Sunday, April 25, 2010

The High (and Painful) Price of a Dream

The House of Guilt - of sorts

So, I never quite got comfortable in this very house of mine. I think I have said it before, and I apologize (not really) for the repeat, but I don’t think I have ever gotten over the buyer’s remorse on this joint. At the time I bought it, I thought it was a dream come true. I still think that, in fact. It was my coming of age as a grown woman: it was coming into adulthood from the condo, college-like living I had before, as a single woman.

So, I plunged into it thinking this is what I have worked for all my life, and praying that I will be in it forever (uumm … 30 years at least) to pay it off. I knew at the time, though, that is just about as much as I can possibly swallow without choking on it. It was a bit too much, but not enough to cause me to say a definite “no”.

My gut was in knots though and I sensed than one day, this will be trouble. A friend advised that I will make more money in a couple of years, as it happens, usually, and that will not be an issue. Only the friend didn’t foresee the economic crisis that followed almost immediately after I signed the bottom line, even before the ink dried on the paper. A not so favorable loan had me borrow it at painful terms, and thus my guilt towards my hard earned money deepened!

I am not exactly house poor, as I have been able to play, too, and go out and have fun with friends, and donate to my charities, and also take some trips and play with some of the money, as well. Or at least I was not house poor till before I quit my job about a week ago.

I did make good use of it, too, I will not be ungrateful: I have enjoyed people having their own quarters when they come to town, especially since it’s illegal in my family to book hotel rooms if a relative lives in town. I have enjoyed the back yard, and all the greenery I have planted there; the grapes and strawberries, fresh dill and parsley, fresh onions and rosemary for my omelets. I have enjoyed the quietness of the area, and the changes of the seasons in the beautiful, huge oak trees across the street from me. I have also enjoyed having e designated place for every single thing, and a room with a purpose for everything, like they teach you on HGTV! I have also loved, loved, loved my huge kitchen, where I never run out of space when I cook or when I have to store a new pot or pan! It’s been all great!

But, alas, plans are made only to be broken by life, aren’t they?! Now, the prospect, which is slowly turning into an ugly reality, of no job, a wee bit too much of a payment plus utilities plus HOA fees which I swear must be fed on growth hormones or something, because they are insane (at $158 a month for grass trimming) is becoming more and more bitter. Even more so than before, the straps on the shoulders of this too big of a weight are cutting into my back.

The house sits quietly on the market, for exactly a month and two weeks today, along with other 20+ homes (I think) in the same neighborhood, 5 of which are in the same parking lot as mine, listed at a lower price than I bought it for, to make it more appealing. I sit here, on a quiet and beautiful spring afternoon waiting for seers, “passer-by”-ers. Isn’t spring the time deemed by all realtors to be the most appropriate for home buying?! And isn't Sunday the most perfect of days for real estate?! So ... where are the people? I sit here, and I listen to the sound of birds and swishy wind in the new leaves of yet a new spring. And I try with all my might not to cry or to hurt myself for the guilt I feel for buying too much of a dream!

I do know that every house sells. Eventually. And I know this, too, shall sell, and pass. But I cannot help but feel ever so guilty for burdening not only me, but my husband also with an expense which could have been so much more bearable should it have been planned a little bit more carefully …

And unlike so many people out there, I have enough self respect to not blame “W.”, not the banks, not the economy, not Obama for something that I signed up for with no gun against my temple.

It still makes me choke up with guilt and lose sleep at night, because I seldom screw up, you see. But I guess it keeps me real, too, and reminds me that I too can make a very wrong decision sometimes. The comforting thought that we are not infallible is so sweet! When I’ll chase a dream next time, I’ll ask for an insurance policy first. If only life can give you one, that is. *Sigh*.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Fastest Week of My Life

For all the folks out there who have been begging me for updates, here's a ... ummm... "brief" of the past week. It started on Monday, April 12. Buckle up!

Mom, dad and I woke up and were faced with a huge “to do” list. We had major grocery shopping to do, and I had major cleaning to do, as well, as my house was to be open to relatives and friends for “the week of the wedding”. We shopped for most of the day, and dad designed a menu for pretty much every meal for every day of the week. Not an easy feat, if you know my family and if you know that they never cook under five dishes per meal when they have people over. American fridges are absolutely, positively not designed big enough for Romanian meals! At any rate, April 12 was a cooking day, and cleaning for me.

