Friday, June 3, 2016

Summer Dates

Today we start a really sad countdown: one more month left in Prague.
In light of that, we wanted to share with everyone our plans for leaving Prague, traveling through Europe, and then returning to the States.
We are hoping to have some sort of goodbye picnic before we leave (probably July 2), so if you're in Prague, be looking for info on that coming soon!
And to others, if we are ever near you as we travel home, let us know, we'd love to see you!

July 4: Our final day in Prague, we'll fly out that afternoon around 6pm

July 4-21: Traveling east through Europe, making stops in Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway; Aberdeen, Scotland; Isle of Skye, Scotland; and Reykjavik, Iceland

July 21-26: Olathe, Kansas with Jadon's parents

July 26-27: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma visiting friends for one night

July 27-31: Branson, Missouri on family vacation with Jadon's family

July 31: Manteno, Illinois where we'll be staying with Brittany's family as we look for somewhere to live in the Bourbonnais area

We would appreciate your prayers as we make this move, for safety in travel in addition to leaving our home here & our time in transition. Once we're back in the States we will begin looking for jobs, a place to live, a car, etc. so please also keep that in your prayers. We know that God knows the timeline and has everything figured out, so prayers for peace & patience as we enter this next time of unknowns.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

April & May Update!

Well somehow it has been over a month since our last blog post. So sorry about that!

So we will do a quick catch-up of the last 6 weeks!

On April 13, 14, & 15, the English Drama Club performed the play "Game of Tiaras" for 300 audience members! We were thrilled with the large turnout, and the student performers were incredible. The drama club has been such a highlight of our two years here in Prague, and we will miss working with them & watching them entertain and show off their many talents. Here are some pictures from one of our dress rehearsals:
Fantastic poster made by one of the drama students

At the end...everybody dies (including the computer, which is why you see the LCD screen)
19 member cast!
On April 14, as well as directing an English Drama Club performance, we also celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary! We took a quick doughnut & Taboo playing break between classes at school as our big celebration this year :)

At the end of April (22nd-24th), we were able to spend a weekend in Bratislava with Brittany's mom. It was fun to add another country to the list as well as to spend time in the Czech Republic's "sister" country. Since Czechoslovakia has not existed since 1993,  we were interested to visit Slovakia and see what was similar and different between the two countries - as much as we could in a 2.5 day visit at least.
At Devín Castle on the Danube River
Devín Castle Ruins
Bratislava had the best street art!
And it was really windy!
To see more pictures from Bratislava, click here!

Brittany's mom, Marsha, was able to spend April 20-29 with us, and we had a great time traveling, shopping, & exploring Prague with her. Since we were still teaching, she did a lot of exploring on her own during the day and then we got to spend the evenings together. We were also able to go out to celebrate our anniversary, Brittany's birthday, & Mother's Day together while she was here. It was such a blessing to have her come and explore & understand our life here.

Out to dinner at a delicious restaurant in Prague for Brittany's birthday
April 29 was the 4th year students last day at school. To celebrate this, there was a small "fair" outside the school, where students sold food, played games, and celebrated the end of their time in high school. The first week of May they did the written portion of their exams, and starting yesterday, they are doing the oral section. Join us in praying for these students that they finish well with their exams & as they head to university!
Beautiful portrait drawings by Tomáš ;)
Selling sausages
Pie Throwing!
For Brittany's birthday weekend (May 6-9), we visited the small country of Slovenia, part of former Yugoslavia. We spent our time there at Lake Bled, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful, relaxing trips we've taken. The lake has a path that leads all around it, which we walked taking many picture & coffee breaks, and a castle at the top one of the mountains, which we climbed and explored on Sunday afternoon. Slovenia is our final new country before we leave Prague, so there was a bittersweet feel to this trip, but it was absolutely beautiful, & we highly recommend Slovenia as a travel destination!

Bled Island and the Julian Alps
View of the lake from the castle
To see more pictures from Lake Bled, click here!

Prayer Requests:
- Senior students as they finish their exams.
- Our time ending in Prague & trying to transition back to the States.
- Travel safety for friends who are visiting us over the next few weeks.

- Spring weather - though it's unpredictable, we have enjoyed many days with no coats!
- Friendships we've made in Prague, and the people who have loved us well here.
- Our friend Katie will be here in one week!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Kde domov můj? // Where is my home?

The Czech national anthem has a fitting name, both for the Czech people throughout their tumultuous history and for those of us who choose to live as ex-pats in this beautiful country. As we have lived here the last two years, invested in people and places, bought furniture, & figured out our European shoe sizes, this has become a question we have asked more and more frequently: "where is my home?" And as it came to decision making time this year, we had a tough choice in front of us.

