Saturday, March 12, 2011

Thawing Out

The heads of new grass have yet not peeked. No blooms. No bright colors. All is muted. Sound and stain.

The buds are still small and almost shrink wrapped in tiny nuggets on coarse and naked twigs. The soil is moist and sink-y. Your feet collapse in the mush. Some patches of snow still persist. Some snowy peaks still endure.

The trees are silent and bare. The stream is flowing with fresh, noisy water from melting snow.

And snow … is melting. We knew winter had no force anymore, judging by the immediate meltdowns right after huge dumps, but it was good to see whole mountain faces bare of snow.

The land is quiet. Nothing but wood, rock and brown, withered brush … Everything is still asleep … No noise but our footsteps on dirt roads.

Some folks are out – still shy at picnicking, some are fishing, lonely in newly swollen streams, and some are just joyriding, getting lost on lonely back roads. The big, boisterous voices of summer are silent.

Not many creatures. Other than birds. But signs of them everywhere – manure, and holes dug in the ground, and mini-trails, and hoof prints. Cacti chewed up and spit out… Skulls … feathers stuck on rocks …

The tired winter is dying … No promise yet of anything anew. But small patches of fresh blue skies are whispering possibility …

Comfort and style: wooden chair awaiting its visitors at a camp site. Click on the picture for the whole day in images ...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Living in Small Town America ...

… or how I have not worked for Kmart yet and how I found baby chicks for sale

If you judge the speed of living here, in Spanish Fork, UT, by the speed of the Utah drivers, you would be dead wrong. Utah drivers zoom up and down our roads like crazy madmen of the NYC cab driver fame. No regard to the other folks on the road, road signals or traffic lights. Life’s pace here, however, has nothing to do with such speed.

It has more to do with the speed of one eating an ice cream for fear of a brain freeze. Or the speed of a lazy day in The Caribbean at an all- inclusive resort, where all your needs are taken care of. Or the speed of a Galapagos turtle. Or that of a very old man with bad joints. You get the picture, right?!

I used to pop into a grocery store for a “few things” in NC and be in and out in less than 10 minutes! No cart, no basket. Just grab a few items and move on. A similar adventure here will take at least half an hour if not more.

You have to navigate first through the sea of toddlers and running kids. Then, the carts full of them occupying the aisles. Then, there is always just one register open, maybe two, at rush hour. You wait in line and every single person in front of you has a “special situation”: coupons don’t work, they meant to buy something else, so they’re sending the older kid for the right item while the cashier is stuck closing the order; the kid comes back with two items of which neither is right. So, now mom goes to the shelf and has the kid watch the others in the cart. A baby just barfed and they need wipes and paper towels to clean up.

And the check writing! Everyone writes checks here, of course! Since the memo of “plastic” has not made it this far. Apparently.

God help you if an item doesn’t ring up right and you need an adjustment! The cashiers can do nothing. They have to wait for the manager to correct it, or sometimes, they have to wait for the manager to come unlock their phone so they can call “in the back” to give you the right price. And don’t even get me started on how slow the cashiers move here.

One day, I bought a 12 pack of beer. It was bottles, so granted, it was heavy. But I weigh less than 110 pounds, right? And picked it up just fine, carried it in my hand to the checkout counter, and was planning to carry it out to the car in my hand, too. The 18 year or so old girl who checked my order out declared the pack too heavy. So, she called this other cashier from another counter (who was in the middle of checking out another person – and it’s rush hour, so they’re both busy!) to move my pack across the belt, since it was “too heavy”. Now … I have seen job applications before and had to answer questions about “how many pounds I can lift”, right?! So, now, I needed to wait for the guy to finish with his customer so he can help my lady. I cannot tell you how long that took, because it always seems longer to me than it actually is. I offered to help, but could not get behind the register and you guessed it, there was no “scanning gun”!

And being a small town, everyone knows everyone. So, three times out of five when you shop anywhere, the customers know the cashiers. And they get into these long, and s-l-o-w conversations about everything. Their relatives, their kids, and how many they have and how many are still being planned, and that lady at church who sprained a hip last week, and bishop this and sister that, and … And you’re waiting, with your eggs in your hand in the “express line” and ponder upon the irony of its name!

