Monday, April 09, 2018

Sweet Reminders …

I remember when Aa. proposed to me. I had no idea he was going to propose, but he had picked this place on top of a mountain, in Utah, and he wanted to propose to me there (I think it was called The Bear's Overlook). We tried to drive to the spot, but the road was barricaded because of winter. So, we found this side trail and took it to see what's out there, and we found the most amazing mountain valley, loaded with red rock that grew out of nothing, an eerie, breathtaking spot, quite out of this world, called The Devil's Kitchen that we had never heard of before ( It ended up being the most perfect spot for our engagement and proposal and it will always be a beautiful reminder that life is part plan, part happenstance, and part magic, and in the end perfect.

Today was my birthday. I think for the first time in a long time, I had no plans for it. I woke up quite cranky this morning and quite sad, like I usually am on my birthday, and with no plans. I wanted to make the plans as we went. We ended up with a full day and a lovely one at that.

The one thing, again, that reminded me that we're seldom in control and yet this is not all bad was how our dinner plan came to be. Or rather lack thereof.
For dinner, I did not have any special cravings and I had no place picked out. But I said “well, if I have to have one dish it would have to be trout (which is sometimes close to impossible). So, we found a restaurant downtown Carrboro that had it on the menu. Aa. said if he must have one thing it would have to be tiramisu for dessert. Well, the same restaurant that had the trout did not have the tiramisu on the dessert menu. But, because I have the most perfect husband and because it was my birthday, he said “well, we'll go, it's your birthday. You get the trout.”

As we walked in and Aa. scanned the Specials board, he pointed to the dessert special. And yep, you guessed it: it was the tiramisu.

It is a small thing. I know. It is maybe so insignificant to most of you. But it speaks volumes to me and I needed to hear this. Especially today, when I am once again, like we all are once a year, at our big crossroads.

Lately several things have off-railed for us, it seems. Some things seem out of control and dragging our lives in weird and painful directions. I have been wanting so painfully hard to be back in control. But today I was reminded: we're not. We seldom if ever are. We need to let go, and let be … and wonderful things will come and wonderful outcomes will happen. We just need to loosen those reins a little bit and leave room for the magic and the coincidence. Que sera, sera … right?!

Let's just hope I remember this next time I want so desperately to keep everything and everyone in line. Let's hope …

Sunday, April 01, 2018

A Picture a Day. March

The smells, the noises, the colors, the capriciousness, the blue skies, the snow, the birds ... of early spring. The new life barely breaking through. 

It was a good March, albeit still too cold! 

This is taken the day all the kids in the country marched for less violence and more control of guns. I thought this was appropriate. Click the picture and scroll through this month's visual notes.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Re-finding Home

We have been back here, in The South, for five months now. It seems surreal to say the least how months just accumulate on one's journey through this life without one as much as noticing it or hearing it. But here we are. We've been Southerners for five months!

It's been a mixture of melancholy, excitement, sadness and joy that I have savored these months with – a mixture that has been, to be honest, unexpected. Joy and excitement I would have expected, maybe even melancholy, but sadness? That was surprising!

There is sort of a sadness to be back. There is sometimes sort of a longing for what we just left behind. I miss the mountains sometimes. I get lost dreaming about my next trip to The West. This, I did not expect.

There is sort of a reset button you have to push when you move anywhere, but especially when you move back to almost square one. But not quite. And it's not easy to do it. The sadness might come also from the fact that the time seems to stand still here. Not much newness in these parts, and my body is saying: “you needed new things, not more of the same old ...”. There is no smart response I can give to that.

There is also a personal time, a time that did move and did grow, and matured elsewhere. This time, all internal to me, lived in the hard and harsh Rockies for a while, got beaten down by canyon winds, and turned red from red rock dust in the desert. This personal, internal time, living mostly in my mind wants to be roaming and climbing trails somewhere far, far away, close to the aspen groves and the rocky peaks.

I try to bring my heart home – but home is now an elusive concept, I guess. I try to rein it in back into the slow flowing Southern hollow … and it keeps wanting to stay wild. And that's where that sadness comes from: being forced to reboot when all your heart wants to do is fly … It also comes, somewhat, from the fact that friends you thought you had seem elusive now and although pretty much next door, they are swallowed by their daily lives and there is no room for you. You have to start anew even with them. But people forget. In Romanian we say that “When people's eyes cannot look into each other's anymore, they look for someone else's.” Such is life!

