Thursday, September 29, 2016

My 40th Job

In a little over a week from now, I start my 40th job.  That's right, I've worked in 40 different positions in almost as many different companies (some companies I went back to for one reason or another).  When I look at the list wholistically, I can see my evolution as a professional and how I personally grew as an individual, how my confidence increased a little here and there, how I took risks, and how I recognized (in some cases instantly) what would be good for me and what would not.

My whole life has been guided by my gut instinct of "yes, this will be good for me vs. no, this will be bad for me".  And the jobs I have held are no exception.  Sure, I stayed at some too long and at others not long enough.  But my gut told me it was time to move on and I always listened.  It wasn't always easy but I'm proud of my perseverance.

Granted, this list contains many summer jobs that were only intended to last a few days or weeks or months (Jobs #3, #6, #20-23, and #29).  But I include them because I learned something, no matter how small, at each job - whether it was how to treat coworkers or talk to a supervisor or address a client.  Sometimes, I was a great success (Job #34) and sometimes a pathetic failure (Job #28).  But if I learned anything, it's that I am resilient when it comes to accepting the situation, learning from mistakes, and moving on.

Sometimes the jobs I had were only the result of some glamorized idea of doing something.  For example, I wanted to try waiting tables.  My first foray into that (working at now-defunct The American Cafe in Tyson's Corner in 1988; Job #11) began and ended all in the same day.  I wasn't in a good "head place" in my life back then and I just couldn't concentrate or remember the 15 million things one has to remember when one is waiting tables. But deep down, I knew I could do it and 4 years later I tried it again at Chi-Chi's (Job #17) and would be successful.  And I was proud that I was able to tackle this thing I wanted to try, especially when I had failed at it once before.

Working in retail heavily punctuated my early work history.  And I can see the growth in responsibility over time. My first retail job was working in sales at Camelot Music (Job #2), the largest music retailer in its day.  Then there would be a few more sales staff jobs before I graduated to assistant management at a Finish Line (Job #24) and Gap (Jobs #25 and #26), then ultimately being a manager at Platypus (Job #30), Rock Creek (Job #31), then eventually back to Gap (Job #33), which was where my retail career also ended.

Retail management gets a bad rap in the business world.  Other professionals think retail management is too easy or that it's not a "real" job.  But retail management is hard work and long hours.  It's sacrificing evenings, weekends, and in some cases holidays.  It's essentially running a business:  Product Knowledge, Sales, Customer Service, Diversity & Inclusion, Personnel Management, Inventory Management, Shrinkage Management, OSHA, Operations, Merchandising.  It's gathering and analyzing information; analyzing and solving problems; making decisions and judgments; organizing and planning; using social skills; adaptability; working in teams; leading others; building consensus; self and career development; workplace health, safety and security; meeting client needs and expectations; initiating product and service improvements; sales procedures and techniques; and equipment and tools.  Basically, retail management is a crash course in business management; people with MBA's might know business jargon, but managers in retail understand how to make and increase the numbers.

And it was during my retail career that I learned where my passion really lay:  developing people.  Had I know human resources existed as a thing when I went to college, I would have majored in it.  But I fell into my career quite by accident, which is how most HR professionals start out.  HR was never my job, it was a part of my job.  But it typically was the part I enjoyed the most.  Once I started to focus on just HR as a career, I took a job as an HR Generalist (Job #35), then an HR Manager (Job #36), then an HR Director (Job #38).  And now my new job will be Global Director of Human Resources (Job #40).

Admittedly, it took me a long time to find out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Problem was, I had been in the workforce for 25 years by the time I got it all figured out.  Better late than never, perhaps.  The good news is that now I know.  And I know that I made the right decision because I keep excelling and progressing in my roles and responsibility.  I've come a long way from selling burgers and fries at McDonald's (Job #1).  But all roads led to this new job.

And I deserve it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Eleven Years A Chicagoan

Tomorrow, September 25th, marks my 11th year living in Chicago.  I moved to Chicago on September 25, 2005 - 5 weeks after having open heart surgery.  I was nervous (read:scared) and count it as one of the braver things I've ever done.

