Sunday, September 27, 2009

an amazing weekend in Budapest

So this was one of my first weekends in Budapest for a few weeks in which I wasn't either sick or busy with obligations. So Lyla and I planned a lovely one. It started out on Thursday evening when we went to our friend Magda's home for dinner, drinks, and great conversation about our funny expat lives.
sleepy Bencelita emerges from her peanut butter jar bed

On Friday after work I headed back to Avicenna, where I happily got some lessons. I taught some funny kids about auxiliary verbs with the background of graphology. I tooled home on my bike and then headed out to see District 9 with some friends, which was a great movie, if quite heavy and violent. It was just splendidly executed (and apparently with almost no budget) and a new and interesting take on the whole "alien" concept. After the movie we grabbed a few drinks and chatted about our jobs, laughing a lot and coughing from the crazy smoke.

Saturday Lyla and I went to the Palace of Wonders with Balint, Mate, and Laci. We played with the various science experiments and games of skill. The boys got caught up repeatedly in male competitiveness with balance competitions, reaction time testers, running trials. Lyla and I laughed at them and blew bubbles and smacked up the games that tested patience.

Mate trying to balance while staring at moving lines.

Laci gets ready to knock Balint off the balance-testing machine.

After arriving home we cooked an amazing dinner. I made squash soup and Mexican bread pudding. Recipes to follow:

Butternut Squash Soup
1 large shallot, finely diced+parsley+basil+cinnamon+curry powder, cooked in a bit of oil
1 liter chicken broth
1/2 medium butternut squash, cooked and diced
blend all the ingredients together
add about a cup of cooking cream, blend together
add salt, butter, garlic to taste
serve with seasoned croutons

Mexican bread pudding
2 cups of water, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar, lots of cinnamon-- bring to a boil, simmer to a syrup
melt 2 tablespoons of butter, melt in
add hearty splash of rum, stir
add 1/2 loaf of diced toast, handful of golden raisins, handful of large diced plums, stir well
pour into a well-oiled pan, bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes
serve with a splash of heavy cream

Today we spent the day wandering the city's touristic sites with some Polish house guests and relaxing with season 3 of Dexter.

Bencelita with Dagmara

St. Stephen's square

the Holocaust memorial near the river

a pretty building near freedom square

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


So way back in the spring I bought myself two wheels worth of freedom. Now I can't seem to quit the thing. With the exception of last week when I was sneezing every three minutes and coughing up a storm, I've been trying to ride my bike pretty much everywhere. For one thing, it takes the same amount of time, or less, to ride it as to take public transit. For another, I feel good about myself knowing that I've gotten some exercise in and maybe even worked up a bit of a sweat. Mostly, though, it's just a really pleasant experience.

I ride to and from school primarily on bike paths along the river. The sun sparkles on the water, the breeze brushes my cheeks, birds sing. It's a great way to start the day or head home. I just feel so free with the wind in my face.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

a weekend in the countryside

I love Budapest, but sometimes it can just be too much. Happily, on such occasions it is usually quite simple for me to dart out to the countryside for a visit with friends. How you too can duplicate this country weekend:

Friday afternoon: plan to leave to catch bus to Kalocsa. Feeling sickish and lazy, stay home baking brownies and watching Dexter instead.

Saturday morning: wake up early, throw a few items of clothing into a bag, and head to the bus station. Catch a bus to Kalocsa, squeezing into a small spot on the floor. Arrive to Kalocsa and drop off things at Rob's house. Wander the adorable little town, and eat kremes.

Saturday afternoon: meet up with Jon and Franny. Head off to the Paprika Days Festival. Purchase a beautiful blue piece of paper that entitles me to one dish of the delightfully scented red stews abounding around the outskirts of the festival. Spend thirty minutes wandering from one food stand to the other, in honest emotional distress about which of the delicious offerings to sample. Return for the third time to the stand where serious fishermen are smoking whole fish on sticks, basting them with garlicky-paprika-y red marinade. Buy a fish soup. Return triumphantly to eat fish soup, just as soon as you tear apart a little hot paprika to kick up the flavor.

