Archive for the ‘Stuff About Us’ Category

Charting the road

September 2nd, 2010

A few determined individuals who have been following this blog since its humble beginnings would recognize this diagram.

This used to be the picture greeting visitors on the original front page of this website, when it was not blog-centric yet. It charted the major places we resided at in our life. Which aren’t that many, obviously.

My good friend Sergey suggested back then that the picture would be more intriguing if it had an additional arrow into the unknown (represented by a symbolic question mark), suggesting to the viewer that future holds more moves to exciting locales. I did not go for that, mainly of account of just having moved to London. I did not want to think about future moves.

As anyone can now surmise, Sergey was right on the “future holds additional moves” count, but he was overly optimistic on the “exciting” part.

I caught up with the idea that a static front page was not a good approach to website-building within a couple of months of starting the website. The “old front page” was relegated to a curiosity link on my blog’s menu bar. When I recently moved the site to a new host provider, I completely discarded that page among the few cosmetic changes.

But when I did that, I figured that the old picture diagram needed updating.

So, here we go.

This is a very precise diagram, by the way, since for all senses and purposes we live in the same area that we left for London. If you imagine yourself looking southward, this diagram well approximates the distance we moved from our previous house.

It is also a bit confusing. Do we now keep going back and forth between London and New Jersey? I don’t think so.


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A little A in Q&A

October 5th, 2009

It’s been almost three weeks since I, in one of the occasional troughs of my blogging “career”, asked my faithful readers for help in generating content in this space. Since then, by force of circumstances, I managed to ignore the resulting questions (although, coincidentally, a large portion of my recent output dealt directly with the house-hunting question posed by Vince and echoed by Cheryl). I might never be able to get another response to a similar questions call if I procrastinate any further.

To be fare, a number of your responses were suggestions rather than direct questions. I will attempt to use a number of them in the days to come, but I cannot do them justice unless I take time to think them through.

In the meantime, I’m sufficiently embarrassed by my long avoidance of a follow-up to answer a few easier questions.

From Tania: Food is always good – what you like, what you don’t, why.

A little over a year ago, I addressed a lot of my culinary affinities and dislikes in this fun meme. To summarize, I am a relatively adventurous omnivore with likes and dislikes often rooted in my childhood memories. I like practically every type of meat. I am reasonably ok with most of seafood. I appreciate many ethnic cuisines. I rarely touch cooked vegetables, but enjoy fresh ones. I don’t have a sweet tooth at all (although, lately I realize that I tend to exaggerate my abhorrence of sweets in public; in addition to my fondness for one specific recipe of cake – mentioned in the comments to the meme – I am not above having a chocolate or a gelato; and very recently, I was reminded that I am quite partial to halvah). I don’t drink hard spirits, but very much enjoy wine or beer, depending on the situation.

In short, I am quite easy to cater for when I come to visit. With apologies to my vegetarian friends…

Also from Tania: Boxers or briefs?

Boxer-briefs, actually. Just the right level of comfort for me.

From Vince: How are you daughters adapting to being back?

In short, Kimmy has been in seventh heaven since we returned, and is happier than ever in the new house and at her current school, while Becky admittedly misses London, her school-friends there and the amount of self-sufficiency that she enjoyed on account of widely-accessible public transportation.

I’m working on following Geo’s excellent suggestion to have them discuss their recent experiences themselves in this space. Stand by for that.

Also from Vince: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Forty-two. For other views, go here.

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Model houses

February 17th, 2009

I mentioned in my Valentine Day’s post my collection of model houses and then promised in comments there to illustrate. Here is a slideshow of about half of my collection (I’m currently moderating its growth on account of not having space for display), with brief notes on where the houses were acquired. As with most of my interests, the collection started as a device to commemorate the places that we travel to, but there are now non-travel-related acquisitions as well. Too bad that in many locales, this type of collectible can often not be found.

