SF Boho Chic: The Antithesis of Devushka Style

When the Ukrainian and I first met, I was easing out of my Boho chic into…well, I wasn’t sure what fashion icon to follow in this finicky, laid-back, yet sophisticated city of San Francisco. But I shouldn’t have feared. Through the Ukrainian, I learned how real Ukrainian and Russian women dress:  short tight mini-skirt, stilettos (stiletto boots in the winter) and super-tight skin-baring tops.

As a male friend of mine commented that summer upon his return from Russia, “Russian women dress like hookers!”

faux black patent leather coat and gold patent strappy stilettos

My winter devushka wear: faux black patent leather coat and gold patent strappy stilettos (yes, this is me in the photo)

I explained to the Ukrainian that I couldn’t exactly dress for work in the uniform he outlined above, but I wasn’t unafraid to add a few sexier elements to my fashion repetoire. I am open-minded and was willing to adapt to Russian-Ukrainian culture as he adapted to American culture. And so, upon his encouragement, I soon added pieces like a faux patent leather trench coat by Calvin Klein for my winter rainwear, patent gold stilettos strappys from ?Guess? for our civil wedding ceremony, a shiny black and royal blue halter top for our winter house parties and so forth.

I was comfortable with these choices and limited their wear to social occasions and kept my work wardrobe relatively professional. But then, tonight, by mere coincidence yet in keeping with our New Years resolution of not being too dependent and controlling, we found ourselves having separate dinner plans.

I was uncertain what to wear. It would be a quiet dinner for me with a friend in a local Mission restaurant. I’d been lounging/working all day in my navy blue grub cords and yellow waffle knit tee from from GAP and a big oversized grey sweater from Esprit — not exactly haute couture or cutting-edge Mission hipster-ware. But damn, it was cozy. I couldn’t bring myself to go all-out devushka.

Not necessarily Ukrainian approved

Boho chic: Not necessarily Ukrainian approved

And so I went to my closet looking for anything that could save my “I went to high school in rural Iowa and haven’t mentally graduated yet” look for a quiet evening out in San Francisco’s Mission District sans husband. And there I saw it: the prized posession of my Boho chic fashion days, a vintage yellow floral baby doll picked up at Ambiance on 24th Street for less than dinner for two. It fit my loose cords and yellow waffle perfectly. I added my Marc Jacobs sweater to keep warm. And to devuskha it up? Over it all, I wore my new Robert Rodriguez ink-colored leather jacket.


Boho chic goes devushka

Boho chic goes devushka

Actually, in looking at these two latter photos, I see the essence of my own personal style with hints of the Ukrainian’s influence. I think that is the balance of what we are trying to achieve in our marriage:  one in which we are both still our own people, but positively influenced by the other.

Moments: Example #1 on why I love my Ukrainian husband

Monday night ~10 pm. I am laying in bed watching the closing credits of “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Part 2”. It’s a chick flick, girl-power, aimed at teens and young women. I know this. But I had rented it off of ITunes the night before to watching on my IPhone while at the gym. Now, I am finishing it up. The Ukrainian is in the South Bay at a technical business conference. The dogs are asleep on the floor next to the bed on their own beds.

I am crying a bit.

Why? Because in one of the final scenes, the friends of the Alexis Bledsel character ask her why she won’t take back the beautiful, kind man who loves her so.

“Because he broke my heart!!!” she cries out, sobbing uncontrollably afterwards.

Because he broke my heart. How often have we each felt like that? Once? Twice? A thousand times over and over again? Or maybe just the once or twice and then never again. Because we are too afraid to love.

That was me barely 2 years ago. It had become an annual birthday occurrence 3 years running to be truthful. Oh, sometimes it there were more pieces on the floor than others. But the pain. Oh the pain. Even the little breaks were just enough to crack open all the other little pieces that had been shattered before.

By the time I met the Ukrainian, I was done. I wanted a boyfriend to have fun with, but I had just finally sealed myself all up to not need anybody but myself. Love? I could sort of say the word, I could just about almost but not quite mean it.  But feel it?  Feel the tenderness and the care and devotion for another or that s/he has for you. No. I felt smothered. I wanted to be free. I didn’t even know the way into being a heartfelt, warm human being again.

Repeatedly, I told the Ukrainian “Love needs room to grow” whenever I thought we were spending too much time together or he was being too affectionate. I didn’t want to fall in love.

