I haven't seen that much of it, but I am amazed by what I find, and at times, amused by my amazement.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Letter 2009

This year it was Joann's turn to pen our annual year-end update.  Here is the year-in-review from her perspective:

Sting sings "The Cold Song". It’s a fitting tribute to the season and especially to the day. Looking out the window here in Rose Valley, I see a sky that is strangely similar in color to the one that resides over Manama, Bahrain, where John is currently working. One major difference in the two skies - the one here is filled with the fog of tiny ice crystals, and the one in Manama with sand and humidity from the Persian Gulf. Each has its own unique beauty and the resulting effects on the Christmas psyche.

I must say that seeing traditionally dressed Muslim travelers at the Manama airport, looking somewhat incredulously at the Santa Claus, elves, and polar bears (the latter arranged in a traditional Bahraini dhow/sailboat), also has its own location-specific effect. "

And so begins our tale of 2009, which actually began with three months in Macedonia.

After being fortunate enough to be able to stay home for the best part of 2008, in January of 2009 John accepted a job in Macedonia, what was called in the offer letter, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," or fYROM. Catchy name, isn’t it? Actually, the people much prefer that their country is called simply Macedonia, Republic of Macedonia, but then the Greeks are having issues with that, among other things. (see comments below)  Either way, we left for Skopje, the capital, without having any expectations except perhaps the thought that we might be seeing a lot of post-Soviet- concrete-style architecture. We were not disappointed there. Before this job even materialized though, our vision was that we would end up in a place that would be unexpectedly delightful. That’s always an excellent thought to have in any instance. WHADDAYAKNOW? Turned out to be exactly what our experience was there. We found the people to be warm and welcoming which was by far the best part of Macedonia.

 Two of these people were our landlords, Vera and Giorgi Dzabirov. We rented the upstairs apartment in their home, formerly occupied by their now-adult daughters. Vera did not speak English, but spoke instead the language of food; the baked goods dialect. On a regular basis, Vera would come knocking with a plateful of a high-calorie something or other. Before we left Macedonia, we were treated to a dinner of traditional Macedonian dishes: Sausages, beans, pickled vegetables, breads, stuffed grape leaves, and little aperitifs of Rakia. Omar the Tentmaker and Fashionista, I believe, was in cahoots with Vera. If Switzerland hadn’t done us in with food, Macedonia had to be a close second.

The other major element that made our, but especially my stay in Macedonia so great was our relationship with Gordana, my Macedonian language tutor and her fiancé (now husband), Naume. In their late 20’s, they both have grown up in a post-Tito Macedonia, where the reality of high inflation, little manufacturing base left, and low wages makes life economically challenging. Hm. Somehow that sounds vaguely familiar. Whether it was the lack of a lot of material things (e.g. their landlord owned not only their apartment building & apartment, but also their furniture), or because of it, Gordana and Naume were more than happy to share their very rich lives with us. Their interests ranged from literature, music, theater, and art to politics and more mundane aspects of life in the non-European Union Balkans. They both speak several languages (Gordana taught English, and Naume French at a local language school), and in fact Gordana is now ending the first semester of a two year scholarship studying English, Portuguese, and Italian ‘abroad.’ Needless to say, we Americans get the Language Buffoon Prize. My attempts at Macedonian were received with kindness and patience…

Leaving Macedonia in late spring, we returned home to find an assortment of squirrel and mouse prizes, but none as spectacular as the ones that Seth and Savannah discovered here just before we returned home from Switzerland. Squirrels are indeed industrious and persistent creatures.

Spring and early summer found us embarking on house projects, the biggest one being the excavation/preparation for the new porch and entryway that John designed, the ensuing concrete pad for that, followed by our friend Snowy’s excellent rockwork. Although feeling somewhat like the Winchester Mystery Mansion, the house continues to transform but not actually get any bigger. One of these decades, it will actually be finished-more or less. Summer, what there was of it here for John, seemed to fly by filled with PROJECTS. Although, always happy to get things ‘done,’ we seemed to have little time, with the exception of a kayak paddle or two with our friends, Les and Gary, for one of our favorite places to be: in and/or on the water.

That lack may have been one of the inspirations for our next visualizations for a job location. Yes, an island located in a warm place. We just hadn’t quite prepared ourselves for how effective our imaginings would be. When John arrived in Bahrain in mid-July, the daily temperatures averaged in the 120’s. When I arrived in September, daily temps had fortunately cooled down significantly to the 100-110’s. Whew, that was a relief! The swimming pool on the roof of the apartment building provided a welcome sanctuary for me each afternoon. John at least could work mostly in the air-conditioned US Embassy.

 While I was in Manama, we managed to tour the Grand Mosque at the end of Ramadan, get SCUBA recertified, go pearl-diving (and actually find a couple of really little pearls), tour the aircraft carrier Nimitz that came into port for a couple of days, and do a quickie trip to the water slides at the Atlantis Palm in Dubai. It may sound like we were in major vacation mode - and we are when we get these very special opportunities, but in the meantime, which is by far most of the time that we are overseas, John is working long hours. He continues to do so.
After a two-month stay in Bahrain, I returned home almost just in time for the really big event of 2009! The November 5th arrival of Sedona Dakota Krohn on planet earth. There are no words to describe what an incredible little being she is. Darcy has been able to stay home with her, continuing some of her duties as office manager for Stanek’s Nursery and Florist, at home and will resume a part-time at the office work schedule next month. Kris had two weeks at home to help get Sedona off to a good start before he had to return to Alderwood Landscape & Design where he continues his job as a landscape architect.

Our other offspring are also each on their own respective paths of life, love, and self-discovery. Arista seems to be thriving in Wenatchee still working part time for Stone Soup (artists’ marketing group), part time at a bistro, and in her ‘spare’ time working to develop her web design business. Seth remains a Republic resident sharing his life with Savannah, but has made a major career change. In August, he began working for Curlew Job Corps as their Assistant Recreation Manager. His recurring cheesy smile is often accompanied by the comment, “I can’t believe I actually get PAID to do this.” He’s enjoying working with the students, to say the least. And the youngest of the kid bunch, Jonathan/aka JP is living in Republic continuing with his self-directed education in important life lessons. Hopefully, we’re all still doing that, I guess! And last but not least, Sebastian, the truly senior citizen of the household at 11, is keeping track of squirrel, deer and coyote proceedings from the comfort of his pillow inside the glass doors.
From different corners of the world this Christmas, we send you our love and best wishes for the holidays and new year!

Joann and John


  1. As pointed out by blogger 'kirev',whose comment was deleted due to offensive language, the name fYROM is itself considered offensive to Macedonians and "Republic of Macedonia" is the true name. The fact is that the UN uses fYROM as a 'placeholder name' until the dispute with Greece can be worked out. The Republic of Macedonia has been recognized by every country except Greece. It was seated in the UN General Assembly not under 'M' for Macedonia (Greece objected)or under 'F' for Former (Macedonia objected as they don't want to be associated with 'Yugoslavia' for fear of Serbian claims on the country.) They were seated under 'T' for 'the' and sit next to Thailand. -see Wikipedia "Macedonia naming dispute" for more information.

  2. blogger 'FREE' would like to jump into this naming dispute with the view from the other side of the argument. Obviously this a contentious area. I did not publish this story to stir political controversy, only to report our experiences in the country. I didn't post kirev's comment and I won't post FREE's. Neither kirev nor FREE have permitted the sharing of their profiles with me, so I have no idea who they are. One thing they have done, however, is forced me to moderate comments. Who knew?