Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Three costumes I've always been able to pull out of my own wardrobe.
1. "Gypsy" - or American romanticized idea of a gypsy.
2. Hippie
3. Pirate

Today I'm going with number 2, but the color of my bandanna is not really "period" and if I take it off no one knows it's a costume. Oh, no one knows it's a costume anyway!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Password Protected
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

No, I'm not changing my blog over to a password protected blog. Mostly because I don't believe anyone really cares enough about what I have to say to remember my password and sign in to read it. I won't ask that of you.

I had to change my password on my hotmail account. I have never changed the password on my hotmail account. I learned when changing my password that I have had my hotmail account since December 19, 2001. So remembering a new password is going to be a pain in the ass because right now it's just muscel memory. Good thing I log in to hotmail in the morning and leave it open all day.

More than that, even though I know I shouldn't, I have the same password for everything on the internet. Except those stupid accounts that make you have a number in them - for them I have the same password with a number in it.

I had to change my password because I got an email from ebay that said someone might have stolen access to my ebay account and I could protect it by changing the password to my primary email address. Now I haven't used my ebay account since January of 2004 when I purchased a brand-new still in the box Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring Samwise action figure with real pots and pans swinging action. But I have a account and is owned by ebay and I use my account all the time to look at books I'd like to read that are for sale for 75 cents.

So I decided it could be serious and I followed the email from ebay's instructions and changed my password. Then I went to their website for Live Help so they would give me permission to re-enter my own account. While I was waiting for a customer service represented I realized that I looked at my account yesterday. I added two more books (available for 75 cents each plus shipping) to my favorites list. I was considering emailing my User ID and password to a few people with a note saying check out my favorites list, I'd really like to read these books and you could buy them for me for just 75 cents. You could wait till you have a whole box of books and ship them to Romania and not only would I be your best friend for life, I would reimburse you the cost of shipping when I, you know, have money again in USD.

It occured to me that since I entered my own account from a computer accessing the internet from Romania, I was probably shut out of my account to protect me from myself. Somehow the people who keep track of this sort of thing have named Romania the number one country in the world for illegal things done on the internet. I've had this problem before trying to sign up for Yahoo Voice which is cheaper than Skype. (Skype by the way never helped me with my problem. I just emailed my password to my mom - which was the same password as my email password and told her to buy me Skype credit from the U.S.) These companies don't want my money because they don't believe that a perfectly good U.S. credit card could be used from Romania for a healthy purpose. Granted, they probably have good reasons for believing this but it makes things very difficult for the totally innocent holders of perfectly good U.S. credit cards in Romania.

So I log on to Live Help and start chatting Instant Messenger style with a guy named Randall who I think might even bee a real person, although his typing was very scripted and he kept using my name and reassuring me in a very "this crisis will all be over soon" kind of way. I informed him that I'm a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania and I was likely the reason I was shut out of my account. After consulting whatever file on me ebay has registered under my username (which is the same as my username for my email address) he informed me that everything would be fine. I just have to fax a copy of an ID like my driver's license or a bill to ebay's fraud department and they would make sure the address matched and then I would be allowed in my account again.

There's no way I'm paying to send an international fax. I didn't tell him I haven't lived at the address on my driver's license (Pine Street, Stevens Point) since before I set up my hotmail account. Instead I said, the address on my utility bill won't match because I'm living in Romania now. My bills are in Romanian and the address on the bill is where I'm currently living but the name is my landlord's father. (And by the way I don't even get an electricity bill I just know that once a month I have to go to the Cashier Electric after writing down the number on the meter, or they'll shut off my electricity.)

Randall consulted his file. He told me someone in the U.S. could fax in a utility bill from my old address and that would be sufficent. And he assured me that this would all be over soon and I would regain access to my ebay account. I told him I didn't get any more bills at my old address. Would any peice of mail be ok? He checked his file and said it would. What if my mom sells the house? Fine as long as I don't get shut out of my account again (because then I'd really be out of luck since I don't know why I'd recieve any mail at wherever she moves to.) If I verify that my address is in the U.S. will I get shut out of my account again for being in Romania? - Now I can't even remember if Randall answered that one, but I think he seemed to think it would be fine.

