Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Old Traditions, New Customs ...

I have thought lately of all the traditions the various “families” I have been fortunate to have over the years follow for Christmas … I have thought about how I want to have a piece of every one of them, and yet make my own. I think this year was a good start for this.

Aa. wanted a log cabin for Christmas. I wanted snow. I know – always hardest to please! And as luck, or fate, or just chance would have it, we got both. We rented a log cabin on the grounds of Autumn Creek Vineyards, in Mayodan, NC, and about a week before Christmas, we had lots of snow. After that, we had lots of cold-cold days that ensured we still had snow on the ground when we got there.

Our faerie - like living room at the cabin.

We didn’t go crazy with gifts. Just some things that we both knew the other liked, that represented us, or that we needed. We went away on December 23rd, and returned on Christmas Day. I cooked a couple of dishes, and I had the traditional Romanian cold cuts and ham plate with bread all made up, we took drinks and of course we bought wine at the place we stayed. We had the cabin all to ourselves, complete with a fire, and a Christmas tree. We had dinner out the first night there, but we had all the breakfasts in.

For the first time in a long time for me, we hiked in the snow, in the nearby Hanging Rock Park on Christmas Eve. The hike was beautiful! A perfect, cloudless day, with squeaking snow under our feet and nothing but the sound of wind in the swishy, paper-like ruffling of dry trees.

The woods had a Robert Frost - like majestic quality about them: their frozen beauty and serene silence made our souls as pure as the snow and as fresh as the cold that enveloped us. We took our time on the icy trails, played with the cameras, watched for weird paw or foot prints everywhere, and admired the beauty of the simple nature gone quiet for the winter. The usually vibrant rhododendron was sad looking, but stoic, nonetheless. The snow was solid mercury, under the strong light of the sun – unbothered by clouds.

We climbed several of these steep, treacherous stairs, full of packed snow and ice.

We went home with red cheeks and chapped lips and we turned on the fire. Aah, the wonders of advanced technology: we can “build” a fire no longer. I guess we cannot have everything.

I prepared the Christmas dinner, which is another Romanian tradition: we typically eat that on Christmas Eve. We had warm and fresh dishes that complemented the cold endured during our hike that day well. Then, we opened presents and had some more sweet wine. If you do like sweet wine, the Autumn Creek Mayo River White Muscadine is to die for! And since we’re both word people, we also played Scrabble.

The cabin was wonderful, too! Everything in there was so nicely done! Very tasteful, and not “loud” , nor cheesy– just nature shades of brown, green and gold and natural textures of wood (mainly), ceramics and leather. I loved how they use bark to decorate the inside roof, the crown molding and the base boards. It was like being in the tree house I have always wanted but never had.

The master shower was luxurious and complicated – not something you’d think you’d find at a rustic retreat, but somehow it fit the rest of the high end and classy fixtures, as well. The smell of the wood logs took over our sinuses as we walked into the simple mud room. That was exactly what I lived for all year: that smell!

I used to open the train car’s windows when I went to the mountains as a kid when I knew we were getting closer, just to smell the fresh scent of lumber. That’s how I knew we had but mere miles to go! That smells still remains imprinted in my brain as the most soothing scent of home.

The next day, on Christmas, we had breakfast and headed back home in the rain. And I must say: it was perfect timing, too. Great to wake up with the soothing sound of the rain on the metal roof while you’re enveloped in the warmth of wood and heavy comforters, and know that it’s your last day, so you’re not missing much, since you would not be able to play outside anyway.

It was a short distance from Greensboro (less than an hour), but miles and years away from its crazy pace of every day chores and engagements! It was a warm getaway for the two of us, a priceless retreat for our new love, and new family, and a beautiful spot to start our new tradition.

No matter where our real or symbolic log cabin will be every Christmas from now on, whether in our own home, or rented, whether with other friends or family, we will try to always have our table bountiful and glasses filled, our hearts open and to be surrounded by peace, quiet, love and hopefully, if we’re good that year, snow, too.

Thank you for a wonderful Christmas, honey! The first one of innumerable ones to come, I hope!

