Friday, September 29, 2006

Brown Bear redux

Did I mention that Caroline is telling her books to us now? She’s been working on this for a bit - first lip syncing as I read to her, then echoing every line or jumping ahead to reach a favorite word or phrase before I get there. Sometimes during the day you can hear her rehearsing: "Do you like my hat? No, I do not like your hat. Good-bye! Good-bye!"

We often read the same book three times in one night. This is not always fun, especially if you and the Cat and the Hat don’t get along so well. So now I say that third time through is Caroline’s turn and hand over the book. Sometimes she’ll go for this, and ramble through the story ad libbing as she turns each page. She’s a perfectionist though and eventually she gets dissastisfied. In the middle of her account she’ll decide it‘s time to sing songs, or do something else more entertaining, or at least less work.

Then we tried Brown Bear. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. is a simple story book with beautiful illustrations and a catchy bit of repeated chatter: "(Brightly colored animal), what do you see?" "I see (another brightly colored animal) looking at me." Caroline loved it when she was a little baby, but we hadn't read it for nearly a year when I pulled it out again a few nights ago.

And discovered that the book is great for reading by heart because "what you see" is always the animal on the next page. Brown Bear sees Red Bird and Red Bird see Yellow Duck, and Caroline can easily keep going through blue horse, green frog, and on to gold fish with no problem. This is satisfying.

With Brown Bear, Caroline doesn’t let forgetting her lines phase her. The first time she read almost all the way through with no problems until she reached nearly the last page and realized she had no idea who the lady with glasses might be. She blinked twice, renamed the teacher "Green Shirt," and moved on with a flourish. Finished, she cheered in victory, gave me a high five and ran to the other room to tell Will, "Dada I did it!"

Now at night I ask her to read me Brown Bear, Brown Bear all by herself. She’ll go for it once or twice, but by the third time she’ll tell me, "Okay Mommie, how about a new one, this book looks good too don’t you think?" And I’ll say yes, and stretch out on the bed with my hands behind my head to hear the next rendition of stories from Caroline.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Kaštan creatures

A few days ago Caroline and one of her sitters came home with a bag full of chestnuts, some pine cones and a feather or two. They’d had a fun hunt in Petrin park, and I thought that a fine thing, a great activity on a September day when the chestnuts are falling and the leaves are crisped just right for scuffing through. Caroline and Jarka and I talked in our roundabout way about about the word for pine cones in Czech (šiška) and what type of bird the feather might have fallen from (my guess, pigeon). Then I went back to work.

Two hours later I found out that chestnuts aren’t just for keeping in your pocket for good luck.

Chestnuts in September

Monday, September 25, 2006

Morning poem

Though I admire the morning and wish it most well, I prefer to greet it after a shower or at least a hot cup of coffee and fifteen minutes worth of waking up in front of the New York Times. When I told Will I was going to try my hand at writing a morning poem, following's lead, he said, "Good thing 'grrr grrr grrr' rhymes." He’d just delivered me a cup of tea so I didn’t hold it against him. Plus I’d already written the poem. For a precis, see grrr grrr grrr.

A Scrabble morning
"Draw the blinds", she said and
Craned her neck to view the ashen sky,
thinking - Victorian phrases,
that's what I'm left with.
What are the words for today?
"Stunned by sleep", "bitter", "sore"...

I slide those tiles from the table,
no points won,
stretch my pajammed legs and
pad to the kitchen for coffee.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Coloring book lessons

C and I had a colorful morning. We paper-machéd a jar to make a lantern (thanks to the directions of Be*mused) and then, while our jar sat to dry, we pulled out the magic markers. These are much fun and many colors and have I mentioned French, so their allure is strong and I was pretty quick about getting Caroline set to color a playground scene I’d drawn for her. Then I got absorbed into my own world of pens and paper. When I looked up again I realized she had colored in a one inch by half inch swing set - yellow, and quite thoroughly, but that was it. She was prepared to rework that swing and already the paper was nearly see through. I persuaded her to switch to a coloring book, to a picture of a train, and she took her yellow pen in hand, and then stopped.

She stopped because the picture had no yellow in it. Of course it didn’t, you might say, she hadn’t colored it yet, but what I mean is this - a lot of Czech coloring books have the picture on one page already illustrated, right next to the page waiting to be colored. Her illustrated train was blue, with pink wheels, and a black smoke stack. Yellow? No.

Czech kindergartens and her babysitters seem to put a lot of emphasis on coloring in the lines, and of not getting too loosie goosie with the colors. If Zdenek Miller colored his butterflies orange and brown, so should we all. Maybe this is good for hand-eye coordination and learning how to match colors, but I sometimes paint my skies apricot and my seas orange and I like to draw without thinking about it and for fun. So when I see her shoulders all wound up concentrating on getting something right, I don’t quite know what to say. She’s three after all and mostly acts rather than listens.

Caroline gave me the yellow (here you go mommie, your turn), picked up the pink and started to copy the pink train wheels into her picture, as careful as any three year old possibly could be. But try as she might, she accidentally filled in the white hubcaps on those wheels. Hm...she said, then shifted up to the already illustrated picture and used her marker to pink up its white hubcaps, and was done.

