Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Dinner Party

Last week I decided I wanted to cook a dinner for my wonderful host in Recas. You see, the first week I was here I stayed with an amazing family (you probably read about it in my earlier blogs) and they were so welcoming to me. I felt like I had a true family here that first night. So, I decided that I wanted to do something nice for them in return. Where the cooking idea came from-I have no idea. Those of you that know me well know that I DO NOT COOK. I can’t cook-I set the fire alarm off every time. In fact, the only thing I have ever baked well are brownies. My family can attest to that-I’m known for my brownies. However, that is the only thing known to man I have cooked well. Which brings me back to the cooking idea-why did I think that was good to do?

Not only did I invite a whole family over for a meal, a whole family that I desperately wanted to impress with my non-existent cooking skills, but I decided to make something that I had NEVER MADE BEFORE, chicken parmesan. WHY?! Good question. The panicking started the day before the big event. I decided I needed recipes at least-that’s a good start. Thanks to my neighbor back home, Sam, I was directed to this wonderful blog: www.thepioneerwoman.com. The author of this blog, Ree, is amazing. She has delicious recipes and pictures to match each step-perfect for me! I found a dessert to make-apple fritters, and decided on that and the chicken parm. Now-off to the store.

This part was was painless for the most part. I have a wonderful, Costco-like grocery store in Timisoara (yeah Auchan!) so that’s where I went. I did have some trouble finding baking powder and cinnamon in Romanian, but after a long and eventful conversation with a store clerk I eventually found everything and made my way back to the house. I decided to make the apple fritters the day before and heat them up in the oven the night of, as Ree told me I could do-bless that wonderful website. I have to admit-the fire alarm only went off once and the fritters were A-MAZING. No lie, I am so proud of them, it might be the first thing I’ve made my scratch. And in Romania! Go figure. With the fritters made and stored away for the next day, I felt I could take on the next day, no problem.

I awoke and it hit me. What was I thinking? What if they hate the meal? What if my chicken isn’t done right? What if the noodles are too hard?! This was the first American made meal this family had eaten, and I wanted to be damn sure they wanted to come back for a second. The pressure was on. The entire day I felt a bit anxious-I replayed the night’s schedule over and over in my head-make the sauce of first, then batter the chicken and bake those, noodles last, (no wait-cut the bread last, right?) I couldn’t get this wrong. I bought ice cream to go with the apple fritters, battered chicken breasts for the first time in eggs and flour, and went to light the oven. My gas oven. IT WOULDN’T TURN ON. Okkkkk….lesson number 1-always have a back up. After about a 30 minute trial and error period and a slight panic attack, I finally gave up and decided the chicken must be made on the stovetop. Gulp. I turned it down low, prayed that this one time I wouldn’t burn something, and went for it.

I am happy to report that not one piece of chicken was left behind. The sauce was amazing, and the noodles were just right. I waited for my guests to arrive, and sipped on some famous Recas wine in anticipation.

My guests arrived, I was nervous, and I went to serve them all water. I use a big jug of water with a pump on it, and I started pumping away. Little did I realize that the cap was on the pump spigot and when I finally realized what was going on, I went to unlatch the cap and water spilled all over the place. Epic fail 1. Then, As I was trying to speak Romanian and tell them about my day, I went to grab the salt for the boiling noodles. I shook several hefty shakes into the pot and when I looked down, realized I had just put PLENTY of pepper into the spaghetti. Fail number 2. At this point, I was embarrassed, nervous even more, but I managed to serve up the plates and sat down. Now for the moment of truth…they LOVED IT. My host mother wanted seconds as well as the recipe. My bunica (grandmother) just kept telling me how good it was and how fresh the bread was. My host brother didn’t say much just ate and ate.

For dessert, I brought out my American apple fritters and they were an even bigger hit. My brother asked me to make them again for his birthday next week. His mom then said “She can teach me and I can make them!” to which he replied in Romanian, “you can make them but they won’t be as good as Sara’s.” SUCCESS!

The night was wonderful, I even had sunflower seeds for the “after dessert” chat time. (If you ever come to Romania, make sure you know how to eat sunflower seeds. I am now the master-but that’s another story.) As they were packing up to leave, my bunica turns to me, grabs my hands with her hands, and says in Romanian, “Now dear, you are ready to marry. You obviously know how to cook.”