I love you …

Our first Christmas together. Please click on the picture
to view all the shots from this trip.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Small Town … Anywhere

So, we’re off to Mayodan, NC … We planned on spending Christmas at this cool log cabin outside of this small town, but for our first night there, we wanted to eat out … Mountain Side Restaurant came with high recommendations from the folks that hosted us and we did try to make it happen. But we were to find out, small town Mayodan had other plans for us …

I have always wondered if people in really small towns have slower pulse rates than the rest of the world. The world seems slower, and the life seems braked when you’re in a small town. Everything is measured by its own measure, and it’s timed by its own timer in a small town. Directions are approximate, and the world is small. Really small!

After all, our own log cabin folks have told us before “if you get lost out here, you might could find us, but otherwise, you can’t” – or is it “cain’t”?! They come with their own dictionary and grammar, the small towns do!

Although the above mentioned restaurant had a link to our log cabin host’s website, we figured we asked for directions at the log cabin, just because the restaurant had not one, but two … addresses … on their own site… We were not sure whether they’re on Main Street, or Ayersville Rd. Isn’t everything on Main Street, in a small town, you’d ask?! Well, we thought so, too, but …

So, before we headed out to dinner, we asked our hostess (by the extremely thick Southern drawl, a local) where we would find this fine place, The Mountain Side Restaurant: is it on Main? Or Ayersville? She proceeded, ever more puzzled: “I b’lieve it’s Ayersville. Well, it’s Main, really! You go down a biiiiggg hill (or is it “heel”?!), and then you go up another hill (remember, we were in a place “that you might could find if you’re lost”, so it could be any hill from there…) and then you keep going, and going till you see a fire station on your right. No! On your left! And then you just keep going and you’re looking for a lodge-looking, cottage-y thing, and that’s that!”. I swear to you her directions were verbatim the ones above. Or about 95% close to that!

So, we try to follow those directions and we also have a GPS with the Ayersville Rd. address punched in. Even the GPS is approximate: it cannot find 401 on Ayersville Rd. , but it suggests 600. And we get nowhere near a fire station. There are hills. Up. And down. But which ones are we looking for? Where do we declare the hill chase done?! We are getting nowhere.

We then try the Main street address the site listed. And we get nowhere with that, either. Then, we call. And we find out they are in fact on Ayersville. But they’re closed for the night, because their main water line is busted, and they had to close down!

So, we’re thinking: the water cannot possibly be broken because of the winter temperatures? Sure, there is snow around, but it’s been 40F degrees for the past week! That’s not cold enough for the water to freeze, and thus pipes to break. But go figure …

So, famished, we keep driving in the dark, on Main Street, looking for a place that looks open and sells some food. We hope to find anything else other than McDonalds or Pizza Hut open. The town looks dead. It’s barely 6 PM, and everything is dark, with no cars parked in front. And no traffic! This is December 23rd. Greensboro has bumper-to-bumper traffic and security men directing traffic at all intersections of shopping centers. Mayodan has emptiness on Main Street! Pretty fast we’re reminded that we’re in Small Town USA, and our hearts need to stop beating that fast! Or expecting life to move that fast, at least.

We finally come across a Steak House but Aa. is saying “No. That’s closed”. I see four cars in front and the Open sign lit up, so I beg to differ and I park! The place is open. Once we enter it, it feels like a cave from Twin Peaks opened in front of us. There are maybe four tables taken, and the place feels more like a diner than a steak house per se. It’s slow. People talk slow. And walk slow. And order a burger very slow, as if a burger is such a complicated order. I order a Caesar Salad, and the waitress is dubious that I would like the dressing. I guess it’s an unusual order and people sometimes are turned off by the anchovies or garlicy taste of the Caesar dressing in that place?? I know: I am presumptuous! And I assure her I love the dressing.

You know this is a small town when the boyfriend of the hostess is waiting for her to finish her shift in the lobby, so he can probably take her home. So he can make sure she’s not hit on by the patrons – all two of them that happen to be single wandering in that night … It’s cute.

The food is mediocre, at best. They heard about boiling noodles but definitely not of seasoning them … I suspect they don’t get Emeril on TV to tell them that “noodles don’t come seasoned” or they don’t have the curiosity to listen to that channel. Again: presumptuous!