Abruptly, I felt, he asked before we end this conversation can I help you with anything else?
I typed, Yes. Do you know if it's possible for me to buy anything over ebay since I just assumed you wouldn't accept a credit card from a Romanian ISP address. Is that true?

I can't help you with that this is the anti-fraud department. you'll have to contact directly.

So more surfing of unhelpful Help pages in my future. The point I'm trying to make is that these companies don't seem to be set up to help real people in real situations. They seem prepared for crime and that's it. They can't comprehend when you're in a Not Crime situation that doesn't jive with their script. For the same reason I can't reach my credit card company with a question because the Call Collect outside the U.S. number doesn't work from my cell phone and guess what - Not even Romanians know how to use a Romanian pay phone! The same reason my debit card isn't accepted by the Obama campaign because my scary 25 dollars is coming from an internet connection outside the U.S.

I know these restrictions are set up to protect me from something, but sometimes they hurt more than they help. Anyway, I managed to keep the same password on my hotmail account for almost seven years with no problem. But you'll never guess my new password.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

At the late night double feature picture show...
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

For my loyal readers out there you will notice I've long ago left off naming a Musical of the Month that I am listening to. That's because it occured to me that I don't listen to that many musicals. I have a handful of soundtracks and I loyally rotate between them. I'm not really one explore music that I don't already listen to. It takes me a long time to get used to a new soundtrack or a new group and for them to earn my trust. Usually one long road trip will do it, but I haven't had an occassion to go on a road trip with a bunch of different CDs for quite a while now, just my old standbys. Since I've had this blog for more than a year I figured how boring is it for you, my readers, to hear about me rotating back and fourth between the same dozen or so musicals without ever adding anything new?

That said, today it suddenly occurred to me that we're halfway through October and I haven't been listening to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (movie) Soundtrack constantly as I usually do every October. I don't know why I hadn't thought of listening to it. Maybe it's because I have no real plans to celebrate Halloween right now (I'll be watching Donnie Darko) or because Halloween isn't widely celebrated in Romania. Or maybe it's because I've been spending so much time on the computer I wanted to listen to something without words (the Lord of the Rings Two Towers sountrack, constantly - to the point that it's playing in my head even when I'm not listening to it).

Another volunteer told me he was working on putting on the second ever production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (movie + actors) to occur in Translyvania. The first was in June and I couldn't go. But when we talked about it in mid-September he mentioned doing some "traditional" Halloween activities before the Rocky Horror Preshow (de-virgin ritual) like bobbing for apples and telling ghost stories, before the audience went inside and was presented with a paper bag of things to throw a the screen and introduced the the World of Rocky.

Now, honestly Rocky Horror and Halloween have only one thing in common and that is costumes. Rocky has nothing to do with Halloween. Still, I was fantastically excited for Rocky "sometime around Halloween" despite the inherant irresponsibility of confusing for the Romanians in attendance "Halloween" and "Rocky Horror." One is really a celebration for children at the end of every October - the other is definately a celebration for adults that can take place every Friday night!

But I haven't heard back about a date for the Rocky Horror performance and I've already begun to believe it's not going to happen anytime soon. This saddens me because not only did I set the goal for myself of inviting a Romanian to Rocky Horror with me for the purpose of cultural amabassadorship - I actually found a candidate. (Don't get too excited, I have her number but I haven't actually spoken to her since August.)

My disapointment at the lack of Rocky in my October goes deeper too. I was really looking forward to going to this performance because, for me, it was a chance to do something normal. By that I mean something I would do at home. It's going to be a really weird Fall for me because I'm noticing I don't have time on my calendar to celebrate Thanksgiving, and I even though I've let Halloween slip through the cracks before without carving pumpkins, without getting dressed up. But to do nothing - at all! For two holidays in a row? To be surrounded by people who aren't even familiar with the holiday - makes me feel even farther from home than usual.

One time a friend told me about researching something so out there, so wacky, so far from her own experience that in order to have some sense of balance and normalacy while she looked up this information she had to listen to Hedwig and the Angry Inch to pull the world back into order. That's kind of how I feel about Rocky Horror.

