Saturday, November 01, 2003

November 2003- Pitfalls in Learning Czech

We'd found some old horseshoes around the place, and since I'd learned "Shoes", "boty" and "horse", "kun", I figured I could say horseshoes in Czech. So I did. When everyone finished laughing, they explained to me that the word in Czech is not horseshoe - how very funny! - but under-metal. German has the same construction with different words, naturally. Horseshoe is podkova in Czech.

Another day I wanted to explain I was planting flowers near where ancient narcissi come up every year. Flowerbed would be Kytky-postel, no? No, not at all. Flowerbeds, herb beds, small vegetable gardens are each designated with the word zahon. It took me awhile to learn, so I caused laughter anew each time I asked, "Now, what do you call kytky-postel?"

Pole was another word I had trouble remembering. Spelled sloup, pronounced slope. Well, for the most part, poles should not slope. They ought to stand upright. Such words are called false cognates.Here's another false cognate - protoze. I was quite amazed that Czechs spent so much time talking about proteges. That is, until I found out that protoze in Czech means "because".

A couple of us have had problems buying matches. One daughter asked for "srdce", "heart" while everyone in the store stared. They cracked up when she finally pantomimed striking a match, saying "ohen", "fire". Elsewhere, I asked for candles enough times, that the owner would automatically ask me if I didn't want matches, sirky, rather than svicky.

This same store was kind to me when I first arrived, inviting me behind the counter to pick and chose. They were especially kind, because I sometimes knocked things over in that crowded area! One time, though, I just pointed at the plum butter, demanding svesky povidky. The woman was puzzled, but gave it to me. When I got home I realized I'd demanded plum stories, rather than plum butter, sveska povidla. How did she keep from laughing?

A favorite English-speaking-person-in-Czech-store involves an IWAP friend, Linda, the ballet teacher from South Africa. She didn't take a dictionary, but asked her neighbor how to say her grocery list in Czech. By the time she was in the store, she'd forgotten the words, of course. So she pantomimed, and being a ballet teacher she was good at this. It must have been quite a sight the day she'd forgotten "vejce", "eggs". She tucked her hands under her arms, flapped her wings, and cluck, cluck, clucked.

November 2003 - The Point-lace Handkerchief

I carried the point-lace handkerchief twice this summer.

It resides in a handkerchief box from the late 1920's - a flat cardboard box with a picture of flowers on the cover - There's a piece of blue tissue paper around it to keep it from yellowing. It was at the Philadelphia daughter's house for a few years in a dressing table of about the same vintage as the box, and now is at the Boston daughter's house in the guest room desk drawer. For several years it was here in the Czech Republic in my dresser.

In the box with the handkerchief and the blue paper is a letter, written in 1930 or 1931, by my great Aunt Iva Clark, to "My dear niece Ruth", my mother, wishing her happy birthday.

She says that she is working on something "just for you", but had not yet finished it. [What? Maybe the off-white knitted coat which my mother wore every summer for over 50 years.] Aunt Iva apologizes that she is sending something used, and starts explaining that "Years ago I used to do fancy work..."

This is an ironic statement to the rest of us, because she really never stopped doing fancy work. I know of at least six family houses which have her handicrafts - knitted things, crocheted things, embroidered things. I have a photo of our grandson Benjamin, now 10 months old, wearing a sweater Aunt Iva made for me in 1938.

The point-lace however required younger eyesight and fingers.

I would imagine Aunt Iva did it in the late 1890's, perhaps when she & another woman had returned to Kansas after homesteading, on their own, in the Dakotas. She made two.

One she made for her sister, Anna, and the other for her mother, Catharine Anthony Clark. She said that my great grandmother Catharine Clark had carried it in the wedding of my grandparents, Herbert Anthony Clark to Dora Markham, in 1901 and in the wedding of Aunt Anna to Mr. Jillson in 1912.

