Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Memorial to my Aunt Rhonda

My aunt Rhonda passed away about a week ago after years of suffering and illness.


In my first memory of Rhonda, I’m standing in the front yard of our Rock Creek house, about three years old. She pulls up in her car, slowing down before turning into our driveway and yells, “hey hot shot!” Rhonda definitely always made me think I was special. Maybe too much.

Soon after, she told me she’d have her baby “when the leaves fall.” Courtney’s birth was indeed a good day. Rhonda was one of the few people I’ve ever known who said she loved being pregnant.

I’ve only been to Hum Dinger once, and it was with Rhonda. I don’t even think my little sister was born yet, and yet I can still remember how much I loved that cheeseburger.

Rhonda hated having her picture taken, although I was so proud of myself when she let me do so one year at Christmas at Grandpa Dunn’s before it was DeeDee’s house. She lived with Grandma Kaye and Larry for years, who helped her raise Courtney in her young years. On top of that, she helped them. Together, the three of them took in dozens of desperate foster children and loved them as their own.

I remember that, during middle school, we stayed over at DD’s a few times. She, Courtney, Rhonda, Amanda, and I would watch jeopardy, roller-blade in the park, play with the dogs and talk politics. Incidentally, she was better at Jeopardy than half the contestants, and she was a scrabble ace as well.

Rhonda was really in to politics. Although quite opinionated on a host of topics, she rarely felt the need to tell others what they should do or think. Except for the occasional political discussion. Rhonda’s willingness to disagree wasn’t about her, as is so often the case for people. It was truly about what she believed.

She had this dream once, about Rush Limbaugh (whom she loathed), chasing her around telling her he loved her. I thought that was so funny. A dittohead at the time, I could enjoy it for what it was. So, for her birthday, I did up this sheet of paper with his head on it, chasing her, saying, “Rhonda, I love you!” I’m sure glad I got to really tell her I love her.

Rhonda was the first person who wasn’t conservative that I ever had serious political discussions with. My political blog is titled “Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama,” so you can guess how that turned out.

Rhonda cared for the oppressed, and, although too prideful to realize that she was one of them, she always passionately pursued her political beliefs.

When Jeannie died in 94, I remember Rhonda, who was an excellent craftswoman with beads, made a wand for Jeannie. When she was little, she was told Jeannie was her godmother. She got that confused with fairy-godmother, which was easy to do, given Jeannie’s seemingly magical, whimsical laughter, creativity and love. At her funeral, Rhonda spoke and said she really now had a fairy godmother, and gave the wand to be put in the grave with her. I can only imagine that they are laughing about that one now.

Did you ever hear Rhonda sing? She had a beautiful alto voice, and played the guitar once upon a time. I can remember her harmonizing with the radio, and wishing I inherited her vocal talent.

Rhonda had a superior vocabulary. I was a smarty pants and a nerd, so I took the PSAT a year early. I remember seeing this word—jooxtaposition. “What in the world does that mean?” I thought. I saw her later that day at a Grandma Dee party. “Juxtaposition?” Oh, that means… I’ve never forgotten it since, nor have I doubted her vocabulary.

Other memories abound. The epic Davis heave-ho day of stretching out the cyclone fence in Grandma Dee’s backyard. Tearing down Grandpa Dunn’s old shed at DeeDee’s. I remember one day there when we were moving a rock pile and a fist sized rock rolled down and hit her in the knee. She never was one to have good luck.

Rhonda had a very hard life. When they picked out a body for her, she got a lemon. Maybe it was because she was so tough, someone figured she could handle it.

She was born with tangled intestines. When she was in primary school, her teacher had her tested for retardation. It turned out she was a genius. Just not really into fitting their mold. Rhonda had a rocky teenage life. Most of us have some rocks, but Rhonda had a few boulders. She made it through, though. She ended up a young, unwed mother, and did her darn best to make sure Courtney was raised well. I know this experience really built compassion into Rhonda for single mothers. With the some help from Kaye, Larry and DeeDee, she raised a tenderhearted, fiercely independent young woman whose grief we should not forget.

Things went from bad to worse. Rhonda had years of back pain. It turned out that stones had backed up into her common bile duct, among the most incredible pains possible. I remember that I was told she sat in an emergency room with tears streaming down her face because of the pain. You know what my response was? “Wow, Rhonda was crying in pain! That must have really hurt.” She had a stroke in her mid-thirties. Her Dad died too. We all miss him. Then came the Krohns. One miserable day after another, nearly a decade of severe diarrhea and vomiting, pretty much every day. It takes me about three hours with that kind of pain to give up and wish I was dead. I know there were many times Rhonda felt that way too, but she kept going, for years and years and years.

