About Cao Mila

Sharing my view of the gorgeous Balkans, one post at a time.

Learning Serbian or Chicken Breast is not Pileci Sisa

A few years ago, I was trying to order a grilled chicken breast and chicken thigh from a roadside grill. I had learned that batak is the word for thigh, but I was at a loss for the proper word for breast. I know that boob is sisa. But something told me that wasn’t the right word for that part of a chicken. I mean, we don’t say, “I would like a chicken boob sandwich.”

I usually want to make people laugh, but I guess I think the lady working the grill looked like a tough audience to try out my comedic Serbian. I saw an English speaking friend through the windows of a eat-in restaurant next door and went to ask for the proper translation.

The proper term in Serbian is grudi. I haven’t forgotten. Since that day, I know that batak is thigh, and that chicken breast is not sisa. It is grudi.


What did I learn? I learned that something funny helps me remember. I learned that a bit of pressure helps me to learn. I learned that with a bit of effort, I will improve.

Even as I am writing this I am learning. I was going to type cica. I put that into the google translate, it came up uncle. Sisa is boob.

Learning through comedy and fun is the best way to learn. I have also learned through trauma, but sometimes I just block that out. It is really not a good way to learn.

Here is a great youtube video/TED talk I watched given by a language expert. This explained to me my own difficulty in learning during my first trip to Serbia. I was stressed, overwhelmed, and feeling broken at the transition and events in my life at the time. This video spelled out in story form that being relaxed, happy, and passionate about what you are learning is the key to learning and learning faster.

Find what works for your. Find out how you learn best and run with it! I learn by doing and writing most. Learning is a journey. Make goals, have a plan and move forward. Do it!

My personal experiences in learning the Serbian language vary.

One of the things I have done was to put a poster of words to learn on the bathroom door. It was effective. I sat and had a little free time to learn. This was especially true if I had eaten something that had a little to many beans and my stomach was learning how to process them. This was before cell phones with internet.

In addition to my own ingenuitive education, that chart on the bathroom door also gave my company a laugh when they visited my loo. From time to time, I would hear a bit of laughter coming from behind the door as they viewed my study sheet!

During my last extended visit in Serbia, I joined the choir. I spent a few hours learning the language by immersion. It was effective and fun. It was not methodical. It was random. I do think that sort of learning has great value. But this is best as supplemental.

For a comprehensive education in Serbian I would recommend learning from a professional.

I am sure you remember teachers you either liked or loathed in school. I would wager learning was easier and more fun with the teachers you liked. Find someone who cares and also suits you.

Carve out a time and dedicate yourself to learning if you are serious about it. I have not done that yet, but I am about to engage in an online study.

About twelve years ago, a friend recommended taking classes from a professional Serbian teacher called Magdalena. I was not ready to hunker down to learn the language yet. Now, I am and I have checked out some of her YouTube videos. They are great! Here is a link for an older video she has made that is very helpful. You can see her personality, desire to help you learn, and give you more than dry book learning education.

Liking your tutor has a huge effect on your learning experience. I find that Magdalena is caring and real. She is not full of herself like many professors here. Her approach to education is refreshing. She has learned many languages and has found some of the best ways to teach through learning herself. This is a great asset.

SERBONIKA

Twelve years later, Magdalena has lots more experience and she has an online course. Here is the link for her course. Serbonika is a solid course for learning. For the record, I am not paid to give you this link. I just have great faith in her work, I know she is passionate about it and has been developing her skills and course for a very long time.

I plan to study Serbian with Serbonika. I will report back here with my experience and views on the course. Wish me luck, diligence, and determination! I need it!

Please leave a comments, advice, or tips, tell me about your language journey. If you have questions, feel free to ask, I will try to help if I can! Thank you for stopping by.

Cao Mila xo

The Poopy Potok

There are a few vocabulary words that may come in handy when reading this post. First, potok means creek. Selo is the word for village.

FYI all puns are intended. Here we go.

My first hint of the crappy truth came one day as I was foraging for walnuts down a hill by the local creek. Bits of trash was strewn about the creek bed, an old horses skull looked up at me from a ways off, and then… A few yards away, I saw an outhouse precariously perched over the tinkling creek. I was a bit shocked.

Immediately, a school field trip to Cowan’s Gap Pennsylvania State park came to mind. I remembered the park rangers telling us if we are out in nature, never defecate near water. He gave valid scientific reason about spreading diseases. E-coli is one of the bacteria found in fecal mater and probably making a dangerous cocktail creek. That memo never made to these here parts.