You might think that because the Ukrainian and I got married and we have lots of fun and I finally let myself love him and he has always loved me that all is fine and good now. But no, you would be very mistaken to think that. Frequently, I still find myself shutting him out. Sometimes, I immerse myself in my work or in CWTV marathons. Other times, I become overly obsessed about the tidiness of our house or in the status updates of all my friends on Facebook. Sometimes, I simply write in this blog, when I should be spending time with him.

But often, I have no choice. The Ukrainian is finishing the last term of his schooling and he is working a full-time job. His time at home is limited. My old call to “Love needs room to grow,” does not get spoken so often anymore. If anything, I long for his presence, his smile, his witty humor unlike any I’ve ever encountered before. And, in the uncertain economic times, I truly do think to myself, “It will all be ok, because I have the Ukrainian.

Sometimes though, I just don’t show him enough of these thoughts. I don’t act how I feel. I am afraid to fully let down the walls that would keep my heart from getting completely shattered if anything were ever happen to him.

And then, Monday night, I watched Alexis Bledsel cry, “Because he broke my heart!” over why she couldn’t let herself love a particular man again.

But the Ukrainian hasn’t broken my heart. If anything, he does all that he can so that it will heal.

And, and minutes later, after the Alexis Bledsel scene, the phone rang. It was the Ukrainian.

“Where are you?” I asked, hoping it would only be another few minutes before I saw him again.

“I am driving on 101 by Menlo Park. I will be home in 40 minutes.”

“So late?” I asked, disappointed that I’d most likely be sleeping by then.

“Yes, but I have the car until tomorrow. Do you want to go Ocean Beach?”

“Tomorrow? When I have to work. Or do you mean tonight at midnight?”

“Tonight, he replied. “Tonight at midnight, let’s go to Ocean Beach.”

“Ok,” I responded after carefully weighing how tired I’d feel the next day at work after going to the beach in the middle of the night and then throwing all the weight off. For really, what did it do besides get in the way?

“Really? You want to go to Ocean Beach?” The Ukrainian was used to me not wanting to let go of any control in my life ever…my sleeping time…my work productivity…anything. Little did he know how spontaneous I was before I had lost myself to heartbreak.

“Really. I want to go to Ocean Beach with you at midnight.”

We didn’t go to Ocean Beach that night. Indeed, I had fallen asleep by the time he arrived home despite my best abilities not to. And he told me in the morning he’d been up until 3 studying. But it didn’t matter. In our dreams, we were at the beach. And in reality, I momentarily gave up control and my fear of what will happen if I fully let myself love my husband.

I just hope the beach is still there at another midnight. That fear, I still can not yet lose.

Thankful for English Improvements by the Ukrainian

When the Ukrainian and I first, he did not speak English very well. He could read it with great comprehension. He could listen and fully understand almost everything being said. But when it came to speaking (and to a certain extent, writing), I couldn’t understand him at all. His accent was thick. His grammar lacking. When I could understand his words, I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. Phrases like “What are you doing yesterday?” really meant “What did you do today?”. When he met my friends and they asked him how long he had been in the States, he would answer, “I am here for 3 months” when really he meant to say “I have been here for 3 months.”

The Ukrainian was dreamily cute and he was nice. These were all that mattered. I wasn’t looking for someone to “complete me”. And I didn’t need to be saved. All I wanted was someone fun to go out with who would treat me well. And the Ukrainian more than delivered on those accounts. But still, sometimes I wondered…What is going on inside that head of his? Anything? I knew he had a PhD in Economics from Kiev University, so I knew he must be smart. But due to the language barrier, we kept our conversations simple. “I want to go to the beach!” “When do you want to meet?” “What are you doing yesterday?” So we went to the beach and the movies and to Dolores Park where he would carry me around on his back while the dogs ran around us in circles.

Then, one afternoon, after he picked me up at work, he tried to explain something about economics to me. I *think* it might’ve been about his thesis. But maybe it was about an article he had read in a news magazine. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was for the first time he was trying to communicate to me about something other than the concrete here and now. I was relieved. And I had hope. Someday, I knew, we would have real conversations about anything and everything under the sun.

But “someday” did not equivocate to “the next day”. Evening after evening, he would ask me English questions. Happy, at first, to help. I began to resent the constant additional demands on my brain. I wanted our relationship to be relaxing, not ongoingly academic. I put a moratorium on the English questions: No English questions after 10 p.m. Only 3 English questions while watching a movie. The Ukrainian was hungry. He wanted to be fluent in English “right now”. I merely wanted to have a conversation where we both understood each other.

