Wednesday, December 31, 2008

С Новым годом! Happy New Year!

As the old year ends and a new one begins, how shall we sum up the year past for all of us? There has been sorrow and there has been joy. Loved ones have been lost and loved ones gained. There have been tears and laughter, bad times and good, sickness and health.

The outlook for next year is more of the same. Life isn't fair. Life isn't not fair. Life

May you have enough. Enough love, enough health and enough happiness. May the love of God enfold you and His Peace fill your hearts throughout 2009.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'
Minnie Louise Harkins 1875-1957. Quoted by HRM George VI, 1939 Christmas address to the nation.

С Новым годом! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter in Marianivka

We have much more snow now than the past two winters combined. Temperatures are holding at -5C. Zhovte Vody has bladed and sanded all the main streets and are starting to work on some of the secondary streets much to my surprise and pleasure. The highway to P'yatikhatki was also bladed and sanded.

Of course this is nothing compared to the snowstorms in Eastern and Western Canada. I have enjoyed the pictures people have posted on the net. No mention of the Prairies of course. Must be they just expect cold and snow there so it is not news? -40 plus wind chill is hardly newsworthy in Saskatchewan, I guess. Even when it lasts three weeks...or six weeks.

Bobik and Volk are enjoying the snow. I let them out of their yard and they run and play like they were still puppies instead of a year old. Today they were playing tag again. Volk runs and Bobik tries to catch his tail and flip him. Then they come home all covered in snow and expect to be hugged and petted. We moved an old mattress out into their house for them to sleep on and they like that. Along with lots of left over holiday food.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Remembering the Farm: Christmas in the (not so distant) past

When we were very young kids, I remember our tree had little for fancy decoration, a few glow in the dark stars and snowflakes, some metal icicles, tinsel (saved year after year) and then popcorn strings and such we made for the occasion. No lights, even after we got electricity. Us kids saved and pooled our pennies to buy Mom and Dad ornaments for the tree as their Christmas gift from us. We slowly built up a box of decorations and were so happy when we could buy lights for them. The first string has maybe 12 or 15 and cost several dollars. Real money 50 years ago.

Mom and Dad got each of us kids a gift. We got a gift from a cousin on each side. There were 10 of us on Mom’s side and 8 (later 9) on Dad’s side. Names were “drawn” or more correctly organized in a round-robin fashion so we gave to and received from each cousin in turn. The adults were organized in similar fashion. Grandparents were included in the “draw”. Price limits were initially $2 later raised to $5.

Money was tight when we were very young. Allowance was 10¢ per week of which 1¢ went for tithe to the church. When we got older, for helping with chores we got the dollar equivalent of half a market pig (about $30), which was our Christmas spending money.

Christmas was usually spent at home. We each opened one gift Christmas Eve and the rest sometime Christmas Day. We had livestock and chores came first. Once they were looked after, Christmas could begin. Boxing Day (Dec 26th) Mom’s side of the family got together at Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s or at one of the three sisters’. I always looked forward to those visits.

Sometimes we had Christmas with Dad’s side. I recall once when Grandma and Grandpa Hingston were still living in Landis, in a two-room house with a heated veranda, we had Christmas supper there. We cousins were relegated to the veranda and entertained ourselves singing Christmas Carols at the top of our lungs. Hingston Family Christmas seemed more rare to me than Johnson family get-togethers, though thoroughly enjoyed (DC, I need some help here. Add info on Hingston Family Christmas, please).

When Ella and I were first married, we went to the farm for Christmas. Dad and I ground feed for the cattle Christmas morning (Dad was NOT organized) so we never got in until late for dinner and gift opening, etc. Then on Boxing Day, we bought a bunch of chickens from the neighbour and spent the day plucking and cleaning. For some reason I was never quite forgiven for that Christmas. On the bright side, every Christmas since was better.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

We buy a Dust Sucker

The Russian word for vacuum cleaner is пылесос (pillisauce) which translates literally as "dust sucker". We have needed one for some time and so today we joined throngs of holiday shoppers in Zhovte Vody, found our way to the new Comfy home electronics store and made the plunge. An Electrolux with all the bells and whistles including a power head. I doubt it will last three generations like the old ones we have passed on to our kids but it wasn't the price of a small car either. $300 CAD.

Tanya's first vacuum. I set it up, told her what all the different pieces were for and away she went. I never saw a woman so excited to vacuum before in my life. I'm sure it will wear off. I love that she vacuums like me - if there is furniture in the way, go around it. That will change too. I'll be training Katya, next time she comes over to clean for us.

I know how to vacuum, I just choose not to. I used to call (Maid) Marian and if any one in Regina needs a superb housecleaning service, email me and I'll send you her contact information.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Worst Passport Photo Ever

One of these three men is seeking asylum in a foreign country.
He is:
  1. An axe murderer
  2. A deadbeat dad
  3. An alimony escapee
  4. A demented consultant
You would:
  1. Grant him asylum
  2. Put him in an asylum
  3. Have him deported
  4. Have him shot

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Family Devotions

When the children were young we would every evening have family devotions, reading from the bible, thanking God for his blessings and remembering those in need. As the children learned to read, we would each read a verse in turn. When they grew older it became more and more difficult to organize a simple half hour of time. There were friends, after-school activities such as sports and of course "must see TV". Finally we gave it up and I always regretted it but it wasn't worth the fight.

