Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Bittersweet Independence Day

Looking down from my window today, I saw people gathering in Veliki Park  at the monument dedicated to the children who had died during the Siege of Sarajevo.  When I think of Independence Day, being American, I think of America’s 4th of July when we declared ourselves a new nation, independent of The British Empire.  I conjure up images of spectacular fireworks, people waving the flag of their country, parades and jubilant celebrations. Alas, this is not the scene in Sarajevo.

Even though today is Bosnia’s Independence day, it is a bittersweet one.   The celebration of Independence Day for Bosnia and Herzegovina celebrates the days between February 29 and March 1, 1992  when a special referendum was held to vote on the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The referendum question was:

 “Are you in favor of a sovereign and independent Bosnia-Herzegovina, a state of equal citizens and nations of Muslims, Serbs, Croats and others who live in it?”

Bosniak and Bosnian Croat voters supported the referendum, while Serbs largely boycotted it.  Some sources cite that Serbs in some cases boycotted the vote or were prevented from voting by Bosnian Serb authorities.  In the end, an absolute majority of the voting-age population of Yugoslav Bosnian Socialist Republic voted for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The total turnout of voters was 63.6% of which 99.7% voted for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.(wikipedia)  Despite the fact that the European community supported and recognised this decision, the political representatives of  Bosnian Serbians rejected it, thus leading to the initiation of the Bosnian War.   It was not until March 1, 1995, three years later, (and still in the midst of conflict) Independence Day was celebrated for the first time.  The Bosnian War would not end until 8 months later, when the Dayton Accord was signed on November 21, 1995. It should be noted that the Serbians of Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) boycott this holiday and celebrates its own Independence Day on the 9th of January.

So many lives were lost, especially in the city of Sarajevo.  It is no surprise that the day intended to celebrate the independence of their country also commemorates the many lives lost who fought for that independence, including the 521 innocent children of Sarajevo who would never live to see this day.

Flowers for Independence Day.

The Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque

During our first walk of many through Old Town Sarajevo we visited a beautiful place, the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque.  This is a bustling meeting place in Old Town and most days we see folks gathering here to socialise before and after prayer time.  Our group arrived  before the afternoon prayer, with just enough time to tour the inside of the mosque. Even though this was my first time in a mosque I knew the expectation was for everyone to remove their shoes, and that female visitors cover their heads with a scarf.  During warmer weather, visitors are expected to wash their feet in the fountain before entering the mosque.


Historical plaque outside the mosque.


The main entrance of the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque.


This is the lovely fountain for feet washing. Because we were visiting in the winter, the water was not running.


The ceiling of the fountain in the courtyard.


This mosque was built in 1532 and stands as one of the prime examples of Ottoman Architecture in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  In 1898, this was the first mosque in the world to receive electricity and lighting.   During the siege of Sarajevo, this mosque as well as other prominent landmarks such as libraries, museums and governmental buildings were targeted by the Serbian forces.  This mosque suffered so much damage from the seige that it had to be reconstructed (in 1996).  Consequently, the old patterns and designs inside of the mosque were destroyed and were repainted by Bosnian calligrapher Hazim Numanagić in 2001/2002. Gazi Husrev-beg is a beautiful mosque that has withstood the test of time, as well as war.


Inside the Mosque.


The ceiling.




Prayer beads.


The Mystique of Sarajevo

Destination: Sarajevo.  We left our small town in Wisconsin for our next adventure on January 5th and again, like most of our experiences, it was 24 hours of travel from door to door.

IMG_0038This was by far the most surreal way to arrive in a city.  Do you know how it feels when you’ve been awake for about 20 hours and you’re almost at your destination, but you’re not quite there yet?  Must. Stay. Awake. I was tired and groggy, a bit foggy to say the least. I was fighting to stay awake, to get a peek at the city from above.  I’m always excited to get an aerial view of our new host city.  But alas, when I looked out my tiny airplane window I saw only  mountains rising out of the mist, Sarajevo shrouded and hidden, mysterious, waiting to reveal herself to our family.


