Seeing clearly

There is a new joke in our family that I trick everyone into helping me with groceries. It’s not a joke, it’s true. No one noticed that I brought my backpack filled with bags to mass yesterday and the grocery store happened to be on the way home. 😆

We squeezed in a few hours in the cold before the rain started with the new family we met this week.

After the rain started, the kids all decided they wanted to see a movie together. Our kids made a fairly solid case for why seeing “Sonic” in Slovak was no big deal. Even the teenage girls were on board and so we acquiesced.

There is no photographic evidence of the girls. These boys could not be nicer kids- even John and I enjoyed their company.

We said goodbye after the movie knowing that we would see them this week again. Their mom invited us to their favorite restaurant next weekend so we are looking forward to that too.

Monday started similarly to Mondays back home. No one wants to wake up and get ready for school. But. We made it.

Everyone agrees that one of the greatest things about school is the C.S. Lewis coffee/snack stand. The McCarthys are very good customers and the attendant speaks English very well.

V with some of her classmates

This is a central social spot for the school. (And totally not a cool place for your mom to be hanging out at). Noted.

Classes went well. Jozef started with some silly answers in English class and Joe started to one-up with sillier answers (snakes eat apples etc). The English teacher explained to the boys that the silly answers only make sense to them since they both speak English as their first language. 🤦🏽‍♀️ Jozef tackled his good buddy when the teacher wasn’t looking- Joe definitely took notice. They still have not spoken to each other.

One of Joe’s incredibly patient teachers.

We made it to lunch and Ryan declared it was the best school lunch he has ever eaten!

V ate with her friends.

We made it home in time for a snack and then Joe was off to basketball. The report was that, once again, he had no idea of any of the Slovak instruction but he won a shooting drill. He told us he just kept shooting until someone told him he won.

It was 56 degrees and sunny so I planned to run. Ryan mentioned that he would like to walk through old town. I loved that idea.

One of my friends told me that this time with my kids would allow me to see them so clearly. I think about that all the time. It is such a gift to see them clearly- hear their thoughts, fears and joy filled moments. I love watching them take in all the new experiences and moments.

Tonight was no exception. Ryan really loved how the sky looked with the sun setting over the bridge.

We found two more churches and a chapel that we hadn’t been into before.

We also found a museum dedicated to the history of the city of Bratislava. We were so excited to tell John about it.

It was already closed but we will be back!

And we found a little reminder of home and our beloved PJ. When we returned home, we had an email describing how well he is doing!

I learned from Ryan that of the big three- school, basketball and the city of Bratislava- he is really happy with 2 out of the 3. And, at least he doesn’t “hate” the 3rd (school).

One other thing on his mind…Budapest bear has gone missing.

Chilling

The McCarthys apparently aren’t so good at chilling.

Last night Ryan had basketball practice. It was especially fun because they moved it to the Inter Bratislava court. I was on basketball duty and planned to get some work done. Instead, I was thoroughly entertained by the hard workout the coach put them through.

Running the bleachers, planks, pushups etc etc.

Later, the IB team and coaches came for their practice but spent quite a while warming up and watching our kids practice. It was something that made Ryan just light up.

You can see the IB coaching standing and watching.

We wanted to celebrate the week and meet out after practice at a restaurant that came very highly recommended, Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar (it is a brewery). The food was delicious and the restaurant was beautiful.

We ate all the cheese
V’s ribs and peppers
So much schnitzel

I woke up today and got a quick run in. During the run, I thought about the day and the fact that last weekend, V’s backpack was lost on a train or in a train station and not recovered. She’s handled it really well- but there were clothes in the backpack that she had saved up for and bought by herself in the US.

Before we the left the US, V and I daydreamed of a day trip to Vienna. When I got home from the run, I double checked the status of coronavirus (please don’t worry about us- we are watching it closely), and then suggested we go. Everyone wanted to come. After quick showers, we were off to Vienna!

It is only an hour by train so the boys were quickly taking in the first views of Vienna!
Daydream realized
One of the beautiful churches we stopped in today.
For our friends the DeRose family back in Pgh- and they actually are in the biz!
Each street was more beautiful than the next- the architecture was breathtaking.
The Habsburg Palace
A sculpture of birth
V wouldn’t pass up a macaron.

