The School Holiday Throw Down

We are two days in.  Two. Days.  It feels like two weeks, but in reality, we are two days into a two week Fall break at my kids’ school.  My boys go to the local French school (yes, I know, we live in Bosnia.  And no, French is not a prolific language spoken here.  Please reference this post for more explanation on that.)  The French system is structured for optimum French learning.  Read: they take a lot of breaks!  The kids get an hour and a half for lunch every day for crying out loud!  They also get two weeks off every 6-7 weeks.  So, this is only the first of FOUR two week breaks!  Lord have mercy. As the days led up to this holiday for my boys, I was filled with frantic worry and panic over how to entertain them.  We don’t live in a place with ample activities for two elementary boys and their two year old sister.  It didn’t help that every person I mentioned to that the kids were home asked the same question, “So, do you have big plans?”  Each time I wanted to scream, “Noooooo!  No, I don’t have any plans whatsoever.  No, I’m not driving them to the coast.  No, I have no Pinterest craft projects set up.  No. No. No.” I blame my generation for this nonsense.  It has to be our fault.  It certainly isn’t our parents.  They NEVER planned craft projects for school breaks.  There were no day trips to local hot spots.  We spent our vacation days hiding from Mom.  If she found you, she was likely to enlist you in household chores, or make you tag along to go to the grocery store.  She didn’t stop her daily routine for us.  She just added us in the mix.  Since I know you are reading this, Mom, please hear me when I say that I don’t blame you.  As a matter of fact, I don’t have any negative thoughts, memories or delusions about my holidays spent at home.  Which just goes to show that my generation does this to ourselves!  In our apparent attempt at overachieving, we have created a bunch of crazies who think that they need us to have fun.  We’ve also created a bunch of crazy parents that think we must have a product to show for our time.  Whether it be a sequin encrusted flower pot, a receipt showing we bought a fabulous experience or a handful of exhausted and cranky kids who have been subjected to mandatory fun for a little too long, we feel like we need evidence.  Evidence that we did something today. So, I say, “enough is enough!”  I will be the first to throw down the gauntlet.  No more activities to prove that I’ve done something.  No more worrying about answering that dreaded question, “so, what did you guys do today?”  From now on, there will be more games of hide and seek while I put the laundry away.  More “if you’re bored, why don’t you get a book?”  And a lot less crossing off lists of fun things to do. I know that my kids are growing up faster than I can keep up with.  I realize that I will look back on these times with them and will miss the silly, funny personalities that they have.  So, please, don’t get me wrong. I will still bake cookies with them (which we did today with orange chocolate chips sent in a care package!  -thanks Tonya!).  We will carve pumpkins and paint popsicle stick creations.  We will watch movies and have dance-offs.  But now, it won’t be because every minute of our days need to be scheduled. It won’t be because the Facebook/Pinterest police are in my head subconsciously judging my parenting based on iPhone pictures and copious amounts of glitter under my kitchen table.  Now, we’ll do it because we want to.  Because the time is right, our attitudes are positive and our spirits are sweet and ready. Won’t you join me?  Let’s teach our kids how to be involved in their playtime, rather than be passively entertained.  And if you won’t join me, how about you just keep your judgements to yourself.  Because my kids have a game of Ninja warrior to play as I sing along with REK and make dinner.

summer 2014-9875

My boys.

Art vs. Function vs. Work vs. Fun

I like accolades. I know that’s not the most PC thing to say, but I do. I like when people tell me that my kids are well-behaved. I stalk this blog after I’ve posted a new post to see how many people read it, who comments and if it gets shared. Hey, I even light up when someone compliments my hair. But the applause I crave the most is for my photography.

Here’s a little background for you:

I have been taking pictures since I was a child. My parents have joked, calling me the family historian. From a young age, I knew the date of every family member’s birthday, where they were born and if I could, I’d take pictures of them. I was the family Facebook page, before Facebook was cool (or before Mark Zuckerberg was born… but saying that makes me feel old!)

In high school, I took photography as a class. That was back when we had dark rooms and had to learn how to take a roll of film off the canister and load it onto another thingy -yes, that’s the technical term- all while our hands were in a black bag, so as to no expose the film. For those curious, I was not good at that. At all. But, taking the pictures? That was right up my alley.

Fast forward to college (still pre-digital photography era), and I was the one who always had the “big-enough” purse to carry my point and shoot camera with me to all the events. I have boxes upon boxes of pictures of my four A-MAZING years in Aggieland.

Into adulthood, I was forced to make money. Yuck. Photography never went away for me, but it was certainly on the back burner for a few years. I loved scrapbooking, so I started taking pictures with the purpose of how I would lay them out on a page. But I was newly married, in a new state with no kids. That was when I was pushed into taking pictures of the non-living. No, not dead things. Nature, signs, buildings, you name it. I think it was around this point that I started to see that maybe I had a knack for this.

Around that time, we decided to make the jump to the Foreign Service life of living overseas. Through my fear of the unknown, there was a peace knowing that I would be able to document this new life through my eyes, but for all my loved ones to see. And that feeling still resonates with me.

