Dear Friends and Relatives,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Christmas 2007


Wilbur, (not his real name), lives in Norway and is the 13-year-old child of an American expat couple.  His father earns a meagre living as a geologist for an international energy company and his mother tends their home.  Because they live in Norway, Wilbur has never had the opportunity to enjoy many things that North American children enjoy.  He has never experienced a sunny day, something you and I take for granted.  Likewise, Wilbur’s family must subsist on a healthy diet of fresh fish, meat, fruits and vegetables.  They can only dream of such delicacies as Wendy’s triple hamburgers or visits to Cracker Barrel.  Most horrifying of all, these teens have never known the joy of Sunday and late evening shopping at a mega-mall!  Tragic stories like Wilbur’s are too common among North American expats living overseas.  That’s why we here at Paukert Christmas Letters Industries with this, our 20th Paukert Christmas Letter, have teamed up with Save the American Teen Expats, (SATE), an international relief organization, to bring joy to the lives of thousands of ‘Wilburs’ across Norway, forgotten children who suffer with the deprivation brought on by corporate expat assignments.


But we need your help.  For just the cost of one Starbucks coffee ($23.95) every month, you can sponsor a suffering expat teenager, such as mine, and make a lasting difference in his or her life.  Every sponsor will receive from their sponsored teen a unique, ‘drama queen’ autobiography detailing every misery of their existence, plus a photo of them standing drenched in the rain, clad in traditional Norwegian rain gear.  We encourage you to correspond with your sponsor teen who will whine on and on about how bad their life is and plead with you to send them shipments of Fritos, Root Beer and Domino’s Pizza.  Your generous contributions to SATE through PCLI allow us to fly hundreds of sun-starved expatriate teens from Norway directly to our special ‘Wish Center’ in the western Sahara where they can experience unfiltered sunshine and temperatures above 20°C for the first time in their lives.  Can you imagine the smiles on their faces as they experience their very first 2nd degree sunburn?  And not only that, but SATE has set up a program of micro-loans, which allows expat wives with few dietary alternatives to start up small donut shops in their communities, thus giving deprived North American expat youth alternatives to eating fish.  New this year is a virtual traffic simulator in Oslo where Wilbur and others can experience interstate highway traffic jams and speeds in excess of 85mph, almost as if they were living in a major North American city.  And by 2009 we hope to be opening a special Expat Mall so that expat teens can experience the thrill of congregating idly and getting into trouble with the police after 7:00 every evening.  Won’t it just warm your heart when you hear your sponsor child has had his first shoplifting arrest experience!  Won’t you call 1-800-SAVE XPT today?  Because no child should have to live this way.     


Who could have imagined in 1986 when the first PCL was published (type-set by hand on a wooden printing press in our basement in Midland, TX) that 20 years later we’d still be so deluded as to think anyone would read this garbage?  But here we are, still sending cheery, ready-made hamster bedding to thousands of PCL subscribers.  The PCL headquarters is still temporarily located in the totally unexpected country of Norway.  The current forecast has us somehow surviving another 2½ winters here and then checking into the Seasonal Affective Disorder emergency ward at Foothills Hospital upon our return to Calgary sometime around June 2010.   


Life here is, well, acceptable, but….s..l..o..w.  To illustrate, take your busy schedule.  Now, remove all the time you spend working on home improvements (we rent, thus none of those here), and remove all the time you spend working on your cars (I drive a 1988 Mercedes, like it matters if I change the oil regularly!).  Now remove 70% of the time you spend in stores (closed nights and Sundays, and stuff is 2.5 times as expensive as in the USA), and in restaurants (refer to last year’s letter about the quality of Norwegian cuisine).  Now remove 99% of the time you spend in front of the TV (you thought North American TV was disgusting…), and 60% of the time you spend on outdoor pursuits (rain, rain, rain).  Lastly, remove 100% of the hours you work over 38 per week (Norwegians have a more than relaxed attitude toward work, and bearing down on age 50 it’s not like I’m going to miss being appointed VP if I don’t work late every night!).  Remove 50% of your reading time (few English-language books here).  So what would you have left?  Well, lots of free time, welcome to my world.  I’m grateful for a good church to be involved in….I do some singing, playing guitar, keep the website up to date and run the computer on Sunday mornings.  And of course a Christmas letter of this quality takes a good two months to write.  But the race is on to see whether or not I slip into a coma before we return to Canada.   


