The land of Ugh. I mean UGG.

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My husband frequently encourages me to blog which I have not done so since August when my laptop was stolen. Story for another day. But lately he has been more persistent knowing that I need a creative release to deal with the stress of the Foreign Service assignment bid cycle that we have been enduring since June. He has even made suggestions for topics such as, “Why I think it wrong for a Diplomat to eat asparagus off the kitchen floor”. Based on a true incident. Obviously. He also thought it would be funny to joke about the research I did into the foreign countries we might find ourselves, and why elephants causing traffic jams are better to deal with than an Embassy’s medical unit having a large supply of snake venom antidote. If you are curious, this is where I get my unfiltered expat info – Real Post Reports

Ironically, the need to be diplomatic, as a diplomat’s wife, has held me back from blogging — knowing that the anxiety of it all might prevent me being just that. But as of today I have changed my mind. And *spoiler alert* – this will by no means be diplomatic. Consider this a “First World Rant”, and if you have lost respect for me afterwards then so be it.

My husband just accepted his onward, 3 year assignment for the summer of 2016 to Canberra, Australia and I am anything but excited, because I categorically insisted that I would never move that far away. But he bid on it despite my protests, because his options closer to home had narrowed, and because it was considered a dream job for so many. I want to be thrilled for Steve — This position was very competitively sought after and he was offered the handshake deal. But you know the adage — “Happy wife’ happy life”. And I am not. So he is not so much. He tried to joke about the “hardships” we would suffer in Australia which are obviously de minimis. My son pointed out that at least we are not likely to worry about being kidnapped or worse – beheaded! These are real threats in many parts of the world and clearly a good point. I have no doubt that the land that makes UGG boots is a comfortable, if not wonderful place to experience. And safe for which I am grateful. But Australia is far. It is really, incredibly expensive and extremely far away from my friends, family and adult children. Virtual hugs are just not doing it for me anymore.

So why did he do it despite my protests? Because he is a very senior foreign service officer who was affected by a new edict that suddenly prohibited him from bidding on another Deputy Chief of Mission assignment anywhere in Europe. In addition, jobs being directed to people coming out of war zones as well as the glut of political appointees meant that the majority of the jobs my husband was seeking became obsolete. These obstacles not only affected my husband’s career moving forward, but it also has had a great bearing on where I, the “trailing spouse” (a term that I abhor and which you can read about in a great article HERE), get dragged along. The whole system is flawed in so many ways that I wish I could discuss in detail but can’t – or rather shouldn’t. I believe I might sound a bit bitter here. Intended.

So Steve had to cast a very wide net, and was noticed by the decision makers in the Asia/Pacific region, who by all accounts seem to be welcoming Steve with open arms. Amen to them. It all happened rather quickly, and well now it is official.

When I received the news on Monday, I actually started hyperventilating upon thinking how I was going to tell my mother. My girlfriend responded to my frantic text message with, ‘”Jesus! Get a fucking bag for chrissake!” (Her misspelling – not mine). A remark which momentarily made me laugh because I thought she called me “Jesus”, but then I started choking and scared the dog! And the dog should be scared because Australia has extremely stringent quarantine rules, so after 35 hours of flying, Lexi will be subjected to doggie prison for a minimum of 10 days with no contact from us. Not sure who’s psyche to attend to first, I did the only thing I could think of which was to grab my handbag and breath into it. Which didn’t work well. At all. So I began crying hysterically for the next 3 hours. The steam final blew off my stress valve and all the anger and fear I had been harboring about not having control of this screwed up process came tumbling out. Feel free to disrespect me at this point if need be. I couldn’t help it. But then I realized that I had a private concert to attend at the Ambassador’s residence, so I soaked my swollen eyeballs in ice, put on my Diplomat’s wife alter-ego face, and looked convincingly together 45 minutes later. You could argue that I have multiple personality disorder, but my friend insisted that “Chicks can do shit like that and look like a million dollars two hours later”. I love her for that, and for sharing a whole lot of brownies and wine with me.

It was bound to happen. These kinds of things happen when an ENTJ marries an IFSP. I am a homebody. A certified, introverted homebody. Being a Diplomat’s wife, while rewarding at times, is really hard work to pull off gracefully with this DNA makeup. In addition, giving up my own career to move to Prague was HUGE for me. Income, independence, work colleagues. All of those things. Even when I was working in Baltimore and doing the long, exhaustive commutes to Halifax and Tijuana respectively, I still was hanging onto the safety net of what I know as “home”. And I know I have mentioned this before – FEAR OF FLYING! Yes. There is still that. And I am tired. Tired of the travel and the separation. How the hell I managed to fall in love with an extroverted, traveling gypsy that is part of a diplomatic fraternity that thinks it is fun to move every 2-3 years is beyond me.