But it’s time for me to get real with you. In this new -in your face- day of technology, I have become so immersed in all the amazing talent around me, I have crawled back into my tortoise-shell, hiding from my insecurities. I follow so many photographers on Facebook, read so many blogs and flip through piles of magazines, that I can’t help but question if I am good enough. Before I post a picture on this blog or on Facebook, it goes through such a rigorous dose of “will they like it? is it good enough? do I look like those other guys?” That is a huge reason why I only post every six weeks or so. If you could see how many posts are in my draft queue, you’d think I can’t finish anything I start. More often than not, what stops me isn’t the three kids that are ALWAYS around, but the voices in my head questioning if I’m good enough.

So, fast forward to last night. I decided to enter a contest. I’ve never entered a photography contest. And certainly not of the scale of National Geographic. But I did, and I’m proud for doing it. After I posted it, I waited, and waited, and waited to see if it would get noticed. I did this for at least an hour. And then it hit me. My photography has become my art. Why should I give a damn if you like it or not? If talented, famous photographer looks at my images and rolls her eyes, or if my second grade teacher looks on Facebook and her heart grows because of what she sees, it shouldn’t matter. I can promise you, I am so hard on myself, that nothing but my best (my best for where I am in my journey at that particular time, moment, millisecond) will ever be posted by me in any public way. My pride is much grander than that. My self-esteem is too fragile to put anything but my personal best for show.

If you are anything but a professional photographer or a very serious hobbyist, you are not likely to know the cut-throat mentality of so many of these artists. Hyper-critical, mean-spirited, scared little kids. Truly. These super competitive creatives are so afraid that someone is going to move into their prime location, steal customers/viewers/accolades, or give them someone else to compare themselves to, that they tear down every person who has an interest in photography, whether it be for the joy or for the job. With digital photography taking off, “mom-tographers” have become quite popular. Those are moms with cameras that will take pictures of your kids for next to nothing. And I say, “you go girl!” There is room for all types of photographers in the world. After all, if it truly is an art, who are we to limit it? It takes all kinds of kinds. If you can only afford $50 for a few images, then I can steer you towards someone who is just learning to love her camera. If you want to spend $10,000 on an original for your hotel lobby, I can send you there too (or you can just call me!!) Here are some of the handful of photographers I follow who seem to have the “you go girl!” attitude and aren’t afraid to help other photographers become their own best artist. Most of them have never even heard of me, but have inspired me with their talent, freedom and confidence in their art to share knowledge with others. You should check them out too.

Spanki Mills
Audrey Woulard
Paxton Maroney
Sarah Goodman
Rachel Vanoven

If you’ve ever read The 5 Love Languages, it isn’t too hard to figure out that I am “words of affirmation” kind of gal. Want to hear some funny irony? I married a man who holds his compliments close to the chest. Please don’t take away that he doesn’t say nice things to me, because he certainly does. But he is the kind of man who only says things he means. If you’re fishing for compliments from him, you’ve cast your line in the wrong pond. Over the last 15 years, that has been hard for a wife like me, who craves affirming words. But, the positive to that is, when he does give them, I know he means it. I think that is why I respect his opinion about my art more than anyone else. He won’t tell me he loves an image, just because he loves me. And you know what? I am ok with that. But even his accolades don’t really matter. Because even though photography is functional, it is my art. And even though it has been in the past, and hopefully in the future will be even more so a job for me, it is also fun. And that is all that should really matter.

And because blog posts are no fun without any pictures (and I want to prove my new-found confidence), here’s my favorite image of the day.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Winter Vacation- Balkans Style (Part 2)

As April springs forward, aren’t you missing Christmas?  Just a little?  Then, please feel free to thank me for giving you a little Christmas spirit with this next blog post.  Because it is absolutely, 100% intentional that you are just now reading Part 2 of our Christmas vacation.  In April.  It definitely has nothing to do with me being a poor manager of my own time.  It certainly has nothing to do with three kids and a mommy brain that matches.  I just had a sneaking suspicion that you needed a little taste of the Holidays to brighten your dreary, cloudy, most likely bluebonnet filled, flip flop wearing day.  You’re welcome.

When I last left you, we had just hopped in the car and left Zagreb, Croatia for Lake Bled, Slovenia.  I am often amazed that I get to see such spectacular places that until recently, I never knew existed.  But you know what?  There is a whole world out there.  A big one.  One beyond not just the great state of Texas (and it is great!).  Beyond the freedom loving USA.  Even beyond the usual international vacations of Cancun, Rome, Paris and London.  Lake Bled is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.

Lake Bled

Lake Bled

The day we walked around the lake was our one really tough day with the kids.  As parents who like to travel often do, we completely overestimated our kids ability to walk the perimeter of the lake and completely underestimated our patience in handling them.  But, despite the writhing and gnashing of teeth (and a unreal amount of annoying whining), it was worth it to see this amazing landscape.

H and W

H and W

W and T

W and T

Our favorite traveling buddies!

Our favorite traveling buddies!

You can't tell, but shortly after this picture was taken, these poor souls walked so much that they were sure that their legs would fall off and they would die.  And then we bribed them with dessert.  'Cause that's how we roll.

You can’t tell, but shortly after this picture was taken, these poor souls walked so much that they were sure that their legs would fall off and they would die. And then we bribed them with dessert and they somehow survived.  ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

Yep.  It's like that.

Yep. It’s like that.

