window. She looks down to her right, trying to decide if she has left socially appropriate distance between herself and the girl sitting next to her, who though she is dressed like a teenager, the girl estimates to be only a year or two younger than herself--twenty-two or twenty-three. Across from the two young women sits a heterosexual couple of similar age. While not in formal-attire, they seem out of place in pressed, possibly designer label, clothing. The girl's long necklace of red wooden ovals matches the red of the man's tie. The man leans against the side of the compartment, watching something on his laptop while the girl clutches her purse and sneaks glances at the screen. To her right sits the kind of man one could never find in a crowd.
He looks at the girl to his right, a strikingly beautiful yet modestly dressed teenager, who looks like she could be either his daughter or his sister. The man's build and height are average. His lack of distinguishing features--glasses, facial hair, freckles, wrinkles, or moles, makes him distinctly nondescript. When the dark-haired teenage girl meets his gaze, he quickly looks to the floor, embarrassed to be caught staring at a stranger.
As the train begins to slow down, the father and son gather their jackets and luggage. They exit the compartment as the breaks squeal and the girl sitting near their empty seat takes the opportunity to move closer to the window. She places her backpack in the overhead rack before any more travelers enter the compartment. She sits down but quickly pulls her backpack down again to take out a book to read now that she has space. She replaces the backpack and makes herself comfortable, only to be squeezed into the corner by a large woman who sits next to her a minute later. The book in her hands is a first-grade level textbook for the national language, which she's never studied formally but has been learning through immersion in the year or so that she's been living there. She learns the language mostly from her students at her English-language preschool. She's excited about the textbook, which makes the language much more accessible than any textbooks for foreigner's she's tried to learn from. She likes to think that she's learning the language in a natural way, so it makes sense to learn from a textbook for native speakers.
This is not what the man across from her sees, however. Assuming her to be a native, based on her ability to ask if the seat was free when she entered, he wonders why she would be reading a textbook for seven-year-olds. He figures she must be a teacher, preparing a lesson. But then she begins to mumble to herself, under her breath, pausing for long intervals, and then smiling at the book. She takes much too long on each page to be preparing a lesson. He decides she must be mentally handicapped. But she moves with such dexterity, she travels alone. He leans forward with his elbows on his knees and rests his face in his hands. He tries his best to look like he's casually looking out the window though he is straining to listen. He hears her accent and finally sees the girl as she sees herself. He smiles to himself and makes a mental note to tell his wife about the strange foreign girl learning their language from a children's textbook.
He begins to think about his wife and how best to tell the story. He hopes the simple story cannot be misinterpreted and will distract her from leading questions about his business trip. The girl with the textbook gets off the train one stop but a full hour before the man. Though the hall of the train is full of passengers, no one moves in to take her seat, the view of which is obscured by the woman sitting next to it. The man continues to stare at her seat, weighing his options. The teenage girl to his right keeps brushing her shoulder against his arm, leaving his skin tingling under his grey, wool sweater. If he moves across the compartment, he won't have to bear her touches which, though innocent, fill him with guilt, reminding him of the girl with whom he spent the previous night. It would seem like he just wanted to be closer to the window, he assures himself as he crosses the compartment and sits down. Once there, he realizes his mistake. Instead of being too close, the girl is now in his direct line of sight. He stares out the window for the better part of an hour. He wants so much to be off the crowded train but dreads going home.
When he gets to his flat on the outskirts of the city that evening, he walks in and takes off his shoes, dropping his briefcase and overnight bag by the door and hanging his coat on an already full coatrack.
"Honza, are you planning on leaving those there?" asks his wife standing in a doorway at the end of the hall. He tries to remember what it was like when Klara greeted him with pet names and kisses. Klara, small and blonde with a few wrinkles lining her fair face, disappears back into the living room
Jan knows that the proper answer is unspoken, so he takes his bags into the bedroom while beginning the story, "Today, on the train--"
"--And I told you to put away your fall jackets to make room for your winter coat," she interrupts, a disembodied voice from another room. "There's too much on that coatrack already. It's going to fall off of the wall and we both know you don't have the time to fix it."
"Yeah, okay, I'll do it in a minute. Can I get some dinner first?" he replies in carefully measured tones. He walks into the kitchen where his daughter is coloring at the table. "Hey Little Bunny, is that for me?" he asks. The four-year-old smiles shyly at her father and nods her head. Jan notices how much her face looks like her mother's, especially her big sad eyes.
"What is it?" he asks. She shrugs. "Just a picture?"
"Mhmm," she replies. It seems to him that Verunka only speaks to him in "mhmms" and "uh-uhs" lately. He blames it not on his regular absences from her life but instead on her attending bilingual preschool.
"They're not teaching you English, they're teaching you Caveman at that school, aren't they?" he asks. Sensitive to the subtle anger in her father's voice, Verunka looks down at her paper. Jan is reminded of the story he planned to tell his wife and tells his daughter instead. "Today, on the train, I saw a girl who was like your teacher at school, the one who speaks English. She was trying to learn Czech, but she was really bad! She sounded like a baby! And she was reading a book for children in grade one like it was really hard. I think you could read better, Little Bunny. Isn't that funny?"
"Mhmm," she says with a smile and picks up a roll from the plate next to her paper. She offers it to her father without a word. He takes it and sighs.

The girl with the textbook sits at a table in the corner of the coffee shop, waiting for her friend to meet her for the pumpkin pie flavored latte she's been dreaming about for a month. She is again looking at the children's textbook when her friend comes in and hugs her. She has long, dark hair and a mediterranean appearance that would make her stick out in Central Europe, if her speaking English didn't do it already. "What is that?" she asks laughing.
"Don't laugh! I know it's a first grade textbook, but I think it's actually helpful. It's way easier to learn from this than any actual adult language books for foreigners. I mean, I basically learn like a small child, right? So, why not embrace it? I can read this whole page!" she says pointing at a page covered in pictures of cakes and cars.
"You're not going to believe this! One of my kids told me a story on Monday that was like, 'Daddy is train and is English girl. She have Czech book but book is for children, children is seven.' I'm pretty sure she was talking about an expat reading a first grade English textbook."
"Seriously? Where was her dad going?"
"I don't know, probably Brno or something, she says he's not around a lot. She's the sweetest little girl but her family is obviously screwed up."
"I bet I was totally on the train with her dad."

