Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review

Before I head out to ring in the new year with my new (and only) husband, I thought I would share some of my most important memories/events from 2009. Here's to a safe and happy new year to you!

**March 21, 2009- the day Colton asked me to marry him

**May 30, June 6, June 12, 2009- my bridal showers

**June/July 2009- my trip to Poland

**July 31, Aug. 1- my bachelorette party to New Braunfels

**AUGUST 15, 2009- the day I married my best friend

**Aug. 16-23- our honeymoon to Rose Hall, Jamaica

**My first Thanksgiving as a newlywed with my parents

**My first Christmas away from home

Most of the events of my life this year in some way relate to my getting married. This has definitely been a good year to me.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Clean House and CCC Cookies...this is the life!

As I sit here relaxing on my couch before I begin to peruse some home decorating magazines for my new house that I do not have yet, I am enjoying the satisfaction of a clean house. I spent the morning cleaning our apartment and taking down Christmas decorations. I must say taking down the decorations is not nearly as fun as putting them up. While I was cleaning, I decided to mix up a new chocolate cookie recipe I found on The Nest cooking chat board. It involves using Bailey's Irish Cream in the batter. Yum! I whipped up a batch and baked cookies while I was cleaning. Let me tell you...these cookies are divine. Soft and chewy. They may be better than the last new recipe I tried. TBD. I definitely like how soft they are. I will put them through the milk test later. And then I will bust out my Wii Active to burn some of those cookie calories.

I am going to have a lazy afternoon while the chicken cooks in the crockpot. I am making homemade chicken and noodles. I made noodles from scratch last week to take to Kress but I decided not to take them last minute. So now I am going to use the noodles with the chicken in the crockpot. Yum!

Tonight...the Tech boys basketball game is on TV so Colton and I are planning on heading over to Snookies (the bar across the street) to watch the game.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Re-Cap

Well, I had a very merry Christmas indeed. I hope you did too! We began our holidays with a trek to West Texas to visit Colton's family. Boy, did we leave just in the nick of time. We headed out Wednesday evening around 4:30 p.m. We took 287 (I am so thankful we did not leave Wednesday morning on 287) and a little over halfway there, around Childress, the sleet and snow started coming down. We had to slow down to about 45-50 mph to drive in the dark, cold, snowy weather but we arrived safely in Kress. (One of my best friends, Susanna, insists on spelling it Crest, like the toothpaste) I awoke to the sound of wind whipping against the windowsills and Colton pulled the blinds back to reveal a big snowy blur. The winds were blowing all the snow that had fallen during the night. It was so bad they closed a lot of the highways around West Texas, including I20 because the conditions were too difficult to drive in. You could not even see 5 feet in front of you, much less drive. While Colton spent the morning braving the cold with his dad and brother to check on the cows (apparently they can walk off during snow storms), I spent time with CassiDe and SuDe. We even made homemade noodles for lunch. By five o clock the conditions had calmed down enough for us to pile in the four wheel drive pickup and crawl toward Grandmommys house in Plainview. Along the way, we saw cars dotting the medians and banks off the highway where people had slid off the roads and gotten stuck.

Grandmommy hosted Christmas eve dinner with prime rib. Yum! Samson, her small dog, provided the entertainment. It was a delicious dinner and good time. We left for home to dream of sugar plums and all those Christmas things. I tried to convince Colton to give me my present a day early to no success. He is really good at making me wait.

Christmas morning. I awoke to Colton placing my present on the bed. A new watch, just what I wanted and better than I asked for. He is a good husband. His turn...a watch! Haha. We both gave each other watches w/o knowing it. His watch is a Garmin 305 forerunner that he can use for running. It tracks his heart rate, distance, calories, and lots of other things. This will come in use when we run the Cowtown 10K!

We exchanged presents with his family and then headed out (again in the four wheel drive) to Nannys house where Colton's dad's family was waiting. (All five kids with their families and grandparents...around 22 people total..not including dogs) We had a HUGE Christmas lunch that included homemade mac n cheese just for me (in case I did not like anything else...they know how picky I am!) Afterwards, we exchanged gifts in a white elephant exchange. I received a two sets of sparkly dangle earrings. Good deal for me! All in all, my first Christmas with the Streets was a wonderful one and they made it very special for me as my first Christmas away from home.

On Saturday, we drove home and had Christmas with my family. Mom cooked a yummy ham with scalloped potatoes and butterscotch pie. We exchanged gifts and sat by the fire all night. It was a wonderful night. Dad really like his custom picture so I was glad about that.

Up next...a new year! Hope everyone has NY resolutions ready! I know I do! I plan to enjoy my last week off work to the fullest and spend as much time with my husband as possible.


P.S. Merry Christmas to Adam and Shelley in Japan! Its their first Christmas together away from home. We love you!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My first West Texas Christmas

Before I embark on the long road trip toward West Texas, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! May you be blessed with love, family, and friends this holiday season!


Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Update

Well, I have not done very well about keeping this blog updated but that is about to change. Once I reveal my New Year's Day post, you will see why.

I have been busy lately obsessing over cooking and trying to make it through the last few weeks of school before the holiday break. Words cannot describe how elated I am that my break has finally arrived. I have spent the morning being lazy on the couch and I am finally about to pull myself up and begin my day. On the agenda- wrapping Christmas gifts, heading to my parents house, making homemade noodles, baking Christmas cookies for my mom, and possibly trying a recipe for homemade cinnamon rolls. A busy day ahead indeed.

Since my last post, I have discovered in myself a desire to learn how to cook. Now, I know how to cook like my mother does...good, greasy, homestyle cooking that requires the consumption of lots of butter and gravy. I do love a good chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy. But, I have decided I need to expand my cooking skills beyond that of Southern cooking so I have taken to researching recipes on the Internet and browsing Southern Living magazines (courtesy of my wonderful grandmother) for new ideas. I have already collected at least twelve recipes to try. After spending so much time time reading other people's blogs about cooking, I feel exhausted with their efforts yet I also envy those skills. So..I set out to try my hand at this new venture in the kitchen and I will say I have met mostly success with only one minor (okay major) setback in the kitchen. Luckily, I have a great husband who still ate my dinner even though it was gross!

First up on my attempt was an easy weeknight casserole, which consisted basically of ground beef, sour cream and cream cheese, onion powder, cheddar cheese, and egg noodles. Simple and easy...this recipe was a hit. I promptly filed it away into my new recipe box (courtesy of my mother) to be made again.

Attempt #2- Chicken Enchilda Soup = DISASTER
My love of Chilis is infinite. I could eat there everyday and most people who know me know that I could eat the same two or three things off the menu every time. I am not an adventurous eater. So, in my pursuit of that cheesy goodness Chilis calls enchilda soup, I attempted to re-create this recipe with the help of a recipe from the Internet. Let's just say it was not delicious. It called for a different kind of flour, Masa Harina, and it did not taste well. I am not sure what I did wrong but I will not be making this one again. Recipe in the trash.

Attempt #3- Baked Ravioli = Success!
Very simple and easy. It involved layering ingredients into a baking casserole dish and popping in the oven. I am working my way in to the harder stuff, people, but I will still be happy with the simple joys of easy dishes. Yum!

Attempt #4- Peppermint Bark and Oreo Truffles
Now, I have made peppermint bark before. It is always delicious. The Oreo Truffles (Fancy way of saying oreo balls) were new to my kitchen. I found several delicious recipes online but I went with the one on the Kraft foods website. Oh my gosh...heaven in one bite. These are delicious. I took them to Colton's work party with the peppermint bark and they were well liked by all.