By the time we made it around the lake, more than a few nerves were shot.  There was talk of mutiny among the children, and the parents weren’t totally against the idea of allowing it to happen.  We were spent.  And then, there it was… could it be?  No.  It can’t.  It’s not possible.  Yes, it is.  It’s…. wait for it… MEXICAN FOOD!  We have learned to not expect much from Mexican food outside of North America.  But, it seemed like this was all we needed to find the will to power through and let our children remain in the family.  I’d be lying if I said the food was “real Mexican.”  But, it was the closest thing any of us had had to it since we left the Motherland.

Mexican food inspires love in the heart of every Texan, no matter how small.

Mexican food inspires love in the heart of every Texan, no matter how small.

On the edge of the lake, built into a cliff is a castle like I’ve never seen before (and I’ve seen, like, two castles in my life, so I am a total expert).  Here’s what Bled Castle looked like lit up at night.

Amazing.

Amazing.

In the background is the same castle from another angle.

In the background is the same castle from another angle.

Since we like to torture our children, we had to check the castle out.  Thankfully, it isn’t too hard to talk a few elementary aged boys into seeing a medieval castle for themselves.

Tristan looking down on the lake.

Tristan looking down on the lake.

See those handsome, smiling faces?  Those are the faces of boys that didn't have to walk up to the castle, but were pleasantly surprised to be driven!  That battle was won by the parents.

See those handsome, smiling faces? Those are the faces of boys that didn’t have to walk up to the castle, but were pleasantly surprised to be driven! That battle was won by the parents.

Behind Karen and me is the same little island that we saw the day before.  As a photographer, it is so fulfilling to see so many exquisite things from various angles.

Behind Karen and me is the same little island that we saw the day before. As a photographer, it is so fulfilling to see so many exquisite things from various angles.

Lake Bled

Lake Bled

*sigh

*sigh

The highlight for Wyatt was the gold coin that was hammer-embossed (I have no idea if that is a real term, but it sounds better than a dude who whacked a coin that had a stamp on it) just for him.

:-)

🙂

I love those dirty little fingers!

I love those dirty little fingers!

The following day we went to see the Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle.  We all enjoyed the caves, the kids especially.  The train ride was the highlight for all except Lyla, who was absolutely done riding in the Ergobaby on my back!  She was ready to explore on her own!

Stalagmites grow mighty from the ground.

Stalagmites grow mighty from the ground.

Stalagtites hold tight to the ceiling.  *See, I did listen in middle school science!

Stalagtites hold tight to the ceiling. *See, I did listen in middle school science!

Since we arrived a few days after Christmas, we got to see the very cool miniature nativity in the caves.  We missed the live nativity by one day.  :-(

Since we arrived a few days after Christmas, we got to see the very cool miniature nativity in the caves. We missed the live nativity by one day. 😦

As interesting as the caves were, the Predjama Castle took the cake for me.  Truly built into the side of a cliff, we were all wowed at this architectural marvel.

I mean, really.

I mean, really.

A rare shot of all five of us together.

A rare shot of all five of us together.

Another castle?  I guess we can muster up the strength, Mom!

Another castle? I guess we can muster up the strength, Mom!

 

Inside the castle looking out.

Inside the castle looking out.

.

.

.

.

There was a small chapel at the base of the road from the castle that was perfect in every way.

There was a small chapel at the base of the road from the castle that was perfect in every way.

.

Another view of the chapel.

All of our little people.  You say kids are hard to travel with?  I say, you've never met these kids.  Expect good travelers and you might be surprised what you get!

All of our little people. You say kids are hard to travel with? I say, you’ve never met these kids. Expect good travelers and you might be surprised what you get!

Freedom!!!!!!

Freedom!!!!!!

One day, she'll look back on this picture and wish she could remember the amazing things she experienced at 16 months old.

One day, she’ll look back on this picture and wish she could remember the amazing things she experienced at 16 months old.

And just because you should always end with a smile!

And just because you should always end with a smile!

I have less to write about this trip than some others.  Maybe waiting four months to do a post wasn’t the wisest.  Or maybe sometimes, the pictures can do the talking for me.

The City on Fire

.

.

 

I’m taking a break from my vacation posts to fill everyone in on some serious happenings in my neck of the woods.  From what I understand from my compadres at home, Bosnia is not leading the six o’clock news each night.  Shocker.  You see, Bosnia is sort of the red headed stepchild of Europe.  So much so that for some time, even many Bosnians have seen themselves that way.  Call it a self fulfilling prophecy.  And as with all such prophecies, people eventually roll over and become that forever, or they rise up and demand more.  I think we are on the cusp of the Bosnian people making that crucial decision.

I am by no means a scholar of the Balkans, the former Yugoslavia or even the Siege.  What I am a scholar of is the people around me.  I love to hear their stories and know their hearts.  That is why Bosnia has become so personal to me.  And that is why when buildings started burning, I got very concerned.  Probably not in the way you might expect.  I have never lived in fear of my life or the lives of my children.  I have lived a charmed life and am very aware of it.  The majority of the world cannot say the same.  I also serve a powerful and awesome God.  I trust Him.  Full stop.  So, I know that as buildings start falling, I have an exit plan.  But not all the people I have come to like, love, respect, admire and cherish do.  So burning buildings in my backyard get my attention.

Depending on which articles you read, Bosnia has an unemployment rate of anywhere between 25% and 50%.  For the record, it’s much closer to 50%.  And that doesn’t include the “underemployed.”  You know, the pharmacist who cleans houses or the engineer who drives a taxi.  So, people are hungry- literally and figuratively.  This is also the single most overgoverned country in the world, that still uses a peace treaty from twenty years ago like it’s a permanent constitution.  And said government is also one of the most corrupt in Europe, if not the world.

