Last Sunset in Santa Cruz

When we were first married, Santa Cruz had never been in the plan for us. However, due to the way our jobs leaned over the first couple of years, I was given an chance to work at a small studio there, Studio Holladay. The opportunities that Ted gave me in that job truly formed me as a professional and has impacted the direction of our lives irreversibly. Through that job, we met many wonderful people and some close friends. We’ll be sad to leave them and the ocean behind, but are bound for adventure. But if and when we do decide to move back to the States, Santa Cruz is certainly on the top of the list for where.

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Burke Williams. ‘Nuff said.

I just had a long weekend off. We spent the last “first Friday” in Santa Cruz watching the sunset and then crashing all kinds of parties, saying farewell, enjoying other people’s company, getting energized.

Saturday we cancelled our AT&T contract and then spent the entire afternoon getting pampered at a spa in Santana Row. Last time we went there was for Allie’s wedding.

This time was special. The four of us, relaxing. I felt like a soft noodle after 50 minutes of exfoliating and massage. The jacuzzi, the soft whispering, the dim lights, the free and abundant fruit and tasty lemonade. The smells and the heat, the bubbling water, misty rooms, and ice towels by the jacuzzi.

Last week I had a spur of energy, as I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t feel as suspended. I keep remembering that faith is not having a clear plan and path ahead, but trusting even when a positive outcome seems nearly impossible.
We found a buyer for our car.

We has the most delicious and lavishing dinner, paired with my new favorite: lemon-drop. We shared stories, laughed wholeheartedly and made great memories. Mom is so cool! And she has two equally amazing daughters. And I am privileged to be part of the family.

Out of body feeling

I feel as if I am slowly disintegrating from this world, to reembody myself elsewhere… physically, even though it’s just mentally and emotionally. Conrad calls it checking-out, and maybe it is. Regardless, it is exhausting as I try to stay present.

During my last week of breaks I still take walks in Los Gatos and I realize I have memorized cracks in the pavement, houses, trees… I love the neighborhood, and moving on makes me appreciate it even more.

The pressure of making the best of our last month can take its toll, though the most pleasant and memorable days are the regular, no-pressure ones.

We love spending time with friends, and we like our goodbyes to be short and sweet. And we are so excited about the new adventure!

October came and went

It’s the end of October, and the world oscillates between windy nervous red-yellow-brown leafs and yellow sunlight, and blue air with misty streets. There’s anticipation and there’s a deep sense of giddiness about the near future. What we do lately – I try to pace myself, in layering a wide variety of responsibilities and tasks (moving to another continent is not easy feat). Conrad is in a good productive season with breakthroughs and great steady work for the clients we have.

Occasionally we stop and ask ourselves and each other “are we insane to embark on this crazy adventure?”. The conclusions always make us more determined. The reality checks are perfect interjections.

A few years ago life was on a steady course. Great jobs, steady routine, a home, food, clothes, technology, a great church and community, and vacations… but the soul searches for things out of this world. Also, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So we decided to switch it up: Starting our own business, adopting children, pursuing affordable traveling through Europe are well defined and attainable dreams.

We are not going to Romania to get rich. At least not in a materialistic way. Yesterday I got to say hi to Arnold Schwarzenegger. I still play with the latest and greatest technology and I work with the most innovative and famous company. And I am grateful and everything I learned I take with me. Apple will always be part of my business DNA. We are determined to start our own thing.

I sometimes get discouraged about Romania as I read the harshest articles, and pessimistic outlooks about our politicians, about the increasing shallowness in the new generation, about how fed-up-with-the-system people are fleeing the country or encouraging the reader to do so. To them I say: go live outside the country if you are so disgruntled. Try it out. Maybe it will shake up some sense and gratitude. On the other hand, if you are to stay, pull up your sleeves and let’s get to work.

Conrad and I are hopelessly hopeful and positive (I let him rub-off on me). And that can be bothersome for the pessimistic bunch. I mentioned at some point that no matter how impeccable one’s track-record, the pessimists will always doubt. I am tempted to justify our decisions (the move, the business, the adoption) to people, but I am afraid it will get tiring fast. I acknowledge the noise. At times we will share our perspective, other times we will tune out the noise and smile.

