ten years

November 26, 2007

This past weekend the Brookfield East Class of ’97 celebrated our 10-year high school reunion in Milwaukee. It was a surreal evening – catching up with old friends, remembering the names of people I haven’t seen in 10 years and observing how many have shed their youthful roles and become their own confident individual, not a derivative of a group of “band geeks” or “math nerds” or “soccer guys.”

I think I’m a very different person than I was in high school – my interests and the way I view the world have changed drastically. While it’s hard to believe 10 years has passed, I feel really, really happy with where my life is and where it is going right now, and even approaching 30 doesn’t scare me anymore.


a very Wisconsin weekend

August 27, 2007


After a week of almost constant raining in Milwaukee, I had the pleasure of spending this weekend “up-north” at my old friend Nicole’s cabin on Dake Lake in Waupaca, Wisconsin. Waupaca is about two hours north and west of Milwaukee, a relatively short drive to a very idyllic place.

I generally headed much farther “up-north” for at least a week every summer with my own family until sometime in high school. It’s a Wisconsin tradition for the average middle-class family. We almost never traveled out of state (other than to Chicago) as kids, but to Eagle River, Minocqua or Antigo, we most certainly did. (Back in the day, I’m sure all these places did not have websites).

I’ve been going up to Nicole’s cabin occasionally since elementary school. We used to hang out on her parents’ boat, work on our tans (Nicole was always so far ahead of everyone else in that regard), visit the local lake hangouts – the Casino, the Harbor Bar, and the Wheelhouse restaurant, and just generally enjoy the summer sunshine. It was always great fun, but it’s so much easier to appreciate these getaways as an adult.

I haven’t been to the Peterson cabin in eight years, and was happy to see that not so much has around the area. There are a few more so-called McMansions dotting the lakes, but not as many as I feared.

Their cabin reminds me of the definition of “shabby chic,” and smells the way same familiar way I remember it. Nicole has always told stories about Waupaca, to the degree that the places and people have become familiar to me as well, although I’m not sure I have actually spend more than five or six short holidays at the cabin. But this indirect, strangely distant familiarity is a great, nostalgic feeling to have on a relaxing weekend.


Now, as adults, we’re not so embarrassed to cruise the Chain ‘O Lakes on a giant pontoon boat, we happily drank beer sheathed in styrofoam and take 30-minute power walks. I got some reading done, caught up with high school girlfriends, let my e-mail and laundry pile up, enjoyed micro-brews on the boat, and even went on a round of tubing.

It was a great weekend. Only tainted by being back in the office, with rain falling outside my window again.

{insert title of post here}

August 5, 2007

A close friend just told me that last night, suffering from evening coffee-induced insomnia, she read my entire blog, from the most recent post all the way back to keeping up with the Joneses. I found my friend’s admission wildly flattering, as we are very old and close friends, but she has admitted to almost never reading my blog, which doesn’t offend me, but maybe has made me a tiny bit sad a few times.

She suggested I might review my progression as a writer were I to do the same. That’s an interesting thought, but I excel at self-criticism, and I’m afraid I’ll start editing all the old posts that I no longer like or agree with my older self about, so I better not.

I’m sort of afraid of my own invulnerability, but I don’t want to be that way. If I wrote something telling about my character or religious beliefs two years ago, I believe those thoughts should remain. But I know myself, and that I would rather put forth a unified product, a set of beliefs and values that reflect who I am right now, even if that too, will change in another two years.

Speaking of ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ that’s an extremely lame first post title, and foreshadows the difficulty I generally have titling my posts. Also noteworthy that I liked blogger back then, and that Miss Mary B-to-be-A, currently on hiatus, was my inspiration to blog in the first place.

Yes, we’re back.

July 16, 2007

A little review:

As I mentioned before, everything went far better than expected on Tuesday. In fact, Fermin was in and out of the Consulate in less than three hours, which is very unusual. Most people seem to wait for hours and hours, only to turn in their passport and wait more hours while they affix the visa sticker and get around to giving it back to you.