Not too far from Sarajevo, is a town called Tuzla.  It is the industrial heart of Bosnia, at one time boasting many factories.  At the beginning of the month, another one of those factories was privatized and closed down, leaving hundreds of workers now unemployed.  They’d finally had enough, and government buildings were stormed and set on fire.  The unrest didn’t stay confined to Tuzla, but bled into Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka.  In the blink of an eye, my city was on fire.  Traffic getting in and out of the city center was abysmal.  Schools closed early, and we were all told to stay home.  When the smoke cleared, this is what we saw.  (photo credits to my lovely husband who went down the next morning to scope out the damage)

Tram stop

Tram stop

Government building

Government building

.

.

.

.

protests-8838-3

.

 

Strangely, this was the last of the burning in Sarajevo so far.  I say strange because usually protests of this nature begin peacefully and grow into violence.  Thus far, this has been the opposite.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been protests almost everyday since these pictures were taken.  But they have been peaceful as this group is getting organized and determining what they are actually fighting for.  It is my hope that they do organize and demand more.  That they demand their government serve the people of Bosnia, regardless of what “ethnicity” the leaders want them to attach themselves to.  That they demand a safe country, with jobs, stability and a future.  And more than anything, I hope this momentum continues and the everyday Bosnians that I have come to like, love, respect, admire and cherish will create a new prophecy for themselves.  One that is prosperous and honorable.  One that they can be proud of, free of fear and corruption.  Peace, prosperity and love.

 

 

 

Winter Vacation- Balkans Style (Part 1)

Let me begin with a big, “Hallelujah!”  Why, you ask?  We returned last week from a weeklong vacation with our amazing friends, without one episode of violent diarrhea, trip to an ER or handwashing Spidey underoos in the sink at a hotel.  Can I get an Amen?

Our trip began with a six hour drive from Sarajevo to Zagreb, Croatia.  If you look at a map, you’ll see that it really isn’t very far.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way out of Bosnia, so it’s slow going for the first half of the trip.  That is, until you reach the Bosnia/Croatia border and the heavens open up and a real highway appears!  Then it’s smooth sailing.

When traveling with nine people, five of whom are under the age of 8, flexibility is the name of the game.  Thankfully, these five kiddos are some of the best travelers you’ve ever met.  We stopped twice in six hours; one stop for lunch, one potty break.  And the only complaints about the squatty potty we stopped at came from your’s truly!

My only knowledge of Zagreb prior to our arrival was that they have H&M stores and a Gap.  You had me at H&M.  So, to say I was excited might be an understatement! But, more than the shopping, Zagreb is a beautiful city with so much charm.  We stayed at an old and amazingly gorgeous hotel called The Esplanade.  I’m not going to lie, I was a little concerned about bringing our brood to such a nice place.  Thankfully, Croatians are like Bosnians in that they have a strong and patient love for children.  Whew!  Dodged that bullet!

After a long trip in the car, the kids needed to run around like maniacs stretch their legs.  We walked around the downtown until we could walk no more!  There was a cute Christmas market that sold hot chocolate (to the kids delight), gluhwein (to the mom’s delight) and Austrian beer (to the daddy’s delight).  All was well in Zagreb that night!

The next morning, we had our first of several delicious breakfasts!  Lyla approved!

All smiles with pastries and yogurt!  She's quite a foodie these days!

All smiles with pastries and yogurt! She’s quite a foodie these days!

After breakfast, we strolled around town and headed for the Zagreb Cathedral.  To say it was breathtaking would be an understatement.

Zagreb Cathedral

Zagreb Cathedral

Wyatt and his buddy Hudson

Wyatt and his buddy Hudson

She spent a lot of time in her old jalopy of a stroller.  If you'd ever to know what it's like to wrestle an octopus, you are welcome to try to get her in it when she doesn't want to be.  Good times.

She spent a lot of time in her old jalopy of a stroller. If you’d ever like to know what it’s like to wrestle an octopus, you are welcome to try to get her in it when she doesn’t want to be. Good times.

.

.

*sigh

*sigh

Christmas beauty

Christmas beauty

There was a beautiful fountain right outside the cathedral with gold angels that seemed to glow.  I may not be Catholic, but I can certainly appreciate their beautiful architecture.

.

.

.

.

But as is par for the course with Catholic relics, with the beauty often comes a taste of the creepy.  Cool, but creepy.

.

.

.

.

.

.

One of the things we often take for granted when living in America, is easy access to restaurants that are kid friendly.  In Europe, we always have a portable high chair in the car, as most eating establishments do not have them.  Crayons and kid menus are unheard of.  So, we began our quest to find someplace to eat that would be suitable for our party of nine.  Let’s just say that we did a lot of walking… and saw some beautiful things… and unable to find a restaurant that suited our needs, we ended up right where we started.  But, it was a great walk, and the reward at the end was REAL sausage!!  Mmmmmm!!

We passed this as I was looking for a cup of coffee to go (also something that is not normal in Europe).  When I did find a coffee shop, the man asked where I was from in America.  When I told him I was from Texas, he said he played the guitar and liked a guy Texas guitar player.  Had I ever heard of Stevie Ray Vaughn?  Ummm, yeah.  His name rings a bell.

