Evolution of A Wine Drinker (Book Review)

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Alicia Bien writes a book about wine that is interesting, didactic, and funny! She takes the reader on a fun ride through wine country with an A to Z structure, with “R” being my favorite—“Retsina at The Parthenon.” Each chapter is a short autobiographical tale about wine and the author. When traveling to Greece, Bien and her husband meet up with her cousin, Mike the Marine, and though the men end up having beer, the author finally does try Retsina. Her stories are infused with dry humor, and I also learned a few things about wine when reading her book.

For example, she writes: “Retsina uses white Savatiano or Assyrtiko grapes to make a white wine or sometimes it uses the pink Rhoditis grapes to make a Rosé. No matter the color, what makes a Retsina a Retsina is that it is flavored with the sap (aka resin) of the Aleppo pine tree. Yes, pine tree sap is purposefully added to the wine must during fermentation, giving the wine a—how do I say this nicely?—a pungent, paint-thinner, turpentine-like nose. Upon reflection, this smell may explain why Retsina is not found outside Greece.” I agree. It is not my favorite wine either.

Another story, about her experience while taking a class with Captain Clarence Sargent, a sixty-five-year old wine connoisseur, was equally entertaining. Captain Clarence tells the author, “You got a problem?”  . . .

“Swirling,” I said. “It looks so snobby. Can’t we just drink the wine?”

His eyes met mine and in that instant I knew how the Viet Cong felt facing him on the battlefield—scared out of their skulls. She ends that chapter with “I had grown to respect Captain Sargent and his oenological knowledge and although I realized we’d never be friends, he’d done something remarkable for me—he’d provided an introduction to wine and its pleasures, turning this college beer chugger into a passionate wine drinker.”

This is a perfect little book for anyone who loves wine and short humorous tales. It’s a fun, quick read. The paperback has great drawings and the author brings her stories to life with clear, colorful language while making the reader chuckle from time to time. I highly recommend it—it’s perfect for a gift that includes a bottle of wine. Salud!

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Alicia Bien is a comedy writer, performer and wine lover. She studied at Second City-Hollywood and the Upright Citizens Brigade and is Head Writer for the sketch show “Top Story! Weekly” at iO West. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and adopted cat. Visit the author online at her Blog newhousegirl.blogspot.com and follow her at Twitter@aliciabien.

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Why Grown Women Still Need Their Mamas

ImageThis past week my husband had a business trip, and I was feeling a bit “alone,” not lonely, just like a stranger in a big, big city. New to Los Angeles, I have been very fortunate to have met some wonderful people. I made a few new friends and have the absolute best neighbors on both sides, who not only are animal people, but are people who I could call if I ever felt unsafe. But I don’t. I have my three bebitos at my feet and their snoring (and other sounds) actually put me to sleep at night. But this past week, I needed my mama. Yes, I’m forty-four, but does wanting or needing your mama ever really change? So I called her. My mother LOVES her home, her garden, and her swimming pool (where she does her daily—ten—laps). She loves going to Curves Gym: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Every Tuesday, she cooks dinner for my nieces; every Thursday, she sings the same three songs at her favorite karaoke restaurant. Every morning, she talks on the phone for hours with her sister in Greece. Simply put, she is retired and she loves her routine. But she loves her daughter more.

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Like most maturing adults, my mother hates to travel even if it’s a simple train ride from San Diego to Los Angeles. And she hates leaving her home more. But, like a good Greek mama, her kids and grandkids always come first. So instead of being by myself for a week, my mama came to stay with me. ImageShe always arrives with bags of goodies: pita bread and hummus (both of which we can buy from the corner Trader Joes), all my mail (still have Mom’s address from my college days), a few surprises (silver flip-flops and a pink nightie), and something sweet for my husband (homemade Baklava).

There are so many reasons why moms are the best. Here are some specific reasons why her visit was not only appreciated, but useful.

