Goodbye Summer, Goodbye Slime

My new favorite phrase is that something is “having a moment.”  It stylishly captures the notion that some thing is seemingly everywhere.  In addition to being stylish, use of this phrase handily allows me to avoid its awkward cousin:  “zeitgeist.”  For example, while travelling abroad, my sister Louise was wont to order an Aperol spritz.  She mentioned that this delicious Italian aperitif was “having a moment” in NYC, and it appeared to be doing so in Germany and the Czech Republic as well.

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Aperol Spritz:  Having a moment

For the under 12 set of Southern Wisconsin, I am loathe to report that the thing which had its moment this summer was, unfortunately, slime.  All I have to do is say the word  “slime” to another caregiver, and a rending of  garments commences as we bewail the misery that is slime.

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Slavish creation of slime:  also having a moment

You aren’t familiar with slime, you say?  Well, I don’t speak of anything naturally- occurring or featured in Ghostbusters, nor even any slime that is Asian beauty product related.  Oh no, I speak of that monstrosity promoted by ‘tween You-tubers and created with any number of ingredients.  Regardless of the particular recipe, however, the main ingredients of slime are massive amounts of Elmer’s glue and pure evil.

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Avoid any endcaps featuring this product

And just before school let out, the kids were infected by this evil contagion.  The desire for slime infected our entire summer.  I tried to resist.  I’d resisted similar things like Play-Doh, but the slime fever was virulent.  I eventually caved and went out and bought the requisite industrial size Elmer’s glue, shaving cream, and contact solution.  I was immediately disillusioned and, after one afternoon, banned slime!  Or I tried to.  Here’s a sampling of the pro-slime arguments that constituted the sound track of 2017 for me:

“But mom, it’s like science!”  This is true only in the way that Grease II was like Grease.

“Wouldn’t you rather we be creative than sitting in front of our electronics?”  At this point of summer, no.  Your electronics do not produce an ever-escalating disaster, save for the slow erosion of all couch cushions into a pile on the floor.

“We’ll keep it in the kitchen.”  In kid mind this includes the floor.  Recall the new puppy?  Luckily we had taken up most of the rugs during housetraining, and the puppy slime prints were sort of easy to remove.

“…we’ll keep it in on the counter.”  Places I have found slime:  in the track of the sliding patio door, under my pillow, smeared into a screen, in Evelyn’s hair, in the puppy’s fur, on the seat of my toilet.

“…OK, fine, we’ll only play with it outside.”  Have you ever seen what grass coated with slime looks like?  I have.  It adheres with juuuuust enough stick that a broom can’t sweep it up off the floor, this must be accomplished by hand.

“But we always clean it up when you tell us to.”  Mmm hmm.  That’s why I’ve taken to locking myself in my room with an Aperol Spritz  after announcing to the two of them that it is time to clean up the slime.  The only way to truly get two little girls to accomplish a joint cleaning task is to hover over them, referee-like, for the duration of the what is essentially a G.L.O.W. match as both attempt to win by performing as little actual cleaning as possible.  I sip my drink, wait for the screaming to die down, and then exit, always hoping that they’ve somehow adopted my definition of “cleaned up.”  Somehow, despite an entire roll of paper towels having died in the fight, the telltale heart of slime will still beat steadily.

“But mom, it’s the last day of summer.  We just want to spend a last day doing what we think is fun”  Arrrrgh.  You got me with the sentimental ‘last day’ gambit.  OK, fine.  Keep it outside and I’m throwing it all away tomorrow!    (Yelling into the vacuum created by frantic exit of children given permission to make slime).  Did you hear me?  Tomoooooroooooow……

Put a fork in her, she’s done: “Kid Summer” fades to black

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s almost time for the little people to head back to school. As if the numerous back to school sales and advertisements weren’t enough, the naturally occurring signs of the season’s demise are all around us.  And for those previously mentioned little people, the Kid Version of Summer has definitely begun to show its age.  It’s gotten a little bit frayed, worn out, and ready to go in the hand-me-down pile.  I’ve taken a brief inventory of some of the indicators that Kid Summer is ready for retirement.

