Wednesday, July 2, 2014


This is our last morning in Zagreb. Sam is going down to get croissants (something that has become more of a habit than I like to admit) and in a couple of hours we're going to coffee to say a few last goodbyes. Sometimes when I look back on when we first moved here, it feels like it was just last week. But other times, life in Croatia has become so normal that I have a hard time imagining life any other way.

I feel like 2 years was a good amount of time to really be immersed in the culture here. The first year was all about adjustments. Getting used to the sound of the language, getting used to how things work, asking a lot of questions, and making a lot of mistakes. But by the second year, things didn't seem so new anymore, we had pretty much adjusted to feeling like the stupid Americans and we were actually okay with it. And life just become normal.

We have absolutely loved living in this country. But it hasn't always been easy. I thought a good way to wrap up our experience was to write a top ten list of things we will miss and things we won't. I hope I don't offend anyone by the things we won't miss. They are mostly things that I found hard to get used to. So here goes...

Top 10 things we will NOT miss about living in Croatia:

10. Walking in on men in the ladies room- So Europeans seem to be a lot more okay with peeing in general. I was just talking to Kelly yesterday about how she sees men in their business suits and briefcases, peeing on garbage cans in the morning. But I also don't like walking into a public bathroom anywhere. There might be a men's/women's combo with a urinal outside of the ladies room, there might just a man in the ladies room because he couldn't wait...Sorry men, but you're messy and I don't want to pee where you pee.

9. Traveling a REALLY long way to get back home- My family lives in Ellensburg, Washington, a 2 hour drive from SeaTac airport. To get home, we have to take a 30 minute taxi ride to the airport, check in two hours early, fly to Frankfurt, have a layover in Frankfurt, then take a 10 hour and 45 minute flight to Seattle. It's a LONG way home. It's a scary feeling to be so far away sometimes. And don't even get me started on packing for the trip. I can tell you the size and weight limits of most major airlines that fly out of Zagreb because we've agonized over these numbers for hours, trying to be sure we won't be charged extra for our luggage.

8. Flying...a lot. I really don't like flying. There is nothing fun about it. First you have to pack (see #9), then you have to check in, go through security, get to your gate, then be trapped inside for hours on end. I really love traveling, but I really hate flying. It has gotten easier the more I've done it, but I'm happy to be done for awhile.

7. MUP- So if you're from our school, you know what I mean when I say MUP. It's a very sad building in the center of Zagreb where you have to go and wait in line for a really long time to get a stamp and a sticker on a piece of paper that says that it's okay for you to be in Croatia. Luckily we've had a lot of help with our visas and paperwork, but MUP is never a fun experience.

6. Cigarette smoke- This one is pretty self explanatory. A LOT of people smoke here. It's especially bad in the winter when you're stuck indoors in a smoke box.

5. Not having a dryer- While living here, we've gone back a few decades and have had to air dry our clothes. For the most part, I love having sun dried clothes. But there is really something amazing about a nice, fluffy, dryer dried towel.

4. Lack of variety in food- Don't get me wrong, the food here is amazing. You have seafood, pasta, gnocchi, ćevapčići, the list goes on. But there is not as much variety of foods here. And if you want something that is not originally Croatian, you're going to pay for it. I miss a good Penang curry and I'm excited for some spicy food again.

3. Being far away from family and friends back home- This one is pretty obvious, but there have been several times over the past two years where I have missed very big things back home because I was so far away, and that's hard. I'm so excited that little baby Mirk will be close to family back home.

2. Driving in Croatia- the fact that we made it out of here with only 1 minor accident in a roundabout is a true miracle. For one thing, I will not miss getting honked at if I take 2 seconds to press the accelerator after a light has turned green. I will not miss having people swerve into my lane or cut me off in the freeway. I will not miss having 4 lanes of ferry traffic, all merging onto the ferry at one time (ONE LANE AT A TIME! That's how it's supposed to be! The people who got in line first, get to get on the ferry first!) No, I will NOT miss driving here.