My mother penciled notes at the bottom of Aunt Iva's letter, "I carried it in Dorothy Jillson's wedding to Walter Bailey in 1941 and at Jim's [my brother's] to Emmy Hoffman in 1966. I forgot it at yours & Julie Bailey's.

Now I have added my own penciled notes - I guess I could write that I forgot it at the weddings of our son and our daughters. But what I did write was that I had carried it during the christening of Benjamin and in the wedding of my niece, Becky Clark Hunt to John Monroe both in the summer of 2003.

And, I tell you, it was a lot of work! It kept falling out of wherever I tucked it! But I'm glad I did it.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

May 2003 - Traveling with Children

Now that summer is coming with promises of travel, I want to pass on hints for traveling with children which I've garnered over the years.

You find yourself making new rules. When we went to Africa for the first time with a 5 1/2 year old, a 3 year old, and a just-turning-two year old, I made a rule: "No crawling on floors of train stations and airports".

This was an on-the-spot solution, but for many problems certain to crop up, advance preparation does help. On that first long, long plane ride not a drop of any drink was spelled by a child..... It only happened when another woman carelessly slammed into me as I was transferring an airline drink to one of our Tupperware sippy cups. So glad I'd bought those cups.


It's best to pull out all clothes you might want for each child a week in advance of your trip. If it's a baby you can put stacks in his/her room, but if children are older, put stacks in your room, so they don't get used. You will find spots on the clothes, missing buttons, rips. You have time to repair perhaps, or switch. Further, you cannot plan your life with children.

Once, All FIVE Children came down with a bug that week! Thank goodness for those piles.

Include some nearly out-grown or worn-out clothes. Thus when the child gets new things, you abandon the old, keeping luggage down. If worn-out, well, maybe your sister-in-law can use a new rag. If items are still good, find a Salvation Army collection bin or give them to someone. Once I had a dreadful time getting rid of a bright flowered sundress, size 3, being worn by a 5 year old. She kept rescuing it. Finally, I tucked it behind the flower pot on a small balcony in a small hotel on the Greek Island of Kos.

The maid thanked me later. After she'd tried to return the sundress!


For several reasons, I usually found it a good idea to give each child his/her own suitcase. You might be able to move as a group, each person carrying his own luggage. The smaller the child, the smaller the case.

Caution: you don't include the dress Tiffany is going to wear as a flower girl; you'd likely find her playing princesses in it. Baby clothes you can put with your own, but if they're separate it's easier to say to husband or older child, "Get me Sammy's yellow playsuit". You probably foster independence with these separate cases, besides the fact that each is carrying his own. The child chooses his own clothes each day, you only stepping in as necessary. I mean, you don't want them looking too weird when you are going to Janet Young's weaving establishment for tea. They can learn to judge what article is dirty and which can be worn again. And after you look the kids over, you can always say, "Go back for your sweater". If one child stays with Grandma in Oneonta, NY, while the rest of you move on to Corning, you have minimal sorting to do.

An obvious problem is the losing of one suitcase. Alice's once was delivered to her in Golden Valley, Rhodesia a week after it disappeared in Nairobi.

But the daughter didn't suffer much. We'd loaned her things, and she had acquired a couple new t-shirts, and a new dress.

Plastic bags

Don't give these to 2 year olds, but teach others how to store underwear, best shirt or dress, shoes, bathing suits. Yes, you should check that the wet bathing suit comes out of the plastic bag when you reach your next destination. I usually packed toiletries in one case for all, and passed out toothbrushes and so on when in the next hotel or at the next relatives. If older children collect little shampoo and lotion bottles in hotels, teach them about the uses of plastic bags, preferably zip-lock. Take AT LEAST ONE RAG! Several rags, rather. Kids mess up things fast! Relatives don't always have rags out for your use.

