Things related to my personal life.
Every year amidst the warm chaos of Thanksgiving, I look around at my family and think, “How the heck did we get here?”
There are many answers to that. How did we get here physically? By train, then plane, then subway, and most recently: a long car ride to Florida. My family, as well as my husband’s family, are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. My family was sponsored by HIAS to come to New York in the 90’s. What the means is that they vouched for us to come into the country, promising that they would help get us on our feet in the U.S.A.
I remember many Thanksgiving that featured, instead of turkey, roasted chicken, rice pilaf (we call it plov), and tomato and onion salads. Even after 24 years in this country, this cuisine is still pretty much standard in our homes. Maybe we had turkey early on, but I can’t for the life of me remember when we actually started putting it on the table.
There was no mac and cheese here. Inside our home no one looked twice at a salad compromised of diced potatoes, eggs, peas, pickles and a healthy coating of mayonnaise. Obviously we learned about “American” foods from our friends over time, but it didn’t change how we envisioned our holiday.
What did food matter when this was always a holiday to be grateful? Who could understand that more than a family of immigrants (and technically refugees)? We were always thankful, especially during this holiday.
So now we eat turkey in addition to everything else, and the contrast of our traditions and “American” culture is basically the theme of my life. How much I feel that depends on where I’m living and who I’m surrounded by. It’s a feeling that immigrants understand because it’s impossible to escape.
Whether you’re native born or an immigrant to the United States, Happy Thanksgiving! It’s more important than ever to share and embrace all the cultural variations that our country creates and encourages.
Let’s remind ourselves and our friends to be thankful for where we are and to always leave a seat for someone at our table who might want to be thankful too.
My day to day life involves chasing after a little girl who requires me to have a lot of energy to match hers. Being a parent is hard in a million ways that I never anticipated. Even with tons of help, the scariest part of the day can be just having a pair of eyes on me while I’m trying to do a regular activity like shopping or eating.
Sometimes going places with my two year old gives me anxiety. Being in public feels like a performance. Is she wearing something nice? Do we have food in our hair? Do my socks match? Did I wear this shirt yesterday?
One day I spent a couple of hours at the mall with my daughter. We had lunch, rode up and down escalators, and chased each other in circles. It was mostly a fun time until she stopped listening and started misbehaving in all the ways that toddler do. It was such a stark contrast to how she behaved earlier. Besides trying to keep her from running away, I felt like we were bothering everyone in the building just by being there. I was so worried over something I knew I already did my best to control.
Later I thought about how embarrassed I felt, and I hated it. I’ve battled with this feeling my whole life, always wondering if I was being too loud or taking up too much space. That feeling made me smaller and quieter as a child. Did I want my daughter to feel that way too?
As she gets older, I have more days where I’m kind to myself and ignore any outside judgement — but those days are far from over. The same way I’m growing as an almost 30 year old adult, I’m now growing with her.
I’ll teach her to never be embarrassed by what’s outside of her control. That’s the only way forward.
Have you noticed that when you ask someone how they’re doing, one of the common responses is “busy”. I’m guilty of that. It’s not always a complaint. Sometimes it’s not that we’re too busy for our friends, but we unintentionally make ourselves appear off limits to people who are trying to connect.
Maybe it’s just me and my friends, but it seems that everyone is always busy. Actually busy. Between work, activities, family or partner commitments, it’s a game in itself to schedule a date. Let me tell you something, it’s possible. Friends like attention. That’s how they stay your friends, I’ve learned. Granted, I might be spoiled because my best friend/husband is also my live-in coworker. Yes, we work in the same home office, we have almost every meal together, we go to the movies together.
Anyway, it’s been a long time since I’ve written something new for this site. So long in fact that I hesitated before remembering what to type into the browser. The slight lapse in memory might simply be from how tired I am today. Everyone says they’re busy, and I don’t know if I’m more or less busy that you, but I am tired. And I’m tired of being too tired to write anything for myself. There aren’t many people reading, but I’m going to tell you anyway that I’m working on a few new posts. Hopefully you will see those soon. Maybe even one that’s interesting.
Are you one of those people who always says they’re busy when friends ask? Stop that. Go outside. Have coffee with your neglected friends and tell them about what you’re working on. It might be another committement, but you’ll likely both appreciate it. It seems that life only gets busier, and one day you might your friend to make space in their schedule for you too.
When I wrote this in 2014, there was a viral momentum that pushed memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease into the national spotlight. Then, and even now, the United States had a problem that basically needed money to have a chance to be solved. In a time when people are surviving and living through other major diseases, our friends and family members with Alzheimer’s disease — without cures or real treatments — are dying at an increasing rate.
