Tag Archives: travel

A long summer

21 Aug

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It has been a long, crazy summer. For better and worse, there has been a lot going on. Whenever I have a lot going on in my personal life, I tend to fade away from writing until I can process it. I think I’m ready to start processing and recording what we’ve been up to and the changes being made.

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Hubs and I have been working through some relationship problems that stem from personality, trauma, taking on too much and who knows what else. Over the past year our marriage has almost broken apart twice now but we’re holding on and working through the issues. I hope we keep moving towards a better place.

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N is growing and learning and he’s so fun to be around. I’ve been concerned about his lack of language development and I’ve had him screened which turned into a saga of its own. Long story short, he has a significant expressive language delay but little to no cognitive delay. The expert on neurodevelopment in the area recommended that he work with a speech-language pathologist and an occupational therapist to help him get caught up, so now we have an active referral. But this month is crazy-busy and if all goes well, I’ll have a new job in a month so we’ll have insurance changes, so I don’t want to get him into a clinic without having these details worked out.

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Which brings me to the other potential changes on the horizon: work. I’m done living this poor student lifestyle. I think a mentality of poverty has affected my whole outlook on life–we scrimp on things but then splurge at random times because we get so tired of being so poor. I think being more conscious of our lifestyle decisions and actually achieving our earning potential will change our relationship with our community, our family, our marriage, everything. So I’ve been applying for real jobs all summer and nothing has panned out yet but a ‘dream job’ has opened up on campus and I just had the first interview. I’m praying (praying!) at every free moment that I get another interview and eventually hired because it is the perfect job for me right now–and possibly as a career! I’m really excited about it and the anxiety that goes along with interviewing and not knowing makes me almost sick.

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Speaking of being sick, all the stress from the summer of busyness, turmoil, and too much sunshine has led both hubs and me to get a cold. A yucky summer cold at the worst possible time. So I’m sitting in my office now with hot tea, orange juice, and a healthy lunch trying to get on top of things as I wrap up teaching summer quarter and transition into the 1-month course I’m teaching next. With a wedding this weekend. And next. Luckily my parents and brother will be in town to help out!

It was a good summer, too. It has been sunny and beautiful. I’m back to teaching college writing. I’ve had many little epiphanies about how I want to live and work. I visited my family in big sky country for a week with N.

A few pics of my love-bug in MT with his family:

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The path to citizenship

5 May

002This week my dear husband became an American citizen!

It has been a process 6+ years in the making. We still can’t quite believe we’re done with all the bureaucracy and we officially are an American family! Since much of our history isn’t on this blog, I figured I’d fill in a bit of the back-story here…

We met in January 2005 while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. Our dating quickly became serious, enjoying a wonderful vacation to the Black Sea that summer. He did try to break up with me once, but I wouldn’t let him because his only reason was that he was busy with ‘work.’  When my Peace Corps time was up in December, I went home, which left our relationship up in the air. Hubs wouldn’t commit, but after losing me he was quick to miss me and beg me to come back.

By the end of February 2006 I was back in Ukraine and together we were trying to figure out his future. I had applied to grad schools in the US and in Hungary (there’s a great international university in Budapest). I was admitted to my two best options, so we really needed to decide whether we would stay together, or end it for good.

We got married in August 🙂

Planning a Ukrainian wedding was quite the process. It wasn’t filled with table settings, floral decor, and guest lists. . .instead it was getting legal approval to marry, finding a dress that wasn’t too tacky, and choosing a location at the last minute that we didn’t hate. Ukrainians don’t plan weddings too far ahead of time–things just dont’ work that way. We did virtually all of our planning in the last 2 months, once we had official approval from the US Embassy and Ukrainian civil registry to marry. I also got baptized Russian Orthodox in May so we could marry in the church.My christeningHubs’s parents, sister Ruslana, and her (ex-) boyfriend, Vasya. Vasya and Ruslana are my Godparents. Orthodox wedding Our Orthodox wedding.

During the wedding planning, I decided to begin my Masters degree at Central European University in Budapest. I would be heading to Budapest one month after our wedding to study Political Science for a year. I knew it would be hard, but it was my way to balance my own future and my independence with keeping this relationship that was so important to me. From day one, hubs had no interest in moving to America. He had his own career (first lieutenant in the police department, legal degree, ten years already spent there). He always said he fell in love not because I was American, but in spite of me being American. When we married, we planned to stay in Europe. We didn’t have a specific plan, but my studying in Budapest was in part to advance my education and make connections that could maybe lead to a job at an NGO or embassy or something somewhere near Ukraine.