Top ten indicators that Kid Summer is finished:  

  1. There are no more complete sets of intact flip flops anywhere in the house.  They’ve either all broken, been chewed up by the dog, or disappeared in kicked-off glee.  Because I refuse to buy new ones, my people will shuffle through these last few days with mismatched flip flops held together with duct tape.  Classy.20170823_072823
  2. The list of “summer expectations” is no where to be found.  It was a noble effort, and for a month or so we were pretty good.  No electronics before X,Y,Z, keep up with personal hygiene, rudimentary chores.  About July the list was popsicle stained and rumpled on the front of the fridge.  When I checked today, it was simply gone, a mysterious smeared handprint in its wake.
  3. The sunscreens are all 5/7 empty and choked with sand.  They’re gross, I don’t want them in my bag, but there they are.
  4. The girls’ hair has achieved that “end-of-summer” crispness that only a ruthless trim will take care of.  They swam every day.  The personal hygiene got a little lax.  Instead of the special Swimmer’s Wellness shampoo, I’m pretty sure they were using Old Spice Body Wash on their hair the majority of the time.
  5. There are no areas of their arms and legs that haven’t sustained a mosquito bite or injury.  It’s hard to tell what their actual skin tone is.  Bronze tan, white healing scab, red bite, black dirt.  Did I mention the personal hygiene challenges?
  6. There are 12 incomplete projects ranging from half-done jigsaws to slime to living room forts slowly decaying in various corners of the house.  Any horizontal surface is occupied by a project that GOD FORBID I dismantle, despite all indications that they will never be finished.  And, because the little people are around all the time, I can’t launch my usual stealth dismantling attack.
  7. All of the sidewalk chalks are itty bitty nubs.  FYI, I hate chalk.  I hate how it feels, I refuse to pick it up, and I hate watching the kids draw with it.   But the danger of accidental fingernail scrapeage that these nubbins impart?  Shudder.  Time to close the driveway gallery for the season.20170823_072914
  8. We’ve gone through all of the “Outdoor Shenanigans.”  Every summer, Jimmy stocks up on stuff that makes him quite popular with the under 10 set.  We’ve reached that sad point when all of the glow bracelets, rubber band missiles, stomp rockets, and sparklers are gone.  All that’s left at the bottom of the Shenanigans bin are some of those lame snappers.
  9. Morning preparations seems to drag well into the afternoon.  To the little people, “get dressed and get ready for the day” has come to mean something very far from what I intend.  Lack of practice has lulled them into thinking that I mean “sit on the couch in your pajamas until noon, and by the way I was just kidding about getting yourself breakfast and I’m here to prepare lunch for you on an emergency basis whenever it suits you.”  Dear Lord, please return my routine to me.  I am incapable of holding it together during Kid Summer.
  10. They have, on occasion, looked just a liiiiiiiiiitle bit B-O-R-E-D.resized952017081995083544001002-1.jpg

 

Do you think that a review of these clues will be enough to truly convince them that it’s time to head back to school?

How I Spent My Solar Eclipse

Assignment:  Write a 5 paragraph essay describing the superiority of how you spent the 2017 solar eclipse.

 


How I Spent My Solar Eclipse

By:  Angie Bier

When it comes to solar eclipses, the eclipse of 2017 was an important one.  I don’t know much about any previous solar eclipses.  I remember one happening in the early 80’s.  It involved cereal boxes, the St. Mary’s School playground, and the fear of irrevocable blindness should one so much as glance above the horizon.  Ever since then, I’ve tended to steer clear of major celestial events.  That being said, the hype surrounding yesterday’s event made me sit up and take notice.  Given the importance of the event, I honored it by taking a really great nap.  I will attempt to persuade you that napping through the eclipse was the best choice.

To begin with, from what I can tell from my social media feeds, southeast Wisconsin wasn’t exactly prime seating for the eclipse.  More like second balcony:  you’d be at the event, but always bothered by the niggling thought that your seats are REALLY BAD.  We weren’t in the line of “totality”, and it was a generally overcast day.  It never got fully dark, there were no aberrant cicadas, and the dog didn’t seem particularly upset.  Instead, I enjoyed NASA’s absolutely perfect live coverage and the pictures on more dedicated friends’ social media feeds.

Secondly, I was woefully unprepared.  Somehow, maybe with all of the travel and re-entry, I missed the whole “buying eclipse glasses” and “making things out of boxes” fever.  The kids were at dance for the duration of the event, so the pressure was off.  And as is my motto, if you’re not going to do something to the nth degree, probably best not to do it at all.  So, no kids + no gear = no perfect eclipse viewing for me.

Finally, creative napping is an important hobby in my life.  If I ever appear on Jeopardy! I plan to chat about this with Alex Trebek, and I expect he’ll be pretty impressed.  There’s some genetic thing in my family wherein we can fall asleep quickly and nearly anywhere.  In fact, there was a great-uncle priest who would routinely fall asleep while saying mass and the nuns took turns creeping up from the front pew to wake him.  During college, I learned the value of a good, well-timed, 20 minute power nap to reset during the early afternoon.  I would be happy to rattle off a list of my top ten naps if asked.  So, given the generally dusky appearance outside  and otherwise empty house, I chose to take a nice 20 minute nap in the best spot in the house (corner of the sectional) under a light afghan.  I set a timer, but true to form I woke up refreshed just before the alarm went off.  I need to give it some serious thought, but I’m pretty sure I can add this nap to the top 10 list, given the attendant situational details.

