Saturday, August 6, 2011

You can't just meow at people, thats not a proper hello.

As I write this, I have no internet, on a bunk bed in the same pajama pants i've worn for 3 months (not consecutively, hahah), in the middle of a gorgeously peaceful  monastery in Croatia... Its starting to sink in exactly how much I've been through this summer.

BUT I WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT OUR LAST WEEK IN STUBEL - easily the most chaotic week of the summer, yet strangely comfortable & confirming too? Weird how that happens.

So, Stubel has been a favorite of mine ever since the first weekend I was in Bulgaria. There is something about the place... it feels like you've stepped back in time a little bit? But there is also a darkness you can feel in every direction. I can't really explain it... but there is a lot of hurt & depression there. Its not all bad of course, don't worry :)

A W&W team from Salem, Oregon came to Sofia the day before we left, they've been sending money to the church in Stubel all year for the 'winterizing' of the building, and this week 9 people came to paint/clean up the yard/ help us with VBS. It was really nice to hear English all week :) And one of the older men is the grandfather of a girl I know at school! Ah, small Nazarene worlds. We all rode the bus to Stubel together that Sunday, (I was sick all morning for no apparent reason, kinda frustrating but it went away quickly) & and the next morning we began our VBS. Once again, I was in charge of crafts, so we came with piles of supplies. 

VBS was total madness. These kids - I'm telling you - I've never seen such chaos. They are all very sweet, and I completely fell in love with them, but put them all together in one place, and every attention span dwindles to 3 second maximum. (I can't exactly go into detail of their home lives, for fear that I could victimize them for you, and thats never the point of these blogs, I don't want to make you think 'oh, pitiful Bulgarian kids, don't we all wish we could American-ize them, but a lot of these kids have been physically or mentally abused... and thats almost the norm in this village. I can think of 5 that i've seen actual evidence of it. If they are lucky enough to have a healthy home life, the Bulgarian culture is still very much 'everyone is out for themselves' so a lot of these kids have grown up constantly having to fight for any attention at all, good or bad. I saw each one of them have moments of total frustration, and they end up taking it out on each other because thats the only way they've ever seen it handled. A generational cycle of violence and abuse is so clearly evident)

We tried to keep them occupied minute by minute, but with only 1 translator, we lost their listening ears pretty quickly - and oh man... they were lively. I'm saying all this with a smile of course now, because after Monday they began to listen to us a bit more, but somehow, I let a bunch of kids hurt my feelings. They pulled my hair, yelled at me, stole markers from me... they did it to all of us. I've nannyed & taken care of kids on & off since I was 14, and i've never had a kid totally disregard every word I said like these did. It was crazy. I sound mad, but really I was just impressed!! Hahah. The main thing that I kept thinking was - 'They have never been taught respect, how in the world can I demand it from them'? It was a hard to place to be in, because as much as I wanted to let them do whatever they wanted, a dose of tough love could do so much for these kids. But you also want to hug them for hours and do nothing but tell them how valuable they are...? A balance was terribly hard to find.

Monday evening, we ended up making 35 kids go home early, simply because we could. not. regain. control. Geroika (the most wonderful Bulgarian lady in the world, she's the pastor of the church, I've talked about her a lot) gave them a very stern talking to, and they were a bit better the rest of the week. I think through all the bible stories & crafts & music time we had, the only thing they learned was that we loved them. BUT in the end, thats all I wanted them to know anyway :)

Unrelated Sidenote - Monday night, we found out that a part of our team (that has been living in Razgrad), was involved in a car accident. 2 of the boys and 3 church members were in the car, 1 church member had a pretty serious head injury, the other 2 were unhurt, while 1 member of the Immerse team dislocated his hip, & the other fractured his hand. The driver of the other car was killed, & the passenger was in critical care. So, needless to say, Monday was a very emotional day. But God brought peace that night. :) We were all very thankful for our safety, I can't believe how little I think of something like a car crash as a possibility. I know it can happen anywhere... just a scary thought.

We spent the rest of the week VBSing like crazy, and had some really good moments. Lots of the kids memorized bible verses, we sang Bulgarian childrens' songs and made friendship bracelets & bean bag balls & had our lunch together. Each day was full of yelling over each other, but I totally fell for some of those kids. They were hard to handle, but you can see the innocence in their eyes still? I memorized names & had silly little conversations in Bulgarian & they laughed at me and I petted stray dogs & told bible stories and drank a lot of coffee & found an accordion & talked with the American team about how stupid it is that flies & mosquitos even exist, and didn't shower or look in a mirror for 4 days straight... good times :)

I really can't sum that week up into words - I'm trying, but I'm totally failing. Some of the most memorable moments were making friends with some of the older kids that were clearly 'too cool' to be my friend, our water balloon fight, where a whole bucket of water got dumped on my head, watching Lauren ride a horse bareback, finding out that one of the kids had been beaten by his father the night before, teaching little girls 3 different braiding techniques for their bracelets, none of which they could successfully do, learning about the home lives about some of the kids, and feeling total disbelief at how someone could think that what Geroika does for those kids is wrong,  sleeping in a moldy basement, using the bathroom outside, 100% under the stars - thats an interesting experience -, cooking dinner for the village, taking a donkey ride through the village with a crazy old man.... Stubel represents lots and lots of different emotions for me. I could both cry & laugh about our last week there. All I know is I have to go back eventually.

Now - I'm in Croatia. And I could write a whole other book about how much we went through to get here, (Short version, we took a train at 12:30 from Sofia to Belgrad, Serbia, to catch the 11:30pm train to Zagreb.... NO SUCH THING. We spent the night on the ground in the outdoor train station, complete with a stray dog as our guard. It was hilarious, but also pretty sketchy, & I'm glad there was no way for my mom to know where I was in those 8 hours. Our train for Zagreb left at 5:15 - We got here safe!) Now we're having our debriefing time here in a monastery. I think we're all ready to come home, but so much has to be processed & talked about & prepared for... I think we're all coming home changed for the better. We're headed to the coast tomorrow for 4 days of total rest & beach time - then we catch our flight for America on THURSDAY. woah.

I can't believe how much I've learned in these 4 months.
America better get ready for me... I'm not the same person I was in May.
^^^ that was cheesy, but man... its true.

(I'll tell you more about how i'm feeling about my future later, now I'm gonna read Tina Fey's new book & soak in the quiet of this place)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Did anyone know that sign language is different in every country? That is just stupid.

Hello everyone :)

So this last week, we spent some time in a city called Montana (Монтана), which is about 2 hours from Sofia. We lead worship with the people of the church our first Sunday morning there, and met some really great people :) Bulgarians don't know how friendly they are. We've experienced SO much warmth here, I love it.

Each day we had a place to visit.

Monday morning, we visited a kindergarden. We spent some time with the kids & played games, (the language barrier with 3 year olds is even worse, 'Simon Says' was a trainwreck, hahahaha) and then met with the principal of the school & learned about the Bulgarian school process and had a little question & answer time - complete with bonitsa, coffee & chocolate, 3 things a good Bulgarian would NEVER go without. (aka, we keep eating, & they keep offering, and we keep eating, and by the end we don't even want lunch.)

Tuesday morning, we went to a nursing home way out in the country. We gave our testimonies & sang some songs for them & just spent some time talking (attempting to talk) with them. They sang for us too, some told us about their grandkids, but most just wanted to know about America and were so impressed with us for coming to Bulgaria. Everyone is so curious about why we would ever come to a country like theirs... and I never know what to say. I just tell them I really like it here, cause I do! Of course we ended the morning with a meeting with the director & coffee & chocolate & bonitsa, surprise surprise ;) - SIDE NOTE -This took me back to when I was a kid, and my Grandmommy would take me to nursing homes to sing for all the grandmas & grandpas :) And the time I sang for some of her friends from a truck bed in the middle of a Cracker Barrel parking lot in some random interstate town on the way to Texas... THATS RIGHT GRANDMOMMY, don't think I forgot ;) And all that experience really paid off in Bulgaria!! Who woulda thought! Hahaha. Anyway, being there also brought back all my 'I think I want to go into Music Therapy' feelings even stronger. I've been looking at schools again. Maybe in a perfect world, I could practice in other countries? Is that a thing? I don't know. Maybe I'll just make it a thing :)

Wednesday morning we visiting a similar nursing home, but it was for the blind. It was a little harder to swallow, and we didn't get to spend as much time with them. But I met a man who spoke German! So we counted on our fingers in Bulgarian, German, Spanish & English. He kept asking me for whiskey. I told him I'd sneak it for him if I had any... hahaha the nurses didn't really like that, oh well. And then we were wisked away for coffee & chocolate. Some times people took pictures of us? Which was odd. Its so clear how few & far between Americans are in this country.

Luckily our afternoons were wonderfully relaxing, we spent some time at the pool with some of the teens from the Montana church, and a few evenings we spent with members who offered to make dinner for us. After dinner, we hung out at a pool hall with some of the girls from the church, and turns out, I'm pretty good at darts!! I had no idea. But my air-hockey skills are lacking. Oh well.

