Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year in Review

Where did the time go? 365 days ago I was in Texas finishing up details for my sister's wedding. 365 days later here I am half a world away from Texas. This has been a different year than any I have had...ever. Here are some highlights.

*My sister, Britni, got married after a whirlwind engagement so I could be there. I stood by her side as her maid of honor and watched her marry a kind, loving, Christian man. She became also became a mother to 3 beautiful girls.

*Five days later with 15(+or-) suitcases, James and I and our girls boarded a plane bound for Krakow, Poland. We had never been to Poland but we uprooted our family to come and tell people about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We said goodbye to English and understanding signs, people, culture and most of all our friends and precious family for at least 3 years.

*We moved from an 1800sq ft home to just under 800sq ft apartment. How were we all going to fit? We have so much more space than we would have ever imagined. We live close to each other but comfortably. I have learned that I don't need as much as I though.

*We left our car, as a our primary form of transportation, and began using public trams and buses to get around. I love it! It is easy and convenient.

*I put my kids in Polish speaking schools...dropped them in and wished them luck. I have one that is just about fluent and has learned through play only.  I have one that has had a lot more struggles. She has struggled with having a lack of friends, different school environment than she has been used to as well as not knowing language. But she is a fighter and learning more each day.

*I have learned to shop for a week at a time...and sometimes a day or 2 at a time. My refrigerator and pantry are much smaller and the food does not have all the preservatives so I can't keep stuff for long periods of time.

*I am learning a foreign language...and one of the harder ones because of grammar rules that don't always make sense. We are do well. Each time I speak I feel like I get better. My understanding of others is growing too. I am not a good language learner based on my high school French and college Spanish classes so I was very anxious. But I am doing better than I hoped.

*We have learned that we can make it through big holidays without family and be ok. Of course we miss them desperately but we can make it.

*We have been to 3 countries, 2 of which we have never been too and left our kids in Poland while we went. Czech Republic, Italy and Belgium.

*We have made new friends that have become like family. We really understand each other when our friends and family don't understand why we would pack up and leave with our children and move to a foreign country.

*We have had the opportunity for each of our parents to come for a visit. What a precious time each of those 3 visits have been for us. We were able to show them around Krakow and show them what we are doing.

*We have had some low points but also high points in our marriage this year. Depending on only us can be hard sometimes but we are stronger.

*I swore when I left last year that I would not lose touch with American culture...movies, tv shows, news, music. WOW!!! It only took a year and I am out of the loop. I have no idea what new shows are on. When we have the opportunity to go to a movie, I don't even know what the movies are. Haha!

*I have learned that a whole country can shut down for holidays...for even a couple days at a time and the economy will still go on. You can take 2 weeks or even a month for vacation and your company will still keep running.

*Finally, the biggest thing of this year is that God is faithful. When I was 9 years old at GA camp and felt the calling to be a missionary people told me I was young. Then in high school I continued to feel that calling and then I married James who also felt the same calling. Finally this year after 21 years, God fulfilled that calling. There is no other place I would rather be than in the center of His will.

Next year is full of more changes. We will continue to push on in learning Polish. My grandparents are able to come and visit in February. In March and June we have 2 youth teams coming from Texas to do mission work. James and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary. We have always said we wanted to go back to Austria for 10th anniversary. Little did we know we would be so close. We will be taking the girls with us this time and are looking forward to it. But the biggest event is we will be transitioning to our permanent city in the summer. James will be the team leader for a brand new team in NW Poland. We are very excited and anxious at the same time. We have made some contacts and are ready to get started.