When your friend nonchalantly says, "There's a horse just running around," nonchalantly turn to see a horse running at your table. Applaud the tiny Hungarian man who grabs the horse's reins seemingly without meaning to. Finish your delicious food. Sneeze several times. Pass a stand for the supposed best paprika in Hungary, and be given 200g for free. Giddily skip over to the palinka tent and purchase a beautiful little bottle with a dried quince floating inside, and a shot of baby pink samoca (wild strawberry) palinka. Sip it slowly with your friends.

Watch folk dancing with the help of a cold beer. Be moved especially by the groups of elderly folks singing traditional songs. Then go watch a strange emo-rocker singing in English. Wander the craft tents and discuss how Hungarian candy always sort of lets you down. Watch some more folk dancing.

Saturday evening: wander back to your host's home, and sit with your friends and drink some froccs. Watch ridiculous videos on youtube and tell funny stories about teaching and life. Bitch slightly about Hungary's frustrations while extolling its virtues. Make at least one Triannon joke.

Proceed to a small Italian restaurant run by the eccentric Vincenzo. Be given wine, water, and compliments. Order the pork fillet that he demands you order, and then be amazed at how delicious and flavorful it is. The meat just melts as you eat it, and the paprika-y sauce, with mushrooms and bell peppers, tops it perfectly.

Just as everyone finishes their meal, watch fireworks explode over the top of the town's miniature skyline.

Saturday night: wander around town for a bit, talking with your friend's Hungarian friend in Hunglish and shuffling your feet so as to avoid smooshing a frog. Go to sleep early, feet hanging off the end of a couch, and sleep soundly.

Sunday morning: awake to a cacophony of bells at 7 AM. Curse such diligent folks and go back to bed. Eat eggs and bacon for breakfast and chill around the flat.

Sunday afternoon: go to your friend's friend's home for lunch. Sit in the garden of their lovely home and eat delicious palacsinta topped with lemony turo and homemade jams. Drink some more froccs and be complimented on your Hungarian. Totally warmed by hospitality and happiness, dart down to the bus station to catch your bus home. Squeeze onto the floor again, this time in the stairwell, and drift off for a nap on the trip home.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I cried at work yesterday

And not for any of the old reasons. I understood everything that was going on. Nobody had unintentionally insulted me. I was simply scared.

In fourth lesson I was having my third graders create personal calendars, writing and illustrating a holiday or special event next to each month in the year (which were further divided into seasons). It was a fun little craft project that tricked them into doing a lot of writing. Anyway, I was in the back of the classroom looking over Zsombor's work when I heard a crash from the front.

I spun around in enough time to see Jazmin's head, presumably bouncing off the desk behind her, crash into the lip of her chair. Jazmin didn't move for a few seconds, though it seemed like minutes, and a few students, cruel in the way that children can be, started laughing, tickled at the idea that one of their peers had finally rocked their chair onto the ground as I always warned them they would. In the second it took me to get the front of the room, Jazmin still hadn't moved, holding onto the chair. When I got there, she looked up at me and started to cry, and I breathed a sigh of relief that she wasn't seriously injured. The crying, though, moved her chin from the chair.

And the blood poured.

I guess, in retrospect, that I helped her up from the floor, pushed a tissue to her chin, and clapped her hand over the cut. I guess, in retrospect, that I grabbed another (reliable student), wrapped her hand around Jazmin's tilted back head, and told them in Hungarian to go quickly to the school doctor. I guess that some of the students went and fetched the mop from the corner, and we cleaned the mess of the classroom. Then I wiped off my hands and taught the rest of the lesson, because what else could I really do?

The next thing I clearly remember, though, is walking into the staff room after the lesson ended and I could leave. I washed my hands calmly, and then just started shaking. And I cried. Nora gave me some grape sugar so I wouldn't feel so faint, and I shook some more and ate two. Then I wiped off my face and went to teach the next lesson.