No, I think to myself. That's too Dickensian of an ending. I set the Czech textbook down on the tray and look out the window of the train. I can't believe how early it gets dark and it's not even December yet.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Memories

I was going to write this post all about how frustrating it is to try to be expected to create Halloween in a country that doesn't have it (What do children do on Halloween? Beg strangers for candy. Halloween requires the involvement of children andcandy-giving strangers.) However, when the Smith Alumnae Association posted on Facebook, asking about our most vivid Halloween memories, I thought I would do something more positive and positively nostalgic.

So, Smith Alumnae Association, my most vivid memories of Halloween as a child were our homemade costumes. There were a lot of things in my childhood that my mom took very seriously. Science fair projects might take months of preparation. Easter egg hunts involved careful tallying to ensure that no egg was left behind. But the Halloween costumes were always my favorite. My mother seemed to have endless creativity when it came to Halloween costumes when I was a child. Her sisters took Halloween just as seriously and also created Halloween masterpieces that became a collection shared among all the kids. In our family, it was practically considered child abuse to take your child to a Halloween parade in something store-bought. Sure, we were butterflies, vampires, witches, and puppies like everyone else. But we were also lobsters and race cars (not race car drivers!). I'm still impressed with how the women in my family could make a costume out of nothing. My mom would take basic costumes and make them something new with a few simple changes. Or she could make something out of whatever she found around the house. Which leads me to a memory I have of the All-Time-Greatest-Halloween.
I will preface this story with the note that I may be combining different years into one Halloween, but that's what the memory does.

As a preschool teacher, I have come to understand that when you have multiple children under the age of six, their limited range of motion might be to your advantage. So, I have infinite respect for my mother and her ability to create three imaginative, immobilizing costumes for my sisters and me. Jess, the oldest, was, if I recall properly, a vacuum cleaner. She was all in grey with a big white bucket (with the bottom cut out) around her torso with hose coming from it. I, lest I be something so simple as a clown, was a jack-in-the-box. A clown costume, plus a box around my body held up with straps over my shoulders. While Cassady, the baby, was a flower because at her age she didn't need full-body immobilization, the head was enough. I remember seeing a picture of this Halloween later on and commenting about how ingenious it was to restrict us so we couldn't run away. My mother said this was not in any way her intention. Whether it was or it wasn't, I'm still impressed.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Six Days with Socialized Medicine

I had fully intended to spend this weekend on a soul-searching adventure in the woods somewhere. I made this decision while reading The Tao of Pooh on a long train ride home last weekend. I wasn't going to plan where I was going, though I would equip myself with a map. Maybe I'd get a compass. I'd plan An Expedition, but not Where To. I would find Who I Am again, as autumn tends to make the picture clearer for me. I would write poetic prose or prosaic poetry about this self-discovery.

But instead, I spent the week learning A Bit About Czech Healthcare. Let's turn this Rather Unfortunate Week into a learning experience and a treatise on the importance of affordable, accessible healthcare (and try to ignore how quality fits in).

On Sunday, I was chopping vegetables for tea (best to call it that, as it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner). I was given a soft-skinned pumpkin from my girlfriend's garden, which was the basis for a tea of roasted autumnal vegetables. Instead of cutting it, gutting it, and baking it as I usually do with winter squash, I learned that since the skin was so soft, I could peel it. And then I peeled off a bit of the tip of my pinky. Only some skin and nail, but it wasn't pretty. I had no idea what to do. I walked around my flat looking for something to wrap it in, trying to figure out some remotely sterile plan. After forty minutes of profuse bleeding, I decided it was a Medical Situation. I googled "hospital Kolín" and found that there was a hospital about a fifteen minute walk away, right where I walked to school. After bundling against the cold and rain, I arrived at what was not a hospital in the American sense. More of a clinic. Open on weekdays. I called my boss who tried to direct me to the real hospital, but that didn't help. I walked to the square and found the town map, then walked to the hospital. At this point, I had been bleeding for over two hours. I got to where the hospital should be, but found it under reconstruction with no clear signs. I had taken two breaks already and was about to sit down for another, possibly the break that would involve finally passing out, when I spotted an assistant teacher from my school! What luck!
She happened to know how to get to the ER, despite the lack of signage even in Czech. She walked me in and took me to the reception desk, where I paid 90 crowns (about $5) for a ticket to the emergency room. It was like going to the movies. I waited in the hall, and when I was called in, a nurse without gloves removed my bandana and poked at my finger, while I continued to bleed everywhere. It felt more like an office than an emergency room. There were two desks, a few chairs, and a table with metal boxes and tongs full of mostly unwrapped first aid materials. The peroxide was in an old jam jar with a piece of masking tape as a label. They couldn't give me stitches as there was nothing to sew, so they put some weird loosely woven, sticky gauze on the tip, then another few layers of gauze, then they wrapped it all up. They seemed only to use rubbing alcohol to clean it. They didn't even wash the blood off the rest of my finger before they covered it. They, still un-gloved, took my bloody ER ticket and sent me away with a care sheet instructing me to rest and take the bandage off in three days.

That's it. The rest was all inference. "I'm pretty sure I shouldn't get this wet" was the most important one. American medical care may be harder to come by, but at least when you leave, you've probably been told by three different people exactly what to do. Also, after bleeding for a few hours, I decided I could still walk home, which in retrospect was probably a terrible idea and something that American ERs certainly would have discouraged. But I made it.
Three days later, I removed the bandage to find that, unsurprisingly, the piece of sticky gauze used instead of sutures was stuck. I could not for the life of me remove it. So, back I went. I got the exact same treatment and exact same instructions. In removing this piece of gauze, they completely re-opened the wound. I'm not sure how it's ever going to heal if the process continues like this. Something tells me that tomorrow, I'll probably be visiting the ER for the third time this week.

It's not been so bad. I quickly decided that as far as these things go, I was quite lucky. It's the pinky on my left hand, could there be a less useful finger? It's out of the way enough that now that the second bandage isn't so dense and doesn't give me a claw, I can sometimes even use my left hand. Also, couldn't get luckier than running into my assistant! And we had a holiday on Tuesday, so I had one less day to be the Amazing One-Handed Preschool Teacher, able to change diapers with a single hand (no joke)! Both times, I was in and out of the hospital in under half an hour. Accessible and affordable, hurrah!

