Tuesday, December 28, 2010

X-mas in three sentences... or less

Trying something new... rather than rambling for hours and leaving out so many things I'd like to say, today's post is a number of short thoughts - as the title suggests, three sentences or less. Obviously, there is more to each story, just let me know if you're interested. Look, even this introduction is only three sentences! :)

I'm so thankful to have a break from work for almost two weeks. It is especially nice since my schedule is changing yet again come January. I'll be teaching my regular two days at school, one day at the Pomaz kindy, one day at Daisy - the other foundation kindy, and one day at school writing three music curricula.

Hungarian Christmas
This year marked my first "Hungarian" Christmas. The other times I've been here, Christmas was always celebrated with my family so it was decidedly American, even though we were living in Hungary. My friend, Edit, and her family invited me to their house for Christmas Eve/Day so I was able to experience an actual Hungarian Christmas.

Christ and Family
Christmas is very family and Christ centered here. I was completely welcomed into Edit's family for the time I was there, from dozens of puszik (greeting kisses on each cheek) to even getting a present from what the Angel (not Santa Claus) put under the tree. Between the Christmas Eve Pastoral Play, reading the Nativity story by the tree, and Midnight Mass, approximately 2.5 hours (at least) were spent focusing on the real reason for Christmas and only 20minutes (tops) was spent on presents - quite a shift from the traditional American Christmas.

Compared to what I'm used to, presents were a meager affair - but not in a negative sense; from my observations, the socks, candy, books, and other small items were just as (if not more) appreciated than the massive piles of stuff common in the States. I received a beautiful, Hungarian pottery candlestick holder and two candles. The Angel (parents) brings the presents so there is no "need" to buy extravagant presents for your family.

Christmas Eve is still considered part of the Advent fast (even though it takes place after the reading of the Nativity story and presents), so the meal is traditionally fish. We had salmon which worried me a little because I hadn't tried it since I was a kid and had hated it then. I needn't have worried - it was delicious: much less frightening than fish soup could have been as it often includes "delicacies" like fish brains.

Dinner on Christmas Day is a huge family affair - we had 13 people, after a couple of last minute cancellations, including Edit, her parents, her sister and brother, her boyfriend, an aunt and uncle, a cousin and her boyfriend, grandma, great-grandma, and me. Between what Edit's family had made and the things her aunt brought, there were at least five types of meat, rice, potatoes, a couple of salads, cake, begli (nut/poppy seed dessert rolls), and various wines and liquors. Everything I tried was wonderful.

Small World
Edit's aunt, uncle, and cousin used to live in Columbus, OH. Even stranger, Goci, Edit's boyfriend, attended Szent Imre Gimnazium, where I went to school the first time we were in Hungary. In fact, we were both in 7th grade that year and he said I seemed familiar, although we must have been in different classes.

I had to leave before Christmas dinner was over so I could hurry home for a skype date with my family to open presents. It was really nice to "see" them, even with the usual squabbling and such. In a way, it was hard though; it's easier to forget how much I miss them when I don't have such a tangible reminder of how far away I am.

I'll Be Home for Christmas: 2010 Ex-pat version
I'll be home for Christmas
You can wave at me.
Please share snow, I've got none, though
You'll see my tiny tree.

Christmas Day will find us
Ocean in between.
I'll be home for Christmas
But only on this screen.
(OK, that's four sentences, I guess)

English Mass
I've often thought that Fr. Lajos, the main priest for our Saturday English Mass community, could be very good friends with FSH from Seton Hill. Sadly, Christmas Mass proved that once again with a homily that included gems such as "I feel bad for anyone who believes Christ was born in a manger," "We need to discover the humanity of Christ so we can discover our own divinity," and "God doesn't put us in situations we don't like," along with an ad-libbed Consecration. Only God knows if it was even a valid Mass.

After Mass was our regular tea gathering, this week including an impromptu carol-sing. Then I went to South Budapest with some family friends for a rousing game of Monopoly, pizza, and rebroadcasts of Christmas services from Britain.

Sunday Mass was trying to say the least. The problem with the "choir" seems to be getting larger every week. If I hadn't already decided to leave, Sunday would have helped make that decision.

