21 January 2009


Not that anybody noticed I had gone missing from my blogs... An enduring sinus infection shut down my right brain--where the creative juices live--and all that remains is focused on surviving each day as we resettle into our normal routine. I think that's an oxymoron?! And, I took a work assignment that was supposed to be 3 days last week and 2 this, but has extended to four...

Shouldn't really complain about down-time at work with nothing to do, since I have time to reconcile my bank and credit card accounts. I am starting the New Year with a plan that focuses on an Excel spreadsheet and minimizes the number of times I have to touch those nasty little bank and credit receipts.

Have you ever wondered why receipts come in so many different sizes and shapes and no one has ever managed to standardize? And, finding the date is akin to looking for Waldo! Proof: I have an over-active left brain intent on organizing the world because my right brain is fogged-out! But, really, most of our current receipts are from Europe, so don't get me started on what is entailed in trying to sort through and remember what is what. To add further to the confusion, the exchange rate for the Euro and SK Koruna fluctuated dramatically while we were traveling...

Met another executive assistant from my agency today--really sharp. Worthy competition. Young, tanned, and beautiful... So, really no competition. She would win in a landslide! The good news is that she is temporarily a temp as she gets her business restarted in Chicago having just moved back from warmer climes. After all, I was off galivanting in Europe when she joined up, so I should have no complaints about missed job opportunities.

I am hoping to have just a week or so off. The goal would be a four to six-week assignment, but I would sign-on for longer if the pay is right. I did some research yesterday and did, indeed, confirm that executive assistants get about $5.00/hour more in the suburbs than in the City. Boggles my mind--very counter-intuitive.

17 January 2009


Where has the time gone?

We travel home in a fog--CA with his acute bronchitis, and me with the icky-achey start of a sinus infection which lands, once again, in the back of my head and especially my ears. I pop ibuprofen all the way home and spray my throat with the Slovak-miracle spray MP procured for me from the Lekaren in Avion. Amazingly, both flights arrive earlier than scheduled and we opt for the more expensive, but worth it, limo ride home.

Ah-h-h... Home, sweet home, where even the door knobs feel good--an in-family reference to DM's first visit home his freshman year at the University of Virginia. He was so-so homesick, he commented that, "Even the door knobs feel great."

CA has pre-scheduled a doctor visit to reconfirm his acute bronchitis diagnosis, and gets a Rx for more codeine-based cough medicine and the prediction that healing will take some time.

I spend my days unpacking and sorting through and resting and trying to recover from my illness. On the Monday after we return my agency calls with an assignment and I realize I need to get some drugs so that I can get over this! I can kill two birds with one stone as I need to have the doctor look at these hives--or whatever they are--that arrive home shortly after I do. He agrees with my sinus infection self-diagnosis and disagrees about the hives. Says I have dermatitis, which I realize is generic for non-specific irritated skin. There is no likely place to pin the irritation, so he prescribes a skin cream and a Z-pak for the sinuses. I love his new offices and he seems happier there on his own in a fun location.

What a cold week we are having. A couple of degrees below zero on Wednesday, my first day in the City, then -13 on Thursday early a.m. and -22 on Friday. I am learning to bundle up. It is freaking cold, but the sun shines and the City glows. I love the energy and atmosphere of working in the City.

Another dead-end job with nothing to do. Why do they insist on hiring a temp when there is no work? This group has had a parade of temps for almost two months and a bad EA prior to that. With a couple of notable exceptions, they don't even try to introduce themselves. By Thursday night I hatch a plan--I bake Monster (peanutbutter-chocolate chip) cookies to take to work on Friday. They love them and warm up considerably. A new full-time person will start here on Tuesday, and I will move down the row to fill in for another EA for a week. Same work, same people. Just a different desk. I have promised them Kahlua brownies for next week.

06 January 2009


It's time to go. There is not much left in most of my personal care products and with my propensity to hives, I can't take the risk of trying something new. Although, I have successfully used the Bulgari green tea soap we were given at the Renaissance in Paris.

CA has acute bronchitis. He saw a Slovak doctor on Friday and got some meds, but didn't really improve until last night his coughing fits were so scary that DM and I take him to the emergency room in Hainburg, Austria. Thankfully, the doctor has enough English to be able to communicate because we have no German other than danke schön, and I just discovered that we have been saying it wrong--blaming Wayne Newton for singing Danke Schoen... And, we have been thinking that danke means thanks, when instead we should be saying bitte. One source says that danke can actually mean no thanks. Anyway, the resources are mixed on how you pronounce it in Austrian German--either don-ka-schoon or don-ka-schen. I intend to mumble...