“Americans whisper the word Alzheimer’s because their government whispers the word Alzheimer’s. And although a whisper is better than the silence…it’s still not enough.”
I was surprised to hear Seth Rogen give a speech about his mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in her 50’s. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. (and is emotionally and financially devastating to so many families) – yet it’s treated like another inevitable disease. I hung on to every word because I understood his pain.
I remembered sitting outside with my grandma one summer and listening to stories about her life. I think I was 17. I definitely didn’t know then what was to come. I wasn’t aware of what could happen to a person, even if you love them. Even if they’re the most important person in the world to you.
The comedian’s story in front of the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services was predictably funny, but still powerful. That committee is the one that was supposed to look at the economic effect of Alzheimer’s disease as well as how much money is going into research.
I was immediately grateful that he lent his celebrity to this cause and shared such a personal story. I was grateful that the C-SPAN video blew up online less than 24 hours after it was recorded. Honestly, if he wasn’t trying to make us laugh, I would have been crying all over my keyboard.
All I could think about afterward was that sharing stories is so important to help others understand what’s important to you.
My grandmother lived with dementia for several years. Before she passed away at 93 years old, she couldn’t recognize her closest family members.
Having dementia means cells are dying in your brain, causing what you would expect: a person to forget. First, small things, and then lots of things all at once, including people they’ve known for decades. Their brain loses the blueprints for activities that you and I find simple, like how to get dressed or eat or which people to trust. Most cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease (though there are several others).
An important thing to remember is that Alzheimer’s and dementia are not a normal part of aging, just like cancer is not a normal part of life.
My grandmother had a difficult life. She survived World War II, years of starvation, Stalin and all of the things associated with the Soviet Union. She was forced out of her country and her home as a teenager. At almost 70 years old, she moved to the United States with her children and grandchildren
One of my favorite photos of my grandmother is her as a young girl. I love this photo but it’s difficult to imagine her this way. What were her hopes, her goals or her dreams? That’s something I can’t ask anymore.
As one of the youngest grandchildren I feel that I could never have had as much time as everyone else to know her. I’m sure no amount of time would have been long enough anyway. All I know is that she loved us, and doted on my brother and me in all of the ways she knew how — by telling us about her plants, making fresh bread, forcing us to eat her meals, and then making something new when we protested.
This was not a grandmother who’d let you eat pizza or hamburgers. I remember her laughing at all of the “American” habits we picked up at school. I’m sure we did some strange things in her eyes.
I remember when she learned to read English but couldn’t understand a word. She would read my brother’s t-shirts and ask us what the phrases meant.
She taught me to do crosswords in Russian and I still love them. The little squares remind me of her. Vines on plants and fresh bread remind me of her.
Tell Your Story
Sharing stories gets people out of the shadows, and encourages them to ask for help. But the resources they need have to be there or else it’s just talk. There is no way to prevent, cure or to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Unlike other major diseases, diagnoses have actually increased 68% over the past decade. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people are currently living with the disease. That doesn’t include non-Alzheimer’s induced dementia, nor does it count the number of family members, caretakers, social workers and other invaluable people who spend decades of their lives dealing with the disease.
Seth Rogen mentioned that not so long ago, people who had cancer were ashamed to tell anyone. Though unfortunately cancer is still a leading cause of death, the research for its cure has visibility and financial support.
It’s not easy to share something private, but I’ll gladly do it if it will tell someone that they’re not alone, or it will remind others that we’re still fighting for our loved ones.
Politics, committees and budget meetings like the one Rogen attended happen all the time, but I’m hoping that there will be some breakthroughs given this momentum.
So I ask our Congress, the President and everyone else: What are your memories worth to you?
Before we started as freshman in high school, my class was sent on a weekend trip outside of New York City. It was then that I got to know my best friend and several other people that would leave an impression on me. One of the things I remember well from the trip was laying in the grass at night and looking up at the dark sky. I had hardly known the location of the stars after spending most of my life in the brightness of the city, but our future science teacher made us look carefully and use our imaginations. Like many other times before, I strained my eyes to find some pattern in a dark sky awash with glowing dots. The stars were beautiful to me, but in contrast to the architecture of New York — the bright windows of office buildings and skyscrapers — dispersed without any pattern.
Many years later, I moved about 30 miles outside of the city to Connecticut. My neighborhood was far from a dark, wooded place, but any place is after New York City. I was able to see a lot more stars than I ever had before. My husband would point out constellations that he learned as a kid.
Did I see Orion? With three stars for the belt, legs and outstretched arms. The big and little dipper. I couldn’t see them after staring up from fields and looking out the window on long drives, using constellation plotting apps, or compasses on my phone pointing north and south.