Attempt #5- Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
I have always made the recipe for chocolate chip cookies on the back of the Tollhouse bag, like my mother has always done. Sorry, mom, but those cookies do not even compare to my new recipe. They are a mixture of chewy, chocolate goodness. My students think so too! They benefitted from all my baking frenzied activity in the kitchen Thursday night. I have one other CCC recipe to try and I will update you later on which is the best.

Attempt #6- Chocolate Mint Puddles
Another cookie recipe. I found this on a blog and I mixed up the dough Thursday night. I did not have time to bake them until Saturday but, boy, were they worth it. The recipe involved using Andes mints so you know they have to be delicious.

Out of 6 attempts in the kitchen, with only one failed, I consider my first week in the kitchen a success. Don't you worry. I will continue to cook all my country cooking favorites, including macaroni and cheese, but I hope to expand my cooking skills to include other types of foods. So far, I am enjoying it immensely. Just ask my husband, who constantly finds me in the kitchen or on the computer looking for new recipes.

Well, the presents won't wrap themselves so I guess I better get started. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and enjoy your time with your loved ones. I know I will!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's Beginning to Look A Lot like Christmas

I am SO excited for the holidays this year. (Who am I kidding? I am excited every year!) Its such a festive time of year and it is a lot of fun singing along to Christmas songs and decorating. It is hard not be be happy during this time of year.

Colton and I have decorated our apartment. I convinced him to help me the day after Thanksgiving. He even went all out and bought some lights and two blow up Santas for the porch. (It was a buy one get one free deal and he could not resist a good deal.) Ha! It looks nice. We have the mini tree up in the living room and it is looking nice. I even bought really cute wrapping paper at Michael's. All I need now are gifts to wrap them with!

All we need now is snow.....

Here's hoping,
Devin XOXO

Monday, November 23, 2009

What I am Thankful For

We have had a busy November. Combined, Colton and I have attended four weddings in three weeks! We have had lots of fun celebrating with our friends but, boy, are we ready for some down time. Colton actually just returned from Lubbock yesterday so I am glad to see him. I always miss him when he is away, even if it is for just two days. He went to see Texas Tech play (beat) OU. I stayed behind in Fort Worth to attend two weddings, one for my college roommate and the other for a girl I was best friends with growing up. Both weddings were beautiful and I was so happy to spend time with old friends.

Colton and I will be staying here in Fort Worth for the Thanksgiving holiday. I am excited for him to share his first Thanksgiving with my family. We plan to spend the night at my parent's Wednesday and spend all day Thursday with them. We will spend Friday together watching football and hanging out with our friends. On Saturday, we are headed to the new Cowboys stadium to watch Tech play Baylor. I am helping my mother on Wednesday with the cooking and will be making noodles from scratch. I need the extra practice because I will try my hand at making them alone this Christmas for Colton's family.

I am so very happy to report the progress my students are making. It makes me so proud of them for their hard work. It also brings relief to me that they are finally doing much better. I guess it has taken them a little while to settle in to high school life.

I am working on a new "project" that I will be posting sometime on this board. It is sort of a "list" of things to do to make myself a better person. I am excited and I will share details soon.

Finally, I would like to share what I am thankful for since it seems fitting for this upcoming holiday.

I am thankful for.....

my husband who loves me no matter what

my family, who have supported me and encouraged me through all things

my friends, who have shown me loyalty and love in many different ways

my (well my familys) dogs, Bailey, Maiya, Molly, and Gracie, who have been a source of joy in my life

my job, for providing me with a fulfillment that touches my soul

my students, for teaching me new perspectives and bringing me small doses of joy each day

my wedding and honeymoon, which both have been two of the most important events in my life

my home, because it provides me shelter and warmth through all things

my new family, the Streets, for welcoming me with open arms and proving love is the greatest of all things

my grandmother, for being one of the most special people in my life

my new friends from Poland (especially Shelby, Lisa, and Gaea) who gave me strength to enjoy my experience in Poland while being homesick for my family and Colton and who taught me to appreciate all points of view

my God, who loves me as I am and gives me strength to face anything, walk any path, and enjoy what life has given me.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving!
XOXO, Devin

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall Ramblings

School has been a little on the overwhelming side lately. I have been pulling my hair out trying to get all my kiddos passing. It seems there is an epidemic of not turning in your work (Ever) and I cannot seem to motivate them to get the work in. It has caused me many headaches lately and I keep hoping something will light a fire under their bottoms so they start turning in this late work.

Colton and I have been traveling back and forth to Lubbock a lot lately so we decided to stay home last weekend. It was so nice and relaxing. I think this is the first Halloween in a long time where we had no plans. We spent the weekend relaxing. On Saturday, Colton even went shopping with me for a bit to use some of our wedding gift cards. We completed our everyday dinnerware plates, pasta bowls, and salad plates. I am excited about this! We spent the afternoon watching football with Faye and Jason. I spent Sunday with my family while Colton went to the Cowboys game. It was a nice weekend.

I am getting antsy for the holidays. I keep "popping in" stores to see what new decorations they have for Christmas. It's only November 4 and I am already planning my holiday decorations and dreaming of candy canes and snow (yeah right, not in Texas!) It is so tempting to splurge on all the cute new items at Pottery Barn, Dillards, and Macys but so far I have reigned in my spending habits...for now.

We have four weddings coming up in the next three weeks. A family friend of ours is getting married this weekend and we are moving my sister to Austin. It should be a busy weekend and a busy month of weddings. I hope to find time to get some baking done before Thanksgiving. I have several new recipes I want to try!


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tropical Surprise

My honeymoon to Jamaica left me with an unwanted tropical surprise...hookworm. I have had a rash on my foot for about a month now but I kept chalking it up to athlete's foot (courtesy of Colton, of course). After about four weeks of itching and no real progress in the healing department, I decided to see my family doctor. His diagnosis (after much ogling of my foot) was...hookworm. Gross! He had never seen anything like it so he even took pictures of my foot. I was the mystery case of the day, to say the least. Luckily for me, it had kept its travels to my foot. If they can, they try to get up to your trachea and then you swallow them. They attach themselves to your small intestine and suck your blood. Yuck! I took my five tropical pills today and that sucker is dead!

Colton has decided 100% he wants to move to Lubbock and start his own practice. I am very excited about this. We are going to be in Lubbock this weekend and while there we will look at potential spots for his new office. We may also (if I have any say) look at neighborhoods where we might like to live. I took the day off tomorrow to officially change my name and we will be heading to Lubbock after lunch.

I have to say my wifey skills are on the rise. I made chicken fried steak last week, chicken kiev Sunday, and stuffed shells last night...all from scratch. It is funny how proud I feel for simply cooking a good meal. Oh well...I guess what they say it true. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach! ;)

Much love,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Life is a decision. Live with a purpose.

I have not blogged in awhile. I find it is hard being a wife and teacher among other things while still trying to find enough time in the day to blog. Colton tells me I must have been born to be a housewife because I stress easily when given lots of tasks. Its one of my traits I struggle with and have to continually work on. I will admit...being a housewife and stay at home mom does sound appealing.

I have been going through wedding withdrawals lately. I find this need to look at my photographer's website every day and I have a deep desire to help my friends plan their weddings. Its difficult to explain because I loved my wedding and would not change a thing about it. But...its fun to plan a wedding. I only wish I was creative enough to do it for a living.

I have tossed around lots of ideas lately about "what I want to be when I grow up". I love teaching but I know eventually I will leave the profession once I have kids of my own. I like the idea of opening my own bakery. Its something I will have to explore. Sometimes I have all these creative ideas of what I want to do with my life and other times I think I would be perfectly content to be a stay at home mom. Only time will tell I guess.

I heard a wonderful speaker at a training I went to last weekend. His message" Life is a decision. Live with a purpose." The message resonated with me. So many times I will get down on myself or something in my life. The last week, each time I start to feel stress creeping on me, I repeat that message to myself. It seems to work. I have been trying hard to overcome my constant stress levels and to accept that not every mountain can be moved in one day. I like this message and plan to use it often.