Friday afternoon we headed back to Sofia, which was a really nice change from the 2 weeks of chaos :) Sofia feels like home at this point. Its getting so close to time to leave... its really crazy. We said goodbye to our high school friends & our middle school friends, which was really sad, but also really weird. I didn't cry, but i felt unsettled. Sometimes if I think about how sad it is that there are people in this world that I may never ever see again? Ever? I get all bent out of shape & depressed. So we are just going to try our best to keep in touch over FB. I loved these kids. Oh, wait - these 'young adults' :)

Since Monday, we've been getting ready for our kids camp coming up this Monday-Friday (July 25-29). Its been wonderfully relaxed, so I got to sleep late, buy some souvenirs, got some 'me' time, and I explored Sofia even more. I really love parts of this city. I found a really great artsy area that I fell in love with - but OF COURSE I find it 3 days before its time to leave. :( Otherwise I've been planning craft time, each of us are teaching a bible study, we're singing songs & making lunch, and we're gonna be sweating to death. A W&W team is coming from Salem, Washington to be with us all week, so it should be so great!! We're picking them up from the airport in the AM to give them a short tour of Sofia, then we're headed to Стубел (the village we've been to 3 times now, right outside of Montana) tomorrow afternoon after church.

Then when we get back from Stubel (Стубел)  next Monday, we have one day - ONE DAY- left in Sofia.
On Aug 3 we're catching the night train to Croatia.
America, I'll see you soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Hello everyone! Sorry its been so long, we've been busy - and we have a terrible internet connection...

Okay, so here are some background details, before I can tell you how I really feel ;)

This last week, we left Sofia & took the bus to (Разград) Razgrad (a town about 5 hours away), where another Trevecca team of 5 is living. Another team of 5 (from Видраре, or Vidrare) met us there too, so we became one big American family :) Tim Green, a professor from Trevecca, was also in town, he was teaching a Herminutics class for many Bulgarian pastors & laypeople at the Razgrad church. SO - needless to say, there was a lot going on! Us Americans took over the nearby hostel, and we stuck out like sore thumbs, as usual hahah.

The Immerse teams were in charge of a boys camp at a juvenile detention center in Завет (Zavet) for Monday-Friday. These boys were slightly well behaved, but most were pretty rough around the edges. The majority of the boys were in trouble for theft, but a few others were at the home for more serious matters like assault, being accused of rape, etc. We planned our days with the theme of 'friendship', and included bible stories, crafts, games, snacks and a mural project.

WELLLLLLLLL, ya know???? Things change. Enter more 'flexibility' lessons for Kathleen :)

Our first morning at the center, the director (Mrs. Caroline) found out that I'm an art minor. (She didn't really understand that its technically an art THERAPY minor... totally different ball game - oh, language barriers.) So in her mind, I'm a painting EXPERT**. I mean, I'm flattered and all, and I have taken classes but.... yikes. And after 20 minutes or so, she has laid out the plans for our group to paint 6 murals**. And a poster**. Ummmm, did I mention we had ONE planned? I panicked a little, but I figured we could attempt, and on Thursday when it was clear to Mrs. Caroline that she'd asked too much of us, everything would be fine. Hahahah, THATS FUNNY.

**denotes things that are crazy nerve wracking & incredibly stressful to think about, until you have had a successful lunch and 2 hour nap... or attempt at one.

See, I had planned most of our crafts for the week, because I do really enjoy crafty things. I'm always looking for a reason to make something, so when our team took charge of the painting & crafts, I naturally went into overload :) Our ideas included (very manly) friendship bracelets with hemp, a 'found objects' box with spray paint & super glue, clay work & mosaics made out of plates the boys smashed themselves. (Smashing the plates became a huge event... it turned out really well but we were all a little scared a riot could break out hahah) My team & I knew we really wanted to get to know these boys, so we kept our ideas simple, so we could still have conversations while working on the projects. Our mural idea had the 'friendship' feel, but it was simple enough for all the boys to help. We came totally prepared, (with what felt like 2424535 lbs of craft supplies) but the director kinda de-railed our plans.

She meant well, and she wasn't rude about any of it... It was just a little frustrating to be surprised like that. But I knew we were here to do what they needed from us :) So I told her (through the lovely Jessica) that we would try our best. Somehow, by Monday afternoon, I was a painting expert, and I was basically running the show until Friday... or at least thats how it felt. I was excited, but also worried about getting it all done & I'm not used to telling people what to do & I know I'm a perfectionist so I was worried about the boys helping when the murals the director wanted were NOT easy & she wanted a poster too so I knew I'd have to work on it in the afternoons and thats when we had free time usually before cooking dinner & we didn't have paint yet & we need a certain computer for the projector to work and BLAH BLAH BLAH. I obviously hadn't learned a thing yet. :)

So, for the rest of the week (till Thursday night) - it was splicing & tracing from the projector, mixing paint, outlining, art supplies stores & delegating. Jessica (our team 'leader', she's lived here in Bulgaria for 2 years, working with the Church of the Nazarene... I'm not sure if I've mentioned that before??) taught me all about delegation. Which I quickly learned, I'm terrible at. I tend to want to try to do EVERY job possible all by myself... aka perfectionism... which is impossible when you're 'in charge' & 36 people are trying to talk to you at once. So I made rounds :) I taught some boys about mixing primary colors to make other colors, obsessively put tops on paint canisters (oops), asked for paper towels a million times, talked about what brushes are best for what texture, went up and down the stairs, approved wall placements and all sorts of other 'Person In Charge' jobs. It was weird. I've never done ANYTHING like that before. Everyone said I did a good job... but I really was worried about being bossy and annoying the whole time. Being in charge is hard!! And I don't really know if I was always clear about what my plans were. But I really am so thankful for the opportunity - because now I know that if I can just keep myself from feeling overwhelmed, I am able to lead a group enough to get the job done. Thats exciting. I learned a lot.

I was pretty disappointed that my week wasn't all about the boys (for me)... but turns out, it might have been better that way. Mrs. Caroline was constantly asking me if I could ever come back and help her fix up the school even more. She kept saying "oh, Katy. (She consistantly yelled my name, hahah. like KEH-TEE') Just join the peace corps - I can pull some strings, and you could come here for a year!!" I'll be honest - the peace corps really has began to feel like an option - i've been researching like crazy. She gave me a necklace & bracelet at the end of the week. She was precious. And I was tired.

All in all - we finished all 6. Everyone on our Immerse team was involved, and they took up most of our time, but we somehow got everything accomplished!? The first was in the main hallway, a globe with multi-colored 'stick figure' men surrounding it, which represented unity. The second was 4 puzzle pieces next to the first floor of bedrooms, each piece was connected, and had a word inside - friendship, trust, love & unity - in Bulgarian. The 3rd, 4th & 5th were all in the kitchens. The 1st floor was 3 cartoon figures in Bulgarian-flag color clothing, dancing over a globe. The 2nd floor was a more abstract picture of 4 friends holding hands in a circle. The 3rd floor was 7 kids of all different nationalities holding hands in a circle - each mural went along with the 'togetherness and love' theme, a lesson a lot of these boys need to learn. The 6th one was in the gym, of a kid playing different sports... that one was mostly for appearances' sake. The poster was a smaller replica of the 3rd kitchen mural that Lauren & I worked on every afternoon. And - lots of the boys got to help paint, which I was excited about. (I'll post pictures on Facebook soon, once we have a more reliable internet connection)

So - it was a good week. But it was also the first time I felt stressed & truly frustrated with the Bulgarian way of thinking. Deep down, I really try to appreciate the differences in every person I meet. I want to, anyway... though I might not always do it very quickly. We all problem solve SO differently, and flexibility is the only option... I've learned that 236836 times in this one week, I think. :) I know I'm not always right, but sometimes its REALLY hard to let go of perfectionism... especially with artwork. But we did, as a team. And all the murals turned out GREAT!!! Then we had a picnic out in the woods friday afternoon to end our time together. And we drove through miles of sunflower fields every afternoon on our way back to our hostel. And I had 4 diet Dr. Peppers in 1 week. And I got to have deep conversations with Tim Green over the best pizza of my life. I couldn't complain if I tried :)

Saturday morning, we left (Разград) Razgrad for Montana, a city about 2.5 hours from Sofia. We're here for a week, so I'll update you on what we're doing here soon - I promise!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

YAYAY PARTYYY! wait, don't call it a party... they might bring beer...

All my Bulgarian high school friends 
are coming over in an hour!!! 
I'm so excited!!

We need balloons. 

And plates.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thanks, Frank.

This song has been on repeat in my heart all week. I know its not a 'Christian' song, but in so many ways, it is how [the very middle of] my heart has felt this summer. Happy, hopeful, and excited for the future, whatever that is!! I don't usually like the sentence "In the center of God's will" because most days I just want to scream - UHHHH WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN... I feel its sometimes overused, or even used out of context just so we can justify our plans... but I think this is a little taste of what that 'real thing' feels like :)

Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you... if you’re young at heart.
For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind if you’re young at heart.

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes,
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.
And life gets more exciting with each passing day,
And love is either in your heart or on it’s way.
Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth, to be young at heart.
For as rich as you are it’s much better by far to be young at heart.

And if you should survive to 105, 
look at all you’ll derive out of being alive!
Then here is the best part - You have a head start,
If you are among the very young at heart.

Hey look, I'm in July, while America is still in June. I'm in the future.

Hello everyone! Sorry its been so long. 10 days to be exact... my bad... Bulgaria is busy, especially when you throw in overnight bus trips to even more foreign countries.

