Gingerbreads of 2019 – Part 5

Even more Easter Eggs. The last batch from Easter, next will be Christmas.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

Behind the Iron Curtain part 34 – Prices

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.

There is a lot of sentiment now about that during the Communist Party’s reign everything was cheaper and thus living was by default better. But that is not something I wish to talk about since it is really difficult to evaluate. Statistics about income from that era are not particularly reliable and one cannot directly compare today’s prices with prices then.

What I want to briefly mention is how wares were actually priced – centrally. Every piece had its selling price printed on the packaging straight from the manufacturer, and it was given. There was no such thing as “a discount”, there was no haggling and no local fluctuation of prices. There was also no sales tax. What item X cost in the center of Prague, it did cost in the smallest mountain village as well, and what it said on the packaging was what you paid.

(One of the biggest cultural shocks during my visit to the USA was local sales taxes. You go to the store, you pick up an item for $ 4.99 as per label, and at the counter, you are asked to cough up 6.00 or some such, which I found, and still do, to be utterly idiotic.)

Not only wares were thus priced, but services and rent were tightly regulated too. I do think that such strict regulations d were a bit too inflexible, but on the other hand, what is happening now is the opposite extreme. For example in Prague near the main tourist routes, some ware can cost several times as much as it does just a few streets away. Predatory landlords are a thing now, thriving on the welfare state that is supposed to help their customers, etc.

I do not think we have found the proper balance yet.

Slavic Saturday

Some trivial trivia about Czech beer.

The juvenile joke about feminism aside, it is indeed true that one of the persistent gender-assigned “roles” in the Czech republic is that men drink 0,5 l beers and women drink 0,3 l beers.

I did drink a fair amount of beer during my studies in Pilsen, but I have never heard the terms “šnyt” or “mlíko” shown in this video. That leads me to believe that either they are relatively new, or they are Prague-specific.

Gingerbreads of 2019 – Part 4

More details of the gingerbread eggs from yesterday – the backsides.

The eggshells are baked on a special form. Before we had that, we baked them on impromptu shapes made from alluminium foil with the help of a spoon. but the results were mixed.


© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

An old Woodworking tip for Tight Bonds

Today was my first real workday since the beginning of the year – today was the first day I did not feel like crap. So I have decided to assemble handrail (or a balustrade?) around the entrance to the attic, which was on my backlog for a few years by now.

I did not make the handrail, and I did not even pay the full price for it. I am not normally a difficult customer, I do not haggle, I pay on time and I am forgiving of a miss-hap here and then. But this is one of the instances when I really lost my patience. The carpenter did not object, he knew he screwed up. And when I was assembling the handrail today, I found out the screwed up even more than I knew. Initially, I was only angry about his inability to either keep a deadline or to inform me in advance that he needs a delay (which he got three times after he failed to show up). Today I found out that he did a poor job too.

For example, two screws holding the frame together had their heads twisted off and the whole thing was all wibbly-wobbly because there were huge gaps between the parts.

A really unseemly gap. Unstable too. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

In addition to these gaps, the frame was not even properly square – not even close! The handrail was fixed 5 mm higher on one column than on the other, which was enough to be noticeable with the naked eye. So I had to glue-up the pre-drilled holes and make new ones.

That is not something a professional carpenter should demand to be paid for. As a professional, he has a fancy workshop full of tools that I can only dream of. Surely he has some long clamps that would allow him to screw the thing together without such huge gaps. Nevermind that fancy modern clamps are not even necessary, as I am going to show you.

You need a rope, a piece of wood and… and that’s it.  You tie the rope loosely around two parts that are perpendicular to the desired force vector, as close to the joint as possible (in this case the column and the closest vertical bar in the frame). Then insert the piece of wood into the loop (in this case a hammer handle) and start twisting the rope until it tightens the joint together. For best result, the rope should be so long that you get a tight fix at just 1-2 full revolutions, less and you have poor control, more and the strands will be unevenly stressed.

When tightened to your desire, you can either hold or tie the piece of wood in position and screw the parts together.

Hammer inserted into the loop and turned around two times to tighten the rope. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Thus you can get a nice fit between the parts, without unseemly gaps that make the joint not only ugly but also unstable.

