One afternoon a week, I help out a family from church.  With five fairly young kids and a house renovation underway, you can understand their need for an extra set of hands to clean and cook.  On Thursday, I was cleaning the oven (which is a task I actually enjoy, weird as that is), and the family’s three-year old girl wanted to keep me company.  So, she climbed all over the kitchen chairs while I had my head in the oven, and told me all sorts of things (some intelligible, others, well, not so much.)

On animals:

I asked her, “What’s your favorite animal?” as Cookie, the loveable family dog, walked by. 

She said, “Hmm.  I can’t decide.  I like all animals, but I don’t like dragons.  My brothers actually LIKE them.”

I replied, “I don’t like dragons, either.”

On Jello:

I asked what kind of Jello she liked (what color), and mentioned that green was my favorite. 

“Well, pink and red jello are my favorites.  Green Jello isn’t good for little girls. “

“Why is that?”

“One time, we had a lot of people over, and there was a bowl of green jello on the table before dinner started.  I wanted to taste it, so I took some and put the spoon back in the bowl.  Then my mom had to put more in the bowl and I couldn’t have any after supper.”

(I have a feeling it may have had to do more with the licked spoon, and not the color of the Jello.  Maybe that’s just my interpretation.)

On cousins:

“Our cousins know how to make things that we don’t know about.  All sorts of things”

And. lastly, on gifts:

“We saw this toy at our cousins’ house and took it because we liked it. “

Her mom pipes in, “No, remember, our cousins gave that to the baby as her Christmas gift.”

Giving, taking, it’s all the same.

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favorite things as of late

December 5, 2008

It’s a lovely day outside, and I’m feeling surprisingly chipper.  So, I figured it was time to tell you some of the things that are bringing me joy lately.  

1. Vietnamese Food.  I’ve always been a fan of Thai and Chinese food.  I like some Korean foods.  But until about a month ago, I’d never tried Vietnamese food.  Enter Chez Nga, an inexpensive and nicely-decorated establishment.  It doesn’t look like a particularly interesting restaurant from the outside, but the food is amazing.  It’s so fresh and healthy!  One of my favorite dishes is shrimp wonton soup that has scallions and cilantro (!) in it.  I knew I’d like it when I saw an item on the menu–Chicken with Ginger and Cocoa Sauce.  Sounds weird, but it’s awesome.  The spring rolls aren’t deep fried–they are simply steamed rice noodles wrapped around a wonderful mix of vegetables, shrimp and more cilantro.

2. 450 thread-count Target sheets (something like 60 bucks, at least last year).  My parents have been sending my Colorado bridal shower items up to us lately, and this wedding gift was also sent.  They seemed scratchy when I took them out of the dryer, but very quickly turned soft and luxurious.  We have an expensive set of sheets which are very nice, also, but for the price, I love the Target sheets even more.

3. Playing the piano, singing, and recording music.  We’re borrowing a really great keyboard from a friend, and so I’ve been breaking the rust off my fingers and plunking around a bit.  The other day, I had all these thoughts and words, and I went over to the keyboard, played a song, and put the words to it.  I wrote a song.  What?  Me?  Yeah, I didn’t expect it, either.   In the past few days, I’ve turned all gear-geeky and have recorded and re-recorded it, using different effects.  I’m not expecting anything of this song–it was just something personal, sort-of prayerful, and I simply liked the melody I came up with.  

4.  Being on two worship teams at church.  One is led by our pastor, and the other is led by my husband.  Each team has a bit of a different dynamic, even though the members are almost the same.  The pastor and our pianist-strong female vocalist were open to our suggestions regarding some newer songs.  On Sunday, we’re going to introduce the congregation to Hosanna by Hillsong United–well, truly by Brooke Fraser. It’s not the newest song (2006), but it’s so very powerful.  I’m really excited.  Our version will be a little more like the linked one–a bit more mellow. 🙂  Also, I’m pretty sure I have a girl-crush on Brooke Fraser.

5.  An Armetale bowl that was a gift from last year’s bridal shower.  When I received it, I just thought it was a beautiful silver piece, perfect for a china cabinet.  Nope.  According to the website you can actually cook with the piece–right on your gas or electric burners.  You can put things in the oven in it.  You can chill it, and it will keep foods cooler longer.  Now, I haven’t tried it out yet, but it’s pretty intriguing.  I have the “Eddy” bowl–it’s very contemporary, with clean lines.  I just have to get up enough courage to use it as more than a serving piece.  Armetale is also made in Lancaster, PA.  My first roommate at Penn State was from Lancaster (pronounced Lan-cus-TER, not LAN-cast-er).