In 1995, I had moved to DC when I was 29 years old.  My whole life seemed to be ahead of me.  It was easy to take on an adventure, then.  I formally adopted my nickname as my everyday name because I thought people would think I was interesting and would want to know more about me.  I could "re-create" myself into someone who was more outgoing, more fun, even more adventurous.  That's easy to do when you are still in your Twenties.

But at 39 years old, I was far more apprehensive and unsure and didn't care for a gimmick that would make me interesting.  Mix in with that a rocky medical situation as well as no job prospects and I think anyone would be uneasy.  It took me just over two months to get a job, which is laughable today when I think about how I've since gone 5- and 6-times longer than that.  I was worried, then, that I might actually have to move back home as a result.  But it's amazing what we can accomplish when we just accept our situation and take the first steps forward.

Still, I found it difficult to adjust to living in a different place.  I no longer had my familiar group of friends around me; there was only Ashley and this new guy, Kevin.  Ashley and his brother were busy opening up Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville, and Kevin . . .  well, I wasn't sure what was happening with him.  I had just ended a relationship in DC before moving (perhaps a contributing factor to my moving in the first place) and was certain that I didn't want to start anything with anyone new, especially in a new city where I needed to make friends more than I needed a boyfriend.

In DC, I had an identity.  People knew me there, they knew my jeep, they knew who I dated, they knew where I worked, where I socialized, where I worked out.  DC is small; everyone knows everything about everyone.  That's the truth.  It's surprising that a town built on secrets really houses very few of them.

It took some time for me to find my footing in Chicago, but find it I eventually did.  Little did I know then that Kevin would eventually become The BF, and then my husband and that we'd buy a house and travel the world together.  In that 11 years of time, I've lived in 5 places here  - 2 with Ashley and 3 with Kevin - and had 5 jobs.  Ironically, the exact same number of residences and jobs that I had in the 10 years I lived in DC.

In hindsight, these past 11 years have been perfect.  I wouldn't change a thing.  I love looking back at my life to see how I've grown. And I do so again today.

Thank you, Chicago, for EVERYTHING!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Random Vacation Photos

Between Facebook and this blog, I've posted many of the pics I took while we were on our recent European cruise to the Baltic capitals.  But here are a few random pics that don't really belong anywhere but might still be amusing to some folks:

This (left) was our ship, the Norwegian Star.  It was built in 2001 and is 965 feet long and 125 feet wide.

On this ship, we sailed with 2,348 of our closest friends (many of whom we tried to avoid) as well as 1,031 crew (many of whom we tried to meet).

It had a spa, casino, several pools, a theatre, 10 bars and lounges, and way too much food.

And this (right) is "5 O'Clock Somewhere", our favorite happy hour bar on the ship.  We went here just about every night around 5:30 to hear a young man named Nathan from sing and play guitar.
We also made friends with Loan, our Caribbean server.

It was also here that we met a lovely Irish couple who invited us to stay with them should we ever visit that country - which we most assuredly will.

Sometimes the outside was simply breathtaking.  It wasn't always easy or possible to take a photo of a sunset on the ocean.  But I tried every time and this (left) was the closest I could get to a successful shot.

There were lots of other cruise ships on this same track of sea with us.  And I'm sure there were wide-eyed folks on those ships taking pictures of us just like I did of them.

When we visit the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, we were required to put on booties over our shoes (right) so as not to track dirt or possibly scuff up the gorgeous parquet and marble floors.

I'm not typically a fan of parquet floors, per se, but these were pretty magnificent.  And most were original.  We had to turn the booties back in before we left.

When I posted pictures of St. Petersburg, a few folks commented that Russia didn't look like a poor country.  But we only post pretty pictures anyway, right?  Trust me, it wasn't all pretty.

St. Petersburg only had apartment buildings, no houses.  And depending on when they were built, you can really see the Soviet influence.  Here's an example we passed (left) while driving one day.  I personally wouldn't want to live there.