A proper joint without a gap. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

To give credit where it is due, I did not invent this trick. It is a centuries-old technique used, among other things, by ottoman bow-builders for getting a very tight bond between layers in their composite bows while the glue sets.

After I have spent one hour fixing the poor work, I needed two more hours to assemble the whole thing again and fix it in place.

Mah “new” handrail finally in place. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Gingerbreads of 2019 – Part 3

And now for some gingerbread Easter eggs.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Gingerbreads of 2019 – Part 2

Moar Easter-themed gingerbread.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Gingerbreads of 2019 – Part 1

I have realized that I did not post any of my mother’s gingerbread creations last year. At easter I simply forgot, and on Christmas, I did not use PC at all. So I am going to rectify it over the next few weeks, a few pictures at a time.

Let us start with those from easter.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 33 – McGyver in Every Household

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.

“Zlaté české ručičky” (Golden Czech Hands) – a self-flattering saying that Czechs like to say about themselves for fairly long time. I was not able to google-fu the origin of the phrase, but one of the speculations I believe the most is that it originated during the times of the Iron Curtain.

I have already mentioned the centrally planned economy and the many negatives it has lead to. But I did not mention one of the at least somewhat positive things – the widespread ability to get the most out of whatever little there was available.

For example one of my uncles wanted to have a gramophone, but those were hard to get by. So he scraped and scrounged parts from defunct gramophones and has built a functioning one out of them. He also has built two high-quality loudspeakers for it – and they worked and sounded good for a long time. Previously he also has built a simple radio. And a bicycle from parts.

This uncle, a Ph.D. mathematician, has emigrated to USA when I was only about six years old and he took this mindset with him. He married a Korean-American woman, whom I have met in 1999 during my only visit there. One of her complaints about her husband was that she rarely gets to buy new stuff, because whenever something breaks – be it TV, vacuum, microwave or a kitchen robot – he repairs it. And indeed all these items around the house were visibly repaired.

I have this mindset too. I wanted a nice sturdy knife to take with me on forest walks, but they were expensive and hard to get by, so I have made one. I am not as handy with electronic as my uncle is, but have repurposed parts from his old radio project and used the speakers for building myself high-quality horn-speakers. And many other things.

But around here, this was not exceptional. Every man had to be a handyman, knowing a bit about electronics, plumbing, carpentry, masonry and, if you were lucky, car repair and maintenance. Because when something broke in the household, buying replacement was often not an option and getting a professional to do the job for you was not easy or fast enough. Of course, some were better at somethings than others, and a thriving black market of skills has emerged. Indeed the only way to thrive was to have a network of skilled friends or you were screwed.

Towards the end of the regime, in 1987, there emerged a TV show dedicated to this kind of “DIY” thing, named “Receptář nejen na neděli” (Recipe book not only for Sundays), whose spinoffs and follow-ups run until today under different names. There was also a periodical of the same name as the TV show, another periodical “Udělej si sám” (Do It Yourself :-)) and even one of the periodicals for children that I have previously mentioned (ABC) had sections dedicated to small crafts.

Today there is a lot of moaning about how this aspect of our culture is slowly disappearing. The availability of cheap goods on demand did lead to a decreased need to be inventive and frugal. Some of the moaning is just that – the regular moaning about the corruption of youth and the good old times – but some of it is to my mind justified. Indeed when working in Germany, I was often able to come up with creative solutions to some problems with the things I found in a drawer, exactly because that is what I was used to doing, whilst some of my colleagues were content with listing through a catalog.

I think that being poor is not a virtue, but being frugal and inventive is. The only problem that remains is how to raise inventive and frugal people when being lazy and wasteful is easier.

Crappy New Gear etcetera, aka: Good News, Everyone!

The New Year has arrived, with a new, fresh and unsullied threat of a third world war. For me, personally, that would be more than enough to jump with joy /s, however, there is more.

Closer to home we hadn’t any decent snowfall this winter, only rain. Which does not seep very well into the frozen ground. Even the mountains have no more than a few cms of snow, and to get the skiing business running, they keep depleting groundwaters to make artificial snow. So in all probability extreme droughts are going to continue for the third year in a row. But global warming definitively does not exist, because right now there is about two mm of snow outside that fell overnight. Yay!

