• Elle's World
  • Christmas Letter 2017

    Merry Christmas once again from the House of Elle. It has been 7 years since I’ve written a Christmas letter. Of all years this is the one that certainly deserves a wrap-up.

    Elle, The Trusty Husband and the Boy were excited to bring on 2017. The previous year was a slow decline into an end of year dumpster fire. 2016 could fuck right off for all we were concerned. We rung in the new year with our traditional cans of MGD. Only this year instead of constructing his usual fortress of solitude the boy elected to build an airplane out of said cans. We only found that slightly odd, but I suppose one has to break with tradition at some point.

    January found Elle touching herself rather frequently. It also may have included the phrase, “babe, feel my boobs.” Not one to argue, the Trusty Husband obliged. At this point you are thinking… “Elle, you have a strict rule about not discussing your sex life.” At that you would be correct. I wasn’t feeling myself out of loneliness, trust me. Although with the drunken haze from the previous year one can never be to certain that body parts are still attached.

    After a thorough inspection of my boobs the Trusty Husband agreed that 1) yes, they were still attached and 2) there was a little extra something something going on there. He felt a second opinion was needed. Thus began the year of, “Hey, feel my boobs.” No seriously. Have you felt my boobs? Because everyone has.

    The second opinion agreed that there was, in fact, a little something something going on. Tests, needles, boob smashing, more people feeling my boobs and BAM!




    Hey let’s take a trip!

    Dumpster fire + Cancer = Bali. So we went.

    As we boarded the plane the Trusty Husband and I took our seats with the unwashed masses. However, the boy felt that he’d used Flight Simulator enough to know how to fly the plane. Much to his chagrin the Captain wouldn’t give up his seat and felt the boy was better suited to sitting with his parents. We strongly disagreed. There were some nice people 16 rows in front who could have him. Pre-Teen and all. Bali was great. There was aforementioned pre-teen with a fever on a 12 hour flight. There was cranky pre-teen in a forest full of monkeys. There was sick husband in bed. There was Elle yelling at any travel company that would listen to try to get sick husband home. Finally there was disgruntled pre-teen on the flight home because he couldn’t look out the window.

    Since the trip was so awesome we are going back next year.

    We managed to max out our health insurance out-of-pocket on exactly January 15 so we decided that everyone needed as much medical work done as possible. If cancer of the boobs wasn’t enough, the Boy had is tonsils removed and the Trusty Husband had part of his face shaved off. We were hoping that the tonsil removal would also cut down on the boy’s jabber mouth. That didn’t happen, but he does snore less.

    In April we had to take a break from “feel my boobs.” Some doctor came along and cut them off. However, in May a different doctor came along and started making the fake ones bigger. That set off a whole new round of “feel my boobs.” The game is rather fun. Elle regularly asks total strangers to feel her boobs.

    In June all of Elle’s hair fell out. We all know how much Elle loved her hair. Let’s move on.

    In July the boy demanded that his parents make amends for the center of the plane fiasco as well as not being able to fly the plane debacle. The parents gave in and shoved the child onto an airplane alone and shipped him off to California to see his aunt for a week. Later in the month they shipped him off to another aunt’s house where she said, “have at it kid,” and let him fly a plane. Now she’s the cool one and his parents are nothing but trolls that force him to clean his room and eat a sensible breakfast.

    In between the two airplane episodes the House of Elle road tripped to Arizona to vacation on a goat farm. Elle quickly discovered that goat milking is not in her skill set. The boy also announced that he would be saving his money to fly back to the goat farm next summer. Alone. The child would rather do hard labor on a goat farm rather than clean his bedroom.

    The trusty parents decided that the boy needed a little extra “discipline” in his life. Not the smack on the ass kind of discipline, but the clean your GD room kind. They enrolled the child in the Civil Air Patrol. The child gets to fly airplanes and mom is happy because the long haired emo pre-teen had to cut his hair.

    The House of Elle hosted a few parties this year. Most of them involved Elle greeting guests with, “It’s so good to see you. Feel my boobs.” Not ones to be rude party guests the friends felt her up. Elle’s little black book is fuller than Barney Stinson’s.

    October found the trusty parents upgrading to the TEEN model of the child. Odd year models are always full of bugs. This one is no exception. The 13.0 model came with special bonuses such as sassy asshole and leaves shit all over the house. We’ve tried to unplug the device, but there seems to be a long lasting battery back-up. This particular teen model also comes with a female companion unit. The independence feature is nice, but also requires the parents to regularly take the female companion unit home from the mall.

