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It's a strange world, being an English language writer on ЖЖ. Some of you may wonder how an American made her way to the Russian blogosphere. It all started in April 2012 when my Ukrainian friend sent me a link to one of Ilya Varlamov's (varlamov.ru) African stories. Immediately I was captivated. A sea of intelligent and prolific thinkers/travelers all writing in the same place. I became hooked, reading many of the top bloggers daily for intellectual pursuit but also to study Russian words.

Then I became friends with another popular Russian blogger, made my way to Russia, and wrote a story that received a lot of attention when he translated it into Russian on his blog. Now I have a wonderful audience, consisting entirely of Russian speaking subscribers. I still don't know how some people make their way to my journal but I'm very grateful for your readership, insight and comments. Sometimes I question whether I should continue writing on
ЖЖ, or move to another platform where I'll reach a larger English speaking audience. However, I think there's some value in having an American woman writing here, in a creative space that is dominated mostly by male bloggers.

This post will now remain at the top as an open forum. I try to maintain an active dialogue with readers and you can write what you wish in these comments. Tell me something interesting about yourself, how you discovered my blog, ask questions about America, travel or any other topic. And, most importantly, let me know the types of stories in which you're interested. People appear most fascinated with my thoughts and impressions on Russia, but unfortunately I don't have the time or financial resources to spend an extended period exploring other parts of the country. I'll be certain to return in the near future, maybe early winter. My favorite season! Until then, I'll try to keep you entertained with stories about other topics and places.

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For some people, having a child seems to be the only purpose in life, regardless of whether you can financially care for this creation, or provide a stable environment in which they can develop as a human being. I began to have an interesting discussion with a reader. He grew upset that I made a comment about a young Native American woman who kept having one baby after the other, when she did not have the financial capacity to care for them.

"Why do you feel sad about it? These kids are healthy (because their mom was young when she gave birth). They have enough food. They can play with each other. Why do you think elderly deserve welfare benefits, but children do not?"

First, the kids are not healthy because the mom was young when she gave birth. They are healthy because fellow citizens. and the government, foot the bill for their survival. We have no choice as to whether we are brought into this world, and I agree no child deserves to suffer because of negligent or poor parents. But my focus was not on the children! It was on the parents, who refuse to use any type of birth control and keep breeding like rabbits - with no stable income, future, or job.

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Table for one please!

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There are many things my mother doesn't understand about me, but at the top of the list is the fact I often eat alone at restaurants, go to the movies by myself, and even hop in the car and go on long road journeys in various parts of the USA - all alone. To her, this is scary, odd, and beyond comprehension. It makes sense that someone who married her high school sweetheart at age 19, and has never really been away from him, would feel this way. I have another acquaintance who wanted to see an opera recently and was in desperate search for a date, but no prince came calling. So, she sat at home and whined rather than go it alone.

The reasons I dine alone are mostly practical. First, I'm on an entirely different schedule from the rest of my family and friends. No one is available to join, even if I desired the company. I'm eating my main meal of the day around 5pm, and everyone else is still at work during this time. When I'm too lazy to cook, I never hesitate to go to a local restaurant, request a table for one, and enjoy my meal. It's the same with travel or any other type of entertainment or adventure. At age 43, most of my friends are now married and busy with husbands and family, which means lesser time for friends like me. So, what's a woman to do? :)

I can't relate to those who miss out on so many experiences in life because they are scared of solitude. I once read an article that said if single women stop eating alone at restaurants, we will have no one to feel sorry for. :)

How about you? Do you eat alone, or feel sorry for a woman when you see her sitting all by her lonesome at a table? I think it's always good to have pleasurable company, or share life experiences with a delightful man or woman. However, as usual I'd rather be alone than settle for just "anyone" in my presence to fill space. By the way, I don't recall ever seeing a Russian woman sitting by herself in a restaurant during any of my visits. I'm not talking about cafes, but a proper restaurant where a hostess leads you to a table. I think the only place where I will not sit alone is on a bar stool, although this is certainly a fun social experiment based on past experience. 
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Do you know what it is? I notice it frequently in comments, and communications with foreign friends. Even the most intelligent and proficient speakers of English as a second language often spell the term wrong. The word is "DEFINITELY", and the most common error is to spell it "definAtely", where an "a" is used instead of an "i". Phonetically, this makes sense, and even native English speakers periodically spell the word wrong.

