Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh the joys of transience

I'm feeling overwhelmed, out of my element, and generally confused about pretty much everything. Christmas is only a few short days away. We're heading down to Medford on Wednesday so hopefully the weather will be good. All Janet's boys are home now so it will be great to see them all.
It's also now less than two months until my wedding. It's still so unreal. Having trouble processsing where I am and wht I really need to do. At least I have this super cool new phone that allows me to blog where ever I happen to sit at the moment.
My head is awhirl with it all... I want to drink in these moments, but instead find myself waking up in the night with noclue how to make everything come out right.
But it is almost Christmas. Nearly the day we celebrate the. Birth of our Savior, the one who is truly in control. So in the midst of my inner mayhem and stress this is what I must cling to, and in this alone can I truly rejoice. May God bless you all in the days to come as the new year awaits us just around the corner. And in the holiday spirit of cliches that still ring true, may you remember that Jesus is the reason for the season!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Safe and Sound

One day I think I was teaching my CAE class about sayings like "safe and sound." It's kind of a strange thing to try and translate. Anyhow, I just thought it would be good to inform everyone that we are now in America. We had a bit of a time getting here thanks to the blizzard that hit the Czech Republic right about the time we were leaving. The drive to the airport was rather harrowing. We left at about 11 and were in flying snow the whole way, but arrived in plenty of time to have a bite to eat and say the ever difficult goodbyes. Definitely not an easy thing to do, but we made our 5:55 AM flight with no problems.
Of course we then sat in the plane for more than an hour while the de-iced the wings. It was a pretty serious event actually. We were rather amused to watch it all, and thankful that we had a couple hours scheduled between our flights in Frankfurt.
When we got to Germany the airport looked decent. There wasn't much snow and things seemed to be moving pretty smoothly. They were a bit intense at the security check, freaking out over drinks we bought inside the Prague airport and making us chug them, as well as doing a special check in a separate room of our wireless keyboard, but we passed the inspection and got easily onto the plane. Only to sit there for more than two hours. That's right, two hours of just sitting on the tarmac waiting for them to de=ice the wings. And the pilot originally told us it would take twenty minutes. As our four hours layover in San Francisco began to dwindle I was a bit worried that we'd have a tough time making our connecting flight as well as making in through customs. Hard to hold on to the truth that God is in control, isn't it?
The flight was long. I think it's even longer when you're 6'4". They don't make it easy for tall men, and the plane we were on was kinda ghetto. We're talking seatbelts from I don't know when, and the old TVs in the middle of the aisles. The one closest to us happened to be going out and had a strange red glow around it. People wearing pink on the screen were wearing red on the functioning screen up the way. Ah well. One way or another we made it to San Francisco.
I tried to chose a decent line for Immigration, and failed. We ended up being almost the last through, even though we went there as quickly as we could. But we passed through it in really no time at all. All our papers were great and they didn't even look at us as we went through customs. In the end, we had an hour to breath and make some phone calls before heading over to catch our plane.
So after a whole lot of stress, the trip itself went as perfectly as possible. There was no running in airports, no lost luggage, and no strange questions along the way.
We were happy to meet my parents, get a little food in our bodies, and head off to bed.
There is definitely some jet lag in there, but at least we're through the process. Today we're taking it easy. We met up with my nephew Ryder for brunch at Shari's so Mark had his first big American breakfast, as well as seeing his first yellow school buses in person. It's so strange as I'm seeing all these familiar things and he's seeing EVERYTHING for the first time. It's literally like an "American" dream. The scenes from the movies are suddenly right in front of us. Rather surreal for him.
This afternoon we're hoping to see Jessie and then tomorrow we're hitting the road for Idaho.
Thanks to everyone for your prayers for safely and we'll see what the next chapter has in store for us here on this side of the world.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wrapping up with Miscellany

Maybe it's because I'm feeling edgy that I'm suddenly posting so many blogs. It's that strange waiting period when you know the moment is almost over and you just want to be on the plane going, but you still have to wait another day. It's that halfway sort of place. Obviously if you could stick around longer you'd enjoy it. You could keep living life as usual. But when you get beyond the point of really being able to do anything else it's hard to know what to do with yourself. That's sorta where I'm at. My bags are mostly packed. And I still have a day before we leave. It's night time, and I could be going to bed, but instead I have all these thoughts inside my head, and I'm sure I wouldn't sleep yet anyway, so I figured I might as well add one more blog to the November list. Keep my mom happy after the long silence the first half of this month or something like that.
So I thought I'd fill in some pictures from the past few days to sorta tie up some lose ends. We'll start out with my birthday when Laura was here. Since she wasn't able to be here for the Bridal Shower in June she decided to bring a little showeriness to my birthday instead with this stunning pair of glasses.