At Christmas, though we continued to read the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew before we opened the gifts, so we would remember whose birthday we were honouring. It is a wonderful story of love and hope for the world.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Merry Christmas to all and "God bless us, every one".

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

FX and the City

Some of you may have noticed that the world's economy is going to hell in a handbasket caused by a bursting of what was the American consumer-driven bubble, fueled by bad mortgages handed off to banks all over the world. The exchange rates of many countries including Ukraine have gone into free fall against other currencies, in particular the USD. IMF made an emergency loan of some $16 billion to Ukraine to help shore up its currency and it seems to be working.

I used to transfer money from my Canadian account to Tanya's USD account from which she would withdraw Hrivna. We had our money in limbo when the feces first hit the fan in September and we weren't sure our bank was even going to give it to us. So now I pull Hrivna directly from my account, using my debit card. Something that was only a dream here a few years ago.
It allows me to track the actual exchange rate when ever I pull out cash from the Bankomat. This is what it looked like over the past few days. The 19th would have been the day to convert all to Hrivna but of course, who knew.
Last summer the exchange rate was about 4.23 UAH per CAD.
The Russian rouble remained fairly stable against the dollar, it appears. They had huge reserves and still have gas and oil to export though the drop in the price of crude must affect them eventually. The exchange rate has been about 5 RUR per UAH but while Tanya was in Siberia it was 3 RUR per UAH.

'Twas the Night before Christmas

We made a trip to Marianivka town office to get a document stating we had a house in the village and a trip to P'yatikhatki to get a notarized statement that I live with Tanya in said house. Tomorrow we take copies of all our documents to the Raion passport office...and wait...and wait. But at least they can't deport me.

Tanya has a bushel of cabbage rolls just out of the oven. Those of us who are old enough to remember eating cold home-canned beef and chicken would enjoy Kholodets, which is the set jelly from boiled beef and chicken with lots of meat in it. The goose is ready to be stuffed and roasted tomorrow. The rabbit is cut up ready to make stew. How people will react to finding hare in their food is another matter.

Kuchma finally came home after two days. I suggested it was a bit early to start tom-catting around the neighbourhood. He just looked at me, said "Meh" and passed out on the window sill over the hot-water register.

Volk and Bobik think this Christmas stuff is just fine. They got all the inedibles from the above critters, plus the boiled bones from the Kholodets.

While Tanya was away, I broke the glass tea pot, the handle on one of our spatulas AND my coffee pot (French press). Found a cheap replacement the same diameter so the old screen fits. Have just had two pots (5 large mugs) and have my caffeine level up where it belongs. Tanya says after Christmas no more coffee. Kill-joy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Siberian Family

Tanya went home to Siberia for her brother Sasha's funeral. I would loved to have gone with her but had neither time nor money. She brought back pictures and greetings so that will have to do till next year.

Luda is Tanya's younger sister. Several years younger. And married to Valerie Antonov, driver of a big coal truck in an open pit mine and currently trucking coal 400 km through the mountains where there is no railroad. when the snow and avalanches let him. Luda is secretary at the hospital in Belii Yar (White Ravine) where they live. About 20 minutes from downtown Abakan in Khakasia, Siberia, Russian Federation.
They have been in love since Grade 8. Luda wanted to go to Moscow to University but Valerie couldn't part with her for that long so she stayed. She is a sweetheart. Valerie says half the men in Belii Yar are waiting for him to die. I tell Valerie that if I wasn't already married to her sister, I'd get in line too.
They live in a duplex log house with electricity and telephone. Period. There is a well in the yard and an outhouse out back. Heat is coal fired. Not unusual for the far side of the Ural mountains. Though both have worked steady for years there is never quite enough money to put in plumbing or gas. IF gas were available which it is not.

Valerie and I hit it off immediately that we first set eyes on each other. I was his brother-in-law long before I had even asked the question of Tanya. He is a typical Siberian with hands like hams and an immense capacity for vodka, to his detrement at times.

They have a 22 year old son named Slavic and a 7 year old daughter named Ksenia. Papa Franskevich lives there too. Ksenia is in Grade 1 (equivalent to our Grade 2) and a brilliant student. She has that impish but determined look that reminds me of pictures of her Tautya Tanya at the same age. Slavic is unable to live independently but works in the yard and runs errands. Tanya's Mama died 8 years ago and Papa has not smiled much since. He is a good man and I love him dearly.
Sasha's daughter Lena, husband Dymr and little Ulianna have adopted Luda and Valerie as parents and grandparents, which is good as Lena needs a Mama and Ulianna needs a Babushka.

White Christmas

Looks like we'll have a white Christmas. Snowed last night and most of this morning. It is only -2 C so it may last as long as Dec 25th Christmas. Snow on the ice makes driving very scary.

Yesterday we went into town to stock up on food for Christmas dinner. We stopped at another of our favourite stores to find it had devoted one wing to Christmas decorations. First time for this store and first one in Zhovte Vody. We were thrilled and snagged a few more "necessary items". The Manager said she was scared people weren't going to buy but was very pleasantly surprised. Tanya took too long looking at one item and someone else grabbed it. There were more so we weren't out of luck.

