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Archive for October, 2010

Prague: Day 4

Day 4 was our last full day in the Czech Republic. Radek, Jana, Nicol, Elise and I hopped in the car and drove out some 30km to visit the Karlštejn Castle in the village of Karlštejn. Getting out of the city and out into the country was a welcome change of pace. The Czech countryside as absolutely gorgeous, especially in the mornings while driving through small villages along country roads as the sun is peaking up above the hills and burning off the fog in a way that you can almost feel on your skin, even while the outside air remains crisp.

We parked at the bottom of the hill of the castle and made the long trek up to the castle while passing by the little shops and restaurants in Karlštejn on the hillside. When we reached the base of the castle, we purchased 4 English-speaking guided tour tickets and Jana bought us all warm Kolonáda wafers (think two sweet, crepe thin wafers with hazelnut & chocolate filling) as we waited 20 minutes for our tour to begin.

The tour of the castle took 45 minutes and although it was unfortunate that they don’t allow photographs, the tour was great. The history alone is enough to make oneself get caught up in an inner dialogue while contemplating the goings on in the 1300′s and miss out on some of what was told to the group by the tour guide.

After the tour we made a slow mosey back down the hillside and stopped in at a little coal-heated local restaurant for homemade garlic soup and fried camberbert, french fries and tartar sauce. It sounded a little weird to me at first, but was actually quite tasty and I’m sure my heart thanked me for that meal.

After leaving Karlštejn, we headed back to Prague to go shopping at the “mall.” The mall we went to was very much like a mall that we’re used to, except this is a total one-stop mall, complete with a gigantic grocery store on the first floor. We perused the stores on the 2nd floor of the mall in search of souvenirs and gifts, but found most of the goods to bring back to the states in the grocery store, which consisted mostly of candies and cookies.

We headed back to the house after the mall, rested for an hour or so, left Nicol with Babička (grandma) and Dědeček (grandpa) and we all stole a bus ride (the “Czech way”, as Radek says) over to Kolkovna at Budějovická for a dinner out where we were finally able to treat Radek and Nicol for their hospitality all week. The food was great and, although there was still a slight language barrier, it was no longer noticeable because the 4 of us had had enough time to acclimate and figure out how best to carry on conversations. We really lucked out in finding true friends in Prague and were so blessed by their generosity and hospitality.

We strolled back to the house after dinner and Elise and I worked on getting the Janíčkovis to Austin sooner than later. I think we sold them and we would welcome the opportunity to have them stay with us and allow us to provide them with the same level of hospitality.

When we got back to the house, Babička and Dědeček came upstairs and we took photos, exchanged gifts and George (dědeček) took us down to his “communism museum” in the house’s basement where he showed me his American record collection, hand-carved skis from the turn of the century, stereoscopic View-Master with 1950′s and 60′s American pin-up girl slide discs, Czech military relics and decorations, an old reel-to-reel, and all while playing American 80′s pop music really loudly through the basement’s stereo speakers. George was a blast and I regret not having spent some more time with him and babička during our short stay, but I think they didn’t want to be “intrusive.”

We had to call it a night early, but we had a really great last day with our host family. I think we all collectively knew it was our last day, so we allowed ourselves to enjoy our time together as friends instead of feeling hard-pressed to squeeze in a bunch of sightseeing and touristy stuff.

Photos from Day 4 can be seen here.

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Prague: Day 3

Josh & Elise on Charles BridgeDay 3′s subtitle would be “walking.” Radek, Elise and I took the train into town and walked all about Prague. I wish I could recount accurate details of everywhere we walked and everything we saw, but we probably walked Praha 1 for the better part of 5 hours and, well, it was, in a word, overwhelming. October 28th is Czech Republic’s Independence Day, so I don’t know if that means the streets were more or less busy, but they seemed pretty busy to us. We started out in Old Town (Stare Mesto), then to Old Town Square (Stare Namesti) where the highlight (for me) was seeing the Prague Astronomical Clock (watch the cool 600th anniversary video). Then we had lunch at U Špirků where I indulged in a meal fit for a Bohemian (duck, “roasted meat” and two kinds of dumplings). This is also where learned of the new-to-me culinary term: greaves. Feel free to look that one up on your own.

