Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jolly Ol’ England

I have a confession to make.  I’ve never had a strong desire to go to England.  I love Jane Austen.  I love British accents.  I love a good spot o' tea and a crumpet.  But for whatever reason, it’s never been high on my list of places to travel.  Perhaps because I thought it would be too much like home.  Luckily for me, I got to go to England when all I wanted was a place that feels like home. 

Sam got the opportunity to go to an IB conference in Oxford.  The backstory to that is that he was originally going to go to a conference in the middle of Arizona during the last week that we were supposed to be in Yakima.  My always-optimistic hubby thought it would be perfectly feasible for me to finish work, pack up the house in 2 days, finish painting our garage, and have us all moved out before he took off for a week, returning a day before we needed to be out of our house.  Somehow I was able to talk him out of this idea, gently reminding him that he is not always the best judge of how long things will take. 

So when we got to AISZ, he got signed up for a conference in Oxford for four days.  And as luck would have it, it was during a four-day weekend so I got to go, too!  By this point in October, I was feeling pretty homesick.  I missed family and friends.  I missed the simplicity of being able to speak the language.  And I wanted to have a pumpkin spice latte and some spicy food (not necessarily together, but hey, I’m not picky!)

So on Halloween (after dressing up like Mary Poppins for school that morning) we headed to the Zagreb airport.  I am usually a terrified flier, dreading it for days, sometimes weeks in advance.  But for whatever reason, I was not terrified.  It was only a 2 hour trip and we had rented Blue Like Jazz for the journey.  Any plane ride that lasts the length of a movie is pretty much perfect in my opinion. 

We landed at Heathrow and read the wonderful signs in ENGLISH to find our way to the bus.  We picked up our first English newspaper in four months.  We chatted with the bus driver.  We felt like we were eavesdropping on everyone around us because we could actually understand what they were saying! 

That night, Sam had to go immediately to his welcome dinner for his training.  So I decided to wander down the street in search of spice.  I found a little Chinese restaurant and located “Mouthwatering Chicken” on the menu.  Yes, please.  It had chili oil, peanuts, cilantro, coriander and sesame sauce.  So.  Good.  I love the food in Croatia, but there’s not a lot of variety.  So having something so different than what I’d been having for the last four months was a real treat.

The next day I got to just wander around Oxford.  It’s a fairytale city. You feel like it can’t be real.  It’s that amazing.  It’s small enough that you can do everything on foot, but yet there’s plenty to see and do.  Churches, all the colleges, shops, pubs, coffee and tea houses.  It was the first time in my whole life that I'd wandered around an unfamiliar city by myself.  Thankfully I got to spend some of the time with my traveling buddy.  Sam had a little time after his trainings for me to drag him around to some of the sights.

 I love traveling in fall.

 First Starbucks in four months!

After three blissful days in Oxford, we took the bus back to London.  The first night, we took the tube into the city to see the Tower Bridge and Big Ben lit up at night.  The next morning, we had about 6 hours in London before we had to leave.  In typical London fashion, it poured.  I mean umbrella-getting-turned-inside-out-Sam’s-pants-soaked-up-to-his-knees kind of pouring.  We got about a half an hour of sun break.  We kept saying, “This is romantic…Right?”  It was a fast and furious tour, but I think we saw a lot of the important sights.

 Just a little puddle.

What I loved about this trip (among other things) was that it was the perfect time for a break from Zagreb.  I mean, I love it here.  But things are just a little harder and take a little longer and it gets tiring sometimes.  We’d been having car trouble (meaning our AMERICAN car wasn’t working.  We had to buy parts in the U.S., have them shipped here, and had to pay ridiculous taxes on them.)  We were feeling a little overwhelmed by having so many things out of our control.  It’s also about the time where the “honeymoon” faze of living overseas is over.  Instead of feeling like it’s an adventure, you start to just feel frustrated by the fact that simple things are complicated.  But then you get an opportunity to take a weekend trip to England and suddenly, it’s an adventure again!

If I would have come to England at any other time I would not have appreciated it in the same way.  I would not have noticed how friendly the people were, how wonderful the food was, how speaking  in English to strangers can be a delight, or just how good cheddar cheese can be.   

And for that, I am thankful for jolly ol’ England.  