A video of the Czech anthem (with Czech, English, and German lyrics):

In the end it came down to two things for us: personal growth & God's plan.
We know that no matter our location or occupation, God will use us how He needs us, and so we actually felt very little pressure to make the "right" choice in this regard. While we clearly felt God calling us to live overseas, we did not hear such a clear call for this decision. What we did feel was a peace that whatever we chose, God would use. And we really do believe that either choice, in this regard, would have been the "right" one.

But personally we have felt like these last two years we have been living in a very transitory state, consistently in transition, waiting to return to a life we put on hold. And that is exhausting. So we said either we fully commit: sell our things in the US, rent our own flat in Prague, stay for at least 5 more years, or we go "home."
And neither choice seemed easy.
But in the end we have decided to return to America at the end of this school year. We plan to leave Prague in July and move back to Illinois in August 2016.

After first making this decision, we were really excited looking forward to all the things we've been missing from our home culture these past two years. But now as the months are speeding past us, and leaving becomes both more real and more imminent, we are greiving the many things we will leave behind in our adopted culture. There are people and places that I look at and think, "How can I leave this?"
And so we would very much appreciate your prayers.
If we are returning home to you, we are so looking forward to it. We are excited about it, and hope you are, too. But please don't be offended if it takes us awhile to really seem happy once we return. Yes, we made this choice. Yes, we think it's the right choice. But it is not easy, and at the moment, it does not make me happy.
And if we are leaving you, we are so sad. We have been embraced by many Czech people who we have come to truly love, and if we could take you all with us back to Illinois, we would in a heartbeat. Please know we will miss you. And you are always, always welcome to visit us. And we fully intend to come back and visit you.

We have heard it said that once you live in another culture, you never really go home again. And so, maybe we, like our Czech people, will continue to ask, "Kde domov můj?" As it is, we will continue to praise God for this opportunity. For the many people we have met and who have loved us during these two years. For the friendships and relationships we'll continue to build even after we leave. And for the Home we can look forward to with Him.
Praha // Prague
Prayer Requests:
- For our transition time over the next few months as we prepare to return to life in the US.
- Also, once we're back in the States, we will need jobs, a place to live, health insurance, a car, etc.
- The English Drama Club performance is this week!! We perform Wednesday, Thursday, & Friday evenings. So prayers for the students and ourselves as we finally put it all together!

- We had an intern with us through Teach Beyond this past week, and she was amazing.
- Spring weather is here! We had 5 straight days of sunshine this week!
- Brittany's mom is coming to visit in 11 days!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Easter in Amsterdam!

We were lucky enough to spend our Easter vacation (March 23-27) in the Netherlands this year, mostly in Amsterdam but also spending short amounts of time in four surrounding Dutch towns.

Our route: Prague to Amsterdam
The two main days we spent in Amsterdam (Thursday & Saturday), we spent with Rick Steves and his walking tours. [Side note: If you ever travel to Europe, you MUST consult Rick. He has books, websites, & a free app with walking tours - which is what we use the most. It really improves just wandering around a city.]
We really enjoyed Amsterdam because, unlike a lot of other tourist destination cities, there weren't a ton of "must see" places that we just *had* to visit to really get the feel of the place. We didn't stand in a single line & only paid for one admission ticket for a canal cruise tour. Because of this, we were able to enjoy a more relaxed time wandering the city, stopping in places we thought looked interesting, and eating snacks we thought looked delicious.
All in all, it was a great way to spend our final school vacation.

A Dutch favorite: Fries with fritessaus
On the canal cruise

One of the many beautiful canal, bridge, & bike scenes - with a bonus of sunshine & blue skies!
On Friday, we went on a tour that took us to four different Dutch towns: Zaandam, famous for its old wooden, and still working, windmills; Edam, famous for its cheese and 17th century wealth; Volendaam, an old dutch port town; and Marken, a harbor town on a small island. The tour was fantastic and really gave us an impression about what life in the Netherlands is actually like, more than just life in the international city of Amsterdam.

Two of the eight windmills in Zaandam
Marken's Harbor
Inside the wooden shoe factory & store!
One thing that really impressed us was how many languages most people could speak, at least the tourist-prone people we interacted with. Everyone spoke Dutch (obviously), English, and Spanish(!) fluently. The tour we took was in both Spanish & English, and it was fun seeing how much (not very) we remembered from our high school & university classes.

A favorite part of our trip was attending the services at the English Reformed Church for Good Friday & Easter Sunday. We have rarely, if ever, been to a church that is both so traditional but also exudes so much life and joy. The location of the church was also gorgeous. Located in the Begijnhof in central Amsterdam, it is a peaceful space inside a busy city. This church is also thought to be one of the places the Pilgrims stopped to pray before traveling to America!

