Thursday, November 26, 2015

There Is No Fear in Love

I was seventeen and headed to college. Eager to decorate my new home, I crafted picture collages with inspirational quotes. I made one with my boyfriend; "There is no fear in love" was written in calligraphy in the center. I was really proud of the calligraphy, as well as the vulnerability the quote represented. My mother, however, saw it and gave me a similar warning to the one she gave when she discovered my ribcage read, "Pass boldly in the full glory of some passion."

"Anna," she cautioned, "sometimes fear is a good thing. And sometimes the answer is not to be bold, but to be still." Ahhh, my propensity to act meets maternal wisdom. Of course, she is right that both fear and stillness are, at times, the appropriate response. More on that later. But for now - love.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about my desire for a husband (or at the very least, someone to buy me dinner and change my stupid light bulbs). I know, I know, twenty-seven year old men - run! I was upset, not about any guy in particular, but about my life. When I moved to Charlottesville, I came with the expectation that I would find a job I loved or a man I loved - because why else would God have called me to a random place?* It had been over five years, and neither of those had happened. I was tired and a bit confused.

But mostly, I was afraid. I was scared of what God would call me to do next. What if He wanted me to leave? What if He wanted to pluck me from my comfort zone yet again? What if I had to make another major life decision on my own?

The quote adorning my freshmen dorm is 1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love," but in retrospect, my naive teenage self took it a bit out of context. The second half reads: "But perfect love drives out fear."

There's a lot to fear in this world. Just look at the Sunday paper, the Drudge report, or ESPN - whatever your news source. The future is uncertain and completely out of our control, and embracing that is terrifying. At the beginning of this year, I felt that terror. And then I remembered those so sweet words and their true meaning.

Perfect love is not of this world. I have yet to go on a date in 2015*, but I have felt the perfect love of God in a way that I had yet to experience in my twenty years as a Christian. That love has driven out the fear of an uncertain future. For that, I am extremely thankful.

*More on that later, too.
*Obviously, not because I couldn't get a date.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Origin of the Dome Selfie

"If an atomic bomb hit, it would bounce off your forehead and propel into space," an ignorant sixth grade boy told me years ago. I think it was an insult/method of flirting, but I really did not understand why he would mock such a glorious feature, so I gave him a high pitched laugh and proceeded to the bus.

You see, I have a large forehead. Over time, my head has grown into its size, but as a child, I was 80% dome. Even now, when isolated from the rest of my bobblehead, it still makes a statement.

Adolescent boys will find any reason to poke fun at girls. My nickname in sixth grade was Turtlewax, because the boys wondered if I waxed my forehead to make it shine. Of course, the majority of these boys had a crush on me at some point, and their mockery never phased me.

Besides, for each hater of the dome, there was a lover. My sister's friend made it known that if I were to die, she planned to bronze my forehead. Another sister's roommate was immediately taken; I believe she was the first to put her hand on my forehead and remark on the "power of the dome." This became somewhat of a ritual, and many-a palm caressed my forehead to feel its emanating strength.

My parents also adored the dome. My mother accentuated it with big bows in my early years, and my father still tells me how much he loves the exposed forehead. It is a sign of my Polish roots, and incidentally, also a perceived sign of wisdom, which I like to remind everyone.

Granted, this brief history may beg more questions than it answers, but the dome is my birthright, and I have chosen to embrace it.

Why selfies? I put selfies in the category of Snapchat, engagement photos, and BuzzFeed articles. I get why society has them, but I don't think they really add much. Don't worry, all who consistently snap shots of your adorable selves with a ducky face - I am not judging you. After all, some of us document 20% of our thoughts for the world to read. (The world could not handle more than 20% of my thoughts.) Anyways, I don't like them - selfies, that is. Sarcasm, I like. And what better way to document my travels than a sarcastic spin on the selfie, while also paying homage to my heritage?

So last year, when Julie suggested we take a selfie in front of some London building - maybe the palace or castle - the dome selfie was born. Our year together has been wonderful, and I look forward to what the future holds. Stay tuned for posts on 5 tips to the perfect dome selfie, and follow me on SnapChat for real time updates.

Monday, November 2, 2015

I Am the Loudest Person in Eastern Europe... and Other Thoughts on Euroadtrip

Surprising, I know. My laugh echoes there, too.

I never know what to write when I travel. I want to talk about the beauty, the history, the best place to go for local grub and the corner pub we found. But everyone's already written something about it, and I have very little chance of adding to those conversations - especially when it comes to history, since the extent of my historical knowledge is Brno the hero, of the fourteenth century, that Philip and I referred to the entire trip. No, history buffs who momentarily questioned your prowess, Brno is not real.

