Worry Wart

Over the past couple days I have amazed myself with my ability to worry about things that are 8 time zones and a 10 hour flight—over Western Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Eastern United States—away.  Yep, I find my ability to worry about things that I have absolutely no control over quiet impressive.  To put it in an even harsher perspective, if I was in the United States, I would still have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL over the situations.  What good does worrying do anyhow?  Everything will work out the way it is supposed to.  We are adaptable beings; even if the outcome is not what we expected, we will make it work.  Since I have been worrying lately, I have not been fully present with the people here, and that is quite unfortunate.  Whether or not I am here, at home, or anywhere else, it is difficult to be fully engaged in any moment because things always pop into my head, but I am learning the importance of really being present in the situations in which I find myself.

This morning when I was playing with an outrageously adorable little boy at the Children’s House, I realized that I was fully present with him in that moment (I usually am fully present with the kids—you have to be completely engaged so you can stay one step ahead of them!).  Unlike me, he was not preoccupied with the other things that were going on in his life; he was at the House to play, and that is all he cared about.  The only thing that caused him to worry a bit was the singing stuffed cow toy—the poor little guy was terrified of that thing!  When the cow was put away, however, he again slid down the slide like nothing happened; he was not worried that the cow would come out and scare him again.  His absence of worry allowed him to enjoy himself to the fullest and have fun.

Watching the little guy on the slide reminded me of the merit of being engaged in the moments in which one finds oneself; life is more exciting when there are not 10 others things running through one’s mind.  Kids set a great example of how to get the most out of the situations life presents to them because they do not worry about other things all the time.  Worrying is an unfortunate trait that develops with age, but the example of worry-free living that the kids set for me every day helps keep me young and completely engaged in the situations life throws my way.  Worrying brings about no good; if anything, the total preoccupation of one’s mind takes away from the fullness of life.

It is unrealistic for me to say that I am going to stop worry over night, but it is manageable for me to say that I am going to work harder to keep it under control so I can more completely enjoy life.  After all, life offers a lot to enjoy!

Sikerül? [Have you succeeded?]

I spent yesterday evening baking a bright pink dessert at Betti’s house and exercising my abilities to laugh, love, and roll with the punches.  It all started with Betti telling me she got a new recipe over Christmas and that that dessert was to be the next one we tackle when I go to her house.  Both she and I love to bake so we were pretty excited to get back in the kitchen and make something that would, seemingly, be easier than our Christmas cookie baking experience, but our expectations were knocked down a few notches as we opened the bright pink, pear flavored extract to pour it into the dough mixture.  When Betti opened the little bottle of extract she took one whiff and her eyes crossed…I was the next person to smell the extract and it was so strong that I started to cough.  After smelling the incredibly potent extract, we were both a little lightheaded.  Betti saw this experience as a teaching moment and taught me a new Hungarian word: ‘részeg’ [drunk]; who would have thought that one could get ‘drunk’ from smelling the pear extract for a dessert’s dough?  Only in Hungary, haha!

The next adventure commenced when we put the first of the three sections of dough into the oven.  While our beautiful pink dough was baking, an intense stench filled the kitchen.  Now, I usually don’t have a sensitive sense of smell and I can typically handle intense scents, but this one was an entirely different kind of beast.  I do not even know how to begin explaining it; all can I say is that it reeked.  Mine and Betti’s faces crinkled up in disbelief over the smelly thing in the oven as we laughed and covered our noses with our shirts.  Our giggles were relatively contained at this point, but we lost all control when Betti took out her phone to call her mom and ask if the dessert was indeed supposed to smell that bad!  Between fits of laughter, she was able to ask the question only to be reassured by her mother that the dessert smells terrible while it is baking.  When she hung up the phone, her expression turned to dread as she looked at the two remaining sections of dough and said that we have to repeat this experience twice more…oh boy.

With noses covered and positive thoughts, we began to make the cream filling; after all, what other things could be thrown our way?  We were successful in creaming the butter and powdered sugar, but as we were stirring the vanilla pudding mix into the warm milk on the stovetop, Betti hit her forehead and said that she forgot to mix the pudding into a cup of cold milk before adding it to the warm milk.  Let’s just say our first attempt at making pudding resulted in a runny, lumpy concoction that could in no way be classified as pudding—Bill Cosby would be sorely disappointed.  Our second attempt at pudding went very well and we succeeded in making a lovely cream filling.


