Saturday, June 18, 2005

K9 Makes A Prediction

We were over at K9's friend's house yesterday, saying our good-byes to everyone.

Friend's Dad: K9, don't give your Mom a hard time on the trip.

K9: We'll be too busy having a hard time ourselves.

And with that, we're leaving... c-ya all!

The Goldie has spoken at 3:07 PM

Thursday, June 16, 2005

We Like To Call It “Our European Vacation”

In two days, the Goldie family is leaving for Ukraine.

To visit my in-laws.

Need I say more?

In reality, though, I should not complain. I have terrific in-laws. The ones that I have met are terrific, anyway. Of course, the kids and I haven’t been there since ’96, and, by now, there are two SILs, three nieces and a nephew that we have never met. I worry like crazy about getting along with the SILs and about whether I still remember how to deal with little children.

Although, I’ve just realized I don’t worry about all these things that much anymore. Must be that St. John’s Wort pill I popped in the morning. I’m going to need a lot of that stuff.

We will be on the road for twenty-two hours (yes, I counted). Our final destination is a small town in the middle of nowhere. There will be nine of us in the apartment. It is a large apartment, but still!

I tried to talk Mr. Goldie and his relatives into letting us rent a place to stay, but somehow that didn’t work out.

I am still trying to work out the logistics of “nine people/one bathroom”. I told my kids yesterday that we’re going to have to “shit like the wind”.

This is only one of the instructions we’ve been giving our children during the last few weeks. Somehow, Mr. Goldie is convinced that the kids will embarrass us. Our first commandment to I12 and K9 always goes like this:

“And, whatever you do, don’t swear while you’re there! It is considered very rude. No, you cannot swear in English either, they know these words. No, you absolutely cannot teach English swear words to your cousins.”

And so on, and so on. You get the picture.

I’m trying to look on the bright side. Alas, the bright side escapes me.

I am sure we will manage to have fun one way or another. After all, we won’t be driving! You know what I mean? We’ll be able to really, you know… imbibe. Although, it’s not so easy to really, you know, imbibe when you’re going on forty. Your body fights back like it never did when you were in college.

In all seriousness, I plan on spending a lot of time with I12 and K9. There will be no Internet to stand between us. The kids will be more or less forced to talk to their mother. Right now, I12 will only talk to me when he’s trapped in a moving vehicle. Otherwise, he always finds more important things to do.

I’m sure it will be fun. It was in ’96.

I will be back on July 3rd with plenty of material for new blog posts. Stay tuned. I know the temptation to walk away from this blog is going to be strong during the next two weeks, but, if you do so, you’ll miss out on some fun European vacation stories.

You have been warned.

Take care, and I’ll see you in two weeks.

I will miss you all *sniffle*

The Goldie has spoken at 5:40 PM

The Goldies Send A Kid To Computer Camp – Lessons Learned

This is in addition to the previous post. Please see below.

So. In retrospect, was it a good idea to send I12 to National Computer Camp? I think that it was, and here’s why.

He really did get The Basics at the camp, just as I had expected. Granted, those were the same old rusty basics that we learned in college twenty years ago – conditions, loops, arrays… The poor kids didn’t even learn any OOP. But, for I12, it was a good place to start. He was able to take it from there and develop his skills, more or less.

Second benefit of the camp, the one that I had not expected, can be summed in two words – good leads. I12 came back from camp with a lot of useful information, links, et cetera. He found out which languages it is best to use if you want to write a game; how to develop your graphics; and so on. For Christmas that year, we bought him a DarkBasic license, and he used it well. He actually wrote a game that works – until you get to the second level, anyway. Then it gets so fast that you cannot play, and you promptly die, so, technically, you can say it still works on the second level as well. He sent it to a contest, and got a prize… another DarkBasic license. He spent a year posting on a game developers’ forum, but eventually quit. Most of the guys at the forum were honor students, in 10th and 11th grade, and had a hard time dealing with a preteen, and later with a 12yo in the throes of puberty. I12 has moved on to the Newgrounds BBS, where his fart jokes are a lot more appreciated. I keep hoping that one day he’ll grow out of that place, and go back to GameDevelopers again.

As far as the socialization I’d been hoping for. None of that happened. Turns out, you cannot put thirty computer geeks into a room, give them each a PC, and expect them to socialize. After two weeks in camp, I12 knew the name of exactly one guy. They exchanged email addresses, but never emailed or called one another after the camp was over.

Should we send him there again? – To NCC, no. To something like that, I think, yes – if we can find it and if we can afford it, and if it operates at a higher level than NCC does. NCC has proven to be a good starting point, but probably not good enough for kids with advanced programming skills.

Bottom line – if your kid has an intense interest in something, by all means seek out places where he can pursue this interest and meet his peers that are interested in the same thing. It really helps. You cannot go that route alone, expecting to teach your kiddo everything all by yourself, because, for one thing, your kiddo may be smarter than you (as is my case); for another, it never hurts for the said kiddo to get out and meet other people. Your genuine interest and support, however, will go a long way.

The Goldie has spoken at 12:47 PM

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Goldies Send A Kid To Computer Camp

In my yesterday’s post, I mentioned that, two years ago, we sent I12 to a pricey computer camp, and that I had a thread on my Russian forum somewhere that I used to log our experiences. Well this must be my lucky day… I found the thread! If you can read Russian, go over there and have fun. If you cannot read Russian, then call your parents and chew them out for not having hired a bilingual nanny when you were little. Then, continue reading this post. I’ll try to retell the story the best I can.

So, here’s how it happened. Two years ago, I12 was, in his usual manner, causing problems in school and generally being bored and miserable, and his gifted program coordinator recommended that we sent him to the National Computer Camp. When I saw the price on that thing, I just about fainted. But, we applied for a scholarship from OAGC, and we actually got the scholarship. They can only give up to $250 to any given child; they gave us $200. It was awesome! Although, there was still $1400 left to pay. That was for two weeks.

