Three days in Prague (Or “our hoo-haa in Praha” if you’re Heath)

Prague is a fairy tale of a city, if not an idiosyncratic one.

First, I’d categorize Prague as perhaps the most claustrophobia-inducing city in all of Europe, at least in my experience. Prague’s old town is chock-full of bone monsters. (That’s Clickhole’s sardonic terminology for “people.”)  Really though, the tourist headcount here is unrivaled—even by the crowds at New York’s Times Square or at Orlando’s bouquet of theme parks. Perhaps the human population seems so dense because of the close proximity of all the town’s biggest tourist attractions to one another. Maybe too, it’s the narrowness of the streets. It could also very well be attributed to the fact that we chose to visit at the peak of tourist season, but nevertheless, expect to battle your way through a current of slow walkers, pan handlers, and backpack toters when you visit Prague.

I don’t bring this up to in anyway hint that Prague is a city to be passed over on any European vacays that might be in your future. On the contrary, it’s a delightful destination where they deeply value Pilsner beers, bacon stuffed dumplings, breathtaking city views and a perplexingly popular astronomical clock.

Let’s start with the clock, as it’s where Heath and I pretty much began our foray into Prague’s Old Town. If you have never heard of Prague’s 15th century astronomical clock, allow me to enlighten you. It starts with a very novel concept: it chimes every hour on the hour. I know, it sounds…absurd, unfathomable, outrageous? But stay with me. There are also little figurines that, when the clock chimes, follow a mechanical track in a circle until the chiming stops. It’s the stuff of black magic, I say. This enchanting ritual lures people from all over the world who marvel at the clock’s mysterious wonder.

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How the clock came to be Prague’s unofficial mascot I’m sure I don’t know, but people go apeshit for this thing. What’s even more frustrating is how crowds gather in unbelievable masses beneath the clock before the top of the hour to witness the “miracle” in person, only to obstruct their view by holding their cell phone cameras in front of their face. Though, with so many distracted tourists gathered in such close proximity with arms raised overhead, it does make for a petty thief’s dream. If I were the editor of Pick-Pocket Monthly, I would most definitely feature Prague’s Astronomical Clock in the “10 Places to Pick Pockets Before You Die” issue. One thing I will say for the clock, however, is the tower offers up some of the best views of the city. That experience is one not to be missed.

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The food in Prague is another topic on which I’d like to share a few thoughts. Now of course, it stands to reason that any urban center is going to have diverse offerings that hail from all regions of the globe, but where I want to focus my efforts is on what I  understand to be traditional (yet modern) Czech cuisine. Suffice it to say, vegetarians ought to take heed in the Czech Republic Capital.  In my limited experience, I encountered virtually the same menu at every Czech-oriented eating establishment: dumplings, bread, meat, cabbage and, if you’re lucky, goulash. Now, was there variety among the dumplings and breads and meats and cabbages? Oh sure. Sometimes the dumplings were potato, sometimes bacon. Meats, well, the sky is really the limit. Pork knuckle? Pork shoulder? Pork head? It it’s pork, they have most definitely got it. Cabbage comes both in red and white, though it is most definitely always stewed and sweetened. This might sound like I was not enthused with this steady stream of meat and potatoes, but that would not be the case. It’s rare I get to dive headfirst into a never-ending pool of dense carbohydrates, rich proteins, and syrupy vegetables. So I quite enjoyed this deviation from the typical shrimp taco or chicken sandwich that I’m known to plop onto my plate. Though, you’d be correct in assuming I didn’t experience many hungry evenings in Prague.

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Bonemonsters, superfluous meat plates and clockster-f@#ks aside, Prague is right up my alley. It’s one of the only major European centers not destroyed in WWII or culturally annihilated by the subsequent oppressive communist regime. What I’m trying to say is, Prague has a lot of experience just being Prague. And it seems comfortable in its own, cobblestone-covered skin.