Sometimes my lack of understanding would cause frustration. I would ask him to repeat a word over and over again, hoping to try to understand what he was saying. He soon learned to spelled out the letters and I would explain how to pronounce it. He would repeat the word into his voice recorder, hoping to get it right and trying to burn the correct pronunciation into his memory. During our phone conversation, I found myself picking the simplest English words so he would hopefully better understand what I was trying to say. It was hit or miss whether we would fully understand each other on where to meet, when to meet, how to get someplace, what should be picked up from the store, etc. It was exhaustingly frustratiing. Sometimes I would break down in tears. I would cry into the phone, “I can’t understand you, I don’t know what you want.”

But the Ukrainian persevered. He kept his weekly appointment with his private English tutor. He made charts of English grammar. He made word lists and looked them up and not only memorized their meanings, but practiced their usage. He got a job working only with other native English speakers, so he had other styles to listen to. In time, the questions became fewer. The tears of frustration being cried into the phone stopped. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point correcting the Ukrainian’s English became a footnote in any conversation rather than being the subject of the conversation itself, or worse, being the conversation stopper.

Then, Wednesday night, the Ukrainian and I needed to go to Whole Foods downtown to purchase some fine foods for the Thanksgiving Feast. Not knowing how crowded the store would be or how long it would take us to complete our shopping, we opted to take BART (the regional train) rather than rent a ZipCar so we would not be pressured for time.

We had just sat down in our seats when the Ukrainian asked, “Are you feeling inspired?”

“Yes, why?”

“I want to ask you some English questions.”

“Ok, sure. I will do my best to answer them.” My brain was feeling relaxed. I had worked from home that day. And, I realized, it had been ages since he had asked me any English questions.”

He took out our grocery list. On the back of it, he had made some notes of several different kinds of sentences.

“When you mean X, is it better to say Y or Z?” he asked.

“Either way is correct, but Y sounds more natural and native,” I responded.

“What about when you mean B, is it better to say C or D?”

“Same thing as X, Y, and Z. C sounds more natural and native, but D is correct as well.”

“What about J? Which way is better to say?” he continued. His questions regarded phrases like “down the hall”, “email it to you”, “cc me on it”, and other office-related speak.

“Oh, that one is different. That verb is intransitive so there aren’t 2 ways to do it. And you need to change the preposition to sound more native. The other preposistion is correct, but doesn’t sound as natural.”

Suddenly, I realized most of his questions were questions of style, not of correctness. How far we had come in the past year and a half. He had made the transition from trying to speak English correctly, to trying to speak it natively. Wow!

“One more question,” he said. “When do you use ‘well’ and when do you use ‘good’. How do you know which one to use?”

“Oh, that’s a hard one. A lot of native English speakers get it wrong, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”

“But how do you know?” He really wanted to speak English well — not good.

I struggled to remember the rule that ‘well’ modifies the verb and ‘good’ modifies the noun. But before I could put the words together in a way that made sense, the BART train screeched to a halt at the Powell St. stop.

“Ok, English lesson over. Let’s go get some food!” I answered.

We walked in the brisk night air down 4th Street. With the cessation of our English lesson, our conversation turned to our hopes and dreams for our life together. It was not an unfamiliar conversation. All week we had been discussing what sort of car would we buy if we decided to get one (Honda Fit, Volkswagen Rabbit, and Honda CRV are our top 3 choices). We often daydream about buying a house. (Currently unaffordable in San Francisco city proper on our salaries). But on Wednesday evening, our dreams turned from the concrete material to the philosophical. We don’t want our lives to be weighed down bills and financial obligations. We do want to travel a lot. We do want our not-yet conceived child to be multilingual.

These exact threads of conversation were not entirely new. We had discussed them before. But in shorter, more spurtful ways. But on our walk from 4th and Market to 4th and Harrison, we discussed them in-depth. Philosophically. Dreamily. We discussed them in a way where the Ukrainian did not have to struggle for his words. I did not have to limit my word choices to simpler English. We spoke at a native level.

And it was dreamy.

It did occur to me then that I got very lucky with the Ukrainian. It was always clear that he’s a very nice guy. What wasn’t clear was whether or not we had much in common on a more intellectual level. We don’t agree on vegetarianism vs. eating meat. He drove an SUV when we first met (it has since been junked) while I was all about car-sharing and bicycle riding. And while some of these differences seem large, they don’t seem so large as to what could’ve gone wrong in our relationship once he possessed enough English for us to truly disagree. His expression in English could’ve pushed us apart rather than brought us further together.

And so, I must say, that with each new level of English the Ukrainian reaches, I love him all the more. I am all the more impressed by what a great guy I married.

