How I Learned About THAT…

In support of those who walk this path alone …

This blog post was originally written in Russian about ten years ago. In the information vacuum of nowaday’s Russia, it was reposted multiple times and hopefully helped a large number of young gay people and their parents to navigate life challenges. 

I thought that at the present moment, this post is valuable only from the historical perspective. But to my surprise, it turned out that many people are still not completely aware of what it means to be homosexual. And I decided to write this post again, this time – in English. Here it comes.

***

People often ask me when did I learn about Vlad’s sexual orientation. The short answer: shortly after he had figured it out about himself. Which was a little bit after Anna suspected that it was the case. At that time, he was a couple of months short of being fourteen, and I’ve noticed that he looked sad and concerned for several days. I was bugging him with the questions, what was wrong, but he brushed off my concerns. That could not deceive me; I was sure that something serious is going on. Finally, I got a chance to talk to him one night when everybody else was out.  

I asked him to share with me what was wrong. He started: you are going to be very disappointed with me. Perhaps, you won’t love me anymore, but I need to tell you something. I think that I am gay. 

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A Little Bit Crazy Baking Saturday Night

Baking was my priority last Saturday, along with twenty other priorities. There were several recipes I wanted to try, besides, my quarterly over cleaning was on my calendar, and I wanted to make sure I bake before that. Well, the latter one is just an excuse :).

First I baked the apple cider donut cake

Also, I baked two kinds of pumpkin muffins. One oil-free and another almost vegan 🙂

Dry Michigan cherries and walnuts added:)

How I Reorganized My Life

It has been a week since I’ve returned from my trip to Helsinki, and I made some positive improvements in my life this week. I can’t tell for sure why these changes would be connected to my trip to Helsinki, but I think they are. Most likely, the reason is that as it usually happens, such trips allow me to look at my life from a distance, to judge better, what’s a real source of stress, and how I can deal with it.

One positive change I made was getting back to my 5 – 5.5 hours of sleep per night. That had been my norm for many years, and I know that even half and how less affects my productivity. However, for about three weeks before ai left for my trip, I would sleep only four hours or less a night, including the weekends. I was telling myself that I do not have an option since I have so much work every day. But the reality was that I could not be productive. So for the whole this week, I’ve followed a simple rule: when my “time to go to bed” rings, I would stop whatever I am doing (maybe finish a sentence or a paragraph first) and proceed with all my before bed to-do list. That helped a big deal because I would wake up at my normal 4-30, not tired, and was way more productive during the day.

The second thing might be questionable for many people but works perfectly for me. I m always saying that my work-life balance is such that my work is my life :). However, for several weeks before my trip, I felt like I can’t do anything besides work if there is still some work to do, and this would last forever. I didn’t like it because it would take away other vital parts of my life, but I didn’t know how to break the cycle.
So what I finally decided was that I switched to one “master” to-do list. I think I am enough big girl to judge how important are different things in my life relative to each other, and I know how to prioritize. And if I feel OK doing some work stuff at 10 PM, because it is important, I should also feel OK to do some non-work stuff at 1 PM, if this is the right time, and the task is high enough in my priority list.

That was a life-changing decision. This week felt like no other. As I like to say, nobody gives me more than 24 hours a day, but I felt like I’ve accomplished a lot this week, and didn’t leave any essential tasks behind.

Deep Work – the book review

Somebody recently liked my old post, which prompted me to reread it:). Turned out, it is very relevant in my current state of affairs, hence reblogging 🙂

The World of Data

A couple of months ago, when I was super-stressed about not being able to do any work at work, my daughter has recommended me to read a book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

There were several interesting ideas which I liked, and several helpful techniques which came just in time for me to complete a couple of tasks, which required to be 100% focused on them. The idea that you need to isolate yourself from distractions to be able to accomplish a serious task is trivial, but hard to follow :). When starting those “deep sessions” for the first time, I’ve realized that I’ve been doing a similar thing long time ago, when I was a single working mother with two small children and another in grade school, and in order to be competitive I had to squeeze the eight hours worth of work into…

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Student’s Life: Financials

The economic situation of a student in the Soviet Union was very different from the one of the nowadays US college student. Even then, different people had different experiences, and I am going to describe how it looked for me.

