Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bohemian Rhapsody, Part Two: Carry On, Carry On

Before I get started, here are some of the rejected titles for this blog series:

It's a Prague Eat Prague World
Every Prague Has Its Day
Poking and Prague-ing

Czech it Out
Czechs and Balances
Chubby Czecher
What the Czech?

A Scandal In Bohemia

Ok so our first day in Prague was not too eventful, just kind of walking around getting our bearings. We decided that Tuesday would be a museum day.

We first went to the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. They had a really cool exhibit based on Orwell's 1984, with quotes from the book that were meant to be descriptive of communism in Czechoslovakia. They also had works from lots of well-known artists; it was a really nice collection. They had Mucha's Slav Epic, which we did not see because it cost extra, but after seeing some of his paintings in the Mucha museum, I kinda wish we had. Anyway, I was really hoping that Sadie could just walk through with me, holding my hand, but she basically refuses to be contained. If I set her down, she wants to roam free, so when she got tired of being reined in, we hurried through and left.

After the museum we had our favorite lunch of the trip. It was in a little pub just across the street from the museum. I had blueberry dumplings (seriously, America needs to get on the "sweet stuff for lunch" train); this was the only place we went to during the trip that had the sweet dumplings. For three lunch entrees and two beers, the entire meal was the equivalent of 12 euros! Food there is pretty cheap; even the touristy meals we had weren't super expensive compared to places we've eaten in other countries.

After lunch, we went to the Mucha museum. It was pretty small and expensive for the size, but I enjoyed it. If you buy tickets for the Kafka museum at the Mucha museum, they are half price. The reverse is also true, so it's actually cheaper if you go to the Kafka museum first. Anyway, they had some cool stuff, including proofs of some of his prints, so you can see some sort of intermediate stages in the process.

It was mid-afternoon at that point, and we had time to go across the Charles Bridge and see the Kafka museum.

Charles IV I think?

The Kafka museum was really cool. It was arranged to sort of reflect the tone of his work and I think Kafka superfans would be really into it because they had lots of documents and things that he had written. There was also some information about Prague at the time he was living there, and people he had known. Sadly, we had to kinda cut it short because Sadie got impatient near the end. 
I wanted to go to the gift shop to get some postcards, so I picked out what I wanted and stood in line. The lady at the register told us that we'd have to go to another register to buy things. So we went to that other register and stood there for a while, waiting for someone to come out. No one did. Eventually, I walked behind the counter to see if anyone was even back there. Nope. We chose to believe that was just part of the Kafka experience and left without the postcards.

Christmas Eve is kind of the day most things are closed, so we planned to do more things that involved just looking. We hit the Christmas market again, and I got this picture of the pastries I mentioned in the last post being made:

We went to go look at the famous Astronomical Clock, and we were there right at noon when it was about to go off. Of course, there was a huge crowd of people so the only picture I got was kinda from the side.

There are some cool mechanical things that happen when it goes off, but the crowd was a little intense, kinda like if they put the Mona Lisa on Bourbon Street. So, if you hate crowds, it's probably as cool to just see it between hours when you can actually get a good look at it. There was also a big Christmas tree in the square:

And a statue of Noted Reformer Jan Hus:

I want you to look at the sky/light in that picture and think about what time you would guess it was taken. Noon. That's what the sky looks like at noon here (and in Aachen... I think on the solstice there were fewer than 8 hours of daylight, which is fine with me).

We saw this, which I think is the powder tower:

And we had lunch at the Grand Cafe Orient, which is in a cubist building. At the museum the day before, we learned that Czech cubism was more about sculpture and architecture than it was about painting. I'm not totally sure what makes a building cubist, but Sadie had a tasty crepe!

I also snuck a pic of this person taking home her Christmas tree on the subway, because I thought it was kinda funny. I've gathered that in Europe, people, though not largely religious, make a bigger distinction between Christmas and Advent than we do in the US. People usually buy their trees the day before Christmas and then keep them up until 12th night/Epiphany/January 6.

We saw the Frank Gehry building, which I think is called Dancing House or something like that:

Before dinner we went back to the main square to look in an old church they have there. Here is the crappy picture I got from the outside. I was hoping to catch how the spires have a sort of Neuschwanstein thing going on.

