I'm Mirka and I live in Brooklyn with my husband Michal, and two cute munchkins Stanko and Karin. I studied mathematics in Prague, wrote a thesis on quantum cryptography in Aarhus, Denmark, and somehow ended up a software engineer in Knewton.
This site originally started both as an experimental way to learn python django framework, and a photo blog featuring photos cherry-picked from my flickr, which is mostly family snapshots these days. What will become of it is up to my arbitrary whims.
Karinka chodí July 19, 2016
Prvýkrát sa sama postavila 18. apríla. Ale podobne ako u Stanka, trvalo skoro tri mesiace kým našla odvahu pustiť ruku. Dnes je to týždeň čo chodí po dvoch.
Two evenings with The Martian Jan. 21, 2016
So the last time I wore a knit headband was many years ago. Recently I realized I don't even have any here, and besides, watching a movie and doing nothing feels weird these days.
Costa Rica Dec. 5, 2015
Thanksgiving in USA is a wonderful opportunity to go on vacation. For once, we don't feel obliged to visit our family, as they don't celebrate it but we still get 2 days off for free. After some research, we decided for Costa Rica that got rave reviews from our friends who visited it. Back when Stanko was very little, we continued with the road-trip style, heavy-on-hiking vacations, as he was relatively easy to carry, and napped a lot in the carrier. Now that he's approaching five, and we have another one, that's no longer an option, hence I planned it to be a bit more "settled". We still wanted to avoid all-inclusive resorts that besides being unnecessarily expensive, would rip us off the opportunity to explore this wonderful country.
A few remarks on the budget:
The flight tickets weren't exactly cheap - $2400 total for all four of us, the largest item in our budget. At least they were direct - Newark to San José, and the flight takes around 5.5 hours, manageable compared to flying to Europe. Another option is flying to Liberia but there don't seem to be any direct flights from NYC, and with two kids, I strongly prefer 5 straight hours over 8+ hours with Spirit airlines, with a stopover. In Costa Rica, priced for American tourists at least in tourist locations, we paid ~$110-120/night. That's not too cheap even by American standards but on the other hand, we stayed in really nice places with many amenities (normal price on booking is about ~$80/night for a standard 2-3* quadruple room), yet not the ridiculously overpriced ones - looking at you, Tabacón ($250-$300/night). Backpackers have it much cheaper - a bed in a hostel costs about $10/night. Late November is a great time to travel if you want to save some money, as it's the very end of the rain season, hence the prices are still low but the weather tends to get better. That being sad - originally, I was truly impressed by the booking.com listings that offered great volcano views. Given that we haven't seen the peak even once, I think it's smarter to pay for wellness, at least in November (and if the sky clears up after all, Fortuna is mere steps from the volcano, so you can just step outside the door). Also, the road to the park is bad - as is the case with many public attractions. If you think you'll drive it a few times a day (to visit the town or other parks in the area), it is probably better to just stay in the town.
I tried not to overplan things this time, so the loose plan was to stay about 3 days in the Arenal Volcano National Park area, and 2 days at the Pacific coast, in the beach town of Sámara. We rented the car at the airport, costing us $500/week which was about $150 more than we expected (we found out they included some kinds of insurance that we did not want). Gas is about 50% more expensive than in USA ($4.50/gallon). Actually, nothing in the tourist locations is cheaper than in regular shops/restaurants in USA, save the local fruit (e.g. $2 for a bag of 10+ oranges). The official currency is colon (~500c/$1). The exchange at the airport is a rip-off but that's what we expected. We still got some local money there, not knowing how much time would be lost while searching for an ATM. As it turned out, even fruit/veggie stalls on the roadside take dollars and give you a better rate.
On the first day, we planned to drive from San José to Luna Nueva lodge near La Fortuna (Arenal area). Renting the car took forever (perhaps normal in Latin America), hence we took off in the afternoon. The road was quite narrow (one lane in each direction and no shoulders) but alright, and the rolling hills with cows scattered over them offered a bucolic scenery. However, Stanko's stomach, despite of doses of dramamine, didn't handle them very well, and we stopped a few times for him to puke. Then suddenly, we saw the sign telling that the road is closed (no further explanation). We took a painful detour (with another road closure on the way), and finally reached our destination after it got dark outside - which admittedly, happens very soon - through the year, the daylight is about 12 hours/day, 5am-5pm. Luna Nueva is a "bio-dynamic" farm, whatever it means, and as expected from a farm with such an attribute, is owned by Americans. We rented a very spacious family bungalow ($120/night) but single/double rooms are also available. The farm is about 20km from the main tourist center La Fortuna but we were hooked by its informal and extremely family friendly vibe. Besides a handful of interns, and two other families with young kids, with whom we had rather complementary schedule, there was almost no one. We had the pool and the jacuzzi for ourselves (I did not know that Stanko is such a water beast), the breakfast was delicious, not to mention educational tours (and a hike) that the farm offers.
