My dear family,

I have been feeling very grateful lately. When I realised that, only this year alone, I have been (and sunbathed and swam) to ten different beaches across Europe. I proudly display a nice tan that I’m trying hard to maintain by either not showering on a daily basis or by lying in the sunny bits of my flat during the day, until sunset.

How fortunate am I to have had three different summer holidays, to have been to Portugal, Croatia and Greece this summer, to have join my sisters and their families there, and to have spent endless days of summer walking in the sand, swimming in the sea and eating gorgeous food? I am grateful for the love I keep finding in my sisters and my niece and nephews, the unconditional love when they come running to me when they first see me after a while. I am grateful that I can re-connect and re-integrate into the lives of my sisters so seamlessly every single time we see each other, even if it’s been a year. I am grateful that they want to spend time with me and make some sacrifices to be with me, come pick me up from weird airports (or bus or train stations) around Europe. I am grateful that I now live closer to them and I can afford to take a short flight to meet them somewhere in Europe. I am grateful that the novelty of seeing one another never wears off. I am grateful for all the long hugs and deep love I feel whenever we see each other. I am grateful for the calls and the messages and the photos. And most of all, the love.

I didn’t mean to count the beaches I’ve been to this year. It’s not the beaches. It’s the quantity and quality of love I receive when I’m around, especially after being away for so long. This year marked my 14th anniversary of being away from my home country, but the connection I have with my family there has never been stronger. It’s not the miles, it’s the feelings. And the feeling is definitely love.

While it’s difficult to say it in front of them, either when we first see each other after a long time, or when we say goodbye until next time, I do love each and every one of them deeply and cannot imagine my life without these wonderful connections that we call relatives. I am grateful for all of you and cannot wait to see you at Christmas, this time at home!

Love always,

Bambi

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Dear Europe,

So, I’m back. Back home, sort of. Back to Europe after more than eleven years spent in Canada, half on the East coast in Montreal, and half on the West coast, in Vancouver. It gave me a very balanced view of Canada, I must admit.

But I am back to Europe now. For good or for a while, I don’t really know myself. I doubt that I will ever move back to Canada again, but then again, life has taught me a valuable lesson so far: never say never.

I came back to Europe because I missed the European culture, the short distances to travel to discover different people, different histories, different foods. I missed the 2-hour flights between my home and “home” (Sibiu).

My home base is currently London where I intend to spend some time and get to know this beautiful and vibrant city. I must find a job first, but before that, I must apply for that NIN special number that magically allows you to work and get paid in the UK. And then have a bank account to get paid into, which seems to be, so far, an insurmountable hurdle, due to missing proof of address for now. I did have some small victories along the way: the travel Oyster card, the library card, a UK mobile phone number, and a few replies to my frantic job searching efforts.

But dear Europe, you could have been a little bit more welcoming at Gatwick Airport (I had to drag my three suitcases by myself from one end of the airport to another, just because I didn’t have a coin to fit into the luggage carriers …). And dear London, you could also have been a little bit more welcoming and not stage an underground strike on exactly the day I was flying out to Sibiu. Welcome to Europe and to the possibility of a strike at any time!

Europe is diverse and different from one country to another, from one region to another. London is not the same in Harrow and Central London or Farnborough (some might argue that Farnborough is not even London). There are different people, different sorts of cars and roads and stores, but essentially, Europe has changed in the past decade and I am excited to start discovering it again. I will probably complain a bit about people driving on the wrong side of the road (yes, there is a reason for driving on the right side, because it’s the “right” side, no?), and also be a bit frustrated about learning (once again) new English words (such as pants and chips, which mean a completely different thing in England than in North America). I also might complain a bit about the high cost of living, although I should have been used to it by now, having lived in one of the most expensive cities in Canada for the past 5 years. Once I start work, I will probably complain a lot about spending hours in transit, because I won’t be able to afford living within walking distance from work anymore. And so many other things to complain about, like weather, and new coins to learn, and no friends close by, BUT, and this is the important part, I want to do this and I will put all my efforts into making it work somehow. I know that the pieces will eventually start to fall into place, one after another, maybe a job, then a few outings with colleagues, then becoming friends, then a bit of weekend travel to Amsterdam or Bruges, then a date in a museum or a bookstore, then a walk while it snows just in time for Christmas. And everything will come together nicely in this new life I’ve chosen for myself.

