Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Divine Humility

It's not the fact that God chose to go to another world or take on a different form that strikes me.

It's that God would choose to come to our world. The Word was clothed with this sort of skin.  God became one of us. And He communicated with us in an imperfect human language much like the one I speak.

Augustine calls Jesus the 'divine humility'. Fully God and fully man, Jesus embodied God's descent and provided the way for our ascent. He became a foreigner so we would no longer be foreign.

Divine humility. The Infinite being found in a manger. The Absolute encountered as human.

Our Savior Jesus Christ.

May you also be filled with wonder today in that moment of peace. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Seminary Sunday

Our primary reason for coming to the States this fall is to visit family and friends. Secondly though, and the reason why we're here for a longer visit, is so I can spend a semester studying at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

I've decided to go all in.  I'm taking four classes. Doing so has been a challenge because, among other things, each class is considerably different from the others. There have been several points along the way in which I've asked myself, where's the cohesion between all these classes?

Sunday was one of those times because I had a chance to engage in the contents of each one of my classes at some point throughout the day.

In my Old Testament class, we are required to read the entire Old Testament. On Sunday morning I read the book of Ezra.

Later in the morning I had the privilege of attending Grace church in Oxford Massachusetts where my father gave a homily. During the service, I recited the Nicene Creed with the other parishioners - a creed we've been studying in my Systematic Theology II class.

Afterwards, my father and I went to watch the film "Restless Heart" - a new movie about St. Augustine that focused primarily on his Confessions. Of course, this informed and gave visual enhancement to the Augustine of Hippo class I'm taking.

And finally at the end of the day, I read about Feuerbach and Marx - two prominent thinkers who influenced Protestant Liberal Theology (among other things).

So what holds it all together?

I'm not sure there is one thing in particular   But as I came back to Ezra at the end of the day I was reminded of the reason I'm studying in the first place. It's why I'm a follower of Christ. And it was a necessary reminder as I finished my day. In the words of Ezra:

"We have been unfaithful to our God...but in spite of this, there is still hope."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bohall's Four Seasons

During the summer of 2008 I rediscovered Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Ironically, it was the Winter movement that especially caught my attention around the time Enoh was born in August. Ever since, I've associated it with his birth.

Vivaldi - Four seasons winter

Enoh is our summer baby.

Taken summer 2009 in Croatia

Ian became our winter baby in January of 2010 (pictured in front of Enoh here). 
Taken winter 2012 in Croatia

In September of 2011, Emily became our autumn baby. 
Taken Fall 2012 in Massachusetts

And arriving in Spring of 2013: Baby Bohall number 4!

Of course we didn't plan it this way. But given the four seasoned climate in Osijek where they have been/will be born, it's certainly appropriate. 

In addition to living as an American in Croatia, being a father of a "baby bunching" family can sometimes be a shocking experience. As I mentioned in the introduction to my blog when my wife was pregnant with our first - new life always brings significant change. For our family, each addition has brought incredible joy. 

We're looking forward to our fourth season, knowing he or she will be no exception.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Do You Like Croatia?

I like Croatia.

So when I received an email from a representative of likecroatia.hr wondering if they could ask me a few questions about living as an American in Croatia, I was happy to oblige.

The thing is, if you've stumbled across this blog because you're planning on traveling to Croatia or even moving to Croatia and you want more information - this blog won't help you that much. Let me suggest you head on over to likecroatia.hr.

They've got a slick, easy to navigate website that includes daily updated stories and articles, a way to book a flight, and a simple restaurant search app for the iphone. If you are planning on traveling to Croatia for any reason, likecroatia.hr should be your number one resource.

That being said, let me extend an open invitation to visit the Culture Shock weblog whenever you feel so inclined. Like any good Croatian host would say, you don't need to call or even knock. Just come on in. Despite the coffee break I've been on, I'll get back to work real soon. A new post about raising bi-lingual children is forthcoming. We also need to discuss how entering the EU will change Croatia - especially the smaller towns and villages. On a more personal side, the next post will tell you what in the world Vivaldi's Four Seasons has to do with the Bohalls.

Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Coffee Break

"One regular coffee!" the newest occupant of the cafe bellowed before even sitting down. He said it as if the simplicity of his order justified the interruption it caused the waitress and the other patrons. His friend quickly corrected him. "No...no, no. one irregular coffee!" he shouted with a straight face, mocking how seriously the first character took his order.

