‘This land was made for you and me’

Today’s image from 50 protest postcards reminded me of the power of music and the simple messages they bring, along with some rather treasured childhood memories.

Amongst all the patriotic songs I learned as a child, this was my favourite.

This land is your land, and this land is my land
From the California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters;
This land was mad for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway;
Saw below me the golden valley;
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
All around me a voice was sounding;
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun come shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was changing:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there,
And on the sign it said, ‘No Trespassing’
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Woody Guthrie


My grandparents in their retirement afforded me an incredible gift: in addition to their time and love, each summer they took me on journeys across the US to see it all. We’d pick a region and go explore it. Along the way in their ginormous motor home, which was bigger than some flats I’ve lived in as an adult, we’d learn factoids and history about each state we visited, stop in at the visitor’s centres as we crossed state lines to gather key info, and ‘camp’ (or glamp in today’s vernacular) in various national parks.

I didn’t just learn history; that history was situated in a context that included physical places and actual people who take shape in the individuals who populated those places during those summers.

I credit those summers as some of my most treasured family moments (even when I was a total shit). But, also, those journeys instilled in me a deep sense of pride in the rich diversity of the United States, both its geography and its people. Those summers also created a love of the road and adventure, and an understanding that the view from the ground even in parts unknown isn’t so scary. Before moving abroad, I spent a lot of time in national parks camping and exploring as well as simply relaxing and marvelling at how beautiful the US is and how incredibly varied its landscape and people are. And, if I’m completely honest, I miss being there and hitting the road to find some off-the-beaten path dinner with food that taste like nothing I will have had before or since.

Nefarious interests have divided us, far more than I suspect we really are. Those interests have pitted us against one another rather than against those who continue to pilfer and profit from us and from the land upon which we live.

But, I believe still there is room for and a place for us all in our country. And I believe it’s worth protecting and working towards making it more just and more perfect: not just for me or you, but for us all.

And, fundamentally, I believe it is still worth fighting to preserve — the land itself and the institutions designed to foster and establish that more perfect union promised to us all.

Nine is just fine

About a year or so after my husband—then, partner—and I moved to Helsinki from Moscow, my lovely mother-in-law Victoria spent several weeks living with us. We had previously met just after The Cuban and I met and decided we were meant to be together. And, I loved her immediately, which made her visit to our home in Helsinki infinitely less intimidating. Victoria is also perhaps the single sweetest, kindest and funniest human around, which made the days when my husband was at work easy to navigate despite our lack of a common language (she speaks Spanish, I still do not, shamefully). It also allowed me more insight into his roots and the woman who moulded him, and I loved him all the more because of it.

During that visit she remarked to my husband that he and I make a good team. He quipped back something along the lines that I was a team all unto myself, which was rather hilarious (and true?). I am nothing if not tenacious when I’m on a mission, and I’ve always be a bit more independent than is strictly necessary or good for me at times. I suspect that independence rendered it all the more shocking to those who have known me longest that I was going to marry some Cuban guy. No one, least of all myself, expected me to ever marry. But, marry I did.

But, Victoria, my lovely MIL, was and remains correct. The Cuban and I are a team. As time passes, we appear to be a single, interconnected unit, using the same phrase or reaction or even grunt of (dis)approval in certain situations and simultaneously.

And, today, as we celebrate 9 years married, I love us and what we are becoming. With each passing year, I love us, our life and this man who is my ultimate teammate even more.

The last year has been such a challenging time, not so much for our relationship, just simply as a year and a point in time. Naturally, we like all couples have had our moments of married non-bliss. But, we have endured those instances and recognised what brought us together far outweighs a single or even several unpleasant circumstances.

There are roller coasters we ride through life and there are also storms from which we all seek shelter. This past year, The Cuban and I have endured both the wildest, most terrifying and thoroughly wearisome rides and survived raging, damaging and turbulent storms, both figuratively and literally. And, we’ve done so together.

I go to bed each evening, even on those darkest of nights—perhaps more so on those when I feel most troubled—thanking my lucky stars that this man landed anywhere near my orbit. The odds were stacked so much against it ever being a possibility. And, it’s continually a source of awe to us that we landed where we did when we did. Timing was everything.

As we approached our ninth anniversary, and we both looked up precisely which anniversary it was for us, I found myself reflecting on what Team Cuba Sí, Yankee Tambíen means to me. Primarily, it just means that we bring out the very best in one another for one another. It’s not simply that we want to be better for one another, but that we genuinely are better because of the other. At least, I know he’s offered me the possibility of becoming a better person, by challenging me on my bullshit, encouraging me to grow and expand intellectually, and cheered me on as I both failed and succeeded throughout the past 15 years we’ve been together and 9 since we joined our lives legally.

