Friday, December 23, 2011

Let Us Adore Him!

"Faith is simply following, following its object. Faith is going a way which is marked out and prepared."
- Karl Barth

If faith can be defined this way, isn't faith exactly what the magi and shepherds were demonstrating when they traveled to see the baby?

The star and the desire to worship the newborn king of the Jews were the only motivating factors for the wise men. The throng of angels and their heavenly song prompted the shepherds.

In other words, these two groups of people were not drawn to Jesus because of their faith. They exercised faith because they were drawn to Jesus.  Their worship of Jesus was completely outside the realm of tradition or religion.  They knew nothing of the reason for the season, or the Christ of Christmas.

The only appropriate response was to go and see what it was that had been announced. The way had been prepared. But that's all they knew. They were filled with awe, wonder and probably confusion.  There was no sense whatsoever that they knew what was going on.

Yet they went to worship and adore him.

What a refreshing thought among all the expectations the holiday season brings.

May our worship of the Lord be unhindered this year. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Value in Croatia

"Just let them do it..." our host whispered to her husband, "'s what they do in America".

My wife and I had been living in our pastor's home for close to a year.  They cooked for us.  They paid the electric and water bills. They insisted on buying the groceries.  All because we were volunteering in the church they had served in for the last 30 years.

The tradition in small town Croatia is to cook a big meal on Sundays.  We're talking soup, then freshly cooked beef, pork, chicken (or all three), potatoes, freshly picked vegetables, and a homemade cake with cappuccino, coffee or tea to round things off.  They don't let you stop eating either.  Here your "no" doesn't mean no until you've said it at least 10 times.

So I thought it might be nice to take the burden off our hosts one Sunday and invite them out for čevapi at the only restaurant I knew of in town. After all, in America taking someone out for dinner is a nice way to show appreciation.

But after we walked out the door the pastor asked his wife "why are we doing this?" to which the aforementioned response came.

In Croatia, people kill a pig for you.  They pick their own vegetables from the garden they till all year round and serve them every Sunday for lunch. They'll grow chickens in their shed out back for the May 1st barbecue. They'll collect elderberry on Saturday, cook it in the evening and serve it as juice the next day. They make jams, collect mushrooms, grow pumpkins, and find chestnuts to roast on an open fire.

And I just take them out for dinner to say thanks.

Value in Croatia is measured more by quality of effort than quantity of material goods.  And you don't go to a store or a restaurant to find value here.  You go to someone's house. The way one hosts shapes their identity.  That's why people spend day and night in their gardens, kitchens and orchards.

When we began walking to the restaurant together, our hosts were trying to understand the value of our actions.  It wasn't that they weren't grateful, or that my intentions were corrupt.  It was that in their understanding, a home cooked feast trumps a pre-made meal from a stranger - no matter who's paying.

After living here for a few years, I've learned that in this context, they're absolutely right.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Cross in Osijek

In June 2003, during my first visit to Croatia, Pope John Paul II came to Osijek.  The only thing I remember about that day was that the whole city shut down.  There was not a car on the street, not a business working.  Osijek was a ghost town.  Most had gone to the airport landing field - the only place in the city that could hold the throng of people (220,000 in a city of fewer than 100,000) who came to see Papa. The city put up a large cross for the event.

The other day, I took my car to Osijek to be serviced.  The Kia station happens to be very close to the cross. As I was walking to a cafe I stared at the symbol, amazed by the simplicity of the structure juxtaposed by the immense meaning it carries.  I looked forward to spending more time in contemplation when I returned.

When it was time to pick up my car I started back along the same path I had walked just a few hours ago.  But the cross wasn't where I thought it was.  In fact, despite its size, I couldn't find any sign of it.  How could something so big be so hard to find - especially when I knew exactly where it was?  Was it possible they took it down in the small time I was gone?

As I continued walking, smaller, obviously fake crosses started tricking me.  I knew they weren't the real thing, but the very fact that I was so keenly aware of looking for the cross forced me to recognize - and then dismiss - every small streetlight.  It was a confusing and frustrating experience.

Finally I found it.  When I did, I realized it stood in a different location than I previously thought.  Even though I had concentrated on it so thoroughly earlier, I had not taken its context into consideration.   My confidence even made me wonder if someone else had done something with it.

As it should, the cross revealed something.  When I reflected on my experience, I realized I have the tendency to solidify my idea of God.  Sometimes my understanding of God turns into a god.  God becomes so concrete in my mind that I don't allow the Lord's mysteriousness to captivate me.  I often predict what God will do, rather than praying for the Father's will to be done.  Thankfully, the Lord is not limited to my insufficient understanding.