I chuckled with some of the others. Of course there's no such thing as an irregular coffee. But is there even such a thing as "regular coffee"? In Boston regular coffee includes cream and sugar. They'll give you black coffee in other parts of the U.S. if you order regular. I'm not sure what the customer in our cafe was picturing when he ordered but I would guess he received an espresso with milk (pictured above). In other words, what's regular is not always easily defined.

When I first conceptualized a culture shock blog I did so in the strict rubric of my "regular" American experience against the "irregular" culture I was constantly interacting with in Croatia. Many posts certainly take that form. But the more I think about it, and the longer I live here, the more I'm convinced that my perspective is not uniquely American nor do the majority of Americans necessarily share my worldview. Therefore, depending on your background, the contents of this blog may not be the regular coffee you thought you were getting when you first arrived.

For example, when I discuss learning a foreign language, especially Croatian, most Americans won't be hanging to my every word. When I write about finding the cross, I may only find an audience made up of those concerned about following the One who made it significant. My eating habits, my driving experiences and my opinions are all things the typical American may not identify with - even if they were planning on coming to Croatia or are already here - because we come from different viewpoints. And the posts written from my kids' perspective will only be interesting if you have one of two last names.

Obviously, there are a lot of reasons I blog. But I'm finding that I'm primarily interested in tracking how my (sometimes irregular) experiences change me. What do I learn from my children? How do those closest to me influence my life? Does the faith that I grew up with develop? How? In what ways does the culture I live in shape my values? Those are some of the questions I'm concerned with.

They aren't unusual questions. They are prompts many of us pause to think about no matter where we live, what we believe or what we do. They provide a normal context for thought. They are part of an ongoing  conversation to which others greatly contribute.

So as time moves on, this blog will inevitably change. The posts are already becoming less "American in Croatia" and more "this is what I experienced/learned today". They aren't regular or irregular. Life, as it turns out, is a little grayer than that. The stories are what bring color to our lives. They've been the part of this blog I enjoy the most. And I hope to share more of them in the future.

So if you've been around here for awhile, thanks for reading. If you're new, take a browse through past posts. Regardless of how long you've been here, grab a coffee and feel free to share your thoughts. Whether they're regular, irregular, or somewhere in between, they are always welcome.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Back in America

The fact that I haven't blogged much lately has more to do with three kids under four than lack of material. Still, I've gotten fairly comfortable in Croatia. I feel like I've adapted to some of the major cultural differences and have identified and come to terms with those things I can't adapt to. I'm not shocked very much anymore as a foreigner in Croatia.

But now we're back in the States for five months. And since I've come back a few times already, I was prepared for some of the things that shocked me previously.  The fact that there's far greater diversity didn't surprise me. The ambition and self-promotion that comes across whenever you turn on a TV or radio was expected. Even seeing how much food is wasted hasn't surprised me as much as it did in the past.

Here are four things that did take me off guard when I came back this time.

- Entertainment. The other day my wife went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew her license leaving me in charge of the three kiddos. Fortunately, the DMV in our area is in a mall. It's also located across from a play area where you can leave your tot for 8 bucs apiece. Coming from Croatia where the play areas are hard to come by but free, I said no way. My four year old was not thrilled. Neither was my two year old.

But their moods quickly changed when we walked around a bit. This mall also came with free entertainment. They watched kids bounce high into the air off trampolines, stomped on projected images on the floor that produce simulated reactions, received free balloons and looked at the dogs at a pet store, stared at big screen HDTVs with slow motion videos of dogs shaking the water off and ate free orange chicken samples in the food court given out by servers in cool red visors. It was all new, all free and kept my three children entertained for two plus hours.

- Dogs. In our small town in Croatia, dogs are kept on chains outside and fed scraps once a day. In the small town we're staying at in Massachusetts they ride in cars, heads and tongues hanging out - enjoying the good life. As I took a walk yesterday, two chihuahuas seemingly drove an SUV as it passed by. I shouldn't be surprised though. After all, I drove my dog to the vet the day before I left Croatia.

- Cold. News alert: It's not that hot in Massachusetts! The average temperature has been 75 degrees farenheit (23 C) since we got here. But you wish you'd put on your long underwear before going to your local grocery store. It's hard to feel sorry for businesses running low on money when they spend so much energy on cool air. On the other hand, Americans would accuse Eastern Europeans of the opposite - but equally puzzling - extreme in the winter time.

