Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Striking Gold

Well, the first semester at NIU has successfully come to an end and I'll be on my way "home" to Seattle in a few days to spend Christmas and New Year's with my family and old friends :) And as excited as I am to go back and see everything/everyone again, I know I'm going to be just as excited to come back to my "home" here :) Moving to Illinois has truly been one of the best decisions of my life, an experience of "first"s, an adventure, an opportunity of a lifetime, a new beginning, a fresh start, a clean slate . . . a gift, really. A gift I'm really and truly thankful for, a gift that continues to fill my heart with joy and makes me ridiculously happy ;) As I've written before, it was definitely bittersweet to leave Seattle, but I was ready to move on, spread my wings and fly :P Coming and living here has been like striking a gold mine . . . Every. Single. Day. And here's why:

* My house is perfect :) I have never lived in a place this cute and this cozy.

* Our landlord is simply amazing... A picture of Midwestern kindness and hospitality. She got us welcome gifts and Christmas gifts and pretty much provided us with everything we need :)

* My roommate is wonderful . . . I've never had a roommate other than family before, so naturally I was a bit nervous to all of a sudden move in with a complete stranger, but T and I have bonded faster than I ever thought we would and stronger than if we would have used superglue. It is truly priceless to live with not only a friend, but a classmate, a study buddy, a cooking buddy, a cleaning buddy and an overall awesome person. I can't even tell you how many times I have either forgotten something at the house (lunch, homework, Brailler) or needed something from home (a change of clothes, a water bottle) and how T was always there for me! I really love her :)

* My new church is literally a family who "adopted" me along with their 3 adorable kids whom I just can't get enough of :P

* My new friends are super sweet and as cheesy as it sounds, they welcomed me into their lives with open arms and open hearts. It's true what they say about Midwesterners . . . They really are nice :)

* My school and my program are fabulous! I've been learning so much and I really like our campus.

* My classmates are cool, we all get along and help each other out, which is key in a program as challenging as this one. I've never felt isolated or alone. 

* I love my professors!!! They have been super kind, helpful, encouraging and completely on and by my side the entire semester, rooting for my success and believing in my ability to do well.

* The salsa scene in Chicago has been nothing short of welcoming and can I just say . . . I love, love, love, LOVE the leads here!!! Besides being ridiculously good and versatile (On1 AND On2, plus awesome bachata skills), they are SO nice and friendly and AWESOME :)

* And on the romantic front, I have been truly lucky to meet a Chi-town guy who does not take offense to my scathing humor and makes long drives to hang out with me in the 'burbs on weekends ;)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Musings of a Salsa-High Weekend

As if I wasn't already head over heels in love with Chicago, this dance-full weekend more or less sealed the deal :)

Yes, there are a lot more girls than guys in the Chicago salsa scene, which means that the girls need to be a little more aggressive . . . . not something I have a problem with :) Lets face it, I've never had a problem asking for (and getting) what I want.

Not dancing everyday like I used to has turned my cardio to s*** :( I was in pain and gasping for breath after every fast song . . .  Not that it stopped me from dancing the next one :P

Dancing alone in my room has done wonders for my styling though ;)

My feet are no longer callused :( Which makes them really hurt by the end of the night . . .

I'm a darn good follow! Not perfect by any means, but good enough to keep up with professionals, connect with perfect strangers and make instructors be like, "D*** girl, where did you learn to dance like that???" That would be Seattle . . .