On our way out, the hostess is “taking a break” since all the 10 patrons for the night – probably the busiest night since Valentine’s Day, since it’s almost Christmas and everyone’s family must be in town, going out “at the Steakhouse” to eat – are settled in. The boyfriend is holding her as if she were his own private property, and he’s wishing us well, sort of like “the man of the house”, and he warns us : “Bundle up, y’all! It’s gonna be killer out there tonight!”. We both chuckle. The forecast calls for 35F at night – hardly what a Michigan boy and a Romanian gal would call “killer” for a winter night … We’re suspicious!

But maybe we were wrong … Maybe as everything else is different in small towns everywhere, maybe water, and people’s noses and toes do freeze above 32F … in small towns … Maybe noodles are meant to taste like drained hot water in these towns and that’s their local taste! Who knows?! Not us, “city people” for sure … We should not judge. The noodles might not have flavor up there. But every dark street corner and nameless hill and person does.

After all. We go there to visit. Not to blend in. We would not be able to do the latter. And in our speedy passing, we only but skim the surface of the life which indeed must go on under what seems to be the reality of a small town from anywhere by the eyes of an outsider.

We left tired and hungry . And smiling with pleasure. Full of the charm that is not to be found in the big city where temperatures, speeds and directions are as exact as a Physics manual. And just as boring!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Thoughts

For all of you “regulars” out there, you are probably wondering where is my peeved Christmas blog of the year? The one where I bitch about traffic, selfish folks and hounds-like sales people … So, I guess, I am past due …

Only this year might be a little different than most others … Maybe …

First off, I wonder where in the world “the recession” is! Definitely not in The US! Or not in Greensboro, NC! Friendly Shopping Center is just as hard to drive through as any other year. Stores are still full, lines are interminable and people are crazy, impatient, and can’t drive for doo-doo, either! Just like always … A woman is arguing with her mom over whether her sister will like a brown or a beige sweater – which to seems immaterial to me … People across the board are buying “snuggies”! Should I say any more?!?

This is, just like any other year, a year for plenty of useless presents under the tree, like good ol’ America has taught us as a tradition for many decades now! Macy’s will survive, after all!

So, yeah, whatever recession NBC or FOX is talking about … I am not seeing it …

But this Christmas has been sort of different, so far, on a personal level, though … I have only bought practical and rational things for my share! No snuggies here! Just things I know people want (for sure!) and can enjoy, or things that will be memorable. I hope! My folks finally got my presents a couple of weeks before Christmas, which is an accomplishment (instead of after New Year’s!) , so I planned ahead! And the rest of my crowd will get thoughtful gifts, I hope, but no uselessness. No waste. Small gifts, but meaningful. I hope. So, I guess I am more conservative, more “recession” aware myself … Maybe.

I have also been impressed by the amount of vendors, especially restaurants that offer a lot of deals around these times. Just coupons, and discounts for people who want to have a meal in style on a budget. I was shocked by the avalanche of coupons from everywhere. There are definitely deals out there, people! Open your junk mail and buy your paper! There is good stuff! I appreciated the effort of our retailers that wanted our business but understood we need help affording it. Now, that’s thoughtfulness!

One thing that did peeve me was … all the places that had “suggestions” flyers, and such. You got to Fresh Market, they have suggestions of what you can serve for dinner or snacks for Christmas. You go to Chick-Fil-a, they have suggestions about what you should fill up your stockings with. Really?!?! We need all this help?! What happened with our own thoughtfulness and care into what we buy for our loved ones and what we make a tradition out of cooking for Christmas?! In this world where we have the cell phone, the tv, the DVR, and the GPS working and thinking for us, do we really need help thinking tradition for Christmas, too?!? Should we retire our brains and let the retailers make Christmas for us next year?! Sad. In my book!

This Christmas also made me melt when I heard some stories of charity. Not only the familiar ones, ones of which I have been part of, like feeding the homeless and such, but stories of people giving up their Christmas bonus, however small, for people less fortunate. At work, we got $50 gift cards to various grocery stores. But they only went to benefited employees. The part timers, got nothing. Some benefited employees, although on a slim budget themselves, gave up theirs towards a draw which will allow some part timers to have a grocery card, too, and have a Christmas meal for their families, also, a meal which might not have happened if it were not for this card, maybe. In this world, of newspapers going out of business and so many people losing jobs, this made me melt! True charity is born out of not much, and giving, all at the same time. So moving!

