Monday, December 24, 2012

You know you have traveled a bit when...

1. You have lost track of how many countries you've been to.
2. You know where your next trip is going to take you.
3. You do NOT want the stamp in your passport because you do NOT want to have to get more pages added.
4. You know which countries Doha, Diani, and Dresden are in.
5. You have friends from all continents (Antarctica can be excluded from this one).
6. But you know someone who has been to Antarctica.
7. You've experienced bed bugs.
8. You know how to use public transportation, even in another language.
9. You've gone to the doctor in another country.
10. You can fit everything for a vacation in a carry-on bag.
11. You've spent Christmas overseas.
12. You've been upgraded to a higher class on an international flight.
13. You saw the movies on the in-flight entertainment on your last flight.
14. You've used toilets that don't have a seat (ladies included).
15. You've eaten things you were not sure what they were.
16. You can pack for a week's holiday in 30 minutes or less.
17. You've run through the airport to catch a flight.
18. You've missed a flight.
19. You fly over 24 hours and still go to work the next morning.
20. Your "Places to See List" is still LLLOOOONNNGGG and you know you'll spend your whole life tackling it.

Travelers, what would you add to this list?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A pint please.

What do international teachers do during Thanksgiving?  We travel!  I haven't had Thanksgiving off from work in years, but this year we lucked out.  So off to Dublin, Ireland we went.

When we walked the campus of Trinity College, Ireland's oldest university (1592), my thought was... Do they have a teacher's college here?  One day, down the road, when I hold a PhD in International Education, I could teach HERE!  It was beautiful.  And cool.  I would feel so cool working there.

It was winter and rainy as we walked the streets of Dublin.  In all honesty, the rain was what I pictured before arriving in Ireland.  Even in the cold and wet, it had an ambiance that made me think, "Even with the rain and cold, I could live here."  It was such a quaint, friendly city.  The bartender in the pub.  The taxi driver.  The pharmacist (that's another story).  So chatty and welcoming.  The Irish are a bit louder and jovial than the Hungarian crowd I've been hanging with.  The weirdest part for us - everyone spoke English.  Very convenient!

First stop the first morning in Dublin - The Guinness Brewery.  Will's mission!  We learned to pour our own pint, which is actually a skill.  Now I know.  The first two glasses below were poured by Will and me.  It was really interesting, especially after having read The Search for God and Guinness.  Good book whether or not you like God or Guinness.

Between pubs and pints of Guinness, we walked and saw the sites.  I know that European pictures start to all look the same country after country, city after city, post after post.  But this city really did feel different than others.  It was like a bunch of little home towns in a big city.  Every corner had a local pub.  Every neighborhood had a different feel.

After four days in Dublin, we've decided that the next time we come to Ireland, we'll rent a car and drive throughout the island.  I know there is so much more to see.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

America and Guns

This is what some people posted on Facebook after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut:

Today Israel had zero school shootings.  Thank a teacher.
So the people who are posting this are saying:
Americans want their schools guarded with semi-automatic weapons.
They want teachers to carry guns in the classroom.

Countries with guns in the classroom include places like Somalia, Israel and Afghanistan.  Notice, they are WAR TORN COUNTRIES.  Is that really what Americans want?  To turn their country into a war torn nation?  Read the news and see what life is really like in those countries:


Would you want to live in these countries?  Even visit these countries?  To those who support these ideas, please think about the reality of what you're saying.

Prayers go out to the families of Newton, Connecticut.  There are really no words.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Alaskan Roots

When it's cold outside and I don't feel good and it's the weekend and I need to run a quick errand, I don't care what I look like.  The sleeping-bag coat covers up my sweats and pajama top.  A hat takes care of the hair I haven't washed.  The boots and no make-up... well, let's just hope I don't run into anyone I know.  I walked out the door on Sunday afternoon looking pretty OK for an Alaskan going to town.  I didn't think it was a big deal until Will said, "I'm glad I'm not going with you."  I guess I didn't look very European in my get-up.  What can I say?  When it's cold outside, the Alaskan in me comes out.  That is one thing I miss about Alaska - it really does NOT matter what you wear or look like when you walk out the door.  On a Sunday afternoon, it's exactly what I needed - a bit of home.