I’ll take it. ☺

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Simple Life

Tonight I’m walking home from the train station after a great weekend in Arad. I am admiring the sun setting over the cornfields to my left, and straight ahead of me are the beautiful vineyards of Recas. I take a deep breath, drinking in the scents, the sights, the sounds…and I realize that fall is coming. For the first time in Recas, the air is crisp, goosebumps form on my arms, and I actually feel the cold coming. A wave of homesickness washes over me-for it feels like fall in Virginia-my favorite time of year. I think of apple cider, pumpkin patches, and the leaves turning colors, something that I’ll miss out on over here. I take another deep breath and think of my family and friends and my time away from the states. Homesickness really does hit you when you least expect it.
As I’m deep in thought, I turn the corner to cross a tiny bridge that leads to my house and WHAM-run right into a shepherd with his flock of about 100 sheep. I say “buna seara” (good evening) to the man and try to cross the bridge, but the flock has decided to pass at the exact same moment and I am trapped. The shepherd sees my problem and takes out his little whip to move the sheep out of the way. I wait patiently as some cross quickly, others dart into the water, and the rest run in the opposite direction. I make eye contact with one sheep, and he seems to say “stranger-who are you and what are you doing here??” I admit I probably look every bit the stranger with my backpack and Chaco sandals on. I start laughing, as does the shepard, at the absurdity of the situation. We exchange a smile and eventually I make it across the tiny bridge and wave goodbye.

Just another night in Romania..life is so sweet.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with Running

Ahh..running. So good for you, such good exercize, but WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR ME? The IDEA of running is always nice to me, and I picture myself like this:

Doesn't she look happy? The wind blowing her hair, smile on her face, her watch keeping time and the sun shining down on her. WRONG. Who looks like this when running?! How is she so happy?! It is because she is already in shape and knows "hey, I don't even need to be doing this!" And who wears white spandex shorts anyways? No, no she is entirely too happy

No, no now THIS, this is what I look like after I run: exhausted. I start out OK, then the lungs start to burn, my knees start to ache (again, thank you lacrosse), and it is more of a punishment than anything. I would rather do any type of exercise than run a 5k.

I have had a love/hate relationship with running for as long as I can remember. When I started playing lacrosse in 4th grade, I specifically took the 1st home position because there was limited running, my job was to run around the crease (small, small space) and score goals-perfect. This continued throughout my whole lacrosse career-1st or 2nd home was my position, I scored goals, I didn't have to run up and down the field, and everyone was happy. When I graduated from college, I joined a gym and actually started to enjoy running on the treadmill. I could actually get lost in thought while watching the TV and before I knew it 3 miles..4 miles I had run. Success was mine!

Well...fast forward to present day. Romania. Three months of living with a host family and eating rich, wonderful food-I think running might be in order. Problem is--people don't run here! I have never, ever seen a runner on the streets in Targoviste or here in Recas. Apparently, if you want to work out you go to a gym, and forget being a woman and going to the gym, they don't do that either. SO my options are working out in my house, and running outside. I bought myself some weights and have a big spare room so I can do my p90x workouts, but I have decided that I must suck it up and also run (ok, ok JOG) outside. Today was my first attempt.

11:30AM "Ok, it isn't too hot outside. I'm going now or I never will." Workout gear, check. Ipod, check. Running route that isn't in the middle of the center and won't make me look like a fool in front of my town-check. I was off. Now let me make this clear-this isn't my FIRST time trying to run in Romania-I tried once in Targoviste but after making it the first corner I was being chased by a pack of wild dogs-it looked a little something like this:

Ok, so maybe not this cute, but they were chasing
me and I had to high-tail it back home fast. I noticed that Recas didn't have the same problem with dogs so I figured I was safe. Anyways, back to the running. I headed out towards the train station, blasting B.O.B.'s Airplanes (check it out!) on my Ipod. I felt good, lungs weren't burning yet, and there was even a slight breeze.

Well, I'm happy to report that I made it home alive. I had to walk a bit, but overall I think it was a good first run for Romania. I hope to get into a routine so my legs don't feel like spaghetti after each run, but hey, one day at a time right?

Here's to a success for the day. I'll take. it. :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Wonderful Invention that is the SHOWER CURTAIN

OK-Today I am addressing a subject that is near and dear to my heart here in Romania..

When I arrived in this country, I realized quite quickly that the bathroom area was missing something of great importance. Something that I discovered that I had relied on and taken advantage of all my life...the SHOWER CURTAIN. The first few nights at the hotel in Targoviste, I though "Ok, wow, I guess this is an extra expense that the hotel didn't want to worry about..strange but I can handle it. I'm a PC trainee--flexibility right? I mean, this is probably even a test!!" So for the first few days, I tried not to splash around during each shower, but inevitably left a flood on the floor each time. It was like an art I couldn't master for the life of me. It became a discussion at the dinner table with fellow trainees--"Where are the curtains? Are you leaving a sea of water on the floor too? How do they do it?" We were mystified, but not defeated...yet.

