Sunday, August 31, 2008

not so white-bred

Before we moved here, I expected the worse, just to be safe, I guess. Those who know me well know that's just who I am. If I imagine, elaborately, the worse of all possible outcomes for every situation that could arise, I fool myself into thinking that I will be ready for anything, and thus safe.

So, before we moved here, I imagined my wonderful Czech people and what it would be like living among them... at their worse. How will I feel, I wondered, surrounded by people many of whom are admittedly unabashedly racist, xenophobic, closed-minded, rude and materialistic?

Fortunately I knew I would have my wonderful Grandmother and several close friends, not to mention husband, who are like-minded and whose shoulders I know I can cry on when times get rough.

It's a bit early to tell, but so far I have not seen very much of the crudeness for which I so tried to brace myself. Perhaps these "isms" will surface soon, as I have seen them surface here, but so far they have largely stayed behind closed doors.

Something that has surprised me already is how much more multicultural this metropolis is than I had expected.

On our street alone, which is away from the tourist route, I have already heard at least eight different languages spoken: Czech, Russian, Vietnamese, Slovak, Polish, German, Romani, Lebanese (not sure about this one), and English.

The first time Jonah ran into other kids at a playground, one spoke Russian and the others were Black Czechs. When Jonah and I went to visit my friend down the street, two of her neighbors, who were there and who are married to Senegalese men, had their mixed-race infant daughters there with them. Today Jonah played with a Vietnamese boy in a restaurant at lunch.

Perhaps I have underestimated this part of the world for its degree of worldliness? You think?

our wooden anniversary

Yesterday was our fourth and last celebration of August (following all three of our birthdays): our wedding anniversary. This was our fifth, which is apparently the "Wooden Anniversary." We celebrated by renting... yes, a wooden row boat, and rowing around on the Vltava, the river that flows through Prague. What a wonderful way to spend an anniversary!

and a short video of my lovely boys:

Czech kids galore

In the short time that we've been here, Jonah's had a chance to spend time with tons of kids. At preschool, of course, though there he was so distracted by crying that he didn't really notice who was around. (Hopefully that will get better soon).

A few days ago Jonah and I went to hang out at my best Czech friend's place, which is quite close to where we live. They have a great backyard with swings and two kids close to Jonah's age (5 and 7). There are also lots of kids in that neighborhood that play together. Jonah had a blast jumping around with those kids as well as raking and building bunkers out of dry grass.

The language barrier didn't seem to bother him, though in the beginning the other kids briefly closed him off from themselves - literally. When I went to investigate, they said that he is not allowed to follow them because they don't understand him. I told them that he will learn Czech from them if they teach him and that if they are nice to him, he will be nice to them. Things changed after that and the other kids, all older than Jonah, included him in their games.

It was funny to watch them get to know each other. My friend's son, who's five, kept trying to establish rapport with Jonah by trying out his English on him: "Jonášku (Czech for 'little Jonah'), apple!" and "Jonášku, orange!" Very sweet. Here is Jonah with one of his new Czech friends, Jáchym.

Yesterday my dad treated us to another steam engine train ride. He invited his neighbor-friends and their kids along. Here is a picture of the kids on the train and a couple of views from the scenic train ride.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

around the neighborhood pt. 2

"Scootering. What's your price for flight?" (Do you know that song?)

a playground a few blocks away:

sprayed tags are everywhere!

... and the moment I'm sure you've been waiting for

The alarm rang at 7 am. We ate, got dressed and ready for "school" today. Jonah was game until he realized we were going to take the subway, not the tram. That was the trigger -- mysterious as any of them tend to be. A tantrum ensued which propelled us at rocket speed down the stairs and escalators, onto the crowded rush-hour train (where I successfully kept his flailing body from injuring others and my eyes from meeting other eyes) and up the escalator to the square near Jonah's school. Still, once above ground, he was wailing and flailing.