Our decision to send I12 to the camp that was very obviously out of our price range, was for several reasons. First of all, I wanted I12 to meet kids with interests similar to his that were his intellectual peers, and hopefully continue being friends with them after the camp was over. Secondly, I12 had a serious interest in programming (and still has), and I wanted him to get some basic, structured knowledge around it – a foundation that he could later build upon. Sure, Mr. Goldie and I could teach him all those things, but we’re not really professional teachers, and besides, I thought he’d learn better in a group setting. And, finally, I had some happy memories of my own. When I was in my teens, I went to a math camp for three summers in a row (and later worked there for two more summers), and that was a lot of fun! I made many friends there, had a great time, and wanted I12 to have the same experiences.

The camp, like I said, ran for two weeks, six days a week, from 4PM to 9PM on Sundays, from 9AM to 9PM Monday through Thursday, and from 9AM to 4PM on Fridays. The kids had four hours of programming lessons every day. After that, they stayed in the lab and played computer games. Technically, they could go outside, play sports, go for a swim, but no one did. There were about thirty kids in all, mostly teens, 13-15 years old. I12 was one of the youngest at ten, although few kids suspected it, as he looks older than his age. Half of the kids were from out of town, and stayed at the camp. Only two or three out of thirty were girls.

Here are the chronicles of our stay at the camp, as recorded in my forum thread.

Day One - Dropped I12 off, and went to the pool with his brother. Almost forgot that I had a kid in camp. Remembered at 9PM, and raced to the camp to pick him up. I12 didn’t want to leave as he was playing with other campers over the LAN. Took me thirty minutes to get him out the door. Met the counselors – an older man and a group of college students. One of the counselors was drop-dead gorgeous. Is it wrong to say this about a guy who’s half my age?

Day Two - I12 isn’t eating anything. Brought most of his packed dinner (we had paid for him to eat lunch at camp) and pocket money back home. We bought a soda from the vending machine as we left at 9:30. Had to drive around the neighborhood for a while, as K9 is not allowed to have soda, so I12 had to drink it all up and destroy the evidence. He told me about their day – learning C++, pair programming, gameplay, and a Halflife tournament in the evening.

Asked the counselors how the programming lessons were going. Was surprised to discover that the kids were learning C++ - isn’t it, like, obsolete? Besides, we had been promised Javascript and Web development. The head counselor (older man) said that C++ was a better way for them to learn the basics.

I noticed a huge blackboard in the corner with the “Ten NCC Commandments” written on it – things like “Thou shalt not run”, “Thou shalt not fight”, “Thou shalt not swear or use GOTO”. Pretty neat.

Day Three - One of the moms started a conversation with me. Her son had a week’s break between two sleep-away camps, so they sent him to NCC to kill the time. For $800? When my kids have to kill the time, they usually do it for free, or for $60/week in our city camp. This is so out of my league. The mom said that her son was loving the camp, because “they play on the computer all day here, and that is so cool”. He can come to my house and play on the computer all day anytime. I will only charge $750.

I12 started making new friends; in his own words, “we met when I killed them”. Turned out, the kiddos were playing Warcraft together. I12 could only tell me their screen names, but not the real ones. Brought all of his packed dinner back home. In response to my questioning stare, replied, “At dinner, we were discussing what would be the best way to kill Saddam, it was pretty gross, so I couldn’t eat”.

Counselors are trying to make sure kids get some physical exercise. Twice a day, they shut the computers down and kick all the kids out of the lab. The kids stand outside and talk for about ten minutes, then go back in. This is the physical exercise. Very impressive.

Day Five – Open House, First Week’s Awards - took off work so I could come to the Open House. It consisted of the kids sitting around playing, paying no attention to their parents, and the parents wandering around the lab like some lost souls. I found a free PC and posted on my forum for a little bit. I12’s friend came over and talked to me. The friend was 14. He didn’t understand why I12 was sometimes immature. Because he is ten years old?? But I couldn’t say that. It’s our little secret.

I12’s friend said that he admires our generation because, “you guys were able to learn programming when it was at such a basic level, with hardly any tools available, and then bring it up to today’s advanced level”. I had never felt so proud in my life.

I also got to talk to the cool counselor, who was going to college to be a graphics designer.

Day Seven – new week has started. I met a new mom. Her son was 13, and that was his third year in NCC. We talked about future plans. I said that I hadn’t decided yet whether to send I12 again next year, because it was difficult for us financially, and I was not sure that he was getting enough for the money, to which the other mom said, “As long as he enjoys it here, I’m happy”. In the middle of our conversation, I12 walked up to me, saying that he had been promoted to a Java class. All of a sudden my new friend got worried, called her son over, and told him to find out if he was in a Java class, and, if not, then to find out why not.

Day Nine – The lab is starting to seriously stink. Thirty teenage boys sitting in a room without windows for ten days, twelve hours a day, can be a real biohazard. On top of the BO, there are leftovers from the vending-machine foods and drinks scattered all over the lab.

Day Eleven – Mysteriously, the lab does not stink anymore. When I pointed it out to the head counselor, he told me, “We have added a new commandment”. The new commandment went something like this, “Thou shalt not wear yesterday’s clothes”.

In a conversation that followed, the head counselor told me that he was a high school math teacher, and that he had not written a line of code in six years. This is the man that’s in charge of teaching the kids programming at this $800-per-week programming camp. I took special care to nod and smile.

Day Thirteen And Last – I12 got an award for academic excellence! Yay! He wants to go next year, can we afford it?

Day Two-Hundred and Eighty-Fifth – In the middle of a heated argument with Mr. Goldie where I maintained that I12 had to go to NCC again, I12 walked in and said, “I don’t really wanna go”. Case closed.

So this has been our experience. Will we send him there again? No. Will we send his brother? I highly doubt it. Did we do the right thing sending I12 there in the first place? I think we did, and I will tell you why in the next installment.

The Goldie has spoken at 4:46 PM

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Are You Raising A Perfect Child?

I found the funniest article in the Wired magazine yesterday. I tried to find it on their website, but they didn’t post it there, so I’ll just have to quote a lot. © Wired magazine, June 2005, all rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Pages 52-53, in case anyone’s interested. I do suspect the article is just a little tongue-in-cheek, though.

