Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thoughts on the Cusp of the New Year

Disclaimer: I have had this blog cooking in my head for a few days. Last night, I came up with a killer title for it. Today, the tile is completely gone. I cannot remember even one word of it. I hope the compromise one I chose instead will still do. 

On every New Year's Eve, I always ponder upon our lives, our journeys, and the accomplishments or lack thereofs in the year closing. So, today is no different than any of the other 40+ Eve's that I have left behind me.

But I think this past year (2017), I have asked myself more the questions of “why?”, “why now?, “why us?” more than any other year in my life. As the world seems to grow smaller, and angrier, and more crowded, less patient, and less respectful, I wonder daily what is the purpose of us all, and what kind of cataclysm doomed us to whatever it is happening now and whatever might be coming up next.

2017 has been a year of everything for us. As any life goes, it's been a year of amazing personal peaks and disappointing lows: we saw some new countries to us, we have seen most of our close family, some of which we had not seen for years, we made closer friends, we did some good for our charities, it was my first (air) travel year after my surgery and it all went well. I almost did manage to go through the year without an ER visit, all the way until the very end. But I was happy that the one ER visit I did have was not heart-related. Or at least not directly.

But personally, we have also seen some of the lowest lows, too: the insecurity and uncertainty of losing a job, the horror of a cancer diagnosis amidst our close family members, the need to uproot once again (at 40 something and 50 years of age) to settle in a new state – this last one is more of a bitter-sweet transition, rather than a low point, or at least we hope it is not all low.

All this, while the world seems to spin faster and faster out of control! And I am not sure whether it's just aging, but this year, for the first time, I felt like the state of the world affects the state of my being more than ever!

I don't think globalization can be stopped or changed anymore: used to be that events that happened in other countries had no potential of ever affecting us. But that is not the case anymore. What happens in Iran, Iraq, Korea, Japan, Israel, Russia, the UK, France, you name it … can affect us here, in a small town in NC, or AL, or anywhere nondescript. If this past year has taught us anything is that the world is our oyster. For better or worse!

With social media and its free and available nature, we are constantly exposed to evil, from near and far. Why do people choose evil over good is still beyond me!

I know people who unconditionally believe in the good in all of us. I have had doubts my whole life about this, but it must be true: if it true that we all come from God, then it must be true that we all have some good in all of us. What I fail to see lately is people finding that good that's already inside them and greeting the world with that, rather than with the sea of badness they're filled with. The willingness to show good, and to do good is a weakness anymore. You're a hippy, a 'sissy', or a 'chick' if you're soft, and kind, and caring … - none of which is a compliment, of course.

It's a tough world out there and I think it will be tougher. Disrespect and hatred seem to be accepted anymore, and although I do see a lot of my friends take a firm stand against it all, I don't see much changing in the bigger picture. Sure, with each individual action of resistance and setting the record straight, the evil has one less chance to win, but the evil is still out there – supported and advertised by people in power.

It boggles my mind that people still support Trump! I am not saying they “support the Republican party”, but that, still, puzzles me, as well. But they support him, the man! I cringed when the results of the “most popular man of the year” survey came out and every news organization blasted that the news was “shocking” that Obama was more popular than Trump. Other than the platitude of findings (is there really a comparison between the two?!), I was floored that the news was that “Trump got 14% of the votes while Obama got 17%.” Really?! You're telling me that Trump is only three percent points less popular than Obama?! I wish I were a better writer to explain to you how much that 14% really stings. Double digits! Really?! Forgive me for not seeing the silver lining here.

I understand freak personalities that come every once in a while during the history of mankind. Like bad seeds that sprout weeds, they happen to humans as much as to plants. I can even understand freak circumstances that might allow them to go far and succeed in oppressing others' dignities. But I have never understood the support. The millions of others who accept this as a way of life. As a standard for all of us. Many days nowadays have me wonder: “in what universe is this thing legal? And accepted?” And yet, things that appall me happen every day with zero consequence!

It makes me angry that after so many thousands of years, after so many history lessons, after so much angst and turmoil, after countless losses as a universe, we're regressing so much as opposed to progressing and enhancing our humanity.  

But I seldom do politics. However, I feel like this year, more than anything, this transcends politics. Just like I knew this country was headed for failure after W. Bush was in the office and supporting mediocrity, I know we're in more trouble now than we have ever been before. When something reminds me of something darker, crueler, even less humane (if such a thing is even possible) than Communism, trust me: we're in for deep, troubled waters.

