Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Light at the end of the tunnel

Things have been aa bit hectic around here these past couple weeks.  Two weeks ago, I finally got a surgery date.  Tomorrow April 25th. So have been busy getting stuff caught up that I had been putting off.  Like taxes and correspondence.  Blogging kind of took a back seat.  I read blogs posted to Facebook because I can do that late at night when I cant sleep.

We are also moving apartments on April 28th.  After giving notice March 31 we had to find a place and then start packing, change addresses, arrange for electric service to be stopped and started and internet service as well. Lots of paper work, now done on the internet but still takes time. Since I can't lift anything heavier than 12 pounds, I won't be missed during the move anyhow.

Pre-Op was last week.  Essentially a nurse asked me a large number of questions and the anesthesiologist sized me up as to how much ether to put me under.  I had to laugh.  The nurse came in and said "My name is ___ and I'll be your nurse today".  I asked if she ever waited tables with an opening line like that. She had, briefly, and decided nursing was more her style.

One of the things the nurse asked me to do was make a living will.  This is always a good thing to have so people know what you want if things go south.  Since I am having three surgeries before they finish with me, they will keep it on file. 

Tomorrow the surgeon will remove the section of gut that has tried to kill me twice already so there is no third time and out.  Diverticular disease  means my cast iron innards have finally started rusting through. Then in a couple months he will reverse the ostomy, reconnecting my top and bottom.  THIS is what I am waiting for.  To get rid of the damn ostomy pouch that has controlled my life for the past many months.  For those who have never seen an ostomy, I should illustrate this with photos.  Put you off your food for a while.  Then when I am all healed up and fully functional, my doctor will attempt to repair my incision hernia which runs from stem to gudgeon, a reminder of my July surgery in Ukraine. That is a difficult job and when it happens no idea but as long as I am rid of the stoma, I don't care how long it takes.

The living will is fairly simple and if you haven't done one you really should.  I put on paper who speaks for me if I a cannot.  Since I am too healthy for a DNR (do not resuscitate), they should keep trying to keep me alive until it doesn't make sense and then if there are any spare parts they can salvage, go ahead. Not sure about useful spare parts, as if I were a vehicle, I'd have jacked up the radiator cap and run a new car under it long ago. I talked this all over with my wife and oldest daughter so we are all on the same page more or less, i.e .no violent disagreements.

My son says I better not die on the operating table and cheat the gallows. However, on the subject of funerals, I want to be cremated as it is cheap. Black garbage bags in a dumpster is cheaper but tends to be frowned upon by the authorities.  Since I live in two countries and love both, the suggestion was made that half the cremains go to Ukraine and half to the little family plot near where i grew up, where my parents, grandparents and great grandparents are buried.

That way my kids can put on my stone, "Here lies our half-ashed father".

I can wait.

Friday, April 13, 2018

To D(NA) or not to D(NA)

Ads for personal DNA analysis come across my Facebook feed on an almost daily basis and it is tempting.  The movement of peoples around the earth fascinate me. Mitochondrial DNA, inherited solely from the maternal line, and the Y chromosome, inherited solely from the male line, tell you a great deal about your ancestors and where they came from.  Hence books such as "Y Chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve".

That is what I would dearly love to learn about myself.  I don't need more relatives, though they are nice to have, as we have a pretty good handle on all our parent's cousins and most of our second cousins.  But where did they come from, not in the near past but in the distant past?

Technically my one set of grandparents came from County Cork, Ireland to Canada in 1906, one came from Holland, via Iowa roughly the same time and one came from Yorkshire emigrants to Canada a hundred years earlier. But their more distant genetic antecedents are pretty much unknown.

It is highly unlikely I have any Irish blood in me at all. The first Hingstons in Ireland arrived in the late 1650's as part of Cromwell's replacement of the heathen Papist Irish with God-fearing English and Scots (Never ask an Irishman his opinion of Butcher Cromwell).  My paternal grandmother is a Ross which is a Scottish name. Though we have not much information on the family's history, I would suggest it is not much different than the Hingstons.  There was mingling of the newcomers and the Irish over time but not much until more recently and given the fiercely religious attitudes of my grandparents, I doubt there was any in their families.

My maternal grandfather came from Holland.  Unless his relatives in the States (he was the only one who moved on to Canada) have family history, we have no further information on his ancestors.

It is my maternal grandmother, of the Bielby family, originally of Yorkshire , that interests me the most.  There is a village and parish in eastern Yorkshire named Bielby.  According to Wikipedia, for what it is worth, there is a Roman fortress near by and the place was over run by Vikings in the late 9th century and the remnants settled there and ruled the place for about a century until 954.