But on Wednesday as I was staring down another three days of annoyance with this bandage, I started to notice what I thought was just post-pub-visit congestion in my chest was getting pretty bad. By last night, I couldn't sleep because it felt like someone was crushing my lungs. This morning, I got up early and headed to the doctor. I've been to this doctor before for a cold. I learned that you don't need an appointment, and in a clinic-like fashion, you just get there early and wait until you can go in. I waited about an hour for my turn, but it turns out that my doctor was on holiday. My intermediate-at-best "English-speaking" doctor was on holiday. My symptoms were taken by the medical assistant in her helpful, if broken, English and via google translate. I was asked if I had "the snuffles" and how bad my coffee was. Her broken English was encouraged as I replied that I had "only small snuffles and a big big cough."
I went into the doctor's office, which really is more of an office than an exam room (again), but the counter is covered in phials of blood that are just lying out, not even in any kind of holder. This still unsettles me. The white, cold, sterility of American medical places is actually really comforting.
The doctor examined me and asked me the basics as well. Checked my throat "iz good." Checked my lymph nodes "iz mmm." Checked my lungs. Checked my lungs. Checked my lungs "iz... okay." Iz okay? Iz not dead but iz not good iz okay? That was my diagnosis, "iz okay" said in a very hesitant manner. He told me to sleep in bed (couches are out?), drink hot tea, and take medicine every 12 hours. He didn't tell me what the medicine was but I assumed it was an expectorant. I paid my 30 crowns ($1.67) and went to the pharmacy where I expected to receive my expectorant. Just get this stuff outta' my chest! The pharmacist spoke to me in rapid Czech and I understood one pill every 12 hours, yeah, got that. Then I understood "antibiotika" and asked her if she spoke English. She told me it was a prescription for antibiotics for my chest infection. Huh. That sounds... not "okay." So I went to school and the other teachers looked at my pills and read my papers. Yep. Chest infection (not exactly sure what that means, to be honest, but it still sounds bad). And then I decided that maybe that whole "sleep in bed" thing wasn't a bad idea.
Now, I'm not sure how I'm going to get to the hospital to have my dressing changed if I am too wheezy to walk to the kitchen, but I guess I'll figure that out tomorrow. All and all, three visits for under $20 ain't bad. I am skeptical about the quality of my medical care, though it was certainly fast. Also, what if I didn't have 30 crowns for my doctor or 90 for the emergency room? I needed to pay before I even got treatment. I assume they can't refuse treatment if you can't pay, but I do find the pay-before thing troubling. Is this a system that works better than America? As far as I can tell, yes. Does it have its own problems? Certainly. But there is no way to properly describe the feeling of comfort in knowing that if I get sick, I can get treated without worrying about accruing hundreds of dollars of debt for every hour spent getting care. This peace of mind is priceless.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Another Anniversary

One year ago today, I got off a plane in Prague. For the second time in my life, I left everything I knew behind to move across the ocean without a safety net. The first time, I only made it four months. But in that four months of feeling totally lost, I think I found myself. I climbed a mountain on my own and reveled in my ability to drop completely off the map. Without a cellphone, roommate, or much in the way of friends, I was free to disappear whenever I wanted. Sure, it was lonely and I wouldn't trade all of my Prague friends for that freedom, but there is something to be said for some self-discovery.
But in the past year, I feel like I've ridden a roller coaster of self-awareness. I find new things I care about, only to completely ignore them in favor of fitting in. I've tried so hard to fit in, much harder than I ever did in Korea, that I feel like I've lost myself. In the past two months, I've been rediscovering things about myself that I felt the need to hide. Little by little, I created this skin for survival. A month ago, I took my first big step to shedding it.

So many people had been complimenting my hair, which was longer than it had been since I was eight and hadn't been cut in a year. But one day, as I was walking home from the train station, I bought a clipper set. I started with the braids, which were not easy to cut off. What I thought would be two snips turned into a few minutes of sawing. Then they were gone. I could have stopped there, maybe I should have. But I continued, with a literal feeling of a weight lifted off my shoulders. It took over an hour to buzz my hair, with Bikini Kill playing in the background and intense nostalgia for that first buzz cut outside of Sessions House six years ago. At first, I had a few regrets. Now I have none. This wasn't so much a choice of aesthetics as a choice against aesthetics. I didn't want to have a more flattering haircut, I simply wanted my hair not to matter. I wanted not to judge myself on my appearance so much. And it's helped. After my birthday, I'm looking in the mirror at my wrinkles and grey hairs less. I choose my shoes based on what's practical. I've stopped caring so much about being, essentially, popular. I'm picking Saturday morning farmers' markets over Friday nights out. I'm remembering what it feels like to lie in a field and watch the grass blow in the wind. I'm waking up in the morning without regrets about the night before, stretching, and smiling at my own armpit hair.
While I'm not moving to a shack in Walden, I'm making a different sort of self-discovery move. Let's see how the anonymity of city life works for me this time around. So, anyone got a room to rent in Prague starting in December?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Will Live with Empty Pockets

I've probably mentioned before that I own a bowl and a plate. One of each. No more, no less. I am only one person and I rarely have visitors. When I do, I offer them their preferred dish and take the remaining one. I try to live off of as little as I can. I may be truly settled here, nearing the end of my first year, but I like to feel like should I need to, I could pack my life into two suitcases again and leave behind whatever doesn't fit. I like to think that nothing in my world is irreplaceable. But when it comes to clothes, I'm rather picky. I don't shop a lot; I don't own a lot. I don't feel the need to get new things all the time. I've been sleeping in the same shirts since first year of college. When my old Saucony's were finally put out to pasture this spring, after six years of love, I wanted the same ones to replace them. For the things that wear out, I try to stick with classics in hopes that the company will just continue to make the same. This generally works with tank tops and shoes, but for other things, it's harder. Short of buying all of my clothes from Lands End or L. L. Bean, shops where time seems to stand still, I would have a problem if I replaced my worn-out clothing with identical pieces seven years later.
A few weeks ago, I came home on a Saturday morning to realize that I had lost my jacket sometime on Friday night. This jacket was not classic. It was from Target a few years ago and certainly would not be something I could find again. I was devastated. So much for my simple living, not forming attachments with objects. I really freakin' liked that jacket. Luckily, my jacket was found unharmed at a friend's flat. But I was really careful when I got dressed the next Friday. Nothing irreplaceable, nothing irreplaceable! repeated in my head. I put on a tank top which I felt fairly certain I wouldn't lose as I had no intention of taking it off. Next came a waffle shirt. This particular waffle shirt has a paint stain from when I was painting a pair of shoes when I was fourteen. That makes it about ten years old. Oh wait, it was actually a hand-me-down from my older sister. I have no strong feelings for this shirt, it just seems to stick around because of its practical nature. Waffles are replaceable. I then went to choose a scarf. At first, I assumed that the scarf I just spent a week knitting was a bad idea. But then it came to me: If I make it, it is incredibly replaceable. While the yarn might not always be the same, if I found the pattern once, I can probably find it again. If I make everything, I can always replace anything that is lost or worn out. So, for everything for which this is practical, this is the plan. Make everything myself. If it doesn't fit in a suitcase at some point, the pattern will always be out there somewhere. Nothing irreplaceable, nothing irreplaceable!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