Granted, most of our experience there was limited to 3 days in a tourist-heavy area, but I’d still say it’s a delicious city that celebrates the old without bathing in nostalgia, and welcomes the new without moving too rapidly toward a complete industrial overhaul. Blackening castles tower over street musicians who serenade tourists with Bob Dylan covers. And Pilsner beers can be ingested by mug or by bathtub (we tried both). The red roofs and spires of the skyline can be viewed from modern TV towers or park-laden bluffs. And absurd black light theaters are positioned next to classical churches, while lights from modern, high end fashion retail shops illuminate centuries old Jewish cemeteries down the road. But the juxtaposition doesn’t feel dichotomous. On the contrary, it’s harmonious.

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Fun Fact: the blackening of the exterior is a natural process the stone goes through overtime and there have been extensive renovation efforts where a natural chemical is applied to the stone to keep it the sandy yellow color. It’s a controversial practice in Prague where some argue the castle should age naturally

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Watching the sunset from a Prague biergarten.

Watching the sunset from a Prague biergarten.

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These are mostly observations taken while in Prague’s downtown, but as is true in any well-loved community, off the tourist-beaten path, there is a lot to appreciate about Prague and its people.

During our stay in Prague, we took up residency with Tomas and his equally blonde female counterpart in their first floor airbnb apartment in a idyllic Hradčanská neighborhood. Upon arriving, Tomas made a point to show us where we were, where the main tourist sights were, and recommended places we should see that aren’t also recommended to 234228394753986436 other people by way of Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, what have you. As a result, we wound up spending a few of our mornings and evenings wrapped in the warm cloak of the easy-going and cordial keepers of the Cafe Calma, Indian by Nature, and Restaurace U veverky.

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View of a fountain from a morning coffee at Cafe Calma. Note: If you Where’s Waldo the fountain scene, you’ll notice both homeless men taking their daily bath and a toddler on the waters edge taking her daily toddle.

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We were on the first floor of this slightly pink, slightly art deco building.

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Well, for lack of a more eloquent synopsis, here ends my Prague Blague.


And we’re back! (And boy do we have a story to tell…)

Hi internet! Kelsey’s killer here. I got to murdering Kelsey a few weeks back and realized I should probably write a blog post or two to keep the fuzz off my tracks. So, here it is.

DIY, something, something, doodles, puns, something, something, before and after picture, some lazy adverbs, something about design, jokes, and cute ending.

Just kidding. But I bet I totally had you going there. I’m so funny…

My mom sent me an email recently saying she missed my blog posts, and when friends started giving me the third degree about my lack of web presence, I figured it was probably time to get on the ball. Plus, Heath said if I didn’t start posting soon, the internet rumors would start flying. I don’t flatter myself to think anyone would start internet rumors about the Doodle House, but I was almost tempted not to blog ever again just to see what the old blogosphere would come up with. But I actually think I’ve got some semi-decent reasons for laying low online as of late. Commence defense mode now.

For starters, I recently started an amazing new job, and I’ve been pouring a lot of my creative energy into that. I mean, it takes a lot of hard work to be head writer at SNL while moonlighting as Beyonce’s personal stylist/lifecoach/bff. But I digress.

Secondly our home improvement binge had been placed on the backburner as of late because we’re were saving up for a big, big, big project this summer–one that was going to change our lives. Were, being the operative word there. I say “were” because we’ve recently hit a road block, one that I like to call Shower Under Construction Kind-of-Stuff, or SUCKS for short. (Note: I may also refer to it as a “Loo-ming” Situation or  John Gone because, hey, we’re trying to have fun over here.)

Here’s the play-by-play of SUCKS:

  1. We noticed running water coming from the faucet in our shower every time we turned it on.
  2. We called the plumber because that’s what decent humans do when things leak.
  3. He knocked a gaping hole in our shower and discovered a broken pipe that spewed water into our walls and onto the floor.
  4. Now we need a bathroom.

