Monday, November 17, 2014

More Stromovka

Until I got to know it a little better, I had kinda thought of Stromovka park as a little too wild and shaggy. In my mind, it wasn't manicured enough. It was nice, but it could be so much nicer, I thought. But now that I live close by, and have spent more time there, I've grown to really love it.

Not sure what I was thinking, really. 

(You can see more of my Stromovka photos here and here.)

World, Meet Sadie

Introducing Sadie.

We got her in early August, a few months after our beloved Chicho died. I'm allergic to cats, the apartment seemed incredibly empty without an animal, and the girls had desperately wanted a dog.

We decided to get a rescue dog. Daisy began following various shelters on Facebook.

Daisy and Emma were (and still are) particularly taken with French bulldogs, and we ended up finding two (!) who needed homes in the early summer.  They lived a few hours outside of Prague in what turned out to be pretty horrible conditions. We didn't really want two French bulldogs, but this pair -- named Lilly and Adena -- had been together for many years and it seemed unwise to split them up. They had a few health problems, but nothing that we couldn't handle. Or so we thought.

They ended up being too much for our small flat. Their health problems and behavior, combined with our work schedules, made keeping them impossible.

We felt awful.

During our quest for a dog, we had met Jana Bednarova from the XY agency in the small village of Vsenory, a few minutes outside of Prague. With nowhere else to turn, we asked Jana if she could take Lilly and Adena. She said she would. We donated a good
chunk of money to her shelter for her kindness.

We were very happy to learn that, after a few more health scares, both dogs were soon adopted to homes better able to accommodate their needs.

We can't thank Jana enough or say enough about the work she does there. If you're looking to adopt, please get in touch with her. Or just donate some money. She's a wonderful person, and it's a wonderful cause.

Our search for a dog continued.

In July, Daisy saw Sadie on the Facebook page of Home 4 Pets, another local adoption agency. She had been rescued from an illegal puppy mill in Slovakia that had been shut down. If you don't know anything about puppy mills, they are horrible places where dogs are kept in terrible conditions for the sole purpose of giving birth to litter after litter of puppies so they can be sold for big profits. God only knows what Sadie had been through before she was rescued.

Home 4 Pets believed she was about 3 years old. She was staying in a foster home when Emma and I first we went to see her.

She was very shy and very cute and very small (2.8 kilos) and had a very sad face. She was tan and white, with faint, caramel-coloreds wisps across her back. She was, we were told, mostly house-trained. I think I knew the moment I saw her that she was The One.

Sadie is the definition of a lap dog. If there's a lap anywhere in her vicinity, she'll find it. If you stop petting her, she'll scratch at you until you have no choice but to resume. Give her a treat and she runs around in circles with such delight that all you want to do is to give her another. (One of the reasons she's gained half a kilo since we got her.) She sleeps on our bed at night and during the day, while we're at work, she either snoozes in her own little bed or finds some nook and cranny in a closet somewhere in which to wedge herself.

Like most chihuahuas, she's very protective of her owners and barks at dogs 50 times her size. She has no idea how small she is. She also hates bicycles for some reason and barks and lunges at them when they whiz by. (We just took her to her first obedience class, run by Alex Van Der Kuijl, a dog trainer who also runs a dog hotel. He offers free obedience lessons at 11:15 every Saturday at Letna Park in Prague 7. So far, so good.)

We love her a lot and hope she's forgotten all about that terrible puppy mill by now.

We took Sadie to Germany a few weeks ago for some hiking. We ended up walking about 8 or 9 kilometers, and Sadie did the whole thing. We found out later than a long walk for a chihuahua is, at most, a couple of kilometers. She was exhausted. 

We gave Sadie a rawhide bone and were quite surprised when she took it out onto our terrace and buried it in a bowl full of dirt that Daisy had laying around from some gardening.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Stromovka Redux

Since we've moved to our new flat in Prague 6, I've found endless inspiration as a photographer in nearby Stromovka park. More in my continuing series.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Morning, Stromovka Park

One of the many nice things about our new apartment in Prague 6 is being so close to Stromovka park.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Grand Sand

I took this photograph on Sand Beach in Maine's Acadia National Park in late July of this year.

