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.

Vote. Please.

I voted weeks ago.

The process as an overseas American voter was relatively easy and straightforward for me. My biggest concern was that my voter registration information made its way to the Voter Registrar’s office in Connecticut by the deadline, and that I’d receive my ballot with plenty of time to mail it back ensuring its arrival before election day.

My registration arrived. My ballot arrived (via email—a first for me). I printed it off that day and mailed it back in early October. My civic duty was fulfilled.

This process is not new to me, given that I’ve voted via absentee ballot in every election since 2000.  I miss the I voted stickers, naturally. But, each year, I complete and fill in the overseas voter registration forms, mail them off and wait. It’s a pain, but it is necessary. Particularly now.

Please, vote. Far too many individuals do not take the time to exercise their right and civic duty by voting, particularly in mid-term elections. Far too many individuals assume that their one vote doesn’t make any difference at all. Far too many individuals think that politics has absolutely nothing to do with their daily lives.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t think of mid-term elections or my one absentee ballot as all that important. That changed in 2012, when I watched my husband vote in a municipal election in Finland.

Because we are residents in Finland, who have lived here for more than two years, we are granted the right to vote in municipal elections — not national elections since we are not citizens. But, we can exercise our voices on matters related to community-level issues, issues which perhaps affect us more. Those elections coincided with elections in the US, and I found myself researching candidates on both sides of the pond for both of my homes. But, I also watched as my husband took his civic duty incredibly seriously.

It wasn’t until after he voted that I fully understood how meaningful that experience was for him. Immediately after he voted, he said to me, ‘That’s the first time in my life that I’ve voted and known that my vote would be counted and it mattered.’ He was 52 years old at the time.

As a Cuban, who lived at times in the US and Russia, he was never able to take part in elections other than those in his home country. Cuban elections are not exactly ‘elections’. Given this experience, he understands perhaps more than most just how important showing up and exercising that privilege is. And, he understands voting as a mighty powerful privilege granted to few. He has not nor will he miss an opportunity to vote in Finland since being granted that right.

[To give you an idea of how seriously he takes this, during the last municipal election, he again researched candidates and platforms, discussed it at length with me, and then voted, and helped me get to the local polling station before they closed. Those elections coincided with a particularly awful bout of the flu which had me bedridden. As much as I was ready to blow off voting, he all-but offered to carry me to the polling station. I ended up voting about 30 minutes before the polling station closed.]

Voting is a beautiful thing to witness. That democratic process carries immense power, if only we exercise it. It conveys even more meaning and power to those who enjoy it later in life and do not accept it as a given. Voting is precious and can just as easily be taken away. We must exercise that right and we must protect by making informed decisions which matter not just for our own personal selfish reasons, but also for our society as a whole.

Please, vote. Encourage your friends and family and strangers to vote. Take the time to help someone vote if they need assistance finding or getting to their polling station. So, so many individuals wish they had the opportunity, right and privilege so many of us take for granted.

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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.

Change is good, right?

I do not deal with change well. Not at all well.

Much like my cat, I am a creature of habit. And, habits create order and help alleviate the every-day anxiety that plagues me and has left me seemingly paralysed at times throughout my life. I like order. I like things to have their own specific place. And, I like knowing what and where stuff is and where that stuff will be tomorrow.

Moving, as much as it can be welcome, is perhaps the worst sort of change for me. Rather funny, given that at times during my life I moved what seemed like every other month.

After living in one address and one space for 11 years — longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life — moving now has completely thrown me into the worst sort of chaos and worst sort of anxiety. I’m managing; but, just barely. But, sorting through a life and a fully established home is hard.

Today, as I took a break from work to sort through a desk drawer and sift through debris of various sorts, I found a few things amongst the clutter that made me smile. Little reminders of a life lived in a home we love. And, reminders that regardless of our physical address, at the end of the day this is just a physical space and does not necessarily define ‘home’ for me.

Since The Cuban entered my life, we have left one another little notes. On (or in) the fridge. On one another’s desks. In notebooks and books. Next to one another’s alarms or pillows. We have notebooks of them in various places.

Notes. Just little notes, some as reminders to do something. Most as reminders that more than any other possession in our closets, desks and dressers, the most important item either of us has will always be one another.

In the bottom of a drawer underneath discarded phone and headphone boxes and invoices from ISPs we no longer rely upon, these notes emerged. These notes which I kept. These notes which still make me smile. These notes which remind me to ignore the noise and focus on the constant source of strength and goodness we provide one another.

A roof. Walls. Doors. Those make up a dwelling. But, my home is with The Cuban. The physical dwelling and walls may change, and our notes to one another may carry altogether different messages of things to do and little reminders. But, they’ll always be reminders of one constant thing: we built this home together. And, we’ll get through this and survive. Together. Change is a good, and reminds of us what remains constant.