Raymond E. Brown has something to say about this:
It remains a paradox that we worship a God whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and yet we tend to be so sure about what He would think fitting. Every clearly discernible action of his has been a surprise; how can we be so sure what He must do?

 "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" Romans 11:33-34 (ESV)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sign Language

These two signs just popped up in Orahovica.  What do they mean?  What's their relationship to each other?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I just realized another reason why Paul calls us Christ's beloved children in the same verse he calls us to imitate Christ.

Today I was working with Ian to clean up his magnet letters.  He was having some trouble concentrating on finishing the job...until I helped him.  Then, the faster I worked, the faster he worked.  Before I began, I was concerned that my help would cause him to just stand by and watch while I finished the job.  But, knowing that we wouldn't do anything else until the task was completed, he imitated my pattern and did the same.

There aren't many teachers that prompt us to do anything like children.  But Paul had seen the natural tendency children have to imitate and knew that there was no better relationship to call Christ's followers to than that of a child.

Isn't it amazing that in the act of imitating Christ we work together to further His kingdom?

A Friend Who Sticks Closer

Enoh has been "doing school" with his Mommy lately. In the Croatian activity book we have for him, there are several pages that encourage the young student to place stickers in their appropriate environments.  
Petra has shown Enoh where some of the stickers could be placed strategically in order to make the picture look complete, but she found that he had the habit of putting all the stickers on one section of the page.  

When she asked him why he didn't spread them out he said...

..."because mommy - they're friends!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seeking Understanding

I recently finished an author whose grasp I cannot escape. German theologian Ernst Käsemann explores the Gospel of John in The Testament of Jesus and claims some surprising results - the boldest of which I disagree with strongly.  Yet, Käsemann has deepened my understanding of Jesus. 

Here are some quotes from Käsemann's book I found especially meaningful:

On Theology:
"Faith does not limit itself to theology and theology cannot guarantee faith, much less be a substitute for it.  Without theology, however, faith cannot be kept alive and proclamation cannot rightly be made."

On Unity:
"Christian unity exists concretely only so long as it remains a task to be fulfilled."
"Christian unity must not merely be demanded, but also be rightly understood, rightly substantiated and taught."

On Love:
"Love in John means something other than an emotion and it transcends even the sphere of ethical decisions.  Love does not merely respect the rights or the needs of the other person in personal conduct.  Love speaks to the other person and thus communicates itself, or else it preserves what is heard and so accepts the self-disclosure of the other person also through its own deeds of love."

On Faith:
"Faith means one thing only; to know who Jesus is.  This knowing is not merely theoretical, for it verifies itself only in remaining with Jesus."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Raising Bi-lingual Children

Teaching our kids two languages felt more like an experiment than anything else at the beginning.  We decided, when Enoh was in the womb, that Petra would speak Croatian to our children while I spoke English.  Enoh was confused for awhile - and he began speaking much later than many toddlers.  There were times when I thought maybe we were being cruel to the little guy.  But my wife deserves credit for convincing me to stick with it.  

It's paying off.  Enoh seems to already understand who to speak to in English and who to speak to in Croatian without really thinking about it.  Of course, he doesn't know either language well yet.  But he gets by in both.  I've been surprised at how quickly he has learned.

Here's a glimpse at what a bi-lingual conversation looks like at 1-and-a-half years old (Ian) and 3 years old (Enoh):

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Top 10 Reasons I like October Light's "Croatia" Video

Quality Croatian music videos as creative as this one (scroll down to see the video) are very rare.  Here are 10 reasons why this one is worth blogging about:

10. It promotes Croatia.  I'll be honest, it's hard to find 6 guys so fist-pumpingly excited to live in this country.

9. It does so without showing a glimpse of the coast.  Don't get me wrong, the Croatian coast is amazing, but sometimes people don't realize there's a lot more to this country than the Adriatic.

8.  It's a catchy song.

7. Trombone - a rare instrument in this country.

By the way, I was playing at a funeral one time (no, not that one) and after looking at my trombone one of the participants asked: "Jel' to srpski truba?" "Is that a Serbian trumpet?" (Apparently anything that's foreign must be from Serbia.)

6. It makes my boys dance.  And I mean dance.

5.  The blue truck.  Blue trucks are the stereotypical Roma vehicle in Croatia.  Maybe I'm reading into it, but I see a hint of trying to break that prejudice.

4.  Croatian+English.  The other night they featured a Croatian linguist on the news who was discussing how English words are slowly being incorporated in the Croatian language.  October Light illustrates this point at several points during the song.