I am enjoying married life immensely. I grow and learn with Colton each day and love him more and more. Simple things will remind me why I love him. I am also enjoying learning to be a good wife. I find myself browsing recipes and thinking of errands or chores I need to do to make sure our house is always neat and cozy. I like doing these things now when I did not before. I am not going to say I love folding laundry or washing dishes. But..I do like doing those things to please my husband and to make him happy. I am lucky in that I have a husband who helps out and does not expect me to do everything.

My school year is going well. I like my students and I feel confident! Finally, after four years, I feel like I am where I want to be professionally. Teaching really is a special profession and the joy you get from it is unexplainable. I was talking with a friend today about meeting up for a football game at my old school in Plano and she mentioned she told one of my former students. The student is staying late after school so I can see them. Little things like that make a difference in what I do and I love it.

My mom is getting better and she is almost back to work. Her surgery went well and hopefully she will be back to normal in no time. She is a strong woman so I have faith.

Until next time, blessings,

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A few honeymoon photos from Jamaica

a little peak into our 7 days in paradise!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Honeymoon Recap

It's a little late but, hey, better late than never! Colton and I left Sunday morning following the wedding for our honeymoon in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We stayed at the Iberostar Grande Rose Hall outside Montego Bay.

The trip started off a little rough with my swollen eye from the previous night and we both felt sick to our stomachs boarding the flight. We made it to Jamaica by 2 p.m. and we arrived at our resort shortly after. The resort was GORGEOUS! Clean, nicely decorated, beautiful beaches, clear green water, and the friendliest people you could meet. We had a great time.

Our first night there we came home to a bubble bath with rose petals and candles that was drawn for us by our butler. It was romantic. The second night was my birthday and we arrived to the same thing in addition to decorations for my birthday in our room. Colton surprised me with a couples massage for my birthday and the staff even sang to me at dinner that evening.

We spent our days lounging on the beach, soaking in the sun, swimming in the ocean, and drinking pina coladas (oh wait...that was me!). Colton enjoyed the Red Stripe more than my pina coladas. We would take breaks up at the infinity pool when we tired of being in the direct sun. We ate lazy lunches at the Port Maria restaurant right on the beach overlooking the ocean.

Every night for dinner we went to one of the restaurants on the resort. The food was actually good. We even had a special romantic dinner served to us on a private patio. Very nice. We attended a few shows in the evenings and would relax on our balcony before bed every night.

For the adventurous, we tried ziplining and loved it. I am so afraid of heights but I really enjoyed it. We went up into the jungle on the mountain side and ziplined down the side. We got some great views of the coast. We also went to the Luminous Lagoon, which is home to these microorganisms that glow when you move in the water. Colton braved the waters and swam but I kept to the boat and took photos. I got a few of him with the water glowing around him. It's one of six places in the world where this occurs.

We had a great time and did not want to leave. We definitely hope to get back there one day. It was the perfect spot to celebrate our love and committment to one another. It was paradise!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mrs. Street!!!!

It's official! I am now Mrs. Street! Colton and I were married August 15, 2009 and it was the best day of my life. The wedding weekend was wonderful. Here is a recap.

On Friday, my bridesmaids and I went to have mani/pedis done at my favorite nail salon in Fort Worth, Skyline Nails. They did a great job and my girls enjoyed it. The rehearsal was at the church and it went very smoothly. The rehearsal dinner was at the Reata in downtown Fort Worth. We had it on the rooftop patio, which was a perfect location. It was not too hot and it was very relaxed and casual. On the menu- beef tenderloin, ribeye steaks, and tuscany chicken. It was delicious. It was a time of good food, family, friends, and fellowship. Colton's brother, Chase, started things off with a fun toast. My sister followed suit with a beautiful tribute to Colton and I. It was an amazing speech. It was the perfect way to spend my last evening as a single woman.

On Saturday morning, Colton's aunts were nice enough to throw a bridal luncheon at Jan's house. It was beautifully decorated in our color scheme and it was a lot of fun. All the aunts had matching aprons and they cooked all the dishes themselves! Great food. I need those cooking skills to rub off on me!

After brunch, we headed out to hair and make-up. My normal stylist,Connie, was doing my hair so we headed out to Lemongrass Salon for hair. Every one of my bridesmaids hair look amazing. The girls looked so beautiful with their hair swept up. We had make-up at the church with Kristin Allie, who did a fantastic job, and her assistant Dre. I received so many compliments on my makeup the day of the wedding. Kristin worked her magic and made me look stunning. I loved it.

After we had been pampered all afternoon, the girls settled in for some munching on snacks provided to us by the awesome church staff at University UMC in Fort Worth. A few of the bridesmaids also managed to get in some dancing in the back as well.

Photos took place and all of a sudden it was time to get ready. All day I was so calm and cool but right before the ceremony I got really nervous. When the doors opened and I looked down the aisle, I started crying! I think I cried most of the way down the aisle. It is all a blur. It felt like we were only up there for about ten minutes and then it was all over. We had a great time at the reception at Bass Hall. The food was good, the cake was amazing, and the band was AWESOME. It was fun to see all of our friends and family celebrating with us. I danced the night away with my bridesmaids and Colton. We rode off into the night in a horse drawn carriage to our honeymoon suite at the Omni. It was a perfect night to marry a perfect man. The whole night gleamed of love.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wedding Frenzy

I have been back for awhile now and have been super busy with not only my own wedding but attending others.

Colton and I traveled to San Angelo the weekend after I returned from Poland for our good friends Allison and Matt's wedding. We had a great time celebrating with them!

I have since been in wedding overdrive. I have been meeting vendors, calling people and making appointments, dealing with small crises, and trying to enjoy it all at once. Planning a wedding is definitely not easy. My favorite appointment was the my baker, Roshi, at Society Bakery. Her appointment ended with four cupcakes in a box with me on the way home. Peanut butter chocolate chip, banana chocolate chip, and two chocolate! Notice a theme? I absolutely love her bakery and she is a Red Raider to boot. It cannot get better than that. Even Ellen DeGeneres loves her cupcakes and ranked them top ten in the US!

Small details take up most of my time at the moment but I do feel like I am accomplishing things when I can cross things off my list. 9 days to go! Next week, I have to put together goody bags for guests. I have decided to bake my mother's homemade chocolate chocolate chip cookies as treats and hand those out with the itinerary I made. I think it will be cute and delicious!

I had my bachelorette party last weekend. It was a blast and it reminded me of what great friends I have. We had a lot of fun talking, laughing, and floating the rivers (Comal and Guadalupe) in New Braunfels. It really reminded me how special my sister is. She did a FANTASTIC job planning everything and going the extra mile to make it fun for me. I love her!

I think after all this wedding stuff settles down I may try to start training again for the half marathon at White Rock Lake in Dallas in December. Ask me how I feel about this decision after the wedding! :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

God Bless Texas

Welcome home to Texas! I am so glad to be back at home with family and friends. I arrived back in Fort Worth on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to the smiling face of my mother at the airport. She even came in and waited for me! I spent Saturday evening catching up with my parents. At home, my mom had homemade chocolate chocolate chip cookies for me! Yum! I also managed to get breakfast out of the deal too. Chocolate chip pancakes. Notice a theme here?