We grabbed some hot cider and found a quick geocache before getting dinner. We had a place we wanted to go to, but even though we had read that it would be open on Christmas Eve, it was closed. We ended up eating at a semi-touristy local chain, but it was still pretty good. They even had a high chair for Sadie! She was so good during dinner. She got dumplings and could just eat them by herself from her chair. I got a humongous plate of ribs! Sadly I didn't take a picture of them, but I did get a picture of Sadie!

She looks exactly like Hunter!

Next time, I'll talk about the last few days of the trip!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Literary Lundi #6

Tomorrow I'll be continuing my "Bohemian Rhapsody" series, but since I didn't post last week I figured I'd do a big ol' Literary Lundi today. Since there are so many books I got over the past two weeks, I'm just going to put Goodreads links and not write about each individual book. I got a big Nook giftcard for Christmas, which should sustain my next 30-50 books (remember, I said I really only buy books on sale which for ebooks is $1.99-$2.99).

Books Acquired:

Joyland by Stephen King

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Judging a Book by Its Lover by Lauren Leto

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

The Bees by Laline Paull

Panic by Lauren Oliver

The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Black Sheep Knitting Mystery Series by Ann Canadeo

Star Trek: Destiny: The Complete Saga

Books Finished:

The Magic Trick (The Card Game, #2)The Magic Trick by Levi Stack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 2nd instalment in this series is as exciting as the first, as we see what happens to Viktor and Romulus once the Silent Deal is broken.

This time, we are taken inside Staryi Castle as Viktor and his classmates take classes, ostensibly training to be Apprentices to the Leopard. I can see people complaining a bit about this plot development, mainly in its similarities to other series. Viktor doesn't do very well in Infusions (Potions) class, his teacher is probably evil, and then there are the trials, in which death is a very real possibility. So yes, these are themes we have seen in other books, but the setting and characters here are original.

As with the first book in the series, there are many characters to keep track of, and several plot threads. There is a bit of violence, but nothing terribly graphic. So again, maybe upper middle grade? Or an advanced younger reader? As an adult who regularly reads books for younger readers, I enjoyed it. The Magic Trick ends with a few more mysteries solved, and a few more questions asked. I hope to read the next book in the series as well.

I received my copy of this book from the author.

View all my reviews

The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This might be more of a 3.5; it was pretty good but I didn't absolutely LOVE it.

I had heard a lot of hype about this book the year it came out, like it would be the next big series or whatever, and I don't think it lives up to that, but it was a pretty entertaining read. The basic idea is that it's an alternate universe (or alternate history) where people with psychic powers exist and of course society doesn't like/trust them, and of course our protagonist is a girl who is special. Tropes Are Not Bad, so that isn't a complaint, just callin' like it is.

The reader on the audio was really good, she did several different accents of the British Isles, which I liked. There was also a character (Jaxon) who I couldn't help but picture as Mark Shepard. I assume they'll make a movie of this, so they should get him for that role.

If you're into this type of book (YA dystopia) this is a cool addition to the genre, and since it doesn't take place in America the setting and details are a bit different from some of the other big series out there.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:

I'm almost done with Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko and on audio, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I'm enjoying the latter so much that I may make a dedicated blog post about it; it's just really making me think and reflect on a bunch of stuff.

Up Next:

Would you believe I haven't given it much thought? I may finally give in and give up my firstborn for the 4th Harry Potter audiobook, but as for ebooks, I have over a hundred on my Nook and I'm not sure which to read next.

So that's the past two weeks! And if you're into books and stats about books, later this week I'll have a post up analyzing my reading habits from the past three years. There will be graphs!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bohemian Rhapsody, Part One: Is This the Real Life?

I'm going to break up our Prague trip into a few parts, as I did with the London trip. This post will include the trip there and the first day or so.

We actually spent the night before we left in Duesseldorf, since our flight was a bit early. Just to get from the hotel to the airport, we woke up at 6:30, so I'm glad we decided to do that instead of taking an early train. Ever since the London trip, I'm a bit paranoid about missing planes, even though that one was because I mixed up the times.

