Thursday, October 25, 2012

How to make a happy moose

So, I know that I haven't blogged in a long time. Once, for something rather traumatic, months ago, and with a few months in front of that. And I miss blogging! Part of the reason is how damned busy I am this year. Part of the reason is that my new-found love of exercise leaves me with significantly less time sitting in front of my computer. Part of the reason is that I have so much "blogging backlog" floating over my head, and it's intimidating!

So. Sorry. But the stuff I once promised to write about? Paris, Copenhagen, that sort of stuff? I'm probably never going to write about it. What I'm going to try to do is to write short vignettes, more often. Much more often? One can hope. 

I went to Dublin this weekend. It was lovely, relaxing, and delicious. Really delicious! I ate so much food.

On Sunday I was walking about and I passed this store. I saw this window display: scones, muffins, cute pumpkin cookies. But one thing in particular caught my eye.

I went inside and asked the girl working there what those things next to the pumpkins were.
She replied, "Maple Cinnamon Pecan Bars."
My eyes widened. "I'd like one of those, please."
She wrapped it in a paper bag and charged me. Then she asked if I wanted a carrier bag.
I laughed. "No, thanks. I'm going to eat it!" She laughed, too.

Imagine pecan pie, but thicker, perched atop a rich, buttery square of cinnamon shortbread. It was one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. My teeth sunk into that first bite, and the clouds parted and angels sang sweet songs. I almost cried. It was perfect.

The moose approves.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I have absolutely no right to write this

A few months into my first year teaching here in Budapest, a new teacher started at my school. He was a little bit strange, but also nice, so we became relatively good friends in that fast expat, kids-at-camp sort of way. We didn't work together, just at the same school, so our interaction was purely social. Over the course of the next year, he became a pretty good friend. We hung out in groups on the weekends, he got me onto the correct bus after too many drinks on an occasion or two, we talked, he came to my dinner parties, ate my food and played with my rat.

I moved to Spain and we stayed in touch. He became a manager for the program I currently work for, and was instrumental in my eventually returning to Hungary as a Spanish teacher. Meanwhile, I heard rumbles that the power had gone to his head and he was acting irrationally, particularly to female colleagues.

When I arrived back to Hungary, everything between us was as it had been until he found out I was living with Anna. The two of them had pretty intense issues, both personal and professional. After this discovery, he quickly came after me, professionally and even physically menacing me. I was shocked, confused, and hurt. I reported him to our program director, and he very soon thereafter quit the school and left Hungary. I couldn't imagine what had happened to this person I had thought I had known.

Today I found out that what had happened was that he was terminally ill. He did not tell anyone about this, but when he went home he spent several weeks in the hospital. Then he returned to Hungary and his flat here without telling anyone from the school.

Every expat, in moments of vulnerable honesty, will tell you that their worst fear is to die alone and not be discovered for weeks, for their family to have to travel to another country to tidy up their affairs days and days after the fact.

He was found a few days ago. He hadn't been gone long. His family is on its way now, and the school is struggling to find a way to honor the legacy of someone who left under such difficult circumstances.

I wish he could have reached out more, and we could have known what was happening to him to cause these fundamental personality changes. I wish that I had been a better friend. I wish that we had made amends. I wish he had died at home with his family instead of alone in a foreign city. I wish so many things, and I don't know how to react to this news. I did not cry, and I do not feel anything I could truly define as sadness. What I feel is a deep, profound regret. It's worse, really.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Over a month

I started well this year, and blogged a lot! Now, I haven't blogged in over a month. I still have to write about my trips to Paris, Copenhagen, Bratislava, Sofia, and Graz. I have to write about all the nonsense that has been going on at work, the joy that my students bring me, and my conflict when viewing these things together. I have to write about my friends and how amazing they are. I have to write about confusing and exciting feelings that stress me to no end. I have to write about my new journey towards fitness, the hours spent at the gym, and how that is changing my body and life. I have to write about the things I have done and seen. I have to write about my life.

And yet I don't want to. I will write about my trips, and soon. I will write about some of the adventures I've had. I might even write about my job and my new fitness addiction. But the other things are mine. I want to put them in little glass balls and hide them away somewhere safe, because they are fragile and magical.

I've been so busy. So busy. Running around back and forth, working like a slave, going to the gym, attempting to maintain a social life. I stay up too late every night, grabbing little bits of happiness from the miracle of the internet.

I have decided to not travel in July. I won't work, I won't study, I won't spend the four weeks flinging myself from one place to the other and exhausting myself in the pursuit of novelty. I may take a short trip or two to visit friends, but otherwise I am going to sit in Budapest and get work done and relax. I am going to enjoy my first Hungarian summer, and I couldn't be more excited.

And over the summer, once the school year ends and reports are handed in, I will write. Because I do miss writing.

Friday, April 20, 2012


So on Friday night I went out dancing with a girlfriend.  And I had a lot of fun, until my purse got stolen.  Now, when your purse is stolen from three inches from your hand in the ten seconds it takes you to order a drink, and the phone is already disconnected when you call it a minute later, you can only assume you have been robbed by a pro.  So, while my friend freaked out, I was rather calm at the moment.

The next day I got up super early and headed back to the island, where the club was.  I combed through the bushes, and even gave my flatmate's phone number to some homeless guys who were doing the same, asking them to call me and promising a reward for my ID.

Still in my party gear, I then went and waited for the bus.  Two dudes started to sort of harass me, and I snapped at them that I had been robbed, and demanded a bus ticket.  Mollified, they actually gave me a bus ticket, and then turned friendly and non-creepy enough.  I guess it's easy to pick on the girl in a sequined dress at seven in the morning.

