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.