Anniversary #1

Spot the bunny!

Spot the bunny!

Today marks one year since Sergey and I started our journey as a married couple together! We celebrated yesterday by taking a stroll around the House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, the location of our wedding, utilizing Janine’s iPhone so he could be there virtually. On the stroll, we saw a special one-eared baby bunny happily munching on blossoms in a flowerbed, which I’m sure is a good omen for our coming years of connubial life. My mom also found a special omen there: a quartz heart-shaped fragment embedded in a concrete panel in the new visitor’s center.

And now spot the quartz heart!

And now spot the quartz heart!

Speaking of the visitor’s center, it was my first visit to the House of Worship where we didn’t head downstairs beneath the main auditorium to go to the bookstore and visit the cornerstone placed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá over a century ago. This time, from the parking lot, we entered the low, prairie-style building. Inside, the top floor affords a view of the majestic white dome of the Mother Temple of the West and opens onto a quiet courtyard. Browsing through the informational signs posted on the walls, I learned a few new things about the construction of the temple, which was a great decades-long undertaking by the young American Bahá’í community. For example, Louis Bourgeois, the architect, had for years dreamt of building a temple to the Truth—and then he became Bahá’í, enabling him to wed his personal ambition to the Bahá’í community’s goal of building a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. When he designed the complex motifs that cover the temple, he laid out 70-foot long sheets of paper on his studio floor and drew them full size. Pretty impressive!

View of the visitor's center from the courtyard

View of the visitor’s center from the courtyard


Our second year of marriage now begins with setting up a household. Let me say, I have reviewed roughly several thousand comforter options, several hundred shower curtain and dinnerware possibilities, and dozens of towel and sheet color permutations. I even spent some time considering shower curtain hooks. (For the first months, there might only be two fully outfitted rooms in the apartment: the bathrooms. After all, the furniture in there is already installed.) Sergey has done his part helping me choose these goods and others, among them a coffeemaker, which provoked much soul-searching about what exactly we want from our coffee. All in all, I am hoping that our careful research will ensure our goods last for many years so we don’t have to go shopping again for a long time!

It is hard to believe a full year has gone by since the day we said our vows—but time flies by when you are having fun!

Fish love:

Fish love: “kissing” koi at the Anderson Japanese Garden in Rockford, Illinois

Looking back…and forward


Sculpey hearts I gave to World Centre friends upon my departure.

I gave these polymer clay hearts to friends upon my departure. (No, they are not edible!)

While I prepared for my departure from the BWC for months, it still felt strange to leave. I realized that up until now, graduations have marked the endings and beginnings in my work–saying farewell to fair Verona to go to Mount Holyoke, four years later leaving Mount Holyoke to fly to Israel. With those commencements, I shared the ritual of departure with hundreds of others. But of course, in real, non-academic life, there aren’t usually huge ceremonies to mark goodbyes. So leaving despite work bustling along as usual felt kind of like stepping out of a room thrumming with people–and then flying 6,000 miles away.

In those final two weeks, I was asked a few times about my experiences over the past two years. What had I learned? I found it hard to articulate, though marriage obviously topped the list. My relationship with Sergey defines my memories. Indeed, I re-read all my posts here, and stories of Sergey started to dominate in November 2013, a few months after we met.

Through experience in my office, I have also learned about–and hopefully improved–certain qualities. Humility and self-discipline proved indispensable in my daily work, and I found excellent exemplars of those qualities in my colleagues.

As I sought to connect my experience with my upcoming studies in rhetoric and composition, I realized that I actually was almost constantly writing in my office. Sure, I wasn’t composing beautiful works of prose analyzing Shakespeare or Dickinson–I was doing “transactional” composition, writing letters, emails, instructions, and memos to accomplish tasks. I suspect that my firsthand experience with business and technical writing will benefit me as I start teaching college composition (in a few weeks!). I’ll have a grasp of what awaits students destined for white collar careers. Further, I think I’ve learned to clarify and simplify my writing, knowing that many coworkers in our super-diverse organization were not native English speakers.

