Happy Old New Year: Update

We just realized that the Old New Year (Orthodox) isn’t until the 13th:  tuesday. It’s only the 11th. Our only redemption on this error is that it’s already the 12th in Ukraine, so we are off by only 1 day. But still…we really must chalk this entire holiday season up to being the one we got entirely wrong. Some holidays we all but missed altogether, others we tried but failed, and some we didn’t want to celebrate, but went out into the world anyway with a smile on our face. And this one, we celebrated too early and too little.

We tried for the cake. We went to the Noe Valley Bakery where we get almost all our cake. But since we had not specially ordered one, we had to get a pre-made one off the shelf. Unfortunately, when we brought it home and sliced it, it had the distictive texture of a cake that had been sitting out on the shelf a day too long. It’s edible, but not tasty and moist. It’s a bit dry. I think I’ll be consuming more of the buttercream frosting than the cake itself.

We also tried to rent Irony of Fate (Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!) at Lost Weekend Video on Valencia St. But sadness again. The video store does not carry the movie. We considered watching Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Москва слезам не верит) again, but opted not to. We chose to return home and procrastinate do our respective work and chores.

Once the 13th comes and goes, I think we can officially count the 2008-2009 holiday season as over. It will haven been our first holiday season together as a married couple. Short of somebody dying (though everybody does die eventually) or the economy faltering so much we find ourselves standing in a soup line for our holiday meals, we can only improve in our celebrations and establishing our own traditions. Next year, I think my inner control freak should be sufficiently rested to get out a calendar and make a battle plan to tackle all the days that fall between Thanksgiving and the Old New Year.


I wish I could capture the day that was San Francisco today. It was so beautiful. So warm. The way the light bounced of the pastel-wooden walls of the houses. The very softness of the air. The pinks and oranges overlaying the blues at sunset. A hot pink jetstream cutting across though very pinks and oranges. The hippies sitting outside their houses on the stoop watching the sky change its colors. The single star glistening surrounded by sea blue sky. The mission hipsters riding their bikes acoss and down Valence. The Cubans outside Radio Habana with the salsa playing. The Ukrainian and I kissing each other at each crosswalk, so rich the air was with love and romance. The sadness I felt, thinking that I must be on holiday and tonight is the end of it all. The world is so beautiful. I keep thinking I will wake up and be surrounded by cold and barrenness and a pale gray sky that gives life to nothing. But tomorrow’s forecast only call for more beauty. 

I once fell in love with a Bulgarian. He introduced me to San Francisco and all the beauty and misery it has to offer. I thought that it was him that had opened my heart after it had been so hardened by New York. But then I went away. I moved to Northern Europe where there was only rain. So little light. (But the grass was greener than any I’d ever seen.) When I returned to San Francisco, I had a moment when I was riding on the back of a motorcycle, returning from a date in Half Moon Bay with an Irishman. We flew over the hills of Dolores St. We were coming back at sunset, heading north, the palm trees dividing the the street in front of us and the city below. It was then that I realized that maybe I did not love the Bulgarian as much as I had thought. But I loved the city. San Francisco. So beautiful that you can not help but love everything contained within her limits.

San Francisco, your beauty hurts me sometimes. You are so beautiful you hurt the eyes in front of my heart. Only such beauty could bring me back for more.


The house we like

A friend in the Netherlands emailed me recently to ask if the Ukrainian and I were taking advantage of the falling house prices in the U.S. and bought a house here in San Francisco.

Nooooo….we are not buying a house here. Even with the falling house prices and my proclivity to purchasing overpriced shoes, we are nowhere near the economic strata necessary to purchase one.

In October, however, we did come upon this wonderful little house with amazing views in the Glen Park neighborhood. The asking price at the time? $929,000. We thought “Wow, what a deal. You can actually buy a house for under $1,000,000 in San Francisco. Of course, the mortgage payments would work out to be about $7k a month. We can’t afford that.

