Sunday, August 31, 2014

Growth Mindset

Ben and the girls have had some fun touring around Slovenia, including a trip to Lake Bled that involved paddle boarding and hiking - we must go back when I can go too!  You can read Ben's blog posts here too.

My blogging has slowed down a bit since I have been a tad overwhelmed with all my teaching duties.  Students returned Thursday, and tomorrow we start our first full week.  I am pretty well-prepared... for Monday anyhow.

I am teaching Writing, one class for middle school, one for secondary students, European History 1500-1800, Ancient Civilizations (cave men to the rise of Rome) Geography, Spanish I and Spanish II.  I have a few English Language Learners, although in most cases English will be their 3rd or 4th language.  I have a few students with special needs.  It is a lot!

I'm sharing with my students, and trying to remind myself too, that it's Ok to struggle - in fact struggle is the way we grow our minds.  This is the whole growth vs. fixed mindset thing that is trending, as Dahlia would say.  It seems like a good way to think about this year, as far as our family's adjustment to life abroad and for teaching.   Together we will embrace the challenge, see effort as the path to mastery, etc. etc..

My biggest fear is that I'll muddle through the curriculum but the kids will be bored to tears.

Georgia took this photo of Dahlia.  Granted it was 8th (last) period of the first full day of school, so could be fatigue.  But still!

Today we are sad to miss UT's home football opener.  We've always gone ever since we moved to Knoxville.

As consolation, we took a day trip to Piran, a quaint beach town that flourished under Venetian rule for several hundred years.  Piran was valuable for its salt works.  Salt has a long history in the northern Adriatic, which may explain why our landlords have about 8 different kinds of salt around the kitchen.  The town has beautiful well-preserved gothic architecture, narrow alleys, amazing views of the Adriatic.  Touristy, but not too bad.
Main square - glad G remembered to wear Orange!

Lots of graffiti in Piran too.

European bathers just put their towels down on the sidewalk and that's their beach.  No sand.  

Ben had read that Slovenian law said all beaches had to be public, so we found a rather chi-chi beach-like setting across from some casinos.  We didn't want to pay for towels, umbrellas, etc. so we changed in the car and strolled in like we belonged there.  No problems!  And the water was lovely.

Slovenian RV.  

It was the beginning of some kind of music festival in Piran.  A large crowd of slightly tipsy folks with accordians and a tuba made a pleasant parade through the town.  Not a good photo, but fun to see and hear.

Today's Lesson:
Don't order shrimp unless you don't mind shelling it yourself, head and all.
Many stores are closed Sunday, or have abbreviated hours.

In case you missed it, here's our Georgia, wearing her ski helmet and goggles while biking.

Sausage and Red Wine

Yesterday for lunch we biked downtown and had lunch at a Slovenian sausage shop.  Here's the outside and the menu:

A couple of things to note about Klobasarna.  First, all they sell is sausage.  And all they sell is one kind of sausage.  I went in and ordered us two "Full" sausage plates, and they brought us two plates with awesome looking sausage, mustard, and horseradish sauce.  Bread on the side.
 You might notice a marked lack of vegetables.  I asked if there was any cabbage/sauerkraut and was told "not until next week."
Me: "So I am too early for sauerkraut?" 
Lovely woman behind the counter: "Yes.  Too early."
Me: "Do you have anything else with vegetables?"
Lovely woman behind the counter: "We have only sausage and then barley stew."
Me: "Are there vegetables in the barley stew?"
Lovely woman behind the counter: "Barley."
Me: "Sausage it is then!"

And by the way, the sausage was really, really good.  This shop is 3 minutes from the law school, so I will be back for sure.

The second notable thing is the price of red wine.  1.1 euro for a glass!  Wine is incredibly cheap here.  Cheaper than beer, cheaper than Coke, cheaper than water in most places.  Wine is the national drink of Slovenia and red wine is like Miller Lite here, ubiquitous and super cheap.  Except unlike Miller Lite, the red wine is yummy.  Slovenia is second only to France in per capita wine consumption and it shows.