As a country, as a world power, but most importantly, here at home, as a community. I fear for us, as women, people of color or of other nationalities, children with disabilities. I fear for us as a social class, and as a community. I fear we're losing something that we don't know we're losing till it's all gone and too late to get it back.

I am looking for answers, and for the first time in a long time, I fail to see where they might come from. Both in Europe, as whole (Romania in particular), and here, I feel the fastened pulse of a people in despair and rage. And for the first time in a long time, a people hopeless.

There have not been many years where I wished for the old year to never end. I am usually hopeful that the new year will bring us more health, more joy, more wealth, more love, and more togetherness than the year we're closing. This time, I don't ever want 2017 to end. I am scared that what the new year will bring will be darker, more grim and sadder than what we're leaving behind. I am scared that it might bring us something we're hardly prepared to handle at all. Something beyond our imaginations.

I wish I could truly say it's up to us how to put together the next 365 pages of our lives, our 365 chances to screw it all up or make it all better. But I am not believing these words anymore. There seems to be so much in this world that eludes us that controls us, and our every day, more lately than ever. Staying vigilant is only half of the answer. The other half is truly fighting this. But when there are no laws to encourage and support our fight, it is hard to fight back. And for the hippy in me fighting is ever the solution or the victory.

One promise I can make myself, and my family: I could try to not let this harden and embitter me beyond graciousness. I will try to let what is good in me win me over and allow me to put it forward, instead of cowardly hiding it as a weakness and I will try to share the goodness at least with people in my immediate realm. I know I can use some kindness – I am willing to be the first one to give mine to others. Giving it to the undeserving will be hard, however. The judge in me won't let that go, unfortunately.

I am not bitter. Just sad and drained by everything I am seeing around me this year. I used to wake up every morning and check my emails. My husband calls it “checking in with the world.” Nowadays, I fire up my news-feed first thing in the morning, before I do anything else. I need to check and see whether I do have a world to check in with anymore.

In the end of this long and strained year, I leave you with the lyrics of one of my favorite poets which I think summarize sort of how I feel right now:

Did you know freedom exists
In a school book?
Did you know madmen
Are running our prison
Within a jail, within a gaol
Within a white free protestant

We're perched headlong
On the edge of boredom
We're reaching for death
On the end of a candle
We're trying for something
That's already found us.” (Jim Morrison – Freedom Exists)

I wish you all a kinder and easier year in 2018. May you all find that something that's already found you and hopefully that something is good.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

'The Ghosts of Christmas Past'

I have always faulted Romanians for living in the past. Their present, for as long as I have lived, has always been grim and disappointing, and they always take refuge in the past. “Yes, this government is more corrupt than any government in the history of the country, and our standard of living is below poverty for 99% of the population, BUT … Europe won the Second World War with our oil and we gave the world insulin and Nadia Comaneci!” Who cares, right?!

But as I age, I find myself looking back to the past more and more. Not sure if as much as a refuge from the present, but just as a contemplation of where this aging body has been – a long journey, full of good remembrances!

This Christmas, I have spun through my head the memories of my life, at Christmastime, like you spin an old movie reel. And they are so many and so different. I have been lucky to not only have a family who is very much into Christmas, but to have come across, over the years, families that adopted me at this time of the year and shared with me their traditions as well. I have been exposed to a smorgasbord of Christmas pastimes, so my memories are very eclectic.

When we were little kids, I remember mom and grandma taking us to the most central park in our hometown where we would watch the lighting of the tree and the temporary statue of Santa Claus. We did not have the Santa that lets you sit on his lap at the mall. We didn't have a mall. We had this giant, wooden Santa, about 30 feet tall standing by the city tree. It boggled my little mind how this huge Santa would even fit through our door to come drop off the presents – this was just the beginning of my doubting nature. There were no carols, really, because it was during communism and we were not allowed to carol churchy stuff. Our family sang carols, but it was very much hush-hush. Christmas was about winter and Santa, not about Jesus. For this reason, we never went to Church on Christmas.

We went to see the tree and Santa on Christmas Eve, not 10 weeks before Christmas started. Everything started then on Christmas Eve. We even made our own tree on The Eve, too, not weeks before. We would have the tree up till January 8th, after celebrating John the Baptist's feast and Jesus's Baptism. We did say “Happy Holidays” in December, and we still do, back home, and that was not because of some anti-Christian agenda, but because we really did celebrate multiple holidays: Christmas, New Year's with its feasts, John the Baptist, and Jesus's baptism. I never thought that there is something wrong about saying “Happy Holidays” till later in my life, when I moved to the US.

