“Some say fate is beyond our command, but I know better. Our destiny is within us. You just have to be brave enough to see it.”
- Merida, from the recent (excellent) animated movie, Brave
Sometimes life calls us to do big things. Most of the time, all we want to do, naturally, is curl up and be comfortable, to settle and do the norm.
I know recently I’ve felt that way, and many times in the past. I’d love to pull up a comfy chair, sink back into the cushions with a cup of great coffee and a book, and stay there, for a long time.
But that won’t work for me, especially right now. My family and I are in the midst of moving back to the US from a four-year assignment abroad in Czech Republic for my husband’s job. Physically, I wouldn’t be able to pull up a chair to sit in because our furniture is in transit in a container on a ship plowing across the Atlantic right now. We’re becoming experts at reading, sleeping, and eating on the floor. Ask any intercontinental expat and they’ll tell you a similar story. It’s how it works … the adjustment to a foreign country, and then back again, takes months. Things are going well, smoothly at times, even, but the whole experience is tough and terrifying.Read More»
Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than any magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration. -Charles Dickens
Countless acquaintances and many friends have asked how the past month has been, and how my family is handling the huge changes we’re facing moving from Europe back to Ohio in the United States. We lived in Prague, Czech Republic, for nearly four years for my husband’s job. During that time, we grew in so many ways as individuals and as a family. We traveled extensively by car (25 countries), we saw as much and absorbed as much and enjoyed as much as we possibly could. It was a unique phase of life, one of opportunity for which we all are grateful. But now that we are back in the States, I find myself thinking on matters of the heart. I thought I’d share about the transition here …Read More»
Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. ~G.B. Stern
“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” -Johannes A. Gaertner (1912-1996) Art History Professor, Theologian, Poet
“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” -Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) Philosopher, Mathematician
appreciation [əˌpriːʃɪˈeɪʃən -sɪ-] noun
1. thanks or gratitude
2. assessment of the true worth or value of persons or things
Not long ago, a wise friend wrote a spontaneous comment to me about the expat experience. She, too, had been an American who had lived for an extended period of time outside the United States. And she, too, had moved back to the United States recently with her family. I have thought about and repeated what she said many times over the past few weeks, as I and my family transition from our almost 4 years of living abroad in the Czech Republic. What she said was this:
“The best thing about being an expat is the appreciation you have for everything when you return.”
I might only be able to add, with emphasis and bold letters, to the word EVERYTHING. Because that’s what it really is: I appreciate EVERYTHING.Read More»
How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to.
Almost four years ago, I learned that my family and I would move across the ocean to a faraway city called Prague. My first question was, “Where is Prague?”
The opportunity to move there was for my husband’s job, and we thought the stay in Eastern Europe would be for 2 or 3 years. It was a dream for us, to get to live in a foreign country and to have the chance to travel Europe with our family. Though those 2 or 3 years turned into almost 4 years, it all really was a dream.
My husband and I moved to Prague with 3 young sons, not knowing how our time overseas would go or turn out. Everything was new; everything was different. From navigating narrow roads with no lines to learning to live in a smaller space with tiny appliances for a family of five, our first months abroad were a continual challenge of learning how to adapt and make the most of the experiences at the same time.Read More»
Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been wrapped up in the process of moving across the Atlantic. The details have been tremendous, but all have worked out so smoothly they’ve unfolded like stepping stones, one tiny step at a time. And while I’m wrapped up in transition and helping my kids to get settled and engaged in their new school in Ohio, I am taking time to think and understand the vast changes we’re going through. We already miss our friends in Prague, but are thrilled to be back home in the United States. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about the move. But for now, I’m posting part of a piece I’ve written for today at Great New Books, on one of my recent favorite books. I’m closing comments here, but I hope you’ll join us at Great New Books for the rest of the post and discussion. Thanks!
In the best book covers, a reader can sense the story held inside the pages even without opening the book at all. THE LOST WIFE by Alyson Richman is one novel I’ve recently read that I fell in love with, not only for the cover art (which shows a couple kissing on Prague’s famed Charles Bridge), but with the words, the story, and the pull I felt while reading to immerse myself in every word all the way to the end.
In the very first pages of The Lost Wife, in combination with the cover and the evocative title, the reader learns that a husband and wife have been passionately in love, but then tragically separated by war. The story begins in current day New York City at a wedding where one of the main characters, Josef, discovers someone he never even dreamed to meet again, who he recognizes by “the shadow of something dark blue beneath the transparent material of her sleeve that caused shivers to run through his old veins.” That woman is his wife, Lenka.
