A vacation is what you take, when you can no longer take, what you’ve been taking. Earl Wilson
It’s winter break! Two weeks in winter during the school year when the children go skiing. It is better known as ski break. Most families in France pack up their families to the Pyrenees or the Alps depending on which is closer.
Now that we live on the outskirts of Budapest and of course because I work for the French school that follows the French school system, most of our students are heading in the same direction; towards the Austrian border, or home to France to spend at least a few days nestled in front of warm fires in their hotel lobbies or hillside chalets with ski hills at their front door. They will be enjoying the fresh powder snow on the slopes and diamond runs under their skis on their way down hill. Most everyone I know is travelling. However, we remain home in Solymar!
Thursday Alfonz and Daniel are also spending the day skiing with his cousin’s family on local mountains here in Hungary!
Here is a list of the best local mountains to ski on! Go To Hungary!
Unfortunately for me I am home bound for a few days, as my back is out.
Angelina hates being cold, so she was nominated to babysit mommy. And here we are!
How did I hurt myself?
Uneven stairs were the culprit in this crime!
We are getting the stairs finished in ash hard wood custom made by Alfonz’s close friend Albin.
It is a labour of love.
Albin went to the wood supplier and hand chose his wood searching for a grain that would come alive after finishing.
I love the smell!
He then spend two days meticulously measuring each stair, and sure enough each one was a little different! He numbered his outlines to keep them in order, and took them home to create them in his own workshop in Törökbálint.
Some needed two pieces pressed together to fit the wide bottom steps, and he then, using his pressing machine, painstakingly lined up the beautiful wood grain, matching the pieces in a fluid pattern.
Next came the thick varnish that revealed the beauty of each step, which showcases the contrast between the light coloured wood and the natural darker growth patterns; the fingerprint of the tree.
It always makes me think about the age of the tree, what it was like to live in one spot for so long. I could never be a tree, I am more a tumbleweed!
After a week or so he arrived in our home to start the laying of each stair; 39 in total. He couldn’t do one section all at once, or we wouldn’t be able to mount the stairs to the second and third floors until they dried. The process for each is about 24 hours.
Methodically he skipped every other step to allow us access.
To lay the stairs he needed to prep them with a paint to level and clean the surface of any debris. Then he carefully placed each stair onto a gel adhesive that allows a little sponge-like give. This allows for a nice soft step, not too hard as it absorbs the impact.
The wood grain designs is breathtaking, the photo doesn’t do it justice. Every step a true masterpiece. We didn’t just end up with stairs, they are nothing short of a piece of art in my home; probably the nicest part of the entire house.
My only wish was to add a little detail to each tiled part of the steps in the form of a custom tile like my cousin’s house in Bakonsarkany. He has wood on top like ours, but on the rise they picked French style patchwork tiles with colourful intricate designs. Alfonz wouldn’t allow it, saying that the house is too modern for such a traditional detailing. He might be right, but how lovely would it have been to have something to look at while climbing 39 stairs 10 times throughout the day!
Although it would have took away from the wood work, and god knows Albin put his heart into it!
We highly recommend Albin for any wood work throughout your home here in Hungary! Worth every penny!
Back to my back
The reason I am telling you about the stairs, is because that’s how my back got messed up. They were all uneven, and at first I climbed them like nothing, but now, skipping a step, I really had to watch it, every other one being a completely different height. I was carrying something and forgot to really take close care, and sure enough I pulled my back.
It is not as bad as in year’s past, but enough for me to take care it doesn’t go completely out.
The rain is here too, so that never helps. I wake achy and move slow. It has been years since I experienced such cold rains.
However, today the stairs will be finished, and hopefully my back will heal quickly.
Our first day off together during the break, Angelina and I spent the evening doing our make-up and hair, and we watched Hallmark romance films on YouTube.
If you don’t know these trashy little delights, they are innocent love stories produced by Hallmark, not the cards, but the channel. Many are true stories and some are even played by famous actors.
They are cheesy little happy ever after movies that are safe to watch with kids with lovely messages of hope after loss, love after heartbreak and magical connections -once in a lifetime.
They are junk food for the romantic soul and I indulge myself and hijack my daughter along for the fun, usually while doing her hair, or our toenails!
New hair do!
I needed to stop colouring my own hair!
It was turning a weird orange with yellow highlights. So on Thursday before the vacation break I treated myself to a new hair colour and cut, and a beautiful manicure in bright scarlet red!
My hair is dark blonde/light brown weaved through with light blonde on the ends, much like the tie dye fashion everyone seems to be sporting. Next time Reka from the Beauty Bar is going even darker and lighter, as I love the contrast and the distance between appointments can be drawn out even longer.
