NO to Paris

6:45 am Phone call before my wake-up time. I glance at the screen, it’s my daughter calling from Paris. I quickly compute: she should be out and about, is she having trouble?

“Hi, sweetie. What’s up?”

Devastated voice at the other end, crying big tears.

“I wanna come hooooome… I don’t want to beeee heeeeere…”

Oh. The fit. First time in Paris and the image doesn’t correspond. She’s been there only two days, it’s been raining, the boutique hotel is not up to her high standards, nothing works the way it should (lovely word!) etc. etc. At 19 years old, she has acted like an entitled brat for some time – Paris is the perfect place to graduate to kindergarten. What are you, 3?

“You can’t come home. You’re in Paris. Make the most of it.”


“Have you just woken up?”

“No, I woke up really early and I was out walking for two hours, but it’s cold and people are rude and I don’t wanna be here. I’m sorry I woke you up…”

She didn’t want to take warmer clothes and the good fancy jacket is hanging in our closet at home. Oh well. Mom’s usually wrong, right?

“Baby, it’s OK. Come on, it’s gonna be good. You know what you can do? Go get something nice to eat, a croissant and a coffee, then head to the Lafayette Department Store. It’s beautiful, smells good, it’s inside, so you won’t be cold. And then you can stroll through the covered passages, they’re nearby – Panoramas, Jouffroy… Perfect for a day like this.”


Galeries La Fayette 2 (Large).jpg

I spent a few more minutes of encouragement, then went back to bed to cuddle a few more minutes with my younger one before actually getting up for the day. I stifled the thoughts of worrying needlessly for my little teenager and I found myself laughing at how God puts us in quite amusing situations to guide us back into reality-check. Of course, it’s amusing for Him and others noticing it from the outside. It’s not exactly amusing on the inside. It feels stupid and annoying on the inside.

As I write this, I’m having my coffee before starting my day and week. Outside, it’s colder yet sunnier than in Paris, and there’s nothing particularly exciting in my weekly plan, just daily life in a rather boring Canadian city. My coffee is warm and I got kisses and hugs from my other two kids before they left for school earlier. The feeling still lingers – it’s very, very nice to be loved. Yes, I could have been in Paris with my husband now if I hadn’t chosen to give our daughter the opportunity to accompany her dad to see Ville Lumiere. Am I sorry having given up my place to someone who doesn’t even appreciate it? No. She’s that part of recalcitrant me who needs to learn one or two things about how changing viewpoints has an impact on the whole perspective. I can draw in perspective and I know how viewpoints work – but man, did I have to practice it literally and figuratively to actually get it! She’s gonna get it too. We all can, if we want to try.

I have faith in her. She’s gonna come back from Paris with a new appreciation of things. And if she doesn’t get that, well, that just means she’s in for a longer ride. It’s gonna take more Parises, more rains, more love, more trials. How many times do we say NO to things before we say yes? People who care for us would try their best to make us feel better, but it really is up to us to truly feel better.

Hey, guess what – she just wrote to me to say she’s heading out. Can’t wait to hear how she enjoyed it. Now, how good are you going to make your life today? Find your Paris, let me know.




What a funny little word, isn’t it? A word that expands into a whole universe of stars and black holes. Especially dark ones.

You’ve had enough to drink. She doesn’t know when enough is enough. There isn’t enough money to do this. Love isn’t enough.

Or in disguise: You can never be too kind. Never say never. You could do this better. Can you stop? (please)

It started with the day I came back from getting the results to a difficult exam. Back in those days, in the country I grew up in, compulsory public education finished with grade 10: that meant kids had to take an exam to prove their worth right in the middle of high-school. Ridiculous, if you asked me then – and I still think so. One had to pass a couple of entry exams to go to high-school anyway, and there would be another series at the end of it to get the “baccalaureat” (very much in the French tradition). That middle-exam series only added extra pressure and, in truth, it was one of the mechanisms which the communist regime used to ensure people didn’t have much time for free thinking (’cause they would start getting ideas that the system was not quite right, right?) There were two such exams scheduled at the end of grade 10, and they were specific to the program of the respective high-school (some schools focused on sciences, other on languages, or arts, or medicine… very regimented to being with). At my school, I had to do a math exam and a physics exam. My grandfather was a well-know tutor of math who gave excellent instruction to countless kids grade 5-12. I was his only (and quite favourite) granddaughter. I owe him every bit of math that I know – and I know a lot! Throughout the year, we’d had our lessons in a group and all of us were doing well.