And I miss my identity that isn’t just the label of “Diplomat’s wife”. Whatever that is. Or was. If one more person asks “what I do all day” I will punch them hard. In the nuts (assuming they have them), which is not very lady-like, and not my typical modis operandi. BUT it almost happened yesterday to a guy dressed in a full body, fluffy shark costume in Prague, as he tried to hug me with his fins. Seriously. True story, and not because he asked about my professional aspirations. He was well past the personal space comfort zone, but I was by myself, probably looking abysmal after tears and no sleep, out on a mission to walk and think things through. This was after a solemn morning with Steve who left me alone to digest the news. So In retrospect I probably should have accepted the creepy guy shark hug. A hug is a hug, right? But then I looked past him and saw these through a window……

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and like a dog seeing a squirrel, I was suddenly mesmerized by shoes! Retail therapy – A shopping sedative to take your mind off the obvious for a little while. Except that the only currency that I had on my person was the 500 Czech crowns that Steve handed me when we parted ways. I will do the math for you. $20 USD. Not enough to buy shoes at all. And to add insult to injury – UGGs on display to taunt me.

Now I was on a mission for a distraction and with only $20 burning a hole in my pocket, I needed to find something to spend my money on other than a Starbuck’s latte in a controversial holiday cup. So I wandered and found myself in the jigsaw puzzle section of the toy store…. toy storeWhich is a good thing because puzzles relax me and I needed a dose of that. After eyeing the 3000 piece “Van Gogh” that I couldn’t afford because I mistakenly dipped into my wad of cash for a bottle of water and bathroom visit, I bought this Botero….

Botero

because it made me laugh. Hysterically. In the middle of the store as I envisioned myself stress eating batch after batch of brownies which I am known to do as noted above, AND looking this Rubenesque by the time I potentially reach Australia. Steve would no doubt, would be looking at me in the way the painter is looking at this luscious woman, because he loves me no matter what. I know this.

But I have decisions and choices to make that will no doubt involve more separation. I am trying to be kind and patient with myself as I work through this and the fact that my other BFF just pointed out that kangaroos can be real assholes. Seriously. In the meantime, it is time to slip on my UGGs and search out the remaining brownies.

Pass-over the bacon

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Easter Sunday. The Embassy closed. My husband announced that “we” (including son Jeremy, girlfriend Elise and diplo-dog) were going day-tripping to Točnik to see one of the many castles in the Czech Republic. The fact that it was not only Easter, but the 3rd day of Passover, meant that I just wanted to crack the door, drink Elijah’s wine and take a nap by the fire. Steve, however, intends to visit every castle before we leave Prague in 18 months, and because there are almost 2000 castles and chateaux country-wide, I dragged myself out the door despite the tenuous weather forecast to help him knock one off his bucket list. It wasn’t until then when I asked Steve to put my backpack in the trunk, that we discovered the 2 kilo side of bacon — bacon that had been forgotten in the trunk for over a week, and which we bought during a shop for a diplomatic reception that we self-catered (bacon-wrapped dates intended).

Trunk bacon [truhngk bey-kuh n]

noun.

  1. A metaphor for my state of inertia when it comes to blog writing. I wake up or end most days with innumerable ideas about blogging, and then I don’t. Similar to a side of bacon that sits in the trunk of one’s car for several weeks just begging for someone to do something about it.
  2. Cousin to “pocket sausage”. A term coined to define the activity of keeping sausage in ones pocket for a quick emergency snack (A.K.A. Jeremy’s slope-side snack food on recent ski trip)
  3. Distant cousin to “pocket pickle”. See “pocket sausage”.

    Pocket sausage un-pocketed

    Pocket sausage un-pocketed

So what do you do with bacon that has been sitting in a truck for one week in Spring-like weather? Well, three of us argued that it should be trashed immediately to avoid food-borne illness. Jeremy pointed out that it was cured and sealed, and being in a castle state of mind, argued that in the Middle-Ages we would be blessed to have found such a treasure.  Diplo-dog was well prepared to rip though the vacuum pack and end our ugly discussion so that we could get on with the drive. We compromised and put it in the freezer.

Točnik Castle proved to be a quick 45 minute drive from Prague, which sits higher than it’s sister castle, Žebrák, further down the hill. A two-for-one castle visit!! Točnik was built as a luxurious residence for King Wenceslas IV after a fire at Žebrák proved it unsafe. It was ultimately sieged by Hussite armies, deserted in the 17th century, and now finally in the hands of he Czech government for preservation.Točnik-2

I was going to have to drag my lazy self up that hill with my Lexi who was sporting an injured paw received the evening before in a digging incident. As blood trickled from her nail during our ascent, I could not help but think of the 10 Plagues. OK, maybe that is a stretch, but Jeremy did have a rash on his hand (I will exaggerate and call it ‘Boils”) and the sky started to turn an ugly shade of black. And then there was HAIL…..!!!!!

Hail.....!

Hail…..!

And WILD ANIMALS.

DSC_2965Točnik-5 Točnik-4

There were sheep and goats EVERYWHERE. Visions of shank bone for the seder plate in every direction. And bears. BEARS! Very biblical. Lexi was enraged and picked a fight with a goat. The goat was nonplussed until a swift buck of horns through the fence sent Steve running with diplo-dog in tow. The bear also took it in stride as Lexi barked like a lunatic attempting to defend me.

Having managed to hike to the the top without encountering pestilence, frogs or locusts, I gave up worrying about my 1st born. For the moment. While not the “promised land”, we were still able to capture a few nice images before descending…

Točnik-Group photo Točnik-panoramaTočnik-3

We returning to Prague a few hours later with a pair of castles under our belt, a deeper appreciation of history and holiday legend, and nothing left to do but discuss the fate of the bacon.