When you are too sick to leave the ship and you stay behind while your family goes off, there's not much to do except walk around and take pictures of the ship.

Here is the main pool deck (right).  There wasn't a lot going on because just about everyone else was visiting St. Petersburg.  And rightly so.  Still, I wanted to take a few pictures to remember what the ship looked like.

In order to get in and out of Stockholm, the captain told us that we were only allowed to travel the bay during the daylight.  This could be because the channel was so narrow, or because there were SO MANY tiny islands in the route to the harbor, or because the noise and lights of the boat could have disturbed the locals who lived on the waterway.  Or it could have been all three reasons.

But to get in and out, we needed a special pilot who would navigate the ship from port and then embark by climbing through a hatch and down a ladder to a small boat traveling alongside our ship (left).  It was surreal to watch this guy perform this dangerous stunt, which he probably does several times a day.  Really puts the dangers of Human Resources in perspective.

So this pretty much wraps it up.  I'm sure a random story or photo will appear in future posts, but I wanted to share these soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Moving From One Thing To Another

It's a tricky thing, moving from one thing to another.  Taking steps, growing.  Reaching.  Trying.  It feels good, to spread your wings or stretch your arms - to go for something you figured could be unattainable.  And then the incredible feeling of accomplishment you get when you reach it.  It feels good.

It feels good.  And it doesn't.

Moving from one thing to another means leaving people behind.  Not forgetting about them, just perhaps not seeing them as often.  We build families around us as we journey through life, moving from one thing to another.  And we don't, or most typically can't, always take those families with us.  So they stay as we move from one thing to another.  And it can be hurtful.  And sad.  And confusing for some.  And knowing you are the cause of that hurt . . . doesn't feel good.

Despite people's best intentions of wanting to be happy for you and wishing you the best in life, there is still hurt.  You can see it, feel it.  It's like a hug from a stranger.

Many times in my life, I've moved from one thing to another: new job, different apartment, changed cities, acquired boyfriends.  Each time, the future looked brighter for some reason.  Each time I was taking steps, growing, reaching, and trying to spread my wings - even if just a little bit.  Edging closer and closer the person I eventually want to be.  And people have been happy for me as I moved from one thing to another.  Some people.  Some people were not happy.  And I knew that I was the cause of that not happy.  And it didn't feel good.

So the question is, how do we juggle and then balance the good we feel along with the not good?  And how do we reassure the people who are not happy that moving from one thing to another is the right thing to do?  And how do we vanquish the not happy from our lives so that we can focus on just the happy... and the good?

The human experience is fraught with dichotomy.  Moving from one thing to another is a predominantly selfish act of balancing the good with the not good, the happy with the not happy, all in hopes that the attained goal rewards us with just good and happy.  The realist that I am knows that it doesn't always work out that way because some of the not good and not happy remains, and for some reason never goes away.

But the optimist in me (yes, there is one) knows that I need to keep taking these steps, growing, reaching, trying, because ultimately it's only MY journey.  And despite trying to reassure those people - the family that I can't take with me - that nothing will change, it will.  Moving from one thing to another is sad and scary and exciting for everyone, whether or not they, too, are moving from one thing to another, or not.

I am about to advance in my journey.  I stepped, grew, reached, and tried for something I thought could be unattainable.  And I accomplished it.  And the feeling is incredible.  I have no way of knowing if this is the right thing to do, but, again, it's all part of MY journey.  And, unfortunately, not all of the family I created where I am will be able to come along with me.  And that makes it not feel good.

But some of the family I created will be coming along to cheer, support, and root for me.  And that feels good.  It feels good.  And that's the part I am going to focus on as I move from one thing to another.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Favorite Part(s) Of My Baltic Vacation

Similar to the post I wrote last year when we returned from our European-Vacation-Slash-Delayed-Honeymoon, this is a post about what I liked about each city we recently visited on our 2,158.4 nautical-mile-cruise around the European capitals on the Baltic Sea.  And like last year, I preface it all by saying that my most favorite part about traveling anywhere is doing it with Kevin.  Fortunately for us, we travel well together.  And this time we had the added bonus of his parents, Pat and Dianne, joining us for the escapades.