Alaskan Summer Clothing - good for fishing, shopping, and walking around town.

Color coordinated!

My hair is actually done here - there's a hair clip.  Ya, I was that kid, along with every other kid in my class.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Jack Frost Nipping at my Nose!

Today the snow came.  The wind is biting.  And my little black dress (with long sleeves, tights, leggings, and boots) under a winter coat is NOT enough.  The price of looking cute for a party.  Walking home from the tram tonight, Will and I decided that the night of my birthday will not involve a late night out like it should, simply because it is too blasted cold!  Looks like cozy nights are going to be more frequent.  Winter is here!  The kids enjoyed sledding at recess.  I have pulled out my women's arctic parka, which is more like a sleeping bag than a coat.  (As Will pointed out - not flattering.  But who cares, it's warm!)  Wool ski socks are back in my sock drawer.  December, January, February... Fingers crossed March is warmer.

It's not all bad though... Christmas markets are open.  Lights are up on streets and buildings.  Mulled wine warms your hands while walking about.  I really do love Christmas in Budapest.  (...when I'm wearing my sleeping bag coat.)  And icebergs aren't floating down the Danube... yet.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Take a look!

My friend,
book author,
and fellow expat in Budapest,
just started a blog that is really great.
Take a look and subscribe!

An American in Budapest

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The hardest part about living overseas...

When family passes from this world.
When family joins this world.
Kids growing

These are the hard things to miss when you're far far away from your family.  
Do we fly home?  
How fast can we get home?  
What is the price of a ticket?  
Does the cost matter?  
When do we go?  
What will we miss?  
But it's part of the choice.  
We know that we will be here for our families no matter what.
Even living far far away.  
And I keep in my mind, everyone is only a plane ride away.  
The hardest part about living overseas is being far away when it's important to be close by.

Today I'm thankful that I can be home when I need to be.

In honor of...

Marcelle Porter
Loved her family
Bragged about her kids
Will be missed.

Love to our Gma who is no longer with us on this earth, but is definitely with us in heart and spirit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Another good thing about cold weather

... it makes warmer holidays all the more amazing!

We cruised through the Mediterranean last week.  A much needed holiday from the craziness they call education.  I can't say I'm a huge fan of the cruise experience, but I loved waking up from a comfortable bed each morning to see a new city or country.  

We, the crew of 6, started in Rome.  Aside from Italians possibly being louder than Americans, I could easily live in Rome.  It forever remains an awesome city to hang out in, eat gelato in, people watch in, eat in, see a lot of old stuff in, eat some more in, and just wander the streets for hours in.

Next we ventured onto Salerno, Italy.  We didn't see a good beach, but it was warm and definitely Italian.  If you're looking for a real small-town-Italian experience, Salerno could be the place for you.

Then we hopped on the boat for a day and a night to get to Tunis, Tunisia.  This was my favorite port by far.  It was Sub-Sahara Africa meets Europe.  Great infrastructure.  A medina to wander, look, and shop (felt like Stone Town, Zanzibar a bit).  Chaotic traffic.  Roman ruins.  Blue and white Mediterranean homes (like Santorini, Greece).  Ocean, beach, warm.  I think I could live in Tunis, despite a few unused tanks scattered throughout the city.  All was calm from their recent revolution while we were there and the people were very friendly.

Next stop was Ibiza, Spain.  Great old town to explore.  Medieval buildings still in tact.  

Palma de Mallorca was another great spot.  Definitely worth a trip.  On the to-do list for my next visit... check out the beaches.

Marseille, France followed.  An industrial city amongst fisherman.  Liked the feel and old town. 

Genoa, Italy was the last port.  This was the only port I had visited prior to the trip, but we still found new sites to explore, including a Medieval piazza that looks the same today (for the most part) as it did hundreds of years ago.  Let's face it, some cities are worth many visits.  I think Genoa is one of them.

