Sunday, April 14, 2013

From Hong Kong to England via Panama (Monday Listicles)

Today's Monday Listicles topic is "ten chapters in my autobiography," and I figured that anyone reading this blog regularly probably knows way more about my life than he or she wants to. Then I wrote a draft of "the next ten chapters in my life," but then I decided to honor my mother-in-law with a post on her 74th birthday--she has led a highly interesting life! So, here's to Olga!

1. Born in Hong Kong in 1939 to Russian parents who wanted her to gain British citizenship. Raised speaking Russian. Moved to China with her family for several years--she was there during the time of Japanese occupation, but she doesn't remember much about it.

2. Moved to Panama, where she began learning Spanish and met Mike's dad while they were both working at the British Embassy. English is her third language.

Edward, Kathleen, and Michael
3. Had three children--two sons and one daughter--while living all around the world--after Panama, in Honduras, Switzerland, and Australia and probably somewhere else I can't remember.
The children with Mamu

4. Sent all her children away at very young ages (9 or 10) to boarding school in England. I can't imagine how difficult this must have been. And through her life, she has acclimated to her children living far away from her. Clearly, travel and embracing of other cultures are in their blood...and she has places to travel to, as well!

Hugh, Mike, Olga, and Ed
5. Lost her brother, Alex, at a very young age, of a sudden heart attack. Her mother, Mamu as her kids called her, lived with them for many years until she died. Although she lost her nuclear family far too young, she has a wonderfully close relationship to Nancy, Alex's widow, and her family, who live in Florida.

Mike receiving his M.Phil from Oxford
6. Saw all three of her children graduate from college, get married, and have children (7 grandchildren in total).

Olga and Hugh at our wedding
7. Traveled all around the world with my father-in-law, Hugh, enjoying their retirement.

Photo of Hugh taken on our last trip to England, the year before he died
8. Became widowed in her early 50s, when Hugh died far too early and suddenly from a heart attack. She discovered him in the garage when she returned home from shopping. He had been to the doctor earlier that day, and he had just finished mowing the lawn. It was completely devastating to everyone, but especially to her.

Carrying Chris in the Baby Bjorn up our front steps
9. Actually blossomed in widowhood, becoming very independent and continuing in her frequent travels, especially to visit us in Oregon and Mike's brother in Australia. When she would come to Portland, she'd take herself off on the TriMet bus and spend her day downtown shopping and wandering. Went to Russia for the first time and cruised on the Volga--"Olga on the Volga."

With Kath, Victoria, and Kieran in 2004
 10. Last year, after several decades of estrangement, became reconnected with her adopted brother-in-law in Panama once again. She hadn't heard from him since not long after they moved away from Panama, but his grandson found her via the Internet. Last year when she visited Oregon, they had a one-hour-long discussion by Skype, in Spanish.

Rare photo with nearly all the grandchildren (Nicholas had crawled away!), 2007
Olga is incredibly creative--she made our boys beautiful baby sweaters when they were little, and she loves to sew, bead, and make handicrafts. For Mike's birthday this year, she gave him 50 presents for 50 years--and did the same when he turned 40. Kieran got 10 presents for turning 10. She also raised Mike to write fiction, I believe. When they lived in Switzerland, Mike was fascinated with Tibet. She wanted him to eat chipped beef so she told him that it was yak meat! It worked.
Baby Nicholas in one of Olga's sweaters
And of course, the best thing she has done is raise three amazing children. Each one of them are bright, funny, kind, adventurous, and open to new experiences. All three of her children--including her two sons--are their children's primary caregivers, and the boys in particular love to cook. I'm so grateful to her for raising Mike so well!

Olga has been visiting us since mid-March and she leaves this week. She came for Mike's 50th birthday, Easter, and the April birthdays of my dad, Kieran, and her own. It hasn't been her most-enjoyable visit, because she's been sick for the past few weeks, with a hacking cough. Consequently, she also hasn't had much energy. Next she's on to Florida to visit Nancy and family...I'm sure the warmer weather will do wonders. I hope she has a marvelous birthday and has a healthier stay next time she comes to visit!
Celebrating her birthday last year in Oregon with her sister-in-law Nancy, Mike, and me (2012)

Read more Monday Listicles at The Good Life, by Stasha, who in the last week has become famous for her amazing photos of her son and his Newfoundland (they hit Buzzfeed!).


  1. Olga on the Volga. Love it! Happy Birthday to your MIL!!

  2. What an exciting life. Olga certainly knows how to live. Am a wee bit jealous of all her travels. How wonderful and it's easy to see she is surrounded by love.

  3. That's really cool about giving the number of presents for each year of birth - how cool is that!!! Thanks for sharing the interesting life that Olga has led and continues to lead. i am inspired to follow all of my travel dreams - even if I have to go at it alone. OK...maybe I'm getting beside myself on that part...I am inspired to follow all of my travel dreams - even if I have to bribe my sweetie with something amazing.

    Yona from