    This Christmas we will mostly celebrate at home. We told Grand-dad that he was going to sun therapy in Florida this year. Really it’s just an expensive way to not go to church on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day Elle and her siblings will switch out Uncle Bob’s oxygen tank for a helium one and give Aunt Penny too many rum balls just to see what happens.

    The House of Elle wishes everyone a very festive Christmas and New Year. May your days be merry and high and may your boobs be softer than Elle’s.

  • Elle's World
  • Where we are in the Life of Elle

    I do honestly apologize for not keeping you abreast (pun actually not intended) of what it’s like to be me.  Each weekend I think I will sit down and write something, but the words fail me.  At any given moment you may find me in a state of extreme mental euphoria or laying in bed sobbing.  It’s not due to me forgetting to take my medication either.  It is just how my brain is working these days.

    I started radiation treatment on October 25.  I’ve completed 10 of 28.  I will go until December 7.  It is taking longer than typical because of days off for holidays.  So far the radiation isn’t terrible.  My skin is starting to turn pink, my side under my left arm is a little painful and I run out of gas at about 7:45 each night.  Peeling myself off the couch at about 8:30 feels impossible some nights.  The thought of walking up 2 sets of stairs to my bed and getting ready for sleep is so daunting.  I do it though.

    Traveling for treatments isn’t horrible.  I am able to go mid-day when there is no traffic.  I can get from school to SCCA and back in about an hour 15.

    As far as the rest of life goes, that’s the up and down.

    I go through my weekly routine.  Get up, drop off the boy, teach, radiation, teach, go home, collapse.  It’s on the weekend that the emotional gravity of my life takes hold.  I never sleep late so on Saturday mornings I get up, make my coffee and peruse the internets.  It is in this quiet time that life feels so full of possibility.  Every Saturday could be anything I want.  I don’t have radiation.  I don’t have chemo.  I don’t have to take the boy to a swim meet.  They are mine.  In this place of mental euphoria I feel alive.  

    By mid-day things oft go down hill.  I start not to feel well due to lack of eating. (There are days when I run out of time to eat or food just doesn’t sound good).  I may have pushed myself a little too far and I get exhausted.  I get a great idea. for a project and then just the mere thought of starting the project wears me out.  The day that started with so much promise ends in disaster.

    Not every day is like that.  

    But many.

    This is why I avoid talking about it.  I could be in that moment of euphoria,  but the thought of what will lay ahead today makes writing feel impossible.

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on this whole journey.  The other day I wasn’t feeling well and laid down in my bed.  It was snowing.  I began thinking about all that I’d experienced from this vantage point of my bed.  I watched the trees bloom and grow leaves.  I listened to the birds.  I saw summer come and then watched summer fade.  I watched as the leaves yellowed as autumn approached.  Now I was watching the snow gently and quietly fall.  So long.  So many seasons.  Still fighting.

    There are times it feels like I’ve been fighting for so long.  There are days that the cherries were blooming yesterday.  Where will I be when the Magnolia blooms again?  Will I be laying in the bed once more?  Will I be planting a garden under it’s soft white petals?

    I don’t know and that uncertainty is painful.

    Patience has never been one of my strong suits.

    Today, right at this moment, my day is full of hope.  I have treatment today, but the rest is mine.  I will do with it as I please.  

  • Elle's World
  • One Month Post Final Chemo (PFC)

    It’s nice to know that friends near and far are thinking about me.  Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten quite a few texts, emails, and facebook messages checking in on me.  I sit here each Saturday wanting to post something, but not knowing what to say.  Either I’m too exhausted to think straight or I just can’t come up with words.

    It’s been a month.  Hard to believe.  What have I been up to in the past month?

    First, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work.  I am teaching 4 different courses this year and one of them is totally new to me and not even in my area of expertise so to say.  I was offered the chance to teach Introduction to Marketing to keep me at a 1.0 FTE.  I took it to keep my salary the same.  I’ve done marketing.  The only challenge was that I never used the vocabulary associated with marketing.  So far it is going well.  The students are fantastic.  It is making me be a more prepared teacher.  

