Tuesday, December 20, 2005

five golden things

So this week (only two days of classes, really) we're singing Christmas carols in English class at ISŠTE. We warm up with everybody's favorite, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and close with everybody's other favorite "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." And in the middle, we go through "The Twelve Days of Christmas" all the way from those twelve leaping lords to the bird in the tree himself. But just before we finish with this most numeric Christmas song we change up the words, replacing all those rings and birds with whatever English words the class comes up with.

Today, 4TL came up with this impressive list of gifts:

12 Sheep a Dancing
11 Kilograms of Dynamite
10 Tons of Candy
9 DVD's a Playing
8 Girls a Smiling
7 Trips to the Moon
6 Salami Sausages
5 Golden Things
4 2000-Inch TV's
3 French Electric Guitars
2 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Doves...

...and a New Ferrari in a Pear Tree!

Monday, December 19, 2005

christmas photo album (so far)

Here's some photos of the Christmas season in and around West Bohemia this year!

Just outside of Sokolov is Loket, a small town in an elbow of the River Ohře with a big castle right in the middle of it all. Every December the town hosts a weekend Christmas market inside the castle. Basically, the combined atmosphere of castle and market makes it Christmas, times nine. Christie's in the crowd on the right side behind the guy in a white shirt.

I hosted a White Elephant Christmas Party in the new apartment for an English conversation group I meet with once a week. This is Pepa, who was about as excited as I was to eat all the food piling up on the coffee table. Ivana (in the kitchen) made sure that more kept coming.

Ivana (there are two Ivana's!) reacts at getting her gift, a little coin jar that says something like "Only For Jokes!" Yep. They definitely understood the idea behind White Elephant Gifts!

Pepa and Ivana play with Pepa's shiny new, jumbo-sized shoehorn. He won't even have to bend at all the get his shoes on now.

Here's the whole crew: Ivana, Eva, Pepa, Ivana and me (with my new pillow...that has an elephant on it...uh-huh...they definitely got it).

We ESIers out in West Bohemia (aka the West Bohemia Social Club) hosted our second what hope will be annual Christmas party for the seven of us and three guests. The event has been dubbed "The West Bo HO HO HO," and was a HO HO HOle lotta fun.

Laura, Sarah and Emily enjoying the West Bohemian version of a gift exchange. Let's just say that everybody always gets exactly what they wanted ;)

Me, after I opened Tammy's gift to herself and before handing it over to Tammy herself. What incredible insight I have to give Tammy exactly what she wanted ;)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

jirka's merry weekend

So the sun just rose in Sokolov for the billionth-some time, and I'm in my office, already with stories from the day that make me smile.

Tuesdays begin early for me with a 6:30am class with a group of six business managers at Sokolovska Uhelna---the local giant of Bohemian coal mining and the company that pretty much has a hand in everything that goes on in this little town, including at ISŠTE, which is why I'm there Tuesday mornings before sunrise. Everyone around here just calls them SUAS (SOO-ahss).

I inherited this English conversation class from my teammate last year, me being a short on hours, and after a few months of me thrashing around, trying to keep my head above water, the boys and I figured out how to make it work for us. Now things proceed more or less swimmingly.

This morning we played a conversation game with all kinds of questions about Christmas---traditions, whaddya want for it, whoddya wanna spend it with, whaddya think about this and that---and every time you pulled a question, you had to speak about it for two minutes or risk losing three spaces on the board (ooooooh...).

The game was hilarious actually, mostly due to Jirka, who kept saying things that were accidentally funny. Like when we were talking about "the best part of Christmas for you," for Jirka it was "not working." To this his wife (Mirka, who joined us in the class this year) observed that Jirka has Christmas every weekend.

Then I wished him a Veselé Víkend, something like "Merry Weekend," which apparently sounds either really funny in Czech or really funny spoken by a foreigner. In any case, they laughed.

But Jirka's triumph came when answering "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas." Poor Jirka. Struggling to express his heart's desrie, all he could come up with was "jumper." Now that's great for British English (it's a jacket, or sometimes overalls) but I wanted to make sure I knew what he meant, so I pressed him to explain a bit further. All he could get out was this it was for skiing.

Somewhere in all of this, someone else in the class put together the amusing combination of "skiing" and "jumper," and he showed his amusement by imitating a ski jump. In a minute everyone else caught on, and at the thought of Jirka ski jumping, the class erupted (and Jirka, too). I could still hear their cackles (from two floors up, mind you) when I exited the lobby after class.