- Signs. Some of our friends who recently moved to Boston from Slovenia pointed this out the other day. Everything on a sign here is qualified. If you have to drive slowly, another sign will tell you why. If there's a stop sign, an accompanying sign will qualify it with a "four way", a "here" or even "Please".

Do these relatively small things say anything larger about our culture?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

No ___________________!

I saw this one on a door near the piazza in Osijek the other day. Unlike most of the others in our series, this sign did come with a caption explaining its intent. I'll post it later if no one guesses correctly. Thinking outside the box may help.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Would you give up your citizenship?

I've been going through the mandatory five year process of acquiring permanent residence in Croatia. Every year, I've renewed my visa. Last month I passed a language test. Turns out, my last obstacle will be passing a culture test I wasn't aware of until a few days ago. My knowledge of the Croatian constitution, amendments and laws will be the difference between attaining residence and having to go through the whole five year process again.

Despite the bureaucratic inconvenience that would be, a phone call with a friend caused a bigger discomfort to situate itself in my psyche. See, attaining residence would allow me to apply for Croatian citizenship in a year. My wife and three kids already have dual citizenship. In my thinking, in another year I could become the bi-cultured individual I'd always dreamed of becoming. That's just a half joke. There's something about the idea of dual citizenship that nudges the ego up a notch.

But then my friend told me that unless I'm Croat by descent (like my wife) or was born here (like all three of my kids), the Croatian authorities would require me to cough up my American citizenship before I could become Croatian.

So what if I did it? What if I actually pass the test, go through the whole process of becoming a Croatian citizen and give up my American citizenship? What would the implications be?

Those aren't necessarily rhetorical questions.

It's an interesting thought. Of course, I may not have to think about it for another five years. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Another Coffee Story

The retired gentleman sitting alone at the table next to me seemed suspiciously quiet. There's only one person who dares sit by himself in this cafe - me. So when a half hour passed before anyone else joined him, I was only half surprised when he turned to me and asked, "do you have internet on that computer?"

"Yes" I responded.

"Go ahead and look me up."

"Excuse me?" I said, quite surprised.

"Type my name in and see what comes up."

"I'm sorry, where should I type your name?"

"YouTube", he responded as if everyone born in the 1930s was on the video sharing site.

"Oh..." I said, even more confused than before.

Maybe it was the fact that his self-promotion wasn't dressed in twitter or facebook. Or perhaps it was because I couldn't simply block or unfriend him. In this case, "no" would require a verbal, face to face answer. I tried to recover.

"...Ok, what is your name?" I asked.

As we searched, I apologized to him, mentioning the fact that the speakers on my computer don't work, so we wouldn't be able to listen to the video.

He assured me that everything was ok. If we didn't have music, we could just watch.

This is what came up:

He gave me several other ideas to feed the YouTube search engine. While we imagined what was being played, we talked a little. In fact, we talked for quite awhile. He was extremely patient with my Croatian when I ventured into parts of conversation I hadn't been before. I learned some new musical terminology from him as well and found out that the instrument I call trombon in Croatian is in fact a valve trombone. The slide trombone I play has a different name. We talked about school, our jobs and the various musical gigs he's had over the years.

I was sorry when it was time to part ways. He was a very friendly, simpatičan gentleman. Even though it started as an interruption, I was glad he was bold enough to spark a conversation with the bald guy sitting by himself. In fact, that's the way it usually turns out.

Maybe Croatia's relationship-oriented culture is finally rubbing off on this schedule-oriented American. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mixed Signals

In the first of the series of signs posts, I mentioned that one of the advantages of having signs without words is that people from various countries can understand the intent of the sign. But when two of my American friends and I came across this one by the Drava river in Osijek yesterday, we were stumped.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My First May First

It's become a family tradition to go to Slovenia for the May 1st holiday.

But seeing that I'm only 7 months old, it was my first time enjoying the scenery.

And mommy made sure I enjoyed it. 

Of course we did some of the standard things...saw some small pigs,

and some big ones.
We ate well.
And my brother continued his tradition of making music on the farm.

So what is it that I'll remember from my first trip to Slovenia outside the womb?


But let's just say prvi maj  2012 was all about tricks.

Enoh balanced on a rope.
Ian took the road less traveled. 
There were plenty of handstands to go around.

Mommy's stric showed how much fun farmers can have. 
But my brothers sharing was perhaps the biggest trick of all. 

