Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy Old Year!

“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.” -  T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

For as long as I can remember now, at the end of every year, my wish for all is "may the new year be happier/ better/ healthier/ more plentiful/ etc-er". But this year, for the first time, I feel like it would be hard to match, let alone surpass, the joy, happiness and peace that 2015 has brought us, personally. When the world has twisted and turned into more turmoil than ever, in unrest, violence, hunger and war, our lives seem to have thrived and given us plenty more than we probably deserve.

For that, I am grateful, and I can only hope we were kind enough to Karma so that she can continue her kindness to us. 

I hope we all make the New Year right, and we enjoy the ride while we're at it. 

No idea what the next 366 days will bring, but right now, in this moment, looking in the rearview mirror of the year passed, this is kinda how I feel. I thank my husband most of all, for being by my side in this journey, and my family and my friends for making it all special. It's all of you that keep me going, searching, smiling, giving ... Thank you!

Happy New Year, all, and to all a better tomorrow! 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

"Some days I hardly know what to pray for. Peace? Well, whatever." (Anne Lamott)

Life can truly be so discouraging!
I've been writing a blog post for a while. It was about hardships, human suffering and how oblivious we have all become to all that. But I stopped. It was way too negative even for me. This world is too much most days.

This Christmas, I am a conundrum of emotions - all good and bad. Grateful for my family, and my friends - few but honest. Grateful for my husband, my home, my cat, my material things. Grateful that I lived another day and wrote another blog.

I am also sad, for so much that we're missing in the world - peace, especially, love and understanding. Most of all, for respect to one another. After the Holocaust, we swore that "never again" will we allow it to happen. Yet, it's happening every day. It's happening everywhere. It's happening right now. This second.

I hope as we unwrap Christmas this year, with every happy thought, we can make room in our hearts to one less that happy one, with healing intentions. I hope we find our compassion and understanding of one another. Less criticism and more acceptance. I hope we learn how to pray to whomever we hold dear and they listen to us.

Just think about it: kindness is the only thing that doesn't cost a dime. It's all free. The intention of giving it is all that matters. Let's plan that for the new year - just to have the intention of being more kind. 

Someone was saying a couple of days ago on one of the social sites: "If you find out that you have too much money, buy  a bigger table, rather than a taller fence." I hope we all find an extra chair at ours this Christmas, literally or otherwise.

The world is big and ugly, and it will squash our dreams every chance it gets. But it all starts with a small positive light to make sense of its darkness.

As the song reminds us:

"Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me."

I hope you listen to the silence of Christmas tonight and you find your hearts.
Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Through My Window

"Spend the afternoon, you can't take it with you.” (Annie Dillard)

I have to be in the right mood to find "Walden" and "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" good reads. I sometimes, as I read them, wonder how much can one person really feel and observe and absorb of the very small and immediate nature they are surrounded by, without traveling as long as past their front door, to really make a book out of it.

But some weekends, or sick days, or just times when I am trapped in the house for no reason at all, it comes to me! There is a whole world out there - so real, so busy, so full, pulsating with life, and beauty that the spring should never run dry with inspiration.

Every bird has a story to tell, a different thought in the fearful glance; every dying rose or leaf, a shrinking memory to display, telling of the beauty past; every cloud has just a place in the immensity of the sky, every mountain a stream of melting snow to nurture.

These are just glimpses of what my camera peeked at this weekend through my kitchen window. You can hear and smell and touch the softness of feathers, the crisp of the drying leaves, the cold of the snow ... For a moment you can quiet down your breath, your thoughts, even the persistent noise of traffic and enjoy the symphony of nature ... 

The mountain just looked glorious this week! 

To my husband, these are "just sparrows". I still think they are precious in their own, sparrow-y way! 

This guy looked like he ruled the roost in my cedar tree ...

Autumn roses ... 

Through the blinds: When the feeders were flooded with hungry eaters ... 

And a purple finch, to make Aa. happy!

Now, if this were a painting ... 

Utah lake, and the "lighthouse" looking tower, along with the filthy air hovering over the valley this evening ... 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Many Reasons to Live or not to Live in Utah Valley

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about 10 reasons why I should move to Denver, CO. It was just a spur of the moment "hey, I went to Denver for a weekend and loved it" kinda thing, but it turned out to be one of the most popular blogs I have written, over time.

So, I thought, lately, to write a similar post, about the area that I live in right now, since I saw, with the first one, that people find these tips helpful and since I have a little bit more insight on actually living here longer than a weekend.

