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

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.

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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.

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

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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!

 

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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:

 

 

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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.

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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.

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From Zadar, with Love

Oh, to live the life of a gypsy.  Or a carnie.  Or a diplomat.  They are really similar if you think about it.

In the month since my last post, we’ve been a bit busy.  We finally moved to our permanent house (yay!).  Which means that our internet was down for a week.  We also got our household effects that we haven’t seen since mid June of last year (big YAY!).  Which means there is a crap-ton of things to put away, and a lot of, “Why in the world do we still have this?”  *There are a few perks to living simply for eleven months*  Not to mention all the things that we either wish we had packed, or thought we had packed and didn’t.  Oh, and did I mention that when we packed out last summer, we thought we were going to be moving to the west coast of Africa?  Not Central Europe.  So, instead of skis and scarves, we have a plethora of beach towels and sand toys.    Thankfully, we were able to use them last weekend.  (How’s that for a lead-in?!)

One of the great things about living in another country as a diplomat is that we celebrate all the American federal holidays, and the Bosnian ones.  That allows for us to vacation during times that would be very busy in the US, but not so much in Europe.  For Memorial Day, we decided to do just that.  Up until now, the only real outing we had made was our trip to Mostar.  So, when the opportunity presented itself to go to Croatia for the weekend, we jumped on it!  And for added fun, we went with our awesome friends, who are also Texans I might add, The Denneys.  You can read Karen’s blog post about our trip here.

Before I start, let me say, this post is not for those with a weak stomach.  Like, for example, if you were Wyatt, you wouldn’t want to read this.  You’re about to see why.

We left Friday afternoon for the 6-8 hour drive (yep, it’s that big of a window when you are traveling with 4 grown ups and 5 kids).  The kids were champs and we made it across the border into Croatia before we had to stop for dinner.  We found a quaint little restaurant that served pasta for the kids, and PORK for the parents.  Did you hear me?  I said PORK!  P-O-R-K!!!  The first sign we were out of Bosnia and into Croatia.  As we were getting ready to leave, Wyatt did a little complaining that his tummy hurt, but I let it pass, since he was not bad enough to turn down the snickerdoodle cupcakes that Karen brought.  In hindsight, I should have paid closer attention.

We drove several more hours and made it to our final destination, Zadar, Croatia. When I say we made it, I mean we made it to the city itself.  It was pouring rain and 10:00pm, so we had to do a little searching for our hotel.  In the meantime, Wyatt’s tummy was getting worse.  So, in a fit of desperation, I quickly dumped the snacks out of the snack bag onto my feet and tossed the bag back to him, just in time for exactly 2/3 of the vomit to make it in.  We weren’t so lucky with the other 1/3.  Oh, and the bag?  It maybe had a few holes in it.  So, for the next 20 minutes, we drove around in the freezing rain with my hand out the window holding a bag of puke.  All the while, trying to hand wipes back to the back seat to clean up the other 1/3.  Never before have I wished to be Elastagirl from The Incredibles like I did that night.  So, we were off to a rough start.  But when we pulled up to our hotel, things began to brighten up.  The fresh air may have helped a bit too.

Our hotel was awesome!  It’s called the Falkensteiner Funimation Borik.  I know, it sounds cheesy, but it was great!  All inclusive, on the beach, swimming pools and a kids play area.  You can’t beat that!  It would have been better if the weather had cooperated more, but we still figured out how to have fun!

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This is the view from our balcony. It looks rainy because it WAS rainy. On and off all weekend long. Blah.

The indoor play area was the first place we explored.  It didn’t disappoint!

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The kids weren’t the only ones having fun!

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Hey! How do I get in there?!?!

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Tristan enjoyed the play area so much he spent most of Sunday afternoon there while it poured outside, watching movies, playing games and who knows what else!

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Cullen is a bit of a dare devil!

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Love this girl!

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Yes, she is that beautiful!!

Then we walked around the beach outside the hotel.

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Wyatt and his bestie, Hudson! These boys are so tight that they understand some weird five-year-old language that none of the rest of us do. And the humor? Yep. It’s all an inside joke with them!

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Handsome boys!