3. Cornfields.  I grew up in Iowa.

2. No traffic.  I could play trombone on a truck too if there weren't so many obstacles on the road.  How the band managed to keep the roads clear is beyond me.

1. Because I can call it Croative.


Monday, October 24, 2011

An Open Letter

Dear Friends,

After taking Emily and Petra to a local office to apply for our daughter's citizenship, I am not surprised that Steve Job's life was less celebrated here in Croatia than it was in America.

Believe it or not, this picture was taken in October of 2011.

It's not that the internet, personal computers, electronic handheld devices, or various other communication systems are not utilized in Croatia.  By no means!  It's just that they are not used in the places where they could arguably be the most useful.  This worker was very friendly.  And if he was confused, it stemmed more from our daughter being born into a unique (for small-town Croatia) dual citizenship marriage.

Yes, typewriters are still used all over Croatia.  I find this strange in a land that is becoming more and more like Western-Europe everyday.  My inclination is to hang this cultural difference in the closet that already holds most of the shocking things I've encountered, yet I have a feeling that "tradition" is not what gives the typewriter such a long shelf-life.

So I'll appeal to my Croatian audience.  Why in the world of iPads and blogs are we still using typewriters?

I'll be waiting by the mailbox.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meet Our Daughter Emily Vjera

As we were waiting for our third child to arrive, my wife and I took a trip down memory lane.  The vehicle was this blog.  As we were finishing, I heard something I never thought I'd hear: "Honey, I'm so glad you started this blog."

The culture shock never ends.

It's with that in mind that I continue to blog despite more craziness in our house than ever before.  This post will take a look at the birth of one third of that craziness.

Fortunately Petra didn't have 59 hours of contractions like she did with Enoh, nor were the last few hours of labor as difficult as they were with Ian.  The speed with which our third arrived is a remarkable thing indeed.  Here are the details of the last half hour before our beautiful daughter was born.  Petra's contractions began around 8 pm on the 20th, then got closer and closer until the morning of the 21st:

6:07 am: Petra opens the front door to begin our short trip.  Despite being in the middle of a contraction, she feels it important to write a quick text message to her close friends: "on our way to the hospital" it says.

6:15: We arrive at hospital.  Had we been 15 minutes earlier, there's a good chance we would have found parking in the regular parking lot.  In the middle of another contraction, I feel justified parking in a handicapped spot.  Would we get a ticket?

6:16: Petra still attempting to get out of the car. I'm helping...and thinking about whether I should quickly go around the car to get my camera.  Better sense kicks in.  Random lady asks if we need any help.  Unsure of how to respond, I eventually get a "ne hvala" (no thanks) out.

6:18: Finally inside.  Nurse at the reception desk is slouched like an 8th grade biology student at the end of a school day.  The pregnant woman doesn't cause the nurse's expression to change.  Slowly she gets up and tells us where to go.

6:19: While my wife explains to the nurse that this is her third baby, her water breaks.  Nurse changes expressions faster than you can say "social healthcare".  "Idi po kolica!" she tells me.  What I understood was "Go get a wheelchair!" so I'm off.  There's no wheelchair to be found, but there is an old bed with wheels.  This'll have to suffice I say to myself.  "Is this what you meant?" I attempt in Croatian as I crash through the doors with the movable bed.  "Yes!" she responds and indicates that I'm moving too slowly.

6:20: We ascend a couple floors in the elevator, Petra asking if she's allowed to push.  She's not.

6:22: I part ways with my wife.  "Men aren't allowed in here", the nurse explains.  She must not have been here the last two times I joined my wife in the delivery room.  In her defense, many Croatian men don't care to be present for the birth of their children.

6:25: The confusion has been resolved.  I come in just in time to see the baby born.  Petra has given birth to a beautiful girl we have named Emily Vjera.  Random lady in parking lot turns out to be the doctor that delivers the baby.  "Emily could've been born in the parking lot" she says.  I'm thankful she wasn't.

Emily means “to persevere”.  Vjera means "faith" (in Croatian).  Of course Petra and I like the sound of the names together but we also like the combination of the two meanings. 

In college, as our friendship was growing, we decided to memorize a passage of Scripture together – Hebrews 12.  In that section the author of Hebrews is calling us to faith and endurance. 

In Hebrews 11, a quite extensive list has been made of many heroes who have lived by faith.  Then, with these characters in mind, we are called to "run with perseverance, the race marked out before us".  Faith and endurance are so closely connected throughout Hebrews.  Our prayer for our daughter among other things, is that she would persevere in faith.