Curiously, this morning, I checked to see if the house is still available. It is!! All for the low, low price of only $849,000. Here it is!


(*I joke. I really don’t think that $849k is a low price for a house. And we still can’t afford it.)

(Rereading the listing, I think it *is* in the process of being sold. It’s in escrow right now.)

X-years ago, a meme

I read Sandier Pastures — a blog written by a Filipino woman living and working with her husband and young daughter in Dubai. Today, she blogged this meme and I am following suit.

15 years ago — I was 18 and in my first month of studying at the University of Chicago. Coming from such a small town in rural Iowa, I found the institution to be very intimidating. I was the coxswain on the women’s crew team (though I quit after gaining quite a lot of weight. 😦 ). My roommate was from Queens, New York. Her family had moved to New York from China when she was a child due to the fact that she was child #2, a clear violation of China’s one-child laws. In October 1993 (15 years ago), I was reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth Of Nations and Homer’s Illiad. I also studied Physics and Calculus. I did not own a computer, so I frequently could be found in Harper library’s computer lab until 3 a.m., trying to write 3-page papers. I really felt as if I had nothing to say about either texts. (It would not be long until I began to wonder how I would fit all that I had to say in only 20 pages.)

10 years ago — I had just started working my first “professional” job as a software engineer. My office was located on Chicago’s North Side across from Cabrini Green. The firm consisted of the owner, the secretary, myself and one other engineer. I had to answer sales calls as much as I had to write code. The job paid $27k per year. My food budget was limited to $5/day. I worked on the weekends at The Gap on Wabash Avenue across the street from Marshall Fields to supplement my income and be able to buy new clothes. I lived in a carriage house behind a decrepit mansion in Chicago’s North Kenwood neighborhood with 2 roommates. As soon as the autumn came, mice invaded the house.

5 years ago — I’d just left NYC after living there for 4 1/2 year to return to Chicago. I began studying at the Catholic Theological Union for a Master’s in Theology for Inter-religious dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. I was also telecommuting from Chicago into NYC and Dallas for my engineering job. I lived on W. Warner Ave. on Chicago’s North Side with a super-cool roomate that I met on Craig’s List. My dogs, Sophie and Anna came with me from New York. I felt very satisfied and content with the world and my place in it. I was reading Primary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Despite my happiness, I felt very broke as I was still paying off my student loans from undergrad and was now paying my graduate tuition.  So, a few months later, I accepted a job transfer to San Franciso and left grad school.

3 years ago — I just moved from San Francisco to Haarlem, the Netherlands. I was working in Rotterdam. I was suffering a broken heart over the Bulgarian. I was still involved with someone else back in San Francisco. And I was falling in love with the Dutchman. I was having all sorts of problems with my legal paperwork with the Dutch authorities and general problems fitting in at my new job. My commute between Haarlem and Rotterdam was 1 1/2 hours long on a good day. I had no friends — just my 2 dogs that I had dragged with me. I also did not have telephone service or internet at home. I was lonely. I was reading Reading Lolita in Tehran: a Memoir in Books on the train back and forth between Rotterdam and Haarlem, grateful that I was even given the opportunity to live my life so much on my own — clearly the women in the book did not have that chance.

1 year ago — The Ukrainian had just moved in. We were spending a lot of time making multiple trips to Ikea to purchase a bed and other needs for our apartment. My sister and her husband had just come to visit. We held a massive party complete with a DJ to celebrate our living together. I was planning my 3 week trip to SE Asia, so I was reading travel websites rather than books. I also went to NYC for a week on a business trip. Felt like I had “come so far” from rural Iowa while in a business meeting at MTV headquarters. I felt very optimistic about my career. Still had no idea that the Ukrainian and I would soon be getting engaged, let alone married. And after that, I would leave MTV.

