Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Prague, winter 2008 
Today is a regular working day here in Prague, but I still feel the excitement of Thanksgiving and the long weekend all the way from the States. We'll be celebrating tomorrow and Saturday - who knew a dollop of cranberry sauce could be looked forward to with such anticipation!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The chef's away

Work, which heaps itself upon my head come Christmas season, has done its job and I am buried under snow drifts far from home most days. Here's a picture of James this weekend though, already getting into the dress up game with Caroline.

Monday, November 10, 2008

She had me at ladybug

ladybug and umbrella rainy day pic 
Saturday's rainy weather didn't stop us from getting out of the house for provisions and a treat at mamacoffee. Caroline decided to go out dressed up, and I snapped lots of pictures of her walking through the gloom, armed and capped with a pink umbrella and ladybug hat. None of the pictures came out as sparkly as reality so I added a filter and a poem to dress this one up a bit.

Happy Monday!!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Lanterns for St. Martin

lanterns in PragueSaturday night the weather behaved and we gathered with friends at the top of one of Prague's seven hills to parade with lanterns through the dark. None of our friends knew quite what inspired the show, but it seemed to be a cross between Halloween and a St. Martin's day parade. All the children dressed up in costume and carried paper lanterns (with lit candles inside, ours only singed a bit).

The organizers carved pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns and handed out candy to the children as they marched through the night, following a candlelit path through the park and the woods on the trail of a mysterious cat who had stolen a giant pumpkin and must be pursued!

The end of the trail led us to a small stage set up for shadow theater. There the cat was duly tracked down by the children, who bought the pumpkin off of her for a treasure of silver coins (chestnuts wrapped in aluminum foil), and were then rewarded with babovka and more bonbons.

It was all very satisfyingly scary and safe at the same time and Caroline ranked it right up there with trick-or-treating for fun, though as she noted, there was a little too much "boo-ky"* involved for total comfort.

*boo-ky = a Czechlish word made up by C to mean scary in a Halloween sort of way.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ladybugs for Obama

ladybug costume 
I've just set my alarm to wake me up at 2 so I can check the polls (and instant message with my sister who is also planning to wake up then). Exciting times ahead tonight and tomorrow and in the meantime, I thought I'd post a funny pic of C's latest dress-up endeavor.

Because not all things red are Republican...

Updated to add: Hurray! Red or Blue, I'm proud of the United States of America. Can we change, yes we can!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Current Preoccupation

I think I've worn out the link to this site, I'm a bit obsessed these days!! electoral map of the U.S. November 2, 2008 Isn't it elegantly done? I do love good information design. Map courtesy of the Princeton Election Consortium.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Pippi Longstocking - Winter Wear

When October dawned, the choice of a Halloween costume turned into a hot topic in our house. C knew who she would be, but "What would Pippi wear?" became a matter of great debate.

We knew what her braids should look like (and even how to do them) and we already had a pencil picked out for her freckles. I'd spotted just the right stocking/sock combo and had decided to not worry about her shoes - hard to see in the dark, not on her feet at any party she might go to. But we still weren't sure about the main ingredient, Pippi's dress. C suggested we veer toward the ugly and the large. Her babysitter thought she should wear something whose next stop was under the sink as a cleaning cloth. I had visions of a jumper and sewn-on patchwork.

In the end we compromised. I found a denim dress, large, with cool pockets. C wore one of my big painting shirts under it, sleeves rolled up. To keep the winter out, she topped it all with an old sweater of mine (paper patched), a super spotty scarf and a very warm hat. We took lots of pictures, then we headed out for some candy collection.

Trick-or-treating in Prague? Well may you ask. There is no long-term Halloween tradition in the Czech Republic. You have to head to tourist or expat oriented stores if you're looking for Halloween decorations, and costumes come from places focused on costume balls or theater, not October 31st. But every year, it does seem to get easier to find pumpkins, and there are lots of things to do with kids, from pumpkin carving to partying at the bagel shop.

And there is one neighborhood that rolls out the candy carpet for kids. Nicknamed Little America for its suburban feel, Nebušice in Prague 6 has become a mecca for trick-or-treating children. For the last two years, we have met up with friends, woven through bands of costumed children and gone door to door with C. Next to an international school, Nebušice is a favorite spot for round the world households, and a lot of the families dress up in their native costumes to greet the kids. We've seen tiny children dressed in Korean robes, ladies in Swedish dresses, and my favorite - a British family dressed in colonial capes with a prison stock in their front yard.

