Friday, January 30, 2009

Only 25 random things about me? But so many other aspects of me are random!

Requests to share "25 random things about you" have been flooding my inbox on Facebook, so I decided to give in. Ok, may be not flooding. May be it was more like 4 random requests. Anyhow. I cannot bring myself to forward it to anyone else, just because forwarding chain mail makes me feel like Cornell Engineering will take away my geek badge forever. So, instead, I list my 25 things here, and hope that people who forwarded me that flood of requests find my blog. :)

1. I lived in Novovoronezh, Borisoglebsk, Brooklyn, Ithaca, Santa Clara, Gaithersburg. I do not feel a special attachment to any of these places, and have come to feel at home when family is around me no matter where I am. I feel no allegiance to any country, place or land - only people. (I sure do feel allegiance to the posh areas of San Fran and New York though. :P)
2. In the "Outliers" book my Malcom Gladwell, I read that originally there were 2 types of cultures: herders and farmers, and herders evolved much more of a "My name is Indigo Montoyo, you killed my father, prepare to die" attitude - they had to look bad-ass so that no one would steal their sheep. Farmers had no such issues, as no one was going to run off with a field full of corn, and so no bad-ass attitude evolved. The book then makes the point that these attitudes persist well into the modern day, with herding-heritage cultures still being hot-tempered and all about their honor. Which makes me strongly believe that my father and I should be able to trace our roots to some mean goat herders. Plus, I was always a sucker for the cute little goats. And schnauzers sort of look like goats.... Ok, I digress. See what happens when you ask me to state 25 random things about me? And this is only thing 2!
3. I am puzzled why humans insist that they are a 'special animal'. I think we are no different from dogs, cows, horses or mollusks. My studies in biology and evolution quite strongly support my belief. Questions like "Do dogs dream?" or "Do birds have feelings" are completely ridiculous to me. People, your nervous system exists in MOST OTHER SPECIES!! GET OVER IT! THERE IS NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT YOU, NO. What's that? You collectively construct masterpieces far more sophisticated than any one of you could, you transform your environment and communicate with one another? Um, so do ants. There.
4. My interests lie in brain sciences, biology and psychology. I spent time getting a Cognitive Studies concentration in college, and almost had a Psychology minor as well. Why didn't I pursue those things as a career? Good question.
5. My favorite book is "Master and Margarita" by Bulgakov. I am not a religious person, but that book describes the faith I do have.
6. "In God we trust. All others must bring data." I don't know who said it, but people, it is true. There are few things that irk me more than someone saying "Well, I disagree..." to DATA!! You cannot disagree with mathematics, ok?
7. In high school, I considered being pre-law. I was talked out of it by fellow Russian people, who advised me that "no one will want to have a laywer with an accent!". I wonder if that's true. I don't think I want to be a laywer in any case, but still.
8. I spent 5 years in a music academy learning to play piano, and graduated from the said academy - even though I have NO pitch, NO sense of tonalities/keys/whatever, and a horrible singing voice. Witness the power of mediocrity combined with perseverance!
9. I do, however, have rhythm. Hence, I dance. Or used to.
10. My Mom is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen - and scores of men falling over themselves when they see her on the street agree. A lot of my time, especially when I was younger, was spent obsessing over how I was nowhere near as pretty as my mother. Didn't help that everyone pointed it out, either. :)
11. Cornell was the most stressful thing I have done in my life. However, I cannot imagine having lived without it. I met my husband there. It was the only place I could have attended.
12. I have only been in love once. I married the man. Still in love.
13. Still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up. I watched Avenue Q when I was 26, and freaked out to have my exact emotions acted out as a musical in front of me.
14. I am very worried about ever messing up anything in anyone else's life, and so don't like to offer advice. I am concerned you will come back to me years later, and throw my bad advice at my face, and tell me how everything is messed up because of me.
15. I can't stand girly movies. "Pretty Woman", "Steel Magnolias", "The Notebook", "The Titanic".... all make me want to roll my eyes.
16. I am more like my Dad than I like to admit, and less like my Mom than I'd like to be.
17. I have once been solicited as a potential bride for purchase at a Sochi market. Yes. I was 12. Yes yes. My Dad did some excellent rhetorical maneuvering, especially when the Georgian peach-selling men surrounded us and demanded he name a price. I was very upset by the incident, because it made my Mom completely disallow me to ever travel to the area by myself, which I desperately wanted to do. :)
18. I loved traveling to Florence, Italy - partly because for the first time EVER in my life I was surrounded by people who looked like I do. :)
19. A lot of my life outlook comes from what I went through with my dog, who I lost in Russia and dearly love.
20. I really easily end up feeling in other people's shoes, and for that reason hate watching anything where someone gets embarrassed, hurt, tortured, bereaved, whatever.
21. I like it when people pay attention to the little things.
22. I do believe that your face speaks volumes about who you are, especially as you get older. Physiognomy is a dying art! :)
23. I don't really have a set political party. My political beliefs are defined by the premise that I should not screw with other people's lives, because I have no idea what they are going through. But I should try to help. This means I am socially liberal and willing to pay high taxes to live in places where people share wealth - therefore, in America it makes me a Democrat.
24. An aweful lot of melancholy comes with being Russian. Don't know why, but Russians love feeling bitter-sweet. It makes me feel bitter that I don't have anyone but my parents who understands my bitter-sweet moods at times.
25. I hate chocolate chips. Peanut butter. And dislike popcorn. I have been accused of being un-American for it. :) Call me what you will, I like my dark chocolate, believe that nuts should NEVER be in butter form, and that corn is best left unpopped.