But look at this:

“… today it costs some $179,000 to support junior from birth to age 18. But what if you want to rear the perfect progeny, a kid who’s genetically prime, privately schooled, and poised to become a master of the universe That’ll run you four times as much – about $800,000 – if you count every supplement, activity, and advantage you want to provide your future world leader…”

Are you with me so far?

In the article, there is a list of required expenses, broken down by age group. To be honest, I was surprised to see what a large portion of the list we have covered with I12 and K9. Only, of course, we got much better deals. Here we go. I’ll add my comments to the list. The list goes up to 17 years of age, but, since my oldest is twelve, I will only go that far (because I’m getting tired of all the typing).

Early years – ages 0-4

Fertility treatment/assisted reproduction - $35,000

Mr. Goldie was generous enough that he agreed to assist me for free in the reproduction process. Twice. Not counting all the test runs – you know, making sure the equipment works properly, that sort of thing.
Prenatal genetic testing - $2,000
You mean the ultrasound… right?
Stem cell banking - $3,550
Bilingual nanny – two years - $84,000
What, only one bilingual nanny? We had two. Meet my parents!
Baby yoga - $3,120
Does that count if you pick your 5-month-old up under his arms, set him on a flat surface, and he walks around with your support… and walks… and walks… ow, my back!
Baby sign language - $1,500
We opted for Basic Electronic Training instead. By age 2, I12 was able to operate a screwdriver, pliers and a few more electronic tools. At age 4, he took apart two old TVs. Alone. Tutor: Mr. Goldie. Cost: free of charge, plus it kept I12 busy.
Preschool – two years - $38,400
Ours accepted Welfare Day Care vouchers. $60/month.
Basic needs (shelter, organic food, medical care, etc.) - $52,306

Elementary school – ages 5-11

Private Chinese-immersion school (7 years) - $113,150

Public school that has kids from all parts of the world – how’s that sound?
After-school learning center (4 years) - $3,600
We tried it, and it sucked so bad that we decided to stick with the bilingual nanny.
Social-skills coach (1 year) - $4,000
Again, only one? Sheesh. We had two, and not just for one, but for several years. One is called “your sibling”; the other one, “elementary-school playground”. Both work like a charm!
Music lessons (7 years) - $10,500
Art classes (4 years) - $3,200

We substituted the above two by advanced electronics and programming lessons (for I12) and basketball league/swim team (for K9). You have to be flexible, you know.
Summer day camp (3 years) - $9,840
Ours is $500 for nine weeks. Wait, they raised their prices. It’s $600 now.
Science camp (1 year) - $1,285
Hey, we actually did send I12 to Camp Invention when he was little! $180/week.
Growth hormones (2 years) - $20,000
Basic needs - $75,148

Junior High - ages 12-13

Private Chinese-immersion school (2 years) - $33,550
Private tutor (2 years) - $10,920

Haha… that would be me!
Individual SSAT/ISEE prep - $2,299
That would be me again. Yes, I actually prepped I12 for ISEE when he was in fifth grade. Took us about two months and a lot of work. The cost of the class was about $30 – that’s what I paid for “Cracking the ISEE” book. He did great! Remind me to tell you sometime later why we did it.
Tennis lessons (1 year) - $7,500
My son says sport is a waste of time. So Ha.
Music lessons (2 years) - $3,000
I12 and music instruments can be a dangerous combination. Skip.
Horseback-riding lessons (1 year) - $1,770
He actually rode a horse once, and did great. Remind me to do it again with him sometime.
Cybercamp (2 years) - $5,912
Now this is amazing coincidence… we actually did send I12 to a computer camp for two weeks when he was ten. He got a scholarship. It still cost us an arm and a leg. But definitely not two thousand dollars. But he got a free subscription to Scientific American as an award.
Chess camp (2 year) - $1,438
I say, lock him in a room with his Grandpa, don’t let him out till he learns how to play chess, and count that as a chess camp. In fact, he can play a little. We must have already done it. Remind me to ask Grandpa.
Growth hormones (2 years) - $40,000
5’10”… size 13 shoes… what growth hormones? Skip.
Orthodontics - $5,000
Perfect teeth, thank God! Skip skip skip.
Basic needs - $22,808

So, what do you think? Am I raising two future world leaders? Are you? Is this list completely out of whack? Isn't it the family name and connections that eventually determine who's to become "the master of the universe"? If so, doesn't that make the list useless? Do rich people really do all that and pay these prices? If yes, why?

The Goldie has spoken at 1:39 PM

My Ponderings On The Michael Jackson Verdict

HA HA!!!!

Yeah, right!

Like I'm going to do that!

Naw, I'll just let everyone else talk about this case. That's how much of a nonconformist I am.

But, seriously, weren't you surprised by all the hype? Because I was! No one could do any work in our office after 4:45 PM yesterday. What's up with that? Why is it so important all of a sudden?

The Goldie has spoken at 10:38 AM

Monday, June 13, 2005

“From The Teenagers’ Point Of View”

This is a very controversial post. Feel free to flame me mercilessly.

I must be the only person left in the blogosphere by now that have not covered the Gunderson family and their Pure Fashion movement (I found the link on Arethusa’s site).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for modesty. My personal favorite way of dressing is hippie-style – long shirts, long sleeves, this kind of stuff. And I, too, have at times found it difficult to find clothing that wasn’t showing my belly button or too much cleavage – but it is entirely possible. My concern is of a different kind. Let me tell you a story from my own teen years.

When I was 16, our school’s principal called me into her office once, and asked how I would like to write an article for our local newspaper. I had always dreamed of journalism, so, of course, said yes. She then proceeded to pretty much dictate me the article – which issues it should cover, and what it should say on each of the issues. My job was to word it nicely and to put my name on it, but, in essence, it was nothing but a list of our principal’s personal opinions. She told me to title the article “From The Teenagers’ Point Of View”.

I got paid for that thing. What a sellout.

Which brings me to Ella Gunderson and her letter, that has been getting a lot of publicity lately. Unfortunately, while the articles are ecstatic, on every forum and every blog that I go to I see young guys that don’t know any better mercilessly ripping on poor Ella’s looks. This makes me sad. I used to look exactly like her when I was a teen, only my hair wasn’t red. Other than that, we could be identical twins. Puberty can be very hard on kids. Luckily, I grew out of that.

