My soccer Dad

“Goooaaal!!!” I yelled from the bleaches. A few moments later a loud whistle blow signaled the end of an indoor soccer match. The players high-fived the tall, ginger-haired guy who just scored. All I could see was broad smiles shining even through the nebulas of dust lit by the sunset’s reflection in the gym’s large windows. My Dad, who was the goalkeeper of the team that snatched the victory in the last moment, was also smiling. In his early 70s, he still played indoor soccer twice a week. He mostly held the fort as a goalkeeper and yelled at his teammates to keep the ball far away from his gate. His stocky body was still strong but it didn’t take kindly the falls down to catch those hard-hit balls. The bruises on his torso, hips, and hands kept their dark shades of blue for weeks.

But right now, he was happy. Where were the paparazzi with their wide-zoom cameras to snap a winner’s beaming face? Nowhere in sight. Neither were there large or even small crowds of die-hard supporters. I was the only fan of today’s game, “imported for the occasion all the way from America,” as my Dad announced before the match. The game took place indoors in the court with cracked wood floor, pigeons’ poop swept to the corners, and an occasional whiff of cat piss. I wondered if the wives, girlfriends, or daughters have ever set the foot here, or I was the first and perhaps the last female in attendance. I couldn’t blame the women for choosing alternative activities for their Friday evenings. I already used two packs of Kleenex—not to wipe the tears from the high-stake game’s emotions—but to keep my allergies to dust from complete meltdown.

None of these environmental hazards mattered to the ten men on the court. They were happy to play regardless of the outcome. Happy to get together. Happy to celebrate the game and other occasions in a bar across from the gym with copious amounts of laughter, high-cholesterol food, cigarette smoke, and alcohol. It didn’t matter to them that the bar ambiance was only a hair better than the gym’s conditions because the guys carried joy and celebration with them no matter where they were.

Steeped in the equal portions of post-game fervor and vodka, their bromance has been flourishing for the past 15 years. And my Dad has been at the center. Many of his fellow players—nearly half his age—saw him as a father figure. “Nikolaich,” they called him lovingly. (Nikolai is his paternal name). In a country where male life expectancy is barely 66 years, many Moldovans are fatherless by their 30s. As a war orphan, my Dad knew how it was to be without a father. So he opened his heart to these men, as he has done many things in life—with gusto.

He was their coach in soccer and beyond. He called each of them on the day of the game to confirm and motivate, if needed, to come to play. He did this twice a week for more than ten years, rain or sunshine. He collected pool money to arrange for someone’s birthday. He gave advice, and often he was simply there to listen to their woes. A man of few words, he offered his quiet, calming presence.

It’s been already two weeks since he passed away. Time both flies and stands still for me. And while the void in my heart created by his untimely death will be there for a long time, the memories of him are as alive and happy as before. As your most loyal fan, I will always yell “Goooaaal” in your honor, Daddy, because you’ve been the best life teammate to me and others. Thank you.

 

Oh that voice!

My writing assignment was to describe a character’s voice. Disclaimer: I listened to “Black Velvet” while writing. I take no responsibility for this story, fictional or not 😉

*** I had a rough night; well, it was rough because it was so short. For four hours straight I packed for my ten-day vacation to South Korea. I put things in – just in case I need that fourth pair of shoes – and took them out – just in case I bought something in Seoul and I needed extra space. The internal debate was fruitless. Eventually, I closed my eyes and took out 25% of whatever was in the suitcase.

Done!

That was a success; but the time – it ran with no mercy. I nearly missed my ride to the airport.

5:30 am. The cab dropped off my well-packed luggage and my sleepy self by the United Airline curb when even the sun was still in bed. I bought a cup of coffee mostly to stay awake by balancing the hot cup in one hand and the suitcase in another. What was I thinking? That’s right, I wasn’t! I just schlepped across the doorstep of the San Francisco-bound airplane where I immediately got stuck in the aisle’s traffic jam. I sighed. And then, someone on my right said: “Welcome on board, Miss. Did you bring this coffee for me?”

It took a few seconds for me to process these words. It took even longer to realize that they were addressed to me. But the voice, oh the voice – that smooth baritone – churned the words in my brain like a swirl of rich, spicy Argentinean Malbec with teasing notes of dark berries and plums. It was the voice you wanted to hear again and again regardless of content. Of course, it was a bonus that the flight attendant – a tall, bald man with a charming smile – was flirting. With me.

