Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving abroad

Thanksgiving came and went this year.  Just another day here in Central Europe, where it turns out no one cares too much about pilgrims and turkeys.

Joel worked and in the evening we ate out.  I got my turkey, but it was stuffed with sheep's cheese instead of smothered in gravy.  My only news of Thanksgiving came via status updates on Facebook.

But when you are one of very few people celebrating a given holiday, you are kind of at liberty to decide when the celebration occurs.  

So Friday was our Thanksgiving.  And while Joel took his morning off to visit utility companies with our landlord I was determined to spend my AM hours stressed out in the kitchen.  

I mixed and rolled and scraped and mashed while the children played trains and watched Strawberry Shortcake (a necessary compromise for several uninterrupted hours of cooking).

And so, after a short nap and a few tantrums (both mom and kids) we were off, destined just minutes away, our first Thanksgiving overseas.

Delicious food.  Good conversation.  Fun and games.  Dessert.  Hot wine.  Thankful go-arounds.  And of course an evening viewing of Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving special.

It turns out Thanksgiving reaches all the way over here.  That even a day late and thousands of miles removed, laughter and friends and stuffing yourself sick crosses borders and oceans.  And although we missed our family, that overwhelming sense of homesick I expected never did arrive.

Which got me thinking, maybe I do have some things to be thankful for here...

Like a family that can make me laugh even in my worst mood.

Two beautiful boys whose kisses and dinnertime prayers and farting jokes far outweigh their fighting and spilling and absolute inability to leave the house without at least one major meltdown.

A wonderful husband and great father who, in one of the busiest times of his life, still knows how to drop everything for his family.

New friends.  The ones who drive us to and from school when our car, once again, refuses to leave the driveway.  The ones who share their holidays with us, who invite us for sausages and burning stuffed Guy Fawkes on a fire.   The ones who share our holidays, who serve as our makeshift family when our real ones are so far.  Who open their homes and families and lives, though we were strangers just a few short months ago.

Old friends.  With their timely calls and e-mails, their thoughtfulness from across the ocean, and mostly for their constant love and support, for the calming knowledge that they are there for us, whenever and wherever.

Our devoted and loving families.  As well as the technologies that keep us connected and the planes that will soon take us home.

For our difficulties here.  That we are learning patience with the language barrier.  Navigational skills when our GPS fails us.  And that after 6 years of marriage and 28 of life, I am finally learning how to cook.  That without cake mixes and whole wheat tortillas and chocolate syrup I am just now starting to make food from scratch, and actually enjoying it.

Also, on that note, the time with which to make these things.  Because even though I still miss Aiden like crazy, his absence really seems to free up my schedule.

And finally... I am thankful for Hungary (which will come as a real shocker to my husband, the recipient of many emotional calls starting out, "I hate Hungary!").  I like that things are slower here (excepting internet of course), that, alone with kids, someone will always help you on and off public transportation, that they'll give up their seat without a moment's hesitation... that our sons now pray at dinner, "Thank you for Budapest" and beg at the end of the day to go back to "Budapest house."

I am thankful that I can be thankful at all.  That after four months I am beginning to see a light here.  And just now starting to feel at home.    

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our fall trip (Part 3)

Sorry this final vacation post was so long in the making (or writing, I guess).  I had great intentions of posting all three last week.  But to be honest the past week or two were hard for me.  And it was slightly torturous writing about such a happy time for my family when I felt so heavy inside.  The weight is easing a bit, though, and I'm ready to finish this up.  So without further ado...

Day 5

I jump from bed with the speed of a mom on a mission.  In this case, packing, dressing, feeding, and moving my family from one country to another (a relatively common practice for us these days).

A certain tiny son of ours proved an obstacle to this mission, unusually grumpy and prone to unexpected tears.  But we moved on and out, with the easy explanation that he was, in fact, two years-old.  And from our past experience this seemed explanation enough.

