Home.

I’ve had people ask me a lot lately about where my home is. Where I come from. Where I was born and raised. A lot of people in Texas take pride in the fact that they were born and raised here, so I’ve been hearing that a lot lately too. Each time I hear that my heart pings with slight jealously because I realize I’ll never get a chance to say that. Ill never be able to claim “I was born and raised here.”

For those of you who don’t know my story, I was born in Bucharest, Romania while it was still under communist rule. My incredible and brave mother escaped Romania and communism by herself when I was around two years old. She left me with my grandmother and grandfather in Bucharest and risked her life to escape the communists. She failed the first two times she attempted through Germany, but made it the third attempt through Turkey. That is a whole different story and deserves the glory of its own blog post. I will focus on the big picture of my home now. Also, public service announcement, I may be full-blooded Romanian but I’m full-hearted American.

Home. What is the definition of home? Where you were born? Where you were raised? Where you spent most of your life? Where you live now? For me, all of those are different: Bucharest, Chicago, Sacramento, Dallas. Which one do I call home? Honestly? I feel it’s a tie between Chicago and Sacramento.

I spent only six years in Chicago, but it was during my most impressionable years: from 6-12 years old. I learned to speak English there, joined the Catholic church through the legacy of my step-dad’s elementary school, and became a loyal Cubs fan there. Chicago defined me as a person and set the standard for my morals, ethics, and personality. I owe my blunt nature to Chicago. We speak our minds and know ourselves, we are rooted deeply into Chicago culture and we fiercely defend ourselves and our city. People know better than to mess with us or mess with Chicago. I owe my foodie tendencies to Chicago because we are the melting pot of America and I don’t care what anyone says, we have the best food in the entire country. Two words for you: Europe 2.0. I owe my love for winter, snow, and rainy autumns to Chicago. That city has actual seasonal change and it’s stunning. Yea yea, the wind is not ideal, but damn that city is beautiful under a blanket of white.

I also spent seven years in Sacramento. Three of those years were in Davis, but they’re 11 miles apart, so I consider them one “home.” I met my best friends there. People I will be friends with until my dying day. If I ever have a wedding and bridesmaids, nearly all of them I met while living in Davis/Sacramento. Except my brother, Michael Castaneda, who will be my maid of honor, I met him at UCSD. I learned how to drive in Davis, I graduated high school there. Being the first person in my family to graduate high school in the United States, that is a huge deal for me, definitely an honor. I got my belly button pierced there and drank alcohol for the first time there. I also had my first job interning at my mom’s company during high school one summer and my first big girl job out of college there. I experienced important rites of teenage and adulthood passage in Sacramento.

Since and in between then I’ve also lived in Dallas, San Diego, Rome, and Oslo. I know what you’re thinking…”Girl gets around.” You Betcha! And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been blessed with the ability to visit 20 countries and live in four of them for at least six weeks. Let me tell you, six weeks in Rome is nowhere near enough but it gripped my soul so intensely, I still think of Rome on a daily basis. Maybe it was the mid-summer afternoons strolling along the narrow cobblestone alleys that thrilled me, or perhaps hearing the mysterious stories of historical figures and seeing that architecture enchanted me, or maybe the combination of living with ease and pleasure, eating with delight and appetite, and dreaming with possibilities and excitement all seduced me and captivated my heart. I often joke that I left my soul in Rome, but that statement is not far off. If you find skepticism in my words, I encourage you to visit Rome in mid-July and walk along the Tiber at dusk from the Vatican to Trastevere. Open your eyes to all the sights and your ears to all the sounds, but most importantly, your heart to all the culture. Breathe it in and let it consume you. Actually let it or not, it will consume you. Is Rome my home?

I bring us back to the present. I moved back to Dallas, Texas one month ago, today. I took a giant leap and decided to trust in God’s plan. Too many prayers were answered by pointing me in this direction for me to blatantly ignore or disregard them as user error. I often pray to God for guidance and wisdom but humbly ask that he answers me several times, at least three, because I don’t trust my self-doubt to catch the signs the first time around. So, here I am today, at least five signs from God pointing that I belong here. Five that I had the ability to see, there may have been more. But was I leaving my home? Or returning home?