As the months passed, a few things happened. Hubs’ job got worse–he was always under-paid, over-worked, and under-appreciated (as in, $100/month, sometimes working shifts 24-hrs on, 24hrs off, and all kinds of bribes, scandals, etc). The final straw was having to guard several prisoners with active tuberculosis without any kind of protective precautions. The last thing anyone needs is to deal with TB!

SO, we decided to move to the US. It would have been a huge hassle for hubs to join me in Budapest (though that would have been a dream! I love that city!). Money was tight, visas would have been necessary, and I didn’t love my program–I loved CEU just not political science. I finished out the semester and moved back to Ukraine in December when I applied for permission for Hubs to apply for a visa. It’s a slightly convoluted process, but that’s how it works if you’re married and living abroad. I apply and have an interview. Then hubs was granted permission to apply for a green card. He was scheduled for an interview in January and we set up the medical screening the day before in Kyiv. He needed to have a general medical exam and a screening for communicable diseases (like TB!). He HATES needles, so it was quite the nerve-wracking day for him. As we were awaiting the results, the embassy called. The Department of Homeland Security changed its procedures that day and his application would need to be re-screened at the regional office in Moscow. The interview was off, it would be sometime in the future.

We were devastated! We hadn’t yet bought tickets to the US, but we were ready to go. I only had a few more weeks on my time in Ukraine (they have a 90-day visa free policy for Americans. At that time, you could do 90-days in country, cross the border, and have another 90 days. That has since changed: you can have 90 days in, 90 days out, 90 days in, and so on). So, we planned a trip to Poland. Hubs had never been out of the country and we needed a vacation. So we got him a visa to Poland and we headed to Krakow for a long weekend in February.

KrakowIn Krakow

Just after getting back from Poland, we got the news: Hubs was scheduled for an interview at the end of March!  It was a shockingly easy interview. The consular officer apologized for the delay, had Hubs swear that his application was the truth. . . and that was it. No questions about our relationship, what we’d be doing in the US. He said that Peace Corps marriages were pretty legit and wished us well.

We stayed for Ukrainian Easter and headed to America on April 12th. Hubs had a green card in his hands a month later.

From then on, we built our American life. Hubs opened his business. I had a job and then went back to school. We renewed his green card once (after the first 2 years of a ‘conditional’ permanent residency via spouse, you need to confirm your relationship and renew the green card for a proper full permanent residency). We had a baby. . . and finally we got around to applying for citizenship. Since he got his green card via marriage, he was eligible to apply after only 3 years (2 years temporary green card, 1 year permanent). But at first we were busy, then pregnant and busy, and then very busy with a newborn. And, we didn’t have the extra money (it’s $680 in fees to apply). While pregnant, I applied for medicaid and WIC to help with baby costs, and it turns out that if you’re receiving means-based government support, you can get a fee waiver. I simply sent a copy of our most recent WIC update and a fee waiver form along with his citizenship application and we were able to process it for free. One less worry!

We applied at the end of February. At the end of March, he had his fingerprints & picture taken for a background check. And May 1st was his interview. Super fast processing!

We spent about a month practicing the civics questions for the exam (there’s 100 of them, from which the interviewer will ask 10). We practiced the reading and writing part the weekend before. Hubs was really nervous and I was too–I worried about having all our paperwork in order while he worried about his performance.

On Wednesday, we got there nice and early. Instead of being on the first floor where they do the fingerprinting and visa interviews, the citizenship stuff was on the second floor. We were shocked when we got up there–there were so many people!! He was scheduled for 9:55 am, and we probably got up there at 9:40. He was finally called at 10:30. So it was a fair amount of waiting. Babe was really good, though 🙂

The interview itself took about 20 minutes, and hubs passed with flying colors! The only complication was that he had hoped to change his first name from the Ukrainian spelling to a more widely accepted Russian/American spelling. I guess they couldn’t change it, so he’s stuck. But it meant that he would be naturalized that day.

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We went outside to get some fresh air, get out of the building, and let N run. After an hour we went back in for the naturalization ceremony, but N had had it. He was at that last hour before he needed a nap and he was tired of that place. So when I brought him into the auditorium, he went crazy. He didn’t want to sit and eat, he didn’t want to play in the accepted area. He wanted to explore and if I intervened in his exploration, he shrieked! So I went out the nearest door to let him calm down a bit, and it led outside. Outside of the security area. And my ID was inside 😦  After N ran around for 10 minutes, he wanted back inside. It was really cute–he kept running up to the doors to go back in. I asked the security guard if he’d let me pass, and he said no–ID is required 😦 I was SO disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see hubs take his oath!! I called my mommy to cry, but after a couple minutes I saw a couple police officers and asked them for help. They asked the main security guy to let me in and he happily did. I didn’t go back into the auditorium, but I was able to look through a window and see everyone go up to get their certificates while N ran around. So it all worked out.