Tanya and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary today by going to P'yatikhatki (Andrei drove) to start the registration process for my residency passport. I gotta say, that 50% vodka windshield washer fluid smells wonderful. We have to have all documents ready for them to send to Dnipro by Dec 26th so we are rushed. The list is lengthy, though we have most. The process warrants a blog of its own some day.

Tanya is in the kitchen getting food ready for the 25th. We bought a village-raised rabbit, goose and chicken today. I looked at the rabbit and said "Maybe that is where Kuchma went". (We haven't seen him for 24 hours, not unusual in spring but now?...) Tanya said "No, Kuchma is bigger." Dinner will be traditional Russian food so I am really looking forward to it.

Our real tree is up and decorated. No lights, but next year. We have started putting gifts under the tree. Masha is quite curious about hers whenever she comes over.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. So many things to be thankful for.
  • My wife is home again.
  • I am getting older but am not dead yet.
  • Sleeping to noon followed by an 8-egg omelet loaded with onions, peppers and tomatoes, washed down with 2 liters of coffee. I can't do that anymore now that Tanya is home.
  • We bought a REAL tree, a 6' Scotch Pine for $15 dollars, which is now set up in our living room. It was cut fresh and should last 6 months.
  • It rained last night and froze. The world is a skating rink but we don't have to go to town today.
  • I finished our Christmas letter 2008 and email speeds delivery! Tanya is going to translate it to send to her friends and relatives too. We may start a new custom.

Andrei Tanya and Masha came for supper last night. Yesterday was Saint Nicholas' Day when children find little gifts under their pillows and receive gifts from adults. We bought her a pink party dress which she refused to take off. When you think about it, given the history and reputation of Saint Nicholas, this makes much more sense than Santa Claus at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What family is for

Rita MacNeil’s Silent Night

Rita MacNeil is a Canadian song writer and folk singer from Cape Breton Island, with a life story as amazing as her voice. Her Working Man, sung with the Men of the Deeps, is the anthem of what is left of the coal mining industry in Nova Scotia. Her first Christmas Album "Let the Bells Ring", 1988, which we own as a cassette, has been re-released as Joyful Sounds. Her rendition of Silent Night is one of the most moving versions I know of.

I wrote this about 15 years ago. It was typical of Christmas at our house, slow start and a good finish.

T'was the week before Christmas and down at our hovel
Nothing was ready; the confusion was awful.
No Holiday spirit; it just wasn't right.
Not one civil word, just fight after fight.

The dust and the dishes and all unmade beds,
No lights on the eaves, no home-made bread.
"Marley was dead?" Somewhere under the sink,
For over three weeks, from the garbage pail stink.

The food in the freezer was cold to the touch
No mince pie or turkey, just broccoli and such.
The gifts that were bought lay unwrapped in the closet
"No payments till June, just make a deposit".

A Charlie Brown Tree, in the far corner stood
Wishin’ it were back buried deep in the wood.
Then came the Spirit of Christmas at last:
A Rita MacNeil song on Bron's ghetto blast!

Scrooge took time off from RPC Inc,
To deal with the dishes piled high in the sink.
Cratchet came home from his office at work.
With roses for Scrooge cause he'd been a jerk.

And the weather got cold as a mom-in-law's kiss.
It snowed like the Dickens, so Ky got her wish.
Lyn got out the box with the tree decorations.
We sent out some letters to friends and relations.

Son felt quite Grinchly, coming home lame
From spraining his ankle at a basketball game,
But "Tiny Tim" was nice to his sisters for free;
He let them watch "NC Double A" on TV.

We spruced up the place, hung wreaths in the halls,
Holly and mistletoe, bright coloured balls.
We took out the garbage and dusted and baked,
And had friends come in for hot chocolate and cake.

We watched Christmas Specials and read Christmas books
And sang Christmas songs and praised Christmas cooks...
What a wonderful Christmas, sheer joy and delight.
May you too hear Rita when she sings "Silent Night".

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Three Blog Night

Ain't it amazing what a person will do just to work in a corny line like that?

Things I am thankful for today:

  • Tanya gets home in two days and Andrei will drive me into Dnipropetrovsk to collect her at the railway station.

  • The gas repair man says the furnace is working fine; we just need new radiators. I have another project to finish which will pay for them.

  • That is is only -5 here and not -50 with the windchill like Saskatchewan was yesterday.

  • Did I mention, Tanya gets home in two days.

  • That Ky can't get at me to kill me for this picture.

Shopping in Ukraine

There is a truism that people with money have no time and people with time have no money so plan your marketing strategy accordingly. In Ukraine, the vast majority of people have no money and seemingly unlimited time. And the shops and goods are organized accordingly.

There are small kiosks in every corner with essentials like bread, milk, beer and cigarettes and Mom and Pop grocery stores every few blocks. People walk so not only can they not travel far to shop, they cannot carry much home so they shop almost every day.

When we were in Canada last, Tanya looked at the streets said “Where are the people?” There is no one on the street. Here people are visible all the time, day or night, walking, walking, walking*. Public transportation is excellent but even then, you can’t carry much. Taxi service is everywhere and not expensive by Canadian standards but who can afford it here when a good salary is maybe $200 to $400 per month.

Pensioners have nothing, literally. Their pensions are so small; they only cope by having gardens and growing much of their own food. Those who live in villages are fortunate as they have garden space at hand. City dwellers may travel to villages where they have connections in order to garden. There are also garden places at the edges of towns. For that reason, big apartment blocks in the cities, instead of having underground parking, have individual underground root cellars.

