Stranded by Hurricane Irene!

by Christine on September 1st, 2011

filed under Christine's Life Updates, General Information

I’m back home, finally, after being stranded out of town because of Hurricane Irene. I had left last week to do a long-weekend away, in order to attend a friend’s wedding. Plus, I got to visit my parents for a few days. Then Irene hit and devastated my hometown here in New York, and it was impossible to find a flight out until Wednesday (we were schedule to be home on Sunday)!  It was terribly inconvenient for me because of my work schedule, but at least we were in a safe spot. When we got home, we discovered that our cat was okay, the house was okay, the yard is mostly okay (just a few tree branches down). So we got off pretty easily, but not so much for the rest of our neighbors in Schoharie County and in Vermont….

I work for an engineering firm that, among other things, designs roads and bridges, and some of the counties affected by the storm are some of our best clients. I imagine we are going to be very busy helping our local communities rebuild after the storm. Today I am going to look into the possibility of me being able to get out there and to help distribute some clothes, food, etc., as a way for our company to “give back” to the communities.

Further bad news about my trip: my parents were sick, and I caught their cold, unfortunately. Boo!

I also gained 2 pounds while away, and that was entirely my fault. My parents apparently don’t eat on regular schedules anymore, nor do they really keep healthy food in the house. My meals consisted of either fast food, fried fish, ribs, and Chicago-style Italian beef. I ordered salads when I could, but overall the eating was less than stellar. I swam one day and went for a walk another day and danced at the wedding, but otherwise I didn’t get any exercise in, either. (And I packed gym clothes!)

The good news is that I got to spend time with my parents, meet a wonderful online friend for the first time, and attend a wedding filled with friends! It was a really fun time, and I danced my butt off! So here are some snippets from the week…

Here I am meeting my friend Sandy from Alabama in front of the “Married With Children Fountain” (aka: Buckingham Fountain in Chicago).

Me and the hubby at the wedding! I never in a bajillion years would have worn a dress like this when I was heavier.

The happy couple!

Getting my silly on at the wedding!

I got to meet one of my mom’s long-time friends (they were friends in middle school) Terry and her husband Eliot. What great people!We spent the day in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and had lunch up there (greek salad, delicious) and walked around the main street shopping. Did you know that Lake Geneva is the home of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)?  Of course, hubby was in search of D&D stuff, and we finally found a game store where he could buy a D&D book.

Now if you’re ever in the southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois area, you really need to check out the House on the Rock. It’s one of my favorite eclectic museums I’ve ever been to!  I’ve been to the House on the Rock probably 10 times in my life. But I found a new eclectic museum even closer to my parents’ home. It’s call the Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, Illinois, and let me tell you, it’s freaking awesome!!  It’s just some rich guy that started collecting weird stuff, and he has it all displayed in a metal-framed building and calls it a “museum.” They have the weirdest assortment of automobiles, autographs, Hollywood stuff, historic stuff, etc.  But the items this guy has collected are really historic! For instance, the museum has:

  • A collection of old west stuff, including John Wayne memorabilia, Custer’s Last Stand stuff, old stage coaches, etc.
  • The actual clothes (hats) that the real Bonnie & Clyde wore when they got shot.  He also has the actual car used to film the Bonnie & Clyde movie back in the 60s or whatever.
  • John Dillinger’s 1932 Studebaker Commander
  • Al Capone’s delivery vehicle “Beer Truck” (1929 Model AA Truck)
  • Howard Hughes’s car
  • Colonel Sander’s car
  • Marilyne Monroe stuff, including the letter from the movie studio firing her for not showing up for filming, the dress in “Some Like it Hot” (I think) autograpsh, locks of hair, etc.
  • Laurel & Hardy’s car
  • Joseph Stalin’s 1937 Packard Super 12
  • Evita and Juan Peron’s Presidential Limo, 1950 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith
  • The Secret Service’s parade car that followed JFK when he got shot.
  • A bunch of Jackie O’s clothing
  • A part of the Grassy Knoll fence, a window from next to where Oswald shot JFK
  • The actual flag that draped Kennedy’s casket during his funeral. He also has Jackie O’s veil from the service, as well as a LOT of letters, documents, autographs, and other JFK assassination paraphernalia.
  • The fireplace mantel from the White House, where Truman signed the order to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima
  • A ton of race car stuff
  • Movie car stuff, like the Delorian from Back to the Future, the Ghost Busters car, a couple of Batmobiles, the National Lampoons’ station wagon
  • A bunch of Gone with the Wind stuff, such as a mirror used in the movie, Clark Gable’s contract, Vivien Leigh’s clothes, original tickets and programs, etc.
  • A ton of Abraham Lincoln stuff, such as the chair he sat in, parts of the cabin where he grew up, the coins placed on his eyes when he died, part of the bloodstained bandages, locks of hair, clothing, his famous top hat, etc.
  • A couple of space things, like the Freedom 7 capsule that came back to Earth

Like…a lot of really awesome stuff for a museum stuck in the middle of nowhere. Well worth the money and the visit if you’re ever in that part of the country!