Dancing on2 opens doors. And windows. Guys want you ;)

Oh and one more thing . . . . . . even in a new city, I can smell a player from a mile away :)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Window to the Soul

What enlightened romantic poet first coined the popular phrase of the eyes being the windows to the soul? Well, there really wasn't one. "The eyes are the windows to the soul" is actually an old English proverb which now may have been proven true by scientists who are discovering that certain patters in the iris can give an indication of whether we are warm and trusting or neurotic and impulsive. Research has also found that those pretty squiggles of color could even be an indicator a tender heart, providing even more reasons for us to stare deeply into each other's eyes ;)

So if the eyes are truly the window to the soul, what can be said about the images that enter them? I've been studying vision pretty intensely for the last couple of months of grad school, and was surprised to learn that 90% of information our brain receives comes through our eyes. That definitely made me wonder about just how much "junk" I fill my brain with daily. A while back when I was on a food cleanse and eating really healthy, I would look at different foods and ask myself if I really wanted to put all those ingredients into my body. I mean, what were all these colors and preservatives going to do to me on the inside and how would that manifest on the outside? And then one day I was looking at a display of movies in the grocery store and caught myself asking a similar question . . . Did I really want to put all those concepts, ideas and images into my brain? What were they going to do to my mind and how would that affect my behavior? I know myself, and I know I have a natural tendency to reflect the language and mannerisms of the people I'm most often around. When I went to London, I picked up the British accent after just a few days and kept it up throughout the rest of my stay. My dance style is a mixture of Seattle's best follows ;) which I've modified to make my own and every time I watch Pride and Prejudice (which is quite often), I find myself acting more and more like a "proper" lady, speaking, and even thinking as Lizzy did. Am I easily influenced? If I allow myself to be . . . Is everyone else? To a degree, yes, I believe that even as adults, our child-like abilities of soaking up surrounding information and imitating those we admire is still very much with us.

It's a fact that the things we find entertaining reveal a lot about who we are, what we enjoy and also what we value and find important. Just like there is a hint of truth in every joke, nothing is done "just because". One doesn't need to be Freud to know that our subconscious is always working, making us do and say things that give away our true thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, and even motives. As humans, we tend to gravitate towards not only the things that reflect our current state of being, but also towards who we long to be, what we long to have, and what we long to do.

And so I started to consider why I really like certain TV shows and am strongly turned off by others. Was it my friends' influence or some psychological connections I've made with it? Did I relate to the characters and associate them with myself and the people I knew? What did these plots have that drew me in and held me captive for hours at a time? So I made a list of my favorite shows in order of which ones I love most. Conclude what you want from it, but I think I know what they say about me ;) . . . besides the obvious fact that I clearly value good humor :P If nothing else, I hope you get intrigued enough to check them out and find them as amusing as I do :)

Sex and the City - Besides being a hands down classic for single and dating girls everywhere, this series is as much about relationships and sex as it is about amazing friendships and life in the NYC (which I LOVE!) Not to mention that pretty much everything Carrie says or writes about is pretty profound...

Gossip Girl - I generally strongly dislike soap operas (something about stupid pointless drama that drags on and on and never seems to resolve itself), but GG is super smart, witty and full of clever and sarcastic LMAO humor that is truly addicting. Even though this drama is overflowing with lies, revenge, plotting, scheming, betrayal and tears, there is a strong sense of underlying goodness, love, friendship and family ties that leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside time after time, and unlike in a soap opera, the storyline moves along fairly quickly and everything does get resolved . . . . eventually :P Oh, and it's full of great quotable quotes too ;)

Bones - I love, love LOVE the characters!!! The gory murder plots and gruesome corpses were definitely something to get used to, but once I got passed that, I got to fully enjoy and appreciate the clever wit of the colorful personalities that made this show one of my top favorites :) Your mind will delightfully work overtime not only trying to solve the crimes, but to keep up with all the subtleties of each character's humor.

White Collar - I started watching this because I found out that one of my friends was a former white collar con-artist, and I was somewhat fascinated by the whole concept. Besides the fact that Neil, the main character, is VERY easy on the eyes and is extremely charming, creative, talented and sharp in everything he does, this show really does suck you in with its witty, edgy crime-solving plot and dearly beloved Mozzie, who just might be my favorite character EVER :P

Ugly Betty - I absolutely love this show and am super sad it's over, although the finale really was the perfect conclusion to its multi-season run :) It's smart, witty, full of LOL humor and most importantly, full of quirky,lovable characters and goodness that always prevails in the end! The way this awkwardly sheltered Queens girl survives and thrives in the cold and backbiting world of NYC fashion is truly inspiring and I got some AMAZING quotes from this show including my favorite, "Is it really naive to want to believe in people?" 

