Amsterdam Vacation: Where Are We Staying

Today is the third day of our Amsterdam vacation, but only now, by the end of the third day, I’ve got some time to write about it. Do not even know where to start :). First – a couple of words (and pictures, of cause!) of where we are staying.

This is a somewhat new experience for me: this is not a hotel, but also not a classic B&B, where you either have a room in the same house or apartment, where your host is staying, or the host is on vacation and renting their space.
It’s an old house which is remodeled to be a family-style hotel. There are two apartments for rent on each of the floors, and at least two in the basement. We live in the attic, and thereby it is just one studio on our level. The note from the host advised us to take our shoes off when in the house since this way we generate less noise. The building is on the bank of the most inner canal ring, so it’s a pretty expensive property.

Here is me standing on the stairs which lead to the utility room half a floor above:

The roof window shows the sky:

The stairs are … as you expect in Amsterdam:

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Winter 1991 – 1992

Before I proceed with my story, I wanted to reply in more details to the comments on the previous post. “The nineties” was a very prolonged period, each several months the economic situation would change drastically. The time I was talking about in the previous post was from late fall 91 to spring 92, maybe a little bit more than that. Again, I am not going to consult the Wiki, to check the exact dates of all the legislation which were coming out these days. I am trying to recall as precise as possible how I felt back then.

In September, when I just came back from the hospital with Anna and Vlad it was not that bad yet. You could actually buy at least some things in the stores, and I remember that Boris was occasionally bringing me some groceries which he would manage to “get,” waving off my attempts of financial independence. This was one of the very few periods of our togetherness when I was OK with that.

I was eating a lot. I felt sick for the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy each time I was trying to eat something more than an apple, my body was not really processing anything. When I’ve checked into the hospital, the nurses were commenting “you are so thin!”, which sounded hilarious applied to my eight-months-pregnant with twins body, but they were right.

After Vlad and Anna were born, I started eating :). And there was actually stuff to eat. I remember making myself endless omelets with vegetables, cheese sandwiches, lots of black tea with whole milk, which was a traditional Russian breast milk production booster.

I believe things started to change for the worse in October, and then I barely had any protein till the end of the year. The hyperinflation was in full swing, and I had nothing except government subsidy for new mothers. The weirdest thing I remember about these times was my thinking about how in the world I could live on this little money till next month. I was thinking to myself: well, that’s what the government is giving for new mothers, if they came up with this sum of money, there should be a way to survive on it. It sounds completely ridiculous now, but I remember that back then these thoughts would provide some sort of comfort to me.

Continue reading “Winter 1991 – 1992”

A Word About Love

It must have been prompted by my visit with my Mom last night. She’d shared one of her personal stories, and I was walking back from her apartment to the train station where I’ve left my car, thinking about what she’d just told me.

Later that night, I was pre-packing for our “micro-vacation,” trying to fit all my just-in-case clothes into a carry-on. I got back to my laptop to check one more time, which amenities will be provided with our room in Amsterdam, and could not stop smiling rereading a room description. We will be there in three short days, but I am still only “pre-packing” because the weather forecast is keeping changing every day.

Between these attempts to pack and thinking about my Mom’s story, I’ve realized that finally, I’ve stopped being apologetic about my family life. At least I can talk about it without feeling awkward. We are in love, probably even more than 30 years ago, and that all, that matters. I know that most people would disagree with that statement, including my children. Although they most likely won’t be born, if I would think otherwise.

But this is one of my strong opinions, which I am holding tightly. If I am in love, I can make things work.

And often the final results are way more grandiose than anybody could imagine πŸ™‚

A Beautiful Day In The Forest Preserve

I weed scout life hack: if you are planning to epilate your legs, do it before you scout it the forest preserve! If you forget about it, you will have to wait for three days for all your scratches to get healed. But then you would not want to show your wounds to anybody anyways!

I didn’t make this mistake on Sunday, and enjoyed scouting my area – I think it’s the most beautiful prairie area in the whole forest preserve. Since it has been quite rainy lately, there are more wet spots than usual, and I’ve ended up with my feet wet in the first twenty minutes of the walk. But look at the pictures – isn’t it worth getting a little wet?

