Pardoning the turkey

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We are starting off Thanksgiving week celebrating the way any American family would. We’re binge-watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

After living in Croatia for half a year and watching only a handful of shows in English, I figured out how to make our VPN (Virtual Private Network) connect. Now we can listen to music on Pandora, catch my favorite radio podcasts (I love “This American Life”) and watch sitcoms that weren’t available on the web in Eastern Europe.

And on this Sunday before Thanksgiving, Sarge helped me with the grocery shopping, a chore he hates. While it was less crowded than any supermarket in America on this date on the calendar, it was a challenge in other ways. A walk down the spice aisle, for example, put our language skills to the test. I now know that “majčina dušica” might translate as “mother of the nuns” in English, but it’s actually “thyme.” Good thing there was a picture on the package. Through trial and error, I’ve also learned the difference between buying heavy cream and sour cream here, even though the packaging is deceptively similar.

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I heard the Interspar grocery would be selling turkeys. That was not entirely correct. I should have done shopping the old-school way and ordered one directly from the butcher. All we could find was turkey legs. So, we will be having whole roasted chicken and some turkey legs. The rest of the turkey gets a pardon.

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We will also have sweet potato casserole with no marshmallows (none to be found in Croatia). I also couldn’t find cranberries of any sort, or canned pumpkin, or measuring cups. I’ll improvise. We’ll still have other standards: mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls. And I will try to make pie dough without measuring the ingredients in actual measuring cups. Tea cup measuring should suffice.

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The kids are celebrating “Italian Week” at their international school this week, and they’re not off for American Thanksgiving. We won’t watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade together. But we might get crazy and let the boys stay up late to watch Netflix or play a family game of “Cluedo” (the board game “Clue,” our favorite).

A year ago, we had an unusual “Friendsgiving” in New Mexico with Sarge’s pilot friends from America and Tunisia when he was working in Roswell. This year, we’re straying from family tradition again. Turkey, relatives and American football won’t play a central role in our feast.

We will still be counting our blessings. We have much to be grateful for this year, especially the opportunity to live abroad and grow closer as a family of four. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and it will be different in a place where not many other people are celebrating. We won’t have a crackling fire, a La-z-boy chair to nap in after dinner or turkey leftovers for sandwiches the next day.

We will have a spirit of togetherness just the same. We’ll think about what we are grateful for, appreciate what we have and enjoy the simple pleasures of family nights, ordinary days and holidays, wherever we are to celebrate them.

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Back to škola

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There are many simple things I love about Croatia. One of them is back-to-school shopping. Or lack of back-to-school shopping, actually. All the boys needed to start their international school classes this morning were some notebooks, pens and pencils and a pair of slippers.

I was used to ridiculously expensive and specific American school shopping lists. It was fantastic not having a list at all this year. I didn’t have to search for blue pens with erasers, folders with prongs, book covers in multiple sizes or family packs of Clorox wipes.

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The only school item I do still need to find is something that exists to torture parents worldwide: a recorder. I thought we had escaped the plastic, flute-like instrument this year. I used to ask my kids to practice on the porch so the screeching wasn’t so close to my ears. The music teacher here insists recorders are essential for the fifth grade. I don’t know if this is the right instrument for developing a love of music. I thought recorders were universally despised. I think the other parents here are with me on this.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what the other parents here are talking about. I’m still getting by on charades half the time. I’ve tried to befriend school moms who are kind enough to speak to me in English. I went to a parent meeting the other day that was an hour-and-a-half – all in Croatian. I could follow the gist of what was going on: Parents at our private school were demanding smaller class sizes. They let their voices be heard, loudly, and they were effective in getting results. I just needed the CliffsNotes version.

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Thankfully, the boys’ teachers text me in English. That’s how I found out the first day of school was going to last only 30 minutes. I was so excited that the kids were going back to school that I had already invited my expats’ group to coffee to celebrate. The kids got out of school so early this morning that they had to crash the coffee party.

