For Whom the Snow Falls

March 10, 2012 at 9:53 am | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 10 Comments
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Spring is in the Romanian air.

The temperature is still tap-dancing around freezing. The kids still laugh hysterically when they see their breath in the car. And I’m still wearing my beloved YakTrax. But spring? It’s here.

Ahhhhh, spring.

How do I know? Last week, I had an animated discussion about the pile of snow clinging to the roof with the old man who takes care of our building. He spoke some fast Romanian. He gestured a lot and stomped his feet. He made kapow! noises.

I nodded knowingly.

Even though I’ve never seen snow like this in my life. Let alone three months of snow about to fall off a roof. My roof.

We concluded that the deluge would happen in the next day or so … then ricochet off the covered front porch … and then explode right into the spot on the street where I had carefully spent 15 minutes parallel parking.

So.

I moved the car. And seriously considered buying us all helmets. Just in case.

The next morning, there it was. Right where he said it would. In the empty parking spot everyone else had had the sense to avoid.

Mărţişoare, like this handmade one, are given to women on March 1 to celebrate their awesomeness. Oh, and the arrival of spring.

As I stared at the smashed snow-pie in the road, it hit me. (Figuratively, of course.) I’m a rookie. Winter — real, cold, and brutal — is new to me.

But so is this life, this expat life filled with roundabouts and rolled r’s and purple money.

With spicy ketchup and cherry moonshine.

With holidays like last week’s Mărţişor, which celebrates the women, spring, and the exile of long underwear.

I can let this life — equal parts amazing and exasperating — frustrate me. Exhaust me. Grate my very last nerve into shreds thinner than the carrots in Romanian cole slaw.

Or I can open my arms and embrace whatever falls into my path.

Right after I put my helmet on.

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

A Love Letter

February 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 24 Comments
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We’ve hit a rough patch, you and me. And I’m not just talking about that layer of ice at the end of the driveway.

I’m coming to realize that our relationship isn’t a fairy tale. For us? There’s no happily ever after. I mean, we always knew that we weren’t meant to last, that I would be the one to leave.

But there’s still time.

And in the few months we have left together, I want to remember all that I love about you. I want to magic-marker that list on my mental bulletin board and draw your name with curlicue letters that have hearts over the i’s. I want something to hold onto when we’re apart.

Oh, Romania.

I love that there’s something unexpected around your every corner. A woman and her chickens hanging laundry. A basketball goal. A mini Cooper with racing stripes. A snail. A carport vineyard. Every day, always, you make me smile.

I love that everything about you is connected. I walk to the neighborhood market for a liter of milk and hear the mid-morning church bells on the way. I pass the park and stop in so the kids can zoom down the yellow slide and then the purple one. On the way home, we count the taxis lining the piaţa, their bumpers stuck together like a set of checkered magnets.

I love your colors. The purple fence. The blue recycling box. The red bench. The white door. The rainbow of fresh produce. Even snow-covered, your brightness peeks through.

I love the friends you’ve given me. With names like Liviu and Florica and Horia and Mihaela. From as far away as Jordan and Sweden and Delaware. From as close as three buildings down. It’s equal parts strange and wonderful that our lives have intersected. That we are together, here, now.

I love the ways you’ve pushed me. To buy Brussels sprouts and drive a stick. To trust my instincts and live without Dr. Pepper. To let people help me.

I love the experiences you’ve given my children. Horse-drawn sleighs and haystacks. Castles and pirate ships. Walnuts the size of dinosaur eggs and the value of the almighty British pound.

I love your nonchalance. Park on the sidewalk? Sure. Ketchup and corn on your pizza? Okay. A hundred fluffy sheep grazing sun-kissed stalks in front of a dazzling onion-domed church? Oh, right.

Romania, you’ve been the adventure that I hoped for. You’ve opened my eyes and my heart to a culture so very different from my own. You’ve offered up decent chocolate and decadent donuts time and time again.

Let’s savor these next few months together. Let’s hold hands and whisper gently and slow down. Let’s sit, quietly, under that amazing apple tree and imagine the snowflakes are tiny buds, fresh and white and new.  Because I can see the end of this road, our road, just beyond the unfurled blooms.