My mother was the first to point out the fact that with E, I, E...we may be running old McDonald's farm here.  With certainly no predictions about filling in the rest of the vowels in Mr. McDonald's song, sometimes having 3 children under 3 does feel like a farm.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pool

His expression changed completely when I told him about the pool.  The toys, friends and comfort of the house which had satisfied him just seconds ago were quickly forgotten when prompted to search for a container of liquid refreshment.

As we began, he led himself - despite the fact that the path was new.  The first obstacle was a steep incline. It proved difficult, but his anticipation pulled him up and the stronger hand behind him pushed when he needed it. 

There was no time to look behind him once he accomplished the climb, though he was proud.  “I did it daddy!” he said with his eyes fully focused ahead and his legs renewed with a simpler plane to walk on. 

He did not seem surprised that he didn’t need a leader, despite the fact he had never walked the path before.  His feet automatically followed the shape of the way and though there were rough spots and rocks his forward gaze smoothed over the effect they had on his stride. He walked confidently.

“What’s that?”  A new sound was the first interruption of our expedition.  It even caused him to stop. 

“It’s the cars driving on the road ahead of us.” I responded.

“But I can’t see the cars.”

“Can you hear them?” I asked.

“Yes”, he said with resolution and began walking again.

“Soon enough you will see them.  After you see them, you will see ours.  Then we will get in the car and drive to the place where they sell the pool.”

“Pool?” he said excitedly, “I see the cars!”

We drove without any talk of the prize.  Though it had been used as a legitimate motivation for leaving the house without complaining, the fact that I had no idea what kind of pool we would find led me to believe it would be better not to bring it up.  And there was no need to.

“Water!” he exclaimed as we descended on a scene of aqua clear sea.   The palm trees in the foreground were like fat exclamation marks punctuating the mood change that came with the new view.  
“I wanna see more!”

“Would you like to take a walk next to the water?” I asked, happy that the subject of the pool had been forgotten. 


I was convinced there would be plenty of pools at the store as soon as I saw the number of people along the water.  Beachgoers of all ages drank in everything that accompanies a hot day by the Adriatic.  We took a way that would lead us to the store.

The children splashing in the water made it hard for my son to remember that he didn’t have any swimwear.  We hadn’t come prepared to indulge in the temptation that was all around us.  The need for keys and a wallet had convinced me of the benefit of changing out of my trunks before we left. 

A tinge of irony set in as our view changed from that of the sparkling sea to a row of stores.  My son’s tone changed too.  Whining began.  He liked the thought of cooling off now.  He had witnessed the fulfillment others found and he couldn’t stand to leave.  Maybe he found something in common with the Adriatic – the fact that the rocks lining the sea could no more hold back the waves than his three year old body could contain his energy. 

As his cries filled the air, my reminders of the pool no longer satisfied him.  It had become just a symbol now – an inadequate symbol at that. 

He had seen the real thing.  There was no going back.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Line Dance

This is one of those obvious ones.  The sort of thing that would lead one to start a Culture Shock weblog in the first place.  I'm surprised it's taken me this long to bring it up.

Lines in Croatia are like government; you know they were designed to make life more orderly for the average citizen, but when all is said and done you often feel like you've been put through the wringer.

To begin with, you rarely hear the phrase "excuse me" here in Croatia.  The Croatian phrasebook I learned from inexplicably left out all forms of "excuse me" . If an American wants to learn the correct way to say "excuse me" in Croatian they won't find it in the introduction, the "practical" section, or the dictionary.  In this case, the omission will teach you step 1 of how to pass someone who is in your way:

Don't say anything at all.

Just move the limb that's obstructing your path.  Or simply squeeze around them.  If worse comes to worse, move the entire person.  If a body isn't in your way, then more power to you - the spot is yours.

The other day, my wife came storming back to our car and told me how an older guy simply tried to step in front of her while she was waiting in line.  She sort of manipulated her body to keep him from passing (a pregnant belly helps) but that didn't do any good.  As he blatantly passed her, she put her arm on his chest and held him back.  

Her experience, though a bit extreme, is not out of the ordinary.  There is a very important protocal to follow if you're in line in this country.

1. Stand as close to the person in front of you as you possibly can.  Remember, there's really no such thing as personal space here, so your spot will only be safe if your body is pressed up against the person in front of you. 

2. Don't focus on anything but the prize.  Reading a book, playing with your cell or simply daydreaming will give the person behind you the impression that you don't really care about your place in line.  This sort of lacksidasical effort will get you eliminated immediately - unless you're as good as my wife is at recovering. 

