Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Gestures or manners are gestures

Tonight I offered to get Caroline more milk before our last song of the night. Thank ew, she said, as I headed to the kitchen. When she coughs she covers her mouth, and sometimes coughs so she can cover her mouth, both hands cupped over a big smile that meets her eyes wide open in glee. If you sneeze, burp or make any other random noise she’ll say “bess you” and she’s always got a please to hand out if she thinks it will persuade us. Yet I’ve never thought of her as an overly polite child. The three year olds in our play group are much more likely to generously share their toys (or their little brother’s toys) than is C. But she loves gestures and repetition and she is a mimic who remembers. Our babysitter has taught her to cover up a cough, take off her shoes when she walks in the door, wash her hands, say dekuji, na schledanou and ahoj. Caroline's a purist and when I try to make a joke and na zdravi clink our bananas together she gives me a bemused look, lifts her sippy cup instead and says na zdravi mommee, 'uv ew. She's about to be two and I can't believe how much I love her too.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Let's talk over the numbers

Today's chat while reading counting book

One kitty cat
(ahh, how cute)

Two socks
un tew
(hmm...those education programs on tv really work)

Three birthday gifts
fesents, babble babble, dada, TEA

(Mentally scan to remember if I have mentioned the birthday tea set we have hidden in the closet)
Tea, tea, tea

(Decide to deflect suspicions)
We’re going to have a tea party on Saturday, isn’t that fun?
Tea! Candle phoo. Fesents!

That about sums it up.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Hot water free

Our hot water heater is on vacation. Not a long one we hope, but in the meantime our bathtime mix is two fully boiling kettles to 1 minute tap water.

To try to recall the heater to its sense of duty, I arranged for it to meet a repair person. I say this with a certain pride, because as matchmaker I discussed plumbing with three people who don’t speak English, and while my Czech vocabulary for fruits and vegetables is quite extensive (and just ask me animal and tree names) I really am limited when it comes to talking about mechanics.

Luckily everyone I spoke with seemed to understand what I meant by “tick tick tick whoosh kaput“, and by the third phone call I had picked up some quite useful terms to bandy about along with the sound impressions (kotel = kettle means hot water heater). I was really on a roll, describing the kotel and its personality to the company dispatcher, agreeing to a 5 hour window during which someone just might show up, even considering extending our chat to the weather, so I could keep imagining I was conversational in another language.

Then the dispatcher started to speak about a box that would be attending. And I was lost. I told her, “No I need box, already I fine with box, only have grimey tick tick.“ But it did no good, she kept insisting on the importance of this box. With visions of an extra heating unit cluttering our hallway, I began to get desperate until finally our babysitter intervened. In moments an agreement was reached - Mr. Box, the heating repair man, would appear tomorrow, sometime.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Flying first

Have you ever wondered what flying business from Prague to Bratislava buys you? If yes, then I can pipe right in and tell you - it doesn’t buy much, besides the thrill of receiving an upgrade for a ticket I didn’t purchase in the first place and the added kick of holding for a few minutes a piece of paper that declares itself BUSINESS class. Did anyone (besides myself) notice? Most likely not, but I certainly felt at the time that the security guy and ticket collectors must suspect me of being something more than a lady in a wilting business suit (it was a hot day on the tarmac).

I applied this self-absorbed musing to myself, but did not bother to assume it for anyone else (hot day you know). My seat mate was a genial fellow - so genial he asked what I was studying in university - dressed casually in a hipster t-shirt and slacks. I thought he was a shy guy who had been upgraded, like me, by the luck of the draw. Then, half way through our flight, as I am holding forth on the beauties of Bratislava and babbling about the business opportunities there, my shy guy agrees and mentions that he headed up one of those very big companies that I’m talking about. I almost didn’t believe him, so apologetic was his manner, and so casual his dress, and it wasn’t until he pulled out his business card from a gorgeous leather card case tucked in its bigger sibling matching bag that I realized he wasn’t pulling my leg.

