Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays

Friday it rained buckets and the rain continued all night. Saturday was rainy in the morning and muddy in the afternoon. Sunday we were able to do a little yard work, transplanting bedding plants and the like. Monday it rained again.

Tuesday it dried up enough to do yard work. Hoeing in the orchard is one job Tanya trusts me with as she doesn’t think I will hurt the trees, I guess. Tuesday night every muscle I owned and some I had rented ached. Wednesday we did “light” yard work, like breaking asphalt around the plum tree in our side drive way to make a larger open area around it and trimming large tree branches to make more light for the peonies. I also sprayed what I hope is Malathion or similar (we bought it at the local garden shop) on our fruit trees as we have an infestation of aphids and other unlovely critters.

At 4:00 pm the skies opened once more and it rained. Buckets. Cats and dogs. If you went outside you stepped in a poodle. For a while we thought it would hail taxis. It rained all night but this morning the sky is blue, with a Northwest wind and the day is lovely. Look out orchard, here I come.

I suggested to Tanya that since I was now a village man and had to do all this work, we should get a cow and I could cut hay with a scythe and haul it home on my back all summer like the other men. She said since I was an intellectual, that would be too much hay. We should settle for a goat. When I told Bronwyn, she thought likely a hamster was more within my capabilities. I get no respect.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Red Peony*

The peonies have been in bloom for some time but the real blossom time is just upon us. The Chinese Peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) are about 10% in bloom and soon every garden will be bursting with huge pink flowers and the cemetery will be covered with them. The first peonies to bloom are the delicate Fernleaf Peonies (Paeonia tenuifolia) . These bright red flowers are visible from quite a distance and mingle with the red tulips in late April. Next to bloom were the Tree or Japanese Peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa). Our neighbour Lucia has two or three bushes with flowers are the size of dinner plates. The picture below was taken in the Botanical Gardens in Kyiv a few years back. At about the same time, I found a few of these rich dark red peonies. They are so lovely but there seem to be only a few of them around our neighbourhood.

The Fernleaf Peony (Paeonia tenuifolia) blooms in late April

The Red Peony

The Tree or Japanese Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) is also an early bloomer.

The Chinese Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) will soon fill our neighbourhood with its pink blossoms.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

She was only the gardener’s daughter…

The Tulip, a Turkish wildflower, became a European craze at the very beginning of the Seventeenth Century. The soils of Holland proved ideal for growing the bulbs and the Dutch the ideal middlemen in a trade that for four decades saw prices spiral skywards until the great Tulip Bubble burst in 1637. A review in The New Republic recommends Anne Goldgar’s book TULIPMANIA: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age, for those with an interest to learn more of this fascinating flower which still does a brisk trade in world markets today, with the Dutch still the world’s tulip middlemen.

Here in Marianivka there are two tulip seasons for two distinct types of tulips. Mid-April when the big bright coloured reds, yellows and oranges bloom and then in mid-May when smaller fancier tulips come into flower. We have a couple rows of red tulips and this week dug a few of the fancy ones from an abandoned dacha site where they are literally growing wild. We will plant them this fall and hope for a good catch and a very colourful tulip bed in a couple of years.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Two Birthdays

My oldest two celebrate their birthdays May 25 and 26, born two years and one day apart. As usual, I am not there to help celebrate but I am there in spirit, at least.
You are wonderful kids. I love you very much and miss you very much. I wish you both all the best on your birthday: love of family and friends, good health, a sense of purpose in the world, a sense of accomplishment at the end of most days, peace in your heart and God's love resting on you always. Happy Birthday.

Painted Arches

Well, the paint didn’t run after three fairly good rains so I guess it is safe to post the results. My plan is to eventually paint all the red brick trim to blue grey. It will take time. Especially the high stuff. Maybe I’ll hire it done.

Masha was here all after noon playing with Maxim from next door. Outside all is mud so they go out long enough to mud up their shoes, then come back in.

Speaking of rain, yesterday we went to the farmers market located near a grocery store and near an automatic teller. It was clouding up with lightning and thunder so we knew we were in for it. Tanya had to go to the market to buy eggs and then to the grocery store for some other stuff. She always takes a while in the market. After taking 5 minutes at the “Bankomat” I got back to the car just as it began to pour buckets. Being the thoughtful husband I drove over close to the market entrance so if Tanya had to make a run for it in the rain she would not have far to go. I tried to phone my new location to her but no answer.

Of course she had already left the market and gone to the grocery store so I was actually farther away from her. When the rain subsided slightly, she ventured out and I am gone. She found me but was some damp when she got to the car door. She says there is a saying in Russian that should be my motto as it fits perfectly. “I wanted to do better but I did the same as always”.

