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2013 Reflections: A Move Across the Ocean

Christmas Reflections

It’s the time of year to be still and reflect on the year behind, look ahead to the year ahead, and count the blessings, big and small.

2013 has been a huge year for me and my family. We did what seemed daunting, to say the least — we moved back to the US from living 4 years abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. The move across the Atlantic on the way over was challenging, and the move back (as the experts told us) would be tougher. It was, but we did it! And, as 2013 comes to a close, with so many things for which to be thankful, I’m taking this week’s post to briefly look back at the defining moments, by month.

Christmas Reflections
Christmas Reflections

2013 Reflections: A Move Across the Ocean

January 2013:

Over the four winters in Prague, I waited and waited for a chance to photograph the picturesque Charles Bridge powdered with snow. Last January, I at last had the moment on the Charles Bridge, completely alone. It was magic.

Prague Charles Bridge in Snow
Prague Charles Bridge in Snow

I also had the dream moment, to spend time writing on my novel in a castle–the Prague Castle actually, in our friends’ palace inside the castle, the Lobkowicz Palace. The dream!

February 2013:

In Prague, our older 2 sons played on the middle school basketball team together, which was made up of boys from places like Afghanistan, China, Slovenia, South Korea. Their team competed against teams from Istanbul, Moscow, Budapest, Bucharest, Kiev, etc. and ended up winning in the final tournament game against Warsaw, Poland. It was the moment of a lifetime, especially with 2 sons on the team!

The move back to the US struck like a tidal wave. In early February, we traveled as a family to look for a house and visit potential schools. Everything aligned in incredible ways, which meant it happened fast. Our final flight back to the US was the morning after the basketball tournament in Prague.

March 2013:

Our boys started school to begin the final trimester in US; I lived in a hotel with our boys for the month, while we waited to get in our house and my husband finished up many weeks of work in Russia.

I read Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle during this time, my favorite book of 2013, as posted at Great New Books. Sometimes books help save us when the rest of life feels overwhelming.

April 2013:

We moved our suitcases into our new house. It was (still is) perfect! And our beloved dog Poppy and cat Morris arrived.

Poppy and Morris happy to be home
Poppy and Morris happy to be home

May 2013:

Our furniture and shipment from Prague arrived halfway through the month of May. I never realized how much I appreciated getting to sleep in a bed, write in a chair, eat at a table, etc.

I loved getting to be with my writing critique partner Erika Robuck at her novel CALL ME ZELDA’s book launch!

June 2013:

The boys finished the school year well, not an easy transition for 8th, 6th, and 4th grades. So proud of my boys! And, our neighbors included us in the first of many to come neighborhood parties. It began to feel like home.

July 2013:

I continued a routine of 5 am writing and painted a canvas of Tuscany, Italy, for our new family room. The boys and I painted the whole interior of our house (color!).

Jennifer (me) painting
Jennifer (me) painting

August 2013:

The boys transitioned smoothly into their new schools for the beginning of the new school year. My oldest son began high school!

September 2013:

I finished the rewrites of my novel THE GOLDEN WILLOW at the end of September, a quiet but huge milestone.

October 2013:

My husband and I traveled for a quick getaway to Vegas, to press pause on life and celebrate the successful move and our 40th birthdays year.

November 2013:

My 40th birthday! We celebrated with a big party, including a chocolate fountain, at our house with many friends. Epic, with side-splitting laughter.

Jennifer Lyn King

Our closest friends from Prague came to visit and celebrate Thanksgiving with us — a dream come true.

I began working on a new novel …

December 2013:

The busiest month we’ve ever had, as all 3 of our sons play on separate school basketball teams. Also, so much fun to get to cheer them on at the sport they all love to do. As my husband and I sit in the stands, side-by-side, many times a week, we glance at each other and often whisper gratefulness at seeing our boys so happy. Transition complete.

Prague's Old Town Christmas Tree
Prague’s Old Town Christmas Tree

2013 has been a wonderful, blessed year!

As I look ahead toward a new year, I am looking forward to a fresh start. And I hope, most of all, to soak up the moments, big and small, and to spread as much love and laughter and encouragement as is possible. It is a wonderful life. Thank you for joining me here on the journey.

Have a great week, filled with Christmas and family and friends and love.

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10 Little Things I Love …

“I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things… I play with leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind.”
― Leo F. Buscaglia

Becky Daisy
Simple beauty

It’s very uncomfortable in my house. There is no furniture. We have walls and carpet and hardwood, and pets, and food, and family, and love. But it’s funny, after 7 weeks without our things, how much we miss a soft chair, a bed, a shelf full of books we’ve read and loved, a table around which to gather at the end of the day. Sure, we can live without our collections of things that make us comfortable, but it’s just not home without them. Living without is an opportunity to appreciate what it is we’ve missed.

