***

It is tough for me to write about everything which is happening now. As Anna pointed correctly, the fact that Boris and I won’t see each other in person indefinitely is the worst. I didn’t even realize that that’s why all other things hurt me so badly that I am losing control over my life.


People often think that because we do not live together all the time, and only see each other every several weeks, it’s not something which should affect us so severely. However, all of the periods between our visits to each other are planned and pre-calculated. Most of the time, we know our schedule for several months ahead. And we try not to be away from each other for more than six weeks.

This time it was supposed to be longer – eight weeks. But there was not much we could do: I had my surgeries (and three and a half weeks before the first surgery to be contacts – free). And then we were going to go to New York for the conference, and there was supposed to be a week full of talks, presentations, training, meetings with different people. It was supposed to be our professional highlight of the year. Because of all that, I was OK to wait for two more weeks – we did it before.

Continue reading “***”

Honoring the International Women’s Day

Last week, my friend posted about the 150th anniversary of the first women college in Cambridge, and I could not resist commenting that Knox college accepted female students from the day it was founded. 

My daughter Anna graduated from Knox, and I firmly believe the Knox was one of the best things that happened in her life. And one of the best things about Knox and its history is the fact that it would accept females and blacks from the very beginning, and never rejected any student based on lack of funds.  The college founders stated:

It is beginning to be believed, and not without good reason, that females are to act a much more important part in the conversion of the world than has been generally supposed; not as preachers of the gospel, but as help-meets of those who are, and as instructors and guides of the rising generations, not only in the nursery, but in the public school. It should therefore be an object of special aim with all who pray and labor for the conversion of the world, to provide for the thorough and well-directed education of females.

George Washington Gale

However, the history of women’s education at Knox was not so straightforward. First of all, the college founders belonged to their times, and although they believed the women should have access to education, they thought it should differ from what men were offered:

Under the influence of the Gospel a different station is allotted to her, she is regarded man’s equal in worth; and although her cares, labors and responsibilities, to a considerable extent, be in a different direction, yet they are no less honorable, and require no less of intellectual and moral culture than his

Hiram Kellogg

It took several years to come up with courses designed for women.

…fiscal restrictions delayed plans for an advanced female course of study at the College’s outset. When the means for a women’s course were finally realized, seven years after the College’s first class of men had entered, courses were initially held in the new Academy building that had been built for the College’s preparatory students (due to a lack of sufficient public education, the College maintained a preparatory school for younger students, male and female, seeking admission to the College courses).

It was not until 1856 that the College’s finances finally allowed for the construction of separate housing for the seminary students. 

Knox college

Separate social standards for men and women contributed to the perception that men’s and women’s education had separate purposes. When Knox College incorporated a college program for women in 1848, it was based upon the programs of other female seminaries and therein upon a tradition of separate education.

In 1860 – 70s then Board of Trustees President Howard Curtis was strongly supporting separation of men and women education, while Miss Lydia Howard, a principle of the Seminary worked on expanded curriculum

Here is what happened next:

On Friday, March 20, 1867, the debate came to a head. President Curtis and Principal Howard were engaged in an argument over the programming for the next year’s catalogue for the Seminary when President Curtis forcibly took the catalogue from Miss Howard’s hands in an act of physical violence. When word of Curtis’ behavior reached the students the fallout was immediate. The following Saturday morning the students, who largely disliked President Curtis but admired Principal Howard, turned out in numbers on the lawn of Old Main, ringing the building’s bell and causing a commotion. From one eyewitness account, “20 or 30 of the College and Academy students … had cut the rope of the bell [in Old Main] and were turning it over and over,” in protest. The students organized a sit-down strike on the lawn, staying away from classes that following Monday and Tuesday, and demanding President Curtis’s resignation. Late on Tuesday, the Board of Trustees acquiesced to the students’ demands, and asked for Curtis’s recognition.