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sime From the States…(Sime [she-may] is My Croatian Name)

After I found out that I got the job teaching in Croatia, I searched the Internet (to the point of obsession) to find all the information I could about the new city I was about to move to. One thing that I wanted to do was to expand outside my American School community and American home life and force myself into Croatian culture. I wanted to hear the language in context with real people so that I could learn more of it.  So when I came across the Zagreb Baseball Klub on the Internet, I translated the page through a Google app.  I jumped at the chance to know more. I started a correspondence with the president of the Klub through email. We sent many emails back and forth and I gave him the date of our arrival in Zagreb. 
So the day after our extremely long flight, I got an email saying that we should meet so that he could show me the field.  I struggled through trying to pronounce the street names and he eventually picked me up close to our hotel.  I got into the car with a man I had only communicated with on the Internet, driving through a town that was completely foreign and unfamiliar.  I thought to myself, how did I get here?  We made very short small talk, with his limited English and my limited Croatian. 15 minutes later we were at the field. I didn’t have cleats, a hat, or baseball pants with me. So I showed up with only a glove.  I was thinking to myself that I was far from being the lean college athlete that I was ten years ago. Now I’m balding and a bit overweight wondering if I had something worth giving.  There were about 4 players on the field warming up for practice, if you can call that enough for a practice.  The players were coach Mario Manojlov and Dino Kondic and two high school aged players, whose names I can’t remember. Croatian names are generally tough to pronounce and are not commonly used in America.

Mario Monjlov (player coach) 
Dino Kondic (catcher)

So there I was, throwing some pitches to Dino, the 21-year-old catcher, in their over-grown grassy bullpen. It felt like an abandoned sandbox.  The bullpen grass was up to my knees in some spots.  There was a large hole in front of the rubber about 5 inches deep. The dirt hole looked like it hadn’t been replaced for years. Imagine a small baseball stadium being built in the mid 90’s and then fast-forward to the present day with literally no maintenance being done by the city or anything.  The only ones that actually taking care of it are the players who also have full time jobs. 
Besides my surroundings, I felt okay with my pitching. My location was a little off, but I was close to the plate with most of my pitches. I thought it would just take a little fine-tuning and a couple more bullpens to find my placement.  I asked Dino how I did and he said “good” with no real emotion on his face.  Croatians in general are very hard to read. So with no measuring stick to compare myself to, I left the field with a lot questions still unanswered. Were they going to accept me as an American? Would I have enough talent to compete with these guys?  Would somebody be upset if I took their position? All these questions had to wait because I left on a three-week vacation to the Dalmatian coast.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lost in Translation

Sometimes you have crazy ideas like, “I’m going to try this new recipe!  In Croatia!  Even though I don’t own a measurement utensil or know what most things mean when I’m walking through the grocery store!”  But you try it anyway.  So you go to the store feeling optimistic.  Bread, penne pasta, garlic, you’ve got this!  But then you get to things like shallots.  Nope, not going to find those at Konzum.  So you substitute white onions.   Basil?  Heavens no!  Good thing you bought a tiny little plant a month ago that’s barely surviving on your balcony!  The recipe calls for 20 leaves, but you know that 6 will do just fine.  Heavy cream…probably not the one that looks like whipping cream.  Butter…it kind of looks familiar, although it’s not sectioned into tablespoons like you’re used to.  Canned tomatoes…look for a can with the corresponding picture.  Easy!  Then comes chicken stock.  Hmmm…Find something on the bottom of the shelf with a picture of a chicken and picture of soup!  This looks promising! 

You get home, unpack your loot, turn on some music, pour some wine and you’re off!  Olive oil in the pan, PLUS a tablespoon of butter.  This recipe must be good!  Do your best estimate of a tablespoon, since it’s just a block of butter.  Mince garlic and white onions (which should have been shallots).  It smells delicious already!  Next, pour in some vodka.  Again, no measuring utensils, so just pour and count for 3 seconds.  Next, open the tomatoes.  Not exactly diced, more like stewed, but pour that baby in anyways because you’re too far in it to turn back!  Open up what you thought was chicken stock and instead find persin-kokosja kocka…translation “parsley-hen cook.”  Close enough!  Let simmer.  Cook penne pasta (this is the first step that is not in any way complicated.)  Next, pour in a “half a cup” (or several good glugs) of what you hope is cooking cream.  Drain pasta, pour in the sauce, sprinkle your 6 chopped basil leaves on top, and there you have it!  Your adventurous self has just tried a brand new, pretty tasty meal! 