The slideshow is now hidden below the fold to help with the front page freeze problem on some PCs accessing it via IE. Apologies.
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Il y a Ilya

February 9th, 2009

Becky and I were engaged in our regular competition of making silly jokes out of what the other person says (Her: “Hey, I know how to copy a URL – I got good grades in ICT”. Me: “Fine, but what about your grades in I see Fanta?” … Get it?), when she put me down with the following pearl:

“Well, my name is Becky and your name is just French for there is.”

I could not think of a come-back.

ICT stands for Information and Communication Technology – British equivalent of a computers class.

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25 things about me

February 4th, 2009

Two great memes are going around among my online friends. The first one, started by Jeri, simply asks a willing participant to post childhood/youth pictures of oneself. Several people already happily obliged. I would love to take part in it as well, but my pre-digital photo archives are all stored with my parents in America, so I guess I’ll have to put this idea off until some time in the future.

The second meme, as I understand, is something making rounds on Facebook, which I visit only when someone pings me with a message. So, I learned about it via this post by Kim, who has since been followed by Jeri.

The idea is to post 25 random facts and things about myself. There is also a suggestion of tagging 25 people to do likewise, but I long ago decided that tagging is one meme rule that is meant to be ignored. Nonetheless, anyone who wants to consider him/herself tagged, you are welcome.

It should be noted that it was rather challenging for me to come up with the list below. First of all, I’ve already provided tons of nuggets about myself in the confines of this journal (for instance, here), so I needed to think of tidbits not yet explicitly stated or only hinted at. Secondly, writing about myself un-prompted brings up all sorts of doubts about how worthy such tidbits might be to my audience.

Anyhow, below the cut are 25 more or less random facts about your truly.
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Random stuff about me (cont.)

November 20th, 2008

I can always count on Jason to pick somewhere a meme that I find hard to pass by (especially, when I lack inspiration to come up with a gripping narrative). Below the cut, then, is the two-part new compendium of facts about yours truly. (If anyone is so inclined, the old compendium is here.)
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Of sleeping habits

September 16th, 2008

I count myself firmly amongst owls when it comes to sleeping habits. I am not exactly a nocturnal creature – I value having eight hours of sleep every night too much for that. But I can stay up late into the night fairly effortlessly. And I am so not a morning person!

Yet, a few years ago, I started noticing that I can no longer sleep beyond 7:30 or so in the morning, even on weekends. I theorized that forcing my unwilling organism to get up around 7 every weekday “trained” it to get awake around that time no matter how late I went to bed the previous night.

It was either that or creeping old age…

Having relocated to London, for most of the first two years, I had a wake up call at around 6:50 to drive Becky to school. Coupled with rarely getting to bed before midnight, as every week progressed, I kept falling more and more back on my required minimal amount of sleep. And catching up on weekends did not work – my eyes would pop open on a Saturday around 7:15 to the serene sounds of the rest of the family still floating inside their dreams. Which would quickly turn to scorn at being rudely awakened as I tried – that’s the key word here, tried – to quietly transport myself into the study and plop down in front of the PC.

And then a few things happened. Becky concluded that she had enough of dealing with her gruff parent in the mornings and decisively changed to taking public transportation to school – which shaved an hour off my effective morning commute. A change in responsibilities at work meant that I’d have to regularly stay in office a couple of extra hours a day to accommodate my US-based staff – but, conversely, that there was little-to-none requiring my presence in office in the early hours of the day. And, let’s not forget, a great leisurely vacation left me intoxicated with large quantities of fresh air.

The first two of those events combined to allow me to sleep until around 8:15 every weekday morning; with my short morning routine and a 40-minute commute, I now get to office around 9:20 – still much too early to attend to any of my job functions beyond catching up on email and perusing various spreadsheets and presentations, but not too late to maintain a pretense of “regular” business hours. But it must be the recent big holiday that infused me with what I thought was a long-lost ability.

Which is, to sleep in late on a weekend day. I do not physically need it at present. But, boy, do I enjoy being able to sleep until 10 am on Saturday, especially when we have no specific plans for the day. And then, repeating that on Sunday!