6.  One of the neighborhood puppies.  Sometimes, he’s out in his owner’s front yard.  All you have to do is call “Puppy!” and he bounds on over and jumps up, paws on the wrought-iron fence, craving attention.  He’s really lovable.  He always greets me when I call him.  He’ll be a huge dog someday, but for now, he’s just cute and sweet (and not able to jump the fence).  Oh, and his favorite toy in the yard is the handle of a rake. He chews and chews and moves it around.  Today when I saw him he was basically raking the yard.  

There’s more, but I’ll stop for now.  I am glad it’s Christmastime.  I am always filled with hope during this season.

Oh, and as a final note, I know I’m becoming more Canadian when ‘favorite’ and ‘neighborhood’ are looking a little bare without their respective oh-so-British letter U’s.

breaking the silence

November 7, 2008

Not having blogged in months, I feel as though I’m coming out of hiding.

I have been hiding, after all.  Here’s the story of August through now:

1.  Through the recommendations of my doctor and my counselor, I decided to take a medical leave of absence this semester (this semester, which was supposed to be my last).  When I tell people that without context, they seem to be a bit put-off, like I have some infectious disease.  And then when I explain why, I can see their doubts if this is a medical thing or not.

2.  The reason for my medical leave is because for the past two years, I have been depressed.  Not like sadness that has a logical cause or a set duration–depressed almost all the time. It escalated in August of this year, right when the semester was about to start.  My depression isn’t related to my circumstances (though yes, grad school is draining, especially at the “Harvard of Canada”).  I’m married to an amazing man, I have good friends, I have a great family, I have everything I need, and on top of that, I get to live in an intriguing city. The truth is I have done well so far in my studies, but because I have been so depressed and anxious, I haven’t been able to accept that and be satisfied with that.  

I reached a point in depression where I felt stuck against a wall–I couldn’t see the way forward, couldn’t fathom going back to study, and couldn’t fathom what life would be like if I chose to just stop studying, to begin working, and not earn my Master’s degree.  I prayed and prayed, I shared this struggle with a certain number of people, and waited.

The leave of absence was a way I hadn’t anticipated.  It would allow me to relax, to take care of myself (i.e. grow spiritually, and pursue more intense counseling), and it would give me a chance to finish out my studies when I would have the ability to do so. I don’t think I could have made it through this semester.  The other thing it would allow me to do is investigate a potential chemical link, which does run in my family.

3. Medication?  Are you serious?  Is my problem that serious?  Those were my thoughts when my counselor, suggested trying a medication.  I had been doing cognitive therapy for a number of months, which seemed like a good option. (For those who don’t know what cognitive therapy is, it’s a method of changing the way you think by self-analysis of your thoughts.  The goal is to think about things differently, which can change the way you feel.)  It just wasn’t working for me.  I wrestled with the medication option for five months.  I felt so ashamed that I would need something external to make me feel better.  I think especially in Christian circles, that the use of antidepressants can be regarded as a lack of faith, or something to that extent.  In greater society, it can be seen as a sign of weakness, as if medications are simply a crutch.  

4.  At my lowest point, I decided to go get a medical opinion of whether I should try meds, since there was perhaps a genetic link, and really, what did I have to lose?  My attempts at feeling better (going to a counselor at my university, and then consulting with my current counselor, plus doing cognitive stuff) weren’t getting to the heart of the matter.  Unfortunately, my doctor was away and didn’t have an appointment in the timeframe I needed (before the start of the semester).

So I went to a drop-in clinic.  I knew I would not be given a prescription, but I maintained that talking to a doctor could be insightful.  Well, the particular doctor I talked to didn’t believe in genetic links in terms of psychological problems, thought medications were overused, over-prescribed, and snubbed the medications my counselor had given me as potential options.  He ranted on for forty-five minutes and seemed to have an axe to grind about religion, about education, about everything.  I left that appointment no less interested in trying medication, since he had given me no clear information even when I pressed him for it, and hadn’t convinced me of his opinion.

Thankfully, they were able to squeeze me into the schedule for an appointment with my doctor.  And she actually listened to me, and helped me pursue a medical leave of absence.  She agreed that a good starting point would be one of the meds my counselor suggested.  And she insisted that I exercise, de-stress, continue on in counseling, along with taking the med, and come in once a month to see her.  So I have. The cognitive stuff is making more sense now.  And this is temporary–simply to replenish my serotonin, which has been low for two years (depleted by stress and mono).  Once I start feeling better, I will be able to maintain those levels on my own.  