At the end of the trip the crew of 6 are all still friends.  (Travel is a sure way to weed out true friendship.)  And we ventured back to Budapest to freezing temperatures and snow!  Cold weather makes me appreciate the last bit of sun my pale skin got.

Note: If you want to find an AMAZING deal on a cruise, check out  Their deals convinced us to go!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Good Thing About Cold Weather

The windows stay shut.
The city dirt and dust stay outside.
My floors stay cleaner.
Less mopping to do.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Someone reads this besides my grandma...

One of the Budapest websites interviewed me as an expat blogger in the city.  Kinda cool.  Check it out.

Top Budapest Travel Guide

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

An evening run

Once again I joined the throng of runners after work on Margit Sziget (Margaret Island).  It is a peaceful retreat for me in the city.  And full of sites to see...

Tight rope walkers practicing on a rope hung between trees.

Kayaks cruising alongside the island.

Blind runners hanging on to a rope with "seeing" runners at the other end guiding them.

Big butts.

Little butts.

Long legs.

Short legs.

Fall leaves.

Gardens and flowers.

Kids climbing on Medieval ruins.

The stinky petting zoo.

Lovers on a bench.

Picnic-ers in the grass.

The water fountain dancing to classical music.

The sun setting behind the Buda hills.

I love this city!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wool socks and sweaters

I have a friend who recently moved from Kenya to a nearby European city.  She says she's freezing.  And it makes me think...  I am so glad I will be prepared this winter as it gets colder.  I just reorganized my closet for Fall/Winter (yes, I'm one of those girls) and realized that I bought a LOT of sweaters last year.  My closet is mostly sweaters.  I think I'm set this year!  My sleeping bag of a coat isn't out yet, but it is ready when I need it.  Looking forward to a prepared winter.  With wool socks.  And Northface wrapped around my body.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Do it while you're young...?

When I told people in 2008 that I was moving to Kenya, the common response was, "Do it while you're young.  Before you're married with kids."  I was 30 years old at the time and didn't really understand that thinking.  I tried to explain that most of the people I would be working with at an international school in Nairobi had families.  Age wasn't a factor.  But many American friends didn't understand that idea.

I recently read this article that might help those same people understand a little of why people choose a life abroad. Even with kids. This is an interview with a CEO of Vodaphone about his family's decision to move abroad.  You can see the whole article here: Moving Abroad Helped Create Close-Knit Family.

The time in Budapest was the first move abroad from Germany for you and your family. How did you find it?
It was an extremely positive experience. Looking back I can say that our decision to move abroad was definitely the right one. All four of us developed a lot more in Hungary in many respects than we would have if we had stayed at home. A pleasant side effect was also that we spent more time as a family than we probably would have done in Germany. We probably wouldn’t have done so many things together with our children, who are now aged 14 and 17, in Germany as in Hungary. At that age children start increasingly going their own ways. Abroad, in a foreign-language environment, we did more together. I can certainly recommend a move abroad to parents who want to spend more time with their children during their teenage years.
When do you think is the optimal time to move abroad with the family?
If parents want to have it easy, then they should move when their children are still relatively young. However, if they want to give their children an experience that will benefit them in their later lives, then it’s best to choose a time when children can consciously recognise the possibilities of the host country and take full advantage of them, as in our case. Essentially, however, there is no right or wrong time, just like for many other things such as marriage, having children or building a house. It’s always the right time. Of course there are always arguments against moving abroad. You need to be aware that it will always entail some compromises and sacrifices. But it helps to concentrate on the positive aspects. We managed that fully. We certainly didn’t regret our decision to move to Hungary in 2009. It must be said, however, that Budapest made it extremely easy for us. I’ve rarely experienced a city that is more welcoming to foreigners than Budapest, and I’ve seen quite a lot of the world. I wasn’t once reproached in Hungary for not speaking or barely speaking Hungarian. Nor can I report any negative experiences generally with regard to our status as foreigners. We had many guests from Germany during our time in Budapest and all of them were pleasantly surprised and much taken with the capital and Hungary. Budapest is simply one of the most beautiful European capitals. It is a good place to live with children. We never had to worry seriously about safety. The public transport in Budapest is also very good.

