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.


Today, it’s all about waiting.

Waiting to start the 2017 addition of the Helsinki Midnight Run. (My start time is 21.25, Helsinki time.)

Waiting to hear how prepared and where are family and friends in Florida are hunkered down and hopefully safe from Irma’s approach. (Last forecast has her hitting the Florida Keys early Sunday morning local time, Sunday afternoon our time.)

And, waiting to learn the fate of those who are currently riding out Irma’s wrath across Cuba.

I hate waiting. For anything. But, waiting on all of this on the same day has me unbelievably restless and anxious and fidgety. And, the weather here appears to reflect my mood rather well — rainy, windy and generally miserable and unsettled.

There’s absolutely nothing we can do from here for those in Florida and Cuba currently either experiencing what I image to be hollowing winds and lashing rain, deafening and terrifying at once. I can’t help but worry about those we’ve met who live far too close to the water’s edge. I can’t help but think of the waves currently crashing over the Malecón, which will likely grow and intensify as Irma follows Cuba’s coast. And, I hope against hope that not too much is washed away.

And, I can’t help but wonder what will remain tomorrow and the day after.

And, then comes Florida, likely to take on the full force or Irma’s terror.

As I sit or pace or try to work and take my mind off Irma’, the faces of those I love flash before my eyes, whether in Cuba or Florida.

And the word that comes to mind is simply, ‘¡cuidate!’

Be safe.


In the storm’s path

Watching hopelessly from afar as disaster strikes is never easy. When it hits places once called home or where we’ve left pieces of ourselves and our hearts, there’s a certain pain that accompanies the helplessness and sense of loss. It’s akin to grief really.

Harvey affected far too many people, many of whom I love and places I frequented with my beloved grandmother and great aunt as a child. I can’t shake the feeling that a house on Prairie Dr in Eagle Lake, Texas sat sadly inundated with water, thus washing away some of my fondest and happiest of memories with family. The house no longer belongs to us; those memories, however, persist. And, perhaps that’s more important. Still, I love that  house and hope it remains standing and dry.

Miraculously perhaps, all those I love in that part of the world, whilst affected, are not themselves lost. They remain safe. They can and are rebuilding, and that alone comforts me as I sit so very far from them.

Now, scarcely two weeks later, here we are again, watching as yet another monster storm tracks towards two places inhabited by family and friends alike, one of which has become a home I long for and fear for. Either Hurricane Irma will hit South Florida, where many of my very much loved and missed in-laws now reside. Or, she will inundate Cuba, that crazy, singular island inhabited by far too many friends and family I’d rather not see forced to endure yet further mayhem.

I can’t imagine the destruction accompanying a storm like Irma on a place I know intimately now, a place which persists on the darkest days here in Helsinki and carries me through the toughest of times. I cannot remove the images of pieces of the Malecón scattered across the roadway after a strong cold front brings ginormous waves for a day or two. Those waves now seem like mere ripples compared to the storm surge of a category 5 hurricane.

How much of that seawall will remain if a storm like Irma strikes? How many of those charming yet crumbling buildings along the Malecón or other parts of the Cuban coast will remain in her wake?

Like those in her potential path, we wait. Please, be merciful, Irma. You’re fucking with the lives of too many people I love.

Malecon_25 Jan 2017

A crazy gorgeous sunset show, featuring roadway-closing waves along the Malecón. 25 January 2017.

Santy Shack_Jan 2017

A shack next to one of the best restaurants (Restaurante Santy Pescador) we’ve been to in Cuba. Many of the shacks along this waterway seem precarious as Irma approaches. Havana, 28 January 2017



Day 52: Proekt 365 (Sweetness in the morning)

Day 52: Proekt 365 Sweetness in the Morning

Day 52: Proekt 365
Sweetness in the Morning

Today was an odd day. I woke up entirely too early (~5 am) and in a rather annoyed mood. The mood subsided quickly, but by about 14.00 this afternoon I needed much more caffeine and a disco nap. My plan for a proper vehicle for the go-go juice didn’t quick work out as I’d hoped or intended, and there was no disco nap. First World Problems at their finest, eh?

It wasn’t a bad day at all. Just surreal, largely due to a lack of sleep which resulted in a complete inability to focus or make a quick decision of any kind.

But, all of the best-laid plans which didn’t quite work out and all the annoyances of the day don’t really matter.

I snapped this photo this morning as my darling furry beast slept sweetly and soundly with my other not nearly so furry un-beast. It melts my heart now along with all the annoyances of the day immediately, just as it did when I saw them this morning. As I opened the photo this evening, I could also hear her sweet somber-induced snores — The Cat’s not The Cuban’s (yes, she does snore, and quite loudly, too!)

My family. My sweet, sweet family.

Day 16: Proekt 365 (Like father, like son)

Day 16: Proekt 365 Despite distance and time, the similarites are profound

Day 16: Proekt 365
Despite distance and time, these two are so much alike

‘Like father, like son’. That phrase has been on constant repeat this week much as it was this past summer when my father-in-law visited us. Neither time nor distance can alter the similarities between these three generations of men. Perhaps, ‘like father, like son, like son’ is more appropriate.

