Friday, 13 June 2014

On Life, Death and Cycling

Someone told me a few weeks ago that they did not know I was a cyclist. I replied that I did not know myself! What I did know was that 1 in 2 Australians would be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. I also knew that I wanted to contribute as much as I can to see the world without cancer! This is the reason why I registered to ride my bicycle for 2 days in October covering 200 km of the beautiful Australian countryside!

 I’ve been training for five months now. It’s a torture to ride a bike from work for 25 km in +40°heat. It’s even more uncomfortable to cycle 25 km to work at 6 am in the middle of winter when it’s pitch dark and only +2°C. When I cycled my first 65 km in one hit I thought I was going to die, I was literally feeling sick. A couple of weeks ago I had my first somersault over the handle bar ending up with grazes and huge black bruises on various parts of my body.
First bike fall, Exhibit 1
First bike fall, Exhibit 2
But my cycling challenges do not compare with those of cancer survivors or their families. I know firsthand what if feels like to hear that frightening diagnosis. When 4 years ago I was told I had melanoma, for the first few moments I felt the world was falling apart. But I was the lucky one, I am all clear now and my life is going on. So many others are not that fortunate.
Today I attended a funeral of one of the most beautiful souls I ever met. Sadly she lost her battle with cancer. She was young, full of dreams, hopes and plans for the future. She had so much potential and drive. She loved everyone she knew and everyone loved her.
The loss of Elaine is extremely heartbreaking. She was 45. Her birthday is on 14 October, and four days later I will be riding my Ride to Conquer Cancer. I am sure that gorgeous Elaine will be looking over me and reminding me every minute of my cycling why I am doing it!

I would like to invite my friends and family to join me in my fundraising efforts. Any contribution you might wish to make, no matter how small, will help raise the funds for cancer research. The organisers ask all riders to achieve a donation target of $2,500 (I am about 70% there), but obviously I would like to exceed this by as much as possible.
You can support me by visiting my personal page:
and clicking on the green button DONATE ONLINE NOW.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Together we'll make cancer history!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Mad Russian

Oopsie-daisy! I kind of suspected that it's been a lengthy break since my last post, but I did not think it was that long ago!
Well, time flies when you are having fun!
And fun it has been!
As some Russian children's poem goes, "Drama group, photography club, choir practice (I like to sing), everyone also voted for joining a drawing studio. When do I have time to chat?"
Sort of sums it up for me, really.
Someone asked me recently if I had a relaxing weekend, and I had to stop and think when was the last time I did anything relaxing. Eventually I remembered, it was a visit to the hairdresser five weeks ago, where I had to sit in the chair for a couple of hours and do nothing! Oh, I also do a 10 minute Relaxation at the end of my Body Balance class at the gym once a week. Not sure about the relaxation effect, but having this class in the end of the week after a long day at work, I usually half fall asleep.
During my Skype conversation with Mum a couple of days ago I could not even find an appropriate Russian equivalent of the word Relaxing. If you translate it literally, it sounds way too weird!
Is it sad? Do I need to start worrying? Is there anything wrong with me? Does one need to be relaxed to feel good? What does Relaxing mean?
Okay, being a linguist, I decided to start with the Dictionary.

Relaxation [ree-lak-sey-shuhn]
1. abatement or relief from bodily or mental work, effort, application, etc.
2. an activity or recreation that provides such relief; diversion; entertainment.
3. a loosening or slackening.
4. diminution or remission of strictness or severity.
5. Mathematics-a numerical procedure for solving systems of equations by successive approximations of the variables.

fun, amusement, pleasure.
So, based on the above definition, am I right to say, that  first of all, in order to relax, one needs to perform some bodily or mental work, effort or application first? And second of all, as long as one is having fun, amusement or pleasure, one is supposed to feel relaxed, right?
Well,  I certainly do a lot of bodily work (gym, cycling, running, plus the more mundane efforts like cleaning, cooking, ironing, gardening etc.).  Then there are mental applications - full time job, keeping in touch with family and friends, fundraising for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, spending quality time with the granddaughter.
And although from time to time I whinge and complain how mad my life is, I also know that all that madness is bringing me a lot of fun, amusement and pleasure.  I guess, in the end of the day I feel relaxed when I manage to accomplish so many jobs- some exciting, some ordinary, some simply boring but unavoidable. And the most important thing is I don't necessarily need to sit with my feet up sipping camomile tea or lie on the floor in a meditation pose to achieve relaxation.  I simply need to know that all the tasks are completed!
You can call me mad if you wish!
By the way, I am looking for suggestions how to wisely use those 2 hours at the hairdresser's. I already figured out that those 10 minutes of Relaxation at the gym are just enough to make a mental shopping list!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Pyjama Day

