Friday, November 23, 2007

Date Night #6

Every family needs a friend like Sophie -- she loves kids, she makes herself useful in the kitchen, and she knows the importance of date nights for me and Kevin. Sophie also has the distinction of being the first non-family member to fly to Muscat for a visit and she repeated the tradition here in Prague. Sophie is from France and has been our friend since our Portland days. She has a degree in food technology so I picked her brain about cooking low-sodium for Danna. During her 3-day weekend visit, she read to the kids, played with the kids, listened to the kids, and taught them how to make a yummy (and nutritious) cake. And she insisted on babysitting so that Kevin and I could enjoy a date night!!! Anyone who will take care of our 3 kids single-handed is a keeper!! Like I said, every family needs a friend like Sophie!

She was with us for our weekly 'family fun night'.. We went to the Prague Castle, saw the changing of the guard, and walked across Charles Bridge (see above photo-- Kyler isn't in it since he was helping me take the shot). The next evening, for our date night, Kevin and I went to the Crocodile Cafe for coffee and sweets. (Sorry, no photo!)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ski Lessons

One of Erin's life goals is to make sure the rest of her family learns how to ski. She, of course, was trained on the black runs of France... in a blizzard... with nothing but her natural athleticism and built in GPS to keep her alive. The first (and until last week last) time I went skiing was at night, under the floodlights on the icy slopes of Mt. Hood in Oregon. Not exactly powder conditions. And calling it "skiing" is a bit of an exaggeration. More like rolling/sliding/falling down the hill with skis and poles tumbling behind. So - here we are in a country with real winters... time to hit the slopes and make Erin's dream come true!

With the highest peak at 1600 meters, the Czech Republic's "Giant Mountains", tucked away on the Czech Republic's northern border are not exactly gigantic compared to the nearby Alps. However, they are close, and they do have Ski Areas! We scheduled lessons for the kids and I, and hit the road bright and early Thanksgiving Morning. Grandpa and Grandma Rubesh had visited the weekend prior, so we had already filled up on turkey, stuffing and plenty of leftovers. Thanksgiving meant a day off work to head for the hills!

Skiareál Herlikovice is just 2 1/2 hours away by car - to the Northeast of Prague. When you're heading East, the trickiest part of the trip is just leaving the city. A journey to the east means either winding through narrow country roads to our North, or driving through downtown Prague. After about an hour of stewing in traffic, we started making good progress. The landscape started turning white just outside of Jičín, as we slowly gained altitude. The Ski Area is located just outside the town of Vrchlabi (try to pronounce that one three times in a row!)

A luxury ski resort Herlikovice is not. However, it did have the basics - a bistro selling hot dogs and hot chocolate for al fresco dining, a couple of ski lifts, and some good instructors - who spoke English! Suiting and booting four while keeping a baby happy is not a relaxing experience. However, 8 boots, 8 skis and 8 ski poles (the kid's favorite accessory) later, we headed toward the ski school. As it turns out, we had rented equipment from the spot closest to parking, but farthest from the ski area proper... fortunately, Kyler's new winter-hardy stroller has a bit of cargo space!

First lesson at ski school? How to stretch your muscles.

After a quick snack on the slopes, we found our instructors. Jad and Danna did great - they were slipping, sliding and laughing like crazy in no time flat! I had a private lesson on the finer points of a snowplow turn and important things like how to stop (without falling down - which was my previous method of stopping). At the end of our hour of on-snow training, Kyler was still fast asleep in his stroller, and Erin took to the slopes.

Two kids suited in about 5 layers of clothing, baby sleeping in the stroller, wife off skiing. What's the one phrase you're really not looking forward to hearing? "Daddy, I have to go Pee Pee!" Off we tromped to the decidedly communist "Hotel Eden" - dark dingy corridors, aging carpet and peeling paint. Fortunately, we quickly found the communal toilets, and were pleasantly surprised to find out that each stall came complete with free toilet paper! Appropriately relieved, the kids settled down to a DVD in the back of the 4Runner while I built a snowman and Kyler snoozed.

Did we have a good time? I'll let you decide - check out the following videos before voting!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Date Night 5 - Lucerna Cinema

Date Night #5 - November 18th, 2007
Temperature: High 36 °F / 2 °C, Low 30 °F / -1 °C
Location: Lucerna Palace - Wenceslas Square

You don't often come across a statue of a saint sitting on the belly of a decidedly dead horse. Believe it or not, that's exactly what hangs from the ceiling in the lobby of the Lucerna Palace Cinema, just off Wenceslas Square. Having opened in 1909, the cinema boasts being the oldest operating cinema in Europe. The single screen theater, seating 500, is truly stunning. Until the velvet curtain opened and the Dolby Digital Surround Sound kicked in, you could almost believe that you'd been magically transported back in time to 1929, when "Show Boat", the first "talkie" movie premiered here. We made ourselves comfy, settled down and spent a couple hours learning about the life of Jane Austen in "Becoming Jane".

I thought the movie flowed a little like a Jane Austin novel... introduce a slew of characters speaking thickly-accented English (no - the Czech subtitles did not help) through a very slow opening 30 minutes or so, and then spend the rest of the movie figuring out who was who and what they were up to. Not a bad way to spend a date night though - and this was the first movie we've gone out to see since this summer in Oklahoma City. Tickets were 120 CZK / US$7, but there was no popcorn... so we had to settle for sneaking in a Bratwurst from the corner hot dog stand!