#1 She helped me clean house;
# 2 she taught me how to change my vacuum bag;
# 3 she taught me how to hem my husband’s slacks (okay, I lied, she just did it);
# 4 she kept me company when I took my Jeep for its smog check;
# 5 she helped me wash my Greek goddess dress that I wore for my birthday (that was hanging on the closet door for months!);
# 6 she took a pretty dress I bought and cut the back (it was too long) and attached it to the front (it was too short);
# 7 she scratched my back when we went to bed (just like she did when I was a little girl);
#8 and she made me laugh with her silly ways.

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And what did I do for her?
#1 I made her Greek coffee in the morning;

#2 I tried to treat her to a Starbuck’s simple coffee, but she wouldn’t let me because she said it was too expensive;

#3 I bought her a good wine to enjoy;Image

#4 I cooked a delicious curry dinner;

#5 I let her complain about our dogs;

#6 and I simply appreciated her.

It’s a funny thing, the relationship between mothers and daughters. You love that woman heart and soul, yet she is often the person who drives you a bit nuts. I look like my mom, I laugh like my mom, sing like her, cry like her. I repeat myself like her: I ask my husband a million times if he wants more food, more water, another pillow, an extra blanket. But I am also strong and happy like her. I remember a quote I read a few years ago that said: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all.” I am a lot like her and also so different. My strengths are distinct, but I also don’t think I am as resilient and fearless as she is when it comes to life.

So when life is feeling a little unstable, and when I feel a bit alone, I know it’s okay for a grown woman, like myself, to need my mama.

Life Happens

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I had said I wanted a job more than I needed a vacation. And my prayers were answered—with a little help from above—and A LOT of effort, after two months of angst, I was hired to teach part-time at a quaint college in Los Angeles. Some of the beautiful buildings date back to the early 1900s, and the students are diverse and lively. So though I am extremely thankful to be gainfully employed once more, a slight disappointment encompasses me today. I see my ticket for Athens, dated September 6th, 2013. On Friday my husband and I would have been on a plane going to Greece for a month. But new jobs equal no vacation time. So, for a costly fee, I will rebook.

ImageI know this desire to be in Greece is superficial in comparison to the grander issues in life, but—admittedly—I find myself envious for the first time. I see pictures of friends, former colleagues, ex-students, all who have all become Facebook friends, and when their travels include Greece, I feel a tickle in my tummy.

I see photos of Turkey, Thailand, Tanzania, Vietnam Nam and Austria; all places I would like to visit, but those are fanciful desires. My craving for Greece is different. I think my Peruvian students who studied in the U.S. and abroad must know this visceral desire of returning to a place that has “spice.” A country may have its imperfections (maybe economic and class struggles) but it’s the place that makes you feel alive—and you don’t know exactly why. I am sure we all have that special place, for a friend who lives on the East Coast, San Diego may be his spice. Another friend, who is from the Philippines, says there’s nothing like going back home.

For me, Greece is my magic place. It’s where I recharge my battery. It’s the place where I lie in bed beside my Aunt Lucy, my first best friend, with our feet in the air leaning on a wall, and philosophize about the meaning of life, feminism, and Choice. I take long walks with my cousin Daphne and talk about relationships and how our parents are getting old and crazy—but we love them nonetheless because they put up with us. Of course there are the Greek islands, the endless summers of swimming, dancing, gyros-eating, and playing. Those moments, those memories, oftentimes keep me going. And those moments have been made so much more poignant because my last four visits were shared with the love of my life.
ImageMy husband lies on a double bed with my yiayia. She’s eighty-five at the time, bed-ridden, round with baby-soft skin. Hugo is so great with old people, loves to hear their stories, holds their hands tenderly when they talk. Yiayia and Hugo got so comfortable that he would lie on her double bed with her as she told him the same (dirty!) joke over and over. When we were leaving, I asked her what she wanted me to bring her back from Peru (we were living there at the time). She said: “Bring me back Peruvian man—like Hugo!” and the three of us laughed. Yiayia Dina is bright, naughty, and demanding. She’s also the inspiration of the grandmother in my novel, Red Greek Tomatoes. When I told my yiayia that the grandmother in my novel loses her virginity at eighteen before marriage, she was horrified. “People will think I am poutana!” “No, Yiayia, she is just a character. She’s not you.” She just shook her head and told Hugo the joke again about the Italian soldier who got a macaroni stuck up his butt.
ImageMy other love in Greece, apart from my loud, warm family, is our little summer house in a village called Kamena Vourla. It a simple town with cafés and bars that line the coast. It’s also the setting for a section of my novel, but more than anything, it’s a place that reminds me of a time in my life when I was completely carefree and full in the belly.
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At only three years old, I would waddle to the neighbor’s house and come back with a handful of candies. In the back yard of our summer house, my cousin Tony, five years my junior, and I would bathe in a plastic bath filled with cold water. In my early teens, the neighbors would still give me sweets, pinch me, and tell me I had the softest skin. My mother and aunt would walk along the fifty-meter stretch to the beach in nothing but a bathing suit and flip flops. We didn’t lock doors, and we said kalimera to everyone we saw.

