I’ve Realized One Interesting Thing…

When I started my LiveJournal blog 12 years ago, one of the goals I had in mind was to tell my Russian friends about America “from inside.” Not like there are not enough Russians living in the US, but I’ve credited myself for looking at the life which surrounded me with the wide-opened eyes. I was curious, I wanted to understand, and I had my American co-workers, who thought of me as a complete savage (which was a good thing in this case :)), and educated me about everything.

I knew what could be interesting for my Russian audience. I would explain lots of things, which were so obvious and trivial to the locals, that they could never imagine somebody needs any explanations on them.

Funny enough, I am doing a similar thing now but in the opposite direction. I am writing for my American audience, and since I live here for 23 years by now, I understand, which parts I need to explain in detail. And if I won’t be a part of both countries, I would not even know that the explanations are necessary 🙂

Healthy Living For Baby Boomers

I often talk to people who are about my age or older, or a little bit younger, trying to motivate them to be more engaged in physical activities and overall, to have a healthier lifestyle. I am an excellent motivator :), so most of the time there are some positive outcomes.

Some time ago (about six months, to be exact) I came across the article in the Chicago Tribune, which I liked a lot. I decided to paste it’s full text here because people do not like to click on the links, and there are way fewer chances somebody will read it, if it is not copy-pasted.

The reason I often post my pictures with all the muscules exposed is not that I like to show-off, but because people believe more in what I am saying when they can see results not on TV, but on the real person. Most importantly, I try to draw people away from the preception, that their health should decline with age, that this is normal.

It takes moxie to flip an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one particularly for folks 60 and older.

Here is the article:

Most baby boomers approach retirement age unwilling to follow basic healthy lifestyle goals established by the American Heart Association, said Dr. Dana King, professor and chairman of the department of family medicine at West Virginia University, referencing his university’s 2017 study comparing the healthy lifestyle rates of retired late-middle-aged adults with rates among those still working.

Continue reading “Healthy Living For Baby Boomers”

What I Thought About The Foreign Countries

To build on my previous post, I am thinking about our perception of foreigners back in the Soviet Union. It was not about “foreign countries,” it was not about “international tourists,” it was about “Abroad” as a noun, “Zagranitza” in Russian.

The word means “behind the border” or “over the border,” anything which lies outside the borders of your country. I never thought of it back then, but now it seems funny for me that this word exists in the Russian language.

Zagranitza was scary and exciting at the same time. And when I am trying to analyze my past thoughts and feelings, I have to agree that they were very inconsistent and conflicting.

Continue reading “What I Thought About The Foreign Countries”

About Journaling

When I decided to abandon my previous blog and to focus on family history here on WordPress, some of my friends had asked me how I am going to survive without daily journaling.

At first, I didn’t think much about it. But after a while, I’ve realized that I want to continue my daily journaling, even if virtually nobody is reading. I what to write about my life for the same reason as previous generations were keeping paper diaries – for themselves to remember what was going on, and for future generations to find it out :).

One of the most important things which your journal gives to you is the ability to observe your personality transformation. Now, when I read my journal records from ten or twelve years ago, I can vividly remember how I felt and what I thought at that time.

But unfortunately, although I was journaling for extensive periods of my life, this process was not consistent. My friends resent that there is no Livejournal from the years when my children were just born, and being honest; I regret it myself:).

So one of the things I am trying to do now is to fill this gap retroactively. I am trying to recall as precise as possible, how I felt about events at the time they were happening, what were my believes, how I saw the world, and how I’ve reconciled in my head all the things I saw.

Such posts as good examples of a bitemporal framework, which is something from my professional life; I can say that they are “effective in the past, asserted now.” If you understand, what I mean:).

Cooked: Survival By ZIP Code

In these super-hot July days, when the temperature climbs to the 100s, I’ve attended the screening of the documentary Cooked: Survival By The ZIP Code. I watched it on Monday, unfortunately almost the only screening without any public discussion as a follow-up. That was my only option to see it, and I am happy I went, but boy, how much you want to discuss this movie after the final acknowledgments appear on the screen!

From the Siskel center website:

Inspired by Eric Klineberg’s book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Helfand (BLUE VINYL) takes a hard, personal, and often quirky look at the inequity of natural disaster, beginning with her family’s own experience of Hurricane Sandy. She ultimately zeroes in on Chicago’s shockingly inadequate response to the deadly July 1995 heatwave, during which the city morgue overflowed with the sudden deaths of 726 citizens, largely the elderly and people of color from the city’s impoverished South and West Side. This audacious look at natural disaster American-style starts with the stark premise that a zip code can be an accurate predictor of life or death when nature unleashes its worst. With increasing frequency and force, climate change sets the agenda for hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and such, but systemic neglect, deep poverty, and political expediency have already drawn the line between the survivors and the doomed, even before disaster strikes.