Even closer to home, I was pain-free for a whole week, so I felt confident I can manage the transfer from Windows 7 to Windows 10. The update went reasonably well, after only four tries I have managed to install the system without needing to buy a new license (or doing anything illegal), and mere two days were needed to install all the software I use and get it running. Some older programs and HOMAM III needed some persuasion, but I managed it alright. The PC runs better than ever before (clean system installation does that) and everything is ship-shape. Now the only thing that remains is to backup and clean all my data when I am at it. True joy. Except that both my pointer fingers flared up from typing, the right one with extra helping from all the mouse-clicking before I got my old drawing tablet running so I can use left hand too (I have an ergonomic mouse, so I cannot use it left-handed). And it was not that difficult work to do, to begin with :-(.

So the new year is off to a very “good” start, even the good comes with some bad.

On a cheerier note, I heard that it helps to keep new year resolutions when you write them down publicly, so here are mine with commentary:

1) Exercise at least 2 minutes, daily, no other specifics (last year I tried an hour two times a week, that got thrown out of the window with subsequent 6-week illnesses – 2 minutes daily should be more manageable and possible in some form even when ill, less exhausting and still at least somewhat useful).

2) Absolutely no using phone or PC after 21:30, I shall be reading books instead before bedtime (I think I was staring into my phone more than is healthy, even without facebook or twitter, especially these last two months when I could not do much else).

3) No YouTube or movies or internet or games on PC or phone from after breakfast till 19:00 on workdays, only perhaps audiobooks to listen to at work (I do not need to watch as many vids as I did, neither do I need to obsess over what new idiotic thing the conservatives the world over have done right this minute).

4) Most relevant to you all – at least one blog post a week, however short and inconsequential.

5) Start painting and drawing again (to have something to blog about).

So, happy New Year to you all. The farce is definitively with us.

An update About my Continuing Absence (and more) – Charly

Hi guys, as I mentioned already in several posts, I had some pain trouble with my hands for over half a year by now. In the summer I visited an orthopedist and he told me, based on an X-ray, that there is no inflammation and that warmth and rest should suffice. With maybe some anti-inflammation medication as a precaution.

Well, I took the advice and medication he prescribed. Problems receded to nearly, but not completely, vanishing. Then they returned. Then they nearly, but not completely, vanished again. So after I finally left my job at the end of October, I took a whole month of rest. Like, doing absolutely nothing except keeping myself alive and clean. I also only turned PC on twice a week to read e-mails, because clicking mouse and writing on the keyboard were both extremely aggravating. However, it was still not enough so I visited my GP, who in turn requested a re-evaluation of my old X-rays from a radiologist and performed blood screening.

The good news is that I do not have autoimmune rheumatic arthritis, neither do I have Lyme disease or carpal tunnel syndrome. The bad news is that I did indeed have inflamed first joint on my right hand the whole time. There does not seem to be any large-scale damage to the joints (and hopefully no permanent damage), but now I am probably more prone to both tendonitis and arthritis than I was previously and I might even already have tendinosis (permanent damage to the tendons). I was always prone to straining my hands with work and having to take abnormally long rests afterward, but never so long and persistent like this. I am getting old in addition to my always poor health, I guess.

I was prescribed new anti-inflammatory medication by my GP and it seems to have helped quite a lot. I had a few days since then when my hands felt completely normal. But still, a few hours on PC render me useless for two days as my pointer fingers get sore again. I will probably have to take a few longer courses of anti-inflammatory drugs with even more rest and some careful exercise before (if) I am back to normal again. I will have to visit my doc again in the new year. As it is now, I am not medically disabled whilst not being able to work, which sucks on a completely different level.

So the next bad news is that I definitively cannot carry my weight around the blog re: writing, for non-definable time. I will try to post some pictures again at least. Only not this year, because now that I can use PC at least short times somewhat, I have to do all my backlogged bookkeeping and transfer from Windows 7 to Windows 10, which I expect to take a week at least. And then, of course, I need to read up on all that I have missed here since November because whilst I can watch YouTube on my phone, reading on it I found to be extremely uncomfortable so I had to reduce my reading input too.

To counterbalance it with a hope of good news, even now most medium to heavy work is not nearly as much of a problem as writing on PC is – in fact I repaired old furniture and cleaned the attic with no adverse effects –  so once I feel healthy enough I still hope to be able to start making knives and wood carvings the next year. And draw/paint pictures.