When I was in my late teens, I went to Greece every year and in my early twenties, I lived in Athens for a few years. Though life was different compared to when one vacations in a country, I still loved it. My dream is to own a small home in Corfu one day with my husband and grow our own vegetables and make our own wine. Ah, dreams.

Today I have childhood friends there, a small amazing Greek family, and the country, despite all its economic issues and turmoil, is still, for me, a land of mystery, history, and utter breathtaking beauty.
Image So as I plan my classes for Fall semester while sitting in my artificial-cool office in the scorching San Fernando Valley—instead of lying on the beach at Aspronairi—I am thankful for memories and for my life. Hopefully, we can reschedule, but anything can happen in a year. So prota o Theos, (or God willing) next year this time, my blog post will be from a place that has more water and less air-conditioning.

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My “Story”

The Sarawak headhunters wanted to kidnap me. They sought blonde babies, and I was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen. My mama told me this story for as long as I can remember. Obviously, she was seeing through mommy goggles because pictures of me at that time reveal a toddler with an alien-sized head, a non-existent nose, and a belly that matched Buddha’s. ImageThough headhunting rarely took place in the early 1970s and cute babies had nothing to do with their choice of head, to my mother’s relief, we left Borneo when I was almost two years old.

I grew up with stories—just like this one. My dad told strangers my mama was Miss Greece 1964 (as far as I know, in the early 60s, she worked as a hotel receptionist and never held the aforementioned title). In the 70s, an Arab Sheik wanted my mother to leave her engineer husband to join his harem; Imagein the 80s, our airplane on the way to South Africa had to do a crash landing into a bed of foam; in the 90s, my Greek grandmother gave me twelve gold bracelets from a toothless gypsy who owed her money; and in the 2000s, it was time for me to finally take my family’s oral tradition, and commit these and other stories to writing.

I still don’t know if these stories are somewhat factual or entirely fictional, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. In Saudi Arabia, as an eight-year-old, I would make up long tales of camels and princesses; fire and sand dunes. In South Africa, as an eleven-year-old, my stories became more elaborate, a missing treasure, a leopard who could talk, and a Bushman who saved the day. But my favorite stories have always been about Greece. The place where everything tastes better, looks bluer, smells nicer.

ImageWhen I was a few years old, my family and I moved, for a short time, back to mother’s native land, Greece. When my North American father got a new international engineering post, we packed our bags again. By the time I was thirteen, I had lived in six different countries and had visited countless more. In Venezuela, I ate arepas; in Saudi Arabia I rode camels; in South Africa I walked alongside giraffes and lay with leopards, Imagebut my favorite memories are in Kamena Vourla, at my grandmother and grandfather’s summer cottage by the sea.

