Saturday, August 30, 2008

14 Days

I have fourteen days from today to pack up my home, have a garage sale, and hand it over. I'm told that Europeans don't hold garage sales. How come? What do you do then when your children get older and grow out of their baby clothes and equipment? How would you sell your furniture and the small stuff you no longer need?

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Improbability of Barack Obama

My favorite moment last night during the Democratic convention was when John McCain's commercial congratulating Barack Obama on his nomination was played with his words “too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, congratulations. How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day [45 years to the day Martin Luther King gave his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial]. Tomorrow, we’ll be back at it [campaigning] . But tonight, Senator, job well done.” For the few minutes of that commercial we we're able to enjoy being united as Americans and proud of how far we've come as a country. That was classy.

Last night was a constant reminder of the sheer improbability of Barack Obama's rise. Knowing how important good daddies are to succeeding, that he could make it to Harvard Law School and be elected by his peers as President of the Law Review without any guidance from his daddy...well that's beyond my ability to fathom and comprehend. He made the improbable happen. How did he do that?

To be the nominee of the Democratic party, when eight years ago he couldn't even get a ticket to the event, again, it's beyond my ability to fathom and comprehend how he did that. He once again made something completely improbable happen.

There can be only one explanation - greatness.

It makes me curious what completely improbable accomplishments he will make happen for our entire country. I'm excited to find out.

Godspeed, Barack Obama, Godspeed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Picture Me Here!

Wenceslas Square, Prague

Two months to the day after putting my house on the market, I rented it to terrific tenants who leased it with an option to buy.

So you know what that means???

I'm moving to Prague!
I'm moving to Prague!
I'm moving to Prague!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Spring Awakening for Human Rights

Today the New York Times ran an opinion piece on the legacy of the Prague Spring. The author, Jiri Pehe, argues that the celebration of the Prague Spring has been muted in the Czech Republic because, while the ideas generated during this time (for example, respect for human rights) resonate with more importance than ever, the reality of living with this oppression are too painful to look at too closely.

He says,
A good illustration of our conflicting attitudes toward the communist past was a recent discussion in the Czech Parliament of a the new state-run Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, which is to hold and study the communist archives. In giving the institute such a complicated name, lawmakers had to define “totalitarianism.” In the end, they decided that totalitarianism in the Czech Republic includes the entire period from the communist takeover in 1948 to the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

But including 1968 in the totalitarian period makes it difficult to explain how it’s possible that the Prague Spring produced works of literature, film and drama more significant than anything the country has produced since the fall of communism.

Oppression has always produced great art, hasn't it? Solzhenitsyn comes to mind. Lack of oppression, if it doesn't produce equally great art, has the consoling attribute of producing great wealth.

Link to the article via the title.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wonderful food eases newly empty nest

This week I took Daughter #1 back to college in Madison, Wisconsin. Madison is a fantastic town for it's natural beauty and intellectual ferment. There are more restaurants here per capita than anywhere else in America. Delightfully, many of the restaurants are ethnic and very affordable.

Within a few blocks of daughter #1's new apartment there is a Japanese, Peruvian, Laotian, Swiss, and Vietnamese restaurant. I especially admire the exuberance of the Vietnamese owners, they called theirs the "I'm Here" restaurant.

The last time I had any exposure to Peruvian culture was my fourth grade shoebox diorama on the Incas, so I voted for the Peruvian restaurant called "Inka Heritage." It was a choice we did not regret.

We were among the first in for the evening
and took a window table.

Andean flute music added to the experience.

As did our terrific waiter Pablo.

Pablo brought us Peruvian corn (very crunchy)
with a tangy cilantro sauce for dipping.

I ordered Lomo Saltado, a dish of very tender beef tenderloin flambed with onion, tomatoes, cilantro, rice and potatoes.
It was fabulous!

Daughter #1 ordered Seco de Cordero, lamb cooked in cilantro sauce, with rice, canary beans, fried yucca, and creole sauce. She enjoyed every bite and said the canary beans tasted sweet.

Almost all of the deserts had a milk-flavored theme.
I chose Tres Leches.
The spongy cake and liquid under whipped creme
was interesting texturally.

Daughter #1 went wild over hers, Mousse de Lucama.
Lucama is a Peruvian fruit that was new to us both.