After the Christmas tree and Santa viewing, mom and grandma would take us home which always smelt like food. Cozonac mostly (a Romanian sweet cake) but also lots of meats, mostly pork products. We ate Christmas Eve dinner in the family, always, and then the adults would distract us so they can sneak some presents under the tree and tell us Santa stopped by with presents. They were wrapped in newspaper – I still remember how I hated that ink from the paper making my white fingers black. I remember the smell of the ink, too.

I don't remember getting more than one present. When we stopped believing, we got presents from the parents, grandparents and some relatives, but again, just one from each party and not even wrapped or under the tree. They would just buy us something and they would say “this is your Christmas present”. The joy of finding things under the tree and unwrapping them as a family came much, much later in my life. I grant America with revealing that wonder to me.

In Romania, Christmas (and Easter, for that matter) lasts for 3 days. On the 25th, 26th, 27th of December we took turns visiting people we knew, mostly relatives, and they took turns visiting us. With every visit, we would eat a 10 course meal, with all traditional foods: several kinds of sausages freshly made from a pig that just got killed, sarmale (cabbage and grape leaves rolls), pork meat in aspic, lots of appetizers, including meatballs and boeuf salad, which in fact almost never had any bouef in it at all. We would eat all these foods, prepared tens of different ways in our home and every home we visited for three days straight. I swear our stomachs expanded this time of the year.

In the city, we did not get carolers for Christmas much, but we would get them for New Years. They could sing about the New Year, which seemed more lay than the birth of Jesus, so this was safe. This was the Christmas at home, in the city where my parents lived.

Christmas in the mountains where I grew up was much different. There, it was all about Jesus. People in the mountains were simple and as simple people come, their lives revolved around the church. And they cared little about communism. Communists also cared little about them, too. Communists knew that mountain are remote places with stubborn people and they did not ever care to even try to brainwash them. Mountain people had the notion of private property, they killed their own pig in their own yard and did not have to give The Government any piece of that! They also believed in Jesus and they were extremely respectful of the faith. I cherished that! They did have carolers every year, and every carol was about The Birth, and Jerusalem, and Mary and Joseph. Sometimes, they would sing about making bread on Christmas with a broken oven and a broken pot, but making bread nonetheless, which tasted sweetest, because it was made in the family.

The mountains always got snow, too – so it was a magical fairy tale time to spend Christmas there.

We had a tree in the mountains that one of the older boys in the family cut themselves in the forest right behind our house. We would trim it with pine cones, mostly – not with the fancy, colored, glass ornaments we had in the city. The tree was in our room, which was the main room of the house, the living room and dining room, too. It smelled so good and piney in there. We would fall asleep with the sound of crackling fire logs in the wooden stove, every night and we were tipsy from drinking red wine. Yes, even as kids, we would drink some: it was in a way, we were told, medicinal, to drink mulled red wine; it would keep colds away. Carolers came on Christmas Eve and we would give them nuts, apples and sometimes real food too. We only gave some money to kids related to the family.

Communism was over and Christmases changed for us in the city. We had carolers there, too, and it became a lot more commercial: we got nice presents, wrapped in nice paper, or bagged in nice bags. The food and drinking and carrying on for days was still the same. The closeness of family was nice, too. We are closely-knit families back home as it is, but for some reason getting together for The Holidays (we celebrate New Year's for days, too, then the other holidays of January) was always special: we all contemplated as a family what we left behind in the old year and we made plans on what the new year is going to look like. We hoped. We dreamed. And we shared.

And then, I moved to the US. Here, every year seems different. I have had the good fortune to meet some people that welcomed me into their homes for Christmas and included me in their traditions. And now, after 19 Christmases on this side of The Pond, I have made my own traditions that are a mish-mash of what I have learned from everyone's celebrations, including my family's.

Some memories that come to mind from these past years: the years I spent Christmas with wonderful friends in Charlotte, NC – I am still, to this day, yet to see the amount of presents and bounty that they displaye at Christmas! They are some of the most generous people I have ever known, with warm hearts, too.