My new pet – AKA – Little sunny thing with seven dots

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For the record – I do not do bugs. Lice totally freak me out. I can’t bear the thought of ants in my kitchen. Fruit flies disgust me. Mosquitos adore me which is definitely not reciprocated. I once had to hunt down a dozen live crickets that my boys let loose in the house. The intended recipients (the lizards) were summarily donated to the middle school. Stinkbugs are just that – stinky, and if you are from Maryland you can commiserate. Ditto Locusts. In addition, one of the many reasons that I disliked our year in Tampa were the squirrel-sized palmetto bugs. It is amazing that I have survived as a Diplomat’s wife where sometimes you co-exist with critters for years on end. However, there is one exception to my bug-a-phobia – LADYBUGS – which is a good thing since they appear to be escaping the sudden cold of the Czech Republic en masse by moving into a warm home. Mine.

My new pet (moje domácí zvířata)

I am not sure why I like ladybugs. Maybe it is because I was told from an early age that they are good luck, or maybe it is just that their name sounds so ladylike and friendly. Whatever the reason, I rescued one yesterday and now am mulling over a name for my new pet.

Being perfectly honest though, I tried to kill it before rescuing it; not intentionally, so please reserve your homicidal thoughts. As I began to wash up for the night last evening, I belatedly noticed “Lady” in the sink bowl as I turned on the tap full force. “OMG, I think I drowned a ladybug”, I shrieked. “Isn’t that bad luck or something?”, I directed at Steve as I quickly scooped her out with a tissue. “Don’t you think that is sexist”, He replied and then went on to say, “I mean what if it is a male? Isn’t that emasculating?” This exchange over our dental flossing ritual was not helping me feel any better about killing a creature.

In the hopes of revival (because my CPR training might cause accidental ingestion), I left “Lady” on the tissue and went fitfully to sleep. To my surprise, “Lady” was laying on the other side of the tissue this morning, but sadly not moving. It was as if she gasped for her last breath and was now resting peacefully on the other side. Resigned that I had killed her, I wanted to dispose of the ‘body” in a respectful manner. Should I flush her or just place the tissue in the trash bin? Don’t ask me why, but the toilet seemed more humane. So I did. Which is when Steve stepped out of the shower laughing as he exclaimed, “It came back up!!!! it is swimming in the bowl trying desperately to get out!” To which I reached right in and rescued her a second time from a watery grave. She immediately flew off towards the window frame where a companion of hers was waiting. Steve, acting as the voice of my new pet, says in his best ladybug impersonation, “Quick. We have to stay on the move or otherwise she will try to flush us!” Ha, Ha, Ha! I ignored his sarcasm and took the opportunity to video the event, just as if it had been my child taking his first steps.

I take my rescue efforts seriously. Just ask Diplo-Dog. Lexi went from living on the streets of Tijuana to sleeping on a sofa with decorative pillow and fleece blanket every night (after a cookie treat, of course).Lexi sleeping

Have You Wondered: What Do Ladybugs Eat? Well being a responsible pet owner, I was sure as hell going to find out! There is an entire website dedicated to this http://www.ladybug-life-cycle.com/what-ladybugs-eat.html which is amazing unto itself. Happily I learned that not only do they eat other bugs, but they also survive on plants and mold (which I am hoping is NOT why they are in my bathroom)!

During Czech language class today, I also learned that the proper term for “ladybug” is slunéčko sedmitečné — the direct translation of which is “Little sunny thing with seven dots”. I know my classmate will be rolling her eyeballs upon reading this, but it was important information to properly communicate to my Czech housekeeper, Eva, that I did not want her to dispose of them. By the time I returned from class, I had spotted seven new potential house pets. Upon telling Eva this, she starting running for the Hoover Vac!!! “Ne, Ne, Ne”, I ran after her screaming, “oni jsou moje nové domácí zvířata (they are my new pets)”!  Diplo-bug (and friends) is safe for the moment, at least from Eva’s “death by vacuum”; that is if I don’t accidentally try to drown her again. By the way, I have decided to name her “Sunshine”. After all, who doesn’t need more of that in a place like Prague, which by all accounts will now be dreary and grey until May. 

Just another (National) Day

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While our July 4th Independence Day celebration has come and gone, the celebrations around Prague for every other nation continue — equating to about 100 receptions a year.

July 4th, 2014

July 4th Celebration in Prague 2014

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July 4th Celebration in Prague 2014 – Prime Minister Sobokta speaking

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AND, while it is always courteous to attend and represent the U.S.A. at the National Days of others, I was just not feeling up to it this afternoon. It was easier back in July when the sun was shining, and I wasn’t just recovering from a prolonged virus.

Cold. Wet. Windy. All descriptors of the weather today in Prague. Diplo-dog nor this Diplo-wife wanted to leave the confines of the house. It was so disagreeable, that Lexi refused to go out at all. Winter is coming and she is not amused. Hunkering down with a shivering dog (shivering because she had to pee while I was giving her the “evil eye” daring her not to relieve herself on the Oriental rug), I decided to study Czech. Uncharacteristically engaged in my studies, I realized just before 5 PM, that not only did I barely have time to get ready for a 6 PM diplomatic reception, but that Lexi really needed to go out like it or not. So I dragged her off the bed and out the door, hoping to distract her long enough to sneak back inside and deal with my now frizzed hair. I miraculously managed to get from this state…….Me and Lexi

To something akin to this in T minus 30…….