Yes, I did look this positively ridiculous in public, and it was totally worth it. We had quite a laugh and enjoyed talking shop about weddings and whatnot. Having been a primary planning helper for her wedding last summer, planned predominately while she was here and carried out two weeks after her arrival in the states, it was fun to have a chance to turn the tables in my direction :)
I'm not sure if I mentioned that we have snow here now. Well, we do. Can't say it's exactly how I would have chosen to end my time, since it makes flight delays a question to ponder, but it does make the place beautiful. At this moment I'd say we have between two to four inches. It's crusty underfoot at this point, but super beautiful. The first day it snowed it wasn't quite so solid, which meant our last trek to the garden was a bit gushy. There was just barely enough for Mark to make snowballs that he enjoyed lobbing at me. However, I got him back pretty good when he was bending over and a little skin was exposed. Evil, well, maybe I am a little ;)
It now has windows, which is pretty cool. This was on Wednesday when it first started snowing so you can see there isn't too much yet.
As promised before, here is a picture of my Thanksgiving lunch.
It was quite the tasty little number. Sadly I didn't remember to take a picture of the Pumpkin Cheese Cake. It was also pretty dreamy. I'm still looking forward to having Thanksgiving dinner with my family when I get back to the states. They want to show Mark a bit of American style. Should be fun.
After our lunch we had to take Eva back to her school. I was really so glad to have had the chance to catch up one last time.

Then Ann and I climbed the tower in the square and enjoyed the view from the top.

We also enjoyed the door at the bottom :)

She had plans to go on a general free tour the next day, so we decided to go someplace that she wasn't likely to see. We made our way over to the Jewish Quarter. So crazy, I hadn't been there since I went with Nicole back my first year in Czech. Once again it was staggering to enter the first synagogue and see the list of names written on the walls of all the Jews from Czech who were taken from their lives and never returned. The devastation is so eerily felt as one cannot even begin to grasp the numbers accounted for there. Especially considering the fact that they are only the Czech Jews, and there were oh so many others. Not a "fun" sort of tourist attraction, but definitely a powerful testimony to the horror that took place. Even more overwhelming was the room full of the artwork of children who lived in the concentration camp at Terezin. I'm truly amazed that so much of it was kept and marked. For many of these children this is all that really ever was of their lives. A small handful survived, but most lived and died in the camps. Certainly makes the miseries of my own life look paltry.
We then moved out into the cemetery. While cemeteries aren't generally taken as "cheerful" places, it was definitely far more peaceful than the hall of Holocaust memories. Especially because this cemetery is in no way connected to the war, but is far older than that. We paid for photo passes, so even though I'm sure I took a lot of very similar pictures before, I still had to get my money's worth.

We then finished up by going into a few other synagogues which were mostly dedicated to the actual lives of the Jewish people who lived in Prague in the past.

This Franz Kafka statue was near one of the last ones we went into. I have yet to read any Kafka. It's one of the things I've been meaning to do for as long as I've been living here, but still haven't managed. Strange how that works out sometimes. But there is still time. It just won't happen while I live here is all.
It was such a great day of catching up and I'm really thankful I was able to have such a unique Thanksgiving day.
My last pictures are from yesterday. It's funny how I tend to forget I have things in the kitchen. Probably because I don't often take the time to make anything there. A couple weeks ago Mark pointed out that we really should use up some of the stuff I'd been given in the past so I started with baking. First there were sugar cookies. Then two batches of apple cinnamon muffins. Next I made chocolate peanut butter chip cookies for my birthday. They were pretty spectacular taste wise, but not the most beautiful cookies. Mark thought they resembled elephant dung...hmmm...I'm not quite sure I agreed, but they were a really dark brown, so no pictures.
Yesterday I decided to use up the Andes' Mint chips my mom sent to me. This was the second bag of the crumbles that I had. The first bag I just mixed with normal chocolate chips and make my usual chocolate chip cookies with a mint infusion. This time, however, I decided to try the recipe on the bag. Not being a frequent baker, I was pretty impressed with the fact that I succeeded in making them. They were quite a bit different than my usual fare, but they turned out really good, and I thought rather beautiful.

These pictures were taken while I was still in the process of baking them. In the end I did get nearly the 4 dozen they predicted I could make, much to my surprise. Typically I think I just make my cookies bigger than the recipes expect. I got them finished just in time so I could deliver a few to Tammy along with a bunch of my excess stuff. It was sad to see it go. The soft egg crate that has made my bed in Czech sleepable, as well as the body pillow I've had since I was a Junior in High School, are now no longer in my possession. Believe me, my body feels it after last night's sleep. Here's to hoping tonight will be better. They also got my other kitchen left overs and a random assortment of other things.
It was quite sad to say goodbye to Tammy. After three years of being part of a team, it's weird to know the time is over. While I'm definitely ready to move on with life, it's always hard to close chapters, especially when you've spent so much time in the process of writing them. What a blessing the internet is to be able to still keep the connections alive even when there is added space in between.
Now today has been spent packing and sorting, and deciding what can stay, and reminding myself that we really will be coming back. This is not the end. It is only a new segment of the story. Now if we can just make it through tomorrow we'll be heading for the plane. I'm hoping I'll be able to breathe better once we're in transit, but I really don't think I'll be able to fully relax until we've gotten through all the immigration stuff and I know we're good and clear and free. Okay, probably I don't be wound down until I'm actually safely with my family again. Soon and very soon. What a wonder.

Almost There...