10th Anniversary

When I hang out with any queer friends, we always end up comparing Coming Out Stories. It's so cliché and you know that it's too cliché to talk about, but it's also impossible to resist. Trading our stories becomes more interesting when we are from such vastly different backgrounds. We were talking at a barbecue last week about coming out, trying to describe how our different (Czech/Vietnamese/American) communities handled it. I asked a friend what is the typical Czech response and it seemed to be fairly similar to the American response. Most parents want to say, "As long as you are happy, I am happy" and usually do, but how much they truly believe that is up for debate.

I feel like I've become really wrapped up in telling and learning coming out stories lately because this month is the 10th anniversary of my coming out. They story isn't big. Coming to terms with being a big homo wasn't something that distressed me in adolescence. It was more like, "Well, I guess I like girls." I told my friends and one friend told her boyfriend who worked with my mom. He told her and she confronted me about it. I told her I was bisexual and left it at that. While she didn't immediately form a chapter of PFLAG in my hometown, she didn't seem to mind. It took another year and a half for the final clarification of my homosexuality and her total acceptance. But since then, she's certainly been the ideal mom of a homo. She's never trivialized my relationships and holds my girlfriends to the same standards that she holds my sisters' boyfriends. She never lets a homophobic remark slide and takes every opportunity to tell me how proud she is of me. So, on this big anniversary, I am celebrating love and acceptance. I am remembering to always be thankful for the wonderful lady who birthed me and has supported me ever since. Thanks, Mom!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Battle with Summer

My windows are big. When they are open, they are wide open. It's like removing a wall from my room and opening it to the world. It's finally cool enough to have them open during the day, after over a week of mid-nineties in a country without air conditioning anywhere. I can't open them at night until after I've turned off all the lights or I end up with an infestation that leaves thousands of dead gnats on my windowsill in the morning. When I stick my head out the window today, I can see the scorched earth crying out for rain. I can see the darkening clouds overhead, taunting us with the possibility of relief. And I am so angry with them, with the relentlessness of summer. I'm generally a pretty positive person about the world. What could be bad about sunshine? Ignoring the fact that I am actually allergic to being hot, summer is just too demanding for me.

I grew up in a vacation village. Summer always meant more people, longer shop hours, ice cream, and swimming. It meant whole days at the beach, just a short walk from home. As I got older, summer meant more tips, more money, and more time to spend it. From age seventeen on, summer always meant a new job. It was some temporary change that might lead me down another path in life, whether it be as a camp counselor or lock smith's assistant. But this summer, for the first time, I am doing the same job I've been doing all year. I suppose this consistency is part of growing up, but it feels like stagnation. I can't counter the itch to get up and go. In this country, they refer to the whole season as "the holidays" and flee to their cottages. I don't have that luxury. I took this past week off from work just because I wanted some sort of relaxation between now and Christmas. Everyone demanded, "What are you going to do? Where are you going? You can't just stay at home!" But I can't afford to go anywhere, beyond a few evenings in Prague. And I did have a wonderful vacation, swimming in the Vltava and relaxing in the park. But I will be made to feel like I wasted my time, just staying at home. The expectations! Why is this season full of so many expectations?! And everyone wants you to go out, have fun, be with your friends. No one talks about the fact that everyone is making less money and thus this going out thing is becoming pretty difficult. Suddenly you've got time to see your friends, but no money to do anything with them.

And so, the constant cheerfulness that gets me through the winter, through everything, it's been beaten down. For once, I give in to the negativity. I hate summer! I hate being hot! But once I make it through, I will have been here a year. I now know the way that seasons pass here, what to expect every month. So when my brain stops sizzling, I will be able to focus on what lies ahead. The fall brings among other things: my birthday, burčak, fall seasonal vegetables, pies, Halloween, another orphan Thanksgiving, the queer film festival, leaves changing, and hazelnuts everywhere. All of this is quickly followed by the magical two months of Christmas we seem to have.

So for now, I will drink my vastly overpriced seasonal drinks. I will swim in the Vltava and make liberal use of my water guns. I will ignore everyone else's demands, and keep the hope of 70 degree days in mind.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Day That's Hard to Beat

It's summer time and that means summer vacation for most teachers. It's odd that I count myself lucky for not having 8 weeks off in the summer, but it means that I don't have to find a way to make up for two months without a salary. So, bring on summer school! Well, it's preschool, so it's not exactly summer school. Each week, we have a theme and fewer kids than usual since most are on holiday. We've got some kids who will be coming for a week or two who normally go to other schools that are closed for the summer. This week's theme was fairy tales. I took an idea my boss had about going to the forest to find a witch and ran with it. I came to school today dressed as a fairy (yeah, I've got angel wings--the kids are 3 and 4, they don't care). I told them I was not Colleen but in fact Serafina. They went with it. If only I could have a preschooler's abilities when it comes to suspension of disbelief! I told them that I needed their help to defeat a witch who was living in the forest. They gathered their magic wands and we walked to the island. We followed a trail of gingerbread to a very big, old tree where the witch was living. We circled around it and waved our wands, shouting, "Abra Kadabra!" and heard the witch cry as she flew away.
"Where did she go? I didn't see her!" asked a student.
"I saw her. She's gone. She's really gone!" replied another.
"Where did she go?"
"To Africa!" (This is their new favorite thing, going to Africa, sending someone to Africa... don't know what that's all about.)
They discussed it for a while until they were all certain that the witch had left. Our work having been completed, we headed to the playground.

