Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Notes On The Self

Well let’s see. For now I’m going to glaze over that whole ”getting married” thing until I have the time to catch my thoughts and accompany them with pretty photos from the day.  The photographer has teased me with a few and suddenly I’ve become overly excited to look at photos of myself. The wait is killing me. 
In the midst of this year, the planning and prepping and routine of things, I’ve been thinking about one main thing and since the abrupt end of wedding mode, have been thinking about another thing that corresponds to a third thing that ties in with the first thing.

Number 1: Life does not feel the way it looks like it will feel when you watch other people do it. Standing in the midst of a beautiful sunset doesn’t mean that your life feels lovely, the way an onlooker assumes it does if you are currently possessing the inner-peace to stand and watch a sunset. Being surprised with a new car or special vacation is very exciting and in that moment it’s a thrill but shortly after, you carry on with your normal routine except in a new car or with the knowledge of a pending trip. Getting engaged didn’t make my life feel prettier. Buying my “dream” home didn’t mean I was given heaps of free time to sit and relish in the great house the way you think people who live in dream homes do.

Pictures and movies depict the good things in life in such a way that makes you think you’ll be different in the moment: more peaceful or graceful…just less of your normal, pimply, conscious self. I’ll be whisked to a place of weightlessness, gratitude, and never-ending joy. The reality is that you almost always feel like yourself no matter what happens to you and feeling like yourself is a lot different from how you think people feel when envy-worthy things happen to them.
So what I’m saying is, you’re going to be your same awkward, annoying, imperfect self no matter what happens to you in life. 

Post-wedding I realized that I haven’t been thinking outside of myself. I’ve been so focused and tied down by the things going on in my life that I lost sight of my dreamy brooding and haven’t had many thoughts that didn’t relate to my present or very near future. I haven’t thought about the year 2019 once this year. That’s saying a lot for a girl who dreams 3-5 years in advance. I haven’t thought about what I want to be doing in three years, what's going on over Bangladesh or New Zealand, where I want to live someday, what's the latest with endangered species, what sorts of things Brett and I will do over our lifetimes, the future of American politics (vaguely anyways), etc and I would normally have a gaggle of suggestions on hand. Since coming out of that bubble, I’ve looked to my non-planned future and realized that lots of people live in this kind of "bubble-of-self" and that their worlds must feel very small. I’ve just been reopened to what a grand, busy place the world outside of my life is. I didn’t like living like that.

I did have a big internal realization recently about sociable friendship things and this is my third thought that related to that first one about things feeling like other things. I think this is true for everyone but since I’m in charge of this blog I’ll make it about me. Ahem, through the years, my friendship groups have come and gone. Though I keep in touch with a few stragglers from each group of people I sat with through various life stages, time carried on and people move or start new adventures and scheduling phone-calls to catch up on lives we’re not living falls very low on one’s list of priorities. My SCAD friends were perfect for me while I was as SCAD but our real lives are very different and very far apart and I don’t think any of us really understand what makes the other’s life very meaty. I found my way to musical Julie and funny Omar and all those guys at the peak of my waywardness and they were the perfect group of sunny, lighthearted people for me to be around during a time of so much brooding. Ahh the Surfbar days. I didn’t imagine that I would adopt the lifestyle of my Surf Bar friends. I knew I would be too critical of myself if I became a beach bum, but I learned a lot from these place-holder friendships and I’m keenly thankful for just about every friend that smiled at me when I needed a smile. In many cases, befriending people who are different from you can offer the beset selection of qualities that you don't want to possess and that helps you become even more of a person that you do want to be. 

To get to my friendship revelation (that was all build up back there), for the first time I’m feeing a sense of real integration in regards to my friendships. I’ve always felt like a fly on the wall in my friend groups. Of course they like me, but even I wasn’t sure what I brought to the table besides snarky comments and occasionally a fruit pie during the right season. I knew I didn’t fully belong in a group of artists or musicians or surfers. They all had this common ground that brought them together. Where was the group of introverted homebodies with a fondness for memoirs and houseplants?
(They’re at home, hiding and updating their blogs.)