We passed this as I was looking for a cup of coffee to go (also something that is not normal in Europe). When I did find a coffee shop, the man asked where I was from in America. When I told him I was from Texas, he said he played the guitar and liked a Texas guitar player. Had I ever heard of Stevie Ray Vaughn? Ummm, yeah. The name rings a bell.

This wall was so interesting to me.  It almost looked intentionally distressed.

This wall was so interesting to me. It almost looked intentionally distressed.

Fruit and Veggie market

Fruit and Veggie market

Back off, ladies!!  His heart belongs to his mama!!

Back off, ladies!! His heart belongs to his mama!!

One more of the cathedral.  I'll never tire of seeing such amazing architecture.

One more of the cathedral. I’ll never tire of seeing such amazing architecture.

I’m sure you’re wondering what happened to H&M.  Shockingly, we didn’t have time to shop.  But never fear!!  The last leg of our trip was another stop in Zagreb!  But more on that later!

Zagreb down… next post: Lake Bled.  Until then, vidimo se, cao, see you soon!

XOXOXO

Heather

Tell Me I’m Normal

I woke up Sunday morning in a funk.  Like baby blues… only 14 months after giving birth.  I drug myself around all day, annoyed with everything.  Tired of it all.  Ready to throw in the towel, but for no real reason I could pinpoint.  There had been no big fight with the hubs.  My kids were their typical, *ahem* charming selves.  We had just come off of two weeks of fall break, which culminated a neighborhood Halloween party that would rival any small town’s Baptist church fall festival.  So, what was the deal?

Monday night, as we were watching the replay of Sunday’s Colts vs. Texans game, it hit me.  We are in full-on Fall mode.  It is almost Thanksgiving.  The holidays are upon us.  (I’m not sure what about that game struck a chord.  Maybe it’s because J.J. Watt‘s athletic prowess is as magical and unexplainable as Santa.)  Regardless, as subtle as a dump truck, the realization that it is my favorite time of the year smacked me in my gut.  It wasn’t so much that it is the end of Fall that sent me in a downward spiral of moodiness.  It was that it is the end of Fall, and I am living far from family, friends, church, American culture, Christmas, the list goes on and on.  It’s all going on right now, without me.  I am missing it all.

I know I am supposed to relish in this experience 100% of the time.  I am constantly harping on my boys to recognize that they are seeing and experiencing things that most people never even dream of.  But every once in awhile, with all the maturity of a two year old, I want to throw myself on the floor, pound my fists and cry.  And worst of all, not only am I trying to catch my breath in this self-made pit of despair, I feel guilty for feeling it.  For those of you that don’t struggle with guilt and worry on a daily basis, let me let you in on a secret… it sucks.  I have all the emotions of a “normal” person, and then I have extra emotions because I hyper-analyze why I feel that way, and then feel bad for it.  I know.  I need therapy.  But, for the record, it’s in my genes.  Ask anyone in my family.  They can vouch for my kind of crazy.

So, fast forward to today.  I had a sweet chat with one of my favorite people here.  We have this weird habit of walking each other to the door as we leave the other’s home, and then standing there for the next hour talking.  I’m not sure why we don’t just sit down and save ourselves the back ache.  But, I digress.  As we stood in my threshold talking, our conversation headed towards our neurotic shopping right now, as we fear the unknown that is the diplomatic pouch mail service.  Fearing our children will not get Christmas gifts in time for St. Nick (insert writhing and gnashing of teeth here), we spend hours on amazon, feeding our neurosis.  One thing led to another, and before you knew it, we were both teary eyed talking about how sad we were lately.  How we missed our families.  How this time of year makes us feel even further than the thousands of miles that separated us from all that is familiar.  And then my friend said something that resonated with me.  She said that she felt like we all just wanted someone else to say they felt this same way too.  That she wasn’t the only one finding it hard to see the joy in the days right now.  Standing there, with a tingling nose and wet eyes, I felt normal.  I didn’t feel so isolated and lonely.  

So, let me put it out there, to those of you who live a life like mine:  You are normal.  You are normal if you find yourself missing those stupid Christmas commercials that start on November 1st.  You are normal if you are angry because you can’t just pick up a phone and call your mom to say hi, because it’d cost $10/minute and it’s 3am her time.  You are normal if you obsess over the pictures of your friends at a particular 10 day salute to sausage that marks the beginning of the holiday season to you.  You are normal if you resent the fact that you are having to “browse” online stores trying to find something your kids will love for Christmas, knowing that you really have no clue, since they haven’t seen a commercial in months and don’t ever go to stores.  You are normal if your eyes fill up with tears every time you imagine what your BFF is doing right now, without you.  You are normal.  

And if I’m wrong, and you aren’t normal, then at least you know you aren’t alone.  And sometimes, that’s half the battle.  

Open Letter to the World

Now that I’m a seasoned blogger with eight whole posts under my belt (insert sarcasm font here), I thought it was time to enter into a writing contest.  Seems like a natural progression, right?  I really don’t care too much about the competitive side of this exercise, but instead was excited about the challenge of writing an Open Letter to the World.

Dear World-

Remember that time that I promised that I’d be one of The Ones?  You know, The Ones that would make a difference?  The Ones that leave a mark?  The Ones that make you, The World, better?  You know me: the best of intentions, but the shortest of attentions.