By now I’m sure that by now you would agree that napping during the solar eclipse of 2017 was my best choice.  Given the sub optimal viewing conditions, my lack of preparation, and the quality of my nap, sleeping during the eclipse was easily once of the best decisions I’ve ever made and not at all something of which I should be ashamed, mortified, or otherwise publicly humiliated.

 

August

late summer

August is the earth letting out a groaning sigh.  The heady business of summer comes to a close, leaves begin to fade, and the once-crisp plants begin to take on a draggled look as they finish the photosynthetic business of the summer’s work.  The release of pent up energy is audible in the racket of August–the cicada cacophony that dominates the evening, the rattle of the slowly dessicating leaves.  The shine shines over-brightly as it asserts its dominance for these last few brief weeks.  I won’t notice the moment that the light melts into to the wistful gleams of autumn.  But it will happen sometime as August finishes exhaling that slow, languorous, glorious breath.

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Bier Trip to the Homeland Part VII:

As we boarded the bus for our trip to Koclířov,  I tried to keep my enthusiasm in check, but it was hard.  This town, formerly Ketzelsdorf, holds so much enchantment for my Bier family.  Thanks to the diaries of the emigrant Valentine Bier family, the town seemed almost palpably real in our collective imaginations.  There’d be the ancestral home at number 78, St. Philomena’s Church where Valentine and Catherine had been married and the first seven children baptized, and a magical quality of recognition.

 

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A new day dawns on the Bohemian countryside

 

I harbored some additional secret hopes.  I hoped for some clues of relatives, pre- or post-Valentine, maybe a few friendly townspeople, a good beer.  I know that my Uncle Jim hoped to stride up to the door of 78 and, after flashing his I.D., be invited in for a game of mariáš.  But I didn’t dare mention these hopes–better to keep the group’s expectations low.

Our guide, Jana, had a contact in Koclířov, a lady who would let us in the church.  In fact, she said that of all the towns that she contacted, Koclířov was the only one that yielded a positive response.  However, we were running an hour late, and I anticipated a crabby old church lady when we finally rolled into town.

 

 

 

 

Imagine my slack-jawed surprised, then, when we were met instead by two people who, quite simply, none of us will ever forget.  Hana spoke English and, therefore, did most of the greeting.  She is a member of St. Philomena’s parish, a devout Catholic, and works for the other Catholic enterprise in town, the Fatima Center.  She welcomed us with unbridled enthusiasm, warmth, and awe.  She was amazed that we had traveled so far and repeated in numerous ways how blessed and lucky she felt.  It killed me when I had to do something so pedestrian as ask for a toilet!

She also introduced us to Josef, who goes by Pepi.  (“Why Pepi?” we wondered.  “Because Josef is such a common name.”  Something lost in translation there…).  Pepi spoke German and was mildly disappointed to discover that none of us did.  His mother was one of three Germans allowed to remain in the village following WWII, by virtue of the fact that she married a Czech man.  She secretly taught Pepi to speak German, and passed on to him her sorrow over the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans.  Indeed, he made her a deathbed promise to mend that rift.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think we helped him fulfill that promise to his mother.

 

 

 

Hana pointed out some of the sites in the town, including the community hall where Pepi had celebrated his 70th birthday the night before.  She reiterated the remarkable fact that a town of 700 supports not one but two Catholic institutions–St. James the Elder & Philomena Church and the Fatima Center.  This is all the more remarkable in a country in which 80% of the population is atheist.  St. James & Philomena is the traditional town church.  The Fatima Center is both a parish church and a pilgrimage site / education center / conference center / gathering place that sells amazing pastries for 40 cents.  It was built at the site of a former convent.

 

 

 

Hana and Pepi took us into the church and related it’s history, of near total destruction and decay during Communist rule and eventual restoration.  This was due to what Hana called a miracle and what I called a little bit of shoddy bookkeeping at the government offices.  I don’t want to get anyone in trouble–you’ll have to ask one of us in person!

 

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St. James the Greater & St. Philomena from the cemetery.  In the distance you can see the Fatima Center.  You can also appreciate the valley in which Koclířov lies

 

The cemetery’s German section was protected by destruction by the Communists by Pepi and his people.  You could barely hold me back as we entered through the gates.