The exams were difficult, as they usually were at that stage. Only 60 would be able to promote to grade 11 – those who didn’t… well, they’d have to get a job (which was almost impossible without connections) and try again next time, and ONLY for evening classes. I was good at physics though not excelling: still, I got a 7.5 or so (out of 10). The math exam, I had taken extra care with: not only I was confident I did everything well, but I provided a double way of solving some of the exercises, and my writing was organized and truly impeccable. I was not surprised to see I got a full 10. Altogether, my over 8 average mark pushed me into the successful candidates. I was proud of myself and for no small reason.

So, big smile on my lips, I went to my grandfather and I announced my victory. He looked at me and said: Daniela did better. (Daniela was another student from our math lesson group) I said: what? What do you mean? He said: Daniela got over 9 average. I said: that’s irrelevant. Daniela is not in the same high-school; and by the way, how much did Daniela got in math? 9.4, he said. Well, I got a 10 in math AND I made it to grade 11 – shouldn’t this be enough for you?

He never answered that question. The smile faded from my lips gradually, my self-confidence stood fighting. In two years time, I would flunk the very difficult entry exam for the Architecture School: not the preliminary drawing exams (in spite of my Dad telling me I can’t draw well enough), but the geometry exam – my best subject. Both Dad and Granddad told me openly they were ashamed with me. I waited another year, tried again: guess what, I flunked the drawing. And then I did something they thought was crazy. I registered for the entry exam of the Math course at the University. Those were the hardest math exams ever. Dad and Granddad felt funnily proud I’d choose that, but they didn’t get me at all. I couldn’t care less if I made it into that program, I didn’t want to be a math teacher, just wanted to see if I could get a passing mark: and I did. I got over 5 average for math international Olympics questions. Right that moment, I knew I would pass the entry exam for the architecture school the following year.

Long story short, I finished architecture school and went on to Cambridge for my Masters degree. My grandfather had died in the meanwhile, but my father was secretly delighted. After immigrating to Canada later on, I spent another seven years over a doctorate only to see my academic teaching dream dripping like sand through my fingers as I sat down to write my thesis: at 40, I had become pregnant with my third child. I gave birth to the child and raised her along with my other two teenagers, while crying my head off and writing the doctorate. I was made to feel a not good-enough mother for crying over such a pathetic career meltdown. PhD under my belt, I accepted to teach drawing and geometry to college students who wouldn’t come to class and who wouldn’t do their homework, despite my best efforts to engage them. I was sacked when I refused to pass those students.

Nothing I’ve done was considered enough. They planted this idea in my head at a time when I was young, happy and confident. They did not celebrate my successes. They made me feel little and insignificant. They told me it’s my fault for this and this and this. I had to take the blame, whether it was my owning or theirs. They trapped me in this funny game and, ever so slowly, I became “they”. My self-confidence was nowhere in sight. I started to tell myself my dreams don’t matter; what use is to try this, I don’t know enough to make it work; I started to feel guilty when thinking of celebrating me simply because some of them thought that’s selfish. When I came to the full realization of this, I was (might I dare say, rightfully) angry. My love turned to hate. I wanted them gone, out of my life, but some just wouldn’t disappear. It was as if invisible murky threads made them cling to me, and I was trying in vain to clip and cut and push aside. Nightmarish, really.

