Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Sad Day for Memories (and Books)

I know that you have heard the phrase “it’s an end of an era” and you think it’s either cheesy or obsolete. But in my opinion … it’s truly descriptive, too, and for just a second, when you hear it next time, (really) take a moment and (seriously) think about it! Think about its true meaning when someone uses it because it’s really … the end of an “era”. An era, with everything it brought and stood for, someone’s hopes, desires, white nights’ planning, someone’s dreams – just … closed! Gone. Vanished. Nothing but a memory now. You can’t even share it with your kids!

With Blockbuster closing stores all over the nation weeks ago and Borders doing the same by the end of April, the word of the day at my house is “sad”. I still refuse to “sign up” for mail videos and monthly fees! I want a movie when I want a movie, not because I have that membership that needs to pay off by the end of the month! Some months, I won’t want any movie at all. And call me crazy, but I like browsing by touching. Reading the back of things. Flipping through pages. Sometimes, in my shallow days (clear throat), I like to rent a movie or buy a book by just letting what’s on the cover guide me … Back and front.

And things get progressively worse for me when books, or papers, or any of the printed word is in danger of being dumped into “the past”. So, closing a bookstore is like national mourning day for me. One of my childhood dreams is to work in a bookstore or a library! As in a “real” one. Not the "click" and “add to cart” kind …

And Borders (just like Barnes and Noble, for another instance) is more than just “books”. In my old hometown (Greensboro, NC), Borders was a place of refuge and a second home. With nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon, I’d wander in there to browse the bargain shelves and the new releases.

I will never forget that Borders was in fact the first brick-and-mortar cd store I have ever browsed in my whole life. It was not Best Buy or … some other designated “music” store, but Borders. Just picture Alice in Wonderland and that was me in front of the cd racks! “Wow, they have a whole store full of shelves of these?!”. And you could slip the headphones on and preview what you bought. Atlanta, GA - 1998.

Borders was that place I went to to decompress after an intense movie, because it was next door to a movie theater I frequented. Or that place I went to to kill some time if I was too early for the movie! Borders was a great place, for a single, bored, gal, to people watch and have blind dates, even. For some reason, I never picked Barnes & Noble for blind dates! Too crowded, I guess! And I loved watching people who read. And browse the “real” things. That’s what formed me, that’s what put me through school and gave me an education – real, paper books with real, smelly ink on them. Being close to that culture was sybaritic to me.

The Borders in my new hometown is not closing - at least not yet – and I am grateful for that. But I am still sad to see a place that had so many avenues for dreaming open for so long say “good bye”.

I am hoping bookstores and libraries are never becoming a has been in my lifetime! I love the smell of books, old and new, still. Nothing, no amount of Yankee Candle factory made smells can replace that!

Today is a perfect day to volunteer to work for a local library – which is exactly what I did over lunch. Put my name on the list for two of them. Just to be close to real books and people who read them.

Good bye, (Greensboro) Borders! And thank you for the memories.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Visiting the Neighbors

On a day like today, I remember my dad saying: "Damn, America is beautiful!". And he is not known for positivity, nor being too generous with compliments!

It was a cold day today. Maybe it got up to low 40's, but out there, on The (Utah) Lake, it felt like low 30's. It was a bright day, one of those many days in Utah where you cannot tell whether your eyes are going bad or the sun is really too brutal for them.

On such a day, I saw a glimpse of a promise of another year of great outdoors shooting in this beautiful back yard of ours that we call our state. We didn't go far. Maybe 20 miles from our house, maybe less. But there was breathtaking beauty everywhere.

I'll let our pictures tell you the story of a gorgeous late winter-early spring day. Many thanks to my husband, Aa., for his contributions to this album.


Utah Lake was half frozen and dead and half alive with calm, fresh waters, under a clear blue sky, with just enough clouds to make it interesting:

Not many people at the lake today, but some footprints on its frozen part of it gave them away:

Some of the feathered creatures were out, and they were very happy for the sun:

On our way back home, we took some farm pictures - we wake up with this under our bedroom window, every morning. Yep, we made it out West, undoubtedly:

(I love this red tractor! It looks beautiful in any season, against the mountains ...)

