2011 in review

Posted: January 1, 2012 in Great new stuff

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Tristan’s Hope

Posted: December 22, 2011 in Great new stuff

I haven’t had much time to blog lately.  Real life sometimes gets in the way.

Christmas is coming in three days.  I have barely had time to think about it.  I mean, yes, here in Europe they had the decorations, the lights and the Christmas tunes starting in mid-November, so the Christmas spirit is certainly evident here!  And last week I had the privilege of going with American friends to the quaint and romantic City of Vienna as the “tour guide”, where we visited the famous Christmas Market at the Schönbrunn Palace.

Now, just so that you’re not given to envy at this notion, if we were  to put this trip in perspective, it’s a three hour bus ride away from here… so it’s like driving from Lethbridge to Calgary for the day!

Only better!

The highlight of the day was Mary’s gift to us of a horse & carriage tour of the city.

Check that off my bucket list!

Yes.  It was wonderful!

But the reality of Christmas abroad is many of us celebrate without our family at this precious time of year.  Without children and grandchildren returning home, the idea of dragging out the  tree and setting up the Christmas village just doesn’t sound like much fun.

I remember as a young woman watching middle-aged couples who didn’t bother with a tree, maybe gave each other one gift or nothing at all, and didn’t seem to be concerned if that was “all there was to it”.

“How depressing would that be?!!” I thought.

Now twenty years later that’s where I find myself.

But back then I was a young mother, with young children and Christmas was exciting and energetic! We were working in Germany at the time and living on an shoestring budget.  But we managed to purchase some gifts, and made the gift opening last by  such extreme measures as wrapping socks individually,  wrapping candy and every little thing, just to have the fun of opening gifts!  It’s the thought that counts, right?

One of our German Christmas Days that has been seared into my memory was sharing Christmas dinner with an “older couple”. Their boys had grown up and gone off to college.  They were alone.  We were alone. And so we joined forces and became a unit to celebrate the day.  One little glass oil candle was under their tree along with some shaving lotion or something of that nature.  The end.   Obviously by the simple gifts, our hosts also has a pretty tight budget.  During the course of the evening, one of my young sons bumped into the tree, knocking over the glass ornament and breaking it.  I was horrified.  The hostess was calm.  I marvelled at her response… her only Christmas gift… lying in pieces under the tree.   At that time we didn’t even have the spare cash to offer to replace it.  They knew that and forgave the “debt”.  We went on with the evening and played games and enjoyed each other’s company and concentrated on the “real meaning of Christmas”.

So… one gift, broken and shattered.  It’s not so unusual, really.  Our gifts to one another are often broken, destroyed or forgotten within a very short time.

What if we could give a gift that could continue to impact someone for years to come.   What kind of gift would that be?

One of the reasons I’ve not had much time to blog is that I’m helping my youngest sister raise funds to send her oldest son Tristan (22) to Texas for an alternative cancer treatment. Over six years of battling neuroblastoma, he’s been determined to fight every step of the way.  But his time is ticking away and we want to provide him with the opportunity to try this American option since the current treatment he’s doing with radioactivity in Edmonton, Alberta, might be at an end, effectively ending options  in Canada.

How do you put a price tag on a life?  And how much can one do when you live an ocean apart?  Well, thanks to internet, blogs, facebook and a host of other electronic communications… now it’s quite possible to stand hand-in-hand across the ocean!

NB 2/12:  At Christmas we had a plan that included giving away some incredible art… but sadly, not long after the New Year rolled in, we found that we could not do that particular fundraiser for a myriad of legal reasons.

And so I will change the ending of this story just minorly…  Because we still have a huge, overwhelming amount of money to raise and we NEED HELP!

Maybe you’ve already given Tristan a gift–and we  certainly don’t want you to feel you are being asked for more and more– but we want to keep you informed and ask if you would consider sharing this story with your friends, which would widen the opportunity of support for Tristan incredibly!  We cannot do this alone.

Maybe you’ve been thinking about  Tristan, and what you might like to do–

Maybe this is the first you have ever heard of this situation…

“Individually we are a drop.  TOGETHER WE ARE AN OCEAN”*

Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Every One!!

*(quote R. Saturo)
Click to play this Smilebox slideshow


For many people, traveling is a dream waiting for fruition.

When the children grow up… when we retire… when we win the lottery...

One of the most shocking travel sentiments I’ve ever heard was:
“If I can’t see it all, I won’t bother going.”