Jane by Design - It's cute. It's cheesy. It's about fashion and is set in NYC. It's clean, humorous, sweet and innocent, even though there is work, school and love drama that includes lying, betrayal and of course, heartbreak. I think what I love most about it though is how Jane's best friend Billy is always there for her and I'm just waiting for them to finally get together ;)

Criminal Minds - I'm not super into this show, but it's a really good one and it blows my mind every time I watch it. It is pretty intense in terms of real crime scenarios and psycho-killers that it deals with, so I definitely don't recommend watching it alone at night, because you WILL become paranoid and have nightmares. It can get pretty twisted, and it will suck you in because you're just gonna have to find out who the killer is and how they catch him, because in the end, they always do and that's what makes this show so great :P

Millionaire Matchmaker - I usually despise most reality shows, but this one is pretty excellent, even though I haven't watched it in a while. I just love how Patty really lays down the law on her clients and tells them straight out why they are still single. She is incredibly honest and doesn't beat around the bush, even though she does try to be nice . . . the first time anyway. Unlike other reality dating shows, this one seems to be the only one focused on traditional dating values, which is a pretty rare thing nowadays . . .

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yes and No

One of my best partner-in-crime/let's-stay-up-all-night-and-party/crazy-fun-salsera girlfriends from my hometown visited me in IL this past weekend, and of course . . . . we went dancing :D 

Sadly, I live in a tiny town with virtually no dance scene whatsoever, so we decided to be brave and venture into The Big City for some delicious salsa, and I'm not talking about the kind you dip your chips in ;) I've danced in The Big City a few times before and I've always had a blast, met cool people and left satisfied. Needless to say, I was expecting nothing short of a fabulous experience to share with my chicabiddy. We were given a few recommendations for what was "the" salsa spot for that night, got all dolled up, and hit the town ready to tear up the dance floor with the best of them ;) 

What ended up actually happening was a series of unfortunate events/dances where we were both left appalled,  dumbfounded and shaking our heads wondering if it was us or them... I'm fully comfortable admitting that I'm a dance snob, but even so, I try to be nice and polite even when I'm not necessarily enjoying myself. That night, however, I completely failed in hiding the puzzled look on my face, as if to say, "Are you serious???" At one point, I was so exasperated I couldn't help but ask, "Can we just dance?" And at another, I literally threw my hands up in protest and exclaimed, "Wow! Too many questions." Of course what I really wanted to tell both of those leads was to "Shut up and dance!!!" 

When I woke up the next morning, I was still wondering what some of those guys were thinking . . . I mean, just because they asked me to dance and I said yes, did that mean that I agreed to live the next 3 or so minutes on their terms? What exactly was I saying "yes" to??? My friend and I came to the club because we wanted to dance and believe it or not...that's it. If we would have known that by saying yes we would be subjected to a pat down, interrogation and other torturous expressions of attention/affection, you can bet your bottom dollar that the only answer you would have gotten from us would have been "no". 

That being said, here's a very short list of all the things we are not saying "yes" to when we say yes to a dance. In fact, these are all the things to which we are saying a very strong "NO"!!!  So take it with a grain of salt, enjoy and feel free to add your own :) 

* Being grabbed, groped, mishandled or any other form of unnecessarily prolonged excessive physical contact. This is bachata, not foreplay, and I don't even know you like that. 

 * 3.5 minutes of speed dating where you ask me 20 questions trying to establish some kind of a connection. If there's a connection to be made, let it be by your moves, not your words. Speak in body language, don't be mouthy. 

 * A census survey of where I'm from, where I live and what I do. Asking me for my name at the beginning of the dance is fine, but leave the rest of the questions for afterwards if you're still really that intrigued. Better yet, wait for me to ask you. If I'm impressed by your moves, I most likely will. 