Even though I didn't do a whole lot...

 I had a great time getting to know my cousins. 

It seems like every May 1st there are more of...us, making it harder and harder to get a group picture. 

Thanks to the Slovenci, who as always, made our trip a lot of fun!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Coffee, Computers and Cafe Culture

If I had a kuna for every double take I receive in the cafe I frequent, I'd have enough to finance the opening of the first Starbucks in Croatia. I've been in this country for five years now, so I know that sitting by oneself at a table with only a computer is rare. Unheard of. At least in small town Croatia.

Since I started working towards a master's degree in the fall, I've been coming to this cafe at least 3 times a week while our son is in preschool. Despite the music, and the conversations around me, I find it a pleasant place to study for a couple hours. But, there is no doubt I am a fish out of water.

To my right, five elderly ladies order čaj and compare medical conditions and prescriptions. On the other side, two suits discuss local politics. And here am I, reading about Pannenberg's doctrine of Christ, frequently stopping to type notes on my laptop - with no one to talk to.

I've had some sympathetic coffee drinkers try to help. One elderly gentleman attempted to start a conversation this way: "Oh, my daughter lives in America and wants to buy a new laptop". I responded by asking where she lived. My accent seemed to confuse him so he turned around...then turned again to ask where I was from. We still talk from time to time, but laptops and relatives in America don't get us very far.

Another acquaintance recently predicted that within the next 10 years, people will read from computers like they used to read books. He's a professor of mathematics at a college in Osijek. When I showed him that his journal articles were on the internet, and told him that anyone, anywhere could access them, he literally jumped out of his seat.

Whenever he comes to the cafe and I'm here, he asks me what else this machine can do. We talk about teaching, learning, and even religion and politics from time to time. I'm grateful for his company whenever he sits with me. I'm able to practice a completely different set of Croatian vocabulary with him than I am with anyone else.

Slatina is a town of 10,000 in the region of Croatia known for farming. There are bankers, teachers, business owners and even students here. But working on a laptop is still 10 years away from coming to this cafe. In Croatia, computers are more associated with games and facebook than email and Word. In fact, even in the workplace, computers are not seen as the necessity they are in America. Typewriters and file cabinets are much more familiar to the workers, and thus are used with much more frequency. And no one brings a computer to the cafe.

But I'm content here. Without having to take my order anymore, the waitresses happily bring my kava s mlijekom when I walk in. Most of the people around me have already done their double-take. They're used to me. And I'm glad to have company if anyone offers.

Still, it's shocking for anyone who has never seen me here. But for once, it's nice to be on the other side.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Day my Pastor Washed my Car

His name is Slobodan, which means "free". You can tell, just by spending a half-hour with him that he is constrained by nothing.

One day last fall, he and I had plans to take down the bunk-beds used for camp in order to begin making a nursery in our church.  But he had changed his mind by the time I arrived at his house.

"The wind blew yesterday and we have to go get the chestnuts that have fallen in the woods" he explained in a hurry.  This was after he told me to come in, sit down and eat the mushrooms sizzling in the frying pan he picked from the forest floor in the morning.

So rather than working in the church, we went to pick chestnuts.

Pastor Slobodan is recently retired - from his job as an agriculturalist.  Most pastors of evangelical churches in Croatia have full-time jobs besides their responsibilities as a pastor.  Now that he is no longer working his main job, he'll be able to spend more of his time doing what full-time pastors do.

But his attitude since I've met him has always been the same.  Whether he's in the fields (from what I've heard), or helping me build a fence, driving somewhere, or washing the dishes, he's singing.  All the time.

So it was no surprise when we were picking chestnuts that he praised the Lord for every chestnut we put in his basket.  "Lord, just like your grace falls freely, so also you have given us these chestnuts.  All glory to God".   He would sing.  He exclaimed.  He praised the Lord. And he constantly reminded me of how good our God is.  Which is refreshing.  It made me think about how often I wait to sing in a controlled environment, when I feel comfortable, and when everyone else is doing it.

When we returned to the car, we realized it had sunk into the mud a bit. I did my best to get it out, but with little mud experience, Slobodan realized it would be better for him to do it.  Like a pro, he rocked the car, spun the wheels while steering left and right and immediately got it out.  But not without splattering the car with mud.

He knew I had a guitar lesson as soon as we got back to the church, so he told me "Jeremy, you can't go back to your wife with a dirty car.  I'm going to clean it." Sure enough, the whole time I was teaching several teenagers how to strum the G chord, he washed my car.