I started this as a list of "pros and cons" but I have dropped that organization, because that kind of classification invites labeling and judging. These are just my own observations as a Utah Valley resident, and I choose to not put any kind of judgement into them. If they are on this list, they are things that seemed to me, and me only, worthy of mentioning, and nothing more to it. "Good" or "bad" are subjective matters, and as such, they belong to each of our own individuality.

If you don’t follow this blog regularly, we moved to Utah from The East Coast about 5 and a half years ago, for my husband’s job. It’s been a discovery process ever since and we try, to this day, to make this our home.

Some things that I have found to be different and unique from everywhere I have lived before, and some things have required me to adjust in the past 5 and a half years:

If you want to live in a diverse area, this is not the place to be. The population here is pretty mono-chromatic. I think last time I checked, gay people can marry and we do have the first black Mormon congresswoman in history in the government, but … for the most part, we are pretty single toned when it comes to diversity. Utah is still 86% white, in case you’re wondering. When we travel, the first thing we notice after landing in Denver, Atlanta, or even Dallas is "wow! people DO come in all sorts of colors". We miss that, here.

The air is absolute crap in The Valley. The rest of the state is pretty pristine and wild, and less trafficked, but in the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys (anywhere from Ogden to Payson, if you look on the map – where the jobs are), the air is an absolute nightmare! Cold days in the winter, and desert fires in the summer render the air un-breathable most of the year. This was my biggest (less than pleasant) surprise when I moved here. Most days, I feel like we are dying away like rats from breathing this filthy air. You can literally taste it, and  it tastes like rubber and melted metal, almost year-round. Willie Nelson was not thinking of Utah when he was singing about "Clear mountain mornings ...".

And another thing that is crappy - it's traffic! For a state with a population of less than 3 million people and a density of 34 bodies per square mile, we surely do feel like trying to kill each other in traffic! Traffic is the absolute worse I have seen in this country and one of the worst I have seen in the world. Romania still takes the cake on that, but Utah is another brand of it altogether. I used to complain that people don't know how to yield - they just stop and can't merge. Well, in Utah, there is no Stop signs! There are only thoroughfares with no markings! They will run you over and then cry for a few months that it was a tragedy! I have never seen more people run over by trains than in Utah, either, simply because people pay no attention! 

The only upside to traffic is how breezy and uncluttered it is on a Sunday! Highways and stores are empty, because the majority of people are in church! The downside is, though - some of your favorite stores and restaurants (sometimes entire malls) are closed on Sundays. Really - the mall closed on Sunday. Imagine that!

Although the job market has been great, even during the recession,   women make considerably less than men in this area. I usually stay away from generalizations (at least on public forums), but when you live here, as a woman, you feel like no one really expects you to work. I have been promoted in my job, right here, in Utah, but when at the meeting table surrounded by 20 men, I had no voice. I was rudely and blatantly shut up with "we need an opinion that matters" right in my facec. I hope that is not the case in all the companies around here, and maybe things are different in Salt Lake City, which is a bigger and more cosmopolitan town. However, Utah county is very much stuck in patriarchy, as far as I can tell. 

If you like a free ticket to buy alcohol anywhere, including your grocery store, you have some adjusting to do when moving to Utah. Although the law has loosened up since 2001 when I first visited the state (no more membership to be paid to the restaurant when you order liquor), you still cannot buy wine at the grocery store, nor beer that is stronger than 3.2% alcohol. You will need to find your closest ABC store for that – and even then, the selection is not great.

Along the same lines: you cannot go anywhere “for just a drink”. Unless you buy food, you can never order just a drink, anywhere, bar, or restaurant alike.  You can also not order another drink unless the drink in front of you is completely gone. These are the rules. Trust me. They will enforce them. And get used to ordering a Riesling and the pimply kid who's taking your order telling you there is no such food on their menu. When you explain that is a "wine", they blush and say "they cannot fulfill your order because they are underage. You have to wait for the owner or bar tender to come and take your order and actually deliver the drink. Even when they do have an alcohol license. It's a process. Also, expect to be the only patron in a 200+ occupancy joint that consumes alcohol. And yes, some people will stare.

This is yet another different way of life, I guess: expect most of your neighbors to be consumed by their involvement in their (LDS) Church. The Church here is not just a means to a social life, or a means to eternal salvation. It's a way of life - The Church decides what organizations you should support as charity work, where you should get your savings, who makes your financial plan, what (physical) church (building) you go to, they organize yard sales, chili cook-offs and kids' activities, even are involved in your kids' scouting camps and all. And as a member, you are expected to pitch in. This leaves little time for people to make friends outside the church. We have managed to make a couple of friends, from within and outside The Church during our time here, but it has not been the easiest thing.