Under the dense fog we discovered a city  covered with fresh snow.  According to my taxi driver, the city had been under this dense fog for 28 days in a row.  The snow was beautiful, and the fog definitely added to the city’s enigmatic and eerie feeling.  Driving away from the airport, I caught my first glimpse of the bullet ridden buildings staring at me, the scars left behind from a war fought only 20 years ago. I couldn’t help but comment to my driver about the bullet holes.  These scars are everywhere and it was shocking to me.  He told me I would see this all over the city.  He told me he was eight years old during the Siege of Sarajevo.  He lived 500 meters from the Town Hall at the end of Old Town.  When the Town Hall was blasted and set on fire, he remembers “papers flying and floating through the air everywhere.  The papers were this high all through the streets around there,” motioning to his waist.  “They destroyed our library, all our important documents were erased.”  This was a prelude to many stories we would eventually hear.


I always remember the arrival to our new home in each country we visit.  Whether we are arriving on a rainy day, in a cloudy mist on a mountainside, or blinking back the bright sun and heat. On this particular day, we arrived in heavy, wet snow on a crowded city street.  The taxi drivers could not get us close to our door, so both drivers helped us pull all our luggage down one block, across the busy city street and up to our ninth floor apartment.


Our apartment is one of the highlights of living in Sarajevo.  We are close to the center of the city and only blocks away from Sarajevo’s charming Old Town.  Our grocery store is right across the street as well as one of the best Pie Shops around.  Cafés are everywhere and we can walk out the door and hail a cab within seconds. Convenience and charm are beneficial, however, the close proximity of the hills facing the front and back sides of our building is actually quite startling.  I wake up every day and look at those hills and I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to live in a city that was under direct fire from snipers hiding in those houses on a daily basis, a siege that lasted three years.   Sarajevo, what lessons will you teach us about war, about how this city was rebuilt and how a country’s citizens and government mend relationships?


The Life and Death of the Vasa

Last week we visited the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.  The kids made a presentation about what they learned.  You can view it by clicking on the link below the picture.  This museum made it to the top 25 Museums in the world to visit.  Although it is touted by Swede’s as the biggest Swedish mistake, the world would not have an example of this fully intact, 17th century ship, had it not sunk and been raised 300 years later.  It is truly amazing to see it.

Vasa akterspegel

This photo is from the Vasa Museum website.

The Life and Death of the Vasa

Laura Ingalls Wilder teaches Piper How to Make Butter

Before we left home in Corny, I had started to read Piper the first book in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, “Little House in the Big Woods.” She was enjoying it so much that I threw caution to the wind and decided to bring the whole box of books with us.  We try to stay away from bringing too many books when we travel because it becomes a weight issue, but I realized we may not have access to a lot of English print books at the local library.  IMG_9339Her curiosity about life in the big woods has gotten the best of her and it has evolved into her new project of study.  We have the Little House on the Prairie TV CD’s at home and she’s watched many episodes of the show.  I think this helped her to pick up the book.  She’s also told me how much she likes the first book (and those to follow) “because Laura wrote them.”  Upon reading the section about butter making, she begged me to make butter.  “We have to try it mom!”  OK, I’ve done this before, but she hasn’t.  We did a little research first.  She watched a few videos about how to make butter.  We watched the shake in a jar method and the whip in the bowl method.  We also found a website of a woman making butter the old fashioned way, just like Laura with a churn.  We made our way to the store and bought two containers of Visp Grädde (that’s whipping cream in Swedish).

