Sunday, December 16, 2007

Savoring the moment...

So don't ask me how in the world this has happened, but somehow I"m sitting in my living room and I'm online. I've tried to work with the random airport connections that show up on my computer a ton of times, and suddenly today it decided to work. It's like God is trying to tell me something. Maybe, just maybe, there can be highs...
Let me say first that this past week has honestly been the worst week of my time here. It was mostly stupid things, but I was feeling endlessly frustrated and like nothing was worth my time. I don't know why it was so awful, but it just was.
Then came the weekend. Ah the weekend. This weekend has been seriously incredible. It has more than made up for all the misery of the week. First of all after work on Friday my friend Nicole came and hung out with me. We just wandered around Cheb and had a great time. Naomi joined us for dinner and then we parted ways with Nicole and went to our Christmas party. Tammy was sick and wasn't able to come, but other than that it couldn't have been better.
A lot of students came and I was feeling good and brave and circled the tables like I knew what I was doing. It was so nice to just get to know them all better in a more relaxed setting. Then they performed their songs, which was also a lot of fun. In the middle of the students Naomi and I put on our own little show. We sang Silent Night in Czech and it was a HUGE success. Funny, because we started too high and my voice was all over the place in annoying ways, but the students LOVED it! We're talking they clapped and clapped and clapped and asked for an encore. Fortunately we had also planned a short poem, so we were able to give the people what they wanted. It was really great. Afterwards several of my students kept gushing over how great it was when we sang. They said it was all they would be talking about in class on Monday. So sweet. I kept moving around and visiting with different groups and then I got to be made a spectacle of when one of them decided we should dance. It was a rather unique experience, but again the people said they enjoyed it.
(wow, I just got to talk to Janet on Skype here in my own little flat! Way too cool!)
After the main party I went with a group students to another place and we hung out there and talked and played fusball (I really don't know how to spell that!) until about 2:30! I got home about 2:45 and was in bed by about 3.
At 8 my eyes popped open and I knew that it was time for me to get at the day since there was so much to be done. I got ready for the day and hurried out as soon as I could. On my walk to the train station I got a text from my friend Crystal telling me she'd forgotten her passport and had to go back to Sokolov, meaning we would have to take the next train two hours later.
I met Crystal at the train station around noon and we walked to the international ticketing office. As we headed over I recognized this random guy from Germany who had come to Winfield for 3 days on holiday to practice his English. I'd just had him in class Friday morning, and talked to him a little at the Christmas party. He asked where we were headed, and when we said we were going to Nurnburg he said he was on his way home to Stuttgart and asked if we would like to ride in a car. How could we possibly pass up the option for a free ride in a BMW??? So of course we took him up on it, and away we went on a fascinating drive through Germany. Not knowing him very well, it was a little difficult to come up with conversation for an hour and a half, but we managed, and it was all quite nice. We also had the experience of going about 200km/hour on the autobahn. Pretty sure I've never gone that fast before. Good times.
We arrived in Nurnburg around 2 and had a great time just randomly wandering around the Christkindle Markt, after having a nice (and rather expensive) lunch at Burger King. We were commenting on all the English we were hearing, and how amazing it is how we overcompensate when we hear English. At this point it has become so rare, that we can recognize the dulcet tones of our native tongue from some considerable distance. And then, out of nowhere, I heard my name. Much to my surprise, I turned around and there were 4 of our teachers from Slovakia! Of all the crazy things! We couldn't have planned it to work out so well. We wandered around with them for a while, which was also really nice. Then we continued through the market where we had a great time looking at all the ornaments and Christmas food, and of course the frightening prune dolls. Don't even ask!
It was incredibly cold, and by about 5:30 we were ready to curl up someplace nice and warm. We found a Starbucks, and felt as though we'd stumbled upon a little piece of Heaven for sure. It was so nice to enter the familiar surroundings, and breathe in the happy smell of coffee from home. We both sipped on Creme Brulee Latte's and just enjoyed the beauty of the moment. We discussed plans for the future, and the deep things of life. Coffee tends to make us wax philosophical just a bit. Then it was off to find der Bahnhof.
I must confess my German is lacking, but we did decently well, all things considered. We both got over any fears we may have had about approaching strangers, and managed to book a couple tickets back the Cheb. Getting on the train was a bit baffling. Here in Czech there are always conductors wandering the platforms that you can ask if you're in the right place, but it wasn't so easy to find help. In the end we just climbed on what we were certain had to be the right train. A guy got on after us and with my rather pathetic German we were able to verify that we were in the right place.
It was the last train to Marktredwitz of the evening, and it was quite packed. In the end we squeezed into an already full passageway and did our best not to melt. Let's just say we had to put up with all kinds of temperature changes today. The guy who had helped us when we first got on found us again, and after several minutes let us know he wasn't actually German either, and spoke decent English. It was fortuitous because a few minutes later a conductor came to inform us that the train would be splitting in two. At the moment we were on the portion going the wrong direction, so the guy helped us switch to the right half of the train.
We ended up standing almost the entire way, but got to sit the last ten minutes into Marktredwitz where we changed trains and got on the train to Cheb. What a day of excitement for sure.
Once in Cheb we thought for certain the day would come to a quite close. I sat with Crystal in the station until her train from Sokolov was meant to depart, and then headed back to Skalka. I'd been having partial phone calls with Janet on the train, so when my phone rang, and then died, a few minutes later I figured it was just her trying to call again. Several minutes later I started hearing the text sound. I decided to just walk really quickly so I could find out what was going on.
Once home I pulled out my phone, only to discover that the train had not taken Crystal home, but had instead decided not to run at all. So I had to walk back to town to rescue Crystal. Tammy had come down to meet her, but since she'd been puking earlier in the weekend we didn't want to risk Crystal staying with her.
By the time we got back to my flat we were both cold and hungry. We munched on cheesy pretzel sticks dipped in ranch and let our bodies slowly thaw. I'd been carrying these cheese sticks as well as a coke, mandarins, and two twix bars around all day, and just never got around to eating them since none of our travels provided us with a comfy moment to eat. We then spent several hours curled up on my bed talking about any and every thing. At long last around 1 AM we decided to call it a day and curled up for a little sleep, a little slumber.
All in all it was a pretty crazy and amazing weekend. After my lousy week, it was really a blessing. And now I just hope this posts and that I really can have internet here in my flat!
There will be photos to come, but right now this connection is pretty slow and I don't want to risk it in anyway, so this'll have to do for now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

