Saturday, January 30, 2010

North and South: Same Country. Different Attitudes

A disgruntled blog about snow

OK, I have to admit, I do miss snow once in a while. Not the snow itself as I miss what snow brings: comfort food, the excuse to somehow consume millions of calories - mindlessly, working from home, fireplace going, mashed potatoes, and naps. A lot of them.

The one thing I would rather do without when snow comes to North Carolina is the whole town going apey about it! Seriously, folks, the weatherman says we’re getting 10 inches of snow, not that The Great Famine is coming! The grocery stores on Friday looked more crowded than on Christmas Eve. Sure, business is good when snow hits the South, but as a pedestrian, a driver and just a regular consumer, I can do without the rudeness, frantic-ness, people forgetting the laws of driving and common decency!

My back patio, this morning

I cannot help but wonder: do families, however large, really consume 10 gallons of milk in a couple of days? Or do old people really consume 5 cans of the same WalMart brand veggie soup, in the two days they’re stuck in the home? Or how can cold milk and stale bread help you if your power gets knocked out and you’re freezing in the home? Just wondering!

I would love to see how much leftover stuff people have in their homes after a snow weekend. You could probably feed a small nation with the surplus groceries of one small town!

It makes me smile, also, how snow is somewhat of a breaking news everywhere: people talk about nothing besides snow. Forget the war, politics, health care, job loss, latest news in entertainment, like what Angelina did this week, we’ve got snow! I swear, if Leno took over this weekend (and not two weeks ago, or whenever it happened), we, down here, would never know about it! We would have no way to find out! All that the TV talks about is snow, so does the local paper, on the home page, and the front page, you get no other “status updates” on Facebook from anyone other than: it’s snowing; we got 6 inches; thank God for whiskey in the snow; recipes for snow ice cream (really?!? Whatever happened with “do not eat snow!”?! ); kids cranky that snow’s not good enough for playing in it; cabin fever – you get the idea…

The little cynic in me doesn’t like it one bit how a seemingly natural and ordinary element like snowing is glorified to the levels of a show stopper like snow is in The South! After all, people, we live at 36 degrees Northern Latitude, not in the Sahara Desert! It’s a little bit more than comical. It’s bordering on the absurd, in my opinion!

I took a trip to Michigan a couple of weeks back, or as many call it, The Great White North. And I am telling you, it deserves the nickname. There is nothing but great whiteness up there. All the time. For six months, I am told. No blade of grass for that many months. The air even is milky with fog, most days … Icicles are as long as the frame of the home itself, and mountains of snow pile up in parking lots, taller than buildings at times. And then, there are the lakes. In the case of my visit, one of the Great Lakes – a big, wide, open sea of white. No water, well, no liquid water, in sight!

And somehow, life moves on up there, uninterrupted. Kids go to school every day, and traffic moves right along. Plows do their job and roads are clear. Waitresses wear shorts, and people don’t bother for a coat if they just walk from the car to the restaurant. In other words: a snowy day is just another day. Wait it out, it’ll melt! As much as I would hate the length of it, I really enjoyed the ordinariness of snow up there.

Not in the South. Barricade yourself and prepare for The Great Famine. Sure, it’ll melt. But what if not before we’re out of milk?! And stop sending Facebook and text updates on the snow! I have windows in my home. I can see it’s snowing. Use airwaves for something less mundane. Maybe.

In South Haven, MI, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Or where snow lives.
Please click on the picture for more Michigan winter shots

Saturday, January 23, 2010

12 Years

“Another turning point the fork stuck in the road.
Time grabs you by the wrist and directs you where to go.
So make the best of this test and don't ask why.
It's not a question but a lesson learned in time.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs and still frames in your mind.
And hang it on a shelf in good health and good time.
Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial.
For what it's worth, it was worth all the while.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.”

(Green Day – Good Riddance)

I will never forget (Alzheimer’s not counting) my first ride from the airport in Atlanta to the first brew pub, when I first “landed” in The Land of All Possibilities. I was trying really hard not to be that wide open eyed, wonder child who looks up at the skyscrapers from the moving car that you know from cheesy movies.

Fortunately, Atlanta doesn’t have all that many skyscrapers. Or at least not as tall as the ones movies show for New York, Seattle and Chicago, I guess. But I do remember how my breath stopped on that ride, because the radio was playing this song . And I thought: “Oh, my God, how fitting! This IS my fork in the road. This IS my turning point. This WILL BE my song. My American song”. And every time I hear it, it brings me back to that moving car, on the way to the brew pub and the heart of Atlanta. And every time I hear it, I know, that the song I thought prophetic then, proved to be just that – to a tee.

