Sunday, November 30, 2008

home "improvement"

I'm generally a girl of few hobbies, and most of them involve sitting - reading (sitting), watching movies (sitting), sewing/fabric art (mostly sitting). My most recent hobby, about one year old, is home improvement, which involves a bit more physical labor, or so you would assume. My version of it involves a lot of - wait for it - sitting, reading IKEA and Lakáskultúra magazine, checking design blogs, sighing wistfully.

I think Tomi hates this hobby. Mostly because when I do get motivated enough to get off my bum and actually improve something, improvements take one one of two forms: I got out and buy things (plants, throw pillows, kitchen gadgets, etc) OR I move furniture. Most of our furniture is giant and heavy. Him being an engineer and me being a girl means that I'm disallowed from moving furniture by myself (despite years of injuring neither myself, nor another person, nor any item of furniture while working alone...). He is methodical and gets bossy. I am spontaneous and get cranky. Good times.

So yesterday I decided that the kitchen needed some change. We have a relatively big kitchen, with a kitchen table, sink, fridge, stove - the basics. What it was lacking was any sort of storage or counter space. There was exactly one tiny square of counter between the sink and the stove, usually covered with dirty dishes, or clean drying dishes. The space beneath it is food - flour, spices, cans, potatoes, etc.

In the pantry was a nice big counter unit: shelves below, counter space, and a top section of more shelves above. I decided to drag it out of seclusion in the pantry and put it in the kitchen, where it could be more useful (also, freeing up space for the next improvement project, hiding away all the junk in the living room). Feeling very grown-up and ambitious, I requested that Tomi stay out of my hair and let me work alone. I think he only agreed because he'd just bought a new Mp4 and was immersed in playing with it.

Commence dragging. Sweaty, but successful. The lip of the pantry and the fact that I couldn't get behind it so I had to pull, not push, were the greatest problems, not to mention the nest of spiders I uncovered. But in a relatively short time I had the whole thing in place (and the spiders drowning in Raid). Then problems ensued: the unit couldn't sit flat, because there was a shiv under one side. So I pulled it out again, lifted, and tried to kick the shiv away. No dice, the stupid thing was nailed to the bottom. I asked Tomi if he had any wooden blocks (I wanted to use them to prop up one end so I could fiddle with the shiv and pull it off). He was fascinated with the new Mp4 and vacantly said no. Under normal circumstances he might have asked me what I needed them for, and disaster could have been avoided...

So, no wooden blocks. I used two firm books instead. This in itself was not a problem; it was actually quite successful, as I managed to yank the shiv away from the bottom of the counter, huge long rusty nails and all. Disaster occurred when I lifted the whole stupid thing off the books to set it right again, and... the top part, which had up to this moment been firmly attached to the bottom, suddenly freed itself and tipped over, face first. I caught it before it got too far, but the doors swung open, and ... I may have left a few things inside. Glass things. Glasses and mugs and things. Including several souvenir and memorabilia mugs. Everything ended on the floor with a horrific crash. Glass shards bounced everywhere.

Tomi came running. He took one look at the disaster zone, threw up his hands, and retreated back to the living room after ordering me to put on some shoes and clean up the mess. I nodded meekly.

But wait, there's more! In the process of cleaning, all I wanted to do was shove the counter back into it's corner so I could sweep unhindered. But the stupid thing was still up on the books. I kicked the books out - the counter stayed magically suspended. I looked down to see what the hell was holding it up and found half a broken shot glass. I jerked the counter down... and the top part completely disattached itself and nose-dived forward again. This time there was nothing left to spill out, so it contented itself by knocking the microwave off the fridge onto the floor.

Again there was the horrible glass-falling sound, this time accompanied by screaming, yelling, crying, and a bit of hysterical laughter (thank god our neighbor on that side is deaf). Tomi came running faster than I've ever seen him move. He helped me move the top cupboard off my arm and onto the floor in the hall, then prudently went outside "for a walk" while I swept up all the glass. He kindly asked me to try not to kill myself or damage anything else while he was out. I seriously considered trying to lift the top part up again (because I wanted everything nice when he came back) but in the end I waited. Mostly because if I had damaged myself or something else...