The truth is, however, this damn weather! It's been horrible since we got back. Probably one of the worst winters we'll ever live to talk about, mostly because we did not expect it to be this cold. The cold alone is enough to drive you bonkers, the lingering cold for days on end.

We tried to get away from it by taking two trips this winter: one to the South Carolina beaches and one to Wilmington, NC. The two trips we took were the only windows we had into really taking in the beauty and the love and the warm welcome that The South has ready for us. The rest of the time, we have been cooped up in the house with the fireplace on and dreaming of far far lands …

If Jung's theory that our ancestors' experiences live deep in our brains amounts to anything, then at least one of my ancestors lived in the American South, at one point. I have no proof of this, and it is probably highly unlikely, but there is something awakened in me when I stroll an old Southern town.

Taking in the architecture, the live oaks, the huge magnolia trees, the endless amount of green lining the cobblestone streets fills my heart with a feeling of the familiar, and of the stuff that “home” is made of. There is a peace, a quiet lull in the speed of life here. The swish of the pine trees outside my house in the silent bright morning. Life is moving slowly here.

Alleyway lined by huge magnolia trees

There is something all-encompassing about olden like oaks. The stories they could tell. 

Strolling on familiar streets has a certain charm to it. Gaping the eyes wide open and losing my retina into the infinite Carolina blue skies connects me to God and beyond. It's a deep connection that I cannot let go of. A connection I craved for several years while away.

I love seeing cardinals in my neighborhood at any old hour. They're happy and feel at home themselves. I love the magnolia blooms which dared to pop despite the crazy weather.
In every grand outdoor staircase of every Colonial house, in every wrap-around porch, under every column, I see like a chimera at least one or two poofy dresses roaming about … Just for a second, and then they're gone. “A civilization gone with the wind ...”

Some of the grand old Colonial homes in Wilmington. You can hear history writing itself at an old rickety table with a squeaky old stylus

Spanish moss has me believing in ghosts again.

Time stood still back when the big mansions were built and they endure today. Manners are not old fashioned, and no one has ever met a stranger. Everyone's everyone else sweetheart, darling, or love. Even the grocery store lady calls us that. We have not met one person that was so much as indifferent to us. Everyone is nice and warm and we count our blessings.

This. This pace, this quiet land, the gratuitous smile of strangers on our weary hearts are balms that cure the longing for far away rocks. These are all reminders that old or new, like it or not, back-paddled or otherwise, we are home. And home is where you start over. And home is where you grow. Looking forward to some nicer weather and more adventures right here, in our new old back yard.

My American life started 20 years ago on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, about a mile away from this very spot. This year, I started my second coming to the South here, too. Just to get perspective, to think, regroup, and recenter. It was as breathtaking, daunting, scary and maddeningly exciting as 20 years ago. This is a sunrise .... 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Picture a Day. February

If it were not for the birthdays of some people I love, February would be, by far, my least favorite month of the year. Lots of painful things happened in my life in February. It's weird: the shortest month seemed to have had the most impact sometimes ... I always let out a long sigh of relief when it's over ... 

This February was an odd one. For the most part, it felt more like a late April than February. The weather felt like maybe we didn't move to North Carolina, after all, but more like South Florida, or somewhere tropical even. 

We're continuing to explore our surroundings, our neighborhood, the cities around us, the rest of the state. We took our first painting class together and we celebrated a whole month of heart health and rare disease awareness ... As always, February is anything but boring. 

Here is my favorite picture taken this month. 

Click it to start seeing the rest of the February shots. Click "next" after each shot to see February 1st through the 28th. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

10 Years

It's been 10 years since I wrote this ( A lot happens to us in 24 hours, so you can imagine that a lot has happened in these 10 years.

I have become an aunt, I have a husband, I have lived clear across this continent and then I came back, I got a 'redesigned' heart, I saw some other countries, and the list can go on a mile long. And yet one of the same three cats is sitting next to me as I write this, 10 years later, and probably the same black dog would recognize him again if he ever came back home. So much and yet so little can happen in a lifetime!

The one thing that's remained a constant through all this time has been my daily thinking and missing him. There are things that remind me of him every day, and that is not an exaggeration. I think of him when baseball season starts; I think of him particularly in March, with Spring Training, and in October, with World Series on. I think of him every time I see Pringles and Milano Cookies on the shelf at the grocery store. I think of him when I watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and I wonder if he would have liked it. I think of him when I hear about a newspaper laying off people or folding. Every such news feels like a piece of my flesh is ripped away from my body. I am sure it would feel the same to him, too.