2011 was full of first and I am looking forward to 2012 and that God has in store for us.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Polish Christmas Traditions

In Poland, Christmas eve is the big celebration evening. Families spend all day cooking and then eat that night and open gifts. Get this...they have TWELVE dishes!!! I thought I might try and do but as I was reading what all it was I decided it would be wasted on my family. Too much cabbage and mushrooms. So I decided to spend the day making set with meat and the other with potatoes and cheese...and tomato soup. Ella helped me make the perogi. I meant to take pictures of us but I didn't. Oh well, no memories. LOL

We then did another Polish Christmas tradition. They have things called opłatki. Basically they are very think wafers...I would describe their taste as similar to that of very thin styrofoam haha. But you each have one and you break a piece of and share with each other and give a wish or blessing for the other person. So we all shared and gave a wish for each person for the next year. I LOVED doing this and we will do it each year for sure. It was so special. I think as the girls get older they will understand how to give wishes more than...I hope you have a good time in Heaven when you go. Thank you Ella. Hahaha!

James sharing with Macie

Ella sharing with James

Then James read the Christmas story from Luke 2. Macie made mention of how it is the same as what was in Charlie Brown. Imagine that!

Finally on Christmas day we watched The Nativity Story and then had a birthday cake and sang happy birthday to Jesus. Unfortunately Ella had been sick and throwing up so she did not participate in this part. Not a fun way to spend Christmas.

Again, it was a different Christmas but it was good to be with our family. We had a fun day!!!

A New Christmas

I have had many people ask if we will stay here for Christmas...Polish people mainly. I thought I was fine staying here...and we did ok...but it never felt like Christmas. I missed hanging out with family more than I expected to. I honestly thought it would be so nice to stay at home with just my little family and not feel pressure for 3 sides of family to spend time equally with each of them. Well I was not as correct as I thought. I missed hanging out with my mom's side on Christmas eve having baked potatoes and spending time together with all my aunts, uncles and cousins. (And this year it was at my sister's and that would have been a lot of fun.) I missed opening Christmas presents and hanging out with my dad and playing with our silly toys they always get us. (We did get to do that earlier this month and it was a lot of fun but not the same without my sister.) But what I  missed most, was spending the night at James's sister's house. A few years ago we began going over there after Christmas eve with my family and would spend the night and do Santa in the morning with her kids. Having 6-8 cousins (depending on if Nicole and Pam were there) was beyond fun. The kids had so much fun together. We got over there late every year but the girls got to decorate cookies for Santa and sprinkle glittered oats on the front yard and leave carrots for the reindeer. We then had to get them all snug in their beds and asleep and then spent hours assembling toys and stockings. We would crawl into bed around 2am only to be awakened around 7am by excited children!!! My tradition is to give Christmas pjs on Christmas eve that were generally matching...although the older they have gotten I have gotten away from matching. We would then take pics on the stairs with all the kids. It was so much fun. This year we missed that. And reality hit that the next time we are able to be all together there is a chance that no one will "really" believe in Santa. Macie is the youngest and she will be 8.  :(  We did some new traditions that I will post about but here are some pictures of our Christmas Eve/Day. 
Christmas PJs

Christmas Morning 

Santa comes to Poland on December 6th so he had already come. However, we had little elves that came to visit after that. So Hania and Snowflake left small gifts for the girls for being good.

James and I found these coats in Brussels. They are so warm

We started the girls on their first Polish pottery set. Ella's is more green with little bees on it. Macie's has cute butterflies on it. 

Aunt Boo sent cute Reef slippers for the girls 

I walked into my bedroom and found Macie playing with her jewelry box and all the jewelry from Nonny and Poppa. All in all it was a different Christmas but it was good.

Cooking Class

We have a new married couple on our team. They are doing an amazing job! Traci has been having a cooking class once a month at her apartment. I was finally able to go to one a couple weeks ago. We made twice baked potatoes and chocolate/white chocolate dipped stuff. That was all fun, but the most fun to me was being able to visit with college girls that were from various countries. Including Becca, Traci and myself, we had people from the USA, Poland, Germany, the Ukraine and Greece. But everyone spoke English...probably better than I will EVER speak Polish. We had great conversations. I am planning to go more often. Here are a few pics. 

Becca giving instructions on how to make the potatoes.

I was cracking up because the girls were all anxious about using the electric mixer.