So what original content do I have to offer? My thoughts, of course.

Visit in the fall. It's off season so nothing is crowded, the colors are beautiful, and Eastern Europe just feels more natural in the gray, eerie weather. Plus, you can wear super cute outfits. Unless you are Phil and wear the same two outfits the entire time. Probably good he is not obsessing over super cute outfits.

AirBnB, while reasonably priced and centrally located, is not as well marked, as, say, a Hilton. You may end up knocking on random Croatian doors before reaching your destination.

Tom Tom, or Tranny Tom, as Philip and I named it because its voice is female and name is male, is a terrible investment. If you are considering purchasing one - DON'T! The device was perfectly usable on the highway, but I don't need to be told I have 100 kilometers (roughly 500 miles) until the next exit. I need to be told how to navigate streets the size of grocery aisles with no perceivable road signs once I get off the exit. The worst part is, you want to believe it will work, because that would be so easy, but you reach a city, and without fail, it loses the GPS signal. Thanks to printed Google map instructions and innate sense of direction, we eventually found our way each time, but we felt like we were navigating in the dark ages.

Border patrol: really not a thing. So, when you read articles that dramatically proclaim Hungary has closed its borders to Croatia, it just means that they now actually have borders. Kind of. Our interaction with the Hungarian border patrol went something like this:

Hand passports to policeman.
Policia: Hungarian jibberish, even though, come on, you know English, and our passports are American.
Me: English?
Policia: 20 euro.
Me to Phil: I think this guy's trying to rip us off.
Policia, realizing we are not complete suckers: Ahh, Americanos.
Policia waves us away... without even stamping our passports. Real strict.

Unfortunate similarities between Eastern European cities and American cities: they, too, give parking tickets. I am not quite sure what will happen in a week when the ticket is not paid, but I imagine I will be extradited back to Hungary. Or receive a two hundred dollar fine from the car rental company.

European cultures America could adopt:

1) GUMMIES. It's Haribo heaven.

2) More doughy food lining the streets. I don't even buy the doughy food; I just feel comforted by the smells.
3) Fortified cities and cathedrals. The Googleplex would be a lot cooler as a fortified city, and I would love looking out a stained glass window.

4) Free food at restaurants. Nothing says I will see you next time like a "thank you" and a digestif.
5) WAFFLES. Frankly, I am disappointed these have not become a trend in the US yet. We call ourselves undisciplined and indulgent, yet we have yet to introduce this delicacy. I'm not talking brunch waffles. Dessert waffles. Nutella, frosting, peanut butter, whipped cream, hot fudge, sprinkles, ice scream sandwiches... This is the sweet spot. They can be the new cupcake. Mini waffles in lieu of wedding cake, birthday cake... lunch.

6) Their men.

Okay, so a lot of my cultural adaptations pertain to food. Here are some suggestions:

I would like every country to have a sign when you enter that says, welcome to "said country". Tip is included, or Tip is not included. As it is, I have no idea if I am a cheap foreigner for not tipping or a lavish foreigner for overtipping. I then err on the side of lavish foreigner, but I ain't rich yet, so I would like to know if this is necessary.

Pedestrian signage - I'm looking at you, Amsterdam. It's hard to pay attention to rogue bikers when I am salivating over the waffles.

This final one is specifically to GoPro: tap into the Asian market. I don't why you have not yet, but tourist groups are everywhere, and they definitely love documenting their every movement.

Speaking of tour groups, self-guided tours are the way to go, as you never know what you will find. For instance, you may find the Italian embassy has an oddly ideal location in central Budapest. You may then discover that it is actually the Budapest Royal Palace, and the two countries just have unoriginal, similar flags.

Bring a photographer. They make pictures fun.

Closing thought: Prague was cool, and the castle - or palace, I get the two confused - architecture was awesome. Budapest was great; the food and shopping excellent. Split was cute and cozy, and I would definitely return to Dubrovnik in the summer. But the Plitvice Lakes - they were unforgettable. You visit all these places, and you see the incredible things man can do. Then you see the beautiful intricacy of God, and nothing else comes close to comparing. Especially if you visit in the fall.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ooo Amsterdam… You Bring Back Memories

And not the memories one typically associates with Amsterdam. There was no revelry, debauchery, or insane amounts of delicious pancakes.

Jogging* leisurely this morning, I could not help but recall that the last time I ran in Amsterdam involved no leisure.