    I also took on the challenge of starting a floral shop at school.  This was totally self directed.  I wanted to make the floral design class more fun and give it a real-world experience opportunity.  If you walked in to my 3rd period class on any given day your brain might leak out of your ear.  My assistant and I feel like that every day.  After the 2nd or 3rd week of our “experiment” we looked at each other and said, “what the hell was that?”  Whatever it was, it was working.  The students work in groups on a 3 week rotation schedule.  One week they do floral shop duties, the next it flower identification and the next is design techniques.  Then they rotate.  We teach the same thing for 3 weeks then switch to a new topic/set of flowers.  You could walk into my classroom and see students cutting floral foam in one area, students on the floor making posters in another and students drawing flowers in a notebook in another.  It’s crazy.

    Finally, my advanced horticulture class has been insanely busy.  I have 12 amazing students and they work their butts off.  We’ve been cleaning the horticulture center, making more plants and doing business planning.  The class is more organized than it has been.  I ocassionally look at our greenhouses and the list of plants and seeds that are coming and think, “hmm, we may not have enough space.”  However, my students are up to the challenge of marketing the heck out of our plant sales.  We are going to make this year’s sales the biggest and best Interlake has ever seen.

    That’s work.  How’s the health?

    I weathered my first illness like a champ.  All three of us got the back to school cold and I think I won the got better fastest award.  

    I’m steadily working on increasing my stamina.  My goal is to walk up to the main building of our school at least once a day.  My classroom is a bit of a hike (up a hill) from the main office.  This week I’ve made two trips on two separate days.  That’s progress.

    I have a bit of cording going on in my left arm.  There are days when I can’t straighten out the arm at all.  I see the physical therapist on Tuesday.  The appointment is for lymphadema measurements, but I am going to talk to her about the cording too.

    I haven’t started radiation yet, but had the simulation appointment on the 29th.  The update from the radiation techs is they have a treatment plan ready and it is going to physics for approval.  Once that is done they’ll have me back in for a verification appointment then radiation will officially start.  I’m scheduled to have 28 treatments over the course of 5 1/2 weeks.  I’ll go over to SCCA Monday through Friday for daily treatments.

    Now the question you really want to know… How’s my hair?

    I know it’s been on your mind.  Be honest.  You wake up every day and ask yourself, “I wonder how long Elle’s hair is today.”  Well let me share.

    September 4 – 2 days PFC
    September 11 – 1 week PFC
    September 28 – almost 4 weeks PFC
    October 4 – 4 1/2 weeks PFC

  • Elle's World
  • Chemo Round #7

    Same ol’ chemo drug, different round.  

    I keep telling myself, “only one more to go.”  The nurse warned me that my side effects would be cumulative as Taxol went on.  I believed her.  I thought my most major side effect would be fatigue.  Oh darn, more naps.  There was this glossed over, something about pain, shouldn’t be too bad.


    Fortunately the pain subsides somewhere around day 5 of each round.  However the evening of day 3 going into day 4 sucks.  Each round my goal is to avoid the heavy pain killers.  I just can’t do it.  

    My intention is not to give updates that spend the whole time whining about how terrible all of this is.  It’s just part of what life is like right now.  At the end of the last round I was feeling great!  I think I did some stuff outside.  I’ve been preparing all of my classes.  Wholly unremarkable really.

    In other life news…

    I start back to work on the 24th.  A full day of meetings.  Fun times.

    The boy has started a new activity.  He joined the Civil Air Patrol.  This leaves some people scratching their heads.  I’m not exactly known as being the most patriotic of American souls.  However, I have a 12 year old who desperately wants to learn how to fly and a bank account that cannot accommodate such a request.  Thus, we learned about CAP.  It is an auxillary arm of the Air Force, but think of it like Boy Scouts with air planes.  The cadets study aerospace and leadership, but also have a military element.  Their uniforms are ABUs or dress blues.  There is a chain of command.  They march, salute and muster.  It is all very formal.

    The ultimate goal out of joining CAP was to learn how to fly.  On the mom and dad love this side of things, there is leadership training and physical fitness goals included.  All three of us are convinced that this is something that will be very good for the boy.  

    Yes, I’m aware his sleeves are rolled incorrectly.  A senior member taught him how to do it correctly.

  • Elle's World
  • When you have to face the music

    My lovely friend, Camille, came to visit me yesterday.  We chatted and laughed.  At one point she said, “I didn’t know what to expect when I got here.”  Meaning, she didn’t know what state I’d be in.

