Saturday, August 27, 2011


Merella Shuster and Dario Espinoza were wed in the Salt Lake City Temple on Tuesday, August 16, 2011. The two met last summer in Beijing while Espinoza was completing an internship with the American Embassy and Shuster was practicing her Chinese for her Asian Studies minor. It only took one date to realize that they had each found “the one.”

Fiscally prudent wedding preparations ensued after Dario’s April 4th proposal. The Espinoza nuptials featured a flare for homemade decorating and cost-cutting manual labor with a cake, bouquets, centerpieces, and cake toppers all made by the couple’s friends and family. The bride’s morale was only temporarily devastated when her dress, a bargain purchased from a questionable Chinese internet website with grammatically incorrect text, arrived in Provo. “It was droopy and the sleeves were too big and it looked like an old shower curtain,” Shuster said.

Fortunately, one of Espinoza's acquaintances, a seamstress for the BYU Living Legends team, completed the alterations to make the dress a perfect fit. Too perfect, in fact. Nobody anticipated the catastrophic events that would unfold on the wedding day.

Salt Lake City on August 16th was favored with sunny weather in the high 80s. Guests from the wedding party traveled from Germany, China, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and Alaska to witness the ceremony. The unprecedented number of relatives on Shuster’s side of the family promised an auspicious event, but happy celebrations were delayed when the bride and groom did not make their triumphant exit from the temple doors on schedule. The wedding party waited. And waited. They waited so long that Willaby, Merella’s youngest sister and the most scantily clad bridesmaid, suffered minor sunburn.  

An hour later than planned, Shuster and Espinoza emerged after an alleged “dress malfunction.” Older sister and temple escort Sarita Rich was on site in the bridal dressing room to confirm allegations of said malfunctions. Apparently the bridal gown’s zipper, after being zipped and fastened, split, leaving a half-inch hole six inches from the bottom of the zipper. “We all stared at the back of the dress and told Merella not to move,” Rich said, “And as soon as I touched the zipper, trying to pull both sides together to relieve some pressure where the dress fit the tightest, the whole zipper split from top to bottom.”

Rich explained that audible gasps of horror--"Oh no!” and “Oh dear!”--issued from temple matrons as they gathered wide-eyed and open-mouthed, staring at the bride’s exposed back. “I admit, right then the thoughts going through my head were not temple worthy,” Rich stated. Shuster, always cool under pressure did not break down in hysterics. Instead she merely laughed it off, saying, “Well, that’s what you get for ordering from China!”

Temple matrons simply told Rich that she would have to “sew [Merella] in,” i.e. sew up two feet of stressed zipper by hand as fast as she could. When Rich reported that the cotton thread kept tearing, Merella inquired if there was any dental floss to be found in the temple. None of the elderly ladies had any, but they did procure some heavy-duty thread. Rich and Shuster's temple attendants took turns threading needles, stretching the zipper in place, and sewing the stitches. Only one temple matron’s finger was pricked with a needle in the process.

Other than the dress malfunction, all went as planned. The couple enjoyed lunch and open-mike toasts in the Joseph Smith Building and then invited all to join them for an open house in their new apartment in Provo from 7-9 p.m. After exiting the temple, Shuster was instructed not to eat, breathe, or sit down until the dress could be cut open with scissors at the end of the evening. 

Preliminary photos here. More to come! Someday. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Anniversary Post 6.0

Since the last post set a record of a whopping 10 comments, I'm holding you readers to the same standard (but feel free to exceed my meager expectations) if you want to hear my account of what happened at Merella's wedding on 8/16! He hee.

While I was working for the Central Utah Writing Project this summer, I didn't finish anything I started writing, except this. I had writer's block for all four weeks until the night before we were supposed to submit our anthology piece. I wrote this draft and saved its debut for our 6th wedding anniversary. 

"The Romantic Obsessions and Great Expectations of Sarita Rich"

     I fell in love before my legs were long enough to touch the floor while sitting on the couch.