I digress... a lot! Not much happens at night on the eve of a national holiday [Three Kings Day, aka Epiphany--12 days after Christmas] in small hospitals in central Europe. The doctor is able to listen to CA's breathing and lungs, take his blood pressure, and check his oxygen levels. After some conversation about keeping him overnight--mainly because he has bothered to show up very late at night so he must be miserable--she takes two vials of blood and asks us to wait 20 minutes for the results. After about a half-hour she says that the white blood count is not elevated and sends him home with his Slovak antibiotic, a dose of a codeine-based cough suppressant, and a prescription for the cough medicine. I have been hoping she will prescribed at least a gallon as DM and MP can both use some.

There is actually an all-night pharmacy in tiny Hainburg--apparently the surrounding village pharmacies take turns so that medication is available 24/7. DM gets the Rx filled and we are home by 1:00am.

I am so glad that we went. CA pressed to wait until this morning, but I encouraged him--actually decided for him--to not delay. I even called Blue Cross/Blue Shield Illinois to check on our benefits and found that other than a $200 deductible, our reimbursement would be equal to U.S. coverage. I know he slept much better. His coloring was so, so grey, and the cough was wracking. He had himself very, very worried. Didn't express it, but when I suggested he was worried about pneumonia or worse, he didn't deny it. And, he was worried about the expense, too, and was particularly pleased to know that our BC/BS coverage extended. In short, he had his knickers in a twist and as usual was internalizing it all and making himself sicker.

He doesn't surface until after 11am and while he isn't much better yet, there is hope! Especially thankful because our flight back to the U.S. is at 11:40am tomorrow.

04 January 2009


When DM first came to central Europe the exchange rate was 54 koruna to a U.S. dollar. Lately the rate hovered around 20/$1, and on January 1st the Slovak Republic officially adopted the Euro as their currency.

During our travels over the past 6 weeks we have commented many times on the convenience of using the same currency in France and Spain, especially because we went from France to Spain to France during the three weeks we were away from Bratislava. And, now we have the same convenience here in Slovakia and close-by Vienna.

When DM, LG, and I go to the pharmacy [for more meds for MP and CA who both have severe respiratory illnesses] and to Tesco [for groceries and treats] we use Euros. While you still have to do the mental math [@$1.25 to 1 Euro] it feels far easier. You just think U.S. dollars and then add 25%. Tesco has supervisors assisting the checkout clerks as they become accustomed to making change in the new currency. While Slovakia has officially been accepting dual currencies for awhile, the clerks would only accept paper Euros and the 1€ and 2€ coins [no Euro cents] and always gave back change in Slovak crowns.

LG and KF won't remember Slovak koruna [SKK] which has been the official currency of the free Slovak Republic from February 8, 1993 to December 31, 2008. They won't remember a Slovakia not part of the European Union--it happened in 2004 before they were born. Their mommy will tell them stories of life during communism and it will be just words and not reality. MP was 11 years old when communism fell in 1989. She has vivid memories of the celebrations and the optimism engendered by the fast-changing world events. And she has stories of the limitations imposed on their family, especially, as Christians in a communist country.

The wall fell in Berlin in 1989 and immediately rippled across the communist world. There were peaceful demonstrations in Prague and in Bratislava. Then, in early 1993 Czechoslovakia officially divided into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. However, it took almost until the end of the 20th century before Slovakia won its share of the financial resources that had been centered in Prague, capital of the combined Czechoslovakia. From that point forward Batislava has flourished.

There has been an influx of international business creating new employment opportunities and upgrading the socio-economic status of the residents. Currently, the largest employers in the Bratislava region include Volkswagen, T-Com, Henkel, Kraft Foods, IBM, Orange, TMobile and E.ON Energie. Housing prices have soared and there is a housing boom within BA and in the outlying villages. Our children's new home is in a lovely new neighborhood with views of the Carpathian mountains on two sides. Their village is spiffing up with EU funding, and they are quite pleased with the quality of the local schools.

We hear every day about the troubles in the Middle East and elsewhere--wars, bombings, terrorism, abuses... Much of the time I feel discouraged and exhausted and wonder where God is in all this. So, it helps to be here and to observe and to make note and to talk about the good things that are happening. People have jobs and money to improve their lives. There is growth and vitality. There is hope.

03 January 2009

SHOPPING - NASCHMARKT - We finally make it!

We had plans to visit the Naschmarkt in Vienna on our arrival on November 23rd--not knowing that Sunday is the only day the market is closed. Then, everyone took a turn or two at getting sick and the trip was delayed...