She married Joseph, who turned out to be a bit of a lemon himself. He was exceedingly hard to live with, and he treated her poorly. Several years after his passing, she found Dwayne, the love of her life. Dwayne adored Rhonda, and Courtney. They married before the planned ceremony because Rhonda desperately needed health insurance. Without it, she couldn’t afford the medicines that kept her Krohns remotely at bay. They excitedly went to a justice of the peace, planning on a double wedding with DD and Ray a few months later. A few weeks later, Rhonda was tragically widowed for the second time.

Since then, it has been especially rough. Many periods without proper health care, and so little preventative maintenance, only responses to acute crises. Rhonda slowly deteriorated, visiting the hospital dozens of times in the last few years. She was frequently comatose, with severe pneumonia, on a ventilator. She nearly died at least half a dozen times. Her heart even stopped briefly.

Through it all, she persisted. Not glowingly, mind you. We all wondered if anyone could have the strength to keep from ending it for themselves. I think of the fact that a few days ago, after a cruddy couple of incidents in a train station I was yelling at the lady behind the counter…and I think of the times I heard Rhonda be curt. I realize there is no comparison. Despite her cantankerous spirit, or perhaps because of it, Rhonda dealt with this. She was despondent, and depressed at times, but she kept on. Far better than I could.

She was finally rewarded disability benefits (with a large amount of back pay—her case had been obvious for years and ignored) just a few months ago. She even had a couple months away from the hospital, now that she had appropriate medicine, and we all started daring to hope.

But you know how the story ends. Rhonda is no longer with us. She finished with a grand finale—strokes, clots, tissue death, impeding amputations and full lungs from a severe injury to boot. And of course when she was finally removed from the ventilator, she just kept going and going and going.

There are two things Rhonda said to me in adult life that I want to say here. After Dwayne died, at Christmas, we were talking about a host of things. One thing she said to me is, “I just don’t have time for judging others. Love is what we live for. Every moment of love is what counts in life. Cherish the love that you have. That matters more than being right.” Wow. Not bad for a recently widowed sick to the bone lady. Rhonda had a talent for wrapping tons of small gifts up immaculately—those words that Christmas showed a gift-giving depth drawn from hard-won wisdom. I don’t know if she ever knew what a gift those words were.

The other was more recent. She knew I was planning on leaving for a yearlong trip, and so I had the chance to say goodbye to her, with the understanding that this might really be goodbye. She wrote me a really nice email about a year ago. In it, she reminded me that she could beat me at scrabble, but that she really hoped I would be (left of center) president someday. She said she was proud of me, and that she loved me and was so glad I found someone who is such a good match.

My life has been one stroke of luck after another. Rhonda did nothing but love me and encourage me in that. Even though her life was incredibly scarce, she chose abundance.

My aunt was an odd duck. She could be reclusive, cantankerous and hilarious. She was smart, talented, occasionally surly and usually eccentric. She was also very sick. I’m so glad she’s not sick anymore.

My best friend sent me an email the other day, with a tagline on it from the book of John. “This sickness will not end in death.” Indeed.

Rhonda, the embodiment of all the reasons we wonder how a gracious loving God could exist and allow this to happen—Rhonda exhibited what I think are the three most important aspects of Christian fidelity.

She loved God. Her relationship with God was under the stars—with her telescope. Rhonda had “awe” down. She knew how to admire God.

She loved her neighbor. Rhonda had no place for pharisaical judgment. She knew that love was the reason for life. She did her best to exemplify that. It was her response to the tragedy in her life.

Finally, is the topic of judgment. In scripture, Jesus gives only one true picture of judgment. When separating the sheep from the goats, what does he say? Does he say, how much did you go to church? How religious were you? How wet was your baptism? How evangelical was your theology? How full was you “faith-o-meter?” “Did you do everything right?” No, he says, when I was hungry, you gave me a cup of cold water to drink. You fed me.

It was the hallmark of her politics, which were at the core of her heart. Rhonda wasn’t good with money, but she was certainly generous when she had it. She was never one to hoard. She cared about the least of these. “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

One of the great joys of Christianity is our hope of resurrection. We hold furiously to the hope that death has been conquered by life himself. Rhonda embodied that in life, she chose love over judgment, striving over bitterness, and hope over fear.

Now Rhonda embodies that in death.

I can almost hear the Rhonda’s earthly and heavenly father both whispering the same thing to her…

“Shhh…sweetheart. Don’t worry. It’s all over now. I’m here. The dark night is over, the nightmare is gone. It was only a shadow. It’s morning, and there is joy all around you. You suffering is gone, never to return.”

