Friday, December 18, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words...or maybe millions in this case.

We were in the Brussels airport and saw this Accenture advertisement. Click the photo to see a larger view. It certainly is "what you do next that counts" Mr. Woods. How prescient this advert was!

p.s. We landed safely in Cincinnati and are recovering from some nasty colds, but happy to be home for the holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Its begining to look a lot like Christmas...

We woke up this morning to snow...and it snowed all day long! We are packing and getting ready to catch our flight in....12 hours! To our family-See you soon!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Further proof that Hungarians are nice people

The title of this post may seem odd to some of our readers. Do we have to offer "proof" that Hungarians are nice? We offer proof to to convince Hungarians that they are nice people. Some Hungarians take pleasure in the belief that they are not friendly, but the reality is otherwise. Hungarians we know are often surprised to hear that overall we are treated respectively and pleasantly when on the street, traveling on public transportation, in a shop, etc. Now of course, we live in a large city and anywhere in a large urban area people are less friendly then say in the countryside. Also, Hungarians aren't yet winning awards for top customer service or highly efficiency check-out lanes at the grocery store or Post Office. All this said, Hungarians offer--from an American point-of-view--a 1950's style of saying hello, goodbye, opening doors, helping mothers with strollers and offering their seat on the bus.

So here is proof: Steven was taking the bus back into town yesterday. He had a heavy backpack with him, but it was manageable. Having waited less than 10-minutes for the bus, he boarded the rather crowded bus. He stood next to a woman likely in her late 60s. She had two large bags with her. As a seat opened, Steven maneuvered to allow her to take the seat that was near him. Steven's behavior is expected in Hungarian more as duty then perhaps being "nice." The older woman then insisted that Steven rest his backpack on her leg. Steven kindly declined, but she insisted grabbing the bag and then holding the bag for the 15-minute journey to the center. Upon exiting he thanked her and she without any fanfare said it was nothing and rushed out the door with her two large bags.

Can you imagine such nice behavior where you live?

It is important to note perhaps why we believe Hungarians are nice. We believe that 'you get what you give' as well as you 'you see what you want to see.' If you are kind, you often receive that kindness back. If you are always looking for what is bad in the world, you will likely find it. We try to be kind and look for the good.

This wasn't Steven's bus but you can get a sense how we travel around Budapest.

We like that the buses are called Ikarus which we assume came from Icarus, a character in a Greek mythology. Trying to escape their prison and return home, Icarus and his father crafted wings held together by wax so to fly away. Icarus defied his father's warning to not fly too close to the sun. Icarus's wings fell apart and he died. Moral of the story: Listen to your father. We wonder if the bus name,Ikarus, is poking fund at some paternal authority.
We just hope the bus doesn't fly too close to the sun!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More Santa Claus sightings!

Steven's father, Richard--aka Santa Claus--is rode into town recently on a shiny red fire engine. No need for Rudolf when you have an ear-splitting siren and lights. Read the story here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Steven's father = Santa Claus?!

You saw in our last post that Diane aspires to be Santa Clause...and for good reasons. Just look how everyone is all smiles. Steven's father, Richard, has been playing Santa for several years now. He also raises donations for his "Santa Fund" that raises money to buy presents for children who would otherwise not enjoy a gift under their Christmas tree.

Recent photo of Santa (Richard) recently appearing
in Wilmington News Journal article

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ho! Ho! Ho!

I had a great day today that I want to share with you.

I am a member (and board member) of the North American Women’s Association (NAWA). We work with two groups of people-children and seniors. This time of year is very special for NAWA members. We put together gift bags full of candy and toys for the children, and blankets, coffee and chocolate for the seniors. We then visit the orphanages and nursing homes, dress like Santa and deliver the gifts.

Today we had a short board meeting and then we were heading to the nursing homes. During the board meeting Susan (who was suppose to be Santa) mentioned that the costume was too big for her-did anyone else want to be Santa. Honestly, I don’t know why my hand went up but the next thing I know I am dressing in a Santa suit.