For a brief time in my life, I had an uncle (by marriage) and he decorated his house like a Christmas store. There was no shelf untouched, no corner, even the railings of the house were full of Christmas 'scenes' and dripping with artificial snow. He had hundreds of Santa figurines and snowmen, too. He started decorating around Halloween to be ready at Christmas. I spent just two years at his house, for Christmas, but they stick in my mind as being special, because of his joy, like a little kid, showing off his decorated house.

Then, there were Christmases that I spent alone with my cats while being on-call for work. I still cooked like my family taught me, and during my free time, binge-watched Hallmark Christmas movies and marathons of home improvement shows. Having sent off presents to family afar and meeting with other friends around town on non-Christmas days made it feel special to me, in a different sort of way.

One year, I went to a carol concert at a church on Christmas Eve, invited by a, then, coworker. She and her husband were alone that evening and would not let me go to be alone at my house: they invited me for dinner at their house instead. They had a tree and a simple dinner (I don't remember what it was, but not sure it was ham and fixings at all). It felt a little uncomfortable at first, but in the end I felt less alone.

Southern Christmases are truly the best: the weather is amazing (I don't miss snow on Christmas at all – never have!), you can walk after a big meal, and people are nicer and calmer – it really brings out the best in them. I love the Salvation Army bells in the South, too, with people dressed up like Santa ringing them.

Then, we moved to Utah, as a family. I made a promise to myself that as long as there is breath in me, I will have a Christmas tree in the house - and so far it has kept. We made a tree every year, and although our stay in Utah will not stand out as a friend-making experience, we managed to have a Christmas gathering at our house and sometimes a second or third one at someone else's every year. We shared foods, and stories, and presents and learned about what other people, some strangers to us, had planned for The Holidays. These gatherings were that much more meaningful as they were rare and we felt lucky to be invited to them and to be able to invite others to our home, too.

Also, in Utah, we have learned about “neighbor's gifts”: you're supposed to give something, anything, to all your neighbors. We got stuff from many people we didn't know – small things, like a box of tissues (really!), or more significant things from our next door neighbor who we did know (like a garden lantern).

One of the strangest Christmas memories will probably be the one from our last year in Utah: for 12 days straight we got presents from a “Secret Santa”: we got everything from chewing gum packs and beef jerky to bottles of soda and a tub of ice cream.” To this day, we will never know who that person was, but for the “12 days of Christmas” they kept giving us presents.

This year has been a hard personal year for us and even harder for our extended family. With our cross-country move, I started Christmas preparation and sending gifts to far-away family late and not with much enthusiasm. Some of the presents won't make it there in time. We do have a tree, but we downsized the present buying for ourselves this year – after all, we bought a whole new house, right?!

Every year since I started to consciously build my own traditions, I try to do something “Christmassy”, meaning something that you can only do around this time of the year: like going to a Christmas play or concert, or the Christmas market bazaar, or going to see some Christmas lights somewhere. I am not sure why this is important to me, but it is. Maybe it's my dad reminding us to take time for “special” things, because this is how memories are made – and, like I said, you don't get to these things year-round. So, I take the time to do them this time of the year.

I know it's not a popular idea to buy “stuff” for people around Christmas – which has nothing to do with the holiday itself. But if this is how you understand the holiday, I would say it's OK. I do want to see (or imagine) the eyes of people I love glisten with anticipation as they open my presents, knowing that this is my way of saying I am thinking of them. We cannot be close to all family at Christmas, as they are all so far away. But knowing I can send them a token of love and acknowledgment that they are indeed special makes my holiday brighter. This is the same reason why I still send cards to my special people. I get it that it could be consumerism, but I see it as sharing my bounty with people I love.

I don't really get all the cooking, either – but I embrace it as a custom given to me by my family and by people I love. I have a friend who always says that she cooks for people because she doesn't know how else to say “I love you”. I agree to that.

But I digress. Back to not feeling enthusiastic this Christmas.
For weeks now, I have thought about what to cook for Christmas, and I am not feeling like cooking at all. All I want is just to look at my tree, snuggle with Gypsy and close the door on the world for a few days, under a blanket with a trashy magazine.

But I did find some drive to cook and we will have our own traditions, like we normally do, because I cannot bear being a Grinch, no matter what my life is doing. It would feel like I have given up, if I were, and life still has so many beautiful reasons to celebrate. We will open presents over mimosas and breakfast casserole on Christmas Day (a tradition I stole from my Charlotte friends), we will speak with relatives, and watch Christmas movies, me, over eggnog, and Aa. over wine or a mixed drink. We might even make a fire, too. We will nap and read and walk in the crisp air, too. Because we are back in the land where we are lucky to have friends, we hope to see some of them over Christmas and New Year's as well.