3. Finish strong.  Just because you're next, and the teller is waiting for you doesn't mean you're done.  Line thieves are keen on the transition periods.  You have to start talking to the teller before the previous person leaves their spot.  Giving your predecessor a little nudge when you think they're done is a great way to show them it's your turn.  Don't give up until you've accomplished your mission.

You think I'm joking.  Before posting this, I decided to wait.   I needed to make sure I was giving Croatia a fair shake.  Turns out I am. 

The other day Petra and I went to a new movie theater.  Unfortunately, neither one of us had reviewed the guidelines listed above before we stepped in line.  As the person ahead of us finished and moved on to buy popcorn, the phantom ticket purchaser swooped in.  No explanation, no apology, no nothing. 

Fortunately, the lady at the counter pointed our her iniquity.  "A jooooj!" the accused exclaimed as if the 20 person line had been previously invisible to her.  "My children are waiting for me, I don't have time to stand in line."  (The look on my wife's face was priceless after that gem.) 

But then the teller did something even more amazing.  "Let's ask this couple if you can buy tickets before them."  Stunned, we just stood there and motioned for her to get her tickets.  Later, I felt bad.  We should've taken a vote.  Just because we were next didn't mean that we had the right to let her transgression keep other people from getting to the previews on time. 

But as I looked back, I saw no one cared.  They'd all been here before.  It's normal and should be expected. 

It was time to post this. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Here's a list of things I've spent more time doing lately than paying attention to American politics:
- changing diapers
- reading about the best strategy to incorporate when forming a baseball lineup
- blogging (and you know that has been rare)
- washing my car (rarer still)

What's my point?  Following what's going on in D.C. has become rarer than a Chicago Cubs 5 game winning streak.  Yet anyone who googles "Orahovica" or "Culture Shock Croatia" (which happens more frequently than I thought) can find out my political views in under 1 minute flat if they click on the "politics" label on the right hand side of the blog.  They (you?) may be surprised to find out that though I am an Evangelical Christian, I quite unashamedly would have voted for Barrack Hussein Obama in 2008.   Of course the next question is "well what do you think of him now?"

I surrender. 

I simply don't know enough to offer an opinion.

I haven't read up on the budget deal.  I haven't followed his reaction to Irene.  And of course, I'm not familiar with the candidates who will run against Obama in 2012.  The only things I know about him are the "poplitical" things that pop up on facebook from time to time, or the pictures of our president holding his head on other various websites.

I cannot respond to people who want me to follow up on my support of him 3 years ago.  Is that inconsistent or irresponsible?  Possibly.

I will say this though.  The values that were foundational to my initial support of President Obama have not changed.  Take some time to read those posts if you care to.  The candidate who most closely embodies those values will be the one I will vote for next year.

For now, there's just too much other stuff going on in the part of the world I live in to pay attention to what's going on in Washington every day.

Case closed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wake-up Call

Our two year old, Enoh, is close to being potty trained.  But he's not quite there yet.  So every opportunity I have to help him remember to go to the bathroom is a valuable one.  For example, today, after his nap I said: "Enoh, what's the first thing we have to do after our nap?" After pausing to rub his eyes, he responded with enthusiasm: "Wake up!"

Unable to correct him, I laughed and admitted his answer was better than the one for which I had devised the question.  As I sat and waited for him to finish his business I began to think about the implications his response had on my life.  So I went to the revelation of Truth itself and found this written in Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus: "Wake up sleeper..."

As a strong believer in the fact that there's "no text without context" I backed up a bit to find out what it was that Paul was getting at here. 

He's talking about being visible.  How are we supposed to be visible if we are not in the light?  And how are we supposed to be in the light?  By waking up! 

It turns out that rather than waxing theological here, Paul gets into some pretty practical stuff:
- make the most of every opportunity
- don't be foolish
- give thanks
- submit to one another

Then he goes on to talk to wives, husbands, parents and children in the passage that includes the warning for fathers; "do not exasperate your children". 

What's the point?  It's only after we've woken up that we're able to fulfill these proper patterns of behavior.  Though "being children of the light" is a very spiritual matter, it leads to a very practical Christian lifestyle. 

Enoh was right, he did have to wake up in order to fulfill what it was I wanted him to do.  Funny how a child can bring out truth at the most unexpected times.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wonderfully Terrifying

Wonderfully terrifying
The measure of which
A being
Or not yet?
Or more so?
Is so closely intimate
Harrowingly acquainted
With our deepest
Our blackest
Our coldest
But infinitely higher
And separated
Outside of ourselves
Oh the heights to which we can reach
And grasp!
And hold!
Not my grip
It could not hold the weight
Of thick vapor
Of massive hollowness
No I am nothing
And the audacity
Which compels my mind
to step up
On crippled legs
Or beaten back
That was his doing
His perfectly glorious intercession

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Birthday Petra!