Or perhaps that story better illustrates the kind of people I'm used to hanging out with at home.

Living in a culture that's foriegn to you it's rare that you have days when you feel totally like yourself; when you're not trying to fit into another culture, when you're not trying to decide what's appropriate and what isn't, when you're not asking yourself: how much of my honest thoughts and opinions can I reveal in this situation? What will happen if I really express myself, unfiltered? This is true even when hanging out with other Americans here. Sometimes there's a degree of "these are my friends, but not my friends from 'real life'." Some of us are keenly aware that we wouldn't be friends in the United States, or perhaps we could have been friends but it's likely some of us would never have met.

Of course, that's not the case with everyone.

To put it another way: I have to introduce a whole new group of people to the movie Velvet Goldmine, explain the three different drinking games and why you shout certain sentences at certain times (not just for Rocky Horror) but for every movie ("that sitar player does not love you!"). This is part of the reason I haven't watched any Lord of the Rings movies in seven months. Because no one here understands "that's what I see too, Sauroman, except I see it not so much you and I, but more like just I! Because I'm a giant EYE! Get it?"

And like most inside jokes when you explain them to new people they sound stupid, childish, and weird ("you baked a cake in the shape of what?"). You need to make new inside jokes rather than invite new people into your old inside jokes. And I haven't been good at that.

That's why I was so looking forward to Rocky Horror: the biggest inside joke ever! And looking forward to being with other people on the inside. The kind of people not afraid to get out their fishnets and Time Warp. The kind of people I could be friends with - on some level - wherever, whenever. Kind of like a family reunion.

It would be nice to see a movie with people who knew when to shout. Even if at the begining we shouted different things...

Monday, October 15, 2007

An Unexpected Journey
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

In general, there's not much that I do that's spontaneous. If I go to the store, I know what I'm looking for, and when I get back I start next week's grocery list. I don't go to the movie theatre without knowing what movie I want to see. I'm not one for spur of the moment changes of plans.

It's not that I don't like and appreciate spontaneity. It can be good when it doesn't throw your whole game off. When it doesn't leave you feeling nervous or powerless like you showed up to class without your homework done.

This weekend was filled with the good kind of spontaneity. On friday I was emailing a friend that yes, we should try to get together sometime this month - I think the last two weekends of the month I'm busy but this weekend I was looking forward to a repeat of the weekend before - getting some work done (maybe), studying Romanian for my tutor, watching movies on my computer and hopefully getting outside for some physical excercise at some point. (Sorry bicycle, it didn't happen again last week!) I emailed him my glamorous weekend end plans and he responded "I'll be at the train station at 8:30".

So we spent the weekend together. Where there once was one there now were two, and he got to meet Belladonna and tease me for babying her so much. Because I wasn't planning on having guests I didn't have a menu prepared, but he brought some brocoli and I got out the pesto my dad sent me in a care package and we did just fine with what was already in my cupboard. We watched and discussed some important movies and had a good time just hanging out.

The weather (cold and blowing rain) kept us in most of the day Saturday but by Sunday morning even I wanted to get out of the apartment and at least get a coffee. So we took our conversation to a local coffee shop featuring Italian deserts and had cannoli an tiramisu for breakfast.

After that we went for a walk to the bottom of the steps in the park in Deva. The steps used to lead all the way up the hill/mountain to the ruin of the ancient citadel at the top. It's Deva's best - most well known landmark.

I knew he had in mind as a goal for "someday" to hike to the top. It was important to him to accomplish the citadel without taking the elevator up the side of the mountain which is available for 5 lei. I wasn't sure that was doable. I set out to explore the stairs before - the day I discovered they don't go all the way up. They are steep and once they stopped the trails were unclear and I wasn't sure if I was in someone's back yard. Certainly I did want to hike to the citadel "someday" - but it wasn't on my calendar yet.