Source Wikipedia
Wiki says that Bielby (spelled Belebi in the Doomsday book) is taken from a Scandinavian name of Beli and means farm or village belonging to Beli.  I have my own theory about that.  The Russian word for white is белый (pronounced belyy or in poor Russian beli).  So maybe Bielby or Belebi means White Farm and has a Slavic link.  My reasoning is based on the fact that not only were the Vikings raiding (and settling) up and down the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, they were also trading (and settling) up and down the Dnieper and other rivers from the Baltic into the Black Sea. They were known as the Varangians by the Greeks, Rus' and Ruthenians.  They became the aristocracy in Kyiv and were the first rulers thereof according to the histories I read.

Now maybe one or many of the Varangians returned from the Slavic countries bringing some of the local language, or leaving some of theirs behind, and were part of the raiders and settlers in Yorkshire and maybe I have some genetic links to Ukraine via Vikings/Varangians?

I hesitate to get a DNA analysis for several reasons.  I have no idea which company is best.  I do not have $100 dollars or more at the moment.  There is a huge amount of information available from DNA analysis and once the company have your DNA they own it regardless of the fine print which likely says they own it anyhow.

DNA analysis not only affects you, it affects everyone you are linked to for many generations both laterally and vertically.  That is scary.  What might they know about me and all my relatives near and far and what might they do with the information?

I asked one of my daughters and her answer was don't do it. I guess that settles it.  I'll never know, I'll just speculate.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dr. Charles M. 'Red' Williams 1925-2018

Dr. Williams in front of the Stone Barn
Dr. Charles M. 'Red' Williams was born in Richardson Sask in 1925. He passed away recently in Saskatoon at the age of 93.

Red joined the Royal Canadian Navy at age 17and served on HMCS Sioux, a Fleet Class Destroyer, protecting convoys on the Murmansk run and on D-Day provided covering fire on Juno Beach when the Canadians went in. The Canadian War Museum, Ottawa had a diorama view from a German pill box on the cliffs overlooking Juno Beach, HMCS Sioux was visible in the background.  Red said it hit him that he was seeing it from the German side for the first time.

After the war, Red completed highschool and then did his BSA and MSc at UBC and PhD at Oregon, studying ammonia metabolism in cattle. He joined the University of Saskatchewan Animal Science Department in 1954, where he was one of three professors at the time. In the 1970’s he was Department Head for 8 years. He retired officially in 1991 but continued to teach, eventually totaling about 60 years.

Dr. Williams speaks to the crowd
He was very active in Extension, and likely spoke at every town in Saskatchewan.  He piloted his own plane for years to get around the province.  He did a weekly newspaper column and a daily radio commentary for over 35 years. It was in his Extension role that I first encountered him at the age of 12 in 1959. Alan Rugg, long time Ag Rep in Wilkie, put on a three-day short course every February and my father would pull me out of school to go to the livestock day where Red was one of the speakers.

His research included some of the original work with 20% porosity windbreaks for cattle yards, as well as cold temperature effects on dairy cattle, bull fertility and the dwarf gene in Herefords.  He and Dr. Roy Berg from the University of Alberta were avid promoters of cross breeding, earning him the enmity of all the purebreds and the provincial government at the time.  “Don’t mess with our perfect purebreds”. Eventually they got over it. The Herford breeders went from wanting him drawn and quartered to inviting him to speak at the World Herford Congress in Rio de Janeiro.

Red was active internationally, in over 30 development projects, beginning in Uganda in the early 70’s and then in China among other places.

He was a life-long Liberal and served as President of both the Saskatchewan and National Liberal Party. Policy and Politics were his forte. His advice was sought after by Premiers and provincial and national Ministers of Agriculture.  One time he was staying at a hotel in rural China when he got a phone call at 2:00 am.  The clerk did not want to wake him, but it was suggested she should as it was Prime Minister Jean Chretien wanting to speak to him.

He also served as president of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, chaired Canadian University Students Overseas, was a founder of the Canadian Council on Animal Care, chaired the Crown Lands Committee, the Action Committee for the Rural Economy, and the Sherbrooke Community Centre.

Red RCN 1942
His awards are too numerous to remember them all but include the Order of Canada, Saskatchewan Order of Merit, Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame, Queen’s Jubilee Medal. Most recently he was named by the Republic of France as a Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour Sept 28 2016.

It was as a teacher that I and thousands of other students knew him best.  Students loved his lectures.  There was never a dull moment in his classes as he called ‘em as he saw ‘em. Show judging was one of his pet hates. Memorable lines such as “All those of you who were in 4-H, forget everything they taught you”; and “The Ayrshire breed was selected solely on conformation of the udder, which is also how we select our movie stars” endeared him to us forever.