What was supposed to be an easy night of baking resulted in a very funny, very interesting, not-so-simple baking experience.  Though nothing really turned out as we anticipated, we had a great time laughing at ourselves and the bumps we hit along the road to making a pretty pink and yellow dessert.  In so many ways, my baking adventure with Betti sums up what I have often experienced over these past 4 months in Hungary.  I have really learned how to laugh at myself and the situations in which I find myself because some of them, like a bright pink dessert stinking in the oven, are so bazaar that the only appropriate response is to cover my nose and laugh my head off.  It is in these moments that I feel the most present and connected to the people around me, and therefore get an overwhelming sense of the love I have for the service I am doing here and the people who are with me along the way.  The people who have quickly become my Hungarian family help me embrace the bazaar moments and roll with the punches by ever so warmly welcoming me into their lives and laughing with me through successes and bumps in the road, only to try once more for success.  I have never been one to quit, but the ability to laugh at myself before I try again has been a fairly new development for me.  Now I see the value and success in laughing at myself when things don’t quite turn out as anticipated; no matter what bumps I may face along the way, there will always be success.

Flamingo Suti with Betti!

Our beautiful pink and yellow dessert!


Normalcy…or lack there of…

I chatted with my best friend’s mom for a little bit yesterday (so, by extension, she’s my mom, too) and she said that the holidays were great, but she is ready to get back to normal.  I completely agreed with her—back to normal would be nice—but then I began thinking about what ‘normal’ is for me here in Hungary.  The realization of my ‘normal’ makes me laugh:

–I wake up at 6:30am every weekday morning so I am ready to go to the Children’s House at 8:00am, which sometimes means that I get a call at 7:15 saying that we are leaving at 7:20, 7:30, or 7:45.

–I go to the Children’s House where I usually play with a small group of kids for 3 hours, except for when we magically host a program for the community (I never know about programs until the morning of, when I am loading the car with food and boxes of craft supplies), and in that case, I play with a LAGRE group of rowdy kids for 3 hours or more.

–I usually have afternoons free to run errands, but that is not even normal.  Just today a short trip to get more sinus-infection-preventing Claritin turned into me telling everyone at the pharmacy that I am an American volunteer at the Lutheran Church here in Nyirtelek.  My Hungarian is so bad that when I asked for the Claritin, the pharmacists just looked at me with blank stares.  Since my attempt at pronouncing the name in a Hungarian fashion failed miserably, I tried to pronounce it the American way (hoping it would be the same), but, in response to the pharmacists’ confusion, I said I speak only a little bit of Hungarian and then wrote out the word ‘Claritin’ so they would know what I was asking for.  As soon as I said that I hardly speak Hungarian, the super cute old man who got his medicine before me got really excited, asked if I speak English, and then inquired as to where I am from and what I am doing here.  When the pharmacist asked when I got here, she used a new word, so I didn’t know what she asking, but the adorable old man explained it to me and then he ever so cutely translated my horribly pronounced Hungarian answer into good Hungarian just to make sure that everyone else could understand what I was saying, haha!  I loved it!  As the cute old man left he told me ‘Thank you’ and said that he was happy to meet me.  I stayed and chatted a bit more with the pharmacist who asked what I did for New Year’s Eve, asked how I like Hungary, and then told me that she is really excited that I am here in Nyirtelek.  I said ‘Köszönöm szépen’ as I walked out only to find the cute old man waving me over to his car.  I walked over to see what he wanted and he offered to give me a ride back to the church because it was much too cold for me to walk back—it is, after all, 4 whole blocks.  I thanked him for his offer and said I was okay walking and after making sure I was actually okay with walking, he left.  As I made my way back to the church, I couldn’t help but smile and think about what a bazaar existence this is.  I mean, really, how many times does getting Claritin end in people telling you that they are happy you are here in their community?

–Some evenings I teach English, some evening I help with Religion class, some evenings I watch the kids at church events, and some evenings I have to myself.  Other than Religion on Tuesdays at 4:00pm and English on Wednesdays at 6:00pm (another class is starting up on Friday nights, but at the moment I have no idea what time), I’m never 100 percent sure which evenings are free and which are occupied with a church event.  It’s always an adventure.

–Also, how often does one have to carry around a small dictionary in order to talk with people?  Though I probably should have used it more, I consulted my little dictionary 4 times today.  Now know the Hungarian words for ‘annoying’ and ‘weird’…let’s just say it was an interesting morning at the Children’s House, haha!

