Monday, May 25, 2015

That May when Utah Valley Moved to Portland

I have lived in the high Utah Desert for five years now. Sheesh! That used to be my deadline max! “I give it 3-5 years”, I used to say when we first moved here. Funny how time just sneaks up on you like a pair of wild wrinkles around your eyes.

I have lived through snow dumps and icy roads, through high winds that pick up furniture and large trash containers and carry them down the street, as an unwelcome present to your neighbors. I have seen bigger hail than ever before, and even bigger rainbows than ever before, too.

But never in five years have I seen so much rain for this long in this Valley! We have had nothing but daily rain for the past three weeks. Some days, I even forgot the count of time since last I saw the sun in the sky! For three weeks, I keep telling myself: “This weekend is the weekend I am putting my garden in”. And for three weeks, I have been putting it off, because there is nothing but a mud pit out there and no break in the skies, and colder than cold temps, too.

To the many laughs and chuckles of my East Coast and Romanian family, I even threatened I would go out and buy some rubber rain boots, just so I can sink myself freely in the mud and plant my tomatoes, nonetheless! “Rubber rain boots in the desert?!” – they smiled dubiously. And I am glad it didn’t come to that!

This past Saturday, I found a window of sunshine in the sky to finally plant my garden. It’s not a big one, as usual, but we did have to move a raspberry bush, and add new soil to the veggies, which made for a pretty decent workout. Now, it would be grand time for the rain to come back and nourish what is finally in the ground, as opposed to all the weeds that have gobbled up all the water so far! But if only rain (and weather) would listen to me!

The veggie beds before: ... a pile of weeds and nothing besides, really ... 
... and the veggie beds after: new veggies lined up like ready little soldiers, planted firmly in the new compost soil.

Our strawberries are sugar sweet this year! I thought, like grapes, they'll be sour from so much rain, but not these: they're a handful of sweetness with fresh, clean mountain air mixed in. 

This is easily the greenest I have ever seen this yard.

I am done threatening the skies and just glad and grateful  that we have a green and fresh yard to look at this Memorial Day weekend. And the tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplants and cucumbers are glad for finding a home, finally too! They had mold in their containers from this much water! Now, they’re happily feeding off of the new compost. Life begins a new cycle!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

London: The Small Big City

Some kids grow up with fairy tale books. I grew up with British Literature. Sure, I had the French one, too, available, but my heart belonged to The Brits. There is some reverence about, an elegance, an order to it all. Unlike the French spirit, which is more haphazard and unexpected, the British folks are serious, balanced and possessed. With unexpected bursts of passion and lots of violence. I have always felt that we’re kindred spirits somewhere, in another life.

When I graduated college, everyone saw me moving to London. I remember my first trip to Margate (County Kent) – I sat down on the sidewalk and cried: I had found home and I never wanted to leave. I loved what I saw of London 19 years ago, in between the stops of the tourist bus that took me there. And I have longed to go back and to take it in at my own pace.

This year, this dream became real. We spent 5 days in London and we savored it. Or at least I did. You know: we always spent time reading about what we will do, and even plan a few things. We asked friends who have been there before what are the “must see”-s, we asked co-workers who live there how to effectively spend our limited time there. We took notes and we built an online portfolio of ideas, plans, pictures, “to see”, “to eat”, “to visit” things … And the minute we get off the plane and we get sucked into the first London cab, we let ourselves be swallowed by the whirlwind which is this old and beautiful city. We get carried away, and as one of my London friends said, we keep walking on to discover the magic behind every corner. And this curiosity becomes the only thing that drives us onto our journeys … Just like that, in an instance, the online portfolio is a thing of the past!

And magic this city has. I enjoyed the history lessons the most. I guess, after living in The States for 17 years, I was almost forgetting how heavy with history Europe really is. Every place we visited was a reminder of how old that country really is, and now young America is, by comparison. Not only every place we visited, but every wall and every statue we passed.

My husband’s favorite spot was Westminster Abbey. It is a strange place, really: a bit gloomy, more a huge mortuary than a true church. You step on graves and the names on them give you chills: Shakespeare, Dryden, Cromwell, Elizabeth I, Mary of The Scotts and so on … Like I said: my “fairy tales” …

My favorite spot was a somewhat “obscure” one – it was not something we planned to see, something we stumbled upon quite by accident: The National Gallery Museum in Trafalgar Square. We went in just to kill some time and because it was free. The amount of renowned Renaissance and Baroque painters whose works were exposed was astonishing! I thought I would have to make special trips to Madrid, Paris, or The Hermitage to see some of this art with my own eyes!