Oh packing, how do I loathe thee? I'll not count the ways.
To do a thing so tedious would take to many days.
I dream of lofty weight limits, and luggage flown for free,
Of locking you without a fear that they'll safely let you be.
And then there are thoughts about airports, that flutter through my mind,
They seem to do so many things that make peace hard to find.
I do recall much sweeter eras of travel from the past,
When all those hard goodbyes didn't have to come so fast.
But now we all must live in fear of idiots with power,
Dreading the scans, the endless demands, and worries about two hours.
I'm ready just to have it done, and to be safely through,
To leave behind the stress and scales and be "home" fresh and new.

Any ideas what I've been up to today? Not to mention what every waking moment has been focused on for the past week or so. Hard to believe that tomorrow we're heading off. It sounds like we're going to make a night of it. Mark's sister will come in the afternoon to sleep for a few hours, then we're leaving about midnight so we should make it in plenty of time for our departure. Our flight leaves at 5:55, so we have to be there now later than 4. Pray that the road conditions are clear. It's been cold and icy with snow for the past few days. We've got roughly 2 or 3 inches at the moment. I don't think any fresh came down today, but it sure is cold. When I was in Prague on Thursday there wasn't any snow, but it can still be treacherous for driving.
We're also hoping for no flight delays. At the moment we should have plenty of time for getting through the whole immigration process, but delays would add stress to it all, so prayers for a smooth process all the way through would be immensely appreciated.
Hard to believe the time really is almost here. I'm in that holding pattern at the moment where most things are done, but I'm just not quite sure what to do with myself until it's really time to go. And the more times I check information about luggage and flight delays and weather the more freaked out I get. Unfortunately, even looking at wedding things freaks me out right now because I start seeing how close it all is and how I have no clues about anything and no job and and and... Breath. Do. Not Hyper. Vent. I. Late.
God is in control. I've seen that time and time again throughout this process. You'd think that would teach me to finally get over my habits of worrying and freaking out, but it seems I haven't grown up that much yet. I still fail. I still look at the daunting tasks ahead of me and question everything. Even those things I know to be true. There are so many things to be thankful for. So many reasons to rejoice. And in 48 hours I'll be flying over America. And in 72 hours I'll be sound asleep in McMinville (hopefully, if jet lag isn't to silly with me.)
Keep breathing...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Still No Turkey For Perky...or Katcha...

Okay, so Katcha isn't as fat as the infamous (or only famous in the Everest house) Perky, but I wasn't around to give her any turkey today, so she didn't have much chance to be thankful.
It's late here as lunch time is just about to roll around for those on the West Coast and the houses of my family members are no doubt brimming with good smells. I've had quite a large number of very non-traditional Thanksgivings over the past ten years as I've lived mostly out of the United States and in places that don't even consider turkey something you normally eat. Here in Czech that's probably largely because their ovens are about half the size of American ones and therefore cooking a 18 lb bird pretty much out of the question. No doubt the low point on my Thanksgiving list would be the year in HK I was supposed to go to a dazzling feast at Amy's house after my shift, but instead ended up having to take a baby to the hospital in what turned out to be a very long dose of overtime. Rather than supping on the illustrious bird I found myself scarfing down a bag of dry fried noodles, coupled with a bottle of exotic fanta of one variety or another. Not altogether un-tasty in the moment, but when I ended up regurgitating it a few hours later it was far from satisfactory shall we say. But enough of the horrifying asides.
This year I was truly blessed for Thanksgiving in a very random sort of way. A few months ago my friend Ann, formerly of Hong Kong and now living in Australia, let me know that she'd be passing through Prague for a few days in late November. At the time I told her she'd have to check back in to see if I'd be around seeing as how I was intending to be stateside by the middle of August. We sent a few message here and there confirming that I was, indeed, still in the area, and eventually, despite a rather desperate need to pack up my life, I decided to take the day out and catch up with her after about 7 years.
It was definitely well worth the trip. I was also able to see one of my wonderful students, Eva, who is now studying in Prague. We'd planned to meet sooner, but all the visa trips were rather stressful and intense so it just never happened. But today was different. Today was Thanksgiving. Today, I even sacrificed sleep for the greater good without complaint. Not that I was overly happy to greet the day at 5 AM, but it was worth it.
The blessings started early with a car ride to the train station from Mark's dad. Since we currently have a couple inches of snow this was a huge blessing. Otherwise I would no doubt have started the day with cold wet feet seeing as how I don't have any waterproof shoes here at the moment. Instead I was warm and dry and Mark and I were nice and early and able to enjoy chatting sweetly until it was time for me to depart. I took the time to enjoy my last train and bus ride to Prague for I don't know how long. The pink shades of sunrise over the snowy fields was a sight to behold. I just felt thankfulness running all through me.
As I said at the beginning it's late now, and I should head off to sleep, so I won't go into all the details, but I just wanted to share a bit about this special day. I have photos as well, so maybe tomorrow when I have more time I'll go into more, but for now I'll just leave you with lunch.
I arrived in Prague around ten and spent some time catching up on Ann's life and then we met up with Eva at noon for lunch. (Brief sad moment: I was almost finished with this post and suddenly my words disappeared back to here. I think that's a sure sigh that I should be sleeping now!) Anyhow, I took them to Bohemia Bagel, and there we had our own little version of a Thanksgiving feast. I opted for the Turkey club. Not quite your traditional Thanksgiving helping of turkey breast and mashed potatoes, but it was a tasty treat. Ann topped it all off by ordering a piece of pumpkin cheese cake for us to share. I know it's far from what most people would consider normal for this holiday, but having spent most Thanksgivings over the last ten years far from home, there was something about this day that was just so incredibly special to me. Great friends, a taste of really was beautiful in its own way.
I'll try to write more about the rest of the day later, but I'll end by saying it was all topped out by Mark waiting for me with open arms at the train station after a long cold day of travel. Really doesn't get much better than that.
So wherever you may find yourself, and whether this is a holiday you celebrate or not, I hope you feel blessed today and are able to find things to be thankful for just as I was.
A very Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Making an Impact

