Friday, July 23, 2010

"Hello, Utah - Good Bye, Privacy!"

Or: Confessions of a Bad Neighbor
Warning: offensive to most "good" neighbors

“Hello, all. My name is Alina and I am a bad neighbor”.

No, not “bad” in the sense that I would throw my trash into your yard, or blow my leaves there, for that matter, not “bad” in the sense that I will let my dog (if I had it) or my cats (if they were ever outside) pee on your landscape, nor my kids (if I had them) scream and shoot hoops in the driveway till 2 AM , but “bad” in the “not so friendly” sense of the word.

I do not want to share my life’s story with you, as a neighbor, nor am I interested in hearing about yours. I have friends and family, thank you very much. I just live here! It’s just chance that you and I share a fence, or a street, not a cause to celebrate! As much as I will be able to make it possible, I will try to live so that you can see and hear as little of me as possible.

I have never been really good friends with neighbors, anywhere I lived. I have not invited them over for bbq’s, nor offered to baby sit their kids or pets. And as convenient as I admit this might have been to do, sometimes, I don’t ask them any favors either. I won’t knock on the door to ask you if you have an extra egg, and I will not ask you to look after my house when I am on vacation. I am definitely never going to ask you to buy anything that I might be selling. And I would appreciate if you reciprocate!

I know I am the freak here, though, because everywhere I have lived, neighbors want to know my business and want to share theirs with me. Mind you: other than “hello” and “good bye” when they make eye contact, I am not interested in chatting with them at all! But they ask me everything: anything from where I am from, am I married, do I have kids, what I am doing this weekend, or if I want to buy cookies from their kids. Once, one of them asked me to drive her and her toddler girl to the ER at 9 PM, another one asked me to sit their cat over the Christmas holiday (I evidently had no life!), and one even gave me money and a shopping list to do her shopping at Wal-Mart, when her car died.

And whereas I did come half way on all these requests, and I did all of them as asked, I did so begrudgedly, and hoping I am just trying not to p…o… Karma! But you have to be really lucky to get me while I am between my car and my door to ask me to do any of these, because I have been known to not open the door if you ring or knock. Unless you’re ridiculously persistent. That is, unless you were ridiculously persistent, because that changed when I moved to UT. Here, my dear neighbors, I am tempted to not ever answer the door even if I smell smoke on the other side of it!

Let me explain. When I moved here, my husband (also a “bad neighbor”) reminded me that we live in a (large) family kind of neighborhood, in the middle of super Mormon country (aka Utah County), with an LDS church in the middle of the carefully planned out, cookie-cutter kind of community (yeah, some people have a community pool, a tennis court or a club house in the middle of their suburban neighborhood, we have a church!). As a result, he said, we will get knocks on the door frequently from people to ask us to buy things their (many) kids sell at school (like cookies, chocolate, wrapping paper, what have you), or from people to “kindly” invite us to church, or give us cookies to welcome us to the neighborhood AND invite us to church.

I figured “well, how bad could it be?!”. Well, I am here to tell you, dear people, that it’s BAD!
Every day, rain or shine (who am I kidding?? We live in the desert. There is NO rain here!), someone knocks on the door. They don’t do it on Sundays (they are hermits out here on Sundays, as I’ve said before), and Saturdays, we’re usually out doing something, but every single weekday, I get at least one knock on the door, or sometimes up to three or four in the same day! Every single day! I am not kidding, nor exaggerating!

It started with just unanswered knocks and they’d plainly leave. Then, they began leaving all sorts of stuff at the door. Sure, I have gotten your regular pizza or Chinese special flyer before in other places I have lived, but this is very different.

Anything from pieces of paper to announce their “cause” or social event to bags asking us to fill them with stuff for the needy; from plain colored pieces of paper (if we have a natural disaster, we’re supposed to put a plain red piece of paper in the front window if we need help, but a green one if we’re OK! – no, I am not making this up) to FOOD! Yes, you read it correctly: food. One day, we found a paper bag full of what looked like leftovers from a family: used, beat-up containers of sour cream and butter filled with “taco fixings”, we think. We just chalked that up to someone having the wrong address for meals-on-wheels, but seriously: if someone you know needs food because they can’t go to the grocery store is not answering, either call 911 or check your address!

Since our yard is only partially fenced in, we get many visits from other “folks” in the neighborhood as well: like dogs who seem to have made our yard their home – there is a small one across the (very busy!) street in the back of our house that crosses the street with all the crazy traffic on it JUST to come to our yard to pee. And then he crosses it right back! Another big black dog tracked across our yard the other night. Kids throw their ball over the fence between our houses and then just prance in the yard, and pick it up just like it’s theirs or like the fence were a volleyball net or something (we did keep one ball, but ... they have more than one!). Some days I just feel like we’re all living on a compound and we just share our yard and our front porch with the entire community! Not very cool, nor funny!