Since my last post, I went to Turkey!! Istanbul was BEAUTIFUL. And so interesting! And I ate some great food, bought too many scarves, about half a million Turkish men hit on me (they think that will get the money out of my pockets, pshhh.), I slept next to THE WORST SNORER IN THE WHOLE WORLD at our hostel, went to museums, fell in love with a kitten, and now I have a new fascination with Muslim culture. I learned so much in 3 short days. And It only cost me $250, round trip with food and a bed and handfuls of Turkish delight! I took 330 pictures. I think I liked Istanbul a little :)

This week in Sofia, our leader Jessica has been in Romania with her brother, so the days have been a little slower than most. BUT I think all 5 of us are thankful :) We've been getting much more rest and we're all catching up on our Harry Potter reading. (we're going to see the last movie with some Bulgarian friends, I CAN'T WAIT. I'm 22 but I'll never grow up.) We've spent our free time planning arts & crafts, and also working on plans for a mural we'll be painting with the boys from the camp we're leading next Monday-Friday in Razgrad.

These boys are all living at a juvenile delinquent center in Zavet, and we obviously don't know all the details - but the camp director has suggested we cover topics like forgiveness and acceptance in our daily lessons. I'm really excited, but we're all a little nervous about how the boys will respond to us. They are from 11-18 years old, so planning arts & crafts for them has been a little challenging. But - I LOVE ART SUPPLIES and I like to consider myself crafty :) So I've had a really great time trying to put things together, and we've searched all over Sofia for our supplies. We're smashing plates for mosaics. And making manly friendship bracelets & playing with clay... its gonna be so much fun. I'm really excited to meet them. And we will be with 2 other teams from Trevecca too, so there will be 17 of us that can speak English!!!! hahaha it will probably be music to our little tired ears :) [sidenote, I've heard rumors of us possibly getting to visit an orphanage. And while no one should really be excited to visit a sad place like this, I'm really hoping I'll get a chance to go. Learning about the needs of kids in Bulgaria was one of the main reasons I chose to come to Bulgaria this summer. It weighed on my heart for weeks, and I feel pulled in that direction for some reason... so I'm hoping I can go visit for an afternoon.]

Here is a preview of what we're hoping the mural will end up looking like. If not... its okay :) FLEX.UH.BILL.UH.TEE. I'm learning it over & over this summer. - - -

Our schedule for July - We'll be in Razgrad (6 hours away from Sofia by bus) for 5 days, then onto Montana (2 hours from Sofia) for 6 more days, where we'll be meeting & getting to know the youth group from the Nazarene church there. Then back to Sofia for 6 days, we'll get a little rest hopefully, and some last chances to spend time with the kids we've met here. Then we leave the 21st for Stubel (a village 2.5 hours from Sofia) for the last 10 days, where we'll be putting on a camp for the village kids, & painting/winterizing the church we've been working on since the beginning of June. A W&W team from Washington state will be there to help us as well, so we'll be meeting even more people!! Then on Aug 2nd, we leave for Zagreb, Croatia for our Immerse de-briefing. We're there for 7 days, and then we fly back to America. - WOAH. whirlwind.

Its all so exciting, but its A LOT - I'm scared the month of July is going to go too quickly. And I'm already positive I'm going to miss all of this so so so much.

So, our planning for the boys camp is ALMOST done, and we leave Sofia after church on Sunday. (We're leading worship. In Bulgarian. hahah hopefully the members have some mercy on us!) BUT - on Saturday we're having some of our friends from the high school across the street come over to play cards & watch youtube videos & maybe teach us some more Bulgarian folk dances. We. Love. These. Teenagers. They have been the highlight of our trip so far. If i'm honest... I'm really sad to leave Sofia. Zavet & Montana & Stubel are going to be fun, but I'm always wishing we had more time. Relationships need so much time. Its a real frustration for me at this point. SO I GUESS I'LL JUST HAVE TO COME BACK ;)

BUTTTT anyway. Pray for us through July - its going to be crazy, and I can't wait!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

but then

And then I skyped with my bestfriend/lifepartner for 2.26 hours about our lives and beach trips and Ikea trips and Nashville trips and Germany trips and I was happy, but also awake at 3:42AM Bulgarian time.


I don't know what it was about today exactly - but it was wonderful. 

This morning we went to hang out with some high schoolers at Petko Karavelov (Петко Каравелов), for some conversational English. And we started out shaky, as always. But then, suddenly, 6 teenagers opened up to me. And we talked (through some translation confusion, always hilarious) about Beyonce, America, Bulgarian food, how terrible I am at Bulgarian grammar, New York City, college, Christianity, the club scenes in Sofia, Turkey, WHATEVER, and the 2 hours flew by. They made me sing for them, and quizzed me for at least 20 minutes about how in the world could I NOT have a boyfriend. (I'll be honest, I told them I don't know why not either ;) hahah - and then I gave them the 'I'm too young to get married when I still have so many places to see' speech. Which is the real answer!) Then they took me to cafe, & bought me banitsa, and this completely terrible Bulgarian wheat drink that they all LOVE but I wanted to spit out ASAP. We took turns laughing at the faces I made... I think they tricked me!

Then we sat in a park & talked about Roma people & racial injustices in Bulgaria & Eastern Europe, as well as racial tension in America... thats a normal conversation to have with 6 high schoolers at 10am, right? NO. - When I left, I was on cloud 9. We're headed back for more teaching/conversation time in the morning. I seriously can't wait. 

I had NO idea I'd love this so much you guys. It may have been a fluke, but I feel like spending time with high schoolers may be something I'm good at? Maybe mentoring or something? I just felt so in my element, and these kids had so much to teach me too. And they paid for my lunch. And I was so happy. 

Then - I got to babysit the Mann's kids! They JUST moved here from Kosovo. (They are missionaries, they spent the day working on Visa situations) Sarah is 2, and John is 4. (My grandparents names - loved that) AND WOAHHHHH ARE THEY A HANDFUL. But even with the yelling & time outs, I still enjoyed their precious imaginations during our game of 'I'm the baby, you're the Grandma'. I love nannying cause I feel like I'm practicing for mommyhood one day. Like, a million years from now... :)

And then, I went to the grocery store by myself to grab stuff to make dinner - (crispy ranch chicken with rice and green beans) And I must say, it was yummy. I love cooking for other people! Cooking for yourself is never as fun. I cleaned my plate like a good Bulgarian.

Over dinner, my team got so much closer. Like, miles closer. The events of the day sparked an incredible conversation about our strengths, our differences, being vulnerable with each other, our problems with each other, but also our admiration for each other... I can't even explain how thankful I am for these friends I'm living here with. It was like a collective sigh of relief for all of us - We love each other, and we love it here, and we are even more positive that God put us here for a specific reason. The patience is starting to feel worth it. We're feeling things starting to move, for us personally, but also - the people in this country are really starting to feel like FRIENDS.

Its all just terribly exciting. AND I'm going to Istanbul this weekend. AND we're planning hands on craft activities for our time in Zavet with boys (ages 11-18) who are living in a juvenile delinquent center. AND I get to help with a mural we'll all be painting. AND we're leading worship in Montana in 2 weeks. AND I got to skype with my parents yesterday AND also my BFF/Roommate, AND I'm in my pjs with all the windows open and the breeze is delicious and I'm about to read until I sleep, and things are just wonderful. Completely wonderful.

Today was one of my favorite days in all of life. 

Its always about where your heart is, I guess :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

ф is my favorite Bulgarian letter.

Hello everyone :) I just got a message from my mother, all it said was 'hey, could you please blog soon, everyone here is asking me'... hahah so here I am! and I'm happy you guys wanna know whats up in Sofia!

So I'll just say it again because I always feel the need to explain - blogging about what I'm doing here in this country is just hard. I'm not really sure why, but I think its because figuring this place out is complicated enough, and writing about it means I have to collect my thoughts, and they need to make sense - but they don't. I'm scrambled & terribly curious every day, and while I am simply having THE BEST TIME, its hard to digest, even in small doses. 

So, our time in Stubel was short, but we got a lot done. The village church needed to be totally gutted, they are beginning the final stages of electrical & plumbing work. At the end of July, we'll be returning to work with another team (from Washington State) to paint & put the place back together... and Stubel will have a completely finished Nazarene church building! So Saturday we spent the whole day cleaning out closets & carrying trash to dumpsters and lugging roof tiles to the road, I grew some muscles :) It was some pretty dirty work, we were covered in dust & lots of spiders made homes in my hair and clothes, but I somehow hardly flinched... remember that spirit of willingness I was talking about? Turns out it really helps with your attitude when you're surrounded by bugs you'd normally pitch a fit about :)

Sunday was a rest day, which is a big thing in Bulgaria, and I LOVE IT. Church that morning was held in a village restaurant, totally in Bulgarian, complete with home made doughnuts and wild roses from the little boys we've made friends with. It seemed like they seriously just yanked a rosebush out of the ground and brought it to church with them, all for Lauren, Dana & me??? HAHAH - these boys totally know how to win a girls heart! (Nashville boys, what is your deal? Really, all it takes is flowers. I'm over text messages.) We giggled for 10 minutes, just smelling our flowers over & over :) We thankfully spent the rest of the afternoon reading & napping in our cute little village apartment... at one point I woke up to the sound of sheep outside my window, followed by a rooster crowing at 5pm? 