The Jr Cuban is a young man now, and his own young man at that. He’s changed so much in the few years since we’ve seen him last and has ‘grown up’. His own young man he may be, but he is definitely The Jr Cuban. Witnessing the little cues and hints that he is my husband’s son through the unconscious expressions and behaviours is such a treat. As one example, they both wore the exact same expressions when I was taking a series of photos yesterday. Exactly the same. How does that happen, particularly when The Jr Cuban is with us far too infrequently?

This summer on a long walk with the elder Cuban (aka El Maestro) when he was visiting us, I witnessed my husband (The Cuban) doing exactly the same thing his son does when they are peripatetically bonding. It was an instant and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It made The Jr Cuban’s behaviour so much more relevant and meaningful. There have been other moments when I’ve seen all three of them exhibit subtle cues that they are indeed all part of a longer thread separated only by time. Each observation brings a mixture of smiles and tears — these seemingly insignificant behaviours are normally the things I love most about my husband (and also those which drive me crazy at times!).

Like father, like son, like son.

It’s a shame all three of them can’t be here at the same time. Of course, it’d also probably be the end of every last hair on my head since getting out the door requires infinitely more patience than I am ever going to be capable of (which also makes me smile!). Still, any visit is better than no visit at all. And, I’m loving this one.

I may not ‘get’ 95% of what is going on (my Spanish is non-existent, and they speak incredibly quickly). But, I see that they ‘get’ one another. At the end of the day, that’s most important. From their adoring concern for Che Fufu, to discussions of the best type of cheese for pastelitos de guayaba, parkour and more pressing and touchy (as well as necessary) topics, the sound of these two bonding (The Cuban and Jr Cuban) is like music. And, a sweeter melody exists nowhere. (Well, except perhaps the dulcet tones of El Maestro and The Cuban bonding… .)

I love these men who are now my family. Oh, what a family it is.

Day 10: Proekt 365

Day 10: Proekt 365 A little inside family joke to welcome The Jr Cuban to Helsinki

Day 10: Proekt 365
A little inside family joke to welcome The Jr Cuban to Helsinki

It’s an inside joke, and one which dates back to the first time my step-son stayed with us in Helsinki, which also coincided with our move here six-and-a-half years ago. Like most inside jokes, it stuck.

An added bonus to reliving this family humour was the shocked expression of a Spanish speaker at the Starbucks at the airport upon seeing our sign.

Welcome, Seba. We’re so, so happy you’re here!

Family is family…

I’ve been thinking a lot about the composition and meaning of family recently.

For me, it has always been those who I know I can count on when things are very bad at a particular moment and those who share my joy at the happiest of times, my sorrow at the darkest moments, and the mundane for everything in between. For me, despite the distance between me and my biological family, I know they are ‘there’ and hope they know the same holds true for me. Obviously, my husband has been my daily family tie since we fell in love, and his gigantic family has welcomed me with the warmest of arms. But, my ‘family’ has also consisted of ‘my tribe’—a small group of several individuals whom I love and who love me back unconditionally in that way that only families can. None of this really has to do with any specific identity or sexual preferences. The most important qualification is love. Simple, honest, persistent love.

My pontification of ‘family’ recently has been more related to politics (of course) and how others find it so simple and necessary to define the meaning of ‘family’ for people they do not know. I’m a fervent supporter of marriage equality for all, largely because I see the desperate sadness of those who are denied that joy of defining their family for themselves. I also find it unconscionable that there are individuals who find it so repulsive. Largely, I’ve found that those who object to same-sex marriage are the very same individuals who deride LGBT rights in general because of the ‘promiscuous lifestyle’ of gay men whilst dismissing extra-marital affairs of their own as irrelevant and a ‘private matter’. Nevermind that there are plenty of examples of gay men and women who have been in decades-long relationships with their partners and never had an affair. Not that it is anyone’s business but that couple’s.

I don’t understand preventing couples in loving, committed relationships from enjoying the same legal rights as heterosexual couples vis-a-vis a recognised civil union. If a church wants to prevent it, fine (although I find fault with that as well). And, if the couple’s only ‘difference’ is that it is a same-sex couple, who is it hurting? Not the gay-bashing homophobes, surely. If they are concerned with examples of solid, loving and life-long relationships — e.g., preservation of ‘the family’ — why prevent two individuals who have lived together in good times and bad from publicly declaring that union and granting it the same legal protections?

I don’t get it.

Perhaps that’s why initiatives such as The Devotion Project are so incredibly important. Quoting their Facebook page, ‘The Devotion Project is a series of short documentary portraits of LGBTQ couples and families, chronicling and celebrating their commitment and love’. Couples and families.

The third video in their series, ‘Listen from the Heart‘, follows the lives of the Fitch-Jenett family. And, what a family it is. You need only listen to them to hear their devotion. Watching it and seeing the love and commitment is not only a shining example of how families should be, but should thaw the heart of even the staunchest opponent to same-sex marriage.

Simon is an incredibly lucky boy. If more children had parents as devoted to him and to one another as his are, the world would be an infinitely better place. And, many a heterosexual couple would do well to learn from their example.