Trains in Eastern Europe

This morning, I heard a story on NPR that reminded me of the old days in Ukraine. This was the story of David Greene, author of the book, Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia. David told Steve Inskeep about the “dorm room” that is a Russian third-class train. People step on your face to get on the top bunk. Everyone drinks vodka and brings their own food on the train. And I’m not sure how well he described the stench, but it is ripe in those trains.

What David didn’t mention is that there is a worse level of train. It’s the fourth-class cattle train. I got tickets to the cattle train for my friend Jeremy and I to travel on at 11 PM one night from Vinnytsia to Kyiv. It was completely packed and smelled like farm. There weren’t any cows, but there were more people than any sanitation committee should allow in one space. That was the last time my friend ever let me buy our train tickets.

Traveling third-class is a step up, in my experience, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t ridiculous. My brother-in-law calls this experience “hell train.” I don’t see it that way, but I understand the discomfort. In the middle of summer, third-class Eastern European trains are rough. They’re stinky. Too many people are eating sausage and tomatoes and they’re downing it with vodka. The toilets are gross and dirty and these “restroom” areas have no toilet paper or soap to help people clean up their messes.

When I was first in Peace Corps Ukraine, Peace Corps paid for second-class tickets to Kyiv for medical appointments. I never shelled out the cash but saved it for travel and fun expenses; third-class worked for me. But when I returned four years later, they had downgraded us all to third-class trains and at that point, the trains were more worn and a bit stinkier. Thanks, Peace Corps.

I hope that some of my other friends from Ukraine or my former grad school buddy who is a Russiophile heard this story because seriously, someone needs to laugh about this guy’s whining. Suck it up, Dave, and eat your borsch without complaint!

Note to readers: I fully intend to read Dave’s book and appreciate that he shared interesting tid-bits on NPR this morning. I’m sure it’ll be a great read!

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Becoming One’s Biggest Fear

Yesterday, I joined my brother for Book Club in Beaverton. I didn’t actually read the book. I would like to blame grad school for this, but in reality I can only blame myself for being in grad school and thus not having or taking time to read the scary book. My brother was chill about it. He gave me a summary of the book and had created questions about themes and subjects that didn’t require a full reading of the text. We were able to have book club.

So in this book that I didn’t read a lot of supernatural things happened. It’s set in New Orleans where the water infects people with an Elysium parasite. Once someone is infected, they can control other peoples’ minds. When the sicky takes over the mind of someone they either love or hate, the person whose mind they’re taking over will transform into their biggest fear. My brother asked a question about this.

What’s your biggest fear? What would you turn into?

I made him answer first. He said something about a spiderlike creature (he’s deathly afraid of spiders). Then he asked me. I tilted my head, trying to figure out how to explain my thoughts. And then I said it. “Becoming one of the ladies from Grey Gardens.”

In case you didn’t know, the ladies from Grey Gardens are the ultimate cat ladies. Not only do they have pet cats, they feed raccoons in their attic and hoard pretty much everything. I do NOT want to become one of these women. I’m hoping that my second master’s degree (and my new shoes) will help me avoid the possibility of becoming like the two Edith Beales.

What about you? What’s your biggest fear?

Tata for now!

Rece

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Farewell to a Great Man

Yesterday was my Granddad Bunn’s funeral. It was a hard day, much harder than I expected. My grandfather lived a good life. He lived for a little under 95 years and he had a plethora of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to remember him after he was gone. I am one of them and I know that I will always remember him.

rece aug 06 215Part of what made yesterday so challenging was that these days, my dad is completely heartbroken. It was never more apparent than yesterday. His father was pretty much his best friend around. I can’t imagine having one of the people I rely on to talk to, dream with, and occasionally argue with snatched from my life forever, left with only the memories.

It’s easier for me than it is for my dad. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard or sad because it is. Most of my fondest memories of my grandfather are from when I was younger and he left me hang out and play on the family farm. I try to remember the stories because I was weeping too hard at the funeral to share. Here are a couple memories I’d like to share with all you readers.

I remember how my granddad used to tell me I was a good kid. I was proud of this and seriously thought I was the only one he told this to. I was proud of it. And then one day I was working at a factory with my cousin Heather. We were sitting at the break table together talking about the family and she mentioned Granddad and how nice it was when he told her the signature saying, “You’re a good kid.” The illusion of me being the favorite or the “goodest” grandkid was completely shattered.