Here’s one of the hard things about diabetes- you have plan for exercise. I know how to manage this. But we couldn’t quite find John and the boys and it led to more walking than I expected. When we found each other and planned to climb the steps to this tower, I was 69 ⬇️⬇️.

My family is patient and kind and all waited while my delicious German gummy bears took effect before we took on this tower.

It was another intense climb.

360 of these

And well worth the views!

Here is the description of the tower and of that beautiful roof on top of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

The view from below
And inside
Yep. That’s the status quo now.
Enjoying more delicious bakery
Even the train station is beautiful

It was a short trip since we wanted to see the Inter Bratislava team play a home game at night. So we caught a train back to Bratislava. We will be back to Vienna for sure!

V loves this hand-me-down shirt from her Pap who ran this race in the early 80s.

The boys and I left straight from the Bratislava train station to get to the IB game. Ryan had plans to meet up with a boy from basketball. It turns out that Ryan’s new friend also has a little brother who is 8. In about 3 seconds, the boys were flipping bottles, laughing and enjoying each other.

After the game, the boys’ mom and 15 year old sister came to pick them up. Even though English is their second language (or one of their 4 second languages), we quickly hit it off. We plan to meet up tomorrow so the boys can play deck hockey (ha- this will be new) and so the girls can….chill?

On our way home from the game, Pap started giving us intense text updates from Ryan’s playoff game back at home. We were on the edge of our seats. We arrived back at the apartment for overtime and Pap allowed us to see the rest of the game on FaceTime. We felt like we were there and are so proud of their really big win!!

So. Tomorrow we will chill.

Jozef and Joe

We all survived week one of school!

There were good times, some bad times and mostly ok times – which I consider a win.

My 2nd grade classes have been super interesting! (“super” translates here as “good” so we hear it all the time- sometimes I stop and wonder if I’m in WI?).

I learned all about the complexities of recycling in Slovakia and am impressed by the effort made here.

Everyday, I am completely in awe of teachers. It is a hard job!!

Joe taught more new vocabulary to his class- “prison,” “containers” and reviewed again “death traps, work out gyms and six packs.” He also explained his Bull Boys group to the class.

Next week, his teacher wants him to give a presentation on himself and also the animals at the Pittsburgh zoo.

The most entertaining social experiment of the week has been the alpha male dance between “Jozef” and Joe.

To protect his privacy, “Jozef” isn’t his real name and I won’t include any pictures. However, “Jozef” is Joe’s Slovak counterpart.

He loves to chat up his classmates, he sports a phohawk, clearly is a class clown and loves beatboxing (and talking when the teacher is talking).

His dad is British and so he speaks English perfectly, however he chooses not to unless forced to by his teacher.

He looks over at Joe a lot. Joe side-eyes back at him. Joe almost always has the right answers in English classes and Jozef would like a quick peek to see if his are also correct but Joe quickly covers them up. They have been given assignments together yet they refuse to speak to each other.

One day after class, Joe’s teacher asked me to stay and apologized to me for how chatty the class was and to tell me how well behaved Joe is. I told her- I have to be honest, Joe acts a lot like Jozef in the US. I’m afraid that when/if they become friends, the chatting could get worse.

One day on the way home this week, Joe was describing Jozef to his siblings. V remarked, “he sounds exactly like you Joe.” Joe furrowed his eyebrows and declared, “we will not become friends.”

I was telling the story of Joe and Jozef to my family and someone compared this relationship to the movie “Stepbrothers.”

I just have a feeling the story will end this way.

For now, the alpha male dance continues.

We were happy to finish up Friday and although this is what my cappuccino cup said…

I am not “shutting up” about how this week was mostly a success.

The bus left us off at the tram stop after school but the kids wanted to instead walk through old town.

Ryan was so happy to give Budapest bear a sibling.

“I love Bratislava”

There was some serious hail and the kids embraced it (whereas I really wanted to hustle home).

We are looking forward to a chill weekend!

Snow day!

Our tutor couldn’t come to school today so we pretended it was a snow day!