New Yorker 1983  

The longer I'm married to my wife the more I realize how amazing she is.  As the mother of 2 boys under three and another one in the womb, a part-time youth worker who gives it her full devotion and the one in charge of all the logistical details of 4 weeks of summer camp, somehow she finds a way to get it all done well.

So her birthday today is not just a celebration of another year.  It's a day to celebrate the life of a devoted mother, selfless wife and an uncompromising woman of God.

Petra, you are amazing.

Volim te do neba visoko.

Friday, June 10, 2011

First Baseball Game in Orahovica

I've been like a little kid the last few days.  Just ask my wife.  She'd tell you I've been giddy, maybe even a little immature.  Why?  Because I'm excited about the first baseball game ever in Orahovica.  A few thoughts:

  • New things are hard to find in this part of the world.  No matter what aspect of life we're talking about - religion, recreation, raising kids - people like to do things the way they've always been done.  So the fact that so many people are involved in "America's pastime" here in small-town Orahovica is exciting. 
  • I'm proud of my team (made up of both boys and girls) who have been disciplined and dedicated to learning a sport they've never watched. 
  • I'm thankful for the team from Slavonski Brod who are driving from an hour + away to play against us.  I can't imagine having an easier time arranging this event than I've had with their coach. Thanks Garret for making this such a pleasure to organize!
Who's going to win?  I have no idea.  Come to Orahovica tomorrow at 15.00 to find out!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Visit to the Heartland

Daddy always said there's a reason why the words "creation" and "Croation" are so similar.  Well there's another wordplay mommy likes to point out - sLOVEnia.  We had the chance to make the 5 hour drive to small village Slovenia this past weekend.  

Of course we got to spend time with our four cousins who live there.  We also saw some of their pigs.  My brother's not nearly as brave as I am so mommy had to hold his hand on the pig while daddy took the picture.  

 We also were able to participate in the annual Day of the Region.  They always bring out all the animals.  Again, my brother looked...
....while I was glad to touch.  
Even daddy didn't care to pet this guy. 
On May 1st they always decorate a really tall tree and put it up.  If you thought your Christmas tree was tall last Christmas, take a look at this one.  

Here's the final product:
We got thrown around a bit...
My brother got to rock out with his cousin...
And as always, we ate very, very well.  
Mommy's right; I sLOVEnia!  . 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Weight Watchers

So, are you fat...or just pregnant again?
After hearing this in Croatian I had two questions for the recipient (my wife) of this comment:

     A. Is that really what she said?!?

     B. How did you manage to keep your composure?!?

Disclaimer: This blog is called "Culture Shock" not "Generalize Croatia".  Many, many, many people would not make a comment like this to my wife.  

On the other hand, let me tell you two reasons why there is a greater chance Petra will hear this question again in Croatia rather than in America (besides the fact that we don't live in America):

1. Eastern Europeans often tell it like it is.  I've gained more weight during Petra's 3rd pregnancy than she has.  And if  it weren't for some of my friends, I really wouldn't have known.  I saw a mother publicly rub her daughter's belly the other day and tell a bunch of people how her daughter had been gaining weight.  It didn't seem to phase anyone within earshot - except me.  From what I can tell, the mentality is that if you can see it, why not comment on it?  While certainly not flattered by such a comment, Petra's used to it.  Simply put, if you gain weight in Croatia, you'll hear about it.  On the positive side, it's not that big a deal - people just aren't as sensitive about their weight.

2. While being pregnant for the 3rd time within 4 years is not the norm in the States, it's absolutely unheard of here (unless you belong to the Roma community).  There's a good chance the person asking the question was being more critical of Petra's pregnancy than her weight gain.  But that's the reason Petra didn't get nasty - she's happy to be pregnant again and as far as pregnancies go, she's done very well throughout the first 2 and-a-half.  In fact, as we look back we realized the other day that since her pregnancy with Enoh (our first) she's been pregnant more of the time than not.  Some have called her brave, others - crazy.  The fact is she couldn't be happier.

So go ahead, make the weight comments.  It's just the latest item on the long list of things I'm no longer shocked by.

Monday, April 18, 2011

European Ingenuity?