La Fortuna and the area of Arenal volcano are very disneyland-ish, which probably applies to more tourist locations in Costa Rica. I think the logic is like - the more glitz, the more tourists, and they're probably right. I don't particularly care about bungee-jumping and "canopy tours" (ziplining over the rainforest), on the other hand, it's probably the reason for the very high concentration of English-speaking locals (besides foreign expats). This time we took it a bit more leisurely, and only did small hikes/walks (up to ~4km) where we didn't need to spend a half of the time convincing Stanko to move forward. These included - Mistico hanging bridges park, the trail around our farm, and a hike to old lava beds in Arenal National Park. The last one was pretty rainy but Stanko did fantastic - partly thanks to Michal patiently entertaining him the whole time. Costa Ricans monetize everything what can be monetized (park entrances around $10-15/person) but kids under 6 are free pretty much everywhere.
A photo posted by Miroslava Sotakova (@gwhitehawk) on
We were recommended to visit Tabacón spa by many people, and even though we were first hesitant ($60/adult), at the end decided to give it a try. It turned out that they have a deal for the low season (mentioned nowhere online) - two entrances for the price of one. Spending two evenings in the warm volcanic river with picturesquely manicured banks really didn't hurt (you can bath in the same river for free a few meters further downstream - however, the banks are natural, and there is no artificial light, which means it's dark at 5). They probably still made a lot of money of the tourists using a "free" pass, as everything (food and else) is ridiculously overpriced ($39/dinner buffet, what a deal).
A photo posted by Miroslava Sotakova (@gwhitehawk) on
On the way to the Pacific coast, we stopped for a late lunch in Nuevo Arenal - a town at lake Arenal. The "Bambu" pizzeria we chose based on recommendations seemed to be a regular meeting point of the diverse expat community (USA, Canada, Europe). The single-guy service was painfully slow hence we had some time to talk, and it looked like most of them are retired, and moved to Costa Rica for a variety of reasons (cheaper properties, cheaper healthcare, lower taxes, stuck in the hippie era). They were quite worried about our intention to reach Sámara that day. As it turned out, "Carretera Interamericana" really resembles a road connecting some insignificant towns - again, a single lane in each direction, so if you get stuck behind a tractor at a double-yellow-line section, then good luck and goodbye. The three-digit number roads were barely illuminated at night (that is, after 5pm), and the worst of all - often pure and badly maintained gravel (that Google navigation did not seem to be aware of, and continued to recommend terrible shortcuts - at one occasion, we almost ended up in the river).
Finally, we reached Sámara about 90 minutes later than Google predicted (due to "shortcuts" and Stanko puking), to be welcomed by a Swedish couple working for an American owner at Las Ranas lodge. Really, Costa Rica at times seemed like the West outsourced to the land of eternal summer. The lodge is far from the beach (about 2km) but due to the elevated location, has a great ocean view. Stanko had great fun in the pool, hence we only set off for the town visit around noon. Like an expat from Vancouver in Nuevo Arenal put it, "it's hot as shit down there", meaning the Pacific coast. I was badly longing for the gentler mountain air which wasn't helped by Stanko insisting that we eat a lobster, for which we chose the first place offering it - besides a very slow service, they had almost nothing fresh, and fish-and-chips is a staple there. Walking through the town later, it really seemed ironic to pick such a place in a town full of artisanal cafes and organic smoothie bars. The beach was cooler, fantastic, and besides our British lodge neighbors, seemed to be occupied entirely by Germans.
The last stop on the trip was meant to be high-altitude cloud forest in Monteverde - it seemed like a major attraction midway between Sámara and San José (before realizing what the extra 50km really mean). The road to and from there was the worst of all. A turn directly from "Carretera Interamericana", then 30km of steep winding roads, around 20km of which is gravel. At the end, it's quite hard to navigate to the cloud forest preserve which we came for, as the road there is unremarkably terrible (in fact, sometimes there's a great asphalt road leading to a hotel, while the terrible one continues to a public attraction), and at every orientation point, one had to spot the right sign in a collage of directions pointing to, for instance: coffee processing tours, bungee jumping, canopy/ziplining, treehouse hotel, Whole Foods market. Some of the private agencies even hijacked the typical italic "i" for information - following that you could have ended up in the bungee jumping center.