I feel right at home now with my Charleston friends. I’ve relaxed into a group of people that haven’t left town. They’ve consistently been happy to see me because I make them laugh – even if they’re laughing at me. Now that all my friends have paired off with great girlfriends and boyfriends and everyone has moved in and out together and started new ventures, well I feel like part of a team of people. We like each other simply for being kind and optimistic. I think our common ground is that we are healthy, reasonable people that are aging and trying new things and that sort of stuff is full of surprises. One of which is this: having couple-friends is a whole new friendship ballgame. Brett and I sharing dinner with another couple is a totally new kind of warm camaraderie that I’ve never felt before. I haven’t figured out why yet. I think it has something to do with diffusing the pressure to be liked or understood within that group. Even if that couple thinks I’m weird, I know Brett gets me and loves me and seeing him like me, makes that other couple more confident that I am in fact likeable. And Vise Versa. We hung out recently with a couple where I love her but am on the fence about him but Brett things he’s fine and the girl is obnoxious. We enjoy watching them interact with each other, listening to what they think is fun and interesting, and then later, we discuss why we’re a way better couple which only ends a good day on a great note. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Bachelorette and Thoughts From Ellen

As the wedding day inches closer, the feelings of "I can't wait!" are getting even more intense. I've not looked forward to something with this amount of gusto before. I'll even admit that no trip I've ever gone on has had this much pull or excited anticipation. It's nice to finally know what it feels like to want something so badly that you think you might pop. I was starting to think I was dead inside.

In honor of the Big Day, Ellen has written her first Guest Post for Awe Geez. Ellen's excitement for my wedding is also something of a new experience. Ellen has loved Brett since they first met so I think she's been waiting a long time to celebrate this day. I'll supplement her thoughts with photos from my surprise Bachelorette day. My sweet friends know me so well. They set up such a gentle, happy day to celebrate me - no wild night clubs and binge drinking. We got together for afternoon tea where my friends from different areas of my life sat together and learned about each other and laughed so effortlessly. It was a trip seeing that collection of faces enjoying time together. Ellen got tired of me saying so. From Ari's tea party, we went to Jenny's house where she and Chelsea lit lots of sparkly candles and added touches of greenery to decorate the living room. (It really is those little efforts.) Chelsea even made "Laura and Brett" cookies that I'll never get over. Each of my sweet friends then gave me a gift inspired by some kind of Laura memory and hearing their stories of what comes to mind when they think of me mostly made me crack up laughing while a few made me arch my mouth into a frown to express the sweetness of it. We left Jenny's for a little bar where we shared a bottle of champagne and too much cheese and salted meats. There was a bit of rowdiness when the owner brought us a strange decanter to drink out of and shortly after, Ellen led us to a dance club where my friends politely bobbed in place before suggesting we go somewhere else. They know me so well.

Without further ado, a guest post by Ellen Union:

Well folks… the time has finally come. Two Things: 1. Big sister is finally getting her voice to shine on Sister’s blog. Hard to think it has been about 8 years with this puppy, and I have yet to contribute. HA! (cue the eye roll- we all know I am the sarcastic one that doesn’t normally participate in family related functions… but here’s the thing. I am getting MUCH better at it. Old age and the notion of responsibility has FINALLY kicked in).


Uhh y'all the excitement, the anticipation, the nervousness! I can hardly contain myself. It is taking forever for this week to end. Thankfully, I have taken off Friday in anticipation of Mom either having a meltdown or finding myself galavanting off on some wedding-related errand activity. If all else fails and I am not needed, I shall be at the beach, soaking up the last days of summer (in October...thank you Charleston).

Now, you may ask- How is the bride holding up? Laura has never been more calm. She is already the laid back ninja of the family. In fact, the only thing she is stressing about is the “timeline” of events that is taking place on Saturday. Who is going where? What time are people coming? Will we have time for pictures? Am I going to have the immediate or extended family in all the pictures? We, as a family, love to not pay attention to these details. Laura has only been talking about this for months.. Yet we all found ourselves at the dinner table asking the SAME questions..over and over...and over… to the point where Laura started to get put out with us :) Bleh...bleh...bleh… Have no fear Issy, Belly is here! We all know how much I love to whip people in shape and boss them around. This may be more thrilling for me than the actual wedding day festivities. I will have that floor shinin’ like the top of da Chrysler Building. Just you wait.

