Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!!

pumpkin in the dark 
Home from trick-or-treating with a bag full of candy, the jack o' lantern lit and hot chocolate on the way - all's right with the world, at least for a five year old!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Cat's Meow - Chicken Store in Prague

cat graffiti in pragueLittle stores in the Czech Republic still tend to specialize. This Čerstvé Kuřecí Maso (Fresh Chicken Meat) store sells chicken in many parts and the sundries that go with it - spices, butter, and frozen vegetables. It doesn't sell much else at all. The owners are affable guys who wear butcher hats and big, meat-stained aprons and know that I like three of whatever I'm buying that day.

This graffiti cat recently appeared on the store's security shutter (viewable only when closed). He looks to me like he's ready to swallow a canary, or maybe something a bit more fowl sized.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Kind of Solace

One reason I take pictures of graffiti I like is that it just doesn't last. Most pieces don't wind up on the walls of movie stars, but get painted over or scratched out. A week or two after I found this homage to Karel Gott and vegetarianism, someone took a big stick to it. Last time I walked by more of the print had disappeared.

I borrowed the idea of a postcard poem from Lucy, who is usually found at Box Elder. My postcard is more statement than song though.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Central European Time

J at 6 months
The time changed this morning and we are officially back in CET, or Central European Time. Today's been a lazy day of getting up late and finding it is 8:00, of taking our afternoon walk and heading home for a nap at just past noon. I try to ignore the disappearing sun and the fast approach of our nocturnal winter-time existence; Will applies gallows humor. As the sun slipped behind the trees this afternoon he shook his head in that gleeful/mournful way so contrary to eternal optimists and reminded me that it's all downhill from here till the solstice.*

I thought I'd post a picture as the sun sets tonight (4:49) of a copper-headed J. An antidote of sorts!

* As our household's Google addict, I have to add that this is not strictly true. The sun sets in Prague at 4:00 for two weeks, starting December 7. By December 21 it actually sets at 4:02. Thanks

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Konopiště Popup

Caroline has a pop-up book of Czech castles that she's using as a center bouquet this season. It's currently surrounded by browning leaves and horse chestnuts in various stages of decay, so I did a tight crop tonight of her chateau of the week. I thought ya'll might like to see what we're eating dinner with these days...

And now for some history:
Not far from Prague, on the road to Vienna, the red roofs of Konopiště stand sentinel above the treeline. Drive closer and you'll find the castle and lake surrounded by parkland that stretches to the edge of the closest town, Benešov.

Konopiště has everything we've come to expect in a Czech castle - bears in the moat, falcons on the lawn, working tile stoves and ghost stories. We like to take our house guests to visit this particular spot though, because it was part of a story that almost all of our friends recognize.

Does the name Franz Ferdinand ring a bell?

Not the band, I hasten to add; the Archduke. He bought the castle in 1887 and used it as his country estate until his assassination in 1914.

If your only memory of Franz Ferdinand is an open car and a shot heard round the world, I'm not surprised. Here he has more dimensions. Czechs like him - he spent a lot of time in our neck of the woods, and he was an advocate of greater Czech autonomy at a time when most members of his family were not.

Tour guides make him human. They tell the story of his love affair with his wife Sophie, of his children and of his favorite rose garden. They also like to show off his massive trophy collection. The man clearly liked to hunt. He shot thousands of deer and birds and blanketed the castle walls with heads (a form of insulation from cold winters? the ultimate guy's castle?). The effect is a bit creepy. Oddly, it also makes the castle look lived in*, in a way that many castles around the country do not.

* Check out these pics if you want to see the castle looking even more lived in. I love how bored the boys look.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Best Coffee In Prague?

mamacoffee collage, Prague
Our new favorite coffee spot - mamacoffee. On the corner of Rumunska and Londynska in Prague 2, mamacoffee's got beans that make our coffee pot say mnam, and serves coffee (for here or to go) that rivals the perkiest of the perky on the US West Coast. We don't even have to cross the river to find it, mamacoffee's in our neighborhood, just a few streets from home.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Soda Siphon

soda siphon
For Will's birthday this year, I hunted down a soda siphon. Bought from our neighborhood's household goods store, or domači potreby, the siphon foams its fizz with one cannister of CO2 and some cold water. Our model arrived from Hungary, but Austria and Poland apparently make good siphons too. Wikipedia tells us that our neck of the woods was the center of the soda siphon industry before WWII, so a Hungarian sziphon seems just right.

