Saturday, January 26, 2013

When Time Comes

"You say ‘good bye’, I say hello’." (The Beatles)

There is a time for laughs, and fun, and joy, and then, there are sadder days, of good byes and mourning …
For about a year now, I kept telling myself that I am not ready for a new car. I loved my Toyota Echo. As I have said before, I was attached to it.

It’s been with me for almost 10 years. And I bought it used – so it was even older than that! We have commuted together, gone to parties together, schlepped my nephew around in it, and my entire family, almost all my friends, took my friend to the ER in it more times than I can count … It took my small, very sick, beloved kitty to the vet on his last ride, and back to his grave .... We traveled all around the East Coast, it’s kept me safe while driving through Atlanta, Boston and DC. It’s been through a couple of collisions, but never failed to be a stable, reliable little car! I camped in it (literally), and ate my lunch in it. Read, wrote and napped in it, too! Probably the most amazing thing the Echo’s been through with me, my husband and my three cats is the across America trip of 2010. It did fantastic. It didn’t even need more air in the tires! It flew across the country like an eagle. With purpose, and direction!

Lately, it’s been starting to show signs of aging, however. It was still, I thought, a healthy little car. Since I moved to Utah, where the roads are crap (sorry, it’s true!) , it started squeaking a bit. I lost a couple of tires to the construction madness that we have had on the roads for the past 3 years. Some decal trim started to come off of it. A button inside the door frame that operates the light broke. My antenna was plucked out by the automatic wash … and the likes.

But it was still my baby! It’s been getting me through my crazy commute for the past year or so, 60 miles a day. Every day. Through rain, and snow and ice. It’s always been the absolute most comfortable car I have ever driven. I feel quite at home behind that steering wheel.

I was not ready for a new car, because I loved that little one! But as life would have it, just when I was contemplating that maybe, just maybe after 10 years, 100K+ miles of my own driving on it (135K total for the car), paint peeling off and springs screaming in pain when only my 115 lbs frame sits in the driver’s seat, maybe  … it’s time to say good bye … Just when I was thinking this, the Echo decides this week to throw a “check engine” light on its cute, central console dashboard. A “check engine” light that came with a $2600 + tax + labor fees tag on it.

I think it helped that I was kind of on the fence about buying a car, because my decision not to fix it was pretty fast. As of a couple of days ago, we retired the Echo, and we’re the happy new owners of a white, slightly used Prius. Yes, folks, now, I am “one of them”!

This will take some getting used to. I am still missing my crazy golden unbridled little two door wonder. I still cringe at the new car payment on the new beauty in my garage. But my carbon footprint just shrank! How can I not be happy about that?! Just teasing here, because that’s not why I bought this car. Having a hybrid kind of came to me, I didn’t look for it.

It’s a beautiful car – so far, although it’s not the Echo! … Without a doubt, it’s the most expensive one I have ever owned and the fanciest – leather (which I swore I would never buy!) and all. But as I get older, and I guess wiser about my career choices and savings, and as I find out that life is short and precious, comfort trumps cash for me lately. I tried other Toyotas, before I “settled” for the Prius, but none of them gave me the visibility and comfort in the driver’s seat that the Echo has given me for years. And alas, they don’t make them anymore! So, I settled.

I say ‘hello’ to my new car, with my heart still longing for the old. Life moves on. I hope a nice, college girl finds the Echo, after the dealer fixes it for $200 (and I made peace with that, too), and it goes on and on, as Toyotas go, for many more miles, making her happy and giving her happy memories, just like it did it for me.

And it’s sometimes just time to part with things (yes, things, too, just like lives …) that you love. Sometimes we’re ready, and sometimes life doesn’t ask. It just forces us to. 

 With the Echo in Vail, CO, on our Trans-America trip - 2010

Good bye, little Echo! It’s not because of lack of love. It’s because … it was time! Your place in my heart is safe and forever, don’t you worry!

And ‘hello’, Mr. Prius. Let’s see what your fanciness is all about! And for all of you, you can call me Ms. Green-In-Training

And I leave you with the masters ...

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The American New Years

This blog was prompted mostly by all the folks back home that always ask me, around this time of year “how do people celebrate New Years in America? Do they really all go out in the streets?”. Well, my dears – mostly, but not all of them.

