Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Story Cookies

Here's a fun family Easter tradition we started last year.

Easter Story Cookies
(make these the evening before easter)

1 cup whole pecans, 1 tsp vinegar, 1 cup sugar, pinch of salt, 3 egg whites, wooden spoon or rolling pin, tape, zip lock baggie, Bible

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees (this is important - do it now)
  • Place pecans in zip lock baggies. Let the children beat them with the wooden spoon (or rolling pin) to break them into small pieces (explain that after Jesus was arrested, the Roman soldiers beat him - John 19:1-3).

  • Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp vinegar into mixing bowl (explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, He was given vinegar to drink - John 19:28-30).

Click here for the rest of the recipe
  • Sprinkle a little salt into each child's hand. Let them taste it and then bruch the rest into the bowl. (explain that this represents the salty tears showed by Jesus' followers and the bitterness of our own sin - Luke 23:27).

So far, the ingredients are not that appetizing
  • Add 1 cup sugar. (Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus dies because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to him - Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16).

  • Beat with a mixer for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. (explain that the white represents the purity in God's eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus (Isa 1:18 and John 3:1-3).

  • Fold in broken nuts.

  • Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet. (Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus body laid - Matthew 27:57-60).

  • Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF.
  • Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. (Explain that Jesus' tomb was sealed - Matthew 27:65-66).

  • Go to bed. (Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed - John 16:20 & 22).
  • On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! (On the first Easter, Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty - Matthew 29:1-9)

Recipe from Name Cookin' - A collection of Favorite Recipes from our folks in Northern Africa & Middle East.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Date Night #13 - At the Tomcat

Date Night 13
-March 3, 2008
Temperature: High - 50 °F/10 °C; Low - 35 °F/2 °C
Location: Pubs in Prague's "Mala Strana." (Click here for map)

The Mala Strana neighborhood at the foot of Prague castle is normally bustling with tourists - but this Sunday night, it was strangely quiet. Prague minus the tourists is a rare, and almost magical experience. If you time it just right, you can have the place almost to yourself, as we did tonight. Lamplights glistened on the cobblestones, and our footsteps echoed in the narrow alleyways snaking between the ancient buildings. The very oldest building in the United States would probably count as "recent construction" in this part of town, where the average building is over four hundred years old. A few steps off the main street, and you're transported back in time!

We had a hankering for good Czech "soul food" the other night, and figured that a real Czech pub would hit the spot. Despite being located smack dab in the middle of Prague "tourist central", most pubs in Mala Strana neighborhood are the real thing - hard wooden chairs, a simple menu heavy with dumplings and pork, cheep beer, and an ice hockey game blaring on the TV. Taking furtive peeks at our tourist guidebook, we headed first to "U Hrocha" (at the Hippo). Unfortunately, the four tables of the hippo were already full, so we wandered down the alleyway to "U Kocoura" (at the Tomcat).

We quickly settled on plates of ham and pork, piled with dumplings, cheese and cabbage. The bill is calculated on a slip of paper on your table. The price for each item gets jotted down as your order is taken. You use a shorthand for beer - a quick hash-mark on a horizontal line each time another 1/2 liter is dropped off. Non-smoking dining is a concept that hasn't yet reached the Czech Republic, especially in Czech pubs. But the food was good, the Bernard Beer excellent, and the ambiance a slice of real Czech life. Total damage? Just under 300 Crowns ($18)

We moved on for desert to U Kostela (at the Cathedral) at Malostranska Namesti just a couple blocks away. This place had a live pianist, and decent deserts and coffee, but it was a definite tourist trap, and its prices proved it! We paid as much for desert as we did for our entire pub dinner! Another date night on the books - so many places to visit - so little time!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Star Lemonade Maker

You know the saying, "When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade." Well, here in Prague, we have a Czech friend who is a star lemonade maker! Marie is a nurse who started working in the health unit at the embassy about the same that Kevin started his new job. When we showed up, all 5 of us, at the health unit for our orientation and the first round of shots, Marie was there. She took an immediate interest in Jad and Danna and used her positive personality and smiles to quickly win them over as friends. She even allowed Danna to take her blood pressure. When it came time for me to get a shot, Nurse Marie let Danna put the bandaid on me. Danna declared that she wanted to be a nurse just like Nurse Marie when she grew up. Very quickly, Nurse Marie became a favorite in the Rubesh house!

December 2nd is when life decided to throw Marie a lemon. While horseback riding, she was thrown off the horse and broke her spine. The first prognosis was paralysis from the waist down. In January, Jad, Danna, and I went to visit her at the hospital. When we arrived, she used her very strong arms to get out of her bed and into her wheelchair so that we could sit on her bed. (By the way, Jad and Danna thoroughly enjoyed her bed since it had buttons to push to make it go up and down. They tested each button numerous times!) During that visit Marie told us that she was beginning to get some feelings in her hips, which was very encouraging. Marie was very upbeat and positive because that is how she is!