Colton arrived home from Austin around 11:30 a.m. and picked me up from my parents house. I was VERY happy to see him. (This is putting it mildly) We opened a few more presents that had arrived at the house while I was gone, which was fun! I spent the afternoon and evening with Colton and had my first Mexican food dinner since I arrived back home. We went to Joe T Garcia's and sat on the patio, sipping margaritas and eating lots of yummy food! :)

I have had a couple of days to rest and now the wedding planning is slowly taking over my thoughts. I have lots to do in the next few weeks. We also have a wedding to attend this weekend as well as another shower and my bachelorette party next weekend. I will continue to update as we get closer to the big day. Suffice it to say I am glad to be home!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

last post from Poland!

I am writing my last post from Poland. It is a bittersweet moment but I am relieved to be going back to Texas. Four weeks away from home and all this is familiar is a lot to deal with. It makes you appreciate those who give up their time and private lives to serve our country much more. Life is much more difficult away from those you love.

We drove by bus back to Warsaw yesterday. We stopped in a small town to visit the Jasna Gora monastery, home of the Black Madonna. It was an amazing experience. The Black Madonna gets her name from the dark wood her face is carved from. There are different legends surrounding why her face is dark, one being the oil/incense burned in the church has darkened her face. The Black Madonna has special significance to Catholics in Poland and in Europe. She is an icon and is believed to have kept Poland safe from invaders throughout several attempts in history. She even emerged unscathed from Nazi occupation. A copy was made and the original was hidden. The Nazis never knew they were looking at a copy! The Black Madonna has become a symbol of the faith and survival of Poland. She was even crowned Queen of Poland!

People travel from all over Poland and Europe to visit the Black Madonna and worship in her presence. While we where there, a group of priests was having Holy Communion and they had traveled for eleven days by foot to get there. Many other groups arrive by foot as well to make this holy pilgrimmage. It was a moving experience.

The monastery itself is beautiful and there is lots of church history and Polish history to be viewed there. The crowds are so large it almost resembles a tailgating party before a college football game. There are food booths and tents set up where people sleep. Its a really moving experience to see the faith of so many people displayed at once.

We arrived back in Warsaw after 7 p.m. so my friend Gaea and I decided to have dinner at our favorite restaurant in Warsaw one last time. Its a German restaurant, Adler, and we had the Russian style pierogi, pierogi Heidi. Its like a dumpling stuffed with cheese and potato. Delicious! I had a milkshake for dessert and it was the best shake I have had, besides my mothers! It was vanilla icecream with actual pieces of chocolate mixed in! Yum!

Today, we visited the birthplace of Fryderik Chopin, a famous classical musician. The gardens around the home are being redone so there is not much to see right now. We toured the house and it was beautiful. We had a free afternoon so I spent it napping and preparing to go home. I am trying to figure out how to haul home all the souvenirs I bought for family.

Tomorrow, we have a wrap-up session at the Fulbright office and a reception at the Consulate General's house. A farewell dinner tomorrow night will conclude my trip in Poland.

My flight leaves Warsaw at noon on Saturday and we will be back in the States, in Chicago to be exact, at 3 p.m. I should be home in Texas by 8 p.m. Saturday night! It has been fun, meaningful, and interesting! I am ready to get back to my life, my love, my family, and my friends in Texas!

Good night from Warsaw! A final goodbye from Poland!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Last Day in Wroclaw

Hello from Wroclaw! It is my last night here and then we are back to Warsaw until Saturday. I leave for Texas then! Woohoo!

I am very excited to be home. Of course, I am very grateful and appreciative of my time here in Poland but I am ready to be back with family and friends.

We have been in Wroclaw since Saturday and it is a nice little town with a unique history. Since it was under German control until 1945, you would think there would be a significant German population in the town. Wrong! After the war, Stalin annexed Poland into his territory and so Germans living in this territory were forcibly removed. They were sent back to Germany. With such a rich German heritage, there are less than ten Germans in Wroclaw today. It is unimaginable to me how an entire population can be removed but then again I have never lived through a war period like that of WWII. In addition, it was not just Stalin but also Roosevelt and Churchill who helped to divide up territory after the war.

An interesting topic to explore would be the treatment of Poles and later Germans by the Soviet troops. It was a topic I had never really considered before. The Holocaust, especially the story of Auschwitz, tends to be the focus of history surrounding this period. Later, we learn of the gulags and Soviet torture of their own citizens. But the treatment of people during those years of war and then immediately after does not receive as much attention. For an interesting perspective, look up the article Holocaust: The Ignored Reality by Timothy Snyder. It was printed very recently in the NY Times book review section. This is something I hope to explore more in my research when I return home.

This brings me to a different point. I think I have decided on what I would like to pursue as far as my personal education. I am really interested in pursuing my master's degree in studies of the Holocaust and genocide, past and current. I would love to create a curriculum to put into high schools in Texas which focus on teaching the Holocaust and genocide studies along the themes of tolerance and leadership. Its such an interesting topic, one that bring about so much discussion of human behavior and choices. I have a list of books to read upon my return home that I have collected from fellow teachers here. for the events of the last few days.

Sunday, July 12:
We took a tour of lower Silesia in Poland, which was a major zone of industry for the USSR. Its a beautiful part of the country with lots of hills and trees. It was also once part of Germany. Its located in the southwestern part of Poland. We toured a castle and visited the Peace Church which was built after the Peace of Westphalia Treaty in 1648. The Catholics allowed the Lutherans to build a church in Wroclaw but it had to be outside the city limits. They offered no building materials so the entire church was built with clay, wood, and sticks. No nails. Most Protestant churches tend to be less ornate than Catholic churches but this church is an exception. In an effort to show the Catholics that even though they made it difficult for them, the Protestants were proud of their church and their religion. It is one of the most beautiful churches I have stepped foot in. It was an awe inspiring experience for me, one that left me feeling moved by the Holy Spirit. It is amazing what the human will can endure in the name of God. It is one of my favorite churches I have visited in Europe and I hope to come back again someday. I think Colton would enjoy seeing it. Here is a link to the website of the church if you are interested. It is a world heritage site listed by UNESCO.

We attended a concert in a Jewish synagogue that evening of a famous Jewish singer and then had dinner at Casablanca!

Monday, July 13:
We had two lectures in the morning and met with the Vice President of the city of Wroclaw after lunch. My favorite part of the day was a visit to an exhibit which will travel throughout Europe called Europe: Its our history! It was a wonderful collection of film, music, interactive exhibits, documents, and artifacts collected from major events in Europe. It culminated with a tribute to the efforts of the EU to integrate Europe into one body. I really enjoyed it!

We had dinner at a restaurant on the river, which was very nice. Most of the city of Wroclaw is made of a complex of rivers so there are lots of bridges and boats.

Tuesday, July 14:
Today, we had two lectures in the morning. We visited a panorama of the battle between Poland and Russia after lunch. We then took a river boat tour of the city, which was fun. We sat on the top patio on the boat and had drinks. It was very nice.

Tomorrow, we leave for Warsaw. We are stopping at a monastery that is home of the black Madonna, which gets her name from the oil or wood burning that leaves black marks on the statue. She is a major symbol of importance in Poland. I will give more accurate facts once I have visited.

Good night from Wroclaw!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Krakow and Wroclaw

I am behind again! This blogging deal is fun but difficult to keep up with. I think I avoided writing after my trip to Auschwitz since I could not really find words to describe the experience. is what I have been doing the last few days in Poland.

Tuesday, July 7:
We took a bus out to Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps. It was a long and difficult day. There are not words to describe the feelings you have when you walk the grounds where so many perished at the hands of the Nazis under Hitler's Final Solution. Most of the camp was destroyed by the Nazis as they tried to hide the evidence of their mass murder so a lot of what you see has been reconstructed. Some has been left as is so you can see the damage. Here are a few of my thoughts:

**I felt like the most difficult part of the trip to Auschwitz was seeing the materials- shoes, toothbrushes, human hair, leg braces, shoe polish, and baby clothes- brought the most emotion for me. It was difficult not to tear up when looking at the massive amount of belongings and realizing these belonged to real people who had most likely died in this camp. It was unreal.