There was a period of time when Granddad didn’t say those magic words to me. It happened after I returned from my first Peace Corps service. It’s because he saw my first tattoo. I was frustrated because not only did he stop saying that I was a good kid but he also mentioned the tattoos on my arms, curious why I would do that to myself. I still don’t know what got me into my few tattoos, but I think it has to do with the meaning and the fact that they remind me of who I am so I don’t forget.

My nose stud caused a similar response from Granddad Bunn. His eyesight was really bad so when he noticed it this past year, I had to mention to him that it had been in my nose since fall 2004. Yeah…

Last year, when my dad and I went out to chat with Granddad and he stopped us with one of his stories, I started to pace a bit. It was a story I’d heard before. But then he changed it up a bit and added the more recent additions and context. But the story ended with him complaining about how much a hot dog cost. Five bucks for a hot dog? Is it made of gold? No. It was a cheap hot dog, I mentioned. The good ones cost as least $8. I remember giving him a hard time about living in the now and not going back to ages past when a hot dog cost a nickel. But honestly, right now, I would love to hear him talk about how cheap food used to be in the old days or what his grade school teacher said about farming. I won’t be able to hear these though, so I’ve got to keep remembering.

Four generations of Bunns. (BTW - What is up with my dad's hair and glasses?!)

Four generations of Bunns. (BTW – What is up with my dad’s hair and glasses?!)

When we were really little, we’d hang out on the farm for fun. I think when Grandma didn’t have any cleaning for us to do or maybe she wanted to read, she’d send us out to Granddad to do some projects. The boys got to work for Granddad. We girls were pretty much the house workers. But on occasion, we’d get to do those projects. My favorite was collecting junk to put in a pile for Granddad to clean up. We’d get paid per piece. It was good money; Granddad always had a lot of junk. But when we started to get lazy and poach new piles of junk for new money, he put a stop to our business and sent us back to the house.

I think of this story every time I walk around the farm. It’s really a beautiful and sweet place. I just really wish I could go back and see my Granddad there.

<Sigh.>

Life cycles around. I’m sure one day, I’ll have a niece or (hopefully) a grandkid remembering me after I pass. I just hope that I will have blessed their lives as much as my Granddad blessed mine.

Tata for now.

Rece

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Funerals and Families

My big brother Shane had the opportunity to work with my granddad every summer while he was in high school. He spent the last few days of Granddad's life hanging around the farm catching up with family and remembering his hero.

My big brother Shane had the opportunity to work with my granddad every summer while he was in high school. He spent the last few days of Granddad’s life hanging around the farm catching up with family and remembering his hero.

When I was a senior in high school, my best friend’s mom tried to give me some career counseling. That was her job – she was actually the careers teacher and counselor at my high school. While I waited for Debbie to work out the kinks for my newspaper internship, she asked me to do all the computerized tests which would show me good matches for my skill levels and interests. I took the tests though when I got the results, I was baffled. The thing that had tainted my results was the salary piece. How much money did I expect to make a year? Obviously, the top category, I mean – I was the class valedictorian, the student of the month for scholarship, and my parents’ most brilliant child. That high tier salary along with my skills signaled one special career for me: funeral director.

I know. I did not follow the computer’s advice. Instead, I became an English major and started a career in… I’m still not sure at age 31. (Just kidding – I’ve worked in education in various levels since I graduated.)

But you know how they say that life has a way of working in circles. (Wait. What? No one says that? I just did. So… there.) Well – life does work in circles and this past week, after my grandfather passed away, I’ve gotten to see a small, very narrow glimpse into what it takes to plan a funeral. There are the flowers, the food, the obituary, and a bunch of stuff I haven’t actually had to help with.

In reality, I’m not doing any of the work – it’s all on my parents and my dad’s siblings. My job is more like the funeral director’s – I sit around and talk to the family and make sure they know what they want. (Let’s be real – I’ve never read a position description of a funeral director so I’m sort of just imagining what they do.)

I was around when my dad worked on writing my Granddad’s obituary. It gave me goosebumps to listen to him read and choke up when he got to certain parts. I was so proud of my dad even though he was stressed, sad, and sometimes lost his ability to breath. I joked that we needed to get him a tattoo on his wrist that says, “Just breathe,” because he doesn’t always remember to do that.

My mom dragged me along to do the funeral shopping at Costco. When we were in the checkout line, the lady looked over at me and asked, “You getting married?” My mom answered that we were planning for a memorial service. I wish I were getting married, though. That would be a hoot!

The part of this funeral planning I didn’t anticipate has been the random hangouts with relatives. In the past, I always relished the time I had with my Bunn relatives, but as I’ve gotten older and moved around a few places, I’ve lost touch. It’s easy to do – we get preoccupied with our own lives and interests that we forget about the family that loved us when we went through the ugly phases and helped us get into mischief every now and again. I think this ability to reconnect with family is how Granddad’s funeral is circling me back the past, but with a fresh energy, if you can imagine what I mean.