I'm out of practice with the whole concept of trick-or-treating, so I am inevitably impressed by the generosity of these families as they open their doors to kids who are mostly not from their neighborhood. I appreciate the way an entire community turns a foreign holiday into a celebration that feels like home, and gives kids a sense of being a part of a big group of English speakers. That's something C usually only gets to experience when we head to the States once a year.

Pippi and J (he went as a well-bundled baby) slept on the car ride home, and we spent the drive talking about our favorite Halloween memories. I remembered the parties we had as children, the suburban trick-or-treating in middle school, the massive costume parades we went to in graduate school. We wondered how Caroline would remember her 5th Halloween as Pippi of the long stockings, the night we drove from Prague to Little America and back again.

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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Every few days you'll find me digging under desks and sofas and beds, looking for escaped pacifiers. Today I rounded up five strays and presented them to our babysitter, "So many choices - take your pick!"

When it comes to providing guaranteed chewing satisfaction though, there's only one choice. It's a certain curvy pacifier J can hold onto easily. He's so comfortable with it now that he'll grab its handle, pop it out of his mouth, then bite it again for a nibble or two before popping it out again. Give other babies a bear or a cuddly dog, this blue dudlik, or pacifier, is James' favorite toy. We have a double of it that we hang from his baby gym and he can spend minutes (that's hours for you and me) swatting at it while he chews on its twin.

If J's life is thorougly pacified, Caroline's is thoroughly shod. I recently made a count of her slippers* and realized that she has different sets for her kindergarten, music school, and swimming class. At home she has winter and summer slippers and a pair that one of her babysitters picked up in Japan because they would be cute in the bathroom. That's six. She also has playground shoes for school and another pair for home, sandals and winter boots. The other day she worried, with all seriousness, that she had no shoes to wear. It was raining and she'd grown out of her galoshes. A Central European to the core, C believes every situation demands a different shoe.

Luckily, look-alike crocs have landed with a splash in Prague and you can now find violently grape-scented purple "roks" for 49 crowns. That's a pricey beer, or half of an expensive coffee. This makes slipper shopping a breeze and I just have to remember to apply C's name in permanent marker across the toe (bubble letters please Mommie, she asked last time) before sending her off with a pair to her next destination.

* Here's a longer explanation about slipper culture in the Czech Republic.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Faces of September

Prague facade
There's a certain red color that I love in the buildings around our neighborhood. It is gradually disappearing as old facades get repainted, so I try to snap pictures of the best samples when I find them. This weekend the sun was perfect for pictures, and who could resist this cherub?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How zebras get their stripes...

Prague crosswalk gets a refresher coat least in Prague.

Mix cobblestones and tram lines with well traveled roads and you get a bumpy ride on many downtown streets here in Prague. I'm guessing the not-so-smooth terrain is why our zebra stripes get their clean edges from duct tape, and their refresher shines from hand applied paint.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Color squares for kindergarteners

Color palette funC asked to play color school again the other day, and we came up with a fun exercise. Pick a bunch of colors, draw color squares for each one, sort through and decide on a palette of three or four and then draw a picture using your colors.

I think she liked the squares almost as much as her drawing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Prague's Graffiti Alley

Meat is Murder Graffiti Stamp
One of my favorite short cuts in downtown Prague - this little alley behind Wensceslas Square joins one tourist thronged street to another, but it's never really crowded. It does attract a lot of graffiti though, and if I know I'm going to be walking by I try to bring my camera to snap up a sample. Here is last week's best, featuring a young Karel Gott as vegan.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Vinobrani at Grebovka

vinobrani festival in Grebovka 
On Saturday the new wine festival moved from namesti Miru to Grebovka, and we went with it. So did the rest of Prague 2, as you may be able to tell in the top picture. James philosophically watched the crowds while Caroline and her friends learned about spinning, weaving, coin making, and how to get the best view in an outdoor concert (from your father's shoulders of course). We dutifully stood in line for our burčak and vowed that next year we'd beat the crowds and come earlier.

We did not have a bite of Krtek (our favorite little mole), even though he was much admired by the little girls. As Caroline and I finally decided, his picture would last a lot longer than his cookie presence.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Vinobrani in Prague 3

This is Prague 3's twelfth year celebrating vinobraní in fair fashion. Our reporters abroad (over in Prague 3 that is) tell me that the crowds yesterday were thick, the music loud and the cotton candy copious. We had our share of the throng yesterday too in namesti Miru, and the whole family went home happy with cups of burčak* for Will and me, and cider for Caroline.