At my gazda's house, I was pleased to see that they had MacGuivered some sort of curtain with string and some plastic to cover the shower. I later discovered that Peace Corps had warned our host families that as Americans, we often "splash" in the shower and we were used to the curtains. Really-we "splash"?! What are we...5? Determined to prove them wrong, during every shower I made sure not to spill even a drop onto the floor. But I digress--the "curtain" that was put up for me was this thin, see-through piece of plastic that hugged my everytime I was busy shampooing or lathering up. It became a daily (ok...so I didn't take a shower EVERY DAY..this is PC after all) struggle with the shower curtain. In my attempt to unwrap myself from the plastic, I ended up spilling water on the floor anyways. So...still losing the battle but I refused to be defeated again.

I arrived at my site here, and this is what met me when I opened my bathroom door. A beautiful bathroom, new sink, shower, toilet...and NO SHOWER CURTAIN. Not even a rod installed. Alright-this is the big test. Shower one went as I expected. No matter how I stood, where I stood, or how I held the shower head, it was an epic fail. The floor was covered. The sink was covered. I realized--I can't do this for 2 years. I can't clean up my bathroom floor, sink, and everything else covered with water after each shower. I AM A SPLASHER! Sad, defeated, I went to the big city of Timisoara in search of a curtain and rod.

I walked down the aisles, feeling a bit of a failure. Do they even sell them? Are the Romanians looking at me and laughing? Do they know I'm a splasher?? I found them in a small, tiny area of the cleaning supplies. Ironic. I saw one I liked-then saw the price. 40 LEI?! 40?? Really? Ok..so that is like..10 American dollars, but I refused to pay that much for something so..boring as a shower curtain. Forget that it is a necessity, forget that I've spent countless mornings mopping up the mess on my floor, I WASN'T GOING TO GIVE IN YET! I left the store, determined to become the good, flexible PCV I knew I could be. This situation was not going to get the better of me.

So luckily, I was with another volunteer who (after being here a year), knows a thing or two about shower curtains. He gave it to me plain and simple. "Sara, its all about the squatting method. You have to squat in the shower. It's how they do it." REALLY? I was skeptical...squatting?! What kind of shower is that? Don't your knees cramp up? (Maybe thats just me...lacrosse for 9 years has given me the knees of a grandmother) What if I fall over? He assured me that indeed, this was the answer I've been looking for. I went home, determined to try this new technique without falling, cramping, or spilling any water in the process.

Well friends. SUCCESS IS MINE. To all the Volunteers to come, for all the ones that are already here-the squat method is the way to go. While not entirely comfortable, it is 100% effective and you will no longer be considered, embarrassingly, a "splasher". Try it. Make me proud. And thank you, dear friend, for the advice. For after 3.5 months in Romania, countless trials and errors, and the shame of being called a splasher, I can now relish in the sweet, sweet victory of taking a shower without using 45 towels to soak up WWIII on the floor.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Settling In at Site

So I have been here over a week and I am falling in love with Recas more and more every day. When I last wrote, I was staying with my host family until my apartment was finished. Well, it is semi ready but ready enough for me to move in! IT IS GORGEOUS. I feel so blessed to have this place. The town has refinished it for me, and I have all new appliances-stove, sink, countertops, WASHING MACHINE, bed, desk and dresser set...its more than I could have imagined. I have put pictures up on my facebook account but once I am back at home I will add some on here. I have two bedrooms, one large enough for SEVERAL visitors...so plan your trip!! Haha.

I have been integrating into my town with the help of my new friends (and community mentors) Veronica and Silvia. They have been so wonderful, inviting me over for dinner almost every night, settling up my apartment, basically being here for me no matter what question I have or if I just need someone to talk to. I visited a nearby village (Stanciova) with another new friend, Teodora. I was able to pet some goats and take pictures of the gorgeous countryside, all while feasting on the best watermelon I have ever tasted in my life. It is truly a beautiful location, Recas and the surrounding areas.

This past weekend I was able to spend some time with fellow volunteers in Timisoara. We stayed with Katie, and we had a blast exploring the city, taking pictures, and organizing the biggest and best scavenger hunt that the westside of Romania has ever known. We made a list, then gave ourselves 12 hours (5PM to 5AM) to complete the tasks. Each task had to be caught on camera for proof. Off we went, in search of our first task, which was to buy matching shirts for the hunt. We located some at the mall, pink, muscle tank tops...perfect! Then next twelve hours were spent taking pictures of things like, for example, a rat tail..or doing things like singing Lean On Me in the middle of the street. It was so much fun and I have not laughed that hard in along time. All the pictures can be seen tagged on Facebook if you want to check them out.