We didn’t have to pay anything for our education, and most of us didn’t work, especially during the first two years. As I’ve mentioned previously, most of the college students lived with their parents, so technically speaking, you didn’t have any significant expenses. Most of the college students had government stipends. You would get 40 rubles a month if you didn’t fail any exams in the previous semester, 46 rubles if you got all B and A, and 50 rubles if you got all A.

Different families decided differently on how their college-age children would spend their stipends. Some would request to contribute all the money to the “family fund,” some would say: whatever you want to do with this money, up to you. But most families presumed that their college-age child would start covering some of their expenses. Most often, it would be public transportation, lunches at the University, school supplies, and some of the clothing.

That was doable, but you needed to plan carefully, which not that many of the students could do. Although my Mom taught me to record expenses since I was twelve, it was challenging for me to stay on the budget, when I had my own money for the first time. I guess money management is something you have to figure out from your personal experience.

The most substantial expense was food, lunches in the University, and whenever in the city I would end up wondering after classes were over. We didn’t have a concept of a brown-bag lunch, neither in grade school nor in the University or later at work.

The University cafeterias had commercial espresso machines, although we had no idea back then, that’s what it was :). The “small regular” meant one expresso shot, the “large regular” meant americano, a “double small” meant double espresso, and then it was a “large double” – and americano with an extra espresso shot. And there was no milk of any kind to add to your coffee unless you buy a carton of milk.

The most common food was a hotdog, but it was not what you think. It was a single hotdog boiled in hot water with a piece of rye bread. No hot dog bun, no relish, no mustard, no onions. That would be my typical lunch. Or you could buy two hot dogs. There could be some pastry, and I am trying to recall why I didn’t buy it. Also, there were chocolate bars with filling. And it always felt very exquisite when you purchase a double coffee and a chocolate bar. The bar cost 55 kopecks, more than a hot dog, and it felt like a gigantic waste of money, but it felt so cool :).

If we planned to go somewhere after we return to the city from the campus, we would usually eat pyshkas, a kind of donuts, in a small place right by the Baltic railway station. One pyshka cost 5 kopecks, and a “coffee” – a drink made of dissolved sweet concentrated milk with a coffee flavor – cost 11 kopeks. So for 51 kopecks, you could get four pyshkas and a coffee and be hunger-free until late evening. That was my and other people’s dinner more often than you can imagine.

The public transportation cost from 3 to 5 kopecks a ride, depending on the type of transportation, and electric train tickets were discounted big for students, especially if you buy 3- or 6-month pass. Those passes were non-transferable and had an owner name written in.

A Typical Day of the Student of the Leningrad State University(circa 1980)

On a typical day, I would wake up, have a cup of coffee (instant or greek, we didn’t have coffee makers) with a little bit of something, and head to the Baltic railway station. There was no subway station close to where I lived back then, so I had to take a tram for about 20 min and then walk.

Each class in the University was divided into groups, like homerooms at school, and everybody in a group would have the same schedule for all subjects, except for English and PE. We felt like one unit, and usually took a train together. Many groups had a designated train car (something like “the third from the locomotive”), and everybody would sit together. In some cases, people might get on the train at one of the subsequent stops, but they would still find their group, and those who got on the train earlier, would hold places for them.

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Attending the University: Military Studies, Schedules and Transportation

Last week, when I was in Helsinki, I also went to Saint-Petersburg for two days. There was nothing neither touristy nor nostalgic in this visit. I had an appointment with the realtor, and I also visited the HSE, where Boris is now teaching. Visiting this school and seeing how normal it is, made me think yet another time about my years as a student. I realized I’ve stopped blogging about this segment of my history, and now I will continue from where I stopped last time. There will be several posts describing our everyday life as students in the early 1980s.

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The Best Thing to Eat in Finland – the Salmon Soup

One of the best things in Finland is Finnish cuisine. Although it’s difficult for me to select just one thing which is ultimately the best if pressed to make a choice, I will choose the Finnish salmon soup.