*burčak = newly pressed wine, so called because of its stormy appearance. In Austria, Switzerland and Germany it is known as sturm.

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Wine Time in Prague

Covered wagon set up at Namesti Miru for Vinobrani 
It's new wine time in the Czech Republic and this weekend we'll be celebrating vinobraní, or the wine harvest, in our neighborhood. Over on náměstí Míru, an old-fashioned market is all set up today, selling freshly pressed wine and trinkets. Tomorrow, the festival moves to Grébovka, with more wine and live music. More pictures to come!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Variation on a theme

piano planter in Colmar, France
What's a vacation without the requisite picture of a street musician? When we were in France this year, we didn't meet any musical characters but we did find a piano that looked like it had taken root, just off Colmar's busiest shopping street.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

votefromabroad on stroller 
We spent Saturday morning drinking coffee, eating bagels and helping expats sign up to receive their absentee ballots. Time is running out to register, so if you haven't, just visit today, it's easy!

If you're interested in checking out the latest poll results, look no further than RealClearPolitics. It's a very satisfying site for slightly geeky data seekers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Primary colors

In the evenings Caroline works at her table just by my desk, drawing and coloring. Sometimes we play school, so she's learned basic color theory. She likes to draw a color wheel of primary colors and their complements in pizza pie slices, to practice drawing circles and shadows in yellow and purple, red and green, blue and orange.

Then on Saturday we were out for an ice cream/nature walk. We found linden, oak and maple leaves, tried to shake down some green chestnuts and whirled a fist full of maple seeds above our heads. We were down to our cone tips and were turning the corner to head back to the house. The sun came out for a moment, and there, in a row were these cars.

Red, yellow, blue.

Caroline looked for green, orange and purple cars all the way home.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Way Up High

Sticker on Wall graffiti
Found two doors away from our favorite bookshop in downtown Prague, this sticker is well above arm's reach. Note the rust-colored baroque facade next to 19th century curlicues, just beyond. (Yes, more graffiti, crazy I know, but now that I've started looking I keep finding cool examples everywhere we go).

Friday, September 12, 2008

1664 in Neon

1664 in Neon
One block more and we'd be at sea.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Meeting Lucy

When we visit France in the summer, it is almost always to see good friends of ours whom we met years ago when we first moved to Prague. They live in England now and have a daughter C's age and a younger son and we are very fond of hanging out with them, despite their acquired British slang (or maybe we like that too, I do enjoy learning new vocabulary on vacation ;-).

When we get together we tend to spend our visits talking and cooking, eating and talking, walking and talking, interspersed every now and again by the need to intervene in the dramas that only five year olds who think they are thirteen can create. We have a lot of territory to cover, nearly a year's worth, and five days doesn't always seem enough.

But every now and again, to get errands done, to remind each girl what she will bitterly miss as soon as we part, and to visit with other friends and family, we take a morning off and head our separate ways. During our morning out on this trip we had the pleasure of meeting up with one of the bloggers I regularly read - Lucy from Box Elder. I started stopping by Lucy's blog because of her photography, and in short order became a fan of her poetry (word clever and image oriented like Marianne Moore). She's funny too and writes about being an expat in the countryside of Brittany with the balance of feeling comfortable in her environment and recognizing its uniqueness which I like.

By a happy coincidence, Lucy not only lives in Brittany but in the neighborhood of Val Andre, and we were able to meet in a market town nearby and have some coffee and chat. Perhaps because she was freed from peer pressure for the first time that week, Caroline behaved like a saint. The baby decided to smile the entire visit, the coffee was deliciously strong and we talked and talked as if we'd met before. I'm looking forward to next time - Prague or Brittany, rain or shine!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Meringues in shop window

Have you ever seen meringues so big? The girls tried them for breakfast once, but only ate nibbles, they were so sweet.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Artichoke bouquet

When we got back from France, my business partner asked me what we'd done and I thought for a second and said, um...ate a lot!

Our trip was pretty much centered around food and wine (and cider and coffee). I don't know how much this reflects our love of seafood and cheesy products, or because we spend our vacations with a French expat living in England, or because we have small children and can't wander about as much as other vacationers, but when we go to France, we tend to spend a lot of time preparing meals and hanging out at the table.