So he came back, we lifted the damn thing up, and I put everything to rights. And long story short: it looks quite good now, don't you think? No sign of the disaster of yesterday. But I do have to buy a new microwave. And I guess all of my home improvements will be of the buying kind from now on.

Epilogue: This whole episode happened on a Saturday night. Sunday, we inherited a new-used microwave. Monday, I discovered JYSK, which is like a Danish version of Ikea, and spent a lot of money. Everything back to normal ;)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful, non thankful, kinda thankful

Things I'm thankful for:

- Two days off work. This is the first time since I've been working in Hungary that I've taken the Thanksgiving days off, and it's been worth it.

- My awesome contact teacher, for insisting I take the two days off. She basically decided for me that I needed them... maybe I looked stressed? Maybe she felt guilty because it's her class that causes me 90% of my school-related headaches... anyway, love her.

- Having made a good start of x-mas shopping. Yes, laugh if you will, it's only November, but unlike last year when I mailed home my gift package in mid-December and paid $75 for it, this year I'll be sending thing early, regular post.

Things I would be thankful for, if only I had them:

- Hot water. That's right, it's that magical time of year again, when the weather gets cold and my hot water disappears. Here's hoping this year turns out to be a "2007 simple adjustment to the boiler" year and not a "2005 40 days without hot water" year.

- My exam results. Somehow, repeatedly checking the website while chanting, "It's Thanksgiving, dammit, I deserve my results!" seemed to have no effect.

Thing I'm mostly thankful for, because I mostly have, but could be more thankful for if I had more of: my health. I'm pretty well off, but at the moment I've got one of those just-barely-sick colds, the kind that are the most irritating because half my face is snotty and puffy and half is fine, and half of my throat hurts, and hurts just little enough to be soothed by hot drinks, but still enough to be irritating.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

pictures and plans as promised

I would start with a picture of all the snow we got, cough cough, but this morning when I went outside, the sun was shining so brightly off the still-green trees and little tufts of remaining grass and all the green plants and bushes that, well, maybe tomorrow.

Anyway, some Thanksgiving pictures. Jeb carving the turkey (breast):

Table full of deliciousness, complete with Christmas decorations:

Later in the evening, we went to Varga's tablóbál (formal dance thing, often translated as "prom" which is ridiculous because it has nothing in common with an American prom, other than dancing and music, which means you just as well might translate it as 'disco' or 'musical'). Anyway, here's my favorite class (ssh!) doing their grand finale:

And finally, one picture, kind of, of us dressed up in our formal clothes. I look really pissed off in this picture because I'd forgotten how the timer on my camera worked, and so Tomi's taking the picture at arm's length. Which is rather pointless, because we have loads of picture of our heads/faces already, and what I really wanted was a picture of our excellent spiffy-elegant clothes....

And, as promised, here you can find my grand Thanksgiving lesson plan. This is the first time I've tried embedding (is that the word?) files with blogger, so hopefully it'll work...

Friday, November 21, 2008

time, exam, techno

Random updates:

It was a long week. Longer than most. So long that if I look over my shoulder, I can't see Monday anymore. In fact, I can barely see this morning.

But. If the week went slowly, I realized today how fast the year is going. November 21st already, yikes. Every store is selling x-mas junk already - although, to be fair, in Hungary not only is there no Thanksgiving rule, but their holiday season starts December 6th with St Nick's Day. I have yet to do any shopping, other than one thing I bought for my brother back in May, and miraculously managed not to lose.

Still no exam results, despite me checking the website three times a day. Maybe if I checked it more, they would post the results sooner - you know, like pushing the button repeatedly really does make the elevator come faster...

Our directly-above-us neighbor has become enthralled with techno music. Sigh. Which means that a dull, throbbing beat now accompanies every conversation we have, every movie we watch, every book, every radio, every every every. Tomi suggested the neighbor is either high as a kite or working out all the time (maybe both??). I lost all hope when Jamie exclaimed, "Hey, that's the song they play at my aerobics class!"

Wow, and, as I was writing the above, the volume of the dull throbbing beat increased to a level that must have been near-deafening upstairs, because I could hear not only the beat but every single insipid word of the 'song'. Then after a minute, back to a normal volume, and just the beat. So... what was that? Was that a warning of some kind? "Stop posting about me, or it'll be full volume all the time"? I'm scared...