What can spell "Utah" more clearly, other than mountains, cowboys riding, seagulls and prairie grass?!

Click on this last picture, to see the whole day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

To Watch or Not to Watch …

The mystery of movies ...

I have never considered myself a true “movie buff”. I like some movies, for various reasons (mainly if they tell a good story), and I have watched almost every Oscar ceremony live for the past 15 or 20 years of my life. I am seriously picky about what I watch, though, and would not watch almost anything because “it’s hip”, or “in” or because “of great special effects”.

But I very rarely recognize lines from movies, as so many hundreds of people do. This renders me socially inept at many gatherings. And I can totally forget 50% or more of a movie I even loved (“Good Will Hunting” comes to mind) over time. I forget names of actors and confuse directors, too.

But I love going to see a good movie, and I can appreciate it (luckily, still) as art.

One thing that always puzzled me was the relativism and subjectivity of the rating system, though. Why are people so concerned with “how the movie was rated” before they take their kids, or even themselves, to the movie is beyond me. And truthfully, I think that a bit retrograde and limiting.

I have always been of the opinion that folks just stunt their (and their children’s) intellectual growth by limiting themselves based on simply the ratings. After all, we do not rate D.H. Lawrence. Nor James Joyce. Nor Hemingway – as we shouldn’t.

To support my confusion of ratings, I was shocked to find out that “The King’s Speech” was rated R, whereas “True Grit” was a PG-13. And seeing them both, I could not understand why. And then, I thought … “what would I do if I had a kid?”. Would I take them to a movie where they hear 10 seconds of “f*ck, sh*t, t*ts, b*lls”, things they would hear at the mall on a Sunday anyway?! Or would I take them to a movie where they show human fingers being severed from the hand and people killing people or talking about killing people throughout the 2 hours?!

I have no hesitation to answer: the former! “The King’s Speech” is not only a well done movie, but also it also offers great many a lessons about responsibility, duty, perseverance, pride, loyalty, and humanity and last but not least, it’s history – some of which kids nowadays need an incredible amount more of. “True Grit” is beautifully done as well, but do our kids really need more exposure to killings and death?!

So, my humble take: take your kids to an R rated movie sometimes, folks! It won’t hurt! I promise.

On another note, what in the world is an “appropriate audience”?! I think most of us are peeved by the “mandatory previews” that you cannot fast forward through at the movie theater. And they start by saying that “This preview has been approved for appropriate audiences”. What exactly is an “appropriate audience”?! Who decides that?! And isn’t’ that a big assumption?! I think based on my view of R rated movies alone some parents, for instance, might consider me less than appropriate, don’t you think?! And if I am not appropriate – what happens? I leave the room or you stop the previews now?!

It’s all a mystery, indeed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Most Awaited Baby In the World …

“A baby is God's opinion that life should go on.” (Carl Sandburg)

It all started with a call from Romania back in November. It’s dad, and he just says “Your mother wants to talk to you.” And he puts mom on the phone. Mom is crying so hard I can barely understand what she’s saying. I gather that my sister, who is in Canada, and who is 28 weeks pregnant with her second baby boy, has been admitted to the hospital in a state of emergency because “the baby wants to come now”.

As you might know, 28 weeks into the pregnancy is a very early stage for the babies to be born. Mom is frantic. My sister will have to stay in the hospital, on complete and total bed rest, for the baby to not come “tomorrow” for the remainder of her pregnancy (12 more weeks). The baby is due, according to all charts, on February 13, 2011.

So, there will be a long time before my sister could walk again into the world, according to what mom says. I ask for the hospital number from mom, and I call my sister. She is somewhat calm, although she fears for the baby. Her first son, Patrick, was born at 32 weeks. He is doing fantastic, and he was very precocious in a lot of ways, but the first few months of his life were tricky. So, she is nervous: the second one might be even earlier than Patrick.

And thus the Iliad of his birth starts and life will never be the same for any of us after that day. My sister begins her hospital stay. She is in there for 7 weeks. My mom drops everything in Romania and she flies to Montreal in November, with a return ticket of February 28. “It’ll all be well by then, she says. The baby will be several months old.”

