Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas...from a new father's perspective

     Christmas is definitely nothing new for me.  I've been celebrating it for 39 years now.  But this year everything seems new.  I guess having a baby will do that.  Mostly I've been thinking about the incarnation for the past couple weeks.  John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and Paul tells us in Philippians tells us that Jesus gave up everything to take the form of man.  Again these are not new Scriptures to me.  I've always known that Jesus was born as a baby and had to grow up in the normal human fashion. But now I am seeing this with new eyes...the eyes of a father.
     As I watch my daughter, I am so enthralled by everything she does (ok, maybe not the screaming). I can sit and stare at her for hours, watching every facial movement and hand movement.  And even when she isn't moving, I still marvel at the fact that she has been given to us to raise.  She is completely helpless. She can only sleep, poop, and cry on her own.  For everything else she is dependent on us.
     Now, I think about the fact that God -- the omniscient, all-powerful Creator of the universe -- came to us, not as a mighty king or a battle-ready warrior, but as a utterly helpless baby.  Jesus (the Word of God) couldn't even communicate with his parents other than crying and smiling.  He couldn't do anything but sleep, cry and poop on his own.  The Savior of the world was utterly dependent on his human parents to eat and live.  And being born as a baby meant that he had to learn everything, like walking and talking and reading and writing.  Mind. Blown!  Maybe I should just stop there and let you think about that for a while.  I should, but I won't because I have a few more thoughts.
atching my daughter also brings lots of questions: Was Jesus really "the perfect child" that we sing about in our Christmas songs? Did he ever fight sleep? Did he get upset when Mary and Joseph left him in the donkey stroller too long? Did he ever get sick? Did he keep his parents up at all hours of the night? We feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of our human daughter. What must the pressure have been like for Mary and Joseph knowing they were raising the Son of God? I don't have the answers but I suspect that everything that we consider "normal" for babies, Jesus experienced.  If that doesn't amaze you, nothing will.  Especially those of you who are parents.

Merry Christmas from a new father.... And from all of the Brande family

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One Week Old

Yesterday was Susanna's original due date. We were very glad to spend the day with her at home, and not in the hospital!
Napping with Daddy

To celebrate her first week, we all bundled up and made our first family outing - to the market & back.

Dressed extra warmly for her first outing.

Mommy is very happy the stroller fits into the elevator!

We received this duck as a shower gift, and we decided we'd take Susanna's picture with it as she grows. It may be awhile before she's as big as the ducky!

Susanna Jane Brande - one week old

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Coming Home

Thursday morning around 10:30, I called Christiana to find out what the doctors had decided and was very excited to find out that she and Susanna had been given the "all-clear" to go home.  So I scrambled and in about an hour, wrote out lesson plans for all the classes that needed to be covered Thurs afternoon and Friday.  Around 12:30, some friends from school  -- who had offered their car -- picked me up at the apartment, and we drove to the hospital.  When I got there, I learned that all the paperwork was done and everyone was ready to come home.  So we packed Susanna in her snow suit that was 3 sizes too big, put her in the car seat and headed home.  We were all very thankful to be home, especially Christiana! After sleeping on a hard hospital bed for 4 nights, our bed was the perfect way to catch up on rest.  And praise the Lord, Susanna slept almost 5 hours her first night home.  What a joy to have our family together in our own apartment!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Brande New Baby

We are excited to announce the arrival of our daughter, Susanna Jane Brande, on November 10, 2013.

She arrived at 11:22 am, Prague time, and weighed 5.3 lbs, measuring 18.5 inches. Christiana labored at home, and we arrived at the hospital barely an hour before she was born. We were blessed to have excellent nurses and a doctor who spoke English.

Because she is so small, Susanna had to spend her first day in an incubator, which has been very hard on Christiana, but she's now with her mommy, and we're praying she'll be coming home very soon.

Thank you for the many prayers you have prayed for Baby B's safe arrival.We can't wait to have Susanna Jane home with us!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Parcel or "Partial" Post?

One of the things we counted as a plus to being in Central Europe is that regular mail, such as letters & post cards, make it to us between 6-9 days. (When we lived in Moscow, it wasn't uncommon to receive Christmas cards in February, if we received them at all.) We've already received some very kind notes and a birth announcement, and it's always great to hear from friends & family.  Given this speedy rate of delivery, we were hopeful that we would have equal success in receiving care packages or boxes of goodies from friends & family. 