Just another day!

by Christine on November 10th, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates

Just another day….

  • Weight was 127.0, but that was after 2 cups of coffee, it may very well be lower than that! I think I am going to hide the scale and have official weigh-ins until I reach my goal of 125. I want it to be a momentous occasion that it deserves to be! Official weigh-ins from here on out! I’m thinking of hiding the scale and pulling it out on 12-12-10, because it’s a nice even date.  Man, that would be awesome to see my final goal weight showing on the scale!!!
  • Today’s food has included 3 cups of coffee, a cup of yogurt, some leftover Reuben sandwich (minus the bread of course!), and a handful of almonds. Tonight I’ll have leftover cornish hen and some kind of vegetable. A fairly typical eating day for me.
  • Unemployment FINALLY got back to me after I’ve left my claims rep four messages. Apparently I was approved to receive unemployment weeks ago, but some asswipe put a hold on my account for no reason, which is why I haven’t been receiving any money for weeks and weeks. I’m told that because of how screwed up the system is that I need to file an all-new claim, but I am to tell the new claims rep to backdate my claim to October 18th so I can receive back pay.  So I go through the horrible “Press 1 for this, Press 2 for that” phone system and file a new claim, but there’s no option to talk to an agent! Fuckers! So I’ve been on hold for an hour waiting to talk to someone to try to clear this all up once and for all.  Now this claims rep says I have to go through a mandatory 1-week waiting period even though I’m due a month’s worth of back pay, but whatever, so long as this whole dirty mess is sorted out!
  • I got a call from the jobplace that they want me to come in for a second interview! Because the job description entails putting together Powerpoint presentations for senior management, I’m to put together a 10 minute formal powerpoint presentation about myself and why I am the best candidate for the position. The presentation needs to include one “technical data slide” (I think this means a chart or graph) as well as one animated slide. This will be fun to throw together. Only 10 minutes??? psssh piece of cake!! I’m feeling excited about it!
  • Today I emptied my savings account to pay for my COBRA health insurance. Cross your fingers that nothing disastrous happens, like with one of our cars or the hot water heater or anything, because I officially have no money to pay for it! LOL! Living on the edge monetarily is not something I’m used to, nor is it something I am comfortable with. In the last two weeks hubby and I have found a way to cut out about $500 or more worth of bills to our monthly budget, so I’m really hoping that will help us out. I miss having house cleaning though. A lot.
  • Hubby has the day off from work tomorrow, and we’re planning a drive to Vermont to a small town I’ve never been to. We’re going to check out some wild bird sanctuary, go to a Vermont Cheddar factory, and who knows what else. I’m looking forward to the drive-time!
  • I’m going to Boston this weekend for a game (Dominion) tournament. I do well playing Dominion against our friends, even hubby’s uber-geek friends, but I’ve never played in any kind of tournament before. It should be fun!
  • My parents were incredibly kind to pay for hubby & my plane tickets to visit them in Illinois for Christmas. Today I bought the tickets, and I’m really looking forward to seeing my parents!  It was really nice of my parents to pay for our airfare, and I hope that I can pay them back as soon as I get a little money rolling in again….perhaps if this job (interview #2) pans out.


Visiting the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

by Christine on August 12th, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates, General Information, Short Stories

I’ve already talked about my journey climbing to the top of the volcano, Mount Fuji. That happened on my second trip to Japan, when I was in college. When I was in high school, I went to Japan for the first time. I befriended an exchange student in my high school who was from Nara. She said to me one day, “You should come home with me for the summer.” I was 16 years old and live in the cornfields in Illinois. I thought, “Fat chance!”

But..nothing ventured, nothing gained. That night I asked my parents if I could go home with Aiko for the summer, and they looked at themselves, shrugged their shoulders, and said, “Sure, why not?”

Off I went to Japan for four weeks, for the entire month of July. In Japan, I think that’s the middle of the hot/rainy season. I remember it being hotter than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It was hot and wet, the kind of humidity that hangs on you and doesn’t let go. I was overweight, which means I was more suceptible to the heat than a thinner person, and it was really uncomfortable. I think I set records  in Japan for how much a person can sweat.

Going to a foreign country as a 16 year old girl was, in some ways, easier than I ever expected, and in some ways, harder than I ever expected. It was easy because I grew up in a family (my mother’s) that spoke Russian. I don’t speak Russian except for some basic words and phrases, and it didn’t phase me much to be around people jibber-jabbering in a language I don’t understand.  It was like an ordinary Saturday afternoon at my house. If I needed to convey any information, it came completely natural to me to use body language or hand movements. I never felt a struggle to communicate with the people around me, even though I didn’t speak a word of Japanese.