St Mikolaš Day

So today is a bit of an event here in the Czech Republic. On this day the jolly old saint strolls about the streets with and Angel and a Demon. Children flock to them, some with excitement, others with tears in their eyes, to have their goodness or evil rewarded. For good little children, especially those who manage to stammer out a Christmas poem, or quaver through a Christmas song, a gift awaits them in the hands of the Angel. For those who haven't quite managed to keep themselves under control for the past year, and who fail to perform, a potato or coal is delivered to them by the Demon. I haven't done all the research, and none of my students have really managed to give me a full history of the day, but I find it rather fascinating.
Just now I went to the grocery store downstairs and watched as the children lined up around the highly decorated trio. There were children in tears, especially one little boy of about 8. He seemed aware of his own depravity. Something we could probably all learn from. Others bore giant grins, certain that something pleasant would soon be delivered to them. What an interesting commentary on life. It seems that so often, as we grow older, we lose the fear of our failings and the joy of our strengths. We manage to pass them off as part of life, forgetting to measure them up as the days go by. These children, however, are very aware of how they have been living. Just something to make us all think a bit.
Apparently I missed out on the excitement of the morning when three of our students dressed up and performed this ritual with the students. Sometimes I do miss out a bit on not being here every morning, but I really can't complain as I do enjoy having those days to sleep in.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

December so soon

Hard to believe that it is already December. A good reminder that I need to get packages in the mail if I want them to arrive by Christmas. Things are going quite well here. I'm keeping busy as always, and doing my best to remain focused. I had my second experience in a Czech home this week. That was really exciting. We went over to the house of another one of the teachers and his girlfriend who also used to teach here. Their flat is really nice. They live in the top of an old building, and have completely remodeled it themselves. It's a really nice place. We had a nice dinner, and after several glasses of Cola I remembered that it is common for them to just fill your glass whenever you run out, so I made sure to leave a swallow or two at the bottom so I wouldn't totally drink them out of Coke.:)
I also met another English teacher in Cheb this weekend. She is here independently from Canada and is teaching at a gymnasium (which is like a high school). She went with Tammy and me to Karlovy Vary yesterday and we had a nice time just wandering around the city and shopping. There was also that exciting opportunity to go to McDonalds. I really can't put in to words how much I enjoy going to McDonalds overseas. It's so strange because I really never eat there at home. Ah well. It was extra good in my way of looking at things.
Today we had our first house guests as well. A couple of the guys from our church came over for a taco dinner. I was a bit of a Mary, just showing one of them pictures of Hong Kong while Tammy and Naomi made lunch, but I did the dishes so it worked out in the end. It was nice to have guests (even if it did mean some extra cleaning) and gave us an opportunity to hang out with people besides ourselves, which is always welcome.
Next weekend we're having some of the teachers from Prague come out to experience West Bo. I'm really looking forward to that as well. We'll be taking them out to Loket so we can go to the big Christmas Market there. I'll definitely have some new pictures to post next week.
Please keep us in your prayers as the days are getting shorter and darker all the time. The gloomy weather tends to put a damper on my spirits, and I really don't want that to be the case. We're also all getting to the point where life has become routine. It's no longer this big rush or excitement that we live in Europe. We're just here in Cheb, day in and day out, making lesson plans and trying to figure out how to help our students understand our language. It can be difficult to communicate with the people in stores and restaurants, and I find myself longing for things to just make sense easily, and to be able to know what to do from day to day.
Oh, one other thing I forgot to mention. Friday afternoon Naomi and I both joined Tammy at the local orphanage. I don't really understand the system here. Tammy doesn't really know either, but a lot of them have families that they visit on occasion, so I think most of them are not up for adoption or anything. I don't really get it, but it was a lot of fun. We were playing with a group of younger kids that ranged in age from about 2 or 3 to probably 7 or 8. I always enjoy hanging out with little ones, and they didn't seem to mind not being able to understand us. They just openly ran to us and were happy for every ounce of attention, sitting on our laps and climbing on our laps as though this was the most natural thing in the world though they'd never seen me in their lives.
I must confess it is often difficult for me to decipher exactly what my "mission" here is. For now I'm just trying to love the people that I come into contact with, and to teach to the best of my abilities.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back in the Saddle

I've really been remiss in my posting. I do apologize for that. It's hard to keep up on everything. Especially on days when I'm just not in the mood. I do tend to be a bit moody. Just part of my chemical make up I guess. But it's been a rather crazy couple of weeks what with my birthday and Thanksgiving and all. I had a good birthday. It was nice to be with friends, and to have a chance to leave the country and check out Germany, a place I've really always wanted to visit. So here are some shots of our day in Deutschland:

It was a really fun day. In the evening we came back and hung out at our flat and watched a movie and had pizza. A very Sarah sort of day. I was also blessed with several phone calls form home which was especially nice. I got a great gift from Janet that I got to put together myself. It's a good thing I'm quick because it's COLD here!

