Category Archives: Travel

Praying My Way Through Prague

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. ~ King James Bible, Matthew 7:7

I looked at the calendar today and realized that I missed an anniversary. Not my wedding anniversary, but a rather delightful one nevertheless.

It was two years ago this month that Sausage was conceived.

I know, I know, TMI. Well, it’s my blog, and I’ll talk about whatever I want to. So there.

Anyway, two years ago, in mid-August, Loving Husband and I went on a trip. We were still living in Sicily at that point, and we were coming up on our return to the US, so we were trying to get as much travel in as we could while we were so advantageously situated.

We packed a bag and hopped on a plane to Prague. That’s in the Czech Republic, for those of you who don’t know (it’s okay, I too am a product of an American public school education, I understand).

I had been wanting to go to Prague for a long time. It’s a beautiful city — it managed to avoid heavy bombing during World War II, so much of its Art Nouveau and medieval architecture remains intact. I was excited to go to the Mucha Museum, and Loving Husband was delighted to go to a country with heavy, Eastern European food. Needless to say, we looked forward to consuming much in the way of art and goulash.

Wild boar goulash with ginger dumpling and cranberry sauce. GET. IN. MY. FACE.

But a little backstory is in order here, as well. See, at this point we had been trying to have a baby for a year. I had had two miscarriages and countless tests to determine why I couldn’t maintain a pregnancy. I had been in therapy for nearly a year, since just after the first miscarriage my doctor and I decided that, with my history of depression, I was at a high risk of relapse. So we arrived in Prague soul-aching and damaged, clinging to whatever we could find of hope and normalcy.

The Czech Republic proved to be a very welcome distraction from doctor visits, blood tests, and therapy sessions. We stayed in the Ambassador Zlatá Husa Hotel, right on Wenceslas Square, which is the commercial center of Prague. It was walking distance to everything, and there were street meat carts out on the square, which meant that Loving Husband was just about in heaven.

Wenceslas Square in the evening.

I won’t go into all the things that we saw and did. If you look at a guidebook for Prague, we hit all the major sights — the cathedral, the palace, the astronomical clock tower. We saw a Black Light Theater show, and bought an insanely overpriced calendar at the Mucha Museum. We took a day trip to Kutná Hora, where we saw the famous Sedlec Bone Church, the less-famous silver mine, and our first wild hedgehog. We drank Czech beer with every meal and sopped up our gravy with savory dumplings. We walked and walked and walked until I thought my feet would fall off, and then we walked some more. We talked trash about other tourists and how obnoxious they were.

Kozel Dunkel. Reason enough to head to the Czech Republic.

And I prayed.

Now, I’m not religious. Spiritual, yes, but not religious. I have problems with organized religion and, frequently, with its followers. But in the Czech Republic, I prayed.

There have been a lot of holy people who have made Prague their home over the years. People who founded churches, who did good deeds, and are still revered. I made a point of learning about them so that I could pray to them.

The first one we encountered was Saint John of Nepomuk. There is a large statue of him on the Charles Bridge, over the river Vltava — this commemorates his martyrdom, thrown from the bridge into the river on the order of the king. A few meters (yards plus a little, for you Americans again) away from the statue, though, is a small cross and (relatively) modest image of the saint, supposedly marking the actual spot from which he was thrown. Legend has it that if you touch that cross and the image of the saint, and you make a wish, it will come true within a year and a day. You can only do so once in your life, so you’d better make the wish a good one. I wished for a healthy baby.

Praying to John of Nepomuk.

The second holy man that we encountered was Rabbi Loew, a famous scholar, philosopher, and Jewish mystic in the 16th century. Legend has it that he built the Golem of Prague, which made my nerdy little D&D-playing heart happy. Rabbi Loew is buried in Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery — a site so fascinating that it could be a whole post all by itself — and people frequently leave prayers at his monument, written on slips of paper and weighted with pebbles. I left my prayer on a small ledge at the back of the monument, under a pink pebble. I prayed for a healthy baby.

A tombstone from Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery. Yes, I did the flare on purpose. Because I’m ARTSY, that’s why.

The third pilgrimage I made was a rather odd one. Actually, I found it to be downright weird and uncanny, but there you go. In the Church of Our Lady Victorious, an important artifact is housed — it’s called the Infant of Prague, a small statue of the child Jesus that supposedly once belonged to Saint Teresa of Avila. I pretty much just saw a really creepy doll with a whole lot of expensive changes of clothes, but there you go — I’m not Catholic, I don’t get it. Nevertheless, the church was flooded with devotees, lighting candles and chanting the novena prayer which was printed in every language imaginable. I lit my candle, I said the words. I ask that my prayer be granted … I urgently ask that my prayer be granted … I know that my prayer will be granted. I prayed for a healthy baby.

Now, lest you fear that I had become a little bit crazy, praying to every statue and poppet that promised me a wish come true, you can be certain that Loving Husband and I did, in fact, remember to do all those other things that are required when you want a baby. Repeatedly.