Nothing about being here is normal in the conventional sense of the word, but the ‘normal’ I have found is really great.  I love the people I encounter on my ‘normal’ days, I love my ‘normal’ routine, and I love the thankful feeling I normally have when I think about life here in Nyirtelek.  Of course I have had my fair share of ups and downs, and some days are more of a struggle than others, but things are more up than they are down and the struggles are more manageable as time moves forward.  I am not sure if ‘normal’ is the best word to describe my life at this point, but one word that provides and accurate description is ‘happy.’

Some pictures from Nyirtelek:

Boldog Karácsonyt

Merry Christmas!!  I hope and your loved ones are doing well this day and have been enjoying your holiday celebrations.  My Christmas, though unconventional, has been very nice and I have had a lot of fun taking part in Hungarian Christmas traditions.  There are two days of Christmas in Hungary: the 25th and the 26th.  On the 25th, the tree is usually decorated with candies wrapped in gold and red.  The candies consist of citrus-flavored jelly covered in chocolate; they are pretty good!  Along with church on the 24th, there are church services on the 25th and 26th with communion at each service and a lot of lovely singing.

In Hungary, Christmas is not Christmas without töltött káposzta—meat and rice wrapped in boiled cabbage leaves and baked on a bed of sauerkraut with tomato sauce over the whole thing.  In the northeastern part of the country, töltött káposzta is sweet because they use sweet cabbage leaves and sweet tomato sauce to bake the stuffed cabbage.  It is delicious!  For dessert, they have makos kalacs (poppy seed roll), gesztenye kalacs (nut roll), and apple bars, all of which are incredibly tasty.

Hungarian culture is very family-oriented and the Christmas holiday is no exception.  Christmas is a time to be with family and I hope you were all able to spend the day with the people you hold closely to your heart.  You are all in my thoughts and prayers this day and I pray that you are all in good health and good spirits as you celebrate the birth of our Lord.  Have a great day!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!!  (4)

My lovely Christmas tree!!



Yesterday my fellow YAGMs and I were invited, along with our supervisors, to a Christmas party with the diaconal team and the Bishop at the Lutheran Church Office in Budapest.  While there we heard a presentation about the amazing life of Lutheran Pastor Sztehlo Gábor, checked-in with each other to see how everyone was doing, and ate delicious food.  After our presentation we went to the statue of Sztehlo Gábor where we met the Bavarian Bishop and watched as he placed a beautiful wreath at the base of the statue of the man who saved 2,000 Jewish people during the Holocaust.  We too had the honor to place a wreath at the base of the statue and say a few words about the man we learned about just a short while before, but whose actions touched so many lives and created a community of safety during such a horrific time.

As I stood there with my community of YAGMs, I felt safe in the fact that I know them all so well and, though our experiences differ greatly, we have gone through the same ups and downs, and can therefore connect on an even deeper level.  When I am with them, I understand the full importance of community and the need to have others close to you in your life.  Our shared difficulties with the language make us laugh when we are together because we always say that if we combine our four vocabularies, we may form a semi-functional Hungarian.  It’s true, though, some days I need three other people to help me function properly.  I am happy that Kristen, Dave, and Matt have my back.

It’s important to be part of a community wherein people feel safe and are willing to help each other in times of danger or utter confusion.  There have been days when I have reached out to my other YAGMs to help me simply function—Kirsten and I have had multiple conversations about the Post Office and have even compared notes about our various Post Office experiences.  Just yesterday Kristen was saying that it took about month for her letters to get to the US whereas my letters took only six days.  Neither of us knows why one set of letters got to the States so much faster than the other; the only difference is that Kristen said ‘nem’ [no] and I said ‘igen’ [yes] when the person at the Office asked a question…we don’t know what the question was, though.

Even if it’s something as seemingly simple as sending letters, the help you get from your community is significant because asking for and offering a helping hand brings everyone closer together.  My community is wonderful; we are always there to help each other function on the hard days or create a safe space in the shared confusion over a new and completely foreign task.  People need each other—some days more than others, but all the same, we need to be in community with each other.