It’s almost like little Ella has set herself up for a certain amount of ridicule when she wrote that letter. Personally, I wouldn’t mind setting myself up for any amount of ridicule, flame and judgement if I were to speak my mind on an issue I feel strongly about. I’m prepared to take that risk.

Problem is, I do not remember feeling strongly about any issue at all when I was eleven. I was still in a state of confusion, trying to figure things out. My 12yo son is a very bright kid for his age, but he does not by any means have a strong opinion on any issue at all. He is still poking and probing and trying to figure things out for himself. Strong opinions come with age, and they come from extensive personal experience. Then how come Ella Gunderson is the only kid known to humanity to have a strong personal opinion of her own at 11, and that opinion is about, of all things, fashion? You see what I’m getting at?

I suspect that the adults dictated that letter.

Whether I agree with the letter or not is irrelevant. If an adult or a group of adults really did use a kid as their mouthpiece, I’m not liking it. It’s not right. Especially since it caused immature guys all over the world to make fun of the poor kid.

The letter is printed here.

What do you think? Is it an 11yo girl speaking her mind or is it a group of adults speaking “from the teenagers’ point of view”?

The Goldie has spoken at 6:10 PM

Happy Birthday To Meeeee!

Oh, well, it’s happened. I am now thirty-eight years young. Do I qualify for senior discounts yet?

I’ve been thinking about my past birthdays yesterday – you know, the ones I had as a kid, when they were still magic and fun, as opposed to now when they are work, work, work. Sadly, most of my birthdays as a kid, I did not have birthday parties. A few relatives usually came over, but that was about it. We lived in a very small apartment, and, as I realize it now, my Mom wasn’t very good around large crowds of kids. I don’t really mind, because it made the few parties that I did get more memorable. The first time I was allowed to invite my friends was on my tenth birthday. My Mom was out of town for a month, at a training seminar from her work, and Dad went all lenient on me. I invited my two best friends – the boy I grew up with, and a girl from my class. My Dad baked a cake, we had tea, and then went outside to play. We had tons of fun on that day. To any of my kids, that would be like an ordinary playdate. To me, it was a birthday party of my dreams that I remember to that day. Boy, I was easy to please, wasn’t I?

The next party I had was on my fourteenth birthday. I was teenaged, clumsy, very bad-looking, and unpopular. I invited my two girl friends from class. One of the girls suggested that I invite a guy from our class, because his parents traveled abroad a lot and “he will give you the best gift”. He brought me a very cute plastic bag from a store in Finland. These bags were a hot item back then. I used it for a couple years to carry my stuff around. It wasn’t until many years later that I found out… my friend really had a crush on that guy, and that’s why she had me invite him over. We had fun.

The next party was my 16th. I was still unpopular and geeky, but I had a close circle of friends from school that I used to hang out with. In retrospect, had I been popular, I probably would have chosen the same friends… because they were fun to hang out with, and the popular kids were not! I invited all of my gang, and my best friend brought her boyfriend, who was a year older, also from our school. Back then in Russia, it was norm to have champagne on one’s sixteenth birthday party. No such luck for me. My Dad was a militant teetotaler. From his business trip to Moscow, he brought a case of Pepsi and a case of Fanta, and that’s what we drank at my party. It was great fun, even without the champagne. My best friend spent the entire party necking with her boyfriend. A few months later, he met someone else; they broke up, he got married; my friend married another guy at 20, and had two kids right away; her former boyfriend got divorced and came to see her, but she was already taken. I stayed in touch with my friend for all these years, even after I left for America, which was hard, because she didn’t have phone or email, and most of snail mail from here to Russia used to get lost on the way. Then in May of 2002, she got into a car accident and died in the hospital three days later, leaving two teenage children. Her former boyfriend worked in the hospital at that time, and made sure she got the best care available. He had loved her all those years, and could not forgive himself for having broken up with her – he considers it the biggest mistake of his life. I miss her a lot. I sure do hope there is an afterlife, because I really need to meet her. We have a lot to catch up on.

I hate to end a birthday post on a sad note, so I’ll tell you about something else. We had a family tradition when I was growing up. Both my Mom and I have June birthdays, within five days of one another. So on each of our birthdays, my Dad would get up at sunrise, ride his bike to the woods, gather a bunch of lily of the valley’s, and set the bouquet next to our bed before we woke up. You woke up on your birthday, and the first thing you saw were these flowers. I am in no way a sentimental girl, but that was very cool! I really do miss this tradition. I think family traditions, even if they are the littlest things, are important. This is what our children will remember when they grow up. We have a few. Some are strange. Some die a natural death as the kids grow older; but then, new ones are born. I hope my boys will have something to remember and say, “Well, my family was wacky in many ways, but I’m glad I am a part of it!”

So, what memorable birthday parties or family traditions did you have? Please feel free to share in the comments. Have a great week!

The Goldie has spoken at 11:05 AM

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Goldies’ Very First Romantic Getaway

This is an entry for June’s Blogging For Books contest. This month’s assignment is:

For this month's Blogging for Books, write a blog entry about one of three things:

A memorable trip or "mini-vacation" (with "memorable" covering everything from "best time of my life" to "unmitigated disaster");

A time you did something spontaneously, in order to shake up your life;

A time you metaphorically took "the road less traveled", and made an unpopular or uncommon decision.

I’ll go with #1 – memorable trip.

Once upon a time, in the year eighty-eight of last century, when Mr. Goldie and I were still college students, and were not yet married, or even planning to be married, but were already exclusively dating, we decided to go on an out-of-town trip. We wanted to see the romantic city of Riga, to wander its medieval streets, to see the famous Dome Cathedral, to do some shopping, but, most importantly, to spend three or four days together away from it all, just the two of us. I guess I don’t need to tell you that sex figured very prominently in our plans. After all, I was 21, he was 20, each of us had two roommates, so the opportunities to be alone were very few and far between.

