Hettie’s Reflections – Blog Posts


Welcome to Hettie’s Reflections!

Hello! My name is Hettie, I was born and raised in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and I emigrated to the United States in October 1996. I live in Palatine, IL and work in Chicago.

I’ve been very active in the Russian blogosphere, and my American friends keep asking me when I am going to tell my story in English. Well, the time has come.

I am going to write my story for my granddaughter Nadia, and for all my American friends, who has been so supportive through all these years, and hope that my children, Igor, Vlad and Anna will help me through this journey.

My Russian blog used to have “a lot of everything”, because first, I just like to write a little something every day, reflecting on everything happening in the world around me, and second – because I believe that people trust me more knowing me as a person. Everything I’ve done in my life so far, and everything I am doing every day, made me – and still making me the person I am.

This being said, although this blog is intended mostly to record our family history, there will be still “a lot of everything” here. However, for those who is interested in the history solely, I will paste all the links to the Hettie’s Timeline page, which will hopefully allow to read all these entries in a chronological order.

The links to my interviews and videos (mostly professional) will be pasted on this page, and also for those who is interested what I am doing in my professional life, feel free to check out my blog The World of Data.

My blog Hettie’s Cooking is hardly a cooking blog, at least I do not update it often. However, some of my legendary recipes, like “Mom’s soup”, can be found there.

Enjoy 🙂

The Night Ministry: What Can We Do Better?

Last Tuesday, I participated in a focus group for the volunteers for the Night Ministry. Two days later, I was at the ODS making dinner for a suddenly shrunk population. I was chatting with the volunteer coordination and other staff members in the process, and it seemed like a continuation of Tuesday’s focus group.
One of the questions we were asked was the following: suppose the Night Ministry would have unlimited resources, how should they be allocated? What would you do first?

My response was that the staffing is the most critical part. It’s not much that volunteers can do without the support of the staff. I know what a difference it makes in the residents’ level of participation depending on who is covering the shift. The staff turnaround is high. In some cases, it might be good when the people who do not have genuine compassion and willingness to work with the youth leave. However, I think more efforts should be made to attract and retain the best people who can make a meaningful difference in the lives of the youth. It would be great if the program would be expanded and serve more young adults, but even with hypothetical unlimited money for salaries and training, the right people are not easy to find. During our conversation in the shelter, we recalled some periods when we had people on staff that should not be there in the first place. And we recalled some young individuals with a lot of potentials, which required a lot of attention from the staff.

We started to talk about the youth we met in the shelter, and it was a long list! We wondered whether everything turned out fine for them and whether they were able to stay on their jobs and not end up on the streets again.

That’s another thing I talked about during the focus group. I know that the youth who graduate from the program want to forget about that period of their lives. I remember one girl telling me: I am very thankful for the program, but I cant’ wait to get out of here!

That means that most of the time, former residents do not want to come back and let us know how they are doing. I think it would be great to have some social services that would allow us to follow up with the program graduates and help them with their everyday challenges. Even for a successful young adult, settling in their first apartment and figuring out the budget is not an easy task. The support should be flexible and should not stop abruptly after a person receives their apartment keys.

During the focus group, one of the volunteers mentioned that the training was great, but then when he went on the field for the first time, it was hard because he could not establish any contact for a while. I told him that nothing was wrong with him, that it’s all expected, and if anything, I believe the training should be adjusted to explain to the new volunteers that the transition is difficult. Later in the shelter, we talked about some volunteers who come with the firm belief that they are doing other people a huge favor and want to “share their wisdom” with even asking whether anybody is interested :).

So, why did ten people had to leave the program just the day before I came? Because they were involved in major misconduct (I do not want to share any details, even anonymously). And here is another question: yes, the rules are the rules, and it is essential that young adults who want to participate in the program follow the rules. And if they don’t, it means that they are not ready. But how can we help these young people to get ready to make changes in their lives? And is it even possible?

I do not know that, but I will be in the shelter again next week, and I hope that it will make at least a little bit of a difference in somebody’s life.

All Done With My Old House!

Yesterday, I finally closed on my old house. Selling the house was a surprisingly traumatic experience, especially surprising with the housing market’s current state. The last two weeks were the most stressful. I was waiting to hear from the attorney when I should come to their office to sign the papers (these days, because of COVID, the seller is asked not to be present at the closing). Instead, I received a letter about an extension of the house contingency because the buyer’s loan was still not approved – they were still waiting for some papers.