So, Aa. and I are trying to think what kind of sign we could put in the yard to keep at least humans away! The one to four knocks on the front door, the bags and loads of papers to clean up need to stop! We don’t need cookies, we’re on a diet. We have our gods, so we’re looking for none of those. We don’t need “savings cards to local stores” (one of the solicitors offered that for sale one day when I was working in the yard), we would pick them up at the very stores, if you should need them! We don’t need to help other people’s causes, because we have our own causes to support, and it’s a recession, people, there is only so much spare cash to go around!

So, what kind of sign can be friendly enough (we don’t want our house burned down next time we travel!) but clear enough to keep those folks away?! Sitting out there with a rifle in our hand is not an option, either! So, we are both at a loss – and yes, we’re taking ideas! We’re willing to make it “nice” and maybe like a “decoration piece”, but we do need to send the message loud and clear, that they all need to move right along. Or maybe we should make our own "Beware of (bad) neighbor" or "Bad neighbor" since we don't have a dog. How many people would get it?!

And no, the fact that we never answer the door although our cars are visibly there, and they hear us talking on the other side of the door does not stop the knocking! Not at all. Since May, when I moved here, the knocking has not ceased!

I guess, in a way, I should stop bitching, as it’s all a very “democratic” affair: they have the right to knock on people’s doors whenever they so please, I have the right to not respond. Everyone’s happy. But there are business in town with “no solicitation” signs in the window, so why would those signs be frowned upon when on a private property?! Not to mention that the littering needs to stop!

Welcome home: three of the neighborhood "offerings" left behind one day this week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A “Silly” Weekend

"The best things in life are silly." (Scott Adams)

Well, it was not really a whole weekend of silliness but Sunday was pretty chuckly!

I have seen this street festival in Park City advertised everywhere ever since I came to UT – it’s called “Park Silly Sunday Market”. And I kept wondering: “Now, how silly can Utah be?! Really!”. True, Park City is not the “mainstream” Utah, it is more hip, with lots of arts and open minded people, lots of hippies and even breweries within less than miles from each other, a tourist town, too, with ski slopes descending right down to Main Street where people from all over the world flock in the winter to get a feel for “the greatest snow on earth”. So, I guess it has some potential for something other than kids and straight up Mormons which we’re seeing around our neighborhood!

But still, this was a Sunday, when everything else is dead in Utah, so, how riotous can it get?! Well, there was only one way to find out. We headed up there and what follows is a sneak peek into what the streets showed us.

Save from some brief comments, I’ll let the pictures tell the story. Hope you find our little journey as silly as it wanted to be.

Out of all the many “silly” puppies at the event, this was my favorite! However clich√© this might sound, he was a poster child for Beethoven! Just everything you ever think of a Saint Bernard and then some. All 250 pounds of it!

Book in the window of a store, or … Utah in a nutshell?! Made me smile to picture “lonely” surrounded by 1000 screaming kids!

As explosively delish as this sounds, I like the disclaimer above it better: “All ingredients are organic, in season, local, whenever possible”. I am SO GLAD there are people our there who do not take all this “organic – local – all natural – I am better than you for eating tasteless dirt” mumbo-jumbo so seriously sometimes!

I thought I saw it all a few years back when I had garlic ice cream! But this is a close contender to that. One question though: WHY in the world would you ruin precious, delicious pig with chocolate, pray tell?! Oh, that’s right: ‘just to be silly’, perhaps! *Eye roll and sigh*

Now, I have never tasted “passion” nor “integrity”, but they smelled pretty good!

Well, at least you can’t sue them for false advertising!! – on a T-shirt in a gift store.

We did have some street food at the festival, as it was mandatory, of course – bbq pork, smoked sausage and corn on the cob lathered in butter. But the true gastronomic win of the day was indoors: Wasatch Brewery (or is it Squatters??? – don’t get me started, it’s confusing!) had this coconut beer (ale) battered shrimp on green papaya (and carrots) salad with red chili aioli. Oh, my God, was it a trip between tastes in your mouth: savory-and-sweet-and-tangy-and-spicy-and-…YEAH!!! The beer find was great, too: they call it “nitro cream ale”, and it has no fizz, it’s almost room temperature and it’s just like drinking a smoothie – VERY creamy!

