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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The weather in Prague...

I haven't posted on the weather in Prague yet, since by the time I started running Tischlers in Prague it was April and springtime was similar to what we are used to in Minnesota.

On average, both winters and summers are milder here than in the Twin Cities. That the winters are milder is a little surprising given that Prague is basically at the latitude of Winnipeg and Calgary. Last winter, our first in Prague, was mild with the temperature never reaching zero (F) and probably not even 15 degrees. There was one significant snow fall of about a foot, but otherwise it was mild and gray. The grayness gets old, but give me mild and gray over bright sunshine and -20.

The summer has been warm, except for the two weeks I was home on vacation, during which is was cold and rainy. Just before I returned to Prague it got warm again. As a means of comparison, "warm" is high 80s to low 90s.

I think it has been a hot summer in St. Paul, and that even as I write this it is warmer than average. This week the weather turned in Prague and is now quite cool - highs in the mid to high 60s. It is supposed to recover to around 80 later in the week, but it has been very good sleeping weather the last few nights. Remember that we don't have air conditioning and that it is not common here.

I've tried to find a widget that I could put on the left side of the blog that would show current conditions in Prague, but I have had no luck finding one (and I'm not capable of making one).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Who composed "Spider Pig"?...

Today Styopa left a comment regarding the version of the Spider Pig theme that I called "Tim Burton-esque" saying that it was composed by Danny Elfman (who wrote the Simpsons theme song, as well as the theme song for Desperate Housewives). But I looked up the credits and found that, while it is true that Elfman wrote the Simpsons theme song, Han Zimmer wrote the original soundtrack for the Simpsons movie, and that would inlcude the more layered version of the spider pig song.

He has had quite a successful career (see below) and now is working on the original soundtrack for the next Batman movie - The Dark Knight.

Hans Florian Zimmer (born September 12, 1957) is a German composer, best known for composing film scores.

Born in Frankfurt, Zimmer began his musical career playing keyboards and synthesizers with, among others, the bands Ultravox and The Buggles ("Video Killed the Radio Star"). In the 1980s, he started composing and producing soundtracks for movies. His breakthrough came in 1988, with the theme for Rain Man, which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Since then, Zimmer has composed music for many major movies, such as Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Crimson Tide, The Rock, True Romance, Driving Miss Daisy, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Pearl Harbor, The Thin Red Line, The Last Samurai, Cool Runnings, Black Hawk Down, King Arthur and Batman Begins. In 1995, he received an Academy Award for Best Original Score for the animated movie The Lion King.

Awards and nominations:

Academy Awards

1989: Rain Man
1995: The Lion King (won)
1997: The Preacher's Wife
1998: As Good As It Gets
1999: The Prince of Egypt
1999: The Thin Red Line
2001: Gladiator

Grammy Awards

1991: Driving Miss Daisy
1995: The Lion King
1996: Crimson Tide (won)
2001: Gladiator
2007: The Da Vinci Code
2007: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Golden Globe Awards

1995: The Lion King (won)
1999: The Prince of Egypt
2001: Gladiator (won)
2002: Pearl Harbor
2003: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (nominated for best song)
2004: The Last Samurai
2005: Spanglish
2007: The Da Vinci Code

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Here comes Spider Pig...

In my review of the Simpsons Movie I mentioned a Tim Burton-esque version of the spider pig song that is played at the end of the movie during the credits. Well, ask YouTube and you shall receive. Here is the song over some stills from the movie.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A second simple twist of fate...

I had mentioned the other day how I met Hack and his wife while out looking at hotels for a future family visit. That happened on Tuesday. On Wednesday I continued the task that I had abandoned to help Hack find the Grand Hotel Bohemia.

I had stopped in Old Town to find two hotels that were on my short list based on a review of hotels on the internet. I found both (one I liked and one I didn't) and then proceeded to the last visit to a place called the Castle Steps, which are apartments near Prague castle that are much larger than hotel rooms of comparable price. I was going to see one of their apartments to see if it it was nice enough for the money.

