31 January 2014

Snow, snow, come out in the snow

We have been blessed with an abundance of that powdery white stuff...

This is an actual quote from a fondly-remembered Christmas card of my youth, sent by some very proper friends of my parents. 

It raises so many questions. Why add 'snow' at the end unless they thought that we might have thought that they had been blessed with a different type of 'powdery white stuff'? Was this some sort of counter-cultural innuendo decrying the faux cheeriness of traditional Christmas letters or a naive and ill-considered cheesy joke? If the former, were there other hidden jibes in the month-by-month replay of church camps, minor promotions, and spelling bee success that I had missed?

But to get back to the subject matter at hand, it has finally snowed here in the Czech Republic and our little village is looking very sweet in its blanket of powdery white stuff.

The only minor problem, as you can see, is that where we live is relatively flat.

Ok, very flat
And, as you can also see, Smalls was quite keen to do a bit of sledding.

A short walk later to the closest bump in the landscape...

..and weeeee!

Although Smalls seems to have decided that pulling the sled is the best part.

I think L. and I agree that the best part is a post-sledding glass of wine by the newly-installed wood stove.

30 January 2014

Sentimentality and the Kredenc

When I first started dating L., my efforts to rid his closet of some very holey, threadbare t-shirts and a bobbled fleece with a broken zipper were met with, 'But...but I've had those t-shirts since I was twelve! My mom got me that fleece ten years ago!' (Precisely my point).

Of course, in the spirit of fairness, I must mention that both L. and I seemed to think it was imperative that we bring a large van full of our things from England across the channel, across a frozen Europe to the Czech Republic.

The bulk of our things, I realised while unpacking boxes a few months later, comprise of holey t-shirts, charity shop knick-knacks, and furniture items that we bought from the rubbish dump's recycling centre. They are all lovely, I assure you.

Which brings us to the kredenc.

The kredenc, in all its glory

When we bought the house, it came with many items left by the previous owners (at our request - along with being sentimental, we also are exceptionally thrifty).

This included the kredenc, which we originally kept as a temporary solution while we waited for our carpenter to have time to work on the kitchen. However, as you can see, it's nestled right into a corner of our kitchen.

'It's very practical,' one of L.'s babickas says (in Czech) every time she comes over. Considering her whole flat is a fantastic time-capsule of Czech mid-century modern style, I'm not surprised.

It's not exactly practical. The left drawer's tracks are completely messed up, so opening it involves a series of careful manoeuvres. It's a little short (thus the baskets at the top). The glass panels at the top are difficult to move back and forth. And the counter area is small and often very dark.

However, in spite of all of this, we two sentimentalists are terribly fond of it. Bless the lovely, funny kredenc.

The current plan is the update it with the help of the carpenter. New tracks for the drawer. Better system for the glass. Hidden LED lights. Possibly new paint job on the drawers and doors.

Our builder suggested that a kredenc in its original condition is a bit of a hot commodity and that selling this one could fund our whole kitchen re-do. Our carpenter laughed.

So, this is a public announcement: if you know of any reason why this kredenc should not be updated for life in a modern kitchen, speak now or forever hold your peace.

Carpenter willing, the modernising process should take place in a few weeks. 

21 January 2014

On rain, memory, and the one-track mind of students

Our tea supplies were running low, so we three Expatovi headed back to Old Blighty for the weekend.

Also, it was my graduation and yours truly will hereafter demand to be addressed Dr. Expatová.

Armed and ready for England
Memory is a funny old thing and my memory is especially leaky. (L.'s is perhaps even worse than mine, which means that we've had to move any of our Marital Discussions much closer to the first instance of the offence lest we be reduced to something along the lines of: 'You've made me really angry!' 'Oh, I'm sorry. What did I do?' 'I'm....not sure.'). 

Anyway, it hasn't been snowing here in the Czech Republic and in the last few days before our trip, we even had quite a lot of rain. This has lead to much general complaining, and I must admit to making quite a few comments about how we moved out of England to get away from all this rain.

Oh, foolish memory! As England proved, Czech rain is in no way comparable to British rain. Duration, strength, volume, and sheer bloody determination are all categories which are solidly won by English rain. As my fellow graduates and I madly dashed in all of our ridiculous finery (something else the British excel at), with the organisers of the graduation gaily ordering us about ('Quickly now! A jolly good run to next building, my lovelies.'), I was thoroughly reminded of the true nature of the British downpour. 

Point Prague.

The next morning, the rain was gone and everything was sparkling in the sun. England in the sunshine is a beautiful, beautiful thing and just as breathtaking as I remembered it. 

Ach jo. 

So, it seems, there is still a residue of homesickness, but I must admit to feeling surprised at how crowded everything seemed. The Czech Republic is nearly half as densely populated as the UK in terms of people per square kilometre (a bit of geography trivia for you to know and share), and the sight of nearly twenty resigned fisherman clustered around a man-made pond a few metres from a very busy motorway was a sobering and depressing image indeed. 

And finally, an unrelated teaching note: my most recent day at work was very, very strange. It started off with a student, when asked to use the word 'bare' in a sentence (I think the book was looking for something like 'bare walls' or a 'bare table') loudly announced to the class: 'My sentence is: I prefer bare-back sex'. I'm not sure if my official job description includes Safe Sex Educator, but apparently it should. 

