Category Archives: Life crazier then fiction

Life crazier than fiction or my epic quest to get a Green Card – Part 2.

This is the continuation of a story I had started last week, so in order to understand what I’m talking about, you might want to read Part 1 first.

So two days before we had to board a plane and head back to the States, we rented a car (because we had already sold the old Toyota we had been driving around Pizza, since shipping it back home would have cost more than the car was worth) and drove all the way down to Naples. Well, my husband drove; I just enjoyed the ride… right until we reached Naples itself. After that point, he tried to get us to the hotel in one piece, while I tried not to have a heart attack.

Driving in Naples is an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. In this city, the rules of the road are more like suggestions that nobody really pays attention to. The street has one lane each way and a sidewalk? Good enough for driving three wide… and yelling at the poor pedestrians who are trying to get home on foot without getting run over.

By the time my husband had safely gotten us to the hotel, he was gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white. He parked the car and said, “We are taking the cab from now on.”

The next morning we gathered all of or documents and, after a brief struggle with the language barrier at the reception, managed to call a cab and headed for:

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Level 3: The Embassy

Boss battle: Prejudice

Our first stop before the US Embassy itself was at a local clinic where I had to undergo the most extensive medical examination I ever had in my life. I swear they even checked for lice, though I assured them that I wash at least once a month. Sadly, my attempt at humor was lost in translation, or maybe the doctors and nurses were just having a bad day.

By the end of the morning, I felt like I had just escaped a horde of vampires – bruised, battered and drained. And I never ever wanted to go through that again. So I clutched the envelope with my medical records to my chest like it was made of gold, and I would have fought to the death if someone had tried to take it from me.

That afternoon, we finally arrived at the US Embassy for our final interview, and I made the mistake to think that the ordeal was finally almost over. Oh, how mistaken I was…

Boss fight: prejudice.

I don’t know if I was just unlucky to get the most prejudiced embassy official I’ve ever seen of if it’s the norm (God I hope not), but the interview was a nightmare.

We brought all of our supporting documents, as well as the “suggested” documents, like our wedding and vacation photos, letters from his and my family addressed to both of us, testimonials from our friends. The immigration office on base told us that those documents were optional, and that nobody ever checked them, but it was good to have just in case. Well, he checked every single one of them. And asked us a bunch of questions, like which side of the bed we slept on, or whether I knew if my husband liked to take his shower in the morning or in the evening…

I understand that the reasoning behind this is to make sure that this wasn’t a fake marriage done just to get me a Green Card. I understand that it happens, and that it’s the immigration officers’ job to verify that. So it’s not the questions I had problems with, it’s the tone in which they were asked. This whole process could have been handled with humor and good grace, but we both were showered with condescendence, suspicion, and prejudice…

When we left the Embassy at the end of the day with the sealed envelope containing all my documents and the “Approved” stamp on top, I felt like this had been the hardest level yet.

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Level 4: Airport Immigrations Office

Boss battle: human error

We were tired after a nine hour flight and eager to get through customs, catch our next flight, and finally get to our family in Indiana. Of course, there was a waiting line at customs. There always is. When our turn came, I handed my Green Card package to the officer with a big smile. He opened it… and we both got escorted to a side room.

Turns out my medical records (the ones that I had spent a whole morning being tortured for) weren’t in the package. The people at the Embassy who had put the package together forgot to put them in.

Now I must say that the package the applicant gets is SEALED with a big notice saying that it can only be opened by the immigration department at the airport. It also specifically says that if the seal is broken before that, the package is not valid. So we had no way of knowing that something was missing. Talk about a big and unpleasant surprise.

Thankfully, the Immigration officer in Washington DC was a lot nicer than the Embassy official back in Naples. He looked at our exhausted faces, our luggage, and the cat carrier with a cat that was so done with it all she wasn’t even moving anymore, and assured me that this was in no way my fault.

“Human error happens,” he said.

I got a one month visa, the phone number for the Embassy at Naples, and a new date with the Immigration office in Raleigh where I had to bring my medical records once I got them.

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Level 5: Raleigh

Boss battle: Time difference

The department responsible for these kinds of problems at the US Embassy in Naples only works from 1 to 4 pm (GMT +1 time zone) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Getting anyone to answer during those three little hours is equivalent to winning the lottery.