IMG_9340Shaking the cream in a jar doesn’t take as long.  Whipping cream in a bowl takes about half an hour.  It’s tiring work, and we took turns. Even Finn got in on the action for a little while.  I even learned something new making butter this time.  We learned that after you separate the butter from the buttermilk, you have to rinse your chunk of butter under cold water until the water turns clear.  The buttermilk may go rancid before the butter does, so you must make sure to rinse it all off the butter.  We have now made butter two times.  We purchase two containers of whipping cream and it makes a large crock of butter that lasts us about a week.IMG_9342  The last time we made butter, Piper wanted to try coloring the butter like Ma did, with carrot shavings.  She grated the carrots and we warmed it up with some cream on the stove.  We drained the orange carrot cream out of the pot and added it to the cream being whipped up.  This gave the butter a little extra color.  We also added a pinch of salt to give it a little more taste.  This batch turned out delicious! This may become our new weekly ritual.

Keeping it Fresh: Perspectives from a Modern Day Nomad

For four years I drove from Cornucopia, Wisconsin to Coon Rapids, Minnesota.  Four hours in a car along Highway 35.  I would wake up at 3 am on Monday morning and be on the road by 4 am.  On Thursday after school I would repeat the journey only in reverse.  It got to the point that I was on auto pilot. Twice a week I would set the car in gear and either head south or north.  Then one August, I looked at Angie and said I couldn’t do it any more.  We were going to make a change.  Not a small one either.  One that would shake us up and give us a new perspective.

For those that know our family; you know the story.  We headed to the Middle East and spent two and a half years working in Doha for the Qatar Foundation. We went from the Bayfield County, known for its pristine shoreline to the Persian Gulf; from Kodachrome to Monochrome in the blink of an eye.  From Western ideals to Islamic values, the contrast at times left us breathless and yes inspired.

Sometimes I wonder if people get stuck in one place too long.  Their patterns, routines, and perspectives sort of get woven into the fabric of their lives.  Everyday is similar to the next.  Fall has football, Thanksgiving, then Christmas.  February in the north is dreary and many go stir crazy waiting for the snow to melt.  Maple syrup starts to flow in the Spring as we traverse toward Memorial Day, then the Fourth, and Labor day comes to close out the summer.  Children go back to school and the cycles starts all over again. Most Americans can find comfort in a very similar pattern that makes up their life.

After Doha, we needed to make a decision.  Did we want to go back to America?  We certainly could go back and jump into the same routine, but journeys to new places actually made us appreciate our home with a fresh set of lenses.  We used our home on the South Shore as a benchmark for all our new experiences.  The differences really solidified what we loved and hated about home, knowing that there was tremendous variety on how people “did life.”  Leaving and coming back for short spells also changed all of us in ways we are just beginning to be able to articulate.  After the first year abroad, my eldest said to me, “things have stayed the same here, but I’ve changed.”

John Dewey, the father of experiential education, said, “The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.”  This is especially true when one stays in the same place.  And as Ellen Glasgow so accurately put it, “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”

We decided not to go back to America, but we left Doha. (After leaving, I took the Head of School post with Think Global School. TGS is a traveling boarding school.  Each term we move staff and students and land in a new country for 3-5 months.  By the time a student graduates, they will have lived in 12 countries.) Now my family moves every trimester,  Angie detailed the everyday things that we go through in her latest post: Stepping Out Of Our Comfort Zones: Again.

I have found that many people question our intelligence, sanity and safety with the path we have taken. Ours is an outlier life even among international teachers.  Why do we do it? Why do we pick this nomadic lifestyle? What effect will it have on the development of our children? People often subtly pity our children because they don’t share common experiences of other American kids, but other children aren’t experiencing global perspectives that my kids see through direct contact in foreign countries. By age 7 my youngest daughter had traveled to over 15 different countries. I often wonder about the thoughts running through her head.  My middle son, plays Minecraft a lot, but he often plays with five kids he has met abroad.  They login in together and collaborate in virtual space. Five young boys from five different countries working together.  I am quite certain that the experiences they have faced during our nomadic years will have profound impact on who they become as adults.