Copenhagen, Denmark

I'll start off by saying that ALL of the cities we visited this time felt completely different than the ones we visited last year.  The standouts from last year's trip for me are Bruges and Ghent, both in Belgium.  Both were small, contained towns where little has changed in the last few hundred years.  But on this trip, all of these cities have been modernized and, to some degree, westernized as well.

Copenhagen was the first stop and the embarkation of our cruise.  We arrived on a Friday afternoon and the cruise began the next day, so we really only had a few hours to enjoy the city.  Once we dumped our luggage in our hotel (that had no A/C, I might add), we went out to walk the town.

The Promenade Pavilion
Inside Tivoli Gardens
The standout for me was Tivoli Gardens, which, somehow, I didn't even know existed. Opening in 1843, it is the 2nd oldest functioning amusement park in the world.  It is essentially the European Disneyland.  AND - I got in for free!  While standing in line to buy 4 tickets, a stranger approached me and said he could get one of us in for free on his pass.  And my family, completely disregarding my safety in a foreign country, said, "Great, see you inside!"  Once I got in, the stranger shook my hand and wished me a fun time, then walked away.  Odd, but economical.

What was also cool about Copenhagen is that it was the only city on our trip that we saw at night.  On future stops, the cruise ship sets a return-to-ship deadline of 4 or 5PM, so you don't get to see what places look like at night.  And frankly, that's when most of these old cities are at their most charming, in my opinion.  It's fun to walk around and see the lights.  Every place is a different place when the sun goes down.

A fun surprise occurred after we departed Copenhagen port on the ship.  The captain, who was a pretty chatty fella when you stick a loudspeaker in his hand, invited the guests to look off the port bow of the ship where, in the far distance, you could see the outline of an old castle.  The castle, Kronberg off the coast of Denmark, was the castle William Shakespeare immortalized as Elsinore in his tragedy play, Hamlet.  I mean, nothing really noteworthy actually happened here, but it will be cool to be able to visualize Elsinore the next time I see or read any part of Hamlet.

Schwerin, Germany

Schwerin Palace in Germany
There is really only one thing to see in Schwerin (pronounced Shver-EEN), and that's the Schwerin Palace or castle. The palace is a behemoth that rises from a tiny island in the middle of the city's main lake.  The castle is certainly impressive and parts of it date back to the 10th century.  The palace had gardens, a stone grotto, a throne room, paintings of long-dead ancestors, the whole shebang.  Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and super cute (she had spent a year living in Wisconsin on an exchange program so we chatted about Chicago).

After the palace tour, we walked through a little bit of the town, which was hosting its version of a Renaissance Fair.  It seemed much more authentic than the few we've visited here in the states with friends.  We mostly just took photos for "Ye Olde Neil".  There was this ONE entertaining thing that happened....

This stop on the cruise was mainly so folks could take a high speed train from the port in Rostock to Berlin.  We opted not to do that, since we were in Berlin last year.  So we took this day trip as part of an excursion with some other folks.  It was nice to drive through the country and see what lies between Berlin and the port.

Tallinn, Estonia

Since Tallinn was the first Baltic capital we visited, it was pretty much the first REAL stop on our trip since we bypassed Berlin.  And Tallinn did not disappoint.  After disembarking, Kevin led us all to Linnahall, a 5,000-seat relic of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.  Forgotten in an ugly/gorgeous kind of way, it was interesting to think about how impressive this must have been at one time.  The sad part was that we could no actually enter this monstrosity, but it was still cool to walk around.

After that, we relied on Rick Steves to guide us through the rest of our town tours.  This guy is priceless.  Seriously - buy his guidebooks before you go anywhere!  He led us down Pikk through the lower old town of Tallinn.  Tallinn, like most old European cities, was a walled city in the good ol' days.  Tallinn actually had 2 walls, that separated the upper town from the lower town and also served to double the town's defenses against attack and invasion.