I have been trying to get into the Christmas spirit this year...there is no better way to get out of the rut of “Bah Humbug” then to dress like Santa and receive, smiles, hugs and kisses from 50 seniors. It was a fantastic and exhausting day. We walked from room to room singing Christmas carols, handing out mandarins, bananas and gift bags full of goodies. The ladies and gentlemen were so touched by our intentions. There was huge smiles, bits of laughter and a few tears. It was an amazing day.

Santa and fellow NAWA members

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Markets: part 2

As promised more photos from the Vienna Christmas market-this time with our friends Jeremy and Zsuzsa.
My lovely husband never likes his picture taken so this is what I get...
Meat! Zsuzsa's heaven;)
Ok, this is not the Christmas Market but a Starbucks in Vienna! Strange to be in a place that looks like a Starbucks, tastes like a Starbucks, smells like a Starbucks but sounds like Vienna (lots of German being spoken).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vienna, Vienna, Vienna!

We spent a few days in Vienna this month. It is easy to do from Budapest. 3-hours by train or 2-hours by car. With the border open, there is no stopping. You just drive on through like you would in the US between states.

The first trip was special. Steven reconnected with some Peace Corps friends in particular Brenda who served in Steven's town, Võru, in Estonia. Brenda flew in from Santiago, Chile, where she is living with her husband and two lovely children. Two other Peace Corps-Estonia volunteers, Harald and Stephanie joined us in Vienna. They are living in the Czech Republic and made the day-trip to Austria. We also got to meet two of Brenda's lovely friends Naomi and Katalina who flew in from Geneva and Madrid, respectively. What a great weekend!

On our second trip yesterday, we joined our friends Jeremy and Zsuzsa for a day-trip to Vienna. As soon as we arrived we went to this wonderful restaurant (no tourists!) where they served simple but wonderful German food. We had bratwurst, sauerkraut, smoked ham, schnitzel and dumplings...and of course beer. We were stuffed! And this was on the heels of our Thursday (day before!) Thanksgiving feast. We are such gluttons!

On both trips we visited Vienna's Christmas markets. These markets are full of gifts, handmade crafts, amazing holiday foods and lots of hot spiced wine. It is something to see.

Here are some photos... We’ll post some more…as soon as we find the camera cable!

Steven and Brenda
The last time they saw each other was 2001.

Diane nursing some hot spiced wine.

Vienna City Hall - location of the city's largest Christmas market.

Harald, Stephanie, Brenda and Steven.
All Peace Corps Volunteers from Estonia.

Noemi, Katalina and Brenda in Vienna's historical Central Cafe.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ain't No Sunshine

Actually, we had a great sunny day and it is warm for late November (14C/58F). This post is a bit random, but we so love this song by Bill Withers and we find ourselves listening to it more and more. Wonder why?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Work trip to countryside

Steven started the week by visiting one of United Way's funded projects. He travelled 3-hours by train to a village in northwestern Hungary. A small village with a big name: Kemenesmihályfa.

The project engages younger adults who were injured in accidents. Specifically, this was the first-ever training camp organized for an emerging Hungarian Quad Rugby team. Quad rugby, you ask? It used to be called murderball! It is also known as wheelchair rugby.

Wikipedia describes it best: "Developed in Canada in 1977, it is currently practiced in over twenty countries around the world and is a Paralympic sport. ... All wheelchair rugby players have disabilities that include at least some loss of function in at least three limbs; most are medically classified as quadriplegic, although some are functionally closer to paraplegics. Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a hardwood court. ... The rules include elements of wheelchair basketball, ice hockey, handball and Rugby. It is a contact sport and physical contact between wheelchairs is an integral part of the game"

The Kemenesmihályfa countryside. View from the ridge of the town. Very peaceful.

The Kemenesmihályfa train "station." More a train stop. A nice older gentlemen riding by on his bike stopped over to say hello to Steven and make sure he knew which direction he was going. He also helped reassure Steven of the timetable. Steven thought that he was interested in seeing a new face in his village of 500.

Wheelchair rugby players use a volleyball instead of the rugby-style football.

Specially designed wheelchairs are used for the sport. The chairs take a beating!

Two of the players demonstrated how the game is played.
The team was practicing in an old school gymnasium.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hungarian countryside. Relaxation.

