After a long and packed summer life here in Olornouc is finally starting to wind back down again.

School started up again at the end of September, and almost on cue the ternperatures began their steady creep down the thermometer. Unfortunately for us though, the fall doesn't linger quite as long as we would like it, and it's only a matter of weeks until we must trade in light jackets for heavy ones and the beautiful spectrum of colors on the trees floats sadly to the ground. But while it lasted we soaked it in as much as we could twith the help of visitors from other churches in the Czech Republic.

Visitors, visits, and fun

On consecutive weekends we welcomed our friends Matus and Melissa from Prague, Petr, Petr, and Sveta from Prague again, and then Libor and Darina from Brno, Each of these three groups stayed a day or two scattered among each of our apartments, and we were able to boast OUT fair city to them through tours and activities around town. During the trip from Matus and Melissa we seized the opportunity to spend a full day in the park playing every sport for which we had equipment. That night Corey took full advantage of his grill, and we

lounged away the rest of th e even ing p layi ng ga rnes, sh a ring heartfelt discussion, and groan i ng under the weight of ou r fu II bellies. In early October we also took a trip to Prague in order for our girls to throw Melissa and Sarah Keen a joint baby shower, which came as a bit of a novelty for the Czech ladies that attended. And while the girls were oohing and ahhing over new baby gear the guys were living it fast and furious with other Czech Christians around the ping pong table in the church's basement. A fun day was had by all, and we relished the chance to fellowship with other Christians.

and the language falls on

But it can't be all fun and games, and for many long weeks now we have hacked away valiantly atthe weeds of language school. Our semester is almost over, and while classes continued to wage war on our brains and tongues we decided to up ..

the ante a little more on ourselves by instatng "Czech days," days in which we are only allowed to speak to one another in Czech, for better or for worse. We experimented with this a few months ago but decided that November would be "for reaL" So for the past 8 weeks we have labored through 4 straight days of Czech a week among us teammates. I can't pretend these periods have been fun, but the distance we have covered in our comfort level in speaking is remarkable. We are able to communicate almost all of what we want to say, a nd even if we lack a few words we a re still abl e to get the idea

across in other, more roundabout, ways. Perhaps the most amusing aspect of this way of learning is the inventive ways we find to banter with one another, piecing together our vocabulary in ways that often elicit laughs from our friends and teachers, whether we intend to or not. For instance, don't be surprised when your teacher gets really tickled when you get confused over a psaci stUl (a writing desk) and not, in fact, a ptaci still (a bird desk). But even though our semester is Winding down we are by no means finished with our studies. After the New Year we will continue our learning in more customized ways with private tutors and instructors.

sounding the retreat

Toward the end of November Mitch, Christie, and I made our way over to Rothenburg, Germany, for the annual EuroAmerican Family Retreat. After 12 hours on 5 different trains and narrowly dodging a German train strike we arrived in beautiful Rothenburg, which exists as a place right out of the pages of the story of Hansel and Gretel. Quaint buildings overlook winding cobble-stoned streets, and the contents of every window vie for a chance to snag the attention of strolling pedestrians, advertising everything from Christmas

! goodies to antique furniture to pastries of every assortment. But the retreat itself was the warmest place around, and we spent long hours in conversation with missionaries from across the continent, Americans visiting from back stateside,

and the families of Phil Jackson, our team's long-time mentor, and Dale Hawley, a professor and psychologist who worked with us during our preparation time in Texas. We loved catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and sharing a few Dr. Peppers we landed upon at a local gas station.

reasons for giving thanks

On ou r way hom e from th e Retreat we swung by th e a irport in Prague to pick up our good friend Jessica Mosley who wanted

to come visit us over the Thanksgiving break. After giving her a few hours to sleep off jet lag we thrust her into all of the holiday planning we had delayed for a few days in order to ." truly celebrate with the return of Joshua and Sarah Beall, our teammates who had been back in the States for several months. With such a full house again we rejoiced in style, feasting upon the goodies with which our friends and family I had supplemented us for the holiday and polishing off a meal

of turkey, ham, potatoes, sweet potato casserole, beans, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and no less than 4 types of pie. We had leftovers in ou r fridges for wee ks afterward!

kicking off Christmas

And as we get deeper into December the Christmas holidays

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are in full swing here in Olornouc, As it happens in many European cities, December is marked by the sudden appearance of Christmas markets on all the main squares, sprawling villages of wooden huts that appear almost overnight to offer to shoppers all kinds of merchandise, edibles, and holiday

beverages. But the crescendo for Christmas doesn't actually peak until a couple of weeks after the arrival of the markets,

even though Christmas decorations begin popping up in stores as early as October. Without the buffer ofThanksgiving ! to Qerald the onset of the Christmas season, Czechs instead ; celebrate Svaty Mikulas (St. Nicholas) on December 5th. On

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that night the entire city flooded into the main square for the official lighting of the city Christmas tree, which was followed by a bout 15 min utes of fireworks th at ill um in ated the night sky most beautifully. After the show we met up with our friends Richard and Jarmila and their daughters over some tea and coffee to share some laughs and escape the cold for a while.

