Good-bye 2008

Good-bye 2008. When I met you, I had just returned from 17-day solo adventure in SE Asia. I had been living with my Ukrainian boyfriend for 4 months. I had high hopes for my career at my then-current employer. My grandmother was still living. My sister wasn’t pregnant. And my brother still had some hearing in both ears.

And then, 2008, you came with gusto!! A romantic trip away with my boyfriend turned into a marriage proposal. I got married. My employment situation went downhill really fast. My grandmother died. I got married again (to the same man). I started a new job. My sister had a baby. My brother lost all his hearing in his right ear and had to get a cochlear implant. My Ukrainian now-husband got his green card. Started working. And finished his MBA. All my travels (of which there were many) were confined to the U.S. Christmas was a bust. New Year’s Eve Day has started off with cake and chocolate. Will end with quiet house parties. And tomorrow morning will be yet another year.

I feel a lot older now. And a lot more tired. And maybe, even, a lot more unsure about the world.

2008, you wore me out. You brought me great blessings and intense joys. But also, you tried my patience, deluged me with sorrows, and made me question what I really do want. And you’ve tethered me to commitments I never thought I would make. I leave you having no answers. But I will tell you this:  now, more than ever, I know who I am.

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The Ukrainian finishes his MBA

In all the hoopla of December travels and Christmas holiday-ing, I forgot to mention that the Ukrainian took the last final exam of his last term for his MBA on Tuesday December 16. Assuming he passed each one, his MBA in Finance degree should arrive in February.

Ideally, I’d like to think that this means we will have more time to spend together. But I don’t see my work getting any easier this winter. And the Ukrainian has already been laying out a study program to improve his English even more.

Some day all this will change. We will find a rhythm and a balance to spending our time together and apart.

Or, at least, I hope so.

Photos of our trip Back East

I’ve mentioned that we spent some time away back East. Here are some photos (and comments) from the trip.

The Ukrainian at the Lincoln Memorial

The Ukrainian at the Lincoln Memorial

The Christmas Hangover

Kung Pao Christmas

Kung Pao Christmas

This morning, I am awake feeling a bit raw and numb from the Ukrainian and mine’s inability to pull off a successful Christmas that was deliberately devoid of all traditions and expectations. For weeks, I had been confused as to why all the women on Facebook were fraughting over whether or not they would get “everything” done in time for Christmas. What is there to get done? I wondered. You buy a tree, string some lights, hang some ornaments. And then you go buy some presents (which can be conveniently done at midnight from Amazon. Free shipping!!). On Christmas Day, you open the presents and cook a big meal. Voila! Christmas in America.

(Sure, some people add more stress to the holiday. They take holiday photos of their pets children, upload them to a photo site, and then send out hundreds of Christmas cards. Others volunteer at retirement homes. While still others spend the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas baking endless batches of Christmas cookies and candy. But all this sounded like too much work to me. How can people enjoy their holiday, if they spend the months weeks prior working for it.)

But my ideal of throwing together a simple, no-fuss, yet super-yummy Christmas had a few flaws:

1) The Ukrainian would spend the 1st 1/2 of December preparing for his final exams while I would be studying new technology for my job. So no time prepare.

2) The Ukrainian and I would be on a mad tour of the East Coast  from the moment he finished his final exams until 1:30 a.m. December 23rd.

3) My thought that I wouldn’t have to work on December 24th and could thus recover from our E. Coast trip, go grocery shopping for our luscious Christmas dinner menu and a few last-minute gifts for the Ukrainian was thwarted by the fact that I learned on the 23rd that I *did* have to work on the 24th.  My opportunity to make it so much to a grocery store before its traditional early closing on Christmas Eve looked highly doubtful.

So on the eve of Christmas eve, I made an executive family decision. We would simply pretend we were Jewish. Or rather, we would take into account of the fact that 1/2 of our family is a Russian Orthodox Christian who doesn’t celebrate Christmas until January 7. Even then, a Russian Orthodox Christmas is merely a religious holiday and all gift-exchanges happen on New Year’s Day.

“Chinese food or Haute cuisuine Francaise?” I IMed the Ukrainian on Christmas Eve’s eve.

“Oh, Chinese for sure.” he replied.