Almost every summer of my life, I swam in the Mediterranean, ate watermelon and tomatoes from my papoo’s garden, and listened to stories that spewed from my yiayia’s mouth. Yiayia, who also grew up in several countries, told me about a green-eyed Bedouin woman who pawned her thick, silver ankle bracelets at my great grandfather’s kiosk in Egypt. Because the woman never returned, yiayia’s father thought, with her other-worldly gaze, she was an angel. ImageHe used the silver to make a religious icon, which now hangs in my mother’s bedroom. The eyes supposedly move; the “angel’s” eyes watching over all of us.

Yiayia would tell me stories of her youth in Egypt, her trials with two daughters who were so different, and the wimpy son who grew to be her favorite. My mother told me about her travels to Iran, Hong Kong, and Lesotho and about her youth in Nigeria. “I would climb a tree instead of go to school,” she told me, and “I loved swimming in King Farouk’s palace. Those days it was open on weekends to the public.” All my life I listened to the matriarchs of our family; I grew up with their stories and my father’s, so naturally enough, I too became a storyteller.

At Kmart, my first job, I worked in the fitting room. Hidden behind a stack of clothes, I would write for hours in my Hello-Kitty palm-sized notebook. After high school, I got a Bachelor’s Degree in English, moved to Greece, and got my first job teaching English. Three years later, I returned to the U.S, pursued a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature and became an Adjunct English Professor in San Diego.

In my 12th year of teaching, I met my wonderful husband Imageand moved to Peru for six years. In Lima I secured a position as an English teacher, and then soon after as Head of Department, at Colegio Roosevelt, a prestigious American I.B. World School. It was a great experience though seeing extreme poverty juxtaposed with affluence often left me questioning my own choices. It also filled my mental rolodex with new stories I want to tell one day.

ImageHugo and I returned to the U.S. in 2010 with our little family, three beautiful (and extremely naughty) English bulldogs, and a new adventure began.

Teaching has been a happy accident. I love being in front of a class and telling students stories (as well as teaching them the mandated syllabus). And, thankfully, I have been successful and have made great bonds with students over the years. But, after twenty years of teaching, it was time to write the novels that have been in my head, the first one being RED GREEK TOMATOES, a work of fiction inspired by my mother’s and grandmother’s stories as well as my own life experiences.

ImageThere are not too many things in this world that are certain. But of one thing I am certain: I was born to be a storyteller.

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Book Review: THE ISLAND by Victoria Hislop

ImageI’ll start by saying that this novel is set in Greece—and for that reason alone—I was interested; that, and it was a huge bestseller in Europe, holding “the number 1 slot in the paperback charts for eight consecutive weeks, selling over a million copies in the UK . . . [and now] published in over twenty languages.” For someone who researches book sales for fun, these numbers were quite impressive, and the fact that it is about Greece made it an easy sell for me. And the novel certainly did not disappoint.

ImageThe Island is a story about the infamous leper colony on Spinalonga, a tiny island off the shores of Crete. It’s a novel that is historical, romantic, and beautifully written. It was hard, at times, to separate the details of this story to places I have been or Greek people I know. Victoria Hislop, an English writer, who owns a summer house on the island of Crete, said in an interview when asked if she visits Greece often: “Yes…very often. Sometimes it feels as though the more appropriate question would be ‘Do you visit the UK often?’ I am in Greece so much.” And this is apparent in her writing. She knows the culture, the intimate gestures and idiosyncrasies of Greek people well.

It’s a novel that begins in contemporary Greece with a first-generation English girl who travels to Crete to find out about her Greek ancestors. When the young lady asks questions about her mother’s and grandmother’s lives, it reminded me a lot about my own process when writing Red Greek Tomatoes.

ImageWhen I decided to write a Greek-American novel and ask my yiayia questions about her life in the 1930s on the then-Greek island of Imbros, I realized how many stories die with our family members if we don’t take the energy to ask or make the time to listen. When Alexis finally asks and listens, she uncovers a tragic tale of four generations of Petrakis women, and how leprosy marked their family.