April 13, a Tuesday, we continued to cook since my then fiancé, Aa., was coming in town and coming over for dinner that night. Parents were nervous as all, to meet him, and to impress him with dinner. All went well. My dad is not all that scary, Aa. was finally convinced, and Aa. was not all that scary to my folks, either. Welcome to my family, Mr. Aa. Now, you’ll have to grow a second stomach, just like the rest of us!

On April 14, Aa. and I rushed to The Guilford County Courthouse early in the morning, to obtain our marriage license. As he was saying, it took longer to clear security at the door and to find the office of The Register of Deeds than it took to obtain the license. Mom and dad thought we got married without them, but I had to explain to them: “No, ma, they just wanted our money! Marriage will become official on Friday, when our Revered will marry us and sign the bottom line.”

The whole marriage license business is as weird as any State-mangled affair! They never check anything. You can tell them you’re a boy instead of a girl and they believe you. I could not remember my divorce date, and I am pretty sure I gave a close one, but they never checked, nor look for any documentation. As for the SSN – no card required. You can make up ANY number. I suspect. But you do swear (or “affirm” if “you have issues with ‘swear’”) on the Holy Bible! So help you God! So it all must be real, since, by Lord, you “swore”. It was eerie! I come from Romania about which people will tell you is like a travel back in time, and this sounded to me as bogus as The Salem Witch Hunt! But we got “a license”.

After The Courthouse, it was flower shopping for the afternoon event we had planned. In the afternoon, my friend B. was kind enough to shoot pictures of the two of us all over The Downtown for our engagement book. It was like 50 degrees outside and I was in a sleeveless dress. I am suspecting I will look semi-comatose in the pictures, but we’ll see!

After the shoot, we got together with friends at The Loft at Natty Greene’s, where we celebrated our engagement and my leaving The Green City. I was so overwhelmed by the outpour of love from everyone who came! I never suspected that everyone that I invited would come, but they did. I am truly blessed by many good people as my friends! Gosh, how I will miss them all! I can only hope everyone had just a good of a time as I did seeing all of them and bidding farewell one more time.

My friend, B., picked the setting - which was metaphorical, according to my sister: "behind closed fences" or "marriage" - in front of Natty Greene's in Downtown Greensboro, before our engagement party - April 14, 2010

Then, we were off to the house, to bring all the too many presents we got and the flowers, and décor from the party. Then off to bed – early day on Thursday.

On Thursday, April 15, I was off to Charlotte early to wait for my sister, brother-in-law and nephew, Patrick, at the airport. They were flying in from Canada. Aa. was Greensboro-bound, waiting for his mom, who was flying in from Michigan.

It’s always such a loving handful to see Patrick! He is a different person every time I see him. More mature, smarter, better behaved, less of a baby, more of a kid every single time. He is such a gift! It just made my day to just smell him and hold his little body for short seconds that he would generously allow.

Patrick "being cute" - on cue from his mommy

In the evening, we had an all-family dinner: Aa.’s mom, Aa. and my whole family got together for a Romanian dinner, more or less traditional. Given the fact that there were 85 degrees outside that day, dad grilled out, so we had a typical summer meal that included kebobs and chicken wings on the grill as well as pork steaks and chicken nuggets wrapped in bacon. Rice pilaf and moussaka and a light summer salad were the sides. Chocolate crepes were the desert. Yeah, my family can cook! I miss them already, although, I am still hearing my fridge’s sigh of relief since they left and no food was further added to the shelves!

Family night: watching a home video by dad, sitting down for dinner, and opening a birthday present: a toolbox made by Uncle Aa. for Patrick

April 16, a Friday, was “the big day”. I made the resolution that come high water or fire, I was not going to fret and I was not going to worry about anyone’s wellbeing that day. It was about me, and “my man”, and I just had one worry in the world: that I would no cry during the ceremony, so the pictures won’t look silly, and that I would not stumble on words during saying my vows! The rest of the world could take care of themselves!

And that’s what they did. Somehow, it all went well, and we had the most perfect day and the smoothest wedding, I think. Other than the wind conspiring against us and not allowing us to light our candles, it all went great! Just as we planned it. Everyone was gracious to us, and didn’t pressure us into too much needy-ness … I was really grateful that everyone seemed to honor us, and our union, and this way this day will always be a gift from us, and from our families to us, and to our lives together. I am so touched by everyone’s love and words and meaningful gifts to us. We do have great families!