Carry-on luggage

Everyone has his own containing her very favorite doll or stuffed animal, security blanket, little toy cars, crayons, pencils, a few books. If you have a baby, EVERYONE'S bag has some disposable diapers, including your HUSBAND'S BRIEF CASE! That's being part of the family. You have glue, metal bandaid [plaster] or other small boxes containing cheerios or other cereal, costume jewelry, or other small things. Lots of costume jewelry fits in one bandaid box. Scissors must unfortunately be in a suitcase. The children's bags have some tiddly toys, a nuisance at home, but with which you can help them on an airplane, or in a hotel. Examples are sticker books, stickers, plastic forms to stick on pictures, paper letters and numbers.

The notebook, from a stationery store

Every kid say, three & up, gets one of these. On the front pages is glued a map. You can glue this there ahead of time. But you can also cut/tear maps from airline magazines. You mark "Prague", and later places you stop, unless the child is old enough to do this her/himself. One three year old insisted that her father "X" our hometown - she felt out of her element after visiting Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Nairobi. The child is supposed to write in the notebook everyday. [They have never been known to do this, but they are thrilled now, in their thirties, to have those notebooks.] They're wonderful things to read later. Sri Lanka by 7 year old Alice: "I saw a boy with a cobra in a basket", with a darling sketch of boy, cobra, basket, and flute. AND on the next page: "I saw a fairy under a mushroom." Picture of fairy and mushroom. My husband and I puzzled over this for years. Alice was a child who might see fairies, but perhaps she felt that a boy with a cobra was so strange, why not see fairies? The children cut and glue pieces from museum brochures, whole or parts of postcards, and add a sentence or so. If they are bored in the hotel you can always hand over the packet of tourist info, and say, "Go work on your notebooks"!!

Saturday, March 01, 2003

March/April 2003- Czech Easter Foods and Customs

Some Czech Easter Foods

Colored eggs - Barvene Vejce – (Eva Zimova) Materials needed
Raw eggs - brown-shelled eggs are fine
Greenery to make the decorations
A small bowl of water to wet the greenery
Old nylon stockings to hold greenery fast & strong thread to tie it
Onion skins to color the eggs
These are the dried, brown, outer onion skins
One year we used red onion skins - the effect was only slight
A pot and water for simmering the eggs
Some cooking oil to polish the eggs after they are cool

Cut the stocking in lengths to cover an egg. Tie one end tightly with thread.
Collect some greens - garden plants or weeds you know are harmless, or chives, parsley, or other herbs.
Use only things you know are not poisonous! Although you discard the greenery, egg shells are porous. If you have dandelion plants or violets in your yard, you may use them. If you have lilies of the valley, DO NOT use those!

Put the greenery in a small bowl of water. Wetness makes it stick to the egg. Chose pieces of greenery for your patterns and arrange on an egg. Cover the decorated egg with a nylon stocking sack and tie the other end with thread.

Put it in the pot on some of the onion skins and continue decorating other eggs. Tuck more onion skins on and around eggs and add water to the pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer seven minutes. Lift eggs from the water with a slotted spoon and rest on a rack until cool enough to handle. Gently snip the piece of nylon stocking and remove the greenery.When eggs are completely cool, you may put a little cooking oil on a small rag to polish them.

The eggs in a basket are a lovely table decoration. You may eat them for breakfast, lunch, supper, or a snack! But, put the eggs in the refrigerator overnight, and when you're gone all day.

Fried lamb or kid and spinach - Smazeny jehneci nebo kuzleci a spinat - Rina Homolkova
In older times this was the typical lunch on White Saturday, the Saturday before Easter. The pieces of meat were breaded and fried. And what do you do with the little head? Well, you make, to eat on Easter day:

The Little Head - Hlavicka The "Little Head" has two meanings, one secular, one religious. Long ago the small animal head was simmered and the meat used in the following recipe. However, already 80-90 years ago, most cooks had switched to using smoked meat. The Easter meaning is that the Risen Christ is head of the church, and this dish is a small symbol of that.