For Angie and I, the journey has made our marriage stronger.  We are more intentional about our family; keeping pieces of our traditions, rituals, and values in every country we live. Forced to travel light, we have reduced our possessions to the essential items in a true minimalistic way.   We also see the world differently; direct experience is more truthful than the bias we often see in the media.  Living in these countries have given us friends from diverse backgrounds who we cherish, it has opened our eyes to the wonders of our planet, and it keeps the place we call home fresh.

Stories about New Zealand and Costa Rica by Piper

I wrote this when I was in Costa Rica last year.IMG_4525

Hi my name is Piper. I go around the world with my family.  My dad runs a boarding school called T G S. It is a good school. Finn and Charlotte are my  siblings. Charlotte is 12 I’m 7 Finn is 10. We are too young to go to TGS. We are homeschooled.

IMG_4522We went to New Zealand at the beginning of the year.  You can walk anywhere there.  We lived in a city called Auckland.  We went to Hobbiton.  We got to see all of their houses and drink Ginger Beer. It was so good.

We went on a road trip for three weeks in New Zealand.  We were in a IMG_5017Jucy Lucy campervan.  I rode in the front seat and I slept on the floor in the kitchen. We saw Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings (you should watch it, it’s a great movie).  We went to make knives but I was too young to make knives so I went horseback riding with mom. But I couldn’t run on the horse.  Mom’s horse was named Finn and my horse was named Prince.  The person who took us on the ride, her horse was named Jade.  

IMG_5649My favorite campground had a petting zoo.  There were hamsters and rabbits and the peacocks weren’t in a cage.  They wandered around the campsite and at night they would make a lot of noise and I couldn’t sleep.  

Now we are in Costa Rica. It is very buggy here and I don’t like that. I got eaten alive by sand fleas.  Especially on my arm. We went on a four week trip.  We went to a place called Punta Mona.  We got there by a boat.  There were no cars whatsoever. There were people living there. They were Hippies.  They grow their own food to live.  

I met this really nice lady at Punta Mona.  Her name was Christina. She wasn’t a Hippie.  I helped her alot.   I helped her clean the floors of the houses. I also helped her clean the kitchen. She was very nice to me.  She helped me with my bug bites. She put her cream on me.  It helped my bug bites to not be itchy.

IMG_6935At Punta Mona we we made chocolate and I was so excited about it. The first step was roasting the cocoa beans. Next we peeled them  and ground them. We mixed the cocoa with ingredients then we rolled them into balls. I just wanted to eat some chocolate.  But mom said no, you have to come to the ceremony.  It is a thing that they used to do and these ladies made all these chocolates a long time ago.  It would take them five days to make chocolate for IMG_6855the whole village.  We did the same ceremony they did.  First they would take the trays of cocoa and pass it around to everybody.  Then you had to hold it in your hand and we had to look at it and  think about this chocolate.  How long it took you to make it. I said to my chocolate, “Sorry but I’m going to eat you in one second.” And then I put a bite into my mouth. I thought in my head “this is crappy.”  I swallowed it and I went to my mom and I said to her, “This is the worst chocolate I’ve ever had mom.” And I gave it to her.  It felt like I tossed my cookies in my mind. It was horrible. It was the worst chocolate I ever had.

Stepping out of our comfort zones. Again.

So here we are in Sweden.  We have begun our second year with Think Global School, traveling along with them to three different countries in one school year.  It’s an unusual experience for a family living abroad.  Most families have a country they can call home-away-from-home.  We did this when we lived in Qatar for two years.  Jamie and I both worked for Qatar Foundation Schools and the kids went to school there.  We had a house provided for us in a compound with other Qatar Foundation employees and their families.  It was an expat community experience working and living in the Middle East because we were all in the same boat.  We were from different countries, but all living in the same place, experiencing the culture and the day to day living, figuring it out together.  But it’s different this time. Now, we move in, start to get to know a place and then BAM! Time has flown by and we are on the move to our next country.