Monday & Tuesday we cleaned out the store front our friends Gerokia & Mario own - we'll be staying there in July while the W&W team is in the village with us. We cleaned out the TERRIBLY moldy & dank basement, where we will be sleeping... :) We made great progress, which once again, included lots of dust & spiders & no running water, and with the village kids all around us helping, it felt more like a circus than a clean up day - total (fun) chaos. I don't know how to say OMG PLEASE DON'T WALK ON THE FLOOR I JUST MOPPED in Bulgarian, but I know in the grand scheme of things - who cares? We all worked together & eventually made the place look great, and yeah - i'm still a little afraid to sleep in a room full of spiders, but you know what? I'm gonna get over it. Because if I wanted a comfortable & complacent summer, I would have just stayed in America on a beach somewhere. Right? I came here because I want to be moved. I want to learn & I want to experience and I want to see and feel and touch and be pushed and most days of the last month & a half, I've been SO THANKFUL to be a little uncomfortable - because it means I'm growing. And that is just terribly exciting!

We came back to Sofia Tuesday night, and I made a trip to the doctor yesterday because I'm pretty sure I have a sinus infection. He recommended I get my sinus cavities lasered? Ummmm - hahah so that may be a story sometime soon, I'm waiting to see if the meds he gave me work instead :) Woaaaah Bulgarian health care! Lasers offered as the very first option... okay...

Today we had our game morning with members of the church, (AND I WON MY FIRST GAME OF SKIP-BO, a very big accomplishment for me, I bragged for like, 244810 minutes, duh.) and this afternoon we went on a little prayer walk around our apartment complex. (and then the Razgrad[Разград] team got here cause we're all going to see Hillsong London on Saturday!!! YAYAY)

I'll finish up this post with how I was feeling earlier during my prayer walk - I'll just be honest, I don't think I know how to pray for this place. Because I still don't know what they need. I know there is racial tension. I know there is hunger. I know there is brokenness and illness and abandonment and fear, but I don't know how I can help yet, and this is the feeling i've had since my first week here. All of us here are feeling it. There is no quick fix for this place. (I don't mean to paint it all in a terrible light, but there is a vibe in this place - one of depression and distrust) There is no church I can build or school I can paint or VBS I can plan that will fix the deep rooted need for more love here. And they need long term love. And I'm only here for 3 months. That sort of seems long - but ITS NOT. Most of Eastern Europe is this way as well - they need understanding and acceptance and a new way of positive thinking and loving people with PATIENCE... and most of all, they need to know that the love ultimately comes from God himself. 

So that is where I'm at right now. A little frustrated. And a little overwhelmed on how little I really can do. I know thats not the whole story - so I'm waiting for it to pass, but I'm meeting new people and teaching English to sweet girls and hanging out at the mall with them and spending time with members of the Sofia church and we'll be going to new villages in July and hopefully we'll be teaching English to more kids in the next few weeks, but its just hard when I remember that I'm leaving. I still have 2 more months, I know, but it feels like it won't ever be enough to learn enough about this place. I get the distinct feeling that a lot of people here don't understand exactly how much they are worth. I hate it.

Love you guys. Pray for us! I'm not upset at all, its just a strange feeling that is hard to put into words. I'm trying to figure it out, but it may take all summer, or longer :) - Kat

Friday, June 10, 2011

bye, Cофия

well, just for a bit :)

We're headed to Стубел (Stubel, a village out side of Монтана/Montana) till Tuesday - we'll be cleaning a church and hanging out with village kids and using outdoor squatty potties and eating homemade Bulgarian food and getting really dirty and picking up live chickens and cleaning windows and not showering and listening to Bulgarian folk music and I CAN'T WAIT.

Bus leaves at 7:30am, peace out American girl scouts.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

well, actually.

I've been brushing my teeth with a travel 'wisp' brush for over 6 minutes now - 
so I guess I do miss my American toothbrush.

But that is all.

1 month.

Well, I've been out of the country for 1 month as of today - I'm sorry America, but I just don't miss you yet?

Sofia is slowly feeling like home, and as a team, we're creating a pretty steady schedule of teaching English to teachers & middle schoolers (2 days a week for 4 hours), making connections at Starbucks & the fitness center (in our free time), (as well as at restaruants/grocery store/on the subway... just about anywhere someone speaks English to us but mentions they want to learn more) playing card games with members of Sofia church of the Nazarene (thursday mornings), Bulgarian lessons (wed at 5), group prayer meetings & cooking dinner for ourselves :) I've also been eating ALOT of sour gummie bears....

Most 'mission trips' I've been on have been really short, but very hands on. I've mostly worked with VBS or painting or building a church or another building of some kind. I mean, I dug ditches in Mexico in 110 degrees 2 summers ago... but I've always known I'm not really built for hard labor ;)

But this summer is different, because its not really supposed to be a 'mission trip' - its about relationships. That sounds really cliche and cheese-ball-ish, but its true.

So basically, I just moved to Sofia. We're trying to do life just like the Bulgarians do! And we're really bad at it right now :) I'm always talking too loud, I'm not picking up the language very quickly because even the Bulgarians say its HARD, I'm always walking the wrong way on the subway platform, and I'm still not used to paying for water.

But - today, my 5th grade students Johnie & Adiel made me cards because it was their last day of school. We've had 3 (well, sort of 4) lessons together now. One drew a cat on the front because I told her I'm a cat person :) And they spelled my name 100% wrong. In Bulgarian AND English, they wrote all about how much they loved meeting me & that they don't want me to go back to America. I told them I'd be here till August. We're going to the mall together sometime next week. I will keep those letters forever.

Life in Bulgaria is just - different. I'm really enjoying the differences. But - I don't have a HUGE AMAZING THING TO BLOG ALL ABOUT because I'm just living real life - this is not a 'spiritual high church camp feeling' kind of trip, but I'm thankful for that. I'm just learning to be more willing, more flexible, more open, more brave, more patient, more trusting, and LESS 'American'.

I think God is teaching me how important it is to live in a complete spirit of willingness. How can I be lead if I'm not even paying attention? - Kat

Friday, June 3, 2011

in bed

I'm sick.

I've laid in bed all day (while missing cool things like hanging out with the Sunbergs) but I only feel worse. I suppose I have the flu. I guess I'll just stay in bed all night & eat Bulgarian ramen and be thankful that at least I'm sick in a cool place and not in a lame one? ;) just kidding.

I'm supposed to get up early in the morning to go to the Rose Festival in Kazanlak, please pray I feel well enough to go :( 


Sunday, May 29, 2011

you guyssss.

I can't sleep. We have a bus to catch at 7am to head to a tiny little Bulgarian village to play with tiny Bulgarian children all day. And on Tuesday, our English lessons begin - I think I'm too nervous to sleep. I'm just googling random Bulgarian facts until I feel sleepy enough to try again? I counted sheep for 26 whole minutes, it didn't help.

Did you know lions used to live in the wild in Bulgaria? The last one was shot & killed in 1936. Also the tallest cactus in the world is only 2.5 hours away from my apartment, I MapQuested it.

I'm not making any sense so I give up on being awake. - лека нощ!

- Катхлэн (thats my name in the Cyrillic alphabet. Maybe I'll just study my flash cards instead of sleeping?)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hello, София.

just a note, my teams' blog is  
and I'll be updating there a bit too.

So my trip here was interesting (and embarrassing at times), I took a 4:30am taxi to the Paris airport alone, which was crazy nervewracking & I couldn't get TAKEN out of my head, didn't get enough Euro out of the ATM to pay my driver so I had to explain in caveman French that I needed a 'Euro dispenser', checked in on a broken machine that was out of ink so my boarding pass was a blank sheet of paper, got to my plane & they said my backpack was too large to take to my seat, (don't know how I took it on 5 other planes with no problem, get it together Czech Air) had a 3 hour layover in Prague alone, they made me through out my cherry coke, & they put my backpack under the plane again, this time without my consent - they just took it. I arrived in one piece but traveling alone can be so stressful. I need to learn 7 new  languages to keep up with my summer!

Here is different. My 2 trips are nothing alike, and I expected that - its still slightly shocking. But I had a wonderful first dinner! And my teammates were so happy to see me :) And downtown all lit up is beautiful and Eastern & nothing like I've ever seen. I'm just going to say it - Being an American is boring. I'm lucky I know, but I want to see as much of the world as possible, because the rest of the world is so much cooler!

Friday I told the Bulgarian government I'm living here. Weird. And I have a train pass. And a key to my apartment. This is real :) 

Our main mission is to get to know locals who are interested in learning conversational & practical English, and we are trying to get to know them as people in the process as well. We're working with kids, churches, schools, maybe orphanages, Starbucks, etc... there really is no set plan of how we're getting to know people - we're just hoping to be at the right place at the right time, and be there for someone who needs a friend, spiritual guidance, or just a friendly hello  :) 

I love it. I'm crazy excited. My heart could explode when I think about the people I may meet, the conversations I may have.

With all that said, this blog may change a lot. I can't say every detail of someone else's private problem, I'm going to be busy, and this experience will probably be hard to put into words. But I do want to keep it up so I can tell all you lovely people about what Bulgaria is like :) Ask questions if you want?

I'm excited. Weird things have already happened, like meeting Steve Musey (WHATTT) at a Bulgarian graduation. Or being stuck between 2 LARGE men on the bus to church. We don't have a shower curtain. And I have yet to see green vegetables in this country - a bad sign for my poor tummy. This place is so different. I like it already & i've only been here for 2 days. ADVENTURES, YALL!