Yesterday — I walked with a friend from Noe Valley to Fort Mason to meet up with other friends to watch the Blue Angels. Afterwards, I walked to Union Square to meet up with the Ukrainian so we could go home together. While I had been relaxing in the sun with fighter jets doing tricks over my head, the Ukrainian had been studying. We browsed the shops of Union Square and found some things we liked for “the future” but nothing “for now”. We took BART back to 24th St. where he treated me to a “Let’s celebrate trying to make a baby!!” dinner at We Be Sushi on Valencia St.

Today — I regretted not eating raw fish at We Be Sushi last night as I received confirmation that we’re not yet successful in making our baby. I’m only slightly disappointed as we are just beginning our tries and I am not so young anymore. I spent the morning booking the Ukrainian and mine’s tickets to Iowa in November so that we can meet my sister’s new baby that was just born 2 weeks ago. In the early afternoon, we took our babies dogs around the Castro and to Dolores Park. I opted out of the festivities that were going on in Portrero and spent the rest of the afternoon at home catching up with friends on the E. Coast. Now, I’m testing some code for work for tomorrow.

Tomorrow — It’s Monday. Not much to say about that. I hope to either walk or ride my bike to work to enjoy this weather. And I also hope to wrap up this non-enjoyable project I’ve been on. Perhaps I will finish a blog entry I started  week ago. But I have not much to complain about as I am truly grateful I have a good job given these uncertain economic times. I will most likely be reading the NYTimes, keeping an eye on the Dow.

Wedding Planning Part 2 — The perfect wedding location search causes anxiety

The tensions rose. Imperceptibly, at first. But time, as it always does, brought a new wave of “issues’. But there was no time for resolutions. Not with my traveling for a funeral. The Ukrainian’s working of two jobs. My search for a new job and the demands of my current one.  The wedding was less than 6 weeks away and I wondered how we could pull it off. Some problems seemed to have no answers, and no amount of time or lack thereof would fix them.

“Sylvia still has not issued our permit to get married in Alamo Square,” the Ukrainian writes over Google Instant Messenger aka GTalk. Sylvia is the women in charge of issuing group gathering permits for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Without her approval, we can’t conduct a wedding ceremony in any public city space in the City of San Francisco. Nevermind the fact, that technically and legally, we are already married — the very presence of a priestly-looking dude (whom we found on rentapriest.com, no kidding) is asking for a visit from the San Francisco Police Department to our wedding celebration just as the Ukirainian is about to pull me in the official kiss of the youmaykissthebridekss.

“Has she cashed the check yet?” I ask, trying to figure out the delay. Emails and phone calls are pouring…what time is the wedding?…where is it?…what time do we need to be there?…Our wedding is in 6 weeks and I have no answers. Only the priestwhoisnolongerapriestbutrentsouthisservices can commit to a wedding date that has no formal venue. I have a feeling he doesn’t declare his priestly pay for mock religious duties to the IRS, and as such, doesn’t really care much.

“No, she hasn’ cashed it.”

The days keep passing and still our wedding permit does not arrive. I become anxious, wanting to have the locale of our wedding finalized so I can continue on with the rest of the plans. But the anxiety also becomes worse, because with each day that passes, I increasingly realize I do not want to get married at Alamo Square.

“Baby, let’s get married somewhere else,” I tell the Ukrainian.

“Where?” he asks. He’s also anxious, but much of the anxiety stems from his desire to make and keep me happy.

“I don’t know, but not Alamo Square.”

“Why not? It’s a really nice park.”

“I know but I don’t want to get married there. I want to get married at Eagles Point at Lands End. Or somewhere else along the water.”

“We can’t baby. The federal government won’t let us.”

Stupid Department of Homeland Security, I curse. We had applied weeks ago for a permit to marry to marry at Eagle’s Point at Lands End but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security apparently felt our small wedding celebration was too risky of a threat to the National Security on the weekend after the 4th of July. Why? Well, because…Eagle’s Point looks over the Golden Gate Bridge – which is why we wanted to get married there in the first place.

So we chose Alamo Square. Everybody knows Alamo Square. It is the park that is in the opening credits of “Full House”. It has the Painted Ladies Victorian houses and the San Francisco skyline in the backdrop. It’s the sort of wedding venue your mother would love. It is “So San Francisco.”