Let me tell you, walking around town today dressed as an angel was quite an adventure. I got so many disapproving looks from old ladies. I wonder if they assumed the angel costume was something naughty. Did they think I was a stripper? But at the bus stop (yes, I rode public transportation dressed like that), a grandfather brought his grandkid over to me and told her I was an angel. He asked if she saw a devil around and she said no and that devils are scary. Then, when I got on the bus, he said, "We get to ride with the angel! We are so lucky!" The toddler seemed pleased.

A lot of old men wanted to talk to me, but couldn't figure out what to say. I walked past a lot of toothless stuttering. Someone joked that they were afraid I had come to take them to heaven. "It's not my time yet!" they were trying to say. I'm ashamed to say... I laughed a little.

The best response, however, came from a young gentleman at the park who turned to his friend and said what translates effectively to, "Dude, am I drunk, or is that an angel?"

When we got back to school, I said goodbye and closed the door. I promptly changed clothes and put up my hair. When I came back, I asked where they had been. They told me the story about a fairy taking them to the woods. Again, the ability to play into what is an obvious hoax... so jealous!

After work, I went to pick up the newspaper, knowing that two of my friends were going to be in the Dnes Magazine, but not aware of how prominent they would be. When I saw them as the teaser photo for the magazine on the cover of the newspaper itself, I wanted to say, "those are my friends!" to the shopkeeper. I was back in my angel costume at this point, so I thought it best to give her only one reason to stare.

When I opened the newspaper right outside of the shop, standing in town square, I pulled out this. Maybe I've been reading too many Victorian novels, but I found myself so shocked that I needed to sit down. This is unbelievable! I thought to myself, as I sat in the town square... in an angel costume... holding a magazine with my friends on the front cover. What a day!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Brno Pride

(Photo from Queer Czech)

This past weekend, my bruised ego and I took a road trip in a car full of Czech lesbians to Pride in Brno. Brno is the CR's second city--think Philly to Prague's NYC. We have all asked why Brno and not Prague. The best answer I got was that people in Brno are bolder. The experience was nothing like I had imagined it.

In high school, I went to Pride in Manhattan (Oh hey, Mom, not sure you knew that but if you ever wondered why your darling daughter had a certain affinity for The City on Sundays in June--that's why) and rejoiced in all the glittery, queen-y splendor of it all. In college, NoHo pride was all about babies and puppies, but I will never forget the Smithie brigade of "Baby-Dykes-on-Bikes" which used a greener kind of bike than the old school Dykes-on-Bikes. Finally, last year, I partook in the incredibly suburban Long Island pride which was a mix of the two, plus a lot of late '90's Oakleys. But Brno Pride was something else entirely.

There were a few hundred people in the square where the march started and ended. We listened to speakers and milled around to appropriately kitschy music. To enter, we had to go through a police blockade and have our bags checked. Pride itself was fairly typical--if lacking in drag queens (and gay boys in general--this is the first queer community outside of NoHo I've ever experienced in which dykes rule). It was the response that I had never expected. I've tried to read articles about Pride but running them through Google Translate only makes them barely comprehensible. The numbers, though, seem pretty solid. There were about 600 people at Pride and 150 protestors. That's 25% of our number. Pretty significant. They had the standard "gay men are gross" and "gays are bad for families" non-sensical posters and cheers. But they also had eggs, cherry bombs, and manure. Overhead, the whole time, was a helicopter observing the scene. The police force was incredible. It even included an anti-conflict team that essentially went up to the protestors and tried to talk them out of protesting. How very polite. The most important fact, however, is that no one was hurt. It seems silly to write about this experience in light of what happened at San Francisco Pride this weekend, but it's still a significant experience for me.

When I read last week that violence was expected, I was totally dismissive. But to see those angry, militant protestors, I was shocked. My main thought was: here? This is my safe-haven. After being told that it was okay to kiss a girl in public, I have had no fear of queer PDA. I've held hands with girlfriends in Prague as well as Kolín. I've never looked over my shoulder going to or from a gay bar. I've snogged like a teenager on those tiresome metro escalators (what else are they for, really?) and I've never had a second glance from passersby. So, if no one minds my PDA, why are they all up in my Pride?

Get ready for my complete outsider's point of view on this. The best reason I've come up with is that this is one of those sex-is-different-from-lifestyle situations. As Nicole said, it was cool to have all the gay sex you wanted in England until Oscar Wilde tried to make an identity out of it. So no one minds if I kiss girls, but when I am proud and want to talk about it, we have a problem. This seems to go along with the ban on gay adoption as well. Sex: fine. Lifestyle: 'nother story.

In the end, it wasn't all that bad. Again, no one was hurt, and we were able to pretty much laugh it off as a group. We literally laughed in the faces of individual protestors who made their way into the crowd. As a group, we were unstoppable. And then I went to the train. As I walked there alone and got stared at for my rainbow face paint, I for the first time in this country, wondered if I should be walking alone. But I blew it off and no one actually said anything.

When I got to the platform, a group of teenage boys shouted at me from another train, "Hey, lesbian!" Me? I thought. But I'm... But I'm someone who usually benefits from assumed hetero-privilege. I don't look queer so how dare you taunt me? For the first time, I thought about how I should have washed the face paint off. I should have washed off my identity! Who is this new person in my body? I have long hair and own five times as many dresses as pairs of shorts. How I have changed in five years! What would the mohawked, hairy-legged babydyke think of this new person? To even think for a second of washing off my face paint so that I could go back to passing, it's horrendous! Has this been what it's really like all along? Have I just been casually ignoring homophobia because it's not directed at me? To think that I was complaining the night before to another lesbian about how I am not respected by the queer community because I don't look queer enough, and here I was, trying to pass. Full of rage, for these boys and what they made me realize about myself, I went down the platform and stood next to some queer-looking dykes. I'm not about to change the way I look to be more gay, but maybe proximity will help. Proximity or solidarity? I thought. Eye contact. Solidarity. And ain't that what it's all about?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Second Wave Culture Shock

When you first arrive in a new country, the culture shock is almost literally a shock. It's overwhelming and makes the simplest tasks taxing. Grocery shopping makes you feel like you are from another planet. Is this an entire aisle of paté? You question how people could possibly live like this. I am supposed to take a shower... sitting down? And, of course, adjusting to a new language is never easy. That word is seven letters long without a single vowel, is there a synonym for that?

