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At the beginning of December, I had a discussion with a friend about "fate" and "destiny". Many times these words are used interchangeably. However, they are not the same, and in fact you can believe in one and not the other. Fate - it is like a set order of events, something unavoidable or inevitable, and often with pessimistic overtones. All humans share the same fate - death, and possibly rebirth, depending on your beliefs.

Yet our destinies are different. Destiny - not preset, and arguably within your control on some level. We can change it, or others can come along and be the catalyst for our destiny to be altered.

The topic arose when I began to think about people in my life, those with whom I've allowed myself to get close outside of my family. Ex-boyfriends, friends, even some minor acquaintances, or brief exchanges with people on the street or during travels. Each teaching some lesson, a few of them quite painful, yet opening the pathway forward to another person or cornerstone in life...So, I would say you can choose your own destiny, but not your own fate. This is the main difference, at least to me.

Yesterday, I saw the film "Passengers", and there was an interesting line spoken by Jennifer Lawrence's charcter Aurora - "we are all passengers...we go where fate carries us." Something to think about as we head into 2017...Happy New Year! :)

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I've started to paint a nice picture of Georgia in my first few posts, but this doesn't mean everything is so rosy there. The country is no different from others, with both good and bad sides. The difference is that as a foreigner I notice many problematic things which Georgians may consider "normal", when in fact they're confusing, and even incomprehensible, for a foreign tourist.

You can look at this cover photo and perhaps it stirs some type of nostalgia for those who grew up in Soviet times. :) These old LADAs are everywhere on the roads in Georgia, and I'm always amazed at how many people are stuffed inside them. Often the small cars are weighed down with heavy loads attached to the roof, barely moving down the road. I wondered several times if some of these people ever made it to their destination point. Many of the old cars are in bad shape, and probably shouldn't even be on the road. However, as far as I can tell, there is no type of inspection requirement for machines, no emissions testing - nothing to control the quality or safety of the cars on the roads in Georgia. And this leads to #1 on the list for "bad Georgia"....Read more... )
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This is one of my favorite photos from the road trip in Georgia, taken in motion from a car window while passing. However, it's very symbolic of life throughout the country. Outside of Tbilisi, Batumi and a few other larger cities, Georgia is one big rural village, immediately transporting you to a different time and place. For all its beauty, the country is very poor, employment opportunities are limited, and people are tied to a simple existence without a lot of luxuries to which most of us are accustomed. This is part of the country's beauty and fascination, at least for me - an American coming from a middle class, stable environment. A woman who has had plenty of opportunities to achieve almost anything she wanted in life. Nothing has been handed to me, for everything I worked quite hard -  getting various degrees and a high education, fighting for positions at work, numerous other things...

I tried to find some statistics about average wages, but they are inconsistent. Figures released in 2015 show that women in Georgia earned an average salary of 697.3 GEL ($270), while a male earns 1,126.8 ($440). So, we can see that men earn substantially more there, regardless of business sector. The average pension is about $75. There is free health care, but nothing is really "free", and more favorable care can be arranged by getting private insurance costing from $10 - $50/month. With such poor wages, this seems almost impossible for most citizens. Georgians pay a flat tax on salaries and fees - 20%. If annual income exceeds 40,000 GEL ($15,600), the State will require additional taxes which are determined by the value of real estate owned by the family. At least, this is according to current information available here. Due to the fertile nature of Georgian soil, food is quite cheap - fresh fruits, vegetables and grains are all produced locally. With meat is another issue - sometimes expensive, and not the best quality, unless you like fatty dishes.

I can't really say how living in Georgia is different than life in Russia. In some ways, the systems are the same and village life in each nation mirrors the other based on my experience of traveling in remote parts of both nations. Cultures certainly differ in their openness, friendliness and tolerance for diversity. Georgians by nature are quite animated, friendly and talkative; Russians more cold in appearance, and less animated as a whole. But people are just people....:)

What do you think? Could you live in such a village? This is something I continually ask myself... and the answer remains inconclusive.





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While editing photos from the last winter journey, I was reminded of a scene that plays out all over Russia in the brutal winter months. It doesn't matter where this photo was taken, because it's symbolic of almost every city I've driven through during all my visits to the country. Usually it's mothers struggling to push a stroller on unclear roads or sidewalks covered in snow, ice, and most often a combination of both. Or, they labor to carry a heavy stroller and child up or down steps in metro stations. I began to wonder whether the country in which you live matters when it comes to raising children?