Bretty (the groom and/or victim) is also holding up nicely. He is also a laid back chap and I think at this point he just wants to get to the party… that’s all I want as well Bretty. Especially after my daunting speech. Oh Lord.. now that one folks… has kept me up for the past 3 nights. I have changed my speech over 100 times. Some versions are funny. Some versions are sappy. Some are just plain stupid and make no sense.  I have woken up in the middle of the night in sweat multiple times. You see… I want to make this special for these 2 plugs. If I could have it my way, I would bring my sister to tears, but we all know how she hates emotions. She would rather stab herself with a dull dinner fork than show any sort of emotion in public. HA! I am pretty sure I could make Brett cry easier than I can make Laura.

Now onward to the family and the fun part of this weekend. There are so many people flying in from all over the States. We have people from VA, CO, CA, NY, TN, and NC just to name a few. It is so exciting to see all these people flying in from all over to support these two love birds. I am especially excited to see Jared, whom I haven’t seen in a few years. For those that have been following this blog, Jared with went with us to Europe back in 2012 and has been a great travel companion for Lu through the years. Overall, I am so excited to spend time with family and friends this weekend in celebration of Brett and Laura. I never really get that excited about weddings, but this one I have been especially.  We are having a huge party in the backyard. We have a funk band coming, stringy lights. Great food and my personal favorite- WEDDING CAKE!

Dad hopes he makes Joanne mad and she calls the cops on us. “I am just waiting on her to bring the cops over.” he says with such delight! Dad actually wants to “pay off” the cops just to say he did it! Side Note: JoAnne… is our unfriendly neighbor who lives a few doors down. She delights in terrorizing people. She has had the nerve to make a few phone calls just to get us in trouble only to then stare my Dad in the face, and ask for help with something. Now, Dad is a good man (and put up with her for way longer than I would have), but after the last time, he said “Crap on that. I am done with her.” So now, he relishes in the fact that if she even steps foot on this property, there will be some fun words being slung… Gosh I hope I am witness to this sight. I've been saying for years that I want to light a bag of poop on fire and leave it on her front porch…. I haven’t been granted that opportunity...YET. There’s still time though.

Now, technically we don’t need a “party permit” with Charleston County as this is less than 100 people. However, something tells me, we probably should have gotten one. Dad said he has all his “loop holes” covered. He has contacted the City of Charleston, James Island Mayor. Heck he probably called SCEG. He has everyone in the loop for this party. He is even getting excited about all the extension cords and various houses that will be funding electricity to this grand fiasco.

Back to the point. I can attest that these two truly are perfect for each other. Brett is such a welcome addition to the family and I couldn’t be happier for my baby sister. These two have gone through some stuff together, but have always managed to come out on top. Brett has a way of understanding Laura in a way that most people don’t. He makes her giggle uncontrollably, he makes her feel safe, and he makes her feel valued and respected. He, in my opinion, is a wonderful match for her and I couldn’t be more thrilled about this union (haha get it?)

So as I close out this blog, please say a prayer for my mother ( who is probably stressing out just reading this). Pray for good weather (ain’t nobody need to be dancing in the rain- my dress is long and I am too short for that). Pray for love and calm nerves for the bride and groom (we don’t need no troubles- we better be havin’ this party. I been waiting too long for this day). Pray for safe travels for all who are coming here (remember- Uber is just an app click away!).  And lastly..Pray that big sissy doesn’t completely lose it during the ceremony and ugly cry (since I am the emotional one of the family and can’t be held responsible for my actions).


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

30 Crappin' Years

Today Stinky turns thirty. Stinky is not happy about this. Stinky has had a meltdown...or two.
While her complaint is that she's "old and divorced and single" I'd like to point out that she is young and divorced and single and being divorced as a young person is a lot easier than being divorced as an old person. Youth is really a matter of perspective but I'll save that rant for another day.

I think aging is an honor and a triumph. I think 30 is young. Remember when you were 15 and a 30 year old seemed ancient? Now remember when you were 28 and you realized that a 24 year old was a baby? Look how that age gap dwindles when you look at it backwards. When Ellen is 46 she's going to think a 30 year old may as well be wearing diapers. I wish she could see that now.
"You don't know anything!" old people sneer. My mind is so encumbered with thoughts and worries that I'm not sure how a 30 year old couldn't know anything but I do believe the lessons of old people so really it just makes me worry about how rough life is yet to be if I've staggered along this far and "haven't even gotten started yet".

