30 December, 2006

That was the weirdest Christmas ever.

Destination: Zagreb Airport.

Our beat up car is rattling down the highway- a lone wolf winding through construction sites and thick patches of fog. We’re all Free Fallin’ with Tom Petty, and beef jerky and Twizzlers are keeping us awake. For once, the sky actually is the deep black velvet that the poets talk about, with millions of stars shining clearly in the cold. From my window, the sea is visible where it’s not blocked out by black hills rising up, huge and two-dimensional. For a few seconds at a time I see lights from distant villages, the same lights reflected by a handful of clouds that show up white and ghostly. There is no moon.

We attempt to sing along to ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It’ before Simon and Garfunkel start in on Mrs. Robinson. Andy’s mom is sick. We don’t know much more than that, but we’re on a mission to get him home. I imagine all the Croatian families enjoying post-midnight-mass Christmas dinners in the middle of this odd, silent night. I wonder what it would be like to be Andy – worried, tired, desperate. I think about my dad and his wife, and my mom and sister and brothers, I know they’re all together at my grandparents’ house and I wish I could be there. But I’m glad I don’t have to fly home for an emergency. Kind of a Catch-22, really.

Now we’re definitely in the mountains. There is snow and the sky is all pink and glowy and the Smashing Pumpkins provide both the soundtrack and the motivation to forge ahead.

Christmas. It snuck up on me this year, and I don’t feel prepared emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or practically. I haven’t even wrapped presents yet. We missed going to mass on account of unexpected developments with Andy. I try to make it mean something to me. Jesus, God, came to us as a baby. He limited Himself to come to us, to die for us, so we could know Him. It isn’t sinking in. For Christ to leave heaven to come down to this earth – home of pain and suffering and betrayal and blood and tears and death – is (rightly) seen as a great sacrifice, an unthinkable humbling. But there is also Andy’s mother, and we’re terrified she might die, even though for her it would mean leaving all of that to go be in the presence of all Glory and Perfection and Beauty and Life.

Why do we think like that? Is it only selfishness that makes us want to keep those we love here with us? Is it only unbelief that makes us continue to fear death on some level even though we have an ultimate hope beyond death? Maybe. Maybe it’s selfishness and unbelief, but I also think that it’s partly an unknowing and partly a genuine love of the good that is here.

Because it is here that we learn about life and beauty and love and glory, and the only glimpses of ultimate goodness and perfection we’ve seen have been seen here, amidst the pain and wrong and darkness. Yes, we want to be with Christ and see all that He has prepared and be all that He has created us to be. But, for now, this world is where we have learned to love Him and to love others. Sometimes I am eager to leave it all behind, to get the hell out, so to speak, but not tonight.

Adam Duritz whines his way through ‘A Long December’ and I remember Katie Walsh, who’s reached her final destination and almost certainly understands all of this better than I do.

We’re finally at the airport and it only takes us a few tries to get to the area where you drop off departing passengers. The place is deserted, except for a single guard (or taxi driver?) standing in the cold across the street. We take turns going to the restroom and notice 3 or 4 travelers sleeping on benches. Andy will have to wait a few hours for the ticket counter to open so before leaving him we go through a few last cultural rituals for old times’ sake. We hug and say our goodbyes and get in the car to head home. In search of coffee, or anything, really, we make a few gas station stops and hit the highway armed with Snickers ice cream bars and cappuccinos that taste like watered-down potting soil.

The visibility is terrible, which helps keep us alert. Sunny keeps the conversation going with questions like, “How many kids do you guys want to have?” and we answer sincerely, and at length, because it’s 5:30 in the morning and we’ve got nothing better to do. John keeps the music going, and I try to navigate through the fog.

We roll into town at the first light of dawn, walk back to our apartments, and greet Christmas morning by crawling into bed.

John and Andy: The Unauthorized Edition






Subzero Twilight








Zamboni-riffic










Christmas Morning Magic

Ice Skating






Getting ready...











Group shot.















Čočo and a crazy drunken speed skater behind him.

28 December, 2006

I almost wish this had happened to me…

…because then I could write about it. Sunny tells her tale here.

Tonight it’s my turn to go to Robin and Carol’s with John and Taylor. I’m crossing my fingers for an adventure.

Did you think I was kidnapped?

Yeah, so I’ve been gone for a while. I blame it on Christmas festivities, urgent team matters, holiday busyness, and losing our internet for a week or so. I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, since back home most of the West Coast was without power for days on end and most of you were probably busy celebrating Christmas with your families, anyway.

A little while back, I discovered that my new blog layout looked like crap on non-Macintosh computers, sorry about that! So after messing around on Blogger, I’ve reached a compromise where it looks merely mediocre on both Macs and PCs.

At any rate, all this is just to say that I’m back. I’d like to say, ‘Back with a vengeance!!’ but that would be an exaggeration.

16 December, 2006

Important People Agree: 'House' is a great show!

The last few days have been a whirlwind. We distributed 1600 newsletters in 2 days, had our Christmas party (somewhere around 50 or 60 people came, not sure exactly), cleaned up after the party, hung out and went to coffee with friends, started Christmas shopping, and as a really cool bonus, Kristi and Carolyn came to visit!