I know there are plenty of thoughts about medication out there.  This isn’t an attempt to convince you of anything, rather, I simply wanted to tell of my struggles.  Even through talking to various women at church in generalities about my anxiety and depression, I’ve been shocked by how many women struggle with it to some extent or another.  While I won’t say that meds are right for everyone, I will say that I’m glad I am taking one, and can’t help but think God had a hand in leading me to this option.  I don’t think meds are an isolated catalyst of feeling better, but when coupled with all the other things my doctor and counselor suggested, they can help.

I’ve been hiding from the criticism of others.  I’ve been hiding from disapproval.  But it was time to be truthful.  Thanks for reading. Maybe eventually I’ll get back to the theme of this blog.  Or maybe I’ll change it.  We’ll see.

a visitor

September 18, 2008

We bought three plants on Sunday at church–grown by a sweet and generous and justice-minded lady.  All the proceeds of the plant sale went to buying mosquito nets for people in Uganda (where malaria is a reality, not a far-off in history or geography sort of disease).  We got some kind of aloe, which actually was two plants in one pot, and another succulent of some kind.   I killed a spider plant once, which, as you know, are not killable… until they meet me, so succulents, being very tolerant and hearty, seemed to be the best option.

Said plants sat out on our back porch for a few days.  Maternal instinct kicked in one evening, and I said to Pete, “I hope no cats come and eat the plants.”  I repotted the plants yesterday–separating the two aloes into different pots and giving them better drainage and more arid soil. Then I left the door open as I was making dinner.  Pete walks in the front door, and suddenly, at the back door, there’s a cute young kitty, with a multicolored collar and a bell on it, who looks at the plants and then walks right in to our apartment.

She walked around, and though I’m mildly allergic, I thought her too cute to completely shun at that moment.  She purred and purred and liked our attention.  Back on the porch, she started rubbing herself on the spiny (and tipsy) aloe plants, so I tried to move them.  She was just fascinated by them.  We put her down the back stairs and tried to blockade her from getting back in–but she snuck around and soon was back in our apartment.  So Pete tried to take her to the neighbor’s, thinking it was their cat, but alas, she wasn’t.

No, she’s not still here.  But I was tempted for a second to keep her.  Then I sneezed and my throat closed up slightly and I came to my senses.  Sorry, cute kitty.  Thanks for coming to visit.

*though this was a cute episode, the number of stray cats (and just outdoor cats) in our area is alarming.

recent reads

September 6, 2008

I will return to the regularly-scheduled program of writing artsy-descriptive blogs sometime soon.  In the meantime, I’ll share the reading list from the past few months.  Pete and I chose not to have a TV in our house the first year of marriage (plus we’re saving on cable costs!).  Do I miss it?  Yeah, I miss having background noise or a mindless activity to do.  But I’ve read a bunch in the last two to three (The Great Divorce, all books in the Chronicles of Narnia Series, The Screwtape Letters, Velvet Elvis, and Good News About Injustice), we have watched many films, we invested in the first four seasons of ‘The Office’–knowing we’d appreciate the humor, and we even took up backgammon, which is far more than a retired-person’s game. 🙂

 

I do try to stay connected, as I miss having the news to let me know what’s going on in my old country.  I used to read CNN.com, but in the recent past, it has seemed to turn into a smeary smutty mess only interested in shock and slander.  I find the New York Times website much less scandalous and perhaps, just a smidgin more ‘objective’, if that can even be possible anymore.

I happened upon the etiquette column–well, more like the ‘how to deal with an awkward situation’ column on the Style page on NYT.com, and found the delightful (and not so subtly-sarcastic) piece of advice written by Philip Galanes, who writes the ‘Social Q’s’ column.

And the Guest Wore Red

Is it still frowned upon to wear red at a wedding? I have heard both yes and no, and really don’t want to offend.

Milan Tainan, Manhattan

“As long as it is not a wedding-slash-bullfight, you should be fine.”

read more here

be aware that some of the suggestions are down-right mean, though (and some of the addressed situations overly awkward).

Who needs TV, anyway?

holy sore throat

August 22, 2008

I woke up in that pristinely clean, white room last summer and heard the sound of water lapping on the sides of the canal down below.  Soon lovely, touristy thoughts of Venice turned to fears, as I found that my sore throat had worsened dramatically, to the point where I couldn’t swallow without massive pain and I was so congested that breathing through my nose was impossible.  I took out my guidebook and started to plan my route to the nearest hospital, though dreading the many bridges it would take me over, as I was tremendously low on energy.  Fears of caveats in travel medical insurance for ‘pre-existing conditions’ and the real possibility of not being well enough to spend the next month in a remote mountain town gripped me.