1. Feeling like an idiot- This is not to say that I won't feel like an idiot ever again, because after all, we know that's bound to happen. But being a foreigner is hard. And I have learned that back home I need to exhibit more grace to people who are not originally from America. It is hard to learn a new way of life, all of the rules, and the language. Even things like going to the grocery store can be a long process because you don't know if you're buying corn starch or grits or bread crumbs. I've tried to learn enough Croatian to get by, but it's still so very frustrating to not be able to communicate with people.

Top 10 things we WILL miss about living in Croatia:

10. Healthcare- Bottom line, we are having a baby because we lived in Croatia. The procedure that I had done here was ONE TENTH of the cost of what it would have been in the States. It would have been a huge financial stress for us to try this procedure, especially twice, back in Washington. But here, it was not even an issue.

9. Living in a city- I've never really lived in a city before. I'm definitely a country girl. But I've really enjoyed living in Zagreb for the past two years. I love the variety of things there are to do, the different restaurants and shops.  I don't know if I want to always live in a city (hence the move to Langley) but I've really liked living here.

8. Dolac Market- We have been spoiled by eating such fresh, homegrown fruits and veggies over the past two years. All I can say is that I need to get planting when I get home!

7. Our balcony- I really loved where we lived. It was up on the 6th floor (7 floors up) and looked out over the city. I loved looking over to the green of Maksimir and the red of the tiled roofs. Sam and I loved to eat, drink, and just plain be out there. And Lucy will definitely miss her little perch.

6. Teaching at a school with 11 or 17 kids- So I've really been spoiled in class size these past two years. Last year I had 11 students, this year 17. I cannot tell you the difference it makes to have a smaller class size. Less paperwork, less wrangling, and more personal relationships with each of my students. I can't imagine going back to 26 or 27. Ajoj.

5. Location, location, location- Europe is so small compared to the U.S. and we have really taken advantage of living so close to so many different countries. Over the past 2 years, we've visited 13 countries: Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Bosnia, Germany, Russia, Estonia, England, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Hungary.

4. Living in a different culture- This is something that I will and won't miss. I didn't like feeling like an idiot, but I really did enjoy living as a foreigner for awhile. It's so interesting to learn how another country functions, how it does things. I've loved learning about the different customs of Croatia, about the different regions, costumes, foods, and dialects. I feel really lucky to have been able to live and experience life here.

3. The cafe culture- Croatians know how to   s l o w   d o w n. When you go to meet for coffee, it isn't a quick chat while both of you are checking your iPhones constantly. It's a 2 or 3 hour session of talking, talking, talking, and sipping coffee. I love how they are able to take their tiny little cups of espresso and sip them for hours on end. I really wish that America would learn something from the Europeans in this aspect.

2. The coast- There are no words for how beautiful the coast of Croatia is. It's breathtakingly beautiful and will always remain one of my favorite places on earth.

1. Friends- When you are thrown into a new country, a new culture, a new job, you tend to make friends in a different way than back home. For one thing, we were very fortunate to have a staff at school who welcomed us. I know it must be hard for the locals who stay at the school and see people come and go every 2 years. They didn't have to open up and let us in, but they did and I'm so very thankful for that. We were lucky enough to find an amazing group of people who quickly became our Croatian family. Thanksgiving in Budapest and Vienna, girls' nights, trips to the coast, Head Trauma and Oliver Twist, dinner at each other's houses, watching and rooting for various soccer teams on Tkalčićeva, crying together, and laughing so hard we're crying together. It's hard to believe I've only known them for 2 years, but I know they will be lifelong friends. Even if we are going to be scattered across 4 continents next year. I'm so very thankful to have met them, gotten to know them, and shared this experience with them. It is definitely what I will miss the most.
Our last night

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tallinn with Middle Schoolers

Once again, Sam and I had the privilege of taking a group of middle schoolers to the CEESA Cultural Arts Festival this spring. Last year it was in Moscow, this year it was in Tallinn, Estonia. This trip also fell exactly 3 days after our trip to Paris. As you may have read in my previous post, I was still getting used to this whole pregnancy thing. So I was pretty nervous about how I would do at this point, taking 6 middle schoolers to another country. It's pretty nerve wracking to be in charge of other people's children, especially when you are taking them across borders, through airports, and in airplanes.

