Friday, August 16, 2019

Tanya's birthday party

Tanya celebrated her birthday yesterday as we hosted a party for 14 people at the Sweet House Restaurant. It was wonderful to see friends and relatives I had not seen for two years. A great deal of food and drink was consumed over 3 hours and a good time was had by all.

Sweet House serves wonderful food and has awesome desserts which we were too full to eat.

For those not familiar with Ukrainian customs I will attempt to explain what I have learned around birthdays.
1. The birthday celebrant throws the party. People informed Tanya they were coming for her birthday so we decided better to go out to eat than try to feed them here. No preparation and no dishes to wash. Total cost including drinks about $200 CAD ($150 USD). We were still exhausted.

2. Flowers are a must, for male or female. Even if you have a yard full of flowers. Plants are also welcome and last longer. Gifts are also in order, usually small, possibly personal. (I'm getting Tanya a new large refrigerator as ours is old and too small. Not very romantic but she told me that is what she wants. When we go on holidays will be time to buy her perfume in the duty-free shops.)

Our long-time friends from P'yatikhatki, Valya and Volodya
3. Toasts to the birthday person are the order of the day. One says nice things about the celebrant and wishes them good things for the future. (Consuming alcohol without toasting, whether in Ukraine or Russia, is a sign of alcoholism. This includes pouring yourself a drink at the end of the day. You can get totally wasted every day so long as one is toasting one's friends. Beer or wine is OK to drink without toasting but vodka or other hard liquor never).

Tanya toasting Tanya
This is all surface stuff, the visible part of the iceberg.  Getting to know the depth of Ukrainian culture as an outsider takes more than a lifetime. I love it and I love my Tanya.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Getting Back into Familiar Routines

I have been home for two weeks at 1:00 am this morning.  I flew Calgary to London with my youngest daughter, then continued on to Kyiv, arriving about 6:00 pm Kyiv time.  Two young men help me by putting my bags on a trolley so I didn't have to lift them. Andrey and Tania were waiting for me when I cleared customs and we headed for Zhovti Vody. The road was actually not bad most of the way and in Kirovograd Oblast had been recently upgraded. Andrey could travel at 100 to 120 kmph.

When we hit the border between Kirovogradska Oblast and Dnipropetrovska Oblast, the bottom fell out of the washtub. It was 25 or less and constantly dodging around holes in the highway. You can imagine what this does to truck traffic of which there is a great deal between Dnipro and Kyiv on this highway. Some things never change. Where did the money go for highway improvement?

Even Zhovti Vody had a few streets that had been resurfaced, though how well remains to be seen. At any rate, I was home by 1:00 am and Tanya had borsch waiting for me. My daughter went to Edinburgh for the weekend and I slept. Being young has advantages.

First on the agenda was getting my phone and computer set up and improving our internet service. We are still at it. Every year or so we laid out about $100 for an improved wireless internet receiver and transmitter with in-home Wi-Fi. This year we bought the best they had with an antenna add-on and changed our IP for the umpteenth time. All was great for a week but then this past week it really slowed down for some reason. Maybe the company has technical problems or maybe they get help from external sources, so to speak.

My 22" monitor calved on me within a week.  It has been repaired and I pick it up today. $25.

When you abandon ship in medias res, some things get left undone. My printer had not been used for two years and I feared the worst. In 2014, because I was sick of buying a new cheap Canon every year or two and paying so much for ink cartridges, I splurged on an Epson L355 for $350. The thought of having to buy a new one did not appeal to me. Tanya's computer tech ran the cleaning program a few times and got it working sort of.  I have run is more than a dozen times since and am quite happy with the print quality. Colour is perfect and the black leaves a smudged line or two on a page which I can live with. I just bought my first ink refills, $40 for four bottles which will last at least another couple of years.

Bonya, Tigritsa, Vovo
The critters were happy to see me.  Bonya jumps onto the nearest table so I can pet him. Tigritsa soon returned to trying to sleep on my arm on the keyboard tray. Even stand-offish Vovo will come to be petted once in a while. The dogs were glad too, as it meant walks for them on a regular basis though it has been so hot here (30C+) which is typical August. I love my kitties (6 years old) and puppies (Volk is 12 and Kashtanka is about 6). They will always be kitties and puppies to me. Volk seems to have learned better behaviour while I was away and actually returns home if he escapes, which he still does from time to time. Tanya started piling concrete blocks against the gate to their run so he could not open it.  The latch is a bit flimsy and if a 15 kg dog hurls itself at the gate often enough it will spring open.  I just hope that cats and chickens don't hold the same appeal they once did. He is a hunter. Kashtanka should have been a house dog but she is good company for Volk and they have a warm place to sleep in winter.