I had only spent about 45” with Kristi before in my life, but after spending some more concentrated time with her, all of the rumors of her complete awesomeness have been confirmed. And, of course, time with Carolyn was fantastic as usual. On Thursday I came home looking a little cracked-out and dazed, I guess, and the only thing I could do was try to explain, “Well, Carolyn just unloaded most, if not all, of the truths of the universe on me again, and I haven’t had a chance to process yet.”

As if just coming to visit wasn’t enough, they brought loads of gifts and books and treats, and they cooked some amazing dinners! Personally, I was very very excited to receive Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas. I know Christmas isn’t about the presents… but this one was pretty cool.

They left this morning, and we were sad they couldn’t stay longer, but it was fun to have them here while it lasted.

14 December, 2006

The Jaw Braw


My dear sister had jaw surgery last week to fix a problem that caused her jaw to keep locking open. This is the device that holds ice packs to her face. I think she pulls the look off pretty well.

12 December, 2006

What is a dekagram?



Today was officially set aside for a marathon-like cookie making extravaganza in preparation for the Christmas party tomorrow. We let all our friends know that our apartment would be open all day for drop-in baking, decorating, and socializing...







I call this one 'Homeless Santa.'












Homeless Santa and Found Object Holiday Tree join forces.












"How much is a dekagram?...Why don't you have a scale?"









Natasha, Taylor, and Doda are definitely busting some kind of crazy holiday moves. This came after a conversation that went something like this:
Bing Crosby Christmas album playing in background-
"Can we listen to some Christmas music?!"
"This is Christmas music."
"No, this is I want to die music."
Bing Crosby Christmas album no longer playing in background.








Later in the evening, John, Taylor, Allison, and Andy took some awkward prom-like pictures before heading out to the symphony, while Sunny and I stayed home and rocked the rest of the baking.






Whew. And somewhere in there I went to MUP and got a visa in my passport. Yay! It is valid for another 4 months.

11 December, 2006

Funny Girl

On Saturday we had our first community service outreach. Andy spent quite a lot of time contacting dozens of people trying to determine needs in the city and any way we could get involved and serve. By last Saturday morning, things had just barely fallen into place and we had a car full of clothes and food, a large bag of pre-made sandwiches, and 3 different locations we could split up and go to. We also had about 2 inches of rain during the hour immediately preceding the time we were supposed to start. We'd had a lot of students express interest in participating, but the night before about half had cancelled. And now we had wetness to deal with, too. We have found that Rijekans don't really enjoy going out in the rain- especially on a sleepy Saturday morning. But, lo and behold, 12-15 of our faithful friends showed up- cheerful, dripping, and eager to help.

Sunny and I were assigned to go to this organization that helps blind children learn valuable skills and equips them to function independently in school, jobs, etc. The founder, Mary, talked to us for a while and explained their history and strategy. After about 20 minutes, she informed us that she was blind herself. We were all surprised, nobody had noticed anything too unusual. Later we introduced ourselves. Sunny started, "I'm Sunny, and I'm from America..." and Mary said, "Oh! Funny! Hi Funny!" Someone corrected her, "No, Sunny, like sunčica." She laughed, "I know, I heard. Funny!"

Overall it was an awesome day, and now Sunny's new nickname is Funny. And Andy's new nickname is Bubbles. But that's a story for another day.

10 December, 2006

The Best Christmas Package In The History Of The Universe

On Friday morning I received The Best Christmas Package In The History Of The Universe. Seriously. It was chock full of love and presents and letters and happiness and Christmas cheer. There were a lot of wrapped items that I still haven’t opened, but some things that I have opened are: a package of Sour Patch Kids, some pictures of my mom and grandma and brother, and Season Two of that TV show, House. That was from my brother Tim. Last year our whole team watched Season One and sort of got addicted, and we were pretty excited about this new round of episodes- even the new team members!

Anyway, thanks Tim!

Also included were some letters. The one from my mom was loving and descriptive and had a story that made me laugh. My sister’s was just a random short anecdote, and it was pretty funny, but a bit vulgar. The one from my brother Tobin was probably one of the most amazing letters I’ve ever gotten. There were a few personally meaningful relics enclosed, along with some illustrations. It was philosophical, mundane, wacky, bizarre, and brilliant. Probably because we are products of the same gene pool, the madness made sense to me. I was reminded of who I am, and what I care about. In their own way, the hand-scribbled lines of all three notes made me feel known and loved in a rare way that I haven’t felt for a while.

A few excerpts:
“My mood makes me believe I could drink the Pacific, punch a star, and run on the clouds of the American man’s heart… You don’t understand? Neither do I…”

“Perhaps I will quit school and chill in the monastery with you. We can write there. And there is no telling what mysterious treasures would be drawn onto pages in those old damp rooms. Hundreds of years of spiritual crazy men egging us on – letting us pull out our souls to transcribe for the masses! [Where all that came from? Don’t know]…”
~This section was accompanied by an illustration of me writing, with a bulge labeled ‘hump’ (so as not to be mistaken for poor artistry) on my back, at a table specified as being 500 years old, with wild hair (“perfect locks- compliments of months of flaxseed oil!”) and a ‘clubbed ballet foot’- again, labeled.