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For every nice picture of the boys, I had to bribe them by telling them they could do a crazy one!

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It was so great to spend some time on the beach as a family! For the morning, at least.

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Only in our family: Social Distortion and Awesome Sauce shirts!

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The Denneys

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A Zadar local

Yes, that is a man walking his dog on a Vespa.

Yes, that is a man walking his dog on a scooter.

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A rare picture with me in it!

Lyla loved the feel of the sand.

Lyla loved the feel of the sand. I love her squishable rolls!

We were able to squeeze in some swimming before the rain moved it.  Tristan has become a much stronger swimmer lately.  And with floaties, Wyatt is a regular Michael Phelps!

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Lyla learned the art of sunbathing!

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Thank goodness the pool was heated!

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That about sums it up!

Our friends Cullen, Byron and Hudson

Our friends Cullen, Byron and Hudson

This is the last smile from Wyatt we would see for awhile.

This is the last smile from Wyatt we would see for awhile.

This is where the Roberts’ vacation merged with the Griswold’s.  After a good long swim, Wyatt started fading fast.  We thought he was just tired, but we were wrong.  Boy, were we wrong.  We still aren’t positive what happened, but he either ate something bad, or more than likely came in contact with something VERY bad.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that we spent a very long, painful night together.  This was definitely not the trip to pack light.  We ran out of underwear for him by midnight.  Poor baby!

While we waited for the doctor to get to the hotel, Wyatt watched a movie on my iPad.

Things didn’t improve in the morning, so we had the hotel call in a doctor to look at him.  The doctor agreed with us that he probably had some kind of bacterial infection, but he was definitely dehydrated.  And in our adventurous spirit and desire to experience all that each country has to offer, it was time to check out a Croatian hospital!  I joke, but it really was scary at the time.  And besides being a great guy, Byron is also a Bosnian (or if you happen to be in Croatia, a Croatian speaker) so he was kind enough to go with Brady and Wyatt to the hospital to translate.  What a blessing that was!  He was even there to hear the nurse grumble under her breath, “No wonder he’s sick.  He doesn’t have any socks on.”  Welcome to the Balkans!

Unfortunately for Brady and Wyatt, they spent the next five hours at the hospital getting the IV.  We did our best to have fun while they were gone.

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Tristan worked VERY hard on his sand castle!

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Tristan’s only sweatshirt I brought was puked on the first night in the car, so he had to wear my denim shirt! The did have laundry service at the hotel, and if we wanted to wait three days, they would have washed all our vomit-laden clothes. Instead, we hand washed everything in the bathtub, and challenged the laws of humidity with drying them. It took the whole weekend and a blowdryer!

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He’s pretty stinkin’ handsome, if I do say so myself!

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So much for my girly-girl! She was all about getting dirty and playing in the sand (which honestly, made me SUPER proud she’s my daughter!)

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My favorite parts of a baby? Their chubby, dimply hands and feet.

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Nine months is such a fun age. And with all the frustrations of living life overseas, I am so glad to offer Lyla (and the boys) all of these new experiences. There’s nothing like seeing your child discover something new and fascinating. One of the perks of parenthood.

Karen is my absolute favorite person in Sarajevo!  We have so much in common and always have fun together!  It was a real treat to learn that she loves to take pictures too!

Say cheese!

Say cheese!

Before the rain started, we tried to squeeze in a family photo shoot for the Denneys.  I was only able to get a few of the boys.  Family pics, to be continued!

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I mean, really. He is a hunk! Love this boy!

Cullen, aka, Lyla's future husband!  He even learned how to say "Lyla" on our trip.

Cullen, aka, Lyla’s future husband! He even learned how to say “Lyla” on our trip.

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They are like little Gap models!

So, Brady and Wyatt got back, and Wyatt looked like a whole different boy!  IV’s are amazing things!  We did our best to make the most of the night and enjoy the rest of our trip.  The next morning was check out, but we did manage to squeeze in a couple of games of ping pong first!

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After breakfast and check out, we decided to see what Zadar really had to offer!  And thankfully, Wyatt’s stomach cramps held off (mostly) during our day trip downtown.  First stop: Ice cream. At 10:00am.  ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

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This was the first of two ice cream stops that day!