We chose the scenic route, figuring it the best way to see Slovenia.  And besides, when we entered Italy, we wanted to know we were entering Italy, not just changing from one highway system to another.

Three hours later, halfway through what was supposed to be a two and a half hour car trip, we started to rethink that decision. Particularly at the end of a painfully short nap, ending in frantic, inconsolable tears for our little one.  And for the first time since "the fall" nothing helped.

So finally, finally, I realized something was wrong.  Possibly very wrong.  We stopped as soon as possible and gently pulled him from the car.  We filed out and crossed the street, and as Finny snuggled against my shoulder I slowly swayed before a large, sculptured fountain, hoping the running water would distract him.  My plan worked and he calmed down just long enough for us to spot an ice cream stand across the street.  In the suddenly mediterranean atmosphere and climate it seemed the perfect solution.

Two vanilla cones later and the boys were running around with sticky smiles.  The only remnant of Finn's pain, a right arm that sagged suspiciously down and forward.  When I saw the limp limb at his side I panicked.

Six hours from home on a Friday afternoon and I still prepared to pack it up and head back to Budapest.

But my sensible husband created a better plan.  We would drive to the bed and breakfast in Italy, from there call the doctor, and, if she felt it necessary, take him to the nearest hospital.

It saved us six, torturous hours in the car, so I agreed, but made the steadfast decision to refrain from enjoyment of any kind until I knew what was wrong with my baby... and how to fix it.  So I tried my best to ignore the fields of perfectly aligned olive trees, the wide open, blue sky, the beautiful sign on the edge of the highway proclaiming "Outlets."

And although Finn was all smiles and laughter from ice cream cone on, I worried and fretted my way to Italy, where, under flower-adorned arbor, we finally put our car to rest.

As soon as we found our room I connected to the internet and called our doctor.  After hours of poking and prodding I finally pinpointed the cause of his pain.  A spot on his collar bone, which, when pressed, caused an accelerating, "Owie, owie, owie!"  I explained all this to the doctor, along with his sagging arm, and the details of his fall, now four days earlier.

She seconded my prognosis (courtesy of WebMD)... most likely a broken collarbone.  We were welcome to drive back and bring him in, she told us, but should the X-ray confirm our suspicions, we would be told there is nothing we can do, and to go home.  So unless his pain increased, she recommended we finish our vacation, perhaps pin up his arm, and come in on Monday. (I will surely post sometime in the future on our fabulous doctors here in Hungary, and how I actually like taking my kids there.)

With the doctor's approval, and our baby's arm pinned up in a makeshift sling, I started enjoying myself.  We located a restaurant nearby and enjoyed a delicious, authentic Italian meal.  The boys finished an entire pizza themselves, Joel a large bowl of pasta, and me, a calzone the size of my head.  As we left the waiter kissed Finny's cheeks, and we couldn't help but smile as we drifted off to sleep... to be in a land where babies are kissed and smiles are shared and, in a few short hours, streets of water, spotted with magical gondolas, awaited.

Day 6

The boys could barely wait.  They spent approximately five hours watching the same 20-minute episode of Wonder Pets on our trip out.  An episode we downloaded specifically for the setting... Venice.

So as the boy's sang, "Let's save the kitten!" we boarded a bus and set off for the city of water.

I'll skip the boring parts (because it's late and I'm tired, and if things get too dull I expect Joel will find me asleep on this armchair in the morning).

The beauty of Venice captured, if not surpassed, the scenes from our imagination (though I think we held a fairly accurate picture from that episode of Wonder Pets).

We started out at St. Mark's Basilica.  The kids played trains on the colored, stone squares while Joel enjoyed some peaceful time in the church.

From there, we explored, and the cheap fun of running through narrow passageways, stopping only where water met land, became the day's grand event.  Aiden was thrilled to lead the way, and his brother to toddle after him, gimpy arm and all.

We found a comparatively cheap place for lunch.  And while we never expected hot dogs on our pizza, it was a nice break in the day (and I learned that the surprising combination was actually quite delicious).