The happy day - April 16, 2010 - many thanks to our photographer and friend, Rob, for suggesting the beautiful setting

No honeymoon for us, yet. So, after the party, we just came home with the family, and opened a bottle of 1997 Romanian (actually from my home county) wine. 1997 is when I graduated college. I figured I would open than bottle the day I feel like “I truly came of age”. No better day than my wedding day, I guess.

April 17, a Saturday, was sort of a “relache” day. Aa.’s mom went back home, but her sister took her to the airport, so we can sleep in (well, as late as Little Man Patrick allowed, of course). We had meals at odd times in odd shifts (my dining room is not very huge), and we took a family walk (sans dad who was napping) in Country Park. It was also the last full day I spent with my sister and her family, for a while now.

Patrick and parents, mom and Aa. on the walk at Country Park

We entered our marriage as marriage is supposed to be: a special day, surrounded by “all things normal”: family, home, familiar wine, and our own bed and environment. None of the ritz and contrived-ness that usually follows a wedding. Just a gentle slip into another form of “normal”. “Our” normal now.

On Sunday, we packed The Canadians and took them back to the Charlotte airport so they can return home. Such a short trip for them, and so generous of them to spend their short vacation with us for our special event.

"Bye-bye, America!" - Patrick on the way to Charlotte, en route back to his home, in Montreal

On Monday, my parents got in a last day of shopping, for last minute gifts for back home. I got in some grocery runs as well, alongside their shopping spree! The shopper in my family is dad. Mom and I (and Aa.) hate it. Amazing how dad has us trained though, because we shopped from 10 AM to 5 PM non stop! Then, it was dinner time and time to pack mom and dad for their trip to Canada.

On Tuesday, April 20, we took the parents to the Greensboro airport very early in the morning, so that they can be en route to Montreal, where they’re spending a month with my sister and her family. Aa. and I were left alone, for a brief, couple of days “honeymoon preview”, of sorts. We were entirely too exhausted to plan anything, of course. We just slept in, ate a lot and slept. A lot!

And then, Aa. was off to Utah for the next couple of weeks today. My house is empty. And my feet are burning, after I have been cleaning all day.

If you remember that feeling you have after you get off the merry-go-round, that feeling that your mind and your insides are still spinning although your whole body is still, that’s how I feel. I feel like the machine has stopped, by my body still thinks it needs to spin, with inertia! I am not fully aware yet that I am married, that I am jobless, that I need to start packing to move across country in two weeks, that I have calls to make and chores to line up for the next weeks to come. I am still trying to wake up. Or go to bed and catch up on the sleep. Not sure which!

One thing I do know for sure: I am grateful for family and for the time I got to spend with everyone: friends, family, old and new! We are nothing if we don’t have them! They give us roots and they define us in a way that no job and no house we made ourselves is capable of defining us!

I am grateful I have gotten to share my family with my new husband and I have gotten to share his as well! I hope the crazy roller coaster of a week will only mean good memories for them as well, as it means for me, too.

And I humbly thank all of them and all my friends, from far and near, for traveling and for all the gifts and sweet wishes! One can only be so blessed to have so much love and generosity around on such special occasions! I send it all back, ten fold, to all of you! I hope you all know the blessings and love you have poured on me and Aa. this past week! You all deserve them!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Culture Bridges Over Hearts

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”(Marcel Proust)

I always love when people from a different land come to visit me. If not for the topsy-turvy kind of lifestyle I am forced to lead for a while when I act as full time hostess, I love it for the opportunity to see the world through their eyes.

To me, WalMart is WalMart any day of the week, the land of the “weird folk” and cheap bread. The church is the church, where people enter the pews as they come in and leave them at the end, orderly. A sales cashier needs your ID for a beer purchase as part of a routine. All these are big, eye popping events and heart skipping beats kind of encounters for my parents, who are visiting.

Some of these “alter realities” seen lately through their eyes were too good not to share.

Every time they ask for my ID at the grocery store, when we’re buying alcohol, mom starts literally shaking, and then asks :”What? Are you in trouble?”. I always smile and say “No, ma’, I just look young”. She rolls her eyes in disbelief.