So, dear Europe, I am back home now. Be gentle and offer me all the opportunities I’ve dreamt about from the other side of the world. And let me enjoy it immensely.

As always, with love,

Anca

Dear Isabel and Katharine,

I guess your personality test was right. I’m INFJ – Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging. Apparently, we are known to be great listeners, big dreamers, and deep, complex people. As the rarest personality type, INFJs only make up less than 3% of the population. I like being special. Here are some of the signs of a classic INFJ with my own twist to it. My friends will recognize me in these descriptions, I’m certain.

1. I’m always in search of a deeper meaning. At work, in relationships, with friends, and interactions with strangers I’m continually looking at life and situations in an obscure way to discover what’s beyond the surface. I thought everybody did that. Silly me.

2. Although people have an easy time connecting with me, sometimes I can be a difficult person to really know. I value my privacy and often feel like I can only be my “true self” around those closest to me. That’s why, throughout my life, I’ve always chosen best friends to confide in. It’s a very select club. Again, I thought everybody had that.

3. I’m a highly empathetic and sensitive person with an innate ability to understand what people are going through. My care and concern for others is always genuine and I feel deeply for others. Yes, empathy has always been a characteristic of mine.

4. I find it easy to connect with others and exhibit both introvert and extrovert qualities. I love meeting and interacting with other people and at times I can be the life of the party, but eventually I have to go home and recharge. I like both being with people and being with myself.

5. Even beyond high school or college, I still enjoy learning, particularly about society, other cultures, languages, people, literature, and art. I’m always excited to learn something new and find my interests are expanding as I’m getting older. I guess I’m a traveler at heart.

6. I strive for the ideal in every aspect of my life. But my ideal could be different that most people’s. I have very strong opinions and I am driven by my values. I will absolutely fight for what I believe in.

7. I’m a complex person but at the same time I also tend to live a very simple life. It really doesn’t take very much to make me feel happy and content with my life. Those who know me can vouch to that. I see things on a larger scale and put more emphasis on my relationships with friends and loved ones over possessions or money.

8. I have a strong sense of idealism but I’m not simply just another dreamer. I realize and understand my goals can have a lasting impact and so I take the necessary steps to make my dreams happen. My dreams can be crazy, but they are dreams nonetheless.

9. The true measure of success to me is based on the condition of my relationships with others and my own level of accomplishment.

10. My insight is one of my greatest assets and it regularly helps me solve problems. I notice the small details most people seem to overlook. By being able to find patterns and meanings in the world around me, I’m able to look at a problem in a number of ways and generate various possibilities. I guess that’s why I chose to do what I do.

11. I find joy and fulfillment out of expressing myself through the arts. I have a talent for language and writing. Self-expression helps me release everything that’s going on in my head. This blog is the proof of that.

So I guess I just wanted to say thank you for putting together such an accurate personality test and helping me getting to know myself a bit better.

Hey there, 2015!