A couple of days ago all 3 kids and I went to visit Marie again, but this time at the rehabilitation center. She met us with a huge smile and then treated the kids to ice cream. During our visit she shared that she could move her hips -- wahoo!! And several times she told us how fortunate she is because she has the use of her arms. Her positive outlook is amazing!! She invited us to go with her to her rehab lesson where she learned how to maneuver her wheelchair on the escalator. Jad and Danna cheered her on as she tackled the escalator (and won)!

So, in our book, Nurse Marie is a star lemonade maker because she continues to smile, to have a positive outlook, and to be thankful. This world needs more Nurse Maries!

Friday, March 7, 2008

My "big" kids

There is never a dull moment with Jad and Danna around. Yesterday was a glorious spring day -- clear blue sky, lots of sunshine, and a chilly breeze which all combined, just beckoned us outside. So, while Kyler napped, "the big kids" (aka Jad & Danna) and I ventured into our backyard to play. Our empty sandbox was semi-full of water from previous rain so that was an instant attraction! Jad decided to use the water to make rain (not the best choice) and Danna decided to use the water to fill up her buckets so that she could water the grass - very resourceful. After awhile the water ran out, so they moved on to the bucket of outdoor toys. Jad found 2 trucks and a shovel, which he immediately put to use in a patch of dirt. If that isn't a perfect image of "BOY", then I don't know what is!! Meanwhile, Danna found a pair of swim goggles, the kind that has each eye piece shaped like a starfish. She was convinced she had found a longlost treasure. So, wearing her coat, her gloves, and her hat she donned her yellow starfish goggles and pretended to be swimming in the sea. Such an imagination! It was such a beautiful moment-- so full of joy and happiness. I wish I could have somehow captured that moment properly, but such bliss can't be bottled up and saved for later.

Danna then decided to play a game of basketball with me, a former basketball junkie! I was quite impressed at how many baskets she made. Of course, the Little Tikes basketball hoop was not at the standard regulation height, but just half-a-head higher than Danna (who is exactly 1 meter tall). While playing, Danna informed me that when she grows up, she wants to play basketball AND be a mommy. After about 5 minutes of taking turns shooting and making baskets, Danna declared that she had won 65 to 2. Wait a minute!! I know I made more than one basket! But apparently she was the official scorekeeper as well! And since when has she been able to count to 65?? (Sesame Street only goes up to 20!)

Later Jad walked over to me and said, "Cacophony." I looked at him and with a puzzled voice said, "What did you just say??" He answered, "I said 'cacophony'. It means a really loud noise." And then he turned on his heel and walked away. I looked after him with such a feeling of love and pride, but also with such bewilderment. I'm quite sure I haven't used that word since my college days, yet how did he know it? And that is when it hit me that my "big" kids are growing up and I am no longer there one source of all information and knowledge. As much as I want to hang onto them, I realize that this is part of growing up (for them) and letting go (for me). I love my "big" kids!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Photo Shoot

Kyler looked so miserable in the Escape from Bulovka post that I just had to post evidence that he's well on the road to recovery. While the rest of the family was taking an afternoon nap today, Kyler and I had some fun with a camera, a drumstick and suitcase. For all the outtakes, click here:

Escape from Bulovka

I remember all the hubbub around the fall of Communism – the collapse of the Wall, the Iron Curtain dropping, embracing glastnost, yes I remember it. Almost 20 years have passed since then, so imagine my surprise when unfortunately, I realized that the effects of communism are alive and well in the Czech Republic. Last weekend Kyler was admitted to the hospital for bronchitis and his 27 hour stay was definitely in a hold-over hospital from communism. I now know the true meaning of the phrase ‘time-warp’.

All 5 of us arrived at Bulovka Hospital with a feeling of apprehension and a twinge of adventure. When the dented, metal, paint-chipped elevator doors noisily clanged shut, that should have been our first warning that we weren’t in Kansas anymore!! When we arrived on the 4th floor I was hopeful – the walls were brightly painted and kid-friendly drawings adorned the wall; it looked promising. That sense of hope quickly dashed when the unsmiling nurse arrived, unlocked the door to the ward, quickly ushered me and Kyler inside, and kept Kevin, Jad, and Danna from entering. I had about 10 seconds to hug my family adieu before Nurse Ratched relocked the door, making Kyler and I virtual prisoners on the 4th floor, the children’s infectious respiratory diseases ward.

Locked in a dilapidated hospital room! Would they ever escape? Click here to read on!