I think people react slowly here, too. At least too slow for me. At some point in my unemployed life here, I wanted to apply for a part time job at Kmart. It is literally 3-4 minutes from my house, and I figured, it will kill some time while allowing me to people watch at least and have some much needed extra cash. So, I dress up almost like going to a job interview, right?! – not too crazy though, it’s Kmart, not Bank of America, but I want to look serious.

I walk in the store, prepared to fill out one of those in-store applications. I go to the customer service area where such an application can be filled. Here, three “associates” are standing around chatting. One of them holding a bunch of socks to be put back on the shelf, I guess, back of the hand on hip, one of them typing into a computer, and one of them making chewing gum balloons. They stop the chat when they see me. But that’s all they do. To the right of the customer service desk was the “applications” computer - absolutely buried under “stuff”: boxes of shoes, cereal, paper towels, etc. You could not see the keyboard, the monitor, nor the chair in front of it from all these things.

There is a long ad on the wall next to the computer about how an application should be filled and what not, and I am reading this ad. I take my purse off my shoulder thinking they’d figure out that I am interested and want to sit down and apply. I make eye contact with them, and smile. Reach in my purse for my wallet so I can get my id out. All three ladies are looking at me intently. Then at each other. Another balloon pops. Hand on hip lady sways to left and right. They look at me. Up … and … then … down. I am, oh, maybe 3 feet away from them if that. They make no attempt to clear the application desk, or talk to me. They just stare. And we do this dance for about 3-4 minutes (again: time is not relevant; “a while”, let’s say!). I say nothing, still reading the ad, purse and wallet in my hand. And then I decide to walk away. No “can I help you?”, no “do you need help with anything?”, when they evidently noticed me (they stopped talking to each other even) means “you really do not need this right now. Maybe next time.” So, I walk away. And get a job offer the next week.

Today, another reminder of my small town surroundings. We have a store here that I didn’t know existed in NC, it’s called The C-A-L Ranch Store . You guessed it – there are a lot of farms around here. From the outside it looks almost like your regular Home Depot or Lowes store. They have everything farm-related in here, from equipment and nuts and bolts to build barns to saddles and outfits, from jewelry to cowboy boots. The ranch store also has pet food, so I go there often for my cat food. Today, I waltzed in and loved the price for the huge rose bushes (less than $6!) and walk on towards the back of the store where kitty food lives.

On the way there, I see this:

... live chicks and ducklings!

Is this a fair price for chickens?
Love the line on black background, too: Indeed.

I have friends who have chickens and I always wondered “where in the world you’d buy them, unless you go ON a farm, or to the Farmers’ Market?!”. To see them in a brick-and-mortar store that you drive up to, park in an assigned spot and buy pet food from was like seeing your first UFO! They had tons of them! ALL sorts of colors: white, yellow, black, brown AND … ducklings! Oh, and they were cute – as you can see! So, now I know where you can buy them. I can probably have them in our yard, but no thank you. I think my husband tolerates the cats well, but would have me relocated if I brought chickens along, too.

I remember seeing an episode of Twin Peaks many years ago, while living in Romania. This one scene stuck with me over the years. The first thing I noticed when watching it was its stark contrast with the speedy American movies I was used to – everything in it was moving VERY slow. And I thought to myself: “I wonder if this is how they move and talk in small town America, versus the big cities”. Now, years later, and after almost a year in “small town America”, I can tell you I was right in my guess!

This is the Twin Peaks scene I was talking about, and my new, everyday "pace"

There is a certain charm to all this slowing down, sure. You can really see the beauty around you, and hear your heart beat – it helps to acknowledge that once in a while. But I am still learning to put on my brakes. It’s not easy to do after rushing around for 36 years. Not to mention that I was not born with the patience gene, either!

It’s fun to discover all these realities that I never knew existed, too (if only they’d move faster!). I am not worried that it’ll all become boring, because life is just as interesting as however many people are in the world. If we only had time to acquaint all 6 billion of them!

So, I disagree with whomever said that “I hate small towns because once you've seen the cannon in the park there's nothing else to do.” You never know what the ranch store will bring in next time!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A World of Thanks

“We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.” (Orson Welles)

There have been more women who have inspired me than I can count in a whole book. There are innumerable the thanks I would have to give to all them for everything they have given me. Let it be known now that I would never attempt to name all of the good they have done for me – I would never finish, in several lifetimes.