Highlights of our walking tour were 1) the views, which were amazing.  Tallinn was smart enough to create viewpoint plazas on some of its highest streets.  So even on a rainy day, which was how we experienced Tallinn, the views were still amazing.  Foggy, but amazing.

And 2) having coffee atop one of the wall sections.  This was not part of Rick Steves' tour, but we were standing in front of a section of one of the walls that was probably about 40-45 feet high.  We we looked up, we could see people walking across the top.  So we climbed the most narrow set of winding stairs that exist in Europe and reached a coffee shop, the Kohvik Dannebrog Cafe, that was amazingly doing a nice business atop this wall.  And they had free wifi!

For me, this drove home the fact that sometimes you just have to go off-path and allow your curiosity to dictate the next steps you take, especially when visiting a (safe) foreign country.  This was how Kevin and I experienced Europe last year.  We certainly learned more about what we were seeing this time, but perhaps the best way to sightsee is a mixture of organized tour and just following your nose.

St. Petersburg, Russia

A few weeks later and I still cannot believe I was actually in Russia.  Despite having initial trouble getting into the country, St. Petersburg was everything I had always hoped it would be.  The City of the Tsars was a place I had been reading about for many years.  Similar to my interest in British Royalty, I've also had a great interest in the Tsars of Russia.  And like London, St. Petersburg was a place I never thought I would ever visit.

What surprised me the most about St. Petersburg was the colors of the buildings.  There is a rule or law (according to our tour guide, Anna), that because  this city only gets about 60 days of sunshine per year, certain buildings must be painted a pastel or Caribbean color such as light blue, pink and yellow.  Otherwise, gray would be the only color everyone would see due to lack of sunlight.  Makes total sense - but was still a surprise.

We had two days in St. Petersburg, so Day 1 was spent visiting Peterhof (above), the summer palace of Peter, The Great, and Catherine Palace (right), the summer palace of his wife, Catharine.  To say these places werre opulent would be an understatement.  Russians love gold leaf.  And they used it ad nauseam in their decorating.  Peter loved fountains; Catherine loved amber.  And both were on full display in their respective palaces.  We also got to visit a few Metro (subway stations).  Why?  Because Metro stations in St. Petersburg are amazing!  Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev built them double as underground bomb shelters during the Cold War.  So they are ornate and vividly decorated.

On Day 2, I stayed behind on the cruise ship because I wasn't feeling well.  Coming off of the summer I had, I didn't want to push myself and risk getting a sinus infection or even a cold.  So my family went on without me to visit Church on Spilled Blood, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and then did some shopping in downtown St. Petersburg.  If I learned anything on this day, it was that I would never want to cruise alone.  I got a lot of reading done, but mostly just napped and wandered around the ship.  It was kinda fun to sit on the balcony and see them return from their day trip, though.

Helsinki, Finland

The next day we left the bright colors of Russia for the earth tones of Helsinki.

Missing the 2nd day in Russia proved to be a good idea, as I'd seemed to abate my cold.  As much as I hated missing the place where the Tsars are buried, it was good to not push myself and then possibly miss Helsinki and Stockholm.  Plus I was able to finally finished the book I'd been reading for almost a year!

Again doing a walking tour, we left the ship early and walked through the town to start at the Market Square off of the Esplanade.  From there, we wound our way through the city, seeing such sites as Senat Square, the train station designed by Eliel Saarinen, and the Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall.  But the two highlights in Helsinki for me, interestingly enough, were both churches:

The Chapel of Silence, or Kamppi Chapel, is located in the middle of a market square at the entrance
to a shopping center.  The chapel is intended to be a place where people can have a moment of silence and meet each other.  It offers the opportunity to calm down in what is arguably the busiest area of Finland.  There are no services conducted here; it's simply a place for quiet reflection and peace.  Outside, the chapel is imposing without being overbearing.  It's curved shape allows pedestrians to easily pass by it.  But inside, the oval shape creates a feeling of safety and embrace.  I'll admit, it was difficult to leave this sanctuary.