Maybe my looking back through the memories is, in fact, a way to escape the present, which is challenging my patience and peace of mind right now. Maybe, I am just Romanian, after all. And yes, this is very much, tongue-in-cheek.

Whatever Christmas is to you, I hope it is warm, healthy, calm, long and lingering. I hope you find at least one reason to smile, many reasons to celebrate, and look forward to what's beyond this time, with hope and dreams anew.

Happiest of Holidays, everyone! 

Still my most favorite Christmas picture. We were young and unassuming. All four of us. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Our World on the Thankful Day

Tomorrow will be a month since we touched North Carolina land for the first time as a family. Although I have lived here before for 12 years, although we have known each other for 10 years, my husband and I, and although we have been married for seven of those, we have never lived in North Carolina together, as a family. This is our first Thanksgiving in NC together. In our new home.

Today is when I usually get melancholy about life. Never during a year do I feel the passing of time more palpably than around late fall, beginning of winter. I just look back at the year past and just sigh … so many undeserved highs, so many painful lows, I ask myself how we're still standing, and all in all, a life.

This year, I am grateful for the many trips and new places we got to experience, I am grateful for the new opportunities that have been open to us and waiting, patiently, for us to explore and expand. Most of all, I am grateful we're all here, on this side of the dirt, all the people who matter to us, and us, of course.

I am grateful for our new home and for my very old kitty who is spending his seventeenth Thanksgiving with us in it. I am grateful for our means and for the food we put on the table because of them. I am grateful for friends, near and far who care for us and wish us well. We give thanks to you all and hope you know we reciprocate.

The world has been a sad place for the past year particularly. But I am grateful for the handful of people who care and who still fight for what is right, for the less fortunate, and for the ones who cannot speak for themselves. Some days I am not sure this planet will see another day. It's hard to be an optimist anymore. Some days, I do not see the end of this darkness we seem to all muddle through, deeper and deeper, boggled down by confusion, disbelief, sadness and even desperation. So today, I am grateful that I can write this, uncensored and free. Still. This, I shall never take for granted!

I hope that this day has found you all grateful for at least one thing. The world might have a chance yet if it did.

Happy Thanksgiving, you all, and a happy and healthy start to your Holiday Season!

It's good to be back where our post-Thanksgiving feast walk is amongst tall, aging trees, and where it's quiet. No cars. No traffic. No wind. Just peace, trees, and soft Carolina light.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Eastward Bound: UT to NC – Day Six – Jordan Lake, NC. Somewhere Over the Rainbow

This is the seventh entry of a multi-entry series.

You only hate the road when you're missing home ...” (Mike Rosenberg - “Let Her Go”)

What a long day! What a work day, too! We knew the last leg of this trip will be the longest and toughest, but we were not prepared for this! We knew that there will be the most miles to cover, that it will be through The Smoky Mountains which will be hilly and winding, we knew it would be on a Monday and we would have to drive through the most populated stretch of our trip (from Nashville,TN to Raleigh, NC), dodging rush hours everywhere. These things we knew.

But we did not know we would have to drive the whole trek in a total and consistent downpour, which lasted for most of the trip, minus maybe 50 miles when the sun peeked through the clouds a bit. We had about 2 feet visibility, if that at times, for driving almost the entire way. We were hit by record amounts of rain (the news outlets said as much the next day), we drove through flooded areas, and we dodged eight tornadoes! 78,000 people are still without power in the areas we drove through the next day. We had to drive around trees snapped in two and lying on the highways, with exit roads turned into dirt roads from the mud slides and the millions of leaves torn from trees. We hardly ever made the speed limit.

When we made it to our camp site on Jordan Lake, several minutes before they closed it at 9 PM we thanked the Lord and kissed the NC soil for making it out alive. It was quite a memorable drive, for sure. We probably saw more rain yesterday, during the 12 hour drive, than what we saw in the seven years of living in the desert. That is no exaggeration, really!