We rounded the night off with a visit to TGI Friday's for a good, American style hamburger. Delicious, messy, and well worth the trip! We'll have to remember to bring our own drinks in next time though - the 1/4 liter bottles of water just didn't do justice to the thirst worked up by a sausage and a Jane Austen movie. Free refills? Forget it!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Are Jawas Good?

The question was a bit unexpected. I mean - Darth Vader is obviously "bad". Luke Skywalker is in the "good" camp beyond a shadow of doubt. The Jawas though?

For those of you who are not "Star Wars" aficionados, the Jawas are little creatures who roam the sands of the desert planet of Tattoine (Luke Skywalker's home). They specialize in "collecting" things in the desert, and then fixing them up to sell. Erin had to promise Jad that she would do some research and get back to him with an informed answer.

Yes - our summer of "reculturization" in the US has paid unexpected dividends. Through cousins, friends, ads on TV and McDonald's happy meals, Jad and Danna's mustard seeds of Star Wars knowledge of Star Wars have blossomed into a full-fledge mountain of interest. Good vs. Bad. Space ships. Aliens. Princesses and swashbucklers. How could you not be interested? So - via YouTube and borrowed DVD's the kids have begun watching carefully selected snippets of the movies. Those of you who are fans will no doubt recognize the picture above as a recreation of Luke's initial Jedi training aboard the Millenium Falcon, wearing a helmet with the blast shield down to test his ability to sense to "the force".

Anyway - in this age of digital video and creative kids, we're pleased to present the first of what I'm sure will be many Star Wars interpretations. An X-Wing fighter has taken construction in our playroom today, and Kyler sounds a wee bit like Yoda these days... so I'm sure there will be more to follow.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Snow !

So - we were eating our breakfast this morning in the kitchen, when we looked up from our BamBam Pebbles and Dinosaur Oatmeal and noticed something different... something white... something fluffy coming down from the sky. Yep - it was SNOW! Real, big, fluffy, white flakes of SNOW! Excitement mounted as it began to stick to the ground outside. First question? "What does it taste like, Daddy?" I was in the middle of trying to explain that it was a bit like fluffy ice cream when I figured the best way to answer the question would be to get them some to try. So - out to the back yard I tromped in my stylish green bathrobe and flip-flops to grab them each a couple spoons of fresh snow. Nothing like snow to complete a tasty breakfast!

We gobbled down our breakfast, threw on some "snow clothes" and headed outside. Jad now knows how to make snowballs and throw them at his Daddy. Danna specialized in tasting snow... snow from the sky, snow off the grass, snow off the driveway... you get the idea. Fun stuff! Unfortunately (for us snow-lovers), the snow had been rained away by the time we headed out to church, but this bodes well for a snowy winter!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Date Night 4 - 235th Marine Corps Birthday Ball

Date Night #4 - November 10, 2007
Temperature: High 37 °F / 3 °C, Low 32 °F / 0 °C
Location: US Ambassador's Residence

We had dinner at with Ambassador Graber and his wife tonight as their home in Prague. Well, to be perfectly honest, so did about 100 others, including the six "birthday boys" - members of Prague's Marine Security Guard Detachment.

November 10th is celebrated each year as the birthday of the United States Marines Corps. Since 1921, Marines around the world have gotten together each November to celebrate the formation of the Corps - this year, they turned 232 (but didn't look a day over 20...)

The location, inside the Ambassador's residence was just about perfect. The Marines marched in, carrying the US and Marine flags (the tips of the flags only slightly brushing the crystal chandelier), did a smart about face, and sang... yes actually sang the Marine Corps Hymn - "From the Halls of Montezuma. To the shores of Tripoli..." OK - to be completely honest, the Vienna Boy's Choir they were not. A proud and joyful noise? Sure.

We left early (11pm) to relieve the babysitter before the party really got underway... walking to our car in a light dusting of snow. To all of you men and women around the world, standing guard at our Embassies and Consulates - many thanks! And a very happy birthday!

Trick or Treating

What do you get when you cross a pretty princess, a handsome detective and a cute lion? A recipe for a fun night of Trick or Treating, that's what! Halloween night at our Mala Sarka housing development has become famous in Prague. Somehow the word got out that if you dress up in a costume, learn a couple funny english words "Trick or Treat", and knock on doors, those funny Americans will actually give you candy... for free!

Kids are trucked in from all corners of town, and for two hours each year, the neighborhood takes on a life of its own! Kids of all shapes, sizes and costumes dash from door to door in a frenzied effort to collect as much free sugar as possible. Parents tag along in the background, snapping pictures, chatting amongst themselves and hopping from foot to foot to keep warm (for some reason, the cold doesn't seem to affect the kids - they're too focused on the candy!)

Tonight was Jad (Sherlock Holmes) and Danna's (Princess "Leia") first experience with "real" trick or treating. In Oman, the international school put on an annual festival, with trick or treating at each classroom door. The concept of being outside and running from house to house was a new one. While we filled our bags with a wide assortment of sugar products, Erin and Kyler stayed home to feed the teeming masses from our own stash of candy.

Candy bags bulging, noses running, and fingers freezing, we returned home to count our treats and plan how to trick Mommy into letting us eat them!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Missing a Toilet?

Couldn't pass up sharing this sign with you all. We spotted it on the way up for a "Family Adventure Afternoon" at Petrin Park. The text of the sign says something to the effect of "Service Vehicles Only", so nothing about toilets.

Looking a little closer at the sign, it looks more like someone decided to play a prank on us - the toilet stencil is cut out, and pasted onto the sign... it's not quite straight, and not quite centered - both dead giveaways when looking at signs for toilets!