Mmm....Chocolate covered wafers, "doritos," fruit, pretzels, and marshmallows. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

I know I know...I am a little slow. This semester has been crazy busy. By the time evening hits and bedtime for the girls is over, I am too mentally exhausted to sit and blog. I digress. So Thanksgiving was a bit different this year...obviously. I missed hanging out with our families and of course Black Friday shopping in the middle of the night with my sister. But hey, different isn't always bad. So we were invited to spend Thanksgiving with the northern Poland teams. It was an amazing blessing! I am glad we were able to have a change of scenery for this holiday. I think it made it a lot less emotional. The Saturday before was a meeting with our youth at church and so we prepared an American Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. It was a huge hit. Here are a few pics from the week.

Reading with dad on the train

When you get to miss 2 days of school, you have to pay the price with homework!

Aunt Bev is great with kids. She had 2 great crafts ready for them.

I love this turkey. They made it with a pineapple.
This was a HUGE turkey. The pic does not do justice.

We LOVE Megan!
Sweet girl singing hymns!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Different is Different (part 2)

(I meant to have this finished sooner but happened!)

Ella's School...I am so glad that Ella spent a couple years in American schools because it gave her a basis for education. However, it also has worked against us in Polish schools in some ways but there are also things I like better. Ella is currently in a private Christian school here. The director (principal) is precious. (Imagine a cross between Mrs. Doubtfire and Julia Childs.) She loves the Lord and started this school about 6 year ago. Ella has 2 teachers. Her main teacher, Pani Agnieszka, is super sweet, and there is an aid who sits with Ella, Kaleb (another MK) and Igor who is autistic. She is so patient with them. Ella adores her! She also spend an hour a day M-Th with Ella teaching her Polish.

Pros: I love that here the teachers stay with the same students for 1-3 class. Ella has the same teachers she had last year and if we were staying, she would have them again next year. I love that her class size is smaller...mainly because we are in a private school setting. She has 15 in her class and it may one of the biggest if not the biggest in her class. I love that they still play dodge ball and the kids can be kids. There isn't a lot of concern for them as far as ultra protecting them or anything goes. Like we were up there a couple weeks ago and the girls were jumping the corridor of course...and then the boys got the ropes and were laying on the ground holding one end while their buddy was pulling them across the floor. I actually saw one get pulled into a wall. But hey, they were having a blast! I love that kids seem to get to be kids longer. A 7 or 8 year old seems young still here. I love that after school classes there is a class called (I don't know how to spell it so I am going to spell how it sounds) SHFIET-LEETSA. This is a class where the kids go when they are done with school but parents haven't come to get them yet. They are supposed to do their homework in this time...Ella hasn't grasped this concept yet. I love that their classes are 45min each and then there is a 10 min break to run around before the next one starts.

Not so much pros: (Negatives sounds so...negative) There is such a lack of structure in the school. Oh my! I am sure the kids love it but it is stressful to me and I think to Ella too...although I am not sure she could put it into words. Her main teacher comes to school only during the time of the classes she teaches. Only on Fridays is she there for the first class of the day and she is never there until the end of the school day. We have language everyday and this prevents me from being able to see her teacher and connect. Apparently in Poland, though, this is normal. No one else seems concerned about not seeing the teacher. I am just used to seeing Ella's teachers when I drop her off and when I pick her up. I am able to ask questions about progress and behavior and other activities going on. This has been the hardest thing for me to deal with. And Ella's lack of language along with a strong lack of focus warrants a need to meet with the teachers more my opinion. But this is life right now. Homework is also different. A few weeks ago, her teacher was having them all do catch up work (finish all the pages in 3 different work books) after they had taken the test over these books. HW is for us is not like HW in the states. HW includes Google translate and a lot of thinking. She spent 2-5 hours a night on work and would not finish everything. It is exhausting on Mommy and Daddy...who still have their own HW to do when the girls go to bed. The good thing is that Ella is good at math and math is a universal language. It may be taught differently, but 1+1 always equals 2 no matter what language you use. I like math homework.

