Monday, December 22, 2008

Pickpockets - here I am!

So, I am officially carrying around about $400 worth of electronic equipment in my purse. Santa brought me an early Christmas present, a Nikon Coolpix digital camera! It's purple! Add that to my cell phone and iPod and I am officially afraid to walk out of the house with my bag. Well, not really.

Nature immediately provided some things for my photography practice.

That's Drew, digging out his car this morning in knee-deep snow. What the picture doesn't show, is that the driveway behind his car was clean of all snow thanks to our trusty new snow plower guy. That's what you get for having a long, narrow driveway. My car is safely tucked in the garage in front of Drew's car. I pulled out this morning, like nothing ever happened!

Other items of interest this weekend were... more snow! Here are some scenic images.

That's our back yard. I should take another picture today, because with the new snow cover you can barely see the fence in the yard.

I mean, just look at it! Cutest house. Ever.

And that's what was going on inside on Sunday night. That, and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. Warms you right up!

Friday, November 7, 2008

It feels good to be a winner

I've just gotten to the point where I can sit down and think about this week's election and what it means... Of course, I realize what it means for America as a whole - finally, an intelligent president, who can pronounce "nuclear" and who didn't win by casting one half of the country as "elitist" or "right wing" or "religious" or whatever else Karl Rove thought would get people's blood boiling. Yuck.

Since I didn't grow up in the U.S., I don't have the background or the experience to fully appreciate the fact that the country elected a black president. Of course, I understand that it's a HUGE deal, and I am proud of my fellow Americans, but really, in 2008, this should be the norm.

What I think about more - selfishly - is how this election made me feel personally. I got teary-eyed when I cast my ballot - this was my first presidential election since becoming a U.S. citizen. Sure, I voted in primaries, and I went to the caucus this spring, but still, this was the "biggie" that I've been waiting for.

I have no illusions that Obama will be a miracle-worker, or that all of our problems will be solved overnight, or that he won't make mistakes. I also know that my single little lonely vote didn't make or break this election. But the fact that I got to participate - and now have the right to gloat and/or to complain - is an awesome feeling. It really made me feel like I was finally a part of the country, a member of a nation, not just someone who happens to live here and carries a U.S. passport.

I am a bit of a cynic and I don't fall easily for "change" and "hope" and other campaign slogans. But I totally admire those who do and for a while, it was nice to be carried away by that.

P.S. I just found out that the guy who is building our built-in bookshelf placed the Nov. 5 edition of the Journal Tribune under the shelving unit for future generations to find. It has Obama on the front... How super cool is that?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting to know you 2

It's been a week in the new house - so far, so good. We are getting used to the creaks and moans of the floor boards - note to self: future project in the living room - and the sounds the furnace makes when it kicks on. When we remember to turn up the heat. I've tackled just a tiny bit of gardening with my parents last weekend and this morning I surveyed the land for the amount of leaves I'll have to rake. Result: a lot.

Some things I've learned:
1. The most useful and underrated spaces in a house are the basement, the garage, and the attic. "Where should I put our suitcases?" "The attic." "Where are we going to keep the Christmas ornaments?" "The basement." Etc. It's easy.
2. Home Depot is awesome.
3. Do not wear heels to Home Depot.
4. When the leaves begin to fall from the trees around your house, curtains become essential.
5. There is always one closet in a house or apartment that never loses that weird homeless man smell that old cabinets can have.
6. Hanging your coats in that closet is not very smart.
7. Turn on the water before attempting to use the washing machine. DUH!
8. If you didn't turn on the water, don't be stupid and tell people about it. The heels at Home Depot already made you look stupid enough and your ego can only take so much.
9. Mums need to get watered. Just because you leave the nice pot outside of your front door, doesn't mean mother nature will take care of it.
10. It's nice to look out the bedroom window in the morning at my own yard, my own trees, and my own lawn.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Getting to know you

So, for the past couple of days I've been getting to know our new house. When we first looked at it with our realtor, it had pale yellow/tan walls, sea shells on the wall, and lots of spiritual or self-help signs like "take it easy" and "live for today." It was a pretty cute house. So we bought it.