So it’s time for another list of resolutions! I let myself be inspired by the internet and here’s what I came up with.
1. Go back to Moksha yoga (now that I have a pass again).
2. Shut off Netflix by 11 pm. And the computer too. And read something for pleasure every night.
3. Flirt.
4. Travel. Get a new stamp in my passport. Go to Mexico for my birthday in February, then maybe visit Montreal before moving to London later this year.
5. Say ‘no’ sometimes. To more work. To outings with friends. To helping others.
6. Dance.
7. Run, swim, exercise – at least once a week. (Yoga does not count here, it has its own resolution this year.)
8. Allow yourself to be loved. Invite love in your life. Make room for a life partner.
9. Try a new bold haircut, maybe bangs. It’ll grow back! (Maybe the one I pinned from Katie Holmes.)
10. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
11. Use my credit cards for emergencies only by removing them from my purse or wallet. Only spend whatever cash I have on me.
12. Do more of what I enjoy doing: knitting, reading, writing, listening to music, dancing, driving.
13. De-clutter my home and my life: give away clothes, shoes I don’t use anymore, and extra anything. Scan all paperwork, and donate all the stuff that I don’t use and give it to someone who will use it.
14. Make more soups. (I haven’t given up on my idea of a soup truck.)
15. Eat with the season.
16. Figure out a top two list of qualities I couldn’t live without in a life partner. One is for sure being smart.
17. I won’t hang out with people I don’t like. And I will hang out more with people I actually like.

Dear mother,

I’ve called you mother for some time now, maybe it was meant to be for me to eventually live somewhere where I can speak English on a daily basis. To me, you are not mama, you are mother. And yes, I love you, mother.
And I loved the fact that we took the time, this past September, when we celebrated your 75th birthday, to share your first encounter with the man who was to be my father. Alexandru. The one I still wish I was named after. When I was a little girl, I used to say that my name is Anca Bunea Alexandra. It never was, but it made me feel closer to my father.
You shared this beautiful story of how you and my father got together, how you knew each other from before, being in the same large group of friends in neighbouring villages, but how you actually saw one another before Silvia’s wedding (who happened to be an old girlfriend of my father’s), when you were both picking up wedding invitations for your side of the family. It was summer, late at night, 10 pm, and you gave him the first wedding invitation. And then you mentioned you were going away on vacation soon, to Sinaia, and my father said: ‘Send me a postcard’. You said, ‘But I don’t know your address.’ And my father said, it’s okay, you can send it to the factory, there’s only one Alexandru Bunea there. And then you went home, told your mom the story of the encounter (I’m sure that you left out the part with the postcard), and my grandma said that you two should go on to seeing one another. And you said ‘But he’s too short for me’. Not that you were tall or anything. Yet, once on vacation, you did send him a postcard. And his brother, who worked at the same factory, picked it up at the gate, and brought it to my father, asking him who is the postcard from. And my father, God bless his soul wherever he is, said ‘It’s from your future sister-in-law.’
What I wouldn’t give today to have that postcard! You were married six months later and then had three beautiful children together, me in the end, whom you loved unconditionally throughout their lives.
Te iubesc, mother! And I will always love you.