Our fabulous Christmas dinner from 2007

Our fabulous Christmas dinner from 2007

“Are you sure you don’t mind we won’t have the Christmas salmon and all the other lush foods we were planning to have?” I felt the need in our young marriage to establish some sort of tradition. And last year, we cooked up a divine menu of Salmon-tarragon, risotto with caramelized leeks and sweet red bell peppers, a salad of mixed greens cranberries Maytag Blue cheese and caramelized walnuts and chocolate pecan bourbon pie. It was our best meal ever and I thought for sure the menu was destined to become the basis for all our future Christmas menus.

“Oh, I’m sure,” he said almost too eagerly. I could imagine him being so happy that there’d be no dishes to wash or kitchen to clean on the holiday. I, in the meantime, was sad that we wouldn’t be using my grandmother’s Bavarian china or the Tiffany’s silver that had been given to us on our wedding day. Remember, I thought. Remember the goal is a stress-free Christmas. For as much work as we’ve been doing, there’s been a lot of fun too. Who said we had to have instant traditions? We’d find our way…

Christmas Morning

The stockings hadn’t been hung and I awoke Christmas morning already feeling down. My late afternoon forays on Christmas Eve to find a few perfect trinkets to fill the Ukrainian’s stocking had been met with a bust. It never occurred to the Ukrainian either to hang and fill a stocking for me. I could forgive him as I couldn’t expect him to know all the English/American Christmas traditions in only his 2nd Christmas. But still…I had little in sense of anticipation.

And there was something else missing…there were no little ones rushing to our bed urging us to get up! get up! It’s Christmas!!! Let’s open presents!!! No, it was just the Ukrainian and I nestled snug under our down-filled duvet with our two lazy dogs asleep on the floor by the bed. The hours ticked by. 7 a.m. 8 a.m. 9 a.m. There was no hint of the Ukrainian awakening. No whinging from the dogs to be let out. 10 am. And still everyone was asleep. I was getting a headache from laying about so long doing nothing on a day that was supposed to be day greeted with excitement and anticipation and lots of eating and rushing about celebrating seemingly the pure joy of being alive and being surrounded by such great friends and family.

Finally, at 1/2 past 10, the brown dog stared us straight in the face with her emphatic look that can only be translated as “Give me my breakfast NOW!” The Ukrainian and I quickly conversed over who exactly should be the one to do dog-duty on the holiday. He was too tired. I was too depressed. Finally, we agreed we would suffer through it together and then head over to our local Chinese restaurant, Wild Pepper, for our own Christmas breakfast brunch.

And it was then that we began the sort of marital argument that plagues all newly married couples:  the division of labor for household chores.

It all started innocently enough. I rationalized that since we were experiencing a rare San Francisco winter’s day without rain, we should take the dogs to the park. The dogs seemed to agree and took off racing down the street leading to Dolores Park. The Ukrainian, however, was not so enthused. “The park is muddy. They’ll get dirty.” He whinged. I didn’t care. And I didn’t care to put enough thought into my reply. “So wash them! They’re dogs. They get dirty!” In my mind, as long as the dogs didn’t smell of dead rat or the like, I didn’t care if they had a bit of mud on them. We have hardwood floors. They, too, wash. But in the Ukrainian’s mind, he already spent too much time — a total of 3 hours or so a week on housework/dogcare — that he had no desire to do anymore.  In my mind, 3 hours was nothing.

The argument was one where we both had perfectly legitimate views. The dogs *did* need exercise. The Ukrainian *was* the one who did wash them when they became too filthy to cohabitate with us and thus *should* have a say in their dirt-level. But the reality of the discussion was that we were both too tired from our Grand Year of Perpetual Life Changes to take on any more responsibilities and couldn’t even handle the basic task hanging and filling stockings for Christmas Day. What right did we have to want to add a child to the mix? If taking care of 2 dogs was a lot of work, what did we think taking care of a child would be?

And so, in that moment, all our hopes for a grand, tradition-free Christmas busted. One of us stormed off. Doors were slammed upon the return to the house. The idea for the MSG-ladened Chinese brunch became impossible. When time for lunch came, we each took out a selection from our respective supplies of frozen dinners and silently shared the microwave. Each attempt at conversation threatened to explode our relationship to the breaking point. And, so, silence seemed the only option. It was not a Christmas of Peace, but rather one of a renewed Cold War whose battle lines had been drawn across the middle of our kitchen table — the one that had been desperately needing an oil for the past 3 months. But neither of us had gotten around to doing it.