Shovels and garden tools come without handles to reduce cost. People will reuse an old handle, carve their own, or buy one sold separately. Garden hose is sold by the length, no ends. Building hardware (nails, screws, bolts, etc) is sold by each or by the gram.

We have giant economy size in Canada. Here it is how small you can package it, so someone will have the cash to buy it. The new grocery supermarket has a huge bulk frozen section from vereniki (perogies) to shrimp so people can buy as much or as little as they want. Very little prepared food but lots of ingredients. People don’t open cans to cook like I did (and still do if I can find cans)

One thing it does is cut down on garbage. If we could recycle paper and bottles the two of us wouldn’t even have a bag of garbage every two weeks.

*up to the old inn door?...sorry, it is just how my mind works.

We Buy a Car

The Kia Carens station wagon has almost 30,000 km on it. We bought it in February. #1 and # 2 sons said that Kia was OK and #2 is going to buy a Kia Sorento in spring. Standard transmission is the only thing I hate about it. That and the price. $25,000 USD.
Needs sparkplugs every 20,000 kms because of the gas. Gives us good mileage, compared to my vans over the years. 10 litres per 100 kms. Comfortable. Tanya likes it and wants to take driving lessons. I am all in favour of that. Then she can see for herself avoiding ALL the holes in the roads is mission impossible.

I’d have been happy with a Lada but there are appearances to keep up, you know. From the bottom on up Lada, Daewoo (built in Zaporizhzhia) and Chevy Aveo. I would have really liked a Fiat Doblo or one of its close mini-minivan cousins, too. They are as popular here as the minivan at home. But they look somewhat boxy, pretty cheap interior in the Renaults and Peugeots we looked at so passed on it. My brother-in-law in Siberia drives a Volga, which is a Russian built sort of Crown Victoria heavy tank. I loved it but Tanya says it is very hard on gas.

Buying the car was an experience. Absolutely no prep work done in the show room. We had to remove all the protective plastic in order to drive it out and WE had to drive it out. We went to the bank and had the money transferred from our account to the dealers. No cheques in this country. They put a red dealer licence plate on it and off we went. I have no idea if we had insurance or not as we drove home from Dnipropetrovs’k.

I took the minibus back to four days latter to pick up the documentation so we could register it and buy insurance. You can’t buy insurance until it is registered and you have to register it in your hometown. It takes four days for the dealer to prepare all the paper. They wanted to know where their dealer plate was. I said they got it back when I got my own plates.

We took the papers and the car to be registered. Four hours later and several offices back and forth, we went to the bank wicket to pay the taxes on the car. Several, not sure how many and we got receipts for them all. Not a lot of money. Much cheaper than Saskatchewan but they got most of their tax as import duty which was in the purchase price. Then the man came out to double check the numbers on the motor, the body and the frame. No match. Dealer had left a digit off the documentation. Back to Dnipropetrovs'k on the minibus.

This time it matched. We got our plates and all the correct documentation which we carry at all times. Registration card is a little plastic credit card. Tanya is the owner; Andrei (#2 Son) and I are the recognized drivers. Anyone else drives it; one of the three of us has to be in the car. We go to buy insurance. He wants to know how many years I have been driving, as it is not marked on my Canadian licence. I said legally about 44 years. He should have asked how many accidents in the last five but as Tanya said, we’d never get insurance.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Near-Sighted Dawg

Last Christmas we spent at Grandma's. That was before she got run over by a reindeer. We took a bunch of pictures as always. Sometimes you find odd things in pictures that you had not noticed before. I was looking at a Christmas picture of May-B and noticed The Guy was in it. Actually I noticed that Vicki was sitting on May-B's lap apparently trying to read a Christmas card she was holding. Dang dawg needs a haircut and glasses.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thankfulness in small things

My daughter May-B is participating in a blog project called Day of Grace 365 in which she will post daily for a year five things she is thankful for that day. Not big things but small things. This is a terrific idea as we too often overlook the little things in a day that make us happy and for which we should be thankful.

For today, I am thankful
  1. That Tanya will be home on the noon train on Thursday after a four day trip from Abakan;
  2. That my friend likes my work on his oyster consulting project and that we will wrap it up on Wednesday...and get paid.
  3. That Kuchma keeps me company. When he gets lonely he meows to be let outside. When I go downstairs I find what he really wanted was someone to watch him eat.
  4. That I remembered to water Tanya's 32 houseplants so she won't find them dead when she gets home and render me likewise.
  5. That in May-B's last Day of Grace blog she made an announcement of a forthcoming announcement. No, she is not pregnant...that I know of.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Christmas Letter Nobody Sends

Dear Mary
Just a note to wish you the best of the season and to update you about things at our house this year. Sorry I didn’t write sooner but after the cast came off in August, there were three months of physiotherapy and that was before the patches came off my eyes.

We are looking forward to a good Christmas here for a change this year. Randy should be out on parole if he don’t get caught again making hooch in the bathroom and Mandy should be back out of rehab so if Jerry can stay away from the grape and we hear from Cindy (its been six years since her parole officer said she disappeared) we can enjoy the season.

You’ll notice a new address. After the grandchildren burned down the house, we moved to a smaller one on the west end of town. Well, it’s not actually in town. It’s the last building before the sewage system on Express Road. You can’t miss us …or the sewage plant. The kids are OK after the fire but the cat will never be the same again. He manages on three legs though.