I dressed up Sadie in one of the Christmas outfits she had opened the night before, a little elf type thing. Everyone at the airport was just flipping out over how cute she was. Some of the shop ladies squealed in joy when they saw her, and then ran to get a little stuffed toy to give her. Sadly, we lost the toy on the plane. Anyway, you can judge for yourself how cute she was:

All of the picture are going to be phone pictures. I'm not really what you'd call a "photog," and packing the camera isn't something I do automatically. So I did the best I could with what I have and next trip I'm really going to try to remember the real camera.

Anyway, we made it to Prague in one piece and checked into the hotel, then decided to grab some lunch. There was a nearby brew-pub sort of chain that we went to. Apparently, the Czech Republic drinks more beer per capita than any other country, like, it's not even close. I believe Czechs drink about 150 liters/year and the 2nd place country is Austria, with 100 liters/year. That's basically an average of a bottle a day per person. So we had some beer and dumplings and meat, which seems to be the main things people eat there.

The other thing we did that night was walk around. We walked across the Charles Bridge and through a few Christmas markets. They have the main big one, but there seem to be little miniature markets here and there. I got my first of several "Trdelnik." Basically it's a rope of dough coiled around a sort of a skewer, and grilled. The dough has butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nuts in it and it comes to you in the form of a hollow cylinder. Here is me eating one:

We overheard an English speaker, North America, probably just American, dismissing this as "just sugar and bread." Yes, it's sugar and bread. Every dessert is sugar and bread. Why do you need more than sugar and bread? We had several of these during the week, and they are SO GOOD. That night I started getting a bit of a headache, but I did manage to take a picture of this sign that Hunter pointed out:
Watch out for Charlie Chaplin!

Our hotel was really close to a metro stop, which was useful. The metro system seems pretty good, although the escalators are a bit scary: not only are they really tall, they are unusually fast! The only comparably tall escalator I have been on is this one in DC, near the Mall. Another sort of weird thing I noticed was how many ads for books there were in the stations. There were a few ads for movies and plays, too, but I can't remember seeing that many book posters in other transit systems I'd been in. Is this a new trend? Or am I just non-observant?

Alright, next post I'll talk about museums and our favorite meal of the trip!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Two Finished Projects

So I actually have a bunch of things I've made that I haven't gotten around to photographing and posting. Today I got my act a little bit together so I have two things to show.  The first has been finished for at least a month, but I only just got around to putting it in a frame and hanging it up:

If it isn't clear, it's a cross-stitch, and the pattern comes from the Star Trek cross-stitch book I got for Christmas last year! And here it is hanging amidst the wall of geekery/pop culture:

The next thing I made were some mittens for Sadie. I want to make some fancier ones eventually, but I had never made mittens before so I started with a very basic pattern. Here is the link. I had some leftover yarn from previous projects. I finished these a few weeks ago, but then she lost one! So I made another and put them on a little cord so they'll stay together.

She really loves draping things around her neck.

I have three more finished knitting projects to post about, so I'll try to get to those in the coming week or two!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Literary Lundi #5

Books Acquired:

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko-- A sci-fi novel translated from Russian, which will fit into one of the tasks for the Seasonal Reading Challenge.

Doctor Who: Silhouette by Justin Richards-- When I see a Doctor Who novel on sale, I grab it. This one is with the 12th Doctor, and appears to feature the Paternoster gang.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta-- The author of this is Finnish, although I think she wrote it in both English and Finnish? It's a future where water is scarce. Mixed reviews, but sounded like the kind of thing I like.

Books Finished:

I only finished one book this week, and it's starting to look like I won't meet my reading goal for the first time in several years. I don't really think that having a kid is an excuse, since my goal was lower. Really I've just been spending more time playing video games, reading blogs, and doing other stuff.

Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of JesusGive Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hunter got this book and thought it would be a good idea if we both read it, so that it wouldn't just be him telling me what it said. I was a bit scared because I don't often read books that affect my life so much, but I went into it hoping to have both an open mind and a critical eye. I knew I would agree with the basic theological assumptions the authors made, but I didn't just want to read this with an intention of blindly following everything they said.

I'm not going to summarize every point they make, but the basic idea is that Christian parenting should look different from other parenting, and that difference is the presence of grace in every facet of life. There are a few minor technical details I wasn't on board with (corporal punishment and your typical woman-as-temptress model of modesty), but overall they paint a great picture of what Gospel-centered parenting looks like. Elyse is really honest about the ways she failed to parent like this, which I appreciated.