Goodbye and Godspeed aunt Rhonda. I love you…

Quick Update

We are presently in transit. We left Istanbul today, saw Gallipoli, and will see Troy and Pergamum tomorrow. The next day will be filled with Ephesus and a long, long train ride (overnight) to Ankara, on our way to Cappadocia.

That may or may not mean anything to you. To us it means that we've had no time to write, but that we are hopeful that in a couple days we will have time. We have much to say!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

We're in Turkey!

We flew from Munich to Istanbul last night and arrived in Asia at 2:55am. We were picked up by a shuttle and driven to Europe where our hostel is. (The city of Istanbul encompasses both Europe and Asia.) When we were finally getting into our bunk beds at 5:15am in an otherwise empty dormitory room (due to an Austrailian named Trina Davis who checked in at midnight)...we heard the most unique, haunting, beautiful noise.

It is Ramadan (Ramazan here) which is the month of fasting practiced by Muslims. Before it is light, this singing/chanting/drumming is used to awaken people to eat. Devout followers don't let anything touch their lips (food, drink, cigarettes, etc.) during daylight hours. They eat before the day starts and then again after it is dark. We saw huge crowds of locals at restaurants and food tents (free to all during the month of Ramazan) after dark.

We awoke at 11am to be switched to the other Trina Davis' room (which included just one larger bed, a toilet and a shower) and went back to sleep until 2pm. Later today we visited the Grand Bazaar and purchased a large shawl/scarf for me to use to cover my head when visiting mosques or whenever it makes me more comfortable in public. There are tons of Western tourists in Istanbul, but it is the end of the tourist season (things pretty much shut down completely by mid-October) and being blond is a bit of a spectacle.

This place is really amazing and truly unlike any other I have ever been. There are moments when I want to compare it to Mexico because it is the place I've traveled most frequently out of the US, has less than glistening infrastructure, it is kind of desert-like, the bartering in the markets feels similar and the coloring of buildings tends to be sand-ish, but the coloring of everything else is really bright and colorful. But, it is markedly different than Latin American cultures in several noticeable ways. Most obviously, the culture is not nearly as emotional or demonstrably warm as my experience with Latin American culture. They are religiously devout, but the population is majority (98%) Muslim, not Catholic. Headscarves abound and mosques dot the landscape in place of churches.

I am enjoying myself and eager to learn about a place that I have so little prior knowledge or context about. I am also eager to get a full night's sleep in one bed instead of two =).

Quotables

From Ron's 7 year old cousin Benjamin who lives in Ismaning, Germany,

"Have you ever heard American ambulance sirens? I think they sound like the opera."

Quotables

This one isn't really an idiom...but it is worth mentioning. After a few minutes at Oktoberfest (before entering the beer tents) Trina said,

"It's not that different from Oaks Park"

Oktoberfest

It was awesome. The area is set up as a giant carnival around the enormous beer tents. Inside the tents it is just like you picture it...thousands of people, oom-pah bands, men wearing leather shorts & hats with feathers in them as far as the eye can see, huge beer mugs and pretzels significantly bigger than my face. We'll post pictures soon. It was great.

Trinidioms #8

"I don't want to be a sour blanket"

"You're acting like a jackhole"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trina's Travel Status

It has been WAY too long since I last wrote on of these...so I think that's where I'll start.

We've been too busy. We attempted a sprint during our ninth week that was a little much and left us both pretty worn out. It is just so hard to take time to rest or have a "day off" of experiencing a place when it really requires TAKING the time from something else. But, how well are we really experiencing a place when we're sort of bleary eyed and full of undigested thoughts?

I still love my watch and I have discovered it is very waterproof. I wore it in the Hungarian baths and it did quite well.

All of my socks are developing a small hole in the exact same spot. This has caused severe panic in me. I can't decide if this logically means that the manufacturer has a defect or if I do. I have come to love my socks and they have protected my feet so well - not a single blister in 11.5 weeks of walking constantly. I am planning on writing an email to the manufacturer pleading my case...I'll let you know what happens.

I seriously miss Smart Pop microwave popcorn.

There is great sanity in a full size bottle of shampoo. I managed for almost 8 weeks to ration out two 1.7 ounce bottles of shampoo. In that blasted Hungarian grocery store I found the shampoo (while looking for almonds) and I just bought a full size one. It felt like a really rebellious, not savvy traveler thing to do. But, I am SO happy about it! I feel like I am really living, not just passing through. Hard to explain, but I think I will not go back.

Europe's cheeses are good. Still eating too much of it. Still don't really intend to stop.

I still feel cool when I put on my big backpack.

Drinking from a firehose

Before embarking on this trip, there was so much I didn't know about European history, the Roman Catholic Church, Communism, the Holocaust, etc. I seriously feel like I've been drinking from a firehose of information for nearly 3 months.