That day told me everything you need to know about our pastor. He's traditional. He's spontaneous. He's genuine. And he's humble.

When many western congregations are so often consumed by programs, methods and the newest thing, it's refreshing (dare I say shocking?) to witness the actions of a simple servant.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Shifting Gears

It started with a confession: "Jeremy, I'm a little tired, would you mind taking the wheel?"

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't object at all. I love to drive. The only thing keeping me from immediately accepting the invitation to hop in the drivers seat was the fact that there was a stick shift next to it. But I didn't have to say a thing.

"Dad! You know my husband has never driven manual before, don't you?"

"Well, he can learn now" my father-in-law said as we sped down the highway along the Adriatic. "He lives in Europe. He's got to learn sometime" he reasoned.

Unable to argue with him, after stopping at a rest stop, I reluctantly changed seats, put on my seat belt and turned on the car - without pushing in the clutch. The car's lurch indicated how offended it was that an American driver was trying to control it. "Maybe this is good" I thought as my head whipped back to it's original position. "He has to see there's no chance I can do this".

But the man who's been through an airplane crash and a war was determined to survive this too. He patiently instructed me how to correctly turn on the car and get from neutral to first gear successfully. After about five tries, I got it. Then a few more. Finally, it was time.

Fifteen  minutes and a ton of cars passed before I had the guts to merge onto the highway. We stumbled into third, then fourth, then finally the last one. Fifth gear quickly became my best friend. As long as I could stay at 80 km/hr or higher, I was good.

But there was a toll booth coming.

After successfully slowing down and paying the fee, I pushed in the clutch nonchalantly - as if the man who took my money cared to watch my footwork. "I got this" I told myself. My foot eased onto the gas. Nothing happened. I slowly let up the clutch. Still nothing. I did both a little faster and we screeched to a standstill. So did the German VW behind us. The toll-booth guy looked confused.

Starting to sweat a bit, I tried again, but even less smoothly. Screeeeeeeetch!

The car, toll-booth guy, wife, and VW were all impatient. None more than I though. And impatience doesn't help one find the perfect balance between clutch and gas. We must have sputtered forward five or six more times. But finally we were on our way again. Back to fifth gear. Back to heaven.

What's the moral of the story?

Learn to drive stick before you move to Europe. Or, hope your passengers have as much faith as my father-in-law does. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fun with Diminutives

Grammar is not always fun is it?

The Croatian vocative case is a prime example.  My sister-in-law, who teaches Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian in the States has informed me that the vocative case is dying out. You can still apply the vocative to the name Sara and call out SARO!  But, when I call for my wife, I am not allowed to change the last vowel. Instead, I have to say PetrA!  The only explanation is that the vocative case is dying a slow death.

Moment of silence please.

Diminutives are a different story. In my experience, diminutives are one of the highlights of learning Croatian.

The suffix "ica" is added to many female Croatian nouns and BAM!, you have a smaller, more feminine, perhaps more fragile, cuter form of that object. Dictionary.com defines diminutives as: "pertaining to or productive of a form denoting smallness, familiarity, affection or triviality". Drop to droplet is an example of a diminutive in the English language.

Let's look at some Croatian examples:

Ruke---->Rukice (hands---->small hands):  Here's a classic diminutive. Kid hands are generally rukice. Adult hands are ruke.

Pekarna ---->Pekarnica (bakery ---->smaller bakery): You'll see bakeries of all shapes and sizes with either one of these labels. The sign says nothing about the product you'll find inside. This is an abuse of the diminutive in my opinion.

Žena ----> Ženica (wife/woman ---->smaller, cuter or more fragile? wife/woman): The other day I was asked if I had a ženica at home. I paused for a few moments to think about the implications my answer would have on how my opinion of my wife would be perceived. I finally answered yes, because I think the point was just to find out if I was married. After asking a native speaker, they agreed and affirmed that his question wasn't meant to question the size or fragility of my wife. It was merely a gentler (and older) way of asking if I had a wife at home. So, it seems our definition of diminutives must develop a bit. Sometimes, using the diminutive says less about the object and more about the question or the statement.

Molba ---->Molbica (a favor ----> a smaller, cuter favor): In my experience, this can be used to ask a bigger favor in a smaller way. I've been asked to pick up a friend from the train station as a molba. I've been asked to drive to another part of Croatia as a molbica. Again, the diminutive says less about the noun in question than it does about how the person is trying to communicate.