After lunch we visited the famous Charles Bridge (Karlov Most), the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) and Malá Strana. Tons of walking, but we had a blast seeing the city and spending some quality time with Radek. After taking the train back to the house, we were greeted by Jana who’d cooked a traditional Czech meal of ground pork, leeks and sausage “loaf” and potatoes.

After dinner, Radek, Elise and I took a cab back into the city to see a production of WOW at the Black Light Theatre, a full dream sequence production performed without words and under the lights of black lights. It was a really cool multimedia and audience-involved show that involved synthesized snow, over-sized glowing beach balls, human spiders that launched into the audience (and scared the hell out of quite a few people) and rain. Radek’s sister, Lucia is a tenured member of the cast and treated the three of us to the performance. Definitely a great show and worth checking out if you’re in Prague.

The evening’s entertainment was overshadowed by Radek stepping into a steaming pile of dog shit as we were making our way through the streets after leaving the theatre. Instead of taking a cab back the house, Radek thought it would be best to take the train because, as he said, “we take tram because cab driver think I make shit in pants”; which was hilarious because 1) the Czech accent in which it was said 2) the formal [language] barrier that previously existed had crumbled and 3) when a friend steps in dog shit on a busy city street, well, that’s just funny stuff.

Photos of our third day can be seen here.

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Prague: Day 2

This morning started at approximately 8 a.m. with the crying of a 15-month-old little Czech girl, which woke us from our respective dead sleep. To us, the sound was warming because it’s what we’ve grown accustom to with our own cute little brood.

We were welcomed by our hosts in the kitchen and greeted with warm kolache. We were taught that the single pastry is “co-lawch” — more than one pastry is kolache (“co-lawch-eh”) versus our Texan-Bohemian, “hey, y’all wanna gets us some dang ol’ kullochees?” Radek also whipped up a couple lattes with his Nespresso machine (I’m so getting one of those for our kitchen), and after cleaning up and getting dressed, the 5 us were off and headed into Prague.

I wish I could tell you where we drove, but I can’t because I have absolutely zero bearings. After driving through town and through a really long tunnel, we found ourselves at the gate to Radek’s mom’s office. He buzzed from the call box and the car was let in. We parked in the dirt parking lot of what I would have guessed to be just some random building in the ‘burbs of Prague. Radek was on the phone and said, “look up at window in building and wave – it’s my mother.” We exchanged excited waves with Radek’s mom who was in her office and shortly after were exchanging smiles, hellos and handshakes after she’d walked down to meet us in person.

After a minute of pleasantries and Radek’s mom getting to see her granddaughter, Nicole for a minute, we were traipsing downhill and onto the cobblestone streets of Prague. After a refreshing (and cold) hike, we were on the grounds of Pražský hrad (Prague castle). Radek and walked over to a ticket booth and bought two tickets for the small (“maly”) tour of the Prague castle grounds for Elise and me. Radek and Jana stayed back with Nicole as Elise and I took the self-guided foot tour of the St Vitus Cathedral – absolutely stunning and amazing architecture both inside and out. Next we stopped at the Basilica of St. George, not as impressive after bearing witness to the cathedral, but gorgeous nonetheless.

After lots of photos and moseying, we headed back through the cobblestone streets to the car and back to the Janíčeks for a lunch of řízek (schnitzel), goulash and pear and apple juices. After relaxing and letting Nicole nap for an hour or so, we were off again. This time our hosts took us to see Vyšehrad, which is where first settlers came and what eventually became Prague. While here we also toured the basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul and the Vyšehrad cemetery. Again, beautiful architecture and amazingly historic and eclectic cemetery.

We were a little pressed for time because we also needed to get dinner and have time to get back to the Janíčeks, and then back into town for the opera. We went to the local mall and picked up sandwiches (or baquettes) at what seemed to be like a local Subway. Then we headed back to the house and we were soon off again with Radek for him to drop us off at the Prague State Opera. Radek was very generous to buy Elise and me tickets to see Carmen. Again with the architecture, the opera house was amazing. The performance itself… well, it was the opera. Elise enjoyed it. After the first 15 minutes, I had to play a little game of “how long can I hold my breath” with myself just to stay awake. We were finally able to use our first koruna to purchase a glass of wine for Elise and a Coke for me so I could stay awake for the last two scenes.

Radek picked us up outside of the opera house at 10 p.m. and brought us home where we said our goodnights and made plans to visit old town Prague tomorrow. Elise has again beaten me to sleep. Need to get some rest for another big day tomorrow.