This year we had a group of 6 boys, 3 from 6th grade, 3 from 7th grade. And they were just lovely. I mean you really couldn't ask for a better group of kids to take. The festival involved taking a tour of the Estonian film museum, learning how to do stop motion films, and a tour of an air and sea museum.

The task this year was to make a stop motion film. The kids worked so hard, creating a script, making the backdrops, creating the characters. And the end product is just hilarious, at least if you understand "The Shining" references. For some reason, a few kids were really into that movie at the time, so there are a lot of references to it. Here's the link to watch the stop motion film.

It's really a great experience, for the supervisors and the kids. The kids get to stay with host families and do all kinds of fun activities. We were able to go out to dinner a couple of times with the other supervisors from the other schools: Sofia, Budapest, Moscow, Helsinki, and Warsaw. The traditional Estonian meal included deep fried cheese balls as well as pig ears. And yes, even as a queasy pregnant lady, I tried a bite of pig ears. So now that I've tried them, I never have to do THAT again.

The trip turned out to be really fun. I didn't feel great, but was able to take some breaks throughout the day. It's another opportunity that I never would have expected, but am so grateful to have experienced.
Here's another video that Sam created of our trip.

 Oh, the roasted cinnamon almonds. What will I do without them???

Middle School boys. They just can't help it. :)

always a good idea

I'm tempted to say that I just can't believe that I didn't write about spring break trip to Paris, but really I can believe it. This spring has been crazy. Between applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs, finishing my ProTeach, finishing the school year, making it through the first trimester...the blog just took the back seat. So before we leave Europe, I feel I must write a little post about Paris.

We knew that this would be our "last trip in Europe," so the pressure was on. The choice was Spain or Paris. I really wanted to visit Spain, but Sam has always had a dream of spending one whole week in Paris, just wandering the streets. In the end, Paris was it. We booked our tickets in February and settled on a cute little place in Montmartre. The only catch was that it was on the 6th floor (read: 7 flights of stairs.) But that was okay, we're young, we're spry, why not?

Well obviously that was before I found out I was pregnant. It turns out that walking up 7 flights of stairs after touring Paris all day by foot while in your first trimester is a very. bad. idea. The Paris trip that I had pictured in my mind was not really the Paris trip that came to be. During this time, I was very nauseous, very tired, and my superhero power was the power of smell. Every smell in Paris was completely magnified. Yes, the boulangeries and patisseries smelled wonderful, but there was also the smell of urine, the subway, and various other unidentifiable yet gag-worthy smells. Also while pregnant, there are a variety of foods and drinks that are off limits. All that delicious French cheese? Only if it's not soft and for sure pasteurized. You'd like to go to coffee for a second time in the day? I'll have to have a decaf (which is pretty much pointless when you're spending $5 on a macchiato). 

So it wasn't exactly the trip I had imagined, but Paris is still Paris. We strolled along the Seine, went to the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay, and the Musee de l'Orangerie. We tried a new baguette every day and scrutinized the differences between each. We walked and walked and then walked some more and enjoyed living the Parisian lifestyle for a week.

Stairs, stairs, and more stairs
 Our view for the week
 Montmartre-near where we stayed

 Tuileries Garden

 Prego lady

 Sacre Couer

 Notre Dame

 View from the Louvre

 Musee D'Orsay

I thought Paris would be a good place to make the big announcement. :)
11 weeks

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mrkvica; How Our Mali Mirkovich Came To Be

When we decided to move to Croatia, the decision was made for a lot of reasons. We wanted to know more about where Sam's family had come from, we wanted the experience of living in another culture, we wanted the opportunity to travel. But for me, I wanted a break. I was teaching at a school that had kind of sucked the love of teaching out of me. I went through a year of heartbreaking fertility treatments and came out feeling like having our own biological child was not a possibility for us. I just wanted a break. 

