Monday, October 14, 2013

Our 'Real' Anniversary - From the Male Point of View

I was feeling pretty good about life. It was pay day, I had finally stashed enough loot to replace the glasses I broke celebrating Liverpool winning the Champions League, and my friend had invited me along to a company drinking session for the school he worked at. With cash burning a hole in my pocket, and a thirst stoked by the daily grind, which at that time was working as a Content Manager for a web development company, we went to the wrong pub.

Pivovarský Klub had only recently opened and not being aware of this fact we went to their sister pub, and one of my favourite places in Prague to eat and drink, Pivovarský dům. A quick taxi ride later and we were sat at a huge table in the brick basement that in a few years time would be the venue for my wedding reception. At some point in the evening the guy sat next to me, who could have bored for the US in the Olympics, went to the toilet. Just as he disappeared one of the girls in the group waved at someone coming down the stairs. I turned, pointed, and said:
"You. Sit here. Now."
That is how I met Mrs Velkyal, as she is known in my all of my blog posts, shortened to Mrs V. I have never been very good at the whole chatting women up malarky, I never know what to say, and as a result of nerves I tend to prattle on and on about some nonsense. Oh and I am terrible at picking up signals. Mrs V and I chatted and chatted, she was clearly a deranged soul as she did insist on listening to me. Must have been the charming British accent.

With the pub closing for the night, an executive decision was made that the group would be decamping to Lucerna. It being a Friday night, it was 80s/90s Video Dance Party, something of a rite of passage for expats living in Prague, and without being cruel, a total meat market. I have always liked going to clubs, not because I like to dance, I hate it, nor yet that I am any good at dancing, two left feet is an understatement, but I like listening to insanely loud music while people watching.

I turned to Mrs V and asked if she would be joining us at Lucerna, to which she replied,
'If you pay for me'
'Sure' was my response.

Stood in the queue to get in, I have a vague recollection that it was pissing down that night, another girl in the group asked if I was going to pay for her as well. When I informed her that my largesse extended only to Mrs V, she asked me why, to which I answered, 'She asked first'. Something of a tangent, but there are few more beautiful places in the world that Prague in the pouring rain, especially in the centre of the city as the reflections of neon signs glisten in the puddled cobble stones. Lucerna is a cavernous space, once owned by the family of my great hero, Vaclav Havel, and it was there that we had our first kiss, and somehow she even got me to dance....well....shuffle indelicately from foot to foot.

We've been together ever since, 8 years now. Not a bad return on investment for 100Kč.

100Kč is about £3.20 or $5.

Our "Real" Anniversary - From the Female Point of View

Every year this day rolls around and we reminisce about the night we met and our whirlwind of a relationship that came of it.  It's been 8 years.  Today on Facebook I announced our "real" anniversary and there were some inquiries as to how exactly it all went down... from both sides.  Men are from Mars, Women from Venus right?  Well, whatever the case, we both love telling stories of the "old days".  We are going to be some old couple!  So here goes.

I had been in a 5 year relationship that ended abruptly.  My companion, best friend and boyfriend blindsided me into a dark place that I could only stand so long.  I remember thinking to myself the week I met Al, "I have got to move on... this feeling sucks and I'm sick of it".  I remember joking about the kind of man I would find.  You know, tall, dark and handsome with a British accent.  Well, all but the dark part (unless you mean sense of humor).

Along came Friday and a friend of mine invited me to meet up with her at some work dinner/drinks thing.  I said, "ok, but I need to go to the Internet cafe first to check my email, then I'll be over".  INTERNET CAFE?  That doesn't age me AT ALL...  I entered Pivovarsky Klub in Prague, walked down the circular staircase to a large table with about 10 people including this guy who's already shouting at me to sit next to him.  "Ok", I say and I sit as I was told as I wave across the table at my friend.  Back in the day (I know it's cheesy), I could down at least 6 half litres of beer and still be able to walk to the next pub.  Plus, the beer is so fresh and tasty, without giving you all that bloat, that it's hard not to drink it.  Anyway, after quite a bit and lots and lots of conversation Al says to me, "You want to go to Lucerna - we're all heading over?".  I responded with a wit I didn't even know I had, "sure, if you'll pay for my entry".  Of course he says yes.

Lucerna is legendary in it's ability to bring people together with their cheap beer, humongous club, and Friday and Saturday night 80's/90's video party.  So fun!  Anyway, another few pints, a random bottle of wine and some hanging out, it was time to leave.  Al walked me home and on the way we stopped for munchies at a ManniMiniMart where he told me we should get married.  This actually happened a few other times until I finally asked him to stop.  He would always forget that he had asked!