     My favorite place as a seven-year-old was the living room couch with my parents’ wedding album perched on my knees. I spent hours slowly turning the pages after taking in the details of the photos—my dad in his ivory barong, the embroidered formal shirt custom-made by my mom’s Filipino family tailor; my mom sitting in front of a mirror in her wedding dress with her hair dresser holding her bun in place before putting on her veil; five bridesmaids in mint-green taffeta with baskets of Sampaguita Jasmine petals.

     But the thin brown rectangle cut from the Herald News personal ads was the best:

     American teacher, 30, visiting in Cebu, wants to meet sincere Filipina pen pal for honest marriage. College-level, pleasing personality, good English. Call 7-30-51, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., ask for Mr. Shuster in room 915 Skyview Hotel.

     The day my mom answered the ad my parents met in person, the next Dad was gone, flying back to America. A letter arrived in the mail for my mom weeks later. Inside the envelope were 100 pesos for postage, Dad’s picture, and the first of what would become many chapter book-length letters sent to Mom’s childhood Cebu City address. My parents were married in Manila one year later and came home together to begin their happily ever after.

     I was in love with their love story—enamored of exotic serendipity and a romance that unfolded across 5,000 miles through hundreds of pages written in Dad’s blue medium point Bic pen ink and Mom’s neat, cursive pencil script. This was how love should be. Just like in the movies. But better, because my parents were living proof that it worked in real life too. Naturally, I thought my life would be romantic too.

     Growing up I consumed a steady diet of Disney princess romance. My favorite was Cinderella, especially the part at the end when she floats down the stairs, boards the coach, and waves out its window while driving away. The last thing you saw, through the open coach window, was a kiss that meant blissful happiness without laundry or flatulence or getting fat. 

     Such Disney movies, along with my parents’ wedding album, inspired the only real ambition I had as a first grader. When I had to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” at school I always said—aloud or on paper—I wanted to be a teacher. But secretly the real answer was, “I want to be in love!” or “I want to be romantic!”

     Before high school, my fixation on love and romance developed in various phases. I had a Barbie phase in which I designed toilet paper wedding attire for our favorite dolls. Valentine's Day was my favorite holiday. In third grade, after watching the episode of The Simpsons in which every kid dumps piles of Valentines on his or her desk—except for Ralph, whose box is empty—I stayed up all night feverishly decorating hand-made personalized cards for every kid in class, as well as every teacher and administrator in the whole school. When I played with the plastic figures of the My Littlest Pet Shop series, there was always a backyard wedding in the sandbox where the Border Collie named Larissa married Brad Pitt, the Saint Bernard. Later in middle school I had a bride couture fetish. I stood in the lines of grocery stores, thumbing through Modern Bride magazine, where I met Badgley Mischka, Vera Wang, and Alvina Valenta for the first time.

     I sat on my roof one summer when I was 16 and made my list of desirable qualities in a potential spouse. My ideal husband would be a devastatingly handsome lawyer/doctor/mechanical engineer who moonlighted as a handyman at home in case our toilets ever broke, and he also had to be musically gifted (any instrument except the tuba or xylophone), muscular, athletic, and from anywhere except my hometown or California.

     And creativity was a must. Ideally, my guy would be like Patrick, a graphic designer I read about in Reader’s Digest, who saw “his perfect girl” on the number 5 train in the Union Square subway of New York City. Before he had a chance to talk to her the train pulled into Bowling Green station where the doors opened to a swarm of passengers who momentarily blocked his view before he realized she was gone. He found her after making a website with a picture of her he sketched himself, the site went viral, and two days later he knew her name—Camille—and that she was an Australian interning at a magazine. He finally met her officially when Good Morning America set up their first date on national television. Here was another perfect love story, made even more appealing by the fact that Patrick displayed neither symptoms of insanity nor a penchant for stalking beautiful strangers. He was just in love. I was convinced that somewhere out there, another psychologically sound Patrick was waiting to find me—but with a cooler name—and that he was living off his family’s vineyard in Sicily as I spoke.