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Switching To The New Economic Model (1991)

Anna asked me to write about shock therapy, but first I need to say a couple of words about the economic situation in the Soviet Union: not how did it look objectively, not how did it look for the rest of the world, but how the ordinary people, who’ve been inside this system, perceived the economic situation.

The ruling word was “deficit,” and in Russian, in those days it meant not the fact of deficiency of certain goods, but deficient goods themselves. “Deficit” meant anything, which you were unable to find in the store, anything, you had to “get,” either staying in a long line, if you were lucky to be at the place and at the time, where and when “a deficit” has been distributed. Or perhaps you knew somebody who worked in retail, and they could help you to “get a deficit.” There were also “holiday distributions” at the workplaces, or in the worst case scenario, you could find “a speculator” who would sell to you “a deficit” for a sky-rocketing price.

You might ask – who could afford this sky-rocketing price? The answer is that most of the people could. Not every day, not for everything, but if you really-really needed something, you would come up with the money, most of the time.

The salaries were approved somewhere far away from your place of work, and in a majority of cases were not individualized, meaning that a junior engineer will have the same 120 rubles monthly, and maybe 130 or even 135 rubles monthly, if they would work for the Department of Defense. All prices, from bread to beef, to bananas, to underwear, to chairs were fixed across the country, so everybody knew what did the “ice-cream for 19 kopeks” mean, you could use a price instead of a brand.

Most of the people would use their “retail connections” or “speculators” from time to time, for example when they would needed new winter boots or a coat for their toddler. And the vast majority of people would complain about this situation. Most of “intelligentsia” would lament: I wish it would be legal being able to get something for a higher price. It’s much better than not having these goods at all! Why “they” won’t let these people sell what they have.

Continue reading “Switching To The New Economic Model (1991)”

Small Town Chicago v.2

Friday happened to be a FannieMay day. I was picking up the River Cruise tickets for my friend, and when passing a FannieMay store at the corner of Michigan and Waker saw a large sign in the shop window:

I’ve entered the store and looked around. There were all sorts of sweet activities going on. You could taste local coffees with FannieMay chocolates; you could see how the famous FannieMay turtles are being made:

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How My Life in America Started , and About My First CEO

My move to America won’t be possible without Pam – the CEO of the company, which hired me for my first job in the US. She was an outstanding personality and quite a controversial character, but one thing for sure: it’s only because of her that my move to America has happened.

Granted she was considering the interests of her business first, and for sure I was initially paid on the lower margin of the acceptable pay rate for a position, but she took on herself a responsibility of bringing me over.

In was not only about the money (although if you think about it, with myself and my three children, there were four visas and four airplane tickets to pay for, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, I had no money at all, so all these costs were upfront).

But what is more important, she’d taken on herself a responsibility of being in charge of me and my kids – remember, how my other two potential employers didn’t want to take any responsibility of bringing over a single mother with three children?
Pam did. Not without some risk, but being a divorced mother of two small children herself, she understood a thing or two about me.

If you recall my conversation with John R. before my departure, you remember that he was reassuring me, that I do not need to take any extra money along, because “I am going to America to make money.” It didn’t occur to him, that a person is being paid at the END of a pay period, while you need to pay your rent at the BEGINNING of the month, not mentioning a deposit, and once again, three hundred dollars was all I had.
Moreover, in my first company employees were paid monthly, and with me starting on October 23 I had to pay a deposit and nine days of rent, then receive only 1/4 of my monthly check, and pay November rent… And I also had to pay my other expenses till my November check would come.

My company, personified by Pam lent all this money to me. But that was just the beginning of my financial troubles.

One of the decisive factors which prompted my fearless departure to America was the assumption that G. and his family will help me in many ways, including childcare. I will leave for the future a more detailed explanation of what exactly happened, but as a result of it only a month after my arrival I had to move out, pay a fine for lease breaking, find a new apartment, pay one more deposit, find a daycare for my children, and transfer them to a new school. At that time, I was not practicing yoga and has been quite hysterical.