Recently, we were walking at night together and I looked up at the apparently rare Christmas full moon. It might have washed out the stars around it, but all of a sudden I noticed a line of three stars. Orion’s Belt!
I had that wonderful feeling of learning something new. Someone else pointed out the stars to me a few weeks later, and I nodded. I know what’s up there. I can see the three stars that make the belt, the head and the arms outstretched. I know exactly where they are after staring up so many times.
New Year’s Eve holds a lot of promises. Whether you’re hoping to complete your resolutions and hoping for big changes, or just going about business as usual, January 1st marks the beginning of something. The start of a new calendar year, new bills, new paychecks, another school year, birthdays to celebrate.
We are hopeful on December 31, but there is no magic in the clock striking 12. We wake up in the morning the same as we were the day before—with our own bodies, our experiences and our thoughts. There’s no harm in seeing January 1 with fresh eyes, but we must be the agents of change in our lives.
The holidays are a busy for me, between family events and eating leftover food, it’s difficult to find a time to write. But writers learn sooner or later that we can improve by simply reading more. If you’ve seen my “Tranquil Tuesday” posts in the past, you won’t be surprised that I found a poem to bring in the new year. “To the new year” by W.S. Merwin embodies that beautiful feeling of hope that reminds us what is possible, despite what happened the day or year before.
Happy New Year!
To the New Year
by W.S. Merwin
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
What makes you, you?
People tend to compare themselves to others at different stages of their lives. Sometimes these comparisons can help us set goals and find confidence in our identity. You might have seen yourself in a parental figure or a celebrity. But have you ever felt like lion at heart or a graceful fish in the water? Has your soul felt as one with a leaf falling slowly from its tree in autumn or have you found yourself ingrained in the cobblestones of a city?
That’s the spirit of Paean to Place by Lorine Niedecker: We see ourselves in others, like family, and also in our surroundings. I read Niedecker’s work for the first time as a college freshman, and sometime during that class I copied some of my favorite lines into a notebook. Unfortunately after almost a decade after “discovering” this writer, I’ve never seen anyone share her work. You can read the entire poem here.
—————FishfowlfloodWater lily mudMy lifein the leaves and on waterMy mother and Ibornin swale and swamp and swornto waterMy fatherthru marsh fogsculled downfrom high groundsaw her face
Looking back to the past for help
“Paean to Place” centers around a woman who we learn several things about almost immediately. She was from an area constantly flooded by water. She grew up poor. Her parents are dead.
It is written in the past tense so I always read it as the narrator looking back at her life. She is not only remembering things, but recounting her story in order to accept who she is. I’m pretty sure of this as I get to the last stanza. Read it on your own and let me know if you agree.
So she’s a product of her surroundings? Yes, but more than that. She finds that herself and her parents can be described in reference to the water or the creatures living around it. Things that help her construct an identity and figure out what’s important.
Up in the sky and in the water, she was surrounded by birds that she knew by their official names: Plovers, sora rails, canvasbacks, woodcocks. She remembered all of their sounds (even wishing in one line, that her mother could hear them). At one point the girl considers herself a “solitary plover”. Like the marsh birds, she had a unique song and one outfit. She wore it as long as the birds kept their feathers. (Apparently seven years). But as much as the girl wants to be like them, ultimately it’s the wings that really set them apart. Her feathered neighbors had more freedom to leave the marsh in which they resided. This is pretty sad, given that within the first few stanzas she reveals her parents dreams: “that their daughter/ might go high/ on land/ to learn.Niedecker’s narrator does not have feathers but “a pencil/for a wing-bone.” Words are what carry her out of her difficult world. This is the line that really resonated with me. (Please leave your sarcastic gasps for the end of the show. I’m sure that other writers and lovers of words will feel the same.)
—————You with sea water runningin your veins sit down in waterExpect the long-stemmed bluespeedwell to renewitselfIt seems that the girl, now a woman, left her home in an effort to escape the water and the flooding. She’s different now. But when she returns to visit her parents’ graves, the narrator finds herself a part of it all again.Though she tried to be a bird and fly away, it’s not the wings that were missing. Her identity was shaped like the water lillies, irises and speedwells that spread around her. Ordinary flowers grew toward light and pleasant conditions, but these survived flooding and grow on top of graves. She had just grown roots in one place for so long, but that was okay.The water haunted her but it also renewed her, and gave her life.————–O my floating lifeDo not save lovefor thingsThrow thingsto the flood————–It’s not easy to figure out what defines us. For me, like in Niedecker’s poem, there’s always been a small battle going on to accept things that have shaped me for better or worse. Those things can feed us and help us grow instead of keeping us down.