Baby Steps

This morning at the Children’s House there was a cute little guy who was learning to walk.  His wobbly little steps couldn’t get him too far before his dad had to catch him from falling, but he was determined to walk everywhere.  There were times when he walked short distances on his own; his dad would let go of his hands and he would take a few steps only to fall into the arms of the person to whom he was walking.  He would laugh with pure joy at his accomplishment and turn around to walk back to his father where he would get a big hug as recognition of his great work.  Everyone in the House filled the space with smiles and laughter as we all watched the little guy.

While watching the little cutie wobble around I thought of how alike my experience is to his.  I often feel like I am just learning to walk because, more often than not, I am fumbling all over, unsure of my footing.  Everything here in Hungary is just so…foreign.  Though I have been getting more used to what is around me, I still have a hard time navigating my surroundings.  Not only does the language present a huge challenge, but the food is really interesting sometimes, grocery shopping can be quite the adventure, and I am not able to find some things I use on a regular basis in the United States.  I am able to get along just fine of course, but at times it is hard to adjust.

As for Hungarian, I am understanding a lot more now so I usually have a pretty good idea about what is happening.  There are still some surprises, but I normally have a broad understanding of what is going on (which has done wonders for my stress level).  I am even able to understand stories people tell me: I now know how my friend got his speeding ticket; I know that a couple of my friends stay out fishing until 11pm the other night and by the time they got home to bed, they only got 3 hours of sleep; and I know that my friends’ dog ran away last Thursday and he came back on Saturday morning.  I can definitely understand more than I can speak so I often respond to the their stories with one or two word phrases and go through all the things I want to say in my head, trying to think of the Hungarian to convey my thoughts.  By the time I have formed a short, probably incoherent, sentence, the topic has already changed.  Speaking is a challenge.

I receive lunch from the meals-on-wheels program through the church, so every weekday at 1pm I get a little container of food.  Usually I am able to identify what I am eating, but there are some days where I ask myself: “What’s in the sauce?”  “What’s wrapped up in this cabbage leaf?”  “Are these noodles?”  “What kind of meat am I eating?”  “How do they make spaghetti so greasy?”  There have been some pretty interesting meals, but I just eat and hope for the best.  Other than the fish soup incident, I have not gotten sick from the food.

I have more control over what I eat when I cook for myself, but there are some times when I have no idea what type of food is inside the packaging—despite the pictures on the labels, canned goods make me nervous.  After a failed attempt at orange juice, wherein I just had a bottle of orange flavored water, I found actual orange juice with pulp!  It was really exciting!  The European version of peanut butter is only available at one store in the next town over, and there no such thing as corn syrup so I will have to get creative when I try to make caramel for everyone here.  Speaking of ‘no such thing,’ I have not seen floss anywhere; I’m sure glad my mom threw some into the package she sent.

I am managing just fine here in Hungary, but there are days when I am stumbling all over the place trying to navigate my way around.  Every day is truly an adventure and even if I was confused through it all, I am happy every night because I have made it through another day!  Just like the little guy walking around Children’s House, I need some guidance as I stumble through the day, but everyone here is willing to help me out.  I am adjusting, slowly but surely.

Well, it’s lunch time now.  Let’s see what it is…


A couple days ago we received our first snowfall here in northeastern Hungary.   There is always something so exciting about the first snow—the air is a little crisper and everything is covered in white.  It’s beautiful.  I have never been a big fan of winter because I don’t like the cold, but, for some reason, I have always loved snow.

Snow is always fresh.  Its loveliness covers the world in a clean white blanket as if to say, ‘Take a rest.  When I leave you in a few months you’ll be ready to once again grow and give of yourself.  Until then though, take a break, I’ve gotcha covered.’

Not only does snow refresh the earth, but every bit of it is unique.  The fact that no two snowflakes are exactly the same has always amazed me because there are just so many snowflakes!  Eskimos have over 100 words for snow because there are so many different types—what a great way to recognize the uniqueness of creation!  Something as small as a snowflake shows the greatness of creation because it reminds us that everything is special.  Really, no two things are exactly alike.

Often times I find myself look out the window and admiring the beauty of a snowy day.  Even when there is a storm and the world has to shut down for a while, I appreciate the glimmering white falling from the sky, forcing us to bundle up in our homes and take a break from our busy lives.

What an awesome force snow is.