Dear City of London,

This is a love letter. Love at first sight, I might add.
I remember one foggy afternoon, walking out of Heathrow Airport for about 10 minutes and staring at the line of cabs there, arranged the wrong way, and wishing I had more time to visit and get to know you, London.
Then, more than a year later, I took another trip home through London, when I realized that a smaller European airline is offering direct flights from London to my hometown. I was in for a great surprise! Who knew that there are not two, but three airports serving London? Yes, there are: Heathrow, Gatwick, and Luton. But guess what? The transit system, one of the most efficient I’ve seen in my life so far, covers them as well, when combined with trains. Anyway, I digress.
I landed in London’s Gatwick airport one overcast morning in September. Having had made a friend in Vancouver while waiting for the security control, I met with her again after collecting my small pink piece of luggage. It was good to see a friendly (albeit new) face. After picking up my train ticket, I stayed around a bit helping my friend out. And then she was off, being picked up by the hotel shuttle, then I was on my own in the great city of London. Well, not exactly, as I was still in Gatwick train station, but still, my adventure began! I had a breakfast sandwich with an English sausage (what else?) and a cup of English tea with milk (what else?), then I waited calmly for the rush hour to die down a bit, especially because (lucky me!) something happened with the trains that morning and instead of having 5 platforms going through Gatwick, there were only two now. It took a bit of accommodating, a few questions here and there, but in the end I found myself sitting in the train to Luton Airport, along with other Londoners going about their daily lives.
I recognized Europe at once: the houses all huddled together as opposed to the open (wasted?) spaces in North America; the century-old brick buildings mixed in with the new buildings in a graceful way; the well-dressed people who value a nice suit and a classic haircut; the wedding bands on people’s ring fingers showing that commitment is an important part of life. In all, I felt quite at home right away.
(On a different note, I know myself quite well by now, so I can say with a fair certainty that I was actually looking for a new home, never having felt that Vancouver will be the place I live my whole life from now on. I flirted with US cities, but the only one I found attractive was Seattle, which is basically the US version of Vancouver. And to go back to the East Coast again for Chicago, Boston, or Washington, which I only know from movies and TV series, is just not in my future. So I guess I was actually looking for my next home.)
Anyhow, because of the disruption, the train ride took a bit longer than I expected, I was a bit tired by the time I got to Luton, so I grabbed a Starbucks decaf latte and my book (The Martian, by Andy Weir) and eventually fell asleep for 20 minutes or so in the lounge. Luton is a very small and not welcoming airport, but I was on my way home, so I didn’t care much.
Exactly 20 days later, I flew back from Romania to Luton again, it was late at night and, once again, the airport was not at all welcoming. But I was in London, finally to stay for a couple of days, so I bought a bus ticket to Finchley Road, where I had to find a tube station (South Hampstead) and then take the tube to Rayners Lane). Everything went smoothly, from buying a ticket to figuring out where I need to go. People on the tube were very friendly, although it was a bit lonely at that time of the night (11 pm). I then took a cab from Rayners Lane to Penny’s mom’s house on Merlin Avenue (magic, right?), and here I was, hugging Penny’s mom and being welcomed in her home with a cup of (what else?) English tea. I fell in love with English tea right away. There is something I didn’t appreciate before, but learnt to in London: adding milk to your PG Tips tea. Lovely. A staple of London life.
First full day in London. It was grey and sombre, but who cared? I was in London! Ready to embark on an adventure by myself, to take the train downtown, and roam the streets of London. Unfortunately, another train mishap forced me into a bus first, then a train downtown. I had a bit of breakfast, then I was off to the British Museum, one of the most thrilling and exciting experiences I had there. Hours and hours of history lessons, from ancient Egypt and Greece and Rome, to modern day currencies, and so many other things that will be there for me next time around. Because there will be a next time around, of that I am sure. I had a sandwich for lunch, buying it in a supermarket where all London downtown workers seem to have gathered, and then I was off to Buckingham Palace, then Big Ben, then the London Eye. What a magical experience! The weather was on my side and I was able to see all of London! What a treat! I went back home and phoned Adela, a Romanian friend I had in London, and made plans to see her the next day. I spent another night and morning drinking English tea with Penny’s mom and talking until early hours of the morning. Londoners (or maybe just those of Greek origin) are very welcoming people.
Day number two. I met Adela at the Waterloo train station and we went together to have a cup of tea next to Madame Tussauds, then entered the magical land of was figures and took tons of pictures. We then headed off to Covent Garden, a very quaint and relaxed area downtown, then had sushi for lunch/dinner, took the double-decker, and promised her I will return for another visit. And, who knows, maybe I’ll return for a longer stay.
The night, once again, turned into a long conversation with my host over several cups of English tea, then we both started packing, me for home, and her for Japan, and we went to bed only to wake a couple of hours later and take the tube to Gatwick to get home.
My stay in London, albeit short, was memorable. And I thank you, dear City of London, for being hospitable to me and allowing me to dream that, at some point, I might call myself a Londoner.

