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!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Never Know What You'll See

So I was standing at the strassenbahn stop last week when I witnessed very large pieces of meat being unloaded from a truck onto a rack on the sidewalk. None of the meat was wrapped and only some of the hands touching the meat were covered in gloves. I have no clue if the rack of meat was going to the grocery store down the block or somewhere else. Fortunately, I had my camera in my bag and was able to take a picture of this unusual sight I was witnessing. Ah, Austria, I will miss the excitement of overseas life!

Science Field-Trip to the Prater

The 5th graders recently completed their Levers and Pulleys unit in Science class. We took a field-trip to the Prater to look at simple machines in action on the rides. We had a wonderful time away from school together. The students completed a scavenger hunt activity and ate lunch together in small groups. Then we met up as a class to go in the Fun House before heading back to school.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Edinburgh, Scotland

I'm taking advantage of my last months in Europe and travelling to places I really want to see before I leave. Last weekend, I traveled to Edinburgh with my Scottish friend, Jayne. What a beautiful city!
We wandered through some of the wynds and closes, admiring the architecture, stairways, and flower boxes. We also visited several tea shops for a proper spot of tea and scones with cream and jam. Loopy Lorna's tea shop used these fun tea cozies over the teapots!
Jayne and I enjoyed a free tour of the Scottish parliament building. The parliament wasn't in session, but we enjoyed reading the displays about the history of this law-making body and the construction of the building. It was designed by an joint-architecture team from Barcelona and Scotland. Materials used in the building came from various parts of Scotland and the building was built to look as though it's emerging from the land.
We also visited a fudge shop where we got to watch the process of making fudge! This batch of fudge is Strawberries 'n Cream. I bought a slice of toffee fudge as a souvenir to share with my class.

Chris' Birthday Party

A lot of kids in 5th grade have birthdays this month! Chris brought in a very special Spiderman cake for his birthday. He also brought pecan pie just for the teachers - what a treat!
We enjoyed finding out about the day he was born and how he planned to celebrate with his family. Then we all gathered around Chris and the birthday treats for a class photo.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring Break in Holland - Part 2

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Holland is because I've heard so many neat things about that country from my Dutch friends, the deJongs. They were also in Holland during Spring Break, so we met up one day at Madurodam, a mini-version of Holland. It was fantastic to see this with the deJongs - they could tell us about each of the buildings and where it's located in their country. And the kids had a super time looking at the models and watching the boats, cars, and trains move around.
It was a bright, sunny day! I've had the pleasure of teaching two of the four deJong children in Vienna and also know their family well from church. The kids loved seeing their teachers in their home country.
Some of the models at Madurodam moved when a coin was inserted. This one was my favorite - the clog factory!

Spring Break in Holland - Part 1

Three ICSV teacher-friends and I traveled to Holland over Spring Break. What a fabulous trip! The weather was gorgeous and we got to see everything we wanted to while we were there. We visited a clog museum and saw how clogs are made. Nowadays, they're cut with a saw in 5 minutes!
Amsterdam was full of bikes - way more than we expected! Now I understand why it was such a big deal when the Nazis took away the Jews' bicycles! Everyone rides a bike here. Some bikes even have an attachment on the front that looks like a wheelbarrow of sorts. Two kids can ride in them, plus groceries.
We stayed in Amsterdam with family members of the deJongs (see Holland - Part 2), but took several day trips outside Amsterdam. The countryside was beautiful. There's lots of water in this low-lying country and windmills, just like you see in books about Holland.
On our last day in Holland, we went to Amsterdam to see the Corrie Ten Boom house. The watch shop is still there, although no longer owned by the Ten Boom family.
The tulips were in perfect bloom during the week we were there. We went to Keukenhof - a very large tulip park - and took hundreds of pictures. The tulips there came in so many colors and varieties. We even got to climb a windmill and see tulip fields below!
Here's our group: Nicki, Amanda, me and Carrie. What a fun time we had touring Holland together!

Word Game Party!

In April, I hosted a word game party! I served alphabet soup for dinner and we played word games together afterwards. It was lots of fun! One group played Boggle, while another laughed their way through Electronic Catch Phrase.
This group wins the prize for tackling the most academic word games - they played Bananagrams and Upwords (a 3D Scrabble game). Please note the player second from the left. That's Willem, a highly intelligent 5th grader from my class!

A Night at the Staatsoper

Amanda, Carrie and I got standing tickets to the opera Anna Bolena at the Vienna Opera House. Standing tickets cost 3,50 Euro here - an unbelievable deal to see such amazing talent performed live on stage!

Monday, April 11, 2011

International Chapel Women's Retreat

Last weekend I attended a women's retreat, organized and sponsored by my church here in Vienna. There were about 60 ladies in attendance. Myrna Alexander was the speaker; she spoke about trusting the character of God and making Him our firm foundation, upon which we can stand during the joys and trials of our lives. Betka, Molly and Kristen helped with music - the acoustics of the room made the sound of so many women singing together especially beautiful!
Friends Carrie and Amanda managed the book table at the retreat. Here they catch a few minutes of knitting between sessions.
On Saturday afternoon, I had the chance to participate in a walking tour of Krems, the town where the retreat was held. It is a quaint Austrian town, the home of Franz List's mother. I really enjoyed hearing some of the history of the town and seeing the old buildings.
This is my friend Jayne. She has been such an encouragement to me this year! We both stepped out and took part in this retreat in ways that pushed us out of our comfort zones: Jayne as MC and me as Fun Night Coordinator. God was so good to give us the courage to lead in these ways!