U.S. Ambassador Schapiro's welcome reception

U.S. Ambassador Schapiro’s welcome reception

That 30 minutes of ready time included cleaning a wet, muddy dog whom I failed to intercept as she ran up the steps and soiled everything in her path. Nothing like giving your pet a “Spanish shower”, in a dress suit, while being licked on a freshly applied made-up face with “Eau de Rodent” on her breath. Of course I was wearing black, and without time to change was heading out the door semi-covered in wet dog fur.  Note to self: Buy clothes that are medium brown, dog color. Having an aversion to being late, I was grateful that we made it to the reception just in time for the anthem and speeches, despite the wet dog incident and traffic gridlock (and my inability to tell time while studying a foreign language).

Now about this specific National Day reception — same as the rest of them. Well that is not entirely true, because saying so would be cultural insensitive, which I am not. However, there is quasi formula that most follow, and this one wasn’t an exception.

The venue can be anything from an Ambassador’s garden to a hotel ballroom to a palace. This particular one took place at the Boscolo Hotel. It is good to pay attention to the particulars of an invitation so that you show up with appropriate footwear. Heels and garden parties do not mix unless sinking in the grass is your thing. I am guilty of neglecting this detail twice.  People arrive promptly (not just to receptions, but to all events in the Czech Republic), so there is often a line to get in, followed by a cocktail half hour featuring wine and/or liquor from the host country — unless it is a culture where alcohol is NOT served, or a country like Ireland where ONLY very strong alcohol (with the lack of food to absorb it) IS served. Immediately following is the host country’s national anthem and speeches delivered by their Ambassador, as well as that of a Czech Minister or other senior government official. Speeches often in the native tongue of the speaker, are then translated in both Czech and English. It takes a while. My feet begin to ache. People get fidgety towards the end and start conspicuously veering towards the buffet tables if they haven’t already positioned themselves there preemptively.

Today was no exception. As usual, the room was filled with Ambassadors, Diplomats, Foreign Ministers, Military elite, etc. lining up for food en masse. All I wanted to do was to find the WC!  In my earlier haste to escape my dog salon duties, I neglected to follow rule #1 — pee before leaving the house. So in a hot, overcrowded room of VIPs balancing plates, drinks (and purses), I tried desperately to gently elbow my way towards the restrooms. Unfortunately, as I now have gotten to know some of the Diplomatic community, I was stopped a dozen or so times for greetings and inquiries about our recent trip to Italy. Sigh. I should have gone out with the dog! When I finally reconnected with Steve, I had already received one too many dual-cheek kisses, handshakes and close breathing encounters for my comfort level. It was at that point in which a bath in Purell seemed more inciting than the dessert table.

Many people perceive diplomatic receptions as nothing but a series of fancy cocktail parties. I suppose on the surface they appear that way, they are really more akin to business networking on steroids. Important people, talking about important things (including where to ski in the Italian Alps) — making nice to each other even if their respective countries are not. There is an art to that which I find inspiring, especially with the state of current world tensions. In addition, it is nice to celebrate good things such as a nation’s independence when there are many that are still oppressed. Admittedly, some celebrations are a bit fancier than others…Prague-WG-palace-3 Prague-WG-palace-champagne

Nevertheless, I am happy to be snuggled back in bed where my day began with my warm (abet wet) dog. I think we are both hoping to wake up tomorrow to sunshine. After all, I have another reception to attend.  Different Nation. Different Venue. Different Food. Just another (National) day.

Snow day in Prague

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It is 32 degrees outside, and has been for the past several days. This would be fine with me if it was referring to Fahrenheit, but unfortunately it has been a hot, sweaty celsius-fest in Prague — in a city that does not believe in the virtues of air conditioning. The fact that I am residing in an official, U.S. government residence does not guarantee central air as one might suspect. In fact, it was only this week that we have finally had a single, noisy, free-standing unit installed in our bedroom which vents in an extremely unattractively fashion to the exterior, and manages to cool a mere 1/5 of the room.

Hot flashes (which I am suffering from) do not mix well with heat. Because I did not care to stay cooped up in my bedroom like a hermit, I tried various ways to to cool off.

The zoo. Having never been to the Prague Zoo, I thought it would be a worthwhile excursion to get the heck out of my stuffy house, and I was partially right. It was certainly a positive experience in that I spent the afternoon with my friend Kristen and her children in a very lovely setting. She makes me laugh, so that in and of itself is always a welcome distraction. The recently renovated zoo was impressively large, with exceptionally nice habitats that were obviously constructed for the benefit of the animals. That is to say, we were actually jealous of the polar bears, penguins and elephants who all went for a swim while us idiot humans slathered on more sunscreen and tried to hide in the shade.Prague Zoo-3 Prague Zoo-4Prague Zoo-5Kristen shot a pretty cute iPhone video (with her commentary) of the baby elephant taking a dip. I actually considered jumping in with them. Being the first time I have tried embedding a video in my blog, I was pleased to see that the heat has not affected my technical aptitude…

“Elephant Valley” was a terrific exhibit overall, and came complete with a Buddhist Gompa as homage to the elephants’ lineage. Never missing an opportunity for self-deprecation, I desperately tried to channel my inner chilly zen, followed by participating in a bad impersonation of Vishnu.