**Graffiti- In one of the most sacred places I can think of, a cemetary for so many, you would see graffiti everywhere. Why people feel the need to write their names on the walls and the dates they visited along with other things is beyond me? Can you not respect the history of the place? It was unreal to me that people would defame such a sacred place.

**The vastness of the camps and the proximity to the town was amazing. Birkenau is so large it goes as far as the eye can see. You see rows and rows of barracks and you can imagine the thousands of prisoners as they walked in the cold and snow each day. The lack of heat during the winter was apparent due to the lack of heaters.

**The train tracks going into Birkenau literally traveled halfway up to the point of the gas chambers. People getting off of the train cars would be divided into two groups-those deemed healthy enough to work and those who would go straight to the gas chambers. They literally walked to their deaths, most unknowing. It was unthinkable to them that they would really be killed, even after they had heard the stories. By the end of the war, 5-6 trains arrived each day with a few thousand prisoners on each train.

** The Nazis often forced Jewish prisoners to work the gas chambers and to burn the bodies in the crematorium. I did not realize this. The Nazi officials realized at the beginning of the war that their soldiers who were involved in this process where having mental and emotional difficulty doing their jobs.

**There are people who worked at or were prisoners of Auschwitz who return to visit the camps. Many do not identify themselves but some do. Soon, though, there will no longer be anyone left from that era. The story will be left to the rest of us to tell to future generations so nothing like this can happen again. What a huge responsibility we have to our youth to make sure this incident is not forgotten nor repeated.

Final note on Auschwitz Birkenau- I am very aware that I did not see everything in this camp. It would take several days to go through the camps and see all the exhibits and to process it all. If you ever do get a chance to visit, take at least two days to really see the camps. You will appreciate the extra time. I hope I can someday go back.

Lighter note about July 7th- Colton turned 28!

Wednesday, July 8:
We had a wonderful lecture in the morning by a professor from Jagiellonian who spoke to us about Poland's position in the EU and NATO. He was actually a sociologist so he spoke from the viewpoint of the Polish people and not the political viewpoint. We talked a lot about Poland's reasons for joining the EU and NATO and the effect this has had on the identity of the Polish people. Poles love America and usually support most of what we do. They are fiercely loyal allies, partially because they hope in being so loyal that those feelings/actions would be reciprocated by the AMericans should they ever come under attack again. In his opinion, so this is not hard fact, the professor said Poles view America as the only true protector of the world, the only country capable of coming to one's defense. It was an interesting thought to consider.

We had a free afternoon set so I shopped some and bought some souvenirs. Traditional souvenirs from Poland include hand carved wooden boxes, hand painted eggs (similar to fabrige eggs), and amber. Of course, I made sure to purchase these! I also purchased a set of stacking dolls...the little dolls that you open up and inside is a smaller doll. These are traditionally a Russian gift but I figured I may never get to Russia so I bought one now!

I ended up attending an optional lecture by the former Prime Minister of Poland who is a candidate for the President of the Council of Europe. It was a great opportunity to see someone of such merit in Polish and European politics.

Thursday, July 9:
We had the second part of the lecture on NATO and the EU in the morning and a lecture on Polish literature in the afternoon. Both were good but the highlight of my day was my trip to the Jewish quarter to see a movie at the Cinema City. I saw Angels and Demons (in English with Polish subtitles) and it was almost like being at home at the movie theater. ALthough I will say, my experience with the Polish version of the American hot dog was not so pleasant. Laura and I saw a sign for American hot dogs at the mall so we decided to try them due to our limited time available before the movie began. (There was a Jeff's American restaurant, too, but sadly we did not have enough time to try this because it was sit down.) So...we order a plain hot dog. The man proceeds to try and dump every Polish condiment on my hot dog. If you know me and how picky I am, this is totally not going to fly. Let me give you an idea of the condiments available.....a yellowish green mustard (maybe...that is what I am guessing it was), saurkraut, chili with CORN in it, and mushrooms. Umm no! Finally he gave me my hot dog (With only a hint of the green mustard) on a french baguette bun. Lets just say it was no American hot dog. I enjoyed the movie but I have not read the book. It was just nice to sit and relax watching an American movie.

Friday, July 10:
We took a guided tour of Wawel Castle, home of the Polish kings in Krakow while it was capital for 500 years. It was a beautiful castle and has some of the original walls still intact. Many of the items inside the castle have been donated and do not necessarily belong to Polish royalty. Many of the items of Polish history and art were stolen during the several periods of occupation by the Nazis and the Communists as well as when Poland was divided between Prussia, Lithuania, and Germany. We also took a tour of the cathedral of the castle where many Polish kings are buried in the crypt.

We had a free afternoon so I spent it shopping (again) with Gaea, my Texas Tech buddy. I had already purchased gifts to bring back but of course I cannot resist a good deal. I bought another hand painted egg. I also purchased a set of teacups and saucers along with a dessert plate. One set is of traditional Polish pottery in a blue and white pattern. The other is real Polish fine china. I got the idea from a friend who was going to purchase a place setting of china whenever she traveled to a different country. Once she had built up a collection, she would use those dishes as her fine china for formal dinners and holidays rather than buying a matching set. I thought this was a wonderful idea but I have changed it slightly. I plan on buying a teacup with saucer and dessert plate from countries I visit to use for serving all the yummy homemade desserts I will make for holidays and dinners! I can now check Poland off my list!

Saturday, July 11:
We switched cities today. We traveled by (old) bus to Wroclaw, which is in the western part of Poland. It was actually under German control until 65 years ago with the end of German occupation after WWII. I am excited to explore the city because of its cultural diversity and German influence.

We took a tour of Wroclaw University and several churches this afternoon. We even saw two brides as they prepared to enter the church to be married. (This made me homesick and wish I was in Texas about to get married) We also toured the botanical gardens of the university, which were beautiful! We had dinner as a group tonight and Shelby and I ordered hot chocolate after our meal. It was the thickest hot chocolate I have ever tasted. It was good but the consistency was closer to hot chocolate pudding than hot chocolate! Still, it satisfied my sweet tooth.

As of today, I have 6 more days in Poland. I will enjoy them to the fullest and I will enjoy even more returning home to Texas to my family and COLTON.

Good night from Wroclaw!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Krakow & Zakopane

Hello! I am very behind on my blogging. We have been very busy and, when I get home to my hotel room in the evening, I am so tired. We moved to Krakow last Wednesday and I think it is my favorite city thus far. is very touristy. It is much more common to hear English here on the streets, with various accents of course. However, even being touristy, the city has so much character. It was the capital of Poland for 500 years and was basically left intact during the war period. I will attempt to cover the last few days briefly so here goes!

Wednesday, July 1:
We arrived in Krakow midafternoon and took a short tour of the city upon arrival. Its a beautiful city and we are staying right in the center of the city near the Old Town. It is only a 5 minute walk to the main square where there is live music, restaurants, and street entertainment. After our tour, we headed to the National Museum in Krakow for the American Dream exhibit. They had a huge celebration because it was the opening of the exhibit and our Ambassador Victor Ashe was on hand to give a speech. It was unreal! Think Coca Cola, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and lots of photos from the American past. Cowboys and Indians, Andy Warhol paintings, and even a Woodstock exhibit. Through the center of the main floor of the exhibit, there was a paved road which paid tribute to Jack Kerouac's novel and America's obsession with mobility. For food, Coca Cola, beer, and wine were served with a Polish version of pigs in a blanket. I accidentally bit into one that was more like salmon in a blanket. EEWW!