You cannot grow much of anything here. Let’s face it: you’re in the desert! I chuckle (and yes, you can say I judge!) at the large number of people who are stubborn to grow a lawn and even more stubborn to keep it lush year-round. I cannot even begin to imagine what their water bill is! We, on the other hand, embraced the environment, and we put a rock garden in our front yard. Nothing but boulders and pebbles, and it looks great, I think. I do have a garden, and it does need almost daily watering for the few tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and herbs I harvest every year, but I would not make it bigger than 2 beds.
Speaking of water: I have never had a water softening system anywhere else in my life - but you must invest in one here, because the water is incredibly harsh. I have never been through so many bottles of body moisturizer in one year, as I have been since I moved to Utah. Both the air and the water are harsh sandpaper into your entire body's skin!

This is  a "con" for me, personally, but I know lots of people who might embrace this: people around here love their superheros and their make-believe, " I am the maker and the king of the galaxy" movies and books! I guess when you can't have alcohol, or coffee, or anything to "excite you" in your life, you need some adrenaline rush from somewhere - they love sci-fi and XXX games! Probably 75% of all the 30 year olds I know have had a knee or a hip injury they got trying to fly through the air, or flip over hills while skiing. No joke! In their mind, they are superheroes!

Along the same line, and because today is Halloween - I have never seen anyone ever making a bigger deal over Halloween as these folks. You know the rule of "if my front porch light is off, we're not opening for trick-or-treaters"?! Well, yeah, no, not in Utah County! It can be dark as a moonless night out there and the house wrapped up in darkness, you will get trick-or-treaters for 4 hours straight at your door, and they won't budge even when you make no motion of intention from the inside that you will ever open the door. Parents and kids dress up here, and they have an office party, and neighborhood parties, organized by the church, usually (several, for the different age groups), not to mention parties that individual houses decide to have. It's a ghoulish culture, I tell ya!

No pun intended, but ... prepare to have the "are you prepared for emergencies" conversations (yes, as in multiples, and constantly) when you move to Utah. This state makes a very lucrative business from selling "preparedness items" and ideas all year round. No, not when we are supposed to be hit by ... oh, wait, we don't have tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes here at all! They "prepare" all the time. The radio tells you that you must, the billboards, the co-worker does too ... They have conferences, too, and classes on how to do it right ( Most of my native Utah acquaintances have bomb shelters in their home and huge storage rooms, with food and water supplies (and not only) to last them for months, I hear. And yes, the church is very much driving this, as well. We even have emergency drills in our neighborhood organized by "the bishop" of the church in this area, to which we silently and civilly non-participate. It is, I have found, quite another piece of reality you must get accustomed to, if you come from a  world that is happily oblivious to any such threats, like me. I come from a  world that leaves everything up to God - and lives blissfully ignorant that there is absolutely anything we could do the prepare should anyone stir up God's wrath.

One of the bigger challenges for me, personally, has been the exposure to guns around here. Most people carry guns, even to work, and when they go out shopping at the mall with the family, on a Saturday. For what, I do not know! I have met stay at home mommies of 3 or more that organize all women gun safety parties in the evenings. In North Carolina, I had a crafting group of friends and a book club. Here, I know women who teach one another how to "safely" handle guns! It's not unusual to hear on the radio that cops get shot just at a routine car stop, or even security guards getting shot at some store in a strip mall. You definitely have the feeling that the Wild West is not completely gone and people have not gotten the memo that we have laws now, that don't require us taking them in our hands to make justice! This bit is a little unnerving for me, who am not comfortable around guns at all.
Job market is amazing in this state, and particularly around Utah Valley. The amount of entrepreneurship in this area is flabbergasting to me! There is a strong software presence, but also call centers, marketing centers and multi-marketing companies that pay well, not to mention the hospitality industry of ski resorts, film festivals and such. See the “con” about what women get paid here, though. It’s not a fair game!

The cost of living is not extremely high and there are lots of grocery stores and discount food stores that accommodate large families with only one income. However, the cost of houses is higher than what I was exposed to in North Carolina, for instance. Houses here are huge (again: big families), and I have not seen any condo community for less than $120K/ unit. Utahans are incredibly crafty and natural born DIY-ers, too! I know folks who raise their chickens, smoke their own meats, make their kids' clothing, raise their own bees, and can-can-can everything they buy at the Farmers Market every summer! It's contagious, too, so after living here for a while, you, too, will dabble into one or more of the DIY "crafts". Salt Lake City even has an annual DYI fair

The cost of a high-end meal is pretty steep, but then, that is the case anywhere else. The family restaurants and chain ones are reasonable, but the high-end ones are very expensive and also clustered around Salt Lake City or any of the ski resorts. Not many "elegant" options around the suburb cities, I would say.