So the next step was canceling my Hungarian bank card, which Anna helped me with.  Then it was off to the police station to file a report, which I was able to do myself.  Actually, the male police officer at one point had to go ask his female colleague exactly how to say "sequin" in Hungarian, which I found amusing.  I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't know everything!  After that, a new phone.  Then going to the bank to order a new bank card, and last of all heading to immigration for a new residence card, which, as usual, was a nightmare.  The only good thing was that Balint pointed out that we needed new locks on our door and was able to change them out for us.  It's good to have a handy person around!

I really recommend you don't get your bag stolen.  I mean, it could have been worse: it was only a small bag with some essentials in it, so I still have my passport and all my other cards.  But, really, this has been one annoying, expensive, week-long hassle.  So hold onto those bags while you're out dancing, ladies!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fluffy Boys

Laying in bed, watching silly TV shows while reading a good book, letting my two little fluffies climb all over my back and kiss my cheeks...

sometimes it's good to just be lazy.  Real blog posts about Paris and Copenhagen coming soon!  In the meantime, a funny kid story: yesterday during tutorials, I had my sixth graders play a game from the television show Whose Line is it Anyway, where they each are given a prop and have to come up with different mini-skits using the prop as different items each time.  And they had just tons of fun with it, actually taking the whole half-hour session to play.  I had expected they would take about ten minutes and then it would be time for a new activity.

One group of boys had a lot of fun with it.  They had a little bulb-shaped timer as their prop.  And, surely enough, at one point they used the little timer as a bong.  I kind of just pressed my forehead to my hand, and asked where they had learned about these things.

The kid turned to me, scoffed, and said, "Ms. Lauren.  Youtube," as it it was the most obvious answer in the world.  Which, really, I suppose it was!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Free bird!

This is a traditional Hungarian folk song, rethought.  I've kept coming back to it over the last few days.  The lyrics, translated by me and repeated in various patterns throughout the song (I'm translating in the full order, starting at 1:40ish) are:

Cold winds are blowing.
They do not bode well.
Free life, free as a bird.
Oh, how beautiful is the one who travels free.

This is important for me to remember.  Maybe cold winds are blowing right now, but who knows what they will bring?  More importantly, I am free.  If the winds blow too cold, I'll breeze into something better.  It really is beautiful to be free.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


So this weekend, one of my sorority sisters was in town.  Nobody I was ever particularly close to, since she was a freshman when I was a senior, but still a really nice girl.  So I took her and her friends out for dinner on Sunday, and then we had some drinks last night.  It was nice to see her, catch up, and gossip about Lycoming people for a little bit.

After she left the bar last night, I stayed and had another drink with my friends, and then headed home.  As usual, when such things strike, it struck on the bus.  I became horribly dark.  Now, most of you know me, and know that I'm not really all that dark.  I'm regularly described as a "sunshiny" person, for goodness sake.  I think this is mainly because I keep my darkness to myself.  So I rode the bus a few extra stops, then wandered home over the back of my little hill.

I'm not sure exactly what it was that tripped me over the edge into an emo midnight wander.  Certainly, it has to do with roots.  I'm not really in touch with anyone from America anymore, and while that's ok and understandable, in many ways it's also awful.  I have a life that I genuinely love, and I'd like others to understand it with me, and yet there really is nobody who can.  This whole experience is also changing me so drastically, in so many (mainly) positive ways, but I don't know anyone who knows both old Lauren and new Lauren.

At the same time, as soon as I feel like I'm putting roots down here, the ground starts to become sort of shaky. The international and financial situation here in Hungary has always been something that, as a foreigner, I could happily ignore.  But it's reaching a level where I can't ignore it any more, and I have to consider the future of this little country that I adore in my life plans.  And that is so upsetting to me.  I hate the feeling of uncertainty where just a few months ago my life was laid out in front of me, for the next few years at least.

Beyond that, so many of my friends are planning to leave in the next few years.  And that's fine, and I'm happy for them, and I know that I will make new friends.  But... still.  Add to that the fact that this weekend I met a boy that I think I could grow to really like, and I think he feels the same way about me, and, of course, as usual... doesn't live in Hungary.

Then mix in the fact that this feeling of uncertainty is not unique to me.  All across the world, young people and especially young women are starting to worry about their futures.  We have to care so much about everything, while pretending to be cool and not care at all.  We have to worry about our bodies.  Appearance is tantamount, and we have to present a perfect feminine appearance, but we have to also act like men.  More than anything, though, we feel a bit cheated.  We have to deal with living our whole life being told we could be anything we wanted to be, and then coming out of college into an economy where we're all still sort of scraping by five years later.  So many of my friends are still in an entry-level position, or back in school racking up more debt.  It's ridiculous.

And last night it all became too much and I became a little bit angry.

Happily today's the last day of my work week, and tomorrow I'm heading off to Sweden and Denmark for Easter.  And I'll remember that I'm one of the lucky ones.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A weekend in Madrid

The first weekend of the month, I headed to Madrid.  I found the ticket for about 30 dollars, round trip, so I figured why not, and bought it just about two weeks beforehand.  So after the typical Ryanair runaround, I arrived to Madrid and discovered this in the metro.  (I must say, it's a good thing that this wasn't such a common ad campaign last year when I was in Madrid and desperately missing Hungary.)