Though I’m glad I never followed my ultimate career path to becoming a funeral director, I sure am fond of this week. I’m sure I should be crying more or wearing black, but I’m sort of enjoying the continual surprise I feel as I reconnect with all the people my grandfather’s very existence brought into my life.

Tata for now.

Rece

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A Tom Sawyer Plan for Granddad Bunn

My Granddad Bunn is 94. On September 21st, he’ll be a whopping 95 years old. The thing is, he’s very sick and my family isn’t quite sure he’s going to make it to his birthday. When I was talking to my mom earlier, she mentioned that she’d talked to my Auntie Bunda and they were planning on having the funeral service sooner rather than later. I mentioned to my mom that, “Well, Granddad has to die first.” She giggled. That’s what we do. We use humor to make life a little less serious now and again. But then I came up with an idea – what if we held the funeral when Granddad was still alive. Everyone wants a Tom Sawyer funeral. It’s the only way you can tell if people really care about you anyway: what will they say when you’re dead? My mom laughed.

Granddad at the Cabin When I texted my aunt later on, I wrote that I’d felt the earth shake when she and my dad had a real hug – there has been tension and fighting for years. But somehow, as my Granddad is living his last few days, he’s bringing my family together again. It’s strange how that happens. I claim that it’s because my Grandma would be mad if he showed up in the afterlife and the kids were still fighting. The important thing, though, is that they’re getting along and taking care of the family patriarch for the last few days and weeks of his life. It makes me hopeful. I think the family will stick together, which is something I’ve wondered about for quite a while.

I realize that this post is a bit light-hearted and perhaps to some may seem insensitive considering my grandfather is slowly passing. But the thing is, that old duffer wouldn’t want us all to mourn him forever or build a shrine of all his old junk. I think he’d actually prefer to go to his own funeral, listen to our stories (and correct what we misremembered), and then head off on his way.

Life is a strange thing. Death is even stranger. I’m glad I’m doing the first part rather than the last, but I sure don’t understand either right now.

Tata for now.

Rece

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A Theory of Clothes

I like color. A lot. this doesn't mean that I need to wear all of it at once.

I like color. A lot. this doesn’t mean that I need to wear all of it at once.

My dream wardrobe belongs to my three-year-old niece. I know this is inappropriate for a woman my age. It becomes particularly salient when I see pictures like the one you see in this post. What was my goal? How did I think I would get away with something only my sweet rambunctious niece is able to pull off?

Kids can make Donald Duck grumpy faces and their aunts think it's cute and buy them stuff. When adults do this, their partners dump them for good.

Kids can make Donald Duck grumpy faces and their aunts think it’s cute and buy them stuff. When adults do this, their partners dump them for good.

This kind of reminds me of other things kids can do that adults can’t.

Kids can trip and scrape their knees – they’re just being active. When adults do this, they are klutzes.

Kids can cry to get what they want. When adults do this, they are hated for being manipulative.

Kids can throw themselves to the ground and have a tantrum when they missed their naps. When I do this, my family shuns me.

Kids can play all day without worrying about doing the dishes, making money, or getting work done. When adults adopt the no-work policy, they are milking the system.

I’m not saying that I don’t like being a thirty-something. I really do. But when I look at pictures of my niece and then myself trying to pull off the same color scheme and random outfit, I start to wonder what it’s going to take me to be a proper grown-up.

Tata for now.

Rece

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It’s Bacon Day!

Bacon Day!When I woke up this morning, I started browsing through instagram. This isn’t an unusual thing. I like to go to bed and wake up looking at pictures – that’s just me. One of the first things I saw was a photo from the Today Show. Today, they claim is International Bacon Day. Woohoo! That’s great, I thought. Bring on the bacon. But then I woke up a little bit and thought about the fact that some people don’t eat bacon, because God told them they can’t. That sucks for them. Like really. I’m glad God hasn’t told me not to eat bacon. I think he might throw lightning strikes down on me for my general diet of bacon, peanut butter, and chocolate (though I do eat actual food every now and again). I respect the bacon abstainers though, because they have discipline, something a girl like me is still working on in her thirties. I salute you all for your ability to say no to the sinful bacon.

