Wednesday, April 28, 2010

illegal immigration

Pretty much anyone who reads this knows that I've been abroad for several years now. In fact, more than half of my post-college years have been spent in Europe, and 2/3 of my married years. I have sat nervously behind a desk, a counter, or some bullet-proof glass, waiting to hear if I've filled out all the proper forms, if my newborn's eyes are open enough in her photo, if our marriage certificate has been properly translated and apostilled, if our visas and residency permits have really been approved. I've paid people to stand in line for me hours before a government office opens, so that we would have some assurance that we'd actually see someone that day. I've driven 5 hours and spent the night, only to have my application turned down the following day. I've supported a friend as she asked for a student visa to the US, and realized that in the training and practices of our diplomatic staff, potential immigrants are guilty until proven innocent. Although my family and I live legally and lawfully in the Czech Republic today, I cannot say for certain that we have always been on the right side of the law. At the very least, we've been thisclose to being illegal immigrants at some point in our travels. I believe in following the laws of the land and work hard to do so, and I have great sympathy for immigrants everywhere, legal or otherwise. I find the new Arizona legislation on immigration offensive. It limits the liberty of everyone who sets foot in the state, and particularly hurts those who have worked so hard to reside legally in the USA.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

volcano of doom

Yes, the volcanic ash is over the Czech Republic these days. M came home from school and told me about it, which required much waving of the hands. Nathan's stuck in Dallas for the time being. I parent a lot on my own, because of his travel schedule, and I don't really think about it. But it's always hard for me when he's away for longer than expected. I think lots of things in life are like that -- going past your due date, realizing it's mile 23 not 24, sticking with a job 6 months longer.

I've finally watched the Twilight movies while Nathan's been gone -- I hadn't before, because of mixed reviews, but they were a lot better than I expected. The actress playing Alice should get off my screen and Robert Pattinson is so not Greek-god-gorgeous, but Taylor Lautner is a real find, and Kristin Stewart didn't bug. The guy playing her dad Charlie was great. One major beef was lots of mumbling. Would it kill you to open your mouth?!? Seriously.

On the positive side at our house, the weather is absolutely gorgeous, my children are brilliant and beautiful, and E never gets sad (M added the last point, not sure I entirely agree). Cheers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

2 icing recipes with no powdered sugar

This post is especially meaningful for fellow expats living in CZ -- the powdered sugar here isn't exactly like home. Almost everyone has made an icing batch and ended up with a grainy mess. You expect 10x sugar, and it's sadly 7x. (I'm sure all the Czech gals in the USA get frustrated with our limited selection of flour textures. C'est la vie.) So with that in mind, here are 2 lovely recipes that use granulated sugar!

The first frosting is from The Cake Mix Doctor. She uses it to cover a chocolate-cherry cake that is fantabulous. The icing is a rich chocolate glaze, with the major advantage that you ice the cake while both cake and icing are still warm. It is reminiscent of fudge icing, without all the work. Designed to go on a 9 x 13 cake still in the pan.

Chocolate Glaze:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup milk
6 ounces/1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Place sugar, butter and milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips. Once it's smooth, pour it over the warm cake. It will firm up as it cools.

Frosting number two I got via my sister, via pioneer woman. She calls it "the best frosting I've ever had", I call it sweet cream frosting. It's nice anytime, but stellar after it's refrigerated. I've made it twice and had the recipe requested twice. Good stuff. We used it to make the traditional "eggs in a nest" cupcakes. I found pre-colored coconut and my mom sent me Starburst jelly beans in my birthday/Easter box, so I figured it was fate. (These Easter treats are just cupcakes with some kind of frosting; my mom uses fluffy white, I tried out the sweet cream frosting. Top with colored coconut and some jelly beans for eggs. V's nests all had pink grass.) I do have pictures, but they're on Nathan's camera in Texas at the mo.

Happy baking!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Obamas in town

We passed 45 policemen on the way to the airport this morning, standing at every intersection. We counted.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