It turns out that Jazmin is fine, of course. Kids are made of rubber and have a remarkable ability to bounce. She missed the day today, but came in at the end to get her books, showing her classmates her stitches like a proud war veteran. Of course the kids were back to rocking in their chairs again.

But that moment when she was so still, and the moment when blood just poured from her face? I didn't even know what to do. Responsibility, especially for tiny little souls that I just genuinely care for, can be such a heavy thing. I realized yesterday, in a way that I hadn't really yet done so, that I'm an adult now. It was big and scary. I'm still a bit shaken about the whole thing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

making pierogies!

Lyla and I were inspired by the visit of two Polish girls we met on our trip to make some pierogies. And oh, are they delicious. Some will make the trip into work tomorrow because Bill loves pierogies and Balint has never had any. So that must be taken care of.

pierogies waiting to be cooked, simmering away, and chilling in the strainer

a cute little rolled pierogie


exciting to live, boring to read

So my life is going on, and it's exciting, and happy, if slightly tiring this week. But I'm a little bit braindead, so I think I will go over the main points in the ever-enticing bullet format.

It's funny. I love my life here: my job is fun and interesting, I have nice friends, I laugh all the time at funny people and ridiculous things. But most of it seems like things that would be just too damn boring to read about, so I don't share them here. For example, a mad-libs themed lesson I did with my third graders that resulted in them writing the funniest, most creative sentences using their vocabulary. I loved it and laughed about it for a day. They loved it and spent the whole lesson shouting their sentences out and writing even more than I asked them to! But seriously... nobody wants to read about lesson plans. I don't want to read about my own lesson plans.

Anyway.... here we go.

*I sat through an entire two and a half hour long class meeting with 2B and primarily understood what was going on. Not in the greatest detail, mind you, but the big parts. And now I'm going to go to forest school with them come June, where the whole class goes camping for a week. Which is sweet: I was sort of bummed to be stuck at school with the 8 other teachers who didn't do forest school last year, wandering the empty halls and teaching two classes a day. It was boring. Taking 2B through the forest and on adventures, though, should be quite fun.

*Yesterday our street had a block party! Or, as they call it here, a street ball. :) There were musicians and random people selling stuff, as well as a giant fire in the middle of the road created, of course, to cook gulyas.

*Yesterday was also the annual wine festival up at the castle in Buda. It was equally exciting as last year, full of vendors offering all different sorts of wine and food. I fell asleep at midnight and slept without moving until 11 AM, which point the reflection of myself moving actually startled me into falling out of my bed.

*I have found a lovely river-side bike route to work, and have decked out my bike with a basket on the back and a bright green frog-shaped horn on the front.

*Lyla and I found our way back to the Asian market in Ferencvaros and ate delicious food again.

*Tragically, we've also watched 3 seasons of How I Met Your Mother and 1 and 1/2 seasons of Chuck in the past week or so. When you're at work from 730 in the morning until 6 in the evening teaching, writing curricula, planning lessons, and attending parents' meetings you just want to sit on the couch and zone out in the evening. And that is precisely what we have been doing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why shouting in English can be awkward

So I was walking with my friend Bill to the post office, and we got on the subject of hair due to seeing a sort of androgynous guy. I mentioned that my friend Mate has really great, fluffy, feathered hair.

"He's a magician!" I stated loudly.

The dude crossing the street next to me turned to us and asked, "How did you know that? I am!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Um, a survey?

The school year has started, which is a bit insane. The first day of lessons today went well, no problems. Nothing too exciting to say. I've also been made the "assistant head teacher" (it's a slightly different system here) of 2b, formerly my adored 1b. Still adored, no longer 1. And that's really... interesting. Flattering for sure, but the head teacher sort of doesn't speak English. Hmm.

I'm writer's blocky but feel compelled to write, if only so as to not let you down, grandma dee. So, um... a survey?

What bill do you hate paying the most? I pay one: rent. It also includes utilities, and goes to the landlady. However, I will soon start paying an internet bill, and have to go to the post office and do the whole crazy Hungarian bill-paying-thing. So I imagine soon it will be that.