Merry Week, everyone.

Monday, December 12, 2005

all about czech christmas

Vésele vánoce!

...as the Czechs say this time of year. To be honest, the Christmas season began in earnest around the beginning of November around here. The Czechs don't have Thanksgiving (or Halloween, for that matter) to act as a sort of holiday buffer between Christmas and the 11 months previous. Although, as many have observed, stores deck their halls earlier every year in the USA, too, so perhaps this is more of a similarity than a difference, eh?

In any case, 'tis the season.

Partly out of repsect for the bang-up job he did, and partly because he takes a weird sort of pride out of tracking where people are looking at his blog from (scary, huh?), and partly because I want to show him how much I care by feeding his strange obsession, and partly out of plain, old-fashioned laziness, instead of writing up my own account of Czech Christmas traditions, I'll just link you to my buddy Mike's blog.

I'll post some Christmas reports and comments as the big day approaches, but I hope Mike's hard work will satisfy all you culture fans.

Friday, December 09, 2005

other sides and other news

So Chrissy's side of the million dollar story made its way to the blogging world just this morning. For those of you who just lust after details and reactions, now you can officially compare notes.

In other news:
Seven of us recently purchased tickets for a real Roman holiday

ESIers swarm to Sokolov this weekend, where my apartment (without me being there) will serve as a launchpad for a trip to the Nurnberg Christmas Market, the Queen Mother of all European Christmas Markets, at least in my limited reckoning. I made the trip last year, so won't be joining them. But Merry Christmas to 'em, I say

Some friends and I achieved international fame this week when our faces were published on
ESI's website as a plug for the Central Europe program. Check out the picture to see us at last year's Nurnberg Christmas Market. Stay to learn more about ESI ;)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

the million dollar questions

So about a month ago my friend and fearless leader Aaron was visiting for some reason or other, and I told him that I was planning to propose to Chrissy. He listened to my scheme and called it good. And then he told me after you're engaged, get ready for the two million-dollar questions:

1. How did you do it?

2. When is the big day?

3. Would you like your $2 million in cash or check?

Here is my attempt to answer these questions for the blogging world.

1. How did you do it? Subterfuge, lads, subterfuge. The night started out like any normal "date night." I made reservations at a nice restaurant---but not give-it-away nice. It was a Mexican restaurant (at least about as Mexican as one can find in Prague). After that, the plan was to go see the new Harry Potter movie, which had just opened in Prague that night.

Here's us before dinner. The awesome duds you see me wearing are my Mexican Food Eating/Clever Decoy ("He'd never ask me in so awesome of duds as those!") Shirt. And so we went to our dinner, hungry for nachos, and willing to drop some serious change to get 'em. We had some pleasant dinner conversation, talked about seeing the movie that night (wink), and enjoyed our fancy Mexican feast.

As the time approached for us to leave, I stepped away to "use the bathroom" (i.e. make a phone call), and when I returned, Chrissy took her chance to, er, "powder her nose." As soon as she stepped into the bathroom, I went into action. I quickly called my friend Mike (another ESIer), who was waiting just outside, who now entered the restaurant with The Package in hand. Here we swapped: he took my seat and I took The Package. Then I ran.

I ran outside and down the street, where I found another restaurant, where, finding the bathroom, I opened The Package. Inside: a suit, long underwear, hand warmers, shoes and The Ring. It was a small bathroom. The kind of bathroom that puts the "Closet" in "Water Closet." It was tight quarters to make a complete change of clothes, but it worked out swell.

Meanwhile, Chrissy finished her business in the washroom and returned to the dining room---to her astonishment, seeing Mike there in my place, wearing a suit no less (Mike was on his way to a huge student dance---the maturitní ples---see this blog come February for details). Mike made pleasant conversation, informing her that I had gone and that he would be escorting her around the city for a while. He also gave her an envelope, which contained a tram ticket, some of those same hand warmers, and a love note ;) Then they were on their way to...Chrissy didn't know yet...why should you?

...the next meeting point, a quaint coffee house in the cosmopolitan Smichov district, where our heroine met Sarah and Christie (two more ESIers), who gave her another envelope (with another note), and who led her to the next meeting point, a parking structure---a place that can only be made romantic by a story. This story will not be included here. It suffices to say that a parking structure indeed was a romantic location.