I see the world differently with and through him, not because he asked me to; but, because I wanted to for him.

So, a year on, this is what I know to be true:

  • There’s no one with whom I’d rather be in quarantine and be forced to spend all of my time.
  • There’s no one who makes me laugh quite like he does, at times over absolutely nothing.
  • He is still my best friend, my moral compass, my sunshine on a cloudy day and my own personal hero and cheerleader.
  • And, when the storms rage and the night is darkest, I know that he’ll help me navigate to safety and provide a light to lead me home. Hell, he’d carry me and the umbrella if necessary. Because he hasn’t let me down yet when I’ve needed him most. I can only hope that I have not nor will ever fail him.

Since all bets are off on what the next year will bring, all I ask is that our little team flourishes and endures. This is home. It may not be particularly flashy or fiery (recent escapades next door aside) or exciting from where you sit, but it is just fine by me.

Here’s to nine, bebe.

We are family. And, we all wear tie-dyes.

On ‘Born a Crime’ by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’ve admired Trevor Noah because he’s funny AF and also speaks about and advocates for policies I myself support.

But, reading about his life in South Africa as a child born into a world where he embodied an actual crime by simply existing is immensely powerful and profound. And, I’m not sure that I could admire him any more now, particularly after reading the last chapter of this book.

Central to this little gem is the story of a mother and her son. But, the richness of that relationship and the context within which it is lived is more than worth anyone’s time. That it’s beautifully crafted is all the more rewarding. Moreover, it’s a story we would all do well to read carefully and consider thoroughly given the times we’re currently navigating and the reckoning these times call for.

It shouldn’t surprise me that I finished this book laughing through choked-back sobs. But, I did.

What a brilliant, brilliant book.



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One step at a time, part II

I did a thing, y’all.

The Cuban and I have diligently stuck to our evening strolls for several years now, our moment each day when we step away from gadgets and the rest of the world and meander around our hood and bond, chatting about whatever tickles our fancies on that particular day. Since June and the last of my lectures from the 2019-2020 Covid-thwarted academic year, I’ve been rather committed to walking and/or running in the morning and in the evening.

In an attempt to manage my own stress and find my long-absent running mojo, I began taking walks or running in the morning as well.
It’s been awesome, and helpful, and definitely helped me learn to love running once again. (Mind, I still hate running when I’m doing i; but I LOVE it immediately upon completion, and look forward to lacing up and heading out for my ritual of cursing running so that I can declare my love and devotion to it immediately afterwards all over again. Yes, it is a thoroughly dysfunctional relationship.)

Given this commitment, however, in June, despite missing several days of walking and/or running, I still managed to log just over 200 km, one of my best months ever since I began keeping stats.

Yesterday, I topped 300 km for July. And, with a few days left in this month still to run and walk, and with at least two more runs planned, plus our daily evening strolls, I may yet reach 350 if I get out there as much as I have been. [Insert joke about Sod’s Law and/or best intentions. Go on.]

I suspect once my teaching obligations at the university resume next month, I won’t have nearly enough time to continue this little experiment. But, I’m well-chuffed at the moment. To have been afforded the luxury of time (and no injuries other than a few blisters yet, touch wood) and decent weather to embark upon, this peripatetic experiment has been a gift. Instead of the hour I’ve set aside each morning, maybe I’ll cut the time down to half an hour. We shall see. For now, I’ll enjoy the time I have.

As much as I love our evening strolls, my morning meanderings have also offered me a chance to step away from the screen and consider and process so many things on my own. And, that’s allowed me to be a bit more present with The Cuban when we are out and about. And, allowed us the opportunity to explore our surroundings a bit more together.

My next goal is within reach, although I have no definitive timeline for its completion. But, I’ll get there.

One step at a time.

A scene from favourite evening stroll and walk from July.

On ‘Choice’

Choice by Karen E. Bender

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was my first read during women’s history month, and with the full awareness that we are increasingly edging our way towards a reality in which choice no longer exists.

I absolutely think everyone — and I do mean everyone — should read this book. Make it mandatory reading in sex education classes as a minimum.

It’s no secret that I am staunchly and firmly pro-choice. And my life has largely been possible because I’ve been free to make decisions regarding my own desire to reproduce. Had I not had some options open to me, it’s very much unlikely that I’d have gone to graduate school or landed in Moscow or met The Cuban. What an astounding reality and one I’m so grateful I don’t have to contemplate for long.

I’ll never question any choices any other woman makes regarding what she chooses to do with her own body. Those are decisions she must live with as I live with my own decisions. And I will never stop fighting for the young women who follow me so that they will have all of the choices they need available to them.

