To the 28th Anniversary of the Last Russian Revolution

The event as significant, as the last Russian revolution deserves more extensive description. However, for my whole family and me these days will be forever associated with the birth of Vlad and Anna, my extraordinary twins. Anna likes to joke that she brought down communism, and whether you agree with this statement or not, the connection will always be there.

I was eight months pregnant; the doctors did not believe there were any chances I could go full -term, so I was due to the hospital on August 24. The coup started on August 19, and we all understood that it was a coup. And the people said: no! I know, these days it is fashionable to question the latter statement. But that’s how we felt back then, and it felt damn good! The only thing I’ve resented back then was that I was in no condition to go to a protest to the Palace Square! Which tells something about me :).

The world was collapsing, the radio was turned on in the hospital delivery room, we were breastfeeding our babies while listening to the news about the Communist party offices being shut down. That’s how the new chapter for our family has started.

Note:

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Attending the University in the Soviet Union – Social Studies

This is the continuation of that post; I’ve spoken a little bit about how math subjects were taught, but there were also a couple of non-math ones. So let’s cover them.

The toughest ones were all political subjects, which we had on place of social studies. Both in high school and the University, we studied “Marxist-Leninist philosophy,” and that was the only kind of philosophy we were allowed to know. By the way, I think it’s very good to know Marx works because 1) he had indeed some wise things to say, and 2) we should to know the origin, not interpretation, and learn from the previous mistakes. I find it very sad that people who got their education in the Soviet Union still resent this forced feeding of Marxism from their early stages of life, that they want completely erase it out of the world.

But back to my student years. Marxism-Leninism consisted of five parts, which could be conveniently mapped to the five years at theUniversity:

-The History of CPSU

-Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism (this is one subject – one semester for each :))

– Political Economy of Capitalism

– Political Economy of Socialism

– Scientific Communism

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My Cooking Philosophy

I love cooking. But I am terrified of long recipes with two dozen-plus ingredients. My motto is: cooking should be fun, and should not be exhausting. After all, I am not a stay-at-home wife, nor a 9-to-5 person. I am a “tech exec”, working in a small startup, which means crazy working hours and unpredictable schedule.

I do not hold a belief that the food should be prepared the same day it is consumed. For me cooking or preparing for cooking in advance is vital. Now I am in the midst of my traditional summer vegetable challenge: the CSA delivery comes weekly, and even with my half-share, there are way more vegetables I can consume.

I do not mind leaving some of the vegetables for the next week or more. But I still need to cook them at some point:). Although I live by myself now, I am making big batches – takes the same time to cook! Then I package the cooked dishes into very small containers and freeze them. This way, I can defrost and warm-up just the amount I can consume with one meal.

Summer squash with carrots, onions and tomatoes
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Baked Salmon

This is a recipe from my daughter Anna. When the folks from the Open Door Shelter where I volunteer asked to make fish next time I will come, I was not sure what I could make, which would be fast and simple. And yummy. And this recipe is the best in terms that you need to do almost nothing – the oven does the job.
When I made it in ODS for the first time, it was gone before I turned around. I made it at home when Boris was here with the same effect. I brought two giant salmons to the shelter last Friday, and this way at least there were no people who got nothing.
I had one more left at home, and I didn’t want to freeze it, so I baked it, and now I am going to give some to Mom, some to Igor and freeze the rest.
Here is the recipe:

  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Place the fish skin down on the baking sheet (on the parchment paper or aluminum foil).
  • Put several drops of olive oil on top, sprinkle some salt and black pepper.
  • Cut one or two lemons and place the pieces on top of the fish, to give some lemon flavor and to prevent it from getting dry.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes. Anna says – eight minutes, but it didn’t work for me.
Enjoy!