So, this week, as I eagerly await the arrival of the sea shipment of things from Prague here to our home in Ohio, I am counting the little things that I love.

10 little things I love:

1) Carpet: (no echo in the house!)

2) Chocolate Chex (gluten-free, I have Celiacs, and they’re so good after years without anything similar)

3) Neighbors (Our new neighbors are amazing. Whether it’s the weekly boys’ game of ghost in the graveyard or being included in the neighborhood girls’ night out, the side-splitting laughter and warm friendships so quickly offered here are out-of-this-world.) Continue reading 10 Little Things I Love …

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The Importance of Home, Especially in Times of Transition

June Gardens

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than any magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.  -Charles Dickens

Countless acquaintances and many friends have asked how the past month has been, and how my family is handling the huge changes we’re facing moving from Europe back to Ohio in the United States. We lived in Prague, Czech Republic, for nearly four years for my husband’s job. During that time, we grew in so many ways as individuals and as a family. We traveled extensively by car (25 countries), we saw as much and absorbed as much and enjoyed as much as we possibly could. It was a unique phase of life, one of opportunity for which we all are grateful. But now that we are back in the States, I find myself thinking on matters of the heart. I thought I’d share about the transition here …

June gardens

Continue reading The Importance of Home, Especially in Times of Transition

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Saying Goodbye to Prague, Hello to USA

Prague's spires

How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to.

Almost four years ago, I learned that my family and I would move across the ocean to a faraway city called Prague. My first question was, “Where is Prague?”

The opportunity to move there was for my husband’s job, and we thought the stay in Eastern Europe would be for 2 or 3 years. It was a dream for us, to get to live in a foreign country and to have the chance to travel Europe with our family. Though those 2 or 3 years turned into almost 4 years, it all really was a dream.

Prague's spires
Prague’s spires

My husband and I moved to Prague with 3 young sons, not knowing how our time overseas would go or turn out. Everything was new; everything was different. From navigating narrow roads with no lines to learning to live in a smaller space with tiny appliances for a family of five, our first months abroad were a continual challenge of learning how to adapt and make the most of the experiences at the same time. Continue reading Saying Goodbye to Prague, Hello to USA

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Now What?: Three Daily Goals for Moving Forward through Change

The Nativity near Saint Nikolas Church, on Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

I had lunch with a friend yesterday, and we talked about the struggle with Now What? Maybe the question is familiar to you, as well … so I thought I’d write about it, at this time of year of new life and love at Christmas, and fresh starts at the New Year.

 

The Nativity near Saint Nikolas Church, on Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
The Nativity near Saint Nikolas Church, on Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

 


 

Jesus came. And we ask: Now What?
He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –John 10:10

Now What? is a question I face whenever I’ve crossed the threshold into a new phase in life. This year, I’ve been challenged in new ways (all our boys are in school full-day this year, and we’ve moved to Prague as expats), and so I’ve asked the question quite a lot. Now What?

Sometimes the question sneaks up as we work hard and struggle through something to achieve a worthwhile goal (maybe losing a few pounds, going for a job interview, or even—defeating cancer). But once we’ve reached that goal, we get to the triumph, breathe a moment, and then wonder Now What?

For me, maybe it’s that I’ve changed a bit during the journey to get there, or maybe had to grow a whole lot. After the goal, the world looks different. And there at the brink of our next step, if we listen closely, we can hear the question ring out from deep inside: Now What? Because nothing is the same—the way we see the world, the way others see us, and our relationship to our prior goals. Maybe it’s that the pieces of our lives have rearranged themselves in order of importance.

I’m a firm believer that 1) Life is a gift, and 2) We were each made for a reason. This article post written by Michael Hyatt, based on the new Andy Andrews book, The Noticer, sums it up well:

We have been given the gift of today because we have yet to fulfill our biggest purpose; we have yet to make our most important contribution. [my paraphrase]

In that light, today is another step closer toward fulfilling that for which we were created.

These are my three answers to the question, Now What?, and coincidentally my goals for each day:

1) Love.

2) Be Loved.

3) Make the best use of the gifts I’ve been given to shine for God.

God offers us new beginnings every step along the way. Today is the next step …

Starting the Conversation: When have you thought the question, Now What? And what is the answer you heard?