Love you. :)

 I've seen that!

p.s. I may have a chance to go to ISTANBUL, Turkey for a couple of days, cross your fingers for me that it works out, I would LOVE TO. If it doesn't interfere with our work, I'm TOTALLY in.

Hello loves!

hi hi hiiiiiii -

So, I want to tell you about Bulgaria. BUT I can't till I finish up about my days in PARIS!!

After we sang in Notre Dame, (which was crazy wonderful) we had free time all night. So a group of us planned out all the things we wanted to see - the arc de triomphe, the Paris opera house, the Moulin Rouge, another H&M, (hahah DUH) and we even found a couple of vintage book & clothing stores, and I found THE BEST leather bag that I can't wait to use next semester at school :) And I bought a French bible & a hardback novel to keep my senior rose in.

I loved the parts of Paris that weren't full of tourists. Tourists suck. I know I was one but at least I'm polite!

The next morning we took a train to Versialles (well... we took 2 trains - we were going in the wrong direction for the first 15 min hahah) and like I said - I HATE PUSHY TOURISTS. The palace was beautiful of course, but there were a billion people & they all wanted 3576 pictures of the same thing... it sort of ruined it for me. But I liked walking though the gardens - this place is huge! I don't know a lot about Marie Antoinette or the royal family, but I do know that the country was starving to death when they were living in this grand place, so that is slightly unnerving. I spent most of the morning thinking about how wasteful & unaware the royal family seemed to be. No wonder the country revolted & Marie got beheaded... I never understood before, but once I saw this place, I did :) Too bad for her? hhaha

Our next stop was THE LOURVE!!!! Now, I did not do my research before. So wandering the place got a little crazy. I always thought the Vesuvian Man & The Last Supper were there? But they are in Venice & Milan. So I was slightly disappointed. (thanks ALOT DaVinci Code, hahah) But seeing The Mona Lisa behind bulletproof glass was exciting! And The Venus de Milo is beautiful. I think my favorite was The Winged Victory of Samothrace. Look it up, you'll recognize it. There were hundreds of others but I didn't recognize most. After we rushed to the Impressionist museum, but we ran out of time & couldn't go in :( The gift shop was good enough for me :)

Dinner was with the entire group - which basically meant our trip was over :(  Some of the members said sweet things about the seniors leaving, and I felt so sad & weird. I don't think it will hit me until the fall that Mads is really over. I'm gonna miss it so so much - no music 'class' could have taught me musicality like Mads has. And Dr. C is the best professor I've ever had. We all said goodbye in front of the restaurant, some of us were leaving for London the next morning, some were leaving for home, and I was leaving for Bulgaria! So I went to the hotel, packed my stuff & set my alarm for 4am. I didn't sleep much.... I was nervous with a dash of excitment, but also sad that the trip went by SO FAST. I loved (almost) every second :)

Now I can tell you all about Bulgaria! Talk to you soon :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

well this always happens, doesn't it?

It seems like every trip I've been on, the last 3 days are a frantic attempt to soak up the last moments. Which isn't bad obviously, but my blog/journal entries stop immediately the more I wear myself out! :) Which I did. Sleeping tonight is going to me marvelous. - BUT I'll be sleeping in SOFIA, BULGARIA!!!

Let me catch you up -

SO, the afternoon after Dachau, we drove a couple of hours (completely silently) to Frankfurt, & stopped at the little town of Rothenburg for a short visit. It was a quaint little walled city, famous for cookoo clocks & christmas ornaments? Hahah it was incredibly German and I enjoyed the quiet moments. Being in only tourist areas can be so strange and stressful. After a couple of hours & a stop to a bright pink ballerina bathroom, We grabbed dinner & drove into Frankfurt.

And I slept hard.

The next morning, we sang at Frankfurt Nazarene Church, which I LOVED. The people were so so happy to have us, and singing for them really made us come alive. With our choir robes in a non-air conditioned building, we got pretty toasty, but we even introduced ourselves in German & they gave us a 5 minute standing ovation at the end. Such precious people. Then a homemade potluck lunch & play time :) I met a lil baby boy who was so confused by my English, he just stared at me the whole time I held him.

We headed to St. Bartholomew's cathedral in downtown Frankfurt, &  sang a 20 minute concert there, then had a bit to wander downtown. I wore a dress cause it was Sunday, it was windy, this was not funny:)

That night we sang for Hanau church of the Nazarene that night, which is a tiny group & service is held in a bar. Hows that for stereotypes? ;) And after the service we had German pizza with some of the members. I really love Germans. They are so warm & they laugh so much! That night I took a shower in the strobe light bathroom like I posted earlier, that was interesting hahah :)

THE NEXT MORNING WE DROVE 7 HOURS TO PARIS :) And I got so excited once we crossed into the city limits!! We headed straight for our hotel to drop off our stuff, grab some dinner to go, AND HEAD TO THE EIFFEL TOWER FOR A PICNIC. Which really has been a dream of mine since, well, forever - and it happened! So much fun. I ate a whole container of cherries too. And I had tomatoes and mozzarella & toast for dinner - I was quite the happy camper :) Getting up to the top was a long [& slightly stressful] situation, but it was SO worth it. I took a bajillion pictures and fought my way to the edge of every view and man French people/Tourists are RUDE but I watched the sun go down at the tip top of Paris. My goodness, I loved it. (Also I was standing within inches of a French lesbian couple, and one of them proposed. Then they made out for 20 minutes...? Not exactly something you see every day, eh? hahah oh, French life.) When the tower lit up, my heart started pounding. Its so beautifullllllll! I didn't want to leave even though we'd been there for almost 4 hours.

The next morning we headed to sing in NOTRE DAME!!! We took a 'secret' entrance & got our robes. Some of the choir got sick completely out of nowhere, so the poor things had to leave during our performance :( I was really worried about them. But who gets to say they had a stomach virus and used the choir room's toilet in Notre Dame? Pretty much no one. Its a memory if nothing else ;) The church is beautiful and amazingly old & I want to watch the Hunchback of Notre Dame RIGHT NOW. Our senior ceremony was right after. And we all bawled.

Because Mads is over for me - and I'm pretty much heartbroken about it. But I can't be in college forever??

So - I'll be honest, I'm freaking tired. I'm gonna head to my little Bulgarian bed now, & i'll finish up tomorrow :) LOVE YALL.

Monday, May 23, 2011

words and stuff

Last night,
at our hotel in Frankfurt,
whenever you turn the water on,
the bathroom lights started flickering.

So I basically took a shower in a disco.
or a haunted house.

Also, I shaved my legs in that disco/haunted house...
but now I'm in France where supposedly no one shaves...
so that was a waste of my precious German time...


:) I'll tell you all about the last 2 days some other time, 
when I'm not so excited (and hyper) I can hardly type.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

concentration camps & such

I just ate Burger King. I am ashamed. We're on our way to Rothenburg, & I was somehow hungry... oops ;)

This morning we went to Dachau, the first concentration camp in the world. I knew it would be a lot to take in, but I didn't really expect this feeling? I want to tell you all the history I learned from the 3 hours we were there, but I'd be typing till tomorrow... a brief overview it is.

So basically, this camp wasn't known for mass murders - most of the people that died there passed away from exhaustion or sickness. Quite a few (thousands even) were murdered for 'misbehavior', but once they were gone, the camp claimed them all as suicides. (There were gas chambers on the grounds, but were never used for mass execution. That sort of thing took place in Auschwitz - the people that were sent to Dachau died slowly from malnutrition & exhaustion, unless they provoked guards or challenged the system. Or tried to escape.)

This first camp was built in 1933, and was created for Hitler's political enemies, as a way to make opposition to Hitler impossible. It was a model for all the other camps built in the next 16 years. It was filled with Jews, Roma, priests, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses, gypsies... basically anyone who was not part of the 'fittest' race - Social Darwinism played a huge role in who was sent there. Any people group that was viewed as 'weak' was to be completely done away with asap.

The motto of the camp was 'Arbeit macht frei' - Work will set you free. But, most died of the absurd and inhumane living conditions, without any hope of ever being free again. People worked 12+ hours a day, doing nothing but pointless labor, designed to torture the body but mostly the mind. They were fed one bowl of nutrition-less soup a day, slept in barracks that were designed for 200, but instead housed 2,000 at a time, many were the test subjects of deadly medical experiments, (tests like seeing how long a man can live with consuming nothing but saltwater, what organs fail first when dying from hypothermia, how much air pressure the human brain can endure - sickening stuff. Disgusting, unnecessary & completely unbelievable)1 bathroom per 2,000, no heat, no rest, no doctors, Typhoid, lice, families were purposefully separated... the list goes on forever. At the camps worst moments, the crematory was burning all night & all day to dispose of bodies. They were only buried when the coal ran short.

Everything I read made me shiver.

I learned about a Jewish doctor who was a taken there, he was secretly trying to help the sick. He was caught, tortured, &  told he'd be shot if he didn't stop - but he kept helping others, he said because he took an oath to do so. He was taken to the shooting range the next morning. I'm sure there were more doctors with this same story - but it really broke my heart. I kept thinking about my dad, and how I was sure he would have done the same thing. Thoughts like this can make you feel so heavy.

None of these people had done anything wrong. That doctor did NOTHING wrong, yet they were all treated even worse than livestock. the unfairness of it all is completely staggering.