Past notes of note

Moments

I’ve never been particularly good at living in the moment. My lack of patience for just about anything is legendary amongst those who know me best. Try as I might, I’d rather not wait for … anything. Ever.

During the past year, I’ve made attempts to be a bit more mindful and of, if not quite in, the moment. Some days it’s easier undoubtedly than others. But, I’m trying.

As The Cuban, Che Fufu and I navigate a particularly stressful period in our otherwise uneventful life, little reminders continue to pop up signifying how fortunate we are and how we must simply enjoy those moments of calm and simplistic natural beauty in seemingly unexpected places when we can. We’ve taken to voicing what inspires and makes us happy at the end of each day, beyond just being together—being together is a given, even when we aren’t at our best. And, lately, I’m anything but my best. But, moments of gratitude allow us to move beyond the stress and uncertainty. They allow us to just be aware and acknowledge that even if we face adversity, we also have much to be grateful for. Much, much more than that which weighs us down.

Yesterday, as we walked our beloved neighbourhood on our evening stroll, we chased not only a budding sunset and the last of the summer sun, but a full rainbow. Neither one of us could remember the last time we saw a full, unobstructed rainbow, so full that capturing it in one shot was impossible. That rainbow was magical and necessary and perfectly imperfect as it formed, brightened and faded with the slowly disappearing and last of the summer sun. My word it was breathtaking.

As we arrived along the water’s edge, for the setting sun to our right and that glorious rainbow to our left, we breathed. Simply and deeply we breathed. We paused and just took it in. All of it. And, it was magnificently magical and perfect. For those few moments, nothing else mattered. Not the stress we continue to endure. Not the uncertainty of what comes next for us. Not the knowledge that whatever we face may not be easy but we’ll get through it together. We were, quite simply, in that moment completely.

Here’s to finding a few more of those quiet, calm and perfectly imperfect moments. Whenever and wherever we can. And, to rainbows and sunsets wherever they appear.

Rainbows and sunsets

Rainbow on one side of the water’s edge and the last of the summer sun on the other. This is Munkkiniemi and we’re glad we could call it home if even for a little while.

 

 Seven years and 7 million laughs later

Many things in my life simply make no sense.

The Cuban is not one of them. Our life together, as messy as it may be at times, just works.

Today, we celebrate. Seven years ago today, we legally formalised what had been clear to us shortly after we met. Seven years ago today, w legally established what we already knew to be true — we loved each other and were completely committed to one another and spending our lives together.

And, here we are, seven years later. I confess: I love this man and our seemingly insignificant little life even more now than I did that day or the 13-plus years ago when we met and fell in love.

There is love. There is joy. There is the shared understanding that love is sacrifice, sharing is caring and, above all, kindness is everything. We have endured stress and uncertainty.  We have known joy and happiness as well as immense sorrow and blinding rage (although thankfully not directed at one another). We have weathered storms and reveled in the most gorgeous of sunsets. Whilst we have cried together,  we have also laughed nearly every single day.

Together. All of this, we have done together.

I don’t know much about anything really. But, I do know that I love this Cuban who sambaed into my life and enriched it beyond measure. And, I know that my life is infinitely better through sharing all of it with him.

Here’s to us, Tweetie!

 

‘Be silly. Be kind. Be honest.’

Yesterday. Yesterday was a week of bad days smushed into a mere 24 hours.

By the time I returned home, nothing mattered, other than crawling into my favourite pjs and crabbing a giant gin and tonic (although we were sadly out of gin). If I’d had the energy, I would have grabbed my colouring books and pencils, built a blanket fort and hid from the world until next week.

Call it the end of a long, long year, the need for our holiday to begin N O W, a case of being overly tired from lack of sleep or simply a bad day. Regardless, yesterday sucked.

Evidently, my husband thought it best to channel Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both men’s mottos are ‘Be silly. Be kind. Be honest.’

Knowing that yesterday wore me out—psychologically and physically—The Cuban aka my hero sent me the perfect email sometime after I drifted off to sleep. (Never mind the weirdness of a couple who work from rooms next to one another sending emails back and forth—we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) are forgetful at times and email occasionally works best.) This email was silly. It was kind. And, it was honest. And, it was precisely what I needed to put yesterday behind me.

As the holiday season descends upon us, it seems as though everyone is overtaxed and overly tense and perhaps more than a little sensitive. Words and facial expressions and simply sighs may be taken out of context and in ways not fully intended. Individuals may be stretched to their absolute limits to such an extent that a smile can ease their minds or bring them to tears. This all rings true for me at the moment.

So, let’s all channel Ralph Waldo Emerson with a slight update: Be silly. Above all be kind And, be honest (unless it contradicts the first two).

And, for everything else, here is a picture of The Cuban’s grandmother with a rooster. Just because.

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