To get the office of the Castle Steps I had to walk from Old Town square two blocks to the metro station at Staromestska and take the subway one stop to Malestranska. From there I had to take a short tram ride to Malestranska Namesti and then walk three blocks to the office. Piece of cake.

I got to the tram stop quickly enough but I was distracted thinking about some things at work and when the first tram came I got on without thinking to look at what number it was. That was a rookie expat mistake that I shouldn't be making anymore. Of course, of the six tram lines that stop there, four go to the right to Malestranska Namesti and only two go to the left back to Old Town. Of course, Murphy's Law being in full force and effect, the tram took me back from where I had come.

Twenty minutes after getting on the subway at Staromestska I was back in exactly the same place. I pondered for a moment how this experience was very much like the recurring dream I have had for decades where I keep looking for something but can't find it - a car in a parking ramp, or a hotel room in a big hotel. I decided I was indeed awake, just not very attentive. I caught another subway back to Malestranska and this time was sure I got on an appropriate tram to take me to Malestranska Namesti. The tram ride is only a few minutes and I was soon walking up the hill to the office of the Castle Steps.

Here is Malostranska Namesti

Why have I gone through this seemingly shaggy dog story? Half way on my walk to the Castle Steps I noticed two girls each pulling large wheeled suitcases and carrying another large bag. They looked completely lost so I walked up and said "English?" since my help would be very limited if they were Russian or Finnish. One answered with relief in a thick Australian accent "Yes", and then followed that with "Do you know the where Castle Steps is?". I expected the Twilight Zone music - do doo do doo - to start playing.

My guess is that if I had not wandered by at that precise moment they could have stood on that spot for hours before finding someone who both 1) spoke English, and 2) knew where the office of the Castle Steps was. The vast majority of tourists don't speak English. I speak English but I only knew where they were going because of looking for a hotel for family. If I had run into them a few days earlier I wouldn't have been any help to them at all. And when you realize that the only reason I was there on that exact spot at that exact time was because I had originally taken the wrong tram. Otherwise I would have been there twenty minutes sooner and missed them.

I'd like to think that my presence at that moment prevented them from wandering, lost and disoriented, into the street and being hit by a tour bus. It's impossible to know what would have happened, big or little, if we were to have done something different. But I felt very satisfied to have helped them, even if this time there was no free beer.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Simpsons Movie first look - from Prague...

I'm not sure why the Simpsons Movie opened 30 hours earlier in Europe (or at least in Prague) than in the US, especially since Transformers hasn't shown up here yet. But it did, and I was at the 6:10 PM showing in the Slovansky dum cinema, just down from the Mustek metro stop.

The movie is showing on about 25 screens around the city and this is the only one where it is in the original English and not dubbed into Czech. To end the suspense, I give the movie 4 out of 5 stars. I had high expectations and I wasn't let down. I mark the movie off only for a couple of slow spots and the lack of more guffaws.

The story in the movie is like it is in the TV show - preposterous and of little consequence. Albert Brooks does a very nice turn as the greedy and evil head of EPA, of course in the Republican administration of Arnold Schwartzenegger.

The residents of Springfield have been naughty boys and girls, polluting Lake Springfield almost beyond saving. Lisa convinces the town (with her presentation "An Annoying Truth") to mend their ways and not pollute the lake anymore, but Homer can't control himself and dumps a silo of bad stuff into the lake rather than at the EPA-approved drop off site so he can get a doughnut giveaway.

Homers waste tips the scale and the lake generates mutant squirrels, resulting in the EPA encasing the town in a glass dome (see what I mean about the plot?). Because no one can leave the town due to the dome things get pretty bad in Springfield. And when the town figures out that Homer was the cause of their misery they take matters into their own hands.

As you might expect, Homer has an opportunity to make amends late in the film and things end happily. All of the old favorites are there, but most only briefly (since there are about 300 characters). Alas, there is no Kang or Kodos. I recall Patty and Selma showing up in Marge and Homer's wedding video, but not speaking (maybe I missed something). There are also a couple of new characters - a new Irish boyfriend for Lisa and an Inuit wise woman who Homer calls "Boob Lady".

Stay through the credits and you will be treated to a fantastic, Tim Burton-esque version of the spider pig song (spider pig, spider pig, does whatever a spider pig does), as well as Maggie's first spoken word.