During all this waiting time, there are scares. The baby seems too small in one test. He needs to stay in there longer – the longest, if at all possible. My sister has gestational diabetes and can’t eat much. There is a scare of an infection that might pass on to the baby to cause him meningitis. After several tests and a lot of waiting (weeks), the infection probability is waived.

We try to have fun with this, just barely: we try to pick a zodiac sign for the baby: will he be a Sagittarius, Capricorn, or Aquarius?! Which one would we want? Which one is better?! We kid to make time go faster and not to take things “too” seriously.

My sister comes back home on January 1st. She is at week 34 now, further along that she was when Patrick came, and she is “out of the woods”. The baby can come now, more or less, on his own, with no problems. Every minute, every hour of every day, she thinks “the baby is coming today. Now”. And we live like this, day by day, in expectation, and wonderment, and iffiness for months.

December comes and goes, and we have no baby. January comes and goes, and nothing. My sister is continuing her bed rest, with minimal efforts now. I go to Canada, to make sure I give her a hug through all this and so she knows (although she does!) how much I love her and how much I am here for her. He is not born during the week I am there, as my sister guesses. I tell not to rush him.

February starts and we are in complete disbelief! A baby that “wanted to come extremely early” is still in there, waiting patiently for his due date. We cannot believe it. Every time I call her, she says “we are still two in one. No news”. She jests. And yet she is worried, and impatient, and waiting. More and more waiting.

The Iliad continues: lots of sad things happen while we wait. His parents’ godmother and his dad’s grandparents die. He has only one great-grandparent living, unlike Patrick who met three of them. So much sadness for his parents who have loved these people who are now gone, but are yet worrying about his wellbeing, too.

Then, it’s all the medical things: she knows that “diabetes babies” need to come early, because of their size, but he is relatively a small baby. She is a small mom, though… Between too many doctors’ opinions and innumerable inquiries from her, they schedule the inducing date for February 9th.We can’t believe he is to be “induced”. This baby wanted to come on his own already!

She catches a horrible cold in the meantime and is exhausted from coughing. She goes to the hospital then, but as this pregnancy has been full of surprises, the hospital is out of empty rooms. So, they send her home. “Come back tomorrow”. Seriously! So, they call her today, and they have her admitted.

I cannot imagine her wait, and apprehension. Her tenseness and stress! I cannot imagine the baby’s emotions through all this, either …

But today, February 10, 2011, at 2.25 PM, EST, Kevin is born. He has the same birthday as his dad's mother. His dad's birthday is tomorrow. February surely brings lots of happy times in our families. The wait is over. The physical pain is huge, but the relief is even bigger! He is 6.4 lbs (2.895 kg) and 19.3 in (49 cm). If you asked me, I think he’s a tall, skinny baby like his dad (and his big brother). But we shall see.

He looks, so far, more like his mommy. And he is absolutely perfect! He got a 9.5 grade out of 10 possible. He is such a good baby already. Unlike his preemie brother, he can feed on his own, and there is no need for an incubator, or any extra oxygen tubes. But, of course, he is “at term”, too … only three days shy of his actual due date. And he has a strong and loud yell, when he’s hungry. I know, because I heard it. The most beautiful sound in the world!

I cannot describe to you how happy his birth makes me feel. I know everyone in my family has been looking forward to this, for months now. Since he was conceived, but more intently since his apparent “rush to be here”, at week 28. So many sad things have happened since his conception, and his mommy has tried to keep him healthy in there, so he can grow perfect. So much sadness, and yet a new life will spring, and a new tomorrow is ever so clear.

The sky is definitely brighter, because a new star is shining tonight. I wish you a long and happy life, little man, strong shoulders and feet, a wise mind and a quick wit, a clever tongue, a soft touch, and a tender heart, and more than anything, I wish you love. Unconditional, never-ending and sincere love. You already have a beautiful smile.

We love you more than words can say. Your first play pal, your own brother Patrick, is waiting for you at home, and may you two be inseparable in love and care throughout your lives.

Welcome to the world, little Kevin. We’ll all make sure it’s cozy and warm for you, until you can make that happen on your own. That will happen before we know it!

One of Kevin's first pictures - phone picture poor quality and all, he is still adorable!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

My Drinking Problem

“Hi, my name is Alina, and I … don’t believe I am an alcoholic. Not quite. Really.”