In some ways, the trip was harder than I imagined. I stayed with Aiko’s family, who were wonderful people. However, the moment we set foot on Japanese soil, Aiko decided to stop translating. She told me, “I’m on vacation. I’m taking it easy.”  I had expected more support from her, but because of my background, I didn’t find it too hard when she turned off the communication with me entirely.

Aiko’s parents (especially her mom, Micky) were wonderful and took me to see many of Japan’s beautiful sights. Micky spoke very limited English, but did her best to explain to me where we were and what we were doing. She was eager to try to speak English with me, even though it had been more than 20 years since she had practiced her language skills.

One day she motioned to me to get dressed and get in the car. “Car trip,” she informed me, moving her hands like she was gripping a steering wheel.

Japanese cars are so cool. Even in 1994, which was the year I stayed with Aiko and her family, the cars were so much more advanced than the USA’s!  Their Mercedes had a build-in refrigerator in the back seat of the car, located between the two backseat car speakers. That way you could get fresh fish and produce and put it in the refrigerator and not worry about the food spoiling in the oppressive heat. Brilliant idea! One day we went to the market and bought fresh shrimp. The shrimp were still alive, and were wiggling around in their plastic bag! Micky put them in the back seat refrigerator. They made the fridge lid go “thump thump thump!” the whole way home. I kept turning around backwards, wondering when the shrimps were going to leap out and land on my head!

This day we put some water in the fridge and headed out on the road. It was a longer drive than usual. I couldn’t read the signs; I couldn’t speak the language. I had no idea where we were going.

We ended up at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. It was 1994, and unbenonced to me (I’ve never been very good with dates), it was the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing.  I only realized this fact as we walked in the doors, and the signs told me about the anniversary.

I never felt  more out of place, more humiliated, more utterly American in my entire life. The moment I walked through the door, I felt all the beautiful slanted eyes staring at me, staring at my white skin and blue eyes and overweightedness that clearly identified me as American. I fidgeted. I watched for the exits. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get attacked for merely being there, on the 50th anniversary of the USA’s slaughter of millions of Japanese citizens.

Visiting the Atomic Bomb Museum was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, for multiple reasons. The biggest reason is because my grandparents on my mother’s side — both Russian — were concentration camp survivors.  Born in Russia, both grandparents were put into not one, but two concentration camps. They escaped from both of them and lived a life trying to avoid capture from the Nazis. My mother was born in a converted concentration camp (after the war these places were called “displacement camps”) in Germany, for 10 years until they were able to come to the country. I am a first-generation American, but I was raised hearing stories about my small family, where they came from, the horrors they faced during the war.

That day, looking at the photos lining the wall, there was so much horror and anger and violence. I teared up, my vision blurred. In every photo I kept seeing my grandmother’s face looking back at me. It didn’t matter that it was a different country, different people. They were human — they didn’t deserve what happened to them. My grandmother was there, in every photo. All of those faces were someone’s mother, father, uncle, brother, grandmother. The room started to spin, and I felt sick to my stomach.

I went outside to sit on the bench, in the 100 degree humid weather. It was a beautiful outdoor area, with a beautiful view of the temple post that had been halfway destroyed by the bomb 50 years prior (standing on one leg of the post).  The area was surrounded by trillions of multi-colored paper cranes, a symbol of peace, hope, and love. (If you don’t know about the history of “A thousand cranes,” you can start by reading here.)

I put my head in my hands and cried. I cried for my family. I cried for all the families that were hurt by the bomb. I cried for being American, for being a part of such a horrifying history.

As I sat there, a little old Japanese lady came up to me and made herself at home next to me on my bench. She was probably my grandmother’s age, not quite five feet tall, with a crooked back. She had a lifetime of wrinkles on her beautiful face. She sat down next to me and held my hand as I sat sobbing.  She sat patiently with me until I caught my breath, then she looked into my eyes. Speaking in very broken English she pointed to me.

“Peace starts here. Today. With me. With you.”

She reminded me so much of my grandmother. When I was younger and my grandmother told me stories about the War, I was always astounded when she said, “The German people are the kindest, most wonderful people I ever met.”

“How can that be, Grandma?” I would ask her. “They put you in the prison. They killed your family. They tried to kill you.”

She would shake her head and say firmly, “NO.  It was a poltician’s war. When I needed a place to sleep, the Germans gave me a bed. When I was hungry, the Germans gave me food. When I was lost, the Germans gave me love. The killers, those were politicians. The people, they are family.”

The Japanese lady holding my hand clearly shared the same ideology as my grandmother. I know this, even though we did not share the same language and could not speak to one another.

Love and compassion is powerful enough to transcend all cultures. All religion. All geographies. All prejudice.  All you have to do is open your heart and let the love come through.

Peace does indeed start today, and it starts right here, today, between me and you.

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