Don’t bother looking for the Pontiac in the driveway. After Harold hit the old lady in the crosswalk and then rear-ended the school bus, there wasn’t much left of the car, so we sold it for parts. Got a real nice artificial Christmas tree with the money. Besides this house has no driveway to park, even if we had a car.

Amy was expelled from Grade 3 after the bomb incident and Harvey says Grade 7 is easier the third time around. He finds it much easier to get to school now he has his driver’s licence.

Sure would be nice to have a visit with you and the family. I know you’ve gotten over the little incidents from last time we were at your place and I’m sure Faye’s nose looks real good after the surgery. I always thought both your kids looked better with short hair anyhow.

I’m fine as usual. I’m planning Christmas dinner, not knowing exactly how many will be here. I’m undecided about whether to serve traditional turkey and dressing like Grandma Harper before the guys in the white jackets carted her off to the Funny Farm just before last Christmas. Maybe I’ll just decorate a can of Spam with some cherries and see if Martha is still allergic to the preservative in the stuff.

I don’t work at the dog food factory no more. Mr. Chuttle didn’t agree with me about the bonus I thought I was entitled to. If he don’t press no charges we’ll be together for Christmas, if I said, everyone can make it. If they can’t, we won’t.
Take care

With thanks to Jeanne Hunter from Corning, Saskatchewan. This column appeared in the Leader Post several years ago.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From Real Christmas Letters We Got

Dear Friends,

Just a note to bring you up to date on all the important happenings in our home last year. 1986 has been quite a year. The cedar tree in front of the dining room window died. We painted the back fence after we cut the grass. Bron’s bicycle got a flat tire. Mom oiled the sewing machine.

Some exciting things on the political scene. Last Saturday we almost saw Mayor Schneider. We were at Sears and I guess his Worship had been there the day before. Wow!

We celebrated an important birthday and anniversary too. Mozart would have been 230 years old – if he had lived. Agribition finished its 16th year. Ky went with her class. She saw a cow.

We have all been reasonable healthy and happy this year. Sometimes we are well. Other times we are sick. We floss regularly.

The newspaper landed in the bushes twice, but we got it out. Good thing Lyn is small. We made her crawl under the bush and get it out.

There is a new Shell station going up at the corner of Albert and Gordon. It’s a self-serve kind with a food store. There has been a lot of talk about eating and getting gas.

The other night we went to Smitty’s. We all had pancakes. Except Mom. Women’s Lib is going to ruin the country.

We’re getting a goldfish for a pet this Christmas. Son says it is so fun to watch it swim around and look out at you. And if not, you can always flush it down the toilet.

It has been a warm fall. Sometimes we watch TV. Sometimes we don’t.

Now must go shovel the walk. It looks like it might snow tonight.

Merry Christmas
Dad, Mom and the kids

P.S. Mom weeded the garden twice in June.

This letter is a parody of bits and pieces of letters we had received over the years. Ella saved the choice bits and one Christmas wrote this killer piece.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Finally, Decent Chili*

Alternate title: Burn your bum off, Mick!

Our former Regina neighbour, long time friend and father of justanothegirl, has a secret chili recipe called “Burn Your Bum Off Chile”. I’ve no idea what goes into it but I think he uses “Screaming Sphincter” hot sauce. Last time I was in Ottawa we went to Chili Chili’s (I think that is the name) and he stocked me up with potent powders. Making chili HOT is easy but getting the flavour right was the hard part for me

I love hot food, especially chili. Maybe not hot by Texas standards (the “Suicide Chili” in an Amarillo café was a tad spicy) but certainly hot by Sichuan or Chinese-Korean standards. Tanya does not like spicy food at all. So when the cook is away, I shall play and today I finally got my chili hot enough AND the right flavour. The first bite almost stopped my breathing (that’s my test for good chili). I ate slowly and savoured every mouthful.

I also opened more cans in one day than Tanya does in a month. Four. Terrible but I can’t find dry kidney beans and just feel thankful there were canned ones at our new store.

Mexican oregano, Cayenne pepper, Ancho powder, Chipotle powder, Cumin powder and two long red fresh hot chili peppers from the market. Everything was eyeballed in as measuring spoons are non-existent in Ukraine. People here can actually cook.

Now if it doesn’t crack the porcelain…

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Many Faces of LynnieC

LynnieC has a birthday today. Maybe she will celebrate by studying? Lyn is my youngest. We called her Tigger 'cause she bounced (she still bounces...) and Miss Merry Sunshine 'cause she was always happy.

She could get into more trouble as a small child.... One April day a friend and I were driving from our house to Canadian Tire and saw a small child's shoe in the middle of the street. I commented on the quality of parenting some children receive, only to see Lyn booting it down the road, (also headed for Canadian Tire??) with one shoe missing. She was 16 months old and had slipped the gate latch. At three, she doctored her own headache with two children's aspirin which was the number she always got. How did she open the bottle? "I readed the directions".

Her sister May-B may be the Queen of Sarcasm but Lyn is the "Undisputed Empress of the Universe of Sarcasm". She and May-B's dog Vicki are cut from the same cloth ("middle toe of the front paw"). They call no man master and do what they want, when they want. Tanya loves them both for this reason. She says to me, "Did you get an email from Lyn today?" No. (Of course not. Are there two moons in the sky?) And Tanya laughs and laughs.

