age | e

in front of you in line alphabetically since 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

the 12 updates of christmas

A lot has been happening around us since we last blogged! Here's our Christmas “wrap-up” in a festive format:

12. Christmas concerts
Even though in the Czech Republic they don’t have Thanksgiving in November as a convenient starting line for Christmas music, our Czech friends and students love Christmas music. Whether it’s koledy (carols) or instrumentals or fully orchestrated classical choral works, Christmas music is in everyone’s mouths these days (and presumably their showers as well). We’ve been invited to so many Christmas concerts featuring students or colleagues or whoever, that we could have gone to at least one concert every night for at least the past two weeks. We’ve attended three already, with at least another four on our schedules.

Big on half of the programs is Jakub Jan Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass, a 200 year-old choral oratorio that drums up Christmasy feelings the way Handel’s Messiah would do for us. Our school choir performed it last Wednesday in an historic church in central Prague last week.

11. The carp buckets are out
The Czech Christmas turkey is fried carp. Every Christmas Eve, families gather together and chow down on potato salad and carp filets—watch out for the bones! How a fish achieved such an important place in the traditions of a land-locked country we can only speculate. But one sure sign that Christmas is upon us comes when grocery stores start filling huge buckets with water to sell shoppers live carp as they round off their Christmas preparations.

Often, after everybody has inspected the tank and chosen the perfect fish, they’ll fish them out with a net and thwack the fish into oblivion right then and there. But just as often, people will take their chosen fish still alive home with them and let them swim around in their bathtubs for a few days, for maximum freshness, I imagine.

10. Our Christmas tree
You can read the short story of our Christmas tree below. We wanted to show you what it all looks like now that it’s decorated. In’t it purty?

9. English seminar Christmas party
So I decided to teach my English seminar class (of all graduating students) about white elephant Christmas gift exchanges. Their homework was to bring a nicely wrapped but horribly tacky white elephant gift (perhaps that was redundant). Which they did. Clearly, they understood. Chrissy and I were also grateful to pass along several choice items that we inherited from previous ESI teachers.

Props go to...actually, I’d rather not know who it was...who brought pink lingerie. The boys kept stealing it from each other, taking turns trying it on. How nice.

8. Job Fairs
We’ll blog more about these later in a full report, but yesterday we finished our last Job Fair—our 2nd and 3rd years have been making resumes and preparing for job interviews over the past few months, and, beginning about three weeks ago, one by one they’ve been interviewing each other in a whole-class Job Fair.

For now, here’s a picture of Martin, looking oh, so professional with his freshly drafted cover letter and loosely-tied half-Windsor knot.

7. Our new oven
Some of you expressed concern that the apartment our school has so generously provided for us came to us without an oven, just two trusty gas burners. Well, we’ve taken those gas burners to their culinary limits, let me tell you, but last weekend... a Christmas present to us, Chrissy’s parents provided for us to buy a trusty little electric oven. Gone are the days of seeing if you can make pizza on a skillet and going to other houses to bake cakes. To celebrate, my lovely bride baked some cookies. It was doubly sweet.

6. Story time
One of our Christmas lessons this year has centered around one of my favorite Christmas stories, O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. You can read it here if you’ve never read it before. It’ll take you about five minutes. We use it as a backdrop to discuss Christmas gifts—what’s the best gift you’ve ever received? ever given? What makes a gift a good gift? And then we read them the story.

Hearing our students’ responses has been fascinating. Here are some interesting things we’ve observed:

· Most people can remember some gifts they’ve received, but not many remember great gifts they’ve given.

· It splits pretty evenly how many think Jim and Della’s gifts are wise and how many think they are foolish—and the split isn’t boy-girl or younger-older.

· Although most agreed that Jim and Della could have shown their love for each other in less expensive ways, everybody hoped that someday somebody would be want to sacrifice so much for them...

· I sensed that most of the students were building their opinions without a clear idea of what they meant by “love”—do you have a clear idea of what love is?

To follow-up, the students are writing journals about a few topics related to generosity and sacrifice. I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say.