Finally, when he paused for breath, sweaty, yet trying to keep my composure I asked if he was scared. He said that he was. I asked him if he would feel better if I stayed with him at preschool for a while. He stopped screaming hysterically and said in his angelic voice that he would feel better. He even began to get excited about his first day at school, for which we have been trying to prepare him for months. Perhaps the build-up was just too much to handle.

Once at school, he kept the corner of his eye on me while staying busy driving the various trucks and construction equipment from the school's "private stash" and observing the other little people. I tagged along like a third wheel all the way through the morning snack, practicing the Zen of transforming myself from the annoyingly-uptight-and-nervous mom to one who's so cool and aloof that she's invisible.

After snack I told Jonah I would be going to the store and coming back. Apparently he did fine for the 45 minutes I was gone, but when the kids were getting ready to go outside, the teacher couldn't find Jonah's shoes and forced him into someone else's sandals, which angered him to the point of tears.

It is important to note that this is his very first experience with an institution (though he did spend about 20 minutes in a supermarket daycare once, but Daddy had to be paged because little Mr. was on the verge of a panic attack). Also, his pre-school is basically a language immersion experience for him. No easy task for anyone, especially for a person who has experienced so many changes lately. Yes, children adjust quickly, but they do have fears and anxieties -- perhaps more pronounced ones than adults -- because their understanding of relationships is limited. Nevertheless, I decided to give him another practice round and left for yet one more hour, following the advice of the school's director.

The second time around Jonah did worse. He cried, looking for me for the whole time that I was gone. I surprised him so when I returned that he yelled at me to go away. Soon he calmed down and we talked about how the day went.

In the end he liked pre-school. He just got scared when I left. He vowed to not cry the next time, though I did tell him that it's ok to cry when he's sad or scared. We talked about how kids usually cry the first day or two at pre-school. And he was in good spirits after just a few minutes.

He is going back for one more practice day on Thursday before pre-school starts for real next Monday. Keep your fingers crossed for us for an easy transition and no more tantrums on the subway.

Monday, August 25, 2008

the old landlord's last hurrah

They say it ain't over till the fat lady sings. Our skinny caulk-obsessed ex-landlord has surely sung his last tune: a dragon's last fiery puff. That cooky man sent us a spreadsheet -- yes, spreadsheet -- listing the dozens of alterations he had to make to the house upon us moving out, billing us for every single detail.

You see for yourself that this man is "missing a screw," as we say in Czech (literally, apparently). These are just three of the many items on the list that irk me:

- Removal and repair of tape and nails in walls/woodwork ($5 per item): $5. Oh my god, he had to take one nail out of the wall!!!
- Replace light bulbs ($3 per item): $9
- Missing phone jack $40 - what? Why would we take that? Esp. to Prague where the phone jacks are different.

I have never, in my 35 years alive, met anyone more anal than Mr. Caulk, who apparently, when listing things like broken fridge door shelf bar and damaged floor air vent, does not account for three years of wear and tear. Mark my words: this will not go unchallenged!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Here are some pictures I've taken over the last week. The theme: some of the forms of transportation we've experienced here thus far.

Last weekend, we celebrated Jonah's birthday (on my birthday) with my dad, taking a train ride through a scenic valley on a historic train, powered by a steam engine. My dad charmed his way inside the engine with Jonah. The rough, yet friendly, train conductor showed Jonah the fire that heats the coal. He asked Jonah in Czech: "Do you want to see hell?" Jonah nodded, but as soon as the conductor opened the heater door, Jonah went looking for Daddy.

The fun day, albeit coldest of the summer here, culminated with Jonah test-driving his battery-powered monster jeep, a present from his Czech Grandpa. Love at first drive.

The other pics are taken inside the Prague metro (subway) and trams. Enjoy.

cute train station:

my dad, his wife, dog Cotie and Mr. Jonah in his new monster jeep:

putting together a train track of my dad's childhood model train (Jonah asked him where his train was as soon as we walked in the door. He had remembered for weeks that my dad had one!)

waiting for a tram & riding a tram

at a metro (subway) station:

and a cool art shot of an underpass:

daddy-O's birthday

Today is Tim's birthday. It took him a week to catch up to me in age! Yes, it's true; there is only one week each year when he and I are different ages. Now he can feel as old as I do.