My good dogs, Kashtanka and Volk
Dill pickles
Tanya has been busy all summer with the garden. The corn, peas, and beans are done and quite a few beets, carrots are in the freezer, with much still in the ground We have jam from our own red and black currant bushes, plum tree, and raspberry and strawberry patches. Apricots were poor so she bought some.  I lost count of how many three-liter jars of dill pickles have gone down into the root cellar.  We have no end of fresh tomatoes to eat and Tanya has frozen a bunch for soup next winter.

Purslain seems to have taken over the garden. Apparently, it is edible but Tanya has no interest in that. Controlling it is next to impossible. I figured if we started eating it, that it would die out on its own.

Cucs and Jam

Squash and Zucchini

Red Currant Jam
Late summer means the garden has dried off and so have many of Tanya's flowers. The climbing roses are done.  The long stem roses are starting again, with daisies and other fall flowers just beginning. Tanya has replaced many flowers with shrubs. Less work in a big yard.

Today is Tanya's birthday and we are going for supper to a good restaurant.  Will have pictures for tomorrow, I hope.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Democracy struggles in Turkey but is not dead

Erdogan votes June 23rd. Source NYT
If you have been following Turkish politics over the past couple of decades, you have seen some interesting and frightening changes. As Prime Minister, Erdogan led his AKP party in a series of economic and political reforms over the first ten years that had people thinking a moderate Islamist might be not so bad. Then Erdogan began acting like Putin, clamping down on press freedom and opposition.

An attempted coup in Turkey three years ago couldn't have been better for Erdogan is he had planned and carried it out himself. Blaming former ally, Fethullah Gulen, for the coup, he purged the army, police, judiciary, bureaucracy, schools, and universities of anyone he suspected of being a sympathizer. Thousands of people were convicted in mass trials and jailed, and hundreds of thousands lost their jobs.

Erdogan was then elected president and in a rigged referendum gave himself executive powers, in effect president for life.  The new system came into effect in 2018. Elections in the past several years have been, shall we say, less than free and fair.  Opponents tend to be arrested or banned. In a previous election, the lights went out all over Turkey when the ballots were being counted, as an example.

American news has likely been keeping people up to date on Erdogan's coziness with Putin, purchase of anti-aircraft rockets, problems with NATO, etc, so I won't go into that.

This brings us to this year's municipal elections. Erdogan's party and chosen candidates lost the election for mayor of both Ankara and Istanbul. Perhaps his invincibility is coming unraveled? Istanbul is a loss he could not afford.  Too much face to lose and too much opportunity for directing city money to friends in city contracts. Since the winner edged out Erdogan's man by a mere 0.5 percentage points, the election was canceled on a technicality and rerun on June 23rd.

This time the opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, with a unifying message beat Erdogan's candidate, Binali Yildirim, by 9 percentage points.  this in spite of Erdogan throwing everything he had into the campaign.  Erdogan is highly divisive, those not for him are enemies of Turkey.

When the economy is good, everyone loves an authoritarian but the Turkish economy is in a bad way and people are getting tired of living in fear of the constant crackdowns on liberty. 

These three articles sum up the situation and the hope that this win might be the beginning of the end of Erdogan's one-man rule.

Istanbul mayoral vote: Is ‘disastrous’ loss beginning of Erdogan’s end? 

Turkey Trials Seen in New Light After Erdogan’s Istanbul Defeat 

The global importance of Istanbul’s election

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

"Concentration" Camps and Cousins' Reunion

Several headlines in my news feed the past few weeks have confirmed Trump is not only running concentration camps for Latin Americans and other refugees flooding across the southern border of the USA but also reopening the concentration camps where they sent Japanese Americans during WWII. I will make no comments on that other than I need to quit reading the news. Following the ruination of several countries by politicians out of control is not good for my mental health.