I mentioned before that we “kept walking” to discover what’s behind every corner, and with just one exception of the first day of the trip when we took a double decker bus to The Tower of London, we did indeed walk everywhere. We stayed in the Covent Garden area and we walked to Trafalgar, and Buckingham Palace and Westminster Square, and Waterloo Bridge. We stopped here and there, for snacks and beer, in between the history lessons.

And that brings me to my second huge surprise of the trip: whoever tells you Brits can’t cook have not been to England! Or … they lived in America way too long and their taste buds are damaged by too much cheese and butter! London folks know what to do with their meat and potatoes, let me tell you! Meat tastes like meat, not cheese, not bbq sauce, not soy, and etc. Potatoes are not greasy and tasting like oil – they taste like spuds! I did not have one bad dish there, and I tried their traditional food (fish and chips and bangers and mash) as well as other foreign cuisines, too, like Indian, Thai, even Italian – all delicious! My favorite, believe it or not, was breakfast toast (no butter – yes!) and the assortment of jams and preserves that they served it with. And yes, we had lots of beer, tea as well as gin, of course.

Although it is a busy and bustling city, we always felt safe here. There are policemen at literally every corner and bend in the road, in parks, museums and security at every hotel door. After walking the streets of Covent Garden for five days, we felt like we lived in a little borough, really, not a huge metropolis!  

I will leave you with the pictures from this trip. I wish you could smell the streets – a mixture of gas, cold spring air, and dust; I wish you could hear the incredibly noisy streets, half traffic and half construction work – a city always renewed, reinvented and restored; I wish you could see the richness of people’s races and cultures walking these streets; I wish you could taste the food – strong flavors, full of personality and uniqueness, without being loud; I wish you could be amazed at the spotless sky we had for 5 days straight and ask yourselves if you really are in the UK; I wish you could hear the steps of history chasing you on every alley, stories of torture and jealousy, betrayal and revenge. I wish you could smell The Thames and imagine that Dickens’s benches smelled that much more. I wish you could go and discover your London. It’s to each their own. 

An old landmark: The Houses of Parliament on River Thames: click on the picture for the whole album.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I was told I was born a “big baby”. I am told I am a “small woman” now. It’s all relative and a matter of perspective, I guess.

I was born in another world. Quite literally. It was called Romania then. I call my world North America – occasionally Romania now. It’s a giant leap and not only in geography!

There was no email 40 years ago. No World Wide Web, either.
No iPhones, iPads or anything “Apple” for that matter (well, of course, outside The Beatles, but that’s another story).

Microsoft was founded only 5 days before I was born. Countries like: Russia, Slovakia, Moldova, Armenia were not sitting on their own on the maps of the world.
Same sex marriage was not recognized by any country in the world, and I was born under a dictatorship. Today, I live in the allegedly most democratic country in the world. Allegedly. There is always perspective, you see,  and interpretation.

The original World Trade Centers were barely 2 years old! You know where they are today.

Cell and cordless phones were not commercially available. I grew up with rotary phones and phones lines that “coupled” people (strangers) on the same numbers. So, you had to “yield” if your neighbor was making the call before you got a chance to.

I was born in a blizzard, in April, in a poor family, and my parents were full time students. I was born in a world were dads were not allowed in the maternity room at delivery time. I probably saw my dad days after I was born, and I was cleared to have contact with the outside world. Or rather, he saw me …

It was a small world. A bleak world. A far away one. But full of fire. Full of potential, desire, brains, and drive. To some extent, a world with a limited horizon, except if you were my parents. My parents knew that their kids will have the power to dream – and they were there to encourage it and to kindle the fire under our dreaming, so we can take off. And as with everything, they, of course, were right. We did take off.

I still hear my mom say “40 years is a lifetime”. And you know what, looking back from where I am standing now … it really is! I am seeing myself through these years, growing, maturing, succeeding, but most of all, most importantly, failing, and failing hard. I took some royal falls, that cannot be mended with a band aid or cured with an aspirin! But I also had amazing dreams come true, wild, insanely unrealistic dreams become reality. I have watched people’s extreme happiness and deepest sadness all the same, and all of it dug deep wrinkles in my forehead and even deeper in my heart.