My Grandmother invited us over for a Czech traditional (and some say 'national') dish of pork, dumplings and cabbage. Those who have experienced the phenomenon of vepřo knedlo zelo are surely salivating now. And my Grandmother's cooking is out of this world. I stopped eating pork a couple of years back, but today I made an exception. It's all for the sake of childhood memories...

Tim was in heaven! Jonah did not want to leave his prababi's house. Here are some pics from this special day:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

how much is that doggie in the window

I've been making a note of what everything that we may need costs here. For our apartment we are paying about what we paid in Portland - with bills, give or take $100 per month. Gasoline seems about twice as much as in the U.S. But more about that later once we get our new (used).... drumroll, please.... car up and running!

Groceries vary in price. For instance (keep in mind you get about 15 crowns for a dollar nowadays):

• a fresh roll: 3 koruny (crowns) = 20 cents
• a bottle of mineral or regular water: 14 crowns
• a carton of organic soy milk: 40 crowns
• bottled beer (very important for Tim, as you can imagine): 9 to 12 crowns (60 to 80 cents)
• canned beer: about 20 crowns ($1.30)
• a carton of juice: about 25 crowns
• bottle of wine: about 54 crowns (less than $4!!!)
• blueberries: 54/kilogram = $1.60/lb

Produce is mostly limited and sold according to what's in season (unless one visits a supermarket with an expanded "exotic produce section"). And no good lettuce can be found in any stores I've seen, though. Only iceberg! (Do the Czechs just stay clear of lettuce? It's not even served in most restaurants. Or has someone forgot to tell me about the latest salmonella outbreak?). Now one can find mostly bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and green onions. Standard fruit selection: apples, bananas, oranges and now plums. Onions, cabbage and potatoes are always available, I'm sure.

That reminds me: today I saw a guy walking down the street with the biggest bag of potatoes in the world!!! It was nearly the size of the man! And he was a big dumplin'-eating man, mind you.

• Eating out (we haven't done this much yet, but here is my tally so far):
• Chinese food: about 70 crowns a dish
• Typical Czech dish outside the touristy area in Prague: 60 to 85 crowns
• Pizza for one (tasty brick oven pizza is available just about on every block. Yay for me!): 100 to 150 crowns
• Lunch special (incl. soup or salad and main dish, sometimes also a drink): 75 to 90 crowns
• Beer: 20 to 40 crowns (depends where you go)
• Espresso/Coffee drinks: 40 to 60 crowns = small and EXPENSIVE! Darn.

Clothing, which I really hope to avoid buying here -- except for Jonah since he's still growing -- seems so pricy! 20 to 100% more than in the U.S.!!!

Best of all, public transportation costs us $100 each for three months! We can hop on and off the trams, buses, and subway as we please. Jonah rides free.

P.S. I did not take this photo.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

queuing like there's no tomorrow

Over the last few days, I've been busy running errands. There is so much paperwork to take care of. Examples: city transit passes, a notarized and signed rental agreement, health insurance, local bank accounts, cell phones, Tim's permanent residency, yadayadayada... the list goes on.

Of course, for each little thing I have to go to a different office. Just the transit passes we have already attempted to get three times to no avail! I'm having flashbacks to the Communist Era - seriously. Queuing forever just to ask a question and learn that one has been standing in the wrong line!

The transportation passes, for instance, require photographs, but the places where the passes are made don't provide an ID photo service. Also, some vendors sell certain types of passes, others different types. We tried one little photo store, but the lady told us grumpily that she ran out of photo paper and to come back the next day. We went to a different shop, of course. Today we waited in line for twenty minutes with our little photographs and filled out forms and learned that we were in the wrong line. We had to head to a different location, about ten minutes away, to get into a different queue. As soon as we got in that line, I noticed that the only vendor helping folks had a sign that she takes a half-hour break every day precisely just at the time we had arrived, and -- in typical Czech fashion -- right smack in the heart of rush hour, the busiest time of day. So, still no transit cards.