Hlavicka - by Eva Zimova
Smoked meat. Simmer. Remove the elastic net at once, while the meat is still hot.
I find I can remove the elastic net easily if I cut the meat in half with a big knife, and then pull on the strings. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
10 rolls, cut or tear
Dried garlic, salt, pepper
BABY nettles - wash & cut up. You don't have nettles in your garden?! How strange. Use chives or parsley.
One cake of yeast
Three tablespoons, or one large handful,
EACH of the following four ingredients -
1.Hladka, 2.Poloruba, 3.Hruby flours (mouka), 4.children's porridge
(detsky kase) (I guess in USA, just use flour & porridge)
10 eggs

Turn the oven on to high heat. [400-425 F.] Mix everything together, put in a greased baking pan, and let sit 15-20 minutes.
Bake 20 minutes on high. Turn to medium [350 F.] and bake about 25 minutes more.
You can test as for a cake.
I do recommend making a third or fourth of this recipe the first time. It is extremely hearty food, and not everyone will eat much of it. [Don't worry about trying to use half or third of an egg. Just put the whole one in - it's a flexible enough recipe.] Cut in squares. May be eaten warm or cold.

Easter Bread - Mazanec - Barbara & Rina Homolka

The meaning of the word mazanec is the 'thing that is spread', as it's painted with an egg glaze before baking. The round loaf represents the stone rolled away from the tomb when Christ arose.

Bakeries and grocery stores carry this bread year round, but at Eastertime there will be better loaves with lots of sliced almonds and raisins. If you wish to make it yourself, use a recipe for sweet bread.

Knead in the raisins and nuts after the first rising. Before baking, spread with an egg mixed with a little water, and mark a cross on the top with a sharp knife.

You may make small snail buns with some of the dough before you shape the round loaf. These are "Judases" - "Jidase", because Judas was twisted.

Another food, very typical for Easter, is the lamb cake you see in the grocery stores. It's made from the usual babovka dough. I surround mine with other Easter decorations. If you should wish to bake it yourself, look for ceramic molds in a kitchen supply store.


Some Czech Easter Customs

Easter in Czech is Velikonoce, The Great Night

What our family calls Palm Sunday, Czechs have named Flower Sunday. In church, rather than palm branches, pussy willows are blessed. You may take a piece or two from the array, or you may bring your own to be blessed.

Setting grain or grass seeds to have fresh living greenery with your Easter decorations.
Courtesy Eva Zimova.

Where do you get seeds? Often pet food stores have sacks of grain, from which you might buy a little. The drogerie near me is selling special little packets of a seedling mixture for Easter. Maybe you have a bag of grass seeds for sprinkling on your lawn.

Line a dish or a tray with paper towels; add water; spread out the seeds; set in the light.
Always keep your seeds wet and you will be rewarded with fresh green life.

An Easter egg tree.
Hang a sturdy branch with the hollow decorated eggs you get in handicraft stores.
Wooden noise makers which you see pictured on Easter postcards.
Children run around with them outside on Good Friday and White Saturday to scare away evil spirits. These are sometimes for sale in souvenir shops.
[Babicka saw me thinking about buying Charlotte one. "Don't. Don't.] A decorated whip plaited from willow shoots.
During caroling for eggs on Easter Monday, boys try to whack girls with whips if girls do not hand out eggs fast enough. On the other hand, girls often fling handfuls or cups of water on the boys.

Easter Caroling

Caroling days are Saturday, Easter Sunday, and Monday, but only on Monday do carolers knock on doors asking for gifts of colored eggs.

In a small village all of the children might go caroling, but in a larger place, just the boys go, demanding eggs of the girls. Every fourth year girls go caroling. [On leap year?? I don't know.]

Here is one of the favorite songs.

Hody, Hody do pro vody
Date vejce malovany
Nedateli malovany
Date aspon bily
Slepicka vam snesa jiny

Saturday, February 01, 2003

February 2003 - My Czech Treasures

In the operetta, "Cikansky Baron", the protagonist returns home to a ruined estate, and after many adventures, finds a treasure, a trunk of gold coins. I came with my husband when he returned to his ruined estate; we continually have adventures. I found an old trunk his family had used for outdoor shoes; chickens had been nesting in it. Believe me, it was not filled with gold coins.