Soon after I arrived in Croatia, I noticed that most grocery stores had a new (to me at least), very organized way of ensuring that shopping carts were put back in their parking spot.  As far as I could see, the only negative was that you had to make sure you had a 2 kuna coin ($0.40 or so) every time you went shopping.  Otherwise you would not have the privilege of using a cart during your weekly shopping trip.  

But then I visited Hungary.  See, for some reason, there are certain grocery products that are less expensive in Hungary than Croatia.  So when I dropped my wife off at the train station so she could make her way up to Budapest, I did the shopping before heading back into Croatia.  

I'll be honest, I'm not usually the one who grocery shops.  When I enter a grocery store, I don't think about getting a cart.  Usually my job in grocery stores is to pick something up that my wife forgot, or grab a snack.  

Back to Story:
So it wasn't until after I got to the drink section, checked the prices and picked out a few liters worth of drinks that I realized I would need a cart.  

Funny thing is, it's stinkin' difficult to get out of a European grocery store if you aren't making a purchase.  They have little electronic doors in the check-out lanes that are shut and won't open.  The only way to get out of the store is to squeeze past someone who is making a purchase and try to be obvious about the fact that you are not stealing anything.  And oh yeah, have I told you how small they make things in Europe?

Once I finally got out of the store, I realized I had no change.  I planned on paying for the groceries with a credit card so I didn't have any Hungarian Forints (no they don't use the Euro) yet.  

Climax and Resolution: 
About the time I start thinking "Why don't I just go back to Croatia and buy my stuff there?" I see a stray shopping cart.  "Thank you Mr. or Mrs. Hungarian who didn't care to get your change back!" I say out loud as I run to the cart and proudly strut back inside the store.  

Debrief - A pair of suggestions and a justification:

1. Why not create some jobs, Europeans?  Hire someone to take the carts back to the store.  

2. While I know foreigners are not usually the ones to visit your grocery stores, why not create a coin slot that accepts a variety of coins?  That way, even in Croatia, you can take a cart with a 1 or 5 kuna coin. 

3. (Not a suggestion).  I needed a post.  It's been weeks since I've posted anything, months since I've written. Here's an attempt to get back into the primary purpose of this blog in the first place - to tell about my foreign experiences in foreign countries.  

So far my series in European Ingenuity has featured 2 brilliant inventions.  Sorry Europe, this one gets a thumbs down from me. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another Sign

Americans, any idea what this one means?  I found out after a close call two years after I moved to Croatia. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Funeral Story

It wasn't my first Croatian funeral, but it was close.  I hadn't even been to that many American funerals, nor had I played solo trombone at a cemetary before.  So this was a new experience. 

After warming up with Amazing Grace to begin the ceremony, I waited for the small village procession to move towards the grave that had been prepared a few minutes beforehand.  Like most outdoor funerals I've attended, this one was overcast, muddy and generally dreary.  The blacks, browns and grays made the event especially dismal. 

We trodded over to the tomb in a sloppy line and listened to the preacher speak.  His tone was pointed, but hopeful, his message short but clear - a stark contrast to the rest of the funeral. 

It was my turn again.  As I raised my trombone to begin It is Well with my Soul, I heard yelling in the distance.  I hesitated, but still began the melody. 

When peace like a river 
Footsteps, like those of someone being chased, gradually approached. 
attendeth my way
All of a sudden, several sheep began trotting between my trombone and the grave. 
When sorrows...
The climax of the verse never made it further than my buzzing lips.  As the flock of sheep grew, they began coming faster, the shepherd's cries were louder, and the dog's barks filled up whatever space was left free of sound.  It was utter chaos.

But only in my little world.  The rest of the small village continued doing whatever people with bowed heads do.  They didn't look up.  The funeral went on.  I quickly realized my "sea billows" had to continue to roll.  So I kept playing - taking a cue from the funeral attendees.  Even when the dog stopped at my feet and began howling up at me, as if to accompany, I continued playing.

When all was said and done, I realized it had been a normal funeral.  No one seemed surprised, embarrassed or at all affected by what I thought was a blatent interruption.  The villagers acted as if attending a funeral with a traveling petting zoo is a frequent activity. 

And you know what?  It probably is. 

Two facts about villages in Croatia were at work here:  1. Farming of some kind is the primary way of life, and 2. Villages are dying.  I don't know much else, because I don't live in a Croatian village. 

Looking back, there was only one abnormality about the funeral to those in attendance; the American with his trombone. 

Even the dog knew that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Simple Truth

I mentioned in my introduction that one of the aspects of culture shock I would be facing would be that of having a child.  Two and a half years later, that child is, well, two and-a-half years old and we have another one-year-old.  I have made the following observation:

The amount of time one has to blog is directly influenced by the number of kids one has. 