Together we went through the moistened washcloth ritual. Like most guys, he washed his entire face, hands and neck. I daubed at my hands and wondered just how long washclothes take for the microwave to cook them and how much bacteria the microwave can kill (grody man, really). Then it was time for lunch off plastic trays clinking with honest to goodness metal forks and spoons and porcelain plates. I actually preferred the sandwiches in normal class to the mystery mix on the open faced chlebicky, and the chocolate cookie tasted like stale lard, but by gum it was served on china and that counts for something! Which reminds me, can anyone explain why passengers are forbidden to bring on board their own cutlery when every seat holder in business class is well armed, at least for lunch?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


I'm thrilled to report that Caroline has mastered her first off the chart skill. I mean something beyond the walking, the talking, and the building of block towers of at least 6 blocks high (do legos count for this?).

Please understand, I try hard to not be one of the braggy moms of the world, you know the type: Who write in to babycenter.com and talk about how their kid at 7 months old is obviously reciting Homer when she babbles in her crib at night, or that their 2 year old has mastered all his colors, shape names, and numbers to 100 and is currently applying to art school. In fact, when friends with same age kids ask what C is up to, I sometimes veer the other way and say what she’s not doing that I know their kid can do. It’s my attempt to be as non-competitive as possible, in at least one area of my life.

But this skill, well, since the APA (American Pediatric Association) would most likely never include it in their book of lists, I thought I’d mention it. I’ll just add that besides being funky, it tickles us because it shows off her southern roots, love of all things sound related, and above all, apparent nerves of steel and tastebuds to match.

Narratives thrive on people discovering their talent by chance, and luckily fate obliged my story line. We were at play group and C picked up a plastic harmonica to add to the shopping cart full of produce (plastic too) that she was pushing about. But somehow the harmonica stuck around after she’d unloaded all the bananas behind the bushes of our infinitely patient hostess. And C learned that if you blew sideways on that red plastic almost banana, noise came out. So when we got home I handed her the only harmonica of Will’s I could find, one I usually avoid because it jangles my teeth and makes my mouth taste like a metal yard but fine as a bang about toy. Then I went to work.

Minutes later I wandered out to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a closer listen to our babysitter buzzing away in an apparent rendition of Pop goes the weasel. But the babysitter was washing dishes and it was Caroline who was playing what she calls the ’moneeah, looking like an old jazz musician - hands cradling its body, playing for all its worth, breathe in breathe out and jump those lips around!

Now when we want to get her into the high chair for lunch, or get changed to go out, the harmonica is her big treat. She’ll play and play and then, in all the cacaphony of sound, decide that she’s done and leap as high as you can go when you can’t actually jump with both feet yet, hurl the harmonica across the room, and take a bow.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Why red lint may contribute to heart disease

Imagine a kitchen cabinet – drawer extended to allow maximum archeological exploration (a twist tie, amazing!!), drawer forgotten in chaos of morning. Imagine explorer turned into harbor seal zooming around circus course of kitchen, hallway, bedroom. Seal meets drawer, turns from barking pinniped to crying child.

Promises of ice assuage. Stated booboo location moves from nose to chin (both unbruised but kisses needed) . Mother assumes worst is over, prepares to close drawer, icebox, chapter and resume chaos reduction efforts. Then - red crevice appears - near the eye, on the temple of the explorer seal crying child, guilt overwhelms and heart stops in fabled location near top of esophagus.

Deep breath...and crevice turns to lint, blown away. With intro of oxygen, heart resumes work, assumes fierce dislike of red clothing. Head thinks, lucky lucky us. And we go back to our day.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Trezor box

Yesterday I looked up from a morning cup of tea and random magazine article and discovered Caroline, naked, in front of me. We’d had a conversation shortly before about how she did indeed have a messy diaper but was not willing to have it changed at the moment. Forewarned I grabbed her less messy appendages and ran to the bathroom sink to give her a quick bath.