Yeay, 25! That was not as easy as I thought, but here it is. Now, back to melancholy while contemplating neuroscience journal articles and avoiding chocolate chips cookies in my pantry. :)

9 Month Old playing with toys - this is what we are moving toward, people!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why a new father will never become President.

I was watching news coverage of our new President and his family. What lovely children. How cute they are! And - notice, how old. 7 years old and 10 years old. Boy, they caught them at that perfect spot where cuteness has not yet worn off and teenage awkwardness has not yet begun. He times everything well, huh? :)

Well, then I started thinking about it some more, and realized that it is actually really difficult to run a campaign with a younger child. But getting elected with baby on the brain is not the biggest hurdle for a new father. I suspect it could be done. There are such men among us; my husband is certainly one of them, and heck, Barack could be good enough as well. BUT! What will bring such a President down is the cuteness of his offspring.

Allow me to explain. Based on my experience so far, the President will not be able to conduct ANY discussions that are not centered around his kid. No one will talk to him about anything else. All foreign policy will be stalled completely. I imagine it going like this:

President: And for the Middle Peace Crisis policy, I may support your position to try and negotiate Israel's withdrawal to 1967 borders if ....
Mohamed Mubarak: OH! You have a new baby! He is SUCH a CUTIE PIE!! How old is HE? My goodness!!

President: Um.... 4 months. Thank you. I would also like to encourage Israel to.....
Mohamed Mubarak (interrupts): 4 months? He is BIG! How much does he weigh? Like, 15 pounds?

President: No. May be. I don't know. Thank you? Anyway, as I was saying....
Mohamed Mubarak (jingles his keys in front of baby): Cooochiecoooochiecooochiecoooo! Oooh, you want this? Yes you do! Whosssaasweetiepie? Who?

President (to his aide): Could you please bring in the supplemental materials for this?
Aide: Mr. President, President and Mrs. Sarkozy are here. They want to see the baby. They saw a cute outfit for him and couldn't resist.
Mohamed Mubarak: Is he sleeping through the night?!

Cannot be done, my friends. Cannot be done.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rolling, Twisting and Flipping

Wombat can now roll back onto his back! WOOOOHOOOOO!! This means that our staff no longer needs to stand by and assist with roll over.... no, now our staff will stand by just because he is sooooo cute.