One oddity was that he was not interviewed at all during his entire time there. He handed in the letter that said he had an appointment, turned in his passport and went to another area to wait, where he sat with Pablo, the husband of a friend from immigrate2us. Everyone else in the area seemed to be called up to answer a few questions like, “is your wife here?” or “did he/she come to visit you in Mexico?” and then told to wait a while longer. He was never called up, but after an hour or so they called a bunch of names and handed him, the friend’s husband and some others their new-visa-containing passports.

I was back in the hotel, thinking I might as well sleep in, imagining I’d have hours to sit on the porch of the Meson de Maruca hotel reading The Life and Times of Mexico while waiting for Fermin. About 10:15 a.m., just after I had gotten out of the shower and dressed, someone knocked on the door. I expected the maid far more than my husband, but it was him, and he had his passport in hand, announcing he was already done.


The friends I mentioned before had flights out of El Paso Wednesday morning, and were heading to cross the same border bridge we had to go to for the final fingerprinting and processing. We followed the other couple and hung out together in the building at the border while Fermin and Pablo followed the directions of an amusingly strict border patrol woman.

Imagine a waiting area ala your local DMV. There are a few signs, but generally people wander in with their residency packets and sit down somewhere in the chairs. As soon as one of the agent realizes these newbies are out of place, they sternly direct them to where they need to go. The family members (like us) sit in the back, and depending on how full the area is, another stern agent herds people “para atras,” as he sees fit. We were there for almost an hour, so after we say how the flow worked, we would watched amused as someone would wander in, sit down with their spouse in the line to get fingerprinted, and then be reprimanded and sent to the back of the room.

All in all, this part of the process was surprisingly efficient. Every time the lady would walk out with a handful of stamped passports, we hoped our hubbies were next. Then they were, and then we left. Fermin and Pablo walked across the checkpoint, while I got in the car and drove about 30 feet to the inspection area. There, the bored agents tapped my car, checked my spare tire area, and asked me where I had been and where I was going. They stopped to chat behind my trunk, and generally seemed to be taking their sweet time to get people through. It took at least 20 minutes for them to inspect the two cars in front of me and mine. So much for efficiency.

Our first stop when we crossed into El Paso was for food. Neither of us had eaten all day. We got off the freeway near a suburban commercial area and ate our first meal back together in the U.S., at the very exciting Nothing but Noodles restaurant, which is basically Noodles & Company Deux.

I’m leaving work now, so more updates later tonight and tomorrow.

summer time

June 11, 2007

I’ve got big plans for this summer. I want to refinish the floors in my loft, produce a late-summer’s bounty of tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, eggplant and herbs, cultivate flowers, take a writing class, query some more articles and write my last few columns as a Journal Sentinel community columnist. I also want to attend family picnics, drink wine and discuss life on a patio with friends and take long bike rides on Saturday mornings. I want to blog every day — not just links to articles I’m reading — I want to produce vibrant, thoughtful commentary that hundreds of people will want to read. Oh yes, these are big and impossible summer dreams. Did I mention I also want to go to the gym every day and cook dinner for Fermin and I every night?

Oh goodness, it is summer. There’s mountains to do and so little time. Work is busy, which means my internet time is cut down unless I spend more time in front of the screen after work, but that cuts down on all the other time for all the other stuff! For the first time, I feel tension between my desire to maintain my level of active participation in the marketplace blogosphere of ideas, to emulate the sort of atmosphere that bloggers I dearly respect seem to have, with my desire to just enjoy the fullness of life. I don’t mean to say I want to emulate those blogs, only that they seem to produce a constant stream of commentary and information that provokes thought. This tension seems to delineate an activist from an observer. It’s an old song, with new parameters.

I suppose I will always stray on the side of activism through awareness. I’m far too cynical to devote myself fully to one group or one cause, even one people or one nationality. There are many facets to every story, and those most masked are usually what need to be exposed. If I can be a tiny piece of a bigger awareness puzzle, a few readers stumbling here, or through my Journal Sentinel columns, or whatever writing I do in the future, I will feel at least as though something has been accomplished. I hope to provoke thought and careful consideration, and reconsideration.