One thing was certain, though: well, maybe two things:
  • The sight of the Smokies and the familiar landmark signs like Asheville, Linville Gorge, Chimney Rock, Greensboro was sweet as ever, even in the horrible storm we were driving into.
  • North Carolina was happy to see us! From what I remember, rainbows are a rarity here – they are not in the West, but I don't remember seeing more than two during my previous 12 year of life here. Well, we saw at least three rainbows yesterday, just as we crossed the state line into our state! Rainbows are our lucky signs that things will work out all right.
We're still ironing out some home closing details, but we now feel better about making it across and as the rainbow promised: things will (hopefully) work out OK in the end. We keep that faith!

Glad to be back. In the land of steamy windows, green trees, squirrels, and sun-dried tomato bagels! And heavy rains! Let the fall begin once more.

Tornado aftermath, along I-40

Sweetest road sign I have seen in a long while.

Fresh waterfalls washing off the rocky slopes along I-40 through the mountains. 

The Smokies surely were smoking in the storm. 

One ... 

...two (this was springing from our camper's tracks, or something) ... 

...three time's a charm, they say ... 

Pooped but happy to be home. It is so quiet in our campground Gypsy has no clue what to do. He is used to traffic noise and beep-beep cars.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Eastward Bound: UT to NC - Day Five - Nashville, TN. On the Music Highway

This is the sixth entry of a multi-entry series.

Before I moved to America, almost 20 years ago, I grew up on American music, especially rock 'n' roll, blues, and of course country. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Willie, Dolly, Elvis, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles are all childhood memories that later became obsessions. 

With that heritage, driving the Music Highway between Memphis and Nashville, TN listening to Old Country or Oldies radio stations gives you an eerie feeling of deja-vu, and a melancholy about times when your now old former DJ dad taught you about such treasures. I wished dad was in the car with me today about fifty times, so we can listen to all this music while driving the places it was created in, at least part of it, together, and we can understand how it came about. How and why these hills and these towns caused it to happen. 

One of the stations even had a Beatles history on, and that made me miss dad even more. 

Would you believe that I lived in The Carolinas for 12 years before and I never once stepped foot in Tennessee?! Well, I didn't, but I vow to remedy such a sin just as soon as I settle back down in my old Carolina state! I just have to come back and experience Nashville and Memphis both, go to a couple of concerts and try out the food. Cannot wait to be back! 

Tennessee is much like any other Southern state: green, lush, mellow, kind of a rambling, long and steady road cutting through its heart, carrying you places, through farmlands, kudzu covered forests, cotton fields, wide rivers and large lakes. But the music landmarks give it its unique personality. 

Leaving Little Rock, AR you run into this immense church right on the highway. Looks like a palace. It is a Pentecostal church, and today, being Sunday, it looked packed and full of life. 

The road between Memphis and Nashville is littered with music mementos like these. 

We slept through a thunderstorm in Little Rock, last night. The skies were still crazy lookin' when we left this morning. 

Rushed and overcast Memphis skyline.

Every other billboard has a Southernism in it. A 'y'all', 'ole', or 'yonder'. We even saw a sign to pull over for 'whiskey and shine'. Yeah, we're home, all right! 

Memphis and the great Mississippi 

Crossing into Tennessee and over the Mississippi. 

Memphis, TN

Kudzu country

Welcome to Nashville, TN

As I was pulling into Nashville, this song came on the radio to welcome me. I will leave you with it. One of my all time favorites, for sure. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Eastward Bound: UT to NC – Day Four– Little Rock, AR. Trees! Trees! Trees!

This is the fifth entry of a multi-entry series.

If Western Oklahoma is windy and red-yellow-sandy, Western Oklahoma is lush green and full of trees! Almost no wind, either. I suppose because of the trees. One of the reasons we're moving back to The South is vegetation. We both love the desert, and we agree it has its beauty. However, the stark nakedness of it makes you miss the green after a while. 

After several days of driving through the mountainous deserts of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, and the semi-desert of Western Oklahoma, we finally saw much longed trees today, almost the entire way into Arkansas, except for the first couple of hours of driving through Oklahoma. 

While in the dry, naked Oklahoma, we saw skies of menace which reminded us of Kansas seven years ago, when driving towards Utah. Tornado skies are something else - menacing is an understatement. They are a universe all of their own selves. The little lady at a gas station, sporting a Michigan sweatshirt, congratulated us for getting out of there "before the storm and the gusts start". We were grateful, too. A car is an evil thing to manage when the wind pulls it all directions. 

Like a patchwork of American history, Oklahoma is home to many Native tribes. Today we passed through the homes of many Native Nations: Chickasaw, Kickapoo, Seminole, Muskogee (Creek). This is always a rare treat to me, as this, to me, is the real America. It makes me respectful and so grateful that they share their land with us. 

