Hettie’s Reflections – Blog Posts

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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 🙂

More Optimistic Eyes Update

On Wednesday, I went to the two-weeks checkup after my retina surgery. My left eye is now better than before the surgery and is some aspects even better than the right one. However, the horizontal lines are still wavy, and there are some blank spots in the middle. I told the surgeon that I do not want to do the right eye, because I won’t be able to last with my left eye only for a week. He agreed to wait till October to decide whether I will do the second one. I am most likely not going to come back because I have lots of issues with that office.

Since my eye doctor is still not open, I decided to go to the LensCrafters in the city, who made my last glasses. Their location works perfectly for me, and I had an excellent impression of their office in general when they replaced a lense in my glasses.

I scheduled an appointment with them for Thursday, which is now my in-office day. I spent there two and a half hours and I felt extremely guilty missing time at work, but the results are very promising. The doctor fitted me with bifocal glasses, and also I tried bifocal lenses for the first time. He gave me a week to get to adjust to them. That’s a new experience, and I am excited to be almost a normal person. I could not see so well for a long time; I can’t even recall since when.

Hopefully, this all will work out!

Maybe, It Does Not Sound Funny, But It Was Funny!

You know, how one thing leads to another… after I picked up an additional external monitor from the office so that I could have two external monitors to work from home, I realized that my first monitor is not of great quality. And when you mostly work from home, it matters.

I discussed it with Boris, and we agreed that I would purchase the same model as I have upstairs for online classes. The only thing that scared me a little bit was the fact that this monitor was sitting not on the stand but the adjustable desk mount. I asked Boris whether he is sure I can affix it myself. He said: definitely, it’s just four screws, and that’s it. And I believed him!

That was another project for the holiday weekend. The monitor was delivered, and I told Boris that he would need to guide me through the process using Facetime.

Now, it’s not that much space on my desk. This desk used to be spacious fifteen years ago or so, but since then, the standards have changed. And the monitor sizes, as well.

I was able to unscrew the old monitor from the mount. But after that, the mount, free of the monitor weight, went up, and would not come down. And I had to hold it to screw on the new monitor without being able to see what I am doing.

That was a challenge! First, I didn’t realize that the new monitor has it’s own four screws in and wondered why I couldn’t find the holes! Then, it was almost impossible to keep the whole construction down. Boris kept telling me that I should turn the mount ninety degrees so that it would be easier to attach a new device, but again, without the weight, the mount won’t cooperate. At some point, it jumped up and hurt my upper lip and the bottom of the nouse. I screamed; that’s how bad it was!

Boris suggested finding a box that will support the monitor on the height of the mount’s natural position, which I did, and then I was able to screw it in, and everything was great. But looking back at that situation, even though my nouse still hurts, I can’t keep from laughing! Who else would complete such a project remotely?!

What Worries Me Now

I never planned to write anything about this here. Still, I can hardly think about anything else for the past several days. Since this blog is partially for future generations, and partially for a small circle of people who are close to me, let it be.

When you see somebody every day, you usually do not notice the changes. But all the changes which happened to my mom during these past several months, can’t be ignored. For those who haven’t seen her for some time, the changes are even more striking. Ten days ago, when I still couldn’t see well after the last surgery, I asked my neighbor to take mom and me to the grocery store. And she commented that mom became very fragile. There are more things that she forgets, and I understand that it’s difficult for her to be happy when she often feels disoriented.

I always feel upset when I can sense her unhappiness because the whole idea of bringing her here was that she could live whatever years she still has happier than before. I tend to reprimand her that she always finds reasons to be unhappy, but to be honest – how can you feel happy when things are slipping away?

During our July 4th gathering, there was one incident when she got very upset about a minor thing, and Vlad had to drive her to her home so that she could pick up the missing item there. Afterward, Vlad commented that she became like a child. The trend was there for a while, but now it is more pronounced.

