Wednesday, December 25, 2013

WHAT: A Christmas Game

Take a look at these precious drawings.   During the Holidays it is common to play to family games around the table to join in fun and fellowship.  The pictures below are from a game that combines Pictionary and Charades.  Go ahead, take your guesses for the words they are describing!

Picture 1:

Picture 2:
Picture 3:

Now, I wish I could tell you that these drawings were done by my really cute Kindergartners, whose creativity and imagination are really unbelievable.  But unfortunately I have to claim these horrific, awful, and embarrassing drawings.  It’s safe to say I can speak Hungarian better than I can draw…  And that is saying A LOT. 

Regardless, Christmas Eve was absolutely wonderful. 

The day began with getting the Christmas Tree and decorating it as a family.  We mainly used our homemade gingerbread cookies as the ornaments, a project we completed the night before.  I'm happy to finally have a tree up to enjoy the lights and beauty! In Hungary, almost all families wait until the 24th to get their tree.  It stays up until the start of Epiphany on January 6!)

The day ended with this lovely family game and an episode of The Big Bang Theory.  In between I visited several friends, attended a Christmas party, enjoyed the Christmas pageant and service at church, opened gifts with family, talked with my own family in the USA, and ate a ton of really delicious food.

Christmas Eve really is the huge day of celebration in Hungary, with Christmas Day reserved for traveling to nearby families and joining in meals.

Now, we are off to a neighboring town to visit the other set of grandparents and more aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I wish all of you a very blessed Christmas wherever  you are celebrating!

Boldog Karácsonyt!!


Picture 1: Zipper (apparently only zippers in the USA say YKK...)
Picture 2: Lake (If you are from Louisiana you should have gotten this)
Picture 3: Tiger (I purposely don't pay that much attention to LSU.  Clearly I don't know what a tiger looks like)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

WHAT: Thursdays

If you asked me what my favorite day of the week is, I'd answer Thursday.  I don't exactly know why, perhaps it's the fact that the excitement of the weekend is near, or that it is often my most productive work day, or that in college on Thursdays I got to stuff my face with cheese fries.  I don't know- Thursdays are usually always fun and fulfilling, there's just something about the day.

This Thursday I spent most of my time at Páduai Szent Antal Általános Iskola, a school in Piliscsaba that teaches elementary, middle, and high school students.  For two class periods I talked with English learners about Christmas traditions and answered questions about how the holidays are celebrated in the USA.  In turn, I learned a few interesting things about Christmas in Hungary as well...the subject of a future blog post. 

Later in the evening I attended the school's Christmas concert and witnessed extremely talented children perform traditional folk dance routines and absolutely incredible music pieces.  My host sister Réka played the recorder, danced, and sang.  And, as I watched her I felt an immense sense of pride.  During her last performance I had to hold back tears as sweet voices filled the school.  With a hint of the Hungarian accent, Réka  sang in a choir of middle school girls and boys the following words:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.

Back in September Réka and I posed at a mountain side
on our hike.  Our sisterhood was just beginning!
I'm not sure if any of the children knew the true meaning of the English words they were singing, and I am sure none of them know just how much they impacted me tonight.  This prayer has a special way of renewing my spirit and filling with me peace, and oh how glorious it was to hear on a Thursday evening.  You see, for many Thursdays I gathered in Upper Crafts at Lutheridge for Staff Worship.  Pastor Tim would always close with this very prayer, and somehow we would all be rejuvenated to finish the week strong with creativity and energy.  Tonight I am thankful to have received this prayer from children who had no clue how the spirit was working through them to give me energy and creativity to finish the work week before celebrating Chirst’s birth.  Here’s to Thursdays!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Note on Thanksgiving

The Holiday season is in full swing here in Hungary.  As we lit the third candle on the advent wreath this weekend, I realized how fast the time has passed since celebrating Thanksgiving.  And that I didn’t mention anything about it yet!