As we approached the Eastern states, even starting yesterday, the weather has gotten warmer and warmer and more and more humid. It's strange that most of the trees in Arkansas and for the most part in Oklahoma, too, have not even turned colors yet – it's past the middle of October. When is the fall starting here?!

Today, for the first time, I heard cicadas when we pulled in for the night in the Little Rock, AR KOA campground. Such a familiar and long missed sound. So soothing to me … For the first time today, we also turned on the A/C in the camper, instead of the heater. Yay – we're in the South! Not our South yet, but it counts.

Driving today was harder than any other day, and not sure why. The altitude has gotten lower and lower and the wind died down eventually towards the end of the day, but the day seemed longer and dragging …

I was so excited to come through Arkansas, the home state of one of my favorite US Presidents (and he is not Republican!). And I was so shocked that even after being through Texas, Arkansas was the first state on this trip to sport a bigger than life "Trump - Make America Great Again" billboard. I was so disappointed, I did not even take a picture. Some things are better to remain uncaptured. 

I always thought Arkansas is a poor state. But looking at the lush green highways that remind you of the Rhine Valley, you would not know it. Stepping inside of one of the communities, with broken roads, and missing street signs, with poor gas stations almost cracking from age and humidity, with leaky appliances and toothless attendants remind you that you thought right. People are ever so nice, though, and such nice, yielding drivers, too

Some camping notes: we see people from all over the country in all these KOAs we're staying at. Seems like mostly older, retired people and all states are represented. KOA campgrounds are magical places – you have running water and electricity just like you would at home. It's such a treat. Thus, the A/C tonight. Hot shower in our own private shower, every morning, night lights and a place to charge all our electronics are some of the luxuries. I sometimes (only sometimes) I get how people can be into the whole tiny living thing. We really are missing very little. Well, besides space, of course.

Gypsy-the-Cat has gotten to have his own routine. He sleeps during our drive in his kennel in my car, and he comes out to the camper for lunch (midway during the day), then goes back to snoozing for the remainder of the drive. He mostly sleeps and eats at night. We found out that even if the litter doesn't smell to us at all, the ammonia in the litter can set off the carbon monoxide sensor in the camper (which is 2 feet away from his litter box). Who knew?!

We also found out that although KOAs may say "full hookups", sometimes, they run out of water. But we have had our emergency supply handy, so we were good. Our neighbors, not so much. 

We're two full days away from our final destination, but having gotten four of the days behind us feels great, albeit incredibly tiring. I do believe we will take the first day we get to North Carolina to just sleep it off … But who knows … “miles to go before I sleep” yet. 

The dark skies before the Oklahoma storm 

On the Western (windy and barren) side of Oklahoma, all trees have this shape, because the winds twists them so 

If I had a dollar for every truck, billboard, sign I have seen through Oklahoma announcing that this is the land of American beef ... I would make it out OK, I think ... 

Oklahoma City skyline. All I could think about driving by it was "The Oklahoma City bomber" 

After a looonggg drive for days through the desert of many states we came to this, largest body of water we had seen for a while. I chuckled when I saw the name of the road right past it: it was Lotawatah Road. And this is a true story! 

Arkansas is like a perpetual park: I have never seen so many National Parks, National Monuments, State Parks one after another within a short distance like in Arkansas

I could not get enough of these trees! 

I never understood this American staple: this is a water park with a giant water slide. They are always, no matter what state, right over the very busy highways! Why some architects deem them picturesque and delightful right next to rush hour traffic is beyond my understanding! 

Bridge over the highway in Oklahoma City

What is the first sandwich I make when I get to my camp site in Little Rock, AR with cicadas chanting outside and dripping sweat from too much humidity?! Why, a tomato sandwich, of course. Yes, I am home. Let The South begin! 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Eastward Bound: UT to NC – Day Three – Elk City, OK. Get Your Kicks on ... the Windy High Plains

This is the fourth entry of a multi-entry series.
We left Albuquerque, NM around 10 this morning. Seen from the gallop of the car, Albuquerque reminds me of the "normal" part of Vegas: desert and full of brown stucco homes. Albuquerque is tucked under beautiful tall, steep mountains, almost as steep and as green as the Hawaii mountains. 

The Eastern part of New Mexico is a high desert, with very little vegetation, and lots of ups and down. And lots and lots of winds ... And then, we crossed into Texas. 