Today was my first day back to the office, and I didn’t plan to stop by her. Tomorrow I am taking her to the dentist, so I thought that I could skip today. It turned out that her air conditioner is not working properly. To be precise, it does not cool her apartment enough in the energy-saving mode. I figured it out last week and turned it to the cooling mode, but then you need to turn it off periodically, and it gets back to the energy-saving mode. I was keeping asking here over the phone whether her air conditioner is working, and she was saying that yes, and that she turns it off when she gets out. But today, she said that it was very difficult to get by, and she had to lie down often. It turned out, that it was back to the energy-saving mode, and the temperature in her apartment was 84F. The outside temperature today was 92F, and it will be worse tomorrow.

I got into the car, drove to her and yelled at her that she could die that way. She got very upset that I yelled at her, but I didn’t care. She was keeping saying that she didn’t change anything in the air conditioner, and I told her just to remember which lights should be green.

Then I tried to fix her color printing thing, without much luck, so I will still need to google her printer situation.

Not all days are like this, sometimes there are better days. When I took mom to the forest preserve on Sunday, she was in a good mood, and alert, and conversational. But when something goes off, even some rather innocent things, I am scared because I do not know what will go off next.

I understand that things are being accelerated by the isolation and the lack of external stimulation. That’s why I started taking her shopping instead of bringing her groceries and was trying to come up with other activities outside her home.

Tomorrow, I am taking her to the dentist. There will be teeth extractions and new dentures. I need to make sure she will take the antibiotic and the pain killer; she often tries to ignore both after the dental appointments.

And I need to be more patient, which does not happen all the time.

Distancing on the Fourth

We had a small family gathering on the Fourth, primarily for my mom’s benefit as she was keeping asking when she will see everybody together again. That way, she could see all the boys, and I could treat them with some homemade food.

I had two major challenges: to cook everything myself, without any help from the kids (and I only had about two and a half hours), and how to serve the food in a safe way. Our traditional buffet-style won’t work these days. After all, everything turned out great, and Vlad approved all my preparations. I even had gloves to serve food, which had to be taken by hand.

The time I picked (5-30 PM) was perfect since the heat started to subside, and my deck is a summer-time haven that seldom gets any direct sun. Also, I have a huge umbrella, and I took outside my gym fan to add to the natural breeze.

Visiting the Gym

On Sunday, I went to my local gym for the third time since its reopening last Friday. The first time, I went there to check it out on the first day. Then I want twice, checking the early morning situation on both weekdays and weekends. And I decided that for the time being, I will use it only as a last resort. If it will be pouring rain and I won’t be able to bike or walk. At least until fall. 

Here is why. It’s a 24X7 facility, so the situation depends solely on how the individual members behave, but the management still has ways to encourage the desired behavior. On Tuesday, there were only three people except me in the gym, but theses three people were socializing (and they were not one household). Yes, by the governor’s order, masks are not required in the gyms, but people should think for themselves, especially when they choose to socialize. 

There is no explicit marking on the floor regarding the 6 feet distance; the blue dots are in random places. Out of six disinfecting wipes disposers, five were empty. One bottle of hand sanitizer was empty. Yes, I know it was a long weekend, but in the situation of a pandemic, this should not happen. 

I wore a mask (a good one, which allows me to breathe while exercising.) Another member stated to set up his weights and a bench very close to me. But after looking at my mask, he asked: do you mind that I am so close to you? I said – no, it’s OK, I am in the mask. And then I added: I knew right away it will be challenging to keep the distance, so I decided I will wear a mask when coming here, although it is not required. He nodded, and then he said: you know what, I think I will move further. 

I remember that the last week before the gym closed in March, they had plenty of sanitizer and disinfection wipes, and they had signed everywhere they people should clean the equipment after each use. And even though we know now that the virus does not spread significantly through the surfaces, it’s still a b=public indoor place, with no staff on-site for extended periods, so I believe they should provide their members with more cleaning supplies. 