This is what it’s like to live in Croatia.  Not always easy, but almost always a good story to go with everything you try.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Day in the (Working Life) -Katie's Post

7:30-7:50-Walk up to the gate.  Press buzzer so Tomislav can let us in.  Walk by; “Bok,”  “Bok.”  Straight to my room to get my AISZ coffee mug and AISZ water bottle (I represent).  Head to the conference room for coffee.  Pay attention to the level of the coffee in the pot (our director is a little...particular about the coffee.)  Music is playing from the intercom.  Could be musicals or the Glee soundtrack or the Beatles or Joni Mitchell.
7:50-8:00-Bell rings and children slowly trickle in.  Check planners, say good morning, tell students to put backpacks away, etc.
8:00-8:15-Morning meeting-each student gets to share something.  It ranges from “I’m tired because I had to ride my bike up the big hill this morning,” to “Yesterday I got chased by a dog and almost got eaten alive,” to “None of the clothes that I’m wearing are mine.”  I have a pretty quirky group.  A lot gets brought up at these meetings. 
8:15- 9:00-Quick reading mini lesson, then I put on the classical music, students find a quiet place to read and I pull small groups or individuals to work on specific skills or strategies.  Probably my favorite part of the day.  :)
9:00-9:45-Quick writing mini lesson, followed by time for students to write, write, write.
10:00-10:30-Students go to foreign language while I correct homework.  I can actually check each problem since there are only ten of them!
10:30-11:40- Math.  It’s Everyday Math, so it’s pretty set up for me.
11:40-12:00-Word Work-students work on activities depending on what skill they need to work on for spelling.
12:00-12:50- Lunch and recess.  I get to share lunch with Sam.  <3 
12:50-1:35- Specialists: either music, P.E. or library.  I actually get time to plan for the next day!
1:35-2:00- Science or Social Studies.  Never taught social studies before.  It’s pretty amazing.  I get to alternate between social studies and science.  What a treat!
2:00-2:25-Read Aloud.  My second favorite part of the day.  We get to read a chapter book and I get to use the ideas that I learned from Sarah Collinge back home.  Love it!
2:25-3:00- Croatian Language or Culture:  More planning time for me! Maybe clean out my coffee mug so I’m ready for tomorrow.
3:00- Dismiss!
On Mondays I get to leave at 3:45.  Tuesdays we leave at 4:30 after meetings.  Wednesdays I do Gymstick with Christie-kind of a mix of pilates, aerobics and zumba.  It’s pretty interesting.  Thursdays we have our own Croatian language class which has been so, so helpful.  Fridays I do yoga.

 My Pinteresting project that took 3 tries.
 My bunting that was inspired by my dear cousin, Amy.
 My little troublemakers-They're inside of a polygon that they built with straws. 

And that’s a little look at my week!  Most of you won’t care, but my mother will be very happy I wrote this post.  :) 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thoughts on My Final Night of Being 28 (Katie's post)

Well saying that I'm not where I thought I would be would be an understatement.  Never would I have thought that I'd be spending my last night of being 28 in a 6th floor apartment in Zagreb, Croatia.  But here I am.  

These last few weeks have been difficult for many reasons.  School has been great in a lot of ways.  Smaller class sizes, more freedom, quirky kids, being able to have lunch with Sam every day, free coffee in the lounge. But it's also been a struggle.  I came from a school with such strict restrictions on how I could teach, when I would teach it, etc.  Whereas here, it's the complete opposite.  Almost too much.  I feel like I've been given freedom in my classroom and I'm not quite sure what to do with it.  It's an adjustment to start brand new in every subject area.  And just like any teaching job, no matter where you're at, you're still going to have kids who say, "I don't know anything about rocks," when you're trying to have them activate prior knowledge before launching a new science kit.  You'll still have kids who say they never got their homework until you look into the depths of their locker and find it crumpled up at the bottom.  You'll still have people telling you that you're not doing things right.  

It just is what it is...

But the biggest struggle came on September 6th.  I had just had a meeting with a parent when I got a message from my mom asking to call right away.  When I called she told my that my grandpa had passed away in his sleep. His death came as a shock.  His wife (my grandmother) died seven years ago.  But by the time she died, Alzheimer's had already taken the woman I knew and loved.  But my grandpa was still so "with it."  Thankfully, I saw him last July in Colorado Springs. He was frail and weak, but he was still very much him.  I don't know how to put him into words other than to say that he was just simply lovely, one of the best people I knew.  Losing him was hard, but losing him and being thousands of miles away was harder.  I wanted to be there for my mom during this time.  I wanted to cry and laugh with my family as we recalled memories that we shared of him.  Through Skype I was able to do some of this, but it wasn't the same.  