This all started last weekend, and since Monday we’ve been living not only without a working shower but also in a wind tunnel.  A restoration company brought in some heavy duty industrial fans and dehumidifiers that have been running around the clock in an effort to dry everything out and mitigate some of the water damage before any kind of actual repair starts.  It’s been a week with no shower access and no clear timeline given for when we will have a working bathroom again. Obviously, having a broken bathroom isn’t great, but it’s especially not great for us because we’re some of those people who fall in the one-bathroom category. And since we’ve taken on a roommate (Monte, I’ll get to him later) it’s especially inconvenient.

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But I’m a glass half full kind-of gal, and I concede that while saying this SUCKS,  it also provides us with a lot of opportunity. For one, I’ve got some good, GOOD fodder for the blog now: Five ways to politely ask your friends if it’s cool for you to shower at their house for an indefinite amount of time, and Dirty is the new Black: why daily showering is totally overrated, and my doodle house expose, Tile and Error–What the ceramics  industry doesn’t want you to know.  What I’m trying to say is, where I lacked in blog posts in February, I will definitely make up for in March. And while these next few weeks (God, I hope it’s only weeks) will be a bit uncomfortable what with no working bathroom at all, I’m at least recognizing the silver lining of having my homeowners insurance pick up (some of) the tab for a much-needed renovation.

For the next little while, I’ll be burying myself with bathroom renovation research, contractor estimates, Google image searches of “modern eclectic” bathrooms, and a nice layer of grease and grime. I can’t wait to share.

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Clean or be cleaned?

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Neither my parents nor Heath’s parents had housecleaning help when we were growing up. I don’t know the reasoning behind that decision in the Robinson household, but I’m pretty sure my mom nixed the option because she felt no one could do it as well as she could. I, however, do not share her enthusiasm.

I bring this up because while the question of whether or not to hire some bi-monthly help to tend to baseboard cleaning and oven scrubbing may not give others pause, it does for me because it’s not a luxury I am accustomed to having on a regular basis. Like manicures or massages. Nothing is wrong with either habit, but it’s difficult to embrace an indulgence like that if it’s not what you regularly grew up. I also feel like the maid debate is somewhat of a taboo, at least in our social circle. Before writing this post, I never brought up the subject to friends, it just wasn’t something anyone discussed. But as I started thinking more about it and asking questions, I found out that a surprising number of close friends benefit from the assistance of a professional housekeeper. The fact that it wasn’t discussed but was nonetheless present, makes me dwell on the topic even further.

The truth of the matter is, I am an employed adult in a two-income household with no kids and an affinity for exploration, and the last thing I want to do with my free time is engage in scrupulous cleaning.  I’m not good at at.  I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it. I feel this same way about making sushi and going to the dentist.

So, is enlisting the assistance of an expert in cleanliness the right thing for Heath and I to do at this moment in our lives?  I see a pro/con list in my future.

Pro: The time I currently spend cleaning house would be free to focus on other things.

Con: I don’t currently spend that much time cleaning house, so realistically that doesn’t add up to much.

Pro: I get a clean house, a cleaner house than I could ever imagine…a home where there isn’t a layer of dust on the tops of all picture frames and even places like the sides of the refridgerator have a lustrous sheen. Ok, I clearly can imagine it, and I like it.

Con: Unlike, say, plumbing or electrical work, cleaning house is something I could do myself. I have the tools and the know-how to sweep and shine, so forking over the cash to let someone else do the dirty work could feel a little off. But to be fair, I call cabs despite knowing how to drive and eat at restaurants despite knowing how to cook. Why think differently about housework?

Pro: Technically, hiring a housekeeper would be providing employment, and I’ve always wanted to be one of them “job creators” the Republicans have been going on and on about.

Con: It’s a new expense, something else to budget for, which means less money to spend on some of the fun stuff like concerts or vacays.

Pro: I’m fairly certain the overall quality of my life would improve. I’m not going to put all my eggs in the hiring–a-maid basket, but having a well-kept home would make me feel all warm and squishy inside, like I’m kinda sorta getting good at the being-a-grown-up-thing. Impressing my mom with my spic and span space would be a nice benefit too.