Tenor Gorgeousness
One of the highlights of my break has been the Attila Dolhai Christmas Concert on Sunday afternoon. Of the many things that struck me, the strongest was "it's really fun to watch a performance when the performer is having fun" - something I need to remember more when I sing. The music selection ranged from Christmas songs (both Hungarian and English) to pieces from various musicals - a Sing-along version of "Zene az vagyok en" (I am the music) from Mozart! was fun but Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar was unreal - and then the second half was "original" songs. (OK, this paragraph is going to be longer... sorry ... haha) I can honestly say that I have sung with Attila Dolhai (well, along with the other 100's of people who were at the concert but I'll leave that part out). After a couple of encore pieces, the 2.5 hour concert finally ended with a simple, quiet arrangement of Csendes Ej (Silent Night) - too beautiful for words.

Well, that's all for today. I'd love to hear from you if you're reading this... what you like, what you don't like, thoughts, anything really (no rotten tomatoes though please... I only like fresh ones). Merry Fourth Day of Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Say what?!

The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

This verse appears not once but twice in the readings for Mass today. In the first reading from Isaiah, Ahaz doesn't want to ask the Lord for a sign. God gets frustrated and tells Ahaz, through Isaiah he will give him this sign. I wonder how long Ahaz rolled around on the floor laughing. I wonder how shocked he was when he looked down (or up... guess we can't know for sure) and saw that it actually happened. Ahaz probably thought this was just some ridiculous joke that God, or Isaiah, was playing on him. Seriously?! Doesn't God know the definition of "virgin"? Pretty sure that's inconsistent with the concept of being pregnant. But centuries later, that's exactly what happened.

Then there was Mary. I can't speak for anyone else, but if an angel appeared and told ME that I was going to have a baby... I would seriously consider checking myself into an institution. The conversation would probably go something like this:

Angel: Hi Rose, you're going to have a baby.
Me: HAHAHAH... that's funny.
Angel: No, seriously, you're going to have a baby.
Me: Umm... I'm pretty sure you're talking to the wrong girl.
Angel: (checks note from God) Rose, 23, American, living in Budapest, Hungary?
Me: Yess....
Angel: Yep, that's you. Congratulations. By the way, He's going to be God's Son.
Me: With all due respect, Mr. Angel Sir, you've got the wrong person. Even though you don't have a physical body, you've got to be aware of what it takes to be pregnant, right?
Angel: Don't worry about it - this is God's Son.
Me: What am I gonna tell my parents/friends?! 'Rose is pregnant?!?!' They'll never believe this story. And I don't even have a boyfriend I can "blame" it on.
Angel: OK, OK, enough already. Will you do it or not? I don't have all day, God needs an answer.
Me: (sarcastic) Well, apparently, I won't "do it" (sincere) but... since this is either real and from God or just a really random dream and it won't happen, I guess, sure, why not. (thinks) Wow, I must have eaten something really strange.

couple of weeks later
Me: Wait... that was real? Oh dear... this will be a problem. Hey, God, you're gonna get me through this, right?
God: Umm... of course. I wouldn't have put you in this situation if I didn't have a plan.
Me: Phew, well that's a relief.

But, if Mary said anything like that it hasn't been recorded. I wonder if she had heard the story of Ahaz - a bedtime story maybe - and remembered it. Of course, I'm also not sinless. Maybe that has something to do with it.

Finally, in today's Gospel reading from the first chapter of Matthew, Joseph gets pulled into the secret. Can you imagine? Your fiance shows up and tells you she's pregnant and that God is the father. That can't have made him feel very good. None of the options look promising. Probably, she is just trying to protect some other guy from town by not naming the father. But then, Mary's never seemed to be that kind of girl. And she does seem really sincere. On the other hand, if this is really God's doing, how am I supposed to compete with Him? It's no wonder he had decided to divorce Mary quietly. He didn't want to deal with this mess but he also didn't want Mary hurt. Enter Angel in dream. Joseph probably knew the story of Ahaz as well. That didn't make it any less awkward when it actually happened... involving him. But still, he trusted. He took Mary into his home, he cared for her and later Jesus, provided for them, protected them -- how strange to be the protector of God. His dreams and goals had to be given up in favor of this larger plan. He probably wanted children of his own. An extended trip to Egypt wasn't likely on his to-do list. The questions after his kid got lost in Jerusalem. And if anything went wrong, with two sinless people in the family, it was automatically his fault. I'm sure it couldn't have been easy as he looked at his friends with all their children surrounding them, seeing them with their wives, wondering what would have happened if one of them had been engaged to Mary when this happened. Yet, through all of it, he trusted. What an example.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Seeing people

Lately, I've been seeing people around that look like friends (or acquaintances) from the States. Waiting for the metro, in church, walking down the street, etc. They tend to be random people who I wouldn't be thinking of if not reminded by someone. I wonder if that means something. Usually, it's also people who would NOT be in Budapest (not that I would expect to see any one from back home randomly here). Just odd.