I took a nap in the living room. The Ukrainian claimed his space in the bedroom. From time-to-time, one would deliver a package to the other and then walk away while the recipient was left to ponder whether to open the gift or not. Suddenly, no present seemed like the right present. There was nothing that could be given that would bridge the gulf that had opened up on Christmas morning. The Gift of the Magi we certainly were not. Each gift from one to the other seemed to suggest a frantic Christmas Eve afternoon spent trying to find few trinkets that would please the other in the final few hours before the shops closed. Neither of us had spent much time to acquire anything the other truly wanted. No sacrifice had been made.

Blini mix

Blini mix

Darkness came. A public dinner was still out of the question. A trip downtown to the theatres seemed an even worse idea. We did nothing. There was no Christmas spirit. No bigger meaning to be learned. We started to be nice to each other simply because we needed each other. The Ukrainian needed help making his blinis on which he wanted to put the caviar I had thrust in his hands earlier in the day. I needed help with the food processor so I could make a traditional Christmas Cheese Ball in an attempt to salvage some bit of Midwestern American tradition of out of holiday.

And finally, 9:30 p.m. came and we did the only thing anyone could do when they’ve had a no good, very bad, terrible day: go to bed and hope for something better tomorrow.

Caviar for the blinis

Caviar for the blinis

And now, it’s tomorrow. We have no good lesson to be learned other than the fact  the Ukrainian are still getting to know each other. We are still trying to find our way in our nascent marriage. We can’t instantly create traditions. And our marriage is strong enough to surive all these trying-to-find-our-way bits.

And, oh yeah, we have a housekeeper coming tomorrow for a trial run. The best solution to a fight-over-work-that-never-ends? Outsource it. It’s much, much cheaper than a divorce. And much better than fighting.

We’ve been away, away, away

Missed the Ukrainian and me? Well…there have been no posts because we’ve been away on the East Coast. Got back at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. We’ve been working since. Oh, and there was that little holiday called “Christmas” that I sort of wanted to rename to “Christbust”. Busy, busy. Will be telling you all about it. Shortly. Quite shortly.

Dutch Men Who Live with Their Parents

I don’t know who you are, but someone came to this blog looking for information on Dutch men who live with their parents.

Stop. Turn around. And go. You do NOT want to be with a Dutchman who lives with his parents. There are certain cultures in this world where people live with their parents until marriage and beyond. The Netherlands is NOT one of them!!! The boy has mother issues. (I don’t care if he’s 42, if he still lives with his parents, he’s a boy.)

The boy needs a mother and if you for some reason ends up cohabitating with him, he will expect you to be his mother, even if you have a job outside the home and are the sexiest little number to grace the land of cheese and tulip. And let me tell you, even if you are the most fab cook in the world and have won Top Chef three seasons running, your cooking will never be as good as his mothers.

“Oh, but I like him,” you say. Yeah, good. He’s human so he probably has some redeeming qualities. And perhaps you’re alone in a foreign country so you’re feeling a bit insecure. But you’re not his mother. And after you get over your initial loneliness and insecurities, you will meet a man who treats you for the fine young thing you are.

“But he has a reason…” What? He can’t do his own laundry? He just came back to Cloggie Land after rebuilding the dams of New Orleans and can’t find a new dam to rebuild and pay his rent? Uhm, no. The Dutch area very do-it-yourself kind of people. Go check out your nearest Doe-Het-Zelf or Gamma store for evidence.

The Dutch are not known for being the terribly most romantic people. But they are independant and reliable and will help you build that closet from Ikea. These skills might be lacking if all the closets in his house were built by his Dad in 1984.

So no. Do not date Dutch men who live with their parents. There are a lot of other hot, nice Dutch men out there who have their own place.

Our Kiev wedding soon?!?!

This morning the Ukrainian and I chatted briefly. We are ready to begin planning our Russian Orthodox wedding to take place in Kiev in the Spring!!! Yay! I am so excited. No details yet. The Ukrainian friend has to make some phone calls to Kiev this week and he is also in the middle of finals. But still…what was just an idea last spring is much closer to being a reality this spring.

* Perhaps this will be just what I need to kick myself in gear to get back on the learning Russian program come January.