Tag Archives: Emma Palova

Czechs & Sports

Czechs embrace sports for fun & medals

By Emma Palova
EW Emmas Writings Journal

Since I am living an international life with most of the family embedded in the USA, while the rest is scattered in France and Czech Republic, the Sochi Olympic Games,  embody a true spirit of cooperation high above their competing foundation.
“Who do you root for?” a cashier once asked me at a local grocery store after he detected a slight accent.
Most of our family members, except for our son Jake, have a recognizable accent, some more than others. Often that becomes the center of all jokes. It can be anywhere from amusing to annoying.
“Well of course I go for the best one,” I laughed. “I don’t care about the nationality.”
The Czechs both in the old country and expatriates around the world have a great passion for sports. That is for medals, trophies, but most of all for fun.
Apart from hockey, Czechs became known for their figure skating legends Ondrej Nepela and Hana Maskova, who won bronze medal behind Peggy Fleming of the United States in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble. She was the only Czech woman to win an Olympic medal in figure skating.
Slovak Ondrej Nepela won the 1972 gold medal in men’s figure skating at the Olympics in Sapporo. His fellow countryman Jozef Sabovcik won the bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, at a time when the country was still intact as Czechoslovakia.

Ondrej Nepela
Ondrej Nepela

In my memoir “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West,” I write about the family and the country’s involvement in sports, both amateur and professional.
My dad Vaclav Konecny, former Ferris State University professor, won several swimming competitions during his studies at the University of Jana Evangelisty Purkyne in Brno. Dad taught me how to swim at an early age, and ever since swimming has become my favorite sport, if only for fun. Each year, during my March writing retreat in Venice, Florida, I swim with the dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.
But, other than swimming, I haven’t been endowed in sports unlike my husband Ludek Pala and my children Dr. Emma & Jake. I tinkered around a bit with softball and basketball at the Hawkins Junior High School, TX in the seventies. Ludek played soccer on a team in Stipa, Czechoslovakia and coached soccer for the YMCA & Lowell Area Schools, Michigan in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Jake was on his soccer team. Daughter Emma wanted to be a figure skater, but she didn’t have enough drive, practice or coaching. Maybe it was just something on a whim like little girls who want to be ballerinas. Although as always Emma seemed pretty determined.
When Ludek built a skating rink 50 by 60 feet on a tarp one foot deep complete with barriers in our garden around the year 2000, my hopes were high up that Jake would some day be on the élite Czech Olympic hockey team or on NHL along with Alexander Ovechkin.

Jake Pala
Jake Pala

At the time, Jake was a student at the Lowell High School. He skated strategically well under Ludek’s training, but he didn’t take it any further. He was growing into his teens and had other interests.
“I did it for fun,” said Jake, regional distributor for Faygo.”It was phenomenal as a hobby. I used dad’s ice rink to the max.”
For Jake sports have always been a good motivator and a springboard into real life, but he never considered becoming a professional. He practiced hockey with his puck up to three hours a day. Quite often neighbor Bailey Haefner would join him for a friendly match.
“I started being really good at it” Jake said. “It came at a great time. I miss it and I’d like to perfect the skill.”
So, the hockey rink became sort of a neighborhood skating plaza for all. Winters were alsmost as hard as the winter of 2014, so it held up for months.
“I’ve always wanted to have a skating rink in my backyard,” said Ludek.
Ludek, an innovator in every sense, is very project oriented. He took the time to gather the scrap wood boards and
numbered them to create the barriers around the perimeter of the rink. He put tarp on the bottom and maintained the
surface on daily basis to keep it smooth for skating.
I don’t think I’ve ever skated on it. Then one year in February the rink melted and turned into a large puddle. Moreover, the neighborhood kids were growing up just like Jake did, so Ludek stopped building the ice rink. I asked him to build a covered swimming pool instead, but that hasn’t happened yet.

To be continued with “All my skiers.”

Copyright (c) 2014 story and photo by Emma Palova, other photos courtesy of Wikipedia, Internet

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Moments in time 2013- continued

Last year brings in productivity, new additions

By Emma Palova

EW Emmas Writings Journal

We always do most of the canning and pickling in August during the Lowell Kent County Youth Fair and beyond. We made more than 100 jars of dill pickles in all formats; spears, slices and whole. It is a family recipe. The pickles are sweet and sour. We also make our own marinara sauces and salsa.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s fun,” says my husband Ludek.

In August, we're in a pickle. We do all the canning.
In August, we’re in a pickle. We do all the canning.

In August, I started a WordPress blog for my sister-in-law Jarmila. She has a baking business in Stipa, Czech Republic. The blog is CJ Aunt Jarmilkas Desserts at http://jkarmaskova.wordpress.com.

As summer 2013 turned into fall, I traveled to Europe for my big trip covering four countries: France, Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland. I was out of the USA for five weeks staying in different towns and resorts. I was most impressed by Brno in Czech Republic and the wine village Gevrey-Chambertin in the heart of Burgundy.  The trip to Geneva happened by a chance because we were headed to Lausanne with my doctor daughter Emma instead.