So our first year here was a break from that reality. We didn't really talk about what we were going to do: fertility treatments, adoption, etc. We just traveled and ate and played and worked. But after that year was up, I was also getting closer to that big 3-0 birthday, the time where you reflect on your life and think about what's next. I can't say I really WANTED to go back to a fertility clinic because my previous experience was so awful, but I knew that if I really wanted a baby, I had to just get over it. So I began my research. I was fortunate enough to have someone here who had gone through the process of fertility treatments and who was willing to open up to me about her experiences. It's something that I've found can instantly draw people together. When you find someone else who has been in your shoes, who has had the exact same feelings and experienced the exact same things, it's extremely comforting. 

I made an appointment and Sam and I went to meet the doctor. I was a little nervous because I've heard that Croatian doctors don't necessarily have the kindest bedside manner. I was even more nervous when we went in his office, he told us to have a seat, I handed him my paperwork from my previous clinic and he proceeded to read over the paperwork in silence for what felt like forever. I remember looking over at Sam and having to stifle my nervous laughter. But eventually, he looked up and started talking to us, wanting to know more about why these 2 Americans were sitting in his office. We explained Sam's history and the fact that we worked at the American International School. It turns out that his daughter had just started at our school. He also told us how both of his parents were professors and how he knew that teachers don't get paid a lot of money. So right away, he said he'd like to give us a 50% discount on our medical treatment. I was floored. This could not be more different than our previous experience! My last appointment at the clinic in Bellevue included going over a flier with a Dr. showing how they had a "Buy 2, get the 3rd treatment free" deal going on for their $28,000 IVF treatment. I had a good feeling about this doctor.

He did not agree with a lot of the findings of my previous clinic and wanted to run more tests. In the end, he thought that we should begin by trying an IUI procedure (for the sake of those not wanting the gory details, I'll let you Google that one yourself). I asked him how much the procedure would cost and he said (and I quote), "You'll have to ask the front desk. I really don't know what it costs." Again...this was not the Bellevue clinic. 

So at the end of November, I had the procedure done. It was harmless and I was feeling overwhelmingly hopeful that it was going to work. On December 14th, I took a pregnancy test. It was negative. That day, we went to Graz, Austria to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary. I remember going to work on Monday and barely keeping it together. I, of course, had told my friends that we were doing the procedure and they were all hoping for the best with me. I have a hard time deciding if it's better to tell people or not when you're going through something like that. The support is of course wonderful, but when it doesn't work, you feel like you've failed and now you have to go tell everyone that you failed. I know that's probably not rational, but that's honestly how I felt. 

We went back to Washington for Christmas a week later. I remember standing in the bedroom in my parents' house, where they kept the crib for my brother and sister-in-law when they visit. My mom cried with me and prayed that when I came home in the summer that I would have a little baby belly.

At the beginning of February, I went back into the Dr. He wanted me to try another round, this time with fertility medicine and then an ITI procedure (again, feel free to Google.) So I started taking pills and giving myself injections everyday. On February 15th, I went in for the procedure. This one did hurt, but only shortly and probably because I just wasn't expecting it. Again, I was sent home to wait. I really must say at this point that I am where I am right now because I pray. I pray a lot. And during that time, I was no longer begging and pleading for a baby. I used to pray for just what I wanted. But now I know it's more about having a change of heart. Knowing that God's plan is perfect and my plan is not. I was honestly, finally at the point that I was saying, Lord if this is your will for this to happen now, I pray that it would happen. And if not, please help me to know what to do next. 

On March 1st, I woke Sam up so he could come check the pregnancy test with me. When I first looked at it, all I saw was a big fat - .  But Sam said he really thought there was a faint second line. We looked at that test from every possible angle, trying to decipher what it meant. So I called my Dr. and he sent me to Petrova Hospital to get a blood sample done. We went into the hospital and said we were here for a blood test. They told us that they don't do blood tests on Saturdays and that we'd have to come back. I started feeling a bit frantic. We asked someone else who was waiting if they spoke English, and they tried to talk to the nurse. She still said no. So then I said, "Dr. Simunic sent me." "Oh!" she exclaimed, "Come with me!" He's a pretty big deal (you can Google him, too if you'd like).  One of the strange things that you need to do in Croatia is sometimes you have to take your blood sample with you to other buildings. So there I was with my vile of blood, walking over to the building next door. I dropped it off and they said it would be about an hour.