After lounging, some cleaning and laundry, it was clear that the boys needed a walk. I offered a McDonalds treat and they were pumped. After lunch, we noticed the old market was open- it was filled with food trucks!

Philly cheesesteaks with cheese wiz!
Their food truck game is 🔥

Outside the boys ran off some energy. That eventually turned into wrestling WWE style.

That’s my life with two boys. As it usually does, this ended with tears because of an accidental finger to the eyeball. The make up part is so sweet.

They claimed I tricked them with the McDonalds offer because I hit up the grocery store and had 4 extra hands to carry groceries.

Joe had another good basketball practice with a “new friend!”

We found an English service tonight which was nice for the whole family. At the end of Lent, the Fleming’s will arrive and we are all looking forward to that!!

Prepáč Petržalka

I am sorry Petržalka!

The boys were done with school by lunchtime today. I cannot tell a lie, it was a less smooth day and the boys were happy to come home for lunch. This is to be expected and we have a plan to work out the harder aspects.

V, as before, was having another good day and so she was happy with the plan for me to take the boys home and come back for her at the end of the day.

Since I needed to get a run in, I decided to run to get her from school. I dialed up the directions, put in my earbuds and allowed google to guide me without thinking.

The first thing I encountered was the tram bridge. It is only for trams, bike lanes and pedestrians.

When I entered the bridge, I did notice that a lot of the pedestrians were on the other side of the bridge, but there were no signs guiding anyone anywhere (lack of details). Then I realized that the side of the bridge I was on converted to only bike lanes and there were some serious cyclists on it. There was no choice for me but to keep running and I’m sure I was scolded in Slovak but I kept my head down.

The directions took me to this fantastic path through Petržalka.

Under a bridge
A swan!
The path eventually connects back up with the Danube River
More swans

This path went on for miles and there were so many people out. Petržalka shows off its inner beauty on this path and I do feel badly for my initial impression.

First official day of school

I went back to second grade.

This was maybe the most talked about aspect of our adventure before we left- me going to school.

There are no first day pictures. I was nervous like them but there were no tears.

We arrived and the lead English teacher and our tutor were ready and welcoming which put us all at ease. We went to a room designated for us which would be home base.

We went through the schedule for each kid and everything was becoming clearer. Joe and I went off to his first class together!

We couldn’t quite get lunch at school figured out and since it was the first day back from their holiday, the back up cafe also wasn’t stocked. The boys (and I ha) had a longer break for lunch so I said I would take them out to grab food in the neighborhood.

The school is located in an interesting part of Bratislava, called Petražalka. Petražalka was a labor camp for Hungarian Jews in World War II. In 1945, 90% of those Jews were sent to internment camps and it was annexed by Bratislava in 1946. In 1977, construction of paneláks began. Paneláks means “pre-fabricated sections house” and are a highly visible reminder of the Communist era (thanks Wikipedia).

Petražalka is the most densely populated borough in Central Europe and maybe on the continent.

It’s not very pretty. And it isn’t easy to get around. But, it is very safe and houses the school that has been so good to us.

There was actually a little bit of green space here.

We finally just ended up at a grocery store because we knew that all the grocery stores have amazing bakeries with the ham bread and pizza bread.

We made it back in time to say hello to Veronica who reported she was having a really good day. Her last class was PE and they played basketball so she felt right in her comfort zone.

As we were leaving, one girl ran to catch up to us to say goodbye to V and meet her little brothers. I asked Joe what he thought about the day and he declared, “I loved it!” Even Ryan admitted that it wasn’t terrible.

Here’s a “day #1 down” pic of them at the bus stop.

Uherský Brod days #2 and 3

Our Saturday started with a guided tour of Uherský Brod. Walking around this town makes me feel so connected to my grandmother and her family.

We discovered that the birthplace of Jan Amos Comenius is Uherský Brod! This is serendipitous because John is teaching at Comenius University in Slovakia- named after the great Czech scholar, Protestant religious dissident, and educational reformer. There are many important sites dedicated to him.