I found my way to Mary's flat and dropped off my stuff, quite pleased with myself that Madrid is still second nature to me.  We then headed to her friend's apartment, grabbing me a yummy kebab on the way, to play Settlers of Kataan.  Which is pretty much a perfect table game, by the way.  Then it was off for some really overpriced tintos, which Mary got delightful Spanish over, before heading home.

Saturday's breakfast was at Mundo de Croquetas.  The dude working there judged us slightly for eating croquetas before noon, but I didn't care.  They were delicious.  Croquetas.  I miss you.

I headed to Moncloa and caught the bus out to San Lorenzo to see Hernan and Yoichi.  We had a nice dinner outside: the weather was amazing for the first weekend of March.  And I held Yoichito cat and he was angry, but then he relented.
Hernan and I then went for walk, and admired the bucolic sheep grazing under the bucolic almond blossoms...
... and the Spanish sky...
... and the monastery.  We had a really nice talk and it was really great to speak for hours in Spanish again, and especially to see my old roomie.  He was a good roomie and I miss him.
Then it was back to Madrid and out for Cien Montaditos, which no longer serves gulas to my horror, and then to Magic Beer.  Which still serves magical beer, to my delight.  Silliness ensued, and, as usual, I wound up buying beer from a dude selling cans on the street from a cardboard box stand.  We then went back to Mary's and played darts and danced with puppets.  And then, to continue the as usual, I ended the night at a gay bar.  It was a fun night.  There's me, Jess, and Mary up there.
The next day, Mary, Chelsi and I hit the Rastro, where we found nothing, and then visited one of the funniest shops ever, where we read ridiculous books and improved our vocabulary.  Then for lunch it was pinxos!  Yum.
Then there was a trip to buy some jewelry, and we visited Chelsi's tea room.
I also pierced poor Mary's ears, in the most horrifying and least successful piercing ever.  But now she has pretty earrings!  Chelsi even managed to help, despite her fear of needles (which she has somehow despite all her many piercings).  After that, it was off to the airport to catch my flight back home.
This is all the loot I got in Madrid... I have a problem!

It was a great little whirlwind trip.  Definitely a new kind of trip for me: a trip to see people only, and pretty much ignore the city they are in.  It was beautiful to speak Spanish again beyond the very elementary stuff I get to speak to the kids.  I do miss Spain: the food, the language, the spirit of it, even though I really didn't love living there.  It was funny to complain to my friends about the same old things, because the country's never going to change.  It was also great to just see my girls (and Hernan) that helped me through that really tough year.  They're great people, and I miss them.

Excluding the 22 months in which I needed to leave Spain alone after Alfonso and I broke up, I have yet to go a year without returning to Spain since I studied there.  And I imagine it's kind of always going to be that way.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Easter Eggs

No colorful dye to dip them in, but that's ok because it doesn't work so well on brown eggs anyway! I went to Anna's parents' house for lunch today, and after a delicious meal we decorated some eggs with markers. I made a bunny, a chick, a rat and cat eggs, a poem, a party, a kokopeli, and a Hungarian Parliament. Some of those were requests. It's always fun to do the things you did as a kid, even if it's differently and under different circumstances!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Icy Danube

Piroska Andras made this video of the ice on the Danube.  It captures the eerie beauty of the whole thing even better than the photos I posted a few entries ago did.  Enjoy!

Budapest Sorbet from Andras Piroska on Vimeo.


So apparently I need to contact google.  Because it seems that my blog has permanently decided to not allow me to upload pictures.  Which is incredibly upsetting, considering that I PAY THEM for the storage space.  In the meantime, blog posts have been put off and off because I can't put the pictures up that would serve to help tell the story.  Boo.

So, yes, still waiting on the post about my visit to Madrid, and now also the one about my visit to Paris.  And some random Hungary ones in between.

It's finally spring time here.  And it's beautiful, and I've been biking to work and being happy in the sunshine.  Spring time also brings planning for next year, and it seems that I will be able to teach the classes I want to teach next year!  Which is awesome: all language teaching, all the time.  I will also be coordinating the FCE prep for the program, and organizing a unified plan for English in grades 1-8.  This, in addition to continuing to teach and plan Spanish from 5-8, plus now doing so in grade 9 with the assistance of a Hungarian Spanish teacher.  I'm super psyched!

Now I just need to see about maybe negotiating a small raise to go along with all of my extra responsibilities!

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I started to write a pretty long entry about Madrid.  But my fingers are tired and keep mistyping and the photos won't load... I just get an error message.  So, instead, I will simply wish you all a happy 350th blog post.

Mandula, my roomie's cat, was in heat last week.  She spent every night for a week caterwauling and keeping me up.  She was also just generally ridiculous.  She did finally get spayed on Friday, and things are back to normal, but I think the whole week without sleep, especially after a crazy weekend in Madrid, may have broken me.  I can't stop being, well, dumb.

So I'm going to go to sleep.

Monday, March 5, 2012


I spent this weekend in Madrid.  It was a very short time, and totally dedicated to seeing friends and eating delicious things.  I will write a longer post with pictures and reflections and such in a short time.  Right now, it's two in the morning, my bag is finally unpacked, and I'm pretty much 100% ready for bed.  This post isn't going to be about Madrid, though, but about Budapest.

Budapest, like most cities, lights up its major buildings, landmarks, and bridges at night.  The floodlights switch off at midnight, and only streetlights remain after that.  Now, I have experienced those lights turning on and off countless times.  It's normal enough that we sort of use the lights to tell time when we head home across the river from an evening out in Pest.  If the lights are still on, we're being good responsible adults.