As part of the controversy, Howard tendered her resignation as well, leaving the Board of Trustees with questions about the future of the Female Seminary at Knox. A Trustee “Committee on Seminary” reported that their actions in hiring Miss Howard to revamp the Seminary’s curricula had been “a new and somewhat hazardous experiment.” The Committee recommended changes in the oversight of the Seminary, saying that the interests of the Seminary should be decided upon by the Seminary faculty.

The actions of President Curtis and Principal Howard had focused attention on the Female Seminary, and in the 1869 catalogue it was reported that growing interest in women’s education had prompted the Board of Trustees to consider a plan of co-education. The catalogue further called it “a happy day … when the brief, irregular, superficial, and too often contemptible style of female education shall give way to a culture which shall furnish the same facilities for success in life … now accorded to men.” By the next year, 1870, the Board of Trustees took the final step of merging the men’s and women’s courses and awarding women Bachelor’s degrees for the first time. Although the Female Seminary would remain open to accommodate women who did not desire a degree, women who were adequately prepared could follow the same coursework as their male counterparts.

I think it’s a great story, and it is very appropriate to remember on the International Women’s Day. Nowadays, when you visit Knox college and look at the graduation pictures of the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century, you can see approximately the same number of male and female graduates.

Still earlier than Cambridge 🙂

Happy and Healthy Unions

I started to write this post yesterday, but when I reached out to Grandfather Google for the exact link, the first thing I saw was Pete Buttigieg announcing that he is dropping out of the race. He was my choice, and with Illinois primaries being so close, I felt incredibly upset and could not bring myself to write this post. 

This morning, I decided it is still worth writing. 

I saw this article published in Tribune last week, and though it was related to Pete Buttigieg, I had similar observations for a long time. Because of Vlad, I had multiple chances to observe not only his relationships but also many other same-sex couples. And I could not agree more with what this article is stating. When people try to tell me something about gender roles in families, and what is “more natural” for a specific gender, I always ask: and what about same-sex couples? I’ve observed it so many times – the fluid roles when it all depends on how busy each of the partners is, who is more stressed or who is sick, who is better in doing particular things. 

Gay and lesbian couples, Coontz found, tend to approach conflicts with more humor and affection, spend less time criticizing and lecturing each other and offer each other more praise and encouragement, compared with their heterosexual counterparts.

“As a marriage historian,” Coontz told me, “it seems to me we’re totally entering uncharted territory. Never before in history have we tried to do marriage in a way that is totally free from dictation by our biology — whether we can or can’t have babies; whether we have to have babies — or by legal assignments that only husbands can do this and only wives can do that. It’s the first time we’ve really tried to build marriages that were not laid out for us by law and hundreds of years of customs.”

Mary Altaffer

I believe that what is emerging now is how our future unions will look like. Indeed, happy and healthy unions.

“An American Summer”, and What This Book Means to Me

An American Summer is one of the more recent books by Alex Kotlowitz, and to be honest, I am not sure whether it makes sense to anybody who did not read any of his books before, or didn’t see any of his documentaries. 

I first learned about Kotlowitz when the Interruptors documentary was released. At that time, I was already quite involved in homeless charities, and I knew quite a bit about Chicago schools and existing issues. It just happened that I got tickets for Igor and myself to “Chicago Live!” where the first episode was the meeting with the “Interrupters” team. After the show, we talked to Alex Kotlowitz, the film director Steve James, and with amazing Ameena Matthews. And then we went to see the screening of the movie in the Siskel center, and there was more conversation there. In shots, for me, there is a history behind that book.

This book is just a collection of episodes. No plot. No conclusions. No judgment. But still, it shows, very painfully, how difficult it is to get out of poverty and violence. And how easy it is to fall back. Story after story, different people, the same scenario.

Continue reading ““An American Summer”, and What This Book Means to Me”

The Art of Gift Giving

On Sunday, our family will get together for Christmas presents exchanging. It’s not the first time we are exchanging presents on a day other than Christmas Eve (we are “the Eve family”). Due to both our family being distributed and members having demanding jobs, it happens quite often. Sometimes we get together before Christmas, sometimes – after. Sometimes on the right date :). In the course of many years, we learned that dates are not that important. What is important, though – that over the years, my children not only mastered the art of giving presents but are doing it better than I.

