Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Something for Nothing?

OK - you may not realize this... but those of you living in America? You have great customer service. If you don't believe me, try living outside the US for a while - someplace like - well, maybe the Czech Republic, for example.

Walk into any store in the US, and odds are within a minute of cracking the door open, you'll be greeted by a cheery salesperson falling all over themselves to help you. With something... with anything! Not so here. Maybe it's a holdover from colder times behind the iron curtain. Maybe the Pilsner isn't quite as fresh as it should be. I don't really know why, but if you walk into a store here and find a clerk willing disrupt their busy schedule to actually help you... let alone with a smile? Why then, you're doing good, my friend!

What does this have to do with Starbucks? Good question! This famous American chain made its debut here in Prague last month - just a block away from my office. Jakub Střeštík, the operations director for Starbucks made it clear in a recent interview with the Prague Post that they planned to import not only good coffee, but good customer service to the Czech Republic.

Which brings me, rather long-windedly to a mini snapshot of life here in Prague. The fine baristas of Starbucks were out on the sidewalk the other day, just a couple yards away from the busy Malostranske Namesti tram stop. Offering free coffee. Yes, free. Only one problem - the average passerby just wasn't buying it. "Yes, it's free" they would insist (while actually smiling!) The combination of something for free and a smile from a store clerk was just a little too much for the average Czech on the street, who passed them by with a suspicious glare.

In a political climate where many Czechs aren't too happy about the idea of Americans importing a missile defense system, it's nice to see an American company importing something you'd think would a lot easier to understand. Good coffee. Great customer service. Free samples. Like the missile interceptors though, I guess the jury is still out here in Prague!

Thursday, February 21, 2008


For those of you who know Danna, you are aware of her bubbly personality, her sweet smile, and her ‘free spirit’ approach to life. Of course, as her mother, I am extremely proud of her. But recently I have discovered a depth of character in her that I didn’t know a 3 ½ years old could possess.

Many of you know that Danna was diagnosed in May ’07 with nephrotic syndrome. This is a kidney condition that relapses on a whim and results in steroid treatment and a low sodium diet for weeks at a time. As the cook in the house, low sodium is DIFFICULT, especially for little kids. It means no hot dogs, no chips, no ready-made food, or happy meals from McDonalds. (The immediate positive result is lots of fresh fruits and veggies and very healthy meals for all.)

Last week, for our Friday Family Fun Night, we stayed home and watched a movie. If you watch a movie, there has to be popcorn, right?! We have the mindset that it isn’t a movie unless there is popcorn! But Danna can’t have popcorn; the rest of us can, so what to do??

Without a complaining or grumbling, Danna watched the entire movie snacking on low-sodium crackers while the rest of us shared a bowl of buttery, salty popcorn. At the end, while the credits were rolling, Danna very quietly asked if she could have one piece of popcorn. I gave her one, not sure what to expect. I mean, who of us can eat just one piece of popcorn?! Would she ask for another or cry that life wasn’t fair? Would she whine about not having her own bowl of popcorn? She did none of that. She ate her one piece of popcorn and that was that – no protests or begging for more. She was satisfied with her one taste of popcorn. And this is when I discovered an amazing strength in my 3 ½ yr old daughter. I’m not sure if it is will power or the ability to do the right thing or what, but I was overwhelmed at my daughter’s strength to be able to taste just one piece of popcorn and be satisfied.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Taste of Something New

We took our baby to school yesterday. No - not that baby. I'm talking about our five year old, Jad, who we brought home from the hospital just... well, it was just the other day, wasn't it? I suppose when your baby starts waxing poetic about his latest "science expiwament" (with liquids!), when he can spell his name and get dressed all by himself (shoes on the right feet most of the time), why then it's time to start thinking about Kindergarten!

Google Earth tells you it's a total of just over 200 yards from our front door to the back entrance of the International School of Prague. You can't get much closer to school than that! It's a short walk - but a monumental journey. Our boy - a newborn in the UAE, an infant in Zimbabwe, a toddler in Oman, and now... almost a Kindergartener in the Czech Republic.

Jad was nervous... but nerves quickly transformed into excitement and a curious smile as we took our tour of ISP's facilities. A gym full of kids playing dodgeball, the library ("they have Batman books), the cafeteria, kindergarten classrooms (with the "cubbies" outside for outdoor shoes and coats)... and even WATER FOUNTAINS (Jad tried each one we passed - sometimes twice!). His first question as we made the long walk home? "Can I start tomorrow?" Yep - I think he's ready. The better question is... are we?

After five years of sheltering him in the secure surroundings of home, are we ready to let this boy of ours take his first tentative steps into the big wide world? He'll meet bullies and have to figure out how to deal with them on his own. He'll bring home new vocabulary (not all of it good), and learn that you can't always win. He'll make mistakes, and have disappointments. Make friends... and loose friends. Skin his knee when we're not around to slap on a band aid. He'll see things he's never seen before. And continue to travel... down the path we hope we've started him on... to become his own person.