The Simpsons may have degraded a bit since their prime in the early to mid 1990s, but it still delivers the goods. Go see the movie if for nothing else than to make your family seem sane.

The Simpsons Movie in Prague...

Today (Thursday) is the premier of The Simpsons Movie in Prague. According to the internet (so it must be true) the movie doesn't open until tomorrow in the US. Of course, the challenge here is finding it in English. Although it might be amusing to watch it in Czech, I would prefer the original voices, and a language I understand.

So I went to www.expats.com and started checking the web sites of the individual movie theatres, of which there are many. Starting at the top and working my way down I kep seeing the same words - Český dabing (dubbed in Czech). Doh!!! One after another, only Český dabing. Ah, but one theatre with three screens showing The Simpsons Movie actually had, in English no less, "in original language"! I'm saved. The theatre is Slovansky dum, where Kathy and Noah and I have gone for a couple of movies as part of a group from the international school.

So, tonight at 6:10 I will be in my comfortable stadium seat with my tub o'popcorn and 2 liter cup of Coke Lite all settled in to enjoy the movie. I will try to post my review tomorrow.

Note: It's been a long time since I have been to a movie where I have had great expectations. The more recent movies I have seen I expected to be bad, so that when they sucked less than I expected I judge them as being pretty good. I have the bar set pretty high for The Simpsons Movie.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Simple little twists of fate...

I am constantly amazed at the little coincidences in life. The little out of the ordinary things that happen despite great odds against them happening. Each of the last two days I have left the office at lunchtime to look at a few hotels for an upcoming visit by family. We haven't had to utilize a hotel in Prague so I wanted to visit a few in the price range to be able to make a recommendation.

Anyway, on Tuesday I had visited one and was on my way to another near Old Town square when I passed an older gentleman who was obviously asking a waitress in one of the numerous sidewalk cafes for directions. I thought nothing of it since it is a scene that is repeated thousands of times every day in Prague. In any event, I was having some difficulties of my own trying to find the next candidate hotel, so stopped at the corner and drew out my map to get a fix. As I stood there the older gentleman passed me on the corner, looked at me and turned back to approach me. "Do you know where the Grand Hotel Bohemia is", he asked. I was just about to say that I didn't when he added "It's near the Powder Tower". I was pretty sure I knew where the Powder Tower. He was very frustrated at being lost, and seemed genuinely confused in such a way that I would be very concerned to see the same look in a close relative. I suppose I could have pointed in the general direction of the Powder Tower and said "That way about three blocks", but I sensed that he might need more help than that, so I abandoned my task to find his hotel.

During our walk I found out that his name (or at least his nickname) was "Hack" and that he was in Prague for a few days with his wife and a tour group. They had been in Prague seven years earlier so they decided to skip the group's tour of the castle and instead go their own way for a few hours. He works for the department of Homeland Security and what I asked what he did his only reply was "administration" but I didn't press - there are some organizations where you don't press such things (others are the NSA and CIA).

As we approached the Powder Tower he knew that his hotel was nearby but it took another ten minutes of circling in until we found the entrance. Hack's relief at being back in familiar territory was palpable and he called his wife,who was up in their room, form the front desk and asked her to come down to the lobby bar. Hack offered me a beer as a token of his appreciation. And while a few years ago I would have politely turned him down - no need, not a big deal, you would done the same for me - I accepted with relish.

Here is the Powder Tower

His wife joined us presently and we proceeded to enjoy a fine Czech beer (aren't they all?) and have a very nice chat. His wife, whose name I didn't catch since Hack never really introduced us, was born in Latvia before emigrating to the US as a young girl. She told the story of her and Hack being in Budapest a few days before and she went on a Danube river cruise where headphones were provided with commentary in multiple languages, including, it said, Latvian. Excitedly she turned on the Latvian channel to be shocked to find that it was actually not Latvian at all, but Russian. You could just hear the disgust in her voice. Latvians don't like the Russians (Czechs don't like the Russians, Poles don't like the Russians, just about no one likes the Russians)***.