And I’m thankful.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Williams-Sonoma: You make it look so easy

Oh so easy Ebelskivers

Oh so easy Ebelskivers

Oh Williams-Sonoma, you make it look so easy. You dazzle me with luscious foods that look oh-so easy to make if I simply come into your store and drop a benjamin on some special tools and mixes. You say, “Oh yes, you too can look the part of a gourmet cook with no effort at all!” Usually I’m pretty good at resisting your tempting ways. Everyone knows that Sur La Table has better deals on kitchen supplies and it’s where the real cooks go. Besides, I’m a pretty fab cook and baker on my own accord and I own enough tools to outfit 1953 housewife with 6 kids and an executive husband who likes to entertain clients in the home. But none of this was enough to resist a sultry Ukrainian husband who looked down at your catalog we received in October and declared, “I want that!” pointing to your beautiful picture of perfectly rounded and stuffed Ebelskivers:  Danish filled pancakes.

Now the Ukrainian isn’t much of an asker. He’s a giver, always bringing flowers, perfume and whatever else my little heart desires. Rarely does he ask for anything. So when he does, I truly do my best to deliver.

Prepwork

The KitchenAid mixer from our wedding registry

The KitchenAid mixer from our wedding registry

(Earlier in the day, I made homemade vanilla pudding to stuff the Ebelskivers. Sadly, I have no pictures of that. )

First order of business was to whip out the new KitchenAid Empire Red Artisan Stand Mixer we had bought the prior week. We had put it on our wedding registry as it seems you can no longer be married in America anymore without possessing such an appliance, but no one gave it to us. So we finally bit the bullet and bought it ourselves.

The Ukrainian unpacks the KitchenAid

The Ukrainian unpacks the KitchenAid

Here, the Ukrainian unpacks the KitchenAid. It is his rightful duty as a man to help out his wife who is cooking him beautiful stuffed pancakes. 😛

*Surely you realize that I am kidding here with the sexist tone of language.

mekitchenaid Here I am working quite hard on mixing up the Ebelskiver batter. Unfortunately, there are no pics showing how 3 separate bowls are required to make these babies. One for the egg yolks, butter, and milk. A second for whipping up the egg whites (which then fell flat for me because I was juggling bowls.) And a 3rd to fold it all in together with the dry ingredients. Must buy more KitchenAid mixer bowls now. Oh wait, no. No more shopping for me anytime soon because I have been busy buying shoes (see post to come in the future)

Gross! in my opinion. Yum! In the Ukrainian's.

Once I gave the batter a good whipping, mixing, and folding, I tasted it. Gross! Honest to God, I do not like Ebelskiver batter. My first temptation was to add more vanilla, maybe some sugar — anything to get rid of this oatey-barley-bitter flavor. But before I could reach into my pantry shelf for some nice sweets, the Ukrainian rushed, grabbed my arm, took it was from the sweets shelf, and had his own taste of the batter. “Ohhhh…this is good. Do. not. change. it” The Ukrainian loved the very flavor I had just choked on. And people wonder why we do not share so very many meals together? And why I don’t put on my 1953 wifely-talents to use more often?

Gross! in my opinion. Yum! In the Ukrainian’s

And then I almost set the kitchen on fire
I followed the Williams-Sonoma instructions precisely. How could anything go wrong? Unfortunately, I don’t think the instructions took into account that I’d be using their very modern coated ebelskiver pan over a circa 1939 Wedgewood open flame stove.

So much bubbling butter. So much bubbling batter. There is an open flame beneath it all.

So much bubbling butter. So much bubbling batter. There is an open flame beneath it all.

I tried reducing the amount of butter (thank god it wasn’t oil), and that did decrease the scariness factor in the cooking. But, in turn, it increased the burning factor of the ebelskivers. I was frightened that the Ukrainian would come in and see the brown-black ebelskivers with pudding leaking out of them and turn his nose up at them and then just politely eat one. That’s what I would’ve done. They looked pretty gross to me.

I present the slightly-burnt, leaking Ebelskivers to the Ukrainian.

I present the slightly-burnt, leaking Ebelskivers to the Ukrainian.

I called the Ukrainian into the kitchen for his sweets. But before I could even apologize for the sorry mess of his much-desired treats, the Ukrainian exclaimed, “Baby! Those look soooo good.” And, let me tell you, the Ukrainian wasn’t bullshitting. I know his bullshit. He has that beautiful Russian way of smiling and agreeing to everything good, when really he is thinking “No way in hell.”