Love,
Stacia

Have you ever written a love note to a place? What do you love about where you live? And how do you remind yourself?

Our Heart Attack*

February 10, 2012 at 8:52 am | Posted in Giggles, Lollipop, Transylvania | 19 Comments
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Spoiler Alert: Are you married to or related to me? Then do not read this until after February 14. (I mean it, Mom!)

So you might have heard that it’s cold here in Eastern Europe. Record-breaking cold. Politicians-resigning cold. Hair-freezing cold. (Note to self: Do not go outside until at least 90 minutes after shampooing.)

Sledding? Skating? Snowman-building? My kids want nothing to do with it. Hence, we are stuck in the house. And we seem to have lost our quiet voices. Along with any interest in sprawling on the couch and watching hours of brain-melting cartoons … despite a little, um, begging on my part.

But I still have my sanity. (Really, I do.) How? you ask.

Arts. Crafts. And empty toilet-paper tubes.

I have no idea what to do with Lego wheels. Or “easy-to-configure” train tracks. Or Barbie shoes that just won’t stay on. But give me some card stock, pipe cleaners, and a Valentine’s Day Pinterest board? And a-crafting we will go. All. Weekend. Long.

Portable hugs? Check. (No pictures because I spent the entirety of the project choking back sobs over the volume of glitter being spilled on tables, floors, and toes.)

Old crayons turned new again? Check. Lollipop and I spent an hour or so arduously peeling labels from violet-red and red-violet nubs. We chatted about how tricky it seemed. And we agreed we were thankful for cheap Romanian crayons whose paper wrappers practically slid right off. (Damn you, Crayola, and your quality product.)

“I Love You Because” books for Daddy? Check. We went large on this one and broke into our precious felt and buttons cache.  (He’s totally worth it.) We experienced a momentary setback when Lollipop and Giggles realized I had made the covers different. (“How come he got a heart button?” and “Hey, hers has two buttons!!” and so forth.) But I fixed my “Stern Mommy” gaze upon them and we moved along …

Right to the recycling bin. Toilet-paper-roll finger puppets? Check. With eyelashes.

Craft hard or go home, that’s our motto.

Well, that, and there’s no such thing as too many stickers … And if all else fails, glue it … And buttons don’t go in your nose … And it’s not over until someone eats glitter … And …

What’s your crafting motto(s)? Which do you wield better: a Lego wheel or a color wheel? And how do you pass the time when marooned with bored children?

*See, even the title of this post comes from a Pinterest pin, one I am indeed planning to implement next Tuesday.

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This post is part of MEP’s Real Women of Pinterest series. Join in as we celebrate collaborative creativity (and the power of glue guns).

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

Spelling It Out

February 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 18 Comments
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I’m late posting today. Instead of sitting down to dash something out while the baby coughed and napped and coughed some more, I curled up on the couch with my grandmother’s afghan and my Kindle. I devoured the last 15 percent of the seventh Harry Potter book, something I’d been trying to do all weekend.

I knew how it ends. I’d read it before.

Still, I needed to see all set right in that world. Harry wins. Voldemort loses. Snape is vindicated, and Ron and Hermione finally get together. I clicked to the last page. Sated. Satisfied. Done.

But everything else? Here in Romania? Undone.

Frozen ... from the inside.

It’s still snowing. The heater in the kids’ room is still broken. And our search for decent orange juice and a few measly leaves of spinach continues.

We are still Red-Rovering our way through bureaucratic and corporate red tape, trying to figure out what to do about our improperly processed visas … and whether, if given the choice, we will stay or go. We want to stay. The painted churches, the ice hotel, Euro Disney — there’s so much still to see. But sometimes (and more often lately, if I’m honest) the lure of home calls as clearly as a good, old-fashioned land line.

Frozen waffles. Dryer sheets. Kindergarten registration. Dr. Pepper. These are the things that await us at home, not to mention family, friends, pets, and a frozen margarita or two.

Here, all that’s frozen is our windshield wipers. And the cuffs of our snow-caked jeans as we try, almost daily, to dig our car out of a new white trench.