“He has the ability (perhaps it comes with age, a lot of it) to transcend the madness and smile cockeyed at absolutely nothing. Nothing but wrinkled sun spotted Beauty.”

“I didn't capitalize that last sentence. My God that is freeing. I just brought down all of Language Education with a single letter…”

“I wish I had something more enduring or endearing to write…but nothing but tired fills my head.”

“I love you and miss the sh-- out of you... Alexis, you are an offspring of the Mind’s Eye – rare you are. Send my regards to the Team and remember your prison = my heart. (meaning you’ll never leave my heart)”

09 December, 2006

In case you ever wanted to know…

…how a thermos works, my friend Dan has provided a nice explanation here.

08 December, 2006

Red Is Best





When I was little I LOVED this book! Red is best, for so many reasons.







And here's our very own red ninja.


Although this picture looks more like a proud red brigadier statue.

07 December, 2006

Cause For Concern

-Several nights ago, preceding the official commencement of our weekly apartment-cleaning party, I most definitely stated, “I think we’d better listen to Justin Timberlake.”

-On Tuesday I was on the Korzo with Allison and we saw a ridiculously adorable little black puppy. Now, that in itself is no crime. But it was SO CUTE, I literally almost started crying because it was just that cute. Seriously people, what the heck? I thought I was a stalwart anti-sentimentalist, but now I’m unsure.

-Tickle fighting has not only occurred, but has become commonplace(!).

I was worried about living with sorority girls. I thought we wouldn’t get along, wouldn’t relate, wouldn’t connect or find common ground. Never – never in my wildest imaginings – did I guess that I myself might be transformed into the bearer of such frightening and stereotypical hallmarks of extreme girly-ness. Heaven help us all.

06 December, 2006

Warning! Read disclaimer first.

Disclaimer: Before watching this video, please note that there is mention of male genitalia. Consider yourself informed.

"Injured Bad"

05 December, 2006

The Past Few Weeks

...have been pretty packed!













Friends at Thanksgiving.














Allison unveiling her birthday star and putting it to good use.










Good times...


















...and better times with the WSU guys.

04 December, 2006

Best. Night. Ever.

Last Friday night the roommates and I watched Elf, drank very good beer imported by the WSU visitors, and ate these insanely tasty chocolate-peanut-butter creations that we had made during team time earlier that afternoon. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Just thought you might want to know.

Courtesy of my junk-mail folder:

“And the new with him by their faces so Tamar bare the wilderness and the sanctuary.”

Thank you, spammers.

Poet Laureate?!

My boss, a.k.a. ‘coolest boss ever’, hosted a poetry contest in order to designate poets laureate for a bunch of states that didn’t have them. The other entrants and winners were real poets, so I hope his choosing me
for Washington was not offensive to them. I’m pretty sure it was a sympathy vote after a blah week on top of losing tag rights(!), which was my inspiration in the first place. Anyway, you should check out the others. I’m not all that into poetry, but the ones that have been posted so far are pretty cool.

And since this is likely to be the only poetry-themed post around here for quite a long while, here’s the only other poem I remember ever having written, from back in 5th or 6th grade or something (hard to tell when you’re homeschooled…):

I like my marbles round and bright
I polish them ‘most every night
Some people think I’ve gone quite mad
But I’ve still got my marbles…

03 December, 2006

Last Year At This Time

Katie Walsh died one year ago. It was really sad for our team, and heartbreaking for her family, friends, and students and staff at the University of Montana. I remember Kevin Kneeshaw reading this about an hour after we found out:

Psalm 116
I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

I believed, even when I spoke,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm,
“All mankind are liars.”

What shall I render to the Lord
for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord!

English Standard Version

02 December, 2006

Real Life, Part 3: Sons & Daughters

This series consists of a somewhat fictionalized account of things that probably actually happened but maybe not in this order, with a few identifying and temporal details altered.

Carole King is singing “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” via the café sound system. I like the Aretha Franklin version better. Regardless of the artist, though, this song always makes me think of 3 specific things: 1) an old commercial extolling the virtues of 100% cotton clothing, 2) my brother laughing and using the term ‘natural woman’ in a condescending manner and 3) as a direct result of #2, my internal monologue questioning and speculating on the meaning of womanhood and what a ‘natural woman’ really ought to be, anyway. Perhaps in preparation for motherhood, perhaps not, I’ve been feeling much more like a natural woman these days. I’ve been learning to cook, and crying more, and earlier today I went shopping!

I tell my friend about the stores I went to in the new enormous shopping center that opened last week, and how much it reminds me of an American mall. She tells me about the boots she tried on this morning, and also about the true meaning of Zen Buddhism that can’t be put into human language.