But today, on the occasion of Woman’s Day, I want so say some (very!) brief thank you’s to those most important to me, and to remember at least one thing they each shared with me, whether knowingly or otherwise.

I thank my mom first for having the courage to have me. And then the double courage of raising me and shaping me into who I am. If wit can be taught, she taught me that! And she taught me to believe in myself. Long before Scarlett O’Hara, she taught me that I can do pretty much anything anyone else can, just the same, if not better - if I only try!

My sister has taught me more than anything in the world how to love unconditionally. Her giving-ness and love are boundless. Her faith in human goodness is impeccable and the beauty of her heart has only become brighter every year.

My aunt, whose birthday is today, too, has taught me patience. No other human being has shown me more saintly patience than her! Through her many physical challenges, and through her many losses she has remained calm, and stoic, just like a nun, almost, with the belief that tomorrow will be another day, and better.

My maia, now gone, has taught me not only hard work, but also pampering! A woman is supposed to be industrious as well as beautiful. She taught me my hands need to always look like a lady’s hands, even if they come from scrubbing the floors. And my face needs to look pretty even after a long sickness. It’s not vanity; it’s just self respect.

My bica has taught me will. She taught me, and everyone else around her, that being under 5 ft tall doesn’t mean you can be left unnoticed! You can have a big mouth to make up for your lack of height. She is my 4ft 8in powerhouse role model – you can pack a lot of might in that little body, when there is will!

My friend E. R. has taught me how beautiful it is to be a cynical optimist. She taught me that you always have to look at life crookedly, just like life seems to treat you, but to always put your pink glasses on and try to find something good in what lays ahead. She blesses me everyday with her beauty of a person, eruditeness and thirst for life! I am SO blessed to know her!

My friend T.B. has shown me how to be a superwoman! Yeah, sure, you can work 24/7 in one or two or three jobs, have a beautiful family, go to all the social events you’re invited to, answer emails on time, plant a veggie garden AND knit a sweater in less than a week, too! Of course you can. She has taught me how to fit 36 hours worth of work into 24 and still look pretty! The secret is into putting your heart into everything you do.

My friend B.C. has taught me wisdom - which I so sorely lack! Just like many of my women friends, she has had many a challenges in her life, and through it all she has come out shining – with more vigor, and more optimism (she would not use that word!) and more polish than anyone I know. She looks for meaning into life’s deepest, darkest corners and she finds it. And once she does, it all makes sense, and you will never look at life again in the same light. She is a treasure and a true original!

My friend C.D. has taught me resilience. Life was not often kind to her, but she never lost her hope and her faith in something better. She is a true fighter.

My former teacher, M.T., has given me the gift of writing – one without which I am not sure where I would be today. She was the first one to believe I could do it, and encourages me with every chance she gets to persist. She has always believed in me, and I always know I have her ear when I doubt my abilities. Means the world to me, in the darkness of doubt.

My friend R.T. has given me … a friend for life. I always know she will be there for me, no matter how far I move and no matter how puny my matters are. The simple honesty we share is a bond for long years to come.

My friend K.M. has shown me the blessing of forgiveness and how powerful it is. Forgiveness does not mean breaking down and burying who you are, but crowning who you are as a superior being. It requires an unbelievable amount of strength and patience, but once done, you’re simply and nobly indestructible!

Last but not least, my mother in law has taught me everything one would need to know about never, ever, ever giving up, no matter what challenges you have, especially physical ones. As long as there is breath in your body and you have a will to move, you can do so, and train your body to listen! She is my every day inspiration to make the first step even when it hurts!

There are many women who have helped me professionally and otherwise, but the whole internet space would not be enough to enumerate all of them or what they have meant for me.

You all know who you are, and you all know I am always here for you, whenever you need a friend, an honest opinion on a dress, a good Romanian homemade dish, or someone to just sit there and shut up for a change! Those of you who truly know me also know I can, in fact, shut up, too.

I thank you all for being, and for crossing your paths with me. One can ever be so blessed as to know ALL of you in ONE lifetime!

Happy new spring, to all, and may you all know all the blessings you shared with me, and the world, tenfold!