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Substance and Accumulation

Seeing Beauty

This is the first time in a week that I’ve sat down at a computer, so you can know I’m not exaggerating when I say the past week has been quite busy. Actually, the past week has been tremendously busy, more than any week I can remember, but more than that… the past few days have held for us all sorts of surprises.

Seeing Beauty
Seeing Beauty

The surprises have been wonderful, to speak of their magnitude somewhat lightly—so I have to share.

1) Our boys started school here in Prague, which, for any expat parents of young students, can always be a bit worrisome. But, even our oldest loved school, and made new friends on the first day.

2) Our sea container of household goods arrived at our home. Yay! No more sleeping, sitting, and eating on floors—we received our beloved soft furniture four weeks early!

3) Our long term visas were completed. Yippee-kye-yay! The documents we needed to do many essential things here in Czech Republic were finished nine weeks ahead of the date we had previously been given.

4) We found a family vehicle with several features of importance, especially safety, roominess, and within our cost guidelines (which is a huge deal in a country where the average cost of cars is two to three times higher than in the States).

Whew! Yes, this week has been a gift.

In Europe, most things are much smaller than what we are accustomed to in the States—not only the size of the country, but the size of the streets, and cars, and houses, and trash cans, and sinks, and closets (if even there), and refrigerators. Only the pilsner beers and rosebushes seem to be larger. So in our planning to move into a smaller house here in Prague from our modest-sized house of ten years in the Midwest, we gave many things away to people who needed them. It proved to be a good strategy. But I can say from the past five days of gritty work in settling our household goods, we didn’t give away enough.

According to the contract with the movers, after they brought our boxes in from the sea container, they were to empty the boxes for us and then haul the cardboard and paper away. In theory, that sounded wonderful. But when it came down to it, a couple of our rooms, we couldn’t even enter because of the sheer amount of things on the floor—books, pens, papers, socks, shoes—everything just kind of dumped onto the floor.

Yes, the past five days have been overwhelming, to say the least, but I’ve learned a bit about myself and my needs in the process.

Some things, to me, are like water—things I can’t live without: books, photographs, basic clothes, soft chairs, and more books. But, the past few days of trying to make sense of clutter and chaos has left me with a new feeling: accumulation is the enemy of peace and creativity. The more stuff we collect and drag around with us the less energy and time and love we have for the things that really matter and mean something to us.

Our lives are so much richer without the stuff.

As I wrap up the remaining five percent left of work I have in settling our house, I look forward to getting into a new writing routine, and constantly learning new ways to free myself up to a fuller life composed less of stuff and more of substance.

Life is too short to spend dealing with stuff, and too full of the riches of experience to waste. Enjoy today!

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Finding Something New

Window Boxes in Prague

Last month, our family left our home of ten years in Ohio for Central Europe, where we will make our home for the next few years. Each of us, including my husband and our three school-aged sons, has gone through a different process of leaving, and we all have had areas of our lives where leaving has almost taken a crowbar to pry us away. We all had our own pieces of comfort and familiarity that were particularly tough to leave behind.

Window Boxes in Prague
Window Boxes in Prague

The hard part of leaving is a very personal process, I think. For when we need to move on and have to leave something behind, we leave a part of ourselves as well. It’s easy to focus on the things we leave behind, the pieces torn from our lives by the wake of change. Far harder, I think, is opening the mind to the new possibilities ushered in by change and catching fleeting serendipity as it flutters by.

We are now in our new environment, and daily we are finding many delights and great surprises that far surpass what we thought we would find—new friends, flowers, foods, culture, and the accessibility of family via the internet. Two small examples: even though we left behind beautiful gardens, the floral beauties in Prague are lush and cascade from countless windowboxes and gardens on every street. And even though we left behind a small aquarium where some of our sons’ favorite creatures were the snails (that tragically never stayed alive long), our boys have discovered countless snails in our yard at our new house in Prague. I’m convinced that never before have snails been so loved like pets, despite the familiar saying for “snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of.” Yes, the new has us thrilled in ways we couldn’t have imagined—and certainly the discovery will continue. We are grateful. Perhaps new shouldn’t feel so scary.
When we leave something behind, yes, we do leave a piece of ourselves in the process, but I now believe we also gain something more as well. For in the process of moving forward into the unknown, we find a place where we are stretched and can more fully connect with the essence of who we are and that which we are truly made. Perhaps only in the unknown can we discover possibilities far wider than what we previously imagined; only in the new place can we really find a larger part of ourselves.