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I was glad to see “A” and “W” run out of school smiling. My fifth- and sixth-grade boys might not admit it, but I think they were happy to go back and see friends they made when we got here in the spring. They’re developing skills to get past the language barriers. They both started correcting my Croatian pronunciation when I tried to make small talk with locals this afternoon. I’m taking that as a good sign. We’re all in for a good education this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Lucky’ Is All in Your Perspective

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Sarge and I just sent the boys to the market by themselves to forage seafood and bread to go along with our salad for dinner.

The boys are 10 and 11, and they have a bit more freedom in Croatia than they had back home. We did break down and buy them cell phones to call us, but that was only after “W” went with a friend to take a dog for a long walk and didn’t tell us where he was going. We worried about his whereabouts. Now they check in, or they just call to tell on each other, the way brothers do.

They’ve grown up a bit in our nearly two months abroad. Not only do they know more Croatian than I do, but they are adjusting to the differences of life in another country.

A few days ago, their international school let out for the summer. On the last day, they got to take a field trip to an island to swim and play and have pizza and ice cream. Yesterday, they got to go to a classmate’s beach birthday party.

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As a Midwestern mom, I can’t help but think they should feel lucky to have all of these beautiful experiences living by the sea. But feeling “lucky” is all in your perspective. Sometimes all they can talk about is people and things they miss back home.

I don’t know what they’ll remember long-term about life in Croatia. I can only hope that exposing them to different people and cultures will give them insight and skills that will help them in life.

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But I don’t want to overthink it. Moving abroad is a choice we made for them, and sometimes it is overwhelmingly different and foreign. We are each finding our own ways to meet people, make connections and work out the hard parts.

Two months ago, I never would have let my kids ride their bikes to the store in a foreign country and rely on them to find squid and scampi in a market where everything is in a different language. But I have faith that they’ll come back with dinner. And maybe a good story about how they foraged it.

We’ll sit down together for dinner and talk about our day in this sometimes amazing and very different country. And we’ll talk about what we want to do tomorrow.

The Difference a Friend Makes

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Three weeks into being the new kid at an international school, “W,” my youngest, received a birthday invitation to go to a paintball party. I can’t tell you how excited that made my whole family.

A couple of Mondays ago, I was lamenting that 10-year-old “W” was having problems adjusting to life in another country. Making a couple of friends has made all the difference — for all of us.

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One friend I’ll call “D” has already shown my boys cool swimming spots and the best places to get ice cream and pizza. After school one day, he was our personal tour guide and translator around town. I first got to know him when a play date at his house turned into a get-together for both our families. That turned into another gathering and an invitation to go to their family’s weekend home for a barbecue.

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That was our most amazing invitation yet. It was an idyllic setting along a quiet bay with clear turquoise water that made us want to jump in, despite the cold water. It was so gorgeous I felt like I was in a dream. After a dip, we warmed up with good food and company at “D’s” great-grandparents’ cottage.

Multiple generations of “D’s” family treated us like one of their own. They served us coffee, homemade bread, soup, smoked meats and cheese, salad, potatoes and meat grilled on the brick barbecue. We ended the meal with baklava “D’s” grandma made and rakia (Croatian moonshine) that was a gift from a neighbor.

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Great-Granny told us lots of stories in Croatian even when no one was translating and I was the only one sitting next to her. The translated parts included tales of giving birth to seven children with no doctor or midwife and how she had to warm one tiny newborn daughter in the oven (yes, she survived). She told of her wartime memories. And I didn’t need to speak her language to know she worried that my kids with bare feet would catch a cold when they ran around with no shoes on after playing in the sea.

Aside from a few troublesome teens (they exist everywhere) who have bothered our kids at the playground by our house, everyone has welcomed us here. This morning, our landlord left a bag of freshly picked cherries at our doorstep. Small gestures like that have made our move easier.

We’ve been grateful for invitations from strangers. Sometimes it feels like being on a blind date. I went to meet some Expats from an online group for drinks one night, and I had to post that I was the one wearing a black-and-white striped dress and jean jacket so they could spot me. One morning this week, some moms from the boys’ school sent me a message inviting me to meet them for breakfast, and I introduced myself first by video so they could recognize me.

I’m realizing that I’m not too old to make new friends myself. But I’m mostly relieved that my kids are learning the art of doing it themselves.