Eventually, I took on a minimum wage job as an assistant in a Kumon centre where the enthusiastic and actually lovely owner would gently prevent me to teach – I was there only to welcome students and to grade their papers, not to instruct them: that was her job. I felt not good enough. Everything was pointing to giving up, so I willingly gave up that job too. “The kids will miss you…”

Days came and went, as I tried to fight my returning depression. Something very deep inside, in the dark hole of my guts, said you’re not a total quitter. Luckily, I had learned to notice the colours around me, the light, the music, and every now and then a ding of a text from good friends asking how I am. “You’re the best mom in the entire world, I can’t stop loving you!!!” And those diplomas on the wall in our home-office… tacky, I know. I have a more than patient editor at a famous university press waiting for me to finish the manuscript of a book from my thesis. Why would I do it when there’s no academic career at the end of it? Or is it… could it be? Does it matter.

And one day… I understood. Out of the blue. That happy, confident girl is still alive in me – maybe not kicking much, as she’s felt down lately… well, for about 30 years, on and off. She is not that young, but man, does she have some other good stuff up her sleeve. She’s used her time well. She has accomplished many things just by forging on. She’s raised three great kids, she’s taught some others, she’s cooked a few good meals, she’s been a friend. She has a good group of “they” who love her truly. When she wants to, she’s fantastic! It really isn’t all the work of her dear magic wand…

OK, enough with this! Did you get the message?

Act Now

Procrastination is a sign of depression. The more I come across such instances (examples in my life included), the more convinced I am this is so. When you’re enthusiastic about something and you have the energy to do it, you just go do it – right? From reading a book to cook a good meal to develop a business plan, you can’t wait to get it started. Procrastination is a constant delay of an action which you could start right away – but you don’t, for no clear reason why not. The reason is you don’t feel motivated enough.

Both “motivated” and “enough” describe the state pretty accurately – or rather their opposites: un-motivated and not enough.

For instance, I have a few projects in mind now, some of which are already started, some which I could start develop right away. I don’t work on either. It’s mainly because all presuppose that I trust myself to do it and/or I can see a point which excites me to complete them. Re-write some parts to finish the book manuscript from my PhD thesis. I would do that to get an academic position or to promote a small tourism business I’ve been thinking about. Otherwise, it’s not worth going into the trouble of revising a manuscript. I have come to not like or trust the academia, do getting a job in its midst doesn’t provide the motivation. To start the tourism business, the main problem is I don’t trust myself to make it successful. Thing is I listened too closely to a few (close enough) people who subtly discouraged me: do you think it’s gonna work? What if you don’t have enough customers? How are you gonna battle the big sharks, the other tourist agencies? There have been others who encouraged me too: go for it! That’s a great idea. You’d be so good at this.

Who to trust? But maybe not even that is the right question. In the past, every time I planned to succeed in an endeavour, I had to fight the naysayers. I ended up doing that thing just to prove them I can do it, all along trying to keep true to my desire of doing it. The fight had exhausted me to the point of giving up the sweetness of victory, each and every time – and the result was useless for me. I passed the exams to go to architectural school but I did not practice architecture. I finished the doctorate, but I am not teaching in the academia. I immigrated to Canada but I’ve been unhappy ever since I set foot in Ottawa. I have a beautiful family who I fight with every day although I truly don’t want to.

I am very tired, that’s why I procrastinate. The only little joy I’ve found lately was in making little projects for dear friends – but, dear as they are, they didn’t even make the time to meet and pick up their gifts. That’s very discouraging. It’s like being abandoned by friends of the last resort.

The joy would then be found in doing little things for myself. Finish that summer jacket I’m knitting for me. Make some drawings to put up an exhibition just for fun. Put together a little business plan for those tours even if I don’t make money out of it. Do a better job at promoting the sewing course which I started two weeks ago. Enjoy the moments and to hell with those who don’t see a palpable worthy result. These are worthy for my sanity.

And now I’m gonna go skating. ‘Cause it’s nice outside.

The Ugly Caterpillar

She didn’t know what to believe anymore. Serena hadn’t been serene for a long time, so long in fact she had lost track of when she had been truly peaceful. Somewhere in her childhood – that, she had fond memories of, and they kept surfacing like drops of oil in a sea of too deep sorrow.