     But things had gone terribly wrong by the time I finished high school. I traded Modern Bride magazines and dreams of applying to the Parson School of Design or RISD for Kaplan SAT prep books and advanced world literature courses that kept me home writing rhetorical analysis essays on Friday nights. The first boy I kissed fit my potential husband description almost exactly—except for the criteria of being Italian and muscular, but all rules have exceptions. He was going to Harvard medical school while I didn’t even know what classes I should take during senior year. He dumped me because my SAT scores were too low. And I went to my junior and senior proms mostly because I felt obligated to help set up tables.

     My paradigm shift from inhabiting a world of love-crazed naïveté to the most boringly unromantic person at school coincided with the dawning realization that my parents’ happily ever after did not exist, for various reasons:

     1) Mom didn’t call the number in the Herald News. She saw the ad one day and forgot about it until her jovial, homosexual neighbor came over the next day to inquire if there was any “toilet paper,” i.e., newspaper, to be found in Mom’s house because he had run out. Although the ad was eventually rescued from being plastered to this gay man’s rear end in an outhouse, Mom couldn’t take credit for saving it. Instead, the neighbor, in his best falsetto, impersonated Mom on the phone to set up her first date with Dad at her house while Mom did her best to stifle rolling waves of laughter in the background.

     2) Their first date was an evening of prolonged awkwardness with Dad sitting in her living room facing a couch full of siblings, stepparents, and extended family members who passed him slices of papaya, mango, and guava while telling stories about Mom contemplating life in a convent.

     3) Mom couldn’t really say why she married him, except that he wrote beautiful letters—Dad later said they were full of “shameless flattery and p.r. hype”—and had good spelling and that her family liked him.  

     4) Mom hated Alaska. 

     5) Mom’s wedding ring fell down a sink drain and Dad flushed his down the toilet after a heated argument.

     So, with a romance IQ of -560 and the discovery that I had inherited really unromantic genes, I went to BYU, a Mecca for amorous youngsters, where even I managed to go on a few dates. 

     There was Dan the aspiring dentist, whose idea of a rough and ready fling was to scour the racks at D.I. for costumes to wear at the midnight showing of The Return of the King. There was Andy, a balding accountant major who took me to P.F. Chang’s and cracked open his cookie and read aloud a suspiciously convenient fortune: "A new, tantalizing prospect awaits you." Then he looked me in the eye and said with one arched eyebrow and his head cocked at an angle, “Are you that new, tantalizing prospect?” Then Hue, a Vietnamese philosophy student whose spontaneous deliveries of long-stem white roses and impeccably clean car faded into oblivion after he turned down his acceptance to Yale law so he could go to beauty school instead. And after Steve gave me a lecture at church about the spiritual perils of bowling on Saturday night (all his idea in the first place), I stopped returning his calls.

     But then Jesse from next door called. He seemed normal, so I kept going out with him. Even after the world’s most unromantic first date. My version of the story is that I got a call at 8:00 on Friday night after studying all day for a test. Jesse asked if I wanted to go with him and his friends to the hot springs and all I needed was a bathing suit and there would be a short hike to get to the springs and we would definitely be back before midnight.

     If I hadn’t really cared what he thought, I would have said, “I can’t because I need to go to bed so I can get up at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow and do my homework because I’m going to the homecoming dance with Steve (later “bowling-on-Saturday-is-evil-Steve”) and my entire day will be consumed in giddy preparations, so I’m already wasting time.” Jesse saw through my lame but-I-don’t-have-a-bathing-suit excuse. So I went.

     We all stood in the parking lot staring at each other for ten minutes. Jesse didn’t invite me to ride in his car, so I got stuck in the front seat of his friend’s truck—the friend bore a striking resemblance to Disney’s Quasimodo—and Jesse drove alone with some other girl. Both drivers got lost on the way, and the hike was an hour because we had to go single file up a winding mountain trail in the dark. None of the Eagle Scouts on this trip brought a flashlight, except Jesse, but he was at the front of the line and I was at the end. And Jesse’s friend walked with his hands on my shoulders to make sure I didn’t fall off the edge of the mountain and die. 