One of my classes found out about my birthday and decided we should celebrate by going out for class. They also brought me some beautiful flowers. We had a great evening just hanging out and visiting, and the flowers are still looking beautiful in my flat a week later!

This past weekend we had a great trip to Prague. It was nice to be able to see other people from our team and to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. The turkey was quite amazing, and playing kick the can in a dark unfamiliar park was definitely exciting. We had a chance to do a bit of sight seeing (and some shopping!) but also had a bit of bad weather so I didn't end up with as many great pictures as I was hoping for. Still, it's pretty amazing to be able to say I just hung out in Prague for the weekend, so here are a few little glimpses into this incredible city for you all to enjoy:

My flat is now decorated for Christmas (I have a rather shocking number of window clings thanks to my wonderful sister Janet) and the weather is providing the appropriate snowy backdrop for the season. Walking to school was a bit slushy and treacherous, but I managed to make it so there is hope that I'll survive it all yet. I'm looking forward to the Christmas season and the opportunities it gives to talk about the meaning of the season in my classes. At the same time, it is also always a bit difficult to be far from family at this time of year. I was talking to Naomi last night and realized that in the past 6 years since I graduated from college I've only been home for Christmas twice. You'd think I'd be used to it by this point, but it's still hard to know all that I'm missing, so if you think of me I'd greatly appreciate knowing about it :)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A moment for thankfulness

Isn't it amazing that we have a day placed into our calendar and history to remind us to pause and be thankful? How often do I rush through life without giving a thought to all the things in the world that God has given me to be thankful for? The internet for example. What an amazing gift. With incredible ease and lightening speed I can connect with people all over the world. For that I truly am so Thankful. If only more people would get Skype I could really stay in touch with them. Of course the difference in time does add to the difficulty, but it still such a blessing to be able to live on the other side of the world and still be in contact with everyone.
Things are going well. I'll put up some new pictures soon. I managed to survive yet another birthday this past weekend, and we went to Germany for the day and had a nice time of it. Tomorrow I'm heading off to Prague to celebrate Thanksgiving with some other team members there. I'm really looking forward to having a chance to hopefully see a bit more of the city. So far all my trips there have been really short and packed with activities so that I haven't really seen much of it to speak of.
I hope all of you who read my little thoughts on life have some things to make you thankful today. Right now I'm particularly thankful that I have contacts that are functioning. I only recently received my contact solution from the US, and the past few days my right eye has been particularly frustrating whenever I wear them. I'm not sure if I have some sort of infection but I had issues with them in CA as well. I'm really hoping it will all work out because I rather enjoy being able to see.
Well, I have class in about fifteen minutes so I should go. Thanks for reading my words and for being a part of the random and transient life that I lead. May God bless you this holiday season and give you endless things to be thankful for!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm still not fond of smoking in restaurants...

I was having a nice time sitting here in bartholomeus writing things my computer and listening to one of the CD mixes I got at the retreat, and suddenly this table full of very loud smoking men sat beside me. I was literally the only person in the cafe. You'd think they could have chosen a rather more interesting place to sit than right next to me. But whatever. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? And after all, cigarettes don't kill people...oh wait a minute...hmmm...
So here was the view out my bedroom window this morning:

Yeah, that's snow again. And this time a bit more for real. I mean, it's not even my birthday yet! And already we're getting snow. Fortunately it had all melted off by the time I wanted to head out for the day. Unfortunately it had been replaced by some seriously ridiculous blowing rain. (sigh) Will I ever stop whining?
The Thanksgiving was a good, if not even vaguely relaxing, weekend. Sadly it ended all too soon. I really wanted to stick around another day, but finding housing got all difficult, so we just came home last night. The main problem with that is that it means being back to regular life already. I'm not saying I don't like where I live or anything, but I enjoy being able to have time away as well. I was really looking forward to the weekend, and now it's just over and life is back to life as usual. But that is life, so I should have expected nothing else.
The snow really was quite magnificent when we were leaving the retreat. These huge flakes started falling during breakfast that had all the kids (and some of the older people on the team)in an uproar of glee:

Even as I felt my insides cringing at the thought that soon I'd be trudging to work in the snow, I was reminded by a friend that sometimes we just have to take in the beauty of the moment, rather than worrying about what it may imply for the future. So true. So I watched the snow fall, and tried to grasp the feeling of wonder once again.
I didn't get a whole lot of sleep this weekend, which was rather unfortunate. The rooms were super cute, but the beds were REALLY hard! After the first night I made a bed out of the chairs in the room and was actually able to get about 5 hours of sleep, which was a far cry better than what had come the two nights before.
(Oh my goodness the man next to me is soooooo loud! And people say American's are bad!)