    I don’t think any one knows what to expect when they show up or call.  My mom has sent me text saying, “I know you’re scared shitless right now.”  Only I’m not.

    When Camille said she didn’t know what to expect I said I’m not sure what to expect either.  I said I don’t know if I’m truly in hardcore denial or if the anti-anxiety meds are a contributing factor.  Then her baby spit up on the carpet and I didn’t care.  “Wow!  Those meds really are working!” 

    I had my moments a few weeks go of being terrified.  I had a major breakdown one night.  I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe.  Derek held me and told me he was scared too.  He said that we’d get through this together.  Since then I haven’t thought of it.

    For the past two weeks I’ve been consumed by getting ready for a six week leave from work.  I have a house to ready and the last little bit of gardening that I may be able to do for a very long time.  I’ve quietly selected clothes to wear that I may never wear again.  I count the moments as in, this is the last time I will do this.  Silly things like, I won’t ever shave my armpit the same way again.  I keep these moments to myself.

    I’ve had parts removed before.  I currently lack a uterus and the accompanying bits that go along with that.  However, I had a choice in that surgery.  This time I don’t.  I can keep my breasts and die or I can have them removed and live.  What would you choose?  


    I try so hard to wrap my head around what is happening to me and I just can’t.  I think the gravity of the situation simply hasn’t hit me yet.  Either that or I’ve compartmentalized the cancer part of my life and hidden it behind a huge vault of a door.  However, I have to open that door tomorrow and face the reality of what lies ahead.

    Time is not going to stop for me.  It is going to keep ticking by until I’m forced to get into the car and drive to the hospital.  I’m going to put on the gown, stare up at the bright lights and wake up a different person.  Then I’m going to go on, fight like hell and keep a promise I made to a 12 year old.

    I’m not done yet.

  • Elle's World
  • Let’s Get Reaquainted


    2 1/2 years.

    What happened?  Last thing I knew I was appealing for funds for Sweet Hope and the next I’m here.  Where is here?  And who the hell is that orange cheeto sitting in the White House?  What happened to the cool guy?

    I’d like to think that I’ve been asleep or had my head buried in the sand.  Let’s be honest… I’ve been avoiding you.  It’s not you.

    It’s me.

    I guess I ran out of things to talk about.

    Well that sure as shit is about to change. Boy-oh do I have stuff to talk about.

    First let’s get reaquainted.  Here’s the 30 second sum-up… bullet style.

    • The boy is now 12 years old. (I’ll let you catch your breath after that one)
    • I think the trusty husband still works for the same company.  I can’t remember when he switched jobs.
    • I changed jobs in the Fall of 2015.  I’m now doing my dream job of teaching high school horticulture.
    • Yes I said high school.
    • I spent a whole year commuting from University Place to Bellevue, WA.  On a map that doesn’t look that far.  But let me tell you, that is an hour and a half up and at least 2 hours home.  I hate my car.
    • On the last day of school I called home from the car in tears saying I couldn’t do it anymore.
    • We moved north 2 months later.
    • I love my new house.
    • I love my job.
    • and that’s the end of 2 years of my life…

    So why now?


    Why decide to start writing again after such a long absence?  Well, my life hasn’t been all that boring.  Especially in the past month.  You see… I found this thing.  Then I went to the doctor.  Then he told me I should have some scanny stuff. Then they did the scanny stuff and said I should have some more testy stuff, with needles.  Then they told me I had breast cancer……………

    **insert sound of scratching record here**





    Yeah, I just put that out there.  I have Breast Cancer.  Big ol’ fat Breast Cancer.

    I was diagnosed on February 15 and don’t have a staging quite yet.  I’ll go visit Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on March 7 to (hopefully) get a treatment plan.  In the mean time I’m keeping myself busy, spending time with family and I took a vacation.

    To Bali.

    Be jealous.  It was amazeballs.

    So there you have it.  I fired up the writing machine as a means to keep everyone informed of what is going on with treatments and the like.  It took me the better part of a week to call everyone and recount the details.  I can’t do that after every appointment.  It is my intention to put it all out here.  If you want to know check back.  If you want to send a word of encouragement… I could certainly use that.

    Put your seatbelt on because it’s never a boring ride on the Life of Elle Rollercoaster.