Yesterday, it happened again. I got behind the wheel to steer as my husband pushed and cursed and sweated in the still-falling snow. The old man who takes care of our building saw me. He shouted and gestured, assuming I’d run us into the bushes.

Me, the woman, the one who’s supposed to work a stove, not a clutch.

Winter in black and white.

It could have been me. Easily. But this time? It wasn’t.

And I yearned desperately for the words to tell him so. For a society where gender expectations are slightly murkier. For, at the very least, a driveway not perpetually covered in layers of ice, frozen dog poop, and slick snow.

I think, like Harry Potter, I need a few good spells to help me prevail through this last stretch of cultural and climatic cold. I could point my wand — 13 inches, cherry, with a core of unicorn hair, probably — at the stuck car and wingardium-leviosa it right out. I could accio some dill pickles and a pack of pre-Easter Cadburys. And I could toss up some floo powder and appear, instantly, at the side of a friend who I am desperate to hug and share pancakes with.

Instead, I’m wandless. Spell-less. Still trying to learn the magic, both light and dark, of this strange place.

What Harry Potter spells would you find most useful? What would your wand be made of? And how do you reconcile the good and the bad of the place you call home?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

In the Still of the Light

February 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Posted in Giggles, Lollipop, Photo Tuesday | 17 Comments
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“One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on.”
— D.H. Lawrence

How often do you make time to be still? What do you notice when you finally stop moving? And do you have a finger-painter who brightens your day?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

Freezing Points: A Survivor’s Manual

January 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Posted in Bun, Family, Giggles, Lollipop, Transylvania | 23 Comments
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Do you know what the dash thermometer read when I got in the car to take the kids to school this morning? -14.5°C. (Yes, that’s a minus.) And the windshield was iced over. On the inside. The five-liter bottle of water I had left on the floorboard? Frozen solid.

All this is to say, it’s cold here. Nose-numbing cold. Ear-burning cold. Booger-freezing cold.

We are so out of our element.

To prepare others who may one day find themselves in a land where no one thinks twice about icicles hanging off their bumper, I have drafted a survivor’s manual* with tips and tools for staying warm — and conserving your socks — through the winter season. Toss your earmuffs on the radiator, wrap your non-mouse hand around a mug of hot chocolate, and enjoy.

1. Buy snow chains.
Put them in the car before you drive two hours to the wilderness to go sledding.

2. Buy mittens. In bulk.
Your children will lose one approximately every 3.72 days.

3. Listen to the teacher.
When your son’s teacher sends a note home that he needs weatherproof pants to wear at recess, don’t ignore it. If you do, she’ll tell you, in detail, how he cried his beautiful brown eyes out over his wet jeans and socks.

4. Follow the New Yorker’s lead.
When driving in treacherous conditions, make sure to have a New Yorker in the car. Watch her. If she’s not flinching, gripping the armrest, or dialing a tow truck, chances are, you’re going to be okay. (Stop flinching, gripping the armrest, and wondering if you should call a tow truck.)

5. Bake for the neighbors.
When you back your car into the bushes and the tires refuse to free themselves from the roots and snow, it will become crystal clear to those around you (and possibly those on the next street over, depending on how loud your engine is) that you have no idea what you’re doing. Neighbors will come to your rescue. For more than an hour.

Bake for them. Bake lots. And use your super-secret-and-scarce cache of chocolate chips.

6. Boycott Facebook.
Do not, under any circumstances, read Facebook updates from friends who are wearing shorts, getting their RDA of Vitamin D, and walking to the mailbox without dodging icicles.

7. Look for the sleigh.
Your car is stuck in the snow near a picturesque village. Your children are either (1) unhappily frozen to their sled seats or (2) flailing in knee-deep drifts. Odds are even that a horse-drawn sleigh will come to your rescue. (In Romania, at least.)

8. Beware of the sun.
One day, the sun will finally burst through that gray infinity of sky. It will. And you will give in to the temptation to hang your laundry out. Then? You will get busy doing dishes, chauffeuring tiny people, rearranging boots to minimize snow meltage, sneaking spoonfuls of Nutella, and worrying about the snow-laden power lines outside.