A Trip to Indiana Dunes

Last Saturday Igor and I went on our traditional late-summer trip to Indiana Dunes. Igor was the first to discover this amazing place (I mean, it has been known for everybody except us, so we “discovered” it for ourselves. I love each, and single thing about Dunes. Each time we are taking this long trip (I am not driving long-distance, so it is really long, with two trains and lots of walking) I am asking myself, why in the world I am doing this :). Why spend several hours to soak yourself into the same Lake Michigan, just at the different part of it. But when I get here, I instantly remember: oh, that’s why! Because the water is so clear, and the sand is so white and overall – this place talks to you!

Most of the time I am trying to get a bigger crowd to come with us, but this time I get sick just before the planned trip, and I was not sure whether I would be able to go, so I didn’t invite anybody.

We have lots of stories about the weather and how it would interfere with our trips, one takeaway was – do not trust any weather forecast. However, when Saturday morning the forecast turned to “thunderstorms from 12 to 2”. I’ve called Igor and asked whether we are still going, and shouldn’t we postpone our trip to Sunday.

After some discussion, we decided to go, and I am so glad we did!

I packed my new rolling bag for the first time. I got it several months ago to deal with my current inability to carry heavy stuff for an extended period. It was advertised as being able to walk the stairs and to roll on the beach. Both proved to be true and worked wonderfully. However, I found an unexpected problem with dragging something relatively heavy behind me, rather than rolling four-wheel luggage. Still, I need to figure out what precisely is wrong, but I had to give it to Igor on the long stretches. It worked great on the beach itself though, because unlike regular luggage it can stand it in the sand, and I could take out stuff and put in.

From Chicago, we had to take the South shore electric line from the Millennium station.

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Breakfasts Outside are Almost Over!

There are multiple signs that fall is nearing. One of them are these colored leaves:

More obvious is the fact I’ve complained about a while ago – the days a getting shorter, and my summer activities are going away one after another. Soon my breakfasts outside will be over, at least the weekday breakfasts – I am out of the house shortly after 7 AM. And since Boris does not like eating outside, I’ve lost one week ahead of schedule :).

Now I am going to celebrate my love for breakfasts outside, and showing some recent buys which make my morning experiences even better.


I had this wooden tray for a while, and I would always put a pretty Scandinavian design paper napkin on it. However, since for the last two times in IKEA, I was unable to find the ones I like, I ended up remembering that I have a lot of cloth napkins I do not use!

I also got two more trays, in case I will have some house guests who like eating outside ๐Ÿ™‚ I ended up liking this one even better than the one I had before!

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My First Semester in the University: Higher Education in the Soviet Union

As you could already figure out, there was no ACT or SAT in the Soviet Union. Your GPA was counted as one of the grades at the entrance exam, as I’ve described here (along with the rest of the admission process). Also, everything was decided after you actually graduated. For me, I graduated in June 1980, and the whole month of June was dedicated to the finals, both oral and written. I hope I remember it correctly: we had an essay exam, math (in writing), and a whole bunch of oral exams: physics, chemistry, the history of the USSR (aka the history of the Communist Party), which was combined with the “social science” material. I believe we also had English, and we should have had oral Russian and oral math, but I can’t remember for the life of mine.

Anyway, when exams were over, we had our diplomas distributed at the lavish graduation ceremony followed immediately by the graduation prom. In Leningrad, which is situated pretty far North, the nights in June are very short; actually, it hardly gets dark for an hour. That season is called “The White Nights.” It’s supposed to be very romantic to wander the city streets at night time during this season, especially the Neva River embankments. Lots of young people are outside the whole night; you are expected to meet the love of your life one of these nights :), and you won’t go for less.

It was raining really heavily on my graduation night, but a tradition is something you can’t break. So my boyfriend (you are supposed to have a girlfriend/boyfriend that night, even if you didn’t have them before) and I were both walking in the rain. Our mutual friend, who was unfortunate not to have a girlfriend at the moment, was wandering in the rain with us. My graduation dress was red because I wanted to be different from others, and also because that was the only long dress, I found in the store which looked good on me. I didn’t have money for a tailored dress, besides making your dress to order was considered bourgeois at that time. So I was wearing a long red gown with a white belt, a white neckless and white high heels. We walked all the way from our school which was situated in Gavan, the far side of Vasilevsky Island, up to my house on the other side of the river. There I’ve changed to the warmer clothes, flats, and handed the boys some dry socks, and we continued our wandering in the rain – it was a tradition!