Happy Birthday, Merry Sunshine. I love you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas letters

When I was a kid everyone sent Christmas cards. Hey, I used to sell Christmas cards door-to-door for some company. Rode horseback and carried the cards in a sack. My grandparents would display all theirs on strings in the livingroom and announce proudly that they had “119” cards. Some people would include letters in their cards. Then more and more letters and fewer and fewer cards.

I love Christmas letters. They have started to roll in on my email, about 1 or 2 a day now. Writing skills vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some are several pages, some are only one. Some have pictures (I really like those), some from families, some from individuals. But invariable they summarize the good and bad in the writer’s life in the previous year. All the news that’s fit to print.

Our family has done a Christmas letter for years. Ella used to hand write them to individuals. She loved to write letters and as a stay-at-home Mom, she could find the time. Then the kids got too many and time too short so they started getting photocopied with hand written notes in the margins. Of course our computer solved the letter writing problem. They could be both mass produced and individually tailored at the same time. I think at peak we mailed over 100 one year.

Email has changed all that. Last year I only mailed out about 8 letters and sent the rest by email. “Please print this and give a copy to Auntie”. Even email letter numbers are dwindling. If I didn’t get a letter from someone last year I wait until I get one this year before I send one. Sometimes there are reasons people don’t send letters one year and it doesn’t mean they aren’t your friend any more. We didn’t send one in 2003 or 2006.

Our letters were always interesting, according to our friends. If the letters were not interesting they don’t say anything. First of all they were short. And they usually had a theme. Ella and I used to collaborate on a rhyming letter sometimes. Calling it a poem might upset the Brownings and Tennysons of the world.

I have all our Christmas letters going back to 1991, when we got our computer and friends were able to send me copies of letters from 1983-1989. I wish I had copies of them all. They tell the history of our family.

Tanya is quite amused by Christmas letters as mailing cards and letters at Christmas and New Years is not a custom here, at least with her family and friends. But she thinks it is a good idea to keep in touch with people, even if it is only once a year.

Hard to know what I will write about this year. Since I started blogging, the whole world knows what I and my family are up to on both sides of the pond.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Irish Rovers Sing for Peace?

We all get songs stuck in our heads on occasion and they go round and round for hours, days and weeks. I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel the last week in November and sure enough...

Last Night I had the Strangest Dream (words and music by Ed McCurdy) recorded by every self-respecting folk artist from Pete Seeger to Arlo Guthrie, just won't go away.

With one small problem... The fourth verse has become:

And the people in the streets below
Were dancing 'round and 'round,
While swords and guns and unicorns
Were scattered on the ground.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Smokeless Chew

Just realized it has been over a year since I stopped chewing my fingernails. Fifty-year-old habits are hard to break, especially when you are OCD. People who quit smoking can use the patch to help with the addiction but it is the habit that is hardest to break. I wake up in the morning with a finger nail chewed off in my sleep. Not so often now but still it is a danger.

My daughter-in-law (#1 son's long sufffering spouse) gave me the incentive to quit. She offered to quit smoking if I quit chewing. I have never asked her how she is doing as it is up to her to keep her end of the bargain. I kept mine.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Home Alone

My wife has left me. For two weeks to visit her family in Siberia. I told her all summer she should go but no, she has to wait until there is a tragedy and then go.

Her brother Sasha died suddenly yesterday of heart failure, leaving a 25 year old daughter, son-in-law and four year old granddaughter. He was at his sister, Luda's, and just keeled over. A sad end to a good man, Tanya said. Sasha had married a raging alcoholic who finally drank herself to death about 10 years ago. Sasha finished raising Lena, saw her marry a good man and stayed home from work three years to babysit so Lena could go back to work. He was now working in the Taiga region, way north of Krasnoyarsk and was home on days off. The funeral is tomorrow.

Tanya and Luda are both worried about Papa and Tanya wants to see him alive, not go to his funeral too.

Getting Tanya onto the plane today was an exercise and there is no guarantee she will make her connection in Moscow. There are two planes per day from Dnipropetrovsk to Moscow. The travel agent in Dnipro said the morning plane left at 10:00 am. We left home this morning in time to buy her ticket and catch the plane except when we got there, we found the plane left at 9:00 am. The next plane left at 4:00 pm, leaving her only three hours to make her connection.

There are three airports in Moscow, we'll call them D, S and V. They are a long way apart. A very long way apart. When we flew to Ulaanbaatar in 2007, our plane landed at V Terminal 1 and a 20 minute bus ride took us to the new V terminal 2. The plane from Dnipro now lands at D and Tanya ahs to get to V Terminal 2. Is there a shuttle bus between airports? Logic would dictate there should be but this is post-Communist Russia. Logic (and democracy) are still unknown. It may be the Metro via several line changes and a minibus at the end. If she misses she can change her ticket for 33 Euro. To Monday.

She thought I could call her mobile from Ukraine even when she is in Russia. So far no connection. I called our friend Galina where Tanya will stay if she misses her connection to warn her this might happen and ask her to see if she could connect with Tanya's mobile. At least Tanya knows her way around Moscow.