Grozno---->Groznica (adj., awful---->noun, a small awful): You would never guess, though it makes a lot of sense.  A small awful is a cold sore. According to Wikipedia there are other Eastern European languages that allow for an adjective to take the diminutive. They did not mention Croatian though. And that's strange, because I can think of at least one more:

Trudna---->Trudnica (adj.,pregnant----> noun, a pregnant woman).  Other definitions include "an expectant mother" or "a child-bearing woman".

If that doesn't contradict the whole idea of a diminutive then I don't know what does.

One last function some diminutives have is to designate certain locations; a mesnica is where you buy mesa (meat), a stanica is where you wait for the bus. And, Orahovica is where I live.

Once you figure that one out, you may understand why I'm such a grammar nut. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sretan dan žena!

Happy International Women's Day!

I'm not sure there are many Americans who know this day exists, but here in Croatia it's a pretty big deal. According to wikipedia, some parts of the world use March 8th to show respect, appreciation and love towards women while others focus on women's social, economic and political achievements. Here in Croatia it's definitely the former rather than the latter.

So I'll take this opportunity to offer one big reason why I'm thankful for each of ladies I'm closest to. 

Emily: Thank you for your smile. It makes any day better, no questions asked. 

Petra: Thank you for your untiring love for our family. You often stay up later and get up earlier than I do, showing that being a mother of three under four is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Yet you do it so well. 

Mom: Thank you for caring enough for our family to dedicate your early mornings to prayer. Yours is the standard I look to.

V: Thank you for your selflessness. You are a model to all of us who want to be better at caring more for others than we do ourselves. 

Grandma: Thank you for your creative dedication to staying connected. Faithfully sending us homemade cards while taking the time and energy to use facebook and Skype show how much you care for us despite the distance. 

To those women who often feel under-appreciated, whether it's a card, flowers, or something said in gratitude, may you receive a sense of how you have contributed to someone's life today.  Happy!

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Renewal

"Americans just buy new computers whenever their old one has a problem, but here in the Balkans we take pride in renewing old things."

My friend's response came in perfect Croatian form; blunt honesty towards a general group of people, directed straight at me. I can understand. My question probably sounded disrespectful to the one who had put hours into diagnosing and partially fixing my 5 year old computer.

But I was merely trying to keep him from having to invest more time into my machine. Plus, if you can save some money, isn't it worth it to just buy a new computer rather than bother with the old one?

He's right though, many people in this part of the world value restoration. After all, they have been at it for much longer than we (Americans) have been.  Investing time and hard work into an old something - be it a car or house or computer - provides more satisfaction than simply buying a new one.

He put his money where his mouth was too, offering to buy the old machine from me so he could fix it up for himself.

That's the background for the next day.

I was driving up to the northern part of Hungary for a men's retreat. It was to be a time of renewal. There were a lot of reasons not to go. Yet, as I was driving north, I felt an incredible need to be renewed. With the conversation from the previous evening influencing my thoughts, I thought about how profoundly we were created. I realized how grateful I was that I can be renewed and that God is able to do the renewing.

While there, the Lord interacted with me in a way I hadn't experienced in a long time. A lot of it was because I was listening. That, and the fact that we had a period of complete silence.

I took along a book that has been highly recommended. Several people have told me that A Praying Life is the best book they have read on prayer.  Here are some thoughts from that book worth considering:
  •  "We are so often busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don't know where our hearts are. We don't know what troubles us. So oddly enough we might need to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives."
  • "You don't create intimacy; you make room for it. Efficiency, multi-tasking and busyness all kill intimacy. In short you can't get to know God on the fly."
  • "If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life."
I am thankful that the Lord provides opportunities to loosen our grip on those things that so easily distract, and allows us to be renewed. He beckons all of us when he says:
"Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
I was renewed last weekend. Thank you Lord, that you are a God who renews.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Few Thoughts and Questions