But I didn’t want to marry in Alamo Square. I imagined the fog and the cold. I imagined freezing in my wedding dress. I imagined miserable wedding guests. I imagined the water that couldn’t be seen from there. And I imagined the first time I went to Alamo Square so many years ago. It was with the Bulgarian and my two dogs. And I didn’t want to get married anyplace that reminded me of anyone but my husband whom I love so much.

And so the tensions rose as I couldn’t plan the wedding I dreaded so much to have. But there were no solutions. We checked the churches. They all required membership, large fees, and 6 months of premarital counseling. We checked the hotel ballrooms but they were too plain and typical. Where, oh where we wondered, could we marry that would be scenic and fabulous and ours and wouldn’t drive us to bankruptcy?

Those Ukrainians! They’re Everywhere!

The Ukrainian has gamely agreed to take a short series of private dance lessons with me so that we can not make a fool out of ourselves impress all our guests at our American family wedding to be held here in San Francisco in less than 3 weeks. On Saturday, I called the Cheryl Burke Dance Center in the Portrero Hill neighborhood to arrange for our lessons. “You will be with Serge,” the receptionist told me. Oooo….Serge, I thought, imagining some Russian ballet star.

Sure enough, today the Ukrainian and I arrived at the dance lesson 15 minutes early to be greeted by Serge. And what were the first word’s out of Serge’s mouth? “You speak Russian?” — to the Ukrainian, of course, not to me.

“Da,” the Ukrainian replied.

I excused myself for a moment to leave them to bond in their mother tongue to use the ladies room. When I returned, the Ukrainian said, “Baby, not only is Serge Russian, but he is from Ukraine!!!”

“See, baby. I really am the best wife!” was all I could reply. Silently, I thanked God for small coincidences.

Edward Hopper visits our flat

I lie on the bed in the front room our apartment. Our home is a long narrow railroad Victorian flat from the late 19th century. To call one room the bedroom and the other the living room is arbitrary. Even the kitchen wouldn’t be a kitchen if it weren’t for that fact that someone once plugged in a stove and refrigerator in the backmost, 3rd, room of the flat. The sink is in yet another, though much smaller, room that may or may not have always been a pantry. But perhaps it was once a part of the back porch. Maybe someone slept there once. It’s hard to tell. The place hasn’t been renovated since 1939.

So it is in the front room we placed our bed on which I lie. The sounds of San Francisco’s busy 24th St. echo in. We are on the first level of a 3-story walk-up. The wood frame of the building and the single-paned windows do little to keep the city out. We hear the motorcycles and the ambulances, of course — St. Luke’s is only 3 blocks away. And we hear the dogs and the children running around and the parents and the owners chiding them. We hear the drunken hipsters of course. They wax a discourse on the cool art project they are building for the next Burning Man. The stoned hipsters are quieter. More reflective. But we can hear them too as they wax poetics about what they saw at their last Burning Man. And we hear the lovers. Always the lovers. San Francisco is the American city for love and romance — despite what the money-grubbing, bubbling, vaporwaring Web 2.0 dot-com booming and busting venture capitalists and engineers and their related PR agents and advertising executives might tell you as they place yet another ad on Nerve.com, Match.com, Yahoo Personals, EHarmony and CraigsList never realizing the love they’re looking for is in the city itself.

And so the words of lovers trickle into our home as they make their way to or from the BART or MUNI stops, each synchronized step is a moment of foreplay for what will unfold once they reach the privacy of their home. I lie on the bed, in a slightly-fevered state from a mild summer cold. The Ukrainian is next to me, sitting in a red chair taken from the kitchen that isn’t really a kitchen. He has unfolded a card table that someone once gave us as they left San Francisco to return to the East Coast. He is typing and staring at his little 13″ white MacBook on which he has long-since removed the pre-installed Mac OS X and replaced it with Windows Vista because…because that is just the sort of thing the Ukrainian does.