Written four hours later: Tanya made her plane all right. She emailed me from V Terminal 2. It is delayed until 3:00 am at least. Way to go Vladivostok Air! At least it is a 737 and not an old Iliushan (I hope). Also a wheel fell off the new suitcase I bought her in Turkey and she cannot drag it. The suitcase is guaranteed but we have to send it to Britain for repair. Right. And she cannot remember the PIN code to turn her phone on which is why I cannot call her. I sent her the PIN code from the package for her new number but that isn't it, she says. Go figure.

Both Galina and I called Luda at 2:00 am her time to tell her Tanya's plane was delayed. At least now she knows.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Remembering Lorne 3 – Happiness at Last

Lorne always had a girlfriend of some sort but nothing permanent until one day in the early 1980’s he showed up with Coral. She was a keeper. She wasn’t frightened off by anything anyone told her about Lorne and obviously believed Lorne could be much more than most gave him credit for. They were married in 1984 and the next 22 years made up for the first 36. She loved him and expected him to do the right thing and he delivered the goods. Within a year his seizures were under control to the point he had his driver’s license back. He was working as close to steady as Lorne ever worked. They lived in his home town for a few years and then Coral took a new job and they moved to to a small town about 150 km away.

In Coral, Lorne found love and stability. In their new town, Lorne found a home and acceptance. They bought a house which took time and money to renovate. They went to church. Lorne sang in the choir, built props for the local Little Theatre, served on the Museum and Bowling Boards and visited with everyone in town. He worked as a building maintenance person, or for a local plumber when there was work, or at North Battleford or Pierceland when there wasn’t work locally. Coral’s family loved Lorne and he loved them. Lorne and Coral spent summers at their cabin in Northwest Saskatchewan surrounded by her family and enjoying every minute of it. Lorne put his woodworking and carpentry skills to use making cabin signs, renovating or repairing anything anywhere. In 2001, when I was working in China, he insulated, drywalled and put a bathroom in our basement.

Because Lorne and Coral had no children of their own, they adopted great numbers of other people’s children into their hearts, including my four. Auntie Coral was always loved unconditionally but when the kids were young, because Lorne was such a terrible tease, they sometimes weren’t sure how to take him. LynnieC, who was about four years old at the time, was quite excited to learn that Auntie Coral was coming to visit us “but did she have to bring ‘that man’”? After which, Lorne was always “That Man”, though occasionally he was also
referred to as “Uncle Buck” after the John Candy movie.
A voice was stilled on Earth but the Heavenly Choirs have been sweeter since for Lorne’s rich tenor. If there are lessons to be learned from Lorne’s life, they are “Never give up on anyone” and “The love of a good woman makes all the difference, if you let it”.

The world is a better place for his having been here. He is missed and remembered. In song and story, as the legends grow. And quietly in the hearts of those who loved him.

Remembering Lorne 2 – The Lost Years

Lorne went to Tech and took plumbing, following in his father’s and brother’s footsteps but didn’t stay long in the family business, instead drifting from town to town and job to job. He worked at motorcycle repair in Saskatoon and also as a hotel maintenance person in Saskatoon and Edmonton. He worked in Vancouver doing plumbing, Westburne in Calgary and was in Red Deer, doing wood working when he lost his finger in a power saw.

Lorne never missed a beat with that lost finger. Besides using it to frighten small children with the perils of searching for errant boogers, he relearned piano, trumpet and 12-string guitar and then used the gap in his hand to hold the steel and taught himself to play Dobro guitar.

Lorne could do anything but hold a job. Epilepsy and alcohol took their toll. Lorne drank to escape the demons of the Grand Mal. Nights were the worst. Lorne hated to go to bed because he knew what would be waiting for him. I remember one night in our early 20’s we shared a bed somewhere for some reason and I lost count of the seizures he had. The lifestyle was killing him and for a time I don’t think he cared. But the prayers of a faithful few, in particular his Mother and his Grandmother, kept him going. He joined AA in 1979 and started trying to turn his life around.

Rumour has it that his middle name “Beverly” was hung on him at the suggestion of his brother, after George Beverley Shea, the great gospel singer who for many decades sang with Billy Graham Crusades. If true, Lorne was well named, as music, in particular Gospel Music, filled his life, pretty much from first to last breath. He loved Gaithers and Slaughters and Cathedrals and many more groups I never heard of or can’t remember.

Where ever there was Lorne, there was music. He jammed with everyone. In Saskatoon he jammed with Saskatchewan jazz greats, Gordie Brandt and Barney Kutz. All over the country, in night clubs or concerts, after performances he would wrangle an invitation backstage and end up at a party somewhere jamming with names we’d all know. Sylvia Tyson and Tommy Banks being two; the others I can’t recall and will leave for his biographer to dig up.

But mostly he sang and played with Christian people playing Christian music. At church camp his trumpet was out at every service. Nothing pleased him more than when Doug from Nebraska brought his trumpet. They didn’t need to communicate; there was that natural flow between them that rare musicians have. They would cut lose with When the Saints Go Marching In and you waited for the walls of Jericho to fall. Then one day, his nephew joined him on trumpet and Uncle Lorne was so proud he could burst.

Lorne never met a person he didn’t like, to quote Will Rogers. Or who didn’t like him. He visited with everyone and would think nothing of driving three or four hours to visit with someone in hospital who needed some company. Sometimes visiting got in the way of gainful employment. It wasn’t that Lorne didn’t like work per se, what he didn’t like was anything that started at 8:00, finished at 5:00, had to be done every day and for which you got paid. But if someone needed something done, Lorne would work day and night to do it for them.