E loves ice cream! And she spent tons of time in the backpack, thanks to big, strong Daddy. All the museums we visited had strollers for rent, or just to borrow. We just traded our backpack in for a stroller and off we went. By the way, if you want to get into Paris museums quickly, borrow yourself a baby. Having a baby along lets you use the handicapped entrance, bypassing all the lines! We happened to attend the Louvre on the monthly free day, meaning it was even more of a zoo than normal. The line curved around the courtyard where the pyramids are, through to the next courtyard, around 3 sides of that one, out onto the street and down 2 blocks. There was someone with a sign informing visitors how long the wait was from that point. Loooong, but at least they didn't have to queue for tickets as well. Our bigger kids were fantastic museum visitors. M loved following the map of the museum, and both kids liked the artwork. The Musee d'Orsay was especially fun, because we have a lovely series of board books using impressionist artwork. So they got to see several paintings they are already familiar with. E loves those books right now, so even she had fun. Unfortunately, we always had to leave the museums earlier than the big kids would like due to little bit's need for a (food) break. Child needs her snacks. She even got worn out at the children's museum (rather the children's section of the science museum) after a while. We're huge children's museum fans, and this is a great one. The main science museum is really cool as well, but we didn't manage to see it this time, since it's really aimed for much older children. The complex includes a 360 degree movie theater, a submarine, and lots of other amazing things. It's out at La Villette, which isn't as bad a hike as you think. The museum is directly in front of a metro stop, so all is well. It was V's favorite stop in Paris.
Here is V, standing in the very center of Paris. This spot is in front of Notre Dame cathedral, walking distance from the (rather bachelor-pad-ish, don't-look-at-the-bathroom-tile but otherwise OK) apartment we rented in Le Marais. The Le Marais area is a fantastic place to stay in Paris. It's quiet and residential, but has lots of funky, artistic shopping (salad tongs shaped like crescent wrenches), restaurants, and an unbelievable number of food shops. Such a perfect place to rent an apartment, because when you see food like this, you just want a kitchen to cook it in. Absolutely gorgeous produce, cheeses, bread, pastries, we didn't even make it to the meat shops but I'm sure they're fantastic, too. It was Easter weekend, so lots going on at the chocolatiers. I think there were about 20 in a 5 block radius. I'm not sure if that's the chocolate center of Paris, or if Parisians really love chocolate! Why can't I get food like this in Prague?!? Of particular note was a cupcake and cheescake place called Berko. Although cupcakes are their primary business, I think they are much more successful on the cheesecake front (cupcakes were fancy and beautiful, but I found the cake a bit too dry). I know that cheesecake and cupcakes are not exactly classic French food, but I swear I ate the best New York style cheesecake I have ever had (and I love cheesecake). A crunchy, cookie-like crust, perfectly creamy cheesecake with whole blueberries, and to top it off? A particularly soft-set meringue with whole, uncooked blueberries. Divine.
The kids' favorite food? Crepes. Seriously messy.
These are the fountains next to the Centre Pompidou, also very close to our apartment. M called it the Inside Out House, and claims it as his favorite site in Paris. Nathan took the big kids into the museum and also watched a huge street performance in the sloped space at the entrance. Checking off another classic Paris experience. The kids loved the street performers in general. Of course, we have them in Prague, but mainly on the Charles Bridge, and we don't go down there too often (too many tourists, hah). M's favorite was a 5-piece jazz group, including a sousaphone, who seemed way too good to be busking. V preferred a soprano with keyboard accompanist. She was American, which was funny, and she was OK on her jazz pieces, but totally compelling singing an Edith Piaf classic. She stopped all the foot traffic on a bridge during that one.
Doesn't Notre Dame look great? She's all clean and beautiful right now, with tulips out on Easter Sunday. M liked the flying buttresses and gargoyles, of course.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Disneyland Paris

That's right, it's not Eurodisney, it's Disneyland Paris. We had a fabulous time at Disneyland and in Paris itself ... since we started at Disney, I'll start my blog about that. It's really hard to get good pictures of people on rides, but I did manage this great one! There were so many great moments on this trip. We splurged for a suite at the Disney Hotel New York, which actually meant in our case that we ended up with a one-room suite plus a connecting room. I think they do have 2-room suites, but none available at the time. We opted for this because we travel much better with a separate room for the kids, and you get benefits from staying in the Disney hotels. At any of them, you get 2 extra hours before the park opens, so you get some selected rides all to yourselves. And because we were in an upgraded room, we had breakfast in a separate lounge (with characters), and a VIP fast pass, plus some other little things. Any ride that offers a fast pass allows a VIP fast pass owner to go directly to the front, any time. This rocked! We rode Peter Pan soooo many times. I know that's all a bit too much information, but some friends were interested in where we were staying and how it all worked.
The weather wasn't as bad as I expected, and some things were lovely, like the flowering trees. Here is E and her Daddy after riding Small World. As I expected, she loved this ride. So many things to look at, and music to dance to. Surprisingly, our big kids loved it as well (I thought M would be a party pooper on this one, but he got a kick out of naming the different countries and watching his baby sister.) Since we had several days at the parks, we reserved some rides for the later days of our trip, not even telling the kids about them. M's face when we told him about the Star Wars ride was priceless. I did ride it with him once, but then allowed Nathan the honors. It is a flight simulation ride, which made me a bit queasy. I love the little kid rides -- Small World, Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear is probably my favorite. You get laser guns and the game keeps score. Fun for all ages.
Here we are in the breakfast room with Pluto. E was beside herself about the characters, and Pluto was her favorite. Even just looking at the pictures today, she got very excited. The handlers noticed at one point and were tickled about how much she loved Pluto. Some of the characters have more fun than others, and Pluto did a great job of acting like a dog. Also having fun were Wendy, Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Tweedle Dee was annoying and starting bouncing V up and down in the stroller. Funny to him, maybe. It was also made apparent to me this trip how small some of the characters are! Minnie Mouse is so short. Even my little sis might be too tall.
As expected, V wore her princess dress a lot (see how it rivals Goofy in shine?), and M wore his pirate costume less. That's totally OK since his costume took about 30 minutes. I'll post a more detailed look at V's dress at some point. The dress pushed her over into full-fledged pink love. Nathan and I kept giggling over statements like, "Yes! I want some of your salmon. Because it's pink!"
Most of the food is poor at Disneyland, but there were some highlights. Breakfast at the hotel was good, and E developed a taste for pain chocolat. The fresh juices were pretty amazing as well. We rented a stroller at the park, which became E's home away from home. She enjoyed the music playing in the ultra-clean park, and often bopped along as we walked.