I was reminded of this today when I began to read a post about studying English via Skype lessons. The blogger mentioned all kinds of tenses - present perfect progressive, past perfect, past perfect simple. I must have learned these tenses in school over 20 years ago, but what the hell do they mean? :) I don't even think about them now as a native English speaker, although the tenses are self-explanatory if you contemplate the basic essence of the words. When I studied Russian for a short time, I wasn't concerned about proper grammar or spelling, because the goal was simply to be able to speak basic phrases during travels and communicate with locals in their native tongue. Some things that still confuse me about Russian:Read more...Collapse )

What has changed in five years...

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Today I was reminded by Facebook that I was in Kyiv five years ago today, standing atop a monastery. It was my first visit to Ukraine, and since that time a lot has changed. My Ukrainian friend I was visiting now lives in France. He played an instrumental role in reigniting my passion for travel so many years after I left my job at the airlines. Since then, I've visited 10 new countries and 15 new States here in the USA. There are so many positive emotions locked in my mind from all of these experiences. The people I've encountered along the way, struggles with companions, roads, schedules...all of it a journey for discovery, not only about the world, but myself.

Many personal relationships have shifted - some closer, and some almost extinct. I've slowly let new people into my tight circle, yet toxic people are now banished. I can't say that I'm harsh or unforgiving, but I definitely give people way fewer chances now than I did two decades ago. I think it's a normal process of aging, somehow you look to insulate yourself with a protective layer of humans who support, provide warmth, comfort, security and other positive emotions. For me, these people have always been family and a few close friends. There's no point in wasting time on those who are constantly trying to belittle, tear you down and ignite all types of wildfires in your soul and heart. In youth, I somehow thought I could change people like this, take their hand, and guide them to some sort of light and positivity, but I failed each time. In essence, I think it's impossible to really change another human, although your presence in an individual's life can be the catalyst to facilitate or motivate change. Sometimes for the worse, but hopefully the better.

We can say that life, and everything, is in a constant state of flux - one moment you're floating peacefully on the calm sea, and the next your world is shaken, as if life is constantly hovering over a tectonic plate, or in the midst of some volcano with lava quickly creeping to the edge. For me personally, everything now is calm and fine, but boring. I don't have motivation to write long posts anymore, for several reasons. First, it seems the entire audience has disappeared. Second, there is nothing new to say. After three years of communicating on this platform, almost all of my views are known - about sex, gender, relationships, exploration, Russia....many other topics.  If you have questions which remain unanswered, you can ask me in the comments, and I will express my viewpoint if the inquiry isn't too personal, and I know something about the issue.

This is really just a simple note to let you know I'm alive, as many people have sent me messages. Thank you for your concern, and continued dedication to my stories, thoughts and blog. :) When I feel a burst of creative inspiration, new stories will follow. I still post lots of short notes, thoughts, and travel photos on Facebook. You can find me here. In two weeks, I'll return to Montana and then onward to Alberta, Canada for a quick mountain adventure before the big expedition through Georgia in autumn.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer! Cheers from the USA! :)

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Update on teaching abroad

Some of you have written to ask about my plans to teach English abroad, which I discussed in this post. I was invited for a Skype interview tomorrow, and will let you know what transpires. This is my first interview via the laptop, and it seems strange to me but it's the only option when you're trying to recruit candidates from the other side of the globe, at least for the initial screening interview.

I have no idea what questions they will ask, but it's just an introductory session to learn more about the "Teach & Learn with Georgia" program, what they expect from me, and where I may be placed (in Tbilisi or some remote village). They will discover more about my qualifications, life goals and personality in the process...it's like a date almost, to see if we are compatible. :)

This will be my first time speaking with native Georgians, so let's see what happens. Already there were some challenges in the application process. Email addresses and forms on the official websites of The Georgian Ministry of Education and Science did not work, causing frustration and inefficiency with sending documents and applications, etc. Maybe this is done on purpose, to prepare potential teachers for the challenges they might face if they move to the country.

It's a huge life decision, but it seems the opportunity is one step closer, if I choose to seize it. Lots of balls in the air to try to juggle and balance. Stay tuned...:)

On the Volga...Ples, Russia

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In the Ivanovo region sits a cozy little town called Ples. Full of bright colors, empty streets and lots of birch trees scattered through the forest areas, where walking paths are constructed at the top of the hill. I spent a few hours here at the end of winter last year, when there was still plenty of snow on the ground and the village was almost completely deserted. Only weak, old pensioners walked the icy streets, trying to maneuver through the slippery sidewalks without falling. Let's briefly explore this town through a few snapshots I took.Read more...Collapse )

Happy Birthday America!