We marched to the top of the stairs and I consented to continue exploring the trail-less trails. Since I wasn't alone this time, the company was much better. He led me into a tunnel that went through part of the "mountain" and offered to let me hold his hand even though we could see the light from the other entrance even before we entered. Still I was not above giving his hand a slight squeeze when he gestured into an open cavernous blackness off to the left and said "I wonder what's going on over there." I responded: "this reminds me of when Sam and Frodo went into the tunnel near the pass of Cirith Ungol, only that was so dark they literally couldn't see anything at all. Sam and Frodo are really brave."

It wasn't the last of the LOTR references as we made our way up the winding path on the forested hillside, and climbed what seemed to be natural staircases of rock, all the while the veiw of the city spread out below us growing more and more breath taking and far away. Everytime I voiced concern about it being too steep, or uncertainity of the path we decided if it was too uncertain or too steep we would turn around. I was torn between wanting to scale the mountain, of course, and being unsure it could be done on a whim - without prior planning and the absolute resolve that Today is the day!

At one one point I looked up and thought I saw a house above us on the hillside. There were several trails beside the one we were on, but I still wasn't sure if we were in someone's backyard. A few steps later, I looked up to realize it wasn't the side of a house, it was the huge white letters that spell out Deva that I see everytime I look in the direction of the Cetatii. We were almost at the top! Funny thing is as we got closer to the citadel, the less we were able to see it. The last leg of the hike was through waste high weeds and nettle as we circled the structure unable to see where we needed to go toget in.

But we made it! And then explored the surface for a while - still not exactly sure when the fortress of Deva which accidentally exploded in a gunpowder accident was built. (Around 1300 is the best estimate though there are contradicting opinions.) We were waiting in line for the elevator down when I cast off all concern about peeing my pants and decided it was only right if we walked back down. I would hold it.

How do we get back where we were? -I don't know. Let's try this way?

We ended up making the journey down by a more direct and grandual path (paved, even) which we didn't know was there before. Our ascent had taken us on a path that spiraled around the mountian. And later I discovered on my first solo exploration I discovered this path about 1/3 of the way to the top - but uncertain, I turned back and went home.

So by the end of the day we were Master Trailblazers reaching the citadel without even including it in the day's itinerary. (And I did make it all the way back without wetting myself.) I did something I thought I couldn't do without weeks of training, encouraged and challenged to explore because I had someone with me. Someone who was also interested in finding the best path for our situation, not afraid to go on, not afraid to turn back. If not for the weekend's unexpected journey I probably wouldn't have accomplished the citadel until probably next spring or summer, but now that I know that there's a paved path that goes all the way up at a gradual incline, I'm tempted to stick Fellowship of the Ring and my discman with the any LOTR soundtrack in my pocket and make it a more-than-once-weekly hike. (If Bella gives me permission to leave her alone in the apartment, that is.)

These pictures of Deva were taken from the citadel the first time I went to the top during my site visit in April when I took the elevator with two women from my organization.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Whatever happening to protesting because it's Saturday and there's nothing else to do?
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Lately I have been reading about activists of the past. People who broke laws and were accused of breaking laws in defense of their ideals. I can't help but make the comparison to today and the war going on now and wonder who are the protesters and organizers? Who's responsibilty is this to express the dissatisfaction I hear so frequently? And more what am I, specifically, willing to sacrifice in the name of justice, fairness and equality?

Is it my career in the Peace Corps? Even though I'm doing something I feel I've always wanted to do. As frustrating and slow going as the work may be, as confused as I am about what I'm accomplishing or going to accomplish in two years I still think every day "wow. I'm in the Peace Corps."

And yet I told myself if things get bad enough I may have to go home and become and organizer for peace and justice - which includes among other things ending the war.

What is bad enough? Another war with Iran? Reinstating the draft? At what point do I set aside my goals I've set for myself and say, "ok, now I really have to get involved." If it means not having a paycheck and sleeping on someone's floor, I have to do somehting about this.


I told someone once that at the rate we're going it's doubtful the U.S. will still be a superpower in 100 years. Then I read there are people who doubt we'll even be around in 100 years due to global climate change - and you've got to admitt if the effects we're seeing now are from pollution that occurred 30 years ago - that's pretty scary!