We’re so happy this bureaucratic hurdle is over and that our little family is now all-American. Hubs is relieved to finally, really, belong here. I still can’t believe it that my husband is an American citizen 🙂

104 106We celebrated by having a BBQ in the backyard and enjoying the weather. It was a wonderful day!!!

001 The funny thing about citizenship is that it just re-affirms our relationship. When we married, we took a big risk on our relationship since we had only known each other for 1 1/2 years and hubs had never met my family, never been to the US. When we immigrated, he took a leap of faith. Year by year our relationship has grown and deepened as we have built a life and built a family together. It has been a huge transition for hubs and I am so proud of him!!

Dream Job(s)

27 Apr

The last few months we’ve been talking a lot about what comes next. I’ve been in school for 5 years and we’ve been living in the US for 6. Hubs is getting citizenship soon (Interview on Wednesday!) and babe is getting older. . . we’re ready for a change.

A couple of opportunities have come up that have gotten me thinking about my dream job. I love to travel (nothing makes my soul soar like getting on an airplane…) and this is the longest stretch of my adult life that I haven’t been abroad. I’m ready to go somewhere new! I have a secret dream to join the foreign service, and there’s one way to bring my education and my secret dream together: State Department English Language Officer. They only take applications sometimes, and in February one of those calls for applications opened and I spent a weekend preparing my application. If there’s anything I learned from my time in the Peace Corps is that successful government workers need to have a high tolerance for bureaucracy, and just applying for the job took a lot of patience. I had to fill in two full applications with work history, education, etc: one for the federal jobs database and a second one for the state department. There were also several essays I had to prepare for the job posting which took a lot of reflection about my goals and strategizing how my experiences fit the job profile. I’m not sure how many people they hire for this specialist position (i.e. I don’t know if they only hire super experienced English language teachers or if they want to bring people in with some experience and give them training to then climb the ranks). If they’re looking to cultivate someone, I think I’d be an ideal candidate: I’ve already lived in 3 countries, including a year in Great Britain and over 2 years in Ukraine. I have a Masters, I’m a PhD candidate and with luck I’ll complete my dissertation in the next year or so. I’m young and adventurous yet tolerant of bureaucracy and excited to work in diplomacy. They closed the job posting last week and I passed the first qualifications test, so I have one set of fingers crossed that I’ll get an interview for that job.

Out of the blue a few days ago a Peace Corps friend emailed me about a different job. She’s a professor of Russian at a small liberal arts college and she is working with the Dean and President of the university to open an English Language Institute at the college. The are imagining that they would bring a cohort of 50 students to the college to study English for a year and then enter that college as freshmen (or potentially go elsewhere). She asked if I was interested in such a job. . . and if so, what kind of feedback I could give for the position. Just emailing with her got me excited about what such an English Language institute could be – what I’ve learned working at a big university with tons of international students and all the growing pains we’ve had. If I were to build a program from scratch, what would it look like? If I were to travel across the US to take a job on the East Coast, what would it take? What kind of status should the job hold. It was fun to think that through–and I emailed her a document with my thoughts and she forwarded it to the dean and he liked what I had to say. The position is still being formed and they’d need to go through a full job search, but I could definitely be a candidate for the job. So my other set of fingers is crossed that I get an offer for a great job as director of that program.

These two jobs are so different and yet they both utilize the experience I have been building. I see our family happy in both situations: small town in Pennsylvania, building a program, making friends, and raising a happy boy vs. living in various countries for 2-3 years each, travelling widely, doing language outreach, and raising a happy multicultural boy.  There are scary things about both jobs, but exciting things as well… and both jobs have calendars that could begin this fall. . .so I may not even be living here in a year. Scary and exciting to think about! It is strange to contrast those thoughts with the gardening we’ve been doing. . but that’s another thing Peace Corps taught me: a year or two is both a blink of the eye and long and important. Even if you’re only spending a year somewhere, it is important to put down roots (sometimes literally) in order to enjoy daily life. It is important to make the place you are living “home” however temporary that may be.