So yes yes he can roll back. And on his tummy he can now prop himself up on his arms, or airplane - or push with one arm, pivot on his belly and turn where he wants. Soon we will be filling out the Cirque du Soleil application.... :) Seriously, all this rolling and pivoting is more than I can do on some days..... But his athletic Dad is right there with him though. :)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inaugural Concert

The concert was spectacular, with U2, Mary J Blige and Garth Brooks (I know, weird mix, huh?) giving our favorite performances of the night. Reverend Gene Robinson gave the greatest invocation I have heard - and unfortunately HBO did not include it in their broadcast (which, rightly, has outraged all gay and lesbian groups. Way to go HBO). But, we heard him live - and if his prayer were answered, we would truly live in a better world. This is what he said:

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president. O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will… Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS. Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future. Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah. Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world. Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger. Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world. And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States. Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people. Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times. Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead. Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States. Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims. Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods. And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace. AMEN.

We were waaaaaay back, by the Washington Monument, separated from the action by the World War 2 Memorial, the Reflecting Pool and a huge crowd. But just being part of the crowd finally made me feel like this is real. It is really true. We have our President. We are BACK, baby, we are BACK! :)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What 20 looks like

College Admission Essay

Found this one as well, in the treasure trove of old computer files my Dad brought up this weekend. This was what got me into Cornell..... well, either this or being a girl and applying to Engineering school. Hmmmm... wonder what had more impact.... ;)

He was old—about eighty-five, perhaps, but despite his age, he kept a straight posture and looked tall. He was very reticent; rarely could you hear him objecting to someone’s opinions, and never expressing his own. Large dark eyes embellished his thin face, wrinkled and pale; they seemed to be brightly black when he was excited or angry; but most of the time his face bore expression of wallowing in grief, and they were of a sullen dark gray color. He usually was wearing an old-fashioned suit; he liked autumn, apple pies and music of Tchaikovsky.

He was a neighbor and an old friend of my grandfather. His house was small and very old; inside its smallness was divided into many rooms, filled with the smell of wooden furniture and the ticking of the old clock. One of the rooms had a piano in it; the room was small, the piano was gigantic, and it looked as if the piano was standing in a box. The tables, desks, drawers and chairs were what one might call “impractical”—they were made out of pure wood, had curved legs and polished tops. Paintings crowded the walls; they hung in heavy frames that someday were golden, but became gray with dust. The paintings and furniture looked expensive and refined, and they were in strange contrast with the dust surrounding them and with the tiny rooms. Books were in every spot of the house; many had their spines covered with metal, their titles printed with golden letters. Some of them were written in languages that I didn’t know; some of them were written in strange looking Russian. He would usually sit in an armchair among those books, his back straight, his head bowed to a book, the light of the lamp making his white hair yellowish. Tense silence filled the rooms; the only sounds were the striking of the clock and whisper of the turning pages. It seemed that this silence became a part of him, because when he came to my grandfather, the same silence took over my grandfather’s house. And when he died, the silence in his house died with him too.

Several years after his death I came over to my grandfather’s house and, going through the books, I found an old torn notebook. Time made its pages yellow and the ink—pale, yet I was able to read the name of the grandfather’s friend on it. I started going through it; the notebook contained thoughts on one’s responsibilities to the society, on crime and punishment, and on the influence of one’s actions on the society. I put the notebook aside—it was nothing of interest to me.

My grandfather came in; he picked up the notebook and said, “Did you read this?” “Yes, a little of it; there’s nothing special in it anyway. Just some philosophy stuff that doesn’t really mean anything.” My grandfather sat down. He said, “When my friend was your age, he thought so too; that’s how he ruined himself. He paid a lot for these philosophy notes.”

“He joined the Communists during the revolution of the 1917,” my grandfather continued. “It was not even the Communist party that he joined, but the Communist idea. He came from a noble family; he was young and na├»ve; he wanted to change the world, to make everyone happy. As soon as the Communists took over, they began the “purgation of the society”. He, as many others, was denied most of the human rights as “a former capitalist and a present enemy of the people”, and was lucky to stay alive. But the greatest torture for him was the memory of his helping the Communists; he felt responsible for the broken lives and terrible deaths of many people; that responsibility was a tremendous weight for a person to carry. The results of the revolution terrified him; the thought that he helped to reach those results terrified him even more, but he couldn’t fix anything. His past actions influenced his future.” He paused. “Everyone meets his own past again sooner or later.”