My time abroad has held a lot of surprises and experiences that I am very grateful for.  Just like this man stated, I think I've developed a lot more than I would have living back home.  My perspective of myself and the world has evolved from experiences like living next to a Nairobi slum, loving on kids with HIV, and hearing a Hungarian friend talk about life during communism.  I am better because of my choices to live overseas.  This is why people choose this life.  Whether they're 20 or 80.

And it's a really GREAT adventure!

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Hungary is putting in its entry for the "international films" category at the Academy Awards.  It's about the persecution of the Roma in Hungary.

Roma Movie "Just the Wind" for Oscars

Could this be a step in the right direction?  Someone is making a good choice.  Gives me hope that some people who make important decisions are bringing light to the persecution of Hungary's minority. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My English

An American friend thought I sounded South African this week.
I spoke with simple words to a Hungarian woman.
Slowed down and repeated words as I start a new year with third graders, most of whom speak English as a second or third language.
Mississippi husband and in-laws.
Kenyan English for 3 years.
British school.
My English is confused!
Am I American?
Am I Southern?
Do I call it a rubbish bin or a trash can?

Every day I hear 20 different English accents at a school with 60 countries represented.  Sometimes I feel good when people ask if I'm British or ask where I'm from.  America is only their guess half the time.  My girlfriends back home in America have teased me for saying things like "collected" instead of "picked up" or the higher pitch in the middle of my sentence that doesn't sound American at all.  American co-workers think I sound Southern sometimes.  Truth be told, I think my English is a mess!  On the good side, I can understand a lot of accents after my experience abroad and have even translated English to English for people.  I can spell color and colour.  And I know that loo, toilet, WC, restroom, bathroom, and lavatory are all English words that mean the same thing.  Important to know when you live overseas!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jewish Hungary

Many people don't know that Hungary once had one of the largest populations of Jewish people in Europe.  Until a group of terrorists rounded them up and shipped them to their deaths.  In Budapest I've heard it said that one in every five people killed at Auschwitz was Hungarian.  At one time Hungary was the last place Jewish refugees fled to in Europe until the Nazis invaded this final escape and hope.  Memorials throughout Budapest honor and remind us that these horrors happened.  Synagogues are still hidden throughout the city, part of apartment courtyards, unnoticeable unless you're looking.  The Old Jewish Ghetto still serves kosher food to its community.  The Grand Synagogue gives tours to help us never forget.

Yet sixty years later anti-semitism still plagues Hungary.  Prejudice seems to be a common theme amongst politicians and rioters, co-workers and friends.  The craziest part?  Many of those politicians who align themselves with these openly anti-semantic political parties are discovering they are actually Jewish too.  A mother, a grandfather, a relative who escaped, a grandparent who died in a concentration camp.

A recent article, A Letter From Budapest, reiterated how serious this issue really is.  How seriously people fear and hope and hate and want change.  Read it.  It's really worth it: A Letter From Budapest.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Best of Holland

Holland is a cool country for many reasons, but one of my favorite things is the almshouses.  Way back in the 1500 to 1700's rich Dutch people built groups of small homes for the elderly.  Some were for widows only.  Others for old maids.  One we went to recently was for couples, but the women had to move out when their husbands died.  These homes were donated.  Free.  An act of good will or a spiritual investment to the donator's after-life future.  The thing to do in the 17th Century was to build homes for the poor, the widows, the ones without.  

When I think about this, it makes me so happy.  The Dutch showed kindness, love, and good will to men for centuries with a simple little apartment for someone who had less.  What would America or Kenya or Hungary be like if the wealthy left a chunk of their fortune to build homes for the poor and widows?  Any rich people people reading this?  Probably not.  I guess that leaves the rest of us to do it. I'll add "almshouse" to my budget for retirement.