In a flash I was wide awake. I casually leaned on the wall, gave him a long look, looked down and then up at him through my long eyelashes, and replied with a coy smile: “Had I known you were here, I would’ve brought you anything you desired.” A smile appeared and lingered on his lips. He, let’s call him David, and I just stood and looked into each other. Our eyes had started an ancient conversation. It was getting hot on the airplane.  Too bad it was full of people. David made a tiny step toward me closing the remaining distance and whispered into my ear: “So, what’s your name, sleeping Beauty?” My pulse approached the pace of a clock on steroids.

I was no longer in rush to get to my seat. My heart was all out for the people who were arranging and re-arranging their luggage like busy hamsters in a pile of newspaper shreds. Ah, well, no. To be completely honest, I didn’t care. I wanted to soak in the voice that made me want to jump out of my clothes.

It was the voice of a Greek siren – a male siren – that called you into the deep waters and you followed it defying any logic. It felt like black velvet that wrapped your naked body in an intimate, sensual hug. It was the melody seductively played by a virtuoso.

But alas, the aisle cleared up, and the passengers behind me were anxious to get aboard. Can’t blame them, right?

Damn!

I made a step forward, but then turned my head back, and saw David still looking at me. He winked. I smiled, winked back, and walked toward my seat. As soon as I reached my seat, 25 C, I was tempted to press the flight-attendant call button – multiple times – to get David to come over. Hmmm…

I need help with my luggage. I need a blanket. Do I really need an excuse?

But it wasn’t my day: A very energetic female flight attendant materialized out of thin airplane air and helped with my luggage and asked me if I needed a blanket.

No, I don’t need a blanket, thank you very much!

Now that the distance between David and me was bigger than one foot, I could calm down. I still wanted to press the call button as soon as Ms. Energetic moved on to help others, but I chickened out.

It’s ok. Maybe he’ll be making announcements.

When everyone settled down and the plane door was closed, David took a microphone, leaned into the aisle, looked at me, and began the in-flight safety instructions.

He knows what he’s doing!

I looked around. Let me tell you a secret: I was not the only woman on this five-hour flight who was about to take off high and hot! ***

 

So, tell me about your favorite voices. How do they sound and feel to you? For now, here are a few safety videos to keep you entertained. Enjoy!

The above story is partially inspired by the “Smoking is not allowed” finger waving episode (1:50-1:55): Delta Airlines.

For LOTR fans, you know who you are (my fav episode is between 0:55 to 1:05): New Zealand Airlines.

If you are into rugby or New Zealand or both, check this one out: New Zealand Airlines.

Helpful if you wish to update your dance routine: Virgin America Airlines.

If you look for an alternative career for your kid: Thomson Airways.

 

Photo credit: ihave3kids.

What do 60-minute orgasms and space tourism have in common? One rocket man.

Sam was a rocket scientist. That evening in a bar we talked about liftoffs and trajectories. I had no prior experience with his field of knowledge. He, on the other hand, lived it through and through and carried me into his world with great enthusiasm and a friendly smile.

He was only in his late 20s, yet he knew so much. Our discussion was fascinating. Sam himself was fascinating.

He was passionate. He wanted to change the world. And he had a plan in mind. He wanted more people to travel to space to see how beautiful and precious our planet Earth was. And still is. His vision was to transform space tourism, to open space to mankind, to give us yet another chance to be kinder to the planet, each other, and ourselves.

But Sam had also plans for womankind. After taking the pleasure course, Sam had a mission — to deliver 60-minute orgasms with all the liftoffs and prolonged pleasure trajectories that your imagination can come up with.

It was hard to decide which goal I supported more.

But the phrase “Thank you, come again!” will never be the same after that evening.

And to all men out there, I’d like to say “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist for women to like you. But are you a rocket man?”

 

Photo credit: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen.

 

Compassion is more important than being right

About five years ago I attended a lecture by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama was wise and funny. The audience burst in both laughter and tears throughout his two-hour talk as we connected heart-to-heart with this extraordinary human being. And even though I don’t recall all of his insightful messages or lighthearted stories, I do remember and carried through all these years one piece of advice: Compassion is more important than being right.