We went ahead and bought the tickets on the overnight train. A girl that I was best friends with at the time offered to hook us up with her friend’s Grandma, who lived in Riga, and would be thrilled to let us stay in her apartment for a few days.

Due to lack of planning, the whole Grandma thing didn’t work out. We found it out thirty minutes before our train left. That meant we had to find a place to stay on our own.

Next morning, the train pulled into the Riga station. For those of you that haven’t heard this name, Riga is a capital of Latvia, a small, Eastern European country on the shores of the Baltic Sea, populated by quiet, refined, European people that are not too keen on socializing with ethnic Russians, or (as is my case) people of any non-Baltic ethnicity born and raised in Russia. I cannot blame them, seeing as their country was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, along with their neighbors Lithuania and Estonia. Riga is a large city, founded in the Middle ages, and the historical part of the city is spectacular. I love good European architecture!

But, before we could wander the crooked streets of Old Town, we had to find a place to stay first. Technically, it was not hard. Dozens of people were standing in the morning sun near the train station building, offering rooms for rent. We approached one of them.

“Excuse us, we are looking to rent a room for three days?”

“Are you Estonian?”


“Are you married?”


The woman then named her price, which was three times the usual going rate. There was no way we could pay what she was asking, so we moved on to the next woman… and the next… and the next. Every one of them seemed to think that we had to pay through the nose for committing the cardinal sins of being unmarried and non-Estonian. We had no idea what to do, when we saw Him.

He was a little old man that had been standing quietly with the rest of the group. Just as we were about to give up, he walked up to us and told us his price. It was lower than we had ever dreamed of. The man was clearly a Godsend. We hastily agreed to rent from him, and he announced that he would now take us to his place. He introduced himself, but, due to a speech defect he had, I never caught his name, so he will forever remain to me The Old Man. He then went ahead of us, and we followed.

To our surprise, we came back to the train station. The man looked at the clock, and became nervous. He told us that we had to wait another hour for the next train, that would take us to his house. We agreed, and decided to take a walk around the area while we were waiting. It struck me as odd that, while we waited, the man followed us like a puppy. No matter where we went, he was right behind us.

Finally, our train pulled into the station, and we got on, followed by The Old Man. An hour on the train, a thirty-minute walk though the countryside, and we were finally in front of his house. By that time, we were slightly puzzled. How were we to wander the streets of Old Town if it would take us an hour and a half to even get to Riga? But we were there already, it was too late to turn back, so inside the house we went.

Ow! The horrible smell! I still don’t know what the house stank of, but it was not pretty! The Old Man showed us our room; it did smell a bit, but it was spacious, and there was a large, comfy bed in the corner. So far so good. We asked about the shower; there wasn’t any. We were welcome, however, to wash our hands in the sink anytime.

Oh well. We left our things in the room and went on to wander the streets of Old Town.

The Dome Cathedral turned out to be closed for repairs till next spring, so we ended up in a different cathedral instead. I hope we didn’t miss out on a whole lot. It was basically, well, a cathedral. We did wander the streets, and the streets were just as beautiful as we had expected. The only bad part was that, after a few hours of all that wandering, one got really tired, and we had nowhere to stop by and rest, as our room was an hour and a half away. We had to stick it out on these old streets till dark, and then come back the next morning. I think we ended up seeing a movie, just for the sake of sitting down. I think it was “Wall Street”, but I’m not sure.

We did not go to any restaurants, for the obvious reason – we were college students, and, as such, practically penniless. We did, however, go shopping. Back then, in the Soviet Union, Riga was famous for its European styles and fashionable clothing. We could not afford any clothing, per se, but I did buy two pairs of really hip pantyhose – thick, striped, with little butterflies painted all over them. I got a pair in red and another one in blue. Oh, those Eighties. The sales personnel in the stores turned out to be rather nice. Of course, it helped greatly that we looked like the locals. The trick was, when a sales person talked to us in Latvian, not to answer in Russian, but to nod and smile instead. Somehow we got by.

We bought some food for next day’s breakfast, and got on a train back to The Old Man’s house. The bed turned out to be hard and uncomfortable. I do not need to tell you that we tried making out, and discovered that making out is not a whole lot of fun if both of you haven’t showered in two days. Besides, we realized we had another problem. The bed was creaking and squeaking like a hyperactive hog in heat. Forget about sex – you couldn’t turn in that bed without waking the whole house. Our sleep was long, uneventful, and filled with the sound of squeaking. Strange smells were all around us.

Next morning, after a breakfast of bread and milk and tuna, we repeated our foray into the city. Again, we enjoyed it.

On the third morning, my body finally realized that milk and tuna was not a good combination. I ended up throwing up into a garbage can on the narrow streets of Old Town. Fortunately, that evening, it was time to leave. We returned to St-Petersburg tired, sweaty, smelly, and barely speaking to one another. The fact that we still continued to see each other after that, is, to me, proof positive that Mr. Goldie and I are a match made in Heaven. For our relationship, surviving that trip was almost as hard as surviving an infant and a toddler. It proved to be one of those character-building experiences. Plus, I bought the pantyhose. All in all, it wasn’t a bad trip. Maybe one day, Mr. Goldie and I will go back.

But we won’t be staying at The Old Man’s place this time.

The Goldie has spoken at 7:12 PM

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Trip That I Will Not Write About For B4B

Blogging For Books is still on and I am considering participating. One of the options this month is to write about a memorable trip or mini-vacation. At first, I thought about translating this story that I posted on my Russian forum two years ago, but then decided against it, for several reasons. Reason number one, of course, is that I feel kind of odd about translating my own story. It has already been written; it has its own style, its own rhythm, its own language; it is living a life of its own. If I try translating it, or retelling it in English, that would be a whole new story and I’m not sure if I will like it.