The second church as aptly named, Rock Church or Temppeliaukio Kirrko.  Outside, it resembled an old burial mound.  But inside, the circular church is essentially carved out of bare rock with a ceiling made out of copper wire.  The natural acoustics make this an excellent concert hall as well.  Water trickles down the rock walls and the place is about as serene as it can get.

Panorama inside Temppeliaukio Kirrko
We put the guidebook down for the walk back to the ship and just followed whatever interested us.  Helsinki, like Copenhagen, does a good job as mixing its old and new.  It seems as if both Helsinki and Copenhagen just modernized organically.  Tallinn had its obvious "old town" area separate from its growth.  But in Copenhagen and Helsinki, it all seemed to blend together - and quite nicely, too.

Stockholm, Sweden

Our last stop on this trip was Stockholm, birthplace of IKEA so I expected to love every piece of furniture I saw.  And once again, the colors of the building changed.  Where St. Petersburg was pastels and Hensinki was earth tones, Stockholm was deep rust and orange and dark yellow.  I'm betting all these places look amazing in the snow.  And perhaps that's the reason for the color variations.

Of all the cities we visited on this trip, I found Stockholm to be the most charming.  Narrow, cobblestone streets, twisting pathways, little market squares.  But the architecture in the modern section of town was equally interesting.  There was a definite separation between the old and the new, but I enjoyed being in both spaces.  Of the 6 cities, Stockholm was the one in which I could live, if I needed to make that choice.

We spent a good amount of time just walking down Vasterlanggatan, the touristy drag, and (left) Prastgatan ("Priest's Lane").  We popped our heads into a German church ("Tyska kyrkan") on this street which was originally named for the residences of three chaplains and a bell ringer built there in the 16th century.

We visited the royal palace and managed to witness the changing of the guard ceremony.

It was really cool to see the Nobel Museum where the annual dinner is held and the Prizes are awarded every year.  Its located on Stortorget, the oldest market square in Stockholm that includes the original water well for the town that's still connected to today's water conduit.

We walked back to the ship knowing this was pretty much the end of our cruise (still had one full day at sea).  This was an AMAZING vacation and truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I doubt I will ever go back to any of these cities again - the thought of which was not lost on me.  So I really tried to absorb as much as I could.  There were moments when I would just stand and look around me, listening to the pulse of a foreign city, hearing people conversing in a different language, smelling the unfamiliar foods, watching people going about their everyday lives - no doubt inconvenienced by the myriad of tourists who descend upon their cities every day.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Russia Thinks I'm FBI

So, funny story...

Once we got off the cruise ship in St. Petersburg, Russia, we had to go through border control and have our passports approved and stamped for accepted temporary entry into the country, in lieu of having to purchase a visitor's visa.  The rule is that Russia will waive the visa as long as the visitor is escorted throughout the city by a Russian tour guide.  This would somehow seem shadier if we were in Moscow, but it ended up feeling just oddly curious given that we were in St. Petersburg, arguably the most Western-influenced city in that entire country.

It's always a little nerve-wracking to go through customs or border control, even when you are a law-abiding citizen.  You are essentially at the mercy of non-Americans in a non-American country who espouse non-American beliefs yet still possess the very American ideals of suspicion and conspiracy theories.

So we, Kevin, his parents and me, are standing in the border patrol line with out passports and proof of tour in-hand.  Kevin goes through first so he can connect with our Russian tour guide on the other side.  Then Kevin's dad went through, followed by his mom.  Each time, the border patrol officer would take the passport, look at it, look at the person, look at the passport, do something out of view like look at a computer or scan the photo or play Soduko, then eventually stamp the passport and approve the entry.  Each person took about 20 seconds or so. Then it was my turn.

Because I somehow invite weirdness into my life by some unseen flashing bulb on top of my head, I should have known this would be weird.  I approached the thick glass window and passed my documents through to the officer.  He looked at me, then at my passport, then at me, then down again.  After about 15 seconds, he leaned in and said (in his thick Russian accent) "I need to see your military ID."  I'm sure my usual, uncontrollable look of WTF flashed across my face.  "I don't have a military ID" was my response.  "No?" he said?  "No" I replied.  He looked down again and after a few seconds looked back up at me.