So there's my little room. I enjoyed being right under the eaves. Something about slanty roofs has always appealed to me. Okay "roofs" looks really wrong to me, but it is accepted by spell check while "rooves" is not, so it must be right.
The hotel we stayed at was nestled down nicely in "the nature." I had some nice walks in the early hours of the morning when my body had decided it was all done sleeping and yet no one else was up and about. They didn't actually open the front door until 6:30, but as soon as it was open I was out exploring. I found it rather more exciting to wander about than I did to sit through the sessions. There was some good information presented, but I tend to zone out when the topic of TEFL comes up, so it was a stretch to keep myself focused and alert.
We had some really good devotionals though. It was exciting to see the passion of other people on our team.
I feel like I'm sort of rambling around things here, so I think I'll just tack on some more photos to keep people interested.

I do have one really funny story to tell. So we were supposed to be having this really brilliant Thanksgiving dinner. The hotel had asked Kelly to provide them with recipes so they could create a dinner like a mom would make. So when we came down for dinner Thursday night and saw this:

we were all a little bit surprised.
As we were about to dig in, Kelly informed us that this was actually our appetizer...hmmmm...Apparently we were going to be served our feast at 9 that night. It was seriously one of the strangest things ever. Just seriously bizarre. The worst thing was that the food they served the next day was REALLY not my thing, where as this "appetizer" was quite nice. If only it had been lunch for the next day so I could have eaten all of it. Ah well.
Once again, one of my favorite parts of the retreat was time spent with the little ones. Isn't Andrew just too cute!

We have seven kids in our group, and they were all quite adorable. I especially had fun connecting with Jack and Andrew again. It's such a blessing to be around them.
So there are many reasons to be thankful as American Thanksgiving approaches. I do feel so blessed to be here. I still have no idea what all God has in store for me this year, but I know that there is a reason he has me in this place. While the thought of snow continues to chill me to the bone, I'm trying to remember to enjoy the beauty of small moments stolen in silence...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ready for a road trip!

Well, only one day before we head out on our adventure to Southern Czech for our Thanksgiving Retreat. I'm really looking forward to the whole experience. Oddly enough, I actually enjoy traveling. There is something so quaint about taking the trains across Europe. Reminiscent of an era long past in the US. And yet I would never consider this place anything less than modern. It just has managed to hang on to character more than the states have.
I was walking home a couple of weeks ago with a Czech guy named Ruda, and he was telling me how he used to want to visit the US but feels now as though it has lost it's magic. Somehow the allure has been smothered in Hollywood and wars. We have been covered in a mask of McDonalds and the dream of owning a big house and two cars. Sort of makes me think of my American Drama class in college and how much time we spent trying to figure out the role of the American dream in literature and life. Anyhow, this guy was talking about how Americans tend to be drawn to Europeans because they still have a deep cultural flavor. It got me to thinking about things.
While I would say that, in a lot of ways America really has become a somewhat unrealistically idealistic country, I think there is a lot more depth than people tend to give it credit for. I'm about the last person who is likely to shout "I'm proud to be American," from the rooftops, but it saddens me that I often feel the need to apologize for being an American. Our culture is FAR from perfect, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find any culture that isn't. The main problem with the US is just how public we make all of our messes. There is no sense of privacy anywhere in our nation. In our obsession for freedom, we often sacrifice our sense of decency. We have become a nation where nothing is sacred, everything is just on the surface.
The real tragedy here, is that this national sense of surface living tends to go hand in hand with Christianity. While the US shouts loudly that we are a nation that supports all minorities, the world still supposes us to be Christian. Therefore, they take the things they see and apply it to Christianity. Our fights across the globe come to be seen as crusades to spread our culture, rather than to support the downtrodden.
Wow, suddenly I'm ranting, and I really had no intention of doing so. All I was really trying to say is that I'm looking forward to seeing a bit more of the country this week. I'm looking forward to taking in this culture that I truly am fascinated by. I'm also looking forward to fellowshipping with fellow Americans. At the same time, I hold myself at a distance somehow. I'm afraid to be forced into a closed culture box.
It is my desire, and my joy, to serve God wherever He calls me. I feel so blessed that He has allowed me to take in tiny moments of the world, and do my best to look forward to the opportunities that will come in the future as well. Somehow this is coming out all twisted and convoluted, but in truth, I just want a chance to love and serve under Christ and not under my nationality. To share His love, and not cultural condemnation. After all, we're only temporarily on this planet. Why is it so hard for us to find ways to enjoy each other?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yeah, I'm posting again already!

So I'm going to see if today I can manage to get my photos to download. I'm not sure what was going on yesterday. The joy of picky internet connections! Sometimes I just have to take what I can get. Today, I'll try to get up some of the great photos we took of our students in their Halloween Ghoulery!

Okay, so I guess I'll actually begin with a picture of me, just because. I really do find it pretty handy that my normal wardrobe can so easily be turned into my Halloween costume. It was really nice to just dress up as the other side of me :)
Now for some pictures of my lovely students:

This picture shows all of our daily students that were in attendance for the Halloween Party. These students are here every day from 9 to 12:15 for a pretty intense language study time. I'm only with them on Monday and Friday. There are two groups. The first group are really beginners The second group are considered Pre-Intermediate. They actually cover a fairly wide range of levels. We have some who are really just starting out, and others who speak quite well and can understand most of the things I say.

