Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A bike ride, and curlicues

1. Street graffiti, 2. House banisters, 3. Chestnut leaf shadows, 4. Shadows on the staircase ceiling, 5. C on Silver, showing us her pedaling technique.

Since my last post I've taken tons of pictures and written several half posts, only to leave all by the wayside as I remember one more thing I need to do before I head off for the weekend. This morning I'm flying to Arizona on my first solo trip since James was born. It's a whirlwind visit - fly in Thursday fly out Sunday - but I'm still taking a half empty suitcase, just in case I can get some Stateside shopping in.

As it's a business trip, I've become obsessed with trying to figure out what people wear in Phoenix to meetings when it's 100F outside and 75 inside. Other semi-senseless worries include trying to decide what to do on a plane without two children to entertain (C suggested stickers and an activity book), and wondering if James will forget me in four days.

But life in the Kolo* household is not just travel this, travel that. We're really more about wheels. Somehow going to camp helped C decide it was time to learn to ride her bike. She got home Friday and declared her passion. Saturday we spent the morning googling the how-to's and the afternoon trying them out. Thanks to a simple step break down, C started out coasting down a grassy hill, pedaling down that same hill, and then learning to steer round a handy tree. She took the practice very seriously, insisting on trying each step five times before moving to the next, and by the end of our first bike try, had graduated to concrete and the skating slope in front of a local school.

Sunday we packed bike and stroller off to our favorite park, Stromovka, to try out some of the paths there. Stromovka is just by the river and is wonderfully flat, with wide paths ideal for roller blading and biking (and the occasional horse).

Chanting "I think I can, I think I can" under her breath, C picked a path she could coast down, remembered how to balance, and took to the pedals. Instead of stopping after a few feet, she kept going and biked first 30 yards, and then more. By the end of the day she was confidently pedaling past dogs and other bikers, the purple helmeted princess knight C and her horse/bike Silver, ready to roll.

*Kolo, by the way, means wheel or bike in Czech, so it is quite appropriate that we're a biking household these days!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Can you tell what I brought home yesterday?

No, not James. And Caroline got home today, tired, smudgy around the knees, but deliriously happy about camp and all the fun stuff she and her friends got to do: ride horses, eat lots of fruit dumplings, discover ant houses, hunt for mushrooms, dress up for a carnival. The stories are still unfolding as she remembers or pulls another souvenir from her suitcase.

But yesterday. Around noon I walked into the biggest store of its kind in the Czech Republic. Swarms of guys wearing black t-shirts, beards and sandals were crowded around the displays and I couldn't push by them without running into one or the other multi-pocketed bag. After taking to the less exciting corridors, I dug up a shop assistant reading manuals in a corner and cruelly interupted his reverie on the new Xyi8300 (at least I think that's what it was). Putting his latest dream down, he reluctantly showed me the top two models in my price range.

Ten minutes later, I was on the phone to my business partner. Twenty minutes, and I walked out of the store with a grin even the jaded shop assistant could understand.

And then the fun began.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Caroline goes to Camp

postcard from C 
Postcard from camp, I'm guessing there are three horses and she is getting to ride one! And happily, she hearts us. The back of the card says, nice and simply, "CAROLINE IS O.K., BUY"

Every year, Caroline's kindergarten spends a week at Škola v prírode, or school in nature. Half the school's teachers go and most of the předškolní, or 5 year old kids, too and for a week ahead of time, it is the only thing that the mothers picking up their children talk about.

This is C's last pre-school year, her year for kindergarten camp. Back in March, she brought her camp instructions home, and we started going through it line by line. I thought we'd have most everything already, but then again, I'd heard that the girls shouldn't pack dresses, and Caroline rarely wears anything else. So we poured over the list to make sure she'd be set to go.

There were all the standard things you'd expect, like a pláštěnka, or rain poncho, and holinky, gum boots, but it took me several calls to friends to figure out exactly what oteplene sustaky might mean. (Apparently, a track suit lined in flannel on the inside and nylon on the out. Now I know what they are, but I still don't know their name in English!)

Thanks to C's babysitters and several expeditions, we managed to find everything, even the elusive sustaky. The night before she left, I read C her clothing list and she ran back and forth collecting everything while I marked her name on each piece and we folded it away. All packed, down to the smallest bear and largest rubber boot, and I thought we were finished for the night. But no. "Mommie," C said, "can you teach me how to take a shower?"