One of the oldest Hussite churches with tributes to Comenius.
Comenius was a religious refugee and excommunicated from the Kingdom of Bohemia.
Comenius’s childhood home.
A famous sculptor donated a sculpture to UB in honor of Comenius. This represents a map of Moravia that Comenius made 400 years ago.
The North Gate of the city of UB is a museum dedicated to Czech history and Comenius. My cousin’s maternal uncle was one of the first curators of the museum.
A memorial to the end of the Velvet Revolution. This is a flag made of keys. The kids learned about the passive protest of clinking keys from the museum in Bratislava. Here, we heard stories of my family clinking keys in that very spot.

The museum was incredible. There were interactive areas for the kids and detailed and interesting accounts of Comenius’s life.

A replica of a classroom from Comenius’s time (400 years ago).
V was pretending to be the boys’ teacher.
An interactive more modern day replica of a classroom.
Comenius’s 6 categories of students (as we can see from category six, he created these in the….uhh less politically correct 17th century). The kids pondered which category they would fit into.
McCarthys were here. 😑
Uherský Brod means Hungarian Ford- this is an early map of the city.
Traditional dress- this is the UB folk costume and is likely actually from my family.
This is what my Grandmother’s living room looked like. We used to joke with her about the number of clocks she had.
Medival weaponry
The museum hosts concerts and dances in the warm weather.

The visit to the museum was really special and we learned so much about the history of the city and Comenius.

We took a lovely walk to go and visit Vera’s 96 year-old mother. Although she is bedridden, her mind is 100% intact. She remembered my visit 13 years ago with my mom and Veronica in my belly. It was so fun for her to see me again and meet John and the kids. Her granddaughter is also named Veronica and after the visit when I was pregnant, the decision to give Veronica her name was final.

Veronica especially liked meeting Marie.

Outside her door is a painting of my Great-Great Grandfather Rudolf.

This was also on a bench ❤️

Next we walked to the cemetery where my family members are buried.

My relatives from Canada had been here in the fall to visit and laid the heart of candles that Vera keeps intact.

Seeing Marie and visiting the grave of my family was overwhelming. It is hard to describe what that feels like and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have been there and to show my kids their roots.

The train station again.

Walking around UB brought up many stories that Vera shared with us. The reality of her life under communism came up frequently and although the kids attention would frequently wander off, they listened fully when we stopped here.

Vera told us a story about how when she was 16, she had been walking up this street with her girlfriend and her parents trailing when they heard some shouting from across the road. This was in 1968, the year The Red Army had forcibly occupied Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring. There were Soviet soldiers literally all over the country, even in little Uherský Brod. Soviet soldiers were yelling at them, and the girls decided to not turn their attention but to keep walking. Frustrated, the soldiers started shooting and Vera and her friend rounded the corner to hide where the garbage bins are. Why did they shoot? Because Vera had on jeans- a gift to her that was very uncommon.

We ended up on this corner a few more times over the weekend and each time the kids remembered the spot and acknowledged what had happened there.

We had walked many miles and learned many things that were more interesting to adults so we promised the kids that we would check out the Aquapark near our hotel.

I loved the saunas overlooking the pools.
Ryan jumping on the water trampoline.
The slide- Joe also mastered this one which had many different trippy lights in it.

After swimming, Vera insisted we come back to her house for more food and drink.

The house shoes were waiting for my kids- perfectly sized because of their cousins.
The Slivovitz cellar (where the plum brandy is stored.

We thought it was hilarious how useful the slivovitz is. Are you cold? Slivovitz. Are you sick? Slivovitz. Everyday greeting? Slivovitz.

Our kids discovered the Czech version of “sorry” while waiting to see Marie (below) and so when we were at Vera’s, they got the game out again. The adults thoroughly enjoyed conversation while the kids got their sibling aggression out by knocking each other off the board.

We said goodnight and planned to meet up the next morning at mass.

Immaculate Conception

The kids were so good during mass in Czech. Again, I felt so connected to my family.

Vera told us that there is a small social gathering after mass outside. The kids were really excited for donuts. Better than donuts, there were many home baked goods and hot drinks. The kids were hoping for hot chocolate so they bounded up to grab some. There wasn’t hot chocolate. But there was hot mulled wine!