Right now Sadie still doesn't require as much parenting as she does just basic needs (although she is less of a baby every day *sob*), so I think this will be a book I come back and refer to as she grows and her rebelliousness becomes more apparent.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:

I'm still reading the audio of The Bone Season, although I should be done with that within the next few days.

The Magic Trick by Levi Stack-- I read the first book in this...quadrilogy... last month and the author was kind enough to give me a copy of the second one.

Up Next:

For my next audiobook, I'll probably use my credit to get The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, since she is one of my favorite performers and I'd like to read her book. And I think the next ebook I read will be the aforementioned Night Watch.

And, if you're interested in statistics, watch the blog because I'm going to do a big post about my reading habits over the past three years!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Literary Lundi #4

I bought... kind of a lot of books this week? A few of these were from the Nook holiday sale, so I'm going to try to read them while they are still seasonally appropriate!

Books Acquired:

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart-- It's about the plants that go into booze, so it should be fun.

A Crossworder's Gift by Nero Blanc-- Mystery stories with crosswords included! I may have read something from this series before? I have definitely read a crossword-related mystery. Reviews for this title aren't great, but could be decent travel reading.

The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber-- I guess I'm going all in on this Michel Faber thing.

Doon by Carey Corp-- A YA fantasy based on Brigadoon. The musical.

Mistletoe Murder by Leslie Meier-- Again, reviews aren't great, but I'm not really that picky.

A Crossworder's Delight by Nero Blanc-- I think this one comes with crosswords AND recipes. Hunter pointed out that he doesn't usually read books that come with freebies. Here's my response to that:

Books Finished:

The Edible WomanThe Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, this is the second Margaret Atwood I've read, and I believe her first novel. Although there were definitely some similarities, I didn't like it as much. Both deal with the pressures put on women, but this deals more with internal pressure rather than external. In some ways, I was surprised by how little there was in this book to date it. Aside from a few things like a hotel requiring a couple to be married, I would almost believe this was written in the 1990s or later. I guess I'm not sure what that says about the state of society. Anyway, it was okay and the narration on the audiobook was really good--I mean, the voices she did for the different characters were apt and well-done--but I don't think it's a great book and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to someone just getting started with Margaret Atwood, because I think if I had read this first I might not be super interested in her later stuff.

View all my reviews The AntiquarianThe Antiquarian by Julián Sánchez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like books about books, and historical mysteries. Because that sentence is supposed to lead into this one, it pretty much goes without saying that The Antiquarian is both. As far as the writing style goes, it's somewhere between Dan Brown and Umberto Eco. Which I guess you could say, what isn't? But I mean, there is definitely a strong plot moving things along, but that's not ALL there is.

It reaaallly made me want to visit Barcelona, and just Spain in general, too.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:

Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson-- Hunter got this book and started reading it, and then thought it would make more sense if we both read it rather than him just telling me what he got out of it. It's a little different for me to read a book with the potential to have so much impact on my life, but maybe it's good for me to read things for reasons other than just plain enjoyment.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (audio)-- In an alternate timeline, some people have psychic powers and the government doesn't like that. Pretty good so far, and I like the narrator's ability to do different English accents.

Next Up:

Levi Stack, the author of The Silent Deal, which I read recently, also gave me a copy of the second book in the series, The Magic Trick, so I'll probably move on to that next.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Homemade Vapor Rub

So last weekend, Sadie started getting a little sniffly and then got a cough that was waking her up at night. Of course, this was Saturday night, so on Sunday our options for buying medicine were limited. Hunter went to Vaals (in the Netherlands) to get some Vapor Rub, but we realized after he bought it that you aren't supposed to use it on children under 2. D'oh! After another night or so of Sadie not doing too great, I decided to look up how to make a child-safe Vapor Rub.

I'm not like, a DIY mama-goddess. I don't think that the word "natural" holds magical properties; after all, arsenic is natural and like, a lot of useful medications aren't natural. So I didn't make this because I was afraid of chemicals or something, I just didn't really have another option, especially considering the language barrier. So, I based my concoction off of this recipe but just made a few tiny changes.