I think so, for conditions everywhere aren't the same, though the motivation of any good parent around the globe is the well-being and development of their child. In the U.S., I rarely see situations like this and there are several reasons why. First, we're a lazy society, and elevators or escalators exist in almost all major shopping centers or transport hubs. Second, most people have cars, and aren't struggling to walk everywhere in bad weather conditions for basic chores or necessities in life. Outside of big cities, parking is rarely an issue, and even in big cities there are plenty of garages but you will pay a lot to park in them in places like Washington, DC (around $25/day), and in New York City the cost is even more astronomical. Finally, we're a heavily regulated society, with a lot of laws on both the Federal and State level.Read more... )
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В течение шести лет я жила в высотном доме в Арлингтоне, Вирджиния, где-то в пяти минутах от Вашингтона. Люди часто меня просят побольше рассказать об обычной американской жизни, поэтому сегодня я покажу вам квартиру, где я прожила больше всего времени на четвертом десятке и расскажу про ее стоимость для одинокой работающей женщины, живущей в очень дорогом районе Северной Вирджинии. Мы можем начать отсюда, с гостиной в квартире, где я проводила многие вечера, отдыхая и расслабляясь. Вся мебель и украшения в квартире – мои собственные. В большинстве русских квартир, где я останавливалась, нет отдельной гостиной, и люди используют кухню как место сбора. Потому я не уверена, обычны ли такие места сбора в России, но вы можете сказать мне. Давайте посмотрим на остальную часть моей берлоги холостячки. :)
Read more... )
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I grew up a small town girl, and it's in such places where I feel most comfortable. While I can find common ground and carry a conversation with almost any person, I'm an introvert by nature and don't crave constant social interactions or encounters with other persons. This is why I've always felt uncomfortable in concrete jungles, or cities over-flooded with humanity at almost every corner. The constant chatter from the mouths of strangers and clicking sounds of feet pounding on pavement are somehow exhausting to me. I receive no rush of energy or pleasure from these crowds, only a sense of suffocation and irritation. When I first arrived in Montana, it became clear this State is unique. Perhaps like none other I've visited, with the exception of Wyoming.Read more... )
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Size plays an integral role in the process of many things, and it's the foundation for many human insecurities. This becomes apparent if you ever work with or know a male who suffers from the very real psychological disorder known as "Napoleon complex" or "short man syndrome." I work with such a man in my law firm, who suffers with some severe insecurities due to his lack of stature. His aggressive personality is a complete nightmare!

Then, we have the stereotypical worries about penis size. These too are real, as I once dated a man on the small side and this issue came up frequently - from HIM, not me. But in Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc countries, it seems men must worry about the size of something else - the bouquet! :)) I've recently noticed a trend on Instagram where Russian women post photos of themselves with huge bouquets of flowers. I even read an article about the phenomenon entitled "
Russian Women with Shitloads of Flowers." :)  I think today is the most popular day for flowers in your region of the world, so it seems like a good time to discuss the topic.Read more... )
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For those who wish to freely roam the world, the most powerful passport holders are Germans. Today I read an article ranking countries based on the amount of "travel freedom." This is defined as the number of countries where citizens can travel with no visa requirements, or where tourist visas can be obtained upon arrival. Germans have visa-free access to 177 countries and territories, and the other top five countries ( all European nations and America) are not far behind in global access for citizens.

(1) Germany - 177 countries
(2) Sweden - 176 countries
(3) Finland, France, Italy, Spain and the UK - 175 countries
(4) USA, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands - 174 countries
(5) Austria, Japan and Singapore - 173 countries

At the bottom of the list are Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Russian passport holders rank 48th. You can see the entire index here.

We cannot control the country into which we are born, but we can control the passport we hold and use to a certain extent. For instance, my Ukrainian friend moved to France to study and has lived and worked there for several years. Soon, he will be able to apply for French citizenship and obtain a French passport. Imagine how much easier it will be for him to travel! It's an awesome sense of freedom, in my view. I understand that Ukraine does not allow for dual citizenship, so technically he must give up his Ukrainian passport, but he is under the impression that given the slow and inefficient bureaucracy there, no one will notice the dual citizenship. Of course, visa waivers reflect a country's ability to play nice with the rest of the world and maintain good diplomatic relations. I hope for the day when American and Russian citizens can freely travel to each nation without the burden and cost of visas, but I don't foresee it anytime in the future, although American citizens can currently travel to a lot of former Soviet bloc countries with no hassles. Now I'm starting to plan my autumn trip to Georgia, where no visa is required.