It's quite amazing. Just when a person lets out a sigh of relief that one document has been taken care of, one realizes a component is missing! That happened to me with our bank account, phones, and the rental agreement. So, back across the whole city on the subway and tram we will have to go to provide the missing signature or to show up again when supplies have been delivered or a computer system fixed. Wow!

Of course, the ultimate queue, in which people get one to three days ahead (and stay overnight just to be sure their turn comes when needed) is the Foreigner Police office where all non-Czechs have to report within three days of arrival to the country unless staying at a hotel which registers visitors automatically. You remember that video I shared? Well, thanks to my dad, the Senator, we will be able to bypass that mess by going directly to the Chief of Foreigner Police to apply for Tim's permanent residency status. Talk about a sigh of relief!

I can't wait till all the paperwork has been taken care of. Hopefully this will be by the end of the month!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Na zdravi! (Cheers!)

In the few days that we have been in Prague, I have come to realize, as I had suspected, that organic produce is extremely difficult to come by. Organic dairy and grain products can be found in many places, but produce and meat not so.

I am not sure how available eco cleaning and hygiene products are, but I haven't seen them yet.

In Portland we were very conscious of the products and food that we bought. We made sure that almost everything we consumed and cleaned with was organic, but here, unfortunately, I don't think that is possible.

I have also noticed that, though cancer rates seem high here (with one of the highest mortality rates in Europe and the world), I don't think most Czechs are really aware that plastics, for example, are one of the major cancer-causing substances. Czechs happily sip on hot coffee, tea, mulled wine and 'grog' from thin plastic cups in which these drinks are sold by most vendors. Lots of people also seem to cook "instant rice" in little plastic baggies. Many of the traditional foods here such as pate, meat and snack foods are filled with artificial ingredients and preservatives. (Of course, they are as well in the States. I am just disappointed that the trend is so far-reaching.)

In fact, I find it ironic that our relatively young good family friend, a food chemist and candy "flavor designer," (could've been working for Willy Wonka!) has been battling breast cancer for some time. Could there be a connection?

Aside from food, the amount of air and general environmental pollution seems high here as well. Well, maybe not compared to China... but still.

A couple of years back the Czech Minister of Health had his blood tested. The chemicals they found in his blood are typical of most Czechs, I presume: a high level of PCB, DDT, a chemical called PBDE used in the making of upholstering, carpets, blinds, and computers, for instance. Perhaps these chemicals are likely to also come up in blood tests of typical Americans, but it's just something I've been thinking about.

We will do our best to continue with our healthy lifestyle choices, given the lack of accessibility here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

around the neighborhood pt. 1

Lucky for Jonah, right around the corner from our building is a little park with benches and a sandbox, fenced in to keep the thousands of city lap doggies in check. Though it's been a rainy couple of days, Jonah has insisted on going digging. Digging, of course, ranks right up there as one of his very favorite activities.

As lacking in greenery as our street is, right around one of the other corners on the next block is a street lined with huge, beautiful trees and rowhouses with quaint gardens. While walking around the block, I also found some pretty little cobblestone alleys so narrow, they have to be one-way streets.

More about our neighborhood to come.

Friday, August 15, 2008

here we are

After a frantic several days of sorting, packing, repacking, loading and unloading trucks, birthday celebrations and family in town, we managed to successfully make our Big Move to the Czech Republic. Here we are in Prague, one day after touch down still reeling from the jet lag.

Prior to leaving Portland, we spent the two nights at Tim's brother and sister-in-law's because most of our stuff was already moved out of our old house and into storage. Jonah got to spend a lot of the last few days in Portland with his Aunt Jenni and Montana Grandparents. They took care of him while Tim and I spend time liquidating our old house, schlepping stuff to storage and getting ready for the trip. Jonah seemed fine until the first night at Uncle's. He suddenly began to cry, wanting to go back to the old house. Tim managed to calm him down, but Jonah tossed and turned all night, talking from his sleep and waking up constantly. I could tell he was worried about the changes.