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Today Americans begin a festive holiday weekend in honor of the Fourth of July. There was no traffic during the rush hour commute this morning, as most people are already on their way to the beach, or relatives' homes for the big celebrations on Monday. My family spends the holiday the same way every year - at our American style dacha in the forest. About this place, I've already written several times. You can see the big report here.

Huge gatherings and fireworks displays take place in all major U.S. cities, including here in Washington, DC. I never attend these massive public gatherings due to the crowds, and mainly the heat. I feel totally uncomfortable in such environments, and prefer the quiet solitude of nature or small crowds. I doubt recent terrorist attacks will have any detrimental impact, or cause people to avoid these celebrations. I can't understand those who live in constant fear, and avoid activities because they are worried about attacks, or some other tragedy. We must march on, and just be aware of our surroundings. This has always been my mentality.

All small towns light their own fireworks, locals enjoy festivals and colorful parades. American flags wave everywhere! :) This photo was taken during a parade in Fredricksburg, Virginia a few years ago. It's a big holiday for us, full of barbecues with hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, lots of tasty foods, cold beer and relaxation. I hope I can just sit as a vegetable for a few days - read, get some sleep, and rest my mind which has been too cluttered with heavy thoughts recently.


For everyone in the USA who celebrates - enjoy! And for those abroad, I hope you find a way to celebrate America's birthday somehow from afar. Cheers! :))

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There's one common theme that runs through almost any depressed region, regardless of the country - TRASH! In February, I made a day trip to Browning, Montana to visit the Blackfeet Tribe and see how they live. Everyone warned me the Native American area is "dangerous", and I shouldn't travel there alone. My curiosity overcame me, and I took the three hour drive to meet them. I can't understand those who fear people from different socio-economic classes or backgrounds. There's nothing scary about the Native American Indians I met, and they live no differently than any other ghetto area of America, except they are governed by Tribal Laws and regulations. This includes their housing, which is designated through the Tribal Council.

The first Indians I met are pictured here. Vagrants who squat in the same corner of the town all day, every day. Drinking beer and doing absolutely nothing productive, throwing all their garbage on the concrete and dirt that surrounds them. This creates a horrible blight on the otherwise pristine landscapes that surround the Blackfeet Reservation. The land mass covers over 1,500,000 acres within its exterior boundary, and currently over 16,000 Blackfeet Indians live there.

There was no hesitation to approach these drunkards, because such people are the same almost everywhere. You simply hand them another can of beer, or bottle of liquor, and they will pose for photos and tell you their life story. If they became aggressive, there were enough people around to scream for help and hopefully calm the situation. Today, I'll show you some photos of the Blackfeet Indian housing, and you can make your own judgments.Read more...Collapse )
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For the first time, I watched someone die right before my eyes. Take her last breath, and fade from existence. The past few months for me have been very difficult and draining, a whirlwind of complex emotions that I couldn't process so easily. You will recall that I once wrote a post about how I felt guilty for being apathetic toward the terminally ill relative staying in our home in a hospice bed.

Over the past month, her condition deteriorated rapidly, and it became necessary to be a caretaker for her while I worked from home. I'm not a trained doctor or nurse, and my role was simply to change diapers, help her drink and eat through a straw, and simply provide some level of companionship and human warmth. During this time, my attitude completely changed and I began to feel such grief and sadness for her suffering. She died last Saturday, with her son holding her hand, and all of us gathered around her.

It becomes necessary in such times to seek places of refuge - it can be people you gravitate toward, or a place. For me, it was a tulip farm I discovered only a few minutes from my house. I spent many evenings there simply roaming the gardens and taking photos. So today, I'll just share some pictures to brighten the mood. I call these tulips "lollipops for the soul" - yes, they are delicious, fragrant and sweet. :)Read more...Collapse )

My online dating tips for men

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There are many reasons why online dating doesn't work for me. For several years, I tried to play this game, with the only result being frayed nerves, aggravation and wasted time, with few positive results in return. Others apparently have more luck, or enjoy visiting this virtual zoo in search of one well-behaved, cute animal. My desire for male companionship or a relationship hasn't been strong enough the past few years to endure the negatives that come with this style of meeting men. Yet I remain on a few dating websites, and still receive all kinds of messages from men, most of which I ignore.

I don't ignore them because I'm some heartless bitch, but because the messages are so generic and impersonal that it's clear the man has taken absolutely no time to read my profile, or learn anything about my personality and the traits I desire in a romantic partner. Why do I want to waste time communicating with, or going on a date with a man like this - someone who merely flips through thousands of pictures of women online and sends the exact same email?