Last Saturday I didn’t live up to it. Here’s the situation: My very dear friend asked me to give her a ride to Dullas International Airport. We agreed to meet at 2pm. Around 10 in the morning, I decided to go to a local farm to get fresh tomatoes and other summer goodies. My friend was concerned that I wouldn’t make it back in time. In contrast, I felt that I had a plenty of time and told her that I would keep her posted on my time progress, which I did. When I was at the farm ready to head home, she texted me saying that she arranged a ride with someone else and that I didn’t have to rush. I was taken aback. From my point of view, I had nearly 1.5 hours to get back from a farm that was 45 minutes away. Earlier I wrote to my friend saying that if something happens I’d turn around no matter how close I was to the farm, and at worst, I’d pay for her taxi ride to the airport. My reaction at that moment was: “Why doesn’t she trust my word? Is she expecting me to fail?”  My feelings got hurt. So I texted her back saying that I understood her choice and I wished her a safe flight. (Yes, I did. Sigh…). Neither of us called each other to communicate in person.

Now that she is on the other side of the Atlantic and I had more time to reflect, I see that I overreacted. I was more righteous in how I felt about this situation than being compassionate. I hid behind my “She doesn’t trust my word” shield and didn’t communicate what was on my mind.

People deal with upcoming international trips differently and they need different level of support. We all know that — in principle. But I didn’t get in her shoes at the right time, and I didn’t think of trying to see her point until later. It was a good reminder that there are a lot of lessons for me to learn on my journey. I wrote to her to apologize for if my words and actions – or lack of such – hurt her feelings. This was not intentional. I trust that she knows it. I also trust that she and my friends allow me not to be always right or compassionate.


 

Photo credit: Alice Popkorn

May Day demonstration: A trip down memory lane

Soviet Union, late 1970s. I bet it was a chore for my parents to participate in the May Day demonstrations intended to show solidarity of Soviet workers with those around the world. The annual participation on May 1st was mandatory. No-show meant no monetary perks, and in some years, it meant trouble. Willing or not, “workers” (regardless of their social class) were required to carry the “Live Long the Communist Party” and the like banners, waive red flags, and bring along tree branches decorated with white and pink blossoms (à la Cherry Blossoms in Washington, perhaps?).

Did I mention that playing hooky on that day was not an option for adults? Indeed, it was quite a chore, but not for me as a young child. It was so much fun to spend the evening before the parade and to diligently make flowers out of napkins so they bloomed in the garden of pink, blue, yellow, and white flowers the next day. And I wore my best dress — to see and be seen. It was my moment to accept personal responsibility as a child and to wait patiently until my Mom finished braiding my defiant hair. Let me tell you, my white silk hair bows were as big as my head! In the morning my family, friends, and I merged into a massive and colorful human river to take over the city. I looked forward to seeing my parade buddy: Igor, a cute son of my Mom’s colleague. With him, I ran around parade floats, ate chocolate ice cream, found shapes in puffy clouds, threw flower petals in the air, and jumped in puddles as they witnessed a mandatory event that brought so much joy to the two of us.

Where does a trip down memory lane take you today?

 

How to rediscover yourself when your life goes down the drain

In my dream last night I was in on a beach by a fancy hotel. It was an early, quiet morning. The soft waves lazily washed up on the perfect yellow sand. I lounged on my beach blanket basking in the gentle morning sun. I had everything I needed right by my side, here on my blanket. I felt I had it all. One could have not added anything else to my state of completeness.

At some point, a hotel bellhop came up to tell me that I had two visitors. On my way inside, I looked at my beach blanket and thought, “Shall I take my things with me? Maybe my wallet?… No, what can possibly happen in the next five minutes?”  After all, the world was here for me, nothing bad could happen. [I wish I had more of this self-assurance in my awaken state!]

My friend and her Mom, both dressed in evening gowns as if they planned to go to the NYC Opera House, came to ask if they could spend the day with me on the hotel property. “What an odd choice of clothing for the beach? But why would I care how others look or think?” I was the “It” girl. I didn’t care.

As we walked outside, I saw a huge wave coming seemingly out nowhere that washed away my blanket and everything on it. With horror, I saw all my belongings floating toward a suddenly opened watergate that led under the hotel. I thought, “OMG, my life is now ruined together with my wallet, fashion magazines, iPad, jewelry… F#*!!!… If my friend and her Mom in their ridiculous dresses hadn’t come, I would’ve been just fine!” Then, without much more thinking, I rushed through the watergate trying to rescue my belongings. The water was up to my waist. The current half-carried me deeper in the underground. I frantically looked for my wallet. I had important documents which would be a bitch to renew.

At one turn of the expanding underground maze, I saw four women in their early 20s standing on a  narrow ledge just above the water. They looked terrified but made no attempt to cry for help. They huddled next to each other and held onto something in the wall for their dear lives. “What the heck are they doing here?” a thought rushed through my brain, but I kept going. I finally spotted my wallet floating not far away. I navigated toward it and fished it out.

I thought, “Shall I go after my other belongings or go back? I don’t know what’s around the next corner.”

Then, I woke up. I woke up with the feeling that my life just went down the drain. Literally. I was not fully awake. My brain, caught in-between the dream and reality, fired the following questions: “What does this dream mean? Is it a premonition? What am I going to do?”

“Go back to your dream and change its outcome,” I ordered myself.

So I did. I saw myself again in the same underground maze standing in water and debating whether I should try to catch more pieces of my life. Finally, I decided to let them all go. Instead, I thought about those four strange women. I wanted to check on them. Swimming against the flow, I progressed slowly and with difficulty, but I finally saw them in the same spot. They looked scared and fragile, but again said nothing. As I was approaching them, I realized that I couldn’t save them like a big, strong man. I just couldn’t lift them into my arms and carry them. I wish I could, but I didn’t have that physical strength. I had to motivate them to let go of the wall they were holding onto. I had to find words to inspire them.

“Ladies, we can’t fight the current on our own. It’s too strong. Individually, we will go down or starve. But together we posses great power. Let’s move as one unit and we will make our way out.”

They understood, nodded, but still didn’t say a word. I looked around for ideas. “Oh, there is a rope floating. Someone from the land is trying to help us. We will tie one end of the rope to the wall hook, and move like mountain climbers supporting each other. I will be the last one to catch you if you slip. Don’t worry.”

We re-arranged along the rope in a file. “We only have three or four turns to make,” I said with confidence that mattered more than the real knowledge of the situation.

As we walked up the stream, the water level receded and the current became weaker. When we made our last turn and saw the blue sky through the watergate, we were deadly tired. But we were also happy. “We made it!” I screamed. I was glad to fall into the strong arms of the people who rushed to help us.

Then I woke up again – this time with a huge smile. Whatever this dream meant, I liked its message: When your life goes down the drain, help others in need, and you will find yourself again in the process!

 

 

Photo credit: Laura Thykerson.

Happy Women’s Day!!!

Life doesn’t hand us shortcuts. Whatever the lesson, we have to live through it — to learn it and to earn it. Sometimes more than once. But Life gives us breaks — it sends along people who help, care, love, support, cry and laugh with us. Happy Women’s Day to all wonderful women who crossed my path and to men who are our rocks.

Hard to let go

Have you experienced a situation when a friend or a loved one said or did something that irritated or upset you, and you just couldn’t let it go? Sometimes the situation is so silly that you don’t even want to talk about it, because it doesn’t really matter in the grand picture of your relationship. Yet the feeling of being hurt is somehow beyond your control. So you pout, for days. It’s hard to let go. With all your might, you hold onto your perception of their words and actions as tight as a mountain climber holds onto rock edges and crevices on a windy day. You zip up your wind-proof jacket, you adjust your harness, you dig harder into the rock. And you wonder, why you are climbing today when the weather forecast promised nothing but trouble. You also wonder why in the world you’re are not climbing with your friend so you can support each other, give a high five when you conquered a difficult portion of the path, and celebrate a successful ascent together.

I’ve been in the boots of such a climber this summer when my friend came to visit me for a week and, ouch, she didn’t bring me any gifts. I’m cringing as I’m writing these sentences because I felt terrible that a nuance like this would bother me, but it did! I felt what I felt, and for a while I struggled with my conflicting feelings. So here they are in the open. Once I named them, I feel that I’m ready to let them go. There’s no room for them in my 2014. I want to be a bigger person because her friendship is the most precious gift that she can give me. And I trust that 2014 will be yet another year to celebrate it!

What are you letting go before the end of 2013?

Watermelon salad: A zesty Aloha from Hawai`i

Who would like to join me on a trip to Hawai`i? Too bad I’m not going there any time soon, so for now, it’s a trip down memory lane.  But don’t get disappointed! I’d like to share a recipe that I learned this past September from “House without a Key,” a fancy restaurant with a breathtaking ocean view in Honolulu. The $18 price I paid for a watermelon salad was totally worth it — both for the ocean view and the salad idea. So here’s what you need per serving:

 

  • Juicy, red watermelon cut in about one-inch flat piece (place your watermelon in the fridge beforehand so it’s cold)
  • Lime juice
  • Chili powder (I used cayenne pepper instead)
  • Thai basil: leaves chopped + extra to garnish
  • English cucumber: keeping the skin on, peel 2-3 flat thin ribbons with a potato peeler
  • Black sea salt (if you don’t have it, any coarse salt might work)

Place the watermelon piece in the center of a serving plate. Arrange the cucumber ribbons in the shape of your choice (e.g., as folded ribbons for volume or as twisted ribbons) on top of the watermelon. Mix lime juice, chopped Thai basil, and chili powder (to taste). Sprinkle generously your watermelon-cucumber creation with this mix. Put the garnish on top.

Let it stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with black salt.

Enjoy, and please let me know how you like it!

Experience the joy of movement, or how to do a pirouette

A pirouette – or a “whirl around” in French – is the most recognizable turn in ballet, be it classical or modern. It is also, perhaps, the most difficult move. From a technical (mechanical) point of view, a pirouette is a 360-degree turn of the body made while the dancer stands on the point of her toes or the balls of the feet. Poetically speaking, the pirouette is an airy swirl expressed by the movement of the human body. Here I should add something poetic in French, bien sûr… but enough of poetry.  Instead, let’s get one awesome pirouette done to feel the joy of movement! Ok, here are the steps on how to do a pirouette:

Step 1: Whether you aim to do one pirouette or a dozen, balance is everything. Stand up straight, elongate your neck, with the chin (tilted) slightly up. Then look forward. Find a spot in front of you (it will help to face a wall or mirror) and fix your gaze on it. The spot will be your reference for making the turn while keeping your balance. As you keep your gaze on the spot, start turning your entire body to the right until you reach a point at which you can no longer turn without breaking your neck (let’s not be too enthusiastic here!) Turn your head around (of course, toward the right side) and reconnect with your reference spot on the wall (turn your body slightly, if necessary, to adjust). Continue turning your body until you face the wall. Repeat this move a few times until you feel comfortable doing the body-head-body rotation.

Step 2: It’s time to add standing on the ball of your foot – an essential pivoting point for the pirouette. Place your feet so they form the letter Y, with the heel of your left foot touching the middle of the right one. Lift your arms to the side to just below the shoulder level; round your arms slightly as if you’re trying to hug a 4-foot in diameter exercise ball. Your arms, including the elbows, should be parallel to the floor. Keep your elbows up. Do not let them point downwards! Look ahead at your wall spot, and tighten your core muscles. Lift up and lower down on the balls of your feet, while keeping the feet at the Y position. Do this a few times, paying attention to your core muscles, which should be tight, and to your arms, which should remain below the shoulder level, rounded, and parallel to the ground (no droopy elbows, please!). Next, transfer your left foot behind your right one: Your left knee is bent and faces to the left, while the foot itself is attached to the shin of the right leg, just above the ankle. Think of your legs forming a triangle that your geometry teacher would be proud of. Repeat the up and down movement standing only on your right leg.

Step 3: Are you still hugging the imaginary exercise ball? Good. It’s time to take a chunk out of it: Move your right arm to the left until you reach the level of your solar plexus. Yes, you are still hugging that ball with your tight and well-positioned arms – but just one quarter of it. Put your left leg down and slide it straight back leading with your big toe. While holding the weight mostly on your right leg, bend your right knee until it reaches the point of being above, but not past, your toes. Now, put the heel of your left leg down. Check if the middle of your left foot faces the heel of your right foot.

Step 4:  Look up at your reference spot. It’s now or never! You need to do everything that follows in one swift move: As you push yourself up to stand on the ball of your right foot, bring your left leg quickly behind your right ankle to form the triangle. At the same time, bring your left arm toward the right one aiming to touch the fingers – catching the air like a sail catches the wind – and let your body follow the motion. You’ve done it – your first pirouette! Bravo! If your left leg ended up in front of the right one in the Y position, double bravo!! If you remembered to do the body-head-body turn, triple bravo!!!

Repeat it 1,000+ times to make it a perfectly fluid, airy swirl bottled now in your body! And tell me how it goes 😉