I decided to save my lecture on looseness for another day. The jar spent all day drying, while we went triking and roller blading and ate ice cream by the river. It is now a lantern alit outside my window, rather twinkly and blue.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hatmatilka to some, poetry to others

Sometimes my job involves reading contracts. They start out shiny and smooth on the surface, impenetrable. I tend to get a lot of other work done before I read a page. Then I’ll reward myself with coffee, sit down again and realize I haven’t absorbed a thing. That’s when I pick up my pen and start drawing. ?? and "what in the.." and before I know it that contract has lost its hermetically sealed look and become something a bit turfy and easy on the eye. The work gets fun then and I argue my way through each clause until I’m done. It’s a lot like reading Wallace Stevens, actually.

Except that, working in Prague on contracts written by non-English speakers in English, I’m bound to find a humdinger of a sentence that just doesn’t work backwards or forwards. So sometimes I send it over to my Czech business partner, ask him to think about it in Czech and then in English again and see what we can figure out. (His hourly rates are a lot better than the lawyer‘s.) It mostly works.

Yesterday I sent him one of my humdingers, prefaced with "gobbledygook coming your way!" Gobbledygook was a new word for him and we looked it up. Lingea Lexicon gave us hatmatilka as its Czech equivalent. My etymology dictionary told me that hatmatilka is from the expression hat' mat', which is similar to hatla patla and halabala and related somehow to Halí belí, the Czech song and nursery rhyme that Caroline currently has stuck in my head from incessant singing. If anyone can tell me what hat' mat' means I’d be most appreciative. In the meantime:

hatla patla and halabala = seem to mean slapdash or shoddy. I love learning words like that, they just seem to stick in my mind somehow.

Halí, belí...
Halí, belí, koně v zelí
a hříbátka v petrželi.

Whoops, the horse is in the cabbage
And the colt in the parsley.

Okay, enough procrastination, back to clause 10.4.1.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Duck sounds so complicated

But it's not.

Sunday night I headed to the grocery store, list in hand to make a Czech-Mex dinner - chicken, tacos and salsa fresca. Will wanted to use up our taco shells and I thought it might be a good way to distract myself from thoughts of French food. When I got home though, I found that the chicken breasts I thought I’d bought had welded themselves together into one large duck breast, with bones. We nixed Mexican and decided to see what our cookbooks might recommend.

They didn’t. A duck complete was called for in all instances. Epicurious however, had several suggestions. And I finally found a use for the multitude of fennel seeds in our larder (in Prague, the spice sold as "cumin" is in fact fennel.* We have accidentally accumulated enough to season several potato fields).

1 duck breast, deboned (cooking shears make this an easy job)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp, fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp, fennel seeds, ground (caraway seeds work too)
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
cooking twine (finally found a use for the string that comes with Will’s favorite French sausages)

Preheat oven to 400F (200C)
Wash, dry, salt and pepper your duck. Place it on a plate, skin side down.
In a small bowl, combine garlic, rosemary and fennel with enough olive oil to make it all stick together. Rub seasoning into meat. Don’t be shy, really rub it in, your taste buds will thank you later.
Roll up duck, skin side out. Secure with string. Two seem to work.

Heat oven-proof skillet over medium high heat on the stove. When skillet is hot, add the duck roll. Brown for about 10 minutes, turning to make sure every side gets toasty looking. When nice and brown, pour off fat and pop skillet (and duck!) into hot oven. Roast for 15 minutes, turning duck every now and then. Remove from oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Only then, snip off twine, unroll duck and slice. - Makes enough for 2 adults plus 1 slightly picky 3 year old.

So incredibly simple. You don’t even need a sauce because duck is tremendously juicy and drippy (also why you don’t need to oil the skillet). Will licked his plate clean. I forgave the Czech grocery stores for not being in France, and when Caroline finished she said "ok, kde je moje pain au chocolat?" (Where is my chocolate croissant in Czechfrenchlish).

*Actually, the spice sold as cumin (kmín) is in fact caraway seed, as Dana quite rightly points out here. Will claims confusion and says he gets caraway and fennel mixed up in English too. Just to let you know, the caraway seeds tasted great with the duck.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Home from vacation

I entertained myself on the long car ride yesterday by coming up with a list of what I was looking forward to doing when I got home. Top of the list - sleeping on my own bed. After a week in France, my list did not include "going to the grocery store." Nor did the list mention "drinking pastis with orgeat at the little cafe at the bottom of a ravine by the side of a gorgeous river," or "star gazing in the fields next to our house and counting shooting stars." But I wish it did.

Because I love French grocery stores, I do. Actually, both Will and I do and now that we have a three year old, we will happily exchange a morning at the crowded local French town free-for-all market half filled with stands selling patchouli soap and pottery made in China for thirty minutes in the wide (uncrowded) aisles of the Super U admiring the yogurt, cheese, jam, cookies, sausage, wine, olives, chicken, chocolate.

And pastis tasted so perfect on that river, so much better than it ever tastes in Prague or anywhere other than the Mediterranean in the afternoon on a hot dry sunny day with old men playing bocce between the sycamore trees and children (ours too) playing in the fountain.

I will find the stars but they will not be right outside my door. I miss them tonight.