So sausage and red wine, but no vegetables.  My kind of country.  Here are some happy gals sharing sausage al fresco:

Spaceman Spiff Rides a Pony

Most people who know Georgia Poe Kincannon Barton recognize her as a bit of an iconoclast.  Exhibit one here in Slovenia:

We needed bicycle helmets, but the house we are renting came only with children's skiing helmets.  So Georgia chose one and went ahead and included the ski goggles.  So far she has worn the goggles every time we've biked anywhere.  So good!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school!  We listened to Taylor Swift's Fearless and Everything Has Changed while Ben drove us. 

Everything went pretty smoothly.  The girls made some forays into potential friendships and commented on how friendly everyone seems.  I managed to present myself and the classes in a fairly organized manner.

Things I like: 
Two mandatory outside breaks (recesses) for all students, pre-K - 12.
Tiny class sizes.  My biggest is 16, smallest 7.

Things that are hard:
IT Problems - intermittent wi-fi, no printer, old computer
Being a rookie
12-hour days?!

Dahlia and Georgia helped me think of good ice-breakers.  The one that went over the best asked students to write three things about themselves on a piece of paper, then make it into a paper airplane.  Once everyone was ready, throw all the planes, retrieve one, read it out loud and find out who wrote it.  I think it worked because it was fun, active and different kids enjoyed different parts of it.  Some students made elaborate paper planes.  Others had no idea how to make one at all.

The student body is quite international.  Most students speak at least two languages, some up to 5 different languages.  One girl brought me a little gift from St. Petersburg.  Another liked me because I am 'so American'.

Several kids arrived from foreign countries days ago.  New school, new country.  They seem to take it in stride so I will try to do the same.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pony Bikes!

When Slovenia was still part of the former Yugoslavia the main bike for sale in the country was produced in Ljubljana at the Rog factory.  Called the "Pony" bike it was a super cute, small wheeled bike.  When Slovenia became its own country and joined the EU Rog eventually went through bankruptcy and the Pony ceased production for a decade or so.  But Rog Pony nostalgia remained (for more info try here:  So naturally they rebooted the brand and when the girls and I travelled around looking at used bikes we ended up at the Rog bike shop, ostensibly looking for used bikes.

Needless to say as soon as the girls spotted the new version of the Pony they were hooked.  Dahlia latched on to a powder blue Pony and Georgia picked a mint green one.  And because they went shopping with their Dad and not their Mom, new Ponies it was.  I got a used woman's bike that appeared to be older than the original Rog factories with no gears to use to bike to work every day.  Made sense at the time.

Here are two happy gals on their new bikes.  Worth every penny.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Did we really leave Knoxville just a week ago?

Best burger in Ljubljana!

Hard to believe we left Knoxville just one week ago.  Feels like a month at least.

Turns out not all Slovenians speak English, but those that don't are patient with my lack of Slovene.  And some people do jay-walk.  There is no litter, but more graffiti than you'd expect.  

Knoxville connections
We had an excellent farm-to-table Slovenian meal with our Slovenian-Knoxville friend Maja Djorcev Roy, her sister and sister's boyfriend.   I had truffles with pasta to start and then rabbit, which I'd never tried before.  Delicious.  Maja ordered the perfect wine to go with it.  You can get any kind of cuisine here in Ljubljana, but the local specialties are not to be missed.  It was nice to see a familiar face so far from home.

Yesterday's Dairy Triumph
We bought farm-fresh milk from a vending machine downtown.  BYOB or buy one there.  Really tasty milk.  The machine sells cheeses and yogurts too.  The meklomat is right next to the law school so Ben will be able to get our milk here daily.  Ben also found half and half, and has figured out the espresso machine.  Now that our coffee and dairy issues are sorted, the whole family is in a much better mood.

Today's Major Triumph
After visiting several places and standing in many lines, Ben and Dahlia got new Sim cards for our phones! We still need wifi/skype for calling home, but it's nice to have a local phone.  

Not sure what this says, but I think it's good.

New House
Thursday we moved in to our house.  It's nice to have ample space and more than one toilet!  There are public tennis courts and a track around the corner, and we're walking distance to the city's biggest park.  Center city is 5 minute away, school is about 10 minutes.

Our tiny car - Honda Jazz

Our landlords left all their books, DVDs, CDs and other useful things, like a sewing kit, spices, umbrellas, and furnishings, dishes, linens, etc.  We have all we need and then some.