I remember celebrating New Years growing up, back home. It was always the same thing, every year, for us and pretty much everyone we knew. My family would cook for a week and make all these courses of food (so far, nothing new, right?!). And then, we’d all gather together, usually at my parents’ house, some family friends, my grandparents, maybe my aunt and uncle too, sometimes some coworkers, too – just a ton of people. We would always dress up. My dad was adamant about that! The New Year deserves to be welcomed in pretty attire – he always said.  The party would start around 9 PM. We would sit around the looonnggg dinner table, and eat the whole night away, till 6 AM. We’d all have “something” (preferably champagne, but it was not always that) in our glasses for midnight, ‘cause you never wanted the New Year to find you on empty!

Till I was 15, we had almost no TV watching options to speak of all during the year. We had access to one TV channel, and they broadcast 2 hours of program (mostly politics) a day, and about 4 on Saturday. That was it! The only exception was New Year’s night. On that night, the program would start at 7PM, and after the couple of hours of mandatory politics, they’d broadcast the “Revelion” program (the Romanian name for the New Year’s party) till 6 AM the next day. During our celebratory dinner, the TV would always be on, and we’d watch music, stand up comedy and traditional folk dancing and singing all night long. It was special. This was our tradition.

My most favorite memories are of TV watching – we so appreciated all the fun that was so new to us – and being together and laughing at dad’s jokes over good food. My parents, and all the other Romanians I know are still celebrating it like this, minus, for some of them, maybe the TV.

And then, many moons later, I moved to The States. Here, from what I could tell, there is no uniformity in spending New Years, and as far as I can tell, no one tradition to follow. Some people go out to dinner, at 8-9 PM, and then they go home and “watch the ball drop”. For those of you not familiar with the expression – this is the Times Square ball in New York City that “drops” at midnight on the top of a high rise. The streets in New York are full of people and there are bands playing, and dancers dancing on high platofrms. Everyone in America is watching, and the dropping of the ball is broadcast in every time zone of America, too, with every one’s midnight. I have done this many years in a row. I usually go out to dinner before midnight, sometimes, and then go home, open a bottle of champagne and wait to watch the ball and the show broadcast from Times Square on TV. Then, I head to bed around 1 AM, after I feel like I have welcomed the New Year with a full glass.

Some people would have friends over for dinner or dinner and games. I have personally not partaken into the “games” event, but I have had people over for midnight, right after a nice dinner somewhere in town. I am not sure how long the “games” gatherings last, or what games are played, but it might still be time to find out.

Others do head for the streets. When I lived in Myrtle Beach, SC – which is a party/ resort town year round – we did this. We would go out for a late dinner and then we would bar hop. And just look for bars with live music, spend a little bit of time to warm up in one, and then move along to the next bar. There was an area of town (called Broadway at the Beach) where there is no car  traffic allowed, and we would walk about, people watch, sometimes eat street food and wait for midnight to come. Then, we would watch the fireworks show at midnight. Then, head home around 1 AM or when we were completely frozen. Or drunk – whichever came first. It always ended up being a big celebration.

Where I live now, one of the nearest towns, Provo, has an interesting custom. They bring a fire truck in the parking lot of the mall, and they hang an electric, wire ball, all lit up, to the top of the ladder. Then, at midnight, they let the ball drop, just like the famous one in Times Square. Then, there is a fireworks show. Yes, cheesy (about the makeshift ball), but it’s their hometown show. And who am I to judge?! You always have to remember that there are many a people who never see beyond the boundaries of their small towns. This is their tradition. Their memories. One should never make light of that. I was glad to witness this, and feel like part of the local community on my first winter here.

Back home, my parents always made sure they ingrained in our brains that no matter what you do for New Years, you can never let two important ingredients be missing: a full glass, nor can you ever be alone. I have to tell you, I have not done well with the second piece of advice. Many years, I was alone. One year, I even went out to dinner by myself. In a whole bar full of people, and couples (I guess I was not completely alone, technically), I was alone at a bar, discovering the depths of blue cheese.  One other year, I pulled out the yoga mat in my living room and was in the middle of my routine at midnight. Yes, the glass of champagne was nearby. I was never really alone, though. Really. I always had my cats, and all the people in my memories from years past.