Then the phone rang:

“Pronto?”  (Hello?)

It was Sister Letizia, the head nun at the convent where I was staying.  She said, “Signorina, it’s eight-o-clock.  Are you coming down to eat breakfast?” (all in italian, of course).  

“No, I can’t eat.  I can’t breathe well or swallow.  There’s something wrong with my throat.  I think I need to go to the hospital,” as I choked back fearful tears.  It’s hard to travel by yourself when you’re really sick.

She said, “You need to calm down.  I’ll be right up.”

A few minutes later, I heard a gentle rap on the door.  Sister Letizia came in and started to scold me, saying I was worrying too much (when I mentioned the travel insurance and the expense of potential plane tickets home).  Meanwhile, I was in the bathroom, choking back tears and whatever else was involved in the sore throat.  She asked to see my throat. Promptly after seeing it, she said, “Oh, I think you need to go to the Emergency Room.  Do you know how to get to the hospital?”  I showed her the map and where I’d planned on going, and she said, “oh, that hospital has been closed for years.  You’ll have to go to the main one.”  

She then proceeded to tell me which ferry to take (yes, ferry… Venice), and gave me the fare, saying “we nuns get a special fare break, so take these tickets and hurry!  Oh, and please call once you’ve heard something.”

I took the ferry and tried to look out the window and enjoy the view as I went to the hospital.  An aggravatingly long wait later, and having been mocked by the over-joking ER doctors, finally there was clarity–I officially had mono. 

Yet, despite my fears, through all my hospital visits (one in Venice, two to three in Gemona), I never had to pay a cent.  They didn’t ask to see my travel insurance.  They simply saw my passport and treated me anyway.  Thanks, Uncle Sam, and Prime Minister (at the time) Prodi.  I tend to think it was more related to the kind-but firm nun who was praying for me and who made me feel loved and like someone was looking after me at a time when I felt utterly alone and scared.

I had to laugh, when, yesterday, I was in the midst of a coughing fit and a french-quebecoise nun sat across from me in the metro.  My coughing did not let up for a while, and she made eye contact with me, then dug around in her purse and went to hand me a candy.  I thanked her but said I already had a cough drop, and she suggested drinking tea.  She had a worried and kind look on her elderly face, and pulled out her rosary and started saying prayers as I got off the train.

The only time I see nuns is when I have sore throats.

thick

August 8, 2008

The air is thick with raindrops;

my stomach thick with milk and espresso;

my vision thick with greys and greens;

my nose thick with someone else’s garlicky lunch;

my thoughts thick with doubts and warring truths;

my conscience thick with ‘shoulds’;

my heart thick with gratitude and questions;

my spirit thick with cravings for a deeper rest.

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”  —Augustine

a turnaround

August 7, 2008

Yesterday was a tough one.  I tried to wake up after a very restless night for both myself and my husband.  It was VERY dark and grey outside, with a drizzle turning into a downpour that lasted for at least a couple of hours.  This seasonally-affected girl had a tough time.  

Sherri and I went for our Wednesday walk and witnessed a raging fire on someone’s front balcony–in the midst of the pouring rain.  The Verdun firefighters were quick on the scene and got to it after a few tense minutes of them breaking in and getting the hose going.  It was a curious phenomenon, and quite strange to smell smoke and rain in one inhale.  

I got back and was achy and exhausted from my rough night.  I had a headache and was just generally sore, not hungry, not thirsty:  lethargic.  And I stayed that way for hours upon hours.  I also was quite self-piteous.  

Well, a call from Julie in Colorado brightened my spirits a bit.  It was good to connect with her.  Pete had come and gone during my time talking with her, and I decided to go to his soccer game–the final, championship intramural soccer game of the season.  It was a good thing to get out of the house, even though it meant a half hour metro ride plus a 15 minute walk uphill.

It was all well-worth it, though.  I sat with an umbrella over my head as it had continued to rain, and watched the ridiculous footwork of Pete’s teammates (some were varsity players, so they obviously won). Pete, goalie, played well.   During the game, the final installation of the Montreal Fireworks competition went off in the background. (The competition is an international affair–every Wednesday and Saturday of mid June-August they block off a major bridge over the St. Lawrence River, so spectators can see with nothing in their ways.) Our vantage point was from the field carved into the side of Mount Royal–it was quite beautiful.  