5. Christmas caroling
Since last Thursday we’ve been singing English Christmas carols in Mr. and Mrs. Agee’s English conversation classes. This is really exciting for some students, and others move their mouths at least. But for the most part our classes have really enjoyed it. We, however, are carol-ed out already, singing the same set of seven or eight carols five or six times a day. I hope that it’s made a nice memory for our students though, even if they only remember standing and shouting out “FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!” every time

4. This afternoon
...continues the annual Arabská volleyball tournament, in which most of the classes over the next two days will pass-set-and-spike it out for the honor of playing against the teachers in the big finale. Chrissy and I are in a bit of a pickle, as we teach all of the class-groups and are teachers. We’ll let you know who decide to root for J

3. Holiday plans
So we recently ironed out how, where and with whom we’re celebrated Christmas this year...

This Friday we’re hosting some Czech friends over for an “American” Christmas dinner. Last year they hosted us to a traditional Czech Christmas, and we hope to return their hospitality.

Sunday we’re having dinner with any of our teammates in Prague who didn’t make other plans (i.e. went back to the States), then we’re going to a midnight mass.

Monday we’re having full-out Christmas dinner with our teammates and some others and having a jolly good time.

2. Post holiday travels
On December 26th, we’re taking a train (several, actually) to Berlin for our first bit of traveling-for-traveling’s-sake. We’re re-tracing our steps in a way, as we both made this same trip this time two years ago, but Berlin is a terrific city, and we’re looking forward to seeing lots of the places we didn’t have a chance to get to last time. We’ll post some pictures when we get back.

1. ...a jednu koroptev na hruškovém stromě
which, in Czech, translates to “and a partridge in a pear tree.”

Vésele Vánoce a Šťastný Nový Rok!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Stromeček

This week Joel and I bought a Christmas tree, or stromeček, as the Czechs like to say.

Joel predicted it would be at least a two hour job and I didn't believe him.

I was wrong.

Buying the tree wasn't all that difficult. Joel whipped out his Czech skills and managed to communicate what kind of tree we wanted and that we needed a stand as well. So far, so good.

Challenge #1: getting the tree into our flat. Our elevator fits two people- and that's two people squished in together- so there was no way our tree, Joel, and me were going to get in the elevator. Joel, being the gentleman that he is, carried the tree up five flights of stairs to our flat, while I took the elevator up and opened the door and cleared a path for the tree to be brought in the flat.

Challenge #2: sawing off the end of the tree's trunk. We discovered an old, rusted saw in our hall closet and Joel went to work. After 10 minutes of sawing with no results, Joel asked me to bring him a hammer. There's pictures below of Joel using the saw and hammer.

Finally, after about an hour of grunt work, Joel cut the trunk of the tree off and got the tree into the stand!! And now we have a beautiful stromeček in our living room. We're putting lights and ornaments on tonight for the bible study we're hosting. So, I'll post a picture of the completed tree later :)

Monday, December 11, 2006

a non-story

So this is a total non-story in that, well, it didn’t actually happen. I recognize the lameness of this. But the way it played out in my head—the way it would have happened made me laugh. And at least one person is going to suffer through it with me.

So I was in church last Sunday, listening to the sermon translation in my headphones. Translation in church makes for an interesting phenomenon in that there’s really two similar but not identical services going on at the same time. So there’s two groups of people mingled together in the congregation, each responding to different words, different sets of meanings, and different timings of delivery. The typical example is when we Americans laugh at a joke in the movies and our Czech co-watchers, reading the subtitles, laugh three seconds later (or not at all).

The pastor referenced a verse in some epistle, and the translator reported: “Where, O death, is your victory, where, O death is your—I’m sorry, I don’t know the word.”

Keep in mind that this is a non-story and what follows did not actually happen, but at this point, I, ever the helpful teacher, said, in a loud, helpful voice: “STING.”

Everyone was confused. The pastor, momentarily thrown off, took five seconds to check his notes and continue. My fellow Czech brothers and sisters were startled at this strange utterance in tongues. Perhaps the more charismatically inclined waited for an interpretation. And after first nodding in agreement, my fellow headphone-wearers, who had surely filled in the missing word to themselves, proceeded to chuckle and make a note to themselves to go rib Agee after the service. And the translator, pausing his interpretation briefly in line with the short interruption in the pastor’s sermon, did nothing—as he never heard my helpful suggestion behind the glass where he does his good work.