Becky, when you don’t wake her up, can sleep literally through noon and beyond, no matter how early she goes to bed. My newfound ability to compete with her in this makes me feel positively young again!

Er… yeah, I seem to find a lot of joy in small places lately…

Stuff About Us

Food tasting meme

August 21st, 2008

Reading through the backlog of my blog aggregator, I came across a meme that I could not pass by, courtesy of Jason.

The instructions:

  1. Copy the list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating (or eating again).
  4. Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results. (The original list there provides links to Wiki articles on all of the less obvious items, which I decided not to replicate.)

When it comes to food, I am reasonably adventurous in trying almost anything once. However, there are food components and whole groups that I intensely dislike; knowing in advance that the food item contains one of those will keep me from trying it. My commentary to the items on the list reflect that.

The list – and some commentary – is below the fold.
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Re-acquiring a forgotten taste

July 24th, 2008

Back in my twenties, I used to like coffee. Drank it quite regularly. Natasha and I even joined one of those mail-order coffee clubs. Several times, as a matter of fact, so that we could keep getting their free-if-you-join stuff. A couple of coffeemakers and several cup-and-saucer sets, if my memory serves me right.

I was always partial to tea, though. One day – or, possibly, it happened gradually – I lost my taste for coffee. Simply stopped liking it, without much of a reason. And for the last dozen of years or so, I exclusively drank tea, both as a pick-me-up-in-the-morning brew and an end-of-dinner beverage. American colleagues remained perpetually bewildered, French waiters contorted their faces into expressions of utter disdain, but I carried on.

Natasha occasionally still had a cappuccino or an espresso at restaurants, but our house reserves of coffee eventually dwindled to a single jar of some instant blend, largely waiting for a guest professing his addiction to the product.

When an explanation of my no-coffee attitude was required, I would say that I believe coffee to be an acquired taste. And whatever you may acquire, you may lose just as well. Ergo, my taste for coffee was lost.

On our first night on Costa Brava, when our friends Arthur and Anya suggested that we sit down at a cafe for some cava and coffee, I suddenly decided to try what everybody else was having. We ordered cortadas, an espresso with a dash of hot milk. And I suddenly thought to myself: Damn, that’s one exquisite drink!

I tried it several times in the ensuing couple of days and was pleasantly surprised every time that I continued to like the drink. Next thing you know, Natasha and I are discussing buying one of those latest high-tech espresso machines for the house…

And that was a short story about how I recovered my taste for coffee products.

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Photobucket meme

March 13th, 2008
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A fun meme that I ganked from SamuraiFrog (as always, Jason was ahead of me in terms of ganking).

1. Go to
2. Type in your answer for each question into the PhotoBucket search bar.
3. Choose your favorite photo to represent your answer.
4. Copy the html and paste it here.
5. Answer only in picture form.

Let’s see.

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Stuff White People Like meme

March 10th, 2008

There is this blog called Stuff White People Like, which some people find funny. The big idea of generalizing the preferences of white folk is as sensible as predicting British weather – any arbitrary guess has a chance of being 50% correct. I am pretty sure that a Harward-educated WASP and a Yeshiva-educated Jew have as much – or, rather, little – in common with one another as they have with every other race and ethnicity in the country. But, hey, whatever makes it worthwhile for people to express themselves online!…

Several days ago, when the count of items on that blog was at 82, some other people with plenty of time on their hands decided to make a meme out of the list. My usual source of things of this kind, Jason, has produced his own take on how well he fits into the definition of the “white person” according to the list. I looked at his result (24 out of 82) and was so convinced that I could beat it – as in “proving that the list ludicrously overgeneralizes” – that I could not stay away from following suit, providing in the process some additional insight into the complex persona that is yours truly.

Highlighted entries are the ones that I am enthusiastic about. Here goes.

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Random stuff about me

February 5th, 2008

Taking a relay baton from Jason, here are a few tidbits about me that you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.
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What’s in a name

November 15th, 2007

Say my last name out loud in its anglicized pronunciation. Now, transliterate it phonetically into Russian. What do you get? Right – Бёрлак – which is exactly how it appears on the visa issued to Natasha by the Russian embassy in London.