The rest of the book fills in the empty space of story, in fluid, alternating viewpoints from Josef to Lenka, of how they met and fell deeply in love, married, and were torn apart by the footsteps of Nazi soldiers marching through the cobblestone streets of Prague. In alternating timeframes of current day and 1940s Europe, the reader falls into an absorbing tale of enduring love and the incredible resilience of hope and the ability of memory to draw us through the hardest of times.
Over the past few years I have read several books set during the Holocaust and World War II Europe. Because of the subject matter, each has been challenging to read, emotionally and historically. But The Lost Wife, to me, reached much further than the atrocities the protagonist suffered, and to another subject altogether. The Lost Wife is a love story from beginning to end, and even more, it shines a bright light on art as a means to survive even the worst of circumstances.
Richman draws two vivid characters in Lenka and Josef. While reading, I could feel the weight of their love while they were in pre-Occupation Prague, and even more, sense that same love as it pulled and tugged through their circumstances after they were pulled apart. Not only did I see Lenka’s curls in decadent pre-War Prague, but could hear her rich voice and artist’s perspective in everything she said. An example (page 36): “I’ve often wondered if it is impossible to dress purely for your own indulgence and not in the hope of catching a man’s eye. Some women love the feel of silk in their own hand, the weight of velvet on their skin. I think my mother was like that. She always told us there were two types of women. Those who are lit from the outside and those who are lit from within. The first needs the shimmer of a diamond to make her sparkle, but for the other, her beauty is illuminated through the sheer light of her soul.”
As well as rich characters, Richman writes the settings so real it’s as if the reader is walking right beside the characters, or close enough to be in their actual shoes. I have walked the cobblestones of Prague for the past four years (living in Prague as an expat), and spent a day inside the Ghetto of Nazi concentration camp Terezin, and the novel reads just as the settings feel and smell and look if the reader were there in real life. For a walk through history-rich Prague and along its gentle Vltava River, to see the delicate Bohemian crystal and the idyllic land of Czechoslovakia before War and Communism seized it, and to experience the suffering of those who survived the Nazi camps, The Lost Wife is a must read.
For more about my experience at Terezin, click here. To see more posts about Prague, click here. And for more and to engage with us in comments and discussion, click here for our book recommendation site at Great New Books … Thanks! -Jennifer
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony. -Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
“To not see Europe during our years in Prague would be like sitting at arm’s-length from a dessert table and not ever taking a bite.
All of Europe is so accessible from the Czech Republic — Rome, Paris, Stockholm, Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva, and Venice are all easily reached within a day’s drive. It’s been a terrific once-in-a-lifetime experience to live in Prague and get to travel Europe with our family. We are so grateful!”
I wrote the above words 2 years ago, when I visited Venice for the first time. And I can say in the time since, Venice has not let me out of its clutches. Venice enchants with its color and light, reflections and antiquity, lavishness and decay.
I have been working over the last year on my new novel, working-titled THE GOLDEN WILLOW, partially set in Venice and the Cinque Terre, Italy, and partly in New Orleans, Louisiana. I am enjoying it immensely, so much that the work in writing is still work, but also play. It is the vivid memory of my visits to Venice that fuels the creation.
So, this week, as I travel, I’m posting the images I love of Venice in February:
“Walk towards the sunshine, and the shadows will fall behind you.” ― Mary Engelbreit
Winter is a bleak time, especially in former Soviet Bloc countries. I know this well, from these four winters of living in Prague, where the absence of color and light seems to be magnified.
All around Prague, Communist housing projects scathe the skyline. Square buildings about 20 stories tall stand like trees making up forests of dense housing blocks. Laundry hangs from balconies in every type of weather. It’s about February every year when I really start to feel it. For me, the colorlessness comes not only from the snow and mud that covers the landscape, but also the barrenness of the season.
No matter where we live, though, or what kind of housing we live in, finding beauty is not easy. One of the hardest things in life is finding the good and positive in circumstances that are beyond our control.
It is so hard to …Read More»
“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.” – Terri Guillemets
The first time I saw Prague’s Charles Bridge, the weather was hot and the bridge was crowded. It had been the height of summer tourist season (August) and construction crews worked on replacing the cobblestones on over half of the width of the legendary bridge spanning the Vltava River in Prague. I remember thinking about taking a photograph, but with three children in tow and other tourists pressing in on all sides of us, there was no opportunity other than simply to make it across. Despite the heat and the crowds, my first time across Charles Bridge was a memorable experience.