From Boardroom to Classroom
I started my teaching job this week.  I have 6 different classes: Spanish I and II, 5th/6th Social Studies, 7th/8th Social Studies, Middle School Writing and High School writing/research.  I taught Spanish for one year 15 years ago, but have never taught any of the other topics.  I am not too worried about the content, but pacing and classroom management will be a huge challenge.  The class sizes are tiny, fewer than 10 kids per class.  Dahlia is in 3 of my classes, and Georgia is in one.  They are not pleased to have Mom as a teacher.

This week was two days of new teacher orientation for QSI Ljubljana, part of a network of 37 American International Schools.  A guy from Central Office (in Vienna!) came to tell us about the new IT initiatives (moodle) and the school culture and expectations.  It was pretty strange to be seeing things from the perspective of a brand new teacher.  It was a good orientation, but I wanted to start actually preparing for all these classes!

I feel overwhelmed by these teaching responsibilities, but hope my 10 years of immersion in Ed policy, my love of kids, my experience as a Mom, and my own love of learning will help.

Students start back this Thursday.  The girls are ready to be back in school.  Our first Professional Development conference is in November, in Bratislava!

Teacher friends - any suggestions, wisdom, links, advice are most welcome!

I've been so busy, I've barely been exercising (or sleeping).  Today I had a nice long run and it felt great.  I think I will sleep well tonight.
Urban Wilderness, Ljubljana-style

Thanks for reading.  Please stay in touch.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

First Impressions of Ljubljana

I've been to a fair number of European cities, and Ljubljana may take the cake as far as pure quaintness.  The entire downtown is closed to cars, so very pleasant for walkers and bikers.

Tons of old bridges, churches, cobble stoned streets and the long river walk on both banks is thronged with cafes and people.  It's like Market Square times 100.  Also tons of parks and green spaces.

The law school, where Ben will be teaching, is right next to a daily farmer's market, across the famous Dragon bridge, and beneath the looming Ljubljana Castle.  Pretty cool spot.

Nobody jaywalks.  Even if there are no cars coming in either direction, people placidly wait for the light to change.  Apparently they will ticket you without warning for violations.  The cross walk beeps go really fast when it's time to walk, so we've had fun with that.

Everyone speaks English.    Most people under 40 are as fluent as I am.  We're trying to learn at least a few basic Slovene phrases so we can be polite, and to find our way around a little better.  Credit cards are accepted everywhere, unlike Salzburg..

Yummy food
You can get all kinds of food - Italian, Mexican, Thai, Sushi.  We had amazing pizza tonight, including some excellent GF pizza.  Wine is cheap and good.  The traditional Slovene food is fresh and delicious.  Salads have been amazing, and the sausage dishes make me glad I eat meat.  

The school the girls will attend serves hot lunches, which the girls were excited to try, until they learned it included more 'European' offerings, like calamari.  They do have pizza every Wednesday, though not sure if it comes with corn or not...

We will cook more once we're settled into our house.  So far the grocery stores seem fine, but I'm really missing our Cruze Dairy farm milk.  The milk we've found so far is not so good.

Moving to our house tomorrow
Our permanent place is about 10 minutes outside of the center, has a little yard and lots of cozy rooms.  The Slovene couple are both lawyer/professors, spending the year as Fellows at Harvard.  The kids, 17 and 8, speak 4-5 languages, including perfect English.  

While the whole family showed us around their home they kept extolling American ways.  The little girl can't wait to shop at Target.  The parents loved studying at UCLA.  We kept asking them about Farmers markets and how to bike/bus/walk places.  They said, driving is easier, go to this big store, and Starbucks is their favorite coffee!  Meanwhile we're delighted by cobble stone streets and old bridges.  Novelty is the thing!

Although Georgia packed no long sleeve shirts, she did manage to squeeze in some favorite books, like a Doonesbury collection and Calvin and Hobbes, which weigh about 10 pounds each

Luckily, our landlords are leaving us their huge book & DVD collection, which is mostly in English.  This includes some essentials like the entire Simpsons collection and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.  Also they show American movies here with subtitles, not dubbed, so that will be good for the cold winter nights.