Once the seller moved out, and all of her belongings were gone, the house suddenly became sort of dreary and bland. I was and still am worried that it will be hard to warm up to it. So I've been trying to spend some time there, walk around, touch the walls, get to know the house.

I've found many unexpected "gifts" during this process. There is a hummingbird feeder hidden among some bushes in the yard. There is an ornate cross nailed to one of our trees where it looks like lightening might have struck at some point. In one of the bushes by our porch, I've found a small garden gnome. There are a couple of frog statuettes hiding under some leaves by our front door.

All of these discoveries are great and surprising, but also fill me with concern. Is the house hiding weird, unpleasant stuff too? I guess only time will tell.

My other adventure with the house has been the guy, Jeff, who is painting it. He is one of Drew's friends, a general contractor who is giving us a huge price break on the paint job. Much appreciated!

He's been working with another guy, who lives in a cottage on Jeff's property. He is a disabled Vietnam vet who has some "issues," according to Jeff, so he took him in and is giving him work. "It's good karma," I told Jeff, "to help out someone like that." He agreed then continued to tell me that his friend is an excellent musician and that they often sit and write music together.

Now, I don't know Jeff well, but what I know about him are the following: He is an excellent craftsman, he writes and draws political cartoons for Drew's newspaper, and apparently he also writes music and sings. "You are a real renaissance man," I told him. He laughed. It was somehow comforting. Maybe his good karma will transfer to the house through the paint brush.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

1996 is dead

1996 was an interesting year for me.

I was a sophomore in college. I was unhappy with my major - especially because it involved four times a week statistics classes at 8 a.m. But by the end of that year I decided to make a change and become a writing major, so things were looking up.

I had plenty of friends and while I wasn't invited to the cool parties with all of the international students - despite being one - I had my own possee of American friends to make up for that.

I had professors whose influence is still with me. I had a cool job the summer before and after my sophomore year at a business paper in Budapest. I might have still been wondering what life was all about -- I am still wondering today -- but everyone around me was doing the same.

That was also the year when very uncharacteristically for me I began a whirlwhind romance/friendship with one of those snotty international students. He was -- and I assume is -- exciting, and smart, and glamorous. He was the kind of guy who I thought would never be interested in a chubby Jewish girl from Budapest. But he was. Things didn't work out with him -- I now understand why and I am OK with it -- but at that time, the 20-year-old me didn't know any of what was to come.

Anyway, so it was a confusing, exhilirating, exhausting, liberating year. The possibilites for excitement and adventure were endless. To remember the time, the place, the people, I bought a Swatch watch after my finals in the spring. It's gold-colored, with the numbers 1-9-9-6 scribbled on the face. It was fitting, I tought.

And today I found out that the watch was dead. I took it in to a watch shop just to get a new battery for it when the salesperson delieverd the news: Your watch is dead. I stood there for a moment and mourned.

First, I thought I was only mourning a fashion accessory. But as I walked back to my office, I realized that my watch's death was somewhat well-timed. For the past couple of weeks, Drew and I have been making plans for buying a house, having a family, and really becoming settled-down adults. And while I never thought I had commitment issues, suddenly I was having heart palpitations when I thought about taking on a 30-year mortgage.

That's almost the rest of my life.

There will be no more spontaneity, no more chances for just quitting our jobs and running away, or traveling to exciting places. We will be stuck. With a house. And a baby. Yikes. All of last week I was plotting my escape -- escape from my responsibilites, from growing up, from being serious. I wanted to be 20 again. I wanted to be carefree and young and naive.

So the death of my watch was a wake-up call in a way. 1996 is dead. "You got 12 good years out of it," the watch repairmen told me.

He was right.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Secret Immigrant Behavior

A couple of years ago, when I was fresh out of college and living in my first apartment, my parents came to visit from Hungary. Opening a kitchen drawer, my Mom was surprised to find months' or even years' worth of Hungarian snacks, spice mixes, and other food stuff stashed away.

"Why do I keep sending you all this when you don't use them," she asked me. I didn't really know the answer - or didn't want to admit - that it just felt good to have all those familiar flavors right at hand, even if I didn't want or need to use them. The shiny packages of meatloaf mix, the crinckle of the chocolate pudding powder package, all reminded me of home.