You will forget your laundry. And, yes, it will be frozen.

*These tips may or may not be the direct result of personal errors. I’ll never tell.

Have you ever learned about winter the hard way? Ever gotten a talking-to from your child’s teacher? Ever frozen your skivvies?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

Magic Marks

January 25, 2012 at 10:45 am | Posted in Photo Tuesday, Transylvania | 27 Comments
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Dandelion

Atomic Tangerine

Midnight Blue

Brick Red

Unmellow Yellow

“Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A beauty bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air — explode softly — and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth — boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn’t go cheap, either — not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination.”
— Robert Fulghum

What crayola colors do you see in your part of the world? Which are bursting through the cold, dreary winter? And did you covet the box with the sharpener when you were a kid?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

Comfortably Numb

January 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Posted in Bun, Transylvania | 14 Comments
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Binkie. Paci. Soothie. Nuk. Around these parts, we call it a nummie.

And on Monday, we lost it. Lost it.

It happened during a sledding adventure that included an hour of squishing wiggly children into scarves and socks and snowsuits. Once bundled, we eked along an icy path behind their school. Six small mittened hands attached themselves to my elbows and pockets for a little extra purchase.

Finally, finally, we made it to the hill, where children with purple hats and orange coats and blue sleds flitted around like bits of confetti from a busted pinata. It started to snow. Of course it did.

Lollipop and Giggles walked halfway down as a friend coached them on beginner sledding techniques. They got on … pushed off … gathered speed … and crashed.

Sledding? Done.

Up next? Wipe tears. Distribute juice boxes. Cluck soothingly. Count children. Count mittens. Assess potential injuries. Pick up trash. Retie drooping scarf. Count children. Count mittens. Cluck soothingly. Pick up trash. Collect wandering baby. Reassess potential injuries. Count children. Count mittens …

Eventually we felt brave enough to trek back to the car. We blasted the heater. Buckled up. And wondered why the baby was screaming.

No nummie. No nummie anywhere. Not in the seat, under the seat, behind the seat, in his pocket, in my pocket, in the bag, in the parking lot, on the sidewalk, in the school, at the top of the hill, in his other pocket, in my other pocket. No. Nummie. Anywhere.

Which wasn’t all that bad, really, because I had more at home waiting to be sterilized. (Did you really think I’d move 6,000 miles away from Target for a whole year and not bring a couple of extra pacifiers?)

What I didn’t bring? An extra clip. You know, the thing that keeps the kid from chucking his pacifier on floors where giddy bacteria can hop on for a joy ride?

And our clip? Was with the nummie. Lost. Gone. Nowhere.

So I did what any self-respecting mom without access to FREE Super Saver Shipping would do. I went to Pinterest. And found this tutorial.

It required a scant eight materials. I had two of them. Still, I pressed on and MacGyvered something together out of felt, buttons, a hair band, and a clothes pin.

Is it durable? Probably not. Are the buttons a potential choking hazard? You bet.

But does it work? Oh, yes. Oh, yes, it does. We are all, finally, comfortably numb once again.

Have you ever lost something vital to the sanity of your household? Do you improvise well? And do you think gluing AND sewing the buttons on is enough to keep Bun from eating them??

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This post is part of MEP’s Real Women of Pinterest series. Join in as we celebrate collaborative creativity (and the power of glue guns).

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

Ice, Ice Babies

January 18, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Family, Photo Tuesday, Transylvania | 18 Comments
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“Hear! hear!” screamed the jay from a neighboring tree, where I had heard a tittering for some time. “Winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know where to look for it.” — Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau’s jay obviously knows something we don’t. We are winter novices. Where we come from? The city all but shuts down with the tiniest dusting.

So these daily snowfalls we’re having in Romania, these slick sidewalks and frozen trash-can lids, this maze of wet-boot tracks trailing through our apartment building … Well, it’s strange.

And not altogether pleasing.

We took the kids ice skating last weekend. My daughter fell and cut her hand before she’d even gotten in the rink. Before she’d even gotten her skates on. Things did not improve, tears were shed, and we soon headed for warmer ground. And frothy mugs of hot chocolate.