Planes usually approach Budapest from the south, crossing over fields and suburbs to land at the airport, which is itself in the southern part of the city.  It's rather uneventful, view-wise.  In the right conditions, though, planes approach from the north, flying right over Margaret Island, the Parliament, and Varosliget.  From the sky, you can see all the bridges, the castle, the citadel, the cemetery... it's always fun to see the landmarks I'm so used to all tiny below me.

Tonight, coming back to Budapest from Madrid, the two coincided.  I was looking out the window for only a few seconds at that point, and our plane was directly over the river, when one by one the lights started to switch off.  Goodbye, Parliament.  Goodbye, Chain Bridge.  Szia, Heroes' Square.  Only the boulevards remained to show me where things were.  (Well, that and the ridiculous lights outside the Arena Plaza mall.)

For some reason, this moment really struck me.  As all those beautiful things disappeared, leaving a shadow in their place, I felt a strange sort of happiness.  It should have been sad, but it wasn't.  I could still see the places I love, even if I couldn't see them, more from their lack of light than from anything else.  As each light switched off, I felt happier.  I sort of feel like I saw all of Budapest tuck itself in for the night.  And it was good to be home.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Naked people everywhere

So, as you know, I recently joined a gym. That gym includes a changing room, as most do. And everyone is always totally naked. Blowdrying naked. Chatting naked. Texting naked. I'm not talking about a lack of self-consciousness, but just a total acceptance of nudity.

People also swim in the strangest of outfits. Tiny speedos, entirely hidden under big beer bellies. Ladies swimming laps in string bikinis, then untying them in the sauna.

Body acceptance is a great thing, and I'm glad that I get to regularly see people of all shapes/sizes/hairinesses... especially in today's world of crazy photoshopping. It's nice to have a reality check, but it can lead to some awkward situations.

I recently walked into the changing room to see three of my eighth grade girls. We said hi, then stared at each other, feeling super awkward. We finally silently decided to go to opposite corners and change quickly, while resolutely staring at the wall.

I think everyone thought we were really weird.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Every Sunday, the same thing happens.  Bedtime rolls around and I roll right on past it.  A later bedtime, too late to be really practical but things could still be ok, also comes and goes.  It is late, and I sit up, awake and stressing over the fact that I am awake.  It's really a bit ridiculous.  I should start getting up earlier on Sundays, but the truth is I usually don't even sleep all that late.  I just get enough sleep so that I'm up too late.  And then I wake up on Monday tired.

It's a vicious cycle and one that is starting to bug me.  So tonight I'm going to bed before midnight, darn it, even though I'm not even a little bit tired.  I'll read until I fall asleep.  I have a boring book all picked out and everything.  I'll leave you with Don Draper speaking Hungarian: this is pretty much how I guess I sound!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dancing on boats

Almost exactly three years ago, Lyla and I saw that a Spanish band called Che Sudaka would be playing at the A38.  On something of a whim, we decided to head to the concert. And there we saw the opening act, Kistehen, dressed in footy pjs and singing about how great it would be to be a bunny. We also danced like crazy people, jumping up and down to the random ska music.

Last week, we saw that Che Sudaka would be returning to the A38. On a whim, again, we decided to go to the concert. And again, we jumped up and down like crazy people and danced our little hearts out. The crowd was awesome and the boat was literally rocking. It sort of felt like dancing on a trampoline.

Totally worth getting home at one am on a school night! I love all these random things that happen in my life, and how much fun I always have.

Also: I'm on a boat. Always good to act out that particular music video!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Strange Winter

This whole winter it has been strangely mild.  There wasn't even a hint of snow before Christmas.  Suddenly, two weeks ago, it was incredibly cold.  Below freezing, even in fahrenheit.  The Danube looked like this:

Now, I did not take either of these lovely photos, rather I got them from my very good facebook friend, Budapest.  (Yes, I am fb friends with Budapest.  They give me the forecast and tell me about cool upcoming events every day.)  But they show the blocks of ice floating down the river.

It has since gotten consistently warmer.  Yesterday and today, it was in the high forties!  I biked to work today, and didn't even need my mittens on the way home this afternoon.  Craziness.  Does that mean spring is on the way, or is it just going to snow in May or something?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Starting to slack

I have totally given up on my New Year's Resolution to not get irritated at other peoples' idiocy.  To be fair, certain events in particular have made that particular resolution particularly difficult.  And also, you know, my basic nature of judge-asaurus, the scariest dinosaur of them all.  Plus, my and Lyla's bus rides became oddly silent when we couldn't comment on the sartorial and life choices of the strangers around us.

My other resolution, to get healthier, is taking up a ton of my time and concentration.  And, to be honest, it's going really, really well.  I feel great.

My other other resolution, to blog at least three times per week, is starting to be a hassle.  Particularly because of the fact that the getting-healthy resolution is such a big part of my life right now, and I really don't want this blog to become one of those diet and exercise blogs.  Because those irritate the heck out of me.  (Judge-asaurus, hear me roar!)  So, I find it difficult to find things to write about.