Cooked: Survival by Zip Code (2018) | Official Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

I do not even know how to describe this movie. It could very well become trivial – who does not talk about the predominantly black impoverished neighborhoods. Yet the evidence is striking. The footage of the news coverage back from 1995. Mayor Daley statement: “That’s why we love Chicago.” The refrigerator trucks storing the bodies awaiting autopsy outside the city hospitals. The life expectancy numbers – sixteen years difference between the North and the South.

The director takes a broader approach and poses very pointed questions to the officials: why we can’t address the issue preventively, before a disaster strikes? She also links the heatwave casualties with the overall state of the neighborhoods: the absence of affordable health care, inability to pay electric bills, the food deserts. If fact, one of the most striking episodes is the one in the mobile grocery store when the workers on the bus are trying to convince a teen to eat an apple – for the first time in his life!

The movie calls for action, and I can’t imagine anybody dismissing it’ s message.

A Word About Love

It must have been prompted by my visit with my Mom last night. She’d shared one of her personal stories, and I was walking back from her apartment to the train station where I’ve left my car, thinking about what she’d just told me.

Later that night, I was pre-packing for our “micro-vacation,” trying to fit all my just-in-case clothes into a carry-on. I got back to my laptop to check one more time, which amenities will be provided with our room in Amsterdam, and could not stop smiling rereading a room description. We will be there in three short days, but I am still only “pre-packing” because the weather forecast is keeping changing every day.

Between these attempts to pack and thinking about my Mom’s story, I’ve realized that finally, I’ve stopped being apologetic about my family life. At least I can talk about it without feeling awkward. We are in love, probably even more than 30 years ago, and that all, that matters. I know that most people would disagree with that statement, including my children. Although they most likely won’t be born, if I would think otherwise.

But this is one of my strong opinions, which I am holding tightly. If I am in love, I can make things work.

And often the final results are way more grandiose than anybody could imagine 🙂

The Importance Of Human Connections

On Tuesday, I was attending the Night Ministry Lighting Up The Night event. That was the first time I was invited; it is a big fundraiser, with a fancy dinner and both silent and live auctions, in which I did not participate. It was interesting to see people I got to know through different volunteering events at a very different kind of event, in fancy clothes :).

Geoffrey Baer from WTTW was an emcee for this event, and in the very beginning, he talked about human connections. That’s what the Night Ministry is about: not just providing food and medical care, but also providing companionship and an opportunity to connect with others.

At the start of the event, we were asked to take a piece of paper which was put on the right side of each plate and to write down a name of a person, with whom we talk most often, with whom we can discuss things, which are essential for us. And then to fold this piece of paper and put it away. Later through the course of the event, there were more stories of people who managed to get their lives back on track, and all of them were talking not just about The Night Ministry, but about particular people, who helped them along the way.

Other speakers were citing the numbers from different surveys and researches, which indicate that being lonely might be very dangerous to your health, cause heart diseases, high blood pressure, and other conditions.

And a little bit later Geoffrey Baer retook the podium and said: “And now look at this name you’ve written on a piece of paper earlier, and think how would you feel without this person in your life. And think about the fact that many homeless people would have no name to write on this piece of paper.”

I was thinking about this. And I was also thinking, that this is precisely the thing I am doing with my blogging, and also that with most of my volunteering activities I am doing just this – giving people support at the time they need it most. Talking to the youth in the shelter. Escorting patients to an abortion clinic. Blogging about difficult parenting situations. Even with my political activism, I value canvassing the most, because I know that nothing can influence people more than a real-live conversation. Eye-to-eye. Heart-to-heart.

When they asked all volunteers to stand up, I was so proud to be standing there are receiving the audience ovation. And when they were mentioning “volunteers, who come and cook with the youth,” my neighbor was pushing my elbow: this is about you! And I’ve smiled back: yes!

I was in Madison WI this weekend, celebrating my granddaughter’s second birthday, and when we were slowly walking around the Capitol Square, my granddaughter almost ran into a group of homeless people seating on the edge of a flowerbed. They have admired little Nadia and asked whether Anna is her mother, and then all of us got engaged in a conversation. A little bit later, when we were on our way back after dropping off my mother in the hotel, we ran into one of these guys again.

Anna said: look, Nadia, it’s the same person we talked to before. And he said: yes, my name is Robert! And Anna chatted with him for a little bit more, while he was following us, and amidst all “nice talking to you,” he started crying and changed his trajectory. For him, this human connection, the fact that we were talking to him like to an equal person meant a world more than a box of leftover mac & cheese Anna has handed him at the beginning of the conversation.

And I have nothing else to add.

Talking About Parenting

Last Monday, I was a meeting with a person from my professional network. Although our relationships are strictly professional, we know each other long enough to know about each other’s families/spouses/children/grandchildren (in my case :)).