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I love the mix of old and modern.

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When traveling with this many children, one of whom was violently ill the day before, we have learned that the only way to succeed with a smile is to divide and conquer!  So, the dads took the big boys up to the top of an The Cathedral of Anastasia and Karen and I had the littles.  While we waited we listened to the sweetest street performer and his scooter-drawn trailer!  The babies loved it!Zadar-0749-2 Zadar-0752-2

After a couple of songs, he asked us to move the strollers up by him and handed me HIS camera, and asked me to take his picture.  He said he wanted to put it on the cover of his next CD!

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If you look closely, you’ll see Brady’s pink salmon shirt at the top of the bell tower.

Can you see him?

Can you see him?

The Cathedral of Anastasia

The Cathedral of Anastasia

After the boys had their turn, we ditched the babies and Karen and I took our cameras up the bell tower.  Here are some of the images I captured.

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The detail. Amazing.

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Beautiful, and loud. Very loud. Really, very loud. Especially when you are standing next to them when they ring.

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Zadar-0788-2 Zadar-0769-2 Zadar-0796-2 Zadar-0793-2 Zadar-0799-2 Zadar-0800-2After our picture taking extravaganza, we met up with the rest of our crew at the sea organ.  I hadn’t done much research on Zadar before we left, so I didn’t know what it was.  Basically, someone way smarter than me figured out a way to make the waves make a sort of whistle as they hit the shore.  It really is a sort of creepy but strangely beautiful sound.  Of course, the boys loved yelling into the holes that the sound comes out of to hear their own “special melodies!”

Zadar-0810We also coerced them all into taking some more pictures!

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Zadar-0828-2Then we found a park to burn some energy at.

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Karen and I often joke (sort of joke, but really hope) that Cullen and Lyla will eventually get married.  It’ll make Christmases so much easier on us, and after all, isn’t it about us?  Well, I’m thinking that Cullen is going to have to learn not to steal Lyla’s toys before the wedding, or we may have more episodes like this:

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Zadar is one of those places that isn’t as well known as say Split or Dubrovnik.  But it truly was the perfect weekend getaway for us (minus the ER trip!)

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We’ve decided to make this an annual trip with our favorite traveling buddies!

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I’ll leave our trip at this. It appears peaceful and quiet. That’s how I’d like to remember the drive home. Or imagine it, at least!

 

 

The Glorification of Busy

One year can make a huge difference.  This time last year, I was five months pregnant.  We lived on an acre and a half in New Braunfels, Texas, a place Brady and I have come to call “our Eden.”  Tristan was finishing up Kindergarten in the best school in the county, surrounded by his closest friends, playing soccer on the weekends and deeply involved in our church.  Wyatt was going part time to the kind of preschool that I know with 100% confidence was hand-picked and gifted to us by God.  (We miss you terribly, Ms. Kerry!!)

But life wasn’t all it seemed to be.  I have to remind myself of this  point when I get too homesick.

Besides all these beautiful things about our lives, on the inside, we were gasping for air.  Brady worked and traveled constantly.  He had an hour and a half commute each way!  I was knee deep in being the managing owner of a successful small business.  A small business that kept me from my family on EVERY major holiday for the previous five years.  My phone rang constantly, never really allowing for my kids to get my undivided attention.  And I was TIRED!  I didn’t want anyone to miss out on anything, so every night was full of activities.  That meant that I dropped everyone off at school in the morning, worked all day, and the raced home to pick them up, feed them a healthy meal (from the frozen section of HEB of course!) and get us where we needed to be.  That usually entailed a panicked call to my mom who was in all essence the boys’ primary care giver, and absolutely my life saver, telling her how they needed to be dressed, what to have collected and ready to go (and where it might be located in our chaotic house).   On a few occasions, Tristan had a special lunch or party at school at an odd time of day.  So, I’d go to work for an hour.  Drive 30 minutes back to New Braunfels for the event, stay 30 minutes, and then drive 30 minutes back.  I was sure if I didn’t, Tristan would never forgive me.  Afterall, in my mind, all the other kids had stay-at-home moms who made it not only to the class parties and field trips, but helped make copies for the teachers and performed major surgery in the break room in their spare time.