I've often found throughout my life that I feel the best when serving in some sort of manner. Not that I always enjoyed serving my mother by doing the dishes or cleaning my room, but isn't it usually the people you're closest to that it's always the hardest to serve. Rather an unfortunate oversight really. But beside the point for my little note of the moment.
So I love to serve, especially when I really feel I'm doing something for God. I'm not, however, so great at the whole evangelism thing. I think it's great that there are people out there who are. But I am just not one of them. It isn't that I'm afraid to share my faith, it's more that I want to share my life with people, and in that way express my belief.
When I was a kid I definitely never thought I would grow up to be a missionary. It just wasn't something that I was able to wrap my head around. I was more than happy to pray for missionaries every night with my dad (especially when we would forget who we were supposed to be praying for and I would leave him to rest his eyes while I went to find the bulletin and creep quietly back into my bed hoping he would stay asleep so I wouldn't have to fall asleep alone) but in general I could never wrap my head around the concept of really "having a heart" (as Christianese is so fond of calling it) for the nations of unknown faces.
God did, however, find a way to give me a love for the nations through relationships with individuals that dot the globe. And in my care for them I support the work they do and the impact they have on the people around them as well. All those people who are so near and dear to my heart as I pointed out in my last post. Most of which I've had to say good-bye to in one way or another for the time being.
It's not surprising, however, that when I headed off on my first mission trip I chose a work team. I was able to serve, to really throw my back and my arms quite literally into it. I always loved travel to, and imaging how those abstract faces in foreign places lived, and this was a great opportunity.
Mother's Choice was another easy fit for my personality. What better way to serve than to dote on beautiful little babies awaiting their forever families? Totally perfect. And I've seen the results in such positive ways as the years have gone by, especially with the likes of my sweet Caleb (Chaska) who God blessed with the perfect family that I prayed so hard would come and take him home.
There are a lot of people out there with a very skewed idea of what a missionary really is. They think of the privileged white man going to the natives and trying to turn them into little clones. Or even worse, of tragic episodes in religious history like the Crusades when people were forced to claim Christ or die. Can we say ridiculous and totally counter intuitive? While the church has come a long way from these age old stereotypes, there is still a lot of pressure for "converts." Especially when the mission field is far from home. This is partly because these same people ignore the fact that we are called to be the love of Christ to whatever people God places in our paths, regardless of where we live at the moment. That's right, folks. You CAN be a missionary in your office. But this is also rather a tangential sidetrack from what I really want to write about.
As an English teacher in the Czech Republic, I didn't come with any sort of hidden agenda. I wasn't out to blind side my students with scripture verses in class, or force them into uncomfortable theological discussions. I came to care about them. I came to teach them English. I came to learn about them as people and to take part in their culture. Sure there is always the great hope that through conversation I would be able to stir their hearts towards the things of God, but as I'm about to leave the country after more than three years I have no radically changed lives to mark down in any ledger. Does that make me a failure as the "missionary" I was sent out to be? I think not, and here is a little glimpse as to why.
Last Tuesday, the day before my birthday, I went to Cheb in order to see Laura who was there for a couple of days as a part of her yearly visit to Central Europe. When arranging lodgings with Tammy, she informed me that she was going to be substitute teaching for a class at Winfield because the Czech teacher was in a meeting. I put two and two together in my head (a bit slower than I might have liked, which is sadly often the case!) and realized that it was likely one of my old classes. I asked if she would mind if I tagged along, and she agreed.
I arrived in Cheb early and had a chance to see how much Winfield has changed. It has now merged with a language school for children, and was definitely a different place, but still, just being in the building brought back a lot of good memories. I met the new guy, who now teaches the class I was about to visit, and it was so strange to know that he now had the chance to spend time with this amazing group of people.