The sorrow puzzled her at times, especially when she tried to get to the bottom of it and understand. There seemed to be no understanding, no logic to the blockages in her life. She had trusted so much, she had given so much, she had been so lively and bold and honest… and one after one, people had betrayed her, turned around after getting her help, even stabbed her on the back. Situations weren’t better either. Blockages everywhere. Why?

She prayed for an answer. It was all that was left to pray for. And of course, health and a path to God’s way for her children. She didn’t know how to get rid of the sorrow and the anger and all the negative feelings which were dragging her down to the pit, and which were not allowing her to resurface. Every time she tried, another blow. Every little drop of courage and faith got dried up by invisible forces too overwhelming to fight. And she had been a fighter! Oh, the days…

A few days ago, she had looked in the mirror to realize that despite the smile, her shining beauty was gone. She looked not old, but worn out. Where had the glow vanished? She tried to imagine herself in a successful posture at this moment in life. Well, if life had been different, if people had been different, if she had known… she would have been happy now. Maybe. But then would she trade that everything for happiness? Elusive concept, happiness. Trade the real for an imaginary “what-might-have-been”. No. If anything, her children and their lives she’d never trade.

Change me, God – she had read it in a book once. Trade me for another me. Now. Not in the past, not in the future. Now.

She went to bed with same old tears in her eyes, her constant companions. At times, she had been sick of crying – lately, it seemed to be the normal comforting state. I’m still sick of crying, though – she thought. It would be nice if I could miraculously figure out how not to be so sad. She opened the Bible at a random page. Among other passages, she came across the one when Jesus was telling the apostles that anything will be forgiven to people, except for being and speaking against the Holy Spirit. She put down the book and wondered why that passage. She fell asleep and dreamt, as always, of nasty stuff.

The morning came and she could not remember the moment when it struck her. She had sinned against the Holy Spirit. All her depression, all the sinking without resistance, all the giving up the fight were part of the blasphemy. If one did not take care of the Spirit inside themselves, it was an unforgivable sin. A capital one, lack of faith. The biggest tears of her life engulfed her unworthiness and she fell to the ground hoping that God would somehow rewrite that unrewritable passage. Please forgive me. I have no words to ask for this kind of forgiveness, I only have this dirty soul. I have nearly destroyed Your Spirit in me. With whatever is left of it, impure as it is, I’m begging for pardon. Thy will be done.

She did not feel at all like a caterpillar being transformed into a beautiful butterfly – as a friend had wished her the previous day, trying some encouragement. She opened the email inbox and read a message from a coaching counselor she had written to, and who reminded her the results of a test she had done some years ago. Among your top 5 strengths, you have Command and that makes you instantly unique in my eyes – the counselor wrote. It is very seldom that command is among those top strengths in someone and that means you are truly a natural. Command can be easily misunderstood if overused and you may come across as way too bold and frightening to people who don’t get you.

Serena looked over the laptop. I have been swallowed by a flock of ducks. And I let them sink me. I had stopped fighting, I had accepted their “logic”, I believed when they told me I was too angry to succeed and that I need to do something to fit, preferably calm down.

There is no way to fit. I am no duck. I am a commanding swan, darn it! I let them kill my Spirit. And now I must forgive them all, if I want my Spirit back. The ironic economy of things. God’s, not mine. Right.

There was peace and freedom in that realization. Anger was nowhere in sight. Sadness was gone too. It felt strange. She didn’t know what to believe anymore. She didn’t understand fully but she understood enough. That her life had true meaning, even if still hidden. That she was perfect the way she was, though this was not quite clear either. That she could have repairs and another chance at things. And she could only go up from here.