I said goodbye to him without the expectation of ever talking again.  Somehow we then spent many a day and night text-messaging and many a weekend going out, together all the time.  It's been 8 years and we are still happy and still having fun, only now the amount of partying we can do is limited.  It actually got old about 6 months in, when I thought to myself "do I really know this person?  I mean, all we do is go out with our friends and drink!"  Turns out, I actually liked the guy.  3 years after meeting we got married and spent our wedding day in the same pub where we met.   I think I chose wisely.

Now, if only Al will post his side of the story...  this is my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Say What?

This morning I squashed a cockroach with my gloved finger.  Twice.  Last night a huge daddy longlegs nearly sauntered onto my plate and I didn't scream.  I now pick up stink bugs without a thought.  I can muster the strength to kill black widows.  What in the world has happened to me?!!!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Healthy Chickens=Happy Chickens

Ever since late April of this year, I have been reading, learning and living chickens.  They were a hand-me-down from a parent at the school where I work, and have been the most rewarding and stressful of pets I've ever had.  I don't mean stressful in that I feel regret or irritation, it's more of a responsibility, and not like that for a dog or cat.  Maybe stressful isn't even the right word.  I just know that every morning I have to get out of bed and let them out.  Every evening (around 8pm at the moment), I like to be home to lock them up in their coop.  I probably don't have to be there right at that moment, but ever since my dear Mannie got eaten by whatever it was, I'm a little sensitive.

I do admit, that perhaps the chickens fill a need to feel needed.  Perhaps I have a pet-addiction?  Whatever the case, they bring something new and fulfilling to my day-to-day life.  They provide fresh eggs and entertainment, and they make me smile.  And just for the record, I still love my turtles Max and Zdarma, and of course our dog Honza still gets most of our attention.

Rowena.  She likes it when I bring her food.

He's so cute when he sleeps
Now for the healthy chicken part.  I went out this morning to clean the coop.  It rained like crazy all day yesterday and on top of that, the chicks were in the run all week.  Rain + chicken poop/feed = stinky.

Can I just say "EEEEEEWWW".  Not only had some ants decided to lay eggs all in the nesting box, I also saw a tiny roach and some spiders.  The chickens don't seem to be bothered but it brought to mind how important it is to clean the coop out often, especially if it a particularly rainy week, or if the chickens are left in an enclosed space more often.  A clean coop/run keeps the yucky insect population down, the smell down, and keeps the chickens from getting those little crap-ball build-up around their toes.  In the long run, it also keeps the chickens from getting diseases and getting sick.  

I ended up scrubbing the nesting box to make sure those ants were mostly gone and made sure to dust the entire coop with food-grade diatomaceous earth.  I have read that some chicken keepers are nervous that this dust might harm the chicken's respiratory system, but it doesn't seem to have an ill effect on my guys.  It doesn't get rid of every insect, but it surely makes a difference.  I also raked out the run to get that muck unstuck off the ground.  Again, eew.

I opened the run today so they could peck around freely and enjoy some sunshine.  As I write this I am looking out the window and I don't see them...  They're in the coop probably pooping on all that fresh straw!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summer's End

Tomorrow I go back to work and my summer is officially over.  For me, summertime is not only about hot sunny days, sleeping in if I want to, drinking wine with ice and sipping on lemonade, it's about having time to finish projects that otherwise sit on the back burner.  As I prepare my mind and body for the shock that awaits me tomorrow, I've also time to reflect on all that I have accomplished this summer, and on the things that are still left undone.  Let me just start by saying that there is always an unfinished project.  There are always projects that I want to do and that are therefore in the queue.  Summer allows me the time and energy to get things done!

Shelling Black-Eyed Peas
The ongoing major project this summer was our garden.  We learned a lot this planting season and I've already got a list of what not to do, and what was successful.  Main lesson learned: growing plants from seed is an art and needs more time than I gave it this year.  And... the more time you put into your garden, the more you will get out of it.  I also became paranoid that raccoons were going to come and eat our entire crop of corn, but that didn't happen in the end.  I also learned how to sunbathe and shell peas at the same time.

Garden at the beginning of summer
Garden towards the end of the season
I finally painted our whole downstairs this summer too.  In the bathroom, I used a Lowe's Valspar seasonal color called "Lunar Tide".  In the hallway and main living room I used "Homestead Resort Parlor Taupe".  I also bought simple white cotton curtains for $10/pair at Ikea and hung them on smaller cafe rods that I bought for about $5 each. 
"Lunar Tide" in the bathroom

Homestead....Taupe (and my $100 gift to myself)

The "hill" out back was showing signs of erosion so after planning several scenarios, I ended up buying day lilies for $3 each.  Somehow I ended up planting 45 plants on the hill along with digging a drainage ditch to fill with stone.  With the day lilies I planted Sedum Autumn Joy, Yellow Coreopsis, Dwarf Coreopsis, Blue Delphinium, Pink Coneflower (Echinacea), Blue Fescue, Russian Sage, and one other that I can't remember the name of.   