I am now seventeen and considered to be a grown-up, who understands things. The notebook of my grandfather’s friend is lying on a shelf among my other books; sometimes I re-read it. You know, with years I grew to like the music of Tchaikovsky.


This is a high school essay I wrote in 1997, for my English class. Amazingly, I seem to have been able to write at one point. Engineering school sure put a stop to that nonsense. :)

One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. Repeter. One, two, three, four…
I am standing on my toes in front of the wall-to-wall mirror, which reflects my thin, large-eyed face, outstretched neck, rounded arms. I’ve done my hair in a ponytail and now it’s bouncing as I do my plies: one, two, three, four.
There’s no music yet—we’re just warming up—but we all work in the same unheard rhythm, as if directed by someone. The noise of the awakening town, the silence of the School of Arts, which ballet hall I am in now, fall into the one rhythm with my plies: one, two, three, four.
Everyone is in a grayish tight shirt and black leggings, and the only bright spots in our costumes are our toe-shoes. All the colors besides gray and gold seem to be washed out of this room; sun fills it with shine, and we look like dancing shadows.
These plies, bows, jumps give us our identity on stage—but now they are faceless. It’s a usual, mundane warm-up. To become someone on stage, you first have to lose your face in the ballet hall. One, two, three, four.
The choreographer comes in, quickly and silently checking the postures of everyone. He takes a place near the window to warm up, quickly goes through a set of stretches, bows and jumps. When he finishes, we will finish too.
He calls me up; I let go of the barre and my feet now stop their routine.
“We’ll work on your jumps. Splits first, then the height.” I do my ponytail higher up. “Go!”
My legs bend, stretch, and for a moment I fly—my fingers feeling the air flowing through them; I land on my toe, turn and face him, accompanied by the continuing whisper of swiftly turning feet of others: one, two, three, four.
“This would go for Cinderella, not for Carmen. Do it again. You did it too gently—Carmen was fast, rough, may be somewhat vulgar. Not clumsy, though—rough. Do it again.”
Poor Carmen—she is a fleshless being; she has to hope that I will give her life in my movements. I wonder if she ever would wear a ponytail.
I jump—quicker, and now the air hits me in the face.
“No. Again.”
“Again. No.”
He hits me on my back and my legs; in pain and surprise I jump up, my arms strike the air as I try to find my balance, my head is thrown back by the air rushing against me; furious, I come down to see him smiling.
“Now you got it.”
Others had finished their barre routines as well and now the feet strike the floor in staccato rhythm. The town had woken up and now noise has filled the space under the open windows of the ballet hall.

In an hour I am finished with my practice. As I go to the exit through the ballet hall, I look at the mirror.
But I cannot see my face. The spot of the mirror I am looking at is covered by my new Carmen costume.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Photo Booth

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Take that, sleep experts.

In what is certainly a sarcastic lashing-out at Dr. Weissbluth, Wombat has been taking 14 naps a day. Well, ok, may be not 14, but definitely 4 or 5. And each nap is now around 45 minutes or less.... so basically he naps and eats all day. And night. And I am trying to figure out if he is under the weather, or if this is a growing spurt, or if he just feels like napping and eating all day is a smart move. Who wouldn't like to do that? Sigh....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Oh my gosh my baby is using the high chair!

Breastfeeding is not the same as "expressing milk"

This week, the never-fails-me New Yorker has an article on breastfeeding. I know, they know no limits to their inquiry. But, the article brings up a very interesting point: "If 'breast is best', why are women bottling their milk?"

When has pumping milk become "just-as-good" as actually nursing the baby? Companies producing the breast pumps (which have much in common with the milk pumps used on cattle, no surprise there) invest a lot of money into promoting their products, lobbying offices to setup 'lactation rooms' and lobbying government to provide breast pump subsidy to poor families. Interestingly, babies are not allowed to be brought into most 'lactation rooms' - and feeding a baby breast milk from a bottle is nowhere near feeding the baby at the breast.

May be it's my foreignness talking, but I find the breastmilk craze such an American thing. This country has such a hard time NOT seeing things in black and white. Everything is either good or bad. Kind or evil. For us or against us. And after things are colored black or white, they must be quantified, scientifically analyzed, one true answer must be found, and then EVERYTHING must change.