I wondered a while ago if the United States would be a superpower for my entire lifetime. Now I question whether it will remain a country. We are so divided as the recent Presidential veto showed us compromise illudes us. One more faceless victim of politics.

Think about it. If, with the state that the planet is in, we only have 100 years left - what do you owe your country? What do you owe humanity? What can we do in this crucial moment to best serve our country? What must we do? And what are we willing to do?

After that heartfelt editorial, I'll close with a movie quote. I don't know if Abbie Hoffman actually said this but it's in Steal this Movie (which you can watch for free at and you should)

"It's always the young that make change. You don't get these ideas when you're middle aged. The young have daring creativity and engery. They have impatience. So you take your young legs, and your eagerness and your natural feelings for justice and peace and a better deal for our planet. And you go out and myou make tomorrow better than it is today. You go out and you save your country."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

This is a Romanian Lesson,
or Why I will soon be insane
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I've wanted to post a Romanain language lesson on here for a long time, but I couldn't pick and appropriate one. Now I've started studying Romanian again with a new tutor. For those of you who've been keeping track, it's been a while since I cracked the books. Since June. So while I've been a bit rusty, nothing could have prepared me for learning the words for This, These, That and Those.

I was recently explaining to Nicole that Romanian has a masculine, and a feminine, singular and plural way of saying my. That's right four different words each mean My, Yours, Ours, and Theirs. That's 16 words where english has 4.

Now, I set out to learn the formal way of saying This, That, These and Those, because there is also an informal way of denoting all of these things. Then I found out that when a word comes before a noun it is something called a demonstrative adjective. "This bike is mine."
If it follows the word is or are - it is considered a pronoun "This is my bike" - and is also a different word.

I was supposed to practice these words for my tutor before today's lesson but I waited until the last minute and became hopelessly confused so this morning she had to explain it to me all over again. So today I wrote the following 16 sentences to practice these words. You'll see they have a theme that has to do with kitten either sleeping in my lap or trying to eat my pen as I wrote them. Anyway, I post them here for you as an example of the Romanian lanugage.They are to the best of my knowlege correct.

Acest pisic este al meu. This (male) cat is mine.

Acesta este piciscul meu. This is my (male) cat.

Această pisica este a mea.
This (female) cat is mine.

Aceasta este pisica mea.
This is my (female) cat.

Aeceşti pisici sunt ai mei.
These (male) cats are mine.

Aeceştia sunt piscii mei.
These are my (male) cats.

Aceste pisici sunt al mele.
These (female) cats are mine.

Acestea sunt pisicele mele.
These are my (male) cats.

Acel pisic este al meu.
That (male) cat is mine.

Acela este pisicul meau.
That is my (male) cat.

Acea pisica este a mea. That (female) cat is mine.

Aceea este pisica mea.
That is my (female) cat.

Acei pisici sunt ai mei. Those (male) cats are mine.

Aceia sunt pisicii mei. Those are my (male) cats.

Aceste pisici sunt al mele.
Those (female) cats are mine.

Acestea sunt pisicele mele. Those (female) cats are mine.

In case you're wondering a group of cats of mixed sex would be denoted with the male adjective or pronoun. And again, there's also an informal feminine and masculine for saying This, That, These and Those.

And now, just for fun - an ametuer translation.

"Toate am să povestesc la tine este această lanternă este luna, eu sunt barbatul în luna,
această tufă spinosă, tufă spinosă mea şi acest câine, câine meu. "

"All I have to tell you is that this lantern is the moon, I am the man in the moon,
this thorn bush, my thorn bush and this dog, my dog."
-A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V, sc.1

And just because I can't resist...

Aceasta este pisicuţa mea şi mine - This is my kitten and me.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Recipe of the Week
or Maybe I should have gotten a job in a bakery
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I'm crabby because I drank the decaf chai tea this morning. I have to ration my Good Tea from the U.S. (there is no chai spice tea in Romania) versus my Really Good Tea from the U.S. and this morning I judged Monday to be a sufficent enough occassion to warrant a bag of Stash brand Chai Tea (the best) but for some reason I went with the decaf which obviously should have saved for a last cuppa tea before bedtime kind of night.