But eventually, you settle in. You develop some sort of normalcy in your life. If you spend a lot of time with expats, you begin to create a new culture combining elements of your native and adopted cultures. After a while, you can carry on a basic conversation and start to eat bread as a meal without thinking anything of it. You are no longer simply trying to survive in this strange place but have the new desire to somehow integrate yourself in it. This happened to me around my seventh or eighth month here. And that was when I found myself with a whole new host of anxieties about living here.

Socially, I felt I was doing fine. I knew the big things. Never just start eating without saying "dobrou chut!" Always bring wine to a gathering. Take off your shoes unless told to keep them on. Look everyone in the eyes when you cheers. Don't use the word "love" casually. Got it.

But it was the way I lived my daily life that started to make me wonder how much I could ever fit in. I just don't dress Czech. I don't know how I would dress to look more Czech, it's an inexplicable Czech-i-ness that I just don't have.

I find myself constantly looking at the forearms of other women. I am always trying to determine if it is true that most women shave or wax their arms--so far, I feel like the numbers are probably 50%, 50%, but they are not blessed with the coarse, dark Mediterranean hair I inherited from my paternal grandmother.

I grew up on the beach and was raised to believe that wearing socks with sandals was a crime against humanity. Meanwhile, I learned that skinny-dipping is thrilling and dangerous, not a way to avoid tan lines. A student of mine went to Florida recently and came back with stories about how in America, you can't swim naked or the police will take your baby. Part of me wanted to tell her that in America, you can't wear those shoes with socks or the police will take your baby.

I will never consider a hair-free lady region to be a matter of hygiene. And that is that.

I feel like in America, I know equal numbers of women who wear some amount of make-up daily and who don't. I know very few who think of it as any kind of necessity.

I accept, albeit grudgingly, my ever-increasing number of grey hairs. I may be salt and peppered by 30, but I'll live. Dying my hair was a rebellious youth kind of thing for me and I cannot imagine being respected as an adult with cheetah print hair. Hair color, again, is so far from a matter of hygiene to me.

All these little things start to add up, especially around election time when no one can properly explain to me, in any language, how Czech elections work nor why Czech youth is so right-wing. Add in a tiring amount of institutionalized racism and it amounts to some serious doubt about my ability to live here long-term. But this is just the second wave of culture shock, when one starts to actually become a part of the culture. And like my distaste for pork, this too shall pass.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Magical Little Surprise in the Garden

A few weeks ago, after a week of rain, we went out into the garden on an overcast day to play and do some weeding. I looked at our little flower garden and saw amongst all of the weeds, these little plants. Something inside of me said, "Those are not weeds!" But we didn't know what they were, so I began to pluck them out. I was surprised to find that their roots were fairly short. We had laid down compost and soil, so if they had short roots, they were growing in what we had put down. We reasoned that the seeds must have blown in and quickly taken root.

But then, I noticed this! On top of some of the little plants were squash seeds! At some point in the fall, we had tossed all old squash into the compost without thinking. And now, our compost is basically planting its own garden! I shared this little bit of magic with my students who loved the idea that we will have squash in the fall. We separated the plants a bit so that they will have more space to grow. Who needs a flower garden when you have an accidental squash garden?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Three Train Rides in a Day

I write a lot about trains, I suppose, because I spend so much of my life on them. Yesterday, I took the train three times. I had slept in Prague on Friday night and came home yesterday morning. Then, I went back into the city for the afternoon and evening, taking a train home at night.

On Saturday morning, I was walking along the road on the way home from the train station when I spotted a gutter-dwelling colony of snails. I crouched down and took this photo, saying softly, "Hey guys, there's got to be a better place to live." As I continued to walk, the colony got bigger and bigger! Snails everywhere! I maintain, the gutter is probably not the most hospitable environment and they could easily move to that patch of grass on the left. But there's such good decomposing plant matter in that gutter!

On the way to the train in the afternoon, I didn't notice any new creatures, but on the way home, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, this little guy scurrying in the bushes. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so I was pretty lucky to get a picture of him. "You remind me of an old friend, little friend," I said to him. Then, I discovered, I was not alone. It's embarrassing enough to be found talking to animals or taking photos, but the combination was mortifying. The man who saw me asked why I was taking a picture. Our conversation, in Czech, went something like this:
"Why are you taking photos?"
"I'm sorry, I speak little and bad Czech, but it is a hedgehog, right?"
"Yes, hedgehog."
"So, in America, we don't have hedgehogs. I like hedgehogs, but I don't see them. Here, I see a hedgehog so I am happy. So, I take photos."
"Do you want to get a drink?"
"No, I have water."
"Do you want to come to a restaurant with me?"
"Oh, no, no thank you. Good night!"

I'm trying to imagine the thought process that went on there. You take pictures of rodents and don't speak my language. I find that attractive in a woman. ?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is It That Obvious?

I was listening to the most recent episode of This American Life, at the point where refugees are talking about the most ridiculous things they had heard about America but could not believe, when I realized I was out of sugar. After being sick for days, I finally feel like my head is my own and my stomach is no longer revolting. In celebration, I decided to bake brownies. The chocolate was melted, flour reserved, eggs cracked. But I had no sugar. I paused the podcast and my baking to run down to the corner store.
The corner store in my neighborhood, which is referred to as Zalabi and seen in Kolín as the equivalent of living in Jersey, is much smaller than any I've experienced in Prague. It's a lot like the shop across the street from my flat in Daegu, except there's no pampered yappy-type dog to step over. There's barely room for one person in each stretch of the U of shelves. But at six-thirty, after the local grocery has closed for the night, the place is usually packed. There are weary workers buying frozen foods for dinner. An old woman is buying bread. A boy pops in to grab a candy and drop a crown on the counter without waiting in line. I listen to the Czech all around me and feel content with my understanding. "How many here?" the shop keeper asks the worker about a bag of rolls.
"Seven rolls and three buns," he replies.
I realize, suddenly, that as far as most people know are concerned, I look the most Czech of anyone in the shop--being neither Romani nor Vietnamese. I am thinking about the refugees on the radio show. Half of these people might warrant asylum because of the way this government treats them while the other half came here in the past in search of a better life. I am not a refugee of any kind. I did not escape the oppression of my government. Yet, I came here seeking something, too. Adventure, maybe. But I have also come a great distance to find happiness. We speak about the same amount of Czech, you and I, Mr. Shopkeeper, I think. This feeling of being an outsider, it's something we share.
As I place my sack of sugar on the counter, I begin to count out eighteen crowns. He asks,
"Vere you from?" in English.
Thoroughly taken aback, I say only, "New York."
I wonder how he knew. Did I look at my coins like a puzzle in my hand? Did I pause somewhere I shouldn't have? How did he know? And while it may seem irrational, a small part of me believes he felt my sympathy and understood all that was going on in my head while he rung up the customers ahead of me in line. This feeling of being an outsider, it's something we share. I thought it so loudly, he heard it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Singing into the Void