We talked about the liquor restrictions above. But the one good thing about the alcohol laws of Utah is that there are no dry counties in the state, nor are there any “dry” times of the week in purchasing alcohol anywhere. So, if you want to buy beer before 12 PM on July 4 on a Sunday, you can do so at any grocery store that is open. ABC stores are closed on Sundays, but that is because of a Government restriction (nation-wide). Other than that, you can buy your real liquor till 10 PM every day of the week, including Saturdays.

To continue with the alcohol theme, Park City has a whiskey distillery with a restaurant to die for, and the state has several breweries and beer pubs that showcase hundreds of different beers from all over the world. There are wineries in the Southern part of the state, as well, with whole resorts built around them. Once you’re here, you’ll know where to go and the selection of local beers and imports is not that bad, for an alcohol unfriendly state. It’s not Oregon, but … it’s better than South Carolina, I would say!

I am sure there are still so many other facets to life in The Rockies: the ranches, the rodeos, the super-conservative politics. But none of these directly fully aware-ing-ly affected out lives here. I never set out to make a documentary of the life in the West, just a small note collection of my own experiences. That's all.

Despite what you hear outside of Utah, and although 62% of the population of the state (more like 98% of Utah County where we live and work) is Mormon, no one will try very hard or very openly to convert you to Mormonism. They welcome visitors in church, but not in their teaching classes, to my knowledge. And no one comes pounding at your door for "conversion" conversations, either. Your LDS neighbors will be mostly very dedicated to their beliefs and lifestyle, but they will not try to convince you otherwise.

Although the soil is hard, and not much grass grows here (thistles are not grass), Utah grows the sweetest tomatoes in the whole wide world! I am not sure whether it’s the harsh, acidic soil, or the dry air, or the pelting sun, but the tomatoes here are healthy, large, juicy and sweet. On the occasional wet summer (not many of those!), they won’t produce as much, but they are still tasty.

“But it’s a dry heat”. Ok, to me, heat is heat! I lived in The Carolinas for 12 years, and wet heat is punishing. After 5 years in the desert, I can tell you, it’s just as bad when there is no promise of shade (there are no trees here!), and when the red rock gets so hot you can fry an egg on it, and starts reflecting the heat from 360 degree angles everywhere, cooking you alive! However, I live for the cool nights! The minute that sun settles down behind the mountains, the air is crisp and cool, and there is such a thing as “leave the window open all night to cool off the room”. In North Carolina, even at night, the air would be musty and thick with humidity! Here, you can sit by the fire, in August, under the starlit sky and just cozy up in a light blanket and feel the wind of the desert caressing your cheek. It’s pure health, as my grandma would say.

If you look really hard, there is culture around here. There are theater companies, in both Salt Lake and Provo area, there are great concerts that come to town and museums and traveling exhibits, too! They are not as frequent, I am sure, as New York City or LA, but they can compare with bigger cities like Atlanta or Charlotte for instance.

If you do have a family, then you might find this place to be close to heaven on earth for families - the restaurants send coupons to your house every other week with discounted meals for kids, or discounts when you buy "4 or more". So you can definitely have a family on a low budget here. Also, every family with kids has some sort of a pasttime vehicle (RV, boat, ATV) and they spend most of the year outside, just staying active and enjoying the beautiful outdoors around us. You can definitely make friends much quicker through kids - I think - not something I can say I have had experience with, though. 

If you have a family of two, like mine, get used to the question "how many kids do you have?". In the rest of the world is "do you have any children?". Here, if you are as old as my husband and I the question is "how many do you have" and "how old are your kids". My husband just got offered a coupon book to kids' activities around the county a couple of weeks ago with the smiling nod: "you know, for when your grand-kids visit". And this, from our next door neighbor!

The obvious needs to be stated here, as well: this state and the states around it are just gorgeous! Just within themselves - the vastness and the beauty of the landscape are mind blowing! You really feel God and His presence in every sunset, in every rocky spine of the hills, in every babbling stream, in every fawn frisky-ing around the raw green of spring.

There is a peace and a tranquility about it all that I have not found anywhere else in The States! There is nothing of the over-crowdedness of the East Coast around here. You have plenty of elbow room, and if you don't like your neighbors or can't stand their screaming kids for 5 more minutes, you can just jump in the car and you're only 5 to 10 minutes away from wilderness! Go and be quiet for a spell!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Tastes, Sounds and Views of a Full Summer

Wowie! I feel like jumping off the roller coaster and my feet still want to keep spinning!