    We finally got to the hot springs. And just sat there. Smelling like sulfur. For hours. I fell asleep in the water at least once. I fell asleep again on the ride home and stumbled into bed at 4:30 a.m. I swore never to speak to Jesse again—because the invitation to the hot springs was obviously an elaborate scheme to set me up with Quasimodo. I contemplated burning Jesse in effigy or sewing a makeshift Voo Doo doll with his name on it and poking pins in its eyes. If we were Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, this is what I might have said to him: "From the first moment I met you, your arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others made me realize that you were the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry."

     And his reply would have been: "So this is your opinion of me. Thank you for explaining so fully. Perhaps these offenses might have been overlooked had not your pride been hurt...Forgive me madam, for taking up so much of your time."

     Jesse gave me a few weeks to calm down before calling again. Ten months later we got married. Since I'm a little slow on the uptake, it took me a while to figure out two important things: 1) The entire hot springs trip was a Rube Goldberg experiment from hell incarnate—one bad mistake after the other, starting with Jesse getting stuck alone in his car with his "Caroline Bingley" (a.k.a. Katy); and 2) Jesse was my Mr. Darcy, sans Pemberly and the funny trousers. Like Darcy, Jesse was simply being shallow; he couldn't bear the thought of speaking up for me in the parking lot, lest he publicly announce his undying love  in front of his friends. But this was also because, like Darcy, he didn't "rattle away like other young men."

     Our wedding was more utilitarian than romantic, because I married an economist. Our happily ever after hasn’t been what I imagined as a child. For my part, the “romantic” gestures fizzled out after our first Valentine’s Day as newlyweds when I rushed home during my lunch break to punch heart shapes out of defrosted chicken breasts with a cookie cutter and throw them in the oven.

     We’ve spent the first six years of our marriage finishing our bachelor’s degrees and doing homework for graduate school, which means that we’ve developed the dangerous habit of procrastinating, and sometimes forgetting to acknowledge, our birthdays and all major American holidays because there was always a paper to write or an exam to study for. Which means that we’re also the most boring couple we know.

     After Jesse, real love isn't defined by romance. Real love has less to do with romance and more to do with seeing the other person’s potential and learning to say, “I’m sorry,” or knowing that he’s done the laundry—every week—just so I don’t have to. Love is more about how long I celebrate the unremarkable moments of everyday life, and about liking the real Jesse: he knows what widgits and utils and Marshallian Demand Curves are, he reads Roald Dahl's books, he fixes the broken things in our house, and he used to play the piano, and when he pulls up in our driveway all the little kids on our block run up to him and shout choruses of “Hi Jesse!” But he is not romantic.

     And neither am I. And I didn’t have to travel halfway across the world to figure this out. All I really wanted was right next door.

This summer I read Kyoko Mori’s Yarn: Finding the Way Home, in which she describes advice given to her by college writing teachers: “Write what you know, but don’t understand.” So I picked a topic I hardly understand, but one I’ve been thinking about for a while. Rena’s scribble prompt about falling in love and Stacy’s question about the dichotomy of internal vs. external realities helped me start. P.S., Jesse is from California.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bad Timing?

It started in February 2010. There was a vice principal at my middle school who found me in the copy room one morning and said he had a job for me. He said he would be relocating at the end of the year to be the principal at my dream school (which shall remain anonymous). He said I could teach sophomore and junior English and have class sizes of 20. I was in the first year of my master’s degree at the time and had one more year to go.

He saw me again in the hall at the end of the year and said,  “I’ve got 65 applications. You could make it really easy for me if you just took the job…” I thought about quitting grad school. The offer seemed too good to give up. But I did. He said to keep in touch and let him know when I’d finished because perhaps there might be an opportunity next year.

Yeah right. I missed my golden moment, so I thought. Oh well. I went back to teach middle school again, part time while I finished my degree at BYU.