I was emotionally carried away when, in the beginning of the novel, Eleni, Alexis’ great-grandmother is taken away from the village of Plaka, torn away from her daughters, to go live on Spinalonga—a segregated life for lepers. Eleni’s relationship with her husband is one of the many mini stories of love and lust; at times, I did want more of a particular relationship, but the focus of the novel seems to be less on the characters and more on the concept of survival in its various manifestations.

My only disappointment was the end. It seems to wrap up too quickly. As I struggle to cut fifty more pages from my novel, I can just hear Hislop’s agent saying: “We got the lucrative book deal, but you need to rewrite the last fifty pages and make them only five.” Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems too much is made into neat parcels too quickly. Apart from this minor critique, I loved The Island. I enjoyed learning about something I never knew existed (the leper colony); I relished the descriptions of Greece (a country that I absolutely adore); and I appreciated Hislop’s good writing (fresh, accurate descriptions and thoughtful plot). I would surely recommend this novel. It’s a smart book, not a page-turner necessarily, but one of the best books I have read in the last few years.

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Sources:

http://hollywood.greekreporter.com/2010/10/02/the-island-author-chooses-greece-over-hollywood/

http://www.victoriahislop.com/

Personal Ad for Opa

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Hi, my name is Opa! You know, like the versatile Greek word meaning so many things from “Yay!” to “Oops!” to “I love the sound of plates smashing on the stage!” Anyway, I’m twenty-seven years old (almost four in dog years) and have never had a Significant Other. I’m one quarter Greek, one quarter American, and half Peruvian (I was born in Lima, but recently became an American citizen, and am still waiting on my Greek passport). I speak Spanish fluently (it’s the language of intimacy with my parents), understand some English, (“sit,” “stay,” and “freeeeee”) and some Greek (“Bravo Koukla!”); I even know some German words (“nein” and “aus” but I only hear them when I am in trouble, so they aren’t my favorite words).

ImageI’m the baby of the family and adore my mama (and I know I’m her favorite even though she says she loves us all equally :)) I love to shake my butt and lick her toes when I see her. I have a brother, Achilles, and a sister, Oia. Both are grumpy and like to sleep all day–and all I want to do is play. So I’m looking for a guy or a girl, who wants to run, jump, and chase balls with me. If you think you’re The One, you can email me at opa@plentyofdogs.com

ImageOh, and I tend to have a thing for the wild ones–so if you are a pit bull with tattoos, I’m your girl! But, I have to admit, I also have a soft spot for German Shepherds and rottweilers. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m really not that picky. I like short dates too: so if you are a dachshund, a Maltese, or even a chihuahua, you can write too! All I really want is a friend who has energy and doesn’t sleep all day (like my boring brother and special sister). I like long runs on the beach; I’m not a picky eater but do love calamari with tzatziki, and my drink of choice is Inca Kola. So, if you want to go to the bouzoukia and smash some plates and have a grand ol’ time, remember, OPA!

(Even though I have a lot of energy, writing this made me tired and, I guess, I do need a power nap, so . . . ciao for now . . .)

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Fish Lips

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I was at the gym today and saw a woman on the elliptical trainer beside me who had lips bigger than her derrière! My first thought was: “Welcome to LA!” My second thought was: “God, please don’t let me ever want to puff my lips like a cartoon fish!” But then . . . the little pink devil that hangs out on my left shoulder said: “Hey, didn’t you just tell someone the other day that you would consider a face-lift when you are around fifty-five?” Oops. Yes, I guess I did. It’s true I have become more grounded with yoga and other wonderful practices in my life, but I also see my face’s and buttocks’ gravitational pull. Your soul can become one with the earth, but your face and butt need to stay up, up, up! At least that’s what we (mostly women) are pressured into believing.

I had a conversation a few years ago about the mind/body/spirit connection with an ex-student who has now become a good friend. I had mentioned that the body is the least important of the three, and one will encounter happiness through a strong mind and spirit. She reminded me that “the body is our temple” and it is, in fact, with a healthy body that we can strengthen our mind and spirit.