Each small event or place that we visit or learn about has as its context the history of the Western world. I'm not just learning about Krakow, but about religion, history, architecture, political systems and being led to ask philosophical questions about human suffering and humanity's capability for perpetrating evil.

Since Ron studied European history (which is very intertwined with church history as I now understand), he's learned a lot about the specific places that we have been...but it is more like he's filling in pieces to a puzzle that he started as a freshman in college. I feel like I am still figuring out how to open the puzzle box!

I've also realized that it is hard to reflect when you're still taking in so much. So, long about January, expect some really impressive, coherent thoughts from me about our trip to Europe =).

For now I can only tell you that it seems like I have really interesting thoughts in my head that are squeezed somewhere between the Slovakian word for bathroom and the name of our hostel in Istanbul.

Hungarian Grocery Shopping

Have you ever considered the difficulties of shopping when you can't read the signs, the labels or understand the helpful worker?

Say, for instance, you were looking for almond extract. (The reason being that you are Danish and you are genetically programmed to include it in all baked goods.) You scan the aisles for flour. That's reasonable right? Baking things would be together. Well, not exactly. Later near the syrup you find what seems to be possibly vanilla extract. And there's a clear substance in a bottle next to it. How do you find out if this is what you want? Clearly, you go hunting for almonds (which are not near the peanuts in the snack aisle, but near the dried fruit in the healthy people aisle) and you discover that the Hungarian word for almond is Mandula. Of course, Mandula. I should have known. Now I have obtained one of thirty items on my list.

I am seriously looking forward to grocery shopping in the US in a month!

Bratislava & Budapest

After Vienna we had a very quick (less than 24 hour) stopover in Bratislava, Slovakia. We went there because we were told that it was a country that has come out from communism much more slowly and less surely than it's neighbor (Czech Republic). Coming straight from Vienna really added to the contrast. We'll write more about this later...but there was a hilltop where you could see the "old town" with the old city walls and then beyond it, literally as far as I could see, an absolute maze of identical looking communist housing. It was kind of eerie.

Then, we were in Budapest for six nights. We had a great place and the city was very cool. It is one of the farthest east (geographically) but it felt by far the most west of the "Eastern" Europe that we have visited. The one notable non-Western trait being the significant lack of English speakers.

Budapest was a hard place for us though. We spent two full day working on law school applications, I got sick (tonsil infection) and Ron's aunt was hospitalized and died several days later.

We have been so lucky to head straight to Ron's uncle & aunt's home outside of Munich, Germany in the farmlands of Ismaning. It has been a soft landing spot for me to get well and us to do some grieving.

We head to Turkey for 2 weeks on Wednesday night, then we'll start working our way to the US. The interview count is now up to 4 which makes us very excited.

Expect more posts and pictures soon. Ron has done a lot of posting on his political blog...so feel free to check that out at www.ronpolitics.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vienna

I loved Vienna. We spent one day at the palace, the other touring the city. We saw tons of cool buildings, took an endless bike ride (as Ron already mentioned), but my favorite part was the Viennese coffee shop. We loved it so much that we went back again the same day.


Schloss Schonbrunn

This "summer palace" of the Habsburgs just outside Vienna was absolutely beautiful. The sheer opulence of it all was a little much...but it was fun to gawk at.



Here's the view from...
This thing...
There was a big maze in the garden grounds...

And this cool network of mirrors they called a kaleidoscope.We toured 40 of the 1400 rooms. Whoa.

Journey to Vienna

So, the great part about Cesky Krumlov was the place. The bad part is...small places that are off the beaten path are difficult to access by public transit.

We planned to take a train to Vienna, but found out that it would involve SIX transfers. (This trip should take a total of 4 hours max). Then, we investigated a "shuttle service" that runs "every day"...but they weren't running that day. We eventually figured out that we could take a bus to nearby Ceske Budjevice where we would have better luck getting a train to Vienna.

Long story short, we took the bus to Budjevice...got off the bus and got ready to find the train station...and realized we left our jackets on the bus (the only warm clothing we really packed for this leg of the trip). We'd seen the bus take off...so we knew our odds of finding it were slim...but that didn't stop Ron from throwing off the luggage and sprinting around the bus station...where it had fortunately stopped for a smoke break. We recovered our jackets, but little did we know this would be the first of about twenty sprints in the next few days.

A kindly lady helped us figure out that if we waited for the late train it would be direct rather than the upcoming one with three transfers. Seriously, this is VIENNA...not exactly a small town we're trying to get to!

So, we waited.

