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 
...at 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 VoteFromAbroad.org 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.