So what would you say has shaped you? Is it something that holds you back or helps you forward?
It was pretty alarming to read that ISIS destroyed the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, and killed an archaeologist who had looked after it for 40 years. To be honest, I had never heard of the ancient city of Palmyra. I didn’t know that the Temple of Bel was almost 2000 years old and dedicated to a Mesopotamian god. It withstood the Roman empire, conversions to Christianity and later to Islam.
But now that I do… it’s genuinely upsetting. This area was along the Silk Road and its history seems to be an example of different cultures vying for power and somehow living together as well. Most cultures don’t exist in a vacuum. Things definitely have to change. If you live in the United States particularly, our cities are a testament to changing times, but we need cities like Palmyra to continue existing.
In “The Monuments Men“, Frank Stokes a.k.a George Clooney, says this:
“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed.”
The movie was about a group of art experts who were enlisted by the U.S. army to find and preserve art that Hitler was destroying as he blasted through Europe. It wasn’t the best movie, but I really loved this speech. Art represents culture. Sometimes it’s both history and progress. Without it, we would not be the same world despite all of our wonderful scientific and technological achievements.
ISIS is not unique in what they did. There’s a reason that dictators burn books. It’s to erase ideas and attempt to rewrite the past. Aren’t we better as people if we learn from the past rather than destroy it? Aren’t we better people if we CHOOSE to do something and learn it ourselves, instead of being forced into it?
Why do people prefer to study classics and history instead of technology? There is something in human nature that’s guided towards it. I think we need both progress and history, art and technology. We need both for the human race to survive.
I don’t know what the solution is to a problem as big as ISIS (and other groups who want to destroy the world). Obviously I have more questions than answers, but this is a reminder that there are people in this world who risk their lives to protect even a seemingly small part of our humanity.
Let’s remember the people — like archaelogist Khaled al-Asaad — who have.
A few months after last year’s tax day, my mom told me that she got a call from an abrasive IRS agent saying that my dad owed money on his taxes. This man called their home phone and demanded to speak to my father. He told her that they had not paid the government and that there would be officers at her door soon. What did my mom do? She hung up on him!
Somehow she knew that it was a tax scam.
A Fake IRS Tale
I’d heard this story before… Not too long before that my mother-in-law told me about a friend who received a similar call. The difference was that this person was (understandably) frightened by the fake IRS agent’s threats. She didn’t want her home taken away or to be arrested. So when the person on the phone offered a “settlement,” it seemed in her best interest to just pay it off immediately.
Fortunately, they called an accountant who set them straight.
And before that… The IRS puts out a list of the worst scams for the year. I can’t pin point when this particular one started, but this type of money-making scheme is quite popular. It’s so intrusive that it catches people off guard. They might have some reason to worry about their finances, their tax forms or their business. I can think of a ton of money-stealing situations off the top of my head that I have either read about or heard about from others. Some people had to deal with years of fighting to regain their stolen identity, while others transferred money that they will never get back. What’s important is that you know what your moves are: before, during and afterward.
Why do scams work?
So you get a call from someone who tells you threatens you as an official (police, FBI, IRS, etc) or reads your personal information back to you. They threaten you with your worst fears — debt, jail time, deportation. These people are good.
“But I’m smarter than that,” you might say. I believe you, I do, but these people SOUND pretty legit for several reasons:
- They say they’re from the IRS
- They give a name & IRS badge/ID
- They have an office number you can actually call back
- Your caller ID says “IRS office” or something similar
- You get a “follow-up” call from a different agent, department or agency (ex, a police officer)
- You get an email that supports the call
- It sounds like they’re calling from an office (background noise)
- They state your full name, social security number or other personal information
Just in case you missed it: THIS call is not from the IRS! Nor, will it ever be. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which is responsible for collecting taxes, will not call, text, or email you if there is a problem with your taxes. IRS agents will not knock on your door to chat, or do anything without letting you know by mail. Don’t take my word for it. This is straight from the IRS website:
The IRS will always send taxpayers a written notification of any tax due via the U.S. mail. The IRS never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
Remember your rights
Before you do anything, remember that there is no harm in verifying an official’s identity. Given the prevalence of this kind of tax scam, I would even call the IRS to check out a letter you received in the mail. I’d imagine that real officers or agents will recognize that you are trying to be safe. So do just that.
Do not share any personal information or meet anyone unless it is at a police station or a real IRS office. Call a police station or other relevant office to confirm whether or not there is a problem. Do not click on any email links or follow messages without verification. It’s as simple as that.
