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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Monthly dose of S.H.A.M.E. - August

Marc Chagall Creation of the World First Four Days
 Don't worry, I don't think that we need more shame in our world.  And we definitely don't need me giving it to you!

I jokingly told a friend that I'm trying to get a degree in psychology by reading books and listening to podcasts.  But seriously, there are some good resources out there and if you are selective in what you read and listen to, they can be very helpful.

Beware of the ever-present risk of getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of self-help available on the internet though.

Something that comes up frequently in what I'm reading and listening to is shame.

Shame keeps us from moving forward, keeps us trying to hide our thoughts, emotions and actions and serves to heighten the already loud voices in our heads telling us that we aren't good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, kind enough, etc.

The other consistent thing that I'm reading is that shame can't survive being spoken.

Marc Chagall Creation of the
World Days 5 and 6


Words are powerful.  We know that.  We've felt it in others' words toward us.  We've wielded our words in ways that we regret.  Sometimes the simplest words of kindness will carry us through a difficult time.  A word can evoke memories that we haven't thought of in years.

Christians talk about creation happening with God speaking the world into existence, we speak of Jesus being the Word which was flesh.

So is it really that shocking that speaking shame could be a powerful tool in destroying it?

Marc Chagall
Creation of the
World Day 7
I plan on using this monthly dose of S.H.A.M.E. to do just that - speak shame.  To encourage myself and others to recognize that there is a different way of living than that of letting shame do it's dirty work and keep me from being all that I can be.

So often, when I'm brave enough and vulnerable enough to tell someone else something I'm ashamed of, I find that I'm not alone.  That there are other people who've felt like I feel.  I receive compassion and kindness.  And that shame is way less scary.

This doesn't mean that we should go around telling everyone what we're ashamed of and when we feel shame.  We gotta use discernment, people!

A good start is just to identify when you feel shame. 

I wanted to reclaim shame and make it work for me.  So I created this acrostic to remind me to challenge and question the shame that I'm feeling and give me quick and ready tools to do so.

Here's what I came up with:

S - sharing and speaking
H - helping, not hiding
A - asking why, asking for help
M - motivating, not mocking
E - evoking hope, not fear

Consider this your taster, and stay tuned for more thoughts and ideas next month!

In case you haven't already seen one of the present-day experts talking about shame, I recommend that you all take about 20 minutes and see what Brene Brown has to say about it.

My husband and I visited the Marc Chagall museum in Nice, France this summer
and I couldn't resist adding the pictures of his take on the creation of the world.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Baby Cows for Dinner?

It was Mother's Day in Slovakia.  And in the US, but that's not terribly relevant.  I decided that my mother-in-law deserved to have someone else cook dinner for the family.  I'm not a mother yet, but in my view, Mother's Day should be a time for mothers to not have to do all the mothery-type things they do every other day.  My MIL didn't seem terribly put out by having to make dinner, since it resulting in what she really wanted for Mothers Day - all of her children and grandchildren with her.  

However, she allowed me to take over dinner.

I used the trusty internet to find a Slovak cooking blog and sent my MIL three options that looked delicious and we settled on the pork loin.

Enter the saga of the baby cow.

I wasn't really sure where to buy a pork loin, but I was pretty sure our local TESCOextra (think Super Walmart) had a large selection of meat cuts and decided to go there.  I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for, other than the words bravčové kare and the fact that a pork loin is a somewhat cylindrical cut of meat.

What I eventually found and cooked for Mother's Day
I entered the meat aisle and started looking.  I picked up the first cylindrically shaped package I saw and began reading.  I didn't understand most of the words but saw kralik and bez hlavy and that got quite a reaction from me.  I turned the package over to confirm my suspicions and saw four little legs-eek, I was not expecting that!  I immediately put the meat back on the shelf and kept searching, thoughts and questions and wonderings swirling in my head.

Things that would probably be helpful for you to know right now:
  • True, authentic wienerschnizel is made from veal, otherwise known as baby cow, and I had recently learned this when we dined with a visiting relative.
  • bez hlavy means without a head
  • Krava is Slovak for cow.  Many nouns in Slovak can be made diminutive by adding -ka, -ička, -ik.  Therefore, I quickly translated that kralik must certainly mean small or baby cow.
  • I did not remember the word kralik, just that I had seen a word that made me certain that this package contained a baby cow.

Please join me inside my head:
Umm, that is a baby cow.  Put it down.  Keep looking for the pork loin.
Wait, isn't that tiny for a baby cow?  How do they even get a baby cow that small?
Do they make the mother cow deliver early?
Do they abort early term baby cows so that people can eat them?
This is horrible!  What a strange Slovak custom.

Note that the possibility that it was NOT a baby cow did not enter my mind.