I miss him when I see a black dog, a random mutt-like, black lab-looking dog, because it reminds me of Floyd and his bond with him. I miss him when the Phillies lose, but I get especially sad when they win!

I miss his wit the most. I still use phrases he taught me and chuckle inside when I meet with a situation that I know how he would have received. I almost know exactly what words he would have used. I still picture his mouth grinning, pushing the dimples deep to the sides, his head tilt, and incredulous stare when I speak about liberal politics.

Lately, I have missed him a lot in this political mess of ours. I wonder daily what he would have thought about this headline or the other, because, boy, you can be sure he would have had a strong opinion on everything. On the other hand, I am glad he was spared the true disgrace and despair that followed some years later. I think it would be safe to say he would hurt for America today.

I thought of him relentlessly when I went through my heart surgery. He was so brave in the face of a forlorn diagnosis, he fought with dignity, with hope, with the eyes wide open of the realist that he was, and – most of all – with grace. I wished, in my direst moments, to have had the grace that he showed in his last year of life.

The huge empty spot he left behind 10 years ago is still left open, like a gaping reminder that he was there. Like all of us, he was unique. He was singular. But only like some of the most special people, did he make a meaningful dent into all our existences. It's the sign of a good life, of a well-lived destiny, however short, when you leave a scar this deep.

Yes, it's been 10 years, and as 10 years show, a lot can happen in that time. But really, all we have on this side of the dirt is not years. What we have is barely minutes. Seconds. Short and shallow breaths! He showed me, and all of us, that not a blink needs to be wasted if we want to have a life to show for ourselves when we're gone.

I saw this quote somewhere and it reminded me of him so. Because, in the end, he was ultimately not afraid: "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."  And in the end, he lived. 

Miss you today, more than any other day, my dear friend, and hoping you're gracing a better place with your presence today, and forever ...

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Picture a Day. A Project. January

Photography is the story I fail to put into words.” ( Destin Sparks)

At the end of the last year, I was pretty disgusted with the world. I still am. Our bar has been lowered so much nowadays that I fail to hang on to what's true, and what's real anymore. And I fail to express what I feel, too. In words, at least. 

But one thing I do know for sure. I know that the world is beautiful. That nature is sacred. That God is in everything ... 

So, instead, I will try (make no promises, really!) to turn to the world and let it speak for itself, in the only way I know how: through images. 

I started this album called "2018 - A Picture a Day", and I am trying to not let any one day go by without capturing a picture in it and recording it there. At the end of the month or of the year they will speak, hopefully, louder than my words could express about what I see, feel, watch, experience. 

Here's looking back at January. Can you believe the first month is gone?! 

Although I have a couple of favorites this month, this is my top one - it captures what this month is the best. I think. Click the picture to see the whole month's photos. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Beyond “The Post”

I'll tell you a story from a long, long time ago – almost 30 years.

I grew up in Communism, through my 15th year of life. This was your textbook communism, with a dictator at the top and a government so loyal to him there was no room to pry it with a crowbar. The government was made up of not only loyalists to the president, but mostly by his close family members: all the children, his wife, and then extended family.

It was the Communism you (should) learn about in school, where regular people like you and me, regular civilians are forced to believe whatever the one leader of the country says. I took propaganda lessons that I had to pass an exam on every year (these were enforced, you had no choice) for the first eight years of my school life. I had friends whose parents were interrogated and sometimes killed in beatings because they would not think whatever the government wanted them to think. The books we were allowed to read were “edited” by the government, to match the propaganda. Some brave people still had the original copies of uncensored books, but they ripped up their true covers and they wrapped the copies in the covers of the “approved” books, so that the Security police who came searching their homes would not suspect they had “dirty” copies of the censored books.

The local and national papers were all government-controlled. So was the one TV channel the whole country had access to and the one radio channel, too. There was nothing printed, or broadcast on TV or radio that was not controlled by the government. If your radio could reach The Voice of America broadcast, or Radio Free Europe, you'd go to jail for a long, long time, and you would never come out, quite often. As I said: textbook Communism.

And then, when I was almost 15, The Revolution came. One night, a handful of people, lead by mostly writers, artists, and students overthrew the regime, killed the dictator and his wife and we were, dare I say it, free. During that one night, we were cautiously, and very frighteningly, elated by the possibility, by the hope, and the dream, that our little country could possibly now be free. Free to express ourselves, to think what we wanted to think, free to choose our profession without it being chosen for us, free to buy whatever we wanted, in whatever much quantity we wanted to buy!