We went through the museum, watched a 20 minute movie on the history of the camp, (the pictures were so graphic I hardly watched... my stomach was in knots every time they showed a pile of bodies. The gruesome details were so overwhelming I just listened instead of watching. Everyone was sobbing. The place felt haunted) & went to the memorial chapel at the back of the grounds to sing, which was terribly hard to do though the tears. We've been pretty much silent since. We're on the bus now but I think there is a mutual understanding of reverence for the rest of our day.

p.s. I posted 3 blogs in a row, just so you know :)

Its STILL Spargle week?

We left Salzburg early in the morning (Friday, the 20th), and drove into Germany pretty quickly. My only complaint about the European Union is that crossing all the borders is too easy! I want my passport stamped, darn it. My Greece stamp is just the date, and nothing for all the others! DUMB.

We drove to a lake named Konigssee, surrounded by the town on Berchtesgaden. We took a boat to the furthest side of the lake, where we took a little nature walk - it was GORGEOUS. I can't wait to have a strong enough internet connection to put all the pictures up. We waded in a pond & wandered through the woods & took a million pictures. It was very quiet & peaceful & also a great change of pace compared to all the buildings & cathedrals we've seen. I wanted to have a picnic so bad. This was a few miles away from the 'Eagle's Nest', where Hitler spent his summers. We could see it from our boat ride. We also sang at a tiny little chapel on one of the banks of the lake. After biking all night before, I was a nature woman for a whole 24 hours almost! ;)

After some outside time we drove into Munich & went into town for dinner. I liked Munich a lot - it seems like a college town. I saw a lot of people my age, heard a lot of English & other languages of course, but it seemed like somewhere I could live. I sort of want to look into schools there... these are new thoughts :) BUT - we ate dinner at the oldest brewery in the city, the German beers were ABSOLUTELY HUGE and it was crowded & hot and there was a polka band and the food was great but our waiter was not a fan of Americans it seemed... I hate potato salad from home, but I ate it 2 times in one day here! We wandered around some more in downtown Munich after dinner & sang in the crowded areas, met a couple drunk boys... haha. We took the subway back to our hotel which was quite the challenge, so I slept like a baby as soon as we got back to our hotel.

(by the way, I'm writing all this on the bus, so when I get to the hotel that hopefully has internet, I can post it. Its hard to catch you guys up when so much has happened!)

This morning, we went to Dachau - Hitler's first concentration camp. And I'll need a whole other post for that story - I'm still processing. I've felt heavy all day.


First of all - foreign languages are fascinating. Second of all - I feel stupid that I can only speak one.

We had a long drive from Italy, & we stayed in the little village of Modling, half an hour outside of Vienna, which is so quaint & tiny & everything closes at 6pm at there are kids and dogs and large Austrian men drinking large Austrian beers and I just loved it. We had a lovely dinner with the whole choir, everyone was scared of the food except for me :) Why does German & Austrian food have such a bad reputation? I really realllly really like it. Except the pork knuckle, I think I can live without having tried that...

The name of our hotel was Babenbergerhof. On Babenbegergasse st. SAY THAT 5 TIMES FAST - GO.

The next morning we were scheduled to sing for morning prayer at St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, then we visited the graves of famous composers like Mozart. And Beethoven. And Strauss & Schubert & Brahms & Schonberg. For me, this was completely monumental, and I can't really explain the sense of wonder I felt? We sang a Mozart piece around his plot. I touched Beethoven's grave stone... these men were so entirely influential to the music I want to spend my life singing, that I was crying & then smiling & then taking pictures & talking to my friends & my face was red & and I was sniffly and just so very appreciative to the men in the ground around me. I know I'm not meant to be a classical singer, but I can appreciate their work whole heartedly. We also sang in the cathedral at the center of the cemetery, which I've heard from former choir members, has INCREDIBLE acoustics. And they were NOT lying. After our first note of 'Sanctus', all of our jaws dropped - the echo lasted for 5 full seconds. I've got video, you'll see :) Its pretty much astonishing. Once again, if you're not a singer I can't really explain how a room like this can make you feel, but my heart always starts pounding and I nearly giggle through the words as everyone around me gets excited too, & then we all start crying! haha it happens every time. Its like hearing your voice sound completely flawless while singing in the shower - times a million :) :) :)

We spent the afternoon in downtown Vienna exploring & going to the 3 H&Ms, & drove back to Modling for dinner that night. And I bought a curling iron! Hoorahhhh.

The next morning we headed to Salzburg, (SOUND OF MUSIC HEAVEN AHHHH) where we had a city tour & sang in the Salzburg Dom. We saw the fountain where Julie Andrews sang part of 'I Have Confidence', the garden where the VonTrapps sang 'Do Re Mi' and I jumped on the steps & ran through the ivy tunnel and I was wearing my new sun hat and it was just WONDERFUL :) Of course we saw plenty of other things but The Sound Of Music stuff was my favorite. We sang all the songs like i'm sure most of the annoying tourists do.

That afternoon/night we had plenty of free time, so some of us headed to the bike rental place down town. 10 of us got one (Me, Amanda, Cameron, TJ, Timbre, Tetra, Elizabeth, Nicole, Kyle & Carlie) & as we were about to start riding, a huge rain cloud showed up... but we didn't care! We went & got plastic bags & covered all our stuff in the baskets & took off. I got the smallest bike they had, which was a dumb idea. After only 5 minutes, my chain fell off. Then once we fixed that (an Austrian tried to help but Timbre saved me), five minutes later, my seat fell down to the lowest peg & I was basically sitting on the wheel with my knees bent & i could hardly pedal. Everyone else was flying past me cause they had the good bikes & just as I was getting really annoyed, the rain came! Timbre & I fought with my bike for 10 minutes at least before we finally fixed everything, but once we did, it was POURING. And we were alone cause the rest of the group was so fast & it was just so pathetic we started cracking up. So we hopped on & rode as fast as we could, (through a school parking lot where we got yelled at and we just laughed hysterically, not so polite...) & we finally found the rest of the group. Everyone was soaked but very giggly so we set off not knowing where in the world we were. Aaaaaand we rode for 3.5 hours :) We sang and laughed and directed entire pieces & Carlie's bike basket fell off & we hit a detour that took us through the woods up a mud hill that we ALL slid down & i kept getting sand in my mouth from the spray of other bikes & my white shirt is probably ruined and I tore a hole in my leggings & we were surrounded by THE ALPS & the mountains were in view the whole ride and our code word for 'stop' was 'SPARGLE' which is German for white asparagus... don't ask... it was just completely blissful. I didn't feel any pain, my legs didn't get tired, nothing. We were all so happy and dirty & wet & it was seriously the best 3 hours of the whole trip for me. My butt hurts still but that only came after. I keep getting butt injuries on this trip, what is going on!?! ;) Dad - we biked almost 12 miles total... not bad for one afternoon eh?

Then a hot shower, dinner with the biker gang, & BED. I LOVED Salzburg. Austria is beautiful.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'm sleepy.

As I type this, I'm in Austria on a Mercedes Benz charter bus, surrounded by the Alps... i win :)

Venice yesterday was quite the experience! I really liked the city, I really hated all the tourism. We sang in St. Mark's cathedral right by the main canal, then had a free afternoon to wander. The shopping is great once you get out of the square, but nothing I could carry around for 3 months in a suitcase without ruining... so I bought nothing. (I'm still on the lookout for a curling iron - no such luck.) Four of us wandered and marveled at how expensive everything was - the Italians love their designer clothes. There isn't much of a historical aspect to Venice musically or artistically, except the way the architecture is built. Very narrow & cramped & vertical... great for getting lost, not so great for crowds. This was our first day of the trip that we didn't have a tour or a museum visit... I liked it that way. Wandering aimlessly is way more relaxing :)

That night, we sang for a small Catholic church on the far side of the canal - where tourists never go. They loved us :) The little Italian ladies talked and talked and talked like we understood Italian - I was with one of them for 10 minutes + and I swear I said grazie 16 times... NO idea what she said to me, but my cheeks hurt from smiling. The only sentence I caught all night was 'You're beautiful - all of you are beautiful'.... !!! Such sweetness.

I wish cheek kisses were a thing in America.
And I also wish I could have floated in a gondola without spending a million euro.
But the city didn't smell as bad as I was expecting! They win.

We had a great dinner as usual, but I ordered the local 'Venitian' drink - IT WAS TERRIBLE. I was so sad. Seriously - I took 2 sips and shivered. Worst ever. Don't ever order a 'Spritz' in Italy - you'll spit it back out.

After 1 last cone of real ITALIAN gelato, we took a boat back to the bus island, and headed to the fancy villa hotel we were only staying at for 1 night :(
BUT now I'm on a bus to Modling, Austria!
And I just had an austrian lunch, complete with my terrible yet almost completely correct German translations of menu options... MMMM feels like last July!

We said goodbye to our Italy tour guide Monique last night, which was sad cause she was SO precious & SO helpful - But we got to meet Jop (you say it like 'yahp') today! I've heard so much about him from former Madrigalians. We're just about half way finished with European choir tour. I can't even believe it.

Love yall. I'm tired but I'll sleep when I'm dead!

Sooooo, Please excuse me, everything out the window looks like a postcard and I'M MISSING IT ALL! Byeeeez!

p.s. I posted 3 blogs at once cause we just got internet - scroll down!! ;)

King David

I've been thinking about King David since I saw the statue yesterday.