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Departure and Arrival

Krivoklat Castle, Czech Republic

Not more than three months ago, our family decided to seize the day, take the large risk, and embark on a great new opportunity called moving to Prague, for an expat assignment there with my husband’s job. Weeks of careful planning and work, by our family and with professional assistance, has gone into the process. Moving across the ocean has involved selling our former home and cars, moving our essentials by sea shipment, and storing things that needed to remain in the States (like the piano), and also has included school preparations for our boys, and countless details for every facet of an international move. And after weeks of envisioning how things might actually go, we are here. Yes, we are in Prague.

Krivoklat Castle, Czech Republic
Krivoklat Castle, Czech Republic-- It's a new world here!

In all, physically departing our lives of ten years in the United States was not easy. But, the whole process went without a significant glitch. And once we arrived in Europe, our boys have been thrilled to discover many parts of the world are the same—especially pleasing has been the discovery of swimming pools, and ice cream (zmrzlina in Czech), of knowing a simple “please” and “thank you” in several languages really works. Best stated was our oldest son’s proclamation that the world really is smaller than he thought.

Our stay in Berlin brought the discoveries of the infamous Berlin Wall, as well as the Brandenberg Gate or Tor, and many other significant landmarks, including the maze of granite pillars set up in memorial of the Holocaust. Each made their significant impressions on us all, for sure. And then, the swift ride via autobahn through the German countryside and over substantial hills and small mountains down, past checkered fields and picturesque villages of tiled roofed villas, and into the Czech Republic. From a foreigner’s eye, the crossing from Germany into Czech could not have been more pronounced, a very Western-type world embanked by the blink of a border and the just-out-of-communism feeling of a Republic only twenty years old. But the Czech Republic is beautiful, in every way, maybe more because of its new freedom and the old-European ambiance found everywhere.

taken from my iphone while riding 🙂 through the Czech countryside

Yes, we are here, in our new city, culturally rich Prague, adorned by its Castle shimmering alongside the Vltava River. We are here, and we are grateful. Soon, maybe sooner than we think, we may know this new country as home.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers on our behalf. I look forward to sharing our adventures (and misadventures) with you all…

With gratitude, JK

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A Giant Called Change

A Hummingbird in our Cincinnati yard on Moving Day

For those of you who know me, or who have been following my blog for any small stretch of time, you are aware of the unique life circumstances that have come the way of our King family of five. We are now en route to Central Europe to begin our next adventure in life—a three year expat assignment with my husband’s job. All five of us are quite excited about the immediate future—new sites, new foods, new language, and new experiences. We are all looking forward to fresh challenges—superb soccer and schooling for the boys, and the vibrant cultural, artistic, lingual, and architectural interests for me.

A Hummingbird in our Cincinnati yard on Moving Day
A Hummingbird in our Cincinnati yard on Moving Day

I took this photo of a juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird on althea the last day at our house in Cincinnati. (I will miss the hummers, as they are only American jewels.)

Last week, packing week, proved to be a pivotal week for me. One huge thought still looms large in my mind: we, as Americans, have so much stuff. Though I think my personal tastes usually lean in the favor of minimalism, I know I sway even further in that direction now. Why?
· Having to itemize every thing in our house opened my eyes, far. (Think of your own house… lots of stuff, right?)

· One resonant question demanded an answer: What is it that I value most? Or what is it that I really need?

· Why do we naturally have so much stuff?

My quick answer to the last question—it’s the American Way, the American Dream, right? But, to answer the second question, I came to my conclusions, and found creative ways to use the things we do not need to try to help others.

As change has come upon us, many people have asked about the logistics of such an intercontinental move. We had to sort everything into three categories: air shipment (takes two weeks to reach us, very limited space), sea shipment (takes eight weeks to reach us), and storage (tried to pare down to only the things we’ll really want and need when we get back). After working through the house for sorting and packing, working through the details of selling the house and cars, and touching up paint and cleaning the house for sale, I can say that last week was incredibly demanding, and that this week is a welcome respite. Whew!

But when the whirlwind of activity dies down, it’s hard not to realize the Giant of Change bearing down on us. Fear easily slips in, and stirs up doubt. It is so much easier to go though our American Dream ways in Comfort Zone days and accumulate the stuff around us to pad ourselves against the frightening things that may come our way. But the truth is, I think, life is about change, and “safety” is an illusion; we might as well go out and embrace the unknown.
Perhaps in stepping up to bat with the Giant of Change, we can take away some of the power of fear and uncertainty, and begin to live the lives for which we were created.

And so … we are officially on our adventure over the seas to our new life in Prague. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers—I will keep you up to date, and share as much of the adventure as possible here on my blog. And, I’ll let you know how my theory with handling the Giant called Change develops … maybe it will be a great thing!

Enjoy these precious summer days, JK