This is not uplifting is it? Ellen is 30 today! Thirty crappin' years of sass and adventures and tears and belly laughs. They say life gets good in your thirties - much more peaceful than those tumultuous twenties. Last week Ellen had a hernia-scare and we all thought it was a fitting gift for this landmark birthday.
"Welcome to old age!" Dad said unaware that it's a sensitive subject. Mom had to explain to Dad. Dad didn't get it. Turns out Ellen just ran into a counter top edge that lined up perfectly with a lymph node so instead of her guts trying to make a run for it, she just had an angry node. Looked like a ping-pong ball under her skin. Bleh!

In thirty years Ellen has:

-mastered the English language
-read many books
-traveled extensively
-fallen in love
-gotten every job she's applied for
-learned to make spaghetti
-owned her own home
-prioritized her health
-cruised the Mediterranean Sea
-given homes to aging critters
-memorized all worthwhile movie quotes
-crashed a few cars
-taught classes in a real school
-tormented her little sister
-kept a few plants alive
-and baked the scariest cake we've ever seen.

I think the girl should be proud of herself. She hasn't even gotten started yet.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Since Then

A month and some change has passed since returning home from our ScandiVenture. In that time, we've all launched back into real life and while any human makes a "time flys" statement every once in a while, I've never felt time pass as abruptly as it has in the last few weeks. I can feel minutes blowing across my face like I'm hanging my head out of a car window. Back when I started working in events I likened that passage of time to doing an army crawl through the mud and every so often you stop crawling and lift your eyes out from underneath you and go, "Oh look, a lovey day." or "Oh look, it's June!" When you're always working towards future dates, the present slips right past you while you have your head in the mud just trying to get to the end of the year, I mean, obstacle course.

In the midst of the usual work things I've been wrapping up the wedding planning which is a painful job. I'd gone in with a big head about it since I do weddings all the time and the assumption is that planning your wedding is fun. As it turns out, a non-traditional wedding is just as expensive and detailed as traditional weddings are except that you also have to deal with people who are entirely perplexed by the idea of switching things up a bit. Brett has been easy-going about my wedding schemes and pipes up every once in a while suggesting that I'm being too casual or hurried about things. We've bickered a little about this, me assuring him that I'm creating a seamless and awkward-downtime-free wedding day and him suggesting that people like all that standing around and mingling with strangers bit. He might be right. I'll concede...but I think I'm right. In a fortuitous turn of events, we attended a wedding where we didn't really know anyone and he suddenly realized the genius of my abbreviated wedding day.
(He didn't use the word 'genius' but still.)

I'm also cheap and stubborn which only makes the price-gouging nature of the wedding industry something I refuse to succumb too, which in turn means I do everything at a delayed pace because I'm spending most of my time trying to figure out how to beat the system. (Those were Dad's comforting words of advice to me when I was little, "Listen kid, it's all about beating the system.")
It also means I'm doing a lot of things myself which a normal non-tightwad would hire someone to do. Makes for more work but it also lets me tailor things a bit and you know how I like to customize things to suit me. This is the first time I've ever thrown a party and I just want people to be happy they came all this way.

Speaking of weddings, Ellen, Brett, and I attended the wedding of Ellen's best friend. It was out at Boone Hall and I was employed to do the decorating so Brett and I had a long day. We got there early to set up and then he took a nap nearby at his parent's house while I got dressed and then we went to the wedding. T'was lovely and the bride cried the whole time. We started to worry that she was going to get dehydrated. We danced and snacked and when all of it was over, Brett and I had to stay to clean up in our nice clothes. A truly exhausting day.

I'm writing this post as we wait for hurricane Florence to arrive. Her pending visit sent all the ninnies out of town on Tuesday and now today, a beautiful, sunny Friday, Dad and Brett are in my yard digging ditches and I believe Ellen is at the beach. It's finally supposed to start raining tonight so we're planning on hunkering down at my folks house to play games and eat snack foods. Dad seems very excited about it. My new brother-in-law was forced to leave town for work so I've "temporarily" inherited a cat that likes to sleep in the sink. His name is Lucca. He purrs a lot and is not phased by my two barking pups and my sister-in-law thinks he doesn't get enough love and attention over at their house, what with the two toddlers, so she's hoping I'll keep him. Jeff needs a little more convincing. Brett is also unamused by the idea.
... I'll keep you posted.