A few weeks ago a friend and pastor who loves Romania deeply made a statement: during communism the Romanians’ love for Jesus was pure, their passion unaltered as the oppression and challenges and we faced were outwardly. Today we face very western temptation: greed, pride, laziness, envy. The temptation is the numbing of our soul.

Here is the reality about Jesus: he came to show us the Way and to give his life for our sins so we can Live. We distort the truth to make it palatable, and we whisper about Salvation. I have been in school when talking about Jesus could get your family in big trouble and persecution was a real thing. And yet, I remember being brave about it. Today I tend to be more censured, not out of fear for my life but because it might be offensive to someone’s ears. The oppression in this era of extreme freedom of speech is subtle and yet more effective. No past or present experience will go to waste…

Here is a quote by my former boss. It’s famous and it’s inspiring. I love sharing it during this season as it applies directly to our current decisions. We did not buy the one-way ticked to Romania because of what Steve Jobs said below, but it sure is cool to hear him especially say it.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I am painfully aware at times of what I’ll miss. This week’s delights were the joyful “burrito boys” and impromptu dinners with friends, drinks with mom and birthday dinners with family.

Dilemma

It has been a stressful week. After coming back from Seattle we jumped right into the business of life. On top of colleagues calling out sick, launch mode still on, meetings to attends or host, Wanderlust business setup and stretching out of our comfort zone, finances to figure out, car to sell, crap to buy… Here is my dilemma. Favors. Mostly pay it forward favors.

I have been in a position to carry stuff back and forth, to and from Romania for the last 9 years. And most of the time it has been just fine. As we agreed to doing it, we always found a way, even though at times it was a stretch. We have been helped by others in the same way and are tremendously grateful for it, as we know full well what it entails. But this time we are weighing every shirt, every cable, every personal item or memento, as we rule it in or out of our moving to Europe luggage. Imagine packing everything you have into two suitcases. Everything! We haven’t gone shopping in a few months, as the idea of packing it, whatever that might be, is daunting. That being said, I caught myself promising to bring over stuff for people. And a promise once made I willingly carry it to fruition. But yesterday I caught myself grumbling about it. So what is it? I stop to analyze it coldly: is it a matter of inconvenience, or am I rightfully entitled to say no without feeling guilty? Where do I draw the line?

Rhetorically speaking: Why do people do favors? Is it to upkeep the karma? Or to get favors in return? Is it because it’s easy for the one doing the favor? Are we balancing the value for effort? Is gratefulness expected?

I don’t believe in purposeful favors. A hand doesn’t wash the other consciously. It kind of happens. And if you ever did a favor to someone expecting an equal response, you are bound to be disappointed.

When you have, give. When you are in need, ask. I have no other wisdom to share, but just hope to gracefully let go of the stress incurred by our move, and live in the present.

Seattle

It’s finally Thursday. I sleep in, watch a chick-flick in bed, I FaceTime with my parents, then finally pack one hour before hopping on the plane. At 2pm mom drives me to the airport just after we pick up Caleb from school. On the way to SJC we all take turns in describing step by step the making of imaginary delicious things.

At 6pm I land and meet Conrad in Seattle. It’s my first time visiting the Emerald City. I spend the whole flight at the window, left cheek kissed, warmed and reddened by the sun. It’s a gorgeous day, with fog covering low the Pacific. I can’t help but pray with joy the whole way. I talk to God and I feel so grateful and happy. I feel light and hopeful. No matter where and how our life turns, I feel at home in the present. I have lived fully and faithfully so far, and I hope and pray that God would continue to be my light and guide.

Seattle turns out to be amazing. It started with a smooth sunny landing seeing Mt. Rainier covered by snow. We spend the first evening with friends, as they went about their family routine. They are inspiring. The gentleness and kindness with which they interact with their three kids makes me smile. Throughout the evening the kids played energetically with each other ages 12, 7 and 2. Self awareness, freedom in playfulness, kindness… A willingness to help the adults, without pleading or negotiating.