At that time, I was living in a nearby town. We have done some moving around and now are in a little selo a.k.a. a village. Since seeing that lone wooden water closet, I have come to see that practice was common here. There is one other stilted out house that has pilings leading up to the tall narrow waste station pimped out with abandoned car rim decor. Fancy digs for the village.

Imagine making your way down the hill to the mosquito infested creek to relieve yourself only to become a victim of the buzzing little vampires. You would most certainly be itching your booty bites for some time to come.

Now, most people have indoor plumbing. Still, the pipes that leave the home that carry the sewage, often carry the waste, straight down to the stream. Hmm. This took me some time to grasp.

Village trash is also often dumped into the streams and over hills in hidden or not so hidden locals. This really vexed me. The land is gorgeous, and the people don’t take pride in what great beauty they are free to behold.

As I pondered this, I remembered that back in the 70’s trash was dumped willy nilly in the Pennsylvania countryside. And, when I lived in NY, I recall having a conversation at the bank of the great Husdon river about how laws had been made to clean it up. The Hudson was once the same as every waterway in Serbia. People threw their trash and companies emptied waste directly into the river. No fish survived the pollution.

Years later, the Hudson has a thriving ecosystem of birds, fish, and other forms of life. The river is beautiful. The banks are a lovely place for a picnic or stroll. But it took a great deal of effort and education. And that took time. That is what Serbia needs as well.

Slight rabbit trail… Just this week, for the first time in 4 years, my hubby has cleaned up the potok. Literally, 4 days ago. It was an eyesore, and now it is only slightly less than pristine. I mean, there is still poo but no trash. 🙂 It’s the little things. Again, pun intended. 😉
This post has been a work in progress and just as I was polishing it up, without a word to the muz he cleaned it up. Hallelujah! Angels are singing over here! You cannot imagine my joy. Really, you can’t.

Back to the regularly scheduled blog….

My thoughts of these and other questionable habits have been pondered for years. I used to be critical and judgy. Over time, I have come out the other side of these thoughts. I realized, that the privileges of living in a land of infrastructure and laws that preserved nature’s purity was never granted in this region in small villages. There is no trash removal as in the city. Villages are occupied mostly by the ederly. They have less. Most don’t have cars in my region.

Life here is more precarious than the old wooden outhouses perched above bubbling brooks.

This country has survived many wars and renaming of the land time and again. The people are resilient, they offer gracious hospitality, and the land is a sight to behold. Serbia is a fantastic place. Infrastructure will eventually be put in place. For now, I love the land for what it is. Every land is a work in progress as are we.

Grace and understanding of the social system, economy, and the cultural traditions and their history is key to living here. I am learning. Hopefully, I am becoming a better human.

Find the beauty where you are and love one another.

Covid Test Serbia

On Monday, our little had a really sore throat in the morning before school. The protocol is that she gets a COVID test before returning to school. This morning, I took her on my own with my poor Serbian skills to the doctor. We live in a small town, and I really feel bad for the people who have to deal with me. I am sure having to try to explain things to foreigner is the las thing overworked medical staff want to do.

Upon our arrival, there was just a short wait to see Dr. Nice Lady in pediatrics (the covid section).  She was smiling, kind and so helpful. She even spoke a little English. She has no idea how grateful I was. Our little didn’t have a temperature but her throat is red. Dr. Nice Lady asked the usual question and asked if we had been in contact with anyone with COVID. We haven’t to our knowledge. The Doc listened to the heart and lungs, and looked at her throat. She called in a nurse for blood testing and then sent us to wait for a COVID nasal swab. 

It is a short walk to the other side of the hospital. We waited outside the building with about 3 men. She came out within 5 minutes and swabbed the nose. It was not pleasant, but not horrible like I had imagined. I thought there would be tears and lots of squirming. Our little is a trooper! 

In less than 10 min, the lady returned with negative results. Then we headed back to the original office for the final paperwork.  The doctor was on break. Our wait was about 20 min. I am not complaining. I know, back home we have waited much longer and paid through the nose. The hospital staff was congenial. The service was quick and efficient. I was relieved.  

We went to pharmacy/apoteka next door for the prescription. There was a little misunderstanding and language stress. But a drug rep was able to help translate. The stress is short-lived. I learn from each experience. Looking for the positives makes for a sunny outlook.

I was really nervous about going on my own. But I have accomplished one more intimidating task. I am stronger and more confident now. Hooray!

Our little one is off school for a week. Homework will be done. But I will turn off my morning alarm. Maybe I will get a little more sleep.

My friends, stay healthy, and love one another.