Prague Zoo-1

Prague Zoo-2

A fun day, but definitely not a way to beat the heat. I will return soon though to check out the giant salamander exhibit where I am sure I can learn a few tricks from the reptiles. More importantly, the zoo is not only child friendly, but also dog-friendly. Can’t wait to go back with Diplo-dog to see how she reacts to the big cats!

Next up – Pool Day. Steve decided that taking a very long, hot walk yesterday would still be better than staying in our house that is now a furnace. As much as I moaned about the heat in Tampa — at least there was air conditioning to be found EVERYWHERE. Nevertheless, off we went in search of iced-lattes and lemonade with a dog that kept looking at me with the “Don’t you know I am wearing a fur coat” expression that she perfected back in Florida. By the time we returned, I was drenched through and through. I just wanted to jump in our historic 100 year old pool as did Lexi, but sadly, due to structural damage was filled with dirt this year. While not refreshing, we hope soon to at least have a pretty garden to look at.

Prague-DCMR pool

Prague-Lexi-DCMR pool

Lexi nor I were going to be deterred by several tons of dirt. It was just too darn hot. So we did what any reasonably hot mammal would do and seek out the closest watering hole — in this case our neighbor’s kiddy pool. Ice cold hose water was just what we needed. Neither of us took the time to put on a bathing suit.

Prague-Lexi-poolPrague-WG-pool

Finally – A Snow Day. When I realized today was going to be 32 degrees again, I was overjoyed to find out that Czech class was cancelled. Why was this so exciting? Well, Czech class is held in a conference room on the forth floor of the Embassy (also not air-conditioned), where it is hotter than Hades. I tell this news to my son Bradley over breakfast who said “It is like having a SNOW DAY!!” and asked what I was going to do instead. “Study Czech of course since I have been slacking”, I answered. “Don’t get so excited. You THINK you finally have a chance to catch up and get ahead in class. But that will never happen!!”, he said.

Snow Day. Hmmm. Maybe he was on to something. So I wistfully visualized back to 2010 when the Fahrenheit version of 32 dumped about 32″ of snow on Baltimore. THAT was a snowy day and then some. Bradley spent Snowmageddon chilled out on our buried Adirondack chairs instead of getting ahead of the learning curve.DSCN0156

Just thinking about it chilled me off a bit. Sitting directly in front of the air conditioning unit while blogging, and drinking iced-coffee all day might have also contributed (the hermit option, ultimately). Bradley of course wanted to know upon returning from work if I studied Czech all day. Of course not, but I had cooled off finally — So much so that I suggested going out to eat Vietnamese Pho. “Pho? Hot soup? That is your dinner suggestion for the hottest day of the year in Prague? That is like having popsicles for dinner during a blizzard!”, he quipped. Maybe so, but you can never underestimate the power of a snow day in Prague to cure a little flash of heat.

Hairy Scary

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While I feel obliged to write about the issues of nepotism as it relates to my inability to get a job at the Embassy, and why this has contributed to my two month blogging lapse, I have a much more pressing issue to deal with. My hair.

Just as I had had the expectation of securing one of the EFM (Eligible Family Member) jobs at the Embassy, I also had the expectation of finding someone to deal with my extremely curly, frizzy hair in Prague. Not so easy in the land of straight, blond ponytails where these treatments are almost nonexistent. While I appear from my cover photo to at least have semi-straight, manageable hair, this is contrary to the reality of my hair going nappy on me at the slightest hint of humidly. Curly hair can be luscious under the perfect set of circumstances, including a bit of relaxer……..PI-WG-evening-2-2006
…….But upon moving to Prague last year, had the misfortune of a stylist unwittingly using a permeant straightening solution on me — the result of which is now having a head of hair that is half curly and half straight. As it painstakingly grows out I would love to don a baseball cap or wear a “tea cozy” as I once resorted to as a hair covering solution. Ok, so maybe not the most attractive option……wendy-bluehat-1

But if you are a Diplomat’s wife needing to “dress the part” with conservative up-do’s multiple times a week — you cannot depend on hats or the weather for hair cooperation. Currently, I have no plans to travel back to my usual stylist in the States (who I miss terribly) until Thanksgiving, and as such have resigned myself to either cutting it very short and curly (not my preference) or using hot tools to tame my locks into submission for many months to come.

So today, while sitting on my balcony studying Czech with fresh-out-of-the-shower wet hair, and while musing about absurdity of how unruly I appeared in contrast to the official lunch across the lawn where the president of the Czech Republic was dining with the Ambassador and my husband — my neighbor, who is also a friend and Embassy spouse, arrived with her 4 year old daughter to hang out with me. Happily discarding my Czech text book, I vented my frustrations over missed job opportunities, bad hair days, and the often misunderstood role of being a diplomat’s wife. I, being the wife of the DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission), often hold many unpaid jobs and responsibilities (summarized quite accurately in an excellent article titled ‘Life as a DCM’s Spouse‘), in addition to that of being the “listener”. Today my friend listened to me, as did her daughter who offered a solution to my hair woes. And so began my two hour long beauty treatment.
Hair day-2 Hair day-3

In the end, I was adorned with a black headband, one large pink bow, 3 small pink bows, 15 flower clips, 8 plastic barrettes, 2 rubber bands and 35 colored drinking straws – one of which was perched close to my face like a snorkel in case I needed it for a quick drink!! Hair day-1

The end result was “as pretty as a basket of flowers”, and certainly practical if I get thirsty. My new hairstylist also warned me to be careful when I go to sleep tonight so as not to poke “Mr Steve” in the eye while we sleep – wisdom that can only come from a lovely little girl, who keeps slugs as pets and who collects feathers for her garden. Perhaps she will use those as embellishments next time. It is amazing the perspective you can gain from a 4 year old. While I may not have a permanent solution, at least today was a great hair day.