After lunch we cruised the narrow canals, our hefty contribution to the obligatory Venetian gondola business.  But in the end, even though I had to hold Finn's belt loops just to keep him from going overboard, and even though I found myself analyzing life-saving tactics at each new turn, those things really are magical.  One of those moments that doesn't need a picture because it's imprinted in your mind.

On our way back home the boys stopped to feed a plethora of pigeons, which I thought was gross, but they seemed to really enjoy.  All three of them.

And so our adventure wound down, and we fell asleep with the expectation of home.

Day 7

Nine hours later (including a shortish layover at the outlets) we spotted the lights of Budapest.  The coming home was both comforting and disappointing for me.  Normal end-of-vacation blues, I suppose.  That and the nagging idea that the "home" to which I returned found me still, very much, a foreigner.

The next day, after a short round of x-rays, our suspicions were confirmed.  Finn did indeed fracture his collar bone.  Cracked all the way through, but not separated.  Simply a matter of time and caution.

Our life continues here is Budapest.  Some days harder than others.  But it is still early and there is so much hope, so much untapped potential.  And like those passageways in Venice, you just can't know what you'll find right around the corner.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Our fall trip (Part 2)

Day 2

The kids awoke bright and early. Another gloomy day loomed outside our window, taunting us as the boys elbowed and kneed their way out of bed.

We played, we packed, showered, dressed, and otherwise counted the minutes until breakfast.  And yet the clock seemed to drag towards 8:30, moving a minute at a time as the boys dumped the same large basket of teeny tiny toys over and over again (which their fool of a mom continued to pick up, time and again, miniature piece after miniature piece). 

Finally it was time to eat.  As coats were donned, however, the morning took something of a turn.

For perhaps the fifth time since the previous evening our little Finn broke into loud and frantic, though short-lived, cries when we picked him up.

Until that point we thought perhaps he was sore from his fall, or maybe just entering a new stage of independence that made holding or cuddling of any sort entirely repugnant.  But at that moment my mother's intuition kicked in (granted, it was twelve-hours late, but at least it made a showing).  

So we laid him on the bed and stripped off all his clothes, looking for some physical sign, or lack of, that would put our minds at ease.  

And we certainly found something.  It looked like a little lump, or bruise of sorts, underneath his armpit.  It made sense with the fall and accounted for his discomfort when picked up.  

And while I prepared to pack our bags and head back home, my more sane half (Joel) reminded me it was just a bruise.  It only seemed to hurt if we lifted him wrong, so let's keep an eye on it and keep going.  We thought about calling the doctor, but what would we say.  Our child has a bruise.  

So after a mouth-watering breakfast and quick good-bye to the animals we piled in and headed out.

Finn cried a bit, but nothing abnormal, particularly for a three-hour car ride.  But mostly he slept.  As did Aiden.  

So when they woke as we pulled into the city of Ljubljana, and though we were careful to hold him the right way, we hardly noticed anything was wrong.  

Instead we walked along the riverside cafes, stopping briefly for a macchiato and snack for the kids.  We scoured the large, outdoor market, settling on a large bottle of what we thought was homemade apple cider (only to later realize it was, what we could only pinpoint as, an alcoholic apple soda.  Which we were certainly not made aware of by our three year-old son's utter repulsion to the drink.)    And slowly meandered back to the car while enjoying some traditional Slovenian food (hot dogs and gyros).  Of course stopping for the obligatory train impersonations and pigeon chasing.

But the day remained chilly and bleak, so in a last-minute decision we changed courses and headed to Postojna, home of the famous cave trains.  Need I say more.

The train-ride was surreal, the caverns lit from within, glowing from its recessed chambers.  Speeding through with giant, age-old rocks passing shockingly close to our heads, it felt more like a dream than reality.  

Until the train stopped, mid-trip, and the walk began.  Let's just say the tour, though beautiful and fascinating, was a bit long for a two and three year-old.  But we made it through, with no lack of complaining (mostly on my part), and were heading back to daylight, tired, but more knowledgeable (right Joel?).  