In order to do this, we are beginning to see the patterns of transition we go through as a family.  We have to re-learn certain things and get used to a new culture each time we move.  Way back when (say 25 years ago) I used to be an Outward Bound Instructor.  One of our favorite sayings was “It’s time to step out of your comfort zone” meaning, it’s time to feel uncomfortable, confused, maybe even a little frightened.  And that’s OK.  It’s what propels this family forward.  It’s part of learning and growing.  We have to do it. Here are just some of the things we have to do over and over.  Sometimes it’s daunting, but at the same time it’s exciting and fun to figure out the pieces of a new puzzle.


I’m talking from the viewpoint of an American English speaking citizen of the world.  From my experience, I can’t assume that everyone will be speaking English throughout the rest of the world.  Depending on the country, it usually is not the first language spoken.  I brace myself for this.  I have to be prepared to feel uncomfortable and silly at times.  Like the time when I had to purchase a plunger for our toilet in Orosi, Costa Rica.  Without going into too much detail, lets just say I resorted to IMG_9343charades (which clearly wasn’t working) and finally finding a picture of a plunger on my iphone. The salesman found this to be quite funny, because plungers are embarrassing, right?  I mean, we use them to unclog a toilet.  What could I do? I laughed right along with him.
Not only is speaking the language tricky,  but reading it as well can really throw us off. Print is all around us. When I see it every day in my language, I don’t really pay attention to it because I know I can read it.  But when I can’t read it, I seem to notice it even more, because I can’t access it.  Thank God for Google Translate.  I can use this nifty application on my phone to translate text when I need it.  I’ve used it to translate menus and items at the grocery store.


Waiting at the Ombunksvägen bus stop.

Waiting at the Ombunksvägen bus stop.

Getting around in different countries has been varied. Driving in Qatar, the key was to drive defensively.  I had to drive without hesitation in my decision making.  This is the key to surviving round-abouts in Doha. When on the highway, drive in the right lane so that the race cars can easily pass you on the left.  Seriously, they will run you off the side of the road while flashing their high beams at you, so always be looking in your rear-view mirror.  In New Zealand we rented a car.  This was perhaps one of the biggest traveling challenges of my life.  I had to re-learn how to drive – on the other side of the road, on the other side of the car.  I was pretty terrified.  It took me a good two weeks to get used to retraining my mind to everything I was doing.  I often would talk out loud to myself, or Jamie would narrate exactly what I had to do next as I made my way through city streets or on the highway.  In Costa Rica, we put our trust in the skills (sometimes lacking) of other drivers of buses, boats and army jeeps. Your bus is about to scrape the side of a mountain road? No worries.  Avert your eyes and pray that it won’t happen.  Riding huge swells in a metal boat on a stormy sea and wondering if you’ll make it to shore alive?  We had no choice.  It was the only way out of Punta Mona, Costa Rica that day. In Greece we became experts at riding the rails in Athens.  We made a few mistakes, but you just get off and turn yourself around and get on the next train.  In Sweden, we are without a car again.  The buses here come every 5 minutes in either direction. Google Maps helps us get to where we need to go in every country.



Lättmjölk vs. Filmjölk

New country, new grocery stores.  It’s not too hard.  Almost everything has pictures on it.  Many things are self evident, like a loaf of bread, fruits and veggies.  It’s things like milk, or a specific dairy item that can get tricky.  Once I thought I was buying milk and I ended up with a yogurt milk. No worries.  I saved my receipt and brought the Filmjölk back.  The cashier was really helpful and let me exchange it for a Lättmjölk.  See the difference there?  Some items are really hard to find and you just have to go with a substitute when what you really want is not available.  I needed some vanilla extract and had to settle for crushed vanilla beans instead.  Here in Sweden we have discovered a grocery store that delivers right to our doorstep.  We use this service once a week and order our groceries on line.  This way we can see all the items translated to English and we can take our time and not feel rushed.  It’s also easier to order all the heavy stuff, otherwise we are walking our groceries home.