My closing was scheduled for July 30, and on Jul 20, I received a notice about this extension till Jul 28! There is no need to describe how I felt all these days. And then, all of a sudden, the attorney’s office called me on the 28th and said – we are closing tomorrow!

I didn’t even have a driver’s license with me! And I could not go to Cumberland in the middle of the day. They sent me a mobile notary (who forgot about the driver’s license :)), then I had to email a copy :), and then at 5-30 PM, my agent called me and asked where the garage remote is. I replied that it is at the same place as all the keys – in my house because my agent didn’t want to take them earlier… They sent an associate to pick up the keys the next morning, and fortunately, Igor was able to come to my house and hand the keys.

The next day (on Thursday), the attorney’s office kept calling me because something still didn’t work, like they could not reach my bank and my mortgage company, I just lost track of it. It was only at 4 PM that I was notified that all is done!

The next step will be refinancing (I already started the process), and then, I guess – the next round of repairs and replacements 🙂

Music And More Music!

I can’t get enough of live music! I didn’t even realize how much I missed it until I attended the first Grant Park Festival concert! Now, I try to come to each of the concerts, the weather and other circumstances permit:). Today, mom told me she does not want to go. That was probably for the best because it was hot until the concert was over. But boy, how much I enjoyed the music!

I love the comments maestro Calmor makes about composers and specific pieces, even though a couple of times he was wrong :).

Today, he talked about the Mercadante, a composer who wrote sixty operas that nobody performs anymore. The work performed tonight was a Flute Concerto, and it was amazingly good! I could not stop smiling while listening! The Saint-Saëns Symphony No 2 was also unknown to me, so it was another discovery.

To continue on the topic of music, last weekend, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the next season’s subscriptions. It’s a little bit scary to make such long-term plans because, as we all know, the cases I rising again. But I hope that people will start vaccinating more, after all (the number of vaccinations per day finally started to rise in Illinois), and also – I am perfectly fine wearing a mask both inside and outside, as long as I can do things! That being said, I was figuring out my subscriptions and memberships. I switched to the Family Plus in the Field Museum (and I just realized that Chicago residency gives me a discount!). I subscribed to the CSO Fall season. It turned out that I still had almost a thousand bucks credit from the previous two seasons, although I donated a lot of the unused credits. I only used half of it, and I am planning to subscribe to more family shows. I also subscribed to the Jeoffrey Ballet, bought one ticket to the pre-Broadway run of the Paradise Square, and I think I will also subscribe for several Baroque concerts :).

Seriously, I didn’t realize how much I miss live music!

Now I know how to choose a spot away form the crowd

The Screen Door

I hate when something is hanging out there not completed. I need all the boxes being checked (probably that’s why I like to-do lists so much:)). That’s why during the week when Boris was here, we tried to fix as many things as possible.

I already mentioned that when I bought the house, I didn’t realize that the storm door on the balcony is missing. I only noticed it when the weather became warmer, and people started to keep their balcony doors open. There were some pieces of hardware from the old door still attached, but we could not figure out how to find a matching screen door.

I talked to my next-door neighbor, and he told me that I should not try to match the existing hardware. I need to remove all that’s left from the old door and measure what size I need. And the new door will come with new hardware.

So I measured, and then I asked Boris to look for the door on Lower’s website. He told me that I must have measured wrong because a 33-inch size does not exist; the door can be 32 or 36 inches wide. I believed him and ordered the 32-inch door. Why did I not measure one more time? Because it was July 4, and I was using this weekend to catch -up with my two jobs :).

Lowe’s scheduled delivery for July 5, which was great because it was still a weekend. But then they moved the delivery time three times, and at 4-30 PM they called me and said that they wouldn’t make it. It was a pain to reschedule, especially because I had to be in the office (in two offices!) every day. Long story short, the door was finally delivered.

We needed to complete many projects while Boris was here, so we only got to the door installation on Tuesday. We studied the manual and figured out lots of things, and finally, Boris installed the door, only to realize that it was two inches smaller than we needed!

We had to uninstall it and throw it away (because nobody in the building could use the wrong size door!), and then I ordered the right size, miraculously delivered the next day!

So I have a screen door, after all! (Yea, we need to seal it…)
Can you imagine how good it feels?!

About The Office Language

I wanted to blog about that for a while…

The World of Data

Recently, somebody complimented me for “never speaking Russian” at the workplace. I am unsure whether it was a compliment because it was phrased like me being “very unusual Russian manager.” (Funny enough, that was the first time I realized that Iam”a Russian manager.” )

Days later, another person told me that people complained about the same thing – I do not speak Russian at work, and I discourage others from doing so.