“Homeless” is not a word I would use to describe my current predicament, but rather, home abundance. I don’t have a lack of one home, I have an abundance of seven. Each city, state, or country I’ve been fortunate enough to live in has welcomed me with open arms, some were wider arms than others. But I try to remind myself that I do not have to pick just one, I can fondly recall how each one contributed to my contradictory personality. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I appreciate life more because of what I’ve seen, the struggles I’ve faced, and all the souls I’ve met who helped shape me. I do not exist as I am now by chance, but by the grace of God putting me in situations which I could never have fathomed or conjured inspiration for on my own, by living in one place my entire life.

People are always fascinated to hear my story of where I come from and how I ended up in so and so. It’s flattering, really, to be the shiny new toy for people and to answer all their questions about how I like so and so compared to so and so. People always want to hear their city is the best, you can never be sincere and tell them traffic sucks and it smells like a Mexico City zoo. Not that I’ve ever even been to a Mexico City zoo, not sure if they have one, but I imagine it’s rough. So I say I love it. I usually do though.

Moving and traveling around so much, I’ve developed the essential life skill of making the best of any situation. So you’re in Bratislava, Slovenia and the local police stop the inner-city tram to check commuters actually purchased tickets but they’re carrying AK-47s while they do their ticket checks. Well at least you bought your ticket and aren’t getting locked up abroad today! So you’re in Machu Picchu, Peru and go to pet a Llama but almost get your hand bitten off. Well at least you visited one of the original seven wonders of the world! See, I can find good in just about anything, or anyone. Probably why I’m still single, but that’s another story for another time.

To be completely sincere, it is lonely. It’s isolating knowing there exists not one place on this entire planet where I can go and say I genuinely belong there and be treated like I belong there. I am an outsider everywhere I go. There is a sense of freedom, that I may wander to the ends of this beautiful planet and find happiness literally anywhere I find myself in some capacity, but there is also a looming thought, one I often attempt and sometimes fail to ignore, that I am a person without identity. Sometimes, I look at some friends of mine enviously who have lived in one city their entire lives. They still spend Friday nights with the friends they had in elementary school. They can proudly claim they are from that town, that state, rep that football team’s sweatshirt with such devotion, rest assured that when they eventually plan a wedding, everyone they will invite lives within 30 miles. I will never know what to write when online user profiles like Yelp ask me for my hometown. These are things I think about.They are things that always keep me separate from literally every single person I meet, have met, and will meet. I have never found and will likely never find anyone like me, who has followed the life path I have, and there is something tragically isolating about that. No one will ever truly understand me or appreciate me for what I have been through or who I have taught myself to be.

However, on the bright side, per usual there is always a bright side and it always has the final word in my book, my roots may not be firmly planted in one zip code, but my heart does beat to the Star Spangled Banner. My respect goes to this country’s brave veterans, active military, law enforcement officers, and other emergency first responders. My passport is American navy blue and although foreign stamps fill its pages, I still consider this country my home. I may have been born abroad, but this country adopted me with open arms and gave me opportunities beyond my family’s wildest dreams in Romania. I may have sprinkled a little bit of myself in multiple places throughout this world, but I embrace my American culture like my life depends on it. The United States is my home, this entire country is my home. I don’t have to feel alone when people brag about growing up in the same city anymore because I grew up in the same country, the greatest country on this planet, along with all my best friends. And for that, I will never be an outsider.

Positively grateful to be an American and living in the great state of Texas again! Yeehaw!

Covet.

I’ve heard that the grass is always greener on the other side for many years and I never quite appreciated its meaning in my life until recently. I realized I fall victim to this on a frequent basis but where it affects me most is my love life.

I absolutely detest dating. I can’t think of a more uncomfortable experience than faking interest in small talk and getting all dolled up to attract a complete stranger just so he thinks Im interesting and sexy enough, all the while spending hours feeling nervous and wondering if he’s actually a cartel member who is going to kidnap me in his white van and drive me to Tijuana to sell me into slavery. I know what you’re thinking, dramatic much? But this actually happens, I know. I read the news every morning.

Easily within about 20 minutes, I know if a new person I meet is someone I can respect, someone who can make me laugh, and someone I would let kiss me. Because let’s not kid ourselves, that’s a very important quality in a date. Oh also, I know right away if a person will make me uncomfortable in any way. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find someone compatible to date within those parameters. So needless to say, I don’t date much. I’ve always been a relationship girl – years with the same person and valuing consistency, stability, and loyalty.