Literally the next morning we brought our papers to the Admission Commission of the University, and then all the events which I’ve already described have happened. On July 10th, I became the first college student in my class.

Continue reading “My First Semester in the University: Higher Education in the Soviet Union”

More About Getting Into College in the Soviet Union

Back to my story. You might wonder, what was such a big deal about this specific University, and what was a drama. First, there were not that many higher educational institutions in the Soviet Union and the majority of them were located in Moscow and Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). Many cities either had no higher education establishments, or they were ranked extremely low. For the High School grads in Leningrad, there was almost no option to get a degree outside the city. Some brave souls might try to challenge their luck in Moscow, but they would have way fewer chances there. Going to a smaller city would be getting into a way lower-ranked college. Plus, the student dorms never had enough capacity to accommodate everybody who would need it, and renting was virtually non-existent. Most of the college students lived in their parent’s homes, so going to another city incurred additional expenses. There were some students outside Leningrad, for sure, and I will tell in a duly order who they were and how their lives looked like.

Leningrad State University was the University, the only University in the city. Another thing I should mention is the fact that higher education in the USSR and later in Russia was not compliant with the rest of the world. We did not have BS and MS, we didn’t formally have “liberal arts,” although we didn’t have them informally as well. I guess for the fact of them being “liberal.” We had “institutes” and “the university.” You had to go to school for five years to earn a degree. To be precise, you had to cover the courses which were offered during these five years and not to have a failing grade in any of them. Higher education was free in the Soviet Union. Completely free, plus most of the students were given a small monthly stipend, which could be revoked if you fail one of the finals, and could me moderately increased if you got “excellent” on all of your finals.

However, do not assume it would be the same as to get into the US college for free regardless of your income. First, people just didn’t have extra money on average, and there was no option to borrow, period. There was no concept of “credit,” except for one very conditioned option to improve your living conditions. This one was called “cooperative flats”, but you had you be eligible to join. So it would be safe to say that credit did not exist. Second, the number of “institutes” even in the big city, like Leningrad, was minimal. I promise to find the exact stats :).

The Leningrad State University had a dozen or so of departments, and when you were applying, you were applying to a very specific department,. All the “liberal arts” were out of reach for us, because there was too much of the competition, so for somebody who was math-inclined, you could only apply to the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics. Which would accept only 350 students. 25 for the astronomy (yes, you had co claim your track when applying, and changing later was almost impossible). 50 for mechanics and the rest evenly divided between mathematics and applied mathematics; the latter has become computer science at some point. The level at which all math courses were tought was indeed much more advanced at the University. Why did it matter so much, I can’t tell you at the moment, but when we were seventeen and math geeks, it made a ton of difference.

One more thing worth mentioning here. There was and still is a mandatory draft into the Army, which boys were trying to avoid at all costs. Most “institutes” had a so-called “military chair.” Starting from th second to the fifth year of studying, there was one day a week when the girls were free, and the boys were taking military classes. This way the boys were graduating with some army rank, and most of the time it was counted as they have completed their years of service.

All of the above is very different from the American concept of “there is a college for everybody.” You had to get in right after school. If you are a male and you didn’t get in, you will be drafted when you turn 18. You could only apply to one institute, as I’ve mentioned earlier, the University was the only exception.

Hopefully, now you can understand better why the situation with the Jews was so severe.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Sick :(

I ended up working like crazy for two days and then being sick for two more days. That’s how the second half of Boris’ stay here ended. And haven’t been sick to that extent for a very long time.

Now not only we lost time together, but also I am behind on so many things, I can’t even start countingโ€ฆ and still sick.