I took the opportunity in late November to teach my host community about American Thanksgiving.  At the Tanoda, the students and I googled pictures of Thanksgiving dinner and spoke about traditional American dishes.  Some foods were familiar, while others seemed completely foreign.  I also of course attempted to make a grammatical lesson out of the spirit of Thanksgiving. 

I imagined the kids holding up the signs I made and making perfect English statements about what they were personally thankful for.  I brought my camera to film them and envisioned creating a video to capture their thoughts and cute Hungarian accents.  The video would be paired with some sweet inspirational music and the production would be an emotional one, making people who read my blog posts cry, getting hundreds of facebook likes and shares and possibly even making it to  So here folks is what I got: 

The day we did this activity, the kids were not in the mood to listen or cooperate to what I had in mind.  They had already been in school since 8:00am that morning and it was now 4:00pm in the afternoon.  The last thing they wanted to do was work on their English and listen to me nag.  We ended up playing card games and listening to music.  And though my expectations were not academically or creatively met, it ended up being a great day and I was reminded that my agenda is not always the agenda that needs to be followed.

A few days later another YAGM volunteer, Chelsea, came to stay with me in Piliscsaba.  She serves in Szombathely, not too long of a train ride from me.  I had this great idea that together we would make my host family a huge Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate as a family.  (Side note: I do not regularly cook.  I do not regularly shop in a grocery store.  Cooking is not on my list  of top 10 favorite things to do.  On Thanksgiving Day I usually sit in the living room and watch football while other people are in the kitchen.)  Regardless of these facts, I took on the task of cooking a dinner with the expectation of filling the table with delicious food and giving my Hungarian host family a taste of American Thanksgiving.

Chelsea, YAGM volunteer in Szombathely, and incredible
pumpkin pie maker
Three groceries stores and one broken oven later, I was ready to order pizza.  I broke the oven, like I didn't even think that was possible.  I was over this dinner thing.  But my wonderful friend Chelsea took over and kept her spirits high, making homemade pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, chicken pesto, and a delicious candied walnut salad.  My contribution was peeling the potatoes and watching the pumpkin pie cook in a neighbors oven for 45 minutes.  While Chelsea labored at the stove in our house, I sat in a neighbor's kitchen and for 45 minutes conversed solely in Hungarian with a stranger.  My expectations of the night and dinner were completely off, but I gained so much from that conversation with a stranger that I now call a friend.  And Chelsea pulled off a WONDERFUL dinner...props to you girl.

Chelsea, Thad, Ole, Me, Mari, and Ursula (Central Europe YAGM Family)
enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers and lots of UNO playing!
Chelsea got to make those homemade pumpkin pies again later that weekend when all the Hungary YAGM volunteers traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia to celebrate Thanksgiving with our coordinators and other ELCA volunteers.  It was a wonderful weekend of food and fellowship.  On Saturday we gathered for a Thanksgiving dinner and I was absolutely blown away by how delicious everything was, it seriously tasted like home.  I guess most of my expectations surrounding Thanksgiving were turned upside down and it has reminded me to keep my expectations in line, or rather to not have any at all.

It's nice to experience things as they are, and not have to compare them to how I envisioned them to be.  I've taken this knowledge into the Advent season and am fully enjoying the Holiday season in a new culture.

More later on Advent and Christmas

Saturday, November 2, 2013

WHAT: All Saints' Day

Carving pumpkins after church provided
great fun and time for fellowship

Many people have been wondering if and how Hungarians celebrate Halloween.  For the most part, it is nothing similar to what occurs in the USA.  Over the past few years Western themes surrounding Halloween have trickled over to communities in Hungary, mostly surrounding the pumpkin.  But other than that, the focus this time of year is far from scary stories, candy, and costuming.     

Families light candles and place flowers on the
graves of their loved ones on All Saints' Day
Instead, Hungarians recognize All Saints' Day.  Families travel back to hometowns and visit the cemeteries where their lost loved ones lay. Each memorial is lit with flickering candles and garnished with beautiful flowers.  The red and white candles light up acres and acres of families gathered around tombstones.  After nightfall it is not the least bit spooky, but actually quite beautiful.