In retrospect though, I never quite lived in the moment throughout those years. I always had an idea in the back of my mind of what I expected during that point in my life and a looming deadline I subconsciously placed on that expectation. Until recently, this didn’t usually have anything to do with my boyfriend, but rather expectations I placed on myself or to appease others’ expectations of me.

I have always thought two steps ahead; it just comes naturally to me.  I’ve been so successful in my academic and professional careers by strategizing and planning, that I assumed my love life would prosper the same way. I only found out recently how wrong I had been for so many years and I’m kind of ashamed to admit I wasted so much time over-analyzing and wishing for something I didn’t yet have, that I lost out on the opportunity to live in the moment and fully appreciate the many blessings that I already had.

My various relationships were fulfilling and taught me wonderful things about myself, some even showed me how strong I am and how much pain I can endure. But sadly, these self-realizations never occurred in real time. They came months, sometimes years, after relationships ended and I had found clarity and closure. I was too busy wanting what I didn’t have to realize how wonderful my relationships already were.

This is one of my favorite quotes and is from Milan Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

“Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company.”

Reading that always gives me chills because it pinpoints exactly how I have contributed to my own pain, and others’.

I realize now how chasing desires can be so consuming and blinding. In a way though, it’s liberating to be aware of this character defect now, while I still have time to change and prevent this from happening again. So that got me thinking about the things I’ve been craving all these years…were they really important? They seemed important at the time, and they varied depending on my age and the stages of life I was in. Maybe they were and maybe fighting and pushing for these achievements make me who I am today.

I think my life has been a series of back-to-back events of trying to prove something to someone. In high school, I was focused on proving to myself and others, that I could get accepted to a great four-year university. I never once even went to a high school party because I was so focused on my academics and my boyfriend at the time. Poor guy though, I don’t think he ever really had my attention 100%. I certainly didn’t appreciate him or all he did for me during the years we were together, but looking back now, I value those years we spent together because he encouraged me to focus on what was important to me at the time, and that was my education. Im grateful to him now, but I don’t think I thanked him enough during that time when he was my biggest supporter.

While I was in Norway, I spent years focusing on proving myself worthy enough of staying in Norway. I tried to prove this to myself, to the Norwegian government, to my friends in Norway, and it was exhausting. I don’t think I really lived when I was in Norway, I just hustled and I pushed for a visa, twice, to be able to stay, it was a constant battle. It took a toll on me and I think it prevented me from fully appreciating the gifts I was blessed with: my relationship at that time and the ability to spend those years of my life in such an incredible country. I had grown up a bit by this point, so I think I was a better girlfriend than I was to my high school boyfriend, but I wasn’t the person I am today: I was not able to convey my gratitude fully.

My most recent relationships reaffirmed what Milan Kundera so wisely wrote in his book about the things we demand of love: expectations kill love – they attempt to contain a fire that naturally burns wild. Ignoring love’s power and beauty in my life also kills love, and I see that now. Love comes in all shapes, in types I didn’t know I had, in unexpected serendipitous meetings with someone I haven’t seen in 10 years. Love is so precious and rare for me, and I vow that next time I am blessed to meet it face-to-face: I will focus on one day at a time, I’ll be grateful for what I have in that moment, and I will not worry about what else I think I want.

I’ve come to realize recently that my ego is my worst enemy. It makes me think I want something but most often, I don’t actually want it, I just want to know I can have it if I choose to. I’ve learned to take a step back and ask myself if it’s just my ego that is fighting to know it can have it, or if I sincerely want or need to have it.

I’m at a point where I know I can achieve anything I want when I put my mind to it, my mind and my will are really that powerful. But like a naïve child playing with fire, I have to be careful what I wish for – just because I can have it, doesn’t mean I should.

Stillness.

I’ve had something weighing heavy on my heart and mind for a few months now, and I feel the only way to truly surrender the anxiety it’s causing me is to write it out. Writing is my therapy – it’s where I have the opportunity to be raw, authentic, and accountable. It’s me writing these words, most often to myself in a journal, but recently I went public with my words and there is a positive sense of liberation in that transparency.

I no longer have to pretend I have all my stuff together and I’m finally okay with people seeing I feel pain, worry, and sadness from time to time. Writing also feels like direct and unfiltered communication to God, and there is a calming sense of security knowing that as the emotions flow through my fingertips on the keyboard, I am being guided by my Higher Power to express myself completely and never hold back or censor myself.

