Thursday, June 30, 2011

Welcome Home

So here I am arriving back in the USA. My dad surprised me by coming to Chicago to greet me as I came through customs! I thought this was really special because he was along to see me off at the airport when I first moved to Vienna.
And now my new home will be in Madison, WI...or in a neighboring town. Sandi, my grandpa, and the Jensen cousins drove by my new school with me the day after I arrived. It was exciting to see this place I've only seen in pictures on their website. The school is built into a semi-wooded area, with a nature preserve and lake bordering the edge of the property. Looks like a lovely place to come to work everyday!
And this is the view from the playground at the back of the school. It looks amazing, even on a cloudy day! I'm sure there will be lots of adjustments to moving back and settling here, but I'm also full of hope for what comes next! God has always been so gracious to provide me with friends and good experiences in each place I've lived. I'm confident He'll continue to provide exactly what I need in this place too.

Final Days in Vienna

The last days I spent in Vienna were such rich times with friends I've made there. The good-byes were bittersweet - great celebrations of friendships, many of which will last over time and distance, yet sad to know that we won't be able to see each other as easily or often anymore. I'm so thankful for all the good memories of these final days before I moved back to the States.
My friend Jayne, from church, took Sandi and I to paint a set of egg cups at a Made By You store. Egg cups are very common in Europe and a souvenir I wanted to take home with me. Jayne thought of a way to make it even more special by having us paint a set together. We used photos of poppies as the inspiration for our original set and we talked about eating soft-cooked eggs together in these cups the next time Jayne and Sandi visit me in Wisconsin.
We ate lunch with Nels and Sandi P. at our favorite neighborhood pizzeria. Sandi and I shared the incredible Broccoli al Forno. It's an "uberbacken" dish, which Sandi translates "heavenly goodness". I also said good-bye to the owner, Mohammed, who has been so kind to us each time we've eaten at his restaurant.
This sweet family - the de Jongs - have become such good friends to both Sandi and I. We enjoyed a picnic with them before heading to church together. I've had the privilege of teaching two of the four de Jong children and Bea has been such a kind and encouraging friend through the years.
Leslie and Felix had Sandi and I over for dinner at their apartment. Sandi enjoyed meeting Felix and seeing how they've settled in to their new apartment since they married last summer. Leslie made a scrumptious stir-fry and we played a favorite game, 'Zug am Zug' (Ticket to Ride, in English).
Brian and Betka used to be neighbors in my first apartment building and are also friends from school and church. Betka baked homemade apple strudel for my last day before leaving Austria! I'm glad they visit Chicago when they come to the U.S. - I look forward to visiting them there in the future.

A Favorite Place in Austria

My friend and former roommate from my first two years in Austria came back to help me pack, move and say good-bye. Sandi and I took a trip to one of our favorite places in Austria - Hallstatt - during her visit. It was wonderful to get away for a few days, enjoy the sights, and relax in the midst of a big transition. Here we stand in front of the guest house we stayed in. Haus Lidy stands in a valley between the mountains that are so much a part of this quaint town.
On our first day in Hallstatt, Sandi and I rode a funicular up the mountain and took a tour of the salt mine. It was fascinating to learn about how salt is mined and, of course, we enjoyed sliding down the wooden slides to different levels of the mine. The lights in this photo are surrounded by chunks of salt.
This is the view of Hallstatt from the lake. The houses are built along the shore and up into the side of the mountain. We wandered through the town, enjoying the scenery and stopping in gift shops as we went. Salt, in many forms, is a major export in this town.
Each morning, our hosts served us breakfast in this breakfast room. We ate soft-cooked eggs, semmel roles with meat and cheese or jam, and tea. It was a lovely way to start the day.
This is a view of Hallstattersee (Hallstatt Lake) from the top of the funicular. The weather was gorgeous during our visit and the time with Sandi was such a gift.

Good-Bye Party

The parents of my students surprised me with a good-bye party at the end of the year. Here they presented me with a card and gift. Mr. Janett, the elementary principal, is also pictured.
A student took this picture of all the parents who attended my good-bye party. Many took time off work to be there. They brought in a great spread of party food and played a video that one mom created with pictures from the entire school year. That was really fun to watch together!
I've been joking with my students that they're moving on to 6th grade, but I'm moving back to 4th! Celebrating their good progress and enjoying good memories together is an important part of closing out the school year.

International Family Fun Day

On a recent Austrian holiday, the staff, students and families gathered at the Donau Park for International Family Fun Day. The skies were gray and the air was cool, but the rain held off for the entire event. We enjoyed a wonderful time of eating, playing, and talking together as a school community.
This is a fellow teacher who affectionately calls me "Dr. Stevens". We've really enjoyed working together over the past years. I'll miss her a lot. And below is our school librarian. She makes me laugh. Here she entertains us with a bag of pickle juice, which looks surprisingly similar to something else not nearly as tasty! Oh, Mrs. Dax, I will miss you too!

Field-Day Fun!

The end of the year sure came fast this year. We ended up squishing in a bunch of fun activities on the last days of school. One of those fun events was Field Day! Students competed in multi-grade teams (Blue and White), winning points for their team if they scored in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place at any of the stations. But most of all, we just had a lot of fun being active together!
Following the Field Day activities, my class had a pizza party, thanks to the generosity of my friend Sharon! She sponsors a class pizza party each spring for the 5th graders and it's always a treat - not only for the pizza, but also for the memory it creates as the students get ready to move on to Middle School. Thanks, Sharon!

Elementary Spring Concert

The Elementary students had their Spring music concert right at the end of the school year. They did a great job singing the songs they learned in Music Class. The 5th graders also played a couple pieces on their recorders. The picture above shows a pre-concert moment that I thought was so sweet - one 5th grade boy helps another with his tie during warm-ups. The boy in the suit is our resident good-dresser. He loves to wear his suit whenever he has the opportunity to do so!