Eventually I began to understand that all of us immigrants are hoarders in a way. We might be well-adjusted, we might fit in, and there might be nothing about us that screams "I am not from here." But I bet that ever immigrant in every part of the world has a drawer like mine, packed with stuff from home.

It doesn't have to be food - I also hoard magazines from Hungary, a package of tissues my childhood friend's mom gave me when I had the sniffles during a visit to Budapest, and a sweater that was last washed in my parents' washing machine at home. I haven't worn it - or washed it - since in hopes of keeping some of that familiar smell intact. It's fading now, but if I burry my nose in it for a couple of minutes, I can still get a faint whiff.

Another characteristic of this behavior is buying things in your home country that are available in the US, because you believe that your country's product is superior. Now that my parents are living in America, I think they are slowly beginning to exhibit traits of this secret immigrant behavior as well. They just returned from a visit to Hungary and they brought back things like pots, dessert forks, shower gel, and deodorant. I admit - the deodorant was for me. That, along with bags full of Hungarian cookies, chocolate, and spices all made the trip in suitcases and I know that my Mom will be hoarding them until the next holiday or birthday when she will sneak them into our packages. I can't wait.

I suppose there is nothing wrong with this hoarding. But I feel silly admitting the melancholy I feel when I eat the last Pilota cookie from Hungary, or when I run out of my favorite deodorant. It feels odd that my identity and how I define who I am are somehow tied to such ordinary objects. I mean, what does an old plastic grocery bag from Kaiser has to do with who I am? But somehow, it does.

So I try to treat my secret hoarding drawer and the stuff in it matter of factly: it is there, it serves a purpose, it makes me feel better to have one, and anyone who doesn't like it can get over it. All right, so I am a little defensive about it. I protect it from my hubby who likes to throw away unused stuff and I will not publicly admit its existence.

It will be our secret.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Lost

I just finished reading Daniel Mendelsohn's book, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. It really rekindled my interest in my own family's history, my roots, and the stories behind the people.

I've always been the one to sit through Grandpa's stories of hiding during World War II, getting married to my Grandma during air raids, and finding her alive in Dachau after the war. After the camp was liberated she had worked as a translator for the Dachau War Crimes Tribunal for a few years before returning to Budapest. I guess I heard the stories so many times and they sort of became common-place. But as I read The Lost, I was really inspired by how the story of one family describes what happened in a larger scale during the Holocaust. My Grandma's story is definitely not as horrific as some other survival stories, but nevertheless, it is a Holocaust story. In 1947 she wrote down what she had heard and witnessed during the tribunals and I am thinking about translating it into English and maybe sending it to Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in D.C.

So, since I just finished the book yesterday, I did a little Google search today and actually found a picture of Grandma at the tribunals! I have seen pictures of her there, but this is a new one. First I wasn't sure if it was her, but my Mom confirmed it. She looks really young - she was probably younger than me when the picture was taken during the trial of the Malmedy Masacre. That's her, in the glasses, looking up at the American soldier in front of her.

I have to take a moment and acknowledge how weird it is that sitting in front of a computer in 2008, I found a picture of my Grandma on the Internet, taken during 1945-46, in Dachau, where she was a Holocaust survivor. Mind-boggling, really. She died when my Mom was young and I never got to meet her, but I have to wonder what she would think of this. Would she find it pretty cool? Or would she think that somehow her experience has been trivialized into a Google Search?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

There is a period missing at the end of that sentence

Warning: I am going to do a bit of oversharing in this post.

So, my period was late. Very late. So late, that I started to think, well, maybe this is it.

It was a funny feeling. There was none of the panic of college years when every day past the due date I said a little prayer: "please don't let me be pregnant, please don't let me be pregnant." I was always responsible, but you just never know, right? So I almost had to remind myself not to panic, that this was a good thing, that this was what I wanted.

Then, once I realized I didn't have to panic, came other disturbing thoughts and phantom symptoms. That twinge of nausea while I was brushing my teeth in the morning - was that pregnancy, or the seafood from last night, or was I sticking the tootbrush too far down to reach my back teeth? Are my boobs tender, or is my bra uncomfortable? Are my jeans a little snugger than usual because of the chocolate cake for dinner, or you know, from a fetus growing inside?