Once I finally got someone to answer the phone, I spent the next hour being ping-ponged around the different departments, and everyone tried to persuade me that the package was complete when they sealed it, and that I must have tampered with it myself. Nobody was willing to help me.

After I had been given the run around for three times, my husband put his foot down and hired a lawyer. The medical records were miraculously found and FedExed to us within the next week. It’s sad that sometimes the only way to get what you need is to bring out the big guns…

The rest of the level was an easy walk to victory. I got the records, drove to RDU on the day of my appointment, handed everything to a very nice Immigrations Officer, told her the story of my ordeal and drove back home with a new Green Card.

victory

I’m glad I did it, but I don’t wish to repeat this experience ever again (and sure am glad that I don’t have to). Compared to that, becoming an American citizen was a walk in the park.

Life crazier than fiction or my epic quest to get a Green Card – Part 1

Green Card

I had a bad allergic reaction to a spider bite (my foot swell up to double its normal size), and I’m pumped full of corticosteroids and antihistamine pills which make me so loopy I have the attention span of a gnat. So I have decided that trying to write a serious post about my writing process would be a bad idea in this condition. Instead, I will share a small personal anecdote. Who said that life never got crazier than fiction? Read on. I might just prove you wrong.

I am a US Air Force wife. I met my husband while he was stationed in Camp Darby, Italy, and I lived and worked in Geneva, Switzerland (it’s not that far actually, only a four hour drive). The story of how we met and got married is worth another blog post. I might even get to that someday.

Anyway, we had been married for about 6 months when he got orders to be stationed back State side. We were both excited to finally be closer to his family and be able to see the kids more often. But we were also hit with the realization that I needed to apply for and get a Green Card (or Permanent Resident Card, as they call it now), and we only had about 6 months to get it all done. Little did we know that this process would turn into an epic quest from some video game, complete with several levels and boss battles.

Level 1

Level 1: paperwork

Boss battle: bureaucracy.

I could never have imagined the amount of paperwork I had to submit to even apply for the card.

There is the application itself, which is about 20 pages long; where every “t” has to be crossed and every “i” has to be dotted, and which has to be filled out EXACTLY AS SHOWN, or it will be rejected. Oh, and you have to include a check for about $700 with the application, and that money is non-refundable even if your application is rejected. You will have to pay another $700 if you want to start the process again.

Then there are all the supporting documents. Some of them made sense, like a copy of my birth certificate, proof of my Swiss citizenship, our marriage certificate and the copies of previous divorce decrees for both of us. I could also understand the need for my husband’s birth certificate, military ID and copy of his Orders. We were applying for the accelerated process for military spouses after all.

But why the heck would they need a copy of my high school diploma or my Bachelor’s Degree? And what’s the need for an extensive questionnaire about my parents, including where they were born, where they lived and who their parents were? Thank god, they didn’t ask for supporting documents on those. Both my parents were born right in the middle of WWII in Russia. I’m not even sure they ever had a birth certificate. Plus I didn’t want to make two seventy years-old have to drive all over Moscow and stand 5-7 hours in line in different governmental agencies just to be told to come back another day.

Oh and all those documents had to be translated into English by an accredited translation agency and legalized.

Which brings me to the first Boss fight – Bureaucracy.

It’s bad enough when you have to deal with just one country; imagine when you have to deal with three? I was born in Russia, so my birth certificate is in Russian, but I became a Swiss citizen when I turned 18, so the rest of my paperwork is in French… Yeah, fun times were had by everyone involved in this little merry-go-round.

But I managed to beat that boss by the skin of my teeth and moved to the next level.

Level 2

Level 2: medical and vaccination records.

Boss battle: nurse with a syringe at the base clinic.

Apparently, whether you live in a peaceful European country or in a small village in the African bush, the medical records need to be just as extensive. Not to mention that you have to be vaccinated against about every disease under the sun.

I was able to get ahold of my current medical records from Geneva with little to no problems, but getting my childhood records from Russia, a country I had last visited when I was 16 and couldn’t travel to anymore without a visa, that proved to be just as painful as pulling teeth without anesthesia. And just as fruitless. In the end, I had to give up on that idea, because the Russian embassy simply refused to cooperate with me. This sucked, because that’s where most of my childhood vaccination records were. And, as I said before, they were required.