We went out for lunch and talked about more or less everything since we didn’t get a chance to catch up for over a year. And somehow along the lines, he mentioned how his wife is exhausted because she has to cook every day for their three children, and how one of them didn’t like her mother’s cooking, and how he’d told her that “she should cook for herself than”.

I’ve asked: remind me, what’s your kids’ age? He said: 16, 13, and 11. Then why they do not cook for themselves? My kids did cook since they were eleven. – What did they cook? What kind of food? And as it often happens, I’ve started to tell him about our system back then, how we had a schedule on a large wall calendar. How I would cook two main dishes every week, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, and through the week the kids would make sides and warm up the leftovers, or bake breaded fish, or fried sausages, or something else which would be easy to make. And how we would go out only once a week – on Fridays. And then he mentions, that now they actually have not three, but five kids in the house because they’ve taken in their two nephews, while their parents are away for a week, and they are 18 and 11. And I could not stop myself from mentioning that my kids stayed by themselves at home when they were 17, and I left for six weeks on a business trip to Europe…

Each time a parenting conversation turns into this direction, I feel as if I’ve said something wrong, or at least insensitive, something like “Look how my kids were so well-prepared for life, and you just can’t teach your kids basic life skills, you overprotective helicopter parent.” Maybe nobody thinks precisely that way, but that’s how I feel I am coming across.

Next time I will try my best to keep quiet about “what my kids did” if a conversation will be turning that way. May be :). At least, I will try. But I am wondering why it has become such a rear thing, that kids cook. Without parental supervision. Why a kid 10+ can’t cook a meal for themselves. If it’s about “safety”, safety concerns can be valid literally at any age. I, at the age of 56, still get occasional burns in the kitchen – stuff happens. What I am saying, I do not see anything dangerous for 11-year old cooking by themselves, except “anything can theoretically happen to anybody”. And this is not even about “teaching a life skill”, it’s merely about giving parents a break. To be honest, sometimes I think that the usual disconnect I am getting with my stance “you can have it all” happens because, in reality, I did not do it “all” when my kids were kids. We shared the housework, we were a family, we were a team. And it didn’t make my kids “deprived” or “neglected”. Actually, I think it helped our bonding.

What do you think?…

Disappearing History

I am currently reading (actually listening to) The Lost Roses by Martha Kelly, a book I was initially so excited about, since is is a pre-sequel to the The Lilac Girls, which I really loved However, almost immediately after I started to listen to this book, I could notice some small and not so small discrepancies. It may worth a separate post to talk about all these small “wrongs”, but the reason I am mentioning them now is, that my observation made me start to think one more time about how fast the actual “feel” of history is disappearing. I thought – maybe I loved The Lilac Girls so much, because I do not have enough knowledge to notice all these little things which are wrong?

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and these thoughts are an essential part of why I’ve started this (yet another) blog. I’ve noticed that people, who were born and raised in Russia, and partially in the Soviet Union, same as me, but who are just ten years younger than me, appear to be completely unaware of the recent history. They just didn’t live through the 60s-70s, and although there is an abundance of information available both on paper and on the internet – they somehow read it wrong.

It’s not like they are doing it on purpose – somehow it feels like they are reading the right stuff, but the words are being translated into a picture, which looks very different from reality. And when I am making attempts to explain, that things were not exactly as they think they used to be, they plainly do not believe me. Which is really upsetting taking into account the recency of events.

I won’t speak for the US, but in Russia, we already have huge chunks of history completely disappeared without any hope of the rescue. Take WWII. Those veterans, who’ve returned home alive, definitely were not “well” in the precise sense of the word. Nobody knew anything about post-traumatic syndrome those days and they were trying to cope with the trauma the way they could – trying to forget the most horrible things. It’s not like they were “not allowed” to tell the truth. Actually, to some degree, they were not, but only to some degree. Yes, they were afraid, but that’s not the whole story. They also desperately wanted to forget – and often succeeded. It would take a genius and an extraordinary personality of Daniil Granin, a famous Russian writer, to talk to the Siege of Leningrad survivors in a way that they would be willing to share their true stories. Because of his work we have some of that history. But most of it is lost forever.

The situation is even worse with the history of GULAG. I am really sorry for those who think you can study this part of modern history by Solzhenitsyn works.

Many yours ago my school friend had allowed me to read the notes her grandfather put together immediately after he was released from the concentration camp. Several “school size” notebooks, pain and horror. Haven’t read anything even remotely close to these notes ever. That’s a piece of true history. How can I make sure things like this are preserved in memory of the future generations?

Even when we talk about very recent events, historically speaking, I often observe lots of misconceptions and misunderstanding, like heroization of dissidents, elevating the role of refuzniks in Soviet society, etc.

I am not going to argue with those people who believe they know better. But while I still remember things, I am going to try to put all of those stories in writing. For the benefit of generations to come.