We had such a relaxing and wonderful weekend. Click here to see some photos posted on Diane's design blog.

Great day on the job!

Steven’s work puts him in contact with a variety of interesting people and organizations. On Monday, he was attending an United Way Hungary workplace giving campaign kickoff. The company asked one of the supported nonprofits (NGOs) to attend and make a small performance. The Pető Institute Of Conductive Education put on a great show.

Six of their students performed a short play. At one point the boy on the left (see photo) looked up from his script, smiled wide and delivered his lines. You could tell he was so thrilled to be on stage and seeing the audience enjoy themselves. The girl in the middle (turquoise shirt) was darling. She had the best smile. You couldn’t help smiling yourself just to see her.

Great day!

More information about the Pető Institute Of Conductive Education: “Conductive education is a unique system of teaching and learning for children with motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. It is designed to improve motor skills and increase independence of many aspects of common living. It is not a cure, but a method of exercises and education which are broken down into basic functional movements. The exercises are performed intensively (5 hours per day, 5 days per week) in small groups which promotes interactivity and fun. Conductive Education was developed at the Pető Institute in Hungary over 40 years ago…” Source.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Berlin Wall - 20 years later

Today there are celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall over 20 years ago. It is momentous for us to be in Hungary so close to this history. Hungary is credited with the first strike against the wall. In 1989 August 23, Hungary opened the iron curtain to Austria. This allowed the first mass exodus of East Germans to escape since 1961. Can you imagine living 48-years separated from your friends and family by what seems--on one hand--to be a simple wall?

This video is a good review.
You may want to skip the first the first minute.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

hunters and gathers - Part II

In late October, we were out hunting and gathering walnuts that fell in our yard. Walnuts are called dio in Hungarian and are a mainstay in Hungarian cooking and pastry. Dio is also the name of the 1980's American heavy metal band formed by former Black Sabbath band member Ronnie James Dio. These coincidences amuse us...

Anyway... We spent a few hours last Sunday cracking walnuts with our vice grips and listening to This American Life. It was like meditating. Cracking...listening to story-telling...cracking...

We doubt that earlier hunters and gathers had the luxury of listening to Ira Glass host yet another thought provoking episode of This American Life...let alone vice grips to crack their walnuts. Yet another reason to count our blessings!

after cracking over 100 walnuts, we had this

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Traditions: Part 3

And now we come to our third and final entry about traditions. This one, very special for Diane.


"I am not a religious person. However, I am a spiritual person. Taking time to light a candle and remember those who we miss has become a ritual, a tradition. I have found that no matter where you are in the world everyone knows what it is like to miss a loved one. It is a common thread that binds us all no matter what your religion or god.

In all the cemeteries I have been to there is always a place to light a candle for those who do not have a memorial or grave in that cemetery. So, Steven and I always search this common place out in the cemetery and I light a candle for my mom. We did this last year in Budapest, in Estonia on Christmas Day and recently when we were Zagreb.

Estonia Christmas 2008
Zagreb August 2009

November 1 is All Saints Day. In Europe, candles light up the cemetery as loved ones place flowers and remember those who have passed. Steven and I went to Kerepesi Cemetery on Sunday and lit a candle for mom. It was very cold and very beautiful."

Where I lit Mom's candle
Do you have any traditions or rituals to remember?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Traditions: Part 2

Halloween is a tradition many Americans celebrate. We have never been big on the whole costume thing. The last time I remember dressing up was about 10 years ago when Steve was a hot dog and I was the bun. I wish I had a photo to post-it was hilarious!

Living in Budapest you realize how small the expat community is. We heard of 5 different Halloween parties that we could attend. We decided to go to two...but what to wear?

We debated over what we were going to be....good and evil, vampires, Dorothy and the Tin Man.... We decided on....a priest and a banker. What does a priest and a banker have to do with one another? Diane was the banker asking for forgiveness for the financial crisis. Maybe a little risky, maybe a little funny. Either way we got lots of laughs and had a ton of fun!

Steve really liked being a priest. People let him
cut-in line and gave him "respect".
Photo: Begging for forgiveness.