Sam and I walked down to Kvaternikov Trg, bought some daffodils and tulips and had a coffee. When we got home, I received a text message from my doctor. It said, "It is positive. 75 what is good. Hope it will be OK." Um, I really needed something a bit more concrete, so I wrote back, "What does 75 mean?" He wrote, "You are pregnant." Well, that's good enough for me!

I was excited, but also cautious. I had been in this place before, 4 times. I knew that a positive on a pregnancy test did not equal a baby. But nevertheless, I couldn't help but be hopeful. I called my parents (in the middle of the night) and my sister. I waited a little longer to call my brother, since they have 3 little kids and I knew I didn't want to be the reason to wake them in the middle of the night. That night, I made a mushroom risotto from Shauna Niequist's, "Bread and Wine," book. She also dealt with infertility and it seemed like the perfect dinner to celebrate the occasion.

I don't really know why it took us 5 years to get to this point. And it definitely didn't seem worth it, while I was in the midst of the muck of it all. But somehow, when you get to the other side and are able to look back, you see things that weren't clear at the time. When we first started trying to have kids, I really don't think that Sam was 100% ready. He still wanted to travel, he still wanted to have freedom, and it really wasn't the best time for both of us. I also know that if things would have happened according to my plan, we wouldn't have moved to Croatia, wouldn't have travelled so many places, and wouldn't have met the people who will now be life-long friends. Sam and I are lucky that we've had each other for the past 10 years. We have grown closer, know each other better, and have lived out an adventurous life together. And really, sometimes waiting makes it that much sweeter. I don't take any day for granted. I thank God every time I feel that little baby kick me and every time we go to the Dr. and he says everything looks good. I know that this is not a given. That not everyone gets to experience this. And for that, my heart overflows with joy.
Mali Mrkvica in front of the family Mirkovich house in Veli Rat, Dugi Otok

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Adventures: Rovinj, Oslo, Sarajevo, Budapest, and Amsterdam

I suppose 6 months is long enough. Somehow this year has just been flying by. And instead of everything feeling new and blog-worthy, we've developed a kind of rhythm that makes living in Croatia feel normal. We know enough of the language to get by, we've developed a tough skin, and we're (more or less) used to being the dumb Americans. But as I look at the calendar, I'm realizing what a short time we still have here. We'll be packing up and heading back to the States in July, not sure where exactly we'll land but I trust that God has that part figured out for us.

So now I think it's time to look back at some of the highlights of our year so far (and by year, I mean school year because my years are measured from August to July.)

For my birthday my friends Christie, Kelly, Nikki, Kate, and Andrea (also celebrating her 30th birthday) planned a weekend trip to one of my favorite coastal towns, Rovinj. The first night, Christie surprised both Andrea and I with Chinese lanterns to set off over the Adriatic. Later that night, Kate made a pumpkin pie (my favorite and also very difficult to make in Croatia since you can't find all the ingredients). We spent the rest of the weekend soaking up the September sun.
 Kate, Kelly, and Christie
 Nikki, me, and Andrea-about to enjoy some mussels!
 Andrea setting off her magical 30th birthday lantern
 Me setting off my lantern
 Cheesy family portrait
 Workin' it
I love this picture. :)
For my 30th birthday, Sam told me to pack my bags and my passport. I had no idea where I was going. We woke up, had coffee and croissants and got in the car. Instead of taking the exit to the Zagreb airport, we kept driving towards to coast. We drove to the island of Krk and arrived at the Rijeka airport. I boarded the plane, still not sure of exactly where I was going. Once we were airborne, the flight attendant informed us that we were headed to Oslo, Norway. Norway was never a place that I'd considered going to, which was why it was such a great choice.

 Oslo Opera House

We stayed in a tiny apartment that Sam found on Airbnb. We wandered through the old parts of town, as well as the modern part, right along the water. I was surprised by how diverse Oslo was. Different types of architecture, different cultures. I guess I didn't really even have a picture in my head of what Oslo would look like. I kept looking around thinking, "So this is Norway."