The train to Vienna was lovely and I have to admit something I think I'm kind of embarassed of...I felt so relieved to be in Western Europe. We exited the train and we hadn't stopped for three seconds when we were approached by a friendly Austrian, "Can I help you?" It was so decidedly nice in Vienna that we basically didn't carry a map. Whenever we were lost we'd just pause for a second and inevitably someone would approach us and offer to help.

It was in Vienna that I was also finally able to get the medicine I've been needing...(the best answer I could get in Cesky Krumlov was, "If you walk up the road about a mile that way there's someone who can alchemy it for you" I wasn't super sure about the alchemizing with language barrier thing...so we opted to wait until Vienna).

I have really enjoyed Eastern Europe (called Central Europe here). I don't think I really realized how many small things you are expending effort to be adaptable about (invasion of personal space, people being instantly suspicious of you when you approach them, different standards of cleanliness, etc.) until you don't have to spend the effort...and it feels a little relieving. So, not sure what I think about that yet.

We arrived in Vienna, got into our rented apartment through the door code she'd sent us and we were tucked in our beds by 2am. All was well.

Until the next morning at 8am when the landlady began persistently knocking on our door to be paid. When we eventually stumbled to the door she was so surprised that we didn't have exact change. (Let's stop for one second here...the lady gave us the code BECAUSE we were arriving really late last night. So, why she thinks 8am is a good idea, I don't know. And where exactly would we have gotten such exact change at 2am?)

Needless to say it was a long trip.

Spouting Off

A few more views from Cesky Krumlov





A Day on the River

For about $40 US we rented a boat and floated for 4.5 hours down the Vlatva River. It was a perfectly sunny day.



Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov (Chess-key Crumb-la-vv) is a little medieval town of about 15,000 people about 3 hours outside of Prague. There is really only one word for the place...adorable.

We stayed in this fantastic place called Krumlov House. It seriously felt like a place that should house hobbits. It was idyllic.

The town has a huge castle on a hill above it and the Vlatva River (same one that runs through Prague) makes a loop around the town. Tons of narrow, cobbled streets full of cutesy shops.


The castle had a bear moat. Seriously.

My favorite was the sign that accompanied the moat.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Debacle

For those of you who know us well, you know we don't really fight. We are like every couple--we have our moments, spats and occasional arguments. But I don't know that we've ever had an argument last through a night's sleep, and our marriage (and relationship before that) have been full of so few notable bouts that it is downright boring for storytelling purposes.

However, we had a good one the other day, and we think you might enjoy it a bit.

First, some context. We have been traveling "hard" these last few days. Cesky Krumlov was an absolute dream--small, medieval in every charming aesthetic way imaginable, modern in terms of all the hoped for conveniences, and we had a pretty unagressive agenda. Still, Trina was getting sick, and we were there for too little time.

We continued to Vienna, where we had an excellent time, but it was quick and exhausting. Our last day ended with a bike ride that was supposed to be about an hour and ended up more like three and a half. This was at the end of a long travel day and, suffice it to say, we were tired.

We ended up on a pretty late train to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. There was a series of frustrations along the way--our 'landlady' woke us up banging on the door in the morning, the train schedule wasn't clear about which trains left which stations (well, we weren't clear) and the bike incident. We were also underprepared for Bratislava. We had basically no maps, no clarity about how we were going to get to our hotel, and we were exhausted. Also, Bratislava is less culturally familiar, so we weren't sure about our judgment (should we be walking in this neighborhood at midnight?).

We arrived at about midnight. While Trina was getting our tickets to leave town the next day, I hit up the ATM. Only big bills. After a series of confusion events, we found out that our planned bus tickets wouldn't work, and that we had to buy some from these ancient machines that only take coins. The lady at the ticket booth was mean to Trina, and we were getting grumpy (and hot, carrying our HUGE bags, along with a bunch of groceries (we needed to get rid of our Czech money)).

Quick rewind. I have had a bit of a rough time with a certain cultural phenomenon. It is well known that Eastern Europeans can be a bit less approachable. This can be transcended, and I have seen it multiple times. Most people have been quite friendly. Except for the women behind service counters. I cannot tell you how many times one of us has been sneered at for daring to ask a question outside expectation. I've tried to remain culturally sensitive, but I've noticed myself getting a little snappy.

Anyway, so we needed change, and fast, as it was midnight and we had no idea how long the buses would be running. There was one little kiosk selling candy (the lady was behind what looks like bullet-proof glass--mostly, the whole booth was made of this clear hard plastic). I bought a candy bar for 25 in the local currency and handed her my smallest bill, a 500. She gave me 75 back. I said that was incorrect. She said no. I repeated myself, told her I gave her a five hundred. She said no.... Ah! That's right, here you go. So, I'm irritated, but whatever. Then, she gives me almost no coins. Apparently they have bills that go down to fives, the equivalent of a few cents.