 

 

Moving 5.0

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Our refrigerator is full of eggs (not sure how we amassed 3 cartons), butter, veggies and a ridiculous amount of leftover Indian food which makes no sense in the land of goulash & dumplings. Unable to deal with one more clean-out-the-fridge frittata, I have settled on white wine and chocolate which are not in the category of perishables to be consumed before our pending move in 32 hours. They are carbohydrates, however, which I will convert to energy to sustain me through the mental and physical challenge ahead.

Not that we are moving very far — 2.1 kilometers to be exact, but it will be our 6th move in just over 18 months which displeases me (Tijuana-to-Baltimore-to-Tampa (apt#1)-to-Tampa (apt#2)-to-Baltimore-to-Prague). This Diplomat’s wife does NOT want to set up house all over again. Steve, on the other hand, is ecstatic as we are moving to a beautiful, 5 bedroom home from the 1920’s with a sprawling back yard that we share with the U.S. Ambassador. Lexi will be pleased to finally have the space to run free, and to chase the cats that live on the property — that is if she doesn’t have a heart attack beforehand. Emptying my medicine cabinet contents into a box today put her in total panic mode. Packing often equates to an unwanted trip in a dog crate. Fortunately for her, it is a 25 minute walk north.

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Besides, living in our temporary apartment since arriving to Prague in September has been a charmed experience despite it’s quirks. Quirks? Having the guest room shower in the middle of the hallway on the way to the kitchen might be one of them. Why would we want our guests to have privacy? It certainly weeded out our modest friends wanting to come visit.

The apartment is actually inside of an historic building which was the Prague Town Hall 400 years ago, and is listed in almost every tourist guide book.IMG_1200There is a vertical metal feature on the front door which was once a unit of measure that EVERY tourist feels compelled to put their arm up against and take a photo. Because this building is two blocks from the Prague Castle, there have been THOUSANDS of tourists a day outside my front door all day long. I am going to miss having to shove my way into my home, or mask my eyes from the blinding camera flashes on my way out; A surreal paparazzi experience every time I walk the dog! And because we have been up the hill in Hradčany (the Castle district), we have been afforded a flood of Southern light as well as spectacular views out our windows.

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panorama

Photo credit - Matt Goldman

Photo credit – Matt Goldman

I will miss undoubtably miss my view of the sun rising over Prague. Now Diplo-Dog and I will be stuck with this view…

Residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic

Residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic

I will also miss the quaint experience of the daily 7AM wake up call by the minute long church bells symphony. But as the spouse of a foreign service officer, I have become accustomed to change, and packing and moving on as necessary. So instead of blogging as a means of procrastinating, I will heed the advice of my favorite pillow……keep calm

………and get myself packed.

Czeched OUT!

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My brain is hemorrhaging, or at least that is how it feels after studying Czech. There are three tenses and seven cases which I can barely decipher. Seriously. What is accusative and why do I have to change the ending of every noun and adjective to work with the object? I “accuse” the object! Czech1For instance — even the word “Prague” changes depending on if you are going TO Prague or are IN Prague. A whole city can’t keep it’s name straight. I began 5 months ago with one beginner class a week and have now added a 2nd plus a private lesson. My desk is littered with study sheets, Google translate sits open on my laptop, and every pocket and purse is overflowing with flashcards. Czech language

My Spanish, which I never really mastered fluently, is suddenly peaking out and getting in the way; therefore, giving me a grand mal language headache on a daily basis. More importantly, everyone tells me it is a waste of time. After all — it is a one country language. It would probably take a lifetime to master, and we are already 6 months into a 3 year stay in Prague. This is compounded by the fact that many CZECH PEOPLE admittedly cannot pronounce their own letter ř correctly. There are many youtube tutorials on this. Pitiful. So if it is so mentally painful – why bother with this demoralizing exercise?

  • I now live in Prague and think it is culturally respectful to learn the local language. I have always felt that even learning basic courtesies goes a long way. PLEASE Prosím, THANK YOU děkuji, HELLO Dobrý den and GOODBYE Na shledanou are a few examples! It is painful to hear American (and other) tourists find themselves in a situation where only Czech is spoken, and their solution to this is to shout as if that will make them any more understood.
  • I am not working for the first time in 27 years. I need a structured activity to stay out of trouble.
  • Everyone tells me it is a waste of time. OK. I know I already said that, but to be perfectly honest, that is the main reason. I want to prove them wrong. Especially my husband. Especially my husband who learns language by osmosis and hasn’t even started to take classes.