Abortion should be legal, and safe and rare. And the only way that becomes a reality is if we stop trying to regulate women’s bodies. And my favourite bumper sticker is still this:

‘How can you trust me with a baby if you can’t even trust me with a choice?’

My body, my choice. Full stop.

#womenshistorymonth



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The Queen of Cheek (2006 to 2020)

I’d like to tell you a story.

Just about 14 years ago at a BBQ at the US embassy compound, we met a darling little bundle of fur. I say ‘met’, when really she chose us as she stepped out from amongst her litter mates towards The Cuban and I. You cannot image how impossibly tiny she was, nor how utterly adorable all whiskers and fluffy kitten fur. That day, the three of us—this tiny kitten, my husband and I—made a pact, one which we could not envision being more synchronised nor more loving than it has since remained.

This tiny kitten became known as Cheeky Che Fufu, The Princess of Darkness. In those initial days when she became a central member in our family, she proved to be the cheekiest of cats, capable of being a little shit whilst also insanely endearing and lovable. From wiping out on my desk head-first into a very full cup of coffee which went e v e r y w h e r e and took ages to clean up, to her nightly habit of turbo kitty-ing around our tiny Zelenograd flat in the outskirts of Moscow, to sitting outside our bedroom door crying in the most mournful way until one of us (read: me) would crawl out of bed, open the door and allow her to nestle in with us as she purred loudly and happily and drifted off to sleep, to being utterly obsessed with my toes, many of those habits endured until very recently despite two countries and four homes later. She was queenly even as a kitten, and quickly gained loyal subjects to dote upon and worship her. We imagine she had some sort of connections to the Egyptian cats from centuries past given her ability to rule whatever room she entered.

She loved bird watching, but only from inside her home or the safety of her balcony. She loved very cold water, best delivered via the tap from the bathroom sink or via a tiny syringe leftover from some weird illness that remained unexplained. She loved pooing and digging FOR-EV-ER despite the cleanest of litter boxes, and then rocketing out of it to tear around her home leaving a trail of tiny little bits of litter all over the place, which I swear will never disappear. She loved butter, served on a plastic spoon intended for tiny toddlers. She loved licking yogurt containers. She loved her brush, but only once a day. She loved greeting us as we returned home, even if we were gone but a short while. She loved temptations. Of all sorts. She loved Pollito, who only joined us recently, but complemented her stateliness with his own clownish antics. And, she loved us, individually, showing us both in ways unique to her and to each of us.

And, good grief we love her. Still. Always.

In the end, kitty breast cancer proved too powerful a force to hold off forever. We used to joke about cloning her. Now we know that there can be only and precisely one Cheeky Che Fufu. And, what a mighty hole she has left in our hearts today.

We must extend our thanks to all those who loved this most amazing feline. And, we know there are many of you out there. To give you an idea of just how incredible this precious girl was, the vets’ office was utterly silent as we left this afternoon.

So, here’s to the Queen of Cheek. Long may her memory reign.

Eight is great

Eight years ago on this day, I married my best friend. And, I swear, it was not only the best thing I ever did, but it keeps getting better with each passing year.

This past year has not been easy for us. But, those difficulties stemmed not from our marriage or relationship, and related entirely and simply to life and it’s various unexpected curve balls. With each new challenge and disappointment and heartbreak we faced, we did so together. And, we got through them, together, lending and borrowing one another’s strengths at various moments and as needed. At times, just having good long cries, of sadness, of rage and of frustration.

But, alongside the pain comes the joy. Tiny shared moments of hilarity that mean nothing to the casual observer, which come from nowhere and are priceless to us. At least to me. In the 14 years we’ve been together (which is a ‘holy shit’ realisation for both of us!), we seem to laugh more and smile more sometimes through tears. There are more days when our cheeks hurt from laughing together. And, that is priceless.

The music that brought us together originally still plays, although it’s character and the range of notes and genres and musicians have expanded exponentially. And, we continue to learn from one another, sometimes in ways neither of us expect. Each day, I look at this man who brings out the very best in me and wonder how we came to meet, given all the individual decisions we had to take independently to stand on the same spot in Moscow at that precise moment in 2005. A moment from which this blog takes its name. And, I cannot help but cry happy, joyful tears that serendipity and timing aligned so perfectly to allow our love to ignite initially and then flourish further.

My step-son, when he first spent a significant amount of time with us on our own reflected that The Cuban and I have many synchronised thingies. We do. And, their number has expanded to such a degree that we are indeed becoming more alike as time passes. I don’t mind at all, since to me The Cuban — my husband — is the best humanity has to offer.

So, here’s to the day upon which we legally wed. But, more importantly, here’s to us, and years and years to come of more synchronicity.

Nothing but time

I am acutely aware of time at the moment.