The above mentioned indoor "feast"

And as everywhere in Utah … there were a lot of short people! All running around getting caught in stranger’s legs, and tripping on even shorter puppies! Whining about the heat, or munching on street fare. Trying to “navigate” the sea of little ones is always my (and not to mention Aa’s) biggest challenge! No, it’s not their fault, it’s the mindless parents, of course! And this is why this sign made my day and was my favorite silly note of the trip. It was like whoever made it heard my pain loud and clear:

“Take them home, now, lady mom and mister pop, sir, and YOU deal with them!”

After walking around in smoldering heat, we sought refuge in the Kimball Art Center which displayed three galleries, of various media (paint, photography, quilting, digital printing, food art etc). I always love checking out local galleries in places I travel, because almost always you find things you would never see anywhere else. The exhibit of various wall hanging quilts was my favorite, but Bridget Conn’s art was truly unusual, and unforgettable, in a skin – crawling, jaw - clenching kind of way, at times.

When I first told people I am moving to Utah, they all told me “Wow! Well, that’s great, but don’t expect much diversity there! It’s all one color in every way”. And weekends like these make me prove them wrong every single time. So much to see, so little time! And despite popular belief: we are lucky to have them so close to us!

Click on the picture to see the whole album of the “Park Silly Sunday Market”.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Did It!

I keep waiting for the day, as I grow older, where nothing will be such a big deal to me anymore. I am waiting for the day, when I won’t get nervous about a job interview, about meeting someone new, when I won’t have knots in my stomach when I fly over the Atlantic or pack up for a weekend road trip, when I don’t think that someone will break into my house every time I head for the grocery store. The day when I’ll stop worrying for trivial things like these.

One of the things I hate most about myself is being a worrywart! Hate it with a passion. I was brought up to believe that if there is anything that can go wrong, it will go wrong and I need to be five minutes smarter than life to be prepared for everything. It’s really a curse! And it’s a rotten way to live, I am telling you! I blame it for my high blood pressure and chronically accelerated pulse! My migraines, too!

I have lived in Utah now for over two months. And for that long, every day, I have dreaded the day I will have to go in and get a Utah driver’s license. I know – it’s comical! 16 year olds do it! 15 year olds get a learner’s permit! And I was literally sick to my stomach, afraid of going in and applying for one! Why?! Because in Utah, along with a loooong laundry list of documents you have to provide, they also make you take the written test all over again.

So, to me, it was like having a real exam. And I hate exams! My nerves hate them more. So, like a pathetic, self doubting fool that I am, I have been keeping up at night, worrying that I might miss too many questions to pass, I might not be of “legal enough” status for Utah to apply for one (they ask you for proof of citizenship, and whereas my passport does say I am an American, it still stays I was born elsewhere!), I have feared that they won’t like the bank statements which are the only “bills” I have in my name with my Utah residence on them, and they’d like to see a mortgage bill or utility bill, which are not in my name… and so forth!

So, for weeks, I have studied the road book – yes, I have read it cover to cover – and I have panicked! My poor, amazing husband has put up with my *yawn* boring stories about what the book says and how easily one can miss a question, because everything in that book is so relative, about how I don’t get what the heck a CFI is nor a single point urban interchange … and the likes.

The fact that the exam is open book meant absolutely nothing to me! What if I am too nervous to be able to find the answer in the book? What?! They let you use an actual book? Well, if it were in pdf format, on the computer, you could do a Ctrl+F and find what you’re looking for, but in a book?! The fact that there was no time limit on the exam, and you could take three hours to answer all the 25 (I know: 25!!!) questions meant nothing to me. And as I have said – the fact that ADHD children of 15 PASS this test every day, without having 12 years of driving experience behind them like me meant nothing to me also.

Worry. Worry. Worry. That was the only thing I did for two months.

Till today. Because I did brace myself, closed my eyes and “jumped” sorta - kinda, a couple of weeks back when I made an appointment for the DMV for today, to go pass the darn thing! And I did. After having “the breakfast of champions” (mom always told me to eat a hard boiled egg every time before an exam – “it will keep you focused”, she said – and I listened) and several cups of coffee to make sure I am awake when I browse that book, I drove to the only town in our county that allows you to obtain an “original” Utah driver’s license and that facilitates “the exam”! I got 100% of answers right, and I only looked up in the book maybe two of them, and just for double checking. And miracle of all miracles, I did find them in the book! Must be all that coffee.