Today I met up and had dinner with a pair of total strangers.  They were, literally, the neighbors of one of my flatmate's old professors.  But they were in Budapest and wanting some sightseeing, so I was happy to oblige them.  I showed them around a bit, then took them to Menza, one of my favorite restaurants, and they bought me dinner.  We talked about Budapest and Hungary, Hungarian, and Hungarians... many of my favorite topics. And it was really nice.  It made me miss the good old days, where random friends of friends were always on my couch/floor.  The people who come to Budapest are generally rather awesome people.  And my life here is so amazing, and I find this place still so fascinating, that I love to show it off.  Plus, there is something so validating when people who have been to so many different places are impressed by the place that I've chosen to make my home.  Budapest is always a pleasant surprise to people, and that's fantastic.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Old Men

Today on the bus to work, a seat cleared up.  The (really very) old man standing next to it essentially shoved me into the empty seat, despite my squeaked protests that he should take the seat.  He then explained to me that standing keeps him young, and expressed his disapproval at the fact that only young women ever stand up to offer him seats.  "The day I take a seat from a lady is the day I will know that I am old!" he scoffed, while lamenting the state of young men today.  He literally lamented the fact that they never shave their necks, and I laughed and thought of my dad, who often makes the same complaint.

That laugh apparently signaled to the old man that I was a willing participant in his conversation, and he started to talk.  He talked to me for the remaining fifteen minutes of our ride together, before he got off at the hospital by the school.  ("My awful knees keep betraying me," was his last comment.)  And the fact of the matter is, he was very old and spoke softly and incredibly fast, and I couldn't really understand him all that well.  I considered pulling the "foreigner card" and letting him know that I was only getting about half of what he said.  Looking up at his face, though, I could see that he was just incredibly happy to be talking to someone who was listening.  Since he spoke without stopping, I only had to nod and make the occasional "mmhmm" or "igen" noise.  I'm pretty sure that he never even figured out that he was talking to a foreigner.

He told me to hold out for a good, old-fashioned man.  "A real man, not one of these boys."  He told me that with my beautiful blue eyes and curly blonde hair, I could afford to wait for a real man.  He then went on to say that even more important was the fact that I was so sweet to listen to an old man ramble.  And then he took my hand, and kept talking, now about government, and we rode the last few minutes hand-in-hand.

I hope that when I'm 87 years old, I can still stand up on the bus and push kids into chairs.  I hope that I still have my faculties about me and can talk without stopping for fifteen straight minutes.  I hope that I can be kind enough to make strangers' whole day.  I thought I was being nice to listen to the old man, but by the end I realized that he was being nice to talk to me.  So, thank you old man.  You made my whole day better.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I relax my brain.

My brain is totally relaxed.

This is the little chant that my yoga teacher does at the beginning and end of every lesson, starting from the toes and working up through the whole body, to end with the brain.  And while the concept of intentionally relaxing seems counterintuitive, it actually works.  After a relaxation activity, my arms feel heavy and lazy when I try to move them.  My chest and hips sort of spread open, and my legs press into the floor.  It's amazing.

I started taking yoga lessons at the beginning of January.  And I can think of nothing better to have done.  Not that I am awesome at yoga, by any means.  Today, for example, I totally fell coming out of the plow into the bridge.  And then I giggled, just to be extra nonzen.  I more appreciate yoga as a catalyst.  I have become more aware of my body and as such have started to eat more consciously and to exercise a lot more.  I stretch in the mornings and evenings.  I can do a shoulder stand for about five minutes now.

And I feel more relaxed.  Except at the concept of trying a head stand next week.  Then, not so relaxed!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Biting the bullet

I bought a gym membership.  I spent tons and tons of money, so now I have to go, right?

But seriously: it has a pool, cardio machines, free weights, nautilus machines, and tons of classes.  It's also super nice and clean, plus everyone speaks English!  It even offers yoga, so now I won't have to travel all the way to f-all deep Buda to do yoga.  Surely, this is a worthwhile investment.  But still... so much money for the annual membership.  So, so much money.  I hope the sad feeling in my belly is a result of my abs workout!

It's a small Budapest, after all

Budapest is a city of about 2 million people.  It has 23 districts, and extends out over kilometers and kilometers.  And yet, everyone I meet knows someone that I know.

Part of this is due to the fact that Anna knows, I think, half of the city.  Then there is the expat community, which it still feels somewhat strange to include myself in.  I go to a party, and later get a friend request from a few people on facebook, each of whom has two or three mutual friends with me, often from totally different friend groups.  Or the same thing happens after a volunteer event, or even after just randomly meeting someone on the street.

I walk down the road and bump into people I know.  I sit down at a random cafe to grab a coffee and hear, "Hey!  Lauren!"  I've even wound up, coincidentally, on the same train as acquaintances, only to realize it after we bump into each other upon arrival to our destination.

It's all lovely, and I feel happy to be part of this big community.  At the same time, it's a bit disconcerting.  I'm starting to lose my anonymity in the city.  One of BP's greatest charms, for me, was the ability to walk down a street or sit down on a random bus, turn off my "trying to understand Hungarian" switch, and be totally alone in the crowd.  I can still usually manage that, but sometimes not.  It's an adjustment.

More and more I feel like I actually live here now.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Europe is covered in snow. A bit to the north and to the east, people are literally freezing to death. Here in Hungary, things aren't quite that bad, though it is below zero even in fahrenheit now. Now, this had been an incredibly mild winter so far, without any snow that stuck. So when we woke up to snow on Saturday, we really didn't think all that much of it. When it started to stick, though, I was thrilled! I slid down our hill on Saturday, giggling like a crazy person. Now there's enough snow that the city is even starting to shut down a little bit. It's crazy... I guess the weather is making up for lost time!

Trips planned

Upcoming trips and traveling joys...