But my family has changed.  I have three kids now.  Each one beautiful and quirky in his and her own ways.  They have dreams that need to be fostered.  They have talents that need to be cultivated.  They have spirits that need direction.

Times have changed.  We no longer live in a world where being a good citizen, showing respect, and loving God is enough.  You World, need more intentionality than that.  Being a passively good person won’t cut it anymore.  You require more of me than you used to.

I have changed.  No longer is the young woman who could plead youth and ignorance.  She has been replaced by a woman with experience IN you, World, and, ashamedly, OF you.  I have seen poverty while living in India that made it hard to breathe.  A burden of mourning and sadness fill the streets of Sarajevo.  Two cities with two vastly different histories, people, cultures, and yet both have left scars on my heart that can no longer be hidden.  And those are just two of your cities, World.  Two.  My conclusion:  I know better, so I must be better.

I hear you calling me, World.  I can no longer sit idly by as you plead for me, and others just like me; those of us with first world problems will no longer use our voices for complaints, but rather action.  Am I likely to be an ambassador for human rights that is interviewed by the likes of Anderson Cooper?  Probably not.  Will a building be named after me for bringing awareness to a cause that changed the world?  I doubt it.  So what can I do, World?

On the surface, I don’t have much to offer.  I’m not rich.  My skills and talents might bring me joy, but aren’t worth a lot on paper.  My greatest achievements are peacefully sleeping upstairs as I write this letter to you.  But they are just babies.  New to you.  They are just blank slates, without prejudice, bias, or experiences.  They are blank slates.  Blank.  Slates.

I offer to you my children.  I resolve to raise children who are not so busy living IN you that they forget that they are part OF you.  I won’t toughen them up so they can withstand the storms of life.  I will teach them, no show them, that they can have spirits that calm storms.  I will make it my life’s mission to show them that they ARE ambassadors of goodwill, not only worthy of being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, but worthy of being called sons and daughters of a loving, living God.  I will give them life altering experiences and force them out of their comfort zones.  Show them simultaneously the utter despair of abject poverty and the brilliance of selfless love.  I will allow them to struggle so they value effort.  I will love them unconditionally, so they will always know the feeling and can mirror it to others.  I won’t allow them the excuse of not knowing better.

They are yours.  But know this, World.  I am not me without them.  So if you want them, you’ve got me too.  And I’m not me, without my God.  That’s right, you get Him too.  One big, happy family.  See you at the reunion

East Foundation Reception Desk-2003

.

East Foundation Reception Desk-1482

.

East Foundation Reception Desk-1993

.

Parenting…Roditeljstvo…Parentales

I’ve said it before, and you’ll probably hear me say it again.  I have been blessed… cursed… ok, blessed with really smart kids.  They’ve all been early talkers, able to express themselves with words long before I ever expected them to. I always assumed I was given these chatty Cathys because I was being paid back for being a non stop talker all my life (or at least that’s the curse my mom said she put upon me!)  And maybe there is something to be said for having a mom that never stops speaking… you’d better learn to speak up, or you’ll never be heard!

But as we are now into week three of school at College International Francophone Sarajevo (CIFS), I am truly seeing why I have these communicators.  My boys are in kindergarten (Grande Section- Maternelle) and the second grade (CE1).  Their classes are all taught in French.  The kids are mostly Bosnian.  Most Bosnian five and seven year olds do not speak English yet.  So, in order to play on the playground, my boys have to speak Bosnian.  There are a few kids in each of their classes that they can communicate with in English, but the vast majority do not speak more than the phrases they have picked up from Phineas and Ferb or Spiderman.  So where does that leave my boys?  Often times confused, frustrated and emotional.  These two charming young men, who are used to being the center of attention are left in the wings at times.  And where does that leave me?  Oftentimes confused, frustrated and emotional.  The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

This was the end of the year performance at CIFS in June.

This was the end of the year performance at CIFS in June.

Tristan was Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk

Tristan was Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk

They studied this story in French, Bosnian and English

They studied this story in French, Bosnian and English

Daily I question our choice to put them in a school with so many challenges for them.  Daily I question my resolve to be the kind of mom who allows her kids to struggle so they can be stronger, better, more.  I’m not going to lie, I have seriously considered that hour long bus ride to the English speaking school, just to make life easier for them.  And really, me too.  My heart breaks a little every time we have “one of those drives home” that end in tears for no real reason other than they are tired of it being so hard to be heard.

But then there are those other times.  Times when Tristan,my second grader, will ask Wyatt, my kindergartener, how to say something in Bosnian, and would you believe this… he actually knows it!  And those times when Wyatt shares with me words in French he learned that day, and Tristan lovingly helps him with his pronunciation.  Days when I watch them play with our Bosnian next door neighbor, not afraid of the fact that neither speaks the other’s language proficiently yet.  Those are the times when I think that maybe we aren’t that crazy. Maybe when we push through this hard time, the end result will be worth it.  They might just reap some major benefits from this culturally rich environment.

2B1A0007

The Eternal Flame

Ultimately, I have come to this conclusion: I am seven and a half years and three kids into this parenting thing, and I still question almost every decision I make regarding these little humans that will one day grow up and become big humans.  Maybe these challenges we’ve forced upon them will give them a bigger view of the world, one where they can really see how they can impact it in a positive way.  Or maybe, we’ve just given them a more languages to talk to their therapists in.  I’ll get back to you on that one.