The Cuban, ever my greatest cheerleader and most attentive sounding board, has reassured me again and again that I remain a spring chicken. As I enter my 50th (HOLY SHIT) year, I am reminded that we have but one life and a limited amount of time during which to live it.

I want for nothing this year, except more time. More time to spend with those whom I love. More time to explore areas near and far, known and unfamiliar alike. More time to read and understand more about this world in which I live. More time to stop and smell the roses and daisies and lilacs and all the other flowers. More time to face the judgement of my darling cat. More time to run and see just how far I can push myself physically. More time work with talented students and young researchers. Time. Just time. I want more of it.

It amazes me how crazy fast the years pass now. In the blink of an eye, we’ve journeyed around the sun yet again. To me, the foolishness of youth believes in the notion that each of us has all the time in the world and and endless supplies of tomorrows. Or maybe that is the consummate procrastinator who sits upon my shoulder whispering, ‘later’ and ‘tomorrow’ and ‘mañana’ again and again and again. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one; yet, knowing this and living its reality are two entirely different things.

As I reflect upon the passage of time I want more of it. But, I also realise that I realise just how good I have it in this specific moment. I may work too much, and spend entirely too much time obsessing over the idiocy of others (as well as my own). But, this little life I’ve enjoyed over the past 49 years has been a fantastic ride so far. And, welcome whatever comes next and for however long I have to enjoy it.

And, as The Cuban says, ‘I got your spring chicken right here!’

 

spring chicken - 01

The Cuban’s traditional birthday chicken. Just for me.

2018

I will not miss this year. At. All.

It’s proved challenging. It’s tested my limits. And, it’s frayed my nerves. It’s brought successes and bitter disappointments, sometimes simultaneously. It’s brought the pain of loss and grief. And it’s been emotionally and physically exhausting.

But, this year also brought love. Kindness. Patience. Support. And laughter, so much laughter, at times through tears.

This year, 2018, is once again not defined by things, but by the people in my life. I am enormously grateful, humbled and honoured to have so, so many amazing people in my life.

Naturally, there is that one person who stands out, namely, that constant known to me as ‘Sweetie’ or “Twewtie’, and to many as The Cuban. As we move into our 14th (holy shit, time flies!) year together, I am still amazed by how much more meaningful each day is through the simple act of sharing time and space with this most incredible human. As much as I love many of you, I am not afraid nor ashamed to say there is no one on this planet I’d rather spend time with.

But so many others in our life, those both near and far, those at once virtually and physically near and dear, have provided both strength and hope, kindness and solidarity, silliness and seriousness when we most needed and least expected it. And we are grateful beyond measure. You’ve cheered our successes, shared our outrage at injustices and aimed to make this world just a little bit better, and we love you for it.

As the clock ticks towards another day and another year, we thank you for sharing your lives with us in 2018. And we wish you boundless happiness and joy, love and laughter, and endless hope and prosperity in whatever way you measure it in the coming year. May 2019 exceed your expectations and dreams. And may we cross one another’s paths as often as possible in the near future.

Happy New Year!

Changes

Same desk, different feel.

On the last slide for my last class meeting in all of my classes, I include a picture of my desk. It’s messy. It’s filled with crap related to teaching and my work at the university and beyond. It’s also filled with non-work stuff, which I use to take various type of mental health breaks.

Fundamentally, it’s a reflection of me, with bits of nonsense peppered across the surface featuring the necessary and obligatory giant cup of half-drunk coffee and a water bottle or three.

My new workspace took so much less time to set up and feel ‘right’ than any other workspace I’ve previously created. Perhaps because I’d been thinking about it for a while. Perhaps because my system now works precisely as I want it to. But, this new space feels fantastic already and feels as though, once I sort the remainder of our packed life throughout the flat and truly and completely nest, this workspace will prove productive.

Yesterday, one of my classes met for the last time. It’s been a challenging few first two months of classes this autumn given our kitty breast cancer ordeal and the move. But, this class has been patient and attentive and worked incredibly hard, as well extended truly unexpected and most welcome kindness each week. I’ve entered class on some Monday evenings feeling rather homicidal. I’ve never left it feeling that way. Anyway, I needed a new pic for my last slide. Given that I’d only just finished setting up my desk about four hours before the class met, it’s rather miraculous I managed to get more than the absolute minimum sorted.

The image with the window to the left of my desk is my new space and I genuinely love it. The image on the right is my old workspace. As much as I loved it, I confess: I do not miss it, not even a little bit.

I still have some bits to sort out, naturally. But, I love this space. From where things are on my desktop to my desk’s contents to the views to the left (out the window) and right (to the living room).

Even better, on the other side of my screens, The Cuban sits at his own workspace.

Evidently, change is good.