Another Long Day…

Once again, way too many things happened today. Some were good, some – very satisfying, some funny, and some sad.

And because I do not feel like writing about the sad things at the moment, I will put here several pictures from the forest preserve. First, the ones I took on Friday early morning, when I was biking.

Continue reading “Another Long Day…”

I can’t believe it’s still Friday!

‘I can’t believe it’s still Friday!” – that’s what I said to myself about an hour ago. A Friday of Independence Day weekend, which would be perfect, if happened in the time of peace.
Even though there are none of the usual Independence Day activities, I still planned a lot. This week, I finally felt that I am very close to a usual self, active, getting things done, making plans, and completing the projects.

We had a shortened workday yesterday, and I was able to complete some of my shopping and other errands. I stopped myself from trying to do even more, knowing that I would be entirely exhausted by the end of the day if I tried. After all, I am not thirty-five anymore. That was a wise decision – I had enough energy today not only to finish shopping but also to finalize my order for the new stairs in the Home Depot. It might sound not like a big deal, but that’s what I had to do:

1) to come there without the laminate samples I took home several weeks ago to choose the best match
2) run back home with another, more promising sample to check 3) stop at ALDI on the way home, because it was indeed on the way.
4) pay with my Home Depot credit card.
5) lose my card somewhere in the store
6) rush home, call the credit card to report a loss.
7) at some point to receive a text message from my neighbor, that she needs some help with her computer
8) come to her house and fix the problem (which fortunately ended up having nothing to do with a computer)
I also did a lot of cooking and baking, and fixing some floral arrangements on the deck, which were damaged during recent storms, and installed a new printer at mom’s house.
Today, this bubble in my eye is finally gone, and I started to wear contacts again. That also helps me to feel more like a human 🙂

While discussing with Boris this whole situation of masks and not masks, we were trying to figure out why it all worked in Finland, although the face-covering was never mandatory there. Boris said that he thinks it’s mostly because of air conditioning. In Finland, most private houses do not have it and all office workers are still working from home and are supposed to continue in the same manner until September.


The airconditioning idea looks very logical. It would explain the Southern states’ spikes. It’s not really the fact that they were opening too rapidly, but rather “how many people trickled into the newly opened bars with airconditioning.”
I guess I will wear a mask in the office, even if I will be the only one who will return back 🙂

June 1995. Our Trip to Poland. Part 2

I have no pictures from that trip. None. I didn’t own a camera, and whenever I tried to use other people’s cameras, the pictures would turn out horrible, so I was 200% convinced I will never be able to produce a single decent shot. Taking pictures, processing films was way bigger deal back then, so I never even asked our hosts. Waldek took these two pictures at home, on the next day after our arrival. 

I haven’t seen Dowgerts for five years. We barely heard anything from them except for that unbelievable humanitarian flight in December 1991 (I need to go back and check whether I wrote about it).  

Back in 1990, Waldek was a laid-off pilot. His wife Marysia was a school teacher (and I got to know her because she was a part of the teachers’ delegation to Leningrad in 1989). When I talked to them on the phone before coming, they said, “They have lots of news,” They will tell all about it when I come. The news was revealed to us immediately after they met us at the train station: Marysia was now a school principal, and Waldek was a Mayor of Pruszcz Gdanski! 

Now, they owned a car, and Waldek drove us home (as usual, everybody except Anna got seasick). The apartment was the same, but they were talking about getting a bigger and better one. Their older daughter Anetka was 17, and the next day she took us to Gdansk. She didn’t speak Russian. My kids didn’t speak English, so I had to translate their questions each time they wanted to ask something. And when Anetka took us to the city museum, and the kids had some questions, I had to translate their questions into English to Anetka, she would translate them into Polish to the museum personnel, and then the answers were translated twice 🙂  

She also took us to Mariacka Cathedra, and we climbed all the way to the top. Funny enough, Anna Climbed all the way up by herself but was scared to go down, and Anetka brought her down in her arms. 