These photos were taken during our last class in June. Two students were missing that night, but you can at least get a little feel.
So 5 o'clock rolled around and I followed Tammy into the classroom. Actually, the two missing from the photo were the two that were there when I first walked in, along with two new ladies I'd never seen before. The eyes of my former students grew wide, and smiles spread across their faces. This was a good sign. They were happy to see me. Two more students came and the looks on their faces were priceless. That sweet mixture of shock and pleasure that never fails to make a person really feel welcome. Finally the last two arrived, I like to call them "the Happy Couple" and they were as exuberant as ever at my presence.
Well, class quickly became a catch up session. They were all very curious about how things were going for me and when I would be leaving the country. It was so great to be able to share with them what was going on in my life, and how all the plans I've been working on for ages now were finally coming together. It was like an hour and a half long warm fuzzy hug really. I was amazed to feel myself slip so confidently back into my teacher voice. Even the way I moved had that familiar teachery motion to it. And I don't think the new ladies were horribly offended by it all. They laughed at the appropriate moments, and even shared a thought and question or two as well. It was definitely a highlight of my time spent as a teacher, right up there with, after deciding not to return after my second year, I changed my mind and people were suddenly telling me what a great teacher I was and how thankful they were that I was staying.
We talked a lot about the upcoming future and my move into farm country. I can't say I'm fully prepared for what life will be like on a burgeoning farm with a horse, two sheep, a handful of chickens, two cats and 5 dogs, but it was a great opportunity to teach them male, female, and baby animal names. Not a chance you just get every day. Did I mention it was a great night?
It was hard to close things down at the end. I felt so at home with these people I'd taught for two years. It seemed so right to be there with them again. As they left there were hugs and handshakes, and one sweet lady even got a bit teary as she hugged me. It was what I needed. It showed me that the hours I invested did make an impact. And not because of who I am, but because of Christ in me. I didn't always want to go in and teach, but through His strength I entered class every day with a genuine smile. Through His grace I was able to really care about these people who come from a world and a history so different from my own. What an incredible gift.
When everyone had left I went with Tammy back to the office, all aglow with the pleasure of the experience. Then, to make it all even better, one of the ladies had to come back to get her umbrella and as she passed by the office she said how good it had been to see me, how I always had such a positive attitude and brought so much joy to the class, and how they'd all been talking about how wonderful it was to have me back that night.
I've spent a lot of years thinking of myself as a pessimist. There have been long lists of dark days when I've hung my head low and bemoaned this or that about my existence. What a revelation to hear that people find me positive, that my presence is uplifting to them. As I said before, I KNOW that is only through the grace of God.
I'm leaving the Czech Republic on Monday. Embarking on the next massive phase in life. I don't know exactly what my acts of service will look like in Moscow, Idaho, but my prayer is that wherever I am I'll continue to let God work through me, to turn me into a positive light, and to impact the people around me. It truly is the greatest blessing around.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Good-byes are NOT my friends!

Can I just say that there is nothing easy about separating from a way of life. I've done it so many times, but it really never gets easier. And when you have to watch someone you love doing it for the first time it's even crazier. We spent our last weekend in Germany and started the real good-byes there. At nearly 4 the boys really have no concept of what it means to hear that we're flying away in a week and they won't see us for a long time, but the girls really felt it. They gave us sweet cards and hugs that brought tears to my eyes. The world is growing smaller every day. There are so many means of communication that can make you feel closer to people even at a great distance, but there is something so magical about sharing actual space, breathing mutual air.
I've never been one who enjoyed the end of things. I would eat my candy bars as slowly as possible in an attempt to always finish last. This spread to the point of needing to throw away last year's Halloween Candy before I could trick-or-treat again. (Naturally the Reeces Peanut Butter Cups and other "real" candy bars were spared that treatment, but there were always some tootsie pops or those horrid peanut butter taffy's still sticking around to the stale end.) It's even worse when it comes to letting people go. I was the girl who would write faithfully to camp cabin-mates for years, and who was serious about the friendships developed with pen pals.
While many people believe that social networking and the likes are killing real friendships, I find them to be one small way I can at least nominally feel connected to so many people who still hold little bits of my heart in their hands, whether they know it or not. Granted there are also those people from high school that probably would have chosen to talk to someone else rather than me, but when informed that "you have 15 friends in common" went ahead and made the request...ah well.
What I really just wanted to point out is that, after three years living in Czech, I've had to say a lot of good-byes here and there. Most students were only in my class for a year, and then they vanished to jobs and universities. Most of my teammates only stuck around for a year as well. It's been draining and exhausting, though not quite as painful as giving myself fully to babies that were then handed over to families, their sticky fingers grasping portions of my heart so fragile that I sometimes thought I'd collapse with anguish of their departure. And now, here I am having to say good-bye to family again.
I'm so very much looking forward to being "home." Loosely translated, that means a place in which I can come in contact more easily with a majority of my family and a few scattered friends. I'm looking forward to a new chapter in my life, and new experiences. But it's never easy to leave a place that has become so familiar, or people who really are a part of my family now as well. For five months I've been living with Mark and his parents and they've treated me like one of their own. Hard not to feel like I'm stealing their baby away from them and running to the ends of the earth even after all the sweet things they've done for me. It's just hard, that's all.
Of course the packing process doesn't make it any easier. Every time I go through things I'm able to pare down more and more, but it's a big job, and there is always so much stress involved, not to mention stupid weight limits. And why they ever thought it would be a good idea to charge per bag I'll never make sense of. It's like the airline industry just wants to inflict more irritation on people in an already emotional state in order to cause them to freak out so that they can initiate a serious pat-down. Makes NO sense to me, but I've long been accustomed to the fact that most of the world has some strange idea of how things should be which is totally opposite to my own. When will they ever learn?
So there's a week left to go before the big flight date. There are rumors that snow could be on the way, so we would appreciate huge prayers that it doesn't cause flight delays. We'll be on a rather tight schedule once we get to the US as we'll have to pass through immigration and really don't want to miss connecting flights. But if everything goes according to plan, we'll be back with my parents by about 6:30 or 7 PM next Monday. Hard to believe it's finally here. Strange to think that we'd expected to be back in the middle of August, and here it is the end of November and it all seems to have flown by so fast.
Perhaps the sheer randomness of this post is enough to convey a bit of the frantic state my mind is in at the moment. I know that it will all pass. We'll work things out. We'll get on the plane. One way or another we'll end up getting through the good-byes and make it to a fresh round of hellos. But the process is so slow and painful...I just keep reminding myself that "those that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar with wings like eagles. They will fly and not crash mid-air. They will walk and not grow faint." (random paraphrase as well, but you get the picture.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Forget 29, I'll claim 23...