What has helped me stay together is the fact that I do feel at peace with our decision to be here.  I honestly feel like I am where I'm supposed to be, however hard it is at this moment.  

So on this last night of being 28, I'm reflecting on where I am right now.  I'm thankful for the many blessings God has given me.  A rich heritage of people that loved Him and loved each other.  The opportunity to experience a new culture and a new life overseas with my very best friend.  The distance to miss the life I had.  The realization that I need to fully live in the moment I'm in and not constantly wish for the past or the future.  

For this is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Meeting the Village (Veli Rat - Dugi Otok, Croatia) Part 1

The name “Kuzma”

            Over the years in my family I kept on hearing this random name of Kuzma. I never really looked into the name, like who the man was or what his story was.  I just kept on hearing the name in family conversations and never tried to place the connection of the name to my family.  After I married my wife and she became a part of those same circles, she noticed the name, too. Kuzma…It has a unique ring to it, doesn’t it?

            Facebook is an amazing tool in connecting family together. I have been connecting with distant relatives recently and it’s been fun connecting the pieces together.  One of these puzzle pieces is Sanja Valjin from Zadar, Croatia.  We started messaging one another back in February. We started putting the puzzle pieces together over emails. I made a family tree online while talking with my dad over the phone.  I sent Sanja the link, she talked to her mother and we found how our trees touched branches.  We were connected through “Kuzma” Mirkovich.  Sanja’s Grandfather’s brother is Kuzma, who married my Grandfather’s sister, Mary.  Her Grandfather’s other brother married my Grandfather’s other sister.  You need a family tree picture now, don’t you? They are all from the village of Veli Rat on the island of Dugi Otok in Croatia.

            So Sanja and I stayed in contact over the next couple of months leading up to our departure to Croatia. We decided that we should make an effort to connect our vacations together in Veli Rat.  She has a family house there and we rented an apartment across the bay.

            Before we met I was practicing introductions in my Croatian language lesson.  So I was prepping what I would say when we finally met in person. As her and her family came up to Katie and I at the Café, my mind went blank and English came out my mouth.  I was disappointed in myself but Sanja and her husband Davor spoke perfect English and made us feel at ease.  We talked about our blog, how we are related, when her family left the island, my families house on the island, our jobs, their jobs, and Apple products.  It was great fun getting to know our new friends.

            Later we walked to their family’s house, which was about 50 meters away and met Sanja’s mother and grandmother. They welcomed us into their house. We saw pictures of their family on their wall and noticed a familiar face.  It was a picture of Phyllis, another mutual family member who lives in the bay area. Phyllis is actually related to me by blood. That was a highlight of my day and made the connection with our two families very real. I just kept on saying “No way… No way… that’s Phyllis!”

We later took a walk to the family/community well,

my great grandfather’s house,

the village gardens on the hill, and my family’s individual garden. 

All of it was just amazing to me.  I tried to picture this village the way it once was. With no electricity, no running water, and 16 people packed into one house.  What it took to provide for your own family: fishing, gathering, farming, and harvesting. What did they trade for goods? What did they do in droughts?  When was it just too difficult to bare? When did they want to leave? What was it like when they heard about America for the first time? Who told them about America?  What was that thought process like… Was it spontaneous? Was it rushed?  Did they save every dime for the trip?  Had they planned it out for years?

            I correlated it to our decision to move to Zagreb.  All the thoughts I had to work through to take that jump. I think we were in two different shoes. Their story made my shoes look smaller and my jump shorter. I’m a 20 minute cab ride and a swipe of a credit card to fly back home to America.  They didn’t have the same luxury. Their decision was so much greater then mine.  Honestly I needed that comparison. It humbled me and moved me to a stronger place and peace of mind.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Remembering August (Katie's Post)

To be honest, I've gone back and forth on whether or not I should even write this blog post.  But what I've decided is that this blog is really a place to record our memories, our feelings at this particular point in our lives.  All of that to say, this topic is pretty personal but it's a part of who I am.  So, fair warning. 