I suppose I can’t imagine a Russian embassy worker in charge of visas not being a Russian national (and, therefore, speaker of the language). And even though the name has Yiddish etymology, it also happens to be a perfectly recognizable word in the Russian language. How in the world can an educated Russian make such a mistake is beyond me!

Natasha’s maiden name has been butchered many times in the past at the hands of Americans; I guess the time of her married name has come as well, at the hands of Russians…

For my non-Russian-speaking friends, the best way to explain the correct pronunciation of Burlak is to use the somewhat unfortunate association of “poor luck” (Is that why I am fond of saying “With my luck”, normally alluding to Murphy’s Law?) Substitute b for p and make r rolling, and you got my last name in Russian. As you may or may not expect, there are different letters in Russian alphabet to denote sounds made by ‘ur’ and ‘oo’…

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Thinking same thoughts

November 5th, 2007

One thing I neglected to mention in my brief tribute to married life. After this many years, Natasha and I have progressed from finishing each other sentences to frequently thinking the same thoughts at the same time.

Quite uncanny, I should say.

There are obvious house-related things such as remembering an outstanding chore and going for it simultaneously.

There are easily explainable shared idiosyncrasies that flare up with a common trigger, such as when riding in a car together and being blocked at a roundabout entrance by a tentative driver in front of us, we synchronically say untoward things about the poor schmoe.

Or when we looked at one another during the fireworks display the other night, and said to one another: “Well, this is our first annual event in England”.

There are fairly transparent, but kinkier, examples such as when once changing for sleep in our bedroom with the drapes not yet closed and seeing a double-decker bus pass on the street in front of the house, we exclaimed in unison: “Now, those people on the upper deck just had them a good show!”

(Quick show of hands: How many of you just having read that, imagined yourself for a moment riding that bus? :) Come on, at least whoever searched for this should admit that that would be very close to the desired result).

But then, there are truly supernatural ones, such as yesterday, when at a rare moment of quiet contemplation I thought back to some of the things that I miss about America. People who know me well (unfortunately, Russian background is required for this), know that I like КСП.1 But that was probably the first time in over a year that I thought about how great it would be to go to a festival.

And what do you know? I talk to Natasha later that day, she relays to me regards from our American friends, and says in passing, You know, we talked about going to КСП together when we are back in the States.

How in the world did those thoughts coincide on exactly the same day!?

Anyone notices the same thing about their spouses?

1 For non-Russian members of the audience, КСП (which is loosely translated as Author-performed Song Club) is a term used to describe a wide cultural phenomenon of celebrating artists who write and perform songs with only acoustic guitar accompaniment. In fact, anyone who knows how to play guitar chords probably knows how to play dozens, if not hundreds, of songs that originate within this movement. And most likely, even dabbled in writing some opuses him/herself…

The Russian-American communities on both coasts hold regular КСП campground-style festivals, with well-known authors attending as guests of honor. For most of the attendees, however, sitting through the night by the fire with friends and singing – or listening to – familiar songs is in itself the most prized attraction.

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Introduction to Meme

July 11th, 2007

Unlike my friend Brian, who writes his blog when he really should be sleeping, I tend to value a good night’s sleep well above many other seemingly worthwhile endeavors. Which is why I often find myself unfamiliar with concepts that other bloggers have long mastered.

One of those concepts is Internet Meme. And Brian tagged me with one of those in a recent entry.

Well, a challenge is a challenge, so here goes nothing…
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About my temperament

May 17th, 2007

I took a curious personality test at work the other day and figured it’s worth describing in a post.
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A little background

September 22nd, 2006
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For those of you, who know us well, feel free to skip this post.

For the uninitiated, here is the context: My wife and I are relocating to England. We have spent the last 15 years of our life in the great United States of America, became rather assimilated (I am a rare Russian-American who knows and likes baseball, if you catch my drift), borne kids here, built up a comfortable living, achieved the proverbial American Dream…
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