This is the courtyard of one group of almshouses in Leiden, Holland.  Twelve small apartments were built around this garden.

This is a door to the courtyard of a group of almshouses.  Residents entered here to get to their little flats.  This building happens to be in the same area that the Pilgrims lived before sailing to the New World.  Their church is right across the street from this picture, where many Pilgrims are buried and honored.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Packing Advice

Having traveled through Europe quite a bit in the last couple years, I feel like I have finally fine-tuned my packing skills.  Whether it's a week trip, a two week trip, or a two month trip, here is what two years of Europe packing and traveling has taught me.

Let's start with the bag...  No wheels!  Carry-on size!  Back pack straps!  Europe is not filled with handicap accessible, easy to roll your suitcase kind of places.  There are lots of little stairs, cobble stone streets, and narrow passageways.  Often you're getting on and off trains with STEPS, not ramps, and with SMALL luggage spaces that you have to LIFT your bag up onto.  You don't even need a big pack.  We use Timbuktu and Eagle Creek versions like this:
 And believe it or not, ladies, you can totally fit a week's worth of clothes and toiletries and everything else you need in this small bag.  

What clothes to pack?  
Well, it definitely depends on the season.  Winter clothes require a bit more space, but you don't sweat and stink them up as quickly, so you can take fewer.  But since most people travel in the summer, or if you're smart, travel in the Fall or Spring, I won't talk winter packing this time.  For the most part, this is what I pack on average:
* 1 or 2 pairs of long pants.  (The last trip I packed a pair of jeans and a pair of black jeans - can dress up or down with either of those.)
* 1 or 2 pairs of shorts.
* 5 tank tops / T-shirts.
* 1 sweater / hoodie.
* 1 or 2 long sleeve shirts.
* Optional: cotton dress, skirt, scarf.
* Raincoat (not optional).

Notice: That's only about 10 articles of clothing.  You will find that when you travel, you end up wearing the same few items again and again.  You really won't need more than this.  I promise.

And don't forget...
* 1 swimming suit: You never know.  Once we ended up at a hotel that had a hot tub on the balcony overlooking the entire city.  Forgetting our swimming suits that time was a bit disappointing.

MOST IMPORTANT: Make sure all 10 of your clothing items can mix and match.  When all of them can mostly be worn together, you end up with a lot more outfit options.  This is a definite must and makes you feel like you always have the right outfit for all occasions, as well as a variety that gives the appearance you brought much more than 10 clothing items.  Layering is key!

Shoes!  I take three pairs: 
1. Good walking sandals.  The best (in my opinion) are Chacos.
2. Comfortable closed-toes shoes / trainers / tennis-shoes.  I prefer Toms classic style for the warmer months.  No socks needed and super comfortable to walk all over cobble stone streets.  They also look good with skinny jeans and shorts.

3. Flip flops.  Sometimes your feet just want a break.  And always needed at a pool or beach.

And now the hardest part for all women out there...
I have gotten my bathroom products all in one small make-up bag, about the size of a zip-lock bag.  Shampoo, make-up, lotions, all of it.  It's possible ladies.  Let me show you how:

* Make-up: I take my normal products, but I narrow it down to face powder, eye shadow, and mascara.  Choose the three products you think you can't go without and add it to your bag.  Small versions if possible.  I also throw in lip balm.

* Shower supplies: My husband actually introduced me to Lush products.  They have very few stores in the US, but they're all over Europe and you can order online.  Lush has two products I love... 
1. Shampoo & conditioning bar.  It's actually a solid bar that suds up so easily and can be used for hair and body.  I love it because it makes brushing my hair easy after a shower, it lasts for a LOT of showers, and it's a solid, so I can go through airport security with it in my bag.  No liquids!  They have a great little case that is the exact shape and size for it too.  
 2. Stick perfume.  They have a "Gorilla Perfume" stick that is small, lasts forever, and has a great variety of scents.  Fits so easy in my small toiletry bag.  It's my splurge item that gives me that oh-so-fresh girly feeling while traveling.
* Lotions: I always want MY body lotion and face moisturizer.  But they don't make little versions of my usual products, or not little enough.  So I just bought some toiletry bottles and put my big products in smaller bottles.
* Other stuff: Of course, add your hair bands, pins, and those other small things that will still fit in the bag.  And don't forget your deodorant.