With that gateway to the holidays our Christmas season has only grown more robust. More and more people occupy the restaurants, stores, and town square for longer hours, and each of us on the team customized the season in our own ways. Each of our houses boasts a Christmas tree, and as us guys crowd around, licking our lips in anticipation, our girls have started to churn out both American and Czech Christmas goodies. The Anderson and Shockley families joined us the week before Christmas, coming over to celebrate the holidays on foreign soil. Since their arrival we have cooked enormous meals, played innumerable games, and have had a wonderful time filling our homes with laughter and warmth, making our second Christmas away from the States much more "homey." On Christmas morning we all converged on my and Mitch's apartment to open presents (especially the "Secret Santa" gift excha nge we tea m mates initiated last year) a nd stuff au rselves with a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hash browns, all while the sound of Czech Christmas carols crooned from the stereo.

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,. ',. adding a bit of local1flavor' to Christmas

~; .. :' But we also added to our holiday festivities a couple of Czech

t·;~·· elements, expanding our notion of Christmas to see how other

~ cultures do it. Per the invitation by one of our Czech teachers,

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.~ »-on the 23rd we took a train and then hiked out to the nearby

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,~,j.i. -; itown of Majetfn to watch a Christmas concert held outdoors.

I-·j·~~ .. /.'; •. Children, adults,.and a holiday .ban.d sa.ng out b~loved Christ.;;.' mas carols and hymns beneath the main Catholic church, and <.:~. afterward we sipped on steaming cups of punch and chatted rif).· with our teacher before making the frigid walk back to the ~ ,1-';' train station and back to Olomouc.

~ :~:.

I r .:;;.~. f..ni:l as a rare treat, j was invited by our good friends here in

i'~ . ;.' .0Iomouc, the Kovac family, to attend the festivities of Christmas Eve at their house. I n the Czech Republic th e activities th at we typically associate with Christmas Day (opening presents, big Christmas meal, and time with family) falls on Christmas Eve, with the 25th arriving as more or less a day of observance.

So according to the Czech tradition, the 24th is a day of fasting until right after dark, at which time the zlate prasatko (golden pig) appears on the wall and the hungry are allowed to end their fasting ... I never saw the pig, but I did get to experience firsthand the traditional Czech Christmas dinner: fish soup, potato salad, and carp. Here in the Czech Republic tradition must carry a whole new sense of gravity because even though most Czechs would rather eat anything else than a bottom-

feeder for Christmas [especially one to end a fast) the carp is a prevalent item inside and outside of stores right before the 24th. Yes, carp may be purchased at any meat counter, but it's at the specially designated places on street corners and on the squares that one truly identifies with one's meal, for vendors set up giant tubs and cleaning stations where passersby may select their still-swimming carp and watch it be

storming sessions as we anticipate the coming of the New Year to commence the second phase of our work here. And not just ma i ntai ni ng tea m duties, but also mai nta in i ng duties as citizens in local communities. For instance, where Mitch and !Iive we are required to clean up the public area of our apartment building once a month. This means sweeping and mopping the entrance foyer, the steps, and beating out the rugs. But in wintry weather this also means that we must shovel and salt the sidewalks if it happens to snow during our week to clean. So with the couple of snowfalls we have already had, I have for the first time wrapped my fingers around a snow shovel and learned a skill I never needed to know back when I was growing up in Houston. So each day

epilogue to a prologue continues to offer us new opportunities and new skill sets,

But in the end it's back to business as usual. At the return of and as we cruise past our first anniversary of life in Olomouc,

the Bealls we have resumed weekly team meetings and brain- I look forward to many more adventures down the road.

killed, scaled, and cleaned right there on the spot. Other more adventurous Czechs simply purchase their carp as is and carry it home, where it lives in the family bathtub until it meets its fate on Christmas Eve. Thankfully Jarmila had already done the dirty work by the time I arrived, so we dined heartily on Czech tradition before heading into the living room and seeing what baby Jesus - no, it's not Santa Claus in Czech folklore - had brought everyone. We ended the night on the town square where many of the churches held a joint midnight service of praise and adoration to our newborn king. Though it was quite a learning experience,! rather enjoyed myself in the care of the Kovac family, and was glad to glean a whole new perspective.

Email: onehandhigh@gmail.com

Address:

_~G!aham Kervin Mozartova 33 Olomouc 779 00 Czech Republic

Websites: www.teamolomouc.com www.grahamkervin.net

Ph.: (+420) 607967055

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