Here is the bar at the Grand Hotel Bohemia where we had a beer.

I finished my beer and bid a fond farewell. I thought later that I should have invited them to Radio Free Europe to show them around or to attend our daily editorial meeting. Hack and I exchanged business cards but I don't know if we will ever correspond or talk again. Even if we don't, it was one of those little things that happen to break up the routine. I wish them well.

*** What's not to like. A poll that just came out, reported today on the Drudge Report, shows that young Russians admire Josef Stalin and feel that all the bad things that history says he did (like murder 20 million of his own people) either didn't occur at all or are exaggerations.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What to be when I grow up...

Noah is nine years old and in the past when pressed what he wanted to be when he grew up the answer was either a Jedi knight or a professional football (soccer) player. Last night Kathy relayed to me an interesting story that shows that he is getting more mature and understands the real world better. Here is what she said:

Noah and a friend were talking about playing professional sports when they grow up & doing that for a living. I reminded them that they better have a back up plan because they can't play sports all their lives. Noah said right away that he was going to college & going to be a math major. I asked him what he thought he would do for a living. He said he could either be a math teacher or an accountant. He said he might like to be an accountant at ATK where you used to work!! I was very surprised--both at knowing he wants to do something with math & that he even had thought about a job!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Very strange events last night...

Last night was the first night in three weeks that I have been on my own, after two weeks at my mom's house in the US and then the week long visit of Styopa in Prague. To say the least it was, um, interesting. Let me relay the three interesting (at least to me) things that happened between midnight and 7:00 a.m.

First, I was asleep in bed when I felt someone touch my leg and say "Al". It was a female voice so I assumed it was Kathy. It was a very real sensation, and I woke up right away expecting Kathy to be there standing over me. I looked to the right side of my bed (the side the leg that was touched was) and there was no one there. I then looked to the left and the rest of the bedroom and, of course, no one was in the room. I also noticed that my bedroom door was closed. In a second I realized that Kathy and Noah were still in the States and decided it was just a dream, no matter how real it felt. I fell back to sleep.

Then I had a dream about walking down the street with Tony Soprano, from the TV show "The Sopranos". I had just watched the final episode on the computer last night just before bedtime so it was fresh in my mind. Anyway, as Tony and I were walking we were both laughing and talking. I don't know what was being said except for the fact that we were both happy and I called him "dad" several times. The character of Tony Soprano is my age, so it seemed strange calling him dad, but I did.

Now, the third and especially weird thing. Just as I am in this dream, walking down the street with Tony Soprano and laughing and me calling him dad, I am woken up again. This time by sounds out in the hall outside my bedroom. I open my eyes and I can see that it's morning and I roll over in my bed to look that way - toward my door that goes out into the hall. I looked just in time to see the closed bedroom door swing open. It didn't open just a crack, but wide, like someone was walking through. I had every expectation that someone would actually walk through the door after it opened - but no one did. Surprisingly, I was not afraid by this strange occurance, especially considering the other things that had happened before.

What does it mean? Maybe nothing. The first dream, about being touched, could have been just that - a dream. The second dream, about Tony Soprano, isn't that surprising given that I had just watched the final episode of The Sopranos several hours before. The last thing, the door opening, is a little tougher to explain. But is possible that with the windows open there was a breeze or something that pushed (or sucked) the door open.

What do I think it means? Well, I don't know if this is a common belief, and I don't think it is, but I believe that the recently deceased can and do sometimes send messages to those left behind, usually to let them know that despite what you are feeling everything is OK. I am convinced I received messages from my late wife, Debbie, in the form of especially vivid dreams that I had a little over a year after her death. In the last one, after I moved to Saudi Arabia in 1991, she came to my villa door and when I opened she just stood there for a minute and then walked away. Although there were no words exchanged I strongly sensed the message was "I'm OK where I am and I'm going away now, so you have to get on with your life". These dreams had a very different feel to regular dreams and were very vivid and hard to forget (as opposed to most dreams that are hard to remember). While Debbie would be in future dreams, none of them were of this heightened awareness type.

