Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Cemetery in Germany

I don't want to get you down on a Saturday morning, on the contrary but I am sorting out old pictures so have a little patience, I am discovering forgotten gems. Like these pictures from last autumn which are appropriate, given that autumn is almost upon us. Last year we were visiting a friend in Jena and went up one of the many hills. We were going to the Napoleon monument and we happened to pass through a cemetery.
 The watering can tree. You put a coin, like for the caddies in the super market. I think the water was free.
I love the autumn light in these pictures. I hope I didn't depress you, personally I love a well taken care of cemetery that looks more like a park. Not that I find it sad, on the contrary, I think it's uplifting. Oh, of course I love to read the names and epitaphs and imagine about the lives of the people resting there.

What do you think?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Growing up with more than one language

During my pregnancy we have been asked so many times how will we raise our kid, which language will he speak considering the obvious: one of us is French, the other Romanian and we both live in the Czech Republic. There are more and more people in this situation so we are not unique. Just check out this video about Third culture kids.

And so we did some research on the internet about others with similar experiences. Of course, there are not exact examples of people identical to us but nevertheless we could get some interesting tips from others. A lot of my questions were answered by this book, Growing up with Three languages by Xiao-Lei Wang.
The book tells the story of Xiao-Lei's family, she is Chinese, her husband is Swiss (speaks Swiss German and French) and they live in the USA with their 2 kids. She tracked their language development during 11 years, right from birth, their exposure to 3 languages and different cultures and races. There are some differences to our story: we are both Europeans, the cultures have some common points, so do our languages, etc. but it does offer tips on how we can support our child in developing his identity and navigate all these cultural points.

Xiao-lei says that preparation is important as well as deciding right away the languages that will be spoken and if they will be spoken just around the house or with family and friends or sporadically. So she made her research (she is a linguist), they bought books and dvds with Chinese and Swiss (or French) fairy tales and most importantly, they discussed and agreed before hand about how to raise the kids. Also, they did all they could not to neglect the written aspect of languages, the boys were encouraged to write to grand parents, leave notes in French and Chinese and even attended a private school for Chinese. (With this said, please remember that being bilingual doesn't mean having the same level in writing, speaking and reading in all the languages)

There is a great example in the book where they are all sitting at the dinner table having a normal, every day, family discussion. The kids talk to the mother in Chinese and in French to the father and themselves while the parents talk in English between each other. When they are at school or among friends, the kids will talk English but if the parents are around, they will keep addressing them in the heritage languages (ie French and Chinese). They managed it by enforcing the unwritten rule of one parent one language since the beginning and by gently steering the kids back on track.

Language mixing is always an issue. The author says we need to understand why this happens, why the child (or even us) uses a certain lets say French word when speaking Chinese. Is it because he doesn't know the Chinese equivalent, because there is no such word in Chinese or just because he wants to make a point and doesn't find the French word strong enough? There are examples of this in the book and I like how the parent corrected the boy by for example repeating the correct word in the language they were speaking.

For us it's tricky. We speak both English and French among each other, it has been like this since the beginning, this will have to be revisited because we don't really have a system. With French speakers we speak French but when there are Czechs, we tend to mix this as well. Of course I will  speak Romanian to our junior and my husband French but what about the third language? English or Czech? We will go the "one person, one language" way. This way, our kid(s) will learn French, Czech and Romanian from native speakers. As for English, there is always TV, school and the parents speaking it. Besides, it's easier for bilingual kids to learn a third language.

I think you noticed I didn't even discuss the need to learn or not the heritage languages. This is not relevant for us. Our kids will have two cultures and languages from the get go, it would be really bad parenting not to teach them about their heritage. They will live at least for a while in another foreign country, will learn about the language and culture here and will learn English because it is almost mandatory these days (good or bad? I don't know). They will have a great advantage in this melting pot of a world.

If you are on the same path as us, pick up a copy of Growing up with three languages (I bought the book for kindle), it's full of relevant anecdotes and the fact that the author is a linguist is helpful in understanding the mechanisms of language. I will read the book again pretty soon. And I will also start reading books and newspapers in Romanian to my son even from the crib, like they did. Language immersion starts early.

I am really looking forward to junior popping his head and reading him his first fairy tales. It will be a fun adventure.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Design ideas for Kivik couch

One couch, so many ideas. I chose only the beige, tan or white ones because those were the colours we were going for. The Kivik is more afordable in these tones and we simply wanted a light colour were stains are less visible.

I liked this first one from Houzz but would want an arm rest. The cushions are pretty much what I'm aiming for.

I found the next one on Houzz as well but I think it's an Ikea picture. The colour scheme is nice and warm, if not what we were looking for. I liked the coffee table more in the picture than in the show room
Now this is more to our taste. Just the couch is a bit too light. I'm easy to satisfy, right? We are aiming for a warm interior, we have lots of wood and white walls, we want a cosy living room to watch a movie and receive friends. Some nice cushions to make the couch more comfy and add a touch of contrast. I cannot find back the source to this picture but I love it, because like the first one, it seems unpolished and real, not like the room is striking a pose but it's waiting for you.