This morning our host shared with me a brief conclusion from their bible study last night: changing the way we think, even when we seem alone in the process, much like the prophets of the Old Testament. We are not called to go with the flow, but to stand firm and see and follow God.

It’s our last night here. Conrad is making pretzels. I hear the boys downstairs and again, I can’t help but smile at the delight I feel getting to know them all a little better.

Seattle is wet and colder, and I love it. Makes me daydream about home this winter.

This week my parents signed the papers to buy an apartment very close to where we are moving. It’s surreal. While I know we will miss a lot of dear family, friends are nature here in California, in this new cycle Romania is pulling like a magnet.

Wanderlust

Every new place is like a new book, full of adventure and the unknown.

I’ve had wanderlust since I was old enough to go out on my own, whether by bike or train. I attribute this to my father, who was (and still is) always perusing maps and exploring new places on every bike ride and business trip. I feed off the unknown sometimes. It tends to come on in bouts every few years, not that I get tired of a current job, or restless in routine, but it’s just an itch for the New.

I’ve tried my hand at many things in the past ten years since high school, maybe not as much as some, but I’d like to consider myself relatively well rounded in the experience arena. However, as many things as I try, I always have a few constants, coffee, design, and for the last 7+ years, my amazing wife.

For me, these constants are what make it possible to thrive despite my fernweh. I can do what I know, practice what I love, and lean on the support of my other half wherever we are.

Recently, Violeta and I have decided to take on a project that feeds all of these constants while in Cluj. We’ve been approached by a number of our design clients in coffee to consider becoming distributors for their products in Romania. At first, the prospect of taking on a financial commitment like that was daunting and exciting, and now that we’ve decided to actually take the plunge, it’s more daunting and exponentially more exciting.

I’ll be able to fulfill all three of my passions in one fell swoop; helping to grow an already budding specialty coffee community in Cluj, designing for an industry that we’ll be helping to build, and we’ll be doing it together. Vio’s even been taking a closer interest in programming for design and online, as well as stepping further into the world of coffee. I’m lucky to have her by my side in this, I wouldn’t be able to do it without her.

We’ve purchased a domain, designed a logo and begun to write our business plan. Since becoming part (though small) of the coffee community in Cluj in 2007, I’ve toyed—and even dreamed—of beginning a cafe or coffee business there. Now we are, and given my own inclinations, have decided to name the business Wanderlust Coffee Co.

Along with Altmannhaus design clients, a new Treasure City blog angled at local makers, and most of all, our journey to adopt a child into our family, I think we’ll be more than busy.

I’ve never been more anxious or more excited at what the future holds for us.

September thoughts

Kindness is contagious. I read an exhortation online this morning: “Say something good about somebody. At least one person.” It reminded me about my job and why I got so much out of it. One’s patience, support, kindness, willingness to help others is rewarded ten fold, not even by the pay-it-forward act, but by what happens inside of you in the process. I had the privilege to see it in real time. And I believe.

Also, on the matter of faith. If I could only convey the richness in it…
If you discover something great, something so amazing, it’s really hard to keep it just for yourself (so I am sorry if you ever felt assaulted by overzealous people). As we navigate the big world, we learn to discern when and how much to share of the good news, and in what context. I learned to have patience to get to know people and love them. There is so much more to belief. There is trust in the midst of uncertainty. It is rest and peacefulness, the knowledge and the vivid memory of it when I don’t feel so confident. Through my family, church and upbringing I got to know God, and seeked to know more of him over time. My inquisitive mind made me challenge everything during my teenage days, but that grounded my faith even deeper. The freedom and joy I feel are deep and rich and the hardships are like the pinch of salt that makes the food taste better.

And if you were to be honest with yourself, let’s assume we don’t know for sure, would you rather live in a gloomy, deprived of hope world or would you take a chance and live with courage and the faith that there is a good God who created us and a better new world beyond this fallen one, without war, pain, sickness or death?

