age | e

in front of you in line alphabetically since 2006

Monday, April 30, 2007


So this is another on-the-late-side post, but recently, seven months after first setting up the scaffolding, the grand completion of encasing our apartment block in styro-foam was completed. Why styro-foam, you ask? Well, not because they want to send the whole building by freight, if your first guess was the same as mine. But for insulation. Insulation done one huge, soft exterior panel at a time. It's communist condominium facelift craze that's sweeping the former Eastern bloc.

There are few things that we will miss now that construction is over:

1. the surprise appearance of construction workers immediately outside our 6th story kitchen and bedroom windows at any time of the day
2. the soft serenade of electric drills on Saturday mornings
3. pointing out our house by telling people "it's the one with scaffolding"
4. the gentle lapping of the painters' plastic sheets against our windows
5. the soft temperature-non-specific snowfall of little bits of styrofoam

But now that it's finished and our building (at least our half of it, pictured on the right) boasts a warm, cheerful and rather stylish (for a concrete apartment block) facade, we have to agree that it was all worth it. And it makes a funny sound when you knock on it. Pity that we have just two months to enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

what our students in prague are asking us about virginia tech

The Virginia Tech shootings are in the news just as much in Prague as in the US. Our students have questions. Sometimes they ask us. And we try to answer. These are some of the things I wish I had said. Remember to pray for teachers for when students ask questions like these.

"Are you scared to teach in the United States?"

I once told an interview committee that the Columbine high school shootings in 1998 were one reason why I want to be a teacher. That made me look nice and heroic to the committe, but I did mean it. I can't do everything and what I do do is flawed at best, but who is going to be there to listen to people if it isn't you and me?

"So, have you decided to stay in the Czech Republic now?"

Well, no. But thanks for the offer.

"Why are American schools so dangerous?"

Actually, statistically, there aren't many places safer to be than public schools in the US. We hear about shootings like this on the news and it sounds like it happens everywhere, all the time, but there are so many places where it hasn't happened. Of course: it shouldn't happen even once and each time is a tragedy.

"Why do Americans always shoot each other?"

That really isn't fair and it's not true. Yes, there are way too many deaths from guns in America than there should be (and there should be zero). And there are more deaths and injuries from guns than in the Czech Republic. But many, if not most Americans who have guns try to use them only in safe and responsible ways.

"Why do Americans insist on having guns and then the wrong people use them for bad reasons?"

It's a combination of history and politics, people with good intentions and people with bad intentions. In 1789 Americans didn't want to leave one tyranny and then become part of another. They had just fought a war for that reason, and they didn't want to lose what they had fought for so easily. I think that part of the having guns debate is rooted in the early history of my country, and sometimes when people insist on this "right" there are consequences that nobody wants. As Americans, we need to think about whether calling this a "right" is more important that being open to ways of controlling who can get guns.

Is it easy to get guns in America?"

Well, no, not really. Each state has different rules for this and in some states it's more difficult than in others, but most states do criminal backgrounds checks and make you wait for a few days or weeks before you can have the gun you want to buy. It isn't like in the Czech Republic, though, where you must have psychological testing every two years for as long as you own a gun. Of course, even good systems fail sometimes---this shooter shouldn't have been able to buy these guns according to the law.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


A month or so ago I found this t-shirt in a popular clothing store in Prague. Although I did try it on to snap some photos for the novelty's sake, I did not opt to buy the shirt. It would be cool to wear the shirt in Prague, but considering my near-future residence in the Greater Sacramento area, to wear this shirt after July would be to commit a major tourist faux-pas: wearing tourist shirts of the city while inside the city.

Monday, April 16, 2007

in memoriam

About this time last year I taught a student the English euphemism "the great thingamajig in the sky." You know, when someone or something passes away, often we'll say that it's gone up in the sky, as when a plumber dies ("He's gone to that big waterworks in the sky") or a dog ("He caught the big frisbee in the sky") or a joke ("It wasn't funny the first time, Joel").