Running and playing in the halls

This is Ella's classroom. 
These are just a few differences we have...again, not necessarily bad just different.

Different is Different...Not Necessarily Bad

Several months ago I started doing a couple of posts about the differences in Poland vs. America. The differences are definitely there but either I am getting more accustomed to them after almost 11 months, or they really aren't as drastic as you would think. I think it's a little of both. There is one thing, though, that is obviously different here and I have NOT become accustomed to is the school system.

I have written in the past about how much I really like the girls' schools...especially Macie's. I will start with hers. So she is in preschool. She is doing so well and LOVES it. Her school is Monday through Friday from 8:00am until 4:00pm. Now the teachers want you to have your kids there by 9:00 so they can be there in time for second breakfast. What? They would like you there by 9? I thought it starts at 8? Well this year, her teacher asked that we would have our kids there by 8:30 so they can have some play time before structured time begins at 9:00. Macie has moved upstairs with the "big kids" this year and there is a shift in the age for starting school next year so they are trying to have them all ready to go to first class next fall.

Another difference. In the States, you start school based on your age generally before September 1st or sometimes October 1st. Here, it is based on the age you turn in a calendar year. So if you are going to turn 7 this year, you will be in 1st class. So if your birthday is in December and you will be 7 then you would start 1st class. If your birthday was in January and you turned 7, then you would start 1st class in September. That isn't necessarily a big deal when you are 7 but for some of the kids in the pre-k, you can tell a big difference in in the 3 year old class, there are kids starting who haven't yet turned 3 and they seem so little! Ok so enough with that.

In the past couple of years, the schools have slowly started shifting back a year to start first class at 6 instead of 7. It has been in Ella's class last year there were 6 and 7 year olds because some parents opted to move their child ahead. Next school year, however, all kids turning 6 (in the calendar year) will start first class. So Macie will be pushed in with this change. It will also mean a potential for HUGE classes because there will still be kids who opted not to start this year that are 7 starting along side of the 6 yr olds that must start. Does this make sense? It also means that Macie will skip zero class (kind of like kindergarten). She will go straight to first class. So because Ella started at Poland's old normal age of 7 for first class and Macie will start at the new age of 6 they will be only 2 years apart in school here. In America, they would have been 4 years apart because Macie was a September baby and just missed the cut off. Ok, enough rambling.

Macie school takes field trips ALL the time. They go to the museum, the Filharmonia...a big concert hall thing...theaters and take walks almost everyday. We see small kids out all the time with their classes all over Krakow. It cracks us up! And we don't have to sign permission slips for all of this. She also has swimming once a week and they take her by bus to the other side of town...quite a distance...for this. I am not sure if there are seat belts on the bus or not. It isn't the newest bus so I am going to guess no.

They also have people come to school and have in house field trips. She has had authors come and read books to the kids and then give them autographed copies. They have had a man do marionette puppet know the puppets on strings. They have had people come and talk about skiing safety and animal safety. I love it!

As far as lunch goes, we can send her lunch with her. (We have to send 2nd breakfast.) Or we can order it from the school. I think at the beginning we weren't going to order it but it was getting lost in translation and she kept getting it. AND SHE ATE IT!!! This is not school food...hamburgers, french fries, pizza, steak fingers and mashed potatoes. This is regular Polish food. She gets soup each day (red beet, cucumber, tomato, mushroom) and then a main meal of fish and potatoes or pasta and sauce or pierogi and cabbage salad, for example. She has become an amazing eater as a result. So it is worth the $40 a month (eek!) for her to eat at school. that is her school. My post got too long. I will do Ella's school separately.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Happy Polish Independence Day/American Veterans Day/Really Cool Date Day!!!!

I love that, as an American living in Poland, I get to celebrate 2 special holidays on the same day. Veterans Day in America is a day for us to reflect on the soldiers who have fought for our country and continue to fight for our country. They are a HUGE reason that we have freedom in so many areas. Having an uncle that has been in the US Army for over 20 years, I know the sacrifice that comes along with being a soldier. I am thankful for every one that has fought, been injured and even lost their lives for my freedom!