Dry and diapered, she became the subject of intense query –

“Did you take off your diaper?“
“Diaper off!“
“Where did you take off your diaper?“
“Diaper off!“
“Where is the diaper now?“

On the principle that it‘s better to know than to suspect, I looked first at the worst spots I could imagine – our cloth-covered sofa, the white carpets, linen chest and of course, under my pillow. Not finding anything more gruesome than a half eaten apple in the linen chest, we scoured the rest of the flat, Caroline holding my hand and helpfully pointing out the fossilized bread crusts that she had scattered throughout low lying points. But no diaper.

I decided that Caroline would excel as a house safety expert, and that when finally discovered, her hideout would make the perfect spot to secure chocolate or excess cash. I imagined whispering to select friends the secret to our success at eluding robbers – definitely not your underwear drawer, and not even your old maternity clothes box, the one your vacuum cleaner currently uses as a docking station. You’ve got to try...

But then, cleaning up the morning toast and tea bags, I levered our trashcan open and there, nearly neatly wrapped, was the missing diaper. When I showed Caroline the evidence, she matter-of-factly agreed, “Diaper!“ There seemed no question about it and I mourned my imagined hideaway, the trezor box beyond compare. But while I might be a romantic, able to magic missing diapers into swirls of intrigue, Caroline at 2 was a pragmatist, ready to take off her diaper and throw it away too.

Trezor = safe. Also known as sejf.

Monday, June 13, 2005

On the other hand

Today had to climb into my wardrobe to finish up a client phone call. Actual quote: "What was that clanking noise, it sounded just like suit hangers!"

And have you ever been caught by your babysitter stepping out of a cupboard full of coats?

Friday, June 10, 2005

10 reasons I love working at home

1. Don’t have to remember the Czech for “dry clean only and I mean it“
2. Commute relatively danger free (though they do say most traffic accidents happen close to home, hmmm)
3. Can work while waiting for plumber to arrive “sometime on Wednesday“
4. Fingernails stay clean longer (metros add grime to life)
5. Shower better than coffee for inspiration
6. Internet connection all mine!
7. Babysitter’s cooking tastier than mini-mart crocodile sendvic
8. Giant desk wouldn‘t fit in corporate cubicle
9 & 10. Get to experience C’s delight daily when she home from park, wakes up, eats lunch, and I am there.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

After a few late late nights out with Caroline, visiting with friends in town for a wedding, tonight I stayed in with her and she fell happily asleep at 8, leaving me with free time and only a little work to finish before I could play.

So play I have, downloading Firefox (recommendable - a little slow on some sites but has instant ease of use, good security, and a better organizational structure than IE) and a nice wikipedia referencing tool put together by Matthew Gertner and Stefan Magdalinski. The tool cleverly indexes pages of your choice, matching terms with wiki topics, and then lays a barely-there interface over those pages so that you can link to the relevant articles. Takes me back to 1994, UNC, and our dreams of where the web would go, sure does.

But the best downloads of the evening are the Beethoven symphonies available on the BBC's website this week. I have headphones on my computer, so I can turn up the music loud and listen without bothering Caroline. Loud so that I can imagine the floor boards humming and smell the rosin, maybe even see the spit under the horns and the worn through soles of everyone's dress black. And now I’m listening to the last movement of the 5th, and they’ve worked through the final theme (the bassoon call at 30:45), climbing from one key to another until they are back at the tonic, and now all the stops are coming out – strings and woodwinds together, horns weaving a triumphant counterpoint until they too join and then only the timpani.

As usual, impossible to write about. But you can listen too! And besides the obvious, try Beethoven’s 2nd, the slow movement is delicious.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Last night I left Will and Caroline eating ham and eggs (or “hemnekks” on the local pub menu) and headed out to dinner. Ladies night, supper club, girls on the town, call it as you wish - we were seven women leaving the kids and husbands at home for a night out. One of my guy friends asked me if we were going to go get wild - head to a bar or a dance club, stay up all night and party till dawn, or at least midnight - but we were really only looking for somewhere we could revel in nice table linen, prosecco and chocolate desserts, and of course, the chance to actually complete a sentence or two.