Madrid to visit friends: 2-4 March (booked)
Paris with Lyla and Rachel: 15-19 March (booked)
Ukraine with Anna: 6-9 April
Sweden and Denmark: 28 April- 1 May

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Here's a fun little video featuring my roomie's cousin, Gabor, who is an opera singer with the Hungarian national opera and whom I saw in November and January.  If you're interested, there are some clips from Mephistofele at minutes 3, 7, and 11.  The opera had quite a production, with a massive chorus and crazy sets, and it's worth checking out.  And everyone else can maybe get a kick out of listening to how DAMN MONOTONE even opera singers are in Hungarian.  Monotone opera singers.  While speaking, not singing, granted.  Strange language.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An update on my little ratties

First, let me say that I had fifteen posts during the 31 days of January.  That's pretty much every other day, and definitely, thus far, in keeping with my New Year's Resolution.  Go me!

I thought it would be worth an update on my sweet rattie boys, Smokey and Dexter.  They are big, full-grown ratties now!  Especially Dexter, who is a bit of a chubster.  And it's funny how two brothers can be so different.  Smokey is brash and brave, as well as a bit of a bully.  He will steal treats and shove your hand to get what he wants, then grab that same hand and kiss it for a minute or two.  Dexter is a shy little cuddle bug, hiding from loud noises, but always happy to have a scratch or sit on my shoulder.  They can do tricks, spinning and walking on their hind legs, and answer to their names without hesitation.  Even Anna has warmed up to them.  Just little bundles of sunshine.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mikulas Nap

Now, I realize this is late. But I figure late is better than never, and this is an interesting part of Hungarian culture that I don't think I've written much about.

Here in Hungary, Christmas happens twice. On Christmas itself, families get together and exchange gifts over a large meal. Kids also get some gifts from the baby Jesus. This usually takes place on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas day.  Going to church either for Midnight Mass or on Christmas morning is also a big part of the Christmas celebration for many families.  Nowadays, this celebration is usually split up similarly to how it is in America: Christmas Eve with one side of the family, Christmas Day with the other side.  All in all, the Christmas celebrated at Christmas itself is a quiet family affair.

On December 6th, however, the silly and public Christmas takes place.  This is known as Mikulas Napja, or Saint Nicholas's Day.  St. Nick's Day is the day when people wear Santa hats and, to some extent, give gifts outside of the family.  St. Nick's Day, more than anything else, though, is for children.  On the evening of December 5th, children put out their shoes (or in most cases, boots!) for Santa to fill up with gifts during the night.  Today, most kids get gifts bigger than their shoes, but the tradition was that the gifts would fit into the shoes.  It's like our stockings in America: nowadays, where most kids would be rather upset if they only got a stocking full of gifts!  There is also a LOT of candy involved in this day, and little chocolate Santas are gifted and regifted for the days around it.  Older kids scoff at the concept that Mikulas actually brings the gifts, and parents admonish them to be quiet around their younger siblings.  Santa also has a naughty helper, Krampus, who is a little black demon-esque thing that takes care of delivering coal to bad children... and whipping people on the street with reeds, though this is more extreme in northern Europe.

The only really bad part of Mikulas is that it isn't a public holiday, so kids have to go to school!  As you can imagine, very little actually gets done on that day.

When I say that St. Nick's day is for the children, I mean that it's for the children in your own life.  I, for example, brought muffins into class for my home room kids.  It also means that, as an "adopted child" in my roomie's family, I got invited to their house to celebrate.  We had a big lunch with cake at the end, and I got my very own dark chocolate Santa to munch on.  The table was all done up with red and green and on the whole it was entirely lovely.

I rather like the concept of having two separate Christmases.  For one, it makes the whole month of December festive.  For another, you get to focus on the two spheres of your life, the public and the private, individually and thus give them each the attention they deserve.  Spain also does this, with the Three Kings bringing kids their gifts on January 6th, and so do many other countries.  I know that many families are stressed about keeping Christmas separate from the commercial side of it, especially as that side becomes more and more intense and ridiculous.  So maybe everyone throughout the world should do this.  It doesn't have to be any particular day.  Just choose another day, and have your intimate, family Christmas on one day and the fun, commercial Christmas on another.  After all, too much Christmas is never a bad thing!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Travel bug...

Now, as you know, I went to Istanbul in August, to Vienna in September, to Edinburgh in October/November, and then home to the States over Christmas.  I have a trip planned to Paris for March 14-19.  I will be going to the Ukraine over Easter at the beginning of April.  I'll be going somewhere else for my four-day weekend at the end of April, and for my three-day weekend at the end of May.  I'll spend a month over the summer either working at a camp somewhere or spending some of my Americorps money studying in Salamanca.  I am, in all honesty, set for traveling.

And still, my bug is nibbling at me.  I have to get somewhere in the next few weeks.  Mid-March is just too far away.

Beyond that, my deep desire to head to South America has taken over again.  I've been checking out flights, and it is just ridiculous... 600.000 HUF for the flights alone!  Granted, that is Budapest to Rio, then to Lima, then to Santiago de Chile, then to Buenos Aires, then to Newark to visit my family.  So it's a lot of flights.  But it's also a lot of money!  And I want to go so badly and spend a month traveling around South America.  I need to do it, I've wanted to do it for so long.

Never mind all the other places: Russia, India, Thailand, China, Egypt, a safari.

Ah!  The world is just so big and awesome and I just want to see it all!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hungarian Medicine...

... is remarkably easier to deal with when you actually speak some Hungarian.