Then February 2011 came and I emailed the principal at my dream school. He said I should come over and have a chat with him. So I did. I thought I’d stay for maybe five minutes, just to catch up and say hi because nothing had really happened since I'd seen him last. An hour and a half later he was still talking about the school and how he took students to lobby at the capital to pass a bill that would enable his charter school kids to continue playing sports in a joint partnership with another high school, and how he had received over 600 applications to be entered into the school’s lottery enrollment system for the fall and how parents would sometimes come by his office with $2500 donations for the school because they just appreciated how insanely incredible an institution it is, etc., etc. And I’m listening to this the whole time, wondering why he’s going out of his way to waste so much of his time—his whole afternoon was scheduled with visits to the state science fair at the University of Utah where some of his students were being awarded prestigious scholarships—if he didn’t have an opening in his English department.

As it turned out, there was a position. An unprecedented, glorious opening. I interviewed for it in May. I got great feedback. Everything felt right. I was going to teach senior English at my dream school!

I waited. School ended at Elk Ridge. I went on a cruise and thought about my dream school the whole time, wondering how I would start the first day of class and mentally planning my  writing assignments and what books we would read, since I would have total freedom at my dream school. I started working for the writing project on June 20. Still, no call with a job offer from my dream school.

Finally, I had to know. Designing syllabi in my head was no longer productive. So I called the principal of my dream school at the end of June. He was sorry to report that he had kept me waiting, because the job would have been mine. But then the school board had the budget meeting and revealed to the principal of my dream school that they could not afford me. Curse the gods of charter school bureaucracy. I would have worked for free, but I can’t afford that either.

Honestly, I was disappointed. Okay, devastated. Jesse was even more devastated. But I got over it five minutes later when a head hunter from a major healthcare company called Jesse and asked if he wanted a better job. Jesse said, “Yes, I would like a better job,” or something to that effect. So they flew him to their office and interviewed him. They made a good impression on him. Then we waited. We went on vacation in the meantime and thought about the potential job offer the whole time. The anxious what-do-I-do-in-the-meantime-what-if-they-don’t-want-me-what-if-they-do-want-me feeling kind of took over our lives for the month of July.

And what was I going to do when we moved? I would be jobless. I was actually okay with being unemployed, but Jesse promised me shopping sprees and dinner at Fleming’s if I tried.

I wanted to teach middle school, but there were no openings in the entire state. Even at the school that fired every single one of its teachers. Plan B was to see if I could get a job teaching college. Jesse found me a list of campuses and I started making phone calls on July 26. The first person I called said she had jobs for fall semester—send cv and cover letter ASAP—and that she was hoping to fill the remaining positions by the end of next week.

We still hadn’t heard from the major healthcare company. They said they’d have an official offer as soon as the upper echelons returned from the Hamptons during the week of August 8th. Jesse convinced them to hurry up. But just as I was secretly reveling in the thought of unemployment, I had a job.

I had a video chat via FaceTime on my computer today. I made sure my top half was decently dressed, but kept my pajama pants on and lounged on the couch while I talked to the department chair of the writing and rhetoric program, who offered me a job after 10 minutes of the most casual conversation in the history of the universe—I had to practice using FaceTime with Megan and her iphone last night, because I didn't know what it was, and I needed to get used to the feeling of looking directly at the camera on my computer so it would look, on the other end, that I was making eye contact at the right angles without distorting the size of my nostrils or forehead. 

So, I have a job. I guess grad school paid off. Thank you directors of BYU composition for hiring me, even though I missed the application deadline last year!

Jesse got his official offer a few hours later. We're moving to Rhode Island. We just had to—even though I’ll be teaching at a university whose mascot is “Rhody the Ram” and Jesse will be sitting in an office in a town called Woonsocket—because the Ocean State is home to the Tiffany & Co. manufacturing headquarters, and America’s first circus (1774 in Newport), and the first open golf tournament in 1895, and The White Horse, America’s oldest operating tavern (built in 1673), and the invention of the Quonset hut, and the world’s largest bug (a blue termite, 58 feet long and 928 times the size of a real termite), stationed on the roof of New England Pest Control in Providence, and cumberlandite (RI’s state rock).

So, thank you Utah, you’ve been great! We report to work on August 29. I kind of feel like breaking out the Rebecca Black and singing off key: "We so excited! We so excited!" Does anyone want to rent our house? 

  Jesse took this picture on the way to his interview. We named him Ralph.