A Birthday and a Christmas Abroad

I’m happy to report that I survived my first birthday/Christmas away from home.  In fact, although it was certainly not quite the “Christmas” I love, it was actually a pretty good day.  I didn’t even cry!

Chisinau, Moldova

On Saturday (Christmas Eve), I met up with some other volunteers in Chisinau to celebrate my birthday.  Most of the volunteers are travelling for our vacation, so it was a small group, but I had a good time.  Our hostel was right off the center square in Chisinau, which was a perfect location.  After checking in, we ran some errands and grabbed some light food at McDonald’s.  By the time we headed back, it was already pretty dark out.  The center of Chisinau, along Stefan cel Mare street, is pretty impressive at Christmastime, particularly at night.  There are lights strung on the Arc de Triomf, above the street, there is a huge Christmas tree, games and carnival rides, and booths selling food and mulled wine.  It’s really quite beautiful.

Chisinau, Moldova

The other volunteers had some additional errands to run, so I stayed at the hostel by myself for a bit and called my grandparents because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to on Christmas day.  After they returned, we walked to the restaurant I had selected for my birthday dinner.  It was a very expensive (by Moldovan standards) Italian restaurant.  The food was very good, but even more, we all really enjoyed the fact that it was fully decorated for Christmas and was playing American Christmas music.

Chisinau, MoldovaPhoto cred: Susan Speth

We ended our night watching a movie in our hostel room (which we had to ourselves!).  It was a simple birthday celebration, but it was nice.  And, after all, I’m not really used to celebrating my birthday (one of the downsides of being a Christmas baby), so it was a good birthday in my book!

On Sunday, I headed back home to celebrate my birthday with my host family.  My school director, as well as my partner teacher and her family, joined us for a masa.  Again, it was simple, particularly by Moldovan standards, but I had fun.  I ended Christmas day skyping with my family for a couple of hours.

Traditional wine pitcher, Moldova

On Monday morning, still in bed, I got a phone call from my school director telling me I needed to come into school for a meeting.  I was slightly annoyed, having thought it was my first day off from school, but I got dressed quickly and walked to the school.  When I arrived, I was surprised by most of the teachers, who sang “Happy Birthday” to me in Romanian and gave me the most beautiful gift.  I received a book about our town (in Romanian, of course!) and a large hand-carved clay wine pitcher.   It is a traditional wine pitcher, and it’s beautiful!

To My Dad

dadbirthdaycolllage

Back in June, for my Mom’s birthday, I posted a bunch of reasons I love her.  Today is my dad’s birthday (Happy Birthday Dad!) and I figured it was only fair to write a post to him as well.  So to wish him “Happy Birthday”, here are some of the reasons I love my dad.

1. He has always been there with open arms when I was upset, angry, or just needed to feel loved.  One of the hardest things about being away for so long is that when I’m upset, angry, and need a hug, my dad isn’t there to provide it.  He has always been there for me, and has always comforted me when I most needed it.

2. He never told me I couldn’t help because it was something “men” do.  As far back as I can remember, the thing I most wanted to do was whatever my dad was doing, whether that meant painting walls, sanding cabinet fronts, building things or stacking wood.  He always let me help and taught me how to use all of his tools.  My brother may not be able to use an electric drill (just kidding, Chris- I think you maybe have learned by now!), but I certainly can, as well as the circular saw and table saw.

3. For allowing us to choose the sports we wanted to play even though they weren’t “his” sports, and for being there at every game, meet, and match.  For several years, my dad taught my booster club basketball team, only for me to switch to an entirely different sport in high school.  He never once second-guessed my decision, and continued to be at every sporting event to cheer for me.  Even the many-hours long track meets where I competed for less than five minutes or the soccer games that were a couple hours away.

4. He has always encouraged me to chase my dreams.  I have never wondered if my parents supported me in my dreams.  When I told him that I had applied to the Peace Corps, he was a little surprised and then told me he was proud of me.  When my siblings and I talk about opening our own business, he sends us links of similar businesses or how-to guides.

5. He encouraged us enthusiastically to be involved in music from a young age.  And then he spent hours upon hours researching instruments and then spending even more hours finding excellent instruments to buy for us at prices my parents could afford.  Seriously, if you know him personally and need help purchasing instruments (well, violins and saxophones to be specific), he has a lot of knowledge (and I played those instruments while he did not)!  Also, he put up with my sister and I learning to play the violin at 5 and 7 years old, and that is not a pretty sound!

6. He (along with my mom) ingrained in us a love of travel, new experiences, and exploring.  Throughout my life, they have made sure we traveled and experienced new things.  They saved, went without other things, and planned carefully so that we could travel each year and see new places.  I can’t wait until my parents visit me here in Moldova and I can be the one to plan their trip after all these years of them planning my trips.

