Friday, September 16, 2005

Birdwatching and the KGB

What do you get when you mix a camera attached to a 400 mm lens, a Russian nuclear power plant, and a small Siberian bird?

A mandatory trip to the local police station in a police car!

My husband, Dima, has a hobby/obsession - photographing birds. And the lenses he uses on his camera are BIG. Even on Long Island he gets second glances and sometimes questions from strangers.

Man: Wow! How far away can things be for you to take a picture of them with that lens?
Dima: Well, I just took a picture of the setting sun.
Vaudevillian drum: Bomp Bomp

(personally I thought this was a little mean and would have given the man the kind of answer he expected but the confused look on the man's face went over my husband's head completely)

Anyway, back to the story.

The main purpose of our trip to Russia was to visit with Dima's elderly parents and his sister. He hadn't seen them for five years. They live in a small town (pop 20,000) about 30 miles from Yekaterinburg, a major city in the Ural mountains of Russia. Dima's hometown, Zarechny, was built specifically to support the nuclear power plant. The river was dammed to create a large lake to be used a sink for the heat generated by the power plant. It is a beautiful town in many ways. There are many trees, tall Siberian pines and beautiful white birches.

There is the huge lake.

These features make a nice place for birding and bird photography and we had planned to do this. We weren't planning on site seeing, we wanted to spend time with family, but as everyone knows, you can't spend every minute of 10 days with family and remain sane. Our morning birding trips gave use fresh air, exercise and some space. Unfortunately they caused some trouble too.

In Russia, most people live in apartment buildings, even in small towns like Zahrechny. Dima's sister's (Olya's) building had about 30 apartments in a 3 story building. Behind every building is a yard of sorts. Behind Olya's building was a sort of weed strewn lot with trees, benches, and playground equipment. It is not clear to me how much of this wildness was due to poverty (no money to pay someone to cut the grass and tend the plantings) and how much due to a preference for more natural settings. Certainly Zarechny is poorer than Moscow but it is more traditional too and is not trying to be a Western city with Western priorities. Anyway, these yards are a good place for birds. On our first day we were birding locally in these connected backyards near Olya's building, me with my 10x binoculars and Dima with his BIG lensed camera. Three men step out of one of the buildings. I know right away something is up. They are all dressed in black suits. They are bulky, tall and strong. (I, at 5'2'', am average height in this town so I think tall people are reserved for special jobs). And they walk with purpose towards us. I don't want any miscommunication or questions so I firmly say 'Hello' to their Russian greeting 'Zdrastuitya'. They keep walking towards Dima. He talks to them. He shows them the pictures he has taken with his digital camera. They speak some more. The men, who I later find out are KGB, or more modernly called FSB agents, walk back to their office in the nearby building. Walking with Dima I learn that they told him he couldn't take pictures outside their office with a 400 mm lens. I was not a little upset by all this but, as Dima pointed out, the good thing is we now know exactly where we could and could not take photographs. Off limits were the FSB building, the nuclear power plant and the dam. The rest was ours, in the translated words of the FSB officer 'It's a free country.'

To be continued......

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Home at last

Due to some red tape and paperwork problems, we had to extend our stay in Russia for one week. I am back now, I am home. I promise descriptions and photos of our trip but for now, after a good night's sleep in my own bed, a cup of coffee and toast at my own table, fixed in my own kitchen, and a perusal of my accumulated mail (including mailing from the three book clubs to which I belong), I feel as if I am in paradise. This is not to say my trip was bad, it was fascinating and filled with time spent with beloved family and friends, but home is home.

The Joy of homeness!
The simple pleasures of sleeping in one's own bed
Of waking and making a pot of coffee
Measuring the ground coffee into the filter
Pouring the water into the machine
Clicking the switch and hearing the homey gurgle
The simple joy of knowing where everything is
Being able to read every word I see
The deep comfort of slipping into everyday routines
Of familiarity
I am home
And it is good
Very good

Friday, August 19, 2005

Russian adventure

I am leaving for Russia tomorrow. I will be back Sept. 6th and will probably be sleeping off the jet lag until at least Sept 7th. I promise at least one blog entry dedicated to the trip.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Current Work

I struggle to write
This is ...
I struggle to know
This is ...
Reaching, grasping, elusive disappearing
ideas of what this is
I struggle to own, to enclose, to believe, surround with my body and soul
what this is
To possess it completely, to make it part of me, inseparable, to grok it if you can accept this term
To understand
This me
This creator or receiver of thoughts
This crier, this lover, this hater, this dancer, this screamer, this whisperer, this silent observer
I struggle to justify the oxygen and carbon consumed
I struggle to find a place
For myself
In me

This is me

Saturday, August 6, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

There was a thread on my favorite forum, Childless Stepmoms where everyone posted the things they do that they know they shouldn't because they aren't healthy or waste time or something like that. I thought I would post mine here too.