We also had some fun with little critters this summer.  I found raccoon prints in the backyard and we saw bear prints while picking peaches on the mountain!  I know it may seem ridiculous to be excited about such things, but I started out a CityGirl, remember?

It's back to work to my proper job in the morning.  That doesn't mean the work at home stops, just that it slows down.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Always Something

This whole gardening thing has been a huge learning experience and just when I think I've got it, something happens that reminds me that I am not all that in the gardening world.  After going to bed last night, the rain began to come in and in fear of the wind blowing it over again, I was forced to go back out to close the umbrella over the chicken coop.  We got some pretty substantial rain last night, so much so, that some of the 7 foot corn stalks fell over at the root or snapped in two.  This morning's first task was to assess the "damage" which included about 5 or 6 stalks out of the 35 down.  The ground was so saturated that mud was a big issue and I decided to wait on building up the stalks with more dirt until the garden dried up a bit.  I used some random pieces of wood to stake the bases of the stalks but I'm thinking this only a short term solution.

Some methods for avoiding this problem include:
Planting your seeds 6" deep and covering them with 1" of soil
Continually build up the roots and base of the stalk
Put up wire between rows
Hope for sunshine (as stalks will sometimes rise again!)

So back to being fooled that I know more about gardening than I actually do.  Our patio salad tomatoes were looking great until a couple of weeks ago when we noticed black spot begin to develop.  In an effort to keep the plant growing strong, we bought Garden Safe Fungacide 3 to spray on the plants.  It worked surprisingly well and after 2 applications we are getting some yummy tomatoes!

Some tips for avoiding fungus on tomatoes:
Keep plants from touching the ground
Put straw around base of plants to keep the soil from splashing on the leaves
Fertilize often as rain can wash away nutrients - and tomatoes suck up those nutrients big time!

The broccoli hasn't yet begun to produce heads (except for 1), but I have learned that it is probably better to cover them with a net immediately after planting.  This keeps those pesky cabbage worms and other worms things that are black and yellow off of your plants!  However, at this point in the broccoli's growth I would have to make sure that the plants were completely worm-free before covering them - something I'm not sure I could ensure.  I read somewhere that those white butterflies can lay around 400-600 eggs in a night!  Sheesh!  So, despite trying a homemade soap spray and using the Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap, I think the best way to battle these chicken snacks is to manually pick them off every single day!  Yuk.  The chickens are happy though!

Most days I think I've got it mastered then a new challenge presents itself.  For now, it's fun that we are finally reaping the benefits of all the labor put into this project.  Thank goodness I don't work in the summer!  This is a part-time job - one that I love by the way!

Friday, July 5, 2013


As I sit typing this post, with Honza the Cairn Terrier stretched out on my legs, I look out at our garden and have to suppress a gasp of wonder.

Perhaps it is a defence mechanism, but I had mentally prepared myself for stunted growth, wilted vegetables, and soil that would make a better clay pot than growing medium. As things stand, I would say all that turning the soil over, digging in compost, and building a deer fence has been worth it. I keep hearing this phrase about corn, that it should be 'knee high by the fourth of July', my knees much be on the top of my head in that case as it is easily six and half feet at the moment. Looking at all this growth though makes me think about all the people that have inspired and helped us on our way, whether or not they knew about it.

Probably our primary source of inspiration and help has been the many books we have bought and read over the years in preparation for having our little plot of land - minor aside, the combined area of our vegetable beds is about 360 square feet, or 33.4 square metres, which is bigger than our first apartment together in Prague. So I thought that I would give some shout outs to people that have inspired or been mentors to Ash and I.

I can't remember the first time I watched Escape to River Cottage, but I was hooked instantly. I love food and I love cooking, so a show about how to make food better by growing your own was always likely to keep me coming back for seconds. As a result of watching the various series, I own The River Cottage Cookbook, and have plans now that I am working again to buy a few more of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's books, as well as a box set of dvds, here's one of my favourite clips...

Just after Ash and I left Prague to come and live in Virginia, we were in a Cracker Barrel having breakfast and as I wandered around the little shop that is part and parcel of the Cracker Barrel experience, I noticed a book which has become something of a go-to reference work for me, The Backyard Homestead. With loads of advice on how, where and what to grow, this book has been an invaluable source of knowledge for us, as it's dog eared corners attest. With plenty of recipes for many of our favourite foods and drinks, it is a book we come back to time and again.

Just after we moved to our house we met our neighbours Michael and Audrey Levatino, who own a farm called Ted's Last Stand, and bought their book, The Joy of Hobby Farming. As well having a book which we dip into with regularity, Michael and Audrey have been a very real help to us, with plenty of advice and a fair bit of reassurance that we are doing ok at this whole growing our own food malarky.

Given that we are starting to pick cucumbers and tomatoes from our plants, we have learnt plenty, though have plenty more to learn we're sure.