 

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View from the church into the cemetery

 

Holy cow, the place was awash with Biers!  And I knew absolutely NONE of them!  It was simultaneously exciting and overwhelming.  So much work left to do!.  Pepi led us from grave to family grave, pausing to shed a few silent tears at the grave of his dear mother.  Fear not–the less legible had rubbings taken by the Laning boys.  Can you believe all of this unexplored history?  My only disappointment was that I didn’t see a single Jiru grave.  Fingers crossed that the archives at Zamrsk will prove more fruitful.

 

 

 

Flanking the church and cemetery on either side were a series of niches.  These contained a set of restored stations of the cross and additional memorials.   The money to restore these came from Koclířov’s former Sudeten Germans.  Pepi has organized a series of reunions with 80+ of the Koclířov Germans who were deported.  Hana relates that many were very hesitant to return, feeling the place would be “tainted” or “cursed” to them.  However, most wept tears of joy on their return, recalling and recognizing the home of their childhood.  The expat Koclířov-ians and current population now make yearly alternating visits between the Czech Republic and Germany.  Talk about making good on his promise!

 

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Niches flanking the church that contain old stations of the cross. The restoration was undertaken as a joint effort with the exiled German former residents of Koclířov, under Pepi’s guidance.

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Niches flanking the church that contain old stations of the cross and memorials. The restoration was undertaken as a joint effort with the exiled German former residents of Koclířov, under Pepi’s guidance.

 

Finally we stepped inside the church.  Hana gave a touching impromptu speech, led us all in prayer, and then proceeded to sing a song of St. Philomena as requested by Pepi, who softly hummed along to my right.  I know that I simply wept in astonishment.

 

 

 

Feeling overwhelmed with it all, we were then led across the street to the Fatima Center for more.  We had a brief tour of the beautiful grounds.  And note to self:  rooms are available to the public for 290 Kč per night (about $12!!!).

 

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Grounds of the Fatima Center

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Grounds of the Fatima Center

 

Then Pepi brought out the homemade plum brandy.  It was his birthday, after all.  I didn’t detect any plum, and I’m pretty sure that the 57% alcohol was a low estimate.  Oh well, twist our arms, cheers to Pepi!

 

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Pepi and Jana pouring out . . .

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serving to Eug . . .

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to Pepi!

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A second for some.

 

We had two things left that we hoped for:  to see the home at 78 and to see a statue that Pepi mentioned that was commissioned by a Bier.  Pepi was sad to inform us that the Bier home was one of 145 razed after the removal of the Germans after WWII.  He was able to point out its approximate location, however, which is now the site of a small yellow apartment building.  It’s nestled on the banks of the valley, just adjacent to a creek and a 3 minute walk from the church.  He also provided me with a hand-drawn map of the town’s layout prior to the destruction of the 145 homes, as drawn from the collective memory of the town.

 

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Apartment at the site of the former Bier home

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The site lies adjacent to the small creek that runs through town

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On the other side of the creek is a bus station and parking lot; you can just see the yellow apartment building in the background to the left.

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View from the bus station facing away from the house; you can see St. James & Philomena’s steeple in the distance and appreciate just how close to the church the Bier home was.

 

We didn’t want to the leave the town, but we had to eat.  No problem.  Hana called in some additional staff for the small restaurant owned by the Fatima Center.  They stayed open just for us and the beer and dumplings were sublime.  Of course, Pepi, Jana and our intrepid bus driver, Alex, joined us as well (Hana had to get back to work).

 

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Still trying to master mariáš after lunch

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The group outside the restaurant

 

Finally, Pepi led us to the statue at the edge of town.  It depicts St. Jan Nepomucký, an icon with whom we’d become familiar.  A Czech king had thrown him into the Vltava river after he (the saint) refused to rat out the queen’s confession.  The site where he went in was said to be identified by five stars.  As a result, he’s traditionally depicted with five starts around his head.  Ironically, he’s the patron saint of swimmers.  The back of the statue did, in fact, include a name “Joseph Bier”–another relative that I didn’t know we had.  Seriously, so much work to do . . .

 

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Statue of St. Jan Nepomucký

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Inscription on the back, with the name Joseph Bier and the year 1834

 

As I write all of this, I still can’t really believe it all happened.  The day was simply magical, and I know that we all felt it.  And it’s all due to the intervention of three amazing people whom I can never thank enough . . .

 

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Pepi

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Hana…the Czech “Sister Jan”

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Jana

 

Until we meet again, ahoy  Koclířov

 

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Bier Trip to the Homeland Part VI: Wishin’ and Hopin’

We had two days blocked out for our trip into the Bohemian and Moravian countryside.  I had been referring to this portion of the trip as the “black box:”  I had no idea what it held, could be good or bad, and I made no promises.  That being said, I still felt a great deal of responsibility for the group’s enjoying itself.