I said, I'm sorry, but I really need coins. She shrugged. I said, look, you've got a bunch of coins, you are the only place open, and I have NO other way to get to my hotel tonight. I need your help. Then came the sneer, the dismissive hand waive and the turning the other direIction. I flipped. I don't know if I would say I yelled, but I think probably anyone near me would. I've never said anything particularly vulgar to a service person in my life, as far as I know, up until that night. Needless to say, I didn't mince words.

Trina, standing a few feet away, missed much of the conversation except the loud part from me. She flipped too--at me. "Ron, what are you doing? Stop it, stop it!" So I took her on, telling her how ridiculous it was the way this lady was acting, how screwed we were and how I wasn't really interested in her opinion about the way I talked to this lady. Then I turned back to the lady and gave her one final verbal thanks for her great customer service and Trina really got upset. She decided I was out of control (which wasn't true remotely, she's just never had that kind of difficulty getting me to calm down). So she hit me. She hit me on the top of the head, repeatedly, to get my attention. Like one of the moles at chuck-e-cheese. She just wacked me.

Then I was really mad. I'm sure the lady in the booth enjoyed herself. She probably didn't understand what I had yelled at her (and it seems that people are pretty expressive when they are angry here anyway). But this lady was leaving us in a bind, being dismissive, and my wife was hitting me because I was mad. I told Trina not to ever do that again, apparently rather commandingly. She was clearly angry, an unresponsive (well, she didn't hit me again). So basically we decided, we hate each other. We just have to find a way to our hotel and we can duke it out again.

I found a ticketing office that was open for five more minutes and talked a lady in there to helping me out. We found some college age guys who were able to point us to the right bus. Eventually some other guys who were in some sort of band on the bus helped us again, though it was a long enough bus ride for us to sit about ten feet apart scowling at each other.

The good news is, by the end of the night, I had apologized for my behavior, and Trina for the domestic violence. We had laughed so hard we practically cried. So, it looks like we are staying married. =)

I did try to apologize to the lady the next day, by the way. There was no excuse for her behavior, but neither was there for mine. She wasn't there. I was sad and incredibly relieved.

Quick update...

So, we've been a bit negligent lately, but only because we had to.

You see, the last week has been really busy. We've made our home in Cesky Krumlov, Vienna, Bratislava and now Budapest. And we had to spend two of our precious Budapest days working on law school application materials. Thankfully, I've now applied to all that take applications and am waiting to press the button on all but one of the remaining ones. NYU will require another four essays for certain scholarships, so I am working on those still.

Given that, Trina having a nasty throat infection, and my new political blog (which I've also been somewhat deficient about), we're a bit behind. But I'm going to tell a story or two.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Museum of Former Balloon Animals

The other night, I had this dream...


Ron and I walked up the cobbled street toward the famed "Museum of Former Balloon Animals." It was a quiet, softly lit place with people paying their respects.

The first exhibit was a long, green deflated balloon on black velvet in a case. It was simply titled "Snake. 1985."

The next one was composed of three deflated balloons...one orange, one pink and one green all tangled together. It was entitled "Dog. 1987. Round Table Pizza."

There were photos of balloon animal sculptors on the wall, along with photos of the animals in their glory days...

So, maybe we've been taking in a few too many museums =).

We're Still Alive

Since the last writing we have been to Cesky Krumlov (a small medieval town in the Czech Republic), Vienna, Bratislava (Slovakia) and now we are in Budapest. Suffice it to say it has been a busy week.

Last night when I was trying to go to sleep, but for some reason couldn't at 2am...I counted up the number of beds I have slept in since leaving for our trip on July 4th. In the past 10 weeks I have slept in 18 different places. No wonder I occasionally wake up and have trouble remembering where I am.

All the places generated great stories, photos and learning...all of which you will be privy to as soon as I can sleep long enough to find the energy to write about it!

Ron is attempting to complete his law school applications TODAY! Once that is behind us, it will free up a lot of "free" (non-touring) time for blogging. Also, as an update I now have 3 medical school interviews!

Thanks for your faithful following and I'll be writing more soon!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Trinidioms #7

You may have noticed that there were two #3 Trinidioms. So, we are skipping six, going to seven, and I'm going to remember that they are Trinidioms, not Trinaisms.

"Okay, I am throwing down the challenge."

Several hours later, after having been reminded that a gauntlet is thrown down, Trina said...

"Remember, I threw down the chalice."

My political blog

I care about politics, a lot. I care about this election, a lot. I love most of you who read this, and I really don't want to compromise the community we are developing here. But I really do want to share my thoughts.