Ellen came home from our trip with a fully met quota of Family Time and has been avoiding us since.  She's suddenly become very aloof and "busy" and while that might make you think she's secretly dating someone, it's actually that she's not so secretly dating a handful of fellas and one of them found out and got angry about it.
Mom left her personality back in Sweden and she's been ornery for month now. She's stressed about hosting a wedding and taking care of her parents and Ellen's collection of boyfriends. I can sympathize but I wish Mom would look back on this as a happy time and not a stressful one. I'm starting to stress about her stress.
Dad feels nothing but contentment and inner-peace most days. I hope I come back as Chris Union.
Pippa continues to thrill me with her gumby limbs and tendency to sleep in strange places. I love her so much it's silly.

Here is a collection of pictures from recent weeks.

One night, Brett got us pulled over on our way to dinner because he didn't use his turn signal. That's all fine and dandy but he couldn't find his registration. We looked and searched and the cop (a kid younger than us - blew our minds) even wandered off while we checked the car's nooks and crannies. We gave up and when the kid came back Brett says, "I'm sorry officer. You've caught me with my pants down. I can't find my registration."
I've only heard the expression "caught with your pants down" from my dear father who shouts an abbreviated "Pants down, pants down!" when he wins a round of Shanghai.

We've had dock time, pup cuddles, a wedding shower for Ari and Nate, Dad's started building the two houses in my backyard and I'm very put out about it. We've finished my new flower studio, celebrated Mom's birthday, and a month ago I started working at Dad's office a couple times a week to help take a little off of Margie's plate. I enjoy working at the realty, mostly because Margie and I share a strange sense of humor but it also gives me an outlet to scold irresponsible members of society without feeling bad about it. Property management is really just babysitting- harassing people to pay rent, fill out forms, call maintenance workers, etc. I like calling out people for being lazy. Obviously I'm nice about it but it's satisfying, like getting the last word with someone who cut you off in traffic. I have authority and anonymity over at the realty. Hear me roar!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Helsinki and Stockholm

Our last two days of this adventure were split between Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden. On Helsinki day, Dad woke up with a gross little cold and wanted to stay put so the three of us girls ventured into Helsinki with no real plans. We thought we’d have a short walk and then splurge on a Finnish lunch. Brett’s Mom’s family was from Finland so I became fixated on finding gifts for Susan and my two nephews. (I’ll be an Aunt in three weeks. That’s weird.) What better place for souvenirs than the homeland of Great Grandma Hertha. (They call her Heath Bar.)

But Helsinki had different plans for us that day. What we wound up discovering was a mecca of home décor shopping. Forget my snot-nosed nephews, every store had weird, mid-century furniture made out of sticks and I couldn’t see past the glory of it all. I needed everything. Really, I did, for they don’t sell this great stuff back home. I’ve done research about it.  Mom became excited for me. “This looks like you!” she’d say, pointing at a store front case displaying bold tribal patterns on impractical furniture. “I need it.” I whispered. 

Rewind two weeks back to when we landed in Copenhagen. My suitcase was selected for a search and it was destroyed in the process. It had been ripped open. They broke the zipper and sliced through the lining. A note said it was searched because it was locked. I guess that makes a piece of luggage suspicious and I could back that up, except that my suitcase doesn’t have a lock on it, so in turn I felt violated and had to pick articles of clothing off of the baggage claim conveyor belt. The airport gave me a replacement suitcase that was about half the size of the one they destroyed so I had to disperse my belongings among my family and reorganize my underwear in front of the bustling crowd at the Copenhagen airport. 

Back to Helsinki where I wanted to buy everything in sight but had no space for purchases, let alone the things I brought with me. “Just buy another suitcase here.” Ellen suggested. I'd thought about it but that seemed too whimsical. I pride myself on packing light and making sensible financial decisions. I’d already bought a raincoat back in Estonia and some World Cup paraphernalia for Brett. Who was going to lug all that home? So I said “no” and we carried on. Shop to exciting shop, we found little gems. Ellen bought a pretty dress here, a souvenir there, and then the worst thing happened. We stumbled upon a store with home goods fit for every aesthetic and the prices were so low we continuously recalculated the exchange rate because we just couldn’t believe it. All three of us found things we wanted and all three of us instantly felt stuck. Going wild in this Finnish home goods store is not something any of us would do. The things Mom liked were breakable. The things Ellen liked were trendy knick-naks more than investment pieces, and the things I liked were too numerable to account for.” We just need to leave the store.” I said, with much sorrow while I cradled the perfect pillowcases for my sofa. Mom looked sad. I cast my eyes across the displays once more and met Mom’s again and we both frowned. Something came over Ellen.