So I've spent the last two weeks feeling as if my ears were full and with sinus pressure.  Wednesday I could barely breathe, but I still went into work because I had an open lesson.  (Incidentally, it was an awesome open lesson!  My boss, when I asked her if she had any advice for me, told me to keep doing exactly what I was doing.  Yay.)  Wednesday afternoon led to general feelings of awfulness, and then I started to cough, so I decided that I definitely needed to head into the doctor.

On Thursday I walked the 15 minutes to the nearest city health center.  After some trouble with paperwork, I amazingly didn't even have to wait to be seen.  An ENT doctor and a nurse took care of me, and tutted over me, and scolded me for not having come in sooner.  I even got my face x-rayed, which was sort of awkward as I had to sit perfectly still with my nose against a board and my mouth hanging open.

The eventual diagnosis was, in the words of my doctor, the "háromság," which means the trinity.  I had acute maxillary sinusitis, a middle ear infection, and inflamed tonsils.  The coughing, it turns out, was just from a mild chest cold.  An hour after I walked in, I was out the door, clutching a variety of prescriptions in my hand.

I know I've discussed this before, but in America we tend to have one or two medicines that combine different medications.  Not so in Hungary.  So, to treat my general face infection, I have to do the following:

  • take an antibiotic pill twice a day
  • take an ampule of probiotics twice a day, to prevent the killer antibiotic from wreaking too much havoc on my system
  • use a dropper to place three drops of a serum into each nostril three times per day
  • gargle with a certain syrup, diluted in water, three times per day
  • take an expectorant syrup that tastes of thyme three times per day
  • point a hair dryer at my ears for five minutes per ear, three times per day
  • take ibuprofen as needed
It's all a bit of a headache, but it was also all totally free.  I also have to go back next Thursday so that she can check out my right ear when it's not infected.  I just hope this all gets taken care of soon and my ears can be permanently empty-feeling for once!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Metric System

One of the most notable changes, when leaving the United States, is that the whole rest of the world uses a totally different system of measurement.  Food is weighed in kilograms (decagrams for smaller amounts), liquids in liters, and temperature in celsius.  And, like most things, this starts to become normal to you after awhile.  I now naturally say "I drank two whole liters of water during second lesson!" or "I'd like a half kilo of tomatoes, please."  This year, finally, I've even started to recognize and understand celsius.

I've been trying to watch what I eat recently, which has lead to two observations.  First, in Europe, nutrition facts are much less stringently applied.  They also include, in addition to the calories, the kilo-joules in a food.  Who uses the kJ when the calories are right there?  Anyone?  Secondly, hopping on the scale after a week of careful diet and exercise is rather disappointing in the metric system.  There's just something a lot less satisfying about losing 1.3 kilos compared to losing 3 pounds!

I would also like to promise that this blog will not turn into one of those obnoxious blogs where I discuss diet, exercise, "personal goals," "fitness achievements," and the like.  Yuck.  Just making an observation that really struck out at me... the only way the metric system has ever disappointed me!

Monday, January 23, 2012

3-day weekend

It turned out very suddenly (as in, we learned about it on Wednesday) that this weekend is a three day weekend.  The first semester ended last week, so today is the mid-year meeting.  Our coordinator could not get ahold of our boss, so she made the call that, as the meeting will be held in Hungarian, we don't have to attend.  Which meant that we all of a sudden had a three day weekend coming up, and no time to plan a trip.

So, what does a young expat do when faced with a three-day weekend at home?  Lots of things, as it turns out.

Friday: buying a new big fridge, napping, catching up on tv, and going to her roomie's brother's birthday party
Saturday: making brunch, going to see the Muppets, having a long walk, buying some clothes, and going to a Spanish friend's birthday party
Sunday: going to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, making fajitas, skyping family, and playing pool
Monday: sleeping in, getting delivery of the fridge, getting work done, and going to yoga

I had planned on a trip to the baths this weekend, but now virtually everyone, myself included, has come down with a sinus infection.  Or at least sinus pressure.  So, getting some work done instead.  I feel so relaxed and well rested!  I wish every weekend could last for three days.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Opera

In Hungary, the Opera has a capital letter not because it's fancy, but because there is only one. It is a gorgeous old building and incredible world-class performances are put on here, both by Hungarian troupes and international ones as well. There are also ballet and orchestra shows.

Anna's cousin is an opera singer with the National Opera. Tonight is the dress rehearsal of "Mephistophole" and I got free tickets. For the ground, row 9 center.

My life is awesome. Let the show begin.

I passed!

I just went to the stationer's to buy a card for my grandma, who had back surgery. The lady working there was incredibly friendly and helpful. We chatted about the crazy weather for a few minutes, then she showed me the get well cards. I looked through them and then decided a blank card would be better, since my grandma can't read the printed greeting.

The shop lady was confused and asked me why I was sending a card if my grandmother couldn't read. I stared at her, confused, and said that she could read, just not Hungarian.

The lady said, "Oh, ok, your grandmother isn't Hungarian!"  I said, "Well, I'm not Hungarian?"

And then the woman said, "Really?!?"

Ahhh. I'm so self-satisfied right now.  And now off to my Hungarian lesson, so I can continue tricking people!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


The weather this year has been decidedly weird.  When I arrived in July, it was gray and rainy, along with temperatures in the 60s.  Then, mid August brought incredibly hot weather that lasted into October.  In November, every thing seemed like it was starting to be normal again.  But then, it stayed that way.  And all through December and since I've been back in January, the weather has been dry and only in the 40s.  No snow.  No beautiful winter weather.  This week, it became incredibly windy, but still no snow.