I lost people that helped me grow, that tended to me when I was too small to take care of myself – all my grandparents, relatives that helped my parents raise me and my sister. I lost dear friends to horrible diseases. I lost pets I loved like my children. But I also gained amazing love and wonders in my husband, and my nephews. I gained renewed strength and built memories with all the friends that I have made over the years. Friends I have known and loved since middle school. And high school. And college. And since I moved to the US, 17 years ago.

My great grandparents never left their counties, or sometimes their cities. They never saw the sea, or jumped on a plane. My grandparents never even dreamed of leaving the country. I have seen half of Europe, one Asian country and have seen half of the US and the East Coast of Canada. And I still think I have seen nothing compared to most!

I remember when my parents could not figure out how to get back in touch with their best friends from college or high school, just to catch up. I can reach mine, with a click of the keyboard, through Facebook. My friends live nowadays anywhere between Armenia and the UK, Denmark, Italy, Canada and France. “Imagine there’s no countries” is becoming a reality, I suppose.

Looking back, I can tell you, you learn a lot in these 40 years. You can’t help it! Even when you defy learning, learning forces itself onto your throat … And you grow. And you know. Or at least you pretend you do. You gotta show something for this gray hair, I tell ya that much!

I know now that not looking back is a gift. Use it often. Move on, remember, but don’t wallow! Second looks are for losers. And as the song goes, “there is no time for losers”.

Life won’t give you second chances much … er … at all. So, don’t waste your time giving them to others. Trust me – people will disappoint you every chance they get!

Once in a long while, someone will leave you speechless with their generosity, love and, yes, even sanctity! Embrace it, and thank God you met them! Then, try to return that favor.

Always be honest with yourself, even if it makes you bleed! Lying to yourself is the biggest, most hopeless hole you can get dig yourself into, and no one will ever give a damn to pull you out of it! 

Don't ever, and I mean, not even when you're craving that big mansion your sister just bought, or that stupid car your co-worker is leasing for more than your mortgage, don't ever chase someone else's dreams! Just 'cause the world has to have 3 kids, a gray dog, a white picket fence, a house with a basement and a fireplace doesn't make it right for you. And what is right for you is the only thing that matters. Be brave and stubborn enough to figure out what that is! Stop cheating and comparing notes! That's a waste of time! And time is what you can't let to waste ...

Don’t attach strings to anything you give. Give freely. And like a boomerang, life will give it back to you even faster and stronger! I promise that with all my might!

The more you let go, however painful it is, the more you have. I know, it makes no sense, but it’s true.

I never spent much time worrying if I am perfect, so I won’t start now. I know that I am unique, as is everyone else. And that suffices!

I know now that I love cats and dogs much better than most people. And that’s more than just a cliché.

I have always been grateful for the fact that I grew up in communism, and for the rare disease I was born with. The fact that I survived both and am sitting here today, 40 years later, across the world, typing my words in a device few people dreamed they would own one day, 40 years ago, makes me a believer in faith, human strength, loving people and luck. Much luck!

I still won’t spend more than $5 in Vegas, though! I believe in luck, but I am not stupid. Most days, anyway.

I’d still rather buy a book than a pair of shoes. And 17 years of consumerism in America has not changed that!

40 years taught me to say “I love you” often. I say it every day. To my husband, my cat, every time I speak to my family, every chance I get to people that have established themselves in my heart … Time is precious!

The next blink of our eyes could be too late. Again, that is not a cliché. Just think about it: you float on this blue bead of soil and water into the universe. Something sneezes up there, in the whole scheme of the world, and you’re gone! Your being, dreams, hopes, plans for tomorrow, even your most favorite chair positioned just so in front of your fireplace. Poof! Gone. Be mindful. Touch this table, in front of you, and really, really feel it … Remember: this touch, now, is all you got for sure and for real. Make no assumptions!

There are people in the world who are really, really shitty, sick f*cks! But for every one of those, there are hundreds that make this journey worth it!

There comes a day in your life when you realize the fact that your burger was cold at the steakhouse last night is ridiculous; you realize that the new shampoo you just bought that makes your scalp flake is just a gnat in your daily journey. You realize that every breath you take is more important, more sublime and supreme than every time someone broke a promise to you … And you get perspective. And you revel in the amazement of it all!

The one, truest thing I have learned though during this mammoth amount of time came from my dad. He says: “The secret to succeeding in life is to be five seconds smarter than life”. And it’s different for every one of us what that means.  But if you crack that code, I tell you this much: there are no doors! Only possibilities turned into life. 

PS: and you want to hear something else crazy?! I don't feel old yet! Who knew?!