I joined in this tradition and celebration with my host family.  Walking through the cemetery was like wandering through a labyrinth of graves.  It provided a time of reflection for me.  First, I became aware of how immensely grateful I am for the relatives in my life.  And second, I began to remember all of the people who passed away this year that were close loved ones to some of my family or friends.  It was quite peaceful to think and reflect on them, and celebrate them as Saints in my life.
Mr. Jacob Smit
Mrs. Leigh Cooper Wallace
Mrs. Marilyn Lynnette Bolt Hazel
Mr. Charles Hazel

Mrs. Erma Moeller Kreitzinger

Sunday, October 20, 2013

WHERE: A couch and some place new

My brother Miki is featured this blog post!  It was super windy
on top of the mountain and we snuggled for warmth
while admiring the view!
I’m sorry for the couple of weeks that have passed without a blog post!!  Between the kindergarten, tutoring at the Tanoda, dance class, taekwondo, hiking, and teaching Sunday School; I’ve been busy.  And I feel comfortable and more settled in…less likely to slip away to my room by myself to write alone.  I’ve been hanging out with my family a lot horseback riding in the Pilis hills, visiting all four grandparents for a weekend, and chilling watching Hungarian animated films on the couch.

Speaking of family and couches, take a look at these gems.  These people right here are very near and dear to my heart.  They’re my family back in New Orleans. And aren’t they just adorable!  Almost every single night after dinner and cleaning up the kitchen, they head to the living room to turn on Comedy Central to watch The Colbert Report and the John Daily show.  My mom almost never makes it to The Daily Show.  Sometimes, just sometimes Dad makes it all the way through.  They fall asleep on the couch and snooze until one or the other wakes up to head to bed. 

Angela and I after Thanksgiving dinner 2012.
Mom and Dad basically every night.
My parents instilled in me a great love of sleeping on the couch.  And I think my sister would agree.  There’s just something about snoozing on the couch when you have nothing better to do or no need to be anywhere else.  I can’t explain it, I just love sleeping on the couch and feeling completely comfortable in my own home.  It feels like quite an accomplishment then to sleep on the couch here, to snooze during the movie Saturday night, and to hang out in sweatpants and a t-shirt on Sundays after church.  I’m two months into my YAGM year, and I feel confident and comfortable in my host community.

It’s been pretty normal in the kindergarten, filled with lots of playing and crafting and eating.  Though, one day we ventured out of our comfortable cottage and off the grounds we normally play on in the morning.  Across the railroad tracks and up a gravel road we walked, hand in hand to the edge of the forest.  Ahead there was clearly a path leading into the foliage.  The path was only wide enough for one person so the little ones hesitantly let go of our hands to explore further.

A view of the Pilis hills.  I feel like I'm in North Carolina!
I felt like I was back at Lutheridge walking up Wilderness Trail to breakfast.  The dampness of the previous rain was still evident and gave a refreshing chill to the air, but the sun fought through the canopy above and warmed the goosebumps off my arms.  I expected to hear birds chirping, but instead I began to hear a different type of chirping.

Little Hungarian voices filled the path with rounds and rounds of mi ez?  Mi ez is the Hungarian equivalent to the English “what is this?”  Upon squatting to see what the little finger was pointing at, I replied “gomba.”  It was a little white mushroom, and fortunately I knew the vocabulary for that one.  The next mi ez finger was pointed at a metallic blue beetle perched on a leaf.  I had to let the other teacher say that one,  they don’t teach you the word for beetle in Hungarian 101.

For the continuation of our hike , a mi ez followed with almost every footstep.  The teachers began to laugh and jokingly roll their eyes at every question, but they patiently answered.  Upon being in a new environment, the children were filled with curiosity and a sense of exploration to learn new things and become familiar with their surroundings.