Supposedly it's going to snow this weekend. We'll see how that goes, pictures possible.

We're getting together for an early Thanksgiving tomorrow, pot-luck style, supposedly I'm in charge of stuffing, carrot cake, and potato salad. Repeat on seeing how that goes, repeat on the photographic evidence.

And finally, because as pestiside is always saying, it takes three to make a trend, this weekend'll be my seniors' "School Leaving Ball" - kinda like prom, but much more formal, and everyone is required to go. Petra, Tomi and I will be hurrying back from Thanksgiving, changing into our spiffy-nice elegant clothes, and watching the students dance and whatever. One last time, all together: we'll see how it... pictures... etc...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

college students

I haven't written much about the college class I'm teaching. It's.... hm. I wouldn't say it's going well, I wouldn't say it's going poorly, it's just.... going. Going on, and on.

My former Tower of Babel has dwindled to 6 students. Maybe 5 now, as I haven't seen one all this week. I'd describe them as follows, in no particular order of who I like the best:

1. speaks almost fluently, would prob'ly teach the class better than I do, and thus is completely bored in class, does no work
2. could speak medium-well-to-quite-well, but doesn't because too shy, great at grammar and repetition exercises
3. speaks medium well (good vocab, iffy grammar), but enthusiastic, wants to know everything, always asking why
4. seems to somehow speak quite well about some topics, but simply refuses to talk about others... don't know why
5. speaks poorly and never wants to, says everything in Hungarian instead
6. speaks medium well, I think... don't really know because also shy

Hm, writing the list actually made a couple things clear... namely, that many of them just don't want to speak, for on reason or another. That, along with the late hour, the fact that they'd rather be sleeping, I'd rather be sleeping, we have a crap textbook, and I don't plan well enough... well, let's say things are not stellar.

Actually, it's only been in this week (I've been teaching them since September) that I felt like I really related to them at all. It's funny, when I was doing my napló today (which, ahem, I should have been doing every day, but...) I realized that we've had almost 30 lessons together... that's the same amount of time I would spend with a high school class over an entire year.

Completely out of the blue, one of the students asked me today, "Didn't you take a Hungarian exam recently?" This fact I had not shared with them. It led to a flurry of questions and a breakdown of my resolve to speak only English. The girl later told me she had heard it from friends of hers who go to my high school Varga. Thus confirming my theory that in Szolnok, EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYONE.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Funny students

Language exam? No thanks, I'd rather not talk about it. Ask me again in a couple weeks when the official results are in...

Anyway, to keep both my loyal readers content until I'm ready to actually write something... another edition of Funny Things From Students.

about American politics: "She (Palin) doesn't have enough presidental XP."

about American history: "John Paul Jones was the nasal hero of the Revolutionary War."

about Jesse James, who fought with the Conferderacy: "He fought against the army for the consideration on Western Amerika."

about geography: the state of "Sassachusetts"

a smooth, un-flustered presentation:
presenter: "Jamaica is famous for it's rivers, it's reggae music, reggae museum..."
other student, in Hungarian: "And pot."
presenter, not missing a beat: "Yes, and for it's typical Jamaican atmosphere..."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

my one single, lonely, politics post

I'm so thoroughly sick of hearing about American politics that yesterday when Whineydefensive Máté asked "Why do we have to learn this stuff? It doesn't matter for us..." I would cheerfully have smacked him upside the head with our textbook and said, "Bam, head wound! Guess it matters for you now, huh?" But instead, I was the picture of restraint, laughed when the other students answered him, "We have to learn it because it's on the final exam," and patiently did my spiel about why I'm forcing American Civilization down their throats (we're a superpower, our decisions affect the world, blah blah blah).

Anyway, what did I want to write about? Right... so, sick of politics. Congrats, Mr. Peach, we all know you're going to win, sincere condolences about your grandma. Now, what caught my attention this morning: I was reading's Election Trivia (because trivia is way more interesting than actual facts) and this one really made me stop and think:

"This is the first election in 24 years without a Bush or a Clinton heading a major party's presidential ticket."