At least he'll only be 200 yards away!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Date Night #12 - Sushi, with a side of Gershwin

Date Night 12 -February 3, 2008
Temperature: High - 39F/4C; Low - 30F/-1C
Location: Obecní dům (Municipal House) & Palladium Mall

OK - here we are, living in a city full of culture and music. I'd say it's about time to get some culture and music - not to mention Sushi! Last night, we convinced our friends Roger and Janice to keep an eye on the kids for the evening, and headed out for a night on the town. Prague's Obecní dům, right in the center of town houses several concert halls - one of which was featuring "The Best of Gershwin." The brochure mentioned that all musicians were members of "famous Czech Symphony orchestras." Famous is good, right? We gulped a bit at the price - Czk 800 each ($47) but decided to splurge.

Tickets in hand, we headed across the street to the glistening Palladium Mall (home of our favorite Lebanese restaurant) to sample some Sushi at the "Running Sushi" restaurant. A fixed price gets you unlimited refills of Sushi, Tempura, Dim Sum and other Asian delicacies from two conveyor belts that run a never-ending supply of cold and hot food right past your table. "Quick honey - grab that shrimp!" There's nothing quite like a healthy dollop of wasabi to warm you up on a chilly winter evening in Prague! Being two Americans in Prague (rather than an American in Paris, for example), we washed down the raw fish and miso soup with 1/2 liters of good Czech Pivo.

On to the music - click here to read moreBut enough about food - time to Strike up the Band! The literature on the Municipal Hall claims it's one of the best examples of Art Nouveau. Not being an art major, I probably couldn't tell Art Nouveau from Baroque... except for noticing that the former is kind of more blocky and the latter is definitely a good bit more gilded. That's one reason I like to make sure there's always Someone to Watch Over Me in situations of high culture like this one... someone with a bit more education on the finer points of society (Erin).

Nouveau or not, the seating in the "Art Nouveau Hall" something short of 'S Wonderful. Sure - we saved 200 Czk by not purchasing "VIP Seats"... but for $45, I expected a little bit more than wooden chairs lined up in rows. Speaking of chairs, we couldn't help notice that there were only 5 on the stage. This wasn't going to be the grand symphonic introduction to the Arts in Prague I had envisioned. The musicians were good - don't get me wrong! The five piece string section and trumpet soloist hit every note... but left us hungry for more. Unlike the never ending sushi buffet, these guys were done almost before they began. "Rhapsody in Blue" completed in 5 minutes? With neither a Piano nor an Oboe? I got the feeling the musicians were missing the tourist throngs of Prague's Summertime:

"Uh - fellow members of the famous Czech Symphony Orchestra - what'cha doing this winter?"
"What you have in mind?"
"Ever played Gershwin? Heard he's good for a couple bucks."
"OK - I'll bring my trumpet if you bring the music and a violin!"

I may not be a professional musician, but I Got Rhythm, and I do know when we're hearing much abridged versions of Gershwin classics! Chalk this one down to the lesson books - next time we'll skip the box office and sneak in two minutes after showtime when the ticket takers head to the bar!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Wonder Super Snow Bunny

Name: Wonder Super Snow Bunny

Super Powers: Super hop that is as loud as a warerabbit. The super hop makes him fly. His hearing is very good. He can hear far away - even he can hear Hawaii (from Prague). When he goes all around, he hears all of the United States of America and even the other places. He can even hear Asteroid Tiny or Photon or Neutron or Professor Darkness or even the Planet Heros or even astroids!

How he got his super powers: Well, when Wonder Super Snow Bunny was a baby, he lived on ColdAndDusty (a planet inside Star Wars), and then he went on a flying saucer and he landed on Earth. One part of ColdAndDusty was destroyed, but not the super hero that is from ColdAndDusty - that superhero, he is at earth.

Bad guys he fights
: One is called "Bank Robber" and one is called "Store Stealer" and one is called "Toy Shop Stealer". The "Store Stealer" don't have any weapons or any powers.

His Super Friends: Super Bunny - from the planet where Superman was a baby - the planet Krypton. Super Bunny was there when he was a baby at the planet Krypton. And then when Krypton destroyed, Super Bunny, he went in a flying saucer and Super Man went in a flying saucer and they went all the way to earth. And Super Bunny was disguised as a news reporter.

Secret Identities: His disguise is he can disguise as a bush. And he goes into a forest and he gets disguised and he sits down and then when a bad guy passes him, he jump out and get him.

And the Super Grasshopper comes and then Super Bunny comes and the Superman comes and then Fog Man. And they all fight the bad guys together.