Thursday, February 6, 2014

New and Improved!

In order to create a more professional website Tom and I have pooled our creative resources to create For the past few weeks I have been posting stories to both websites while we worked the kinks out of our new page. Now it is ready to unveil! There will be more updates as both of us work to our particular strengths to showcase whatever location we find ourselves in.

It has been wonderful to blog here the last few years while I was in university. I enjoyed sharing stories as I worked to understand more of myself. I hope you will check up on me still and I can hear from you over at my new virtual home!

Thank you!


Friday, January 31, 2014

My Thoughts on the Czech Republic

Full of grey walls with nothing to do but wait, airports and airplanes can provide ample time for reflection. The most recent stint of flights lead towards my home outside Seattle, Washington. Heading towards the home of my childhood I decided to reflect upon the place that had been my home for the past six weeks - the Czech Republic. A few thoughts...

The bar set for a foreigner's ability to speak Czech is incredibly low.

     Despite the fact it took miracle or memorization for me to manage an entire sentence I was told by several people I spoke Czech "well" (once I even got a "beautifully"). Here is the argument I got on my first visit to the Czech Republic on why few Czech people expect foreigners to know anything: There are about 12 million native Czech speakers. Nearly all of these 12 million are found within the Czech Republic. Throwing in those who speak Slovak, which is a closely related language, the number of people who can be communicated with rises to 19-20 million. Meanwhile, there are 375 million native English speakers plus another 500 million (or more depending on the source) second language English speakers. Nearly 1 billion people who can speak English around the world! With such a small percentage of the world population speaking Czech why bother? Most Czech people below the age of 35 or so speak at least some English anyway.  
     If I, or anyone else, would like to become fluent in Czech we are going to have to insist upon using the language. Not forcing myself to get out and talk more in Czech is something I regret.

Local food is not a niche market; it is just what you do.

     In the United States we have something called the 100 Mile Diet. The goal of this diet is to get all food from within 100 miles of wherever you are living. The Czech Republic is 270 miles across. The 100 Mile Diet encompasses nearly the whole country. As long as food is produced within the Czech Republic, it is local. 
     More even than this is the ease of access from producers to consumers. Thick, freshly baked bread (called chleba) is a key piece of many Czech meals. Bakeries can be found all over Czech towns which supply bread directly to shoppers or to the local shops. Sliced, packaged bread like we tend to eat most in the US is only for making toasted sandwiches on occasion. Milk vending machines can be found in many of the larger towns and cities. Farmers supply the milk to the machines, consumers can insert a few coins and their bottles to get fresh milk. According to Radio Prague "milkomats" have actually increased dairy usage in the Czech Republic since they were installed in 2010. Hunting is also greatly supported across the Czech Republic. Fields and forests across the country have small huts on stilts that hunters can hide in to shoot deer, pheasant, and boar.

If vegetarian, you will be missing out on the vast majority of Czech food. If vegan or gluten free, you may starve. 

     The United States is really good at catering to a wide variety of diets. Specialty grocery stores exist for cuisines, diets, and lifestyles. Even large supermarkets have specialty sections. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic seems to have only recently come to terms with vegetarianism. The entire diet of the Czech Republic is based upon bread and meat. While there is a lot of day to day variation the overall trend for meals is as follows. Breakfast most days was fresh chleba with butter and either jam, ham, or cheese. Lunch was often leftovers from previous dinners or more of the same from breakfast (minus jam) with mustard and horseradish. Dinner in the Czech Republic is generally two courses. The first a light soup, the second some form roast meat with potatoes or dumplings.  

If you don't know them, don't smile.

     I had some trouble with this. In the United States we tend to smile and say hello to just about everyone we pass in the street. Particularly if eye contact is made. In the Czech Republic unless you know the person, or are doing business with the person, rarely is anything said. The lack of smiling sometimes made me feel even more closed off than the language barrier.
    I brought this cultural difference up with a friend I met towards the end of my stay. She actually agreed with me. Though it is not the generally accepted thing to do she said she tends to smile at those she makes eye contact with. And you know what? They often smile back at her.

I would return to the Czech Republic in a heart beat. Everyone I met was incredibly kind and eager to share with me a piece of the place they call home. My six weeks were filled with a variety of new foods, words, and experiences. I burned my throat on the local alcoholic specialty slivovice. I was the first American woman to visit an old ranch in the Czech countryside. I went to my first hockey game, skinned my first pheasant, and shot my first shotgun. I can't wait to see what surprises the Czech Republic has saved when next I visit. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Last Day in the Czech Republic

January 27th, 2014 was a wonderful day. It was my last full day in the place that had been my home for six weeks as well as mine and Tom's sixteen month anniversary. Sixteen months is a bit odd to celebrate but we weren't together for our one year, thirteenth and fourteenth month, and forgot about month 15. So, this one was going to be special!

First, we made bread. 

While the bread dough was rising we built a kick ass blanket fort! (Sorry about the weird gaps. Panorama program really didn't like these pictures and I was too lazy to fix it). To enter it we stepped from the chair over the blankets onto the step ladder. Then we descended like we were entering a submarine. After properly admiring our work we watched Star Wars Episode IV in the fort. Twenty minutes into the movie the bread was ready so we had a tasty snack break. Home made bread is so good! 

Once the movie was over there was an interlude of putting the blankets away and walking the dog.

Then it was dumpling making, playing games on the Wii Fit, eating gulash with dumplings, and playing board games with the family. 

All in all, a very fun day.