Felicity and I, ready for our PJ Day

Well, it's been a long time coming!
After a couple of busy and strenuous months my body told me to STOP! Although in my mind I realised quite some time ago it was time to slow down a little, but the common sense and practical disposition always won the argument , "Nonsense! Soldier on and stick to your routine. Everything will be okay in the end!"
I cycled to work yesterday (my usual Friday practice these days).  During the day I did not feel 100% but dismissed it as just end-of-week tiredness.  By the end of the day I had aches and pains in my whole body, sore sinuses and was feeling more and more lethargic by the minute.  I still rode my bike home (good effort, still averaging 25 km / hour!).
When I got off the bicycle at home I felt that it was time to stop fighting and simply succumb.
So, it's going to be a day spent in pyjamas, catching up on some reading, seeping a soothing concoction of home grown lemon with honey and ginger, enjoying home made nourishing chicken soup and lots of rest!
Cocktail hour - Lemon-Honey-Ginger

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend! Don't forget to listen to your body and give it some well deserved nourishment from time to time!
Gorgeous miniature roses from my husband

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Venice, the most romantic city in the world

Google informed me today that on this day 25 March in 421, at noon, the city of Venice, my favourite place in the whole world, was founded.  So, I decided to celebrate Venice's birthday today by sharing a travel log with you which I wrote in 2010 during the Donaldsons Sailing Year.

I hope you enjoy my personal discovery of Venice and maybe add this beautiful city to your list of places to visit.

Here it goes...

Pizza, pasta, mandolina... Apparently these are the three things one needs to be happy (according to a Venetian Wine and Confectionery merchant)! Well, when we sailed our yacht into Laguna Veneta we were deliriously happy – happy that we’ve made it with a huge sense of accomplishment, happy that the summer weather finally arrived in Europe, happy with anticipation of the three days we were planning to spend in this City of Bridges and Canals.

It takes close to an hour depending on the traffic to get from the entrance of the harbour to St Mark’s Square (about 6 nautical miles). We only realised it on the way back, such was our excitement that we did not notice the time lapsed from the moment we sailed passed the conspicuous black and white chequerboard structure marking the starboard side of the harbour entrance till the moment we berthed at the Marina on St Giorgio Maggiore Island.
Entrance into Laguna Veneta
We did not have a definite plan as to where we were going to stay or what we were going to do apart from bits and pieces of information given to us by friends and fellow cruisers in Croatia. We did not even have any large scale charts of the Laguna.

On the way we unsuccessfully tried to reach the Marina on the radio and the phone. The radio call was not answered at all and the person on the other end of the phone did not speak English and we did not have enough Italian between the two of us to explain that we wanted a berth at the Marina. So, we just drifted amidst heavy traffic in front of the entrance to the Grand Canal trying to figure out what to do next. Luckily the Marina’s captain (we labelled him Captain because we didn’t see anyone else around the Marina for the next three days) noticed us and came out from his Tower – office and directed us to Berth 87 which was in the inside row of about 40 vessels, which is the Marina’s capacity.
Pave berthed at St Giorgio Marina

I honestly think it was the best spot to be in – right across from St Mark’s and 3 minutes on a vaporetto from St Giorgio Island to St Zaccaria station (Piazza St Marco). And the best imaginable view from the boat!

As we only had limited time but the amount of tourists and hence the queues were enormous, we decided to give the crowds a miss. For the next two and a half days we just wandered through the narrow streets, crossed several dozens of bridges of all sizes and designs, rode a vaporetto along the canals in all directions, got lost several times and just enjoyed being in Venice!