Reason number two is that, after the story was written, posted, and published as a part of a collection of the forum members’ works, there have been new, and very sad, developments involving one of the characters. The story is about a trip to the Black Sea that I took in 1988. Initially, it was supposed to be me and my then-best-female-friend, but, at the last minute, a close family friend asked if we could bring her son along. I had grown up with the guy, so I agreed. He had just returned from the Army (in case you haven’t heard, the USSR, and now Russia, have mandatory draft for all males over 18). He had been a good fit for the Army, and had loved it there. So, for most part of the trip, this guy was still in the Army mode, which created some comical situations throughout the trip (he tried to put my friend and myself on a strict schedule - imagine that), along with a few that were not so comical. There was a conflict between him and me, because, exactly at that time, I was going through my most intense Army-hating stage. A good college friend of mine had been drafted about a year prior to our trip, couldn’t handle the Red Army atmosphere, and shot himself after spending six months there. He was 19; he was a good friend; he wrote great poetry; he left behind his parents, a younger brother, and a pregnant wife. So, at one point during our trip, as my childhood friend was lecturing us on the joy and fun of the Army life, specifically stressing how, if a guy didn’t fit in with the Army, it was his own fault, - I flipped. I barely talked to my childhood friend after that. Ever. He did hit it off with my girlfriend on that trip, whereas I met a local man forty years older than myself, and spent most of the vacation in his company.

That was almost twenty years ago. I posted the story in 2003. Last year, we got word that my childhood friend - the one that loved the Army - had passed away. He was 36. He left a widow, but they did not have any children. Thing is, when he was drafted, they sent him to the Chernobyl area, right after the nuclear power plant blew up in that town. Apparently it seriously affected his health. He didn’t find out until many years later. He loved kids, but he could not have any of his own. He was depressed. He had a drinking problem. He couldn’t hold a job. He died of unrelated reasons – he was asleep in his apartment and the electrical caught on fire. Thank God he didn’t feel any pain, and died peacefully in his sleep. But, I cannot help thinking that the Army ruined his life, just as it ruined the life of my other friend.

I am now thoroughly convinced that the Army needs to be professional. Mandatory draft is only acceptable when our country is under attack. When instituted in times of peace, it wreaks havoc. It leads to millions of 18-year-olds being drafted, which leads to unnecessary expenses, because you need to house and feed these 18-year-olds and you need higher-ranking officers to manage them. On top of that, you have to keep these kids busy doing something productive for two years, and there’s just not enough work for all of them, so you have to invent some senseless, mind-numbing labor for them to do, just so they’re occupied. You end up with a bloated army that cannot function. Mandatory draft is evil. Don’t support it, don’t ever vote for it. This is my story.

Needless to say, I won’t be submitting it to B4B. I’ll think of something else instead.

Have a great weekend, all!

The Goldie has spoken at 1:56 PM

Don’t Change the Color of Your Hair… Or You May Freak Out

Billy Joel was right on about that. Don't. Just don't.

I am very lucky. I have found a stylist who agreed to cut my hair, my Mom’s, and my both boys… for a reasonable price. I was getting worried about the boys’, because of the long hair styles that are suddenly in this year - I’m afraid Creat Clips just won’t be up to the challenge! So, I’m really glad I found this woman.

One thing happened, though. As she was cutting my hair four days ago, she was commenting on its color. For the last eighteen years, I’ve been a pretty radical blonde, as you can see in this photo from two years ago:

Need I tell you that this color has been out of style for the last ten or fifteen years? Not that I care. Well, my new stylist apparently does, because she called my hair color unnatural and vulgar, and advised that I change it to ash blonde.

As I made an appointment for next week for one of my boys, I realized that I better change my hair color now, if I don’t want to hear about it each time I come over myself or with one of my kids. Besides, I was curious (like I am most of the time about pretty much anything). So, a box of Medium Ash Blonde color was purchased, and yesterday, my Mom dyed my hair. An hour later, I was looking in the mirror at a dark-haired woman! This is seriously freaking me out! I’ll post a picture when I get around to taking it.

These are the sacrifices a mother has to take for her children. I mean, it was either that or take them to Great Clips!

The Goldie has spoken at 12:17 PM

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

School’s OUT!

My “to-do” list for today:

1. Take a day off: check.
2. Make sure K9 is wearing his Family Guy T-shirt, because today is the only day he can get away with it: check.
3. Drop the kids off at school: check.
4. Pack K9’s swimming trunks, flip-flops and mesh tee: check.
5. Give presents to teachers: check.
6. Take box of candy to school office: check.
7. Come to K9’s school for the annual walk and picnic: check.
8. Do the walk: check.
9. During the walk, run through three sprinklers before realizing I’m still holding one remaining present in my hands: check.
10. Give wet present to K9’s gifted coordinator, apologize profusely: check.
11. Realize that I cannot get picnic lunch, because K9’s school forgot to mail me the lunch ticket. Decide that food is overrated and a drink of water will do: check.
12. Fire truck shows up to hose down the kids: check.
13. Spend twenty minutes trying to convince K9 to go get hosed: check.
14. Give up on K9 and decide to go stand under the hose myself instead: check.
15. Give purse and watch to K9 to hold for me while I’m being hosed down: check.
16. Spend an hour looking for K9 who walked off with my purse and watch: check.
17. Tell K9 we are leaving early to go get I12: check.
18. Spend another hour trying to get K9 out the door while he’s starting conversations with each and every third-grade girl that passes by: check.
19. Lure K9 into going over to meet his fourth-grade teacher by telling him she’s very good-looking: check.
20. Arrive at I12’s school fifteen minutes late for the awards ceremony: check.
21. Sit through the two-hour awards ceremony feeling like an idiot while every single kid but I12 is receiving awards: check.
22. Pass out remaining teacher presents: check.
23. Go to video game store because it is an old family tradition to buy each kid a video game on the last day of school: check.
24. Stand in front of the store in amazement wondering when and why it went out of business: check.
25. Allow K9 to go visit his friend later in the evening: check.
26. Cancel the visit because, when the friend called, K9 raced to the phone at light speed, tripped, and hit his toe so badly he cannot walk anymore: check.
27. Put ice on K9’s foot: check.
28. Promise to give laptop to K9 as soon as I’m done checking my email: check.
29. Five minutes later, realize that K9 has fallen asleep and doesn’t need the laptop: check.
30. Use the opportunity to write this post: check.