“What are we pouting for? Let’s a buy a suitcase, because Laura needs one anyway, and we’ll fill it with this stuff! We can get it all home. Come on y’all. Let’s do this!”
The “Let’s do this!” really made us laugh and the three of us doubled over with arms full of decorative crap. The store clerk stared at us. We labored and toiled and paired down our purchases to just the things we’d regret leaving behind and the three of us walked out of there with shopping bags and a sense of whimsy. Ellen referred to our purchases as “Baltic Treasures.”

One reoccurring theme for this trip was Asians. By nature of there being heaps of them, one can find at least a pair of Asians on just about any street in the entire world. Think of Asia like a giant anthill and then have God accidentally trip on the anthill while on his quick commute to work that day. Typically the sun rises in the East but on that fateful morning, God put the Aussies and Polynesians to bed and decided to spice things up and jump over Europe on his way to wake up the Americans and whoops, he stubbed his toe on Asia. What happens when you kick an anthill? I’ll tell you. They scatter. Most of them are still milling around that main hub but a whole bunch of them dart off in other directions
I was physically assaulted by frenzied Asian tourists on each of day of this trip and I tried to be patient. Growing up in an anthill would give one a sense of bustling, hurriedness to get your space or your portion or your train to work but there were times after being shoved sideways by a grown woman that I would shove right back … and they wouldn’t even flinch. I put both hands on a strange woman and pushed and she didn’t even turn to see who did it. She carried on as though light battery was part of her daily commute. That blew my mind. I had bruises on my shins from an Asian woman in Norway that used my legs like a subway turnstile, squeezing past me in a café. This behavior appalled me and enraged me and at times, made me turn on the entire Asian race. I hope a kind Asian person sees this post and starts a viral trend of minding personal space while on vacation outside of their anthill.

Now where was I? We scampered back to the boat, brought Dad some tea, and spent the rest of the day by the pool grooving to Static’s funky jams. Helsinki was a great day. That night we donned our “formalwear” for various on-board events and finally Ellen had a near meltdown. I actually felt safer after the close call. Like letting a little steam out of a pot that could overflow.

The next day was Stockholm and I was very excited for a look around. I’d been there exactly eight years ago with Ari and Jared but we spent most of our time out of town on an island called Smadalaro and I only remember loving it and wanting to move there. Ellen sat out this day and kept Dad company so Mom and I joined a tour group and wandered all over “Old Town”. The parts of Stockholm we saw were pretty, clean, and quiet. We ate lunch outside on a patio off a main square and I recognized a few sights from ages ago. That was a strange, giddy feeling. We went to the Vasa Museum which houses an ornate, top-heavy ship that sank about 100 yards into it’s maiden voyage. They pulled it up out of the harbor years later and now that embarrassing failure is on display for all to see. Very interesting.

By our last night on the ship we were no longer interested in eating or exploring new places. You get tired. Things start blending together, especially when venturing to many places within the same region. Heaps of similarities makes for difficult distinguishment. For some reason, all four of us had the giggles at dinner this night. Dad was feeling much better, Ellen had let off some steam, and Mom was excited for another meal. A happy family. Ellen and I noted the large volume of belly laughs we shared on this trip. We laughed an awful lot. Mostly we laughed at Dad. He would come alive after just one slurp of coffee and the high would last him all day. He would run and scamper and giggle and play. He’ll be mad I told you this but he once let out a rapid fire trifecta when he sneezed, hiccupped, and then burped in succession of each other and the laughter was unstoppable. Not long after that, he yawned and it turned into a long, low burp and you could see the surprise on his face as it was happening. “What’s wrong with me?” he shrieked. We all were laughing so hard that we were receiving happy looks of confusion from the faces of nearby cruisers. They wanted in on the jokes. Mom was disappointed with our childishness but also equally absorbed in the silliness.