Continue reading “How My Life in America Started , and About My First CEO”

Small Town Chicago…

It was an interesting day on Tuesday when I felt that the whole world had collapsed in one single point :).

I was on a mission to show the best Chicago has to offer; my friend’s Dad was visiting Chicago for the first time. As it always happens, I can’t let somebody else showing our beautiful city to the visitors – what if they will do it a wrong way?!

I took them to the Chicago Fine Arts Building – one of the tourist attractions, which is severely underrated. I love to show it to the visitors, because they can’t believe such a lovely place is right here, in the very center of the city, and they would never know it exists. Showing the ancient man-operated elevator is one of my favorite attractions: you press the elevator button, but what this button really does, it rings the bell, which signals the elevator operator to bring it down. Then you ask to bring you to the very top floor and start your descent down, touring each level on your way.

On one of the floors we’ve entered the Sheet Music store, and I was walking around, showing my guests the selection, and talking to one of the store associates. And then another associate called: Excuse me, are you Henrietta? I’ve turned around, puzzled, because I could not recognize him, and he continued: I used to come to your Postgres meetups!

That was just mind-bowing! I’v replied to him, laughingly: That is wrong! That’s from the other part of my life! And he was: I am so sorry for the intrusion, but you know, this is the other part of my life as well! I take music lessons here, and also help in this store. I said – it’s alright, it just feels not real, when different parts of my world come together.

Then a couple of floors lower we stopped at the Dial, the new used books store, which has replaced the old one, “with the cat.” I love the space, and the owners as well, so we’ve entered and walked around. And when we were about to exit, I thanked the owner, and told him, how I am glad they’ve opened this store, how much I like everything about it, and that my sone has written an article about it

— My son’s name is Igor, do you remember him?

— Of cause! I know him! He’s great!

And after we’ve exited the building, we went for dinner to the Gage, the reservation and all arrangements were made by Vlad, who in his own words “knows a couple of people there.” I wonder, whether there is any at all establishment in Chicago, where Vlad does not know “somebody.” In any case, my usual “it’s good to be Vlad’s Mom” moment followed. There was a bottle of wine from Vlad delivered to our table, and a couple of people stopped by with the questions, “Do you remember me? We met at Vlad’s house.”

… When people ask me, why I still live in Palatine and do not move to the city, one of the first things I tell is that “everybody knows me there, and everybody still remembers I am Vlad’s Mom!” I guess it’s close to becoming true in Chicago πŸ™‚

My Granddaughter Is Two!

Today my granddaughter Nadia turned two. We celebrated her birthday on Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin. The guests were just her closest relatives and closest friends, but it was still a little bit overwhelming for a two-year-old. Anna created an airplane birthday cake, which took a lot of designing and planning, and lots of decorating effort.

After all the presents were opened and enjoyed, my daughter, Anna gave a short speech, in which she said that she is so thankful that through all two years of Nadia’s life there was not a moment, when she wasn’t loved and taken care of. And that she, Anna, is thankful for that.

That was one of many recent moments when I thought to myself: how fortunate it is that I decided to go to America twenty-three years ago! How lucky Anna is that she came along! How fortunate Nadia is that she was born to such a loving family, with so many relatives adoring her. And how this all might never happen, and I wouldn’t even know that something had not happened!

Happy birthday Nadezhda! Happy parenting, John and Anna!

Anna is decorations Nadia’a birthday cake

Getting Organized

Good morning to all my long-time followers! Were you ever wondering looking at the pretty pictures of my breakfasts, how in the world do I have time to make them so pretty on the weekday mornings? This mystery is being revealed! To make my mornings relatively rush free and have a good start of the day, I prepare everything the night before!

That’s how my kitchen table looks like before I head upstairs for the night:

My cup and my plate are set on the table, my percolator is filled with water and coffee, ready to be plugged in, my vitamins and supplements are out so that I won’t forget to take them, and also all my food is sitting in the fridge ready to be consumed, I just need to take it out

Yes, I spent some additional time in the evening to pre-arrange everything, but it is worth it, and make my mornings just fabulous!

Oh, and in case you are wondering – the chocolates are in the small glass jar πŸ™‚