This may make me sound a tad competitive. You would be right to think so. To get a better sense of this ‘type A’ insanity, I will share 2 examples of how this manifests itself in my brain. Back in the late 90’s when I still had a Window’s based PC, there was a game by the name of Jezzball which came preinstalled on my laptop. It was a very rudimentary game, but was spatial in nature – my strong suit. I would stare at the screen between work, cooking dinner and soccer games and try to compartmentalize those damn balls. I managed to get the top 10 high scores as if this were my life’s accomplishment. And then I took my children on a vacation. Steve stayed home. He also spent the next 7 days systematically bumping me off the high score list entirely. Bastard. I came home late after a long flight to see only his name on the list which he smugly couldn’t wait to show me. Instead of a romantic rendezvous, I stayed up the entire night in an attempt to exceed his scores and regain my title. Which I did!

My children, who also challenge me, made fun of me once for not being able to drop down and do ten plank push-ups. I secretly started training for the next time they thought they could mock me. I built up to 100! ONE HUNDRED! Did I mention the bad disc in my neck? I should never do push-ups.

So back to Czech and to the fact that I have spent the last 7 days in Baltimore for a visit. Steve stayed behind in Prague. Said he couldn’t get away. Hmmmmm. I know what is really going on which brings me to my current state of brain-bleed. There is no doubt in my Czeched-out mind that he has spent all of his free waking hours trying to learn what I have in 5 months in one measly week. And you know what?? He is capable of this. Je štěstí, že ho miluji. So despite my jet lag, a pending night flight and 14 hours of travel ahead of me –I WILL ……….keep-calm-and-study-czech

Woozy while washing — A Czech pračka story

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Sleeping on sheets with paw prints. Rationing my socks. Rationing my undergarments. Willing to go commando if necessary.

These are just a few of the tactics undertaken this week to avoid having to use the Czech washing machine and dryer while my amazing housekeeper, Eva, is on a well deserved 10 day vacation. We were now on day 7, and while I almost obviated the need to use the pračka — A friend of mine spilled an entire glass of red wine all over me last night. I suppose it was inevitable.

Please understand that I am not adverse to housework. I actually get a perverse pleasure out of ironing. However, when you are blessed with a energizer bunny laundress at your disposal who washes, line dries and irons everything including your socks and sheets; you get a little spoiled if not intimidated — especially when you find everything back in your drawers color coordinated and lined up like soldiers. It is a bit akin to “sleeping with the enemy”, except with one whom you actually adore. Besides, despite my professed technical prowess when it comes to mechanical things, mastering Czech appliances have proved to be above my IQ level.

Furthermore, the wine incident happened at an Embassy wine tasting event where admittedly I consumed well over my tipsy limit. (I obviously was not alone – hence the spilled wine). With a particularly low tolerance for alcohol, I knew better than to drink the full glasses of 7 varieties plus a bit extra of the fantastic Malbec. To emphasize this point I was anointed with the nick-name “One glass Weiner” (Weiner being my maiden name), by my ex-husband who was amused by my lack of capacity. However, I was really enjoying the festive evening, and with a total lack of restraint consumed 5 glasses more than I have done in over three decades.

The notion of trying to figure out how to operate a foreign washer in an inebriated state was going to be a challenge, and to make matters worse — there were torn, badly translated instructions taped to the wall which were by no means for this particular make or model of machine. “Set the programme selector knob on number 1…..”Prague washer-5Not only was there no “program number” to be found on the panel, neither was there a thermostat knob choice of 40-50 degrees. So being left to the devices of deciphering symbols on the main panel, I chose the little hand washing icon to the left in the hopes I would not ruin one of my favorite shirts. Then I pushed the two buttons to the left, and slammed the door twice as I once witnessed Eva do to ensure locking (Leakage in my current constitution would have been disastrous for sure), and then prayed to the washing gods.

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Miraculously a little green light appeared in the digital display with the number 40. Wait – does that mean 40 degrees or 40 minutes?? I had no idea, but I was certain that something would happen. Three minutes in and I was no longer sure. Sadly, I sat there experiencing more “Spins” than my clothing. I was having a college experience déjà vu.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSteve added his two useless cents:

 I don’t know why you are trying to wash that stuff. You don’t know how to use the dryer either!! You want me to try some other buttons on here, because it is not doing anything?

Grrrrrrr. “Yeah – go ahead and push the buttons”, I said. NOTHING! Perhaps it was that we should have paid more attention to the instructional “caution” of not setting the knobs in an ANTI-clockwise fashion. I am usually better at following rules.

Forty minutes and a sack of unwashed clothes later — I tried again. And again. AND again. I wasn’t going to let this mechanical beast get the best of me. What I cannot tell you is what dials I set nor what buttons I randomly pushed to get it to work, but I awoke this morning to what appeared and smelled like very clean clothes with stains gone. I confess that I fell asleep 5 minutes into the cycle and apparently missed hours of loud, disturbing noises emanating from the laundry room. Sorry, Steve!

With some extra-strength Tylenol, some very strong coffee, and a much clearer head, I was just about set on dealing with the dryer this morning when it dawned on me — Eva doesn’t use the dryer because she prefers to line dry everything. She obviously can’t figure out how to use her own country’s appliances either!! At least that is my story and I am sticking to it, because I do not know what a “butoon” is and I am not sure I want to.