The forest itself delivered though - the veil of fog gave it a mystery feel, and the air was fantastic (the forest is in about 1500-1800 m above the sea level). However, I do have a bit regret that we missed the coffee growing and processing tour due to the lack of time. Not to mention Talamanca mountains in the south (3800m+ high), and the Caribbean coast with the jungle rich on sloths (everywhere else, besides a variety of birds, we mostly saw coatis). Hope to come back one day, perhaps when the kids are a bit older.
What a would be doing differently the second time:
1. Luna Nueva was great but I'd probably stay closer to La Fortuna - given that Stanko stomach handles bumpy roads really badly. Casa Luna hotel inside the park also looks very good (though I think they didn't have vacancy for the time we needed).
2. I wouldn't bother with listings offering Arenal volcano views or the hot springs as their main selling point (we spent one night in the middle in Manoa hot springs resort) - it's easy to get both almost anywhere nearby (for the views depends on the weather).
3. Las Ranas lodge was perfect for just two days with little kids having a blast in the pool and watching iguanas - but it's far from the town and not sure what makes it a 4* hotel (even though the difference about $30/night isn't that killing). If we came for a few more days, I'd rather find something in the town.
4. San José has a magnificent location in the mountains, and is surrounded by peaks up to 3500m high. I'd allow ourselves to spend more time in the area.
An outfit for Ella Nov. 9, 2015
While I'm at it, let's continue with hats. At least until I find a sweater pattern that is not counting-heavy and does not require me to make button holes. This one's for my niece Ella who will turn 3 months later this month. I signed up my chubby little smiley for this modeling gig, so everything looks a size too small. The sweater is by
Hanna Andersson, the hat according to this tutorial (started with 67 stitches on US 9 size knitting needles, knitted 5.5 in straight, then narrowed).
Tvoríme Nov. 5, 2015
Čo má štrikovanie spoločné s bicyklovaním? Ani jedno sa zjavne nedá zabudnúť. Teda o bicyklovaní sa to aspoň hovorí, zatiaľčo so štrikovaním som si to pred dvoma rokmi vyskúšala po 15-ročnej pauze (výsledkom bola čiapka príliš veľká dokonca i na Michalovu hlavu). Odvtedy som toho veľa neurobila - a čiapky už radšej len na detské hlavy, tie keď tak dorastú. Jedna pre Karinku, jedna pre kolegyninu budúcu dcérku. Zdroj. V krátkosti, na ihliciach 5.5mm priemer (USA veľkosť 9) a relatívne hrubej vlne na zimnú čiapku *, 61 očiek (asi 12 palcov/30cm) na novorodenca (má sa narodiť v decembri), 73 očiek (15 palcov/38cm) na 6-mesačné dieťa (moja májová trpaslíčka). Na inú veľkosť, (6x + 1) **. 12 riadkov pletieme lem (patent alebo iný vzor), potom zvoleným hlavným vzorom do dĺžky 5 palcov/12.7cm na novorodenca, 6 palcov/15cm na 6 mesiacov. Začneme uberať - 6 očiek každý druhý riadok, až kým neostane polovica z pôvodného počtu, potom 6 každý riadok, až kým neostane 7 celkovo. Posledné očká stiahneme vlnou, vtiahneme ju do vnútra a zošijeme.
* Je dobré si na začiatku naspodku nechať dosť dlhý kus vlny - teda predtým než začneme nahadzovať očká, odmotať poriadne, nešetriť. Na konci sa potom dá zošívať zospodu, takže uzol (zauzlíme s koncom, čo ostane po stiahnutí posledných očiek) ostane schovaný vo vnútri.
** V originálnom návode sa uvádza počet očiek deliteľný šiestimi. Ja ale posledné očko nepletiem, ale len prehadzujem z ihlice na ihlicu - vznikne tak na okrajoch retiazka ideálna na zošívanie. Počítanie kvôli uberaniu očiek sa lepšie robí len na tom zvyšku. Napr. začíname so 61, pletieme 8 normálne, 9+10 spolu, opakujeme, posledné prehodíme. V ďalšom riadku bude 55 = 6 * 9 + 1 očiek. Inak by bolo treba uberať očká, ktorých poradie je x mod k, kde x nie je 0. To sa počíta menej pohodlne.