So it was, on the eve of her first overnight camp, at nearly six years of age, that C decided it was time to step under water and voluntarily get her face wet. What else new will she learn this week? Come Friday, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Art of Missing Someone, and a Museum Visit

1 &2. Local graffiti, 3. Nearly empty chapel, 4. Spring at Mamacoffee, 5. Tactile exhibit, 6. Door from chapel, Center. Master of Theodoricus paintings*

Friday, Caroline waved farewell, swung backpack onto shoulder, climbed up bus steps, and headed for the country. As we waved goodbye to her through the bus's tinted windows, I did a quick mental calendar check, because surely she’s still only five. Why did it feel like she should be carrying a guitar and wearing sunglasses behind those dark windows, off to see America. And why were we crying when she’d be back in a week and anyway, we’d all been looking forward to her kindergarten camp since Christmas?

Imponderables. I moped a bit and then threw myself into a spreadsheet so I wouldn’t think for the rest of the day. By the time Will came home from work I was so deep in numbers it took me until the next morning’s coffee to recover my equanimity. We spent Saturday the way we usually do, shopping at our local stores, strolling by mamacoffee for an espresso, pushing the stroller through the park to check out the latest flowers, and keeping my camera ready for any new additions to our local graffiti.

This Saturday though, the green grocers wanted to know if we’d heard anything from the children yet (their daughter and Caroline were bus buddies). The Greek store cashier asked where the little holčicka was and the drug store cashier volunteered that maybe the weather was on its way to getting warm after all. We walked home and I couldn’t help thinking that big cities are full of little villages and I was happy right in the middle of ours, even if it took C heading to camp to remind me.

The next day, still getting used to the quietness of space without Caroline, we decided to do what we hadn’t had a chance to do for nearly six years - visit a museum undisturbed.

Or at least nearly. We lulled James to sleep strolling across the sway and rattle of cobblestone, and arrived at the Convent of St. Agnes happy to have won sixty minutes of quiet. We spent a few of those minutes wandering around the ground floor looking for pictures, lost in a maze of corridors, convincing ourselves that the art collection must have moved. We found empty chapels and a tactile exhibit for the blind (complete with a braille typewriter for leaving notes), we circled the gardens again, and just as we were about to leave, discovered the staircase up to the galleries.

The Convent houses the Czech National Gallery’s medieval art collection, beginning the exhibition with a wood carving from the very early 1200s, and ending it with prints from the mid 1500s. Sometimes, in an art museum that covers the medieval to modern, I’m happy to stroll past the rooms of madonnas and saints to get to the renaissance. But that morning, with a sleeping stroller, and a collection dedicated to the Gothic, we slowed down and took the time to look.

We were the only visitors, the guards decided we were harmless, and we were free of children, so we spent the rest of our hour arguing all we wanted: about the goldfinch in the madonna portraits (from the apocrypha or not?), the Theodoricus blank books and their bindings, the apostles and just who might be Judas, and the aptness of poor Catherine clutching her wheel. We had a deliciously nerdy time, and James slept until the last gallery.

When he woke, he wanted to be carried, and his wiggling turned the paintings back into art to rush by. It was time to go. We stopped to pick up a book to try to solve a few of our morning debates, and headed home.

And if you’re wondering how Caroline is doing, the latest news from this morning is that she hasn’t cried one bit, she can’t wait to ride the horses today and she’s been a perfect milá, or dear. Pshew.

Goldfinch – the jury is still out on this, Will thinks they are related to the birds in the apocrypha which the infant Jesus brought to life from mud. The National Gallery guidebook suggests the association of goldfinch with thistle bushes, thistles representing the crucifixion, the goldfinch thus foreshadowing the poor babe’s later fate. My guess is that it could be a combination of the two, depending upon where the tradition started from and if that group of artists even had access to the apocrypha books.

Blank books – it’s pretty unusual to see blank manuscripts already bound, as most medieval manuscripts would be prepped by assembling parchment into folios, scoring the skins for neatness, writing and illuminating the text, and then binding the whole. My vote is a tabula rasa motif, but Will is not biting.

*Master of Theodoricus paintings from the Virtual walk through of the gallery. Understandably, no cameras are allowed in the actual exhibition.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Friday, May 08, 2009

First year roundup

James, from 0 to 1 in no time at all.

The pictures are so you can bear the long long post that follows. I’ve recently been tagged for three (THREE) memes. An unusual number, considering the last time I was tagged in my eons/aeons of blogging was never. If you don’t mind, then, I’ll be babbling on about myself and my opinions even more than I usually do. I promise I’ll try to add unrelated pics each time to keep it interesting.