Photos from today can be seen here.

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Traveling to Prague: Day 1

http://www.janicek.com/video/20101026_Prague.flv

I must preface this by noting that it’s 3:30 p.m. in the U.S., 10:30 p.m. in Prague on Tuesday, and we’re still kind of on U.S. time and haven’t really had much sleep since Monday morning.

We stayed up really late Sunday morning because Elise was packing and I tried to stay up all night so I could sleep on the plane ride to Frankfurt. Neither of us were successful in staying up all night and we wound up going to be at 4 a.m. and had to wake up at 7 a.m. to head out.

Red-eyed, we said our goodbyes to Steve, Joanne and Maly and hit the road to Dallas. Got to the airport with time to spare and everything was smooth sailing with checking in and boarding.

The trip was pretty uneventful. Nine hours long and uneventful. Neither of us managed to muster much shuteye beyond and hour’s worth of dozing. We watched “Grown Ups” (that Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James & David Spade movie). It passed a couple hours but wouldn’t really recommend it. Then I unintentionally setup an American movie marathon with “The Way We Get By”, a documentary on 3 retiree troop greeters from Bangor, Maine. Great movie and a bit of a tearjerker. Then I watched American Graffiti. Didn’t mean to turn this into a movie review, but on a 9 hour cross-Atlantic plane ride, watching movies passes time pretty well.

We touched down in Frankfurt right at 7 a.m. local time (midnight in Austin on ~3 hours sleep for the both of us). Getting through the airport, getting our bags and getting through customs was quick and painless as well. Trying to get our train ticket from the Frankfurt airport to the main Frankfurt train station was a little more tedious. We stood in a line for a train ticket vending machine for half an hour, only to find ourselves completely dumbfounded and without help when we got our turn to buy our tickets. We quickly gave up and decided to speak to the human help at the Deutsche Bahn counter, who were able to get us on the right train.

After a quick 10 minute ride, we were at the main Frankfurt train station by around 9 a.m. Our train to Nuremberg wasn’t due to depart until after noon, so we tooled around the train station for a while. We exchanged some dollars for euros, grabbed a cup of coffee, and I peed in a German Burger King bathroom. Elise tried to use the bathroom, too, but she had a hard time getting past the bathroom attendant charging the 50¢ entrance fee. Long story short, Elise used the bathroom, didn’t have correct change, so we grabbed lunch at Erich Zeiss and took the 50¢ to the bathroom lady (Elise brought up karma, so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to abide by the pay-to-pee law).

After finding that our train to Nuremberg had been delayed by 40 minutes, we again sought the help of Deutsche Bahn who put us on another train that would come close to getting us in in time to catch our bus to Prague.

The train ride from Frankfurt to Nuremberg was wonderful. I’d guess we cruised between 80-100mph and the German countryside scenery was amazing. We both managed to conk out a couple times and get a couple naps in during the 2 hour ride. During the ride, I texted Radek to give him updates on our status. He was able to find out that there was a Deutsche Bahn employee strike, hence the train delays.

Thankfully we got to Nuremburg just in time for us to run through the terminal and catch our bus to Prague. The bus ride was a bit slower and took almost 4 hours, but the scenery easily made up for that. Lots of beautiful rolling hills, lush landscapes, tall pine trees, little villages and gorgeous yellow, orange and bronze fall colors throughout the entire commute.

We arrived in Prague around 7 p.m. local time and Radek and I spoke on the phone for the first time since knowing each other for nearly 3 years. He was at the train station waiting on us. We quickly unloaded our bags from the bus at the curb and found Radek. We all shook hands, said our hellos, hopped in his VW and hauled through town. I can begin to explain how lucky we are to have an English-speaking local and a friend to be our host here. He pointed out landmarks as we passed them and indulged us in the countless, “how do you say ______ in Czech?” while he drove us the 15km to his family’s house.

Once at the Janicek abode, we walked up the stairs where we got to meet Jana, Radek’s wife and Nicole, their 15-month-old daughter. Jana might know 5 English words, but we found it relatively painless to have a basic conversation with her and express our gratitude for their willingness to be our hosts.