Diane's hat was great! We rigged it with a birthday card Steve's mom sent back in July. When you moved the money on my hat you heard a "cha-ching". Unfortunately it was so loud at the parties that Diane was the only one hearing the "cha-ching" all night.
Our good friends Susan and Bill (a.k.a. Witch and Warlock)
...and Évi and Kata (a.k.a. Flamenco Dancer and cat-meow!)
Waiting for the bus-gotta save money:)
Dancing at The Iguana a Mexican Restaurant.
They can really throw a party!
What were you for Halloween?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Traditions: Part 1

Two things have happened since living abroad. We celebrate traditions more than we did in Seattle. Maybe because we search for things to make us feel at home. To remind us of our childhood and to comfort us. Older age no doubt has some influence.

The secound thing is creating is the process of creating new traditions-our traditions. So, in the past two weeks we have participated in the traditions of old and the traditions of new.

We carved a pumpkin. It wasn't as beautiful as Rita but it looked pretty good. At the time of carving we also had a visitor, Flat Stanley. You can see Flat Stanley in the photo below.

After we carved our pumpkin we decided to give it to Mari and Lajos. They are the kind people who live in the house our flat is in. I don't think they have ever been given a pumpkin. Mari gave us the biggest smile when we gave her our pumpkin.
Our tradition of baking the pumpkin seeds and eating a snack after the carving. Interestingly Americans will eat the whole seed compared to Hungarians and others who fish out the seed inside the seed.
Many years went by where Diane didn't carve a pumpkin. Over the past few years, Steve has been coming home with a pumpkin and I end up carving them. It is a nice way to welcome fall.

Do you have any fall traditions?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat! Happy Halloween!

We are off to a Halloween party tonight. After much thinking, we developed our costume. Steven is going as a Catholic priest. Diane is going as a banker...who is begging for forgiveness.

The party should be fun. The company hosting the party is located in the former secret police headquarters for Nazi Germany and then the Soviets. Truly frightening!

We will post photos tomorrow!

Friday, October 30, 2009

hot chocolate

We meet up with friends, Adri and József, for dinner last week at the super retro cool Menza Restaurant. You will remember that they took us to Adri's home town Mezőkövesd where Diane fell in love with all-things Matyo. We also shared Easter with them and our good friend Andi, her boyfriend and family.

After dinner, Adri and József introduced us to a fantstic chocolate shop. It was like a coffee house but they specialize in hot chocolate! Oh My Gosh! This was the best hot chocolate I have ever had! It was like hot pudding! I am sure it was low fat-yeah right!

That bright white thing next to the cup is a lady finger cookie...
so tasty when dipped in the chocolate!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

our friend cooper

Last week we dog sat for good friends of ours. Cooper was great! I (Diane) love Westies!

Cooper posing.
I love his lion pose. I think he is in inspired by the lions on The Lanchid
Resting after a walk.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

hunters and gathers

I know we haven't been posting as much. I have been trying to post regularly to my design blog which means I have been bad at updating this blog. We will try to be better if you promise to be better about commenting:)

We have a tree that hangs over our garden. It has dropped a ton of walnuts! Last week we went outside and gathered all the good ones!

Diane's Grandma and Grandpa shared this photo of walnuts they picking up in their backyard...the size of a baseball!!
Do you have walnuts to pick, maybe mushrooms?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A view of Budapest

This a positive and inspiring video of our adopted home. Even often cynical Pestiside gave it a thumbs up with some caveats of course.

Come visit soon!

p.s. Click here to see the video. The right-side of the video below may be cut-off on your screen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Etyek Wine & Food Festival

On Saturday we travelled just outside of Budapest to a small town called Etyek. The town is cute and has become a popular place to live. The town lies in one of Hungary's popular wine regions--Etyek-Buda wine region.

With wine glass in hand, we visited the wine cellars and sampled their wine. It was a great day!

The wines gods were looking down on us.

Hundreds of people were at this festival. Here is one of the many "cellar sites" located throughout the town. The entire town was actually closed to traffic.

One of the many wine cellars! Inside the cellars was a cool relief.
The weather here is still rather warm in the sun.

Beautiful sunny day!

Cellars like these dotted the entire town. Some were rugged while others were resplendent with large dinning areas and modern conditions for storing.