Here is my L2 class. Back row L to R: Tomas (who is another one of our teachers), Zbynek, Ellen, Michelle, Maria, Lenka, Henry. Front Row: Martin, Tammy (teacher), me and Tomas. We have a couple students who didn't come, but this gives you a little idea of our class! They're really good fun.
Even some of my evening students were up for the festivities. I had one class bring in cookies and candy and candles and even some Halloween napkins. It's rather funny seeing as how they don't even celebrate Halloween here. Anyhow, I was amused that the women in the class came dressed in orange shirts and the men had dark shirts on. I just had to snap some photos. Then, to be even more amusing and dramatic they decided to make it look like they were really exhausted by all the work I was making them do! I promise I'm really not that heartless. Especially not on a party day!
So here we have Stonda, Tony, Myrka, and and Iveta. I must say I'm not really sure how to spell any of their names except Tony. :) Even though Czech is a very phonetic language it's still tricky to know how names work.
On Friday night we had our second pub night. I wasn't feeling well, so I ended up just sitting in a corner with these same students. I actually didn't have a whole lot of my students come, so it was nice to sit with the people I know. Besides, none of them were smoking, so it was even nicer. And they're a lot of fun. I really enjoy having chances to get to know them outside of class.
Now it's Sunday and the weekend is nearly over. I'm still trying to get over my cold. Not so much fun. But that is just the way life goes. We have a really short work week this week because we have our Thanksgiving retreat next weekend. We'll be traveling to Prague either Wednesday night or Thursday morning and then joining people there as we head down to a town I can't remember the name of. We'll be meeting with all the Central Europe team, which is about 50 people total. I'm really excited about the prospect of seeing everyone, as well as having a chance to worship together with them.
Last night we went to the youth group at our church. It was the first time we had attended and I really enjoyed it. One of our usual interpreters, Zuzka, was the speaker. She did an amazing job, reminding us that our identity is not a matter of what we do, but what we allow Christ to do in us. It really got me to thinking about how often I allow myself to find my identity in my own wanderings, rather than in Christ. When I really feel like I'm drifting, like my life has no real purpose, it is good to remember that there is someone else leading me. I still don't know all the reasons God brought me to the Czech Republic. All I know is that He is the one who led me here, and as long as I follow Him there is a point, even if it is beyond my own limited understanding.
We sang a lot of songs that we knew in English, and it was so nice to be able to let loose and praise God together with these young people. Our church tends to be a bit stiff. We sing hymns to organ music, seated stiffly in our chairs. Even when the youth lead portions of the music we remain pretty stoic. But at the youth group there was more freedom to really get into the music, rather than worrying about all the people sitting around me. I felt so blessed, as well as just enjoying actually knowing the songs :) So I'm really looking forward to the chance to sing songs in English this weekend.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Oh the photos I have to post!

So it's sorta been a while since I put up new photos. For those of you who are regular subscribers, I do apologize, but not having internet at my flat makes it rather tedious to get it done. Anyhow, I'll to my best to do a rapid sort of photo tour to keep everyone up to date.
Last weekend, I had a fabulous time in Karlovy Vary with my friends Naomi and Crystal. We took in the sites, and enjoyed the marvelous cuisine that only McDonalds can provide. Amazing how it's the little things that can really make the days brighter. At the same time, as we walk the streets of small European towns, every now and then we must remind ourselves that these very streets are quite amazing. Unlike cities on the west, few of which date back more than two hundred years, even "modern" structures here retain their ancient roots. I'm not even sure exactly what they're made of. So to remind ourselves of the pure grandeur we have to take photos of ourselves with them every now and again.

We had a lovely time wandering around the town. Naomi wasn't feeling well so she went to relax a bit while I convinced Crystal to try out a random trail with me. We made our way over moss covered rocks, our feet crunching the leaves with every step, until we came out at a small pavilion/tower. We reveled in the fact that such treasures exist at the end of trails here, and proceeded to check it out. The view from the top was particularly spectacular.

The rest of the weekend we took it pretty easy. A good thing since I ended up catching whatever it was that Naomi had. The sickness came at the beginning of a really busy week. My teammate Tammy had her birthday on Tuesday, so we went out in the evening after class. Then Wednesday was Halloween. We threw a party for our daily students, which was filled with several typical Halloween activities, as well as, naturally, Costumes!
Well, I had more pictures to put up, but for some reason blogger has decided it doesn't want to comply, so you'll just have to wait to see my lovely students in costume.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Drop Kick Dogs and Daylight Savings Time