I truly believe I have some useful things to say, things that aren't just the same old things restated. So, I've started a separate blog. If you are offended by political discussion, or are liable to write people off for disagreeing within you (and you don't change your mind), then don't bother. But if you'd like to have some meaningful discussion, please check it out here.

To give you a sense of what I plan to do on it, here's the first entry...

"My Purpose"
I feel passionately about this election, and I'm not just your everyday partisan.

I want to share with friends, family, and even foes if need be, my reasons for voting for Barack Obama. I'm not a traditional democrat--I'm not a labor guy, I don't buy 'secularism' carte blanche, and I'm pro-life. I was raised an evangelical Christian and I'm still a line-towing orthodox follower of Jesus.

I've also studied philosophy and history, traveled somewhat extensively, and am a reasonably intelligent guy. Lots of people ask for my opinion about lots of things. Unfortunately, I give it even more often. So, we'll keep wise off the list of personal qualities for now.

I intend to offer all sorts of reasons for my choices--religious, political, historical, statistical, rational, empirical, etc.

Feel free to comment. Authentic and civil disagreement is welcome!

Read more at www.ronpolitics.blogspot.com

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Trinidioms #5

"Roger, we have a problem."

Auschwitz

I too, had a moving experience at Auschwitz. It was different than Trina's, as I've been to Dachau before, and I majored in European History. When you take a class that focuses on the first half of the twentieth century in Europe, you spend quite a bit of time on World War II.

That said, shock was less my response. There was the visceral stuff that was novel--particularly the two tons of hair. It filled large rooms. You could see that it was people's hair--much of it still in braids. Kids, mothers and lovers whose hair was stroked lovingly probably only days or hours before these lives were extinguished. What horrible tragedy.

It certainly defied words to stand on the grounds of such an atrocious place. I've always found such things fascinating--what good and evil humans are capable of, and how incidental stuff like social structures, ideas, and circumstances influence where we land (making those things anything but incidental). But there is a time for fascination, and there is a time that only asks for horror.

Why study the holocaust? There have been lots of reasons proffered. So it never happens again is the most common, and is certainly a good one. I'm not sure that studying it will guarantee such an outcome, but it should help. There are those that point out that people use the term and the event flippantly to make their points--we are always comparing our political villains to Hitler. Such people suggest our study has made it too pedestrian. Interesting.

I think in part we are trying to bring some justice back to the situation. Nothing we can do can undo the atrocities that took place as Auschwitz-Birkenau, but it's like we have this instinct that we can provide slight expiation. If we all enter into empathy with the slaughtered, disdain for the oppressors, the realization that the Fascists weren't a master race, they were bullies, bullied, and acted more basely than animals, somehow something is made a little more right.

Perhaps there is truth to this. I find it interesting that we all have such a longing for justice.

Anyway, this isn't terribly coherent or directional. Auschwitz was overwhelming, sad, important and interesting. It brings you face to face with one of the most atrocious acts in history and it makes you wonder about many things--God, life, death, suffering, Judaism, social darwinism, race, politics, justice, zionism, you name it.

I should also note that it terrifies me when I hear people use language or employ ideology that moves in the fascist direction--unquestioning nationalism, racial scapegoating, cultural superiority, favoritism toward racial homogeneity, etc. I don't mean to misuse the holocaust to make my point, only to say that the greatest human atrocities were deeply rooted in such thinking. We should seriously question ourselves when we are tempted to align with these kinds of ideology.

And we should think also about how we can alleviate suffering. I'm convinced that one of the principal commandments of God is 'love thy neighbor." There is only one picture of judgment where criteria are offered in the Bible. "Did you give me a cup of cold water when I was thirsty? Did you feed me when I was hungry?"

I'm left wondering what I'm doing for human suffering, aiding or alleviating it, and how much.

I'm so behind!

I've got some thematic things I'd like to write about: Judaism, Suffering, Death, the Hussites, the Czech Church, Westernization, the Price of 'Civilization', the limits of Liberal Democracy, and Communism.

But I have to write about my experiences too! Arg!

I've got such a stressful life!

Ron

Prague the Third Time

What a wonderful city.

Every turn is worth a picture. This curving, cobbled avenue through that arch. That richly decorated patio restaurant on the square. The giant castle dominated by one of the most stunning Gothic Cathedrals in Europe. Church after church, charming avenue after charming avenue, and a beautiful apartment to boot. What a wonderful week.

Ron

Saturday, September 06, 2008

I'm Tired.

As you may have noticed we have seen a lot in the past nine weeks. Just yesterday we both began to hit the wall. We realized that since Lithuania (almost a month ago) we have done a lot of inputting...but almost no reflecting.