I know I began this post commenting on how great it is to be comfortable and to feel familiar with a place.  Comforts of home and familiar surroundings bring a certain type of peace and contentment. But, the children reminded me of the benefits of venturing out of what is familiar and into situations that invoke curiosity and questioning.  Among our schedules and monotonous routines we sometimes can forget about all that there is to explore and discover.  It’s easy for this to happen at home, and I’ve learned it’s easy even in a foreign country. 

It takes energy and a mindful purpose to venture out of what is routine and comfortable. The children remind me that the new knowledge and experience gained in unfamiliar places and uncomfortable situations is almost magical, and so worth it.  So, I’m thankful for the couch that I feel comfortable enough to sleep on, so that I can rest and be restored to have the energy to ask “Mi ez? ” and throw myself into more new and maybe uncomfortable settings. 

More later

And good said, "It was God!"

The past two weeks my responsibilities have extended to teaching Sunday school at our congregation with the grade-school children.  At first I was nervous to be responsible for such a task, not confident in my ability to communicate simple sentences, much less teach the Gospel.  But I have come to look forward to Sunday mornings and very much enjoy my time with the young adults.

Last week we read the creation story, and as we learned the numbers 1-7 we also learned the simple vocabulary of what was created on each day.  Regardless of how the earth was actually created, or how long it actually took, I believe God had everything to do with it.  And the incredible Hungarian accents reminded me of something else I truly believe.

Check out this super amateur video we made!

Aren’t the kids precious!!?? And they speak English quite well!  Sometimes their pronunciation of  “God” and “good” sound the same, and sometimes they forget how the “oo” sounds.

Instead of saying, “God said, ‘It was good’”.  They would sometimes say, “Good said, ‘It was God!” This mistake could not have made a greater theological point. 

The overwhelming interpretation of “God said it was good” is that God was pleased with his perfect creation.  He was so well pleased that on the seventh day he rested to enjoy in the magnificence of his creation.  But as we all know, a little later down the road a man and a woman named Adam and Eve tainted the image of “good”  Even though Adam and Eve meant no harm to God, sin entered the world and all that was good was infected with the urge to do wrong.  Though we constantly seek to do good, sinful nature seems to occur.  Lutherans especially recognize this predicament, that we are simultaneously saint and sinner.  And rather than being caught in the dilemma of being 100% sinner, we rejoice in being 100% saint through the grace of Jesus Christ.

This Romans verse takes a couple of readings to make sense of the dilemma, but it’s worth a read.

Romans 7:19-25
"I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart.  
But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."

All that is bad is the sin living inside of us, and all that is good is God living through us.  All that is good is God!  Thanks be to God for those Hungarian accents!

More later

Saturday, September 28, 2013

WHERE: A Napközi

This space serves as the main playroom throughout the day in the family day care center.  All the books on that shelf are in Hungarian or German, yet the children patiently sit in my lap as I stutter through them.

Welcome to my office.  I’ve only been here two weeks and have already secured two windows and a leadership role supervising 8 to 10 people daily.  The people all have at least 1-2 years of experience and do a few things well on their own such as communicating with each other, being creative, and using all of the resources in this office.  Other tasks require my guidance and help like tying shoes, using tissues, and eating soup.

Looking from the backyard onto my office building,
that fence in front provokes some conflict as the children
argue who gets to open the gate before play time.
I have been spending most of my days in the napközi, a family day care center for children ages 1-5 in Piliscsaba.  Here they call it Kindergarten, but it’s most similar to day care in the USA.  On any given day we can have 5-10 children ranging from little ones that can barely walk to taller ones that talk and talk.  I am joined by the main teachers who help guide the children throughout the day through snack time, crafts, music, playtime, and most importantly- naptime. 
Backyard bliss.

I enjoy playing on the floor with the children and navigating Hungarian children’s books… very slowly.  I also very much enjoy playing in the garden out back in the mornings.  The scenery is beautiful and refreshing, and allows the little ones to exert a lot of energy before lunch and nap time.  I have found that I’m best at playing cat and dog because, fortunately the sounds that those creatures make are bilingual.  