That one night my dad asked me to tell him just ONE reason for which I am happy that communism is now extinct in Romania. Just ONE reason. So, I told him: I am happy they are gone because now we can have freedom of the press, and freedom of the written word. Now, whenever I read a newspaper or a book, I said, I will be sure I am getting the true writing, intended by the writer, and not whatever a party loyalist deemed to be “appropriate” for me to read.

Many moons later, I am in the US of A, till recently deemed the “most free country in the World”, my dream of being her citizen fulfilled, and I see with my own eyes something that I never thought I would see again: I see how politicians attack the press, deeming it untruthful and lying, while they proclaim to their supporters that they, and only they and their loyals, have the whole truth and nothing besides. And the unbelievable happens: the supporters (for they are painfully many) believe this.

It's happening again: I am telling you, dear friends, from personal experience, and not from what someone taught me about Hitler, or Stalin: the first institution a dictator smears and tries to kill is the press. The first value they kill is free speech. Their very first step is to denigrate it. And for us, here, in the US, at least for now, this works

The reason, of course, is simple. But blinded as we are in America, by the freedom we have taken for granted for many years, and by the ignorance a mediocre school system and an even more mediocre political education system encourages, we do not see this simple reason: it's the press, and anyone who defends free speech, that must be killed first in order for the leader to manipulate the population however they please. The press makes people think. Tyrants have no need for people's thinking, because the only thoughts that matter to them are theirs. They deny everything else of value, because of the huge ego that they lead with which has to be the one, the only, governing power and focus over all the minions. How else do you submit them?!

There is a very important reason and not a coincidence, that your First Amendment (and not the second or the third) protects free speech. Without free speech, you have no democracy. The rest of the amendments are optional in a democracy. Without free speech you have dictatorship. You have easy mind control, and you have tyranny. Period. End of story. No arguments. History has proven this very big platitude for hundreds of years now. No more proof needed.

The press is and will always be, in my mind, and as a matter of fact, the one defender of free speech. By its very nature, it must be. I recently saw the movie The Post, which is a pretty good story, well done, for many reasons. It resonated with me from many perspectives, not only because of my government-controlled upbringing years, but also from the perspective of being a former newspaper employee and a good (I think) friend to many people who are still in this business or still respect it.

And then I read comments from random people online who said that (I quote from memory because I am too disgusted to go get the actual quote) “I am not going to spend my money on this very clearly far left political propaganda movie. After I have seen enough in the past year and a half to know not to trust these rags.” (referring, perhaps to The Post in particular and newspapers in general?!) This just about broke the camel's back for me.

I have seen these comments (and oh, so much more!) online for the past two years now (and who hasn't, if you're paying attention?!), that Trump and “them” are all good and right and it's the media that makes them look bad. The belief of the ordinary American nowadays is that newspapers and news outlets, somehow are all on this platform to lie about everything Trump, and he, somehow, is the only one telling the truth. This boggles my mind, in a way, and in another: I can totally see what he's doing and how … it's working for so many people, and to our detriment! The Communism in my little country, just as Nazism in Germany was seemingly the “will of the people” when first instated.

Just to make sure I get it out there: I am not endorsing The Post, or any other particular newspaper or news outlet. I am just endorsing the thinking, inquisitive, and ever truth searching human mind. The Post (in the movie and in the past few years) has just merely exposed mostly (if not always in entirety) verifiable truths that should at least make us think of where we get our news and who we can trust. All this while our political leaders have done nothing but stepped from one wasp nest into another, amongst law suits, mystery accusations, revolving doors of firing and hiring for key-level positions, and yes, lies. A lot of lies that have been proven not once, or twice, but multiple times by many sources to be just that. But I am getting ahead of myself, because I do not want to keep this entry specific to a particular regime, person, or time in history. The lesson that The Post, the movie, teaches us, I think, is much deeper, and much larger than any one reality.