But this month, I’m going to try to not think about my blogger’s philosophy, or stress about how much writing I get done, how many columns I write or queries I generate. I’m going to enjoy life. I’ll enjoy writing when I can write, like right now. I’ll enjoy driving from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Ciudad Juarez/El Paso on a journey to reclaim my husband, and enjoy our mini-road trip back through New Mexico and Colorado. I’ll enjoy my city and my garden and my life and my time.

where to begin…

May 13, 2007

It’s a new week, and a new design, and apparently, a new life.

Friday after work I had some errands to run. Typical stuff: return a movie, pick up a few groceries, stop at the nursery for some more plants. I arrived home before dark, walking from the back of my house where I park my car up front, to survey the progress of the new grass seedlings and grab the mail. As I went inside, shuffling past another and yet another offer to refinance my mortgage, I found a letter from the American Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Let me state that I was not, under any circumstances, expecting this letter. I’m on several immigration forums daily, at times hourly. I am acquainted with a good number of people going through this process, and not only have there been no approvals from any June, July or August-filed waivers, there have been almost no approvals for nearly a month. This situation has caused a wave of disillusionment and relative unrest on the forums, with many husbands and wives feeling that in the wake of the pilot program, they were being forgotten.

Inside the envelope, I found a perplexing letter. I sat on the couch in the living room, and read: “This office is ready to begin final processing of the visa for the applicant name below…” The appointment date is July 10, 2007.

My first thought was that they screwed up. They misplaced our I-601, our hardship letter, and any record that Fermin already had his first interview in late August of 2006. They must have scheduled us another first interview, I thought. Great!
I took a moment to think about who to call, and quickly decided on my friends Erinn and Laura, both of whom I met on immigration forums. It’s not that Fermin, mom, dad or Sara are not more important in my normal life, but this mysterious letter demanded an explanation, and none of them were going to help me interpret it like Erinn and Laura.

Erinn suggested it sounded like an approval.

“But Erinn, how could I get an approval right now, that doesn’t make any sense!”

Erinn’s husband, by the way, has been in Mexico three weeks longer than Fermin. Their two children are living with him in his tiny hometown in Veracruz, while she works overtime to keep their bills current. She led me to immigrate2us from another forum, and we later realized we lived about a ten minute drive from one another in Milwaukee.

She affirmed what I thought, that sometimes an appointment letter arrives before one is notified that their waiver has actually been approved. If this was true, I assumed that a number of people had appointment letters sitting in their mailboxes at that moment, and that at least one or two of them were posting on immigrate2us right now about their surprising, exciting second appointments. While on the phone with Laura, I logged on to the forum and sadly found no news.

I called Fermin, and told him about the weird letter, and that I would call him right back after I called the 900 number on the letterheard for the Consulate. So I spent the best $1.25 per minute ever talking to a very helpful man named Ramiro at the Consulate.
Me: So, I received this appointment letter, but I don’t understand why I would receive a letter right now… what does this mean about our waiver?
Ramiro: Well, Ms. Bruss (maiden name), your waiver was approved on May 4th.
Me: What? What?! WHAT!! (I actually said “What?!” at least 10 times) How is that possible?!!
Ramiro: Yes, your waiver has been approved.
Me: Our waiver was approved on May 4th?
Ramiro: Yes, May 4th.
(Then I made him say that about 13 more times, and then I told him he was my favorite person in the whole world, except for my husband).

Then I called Fermin back and told him the insanely good but shocking news. He said he won’t believe it until he is back in the U.S., and I said I will definitely not either.

Then we hung up and, just to get a second opinion, called the Consulate number again.

Guess who answered? Ramiro.