But last night, it snowed.  Just a little bit, and I'm sure it has since melted.  Still, coming home last night with the city lights on and a light dusting making everything more beautiful... it was gorgeous.  Budapest is so beautiful!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Evil clown and office pranks

Now, as most of you know, I hate clowns. I'm not scared of them exactly. It's more that they make me uncomfortable. Now, my desk mate, David, received a porcelain clown recently. It's been slowly creeping toward my desk over the past week. Today, I came back to find it lurking behind my sandwich with a note that said "Share... or die!"

The answering salvo has been sent. Some days, I love my job!

Sorry it's sideways... Must figure out how this works!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Two trees

The top picture is of my American Christmas tree.  It is old (my family has had it for as long as I can remember) and I love it.  It's absolutely covered with ornaments, each one holding a memory.  It's big and shiny and amazingly beautiful.  The bottom picture is of my Hungarian Christmas tree.  Each year my tree is different, because I get to choose live trees here.  The decorations are a bit slapped together, it's a bit messy, and I still haven't quite figured out how to keep it alive, but it's an adventure every year, especially the midnight run to throw it away.

People here in Hungary often ask me how I could give up America to live here.  How it is that I gave up a big car, a big apartment, and an easy life in my own language to come and ride a bike while struggling in Hungarian.  Most importantly, they don't understand how it is that I'm not paralyzed with longing for my home.

But the amazing thing is, I didn't give up America.  It's there waiting for me if I want to go back.  I could go back next week if I wanted to, but for now I'm good on the adventure.  Plus, with the power of the internet and jet engines, I don't have to choose between the one and the other.  I can have two countries that I call "home" at the moment, and I can have two Christmas trees, too.  They couldn't be more different, but I think they're both pretty special.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back on the bike

It's been in the mid-forties (around 5 C) here for the past week and transit has been driving me particularly crazy.  Plus, I just made my shiny new resolution, so I needed to keep away from public transit for at least a few days if that was going to survive.  These two things led to me lugging Tiff down to the street this morning and biking to work.

I arrived to work sweaty and breathless, already depressingly out of shape after less than two short months away.  Granted, those two months included Christmas, but still.  Everyone asked me why my face was so red, and I could only smile.  I was totally zenned out after my half-hour ride inside of my own head.  As I buzzed about on my endorphins, I couldn't imagine feeling any better.  I swear, I need to bike to work every day.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Years Resolutions, again

A website I read put up a really nice list of potential New Years Resolutions, including things like "stop pursuing an emotionally unavailable person" and "respect your own boundaries."  The one I like the best, however, is the suggestion to let other people be idiots.

This one is hard for me.  For one thing, I'm sort of overly self-confident sometimes, and I convince myself that my way of doing things is the best way.  For another, I'm a fixer, and everyone around me knows this.  When they need help, I will fix their problems for them and get them out of a jam.  So, if I prevent people from getting into problems in the first place, I save myself future work.  This has always been my justification.

But you know what?  What other people do, assuming that it doesn't impact me, really isn't any of my business.  I'm not the boss or manager of anything, I'm not in a serious relationship, and I don't have children.  I'm not responsible for anyone but myself.

So my second New Years Resolution this year is to let it go and chill the hell out.  When I see other bicyclists tooling around without helmets on, I will try my damnedest to not sigh angrily at them.  When I am in airport security and a woman is suddenly surprised that she has to take her shoes off, I will attempt to find my own personal zen.  When one of my colleagues tells me that they haven't planned anything for one of their lessons, I will endeavor to simply nod.  I will try very hard to not bitch about anyone or complain about things that I generally perceive as stupid.  In fact, every time I feel the urge to say something negative, I will try to replace that with a positive statement.  And in doing so, I will hopefully become a better person.

This is going to be the most difficult thing I've ever attempted to do.  I've moved to two foreign countries on my own, survived a year in the Americorps, gotten a masters in another language while working full-time, and spent 7 weeks traveling in Eastern Europe with no itinerary.  Those were all cake walks.   This?  This will be hard.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My New TV Obsession

I watched a few episodes of Parks and Recreation during its first season and really was not impressed with it.  People kept recommending it to me, however, so I sat through the (not awesome) first season and it was totally worth it.  It's hysterical and also super sweet.  Between the earnestness of Leslie, the ridiculousness of Ron Swanson (that amazing face up there), and how damn adorable Andy is, I am totally hooked.  And, as such, I am up late watching episodes when I should be sleeping.  Oh well.  I'm having fun, and the morning is still a while away!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Aerial Photography

While at home over Christmas, I got to go up in my dad's little plane with him.  It's an adorable little prop plane and we had a great time together.  Dad did some twists and turns, and it was a bit bumpy, but I wasn't scared.  I even took the controls for a minute while up in the air.
me in copilot mode
a duck-shaped lake
our house from the sky
Elk mountain, the nearby ski resort, from the sky.  People stopped and waved at us from the slopes.
the nearby Nicholson bridge
Your pilot and copilot wish you a good day!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

After my father's annual epic fireworks display, we are ready to ring in the New Year.  I will kiss my puppy and drink a mini bottle of cava, as is traditional.  And tomorrow I will head back home to Budapest.  Silly short break this year.

My New Year's resolution this year is to blog at least three times per week.  My life is amazing and worth documenting, and I need to remember that.  So I hope to see much more of you in 2012!

Happy New Year, Boldog Új Évet, ¡y Feliz Año Nuevo!