Anyone who knows me and has read my blogs knows: I rarely do politics, but these things had to be said:

  • Politicians lie. No matter which side of the aisle you're on, even the best of them, even the ones I deem to be my favorite, most inspiring, true in character and morality, they all lie. For whatever reason, security, or politics, they all lie. Little lies, big lies, they all do it. They seldom apologize for it, and they seldom get caught. They have armies of staff to bury the evidence. This is not conspiracy theory, this is fact.
  • After spending 10 years amongst journalists, I am here to tell you: they lie much, much less than any politician I have ever experienced. For obvious reasons, but if you're having trouble knowing what they are, I will spell some of them for you:
    • Their lies are 100% verifiable and they have zero protection against them. They have no secret police, no PR protecting them. It's their word against the mountain of evidence, and their lies, if they happen, are very short lived.
    • Their lies are insular: if one reporter or even one paper lies, and it is a legitimate lie, the rest of the papers will live with one goal in mind and that is to prove the truth. There is no way, in my experience, that all (or most of) the news outlets in the nation lie about the same one time. Report the same thing, sure? But not after much source vetting do they all publish the same thing in every outlet.
    • Their lies are almost always 100% suicidal: they will never write for a paper/ media institution again if they are found, and they will die of hunger – quite plainly.
    • More than any other profession I have ever been exposed to, journalists keep each other accountable. They have this incredible pride in what they do that they do not allow doubt to seep into their business, at any cost: they know that if they lie, their peers, and their competitors will prove them wrong and all will be lost – their credibility is much more important to them than any one story in all its sensationalism.
      I should mention here that I am speaking of journalists who represent legit sources, your Posts, Times, your NPR come to mind but are just a couple, of course – there are thousands out there. I am not referring to your tabloids and scandal reporting, which I hardly would call “journalism”.
  • Journalists, unlike politicians, do not have the power, therefore there is nothing to abuse. They cannot sway the masses in one way or another. Sure, they can try, but you won't get 100 news institutions swaying in the same direction. There is competition, point of view, difference of opinion (which is the foundation of the news landscape, really) that news institutions thrive on and need for their mere survival. Tyrannical, one-opinion minded politicians need uniformity and conformity. Diversity is chaos to them, and they want it put out, for fear of undermining them.
  • Another thing I see very clearly in our current political system: the need of the main leader to be surrounded by either family, or people stupider or less prepared (Gosh, is it even possible anymore?!) than themselves. This is, of course, also done in an effort to make them look like the only authority and supreme source of knowledge. This is typical, my friends, of tyranny. Mind my words: textbook!

In the many years I spent at a daily newspaper, I have learned that there is one thing that moves a true journalist: the chase for the true story, the meaning of it, the history of it, and getting all those facts on paper. They skip meals, they work crazy hours, they drive distances on their (very puny) salary to get to the true meaning of a story. It is probably childish and silly to say this, but I am going to say it: they don't want to manipulate, they just want people to know the real story. I don't even think they care whether anyone agrees with them or not. Getting the story is their prerogative, and theirs alone. Writing, in any form, is a pretty solitary business, and so is chasing that story for them. There is a pride in that, a true sense of accomplishment that they're after. And most of them do it with passion and grace. I am yet to find the work ethics and dedication in a work place like the ones I knew in the newspaper business!

From knowing what I know about politics, these are foreign concepts to people in the leadership of this country, or any other, really. Before you slap me for my puerile credulity, I will tell you that no, I don't believe all reporters tell the truth. But I will say that most of them do, for the reasons I briefly shared above, and possibly a lot more. I will also know, deep down in my heart, that politicians will lie to just about anyone, about just about anything to save their rung on their ladder.

Surviving for the journalist equates with the truth. For the politician, survival is keeping in power, however you can hold on to it. This is why you see politicians not conceding races right away: because they think there is always a way they could have won that power.

After our elections, I have thought we could not lower ourselves in a deeper darkness and mire. But I was wrong, for the true walk through the darkness can only now begin: us turning a blind eye, not staying vigilant, not demanding our press to stay free and open and yes, controversial and competitive, is what is going to slip us surely into the deep and muddy and empire of darkness which will ultimately threaten our very being.

The last thing we need is one person to tell us how it is, and us not to interpret and weigh in on our decisions and options. One person to offer us one pill of knowledge and us run with it, without questions and doubts. Sure, thinking is hard. But trust me: falling asleep and waking up with someone else's brain in your head is much, much harder to stomach!

I do think that one line from The Post summarizes the whole movie, the events that it depicts quite beautifully and the lesson those events drive home. I also think that this one line carries a much heavier message about why it is still important to trust the written word, and to value the right to public opinion, and why it is still and will always be important in a true democracy to do everything we can to preserve the right to free speech. That line is, in paraphrase: “Journalism is the first rough draft of history.” If we don't know our history, we're doomed to repeat it. The good but especially the bad of it. We owe it to our children to help that, if we can. And we can. We may not want to (it's tough work, I get it), but we certainly can.