Here's the consumption tally from our five days on the coast:
1. market visits - three. We got to know the olive stand family quite well.
2. grocery store visits - three. How I love thee, E.LeClerc.
3. ice cream parlors - four. Did you know, French scoops are thrice the size of Czech scoops? Thus rendering our family favorite of pistachio and chocolate into nearly a meal.
4. lollipop stand - one. Even Caroline, the queen of lollipops, thought one visit to the succette stand enough. The resulting lollipop remains largely intact, unvanquished by many many licks.
5. cafes - three. Mostly for their email connections. And to meet new friends! More on this later.
6. restaurants - three. Because mussels and fries taste much better in a restaurant.
7. home cooked seafood - As Will would say, not enough. In tally though we did a good job of covering the basics: cooking oysters, ray, squid, shrimp, and fish cakes.
8. cheese and yogurt - enough to start our own dairy. Luckily we could make the yogurt ourselves.
9. Czech beer consumed - one case, imported for the occasion.
10. Alsace Cremant - three bottles (we were trying to save some for posterity)
11. Brittany cider - much.

With some trepidation then, yesterday I decided to greet our scales again and see what they might have to tell me. I'm happy to note that after their news I tripped blithley to the grocery store and picked up some goat cheese (driven in from France, approximately six times the cost of E.LeClerc) to celebrate and reminisce.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Last view from the ramparts

I decided I shouldn't leave you thinking that all the views from St. Malo looked out over factories and cranes. As befits a major port town, it also has a fabulous view of the sea and the little schools of boats that dart from the beach into the harbor and back as you stalk its city walls.

There was something about the color of the St. Malo sand that made all my photos of the beach look like tinted postcards from the sixties. Or maybe it was just the light that day.

View from the ramparts, take two

Here's my second precisionist style photo from St. Malo. I can't decide which rampart scene I like better, but I've had a thing for the visual beauty of cranes for a long time,* so maybe I'll cast my vote for this one.

* When we first visited Europe and I discovered cranes in medieval paintings, I fell in love.

View from the ramparts, St. Malo

Can you tell I like precisionist paintings? We visited St. Malo and walked most of the way around its ramparts. Across the bay from the town stood factories and cranes and I thought Charles Sheeler would have liked this view in particular.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Girls on point

If I could paint, I'd paint this scene. This was on a small peninsula a few kilometers from Val Andre. The girls had just finished tearing through some blackberry bushes and were taking a moment to decide where to run next.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


C as sandpiper, a Bohemian transplant to the Brittany coast. In the background, waders catch tidbits from a rivlet heading into the sea. Could they be dunlin? I refer the question to local experts (Lucy?)

Morska Vila

C loved the beach. She could run for an hour back and forth with the waves, in sandpiper mode. I thought she looked more like a contemplative little mermaid, or malá mořská víla,* in this picture though. It must be the pointy ear.

*If you have ever wondered about the origins of Veela in the Harry Potter series, look no further than the fairy, or víla, of slavic Europe.)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Trees, by the Sea

Gnarled naturally and by nature, these trees stand guard in front of the Grand Hotel in Val Andre, France.

Ahoj Matey II

Ahoj! We've returned from the sea, and while we met no whales or pirates we did run into this popup at a market in Colmar, France our first stop on our way to the beach.

I've spent the week catching up with work (conference calls until almost midnight, project plans galore) but life's settled back to an even keel now and I promise more photos and stories soon.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Ee!!

Happy Birthday!! So glad we get to spend it together this year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On the road again!

Tomorrow we head off on vacation, driving from Prague to Brittany. The end of the road leads here...

On the way, we're planning to wind our way through the Alsace region and meet my sister in Colmar to go wine tasting, shopping, hiking and art viewing (perhaps not in that order). Then we'll skirt Paris and scoot to the coast.

I'm looking forward to hiking along the cliff tops, eating mussels, playing on the sand with C, meeting up with old friends (and maybe new as well!) and taking lots and lots of pictures. Somewhere along the way I promise to raise a glass of cider to everyone, and you can be sure there will be many pics when we're home!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Red Door, Graffiti

Most graffiti in Prague looks like what you see here, tags and twists of lines scrawled on building facades and doors, old and new. Different sections of the city have created graffiti ordinances to handle the issue - Prague 6 removes graffiti within twenty-four hours from buildings, most of the city charges fines and a steep sentence if caught. Trying for a different approach, some parts of the city have set up legal graffiti zones, and one hotel recently invited several artists to graffiti their employee area.

Graffiti has even gotten its own local festival. From August 26th till September 6th Trafacka gallery is running a graffiti and street art festival here. I just read about this the other day - I think we'll have to stop by for a visit when we're back from vacation in a week or so!