Just of a few of my indulgences....
  • Watching my favorite TV shows: CSI and Star Trek
  • Reading electronic books, CSI and Star Trek if I need a fix and they aren't on or I want a new story not something I already saw.
  • POPCORN!! Eating it while I watch CSI or Star Trek or reading a book makes it even better.
  • Going to the movies (an excuse to eat popcorn and a real escape from reality for me, even if it isn't a movie I really want to see. Some times I just have to go.)
  • Watching anything on TV, just vegging out with the channel changer in my hand, watching about 4 awful shows/movies at a time, trying to keep all the stories straight and not missing anything important.
  • Going to the library and just browsing around, reading books and magazines, pretending I have all the time in the world
  • Chocolate (interspersed with the popcorn, something salty, then something sweet, repeat)
  • Sitting on my reclining chair in my pajamas, posting/reading CSM like I don't have a deadline in the world
  • Buying books. Going to Amazon or to a physical bookstore and selecting several books that catch my eye without worrying about the price.
  • Catalog browsing. One of my favorite games from childhood was going to a store (now I use a catalog or online store) and pretending I have infinite money. What would I buy? If it is a paper catalog, I circle every purchase with a thick red marker. Sometimes I 'buy' everything on the page. The only things I don't 'buy' are things I just don't like, things I wouldn't take if you gave them to me (except as presents from someone really special). I love doing this with Williams-Sonoma or Pottery Barn catalogs. Ahhh my dream kitchen.
  • Reading beautiful cookbooks
All these things seem to have one thing in common, spending with abandon, whether it is calories (or points since I am doing Weight Watchers), money or time. So I guess my ultimate fantasy is that I have unlimited time, unlimited money, and I can eat as much as I want without gaining excess weight. I imagine it is a pretty popular fantasy. Brings to mind the scene from Groundhog Day where Bill Murray sees the beauty in his 'condition': No accountability for his actions.

Monday, August 1, 2005

Morning again

I awake
and the smell of what has happened is in the air
stale beer in bottles upright or fallen or broken
and vinegary hot peppers and onions from the local sub shop
that stays open late
and glass, a plate thrown against a wall
and the sound of alcohol induced sleep
loud with snores and labored exhales

I open the doors and windows to chase
the threats and vulgarity with bird song
to replace the rancid pain drenched air with
cool green freshness
Wearing shoes to protect my feet
I begin to sweep
to make right the wrongs from the night before
To start again again

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Brief update

About a month ago I wrote that I was slowly returning to blogging and Gary just commented, calling me on it. So I decided to write an entry, which is what I am doing... now.

I just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
I really enjoyed it, more than book 5. The last ~200 pages just whizzed by and I had totally lost track of time. I don't think I moved for 3 hours. I'm not going to write a detailed review, it's not that kind of book for me but I really had fun reading it.

And just a smattering of other things I am up to.

  • Way behind at work and will be working this weekend to catch up a bit
  • Will be traveling to Russia at the end of August, visa paperwork done this week.
  • Latest hobby/obsession is bird-watching which I hope to be blogging about in the near future.
  • Got 3 new exercise/yoga DVDs that I hope will help the lower back pain that has flared up. Hope to get to at least one of them this weekend too.
  • Went to Cirque du Soleil Varekai last Sunday and LOVED it.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bloglet service

I updated the bloglet service. If anyone was having trouble with it before, it should work better now. I am slowly easing my way back into blogging.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


I haven't been blogging here regularly for months. I went through a crisis in my life and in my marriage. Things have settled down now in many ways but I still don't feel 'normal'. One thing the crisis did was to propel into some serious self examination. I have been exploring my past, my childhood and working with a therapist on many of my distorted ideas, low self worth, perfectionism, people pleasing and so on. It is too raw to share here in detail, maybe someday. Lately I have started to want to write but I don't have the time to do it well and I haven't eradicated my perfectionism yet. I want to come back to this. I love to write. I am accepting and believing this more as time passes. You haven't heard the last of me yet.