We live in a caring world, sometimes, don’t we?! People might be hungry, but they still have a heart! I know it’s a cliché, but it’s what Christmas should be all about. Charity just because, for people who really need it. No snuggies. Please!

My food is cooked, and my wine is bought, and my grape leaves rolled! My sweetie is coming to town tomorrow, so my heart is settled! So, Christmas can start tomorrow if it wants to! And the snow we just got today … makes it all the more perfect.

I hope all of us have a quiet and peaceful Christmas … With lots of light, laughs, good food, and good people around us. I hope we’re full of hope and wonder for the next year and we all open our hearts to each other, friend, or stranger, so we can receive the fullness and richness that is out there for us to enjoy …

No worries, just endless blessings to all of us!

Make it a safe and happy one, everyone!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Mountains

The mountains are calling and I must go.” (John Muir)

Lucian Blaga will tell you: our life and frame of mind are forever molded by the landscape in which we grew up and in which we formed as individuals. Although I grew up in various landscapes, I think the one that most marked me was the mountainous one, in the Northern part of Romania called Bucovina.

That land of half reality and half myth, that land of mixture between sky and earth, heaven and hell will forever be imprinted in my brain and mostly in my heart. And that landscape also made sure that any mountain, from any continent, from under any other sky, will forever speak to me in languages only decipherable by me alone.

One of my life long friends who grew up right alongside with me in Bucovina told me once: “A., you and I love the mountains because we know that mountains are not to be looked at with our eyes. They are not just pretty views. They are to be listened to and felt. With and through our hearts. And we do that.”

As long as I’ll live and have a functioning brain, I shall never forget that! Thank you, M. I am so blessed for my friends!

My aunt will tell you also that she has never seen me so happy, so transformed, and so quiet than when I look at a mountain. They are my home. They are my altar.

There is something magical that happens when I find myself in the middle of mountains. It’s the ultimate coming home. Like I have said before: nothing brings me closer to God than a church and mountains. Nothing resembles a church to me like the mountains. And their woods.

Because I grew up over several seasons inside of them, I know every noise and every smell they treasure. I know the smell of the fresh soil in the spring, when ice breaks from the peaks and the rivers swell. I know the sounds of the swelling rivers, the eager, chatty spring birds, and the ominous, solemn owls in the nights. I know what a star flooded summer sky looks like, and what it feels like to feel like you’re drowning into galaxies when you lay on your back on a pile of hay and absorb the millions of constellations in your retinas.

I know the smell of cow manure in the spring, and the one of freshly dry hay in the late summer. I know the sweetness of the wild strawberries and raspberries, the tartness of fresh blueberries and the cranberries too. I know raspberries always come full of white warms that you have to shake off before you eat the fruit.

Have you ever had milk freshly milked? When you see specs of fat floating on the surface and it smells like cow skin?! It's liquid fat. Have you ever smelled a freshly "delivered" lamb or calf? They smell like life: bold and bloody. Ready to fight and determined make it. So visceral, it makes your skin crawl and imbues you with gusto of living.

I know the pain and the joy of picking mushrooms all day, through peaks and ravines, slipping and sliding, and the reward of cooking them for dinner and tasting the pine needles in them. And the fresh air.

And God, I know the air! The freshness and crispness. It’s cold but only just barely! It’s what my grandma used to call “ a handful of health “. If health would be quantifiable it would be measured in mountain air breaths.

And their people. Not of many words but of so many wisdoms! There is nothing they don't know. Their eyes are deep pools of knowledge, and of life. They have seen and listened and they know. Their arms have birthed those lambs and have cut the hay every summer. They have built houses, have cradled babied and made love. They are the definition of self-sufficiency. They borrow the permanence from the landscape and the freshness and delicateness from it too. They know how to listen and only to echo when the wind is right.

Nothing in the world soothes me and gives me better perspective on life, pain, health, joy, happiness, the now, like a wide open mountain vista. The mountains – tall, quiet and relentless – and the valley, small and full of life, and dramas, and stories, and secrets. The contrast and the similarities between the two. I have always felt like there is no rock that’s random in the mountains – any mountains: they each tell a story for anyone who has their heart open to listen.