A note about the make-up bag: I use a clear bag because it works the same as a "zip lock for your liquids" that airport security requires.  I don't have to put anything in a separate bag.  Super easy!

I will admit that my hair brush doesn't fit in my toiletry bag.  I just throw that in my back pack.  

About hair dryers and curling irons... You don't need to take them because MOST European hotels and hostels have hair dryers for you to use.  If not in the room, then just request one from the front desk.  Curling irons... Let it go ladies.  You're traveling, walking around all day, sweating, outside.  Your hair is not going to stay curled the way you want it.  Just put it up in a hair band and enjoy the sites.  (USA girls, your plugs don't work in Europe anyway - too much hassle!)

That's it!
Take a small purse for walking the cities and sites you visit.  Something that can just swing across your shoulder, fits your camera, wallet, passport, guidebook.  (Big enough to fit your raincoat too is a good idea.)  And GO.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jet Lag

Some people say they don't get jet lag.  I don't believe it.  Some people are better at getting through it than others.  My husband for example recovers in a day or two, while me...  About a week to really feel normal again.  This round of the blasted lag has been particularly brutal.  Why?  I think I've pinned it down to no motivation to get up before noon.  It's still summer.  Work is a few weeks away.  Might as well sleep in.  And it's killing me!  Drugs (Benadryl, Night Nurse, Ambien, whatever you take) help me get through the night, but I will admit to a sleepy hangover the next morning.  About day 3 (this time around) I set my alarm for 9:30 and forced myself to get out of bed at 10.  Time to get back into a routine - go running.  OMG!  My body felt like it had been through a meat grinder, sore before I even started.  But I pressed on (walking most of the way, I'll admit) and felt better that day (after a nap).  It's now day nine and I'm up at 5am.  After sitting in bed for 30 minutes feeling my stomach gargle "feed me", I decided to just get up and eat something.  Might as well check Facebook too.  Maybe getting older has an impact on jet lag?  I'm thinking so.  Either way - jet lag needs to be remedied soon.  I will have to go to work eventually.  Any good solutions for jet lag out there?  (And please don't say meletonin, your body's natural drug - kept me up on a 15 hour flight once!)  In desperate need of a drug free normal night's sleep.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Music to my ears.

For four weeks I've heard English every day.  Only English.  When we arrived at the Dallas airport on our way back to Budapest, the sounds began to change.  Spanish speakers sitting next to us in the terminal.  Hindi spoken in the next row on the plane.  Arabic behind us.  We were getting closer to home, where the linguistic variety is comforting.  Closer to a place where multiple languages are heard daily.  Not always understanding every word spoken around me feels like home.  I like that.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Home Turf

Upon landing in Portland, I had a sudden feeling of nerves.  Why?  I couldn't pinpoint it, but it quickly subsided as I walked into PDX, my old home airport.  There was something settling about the green and blue criss-cross carpet and the REI gear everyone was wearing.  These are my people.  This is the place in America I fit the best.  I was reminded again and again of this while talking politics with friends or education with Grandpa or family drama with Mom.  If I were to pick somewhere in America to live, it would still be the Northwest.  My voice can get a twang from being in the South, I can listen to the ideas of an East Coast friend, and I can understand the small town view of my mid-west coworkers.  But I still feel the most like those from the Northwest.  I think I forget this sometimes as I'm exposed to more Americans from my ventures abroad.  But family and friends reminded me that I'm still an American girl no matter how far I go.  So thank you to all my family and friends for a wonderful trip to Oregon!  Next time, I'll drag Will along.

(Ok, most of these pictures are old, but they'll have to do because I forgot my camera in Budapest.)

Sweet Bekah

Newberg Friends

Kelsey Girls

 Grandma and Grandpa