We were taken to our room which was furnished in the 1950 style of metal and formica - a metal crib for Kyler and a metal bed for me. Not a chance the interior decorating was ‘retro’, no, it was more of the ‘hold-over from communism’ style. Bars lined the windows and the balcony door -- such an evil gesture to put a balcony yet keep it barred and locked from use!

There were 4 lights in the room, yet only the small lamp over my bed worked. I should have been thankful that there was a bathroom nearby, but it had neither electricity or toilet paper. There was no call button to call the nurses’ station, no phone, and no curtains. Ok, so no big deal; hospitals aren’t meant to be an inviting, comfy, relaxing environment. It was when the nurse came to do Kyler’s lab work that my suspicions were confirmed- yes, I was in a time-warp, welcome to 1950 Communism!

The one nurse who spoke English was assigned to Kyler – super! However, I spoke about as much Czech as she spoke English, which means about 10 words. When she scooped up Kyler in her arms, I initially thought, “How sweet! She is caring and wants to interact with him!” But then as she proceeded to walk out of the room with my baby, I realized something was amiss. To make matters worse, I wasn’t allowed to accompany them ---help!!! The communist way is to take the patient to the nurses’ station and do the lab work and give the meds without involving the parent. It was pure torture to hear Kyler crying down the hall yet not being able to hold him and comfort him. Fifteen minutes later he was brought back to the room with a splint on his arm and a tube poking out of it. Being an ‘Alias’ fan (first 2 seasons only), I had images of Kyler being injected with brain-washing serum. My poor baby!!!

Since I was locked on the ward, my only life line was my cell phone- thank you God for modern technology!! But, it was very low on battery and I had forgotten to bring my charger. Hmmm, I also needed a flashlight so I could use the bathroom. How blessed I am to have such a WONDERFUL husband! After he got Jad and Danna fed and in their pj’s, they drove over to deliver these required items. But now came the tricky part – Kevin and the kids couldn’t come up to the 4th floor since they were ready for bed yet I was being held prisoner behind locked doors. What to do?!?! Using my limited drama talent, I acted out my request: please let me out of this 4th floor jail so I can do down to the parking lot to get something from my husband who is in the car with my 2 older children who are sick and on antibiotics. Miraculously I was understood, or they just had pity on me – highly doubtful since pity isn’t a common trait in communism.

I cannot accurately describe the next 10 minutes – leaving Kyler behind locked doors on the 4th floor with Nurse Ratched while I desperately searched the darkened 1st floor for an unlocked door to the outside. Kevin was standing outside on one side of the locked glass door, with me on the inside, unable to reach him. So close yet so far!!! By the grace of God and 5 minutes later, we were reunited and I don’t know when a hug from Kevin felt so wonderful! I would have hopped in the car and run away except Kyler was still upstairs. Armed with my cell phone charger and a flashlight, I was ready to tackle the night shift in this commi jail/hospital!

The night passed like most nights in hospitals do – very little sleep and frequent interruptions from the hospital staff. By morning, the doctor was pleased with the progress Kyler had made, but said, “Maybe tomorrow he will discharged.” Ugh—another day and night in this place!! My aforementioned wonderful hubby had graciously offered to switch places with me. I took him up on that offer in a heartbeat! Kevin showed up at 2pm with real food for me (4 pieces of bread, a pat of butter and jam don’t count as a meal in my book!), and a duffle bag full of necessities to get him through an afternoon and night at Bulovka Hospital. Again, I used my acting ability to let the nurses know that Kevin was switching places with me. They replied, “Good, be back at 8pm.” HUH?! Dads can switch with the moms, but only until 8pm, and then all dads must leave the ward and only moms can stay overnight. For a brief moment I thought I was back in a segregated Muslim country, not an EU-member country. I hardly slept the night before and was emotionally and physically exhausted! At least 1 of our kids had been sick the last 10 days and a proper night’s sleep had eluded me for almost 1 ½ weeks. I knew that physically I could not go another night without rest. Again, what to do?!?

Again, thank God for modern technology! I whipped out my cell phone and called Kyler’s pediatrician – the one who had said he needed to be admitted. Within minutes she had spoken to the nurse and the on-duty doctor and worked out an agreement. Kyler could be released but he had to return at 8pm that night for medicine and then tomorrow morning at 9 for a final check-up. Hallelujah!! We were going home!! I’ve never packed so fast in all my life! I literally ran out of the children’s infectious respiratory diseases ward with my baby.

We are now all home and all 3 kids are healthy. I hope to keep it that way for the remaining 2 ½ years that we are here in Prague. Since I know that the hospitals are communist time-warps, I have no desire to travel back in time again!