So Happy Holidays and Grumpy New Year or somesuch. See ya.

Local Reminders of Global Warming

Last year the broken weather nearly killed my fig trees. There were signs of hope afterward, I wrote about it here.

This year, the broken weather has lead to me harvesting over 1 kg of fresh figs today, in late October, when it should be freezing already. I mean, I am glad the trees recovered and are doing well, but this is not normal. Sometimes a small good thing is a result of a big bad one I guess.

Finishing a Depressing Episode in Life

Two years ago my father’s oldest brother has died. If you were reading TNET at the time, you may remember that it was very stressful before his death. His house was full of garbage. Literally full – each and every room to the breast height, some more – and literally garbage – wrappings, shopping bags, spoiled food. And mixed in that garbage were occasionally valuable things, like tools or antique furniture.

My uncle was not on good terms with the whole family, except with me. So he wanted to give his property to me, which I have refused unless he allows me to throw his garbage out. I planned then to sell the dump for the price of the land and give the money to my nephew, to compensate him a bit the shitty start of life his good-for-nothing father has caused him.

It was difficult to find a company willing to even touch that mess, and when we found one, it took over a month and cost his whole life savings (nearly 30.000,-€). Unfortunately, he died before the works were finished. So I secured the door, barred the windows and the property hung in the limbo of inheritance legalities ever since. My uncle was childless and did not write a testament, therefore his siblings were his inheritors. And, as I expected, my uncles and aunt were not exactly cooperative.

Not that they wanted money – I would be OK with that, I did not want anything in the first place, not for myself. But they knew it would be cheeky to ask for money after they multiple times said they want nothing to do with their brother when he was alive and sick and in need of help. They just were uncooperative and deliberately obtuse, so the whole legal process took almost two years. Last month it was finally over, with my father now being the sole owner of the property. We already have a buyer, for a good price, so hopefully, before the year’s end, it will be over.

During the two years, people broke into the house – door were kicked in, all windows were broken – and stripped it of nearly everything of even modicum of value that was still left there. Someone even tried and failed to steal a huge central heating oven, but it was evidently too heavy. Nevertheless, there were still some things that I want to take before we sell it all.

An old broken wooden cross.

One of those things is an old, broken massive wooden cross. My uncle was a fervent catholic and he worked as a sexton in the local church for decades. He probably scrounged this either to repair it or just as junk. But it is good, old, seasoned oak. The big beam is rotten a bit, but it can still be mostly salvaged enough for a plethora of knife handles, or for vice jaws or something.

In the cellar was a huge pile of fire bricks. I am a bit surprised that those were not stolen – they cost 2,-€ each and they are thus more valuable than the huge heating oven. And they would be less work to take. Possibly the scavengers did not recognize what they are and thought those are ordinary building bricks – I do in fact know that one such person who illegally broke into the house mistook them for ordinary bricks.

I am not sure whether I will be able to make something out of them, but I wanted to build a wood-fired ceramic kiln for a long time, and these bricks were enough for just that. But maybe they will just stay in their new place until my heirs have to clean them away.

Another thing(s) I wanted to take – of limited value to anyone but me – were the lilac and elderberry bushes that have overgrown the garden. Lilac wood is extremely hard and durable, extremely rare and extremely beautiful – the heartwood is lilac and the sapwood creamy-white. Elderberry wood is not very durable, but it too is hard, reasonably beautiful and difficult to get in larger pieces. The new owner will fell most of the trees anyway, and they were in bad condition since my uncle did not care for the garden at all, so I need not feel guilty for cutting them down.

So this weekend my nephew – the future recipient of a big pile of money – came by and he helped me to move all those fire bricks, fell most of the lilacs and elderberries, and stack it all behind my workshop. I took even some thin lilac twigs, I think I can do something out of them, and if not, my house has a wood-burning stove.

Tomorrow I have to take a can of paint and slather it over all the cuts, otherwise the wood will dry too quickly and crack too much.

A pile of firebricks and a pile of wood.

My hands are a lot better. The bones ceased to hurt completely, but some ligaments around the pointer finger are still probably strained and begin to hurt after some works, especially after writing – so there alas still won’t be too much writing from me for an undetermined time. I think I will have to actually fixate these fingers for prolonged time, otherwise they just won’t heal.