The Ukrainian takes a bite.

The Ukrainian takes a bite.

The Ukrainian did not choke on the first ebelskiver, so he happily eats another.

The Ukrainian did not choke on the first ebelskiver, so he happily eats another.

The Ukrainian is quite satisifed with his ebelskivers.

The Ukrainian is quite satisifed with his ebelskivers.

I am pleased to report that out of 21 ebelskivers made on Sunday, the Ukrainian ate 10 of them that night. 5 on Monday morning. And the remaining 6 that Monday evening. Then, over the course of the next few 2 days, he ate all the remaining vanilla pudding — not once thinking I might want some pudding. He truly is a hero!

Hi! :)

I think I read once that happy people don’t write. That saying should be rephrased that super-happy, really-busy people don’t write. I’ve started a couple of entries, but haven’t had a chance to finish them. Why?

1) I started a new project at work last Monday. Getting my head wrapped around a bunch of technologies that are either new to me or I haven’t used in years always drains me mentally (sometimes physically too).

2) After the wedding in July, I kept eating as if everyday were a wedding feast with the all the dancing and commotion that usually keeps the feast from sticking to the hips. But…uh…the new job and all the other changes in my life kept me from dancing, and bicycling, and hiking, and everything else that usually keeps me on the slimmer side of the average American adult woman. So now my jeans are a bit tight. While my weight is still perfectly healthy and not-at-all-fat on the BMI scale, I don’t feel like putting on jeans in the morning and I’m afraid that my mini-skirts have become a bit more mini with the added baggage on the behind. Soooo….I’ve kicked it up a gear and have been making a conscious effort to resume my active lifestyle: e.g., bike to work, weights at the gym several times a week, long walks with the dogs after work, etc., etc. This adjustment doesn’t leave much energy for lounging on the sofa writing freestyle. Lounging on the sofa tends to turn into passing out on the sofa and regaining consciousness at 5:30 a.m. to do it all over again.

3) The Ukrainian and I have been having lots of fun together. We’ve been to Mt. Diablo, a party in East Palo Alto, late lunch in Little Italy, jeans shopping (to have something comfortable to wear while I work on reducing my rear load). These have all been bloggable adventures with pictures (well maybe not the rearview of the jeans trying-on expedition), but I’m usually too tired from it all to want to record it.

4) Lastly, of course, the Obama victory. Every dog with a blog has been writing their joy over this. I too was happy. I literally cried tears of happiness. The Ukrainian had a slightly different reaction. This difference gave me a huge pause for thought. I started to write about it, but then #s 1 -3 got in the way. I promise, promise once the SF winter rain begins again, I will become all melancholic and complete the entry.

Now, for what it’s worth, I am no longer homesick for the midwest. Sure, I miss my family and certain friends. And I miss being around the most honest, salt-of-the-earth people that surely walk the face of this earth. But every single person I know there seems to be complaining about a broken furnace. And they’re cold. Meanwhile, I am going to go ride my bike to work in the (relatively) warm California sun

Toodles y’all!

Nerves: Green Card interview

I didn’t think I would be so nervous about our green card interview. Anyone who has ever seen the Ukrainian and I together know how much we love each other. Indeed, this blog is almost an on-going testament to our love rather than its original purpose: charting my course in trying to learn the Russian language. But then, late last night, we had a mad-dash to get our wedding photos printed. We walked from the Noe Walgreens to the Castro Walgreens, looking for one that could print our photos so late at night — the night before we so urgently needed them for our Green Card interview.

Of course, we bickered. “Why is everything always left to the last minute?” “Why are we always so frantic whenever there is anything important to be done with a deadline?” “The wedding was just like this!” The accusations and questions flew. But they were half-hearted, not cruel. Each one punctured by nervous laughs. The situation was just too important to have a go at a proper fight.

But then, the Ukrainian asked, “What are we going to say?”

“What do you mean what are we going to say? We’ll just answer whatever they ask.” They being the INS/USCIS. Bureaucrats who had the power to make our lives miserable just because they could.

“But are you going to tell them about the time we fought about XYZ?”

“No, no, we’ll leave that out.”

“What about the fact that you sometimes fall asleep on the sofa.”

“But then I wake up later and come join you bed so it’s fine.”

“I don’t think you should mention the sofa.”

“But if they ask. What if they ask if we always sleep in the same bed? What am I going to say. What if they take us into separate rooms and ask us these questions? I can’t lie. I am a terrible liar.” I don’t have a moral issue with lying. Indeed, I have a certain respect for people who clam up and keep their truths to themselves. But, I can’t. I start to and then I twist my words so that I tell the truth even when I am lying. I’m a terrible liar.