Happily, still no grey! WOW 44 this year and not a grey hair! If only I had more hair!
It cheered me up so much, I felt prepared for my two weeks off. I was determined to have a real rest, not just continue running from one place to the next trying to get everything done!
A personal goal this year is to keep on top of my clothes, have some kind of style, and spend time on my appearance.
It is so easy to slide away from it all, honestly and let the monobrow grow together; symbolic obviously, as I have to draw in my eye brows. But you know what I am getting at.
Making the time to do these kinds of things has been a necessity.
Especially as we age. “Go ahead Benny, ruin yourself” my favourite line said with a thick Scottish accent by Minnie Driver in the cult classic movie Circle of Friends about an overweight Irish teen’s life, Bernadette Hogan, on how she finds love, loses it and finds it again!
It is my sad day movie to cheer me up, set in the 1950’s when love before marriage was strictly forbidden. You root for the underdog right until the end. Of course Minnie is legendary in this film, one of her very best!
Those, Why does it matter, thoughts must be completely eliminated from your mind! Because it does matter, every moment as important as the last! Don’t ruin yourself, improve yourself. We can’t out chick a chick, but we can try to look tidy, you know?
Even though I have been unbelievably tired from the move, all the changes and learning my new job, I remain positive. I can normally think my way to happiness, even though I am getting older, and it is harder to stay energetic all the time.
And there are times I drink the whole darn bottle of red wine or eat the whole bucket of fried chicken…. we all have those moments. ‘Go ahead Eva ruin yourself!’ (In my head, the negative voice has the same Scottish accent as Benny!)
Even in my hibernation mode when I lack motivation, down time is normally spent perfectly still like a lizard in the summer sun, trying to regain my energy for battle.
I inch back to how I normally am! I am always as determined as hell!
The motto is to never, ever give up!
Happy note! The seasons in particular have been beautiful to watch.
Remember we have spent the last five years in southern France and haven’t truly enjoyed a whole winter season since Canada and Vancouver hardly counts! It is more like rain or no-rain are the two seasons in Van!
In September we arrived during the old lady summer, those deep long shadows that stretch forever in the warm orange glow of the sun. Cool nights, but warm even hot days.
Then, overnight, the leaves turned crimson, bumblebee honey, butterscotch dandelion and burnt pumpkin; all lay at our feet in a leafy salad on our long walks.
Then the lakes froze over and the ice skates came out in minus seven degrees. The sun shone and the air was crisp on our noses; the only part not bundled up during the snow fall.
And now, plus 10 degrees, a quick change to spring, and everything dead has sprung to life, fighting to climb claiming their space. The earthy smell outside is wonderful after months of cold nothingness. I can almost see the light green shoots growing from the dried brown branches…
The birds have come home too, or out of hiding. The chirping here is entirely different than in France. La chirp! I search for the maker of the strange songs between the branches of our fruit trees, trying to identify our new residents.
Yesterday we watched another two Hallmark movies as the boys went karting. We needed more down time!
Angelina has been fighting a cold and her voice is horsed so I made homemade chicken noodle soup from a frozen organic carcass I had been saving for just such an occasion.
When the boys arrived home from their fun, the breaded fish was just about ready for the frying pan, and Alfonz helped me prepare the homemade tartar sauce with extra dill just like he likes and rice pilaf with buttery corn… true comfort foods.
I nearly finished reading my book too! A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler
I haven’t been able to read in so long as my time is divided between household chores and class preparation. It felt like I spoiled myself escaping into a fictional world.
I kept coming back to it thinking, I wonder what they are up to now? Such a luxury these days, where in Canada I would blow through a book in a day! On average I read one book per week for 10 years. It was a fun hobby, but now I write. It seems like a hard balance to do both.
I need to clone myself just to be able to get all the time in.
Oh life was so much simpler back in the day, when I selfishly indulged myself in my favourite pastimes.
I am knackered!
No kidding. You can see it around my eyes, the lines of my forehead are deepening, but hey hoe 44 here we go! It is what’s expected.
Anyways, how can I possibly complain?!
At least I am here to protest!
And I’m a really happy person, I enjoy life. I think you see that on a person. i think there is nothing more aging than misery. Michelle Pfeiffer
Short term goals over holidays!
I want a few days to get to know our new house, dig a little more in the garden, figure out the washing machine settings that are in German, buy Daniel a fish for his room…
Play a few card games with the kids, watch a few movies (Arrivals and Lucy were great), and cuddle up after dinner with my kids on the couch.