I always think about this as my almost forty-four-year old body bench presses 3 sets of 15 of a 55lb bar. At the end of every challenging work-out—be it spinning, weight-lifting or Corepower yoga, I am always thankful for this body, not because I can still fit into my wedding dress, but because I feel strong and healthy.

I’m at the age where we start to see those around us deal with aching backs, bad knees, and in more serious cases, disease. We experience mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends who fight breast cancer (my own mother is a twelve-year survivor), some younger friends who have had ovaries removed because of the hideous ovarian cancer that hides so well, others who live with less-publicized diseases such as Scleroderma or Crohn’s. These women, who deal with real issues, make me feel less inclined to worry about my wrinkles or belly fat.

ImageBut. Over the years I have a growing number of students who have said to me in evaluations (and in person when I know them better): “You always seem like you are mad” or “You always seem to be critiquing us with your look.” Indeed I do critique (isn’t that the role of a conscientious teacher?), but I have learned that many of these comments stem from my furrowed brow. My pensive look is often read as if I am upset. I’m not. I just have never injected Botox into my face. Or Restylane. Or any other foreign substance. Never had a laser or chemical peel. I am au natural. And I know it shows because of the two deep lines in my forehead. I just don’t want people to think I’m mad.

But. I don’t want to do anything—at least for a while. I like it when I see my brow lift, my eyes squint, the lines around my smile emerge. I’ve earned these lines and I am proud of them.

But. I will be honest. I like them, now, at my age, but I don’t know how I will feel in ten or twenty or thirty years (if I am lucky to live that long). I saw Jane Fonda a year ago in person at her movie screening and then a few months ago on “The View”; she looks fabulous at seventy-five. On the talk show, she discussed her hip surgery and about pushing her body too hard. She still works out, but does exercises suited for a woman in her seventies. She talked openly about finally succumbing to a face-lift, saying she was no longer happy with the image that looked back at her. So, like her, I never want to say never.

As I looked at Fish Lips to my left and contemplated the aforementioned, I felt a bit guilty. I don’t know her personal story and why she chooses to look that way, and at the end of the day, I just hope that people who do plastic or any of all that other stuff that is now available (if you have the money, of course) you first work on a strong body, mind, and spirit. As we say at the end of my yoga class: Namaste. Peace be with you. And with Fish Lips.

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The Moment When One Knows It’s Time to Quit a Job and . . . Yet Another Love Story

(Singing) “On the road again,
Just can’t wait to get on the road again…”

Actually, I can. Today marks six weeks of commuting on the train between San Diego and Los Angeles for my job. Not fun. ImageThe train ride itself is gorgeous and relaxing, but living in two different homes: two sets of clothes, two toothbrushes, two tins of Bravo coffee is tough. Mostly though, being away from my husband leaves me feeling blue and leaves my indented pillow much too fluffy.

Last week at the train station, (it may have been hormones, it may have been the projects at home I had left half-finished, it may have been that I get sappier the older I get) I just didn’t want to leave, so I was crying. Of course, my husband held me patiently and told me the phrase we use to cheer each other up: “We’re almost there.” But I could not stop the tears. A part of me felt silly, the other was indifferent to the stares. So I held onto my husband as he squeezed me tight.

ImageWhen the train arrived, I had to let go. I boarded and through a tear-stained face, I tried to find a seat. Darn, it was packed. A blonde, athletic woman in her 50s smiled warmly, so I plopped down beside her. She looked at my wedding ring, and the conversation went something like this:

“Sorry, but I saw you out of the window . . . with . . . ahem . . . your husband?” It sounded like one of those question statements.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Where are you going?”

“San Diego.”

She pursued: “How long will you be away?”

I was a little embarrassed. It was Sunday. “I’ll be back Wednesday.”

“Oh?” Another question statement, then, “You must be a newlywed!”

“Well, yes, kind of.”

“How long have you been married?”

“Almost ten years.”

“Ten years!” She gasped. “That’s not a newlywed!

I guess I feel like a perpetual newlywed. Yeah, I guess at the ten-year mark I better start saying: “no, not a newlywed no more.”