Along with seeing people that look like other people, I've experienced personalities that vividly remind me of friends from back home. One instance really got me thinking. I was talking to a coworker while waiting for and then riding the bus home from a Christmas party. I was struck, not for the first time, by how similar his personality is to someone who used to be a very close friend. Time is a funny thing. I couldn't help but wonder... how much of our relationships with people are solely dependent on when you meet them? In this instance, I'll never know for certain, but I would venture a guess that had I not met this particular high school friend until after high school, we would still be close. Of course, my high school experience would have been vastly different. In the end it's neither here nor there - water under the bridge. Just an interesting thought.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Things I think about

I've been meaning to write about a couple of Bible verses that have come up in the last few weeks.. different things that have struck me, been interesting, etc. When I have time, I often read various blogs by other people. I'm always kind of jealous of the people who have blogs devoted mostly to faith and Catholic life. I wish I could organize my thoughts as well as some of these bloggers do -- and that there weren't other things to write about.

Over a week ago, one of the daily Gospels ended with Jesus' fairly common admonition not to tell anyone what had happened. It was after a healing - can't remember which one off the top of my head. Why does He say that? Wouldn't He want as many people to know about who He was? Wouldn't miracles be a good way to prove that? OR ... was He using reverse psychology? Expecting that if He said not to tell people, the healed would be even more exuberant in telling their tale? Or, perhaps it was part of the whole "blessed are they who have not seen but have believed" but even so, we have the stories in the Bible today but we still "haven't seen" Christ as a man. Who knows :)

Last week in Bible study, we were talking about preparation for Christmas, repentance, and John the Baptist. One of the verses brought up John saying that he was unworthy to unfasten the strap of Jesus' shoe. That got me thinking. Buckling, tying, fastening, etc. shoes for another person is both humbling and an oddly intimate gesture. I've had two very different jobs that have both involved fastening shoes for others. As a kindergarten teacher, some of the kids can not fasten their own shoes or we help them when we are in a hurry. It's not a glamorous task. Working in technical theatre as a dresser, I've fastened my fair share of shoes for other people. Either because it's a quick change, they can't reach/bend to get them themselves because of the rest of the costume, the shoes are tight, the performer is a diva - the possibilities are endless. It's strange to think about the fact that I am actually tying the shoes of a grown man or woman in a service position. In some ways, it can be like doing laundry after a show - in a strange way, it's intimate to do a guy's laundry for him -- even when it is absolutely nothing more than a job. Connecting all of these thoughts really colored the way that I think of John the Baptist. As intimidated as I could be if I were dressing even the most famous opera singer, that can't even begin to compare to how it would feel to serve the King of the universe. It's no wonder that John didn't feel worthy - how could anyone?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A week in the life...

People are always asking how I am or what's going on in my life. My standard answers are "fine" or "not too much." Which is true, if you are living my life. However, I realized that, except for a few friends here, most everyone reading has no idea what "not too much" or "normal" is for me right now. And so... here is... "normal"

My week starts early with the alarm going off at 5:30am. After hitting snooze a bunch of times (absolutely essential in my life), getting dressed, etc., I typically have a little time to check email/facebook. If you see me online around midnight/12:30am EST that's what's going on... feel free to chat but know that I won't have lots of time. Waiting until the last possible moment (usually around 6:40), I head out to catch the bus. Usually I stop at CBA, the little grocery store on the way to the bus stop, to get a pastry but that depends on how much time I have. After getting to the Ferenciek tere bus stop (not more than 5min walk), I wait for one of the 5 or so buses that I can take one stop to Astoria. At that point, I head down to the metro, digging my bus pass out of my pocket/wallet to show the controllers at the top of the escalator. Although I've never timed it, the ride down to the metro has to be a good 2 min or so at least. The escalators down to Metro2 are the longest I have ever seen.. anywhere. The metro comes every 2-3 minutes at this hour so even if I've just missed one it's not a long wait. It only takes a few minutes to go the three stops to Batthyany ter - on the Buda side. Then it's back up the escalator and across the underground square to catch the suburban/commuter train. My usual train goes at 7:03 but the one at 7:12 is fine if I miss the first. Sometimes, Lexy, one of the other kindy teachers, and I ride together but it depends which train we are taking. The train travels pretty much due north, out of the city towards a little tourist town called Szentendre. My stop, in town of Pomaz, is near the end of the route so it takes about 40 minutes to get there. With the exception of having to get up so early, I really don't mind the commute. It gives me a chance to wake up, provides built-in time for the Rosary each day, time for breakfast, and lets me have some recreational reading time. When the train gets to Pomaz, I hop off, turn around, and walk back the way the train came, right next to the tracks. Treasure Kindergarten is just around the corner and my day with the kids is about to begin.