Goats and Austrian milk maids, oh my!

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I think we should get a goat!!

My husband actually uttered these words to me on our seven hour drive back to Prague today. AND, he was serious.

We had just spent several days in Soelden, Austria. Steve needed some well deserved time off and wanted to go skiing again – his passion. I was dreading the drive and the skiing — especially since my neck has been so out of whack the last few weeks, and since the weather has been so uncooperative. Steve would have happily stayed in a hovel as long as there was good skiing in striking distance, but since he is a gem of a husband, booked us a room at an upscale hotel called the Bergland Solden. He was hoping to guarantee me a comfortable bed, pleasant surroundings for reading, and a SPA should I choose to partake.

Bergland is part of the international collection of “Design Hotels”, and clearly delivered in every respect. Having spent much of my career as a Commercial Interior Designer, I was impressed by the attention to detail in both the rooms and public spaces, especially the lighting which I am persnickety about. Use of LED colored lighting effects all over the place really stood out as a design feature, and well as the use of warm, natural materials throughout. room-junior-bathroom_220_5_d6ad326714ac114685ecc10c3a32b2c1bathroom-wellness-suite_163_5_f08602b8a6d9c0168dce7f1da0458d81Perfectly situated in the center of town, the hotel is located only a block away from the shuttle that takes you to either gondola. Ski storage on the main level made the whole “equipment ordeal” very easy to manage.

So did I ski? Yes. I must have a guardian angel because the nerve pain in my neck took a 3 day break. In addition, we not only found great snow up on the glacier above the Giggijoch gondola, but 3 days of non-stop sunshine. Steve was in heaven or close to it.Solden-SK-panorama

Solden Glacier-2This mountain was perfect for my desire to cruise down wide open blue trails above the tree line. My plan of studying Czech non-stop in the spa’s “quiet room” while Steve went up the hill himself was quickly abandoned (and without guilt, I might add). After 3 days of ski fatigue, I treated myself to a nice Austrian beer before Steve treated me to a massage and wrap back at the spa to round things out.Solden-WG-2014-6

What does this have to do with the goat, you may ask? Well, we were driving home, and I was now a captive audience in the car. Much like when my children were younger and I used the drive as “uninterrupted talk time”, Steve loved that he had my undivided attention to entertain me with his corny jokes, and use me as a sounding board for some of his “ideas”. More importantly, this was his diplomatic tactic to distract me from the fact that he was well over the speed limit which never sits well with me.

So while I was “back-seat driving” through the Austrian Alps and spotted a field of grazing goats, my husband suggested that we should procure one. Why you ask?? Because ever since moving to Europe, I have developed a taste and love of goat milk products — goat yogurt being my favorite. In Prague you can buy goat yogurt at the various farmers markets throughout the city, but in the winter months there is a drought. “If we had our own goat, then you could have your yogurt all year long”, he exclaimed – very excited I might add as if he had just found the solution to end world hunger. “Do you think Eva (our housekeeper) knows how to milk a goat?”, he continued, “We should text her and ask”. “Don’t you dare”, I said. “Just because she can make strudel, does not make her a “milk-maid”. “Well you can do it then”, he said. “I kind of like the image of you out in the garden donned in one of those Austrian farm-girl outfits doing it yourself”. He has seen too many “Got milk?” Ads….Heidi Klum Got Milk Ad (1)

What garden was he referring to? The one right outside the Ambassador’s residence where we are set to move to our home on the same property next month. Yes, we will soon be sharing a sprawling lawn and garden with the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic. You can read more about the significance of this magnificent, historic home on the Embassy website and come to your own conclusion as to whether a goat in residence is a good idea or not.

rezidence2-400Meanwhile, Steve was on a roll, and the conversation became so ridiculous that I just felt I needed to share part of it:

ME: That is very thoughtful of you, and assuming the Ambassador doesn’t mind a creature grazing on his lovely lawn, how do you think the residence manager (who bears a remarkable resemblance to the character Carson on the show “Downton Abbey”) will react?

STEVE: I am sure he would be fine with it if we point out the benefits of having fresh goat’s milk on hand. He might even know where to buy a goat, as he does purchase food and other goods for the household.

ME: I realize a goat is technically “meat”, but we are talking a living animal here.

STEVE: He is very resourceful.

ME: OK, so assuming everyone is on board with the idea, how are we going to keep Lexi (Diplo-dog) from hunting it?? We are going to have enough of a problem with the cats that currently live on the property.

STEVE: Right. Well, we would cordon off an area for a little while until they became good friends.

ME: You mean Lexi and the goat?

STEVE: Yes!

ME: And what if that plan goes terribly wrong?

STEVE: Then we would be having fresh goat meat for dinner.

ME: Gross. What would we feed the goat?

STEVE: They are omnivorous. They eat anything. Carrots. We could toss them some carrots.

ME: I wonder if they like goat yogurt?

Owning a goat is not on my bucket list, but my husband is a truly a wonderful man. Just as he pleased me with reservations at a nice hotel, he would make a genuine inquiry into goat procurement if he thought it would make me happy. I thanked him and reminded him that the farmer’s market reopens for the season next Saturday. On second thought, it might be nice to walk out my front door one day and come across an adorable site such as this…

Dog hugging goat