Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Airline baggage restrictions have governed much of what we have packed, purchased, and carted about during this extended trip. Chicago to Vienna we were each allowed 2 bags/50 lbs per. One suitcase was dedicated to the gifts, clothing, and food items that we had been requested to bring or chose to bring to children and grandchildren. And, one of our 4 bags was the transport of KF's new stroller with all-terrain wheels--a fantastic eBay bargain.

The regional airlines--SkyEurope, Nikki, Ryan Air--each have their own baggage rules, usually restricting a passenger to one check-in bag and one carry-on. The weight limits varied from 15k to 23k--Nikki also weighed our carry-ons, limiting them to 12k. To put that in recognizable terms you take the kilogram weight times .6, i.e. not much leeway for acquiring any goodies.

We are learning to pack lighter--using our luggage space for U.S. purchases of clothes and housewares for our son's family. U.S. selection and prices can't be beat. Thank you Target, Kohl's, Home Goods, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Carson, Pirie & Scott.

Just try shopping for a family or outfitting a house in central Europe. Everything you need is here, but when you are accustomed to U.S.-defined needs you are always left feeling that there just isn't enough. Much is very over-priced, and acquiring what you need is far less convenient--you have to make multiple outings to multiple stores and then there is always that thing you forgot or never found... Part of adjusting to this new culture requires that you leave your acquisitiveness stateside. Shopping here is not recreation, it is a work-out.

At this stage of life I am totally signed on to less is more and am determined to learn to need less and less. Our house has been sorted through and streamlined several times in the 7 years we have lived there, and when I get home I intend to get rid of some more.

Not having a lot growing up influenced my shopping habits over the years. Making sure my family had the right clothing, shoes, and accessories was always important. And, we have always appreciated good food in our home--being willing to spend a bit more for quality and variety, but also learning where we could get the best for less. I still appreciate a good deal, but shop sporadically--not always in the mood. When I am in the mood, I have learned to stock up--gathering Christmas and birthday gifts throughout the year when I find just the right thing for just the right person.

As I consider baggage and all the planning it has consumed on this trip, my mind wanders to the emotional baggage that we accumulate and carry throughout our lives. It has taken me over 40 years to leave my childhood baggage behind. And, each year I seem to carry less and less of that baggage. Wish I'd known how to get rid of it sooner--recognizing it, naming it, and talking or writing about it appropriately provides release. My young adult and middle years were full of love and delight in the family we created, but my days would have been so much more enjoyable if I had a lighter spirit. Having been raised in chaos I learned to be over-responsible and hyper-vigilant to my environment--always taking in stimuli and processing and reprocessing while organizing and planning ahead for eventualities.

It will be interesting to learn what baggage our children feel they carry from childhood. We ask them occasionally and so far neither admits to too much scarring. We very intentionally parented our kids--unconditional love was the goal, underscored with accountability and consequences. Both DM and JE are good with money--never spending what they do not have. They have both chosen wonderful spouses and are themselves wonderful spouses. They love and discipline their little ones and are respectful of us and their grandparents. We certainly did not get everything right, but all those prayers asking for guidance and wisdom, patience and understanding were definitely heard and answered. God takes even our shortcomings and makes them work for his own good.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Pharmacy near Bratislava

The blogger world has been eerily quiet this week. Everyone is either comatose from too much family and food, or traveling to snowy mountaintops or sun-warmed places. And, I am up way too late because this is the only part of the day not punctuated with 3-year old squeals or 11- month old tears. This is a busy place daytimes, and when the little girls head for bed I turn on the laptop and, "What to my wondering eyes should appear..." No new entries from the bloggers I follow. My latest book is not overly compelling, and Slovak television is not tempting. Well, if there is little new in blog-dom, it must be time for me to send something into the blogosphere.

Because writing is cathartic for me, I can't resist the keyboard. I may go days and in some cases weeks without writing, but then I begin to feel spikey and unsettled. My internal circuitry is signaling that it is time to regurgitate [or girt, as LG would say] some of what I have been processing throughout my days here in central Europe.

This is the 5th week we have been traveling and both CA and I are a bit under the weather. He has a horrid [and very annoying, if I may say so] cough, and I have a mild [so far] sinus infection. DM made a quick trip to the pharmacy today to get his dad some drugs--something like Thera-Flu and a supposedly strong cough medicine. I am chugging hot tea with occasional double doses of ibuprofen and a clever little spraying thing that MK obtained for me from a different pharmacist just before Christmas. It soothes the throat and apparently has some antibiotic qualities to-boot.