It’s hard to pin-point the highlights of our stay as everything was very special. But a couple of things stand out – eating home-made pasta in the little back street Trattoria near the Rialto Bridge is one of them. The chef, covered in flour, walks past you to the kitchen with a tray of just made gnocchi.

"What news on the Rialto?"
Or drinking Proseco in Cafe Florian (open since 1720) in Piazza St Marco, listening to a group of performing musicians and the bells on St Mark’s Campanile.
Russian musicians found their home in Piazza St Marco
Or visiting the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo which is considered the Pantheon of Venice and boasts numerous important works of art. It is one of the most impressive medieval religious buildings in Venice and we both agreed that all the other Churches we visited after just did not compare.
“… and Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone."

We also visited a glass blowing demonstration on Murano Island and bought ourselves a figurine of Bassotto (dachshund).
Murano glass
We had picnics in the beautiful parks of St Elena and Murano Islands. We bought some red wine from the barrel into a plastic bottle.
Simple life

And we spoke with the local Venetians – gondoliers, merchants, chefs, waiters, bus drivers.
Lucky gondolier
I have to admit a couple of sins we committed while staying in Venice – having pizza in Burger King (hoping to get access to Internet, but it did not work out) and having our last night dinner in the Chinese Restaurant (because it was our only opportunity to have something spicy as Croatia does not have oriental food!) But have you ever come across a Chinese lady speaking Italian, French, German and English as well as her native language?

Venice is enchanting! I spent quite some time crying because it was so overwhelming at times that I could not contain emotions and had to let go. And then we had bursts of laughter when you can’t stop and end up in tears. It was really bizarre – I forgot when was the last time I’ve been so emotional!

A pink heart - a sign that a baby-girl is born
We left Venice after 3 nights at 5 o’clock in the morning with a beautiful sunrise and took our farewell sail past (and a little bit into, naughty-naughty!) the Grand Canal. The dream is fulfilled – we sailed into Venice on our yacht!
Arrivederci, Venice, until we meet again...

Saturday, 8 March 2014

International Women's Day

International Women's Day Postcard from USSR
My husband asked me today what International Women's Day means to me.  I had to stop and think for a minute.

Interestingly enough, although this day has a distinct political connotation in America, Europe and Australia (women's rights, celebration of women's economic, political and social achievements, awareness of the struggles of women worldwide); in the countries of the former socialist bloc it is celebrated simply as a respect, appreciation and love towards women, an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. 

On this day it is customary for men to give the women in their lives – friends, mothers, wives, grandmothers, girlfriends, daughters, colleagues, female teachers etc. – flowers and small gifts. 

In Russia 8 March is a public holiday and is celebrated with great fervor! It's a celebration of spring, beauty and love! It usually starts with office parties a day or two before, followed by special family lunches with lots of flowers, gifts and dedications to all women! It's a very special and one of the most loved holidays in Russia!

Well, I am not in Russia, but I do want to feel somewhat special on that day too!  So, every year I try to organise some extraordinary things for the 8 March to make the day a little unique!

Today's morning started with a bike ride along one of the most beautiful beaches in Western Australia, Waikiki Beach. 

The weather was just perfect for cycling,  only +27C (as opposed to +37C we regularly had during the last month or so) with the mild breeze to just keep you cool and not to blow you of your bike!

The views were spectacular!  

Turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean on one side and a muddled bush on the other,  pelicans soaring high in the sky, gentle rustle of waves breaking on the shoreline and that distinct smell of seaside - mixture of seaweed, salt, fish and ozone.  

Wonderful day ended up with a champagne toast - to all the wonderful International Women I know!




Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Dual Nationality or Minor Identity Crisis

Expatriate - is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person's upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms: "ex" ("out of") and "patria" ("country, fatherland").

I am an expatriate. I was born and spent the first 20 years of my life in the Soviet Union, followed by 9 years in Russia before marrying an Australian and moving Downunder. I am a proud holder of two citizenships which entitles me to own two passports, red and blue!

Most times I am okay with my status, but from time to time I am faced with certain life dilemmas.