Obviously we realize that two or three weeks’ holiday only allows us to see and experience the tip of the iceberg when it comes to visiting foreign communities.

Although I’ve only seen pictures of icebergs, the “tips” of those icebergs are breathtaking. Would I never want to take an Alaskan Cruise simply because I cannot experience what is below water level?  Although I’ve heard what lies beneath is grander by far, than what is visible, I would miss what is accessible, because of an impossible expectation.

“The sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place, it rises there again.”
King Solomon

That’s the good news!  The world will probably still be there when you finally have the time or the finances or the courage to travel!  Granted, things may have changed during the relentless march of time, but once you are on your expedition it would be expedient to relish the innovations, the transformations, and the contrasts.  Lamenting lost opportunities will only tarnish what joy can be experienced when you finally rendezvous with your indissoluble globe-trotting dream.

There is something magical about breezing into new environs, taking what you see at face value and enjoying the cultural diversity of wherever you find yourself.  Personally I’ve found that stopping and talking to local people gives a refreshing perspective to the holiday destination.  It connects you to a place more intimately than merely visiting the local attractions, as intriguing or captivating as they may be.

It’s long been advised one should review the integrated elements of vacation; the planning, preparation, and anticipation; and consider these as part of the “ mental break” a holiday provides.  Proffered as being the secret of true relaxation and allowing you to enjoy any travel to it’s fullest, it would seem undeniable that a large percentage of stress release comes from the anticipation of the vacation, rather than the trip itself. How do we know this?  Consider the phrase “I need a vacation after my holiday” which rings out with regularity among enthusiastic, exhausted travelers.

What if going on a journey could be as easy as being slipped into an envelope and posted to the holiday destination of your dreams?  That could definitely relieve some of the travel tension.

In elementary schools across North America, there is a story about a little boy who could do this very thing.  He was small and thin enough to fit into an envelope and off he would go to adventures around the country and even off to foreign lands.

I’m sure this book was written a few years back when email wasn’t so common and the local post office was a place where postal workers whistled while they worked, sending and receiving mail with clockwork regularity!  We are assured this story is indeed a child’s fairy tale, because in the real world the post office has issues beyond being incredibly slow, and unfortunately these days “going postal” doesn’t mean traveling by post.

Even if it did,  in that envelope, you could end up taking six weeks to get to your destination… not to mention the cramped quarters and lack of amenities in the mail bag!  But, if you were looking to go economy, this would definitely be the ticket!  Best case scenario, you arrive at your destination in ten days and the envelope isn’t swiped out of the mailbox!

The adaptable little wayfarer, aptly named, Flat Stanley, has achieved such educational acclaim that teachers plan whole “units” around his exploits with the intention of demonstrating to students the diversity of their own country and enabling them to experience a world beyond their borders.

Flat Stanley stands in front of the Danube River with the Freedom or Szabadság Bridge in the distance

I answered the call to be a “host” when a former student asked her Facebook friends if anyone was willing to have her daughter’s Flat Stanley to come for a visit.

She ended up with several enthusiastic responses, and asked the volunteer auxiliary if we would host some of the other 2nd grader’s Flat Stanleys, since it seemed not all the students had someone with whom to share this project.

My rationale was “ Why not?” Remember how much fun was it to get something in the mail when you were a kid?  And what about getting a ‘REAL’ stamp from a foreign country?  I’m all for using Facebook in the support of good causes, and building a child’s world view is definitely worthwhile!

The request was twofold: Flat Stanley was to have a picture taken with his host, somewhere indicative of the locale; and could he please have an “outfit or costume” from the area.  It would be rather like playing paper dolls again, and waking long-dormant designer skills once reserved for Barbie and the gang!

Flat Stanley as a Hungarian Cowboy or Magyar Csikós

In the end, I felt a single picture could not do Flat Stanley or the children justice, after all, Hungary is a tad more interesting than visiting somewhere like Pittsburg!  Putting my creative juices to the test, I made a mini-travel slide show to show similarities and differences of living in Hungary vs. living in America.

I’ll see if I can upload Flat Stanley’s adventure for you too, and maybe the next envelope you slip into will bring you to Budapest!  Because of course, you know, what you experience in this blog is only the tip of Hungary’s iceberg!


I did manage to upload the Smilebox for you!  You can access it here, by clicking on the PLAY button, or catch it on the “HOME PAGE”  as “Going Posta!”  Enjoy!