I was 21 and had just graduated college. The real world did not begin until August 17th, and what better way to spend my final weeks of freedom than coaching tennis in Europe.

The gig was pretty straight-forward. Another coach and I would lead a team of 16 US teenagers as they played in various tournaments throughout Europe - Barcelona, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Trier, and finally, sightseeing in Paris. There would, of course, be challenges. The kids had parents who were able to afford a $10,000 summer trip, and sometimes, their attitudes strongly reflected that. Their suitcases did as well, and the son of the Yale (or was it Princeton?) President had luggage totaling 60 pounds.* I was put on the most competitive of the six teams, so many of the boys were better than I.* I would have to drive stick – and not just stick in the two-door coupe I had learned weeks before leaving. I had to drive stick in a 9-passenger rental van with eight teenagers and their luggage. The whole operation, needless to say, works a bit differently. Plus, there was the whole, “You’re 21 and chaperoning a bunch of 16-18 year olds through Europe."

But the other coach was apparently one of the top pros in Australia, had been with the program for years, and it was a free trip to Europe. I was stoked.

There are a lot of stories that came from this trip, and frankly, I am surprised it has taken so long to enter this blog. Since I am in Amsterdam, though, I will stick to that week. It was, after all, the turning point.

We arrived in Amsterdam for the second of four tournaments. The first week had gone by relatively smoothly. I only stalled about 25 times, and a couple of our kids made the tournament finals. The other coach, who we shall call Stefan, because it sounds cool and foreign, despite his occasional patronizing comments and one freak out* on laundry day, was generally jovial. Although he warned me profusely not to befriend the kids, as they may take advantage of me, I had a good rapport with all of them. They had yet to stretch the rules, and until they did, they had my trust. They were sweet, good kids, who actually at this point are probably old enough to buy me a drink… and possibly fund my travel itch with their trust funds.

Besides the point... Back to the story. To recap the full tale would be quite laborious, so we will enter on the fateful night. I was sleeping, snoring away. Tennis tournaments in Amsterdam go until quite late, and Stefan had graciously taken the night shift. He returned around 12:30, and a few kids who had not been playing were still awake, sitting on the second story roof. He was very unhappy about them being on the roof,* but even more irate about the brown bag they had in their hands. He accused them of buying weed and made them reveal the contents. Gummies – which, incidentally, can have similar soothing affects as weed and similar addicting affects as cocaine, possibly explaining the eight pounds I gained during the trip. However, not against the rules.

I woke up the next morning, ready to tackle another day of coaching. I packed my book bag with the tournament fees (totalling around $6000 euro, which at the time, before Greece so graciously devalued the Euro, was about $10,000 USD), my wallet, a whole lot of paperwork, and money for laundry. At least this time, though, the kids were joining us for the laundry excursion.

It was at some point during this process the evening's bizarre events were recounted to me, and I heard the news – Stefan was quitting. What?!? Yes, the program had been sending 5 – 8 teams to Europe for thirty years, and no coach had ever quit. And yes, Stefan was quitting, leaving me to coach and chaperone sixteen teenagers for three more weeks.

Processing this turn of events, I grabbed my laundry bag and joined everyone, including Stefan, for our twenty-minute walk to the Laundromat, conveniently located next to a shoe store. I don’t spend much time at laundromats, but this was definitely the most awkward of my minimal experiences. I lightened the atmosphere when I could, and Stefan made sure to throw in a couple jabs about how the incident the night prior was my fault. I told him nowhere in my contract did it say the kids could not eat gummies and thought about those fantastic green boots in the window next door. Deciding it would be inappropriate to buy boots at a time like this, I resisted my urge and endured the laundromat for two hours.

When it was time to go, we gathered our belongings and set off on the 1.5 kilometer* journey to our hotel. About 1 kilometer into that journey, I realized I had left my book bag at the laundromat. I screamed "fudge," or something along those lines, gave my laundry bag to a player, and sprinted like I was chasing $10,000, my dignity, identity, and sanity. Because I was.

Heaving my way into the laundromat, I was relieved to find the book bag had not moved. All contents were in their places, and I began my return. As I looked to the left, those green boots called my name – it had to be my name - and “retail therapy.” I rushed into the store, tried one shoe on, threw some euros at the cashier, and was on my way. With a lighter heart and my new boots.

At this point, the head honchos had joined and were devising contingency plans. Since they had no backup coaches for such circumstances, I would be mostly on my own. They reminded me repeatedly how I could not let the kids take advantage of me, and I gently reminded them that I was the coach who did not quit.