My dad passed away in March, a little more than four months ago. Was he sending a signal that he is OK where he is and for us not to worry? The character of Tony Soprano is a gangster and a very bad guy, but he is an authority figure, and in the last last scene of the last episode he waits in a diner as his family - wife, son and daughter - join him one by one. The show ends as the last member of the family arrives at the restaurant. Except that this is The Sopranos, the scene is very normal and shows a close, happy family.

What about being woken up by a touch on the leg and a woman calling my name? I don't know, but besides Deb I also lost a sister to cancer many years ago. Could it hve been one of them? If my theory about messages from the departed is subscribed to, it could have been a way to be told to pay attention, because something was going to happen.

Even if it wasn't a message from my dad, it was at least some significant event in my subconscious. I will have to think on it some more. But I hope that tonight I don't dream, and I may lock the bedroom door.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Styopa wings his way back to the US...

I took Steve to the airport this morning, thus ending his seven day stay in Prague. We spent his last evening attending Live Free or Die Hard, also known here as Die Hard 4.0 (or in Czech as Smrtonosna past 4.0).

We figured we could see this movie since it was not on the "must see" list of our significant others. Bruce Willis was back in fine form as John McLean, and there were enough one liners and things blowing up to keep things interesting. This is definitely the best Die Hard since the original.

We went to a local urban mall a few metro stops from my work to see the flick. I wasn't aware that there are two big theatres in and around the mall - Novy Smichov - and of course we went to the wrong one first. We went to the window to buy tickets and said "Die Hard" and the young Czech woman didn't understand which movie we wanted to see. After trying "Bruce Willis" and a few other key words, she got a brochure with their current movies and had us point. I pointed at "Smrtonosna past 4.0" with the picture of Bruce Willis and she said, "Die Hard 4.0?". Yes, Die Hard, like I said at the beginning. Unfortunatley, their next showing was after 8:00 and we were looking for a 6:10 showing. Decided there was another theatre and set off to find it at 5:45.

Leaving the mall we saw an information desk and decided to try our luck to see if the woman spoke English. She was already helping a couple speaking English, and when it was our turn she directed out the mall and around the corner to the other mall.

There was no problem getting tickets - they are about $8 each, just like the States. The young guy offered a special of a discounted price for a small drink and small popcorn. We waved him off - we each want BIG popcorn and BIG soda. And that's what we got - $7 each, not too bad.

Since Die Hard 4.0 has been out since the 4th of July there wasn't much of a crowd. There were probably about 20 people in a theatre that held about 150. We took seats in the center of the 5th row, and only noticed later that our tickets had assigned seats. Lucky for us it wasn't crowded.

One important thing to consider is if the movie you want to see is in English. Some, but not all, moviehouse web sites tell you if the movie is dubbed into Czech or if it is in English with Czech subtitles. I made sure that the movie we went to was in English.

In the last year I have only been to three movies here in Prague, including Die Hard 4.0. The other two were kids movies Meet the Robinsons and Ice Age 2 (I think). Both were showings arranged by Noah's school. This is hard for me since I love movies and used to go on a weekly basis. Maybe we'll go to more over the winter.\

The next big movie is The Simpsons, which comes out on July 27th. I will still be in Prague alone awaiting the return of Kathy and Noah in early August, so I will try to see it. One potential problem is that most animated movies here are dubbed into Czech - as I said, the two kids movies that we saw were arranged by the school. I don't know if I will be able to find the movie in English.

Anyway, I think Steve had a good time, and he didn't need to spend much apart from gifts, food and drink. Maybe we'll do it again at some point.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hello I must be going...

Well, since I started the blog a few months ago I have prided myself on making nearly daily posts, even if occasionally they are short or deal just with music videos. The cause of the light posting is Styopa's visit. We have been going out for dinner after I finish work, and then when we get back to the house we start playing with the PS2. On Tuesday night the time got away from us and I didn't get to bed until 2:00 a.m. I'm 48 years old and don't do well with staying up until 2:00 a.m., especially when I have to get up at 7:00 to go to work.

Actually, if you want details of what we have been up to, click on the link to his blog on the left side of the page.