Some young Mennonite women were taking photos of themselves in front of the surf on a very foggy day.

I'm quite proud of it and am going to enter it in some photo contests. Has the look of a Winslow Homer painting, I think.

I like the juxtaposition of the timeless nature of the setting and the subjects with the fact that they are using a digital camera. I like the arch in the girl's back, too, as she tries to compose her own photograph.

I took it with my iPhone 4s, believe it or not. There is no filter or any special effects. Just some small cropping.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What It Feels Like When They Steal Your Bike

The author at Letna with Bike No. 3.

My friend Mark Baker wrote this for my other blog, Grant's Prague Bike Blog, but I thought the issue needed as wide an audience as possible, so I thought I'd post it here, too.

By Mark Baker

I saw a great video on bike theft recently on "The New York Times" website. According to the video, called "How to Catch a Bike Thief," police in San Francisco have formed a special unit to fight bike theft and employed some creative ideas to that end, including using "bait bikes" to lure thieves, hidden cameras, GPS devices, and social media.

For me, the most satisfying moment comes at the 1:20 mark, when through CCTV we see a thief make off with a bike, only to be wrestled to the ground seconds later by the police. The head of the bike-theft unit, officer Matt Friedman, chuckles while watching the thief go down hard. Sounds bad to say it, but I could probably watch that moment 50 times in a row and not get tired of it.

In the past decade or so living in Prague, I've lost at least six bikes to theft (to be fair, two bikes were stolen on trips to Poland, not in Prague). I long ago lost sympathy for anyone who would steal a bike for whatever reason, and would probably go to great lengths to try to catch a thief (even, perhaps, setting out a bait bike).

Trail of Tears

Many people don’t realize it, but finding that your bike has been stolen can set you off on an emotional roller-coaster ride. There’s the immediate surge of anger you feel toward the thief that actually seems good and healthy. That’s suddenly tamped down, though, by the realization that you’re never going to see the bike again. The prospect of recovering a stolen bike (here in Prague, and just about everywhere else) is nil. There’s no place for that anger to go and what felt like strength in the first moments, starts to feels more like impotent rage a couple minutes later.

There’s also the frustration (and boredom) of having to deal with the police and insurance company (if you’re lucky enough to have a policy) and all of the fruitless, pointless questions they ask. Make, model, color, serial number (who has that in their wallet?) This is just the start of the process. Where did you buy it? When did you buy it? Do you have the receipt? ("Yes, officer, right here in my pocket."). The police in Poland, on one occasion, even asked me to sketch out the bike on a piece of paper and
identify the angle between the crossbar and the down tube (45°? 35°? 65°??) On that occasion, the police kept me at the station for four hours filing a report -- without the slightest expectation they would ever catch the thief.

Then there are your friends -- your closest friends -- and their well meaning but maddening inability to understand your predicament.

Tell someone your bike’s been stolen and instead of sympathy you often get a barrage of questions: "Was it locked?" "Where did you leave it?" "How good was the lock?" "How long did you leave the bike unattended?" It’s as if they’re working on behalf of the bike thief and trying to find holes in your story.

(As a short aside, if you’re ever in the situation where a friend tells you his or her bike has been stolen, try hard not to make the first question, "Was it locked?" Of course it was locked. Simply say: "Sorry
to hear it. That’s really bad news.")

Maybe the toughest – and most unwelcome -- emotion is somehow related to the above. It’s the inward shame and nagging feeling that maybe you really did do something to enable the theft. "Of course that lock wasn’t strong enough." "I should never have parked the bike there." "What was I thinking?"
"What an idiot I was."

All these thoughts run through your mind over and over again, and inevitably lead you to the faulty, messed-up "realization" that somehow you’re complicit in the theft of your own bike.

It’s Not The Bike Owner’s Fault

Writing all this out now has been therapeutic and helped me to understand why, perhaps, I appreciated that "New York Times" video so much. In the video, Officer Friedman’s moral clarity is rare and refreshing in a way that possibly only a person who has lost a bike can really understand.

Simply by the way he talks and acts, you can see he knows that it’s NEVER the bike owner’s fault. It doesn’t matter where he or she parked the bike. It doesn’t matter if the lock was strong enough (or even possibly if the bike was locked at all). Theft is theft and honest people should be free to ride and park where they wish, without fear their bike will be stolen. It’s time to ditch the remorse and fight back.

