Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Activity: Country Christmas!

Ok, it's that time of year again! It's Country Christmas time! If you live in Ohio and have never been to a Marmon Valley Country Christmas, all I can say is:

I mean, seriously! If there was ever ANY activity that can get you in the holiday spirit, then this is it. Do me a favor- close your eyes. No, wait. Hmm. That won't work. Ok then, just imagine this- it's a dark, star-filled night. You are outside, wrapped in blankets, sitting close to the people you care about, and watching Christ's story unfold- LIVE- before your very eyes. Afterward you find your way to a toasty room where you can warm up and enjoy chili, hot dogs, and free hot chocolate, cookies and more live entertainment. Then, if you have young children or enjoy real Christmas trees, you can brave the cold once more to visit the tiny critter petting zoo/pony rides/tree sale.

Doesn't that sound like fun? Roman soldiers riding draft horses, Mary riding a donkey, angels serenading! How can you resist? So don't hesitate! Call Marmon Valley and order those tickets! Country Christmas is the place to be this Christmas season!

Wish I could be there with you!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Hey, guys! Ok, so Thanksgiving is officially over. Whew. And by officially, I mean that OUR Thanksgiving is done. Here in Romania they don't have Thanksgiving (if you don't know why, then think back to your middle school days and read this). Village churches usually set aside a service for thanking God for the harvest, but they don't have an official day, nor is it a national holiday.

Anyway, moving on.

My family celebrated on Saturday instead of Thursday because, again, Thanksgiving isn't a Romanian holiday, so they don't have the day off. It was interesting trying to explain about how we choose the day to celebrate (third Thursday of the month) and what are the essential foods. Honestly, I think they think we're kind of weird for not setting a specific day, like the 25th or something, but they thought the food was pretty amazing. And it was. In years past we have made dishes that require American ingredients, which we import. But this year we managed to make almost all the dishes without them. The only things we can't find here are pistachio pudding and pecans. It's pretty neat seeing more and more "common" ingredients showing up in stores. (That was another topic of crazy dinner table conversation.)

We spent two days prepping and it all paid off. 24 of us in all were packed into our house, two tables for the "young people" downstairs in the kitchen and one upstairs for the "old" people. :) I.E.- the lightweights sat at our table. It was pretty funny to hear everyone groaning in agony as they stared down at their half-full plates. The turkey and potatoes were pretty popular, but the dish that disappeared and won hands down was the pecan pie. It really is too bad that they don't have that nut here. But then again, I think we would have a weight gain epidemic. Did you know that there are enough calories in a pecan pie to equal a whole meal?! Sheesh. It's a good thing Thanksgiving only comes once a year.

After dinner, everyone gathered in the kitchen to share something they were thankful for. There were so many good reasons, but my family seemed kind of stuck on one thing- having Alyssa and I back. I admit, that was the first time in a long time I felt wanted. Not just surface wanted, but deeply wanted. Yes, I know that all of my church family and friends in America wanted me, but it's not the same. Family is... family.

Ok, I'm about to contradict myself. I admit, the thing that I said I was thankful for was friends. And it's true. This last year I had been living with my friends. They were my family. So many times when I felt lonely or sad, they were there to lift me back up. The Grace Chapel Singles' Group, especially. It seemed like I could walk in that room and no matter what kind of day I had, they would make me laugh. Another group would be the Hopper family. They have always been my second family- quick to love, gentle to reprove. The Gelatts, too, took me in and helped me grow in many ways. But there are so very many others that I am thankful for that I can't even list them all. So, to my Grace Chapel family- thank you. I would have never made it through the last two years without you. I pray that God blesses you with a million blessings.

Oh, and guys- don't say "Happy Turkey Day". It's not about the turkey. It's about giving thanks to God. That's why it's called Thanksgiving.

:) GB (God bless.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Save It For The Altar: Your First Kiss

Today my mind has been on Christians in the stressful, worldly industries in our society- specifically the acting industry. I've been watching a television show that so far has held up some fairly good morals- monogamous relationships, sticking with the person you are with no matter what, family values, keeping it real despite Hollyweird's pull, etc. The characters stay away from all forms of physical intimacy in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship except... kissing.

"Kissing?" they would ask, "What's the big deal? It's just acting." 