This meme is from Eurolush, via Duvyken.

What are your current obsessions?
Digital SLRS (to buy or not to buy, which one, and when?), the impossibility of keeping a house straight and toys in it, asparagus.

Which item from you wardrobe do you wear most often?
My red flannel pjs. Luckily in Prague it stays cold until June so I can wear them at least 9 months of the year.

What's for dinner?
Pho soup doctored with tomatoes, spring onions, dried mushrooms, and extra bits of chicken and ham; eaten with chopsticks.

What's your greatest fear at the moment?
I’m flying to Arizona at the end of the month on a business trip and it will be the first time that I've left James overnight. Will he remember me when I get back? Will he be wearing clothes when I get back?

What are you listening to?
The hum of the fan belt in my computer (everyone except the computer and myself is asleep).

If you were a goddess what would you be?
Does a muse count? I’d like to be the muse of music.

What are your favourite holiday spots?
France, particularly the Ardèche and bits of Brittany. I also love visiting European cities for long weekends. Copenhagen, Dresden, Zurich, Vienna, Bratislava all make wonderful weekend trips. I am currently looking forward to visiting Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Berlin soon.

What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Swallows and Amazons to Caroline right now, and Keeping the World Away, by Margaret Forster, to myself. I picked up a new mountain of books in Switzerland over Easter and have felt like a kid ripping through a pile of presents ever since. Gleeful gluttony is what it is.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Reading books when I should be doing everything else, not having to fold laundry, taxis.

Who or what makes you laugh?
My family for sure - Caroline in particular is very funny and dramatic. And Will has a wonderfully dry sense of humor.

What is your favourite spring thing to do?
When spring arrives, my first thought is "Time to go on a trip to Germany to buy fresh asparagus!!" In March I start checking German news sites to find out when it will be in the markets. Also, spring in general means travel to me, and lots more light for photographs.

Where are you planning to travel next?
Berlin. It is only a few hours away by car and I can’t believe we haven’t visited yet.

What is the best thing you ate or drank lately?
It would have to be the Colombian meringues from Essen. Also, a wonderful muesli cereal made with grated apples, white yogurt, and oats soaked overnight so they turned fluffy and delicious. Yum! And, of course, the deviled eggs from last weekend.

When was the last time you were tipsy?
Probably last Saturday, though I could still feel my toes so I'm not sure if that counts.

What is your favourite ever film?
I adore Singing in the Rain. Music, physical comedy, no plot and dancing - what more could I want? I also really love the movie Once. I could watch the scene where the couple first plays music together over and over.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your children?
That stubbornness is most definitely inherited. Also, that reading out loud is much more fun than I could have imagined.

What song can't you get out of your head?
“Ghost,” by Neutral Milk Hotel. Very rocky, but I love it.

What book do you know you should read but refuse to?
Ulysses, by James Joyce. I’ve bought the book and every James Joyce day I pick it up, determined to read a chapter, but never get through it. Maybe this year?

What is your physical abnormality/abnormal physical ability?
I have never lost a limbo contest, even when I was 8 months pregnant. I’m pretty flexible. Of course, this might also demonstrate a certain competitive streak I'm rumored to have.

What is your favourite colour?
Red for small goods, orange for accents, light sea blue for walls, dark blue and burgundy for shirts, green for grass and trees, white for plates at a table, silver for candlesticks and gold for rings. I love color, but have never been able to pin down a favorite.

Following the rules of the meme, I tag Poppy in Provence, Meg, Lucy, Liz, and my sister, Ee. I'm leaving her unlinked until/unless she accepts the challenge!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

May Days

Holidays fall fast and thick in May in Europe. Last Friday, May Day, we celebrated our first May holiday and James' first birthday, all at once!

How did we spend our May Day? From left, counterclockwise:
[1.] Playing on the recently refurbished Riegrovy Sady playground, now one of the nicest playgrounds I've had the chance to push a swing in.
[2.] Baking and decorating fairy cakes, and then gobbling them up.
[3.] Taking James to his first beer garden to meet up with friends.
[4.] Prepping for the cocktail party we threw Saturday to celebrate surviving a year with two children. I made a ton of food, including deviled eggs. Yum. These two plates represent approximately 5% of the tastiness outlaid.
[5.] Gratuitous cow pic I added for the fun of it. The word in Czech for cow is krava, and we suspect that a Czech family by the name of Kravin had a good sense of humor, way back when.