Speaking of which, one thing I failed to learn was a new language. I started with Farsi, which after a few months became an excuse for getting to know Sergey (we have now given my colleague’s Farsi class a reputation for matchmaking)…and our study habits deteriorated. Then together we thought, well, we couldn’t stick with Farsi, so let’s go for an even more complicated language–Arabic! I wish we could have stayed in the class, but I simply could not muster the energy for the required nightly studying. And what about Hebrew? The class started around the time of our wedding, so I was in no state to participate. Now I am trying to learn Russian, though given my track record…well, for this one I have a special motivation: to make Sergey smile with my clumsy attempts to sound out Russian words.

Needless to say, it is impossible to summarize these years of my life, but luckily, I don’t have to! This blog serves as a depository of my memories, a growing memoir; since memories will continue to be made in the new chapter of my life, I’ve decided to stick with writing it. So, I hope you will stick with reading!

Path at Bahjí

Gettin’ hitched, part 4

So, after the flurry of preparations, we headed to the Chicago area–first Sergey, to meet his friend Vadim, and then my parents and me.  Our goal upon arriving in Skokie was to get the marriage license ASAP.  We found the county clerk’s office, an expansive building housing courtrooms and various offices, and after returning our electronics (apparently prohibited) to the van and de-belting for the metal detector, we went inside.  We found our room and joined the line of couples waiting for licenses.  Finally, it was our turn.  The lady behind the counter did not seem to find her job romantic at all as she embarked on a long list of questions apparently designed to determine our capacity for trivia questions, like “Where was your mother born?” and “What is your social security number?”  I guess we passed the test, because we got the license, woohoo!  License to wed!

License to wed!

License to wed!

Soon after that, my parents left, and Sergey and Vadim went to a baseball game to marvel at its slow complexity (they managed to withstand one hour of three), and I waited in the hotel for Dianne to arrive.  Actually, I fell asleep long before she came and accidentally locked her out of the room, but don’t worry, we eventually had our reunion, and then the next day were joined first by Faye and Milly, and then by Addie and Safiyyah (Sadia came a bit later).  And thus began our Mount Holyoke reunion.  Seven sisters, three days, one Windy City.

So what makes it onto the travel itinerary for these womyn?  Let me tell you: a museum honoring social welfare activism (Jane Addams Hull House), a giant ferris wheel–and then fireworks, the Art Institute, an outdoor opera concert, a glass balcony hanging over the city, and more.  As for the tastebud tour of Chicagoan cuisine, our first day together, we indulged in deep dish pizza.  I think I know why this style is mostly constrained to Chicago; Faye gave it the review, “I feel like there is a giant cheese ball sitting in my stomach.”  Vadim, on the other hand, started with cheesecake and moved on to the pizza.  Well, some friends enjoyed the cheese ball effect, but perhaps it is no coincidence that we lunched at a vegan café the next day.

I must say, it’s pretty nifty to have friends who delight in both the swing ride at Navy Pier and in analyzing historical museum displays, who make a surprising beeline for the paperweight collection at the Art Institute and appreciate the tale of Salome as told through the music of Strauss.  I guess that’s why these ladies are my friends and have been for five years.

Reflections: our group visits Cloud Gate, better known as the Bean, in Millennium Park.

Reflections: our group visits Cloud Gate, better known as the Bean, in Millennium Park.

Speaking of the Art Institute, I was disappointed to leave its glowing galleries after only several hours.  Before departing, Sergey and I visited the special exhibit on Magritte together.  Surrealist paintings watched us from the black walls with disconnected body parts juxtaposed with strange objects and nonsensical labels.  Sergey found it all quite disturbing and concluded of Magritte, “This guy was sick.”  Then, I gave Sergey a desperate whirlwind tour, whisking him through all the Impressionist (“It’s nice but blurry”) and Renaissance galleries at a near jog.  Then it was time for us to leave our friends to revel at the artistic treasures as we boarded the train back to Skokie.  There was, apparently, a wedding to prepare for…

Gettin’ hitched, part 3

One of the classic flying machines that frequents the Leonardo da Vinci airport, I assume.