“You would never survive in Kiev or Moscow. Everyone lies there. You have to in order to survive.” Ah yes, that Soviet mentality that didn’t just die with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“I didn’t say I’m not naturally suspicious of people. I just assume everyone is lying to me if there is any doubt in the matter. Unfortunately, I just can’t lie back.”

While I couldn’t exactly say I had been looking forward to putting our personal lives on display for the INS, I hadn’t exactly been worried about it. But this conversation with the Ukrainian….this attempt to repackage our lives into some sort of perfect storybook tale free of blemishes and flaws made me ill to my stomach. If our stories differed at all, the INS would have no problem making our lives as difficult as possible in forcing us to prove we have a bona-fide marriage — to prove that the Ukrainian didn’t marry me for a green card. The validity of our relationship had been on trial since the day we got engaged — the U.S. Government would not be the first to ask, “How do you know the marriage is not for the Green Card”, my family and friends had asked that plenty of times. But only the U.S. government had to the power to say, “No. We don’t think your husband loves you. He needs to go back to Ukraine.”

It was with this foreboding mood, I took the DVD with the photos chronicling our lives and weddings into the Walgreens at Castro and 18th Street. I explained to the man behind the photo counter that I needed the photos printed quite urgently. “Would it be possible to get them tonight?” I asked, letting my desperation show in my voice.
“Oh, that’s no problem. I can have them for you in about an hour. How many are they?” he replied.
“200.”
His eyebrows raised. An urgent order on 200 photos in the middle of the night. Whatever could they be?
“My husband and I have our Green Card interview with the INS tomorrow. We need to show them we are truly married and in-love. These are the photos to do that.”
“My colleague here went through that,” the photo counter man responded.
“Oh really?” I acted enthused. I didn’t much care, but I figured the nicer I was to the photo counter man, the quicker he’d be about getting my photos printed.
“Yeah, he did. He married a woman who worked here as well. But the INS didn’t believe they were truly married. They thought my friend was gay since he lived here in the Castro. The INS even went over to their house to make sure that they were both living there. Made sure all his clothes were there and whatnot.”
The photo counter man had my attention now. Oh God, what if went through the same. I mentally envisioned our 3 closets. My wardrobe and assorted belongings took up over 2 of them. The Ukrainian, the ultimate minimalist, took up almost no room when he moved in. And our recent housecleaning effort led him to throw out any piece of paper or memento he had accumulated in the past year that he hadn’t deemed a true “need”. How would anyone be able to tell that we hadn’t just thrown his few clothes into a closet and a few books on a shelf and said he lived with me. His physical footprint on my life was small — marked more by the gifts he had given me than any sort of personal physical treadmarks on our joint belongings. But his emotional footprint was quite large.
“Oh wow, that must’ve been really tough.” I didn’t ask how the investigation turned out. I didn’t want to leave myself open for hearing bad news. “How long will it be before the photos are done printing?”
“An hour. Maybe a bit more.”
“Thanks.” I smiled, hurriedly. I wanted to be nice in order to get the photos. But the nausea in my stomach had grown more intense. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the Walgreens and breathe fresh air.

The Ukrainian was waiting for me outside with our 2 dogs. I told him how long it would be before the pictures would be ready.
“How many pictures did you give them to print?”
“200”
“You are crazy!! We are going to have the most pictures anyone has ever taken to the INS!”
“Better too many than not enough.” I was too risk-averse than to not have a picture for any moment in our life together that had to be proven as true.

…..

The Ukrainian waits at Samovars with the dogs for our wedding photos for INS to finish printing at the Castro Walgreens.

The Ukrainian waits at Samovars with the dogs for our wedding photos for INS to finish printing at the Castro Walgreens.

We decided to wait out the photoprocessing at the Samovar Tea Lounge at 18th and Sanchez. A bar would’ve been more appropriate, but we had the dogs with us. Although he’s usually a positive person, the Ukrainian was not feeling so happy. He made fun of the place for calling itself “Samovar” — a sort of Slavic or Central Asian tea kettle — but not having a samovar on the premises. I pointed out the Samovar on the counter by the cash register. But he had a point. It didn’t seem the water was boiled in a samovar. It was just a catchy name for advertising.