Thursday, July 2:
We started off the day with a tour and lecture at one of the oldest universities in Poland and Europe, Jagellonian University. It was the home school of Nicolas Copernicus! The school is beautiful! I think I would love to sit through lectures in the ornate halls and rooms. Only doctoral students actually have classes in the Collegium Mass, the main building. Most of the building is a museum which honors past scholars and materials used by the university. We also had an introductory course in Polish. Let's just say I am no where near fluent! :) Polish is a difficult language to learn but, luckily, many Poles speak English. It was fun to try and learn!

Friday, July 3:
We had a wonderful lecture on the history of Poland at Jagellonian University in the morning. In the afternoon, we took a tour of the Kazimierz district of Krakow, the old Jewish district. This was where Steven Spielberg shot the movie Schindler's List. There were 7 (I think) active synagogues in Krakow before WWII and now there are only 2 active. We toured one and the cemetary behind it. The cemetary was used as a dumping grounds by the Nazis during WWII so the headstones were destroyed. After the war, the fragments of headstones left were put into the surrounding walls. The headstones still intact were re-established in the cemetary but they were just put up on random lots. There were no records of where each headstone should go so the bodies buried there do not necessarily match the headstone. There was a man who helps run the tours through the cemetary and synagogue who had connections to Oskar Schindler. Schindler saved his father during the war! We walked all through the Jewish district and our guide pointed out more spots where Schindler's List was filmed. We also walked to Schindler's factory and past the Jewish ghetto in Krakow. The Nazis in Krakow left much of the city intact but were much more cruel about how they treated Jewish property, holy places, etc. For example, when they constructed the walls of the Jewish ghetto, they made them look like headstones from a Jewish cemetary so the Jews knew what was happening. We ate dinner in a Jewish restaurant in the Kazimierz district.

Side note- Colton's surprise birthday cake arrived in Crockett and he was definitely surprised! I am so happy I was able to do something for him, even if it was small.

Saturday, July 4:
Happy Independence Day! It was weird not celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks but we did get a chance to relax some. We headed for a quick weekend trip to Zakopane, up in the Tatras Mountains along the Polish-Slovakian border! We took a river raft ride on the Dunajec River and stayed at a wonderful resort with a beautiful view of the Tatras Mts. in Zakopane. Zakopane was the site of the Winter Olympics a few years ago. Saturday night we had dinner in a traditional highlander (Poles who live in the mountains) restaurant complete with highlander music, dancing, and tea! Now do not be fooled. Highlander tea has a homemade liquor in it that is 90% alcohol. We also played traditional highlander games (involving the homemade brew of course). I even danced a highlander dance with a man in wool pants! Haha! It was a lot of fun.

Sunday, July 5:
I challenged myself today by facing my fear of heights. I travelled up the Kasprowy Wierch Mountain (in the Tatras range) by cable car. I thought I would die! Heights is just not my thing! However, I did it and I walked around a little at the top. After that, I decided my adventuresome side had done enough for the day and I retreated to a cafe for some hot chocolate while the rest of the group went up to the summit!

We spent the afternoon shopping in Zakopane at the little booths along the main street. We traveled back to Krakow by bus in the evening.

Monday, July 6:
Today, I was very tired and homesick. It is day 20 of my trip and the exhaustion is beginning to set it. Skype is wonderful but I would love to see Colton, my family, and friends in person. I cannot wait to get back to Texas!

Today, we had two lectures this morning at Jagellonian University on Poland since communism and on Polish-Jewish relations. The latter was fascinating! I have really learned a lot about the Jewish community that I did not know before as well as about the Jews in Poland.

In the afternoon. we took a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, the oldest in Europe. We went down approximately 900 steps into the mine. It was very beautiful inside. There were tons of sculptures made of salt and there was even a cathedral and a large ball room where you could hold weddings! How cool!

Tomorrow, we are going to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I know it will be an emotional day for me but I am excited to go, if that makes sense. I think it is important to visit this place as a reminder of what can happen without tolerance of others. On a lighter note, it is also Colton's 28th birthday! I will wish him good thoughts tomorrow and try not to be sad I cannot be there with him to celebrate. My family has graciously invited him to dinner.

I will post pics of the events of the last few days later! Good night from Krakow!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back to Warsaw- Day 8

I have completed my first week in Poland and traveled to Warsaw and Gdansk in that time. We spent the weekend in Gdansk and traveled back to Warsaw by bus yesterday morning. It was a five hour bus ride!

Monday, June 29:
We left for Warsaw around 7:15 in the morning and arrived at our hotel around 1 p.m. This included two stops for the bus driver. Apparently, the driver's union has lobbied for two breaks for drivers lasting a total of 45 minutes. That, coupled with traffic, explains the long trip.

After lunch, we went to the Warsaw Rising Museum. At first, I thought this was the museum for the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. It was, in fact, the Warsaw Rising of the Polish citizens against the Nazi & Soviet occupation. This began on August 1, 1944, a year after the uprising in the ghetto. There is currently not a museum for the Jewish uprising but one is being built.

I thoroughly enjoyed the museum, although the layout was a bit confusing. Each exhibit was numbered and you could get a headset in English that went through each exhibit by number. However, often you would find that it jumped from 21-34 and it was difficult to figure out what direction to go. Aside from that, it was wonderful. There is information on the Polish Home Army (the resistance army) and their operations against the much stronger Nazi army. It includes information leading up to the beginning of the Rising, through the Rising, and on specific people involved. Doctors, nurses, priests, and public officials all took part in fighting the Germans. There is a wall which has holes in it where you put your ears and you can hear the sounds of the Rising. They also have life size replicas of the sewers they used for communication and , at the end, escape. You can actually walk through them and I had to duck to be able to do so.

There was so much information I could not possibly get through it all in one trip. I bought a book that goes through each exhibit to have photos and information. I highly recommend the museum if you ever come to Warsaw.

Dinner last night was an adventure. We tried a different Mexican food restaurant and we found a patio to sit on. The sun was shining, birds were singing.....and then the sky opened up and dumped rain for about two hours. We hurried inside to the basement only to have the toilets in the restrooms (located in the basement) overflow. We see water creeping in and then all of a sudden it begins gushing in. I will post pics later. So....we waded through toilet water (no raw sewage) to the stairs and then ran to our hotel in the rain. It was an eventful evening.

Tuesday, June 30:
We had three different meetings today. First, we traveled to the Warsaw Stock Exchange, which was interesting. They trade electronically so there were no brokers on the floor shouting. Its much smaller than the NY Stock Exchange, with only 25 foreign countries represented. However, considering they have only been in a free market economy for 20 years, the growth is quite amazing.

We visited a private school before lunch and met with the headmaster and a teacher. The headmaster is elected by the teachers every 5 years. He determines teacher pay. The school has a complete executive, legislative, and judical branch with a court for student hearings. Students can serve on their "Parliament", which I found interesting. They have a similar school year, with 10 weeks off in the summer. Also, teachers are not only evaluated by their headmaster but also by students. In the past, they even allowed parents to evaluate teachers!

Our last meeting of the day was with a professor who talked about culture in Poland. In traditional Polish culture, the Roman Catholic Church was at the center of everything. Religion has played an important role in Polish identity and history because it has been one area they could control and be independent through, even when they were under occupation. The strength of the church is still evident at Poland is 96% Catholic today. Traditionally, Polish culture has been very conservative and not open to new ideas. Liberal or socialist ideas were seen as too closely connected to communism. The system of rule during the Middle Ages of having a peasant class and gentry class held influence much longer in Poland than in Western Europe. After Communism fell in 1989, Polish culture opened up somewhat to more liberal ideas of consumerism and free market ideas. People wanted to be successful and that no longer was tied to the idea of a gentry class or land. Today, a return to traditional cultural ideas has brought about more conservative groups in Parliament who often find themselves at odds with the new class of youth who have socialist tendencies. The youth of Poland did not experience Communism as their parents did so they are less quick to associate some of the socialist policies, like government provided healthcare, with Communism. The legacy of Communism is a recurring theme in my studies here in Poland. A people who have been for so long repressed have little desire to give up any of their freedoms, hence the apprehension about socialism.

