random observations from bonnie

 

As I sit down to write our blog for today, it looks very different outside my window here–the sun is shining!!  This makes only the 2nd time we’ve seen the sun so I ran to get my camera and shot a couple of pictures out the window so I’d remember what it looks like just in case this is the last time until April.  The constant cloudiness really doesn’t bother me too much but it is good to see the sun.  A couple of days ago, Rachel and I went downtown shopping–the wind was howling, it was cold and wet.  I was thinking that back home we’d just wait for a better day but, as we cannot hope for a better day, we just had to get on with it—joining other wet, bedraggled folks waiting for the bus.

Today’s comments are pretty random–just some things I wanted to share. First of all some observations at the grocery store.  I do think grocery shopping and cooking are going to be the hardest things for me to deal with.  I can’t find things I want–no chili powder and no little cans of green chilies– and I can’t identify some of the food that is there. There is no brown sugar–you must buy molasses sugar and mix it with white sugar to approximate our brown sugar.  I could not find Parmesan cheese–certainly not in the handy shaker can–but I thought I might have found a wedge of it–very expensive though.  I will need to buy it right when I need it.  There is very little salad dressing except for mayonnaise and boy, is there mayonnaise.  There was probably a third of an aisle length just full of different brands of mayonnaise from the lowest to the highest shelves.  Then I turned around and there was a special display of mayonnaise in big tubs.  Whatever do they do with it?  I use about a jar a year. Another popular item is garlic.  Now we all like garlic and there are little packages of fresh garlic in our produce sections, but here there is a big section heaped with loose garlic  and people were buying bags of it.  The carrots were so huge I laughed out loud when I saw them and the grapefruit was about 3 times the size of ours–I wonder where it is grown.   Though a lot of the prices–for meat for instance–are comparable to the prices we pay back home, there are some real bargains –today we bought about 5 pounds of potatoes for around 76 cents.  We also had wonderful pastries at a little coffee shop down in Old Town for about 50 cents each.  In general, eating out is very affordable.  I’m enclosing a picture of a menu at a nice hotel restaurant downtown.  It has some amusing descriptions.

Interesting descripters

One thing which is a big relief for me is that dogs are well-cared for here.  I see people walking their dogs constantly and most of them are purebred and most of them are maybe just a bit overweight as opposed to the starving dogs in some other countries.  Today I saw a beautiful German Short Haired pointer which made me homesick for Savannah.  John says he has seen not one stray dog since he’s been here. I am so relieved.  I thought maybe I’d have to start a shelter here.  The dogs in the neighborhood across the street are generally very large and they bark a lot so I think they are kept mainly for guard dogs.  They probably don’t get to come inside but they are healthy and have dog houses.

Another view of living room and "dining room"Big fluffy dog gets a walk

Our living room and office

Our living room and Office

Our kitchen and "dining room"

Clothes are very expensive here which means that used clothing stores are very popular.  John and Rachel decided that the coats we brought with us were never going to be warm enough so we have been checking out these stores.  I found a nice down coat for Chuck for about $2.80.  Alas, I have not yet found one for myself.  We both bought new boots though because we know the snow is coming though it is late this year.

Today I’m enclosing some shots of the inside of our apartment.  Notice that in the cupboard above the sink is a built in dish drainer.  I just open the cupboard, wash the dishes and put them up there in the drainer and then close the doors.  This way, there is not a drainer sitting on the sink piled with dishes so you don’t feel you have to dry them and put them  right away.  Given there is no dishwasher, I think this is a great idea.

My dishwasher and dryer

Each apartment comes with clothes dryer

Tomorrow, rather than hike to the other church, we are going to try the Catholic church which is just 2 or 3 blocks up the street.  We will not be able to understand the homily but we will be able to follow the liturgy pretty well.

Some of those big carrots.

Tonight is my first opportunity to babysit my grandchildren, Chayah and Noah.  John is the keynote speaker tonight at a big youth conference, the Saltshaker Conference, which is put on by the University each January for high school juniors and seniors–about 200 if them.  I asked John how long he would have to speak and he said about an hour or so.  That sounds hard to me but I remember how John had so much to say when he was little.  A woman in the grocery store once asked me if my little boy ever  stopped talking.  He was meant for long talks.  I’m sorry to miss his talk but it will  be recorded and it is more important that Rachel goes.  Besides, it is such a better way to spend New Year’s Eve than a raucous party and watching that ball drop.

In a few days, Chuck will share some of his random thoughts..