My treasure I have found elsewhere. That it was so unexpected intensifies its value for me. My treasure is our good relatives. Some my husband knew as a child, with some few we corresponded, and some, even fewer, we met in England & Germany. Of course, many were not born yet when my husband & his parents left.

In April 1990 my husband, our junior high daughter, and I went to Litomerice to see Uncle John and Aunt Irene whom we had met once in Oxford, England.Uncle John used to send us things - phonograph records, the lovely J.J.Ryba baroque Christmas mass, and a Karel Gott 45; a Lada calendar and Lada prints for the children. From that April '90 visit I have a wonderful photo of Uncle John showing my husband the surrender papers which had been given him in 1945, and which he had kept hidden for over forty years. Aunt Irene was rushing out to buy ham, cheese, and rolls for us.

In August 1990, I arrived at the Pilsen train station with four of our nearly adult children, and my mother-in-law. We were looking out of the train, to see who was meeting us and wondering if we would know them. Suddenly I realized that almost all the people stretched out along the

platform were there for us. There was a little old lady I was certain was someone special. Later, I found out how very special she is. She's my husband's aunt and, with her husband, his uncle, had facilitated their route out of Czechoslovakia. There were 3 of my husband's first cousins, and some spouses; 5 of my children's second cousins. We hardly knew these people existed.

In cars and on a farm truck, we were carted off to the village mill which my husband's grandmother had run. I actually had the address in my address book, but had no idea what it meant. We saw the weir island with its ancient huge hollow tree where every year the children put on a play, "fairies" emerging from the hollow tree. We ate and drank, laughed and talked, in a mixture of languages - Czech, English, German. Peter, a second cousin took us to see an ancient castle ruin, which once was a beacon, when fires were lit, on the route to Prague. In the evening we sat around a fireplace & sang. We all learned "The Mill Doesn't Run Any More", "Nemelem nemelem". But my husband's cousin, Joe, was trying; he is producing electricity. One of my daughters went to bed first. She was highly startled when her second cousin walked through, the rooms being interconnected, as typical of a Czech house. "WHY is my eldest sister here?!!" "No, she's your second cousin, Katya,. You know she's here."

There's Jane, who is a loving homebody. Before I learned Czech we communicated just with smiles, and appreciation of her meals. She and Georgiana both like to try new recipes. Another Jane speaks English, and is sensible, outgoing, and, also, caring. There's Olga, who is full of enthusiasm and loves adventure and was in the big Sokol parade with Havel. There's Eva, with whom I used a dictionary to speak together in German, hers much better than mine; years later I was her confirmation sponsor. Her husband, Thomas, still later, did a reading at our daughter's wedding. There was Vasek to whose retroactive Charles University medical school graduation we went. Havel instituted these graduations for people who had been thrown out of university in 1949. There's Cousin Irene, in poor health, who's very precise, organized, and interested in art.

There are cousins Slavoj and Milada, who scurry around introducing people to each other. Our women's group long-time support of the Zbraslav childrens'home is a result of Slavoj's introductions because another cousin who works there asked me for help. There's Hana who was one of the first signers of Charter '77. There's Joe who's a computer genius. There's Margaret who brought her boyfriend to visit last summer, remembering our girls took her on a picnic for her namesday, when she, only 8, had been dropped off with us to practice her English; she's now an elegant student, a careful babysitter, and an accomplished hostess. There's Kathy, and Peter, Paul, and Katy, who thank us for visiting, as if we, not they, had provided the hospitality.

And of course, there is Aunt Hana, about whom I wrote earlier, who plies us with constant tidbits of the art and architecture of Prague, and whose family in Prague & Munich make certain she is well looked after.

I treasure all of these people. Certainly I could use a trunk full of gold coins; oh, yes, I could. However, my Czech treasure is truly more valuable to me, and truly more solid and lasting.