It’s my Wild Iris, Rose

The Iris grows wild on the Asian steppes or grasslands. Iris is an indicator of over grazing as it grows thickly where the grass has been abused. I have seen this frequently in Inner Mongolia, China and last year when we were in Mongolia. The above picture was taken near Abakan on the hills over looking the former site of the village of Tanya’s early childhood home in Khakasia Republic, Russia.

Iris is quite popular in flower beds in Marianivka with a wider variety of colours than I had ever seen before. There are short dark blue ones which bloom with the early tulips and then in early May, the tall ones start blooming, beginning with dark blue and then gradually all the other colours. Our yellow tulips are just starting but they are very late this year.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On a warm summer’s evening

Last evening, Tanya and I walked around the yard and garden, checking on what needs weeding (the orchard and flower beds which are my chore) and what needs watering (everything soon) and what the bugs are eating (cabbages and beets, which I sprayed for Flea Beetles today). We checked to see how the fruit is coming on the trees. The cherry trees are bending to touch the ground under the weight. The apricot tree, which must be 15 meters high is loaded with apricots already the size of large grapes and the apple trees are showing the beginnings of a good crop of apples.

Gardening seems to be a full time occupation for villagers. From morning until evening, people are out planting and transplanting or grubbing with a hoe. They have huge gardens and only the plots near their homes get more than rain water, except at transplanting time. The soil around us is dark brown clay that bakes hard as a rock after a rain or a watering. The soil must be stirred with a hoe between the rows each time to keep it loose. A heavy rain just after planting can make the ground too hard for tiny sprouts to come through. Then when they are up, Flea Beetles eat the cabbages and Colorado Potato Beetles destroy the potatoes. Every gardener must have a sprayer to keep the bugs under control.

Then we sat on the front step in the cool of the evening, surrounded by the smell of our several dozen petunia plants. The evening is quiet except for the incessant barking of dogs and our friendly neighbourhood cuckoo bird that intermittently cuckoos several dozen times without stopping. At 8:00 pm the cows come home from pasture, where they have been since 6:00 am. There are about 7 or 8 cattle from around our area and 3 of them come past our house. The puppies are interested but do not bark or make any fuss. The cows are of either Russian Black and White or Red Steppe breeding. Red Steppe cows are descendants of German red cattle brought by the Mennonites to Ukraine in about 1770. The cattle are starting to flesh out after 6 weeks on grass; their hair smooth and shiny and from the looks of them are pretty good milk cows.

When the cattle are first put out to grass in the spring, they are thin enough to brand two at a time using carbon paper. And no wonder. Winter feed is cut with a scythe and carried home in sacks. Haying starting last week, to cut enough for next winter’s supply. The sacks might be carried on one’s back or on the back of a bicycle or several piled on a hand cart, but it is all hand labour. Farms may be mechanized but not the subsistence villager. Possibly that accounts for the popularity of milking goats, of which there are quite a few around here. It takes much less feed to keep a goat than a cow.

In some rural villages i.e. farther from urban centres than Marianivka, from what I have seen over the past 10 years, villagers will farm a few hectares and have horse drawn plows, mowers, rakes and wagons, but I have not seen any horses around here. Working up the gardens in early spring and late fall is done by hiring a small tractor and plow/cultivator/harrows.

Eta Moia Tanyushka

Sometimes I think the only reason Tanya married me was to have someone to laugh at.

We have a friend in Moscow who is Dean of Languages at an Institute near where she lives. She wrote that her boyfriend took her to a good restaurant and bought her flowers and French Champagne BUT she couldn’t talk to him because he is a “sportsman” and not intellectual. Tanya replied that she was married to an intellectual who could write projects for other countries but couldn’t figure out how to use the garden sprayer she bought.

Our neighbour’s husband is away “taking the waters” at a health spa in the Carpathians for three weeks. Her son-in-law is here every evening and on weekends helping in the garden, cutting hay for the rabbits and doing as much as he can. Tanya said he lost his mother at a very young age and Lucia is like a mother to him. I said it was so wrong that so many people die so young. She said, “Yes, it is wrong, because they are mothers…it should be husbands”.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Blame it on Murray

We have begun to paint some of the red trim around the house to a light blue-grey colour, beginning with the two arches on each of the front step landing and balcony. The paint was too thick when we started to easily paint the rough brick and cement. So I added some water. Not enough, Tanya said, add more water. More water. More water. I had over 1 1/2 cups in a 4 litre pail of paint and was not wanting to add any more. At the same time the wind is blowing and the sky is clouding up like we are in for rain.