Zo Stanka sa medzitým stáva umelec i vynálezca v jednom (ku kresleniu a stavaniu ma blízko odmala a kto veľa trénuje, rýchlo sa zlepšuje). Toto vymyslel úplne sám. Zariadenie vraj nalieva vodu do mora - hádam ta nádoba nevyzerá ako bazén.
What will you be for Halloween? A Coxsackie virus sufferer. Nov. 2, 2015
Did you ever hear about Coxsackie virus? Me neither, up until 2 weeks ago. That's when we got an email from Stanko's school that a kid in another class was diagnosed with it. We were watching for the typical red blisters for a few days (the incubation period is very short), then forgot about it.
Stanko, in the mean time, was thinking about his Halloween costume, reflecting his long-lasting obsession with Monument Valley game. He wanted to be Totem, the friend (which he affectionally calls "the friend"). However, to get the message through clearly, I couldn't think about an implementation that does not involve being dressed in boxes, similarly to the linked post. That's what we've already tried and failed (hot air balloon with a basket, and a traveler inside - Stanko was wearing it for about a minute 2 years ago), and hence I suggested him to dress up as a crow (he refused the idea of being princess Ida, because "that's for girls").
The costume was fairly simple - it involved a black cloak, that I shortened a bit for Stanko, a beak made of a sector of black paper, coated in transparent tape for durability, and a paper model of Totem, worn as an accessory. To make the idea even clearer, Karin was dressed as princess Ida with a toy resembling one of the treasures she hides in her hat. At least the costume duo premiered on Friday, when Stanko had a mini-parade with his class.
So back to Coxsackie virus. After the pre-Halloween party at my work, with Stanko running, jumping, playing with dogs, and generally being in constant motion, he started to complain that his foot hurts. I found that it was slightly swollen, and assumed a minor injury. Next day he was at his usual self, and we were getting ready for trick-or-treating, and watching the parade. Not long after leaving the house, he started to complain again. So back home we went, checked his legs, and found out that they were covered in painful red blisters, in addition to a swollen ankle and foot where the lesions were the largest. I remembered the old email, checked for symptoms, and think I have a diagnosis. Given a wide range of possible ways the infection presents itself, it's hard to say if his case is typical. At least he didn't have any fever, or malaise resulting into being fairly annoyed and annoying. He also didn't have herpangina which is said to be the most unpleasant of the possible symptoms - he seemed merely intolerant to wearing shoes. Hence we had it pretty quiet - no trick-or-treat, no parade, not even marathon cheering - just (board and other) games, and reading and watching stories. It could have been a perfect fall weekend, if the weather wasn't just so abnormally great that it felt like a sin to be at home.
Anarchy can be fun too Oct. 26, 2015
Moving in nature has been my favorite physical activity since about forever. And it gets even better when the brain is added to the equation. Over the last two summers, Stanko participated to "family vacation" in Zubří - a week organized by a group of orienteering fans that Michal parents belong to. It's located in Vysočina - "the highlands", a pretty part of Czech Republic, making any kind of game in the woods and on the meadows particularly enjoyable. To my pleasant surprise, Stanko quite enjoyed running orienteering races in several variations even as young as three, and I missed we didn't really have an opportunity to participate to such activities in Brooklyn. Hence I made my own race. For a full disclosure, I'm not a seasoned orienteerer, and I assumed, none of the parents of Stanko's friends is - plus a race where the whole point is the navigation may be too dull for kids, I decided to give a game a twist - puzzles and tasks to solve along the way, at the control points. The participants were 4-5 years old. The intention was to design puzzles such that although not solvable by kids themselves, it is possible to explain the idea to them, so that they can help in the "mechanical" part of deciphering.
A photo posted by Miroslava Sotakova (@gwhitehawk) on
In the whole game, there were four puzzles to solve. Each solution was a clue to a "master password". In addition, at each control point there was a task to accomplish. We started at Prospect Park Bandshell, near 11th St entrance.
1. The first puzzle was a crossword. Only three stops were marked in the map. The remaining one was the crossword solution. The task was to draw it into the map.
2. The second puzzle. The task was to collect the leaves of five different trees. The park was stunning in the peak foliage, so one more reason to look at the beautiful trees around doesn't hurt.