"Are you a cop?" he asked.  "No, I'm not a cop."  He looked down again, then gave me a sly look.  "Teacher?"  "No, I'm not a teacher."  His expression never changed; he remained emotionless.  There was no clue that he was just having fun with me or if he was dead serious.  But I erred on the side of believing he was dead serious.  Because at this point, he got up out of his chair, opened his door and yelled for someone to come assist him (which I can only assume is what happened since it was yelled in Russian and someone showed up about 30 seconds later).  It was also at this point that I turned to look at my family who were standing about 30 feet away, basically in another country, looking at me inquisitively.  "They think I'm a cop" was all I could mouth to them.

And I got the sudden rush of thinking, "holy shit they are going to escort me to a small white room with fluorescent lighting and make me admit that I really AM a cop... or a soldier... or an English teacher (?).

Office Number 2 arrived and the two officers began conversing in Russian.  Admittedly, I am still a little unnerved.  Again, I'm in a foreign country at the mercy of border patrol.  If they decide I'm not telling them the truth, they can just take me away.  No questions asked.  And no one could do anything about it.  So I tried to stay calm without looking like I was actually hiding something.  After a minute or so, Officer Number 2, a young blonde guy, came out of the office and in a more friendly tone asked me if I worked for the police.  I told him I didn't.

"What is your job?" he asked, also in a thick Russian accent.

When I responded that I work in non-profit, I was met with blank stares.  So I altered it to say I worked in a charity.  I quickly assumed that telling them I work in Human Resources would be a completely baffling statement so I hoped the word "charity" would translate easier.

The two officers talked again.  I wish I knew what they were saying but Officer Number 1 seemed to be incredulous.  After more talking, Officer Number 2 simply asked me, "Do you work for the FBI?"  At this point, I couldn't contain myself and I simply laughed out loud.  Office Number 2 laughed as well.  Officer Number 1, notsomuch.  "No, I don't work for the FBI."  I REALLY wanted to ask them why they were asking me or what is it about me that makes them think I am with some form of law enforcement (or perhaps teach law enforcement?).  But I assessed that this was neither the place nor time to try to make friends, so I basically prayed that they believed me and hoped for the best.

After a little more discussion, I assume Officer Number 2 approved me and Officer Number 1 reluctantly stamped my passport and allowed me to enter Russia.  I met my family and gave them the details.  I guess I can feel comforted by the fact that I look like I can take care of myself.  And that I am, apparently, the Russian ideal for what looks like law enforcement in that country.  If things start to go south for me job-wise again, I could probably get a gig in St. Petersburg.

Or - and I flatter myself here - perhaps I bore too much of a resemblance to Sean Connery in one of my favorite movies, "The Hunt for Red October", where he plays a Russian who defects to the United States and takes the USSR's prize submarine with him.  Who knows?

But if you are ever in St. Petersburg and you are stopped by a police officer, it's not me.  Or is it?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

13 Countries in 1 Year

I have lots of stories to share about our recent cruise visiting the Baltic capitals of Europe.  I still can't get over the fact that I was actually in Russia.  IN RUSSIA.  It's going to take some time for that to sink in completely.

On one of our last nights on the trip, Kevin asked me how many countries I (and by some extent, he as well) have been in over the past year.  And the number is impressive when I consider that for the first 49 years of my life, I'd only been in the US, Canada, and Mexico - which is still two more countries than most Americans ever visit.  But over the last 11 months, I've added 13 countries to that original list of 3:

  1. Germany
  2. Czech Republic
  3. Austria
  4. Luxembourg
  5. Brussels
  6. France
  7. England
  8. Ireland
  9. Denmark
  10. Estonia
  11. Russia
  12. Finland
  13. Sweden

So for someone whose first overseas trip was less than a year ago, this list is pretty impressive.  And by my side through is all has been my favorite traveling partner who continues to push me a little further than I think I can go because he knows I can.  And to that I say,

"Я счастливый человек"