Sept8,2013-2580

What we see on our bike rides.

A Munchkin Turns One

Summer lovin’ had me a blast!  Summer lovin’ happened so fast!

One of the keys to my survival in another country are guaranteed trips home.  It keeps me grounded, rounded and sane!  I feel better knowing my kiddos get to spend quality time with the g’parents and our friends that are more like family.  Praise God for modern technology and the ability to stay connected while we are away.  But there is no substitute for hugs from the heart, sweet conversations over martinis coffee, and our family favorite… Chick-fil-a!  And with the addition of our little munchkin, a birthday party with all the people who love her the most!

The pictures pretty much tell the story of our day celebrating my sweet Lyla Rae.  But for those of you who don’t know her, let me fill you in a little secret… She is a trip.  Seriously, she is her own little caricature of herself!  All those funny faces you see her make in pictures… those are just a small taste of her spiciness!  And I have tried my best to give her hairstyles to match!  (In my defense, her hair has a mind of it’s own, just like her!)

If I’m being perfectly honest, and hey, what better place than in the privacy of my own blog that anyone can read, there have been a couple of moments when I thought, “What were we thinking, having another baby?!?! We have two boys that are beautiful, healthy, and soooo close to independence!  Why did we start back over again?”  Then, Lyla came and it all made sense.  It’s like our family was never without her.  She fits in, in a way that I could never have imagined.  Not to mention that she is super cool.  I know, I know, everyone thinks that about their kids.  But I mean it!  She is funny and silly and intelligent to boot.  And not just bright.  My girl is wicked smart.

So, enough of my ramblings.  Enjoy the party!

Lyla-2174

I am no party planner, so really, this is pretty good for me! Please ignore the penant flags hanging willy-nilly from the tray. I had good intentions. Really.

 

Lyla-2176-2

Another reason I miss Target. You can find ANYTHING there! I miss that in Bosnia.

 

These balloons were in flower arrangements that were sent when Lyla was born, a year ago.  My mom saved them so we could put them out again.  We'll see if they survive to year two!

These balloons were in flower arrangements that were sent when Lyla was born, a year ago. My mom saved them so we could put them out again. We’ll see if they survive to year two!

Lyla-2202-2

Cherry and Oreo cupcakes for dessert!

 

 

Bring on the cupcake!

Bring on the cupcake!

Lyla-2209

.

Lyla-2204

.

I think she liked the cake!

I think she liked the cake!

She wasn't sure what to do with the gifts.  I assured her she'd figure it out soon enough!

She wasn’t sure what to do with the gifts. I assured her she’d figure it out soon enough!

Lyla was given her first Cabbage Patch Kid.  Her name is Gisele Brooklyn.  We're hoping that's just her stripper name.

Lyla was given her first Cabbage Patch Kid. Her name is Gisele Brooklyn. We think that’s just her stripper name.

What do you mean we look alike?  I don't see it.

What do you mean we look alike? I don’t see it.

This is one of those pictures that remind me why it is so important for my kids to know and love the people in my life that I love.

This is one of those pictures that remind me why it is so important for my kids to know and love the people in my life that I love.

I remember when I left for DC a year ago and I was so worried that it would be too hard to stay in touch with my most important friend.  Then she reminded me that she was there from the beginning.  She saw this child as she was born.  She'd be there every step of the way.  And she expected a prime seat at her wedding!  <3

I remember when I left for DC a year ago and I was so worried that it would be too hard to stay in touch with my most important friend. Then she reminded me that she was there from the beginning. She saw this child as she was born. She’d be there every step of the way. And she expected a prime seat at her wedding! ❤

 

Living far away can be so hard sometimes.  That’s why I am grateful for each of these sweet moments that are shared with those who are closest to me.  Some days it’s just good to be hugged in person.  And a number one with no pickles and a lemonade is pretty great too!

 

 

 

A Walk to Remember

I think everyone should play the tourist in their own town.  So often, we get wrapped up in “living” that we forget about “experiencing.”  It’s normal.  I do it all the time (and of course, I’m super normal, so you should feel better about yourself!).  I do spend a lot of time walking and driving around with my camera, but I have so many questions about what I am seeing through my lens as I do.  Every city has a story.  Sarajevo has a Greek tragedy, Shakespearean sonnet and redemption of Biblical proportions all wrapped up in one.

In order to spend a little time experiencing our new city, we did what all awesomely attentive parents who want their children to have a well-rounded view of the world would do… we got a babysitter.  Then, we played the tourist, and went on a walking tour of Sarajevo.  It was a little less than two hours, on a dreary Saturday afternoon.  We met our tour guide, Aaron, near the Museum of Sarajevo, a museum set up on the corner where Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated.  Remember them?  Their deaths were just a little thing that started WWI?  Yeah.  That happened in Sarajevo.

I learned a lot of fascinating things on our tour, but as Brady can attest to, I have only 25% of the memory I had on February 19, 2006, the day before Tristan was born.  The miracle of life is wonderful and all.  Blah blah blah.  But it sucks your brain dry.  Next time I will bring a journal to write all the interesting facts down.  For now, you’ll have to settle for the MOST interesting things that decided to linger in my mind.  And please excuse me if I jump around a bit.  It’s just the way my brain works.