3. The third puzzle with the deciphering hint (in 15 copies, each took one alphabet stripe starting with A, one starting with Z). The task to accomplish here was a bit more complex. I wanted to add something to remind of and introduce the kids to the real orienteering. I made the standard orange-white control point marks from paper, provided a real map, but only had one orienteering compass. I left it stationed at the third control point. It was meant to be used by one team at a time. Each team took a similar but different problem: Search for a treasure, count your steps: (for instance) 15N, 15E. The participants were meant to follow the said number of steps in the listed directions (determined by the compass), then search for a plastic animal in a ziploc bag. This turned out to be the least successful task of all. First, I hung five bags at the tree branches but due to lack of time, buried the other five under the leaves. I meant to mention this fact ("look under and above") when explaining the rules, but forgot. A ziploc bag on the ground can't be immediately distinguished from trash. Also I should have mentioned what the treasure looks like.
4. The fourth puzzle and the deciphering hint (each row of chessboards serves one team). The task here was to walk across the slackline, with the assistance of a helpline. This on the other hand, was a good idea - especially since the kids were bored solving puzzles already, and needed some physical challenge for a change. By the time the parent+child teams got here, there was complete anarchy among kids (mostly Stanko's former and the current school classmates) who abandoned the game and started playing together, while parents continued solving the puzzles. The feedback on puzzles was pretty positive after all, and only one complained that they were too easy (given that kids weren't solving them all that much). Perhaps making a game for grown ups (taking inspiration e.g. from Bedna, Tmou!, or Brieždenie) could help start a movement in NYC.
Thanks to the absolutely gorgeous, very cooperating weather, and the peak foliage time in the park, I would call the whole event a success. Each kid got the company of others, a certificate, and a chocolate of their chosen flavor (I came up with a pointing system and meant to award the medal positions but by the end, there was no point, pun intended). The parents got an excuse and a chance to not get stuck on the playground for once, and see the park in its depth. However, the next time I would aim the game at older kids who tend to have more patience for solving puzzles - I think it would work much better for 7-8 years old but personally can't wait until we play such games for real with Stanko. If you are interested, here is the complete list of solutions and source materials.
Víkend v Connecticute Oct. 13, 2015
Michal niekoľkokrát do týždňa cvičieva karate a rozhodol sa zúčastniť na turnaji. Predpoveď na víkend bola nádherná a tak škoda sedieť v meste. Neďaleko telocvične, kde sa konal turnaj, sme objavili mestečko Mystic, ktoré v popkultúre vraj preslávil tento film. Ten som síce nevidela (a zdá sa, že som naň už príliš stará), no vďaka skanzenu "Mystic Seaport" sa zdalo, že na víkendový výlet s deťmi je to dobrá voľba. Dozvedeli sme sa čosi o živote lovcov veľrýb, pozreli sme si dedinu a veľrybársku loď, jednu Michal so Stankom i postavili (to všetko za doprovodu Veľrybárskej výpravy, lebo žiadna iná pesnička mi nechodila po rozume).
Na druhý deň som si povedala, že keď je už tá jeseň, radšej než k moru poďme do lesa (hory by boli ešte lepšie, ale v Connecticute nie sú). Pachaug Forest je autom kúsok a s rybníkom obkolesenom turistickými značkami bol prekvapivo malebný. Dúfali sme, že by to mohlo byť na Stankov bicykel - jednak je na ňom rýchlejší a jednak viac prejde, no nakoniec ho Michal viac nosil a na zvyšku si Stanko statočne a nečakane šikovne vyskúšal horsko-cyklistický terén.
August 2015 Oct. 13, 2015
That was the month I awaited for at least the previous three months. Karin's first trip abroad involved 5 countries - Ireland, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Sweden. And she did fantastic! Stanko suffered from over-stimulation at times. Unfortunately for us, that's usually a recipe for tantrum with him. I shot mostly family snaps, since the time we can spent with our dear ones back home is so rare. The first picture is the beautiful landscape of Wicklow Mountains in south-eastern Ireland. The latter two are both from Prague. The first one in "I need coffee!" hipsta coffee place near Náplavka. And because I like myself on that one. The second one is from the zoo - because it's a great picture of my monkey.
July 2015 Oct. 13, 2015
The month spent in anticipation of the European trip in August. We still had fun in Catskills (independence weekend), on the beach (Fire Island), in the park, and attending some birthday parties. The first picture is from Hull-o Farms in Durham (Catskills), the second one from Fire Island.