In Poland, today is their "4th of July." :)  It is independence day. Poland has had a history of being "captured" so I looked up when this became their day to celebrate. In 1918, the 11th of November was day that Poland became independent after 123 years under the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian occupation. This became a national holiday in 1937 and was celebrated twice before Germany invaded Poland and WWII began. They were then under communist rule until 1989. During communism, the independence day was moved to 22nd of July. After Poland was liberated...again...the day was changed back to the 11th of July. (This may not be all the exact details, but what I could find in quick research.)

Finally, the date is 11-11-11. The last time this date was seen was 100 years ago and it will be another 100 years before "we" will see it again. All in all, a cool day!!!

My quick, little effort Polish Flag cake. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Team Retreat

So this past weekend, we had a "Team Krakow" retreat a couple hours away in Wisła. We left Friday afternoon and came home Sunday afternoon. We had such a fun time. Friday we decorated cookies, had dinner together and just hung out. Saturday we headed out early to do a ropes course then came back and carved pumpkins. After dinner we made s'mores with American marshmallows and graham crackers but with European of both worlds! Then we watched The Great Pumkin, Charlie Brown. Sunday we had a mini church time. It was so nice to be able to worship with each other in our own language. I love our church here but sitting in church and not really understanding what is being said, it is easy to drift off and get distracted. This was a wonderful time just to focus on God as team. I have a TON of pics from this weekend. I will post some on here a the rest on facebook. (By the way, fall in Poland is unbelievable beautiful!!!!!)

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40 in Brussels

James turned 40 years old a couple weeks ago. WOW!!! He was 27 when we met. How fast time flies!!! I was going to try and pull off some kind of birthday party...but I am so not a good party host as far as being creative and all that. So when he told me he didn't want to have a big party (which would include our few other teammates and maybe our teacher? lol) I was kind of relieved. What to do...what to get him for his big day (another thing I don't excel at)...hmm. Then I thought it might be fun to go and stay somewhere in Krakow and have a day of pampering and just relaxing. I started looking at places and costs and realized we could go to another country for about the same price as a weekend in a NICE hotel with spa for 2 etc. So we decide to head to Brussels, Belgium...why? Because it was the cheapest flight and we haven't been there. My friend Justyna came and stayed with the girls for the 4 days we were gone. We had a great time. There is nothing spectacular in Brussels...except chocolate and waffles. There was nothing we felt like we HAD to see. It was nice to just be lazy. We slept late and watched grown up movies in our room at our cute B&B. We even ate yummy Tex-Mex.

I am so thankful for James and the godly man, husband and dad he is. I love to spend time with him doing fun things or doing nothing. We have a great time together. I am glad we were able to get away for a few days. Here are some pics!

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

All Saints Day in Poland

We spent the day Tuesday at the cemetery. I know that sounds weird, but in Poland on November 1st EVERYONE spends the day at the cemetery. I had heard that this was a time when people prayed for the souls of their loved ones who had died. But this past weekend I learned that it may be a time when people pray TO their loved ones asking them to intercede on their behalf to God because they are already on the other side. Either way, it can be looked at in a negative way or it can be a time of reflection to remember those we have loved that have passed away. The cemetery we visited was breathtaking. We went during the day and were able to see the gorgeous flowers and then went back at night...well like 5:00 because it is already see all the candles that were lit up on the graves. I was amazed at the beauty and the amount of people. Today I was talking to a mom from Macie's school about our experience. When I told her we didn't have this in America she looked SHOCKED. This is definitely for you to experience just once.

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Nastolatki means teenagers. We have continued our meetings with the youth. There have been between 8 and 13 each week. And not only that but we are talking more and more on facebook and at church. I LOVE teenage girls and these girls are so fun but the language barrier is killing me!!! They speak better English than I do Polish for sure...probably because they have been learning since they were Ella's age but it is still hard. But they are so fun and laugh at me and help me. I told you I would take pics next time...I almost forgot but I got a few.