“It was totally echec style,” Emma said.

I had to look up the meaning of echec several times. It means checkmate in chess. For a story on Geneva, Switzerland go to my post from Oct. 21.

In October, I experienced a major wine harvest in Gevrey-Chambertin delayed by at least three weeks, but with the best crop ever, according to the winemaker.

Old town Geneva echec style.
Old town Geneva echec style.

It was still sunny and warm when I got back to Michigan by mid-October.

A big moment in time came after a sleepless week in November. My sons’s baby Josephine Marie Palova was born on Nov. 21 on a cloudy morning. We stormed into the birthing center at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo equipped with phones, devices and gadgets to take hundreds of photos.

“Mom, this is the only time you go to the hospital happy,” said Emma.

Josephine is the fourth generation Czech-American born into the family whose members fully speak both languages, Czech and English.

Maranda and Josephine Marie Palova.
Maranda and Josephine Marie Palova.

And lastly to close the year in December, my brother Vas and I experienced the beauty and intricacies of social media, games and such as we played with some designs. We designed a game during the Christmas chaos. It was a relief to get a message from old country Czech Republic.

“Your cousin Olin is a grandpa,” we got the notification via facebook.

“Congratulations from Emma & Vas.”

Happy New Year 2014 from our family to yours.
Happy New Year 2014 from our family to yours.

Have an awesome 2014 and watch for a story on Great Expectations 2014 and inspiring people of the Lowell area.

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Moments in time 2013

Looking back at 2013

By Emma Palova

EW Emmas Writings Journal

I’ve experienced a very productive year, both professionally and personally. On January 15th, I started my blog with WordPress to increase public engagement for my memoir project “Greenwich Meridian.”

The readership has grown from zero to nearly 200 followers in less than one year. As a lover of new things, I found a new passion in writing online, designing and search engine marketing.

My trophy case with WordPress says, “You are a prolific publisher. Why don’t you blog about it.”

As I learned the nuts and bolts of the business, I continued to explore my memories. The memoir tells a story about the family immigration saga that now spans three generations.

Emma Palova in her writing studio in Lowell, Michigan.
Emma Palova in her writing studio in Lowell, Michigan.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 4- “The life of returned immigrants in communist Czechoslovakia.” It covers our return from the USA to the homeland in 1973 based on the presidential amnesty.

          When we finally got out of a week-long nightmare at the quarantine Trebotov, it wasn’t exactly how I envisioned our homecoming. I was shocked at the dilapidated state of villages and towns in Bohemia and Moravia.

          “Mom why is everything so old and ugly?” I asked innocently.

          “It’s an old country my dear,” she smiled. “This is were you and I belong.”

          “How can you say that after what we’ve been through at the quarantine?”

          Due to chronic shortage of housing, we moved in with my paternal grandparents in Stipa. Neither mom nor I were used to being constantly pestered, not to speak about my brother Vas. Both grandparents, who were educators, were strict and prompt.

          “Don’t touch that, don’t use that much water,” resonated through the house.

          To this day, the house and my late uncle Antonin remain a mystery to me, and that was one of the reasons why I travelled to Europe last September.

          But, back to Moments in time 2013.

In March I went to Florida for a retreat and an interview with my parents Ella & Vaclav Konecny who started the immigration saga in mid 1960s. See posts “Interview with my parents for Greenwich Meridian on March 10th, 13th & March 17th.

Whites Bridge near Smyrna, Michigan.
Whites Bridge near Smyrna, Michigan.

April brought flood waters to Lowell and Grand Rapids, the two communities that are the closest to where I live.

As far as my blog goes, I started adding pages covering local stories and interesting people. I will continue this with more inspiring area people into 2014.

One of the most heartbreaking moments came  in July.

The Whites Covered Bridge burnt in Smyrna, which upset the history lover in me.

To be continued……

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Christmases of the past

Christmas Eve traditions

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Journal

Christmas Eve in Czech Republic is a colorful tapestry woven with legends, stories, myths and superstitions that originate in folk beliefs long before television or the Internet.

Many people believe that magical things happen on that day. No one should be sad, aggressive or squabble on that day, because it would stay with them until next Christmas.

Coming from a Catholic family, we always fasted on that day. The tradition has it if you don’t eat anything until the festive dinner, you will see the “Golden Pig.”

“Emma, don’t eat anything or you won’t see the golden pig,” my grandfather chuckled behind my back.

Christmas Eve traditions KJ Erben's poem
Christmas Eve traditions KJ Erben’s poem

Then one Christmas Eve, as a kid, I caught him doing the pig with a flashlight. I remember the disappointment was almost the same, as when my friends in Sudan, Africa told me that Jesus is not the one who brings presents, but my parents do. I used to write letters to Jesus, and put them inside on the window sill. I was always so happy when they disappeared. Santa Claus does not exist in Czech traditions.

Some disappointments come early.

We always had real wax candles on the tree. One Christmas in Africa the tree caught on fire. I guess my dad extinguished it. The same happened in former Czechoslovakia at least three Christmases. Then, we finally switched to electric lights which are nearly not as romantic, but a lot safer.