 

For those of you who do eat bacon, I say, have at it! I did a little research and came up with a few interesting ideas about what you can do with bacon. Time says you can use bacon as an air freshener. I personally wouldn’t try this because I don’t like bees, flies, or burly men invading my apartment. If your read the article, you’ll see eight other INTERESTING options for bacon use, which I’ll let you discover. International Business times offers recipes including chocolate covered bacon. I’d take this over the bacon martini any day. And how would it be International Bacon Day without discovering Bacon Today, a website devoted to the fatty pork product we love to eat.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 9.30.38 AMMy plan to celebrate International Bacon Day is to eat bacon. Ideally, I’d do this by ordering a bacon maple bar at Voodoo Doughnuts in PDX. But I imagine I’ll just order a bacon-themed sandwich as one of the McMenamins* I’m visiting today.

Don’t forget to eat your bacon!

Tata for now.

Rece

* Details on McMenamins adventures coming soon!

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Toto and Chickens

I’m not much of a TV watcher. This leaves me in the dark with basically every TV commercial that’s popular, unless it’s a Super Bowl commercial because I totally come out of the rafters to watch those things on real TV. When I do watch TV, it’s like my mind is suddenly open to the outside world – those things people in stores, on buses, or in the doctor’s office are talking about finally make sense.

When I was in Seattle with my parents last week, I saw a TV commercial that blew my mind. Granted, the reason I loved it has everything to do with the fact that I had returned from South Africa (ZA) not five days before and the song in the commercial was Toto’s Africa, something one of my friends from ZA continued to play for us on her phone. But still, the commercial is great. It reminds me a bit of a Jimmy Fallon sing-along with Amy Poehler and a bunch of other people dressed as chickens, only even cooler because it’s Toto and Pacific Northwest chickens.

Enjoy the show.

Tata (or should it be Toto) for now.

Rece

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Dance, Dance Revolution

I love to dance. Isn’t that the silly line from Girls Just Wanna Have Fun? Sarah Jessica Parker opens up about how dancing is her life and then she ends up dancing and falling in love with the mean, hot boy with the muscles?

Well, I’m no Sarah, but I do love to dance. And though I’ve been told by many people that I “dance like a white girl” and “have no rhythm” I refuse to quit. Dancing is so fun and so jolly. It takes me back to my junior high and high school days where although I looked like my cousin’s basset hound I had the personality and spirit to keep me happy and thrilled by life.

Here in South Africa, I’ve gone dancing twice with my friends. One time, we ended up at a few clubs, one of which was an attempt at an Irish pub. I say it was an attempt because it was called “The Dubliner” and yet I’m not sure that much of the place seemed very Irish (including the beer choices). At that place, this cowboy from Texas who smelled of stale cigarettes twirled me into some country swing dancing for the majority of the night.

The second time we went dancing was sort of by accident. The intent was never to go to a club and so I was wearing my light blue TUKS t-shirt which is at least a step up from wearing a Disneyland t-shirt in public but a step below looking good. It didn’t matter though, the music moved me.

Isn’t that what dancing is all about, feeling the beat of the music and sharing that with people on the dance floor? I sure think so anyway. There’s nothing like busting out my junior high dance moves which are about 18 years out of date. Woot! Woot!

Tata for now.

Rece

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(Yeah, I’m the dork in the back with the arm tattoos.)

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Penguins

I saw plenty of penguins yesterday on my trip down to Boulders in the Western Cape of South Africa. These penguins were the things my friends an I sort of hoped to see during our first day in Cape Town only the three of us had no idea where things were or how long it would take to get places.

Did you actually know I was in Cape Town? Maybe not. Most of the initial posts for this trip were posted to JourneyCSSA at the start of my trip, but since penguins aren’t very academic or ed reformish in my life, I decided to put them on trusty old Peanut Butter Girl.

Speaking of Peanut Butter, I haven’t had any peanut butter in any many months until the other day when I was walking through a food market in Cape Town by the waterfront. A young woman was selling jars of natural peanut butter her company makes. #yum I should have gotten myself some, but honestly, I still have leftover treats from the Disneyland trip with my family. Why I lugged them all the way to South Africa, I have no idea though I did give a granola bar to a panhandler today. He was asking for money for bread. Why not just give him a granola bar to help him out with food?

We weren’t allowed to hand out food to the penguins the other day. This was a true bummer, but you know, I wouldn’t have wanted to give some food to a few penguins and when I would run out have the whole nest of the penguins attack me and peck me to death. (This is what birds do, you know. Or at least this is what my friend Emma is afraid of.)

Because I’m a “good girl,” I followed the rules and just looked at the penguins and took pictures of them dancing in the rain. And of course, I took a selfie of myself with the penguins before rushing up the hill to get back to the bus and dry off (it seriously rained more than it does in Oregon).

Tata for now.

Rece

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