I grew up with dad making wine every fall, my mountain relatives making beer every summer and my uncle making tzuika (close to “moonshine”) every year. And I can never remember a New Year’s at my parents' house, when even us kids didn’t have a sip of real champagne. Or a summer barbecue where we, as kids, didn’t sip mom’s “foam” from the top of her beer.

Alcohol had been part of our daily “diets”, if you would, forever. And just like we’re not all gourmands for eating every day, I don’t think I’m an alcoholic because I have, or even crave, a glass of wine every now and then.

I have never seriously thought about having a drinking problem before (well, not in my adult years, anyway) until it’s become a chase to “where do I get the next good bottle”, when I moved to Utah.
What used to be an every day passing thought is now very much a conscious, deliberate, much planned project, since here, alcohol comes at a price. And I am not just strictly talking about money.

My parents were once again right: the more you forbid one from doing something, the more they’ll yearn to do it. And I find 100% truth in that statement since I have moved here: because they make it so hard and rare to get “good stuff” here, we want it more.

Every day, I am trying to discover a new store that “sells good beer and wine”, or a new store “with a better selection” of both, or a new bar that sells “my beer”, or … It’s my obsession now, it seems. Mine, and a few other friends’ too who come from other parts and are used to drinks-a-plenty. Every time I find “something good”, I want to do a little happy dance – it’s like Christmas has come. Or my birthday. Or both in one day! I screech with pleasure when I see alcohol anymore! Just like Adam and Eve must have done it when they saw “the fruit”.

Now, don’t get me wrong: compared to 10 years ago, when I first visited the Beehive State, the drinking rules are much, much, much more lax! Kudos to the Utah folks who fought to change some of the old laws, and to the Utah government who approved them. You can buy (weak) beer in any grocery and convenience store, and you can even buy it on Sundays. All Sunday long. Now, that’s even better than The Carolinas, right?! You can find any kind (wine, liquors, liqueurs, mixed drinks, etc) of alcoholic drink in the State Liquor Stores, but these are closed on Sundays. Also, you never need a membership for a pub to be able to order liquor, like you did 10 years ago.

But alcohol is still relatively “hard” to find, and the selection is way low in stores. I am saying “hard to find”, because the state stores are very few and far between, for one. There is no liquor store in our town. We just got a new one in the town adjacent to ours, which is about 7 miles away from our house. Before this store was opened, this past Christmas (and my husband was the very first customer, thank you very much!), the closest store to our house was a couple of towns over, about 11 miles away.

Grocery stores only sell beer that has an alcohol content of 3.2% by weight; in other words, you drink 10 beers and you’re still waiting for a buzz! If you want “regular strength” beer, you will need to visit the liquor store. There, you have a broader selection of import beers, wines and such. But you’ll have to plan for the trip – make a point out of visiting the neighboring town, and remember that Sundays these stores are closed. Also, as of recent times, they open at 11 AM. So if you have a lunch party on a Saturday – stock up on Friday. And since you have to drive so long to get there, you can’t buy just one bottle. You need to make it worth your gas money, right?! Planning. Planning. And more planning.

Buying drinks is never on the grocery list when you live here. It’s always a special trip.

Today, I visited our new (and closer) liquor store. And once again, I was like a kid in the candy store, jumping up and down with joy. I think it’s because they are new and they are trying to still test this market, and see what people would buy, but they had EVERYTHING! I have seen things in this new store that I have never seen in a wine store – here or elsewhere in America.

I could seldom find my most favorite wine in whole world, Moscato. I always have to “settle” for Riesling, or Pinot Grigio instead. And when I do find it, it’s usually from only the same two wine makers (Gallo and Sutter Home). I have said this before, but I believe most Americans have sharper palates that Eastern Europeans. So Moscatos are not very popular in The States.

Well, the new store has not one but TWO separate sections for Moscatos. I would have taken a picture if I were not the only customer in the store and the cashier was not eyeing me like a hawk. Usually, you find the rare two Moscato wines under the aisle heading “other whites”, or “Riesling”, or even “Sauvignon Blanc”. But in this store, they are their OWN wine, as they should be, of course. They have not only several Moscatos from California that I have never heard about, but also another one from Australia, and even an Italian one!