Surely staying up until 2:00am is not the best idea, but here I am! I do not have an adolescent body clock, so there will be payback tomorrow. Amazingly, I was able to fall asleep in the midst of family life this afternoon. You never know what will happen when you fall asleep here. You might become part of a tent, or, as in great grandma's case, you might be tied up!

Time to head for my couch. CA has the bedroom tonight. Last night he kindly stayed downstairs to spare me the sound of his body-wracking coughing. Tonight I have couch duty so that he can sleep long and comfortably. It's lights out. Now. Really. Really. Now. That's it. Turn them off!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Our immediate family got together in Bratislava, Slovakia for Christmas this year. Who would have ever guessed that this would be part of our reality! Just CA and I, JE-MA-JA, DM-MP-LG-KF--6 adults and three little ones [3-1/2 years, 20 months, and 11 months].

In all the confusion [joy-filled] we were never sure that the little ones got the Santa Claus connection.The two Slovak-American little girls celebrated St. Mikulas on December 5th--putting their newly-polished shoes near the door so that St. Mikulas could leave them candy and oranges, if they have been good... LG has been taught at školka that the Christ child brings the presents on Christmas Day... KF and JA are too little to understand much of anything...

They were all excited and very much into the retrieving and unwrapping of gifts, with LG offering her services to speed up the process! JA loved his airplane, and KF loved the xylophone that friends gave to LG. There were books and art supplies, DVDs and suckers. Grandpa and grandma gave each child new clothes purchased at Du Paril Au Meme in Paris, so they will be the height of fashion this season. By agreement, the six adults focused on filling each others stockings and they were full to overflowing.

Growing up we were never allowed to believe in Santa Claus. Christmas was the birth of Christ and not to be tarnished by mythological and commercialized idols such as Santa. I always felt like I missed out on something--not believing--so I made Santa a very important part of Christmas for DM and JE. There was too little fantasy and too much reality in my childhood world, but in their growing up world Christmas was magical.

Each of the five little girls always had a new outfit for the Christmas program at church, and new pajamas from our grandparents. For many years there was a doll for each little girl. I got dolls way too long and was never big on playing with dolls at any age. My favorite doll thing was to cut their hair! Didn't matter if it was my doll or not, just needed some nice long hair--preferably braids.

We didn't hang stockings, but it was tradition that we would buy each sister a 5 or 10 cent gift. So, for most of my childhood I spent my money at Kresges on combs and candy bars, friendship rings, and Tangee lipstick.

We celebrated Christmas morning at home and then had Christmas dinner at G&G K's house with a few more gifts to open from our aunts and great aunt. There was always a lengthy session of posing for grandpa's camera on the front steps or sidewalk. He would squint and twist knobs and squint some more. Determined to achieve just the right lighting and exposure--nothing was automatic in those days.

Every few years, randomly, we would make the 2 hour drive to Bowen to celebrate Christmas Day with my dad's parents. Grandma and grandpa would welcome us with enthusiasm and open arms. Grandma would have cookies in the jar, pies on the kitchen table, and soft and puffy 3-part dinner rolls baking in the oven. There would turkey and ham, potatoes and green vegetables, stuffing and cranberries. Grandma would have a table set up in the diningroom and one in the livingroom and we would fight over who got to sit next to her.

I remember being very excited about Christmas even though we never got a lot. It was enough, at least until I was junior-high age and had friends' Christmases to compare to ours, though most of my childhood friends were of modest means. My closest friends were twins with older parents--another sibling was born 15 years before the twins. So, they were very indulged and showered with Barbies and Kens, bikes and records, and beautiful hand-sewn clothing for them and for their Barbies. By high school my closest friends were from church where families were more well-off than in our neighborhood and school. The church friends had electronic gifts and trips to Florida in their world. I learned to stay under the radar at Christmas time.

In our grown-up world my siblings and I make a very big deal about Christmas. Everyone bakes and shops and wraps and cooks. The in-laws and out-laws gather with all the little ones and there are stacks and stacks of gifts and a table filled with homemade sweets. We do Christmas over-the-top! All the shortcomings of those childhood Christmases are long forgotten.