After a day of travels and a stop in the da Vinci airport in Rome, where we breakfasted on the finest pizza and cappuccinos of Italy, Sergey and I arrived in America.

It was remarkable to see the Wisconsin countryside veined with creeks and rivers stretching out beneath our plane in undulating hills of green–so much green after the scrubbiness of Israel!  How was this luxuriance possible?  For Sergey, the landscape reminded him of Moldova.  For me, the amount of space and the cleanliness took some getting used to.  It wasn’t quite reverse culture shock, more like terrain shock.  Why weren’t there any strays using these wide streets as litter boxes?  And there are birds besides sparrows, crows, and pigeons?  Was Target always so super huge?

We had a week and a half to spend with my family in Hometown U.S.A. before heading down to the Chicago area.  While we had a few allocated “fun periods,” much of our time was consumed with final preparations for the wedding.  There were so many important decisions to be made.  For example, after our contact person for our reception location revealed that they had only black tablecloths to offer, which would have been great for a funeral-themed wedding, we had to add that to our Party City list.  It took a surprising amount of effort to settle on the purple tablecloths, probably because Mommy and Sergey spent half the time convincing me that sparkly confetti was an unnecessary addition to our decor.  But…but…sparkles?

Thankfully, the key aspect of our decor, the centerpieces, was decided on before we returned.  I recall back in May feverishly considering various centerpiece options as I scanned records in the office.  Birdcages or feathers to go with the bird theme?  How about feather-coated birdcages holding live singing doves?

Luckily we decided on a more classy alternative: three-tiered stands covered with colorful cupcakes and topped with a spray of flowers, which my uncle generously arranged.  After finding a cute Wilmette bakery called Lawrence Deans online during my initial investigations, I spent the next few months contemplating which flavors of their selection I wanted at the wedding (all of them).  Especially the rose-pistachio ones.  In the end, we ordered a mere 132 cupcakes in 11 flavors, chosen both for their deliciousness and their colors.  You can see the results below.

A dream realized.

A dream realized.

Gettin’ hitched, part 2

As I settled into our new home, there was of course the war being fought.  I got constant updates from my coworkers on the rockets being fired in our general direction, which did not help quell my anxiety at moving, settling, and the eventual hitching.  While I don’t claim I was greatly affected by the war–as of yet, Haifa has remained unscathed–it gave me a taste of the grinding stress of living in a country constantly threatened with violence, and a greater appreciation for my life in the United States, where the majority of our citizens, perhaps unjustly, live untouched by whatever conflict we’re embroiled in.

Actually, one colleague told me that war marriages turn out the best, as she and her husband courted and wed during the conflict of 1991, also in Israel.  (Since her husband was in Sergey’s department, maybe it’s the interdepartmental alliance that does the trick.)

A few days before we were scheduled to leave for the States, a rocket that landed near the Tel Aviv airport prompted first American and then European airlines to stop flying into Israel.

Of the various obstacles we had to overcome to get married, this was not one I had expected.  Would we have to take a transatlantic canoe voyage to attend our own wedding? It seemed like the perfect misalignment of international events, with the rocket hit occurring a week after the Malaysian Airline tragedy, while most airlines were feeling understandable panicky about getting close to war zones.

“Maybe God is trying to save you from me,” mused Sergey.

But I’d rather think of it as God giving us plenty of opportunities to re-examine our choice, asking repeatedly, “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”  And of course we did, answering yes to each question.

Our flight was indeed cancelled.  While this was annoying, it was fair–how could we expect to remain aloof from the conflict roiling to our south?  Plus, on the positive side, it gave us some extra time to unpack our things…and then pack for the trip.

I’m engaged


Dear readers,

This is just to say, I am affianced to Sergey.

I’ve been saving my 50th post for this!