People also visited on Christmas Eve to wish merry Christmas to taste desserts and do some shots. Usually people had their favorite cookie. One year all the chocolate beehives disappeared. A relative ate them all. The same thing happened last night, when my brother Vas ate all the vanilla crescents.

Letters to Santa at the Lowell Post Office
Letters to Santa at the Lowell Post Office

The beehives were a catchall dessert. They’re not baked because they’re made from already baked dough that just didn’t turn out well. You add rum to the dough, and put it in the form and it comes out like beehive or a tall hat. Then it’s filled.

There should be an even number of diners at the table or Mrs. Death will take the odd one within the next year. You can also fool Mrs. Death by setting at least one more plate if there is an odd number of people at the table. No one should leave the table during dinner or they will die.

Apples also come into play on that magical evening. You cut an apple in half and if it has the perfect star-shaped pit in the center, you will be healthy. If it’s rotted, the person will be sick.

A healthy apple brings a healthy year
A healthy apple brings a healthy year

You should place a scale from your festive carp and a coin under the plate for wealth. Those who are really motivated can put an entire wallet under it.

Also you’re supposed to throw behind you a shoe. If the front of the shoe faces the door, you will leave the household or get married. My mom always did this one wishing her shoe would turn out so she could leave former Czechoslovakia  be reunited with my dad in Hawkins, TX. She waited four Christmases before she  received her emigration visa.

Other tales call for sharing the leftovers from the Christmas Eve dinner with the nature, animals and birds. We open presents after dinner and go to the midnight mass.

One tradition that disappeared are the carolers and musicians playing under the balcony in hometown Zlin. But, once a year, I play the piano and my son plays the saxophone Czech carols.

Silver Sunday

Silver Sunday escalates Christmas fever

By Emma Palova

Silver Sunday is the second Sunday before Christmas that literally makes the Christmas holiday fever rise by several degrees even though it is usually cold outside at this time of the year. It is also the third Sunday of the advent in the catholic religious year.

Outdoor Christmas markets in most European cities on major squares, are in full swing by now, and they will be open until Dec. 23rd & some on Dec. 24th. The rush is on for everything from nuts and poppy seeds for baking purposes, wooden toys and other crafts, apples and dried fruits, ornaments and keepsakes.

Christmas markets in Czech Republic
Christmas markets in Czech Republic. Photo by Adela Kobylikova

It’s also time to get a Christmas tree. Although back in Czech Republic most families decorated their tree on Christmas Eve, here in US our family has adapted to the custom of putting up the tree at least two weeks before the magical day.   Christmas Eve is a magical day, but a lot has been lost in the translation of the feast of Adam&Eve that falls on Dec. 24th in the Czech name day calendar.

In Czech language, that magical day is called “Stedry Den” which translates exactly as Bountiful Day. Families open a bounty of presents in the evening. I will write more about the customs of that day next week as we draw closer to Christmas.

And even though, I miss deeply some of the customs in Czech Republic, I have replaced them with new ones here in USA.

This year, we totally immersed ourselves into the tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving because three-year old Ella from France was here. We did it many years ago when kids were little at a farm somewhere in Ionia County.

Ludek & Ella cut the Palova family Christmas tree at Horrocks Nursery
Ludek & Ella cut the Palova family Christmas tree at Horrocks Nursery

I couldn’t remember where, so I looked up on Google Christmas farms in Ionia County and found Horrocks Nursery Farms just north of the city of Ionia.

We were in for probably the best tree cutting experience in my entire life.

We waited in the pole barn for a horse-drawn wagon ride by a pair of some 2,000 pound Percheron horses named Clementine & Clodis. It was a crispy sunny Saturday, as we headed out on the tree farm. No snow yet. We found the lot with Scotch pines, and cut a beautiful Palova family Christmas tree. We chatted with a friendly guy who had the shotgun seat on the wagon.

Back, in the barn, we roasted marshmallows and hot dogs in the open fire wood stove as we helped ourselves to cider, hot chocolate and coffee, while Christmas movies and music were playing in the background.

“This is great,” I said to my husband Ludek. “Next year we’ll have Josephine with us too.”

Going back to Christmas customs both here and in Europe, now is also time to send and get cards even in the era of the web. Over the 20+ years here on the American continent, I’ve received hundreds of them, but kept only a few.

One of the few precious ones, a definite keepsake, is a card from Brno with a nativity scene and a score to a Christmas carol. One of the most precious cards that I had sent out was made from a photo at the Meijer store in Cascade.

Although I can’t find it now, I remember precisely what was on it. We were picking blueberries as a family on a farm near Ludington in the 90-degree heat. We’re all holding blue pales and shielding our heads from the scorching sun with funny hats. My daughter Emma was wearing a t-shirt with a Polar bear on it.

“Happy holidays,” the card with mistletoe clip art and snowflakes said.

Speaking about passing on traits and such; both my daughter and I have the same sense for juxtaposition.

To be continued……

Copyright © 2013 story and photo by Emma Palova