Our children grew up with big Christmas expectations and realizations. We made magic for them and now for their little ones. And, we do it all while still remembering that Christmas marks the birth of Christ--Christ who taught us how to live and then redeemed us with his death on the cross. Jesus Christ who is coming again. We live our lives in expectation of his arrival--following his word and serving him with the gifts he has given to us. Each of us--four living generations now--holds faith in God as foundational to our lives.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Mary Engelbreit

I'm a bit weary--temporarily peopled-out. It took me years to discover that I am not an extrovert. I am an introvert with very impressive people skills. I am stimulated by being with and conversing with intelligent, observant people. But, when I am again alone I need to be still. A quiet room with a book or beautiful magazine. An hour or so on my screened porch. An afternoon or early evening nap--just 15 minutes can restore and revitalize.

Traveling is never my favorite thing, but I love experiencing new places--the sites, the architecture, the views... I love to go to grocery stores in foreign countries. I love open-air markets with their displays of regional produce and flowers and specialties. I love touristy shops--always hoping for something well-made, clever, and well-priced.

This month we are traveling in southern Europe with others and we have chosen delightful companions. But, it takes a toll. I find myself talking too much and then feeling drained. There is a balance between being sociable and protecting my spirit and my energy. CA is much quieter than I, but he handles sociability far better.

CA and I travel well together. Amazingly we share an appreciation for much of what is listed above. And, we love to try the foods of new places--we take pictures of our food!

Growing up there was not much opportunity to travel. We went to small Midwestern towns and later to Chicago. The early years of our marriage we lived on the east coast--first New England and then the Virginia coast before returning to Illinois. We visited Hawaii in 1977, but not again until 1998. In the intervening years we took the kids many times to Door County, Wisconsin and southern Michigan. We went on a Bahamas Disney cruise in 1986, to Boston and Maine in 1987. We went to Virginia and the Carolinas; Cooperstown, NY and Vermont; and Disney World. The two of us visited San Francisco, New Mexico and Colorado, and white-water rafted in North Carolina and West Virginia.

Then in 1999 we took our first trip to Europe--10 days over Christmas in Paris. We loved it! Since then we have been to Kauai in Hawaii 4 or 5 more times, and to Europe again in July 2000, December 2002, July 2004, December 2005, July 2007, February 2008, and we are here now.

We chose to raise our children in the Midwest, always planning to relocate when they were grown. So far we have stayed in NW suburban Chicago--choosing to travel frequently while maintaining our home base. We have plans to stay rooted for three more years--our children love coming home and we both have contract work to keep us interested. But, we talk about a simpler, slower life-style where we might walk to a coffee shop or cafe, the library, and the market.

I am a person who appreciates home; one who delights in creating an inviting environment. My stuff probably matters too much. From childhood it has been important to me to be surrounded by graceful and lovely objects and comforts. I like dishes and serving bowls, cooking utensils and good cookware. My idea of artwork can be something clipped from a magazine and framed, a bowl of lemons or green apples, bottles of olive oil and vinegar, spice bottles from a French grocery store lined on a chunky black shelf... Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and much of what I consider beautiful is domestic--fabrics and books, comfy chairs with ottomans, and plenty of small pillows to prop up bad backs and knees.

We are readers. There are many well-lit spots for reading in our home--the red floral chair and ottoman in the corner between the fireplace and the plantation-shuttered window, the carmel-colored so-soft leather recliner that divides the dining area from the living area of our great room, my bed with pillows propped just so and a halogen light to ease the eyes, the screened porch, and the upstairs guest room... In childhood books were my salvation, my retreat, my comfort, my safe place. Reading offered me the hope of an enriched life with opportunities to learn and grow and become all that God created me to be. I always knew that my adult life would be far different from the life offered to me as a child. I don't remember being goal oriented--I remember trying to survive and to understand. Yet, I ALWAYS knew that when I had control I would do well.

I married well--one of the greatest gifts and blessings that God has given me. And, I learned from all that I observed, what was functional and good. I don't tolerate dysfunction--I had more than a lifetime of that as a child. From early on, I knew I could work toward whatever I wanted. My Grandpa K. instilled those values by example and by word. I was loved and valued, but expected to do my best and pull my weight.

I was a good student--in school and in life. There was rarely any help with homework or interest or support with school. But those who work hard and get good grades are noticed and validated.

Like the seedlings that peek through a cracked stone wall or pavement, this girl took root in the best soil she could find and bloomed where she was planted!