Note how quickly I reacted with horror and disgust and assumed that the culture was strange, not that I had possibly made a mistake in translating the label from Slovak to English.

When I got home, I asked my husband if he knew that they sold baby cows at TESCO and what kind of Slovak dish involved cooking a tiny, premature baby cow.  He had never heard of this, which only added to my confusion.

I called my friend who's father is a vet and asked her if she'd ever heard of "harvesting" baby cows for food.  She had not. Shocker.

The next day at dinner (which by the way, turned out fabulously) I asked my husband's brother if he'd ever heard of these mysterious baby cows.  I showed him the rough size of the package and he replied that it sounded like it might be a rabbit.

Guys, baking a pork loin is actually pretty easy - and delicious!
"But it definitely didnt say zajec" (the Slovak word for rabbit) I said, quite proud of my proficiency in my new language.

We explained to story to their aunt, and she asked "Did it say kralik?"

"Yes! That's the word that I read!" I replied.

Well, it turns out that the Slovak diminutive for cow is kravička, not kralik.

When I took a picture of the package at TESCO for this blog post, I was quite embarrassed to see a picture of a rabbit on the label.

I was so busy reading the words, I missed the picture of the rabbit!

So now this story isn't just a hilarious language snafu, but also a revealing picture of how easy it is to miss something right in front of you.

How easy it is to see only your side of the story.  To assume your perspective is the right one.  To abandon rational thought (really, aborting premature baby cows won in my brain over the possibility that I was wrong that it was a baby cow?).  To just go with the seemingly clear facts you have.  To completely miss the most obvious things because you're so focused on a different thing.

There is so much grace in the food system here, they put pictures of what you're buying on the packages (do they do this in the US?), but I was so focused on using my Slovak skills and figuring my way around a foreign system, that I completely missed the helpful hints right in front of me.

It's definitely a hilarious story, and I wouldn't know the Slovak word for an edible rabbit if I hadn't made the mistake, but I hope that I also will learn grace and patience and forgiveness and giving others and situations the benefit of the doubt when it seems completely obvious that _________ (insert quick reaction to just about anything, big and small) is true.

Do you have any baby cows in your life? Any places where you need to step back and reconsider the story that you're telling yourself is true?

Feel free to use my mistake and in any situation where you're tempted to jump to a conclusion.  Just tell yourself "this might not actually be a baby cow".

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Toilet Tuesdays: Switzerland

I have wanted to go to Switzerland since I was in elementary school.  Maybe reading "Heidi" started my dreaming of Alps and goats and cowbells and incredibly beautiful nature.  Up until last month, I hadn't seen that dream become a reality.

However, my husband and I decided to include a few cities in Switzerland on our ridiculous European summer road trip.  Currently, we have family members in three cities in Switzerland, which makes it hard to resist just stopping in for a visit.

Our first few days consisted of border-hopping between France and Switzerland.  My brother lives in Geneva, but we stayed about thirty minutes away in the beautiful countryside that happens to belong to France.

The morning we were officially, really, truly heading into Switzerland, I was pretty happy.  We drove along Lake Geneva on the French side and enjoyed some breathtaking views of the lake.  As we rounded the northern tip and made our way into Switzerland, I made sure my husband knew how excited I was.  (Even though I got kind of annoyed at my parents on road trips when they would stop at state borders to take family pictures by the welcome signs, I secretly want to stop and do a little happy dance that I'm in a new country every time we cross a border)

We both felt the need for a toilet and a quick lunch, so we stopped at a lovely rest station which had a fantastic view of the lake.  We ate, watched the storm that was rolling in and used the toilets.

Starting to see clouds rolling in over the lake
Quickly lost visibility of the mountains
Now, I'm not sure what you have in your minds when you imagine Switzerland, but I obviously think it's very beautiful and I know that it's quite expensive and has extremely quality products.

I definitely didn't think I had an idea in my head of what the toilet would look like as I headed that direction.  However, I was not prepared for this:

Yep, that's right.  A squatty potty.  In Switzerland.  Granted, it was a very clean and stainless-steel modern squatty potty, but it was not quite what I was (unknowingly) expecting.  Had we been in Asia or maybe a third-world country, I wouldn't have been surprised, but this definitely rocked my idyllic dream of Switzerland.

When we arrived in Basel, I discovered that there is definitely a difference in the Swiss culture of toilets compared to my culture of toilets.

We arrived just in time to celebrate Swiss National Day.  They were setting up food stands all along the Rhine in the heart of the old city, getting ready for concerts that would be held on floating platforms, and preparing for the likelihood of drunken peeing that might be indiscriminately placed along the pathway and buildings if not for this:

Yep, a porta-pissoir.  And yes, people used it.