Con: I can see myself feeling what Ranjana coined “lifestyle guilt.” I’ve had a pretty privileged life—got a car at 16, studied abroad in college, own a home—and I’m not obtuse the fact that these are things that many, many harder working people than myself will never have or experience. I don’t pretend that I wouldn’t feel sort of awkward about “flaunting” my good fortune before a stranger. I think this is the reason my friends aren’t quick to fess up to having a housekeeper.

Pro: Having a clean home is better for the house itself. If I bring someone in to regularly maintain the corners and crevices, the house will experience less rust, ware and deterioration. That’s just responsible homeownership.

Con: I would be letting a stranger into my private spaces. Things like dirty underpants, medication and embarrassing dance movies would all be out there for the housekeeper to see. I don’t know if  there’s a universally accepted moral code that housekeepers abide by that demands they refrain from judgement, but I hope so.

Pro: While a housekeeper would be a stranger at first, I hope that eventually we’d form a bond. I know many people who have developed strong ties and relationships with the people who provide them services, and I would really value building that unique relationship.

There’s clearly a lot to consider, at least from my perspective. But in the end, I think the good outweighs the bad. At the heart of it, hiring a housekeeper isn’t a reflection on me—it doesn’t mean I’m a spoiled and lazy so-and-so, it just means I would have a cleaner house. And that is something worth trying.


Gone are the days

From where I’m standing,  there are two schools of thought on what to do with a place, a home, when one of the people who loved it and lived within its walls perishes. It’s inevitable, I suppose, that part of what you once loved about the home would leave along with the departed, causing the remaining inhabitant(s) to become prisoners of their own surroundings.  But it’s also true that you might love the place all the more for the memories it stirs, deriving comfort and familiarity.  Such is the paradox of a home in mourning. It remains partly a tribute to the person who loved it and partly haunted by their absence. How much of one or the other tugs at the subconscious is what inevitably drives us to either stay submerged in the memory or move forward its shadow.

To summarize my metaphorical ramblings, I’m grieving the loss of my grandparents’ house. Since my grandmother, Oma,  died in 2009, my grandfather, Papa, has been diligently keeping the house they shared together in working order. I wouldn’t say he’s been struggling with the upkeep, but it’s not been without it’s challenges. A few days ago, he finally moved out—putting the only house I’ve known he and Oma to call home, on the market for the highest bidder.

It’s a beauty of a house, a grand old thing they built together in the Texas hill country before I was born. Allegedly they traveled the country in an RV for some undetermined but lengthy amount of time before deciding there was no better place on this planet to retire than the outskirts of New Braunfels, Texas. They bought two adjacent lots and planted their house in the middle of a grove of native trees. As a kid, it was an epic destination, as every proper grandparent house ought to be. To begin with, the house served as the setting in which I was permitted to inhale more homemade cookies than I was ever allowed at home. Then there was the hearth, which instead of a traditional fireplace, was actually an elevated stone platform that played host to a shiny blue franklin stove. But this unconventional setup turned out to be the ideal location for after dinner “talent” shows where I forced my doting family to sit through dramatic readings of my favorite children’s books or bizarre musical numbers I had written 15 minutes prior to showtime. Bro’s and my original performance of Mexican Date, I’m told was a big hit.  But cookies and attention-seeking behavior aside, the house is where I did my bonding with Oma. That’s where we cooked together and picked peaches. We rocked back and forth on the porch together, admiring the rolling grass like you’d admire waves from the deck of a ship. She told me stories and in turn I’m sure I provided an endless supply of laughter and general adorableness. It’s where I had the privilege to truly know my only living biological grandparent. After Oma died, the house is where I took Heath to engage in philosophical debates with Papa that would start around 5, cocktail hour, and carry on well into the night. The routine was fairly standard—cocktails at 5, dinner around 6:30, mind-spinning conversation until 9 and then sherry on the porch; but while predictable, dinners at Papa’s house were nonetheless looked forward to with monumental anticipation. Two weeks ago, Heath and I had our last-ever cocktail hour in the most consistent house of my childhood, and it’s not an easy experience to swallow.