I bought the siphon because I thought it would be an elegant addition to W's bar. When we started using it, we realized its other benefits. No more plastic bottles taking up space at home and in the recycle bin, and the soda chargers, or bombičky, come in sets of ten at 2 CZK a pop, and are returnable for a deposit and reuse. In Prague, you can order the chargers online or find them through, at their local distributors.

Our favorite mixes so far:

Caroline Collins
1 tsp raspberry syrup
1 cherry and a tiny twist of lemon
1 lowball glass
soda water to the top!

John Collins
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 oz bourbon
1 highball glass

Dissolve the sugar in your highball by mixing with lemon and bourbon. Fill w ice. Top up w soda. Stir and enjoy. The result tastes remarkably like the drinks my grandfather used to make!

In the picture behind the siphon is another favorite birthday present from this year. Back in August, my brother-in-law knew that my sister and I were searching lucklessly for wipe-off placemats that we liked. Creative fellow, he smuggled a laminator into their basement, cut up navigational maps from one of their favorite sailing trips, laminated, trimmed and gave them to us for our birthday. These are by far my favorite everyday placemats now, and C likes to pretend to sail her spoon around the islands at breakfast time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Prague Graffiti - Over the Wednesday Wall

graffiti sticker
When I first saw this sticker, I thought the guys were playing basketball. Then I realized one was boosting the other up. I think it makes a fine over the hump, Wednesday graffiti picture, don't you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Streets of Our Childhood

The Library of Congress web site is a fabulous source of historic data and fun too. I like to visit every now and again to check out their photo collection on Flickr. When I get addicted to a tune, I'll see what they have to offer on it. This morning I was feeling a bit homesick and thought I'd see what I could dig up about my home town. Yet again, the LOC came up trumps.

What you see above is a detail from a bird's-eye view print of Charleston, S.C., drawn by C. Drie in 1872. The detail is of the neighborhood my sister and I grew up in one hundred years later. Most of the ponds in the picture were filled in by the time we came along, and the only schooners we knew were replica tourist boats or our great-uncle's, but the streets are the same and the house we grew up in with its walls to climb and garden to run around in is there too. Ellen, this one is for you.

For more bird's eye view prints, visit here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Study in Contrasts

This weekend I kept finding visual juxtapositions that tickled my fancy. Clockwise: 1. graffiti wall and downspout neighbor a frieze of baroque sculptures. 2. Repainted facade nestled next to old. 3. Stickers and graffiti cover rusted wall 4. Medieval arch mixed with renaissance(?) window. 5. Gratuitous baby picture.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Still time to send in your write-in absentee ballot

Have you sent in a request for your ballot but not received it yet? No worries, you can still send in a write-in absentee ballot. and Democrats Abroad sent me the following handy dandy information sheet which I've pasted below, adding a few more links of my own to make it a bit more equal opportunity.

Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)
Step-by-Step Voter Check-List
The FWAB is a back-up ballot that you can use to vote with today. If you subsequently receive your state ballot, vote with that, too. The FWAB is only counted if your state ballot is not received by your state by the ballot return deadline. Click here for deadlines.

Get the FWAB: Go to Simply answer the six screens of questions and download and print the nine page document. You will receive (1) Instructions (where you will find the address to send the FWAB), (2) Electronic Transmission Sheet and Federal Postcard Application which you do NOT need; (3) The Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot which includes a Voter’s Declaration/Affirmation, the Ballot and Instructions.

Sign and Date the Voter's Declaration/Affirmation: When you use, the Voter's Declaration/Affirmation will be filled in based upon your voting state's requirements and the information you provided. You just need to review the information, sign and date it. Check the following list to see if you need a witness or additional documentation.

  • Alabama: 2 witnesses OR Notary (must be over the age of 18)
  • Alaska: 1 witness (dated and signed)
  • Arizona: Proof of Citizenship (copy of passport or birth certificate)
  • Louisiana: 2 witnesses (must sign security envelope)
  • North Carolina: 2 witnesses (must be over 18 sign and include address)
  • South Carolina: 1 witness – No signature necessary
  • Virginia: 1 witness – No signature necessary
  • Wisconsin: 1 witness (include date of birth of witness – must be a U.S. Citizen)

Vote the FWAB: You can either write in the candidate's name or the word Democrat/Republican. (It is unlikely that you will need the second page of the ballot).