The day of our long arduous trek home and after we packed up our Baltic treasures, I woke up early to a beautiful sunrise and Mom woke up with an intensified version of Dad’s cold. She suffered through three flights and two layovers feeling awful and spiting fire. She felt so bad she didn’t even laugh at Brett’s offensive airport sign. (Or maybe a mother just wouldn’t find that funny.)
This trip marked the most laughter and happy together-time that we’ve had as a family of four since Ellen entered her terrible teens. The places we visited were beautiful and clean but we weren’t in breathtaking landscapes or grand feats of nature. It was like visiting a productive area of business that minds it’s manners and cleans up after itself. Like Vermont. I think that's what allowed us to be silly and become more absorbed in hanging out together rather than hustling to the sites with the crowds.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

St. Petersburg, Russia

We arrived in Russia on a grey, overcast day with a slight little drizzle of rain and all of my childhood imaginings of Russia were confirmed. I made mental notes. Russian people survive in a colorless, tundra of political fear. (Just like Ohioans.) I immediately felt sad for Russia. Our first glimpse of town was city blocks of buildings exactly like this one.

This turned out to be a little overdramatic because once the sun came out and we rode into the city, it was very colorful and busy, and opulent. It was also mostly a façade but everyone is meant to ignore that part. Many parts of St. Petersburg were constructed in the hopes of finding investors to help finance the new city, so they made the fronts of things look really lovely and elaborate to attract people to town, but behind all that are normal apartment buildings and bland store fronts. In an extremely unexpected turn of events, I found the Russian history particularly interesting and couldn’t hear enough about all of the Peters and Nicholas’ (Nicholi?) of centuries past. Very interesting stuff.

St. P as a whole is much more cosmopolitan Europe than one would expect. It most closely resembles Amsterdam and Venice. Long windy canals snake through the colorful city. Wide streets, traffic jams, cyclists…. it didn’t feel like a scary soviet Russia. The only scary elements of our two days here were like old folktales that cause superstitions and the strict following of rules. We had to stay with a tour group. We were not to wander into the city without a Russian supervisor. They checked our passports and Visa’s any time we came or went from the boat and the customs people would not smile at you no matter how hard you tried to see their teeth. Things like this caused an air of worry but because we followed the rules (stand on one foot, hop three times, hold your nose…) we never found out what would happen if we opted out of that tourist credulity that tends to keep one safe in foreign places.

I have two days worth of pictures and notes and it’s just too much for one blog post. I already feel like I’m dragging this out. (You ever get tired of hearing your own voice?) I’ll tell you a few highlights. Right off the boat, we visited Peterhof Palace, an enormous chunk of land that took us hours to cover. It's well worth Googling about.

The next day we took a canal tour through town and it was notably hot there. The locals were in a tizzy, saying they get 60 days without rain a year and about 5 days of hot, bright sunshine. We were lucky to be there for one of them.

And one night, Ellen and I dressed up for “An Evening at Catherine’s Palace”, where we ventured into Russia without our parents and visited a huge blue palace filled with intricate gildings and were then given champagne while we listened to the Russian symphony in Catherine The Great's old Ballroom. That was a cool experience except that they made us wear bags on our feet so we wouldn’t scuff the floors. Ellen, a lover of opulence, sashayed through corridors like it was her own grand home. I enjoyed watching her greedy little eyes follow the lines of each room. We made it back to the ship after dark, and the six year old in me was relived to make it safely back to Mommy. 

Our Russian ventures were filled with neat facts. For instance, back in the eras of having great feasts in these palaces, they used fake fruit as centerpieces so that when guests started trying to eat the fruit, they knew to stop serving them drinks. We learned from our various tour guides about how valuable an American passport is, the corruption they deal with in their government, and that they are normal people that have to live under these strange rules. They were all quick to point out that "We are not our government." The people we met were very kind, soft-spoken, generous, and easy to make laugh once they felt sure that you were harmless. The Russian people do not smile at you when you walk by. They are quite guarded but it doesn't take much to win their kindness. 

Remember that first soviet-era building we saw? That's what most people live in. These buildings have a name that I can't remember but they are self-contained mini-cities. They have hospitals, grocery stores, gyms, sometimes office buildings on the bottom floors and the rest are all apartments. People live and work in these buildings, sometimes never leaving them for weeks (especially in the winter). This part did seem to fit that scary Russian bill. 


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