Boris and I have a whole grading system for the establishments in Helsinki and around, which serve the salmon soup. Sometimes the place we love would stop serving the salmon soup or do not serve it every day, or the quality degrades. However, for the past several months, our Number One salmon soup place is a ravintola by the pier of Suomenlinna, right where the passengers disembark for the ferry.

I do not know why it is almost never too crowded. Perhaps, because people think that the first place they come across can’t be the best. Or maybe they do not like salmon soup as much :).

But we made a choice. Sometimes, when we do not even have time to walk around the island, we come there just for the soup – after all, it’s only 15 minutes of the ferry ride. For 10 euros you get a quart of soup as thick as a stew, yummy like nothing else, as much of the freshly baked baguette as you want and a cup of coffee or tea.

Taking Pictures: a Funny Thing Happened

I was talking tons of fall foliage pictures in Helsinki because this time of the year, the colors in Finland are already breathtakingly beautiful. And if didn’t even start in Illinois :).

Boris’ apartment is right by the Sibelius park, which means any time you get outside, there is plenty to marvel, and tons of pictures are just asking to be taken.


I was taking this picture (the sun was setting slowly and shining through the yellow leaves) when I saw a car on the opposite side of the road slowing down, just like the passerby would slow down when they see you taking pictures on the street.


I could not believe this slowing down was related to me :). After all, it was the opposite side of the street. May be they slow down for the red light ahead? But then… the car made a U-turn and slowed down, almost stopped, right in front of me. I saw a guy on the back seat looking out from the rolled down window, holding the camera! And he was taking a picture of this tree! After he was finished, the car drove away.


Maybe you won’t find it funny, but we laughed for another good twenty minutes, recalling the incident.

More of the Finnish beauty:

Chick Tech Chicago Meetup. RealTalk: Workplace Harassment

I attended this meetup in September, during this crazy week before I left for Helsinki. And although it has been a while, I still want to write about it. Interestingly, just before that, I completed a mandatory harassment training, so everything was pretty fresh. This was the first time I completed such training for managers, which gave me a new perspective.

The meetup agenda said:

In this discussion, we will be diving into a tough topic. Workplace harassment can be very difficult to handle and highly unexpected. We’ll learn from our speakers on real-life examples in which you can navigate situations and how to maintain your own communication through a very difficult situation.

Speakers:
Cassi Hansen, VP of People Operations at Nerdery
Debbie Pickus, Founder and CEO of Team Fireball Inc.
Laura Khalil, Executive Coach at Force of Badassery

I would describe this more like a panel because as you can see from this description, the speakers were the subject matter experts. Each of them had a lot to offer in terms of how to fight harassment at the workplace. We were going through many real-life examples, many of which sounded very much alike to the ones presented in my training.

One of the topics which came up was the question of how women, who are sexually harassed at work can find their allies, how they can stand for themselves when the source of harassment is somebody in the authoritative position.

My thoughts were going in a little bit different direction since the same training reminded me that there are many kinds of harassment, and one in particular, which bothers me a lot.

Then I decided to tell my story.


Once at one of my previous jobs, a co-worker stopped by and asked whether we could talk in private. When we were behind the closed doors, she procced with saying she is a messenger of other folks. Although I do not like characterizing people by their national origin, it is important for the story. She was a green card holder, and the other folks on behalf of whom she was speaking were from the same country of origin, but they were alien workers, holding the work visas.

She proceeded with the long list of complaints about their manager, who treated them poorly, was mean to them, was presenting their results as his own, and so on. Knowing the situation, I had no reason not to believe. But then my coworker said: they are afraid they will be fired and will have to leave the country. They are afraid to go to HR. And even if you will go and tell HR what’s going on, if HR calls on them, they will deny everything because they are afraid of retaliation. I asked – then what do you want me to do? She said: please go and talk to our director! Maybe he will be able to do something.

I knew that it would be impossible to do something without HR, but I went to my director anyways. His response was as I’ve expected: there is no way around HR.

This happened many years ago, but I still do not know what’s a good way to resolve such a situation. And when I shared this story with the meeup, nobody had a good answer…