* Being complimented to the Nth degree. If you want to tell me I'm a great dancer, wait until after we actually finish dancing, and no, gushing on and on about how beautiful you think I am, is not creepy at all!!! Focus on your leading and maybe then I'll actually be flattered when you say something nice. If you can't dance, flattery will get you nowhere. 

Most importantly, please keep in mind the reason why we're all "supposedly" here - TO DANCE. Therefore, let's keep the dancing on the forefront of the agenda, and all will be well in the world :)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I Remember

Living in a new place, making new friends and meeting a lot of new people always makes one answer a lot of questions about one's life. In my case, the fact that I was born and "raised" in Russia seems to always come up sooner or later in conversation, and is often followed by the question of "Do you remember it?" And I do. I remember a lot of it actually - most of my childhood. So I thought I'd make a list of some of the things that I remember. Because I don't want to ever forget...

I remember our neighborhood, our building, our apartment, and the room my brother and I shared. I remember how we always used to divide it in half - his side vs my side. The door was on his side. Fail.

I remember taking the subway, the bus and the trolley everywhere.

I remember building huge snow forts with all the neighborhood kids on the playground in front of our building and playing in them until our parents came out looking for us.

I remember the "milk truck" and the "kvas truck".

I remember the bakery and the smell of fresh bread.

I remember summer camps and not wanting to get off the swings.

I remember having buckwheat with milk for breakfast every morning.

I remember helping my dad develop black and white pictures in our bathroom.

I remember the parties our parents threw at our apartment. I also remember throwing my own dance party for all my friends and playing all my parents' records when my grandpa was supposed to be "babysitting" us.

I remember summer vacations to the sea and learning to swim with my dad.

I remember taking long train rides that would last for days and the gypsies that would come on the train and perform for us.

I remember hospitals and doctors' offices.

I remember my school(s), my friends and my teachers.

I remember slapping a boy at school in 5th grade and calling him a pig because he was mean to one of my friends. Haha, I was feisty even then!!!

I remember listening to stories on the record player in our living room and knowing the words to all the pop songs.

I remember Russian cartoons - Karlson and Prostakvashena. I also remember watching Tails Spin and Duck Tales in Russian on Saturday nights.

I remember watching Mexican and American soap operas with my mom and talking on the phone with my friends.

I remember crying my eyes out in the school bathroom and sneaking out of school before my last class (PE) the day I found out my crush didn't like me - 5th grade.

I remember the day my dad's family moved to Israel and we said goodbye to them at the airport. I also remember the day we moved to America and my mom's family there to see us off...

But most of all, I remember being a kid, playing outside, laughing, fighting with my brother, traveling with my family, being surrounded by relatives, eating good food, listening to good music and enjoying life :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Comeback Kid

So the other day one of my best friends and I were talking about life and laughing about all the crazy stuff we've done. Well, it was actually more like cringing about all the stupid stuff. Yes, that bad... And kinda scary :/ We both messed up in similar areas of our lives, did what we knew we shouldn't, got hurt, dealt with the consequences, blah blah blah... BUT we both made a glorious comeback :) We got up, dusted ourselves off, and with our chins up and a steady gaze fixed on the future, moved forward with our lives (much to the shock and dismay of those around us - some more than others). It's almost not fair... We should be suffering in pain, drowning in tears, guilt, sorrow, hiding our face in shame and burying our social life under a big rock, and yet here we are, out in the open, smiling, laughing, enjoying our friends, and embracing life. We are not victims of other people's sins, life circumstances or our own mistakes, we are the direct example of what God said about the righteous (His kids) being able to fall numerous times and get up after each one of those times. Why? Because it's a lot easier to forgive yourself (and others) knowing that you've already been forgiven by God. And it's a lot easier asking forgiveness from someone you know loves you more than anything.  God's mercy, grace, favor and love are not fair.