We met in Aromi, a new restaurant in Prague 2 with an open airy atmosphere that reminds me so much of Charleston, I expected to see shrimp and grits on the menu. The owners renovated an old bar and turned a tiny, cave-dark space into one of the most refreshingly well designed and decorated spaces I’ve seen in Prague. On hot days, they open their double windows wide and let the light and air pour in and that sunshine is a fantastic contrast with the stucco walls and exposed brick doorways, the wide board floors and dark grained tables.

There was no sunlight last night, we’re in the middle of our usual June ice age (50 degrees F and rainy) and Aromi didn’t have grits on the menu, but they did have the best seafood I’ve eaten in the landlocked middle of this continent. Mussels in broth, sardine, scampi, and tuna carpaccio kept me licking my fingers and glorying in the messy juicy experience of eating fresh seafood, untamed by a frying pan. Their salads are good too, and everyone enjoyed the chocolate tarts we divided and passed around, and the biscotti dipped in a honey sweet wine.

Service was slow, and we had to attach one of our bravest members to the elbow of a passing wine steward to get our orders placed. We decided to always ask prices for the specials – they can be surprisingly high – and double checked our bill. The staff had no problem removing the extra bottle of prosecco from our total, once we pointed it out. Ah Prague ;-).

But if you are used to servers who ignore you without the use of strategic foot trippings, and you don’t mind glancing through your bill, we, all seven of us, can heartily recommend it. And the table linen? It was beautiful too.

Monday, June 06, 2005

What it takes to exit house and enter rental car with 2 year old

1. 45 minutes to put above child in diapers. 3 minutes for dress, socks, shoes and hat.
2. 5 minutes (or less) for own preparation, this includes breakfast.
3. One pair of arms to carry car seat (beautifully safe, extraordinarily heavy) to street.
4. Another pair to elbow nudge child out of door, while wielding stroller (empty of course).
5. Good knees for 62 step descent to street, while balancing child and stroller as they alternatively lunge from one step to another.
6. Ability to distract child (desperate to crawl into car seat and offended by father’s attempts to remember how said seat fits into car) while loading “collapsible“ stroller into trunk designed for one bag of groceries and a bottle or two of beer.
7. Sense of humor when you realize that you have remembered to bring backpack with diapers, sippy cup, pretzels and Dr. Seuss, but forgotten your own sunglasses and breakfast bar (to make up for 15 second sip of tea – see 2.).

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

This morning we packed family and food into our rental car and headed out to the ball game. The Prague Post annual softball tournament was in full swing and we were on our way to cheer on Will’s team.

There aren’t many ballparks in the Czech Republic, at least for baseball and softball, and I thought we’d be heading to a soccer field borrowed for the tournament and redressed. But when we arrived we found 5 ball fields, beautifully groomed, lined by trees, and with a new ballpark house at the center, just next to the main stadium. I was impressed that a neighborhood would have such nice facilities, not realizing until later that we were actually admiring one of the biggest clubs in the country.

Much of the action this early was still happening in the parking lot, and we watched as a van unloaded business guys carefully dressed in full baseball regalia. Compared to our team, arrayed in t-shirts and blue jeans, they looked serious, but portly. They trooped off to a practice field and were soon lined up lobbing balls back and forth, punching their gloves and jogging around their small field to warm up, yelling back and forth in English of various accents. Business consultants, I decided.

Further down and away from the stands, our team was at the beginning of a consolation game, so we left the professionals to their warm up and headed over to watch. Caroline enjoyed the walk, down a gravel path that made a satisfying sound as you went. For once she didn't demand a ride, but hung low from our hands and focused on each step, crunch crunch.

Once we got to the dugout C loved the action too, and helped yell in the calls - “ball, ball“ (the pitcher’s mound was a tad far from the plate for unpracticed pitchers). Our team batted deep into the outfield, hit a few home runs and sped around the bases till our 45 minutes was up and it was time to go home, or at least get a beer.

Over the loud speakers Crosby, Stills, Nash sang “There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear.“ Life was playing that Czech-American-worlds-colliding trick on us, and the mix was mighty fine.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Magic Word

Caroline crib talk : a monologue
(repeat 5 times)

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