The reasons for Papa relinquishing control of the house are fairly practical. It’s a lot of upkeep for one person, and while New Braunfels has grown exponentially from the time he and Oma first settled in, it’s a bit of a drive from  the town center. And he’s lonely, I would be too. And living that far, that isolated from human interaction was wearing on him. He traded drinking sherry alone for the opportunity to dine with friends in a growing retirement community. I’m glad he knows what he wants, and that at 88 he doesn’t think he’s too old to go after it. I admire that. And if I chose that path for myself, I would want my grandkids, hell, everyone, to be happy for me.

But I’m still a little heartbroken. Damn those childhood houses and their emotional hooks.

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The philosophical debates on exestentialism and excessive wine drinking will continue, however; even if the venue has changed. And that is something I can cheers to.


A Military Man

When UT scored their first touchdown against OU yesterday, it was followed by the obligatory high fives and high pitched WHOOs customary of the rare successful Longhorn play for points. And as also is customary for those occasions when he is not in the room during sporting events, I reached for my phone to text Bro with an all caps “HOOK EM!”

Wait….that’s right…He’s at bootcamp, unreachable by phone or text or email or carrier pigeon. How odd to think he might not even know that UT won yesterday.

My one and only sibling, Tyler “Bro” Wilkinson, left for Great Lakes, Illinois last Tuesday to begin a four-year stint with the United States Navy. During the 6 months he lived in our guest bedroom, I might have welcomed a prolonged absence by the loveably oblivious, workout buff and football addict. But now that the days of living within two miles of my childhood partner in crime are essentially over, I’m realizing how much I’m gonna miss that dude, well most of him—not so much his unexpected pop-ins to the house in the middle of the week without a heads-up phone call. In fact, the newfound privacy and unfettered access to our own washing machine will actually be a treat. And I definitely won’t miss his aggressive defeatist attitude during the second half of Cowboys games. No, those 45 minutes of violent pacing and hair pulling  will be a void I welcome.

What I will miss are my regular bouts with his sweet disposition, trusting nature and general gooberishness. It’s not often I would hang out with Bro and he wouldn’t say or do something to cause my head to shake in affectionate befuddlement. And it’s a rare human who can match my zeal for dance parties and appreciation of terrible puns. He’s the only person in the world who knows what it’s like to have our mom for a mom, our dad for a dad, who knows what it means to come from the family we came from. For the first time, I’m realizing I won’t have my little Bro around to come over and just generally “get it.” That’s new territory that will take some time to get use to.

Bro has always wanted to be a hero, and the military serves as an adequate scratch to that itch. He’ll be good at it. He’s disciplined and he’s easily content in most situations. He’s regimented and committed and loyal, and this experience will be good for him, but I wouldn’t be a good big sister if I didn’t believe that as good as the Navy will be for him, he’ll be even better for the Navy.

Either way, it’s a bummer not to have him around, and we’ll drink a beer in his honor during the Cowboys game tonight.

 

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Graphics Greenhorn

I majored in journalism because, well, when I started college I wasn’t terrible at writing and I fit that cliche mold of an overly idealistic 19 year old who thought they could change the world. (Spoiler alert: I haven’t and I won’t.) Say what you will about the dying newspaper industry and the minuscule salary earned by reporters, but one of the cool things about being a journalism major is getting an excuse to take lots of photography and graphic design classes.

Oh…wait….I didn’t do that. Dumb.

I don’t really remember what my reasons were for not taking a photography class–a class COMPLETELY supported by my major and funded by my financial aid. I think it was something about the lab hours being too demanding and I was at the point in my young life where I had a hot new boyfriend (now husband) and was more interested in hanging out in his dark room (HEY-OH). I did manage to fit in one graphic design course, but because the teaching assistant was a big-time sarcastic bully, I skipped out on most of those labs too.

Again, dumb.