After receiving this type of call, you can do the following things:
- Report it to the IRS: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing
- Report identity theft if they use your SSN: http://oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-waste-or-abuse/what-cant-oig-investigate/identity-theft
- Call your local police department if someone comes to your house, or if money is stolen
Though it might seem obvious to you, many people do get caught up in tax scams every single year, especially the elderly and those who don’t understand English well. In fact, these scumbags will target those people specifically. Let your friends, parents or grandparents know what to look out for and what their rights are.
When I was about nine or ten years old, my grandmother came to live with us. I had never met her before. For all this time she was a distant relative living with my uncle in Uzbekistan, where we had immigrated from several years before.
It wasn’t easy for my parents, both working full-time, to take care of an elderly woman, plus two young kids in a small apartment in Queens. It’s a situation many immigrants and their children experience. I was so happy to meet my grandmother — to celebrate my birthday together and hold her hand — that I didn’t notice something more difficult was happening.
Our life with Parkinson’s Disease
My maternal grandmother passed away last year after a long decline from Parkinson’s Disease. There were a few incidents with my grandmother’s health that scared me, but as a kid I thought it was just a part of getting old. The hand tremors would’ve been the most obvious sign that she had Parkinson’s, but I was too excited about my grandma to notice.
She suffered with the disease for almost 20 years. It’s a disease with no cure, though many treatments options exist with medication and surgery. My grandmother likely felt the first symptoms of PD in the early 90’s when she was living in Uzbekistan, a former state of the Soviet Union. By the time she immigrated to live with my family in the mid 90’s, we were seeing her symptoms and she had not received adequate treatment.
Parkinson’s degenerates cells in a person’s central nervous system (the brain and spine). Though tremors (shaking hands) are identifiable to most people due to the media attention it has received in recent years, the disease causes a severe reduction in quality of life. My grandmother went through bouts of depression both because of the disease, and anxiety from the process of finding the right medication. She ultimately was diagnosed with dementia. PD patients are six times more likely to have dementia than the average person. Some people suffer from psychosis (hallucinations) and decreased impulse control as well. There are other physical complications that result in a person being unable to care for themselves. This leaves family members and other caretakers in a difficult position. It’s also these people who don’t always get the proper recognition, not to mention the mental, emotional and financial support they deserve.
Though my grandmother lived with us for several years, my uncle took charge of her care upon his own immigration to the U.S. It’s for him, my mother , her home aides, and also for this country that I am grateful. She received 24 hour care for many years of her life and lived to the age of 91. Her aides became part of our family. We watched Russian t.v. channels together after school, gave grandma haircuts and sang songs that she once loved on her birthdays. Though it’s hard to talk about old age with an incurable disease, her life was truly the best it could be under the conditions.
I checked my phone on the morning of December 2, to find out that it was “Giving Tuesday.” It was started by the 92nd St. Y and the United Nations Foundation in 2012 to encourage you to share causes you care about and have donated to with the hashtag “#GivingTuesday”. I had looked into the Michael J. Fox Foundation many times and decided to donate in my grandmother’s memory that morning.
#GivingTuesday falls on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving (and after the notorious shopping craze that follows).
My donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation is in honor of her, as well as our family and her caretakers. Every donation made on Giving Tuesday in 2014 was matched by MJFF in an effort to reach their fundraising goals. I hope that there is a future where no one has to suffer and struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, nor worrying about the prognosis of a diagnosed family member.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation gives grants to labs researching a cure for Parkinson’s, and treatment and care for those affected. If you decide to donate toward Parkinson’s research, feel free to do so in honor of my grandmother, Zinaida Kogan, and my family. The MJFF spends 89 cents of every dollar raised directly on research, and only .06 cents are spent for bringing in one dollar of donations. They have an amazing score on Charity Navigator, almost perfect on accountability & transparency and financials. You can check out their ratings here*.
If you’re interested in this foundation specifically, sign up for their newsletter, as there are many times during the year where donations are matched (sometimes doubled and tripled!).
There are so many charities and non-profits out there who ask for money. Charity Navigator is a good resource, as well as CharityWatch.Org and Give.Org, to check an organizations effectiveness, transparency and legitimacy. Even your local organizations should be registered as a non-profit or charity before accepting money. Please do your research.
If you’re considering donating, here are some causes I’m interested in:
Any of the highest-rated Alzheimer’s and dementia researchers —
Two national org’s that work for tolerance and civil liberties —
A new friend of mine is fundraising on behalf of ‘Embrace Kids’, which supports families of kids with cancer and blood disorders. Donate here.
What cause are you passionate about? Leave a comment to share.