American Easter

31 Mar

Our busy weekend ended perfectly today with a trip to a town down south where we used to live – it is where I went to university, where we spent our first year in the US and just a beautiful town! The weather was gorgeous and we were ready to take a little trip to break in our new car.030Since today was American Easter, first we had to celebrate. After my boys woke up, they found little gifts from the Easter Bunny. N got some cups and tools for playing in the dirt, some new clothing (sleeper, shorts and t-shirt, and shorts/shirt for swimming), as well as a cute luggage tag, a book, and wipes that were for our re-scheduled trip to Ukraine. I think he liked the pinwheel that was also in his basket last year the best 🙂 024After playing with gifts and talking to the family in Ukraine over Skype, we all got dressed in cute clothing and got out our fancy camera for the first time since New Year’s Eve. We drove down, driving at various speeds to break in the car. Rather than trying to rush, it was nice to just take our time and enjoy being together, enjoy the weather, and enjoy the scenery.  It was a beautiful day! Our local volcano was visible as were the surrounding mountain ranges and it was stunning! The skies were blue and everyone was out enjoying the spring weather.

We headed to a favorite park we enjoyed when we first moved to the US almost 6 years ago. Here are some pics from mid-April 2007:225707_7695845610_206_n225642_7695860610_2126_n We look like babies!!

And some pics from today with our little boy:IMG_5980 IMG_6019IMG_5990 IMG_5998IMG_6012IMG_6017
After a nice little walk in the park, we did some more driving and headed home. We grabbed some takeout from a local Mexican restaurant and had a yummy meal at home. Both my boys were asleep by 9pm! It was a busy, great, weekend!

Short term / Long term

31 Mar

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We have been trying to figure out our life – both short-term and long-term. As both an academic and small business owner, it’s hard to expect what will come next. Will I teach this summer? Where? How about fall? Will I get the fellowship I applied for? Will our business book many weddings? Which weekends? Will money stretch all winter? Will we book for next summer? Those are the short-term concerns.

Long-term, what do I want to do? What kind of jobs do I want to search for? I’m looking at both academic positions and State Department. I have a secret dream to work for the Foreign Service and I think my skills would be well utilized there. Hubs is on board and it would be awesome to be a traveling family! So I’ll be putting out many job applications over the next year. So long-term, we have no idea what city we’ll be living in but more than that, we have no idea what part of the world we’ll be in.

Layered on top of all these concerns are things like Hubs getting citizenship, getting N a passport and visiting the grandparents in the homeland. We had a trip planned for late April/Early May, just waiting to buy tickets next week. Of course a wrench was thrown into our plans: Hubs got the notice for his citizenship exam right in the middle of our planned trip! So, we can’t go then. So we may have to shave our 2 week visit down to 7-10 days and miss a couple days of teaching. Of all the reasons to have to reschedule this trip, this is a wonderful one. But our schedule is so full of teaching and weddings we won’t have another chance until N turns two and we need to buy 3 tickets.

We so desperately need to visit Ukraine, but cannot seem to make it happen. It takes money and time and money and time are things we are both short on. It took a year and a half to upgrade vehicles. It has taken a year and a half to try and make this trip work and we have a 2 year deadline. We know the trip will be wonderful and frustrating. It will be hard to travel across the world with a toddler, to cope with jet-lag while living with the grandparents, to transition between cultures and truly enjoy every moment. But it is such an important trip! I just wish I knew how to make it happen while still being able to do the things that are important here: teaching, shooting weddings, earning money to pay our bills and gather experience!!

It is difficult to fulfill short-term demands while strategizing our long-term life. I wish (pray) for the wisdom and guidance to do it right.

New Car!

30 Mar

In 2008 we bought our dream car – a Scion tC. We actually first saw it in Ukraine and were stunned by its modern, sleek design. A sailor had brought it home from a trip and it was one of the few Scions in the country (if not in Europe). When we moved to the US it crossed our radar again and we fell in love with the pricing, features, and design (not to mention that it has a solid Toyota engine under the hood).004

When we finally got one, we were thrilled! When we got pregnant, we told ourselves that a baby shouldn’t cramp our style. That, and we wanted to get ahead on our auto loan so that it would be worth it to upgrade to just the right car. As babe has gotten bigger, moving from an infant, easy-to-click seat to a rear-facing monster seat, and as he’s gotten heavier to maneuver into said carseat, we’ve gotten tired. Every time we go anywhere we have to wrangle the boy into his carseat. Fold the stroller, pop off the wheels, and only then we can be on our way. Into the car, out of the car. We’re exhausted after any trip anywhere.014A little car wash for our pretty pretty car!