He's been my favorite man from the Bible for awhile now, mostly because he did everything wrong. Completely everything? Cheated, lied, had someone murdered, all of it. But he was still called 'A man after God's own heart'.

I know Michelangelo carved him with a sling in his hand because of the very famous David & Goliath story, and supposedly its supposed to be a 14 year old version of him,  (um.... a 18ft tall 14 year old) but I'm also secretly hoping he chose to carve King David perfectly because of how imperfect he actually was. Maybe he chose King David because he is the epitome of a messed up human being, but through the love of God, he was still able to overcome all his mistakes and accept forgiveness when he asked for it? And through that he eventually become a terribly successful leader, writer and father. A man worth sculpting, even hundreds of years later.

Maybe Michelangelo was thinking about that during the 4 years it took him to carve it out of a 2 ton block of marble.

p.s. I also kinda wonder if King David would be okay with the fact that thousands of people pay to come to see a statue of him every day? I'm not sure if he would be if he were alive to see it, but its still beautiful... this is beside the point :)


Our drive from just outside of Rome to Florence was lovely - through the rolling hills of Tuscany :) (WATCH THE MOVIE 'UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN' WITH DIANE LANE RIGHT NOW) Only 2ish hours to Florence, but our hotel was in the tiny town of Montecatini, which is my new #1 on my 'I want to come here for my honeymoon' list. It is so quaint and it smells good and the fashion is flawless in the little street boutiques and the view from the top of the highest point is breathtaking and I felt so at home.

When we arrived around 3, our bus driver took us to the top of the city, where we sang in the town square, sang in the town cathedral, had a little stroll through the perfect neighborhood & even sang for a bride and groom while they were taking pictures before heading to their reception :) And I bought some new sunglasses. Perfect, all the way around!

The next morning, Sunday, we went to Michaelangelo's square to get the best view of the city. One of the replicas of the statue of David is there. Then we went to the Accademia  (maybe I spelled that wrong...?) to see the real thing! There were other pieces of artwork there, but David was all I wanted to see :) ITS HUGE. And ITS PERFECT. Our tour guide explained the process of sculpting such a smooth surface, which I still don't understand, while most of us reeled in the fact that we were standing in front of the most perfect sculpture in the entire world. Hahah my mouth hung open till someone told me to close it. We wern't allowed to take pictures, so I just bought a postcard of his butt instead...

(I will take this moment to say - yes I know I'm acting like everything i've seen for the last week is so exciting I can hardly breathe, but thats actually kinda true ;) But I'm not being a loud obnoxious American about it, I'm trying to keep my composure hahah)

The rest of the afternoon was a walking tour of Florence (which wasn't all that fun cause it was pouring and cold), but we saw the city hall & the other replica of David, and had more Gelato :)

At noon we sang at the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral for their mass, which was another interesting experience. but the Priest was precious. We're getting so spoiled with the amazing acoustics. There is NOTHING like it in America. After that was another amazing lunch, and wayyyy more rain than needed :(

Then we walked to Santa Croce Cathedral, which was a favorite from choir tours in the past. Its where people like Michaelangelo, Galelieo Gallae & Dante were buried!??! Also there is a small side chapel hidden near the back, where we gave an impromptu performance... I've never heard anything like it. We've NEVER sounded so beautiful. The chapel didn't look like all the other really ornate ones, but its by far the most incredible place I've ever sang. We sang our anthem & a pretty big crowd gathered, we ended up singing 5 songs when we only planned on 1. It was so gorgeous I was laughing one minute, and crying the next. Seriously, I can't explain how good this moment was for my heart. You'll never understand if you're not a singer, I'm sorry :) haha

We headed back to Montecatini for our night service at Basilica Santa Maria Assunta, where we sang for mass, (and while I was directing, my safety pin popped & my choir robe nearly slid off, I got the giggles) and after we gave a short sacred concert. The locals were very appreciative and vocal about the songs they loved :) I really enjoy the people of Italy, they all seem so passionate.

Dinner at the hotel, pack, fight with the internet, BATH IN A FULL SIZE BATHTUB YAYAYAYA, and then bed :) A full Sunday of singing.

Now its monday, and as I'm writing this, we're on the bus to Venice! Ciao!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

This internet sucks.

I've been fighting with the internet for 29 minutes now,  just so I can tell you about yesterday & today! But I've got to be short, my 5 euros won't last much longer :)

Yesterday morning on our way out of Rome, we took a tour of the Catacombs about 20 minutes outside of the city. We learned all sorts of things about it, like how long it was abandoned before it was rediscovered, how many Christians were buried there, how many of them were martyrs, etc. (our tour guide was an Indian man with an accent speaking English in Italy... cause that makes sense) I was calm, I was collected, I was excited but I didn't really know what was coming.

We walked down into the deep hallway & a deep sense of reverence came over all of us. It was cold and damp and silent and I felt full, but not overwhelmed? But then our guide took us into the room where St. Cecilia was buried.

And I fell apart, on all levels.

I knew nothing about this woman, I didn't know she existed. There is a statue above her grave, and it really may be the most beautiful and striking thing I've ever seen. It spoke to me so loudly that I was overwhelmed and teary and speechless, but I didn't know why? I've never heard of this woman who died only 230 years after Christ, but I felt such a sense of understanding and connection with her. I couldn't explain it. I kept wondering why no one else seemed as shaken as I was.

We kept wandering, learned more, we sang in one of the small chapels,(which was beautiful and everyone felt just as overwhelmed as I did in that moment) and after only an hour or so, our tour was over.

But I kept crying? And I kept thinking I wanted to go look at the statue of St. Cecilia again? And my tour guide kept asking if I was okay because I was still crying long after the tour was over? I couldn't explain it.

On the bus, I learned from Timbre, St. Cecilia was the patron saint of Music. She was a rich woman in Rome, who became a Christian, and secretly began helping the early church escape persecution by hiding them in her home. She was caught, tried, and sentenced to death in the city square. She was cut deeply on the back of the neck, and was left to bleed to death - it took 3 entire days. All throughout her last moments, she was still singing songs. When they finally collected her body, her hands were folded in the symbol of the holy trinity.

No wonder I felt so strongly towards her. I will never forget it.
The patron saint of music, and I felt it in my bones before I even knew :)
It was definitely a moment.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Also, a few things.

some of my European thoughts -

- I have only seen 1 speed bump, and I appreciate that. Hate em'

- Fanny packs are all the rage here, TAKE THAT AMERICA.

- I am very young, and the world is very old.

- My allergies (that I didn't really know I have) act up A LOT when I'm in a room full of 2,000 year-old tapestries.


- I'm still in phone withdrawl. Every time the bus vibrates a little, I think I'm getting a text. Bad news bears.

- I tried using a Bidet - nothing much happened except water sprayed on the floor.

- Italy is one big tomato.

- Americans will be Americans.

- I can't wait for Bulgaria.


So - I've come to the conclusion that I can't explain to you (or anyone) how I'm feeling. I can't tell you what I've tasted or smelled or seen or heard adequately, all I can do is beg you to come see it yourself. - Sell your stuff, babysit every child you know, write A+ papers for other crappy students, sell your car, SELL YOUR BODY, (just kidding) WHATEVER IT TAKES. Get to Europe. Its changing my mindset, and its only been 6 days. Thats why this post is so long BUT OH MY GOSH READ IT ALL :)

We left Athens and took a 1hour flight to Rome, Italy, and I only cried for the first 5 minutes after takeoff! Thats a major accomplishment for me. :) But once we landed, it was so clear that we were in a completely different place. Colors, traffic, architecture, everything is TOTALLY different. I kept catching myself almost saying Greek words like were still in Greece, only to remember - OH, I can almost read these signs! A spanish background helps SO much with Italian. Within the first 10 minutes, I knew I would love Rome. And I do!

Our first stop was the Colosseum, and as we rounded the corner & I saw it, my breath was completely taken away. I took 2525256 pictures of it though the bus window, only to delete them all haha. Yes, It really is as big as you think! We met our tour guide and made our way inside, and I kept touching the walls and giggling and thinking of all the gladiator books I'd read as a kid. Then I thought of the Britney Spears Pepsi commercial from years ago so I kicked that thought out :) For the fine arts credit I'll be getting for this trip, I had to do a short presentation on Rome, so I knew all sorts of things that happened at the Colosseum, like that over 500,000 animals were killed there in its hayday, & that there were trap doors in the floor for elements of surprise during battles, Christians were martyred there... etc. I was a giggling mess, I loved it. And I used the bathroom there so thats cool, teehee ;)

Of course we got pasta & pizza for lunch - SO FREAKING GOOD. (Although I will say Olive Garden does a pretty good representation? Kinda? Eh?) After we headed to the Ancient Ruins of Rome, where I took over 200 pictures. Unfortunately after a 6am flight, the heat of the sun & the 4 hour walking tour, I can't remember half of what the tour guide told us... BUT - I do know everything was crazy old. Hahah:) It was really interesting & beautiful though, so when I get a chance to put my pictures online, I'll try to explain each one. These are ruins & statues & evidences of life from 300 A.D. Incredible isn't the word. Most everything I saw I had to remind myself - THAT IS REAL. We had dinner by the hotel and then rested our poor little feet because WE WERE GONNA SING AT ST. PETERS THE NEXT DAY.