I enjoyed this Peruvian adventure. Until I get to Machu Picchu, this will be my favorite 'Peruvian' memory. It beats the diorama hands down!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Medals Per Capita

A staple of American Olympic reporting every four years is the medal count. Right now, Americans lead in total medals and China leads in gold. But a perfect example of how everyone's media tells them what they want to hear is this blog post by Rick Steves describing his deflation when a Dutch friend asked him to consider her country's Olympic accomplishments. We should include this reporting method in America because it's equally as impressive (if not more so) than number of medals won. Link to the post via the title.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hey Google, you should invent this

Much has been made during this Olympics how Michael Phelps body is uniquely suited for success in swimming. His legs are the length of a 6’0” man which makes them more powerful for kicking and pushing off the wall. His torso is outsize for his actual height which helps his upper body pull him through the water. His size 14 feet function like flippers. His wing span makes his strokes extra powerful.

There are all kinds of career tests where kids answer a bunch of questions, and out pops guidance of what they would be good at as a career. It’s amazing how accurate they are and how well they match ability and interests. It’s also thought-provoking to see all the different suggestions of possible careers one might not have considered otherwise.

Google, or some company in that field, should create an application where parents and children could enter their children’s age, height and limb measurements, possibly their Presidential Fitness test numbers (or the international equivalent of various sport measurements like running speed and throwing ability) and out pops suggested sports given a child’s body type.

Then the whole application could be tied to Google Earth and the next thing that comes up is the sports clubs in a fifty mile radius that a child could avail themselves of if interested in a particular sport.

This could help people who’s level of sport selection sophistication is at the level of “gee, we’re tall, we should play basketball or volleyball.” There’s more to matching oneself or one’s children to the sport than that. The perfect match between body type and sports program availability is why countries dominate one sport over another year after year.

In America, we have every possible size and shape. There are sports out there that are not offered in schools but exist with club teams. An easy way to consider every possibility out there could be to enter all one’s data in this application and see what’s suggested.

World champion gymnast and very petite person Shawn Johnson just happened to walk into her native Chinese coach’s new American gym club in West Des Moines, Iowa and the rest is history. A software application like this could make that matching process less driven by chance and more methodical.

Email me for my address so you know where to send the check(s).

Gold Medal Writing

I found this article so fun to read, I had to share it. Of course, it starts with a great story -- the Czech/American romance between two Olympians, but the delight this man displayed writing the story made it that much more fun.

Hat's off to Bill Fitzgerald of Yahoo Sports for showing a gold medal sense of humor and fun. Link to the story via the title.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Where's the beef?

Before donating blood today, I was asked this question among the other six thousand they normally ask: "have you spent more than five years living in Europe?

"What difference would that make in the fitness of my blood," I asked.

"Mad cow disease. They don't want it entering the U.S. blood supply."

What? If I eat a hamburger in EU, do I have to worry about such things? Do y'all worry about getting Mad Cow Disease via your beef consumption over there? I thought we, the Americans, were supposed to have beef Europeans objected to, not the other way around.

What's up with that?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Favorite Freedom, post two

I came across this quote by United States Senator James Webb on the back of his book "A Time to Fight." I follow his career because I think he represents well Americans who were drafted to fight in Vietnam and who feel the nobility in that gift was not appreciated properly and utilized intelligently. I loved this thought about freedom of speech and the pursuit of the new:

"The one connecting dot in all my experiences has been a passion for history and a desire to learn from it. Not the enumeration of monarchs and treaties that so often pass for academic knowledge, but the surging vitality from below that so often impels change and truly defines cultures. The novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote vividly about war and peace, showing us the drawing rooms and idiosyncrasies of Russia's elite. But in reality, he was telling us that great societal changes are most often pushed along by tsunami-deep impulses that cause the elites to react, far more than inspire them to lead. And this, in my view, is the greatest lesson of political history. Entrenched aristocracies, however we want to define them, do not want change; their desire instead is to manage dissent in a way that does not disrupt their control. But over time, under the right system of government, a free thinking people have the energy and ultimately the power to effect change."

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Czechs Snatch Games First Gold

Congratulations Czechs on the first gold medal of the games. Link to the New York Times article via the title.

Wow, was that Olympic Opening Ceremonies ever a party. I totally agree with my President (which I note cause it so rarely happens) that when someone has spent billions on throwing a party that you're invited to, it's not the time to talk about your biggest areas of disagreement. It wouldn't be effective. But your friends might listen to you, when they know you're their friends because you were there to share their greatest achievement.