Now having misused a valuable teabag put me in kind of a mood, but the mood was made worse by the fact that I have a grocery bag of apples that my gazda generously gave me from the apple trees at her country house. She also gave me a gallon of grapes that looked and tasted exactly like the grapes that used to grow in my babysitter's back yard. The ones the adults would say "don't eat those grapes - they're not good" meaning they're perfectly good they just have seeds in them and a soft mushy part in the middle and they're not like the South American grapes we buy in the grocery store.

But I digress. Matching the grapes that grew in my babysitter's backard to apples also strikingly similar to the same backyard apples we weren't supposed to eat. So I didn't know what to do with them except let them sit in a bag attracting fruitflies for a week and then on Sunday I decided with the help of a visiting friend to peel and core all of them and make apple bread.

Last night I decided two loaves of apple bread should be made immediately and I would make another loaf (or two) every day this week. And I have enough apples for it. I chopped enough apples last night while watching a movie to make 2 loaves today and I still have more apples to chop. Note: I would be chopping apples if I were making apple bread at home too because I've never had a CuisineArt but it's the first thing on the registry if I ever get married. Maybe I'll ask for two and then if one is dirty, I won't have to wash it, I can just use the other one...

It takes two cups of finely chopped apples to make a loaf of apple bread. This is doubling the recipe because Romanians don't have sweet breads and so they don't have bread pans. My bread pan is the size of your average Mack Truck and is really for a fat loaf of something called cozonac - the closest thing Romanians have to sweet bread. So 2 loaves of U.S. Apple bread = 1 loaf of apple bread in Romania. About the size of your average cement block.

I was hoping to freeze a bunch of loaves and eat apple bread for breakfast all winter until I run out and move on to something else for breakfast. But wouldn't that be awesome to never have to think What should I have for breakfast? No. Breakfast = done. Then I started thinking about all the wonderful things I could buy with apple bread currency. I should definately, of course, give a loaf to my gazda who was generous to give me her apples, and perhaps I could buy some homemade apple butter and two American* pumpkins from other volunteers. One pumpkin for a pie, the other for a stew grown from American pumpkin seeds by a volunteer ingenous enough to bring pumkin seeds to Romania without even knowing that the kind of pumpkins that grow here aren't sweet enough to be eaten by people.

The point I'm trying to make is that I have a lot of apple bread to make. I bought a kilo of flour and a kilo of sugar yesterday and another kilo each today, and if I stick to the two loaves a day plan, probabaly another kilo each tomorrow.

My oven - the one that needs a chair propped up in front of it to keep it closed and has two cracks in the glass door into which I've stuffed rags which are rapidly becoming a nice toasty brown color -varies so much in temperature it can take one loaf of bread between 50 and and hour and 20 minutes to bake.

And the size of my loaf pan (Mack Truck sized) versus the size of my oven (not garage size) means the bread inevitably comes out burnt on the bottom. This is OK if it comes out of the loaf pan nicely and I can just cut the burned part off, but the loaf I made last night decided to come out of the pan in the form of pure anarchy resulting in a blizzard of crumbs and resembling nothing that can be wrapped in aluminum foil, frozen or given away.

*I use the word "American" here to denote a pumpkin of North American origin because I realize that America is not one continent but two - and on one of those continents are quality pumpkins you can eat. The other one, I'm not sure about.

So one loaf is in the oven now, and I just swept the floor with the kitten fighting the broom every step of the way. But in non-food related news (I'm sorry I write so much about food. I promise my next blog entry will have something to do with the projects I'm actually working on over here.) Here are some mind teasers:

Do you think Joss Whedon knows his first name means "Down" in Romanian?

Did Andy from Toy Story grow up to be Andrew Beckett who dies of AIDS in Philadelphia? that would be ironic wouldn't it - considering Tom Hanks...?

I'm pretty sure the hat given to the kid in Transamerica is Jack from Brokeback Mountain's hat. (weren't paying that close attention were you?)

and for the Harry potter fans: If Harry's name is Harry James Potter, what do you think his son's middle name would be? James Harry? James Sirius? James Remus? What about James Dobby?