Best regards,

Bonnie

A Week of Adjustments

Bonnie and I have now completed one whole week in Klaipeda.  Adjustments and learning is like drinking from a firehose.  Everything comes so thick and fast.  So little sticks in the memory.  I sometimes feel I am exasperating those who are helping me. :”Gee.  I’ve already shown him this twice!  Is he dense?  Not paying attention?”  At least I imagine some such dialogue going on in their heads.To add to the fun, given my admitted general incompetence with computers, when I went to my new office yesterday, having pestered John about how to do this, and that, and the other, I couldn’t even get the darned thing to turn on.  NOW what have I forgotten how to do??  After a few minutes of futile struggle, I go seeking help yet once again.Turns out there had been a power failure, Not a result of my ineptness.  That’s a relief of sorts, but then what I wished to accomplish had to wait a day before the system could be fixed.  I’m sure glad I got here two plus weeks before classes start.

Our new home

What I see from our window--a nice neighborhood.

Class preparation is proceding apace, although I’m having much concern about striking the right balance for student expectations.  No one is around who has actually taught any of my classes before, and the syllabi I’ve retrieved so far are all over the map.  I don’t get a do-over for the semester, so feel intense pressure to get it right.  Again, I’m so glad I didn’t wait until the normal arrival date for new faculty.

I hope to learn as much while I am here as I impart to others, and am thrilled that I’ve found a language/culture coach who will start with us on Friday.  Very few people here speak English, so even a simple trip to the grocery store can be daunting without at least being able to read labels.  I now know that one always removes one’s shoes when entering another’s house, (it rains half the time, so shoes are constantly in the wet and mud.) When invited to dinner, flowers, chocolates, or wine (costing between 20 and 40 litas – remember, a lita is about 38 cents at the moment) make suitable hostess gifts, but, if flowers, no white ones, and must be an odd number.  Otherwise it is a funeral arrangement.

Now I have to go wrestle with my new office, so heeeeers Bonnie.

Like Chuck, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with all there is to learn at once.  I spent a lot of time going over and over the phrase –“I don’t understand Lithuanian.” but when it came time to use it, I couldn’t bring myself to actually utter it to a Lithuanian so just looked dumb.

I’ve even had my little problems on the home front.  I can’t read the washer instructions but, hey, how hard can it be.  Since Rachel had already shown me once, I didn’t want to bug her again so proceeded on my own.  The clothes washed for roughly an hour and a half and then the door wouldn’t open so I could remove the laundry.  I finally called Rachel and found that the washer will open when it gets good and ready–I was finally able to retrieve our undies which I dried the Lithuanian way–on a rack in our apartment.  There is a dryer in the dorm I can use for free but I thought I’d try the local method to see how long it took.

And then there was the perplexity of baking–why does the oven dial only go to 250 degrees?   Oh, yes–celcius.  Rachel had made me a conversion chart which I taped inside the cupboard near the stove but I had forgotten.

It was a blessing being able to spend Christmas with some family for the first time in 8 years.  Rachel cooked on Christmas Eve and then we trudged in the rain for a few blocks to attend “midnight mass” (at 9 p.m.) at the nearby Catholic church.  When we arrived, we realized our information was in error–the service began at 10 p.m.  So back home we trudged.  After watching the children open their gifts the next morning–very cute, of course–John, Chuck, and I began the  journey to the church they have been attending.  This required a long hike to the bus stop, the ride itself, and a short hike to the church. It’s a rather new congregation -about 15 years – and meeting in the loft of an old resort hotel.  The Lithuanian lady greeter asked as we came in, “May I hug you?”  Of course!  I suddenly felt right at home as though we’d been dropped back into an Evangelical church in the USA.  I was moved by the first part of the service–all the people around us singing the familiar Christmas carols in Lithuanian and our singing them in English–Tyli naktis, sventa naktis!  I was thinking of how our shared belief brought us together that morning and also thinking of all the services all over the world singing in their own words in celebration of the birth of our Savior.   As the translation system did not work that morning, though, and we had to sit through a 45 minute sermon we didn’t understand, the second part of the service was not so inspiring

I’m attaching a few pictures of our neighborhood As I sit here at the desk, I look out often to see what’s going on–many people walking in and out of the neighborhood directly across the street.  They are probably walking to the bus stop–about a quarter of a mile, or maybe up to the nearest store–about a half mile maybe.  Some are returning with bags–probably groceries.  As they have to carry it all for a long distance, they have to shop often.  We are already experiencing that and will have to learn to be good planners.  Because they have to walk so much I think, very few people are fat–I’ve seen two so far.  So different from home.  As we have already walked a good bit, I’m hoping we’ll come home lean and fit.

thoughts on arrival

Now that Bonnie have been here all of three days, we can give you our preliminary run-down on the experience – valuable, no doubt, since most people I know have yet to visit the fair shores of Lithuania.