We have had the busiest summer I can remember, in a long, long while. Nothing but one planned weekend after another with hardly any break in-between.

I have stopped a couple of times and talked about Montana and our camping trip on here, but I have not mentioned any of the other beautiful memories we have created this year. And just when you thought I was a slacker or a bad friend for not keeping in touch as often, let me just take you through our journey between Memorial and Labor Day this year.

Here we go ...

We kicked off the season with Parade of Homes. I had put three such events on our summer calendars (corresponding to various counties), but we managed to get in just one of them. The other two fell on "out of town" weekends. Bummer, but maybe next year! 


This year's Parade's staples were funky light fixtures and beautiful views. The homes were almost always set in the perfect environment to make the most out of our backdoor backdrop.

On July Fourth, we had my mother in law visit us, and we spent the long weekend sightseeing around our town, which is nothing to sneeze at! We had dinner at Sundance, we climbed to the top of Snowbird's 11,000 ft tall Hidden Peak and we hand lunch at Highwest Distillery  in Park City, before walking around the Silly Market.

Wandering in Park City, at The Silly Market

And what says "summer' louder than cooking outside? We had a cookout, too, that weekend and on Memorial Day, too.

Cooking out at home

July is also our favorite month for outdoor concerts. This year, we spent the night in Salt Lake City and decided to make a weekend out of it: we saw The Zac Brown Band at Usana Amphitheater and we spent the next day shopping and discovering new foods in the city: we ate at Mazza Middle Eastern Cuisine, which is a true must go to, if you're ever in the area. It stands out not only for the  authenticity and freshness of the food, but also for the friendliness of staff and owners.

Zac Brown Band - the Jekyll and Hyde Tour - Usana Amphitheater

Mazza lunch - stuffed grape leaves, falafel over rice

We also went to our now yearly traditional summer play - Salt Lake Acting Company's The Saturday Voyeur -  and got a good laugh or five after a delicious Thai dinner at Sawadee - another new find this year. Thank goodness for friends who enlighten us (both on the play and the food alike)!

Later on that month, we took a weekend drive through Solitude ski resort, and then through the mountains to Midway - both very picturesque settings in the Rockies, and must sees for those visiting. You forget you are in the US of A for a minute and the views and the architecture carry you to the European Alps. The food and the beers help that feeling, too. One full day ride felt like a whole week away!

Solitude, Utah
This outdoor cafe in Midway, UT is welcoming and delicious! 

During the last days of July, we got our fix for street food and more local vendors at Spanish Fork Fiesta Days. We did not go to the rodeo this year, but the fair grounds and the tacos, hot dogs and popcorn on the sidewalk did the trick. 

Scrapbook 1: Spanish Fork Fiesta Days
More street food: the ribbon fries were another first food find of this summer, at the DIY Festival in Downtown Salt Lake

Speaking of tradition: we went to our second Payson Salmon Supper which is this huge cookout where the city of Payson (next door to us) flies in all the wild salmon they can catch in Alaska and cooks it on wood chips on giant fires in the downtown park. The food is delicious, and the feeling of community is hard to describe. The music, the people watching, the smells and the delicious food at the end make the sometimes 2 hour lines worth it. And I don't say this just about any line.
Scrapbook 2: Payson Salmon Supper

August was also Montana vacation time. This was my first time in Whitefish, Montana and Glacier National Park, as well as our first time in Cody, Wyoming. I have already talked plenty about how amazingly beautiful Montana was, so I won't detail it here. I could be writing several books about it. As breathtakingly beautiful as Montana was, Cody was just soaked in history: every street corner, the Buffalo Bill museum, the Irma Hotel - everywhere we stepped and everything we touched had some story to tell - about hardships, hope, carving a new continent, about true grit. I am so unbelievably lucky to live so close to (or right in the middle of) these spots that other people know about only from Western Hollywood movies and maybe books!

Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
I know September is not "technically" a summer month, but this year, it very much has been! Even now, as I write this, my fan is on and the windows are wide open - it's nice and summery out there in the dusk. So, I'll continue my stories about our estival wanderings ...

September was Canada mini-vacation month. We went up to Montreal to visit my sister. Montreal is always like a third home (I know, I know ... where does it stop, right?!) to me. It feels very familiar and very cozy. Maybe because I am seeing it always through the eyes of people I love, but it has a familiarity about it that makes every visit comfortable. 