The next night, he and I talked about what was to come, as we had been for months. But this time the transition was actually becoming reality for Jonah. He asked me: "Are there going to be scary things there?" I told him that there wouldn't be. That we will all be there: "mommy, daddy and Jonah together" and that we will be happy. Jonah made sure then to request that somebody sleep with him in his new room in Prague. Specifically: "Can daddy sleep with me in my room? Mommy you can sleep in your own bed."

I was quite impressed with his ability to identify and verbalize his fears. Not only that, he came up with a solution that would help him feel better. I don't know many three-year-olds, but this seemed like a very mature thing to do.

After our talk, we both slept better.

On the day of our flight, we went back to our old house to pick up Sarafina, soon-to-be-International-Cat. We said goodbye the house. Jonah blessed the front yard with one last tinkle on the bamboo. Shh... don't tell the landlord, if you run into him.

Jonah did just fine on the flights, as he always does. He slept for a few hours, even. Tim and I, of course, never did fall asleep during the course of the twenty-some-hour long trip. Talk about a parental marathon once off the plane, keeping a very sleepy puffy red eye on one hyper monkey!

Once we arrived in Prague via Frankfurt and got our million bags off the conveyer belt, we approached the "oversize area" to pick up our well-fed furry friend. No, don't laugh. They did not name the office after her. We were alarmed to find her cage there, empty. Instantly I was sent to a desk clear across the baggage area. No one knew anything about what had happened to our cat. Her food bowl, water bottle and blanket were gone along with her. That told us she hadn't escaped, but of course, the worst possible scenarios flashed through my mind.

After a dozen calls made to a variety of airline and airpot employees, Tim wandered back to the Oversize area to take a second look. Luckily he spotted Fini there in another carrier. Apparently someone switched her from her small carrier that I thought was quite luxurious to a bigger one because, according to code, a cat is supposed to be able to stand up with a minimum of was it three inches above her head inside the carrier. No one bothered to tell us. We were just happy to have found her healthy and eager for our affection.

Sarafina is doing fine, adjusting to being an indoor kitty after ten years of being able to go in and out of the house as she pleases.

Jonah likes his new room and spends quite a bit of time playing in it with the hordes of toys we brought from Portland and the new ones he received from Czech family members upon arrival.

We have begun to explore the neighborhood, but I will write more about that later. For now, here are a couple of pictures of our street from our windows. Lucky Jonah looks out into the courtyard, full of tall leaf trees while our living/dining room and bedroom face the street.

(our building is the yellow one next to the trees in the last photo)

Jonah turns three

Our sweet Jonah turned three on Monday! We had a brunch with family and friends to celebrate on Sunday and a little party for Jonah in his uncle and aunt's backyard on his actual birthday.

Now that I mention it, I realized I totally forgot the piñata! Oh no! Well, I guess he will have his first piñata experience next year when he turns four.

For the first time, Jonah got that his birthday was his time: presents, family and all, though he did like to tell everyone else "happy birthday" too. I think he thought it was the right response to birthday wishes. Sort of like "you're welcome" is a good response for "thank you."

Our celebrations were bitter sweet. So nice, but mixed with sadness because we knew we wouldn't see a lot of our friends and family for a while. I was glad we were able to squeeze in some special Jonah time with the crazy move and all.

I still can't believe my little boy is already three!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

one last time

One last time we will sleep at our house tonight (then at Jonah's uncle and aunts for two nights before we leave for Prague). One more day Jonah is two (tomorrow he turns three). It's truly a time of change.

When I told Jonah that his birthday is coming up and that we will celebrate with friends today and again tomorrow at Uncle Andy's and Aunt Jenni's house, he said: "Will you sing me the birthday song?" This is indeed the first time he, at least somewhat, understands the concept of a birthday. What a big boy he is now: three, starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

foreigners = cattle?

