Monday, November 29, 2010

The First Snow

This is what I woke up to on Sunday morning....
This beautiful dusting of snow didn't stay around too long. By Sunday afternoon, most of it had melted away. The weather had called for 40 degrees F for Monday. So, I wore a dress with leggings. It might be the LAST time I wear a dress with leggings! The snow started again right as we were walking to school on Monday morning. Snow was still falling when I took the kids out to recess. For the first time in my life, I helped students bundle up in snow pants, snow boots, coats, mittens..... This life-long California girl is still a little shell shocked.

Here are some observations I've made after two school days of snow:
1. Begin getting ready for recess at least five extra minutes early.
2. Tell the students to put their gloves on LAST.
3. Stomp feet before coming back inside.
4. Children raised in snow know exactly how to play in snow. They were rolling snowmen bottoms like experts. You can imagine how excited the boys were to teach their teacher how to roll a snowman base.
5. Snowballs are tempting... oh so tempting.
6. There is magic in a first snow fall.
7. Snow does inspire me to sing more Christmas carols! (Not that I need much inspiration)
8. I absolutely need snow boots.
9. The vast classroom windows are an excellent, warm place to watch dancing snowflakes.
10. Lands End down coats are a great invention; mine just needs to be a bit longer!

And here are some pictures of the school covered in snow:

Winter is here!!!

Three Thanksgivings

Practicing a spirit of thankfulness isn't always easy for me. I'm generally optimistic and positive, but I can't say that I always go around counting my blessings. This past week was an excellent opportunity to practice giving thanks for abundant God- given goodness.

What am I currently most thankful for? I guess it would be the community that I had prayed would find me here in Kyiv. And found me it has.

Wednesday night began the first of three Thanksgiving dinner. My friends from Bible study gathered together for a delicious turkey and all the trimmings. Who would have thought that I would have Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and candied yams overseas? Thank you US Commissary! The 12 of us prepared the last minute details and sat around the table literally giving thanks for what we have been given. Then, we washed and dried dishes together. Honestly, I have forgotten how fun it is to clean up after Thanksgiving. (The past two years, I celebrated Thanksgiving in a restaurant with no clean-up required!).

The next evening (true Thanksgiving) the school community gathered for another dinner. There were about 30 people. We had a plethora of pumpkin treats and a few apple pies (one of my friends made an apple-caramel pie. Delicious!). The babies were all passed around and the children were amazingly well behaved. It's nice to want to spend Thanksgiving with your co-workers! They are all clever, interesting people who are fun to talk to.

The third and final Thanksgiving was spent with church friends, which included Canadians. We wanted to play games, but the storytelling went a little long. But the stories were an awesome replacement to games. I love hearing true life stories of how God provides in miraculous ways.

I am thankful for another year overseas and another year full of adventure. It's really a miracle to have such amazing people to enjoy this year with. But someday, I want to celebrate this very American holiday, back on American soil with my American family.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bavaria and Beyond

One year, my aunt went to Germany. I was only in kindergarten. My aunt's trip ignited my 6 year old imagination (especially since she came back with a German costume for me). Twenty-five years later, and it was my turn to visit Germany and to explore Austria.

Kiev has a direct flight into Munich. We arrived Saturday and found the hotel with relative ease (Western European travel is just so organized!) I had booked a tour for "Mad King Ludvig's" castles, Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, settled in the Bavarian mountains. Although it was only October, snow was on the ground and the weather was surprisingly cold and wet, but the weather conditions made it oh-so beautiful.

I really don't trust swans. They look elegant, but their heads and beaks are very, very strong... and they always seem to be glaring. Not a friendly animal at all!
Here you can see my two fellow travelers, Rachel and Brenda, waiting patiently for our tour of Linderhof. Sadly, winter season has officially started and the statues were boxed and covered. I think a summer visit might be in my future! Rachel and I both were a little late back on the bus and were yelled at by our 70 year old tour guide. I was close to tears. Settling back on the bus, I had a sudden flash-back to Albania. Elga, my assistant, would always say, when she was early to work (which was often), "Today, I am German!" She had worked at a German run preschool before working with me and had learned the value of time.... I learned that lesson too!
We made a quick stop in the village, Oberammergau, famous for the Black Plague and the proceeding Passion Play. I actually met a man from Kiev, while inside a gift shop. He had been staying in Munich for an insurance agent convention and was doing the same tour, with a different company. I talked to him for a bit, until I began getting paranoid about the time.
We stopped in another village, at the base of Neuschwanstein, and ate lunch with a couple from Scotland. The man was a bit older than me, but his wife was around my age. I truly liked their company and I truly adored the potato soup that I gobbled up.
The walk up to Neushwanstein was absolutely great, regardless of the rain showers. It was straight up a hill and just the movement that I was craving (it wasn't a long walk, just 20 minutes). And what a treat for the eyes!
Disney used this castle as inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty castle. Walking around inside did have a Disney quality (imaginative and unexpected). The spiral staircases especially made me think of childhood and for a minute, I was transported to Anaheim, California.
The views from the castle were incredible. No wonder the Germans call King Ludvig, "The Story Book King."
I took this picture on the walk back down from the castle. It was a good thing I turned around when I did because my next step would have landed me in a pile of horse manure.