Beautiful church in the Begijnhof
Inside the church, stained glass featuring the Pilgrims.
To see the rest of our pictures from Amsterdam, click here!

Prayer Requests:
- English Drama Club! We perform in 11 days!!! So prayers for the actors (and their directors) as we get everything all put together - that it's fun as well as stressful!
- We had some American high school students (ages 15-17), part of a CRU group, in our classrooms this past week. Pray that they made connections & that their conversations can lead to something deeper for themselves and for our students. 

- Spring is here! We have had crazy rainy/cold/windy/sunny/warm/maybe it'll snow weather all in one day, which means spring has finally sprung! The time change and the warmer weather have given us such a positive boost, and we are ready to shake off all the dark winter moods! 

- We have 3 people planning to come visit us in Prague over the next 3 months, and we are so excited!! We miss our friends and family, and having people visit really makes us feel cared for and missed, and like people actually want to know and understand where we live and what our lives are like. This means a lot to us, and we are so grateful for the 3 who are coming! (And would love to have more!)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spring Break 2016 - Austrian Alps!

Last week (March 7-11) we were able to spend 5 days in the Austrian town of Kaprun, and it was amazing!
For the last year and a half we have done a lot of traveling, but all of it has been to busy cities with lots of tourist attractions, and we are tired! So this spring break we decided we wanted to go somewhere that was not a big city, didn't have many tourist attractions, and was just a beautiful place to relax. Kaprun was perfect.
It's a skiing town surrounded by mountains with lots of hotels, restaurants, and ski lifts in the Salzburg province, and about 70km from the city of Salzburg.

We took 3 trains to get there & 4 trains to get home. About 8-9 hours of travel each way. We watched a lot of movies.
When we first arrived in Kaprun, we explored the hotel and discovered it was one of those fabulous places where if you didn't want to leave, you didn't have to. There was a restaurant, bar, cafe, pool, sauna, masseuse, etc. all without going outside. And so on our first day, we didn't go outside. And it was wonderful.

The view from our favorite cafe spot!
On Tuesday, we decided to explore the town. It was a cloudy day, but not too cold, and we walked around Kaprun, discovering some of it's fun places. There was a castle (though only open on Mondays at 4pm), a church (which you had to pilgrim up at least 100 stairs to get to), and a riverside walk through the heart of the town. For us the highlight was really seeing the different views of the town with the mountains. As flatland Midwesterners, we are excited by hills, so mountains are really amazing!

Beautiful view of Kaprun from the castle.
Wednesday we decided to get really adventurous and try an Alpine Roller Coaster! It was not a 6 Flags type coaster. It was a single seater, and you controlled your speed yourself. Which for some of us (Brittany), made the trip much scarier and much slower than was originally anticipated. The views on the way up were really beautiful, especially since it was a sunny day, and it was definitely a fun bucket list type of experience.

Brittany coming into the end of the coaster.
And, going up!
Thursday was our biggest day. On Thursday we took a bus to the base of the nearby peak: Kitzsteinhorn. This is (obviously) a very popular skiing spot, but there is also a ticket you can buy to get to the top via ski lifts that doesn't involve the actually skiing pass, so that is what we did. We took three different ski lifts, and about 40 minutes later we made it to the top.

The second ski lift & beautiful view!
The views from the top were amazing. There were many moments of just pure awe as we stood there looking down on the town where we were staying, as well as looking out over other mountain peaks. In moments like these, God's majesty, creativity, and just "big"ness are so obvious. It was really fantastic, and pulling ourselves away from the views was probably the most difficult part of the day.

We were blessed with such gorgeous weather - we could see so far! This is the view into Kaprun from way up high.

Aside from these bigger events, most of our week consisted of drinking coffee, eating, doing crosswords, watching movies, sitting in saunas, getting massages, and just finally taking a real, relaxing vacation. It was fantastic.
To see the rest of our pictures, click here!

Prayer Requests:
- English Drama Club! The performance is in less than 4 weeks, so prayers for our students and ourselves as we continue to prepare.
- We will be traveling again next week for our Easter holidays, so prayers for easy & safe travels. 

- We are getting glimpses of spring, and are really looking forward to the warmer weather & sunshine heading our way!
- We had such smooth travels to & from Austria that easily could have been much more stressful. And such a relaxing, rejuvenating time. It definitely felt like a blessed week.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Ples 2016 - Seniors' Ball!