The next class was comprised of student presentations on the English-speaking country of their choice and included a hand-drawn map of Europe that had an Italy that looked not so much like a boot as a little willy dangling into the Mediterranean. I was, apparently, not the only who thought this as titters rippled through the class. Laughter and snorts continued throughout the presentation, presumably as individual students glanced at the map again. I think we were all relieved when it was finally erased.

The day ended on a more serious note when one of the students presented a very heartfelt and exceptionally graphic lecture on female genital mutilation in Sudan. I was really impressed with how well he - and the rest of the class, for that matter - dealt with the issue. Although, truth be told, as the handout detailing all of the types of female genital mutilation was passed around, I did briefly - and admittedly, unfairly - consider never letting students talk ever again.

09 January 2014

What does the sheep say?

Smalls has been learning his animal noises for several months and very enthusiastically hollers, 'huf! huf!' or 'meow, meow' at any dog or cat, respectively, that he sees.

There have been a few small issues with the linguistic differences between English and Czech animals. For instance, Czech dogs say 'Huf!' instead of 'Woof!' The funniest difference for me is the Czech frog, who instead of saying 'Ribbit, ribbit', says 'Kvak, kvak' - not unlike the English duck. Clearly a case of animal false friends.

A few weeks ago, Smalls and I went for a gentle stroll through the village with a friend and her little girl. One of the families in the village keeps sheep, so we took the toddlers to see them.

Smalls was very excited, and, wanting to have him show off his skills, I asked him, 'Smalls, what does a sheep say?'

Smalls gave me a big smile and then proceeded to make a noise that can perhaps best be written as: 'MNooorgOOmg.'

'Oh no, Smalls,' said I, with a little laugh. 'Maybe you haven't seen a sheep yet. The sheep says, Baaaa.'

...At which point, said sheep turned to us, and rolling her giant black eyes, rather distinctly and quite possibly with a touch of malice, said 'MNooooooorgOOmg.'

In other news, still no snow here, but plenty of lovely sunshine.

02 January 2014

Hooray, hooray for a new year!

This past year has been bloody hard. It has been filled with many accomplishments of which I am rather proud, but hopefully Future Expatova will be less ambitious than Past Expatova and decide to space out some of these exciting events over a few years - or even decades - rather than a few short months.

Also, while I love my in-laws and really appreciate all of their help and support, I really, really hope imposing ourselves, our cats, and all our earthly goods on them for a few months (ehem, FIVE) on end won't be necessary ever again.

So, in other words, good riddance to 2013. May you never be repeated.

I've spent all but one of the past eight Christmases in Prague and so in some ways, this year was very much in keeping with our traditional celebrations. We had the mandatory four days of family, food, cookies and bubblies which were invariably followed by several days of anti-social recovery time. We also got the time-honoured cold/flu which has graced us for nearly every Christmas (so it seems it wasn't something we caught on the plane after all).

In between all of our busy social events, cleaning the house, entertaining Smalls, baking cookies, trooping to the post office, and other vital holiday activities, I snuggled down in bed with handkerchiefs, tea, and cough drops and read my rather battered copy of Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. It was Mr. Bryson's reflections on the UK that first helped me settled into life in England when I stumbled upon his book seven years ago with his fond and pithy observations on all that is lovely and annoying about the UK.

And this year, my second reading of it helped me let go of England.

I was surprised with how much the fact that we weren't going back to England at the end of the Christmas holidays has made me feel melancholic and a little lost. So, while we celebrated Christmas pretty much the same as usual, the fact that we were, in fact, celebrating at home was odd. And it was very strange to meander through Prague at Christmas (a very lovely sight even without snow) and have it be my Prague all lit up and bursting with people. None of this was in any way bad. And certainly, avoiding airports at Christmas has been glorious. And snuggling in my own bed when battling the Holiday Cold has been extra nice. But it's all so strange, new and not-new at the same time.

As I mentioned before, I've been struggling with a frustratingly illogical homesickness for England. I keep hoping I'll find some sort of magical single explanation for it - such as that my homesickness is really just me missing cheddar cheese or buses that don't come on time or living close to a large body of water or maybe even a chemical side effect of the persistent black mould finally getting out of my system. Something ideally that can be remedied by more cheese consumption or a disregard for tram timetables or possibly a series of very cold and salty baths.

While the root of my England-sickness seems to be caused my more than just a single thing, the remedy to my homesickness seems to be composed of Notes from a Small Island, lots of tea, and very relaxing New Year's celebrations at the family's cottage in the woods. I have entered 2014 as a new woman, my friends, and ready to properly settle into this new phase of life.

Note to L.: this is not to say that I don't think you should sponsor me for a grand 7 week tour of the UK, as it would seem Bryson's wife did. And she single-handedly looked after their four children while he did it. Just saying....

Note to others: L. largely sponsored my reading and recovering time by uncomplainingly getting up with Smalls and also bought me two kittens as compensation for his month-long work-trip to India several years ago and therefore, I am not looking to replace him with Mrs. Bryson any time in the future.