Before we left, Vera wanted us to see the folk dancers that were dancing all over the city. It was a celebration that only happens once a year- the weekend before Lent. Sadly, it was raining so the dancers were packed in tightly. However, the music and dancing were terrific! Ladia, Vera’s husband was a member of that folk band and so all of his friends were there.

Sadly, it was time for us to board our train. We had a spectacular weekend even though the kid cousins couldn’t come. The great news was that we would see everyone again!

😘

Uherský Brod – our roots

Thursday we took the train out of Bratislava to Brno to see the city for one night.

Traveling with a 7 year old requires patience ❤️
And due to fears of elevators, it also requires 8 flights of steps.
8th floor window! We can’t get over that you can open them this wide. And those windows needed to be open because we couldn’t figure out how to turn down the heat.
Girls room.

Although it was so cold, windy and rainy, we walked around Old Town for a little while.

We stumbled upon the best pizza shop!

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and had some time to see more of Brno. Ryan wanted to remember the hotel and asked me to take this pic.

Bobycentrum

First we went to the train station to put our luggage in a locker.

These have been our favorite train stations so far.

In the Czech Republic, you must use their currency- the Koruna. In an effort to get the correct amount of change for the locker, John kept coming back with various treats and drinks while we stood by the luggage. We were in full on laughter after a while.

The kids benefitted and look at my locker key.

Despite the cold wind, we put on some serious steps seeing another beautiful city.

Heading up the church tower
Walking under the bell.
Well V was running cause it was a little scary.
We forgot Budapest Bear
Looking down
Inside the Cathedral
Lighting candles
Looking back up at the tower we climbed.
Joe still loves to chase birds.

We received the sad news that both of my cousins’ families came with down with illness and couldn’t come to meet us for the weekend. The kids were so sad that they wouldn’t be meeting their cousins. The great thing about having more time in Central Europe is that we will plan another weekend to be together.

Although the kid cousins couldn’t come, we still boarded the train to head to the city of my maternal grandmother, Uhersky Brod, to see my mom’s cousin. My mom and I traveled to UB when I was pregnant with Veronica and it was one of the most special experiences of my life.

We were confident that we boarded the correct train and had a lovely train ride. Our kids absolutely love traveling by train and when given the choice, they want low speed trains instead of high speed trains so the trips are longer.

We noticed that the train was hitting stations that were correct, but the timing was getting later and later. Finally, at the train stop before UB, everyone was departing the train and a woman was telling us in Czech that we had to get off. Ha. So we did.

As we were figuring out what was going on, I realized that my family was just waiting for us at the next train station and we were really late. Another American overheard us (we meet so few native English speakers) and he actually lives in UB and accompanied us to the right train. We enjoyed the train ride with him, hearing about what it is like to live in the Czech Republic.

We made it!

The train station is beautiful.
So was the sunset over the pedestrian bridge.
V took this pic on my phone.

I had received a worried email from my mom’s cousin that the train arrived and we didn’t get off. We made contact and met them at the hotel. By the time we were all together, we were laughing at the details of our journey.

We love our hotel.

We were welcomed to my family’s home. Vera, my mom’s cousin, and her husband, Ladia are seasoned grandparents. Their grandchildren are the same ages as our kids. Immediately everyone felt comfortable.

The warm welcome of homemade plum brandy (made from plums on the family orchard).

Vera’s father, František, is at the heart of all of these relationships. He kept in touch with my grandmother their whole lives, sending letters back and forth. We met František when we were here in 2006 and again, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago.

He kept a meticulous family tree history which they have maintained.

Ryan was so happy to help fill in information about his cousins in Indianapolis.

We had the best evening, enjoying delicious food, local wine, music (Ladia is well known musician- he has been featured on national programs in the Czech Republic), history of our family and heart wrenching stories from their life under communist rule.

We also FaceTimed my mom who absolutely loved being able to “see” us all together.

Today we will tour UB, visit František’s wife who is 96 (she remembers me from our last visit), check out an amazing indoor pool facility near our hotel and then spend the evening at our family’s house again.

❤️ Family ❤️

Nehovorím po slovensky

I don’t speak Slovak.