  • The most surprising thing about culture shock is that cultural differences affect me more now than they did five years ago. 
  • Was D.A.R.E. really as effective in lowering the number of smokers in America as it seems? The sign in the cafe I'm sitting in says : 'pušači umiru mlađi' - 'smokers die younger'. Yet, I can't imagine smoking being any more hip than it is in Croatian cafes today. 
  • Which is more virtuous; the wisdom of saving money or the generosity of spending it on others? I've found it harder and harder to save when people who are less privileged give so generously while having not a lipa in savings. 
  • I think the farmers who were blocking various Croatian main roads and highway entrances with their tractors were smart. Annoying, but smart. In some ways they got what they wanted - an increase in the price of milk. Now they're headed back to their farms. 
  • Speaking of smart, I continue to be impressed with the Croatian education system.  Most of the Croats I've met who have finished gimnazia (high school) know English grammar and American history as well as I do while also knowing German and Latin, and having a greater wealth of knowledge in philosophy and art history (among other things) than I do as an American college graduate. I know America is isolated but shouldn't we, as global citizens, have a better grasp on basic world geography? Shouldn't we be learning another language earlier in our educational experience? Sure, there's value in creative thinking, but memorization has its merits too.
  • I think the reason why the first point is true is because it's easier to be foreign than to adapt - at the beginning. Once you start changing though, you feel tugs from both sides. At least that's been my experience.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Signs of Snow

During this time of global economic crisis, my impression is that if one is looking for a job, the sign business is the place to go. More and more signs are popping up all over Croatia. Is it due to the fact that standards now have to measure up to those of the EU?

Regardless, I've figured out that the red and white posted signs must be temporary and indicate wintry weather. Here a few of them - some of which are self-explanatory (are they necessary though?), and the last one which is not. Any guesses for number 3?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Snow and Cold Making it Difficult in Eastern Europe

I love the snow. Since it began falling a little more than a week ago, my boys and I have enjoyed it immensely. Some of the enjoyment has come from the fact that it normally doesn't snow as much in Croatia as it does in the parts of America I've lived.

But the snow and cold temperatures have greatly affected those in Eastern Europe who are less fortunate. 200 people have died in the last couple weeks - the majority in Ukraine. Sarajevo has seen more than 39 inches of snow accumulate - keeping some from receiving basic necessities. The Danube has been shut down for shipping in four countries. A bus was stuck in a tunnel for days in Serbia. A hospital in Split, Croatia used their two year supply of cement in five days for all the patients who came in with fractures from falling on the ice.

These are just a few examples of the difficulties this unusual cold streak has brought to Eastern Europe. Please keep this part of the world in your prayers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When it Snows

I've learned to have as much confidence in the weather forecast when it's snowing in Croatia as Ahmad Bradshaw had when he reluctantly tripped into the end-zone on Sunday evening.


Don't get me wrong. It's not because the meteorologists here don't know how to do their job. It's not even that they don't have weather portions of the daily news.  As I've said before, they just don't make as big a deal about it as they do in America. And, living in small town Croatia, near a mountain and  away from any of the bigger cities, it's difficult to find a forecast that tells me what's going to happen in my neck of the woods.

So I found this Norwegian site that gives me the weather prognosis - even for our town of 4,000. From what I can tell, they do a better job predicting the weather here than any other source.

Which leads me to last weekend.

We had some friends come over soon after the storm began. They had planned on returning home that evening, but seeing that the snow was still accumulating they accepted our invitation to stay overnight.

Knowing that they had some obligations the next day, I kindly told my friend with confidence that the Norwegian forecast indicated that it would stop snowing in three hours and wouldn't start again for another 24. I figured that kind of information would help him plan. I like to plan. Doesn't everyone like to plan?

But as I looked at his face, I suddenly remembered I was a foreigner.  I had made the conscious decision years ago to move from a schedule-oriented culture to a relationship-oriented culture. "Who in the world knows exactly when it's going to stop snowing? And what kind of crazy person even cares?" he was thinking. What he said was something like "so in other words, you want us to leave as soon as it stops snowing?" Relationship-Oriented Culture.

The smile indicated he was joking. But the conversation we had about it later proved he was thinking what I thought he was thinking. No one in their right mind cares to find out exactly when the last snowflake will fall. Nor are they concerned about how much will accumulate. It's either a lot of snow or it's not.

In this case, it was up to our kids' waists. But we knew that by looking outside. And by throwing them in it. Plus, we were all flexible enough to change plans when we saw it was too much for them to drive home safely in. 

Since then I've only checked the Norwegian forecast once. Ok, I looked twice.  But I'm trying to go with the flow and be a little more flexible than I used to be.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Random Thoughts on Milk

Milk has been on my mind more than you would normally expect a beverage of such bland taste to be.  Here's why:

1. Enoh spilled his milk the other day...and didn't cry. I gained some confidence as a parent when I realized that he is already following the advice of at least one famous proverb. 