I wondered all this time whether there was more behind this irrational, unexplainable fear. Maybe secretly I was not ready to say “good bye” to my (always) beloved NC, and my second home on this planet. I am still not completely sure that there was not more to it. But truth is, from where I saw it, it was complete and utter, paralyzing fear of failure and having to deal with the consequences of re-taking the test and all and bureaucracy of it.

But it’s over. I did it! I passed it, and now, my NC license has two punch holes in it to mean it’s not the “real” one anymore. And I have a temporary, paper Utah license in addition to it - with my new Utah Address and everything. I feel just a little bit more legal in my new home state. And just a little bit less worried, maybe?! Well, let’s not push it quite yet!

Registering the car in UT is next, and the fear of … oh, I don’t know … not passing inspection, maybe, or making my insurance agent mad when I cancel the NC insurance and get on Aa’s UT insurance is next too … Are you chuckling and shaking your head?! Remind me one day to tell you about how I felt when I had to go in for a heart cath! Which I had put off for FIVE years before I built the courage to actually do it! Now, that’s a story …

As I have said: still waiting for that day when I grow up and grow out of the worrywart stage and become more … blas√©. Man, what a celebration that will be!

The proof: the "hole punched" NC license, and just a hint of the new temporary UT license underneath.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Dollar Tree Experience ...

... and not the kind you'd think ...

I remember distinctively my last trip to The Dollar Tree store on Lawndale in Greensboro, NC. The dialogue between me and the sales lady went something like this:

The Lady (big smile, eye contact and all): “How you doin’, honey?”
Me: ” I am fine, thank you. And you?”
The Lady (with the same smile, head shake and Southern drawl): “Oh, I am great, baby! Thank you. A bit tired. My momma collapsed last night in the bathroom, and I had to drive to Wilmington this morning to see her in a hospital, then back, ‘cause my shift was startin’, so I am a bit tired. But thank The Lord, she’s all right, and I am just great.” (bearing white teeth at me in a large smile to probably convince me that she is indeed “great”).

Didn’t know what to do with all that. Just mumbled “feel better and have a nice day” as I was hurriedly grabbing my change and rolling my inside eyes, with a (fake) smile on my face, of course, like a (then) good Southern gal.

Today, at another Dollar Tree store, in Spanish Fork, UT – the experience was a bit different.

The (other, serious, Utah) Lady: “How are you?”
Me: “I am good, thanks. You?”
The (U) Lady: “Oh, I am fine. (pause). Well, no, not really!!” - frowns and shakes head.
We both stared at each other, me smiling, she, still serious.
She continues: “Oh, that was not nice, was it?! Well, but it was true!”

We both burst into laughter and wished each other a better day.

Changes in altitudes and attitudes, indeed!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Close to Home and Yet So Foreign

A weekend adventure ...

This past long weekend, our plan was to know our surroundings a little bit more. And we did get to accomplish that. A little bit … too much, maybe?! But first thing’s first.

For a long weekend, and for two travelers, my husband and I had very loose plans this weekend. We kinda wanted to go to The Grand Canyon. And we kinda flirted with going to Las Vegas, too. But we ended up just staying home and taking short day trips here and there, learning more about Utah’s history, its capital and discovering more nature trails that make this state so unique.

We started Friday night, with an Indian dinner (nothing says “America” as Indian food, does it?!) and a walk through the Downtown of the city of Provo. It was entirely too hot to be completely comfortable in the midst of booths, strollers, skateboarders and absent minded parents, so, after a quick look over the “Fun Fourth” booths, we headed towards the more quiet streets where some galleries were open for the monthly “Gallery Stroll”.

On Saturday, we went to Salt Lake to … be tourists. He is more familiar with this area than I am (having lived here for over a year before my arrival, and having researched this area for many years before that), so the “touristy” demand came from me. I just wanted us to go to Salt Lake and visit some landmarks that I could send home with the label “SL,UT” - as a t-shirt showed it in a store window – infer your own acronym from there, if you may.

So, tourists we were. We parked first at Pioneer Park, where The Salt Lake City Farmers’ Market was in full swing (pictures start here) . We walked about the park, listened to the live music (pretty good, actually), browsed the arts booths and tents (metal sculptures, photography, woodworking, beading and the likes), bought some fresh goat cheese and some sopressata, sampled everything from honey butter to wild boar salami and of course people watched. A nice high of 77 with a mixture of sun and shade made for a refreshing start of the day.

We then drove to The Gateway Mall , located adjacent to the historic Union Pacific Train Depot. The historic train station is a beautifully kept turn of the century building, with gorgeous murals and painted windows telling visual stories of the settling of the Mormon pioneers (1847) and of the accomplishment of the first trans continental rail road (1869), as well as displaying various scenes of the Western landscape (pictures start here).