I am over the Currier and Ives meets COVID winter the part dva

FINALLY spring is arriving. The birds are chirping, blossoms are are blooming, and the chill is dissipating. THANK GOD! Yesterday was divine, I continued painting my barn front sunshine and flowers mural after I taught a few classes. Today is a blustery partly sunny partly grey day. Not as outdoor friendly. I shall stoke the fire and write. Oh and teach.

Lately, the covid restrictions have ramped up despite the well organized vaccinations around Serbia. We will be staying isolated. Living our Currier and Ives meets internet lives. Let me share a bit of what I mean.

Wood Burning Woes

All winter and for the last few years, I have been posting village pics that make people reminiscent of the days of yesteryear. Trust me, often it isn’t as cool as you think. I am longing for homes well insulated and heated not by a romantic fire that I must feed like the plant from Little Shop of Horrors. Feed me Seymore! I am over it!

All winter, I wake to feed the animals and the fires. Upstairs and downstairs I stock the wood supplies and keep the fires going to ensure our bodies stay warm.

It starts out cozy and moves on slowly to monotonous. We are beyond that now, and I am exceeding grateful the warmth and signs of spring’s divine return. Halelujah! Imagine a chorus. ‘Cause that is what’s going on in my mind.

I was just sharing these same thoughts with two other expats that live in villages. The Canadian shared that he had put some logs in the cooking part of the stove to dry out. Dry wood burns better than wet wood and he had seen a neighbor baba do the very same. It is a brilliant idea. But the wood had dried in time and then caught fire. Whoops! He quickly moved them into the wood burning part and aired out his home, thus inviting the cold back in that he was trying to kick out. LOL Ah, we all have these funny, but not funny stories.

Mother Goose doesn’t wear a bonnet here. She has brass knuckles and bears her teeth. Her bite is worse than her honk!

Every week, I make a short trek to the neighbor dairy maid turned baba. She is always wearing the baba uniform. The typical garb is a dark long sleeve shirt, a wool sweater, an ancient skirt paired with an apron, thick black tights, completed with the black rubber slip on shoes.

When I venture over during the day, I am on guard. The neighbors geese have been let out to roam, free range without fences. They are just one of the village terrorist groups. The miniature Mafia dogs up the hill are another. Then there are the little school house security dogs. Both canine crews are short in stature with Napoleon complexes. But lets get back to the geese.

These geese take freedoms with the neighbors yards that are not sufficiently fenced. Ours is one of those poorly fenced. Yesterday, I found a huge goose poop right in front of my door. I am sure that is the furry of a scorned goose. The retribution from being chided harshly with a big stick as I passed by on my way for milk. This is the terrorism I face on my routine walk for milk. The geese gang up on me and harass me as I pass by. They would and HAVE bitten me when my guard was down. It hurts. So, now, I always grab a big stick to scare them off. Sometimes it keeps them running away depending on their mood. Other times it does little to deter their savage need for blood. Seriously, you would think they were carnivores!

The winter’s early sunset makes for a very cold, walk with the phone flashlight lighting my way. Our dog Ginger insists on accompanying me and we set the neighbor dogs to barking as we pass by. The evening post-milking pickup is usually quick and I head home lugging 4 litters of fresh warm milk.

Upon my return, I boil the milk and let it cool until morning. I bottle it and freeze a few liters using only one bottle for immediate use.

The spring has elongated the days and my jaunt to retrieve the milk is now lit by the setting sun and I am grateful, even if the aggravating geese are still at large. I am also thankful that the milk is fresh and it is whole. No additives or preservatives. Straight from Dobrila the cow.

Currier and Ives is not as sweet as it looks my friends. The Golden days of old are only that way in our memories or on canvas. Trust me!

As always, try to find the good and beautiful where you are. Be kind. This will make each day golden for you and others.

New Perspective

Twice this morning, I have had revelations about how things appear and how they are not as they may seem to our eyes. 

 First, it was all about perspective. The cat and the table. Millie was getting ready for school as I folded laundry. She could see our little kitten in front of her as she put on her tights. I could hear the loud Harley Davidson sized purr of the contented kitty cat happy to be inside on a cold morning. I asked where the little calico was. Millie was baffled that I could not see the blissful bathing furball. She could not see that her perspective was different from mine. The cat was right in front of her. For me, the cat was concealed by the coffee table.
For some, the truth can be so plain to see possibly even illuminated. For others, it may be obscured for any number of reasons. Be kind to others and give grace to those who can not see the truth you can. AND Keep in mind that maybe you are blind to some truths Maybe there is a coffee table in from of your eyes. Do not be so critical of others who can see things from another perspective. 