And yes, maybe at first it was just acting, but the second their lips touched, they were no longer indifferent to each other. An attraction has been formed. Why? Well, let's take a look at what scientists are saying now- that a kiss is not simply a kiss. It produces oxytocin, which acts like a neural glue to "stick" your emotions to whomever you kiss. Now, I admit that other scientists claim that actors can kiss without feeling anything, but I'm not sure I can really believe that because unless they hate the person they kiss, how is the glue "not working"? And way to confuse your brain! It thinks it's supposed to love one person, then in the next scene you kiss someone else and it goes "whaaaa?!" 

And then that makes me think, "What about those poor girlfriends/boyfriends/husbands/wives out there watching their beloveds 'performing' on stage?" How must they feel? And what must they be secretly wondering? It makes me feel so sad for them. 

And what about us everyday people that only kiss people we care about? Surely we aren't in danger here. Nowadays doesn't everyone kiss before they're married? Well, yeah, I have noticed this. Anyone with eyes can see it! But I remember something my dad told me after my first relationship tanked- rarely do you ever marry the first person you are in a relationship with. So that means everyone will probably kiss at least one person before they find the person they marry. But that's not the actual number, is it? According to one site, the average person dates 26 people and according to Scott Brown of The National Center For Family-Integrated Churches, the average woman will kiss 22 men! My poor brain is scrambled just thinking about such an emotional roller-coaster. 

So why do we do it? To attract the person we like, to confirm that we like someone, to show our affection, to feel confident and secure.... But shouldn't we already feel that way about the person we like before we even think about kissing them? 

Here is my proposal: for those of us who are not television stars, instead of kissing someone to confirm in our hearts that we "love" them, why don't we wait until the altar to show them that we love them? 

Just a thought.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Romanian Journey- Part 2

All we could do was look around us in awe as the elegant streetlamps escorted us past tall, beautiful high risers on the right and the ocean on our left. A giant ferris wheel brought Alyssa's camera out (which, if you know Alyssa, is a regular occurrence).

The rest of that trip was fairly uneventful. Close to 1:00 AM, we were dropped off, ready to enjoy our beds.

For the next three days, I was bookin' it. I still had things to put in storage, three hours of work, plates to renew, power of attorney form to get notarized, and vote in a city 15 minutes away before we packed our bags for the plane and went to Singles' meeting at church. But, somehow, I made it.

On the third day, we didn't sleep because we would be leaving the next morning at 3:30. Our ride picked us up and we arrived at the airport a mere 30 minutes before our flight. And guess what- lucky ducks, our line was the longest we had ever seen at the little Columbus airport! We fidgeted. And waited. And fidgeted.

"Houston? Houston! Anyone for Houston?" Oh, joy! One of the airport staff called our flight! By God's grace, we were pushed to the front of the line with only a few other people and a few minutes later we were racing for the plane. We had barely turned the corner before hearing, "Calling Nikitah and Alyssa Luse...." A few minutes' longer wait and we would have missed the flight.

Two flights and a few days visit with our Arizona grandparents' later, we were just two days from the next leg of our journey. And then disaster struck. The disaster's name: Hurricane Sandy.

Why do we call natural disasters quaint little names? Is it to make it sound like things are not so bad? Well, if you have seen any news channel, you know that Hurricane Sandy was not a nice lady. She was one bad girl. While you and other people not living in New York may have been staring at their screens in shocked sympathy, there was a select few of us who were thinking, "Now what do we do, if...?"

Yes, our first connecting flight was in New York City.

Early in the morning we received the dreaded phone call informing us that our flight had been canceled. We were shell shocked. Surely it couldn't have been as bad as all that. Could it? More news watching. Yes, it was as bad. In fact, it was horrible. But would we let a little old hurricane keep us down? No way! Alyssa's first move was to call the agency we booked through. They wouldn't pick up. After what was probably close to an hour, she received an answering machine. She left a message. Then she tried the airline. Another hour later, she was told our flight would be partially refunded. By then we were both close to a nervous breakdown. This was like sitting there while our savings went down the drain- as we watched! But surely, if the European airline were told we wouldn't be able to make it, they would either move or refund our flight? So she tried the airline, where she received an outright no. They would not help. It was not their fault that we would not be making the flight. No, it was Hurricane Sandy's.