Perhaps I'm too demanding, but I want a man to first admire me for my personality and intellect, and it's for this precise reason that I have very plain photos of myself on online dating sites. Almost no make-up, hair up in a pony tail, or covered under a hat. I present myself as a "plain Jane" in the purest sense. Meanwhile, other women have professional glamour shots, exposed cleavage, all the classic bait to lure and hook men. I can't even imagine the amount of emails they receive as a result. But yesterday, a sort of miracle happened, and I received a unique and thoughtful message. I will reproduce it here, to provide general advice and guidance for men who are communicating with women online with the hope of getting a date, and eventually getting laid.Read more...Collapse )
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I often take pride in the fact I'm an independent woman, capable of caring for myself in most aspects of life, but there are many exceptions when it becomes necessary to rely on others. I'm human after all. :)

Driving to work a few weeks ago, there was a sudden shake, slight loss of control in steering, and immediately I knew the problem. A flat tire, making the journey onward to work impossible. In such cases, I immediately try to call my father to come rescue me. Secretly, I believe he wished for sons, but instead he was blessed with two lovely daughters. This didn't deter him from teaching us all kinds of useful things growing up. Many lessons in his garage about basic car maintenance - how to change the oil, drive a manual, and even get on the ground, use the jack and change our own tires. But thirty years later, I didn't feel like pulling out the instruction manual in my Audi, crawling on the wet, rocky ground and changing the flat myself. Perhaps I would not even remember how to do it honestly, because any time there's an issue with my car, my dad is equipped to fix the problem. In this way, I'm spoiled - a father who is a jack of all trades and can solve almost any problem or puzzle from plumbing, electrical to mechanics. Such men are very useful in life, but I think they are a dying breed.

There was one major obstacle on this day - I leave for work around 5 a.m., and it's difficult to reach other humans at this hour, as most are still nestled in their cozy beds, lost in dreamland. Here's how I solved the problem, and perhaps the post will give you some useful advice if you decide to visit the USA, and find yourself in a similar situation where roadside assistance is needed.Read more...Collapse )

Groceries for American bachelorette

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When I wrote about my old apartment and monthly costs for living near Washington, DC, many people asked me about groceries and food. After a trip to the market, my basket typically looks like this. If it's interesting to readers, I can lay out the prices for food and show photos of the types of products available in U.S. stores. However, I can't really understand what types of discussions readers want now? Traffic on LJ dramatically decreased, and the types of posts that now attract the attention of the masses are so idiotic and banal that I can't even wrap my head around their popularity. Is it really so interesting to discuss whether a woman's ass is too big, or whether her legs are too thick?

Please let me know the types of stories you want to read, and I'll do my best to accommodate readers if the topics are also of interest to me. Because the point here is to facilitate discussion, exchange ideas and simply explore how others live in various parts of the world. Also, I'm curious to know how much you spend on groceries per week/month? I can then make a cost comparison with the USA. Thanks! :)

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Life transitions - volunteering abroad

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It seems the time has come. All my life, I've constantly thought about it. Packing my bags and moving to another country to live short term. Long term for me isn't an option for one simple reason. I'm too close to my family - they are my emotional support system in life, and my main social circle. To be half-way around the world from them for an extended period of time will not work, nor be beneficial to my emotional health. Where to go is the main question, and how to support myself while I'm there?

I'm already on my third career in life, and have grown bored with it - now I'm ready for the fourth. Working in the legal field has run it's course, and after 15 years the downsides now outweigh the upsides. Being a lawyer has been intellectually stimulating, challenging, and of course provided me with a very high salary during the last decade. However, money has never been a driving force in my life, and I'm really a simple person, not craving many material possessions beyond the basics. I began to research possible options and discovered one program that seems to fit all my parameters...Read more...Collapse )
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Going through old photos from Russia, I began to feel nostalgic. I can't say why really, but there is something about the Kostroma region that I really loved. I think this is one of the poorest regions in the country, yet there is a sense of rustic charm that's soulful, and in cities like Soligalich, houses are well-maintained and colorful for the most part. I think this is very important for the psyche, to not live in trash, or be surrounded by decaying or collapsing buildings. To have some bright visual stimulation to contrast against the constant grey winter skies.

This was one of the final stops on the last big road journey in Russia, and I arrived here in an unusual manner. After the wonderful experience in the village of Astashova, I awoke in a frozen state from my sleepless night alone in the forest house, and got in the car to learn we were taking a rather exotic route to the next stopping point. Yep, an off-road winter adventure through the remote Russian wilderness. :)Read more...Collapse )

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