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015 - Copy (2)Some of the snowflakes we made for the Gyerekház windows

Thankful for Laughter

I celebrated Thanksgiving with the other Central Europe YAGMs, our country coordinator Miriam, and her family in Bratislava, Slovakia.  Though the celebration was very different from past Thanksgiving dinners I have shared with family, I was very thankful to be with the family I have here in Central Europe.  Kristen, Matt, Dave, and I have formed an incredible bond through our very different but shared experiences and it was absolutely wonderful to hear what they have been up to and laugh at stories of our misunderstandings, frustrations, and successes.  We all had plenty of stories about misunderstanding Hungarian but we also had stories of successful interactions.  Whether we were laughing at our failures or our successes, we just had to laugh at ourselves.  Laughter is the best way to deal with frustrations or success because it always lifts the heart.  Our shared laughter lifted our hearts and provided us with a way to gain a deeper understanding of what we were all experiencing.

When thinking about what I am thankful for, family always tops the list, but laughter has to be a close second.  This Thanksgiving was full of both of these things which made for a relaxing and rejuvenating time.  I am so happy to be a part of the Central Europe YAGM family because it is made up of some really amazing people.  We are all very different, but we can connect on a very deep level and that is what makes our family so great.  We share a lot of laughs but are also able to be serious with one another, and no matter what we are doing, we fun with each other.  It’s safe to say that we’re quite a dynamic bunch.

I am incredibly thankful for my YAGM family.

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The four of us striking a pretty intense pose in front of Hrad Castle in Bratislava

Universal Language

This morning’s devotion at the Children’s House made me realize the power of music.  In my life, music is a universal language because, regardless of whether or not I understand the lyrics, the flow of the melody and emotion through which the melody is brought to life speaks to everyone.  The music may say different things to different people, but everyone feels something and that is pretty amazing.

After singing two songs in Hungarian my friend and I sang a song in English and that is when I realized how much music speaks to everyone.  Even though I was only person in the room who completely understood the words to the song, every person was able to gain some sort of understanding from its melody.  I have no idea what that understanding was for other people, but there was an overwhelming sense of peace in the room as we finished singing.

Music has always been a major part of my life, but it has morphed into something more during my time in Görögszállás.  It seems that wherever there is a group of people from Görögszállás, there is singing; it’s great!  The songs I have sung with the people of Görögszállás have provided a universal language and understanding that has helped me communicate and connect with them.  I have become a part of the community through beautiful melody.

Amazing Grace

When Stephanie, one of my lovely supervisors from Chicago, came to visit me in Nyirtelek I was like a proud parent showing her my family. Not only was it great to talk with her about my experiences so far, but I had the honor of actually showing her the places and introducing her to the people with whom I have shared my experiences—it was absolutely wonderful!  Stephanie was invited to talk about YAGM and mission service at church and afterward I took her on a tour of the beautiful church at which I have the pleasure of living and serving.  In step with true Hungarian hospitality, we were invited to a delicious lunch at Mihaly’s house and then we attended the service in Görögszállás in the afternoon.

We were warmly welcomed by the people at Görögszállás who were all very excited to meet Stephanie, and then my friend Zoli, who was translating for her, asked Stephanie if she was ready to give the sermon.  Stephanie and I laughed because Zoli had to be joking…right?  Why wasn’t he laughing with us?  OH! He was actually being serious!  Stephanie and I looked at each other and then at Zoli and said, “What?”

Apparently I misunderstood what was happening last week when they decided that Stephanie would give the sermon.  As far as I knew, she was just going to repeat the speech she gave during the morning service.  We told Zoli that we had no idea about a sermon, but that Stephanie would talk about YAGM and mission again, and after consulting with Istvan (who was to conduct the service that afternoon), Stephanie got the ‘ok’ to just repeat the morning’s speech.  She did a great job with the speech, Istvan did a great job with the sermon, and at the end of the service Stephanie and I sang Amazing Grace for the congregation.  After a moment of panic over the sermon, everything went well.

Amazing Grace was so fitting for the afternoon: the whole congregation was expecting Stephanie to give the sermon, but they showed nothing but grace when she spoke only about YAGM and mission service.  I have had plenty of misunderstandings during my time here—I had a few already today—but everyone here has been incredibly gracious to me.  I am always amazed at how much love I have been shown here despite my severe lack of language skills.

A major part of this year is learning to be in community with others and I have found that the community itself is just as important of the effort I put into being a part of it.  My community here has made me a part of it simply by showing me love no matter what misunderstandings we may have, no matter how big or small.  I am truly blessed to receive the amazing grace that this community has so readily shown me; I love being in community with these people.