I was looking for a repeat of the yarn about the man hired to paint the neighbour's barn. He put a lot of water in the paint to save money. A sudden rainstorm washed off the paint. Knowing he had been fairly caught in his greed, he fell on his knees as a voice from the sky admonished him "Repaint and thin no more".

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Stairway to…Hades

Our stairwell is 1.5 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The distance from the downstairs floor surface to the upstairs floor surface is about 3 meters. So the stairs were built as a switch back with a landing about 60% of the way up. The original steps were designed with a 20 cm (8 in) rise and a 15 cm (6 in) tread run with overhang bringing it to 17.5 cm (7 in) tread depth. Normal stairs have a 17.5 cm (7 in) rise and a 25 cm (10 in) tread run plus 2.5 cm overhang for 27.5 (11 in) tread depth. It was like climbing a ladder to a loft, not a stairs to a second floor. We needed new stairs as part of our renovations.

When we priced out custom made stairs in Dnipropetrovs'k they quoted us $4000, which was pretty steep for our budget but certainly would have been beautiful. We found a woodworking shop in Zhovti Vody which would make a new stairs (20 cm rise, 25 cm tread run) for $1500, using the existing landing, plus another $300 for railings.

It took over six weeks before the stairs were ready to install. Two days ago I got a clue as to why. I was waiting at the shop and started snooping. There was no supply of finished dimension lumber. There was a supply of rough cut 5 cm pine planks with untrimmed edges. Sergei had to manufacture each piece of lumber for the stairs from these planks. No wonder people in this country have no money. Low labour productivity.

The stairs arrived, were installed about a week or so ago and looked good. Then the bottom fell out of the bucket. The mirror finish was a plastic of some sort which I initially thought was Verathane. It peeled off like MacTac, leaving perfectly clear wood. Tanya was not a happy camper. Two days ago they came and took them out, replacing the old stairs and took the new ones back to the shop for refinishing with a stain of some kind. Another two weeks.

Random Thoughts

Today we painted more fence for three hours. Tanya wore an old shirt of mine with the front open. When she paints, she spatters on herself to the point I hope she got some on the fence. Needless to say, it took a bit of work and paint thinner before she was able to make a clean breast of it.

The Russian word for pipe is truba (like tuba) which makes me wonder if the official hymn of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union would be “Nobody knows the truba I’ve seen”.

Russian sausage is called Kolbasa (Ukrainian Kovbasa). What they refer to as sausage is actually wieners or bologna in English. Kolbasa is coarsely ground with visible chunks of fat throughout. I noticed one end of a particular brand was mostly fat and enquired as to why. I was told the company was in some difficulty and couldn’t make both ends meat.

Which reminds me that the main meat eaten here is chicken, followed by pork. Unless you know from whom you are buying beef, it is likely to be from retired dairy cow as from a younger animal. You rarely see mutton though it is cheap and never see venison as it is dear.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Painting the fence

Where is Tom Sawyer when I really need him? Our front and side fence is a mesh of 1/8 inch rods welded into an angle iron frame which is welded to iron pipe set in concrete. I don’t know if it was ever painted but in lieu of replacing it, I am painting it grey. It takes time. Lots of time. And is boring. Actually painting the mesh is less work than painting the frame. The front is now painted across the full 25 meters of our lot and I am starting on the side fences. Tanya will finish putting in the garden tomorrow and then can help me as I am very slow.

Our natural gas pipes are all above ground. Recent installations are painted yellow. Ours may have been red at one time but it is hard to tell. I am painting it yellow, along with the supports above the fence line. I am also painting my ladder yellow, my shirt yellow and the fence below yellow. I will have to do some touch up on previous painted places.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lilac time in Ukraine

The lilacs are blooming everywhere in Marianivka and all through Ukraine, filling the air with their wonderful scent of early summer.
In Kyiv, the Botanical Gardens over looking the Vydubetsky Monastery and the Dnipro River are covered in Lilacs at this time of year. The Gardens have a collection of every lilac variety in the world and it is almost a pilgrimage for Kyivites every spring during lilac time to visit the gardens. They also have a lilac nursery that does a brisk business.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Paying Respects to the Deceased

Last Sunday is the traditional day when all Orthodox Christians pay their respects to deceased friends and relatives. All the work over the past weeks maintaining grave sites, painting the little fences, weeding and planting was in preparation for this day. People came from not only Zhovti Vody but from all over Ukraine from the looks of the busses and cars. Possibly several thousand people flowed through the cemetery from early in the morning until late at night.