Fast forward to now.  Now, I live in a world where I have someone who comes and watches the baby three mornings a week.  The boys are both in school full time.  Brady’s commute is a solid ten minutes.  I no longer work outside of the home.  We either go to church on Sunday only, or watch last week’s Oakwood sermon streamed from home.  Tristan has French tutoring once a week, and we are trying to get both boys into football (soccer).  Other than that, we lead a much slower paced life. And you know what?  We are happier.  We have dinner with friends at least once a week, if not more.  The boys have play dates.  I have gone to get my hair done and grocery shopped without any kids.  I even got a mani/pedi on a Saturday afternoon (albeit with a baby on my lap!)  Here’s my point: When we stopped running around being busy, we started spending our time more wisely.  We have time for that game of Memory with the boys.  Feeding Lyla is not the chore it was with Wyatt.  I love to see the faces she makes as she tries new foods; the independence she is acquiring as she learns to feed herself.  Brady and I have gone on more dates since we arrived in Bosnia than we did the entire previous year.  And our kids aren’t being raised by day care, or our nanny.  We are just not as busy.

When I first came to the realization that I was no longer busy, I felt guilty.  I felt like I wasn’t doing enough.  My friends work harder than me.  I need to get a job so I have more worth.  It became apparent to me that busyness had become my crown of thorns that I wore like a badge of honor.  Let me say that again, I was miserable, and I wanted extra credit for it.  Sick, right?  Until I really thought about it and came to the conclusion that our American culture glorifies busyness, and I had fallen right into the trap.  If you aren’t constantly on the go, then you are lazy.  And lazy adults breed lazy kids, so be sure to keep them as busy as you.  I remember one time posting on Facebook something about a book I had read, and the first response was from someone loathing how they wished they had time to read.  Really?  We have the same 24 hours.  And I was really busy at that time.  So, what was the logical response?  To question why I had so much free time to read and how could I be spending that time in other “more productive ways,” of course.  I hate to repeat myself, but Really??  

I know my life is unique in a lot of ways.  I have the ability to not work anymore.  I have someone who can come and love on my kids so I can go workout or get some much needed quality time with the hubs.  Not everyone has that.  And when we move back to the states, I likely won’t have it either.  But, what I hope to have is a perspective on what’s important.  I hope to have the ability to say “NO” to things so I won’t be so busy.  And the confidence to be ok with watching everyone around me scuttle about trying to keep all their ducks in a row, while I sit and sip on a cup of coffee and read my book.  Because in reality, this is the only life we get.  I’d hate to look back on it in 50 years and see how much I truly missed when I was trying to do it all.

I don't want to miss a moment of this.

I don’t want to miss a moment of this.

Getting the Most Out of Mostar

As is par for the course, I am already behind!  Seeing as I took my sweet time setting up this blog, we’ve now had a multitude of experiences that are begging to be shared!  So, in no particular order, I am going to begin my most frequent game… Catch-up!

A few weeks ago we decided that we’d had enough of Sarajevo for a day.  We had been here a solid two months and never left the city.  That might not sound like a big deal to most.  After all, Sarajevo is a capital city, so it must be huge.  Not so.  There are amazing discoveries to be made here, but it is more like a really large village than a city.  And after two months of sitting in this bowl, we needed to get out.  We needed a break from the horrendous pollution and the dreary winter weather.  It was time to stretch our traveling legs.  So, we all piled in our car, and left for a day trip to Mostar.