It was so refreshing to see those Presidents sitting in the stands like they're taking in a game at Wrigley Field. Five hours in stadium seats in 90 degree heat in a suit. Wow. So what's the etiquette for a President who has to go the bathroom during the Parade of Nations? Do you slip out during Andorra? Vanuatu?

Including little Lin Hao, the nine-year-old boy who had saved two of his classmates during the earthquake, in the opening ceremonies was absolutely brilliant. Yao Ming, the Chinese basketball player who shepherded him in, explained it so eloquently when he said this little boy's leadership spoke to the future of China if he knew how to behave heroically at age nine.

I guess we can't think of Communists as the world's largest creators of bad architecture anymore. It's exciting to see the role fantastic architecture and great engineering are playing in these games. The bird's nest and the water cube are sooooooo exciting and innovative. When you're achieving 11% GDP growth are you still Communists though? You've passed over to the other side. Last night was a presentation of excellence. I felt proud as a fellow human being!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Blogher Blog Directory

More than a week ago, I submitted my blog to the Blogher Blog Directory. It is a women's blog directory based in America. With other blog directories, it takes about 24 hours to be listed. I submitted mine ten days ago for moderation - still no listing. Is this normal? And is it just me, or is the Blogher Blog Directory using an amazingly-bad classification scheme? Let's see...should a Czech expat blog go under "travel" or "world?"

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Legend of Starved Rock

The Illinois River is still too full for barge traffic

This week daughter #1 and I had the pleasure of exploring Starved Rock State Park, voted by the citizens of this state as one of the seven wonders of Illinois. Entrance to the park is free.

Daughter #2 would have come with us, however she is, as Woody Allen so famously described himself, "two with nature."

1200 war ships went through these locks during WWII,
including 28 submarines

We went for a day of hiking along the Illinois River and to see the park's sandstone canyons that make it such a fun and pretty place to hike. The hiking patch for the state park describes the park as the place "where Illinois began."

Starved Rock, Plum Island and Aldo Island

Here is the late 1700's legend that gave Starved Rock State Park it's name:

Pontiac, a great Ottawa chieftain, had gone down to the southern part of Illinois to negotiate trade agreements with the French. During his stay he was murdered by an Illinois of the area. Word got back to his tribe and they wanted to avenge Pontiacs' death. So the Potawatomi and Fox, sub-tribes of the Ottawa people, paddled down river and attacked the Illinois village by Starved Rock.

For several days the attack raged on. By the end of the attack the Illinois people were reduced by half and the Potawatomi and Fox returned to regroup. The Illinois knew that in order to survive they had to leave the area. They decided to seek refuge on top of the rock. They climbed up to the summit of the rock hoping that the Potawatomi and Fox would by-pass them on their way southward. Unfortunately, the plan backfired and the Potawatomi and Fox surrounded the base. As the Illinois tried to get water by lowering buckets with rope the Potawatomi and Fox would cut the ropes or shatter the buckets with their arrows. They also climbed up on top of Devil's Nose and showered them with arrows. As the Illinois grew more desperate, some tried sneaking down, but they were murdered. The rest that were left on top starved. Since then, the rock has been known as "Starved Rock."

There are 13 miles of trails exploring
18 different sandstone canyons

This sort of burl growing on a tree is beautiful
when "carved" on a lathe

We chose to hike to St. Louis Canyon and back;
it's about four miles

The park and it's environs are home to a fledgling colony of bald eagles that are attracted by the easy pickings of 2' long catfish which are visible everywhere surrounding the dam and in the creeks coming from Starved Rock's sandstone canyons. Each bald eagle comes back to the same nest every year.

St. Louis canyon
In the spring, the waterfall can quadruple in size

I like how this sandstone just sheered off this wall

After cooling off under the falls

Motivation when you need it - somebody wrote on the post:
"155 steps, Just do it!"

Wildcat Canyon

The Starved Rock Lodge was built by local men
in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the
National Park Rustic Style
All the furniture is handmade
and original to the lodge

The CCC was a program started by
U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
during the Depression to give
jobs and hope to millions of unemployed
Each man earned $30 a month:
$25 was sent home to his family,
and he kept $5.

People come from as far as Chicago
for Sunday Brunch on the veranda each week
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