It was fun.

Sausage’s future Mama and Daddy.

And two weeks later, we had a positive pregnancy test.

Sausage was born the following May. A healthy, beautiful, wonderful baby.

But we decided against naming him Infant Nepomuk Loew. We’re grateful and all, but seriously. Poor kid’s going to have enough issues when he finds out that I call him Sausage on my blog.

Hedgehog!

I Didn’t Hump Anyone’s Leg. I Promise.

A good neighbor is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it. ~ Arthur Baer

Loving Husband and I are shopping for houses.

Well, we’re shopping for one house. It’s not like we’re thinking of buying one and a spare.

This is a pretty major development for us. An evolutionary milestone, if you will. It means that, for the first time ever, we are prepared to stay in one place for a long time.

By “a long time,” I mean at least ten years. Since we’ve never lived anywhere for more than four years, that’s pretty huge.

But, now that our time in the Navy is done (at least as active duty folks), LH has a good job that won’t make him move every few years, and we’re tired of renting. It’s expensive, and we can’t do things to a rental house (like make repairs, or paint, or whatever) that we could do to a house that we own.

So we’re shopping.

This brings up an issue, though. Neighbors.

I mean, we’ve had neighbors before, obviously. But when you’re renting, and you know that you’re not going to be there for long, you don’t have to be on really good terms with your neighbors. It’s not important. Which was good for us, because, for various reasons, I’m a rotten neighbor.

For starters, I grew up in New Jersey, where people are not especially outgoing. So that’s one strike against me — culturally, my expectation is to ignore and be ignored.

I also grew up in a family of people who are introverts. As a family, we just don’t know what to do with strangers, and we’re certainly not about to knock on someone’s door to introduce ourselves, even without taking into account my own personal struggles with social anxiety. Strike two.

Um … yeah, hi. I’m just going to stay behind this nice tree until you go away, and then I’m going to beat myself up with recriminations, okay? (Photo by bigevil600)

My biggest problem, though, is that I’m a trouble-maker (I like to call myself a ‘free-thinker’). Let me give you an example to show you what I mean.

At our last station just before we left active duty, we had to live on base. This broke my heart when I found out — we were going to Sicily, and we’d have to live surrounded by only Americans? Where’s the fun in that? But we didn’t have a choice at that time — it was policy that any service members with families had to live in on-base housing.

We arrive to find that, not only do we have a lawn (which, having come from a third-story apartment, we’d never had before) but we’re expected to maintain it ourselves. In addition to weeding the lawn and pruning shrubs, that meant watering the lawn. Every day. Twice a day.

They wanted this.

Now, I’m a research nerd. As soon as I learned that we were going to Sicily, I started doing research on it. In the course of that, I found that Sicily has a lot of water distribution problems. Some are due to changing agricultural practices, with a move toward more water-intensive crops and away from the traditionally Mediterranean olives and almonds. Others are due to corruption and the influence of organized criminal organizations. Either way, every summer there is some problem with water, and people frequently have to go without water in their homes for days at a time.

To me, this spelled out the word C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E. I thought, if there are water troubles, the responsible thing to do would be to conserve water. And a good way to start would be to eliminate uses that were purely aesthetic, like watering your lawn. Makes sense, right?

Wrong. I’m a damn hippie. No matter how much research I quoted, or how often I showed my findings to the maintenance folks and the chain of command, nobody wanted to hear anything about it.

On the contrary, it made people awfully angry. I know, I know, I was naïve to think that people would be willing to listen, to not realize that people would feel threatened and angry at some LT’s wife trying to save the world one lawn at a time. As an idealistic, I-can-make-the-world-a-better-place, twenty-something artistic type, it was a pretty rude awakening for me.

They got this.

What really shocked me, more than anything else, was the reaction of some of my neighbors. One in particular, a woman whose husband my husband happened to work closely with, was so angry about the state of our lawn (that state being mostly dead) that she confronted me about it. Angrily. If we had been men, I’m pretty sure that fists would have been involved. And after that, with very few exceptions, we never spoke to one another again.

(Can I tell you one of the exceptions? We were at a command dinner at a restaurant, a large group of Americans surrounded by Italians, who were studiously ignoring us. I was talking at my end of the table with one of Loving Husband’s colleagues, who asked me about my theater background and what sort of things I had done. When I mentioned that I had been involved in a production of The Vagina Monologues, this neighbor woman yells from the other end of the table, “Watch your mouth!” As if I was randomly shouting out the clinical names of lady-parts in public — VULVA! VAGINA! CLITORIS! I mean come on. Context, people! I think she really did expect me to pee on the floor, or start humping someone’s leg.)

I’m pretty sure that our neighborhood had a block party to celebrate our departure at the end of our tour. I can’t prove it, though, because when I left I was on speaking terms with so few of our neighbors.