Granted, it is not the “Russian” problem, but a problem of speaking a language different from the office official language at the workplace and doing it consistently. I never thought anybody would question the fact that this is an unacceptable practice, but the question keeps coming up, so I decided to write a blog on that subject 🙂

So why do I hold a strong opinion that people should not speak a language different from the…

View original post 713 more words

One More Long Bike Ride

Now about the good things which happened on Friday:). I took Friday off, and we went for another long bike ride. This time we were somewhat limited by time because we had other things to do before Boris left for the airport, so we decided to put a hard limit of 2 hours total. This time, there was no strong wind (which increased our speed), but we also made several photo stops that slowed us.

We only got to the Buckingham Fountain (which was almost entirely covered by preparations for Lalapaloose.

I think it would only take us ten extra minutes to get to Aquarium, but it was a good ride anyway, and I took a picture of a place where the Chicago River flows into Lake Michigan!

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Last summer, I baked rhubarb pies several times, trying different recipes with different degrees of success, and I was looking to give it a try this summer when local rhubarb appeared on the market. I found the recipe I liked most, and this time, I didn’t change anything in how the filling is made — precisely that proportion of fruits, precisely that amount of sugars.     

I didn’t cover my pie; instead, I sprinkled some streusel on top, and it worked perfectly.  

So, here it goes:

  • 1 defrosted 9-inch pie crust
  •  3 cups of rhubarb, cut 1/2 -inch length,   
  • 2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp orange extract (instead of 1 tbsp of orange juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Start preheating the oven after the filling is mixed so that it would release some liquid and leave the liquid in a bowl when you fill the crust with the filling.

I didn’t put the lattice on top and didn’t use an egg. Instead, I prepared some streusel topping with 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour, and 3 tbsp of butter which I crushed with my fingers and mixed with dry components. Then I baked it as instructed: 20 min on 400F and 35 min on 350F. It was already pretty late, so I left it to cool down overnight.     

In the morning it was the most perfect thing.

I found critical with this recipe the proportion of rhubarb and strawberries and sugar, adding cornstarch and a cooldown before serving.

Last Night

Yesterday was the last day Boris was here, and it was one of the most productive days of his stay. Even though he had to leave to the airport at 6 PM, and even though we slept a little bit (by my standards :)), we did a lot! It would be a great day, except it ended with my mom on her first trip to the emergency room.

Igor took her to Devon market for shopping, and somehow she tripped on something on the floor and fall just the moment Igor looked away in search of the shopping cart. She had serious bleeding on the left side of her face. Somebody got her a bandaid, and she even continued shopping; however, she felt lightheaded. When Igor called me, I told him we need to take her to the emergency room to check for a concussion. It ended up alright: the nearest 24-hour emergency was not far away, and we didn’t even have to wait long. She got a CT scan, and she had no concussion, and the doctor put pain-relieving patches on her back and chest where she said it hurt and a stitch on her face. But even with everybody being very efficient, we left the hospital at 11 PM and had to wait for Uber and then drop her off first, and then me.

I am glad we took her to emergency and that I do not have to worry for days whether it could be a concussion, so I won’t even say that I planned that evening differently 🙂

Blueberry Breakfast Casserole

This recipe is just amazing! My take-away are two things which I am going to use in the future:

  • soaking overnight, not just for ten munites before cooking or baking
  • adding almond (or vanilla or other) extract 

Both make the “dough” taste heavenly,

I made a half-portion in a rectangular baking pan. Copying it here, so that I do not need to jump to the original recipe each time:

Sliced stale bread, enough to cover the bottom of the pan 

1 cup blueberries (or other berries)

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/4 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cardamon


1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons butter, cold and cubed

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

I used an 8X8 inch pan. Gease with nonstick spray. Line prepared baking pan with bread, filling all the cracks. Set aside.

Whisk the eggs, milk, sugar, and extracts together until well combined. Pour over the bread. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight. 

To save time in the morning, I prepared the topping the night before as well:

Combine the brown sugar and flour together in a medium bowl. Crash the cubed butter with your fingers while mixing it in.

In the morning:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove pan from the refrigerator. Sprinkle blueberries evenly over the top. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the soaked bread. Top with walnuts.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until slightly firm and golden brown on top. I baked it for 50 minutes.