Me: Ramiro! I thought someone else might answer, this is Laura Bruss again, I’m sorry, but I just cannot quite believe that we have been approved. I mean, I’m on this website for waivers and there are so many people who have been waiting longer than me, how could I get approved… (more senseless babbling) I mean, Ramiro, isn’t it weird that I got approved now?
Ramiro: ….
Me: You probably cannot comment on that, can you?
Ramiro: No, Ms. Bruss.
Me: So… you don’t have any idea why I would get approved so soon?
Ramiro: I’m not really sure why you were approved. Maybe, it’s because there are a lot of people working on waivers right now.
Me: Really?! So, do you think there will be a lot of approvals in the next few days?
Ramiro: (emphatically) Yes.
Me: (more relentless disbelieving babble, including a declaration of my love for Ramiro.)

By the way, Fermin already vetoed my plan to name our firstborn Ramiro, but at least he will be ever remembered in cyberspace on an obscure personal blog.

So yeah, that all really freaking happened.

Two nights later, I’m still just as much in shock as ever, and sadly, none of my cyber-pals have received approval letters. The investigative journalist in me has a difficult time not searching the dark corners of the gift horse’s mouth. I don’t feel particularly worthy of such an unexpectedly early approval, and can’t understand why anyone would have even been dealing with my waiver on May 4th.

The Consulate in Ciudad Juarez processes something like 800 waivers of ineligibility every month. Fermin’s interview was in late August, but I didn’t mail our hardship letter with all the documentation for nearly three more weeks. And although the forums I am a part of represent just a small sample of the people actually treading through this process, it seems unusual that we would be approved considering that the few months before have apparently not been touched.

In any case, it’s time to stop thinking and start sleeping.

Congratulations to us!

holidays, gender roles and smooth rock

March 20, 2007

This weekend, my friends Joe and Rachel stepped way out of the box by hosting a yacht-rock themed double birthday party on St. Patrick’s Day. And let me say, it was great.

I could never pull off a themed party. I dread baby showers, all that pink and yellow and those games, God help me the next time I have to dig through a diaper full of melted chocolate, I hate them. When someone tells me they are going to a bridal shower, I have to control my instinct to smirk (because I don’t have to go) or make a sour face (because I am imagining all those hideous bows and ribbons tied into a paper plate).

Maybe I can’t help it. After emerging from several years of adolescence living with my dad and younger brother, I never really recovered until college, when I discovered, it’s cool to embrace some traditionally female habits. I went through a very brief period of liking the color pink, about the time I started dating Fermin, but those days are long gone.

Today I enjoy gardening and cooking, but I’ve never wanted to dress up for any sort of costume party or organize activities for a group of people. I’m 28, and as I’ve done all my life, I let my hair air dry on my day to work (or wherever), and spend exactly three minutes putting make-up on in the morning. I do, however, thoroughly enjoy buying shoes, and jeans…

My point is, many of the finer points of being a traditionally good woman, like hostess abilities, following traditions and social rules are totally lost on me. This may all be related to my issues with tradition. Like, getting married at the Courthouse in Milwaukee and never regretting it, especially after hearing many new-bride friends talk about their weddings.

In fact, every time a close friend navigates their wedding planning and execution (which has basically been constantly for about eight years now) I take a moment to reassess my feelings about weddings, about whether I feel I missed out. And surprisingly, to myself anyway, I never feel I have.

But back to yacht rock, perhaps the reason I so look forward to Joe and Rachel’s parties is that they are so different. I mean, they are planning a Canada Day party for God’s sake, how hip is that? And while I have no idea how they came up with the idea of theming a party around smooth rock (think Steely Dan) and nautically themed beers, I know it will never be done again, or at least I will never be invited to one again.

Besides that, there is no pretention at these parties. When you come up with an idea so equally fresh and preposterous, it hardly evokes your cousin’s last baby shower. You can come wearing, say, jeans and a t-shirt, or, plaid (think rainbow colors) cotton shorts, a maroon polo, a horrid blue suit jacket topped off with a captain’s hat and white tennies circa 1988. You can drink beer from cans, neon wine coolers, or a martini. And nobody cares.

This is also the beauty of having a healthy number of journalist-types among one’s friends. They are inteligent and well-read, but usually bitter and jaded enough by their mid-20s to be down-to-earth, fun companions. I became bitter and jaded with many of them, so we get along well.

Here’s to great friends, bucking traditions, and Canada Day 2007!