The playful image below was featured on all the permanent public toilets I saw in Basel.  I'm not sure whether the fella is unique to Basel or is featured on toilets all across Switzerland.  Based on the fierce individualism among the 26 cantons of Switzerland, I wouldn't be surprised if each had their own public toilet mascot. 

I'll leave you now to ponder the conundrums of Swiss public toilet culture, or what I just can't resist calling (due to it's slightly irreverent and rhyming cadence) the Swiss piss.


Friday, August 18, 2017

What is normal?

What is normal?  This question has followed me throughout my life and pops up in new and different situations and settings.  Just when I think I've sorted out my oddities, life and relationships change and I find myself asking the question again.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I volunteered at an English camp our friends run every summer in the Czech Republic.

When I was asked to share a part of my story as part of the afternoon program designed to introduce the students to the Christian faith, I actually found myself afraid.

I'm not a huge proselytizer, and find myself uncertain how to talk about my faith and what I believe with others without coming across as pushy or narrow-minded.  [The fact that I am concerned about this probably indicates that I am not pushy...hopefully.]  My desire in general is to speak about my faith in a way that invites others to feel comfortable talking to me about it, sharing their thoughts and beliefs, asking me questions and hopefully finding in me a person who values them deeply and firstly as another human being.

Anyway, as I sat down to type my story around the topic of the day, "Voices from Society: Truth/Falsehood", I founds words flowing from my fingers and was actually excited to see the ways that God has shaped my understanding of what "normal" is and means in my life.

I don't usually share about faith on the blog, but I wanted to share this part of my story because I think it's valuable and because my faith is part of who I am, part of my "normal" and I want to be more comfortable with sharing and talking about it "normally".

So here it is, a part of my story and the voices that I heard (and hear) about being "normal".

Do you guys have a picture in your minds of a "normal" person?  Do you find yourself thinking to yourself how not "normal" you are?  I certainly did.  And definitely still do a lot of the time.  Somehow this ethereal idea of "normal" seems always out of reach.  And it seems to me that if I could just achieve "normal", then everything would be ok.  I would have friends.  I would be liked.  I would be confident.  I would be pretty.  I would be happy.
I don't even know if anyone or anything ever uses the word "normal" to get us to feel bad about not being normal, but somehow it sneaks in and upsets our identity.
I was very shy when I grew up.  I had three brothers.  So I was the odd one out in that situation.  I had unbelievably curly hair - my mom had no idea how to take care of it, so in order to not go around with frizzy hair framing my face I mostly braided my hair.  I was this tall when I was 12 [5 feet 9 inches].  I felt huge compared to my friends and other people around me.  I was homeschooled, and that was generally regarded as quite strange, so that didn't help.  My family didn't have a tv, so I didn't know all the funny lines and popular shows that everyone else knew.  I was very smart, but that didn't seem to be a positive, it seemed to set me apart in yet another way.
Now, none of these things are actually inherently a problem.  My difficulty was that I was looking around me at friends and peers and noticing all the things that seemed different.  All the things that seemed to make me not "normal".
I assumed that everyone around me looked at me and immediately thought that I was boring, huge, plan and unattractive, abnormal.  I was lonely and didn't know how to make myself into the imaginary "normal" that I thought I should be.
I let my identity be determined not by who I was, what I liked and was interested in, the things that I was good at, but by some created standard that I didn't (and couldn't) achieve.  I went to church and learned about a God who created me and loved me, but I didn't connect that to my lived experience.
When I was 15, my family moved to a new state because of my dad's job.  I was actually really excited about this because I thought this might give me the opportunity to redefine who I was, to try to be the person that I thought was "normal", to try to fit in and find happiness and acceptance.  I could wear the right clothes.  I could watch some movies and shows so I would know what was popular.  I could try to fit in.
To some extent, I was able to be more "normal".  But I was still really tall.  I was still homeschooled. I still had curly hair (that I was learning to control and shape).  However, slowly it began to dawn on me that the people around me who I thought were really popular, confident, happy, and "normal" were actually quite a bit like me.  I was shocked.  I remember the first time I actually thought "That person actually wishes that she was like me."
"What?! But she's normal!  I'm not normal.  What would she want to be like me?!" said the voice in my head.
And that was the beginning of me starting to grasp that "normal" is just a setting on your washer.  That who I am is wonderful and special and worth something to the rest of the world.  That actually much of what I felt like as rejection and ridicule from the society and community around me was rejection and ridicule from myself.  That I lacked the believe that what I learned in church was really completely true - God has created me and loves me - me; not normal me.  He's not waiting for me to be someone else.  He's not disappointed that I'm the way that I am.  He wants me to love me.  And as I bask in his love towards me, I can turn around and show that love to other people.  And that is what is truly normal.  Or at least what I want to be normal for me.
I'm still not normal.  If you spend more than 2 minutes around me, you'll figure that out.  But I'm learning to embrace me and not worry so much about the voices from media and advertisements and culture and inside my head.  One day at a time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Toilet Tuesdays: Liechtenstein

Well, my friends, today we bring you toilets from Liechtenstein, officially known as Fürstentum Liechtenstein.  Due to the abbreviation, I suspect that most people will assume the sticker I bought for my laptop was purchased in Florida.