“Gosh, when my husband would go on a business trip,” she continued, “after only a year of marriage, I was relieved.”

I smiled. I never feel that way when my husband and I are apart. I always miss him terribly, and based on his calls, notes, and texts, I think he would say the same about me. See here’s the thing: I like my husband. I don’t just love him. I am certain the woman on the train also loves her husband of twenty-five years. She told me she was very happily married, but liked time away from her husband to “get things done,” and “be with her friends.” She said what worked for them was time apart. I understand that may be the case for some couples, but as cliché as it sounds, Hugo is my best friend. Time spent with him is easy, fun. I hear people all the time say “marriage is hard,” but for us, thankfully, it’s easy; the easiest thing I have ever committed to in my life. Granted, we have had a few challenges, a few sticky situations, but it was never truly “hard.” Just life stuff that couples have to deal with. And we have a village of family who support our love, mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, fathers, etc.

ImageBut this last month has, in fact, been hard. It made me reflect upon military families and how difficult every good-bye must be. I was bidding adieu just for a few days; I can’t imagine the sadness when your partner leaves for months on end. But they do it. And their strength humbles me. I also know that long-distance partners learn and adapt—resilient men and women, who stand strong for his/her significant other.

Despite my peppy train-mate, my strength was wavering that day. I thought about resigning and giving up my Fall classes at UCSD. I started picturing the faces of my students. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed teaching them; I’ve enjoyed the program, the hours, the bosses, my colleagues. Okay, I’ve especially loved the students, especially those who hold on and become my sweet, young FB friends; others who I lunch with, others who private message me for advice that goes far beyond the classroom. Meeting new students every year, semester, or quarter has always been my favorite part of the job.

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“So, you are a teacher?” The blonde woman said when I started grading essays to keep my mind occupied.

“Yes,” but I think I will be quitting my job this week.

Popular wisdom dictates not to quit a job before you have another one, but ethically, I couldn’t stay committed. I had three classes that would need a replacement instructor. My bosses, thankfully, received my resignation letter with warmth and offers to be future references. I felt confident that I had done the right thing.

So, today, after this train ride to San Diego to give my students their final exam, I will no longer be (singing) “on the road again . . .”

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And my fluffy pillow will once more have its familiar grooves.

Nook or The Book?

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I don’t own a Nook or a Kindle because of my endless love affair with paper books. At night, lying down, when I read a new hardcover and it is, admittedly, heavy and uncomfortable, I mostly don’t mind. It’s worth the weight and discomfort just to see it later perched on my bookshelf. ImageI see my Matryoshka Post-its sticking their bodies out on the side, a Peruvian bookmark peeking its head out on top–the markings that signify: “Kimberly has been there.” Paper books give me pleasure long after the act of reading is over.

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But. Isn’t there always a “but”? After moving this past month and having to pile, dust, box, and haul about five hundred books from one city to another, I finally had second thoughts. I started thinking about those devices that would allow me to carry all my books in a pint-sized parcel, a device weighing in at less than half a pound. Hmm . . . ? Maybe I need to reconsider. I imagined lying in bed at night holding a metal sheet that is back lit. I know my husband would be pleased as he sometimes says: “Amore, are you done reading yet?” I have tried buying those silly clip-on lights, but they hurt my eyes and constantly topple over. Not convenient at all. Then I imagined my upcoming trip to Greece. I would be stretched on a chaise lounge on the island on Naxos and look cool with my hip device. And the sun’s glare supposedly does not interfere with its crisp image.

So many reasons to get a Nook, give up The Book.

As I wrote “#15—The Classics” on a box, I contemplated a new purchase. Maybe I will invest and get an electronic-lackluster-without a real bookmark-Nook/Kindle-thingy after all.

The next thought that popped in my mind was “Nah! Paper books forever!”

 

 

 

A Pledge of Allegiance

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As I sat in the balcony, nestled between my mother, brother, sister-in-law, and Brian, an electricity filled the air. Over six-hundred people were gathered below, ready to pledge their allegiance to the United States of America. My family and I were present for my Peruvian husband.