Barb, however, is doing exciting things.  In a widely-viewed ceremony, she received the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor for accompanying Katherine’s youth group on their missions trip to Vyborg, Russia near the border with Finland.  There they helped out at an orphanage and a church.  Such bravery in close proximity to actual teenagers certainly merited recognition if not follow-up psychoanalysis.  As a partial reward she and they were given a day to tour the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (that would be an art gallery not unlike Paris’ Louvre).  Barb and Katherine also used up some frequent flier points to take a girls’ weekend away in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Barb is still enjoying the chance to live and travel in Europe and also has a number of helpful roles at church.  As you have no doubt seen on television and in the movies, we North American expats live a challenging lifestyle overseas, what with overseeing servants, attending weekly formal soirees and entertaining many corporate and political dignitaries.  I would never dare question the truth of what is portrayed by members of the entertainment industry, so I can only assume that Barb is doing all these things while I am at work.  Probably between washing windows and picking up dog food at the grocery store. 


This year we welcome the PCL’s first-ever guest contributor, Katherine, who has decided to write her own paragraph thing:  “Besides complaining about the rock bottom lack of entertainment, I do a few things.  I now play the guitar, and am now better at it than Father Dearest.  Besides that, I am swamped with way more homework than can possibly be legal, having done approximately 5 hours of standard 10th grade math homework on one recent Saturday.  Despite this outrageousness, I still do everything that is offered at the youth group.  It’s kind of like a compulsion, I somehow find myself doing EVERYTHING POSSIBLE there.  My theory is that it’s a plot between Father Dearest, and the youth pastor.  For example:  I dislike working with little kids, but was somehow roped into going on the Oslo VBS trip, where I had to lead games for little kids.  Point proven.  Most of the others things were voluntary, I admit.  I liked going to Russia, and the day trip from Oslo to Sweden (one place my parents HAVE NOT BEEN! WOO!), and Euroventure in Switzerland was a relief from an insanely long driving vacation with the parents.  The reunion weekend in Germany was cool too, and the Ski retreat at Sirdal and a week at Teen Ranch in Scotland.  On these enjoyable trips, the parents were not around.  See a pattern?  I also went to Spain with the school Spanish class, and had to speak Spanish all week long.  But the beach every day was pretty sweet.  I even got over my icthyophobia long enough to go swimming.  That’s basically it, says I.”


DREADED EUROPEAN VACATION RECAP PARAGRAPHS:  In theory, the compensation for tearing one’s life apart to move overseas for a few years is the opportunity to travel and see what one would otherwise never see, and so we have tried to make good use of this gift and opportunity.  In the grand tradition of Paukert vacations back to time immemorial, in July we drove 6,000km through 10 different countries to Venice, Italy and back.  I’m not sure why.  My best guess is that it was some sort of obstacle course involving luggage.  The whole point seemed to be to take 9 suitcases and transport them by car, ferry, trolley, canoe and/or llama along a pre-planned route from Norway to Italy and back across the Alps.  Hannibal would have paled.  Apparently the rules stipulated that each night the luggage had to be dragged up the stairs to an upper floor of an ancient hotel.  I kept hoping there would be some sort of prize if I successfully moved all this luggage from place to place, but apparently I didn’t finish in first place.  Anyway, we drove through Norway, Denmark, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Italy.  And Mongolia for all I know.  We got ‘momentarily disoriented’ with some regularity due to the fact that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE IN EUROPE HAS THE LEAST IDEA HOW TO MAKE AN ACCURATE ROAD MAP.  (Breathe, Gary, breathe).  We had a pretty good system for handling the languages, though.  Barb, with some exposure to ‘low German,’ was responsible for butchering the local tongue in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, while I with my Spanish was in charge of embarrassing us in Romance language countries such as Italy and the French parts of Switzerland.  In Poland and the Czech Republic we just begged for mercy.  It was interesting to spend time in places such as Poland and the former East Germany where evidence still abounds of 70 years of terrible communist repression, yet which have been restored to pleasant and prosperous places in ‘just’ 15 years.  We stopped in Usti nad Orlici in the north-central part of the Czech Republic and I was quite thrilled find my way to the farm plot that my great-great-grandfather Wencl Paukert sold in 1872 for the money needed to emigrate to America. I met Paukerts living in the area who are related to me by common ancestor 10 generations ago and am likely the first Paukert in 140 years to return to the area from the New World.  We spent 6 days at the International Baptist Church summer conference at Interlaken, Switzerland while Katherine had a blast at the youth conference 15 minutes up the valley at Grindewald.  It rained all week, but even with that the Alps were impressive.  Other highlights were the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Martin Luther’s home in Wittenburg-Lutherstadt, and Venice, a truly unique city that Barb loved but unfortunately getting there REQUIRED DRIVING ON THE ITALIAN MOTORWAY SYSTEM WHICH WAS CLEARLY DESIGNED BY A COMMITTEE OF BRAIN-DAMAGED SADISTS, (I’m going to my happy place now).  As you can tell, it was a pastoral and relaxed tour of the best that the European continent has to offer which the luggage enjoyed very much.