Talking about a room posing, these two final pics. I love the lights in both of them yet they seem too perfect. I would still totally see myself living in one of these interiors.  The first pic is from and the second from
These were some of my ideas for how to style your room around a Kivik beige couch. In the end we didn't go for the Kivik but for a similar type of sectional couch I will show you, once the loft is finished and looking nice. If you want more, check out my pinterest board For the home.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tandem biking in Czech Republic

I was looking through older pictures and came across our honeymoon weekend in Pisek, South Bohemia. We went tandem biking and had a great picnic lunch with foie gras and wine, by the river.

And yeah, we finished the bottle :) And we brought our own glasses.

A great memory! And I wish you a great weekend.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Couch Hunting in the Czech Republic

Until recently we were on the market for a new couch to go with our new loft apartment. If you've been following my pinterest account, you probably guessed that by now. Along with the couch we wanted a dinning room table and chairs. Nothing to fancy but we did have some ideas of what we wanted.

First on the list the couch (since I'm sitting on it). Ideally it had to cover these basic points:

  • be affordable (didn't expect that did you?)
  • can be turned into a bed, if needed
  • have slip cover which we can wash 
  • have an ottoman side or lounge
  • be solid and practical
  • go well with the wood floors, posts and beams in the flat
We scouted the usual suspects in the Czech Republic, the first one being Ikea, the others being big brand stores present on the market here (Kika, XXXLutz are just the biggest names). The big brands had huge halls full of couches (and other furniture, but let's focus) and after visiting about 5 or 6 such big brands and some small ones thrown in the mix, we had the feeling that we had seen the same things over and over again. And we did. They all had the same or nearly the same couches, the prices and special offers - best price guaranteed, here - were different. My feet were killing me after walking for km in show rooms.

Essentially their couches were all variations on this model I found a picture of here but the ones we found in real life were either faux leather or upholstery.

I don't even know any normal Czech person with a living room large enough for such a couch. We calculated one such sectional couch at 10sqm. That is the size of a bedroom! But let me finish the story.

After visiting Ikea and giving a second chance to a shop close by we were left with 2 choices. Only two options and we are not even that picky, really. On one hand we had the Kivik from Ikea and on the second, the one we ended up buying.

Remember my above list? We had to narrow it down because of budget limitations. It seems that if you want your couch to act as a spare bed you have to pay the price of a second couch. Same if you want a lounge side but a separate ottoman is a good option.

Even if in the end we didn't go for the Kivik (the other couch was on sale and available right away, 300m from our house), Ikea was still the best option, I have to admit. And did I mention that for the chairs I had the same horror story? Guess where we got them from in the end.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My first Mille-feuille

They say pregnant women have cravings. I am not so 100% sure because well I had cravings before. Since I live in a country foreign to mine, I miss a lot of things that scream "home" and many of those are food related. I think that the tongue has a great memory of tastes. Sometimes I remember my mother's cooking or a particular dish I had in a good restaurant and it brings back memories. But if I am pretty good at Romanian main dishes, there have been many desserts I've missed.

You're going to say this recipe is not Romanian. Yes and no, it has a French name but in Romania it is also very popular, it's called a cremşnit, it is also a Hungarian staple food, named kremes, sometimes served with a layer of jam. I just love how food "travels", don't you?.

The mille-feuille or vanilla slice recipe I found online is the closest thing to the one my grandmother used to make. (Missing the country food and the family recipes, great combo, but not having pregnancy cravings, no, no). You can read more about the different types of this cake on wikipedia  I made mine without the icing because that's how I remember it from Grandma (and I was running dangerously low on icing sugar for the big batch I made, maybe next time).

The recipe is this (so simple, I don't believe I never tried before):

Crème pâtissière (vanilla cream) as shown in the video below (funny the guy, I can see him bossing around
the kitchen staff)
Puff pastry (I used a roll of 275gr for about 6 not very big servings)

In translation:
250 ml milk
1 vanilla stick (or vanilla extract)
50 gr sugar
30gr flour

You can double or triple or even quadruple the quantities, to suit your needs. I did 4x but I have leftover.

Bring milk to a boil with the vanilla stick or a few drops of extract. In the mean time whisk the eggs with the butter until they turn white, add the flour. Remove the vanilla stick and pour milk over the mixture and stir well.

Put the whole mixture back on the stove and after it starts to boil, stir for about 3-5 minutes until it hardens.

Pour in a glass container covered in plastic film, close it and put the container in the fridge for later use.

Once you did everything this guy said and left the crème pâtissière in the fridge for as long as you could, bake the puff pastry sheet (or sheets) in the oven, for about 15 minutes at 180°C. Use a fork to make holes in the pastry so it doesn't swell. Cut the pastry in order to make as many layers as you want (2 or 3 should be enough)

Now you can assemble the layers. A nice touch is to crumble the pastry on the top layer and sprinkle sugar, like I did, here. Sorry for the bad picture, I had it for breakfast, I couldn't resist but the light was not great.