Eventually our coffee date ends, and I head home to get working on some details for an event coming up. As I settle into my work, the doorbell rings. Taylor and another girl are doing a bible study in the living room, and someone opens the door for our visitor. Well, the visitor is one of my friends, dropping by unexpectedly. No big deal, really. I get out some cookies and offer coffee and tea. Suddenly her face falls. “This is katastrof!!” she exclaims. (Katastrof = catastrophic.) She glares, and pointing to my sock-covered feet with one hand, she grabs my calf with the other. Because I’m not wearing shoes or slippers, she proceeds to lecture me in extremely broken English and universal gesturing that I will have problems with my ovaries because of the cold from the floor traveling through my legs and right on up. Well, this would be an unfortunate development. It’s clear that our conversation will continue no further without shoes, so I go and put some on.

My friend leaves and my roommates and I start making dinner for ourselves, John and Andy, and a couple from church and their little boy who are coming over soon. We are so excited to have guests, but I am mainly looking forward to playing with a little kid. Spending time with kids used to be a big part of my life before moving to Croatia, but here even the toddlers speak Croatian better than I do (and no English), which makes things difficult.

Dinner’s going well, and the conversation is interesting enough. Little Nikola keeps running around and getting up and down and up and down from the table. He also keeps asking for Coke. His parents let him have a little bit at a time, but he is never satisfied. When the duties of politeness have been fulfilled, John, Sunny, and I practically run from the table into the living room to explore the wonders of tiny cars, plastic tigers, and a pirate toy with our smallest guest. The others continue to engage in normal adult interaction. Nikola keeps drinking Coke, and we are having lots and lots of fun. The evening is winding down and we say goodbye and thanks for coming. We put away the food and start to clean the dishes. Andy’s face tells us something is wrong.
“This isn’t Coke.”
“What do you mean it isn’t Coke? Of course it’s Coke.”
“No it isn’t. It’s bambus left over from last weekend. It’s Coke and wine!!!”

Maybe I’m not ready for children after all.

This may or may not be continued at some unidentified future time.

01 December, 2006

Real Life, Part 2: I Don’t Feel Like Dancing Or Singing!

This series consists of a somewhat fictionalized account of things that probably actually happened but maybe not in this order, with a few identifying and temporal details altered.

John and I are in the Philosophy building handing out planners and giving surveys. It’s pretty fun, and people seem very responsive today. An older lady approaches us and asks if professors can participate, too. Of course they can! We love meeting professors, and Iva is very friendly. She’s telling us all her ideas of ways we can serve the students better, and topics she wants us to do seminars on. She starts talking about Turkey (the country) and how she used to do ballet dancing. I am getting really excited at this point. Maybe too excited. But what are the odds? I might want to move to Turkey some day, and I used to do ballet, and I’m so happy I’m grinning. We keep talking about dancing and other things and trying to go to coffee sometime. And John is grinning, too. Because she said belly dancing. Not ballet.

My work there is done, and I’m on my way home to practice guitar, which I am very much looking forward to. The sidewalk up ahead is obstructed by a delivery van, so I make a quick choice between dodging oncoming traffic and maneuvering between the van and the storefront. I opt for the squeeze, and right before flattening myself against the crumbling exterior of the building, the deliveryman crosses my path. Dressed in a bright blue jumpsuit with wisps of white hair stirring in the wind, he bursts through the door. Upon entering the small market, he breaks into song, belting out, “I love you BABY!!! And if it’s quite alright, I need you BABY...” It’s obvious that the twenty-something serenade-ee is just as surprised as I am, and I smile the rest of the way home.

A few minutes after I get there, my friend/guitar buddy arrives. She’s very friendly and sweet and is teaching me how to play. I make some tea for us and get out the honey and sugar. While we’re pouring and steeping, and catching up with one another, I put a few drops of honey in my tea, but then ask for the sugar because the honey is this dark kind that tastes funky and I really don’t like it. She demands to know why I want sugar and why I don’t use more honey. I start explaining that I don’t like the taste, but before the words come out she lectures me on the importance of caring for my voice. Lemon is good, and so is honey, but NOT sugar. I begin to protest, “But, but I don’t need to care for my voice, I’m not--“
“Today you must sing!” She takes my steaming tea and pours 2/3 of it into the jar, melting and absorbing all of the remaining honey, then she returns the mixture to my cup. “There. Drink that.” At this point I’m pretty much speechless. Not knowing what else to do I begin to lift the beverage to my lips, but she stops me. “No, no. Now it is too hot, wait for it to cool,” she says, simultaneously miming the presumed scalding of my vocal chords that would occur were I to drink such hot liquid.

We make our way into the bedroom, beverages in hand. Getting settled and ready to play, I take a sip of the now-lukewarm nasty-honey-infused tea. I try to hide it but my face contorts. My companion nods approvingly, “Yes, this is very good for you.” We run through some chords and strumming patterns and I’m happy because it’s getting easier. Then she lays out a simple worship song and says, “We will sing this now.” I start to play, just barely humming along while concentrating on keeping the whole guitar-playing thing going, assuming that she will do the singing part. She stops me.
“Why you not sing?”
“Um…”
“WHY you not sing? You must sing.”
“Well, it’s in Croatian, and I can read it, but it’s hard to concentrate on both…”
“I will play then, and you will sing. We will sing in English.”
Things are getting uncomfortable. She doesn’t seem to realize that I Do. Not. Sing. in front of other people unless it's like a whole group worship thing because then it's required by Jesus and I don't want to be struck down. I see that she will do everything short of climbing down my throat and working my pipes herself to make me sing out loud. I try once more to say that I don't want to and as I sing quietly she becomes extremely grave. She rebukes me for not worshiping the Lord and fighting the 'negatives' away by raising my voice. What can I do? I sing.