I received a gift this past month, a book called Adopted for life. It has already addressed so many of my unspoken concerns. It’s the gift of Acknowledge, Align & Assure. It shares about the process of commitment, bonding, love and discipline, addressing the assault of curiosity, mainly because so many of us have not been exposed to adoption. (Maybe all the repetitive sometimes thoughtless questions I have been asked over and over again these past seven years, have prepared me for another journey of questions and the grace one will have to show to the ignorance surrounding). Up until this week, the upcoming uphill bureaucratic journey was daunting, or the time it would take to push through, but as we prepare what we have control over now, I decided to not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Home study, paperwork, interviews – this experience is in God’s hand. We are committed to go through it in earnest, answering any and all questions truthfully and discerning.

As the time draws near for us to pickup the rest of our stuff and move, while we are roasted with bottled impatience, every day we get a glimpse of better understanding this waiting season. From slowly letting go of “here”, to making plans for “there”. Learning code, preparing tax documents, planning for the spring conference, building further business partnerships, branching out and laying out plans for a few projects.

A new era is about to begin, just as we both turned 30.

A milestone

Conrad turned 30, surrounded by people he loves and who love him. It has been an overly social week: Cosmic Design had the grand opening of their gorgeous studio in Santa Cruz and we’ve been hanging out with house guests who were an absolute delight to get to know (and oddly enough, I miss them).

It occurs to me this old saying: “I love you not for who you are but who I am when I’m around you”. The people who’s company we seek and enjoy greatly is not due to their stand alone performance. On the contrary. The friends who are self aware and not self centered, who are struggling and are transparent, who welcome self-irony and who know how to listen – you know who you are and we love you for it!

And on that note: Happy 30th birthday Conrad Altmann! You are wonderful, smart and resilient. You are kind and easy to love. You are funny and direct. And life with you continues to be an adventure.

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Love languages

When Conrad and I moved to California, seven years ago, we joined the newly weds class led by Conrad’s parents. It is there where I heard about the idea of love languages for the first time. A few years later we hosted together a couples’ retreat in Romania, with the same theme. And this past week the love languages topic kept coming up in conversations with different couples.

The bottom line question is “how or when do you feel loved?” Answering this question does two things for you: it sets expectations and it creates a state of vulnerability and closeness.

Seven years ago, as a newly wed, quality time and physical touch were my top two love languages, closely followed by acts of service, words of affirmations, and lastly gifts. To a degree the way we love or feel loved is deeply rooted in our childhood, but the people we marry speak their own love language so we ought to learn. Fast.

So here’s what is still vivid in my memory: my dad’s big beautifully strong hands, holding mine as we were walking down the street. My mom’s beautiful smaller hands brushing my hair on my forehead. And my grandma, rubbing my back as I was sitting on her old bed, tired or sleepy. She was was having late-evening conversations with my mom. Her callused hand would make a brushing noise on my sweater, as she would tell she loved me without words.

That being said, I never thought physical touch is one of my love languages, until I married Conrad. He can hold my hand or touch my neck and the world is right again.

If I were to guess, I would say my parents and my brother love and feel loved through acts of service. They are observant of people’s needs and put their gifts to good use. Our meals were simple spreads of healthy authentic deliciousness. I remember countless lunches and dinners together. My parents worked in shifts, but we managed to spend most meals together. We also took road trips galore growing up. But I don’t recall praises.

From far-far away I have learned to love my parents through words of affirmation. Reassuring, initiating, recognizing or reminiscing… words are powerful. As a leader in a professional environment it all starts with being observant and acknowledging out loud the taking of initiative or the work well done.

Conrad expresses his love every day through making me coffee and spending the morning with me, even when he doesn’t need to wake up at 6 AM.

And a random thought: There is this reoccurring and vivid dream I have. I dream that I’m in Cluj, holding a baby, a small life squirming warm in my arms. A baby that’s mine. And it fills me with joy that lingers even after I wake up. I vividly remember that physical touch.