Yesterday, after school, we tried sledding. First time down the hill? The kids hit a bump, tumbled off, and face-planted in the snow. They could not be talked into a second run, no matter how much we coaxed and soothed. The only remedy was the car heater. Cranked on high. To sufficiently thaw frozen noses and eyelashes.

Yes, we are winter novices. And we are ready. For sun, for spring, for a day without perpetually wet mittens, for a day without mittens at all. It’s coming soon, right? Right??

Is there winter where you are? How do you (and your children) make the best of it? And how do you hold on till spring?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

Food for Thought

January 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Posted in Bun, Me, Transylvania | 14 Comments
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It took us 20 minutes to get out the door — unfold the stroller, find the lost mitten, refill the sippy cup, extract the blanket from the baby, go back for the charging cell phone — but Bun and I went for a walk last week.

It started to snow as we shuffled up the hill. Round, lacy flakes settled on the top of Bun’s boots like doilies on an armchair. Just enough fell to cover the icy, slushy muck piled on the edges of the road. We navigated past buses, taxis, and magazine stands, taking a left and a right and another left with only a vague idea of where we were headed.

But eventually, we found it, a little orange shack nestled close to the university dorms off Strada Republicii. Imprimante, the sign said. Through the open door, I could see copy machines lining every wall, purring happily as they spit hot toner fumes into the air.

I pulled out my USB stick and handed it to the guy inside the shop. He popped it into his computer, punched a couple of buttons, and sent my 200-page file whirring through one of the machines onto perfectly white double-sided A4 sheets.

We both stepped outside to wait. I distractedly entertained Bun and wondered if I had enough cash to cover my project. How much did copies cost in Romania anyway? The guy stood on the other side of the mat and lit up a cigarette.

While I furtively glanced around for a price list and tried to shield Bun from the secondhand smoke, a girl walked our way. She had on a hot pink jacket and a red knit hat. Her hands were tucked in her jean pockets, and her cheeks were rosy. I figured she was a student, just back from the holiday break, maybe about to cram for her physics exam.

She stopped at three large green dumpsters a few feet from us. I wondered if she had a juice bottle or a croissant wrapper from breakfast to throw away. Instead, she put her hands on the edge of one of the dumpsters and heaved herself into it. She tossed a couple of trash bags onto the sidewalk and jumped down beside them.

I turned away, shocked and a little revolted, as she ripped open the bags and began rummaging through them for something she could eat.

For 10 minutes or so, we stayed there. All four of us. Me staring fixedly at the yellow highlighters for sale on the back wall of the shop. Bun hollering for a rock from the sidewalk. The guy smoking his Marlboro Light. And the girl digging through the garbage. The oblivious copy machines hummed contentedly behind us.

Nobody said anything. The girl didn’t look at us. We didn’t look at her.

Eventually, my project finished and the guy stacked my papers and rang up my total: 21 lei. Seven bucks. For 200 copies. I marveled over how cheap it seemed and tucked the receipt into my wallet. Without really thinking, I grabbed some bills to give the girl and tugged the stroller through the gravel toward her.

Just around the corner was a little grocery store. A loaf of bread, bag of apples, and some chips would cost about three bucks. I knew because we often stopped there, my husband after the bus deposited him on our corner after work and me when I needed a pastry fix from the bakery inside.

The girl could easily buy food for a few days with what I would give her. But something stopped me.

Was it the warning a fellow expat had given me about Romanians and money, about the perceived mathematical and social gap between “rich” foreigners and “poor” locals? Was it my fear of making the girl feel ashamed? Was it my own embarrassment? Either way, I quietly stuffed the money into my glove and walked away.

Marshmallow-sized snowflakes continued to slink lazily down from the sky. The scent of freshly stacked reams of paper and the sound of wet, rustling plastic slowly faded as I pushed the stroller down the street, up the hill, and away from a kind of poverty I could no longer pretend didn’t exist.

What would you have done? What if you had been the girl? How do you reconcile social problems in your community with your own comfortable lifestyle?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

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