Sometimes though it is difficult to not be able to communicate with words with my little ones.  It saddens me to not be able to comfort an upset child through words or reasoning, but sometimes me talking to them in English confuses them enough that the tears stop anyways.  Sometimes I feel like I’m not that much of a help because I can’t convince Zsofi to come put her shoes on because I don’t have the words to do so.  And, all little Eszter wanted was her stuffed animal from under the table but I couldn’t pick out the words from her teary mumbles to figure it out. 

Because of this, I love meal time.  Though this may come as a surprise to my mother, I actually am fluent in washing and drying dishes and sweeping and mopping,.  My hands can be hard at work during meal times and I am thankful for the opportunity to feel like I am actually contributing.  Sometimes I battle with the thought that  I have a degree from Tulane University in Business Management and my most important tasks for the day include cleaning up the kitchen after lunch and getting shoes on seven little people.  And then I remember how difficult it actually is to convince seven little ones who don’t speak your language to sit down and put their shoes on.  And then I am also reminded of how happy I am at the end of every day.

I could not be happier washing dishings, mopping floors, and tying shoes.  As my good friend Mari said, “It’s good to be reminded that you are not above washing dishes.”  And, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  I really actually think that at this moment I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to do be doing.  And right now that’s cleaning the kitchen and playing cat and dog.

Back during orientation we discussed the difference between choosing to serve and actually being a servant.  I can now better understand the reality that I did not choose to serve in Hungary this year, but rather that I was called to be a servant among this community for the next year.  And for that I am grateful, and completely content.  I can’t explain how amazingly peaceful that feeling is.  Props to the Holy Spirit for doing it’s thing.

More Later!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WHERE: Piliscsaba, Hungary

This right here friends is progress. What may look to you like a mess of disheveled yarn is in actuality a wonderful representation of my first week in Piliscsaba.  Slowly, but surely, things are coming together while my hands complete unfamiliar tasks in unfamiliar ways.   Each stitch feels new and uncomfortable, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.

Friday afternoon I was sitting in the home of a woman who hosts knitting classes to teach children and adults the profession of her deceased mother, a Hungarian fashion artist known for her intricate patterns and textures.  As I was sitting there fumbling with yarn and stitches, I had time to reflect on what an incredible week I had just experienced. 

Zsuzsa and Lajos are my loving parents
during the first few months of my time
in Piliscsaba.
In addition to knitting, I attended a dance class that teaches the traditional dance of an area in Transylvania.  It was there that I first noticed the true love between my host mom and host dad.  My anya and apa.  Their enjoyment and delight in dancing with each other reminded me of the joy between my parents, and I am comforted to know I am in a home with two people who care deeply for each other.  Lajos and Zsuzsa have easily created for me a home away from home.  And they encourage me to join alongside the lives of their three children as much as possible.

Réka is featured in this blog post
preparing dinner. Angela, you have
cutest sister award competition.
Ákos, Miklós, and Réka are my new siblings.  I am blessed to have two new brothers and a new sister who each possess a unique personality and humor.  With them I attended my first Taekwondo class and enjoyed being active and playfully “fighting” with them.  We have a punching bag in the living room, it provides great fun after dinner.

So, to give you a short recap that’s knitting, dancing, and taekwondo in the first three days of my time in Piliscaba.  Remember that one time I told you I didn’t want to go to swimming lessons because I didn’t know how to swim?  Well that mentality is gone, and I couldn’t be happier.  Yes, I am nervous and scared and constantly exhausted, but I am experiencing new things in new ways and in a new language. 