Nowadays, I try to bring in some traditions into our new lives. We try to go to dinner and always be awake and together on the big night. I still agree with my dad – this one night should not just go on like any other night of the year. We always dress up, even if it’s just to be in front of the New York ball. I have tried for many years, to get dinner reservations for as close to midnight as possible, just to be around a lot of people – like those folks in New York, or like Myrtle Beach used to be. But anywhere else in America besides the party towns, they always have you out of any joint by 11.30 PM.

There is one thing I have never tried – one of those reservations at a hotel for the New Year’s special.  You reserve a multiple course dinner in the hotel’s ball room or reception hall, everyone wears fancy gowns and tuxes, and then you toast champagne with everyone else at midnight. Then, it’s up to the room for the night. I would like that experience for sure at least one time.

In the whole scheme of things, America’s New Years’ traditions are like everything else in the country – pretty much allows everyone to make their own. If there is one uniformity in America, it’s the uniformity of everyone making a consistent determination of not being uniform. I do miss the big parties at my mom’s house for New Years, but  just as much as any parties, I guess. If there is one thing I can say is that my dad was right – whatever you do, you gotta make it special. It is the threshold between past and future, and you will never meet the old year one more time in your life. Nor will the new year ever be a baby again. The switch is worth celebrating. Now, what “special” means to you, it’s totally your choice. A pattern or lack of one across all people is entirely irrelevant, I have found.

These are just some of the things I know of and I have experienced in the past 14 years of spending my most important night of the year in the Land of the Braves. From my shores to yours, I hope your celebration was lively and memorable and opened the doors to a bright new year.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Shelving 2012 - with Thanks...

I found this corny quote yesterday, on one of my social sites: “Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” (Brad Paisley)

And since it’s time for my year end blog, of course it caught my eye. But then, after pondering upon it with snarky superiority, I thought: you know, he’s right! We have this blank canvas in front of us - what are we going to do with it?! Before you yawn at the platitude of that question, bear with me: do we even think about it this way – preemptively? Do we ever think: “Man, I will make good decisions every day of my life, just so I have something to talk about at the end of it”?! Not as a routine, I am sure.

Most times, we’re in the business in taking the “now” and the “here” for granted, and then crying over spilt milk, like good humans do, right?!

I was thinking: I know people who cried about, and prepared for and really believed in the End of the World that was to come last month. And when it didn’t happen – what did they do to thank (whoever?!) or celebrate the surviving?! Not much, if anything at all … How do we really celebrate or thank the universe for the simple gift that is a blank 24 hours, much less a blank 365 days?!

But this “future” business, as well as this gratitude one, is all relative, circumstantial and personal, isn’t it?! What is not relative is what did happen. And what did happen yesterday for me and the rest of the world was another year!

I have been so mad at 2012, I cannot even write about it. It has not been the happiest year of my 37 years, I would say, overall – and I have always found at least some things to be hopeful about. Maybe I am growing old and my optimism has worn off?! Who knows?! Or maybe my expectations are entirely too high, and after all I am admitting to it?! Or maybe I am just ungrateful?! Could very well be.

My sweet husband reminded me, also yesterday, however, that there are so many other tens of hundreds of things that I should be happy (not to mention grateful) about in the past year! Things like togetherness (what’s left of it), family, jobs, health (again, what’s left of it), good food, good music, and soft kitties! Things like having two eyes to see and two arms to hug small nephews. Things like skype, phones, and emails to keep us connected to the ones we love, even afar. Things like each other, and being goofy or loving to one another when life renders us sad. Just little things, you know … But all of them so worth being grateful for, as the world would be even darker without them.

The “bad” that happened in 2012 was just, for the most part, the natural course of life, I suppose. We can’t stand in its way. The trick is not to try to stop the “normal” bad, I guess, but to find enough good to able to withstand it. And the trick is indeed to find that good - to acknowledge it, rather. It’s always there.

Here’s 2012 in pictures, from Mr. Aa. Babe, you are the true gift and one of the brightest lights of last year. Thank you for finding the love and hope I could not find within myself, to string our memories together:

As for me, and for the rest of you: let’s start writing that book!
Happy New Year!