I have been having trouble concentrating. Am trying ADHD meds to see if that helps.  I have OCD-ADHD. I want everything to be perfect but only for a short time. That joke is not funny to people who suffer from OCD. Maybe they should send me to a "Concentration" camp where I can learn to concentrate.  They have summer camps for everything else. My almost 16 year old granddaughter will be going to an English summer camp in Poland for a while this summer. Last year she was at one in Poltava.

Writing decent blog posts takes effort and I appreciate those of you who actually have regular posts.  It is hard work, I know that.

This past weekend, the ten children of the three Johnson sisters gathered for a Saturday afternoon and evening, just so we could say we were all in one place like we did as youngsters and teenagers.  It had been years since that happened though certainly, we were all in touch and we had all visited with each other from time to time. Just not all at once. Tanya was the only spouse missing and sent regards by Whatsapp. We celebrated two 70th birthdays as our excuse for gathering.

We grew up within 70 miles of each other and when our grandparents were alive, the whole crew of us would gather at least twice a year.  And we visited back and forth many times during the year too. Right now there is one of us in Vancouver, one in Calgary and me in Ukraine. The rest are within an easy three-hour drive of each other.

Our grandparents farmed at Kelfield until 1955 then sold out and retired to Biggar. Grandpa was a good farmer and a good manager. Grandma could grow flowers in the desert. During the drought of the 1930s, Grandpa would haul water in barrels on a stoneboat from a distant slough so Grandma could water her flowers. She always had a solid wall of sweetpeas at the farm and in her yard in Biggar. We lost Grandma in 1960 and Grandpa in 1967.

The three sisters and their husbands died in the first decade of the new century so we 10 are it. Ranging in age from 72 to 63. I hope we are still all here and we can do this again. Soon.

Johnson cousins June 2019

Johnson sisters and spouses c 1970s

Our Grandparents Johnson c 1950s
Grandma's flower garden on the farm

Friday, June 7, 2019

Bomber Command Museum, Nanton, Alberta

Since today is the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy, this seems to fit right in. I spent two weeks in Alberta, visiting my son, my sister and a bunch of friends and relatives I had not seen for years. One of the days, my son took off work and we went to Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, about an hour south of Calgary.

The Avro Lancaster on display does not fly but the engines run.  My son was there two years ago when they fired them up. The first part of the museum is made up of posters describing various bombers, various bombing runs including the dam busters, various pilots and crew, etc.  There are several examples of radios, bomb sights, and navigation equipment, uniforms, etc.

The main part of the museum has as its centre-piece a Lancaster from the Dam Buster squadron. The top gun turret is removed as are the bomb bay doors. There is also a front end of a Lanc from a movie set that one can crawl into, which I did. They were not meant for guys my size, I can tell you that, though the last chapter of "Only the Stars Know" by DA MacMillan tells the story of a Moose Jaw farm boy they nicknamed Jumbo.  The only position he could fit on a Lanc was pilot.

The first two pictures are from the museum website, the rest are my own.  I could not get back far enough from the bomber to get a good front view.

Lanc bell with bomb bay doors removed

Looking backward from the front of bomb bay towards dambuster bomb

Tail gunner position

Tall Boy bunker buster bomb
Cheeta IX powered the Avro Anson

Curtiss Wright R2600 powered the B25 Mitchell

Cutaway view of the mighty Merlin

the Merlin engine powered the Spitfire and the Lanc 
The posters about bombing raids talked about the "sad inevitability of civilian deaths", referred to as collateral damage. In the main, this was true as the raids were supposedly intended for military targets. However, there were three raids that were not mentioned: Hamberg, Cologne, and Dresden. These were firebombing raids that deliberately targeted civilians, killing tens of thousands. There should have been posters acknowledging the raids with whatever rationale was given at the time. Then people can make up their own minds.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

More Garden Pictures

Tanya had a busy day today.  Worked in the garden all day, then went in and wrote to the Veterinary Administration in Dnipro, the City Council in Zhovti Vody, and the village office in Mar'yanivka. The large pig operation about 1 km SE of us is spreading liquid manure on top of the fields instead of injecting it into the ground.  the wind is from the SE and the smell is atrocious. She can't open windows or dry clothes outside. Made me laugh.  That poor pig farmer has no idea what has been turned loose on him.