Here the trio met Beth, who passed off envelope #3 (another love note ;). All along the way, Chrissy's great guides (my much-appreciated helpers) took the whole thing into their hands, acting like nothing was out of the ordinary. And they all were nonchalant about where they were leading her, what they were doing, the works. And Chrissy kept getting more and more exciting, and her voice kept getting higher and higher...

Here's Chrissy after she discovered the power of those hand warmers. If you know Chrissy, you know that she's wearing winter coats by about the end of August.

Beth dropped Chrissy off just in front of Taneční Dům---what the Czechs call the "Dancing House." For me, this is a special place; when I was in my freshman year at Vanguard, I bought a poster of this building, thinking it was neat, framed it, and hung it on the wall of three different dorm rooms. All the while I didn't know that after Vanguard God would call me to that same country; after three years of looking at Prague, I was going to Prague. God's sense of humor, eh? So Taneční Dům is a symbol---an Ebenezer, if you will---of God's leading in my life. So here I asked Chrissy to be my wife.

She said yes.


2. When is the big day? Well, we made a pact not to talk about it. Once the wedding door is opened, I kinda think there'll be no closing it, draft and all. Nevertheless, the rough idea for a date is this summer, the last part of July to the beginning of August.

3. Would you like your $2 million in cash or check?

In the words of Lucy VanPelt: "What I really want? Real estate."

Monday, December 05, 2005

some pretty big news

So in case the news hasn't reached your eyes or ears yet, this weekend I asked my sweet Chrissy, girlfriend for two years, friend for longer, to be my wife. And she said yes. Which, what with all the work that went into making this night go as planned, really prevented a great night from being spoiled :)

I'll post the public version of the story (some of the mush is just for us) later this week. So this has been a pretty fantastic weekend overall, to understate. Thanks to friends and family who have been asking about us for more than two and a half years and praying for us since way before that. And Chrissy: I love you, and I'm looking forward to someday soon seeing you every day instead of just cool weekends.

thanksgiving photo album

Here's some pictures from the Sokolover Thanksgiving (see below for the story). These pictures AND MORE can also be seen on my Webshots page. Just use the link on the top right of this page.

So I wanted to have my Granny's famous sourdough turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. But in a country that doesn't know this recipe, you have to improvise. So I set my expectations low for it to taste just like Granny's, and it did taste different for sure---but this batch came out pretty yummy all the same.

After two helpings of dinner, this is what the girls felt like. Fortunately, they were able to get over the full-feelings and make room for dessert.

And here's the whole Sokolover crew later that night. From left to right, that's Grant, Christie, me, Chrissy and Beth.

Friday, December 02, 2005

as for me and grandpa, we believe

So one of the greatest tools we ESI teachers have in our arsenal is the "song cloze." Whoever decided to spell it this way took a page out of Daniel Webster or perhaps Snoop Dogg, but inexplicable Z's aside, song clozes really are stupendous.

The idea is that students like music, and lots of music is in English, so let's listen to a song and read the lyrics as we go. Only not all the lyrics are there. Periodically, we've erased some of the __________, which students must fill-in by listening carefully to the ____________. I'm sure you can see the ___________ of this.

(Answers: words, song, utter genius)

We listen to the song a few times, and by the end of class, we've discussed lots of new vocabulary, cleverly reviewed some grammar (using real-life examples!), and we're ready to SING IT! Which we do.

Today I kicked off the holiday season by clozing a Christmas favorite of mine, "Grandma Got Runover By A Reindeer." Several students were amused at the idea of their babíčka plastered in the snow, with "incriminating Claus marks on her back." But really, it was just me laughing to myself in the front of the class. Which, really, is just a normal day in class.

Some other song clozes to make lessons this year:

Frank's 2,000-Inch TV "Weird Al" Yankovic - Weird Al has been a faithful cloze singer for me, and though I have high hopes for an Amish Paradise lesson sometime next semester, no Weird Al cloze has done better than Frank and his gargantuan television set. The line about watching "The Simpsons" from 30 blocks away still makes me laugh out loud---an important perk, since as the teacher I listen to these songs about 50 times before I've taught it to every class.

Are You Gonna Be My Girl? Jet - I chose this mostly because it rocks and the words aren't too hard, but the real joy is watching the look of shock and then dismay on my students' faces when the first verse breaks in at 90 miles-per-hour. But they underestimate themselves, and by the third run through, most of 'em have it all.