What are the benefits of a Russian passport, or your home country? Yes, I'm very grateful to be born in the USA and carry a passport from this country, as I've written many times. It allows for freedom of travel to a lot of places on the globe, and we have excellent infrastructure and roads to travel within America as well. It's very important for an eternal wanderer like me...
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Over the weekend, my local community experienced horror and shock after three police officers were gunned down when they responded to a domestic violence call. An active Army Sergeant named Ronald Hamilton decided to slap his wife around yet again, with their young son in the home. The boy fled when the violence started, and escaped the bloody scene that followed. As soon as the three police officers arrived at the scene, Sergeant Hamilton began spraying bullets at them. Two remain in the hospital and one was fatally wounded. It's a tragic tale, and every officers worst nightmare. The victim was one of several female officers who had just graduated from the Prince William County Police Academy on Friday. She was killed on her very first night on the job. Only 28 years old. No, this was not a response call to some ghetto area, but to a nice, suburban neighborhood, where the average house costs around $500,000. The wife was already dead on the floor when police officers arrived.Read more... )
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It's that time of year again, when American workers get to see how many of their hard-earned dollars were contributed to taxes, social security and Medicare in 2015. You can see my contribution to the system here, in the W-2 Form that was just handed to me by our cute mail room boy.

- Salary: $114,107.40 - this is $30,000 less than prior years because I now work a reduced schedule to have more time to pursue hobbies and passions, and mostly for mental balance. I don't want to waste my life away at the computer or desk, and need other forms of intellectual stimulation besides legal work to stay sane.
- Federal Income Tax Withheld: $22,137.33!!
- Virginia State Tax Withheld: $6,077.78
- Social Security Withheld: $7,074.66
- Medicare: $1,654.56

The last two are contributions to the Federal government's pension and medical insurance plans for retirees. I will see none of this money until at least age 62, when you can begin to collect a pension, and it will not be enough for survival. As a result, I have a separate investment plan on my own and through my work, where a certain percentage of my salary is invested in stocks and bonds. I've had this since I first started working at age 16. My parents always made me aware that it's necessary to first be able to support and provide for yourself, and for this I'm very grateful. Perhaps it helps you better understand why I have absolutely no relation to females who rely on men solely for financial support and basic living needs. I get few tax breaks because I have no children, and can't claim them as dependents or receive tax credits. I get a larger portion than necessary deducted so I usually get a refund of about $1,000 - $2,000 each year. I use these funds for my annual birthday trip each February. The only relief I can claim is through interest paid on my doctorate loans and real estate property I own.

So, which do you think is better? A flat tax system like Russia, or being taxed based on income and earning brackets as in the U.S.? The more you earn, the more you pay....seems fair to me.

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There are a handful of topics which always hang in TOP LJ. These issues are written about daily by numerous bloggers, including all the most popular female writers who pump out content and photos on the same theme almost every day. The most common on the list are stories related to female appearance, body image and mentality. I'm sorry, but I really can't understand how it's so interesting to the masses to sit and offer opinions about the way others look, why they dress a certain way, or render unsolicited medical advice on whether a woman is too thick or thin. I've never once seen the same type of analysis or criticism directed to men on LJ. Today I see yet another idiotic post hanging in the top, questioning why Western advertisers use photos of ordinary looking females, or rather what the blogger considers thickish and unsightly women with cellulite, in swimsuit advertising. The confusion is not surprising given that this blogger's journal consists almost entirely of provocative photos and images of herself, which suggests her entire identity and self-worth are tied to physical and superficial validation.