  • Elle's World
  • On extended family

    I come from a very large and complex family. Both of my parents are twice divorced, each with children from their marriages. I am the only child of their marriage to each other. Basically, it is a bunch of step-siblings and half-siblings and confusion. While, in total, I have 6 siblings, most days I am an only child. For one reason or another I do not have much contact with my siblings. Also, for reasons that are very real to me I have not spoken to or seen my dad in nearly 4 years.

    A few months ago I got a message from my Aunt (on my Dad’s side) to call her. It isn’t often that a family member from that side reaches out to talk to me. I picked up the phone and we chatted. The real reason for the call was to tell me that one of my uncles has lung cancer. Funny thing about cancer… every single time it gives you the ol’ bitch slap of a reality check. My aunt and I got to talking about my dad and basically she told me I needed to be the bigger person and pick up the phone. Trouble was, I didn’t know where my dad was or what his phone number was.

    A few weeks later my phone rang. It was my dad. It has been at least 5 or 6 years since my father had picked up the phone to call me. No Happy Birthday. No Merry Christmas. It was truly shocking. What’s more, he apologized.

    Since then, my dad has called 2 more times. Once to invite me to Thanksgiving dinner and another to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. With that phone call he said he would like it if our family got together for dinner or such. I would like that too.

    I made it happen.

    In a round about way (using the hated social media and a telephone) I arranged for my dad, step-mom, sister, littlest brother, little brother and his girlfriend to come to our house for dinner last night. It was the first time all of these people have been in the same house, at the same table, at the same time. It was just us. There was no crazy aunt (different aunt) heckling us. No one was drunk. We sat at a table and ate off of real plates. After dinner, we played a game… like family. We laughed. We smiled. We had a great time.

    It was as if we were a real family.

    It restored my hope that I could have a relationship with people I had nearly given up on. My dad has been sober for over a year. This is huge. I learned he and my sister have a great relationship. I learned my step-mom works very hard to provide for her family (she always has). I learned my littlest brother isn’t as much of a screw up as I thought. I learned that my little brother has turned into a fine young man and his girlfriend is a true delight.

    At the end of the night my son was begging his uncles not to go. He thought these two new guys were the bees knees. That makes me happy.

    It was a giant leap for us. I only hope we can continue leaping forward.

  • Deep Thoughts
  • Things you should know

    I’ve finally gotten to the point in my life where I am admitting I’m an adult. I am closer to 40 than I care to be (and I find it funny that some of my friends make fun of me that I’m not yet 40). I have been married for 17 years. I’ve moved a whole helluva lot. I’ve been around the block a time or two.

    You see… I have the problem. It is with (what my husband calls) the P-interest. You know, that time suck of a website that everyone uses to make it appear as if their life is magically more than it really is.

    I’ll sit on my couch and say, “oh look! So and So is “gardening” Only because she just posted 40 gagillion photos of garden shit that really won’t work.

    Here is my list of things that you really should know when starting out in life. Trust me. These things will make life so much simpler if you start out with low expectations.

    1. Open shelving in your kitchen is a BAD idea. Unless you plan to never use your kitchen ever. When you cook grease flies everywhere. Gravity takes hold and the airborne grease settles on every surface. Including your beautiful open shelving. Unless you plan on cleaning off your beautiful vintage canisters and leaded stemware every day just put some damn cupboard doors on those shelves and call it good.

    2. A chandelier in the bathroom is also another horrible plan. Basically a chandelier in any room is a recipe for disaster. And by disaster I mean a dust magnet. Of course you could hire yourself a merry maid. Then you’d totally be flaunting all that money you seem to be floating in. Chandeliers and a personal cleaning lady. Oh hello Mrs. Gates.

    3. Those giant framed glasses look stupid. Stop being a hipster. We are all judging you behind your back.

    4. Your 2 year old does not need a birthday party worthy of Parenting magazine. Just buy the boxed cake mix, serve drinks to you friends and let the toddlers go all Lord of the Flies for a few hours. Little Mackenzieenna doesn’t give a shit if she had an ice cream sundae bar at her party. She won’t remember.

    5. Pinterest won’t make you beautiful, it won’t make you thin. Pinterest will not make you a better cook, it will not make you a better parent. It won’t make your home a show place of architectural digest nor will it win friends or influence people.

    How exactly do you accomplish all of those things? How do you lose weight? You take the fork out of your mouth and quit spending your time in front of the computer. You become a better cook by burning a whole bunch of food until you get it right. Your home will likely never grace the pages of a magazine. It will only grace the pages of the blog you write that nobody reads (like mine!). You will only be more beautiful if you stop feeling crappy about yourself and realize that you are beautiful no matter what. Grey hair and all. You will only be a better parent by making time for your children. By loving them and setting a good example. By knowing that your child only sees the good in you. The beautiful parts.