So it's been a while since I wrote anything of substance or otherwise, so I thought I just might add in a couple of the more fascinating stories that transpired over the past week.
1) Last Monday I randomly decided to go home in the middle of my long school day. On Mondays I teach 4 90 minute classes which means a lot of time spent prepping and trying to get students to talk. In the middle of this mayhem I have a 4 1/2 hour break. Usually I spend that time working on lesson plans, eating lunch, wandering randomly around town and browsing the internet. However, after arriving at school I realized I'd forgotten to bring some pictures that I was going to use for my second evening class. In order to remedy this situation, I decided to walk home after lunch, and maybe even spend a few minutes sitting on a couch rather than a stiff office chair.
It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to walk back to our flat in Skalka, and I enjoyed the extra exercise, even if it meant I didn't have much time to do anything in between. I was just heading down a very steep hill when suddenly I heard the most obnoxious racket. A small dog, maybe 8 inches tall, was yipping wildly at my ankles and the scarf that was fluttering down around my knees. I shouted at it, but to no avail. The drop kick dog continued to bark and bare it's teeth and make threatening jumping movements at me.
Someone had parked on the hill above me and honked at the dog, which brought it momentarily back to it's senses. I continued down the hill, only to have it yipping around my ankles once again a few moments later. Eventually it did concede and back off, but I was less than impressed with it's desire to disturb my afternoon stroll, and I opted to walk back to school along the river so as not to come across it again.
2.) And now the story of Sunday...So Tammy was away for the weekend and Naomi and I decided we would try out a different church. We've really been enjoying the church we've been attending, but since Tammy was with the youth group, and the youth group members are the ones who translate for us, we decided to see if we could find someplace else instead.
Naomi had written out directions, and decided we should leave extra early, just to make sure we could find it. We had no trouble finding the place and were there about fifteen minutes prior to when the service was supposed to start. The church is held in an old folks home, and we went inside only to discover that the door was still locked. Naomi, wanting to keep on the positive side of things, decided we should sit on the bench and enjoy the beautiful paper fall leaves on the windows and the cleanliness of the room that she felt looked like a post office.
As 9:30 came and went, we began to really be concerned about being in the wrong place. Naomi decided to be brave and went looking around, but we were at the only entrance and there was clearly no one there. I said that if they didn't come soon I was ready to leave. At 9:45 she decided we might as well just give up. I wasn't feeling well, but I had lessons to plan, and figured I was only likely to feel worse the next day so I might as well go to the office and get as much done as possible.
I was surprised to find Andrea, one of our other teachers, in the office working on her lessons as well. I proceeded to go over things and then went to the computer to type up a few vocab exercises. I glanced at the clock and was surprised to see that the time was wrong. I'd just recently managed to change the clock (which had previously been about 15 minutes fast) and was frustrated to see that it was now an hour slow!
Clicking on the clock, and making sure I'd read my watch correctly I was about to change it when a thought struck me...D'oh! I felt like a total idiot! I hurriedly tried to call Naomi to let her know of our pathetic error, but she didn't answer her phone. In the end, I decided I really ought to tell Andrea the story, just so I could share it with someone. She found it uproariously funny and couldn't seem to stop laughing. She would stop for a moment or two and then start laughing again. At least I managed to make someone's day :)
Once my lessons were planned I was happy to head back to the house, where I pretty much didn't move for the rest of the day. I watched The Bourne Identity with Naomi, ate our chocolate chip (aka chopped up Milka) cookies, and then proceeded to watch a documentary about the Huns and the Vandals destroying the Roman empire. It was really quite fascinating to see how much the Catholic church has had a hand in the writing of history. Makes me think of The People's History by Howard Zinn. Ah Sophomore history.
Well, my head is all clogged and fuzzy so I'd best end it here before random nostalgia gets the best of me.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Um, snowing???

Yes, definitely snowing. Last night. Flakes falling all around. It seemed that they surrounded only the light posts. White shapes falling densely. Sometimes fast like a strobe light. Then slowly floating down and coating the cars in a light dusting. It's only been fall for a month. How do we have SNOW???
Last night we went to a party at our boss, Jarmila's, house. It was a lot of fun. It was mostly just the other staff and their families, as well as a relative of Jarmila's husband, and a former teacher. The party was out at Jarmila and Tonda's farm. The place was absolutely amazing! We're talking a storybook sort of farm with steep ceilings and old stables made into extra rooms. The furniture is all antique. There were a number of pieces from the early 1800's. Tonda has done a lot of work renovating the place, which has been in his family for years. He was actually born there.
We took a brief detour outside to meet their 4 horses. I did my best not to let their dogs, which are the size of ponies, knock(keep in mind that the k is silent!) me over or get me all wet and muddy. They also have a small herd of sheep with huge tails. The place was pretty much amazing. Sadly, I didn't end up taking any photos, but Jara, one of our students, was there and he got quite a few so maybe I'll get some later.
There were also a couple of really cute babies there. I got a bit of a fix, but have yet to work up the courage to ask one of the doting mother's if I can hold their precious offspring. I keep hinting to the fact that I know a LOT about babies, and would be more than willing to, say, babysit, but have yet to have any actual offers. We'll see. It's still rather early.
However, for all that, we've been here just about 2 months now. How time does fly. I still feel like I have so much to learn, but classes are starting to feel a lot more comfortable. I had my second teaching observation, and feel like it went a lot better than the first. She had a lot of really positive comments to make. The main thing she wanted me to work on was using the names of the students to make it all feel more comfortable. I know this is really important, and usually don't have any trouble doing this in classrooms. In fact, this was one of the things that tended to really impress students when I was a sub. I'd learn their names as quickly as possible, and use them at all the opportune moments. Here, however, I've found it really difficult to remember their names. Many of them only said their names the first day, and since then they have gone by nicknames that I can't manage to keep straight. But I'm hoping to work on it so that the next time she observes me things will seem more natural.
Right now I'm enjoying the fact that it's the weekend. Right now Naomi and I are enjoying using the internet in a cafe' which is a nice change of place from always having to go in to the office. I must admit I feel some envy when I think of the teachers who have internet in their homes. At the same time, I know I'm a lot better off than those who have little or no internet access. So I try to keep it all in perspective and enjoy that I really do have a pretty easy time of it. And look at the beautiful place I get to live! So for now I'll do my best to enjoy this moment. To live and breathe (but not too deeply because there are people smoking nearby) and take advantage of the life God has laid out before me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I hear you're speaking Enlgish...