I am not sure if “good riddance” is what my parents said when I left home for this whirlwind trip to America, but looking back, it surely feels that way!

I didn’t want this week to go by without making a writing stop to celebrate my 12 year American celebration of January 19, 1998. As I have said before, with a head full of dreams and curls, I came here trying to figure out how to make a life. I was not yet 23. But I thought at the time that I was 22 going on 50. I knew everything, and just needed the right environment to make it happen.

And I know you’ll think of my big head here, but so I did. I have had the “time of my life”, as the song goes. I just wanted to stop for a minute and recap what happened in the past 12 years.

I grew, and I became what you see today; I married, and had two step kids for a while; we took family trips, and made fires in the woods and told ghost stories; I watched them grow for almost four years, and gave them a home; I divorced, and painfully found my own way in a world that I just started to understand; I loved, and I cried, and I fell out of love, and I learned that life is not over after a breakup.

I bought houses. Four of them. And made a home. For just me out of two of them. I fell in love again. For four amazing years, and I made future plans which were once again to fail. Through it all, I loved, and gave, and received love, and matured, and learned. Continuously … learned …

I have lived one of the two dreams of my childhood: to live in The American South. Just like one of my heroes, Scarlett O’Hara. I really did dream of moving to Atlanta and figuring things out like she did. I came pretty close.

I have struggled with language and learned yet again that what you learn in college about ‘English as a foreign language’ does not hold water when you live in The South. I have learned to love the liquid, humid air of August in North Carolina. I thought I’d never do! But it happened!

I have grown over my shyness. After all, there was no one there to do things for me. If I didn’t ask, I was left wanting. I have raised three cats, and made a home for them. I have found dogs to be lovely creatures, after all, and made peace with them, too.

I have gotten a tattoo… Just like the millions of pictures I have taken, it’s a memento of where I have been, who I am, and what my life is like.

I have grayed. I guess, I am pushing 50 after all. I have seen every state between Florida and Massachusetts, and traveled out West and to Canada. I have climbed the Twin Towers in New York in 1999. And felt like I conquered the world. How I am going to treasure that story to tell to my nieces and nephews… What a breathless moment to think back at! I have visited Ellis Island, and cried, because I understood! Their story was mine. Their “island of tears and hope” was mine. I am so ecstatically thankful for that!

I have gotten jobs and I have made a career. I have helped those in need, and learned to be grateful to just be. I have had plenty. No, no, it’s an accomplishment! Coming from Romania, and growing up in Communism, where you have nothing, I can tell you: I have had plenty. Plenty of food, and heat, and drinks, and choices, and most of all, plenty of freedom. I came here looking for just that: freedom: to read, to see, to know, to travel, to be who I am without restrictions. America has been very accepting of that. I am home.

I have lived as a resident for eight of the 12 I have been here and I have been a citizen for almost four. I voted to elect the first black American president in history. And I have worked for a paper that ran on the front page a story about a woman running for president on the day my nephew was born. A new world. I have seen history turn abruptly!

I have been able to show my parents, ever the dreamers about such a perfect land as America, the beauty and peacefulness of this country. I am grateful for that! To see their eyes open up with a new light and a new smile about how easy and giving and wonderful life could be in a free land, to see them cry as they float by The Statue of Liberty is what I live for.

I have become an aunt, and my only sister and twin soul has gotten married, had my nephew and also found a free home in Canada. I have lost a beloved grandmother, and I had to learn the painful way to say good bye to someone without being there at the end. That is a lesson that hurt the most! I have thus learned that you must say what you mean and what you feel when given the opportunity, and not wait. Tomorrow might never come and pay attention: “opportunities don’t come with labels”, so pay close attention!

I have had my disappointments. In my new country, and its politics, in the lack of healthcare and what seem pointless restrictions (like alcohol laws – I know, trivial!), and in life in general. I have learned not to believe in forever, and just to trust the now. I have learned that if you do that, the forever will take care of itself – but it’s the now that needs you the most. So, give your all to it.

I have met wonderful people that have taught me so much! Sure, wonderful people are everywhere, but I will forever be grateful to folks, like JC. Not just because he taught me by example how to live and love my life and who I am, but also because he made me understand this country, even when I am not crazy about her politicians’ decisions.

I am grateful for all my friends here, who taught me everything I know today about living in America. Taught me about mortgages, home warranty, shopping at WalMart, driving a car, renewing my license, eating pumpkins, oat meat and grits, shrimp, eating out, Thanksgiving, the craziness of Christmas, being independent and feeling powerful as a single woman. I am also grateful for my friends far away who have managed to keep in touch across many miles over such a long time. It’s them who ground me!