We went to church at midnight, for Easter, and they both could not believe that people were not pushing each other, elbowing one another on the way to The Altar to grab a candle light from the priest, the way they do it in Romania, breaking icons and knocking babies over along the way. They were both shocked that everyone waited their turn in their pews, while the church people came and gave each row a light. Everything seemed too quiet and orderly, and probably boring, too, to them. Mom crossed herself – and not just because the priest kept saying “In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” It was mostly disbelief!

With the risk of being cheesy, I will add that my parents stop and stare at what I call “American fat”. In Romania, what is considered “American chubby” becomes obese. What is considered “American obese” becomes mutant. They are shocked, and I try to subtly pretend they’re not with me when a 400 lbs person drives a motorized cart in a store, and mom stops and crosses herself.

They also do not understand why they can’t find “lamb pleura” in any good old neighborhood grocery store, so they can wrap their meatloaf with it. Dad cannot understand why we looked in three stores for Ricotta cheese (one of the most common, cheapest cheeses back home), but in the meantime, we find 100 specialties of orange cheese, which looks like no cheese at all that he is familiar with. The man went to school to learn how to make dairy and meat products from animal milk and meat! So, he is all confused about the “orange” cheese that I know Americans treasure for their burger topping.

My dad cannot understand why Chinese restaurants don’t give you a knife. He is surprised that their meat is all chopped up. How does one know what they eat if they cannot see the bone of the animal, the fiber of the muscle and so forth?! How do they, indeed.

I love the way they think WalMart is expensive. And then we take a trip to a regular mall, and they go to Ann Taylor and Sur la Table and REI, and when they look at the prices there they go: “Uumm… Why did you bring us here? These things are so expensive we feel bad touching them!”.

I love, love, love the way they transform everything in lei (the Romanian currency). They find anything for say $5 and although it’s something they need and want, they go “Oh, that’s roughly 150 000 lei, of that’s too much. It’s 35 000 back home, we’ll get it from there.” I wish I had inherited that sort of self-possessiveness!

I love how dad thinks Dollar Tree stores are ever so cheap, that he wants to buy everything there is to buy there, even toddler pj’s, which he would have zero use for! He thinks they’re sooo cheap, he calls them the “Dollar Free” stores. When I travel, I usually, go “oh, let’s go to The Zoo today!”. When he comes here, he’s all about “Oh, let’s go to Dollar Free today”. As in “every day”.

I love when they see something new, and their eyes pop open with wonder, the way a little child’s would, at the sight of a new toy! They absolutely loved Party City! I could not and (if it were not for the fact that we were late for a wedding planning meeting) I would not peel them off the aisles of that store!!! They are huge entertainers. Huge! So, for them to see that there is a whole entire store dedicated to everything you’d need for entertaining, it was just like the poor Irishman who reached New York for the first time: a dream come true! I think that was the first day when both of them (stern Europeans that they are) smiled generously since they came off the plane!

Mom and dad trying on party hats at Party City

They think American fridges are wicked cold, but they’re not roomy enough for what they want to cook! They think this is silly as all! They think, of course, that central air is a waste of money, waste of an invention, you name it, especially when you have a ceiling fan!

They have no clue why people would be picky about eating chicken livers, pickles, olives, peppers, why they’d not want any bones in their chicken pieces, or debate why mustard is already smeared on their bologna. They look at me like I am nuts when I tell them they need to cook bone free, condiment free and organ free foods, if they cook for a crowd. They do not understand what anyone in the right might would think these things would not be good for anyone. They’re delicacies back home, and the use of the condiments there means that the cook is good enough to already match what’s appropriate with the food and make it already better for the one who consumes it. Free will and the notion of free choice is very foreign to them.

They will never understand why I don’t have the 20+ seats dining room they have at their house. How can anyone, they say, have any kind of Holiday meal or birthday feast with less than that kind of a dining room table is beyond them! You see, the notion of a buffet is completely foreign to Romanians! They are huge “family meals” type people.

I just smile and move on. Sometime, I wonder about the journey I took: I grew up like them! For the first 23 years of my life, their normal was my normal. How did I adapt?! How did I find the “different” here “normal” for me? Why did I?!