I want to finish writing ‘My Expat Life’ interview on the fabulous restaurant here in Budapest named Baraka, finish grading the student’s papers on “Is it just a war or is it a just war? a Star Wars project, and get more organized for our LivEnglish homestay business…
I have loads to do online too! Facebook, and Twitter, but mostly visiting Hungarian schools to spread the word about our language Homestay program. I have enough students to fill our own family, but I have to visit two more possible host families in the next two months… Then I will be motivated to fill the spaces!
Yoga is on my list too! I start Monday very close to home in the next village over. Finally getting back to what really matters to me and strengthening my back so it lasts the distance. I don’t want to have surgery.
Yesterday we went to sign on the dotted line at our new bank for a equity loan, which felt amazing!
What we could not get done in five years in France, we have accomplished in five months in Hungary!
That says a whole lot.
No matter how much we tried to become part of France, we never got a break. No matter how much tax we paid, hours we worked, connected to our community we did; some things just wouldn’t improve for us despite many different tries from many different angles.
Even with connections, we needed someone to take a chance on us, but it never happened. And without decade old connections to your village, it seemed nearly impossible to get ahead.
Advancing in business wasn’t a common frame of mind. Working the same job forever was.
To each their own. But we wanted to climb…
Goal setting and achieving wasn’t a priority for most. We were and are ambitious. There they’re more about the status quo, and that was enough for most. They seemed content in their lives, staying put, enjoying their summers on the beach.
I was seeing the picture of their lives but didn’t fully understand why they were so happy. I was missing the poetry in it, the assurance of knowing what’s next, the security in those long term job without promotions.
I was too far gone after growing up in North America and the frame of mind of competing and always trying to progress, that even after five years in paradise, that desire to reach the top of the ladder remained.
I wanted challenges. And personal growth.
I wasn’t finding that in France.
Here in Hungary we are allowed to be ambitious.
Perhaps the biggest difference is being married to a full fledged Hungarian!
Like Alfonz said, if it wasn’t for his childhood friends, those connections he made when he was young before sixteen years of age when he moved to Canada, we would have been ripped off like so many other expats moving to Europe.
They helped us out, they pointed us in the right direction, they didn’t want us to fail. And we moved into our new house within six weeks after purchase.
Granted it is not completely finished yet, but mountains have been moved thanks to help!
In France we didn’t have this kind of help when we needed it most. That comes with not knowing anyone.
We had a budget in Budapest and we stuck to it.
Alfonz did everything right by overseeing the entire project. This is important; if someone wants to make sure things are done right, they have to be there! Even now with the house nearly done, he painstakingly works from morning until night tying up the loose ends.
What’s left to do? The railings and outdoor tiling, still waiting for consistent warm weather. The curtains are ready to hang, but we are waiting for Albin to finish the windowsills. Then she will take the third floor curtains and do her magic.
We still need a living room couch, a few end tables, one more desk in the spare room, a few area rugs, coffee table and end tables, a big screen TV for the main room…
Outside in the garden will have to wait… Out of ideas and ambition!! Waiting for friends and family to arrive to help us out there; Sherrin, Mom? Hurry up!!
The business has been so far so good. I cannot take anymore private students unfortunately; I am maxed out. But I had to make some decisions on whether or not to continue working at the private school next year.
A position is opening up, and hours will become available in the junior high school and high school section. Where at first I thought that I would love to just work for LivEnglish and make a living through the private sector, which would be lucrative, but on second thought, I would really miss the students.
I have never worked as a teacher in a school before, but I have to say how rewarding it is and what an honour it has been to be part of these amazing kid’s lives. Watching them progress, seeing them struggle and overcome, they inspire me to be the best teacher I can be.
Last year, I thought that the native English classes needed me the most, a natural pairing with a native English speaker, but this year I realize that having the regular classes, teaching English as a second (mostly third) language is where I can do the most good.
I can help with accents, pronunciation and grammar. Where the native groups are all subject based, which is a whole lot of fun (don’t get me wrong) but I will leave that to the qualified teachers who already work at the school. Their programs are nothing short of motivating, and inspiring to their students. Don’t mess with a good thing!
Lastly, my Dad and his wife plan to visit in September! I think that will be a fun time. Although the kids and I will be back to school by then, we will have evenings and weekends.
Today I am heading over to my friend’s home for dinner! Our first friend invite!! Next week I will be visiting two other teachers too! I am starting to make friends, and it feels great!
That’s the end of our very long, very overdue update! My Expat life Budapest continues… still pursuing happiness!