From there, in the dark and pouring rain, we found our next "home" and settled down for the night.

Day 3

Nothing really noteworthy to talk about here .  

While Bled is a beautiful region of Slovenia all-year long, it is mostly enjoyed for its glassy lake in the summer and various snow sports in the winter.  

So cold, rainy fall days leave the region tourist-free, and really a bit eerie.  

We did try bowling, but after a quick eight frames Aiden wanted to go home because he "wasn't really good."  

Day 4

Finally some sunshine!  It didn't last long, but was a nice start to the day, and though the clouds returned, the rain didn't, and we were anxious to explore the great outdoors.

So we headed straight to the lake's most well-known waterfall.  I knew from my research on TripAdvisor that it wasn't a short walk to the falls.  In fact, it consisted of 555 large, wooden stairs built into the side of the mountain.  And I'm still not sure how we ended up there, but after asserting to Joel we would not relive the "cave walk" and should choose something shorter, we stood at the base of a long, winding trail, waiting to pay our six Euros for what I could only assume was impending disaster.

But somehow our preschool-aged son, who complains that his legs are falling off when we walk half a block, practically skipped up the stairs... all 555 of them... all the way to the top.  We heard the waterfall before we saw it, and did not regret the climb as we turned the corner, greeted by the rush of pounding water and gently showered with the mist of the falls.  

It was beautiful, and though I'm still not quite sure how we got there, I found myself, in a rare moment I am hoping he quickly forgets, admitting that my husband was right.  It was worth it.  

After a short walk by the lake, where our sweet, youngest son was bit on the leg by swan (who I still can't think about without seething with anger, darn swan) we ate our first of many Italian meals and headed to bed.

We mostly forgot about Finn's fall.  He didn't complain or cry, unless appropriate of course (such as hunger, exhaustion, his brother beating him with a train).  In fact, we assumed his injuries were healed and the fall a distant memory, an inconsequential moment in our trip.  

So much for motherly intuition.  

(To be continued... again... in a third and final installment.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Our fall trip (Part 1)

I honestly thought one adventure was enough for us this year. I mean, if we survived an international move with two preschool aged children then we should probably just count our eggs and go home. (Is that even a saying? Because it honestly just popped out and now I have no idea what it means.)

But somewhere in the chaos of drop offs and pick ups, of late nights at school and long days with the kids, we decided a vacation was in order. A break from the demands of every day life. A chance to get away from it all.

I don't know if we were forgetful or just deluded, but we neglected to factor one thing into our plans.

The kids.

Of course we know by now not to plan on long, relaxing weeks at the shore or intense days of sight-seeing or peaceful dinners out.

We realize that vacations revolve around little bellies with huge capacities for food, well-timed naps and, of course, numerous, sporadic, and always inconvenient potty breaks.

But, at times, we still forget to account for the unexpecteds of traveling with kids.

Like long, gloomy days indoors.  Or overly anxious mom's chasing their energetic children through water-ridden streets.  Or long car rides with a broken collarbone.

But we also forget about the pleasant surprises.  The small moments that tell you the money and time and stress were truly worth it.

So to wrap up the latter (with a small showing of the former), we present to you, our fall trip...

Day 1

With our bags loaded and children brimming with excitement we were ready for takeoff by nine (a decently early start for a family of four, one of whom insists on eating breakfast at home, no matter what the occasion).

I felt optimistic.  After three months in the same place I found myself practically incapable of fathoming life outside Budapest.  It felt like its own planet, and while beautiful and rich with history, I needed to know there was more.

So with a large McDonald's cappuccino and Joel's homemade IPad travel holder, we set off on a hopeful note.  I imagined the children quietly soaking in the passing scenery while I savored one, complete, hot cup of coffee.

Vacation can really mess with a person's head.

Not even five minutes and choruses of "We want to watch something!" echoed through the car, followed by the unheard refrains, "Just look out your window" and "Quiet back there."