Sadly, my macbook has decided it no longer wants to charge, so I am going to Timisoara today to see if I can buy a new charger, or see what the problem is. I THINK Timisoara has an apple store, but cross your fingers! If not..I am out a computer for awhile so posts might be less frequent. I will keep you posted.

Good news though-my parents are coming at Christmas time!! I am so, so excited to have them here and show them where I am living, the wonderful people I am meeting, and maybe to teach them a bit of Romanian? Haa. December cannot come soon enough!

Miss you all, thank you for your continued emails, comments, and support from across the ocean.

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.
Jawaharlal Nehru

Monday, August 9, 2010


I’m sitting under a beautiful wooden gazebo with a bowl of fresh fruit: apples, peaches, and plums from the trees behind me. I have a cold glass of water (apa plata!) in front of me and there is a cool breeze carrying me into the evening hours. I’m HERE IN RECAS!! I couldn’t be more comfortable at this moment here in my new home. The weather is gorgeous-a far cry from the sweltering heat I just left in Targoviste. (Literally-I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life as I was the last week. Two to three showers a day was mandatory just to cool down-and yes they were cold showers. I’ve felt hot before, but never felt hot without the luxury of escaping to a room with AC for a few minutes. There was no relief from the heat, not at home, at school, or anywhere. WAIT I take that back-the grocery store had AC and I fully admit that I went to Kaufland once or twice (ok maybe more) just to walk around and enjoy the AC. J ) Anyways, back to Recas…I left Targoviste last night excited, scared, nervous, anxious, relieved, so many emotions running through me. There were tears as I said goodbye to my new family and friends-more like friends who have become family. I’m comforted knowing that a few volunteers are fairly close to me-Brittany is 3 hours north speaking Hungarian with her town, and Katie is only 10 mins by car-we’ll definitely be getting together. Breanna is in Arad, only 40 minutes north of me and there are other volunteers from group 26 (last year’s group) that are close as well.

I arrived in Recas this morning after an all night train ride. For the next few days I will be staying with a host family while my apartment is finished-that’s right, I have my own place! Today they furnished it with a new stove, bed, fridge, TV and best of all- A WASHING MACHINE!!

You have no idea how happy I am to have one-we were told that since we’re all in small towns, we would most likely have to wash our clothes by hand. After being in Guatemala, I know the toll that takes on your clothes, and I wasn’t too excited to do that again, so the masina de spalat is AMAZING. I will hopefully be moving in last this week-but I have to admit that I’m perfectly fine here with this host family. They are so sweet and their house is beautiful!! I’m in a room with my town TV and computer, and in the bathroom is literally a toilet, standing shower, and Jacuzzi tub-nice! Outside is a beautiful garden filled with apple, peach, walnut, and plum trees along with rows of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, grapes, beans, and cabbage (varza). Varza is a staple here and I have to admit I’ve grown to love it. Anyways I’m sidetracked again-I arrived around 9AM and promptly went to sleep until around 1:30 which was amazing. I awoke to a lunch set up for me in the kitchen. After that I ventured outside and sat under the gazebo enjoying the weather. I met my host’s dog, Daisy, and talked to their son, who will be in 9th grade this year. He speaks amazing English so we discussed music, sports, and life in Romania v. life in America. He gave me some Romanian music to download and we also discussed the awesomeness that is Avatar. Around 6 we ate dinner and then my community mentor, Silvia, came to pick me up. We walked to her parents house and ate a second dinner (did I mention they fed me allll day? I can’t keep eating like this! Haha!) We talked in Romanian, English, and even had some Hungarian thrown in there since Silvia’s family is Hungarian. They complimented me on my Romanian and we were able to discuss the politics in this country now versus during Communist times. Interesting to hear what they think was better then and now.

Speaking of Romanian, I wanted to let you know that on my final language test for Romanian, I tested at the Advanced level! I was truly happy with my score because I want to become fluent by the time I leave, which would be testing at the superior level. I’m only 2 levels away! (I need advanced mid, then advanced high, then superior!) I think it says a lot about the Peace Corps language instructors that after only 3 months here in Romania I can test at that level. Bravo to them-because without the intense training I wouldn’t be speaking like I am now.

Tomorrow I’ll be exploring my town a bit more and hopefully meeting more people and hanging out with Silvia and my host family. They have been more than hospitable and are such great people. I feel like I already have family here. More to come later. Miss you all, love you even more.

“First ponder, then dare.”- Helmuth Von Moltke