To find out who the Democratic or Republican candidates are for House and Senate, click here. To find your Congressional District, click here, enter your voting zip code and then click on "current election."

Seal the Ballot Envelope: Put your voted FWAB ONLY in a plain white envelope and seal it. Write on the outside of the envelope “Security Envelope.”

In the Mailing Envelope: Put the sealed “Security Envelope” and the Signed and Dated Voter's Declaration/Affirmation in a mailing envelope.

Enter Return Address: Write your name and current mailing address in the upper left hand corner of the mailing envelope.

Address the Envelope: Write the address of your Local Election Office on the mailing envelope. The address of your Local Election Office is provided on your customized information sheet.

Double Check: Double check that you have completed everything.

Ensure evidence of mailing from outside the US:

Foreign Postmark: Affix the appropriate postage. All states will accept a foreign postmark as evidence of submission from outside the U.S.

Consular Stamp: All states have been informed by the U.S. State Department that they should accept a consular stamp as evidence of submission from outside the U.S. Using the consular service results in your mailing envelope being placed in the US postal system. Affix a $.42 U.S. Postage Stamp.

Commercial Courier: Some states will also accept a commercial courier service waybill as evidence of submission from outside the U.S. Using a courier service should be a last resort. Alabama explicitly refuses to accept materials sent to them by commercial couriers, such as Federal Express and DHL. If using a courier, please staple a copy of the air waybill to the ballot envelope prior to sealing the courier envelope.

Seal the addressed envelope – and Mail your FWAB Today! has a useful FAQ right here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Not a Banana Fan

James first food 
Apparently J does not care very much for bananas. Here he is testing them out for the first time. He's also nearly as expressive as his sister when he wants us to know that really, he'd rather not.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Smiley Graffiti Guy

Prague graffiti - smiley guy 
I don't know about you, but to me, this fellow looks more French than Czech, oui? But no, you can find him in our neighborhood, a few doors down from the defanged lion and dainty Dresden shepherdess.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Lady of the Fir

Zimbabwe sculpture, Prague Botanical Garden 
A few years ago, the Prague Botanical Garden held an exhibition of sculpture from Zimbabwe. A few still stay, and the girls particularly liked the Lady of the Fir. They found her very mysterious, and as C said in her most rational, explaining voice, "probably magical."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sunny Sunny Day

Weekend mornings my first question when I wake up is not (as some would have it), "Where's My Tea?" Instead, these days I ask, "Is the Sun Shining?"

We're on the edge of the dark dark days of winter, the gray days that reach across half of our year, pulling us inside and off of hiking paths, city sidewalks, playgrounds and beer gardens, rendering photographs flat and lightless and...well, you see what I am saying. I'm all about drinking coffee and curling up inside with a good book, but six months is a long rainy weekend. So I love the sun right now, knowing it will be gone soon.

Yesterday it was torrentially bright and beautiful here. To celebrate we took a trip to the Botanical Gardens to visit their pumpkin exhibition and meet up with some friends. We spent the afternoon playing giraffeball (a giraffe is a lot easier to catch than a football, Caroline made her first completion!), drinking fizzy drinks and moving from one patch of sunlit grass to another. Every now and again, we looked at a flower or two too. The pumpkins turned out to be mostly ornamental squash, nicely arranged.1. The giraffe is in the air!! One girl down. 2. Gourds, arranged. 3. Path through the garden's forest. 4. & 5. Flowers on show.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A little baby cuteness for Wednesday

J (sitting on my lap now, practicing his high Cs and wiggling his eyebrows as if I should know what he is talking about) has become, at five months, what our babysitter calls a "spokojené miminko" or a contented baby. He smiles, he babbles, he squeals with delight if you tickle his belly or fly him up in the air. I call him a lap baby, because that is where he prefers to be - on your lap, or my lap, or maybe even Caroline's lap if she isn't too bouncy. When he finds himself without a partner, he considers it his job to let us know - vocalizing in loud acks, or drumming his heels on the bed until you pick him up again. Then he utters a few infant "ty ty ty" noises in admonishment, tucks his head into your shoulder and sighs in contentment. Spokojené indeed.