I actually had to stop myself from feeling giddy, from thinking about baby names, from running out and buying baby furniture. But my thoughts ran wild without my permission. Baby Porter or Fiona (although I am still not sure about Fiona - it makes me think of Shrek's wife...) will have my curly hair and Drew's button nose and blue eyes. He/she will be a good baby, not much crying, above average intelligence, good manners, good grades, etc. I will be working from home - maybe? - and we'll have a little house with a little garden where we'll plant tomatoes and beans with the kids.

OK, OK, stop!

But if I wanted to be honest with myself, I knew that I really wasn't feeling any different than usual. Then my Mom assured me that if I were pregnant, I really wouldn't feel anything at first. That just added fuel to the fire and I could barely sleep that night. I am not feeling anything = I am pregnant!

I had a sudden urge to do major spring cleaning that Sunday - was the apartment dirty, or was I nesting? - and when my period made its entrance between scrubbing the kitchen floor and vacuuming, I was miffed. Disappointed. Felt really stupid for thinking I could be pregnant. I promised that I would not drive myself crazy every month, but now it was happening.

That is the weird thing about trying to get pregnant. When you start out, you don't think it really matters whether it happens or not, whether it happens now or a year from now. You are just trying because, well, because that's what you do. But as soon as you start trying, the baby project becomes more important than you ever thought possible. And now here I was, just like other women, waiting anxiously every month, feeling let down, angrily shoving furniture out of the way.

I popped a couple of Tylenols to curb the cramps that were swirling in my tummy and watered the plants. I watched my favorite Danielle Steele romance of Oxygen - the one about the German woman who escapes to America carrying the baby of her Nazi officer lover. I made dinner.

There is always next month

Monday, February 11, 2008

Caucused out and loving it

I am not a political person.

Sure, I like to talk about issues and candidates and moan about the current state of affairs in the White House. But I have no illusions about one person being able to make the world better, or that politicians are not driven by their own hunger for power, or that all voters truly think deeply about what is really best for them and this country.

But this year, I just can’t help myself.

As a recent American citizen, this will be my very first presidential election and I just can’t shake the feeling that maybe my vote does matter and that maybe the world will be made better – or least a little more pleasant – with the vision of one person. (And no, I am not talking about Barack Obama.)

I have never voted in a “serious” election before. I left my native Hungary just after I turned 18 and was never able to vote there. I lived in the U.S. for more than a decade before becoming a citizen, so in past elections, I was just a spectator. During the last two presidential elections I remember feeling so powerless – not just because the outcomes were so disappointing, but because I didn’t have a say in them. I knew that those elections didn’t hinge on my one lonely vote, but the act of voting would have made the loss a little more bearable. I could have said that “well, at least I tried.”

So, wanting to milk this election experience for all it's worth, I participated in my first- ever caucus on Sunday. My other option for that afternoon was spending time with my husband at the Chocolate Extravaganza in Kennebunk. I passed up chocolate for a stinky, hot gym in Saco. I must be crazy.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I got to the Fairfield School early and there were about 30 people milling about in the gym. I was hit up for a couple of signatures for various candidates and tried to figure out who was handing out the Hillary for President stickers.

Soon, the crowds swelled and as the official business of the caucus got underway, I couldn’t help but wonder about how sort of “basic” this all felt. A bunch of people in a gym on a Sunday afternoon get to decide important stuff? Only in America.

The caucus itself was a bit anti-climactic in the end. It consisted of a lot of sitting around and eating doughnuts and my patience was tested while organizers tried to figure out the best way to count the 70 people in my ward without coming up with a different result after each count.
My ward voted right down the middle: 35-35 to Obama and Hillary. As I left there was no sense of real victory, or resolution – and I assume there won’t be for a while until just one candidate is left standing.

In the evening, as I found out that Hillary didn’t win the Maine caucuses, I did feel disappointed. I might have even been a little miffed at my fellow caucus-goers.

I didn’t want to belong to the losing team. But the fact that I did belong somewhere, that I had a voice, that I took the time and was there, that I dared to put my political bitterness aside and believe that change is possible, made all the difference.