I came home soggy, but happy I went.  And I slept better than I have in almost the entirety of my marriage. 

It’s good to fight lethargy.

the apartment–after

August 3, 2008

**This post brought to you by the help of many friends, the beauty of hand-me-downs, IKEA, and Boomerang Paint.**

Renovation:  Two or three Russians (hired by our landlord who is Russian himself) ripped out a closet in our office that was jutting into our bathroom.  Then they re-did the floors and walls of the bathroom, so we have more space.  It makes a lot more sense this way, though meant we had one closet to share, one storage closet in the dining room, and a wardrobe.  Hence the knotty-pine things in the dining room.  I hated them, but at least they blend it alright.

Paint:  Start with Yellow.  Enter Shore onto the scene… a mocha-grey combo that looks pretty bizarre when the first coat goes up, but with a second layer, looks soothing and modern.  Shore went up in the living room, office, in the main hallway, entry, and three of our four bedroom walls.  I wanted a dramatic dining room, so we bought premium (non-recycled) paint in chocolate brown.  This is not Hershey’s chocolate color, though… this is Lindt 85%, baby.  It actually turned out darker than I’d wished, but looks quite dramatic. We also created an accent wall in our bedroom with the Lindt Chocolate paint.  (I have no idea what the color is actually called–it’s Glidden anyway). In the bathroom, spare room–Pete’s studio, and kitchen, enter Moss (Boomerang recycled).  It’s a muted cool, well, mossy green.  It also looks quite sharp with the bright white trim.   We had lots and lots of help with painting.  It was amazing.

Furniture:  We came with very little into this big apartment.  We were given so much of what we have–washer, dryer, fridge, kitchen table and chairs, couch, loveseat (though I recovered both–from an ugly orange tweed to neutral stripe and from dusty black to ivory with chocolate trim), and the two knotty-pine-looking storage pieces that are side-by-side in the dining room, as well as a storage wardrobe in the office that isn’t pictured.  We got a major discount on the bed–sold to us from some friends, Pete’s desk was a give-away from his department, and the funky 50’s asian-inspired tv-cabinet-now sideboard was given to us by his supervisor, who was moving.  Everything else we either had already or we got on our IKEA runs, thanks to parental generosity and also some wedding gifts!  My favorite piece is most certainly the Expedit–the four-by-four cubical bookshelf in between our living room and office.  I had visions of some cool divider, but didn’t realize just how well this one would work.  It’s functional and beautiful and allows light to filter in from the living room into the office.  Pete ingeniously raised it up on a board and cement blocks, and stabilized it so it doesn’t topple.  

Decor:  I definitely have a modern design aesthetic.  I like clean lines–the living room has squares repeated all over the place.  Our dining room has a ‘family wall’–executed again by my awesome husband.  Our friends gave us some art and I can’t wait to hang up more photography around.  It’s just a matter of time and finding the right frames.  The two white lamps on that sideboard were found on the street–someone just dumped them on the curb.  I dumped their sea-green shades and bought some better-scaled shades from our local discount store.  I’ll be really happy when we figure out how to plug them in. 😉  The only outlet in the dining room doesn’t work.  

Basically, we love our place and find it to be very comfortable and inviting.  We can’t wait to get some chairs for the dining room (right now the kitchen ones double), and then the place will feel ‘complete’.  

Thanks for bearing with the long post and the long wait for pictures. I apologize for the strange order of the photos.  I also apologize for a bit of clutter around.  I didn’t feel like cleaning it all up.  

http://s20.photobucket.com/albums/b248/mariavvisa/decorated%20apartment/

the apartment–before

August 3, 2008

When we moved in, our apartment needed a little (or a LOT) of TLC.  We saw the potential–structurally, it’s a lovely place. It has lots of room.  We don’t feel crowded, and we loved that we could really make it our own.

Through the process of painting the entire place (originally, it was all yellow.  But not bright, cheery yellow.  More like jaundice), I wondered if the colors I’d chosen were right.  As it stands, I’m thrilled with it.  Some people would call it too dark.  I find it simple and sophisticated, and even calming.  The key is bright accents and bright white trim.  

We are not done with 100% of the painting (being as though doors and trim drink up paint), but this gives you the idea.  

I’ll show you the before pictures, then I’ll post the post-paint-and-decor pics.

http://s20.photobucket.com/albums/b248/mariavvisa/P%20and%20B%20apartment/

There were password problems.  Now there shouldn’t be. 🙂