Tomorrow, we leave early in the morning for Krakow. We will be touring the city and attending a special 4th of July celebration held in a nice museum there, even though its only the first.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Malbork Castle

Damage to the chapel in Malbork Castle from WWII.

Main reception hall inside Malbork Castle.

Vigil set up outside Polish tram station for Michael Jackson.

Malbork Castle....I could not even fit the whole castle into the pic!

Warsaw & Gdansk

Update needed! I have been super busy the last few days so I have not had time to update my blog. Here is what we have been doing the last few days!

Wednesday, June 24:
We visited the College of Europe which is located in a suburb of Warsaw. The College of Europe has two branches, one in Warsaw and one in Bruges, Belgium. The campus in Bruges is the larger of the two. It was founded in 1948 at the Council in the Hague, where Churchill pled for the unification of Europe. The basic purpose for the two campuses is to provide graduate degrees that will prepare students for careers in the EU or for positions within their own governments that directly relate to the EU. The campus is Bruges is more specific (i.e. European Union Law) while the campus in Warsaw takes a more interdisciplinary approach. Classes are conducted in French and English, which is usually not a problem since most students can speak both languages already in addition to their native language. The Warsaw campus was formerly an aristocratic residence that was part of the Wilanow Palace, home of the Polish kings. It was then nationalized by the Communist party and it served as a retreat for important party officials. Nikita Khruschev even visited once! The current campus began in 1989, after Communism fell in Poland. The program is a one year program and only 100 students are accepted. It was a beautiful campus and very small. I will post pictures later.

We also visited the Center for the Advancement of Women in the afternoon. In Poland, women are often treated unequally in terms of opportunities and salary. Its much more difficult for women to find work and when they do, they are often paid less than men. Children can also be an issue for women because there is not adequate child care available for women so that they can work and be a mother. The foundation works to increase equality for women, especially in the workplace and by trying to increase the amount of social institutions available to help women care for their children. Its much more common for women over 50 to quit their jobs to stay home with their daughter's children.

Thursday, June 25:
We took a tour of Warsaw by bus this morning while getting a brief history from our tour guide at the same time. Poland has around 1.8 million people in the actual city. Approximately 800,000 Polish citizens in Warsaw were killed during WWII. The Royal Castle in Warsaw was completely destroyed during the war and it was not rebuilt until the 1970s because the Communists refused to give money to rebuild it. During the Warsaw uprising in 1943, where the Jews rose up against their Nazi captors in the Warsaw ghetto, almost all prisoners in the ghetto died. After 1943, the Nazis claimed the Warsaw ghetto no longer existed. There is a beautiful memorial that stands where the ghetto once stood as a testament to their strength and memory.

The first Starbucks has arrived in Warsaw. Our guide told us this is where most of the "15-19 year old Polish snobs spend all their parents money". Its a status symbol to be seen at Starbucks.

There is a large statue of Nicholas Copernicus in the main square, as he was of Polish descent. The Vatican suppressed the publishing of his findings that the Earth orbits around the Sun until 1828.

In the afternoon, we visited the Ministry of Education, which was one of my favorite meetings so far. Currently, Polish students begin school when they are 6/7 years old and they do not graduate until they are 19. Students are tested three times during their educational career- in the 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. The 12th grade exams are like exit exams. They are required to take tests on the Polish language, a foreign language, and up to 6 exams of their choosing. Universities release their required exam scores for admissions in May so students know what courses and exams to sign up for. If students do not pass these "exit" exams, they may repeat them the following year. They may try to pass an exam or improve their score up to 5 times. In Poland, like the U.S., teachers are paid a low salary but the prestige of being a teacher is much higher.

Our last meeting of the day was with an American professor at the Warsaw University who married a Polish man and has now lived in Poland for the last 20 years. She was very interesting. When she moved to Poland in 1987, they were still under Communist rule. She remembers have ration books for gas and meat. Daily life took up most of your day under Communist rule. Everything involved waiting in lines. In order to go to the grocery, you literally waited in a different line for each product. Milk in one line, bread in the next. Most of your day was spent waiting in lines. There was no concept of self service, which was a challenge when they switched to a market economy. Even alcohol and cigarettes were rationed! In order to make a phone call, you would have to order a call through the central line operator and then wait for several hours before you would be connected. People did not keep passports at home. They could not travel freely. They had to apply for a passport from the government for a trip and the government could turn them down for any little reason. You were not allowed to keep the passport after you returned.

Friday, June 26:
We visited the Ministry of Labor and the Polish Parliament. Poland has not been as heavily affected by the current economic recession. No one below 18 can work without a permit so youth workers are not as common as in the States. The fixed minimum monthly wage is about 1160 zloty, which is around 300 US dollars. For young workers entering the labor market, their first year they are only paid 80% of a full time salary since they have no experience.

In the evening, we went to the Polish Chamber Opera House for an opera. It was a piece from Mozart's works. It was in Italian but we could kind of tell what was going on by the actions of the cast. It was fun.

Saturday, June 27:
We left Warsaw early this morning to travel by bus to Gdansk, which is in the northern part of Poland by the Baltic Sea. On the way, we stopped in Malbork to visit the Malbork Castle. It was built by the Teutonic Knights during the 13th century and it is the largest brick castle in the world. It was partially destroyed during WWII and it was not repaired until recently because it came under Nazi control and the Communists did not want to support anything having to do with the Nazis.

We arrived in Gdansk and had dinner in the Old Town. The architecture is beautiful. It is a mixture of Renaissance and Gothic. Again, like Warsaw, much of the city was destroyed but it has been rebuilt. There is a heavy Dutch influence in the architecture because many Dutch immigrants moved to the city. It is the most multicultural city in Poland.

Sunday, June 28:
We had a meeting at the Universit of Gdansk this morning and then we took a bus tour of the city this afternoon. We went down to the shipyards, where the Polish solidarity movement began. It is the 20 year anniversary of the fall of Communism in Poland so there are lots of celebrations of the Solidarity movement this year. It was the Polish resistance movement against the Communist regime and it began in the shipyards of Gdansk.

After our tour, we had free time so a group of us went "power shopping" for amber jewelery, for which Poland is well known. I found some beautiful jewelery. We took a taxi to Sopot, which is the beach town on the coast of the Baltic Sea. It was very cold today, about 60 degrees, so no bathing suits were brought but I did get pictures standing next to the Baltic Sea! I will post them later!

Tomorrow we leave for Warsaw, where we will spend two days before leaving for Krakow, the old capital! I hope you have enjoyed this rather long update. Good night!

P.S. My discovery of the wonders of Skype has made my trip much easier. I can now talk with my family and Colton. I can even see him!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A few photos from Warsaw

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Welcome to Warsaw! This is the Old Town of Warsaw, which means this was the original part of the city. Everything else has expanded around it. Most of Warsaw (84%) was destroyed during WWII so it was rebuilt by using old photos in order to replicate the buildings as they once stood. The red brick building on the right is the Royal Castle.