Or at the most 26. That works, right? I could just stay there for a really good long time. I mean, compare, here is me at about 26:

And here is me last week:

I don't really look THAT much older after all :)
What a great day it's been. I woke up at Tammy's where she sang me a groggy happy birthday, I then met up with Laura who is here on her annual visit for ESI. It was so great to have a chance to catch up with her and hear how things are going and giggle over everything happening in my life.
Then Mark and his parents picked me up and took me shopping. I'm so happy Karlovy Vary now has an H&M. We had a lovely time running around despite the horrid drippy cold weather and then stuffed ourselves on a nice dinner on the drive back. I decided that, contrary to my usual choices of salad or pasta I would eat something hearty and Czech, so tonight it was turkey with peaches, ham and cheese on top, together with krokety and "devil" sauce. Almost had to be rolled out when I was through, but it sure was tasty.
We came home where I was greeted by a phone call from Mark's sister's family who greeted me in a mix of German, Czech, and English (the girls are studying English in school). It was so sweet to have such a precious phone call. I'm definitely blessed to have yet another set of lovely nieces and nephews. The boys were too shy to talk on the phone but their mom delivered their message ;)
Now it's time to enjoy a relaxing evening at home. It's been a lovely day so far and I feel so blessed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


That's a pretty good title and explanation for no new blog updates for the past few weeks. It's been a roller coaster trip through paperwork and train rides, trying to tie up loose ends and prepare for the future.
I've heard stories about people who did things differently. Rumors that there is some easy way, some way that isn't so time consuming and expensive. And maybe it really does exist. But I've also heard horror stories. I've watched Green Card. I know there are things that can and do go wrong, and the potential costs and years that could be required to make them all right. Those are all things I really didn't want to have to deal with. So we went about the visa process as laid before us by the US government pages. It wasn't always easy or cost efficient, but it was legal and we did manage without the help of a lawyer, which did save us a pretty penny.
I won't bore you with the details of rushing from town to town for apostilles (a word which does exist but never wants to be accepted because it's just such a strange thing. A stamp to prove that another stamp and signature are valid. What?) and every single piece of paper required, but I'll tell you that it was a hectic back and forth sort of battle, full of nerves and stress at almost every corner. It's not like either Mark or I had ever done anything like this before, so every step along the way was something new and uncertain. For all the international traveling I've done, there has always been someone else who handled the visas. I have much more empathy for them now to be certain. When I think of all the red tape Amy had to go through to get me back to HK, I shudder and offer up a HUGE thank you!
Anyhow, the culmination of this story resulted in an interview being set. This wasn't so easy as we'd hoped either, because after being given a list of potential dates, we weren't able to reach the office by phone and our e-mails weren't answered. It seems the person responsible was on holiday and didn't think to set up an automated response so that we could breathe. In the end, Mark called at a time when we'd been informed that they wouldn't be available because they were doing interviews at that time, and we were given an interview time in the slot when we'd been told they would be free to take phone calls. Hmmm...anyone have the feeling there are some gaps in the US Embassy system? Either way, it worked, and that was what was important.
We had our appointment in the afternoon, so there was time to take the train in to Prague that day, which was nice, rather than having to stay in a hostel again. We were both quite nervous, and had come loaded with photos, e-mails, and anything else we could use to prove that our relationship was valid, as well as the beautiful engagement ring that is glowingly on my finger