We found ourselves at the Hofbrauhaus for drinks, dinner and dessert. A couple, from the New England area, was seated with us. They ended up being my favorite people we met on this trip. The husband is a doctor and the wife is a writer. They had raised 3 brilliant children, one of whom works as an education specialist, lobbying and changing education.
And this is how a lady drinks beer.... this picture is for my grandpa.
The next day in Munich was spent walking around the shopping area. I didn't purchase the perfect coat, though I did find it. The coat was an emerald green tweed, with a sweeping collar that buttoned to the side. Sigh. What a bad mistake. I did buy yet another black skirt, though!

And then there was Salzburg.....
We took the tram to the top of the mountain to go through the fortress overlooking Salzburg. It is an ancient castle, first constructed over 1,000 years ago.
The tree in the background was amazing. I took about 5 pictures of this tree alone! It had such character.
I thought that this jewelery box might inspire my dad, who has been wanting to build one for my mom.
And I wouldn't mind this trunk!

What is my favorite movie of all time? The Sound of Music. My grandmother had the Broadway record and I listened to the soundtrack over and over and over. By the time I was 6, I had seen the play and the movie. Something about The Sound of Music makes me believe in romance, God given purpose, joy and beauty. Here I am acting out the "Oh Captain, you're home!" scene.... minus the fall into the freezing lake.
We arrived at the gazebo, which had been built for the movie, and I immediately began singing "I am Sixteen." Luckily, a nice older man, sang the duet with me. Too bad the gazebo is locked. It's closed so idiots, like myself, don't go prancing around the benches and permanently damage themselves.
Another favorite scene! Rachel joined me for a run down the lane where Julie Andrews sang the "I Have Confidence," song. That song is the song I sing to myself before any big move, or life changing event. I sang it driving up the hill to my student teaching assignment and I sang it when I moved to Bakersfield, Albania and Ukraine. "And all those children... heaven bless them. They will look up to me, and mind me!"
Into the Salzburg countryside we drove and while singing "Doe a Deer," we passed a white doe grazing off a tree.

And the Red Bull headquarters... interesting architecture.
Our hilarious tour guide, she lead us all in singing aboard the bus, standing in the line of trees.
I found my summer home!

They used the church's organ for the actual wedding march.Crisp apple struddle.... definitely one of my favorite things!
The S of M cow was just slightly over the top!
The Mirabell Gardens! I kept wishing is was summer.
And no, I can't hit that last high note in "Do, Re, Mi" but I can pretend pretty well.
And there is the friendly dwarf!
The next day was breathtakingly beautiful. We crossed over the Mozart footbridge back into the old city.
It took us three tries, and 45 minutes, but we finally found Mozart's birthplace. (I didn't have the map with me, otherwise we would have been there in a jiffy!)
My birthday buddy... My mom was hoping for a genius, but she got me: a moderately intelligent, reasonably gifted girl. It was fun to see the baby violin, obviously used, that Mozart learned to play.

And then there was Vienna!
We arrived by train and boarded the underground that took us out to the 23 district. A family, who I met while living in Tirana, now lives in Vienna and graciously offered us a place to stay. Since they are amazing people, and I absolutely had been missing their children (the middle child was in my class last year. And I've been missing that class terribly) I was looking forward to Vienna as a good catching up time. The two youngest were hanging out the window when we arrived at the car, ready to be hugged and kissed. And Miss DeKorte cried.
The next day, Lieve showed us around the main area of the city. She has been exploring with her family and was a capable and fun guide. It was warm enough to eat outside at a little cafe in the Museum Quarter. The food was so delicious that Rachel and I went back the next day too!
Rachel, Brenda and I went to the Albertina Museum and saw a collection of Picasso and Michelangelo. Interesting! But, sadly, my eyes were hurting because of the lighting.
On Friday, Rachel and I went to Schonbrunn Palace, the hunting and summer palace of the Austrian Imperial family. The inside tour was amazing. Amazing. The rooms were tasteful and welcoming. There were portraits of the young Marie Antoinette and her many brothers and sisters. We even walked through the room where Mozart gave his first concert for the empress. I love walking through history.
The grounds of Schonbrunn were amazing. Beautiful in fall, but yet again, I was wishing for summer. These are the Privy Gardens.
We hiked up the hill and then a bit more to the top of the statue pictured below. I could see the entire city skyline from the tip top.
Our tickets include a visit to the mazes. Frankly, mazes frustrate me quite a bit. We had fun in the children's labyrinth, and then thought we'd brave the grown-up one. After 3 attempts to get to the middle, we were both fine walking away. Mazes, puzzles... so not my gift.
I'm traveling on. Where to next?