We got up the next morning (our hotel was lovely, but no free internet) & headed straight for the Spanish Steps! And like the good tourist I am, I made my girlfriends taken artsy pictures with me hahah. I had a feeling I would also fall down those steps, but I didn't :) Our next stop was The Trevi Fountain, which for some reason excited me to no end! I didn't expect it to be SO BIG so I once again was a giggling idiot, & I threw in 3 euros to make SURE I'll be back to Rome. Everything was wet and there were soooo many people, but man - was I happy. TJ didn't throw in any euros, he used them to buy a Diet Coke... hahahah some things you can aaaaalways count on! :)

My favorite stop of the day was the Pantheon. We came out of a side street & a milk truck was right next to me, and when it drove away, this huge building was right in front of me. Everyone laughed at how loud I gasped. This. building. is. monstrous. The dome is the largest in Europe, with no steel reinforcements, no restoration, no nothing. Its over 2,000 years old. Completely. Staggering. My favorite part was the huge open hole left in the ceiling - to let the rain in. There are drain holes in the floor in the center. I HAVE to go back on a rainy day. That seems so incredible! As we walked in we found out we had permission to sing, so of course the tears were already coming for me. We sang 'Sanctus', which was composed by Timbre Cierpke, Dr. C's daughter who is on the trip with us. It was a really special moment for all of us, and we sounded almost angelic in there. I videoed it :) I'll post when I can. I cried so much, Ahhhhh - I'll never forget it. One of the best musical moments of my life I think. We sang in a couple other small cathedrals on our walk through, A french one & also the church at the top of the Spanish Steps. Even the tiny places are so ornate.

When we headed down to catch the bus to the Vatican, Nicole & I saw a gelato place, & got  some, but because I was hurrying, ALL MY LEMON (zitrone!!!?!??!) GELATO FELL OFF MY CONE AND ONTO THE COBBLESTONE STREET. Ohhhhh, what a European blunder. I turned around & frowned at the guy, and he was not impressed by me. He made me another but it was terribly embarrassing hahaha. I laughed but still... then we had to run to catch up with the group... great. I learned my lesson I suppose:)

Next was the Vatican museum & St. Peter's Basilica, which was HUGE, and we had to be dressed specifically & go through lots of security to get in. The museum is basically an art museum, with rooms & rooms of marble statues & tapestries. A huge amount of people were there so I didn't enjoy it all that much, until The Sistine Chapel :) No pictures were allowed of course, but I'm almost glad because it allowed me to take it all in. Michelangelo must have been superhuman... the amount of detail was ridiculous. I stared at the ceiling for over 20 minutes and over & over I kept seeing things I hadn't noticed before. Really, YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS FOR YOURSELF. I couldn't believe it. Although, I hope the air conditioner works on the day you're there, I nearly suffocated, but it was totally worth it.

Then onto St. Peters, the largest cathedral in the world. I feel like most of Trevecca's buildings could fit inside all together... its HUGE. And its terribly ornate, with paintings & Michelangelo's  'The Pieta' is inside, and the tombs of all the popes. St. Peters' grave is directly in the center. You'll just have to look at my pictures. I can't even explain it. Next we grabbed our choir robes & warmed up for our performance in the 5:00 Mass. (after a fast lunch where our waiter asked us all about Beyonce & Chuck Norris & California & he called me baby 24736 times hahah)

Ummmmmmmmm... so, surprisingly & unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the experience of singing there. I'm still not totally sure why. But don't get me wrong - I GOT TO SING IN ST. PETERS. AND I GOT TO DIRECT A PIECE IN ST. PETERS. AND I MET THE MUSIC DIRECTOR OF ST. PETERS AND HE KNOWS I EXIST AND HE SPOKE TO ME AND SMILED AT ME. AND I KNOW ITS CRAZY AMAZING. But there was something about the service that was so strict? Very structured & traditional & totally in Italian obviously, but I guess after a southern Alabama Nazarene background, I did not feel at home in such a non-emotional service. I felt stifled. I couldn't hear the ring of our voices because of where the choir loft is positioned. I'm not complaining, I'm just being honest - I didn't really love it. I'm sad about it. Some people may have really enjoyed it, but I prefer I warm & laid back environment better :(

After such a big day, a relaxed dinner & bedtime was exactly what I needed :)

This morning we toured to the Catacombs - but thats an entire blog in itself, I've still got to collect my thoughts. It was amazing, but I can't put it into words just yet :) We drove to Florence this afternoon so I'll tell you all about it later.

Off to wash my clothes in the sink... although I'm thinking about using the Bidet!!!!! hahahah don't worry, I'll totally take pictures of that.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My right butt cheek hurts.

While facebook is taking 2384629842894 years to upload my pictures, I'll tell you about the last 2 days :)

Yesterday morning we rode the bus to see the temple of Zeus, then hiked up a hill to the Acropolis(!!!!) ..... only to walk back down the other side to grab lunch. Our tour guide is precious (Christiana) but I was mad at her for that moment. My baby feet hurt already. :)

For lunch I had a chicken pie, (no idea what that is exactly but I ate every bite) Greek chips & a coke. And a bite of a Bueno Bar! And BAKLAVAAAAAAA oh my gosh I nearly cried it was so good. Can you tell the food is 50% of the reason I was excited about this trip?

The walk up to the Acropolis wasn't bad once I'd had lunch. But once we reached the top, I kept having to remind myself that THIS ISN'T FAKE.  It all looked like a computer desktop background!? Everywhere I looked, I couldn't even imagine how it was possible to build this so long ago. Did you know it only took 11 years to complete the whole thing? I didn't. All day I was completely amazed. And the wind nearly knocked me off the top of the hill. We had so many laughs!

At the base of the Acropolis is a large rocky hill called Areopagus. I didn't think much of it until Christiana explained the name, which is translated to 'Mars Hill' in English. YES, LIKE WHERE PAUL PREACHED. Acts chapter 17 happened right there. I got tears in my eyes immediately, I couldn't wait to climb to the top! It was kinda scary, and I tripped 3525 times but woaaaaaah I was overwhelmed. Way to go Paul. Michael Louderback, I wanted to text you SO BAD. You would have loved it. (Maybe we can call it The Seattle School Hill....? eh eh eh)

Later on that night we split up for dinner & got a little lost heading back to the hotel, but what is a trip to a foreign country without a chance of never making it home? ;)

This morning we took the bus to Delphi, and on the way we passed through the most precious skiing village! As soon as I'm a millionaire I'm headed straight back there. It seemed so lovely. Who knew skiing was a big thing in Greece? Not me! Anyway, Delphi also included a hike to the top, (the mountains here are INSANE. But I'm also from Alabama so I'm easily impressed...) so we took off and of course I ended up in the back hahah. I'm sorry I don't claim to love hiking... oh well. On the way down we stopped at the ancient amphitheater to sing a little bit, (our director asked permission & she said yes originally) and 1 minute into our song, (with a least 100 other hikers around us that stopped to listen) a Greek guardwoman yelled at us to stop. Dr. C yelled back at us to keep going, and we all got so confused! We kept going for a bit but then got scared & stopped.  It was quite the spectacle. The whole crowed was angry with her for making us stop... at least we made a memory? Hahaha some people caught the whole thing on video... Also lunch was lovely. GREECE - GIVE ME ALL YOUR CHEESE. * i heard a rumor that Chris Pine from Star Trek was there? I never actually saw him but some of the girls SWEAR it was him.

On the way out, I slipped down the stairs, of course. And ripped a hole in my leggings :) Bahahah and now there is a bruise the size of Texas on my butt cheek - priceless. I was too busy falling all over the place to see Chris Pine :( Boo.

We drove through Thebes 2 times. WOAHHHHH. Although I can't stand thinking about Oedipus.... buhhh.

When we got back to the hotel was said goodbye to Christiana (i shed a lil tear, she was wonderful) & we sang in the hotel lobby for a group of precious Brazilians. I shed a lil tear then too, they LOVED Psalm 23:) Now I'm back in the room, about to start packing. We leave for ROME at 6am!!!!!!

Its only noon for you kiddos, but I AM LE TIRED. Goodnight!

p.s. I've sang the Hercules soundtrack in its entirety at least 2 times, while also reciting lines like "I'm a damsel, I'm in distress, I can handle this. Have a nice day" ... No, I'm not sorry.

Monday, May 9, 2011

γειά σου!

Landed in Athens at 9am Greek time - 2 am for you sleepy heads back in America :)

We hopped on the bus (with Benadryl still lingering)  & headed straight to see the changing of the guards at Parliament - the traditional Greek outfits are NOT what I expected? Note the fluffy balls on the tips of the boots... hahahaaaaaa of course I had the giggles. ---->

I had TWO gyros for lunch. Bought one, then headed back for another. And I found a Kinderegg! [A GERMAN SUCCESS!] Also I met a man named Tom... and I pet 3 dogs. And used a really fancy bathroom by the Olympic stadium. All normal things, right?

then I slept through my alarm (took a baby nap) & made us late for our lamb & rice dinner ( I LIKE LAMB??)... oops. This just in - I'm in love with olives & feta cheese. Ζήτω!

I'M GONNA GO TAKE A SHOWER NOW, & head to bed. Tomorrow the extra special sights begin!! :) :) :)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8th, August 11th, 2011.

New York
(THE PRAGUE AIRPORT for 3 hours...)

I'll try to tell you all about it!!

(tonight I said goodbye to my friends and parents so I'm the most out of sorts.
We're boarding in 4 hours. HERE GOES NOTHING!!!)