Boss fight: nurse with a syringe.

In my desperation, I went to the base clinic and shared my plight with the nurse on duty.

“That’s not a problem, hon,” she said with a cheerful smile. “We can just give you all the shots right now.”

When she came back with the syringes and a bunch of vials, I was in for a load of pain… And I was right. Both my arms hurt for a week after that barbaric procedure, and I ran a mild fever for days. But I had won yet another boss fight on the road to my Green Card.

We had finally gathered all the required documents, triple-checked all the forms and sent everything to Immigration. Thus began the long wait. At first, we weren’t too worried, because we had been warned that the process took about 4 months. But after five and a half months of radio silence and our PCS date fast approaching, my stress levels shot through the roof. I really didn’t want to be left behind to try and deal with this on my own.

I became a daily visitor at the immigration office at Camp Darby. And I want to give special thanks to the immigration officer who was there to see my through that ordeal. She had been very supporting and an absolute sweetheart. I would have lost it without her support and all the cups of coffee we drank just chatting about nothing at all, passing time.

Then two weeks before we were scheduled to fly out of Italy, when we were already packed up and staying in TLF on base, the letter with the interview date at the American Embassy in Naples finally arrived. The interview was scheduled for 2 days before we were supposed to leave. That was cutting it awfully close, but we really didn’t have a choice, did we?

To find out what happens at Level 3: the Embassy, come back next Monday! *Evil laughter*. And I totally meant to finish this post in a cliffhanger, it’s not the antihistamine speaking, no sir. Oh, squirrel!

Writing is a life-long journey

writing - lifelong journey

Let me start this post with a personal anecdote. I have a full-time job and a family, which doesn’t leave much time for writing. In the past year, I had slowly taught myself to write whenever I had a few spare minutes, but I do the bulk of my writing at night before bed and during lunch. So I’m pretty used to showing up at restaurants with a notebook or a printout and a pen, and usually people don’t pay much attention to the crazy lady in the corner boot mumbling to herself and scribbling furiously in a notebook.

But last week I had an interesting encounter which made me think about what I am, what I do and where I go from here.

I had a “writing lunch” at Applebee’s last week when the waitress asked me what I was doing. I told her I was writing a short story. She seemed genuinely interested and asked if I had anything published.

Got anything published

This is when the first shift in perception happened. See, up until May this year, I had been a pre-published or aspiring author. But then my short story, A Small Detour, got accepted and published in this anthology. If you are interested, you can read my post about this exciting event.

So when asked about published work, I could legitimately answer, “Well, yes, I have a short story on amazon,” and give her the name of the anthology. And then something extraordinary happened: the waitress came back with her Kindle and made me input the name of the anthology for her. And then she bought the book!

Of Dragons and Magic

And I realized something important – I was actually a published author, even if all I had published so far was a short story. When I began my writing journey last October, I hadn’t even dreamed to be able to achieve that within a year.

This also made me think about why I do this. I mean, when I started the first draft of my novel Of Broken Things, getting something published had been the sum of my ambition. Ten months into the journey, I realize that for me it’s a life-long commitment. Money is not the end goal (though it would sure be nice to earn some) and neither is fame. My goal is to create compelling stories that people would want to read, because seeing the excitement in the waitress’s eyes when she said she couldn’t wait to read the anthology was the best reward I could ask for. She would spend a few hours blissfully lost in the wonderful worlds the authors have created, and one of them was mine.

So where do I go from here? Well, I continue writing of course, because the more I write, the more ideas pop into my head waiting to be put into stories.

I’m halfway through the first major edit of my novel Of Broken Things. I have the ghost of an idea along with most of the characters for my NaNo 2014 project.

I’m editing a novelette I had written back in May, and I have another unrelated short story to edit as well.

I have finished a new short story set in the same world as A Small Detour and about the same characters, and I have ideas for at least three more stories in this world. Once I finish them all, I am considering self-publishing them as a series. More about that in future posts.