PS. Last time I said I would share the recipe of stuffed kitchen I made to go with the ratatouille. Unfortunately I have no pictures to show you I can only tell you I used smoked sausages and cheese to stuff the boneless chicken thighs. The guys will have a nice lunch today!

Ok, I stop with the food and promise my next two posts will not be food related. Later.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Step by step real Ratatouille

Yesterday I prepared this ratatouille for my husband and his colleagues to share at work. There is a group of French guys and they always have lunch together with a different person cooking every day. Since I am  at home with little or nothing to do, I thought it would be nice if I cooked for them and I chose a French recipe. Because that's the best way to know if your French cuisine is good or not: have your food tasted by the natives :)

Ratatouille is a meal from the sun baked South of France and contains several vegetables but usually tomatoes, peppers, zuchinni, egg plant. The secret to a good ratatouille is of course in the ingredients and if you listen to the great chefs, in the layering of the vegetables and cooking them separately. Personally I prefer to mix them earlier then the cook book says and leaving a little more sauce (some say to drain it completely but I just think you loose flavour). So you see, perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

And behold! the veggies I used. I cooked for about 6 people so the exact quantities are not so important when you cook for a large number. I took a large eggplant, two big zuchinni, some of the ugliest tomatoes I could find at the grocer's (these are the best) and more (twisted) peppers of the kapia variety than you can see here (because I just love the taste). And of course as many onions as I could cut through the tears.

I started by heating olive oil in a big wok and proceeded to cutting the onions (and crying my pregnant heart out, no fingers  were lost). Next, I started chopping the peppers. Tip: try to cut all the vegetables about the same size, let's say 1cm x 1cm. It will look better and the texture will feel nicer too. (Check out my photo collage :) ).
 When the onions were only half way done (try not to burn the meal), I threw in the peppers. I like them well done. A little later on I added some wine to the mix. Diced the zuchinni and eggplant and added to the pot when the onions were translucid. Perfect! Normally, you don't need to add water because the vegetables give a lot of their own. If you have potatoes, carrots, olives at hand, add those as well.

And now you wait with a glass of wine, thinking about the lavender in Provence. Or the port of Cassis with it's boats and colourful houses. A promenade in the old town of Nice... Ahh.

Let's get back to our ratatouille which has been cooking for about 20 minutes or the time for the sauce to reduce (leave as much sauce as you prefer, you can also strain it). Since the vegetables are cook, we'll sprinkle abundantly with Herbes de Provence, some drops of green Tabasco for a bit of a punch  and voila!

This is one of those dishes which gets better the day after so today I am making the stuffed chicken the guys will have in their plates for lunch. (the chicken bits in the picture are from my husbands heavy protein diet). I'll share the stuffed chicken recipe with you, next time.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Being Pregnant in Czech Republic

I am already 8+ months pregnant and by now the questions regarding where I am going to give birth have been cleared. For me it was an easy choice, no point in going back to Romania to pay a lot in a private hospital and I have no French insurance so again, no point in going to France either. So Czech Republic it is and the maternity in our city which is at very good standards, according to friends and colleagues.

I did  my research of course, like any good expat here I accesses the fairly good reading material of They talk more about how it is to be pregnant in the Capital, here and which hospital to choose if you give birth in Prague, as if all pregnant expats lived in Prague. Even so, this is good reading material and does point to hospitals outside of Prague (Horovice being a preferred choice for Western Prague).

As I am employed here I have access to the great benefits of Czech social security. I went on maternity leave 6 weeks before the due date (you have between 8 and 6 weeks but you can even go later; no one does). The maternity leave itself is 28 weeks long and is followed by a parental leave of 1 to 4 years with the majority of Czech Mums going for 3. I still have time to decide how much time I want to spend out of the workforce.

The articles I mentioned before hit some other interesting points such as the doctor not being so inclined to hold your hand ans in the West. I don't know about other countries but in Romania, the doctor is not holding your hand a lot either. Here, I find my doctor is a little šup šup as they say, asking me if everything is ok and dismissing me quite fast if the answer is yes. We will see about how nice the midwives are, here the doctor only checks in on the birth but unless something critical happens, he will not play a major role.

I have been getting ultrasounds every visit - Once every 3 or 4 weeks, then every 2 weeks and now every week until I give birth. And I have a notebook where the doctor writes all the test results and other info related to my pregnancy. In this respect, I am well looked after, I can't complain.

Many have asked me if I will go for a C section, in Romania it's easy to pay for one and doctors prefer it as it's more lucrative and fast. In the Czech Republic, they are on the side of vaginal birth and not very keen on epidural (hooray for me! Not!) but they do offer relaxation techniques such as bath, shower, birth ball etc, in the early stage.

Like everywhere, there is a myth that pregnant women are treated better. To be honest, I did not see any change in the people on the street, I don't think the ladies in shops are less rude just because of the bump. Only the ladies in the canteen where nicer, offering to serve even food which was not paired together on the fixed menu.

So that's about all, if I missed something or you have questions about being pregnant in Czech Republic, just ask me. I will let you know about giving birth as well :)
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