About 5 years ago, her Irises were taking over the flower beds so she dug them up and planted a single row in the garden, on each side of the path and then across at about 1/3 the way up the garden. She plants most vegetables in the front part of the garden and in back, all the vines, and the corn patch.  The iris all bloomed at once two days ago. They have gone from a single row to several plants wide. She is threatening to dig them up again.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Winter War 30/11/1939-13/03/1940

This post is a continuation of my previous post "Soviet/Russian Mythology about WWII- Who started the war?" The Winter War against Finland was a continuation of Russian military conquest of Eastern Europe as divided up under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, including the secret agreement to divide Eastern Europe into "spheres of interest" between Germany and Russia.

Finland had been ruled by Sweden for 600 years and by the Russian empire for 100 years. The country had become independent in 1917 and fought and won a civil war against Soviet-backed Communists to maintain its independence. A former General of the Russian Empire, Carl Mannerheim was appointed Field Marshall of the Finnish Military. He understood the only threat to Finland was from Russia and through the Karelian peninsula. A line of strongly fortified casements, fronted by several kilometers of defensive obstacles was built across the peninsula from the Gulf of Finland to Lake Ladoga, about 40 km back from the Finnish border.

Having taken half of Poland and militarily occupied the Baltic States, Stalin next turned his attention to Finland.  The problem, according to Stalin, was the Finnish border was too close to Leningrad and he needed a buffer zone, the Karelian Isthmus, offering to trade a much larger piece of Russia farther North which had little or no value for anything. The Finns refused and Stalin had "no choice" but to invade Finland. This documentary tells most of the story of The Winter War.

The Finns fought the Red Army to a standstill, destroying 10s (if not 100s) of thousands of Soviet soldiers until simply through overwhelming force the Red Army broke through the Mannerheim Line and they were forced to sue for peace. Finland lost 11% of its land area and 30% of its economy, Ceding most of Karelia including all of the Karelian peninsula, including Vyborg, the capital but kept their pride and their independence.

Russian death losses were incredibly high with estimates ranging from 50,000 killed to 250,000 killed and 400,000 missing. The Soviet Union was humiliated and their army revealed as weak and virtually useless at waging war. They were forced to stop short of taking all of Finland.

Suvorov devoted an entire chapter of The Chief Culprit to the Winter War and raises some interesting issues. Why were Soviet losses so high? Yes, the Red Army was abysmally led, poorly equipped, poorly fed, poorly everything but it was the first time in history that a military endeavour of that magnitude was ever undertaken in the far north under winter conditions.

Yes, the tactics of 18th-century massed full frontal assault into 20th-century machine guns didn't work any better than in WWII and the Red Army cared no more for high losses to gain an objective than did the Tsar's army before them but the terrain totally supported the defenders. Roads were few, narrow, heavily mined on both sides. Intense cold, long hours of darkness and deep snow favoured the Finns, camouflaged in white and very mobile on skis.

Suvorov goes into detail about the fortified Mannerheim Line and the number of direct hits it took to destroy them, one at a time. According to him, the casements or pillboxes were 1.5 to 2 meters thick concrete, covered on top with thick steel plate and then with boulders and earth for total camouflage.

Destroying one such position, Pillbox 31, took1043 shells from a 203 MM howitzer and 116 from a 280 mm howitzer, a total of 133 tons of shells plus tons of gunpowder in silk bags. All of which had to be hauled in and handled to the guns, all under fire.  These guns weighed 18 tons and 19 tons respectively, had to be hauled in in pieces and then set up and sighted, all under fire. Stalin asked the Red Army to do the impossible and they did it, but no one gave them credit.

Stalin had achieved his objective which was not Finland but a clear path to the iron mines in Northern Sweden. He stopped when he did (protecting Leningrad) because the Germans had threatened a military response if they thought those iron mines were in danger.

When the Russian Press makes nasty remarks about the incompetence of the Red Army and someone is not immediately shot, perhaps one should question why.  Hitler was ecstatic and believed the Russian army would fold in a matter of a few months. So Barbarossa was launched without preparing for a lengthy war.  Hitler's Hubris cost him the war.

Note: I have not read sufficient books on The Winter War to feel totally comfortable with anyone's version yet. This book is available on Kindle: Finland at War: The Winter War 1939–40