This post is to inform you that Honza the Hamster, my beloved pet who joined my life 2 1/2 years ago in Sokolov, has recently started running in that big hamster ball in the sky. Honza was beloved by all who met him (with the notable exception of Aaron Williams, who was, admittedly, nice to him anyway). He was an international hamster whose travels took him all around Central Europe, including Ostrava, Berlin, Hodonín, Krakow and Bratislava. He loved bringing people together and then pooping on them. He was laid to rest under a blossoming cherry tree close to his home in Prague.

He is survived by other ESI pets, especially Hezky the Cat and Benji the Dog.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

spring has sprung

Perhaps we in the Czech Republic will finally be able to put away all our talk about what a strange and warm, snowless winter this has been. Perhaps, now that the trees and bushes have all budded and blossomed, now that the Easter markets have come and are about to be gone, now that the daylight hours are stretching closer and closer to 8pm and soon will overtake even that evening hour, perhaps now we can say that Spring is officially here.

You may feel like pointing out that the calendar beat me to it almost three weeks ago and so did a groundhog in Pennsylvania. But we who've spent a few trips round the sun in the Czech Republic tend to be more hesitant. We're still a month before those three days in early May that Czechs call "the three frozen men," when traditionally the last snows may fall. But I think I'll shed my hesitations this year along with my long-since-closeted winter coat. Spring is here. Let there be claritin!

What you'll find in this post and also the next three (which have all been put up this afternoon) are some of our early Spring pcitures and wanderings. We've been outside enjoying a warm sun and lots of new green everywhere, and haven't been keeping this page so up-to-date. Like we said in our recent newsletter, Chrissy's former teammate Courtney arrived last Friday for a visit and is staying with us until Saturday. It's been great re-connecting wit her and enjoying her enjoy so many things and people she hasn't seen for almost a year now. God has been good with opening bright memories and, we pray, making new ones for Courtney, her friends and students, and us, too---who get to share them together and every night in Courtney's exuberant storytelling.

We hope you enjoy the pictures and the stories from these four posts. Ahoj!

Pictured: (1) Chrissy sports the shades on a walk through historic Prague, (2) the forsythia bushes around our apartment building are in full bloom, (3) and so are the blossoms in front of the Veltrussy cheateau, where Joel recently visited with some fellow ESIers

zoo praha

Last Saturday we visited the Prague zoo with our friends and ESI teammates Matt and Jenny Thomas. That means that we were joined by their two year-old, super-friendly/smiley daughter Anna, whose faces and reactions to all the animals made the trip that much more amusing. Prague's zoo is actually pretty good. It was hit pretty hard during the 2002 floods, but some say that the flood was the best thing to happen to the zoo: pictures of homeless animals with busted cages triggered global sympathy---and donations to match.

Like I said before, the weather has been pretty spectacular overall, but an overcast day and it being a holiday weekend for Easter, meant that we practically had all the animals to ourselves the whole morning. That also included the kid's play area, where Chrissy and I dared a few animals to bite us...if they dared. Okay, so it's not much of a threat when the animals-in-question are made of wood, but it made for some fun pictures:


So some of my ESI comrades, Zach (pictured above in front Nelahozeves), Stephen, Andrew and I all took a walk through the Czech countryside recently. Our main goal was to conquer two local castles, but seeing as the gates were left opened and unguarded, our conquest of each was, shall we say, less than epic. And, to be honest, they technically cheateaux, but conquering a cheateau sounds too much like "breaking and entering," whereas "conquering a castle" is still widely considered cool and worth putting onto a résumé. Regardless of nomenclature, we did take a lot of pictures, chase a few peacocks, and cross the mighty River Vltava, as pictured in this semi-epic, dramatic silhouette picture.

na shledanou to plesi

We said our "good-bye" to maturitní plesi two weeks ago with a little trip out to Sokolov. The students who are graduating there this year are the last students Joel taught at ISŠTE. After this year, I won't have any former students still studying there (provided they all pass their final exams...)

Although I got to talk to lots of student still studying at ISŠTE, we spent most of the ples visiting with students who graduated last year or the year before. I've been surprised how much fun these Sokolov plesi---being more filled with catching-up than dancing and taking pictures and such---have been. I hope to blog about what my relationship to Sokolov has been this year, soon.

I had a wide range of feelings to hearing about how my former students are responding to their first year of life after high school; I was mostly encouraged or at least sympathetic, but I left ples sometime around 1:00am praying for a lot of people from my former home.