Oops, Steve has been up playing the PS2 while I post this, so I better get up there to prevent him from hogging. Steve leaves for home early on Saturday so I expect the posting to pick up.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Saturday Night...

One of my suitcases didn't make it to Prague so I checked with the baggage office at the airport. They knew it had not made it on the plane in Minneapolis - I was glad that at least they knew where it was. They said it would come in on a flight a couple of hours later and be delivered to the house. Styopa and I got to the house and unpacked and basically chilled for a while. Eventually, though, we wanted to go into the city for dinner. I called the airport at the number they had given me. No answer. It had been much longer than the couple of hours they had said it would take to deliver the suitcase, and we had our second wind after the trip so we decided to leave.

Since the weather was beautiful I took Styopa to an outdoor restaurant at Letna Park. We had beer and good food. We got back to the house about 10:00 with still no word from the airport about my suitcase. I had given up on them for the day when they called at 11:00 and said they would deliver the suitcase by 11:30. They were true to their word, but I hadn't planned on staying up so late. I was tired and got to bed by midnight. I slept through the night and got up at 6:45 this morning.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Layover in Amsterdam...

Styopa and I have a three hour layover in Amsterdam before we fly on to Prague. We're not hungry since they fed us twice (dinner and breakfast) on the way over. Found a business center where we can get on the internet for 9 Euros (about $12) for an hour. We looked up the Twins score from last night (they won!) and checked email. There is still time for me to do this quick update.

The flight was uneventful - the best kind. I watched the movie 300 which was good and had a very unique visual style. I'm a sucker for the "good versus evil" movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and this is in a similar vein. It's pretty violent but in a less than fully realistic way.

Steve and I watched The Incredibles - at least we did until they turned off the entertainment because we were landing.

I will provide another update once we get home, unless I am too tired and crash.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Back to Prague...

It is a sad day for me since I am heading back to Prague while Kathy and Noah stay another three weeks to enjoy some more Minnesota summer. I am very fortunate that I am traveling back to Prague with my good friend, Styopa, who will spend a week with me. We will see some sites (although I do have to work) have some good meals and more than a few beers. I will post on some of the things we do over the next week.

The time will go fast and Kathy and Noah will be back before I know it. But I have never been apart for this long before.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Golfing in Minnesota...

Well, I was able to golf 45 holes during my visit home to Minnesota. First, I golfed with my friends from grade school, Hank, Joe and Orr, last Saturday in Siren, Wisconsin (very close to Hank's cabin). I shot horribly - a 114. I don't think I have had that high a score in quite some time. My excuses, though, are legion. I was using borrowed clubs, it was my first time golfing in almost a year, it was a course I was not very familiar with, and the temperature was about 98 degrees.

I golfed 9 holes with Jerry up near Pelican Rapids, and I used an extra set of clubs that he has. They were Fat Shafts - the same as my clubs - so I shot better. Not great, but certainly better than the first round. We didn't keep score since it was just nice to get out and walk around in the cool air (low 60s). Noah walked along (you can still do that in rural Minnesota!) and we let him hit a few balls off the tee and putt a few on the greens. He did pretty well considering he hasn't played before and he was using right handed clubs when he is left handed.

The last round was yesterday at River Oaks in Cottage Grove. The weather was again good, despite a few short showers on the last four holes. This time I used my nephew's clubs. I played better - a 95, or 19 strokes better than last Saturday - but I still have a long way to go. My round was typified by what I did on the 18th hole. It's a relatively long - 481 yards - par 5, dogleg left, uphill all the way. My drive was very good - long and on the right side of the fairway. I decided to hit a 3-wood off the deck and really connected well with it. Because the hole was uphill I didn't see the result of my shot until we all got up by the green. My second shot was on the green, about 20 feet short of the hole. So I was putting for eagle! I only have two eagles in almost forty years of golfing, so legitimate eagle attempts are not very common. Anyway, my eagle putt was the correct length but four feet to the right. My birdie putt missed right and I tapped in for par. Now par isn't a bad result for me, but an eagle would have been a lot better. Maybe when we get back I can play more often and improve my game.