We are heading to a small town in the Czech Republic (Cesky Krumlov) on Sunday and are hopeful to spend some time talking, resting and journaling. After that I imagine we'll have more than simply "we did this, then we did that" to tell you about.

It's hard when there are so many amazing things to see to force yourself to choose against seeing something!

Now it is off to spend our last night in Prague soaking up some city atmosphere (and maybe some more of that monastery beer)!

Prague

We have learned a lot more history, taken a TON of photos and enjoyed many more cobbled streets. Here's the highlights.

Petrin Hill - Atop a hill on the Castle side of the river is a mini-Eiffel tower. We climbed the hill and then climbed the tower. Amazing views.


Old Town - The official "old town" and "new town" both fall in this category in my book. New town was declared "new" in the 14th century. It just is as great as you'd hope. Picturesque spires and red roofs everywhere you look.





Museum of Communism - A thorough look at the history of Communism in a country that was not "officially" part of the USSR. Really interesting.
Mala Strana (Little Quarter) & Strahov Monastery - A cool old monastery where we spent a lively evening drinking beer freshly made by the monks is situated near the Prague Castle. It happens to be the one that we accidentally wandered through on our way home from Petrin Hill when we got lost.
Prague Castle - Absolutely incredible. Haven't loaded the photos yet, but you'll love them. It has housed both the seat of government forever and includes the most amazing cathedral I've seen (and I have seen a lot in the past 9 weeks!), St. Vitus.

Evening Boat Ride

Our first night in Prague we took a romantic paddle boat ride on the Vlatva river. It was beautiful.






A few photos are a little blurry...we were floating while taking them =).

Krakow to Prague

We took an uneventful 7 hour train ride from Krakow to Prague. We found our Prague apartment online for $65/night and when we arrived we were SO excited. It was beautiful, huge and had an extensive kitchen (dishwasher!) and a bidet.



My only complaint was that some things were a little out of reach for me...



Hey, it had been a long train ride =)

Old Town Krakow

Old Town Krakow is just absolutely completely amazing. I loved this place. It was magical. The central square is filled with beautiful churches, old buildings, street musicians and couples kissing each other.


We wandered through countless churches, historic buildings and cobbled streets...


Had lunch at an authentic "Milk Bar" (a government subsidized cafeteria for workers - left over from the Communist Era)...
And visited the historic Wawel Cathedral and Castle. We also saw the church where Pope John Paul II was archbishop and his residence. Wawel Castle is the photo below and you can clearly tell that it was built onto several times. Honestly, I didn't really like the appearance...I thought it looked messy. Ron thought it was amazing.

All in all an amazing place. And cheap. Our hostel (private double room with kitchenette and bathroom) was $40/night, we bought huge Turkish kebabs stuffed with meat for $4 and gelato in the center of touristy Town Square was $1.25. Seriously, this is a fantastic destination. So there you go. I liked it!

All Old Town photos here.

Nowa Huta - A Communist's Paradise

Nowa Huta is a suburb of Krakow. It is one of three cities (outside Russia) that was specifically built to showcase the successes of Communist ideals. It was a really fascinating place.

All the buildings were really tall with courtyards in the center that often contained the school for all the kids in that "complex."


Everything matched.

The town was populated mostly by industrial workers who worked at the giant Lenin Steelworks factory.


There was a church built in this town thanks to the stubborness of the late Pope John Paul II (he was born outside Krakow, was its archbishop for a number of years and is extremely popular here!). Allegedly the government wouldn't allow a church in their perfect community, so PJP II held many outdoor services. This was such a spectacle that they finally agreed to a church building and what resulted is a goofy looking building that looks like it has a Noah's Ark on top. I think it is actually called Arka Pana.

I have to admit the place was actually pretty cool...if a little eerie.

All Nowa Huta photos here.

We're Bad Bloggers

It has been many days and very few updates. Sorry about that. We are working hard on Ron's law school apps in addition to a lot of touring. Expect a steady stream of updates in the next few days...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Happy Birthday Romy!


Isn't she adorable?! Congratulations to my cousin Jossie & Rob on such a beautiful girl. She is perfect in every way and we fully claim her as our niece!

Monday, September 01, 2008

As The World Turns...

Picture the world in your head. You know, the little blue and green circle that we all use to illustrate "the world." Seriously, close your eyes and get a picture in your head. Okay, now open them.

I bet you your world looks like..."The world" is a blue circle with a green land mass that stretches from top to bottom contiguously in this little fat-skinny-fat-skinny pattern.

Which is why when I was watching Norwegian television and saw this globe...

I had to laugh at myself.