Wilanow Palace- where the Polish kings lived

Memorial to the Warsaw Uprising-
Jews of the Warsaw ghetto decided to rise up against their Nazi captors so they would die as humans rather than submit to their deaths. This memorials commemorates those who fought in the Warsaw Uprising-both Jews and Poles- and those who lost their life in the ghetto.
Approximately 500,000 Jews and prisoners went into the Warsaw ghetto. Most died either in the camps, in the Uprising, or were sent to concentration camps.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Warsaw - Day 3

Warsaw is wonderful! We have been here for 3 days now and I am still finding new things to enjoy. The food here is plentiful and good. For the last two evenings, they have taken us to restaurants for dinner. Each dinner was 4 courses! They bring out a first course of cold vegetables, meats, breads, and cheeses. The second course is soup. The main course varies. Sunday night we had steak and fries. Monday night we had dinner family style meats and sides. They brought SO much food to our, spare ribs, perch, pork chops, and pork knuckles. (I had the pork chop- no extreme meals for me!) Then the last course is always dessert. The have delicious ice cream here. Its called lody and its much creamier and sweeter than in the U.S. I will have to force myself not to eat ice cream everyday or, for that matter, every meal. I have a dress to fit into when I return home!

Monday, June 22- We visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and spoke with the Officer of the Americas (basically the under-under deputy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs --> similar to our Secretary of State). He talked about the transition of Poland from communism to democracy and Polish/U.S. relations. Interesting fact- There are not illegal immigration issues in Poland.

Our second visit yesterday was to Warsaw University where the Fulbright Commission is located. We had aa feminist/activist professor talk about women's rights/status in Poland since Communism. She discussed abortion, liberal activisim & equality for women in Poland, and gender issues. Interesting fact- Poland has the highest number of women entrepreneurs in Europe. Interesting fact 2- Poland has the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Europe.

We walked through Old Town (the older district in Warsaw) last night to get to the restaurant for dinner. The architecture is beautiful but all the buildings have been reconstructed. Approximately 84% of Warsaw was completely destroyed during WWII. It has been rebuilt to model the old buildings but very few original structures remain. We saw a memorial statue to the children of the Warsaw uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, which was completely destroyed when the Nazis burned it after the uprising.

Fun fact- Supposedly, if you smile at a Pole, they will either presume you are stupid or you are coming on to them. :) They are a very stoic people, probably a legacy leftover from communism.

Tuesday, June 23- Today we visited the College of Europe, which was amazing. It's a small campus in the suburbs of Warsaw. The main campus is in Bruges, Belgium. Only 100 students are accepted to the Warsaw campus and only 300 students are accepted to the main campus in Bruges. The College of Europe is basically a one year masters program to prepare students for policymaking and government positions in their own government or with the EU. The EU is the main focus of curriculum. In Bruges, curriculum is more specific, like EU law, while in Warsaw its more interdisciplinary. The actual campus was formally an aristocratic residence that was taken over by the Communists to use as their dacha, or personal retreat. Nikita Khruschev visited the campus while Poland was still Communist! Our speaker actually attended college in the U.S. at Harvard. He was very interesting!

We also visited the Center for Advancement of Women, which also focuses on improving the equality for women in the workforce and in the private sector. They were a less activist group and more focused on working with the policymakers to make changes. No protests for them!

We have free time this evening so a small group of us are going out to try Adler restaurant, which serves German, Bavarian, and Polish cuisine. Should be fun!

**Note: I took lots of pictures but, of course, I left my connector cord from my camera to my computer in Texas. Pictures will have to wait until I return, unless I find a cord. **

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Warsaw, Poland- Day 1

We FINALLY made it to Warsaw! After a day and a half of travel, I am exhausted but excited to see the city. We were supposed to fly out of Reagan Airport in D.C. yesterday afternoon at 2:30 but, of course, our flight was delayed until 4 p.m. No worries though! Our flight out of JFK to Warsaw at 6:15 was canceled. So...we flew to JFK to find there were no more flights to Poland for the day but there was a flight out of Newark, New Jersey. So off we go on a shuttle bus to Newark. Our bus driver thought it would be nice to take us through the heart of NYC so I saw Times Square for the first time. After sitting through unnecessary traffic (apparently there are shorter ways to get to Newark from JFK airport), we finally made it to Newark and boarded a 11:30 flight to Warsaw along with 250-300 other people. On the bright side, the flight was only 7 hours 50 minutes and was relatively smooth. I slept most of the way. I can now say I have been to New Jersey and NYC!!!

Fast forward to current time, I am checked into my hotel room at the Novotel hotel in Warsaw. We have some free time to settle in so I am updating the blog and emailing loved ones. We are heading out to the Old Town tonight in Warsaw for our welcome dinner here in Poland! Good night!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Washington DC

Hello! I have been in Washington D.C. for the last two days doing a pre-departure orientation for my trip to Poland. Yesterday, we spend the whole day at the Polish embassy, which is beautiful. It was built in the early 1900s and is still housed in the same building as original establishment. We had presentations on Polish culture and a brief history of U.S./Polish relations. They served us a lunch of Polish foods as well. I ate mostly bread! You know me..picky eater! Lots of meats in every dish.

Today, we visited the Catholic University of America, which is absolutely beautiful. They are one of the largest Catholic universities and they are pontificated, which means they are authorized by the Vatican to provide Catholic education in the United States. They are the only US Catholic university to hold that honor. Its a small school in terms of student body in comparison with larger American universities. Their student body total, including graduate and undergraduate students, is around 7200 students. You do not have to be Catholic to attend and they do offer more than just Catholic theology/religion courses. They also have a strong study abroad program with ties to many schools worldwide, including Poland.

We also visited the Basilica of the Shrine of Immaculate Conception in D.C. The architecture and mosiacs in this building is amazing. Its definitely worth a visit if you come to D.C. There are different chapels for many countries around the world.

We had some free time after our orientation was done so three other women and I went to the Holocaust Museum here in D.C. It was a thought provoking and wonderful experience. I highly recommend coming here to see the museum. You walk through the museum in a chronological tour from the beginning of Hitler's rise to power all the way to the end of the war. The images and memorabilia are amazing. I went through the whole museum and I know I did not see everything there was to see. I think any person who can manage to visit should because it is important to "Never forget" as the slogan says. I am looking forward to visiting Auschwitz Birkenau and seeing some of the real belongings that were only photographed at the museum.

I have met some wonderful people here already and I am excited to share my trip with them. I miss Colton, my family, and my friends immensely but having nice people around makes the trip more bearable. I know I will have great experiences while in Poland and I am so grateful for this opportunity. I do know that I will be so excited to get back to the U.S. and marry Colton!

I leave for Poland tomorrow! Until next time, blessings!

Monday, June 15, 2009

I began the packing process today by running errands for all things I will need in Poland. I am back a little lighter in the pocketbook but prepared to have a good time! My flight leaves Wednesday evening at 5:30 to Washington D.C., where I will spend a two days in a pre-departure orientation. C took off half a day at work to spend time with me before I leave. I just know I will cry at the airport. I am a baby about leaving!

I am working on my wedding to-do list before I leave. All big ticket items are taken care of but I have to make sure a few small things are done before I am gone. I am so ready to get married!

Side note- In an effort to be more healthy (and to look fabulous on my wedding day), I purchased Cook Yourself Thin today at Barnes and Noble. It has been getting lots of buzz on the Lifetime network for its good but healthy recipes. I will let you know how it turns out!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Our wedding theme/color scheme is black and white with damask accents. We will use hints of red color by using red flowers at the reception. Below are some images I found on the knot that are similar to the look we are going for. I love the idea of black and white for a wedding because it is classy and elegant. Colton loves adding the red so we have Texas Tech colors. Go figure!

We will be serving heavy hors douerves and cocktails at the reception. Guests will dance to live music and, of course, we will have yummy cake from one of my favorite bakeries in Dallas! It is seriously the best cake I have ever had!

Blog Newbie

I set up this blog to relay my travels this summer in Poland and my attempts at becoming a baker extraordinaire! I will also use it to update all interested on life as a Street (which I am not technically..yet!). Wedding plans and updates will be provided as well! Hope you enjoy!