August is a hard month for me.  Three years ago, Sam and I went on an incredible trip to Italy, Croatia, and Ireland.  The idea was that it was going to be a time to explore our roots and to see where our families came from before we started a family of our own.  We officially started "trying" that August.  After a year of trying, I finally got a positive on a home pregnancy test.  I immediately called the doctor and went in for a blood test.  The nurse came back and told me that it must have been a false positive.  I was not pregnant.

After that, we started looking into fertility clinics.  We came across a clinic in Bellevue, about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive away.  I went to the initial meeting with the doctor by myself.  I really had a good feeling about the place.  They seemed so nice and supportive.  I remember the doctor saying, "I should have you throwing up by Thanksgiving!"  Isn't that funny?  No.

Next came tests, blood work, all sorts of fun things.  The day after that visit, I was getting in my car to go home after work.  I checked my voicemail and had a message from one of the doctors at the clinic.  She said that my bloodwork showed that I was in fact, pregnant.  Let me tell you, not the way I pictured finding out that I was pregnant, but there it was.  Listening to a voicemail in my car, in the Adam's parking lot.  But something was off in my hormone levels, so there was concern that it might not "take."  I drove home, told Sam and started praying that everything would be fine. 

The next day on my lunch break, I went to get another blood test.  I was in a team meeting when I got the call from the doctor.  She said that the levels had gone down, which means it must have been a miscarriage.  I was crushed.  But I will never forget walking back into my team meeting; the way my team came alongside me and comforted me. 

Again, Sam and I drove back to Bellevue for more tests.  I really love Sufjan Stevens' album, "All Delighted People," but it will forever remind me of those drives back and forth from Bellevue. 

A couple months later, we drove to Seattle to take engagement pictures of Sam's cousin Tony and his fiance Amanda.  Once again, I got a call from the doctor.  I was pregnant.  I got off the phone, told Sam, called my parents, called my sister, called my brother, called friends.  I know you shouldn't tell people right away, but I didn't care.  I was so excited. I would be due right before Tony and Amanda's wedding.  The next day we went to the Seahawks game and told Sam's brothers.  Everyone was so happy for us.

They wanted me to come back in for more tests.  This time my mom went to Bellevue with me.  I got more bloodwork done, but they wanted me to wait to drive home until they had the results.  They thought there was a possibility that it was a tubal pregnancy.  I remember going across the street to World Trade Market, trying to occupy my mind while I waited.  Wandering aimlessly, wondering if everything was alright.  Then I got the call.  Apparently they figured out that I have a rare protein that looks like the pregnancy hormone on a blood test, when really I may not be pregnant at all.  In short, I was not, after all, pregnant.  They assured me that this only affects blood tests.  If I took a home pregnancy test, it would still be accurate.

So the next month, I kid you not, I got a positive on a home pregnancy test.  Are you seeing the pattern yet?  Again, I went in to get a blood test done, only to find out that I was not pregnant. 

I tried several months of fertility drugs with no success.  They said that my only option was IVF, which costs about $30,000 with no guarantee that it would work.  Yes, you read that correctly.  My salary for a year with no guarantee of a baby by the end of it.  But if you think that's bad, wait 'til you hear this!  They handed me a pamphlet that said "Buy 2 procedures, get the 3rd one free!"  What?  Am I buying candy bars?  Maybe they would get me throwing up by Thanksgiving.  I was disgusted.  And I was done.  I couldn't do it anymore. 

So we quit.  We tried to move on.  We tried to process the fact that we would most likely not be having a biological child.  It took me another year to even start thinking of any other options.

For some reason, I could not get excited about having a child through foster care or adoption.  I always thought that I would like to adopt.  But now that it might be my only option, I just couldn't accept it.  I didn't feel ready.  It didn't feel right. 

Two and half years after we started this whole process, we got offered jobs to teach in Croatia.  Now here's the thing.  Being 28, married for 7 years, I didn't picture myself childless, living overseas.  And yet, this is the door that was opened to me.  What I've come to realize is that you can't be so set in your own plans, that you don't see God's plan for your life. 

I don't know why we went through all of this.  Having this experience in Zagreb in no way makes everything better.  It's not running away from the problem.  It doesn't "fix" anything.  But it does allow me to realize that if I would have had a baby 3 years ago, I would not be here.  And for that reason, I have to believe that I am in this very spot right now for a reason. 

It might not be the life I imagined, but it might just be better.  

"Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around."  Proverbs 13:12