The tea lounge also had a Russian food plate, but the Ukrainian wasn’t interested. We shared a salmon caesar salad. My nerves from the upcoming interview had been upped by the Walgreens photo counter man. I couldn’t eat. I spent our wait chatting with the Ukrainian about mostly nothing and picking the salmon bits out of my share of the salad to give to the dogs. We kept looking at our watches. Is it time? Is it time, we wondered. Is it time for the photos? Is it time to get the government seal of approval for our marriage? Is it time to truly start planning for a baby? Is it time to plan for our trip back to Kiev for our Russian Orthodox wedding? Is it time to get on with our lives. Is it time to stop waiting. Is it time?

The conversation turned to our planned Orthodox wedding in Kiev. How many people could we expect to come? How much would it cost? How would we budget for it? What happens if I get pregnant first? Would I really want to endure such a long journey and unknown culture while with child. We could only decide that if I become pregnant soon, then we would postpone the wedding to 2010 and have a baptism and wedding the same week. But if I don’t become pregnant soon, the baby itself will have to wait.

Waiting. That is all I feel like we do sometimes. We wait for the Ukrainian to graduate. We wait for the Green Card. We wait for him to get another raise. We wait to save money. Wait and wait and wait. Tomorrow, it seemed — we hoped — tomorrow could be the end to one of our waits.

Our wait for the photos came to the end. We paid our bill, leaving the money outdoors on the table, hoping no one would take it before the waitress found it. But I suspected she was waiting for us to leave. She must’ve been watching us. So I didn’t truly worry. The Ukrainian did, but I reassured him that no one who waits tables is so naive to leave their tables unwatched. We walked back to the Walgreens at 18th and Castro. I picked up the photos and purchased a small, cheap album that looked sort of wedding-ish. The photo counter man looked a bit at my photos before handing them to me: “The INS will believe you. This is a beautiful wedding.”
“I hope so,” I replied, tired. It was too late now to gather anymore evidence of our love. What we had is what we had.
And so the Ukrainian and I returned home with the dogs to sleep. And to wait. And to hope that maybe the beginning of the end of our waiting had begun.

Making space for the not-yet-conceived baby

One night, early in the summer of 2007 before the brown doggie became sick or the Ukrainian began living at my — now our — house, the Ukrainian and I took my two dogs out for their late-night walk down Fair Oaks Street in San Francisco. Being so late, I was tired. I wanted the dogs to do their business and then quickly return home and go to bed. But the dogs did not sense my urgency. After taking care of their business, they wanted to sniff every leaf of every bush along the way.

“C’mon…” I chided at every bush. I tugged on their leashes, urging them — no, dragging them — towards 24th St, trying to reach our flat. My patience wore thin. Not now, I thought. Tomorrow morning, I wil take you for a nice walk. For now, LET’S GO!!! My chiding turned into whining. My words to the dogs became shorter, harsher. My tugs on the leash grew stronger.

“Here, let me walk them,” said the Ukrainian gently, reaching to take the leashes from my hands. “You are tired.” And with those words, I stopped in surprise. Here is a man who understands me. Here is a man who wants to make a situation better, not exacerbate it. There was no judgement in his voice. He was not looking for me to be the eternally ever-patient doggy mommy. I fell a little bit more in love with the Ukrainian at that moment.

**********

Anyone who has ever lived with me or spent much time with me in the off-hours of the night know that there is a point when my mind and body just stop. Like a two-year-old, I can keep going and going and doing and doing and talking and listening until BAM! my mind shuts down, my eyes close mid-sentence, and suddenly I cease to be. The fury/wrath suffered by he who dares to push me past my mental and physical limit is strong enough to deter the transgressor from ever wanting to push me gain. Nobody wants to deal with a 2 year-old in a grown woman’s body.

The greatest joys and challenges from marriage (or any sort of committed, domestic partnership) is being forced to look in the mirror and seeing your own weaknesses. Alone, you can let your quirks and nuances and varying neuroses play out however they will, or control your environment so much that these varying particulars to your personality can sleep as never challenged — but together with another’s putting up with yourself and altering your environment by their mere presence, suddenly you are forced to look in the mirror and say “My, don’t I look ridiculous!”

And so there I was on Saturday night. I was looking for the tweezers. They had been missing for a week and I had a couple of stray hairs I increasingly wanted to be rid of with each day that passed without the tweezers being found. I searched the medicine cabinet, of course. And moved on to the coffee table. And the computer desk in the living room. I left out the kitchen — for never in my life, could I remember, ever tweezing anything in the kitchen. I searched the bedroom. The bookshelves and the nightstand. Surely, they would be on the nightstand. I shifted the stacks of unread mail and NetFlix envelopes around and AHA! I found the opened tweezers case, but no tweezers. Inspired by this hopeful clue, I searched the nightstand more frantically for the tweezers, shoving aside the orchid plant that our Ukrainian florist had given us for our wedding (as a token, I’m sure, to make us feel better for spending so much on something as fragile as flowers) and had been sitting on our nightstand ever since…and that’s when I saw it. IT. The multi-circular water stains left by the pot from three months of twice-weekly waterings.