I once asked a wine store bar tender in Greensboro for Australian Moscato, and they promised me Australians don’t export such things. That they are famous for their dryer varieties. Well, when I saw this today, you can imagine my surprise – right here, in the wine forbidden Utah state, discovery of all times: my “candy” does exist and from Australia, nonetheless! Still no Kilkenny beer , however, but this is a start!

I browsed aisle after aisle (the place is huge and they are still stocking up, with plenty of aisles still empty and awaiting varieties), and I marveled at the diversity of the inventory and at the very affordable prices. It felt good! And thus, I caught myself: I am feeling good, happy even, about drinks! About alcoholic drinks, at that! So, you see, that prompted me to ponder upon my possible addiction.

I also feel sort of an embarrassing kind of guilt when I enter a liquor store around here. Especially in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day! I feel like even the cashier wonders what my problem is to be there that early. Even if they don’t really give me “the looks”, I still feel like they do. I should just come out and say it – “I am not an alcoholic, lady. I am just Romanian. Now point me to the sweet wines, please”.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

"What’s In A Name … "

So, when is political correctness really needed, and when is it just becoming ridiculous?! Because, I think all of us have gotten at least at one point in our lives where we read the “new and improved list of what not to call someone” and followed the reading of it with an eye roll.

When is it really needed to protect the dignity and integrity of one group of people and when is it just egocentrism?! And even if we learn the rules, do we always follow them?! Or our education, backgrounds and just patterns of speech are stronger than any social rules? And in this world of “social networking” … how often are we really “socially correct” in our addressing our fellow humans?!

Although I mostly try to learn the “rules of the world”, I find it challenging sometimes to keep up with what’s allowed anymore. I still don’t know, much to my own despair, and with sincere apologies to the respective groups, when to use “Asian” and when “Oriental”, for an instance. And don’t even get me started on what’s appropriate to call various “civil unions” nowadays!

And it’s not because I have anything against all these various names – most of them exist for a very good purpose – but it’s because everything seems to be so relative anymore: there is no telling what can be perceived as demeaning to someone today when the same word was totally legit the day before. It’ll be as changing as the human nature, forever!

But let me get to the point.

So, I lived in The South for 12 years. My ex-husband swore I’d be saying “y’all” after my first year there. It still has not happened. Another thing that has not happened is that I never got used to being called “dear” and “honey” and “sweetie” and “darling”. I still cringe every time I hear these addressed to me, although I know very well that it’s part of the culture, it’s not their intention to offend. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I know (deep inside) that it’s me being too sensitive! So, no, I would not be one of those super-sensitive people falling into ridiculous and call for a re-write of the “American Dictionary of Political Correctness”. No! But … I still cringe!

I live in Utah County now. A county famous for its religiousness and more specifically its LDS religiousness. People here assume, quite often, you are LDS. Unlike The Amish, for instance, there is no outwardly distinction between the Mormons and “the rest” of the people. And religion is pretty much in every layer of society here – it rules the lives, the children’s activities, the volunteer work, even the business world, quite often.

Amongst the more pious ones, of which there are a-many (read “the majority”), it is customary to call everyone your “sister” and your “brother”. Even outside of church, you are assumed to be their “relatives”, in spirit. Strange, you say?! Remember: this is their culture, and you’re an outsider still. And you try to learn their ways and roll with them.

That’s until it happens to you! As it did to me: the other day, the WalMart photo lady called me “sister”. And once again, my skin crawled. And once again, some small part of me wanted to shout out “I am NOT your sister, <insert expletive of choice here>”, just like for 12 years I wanted to shout out “I am only my sweetie’s darling and honey and dear, <…>!”.

So, should I add more words to the said dictionary?! Or should I just adjust my attitude and try to understand the culture?!

After days of internal deliberation, I looked at the very big picture, and I have come to realize that there are a lot of other things one could call you! “Dear” and “darling” and “sister” – even when not having the connotation it might have in your book – are not some of the morally bad words one could be called!

In this world of hatred and resentfulness, maybe we should need more “dears” and “sisters” and “brothers”, I figured.

So, I’ll live with it. For now. Till next time I hear “sugar”, and then … Wait a minute: wrong state! But you get the point.