I have sworn that I would never bring myself to the "Great State of Texas", but here I was, willing or not, crossing the Texas panhandle. I had so many preconceived notions about Texas: will there be all cows and cowboys? People carrying guns and chasing everyone everywhere with bad intent in mind?! Will cops stop me just because they are bored and fine me just 'cause? Will there be huge Texas flags with 'Stay out or we shoot you' writing everywhere? Will every gas station sell guns and liquor?! Will Christian billboards take over the entire state?! And so forth. 

Well, I still don't know some of the answers to all these preconceived notions and questions, but here's what I found out during our drive of a few hours today: Texas is also very windy. No fun pulling a camper in the high winds, let me tell you. Or let Aa. tell you. We were still in high elevations of 3000 ft or more, although it all seemed flat. The radio spoke about "The High Plains", so I guess that's what the Northern part of Texas is: a high plain. There were farms everywhere, and sometimes, nothing for a long time, and then a farm in the middle of that nothing. All I could think of was that farms here must be thousand of acres wide, because there was literally nothing but a farmhouse, and stables, with cow round-ups adjacent to them ever so often. 

I thought Amarillo would be larger than it was. I-40 was lined up by cheesy billboards of all kinds of normal and weird announcements. I will let the pictures speak for themselves on that. 

We stopped at this tiny (and I mean minuscule) gas station with ONE pump. The small cottage servicing it screamed 'Texas' (look for the pictures to understand why). 

Yes, there was the Texas flag and the Texas Star everywhere they could find a place for them - and this was just what I could see from the speed of driving down the Interstate. 

One thing that totally baffled me was that the entire length of the Texas panhandle was literally lined with giant windmills. I was waiting for an end of them, but there was not one. It made me wonder: if Texas gets it, why isn't the entire American wide, un-populated land filled with these beauties, making electricity for all of us?! Not that Texas would be lesser than other states, but they tend to be less ... hip and up on embracing modern technologies than other states. Typically. 

In the later afternoon, we crossed into Oklahoma. I swear people who cut up the States at some point paid very close attention to their geography: it seems the states are very carefully cut up to be very distinctive and unique in themselves: as soon as the red rock of Utah ends and the yellow and brown stone starts, Utah turns into Colorado. Such, as soon as the yellow sand of Texas ends, and the red clay and lush green of Oklahoma starts, there you have a new state. 

Oklahoma must have some law against the cheesy billboards, because as soon as left Texas, they were gone. The interstate resembled Northern Germany more than South Carolina. The farms were lush and green and very manicured lands, compared to the mish-mash in Texas. The wind was stronger. Well, it IS Oklahoma, you know. The roads are better here, too, than anywhere else we have been in the past two days. 

Apart from being windy, the windiest yet, Oklahoma is also the most humid yet. The temperature has been hanging out in the 80's all day here, and it is humid, even now, into the night, with the windows wide open. A sign we're getting closer and closer to The South, I am sure. 

We are down for the night in Elk City, OK. Right on the highway, so this will make it for a very windy and noisy (from the traffic) night. 

In Tucumcari, NM, we had lunch at Denny's. Our waitress, CC, was blown away that the two sides that came with my tilapia had to be both mashed potatoes. She told me to watch for diabetes. 

The smallest gas station in America, probably. Can you tell what state we were in?! 

This Oklahoma sunset was greeting us at out campsite when we pulled in tonight. 

As I am passing this exist, The Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise" is coming on the radio. True story! 

Our ride today was in its entirety on Historic Route 66. We only saw two hitchhikers (a sign that Kerouac's time have changed), but it made me think back of the history, nonetheless. A piece of Americana that I am grateful to say I have partaken in. 

Solitary ranch in Texas. 

The many tens of miles of Texan windmills - the entire length of the Panhandle, for sure. 

I took this for a friend: Adrian, your town in Texas. 

The many 'interesting' Texas billboards. 

Texas cotton fields. 

Texas: where America's burgers come from. 

A rushed look at Amarillo. 

After watching "Dallas" (the series) as a child, I thought that white split rail fences were invented in Texas. I am still not sure that is the case, but we have seen lots of them today. 

Everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas, and this cross is testimony to that. Look at the size of the building next to it! 

Almost the first sign of real water for a long, long time now - right as we crossed into Oklahoma. 

The red clay of Oklahoma: it is very unique: sort of a copper meets manure shade of red.