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


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?”
“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...