Bobo update
In case you were worried, Bobo has had no trouble adjusting to the new time zone.   Dogs are welcome almost everywhere and restaurant waiters always insist on bringing him a bowl of water.  

My new job
I start my new job tomorrow morning.  Wish me luck!

I'll be teaching at the American International school full-time in exchange for tuition for the girls.  Still not totally clear what I'll be teaching, but the principal doesn't seem worried about it, so I will try not to worry either.  

Most likely I will be teaching Dahlia and Georgia at least one class per day; they both think that's about the worst idea ever.  

The school has about 110 kids k-12, so it's tiny.  About 1/3 of the students are connected to the American Embassy, the rest are Slovene, Austrian, Russian and who knows what else.  Students start next Thursday, though most Slovene students apparently don't show up until the 2nd week (!).  Typical class sizes are about 10 kids.

We met one American family today.  They have two kids, ages 10 and 12, who've been here a year.  Before that they lived in Dubai and Senegal.  The kids are worldly, but seem typically American too.  The boy has Atlanta Braves and guitar posters all over his room and the girl loves The Fault in Our Stars, knitting and piano.  They have a minivan and a new puppy.  

My classroom and two of my new students.

It's been a whirlwind of change - exhilarating, but stressful.  Writing helps me process it all.  I look forward to unpacking and establishing some new routines soon!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blur of travel

Sunday night, after celebrating our nephew Aidan's 12th birthday, we boarded a plane and flew to Munich.  It was about as good as a trans-Atlantic flight can be - on-time, half empty, quiet.  We all had room to stretch out over multiple seats, though Georgia stayed up almost the whole time watching movies.  Best of all, as we prepared for take-off the captain shared via the public announcement that the dog on board was settled in and doing fine.  We are big fans of Lufthansa!

Bobo seemed no worse for wear upon reuniting with us.  No accidents in the crate.  The car rental people saw all our stuff and suggested we get a larger vehicle.  So we ended up with this 9-passenger bus (an Opel Vivaro in case you were wondering, Dexter)!

The drive through the Austrian Alps was spectacular.  Amazing peaks that reminded us of the Canadian Rockies.  Equally impressive, at least from an engineering perspective, were the elevated highways through these deep valleys and multiple 5-6 mile long tunnels.

We decided to take a tiny detour to have lunch in Salzburg.  We didn't want to miss such a storied city, birthplace of Mozart, or was it Beethoven?  Bad idea.  The bus was hard to navigate in those narrow streets, and impossible to park.  We were all jet-lagged, hungry and irritable.  We finally found an nice cafe and ordered some food.  We didn't think to ask if they took credit cards, but sure enough the check came and they said cash only.  

Our efforts to withdraw euros at the airport ATM had failed, and we didn't have enough Euros to cover the check, even with Dahlia's 5 Euro babysitting tip (thanks, Scott).  The owner, despite being an American from North Carolina(!), wouldn't accept dollars.  Banks were closed.  The girls were mortified.  Salzburg seemed charming as we rushed around trying to find an ATM (we found one), but I don't think I got the full flavor...  

And we were 1.5 hours late to meet our landlord in Ljubljana, with no way to contact him to let him know.  He was waiting outside on the street when we pulled up.  Luckily, he was not upset at all.

I suppose the lesson is that things tend to work out and being flexible is probably just as important as being prepared.

More soon.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

leaving Knoxville today

Our bags are packed.  Our documents are ready.  Our lists are checked.  We've said our goodbyes.  Now we just have to load the car and head out!

If we ever wondered whether we'd put down deep roots in Tennessee, this summer made it clear that we have.  We'll miss our friends and family a lot, but knowing we'll be back next summer makes it much easier.

Hasta Pronto,

Indya, Ben, Dahlia, Georgia & Bobo

 Bobo's photo of introduction, so the Lufthansa baggage handlers will be nice to him.

Rarely seen - my desk is clear!

We gave away Dahlia's bunk beds.  Why?  Because she'll be starting high school (!) when we get back, so time for a grown-up bed!

Georgia is the best packer.  Her big suitcase has all her clothes, along with two of my sweaters, my winter coat and some gloves.  Her small roller bag, guarded by 'Ella', contains the things she really cares about - books.  She's trusted me to carry her glass animals in my purse. 

Our garage.