    These are the things you should know. Tonight a dear friend told me that no problem is too much. Look at your problem. Accept it. And say, “let’s fix this.”

    Life: let’s fix this.

  • Elle's World
  • Whoa. A year

    Holy crackers! A year? Serious… a year. A year ago today I was wrapping up a whirlwind tour on the other side of the world (by myself). I still can’t believe I got on a plane and traveled to Far East Russia by. my. self.

    Where have I been? I’ve been here. Our little family has spent the last year trying to figure out where we are and where we want to go. Ok, that’s just me and the husband, but we brought the child along for the ride. Both Derek and I have spent some time trying to discover ourselves and figure out if we are making the most of our lives. We were at the conclusion that we were not. Now we are talking as individuals not as a couple. That’s all good. Don’t fret.

    The realization that we are fully seated in adulthood, but aren’t where we thought we would be at this point in life kind of threw us for loops. Derek was at a job that he liked well enough, but had no upward movement without movement of his entire family.. to Minnesota. I’ve spend the past 4 years researching what life would be like in the Twin Cities, but always came to the same conclusion. I would hate it. He knew that. I knew that. It wouldn’t work. Something had to give. Sometimes life intervenes when you least expect it. At the end of August Derek was recruited away from the company he had worked for for 13 years. In a whirlwind of interviews, travel and back and forth he accepted a new job. He now works from home, makes more money, has upward mobility in the company without relocation and if he did need to relocate it would be to San Diego. San Diego wouldn’t suck. We no longer have to worry about childcare. It is a good thing. Granted, adjustment to having him home all the time is taking some getting used to. It’s all good.

    And how am I doing? At the moment I’m hanging in there. I’m still trying to discover who I am and where I want to go. I had a super awesome opportunity earlier this year. It was in the wholesale perennial growing business. I was confident that this is what I wanted. It would have been more work, a commute, tons of stress, but it would have been mine. I turned it down. At the root of it all I was not confident that it was what I truly wanted. Then came another idea. I wanted to take a totally different career path (but still within the horticulture industry). It is long hours, lots of stress, starting at the bottom, no true experience in the field, but I would be able to flex my creative muscle to my heart’s content. I still want that opportunity, but I don’t know how to make it happen. In a nutshell, I still don’t know what I’m doing and who’s driving the bus.

    The child? Oh the child. It has been a challenging year in the life of the 9 year old. I suppose you could say that is where I’ve been. I’ve been dealing with him or trying to avoid him so I don’t get screamed at. Because the boy is now a true “big kid” my sharing of his life will be limited. I know there are so many people who deal with many of the same issues we face (Sensory Integration Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Post Institutionalization and the gamut of problems that come from being a Russian orphan), but my poor son has been talked about in front of other people and he is now aware it is happening. He is receiving help for all of his issues and we are on a track that is very good for him. We have not had a “seeing red” screaming fit since September. I have not heard “I have to go to the bathroom” while I am at the opposite end of the store in months. And on a regular basis my child looks at me and says, “You’re the best mommy in the whole wide world.” **heart melts** My child? My child is awesome!

    So why pick up a blog that I had abandoned a year ago? Why delve into my life now? Because it’s ME time baby. I’m ready to be the sassy nut job you’ve all grown to love. Besides, I’ve got some chocolate to pimp and y’all are my bitchez. Put your seatbelt on and pass me a drink. We’re headed into the Life of Elle.

  • Elle's World
  • Visiting friends

    I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful this trip has been. There is a bit of a fear factor of being so far away from home is a seemingly treacherous place alone, but underneath it all it is very safe and welcoming. You just have to get past the fact that it is not customary for Russian people to smile. Although, I’ll write about that more later.

    I am not sure how much or where I have spoken about how I came to know the woman I am working with. So let me start from the beginning and by beginning I’m going to go to her beginning of the story. It may end up being on the long side, but it is well worth the read.