I drift in and out of my fevered consciousness. The Ukrainian types and stares and moves the cursor around the MacBook. He is working on a balance sheet for his summer internship at a small financial firm here in the most romantic American city that once hosted the idealistic Summer of Love. He is doing a Merger and Acquisition. Some company somewhere I want to to sell to another. Somebody somewhere wants to love another. And the lovers outside want to be alone together so they can express their love.

And the Ukrainian and I? We are in love. In between each calculation on his Excel spreadsheet, he looks over, wanting to know if I need anything. Is there anything he can do to relieve my fever, he asks. Should he go, he wonders. Should he leave this room that intersects so perfectly with the lovely city outside and work in the kitchen that isn’t a kitchen so that I can sleep. No, I tell him. Stay here. With you here, I am happy. My fever will be ok.

I drift to sleep anyway. But in that moment before I lose consciousness to the world outside on 24th St., I remember Edward Hopper’s “Room in New York” where he depicts (what I presume to be) a husband and wife idling time in the front room of their flat. He is reading the newspaper. Her fingers are tinkling the piano. They are doing their own thing together. They seem at peace with each other and with their world. This poster hung on my wall throughout college. Someday, I thought, I want that. I want “Room in New York” with someone.

I take one last look at the Ukrainian — my husband. He is too intent on his work to see me watching him. Please, I say silently in my head. Please, never let our lives be anything but this. This peace, love, and harmony I feel with you right now.

And I sleep.

Defining our ethics

Saturday afternoon. The Ukrainian and I are at our place du preferee: the Bloomingdale’s Mall aka Westfield on Market St. He had received a gift card to Banana Republic from my parents for his birthday. We accomplished the mission rather quickly as he settled on a subtle summer plaid business shirt. Could we escape the cavernous shopping center without doing any damage to my wallet?

Uhm, no. Not possible. It is verily impossible to go from the Banana Republic to the Market St. exit without walking past Zara — the epitome of affordable European chic with styles straight from the runway (and a better fit than H&M I might add).

“Oooo…let’s go in and have just a look.”

“Just a look?” the Ukrainian asks, doubtful that I can escape the building without a single purchase. I had already fended off his offer to buy me a new shirt at Banana Republic (it was cute, but truly, ridiculously overpriced).

“Yeah, just a look. I just want to see.”

The Ukrainian follows me around Zara. We both point out the things we like, but never do our fingers land on the same item. The Ukrainian is obsessed with the super-tight dress shorts that are hot for summer and my fingers fondle the long chiffon blouses — neither of which could be adequately worn during San Francisco’s always chilly and foggy summer.

And then I see it. The short cropped black motorcycle jacket with studded details that I have always wanted.

“Oooo….look at this.” I run over and finger the soft, supple leather. Like baby skin, it feels. This jacket is the epitome of cool — like way the name Angel is the epitome of cool for a macho boyfriend.

“You can’t wear that. You’re a vegetarian.”

“So?” I ask incredulously. “My shoes are made of leather. You’ve never said anything before.”

“You can’t buy only canvas shoes. They have to be made of leather.”

My fingers continue to caress the soft leather.

“Being a vegetarian means I don’t consume animals. It doesn’t mean I can’t wear them.” I try hard to make my case. But I don’t even bother to look at the price tag.

I know what he really means. We have a wedding to plan. We have other expenses. A new leather jacket is not on the agenda. And yes, it probably would be a bit hypocritical to walk down San Francisco’s militantly vegetarian streets wearing a leather motorcycle jacket simply because it’s cool — not because I ride a motorcycle.

But I do not escape Zara so easily. Zara is full of very cool jackets. Only the one was made of leather. I walk out with this grey little number — justifying it as the perfect summerwear for those foggy summer nights when the rest of the Northern hemisphere is rocking the sheer chiffon blouses and sexy short shorts.

Ukrainian approved. Vegetarian-friendly.