Unfortunately, we had a very difficult time with our first package. Some of it was our fault; some of it is just the particularity with witch Czech Post handles parcels. 

Before we left the states, Christiana had packed a box of miscellaneous clothing & books (basically all of the "non-essential stuff" that over-weighted our suitcases), addressed it, sealed it, and left it with her parents to send to us in Prague. There was nothing particularly priceless in there, but it was stuff that we wanted back eventually.

The box was mailed on or about the 23rd of August, and approximately 10 days later, we received a notification that it was at the postal customs house. "WOW, how awesome!" Or so we thought. (Again, it was not uncommon in Moscow to receive a parcel several months after it had been shipped.) Unfortunately, attached to that notification was also a whole stack of additional paperwork which we were asked to complete. We discovered that - even with all of the additional documentation we might provide - it didn't guarantee us delivery of our package, at least not right to our door. Assuming we cleared up all of the "problems" with this box, it was still going to be an additional charge for the postman to bring it to the address printed on it!

What had we done wrong? 
Well for starters, we'd used an old blender box - it had a picture of a very expensive kitchen appliance on it. 
Strike one. 
The customs declaration only said "personal items" - it didn't itemize clothes, shoes or books. It was also not marked as a "gift", something which we've learned is essential if we want to receive anything without having to pay additional customs fees for it.
Strike two.
Although there was nothing particularly valuable in the box, it had been insured for more than $40 USD. 
Strike three!

We'll spare you the rest of the tedious details. By God's goodness, we managed to escape a hefty fine in customs, and after two more weeks, six additional papers, and a delivery charge, the box was FINALLY brought to us at school. You know you're suffering from culture shock when it's exciting to receive your old clothes & shoes in the mail.

We've received several requests from readers & friends for our mailing address, and we're glad to provide this to you. However, for anyone who is considering sending us a package of some sort, please, please use the following guidelines before sticking anything in the mail!
  1. Unwrap/untag everything. Take off excess labels, take off price tags. If it's baby clothing, please wash, dry & fold so you can call it "used". Package like things together in Ziploc bags. If something comes with directions, package those separately somehow, perhaps as a "bookmark" in a used book. 
  2. If anyone sends us anything like a DVD, CD, or book, make sure to unwrap it completely & remove the electronic security tag from the inside of the case. Play the disc so it has been "used". Write our last name on covers or inside flaps of books. Again, please make sure all price tags are removed.
  3. List the entire contents of the package on the customs declaration (say "used _________" whenever possible), and make sure it is marked as a GIFT.
  4. Do not insure the package for more than $40! Most people end up paying fines for packages insured over this amount. Regardless of what you've sent us, please don't insure it for a large amount of money.
  5. Try to mail things in bubble envelopes or flat-rate postal boxes. The larger the box, the more likely it is to be snagged for inspection. Do not use commercial packaging - meaning boxes with pictures of toys, electronics or appliances on them. That's a huge red flag.
  6. Please be sure to write the mailing address directly on the package somewhere. Even if  you're told the customs label is enough, it's not.
Packages may be sent to:
Christian International School of Prague
Attn: Brande  - (Please don't put either of our first names on it, because if one of us isn't at school on the day it's delivered, the other one can't claim it without a power of attorney.)
Legerova 5
120 00 Praha 2
Czech Republic

We realize that we've probably just caused most of you to cancel any plans to send us anything for Christmas - we understand. Please know that any regular letter or card is still highly appreciated, and those *can* be delivered to us at no extra charge by the Czech Post.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Quick Break

This weekend is our school's fall break and a Czech Holiday (Independent Czechoslovak State Day to honor the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918). We have Monday and Tuesday off from school and had originally thought of going to Berlin. We realized, though, that with Baby coming, there is still much to do to get our apartment ready for her. So we decided to go explore a Czech castle instead. Some of our friends at school recommended Karlstein Castle built by and for Charles IV. http://www.hradkarlstejn.cz/home1/