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
 photo credits: world travellers Idea go  iceberg Liz Noffsinger

beach boys  Africa     Flat Stanley misel

Romeo and Juliet.

The tale is timeless.



Guy meets girl.

Girl’s family feels he’s not good enough.

Guy’s family feels she’s inappropriate.

They fall in love anyway…

It’s a story that crosses ethnicity and cultural borders.

My first introduction to Sign Theatre was at a production of Rómeó és Júlia…  modernized, Hungarianized, and put into a Deaf cultural context, we find that Júlia is hearing while  Rómeó is Deaf of Deaf, (meaning his parents are also Deaf).  Thus sets the stage and the point of friction for the doomed lovers, as the worlds of the Deaf and hearing collide.

Your invitation to Romeo and Juliet in Hungarian Sign

I was invited to this production and went with no particular expectations.  I remember choosing to sit in the back, knowing it’s important for Deaf to be closer to the action and for the nagy hallo (hearing impaired) people to sit up where it’s possible to read lips or hear whatever might be said.  As a hearing person, I wasn’t at a disadvantage to sit in the back row.  It was a small theatre, so my graciousness was rewarded by a premium seat to watch over the entire auditorium of guests as well as players.  To get the broad sweep of the entire production.

There were no fancy backdrops.  The costumes were simple.  Rómeó’s family was in blue and Júlia’s family in red.

There was a Story-teller.  She was a marvelous communicator, signing the introduction and “filling in” the plot line as the play went on.   She also interpreted into sign, the voiced lines of Júlia’s family, all done from memory and lipreading, as she is Deaf.

The Story-teller brings the words to life...

There was a voice interpreter, who translated into spoken language that which was on the hands of the story teller and the actors… This interpretation, however, was only helpful for those who could understand Hungarian.

Not speaking Hungarian well, but having taken a couple of beginner Hungarian sign language classes, I relaxed  and  just concentrated on the signs and the flow, and followed the story.  There were only basic theatrical devices  used; projecting a few scenes of Budapest on a plain white sheet– Hero’s Square where the battle was fought, St. Istvan’s Bascillica where the marriage was performed; and musical interludes were added as a kindly gesture for the hearing members of the audience.

But, mostly there was a story being told, with passion and simplicity.  Bringing theatre back to basics.  Elemental. Pure.

Definitely the scene that spoke the most endearingly to me was when Rómeó was showing Júlia how to sign, how to communicate in his heart-language.  It was so gentle, so personal, so beautifully romantic, that the moment was etched into my memory as a work of art is etched into the soul of the painter.

Later that night, I learned that the girl playing Júlia was herself Deaf.  She’d been being “voiced-over” and I hadn’t noticed.  It made that scene to me, all the more poignant, as she “learned” to sign with fumbling grace…making what was natural to her, seem awkward, as it is to those of us using Sign language for the first time.

learning the sign for stars....

I had no idea how pivotal this night would be in my life, because I was about to be invited into the theatre culture of the Deaf community, and that would forever change my experience and my existence. It would take me to places both tangible and relational that I’d only dreamed of during my years of personal study into the intriguing and expressive world of the Deaf.

“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”    – William Shakespeare

We feel sorry for ourselves on a crowded bus, but how do you think the BUS feels?  Austin shares his experience in Italy.

(Just a note:  the red words/sentences have a link embedded… click your mouse on them to learn some fun stuff!)

Could it be possible to become a public transport expert?  After eleven years sorting through complex structures, I am fearless when it comes to getting anywhere on any city’s public transport. I believe that in Budapest, we have probably one of the best public systems in the world.  You can traverse the entire city or the outlying areas… the only thing you need is time and a BKV map.  Oh, and sometimes a little help from Google Maps can come in handy too! There are many transport options, and you can project how much time it will require to get from A to B, depending on your choice of conveyance.

The New Face of the City of Budapest

In Budapest, I don’t remember ever waiting in the underground for my ride and after twenty minutes being told to find another way to my destination because the line was closed until further notice.  Nor do I remember being stranded inside a cement tube with no observable way out…  Both those things happened to me in New York, a city famous for it’s excellent public transportation.

However, to be fair, I have been put off a bus or a tram here in the middle of the winter a few times, but at least we were above ground!