Somehow, I don’t remember any kind of a painful transition - so most times I cannot relate with all this. It makes for a very strange experience when you meet face to face with the people you came from, and you feel like you’re worlds apart.

I cannot help but wonder what they think about who I have become? I know myself, and to me, trying

different things and adapting and searching other cultures to become richer was a motto in life. They are the complete opposite: they are stuck with the familiar. But it has to feel strange for them that the product of their bodies and upbringing is gravitating comfortably in this strange universe they cannot comprehend, while they feel like misfits 24-7.

As much as I enjoy seeing all the things I take for grated every day through their eyes, a bitter-sweet feeling overwhelms me: are we really our parents’ children? Or has life changed us so much that it’s hard (as in “difficult” as well as in “painful”) for us, and mostly them to tell?! And how do we bridge ourselves back? How do we find that common thread that is “thicker” than water to bring us back together, so that the hugs will feel meaningful and the kisses honest and not coming from strangers?

But, alas, the matters of the heart are deeper and less open to cold minded explaining than this!

Somehow, we “get” each other – it has to be the miracle of love and family which surpasses any cultural boundaries. Just like at the end of the day they are mom and dad to me, the same people who read me stories and cooked my first omelet for me and punished me when I did poorly in math, I have to believe that they find in this weird American woman who eats sushi the same little girl they raised, with curly hair, impossible curious mind and awfully picky about apples. I feel they do.

Or at least I hope so, or else their journey here must be painful. And for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to change that!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

When Home Comes to You. On Easter.

It’s not often when I get to spend Easter (my absolute favorite holiday!) with my folks. It’s even more rare to spend two Easters in a row with them. I was lucky enough to go back home for Easter last year, and I am doubly so to have my parents here with me this year. I have been counting blessings for the past month and I won’t be done for a while.

The kitchen island and dad at the beginning of the day

Along with all the heartache of having them here, all sorts of arguments about why food does not taste the same in America, and why we don’t have “ienibahar” at the store for lamb steak, and why spices or beer for that matter are so God-awful expensive here, and why we don’t have beer in a coke-like machine at the end of the driveway, like they do in Romania, comes the priceless privilege of having home cooked meals, the way God intended them to be cooked – with love. And it’s the only way my folks know how to touch food!

Mom and dad arguing over ... who remembers ?!?
I make onion stew and meatloaf and cheese dip myself, year round, but I swear I am missing the “secret ingredient” they always have and never share to make the food taste just the way it tastes back home. I am not sure what it is, maybe it’s the fact that I am not working for it, maybe it’s the fact that they have no qualms about using the pepper and salt shaker, or using the real kind of butter … I am not quite sure. But although the recipes are the same, the outcome is always better when they do it.

Meatloaf: before and after. Yum!

And then, there is the bonding. We shop together, we cook together, talking, and sharing tips, and yelling across the room at each other when I realize dad uses real bacon in something and he realizes I am using “Smart Balance” instead of butter, cleaning together – it’s not just cooking, it’s living, and loving, and sharing, and a whole experience.

Dad, dubious that Fero can have any input whatsoever
on how many eggs go in the cheesecake pie

At the end of the day, and at the end of a long week of Lent fasting, we go to church at midnight, and when we hear the “Jesus has risen!” salute from the priest, our eyes tear. And we feel that much closer: we have lived through another important holiday – together. We have been fortunate, to unite once again although so many thousands of miles separate us on our daily lives. We see The Light of Jesus, and we thank Him for all that is He has given us: health, money, love, and each other. We feel happy. The sort of happiness in the purest form – the one of acknowledging that things that truly matter are small and don’t involve millions of dollars, nor houses at the beach, nor winning the lottery – they are small, but – just like the foundation of a house – they are paramount, because we cannot accomplish the big things without.

We bring The Light home, to every room, in the form of our vigil candles of Jesus’s Resurrection and we fall asleep happy, full and grateful.

After church, with The Light, back home. Grateful.

At the end of the day, I am not sure what I should thank God for: that He helped them travel here? Or that He helped me have a nice welcome for them? Or both …It’s a magic moment in time, out of which I will feed myself, like from the spring of eternal life, for years and years to come.

Happy Easter, all, and just like a friend of mine was saying this morning: remember that “it’s not all about the Easter bunny.” Not for us anyway.