True to our tourist demands, we had lunch at The Mall, and were surprised to find a delicious chain restaurant that offered Hawaiian fare – Rumbi. The pulled pork is the best I have had in a long while.

After lunch, we drove up a very steep hill indeed (never been to San Francisco, but … it seemed like driving through it instead!) up to The Capitol of the State of Utah. Reading more about the building after we saw it, I can tell you now that we saw the South - South - East side of the structure, with its front lawn, stairs, view of the city, and we also saw the monument dedicated to the Mormon Battalion, to the right of The Capitol.

The place looked like most Capitols you have seen, stately, majestic, sort of intimidating, I’d say, but this particular building and its grounds surprised me as extremely quiet for such a huge construction, and arguably an important tourist attraction on a holiday weekend. Pictures start here.

In search for more Mormon history, on we went to Temple Square . I can probably write a whole day about this area so revered by LDS folks and such a staple of Utah, and of Mormon culture. But I will let you research it at your own convenience, and see it through my and Aa’s lens, here .

What also amazed me was how quiet and scarce the crowds were, again, for a holiday weekend. The architecture of all the buildings comprising The Square is beautiful, and the gardens breathtaking. As you may know, we are not allowed to visit The Temple, as non-Mormons, but the visitors’ center does a good job of explaining the fundamentals of the faith, and they also offer videos of some of the inside details. Definitely include this sight in your future trips to SLC.

On Sunday, it was return to nature day! Aa. had planned for us to drive The Diamond Fork Canyon for a while now – a campground and scenic route only minutes from our house – and we finally got to it on July Fourth! The ride through the Canyon is as many Utah rides are – beautiful, surprising, colorful, serene, very diverse in landscape and mostly wild. These folks know how to keep things wild, and I love that! The isolation, quietude and freshness say “hello” at every turn. We didn’t see much wildlife this time (pictures here), but we did see a lot more varied grasses and flowers than elsewhere before. Also, lots of camping opportunities, whether in organized, beautifully kept campgrounds, or just along the Diamond Fork river, on the side of the road, with big signs welcoming us: “Camping allowed. No fees required”.

A surprising thing on this particular drive was the fact that at some a vile smell floods the car. After turning yet another corner, you see white streams coming down from the mountains – there are sulfur (hot) springs in this Canyon. They surely are pretty, but they smell just like rotten eggs – breathtaking, but not in the desired way, for sure!

Later on, upon reading about these parts, we discovered that the Hot Pots of Diamond Canyon are a popular destination not only for people who seek tranquility and a return to nature, but also for … nudist hikers.

Our shock is only bigger than those of folks who have never been to Utah and can’t comprehend the degree of … conservatism (for lack of a better word) this state is capable of displaying in most day-to-day life situations – like buying coffee being frowned upon, or trashing empty bottles of beer after a cook out, or driving for 10+ miles from anywhere for a bottle of wine. No, not liquor – wine!

So, yeah, to hear about the “illegal but tolerated” behavior of bathing nude in a national forest was a bit daunting indeed. Not only that, but I stumbled upon another surprising fact: there is a “forum” out there for LDS skinny dippers (seriously - just google it!). OK, so maybe I have been sheltered, and I am the only one surprised by these seemingly contradictory findings, so I will refrain from comment. I guess a true Garden of Eden this state is! The things you learn as a tourist in your back yard are sometimes worth ten trips around the world.

I will just conclude that Diamond Fork Canyon is a gorgeous ride and park (as you can tell from the pictures), it’s mostly clean, very well maintained, the roads are nicely paved, and all the campgrounds look spacious, safe, wood stocked and most of them are shaded or have picnic gazebos, fire pits and grills. Just beautiful country, as you have come to expect from Utah so far.

On Monday, we came down to our less escapist lives, and we just shopped around our town and the towns around us – Orem and Provo, in particular. It was a hot day, and being mostly in the air conditioned stores just browsing and brainstorming about what else we might need to make our house a home was just what we needed to round up a full weekend.

The only thing absent from our weekend were the fireworks. Sunday is too small a day for two holidays in Utah County, and Church always wins: all the displays were Saturday (on the 3rd), so we missed them. Given the heat of the springs and the somewhat explosive news surrounding them, I declared myself happy with the kind of “fireworks” we did run into.

Hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday. I don’t have a job yet, but I am ready for the next long weekend! I am … holding my breath for what else Utah has in store for us. Who knows where the next … sulfur spring might pop up, if you know what I mean.