We were down, but we weren't out. We still had one weapon in our arsenal that we hadn't used- Mom and Dad. We opened up Skype and immediately Mom went to work. It didn't matter that they were a giant body of water away. They would help any way they could. So, while they called any number they could think of, it was my turn. I grabbed the phone and recalled the numbers Alyssa had called. On my first call, no one answered. Thankfully, on the second I met with a little better results. I got a person! And she went right to work, muscling the airlines to provide us with a flight. But while I was on hold, Dad called. Mom had found someone who had found a flight! Now what? If she called back with a flight, who would we let help us? Well, this was a different dilemma.... Just as the woman came back on to tell me she couldn't help, the guy Mom was talking to, signed offline! Now we had no help!

Just as I was about to give up... God provided a miracle. The man called Alyssa's cell phone. We were back in business! Soon we had a new flight and had been partially refunded for the old. We hung up and celebrated. Whew! At least that nightmare was over. We went to pack our bags.

And then the phone rang.

Not another cancellation! By this time, I was actually kind of okay with it. If we lost that 700 dollars and had to pay about 2,000 dollars each for a new flight a few weeks later, then whatever. Just... whatever. Such is life. And yet, a few minutes later, the man had found another flight. But mid-purchase, that flight, too, was canceled. What would we do???

Finally, we purchased another flight and were fully refunded for that one. We finished packing and went to bed. What would the morning hold? Would we ever make it to Romania? Or were we now new residents of Arizona? These and many other thoughts ran around and around my head, but I still somehow fell asleep.

The next day was the day of the flight. Laying there in bed, the sun streaming through the window (it is almost never cloudy in the desert), I didn't want to open my eyes. So long as they were closed, we were still going to Romania, right? I had to laugh at myself and got up.

Our flight was still on! That was pretty amazing, if you think about it. From what I knew, things hadn't really improved that much in the Big Apple. Later, we would find out that 1600 flights had been canceled and many people would be without power for over a week. Grocery stores were losing all of their refrigerated stock. People had no heat. The elderly couldn't get out of their apartments because there was no light in the halls and no working elevators. And yet, we had gotten a flight. The Lord was working. But we both knew we wouldn't be able to relax until we had made it to our destination. So much could go wrong! We could get to JFK and our next flight be cancelled. We could run out of funds trying to buy a new ticket! Or we could even get caught in Salt Lake, which was our new mid-way stopping point to NYC.

But God provided. We arrived at the airport, spent an hour chatting with our grandparents, went through security, and had a short Skype chat with the parents before our uneventful flights to New York.

New York. Ah, New York.... The city of stars and Broadway Musicals. Of constant traffic, subways, and skyscrapers. A city now riddled with blackouts, seen even from a plane high above in the early morning dark. Unfortunately, that meant that the AirTrain was out of commission. We almost walked from Terminal 3 to Terminal 8- a long walk, let me tell you! But a bus, specially commissioned for the blackouts, caught us and dropped us off. We went into the Baggage Claim area. Wow. The airport was less packed than I imagined it usually was. 1600 fewer flights would do that to a place, I supposed. But there still was no room to sit in the waiting area, which had been transformed. Pallets and people lay everywhere, trusting that the people around them would not lift any of their baggage. There still were too many people for my taste, so, after my breakfast of a giant scone and Alyssa's of a coffee, I convinced her to move to a safer location. We dragged our bags- two large, one guitar, two carry-ons, and two really heavy backpacks- to the elevator and onto the second floor. That floor was normally the AirTrain floor, but was now being commandeered for a few people's private use as a waiting room. We settled down. And waited for seven hours. By then, I was wiped. But a cold tile floor doesn't make for very comfortable sleeping quarters. I mean, if it was just cold, but comfortable, or warm and uncomfortable, I probably would have slept through the whole seven hours while Alyssa talked on the phone to our parents. But as it was, I awoke long enough to go on a food hunt (which, by the way, the food had all expired yesterday, but I figured we would survive) and watch 1 1/2 movies.

The baggage drop-off line was ridiculous. Whereas Delta didn't weigh our carry-ons, the European one did. And did not like what they saw. We ended up paying for Alyssa's carry-on as a second bag on top of the guitar (which we already had planned on paying). We said good-bye to another $140. This was getting more expensive than I had planned for.