Hear hear! What a welcome reminder, and I wish him and the San Francisco police department all the success in the world. I only wish now the police in Prague would get the memo (or at least see the video).

Mark Baker is a Prague-based journalist and independent travel writer. He’s co-author of the "Lonely Planet Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic." He’s been riding bikes in Prague for more than 20 years.


Bike 1 (no photo)
White Trek MB
Last seen: Betlemska 1, Prague 1, in 2000

Bike 2 (no photo)
Black Cannondale MB
Last seen: Cechova 20, Prague 6, in 2002

Bike 3
White/Black Specialized MB
Last seen: Lodz, Poland, in 2006

Bike 4
Blue Scott MB
Last seen: InterContinental Hotel, Prague 1, in 2007

Bike 5
Gold Kona Caldera MB
Last seen: Ve struhach 22, Prague 6, in 2008

Bike 6
Black Kona Caldera MB
Last seen: Plotsk, Poland, in 2011

Bike 7
Blue Specialized Rockhopper MB
Still have it. For now.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Farewell, Chicho

"It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch." – Anonymous

Chicho died next to me on the bed on Saturday as we were both napping in the sun. His last anguished breaths woke me up and I was able to comfort him for a few seconds before he passed.

I had brought him home from the vet just a few hours before. The doctor had called to say his condition wasn't improving and suggested that it might be best to take him home, where he might feel more comfortable.

I didn't want him to die in a doctor's office.

Man, I really, really miss that old cat.

I'd been a dog person all of my life, but getting to know Daisy's two cats, and a few other strays along the way, changed my mind forever.

I could write more about Chicho, but I thought I'd let Daisy and Emma have the floor. I thought I'd also share a few photos of Chicho taken over the years.

Daisy wrote her wonderful eulogy for a Facebook post. Emma wrote hers through her tears as a sort of therapy in the minutes after Chicho died.

From Daisy:

We lost a very important member of our family today.

A few days ago, Chicho became lethargic and seemed to have trouble breathing. After a few unpleasant days at the vet, he came home this afternoon and breathed his last while lying on the bed in a patch of sunlight. Emma and Grant were with him.

He did purr today, and he also drank out of the toilet. I choose to interpret those things as meaning he lived his life to the fullest to the end.

Allergies mean Chicho is probably our last cat. Fortunately, he leaves a lot to remember him by.

A little bit of his history:

We got Chicho in 1999, when he was a kitten in a cardboard box at a pet market in St. Petersburg. We had already selected a "fancy" kitten, our beloved Zhenya, and they offered to throw in Chicho, a street cat, for free.

Despite his scrappy origins, he put together a distinguished CV.

I'm sure he's one of the few cats to take the Krasnaya Strela to Moscow, and he also holds a Russian (cat) passport, which we all know are currently in great demand in Crimea. Named after Salvadore Allende, his name made a graceful transition to the Czech Republic, where it also means "kitty."

To the last, he enjoyed his hobbies: eating, purring, winking, laser tag, meowing at the crack of dawn, scratching furniture, "thinking" outside the box, and engaging in ostentatious acts of relaxation.

To anyone who thinks cats are aloof and unloving, I'm sorry you never met Chicho. He loved people, belly rubs, and simply hanging out.

We're going to miss him a lot.

From Emma:


He was a well-loved pet and a family member. He was loving, hungry, kind, sometimes annoying, and very popular. I’ve never loved an animal as much as I loved Chicho. He’s been around my entire life, since before I was born.

Sure he could be annoying and nagging, but he was always there for me. He had a good life and a good death. I know that he’s still happy right now, wherever he is.

He will always be in my heart and always remembered.

Goodbye forever, Chicho.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Images Of Amsterdam

We made a return trip to one of our favorite cities recently -- Amsterdam. There's a great photo just waiting to be taken almost everywhere you turn -- from grandmothers riding scooters to some truly bizarre graffiti. Enjoy.

You can read about a guided bike tour we took outside of the city on my other blog, Grant's Prague Bike Blog, here.