I have met my new love and I am giving marriage another shot. I never say “never” after all, and I believe in the good of the individual, not so much in labels. And thus, I am at “a turning point” with “the fork stuck in the road” again! As before, in Atlanta, with the Green Day song being so fitting, I am appropriately moving to Spanish Fork. My second childhood dream of searching for The Last Frontier of America, and following the trails of so many brave people in history looking for possibilities and more freedom will now be able to take place. I am once again hopeful and wide eyed. I am yet to find out if “The West is the Best”, I guess. The sky scrapers are The Rockies now, and I am ever so excited! 12 years did nothing to my cynicism, evidently!

More than anything… I have learned that I can stand on my own two feet and weather pretty much anything. As long as you know who you are, and you live in a place that cherishes the individual, you’re fine. One thing I have managed not to do, or maybe two, is (are): I have not become quite the avid consumer Americans are for the most part. Nor did I gain exorbitant weight. I did gain! It’s a sign of “a good life”, my mom says … but not to the point where you can’t recognize me. I consider those good things, though!

I have kept my faith and I am practicing it every day. I am forever thankful to my folks that gave me such great, fulfilling roots that I cannot and would not rid of! Roots and wings is what you need. And boy, have I gotten both!

I am living my dreams. I am living my dad’s dreams and making my mom proud. I have really little to complain about. I am the same, and yet better (remember: big head!) and wiser, and I am grateful that I have kept an open mind and heart and open eyes and let America flood me! I am ever so full.

I still think of myself as an immigrant and as a newbie! I never ever want to stop feeling like that. In Yoga, they tell you “I never want to stop being a beginner”. And that is so simple and so true: I never want to be rid of the curiosity and excitement a beginner has! A beginner will try anything. And I will try to forever stay a newly-off-the-boat …uumm – plane Romanian immigrant! Still learning. So much!

I still have the head full of curls (albeit gray) and definitely of dreams. Listening to my anniversary song all week, I find it still to be a great song. And it’s even better, trust me, when it becomes life.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Overpriced and Nondescript Print Media

I still subscribe, believe it or not, to three magazines. Not sure what to tell you, other than sometimes, for some kind of “news” I need the paper version. I have a desktop computer in my office and a laptop that travels with me all over the house. And of course, a laptop at work, that travels with me back and forth every day. Online is how I get most of my “news” and information, and I’ll make no excuses about it. No, I don’t have the phone plugged into the internets. I don’t think I’ll ever do that, unless it’s free, or some kind of a requirement to be fed!

But I do subscribe to magazines. Sometimes, at the end of a busy day, I want some easy reading and that’s when I grab those. When my regular book seems heavy, I turn to them. And as a perpetual habit over the years, I have been buying magazines every time I fly! That’s like my treat and my escape! I buy magazines I don’t subscribe to (evidently) to keep me company.

I usually try to buy something that will catch me up on the entertainment gossip and on the technology and politics points of view. That’s usually my niche, I guess. Historically, my go-to magazines while flying were People and Entertainment Weekly. Sometimes, if the cover looks good, Time and Newsweek would be amongst choices, too! Sometimes Rolling Stone.

This last trip, I also added Bride magazine or Weddings to my possible selection, for reasons you find evident, I am sure.

But I had the hardest time picking an issue of my “usuals” anymore. Those (Entertainment Weekly and People particularly) as well as the “bridal” ones are made of nothing, but I mean nothing, but pictures and ads! Call me picky, or old fashioned, but I did think that print media, magazines included, is the kind of media that has words to go with their photos. They are not just photo books that require your brain to shut down and you to turn the pages mechanically and be done browsing in 10 minutes: cover-to-cover.

You can say I am cheap, but $5.95 is a high price for picture viewing. Yep, that’s all you get: pictures: ads to perfumes, hotels, diamond rings and Vera Wang couture, and pictures of fat or newly slimmed down celebs or the season’s fashionable lipstick shades.

It took hopping several magazine stores in airports like Greensboro and Detroit to find ONE magazine that had words to go with their pictures …But those were not the “light” kind of books, either! I had to “settle” (hardly) for more serious prints like Time and Business Week. One had book and movie reviews I was interested in as well as health information, the other an in-depth recap of today’s job and house market (you’d think a “hip” topic, no?!) .

These are all topics I used to find easily in more “easy” reads, like People and Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone before! But those don’t offer real reading anymore: only overpriced picture viewing on printed paper. I guess the more serious news comes from magazines like Time and Newsweek that are becoming skinnier and skinnier every time I pick them up.