Sat morning we got up early and took a 30 minute train ride out of the city.  The morning was foggy and grey but we went anyway, hoping the sun would show itself.  When we got to the town, we had to hike 2 km to the castle.  We took our time and enjoyed time together and the beauty of the morning.  We got there just in time for a tour of the main castle.  And when we came out, an hour later, the sun was shining and the fog was gone.  And we were able to get many pictures of the beautiful countryside.  (More pictures are available on our facebook pages)

We spent the afternoon walking back down the mountain, visiting a wax museum, and enjoying a lovely lunch.  At the bottom, we meandered around for a while until we found our little hotel situated on the river.  The hotel even came with a camel, a pig, donkeys, and ducks.  We only stayed one night and returned to Prague this morning.  It was a short get-away, but one that we needed.  Perhaps when Baby B is older, we will go exploring more castles.  Until then, we will finish getting everything ready for her arrival.  Please pray that she will come soon and that the delivery will be smooth and uneventful.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Delayed Updates

Yes, it has been a while since we have blogged or written a newsletter (there is one soon to come).  So let me give you an update on life here. It has been quite a busy 2 months since we arrived here, and it feels like we are just now getting settled in to life and work here -- settled in just in time for Baby B to arrive.  We received our shipment from the States on Sept 3 (the day before school started), and this past week unpacked the last box.  We are still working out where to put everything, but it's looking more and more like a home.  Baby's room is almost ready, and we are more than ready for her to be here.  Her expected due date is Nov 16th, but we are hoping that she comes early.  Christiana has been to the doctor a couple of times and has gotten the registration finalized at the hospital.  So now, we wait.

The first month and a half of school have been filled with lesson plans and crazy days and field trips and most recently the secondary retreat.  We took all the 7th-12 graders (about 35 students) to a camp 2 hrs outside the city for a weekend of spiritual growth and getting to know each other better.  This retreat was quite different than ones we have experienced in the past, as the high school leadership team planned and led most of the weekend, including all the chapel talks.  We were quite impressed with what they did.   It was a good weekend to get away, but we got very little sleep.  We were thankful to come home to our own bed.  Please pray for the students that they will not forget what they heard this weekend, and they will choose to apply it to their everyday lives.

Here are a few pictures:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Perfect Day for a Picnic

CISP gathered at Park Folimanka for the all-school celebration picnic. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day. Check out the following photos!

Friday, September 6, 2013

One of "Those" Days

We've been in Prague three weeks today, and we've accomplished quite a lot in this time span. So much, in fact, that I was lulled into believing that I could continue to check things off my still very long "To Do" list at a rapid-fire rate. Instead, I've had a day in which nothing was accomplished according to my desires. I've had one of "those" days.

  • My parents mailed us a package, and wonder of wonders, it's already arrived. (If we still lived in Russia, I wouldn't even look for a package until mid-October.) We were given a large packet of papers from the post office a week ago which confirmed the package was in the customs house, and told that we could begin to file the appropriate forms to claim it. I foolishly thought that claiming a package in a progressive country like the Czech Republic would be pretty straight-forward, but for every paper I've submitted, I've received another request for more information. Today, I was asked to send in either a work permit or my study-abroad papers, neither of which I have. I'm starting to think that I may never receive this box or its contents.
  • One of the things we were told we had to do once we signed the lease on our flat was to transfer the utilities into our names, and we needed to do this within 10 days of moving in. "Okay," we thought. "No problem." It probably wouldn't have been a problem except it took the resident manager nearly a week & half to get us the proper forms that we needed. It probably wouldn't have been a problem if it hadn't taken me an extra day to complete these forms (and this was with a great deal of help from one of our co-workers.) Still, I gamely set out to find the main offices for the electricity and gas services, believing that I'd be able to just get us in under the wire. I reached the offices about 1:15 p.m., only to discover that they'd both closed at noon. "Yeah," someone told me later, "forget trying to conduct business on a Friday." Information that would have been useful yesterday...
  • The refrigerator we purchased came with an extended warranty, but the warranty wasn't delivered with the frig. But not to worry, said the e-mail which came on Wednesday, I simply needed to find one of the stores and ask them to print the warranty information for me. Sounds simple enough, right? Not if you're trying to conduct business on a Friday!
  • We had three days in which to register our visas when we first arrived in Prague, and we did so. However, we have a new apartment, which means we have a new address, which means that we have to re-register our visas! I'd sent the signed contract which confirmed our new address to the visa agent (who truly has been incredibly helpful - I'm grateful to have his assistance) but unfortunately, we won't be able to get an appointment with the foreign police until at least two weeks from now. That's okay, because in the meantime, Phil has to declare me his legal power of attorney in Prague so I can take his passport with mine to register us both at the same address.
Quite frankly, the events of the day made me feel that I was still living in Moscow, but with much nicer weather and friendlier clerks. In fact, I was starting to wish that I *was* back in Moscow, because at least I would know what sort of hoops & hurdles I'd have to jump in a day's work. I took myself to a coffee shop to sulk for awhile, noting that at least I was only paying 1/3 of what I'd pay for coffee in Moscow. It was one of those classic "pictures of Egypt" moments, when you start to wish for what you had, not necessarily because it was great, but because it was so familiar. It's important to remember that God did not call us to serve in Prague because it would be "easier" or "calmer" or "better" than our previous place of service. He called us to be here because it's where He wants us, period.