The Sochi Winter Olympics was a resent example. For the duration of the game I hid my blue passport and became as Russian as one could get! I watched every sports event where Russians were likely to get medals (even if it meant staying up late, neglecting my husband, blog and gym sessions!) I was so miserable and cranky after the Russian Hockey team lost that my work colleagues knew better than trying to approach me the morning following the defeat with any questions concerning sport. Or any question, to be totally honest, as I was totally pre-occupied with the Olympics. I made rather derogatory comments about Australians trying to compete in WINTER sports ( and now I am feeling quite bad about it, sorry my Oz friends!) I felt so proud to be Russian when I watched the Opening and Closing ceremonies, proud of my Russian heritage, culture and history!

But now the Olympic Games are over and people approach me with questions about Russian anti-gay stands or the Crimea invasion and I want to shout that I am Australian and not Russian (mind you, in the Ukrainian situation I would not like to be an American either!) I don't live in Russia, or follow Russian politics and we all know that politics is a dirty thing anyway. On one side I have relatives in the Ukraine and they embrace what's happening there at the moment and they welcome the Russian presence in the Crimea. But then I read all the anti-war petitions in the social media by the ordinary Ukrainians and I am convinced - let them sort it out, neither Russians nor Americans or Australians should interfere in the Ukraine's political matters!

Then there are holidays. There is no great problem if Russian Orthodox Easter is celebrated on a different date than a Catholic one. For my Orthodox celebration we usually join our Orthodox friends for a traditional feast of everything Russian with customary dishes and a midnight Church service. And then there is an Anglican/Catholic Easter with my husband's family on a different day, which is all about chocolate and hot cross buns. But this year Catholic and Orthodox Easter fall on the same date! Oh dear! Do we choose family for a chocolate overload or friends for a long-time tradition of a Russian Feast? Tricky decision!
Russian Orthodox Easter Bread and Coloured Eggs
Last weekend we celebrated Labour Day in Western Australia. Everyone I know was looking forward to having some time off, enjoying the last summer days, going to the beach, swimming, reading, embracing some rest and relaxation. At the end of the first day of the long weekend (when I tried to do nothing apart from swimming, reading and enjoying life) I realised that in my vocabulary the word Labour associates with, well, labour. So, I decided not to go to Labour Day concerts or Vintage Markets, but to have a Subbotnik at home (from the Russian word subbota meaning Saturday).

Originally in the Soviet Union it was a voluntary day of unpaid labour and it had the idea of uniting the revolutionary minded masses and promoting the ideas of socialism. However, as the enthusiasm among the people dwindled, subbotniks simply became the means for the ruling class to get free work from their employees under the cover of Communist ideology. Eventually, subbotniks were reduced to a day or two a year, when people came together for major spring cleaning at their work places or home neighbourhoods. Nowadays it still takes place, but they have lost their ideological aspect and have again become voluntary days of labour.

So, I spent about 4 hours at Subbotnik, cleaning and beautifying my garden!

It was +36C in the middle of the day! But the way I felt after my improvised Subbotnik was truly amazing! Those who don't work, don't deserve to eat! Oops, this was a slogan from the Soviet Union days, nothing to do with Australian Labour Day, but it felt that I really earned that glass of watermelon gin punch after a hard day's work!
Frozen Watermelon Gin Punch
There is also the question of pancakes. Last week the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated a pancake week, where every day from Monday to Sunday people made pancakes and treated everyone from  friends to mother-in-law, and the week ended up with Forgiveness Day on Sunday where people asked everyone to forgive them (like a Confession, really). The pancake week is called Maslenitsa (from the word "maslo" or butter). Sadly, the Catholic Church only designated one day for pancakes, Shrove Tuesday, which this year falls on the week following the Russian Orthodox pancakes week. So, in theory I should have started the Great Lent last Sunday, but...
Shrove Tuesday
As my blue passport and my husband's religion allow me to have another pancake day on Tuesday, I have fully embraced this day! Moreover, I've organised a Shrove Tuesday morning tea at work to raise money for our team for The Ride to Conquer Cancer!

For your donations to Cancer Research and to support My Ride please visit the following link:
My Ride to Conquer Cancer
So, there is a big question - am I Russian or Australian? Do I choose to be one or the other depending on circumstances? Or am I simply a citizen of the World?

