Why Ukraine Matters

Why Ukraine Matters

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” — Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl Several years ago, my husband came to me with a proposal to move overseas for the company where he works. It had long been a dream of ours to get to move overseas with our family for an expatriate assignment for his job — but we knew there were certain locations that wouldn’t be suitable for families with young children, like ours. We had often talked about the options. Of course there were ideal expat places like Singapore or Geneva, and then there were the others, places with crushing pollution or third-world living conditions. The less desirable locations, we knew, were most likely to become available. And one of those did. Nikopol, Ukraine: a southern city, isolated from most outer influence, near the region of Crimea. We had been chosen to move there for a large factory construction project for the company where my husband works. I didn’t know much about Ukraine at the time, except for the book by Tom Rob Smith, CHILD 44, which doesn’t paint a beautiful picture of the country, but I was open to moving there. Several weeks of intense research and travel followed, as we considered every angle on the move. A few problems prevented us from moving there in the end: I would’ve had to have homeschooled our three sons in a very...
Appreciation: The Greatest Part of Returning to the USA

Appreciation: The Greatest Part of Returning to the USA

Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.  ~G.B. Stern “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” -Johannes A. Gaertner (1912-1996) Art History Professor, Theologian, Poet “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” -Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) Philosopher, Mathematician appreciation [əˌpriːʃɪˈeɪʃən -sɪ-]  noun 1. thanks or gratitude 2. assessment of the true worth or value of persons or things   Not long ago, a wise friend wrote a spontaneous comment to me about the expat experience. She, too, had been an American who had lived for an extended period of time outside the United States. And she, too, had moved back to the United States recently with her family. I have thought about and repeated what she said many times over the past few weeks, as I and my family transition from our almost 4 years of living abroad in the Czech Republic. What she said was this: “The best thing about being an expat is the appreciation you have for everything when you return.” I might only be able to add, with emphasis and bold letters, to the word EVERYTHING. Because that’s what it really is: I appreciate EVERYTHING. It’s funny. I don’t think I ever realized just how much I would appreciate home until I’ve returned. The most basic things are the things I am most profoundly grateful for, for instance: Safety and security: i.e.: that there aren’t mafia men in trench coats on 24-hour stake-out on...
Saying Goodbye to Prague, Hello to USA

Saying Goodbye to Prague, Hello to USA

How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to. Almost four years ago, I learned that my family and I would move across the ocean to a faraway city called Prague. My first question was, “Where is Prague?” The opportunity to move there was for my husband’s job, and we thought the stay in Eastern Europe would be for 2 or 3 years. It was a dream for us, to get to live in a foreign country and to have the chance to travel Europe with our family. Though those 2 or 3 years turned into almost 4 years, it all really was a dream. My husband and I moved to Prague with 3 young sons, not knowing how our time overseas would go or turn out. Everything was new; everything was different. From navigating narrow roads with no lines to learning to live in a smaller space with tiny appliances for a family of five, our first months abroad were a continual challenge of learning how to adapt and make the most of the experiences at the same time. One of my biggest challenges was as a person with severe allergies to grass and tree pollens. I had survived springs and summers in the US in air conditioning, and then later as an adult with allergy shots. But moving to a former Soviet country meant moving back in time. Our home not only did not have air conditioning or central air, but it also did not have window screens. And, I didn’t have easy access to an allergist … or so...
My Favorite Italian Hideaways