Sorry for the greasy hair in this shot. Did I mention things have been hectic?
Anyhow, we turned in the official packet of stuff required and then sat to wait. We were the only ones in the room, which was nice and gave us the chance to enjoy the beautiful ceilings and try to talk about things that aren't so stressful. Then a man called us up to the counter and started telling us what things are going to be like in the future. He had us switch sides and took Mark's fingerprints, and then continued telling us how long to allot for going through immigration once we got stateside, and what they would do to process us there.
We were a bit confused. Where were the questions about toothbrush photos and distant family relatives? Or at the very least, where did we meet. I think he did say something to the effect of, "So you two want to get married right? And you know it has to be within 90 days of when you get to the US." He made some jokes about people who go through all this work and then change their mind at the end of the 90 days because really the person just wanted to travel. Let me tell you, that was a waste of their time and money. There are MUCH easier ways to get tourist visas.
Anyhow, the next thing we knew he was asking if WE had any questions. Mark asked if he wanted to see the photo album, etc, and he said, "no, you're clearly over prepared." He then went on to point out that we are obviously in a real relationship and that is what is important for this kind of visa. He said we were comfortable touching each other, and didn't jump away at the slightest arm grave having only met each other the week before. It was also clear that we could communicate in the same language, and that I wasn't old enough to be his grandmother. Images of some of the cases he must have seen come through passed across my mind. So basically that was it. Except that they had to process the finger prints and facial scan and have us pick it up on Friday.
When we left the office we were excited but still a bit confused. Could it possibly have been that easy? But Friday came, we got the visa, and the truth was in Mark's passport. It really did work out just as they had said it would.
So now we're gearing up for the big trip to America. Mark is now the owner of luggage and we've been starting the process of going through things to see what we'll take and what will stay. We're flying out on the 29th, so the time is short. We'll take another weekend trip to Germany to see his sister and family, and do all we can to work on saying good bye and preparing for whatever God has in store for us next. These are crazy times to be alive for sure!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Friendships Are Life-Long

I have been so blessed to have a lot of really wonderful friends. Some have been in my life for only a short period of time, largely due to geography, while others have managed to really stick around despite the distance. While the internet has provided a number of services that make it easier to remain in contact with people around the world, nothing replaces actually have a chance to spend real time with them. What an amazing gift to have been able to visit with my lovely friend Malin twice in the same year.
Life being the way it is, she unfortunately had to be at work most of the time we were in Stockholm, but she was absolutely amazing in making us feel more than welcome. Mark really wanted to make sure he experienced Swedish culture through cuisine, and Malin was more than happy to help us out with that. During the course of our stay she made us Reindeer gravy with mashed potatoes and Lingonberry sauce, Swedish Moose Meatballs with milk boiled macaroni, ice cream with Cloudberry sauce, and Swedish pancakes with an assortment of berry toppings. She was an incredible host, and is just an all around amazing person who I am so thankful to know. What an amazing holiday.
And now I'll tell a bit more about the running around town that we had a chance to do. On Friday we did a lot of walking through the city. Once again we discovered a super cool church not far away from Malin's place. And yeah for fall colors!

Then we made our way to the main tourist shopping area of town. It was fun to wander around through the shops. I found a nice journal in a Swedish paper store which made me happy. Nice to get something that is so suited to my personality :) I also enjoyed the little mascot on the street.

Our walk took us through the shopping district and then to another entrance to the old town island. I enjoyed the entry gates. Pretty majestic.

We enjoyed more little tourist shops, yet somehow managed not to spend all our money. This time we avoided the pricey cafes in that part of town however. Definitely a wise move. I stuck to just taking some pictures rather than pulling out my wallet.

After a quick lunch we headed to the Music Museum and we really enjoyed it a lot. The price was right (only 50 SEK) and there were sooooo many hands on exhibits. It was super cool. Plus they had all sorts of different instruments from around the world to look at with headphones to hear samples of them in action

We might not have had a chance to get a good photo of the ABBA house, but we did enjoy the ABBA display they had which included actual instruments used by the band as well as a room where you could dress up and sing Karaoke. Pretty entertaining. Too bad my voice was mostly out due to my silly cold.
They also had a nice display about the opera singer Jenny Lindwho toured the world in the 19th century and is now featured on the 50 SEK note.
On Saturday, our last real day in Stockholm, Malin was free and so we sent Mark back to the museum for a while so we could do some shopping. It was great to have a little girly time and to enjoy H&M in its natural habitat. They had some good sales going on, and I had my fashion guru along to help me pick up a few things with which we were both well pleased. After the little fashion frenzy, we met up with Mark again for lunch at Max to try Swedish hamburgers. The place was pretty much packed out, which we soon came to see was a very common situation for the places Malin liked to take us :) It reminded me a bit of eating at City Super in Hong Kong and having to stare at people at their tables, willing them to finish faster so we could sit. We did finally get a seat and everyone enjoyed the freshly made burgers, and yet another taste of Sweden.
The three of us did a little more shopping to find a souvenir or two and even managed to get a couple boxes of The Royal Wedding Chocolate. We found it pretty entertaining. It was even more interesting when we opened it up at home and found an even larger photo of the wedding couple inside. The oldest Swedish princess and heir to the throne got married this summer, and these are some of the leftovers that they're trying to sell while they're still good. It really was very impressive chocolate, and we ate it in pretty straight order after we got home.
Wanting Mark to have a chance to experience Fika, which is the Swedish term for the time in the day when you take a break and eat something sweet, Malin took us to another packed out place. This one was a little French cafe that specializes in ENORMOUS Swedish cinnamon buns. One was more than enough for the three of us together.

Before the trip Mark and I had done a little research to find out top sights in Sweden, and one of the things we read about was the TV tower. Since we'd been talking about it since the first day and still hadn't made it there, Malin suggested we go and see it while she worked on making the Swedish pancakes for dinner. It was too bad she wasn't able to come with us, because it ended up taking quite a while to get there and back, and that meant less time to spend with her, but that's the way things go sometimes.
The walk there through Nobel Park, a place that was originally meant to house a large monument to Nobel (which was rejected) and now is the home to all but one variety of plant that grows naturally in Sweden, was really beautiful. We had to pause to get a photo or two along the way.