Dear Taz,

My dearest Taz, you will always be my first dog. I know that you weren’t really mine, but my heart was always yours, since the first time I met you in that basement. It was a cold February night and you and Oz were curious to see who this new person in your lives was going to be. I admit it, I was scared of you. Hands in my pocket, all I wanted to do is run up the stairs and get away from you. And your sniffing too close for comfort did not help.
I can’t even remember the first time when I fell in love with you. I do, however, remember the first time I took both of you for a walk without a leash (silly me), and you bolted from me as soon as we were out of the house! Thank God for Oz who brought you back. But then I understood that you just wanted to be free for a bit, and I was a sorry excuse for a dog owner. Good for you for testing your boundaries!
I will always remember our long walks to the grocery store, our playing in the park, our games in front of the fireplace, our summer vacation on the secluded beach, our camping trip when you were the only thing to keep me warm. I will remember it all, I promise.
You gave me so much, I could never tell you how much. You opened my eyes to this wonderful world of dogs, and I will never look at a dog again the same way. Thank you for that.
Well, I hope you’re going now to a better place with no pain whatsoever. You don’t deserve any pain, as you’ve always brought just joy in my life. And Oz is there as well, waiting for you, so you’ll be together again. And even if I can’t be there with you, I hope that you’ll get a hug and you’ll know that it’s from me as well.
Good-bye, my first canine love, my sweet Taz!

Dear Canada,

It’s been ten years since I first landed here. Ten whole years since I flew over the Atlantic from Vienna to Montreal, over a couple of magical places I only read about: the Bermuda Triangle with its mysterious disappearances, and Labrador, the land of one of my favourite childhood character, Apolodor, a penguin from Labrador. Who knew that twenty years later I would actually fly over Labrador? I didn’t even know (forgive my ignorance) that Labrador was a real place!

I like you, Canada, and (mostly) everything you stand for: diversity, acceptance, greatness, nature conservation, beauty.

I travelled from the tip of the Gaspesie peninsula (Rocher Perce) all the way to Tofino, BC, and I’ve enjoyed every minute and mile of it. I liked your East Coast with the lighthouses in Northern Quebec.  I liked your whales on the ocean. I liked your majestic waterfalls at Niagara. I really liked your capital city, both in winter (oh, Rideau Canal) and summer (with its ByWard Market at dusk). I liked your train rides and flying across it from Montreal to Vancouver on a cold February day. I liked your Olympic cauldron by the sea. I liked the never-ending blue skies and snow-covered mountains. And I love your West Coast sunsets. I liked swimming in two out of your three oceans (because, let’s be serious, no dipping my toes in the Arctic Ocean). I enjoyed eating ethnic foods that I never knew existed (raw fish, anyone?).

I appreciated each and every opportunity you offered me, from learning, to working and eventually owning a business. And I thank you for all the wonderful people I met here, who turned into life-long friends or business partners.

I am now looking forward to learning how to ski, to crossing the Rocky mountains by train, to swim in the Kelowna lake, and to take a wine tour in the Okanagan. And to as many wonders as possible coming my way.

Thank you for a wonderful ten years, Canada! And here’s to the next ten years!

Dear Life,

I just wanted to tell you about the things I am grateful for in life.

I’m alive.

I can laugh.

I can read (and write).

I can use the Internet.

Life gives me challenges. Yup, I can be grateful for that too. (But when I say “things couldn’t get worse”, I DO NOT mean it as a challenge.)

I have dreams.

I can have a really good day.

I have time.

Lazy weekends

Entertainment

Relationships

I got love, many kinds of love.

It’s more of a reminder for me.

Yours,

Anca

Dear Horoscope,

You better be right this time!

2014 is the year of major transformation and rebirth, Pisces. You’re about to undertake such a massive personal renovation project that your inner world will never quite look or feel the same. Of course, this will in turn revolutionize your outer world in the most fantastic ways imaginable. The first half of the year continues to celebrate romance and pleasure in a big and fabulous fashion. The overwhelming abundance of love that started crashing into your dreamy world last summer will continue to flourish straight through July. It’s not a question of falling madly in love — it’s a question of why it seems to be a daily occurrence. The spell won’t be broken until summer, so enjoy this incredible fantasy. Once summer comes you may have to choose and commit.