Monday, May 30, 2005

NY Rush

I live in New York.
Or, near New York
Scribbling poems on
the back of an envelope from the DMV
before going to the dentist
to get my teeth drilled.
What does New York have
to do with it?
I am not sure.
The rush, the urgency of its nearness
pushes me on
running through each day
leaving piles of unread mail and regrets
behind me.

Friday, January 28, 2005


How many breaths will it take for me to realize I am alive?

Sunday, January 16, 2005


I have been mostly posting to my gratitude journal, A Grateful Heart. I am struggling with my life challenges and those challenges I have created for myself. I am focusing on this and on gratitude. When I have the energy or inspiration to write more, I will. For now, this is all I can offer, in love.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Encounter with genius

I just spoke with a genius, or listened to one, rather. He is a polyglot, knows about 7 languages, plays violin, is a mathematician, a pharmacologist, on and on. He wants to learn Russian because he will travel there and 'doesn't want to go to a country not speaking the language'. He is brilliant and interesting. Yet, walking away I have a knot in my stomach. Part of this is me. I take every opportunity to compare myself to people and come up short. And in this case it is especially easy to see my shortcomings, my failures, gray and moldy next to his shimmering accomplishments. He was describing the private tutor who taught him English in Chile and the wonderful technique she used. Well, at 10 I was struggling with my family's poverty and my father's violence. There were no foreign language tutors for me. I remember begging my mother for "The How and Why Book of the Human Body" from the magazine rack of the grocery store. It was about $2.29 and it took a few weeks of begging until I got it. But you know, these sound like excuses and bitterness. These kinds of thoughts don't help remove the knot. What I want more than anything else in my life is to feel ok being me. Ok knowing I am not the smartest person, or the most talented or the kindest or the most attractive person in the world. I so much want to accept myself as I am without excuses of my childhood to explain my shortcomings. I want to be able to speak with a genius and be able to appreciate the opportunity to learn from him/her without comparisons. I want to stand on solid ground with myself that will allow me to see the interaction as a gift not an insult.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005


In looking for more information related to "Reclaiming your life" I found this post on The Light of Reason:

the immense cruelty that is inflicted on children by adults who are supposedly devoted to caring for and nurturing them has enormous consequences. In most cases, the results of that cruelty remain unrecognized by the child when he grows up and becomes an adult, even as the damage continues to distort and cripple his life in countless ways. In addition to what most people would now consider obvious cruelty (vicious beatings, sexual molestation and the like), much of the torture that children must endure comes in forms that far too many people continue to find perfectly acceptable.

Read the rest.

Sunday, January 2, 2005

Choosing hopelessness

From Reclaiming your life by Jean Jenson

We can see, then, that the adult who tends to overreact to situations was a child who repressed the reality that would have led to recognition that any effort to get his or her needs met was useless; and, since such understanding would have been followed by a feeling of hopelessness, he or she also used denial to create a false sense of hope. This hope flew in the face of the reality with which the child could not cope and in fact was designed to substitute for it. False hope formed the basis for the child's unconscious efforts to change the parent(s) to get what he or she needed, and is one way the "false self" expresses itself.
When a child's unconscious continually engages in this maneuver, the unreal hope becomes a permanent part of the child's defensive structure. What was begun in childhood -- the unconscious hopeless project to be whatever was deemed necessary in order to change the parent(s) -- continues automatically into adulthood. The child's effort becomes the adult's struggle; and he or she unconsciously chooses people and situations that will enable this struggle to continue.
... the child's need was for an unavailable, critical parent to become a nurturing supportive one. The unconscious is looking to meet the exact need of the child.

I read this passage today and felt like I understood my whole life and all the choices I have made along the way, my inexhaustable need to choose the hardest path, my interactions with others, everything. Even the poem I posted a few weeks ago makes more sense. Did I leave my first husband because it was too easy to make him love me? And now, I have this intense struggle with my stepson, a struggle again for acceptance and approval, which is completely turned around because he shouldn't be put in a position of such power over me. Just a short while ago I had been struggling for 7 years to try to get the approval and forgiveness of his mother (my husbands ex-wife). Now I no longer obsess over her and what she thinks. It seems I have new hopeless project to grapple with, an even more impossible one. Can knowing this, recognizing this help me?