It's a plain and simple truth that I've found to be true on other blogs as well. 

To my followers; thank you for your patience.  There is more to come.  I will keep updating.  Just not as often as I used to.

Friday, January 28, 2011

One Thing I'll Miss

In Croatia, you rarely see someone enjoying coffee over a book, magazine or computer like you often see in the States. One of the classic scenes in a relational culture is a coffee shop filled with people on both sides of the table. 

And it's not like everyone in America just goes out for a latte by themselves.  In fact, I would guess that most Starbucks coffee shops are frequented by pairs rather than singles.  But it's certainly not as universal as Eastern Europe. 

For the last month, I've been taking a class and I'll tell you, for my money, there's no better place to study than a coffee shop.  Some may say there's too much noise, but headphones and music will take care of that.  Features like free refills, wi-fi and a close outlet for my laptop are easy to find.  Still other comforts like a fireplace and an assortment of different coffees and signs indicating when they were brewed are also common - especially at my favorite venue - Panera Bread.   

Sound strange?  I'll tell you more over coffee when I get back.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Meteorology leads to Theology

It must have been the summer of '95 when baseball cards were overproduced and my best friend and I waited breathlessly for the Beckett price guide to arrive in the mail the first week of every month.  It must have been, because I can't remember another time we would've risked getting soaked and having our bike-rides severely affected by slippery streets in order to buy a pack of the new Topps Stadium Club at a department store more than a mile away. 

I remember it well because I had never been afraid of lightning before.  But as we anticipated the last corner of the ride and slowed down just enough to make the turn without skidding out, I felt a sizzling sensation as the hair on my neck stood up. 


It wasn't a boom or a bang.  It was a sharp crackle that quickly exploded right next to me.  A flagpole - within an arms length as I passed by - had just been struck by lightning.

Even though I hadn't been hit, the feeling paralyzed me for the next few years every time I was outside in a storm.

Fast-forward to the summer of '98. I was working towards becoming "one of the Few" at Parris Island South Carolina.  Marine Corps boot camp thrives on disorientation and intimidation - especially during the first few weeks.  We were marching from the chow-hall to the barracks when the sky quickly thickened, then opened up, drenching us within seconds of the first drop falling.  Despite orders to get our platoon to the barracks as soon as possible, the toughest of our drill-instructors marched us as if the sun were shining.  He was Force-Recon, a sniper, and refused to allow weather to interfere with training. 

"A left, A left, A left, right!"  He called as if he were singing a question.  "A left, A left, A lefty right!" He finished his melody. 


You know the lightning's close when you hear it the same time you see it.  Our D.I. departed from his script with a two word curse towards the sky and quickly commanded us to run back to the barracks.  Lowering my rifle to below the plane of most of the other rifles, I got back under cover as soon as possible. 

Why does this memory come up every time there's a thunderstorm? 

I remember being struck by the one time our Drill Instructor acknowledged a greater authority. Sure, we had learned the chain of command.  We knew there were officers in charge.  But the D.I.'s were our gods during boot camp.  They disciplined.  They trained.  They gave and they took away. 

Though very brief, during that one split second, another Being came in, made Himself known, and it was all I needed.  Look at what the Psalms say on this matter:
I know that the LORD is great, that our LORD is greater than all gods...He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
How often do we take the creation around us for granted?  How easy is it for us to allow all the other things in our life to distract us from the Author of salvation.  Praise God for the lightning, sunsets and nor'easter's that remind us of who's in control. 

I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Three Little Pigs

During our time in the States, we've had the privilege of hosting one of our friends from Croatia.  It's her first time in the U.S. so I was fascinated to find out what she would notice about the Land that "was made for you and me".  Would it be how big everything is?  Would she notice the cars, the billboards, the differences in the milk?  Well, yes, yes, yes and yes. 

But her very first observation was of how Americans build their houses.  "They're so thin!"  She exclaimed after knocking on the wall at a Friendly's restaurant.  The comment reminded me of the Three Little Pigs.  Isn't it interesting that one of the most popular stories we tell our children exhorts us to build with brick?  Yet, I would guess that most houses in America are made of wood.

Croatians - and I would guess most Europeans - have heeded the advice offered by the conclusion of the story.  The vast majority of houses in Croatia are made of brick and concrete and therefore have fewer fires to worry about.  On the other hand, houses take years, sometimes decades to complete because of the cost of brick versus wood. 

A case can be made for both.  What do you think?