To Be Continued...

30 November, 2006

Real Life, Part 1: Lazy Eye

This series consists of a somewhat fictionalized account of things that probably actually happened but maybe not in this order, with a few identifying and temporal details altered.

It’s a beautiful sunny day. It feels like September, but it’s almost December. I may have just gotten kicked in the face by life, but I don’t really care, I can handle it. In fact, I’m feeling better every minute, and just the experience of noticeably progressing from depressed to joyful makes me a little giddy. I almost start skipping right there on the Korzo, but don’t. That’s not really like me. When I was younger I actually believed I could skip faster than I could run, and skipping always felt like I was flying.

I get to the café and sit down at the table with my friend. The seating is a little awkward and I’m sort of on the corner.
“Have you heard the story about sitting at the corner of the table?”
“Uh, no…”
“It means you’ll never get married.”
I laugh lightly and shift my chair. Inside I think, Awesome, thanks for that.

We start talking about Christmas decorations and traveling and whether or not I’ll move here permanently. I glance down at the table and notice her keychain. There’s a little attachment, sort of transparent and jelly-like, with rhinestone eyes and a little tail… Is that a ghost? Oh. No. No, wait. Yes. That is definitely a sperm cell. I jerk my head up, afraid my distraction was noticeable. It seems it wasn’t, and conversation continues.

She shows me a picture of Josh Hartnett taped in her notebook, and earnestly sermonizes me on his finer qualities. I don’t really agree, but politely nod along. This example of the mystery of human attraction reminds me of the grocery store clerk I stalked for about 5 years. So I tell her about Hans and how to this day I consider him to probably be the most physically attractive person in existence (and he is so smart, too) - even though I think he does drugs and my family swears he has a lazy eye. But when it’s love, it’s love, right? No? You don't agree? Whatever. I don’t care what you think.

To Be Continued…

29 November, 2006

More Good Stuff

[Big sigh of relief]

Tonight we had a big event we've been working on for a while, and it went pretty well!

We were so excited to see how God provided everything we needed, including a location, technological know-how (Jason, one of the visitors here last week, helped us get everything figured out), equipment, translation, volunteers, attendees, and many other things. It was so cool to see everything come together, and about 36 students came (plus us), which was perfect for the size of the café/pub that we were in. Now we're tired, but happy.

Tomorrow we've set aside most of the day to rest and personally connect with and enjoy God, and tomorrow night we'll celebrate Allison's birthday. Good times.

The last week or so has been sort of tough, but tonight was such a cool reminder of what really matters and how great the God I serve is. I was nervous because it was my job to talk about some of my own story, and what Christ has done in my life, and how I think the gospel actually matters and relates to us today in the midst of both small personal issues and major global problems. It seemed like too much to try to tie together, but somehow God helped it to come out and it was so cool to see students get excited and share ideas and engage in conversation about real things that truly matter.

28 November, 2006

Great news!

Taylor and I got a call yesterday from Zoran who heard from MUP that we were approved for our visas! Yay! There are a few more things we have to do (of course) but we should be home free, at least until March when we're supposed to re-apply...
At any rate, we're happy for now.

Two down, four to go!

27 November, 2006

Obligatory post.

I'll be glad when November is over and I won't have any commitment to hold to when I don't feel like blogging.

A few items of note:

-Sunny has a sty in her eye.

-Our apartment is really, really dirty right now. Normally we have cleaning parties on Monday nights, but tonight we had some much needed girl time and just talked and caught up with one another. Even though we technically live together, it's hard to connect all at once when things are so busy.

-Today I got to talk to my best friend on the phone! Due to complicated phone arrangements, we haven't gotten to speak to each other in 3 months and I miss her so much. It was really wonderful to be able to encourage one another at a time when we both really need it.

-Tonight I went to an art class with one of my friends here. It was SO fun! I think Sunny might start going, too.

That's it.

26 November, 2006

Okay, more than a little bummed out…


Shortly after I posted that last entry, I had a couple of really difficult conversations that left me feeling pretty much pummeled emotionally.

I’ve heard this analogy before that we are like grapes and God ‘squeezes’ us with various challenging or painful circumstances, and when we are pressed, wine comes out. Basically the idea is that it’s all for the best and we should aim to allow good things to come out of us when we’re feeling crushed.

But that doesn’t feel true right now. Everything seems more literal to me. I feel like I’m getting squashed, but I’m not a cute, sweet little grape. I am a person. And when people get squashed, it is pretty gross. Grape juice doesn’t come out. Instead, it’s bones, bile, blood, guts, snot, tears, saliva… all kinds of unpleasant things. And not in the nice, predictable and steady stream that comes to mind when I think of wine being poured out. No. Things come out in ugly, shocking bursts and squirts, with tearing, popping and groaning.

A few weeks ago I felt like things were going pretty well overall in most areas of life, and the things that were challenging me were subtle, long-term type things. There was no real drama or distress or anything unexpected.