I have always felt like time always stands still there. It will be there, 10 years from now, waiting for you, forever patient. Why would they rush? To what? For what?!

It’s been my life long dream to have a life of my own amongst them. I hope I will. Soon.

Here’s a peek at my own latest mountains. And the ones that will be my home. Soon.

On the way to Midway, UT from Sundace: the most perfect marriage: mountains, calm lakes and skies. Just un touched harmony. Click on the picture for the whole album.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Proposal

“And I don't regret the rain
Or the nights I felt the pain
Or the tears I had to cry
Some of those times along the way
Every road I had to take
Every time my heart would break
It was just something that I had to get through
To get me to you …”  (Lila McCann – To Get Me To You )

They will tell you that “every little girl dreams of her wedding day”. Well, I am here to tell you that this one (meaning me) isn’t. Wasn’t, actually. I never spent any sort of time thinking how my wedding day will be. For one thing, I hate the puffy dresses! And for another, I never believed I was going to get a wedding day!

I know: this is strange, coming from a woman who’s been married before, but really: never given any thought about it. I used to threaten dad that I would be married in jeans on a desert island, and my first wedding came pretty close to that threat.

All my life, if I have ever searched for anything, it was not a wedding day, but a great, twin kind of friendship in a perfect partner!

Where I come from, people are stars. And most of us have our twin star. And we believe when we find our twin star, we will live happily “ever after”. Only I believed all my life that my twin star was a shooting star, so he must have fallen, at some point, into nothingness. I continued through life alone, lonely and single. And I stopped searching. Really. Well, hoping I am wrong, sure. But not hopeful enough.

And without hope, and with much faith, I found him. And he gave me all I could ever want and then some. He not only gave me the twin brain I was looking for, but also the deep understanding of who I am, and why I am this way – seen in the most perfect mirror. Even the most self assured need approval, you know.

He is the one I have always thought to be with, because he reads me like a book, even when I am silent. He is like the rock I have always envisioned: there for me, even in the most frightening storm. He has guts and he has a mushy heart. Just the perfect combination!

On the day he asked me to join him on his life’s journey, he picked the perfect spot, cooked the most perfect breakfast and had the most wonderful conversations ready. That’s how you know you found him – when he gives you the most perfect day, just because: he picked the spot I would pick to start a journey, or reflect on my past and regroup. He gave me the food I most crave (bacon, of course). Picked the most perfect sweet wine for dinner. Climbing on top of a 7000 ft mountain and looking in the valley, as if looking at my past and towering over it, victorious, is what I would have picked when restarting any of my journeys. He knows my love for mountains, and he builds on it, as I would.

He knows me and cherishes me, and scolds me when I need it. As I always tell him, and thank him for it: “he makes sure my head stays the right size”, while loving me completely and unconditionally. I cannot tell you enough about the man I love and with whom I am about to step into a new life. I can never find the words to describe our relationship, or our love. It’s just that sublime! And yet so easy.

It comes so natural, that it scares me. It’s just as simple as putting on your most comfortable pair of shoes or your most favorite dress. Nothing is forced. And nothing is hard. It’s as easy and natural as breathing.

So, yeah, I found the twin I have always craved for, but now, that the wedding is coming up – I am lost. You see, I am not one of those folks who planned it all her life! So, I have no clue “what I want" or what "needs to be".

I know we need to get a minister, and a restaurant, and invitations, and hotels, and a dress (I think I am too old for jeans!) and flowers and music, and … but I am not quite sure where to look to find them all.

Of course, I am still waiting for the shock of it all to end. I wanted a twin friend. I got him, but he wants a wedding …Being my twin, of course, he has no vision on this “wedding” business. So, I am puzzled. But I know we will come up with something … It’s just one formal step into the big happiness which is to follow. I hope.

Till then, I am just enjoying the journey, hand in hand, and heart in heart, from that peak on Mount Nebo onto the unknown and the familiar of our wonderful life together.

I love you, my sweet, and thank you for daring …

The "big question" was asked above The Devil's Kitchen - a rock formation near Mount Nebo, around the Provo, UT area - a place that exudes infinity, openness and permanence - so help us God ...