This lovely Jupiter influence has also been spectacular for your creative life, and will continue to be for the first half of the year. Consider this your second (or third or fourth) childhood as you’re being reminded how much fun it is to play!

Perhaps the best news is that your work is about to totally take off this summer, Pisces. If you’ve been in a bit of an uninspired slump, mope no more! Lucky and generous Jupiter will be moving into your work zone to bring you more work opportunities than you can possibly handle. You’ll have to choose carefully, or you may not sleep until 2015. This is also the year to strive for more balance in all life arenas — especially with money. You’re over owing anyone anything, and this is the year to start putting your creative talents into wiping out as much debt as possible. You know how to manifest like nobody’s business but often forget to put such magic into practice. Once you get a vision about something, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes reality, Pisces.

Love: The outrageously delicious romantic influence that began last summer continues for the first half of the year. Be sure to take advantage of this amorous time to celebrate your current love or to attract a new flame. Either way, the love energy is still peaking until July. Jupiter is a very generous planet and will be gracing your romance and pleasure sector, kissing your stars right up until summer. Nesting and romance could easily feel intertwined under this influence. Your instincts to nurture and be nurtured are exceptionally strong until Jupiter switches out of your sister Water sign in July.

Saturn continues his tour through sexy Scorpio this year, making another sweet and supportive aspect to your very own watery stars. You’re learning deep lessons about commitment, passion and facing your deepest fears when it comes to intimate relationships. You may have never even realized until now that you have some commitment issues. When responsibility starts drifting toward you, you have a tendency to swim the other way. As romantic as you are, you have a deep-seated terror of life becoming too predictable and mundane. You live for fantasy and glamour, Pisces. But alas, reality has a way of catching up to you and asking you if you’re ready to step up to the plate. This is your big decision in 2014: How far are you willing to go for love, and what would you be willing to sacrifice?

The North Node of Fate will move into the sign of relationships (Libra) close to your birthday for the remainder of the year, putting the emphasis on partnering. Considering how influenced you are by your environment, the coupling theme surrounding you is sure to feel contagious. You may find yourself longing for companionship despite your usual solitary bent. You can always make room for both in your life. Find a partner willing to give you that necessary downtime — or rework the parameters with your current mate. 2014 is the year for you to merge your dreams with your reality, Pisces.

Career: The stars are demanding that you find your passion and get practical about it, Pisces. You’re a gypsy and a total free spirit by nature, but this year you’re being asked to concentrate your energies and really focus on your passion. Yes, this means coming down from dreamland and getting serious about your career goals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use those amazing visions you have while sleeping or daydreaming. In fact, the more you use them this year, the more powerful your career. The point is not to keep them separate. Why keep one of your best assets in the closet? You know how to work the powers of visualization better than anyone, and with Neptune and Chiron still cruising through your stars this year, you’re the master at turning imagery into profit. Money tends to be the least of your priorities, but you’re realizing it certainly doesn’t hurt. You prefer glamour and experience, but why not get paid a handsome salary for your talents? Of course you’ll just generously shower any wealth you accumulate on your loved ones — but that should be all the more incentive to excel in your career in 2014.

The planet of wealth and abundance moves into your work sector this summer, so get ready for a pile-up of projects, Pisces. You’ll wonder how it was that you ever complained about not having enough work. This phase — from July until the end of the year — is guaranteed to keep you so busy, you’ll be challenged to keep your head above water. Time management is key to keeping afloat because the demands will be a bit overwhelming — exhilarating but overwhelming, nonetheless. Be sure to get plenty of rest, and strive toward more balance in your life despite your hectic schedule. Refuse to let your health suffer as a result of working harder than ever. Don’t forget you’re hypersensitive to the energies around you and thus require copious amounts of downtime to replenish your energy and imagination. Sleep and bubble baths are essential to a Pisces for maintaining a successful career.