This year, we drove up to Mont Tremblant, a ski resort on the Eastern Coast, and we spent a day in Montreal's Old Port district, over brunch and visiting the St. Joseph Oratory - a rich architectural universe of the Catholic world. 

Although Mt. Tremblant was a zoo (Labor Day!), it was gorgeous!
St. Joseph Oratory - Montreal, QC

Of course, the best memory about Canada is just getting my fix of family and love that has real meaning. We loved seeing the kids and just having our fingers on the pulse of the passing time with them around. And how else would we learn about TrashPacks and Skylanders and stay "cool aunt & uncle"?!

          Taking a pre-dinner neighborhood walk with the family - St. Basile Le Grand, QC

Oh yeah - and have I mentioned that we also bought a new truck and a new RV this summer, too? Yes - busy with what all that entails, too - and learning to use the RV and navigate it and care for it, and just own it, or be owned by it - I have not decided which.

We camped three times this summer - the most we have ever camped in one season during the five and a half years of being together. We actually had more camping trips planned before fall crept in quietly with its cold temperatures and more out of town activities. We closed the year with a wedding and with a visit to see dear friends who live far, too far away.

                     Summer also means "camp fires" and my husband makes the best ones!

Sometimes in there, we squeezed in some yard work time, too - we have the most green yard we have ever had - I guess after years of hard work and planting the right stuff and watering in copious amounts, something actually took root. We harvested and canned and tied all that up in bow, for the next year, almost (still have some tomatoes and peppers on the vines and some rosemary to dry up for the winter).

 Grape leaves, raspberries, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are only a few of our garden's
                                    harvest this year. Very happy with it!

Usually, I am so depressed when fall comes. I am simply never ready for the cold months, for covering up my toes and packing them in closed shoes for months and months on end. I know the months to come will be long and dreary. But for the first time (maybe I am getting older, truly?!), I really am looking forward to the winter, with the comfort foods and fireplace crackling, with the mulled wine and the copious amounts of baked goods in the house, the smell of cinnamon, spiced pumpkin and red apples candles, and later on of pine and mistletoe.

Time to close out the door for a bit and just take everything in. We've had a rich, happening summer and year, for sure. Looking forward to a temporary break and to recharge our batteries for what 2016 will bring, God willing.

I know "summer" means the ocean to most people out there - and we did get just a glimpse of ours, on our way to Montreal. I know: pretty bizarre, we flew over the Pacific (out of LAX) en route North East. Here's to happy plane wings to come and more restless summers ...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Have Wheels, Will Travel

As I write this, this is my view - our backyard for the weekend: Ponderosa Campground - Nebo Loop, UT

I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would ever own a camper. I remember, growing up in a block of crumbling communist flats, that we had a neighbor who had one, parked crooked, right next to our playground. It was caged in in a makeshift garage, so "the gypsies" won't hurt it, behind chain-link fencing. If memory serves correctly, it was tiny and rusting and leaning onto one side, and I don't remember ever seeing it move or anyone ever so much as opening it. Looking back now, I don't even know if they even had a bathroom in there. But to me, the lonely camper always meant a world of possibilities. Oh, how cool it would be to just hook it up to your car and take it away in beautiful places, and just live there, for a day, week, or even longer! Taking in nature, and being free of rents, landlords, city utilities ... What a heaven!

As a child, you dream a lot. And you envision magical stories about everything outside your own reality. As an adult, all that is crushed by the harsh, cruel hand of "reality" and things come more into the dreaded focus. You start thinking you can't afford it, you can't afford the insurance, or you'd rather buy shoes, books, rose bushes for your yard with the money. Then, the maintenance, and so forth.

But then you marry this man who grew up with one. And all he wanted to do, all his adult life, is to recreate his childhood camping trips in Canada. And he pushes you out there and convinces you of the fun to be had! Sometimes dreams choose us, you know. And after all, when it's about nature, running away and leaving the world behind, albeit for a weekend, I don't need that much convincing, either.

Maybe our WolfPup (the name of the model we got and its official family name) deserved a blog entry on our first outing, last weekend. But sometimes you need to let the raw experience settle a little before you know what you want to leave behind from it.

I have been camping for years in a tent. And in my adult years, I thought "Oh, camping in a camper is similar to tenting, except you get a bigger tent and the bears won't eat you while you're sleeping". But, boy, was I wrong!

There is not much similarity between a camper and a tent, besides the fact that they're both portable. Camping in a camper, I think, is similar to having a vacation home, with almost all the perks, and conveniences of one: all the right "facilities" for cooking, cleaning, playing, sleeping and the likes. The bonus is that you get to choose your landscape and your neighbors with every trip.