The rest of the trip was exhausting, but there were definitely some highlights. The kids told me how much they respected me and that they would do everything they could to make the trip as easy as possible. And they were a pleasure. We watched the Netherlands win the world cup semifinal in Museum Square. We had a tournament winner. I coached a girl through her mental weaknesses to victory. I drank wine beneath the Eiffel Tower. I also learned by way of the coaching grapevine, that Stefan partied often with his players in previous years, and the year prior, one girl had been rushed to the hospital to get her stomach pumped. This explained his intense warnings to me, but what he should have said was, "If you do not feed the teenagers liquor, they are less likely to drink it." Revolutionary, I know.

Finally, I learned a valuable lesson: God will give you challenges, sometimes seemingly ridiculous challenges, but accompanying those challenges, there will be green boots.

It’s funny how experiences prepare you, and you can look back and appreciate them. Still, I am glad this trip is a bit less stressful. Of course, it is only Monday.

* I believe the Deutsch pronounce it "yogging." Silent y. I also believe people in the Netherlands speak Deutsch.
* That's 80 kilos, right?
* Possibly some of the girls, but I hold I would have novocained them all.
* His uncle had died at the age of 89, so his freak out was partly due to that. Plus, imagine lugging sixteen kids’ laundry bags around the city. Not fun. Still, no need to project onto me, who is also dealing with sixteen kids’ laundry bags.
* Another story...
* Speaking in kilometers feels right.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

I Teach Myself Rugby

I made it to Prague! I am happy to say there was hardly a hiccup, and I arrived promptly at 5:50 at the Airbnb down-alley. The woman spoke no English, so I lapsed into broken Spanish. There are two possible subconscious reasons for this. 1) I think there are only two languages in the world - English and everything else. 2) I think that if I try to speak Spanish, I am at least exerting an effort to do something more difficult than speak my native tongue. I prefer to think my subconscious thinks the latter. Regardless, after a lot of grunting and awkward laughing, she deemed me legit and gave me the keys. I hocked a loogie and assumed that meant thank you.

It was Saturday night, and that meant one thing - the Michigan/Michigan State game. I soaked in a little Old Town Prague and made my way to an Irish sports bar, thinking perhaps they would show American football. Believe it or not, the Czechs are not interested in MidWestern collegiate athletics. Alas. There was a rather boisterous crowd watching the World Cup of Rugby - apparently more relevant than the Big Ten matchup - and I decided that would satiate my sports craving. Sidenote: the ending of this game was definitely not as interesting as the ending of the Michigan/MSU game.

I took my spot against a railing, and, as the scent of smoke and BO filled my nostrils, I decided to teach myself the game. Here's what I got:

Holy quads. Seriously. Huge. I used to argue tennis pros had the best bodies as a whole, because the variation with football players' body types was so great. But I don't think these men have an ounce of flab. And they have a bit more girth. I may have to rethink my position, but that is for a later date. Focus.

Alright, they're all in a circle, arms linked. This reminds me of those half globe contraptions that I climbed on the playground as a child. As they sway back and forth, I imagine they are chanting Mulan's "Be a Men," psyching each other for the competition to come. I want to climb on top of them and balance on their heads.

New Zealand has possession. For the most part it seems similar to football. But they can kick the ball whenever they want - or maybe it is only from the backfield. I am sure there is some halo rule, because you would not want those men kicking the ball in each other's faces.

I am also not positive how anyone's drive ends other than a turnover. What makes them kick a field goal? Maybe if the ball goes out of bounds, because it seems the ball is always popping out when a player is down - which reminds me of a pool game I played as a child. You try to sit on a ball in the water, and then say, "Momma had a baby and it's head popped off," as the ball pops out of the water. Weird game. Same idea.

It's all pretty entertaining, and you can see the players faces - a bonus most of the time, except in the case of the toothless guy from the Blacks who looks a little like the hulk. I would definitely draft him for my fantasy team. Business opportunity: fantasy rugby.

I think rugby could make a stronger move to the US. If nothing else, I could watch those quads in high def all day.

Alright, I think I got the gist of it. New Zealand is crushing France - exciting - and there are no middle aged men with whom I can argue which is the strongest DI conference, so it's probably time to go. Cricket's on tomorrow - perhaps I will tackle mastery of that sport next.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dear Bank of America. I Hate You. And I Love You.

I am traveling to Prague today, and anyone who knows my history with traveling, knows that past adventures have at times followed Anna's Law - even if you don't think it can go wrong, it just might. And after spending an amount of money that makes you physically ill, all will be well.