I have a lot of friends in similar situations. I'd like to know how you deal with your multiple citizenships dilemmas!

And last but not least.  Today has been 14 years since I married The One!  He is my soulmate, my best friend, my wonderful supporter and the most  wonderful husband in the whole world! He also is the reason for my dual citizenship and occasional identity crisis! I love you, my sweetheart!
4 March 2000

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

February Challenges

It's 6.30 in the morning on a Tuesday, and I am trying to have a less frantic life!

All of February I've been making pathetic attempts to rationalise, prioritise and organise my life activities. Only to realise in the end of the month that I am marginally better than where I started.

I still have a full time, 8 to 4 job. I still enjoy going to the Gym 2-3 times a week. I've just started training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer which is happening in October. Which means that by the end of March I should be spending 80-100 km a week in a saddle! Then there is fundraising for Cancer Research. I definitely want to be able to write my blog every few days. I also want to read other blogs which I enjoy! And, as you know already, there is also French, piano, books, movies and concerts. And most importantly, I want to spend more quality time with my family and friends, here and overseas, either live or on Skype. Thank God, at least the Winter Olympics are over, which means no late night ice hockey in our house any more!

There is one thing I figured out for sure - my life is not going to become less busy any time soon! And in spite of the fact that I complain about it sometimes, I don't want it to change! I don't want to spend my days navel gazing and contemplating the world's problems. BUSY is what makes me tick!

So, all I need to do is to make my life less frantic, more fluid and therefore less stressful. Right? Easier said than done!

I consider myself a very organised person. Although there is a BUT there! If everything goes according to my well scheduled plans (also know as "to-do lists"), I am thriving. BUT! You guessed it, if something extraordinary happens and disrupts those plans, then I simply panic because everything else needs to be re-organised as a result.

After some serious thinking I decided to follow some relatively simple rules:
  • Learn to say "no" more often. Put it simply - if it does not involve family, close friends, fitness, cycling or blogging, then, I am afraid, it's "no". By doing this I managed to free quite a few weekends already!
  • Become more of a "morning person". Hence my attempt this morning to get up before 6 am to add an additional 45 minutes to my day. I have to confess, it was a bit of a shock, but a nice cup of tea and the image of the rising sun helped a lot!
  • Incorporate a bicycle ride into my daily commute to and from work. I did it last Friday and cycled 25 km to work in the morning and 25 km back in the afternoon. The temperature that day was +36 C with 18 knots of South Easterly hot wind blowing right into my face.  But the sense of achievement was incredible! 
  • And last but not least - stop being a perfectionist! If something does not end up quite the way I like it, it's OKAY! Let it go and don't fret!
Well, all in all it sounds like a good plan!

I'll keep you posted on the outcome!
Beautiful vistas I ride through
Now I'd like you to please bear with me for a little bit longer. There is one more thing I'd like to tell you about.

It's The Ride to Conquer Cancer which I am going to do in October this year.  The event is a 2 day cycling adventure, riding through Western Australia's scenic countryside and covering 200 km.

The money I raise for The Ride will benefit Harry Perkins Institute, Western Australia’s premier adult medical research organisation. My participation in The Ride to Conquer Cancer will support groundbreaking, critical cancer research, primarily investigating the genetic and environmental causes of various cancers (colon, liver, brain, pancreatic, breast, childhood, leukaemia and melanoma).  My participation in The Ride will help impact the lives of thousands affected by cancer.

As I only have a very limited cycling experience, I know it's not going to be easy.  But I am sure my ride is going to be nothing compared to those who are going through their personal journeys to conquer cancer.

I feel very privileged to be able to contribute and assist a very worthy cause.

I appeal for your support by way of sponsoring me and making a donation to The Sunsuper Ride to Conquer Cancer, benefiting the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research through my personal page or you can contact me direct.  I am sure you know of someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, who is a cancer survivor or perhaps someone who sadly lost the battle against this disease. Together we can make cancer history!

My Personal Page - The Ride to Conquer Cancer
Thank you in advance for you generous gift!

Good health and happy cycling!