Sadly, so many Christians don't understand that, and instead of running towards God when they mess up, they run away from Him, thinking that they can't possibly keep calling themselves His children and accept good things from Him. But I know my God doesn't sit up somewhere in heaven waiting for me to fall so He can smite me. Just the opposite - He's always next to me, ready to catch me. He already came down from heaven once, and even back then, it wasn't to punish us, but to be with us. You see, my God doesn't just observe my life and roll His eyes in disgust every time I make a bad choice, He gets involved in everything I do and helps me make right everything that goes wrong. He understands because He knows me... Jesus himself experienced temptation, rejection, betrayal, and the pain of heartache. I serve a God who can relate to my life experiences, one who is fully aware of everything I'm going through, because He's been there too. He loves us when we least deserve it, because He knows that's when we most need it. 

I love calling myself "the comeback kid" because just like a rubber ball, I have a history of bouncing back from pretty insane situations. And fast. It took me a while to realize that I could do that, though. In the past, I used to come down pretty hard on myself after every screw up, but I don't anymore because I know that once I repent and confess my wrongdoings to God,  it's over. He's not going to hold a grudge against me, or rub it in my face later, so I'm free to move on. I am fearless because I'm not afraid of failure. Failure is not the end of the world. Not bouncing back from it is. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The truth about leaving Seattle, starting grad school and turning 30

Seven years... The number of perfection. Or in my case, the number of completion. Seattle was home... I loved it dearly, and took such pride in calling myself its best tour-guide. And yet towards the end, the grey skies, the drizzly rain, the chilling cold, and the ever present traffic began to take their toll. What hasn't bothered me for six years, all of a sudden became unbearably frustrating and I was itching to get out. The more vacations I took, especially to places with better public transportation (aka subways) and warmer climates, the more I wanted to leave, to move, to just go and not come back. And all the reasons to stay - family, friends, salsa, boys, work, comfort, security and all the pretty scenery and great food of Seattle - were no longer enough to keep me there. In fact, there came a point when I felt like there was NOTHING holding me back.

Sure, it was scary to just pack up and go, but it was even more scary not knowing what my life would be like if I didn't. Let's get real, I was a college graduate working "college student" jobs, partying almost every night and still living home with mom, all while nearing 30. It's not that I wasn't responsible or mature... I was. What I wasn't, however, was "independent". And I was ready to change that.

Grad school was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. A gift really... Something that more or less fell into my lap. It was a chance to grown up, leave the nest, spread my wings and soar to a place called "my future". It was a promise of a specialized career that would literally take me anywhere I wanted to go.

A lot of people have asked me what it feels like to be 30, and the only thing I can tell them is that 30 feels...stable. I feel stable and secure in where I am, what I'm doing, what I want, who I am and who my friends are. I no longer want to "fit in" or impress "the cool kids", I'm perfectly happy being myself and doing my own thing, trusting that the people who truly love and appreciate me for who I am will come alongside me and stay.

Facebook has taught me to recognize what I "Like". Literally :) I believe that if you have something positive or encouraging on your mind, you should say it!!! Do not withhold that which costs you nothing to give. Be liberal with "the good" - love, attention, affection, kindness, compliments, and most importantly, the truth. I've been battling with the latter a lot recently, being unsure of what it was and who I could expect it from... In the end of all my pondering, this is what I came up with:

The truth is not what we're told, what we believe or even what we feel. It's what really happened, what was, is and will be. The truth is not in words, because words can lie. Nor is it in actions, because those can be insincere.  Neither is it in sentiments, because feelings are fleeting and ever-changing. Truth can be momentary or eternal, big or small, hurtful or healing. Truth is in consistency, proven time after time, always there, deliberate and purposeful. It's actions backing up words, feelings and promises. It's making a choice, a decision and following it through. It's being true to yourself, your heart, your conscience and your identity. It's calling things as they are, identifying emotions, naming words and labeling behaviors, not in order to confine, but to set free, because the truth shall always set you free.