Now I feel plunged into the midst of some chaotic and confusing battle, and don’t quite feel ready for it. But there’s no time for feeling unprepared, because I’m here and can’t help it.

I just finished a book by G.K. Chesterton. It was beautiful and wonderful in many ways, but I'll just share two short excerpts:

1) A direct quote:
"Cold pheasant is a good thing," said Syme reflectively, "and Burgundy is a spanking good thing..."

I really love the word spank, used in various forms as an adjective or expletive. In fact, everything I feel about the last week could probably be summed up (with the right tone, posture, and facial expression, of course) by simply saying, 'Spank.'

2) There are a lot of plot twists in the story, and people you thought were good/bad turn out to be the opposite, etc. and there is a scene where the main characters are basically questioning and responding to the 'God' character after everything has been revealed.

Here are the last few responses:

Bull said, "I understand nothing, but I am happy. In fact, I am going to sleep."

"I am not happy," said the Professor with his head in his hands, "because I do not understand. You let me stray a little too near to hell."

And then Gogol said, with the absolute simplicity of a child-
"I wish I knew why I was hurt so much."

Maybe someday we will understand. Maybe we never will.

25 November, 2006

Feeling a little bummed out.

The last week or so has been pretty crazy. Thanksgiving was great, and it has been really fun to have Jason, Jesse, and Kyle here from WSU. The last few days have included much laughter, much cooking, more cleaning, and little bit of chaos, too :-).

During the last 5 days or so I have found out that two couples that I know and love were expecting babies! Then I found out that one couple lost their baby. I can't really imagine what that is like, but it breaks my heart to see people that I love go through something so painful.

We've also had some drama regarding our residency/visa situation here. On Monday it seemed like Taylor and I were the ones in jeopardy. Then on Wednesday things changed and Taylor and I were fine, but the other 4 teammates were in trouble. Now things are uncertain. There is a pretty decent possibility that John might need to leave Croatia for 3 months, and that is tough to swallow. Logically speaking, we know everything will be okay. Even if people have to leave, they'll probably get to come back, and of course God is always in control. But to be honest, this is no fun to think about and I am really hoping and praying that everyone will get to stay in Rijeka.

What I am most thankful for right now is that God is greater than sadness, death, loss, defeat, pain, loneliness, fear, separation, and uncertainty. In all of those things He has repeatedly shown Himself faithful, and has been my joy and hope. He is greater than those things, and He is Good, and He is There. Knowing that whatever comes next, He will indeed be There as He always is, even though I often forget, is enough. And I am grateful.

24 November, 2006

Dan zahvalnosti*


Well, it turned out that we had about 40 or so friends come last night, plus the 9 of us Americans. It was a really fun evening and the festivities lasted until around 1:30am. Today we've been taking it easy (sort of) and cooking some more for a low key, smaller scale repeat tonight.

*Thanks for the spelling tip, Zoran :-)

23 November, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!



Here it's called 'Dan za Hvalnosti' and it was so nice out today!

In about an hour a bunch of students are coming over for pie and turkey, it should be fun, although we have no idea how many people will be here...






Last Week




Taylor's group at the English workshop







Sanja, Natasha, Sunny, and Maja hanging out at our girls movie night last Friday




22 November, 2006

To Be Alone With You


I'd swim across Lake Michigan
I'd sell my shoes
I'd give my body to be back again
In the rest of the room

To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you

You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your Ghost

To be alone with me
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

To be alone with me you went up on the tree

I've never known a man who loved me

Sufjan Stevens

The Transfiguration


When he took the three disciples
to the mountainside to pray,
his countenance was modified,
his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared:
Moses and Elijah came;
they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade.
They fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God,
the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them, the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death, was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear!
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!

Sufjan Stevens

A Trio, A Tribute

This is the first of 3 related posts on the same general subject.

So a lot of you know that I really dig Sufjan Stevens. He’s getting more trendy now, so it’s really nothing special to be a fan.

Anyway, last December, I discovered some of his Christmas music and got all excited about it. But now he’s released it all for real!

I don’t have this myself but it’s probably awesome, so check it out:


Songs For Christmas: Box Set!

21 November, 2006

Can I buy an umbrella here?

Yesterday started out mildly enough. I got up early to go pick up some documents that I needed to take to the police station. When I rang the doorbell at the translator’s apartment and nobody answered, I had no idea to what degree this foreshadowed what was to follow.

Meeting up with Zoran, who graciously offered to translate at MUP (the police station), didn’t really happen as planned. As I walked to MUP, it started raining pretty hard when I was halfway there, and I had just removed the umbrella from my purse that morning before leaving.
Oh, well, a little rain never hurt anyone.

But a little rain quickly turned into a lot of rain. After going into quite a few shops and asking, “Mogu li kupiti kišobran ovdje?” I finally found a place where I could buy a kišobran (which translates as ‘rain defender’). It was a lot more than I wanted to pay – the cheapest one was about $23, but it was kind of cool looking and I was already as soaking wet as I was willing to get, so I got it.