Taking public is an amazing way to people-watch. Years back I noticed that often passengers would turn and gaze out the window, becoming oblivious to everyone around, including the 80-year-old woman with a cane, standing on aging, wobbly legs beside them, while they sat comfortably on their youthful bottoms.   I felt l like congratulating the young man who was gentlemanly enough to stand and offer a seat to any woman old enough to be his mother or his granny.  I see it happening more often now, and I STILL feel like giving the thoughtful man, woman or teen a high-five for being so considerate!

It's a normal crowd on the Red Bus

Especially as winter closes in, more people will be taking public.  Things get crowded and people become territorial.  The one element of this drama I still cannot fathom is how people can languidly enter the conveyance, knowing there are 15 people still behind them also trying to get on.  Many will find their “spot” by the door and stand like a sentry, unyielding and impervious to others who also wish to get on and get about their business.  When the vehicle is full, clusters of new passengers surround the door because others won’t move down into the aisles and make room, unless compelled to do so.  After all, there’s nowhere to sit, why move down?

Getting on a congested bus...

Riding public is not for sissies.  You have to know when to be polite and when to just hustle your way in.  One visitor we hosted, stood politely at the door, letting everyone go on ahead. We were buried behind another dozen people by the time the doors were buzzing their warning that they were about to close. We couldn’t jump off.  He barely managed to get on.  He had no idea where to go or what to do if he’d been left behind.

That was too polite.

Be courteous, but get on!!

A few years ago I was taking a group of teens to a perform in the city.  Two of the students jumped into the open metro while we waited  on the platform for the slow pokes to catch up.  Too slow!  The doors snapped shut and the car screeched off down the line.  One little Deaf girl and an American visitor bound for destinations unknown!  We shouted instructions and signed as the Yellow metro trembled and shrieked on it’s iron rails, taking with it, it’s reputation for being the oldest underground in continental Europe and our precious cargo!

Recently, I found myself getting a little too familiar with the whole public experience, making a run for the open doors and gracefully leaping through as the warning buzzer sounded… raucous, loud and grating.  But because people hover by the door, I shortened my stride so I wouldn’t collide with another passenger on completion of my Grand Jeté!

I made it.

My backpack wasn’t so fortunate.  The doors slammed shut with me on the inside and the pack on the outside.  Yes, it was still on my back.  It would seem the doors on the metro don’t automatically bounce open if there is something caught in them.

I was in deep yogurt! It was the old line and the tunnel is very narrow. In my mind the contents of my backpack were already strewn about the Oktogon Yellow Line Station…  I tugged and pulled and manage to yank it in… as onlookers gawked in amazement at my rash actions.  I believe someone was prying the doors open with their fingers, and someone else was tugging on my arm, but I’m not sure because I think my life flashed before my eyes.

Definitely not one of my most clever moves… I’d caught my arm about a week before on the Blue metro doing the same thing…

Needless to say, I’ve learned my lessons:

It’s only a few minutes until the next one.  You can wait.

Learn to accept being late as a fact of life, and you won’t lose a body part.

And when you dance, you better hope someone is watching!

Photo credit:  We Heart It for the Grande Jeté photo  thank you!

There is nothing that can be said in a verbal language that can’t be said in a visual one.


You can be gentle, persuasive, abusive, unkind, thoughtful, deliberate, casual, funny, rude, loud, quiet or brilliant. You can give a speech in the European Parliament, read the news on TV, or give an acceptance speech as Miss America.

Hungary's Deaf Member of Parliament at European Parliament

Anything can be expressed in sign language, and sometimes more eloquently than mere words could ever manage.

You can whisper or you can shout; you can be entertaining or you can be a bore.  You can be witty or intense.  There are no boundaries here.

Asking a question

Sign language would seem to many hearing people, to be extremely limiting.  That’s why I like to encourage people to follow through on their curiosity, to seek out that college night class, study a bit of Sign Language and discover the people in their community who use it.  There are many cultures out there, and one of the most facsinating is the Deaf culture, because it exists within each country, within each culture.

What I have experienced is that some of the most profound boundaries in Deaf culture are the physical ones… but it would seem that the physical boundaries that exist for hearing can often be more detrimental than for those who depend on signing.

For instance: say you are travelling on the underground, with the ear-splitting grinding and screeching of metal on metal.  As a hearing person, your communication is limited to what you can shout into your neighbors’ ear.  Signers can continue to freely communicate over the horrendous racket that silences those who are dependant on their voice and their hearing.