SInce 2011, we always recorded our Christmas gift-giving, in full or partially, and I spent the last hour going through these recordings. I will post a small fraction of them here, to give an idea, how did it look like in the past. It is looking more or less the same every year. Every year I am delighted to hear multiple “how did you know?!”

I firmly believe that Christmas presents should be special. They might be practical (like on several of these videos my children receive computers for Christmas). Still, they should be at least partially surprises, something a gift recipient does not expect to receive.

You will hear some Russian in the videos, but I hope that everything will be understandable regardless :).

Christmas 2012
Christmas 2012
Christmas 2013
Christmas 2014 we had guests from Moscow,
and also Vlad lost his voice and could not perform his Elf duties

For the record, Vlad still wear that coat from the last video!

I stopped myself from watching these old videos, because I could easily do it till tomorrow:). Now I am going to schedule this post so that it would appear tomorrow morning, and then we shall see, how our gift-giving will go in the evening.

Christmas Away From Home

Since my friend, N. told me that she chooses to spend the holidays not with her family but with people who would be alone otherwise, I was thinking about it. And the more I think, the more I realize, how right is it.
A couple of days before my departure to Helsinki I stopped by my neighbor Renate to drop off a box of my cookies and to wish her a Merry Christmas. It turned out that our other neighbor was visiting at the same time, so instead of leaving immediately, I sat down and chatted for a little bit. I told them about our family travel plans and how we all are in different places. And then I mentioned this idea about spending the holidays with somebody how can’t spend them with the family or does not have one.

And then, all of a sudden, both my neighbors started to recall similar stories. Renate mentioned her son in law spending Christmas by covering the night shift in the PAWS homeless shelter. Then my other neighbor recalled her time being a nurse and covering the Christmas shift as well, and then Renate told us that she did the same while working on reception in the senior home.

Both of them were saying how good it feels and how happy and grateful the people were. It looks like it is not so uncommon not to be with your family for Christmas, and it’s surprising people do not talk about it that much.

Next time, when I will have the circumstances similar to what I had this year, I think I know what I am going to do :).

All is Right

It was really cold yesterday. I came back home after the Night Ministry Youth Christmas Party and felt the warmth of my home. I paused for a moment and got this definite feeling that everything is going right with my life. I sat down on the floor, which I like to do in such moments of tranquility, and listened to the inner self again. Everything was right. Nevermind, I am still behind with my Christmas cards and presents, nevermind I have a cold for several days, nevermind work. My life is right. All around.

I was thinking about all the conversations I had at the Youth party, all the laughs, and hugs. I thought about an important presentation Boris is giving the next day, and how great is it that he was invited to present. I thought about my daughter and all the big changes which are coming to her life next year, and I thought about my new hire and how happy I am with his progress even though he has been at work for just a couple of days.


i thought how right it was that I decided to bring my Mom here two years ago, and how right it is that Igor is going to New York for Christmas to brighten his friends holidays.
I smiled when I remembered email my friend Lena sent to me the other day, that she comes on Friday night after all so that we have more time for baking, and that she misses me. And then I was thinking of how she will help me with a couple of house projects for which Vlad does not have time. And then I remembered how Vlad came to visit my Mom last week, on one of his only two days off for the whole month, because he could not make it for Thanksgiving, and grandma was missing him.


My life is right. All around. And I will figure out the rest 🙂

Booth Women Connect Conference

On Friday, I attended the Booth Women Connect Chicago conference. Our CEO asked all the women in the leadership position in our company, whether they want to attend. All of us said – yes! Ten of us for the 60-employee company – I think it’s very impressive!

There were opening remarks and a keynote, which we all attended. Also, there were four sessions when we could select one out of eight different workshops to attend. Choosing was extremely difficult!  