Here is the motley group I played with at River Oaks. On the left is Lowell, who I met around 1984. He is an all-purpose friend who over the years I have golfed and played cards with. He is retired from the Government. In the middle is my brother-in-law, Dan. He married my oldest sister in 1968, but he was hanging around the house long before then. So I have known him for probably 43 years or so. On the right is Hank. I met Hank around the fourth grade, which would have been in about 1968, so I have known him for almost 40 years. No matter how long we go without seeing each other (and sometimes it's for a year or more because I have lived in Saudi Arabia and Ohio throughout the years) we can always egt together and it seems like old times.

The three of them represent over 100 years of friendship for me. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun with these guys and I can't wait until we get the opportunity to do it again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The third set of grandparents...

We spent a couple of days up in Fergus Falls visiting Jerry and Donna. I have known them for 23 years now, and we don't see each other as often as I would like, but we are able to get together once a year or so. Jerry is former FBI and is an avid golfer (like me) who had a pretty severe battle with cancer several years ago but managed to pull through and now looks as healthy as a horse. Donna is former IRS and does crossword puzzles and Sudoku (like me).

They are the parents of my first wife, Debbie, who passed away from Cystic Fibrosis back in 1990. I like to think of them as Noah's third set of grandparents. When Noah was younger he didn't understand the concept of grandparents so he didn't know that most kids had only two sets (if they were lucky). Noah calls them "papa" and "grandma" like he does Kathy's parents and my mom, and they treat him just like a grandson (i.e. being overly generous), so in the end it is a perfect situation. The time with them is always too short, but it is always good to get to Fergus Falls for a visit.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A late 9th or an early 10th birthday party...

We are heading up to northern Minnesota for a couple of days to the parents of my first wife (those of you who know me understand that sentence, those who don't will have to wait and I will explain at some later time), so posting will probably go dormant again. And you get a second post today.

Since Noah had his 9th birthday in Prague in February, my mom wanted to do something here in Minnesota with the family while we are home this summer. So Noah got another birthday party even though his birthday was five months ago.

Of course, he loved the attention and all of the gifts. Since it is now about five months until Christmas he has things spread out nicely to keep the gifts coming all year long.

Surprise party...

This is more than a week old, but I would be remiss in not posting about it. Years ago Kathy had thrown a surprise 40th birthday party for me and I have been waiting ("biding my time" as Monte Burns would say) for the opportunity to repay the favor.

I started planning a surprise party for her 50th birthday about last Christmas. Even though her birthday was in early June I knew that she would realy like to see a lot of her friends together while back in Minnesota, so I scheduled her party for the 1st of July (the day after I got in from Prague).

As you can imagine it is a little tougher from 6,000 miles away. But I recruited a good friend of hers (Cindi) to help with the arrangements at the restaurant and sent emails to people she still knows at the various places she has worked over the years to collect a list of attendees.

In the end, although she suspected something might be up, I think she was surprised. I think that she suspected that a party for Noah (see next post) was going to be a surprise party for her as well. Anyway, it was good to see so many of Kathy's friends in one place and a good time was had by all.

Although they are fun, I think I will get her to agree that we won't do any more surprise parties.

Friday, July 6, 2007

More vacation stuff...

The visit in Minnesota continues. It now looks like I will gain about 20 pounds during my 14 day stay since I have been doing nothing but eating in restaunts with friends, or eating movie popcorn.

Saw Transformers today in East Bethel (aka The Other Side of the World) with Noah and 30-year friend Styopa (see link to his blog) along with his kids Griffin and Maggie and straggler neighborhood kid, Parker.

The consensus review from the three 9-year old boys is two thumbs way up. Non-stop movement and things exploding with giant robots that transorm from (into?) cars and trucks. What is there for 9-year old boys not to like?

I actually enjoyed it, too, but my expectations could hardly have been lower. I remember the original cartoon and thought it was lame. But the special effects were quite good, and Steven Speilberg was the executive producer and Styopa convinced me that Speilberg had some influence on what ended up on screen. There are a few references or inside jokes to Speilberg movies like Close Encounters and ET (but they are pretty subtle).