We talked a lot. There were so many new things around, Poland has changed a lot since 1990. They showed us videos from the school plays, and it was mindblowing. They had videos with Disney cartoons. They had Legos. They had a huge collection of figurines from KinderSurprises. Anetka was talking about going to study in America. All of that was from a different universe. 

The next morning, we were ready to go to our destination – a vacation house at Krynica Morska.

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.

June 1995. Our Trip to Poland. Part 1

Since I am writing my story partially backward, I didn’t write yet how we got to know the Dowgerts family from Pruszcz Gdansky- a small town close to Gdansk. For now, I will say that Boris and I met Dowgerts several years before, and we stayed at their place when we visited Poland in the summer of 1990. Since the www and the internet, in general, were barely emerging, it wasn’t easy to keep track of each other’s lives. The only thing I knew in May 1995 was that they will meet us and will drive us to their vacation home on the Baltic shore. I tried to get an idea of whether there will be warm enough there in mid-June, and they said – yes, it should be fine.
The airfare was expensive, and I decided to take a train to Gdansk. I believe the length of the journey was about 30 hours. The train was leaving in the late morning and arriving in Gdansk at about 6 PM the next day.
The night before our departure Vlad got a high fever, upset stomach, and nausea. And …. I decided we are still going! Yes, I made sure his temperature went down by the time we had to leave, and not just dow, but down without him taking any fever-reducing drugs. He was pretty weak and laid down for most of the first day of travel, but he was fine when we arrived to Gdansk. However, before arrival, there was a night…

I know that what I am going to tell now will sound extremely judgmental, maybe racist, so I will try very hard to stick to the facts.

We were traveling in the sleeping car. The car was almost empty; only one more compartment except ours was occupied. And the car crew was Polish.

Yes, I understand that it is not about nationality; it is about the social norms in a particular society. And I love the Polish part of me, and I love Poland deeply, but by that time I’ve interacted with Poles, male and female, long enough to know about what was considered an appropriate “manly” behavior.
The compartments in the sleeping cars were quite weird from my perspective. In the Soviet sleeping car, each compartment would host four people, two on the bottom bunks, and two on the tops. Here, the were three bunks on one side and none on the other. There were belts to prevent a person who was sleeping on the top from falling. I think that Igor was sleeping on the second bunk, and it would be logical if I would climb on the very top. But I was on the bottom bunk.

And then one of the porters knocked at the door. He said something to the effect that he forgot to give me some toiletries, which he had to provide for the sleeper passengers. I opened the door. He smelled heavily with the cheap perfume. He locked the door and threw his body over me.

I have no idea what he was thinking:). I have two hypotheses. One- that he was sure that I would succumb to his charms, and that no woman can stand them. At least that’s what I could deduce from the fact that he started to kiss me, saying in Polish, that he wants my lips. My other hypothesis is that he thought I would not risk waking up the kids because I would not want to scare them and keep quiet.
Well, it was true – I didn’t want to scare the kids. But, that was not the first rape attempt in my life, and I knew how to stand for myself!

I was turning spinning my head so that he won’t get my lips, I was pushing him away with both hands, and I was (very quietly) screaming at him to get in the hell out of here! He was still trying to talk me into I am not even sure what, saying, “please let me” in Polish, but I kept spinning and keeping whispering-yelling, and I think he finally realized that I would start screaming loudly if he persists. He retreated.

In the morning, he was very official, as if nothing happened. Do I have to say that I didn’t say a word to anybody? Neither to him nor the Dowgerts when they met us at the train station. I think that I told Boris only several weeks after we’ve returned. And you know why? First, because I believed it’s a part of women’s life. Women are getting raped. Because if you are good looking, men would want to rape you. That was a given. And because – yea, because “it was all my fault.” Because I wore a short skirt. Because I was so vivacious and so visibly excited about going to Poland. Because I knew, “how Polish men are,” and still talked friendly with them during the day.

That’s how our two-week trip to Poland started 🙂

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.