Sometimes that gets exhausting. One of my friends is considering a trip to see us and I suggested meeting in Barcelona just for the sheer fact that I could spend some time in a country where I speak the language! (And also it appears to be one of the greatest cities on earth;)

On the whole, we absolutely love this country. We love the architecture, the spectacular views, the incredibly efficient transit, the minimalism, attention to recycling and the overall sense that you are part of something bigger than yourself (therefore it is your responsibility to do your part).

The aspects we struggle with are 1. the language. 2. the complete and utter lack of details and 3. the shyness/directness of this culture.

  1. The language. It is so hard. And there are more people who don’t speak English than I suspected. V and I walked around in cold rain last night looking for a new volleyball gym we were supposed to show up at. We asked no less than 4 people to help us- none spoke any English and only one attempted to get out her phone to try to help. Joe gently set down a stick yesterday in a patch of green before we entered the mall complex. Before I knew what happened, an elderly Slovak lady lit into him in Slovak for…..setting the stick down? We joked afterwards that it was probably better NOT to know what she was yelling?? We were headed into the mall to go to a movie- an opportunity to sit in the theater and get absorbed into an adventure on screen. I looked online and was sure I had all the details correct (see #2). As I’m about to buy the tickets for “Dolittle”, I see one little word next to our movie, “dabing.” I wish it were the funny dance move but alas, it means “dubbed.” Our virtual adventure was thwarted by the language barrier.
  2. The lack of details. While walking around last night looking for the gym, I stared at the screen shot the coach sent me. There are no distinguishable street names on this screen shot. The place it *looks* like we should have gone on the screen shot was surrounded with barbed wire and had signs about vicious dogs. We felt a little like a baby thrown into a pool to see if we would drown or not. We found it. 30 minutes late. And I give credit to V- she was soaking wet and cold but threw on her volleyball shoes and got out on the court to deal with #1 (the language) for an hour. I was exhausted just watching. John has to visit the “key guy” each day before he teaches who, of course, doesn’t speak English but who is the guardian of all keys to a complicated set of classrooms. Can you imagine this interaction?? Somehow he has managed to get into his classrooms (different ones with multiple keys) each day so far.
  3. Culturally, Slovaks are very shy, direct and QUIET. I have already written about how I spend A LOT of energy trying to assimilate my kids to this quietness. It is widely known that we do not have a quiet family- none. of. us. are quiet people. Every day I strike a balance between allowing them to be the kids that they are and respecting the culture of the community we are living in here. Sometimes I get really frustrated because as an adult, I have no problem changing the way I behave to fit the circumstances. But, my kids aren’t old enough or mature enough to do that the same way. We are also getting used to the fact that we will be shown displeasure when it is discovered that we don’t speak the language, don’t know the details and well, are loud.
Screenshot
Where the dot was on the map.

Today we will head to Brno to see the the city for one night and then head tomorrow for a weekend with family.

First day of the semester

John headed out this morning ready to take on his first day.

It dawned on me that I really can’t imagine doing my job in another country. I don’t know that I really understood how much the nuance matters – how to find your classroom, plug in your computer with a converter (I may have seen a spark one time when I plugged in his computer), and manage a room of students who will learn in their second language at the graduate level.

I give John a lot of credit for hardly showing any anxiety about all of this (likely how I missed that today was a big deal). All of this is to say- it was a great first day. He has no funny stories to share because it was smooth sailing.

John and Ryan are the two McCarthys who have hit the “smile for a pic” wall so there is no first day of school pic. All of us were so grateful for a great day for him. We are also appreciative of how hard he works and how little attention he calls to himself.

That being said, I was back to my very mediocre job of attempting to further learning at home. I also spent quite a while trying to create a mediocre but requested lasagna.

I miss my Pyrex

Our friends are back from Prague so we met up by the river at a park to run off some energy.

The big girls missed each other soooo much so they headed off for a coffee together and we are so excited to host V’s first sleepover in Slovakia.

I took the boys to Ryan’s practice and coach allowed Joe to play because so many kids were missing due to the spring break for schools.

Joe was a little undersized for the 3 on 3 match.

After practice, we had to pop in to say hi to our friend Maro, who has been so kind and inviting to the kids. Today, I asked for a pic. Joe is now a giant kebab fan too.