But, in order to truly torture our kids, we had to stop along the way!  We had been told about an amazing furniture shop in a town called Konjic on the way to Mostar.  Rukotvorine didn’t disappoint.  Not only was the craftsmanship mind blowing, the man that was working the floor was about the coolest guy ever!  His English was about as good as our Bosnian, so we definitely had to rely on our trusty sign language to get our point across.  He did his best to show us around and explain how the furniture was made and what it all symbolized.  The boys were interested for a solid 3.5 seconds, so we spent a lot of time reminding them to look with their eyes and not their hands!  You’ll hear me say this a lot over the next couple of years, but one of my favorite things about Bosnians is their love of children.  You might be thinking, ‘Oh, I love kids too.’  But you’d be wrong.  You might love kids, but Bosnians LOVE kids!  All kids.  Big ones, little ones, babies.  And it isn’t just the women who love them.  The men are just as enamored with our little people as the women are.  Oh, and even the kids love kids!  You should see the attention Lyla gets when I am at either boys’ school.  But I digress.  So, this guy was no exception to the Kid-Love rule.   He cooed at the baby (and held her by the end of the visit) and rustled the boys’ hair.  And then, he did something that caught me by surprise.  He offered to take us back to the room that the furniture is made in.  Heck yeah, we want to go!  So, we all walk back to this little, sawdust filled room to see about a half dozen men, some sitting, some standing, all creating works of art.  Then, one of the men patted his leg and invited Wyatt to come sit on his lap as he whittled away on a piece of wood.  And wouldn’t you know, my super shy guy went right over.  Not only did he get to see these creations being made first hand, the gentleman let Wyatt do the work.  Here is what it looked like.

I'd say Wyatt was pretty thrilled!

I’d say Wyatt was pretty thrilled!

His hands seem so little next to this craftsman's.

His hands seem so little next to this craftsman’s.

After Konjic, I knew this was going to be a great day!  We hopped back into the car and headed south to Mostar.

Here are some important facts about Mostar.  

It is one of the largest cities in Bosnia.  One of the most recognizable architectural landmarks of Bosnian culture is in Mostar: Stari Most.  This bridge was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans connecting two parts of the city over the Neretva River.  It was breathtaking.  But more importantly, it was of the utmost cultural importance to the people of Bosnia.  So, during the war, the Serbs knew that it would be a devastating blow to the morale of the Bosnian Muslims (not to mention their supply line) if it were destroyed.  And destroyed, it was.  But, if there is anything I am learning about the Bosnian people, there isn’t much that will keep them down for good.  So, with the financial help of a few other countries, Stari Most was rebuilt using as many of the original bricks as possible and reopened in 2004.

Stari Most

Besides the bridge, Mostar has an amazing “old town” paved with cobblestone (not the most stroller friendly, in case you’re wondering), and lined with vendors that sell everything from touristy trinkets, to pashmina shawls, to one-of-a-kind artwork.

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During the war, for about 9 months in 1993, Mostar was under siege.  They were cut off from food and electricity.  Constant shelling and snipers kept people in their homes all day and night, leaving only to get water.  As an American, it is incredibly difficult to imagine life like this.  It goes against everything I know.  Yet, walking the streets of Mostar (just like in Sarajevo) there are constant reminders that in my own lifetime, there were people being killed, tortured and raped daily for the “crime” of being ethnically Muslim.  It is eerie to see so many cemeteries all over the city with one glaring detail in common… the death dates all say 1993, 1994, 1993, 1995, 1994… It’s disturbing to say the least.  But, I’ll get into the real grit of the war in a future post.

Mostar is just one of the places that you have to see.  It has character, culture and quality that can’t be found anywhere else.  It also has crazy people that jump off the bridge for fun!  The boys thoroughly enjoyed that!

This was just the first of what I am sure will be several trips to Mostar.  Here are some other pictures of our day there.

The boys on Stari Most

The boys on Stari Most

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One day, the kids will appreciate the places they’ve been.

This scraggly guy was napping on the bridge.

This scraggly guy was napping on the bridge.

This is the delivery vehicle for the little cafe we had lunch at.

The delivery vehicle for the little cafe we had lunch at.

This is a long video,  about 45 minutes, but if you are at all interested in seeing what Mostar looked like during the war, I highly recommend it.  I think it’s important to remember what this country has gone through.  While I was playing volleyball and getting my hair done for school dances, Bosnians were literally fighting for their lives.  And not just soldiers.  Kids, teenagers, grandparents.  Sometimes, when you’re American, it’s easy to forget what the rest of the world is going through, because, well, it’s easy to live in America.  Really easy.  Take a moment to read up on the news around the world.  I promise you, where the President vacationed or who marries whom won’t seem like such a big deal anymore.

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