And this is how we go to the point where the breast MILK is a must-have, but the actual BREAST, apparently, can go missing. Where are the studies showing how much of the positive effect of breastfeeding is due to just milk, and how much is due to contact with the mother, her heartbeat and her embrace? How much of the positive effect is due to the nutritional and antibacterial qualities of the milk, and how much is due to the feeling of comfort and "rightness with the world" that a child has while suckling? We cannot quantify these things - but we pretend that, away from the mother, away from contact, away from its natural context, breastmilk will still cure all like some sort of magical elixir.

Even women themselves are complicit. We become outraged if there are no milk expressing rooms at work, but not if there is no daycare on-site. La Leche League spends its time promoting breast pumps instead of lobbying the government to give mothers a decent maternity leave. "Mommy Bloggers" spend their time harrassing Facebook for having taken down some breastfeeding pictures, instead of promoting feeding - not pumping. We are fighting so hard, just not for the real cause.

Pumping into a bottle, cleaning bottle and pump, storing the bottle, is certainly not any more convenient then simply breastfeeding the child - and any mother will tell you it is NOT enjoyable, like breastfeeding a child is. So why do we not only settle for pumping milk, but treat it as the right thing to do? Why don't we demand to be with our kids instead? Elijah rejects his bottle. He knows it's not the same as being at the breast with Mom, and he won't settle for less. May be we shouldn't either.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

There is no escaping family business

Bottles are for Babies

At 5 months, our Wombat has already decided to take a stand. He stands against bottle-feeding. He will use the bottle as a pacifier, as a bubble machine and, if you give it to him, as a juggling toy. But he will NOT eat from it, and if you try to make him, he will make a highly offended fuss. And spit your bottle back out at you. And just go hungry.

Same milk. Same chair. Same pillow. Same everything, just milk in a bottle instead of Mom. NOT ACCEPTABLE!

And his activism is yielding results! After trying to bottle-feed him with no avail, my parents decided to try spoon-feeding him.... and he loved it! Once he figured out that you have to keep your tongue UNDER the spoon, they were off to the races. He will eat the milk from the spoon, no problem. And lick the spoon. Just don't have the bottle anywhere in sight. Oh boy.... isn't it too early for "I'm not a baby!" schtick? Or is it something else?

But he is adorable doing it. He opens his mouth in advance of the spoon's arrival. He sticks his tongue out. He slurps the liquid off the spoon and he smacks his lips for a while after each taste. Here are some pictures of him enjoying spooning ;)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dress for Success.

So, after the holidays I went shopping to steal some of the crazy deals that Manhattan Macys had. Being a bad girl, spending money even though we are trying to stretch our savings until March and keep Elijah at home as long as we can.... buy hey, you only live once and while you live you should certainly have the latest styles.

And, to my delight, apparently 2-piece dresses are in for the spring season! I love these things! They look like a skirt and a shirt - except the shirt never untucks, never buldges and the skirt never rides up. So polished, pretty and professional!

Except when I put it on. I wouldn't say it looks bad... just not, um, professional. At least not of the "computer science" professional type. It looks like this.

Ugh. That doesn't look quite right, does it? Office dress is not supposed to give off the "come hither" look. But everything does this, so what should I do? Should I wear shapeless garbage bags? Should I invest in holiday sweaters? Pleated khakis?! Twinsets? Or should I just continue walking around work looking like I wondered into the building by some big mistake, and really belong down at the neighborhood Hooters?

So, of course I kept the dress. Now I just need a jacket to put over it, a camisole to stick under it, and a hair band to make a ponytail with, and it can be work appropriate. Mostly because it will be almost invisible. And it will wear this dress by itself.... when I go out. Yeah, when I go out to the "Computer Scientists dressing sexily while thinking algorithmically" convention. Sigh....

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Baby in the City

We walked out of the underground garage on the Upper East Side, with Elijah in the stroller. On the street, he glanced up - his eyes went wide, his mouth opened, and just like that we had a new New Yorker. :)

Grandma and Grandpa

The best people in the universe. And to think, he doesn't even know they have candy yet! :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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