Thankfully, I'm ending the day on a better note than I started it. I did manage to collect some necessary groceries on the way home, and I even found some local honey (which hopefully will help with my terrible allergies!) I'll rest & recoup over the weekend, and set out to accomplish the same tasks next Monday.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Day of School!

Today was the official start of the 2013-14 school year at CISP! Here's a short video from chapel this morning.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Our Container Made It!

Today is an exciting day - our container has arrived! 
clothing, bedding, pictures & books

the boxes we've managed to unpack so far

kitchen table, dishes, pots & pans

the new (full-sized) frige
In the midst of all of the chaos of the unloading or our container, we received a phone call from the appliance store - our refrigerator was downstairs waiting to be installed. What timing! We are thankful we found this appliance for such a good price. Still no washing machine - this may have to wait another month. 

We are grateful to have our household items and our furniture again - especially our own bed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Open House - A Look at Our New School

Tonight was CISP's Back-to-School Open House, which included a parent meeting and an ice-cream social! Below are some pictures from the evening's events.
Phil's new classroom

the hallway in the secondary wing

the "student commons" at the rear of the multi-purpose room

the art room and the doorway to the tutoring center

the computer lab

our amazing library

children's section - it's so colorful & inviting

Melodee manning the main desk in the office

1st & 2nd grade classroom

parents picking up their handbooks

getting ready for the big welcome

This is why we're here!

celebrating the start of the new year with an ice-cream social

School will officially begin on Wednesday, and we are excited to be a part of what's happening here!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Our Current "Campground"

We have a home - Rumunska 14!  Although it's lacking a few several comforts of home, we're very thankful to have found a place to live which is so close to the school, and so close to our budget. Now we're praying that our container will clear customs without any further delay, so that we'll finally be able to sleep in our own bed again. We've gotten several mixed messages concerning the delivery of our belongings, but we're hopeful that our things might arrive before the start of school next week.

Here are a few pictures of our new place. Please excuse the mess - we're still trying to determine where we'd like everything to go.
Our entry way - big enough to be a room!
This is our current "bedroom" - we're futon-sitting for some colleagues headed on furlough.

While our kitchen came with a stove, oven & even a dishwasher, it did not include a refrigerator. We're currently borrowing one from the school, but we will have to purchase one in the near future.
Our kitchen - refrigerator not included.

The frig & microwave graciously loaned to us by CISP

Here's Baby B's future room! We're very grateful that we've been loaned a crib and a changing table for this year.
Baby's room - some assembly required

Our bathroom has it's own boiler (no more summers without hot water!) but it did not include a washing machine.
Shower & washroom on the left; toilet & sink on the right.

We had not planned to have to buy two major appliances right at the start of our term, so we are praying for the Lord to provide not only affordable equipment, but also the additional funds we'll need to pay for delivery and installation.

We do not have internet at home. Christiana initiated the process of trying to get us connected, but it will be another week before they even send a "technik" to evaluate our flat to see what sort of a set-up we can have. The next big step is to put all of the utilities into our names, and to get an affidavit from our landlord stating that she has the legal right to rent us this place. Once we have those documents, we can apply to be legally registered in Prague 2, which will pave the way for us to eventually have our visas extended.

Please continue to pray for the safe delivery of the contents of our container, as well as for all of the tasks we still have to accomplish to be residents of Prague.