So, this weekend we broke down. We’re well ahead of our loan (a year and change left to pay) and we have some extra money to add to a down payment, so we stopped by a dealer to check out the cars. We had our sights on a Mazda SUV, but the salesman mentioned the Mazda5 and once we took a look we fell in love. It’s based on the Mazda 3 chassis. It’s technically a minivan because of the sliding doors, but its size is more like a car. It is one of the only in its size (as a mini minivan) and it’s really popular in Europe as a ‘people mover.’010 I did a ton of research last night, getting values for our Scion and for the Mazda so I’d know what was reasonable. I contacted a couple dealers to see what they’d offer, and I contacted my bank. I was ready.

So today we cleaned up the Scion and headed down. We took the Mazda5 out for a ride and it confirmed everything we read. It was fun, sporty, and family-oriented. It was a solid car that suited both our business and family needs. And we realized we’d be able to buy a brand-new car! It had only 10 miles on it!!009011There were, of course, a couple kinks in the plan. When the dealer ran a carfax report on the Scion it turns out there was an accident from before we bought it that was only reported in 2011. I don’t know if it’s real or legal or a real accident or what’s going on, but it affected our trade-in value 😦 We ended up getting $500 – $1000 less than we should have. Sucks but that’s life. They also didn’t seem inclined to negotiate on the price too much, so it’s a good thing I had been emailing with another dealership – got the same number and the free tinted windows they offered. Yay! During the contract signing with the finance officer, of course, they had to offer all their various service plans. I wasn’t interested (’cause I know they’re a scam) but I let her run the numbers anyway. As the played with the math, she had the ability to lower our interest rate so somehow I ended up with the full Mazda maintenance plan for free. We walked away paying a couple hundred less than the manufacturer’s retail price. Not bad, not bad indeed 🙂

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I love the sliding doors (no worrying about hitting a nearby car as I load baby in), the low bed of the vehicle for loading business equipment, and the size (the first two rows seat 4 in captains chairs and there’s an additional third row/huge cargo space behind them). Hubs loves that Mazdas have a manual mode on the automatics so he can zoom-zoom all around, the design of the exterior, and the solid engine power for a ‘family car.’ We’re both happy. Babe is happy. Yay for a happy day!!

20130331-103339.jpg from the first page of the owners manual

Spring Break

26 Mar

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I’m finally on Spring Break after a busy quarter – I had my RA-ship and taught a class every day. I was juggling a lot but the money was nice 🙂 I’m glad to finally be on break so that I can take care of many neglected tasks (like cleaning, laundry, getting N’s passport, etc).

We’ve gotten a bunch of spring cleaning done already, but we still have the living room, kitchen, laundry room and outdoors to clean and organize. It really is cleansing and relaxing to clean out our things and let some sunshine in.

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This morning N got a haircut! His first haircut was on his first birthday and we trim his hair every three months or so. If we don’t trim the sides and back he begins to look a lot like Einstein – his crazy curls take over. He looks so sweet and mature with a trim (and I make sure to leave enough so that he can keep his cute curls 🙂

We’re beginning to schedule our trip to the motherland for the family so that N can be baptized in the church where hubs’s family was baptized, I was baptized, and we were married. We’re not religious but it is an important part of our culture and will mean so much to hubs’s family. I was offered a teaching position for the summer, which means that our trip will have to be this spring!! Just a few weeks away!! So we will take N’s passport pics this afternoon and go to the post office in the next couple days to get his documents sent off. It still amuses to have an international traveler for a son–hehe!

Hubs is in the process of getting citizenship. We had hoped to finish the process before we went abroad, but it seems that the timing won’t work out. I’m not too concerned but he worries about the annoyances of being a permanent resident at customs. If we have to go through different customs lines, only one of us will be with N and if he gets cranky… it could be very hard.

My mind is full of logistics–what to pack, how to entertain N, which stroller and car seat to bring. It is going to be quite the process to haul our little family across the world. I’m excitedly nervous.

We’re also planning for Easter. I think we’ve decided to celebrate American Easter with the Easter bunny, egg hunt, etc. and Orthodox Easter with a good meal. N is a lucky boy–two Christmases, to Easters, etc. We will likely be abroad for Orthodox Easter, which is our favorite holiday there. It will be wonderful 🙂 It will be good to finally go on this trip. It has been hanging over our heads since I found out I was pregnant. We know it will be diffcult to travel, likely frustrating while there, but also wonderful to see N in the arms of his grandparents. They haven’t been in good health (Hubs’s mom has had two small strokes) so it is especially important. We wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves if anything happened to them and they hadn’t met our boy. Despite our anxiety about traveling, it is nice to begin to get excited for it!
015One week ’till this cast comes off and N can take real baths!!