So many emotions shot through my body, so many thoughts filled my mind. In June of 2011, I read a Time cover story by a Washington Post journalist, a man born in the Philippines, who came out as an “undocumented immigrant.” It was a powerful article that stuck with me, so much so that when I saw it anthologized in The Best American Essays 2012, I ordered the text for class and now fascinating discussions take place in my college classroom when we read this piece. I also follow Jose Antonio Vargas on Facebook as I am concerned about his as well as the 11 million undocumented individuals’ path to citizenship, people who have made this great country their home, yet struggle to become legal citizens.

Then I thought about several good friends, one a German who became naturalized several years ago; she was thrilled, honored, and wears her new nationality with great pride. Another friend, an Italian, who has lived here for more than twenty years, just felt like it was time. Then, last week, I met a man from Norway, and when I told him about my husband’s upcoming oath ceremony, he shrugged his shoulders, as if to say “it’s really no big deal.” But when I saw the solitary man from Syria stand, I wondered what he would say if I asked him how he felt to be a United States Citizen. I am sure to him it is a big deal.

The presiding judge, a blonde woman in her fifties, asked attendees to stand when they heard the name of their country. She began alphabetically, “Afghanistan, Albania, Belgium, Belize, Congo . . .” only one or two people stood from each of these countries. “Estonia, Guatemala . . . ” then she said: “Iran . . . Iraq” at least fifty from each country stood. Next to Mexico and India, Iran and Iraq had the largest number of immigrants. When Peru was called, my husband stood and looked up at us; my mama, Amy, and I jumped up as we hooted and hollered while waving little American flags that I had bought the day before. My husband has gotten used to my loud, warm Greek-American family and smirked from his seat below.

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I remember a time when I was coming back to the U.S. from Greece, and a man behind the immigration counter asked me when I was naturalized. At nineteen, young and impressionable, authority figures made me tremble while my palms became cesspools. “I don’t know what you mean,” I responded politely. I had never heard the word “naturalized” before. This word choice was not part of my reality. “WHEN were you naturalized?!” he bellowed. I repeated, “I am sorry, sir, I don’t know what you mean.” I had tears in my eyes as everyone around me started staring. “You were born in Venezuela. WHEN did you become an American?” “Yes, I was born in Venezuela. My dad is a civil engineer. He was working there. I happened to be born there. Both my parents are American.” I rattled facts, hoping one of them would give him the answer he wanted. “PASS!” He threw my passport back to me. If this had happened to me today, it would have been another story. Maybe not. People in uniforms still make my pulse race. So I meekly walked away, and when my loving Greek mother held me as I shared what happened, I finally learned what “naturalized” meant. My mother was, in fact, naturalized.

I am a third-culture kid, having lived exactly half my life overseas in more than five different countries. As a teenager, I was sometimes confused, displaced, and didn’t know the location of “home.” In my twenties, I began appreciating my peripatetic life; in my thirties, my appreciation turned into a deep sense of gratitude to have lived in such colorful countries. And, now, in my forties, I am finally home. The physical place is Los Angeles, and I have, indeed, become a proud American, but I have also come to understand “home” is where one feels at peace. I love this country, a country where we open our arms to others every day who want to come here for a multitude of reasons—one of which, I am certain, is to be at peace.

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608 people present, 234 requesting name changes, 26 individuals absent, and 1 man who has my heart. That afternoon as we lunched with my family, ate Mongolian Beef and chicken fried rice, I looked at my smiling husband and reflected on the joyous day. At one point, my mind turned to the endless paperwork, the proofs of love—Hallmark cards, wedding photos, private e-mails—the interviews, the hurdles, and, thankfully, the final invitation. I also reflected upon those 11 million individuals and hope our government agrees on a solution for them. For today, though, I am happy for one individual. A man who has loved me for ten years, a best friend who makes me laugh, my husband who can now call this country his home, too. Proud to be an American. “One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

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