The Kingdom

King Michael I of Romania died on December 5th. I found out a week later when the secretariat of the Romanian Embassy sent our diaspora a message which announced this, along with the news of opening a condolences book for signing. I wanted to, but haven’t made it to the embassy. I haven’t followed the events in Romania since I have no Facebook account, no Instagram, no Tweeter, no tv and whenever I listened to the radio, the news focused more on our current doll prime-minister. There was nothing posted on LinkedIn – well, for a rather good reason: “king” is not among the positions popular these days; “former king” even less so.

A friend from back home sent me an emotional email saying how many tears shed, how many people at the palace gates (in Bucharest?), how sad the king’s death, how disheartening the politics of the present government, how this and how that. I wrote back with a note about how much better it would have been for the very people crying at the gates if they had taken the stance to put the king back on the throne while still alive. Too cynical? Oh well.

On a related note, a commoner died on December 9th. I was preparing for our annual concert of carols that day when I heard the ding of a message: Grandma has died. She was not my grandma, though we all called her that. The mother of our good friend, my daughter’s godfather, she had her own three grandchildren whom she raised with homemade meals and hourly care. She was an excellent cook and a dear conversationalist. Her little laugh was warm and sweet. Whoever went to their house and sat at their table was pampered by Grandma. Bunica. In Romanian, the good one, a pretty literal translation.

I swallowed my unshed tears and focused on the concert that evening. I sang for her, miraculously managing not to let emotion creep in. I found out afterwards that she had said her last confession on the day our king died and had taken her last communion the following day on St Nicholas – peace was the saint’s last gift to her, apparently.

One week later, we travel to Montreal for her funeral. A bit of rainbow traveled ahead of us, ahead of the Sun itself, like the Star of Christmas. How did that rainbow came about in the dry crisp December sky is not a matter of explanation.

It all continued into a luminous day, despite the long funeral service, the burial, the commemoration meal. A day filled with divine presence that whispered prepare, prepare, do not delay, it is all part of the daily exercise and yes, it’s hard, but so much more precious with every right step you manage and all the stumbling which you raise from. There were good people at that table for Bunica. She would have loved the company. I am quite sure she somehow did.

We left before sunset and traveled west this time. Into the night and towards the Sun, which had decided to shoot a column of light straight up into the clouds.

Apologies, I probably should have left it to your imagination. The pictures don’t do It justice, the Light we saw throughout this day. It was a presence, not an atmospheric phenomenon. It was a connection of horizontal and vertical, of all dimensions we know and those we know not. It was the light of heavy crosses carried on royal shoulders and simple backs alike, both elegant and strangely gracious in their demeanor. It was quite the literal description of heaven on earth, that which we so often imagine so differently. There were no words spoken in the car and little unseen tears of fright, longing, isolation, terrible loneliness.

That was only yesterday. I cried a lot before communion today, as I read through all the setup prayers, many of which I should, oh yes, have read last night – oh no, I am not well prepared, nor disciplined, nor good. My only gift to God today was my subdued will. Among the last, I went to the altar and when I opened my mouth to receive Christ’s body and blood, true peace came over me, but it was not this which re-established the connection. It was the hope, which took form again – a hope so long lost, it had looked like a ghost at times. A hope of conquering vicissitudes, of victorious (chosen?) battles, of flying flags and starry rainbows, built on the architecture of inexplicably luminous columns. I felt light. And for that little bit of kingdom, there are no words to express gratitude. Just imagine it.

Math Expression

Friday mind stretch!

Apologies for not posting anything in this category for FOUR months (my mind was simply stretched in other directions! 🙂

First, the answer I owe you for the last challenge, the Quickest Descent: the cycloidal path is the quickest descent as the ball reaches a high speed earlier and uses it to race ahead of the other balls on the shorter paths.

Now, the next challenge is to reduce a mathematical expression to its simplest form. I took it from a book filled with such exercises, a book well-known to Romanians growing up in 20th century Romania. The exercises were made by Grigore Gheba, one of the great mathematical minds in a long line of Romanian professors. The book belonged to my grandfather, himself a fantastic math teacher who taught many students, myself included.

This expression is one of the easy ones and it has a neat answer. Check it out next week! Here’s the exercise:

Happy Friday mind stretch!