Thankfully, the security check didn't give us any problem and four hours later we were on the Transatlantic flight, half-dozing through the take off. Looking up to see Alyssa's eyes closed and mouth hanging open mere inches from my face, made me smile. What a pair of beauties we must be. I settled in for the ride.

Dusseldorf proved to be interesting. We sat in an extremely cold waiting area, open to the winter-y air for part of the two hours' wait as people filtered out to the bus idling on the tarmac. When the doors finally closed and we were with our future fellow passengers, I couldn't help but listen to them. Romanian. They were speaking Romanian! We were almost home.

The next flight was short, but long. We were ready to see our family. We were ready to be done.

On Romanian soil, we handed our passports to the ladies to be stamped. They looked a little concerned that two young American girls were coming to stay in their country, but they stamped them anyway. We were the last to be in the line. The last to get our bags. And the last to head for the doors to Romania, free from airports- for a while at least. And just as we were heading toward the door, we saw them on the other side- our family.

So that's the official version of how Alyssa and I got here, to the crazy, strange land of Romania. But that's only the beginning of our journey. The future promises to hold much, much more. And what are my words of wisdom to you all, my dear friends, family, mildly interested acquaintances?

Traveling is overrated.


The Romanian Journey- Part 1

"Life is a journey, not a destination." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

The first leg of our journey is finally over. Life is settling down, and we are trying to adjust to all the strange, yet familiar things around us.

Romania is a land of contrasts: the old mixed with the new, the liberal with conservative. A cold wind sweeps across our little city, bringing with it dark clouds and an increase in activity. Everyone must get something done before winter sets in. For the men outside our house, it is to finish replacing the road they started too long ago. For others, it is to gather the last of their crops or gardens. Me? I'm just hoping the boxes come.

Which encourages me to recount our little journey, starting with the boxes.

Boxes, bags, containers, oh my! They were everywhere. We took over the living room. Boxes and bags of Alyssa's things, bags of mine, boxes of our parents'. We took those little containers and relocated their contents to four larger boxes. Yes, we did manage to cram almost all of our stuff we were bringing into those four 18 x 24 x 24 cardboard boxes. They all weighed over 60 pounds (mine being around 72). And yes, it was quite interesting trying to weigh those things on a bathroom scale. I think Alyssa and a friend of ours nearly got hernias while I (smart as I am :)) stood there and checked the numbers.

Finally, after around four days of stuffing, sealing, taking things back out and rearranging them (see picture above), we were ready to ship. A simple sounding word, but the task did not turn out so simple. You see, our shipping agency was in Chicago! A mere 6 hours or so away..... But what must be done, must be done. We hitched up our trousers and, after having finagled a very gracious and wonderful friend of the family to drive us, made the trip.

Chicago is... a busy city with narrow streets that people park on, making them even narrower. Vans have a difficult time navigating these streets and an even harder task parking on them. But we made it without incident to our destination. Unfortunately, we were unsure if it actually was our destination. The name of both the shipping company and the charity next to it had changed! After much debate, we finally decided they were one in the same. That was a relief. The times of operation, however made our hearts sink. We had arrived in the Windy City at around 1:00 PM. The business opened at 5:00. We had hoped to be home around 7:00. What were we to do? The only thing that could help this situation was....

Pizza! And not just any pizza- Chicago Pizza. A big, deep dish pie as tall as your finger, dripping with cheese and sauce and laced with sausage and mushrooms. As gooey cheese dripped down my chin, the strains of Dean Martin's That's Amore flitted through my mind: "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore!" Dino certainly knew what he was talking about.

The next few hours were spent over pizza, Starbucks coffee, and good conversation. Suddenly, the wait didn't seem so bad.

When 5:00 finally rolled around, we dropped off the boxes and started on our way home (Alyssa nearly had a heart attack at how our poor possessions were thrown about without ever having left the office!). The Romanian man who was our shipping agent gave us simple directions to avoid the rush hour traffic that was just starting, so after getting turned around at least once, we finally made it onto Lake Shore Drive. Have you ever driven Lake Shore Drive at night? (Continued in part 2)