If you were following our time in Prague last year, you will remember the Seniors' Ball, in Czech called Ples, where we waltzed with our students & enjoyed celebrating their accomplishments & creativity.
This year, Ples was on February 26, and it was a fantastic experience! We were much more relaxed this year since we knew what to expect from the evening (though the waltzing still makes us very nervous!).
There is a tendency to compare Ples to Prom in the US, but really it is quite different. It is a much more organized evening, families and teachers are encouraged to attend, there is no dinner served, and the dancing is much more formal (though just as much fun). The students go to an after party at a club after Ples, and that is probably more similar to our Proms, though with more alcohol.

Here are some pictures to walk you through the fun event:

When you first arrive, you have the schedule for the evening waiting on the table. It's all in Czech (obviously), but this gives an idea of how organized the evening is.
To begin, each 4th year class does a creative walk-in with their class teachers.
Students are then given sash, a different color for each of the 5 different classes.
Group pictures are taken of each class, as well as individual pictures of each student.
Then they walk around with these giant parachutes & people throw money into them! We saved our small Czech coins all year for this event. They make a LOT of money from this, which is then used for a class party at the end of the year.
My student waltz partner, Richard. We were arguably the best dancers.
Jadon with his student dance partner, Viktoria. I love this picture! [Shout out to Tereza Karásková who took all the waltzing pictures for us!]
Then there are a few hours of dancing in this gorgeous building - which is actually underground! We danced to more waltzes, polkas, and everything in between. Such a fun time!
To end the night, each class presents a "midnight surprise" dance. We had everything from Star Wars, to Grease, to the history of dance, to an aerobics class. They are so fun & creative!
Ending the night around 11:30pm. So much fun! Definitely a highlight of both our years here!
The senior students are in school for two more months, and then in May then will take their exams. Please join us in praying for our 4th year students during this stressful time in their school year. We pray that they will be able to study and retain the information, that they can go into their exams calm and prepared, and that they will also have relaxed moments as they finish their time in high school.

Congratulations Maturita Class of '16!

Friday, February 12, 2016

December & January Update in (mid)February!

It has been SO long since we've updated on here, and if you've been faithfully checking to see how we're doing, we apologize.
Aside from our Christmas vacation travels, however, not much as been going on recently.
It's winter, & we Midwesterners are good at staying inside & keeping warm. So we've pretty much just been going to & from school, and then getting home & putting on our sweatpants & refusing to leave the flat again until the next morning. But we will do our best to provide a brief update on our lives.

**First, Christmas vacation. We were lucky enough to spend 11 of our 12 days of Christmas break in Italy. We began in Rome, and then traveled to Florence & Venice.
Our route through Italy. We flew to & from, but all our other travel was done via train.
This was a fantastic experience! About halfway through our trip, however, both of us got sick, so there were definitely days we would have preferred our beds to the traveling. We did become experts at the Italian pharmacy, though, so that was a bonus ;)

We took a bunch of pictures, and if you haven't seen them, you can see them all here:
Pictures from Rome!
Pictures from Florence!
Pictures from Venice!

**After Christmas, most of January was spent trying to get back into the swing of things at school. The semester here ends at the end of January, so we were getting all our grades together, and have just started the new semester this month.

**We have been able to go to some fun concerts and shows, one of them being an amazing show: "Best of Broadway!" here in Prague. Four American Broadway stars & a full orchestra performed songs from 20 Broadway musicals! It was such a fun evening!
Four of the musicals featured in the show.

**English Drama Club has also started up again, & we are currently rehearsing for our spring play "Game of Tiaras." It's a mix between King Lear, Game of Thrones, & Disney. So you know it'll be interesting! We've been rehearsing once a week, and our show is coming up in mid-April. We're really excited to keep working on it & perfecting it over the next eight weeks!
Here we have Snow White about to be executed while Cinderella & Ellie (Elsa from Frozen) look on. The King, his henchman Smeagol, & the executioner are also pictured.
**And you know we love film awards season! So one of the places we actually have been venturing in the cold is the movie theater! We've seen a movie every weekend for the last few weeks, which has been really fun. We're also doing movie related projects at school with our students and will be discussing the Oscars with them next week.
We only have 3 more films to go to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture this year! We're hoping to stay up (it'll start at 2am here) and watch the show live at the end of the month!

Prayer Requests:
- Health. This is definitely cold & flu season. We've both been slightly sick since Christmas, but nothing too bad. Hoping it stays that way!
- Relationships with friends, colleagues, & students here in Prague. We are making lasting friendships, and hope to continue to do so.
- Guidance in future decisions.

- All the traveling we've been able to do & will get to do in the future. Spring & Easter breaks are coming up in March, & we're looking forward to hitting the road again!
- God's continued presence in our lives & the joy that comes when we hear His voice & seek His guidance.