Signing is visible and understood across great expanses. When we were at Deaf Summer Camp a couple of years ago, the boatmaster was adamant that a “hearing person” be present in each rowboat or paddleboat.  What if there was an emergency, how would people on the boat communicate?  What this goodhearted yet uninformed man didn’t know was that communication between signers over the span of lake-to-shore is more effective than voices that can be wisked away over the waves by distance, wind and general white noise of the surroundings.

signing across the lake

A skilled signer in a crowded room can talk to someone on the other side of that room, as long as their attention is secured!  No need to be loud or uncouth! You can also signal to your mate it’s time to go and you don’t have be close enough to whisper it their ear!  Definitely a plus!

However, I would caution you as you sign chat to one another while sauntering along the street.

You see, signing requires that you actually give eye contact to the other signer, as well as watching the signing itself… so just be careful.  You can walk off curbs or into a manhole if you don’t pay attention!  This particular issue may be more relevant here in Europe…  with all manner of unexpected obstacles in normal pedestrian areas.

Walking in Brussels I learned this important lesson.   Concentrating intensely on what my friend was signing, I commented back to her and turned, just in time to step smack into a sign post that was set into the sidewalk!

Fortunately for me, my head was turned enough not to smash my face or my teeth… or my digital SLR camera that hung around my neck.  Somehow that post had enough give to move on impact, and as it vibrated noisily into silent stillness, I had a good laugh at myself for my carelessness.  Rubbing my aching shoulder and hip, my eyes were at that moment opened to the danger of not being in tune with my surroundings.  Seems I need some practice walking, talking and chewing gum!!

It reminded me that Deaf people have learned to adapt and to be multi-tasking continually.  It is something I am in the process of learning.  And it was a perfect lesson, because believe me, even though the obstruction wasn’t set solid and totally unyielding into the cement base poured by the City of Brussels; that pole still packed a wallop!!!

In Brussels, up the street from the infamous pole!

So, yet another deaf experience to add to my catalogue.  And a good joke to tell on myself.  As we caught up to the rest of the group, my other Deaf friends laughed sympathetically as we recounted this misadventure; secretly glad,         no doubt, that it hadn’t been them!

I’m not sure if this is meant to tease the French or just show how cross-cultural communication happens… but it’s kinda cute on both scores!

(Disclaimer:  not all the videos that show up at the end are worth clicking on…)

Learning language is imperitive to your overall success of living within your host culture.  Some people are extremely gifted and determined, and within a year or two are speaking, if not like a native, then at least like a semi-literate adult.  There are those of us who aspire to learn language, but are confounded by the complexities… and learning our own English grammar would have been helpful in this challenging world of language assimilation.  There are also those who are new and stumbling along… and finally those who have given up and found a way to circumvent the whole issue of language, by learning only enough to maneuver safely within their sphere.

But no man is an island.  And eventually you have to navigate beyond your comfort zone.

Let’s not even mention a menu.

If your destination is touristy enough, of course, they probably will have the menu in english.  But off the beaten track, you are at the mercy of guesswork.  I had a friend who once ordered baked tongue without knowing what he was getting.  Maybe in Germany it’s a delicacy, but where I come from, tongues are for talking and that’s all, thank you very much!

After one especially nasty experience here in Hungary, I looked up the word for “goose liver”, because I don’t care whether it’s goose, calf or chicken… eating a liver is like eating the filter from your car engine.  ICK!  Don’t wanna go there again.  For  interests sake I’ll tell you what goose liver is in Hungarian.  It’s “libamáj”.  Okay.  Sounds easy enough.  Liver = liba.  Wrong.  That’s the word for goose!  Máj is liver.  Don’t guess. Never assume.

Without language you can’t say “Thank you for the goose liver.”  You can’t ask questions, like “Who’s tongue was that?”  You are an island.  You are a silent sentinel, only being able to observe without really being able to participate.

That is, unless you are fearless and are willing to live outside your box by learning simple niceties; adding gestures, drawings and voice inflections that allow the dazed national know you are actually trying to share a thought or ask a question.

But even so, there’s no guarantee that you have actually COMMUNICATED.

At McDonald’s drive-through here in Budapest my friend ordered in English.

“Hello!  Do you speak english?”

“Yes, a little bit”

“Can I have 3 cheeseburgers please?”

“Okay… 6 Big Macs….”


Need I say more?

Thanks to FreeDigitalPhotos.net   Photo #1 by graur razivan ionut   Photo#2  by Dan Photo #3 by Ideago