AND we went to Iceland….finally, having had our vacation there two years ago cancelled.  Iceland seems quite remote, but it’s only a 2 hour flight from Norway and anyone with a degree in Geology is required by law to visit this island at some point in their lives.  After all the trouble we went to to get there it was sort of a ho-hum place. The people aren’t exactly warm and the geysers are truly unimpressive compared to Yellowstone, but the volcanoes, icecap, glaciers, waterfalls and fjords are seriously cool.  Some highlights:  flying over the Vatnajökull icecap in a Cessna and a boat ride through the Jökulsarlon lagoon, a large glacial lake filled with calved icebergs that you saw in a recent James Bond movie, and the sun setting in Reykjavik harbour at 11:58 p.m. on the summer solstice. 


AND (you are getting sleepy) I went to Portugal.  My work group’s yearly geologic field trip involved a week pretending to look at rocks along the coast north of Lisbon.  As many as 3 or 4 times a day we would discover that critical pieces of Portugal’s geologic puzzle could only be discovered while seated in the shade outside small cafés in nearby villages.  I stayed over the weekend afterwards to see Lisbon itself, which I can report looks a lot like all the other old European cities I’ve been to in the last three years. 


AND (eyes rolling back in head) we were back in North America to see my father get married again after the death of my mother two years ago.  Dad and Karen provided an invaluable service to brides and grooms all over Colorado by planning an outdoor wedding for October.  After our experience of waking up that morning to a deluge of rain, bordering on snow, clearly no one will ever be silly enough to try that again!  In addition to Denver we were able to swing through Saskatoon and Calgary in an exhausting 12-day trip.


In May we were shocked, I mean really stunned, that someone came all the way from Washington State to visit us!  David & Karen Erickson heard about how hard life is for us here, and came to hold our hands and say ‘there, there, now.’  We were so overwhelmed that we took the ‘Norway-in-a-Nutshell’ tour with them, which is a one-day trip from Oslo to Bergen via train, narrow-gauge train, cruise ship and bus, across the mountains and down the fjords, (c.f. your copy of the Erickson 2007 Christmas Letter).  Back in Stavanger we visited beaches, islands and fjords and made them hike to Preikestolen, the spectacular ‘Pulpit-rock’ 604-metre cliff.


These wonders and more await any of you who realize that now, with free lodging at the Paukert hotel, is your last, best chance to visit Scandinavia.  We know that God has planned each of your year 2008s with the intent that you have every opportunity to draw close to Him and enjoy the love, peace and joy that being in right relationship to Him through Jesus Christ brings.


Love, Gary, Barb, Katherine & Chaco the Wonderdog.


P.S.:  This year’s refrigerator-ready official Paukert Christmas Photo was taken near my office on Stavanger Harbour.  The bridge connects downtown Stavanger with the island of Hundvåg.