My Favorite Italian Hideaways

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” -Giuseppe Verdi When my family and I moved to Europe 3 1/2 years ago, one of our first travel goals was to explore Italy. Everything we had ever seen or read about Italy made it the destination that topped our travel wish list. We were seeking the famous Tuscan sun, the wines, the antiquities, the olives, the people and the food and the musical sound of the language. And now, even after ten trips into the country, we love Italy even more than we thought possible. Friends often ask how we find the places where we’ve stayed in Italy. The answer is often simple. It’s the best kept secret to traveling and staying in and through Tuscany or the Veneto region near Venice: TrustandTravel.com. Before our first trip into Italy, I spent weeks searching places and articles and travel sites and social travel sites before I discovered Trust and Travel. If you go to their page, you’ll see what I mean. The presentation is beautiful, and the estates they represent are even more gorgeous than the images. We’ve stayed as a family in several of their estates, both in Tuscany and in the Veneto. Each has been unique, historic, and overflowing with rustic Italian ambiance. After years of traveling and staying in various B&Bs and hotels throughout Europe, I give Trust and Travel my highest recommendation. My favorite Italian Hideaways In Italy’s Maremma along the quiet Mediterranean coast, we stay in a tiny bungalow nestled into the Mediterranean dunes in the southernmost stretch of Tuscany. It is neither fancy...
23 Countries & 5 Seas: My 3 Years in Prague Travel Log

23 Countries & 5 Seas: My 3 Years in Prague Travel Log

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo In the past few years, since my family and I moved to Europe from the US Midwest, I’ve had the opportunity to see and travel to far more places than I ever dreamed. It’s been one incredible adventure. During that time, I’ve written dozens of posts on my travels around Europe, from places like Dubrovnik to Paris, from Sweden to Tuscany. We’ve traveled to 23 countries in Europe, and dipped our toes in 5 seas!   visited 24 countries (10.6%) I thought I’d compile a list as a blog post to share here. Following, a list of many of my Posts on Travel:   Italy’s Amalfi coast from a hike along the Trail of the Gods “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.   Autumn Views from the Austrian Alps: a Photojournal Nelahozeves Castle: the Finest Bohemian Renaissance Castle Střekov Castle: Stunning Gem of Czech Republic My 3 Years in Prague Sailboats, Shells, and Sunsets: Photos from a Florida Beach 3 Hours inside Prague Castle: 10 Favorite Sites to See Italy’s Lost City of Pompeii: A Photojournal Italy’s Amalfi Coast: A Photojournal 10 Tips for Traveling Europe on a Budget The Alps: A Photojournal My 12 Best Photographs of 2011 7 Ingredients of a Great Getaway Vacation What Fuels You? 7 Days in Tuscany: A Photojournal Sea Side: Retreat along the Mediterranean Travel: How to Really Experience a Place Van Gogh, Inspiration, and Art Amsterdam...
My 3 Years in Prague

My 3 Years in Prague

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m not sure there is a way to become an expat besides just taking the leap. Actually, a leap from a cliff into a murky pool of water. There is no way to know if, on the other side of a Trans-Atlantic move, it will work out until you try it. It’s like diving into a murky water, fast moving in parts and slow moving in others, and the views along the river are all unknown. Everything is unknown. Where will we go? What will we do? Where will we live? How will we make a life in the complete unknown? Those were all questions in my mind when I leaped, with my husband and three young sons, into the darkened water that was a move across the Atlantic, from quiet and predictable suburban Ohio, USA, to an endlessly interesting village just outside Prague, Czech Republic, three years ago. It was an act of faith. Before the move, during the swirl of days of selling our house and cars, and packing our furniture for its two month trip across the ocean, we had a two-day seminar with a Cultural Trainer to prepare us for our new country of residence, to help brace us for becoming citizens outside our home country, expats. Most of the things our trainer said were daunting, and all seemed impossible. But I made a practice of making mental notes to keep me for the coming months and years. Those notes — they have all paid off...
3 Hours inside Prague Castle: 10 Favorite Sites to See