As a result, I graduated sans graphics and photography know-how. It was a true shame considering I would soon develop a mild obsession with design and photography, which I would satisfy by teaching myself. There is a lot I need to learn and I know I’m very rough around the edges—especially when compared to the high-calliber pros—but I feel comfortable with what I’ve accomplished on my own thus far.

A few recent examples.

Invitations

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Posters and Flyers

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Early College High School

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Brochures and Other Publications (Click the image to see the entire package.)

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annual report

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Ombudsman Brochure 2006 (2)

 

Even Billboards (Oh yeah, I never wrote about that time I had a billboard!  Fun story for later.)

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I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about all of the graphic design nuances. There are rules and techniques that I am sure I don’t follow—more out of ignorance than an act of rebellious independence—and hundreds of styles I’ve yet to explore. Truthfully, I really have only grazed the surface of possibilities, but that has me more excited than intimidated.

I write this not to pat myself on the back or beg applause from readers. But I’ll admit I’ve got ulterior motives for laying my art and my insecurities out on the table. I try not to talk about my professional life too much, but recently at work some design-oriented projects I really cared about were vendored out to The Pros. And it has shaken my creative confidence.

But here’s the thing, too often I downplay my abilities and sulk over the fact that I would probably never be a “real” graphic designer. But honestly, these days I’m less woeful about my reluctance to seize the opportunity to learn the right way in college, and more proud of what I have been able to figure out on my own. Teaching myself was an education in its own merit. I had to admit what I didn’t know, do my own research and ask for help when I needed it—sometimes even from my own journalism students, when I was teaching, which makes for quite the humbling experience.  I established my own standard and had only myself to impress, and I think I’m finally coming around to believing I am an OK student.  I’m not an artist savant and I don’t want to be. I’d rather find joy in making mistakes, learning from them at my own pace than creating art that I feel good about.  I encourage others to embrace their interests whole heartedly and do the same.  There’s no “real” way to learn to be expressive, no “right” way to be creative.

“Take your pleasure seriously.” — Charles Eames, designer

 


Baby, I love you. Please don’t go.

Dear Backyard Garden,

Remember when you and I were tight and would hang out all the time?

-3We had so much in common, so much to learn from each other. Those were the good good old days.  But I don’t think you or I can deny for any longer the fact that lately we’ve been growing apart. Well, I’ve been growing apart. You have not been growing much of anything. But I understand. Especially with you, veggies.

-1I have to take some of the blame. I wasn’t there for you and I’m sorry.  But I hope you know that it’s not forever, I am just going through a tough time right now what with this heat and all. And I know, I know, before you say anything, I am fully aware of the fact that there are other gardeners who treat their plants nice even in the summer. But I’m not other gardeners. When it’s sweaty out there, and the raindrops are replaced by mosquitoes and we experience 40 days of triple digit temperatures, I’m just not woman enough to be there for you. I can’t make excuses. I am a weak person. I don’t feel great about it, and it’s time that I come clean and admit that my neglect has changed you. 

-3-2I take full responsibility for this low point in our relationship, veggie garden. Your pollen is on my hands and my hands alone.

But as for the rest of you plants, I think you need to take some responsibility for your actions.

I’m looking at you loquat tree. You hurt me. You hurt me bad. We were so good together! When you first started acting sad, I did everything I could to make you happy. Remember the daily dates with the water hose? If not, maybe the $400 utility bill will jog your memory. What did I do wrong? Why do you refuse to cooperate? I am beginning to feel really jilted by how much you take-take-take without giving back.
-4And you, yaupon holly? You’re a native! You should know better than to behave like a tropical, which you have to admit you have been these days with the water business. I’ll keep it coming, but get real, this weather is suppose to be your jam! I expect you to behave better and maybe act grateful for the attention you’ve been getting. What would veggies say if they they knew you were acting like this?-5What am I doing? This isn’t me. I didn’t mean to point fingers. This is my fault. I’ll try and be better. I promise you. I’ll turn over a new leaf, and I hope you will consider growing some in return. I love you garden. Maybe in time, we can get back to where we were.

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Love always,

Kelsey


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