I am very prepared for this trip. I packed everything from a European adaptor to a Tom-Tom, got my international driver's license, and packed for all types of weather. When I left today, I had to make one last stop - the ATM.

Although many places take credit cards, it is always wise to carry local currency. I entered my card, typed my pin, and requested fast cash. Rejected. Twice.

I haven't used my debit card in approximately two months, so I really had no idea why it was rejected, but since the bank had already closed, my only recourse was to call Bank of America.

I let it go for the first thirty minutes of my drive to Dulles airport because I dreaded the operating system. I always end up yelling at them and imagine someone on the recording gets a kick out of my unacknowledged fury.

Plus, chances were, I would not need cash in the 12 hours I was not with my brother. I was going to pay for the rental car with a credit card, and this is 2015, after all. But who knows what 2015 means in Prague. What if there are tolls? And I get a ticket because I do not pay? Then, when crossing the border to Hungary, the car gets flagged, and I get temporarily imprisoned. Or, the paid lot insists I pay cash up front, and makes me perform some form of weird entertainment in lieu of payment.

I had to call. After a lot of yelling at the operator to give me a human because the monotone voice could not answer my query and twenty minutes on hold, during which I heard the merits of applying for a loan, I reached a human. He could not tell me why my card had been cancelled - only that they had sent me a new card in the mail at some point. My current card expires in 2018, and it had never been flagged for fraud. Apparently, Bank of America also expects that I open every one of their precious mailings. I don't.

Not only that, they could not reinstate my current card, even though the only reason it was blocked was because they had sent me a superfluous card that I never activated. The associate was surprisingly unsympathetic. And unhelpful. Didn't he realize the sacrifices I was going to have to make just to park in Prague? I gave him a small piece of mind, hung up, and began crafting contingency plans.

I needed cash. But how to attain it with no debit card? I could plead with people at the airport to exchange cash for a check. I could offer to buy people's dinner with my credit card and take their cash. I could sell my sweater to the highest bidder. It's chic.

As I was considering my options, I saw a Bank of America building that was lit. Hallelujah!

I ran a red light to get there before the lights turned off. I had no idea why they were still open on a Friday night, but I had to take advantage. I rushed in, full of hope, and was crushed when all I saw was an ATM.

And then... I realized it was a live electronic teller ATM. I had no idea these existed! But I talked to her, told her my dilemma, showed her my ID, and indeed, I was able to acquire all the cash I needed.

I am now in Dulles airport, drinking a glass of wine, anticipating a good night's sleep on the upcoming flight. Euroadtrip, here I come! With cash.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On Waiting

I avoided writing tonight by marathoning HIMYM, both indulging in and rolling my eyes at Ted Mosby's hopelessly romantic, sometimes moronic behavior. After seven episodes, I turned in for the evening. Perhaps it was because my fan is broken, and I am sleeping in a silent room for the first time in many years, but my mind was racing. It compelled me to write.

I turned in my graduate school applications. Hours of writing and editing, and a lot of Benjamins later, I have shipped off a $250 Anna package to four schools. That package contains me and a vision for my future that has grown stronger through this process- one I believe is from the Lord. And now comes my least favorite part. Waiting.

Harvard released the first batch of interviews at noon today. They release a second batch on Thursday, and on October 14th, they release the final batch. I wish I did not know this. I sat at my desk, counting down the minutes until noon (while doing work of course), and opened my email at 12:03, just to give the email time to travel through space. It wasn't there.

I kind of knew it wouldn't be. You see, I have been reading this devotional my mom gave me nearly every day for four years. I love it. First of all, there are eloquent quotes, and I love a good quote. Second, each year when I read it, different portions ring truer to me. This year has been about waiting, and this morning, the verse read, "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him." David commands himself to rest and wait. It's not natural. But God wants us to find rest in Him, and I think sometimes He puts us in situations where we have no choice but to rest in Him. If I had received an email that I was chosen for an interview, my mind would have been racing with answers. Instead, I had a nice chatsky with God in my fire escape this evening. And watched HIMYM.

The supporting quote in today's devotional from Anthony Thorold is, "God will always find us a work to do, a niche to fill, a place to serve, no, even a soul to save, when it is His will, and not ours, that we desire to do; and if it should please Him that we should sit still for the rest of our lives, doing nothing else but waiting on Him, and waiting for Him, why should we complain? This is the patience of the saints."

It is not my place to worry about my future. It's not in my hands. So I will wait. For two days, two months, or longer. And I think it is most valuable to say that during the process, rather than retrospectively, which is why I am writing past my bedtime.