3 Hours inside Prague Castle: 10 Favorite Sites to See

“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.” – Franz Kafka (1883-1924), Prague German Jewish author, novelist Prague is the most beautiful city on earth, and I think Franz Kafka agreed with me. Even after living in Prague as an expat for three years, I still have not tired of Prague’s beauty. From the steep city hills to the winding Vltava River, to the time-worn cobblestones to the thousand spires skyline, Prague is a city like no other. If you haven’t visited Prague yet, you must. Start a jar for saving nickles and dimes today. When you arrive in Prague, you’ll realize the centerpiece of the city is the Prague Castle, which sits high on a ridge overlooking the Vltava River. The Czech government still meets in Prague Castle today, yet the first structures within the Castle date back to around the year 880 AD. It is a fascinating place to tour. If you have 3 hours, you can see much of Prague Castle. Here, my 10 favorite sites within the Castle walls: 1)  Golden Lane.   2)  Kafka’s house on Golden Lane. 3)  The Lobkowicz Palace. (Actually, this is Number One on my favorites list, but you must visit Golden Lane early because of the crowds.) Inside, the Lobkowicz Collections display amazing cultural artifacts and treasures from over four centuries, including Canaletto paintings (including the recently renowned painting of Lord Mayor’s Day, remembered in celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee), Beethoven’s manuscripts of the 3rd, 5th, and 6th Symphonies, etc. Priceless. My other favorite is to have lunch at the Lobkowicz Palace on the balcony overlooking...
The Necessity of Friends

The Necessity of Friends

Hi All! This week, I was invited to write a piece for a novelist friend, Hallie Sawyer’s, blog. She is also working on a first novel, and is a super-busy mom of three active kids in the United States. Because of Hallie, I can say this: friends in the writing world are a necessity; she is one of my treasures. Click on the link here to get to my blog on Writing, Prague, and the Necessity of Friends: http://bit.ly/vUTUBr . Thank you for visiting Hallie’s blog this week, at Write for Me. See you back here next week! ~Jennifer Related posts: Sunshine, Freedom, and a Little Bit of Friends 3 Tips for Wrangling Writing Time Out of a Kid-filled Summer Writing Wednesday: How to Make Time to Write A Writing Time of Year Friends Keep Our Lights...
Amsterdam for a Weekend: A Photojournal

Amsterdam for a Weekend: A Photojournal

Laughter is an instant vacation.  ~Milton Berle There are some times in life that leave us depleted, and other times that fill us back up. For me, this past weekend was one of the latter, when I traveled with one of my closest friends to her native Holland, to Amsterdam. Not only did we have the little break to refuel and refresh, but we had a time of rich experiences and near-constant laughter. It was an experience I will always cherish, never forget. I loved so many things about Amsterdam: the frequent canals, hoards of bikes, clanging bells, rumbling boats, Western-style shops and people and service. My most favorite thing about Amsterdam? The spirit of a country at ease and also at work. So much history, everywhere, a solid past and a promising future. The Dutch spirit seemed to be written everywhere, of freedom, and hard work, and a friendly and warm style of going about their daily lives. It was beautiful. Truly. What surprised me the most: the bikes, more bikes, and bicycles everywhere. I’d been told for years about how moms bike around Amsterdam and Holland with multiple children on their bikes, and with the groceries and everything else they need as well at the same time. I couldn’t imagine it before I saw it. But now I can say I’ve seen it (unfortunately, no photos of these multi-personned bikes). Girls ride on the rack behind the seat, while the guys drive. Delivery men ride with bundles tied down or strapped in to the front of a bike. Kids ride on handlebars, kid seats in front and...
Prague and the Longest Day of the Year

Prague and the Longest Day of the Year

“If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.”  -Bern Williams In Prague, there is one sure way know that it is the longest day of the year: it is officially dark  from 11:30pm to 2:30am. Yes, we are at the shortest night of the year, and I can hardly imagine how people North of Prague are able to get any sleep … it is a really strange sensation to see light along the horizon when it should be the middle of the night. But, I have to say now that we are officially at the Summer Solstice, that this past Spring was the most beautiful of my life. While the rest of the world has been wrecked with tornadoes, earthquakes, violent storms, and tsunamis, Prague and the majority of Europe has coasted through Spring 2011 with sunshine, 75*F, and a few rain showers. We have so many reasons to be grateful: It’s such an amazing experience, getting to live here in Prague with my family … I’m very grateful. And I’m so glad I can share some of the beauty with you … enjoy the great days summer! Related posts: Prague’s Stunner: Prague Castle at Night Reflections of Prague Castle at Night Snow, Charles Bridge, and the Beauty of Prague’s Spires in Winter 3 Hours inside Prague Castle: 10 Favorite Sites to See Paradise Found: My Fourth of July in the Austrian...