The one thing that we were completely unaware of was how expensive everything would be. I guess it was named the most expensive city in the world for several years in a row. By expensive I mean it was $10 for a tall white chocolate mocha from Starbucks. $20 for a Whopper from Burger King. Needless to say, we bought a lot of Top Ramen at the shop around the corner and cooked it in our kitchen.

I love surprises and this one definitely takes the cake. I never imagined that I would be on a plane to an unknown destination on my 30th birthday. It's an amazing memory and I'm so thankful to Sam for making it happen.

I remember watching stories about Sarajevo on the news when I was in elementary school. When we decided to move to Croatia, we learned more about the war and of course about the fighting in Sarajevo. We felt like it was something that we needed to see, to better understand what the people in the former Yugoslavia went through. When you are in the outskirts of the town, the damage is still widely visible. The buildings are covered in holes from mortar shells.
 Sarajevo is a really interesting mix of Austro-Hungarian architecture as well as an influence from the Ottoman Empire. It's east meets west. 
 Memorial for the children killed in the war

 Latin Bridge
 The best ćevapčići is in Sarajevo. 

I was surprised by how much I loved this city. The people there were so strong and kind. We had a conversation with a woman who worked at Čajdžinica Džirlo (a tea shop). She was talking about how the war affected everyone who lived in Sarajevo. She said that people are joyful and thankful here because they know what it used to be like and they're thankful for what they have today.

We also took a walking tour led by a graduate student. He was in elementary school during the war. As he walked us through the city, he stopped and told stories of how his mom had to run down the street to get to work everyday, scared of sniper bullets. He talked about how much he hated the food that was provided by the UN.  He pointed out where the bombs went off and explained how many people were killed.

Sarajevo Rose-holes left behind by 
mortar shells were filled in with red 
resin as memorials throughout the city.

Sarajevo is beautiful, hopeful, with a past that can't be overlooked. That trip holds a very special place in my memory.

Another year, another Croatian family Thanksgiving! Our friends Kelly, Kate, Ian, and Christie all took the 5 hour train ride to Budapest, Hungary. We rented a house and enjoyed our long weekend. We had ribs for Thanksgiving dinner and continued our tradition of going around the table and saying what we were thankful for. We walked through the flat side of Pest and the hilly side of Buda. We visited the Christmas markets and went on a couple of walking tours. On our final day, Sam and I took a bus to Szechenyi Baths. After the awkwardness of figuring out how the lockers worked and realizing we didn't have enough cash for towels, it was very enjoyable.

On the train

 Just like last year!

Christmas Markets
Szechenyi Baths

Every year the Croatian schools have a break called "Ski Week" in February. Maybe it's just me, but by February, the last thing I want to do is spend a week in the snow! We decided to use some airline reward miles to book a trip to Amsterdam, a place that's been on Sam's list since I met him. We stayed in an apartment right on one of the canals. Once again, we trusted our walking tours app to guide us around the city. It feels a little like Venice with all of the canals, but the architecture is completely different.
 I loved all the house boats on the canals

 Everybody has a lock bridge now.

 When in Holland...

 For some reason, I just like this one better upside down.

A parking garage for bikes!

On our third day, we went to the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum. The Van Gogh museum was amazing. It told the whole story of his life. Being that he is Sam's favorite artist, it was a place he has always wanted to visit.

We also visited the Anne Frank House. We walked through the hidden passageway behind the bookcase where they lived for over 2 years. We got to walk through each of their rooms and see the pictures that Anne had glued on the wall. Finally we saw their papers that admitted them to the concentration camp and heard stories of how Anne died of Typhus just weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops. Inside the house, you could hear the church bells that Anne talks about in her diary. What a surreal experience.

In between all of these trips, we have actually been working. :) I have a class of 17, 11 of them boys and they definitely keep me on my toes. And Sam continues to amaze as an art teacher. We've continued to make great memories with the people that we work with. I know that we'll always look back at this time on our lives and remember just how wonderful it was.