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.

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My boys.

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.

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*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.

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

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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

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East Foundation Reception Desk-1993

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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!

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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.

 

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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!

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Cherry and Oreo cupcakes for dessert!

 

 

Bring on the cupcake!

Bring on the cupcake!

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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!