Banking and Money

IMG_9327Every time we move we must get to know the new currency.  I am terrible with conversions in my head and I am constantly using my conversion app on my phone to figure out how much something is worth in US dollars.  In Sweden I am facing sticker shock.  Eating out is something we won’t be doing a lot of.  On one of our first days here the kids and I went to check out the climbing gym in Sickla.  It’s inside a beautiful building with a library, a museum and a cafe.  We decided to have a little lunch break there and spent $30.00 on 2 muffins, 1 latte and 3 soft drinks. Needless to say, we pack our snacks and lunch on our rock climbing days now.


Finding the library is important for our family because we love to read.  We also homeschool so finding resources about the country we are in is helpful.  This can be difficult at times.  The library in New Zealand was awesome because the books were in English.  Even the Maori literature was translated to English.  In Costa Rica, we were on the go the entire time.  We had access to books at the libraries of the Research Centers we were staying at.  In Greece there were not many libraries close to us.  I did find a book about the Odyssey in English at a tourist book stand near the Plaka in Athens.  I grabbed it right away.  Sweden is another case where most of the books are in Swedish.  They do have sections of English books, but not many for researching the county.  Most of the available books are fictional here.


Don’t laugh.  Jamie and I both have very short hair and need haircuts often.  Thankfully the woman who is renting us our house has left us some suggestions of places to get our haircut in town.  Jamie’s haircut is Thursday.  Cross your fingers for us.

Doctors and Clinics

Thankfully we have been pretty healthy and have not had to use the clinics much.  A  few times people have actually told us “just ask the pharmacist” and we’ve had pretty good luck with that advice.  We save our yearly check-ups and teeth cleanings for our time home in the summer.

These are just some of the things we have to get used to each time we move to a new country.  I’m not complaining at all.  I’m just giving you a little insight into the life of a global traveling family.  Sometimes we feel a little crazy re-training our brain yet again, feeling uncomfortable yet again.  Stepping out of our comfort zone one more time.  But we do it, we adapt.  It’s all part of the adventure.

A Tempest: A Storm that has never ended.

In seven days, my family and I will return to our home town, to spend the summer between the ending of one school year to another. As an expatriate American living abroad, it pains me to see my country so inflamed by institutional racism that has yet to be reconciled: Ferguson, Baltimore, South Carolina. It is a septic wound that prevents the underlying principles of our democracy from fulfilling the dreams of our founding fathers. Add to the flames the rampant attack on the poor, and what gels is a concoction of  inequity, injustice and incomprehensible sadness that seeps into the vast majority of families living on the edge trying to survive.

This attack on the most vulnerable of our society is nothing new nor is it uniquely American. In 1729 satirical writer Jonathan Swift, wrote the famous essay

A Modest Proposal:

For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland

From Being A burden to Their Parents or Country, and

For Making Them Beneficial to The Public

In the essay, he proposes a the grotesque butchering of Irish children and to use them as a commodity to feed the masses.  He sought to bring to light the plight of the exploited Irish people in this highly absurd proposal.

You see, the objectification of a group of “unwanted” people in a society allows institutions to be excused for inexcusable behavior. We have seen this narrative played out time again, in countless countries.  It is a variation on a theme of death and destruction swept away under the guise of the one time occurrence or a single aberration of  a mentally unstable person or group of people. After each incident people cry out and our officials promise that it will never happen again. Yet it does.

Despite all of our advances since emerging from caves, as species we have equally advanced our expertise of exploiting our fellow sisters and brothers in the most despicable and subtle ways.

For over twenty years, I have worked as an educator.  I have intentionally sought to bring light on the issues that tear the fabric our communities at home and abroad. I would be remiss if I sat idle and did not add my voice to the dedicated people who fight for justice and equity. Do not lose hope even in the face of insurmountable odds.  It is only through dialogue and a commitment towards change that anything good happens in the world. I head into a tempest, as my country loses it temper.