The second was the reawakening of the fire. I had started the fire in the morning. Lack of care had it dwindle down to smoking coals barely giving heat. I added some dry corn cobbs. Moved the wood and added a fresh dry splintered log and left to feed the fire upstairs. When I came down to return to work at the computer, the crackle and snap of the fire had returned.

Remember to feed your fire, and do not doubt the fire in others. Encourage and feed the tiniest embers so that you or they can come to blazing bonfire. Don’t forget to make s’mores! 

Remember to feed your fire, and do not doubt the fire in others. Encourage and feed the tiniest embers so that you or they can come to blazing bonfire. Don’t forget to make s’mores! Celebrate your victories and self improvement with something sweet.

Taste of the Old Mountains Stara Planina

My friends, I have a real treat to share with you today. I am a year late posting, but as this is winter and these are some good old stick to your ribs and keep you warm recipes, this post is right on time! Let me introduce your to the mouth watering tastes of Stara Planina. Join me for a virtual potluck brought to you by many mountain babas (grandmas) exploring the gastronomic heritage of the old mountains.

I was thrilled when a friend of mine invited me to an international event that showcased the most popular recipes of the region. These are the staple foods that graced the tables across the mountains that boarder Serbia and Bulgaria. This Serbian “soul food” keeps shepherds full while tending sheep and goats. This flavorful bouquet supplies the energy to complete challenging tasks of herding sheep or piling a haystack worthy of of little boy blue style nap!

These recipes are almost as old as the craggy peaks with that much depth of flavor. You cannot go wrong with any of these .

The day was overcast. The sky was spitting rain intermittently. As we walked up the building there was a bit of bustling outside. Some of the good stuff was being prepared alfresco! There was a corn meal mixed with cheese called belmuz. A kind gentleman was stirring the cauldron and handing out samples. What a delightful start!

Moving to the inside we were delighted to see the tables filled with a feast fit for a king, with recipes are almost as old as the hills Let’s start with the appetizers.

The ingredients for each of these recipes are homegrown, raised, or made in house from their own cows, milk, eggs. Village cheeses are popular. Making cheese is not a thing of the past. This art is alive and well. These local cheeses are used to create personal cheese balls that make scrumptious appetizers.

Swirling sandwiches and pastries are a visual and culinary delight. The snail style finger sandwiches are filling and varied in their ingredients.

Filo rose pastries melt in your mouth with each buttery crispy bite.

My favorite dish is stewed cabbage and ham! Choice bits of pink pork with flavorful fatty bits cooked soft in a huge pot infusing each bite. Just the thought instigates a pool of saliva that left unchecked could create dog style drool! It is that good.

I encourage you to watch the videos in English or not. They may inspire you to try your hand at one or create your own mouth watering dish. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP2SXBABFmJccT9iIWJpuZQ/videos

Visit their Facebook page for more ideas and links that may boost your culinary creations. This is the PERFECT TIME! Get too it!

https://www.facebook.com/ukusstareplanine/

My desire is for you to be inspired to come visit and taste these stellar meals first hand in this breath taking land. I love this place. You will too.

For the record, I make no profit off of this post. It is not sponsored or encouraged by anyone. It is solely inspired by my love of Serbia, it people, culture, and food. Come visit!

Flat Stanley does Yoga

Yesterday,Stanley was having a relaxing walk around the village. He came across three girls doing yoga. These girls like so many others had been traveling around the Balkans. The Corona Quarantine caught them off guard. Now, they are sheltering in place in our tiny village. Not a bad place to be holed up!

Stanley was enamored with one of the girls, but he kept his distance because maybe even flat men or plastic women can catch Corona??

I call this one downward doll.


The girls encouraged him to join in the relaxing exercise. Yoga is good for your body and soul. Practicing outside in the sun is good for us all on many levels. Stanley sat in the sun and joined in the physical training. Then he continued his walk through the village. Village life has lots of advantages!

Till next time! Cao my friends!

Flat Stanley Stories Part 2 Stanley Starts School in Serbia

Today, Stanley is reminiscing on memories of his first days at school.
From the start Stanley loved his teacher. He calls her Snow White. And if she was one of the Disney Princesses, that would be her! She even has seven dwarfs!! There are 7 students in her school! Coincidence… I don’t thinks so. Just like Snow White she is kind and orderly. Stanley learned the routine quickly and easily.

He made friends immediately. The other children were ecstatic to meet the new student from across the sea. Stanley doesn’t want to brag, but he thinks that Serbian hospitality is the best in the world. The little flat man had packed light and his friends noticed he only had one set of clothes, they got to work and made him a new outfit! How thoughtful they were! Serbians really are the most amazing people.