I've explained before that part of the draw for Czech trains for me is the ability to open the window and stick out one's head. This weekend, I was sitting in a compartment with the door and the window open, as it was quite warm. I was feeling sick (preschool germs have finally knocked me down, missed two days of work this week for the first time in months) and just trying to make it through the train ride. I was sitting near the door of the compartment when I noticed a boy in his mid-teens standing at the open window in the hall. He had his headphones on and was nodding his head along. Suddenly, he stuck his head out the window and sang along with everything he had inside of him. I can't imagine how cathartic it must have been--to be surrounded by people on a full train but able to sing as loud as you want to, answered only by the rushing air around your head.

I wanted to follow suit but instead sat and thought about all the songs that have been so poignant to me lately. Which one would I sing out of the window of a moving train?
I think that I've decided upon "Open Road" by Kris Delmhorst.


"I will climb onto that train
Find a seat that's got no view.
I will take what I need with me
I will not take what I don't.
I will say that I will be back here but I know that I won't.
I will live with empty pockets,
I will live with empty sleeves,
I will know that there is nothing in this world I cannot leave.
I will tell my friends I love them
I will hope that they know
I need nobody beside me on this open road."

Sometimes, it gets draining making up answers to questions like, "When are you coming back to the States?" or "What are you doing after this?" These are questions I don't want to answer. I don't have answers for them. I make up plans to talk about so that I can answer these questions, but I'm not passionate about my answers. I am passionate about what I am doing right now. And my friends may be getting married, having kids, and buying houses. But I am content to live with my empty pockets, with my head out the window of a train.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Měla babka čtyri jabka

Every day before lunch, we say this poem in English, which I learned from my Waldorf mentor, and an equivalent in Czech. I love the way the Czech poem sounds, even if I can barely pronounce it an only have a rough idea what I am saying. I recently re-discovered a book of Czech nursery rhymes at school and I have a few that I love hearing the kids say. They just sound so magical. I tried to read them and found that I could actually understand them. Then, obviously, I needed to translate them for real. I am always in search of new hobbies--and what better than translating verses from a language I've never studied?

This is my first attempt, and my favorite Czech rhyme:
Měla babka čtyri jabka
a dědeček jen dvě.

Dej mi, babko, jedno jabko,
budeme mít stejně.

Grandma had four apples
and grandpa only two.

Give me, grandma, one apple,
and we will have the same.

But this doesn't have the same sort of ring to it. Here's what I came up with, though it clearly needs improvement:

Four apples had Grandma
Grandpa had just two.

Give an apple to poor Grandpa
Dear Grandma, won't you?

So yes, it loses lesson that 4-1 and 2+1 are the same, but it keeps the general feeling of the poem.

My second poem in Czech is:
Foukej, foukej, větřičku,
Shod' mi jednu hruštičku,
Shod' mi jednu nebo dvě,
budou sladké obě dvě.

Blow, blow, wind,
knock down one pear for me
knock down one or two for me
they will both be sweet.

This one, I'm more proud of:
Blow, wind, blow through the air
Knock me down a juicy pear
Let one or two fall from the tree
Oh how sweet they both will be!

I'd like to say that there's a practical reason for me to be translating these rhymes. I'd like to say that it's part of a plan to teach my children English using the rhymes they are familiar with. But it's not. It's simply another way to pass my time. And I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


This is going to be one of those intensely photo heavy, long posts. All photos courtesy of Jess, Andrea, and Sara as I did not have my camera. Most of the best days in my life are those days that I look back on and, in retrospect, realize were absolutely amazing. Some days, though, you realize in the moment that they will be the best days of your life. This is the story of one of those days. **

When I was 18, my main group of friends was referred to as "The Table." We ate lunch and dinner together every weekday while on the weekends we came together for brunch and dinner. The Table was primarily straight-edge, so our Friday and Saturday nights involved going to the movies, candy shop, or playing cards on Jenn and Denise's floor. But brunch on the weekend--that was our time. It was a marathon for us. Ten thirty to one. As many plates as we could eat. Glorious were the days when they had the make-your-own waffle station. Jenn seemed to live for them. Kim could pack in more food than any of us, despite her small frame. But brunch was always bittersweet. We knew we were fighting against the clock, that we had a full day of homework ahead of ourselves and no amount of scrambled eggs would make it go away. We would leave in the early afternoon, resigned to a day of study.

But in the real world, Sunday brunch isn't procrastination's last hurrah, it's the weekend's last hurrah. Whatever happened that weekend, however disappointing, there's still a full day ahead of you to turn it around. There's no homework looming overhead, but there is the knowledge that the week begins tomorrow. Every Sunday is like the last day of summer for a school kid. You know that it's all you've got left and you have to make the most out of it. Our traditional brunch has been referred to as the "Hangover Brunch" but to me it's more of a debriefing session. We gather at someone's flat to cook, eat, and have our last drinks of the weekend. This Sunday, we started with Bloody Marys (my first!) and after we ate our way through a few hours of lounging in the kitchen on the windowsill, we finished up brunch with Magical Mermaid Mimosas. When the pitcher was finished, we finally decided to move to the park to bask in the beautiful weather (in spite of all those warnings about volcanic ash). I looked, calculating, at the empty bottle of twist-off champagne, the full bottle, and the half-empty bottle of Fanta.