But boy, do you pay for that bonus! The amount of awareness it requires is amazing - and I am lucky to just reap the benefits from it without much work on my own, because my husband is a hands-on camper owner. The buttons, the pipes, the tanks, the chemicals, the tricks of leveling and the reasoning behind it all - I am blissfully unaware of it! I used to be nosy, and wanted to know how everything works, so I will never be stranded nor feel helpless. But now, I am just enjoying having Aa. to make it all comfortable for us. And it's fun watching him, too, as it all seems easy and second nature to him.

We have pretty much every comfort of home, right here with us. A fridge to keep our grub cold and fresh, a stove to cook a "real" breakfast and make Turkish coffee in the morning, a bed with "real" linens and an honest-to-goodness comforter (I swear this thing will work in sub-zero temps!), a heater to keep us warm, with a thermostat, even, so we can make sure we're not "too warm", really. Even a flushing toilet!

Although it's really tempting to just live in the camper when we go out for the weekend, we still enjoy the outdoors and feel like we are camping, too. We still make a fire pit fire, and we still cook our dinners on it. We still smell like bacon when we come back home! We put up our camping chairs and take short cat naps, although we do take longer ones, after lunches in the "real" bed, too.

We hike during the day, and shoot (think Canon, not Smith & Wesson) the mountains, creatures and vegetation all around us. We are tuned into the wild, during our waking hours.

For the past couple of weekends, we camped in non-crowded campgrounds (fall weather helps!), with no reception for internet or cell phone. And it's been a blessing. Last weekend, when we were away from the world for 2 nights and a full day, we both felt like we had been on vacation for two weeks. It's amazing how taxing and energy draining it is for our brains to plug into "electronics" 24/7. With no tv, facebook, email and google news, we had only nature, each other and old fashioned card games to rely on for passing the time.

This weekend, we're even further away from the world, on Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway, in Ponderosa Campground. We're right on Salt Creek, and although the temps are in the low 80's, it feels nice and crisp, up here under the shade of maples and hardwoods and pines . The stream is soothing my stressed out brain ... There is something about running water hitting rock that's just hypnotic, you know?!

The colors around us are a rainbow from fiery red (the maples) all the way to crude green (the ponderosa pines). We're sipping our drink, listening to the last cricket of the summer and waiting for time to pass till our next meal (lunch).

I love camping in the fall the best! The light is so soft and inconsistent throughout the day. You can never move, and shoot the same bush all day and you'll think you shot the whole forest just because the light will hit it differently every half hour.

The campgrounds are quieter in the fall, too - more campers that keep to themselves than tenters that are 12 year old and finally free to shout. The birds' song is more tired, as are the crickets and cicadas. It gets colder sooner, which makes it for early dinners and quicker fires. We're on the lookout for woolly worms to tell us about the winter, and we marvel at the billions of shapes of various leaves as well as millions of shades of yellows and reds.

Time will stretch again, for the weekend, and we'll feel like 24 hours are 78, we hope! There is no cell potential for ringing, no facebook stream to read, no tv to switch on ... Just a couple of magazines, a book and our journals to fill up.

I read once that the dog breathes 100 times in a minute and lives 16 years, while a turtle breathes 3 times in a minute and lives well into their 100's. Here's for a slower pace of life, and more days like these, when we can breathe slower and deeper, eat less, watch and listen more, have no purpose other than wondering and wandering, where we can check out from the daily routine and build towards our 100 year of living potential. 

One thing I know for sure: our camper's meant for pulling. It will not look desolate behind no chain-link fence! 

The winter doesn't seem too scary, does it?!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Mountains (again)

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains. (Diane Ackerman)

It’s a cold summer morning in my memories. The sheets under me are hard with starch. The bed is full of springs cutting into my skinny child’s ribs. The comforter weighs a ton and it smells a like dirty, oily sheep. It’s 100% unspun wool, you see.

I take a whiff of the air and I smell the wood. We’re in a wood house, in the middle of the mountains, in Romania, and everything around us is wood: the house walls, the ceilings, the floors, the furniture, the porch outside our room. Everything smells like fresh or old lumber (both as heavenly) and the perfume is sweet balsam!

I listen carefully and there are crackling noises coming from the room next door – the only room next door, the kitchen. The crackling noises are the fresh, dry wood breaking down in the fire newly lit in the stove, to cook our breakfast. I listen some more and I hear the noise of metal plates (rather, aluminum) and metal mugs being pulled out of the dish drainer and arranged on the table. Then, I hear my friend’s grandma calling us up, for breakfast. It’s a new day, in the mountains.