The trip over was long and uneventful.  Flying, however, isn’t what it used to be.  In the good old days before hijackings and assorted other mayhem one merely walked up to the gate, showed your ticket (you did have to have a paper ticket, usually), and got on the plane.  No muss, no fuss, no security (I once got on carrying a .45).  Hardly the case any more.  Oh, and now you’ve got to get to the gate 15 minutes before the flight leaves.  More security, for some reason.  (Flash – that’s now 30 minutes!)

It used to be (the favorite expression for old goats like me) that you knew which airlines you were flying on.  If the ticket said American, or Pan Am, or Continental, that’s also what the tail on the plane said. Our last leg said Lufthansa on our itinerary. The departure board said United.  The plane itself said Brussels airlines.  The cabin said “sardines.”  You’ve heard the expression “two pounds in a one pound sack.”  This was one hundred passengers in a 75 passenger plane.

Matters weren’t much better on Lufthansa/United/Canadair flying over.  “Would you like to trade up to economy plus?”  “How much?”  “$194 each.”  “Well, Bonnie, what do you think – much wider seats, better service . . ”  “No, sir, that would be Business class.  Economy plus is five more inches of leg room.”  Seven hour flight, five more inches – 35 “inchours”, or $5.54 per inchour.  We passed.  (On the plane, passengers were sternly cautioned about sneaking into any unoccupied “Economy Plus” seats.

Everything in Europe is small.  Historically, our European ancestors were considerably smaller in stature.  Coming to America, with lots of space and food, cured that.  If they tried to put one hundred typical Americans in that cabin, the results wouldn’t have been pretty.

We were met on time by two friendly students from LCC who help ex-pats, of which LCC is loaded.  Henrikas and Mendaugas, despite initially unpronounceable names, (no Chucks, Bobs, Petes, or Davids here) got us across a cold and dark four hour drive with dispatch and aplomb.

LCC is a small campus, and our apartment fits the genre.  We have about 320 square feet, as near as I can figure, having no room in our luggage for a tape measure. This is divided into a bedroom, a bath, a Pullman kitchen, and a living/dining area, plus an airlock/mud room entrance.  About twice the size of the cabin we had in the Caribbean two weeks ago.  Cozy, but adequate.

Too soon to tell much about the food.  Seems good, but a bit different to American tastes.  I’ll have more to say on that later with more experience.

Grocery stores are fun.  New language, new currency, new weights and measures.It reminds me of word problems in the fourth grade. “How much, in dollars, does a one pound piece of meat cost marked 30 Litas/kilogram?”  Answer next time.  The first reply with the correct answer gets a special Lithuanian treat when Bonnie and I return home.

Lithuanians are tall and thin.  A Walmart would never succeed here. Women are very conscious of their looks, and dress up everywhere.  All women under the age of forty seem to wear skin tight jeans, or some variation thereof. Men are a bit more casual.

Bonnie wants to add a few thoughts, as I have to walk a kilometer to the grocery store,  It is no longer cold and snowy.  It is cold and misty.  The Bureau of Tourism here has its hands full.

Additions from Bonnie:

The 3 days here have been a whirlwind–I actually thought it was only two days until I read what Chuck had written above.  I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by trying to dust off my old brain and start learning again—how to figure out the money, the metric system, and the language all at once–even the temperature is different–Celcius, of course.  Not only all that, but I am trying to figure out my surroundings–we’ve also gone from a very rural home to a city.  It’s been a long while since I had to ride the bus.  Rachel has been my teacher–she and I, along with Noah, took the bus down to the shopping center yesterday so now I know where to catch the bus, which buses to take, and how to validate my ticket.  The bus driver was a bit grouchy but don’t know if he is typical.

The drive from the airport at Vilnius on Wednesday was 4 hours in a seemingly straight line through a very flat and gray and deserted landscape–basically a grassland with very few trees. There were a few houses here and there but not another town in all that distance.  However, I did not have a map so it may be that the towns were off to the side.  I think there are few of them and the country is sparsely populated and is losing population.

When we arrived, what a happy reception awaited us.  John and Rachel had prepared our apartment with some necessities such as a Christmas tree decorated with small Lithuanian ornaments made of straw and artwork from the grandchildren already on the refrigerator.  Rachel had prepared a wonderful meal for us and she and John gave us a welcome bag of handy things including an American/Lithuanian dictionary small enough to carry in my purse.

I’ve been very impressed with Rachel’s ability to communicate in Lithuanian as we have been out and about together.  I sure hope I can learn it that fast.  I kept saying “yes” to people instead of “thank you”.