DM, LG, and I head to Vienna mid-morning. The sun is shining and the air is brisk. We have wish list to guide us. We get the best parking spot ever--finally having figured out the directional and parking logistics. Up until today our default has always been near the Marriott on the Parkring. We know that neighborhood and it is a short and familiar walk to Stephensplatz. The Nachsmarkt is a bit further and can seem a long way if the wind is blowing or the sun doesn't cooperate. We now have figured out the U-Bahn, too, and know that we can enter U4 on the corner of the Stadtpark and ride just two stops to Karlsplatz and be almost there.

We find a Segafredo cafe and have cafe mochas [mezzo, mezzo] and a shokolade for LG. It takes a walk through the market to figure out where and what we want to buy. We stop for lunch at a kebob stand and DM and LG enjoy lamb, while I choose chicken and a mug of hot rum punch.

We gather 2-year aged Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh spinach, salami tartufo, clementines, olives stuffed with almonds, hummus, and two fresh baguettes. DM finds white tulips for MP a nice bottle of wine, and we decide "mission accomplished" and head back to BA.

Dinner is a celebration of our Naschmarkt bounty: sauteed spinach with roasted garlic and Parmesan cheese, along with the hummus garnished with sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pinenuts. A fine meal with enough leftovers to make for a happy tomorrow.

02 January 2009


I'm a ruminator by nature, but don't usually start the new year intentionally reviewing the past year. There are lots of best of 2008 lists right now in the blogosphere, and I have fallen into reflection...
  • I realized, clearly, in early 2008 that I didn't want to be tied down to a full-time job again, so I researched and organized and began marketing my experience and skill set to the top temp agencies in Chicago and the suburbs. By the end of the first 9-week stint I knew that I had no interest in suburban jobs. There is an energy and vitality to working in the City that feels right. The train is just 5 minutes from home and the trip into and out of Chicago gives me time to read, rest, and organize my thoughts. It seems to work best if CA and I are on alternate schedules for work commitments. That way one of us is available to maintain the homefront and accomplish the errands and chores. And, we each get a chance to have the house to ourselves.
  • KF was born in Austria in mid-January and by the first week of February we were in Bratislava. Contract work allows us to choose when we want to work and gives us the freedom to travel to our children and grandchildren.
  • A canceled flight left me in London and gave me the opportunity to spend three nights exploring and enjoying on my own.
  • CA's mom turned 80 at the end of April, and on May 17th family and friends gathered for a celebration. We had just the party she requested, and she was very pleased with all the special touches. We had yummy cakes from Hansen's Le Bakery in Peoria, mixed nuts from Ricci's in Chicago, punch and coffee. Several of us collaborated on arranging the flowers--roses in a variety of colors. We also had a special Dora the Explorer table for LG as the 17th was her third birthday.
  • We made several trips to Omaha to see JE's family, and they flew in to stay with us a few times.
  • CA began planning our big trip in early summer, spending hours and days researching and scheduling.
  • We spent some time in Michigan in late summer and early fall.
  • We tried new restaurants in Chicago and saw a couple plays.
  • Spent a lot of time enjoying our home and the screened porch.
  • Read tons of books and began this blog.
  • We entertained friends and family throughout the year, cooking special meals and favorite desserts.
  • CA went to a bunch of wine tastings--sometimes with me and as often as possible with the kids.
  • He continued coaching soccer two seasons.
  • I purchased a sewing machine and got creative with a couple of projects.
  • Lots of lunches and early dinners with girlfriends. Why does everything always center around food?
  • Left the U.S. on November 22nd for our 6+ week European itinerary: Bratislava-Provence-Andalucia-Paris-Bratislava.

A happy and healthy year. Lots of normal days, and oh how we appreciate a normal day! Two trips to Europe to see the little girls and lots of trips to and from Omaha to play with our squishy little guy. 2008 was a great year for our family and we are looking forward to a wonderful 2009--especially March when we welcome our new baby girl.

01 January 2009


Most of the important events in my life have occurred in years ending in the number 9--my birth, our marriage, our daughter's birth, our first trip to Europe... So, there is every reason for me to believe that this will be a significant year in my life.

A new baby granddaughter is due in early March, and this will be a big wedding anniversary year. Thinking that this current 7 week trip to Europe is the celebration. Not too shabby...

Fireworks are a big part of the New Year's celebration here in Slovakia and the neighbors are really going at it. Once in awhile it sounds like a gunshot and that is making us a bit nervous. The little ones are safe in their beds and it is only me who is a sitting target here at the laptop.

No celebration in this house tonight--everyone is either sick or very tired or both. There has been much celebrating this holiday season and each day we are here is a celebration. These little girls charm us continually with their smiles and giggles and big ideas.

The ball won't drop in Times Square for several more hours, but here in Chorvatsky Grob not a creature is stirring. Not even the mouse that we trapped a few weeks ago!