For me, the ingredients weren't hard to find. I got cocoa butter and coconut oil at the organic store that is 2 blocks from my apartment; the essential oils and beeswax I got from this like, "natural pharmacy" that's about another block away. This place was a freaking apothecary. There were jars with handwritten labels and a mechanical cash register. She measured the beeswax on a scale. It was either legit, or totally not legit depending on how you look at it, I guess. I got lavender, peppermint, and... lemon eucalyptus? It's called Zitronen-Eucalyptus here so I don't really know if that's what it's called in English. She told me I would probably only need 10g of beeswax when I explained (or tried to explain) what I was using it for.

This is not one of those things that's like, oh it's so much cheaper if I make my own! These ingredients were probably about 20 Euros total. However, there is some left of everything (quite a bit of the essential oils), so the actual price per oz or whatever is considerably less than that. So here are my ingredients laid out:

I got non-organic essential oils because a)they were cheaper and b)I just have a hard time believing that oil extracted from a non-organic plant would be that different? Plus I wasn't sure this would work?

Ok, so if you looked at the recipe, or just thought about it, you would know that wax needs to be melted in a double boiler. I don't have that so this is what I did:

I covered a colander in tinfoil and put it over a pot of water. It did actually work. I melted the cocoa butter and beeswax, and then I melted the coconut oil a bit to soften it since it was really solid and wouldn't mix unless I did. I put in 5 drops of eucalyptus oil, 10 of lavender and 10 of peppermint.

I put it in an old honey jar. This is it when it was still hot and liquidy. I put it in the fridge for a bit to solidify, but it probably doesn't need to be stored in the fridge or it will get quite hard. As to its efficacy? I'd give it a maybe. We have used it for 2 nights now. Yesterday Sadie had a lot of chest congestion, like I'd pick her up and feel the rattling in her chest. If it hadn't gone away, I was going to take her to the doctor but that part seems to be gone. No way of knowing if this stuff is what helped, but it at least has a soothing scent. Although I am thinking maybe Zitronen Eucalyptus is citronella, because it smells faintly like a bug candle. Maybe next time I can put more peppermint or something.

I have also heard of putting this stuff on the baby's feet, but it's hard for me to imagine what that could possibly do.

So anyway, now I have these essential oils... what else can I do with them?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Literary Lundi #3

I've taken advantage of some of the Cyber Monday/Black Friday ebook sales to get several new books this week!

Books Acquired:

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente-- I'd been interested in this book since it came out, so I insta-bought it when I saw it was on sale.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge-- Fairy tale re-telling is one of my favorite genres and I've been hearing about this one forever as well.

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski-- I think this is a dystopia type thing? I had put it on my "to-read" so I apparently thought it looked interesting at some point, and when I looked at Goodreads I noticed a few of my friends had reviewed or added it.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (audio)-- I got a $10 credit from Audible, then a book I wanted was on sale so I should be set on audiobooks for a while.

Books Finished

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, this is pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to be. If you liked Bossypants and/or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, then chances are you will like this one, too. Amy seems waaaaayyyy less straight-edge than Tina, so some of the details are "juicier," but she definitely seems to value her privacy regarding some parts of her life; there is very little pertaining to her divorce from Will Arnett, aside from saying she doesn't want to talk about it.

I always get a little sad reading books like these, because it reminds me that I want to be an entertainer and probably won't be, and Amy Poehler gets to hang out with Kathleen Hanna and I don't, and stuff like that.

So yeah, this book is funny, but there are also some serious parts; in some ways it seems a bit like a collage, jumping back and forth through time, self contained events cobbled together to make a picture of Amy Poehler.

The audio is amazing. It's read by Amy, of course, and she also gets several celebrity guests to read with her, which is really cool.

If you were interested in this book at all, I think it will deliver exactly what you wanted.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:

The Antiquarian by Julian Sanchez-- Yep, still working on it. Not because it isn't good; I'm really enjoying it. I just haven't read as much this week. On the few nights I was up because I couldn't sleep, I decided to play video games or watch TV instead of reading. I should finish it this week though.

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (audio)-- This book is weird. I think the most I can say about it so far is that it doesn't seem like it was written in the sixties.

Next Up:

So last time I postulated that my next book would be nonfiction, and I think I'm going to stick to that, although I haven't decided exactly what yet. I have a few memoirs in my library and I am probably going to go with one of those. Either Chronicles, Vol 1 by Bob Dylan or Rock On: An Office Power Balad by Dan Kennedy.