Bahá’í engagement means that not only have we decided that we want to get hitched, but our parents are on the same page.  Thank you, parents!  See my parents’ creative Naw-Rúz present to us below:

Layli's 1st Naw-Ruz 1992 Layli's 23rd Naw-Ruz 2014

Most of you already know the story, but for those who don’t, here’s a little info lifted from my “Why Sergey” essay.


When Layli met SergeyOn July 5, 2013, I stepped off the airplane into the Holy Land. After getting through immigration, I was welcomed by my contact person from the BWC. There were a number of contact people there, including Sergey, who was there to pick up two of my orientation mates, Elika and Bahman. I was too tired and disoriented to make much conversation, but a photo Bahman sent, showing the three of us posing together at the train terminal, evidences at least some interaction. Through my daze on the train to Haifa, I listened to the conversation around me (how were these people so lucid?); Sergey said that he had not yet been to the beach. That lack of enthusiasm for beaches told me we were soulmates.

Just kidding. It actually took me a number of months—four, to be precise—to realize my attraction to Sergey. I didn’t see him much in the course of a week; an archival assistant has little professional reason to interact with an IT project manager. But, as luck would have it, we were both taking a Farsi class with my coworker Farideh. I would usually arrive a few minutes early; Sergey would usually arrive a few minutes late. (He claims that I always reserved a special smile for him upon his tardy entry.) Whereas I am a very quiet student, dutifully taking notes and asking the occasional question, he would ask loads of questions, gesticulating energetically, and remark upon the connections between the apparently infinite languages he knew—Russian, Romanian, Hebrew, German, English. Fortunately, neither of us had a knack for Farsi, or perhaps he would have found my stumbling attempts to speak the language more off-putting than charming; he seemed quite inspired by my small successes, congratulating me with a “Very good!” Occasionally, when I had given a response, I would feel like Sergey was looking at me a bit too long, but then figured it was just because I was in his direct line of vision.

Then, one day, everything changed. The occasion was the Birth of the Báb, celebrated on 5 November. After the program and circumambulation had ended, I found myself in the midst of the crowd that gathered to socialize in the small space in front of the pilgrim house. Feeling claustrophobic, I moved to the periphery, where I saw Sergey, apparently also alone. We greeted each other; I inquired after his Farsi studies. “I don’t like big crowds,” I commented. “Me neither, I would rather be somewhere above the crowd, maybe a roof, where I could watch,” he said. (Soulmates.) Then he invited me to join him and his friend Vafa for falafels. If I ever write a children’s book, I think it will be called Vafa Awfully Wants a Falafel. Although I usually abstain from crashing other people’s plans and from unforeseen falafel outings, I said sure, since I needed to head that direction anyway to find a replacement watch battery. It is important to note that I had been suffering greatly for the past week since my watch had died, leaving my wrist naked and me tardy.

So, Vafa, Sergey’s friend from Ukraine, led us to a small falafel shop in the Hadar district, the kind with mirrors above the slim counter so you can watch yourself spill pickles and drip tahini. Or at least that’s what I did. Afterwards, Sergey insisted on paying for my sandwich in a chivalrous move that I came to realize is a deep-seated part of his character. At that point, I was ready to set off after the battery and leave Sergey and Vafa alone, but instead Vafa left, and Sergey insisted he would help me. “This is my new mission,” Sergey said. “And I don’t give up until it’s accomplished. Plus, it’s for the sake of the BWC, since your office needs you to be punctual.”

For some reason, nearly all the watch stores were closed, and all the stores selling batteries didn’t have the cell I needed. (I can’t help but wonder if perhaps that was providential, as it gave us a reason to spend more time together.) After nearly an hour, when the sun had set, I was ready to call it quits. But Sergey told me not to give up so easily—there was one last store. I was skeptical. It was a hardware store with big things like tires and tools. But he insisted, and lo and behold, in a tiny set of drawers on the counter, we found the right battery. Sergey put it in my watch, and to my elation, it started ticking!

Over six months later, and five months since we made our “character investigation” official, my watch is still ticking away, leading us closer to our eternal union.