Once we get to Prague, by law Tim is required within three business days to register with the "foreigner police" and apply for permanent residency. This must be done in person. There is only one office which takes care of this, and, from what I hear, the queue is horrendous. Sometimes up to 800 people wait to be helped in one day by handful of office clerks most of whom only speak Czech. Those same office clerks process paperwork and provide information. It often happens that one queues for hours to just ask a question and learns s/he has been in the wrong queue all along. Apparently people start lining up on the street at 10 pm and wait nine plus hours to make sure they aren't turned away the following day! Talk about bureaucracy in a post-Communist country!

I googled "cizinecka policie" or foreigner police and came across this video illustrating what happens when the door finally opens in the morning. Poor Tim! I hope we can use my dad's clout as a Senator to somehow expedite the process and avoid this hell.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Freud, oh Freud

Good old Freud must be turning over in his grave. I used to think Freud was crazy, but, now closely observing my toddler, I am beginning to wonder if Herr Sigmund may have been on to something.

Tim has been gone for a few days, doing the YMCA dance somewhere in the Cascade mountain range with his boyfriends - anyways, that's what I like to imagine he does on "Man's Weekends," as he calls his retreats with his male friends. I don't mean to mock these very important bonding occasions. I think it's wonderful that this tradition has been established and is still going strong.

But back to my little toddler wonder. For the first time this weekend -- and I hope he doesn't announce this to Tim as soon as he sees him -- Jonah has insisted that he wants daddy to stay camping and not come back. "I don't need daddy," he says vehemently as if hoarding me. When asked, he can't really explain why, but he insists this is what he wants. This strange attitude is definitely a new side of Jonah. He must be entering Freud's Phallic Stage of Psychosexual Development. Right on schedule, I might add. This is the stage of the infamous Oedipus complex, when boys become interested in genitalia and must struggle with "the unconscious desire to possess the opposite-sexed parent and to eliminate the same-sexed one."

Just look at this picture. All he wanted to do during my sister's wedding was ride this giant cannon that happened to adorn the courtyard where the ceremony and reception took place. Freud, oh Freud. Maybe you weren't so out there after all.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

the tall tales he tells

Jonah has been quite the story teller lately. His favorite --especially during meals -- is to tell stories where he is the main hero who commits all types of violent acts he can think of... usually against .... drum roll, please... none other than me. Mind you, we don't ever use violence to discipline him and we don't have a television, though he does sometimes watch cartoons on the computer. Could they be the culprits or is this just a natural tendency to channel in-born aggression and fear?

So, yes, I am most often the lucky recipient of his imaginary aggressive attacks. He sprays me with his fireman hose, chops me with his ax, drops me down off a mountain into water... But all this is said for pure and innocent-seeming amusement. No malicious grin or thirst for vengeance.

My friends who are parents of toddlers tell me this is normal. My dad says channeling his aggression into stories is healthy. I believe them. I do feel privileged to figure so prominently in his stories, but do I like to be, albeit virtually, bruised and abused by my shrimp-sized son?

For your enjoyment, and to illustrate, I transcribed one of his breakfast tales today. Notice that when he runs out of violent verbs, he invents his own.

Jonah: "I'm gonna dash you. I'm gonna rake you (makes a raking motion in the air): rake, rake, rake. And then I smash you and water splashed all over you and poured all over you and dripped. Then you fell into a hole and got lost and I pulled you out and threw you into a garbage truck and crushed you. I'm gonna throw a dragonfly at you and splash bubbles at your eyes. You don't like water poured on your eyes?"

me: "Not too much."

Jonah: "I'm gonna pour water on your eyes (making a pouring motion): wag, wag, wag. When a hamburger fall on you, it say: 'Oomlet.' It pokes you in your eyes. And then you'll fall down under the tunnel and go fall in water and then you splash at me. I splashed back at you at your head.

"Mom, I wanna 'gorp' you: gorp, gorp. I'm gonna crush you. Crush your mouth. I 'trushed' you."

He smiles sweetly and we hug and nuzzle.

Friday, August 01, 2008


Today Amalia would be six-months-old. This flower is from a camellia tree Andy and Jenni gave us in memory of their niece Amalia. It bloomed in May.