I also want to dust off a project I had started a couple years ago. Back then I was just dabbling in writing; I had no idea that writing was hard work, and that first drafts always sucked, and that you had to push through it all, good day or bad day, to get to the end. I got frustrated because what had seemed so awesome in my head turned out total crap on paper and abandoned the project. But the story had potential and I love the characters, so I want to give it another chance.

Oh, and did I mention the dozens of half-baked ideas clamoring in my head and which might or might not turn into full-fledged stories?

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So all is well in my world: I am a published author, I am still in love with what I do and I have plenty of ideas to last me for a while!

Progress and evolution

 

 

 

If you happened to glance at my blog last week, you might have noticed a radical change in the design and presentation. This happened because I came to the realization that I had finally outgrown the original blog design.

When I first started blogging seven months ago, I didn’t have a clue as to what I would write about, how often, or what I wanted my blog to look like. So I chose the first theme with colors that I more or less liked and just stuck with it. The theme was Dusk to Dawn and I still love it.

Dusk to Dawn

And it had served me faithfully for seven months. But now that I have almost fifty posts worth of content, and it was growing more and more difficult to look through them all, I had to admit that I outgrew that theme.

This was actually a good realization, because it made me think long and hard about what I actually wanted my blog to look like and what kind of content I wanted to provide. And sadly, Dusk to Dawn simply wasn’t flexible enough for my growing needs.

First of all, it only had one sidebar and it was growing rather overcrowded. Secondly, it didn’t have a top or bottom menu at all. Yep, it was time for a change.

I spent a whole day last week going through the different themes available on WordPress and decided to go with Twenty Fourteen, though I customized the colors a bit to make it look more like what I had before.

Twenty Fourteen
Twenty Fourteen

I think it makes my blog easier to navigate and a lot more user-friendly. And as a bonus, I got to add my bio and Twitter feed to the sidebar! And as another added bonus, I finally took the time to go through all my categories and instill some semblance of order to the madness. Yay me!

Original by nord_modular on Flickr
Original by nord_modular on Flickr

And of course, being a writer, this change looked to me as a good metaphor for a writing career. You start small, not very sure of where you are going, how to get there, and what results (apart from hey, I want to publish a book!) you want to achieve. Then you start working on your book and you quickly realize that getting it finished and (hopefully) published is not a sprint, but a long hard journey with a lot of milestones along the way. If you are serious about writing (and blogging), you are in it for the long run, and things will change along the way. So I think that last week I reached my first blogging milestone. This calls for a small and belated six months anniversary celebration!

So here is my new and improved (and hopefully easier to navigate) blog. What do you guys think of the changes?

Life is just a moment between the past and the future.

Year 2014 took two good friends away from me. In March, my childhood friend’s husband lost his long battle with cancer. And last Saturday I learned that one of our good friends from Camp Darby, Italy, got the news that he would never walk again after a bad car wreck and took his own life. Both deaths affected me deeply. I’m 36, that’s way too young to be burying friends, especially if they are the same age as you.

I think it’s also hard for me to get used to the idea that they are gone because in both cases I was unable to attend the funeral, so I didn’t have closure. In my mind, they are still very much alive. I can remember them talking, laughing, making plans, and I cannot reconcile it with the idea that they are now gone for good.

This also made me think about life in general and what I wanted my own life to be. I had a sort of epiphany. We all live in that beautiful and fleeting moment sandwiched between the past that we can never go back to and the future that we might never reach. That moment is now, and that’s all we have.

So it’s alright to make plans and dream about what we want our life to be, but if we keep postponing those plans until tomorrow, we might never achieve our dreams at all. “Tomorrow is another day,” as the saying goes. But I say no, tomorrow might never come. None of us knows when our time will run out. It could be ten years from now or tomorrow morning, or even in the next hour.

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Some might find this notion terrifying, but I find it liberating. If this moment is all we truly have, then let’s live each moment to its fullest. That novel that you have been planning to write but kept putting off? Grab a pen and paper and start writing. That trip you wanted to take to Japan, or Belize, or Katmandu, but never got around to planning? Get online and book the plane ticket. Go skydiving, learn to dance the tango, father the courage to ask that cute guy from Accounting on a date. Whatever it was that you were putting off doing because you were too busy or too scared – do it now.