Oh yeah the whole language thing…everything I’ve done has been taught in Hungarian… obviously.  Knitting, dance class, and taekwondo were all instructed in Hungarian.  Did I know exactly what were they saying? Heck no.  Could I tell you what they said in my own words? Probably not.  Did I pick up a few words and recognize instructions? Yeah,  I did.  The shake of a head or the sound of, “Nem nem” signaled I was completing a stitch the wrong way.  I figured out you twirl three times at the stomp of your partner’s foot, and I could tell that if you get pegged in dodgeball you have to do 10 push ups.

It’s got me thinking about our own understanding of a foreign language we are unfamiliar with.  And that is the language of our Father.  I believe that God speaks to us as a community and gives us instructions just as my knitting friend, my dance teacher, and my taekwondo instructor do.  But we don’t actually speak God’s language just as I don’t actually speak Hungarian.  I mean, come on who can actually be fluent in God.  Who can really know exactly what he is saying and exactly how to interpret his messages. 

Whether or not we can actually be fluent, I think the point is that we are trying.  And, that we should be able to figure out how we are supposed to be living.  Instead of trying to pick out every single knit picky detail of what is right and wrong or acceptable or unacceptable, we can be watchful and figure out the way the best way to live out Christ's love and grace.  God gives us the shake of the head or a gentle, “Nem nem”. He gives us others as examples to exemplify his love, and he grounds us in law and gospel according to our actions.  Who are we to judge each other on our own interpretations of God's language?  One day we will all be fluent in God when we join at the feast on the last day. But until then, I’m doing my best to become fluent in Hungarian.  And we can all keep working to be fluent in grace and love.

More later

Mom- take comfort knowing this mom hugs
 me goodnight every night!  I love you both!

Monday, September 9, 2013

WHERE: Balaton, Hungary

YAGM in a Hungarian lesson, taught by Teri, a wonderful teacher
and now a very close friend.  Thank you Teri.

This is the table I sat around for 3 hours every morning for the past two weeks during Hungarian lessons.  This is the same table I sat around at night completing homework and practicing vocabulary with the other volunteers.  This is also the same table I went to a few mornings at 6:30am to complete last night’s homework…some things never change. 

But today I am thinking about a different table, a table that I’ve gathered around many times in many places with many people.   A table who can fit a party of two or a table that can fit all of the Saints fans in the Superdome today.  Hey, this table can even fit the Atlanta Falcons fans. too  The location of this table and the guests around it change constantly, but the menu stays the same.  Bread and wine, that is all.  Two simple ingredients available in almost every corner of the world, meant to be accessible to everyone.

Today I joined at a table where the conversation was limited, only greetings and smiles were understood, but something greater was happening.  Though I did not understand the hymns, the confession, the creed, or the prayers because they were all spoken in Hungarian, I knew when the words of institution were being spoken.  It must be something about a Pastor’s delivery or the flow and pace of the reenactment of the Last Supper.  Or maybe, more importantly it’s the ever inviting tone and magnificent realization that all our welcome at this table, no matter language, background, or even taste in NFL team. 

The sun sets just before we begin
 Holden Evening Prayer
The feast at this table and the fellowship of communion bring comfort to me in an unsettling time.  I have struggled, and continue to be intimidated by the Hungarian language and inability to communicate.  Yesterday I was somewhat down, overwhelmed in the realization that even the dogs in this town know more Hungarian than I do.  But then I met a seven year old boy.  Being around a child and attempting to speak Hungarian was easier without the stress of wanting to please or impress an adult.  I find comfort knowing that  I will be surrounded by children in the coming weeks to help my Hungarian improve.

Mari and I marvel at the view of Lake Balaton from a look out tower.
The past two weeks have been filled with lots of Hungarian, worship, beach time, and biking.  It has been extremely relaxing and a wonderful place to bond as a group, but it’s time for the real work to begin.  Hungarian lessons are over and so is in-country orientation.  Today, we travel to Budapest and leave our comfortable little life in Balaton behind. I'm looking forward to sharing a table with my host family and host community, very very soon!
Mari, Chelsea, Ole, Me, and Thad biked up to this hill at sunset Sunday night to join in Holden Evening Prayer.

More later and WHO DAT