Red was on my MSc committee. In 1978 I was working in Cumberland House and desperately trying to get my thesis written up and approved before the five-year limit.  I wrote it out once and my late wife typed it on her IBM Selectric, bought especially for the purpose.  My supervisor, Dr. Dave Christensen, didn’t like how it was organized.  My boss had died in January and I was flying to La Ronge three days a week to do his job too, so Ella and Dave sorted things out over the phone and she retyped it twice more.  When I went to my oral defense, Red said, “I think we have the wrong person here”.  He was not wrong as Ella was familiar with all of it and could have defended it every bit as well as I.

Ever after graduating, if I were in Saskatoon, I would drop in to see Red and argue about the world in general.  Best advice I ever got, when he said I should never seek public office as with my world view even my own mother wouldn’t vote for me. Tanya and I were able to have lunch with Red when we were in Canada in 2014 which I will always remember as it was the last time I saw him.

Dr. Charles M. ‘Red’ Williams lived “from steam engines to combines and GPS” and left a giant legacy in Saskatchewan and around the world.  He was my friend, my hero and my role model. When he received his PhD in 1954, friends wrote this tribute in a book they gave him as a graduation gift.  They knew him well. The little poem sums up his life in eight lines.

Dr. Williams at age 88 in the
Agriculture Building U of S

Divine Discontent

Ever insurgent let me be
Make me more daring than devout
From sleek contentment keep me free
And fill me with a buoyant doubt.

From compromise and things half done
Keep me with stern and stubborn pride
But when at last the fight is won
God, keep me still unsatisfied.
                    Louis Untermeyer

Friday, March 23, 2018

Why Americans cannot understand Canada: It's my brother's fault

My brother finished highschool two years after I did in the late 1960s and worked on a custom harvestingcrew for the next two summers. They would start in Oklahoma and Texas, then work their way north finishing the fall in the Swift Current area.

The Vietnam war was in full swing and young men were scarce on the ground.  His boss said that if he could have put my brother in a cage and charged admission he'd have made more money than combining. 

Being a gregarious sort, when it would rain and therefore was too wet to combine, my brother would find a place where young people congregated and hang out.  Being a Canadian he was the object of some curiosity as I guess most had never seen a live one before.  They would ask him questions about Canada.  Now my brother was a bit naive and though they were just pulling his leg with the questions as he didn't think anyone could be that stupid.  So not lacking imagination he answered in kind.

It was some years later it dawned on him that not only were the questions serious, they took his answers as the gospel truth. God help us all. I can only remember some of them.

Do you grow corn in Canada?
Yes, as much as you do here (Nebraska) but our season is so short we have to start it in green houses and then transplant it by hand.

Do you make silage?
Yes, we make it in pits and bunkers like you but also in tower silos.  We take an old horse into the bottom of the silo and as it is filled, the horse walks round and round packing the silage.  then when they get to the top, they shoot the horse and push it over the edge.

Do you have electricity in Canada?
In summer we don't need it because the days are long since we are so far north.  We live out on our farms then.  In winter we build our igloos around a power pole and run extension cords so we have light.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Milky Way: a lesson in marketing

March 16, 7:30 pm. Photo courtesy June Seaman
Regina's Milky Way Ice Cream Store opened for its 62nd season on Thursday March 15.  There was a line up from the time it opened and there will be a line up until it closes on the long weekend in mid-October.  I have been there twice already.  There were a dozen people in line at the two windows both times; as each would get their order and move away, others would come to take their place. In summer, when the weather is hot there will be three windows operating and people lined up down the block.

Inside there will be an unknown (to me) number of people rotating in an orderly fashion, appearing at the window, taking the order and cash, moving away to fill the order, while another person moves to the window to take the next order. The person who took your order will eventually appear and thrust ice cream out the window so you better remember what you ordered. This goes on all day.  Not sure what the hours are but they get fairly long in summer.

Many is the highschool and university student who found summer employment at Milky Way.  Their ice cream scooping arm would be fairly powerful by the time they left,too.

The choices are enough to make every one happy but add minutes to the decision process.  At least three dozen hard ice cream, two dozen milkshake flavours, two dozen sundae flavours, plus the usual banana splits and other fancy stuff. Soft ice cream in at least chocolate and vanilla with half a dozen dips and another half dozen coatings. You know, sprinkle dinkles and such like.

They also sell hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and pizza but I never met anyone who actually ordered them.  Well, OK, I ordered a hamburger years back just to see.  It was a good hamburger, fresh off the grill but who goes to Milky Way for a hamburger?

What is their secret?  Anyone familiar with the ice cream business will tell you there is nothing extra special about the ice cream or the menu.  There are other ice cream stores in town where you don't stand in line and have a place to sit down, including the DQ. Of course, Milky Way is on social media these days but I doubt it has changed much other than that is how you reach the young people.

So why the love-affair line-ups? I would say four things contribute to their popularity.