While my Tanya stayed home with Masha, I was privileged to drive Natasha Markova; Masha’s other Babushka, along with Andrei and Tanya to visit grave sites of Natasha’s parents, a son who died in infancy and her husband and his father. Natasha’s mother, Tanya’s grandmother, passed away only this January. She was in her 80’s. Natasha’s Mother-in-Law, Baba Halia, is still living, well into her 80’s but not able to accompany us.

Our first stop was where Natasha’s parents were buried in another large cemetery across the river from our home that Tanya and I were not even aware of. It was established in the 80’s and is almost filled with graves as well. (How can one small city have so many dead people in so few decades?) While there were real flowers blooming around the graves, Natasha placed artificial flowers as well, then set out a small dish of candy on each grave. A small lunch was set out on a nearby table and three small glasses of cognac drunk in their memory (I was the designated driver). The toasts are accompanied by the words “царство небесное” Tsarstvo Nebesnoye – the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then we drove back to the cemetery near us and stopped at a tiny unmarked grave. Natasha and Tanya tenderly pulled weeds and grass, leaving daffodils to bloom. Again, artificial flowers and a small amount f candy, lunch and a single toast. Finally we stopped at the grave of her husband, (Tanya’s father) and his father, (Tanya’s grandfather). More flowers, more lunch and three toasts of vodka. Natasha’s husband died 11 years ago at the age of 46. His father had died 12 years earlier at the age of 56.

We also stopped briefly at the graves of three of Andrei’s friends. There were five schoolmates, now only two left. A gas explosion and two car accidents. No country for old men.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Partnership for Tomorrow Program

The Honourable Beverley J. Oda
Minister of International Cooperation
Ottawa, Canada

Partnership for Tomorrow Program (PTP) has been a very useful program for individuals, small business and small NGO’s working in Eastern Europe. According to the PTP website, the program is being discontinued at the end of this year. That is too bad though quite understandable. The program lasted far longer than one would have expected. One can understand quite perfectly why CIDA would want to be rid of it as it is the antithesis of everything CIDA stands for.

It is simple and easy to access for small NGO’s, businesses and individuals.
It is effective as objectives are limited to the do-able.
It is inexpensive.
It does not require a huge bureaucracy to administer.
It does not make political headlines.

Many of us who have worked internationally over the years and have had to deal with CIDA had high hopes that the Harper government would totally dismantle the CIDA bureaucracy brick from brick. European ODA’s are four times as efficient according to some studies.

CIDA INC, with which I am most familiar, claims to be results oriented but in reality is bound up in endless administrative minutiae. Turnover of staff responsibility in CIDA INC has been so fast that all we did at times was try to keep the position up to speed on a project. Usually they knew nothing about the country for which they were responsible. One bragged that they had field experience – two years in an embassy as it turned out. Many of them are unfamiliar with business and are actually anti-business in attitude. I have told clients that accessing CIDA INC money was like marrying for money – It was dearly earned. Usually costing the company more than if they had proceeded without it. CIDA INC should be transferred to International Trade where it would do some good.

Please do something with CIDA and please reinstate some form of PTP. Expand it to include any country in which Canada is doing development work, if you like. Anything to make it “NEW” and "announce-able". But please do it. A great many little people depend on it to help them do their part in making a better world.

Yours sincerely

cc. The Honourable Maxime Bernier
The Honourable Deepak Obhrai
The Honourable David Emerson
The Honourable Ted Menzies

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dog Walk

Pups and I usually take two routes on our walks (see map). Route 1 goes down the road, south along the creek, across a grassy field and returns along the road past a few houses, then home. Route two is my favourite as we wander through the cemetery and return home when we get tired. The long route shown can take up to an hour.

Wednesday, we took a different route going north along our street then along the marsh. There is a decades old wooden foot bridge across the marsh so we headed out on it, rather cautiously on my part. A girl came up behind us and gentlemanly as always, Volk stepped aside to make room for her and fell in the marsh. He disappeared in the thick reeds and I thought I’d have to go find him when he reappeared, and hooked his front feet up onto the bridge. I hauled him up all wet and muddy. This tied him with Bobik who fell into the creek where the banks are steep on Route 1. They just have to go down to the water’s edge on every walk and he had fallen in.

Not trusting the planking and having no desire to duplicate Volk’s swim in the mud, we turned back and continued on our way along the trail. We came across some of the village livestock tethered out to graze on the new grass. A young nanny goat was quite glad to have company and as we came along side her, she started bleating at us in a friendly way. The poor dogs had no idea what this strange animal was but wanted no part of it. On the first beat they were gone as fast as they could run. They were quite well behaved the rest of the walk.