We also enjoyed lots of views of the TV tower itself on our walk up.

We took the turbo elevator thirty floors to the top and enjoyed the view from the restaurant as well as the outdoor caged in view on the level above. It was all pretty breathtaking.

The run/walk back to Malin's, after being informed by the bus driver that we couldn't buy tickets on the bus, was even more breathtaking. But somehow we made it and were rewarded with Swedish pancakes and amazing company. We stayed in the rest of the evening, tired after all the running around, and knowing that the 5 AM alarm would come all too soon once again.
All our transport home went pretty smoothly, but we still didn't get back to Marianske Lazne until about 6 in the evening, making the trip about the same length in both directions. In all, it was a really great trip and I'm so thankful for having had the chance to have yet another amazing travel experience.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fashion: A Luxurious Lifestyle

And now, without any further ado, I welcome you to Stockholm, Sweden.

It's a place of high priced residential areas

Luxury Liners (This one is now actually a hostel)

And fashionable shopping districts. (To be pictured in a later post.)
Since we've stuck around in Europe longer than expected, Mark and I were invited by my lovely friend Malin to come and enjoy a few days in the Nation's Capital. It was quite a change of pace from the last time I visited her at Christmas in '07 when we spent out time in the far north where the houses were few and far between and darkness fell around 2 o'clock in the afternoon. This time we were in a bustling city full of life and activity.
Shortly after our arrival we were whisked off to a dinner at a trendy restaurant (Vapianos) where we feasted on pizza and enjoyed the fashionistas all around us. Having started our day at 5 AM with a three hour train ride in which we were joined in our small compartment by 6 noisy teens who enjoyed that we spoke English and therefore didn't understand them (hahaha) followed by the 80 minute flight and then an 80 minute bus ride, we were pretty much exhausted and therefore there are no photos of this part of the trip. It was nice to have a chance to hang out with Malin and her boyfriend Anders who had to leave on a business trip to Italy the next day and therefore wasn't around for the rest of our time.
Thursday we were off on our own from the beginning because Malin had to work as well. The free map we got at the airport ended up being a saving grace for us, and we used it to traverse the high priced neighborhoods with their fancy cars and multiple embassies. We were highly amused to discover that the Czech Embassy is just around the corner from Malin's house of all things. Too funny.
We didn't get far before we came across this lovely church. We didn't go in, but I couldn't resist snapping a few photos from the outside. I could definitely make a lot of calendars with different themes from all my travels.

As you can see from the photos, the weather was positively gorgeous. What you can't see is how frigidly cold it was. After weather in the 20's C for the past week or so in Czech it was a bit of a shock to our systems to now be facing temperatures scarcely above freezing. But we did our best to fight the wind that challenged us off the water, and took it all in stride.
After a nice wander around some of the lovely museums (I swear you could quickly break the bank if you actually went into all these amazing places!)

we decided to go on the boat tour. It took about an hour and we had English pumped through headphones to inform us of important historical facts, as well as the fact that we were passing the house of one of the band members of ABBA. Here are a few highlight pictures from the cruise (unfortunately they told us it was the ABBA house after we had already passed it so no picture of that.)

If it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, the first picture in that set was of a tree loaded down with Heron nests. When I was a kid out in Horse Creek we had a tree with three nests in it that we called the Heron Condo, so it was fun to relive the experience a bit.
The last picture there is of an amazing amusement park which sadly wasn't open. We did come a bit after the tourist season, and it's so cold now that it might be dangerous to ride, but we were a bit disappointed that we weren't able to try it out.
After a quick lunch break we headed to the Old City. I could have taken pictures there for hours, but I only got a few at this point in time. It was a bit hard with the glare in some places so I wasn't able to capture the Royal Palace. Of course, it isn't exactly the castle most people would like it to be, but according the tour it has something like 160 rooms, so I'm guessing it's a pretty nice place, and the royal family use it mostly only for events, preferring to reside a short way outside the city instead.
We went into an old church and I was intrigued by the massive statue of Sir George and the dragon. This guy must either have gotten around or at least have been very popular because he's seriously everywhere. There are large statues of him in Prague as well. Just interesting.

We stopped for tea at a cafe that ended up being exorbitantly expensive right in the heart of old town. We later saw pictures of ABBA standing in front of the cafe so maybe it was a bit more special than we could ascertain on first perusal. Anyhow, from there I led us a bit astray, thinking it would be a short walk back around the old city island. Instead we ended up pretty far out in the middle of nowhere, but at least we got a nice view of this monumental building.

We did make it back to town where we stopped at a much cheaper cafe for coffee before heading back to meet Malin for dinner, but I'll save our food consumption for a later post.
For now I'll end with this comment about fashion. From what we were able to grasp, the current trend includes skinny jeans, converse, and big scarves. The coats were typically black, but in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Despite all the trendy people, we did discover, however, that there are also lapses in judgment that lead to sights like this:

A little gift from the sea.
And that completes day one/two of our lovely visit to Stockholm.