Some people work out until their muscles burn, others drink until they can’t stand up anymore, I write. We all have our coping mechanisms. This brings me to the topic heavy on my mind lately: stillness. I feel people these days don’t understand the concept anymore, and worse, I feel there is a pressure imposed by society to constantly do interesting things and eat interesting things at interesting new restaurants with our interesting brand new friends wearing the new interesting outfit from that brand new interesting boutique. What happened to valuing what we’ve already been given and nurturing it over time?

I took a step back from my hectic and over-ambitious social calendar a few months ago and re-evaluated my priorities. My time on this planet is so precious. Time: it’s the only thing we have that binds us together across generations and borders. We will all have different opportunities and amounts of money and types of lifestyles, but we are all given 24 hours in one day. I am appalled at how we undervalue our precious 24 hours. Some of us aren’t even given that.

So it got me thinking: I have 24 hours in a day, about ten are reserved for work (preparing, driving to and from, sitting at a desk being a marketing writer genius all day), about eight are needed for sleeping (I don’t consume caffeine so I need eight hours to keep me energized throughout my day), and that leaves me with six hours to do with as I please. Why have I been crowding that space with as much stuff as possible the past three years? Those six precious hours that I am able to fill with anything that I want are the hours I live for, they define me, they recharge me.

I don’t have obligations to a husband or any children yet, so at this point in my life, those six hours are Andreea time, and they are so valuable. They’re just as valuable as the hours in which I am paid to produce work for my company, if not more-so because they bring happiness and meaning to my life. Work hours do not bring happiness and meaning to my life, they bring money so I can avoid living under the highway because it smells there and it’s not a generally warm and soft place for me to hang out. But I wouldn’t call hours spent at work fun and meaningful. If your job brings value to your life, power to you, you hit the jackpot! I write for a bank, it’s not as glamorous or rewarding as snuggling with koala bear babies or taste testing Taco Bell’s new recipes – both of which I am immediately available for if you hear of any openings…you know how to contact me.

Short story long, I gave up on the rush. I let go of the pushing and forcing and over-booking my schedule because I stopped running away from my problems. It took me three years of hiding behind a busy social agenda before I could listen to my exhausted body and mind and just stop running. Instead, I turned around and faced those problems head-on that had been chasing me for years.

Oh my, it was not pretty. I broke down. There were many tears. I abused and suffered from sugar crack comas to cope (Reece’s Pieces ARE crack. Don’t try to disprove me. You will hurt for days). I whined to friends and family – bless their hearts, they never abandoned me or told me to suck it up and quite complaining. They did, however, remind me that I am loved and supported by many, and that I have been blessed with SO many great people, opportunities, and things in my life. That helped me get myself out of that hole I dug for myself the past three years. How silly of me to think if I overload myself with distractions, that my emotions will just fix themselves. Ha!

I’m not completely free of the struggles, but now I am aware of them and they cannot hurt me if I see them coming. I am wiser and stronger because I got through this by sheer determination and strong will, not by ignoring it and hoping it will go away. I talked through my thoughts with people who know me best, and even some strangers – their words of support really got me through those times where I felt utterly hopeless and alone. In the moments I felt the most despair, I prayed, and God listened and answered my prayers. I may not have gotten the answers my heart wanted, but I got the answers my mind needed to move forward and heal.

Someone wise told me a couple weeks ago that during her entire life she was afraid of the waves in the ocean and she would run towards the beach and away from the waves when she saw big ones coming at her, but every single time, the waves would catch up to her and eventually crush her from behind. Until one day, when she decided she was tired of getting crushed and she looked at a big wave coming straight-on and did something she never thought possible: she dived head-first into the wave and came out on the other side of it. She was stronger than ever because for once, she didn’t turn her back on the big wave or let it crush her.

So my takeaway for this topic is to stop and smell the flowers more often than not. And if it’s winter and there are no flowers, stick your tongue out and eat some free-falling snow. Either way, don’t crowd your precious happy “you” time with unnecessary or excessive plans to run from the truth. You’ll always know when you’re doing this because you are exhausted and feel unbalanced and anxious all the time. Take a step back, try to see it from a different perspective, and catch yourself before you let yourself take the easy way out.

Easy is running to the beach, but strong is diving head-first into your biggest waves and knowing they have no chance to ever crush you.