Jana cooked the Czech version of schnitzel, potatoes and pickled cucumbers for us, so our first meal here was an absolute authentic one, and we both scraped our plates clean. Radek then presented us with a generous gift of 2 tickets to the Czech opera’s Carmen for Thursday night. He said the inside of the opera house is a must-see, so we’re really excited about that and very appreciative of such a thoughtful gift.

We played with Nicole and gave her a little farm animal toy set that we picked up for her in Austin. We also met Jana’s parents, who occupy the 2nd story of the house (I wish I could remember their names right now, but I’m still a little brain bent on the fact that you have to pay 50¢ to pee in Germany). We chatted with our hosts for an hour or so before Jana needed to give Nicole a bath, and then Elise and I had a video call over Skype with Steve, Joanne and Maly. It was great to see that everyone was doing well back in Texas, especially Maly. Being away in another country has done a number on our respective parental nerves, but being able to see and talk to her is a definite blessing.

After saying our goodbyes to Steve, Joanne & Maly, Elise and I hung out with Radek in the living room and watched ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and ‘Big Ban Theory’ on Czech TV. We chatted with Radek for a little while in the living room until Elise’s and my my heads were about to fall off from exhaustion. We retired back to our room just in time to find my mom calling me on Skype, so Elise and I talked to her for a few minutes as well.

Now I’m fighting to keep my eyes open and Elise is already sawing logs. Radek has lots in store for us tomorrow, so we’re (well, now it’s just me as I type this) really excited to get some rest and get up early to get out and experience Prague!

Photos from the travel day can be seen here.

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You’re okay

My mom called tonight because she thought we were leaving for Prague tomorrow. We don’t leave until Monday, but the confusion in schedule was okay because it afforded me the opportunity to talk to my mom on the phone for a couple hours.

In my almost-thirty-five years of existence, I don’t recall ever having heard the story of my mom and dad’s first date. The story started with my mom reminiscing on the time when my dad gently patted her on the arm while they were sitting at a table at the Knight’s of Columbus dance. She remembered that gentle pat as a way that my dad non-verbally said, “you’re okay.” Knowing my dad, it wasn’t a “you’re just okay” gesture, it was a, “you’re a good person, and you’re life is going to be okay.”

My dad gave my mom that pat on their very first date almost 40 years ago. My mom was very uncertain about herself at that point in her life and was talked into going out on a blind date by their mutual friends with my dad. My mom was skeptical about this guy, and even denied giving him her phone number. Instead, she said, “I won’t give you my phone number, but I’ll take yours.” And she thought about my dad the rest of the night, long after the date had ended.

My mom called my dad the next day and a woman answered the phone. My mom thought to herself, “well that’s just typical.” The lady on the other end of the phone told my mom that David was in the shower.” Then my mom learned that the woman she was talking to was her soon-to-be mother-in-law. And since then, so my mom says, the rest is history.

Hearing my mom tell me that story really pulled at my heartstrings, and it reminded me of Elise’s and my first date, and I relayed that story to my mom.

Elise and I had our first date at a tavern in downtown Austin. I was with a group of friends playing pool. When Elise showed up, I immediately forfeited my game and my friends. Elise and I sat off to the side of the group on a couple bar stools and talked. And talked, and talked.

We were sitting next to each other, closer than what two people would ordinarily on a first date. I intentionally moved my knee to the left so it rested on Elise’s right knee. And I knew we were both comfortable and happy with our knees kissing while we talked the night away and closed the bar.

And for us, the rest is history. Elise and I have been together since that first date. It wasn’t until talking to my mom tonight that I think my intentionally touching my knee to hers on that first date was my way of telling Elise, “you’re okay.”

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Chuy’s Creamy Jalapeno Dip Recipe

I made this recipe the other day… I have to admit, it’s pretty damn close to the original.

3/4 cup mayonnaise (the fatter, the better)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 (1 ounce) packet Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
1 (4 ounce) can green chilies
3/4 cup pickled jalapenos
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch kosher salt
juice of half a lime

Mix mayonnaise, milk and ranch powder. Chop chilies, jalapenos, and cilantro together. Mix in salt, garlic powder, and lime. Add chile mixture to ranch. Blend, boat motor, what have you. Refrigerate.

UPDATE: I modified the recipe above and omitted in the 3/4 cup pickled jalapenos and replaced them with 1 serrano pepper. It provides the dip with the same amount of heat without the “pickled” flavor.