The Goldie has spoken at 7:22 PM

Monday, June 06, 2005

Open Letter to Quitters, Inc., Whoever They Are

This is a Monday rant. You have been warned.

I have a confession to make. I’ve been smoking since I was 19, although not heavily. In my wildest days, it took me three days to go through a pack. It takes me anywhere from one to six months now. I also had to switch brands and start buying those sissy “light” cigarettes, because, all of a sudden, the regulars started tasting like crap to me.

So, Goldie, if it takes you several months to smoke one pack, why don’t you just quit? – you ask. Here’s why.

Because, each time I see one of those annoying anti-smoking commercials, it makes me want to light up.

Yep, that’s my rant. I have had it with the anti-smoking campaign, people! I think the whole thing is blown way out of proportion, which makes it sound like a load of bull, and leads the young, impressionable children to lose their trust in the anti-nicotine propaganda altogether. Case in point: I12.

When I12 was in second grade, he was in a DARE program at school and got the usual lecture (cigarettes are a gateway drug, smoking will cause you to die a painful death, etc etc.) He was very impressed, and made a poster that he had me scotch-tape to the passenger side of my car. It said: “DO NOT SMOKE, FROM: (I12’s name)”. I honestly tried to obey the poster, but I couldn’t back then. I would’ve probably done it easily now, but, four years ago, I12 was just too early with his request.

Then one day, in fourth grade, I12 took the poster down. Why are you doing it, I asked.

“First of all, it doesn’t work. You’re doing it anyway. But mainly, it’s because they lied to us about the smoking. Look at you. You smoke. They said you would die from it. But you’re alive and in good health. When I am 18, I’m gonna smoke too”.

He still intends to do it. No matter how many times I told him that the stuff is addictive, that it tastes bad, that I am cutting down drastically and about to quit any minute now, his decision still stands. He thinks that the school has lied to him; and, therefore, he will take up smoking. Luckily, he still has six years to change his mind.

Like I12, I also am confused. Why do we need to lie to people when the truth is actually bad enough? Why can’t we tell them that smoking is dangerous for your health – as is drinking, eating junk food, leading a sedentary lifestyle, or driving 25 miles over the speed limit? Maybe we should add that, while all these things are likely to cause you mild damage if you do them in moderation, they are indeed likely to kill you if you overindulge in any given one. Add to this that smoking makes your breath stink and your teeth turn yellow, and, bingo! You got yourself a completely honest anti-smoking campaign. See, you got your message across without telling your audience that one drag will make them die a horrible death of lung cancer. It can be done! And, now that you have it all set… can you maybe ease up on it a little? You know, not beat people over their heads with it? Like, go easy on the “Heaven is a non-smoking area” bumper stickers and the annoying TV ads? Because, in a lot of people, like myself and my son, they produce the opposite effect, and you don’t want that, do you?

I’m not alone in thinking this way. I’ve got Matt and Trey on my side, and those two guys, as you know, are my heroes, so they’ve got to have a valid point.

And now, time to give credits for my rant. This rant was inspired by Sarah’s comment on

My parent's generation spearheaded the civil rights movement. My generation is very serious about quitting smoking, and we'll tell you so in obnoxious commercial spots. I think there's a difference in ego; ours being the lesser, for better and for worse.

Disclaimer: I have nothing personal against Sarah. I just couldn’t walk past that without commenting.

To me, if a generation is serious about quitting smoking, they just, you know, quit. Quietly, one person at a time. The “obnoxious commercial spots”, to me, signify that this generation is serious about making other people quit. To me, this is in no way similar to the civil rights movement… more like the opposite, since it involves telling people what they are and are not allowed to do on their property during their spare time, even if it’s perfectly legal.

I mean, wow. Way to get me scared of the Millennium generation. Now, each time I see a 20-something, I’m going to duck for cover. What if he’s with the Anti-Smoking police, and is coming to get me?

This is my message for the day. Enjoy your week. I’m off to… no, you guessed it wrong, not a smoking break. I’m off to a brown-bag lunch meeting, which in all actuality is a lot more hazardous to your health than smoking is. Seriously.

The Goldie has spoken at 12:00 PM

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Life Is But A Dream

It is a beautiful summer evening, 75 degrees outside, about 90 inside (it's our first hot day and we haven't turned the AC on yet).

I am sitting in the backyard, on a blanket under a tree, with my laptop.

And my Internet connection actually works!

Seems like the problem of blogging in summer has been resolved for me.

The Goldie has spoken at 9:00 PM

Friday, June 03, 2005

Woo hoo I Am A Punk

This quiz is so endearing... seems like a teenage kid made it. I took it just for grants and apparently there is a punk in me trying to get out. Read all the answers to all the questions, they're funny.

By the way, sorry I haven't been posting much this week. I find blogging kind of hard when it is this good outside. I'll work on it.

Take the quiz: "What High School Stereotype Are You?"

Punk ass kid. You love loud music and beer. You go to shows and have lots of friends who are just like you.

The Goldie has spoken at 3:13 PM

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Wax Museum, 2002-2005

What do Thomas Edison and Christopher Columbus have in common?

Both were depicted by my kids in their Wax Museum projects.

This is a project that is normally done in our elementary school at the end of third grade. The kids all dress up as their favorite historical personalities, the parents come, kids stand around the classroom in costumes, each kid is wearing a button, you press the button, kid tells his famous person’s bio. Then (as you may have guessed by now) everyone has pop and cake. I12 did his three years ago; K9’s was yesterday.

I admit that I had long planned a blog post about this. The plan was to compare my experiences (and funny stories) from I12’s and K9’s Wax Museums. It didn’t quite work out as my life is completely unpredictable. (I really should’ve known better). Anyway, here’s how it went for me and I12. He had a really good teacher that year (major luck for him, as there are only two really good teachers in that whole school), and did pretty well academically. For his Wax Museum, he decided he’d be Thomas Edison. This turned out to be the easiest costume ever. Right there in the book, it said that Mr. Edison was an extremely crappy dresser, and that his hair was always in disarray. So all I had to do was go through all the various hand-me-downs that we got from our relatives when we first came into the country, and pick the most horrible-looking shirt and pair of pants, approximately I12’s size (if the clothes were too small or too large, that was even better). As for his hair, it was always in disarray anyway, so no problem on that end.