About beauty, weight, female body issues - perhaps these are interesting topics if a blogger actually takes the time to consider and discuss the psychological issues associated with the complex neuroses that almost all women suffer from at one point in their lives. For me, it happened in my early to mid-20's, so I can offer personal insight on the topic. So, tell me, do you really find it so interesting to discuss female bodies? If so, I can begin writing some posts about this topic, self-acceptance, bulimia, unrealistic societal expectations imposed by fashion industries....there are endless things to discuss. My own personal opinion is that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and forms. I honestly believe it, and the most simple thing is to understand that if one person finds something repulsive, another is probably jerking off or mad with envy over the same image...Diversity - this is what makes the world go round and saves us all from boredom. :)) Is this a topic of interest to readers? Let me know - yes or no. 
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All the predictions came true, and the East Coast of the USA was hit by a major blizzard over the weekend. The snowfall totals were epic and historical. In my suburb in Virginia, we had over 80 centimeters and, with the high winds, snow drifts that towered over me and became quite dangerous for children. Because the snow was dry and light rather than wet, there was a probability of huge piles collapsing and burying children underneath. This happened momentarily with my nephew and it scared him to the point that he wanted to come inside and rest instead of continuing to play outside. Of course, I dream of such winter wonderlands and they are rare for my area. It's relaxing to sit for two days and watch the accumulations build, but then the hard work comes when it's time to dig yourself out and resume normal life again. So, let's take a look at how it all began...let it snow! )
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I often hear the phrase that "people are the same everywhere." This is true to a certain extent, but there are cultural deviations which make the world an interesting place to explore. If we are all the same no matter the country of origin, with identical societal behaviors and customs, there would never be a reason to leave home in search of enlightenment or exposure to something different. Based on personal experience, and being a female American writer in a predominantly male dominated Russian blogging platform, I can attest that mentalities and societal expectations are different, and this is particularly true when it comes to gender relations and demands.

Nothing confuses me more than to receive misogynistic or judgmental emails directed toward my physical appearance, clothing choices, or childless lifestyle. If the primary topic of my blog was fitness, fashion or something related to superficial concepts, then I would expect to be judged in such a manner, but this is not the case. I try to be a different type of female writer here - to focus on thought provoking topics and force people to think outside the box. I spend a lot of time writing texts and choosing words carefully, rather than simply posting half-nude selfies from the gym mirror all day as many of the popular female bloggers do. I think this narcissism is a real poison in today's society.

Why am I writing about this? Because it was necessary to remove yesterday's post, which was probably too personal in nature. I began to receive aggressive and angry emails from some male readers when I truthfully said that I live quite happily without a man. Why do I need to read such abusive and scary personal attacks from people who seem to be psychologically imbalanced? Yes, 90% of them are probably Internet trolls, but it's unsettling nonetheless. I love my readers, and almost every person who leaves a comment in this blog is a man, with rare exceptions. You're most often amusing and enlightening, but at times I simply shake my head in disbelief and frustration when we talk about the roles of women. For instance, look at this photo of one of the most popular American travel bloggers "Adventurous Kate", who journeys to all corners of the globe and writes about it in her blog. Can you imagine if such a photo appeared in LJ? There would be hundreds of comments telling her how ugly, fat and horrible she looks. Countless sofa experts would tell her how to eat, diagnose her health ailments, instruct her how to lose weight, dress better, fix her hair....Read more... )
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There are some words which have purely subjective meanings in my view, and "spirituality" is one of them. For me, this word has nothing to do with God or religion. As an agnostic, I'm not attached to any church or religious rituals, yet I still consider myself a spiritual person. This seems to be a key word in Russian media and culture, as discussions about "spirituality" are constantly thrown around on LJ and in comments, usually to insult the non-spiritual and decadent West. I saw it just this week when the pro-Kremlin blogger "politichanka" grew outraged at Varlamov's recent posts about bad Sevastopol, particularly his focus on all the trash in the city. The reason for all this shit on the ground? She claims that "Ukraine in 23 years failed to instill spiritual values in the youth. Therefore, young people behave like pigs and there is garbage everywhere." Of course, this is an absurd statement but I grew curious and decided to ask her what her definition of "spirituality" is. Her answer? "Actually I don't know."

I never use words I don't know or understand, especially when I'm insulting people. For me, spirituality is an aura, the energy and emotion that you evoke when encountering complete strangers, your charitable contributions to the overall good of humanity, a connection to something bigger than yourself, and an overall sense of openness and positivity toward the world and its inhabitants....and how about you? How does Russian culture define "spirituality," and why is the term so commonly used there? Help me understand. :)
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Who knew that it was shameful to eat off of paper plates, or sip from a plastic cup? My translated post about Thanksgiving appeared in TOP LJ all day yesterday, and the comments were just a feast for the soul and mind! Many people immediately commented on the fact that my family eats off of paper plates, not porcelain or china! This is a sign of bad taste and a lower class upbringing, of course! We are poorly educated American rednecks! :)) Apparently after slaving over the oven all day cooking for 40 people, many Russians would prefer to stand at the sink in the evening for hours loading the dishwasher multiple times or hand-washing precious porcelain than demean themselves and use disposable plates and cups! My family certainly owns nice porcelain, but we don't feel the need to eat off of sparkling plates at such huge gatherings. Does the food taste different if it's served on a fancy plate? I don't think so. :) Other common observations in the comments:Read more... )
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We all have mentors growing up, people who inspire us to do great things in life or those who instill a sense of profound knowledge and insight. They make us better and more intelligent humans, and can turn an otherwise directionless life and place it back on course. Growing up, I had several teachers who were mentors, and especially during university when I met a young professor who encouraged me to continue writing poetry and other creative works. So you can imagine my horror when I received an email from a beautiful young girl I met during my visit to Ples. She lives in the town of Volgorechensk, and is very studious, speaking almost perfect English, with a dream to study or visit abroad. Completely interested and open to the world outside of Russia. She began to tell me about the things her teacher tells her and other students in the classroom...shock! )
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When you sit in traffic for almost two hours each morning on the way to work, you notice a lot of different bumper stickers and personalized license plates on the cars of your fellow commuters. This morning, a car passed me with this sticker plastered on the bumper and another one that read "I SELL THE AMERICAN DREAM." I couldn't find a stock photo of a bumper sticker with this slogan, and I've never seen it before. I can't understand what the expression "I SELL THE AMERICAN DREAM" means?