The English teachers don't technically start work until 8, but there isn't a lounge/staff room, so I usually end up in my group room before then. This gives me a chance to talk to Agi or Sara, my Hungarian co-teachers, before we start doing too much. The kids can come as early as 7 but most of the ones in my group, the Sunny Seeds, come between 8:30 and 9. Just before breakfast, around 9, we sit down with the kids and talk about what day it is, what the weather is like, general everyday information. Breakfast is usually bread with margarine (enough for three pieces on each slice... I scrape most of it off) or jam, sometimes they have eggs or even hot dogs. Working at the kindy is nice because I get to eat with the kids. Thankfully, I'm not a picky eater because some of the things they eat wouldn't be considered "normal" by American standards. The kids have a little more "free play" time after breakfast before we have a structured activity. This can be learning a song/verse, doing a craft project, going to the gym, it just depends on the day. Although the children are encouraged to participate, they aren't required to. After activity time we go through the long process of changing to go outside. In an attempt to keep kindy's clean, children change clothes when they are inside. This means to go outside, they need to change back into their "outside" clothes. At the bare minimum they have to change shoes but usually pants as well and add sweaters, coats, etc. Finally, we go outside. The yard in the back of the kindy has one "big" climbing set (a pretty boring one in my opinion... a ramp, a bouncing bridge, wobbly suspended stairs... that's literally it), a tiny climbing set (two sides together making a triangle. One side has bars and the other a rope climb... it's about 3 feet tall), a couple of sand pits, a grass hedge, a grass mini hill to climb, and a fair amount of space to run around in. There are some toys for the sand but many of them have broken since the kindy opened in September. Around noon, we reverse the changing process to get back into inside clothes before lunch. I'll have to write another blog at some point about the food... there are some very interesting meals sometimes. There is always a soup and then a second course. Surprisingly, the children (even the 2 year olds in the group I used to be with) use full sized cups, bowls, spoons, and, except for the baby group, forks. Lunch ends and they march off to the bathroom to brush teeth before nap time. I read a story and then say goodnight to the kids before leaving for my break.

Of the aspects of working at a kindy, the afternoon break is one of my favorites. All day, the English and Hungarian teachers work side-by-side leading activities, meals, changing, everything - in two languages. That's not required for nap time though. Once they are in their beds and I've read a story, I'm free until they get up (~1-3pm). This is a nice time to take a break, read a book, take a nap, walk to the bank, Chinese clothes shop, or post office (that's basically all there is in town), or - depending on what lunch was like - get a langos (fried dough) from the trailer across the train tracks from the kindy.

All too soon, the kids are up and we are back to work. In the afternoon, we often combine into one group because it is more free play-time rather than planned activities. This means there are three teachers (two English and one Hungarian) with all the kids minus a few who might have gone home at nap time. The afternoon is challenging because we have 2 year-olds straight through 6 1/2 year-olds and it's nearly impossible to keep them all happy. Mostly the kids have free play time and we just work to prevent fights and start games, etc. The kids get picked up throughout the afternoon. They can stay as late as 6 but the English teachers are finished at 5. Usually there are no more than a handful of kids at that point. Then it's back to Budapest.

On Monday's I usually go to Mass in Buda (interestingly enough at the church next to my old gymnazium from the first time we were in Hungary) and then find dinner on the way to the library. I've started going to a discussion group called "The Truth Project" at the Budapest Christian Library. I love the library because it has a good bit of Christian fiction, which I like, as well as classics and "normal" fiction. I'm so thankful I don't have to buy books just to have something English to read. The Truth Project is interesting so far. For various reasons I've only made it to one meeting but I know most of the people from Bible Study. It's an interesting mix, mostly non-denominational, young adults, American, Hungarian, Palestinian, anyone who speaks English and wants to come. Once that ends, it's back home so I can get to bed not much later than 10.

My Thursday and Friday schedules are basically the same... On Friday's we take the kids to the swimming pool in Szentendre which takes all morning. Rather than going to the library I go back home and then to Mass at the Franciscan church near my apartment. It's really awesome, they have brief Exposition every evening at 6:15 and then Mass at 6:30. I get home just after 6 so it works perfectly.

That's all for today.. I'll have to write about my days at school another time.... but there you have it: some of what "normal" or "nothing unusual" actually means. :)