So maybe you'd like to have English menus."
It's amazing how happy simple words in English can make me feel. I love languages and coming into contact with new cultures, but I can't deny that I really am pretty passionate about my own native language. I won't be all excessive and say that English is the best language in the world, but it is the one that makes my heart most glad. It is the language in which I have been blessedly immersed and in which I can describe my every thought and vision in ways few people can. So when, in the multitudes of people oblivious to the meaning of the things I'm trying to say, I hear such an open invitation of understanding, I can't help but feel a thrill of joy run through my entire body.
Needless to say, we took him up on his offer and read over the English menus. We'd mostly figured out the Czech menus, but it was comforting to see our ideas translated correctly. It still took a long time to decide on the drinks we wanted. We were mostly just relieved to be basking in a coffee shop that could have been nestled snugly at the heart of any American city, complete with In Style magazine, and American music in the background. In the end I settled on a thick hot chocolate, topped with a pile of whip cream and chocolate shavings. A nice warm up after a day of wandering out in the cold.
On Saturday Naomi, Tammy Crystal and I went to Loket to check out the Wine Tasting Festival at the castle and to attempt a hike out to see the Frozen Wedding party (Svatosske Skaly). In truth, the Wine Festival turned out to be pretty cool. Tammy had been given a couple of free tickets, so we got into the castle for only about $2.50. After wandering around the castle for a while (Crystal and Naomi had never been in it) we checked out the festivities.

After enjoying the festivities, which included traditional cooks serving massive sausages, assorted cheeses, and potato pancakes as well as some amazing caramel roasted nuts, and traditional music complete with dancers, we headed out to find the Svatosske Skaly, a rock formation that looks like a frozen wedding party.
The walk was fairly long (6.5 km one way) but well worth it. To top it off, the weather was pretty much perfect. Cool but clear. We stopped along the way for a few photo ops:

At long last we came to the amazing rock structure. It is so difficult to fathom how people can see such amazing design and not be drawn to praise the Creator. I stood with eyes uplifted and full of awe. The rocks stood straight and tall, a solemn procession heading up the side of the hill above the river.

Beneath them I felt ever so small and insignificant. Who am I to be allowed to behold such beauty.
I didn't have a chance to add the pictures to go along with my post about hanging out around Cheb last weekend, so I'll just toss a few in here at the end.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A chill in the air...

Well, fall is definitely here. From the many colored leaves sprinkled crisply over the ground to the biting breeze that encourages more leaves to make their way earthward, there is no denying that the seasons are changing. It's nice to be in a place with such defined seasons. Maybe I should rephrase that. I'm not sure I saw a very evident summer. It was quite nippy even when we first arrived. But it has clearly grown colder over the past couple of weeks. I'm starting to wrap my neck in scarves and warm my fingers with gloves.
It's a little scary how cold it is here already. While I doubt temperatures are likely to plummet as low as they did in Alaska, I'm still a bit nervous about how winter in Cheb will look. At least in AK I had the protection of my car. Here, the only way to get to work is to walk. While I appreciate the forced exercise, it's nothing like being a pedestrian in Hong Kong. Already the temperature has dropped lower than I have ever seen it in HK, and it's only October!
Things are going pretty well. This was a rather long week. Thursdays are, by far, my most difficult days. I only have two classes in the evening, but I have to prepare for 4 because I have two morning classes on Friday. The morning classes are primarily conversation classes, so I have to come up with all sorts of activities off the top of my head. It's really a difficult thing to do when you aren't even sure of what topic to teach, or how long each activity will last. Not to mention the fact that students like to make the weekend longer, meaning I often have smaller classes that finish activities more quickly.
Besides all the classes I have to plan for on Thursdays, I also have my Czech lessons on that day. While it is nice to be learning more Czech, it takes up an hour and a half that could have gone toward my lessons, so it can sometimes be stressful and hard to keep a positive attitude. I'm grateful to be learning some of the language, but it's quite difficult and hard to find time to keep up with the homework. Fortunately, I keep realizing how much German I actually know. It's amazing that, after 10 years, I still remember anything. In some ways I feel like it would be easier to just focus on learning German better, but I know it is nicer for people if I try to speak Czech.
All this to say, I'm glad that it is now the weekend. I just finished most of my lesson planning for Monday, and will hopefully be able to just relax over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A little dose of Heidegger

Recently I've been reading a book by my theology professor in college. He is a big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and has written a book about his place among the martyrs of the modern age. It's very fascinating, and as I read it I can almost hear Dr. Slane lecturing once again. All good fun.
Today I was reading his treatise on Heidegger's thoughts "Dasein" (which loosely translates to "Being"). One of the main elements of this treatment was that all of life is heading toward death. The only way to really understand Being is to see it in it's entirety, and that can only be done after being ceases to exist.
At the risk of prolonging this into an in depth philosophy lesson, or merely repeating the text I've been studying, I just want to point out what really caught my attention. There was a line that read: Impending death is what makes life worth living. That's not a direct quote, but it gets the essence of the idea out there. The thing that makes each day on earth precious is the fact that time is short. We must take advantage of the days that are here before us.
On my walk into work, this thought was solidified through the words of a song. I've been listening a lot to a band called "Sleeping At Last." There is a line in their song "Volcanoes" that says "Death is the only thing that makes us alive." It was almost exactly what I'd been reading. So crazy.
I really felt a link between what I had been talking about the last time I wrote, and these messages I was receiving today. It's not about my typical fascination with death. Slane even pointed out that it this focus on death has nothing to do with morbidity, or an unhealthy attraction to death. It is merely being aware that death is impending for all of us. Our life is like the grass that is here one day and withers the next. Even the words we store so carefully on paper and now computers can easily be lost by fire, flood, or virus.
So what is it that makes this life so special? Is it worth caring about every moment?
I would say that it is. We may be temporarily breathing dust on the earth, but that thought should drive us to really live the days we have here. None of us can know when our being will cease to be seen above ground. Neither can we know exactly what the fulfillment of being will look like when we move on to the next state of existence. All we can do is live the days that God has numbered for us on this earth.
Okay, enough of my attempts at philosophy for the moment...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