I liked the keynote by Ann Curry. As for the sessions, the first one I’ve attended was a panel, “The Future of Work.” It sounded fascinating, the abstract said:

The transformations facing the future of work will feel like tidal waves disrupting all industries and, subsequently, all career paths. These transformations will span organizations and most of their roles, and all types of business models will be disintermediated. In this panel, we aim to raise awareness of what is happening, why, and how to empower us to be proactive with learning transformations.

So, let’s together redefine “work”! A one-size-fits-all workday is a thing of the past. Automation, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies are bringing a world of new products, methods, and experiences to our doorsteps that are far more efficient, but unpredictably disruptive in their impact.

How do individuals empower themselves in the face of all of this change at work? How can we turn this period of technological and human change into an occasion to create more rewarding jobs and build better learning systems and career pathways? How might companies embrace flexibility in a structured way?

Join us for a lively discussion around how technological disruptions have transformed global labor markets, impacted gender parity in the workplace, and created opportunities to redefine what work is. We will share cutting-edge research and discuss how organizations whose employees are empowered to be a part of this citizen-led automation will be the winners of tomorrow. We’ll aim to have you return to your organization better equipped to make your workplace work for you, your colleagues, and your clients.

Continue reading “Booth Women Connect Conference”

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin – a Book Review

One more from my summer reading: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder.

I could give this book six stars if this rating were available. Extremely informative, great explanations of all “whats” and “whys.” I know the history of this period better than many, but still, there was something new to me.

Also, there were two historical facts, which I only knew from my grandaunt tellings, but never saw them in writing. Being from a family of the “enemies of the nation,” I learned about large portions of the country’s history from the stories my grandaunt told me. At that time, I was sure that they would never become parts of the official account. But after 1985, and especially after 1991, a significant portion of this history became public. There were several facts, however, which I never heard mentioned officially, so I was not even sure whether I remembered them correctly.

To mu surprise, I found the mentioning of these events in the “Bloodlands.” The first is the mentioning of the nationality-based “cases” in the 1930s. My grandaunt told me than my grandfather was prosecuted”as a part of the Polish Case,” but since it was never mentioned otherwise, I thought I might have imagined it. That was the first time I saw it in print.

The second fact was the description of Polish Jews sent back from the Soviet Union to Poland after the war. My grandaunt was a professor at the Leningrad State University at that time, and she was telling me about one of her students who were afraid to do back.

My grandaunt told her: why? It’s now free Poland without Hitler. There will be o antisemitism or anything alike. She remembered how this student shook her head and said hesitantly: I am not so sure… My grandaunt said, she could never forgive herself that she sent her away. Once again, that’s the first time in my life, I saw these facts in writing.

I gave this book to Igor for his 34th birthday:)

What Does Volunteering Mean?

Last week, I had several conversations, which made me first upset, then angry, and then angry at myself that I got angry:). And now, I am trying my best to abstract from particular conversations and to say what exactly was so upsetting. 

What does volunteering mean? It means that you want to do something with no pay. And this includes – possibly no thanks. You want to do something because you believe that this something is important. That somebody’s lives: people’s, animals’, plants’ – will become better if you will be doing this – whatever “this” is. 

You say: I want to volunteer. Great. By the way, nobody “has” to volunteer. I will never criticize anybody for not wanting to volunteer. A person can only decide by themselves, whether this is indeed what they want. 

But want I do not understand, and what makes me mad – when somebody expects to be rewarded for their volunteer work. When they get upset that they do not receive enough thanks. When they wonder why others do not want to listen to them or utilize their expertise. 

I’ve lost count of how many times I had heard this: I want to volunteer, I offered my services, why “they” are so picky and do not want me? Why am I not receiving thanks for helping out?

For me, it means that this person does not want to volunteer. They simply want a payment of a different kind. Because when you volunteer, you just give. You give and never ask for something in return. Sure, it feels good when you hear “thank you for all your do!” but that is not a reason why you volunteer.

Also, when you do volunteer, you do the whole thing. There is no “dirty work.” If you want to support this cause, you will do whatever is required in the current situation. In many cases volunteering activities are scary. Or at least uncomfortable. That is a part of the package.