Where was the last place you had a romantic dinner? Lyla and I had a few pretty classy ones over the summer. The last really romantic one in particular was a pot each of cheese and chocolate fondue in a dark bar in L'viv, Ukraine. I am aware of the tragedy involved in this answer.

What do you really want to be doing right now? Breathing deeply, since that hurts after my bike accident!

How many colleges did you attend? one, thus far

Why did you choose the shirt that you have on right now? Well, it's simple and black. And I already wore it for a few hours so it was still fine to wear again. THE WASHERS ARE SO SMALL HERE! NO DRIER!

What are your thoughts on gas prices? no car = irrelevant

First thought when the alarm went off this morning? I calculated exactly how long I could snooze it for, reset it, and went back to sleep.

Last thought before going to sleep last night? I crashed out super quickly last night. Haven't been sleeping well due to the whole rib-hurting thing.

Do you miss being a child? Not particularly. I get to play with them all day, so I'm sure that helps.

What errand/chore do you despise? Taking out the recycling. Don't actually despise it that much to my conscious knowledge, but it 's the one thing that I never get done, so it must be a subconscious thing. Lyla chimes in: it doesn't help that it's three blocks away.

Get up early or sleep in? I'm fine with waking up early and actually sort of prefer feeling like I've done something with my day. The new flat is super dark though... it doesn't help.

Have you found real love yet? I'm happy I did, now I just need something real and also sustainable.

Favorite lunch meat? kolbasz

What do you get every time you go into Wal-Mart? No Wal-Mart. In a shop in general: bread and tomatoes.

Beach or lake? lake

Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual? Hum. I think that it's sort of broken. The lack of inclusion in marriage is frustrating, as is the focus on weddings over marriages. I think marriage should be allowed to be a more flexible thing designed between the two people who enter into one. I see the value in a marriage though... especially when living in a different country. And no, Mom, I'm not going to marry for a green card, so don't get into a tizzy about that. I'm just saying I see how it makes life easier!

Sopranos or Desperate Housewives? Neither. I'd be willing to try the Sopranos though.

What famous person would you like to have dinner with? Well, they're both dead. Jimmy Stewart or, after my summer vacation, John Paul II.

Have you ever crashed your vehicle? Indeed. Just Friday I massively fell! ;) Also the car in high school.

Ever had to use a fire extinguisher for its intended purpose? No. Funnily, we just had a huge workshop on how to use one at work. Most of my (experienced teacher) colleagues had no idea how to. That gave me pause.

Ring tone? Some obnoxious latin thing that came with my phone.

Strangest place you have ever brushed your teeth? On the train tracks of the train station of Brasov in Transylvania in the middle of the night with fizzy water.

Somewhere in California you've never been and would like to go? I don't know that California is anywhere near the top of my list. I'd like to be in "Mexico America" again. More time in Yosemite would be nice too.

Do you go to church? It's in Hungarian. I go when I'm in the states.

At this point in your life would you rather start a new career or a new relationship? I'm happy in my career. I'm probably going to move in a year, then again in a year after that, though... neither?

How old are you? 23

Do you have a go to person? poor Lyla for life, poor Balint for work

Are you where you want to be in life? It's a little bit surprising where I am, but yes.

Growing up, what were your favorite cartoons? David the Gnome. Hands down.

What about you do you think has changed the most? Um. Everything? Location for sure. Career for sure.

Looking back at high school, were they the best years of your life? I liked high school, but no. That would be now.

Did you have a pager? My cell phone basically functions as one since I never remember to turn the sound back on after work.

Where was the hang out spot when you were a teenager? My house. I had cool parents. :)

Who do you think impacted your life the most? Cha: my family. And basically just moving so much, meeting so many people, becoming independent and being bitten by the travel bug. And Dr. Roskin.

Was there a teacher or authority figure that stood out for you? Um, Dr. Roskin. And Ms. Campbell in third grade, and Mr. Buehler in high school.

Do you tell stories that start with “when I was your age”? Sadly, yes. To the kiddies.