"Guys!" I shouted. "We pour half the bottle of champagne into the empty bottle, then top both off with the Fanta, put the caps back on, and bring them with us to the park!" Someone quipped about the beauty of twist-off champagne caps. But then, we did. And it was glorious. *

We went to the park and found the perfect spot in the sun to drink our Champagnta. **

And drink it we did! When you mix in Fanta, you can barely taste the 48 crown (~$2.50) bottle of champagne! *

We decided that the slightly opaque sparkly stuff in the green bottles looked like what they drink in the garden in the movie of Harriet the Spy and this made Champagnta even better. *

I was pretty excited to have dressed so ridiculously for brunch. "I strive to make every moment of my life a photo opportunity" may have been my Champagnta-tipsy quote of the day. *

But while we were laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, an Austrian boy in a photography class actually came over and asked to take pictures, so, really, we made an impression. *

You'll note that most pictures are of the five of us girls. Brunch is usually high in estrogen and any boys who end up with us seem a bit exhausted. There's a reason he's on his own little towel instead of The Blanket (The Definite Article Blanket, as it were). And that reason is girls and... **

PUPPIES! The park is full of them on a Sunday afternoon and the Czechs aren't big on leashes. We called over as many dogs as we could and attacked them with affection, making cooing noises. This dog, however, found us. We noticed her urinating on the head of a guy passed out a few yards from us. Then, suddenly, she was on our blanket. "She likes other people but not me," the owner said when he came to retrieve her. What we did not get a photo of was the pig.

"Is that man walking a pig?" asked Jess. We all looked over and debated whether or not it was indeed a pig.
"Is that pony?" asked Jess, about a very large poodle at a great distance.
But, the porcine leashed animal came closer, and revealed itself to, in fact, be a pig. Eventually, Lauren and I were on the way to the bathroom and I managed to ask the owner if we could pet it. He apathetically agreed. We pet a pig. Its nose was kind of sticky, its fur was sparse, but it was a pig, and we pet it. ***

Eventually, the one bottle of champagne split two ways ran out.
"Guys! We buy two more bottles of champagne and one bottle of Fanta..." I began.
"And split the champagne amongst four bottles and top it off with Fanta!" someone else finished.

So Sara and I went to the same shop where she had purchased the makings of the Magical Mermaid Mimosas to get more supplies. We ended up with the same cashier and Sara gleefully told her to have a good day. We certainly were having one. We returned triumphantly and the crowd applauded.

At this point, the splitting the bottles became an assembly line procedure. Pour the champagne, pour the Fanta, cap it, overturn it to mix but don't shake. ***

In the end, we had four more bottles of Champagnta. "I'll call you breakfast, and you brunch, and you lunch, and you dinner!" **

As we neared the end of the bottles, we did feats to show off how we were still not drunk including hand stands, somersaults, and cartwheels. Throughout the day, friends came and went. There was frisbee and football. There were guitars and surly chihuahuas. As the sun went behind the clouds and slowly began to set, we moved to the beer garden and had a last round of drinks and foosball for the weekend (for some of us, at least).

It seemed to most of us that Monday morning was more brutal after a beautiful Sunday, but I think that on some level we all preferred an amazing Sunday and rough Monday to two mediocre days.

*From Sara
** From Jess
*** From Andrea

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We Find Magic Everywhere

When your job involves reading fairy tales at least three times a day, you start to view the world like one. I used to look for magic in the world, but lately, it just appears everywhere. We had a bunch of short willow branches in water from making pomlazka (willow whips, oh Central Europe) for Easter. I noticed that they were starting to bud and thought they would make a beautiful little fairy house. I stuck them into the ground to make a little hut. I explained to the children that this will attract the fairies to our garden as long as we took good care of it. As soon as I explained this to one student, he went and found flowers to put on top. Another found an empty snail shell while a third (for reasons I don't quite understand) sifted some small stones out of the sand table to put in the house. I then went around and collected the snails from all over the garden. I placed them in the house, explaining that the fairies ride on snails like we ride on horses. This also kept the snails safe from little feet that are wont to trod on them. Accidentally squishing a garden snail is much more heartbreaking than accidentally squishing a spider. The look of horror on one boy's face when he stepped on a chestnut that he thought was a snail was reason enough to corral the little guys.

But the fairy house quickly became known the the children as the snail house. "Šnek šnek šnek!" seems to be all I hear in the garden these days. They love to look in on the snails, give them little things to eat, and place flowers on the top of their house. The snails, to me, are magical little creatures in their own right, even if we've forgotten about the fairies who ride on them. My only previous knowledge of garden snails from Strawberry Shortcake. Snails, to me, were always aquatic and less than adorable. So, to see real life eye stalks is like stepping into a fairy tale!

I watch them and can't help but imagine being a fairy or Strawberry Shortcake riding on them myself. I recognize that in reality, it might be less than thrilling to ride on a snail, no matter how small I might be, but but... the eye stalks! They wiggle around and when they poke something, they go back in or wrap around it. They're incredible! And I've got about thirty more snail pictures, but I'll leave the šneky for another time.

Sometimes, magic comes in the form of an ambrosian Sunday morning cocktail. The Magical Mermaid Mimosa was born out of the desire to have root beer floats at brunch. Unfortunately, root beer does not exist here and vanilla ice cream is scarce (or topped with things). So, I picked up orange soda and strawberry ice cream one morning and figured it would do. It certainly did. We discussed how to make this delightful drink a bit more... alcoholic. Vodka? No. Rum? Perhaps. Tequila? Yes, but it is Sunday morning. So, champagne! Thus was born the Magical Mermaid Mimosa. Champagne, orange soda, and strawberry ice cream. "This is what girls in frilly pink dresses grow up to drink!" said Lauren.

It was hard to get a picture that properly showed the beautiful foam on the Magical Mermaid Mimosa or how it made one feel like one had just stepped into a victorian fairy tale, but this does show it a bit. Lauren coined the term Magical Mermaid Mimosa and later on I thought more about the use of "mermaid" here. In Hans Christen Andersen's original Little Mermaid, sea people live three hundred years but have no immortal soul, as humans do. So when they die, their spirit doesn't rise into the ether. They simply turn into foam and float on the sea. The foam on top of the Magical Mermaid Mimosa is like the sea foam that holds the essence of such magical creatures.

(Thanks to Jess for her M.M.M. photos)