After the movie Noah and I ended up at a new Brunswick bowling center on highway 65. It has a decent arcade and you use cards that you charge with points. It's much like Dave and Buster's - but with fewer games that cost more to play. It will be back to D&B next week.

Since I have been back in MN I have taken exactly zero pictures, so there is nothing to post but lame stock photos that I find on the internet (like these).

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The 100th post...

I can't believe that I've had 100 posts already. I try to do one every day, and don't always make it (but most times I do).

I spent half the day going to doctor appointments (dentist and eye doctor - both exams said I was fine. Yea!!). Tomorrow I have appointments with the dermatologist and an orthopedic specialist to look at my knee. For a few months my right knee would hurt like hell when I kneeled. It felt like I had a small pebble just under the skin. I only noticed it when I would kneel to tie me left shoe, or at mass in Prague. They use the old fashioned kneelers without padding, just wood. My guess is it has to do with playing boot hockey for years as a kid without using any kneepads. That was ill-advised and I my knees would always be black and blue from playing goalie. So there's probably chips of something floating around in there.

I must be getting old since I am spending a good deal of time explaining about all of my infirmities.

I also had lunch with my cousin, Rick. We ended up pursuing the same off-beat career - contract management - quite independently. What a coincidence. He moved back up to Minnesota from Iowa 5 years ago and works for General Dynamics in Bloomington. There is not much family resemblance since he is probably 6"2" tall and lanky while I am 5'6" and what is charitably called "stocky". But we have similar senses of humor (for better or worse) and it is always a pleasure to see him.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Surprise party...

I had a surprise party for Kathy's 50th birthday this evening at DeGidsoe's on West 7th street in St. Paul. Her birthday was actually a month ago (June 1st) but all ofher family and most of her friends are here, not in Prague, so I had to wait until we got back to MN.

Kathy threw me a surprise 40th birthday party back in 1998 at our old house in Arden Hills, so this is really just getting her back. We had about 45 there tonight and it was a good time. Despite the fact that Kathy suspected that something was in the works, she didn't suspect the visit to DeGideo's to obstentibly have dinner to celebate her parents 51st anniversary, which was yesterday. So she was officially surprised.

I will post picture later and provide a little more detail.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Prague to Minneapolis...

Arrived back in Minnesota this afternoon. The flights were Prague to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam right into Minneapolis. Both were uneventful - which is exactly what you are looking for. If you have an "exciting" flight it means that something bad happened.

I used Northwest frequent flyer miles (100,000 of them) so it didn't cost anything. The flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis is long - over 8 hours - but the new Airbus 330s have the in-seat entertainment systems so you can watch movies from a library, listen to hundreds of songs, or play games. It really helps the time go by more quickly.

I watched three movies - Wild Hoggs, Lifeboat and Toy Story 2. Wild Hoggs was OK. I was hoping for better with Travolta, Tim Allen and William H. Macy. At the end when it looks like the good guys are going down to defeat, there is a deus ex machina that comes in and saves the day. Seriously, it's a character that is not seen, and is barely mentioned, who shows up at the end and sets things right. Just like in the ancient Greek plays. 2 out of 4 stars.

Next was the old Hitchcock thriller, Lifeboat. It's the story of civilian survivors after a U-boat sinks there ship during WWII. The entire movie takes place in the lifeboatand I was wondering how Hitchcock would appear - he makes a cameo appearance in all of his movies. It turns out that one of the characters has a newspaper and Hitch shows up as teh "before" picture in a diet ad. Very clever. I thought I would like this movie more, being a classic and all. It seemed to me that it would be a better play since the action takes place in a single setting. The only real tension involves the German U-boat captain who is brought into the lifeboat after it is sunk. Originally, only one of the 7 or so surviviors wants to eliminate him on the spot while the others treat him civilly and even eventually put him in charge. In the end, htough, he is found to have been very deceiving (he had a compass, water and food without informing the others, and directly responsible for the murder of one of the company). He is set upon by everyone and basically beaten to death and/or drowned (even the more pacifist among them join in the beating).

I got about half way through Toy Story 2 before the entertainment system was turned off in preparation for landing. It's a good story and who can help but liking Hanks and Tim Allen?