7. He taught me the basics of spending time outdoors: squatting in the woods, thrashing through briar patches, and appreciating the natural beauty that abounds around us.  I can’t remember the time before I knew how to squat (a skill that has been very useful here!), and he taught me that both literally and figuratively, getting off the path can be more adventurous and (sometimes) more fun.

8. He let me “steal” from his secret stash of peanut M&Ms and bought me ice cream on occasion behind my mom’s back (sorry for telling on you!).  It may not have been the healthiest thing, but it made me feel special and we often had the best discussions while eating the ice cream in his truck.

9. He made my birthday special by taking me on an annual father-daughter Christmas shopping trip.  I am a Christmas baby, and just like any other Christmas baby, it is easy to feel like your special day is overshadowed by the amazing holiday that we share our day with.  When I was five, my dad decided to take me Christmas shopping for my mom and siblings as a way to make it a bit more special.  This year will be the first year since I was five that we won’t be able to continue this tradition, and I’m missing it.  More than the actual shopping (I’m not big on shopping, actually), it was a special time to just spend time together, as well as get a nice lunch/dinner (though that first year when my dad asked me where I wanted to go I proudly told him “the place with the little girl”, which happened to be Wendy’s).

10. For sharing his love of houses and architecture with me.  For as long as I can remember, we have driven around talking about which houses we liked, and he even occasionally has taken me to check out houses he has for sale and took me along on a couple of his showings.  For the past few years, we have gone to historic home tours in our town.

There are so many more things I could add to this list.  He has supported me, loved me, has shown me what a good husband/dad should be.  He has spent time with me, was patient with me as I learned new skills, and was simply there for me.  Dad, I love you and hope you have an amazing birthday!  Thank you for everything you have done for me!

To My Mom

I was incredibly fortunate to grow up surrounded by many strong, independent, and wonderful women.  Among these women was my mom.  As I’ve grown up, we’ve had our fair share of arguments and fights.  But I also know just how lucky I have been to have her as a role model, to be showered with her love.  Today is my mom’s birthday.  To wish her a “Happy Birthday”, here are some of the things I love about her!

1. She has always encouraged and supported my dreams (and my siblings’ dreams), even the ones that seemed (or seem) a bit difficult to attain.  Many of my fellow Peace Corps trainees, as well as other friends from home, have shared that their parents, particularly their moms, weren’t particularly fond of the idea of them leaving home to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in a country very far away.  Those that knew my sister was also abroad when I departed seemed even less convinced when I told them that both my sister and I had the full support of our parents.  I know that my mom misses us now and will miss us in the future when we are halfway around the world from her, but she has also supported us on our journeys.  When I told her I had applied to the Peace Corps, she was a bit surprised, but she was also so, so happy for me.

2. Even though I may have (ok, and sometimes still do) fight her on getting outside, I’m so thankful that much of my childhood was spent in the outdoors.  My mom loves being outside, and she made sure that we spent lots of time playing outside when we were growing up.  I didn’t often appreciate it when I was younger, but I’m glad that I spent much of my time as a kid enjoying the outdoors.

3. She taught me that if you are determined and willing to work hard, you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to.  And she demonstrated this countless times, from insisting that she could plant trees on her own (which is actually very hard work), or carrying 70+ pounds of groceries into the house at one.

4. She shared the gift of reading with me and my siblings.  We are all very good readers, and we also all enjoy reading for entertainment.  When we were young, she would read to us every day.  I remember being about 6 or 7, and she would read Indian Captive, a few pages at a time, to my younger sister and I every night before bed.  It was a book that was well beyond our reading capabilities, and it is a book I still remember quite well today.

5. She (along with my dad) provided us with amazing travel opportunities.  Whenever my parents are asked how they came to have kids so eager to travel the world, I can’t help but think in my head, “Well, they ingrained it in us.”  They saved their money so that we could travel both far and near.  When they took us to Switzerland in 2008, our first international trip (and my mom’s first time off the continent of North America), they opened up a whole world of opportunities.

6. She provided countless opportunities to be creative.  When we were younger, my mom stayed home with us.  She would comb through Family Fun Magazine for cute craft ideas, which we would then make.

7. She taught us that having fun and living life are way more important than a perfectly clean house.  My friends always loved coming over to our house, because they knew that we could build forts, make a mess in the kitchen baking cookies, or sing karaoke at the top of our lungs, and my mom wouldn’t care (okay, we did have to clean up after ourselves).

8. She encouraged us to have our own opinions and allowed us to voice them.   I think she sometimes regrets this now, as she ended up with three highly opinionated kids, but I’m so glad we were allowed to be a part of discussions and debates.

9. She didn’t let us quit half-way through a commitment.  If we said we were going to do something, we were expected to carry through with it.  I think this is a really important trait to have.

10. I’ve never wondered if my mom loves me.  There was never any doubt.

Mom, I know you hate being the center of attention, but I wanted to make sure you knew that I love you and that I wish you the happiest of birthdays and year to come!  I wish I could be home to celebrate with you, but I know Chris is going to make sure you have a good birthday at home!  Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me!  I love you!!