By the time I fought, distracted, and finally, gave in, I settled into the passenger's seat and yet another large cup of lukewarm coffee.

As we entered Slovenia the IPad was running a fairly constant stream of Wonderpets and Dora Choo Choo Train.  But Mom and Dad were taking it all in.  The beautiful, clustered mountain peaks, the rocky landscape dotted with ancient, baroque-style churches, the herds of sheep grazing on steep-sided hills.

Of course we enjoyed all this at 130 km/h, hardly leaving enough time to soak it all in.

So when we finally arrived and the tourist farm owner immediately led us to a quiet table of our own, cozy with the warmth of the crackling fireplace, we were ready for a break.  After speaking some quick Slovenian in the kitchen he returned with a plateful of biscuits and struedel, homemade juice for the kids, and two large glasses of red wine... for the frazzled parents.

From there we bundled up and explored the terrain, greeting the animals, utilizing the playground, following windy dirt roads... and absolutely devouring some of the most delicious, home-cooked food we ever tasted (besides our mothers' of course).

Only one slight mishap.  As we left dinner and headed back to our room, little Finny fell.  Just down one stair.  It was dark. so I could't quite see how he landed, but after some hard cries and enthusiastic distractions he came around.  We thought that was it.  Crisis averted, drama over.

So we all piled into our large bed, turned off the lights, and waited for morning.

To be continued...

(This particular post will be presented in three installments, due to the author's long-windedess as well as her undeniable inclination to laziness.  Sorry.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy 30th Joel (my best attempt at a mildly sentimental birthday post)

Today my husband turns 30.  And while I know he would die a little inside should I indulge my sentimental side, expressing my mushy feelings for all the world to see, I can't let this day pass without saying anything.

I knew from early on in our relationship, and even before, that Joel was special.  And not in a cheesy way, but in a very real and evident way.

He was one of those people who asked how you were and really cared about the answer.  He had this strange (and sometimes annoying) way of remaining completely non-judgemental.  No matter what the situation, or how it involved him or myself, he possessed the unique ability to see things from another perspective, and to truly understand.

Somehow that combination of qualities made him easy to be around.  It's kind of addicting, being with someone who thinks you're really cool, and interesting.  Though with time I realized it wasn't really me.  It's him.  He takes in people's lives and values and thoughts like stories in a book.  And after six years of marriage, I'm still addicted to his company (which inexplicably doesn't seem to thrill him as it did in those early days).  Because even while I insist he drives me crazy and complain almost incessantly about wet towels on the floor and things of the like, I would rather be with him, with our family, than anywhere else in the world.

And though I'm sure I lost my interest and most definitely my coolness over the years, he is more than a companion to me now. He stepped over that line almost four years ago with the birth of our first son.  Our lives turned upside down in an instant.  We ate when he slept, he ate when we slept, nothing seemed to work like it should.  And the sweet snuggly bundle of our imaginations transformed into something of a wild monster right before our eyes.  We fed, we changed, we rocked, we shushed... but sometimes the thing just went crazy.  And being our first child, we were terrified.  Okay, I was terrified.  But Joel held us together.  Completely took over when I froze, be it soothing a frantic child, scrounging food together and creating something delicious from it, or cleaning baby poop out of the bathtub (by far my most terrifying moment).

And while parenthood brings out the best and worst in us, Joel loves our kids.  And with all of his positive qualities, it is the thing I love most about him.  How he worries almost obsessively over Finny's broken collarbone, barely letting me touch my own child for fear of hurting him.  How the obvious highlight of his birthday was Aiden's prayer at dinner ("Thank you for Daddy's birthday.  Thank you for the food.  We love you Jesus.").  How I can say with confidence that he too would rather be with his family than anywhere else in the world.

So, at the risk of sounding mushy, I love you Joel.  Thank you for loving and taking care of us through this huge transition.  Happy 30th birthday!

(And just a side note, I will post soon about our vacation.  Just needed to take this little detour today!)