2. A friend came over to take care of Ian while I took Enoh to preschool and Petra was away. Being Croatian, she decided to warm up the milk in the microwave before pouring it on his corn flakes. Being American, I was repulsed. Being a toddler who eats just about everything, Ian didn't seem to mind. 

3. After looking at the stats they keep here at blogger, I realized that the most popular post I have written in my 3.5 years of blogging is the one on acerpohobia. And you know what is even more bizarre than the majority of my traffic coming from a few thoughts about a phobia most people don't know exists? The fact that they are doing so because I spelled it wrong! So thank you to all of you who have visited the culture shock weblog simply because my post is the first one listed on the incorrectly spelled google search for the fear of sour milk. Yes, my blog beat out the news alert that a Cravendale poll named "acerphobia" "the most common phobia in the UK". Apparently acerophobia trumped the fear of "big hairy spiders". It's Acer-O-phobia, Cravendale. Get it right. (And watch your traffic go down.)

This has been random thoughts on milk.  Join us next time.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Does a Butterfly Say?

(Photo by: Jeremy Bohall
"Ribbit...ribbit...ribbit!...Daddy, what does a butterfly say?"

Enoh was engaged in the processes of learning and teaching. Prompted by the animals on Emily's walker, he tried to teach her the sounds he knew while asking me about the ones he didn't know.

"I'm not sure what a butterfly says, Enoh" I told him.  Undeterred, he quickly relayed the information to his favorite pupil. "We don't know what a butterfly says, Emily," he explained sympathetically.

As a teacher, there were a few things I was reminded of as I watched him:

1. I teach best when I have recently learned something I am excited about.

2. There is probably no one who benefits more from a lesson I prepare than myself. So why not prepare the best I can? Then, there's a good chance the excitement and hard work will rub off on a student.

3. In one way or another, shouldn't we always be a part of both of these processes? Shouldn't we always be learning? Shouldn't we always take joy in passing on that knowledge?

Funny what children can teach you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dear Ian,


It's the only number you know how to say. And you use it to count everything. "Two, two, two...two." Today is your second birthday. Last year saw your hair grow curly. You took your first steps. You learned to eat by yourself. You began following your brother wherever he goes. You learned how to put puzzles together.

You also continued smiling. Never lose that smile, Ian. It makes everyone else smile too...too...too.

Ian Rahim - "God is gracious and compassionate." You are a gift to us.

Happy Birthday Ian.  Volimo te do neba visoko!

(Photo by: Jeremy Bohall)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Glass is _________________.

(Photo by: Jeremy Bohall)

"It's a given that culture powerfully influences thoughts, emotions and behaviors...We see things through a cultural lens that tints, magnifies, shrinks and otherwise shapes our perceptions." 

- Dean Barnlund from Communication in a Global Village

Arranging these glasses randomly on our guest's place-settings has created a few colorful conversations since Petra bought them a few years ago. 

Is it possible to generalize the mindset of a particular culture? If so, what glass would you put next to an American plate? A Croatian?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Would you, could you, with a cow?

For some reason, my boys take greater delight in eating their fruit when they each have a cow watching them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It Happened One Night

  • There is a picture in this post that may be shocking.
  • A name has been changed. 
A few days ago, over lunch:
Petra: Jeremy, today Velimir Mrkić is going to come around 5:00 with some pork.  He's donating it to the youth for the New Year's party. 
Jeremy: Ok, what do I need to do?
Petra: I don't know. He just said he wanted to bring the meat here before taking it to the church.
Jeremy: Ok.

No Gospodin Mrk

No Gospodin Mrk

Petra attempts calling Mr. Mrk - no answer

We have a Skype call scheduled with my relatives in America

7:45, in the middle of our Skype call:
Mr. Mrk is at the door with a bloody baby pig.  And a friend.

After ending our conversation, running to get my keys, the keys to the church and preparing to get the car started,Velimir tells me that I can ride with him.  And he has the keys to the church.

The question of what my job was continued to run through my head.

After opening the church, Velimir takes the pig to the freezer and dumps it in next to the ice-cream. 

Velimir's friend (to me): All you have to do tomorrow is salt the pig.

Me: Ummm, I'm sorry, I have no idea how to salt a pig.

Velimir: Ok, I'll do it then.

Me: Ok.