I am not sure which is more depressing: the page count getting frightfully low? Or the superfluous -ness of the content? I’d go with the latter. At least the first group of mags don’t insult you and themselves.

As a print media employee, I hear it all the time, that people buy papers for ads. But as a reader, I am here to tell you: people buy print media for content! And I mean news content, not picture and ad content! That is fortuitous. We don’t want to pay close to $6 an issue for pictures. We get those for relatively free all day long while browsing yahoo, and msn or while driving down I-40 in roadside billboards or getting The Clipper for free at the mailbox! Words is what we look for.

So, I am not caught up on the latest celeb gossip, and I have no clue how to plan a low budget wedding, either. I guess I am back to google, and searching for pertinent key words! And in the meantime, some print media lost a reader.

I had a pretty heavy reading flight back and forth to Michigan! But at least, no regrets for wasting money! I would say: if you bother that much to print, folks, just make sure you’re saying something!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Dream of Freedom. And the Reality of It.

To dad: for his patience, and his persuasiveness, and for his amazingly never-ending, unconditional love for us…

For the past 12 years of my life, I have been saying almost the same prayer every night: that one day, our family will be together. Happy. We are all scattered all over the world, and I just want us, at important times, and sometimes I even dream that maybe at permanent times, to be together. I seldom got to spend birthdays and holidays together with my family for the past 12 years and it’s sort of an emotional roller coaster for a very closely knit family like ours. It started out being unbearable, then it moved to being a matter of fact, and somewhat easier, but there are times when the distance just becomes as sharp of a pain as a toothache. Just insupportable!

It would have been one of those times, if my dad was denied a visa once more when he asked the US Embassy to come to my wedding! For some odd reason, although everyone else in my family got a visa with not much fuss, my dad has been denied for years. Although everyone else got visas good for ten years, his only granted one was for a month. He is the sweetest, funniest man you’ll ever meet, and yet he must look like some sort of threat to the US government for them to deny him to come visit his daughter.

It’s been a long 12 years without him here. Especially since he’s the one that raised me and my sister with the love, respect of America, and the dream of becoming an American one day. It’s been a painful journey not being able to share all my “American accomplishments”, really, my whole adult life, without the man who prepared me for it, and mentored me into living free, living independently, living simple and living honestly! All things impossible in my home country!

When I got the call this week that he was granted a 10 year visa to the US, it was one of those moments where you don’t know whether you want to cry, laugh, scream out loud in the streets, or just contain your happiness for fear of jinxing something!

I felt much like when Communism fell in Romania, or much like I felt when I became an American Citizen. Another door has opened. Another set of heavy locks were smashed. The world just became a little bit freer, and our lives, my family’s life, has become a little bit more “together” and happier.

I cried. Within myself. I kissed dad virtually (for now), and thanked God and the American authorities for their help and generosity! I thanked the Government for finally granting their new citizen the very basic (you’d think) right to enjoy her family for a while, whenever she needs to.

My dad will not live in the US for the next 10 years, so I can get to see him every day and so that he can benefit from the US free and bountiful life. But just to know that we’re ONLY a plane flight away from each other anymore, in either direction, makes me melt with joy, and gratefulness! Just to know that he can escape what he calls “The Prison of Romania” whenever he feels like it, feels like the biggest blessing we have been given. And it doubles the feeling when I know I could give this to my dad who has taught me that anything is possible if you take the right opportunities, and who has taught me that living in America is just as doable as anything else in the world. Even when you come from “The Prison”.

I know it’s unfathomable to most Americans, who are free to travel the world with no visas, and no screening from any governments to know what it truly means when a huge door like this opens up. It is very weird, indeed: the hardest thing I have found for the past 12 years is to try to explain to most Americans what freedom feels like. They talk about it, with their fist clenched across their hearts, they take pride in being the freest nation on Earth, and they are, but I don’t think they truly know, deep inside their gut, what it feels like to get it. What it feels like to truly appreciate it, when you’ve been deprived of it for most of your life. I guess it’s only fair, because there is really nothing they can compare it to.

When you’ve had something all your life, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like if you were ever forced to fight for it yourself. I hope, one day, I’ll find the words. For now, I am just grateful once more for good things in history, and for governments making justice, sometimes, and not just destroying lives. However long the wait, however bitter the sacrifice, it is always worth it. Those 12 years of waiting melted away with that one phone call.

I am also grinning from ear to ear and waiting for my family to come join me in front of the altar. After all, that’s where it all begins.