One of the first places we went to was the oldest mosque in Sarajevo.  We didn’t actually go into the mosque itself, but we did walk around the grounds a bit.  Part of living in Bosnia means  you have to get used to seeing cemeteries everywhere.  There are small ones around every mosque in the city.  There are also cemeteries or small clusters of grave stones throughout the city, in the middle of parks, next to restaurants, and in back yards.  This mosque had a very old cemetery on its grounds.  I learned some important facts about how Muslims are buried (or at least Muslims in Sarajevo.)  There are two grave markers for each deceased person.  One is at the head, the other is at the feet.  You can tell a man’s grave from a woman’s based on the adornment of the headstone.  The men have a “turban” top on their stones.  The women’s are much plainer.  The body is also always pointed toward Mecca.

walking tour-0902-2

The front grave is a woman’s. The back is a man’s. These are several hundred year old markers.

There was a beautiful courtyard inside the gates of the mosque.  You can see signs of age and war throughout that gives it such amazing character.

walking tour-0882-2

walking tour-0891-2 walking tour-0911-2

Like I said earlier, it was a yucky, dreary day.  Thankfully, the rain held off for us (mostly).

walking tour-0925-3

So this is the National Library

walking tour-0915-2Besides having a very distinctive look, this building has a long history.  The original building was built well over 100 years ago.  At the time of its construction, there were homes where the city wanted to put the building.  There was no eminent domain, but they did pay everyone for their land.  All but one homeowner agreed to take the money and build somewhere else.  So, this particular person held out for a really long time (not sure how long… remember, I’m only firing at 25% anymore).  Eventually, he was willing to take the money, but under his conditions.  First, he wanted to stay on the river.  The city said, no problem.  Next, he wanted his house to look the same.  The city said, ok.  Oh, and did he mention, he wanted his home moved piece by piece to that new location?  Oh yeah, that too.  So, in order to get this prime real estate, the city agreed and moved his home to the other side of the river.  It is called Inat Kuca, which translates literally into “House of Spite.”  I think that says it all.

Inat Kuca is now a restaurant.

Inat Kuca is now a restaurant.

You may have noticed that I stated earlier that the library’s “original building” was built over 100 years ago.  One of the saddest casualties of any war is when priceless artifacts are lost.  The Siege of Sarajevo devastated this library.  As in, destroyed almost everything in it.  In 1992, the library burnt to the ground, with over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts, amongst many other things.  Only a very few artifacts survived.  But just like the phoenix, out of the ashes something beautiful is reborn. Or shall I say, is in labor for a long while.  When you have the most over-governed country in the world, nothing happens on time.  Proof in point, this library was slated to open over a year ago.  It’s still not open.

We also saw the only clock in Europe (maybe the world, but honestly, I can’t remember that detail) that is set on Islamic time.  If you aren’t familiar, the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, not the Gregorian one that we are all used to.  That’s why Ramadan is at a different time during the year every year.  That also means that even the time of day changes based on the moon.  There is a family that is responsible for changing this clock every day so it is timed appropriately to the Islamic calendar.  Living here, you get used to hearing the call to prayer five times a day, but I never really paid attention to when during the day it happens.  I suppose I could check this clock out to see when it will happen, but since I still have to subtract 12 in my head every time someone gives me the time after noon, I think it’s a lost cause!

 

walking tour-0934-2

 

So here’s a funny little tidbit… There were several Americans on this tour with us.  Aaron, the tour guide took us by a building and asked us what it meant to us.  Here it is:

 

 

walking tour-0927

 

Of course, I jumped right to Rod Blagojevic, the former mayor of Chicago (and not just because he was on the Celebrity Apprentice).  We then had a short discussion on the corruption that took place.  Aaron told us how the Blagojevic name is synonymous with corruption in Sarajevo as well.  I’m not sure how true that is, because we were clearly getting a one-sided view of the Sarajevo based on Aaron’s views, but it was an interesting tidbit nonetheless.

By far the coolest story we heard was happened during WWII.  Sarajevo is called “Little Jerusalem” for a reason.  For a very long time, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace together here.  During WWII, Hitler was very interested in destroying any and all books/artifacts that were Jewish, amongst other things.  One of the oldest Haggadahs in existence is known as the Sarajevo Haggadah.  The Haggadah is the text that is used in the Passover Seder.  Originally, it was housed in the City Museum.  When Hitler sent his men to retrieve it, the librarian smuggled it out of the city and asked his friend, a Muslim cleric, to hold onto it in his Mosque in Treskavica.  This fourteenth-century Jewish script was kept safe in a Islamic house of worship.  This is a prime example of what I mean when I say the majority of Bosnians are amazing people.

Throughout our walk there were constant reminders of the Siege of Sarajevo.  Like, shelled out buildings.walking tour-0939-2 walking tour-0940-2

And the Sarajevo Rose.

walking tour-0926-2

 

But perhaps the most poignant reminder are the people.  The ones that struggle every day.  The ones who have had to cope with loss, death and violence in an unimaginable way.  A whole city country with PTSD.  We saw this man at the Eternal Flame, staying warm in the drizzly weather.  He was clearly very drunk.  But to me, he appeared a sad man with a wounded soul.  Every person has a story here.  Some are beautiful stories of redemption and rebirth.  But many are darker stories of loneliness, sadness and despair.  I suspect this man hasn’t found his happy ending yet.  I pray if not for happiness, at least he may find peace.

walking tour-0947-5