Every time I’ve seen the bridge and had the opportunity to meander across it in the four years since then, I’ve walked across in wide-eyed wonder. There is so much to see: the saint statues and the river, the spires on each side of the river, the autumn changing leaves, and the soaring swans and water birds, the organ-grinder man collecting change in an old hat, the artists and vendors and jazz ensembles adding flavor to the air. The Charles Bridge is Prague’s most enchanting place.
In January, an unexpected snow fell overnight before I was to meet a friend at the Castle in Prague. When I woke, I saw this view and decided to venture straight downtown, to write near the bridge on that day, and take a few moments to capture the beauty I might find there.
And beauty blew me away.
I have never been the only person on the Charles Bridge. On that frigid, snowy morning, I was.
It was an experience that will linger for a long time to come …
For other photographs I’ve taken of Prague’s Charles Bridge, you can find them by clicking here.
For you: Have you traveled to Prague? What is your favorite place / time of year to come?
Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads. -Author Unknown
In Winter, there is no better way to spend the dark, bleak, cold days than to hop on a pair of skis and enjoy the snow. Growing up, I skied often at the Purgatory Mountain resort in Durango, Colorado, where my grandmother lived. It was fun, exhilarating, and delightful, but also dangerous beyond belief. I love to ski.
When my family moved to Czech Republic, we skied downhill in the Austrian Alps–great experiences filled with deep snow, steep slopes, and frequent stops at the traditional Austrian huttes. But back at our home in Prague, we had snow, and snow, and more snow. The community farms and public parks in and around Prague were covered in deep snow for months, and cross-country skiers were everywhere. It was after the first winter in Czech Republic that I realized I was embracing the wrong kind of skiing.
I asked for a pair of used cross-country skis for my birthday our second year in Prague, and the day after my guys gave them to me, it snowed. Since roads aren’t plowed where we live, I could ski right out my front door (no more lugging heavy boots and skis), and after the first time out on the new (used) skis, I was hooked. So was the rest of my family, who also tried out my skis. We bought 4 more pairs of cross-country skis the next week.
Since then, we’ve skied every time it snows enough to cover the ground. We’ve traveled and skied in the Italian Dolomites, and last month, we brought our skis to Switzerland, to the Engadin lake region of the world-renowned St. Moritz.
Without a doubt, St. Moritz and Engadin have the most beautiful, pristine, well-kept, well-groomed, first-class ski conditions I’ve ever seen in my life. The trails go for 125 miles around lakes, up and down hills, and are used by novice and professional skiers alike. My husband and I and our kids (ages 14, 11, 10) skied only 15 or so miles, and it was the most beautiful trail I’ve ever imagined.
If you enjoy being outdoors in the winter, I highly recommend trying cross-country skiing. And if you enjoy cross-country skiing, there is no place in the world like skiing the Engadin lake valley of St. Moritz.
For You: Have you skied Engadin / St. Moritz? Where is your favorite place to cross-country ski?
“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
During the holidays, in the changing of the calendars from 2012 to 2013, and in the pristine time of Christmas which is celebrated so lavishly in Italy, my family and I ventured from our home in Prague down into Northern Italy, to enjoy our final wintertime in Europe.
We stayed in a cozy stone chalet nestled in the snow-covered peaks and a 13th century village high above Chiavenna, Italy.
On the way from Prague to Chiavenna, we stayed the night in Milan and had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of getting to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting.
We also traveled past our favorite castles in the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy.
On our way north from Milan toward Italy’s notch of land carved into the south of Switzerland, we traveled along the famous Lake Como and lake district of Northern Italy.
So much of historyhas happened in this region, as with all of Europe. We imagined as we drove through tunnels and wove along the gorgeous coastline of Como. The best part was seeing the sky-high mountaintops at sunrise.
The reflections, the morning pink rippling over inky nighttime black, the sawtooth Alps guarding over the beauty found there– all of it struck me and continues to strike me deeply.
In our lives, we need quiet moments; time for reflection, conversation, and reverie; moments for steep hikes and snowballs; mornings of skiing and immersion in the surroundings.
The time in the Italian Alps was such a gift. It was a beautiful, gorgeous, incredible place to spend time as a family around Christmas and the new year. If you ever have the chance to visit, I highly recommend it.
Next Wednesday, I’ll be posting photographs of the even-more-stunning beauty we found in the Saint Moritz lake region of Switzerland.
For You: Do you live near water? Do you enjoy seeing the reflections at sunrise and sunset?