We had the lovely snow-covered branches look when we first arrived and I meant to get a picture but now it is all gone.  I’m sure I’ll get another opportunity  before long.Surprisingly, underneath the snow the grass is as green as summer.  I’m looking out the window here at the rather wealthy neighborhood across the street but just on the other side of the campus is a very large group of the old Soviet-era apartments–very ugly.  Pictures will be coming of all of this.

I like our little apartment just fine–all clean and new. Cleaning is going to be easy.  Cooking, on the other hand, will be more challenging.  We could not find a standing rib roast which is our tradition for Christmas dinner.  They have different cuts of meat here so we just had to pick out some chunk of beef that looked good.

Well, I have rambled on long enough.  We sure hope to hear from you all from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THOUGHTS ON DEPARTURE

Bold new adventures at age 69 are not very likely – at least bold new adventures not involving medical procedures.  Three months ago I was slightly down in the dumps over purposeful living.  Sure, I’m retired, but not really tired.  Where in the Bible is the chapter on being retired?

Then, out of the clear blue sky, son John lets me know that Lithuanian Christian College International, where he is now teaching, needs an econ professor for the second semester. (His blog is Through the Door, in case you’re interested.)  A week or so later a local private school offered me a position IMMEDIATELY due to a quit. Statistically, I believe this is known as a poisson distribution, where nothing happens, and then everything happens at once.

So, what to do?  LCC, being a mission school, does not pay its faculty, The local school pays, but not very well. Then there is the small matter of house and dogs to be left behind if we head for Lithuania for five months.  Bonnie wrestled mightily with her comfort level at doing this.  (Leaving her home while I went was a non-starter).  Thanks to neighbors and friends at church, we feel matters will be left in good hands, so decided to take the leap. At least we didn’t have to raise support, as missionaries (including John) usually have to do, because the Social Security checks just keep coming.  Thank you taxpayers!

Having made this decision – and wrestling with many beauracratic matters with the very able assistance of the folks at LCC – a number of thoughts intrude themselves.  It’s been nearly fourteen years since I’ve set foot inside a college classroom.  I guess it’s like riding a bicycle, but I remember my shakiness on taking up bicycling after a lot of years.  I’ve taught macro a million times, but International Political Economy is a new one, with much to reflect upon before appearing in front of the first student.  New material, however, is as much fun as it is a challenge.

Then there is the slight matter of a totally different culture from rural Michigan.  Siena Heights did have its share of international students from time to time, but only one as I recall from Lithuania.  None from Russia, or the Ukraine, or Belarus.  One from Poland.  So my exposure to students from behind what was the Iron Curtain has been limited, to say the least.

John and other faculty members speak highly of the students LCC attracts, but indicate there are serious challenges.  They are all relativists to their bone marrow.  Nearly a century of official atheism has taken its toll.  Jesus said you shall know the truth, and it shall make you free.  But we’re talking here of regimes that maintained there is neither Jesus nor truth.

But that is the mission of LCC, after all, to provide a high quality liberal arts education, on a North American model, built on a Christian foundation.  It is a very different kind of mission from that of feeding the hungry, curing physical diseases, and digging wells for fresh water in third world poverty.  None of these students are in poverty, disease, or dirty water. LCC intends to reach some of the best and brightest for Christ, that they may go back to their countries and make a profound difference as they acquire leadership roles. 

I learned to be humble after 20 some years of teaching about how big an impact a teacher can make on a student’s life.  Sometimes it is profound.  Other times, the majority of the time, if the truth be told, pearls of wisdom easily roll off the duck’s back.  Here I will have contact for one semester.  It is a challenge I approach with great concern.

Other thoughts come to mind.  You might wonder what the picture in the header has to do with anything.  Birds sitting on a bit of flotsam would seem to have little to do with Christian liberal arts education in Lithuania.  In fact these birds were on the hot sunny beach off the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico one week ago when Bonnie took the picture.  One week from now we’ll be in Klaipeda, cold, wet Klaipeda.  What a world where you can go from Yucatan to Lithuania in less than a day, if you can get the airline schedules right.  Not so long ago it would have taken months.

Bonnie and I haven’t lived in an apartment for 35 years or so.  We are told it is a very small apartment.  No car. No television.  No dishwasher.  No clothes dryer. (I think of these mundane things – Bonnie.) But thanks to our children, we will have a lap-top.  Time to get some reading done, I think, and for Bonnie some writing.

Maybe the creature comforts are a bit less than we’re used to, but serving Christ is never about creature comforts.  To manifest faith, it is sometimes necessary to step out of the boat and walk to Him.

Bonnie and I hope, as you read this, you’ll be able to share just a bit with our progress across some occasionally rough water.