Live each fleeting moment like it’s your last, that way when you arrive at the end of the line and look back, you can smile and say, “I truly lived.”

Lightning never strikes in one place twice, right?

Today, I had planned to write a review of yet another book I read, but live proved to be more interesting (and scarier) than fiction. So my house got struck by lightning Friday evening. Never thought I would be able to say something like that… Well, to be precise, it wasn’t a direct hit – the lightning struck the pool in my backyard. That didn’t prevent it from wreaking havoc around the house though.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we? That afternoon, my father-in-law was cleaning the pool and left the pool net (the one on a big metallic pole) propped next to the pool deck. It started raining, so he switched the pool off and went inside. Unfortunately, he didn’t unplug the pump or put the net on the big metallic pole back in the shed.

Two hours later our peaceful evening was interrupted by an ear-shattering crack and the loudest bang I have ever heard. It really sounded like an explosion right in our backyard. My thirty pound dog jumped up my lap so fast, it looked like she teleported. My 85-pound German shepherd tried to dig her way under the sofa, but only succeeded in pushing it all the way towards the wall almost knocking herself out in the process. And my two cats relocated under the bed upstairs, and it took me several hours and a can of tuna to persuade them the sky wasn’t falling on us and we weren’t going to die. That is after I finished having my own heart attack.

When we finally managed to sort all the animals and humans in the house out and crawled outside to see what the heck had happened, we saw scorch marks on the deck right where the pole used to be. The wooden plank on the railing was split in half. We found splinters of it by the fence about ten feet away. The metal pole itself was laying on the ground with what looked like a bullet hole on the top and the netting at the bottom shredded to pieces. Not to self: yup, that’s why they say not to leave metal poles standing around during storms…

Nope, that's not a bullet hole, that's lightning damage.
Nope, that’s not a bullet hole, that’s lightning damage.

The lightning stroke the pole, scorched part of the deck, dug a trench in the yard from the end of the deck towards the power outlet by the pool pump, and fried the whole pool system. I mean the outlet was so scorched we barely managed to pull the plugs out. And the impact was so intense that that dirt from the trench ended up floating in the pool. It’s an above ground pool with 4 feet tall sides.

But the damage didn’t stop there. Through that outlet, the lightning then traveled into the house, melted the circuit breaker that was supposed to shut that circuit off, and did wonders on electric devises.

 

Yup, it's toast.
Yup, it’s toast.

The Direct TV box got so messed up that it literally hang itself and would not reboot. The poor technician spent 5 hours on Saturday trying to make the thing work again. In the end, he had to replace both the receiver and the dish itself. Our TV decided that it had suffered enough abuse and decided to shut down permanently. The sound system still works, but the subwoofer is toast. Several electric outlets around the house quit working. Oh, and the cherry on top – my beautiful, less than a year old desktop might as well be a door stopper now.

Good news is that nobody got hurt and that our homeowners insurance will cover the damage. So we certainly got the fright of our lives, but the consequences could have been more dire.

I also learned a few things from this unfortunate encounter with lightning. First of all, never ever leave a metallic pole outside when it’s raining. That’s just inviting disaster. Secondly, always back up your work. I mean all my writing was on that desktop. So thank God for Google Drive!

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Merry Christmas!

ImageTime flew by. It seems like only yesterday it was October and I was getting excited about participating in my first NaNoWriMo. And now it’s Christmas Eve! And I have many things to be merry about this Christmas.  I have participated and won my first NaNo, but more importantly, I established a habit of writing at least 600 words every day, rain or shine. My first novel Of Broken Things will be finished in about 3-4 chapters. I have discovered a wonderful writing community with many like-minded people who kept me motivated to finish my first draft. And most importantly ever since I sat down to write my story, I have been assailed by different ideas, clamoring for my attention. I have been patiently writing them down and putting them in my “future plot bunnies” basket. So all in all, creativity is flowing, life is looking good and snow… is nowhere to be seen. Yep, no white Christmas for me in North Carolina.

So I wanted to wish everyone who is reading  me a wonderful Christmas. I hope you send it with the people you love. And don’t forget to tell them that you cherish them on this wonderful night.

As for me, I will spend Christmas day eating good food, drinking plenty of wine… and crying my eyes out as I watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special and say goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor.