Aeroflot memories


So I enjoy trolling this one blog called English Russia.  It speaks to several of my interests:  Russia, Soviet Union, and crumbling ruins/abandoned stuff.

Recently they posted this entry about Aeroflot.

I studied in Moscow for four months in 1990, when it was still the Soviet Union, and in December we flew via Aeroflot to Tbilisi, Georgia.

Picture it: the wind is blowing swirling snow across the runway as we walk to the rolling-ladder-thingy to board the plane.  We file on and stow our bags to the dulcet tones of the flight attendants who are snapping orders into the intercom at us.  Because Russian is to the American ear a harsh language, and because Soviet ideas about hospitality were somewhat contrary to Western ideals, it feels as though we are being loaded onto a cattle car to a gulag.

Once our bags are stowed and the overhead bins latched (if they will latch at all) we take our seats.

You know how on American commercial airlines the seats “recline” a fraction of an inch?  Not so much on the Aeroflot plane.  In at least some instances the seat back, at the touch of a lever, flopped all the way forward or back.

And?  The carpeting was frayed and coming up from the floor in several places.

After we are all in our seats the pilots finally board.  They disregard us completely.  Again, this is contrary to the American system in which the flight crew are all on the plane before passengers are loaded.

At last we are taxiing out and taking off.  This occurs uneventfully but my dorm roommate and I are so terrified that we cling to each other in fright.

Once airborne, we are offered small brown plastic bowls of the ubiquitous mineralnaya voda (mineral water, which is ever-present), served room-temperature, and the flight attendants bring around small hand-held LCD games for rent on the flight.  Many of the grim-faced Soviet “biznizmen“around us rent games and thus we spend the flight surrounded by beeping and booping.

We land in Tbilisi safely against all odds and emerge to a lush, green, rainy, hilly city that is so reminiscent of Portland that I am immediately homesick.

Then we spend a week seeing the sights and being escorted around town by male students because female students are (again, to our American standards) hostile and unfriendly and don’t go anywhere.  Also, we are all probably considered to be of loose morals because we smile and laugh in public.

One evening my hotel roommate and I are taken to a cabaret-style nightclub by our student escorts.  I am repeatedly asked for my hand in marriage, and we are educated as to why the Georgians hate the Russians.  Why did we not study Georgian language?  we are asked.  Because, we tell them, there is maybe one university in the US that offers it.

At the end of the week we fly back to Moscow. We are exhausted and wise to the ways of Aeroflot now so we haven’t the energy or inclination to worry about the flight.  The flight attendants are just as surly but we chatter and lollygag to our seats because Georgian women are surlier.

When I read a poem in class the next week I am told that I now sound like a Georgian.

Also, I had my first cup of coffee — ever — in the Tbilisi airport.  It was thick and grainy like Turkish coffee and set the stage for my lifelong dislike of drip coffee.

Home Rearranged


So we here at The Swamp are pretty much packed in like cordwood, and so The Lovely Rhonda and I have been discussing the merits of moving house.

Three years ago the conversation went thusly:

TLR: I think we should look into buying a bigger house and moving.


Two years ago, it was more along these lines:

TLR: I think we should look into buying a bigger house and moving.


A year ago:

TLR: I think we should look into buying a bigger house and moving.


A few weeks ago we were coming home some random Sunday afternoon and noticed an Open House sign three doors down and totally on a whim went and had a look.

Oh, internets.  The.  House.  Was.  Beautiful.  Gourmet kitchen!  Travertine in the bathroom!  Open floor plan!

Also: no back yard to speak of, so definitely unsuitable for us.  We have dirt farmers for children, and we have dogs and cats, and everything about this house was grown-up and polished and lovely.  We are not Those People who could live in such a house.  We would live in constant anxiety about the carpets and so forth.

But, we went home and babbled incessantly at one another about the whole thing, and then we had this conversation:

TLR: I think we should look into buying a bigger house and moving.


The next house we looked at was so shabby in comparison that we couldn’t stomach it at all, but the third house was gorgeous.  But we couldn’t get it because mortgage blah blah blah FHA blah blah blah no.  The fourth house was pretty awesome except a) giant lake in basement, b) yard a complete bog, c) backed up to busy street, d) funky cobblestoned driveway unsuitable for motorcycle enthusiasts.

By the way, always look at houses when it’s raining if there is a basement involved.  Pro tip.

Then we went back and looked at the second house again.  It wasn’t really shabby, just not drop-dead beautiful.  It was like meeting Mary Ann right after you’ve met Ginger.  Or Rhoda, after Mary.  It had everything we wanted, the yard was good, and it was nicely situated to the school and a park and blah blah blah new roof blah blah blah new water heater blah blah blah basically perfect for us.

So we put down an offer and the inspection was yesterday and we move in a month.

The End.  And also The Beginning.


Cowbells in Heaven


So last night I was privileged to take part in an awards dinner for the programs at which I work.  I am a nurse manager and (as you may have inferred) I manage nurses.  I do this in four programs which are all “secure” which is the modern term for “locked.”  We care for people who have severe and persistent mental illness, generally schizophrenia, and in my opinion we do it pretty well.

Last year our director started this awards dinner thing, and so this was the second annual awards dinner, and I have to say it was pretty fun.  And served an excellent purpose, which is to recognize the work we do, single out certain individuals for exemplary service, and eat some really excellent food.

Also, there are Hi-Chew candies strewn over all the tables and this year:  COWBELLS.  We put them to good use.

Last year I was called upon to give a little speech about what we nurses have accomplished, the types of medical conditions and such that we have handled, and the challenge of engaging people for some fairly intensive medical care when we often have difficulty getting them to shower on a monthly basis, let alone endure a dental procedure or minor surgery.  I think it went pretty well; I tried to be reasonably brief and to the point.

This year I was asked to come up with an award specifically to recognize a nurse working in our programs who exemplified excellent nursing care.  This nurse would be peer-nominated, which I declined to participate in to avoid any flavor of bias or favoritism.  I didn’t even know who won the darn thing until I presented it.

When I was called upon to create this award, I toyed (listlessly) with the idea of a Florence Nightingale award for about ten seconds, but it was so deeply unoriginal that I couldn’t take it seriously.  Then as I sat there doodling my way through a meeting, it struck me that this award could honor a nurse who had worked in one of our programs until last fall, when she had had to reluctantly stop.  She had to stop because she was terminally ill.  She passed away in January.

Internets, this nurse was an amazing woman.  She was a sprightly little woman with a quick wit, a keen sense of humor, and an enormous heart.  When she died, it broke all of our hearts.

I asked her family if naming this award for her would be all right with them and they replied that they were pleased and honored.  They sent photos that we could use in the presentation.

So last night I stood up before the staff and managers and directors and a few other interested parties and I read a little speech about this nurse.  Initially I was quite worried that I would not be able to do this without blubbering, but a few days ago when I banged out this piece that I was going to read I found that a tremendous calm came over me.

I’m not going to say that I felt that Sima, for that was her name, was telling me that she was pleased and honored, although I think that she would be.  I think that if Sima could send any message to me it would be that she didn’t deserve all this fuss (she did deserve it and much more) but that if we were going to do this award in her name, she would want us not to be sad.  She kept her illness very private and we few who knew kept the secret for her.  She didn’t want to focus on it, didn’t want to weigh anyone down.

I think the sense of calm boiled down to the fact that I was proud to have known her, proud to be the one to tell everyone how much she meant to all of us, and proud that we were going to honor her in this way.

Sima, we miss you every day.   You made the world a better place.



That time I unfriended someone


So the other day one of my FB friends posted this:

food stamp ecard

And they captioned the post with something about nail salons, tanning beds, maxed out credit cards and financed BMWs, indicating that they felt that a lot of people who receive food stamps are somehow able to afford a rich lifestyle.

And I chose not to get excited about it.  I mean, I could have been offended on a few counts.  For starters, Coach isn’t properly capitalized and neither is iPhone5.

Oh, and also the vast majority of people receiving assistance are not soulless jerks just taking advantage of the sheeple taxpayers.

The person who posted it got a few responses; I myself related how I was on food stamps in nursing school.  When I graduated, my mother gave me a Coach purse as a graduation gift.  I left it at home when I shopped for food.  A few months after graduation I got a good job and stopped the food assistance.  I remember calling them and telling them I didn’t need it anymore.  They sounded surprised that I called.  I guess some people would have just let the assistance keep coming until the yearly re-application process.

Anyway, the next person who commented was very angry and said that this was an insult to poor people and other things like that.  I really do agree and so I commented back that I had chosen not to get excited about it, I feel that this sentiment applies to a gazillionth of a percent of those who receive aid of whatever type, and so while I wouldn’t perpetuate it, neither would I get excited about it either because life is too damn short.

Then the poster commented that we were missing the point, and in the course of further back-and-forth comments it became apparent that this person feels themselves to be an expert on the subject of the sort of people receiving food aid due to information gathered while “people watching” at the grocery store.

I commented again that it is impossible to know what someone’s situation is just by what can be observed.  I related how I currently hold a temporary disabled parking permit due to foot pain.  No one looking at me would know that every step I take is at best uncomfortable and at worst quite painful, because I don’t show it.  I look like anyone else.  But my feet hurt all the time, often to the point that I dread stopping at the store on the way home because it will involve walking.

I also pointed out that it is impossible to know a person’s situation based on what the person is carrying around because when they ran into trouble, lost their job or got sick or whatever, their Coach purse didn’t magically convert to a Walmart bag.

Also?  Knockoffs can be quite convincing.  Fauxch anyone?

The poster’s next comment is what caused me to withdraw from the conversation and abruptly unfriend:  Wish I could get a parking permit and some benefits!  Thanks taxpayers!

Except that I added the punctuation and capitalization etc. because yeah.

So, here’s the deal.  I work with people who have serious mental illness.  They survive on state and federal benefits.  Without those, they would be on the streets or in prison or the hospital.  None of these options are particularly pleasant.  We house them and feed them and care for them with food stamps and financial assistance.  They don’t own Coach purses and iPhone5s unless someone gives them one, and frankly nobody does.

And?  I’m a taxpayer and have been since I was 18 years old.  I pay into the system and therefore if I need assistance during a rough patch, whether it’s for food to feed my kid and myself with while I finish school so I can get a better job, or whether it’s to reserve the privilege of parking closer to the store so I don’t hurt any more than I have to (when I can find a damn space, and when there aren’t other spaces nearby that are nearly as good which I take so the old ladies can have the disabled spots because old ladies) — having paid into the system, I can tap it for a little help when needed.

The poster, it should be noted, is trying to start a business using one of those annoying “sell things to your friends” schemes — perhaps the most obnoxious and notorious one, but I’m not going to identify the poster or the scheme here — and often posts about how they are building their business by having meals at restaurants and coffee at Starbucks with other like-minded individuals, i.e. shallow people who think it’s okay to make their friends and families uncomfortable by shilling crappy goods at them without provocation.

And drives an Audi.

And is a soulless jerk.

I chose not to engage any further because I’m not great at arguing, and because this person was not so important to me that I felt I needed to continue.  I’m not going to change this person’s mind.  This person will not grow compassion via a conversation on Facebook.

I also chose to end the whole thing because I have recently become acquainted with the Fuck-Off Fairy, and she has made my life so much better.  I don’t have to absorb the toxic bullshit of every unimportant little worm that comes along with an opinion.  I can walk away and know that the uninformed, absolute sewage spewing from this person’s mouth just defines them as someone I don’t want to know at all, and that’s perfectly okay.

I recently had a discussion with my daughter about this fairy, although I named her the Bug-Off Fairy because my daughter is nine years old.  I want her to get acquainted with this fairy at a MUCH younger age than I did.  It will make her life so much better.



Sew Happy


So my 9 year old giant kid, Delia, and I visited my mother on Friday.  It was a day off of school and I seized the opportunity to drag her down to Mom’s for a sewing lesson.  With a surprise.

I mentioned to Delia that we were going to Grandma’s for a sewing lesson.

“But I already know how to sew,” she said.  Meaning that she could thread a needle and hand-stitch little projects from a kit and had made her own creations once or twice.

“Grandma wants to show you how to sew using a sewing machine,” I told her.  She seemed pleased.

We arrived in due course and Mom showed her around the sewing room and we looked at some projects, mostly quilts.  There was a box wrapped in cupcake-themed gift wrap on the dining room table, which we passed several times but was never mentioned.  Eventually Mom left the room and Delia sidled over to me.

“Mama, there’s that box over there but I don’t want to be rude and ask about it,” she said.

Note: this is a first.  I would not have been even slightly surprised had she dropped broad, obvious hints about wondering who that present could be for.  In fact, I was rather surprised not to hear them.

Eventually Mom returned and in due course asked Delia if she knew the expression, “the elephant in the room.”  She didn’t, so we explained it to her.  “So, what do you think the elephant in this room is?” Mom asked her.

2014-01-31 11.12.20

And so it was that she was given the box, and opened it, and inside was a small, neat beginner’s sewing machine.

2014-01-31 11.14.10

We spent the rest of the afternoon having a basic sewing lesson, learning to load the bobbin and thread the needle and make stitches.  It’s a very nice little machine, easy to use and quite good quality.

2014-01-31 13.22.05

As we packed up to leave Mom permitted us entry into the Inner Sanctum where bits and scraps of this and that were selected from her very tidily maintained Stash.  2014-01-31 13.44.51

We returned home rich in material goods (literally) and the next morning found Delia getting into the shower as I dragged myself out of bed.  I commended her on her initiative, and she told me that she figured if she took care of getting ready to go, she might have time for sewing before leaving for the Girl Scout function we had to attend.

She might have time for sewing. 

I think we’re doing something right here.

2014-01-31 11.10.31

Room-cleaning day: a comedy in three parts


So The Lovely Rhonda and I give the children an allowance every couple of weeks, allegedly for chores that they do.  There are assigned chores (cleaning the catbox, taking out the recycling, etc) and there are “other duties as assigned,” such as filling the cat food dish or picking stuff up in the living room so I can vacuum.

Also a large part of allowance is cleaning your room, which we are dismal at enforcing and the spawn are equally, if not more, dismal at actually doing.

This morning TLR announced that rooms would need to be cleaned in order to receive the blessed allowances, and thus began our Morning of Travail.

As luck would have it, the eldest spawn cleaned her room yesterday at my behest, so she’s happily playing CADsoftwarewithastorylinecraftTM while the other girls toil away.

A sampling of the day’s activities thus far:

Madeline, the youngest at age 6, approaches clutching a calendar.  (We often refer to her in shorthand as M2 and Molly, age 8, as M1, denoting birth order)

M1: Mama, can we pwease put this up?

TLR: Yes, just put it on your desk for now.

M1: But my homewowk is on my desk and I can’t put this on top of my homewowk because my homewowk has to be on the top

TLR: Okay, so put this underneath your homework, on your desk.

M1: ‘K.  (races off)

Shortly thereafter Molly, the middle child, comes showing something else that must be looked upon immediately.  I can’t remember what because frankly it was so mind-bogglingly trivial that it barely registered in the first place.  TLR, a paragon of patience for reasons that I still cannot fathom, acknowledges the item and gently bids the child return to her room.

Approximately 90 seconds passes, after which Madeline returns announcing that she has cleaned her entire room.

TLR: That seemed kind of quick.  Did you clean the whole thing?

M1:  Yes.

TLR: So, everything is up off the floor?  Like, under your desk, and back by your toybox, and in front of your closet?

M1:  Well, no.  Not in fwont of my cwoset.  Because I never go there.

TLR:  You need to clean in front of the closet.

M1:  WHY?!

TLR (calmly): Because I said so.  Now go clean in front of the closet like I said.

M1 sighs heavily and trudges down the hall.

A moment later Molly appears.

M2: Mama?  I think Madeline is whining about something in her room.

TLR:  Oh?

M2: Yeah.  It sounds like she’s saying, like, “But I didn’t even do it,” or something.

TLR:  Well, why don’t you just not worry about it.

M2: But, it’s really hard to clean my room with her groans distracting me –

Me (at this point I cannot help myself): SO CLOSE YOUR DOOR.

At this point all of the rooms are reasonably clean and the youngest has bathed.  She emerges wearing a pair of jeans and complains to TLR that they are too big.  See?  And the jeans are touching my socks and I don’t like it when my jeans are touching my socks –

There is a beer-and-wine-thing tonight in downtown Bedroom Community, and TLR’s favorite vintner will be represented at a local independent theater we like to go to.  I think it’s safe to say we’ll be going.


2013 in review


It’s interesting — I’m just a casual blogger.  I am aware that there are people who blog for a living, and visit blogs specifically to somehow make money off that, but beyond this vague knowledge I have no real idea how it all works.  I just like to write silly things about my goofy life and post a few pictures for friends and family (and total strangers, if it comes to that).

I do occasionally get messages about some blogger or another who starts to follow my blog or likes a post (or every post), and when I look at those people’s blogs they are usually some kind of “make money blogging” or “buy my stuff” blogs, but occasionally it’s someone who has just stumbled across my blog somehow and for whatever reason finds it amusing.

Evidently my blog had around 2,000 views by people in 28 countries last year — peanuts compared to the big guns, but still: how does someone in Pakistan or Indonesia end up at my silly little blog, reading about how I got married or that time I got pneumonia again?

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.