What is the "American dream"? I don't even know, because life dreams vary depending on the personality and ambition of each individual. We can't say that the American dream is one specific thing, although the stereotypical formula is (1) work hard; (2); earn a decent living; (3) marriage + children; (4) home ownership = the "dream." Yesterday, I read a post in the LJ immigrant community, which focused on the proposition that a green card does not bring happiness. The post is here. When the diversity lottery opens each year, a lot of posts on this topic and immigration into America get published. The lottery opened on 1 October and will run until 3 November. With the exception of marrying an American, the diversity lottery is 100% the easiest pathway to U.S. citizenship if you're selected, though the chances are very, very slim. Good luck to those readers who will apply. However, it's necessary to remind everyone about the expression on the next popular bumper sticker:
Read more... )
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Where are the most well kept, colorful and orderly homes in Russia? I don't mean mansions or dachas, but ordinary houses that are the primary living space for the occupants. Over the weekend, I began to process a lot of photos from the last winter journey and it's difficult to pick the city with the most vibrant and charming homes. In recent posts, I've shown only a few depressing and grey towns from the last journey, namely, Vologda and Ivanovo. In the upcoming stories, you'll see the opposite. Vibrant life, cleaner roads, and beautiful winter landscapes that immediately delight the eyes. Why are some cities so clean and pleasant and others dirty and gloomy? Is it the residents that live there, the financial resources of the local administration, or something else? Each of these towns is dealing with the same weather conditions, the same snow and the same ice. Can you guess the town pictured here and in the photos after the cut?Read more... )
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Cult of personality. I believe it's a very dangerous thing, no matter the country. The further you travel into provincial Virginia, the greater the chances of seeing villages filled with rednecks, Confederate flags, and citizens who hate Obama for turning the USA into a socialist State. Yes, in America such people exist in multitudes, and there's no cult of personality for one particular leader. In the mountains of the Blue Ridge area, I entered a quaint antique shop and came across this roll of toilet paper, graced with Obama's face. A whole shelf full of them, for people who wish to wipe their asses with Obama's imprint. I frequently see posts here on LJ with all the patriotic t-shirts, even vending machines filled with shirts covered in Putin's portrait, slogans with glee over "our Crimea" and other hysteria. Who wears these items?Read more... )
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I had no idea the first day of school in Russia is such a big celebration, with flowers and festivities. I never noticed before, but I see a lot of photos from my Russian friends on Facebook, with boys and girls dressed up and bright flowers in their arms. It's a beautiful tradition! Personally I always hated school, at every level. This is a strange statement for someone like me who has spent half of my life in some type of educational institution - 2 years of preschool, 12 years to get a high school diploma, 4 years for my university degree in English/Writing and then another 5 years to get my doctorate in law. Total = over 20 years!!

In the U.S., we don't have such a big celebration for the first day of school. I think it's completely different, though each parent still posts photos of their kids with their backpacks and books. My nephew started second grade yesterday, and I watched him get on the school bus. I never once had the urge to have a child, or carry such a huge responsibility for another human. I look at my sister, working full time, constantly running from place to place with my nephew. One day it's karate lessons, the next soccer practice, a friend's birthday party....the list is endless. Sometimes I look at her and feel relieved that I have absoultely no responsibility. Not for a child, or a husband, only myself and family. Free to do as I wish, when I want. It sounds selfish to many, but this is the reality in which I live and I have never wanted it any other way.Read more... )

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