  1. Location: Milky Way is on a main drag, and easy to get to. Plus next door is a strip mall with parking, there is street parking on both sides and a side street plus a bank parking lot in evenings and weekends. Constant turn over means there is always a place to park.
  2. Seasonality: Open only for seven months, Milky Way closes leaving people wishing they were still open a little longer.  Fans can hardly wait for spring to come and stand in line in the freezing cold to get the first ice cream cone. 
  3. Tradition: Sixty-two years is a long time. Milky Way has been there forever and grandparents are taking their grandchildren for a treat. How many ice cream stores make the front page of the daily paper when they open in the spring, complete with picture? It has happened more than once.
  4. Line-Ups: Crowds of people attract more people because "it must be good ice cream, if people are lined up".  No one minds the line.  Your neighbours and friends might be there and if not make new friends. 
The bottom line is, regardless of what reason tells you to be true, Milky Way ice cream just tastes better than anywhere else.

Monday, March 19, 2018

No excuses, now I am just lazy

So far, so good.  Spring is supposed to be here in a couple days.  At least the sun is shining and the temps are holding about 0C in the day time and -10C at night.  Snow is melting around the edges and there are puddles to walk around.  I have abandoned my cane so have no obvious draw for sympathy as I dodder across the street.  It is so nice to be able to walk outside again.

My doctor says I am doing fine and put in a requisition for a surgery date which will be in early May, I hope.  He is in no rush as the longer it takes the stronger I'll be and the faster I will recover.  I just want it over and done with so I never have another burst diverticula.  Also so at some point my innards can be reconnected and output will resume its normal path.

If not early May then likely early June as my doctor will be going to a congress of surgeons in Europe the last two weeks in May.  He says he will see the surgeon from the hospital in Dnipro and let him know how his former patient is doing.

Tanya is anxious as well to get this over with so we can go home.  She is missing her kids, cats and garden.  Our west window is filled with little tubs of seedlings for my daughter's outdoor wooden flower pots.

My head is starting to work much better in that I can focus again, though I still have problems reading long articles and books are somewhat difficult.  I managed to do the marketing section part of a small business plan for a consultant friend of mine.  My news feed provides lots of shorter stuff on Ukraine, Putin, Trump etc so that keeps me amused but not profitably.

Funny how cognitive skills are the slowest to recover from illness or other severe stress.  My daughter who knows these things says the body puts all its efforts into recovery.  So I am recovered enough to blog again.  We'll see how it goes and if there are any readers left.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


This is my first attempt at short-story writing. It is based on an anecdote I read in the Readers’ Digest some 60 years ago and found again recently as a poorly written paragraph on a Christian Joke site.  It deserved better. Lying in the hospital with nothing to do, I wrote and rewrote it in my head until I could put it in print.

Old Bob ran the garage at the Junction since the heyday of the Model T. The solitary gas pump was lever-action fill and gravity drain. The garage itself consisted of a bay with a pit, a large room with a counter and a ceiling fan, and a back-storage room. The entire place was littered with new-and-used belts and tires and new-and-used parts.  It smelled of rubber and oil.

The garage attracted other elderly men and on days when it was cooler inside than out, they sat under the fan, around an upended cable spool that doubled as a table and was handily placed near the Coke cooler.  Their philosophical discussions were wide ranging though problems were rarely solved.

Old Bob was a quiet-spoken man who never had a bad word to say about anyone or anything.  One day they were discussing the peccadillos of a local politician when Old Bob said, “I think we should not judge, just be more careful when we vote. He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone”.  He had a bible verse for every occasion.

On this particular day, a shiny Studebaker driven by a man in a shiny suit ground to a halt at the pump.  Both were steaming. Shiny Suit ran into the garage, obviously an important person with important places to be.  Old Bob was identified as the proprietor.

“Hey, you old coot, I don’t expect you have a fan belt for my car in this godforsaken dump?”

Old Bob never said a word, got up, went out and looked at the car, then disappeared into the back room, returning with a belt that seemed to satisfy him. He went outside to the car with Shiny Suit yelling at him to hurry up.

In 15 minutes he was back, went behind the counter and tallied up the bill. “That will be $60,” he said. The village elders held their breath as the amount was three times the normal price. This was not the Old Bob they knew. Shiny Suit exploded in rage and deleted expletives, swore he would not pay it and stormed towards the door.


Jessie, a lifeless red pile of hide, paws and ears lying in the sun, suddenly appeared at the door, displaying both life and teeth. Shiny Suit calculated the odds and slapped three $20s on the counter.  Jessie collapsed back in her sunny spot and the shiny Studebaker and Shiny Suit departed down the road.  This time only one of them was steaming.

“Well?” said one of the village elders, wondering how Old Bob would bible-verse his way out of this one.

“He was a stranger, and I took him in.”