    Galina Potopova is the woman I am spending my time with. During the Soviet Union Galina worked with the Russian Peace Foundation. In fact she was the president of the branch for the Khabarovsk Territory. She did this job for 40 years. In that time she had the opportunity to travel all over the world and work with various governments to further the mission of the foundation. The Soviet Union was not all that bad. However, after perestroika and after the fall of the Soviet Union the Peace Foundation closed and Galina and her colleagues found themselves in a whole new world. Prior to that, Galina visited the United States in the late 1980s. While she was here she met a number of people and one such person was named Bobbi.

    Bobbi was a business woman in the Olympia, WA area and the two of them developed a friendship. After the fall of communism and travel between the new Russian Federation and the United States was permitted, Bobbi visited Galina in Khabarovsk. Bobbi saw firsthand what life was like for the people undergoing a change unlike anything the world had ever seen. She came back to the United States and began telling everyone she could about her journey. She was invited to speak at a luncheon and this is where I come in.

    My late mother-in-law, Bev, was very good friends with Bobbi. Bev asked me if I would like to attend this luncheon with her. I agreed and I sat there captivated by the stories of what life was like in a place I had only ever heard about on the news. Those who remember the Cold War know that Russia was the enemy and they were not to be trusted. Bobbi showed photos of the grocery store, Galina’s flat, Galina’s dacha and other bits of day-to-day post-soviet life. I was hooked, but I was only 16 years old at the time.

    Bev began working with Bobbi in a new non-profit organization called To Russia With Love. While Bobbi and Bev were creating To Russia With Love, Galina was in Khabarovsk creating the Slavyanka Women’s Society. To Russia With Love and Slavyanka arranged exchanges between the two cities. Business women from Olympia traveled to Khabarovsk to teach their counterparts things as simple as advertising. During the Soviet Union there was no such thing. Russian business women came to the US to see their new skills in action.

    Soon thereafter the two organizations arranged for a group of doctors to visit hospitals in the Seattle area. One such doctor was named Evelina. Evelina was a founding member of Slavyanka and the head doctor of the Children’s Hospital in Khabarovsk. She also happened to stay in Bev’s home while she visited the US. I had the opportunity to meet the Russian doctors while Derek and I came home from college over a weekend. My time with them was brief, but it is one that I will always remember.

    Later, the two organizations arranged an exchange of a different sort. Galina knew a woman named Tamara. Tamara was the director of a musical group called Mlada. The Mlada choir traveled to the US and performed all over the South Sound area, and even at the top of the Space Needle. Tamara and her son Anatoly stayed in Bev’s home. I was fortunate enough that I was deemed the group’s videographer and I traveled around to various performances and recorded the concerts. The intoxicating music is something that I will never forget.

    The exchanges eventually stopped, but my memories of those events never faded. Bev kept in occasional contact with Galina and when Derek and I began the process to adopt Oleg it was almost as fate had stepped in when we learned our agency worked primarily in Khabarovsk. It was almost a dream come true that I would be traveling to a place I had only dreamed about. In fact, the whole time we were in Khabarovsk the first time we were in a daze. It may have been the reason we were there, but I know there was something bigger.

    Derek and I visited with Galina, Tamara and Evelina on that first trip. We saw Galina and Evelina on our second trip. As the focus of Sweet Hope shifted to assisting the orphanages directly, I again contacted Galina for her assistance. She was more than happy to help us. In 2008 Sweet Hope picked up where To Russia With Love left off. Only this time a younger generation was at the helm (on the American side) and our focus was slightly different.

    Now we come to the present day. I am once again in Russia. This time my purpose is so very different than the last. I am not preoccupied with the rigors of an international adoption. I am here to see these women, to further the mission of the organization I’ve created and to meet new friends.

    On Tuesday I was able to visit with Evelina. Galina told her all about our encounters in Khor. We sat around our lunch table and toasted to our wonderful, amazing, dearly beloved Bev. We know that she was right there with us.

    Today, I visited with Tamara. I saw photos of the now grown Anatoly. We talked again about my travels to Khor. Tamara came up with a brilliant idea. However, I’m not going to share that one with you quite yet. It’s big. But as we ate our lunch we once again toasted Bev and honored such a fine woman.

    My last stop of the day was to the building where Mlada practices. I was toured around the building (which is a cultural center for this part of the territory). I learned about the former Amur Navy. I learned about the artwork that is taught in the building and given wonderful little gifts. And last, but certainly not least I was able to watch a little bit of a Mlada rehearsal. Right before we were supposed to leave I asked the girls to each say their name and help me with something a little special. I hope you like it.

    I hope you will take a moment to help Sweet Hope this season.