One last post for September

Well, I've been here just over a month now. Oh infamous time that can seem so short and so fast all at the same time. Honestly, it seems like years are piling up a lot faster on me lately than they ever used to. What's up with that? It seems in some ways as though I've already been here long enough to feel home like, and yet it's also a bit strange to realize how quickly the months are going to slip out form underneath me.
This weekend my friend Crystal came to hang out, seeing as how my other two teammates went out of town, and we had a great time just wandering around town in the rain and then sitting back in my flat talking and watching TV. She made a comment that will undoubtedly seem strange to those who have lived overseas, but should ring true for those who have. Her comment was this, "isn't it hard to remember sometimes that we're living in Europe?" Even as we walk around amidst ancient buildings that predate American history, I couldn't help but nod in agreement. It's amazing how quickly the tourist views that captivate on first arrival become the familiar surroundings of home, now taken for granted.
One of my goals for this year is to live life intentionally. It's a common goal for me, and one I have to remind myself of often. I think I was about 15 when I visited my friend Mindy from summer camp, and noticed how she would write little notes on her calendar every day. At that moment I was struck by a thought that sort of shook me. While it is easy to concentrate on enjoying moments like holidays or birthdays or big events, it is difficult to keep in mind that each and every day happens only once. Whether good, or bad, that day will never be repeated. Every September 30th is unique.
When I got home from visiting my friend I began keeping track of my days. It started with Calendar squares, quickly filled to the bursting point with such scrawled and tiny script that no one would ever dare attempt to read it, then evolved into my daily journaling routine on June 14, 1996 when I headed off for my summer with Teen Missions in Italy. Since that date, I have made special note of every single day that has transpired. I have tried to keep in mind that each day is a gift in it's own way. Even the days I would rather forget entirely have played a part in the making of me.
So many times I find myself forgetting that the things God has allowed me to do, really are unique. About two months ago I missed my ten year high school reunion. (I was at training and couldn't go.) I'd been thinking of this reunion for a couple of years before it took place. I wondered where all those people I hadn't thought of in ages might have ended up. I was curious to see what they had done with their lives. At the same time, I felt as though I'd done so little in comparison to my expectations of them. I was sure I would discover that most were married with families, careers, houses, and pets. 5 years ago, when I received the letter I'd written to myself as a senior in high school, I experienced a lot of anger and regret. I had done so few of the things my 18 year old self had charged me with. I was still single, drifting, unpublished...the list goes on. And now, 5 years later, none of those things have changed. 10 years have somehow slipped away with little to show for it in the typical way. My earthly possessions are, indeed, few. My bank account leaves much to be desired. I feared that if I went to that reunion I would be faced by my lack of accomplishments, my failure to become the people others, and I myself, had expected me to be.
Then a little light goes on in my head. Why should I have to compare myself to what other people have done? Have I not traveled all over the world? Have I not spent more than two and a half years living overseas? Not to mention braving a year in Alaska? I may not have a lot of obvious proof of achievement, but my time has not been wasted. And while my life just seems normal to me, when I really think about it, I know that few people my age have had the chance to do the things that I have done. True, there are people who have done more, but there is value in being who I am.
So here I sit, comfortably settled in Cheb, Czech Republic. I can buy train tickets on my own, and travel to castles whilst being lulled by the passing scenery and the music that flows from my i-pod. I truly have been blessed. There is no denying it.
I still have no idea what the future holds. Each step is a vast mystery, a journey into the unknown. All I know is that I want to live each day. Not just exist, but really LIVE.
The sun is shining this evening, glinting off the leaves that are beginning to subside from green to yellow, some bursting to red. It is my prayer that I will not grow stagnant in autumn, but learn how to burn more brightly. Each day is a gift.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A photo selection for you:)

At long last I'm getting around to putting up some photos from my trip to Prague. As the weather would always seem to have it, there were buckets of rain coming down today, but I still persevered and drug my computer to school hidden in a plastic bag so it wouldn't get wet. I had it in it's case as well, but it just didn't seem quite secure enough for me. Well, without further ado, let me get along to the photos:

These first few photos are all pictures around Old town in Prague. The first is of a church or something, in one of the squares, the next one is of Wenceslas Square. I thought that one was really cool. There were a bunch of emo kids sitting around the base of the statue of Wenceslas. They're taking over the world...Then there are couple with the Charles Bridge.
And here are some pictures of my main distractions for the Prague Reality Czech weekend! How cute are they!

As you can see, Jack and I were pals!

It was sad to have to leave everyone, but it was really nice to hang out. Here are Joseph, Crystal and I enjoying a ride on public transport in Prague:

Life does continue to go on in our nice sleepy little town of Cheb. Last weekend our friends Che and Crystal came over for the afternoon and we went hiking on Zelena Hora (Green Hill). There is a watchtower on top of the hill that gives a view of Cheb and the surrounding areas. From one side you can look over into Germany as well. It was pretty cool to hang out up there.

When we were hiking up to the tower I also found an old German Cemetery. I always enjoy checking out cemeteries and this one was very nice and simple:

And now I'll leave you with one last photo that I found to be particularly profound...