Day one, while visually stunning,

was a little bit discouraging.  

Our lovely guide, Jana, started off by having a sidebar with me about how most of the stops that the tour company had booked for the first day weren’t going to be worth it.  See, she had received copies of my research.  She got it.  She understood that I didn’t want to spend hours at archives that didn’t have what I needed.  I quickly agreed to adjust our plans, reassured her of our easygoing nature, and began to develop nervous diarrhea.

Once we were outside the Prague metropolitan area, we were again struck by the visual similarity of the Bohemian countryside to southern Wisconsin.  I imagine that the original Bohemian immigrants to Wisconsin just stayed on the train until things looked familiar, then disembarked and got to work.

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Save for the occasional castle, the Bohemian countryside is reminiscent of southern Wisconsin

 

The more agriculturally inclined in the group entertained themselves playing “name that crop” and “how many combines can you spot?”  The bus had to circle back many times as we encountered narrow lanes and bridges unable to bear the weight of a tour bus.  Additional time to kill was spent attempting to learn the complex rules of the traditional Czech card game, Mariáš.  My uncles kept hoping that they’d stumble upon a group of avid players with whom they could bond.  Instead, most people said that they knew of the game, but that it was too hard to learn!  Also, that their grandpa played.

 

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Name that crop!

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Counting combines

 

Eventually we stopped at the town of Zamrsk, where the district records are kept.  Jana assured me that over 90% of the records are digitized, and that a long stop would probably be a waste of time.  This was a good thing, as the building was closed and the records in indecipherable Gothic German.  Speaking of which, anyone know a good Gothic German translator?  So, we snapped a few pictures of the closed archives, Eugene and I had a beer with some kind people with whom we were unable to converse, Jana and the bus driver tried to fix the air conditioning, and we were off.

 

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The Zamrsk regional archives are housed in an old, charming prison.  The records therein are digitized, and I have a lot of work to do.

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We visited on a Sunday.  Oh well.

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My spirits were buoyed by this lovely Czech woman who shared a cold beer with me and cousin Eugene.  She was lovely, and nobody understand a bit of what the other was saying.

 

We drove a bit more.  The tour company booked us for a lunch stop in the town of Litomyšl.  I understand why–the main street is picturesque and there’s a castle.  (My God, I’ve become jaded on castles.  So. Many. Castles.)  But, again, I was left concerned that our journey to our roots was going to be a pastiche of the Czech countryside.

 

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Charming Litomyšl castle

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Charming Litomyšl main street

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Charming Litomyšl side street

 

Finally, after lunch, we set off for Dolní Třešňovec, the home of the Langer family for several generations.  Sure, none of my direct ancestors had lived there since about 1810.  Sure, we didn’t have any contacts in town.  Sure, the Sudenten Germans had all been expelled after World War Two and there were likely no actual relatives still there.  We were confident that armed with a house number (95), the knowledge that a chapel with a Pieta existed, and some basic luck, we were bound to find something.

And we did!  I truly don’t know if the abandoned overgrown house that we found was the house, but I hope it was.  I don’t know if the chapel-shaped firestation was the chapel, but it seems likely.  I am pretty sure that the Pieta next to the chapel / firestation was, in fact, a Pieta.

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Abandoned number 95.  Could this be the long-ago home of my Langer ancestors?

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Stucco chipping away on the side of the house reveals an old brick exterior that, to my amateur eyes, could be the required several hundred years old.

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If this is a refurbished chapel, the use of steeple as hose-drying tower was a clever conversion.  “Way to go boys,” says firefighter Tom.

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Descriptions of Dolní Třešňovec mention a Pieta next to the chapel.  This certainly fits the bill.

 

So….it was a start!  The cluster of houses hugging the roadside in  Dolní Třešňovec wasn’t all that inspiring, but with a few deep breaths and imagination, there was a flicker of magic to the place.  But the day had been long and the a.c. never really improved.  My frayed nerves were getting the better of me, and as we pulled away in the bus, I was truly focused on hoping for a better tomorrow.

I had been worried that the Czech people would be irritated with us German Americans nosing around the place.  Instead, no one seemed particularly interested at all, which was somehow worse.  Sure the scenery was beautiful and evocative, but I needed something more to make it seem just right.  After all, this was the capstone.  This was the part of the trip that was supposed to somehow bring us full circle.  I needed a little magic.

Fear not, fair reader.  On Day Two, we got our magic in spades.