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.

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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.

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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.

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

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-1482

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East Foundation Reception Desk-1993

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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.

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What we see on our bike rides.

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!

 

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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!

 

 

You Can Take the Girl Outta Texas…

Sometimes living where you’re at means bringing home to you.  I’m all for local culture and cuisine, but there are some things that this family of Texans can’t live without.  Namely, Tex-Mex.  And what is the staple of all Tex-Mex meals?  Tortillas.  You can buy tortillas at the grocery stores here, but they are one step below Mission tortillas.  And as we all know, Mission tortillas are only used in dire emergencies; like it’s 5:00pm on Cinco de Mayo in South Texas and HEB is out of fresh tortillas, or every single Mexican restaurant in the state is on strike.  If you usually use pre-made, long-life tortillas, please excuse my strong opinions about your choice in starchy food.  I don’t mean to judge.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I’m totally judging you.  Unless you’re using it in King Ranch Chicken Casserole, there is really no excuse if you live in Texas and don’t partake in this Manna from Heaven, made of flour and lard.  True, they are only good for about 3 days, tops.   Inconvenient?  Sure.  But, maybe we should step back and consider what is in those pre-made tortillas that keep them from getting moldy for weeks.  Just sayin’.  But I digress.  *stepping off my soap box now*

Let me continue by saying that I am NOT a foodie or a food blogger.  I idolize The Pioneer Woman, but I am very clearly not her.  I am really not sure how to do food photography either, especially while I am burning cooking tortillas on the stove in my kitchen with terrible light (not to mention already late to the lunch that I was bringing said tortillas to).  So, as much as I might like to think that I will one day have a blog post that will be repinned a gazillion times on Pinterest, I am certain this post is not going to be it.  But, and it’s a big butt (hee hee), that doesn’t change the fact that I can make amazing homemade tortillas and I am about to show you how to do it too.  For my friends that live in other countries, like England, Poland and Washington, D.C., you will appreciate this, as you probably can’t get the real deal where you live.  For my Texas folks… enjoy the pictures and my charming wit, but save yourself the time and get some fresh tortillas at your nearest taqueria!

Before I begin with the *ahem* tutorial, I must give you the back story on how I came about this recipe.  When we first moved to Mumbai, India back in 2005, I realized VERY quickly that I was not going to get the food I was used to there.  Ordering groceries online was a fairly new concept, and we had only a small commissary (and commissary is a very generous word for it), the size of the smallest 7-11 on earth, stocked with ONLY expired food.  So, my options were limited.  And as I mentioned above, Brady and I can live without a lot of things, but tortillas ain’t one of them!  My sweet friend Jen and her family were serving as missionaries in Spain at the same time we were in India.  Somehow, through email I divulged the hollowness in my life, not to mention my pregnant tummy, with not having tortillas at an arms length.  Jen came to my rescue and emailed me her recipe for tortillas.  I was thrilled to make them the first time, ready to finally calm the desire in my belly.  But, alas, I learned something that day.  Tortillas are a pain in the rear to make!  Actually, that’s not true.  The making is easy.  The rolling is another story all together.  But in India, they love to eat chapatis with almost every meal.  So, when you have a maid/cook living in your apartment with you, it would behoove you to let her do the rolling and cooking if you want perfect, restaurant style tortillas.  It truly wasn’t until moving to Bosnia that I made my first completely solo and successful batch of tortillas!  On to the recipe…

Here’s what you need…

Please don't judge me.  My kitchen counter is smaller than your bathroom counter.  This is definitely not a gourmet kitchen!

Please don’t judge me. My kitchen counter is smaller than your bathroom counter. So there.

Now pay close attention, because this is a SUPER complicated recipe.  First take 2 cups of flour and 1 tsp of salt and stir it together in a large bowl.  Stay with me.  Then, cut up 1/4 cup of shortening (Crisco) into the bowl.  Am I losing you yet?  In Jen’s recipe, she said you can use butter, but I say, why use butter when you can use lard?  It’s a no-brainer.  Keep in mind, we are still essentially living out of suitcases, and I don’t have my full kitchen yet, so I do everything the old fashioned way right now.  If I had my kitchen, I would use my pastry blender to then cut the shortening into the flour and salt mixture.  Since I don’t, I just use a fork.  I have found that cutting the shortening in before you add the warm water makes for a more even mixture all together, when, as I said earlier, you are low-tech and have no mixer to do the work for you!

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Next, add 3/4 cup of warm water to your mixture.  If you have a mixer, you could use it now.  I don’t, so it’s me and my trusty spatula, and then my hands.  Mix it all up until it is well blended.  It will be a little sticky, but you should be able to pick up small amounts to roll into balls.

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Keep in mind that I tripled the batch for the party, so you won’t have nearly the amount of dough as this if you stick to the recipe.

  At this point, you want to roll up little balls, about an inch or so in size.  Once you’ve gotten them all rolled, cover the plate with Saran Wrap and let it “rise.”  Really, I think it just helps to keep the Crisco warm so it is pliable and mixes well while you are setting up the next step.

Here comes the part with the steep learning curve.  It’s time to roll out the balls of dough.  I know it sounds easy, and maybe I am just challenged in this department, but I had a very hard time making my tortillas resemble tortillas the first few times I made them.  I set up a little bowl with flour in it so I can flour my counter each time I roll them out.  First, take a ball and smoosh it (that’s the technical term).  Then use your rolling pin to roll it out into a circle.  It needs to be rolled really thin.  Thinner than you think.  Make them so thin that you can almost see through them.  I didn’t get any pictures of this stage in my cooking, presumably because I was elbow deep in flour and didn’t want to introduce my camera to the mess.

Once you have it rolled out, you’ll want to put it on your stove set a little shy of medium.  I put it directly on the stove, but you could probably use a griddle or a skillet.  Keep it there until bubbles start to form, usually about 30 seconds or so.  Then flip it over and cook for another 5-10 seconds.

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When it looks like this, flip it over.

Timing is everything in this process.  If you, hypothetically speaking, were trying to do this while taking pictures and keeping two brothers from destroying the house and each other, all while trying to figure out when you were going to shower for the party you are supposed to be at in 30 minutes, your tortilla might end up looking like this:

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So, that’s it!  You’ve now learned the secrets of The Tortilla.  It might seem like a silly, simple thing to be so excited about.  But part of living in another country is trying to find a way to exist in this vastly different culture, without completely losing touch of your own.  And this four ingredient wonder does that for me.

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Flour Tortillas

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup shortening

3/4 cup warm water

1. Mix it all together.

2. Make into balls.

3. Roll out balls.

4. Cook on the stove

* Makes 8-14 

In case you’re wondering, we had a great time getting together with our friends for a fajita lunch!  Here is our most recent, and most fitting, family picture taken at the party.

This is us.  This is as real as it gets.

This is us. This is as real as it gets.