These are my memories about growing up in the mountains – the cold, crisp air and cold sheets (even in August), the metal mugs we had fresh milk in in the morning and before bedtime, the wood fire cooking our fresh eggs (sometimes so fresh they were hot from under the hens in the stables). To those smells, more added during the day – the perfume of fresh, wild strawberries we picked in the woods; the earthy smell of freshly picked mushrooms, the cow dung we had to shovel in the stables, every day. And over it all, the all-en-wrapping smell of the woods. The pine sap, the wood fiber seeping into the cold air. The bliss! All of it make up the memories of my childhood. All those make my knees weak even today and they’re calling me, every minute. This is my happy place.

One of the friends I grew up with said to me once, a long time ago, when I was too young to get it. He goes: “ You and I are destined to live in the mountains. You know why? Because we don’t see mountains. We feel mountains! And that’s all it takes”. I was too young to get it then, but I was old enough to pack it away in my brain till one day I was ready to pull it out and get it! I am living it today – to some extent.

Anyone who knows me well, mostly my family, will tell you – my land is in the mountains. They make my brain happy! They make my heart sing. They make my nerves calm and my heartbeat mellow.

I love the mountains for so many things – their beauty is only a fraction of what makes them appealing to me. I love the people in the mountains – their strength and resilience. I love that time seems to stand still here. You come back in 10 years, and you’ll find the same rocks and trees have not moved. I love how self-sufficient they make anyone feel: they give you lumber for homes and heat, they give you trout, berries and mushrooms for sustenance, they give you clean water at every step, for hydration. They give you fresh air, for any cure for whatever ails you! What more can anyone possibly want?!

You can call it hopeless love, because that’s exactly how it feels – it’s a lifelong love affair with the curve of the slopes, the uprighteousness of the pine trees, the solitude of the rocky peaks, the crystal clear-ness of the lakes, the bitter coldness of the rapid streams, the carpets of wild flowers, the untouched, timeless beauty of the pastures, the innocence of the fawns chasing each other on them.

The two tv series that were dearest to my heart were The Mountain Family Robinson  and Twin Peaks . Both of them are set in this timeless landscape similar to the one I grew up in. Everything I seem to do in my life brings me back into a circle to somewhere where the landscape looks peeled from one of these series that made me dream …

I was lucky enough to live in the mountains, so for me, it’s more than a dream: I know it’s a real possibility. I fear the remoteness, at times, and I worry, as I get old, of the lack of conveniences that the mountain poses, but when you’re happy in your heart, who and what reason can be contrary to that?!

Our recent trip to Montana only made my craving worse. I live in the mountains now, but there are no clear streams (really) and definitely no clean lakes. The air is bad where we are, except a few days in the late fall … But I do smell lumber almost daily, and I do feel the crisp chill in the air every day. And my friend was right: I still feel the mountains. I feel every sunset and sunrise with every string of my heart.

Montana just reminded me, in a big way, that I belong here. Montana, in some parts, is still beautifully wild and untouched. Beautifully virgin and crazy, if you will! People there are not as friendly as you might want to see, but they have a tough love kind of welcome appeal to their demeanor! The trout is not as plenty as you might dream, but the streams are there. The smells, and beauty, the mountain tops, are still kings! The trip to me was like a return to a very familiar place, one that I knew deep down, from another existence that in undoubtedly existed! It was a trip home, to oddly enough, a place my eyes have not factually seen every before. But a welcome feeling of deja-vu was everywhere.

 I still want to be buried on a mountain top to hear the winter wind hauling and see those fawns play in the summer. In a way, my heart is already buried there. 

Where the waters run clear, deep and feisty ...

My grandpa built mountain roads, train tracks, dams and tunnels. A tunnel through the mountain will remind me of him, and who I am. 

I love vistas like these, where the river bed rests in the bottom of the valley, and welcomes the peaks into its depths. The low and the high married in perfect harmony, for ancient ages ... and ever ... 

This was our lunch spot. Purple flowers as far as the eye can see. Just for me. 

My pinnacle, quite literally: where pasture meets rocks and everlasting snows. This is where I want my dream home or forever home to me. And trust you me: every mountain has it!

Fawn and momma in Glacier National Park, MT 
Our back porch sunset, every night during our vacation - on the Flathead River, in Hungry Horse, MT.
To see the whole trip (Whitefish, MT, Glacier National Park, Cody, WY, Yellowstone National Park), click on the picture.