When I first read it, it struck me because, 24 years, that's almost my age! A Bush or Clinton has been in the White House for all of my life? Yup. Beginning with George H.W. as VP, and a straight line through today. Weird.

Ok, great political insights over. Return to normal life in 3... 2... 1...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Misadventures in Mail

story one: OTP

Grab a seat, it's a long story. Back at the beginning of October, an ATM ate my card. My reaction was protesting in shock to Petra and random-woman-standing-behind-me-at-ATM, and shedding some tears to Tomi. All three of who calmly informed me that probably my card had simply expired, and hadn't I gotten a new one in the mail?

Well, no. So Tomi and I headed to OTP (major bank of Hungary) to sort things out. This was visit one. They explained that for reasons beyond their control, the new cards had gone out slowly this year, and I should just wait. I noticed that on my statement, they had two addresses for me: my mailing address at my school, Varga, where OTP had been sending my monthly statements, and my residence address, Kolozsvári utca, which was my first flat in Hungary. Where I haven't lived for... um... 16 months. So we corrected that, and I was sent home to wait.

one. Lacking other options, we agreed, and went home to wait the two weeks it would take for the Visit two, about a week later I was in the bank again to wire money to Hajni (I know the exact date, it was October 14th, because the money was due the 15th). While there, we thought it prudent to mention that I still hadn't received my new card, and... wasn't it possible that it had been sent to my old incorrect address and my ex-landlady had simply thrown it out (I, ahem, sorry karma, may have thrown out some of her mail while I was living there, so Iwouldn't have had hard feelings if she had tossed it). OTP service lady admitted this was possible, and thought it best to cancel the new card they may-or-may-not-have already sent, and issue a newnew card. We were sent home to wait two weeks for newnew card to arrive.

So today. It's November, no newnew card in sight. I need access to my paycheck. So, once again, we trudge to OTP, visit three. We patiently inquire if there's any news about my card. Service lady looks surprised, and says it should have arrived a month ago. We explain that it didn't. She says hm. We explain about the non-arrival of new card, and the cancellation of new card, and the ordering of newnew card. She says that, according to her magical computer, newnew card was never order. Tomi has some biting words for the efficiency of OTP, and I sign a paper ordering a newnewnew card (or maybe it's just a newnew card, since newnew card was never ordered in the first place...?). Service lady tells us to come in two weeks and pick it up.

But here's the cap of the story: this evening, as I'm sneaking into my school to make illegal copies for the extra lessons I shouldn't be teaching, I check my postbox out of habit. And guess what's there? The original new card. Turns out my landlady's not a total bitch after all; as I can reconstruct from the post stamps, the card arrived as it should have at my old address, current tenant gave it to landlady, landlady took it to her home in village-near-Szolnok to ponder what to do with it, ended up mailing it to my old school, and old school somehow got it to my mailbox in Varga. But now, it's been canceled, so it's worthless. Although, I now have serious doubts about OTP's ability to perform simple functions like canceling a card, so maybe I'll give it a try anyway. What's the worst that can happen? It gets eaten and we start this whole thing again...

story two: ITK

As I may have mentioned to one or two people, I'm taking the Magyar mint idegen nyelv vizsga (Hungarian as a second language exam) this Saturday. I mailed in my registration papers to ITK (idegennyelvi továbbképzõ központ, center for foreign language studies) mid-October, and was anxiously awaiting a letter in return confirming the registration and telling me when and where to show up to be tested.

Sunday, as I was gazing blankly into space, avoiding doing whatever work I was avoiding doing at the time, my eye came to rest on my copy of the registration paperwork. "Oh $%^&!" I yelled, causing both myself and Tomi to jump in out chairs. Just at that moment, I had noticed that instead of XX utca 4, my actual address, I had written XX utca 6.

So this mail mishap was totally my own fault, but it did involve a couple of adventures, first over to number 6 to speak to the woman who lives there. She was very kind and helpful; she had opened the letter and was able to tell us that there wasn't much info on it other than the date and time. After asking around her block of flats, if anyone knew some foreigner named Emily, she asked the postman to take it back. An adventure to the Szolnok Main Post Office told us that by now, my letter was probably back in Pest.... I hope they don't cancel my registration. Funny that I haven't even taken the test yet, de máris elrontottam :(