Thoughts on Turning 20

My birthday is right at the very end of the year, and as such, I turn a new age just before the new year starts, so it’s almost as if I’m hit twice as hard by the “it’s a new year” thing.  So, not only is it now 2014 but I’m also another year older.  For some reason, turning 20 is hitting me hard.  I always thought that 18 and 21 were the big birthdays around this time in my life, but I think 20 is a big year too, partly because it is overlooked and confusing.

In one of my psychology courses, we discussed how our culture doesn’t have a  defined moment when we become adults.  In some other cultures, turning “of age” is a big deal and is very specific.  But in western cultures, and especially in the United States, becoming an adult isn’t so clear-cut.  Some people claim that 18 year-olds are adults, others say you aren’t truly an adult until you turn 21.  And even then, it really just seems like just another birthday.  And yet, turning 18 didn’t seem like that big of a deal for me.  I mean, I realized that legally, I had more rights (and that there were greater consequences for some things), but I didn’t feel like I was an adult.  Nor do I truly feel like an adult even now that I’m 20.  But for some reason, it felt as if I was truly leaving childhood behind when I turned 20.  I think it is because I have completely left my teen years behind.  I’m now two decades old instead of a random number of years.  I’m in my 20s instead of my teens.  And that has rather unnerved me.

I realized over my vacation, partially because I turned 20 and partially because of things around me, that I am resisting growing up.  I don’t want to have to make decisions.  I don’t want to have to be 100% independent, although I have always valued my independence and previously couldn’t wait until I was truly free.  In many ways, I am still dependent on my parents.  They are paying for my undergraduate college and still take care of many things for me.  I don’t have a car, so when I’m home, I still rely on the cars that they own for transportation.  They still influence my decisions although when it comes down to it, it really is my decision.  But they certainly still steer me in the right direction.

In the past two months or so, a number of my friends have gotten engaged.  I think this is what has really influenced my resistance to growing up.  Here are people my age, some younger, some a year or two older than me, getting engaged, planning their futures with their future spouse.  I can’t imagine wanting that at my age, although I completely respect their decision to do so.  But each engagement reminds me (not so subtly) that I’m no longer a child or teen.

I know that growing up isn’t a bad thing and that there are wonderful things ahead of me.  I truly do believe that.  And I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that these changes are for the good and that, while there will probably be growing pains, I will someday look back on this time in my life and wonder where it went.  I know that for all of the wonderful things ahead, there will also be difficult moments, hard decisions, and tough times.  I’m sure that I will again feel these sorts of growing pains when I turn 21 and we enter 2015.  And as much as I’m resisting growing up, I’m also very excited for the future.  I can’t wait to have my own place.  I know that I want to have kids and be a mom.  I can’t wait to be financially independent, even though it also scares me half to death.  So I’m trying to live in the moment, to appreciate the coming year and to move forward without fear or resistance.

Preparing for Christmas

I’ve been home since Friday, and I must say it is nice to be home!  I was hit with a pretty bad sinus cold when I woke up on Saturday morning, so I didn’t do much either Saturday or Sunday.  The first thing on my to-do list while home was to clean (preferably the whole house, but definitely the downstairs rooms).  It is hard to get ready and decorate for Christmas when the house is a mess.  And no, we have not put up any decorations yet.  Or finished Christmas shopping.  We decided to wait until both my brother and I were home from college to get and set up our tree, and my brother won’t be home until later today.  My sister has a game today and practice tomorrow night, so the tree probably won’t get up until Thursday at the earliest.

My grandpa owns a Christmas tree farm.  Although he no longer technically sells the trees anymore, he still plants them and trims them and such.  Families who have always cut down their own trees can still go up and get a tree if they wish and we, of course, still always go up and cut ours down.  We usually tag our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving to ensure we get the best one, but don’t usually cut it down until later on. We go up as a family and cut the tree down using a hand saw (although the past few years, we’ve used an electric saw), then drag it to the truck and drive it home.  We set the tree up together, then decorate the tree.  Of course, the lights go on first.  I am a Christmas baby and the first ornament up is always my baby shoe (with my birthdate on it).  Each of us has our own box(es) of ornaments and we each get to choose which ornaments to put up from our box.  The tree is usually packed full of ornaments.

Getting and decorating the tree is one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  We don’t do a ton of other decorations- just stockings (which we are thinking about replacing this year), a stuffed Santa display, and some other small decorations.  I’m going to try to convince my brother to help me make a wreath for our front door this year (we have a red door, so we’ll probably just do a simple green wreath).

Christmas is my very favorite time of year, so I’m getting really excited!

We plan to make a bunch of cookies and such this weekend and I still have a few presents to make.

I hope you are able to relax and enjoy this holiday season!!