Stanley made some other flat friends and was thrilled to get to see them dressed in their traditional costumes. He loves the flipped up toes on the shoes!

Here is a picture of Slavica (Slavitsa) and Stanislav, Stanley’s flat comrades. They are into folk dancing and preserving the customs of Serbia’s rich history. They dance the kolo and enjoy showing off the traditional kit.

Stanley misses home from time to time, but this village is so beautiful, he knows he is lucky to have landed in such a comforting place. He loves the food and is gaining weight each day as the meals are so large with formal courses.

The meals start with salads, often from the garden outside. Then homemade soup that is so tasty. Drinks aren’t on the table until the main courses arrives. This has been a bit of a shock to our paperweight boy. But he has learned to get his glass before he sits down to eat with the family.

One meaty course with veggies is followed by another. Being a vegetarian would be a challenge in this part of the world. Here in the village, most people raise their own food. Knowing the chicken that comes to the table is quite and adjustment. For the record, Stanley wouldn’t mind if the attack geese from down the road ended up on someone’s table. They are honking terrorists! Plus they poop everywhere. Rude.

Finally, there is often dessert with coffee served separately. This part is taking some getting used to for him. Stanley likes coffee. Like most of his friends from the United States, he likes to have his coffee with his dessert so he just puts one to the side til the other arrives.

More on the coffee in the next Stanley Story!

Thanks for joining us for the second installment of Stanley stories. See you again soon.

Flat Stanley's Serbian Adventures part 1

Cao Mila,
At the beginning of the 2020/21 school year, our old neighbor asked if he could send his friend Stanley to visit us for a homestay in Serbia. We were thrilled with the idea. Soon after they sent Flat Stanley via post to us in our village. 

Stanley visits Serbia  January 9, 2020

Cameron sent his friend Stanley to visit his us in our little small {selo} village in Serbia.

There was a postal strike and he was left to wait in the post office in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia. Stanley slipped out of his envelope and explored the building it’s strange signs til the workers resumed a regular schedule. Soon he made his way to our home.

The village post office is only open two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday. Stanley arrived one days as I went to the post office to help our neighbor lady we call Baba (Grandma). Two times a month I go to the post office to get her pension for her. The post office is more than a mail delivery place. It is also where people go to pay bills, collect pensions, and social security. 

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Upon arrival we gave him some spending money so he could get some necessities. These dinars equal about $12.60.  Dinars is the name of the currency in Serbia. One hundred dinars is about one dollar.

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Getting a 5 in School is the equivalent of getting 100% in school. Serbian Santa Claus is called Deda Mraz that translates to Grandpa Frost



Today, Stanley visited the village school. The school is called Kaplar. It is a branch of the larger school in town with the same name. This school is home of seven students, one teacher, the school caretaker, and the driver. The children walk to school from around the village and are occasionally driven by their parents. There are no snow days. Last year, schools around the country for a week because the flu season was so bad, but that isn’t normal. This years COVID-19 pandemic trumps that event and it is almost a global phenomenon.

Each morning the caretaker (Jovanka pronounce Yovanka) gets up early to come to the school and start the fires that warm the schoolroom and the school office. This is only normal in the village school. There is a central heating system in the large school in town. 

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The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet

The holiday school break ended Jan 8 and I was able to take some pictures of the decor left up for the new years and Christmas celebrations.

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The teacher is immensely artistic. She decorated all the schools windows!

Back to present day…..Stanley in Serbia will continue to bring you many adventures. He will not be returning soon to the U.S. since the Borders of Serbia and the United States have been closed to travel following the spread of COVID-19 an international pandemic.

Since his arrival, he has visited Greece by way of Macedonia and later made a trip to Bosnia. We look forward to sharing his cultural and geographical exploration here in Serbia.

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The sign says Happy New Year!

Send us requests if you would like to learn about any part of Serbian life! We would love to share all sorts of things. You can help by giving us some ideas!

Cao Mila!

This is a great post on Expat life and mental health… plus this is an amazing blog! Italy Gave Me PTSD — Living In Italy.Moving To Italy. Loving In Italy. Laughing In Italy.

Italy gave me PTSD, guys. Just kidding. Mostly. As you know, I’ve been struggling with what can best be described as a total mental breakdown that came out of absolutely nowhere. Or so I thought. Turns out, I’ve had symptoms that Indicated I havent been alright for a while but I didn’t pay much attention […]

via Italy Gave Me PTSD — Living In Italy.Moving To Italy. Loving In Italy. Laughing In Italy.