A country that measures 12.4 km at its widest point and 24.8 km at its longest point, it's easy to skip when you're traveling about Europe.

We chose to make the detour on our drive back to Slovakia from Switzerland and spent about an hour in the capital city of Vaduz.

There was a beautiful cathedral, with beautiful stained glass windows.

There was a main street / square type thing that was largely constructed of these beige bricks.  There were many tourist shops and we found a cute souvenir boutique that featured a local designer (her husband and mother were manning the shop when we stopped in).  I don't know how many of you are looking for gifts for your friends and family from Liechtenstein, but definitely check them out. 

I realized that I was in need of a bathroom and we asked a friendly lady in the information center where the closest (or only?) public toilet was.  She directed us a little bit down the street where we encountered this conundrum:

Now, I realize that you can't actually see what our conundrum was, so let me explain it to you.  There's a tiny white sign in the lower left of the picture which says WC and has an arrow directing you to the right.  There is a tiny white sign on the lamp pole in the upper right of the picture which says WC and an area pointing you to the left.

One might think this would be a fairly simple equation and any person (Swiss-German speaking or not) could figure out the location of the toilet.

We looked at all the doors between those two signs, went upstairs and back downstairs, went around the corners of the building and finally located the WC.  You can see the white doors in the picture below.


There was a fairly utilitarian stainless steel toilet, which had handy grab bars to help those who have a more difficult time maintaining a squat without touching the toilet while in a public restroom. So really, other than the difficulty finding the toilet, it was quite a nice toilet.

Later, on our way back to the car, we passed this public toilet, helpfully marked as a toilet much more obviously than the one we used and also with a pretty little designation of the country in which you are depositing your waste. ;)

One of my favorite things about Liechtenstein was that you can actually get a stamp in your passport.  This is so unusual with the open borders in the EU, that I actually expected it to be some kind of touristy thing that they just stamped on a piece of paper for you (probably because it was advertised for 3 francs).

However, this tourist-friendly country just takes that stamp (and your 3 francs) and puts it right in your official passport. Such a different experience than when I flew into Athens and asked if I could obtain a passport stamp and was told by the customs official that "it's not a souvenir."

Well Athens, I think Liechtenstein begs to differ.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Have you ever thought about what vacation means?  I mean, not what it entails, but linguistically, what it means. I never really did.  I know people think about and want different things from vacation.  

Some people are all about doing nothing on vacation.
Some people want to do as much as they can on vacation.
Some people think of vacation as a time to splurge, to buy things they wouldn't normally buy, to treat themselves well.
Some people save and penny pinch all year round so they can afford to go on a vacation.
Some people go into debt because they don't save and penny pinch and still go on extravagant vacations.
Some people like to vacation with family or friends.
Some people think being with family and friends doesn't count as a vacation.

As my husband and I set out on vacation a few weeks ago, I connected the dots between two words in Slovak (the language that I'm learning) and that made me want to connect the dots in English as well.  

Consider it a linguistic journey based on curiousity.

dovolenka: the Slovak word for vacation
dovoliť: the Slovak verb, "to allow"

Often Slovaks use this verb about themselves when they are saying they can't allow themselves something, food, a haircut, time to relax, etc.

This leads to the speculation that somewhere along the line, Slavic language and culture saw a connection between the act or event of a vacation and allowing yourself something.  To take a break?  To spend money on a hotel or a nice meal?

Seems to make sense.  Cool.

vacation: the American English word for vacation (I realize that holiday is used in Britain, but I won't comment on that)
vacate: the English verb indicating emptying.

Hmm.  Interesting.  I can still track with it, but it's interesting that in English vacation comes from a word that is more about what it's not than what it is.  Leaving.  Not working.  Not being stingy.  Not staying home.  Not being stressed.

Now, I am by no means an actual trained linguist, nor am I a trained cultural analyst.  However, I do think that language indicates subtle things about our general thinking and actions as a culture.  And I think that learning other languages can give us different perspectives on how to think and act.

So how do you think about vacation?  What things have influenced the way you look forward to, plan and experience vacation - your family, your job, your friends, your interests, your personality, your language?

Just curious.

And now I'll just vacate this post and allow myself to enjoy the road trip part of my current dovo-cation.  Or Vacalenka.  Whatever.