The day pretty much spiraled from there. Before dinner I went to MUP a total of 4 times, back to my apartment 3 times, to the health insurance bureau twice, with various other stops and missteps along the way. At one point one of the support spine/stick things on the umbrella snapped for no reason – leaving me with a cute, expensive, and on-its-way-to worthless umbrella. Zoran was most likely late getting his car back to his dad, risking getting his driving privileges revoked. Taylor got trapped in the bank when they said they could do something quick, but ended up taking her passport and other documents and disappearing for 20 minutes when she was trying desperately to come meet us at MUP.

In the midst of all this, MUP was a story in and of itself. I was informed that, even though I have attempted to officially change my address 6 or 7 times since June, and last time was told everything was in order, in fact there was some glitch along the way and I might be given a fine and misdemeanor charge for illegally failing to change my address. The lady also implied that she had the power (and possibly the intention) to deny my residence application, as well as Taylor’s (which would presumably result in deportation for us both) for failing to submit the proper paperwork.

The root cause of all of this seems to be miscommunication: the downstairs people tell us different things than the upstairs people do, BUT we can only communicate with the upstairs people upon invitation, while the downstairs people are usually available to the public. In the end, Zoran worked his civil-communication magic and we obtained the correct paper from the correct government building and turned in multiple copies and I think things are okay for now. But I have thought that before…

It’s just frustrating to feel like we’ve been bending over backwards, spending countless hours and so much money trying to get all of this sorted out, and when we’re given incorrect information and told different things most times we go in, in the end it is our fault for not complying. And it seems like our only hope is what kind of mood whoever we talk to is in whenever we happen to be talking to them.

But, I suppose, in the end everyone messes up sometimes, and none of us are as rational as we might think we are. I know the U.S. government has its own considerable set of problems and inefficiency, so it’s really not a Croatia-specific or culturally based issue.

Later in the afternoon, the lady at the umbrella shop lent me her personal umbrella while she took mine to try to fix it.

I thought that was nice.

20 November, 2006

Verbal Cartoonist?

That's right, my friend Dan alerted me to the masterful work of Dan Liebert. Unfortunately there aren't that many yet, but I hope to see more in the future.

In other news, the police almost made me cry today (more on that tomorrow), and I would highly suggest checking out the comments on the post about Sunny (aka Summer Sprinkles).

This day felt like it was 9 days packed into one, so I'm going to collapse into bed now.

19 November, 2006

The Text Master


Allison is a cuddler! She is also patient and kind and funny. So far this year she has already baked some extremely tasty banana bread 3 or 4 times. This basically makes her an angel. Allison loves to laugh, except when someone catches her off-guard and forcibly re-pierces her nose.

Allison is the other super stylin’ sorority sister on the team. And she’s a co-conspirator in the “let’s get a little cuddly-wuddly adorable widdle puppy!” campaign. She reads a lot and brought tons of movies, including, oh, a thousand or so episodes of Friends. If you ever need a shoulder or back massage, this is the woman to go to.

Other important notes:
-Allison may have an actual biological need for Diet Pepsi (I know, ew).
-It has been firmly established that Allison possesses a quintessential pair of beautiful almond eyes. I didn’t actually know what that even meant until I met her.
-Allison trapped and tickled me one time and I almost died because I couldn’t breathe. And I only narrowly avoided wetting my pants. Allison, I will never forget this.
-Allison worked for two summers at a pretty, shall we say, ‘low budget’ (but still amazing!) summer camp called Camp Gilead that I went to for 7 or 8 years straight when I was a kid.

18 November, 2006

Summer Sprinkles


Sunny and I have… issues. We have more awkward moments together than either one of us has ever experienced with any other person before. Sunny shares my love for coffee, and used to work at Starbucks, too. She also used to work at Nordstrom AND she was/is (I don’t know how this works: present tense? past tense?) in a sorority. This officially makes her the most stylish person I’ve ever met.

Sunny wants us to get a little puppy. Whenever objections are raised due to the impracticality of such a thing, she ends the argument by firmly insisting she would keep the little guy in her purse (indefinitely, I guess) if he ever caused any trouble.

She likes music, grew up in Kent, WA, has a boyfriend (but wouldn’t necessarily define herself as one of those ‘young people, so happy and in love!!!’), had a nasty German stalker on the Korzo for a while, likes to read, and is generally fairly stoic but occasionally cries or lapses into baby talk unexpectedly.

17 November, 2006

Andy Loves Lamp


Andy is a super stud. He plays the guitar, sings, builds mountain bikes, and owns a banana costume. He is perhaps most famous for the ‘bear paw’ and ‘clubbing’ moves he uses to batter his teammates.

Andy serves us in many ways: he cooks great meals, carries chairs and equipment and pretty much anything for us (he especially likes carrying purses…), helps clean, walks us girls to and from places - even when he doesn’t have to, offers to drive the crappy car when no one else wants to, fixes computers, and plenty of other things, too.

I’ve had the privilege of joining Andy in some particularly unique adventures during our trip to Budapest, as well as multiple journeys we’ve taken to the Law and Technical faculties right here in Rijeka.

He and I also like to take turns trying to shock each other by saying outlandish or disturbing things. And he just got a tattoo.