Strike three. We’re out.

Buying a house, we’re going to be there for a long time. I want to be on good terms with the neighbors. I mean, we don’t have to become life-long friends, walking into each other’s houses without knocking, like in the old sitcoms. But I would like to be reasonably certain that they’re not going to leave flaming piles of poo on my doorstep.

With that in mind, we’re preferring houses that don’t have lawns, at least in front. And we’re automatically dismissing any houses that have Homeowner’s Associations.

I’d love to hear your crazy neighbor stories! Unless they’re about me, “That damn crazy hippie who moved in and crusaded against decent, hard-working lawns.” In which case you may keep it to yourself.

I Saw A Real Live Cowboy, Too

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m back!

The last two weeks have been physically grueling and emotionally intense. First, I drove with my Loving Husband and with Sausage up to western New York state for my grandmother’s memorial service and to help my father deal with her possessions, which felt like a strangely mournful looting. Then, less than 48 hours after our return home to Maryland, we were driving again — this time to New Jersey, where Sausage would be staying with my mother-in-law while we flew to Oklahoma for a friend’s wedding.

Oklahoma, OK?

It sounds trite to say that in all this I learned a lot, but it’s true. I don’t think I’m ready to talk about the things I learned with regard to my grandmother’s death — that’s all too raw. But I will happily talk about the things I learned in Oklahoma City, where I attended the beautiful wedding of a dear friend and attended the damn good party that she and her new husband threw afterward.

Lesson The First: Oklahoma City Is … Special

Things that are great about OKC: the Bricktown Brewery‘s wheat beer is pretty damn good. The people were invariably nice and polite, and did their best to be helpful. The streets are clean. The botanical gardens are beautiful.

Things that are not so great: we could not find a salon that could accommodate four mani-pedis on a Friday afternoon. There are no proper drugstores in downtown Oklahoma City (so don’t bother looking); but we did find a convenience store that sold Band-Aids for my blistered feet, at 25¢ a pop. And, after some searching, we found a place that was open at 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon and would sell us drinks, which saved us from a very long day with nothing to do.

If you go to Oklahoma City, you’d better rent a car because it’s the least walkable city ever; don’t forget to pack sunscreen, because there are very few places to buy it downtown; and in general, don’t schedule too much time out of your Oklahoma vacation to spend in OKC. Go see the buffalo or something instead.

I will name him George, and I will hug him, and pet him, and squeeze him.

Lesson The Second: I’m Not 22 Anymore

I forgot, for a little while this weekend, just how ancient I am. I danced, I drank (oh, man, did I ever drink), I shouted to be heard over loud music. I slept two hours before catching an early flight home, stumbling onto the plane still a little drunk from the night before.

And then I suffered. I suffered the pain of physically realizing how far I’ve come from my 22-year-old self. For example, some things that I learned the hard way:

  • My feet can’t handle all that carousing anymore. Blisters and bunions and badness, oh my!
  • I can’t jump up and down on the dance floor anymore. At least, not unless I have a REALLY empty bladder.
  • I start to get sleepy at around three in the afternoon, so events that start at 8:30 in the evening will largely find me tucked in a dark corner, nursing a beer and my bunion, struggling to stay awake.
  • My appearance has changed enough that people who knew me in my late teens and early twenties don’t recognize me.

There I am. Partying like it’s 1999.

Really, I should have known better than to try to party like I did back in college, but after more than a year as a stay-at-home-mom, finding myself sans child and surrounded by adults and freely flowing booze, I felt like I had escaped from some sort of cheerio-scented, diaper-filled prison. And as for not being recognized, well. It had been fifteen years in some cases. Who doesn’t change in fifteen years? I will choose to think of it as being caused by my more-flattering haircut and hard-earned confidence, and less as a result of crow’s feet and lost youth.

Lesson The Third: I Have Some Wonderful Friends

I was lucky this weekend in that an old friend, one whom I hadn’t seen in eleven years, was also able to come to the wedding. We stayed in the same hotel and spent a lot of time together, catching up. We had been very close way back when, and somehow that closeness and trust had survived the years. This got me to thinking about just how lucky I’ve been in my life to have so many friends like that — people that I’m friends with no matter how much time and distance there is between us. This weekend’s lovely bride is one, my eleven-years-gone friend is another, and I can think of several more women who I know I could call on any time, even though we haven’t been in close touch for years. Women with whom I’ve had such a great connection that we’ll always be friends, no matter what. For someone who has trouble making friends and who finds social situations to be anxiety-inducing, this seems pretty remarkable. I’m so, so lucky to have this kind of friendship in my life.

We always said we’d be friends forever. It’s starting to look like we really meant it.

So now I’m returning to normal life — blog, baby, theatre, and all the accompanying craziness. But I feel better having cut loose a little, having reconnected with some of the people I love the most, and heck, having been to Oklahoma. Who would have thought?