When I showed up for the event, the kids were standing very quietly around the room, and the parents were walking around from one kid to another, pressing each kid’s buttons. (Normally, they only push their own kids’ buttons, so that was definitely an exciting experience for us parents!) I went through a couple of kids and listened to their bios that they had to tell in first person. Following me was a couple, much older than me, and very prim and proper. Their son is on the gifted count together with I12.

When listening to the kids, it struck me as funny that every one of them would end the speech by saying, “I died in (year) from (cause)”. Of course I said nothing and continued my tour around the classroom.

The couple was still moving along with me. At one point, the wife turned to me and said, with a sweet smile:

“They are so cute! But, it’s really hard to tell when they’re done with their stories”.

I, on the other hand, knew very well how to tell when they were done. In my job, among other things, I’ve been doing 24x7 support for the last five years. I am good at it, and never hesitate to assist in troubleshooting an issue.

In my most helpful computer-support voice, I offered, “When they’re dead, that means they’re done”.

For a second, the couple stared at me funny, then started moving away as fast as they could without actually running. To this day, they seem to be afraid of me. I cannot imagine why.

This was three years ago. Yesterday, I went to K9’s Wax Museum, and boy, was it different! First of all, K9 does not have the same teacher that his brother had. His current teacher sees K9 and his two friends as a trio of troublemakers. All three do well academically, and could probably use more challenge. A couple of months ago, I wrote a letter to both the principal and K9’s teacher, asking them to place K9 and one of his best friends in the same class for next year (I didn’t ask for K9’s other best friend, because his parents think K9 is bad influence. I know that because the parents called K9 at home twice. But that’s a whole different blog post). I pointed out that they were both bright students, natural leaders, kind and caring of other kids, and a teacher could benefit from having them both in her class. I ended by saying, “Each year in this school, K9 gets separated from his best friend at the end of the year. Could you please make an exception this time?”

But back to the Wax Museum. I came into the classroom, found K9 (it wasn’t easy, because this time, it was very hectic and very crowded), and listened to his bio (he was Columbus). He ended by saying:

“Please avoid any small talk with Mrs. N”.

“And why is that?”

“She said she wanted to talk to you”.

I went over to K9’s best friend and he gave me the same motivational speech. Of course, after that, I felt that I kind of had to track down Mrs. N and talk to her.

Mrs. N told me that the three best friends had been talking in class again, yesterday and the day before. I replied, “Sure, I’ll talk to K9”, although how I can convince him to be quiet in class when there is only four days of school left, I have no idea. She went on to tell me:

“But they won’t be able to do it next year. They will be in different classes. All three of them!”

I’m sure Mrs. N said something else after that. I saw the mouth open and close, but I could not hear the words. I must have looked like a wax figure myself. For once in my life, I asked this God-forsaken school for a favor, and not only did they refuse, they chose to tell me that at a kids’ party. I would’ve found out myself next week, on the last day of school. I honestly don’t understand what the rush was, unless Mrs. N really wanted to say it to my face and see my reaction. Well, she sure got what she wanted. The reaction was definitely there. I couldn’t stay in that classroom anymore, so I went outside and had a cigarette. I hope the school premises are smoke-free.

Later last night, K9 and I had a “pity party”. I won’t go into detail, but will tell you that it involved a lot of ice cream and a Seinfeld DVD. Oh, and I got back at the school by leaving a bad (but completely accurate) review on Hehe.

The Goldie has spoken at 10:40 AM

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Help, the Doctors Are Scaring Me

A strange thing has been happening to me and my family lately. Each time we go see a doctor for a routine exam, they find all sorts of exotic diseases in us; then, after several weeks of fretting and worrying, and a few more appointments with the specialists, it turns out that we are in fact well and healthy. Allow me to illustrate.

A few weeks ago, I went for my annual eye exam, to get a prescription for my contacts. Sure enough, they had just purchased new equipment and used it to run a few tests on me. And, sure enough, the blasted equipment found spots in my eyes where no spots ought to be. The doctor said that I had something called mucular drusen, and called a specialist right away to make an appointment. Well I made a mistake of looking “mucular drusen” up on the Internet. I don’t advise you to do that. It is an extremely gross eye condition that leads to such distorted vision that the person is, basically, disabled, and there is no cure. I reacted to the news as any responsible, 37-year-old mother of two would – by getting deadly drunk that same night. Then I waited for my appointment with the specialist… and waited… and waited. Finally, this morning, I saw him. He ran a series of tests on me (my poor eyes still hurt). Guess what. My spots are harmless. When I told the man that I had done Internet research, he said something along the lines of, “oh, you poor thing”.

But this is all fun and games compared to the time when I took I12 for a checkup. His doctor called me at home at 9 PM that same evening.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said, “and there’s a certain medical condition that I suspect in your son. Can you make an appointment with a cardiologist?” She then proceeded to give me the cardiologist’s name and phone number.

“Why, what is wrong?”

“I cannot tell you now. You will find out when you get there”.

“Can it wait until after his proficiency tests?”

“Sure”. Whew, at least I knew that my son wasn’t dying of heart disease, since it evidently wasn’t urgent.

I made an appointment a month in advance and waited… and waited… and waited. And, while I waited, I was visited by all kinds of different thoughts. How’s a mother supposed to feel when she’s told that her son needs to see a cardiologist for reasons that are apparently so horrible, she cannot even be told what they are? I kept telling myself that it was probably connected to I12’s growth spurt; the doctor was probably worried, I reasoned with myself, that growing five inches in one year could affect I12’s heart.

Finally, the day came and we went to the appointment. I’ve got to tell you, few things can make you look as dumb as bringing your child to a cardiologist’s office, and answering the question “Why are you here?” with a blank stare and an “I dunno, I was hoping you’d tell me”. It turned out that the doctor had been suspecting a very rare syndrome in I12; naturally, he didn’t have it.

Now I’m afraid to go see my OB-GYN. What if she tells me I’m pregnant with triplets?

The Goldie has spoken at 5:00 PM

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