16 November, 2006

Baby Taylor


No, I don’t think Taylor is a baby. But during a 3-second bout of free association, that’s the title that came to mind. It’s a type of guitar, I think. At any rate, Taylor is the smallest person on the team and she also knows how to play the guitar, so for those reasons the title stays.

We’re in Round 2 of roommate-hood and teammate-dom, and she’s proven herself a lifesaver many times, as well as a treasured companion. Taylor is extremely passionate about ministry and truth, which is inspiring to me. She may kill me for this later, but she is also prime wife material. Besides the fact that she’s pretty set on moving to the slums of Bangladesh or an unnamed strip of savannah in Ethiopia alone as some kind of X-treme pioneering missionary, and doesn’t want kids because she’s terrified they’ll do the same kinds of crazy things her and her sister used to do when they were little, Taylor would make a good mate. She cuddles, she cooks, and jewelry may be her sole weakness. And she's h-o-t-t, hott.

I’m still discovering cool things about her, like the fact that she’s obsessed with music by The Temptations, and her truly extraordinary facility in using Excel or other computer programs. No joke, she knows all the formulas and secret codes.

Anyway, I could say more, but wouldn’t know where to stop.
So, yeah, I love her.

15 November, 2006

Johnny Hrvatski


John appears once again as fearless team leader extraordinaire. There have been a few changes, though. While he remains the most organized- and tough- person I know, this year he’s been branching out into realms traditionally led by the more estrogen-dominant crowd:
1) the expression of emotions, and 2) interior decorating.

Additionally, as foreshadowed by his hammocking forays last spring, he has demonstrated a new commitment to engaging in some form of rest or recreation at least 2.5-4 hours per week. We’re working on raising that number.

His two main objectives for the year have to do with finding a heart for his inner tin man, and soldiering on in the midst of multiple
battles.

A Preface


Last March I wrote profiles of all my teammates, so I thought I should do the same this year. Enjoy!

14 November, 2006

This is the type of post that would be much improved if a picture were included.

But...I haven't transferred them from the camera to the computer yet. And I didn't take many to begin with, anyway.

This weekend we went to Bohinj, Slovenia for a quick mid-semester break. It was great, but went too fast! No real schedule to speak of, no computer, no stress. We enjoyed spending some time in a tiny town surrounded by beautiful mountains and trees, slept in, read, watched a few movies, and generally got refreshed.

My brother Tobin was kind enough to post my pre-written entries on Saturday and Sunday so I didn't have to mess up the whole 'post every day in November' thing, so I offer a public thank you to you, good sir!

Tomorrow we're doing an English workshop on "Logic & Critical Thinking" at the Technical Faculty. Sounds tasty, I know. This one would be classified under the 'intellectual' category, I guess.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have something more interesting to offer, but no promises.

13 November, 2006

I am in love with Jayber Crow.

After 2 months of reading on and off, when I had the time, I finally finished this book.

I didn't want to. I didn't want it to end.

It is written exquisitely, and somehow perfectly communicates profound old truths in new ways. It is about life. About truth and love and faith and loss and the world as it is. It is about heaven and about hell and the parts of both that we see here on this earth.

The cover is a little bit ugly, I think. And the description will tell you it is the life story of a barber in a made-up small town in Kentucky. That sounds about as appealing as stale shredded wheat. But if you like to read, if you like books at all, please give it a chance. Because it's better than it looks.

12 November, 2006

Sign Language- part the second


This is my favorite! Take a moment and savor the details.




No swimming.







No carwashing or dramatic suicides.






All kinds of things are going on in this one.






Piggyback time in Truckland.







No comment I could come up with would really do this justice...







I have a personal history with this one. :-)

11 November, 2006

10 November, 2006

Now and Then


There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hidden, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinating because of that, all the more compelling and haunting.

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.

In the boredom and the pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Frederick Buechner

09 November, 2006

Jandy


Practicing for the balcony scene?

More Bigfoot Sightings!

Read more here!

Someone should alert the TBRC.

08 November, 2006

Good Night

Currently, half our living room furniture and a whole host of other paraphernalia is crammed in my bedroom. This is because the living room is clogged with tables and chairs marshaled from every room of ours and the boys' apartment. There are mugs with little remnants of tea and coffee, trays with cookies and crumbs, napkins, and plates of meat and cheese strewn about on nearly every available surface. There's a sheet on the wall and projector, stereo, and power strip cords wound amongst the legs of the tables and chairs. And 2/3 of the light fixtures boast decorative colored bulbs. It was a wild night. We did an event called 'Story of the Soul' and the whole thing was sort of a new concept to us. Some of our friends (Zoran, Doda, Maja, Tomislav, and Davor) emceed and translated so virtually everything was in Croatian. They did an AMAZING job, and there's no way we could have done it without them. It was fun and went pretty well, I think. But now we're all exhausted and have a busy, busy day tomorrow so I gotta go to bed. We'll clean in the morning...

07 November, 2006

Inspired by Sarah May


A while back I mentioned some links Sarah May sent about some crazy cool experiments with Diet Coke and Mentos. Well, a few weeks ago, we were inspired to try it ourselves.






Also, in response to the Sign Language post, she sent me this awesome photo:
 

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