I lost it. It was 11:30 at night. Our house was cluttered. Dirty, even. Below me was a piece of furniture that was less than six months old that was already tarnished. I looked around the bedroom and saw the clothes that had been pulled off late-at-night strewn across the bookshelves. One leg of the bedframe had been gnawed on by our black dog in June. We had yet to repair it. In the living room, the center of the floor was taken up by an extra-large drying rack on which the clothes we washed the day before hung. I was certain there must be dirty dishes in the sink. Suddenly, our large 1 BR 19th century Victorian railroad-style flat seemed small enough to crush me. My inner control-freak unleashed by my year spent in the ever-so-tidy Netherlands wasn’t pleased.

I sat down on the floor. Collapsed, rather. The metaphysical, existential weight of our cluttered house had crushed me after all. I started crying in despair — where would I ever begin to make sense of this mess? Would there ever be an end to my cleaning once it began? Should I hire someone? No, I couldn’t hire someone. They wouldn’t know what to do with all the clothes, the mail, and all the other seemingly random tidbits to our lives, many of which weren’t even needed.

“Baby, what’s wrong?”

“This. This is wrong.” I spread my hands out so that he could see all the clutter I could see. “I can’t live like this.”

“Baby, it’s fine. It’s late. We’ll tidy up the house tomorrow. First thing in the morning. Now let’s go to bed.” The Ukrainian has sensed my inner two-year-old had woken up and his 33 year-old rational wife had gone to sleep.

“No, no. We need to start now. If we start in the morning, it will never get done.” With these words, I got up from the bedroom floor and went into the living room, determined to tackle the clean, dry clothes hangin on the drying rack that was taking up half our living room floor and was contributing to my claustrophobia. I folded until I reached shirt #4. I remembered then why there clothes everywhere in our house. My closet — which was just off the kitchen — had become the spot we put everything that didn’t have a spot. In recent weeks, it had become so full that I could no longer reach my clothing rack and drawers. Nor did the laundry basket have a spot in it any longer. The closet was the root of all our problems. I knew my limits enough not to begin such a large task so late at night.

I returned to the bedroom. The Ukrainian was curled up on our bed with the chewed-up leg. I laid down next to him, spooning his back. Our bodies lied perpendicular to the bed’s head so that our heads all but touched the bedroom’s wall. The time was pushing midnight. The Ukrainian was tired from working 2 jobs and going to school full-time. I was tired from my new job, traveling, a persistent two-week cough, and the feeling that I was supposed to keep it together. All. The. Time.

“I can’t live like this,” I said. My voice calmer than it had been a 1/2 hour before.

“I know,” he said. “We will fix it.”

“How can we be talking about having a baby when we can’t even keep our own lives together?”

And from that question, my two-year-old self went back to sleep and my grown up rational adult self re-emerged. The Ukrainian and I began to communicate as a couple — as hopeful-parents-to-be. How would we manage our lives so that our apartment is one where we could have a baby and keep it safe? How would we share the day-to-day housekeeping responsibilities between ourselves so that our house wouldn’t continue in its chaos? And what things could each of us do to make the other happy, so that any theoretical child we might have would grow up in a harmonious household and not be subject to histrionics. And where, oh where, would we put the baby?

I looked at the bookshelves hidden under a pile of clothes across from the bed. “I was thinking there…” I said pointing. “We could get rid of the shelves and everything on them and put the baby there. The crib. And maybe a changing table…” my voice trailed off…

“Next to the window?” the Ukrainian asked. “But that wouldn’t be…”

“That wouldn’t be healthy,” I finished his sentence for him. “It’ll be too cold.” (Our apartment lacks a proper heat source and the rainy San Francisco winters makes our bedroom extremely damp and chilly.)

“But where?” I asked. “I can’t think of any other place for it.”

The Ukrainian’s eyes skirted the room. He lifted his body up on his elbow and turned his head. “There. Between the bed and the closet, away from the window.”

And I looked. My eyes mentally measured the space he picked out. Yes, there would be room for a crib. A small one and we’d need to keep everything tidy. But there’d be room.