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Maynard scores some speed

A few years ago when we got an HDTV, I went out and bought a Mac mini because the sales woman told me I could easily connect a computer to our TV. Since then, the Mac mini (affectionately known as “Maynard”) has served as our media center on which we watch movies and listen to music in the living room. It’s been a great media center because for my buck, you just can’t beat OS X (I earned early parole for time spent in a Windows world with defragging, reformatting, malware, drivers and hardware incompatibilities, etc. etc.). I operate Maynard by either logging into it remotely from either my Macbook Pro or Elise’s Macbook and using OS X’s Share Screen, or my nifty iPhone app, Air Mouse Pro, or, most often, my Logitech diNovo Edge wireless keyboard with it’s swanky little trackpad. Maynard is our great little digital hub, however, the one thing we were really lacking was internet speed.

Our house was built before high speed internet was mainstay and, thankfully, wireless internet has prevented us from having our house expensively re-wired with ethernet cables. Unfortunately our router is in the office some 50-feet away from Maynard in the living room. Between the wireless router and Maynard are lots of walls, and Maynard is tucked away in an entertainment center where he gets a very weak wireless internet signal:

So last week I bought 100-feet of CAT-5e cable on Amazon for $10 and spent the better part of yesterday running said cable through the attic, down the wall to plug in to Maynard’s ethernet port and down an exterior wall on the other side of the house to the Airport Extreme in the office.

Now we have some speed. And Maynard can proudly tout the fastest connectivity in our house:

So now we can easily watch Apple trailers, YouTube and Hulu. And it only cost me a case of Mesothelioma from being in the attic for 3 hours yesterday!

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Using a beautifully designed Macintosh to advertise a Windows PC product

I’ve seen this quite a lot since I switched to using a Mac exclusively seven years ago. I remember not-too-long ago seeing a TV commercial where an Apple iBook laptop was used in one of those “free” online computer virus removal/speed boost services (which is absolute snake oil) designed exclusively for PC’s running Windows. The advertiser uses a Mac laptop as the prop because it just look really cool and most everything Apple is beautifully designed.

This afternoon the girls and I were at Costco. I happened upon a wireless weather station and stopped to take a gander. A little secret about me: I’m kind of nerdy when it comes to local rainfall. I have a rain gauge in the backyard and I record (on paper) how much rain we get at our house. So I wanted to check out this wireless weather station because I thought it might be a fun gadget to put on my list for Santa Claus. Upon inspection of the box, I noticed a photo of a Macbook Pro (I know this computer because I own one) with a USB dongle which is used to transmit data from the wireless weather station to the computer. I became excited because due to this advertised visual claim, I just knew that this weather station would work wonderfully with one of our Macintosh computers and I would excitedly be able to put the weather station on my Christmas wish list!

But I know better. Advertisers (regardless of product) use Mac computers in TV and print because they look really cool. They use sexy computer facades to lure the consumer in and make them want to buy because of clean design, elegant curves and overall minimalism and aesthetics.

When I turned the box around, the first thing I noticed was the bullet point that states: “Works with Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7.”

I fell to the ground and, in a desperate attempt, could not fight off the tears and I screamed, at the top of my lungs, “WHHHYYYYY?!?! Ohhhhh, the false advertising. Why do they do this?? Boooohooo hooo hoooo WAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!” The store manager came over and indulged me in his sympathy while my wife went to the concession stand and bought me a Churro.

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Shooting shotgun in the desert

http://www.janicek.com/video/20101005_WestTexasShotgun.flv 5 comments

On movies about fairies

“Can we please go take a walk?”

“Where’s your friend Julia? Why aren’t you playing with her?”

“She’s in my room. She’s not playing babies like I want to.”

“Compromise. Life’s all about compromising.”

“…”

“Take for example, me. Do you think I really enjoy watching cartoon movies about fairies?”

“Yes.”

“…”

“…”

“You’re right. But if I didn’t, I would have to compromise.”

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Adjusting

Elise: “Maybe next year Maly will be able to ride the bus with her little friend, Julia to kindergarten.”

Me: “…”

Elise: “You know, after a month or so, after she adjusts.”

Me: “After she adjusts?!? That’s part of her adjustment — you kick her out the front door on day one and say, ‘the bus stop’s that way. Or maybe that way. Go figure it out, kid.’”

Elise: “Okay. Maybe after I adjust.”

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