Remembering Lorne 1 - The Early Years

My cousin Lorne would have been 61 today, Dec 1st but he died of cancer three years ago, and went to be with his Lord and Savior, one week after his 58th birthday. I want to remember him by telling you about his life. Lorne’s life pretty much divides into three almost-even parts. I’d call them “Growing Up”; “The Lost Years” and “Happiness at Last”. I will publish them in three parts on my blog. This is the first

Lorne and I were the same age and grew up as close friends and co-conspirators. Lorne loved to come out to the farm, mostly because we had horses and also because he could get out of sight of his mother who tended want to "spoil his fun" (his words). We were usually in some kind of trouble, whether pushing the elevator agent’s car down a hill and hiding it in some bushes, or sticking firecrackers in a jam-filled donut and persuading another cousin to hold it in his mouth to see what would happen.

Lorne took piano lessons from the Sisters at the convent and learned trumpet with the Community Band but he was self-taught on the guitar. When he and I were just learning the guitar (We played the “Carter Lick” before we knew what it was called and I never progressed past it), we’d sing hymns we knew like What a Friend We have in Jesus and Just a Closer Walk with Thee over and over. Of course, we also sang about The Little White Washed Shanty by the Barn – “where you sit all day at ease with your elbows on your knees” and several Homer and Jethro numbers. However when we got to sit together in church, (which wasn’t often for some reason), we would sometimes rework the words of the old hymns, singing of “Royal duodenums” and “Angels’ fallen prostates”.

Christmas Music

Today is December 1st, the "official day" to start playing Christmas Music. Tanya says January 1 is when they start in Ukraine.

Nana Mouskouri's Christmas Album is playing as I write. I shall wear out my 18 Christmas CD's and maybe, if I can find one, buy a tape deck of sorts so I can play another couple of dozen albums.

I love Christmas music. And to Scrooge (aka #1 Son) all I can say is pppffftt and nanananabooboo.
Christmas is also a time for remembering. This picture is from 2001. Happier times or "the last good year".

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tree Number Two

This tree is upstairs in the room at at the end of the hallway. It has little lights like the downstairs tree but Tanya doesn't like them because they should be all blue, not multi-coloured. so she turned them off for the picture. Next year maybe we can buy strings of solid colour lights but this year at least we can buy lights!!!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our First Christmas Tree

Tanya finished decorating our first tree in the front entry. About half the decorations including the lights were purchased locally, the other half came from Canada. She is now working on the upstairs tree. Kuchma walked around the tree and sniffed it, then went for a nap.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Shopping trip to the City

Tanya and I drove Roman back to the city today. He had bussed out on Wednesday to attend his uncle's funeral where he learned his father, Tanya's Ex, was in intensive care in the ZV hospital. It was strictly no visitors. So Roman and Andrei went to see his doctor both Wednesday and Thursday to learn how he was doing. The next few days will tell, I guess. Roman will come back next week again if he can have visitors.

This shopping trip was for buying drapery material for our living room window which has been withut curtains of any kind since we moved in and for our master bedroom, which has only had sheers. I said the neighbours will complain if we put up drapes but Tanya said they are compaining that we don't have drapes. I'll post pictures when we get them done, which will be a the next couple of weeks. We will take the material to a sewing shop in town here that does good work.

More and more stores are stocking "western" style christmas decorations (no, NOT cowboy) so we found a few more to aul home along with a couple of medium artifical trees. First time in my life for artifical trees. One tree goes in the front entry and one in my office. We will find a big artificial tree for the front room. Yes, the house will look like Festival of Trees but we won't charge you $10 to come and see them.

We also went to the huge book market, several dozen stalls of all kinds of books from computer manuals to English language self learning books, to novels and so on. Readers' Heaven. Tanya bought four novels aand two English books recommended by our friend in Moscow who teaches English at a Russian University there. We also bought Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale books for Masha. Beautiful illustrations. She'll be reading them within a year as she is in Kindergarten.

This past week was also Maxim's 8th birthday so we found an encyclopedia of house plants for him. The kid is a master at starting African violets so we figure he can come and help Tanya slip some of her 40 odd houseplants and start little ones for sale in the spring.

Masha-ism of the week:
Scenario - It is snowing in Zhovti Vody which we do not know as it is raining in our neighbourhood about 5 km away. Masha phones Tanya.
Babushka, look outside. It is snowing.
I don't see any snow.
Babushka, you are old, you don't see anything.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Remembering Holodomor

The fourth Saturday in November has in many jurisdictions been marked as the official day of remembrance for people who died as a result of the 1932-33 Holodomor. Holodomor is the name given to the artificial famine created in Ukraine by the Stalinist regime in 1932 and 1933, in which some 7 million Ukrainians were deliberately starved to death to break the back of growing Ukrainian nationalism.

To date, the legislative bodies of Australia, Canada, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and the USA referred to the 1932–1933 Holodomor as Ukrainian genocide… The Senate of CANADA, on 19 June 2003, called on the Canadian Government “to recognize the Ukrainian Famine/Genocide of 1932–1933 and to condemn any attempt to deny this historical truth as being anything less than a genocide” 1.

Russian version of events is somewhat different as Putin re-establishes Stalin as a “Hero of Russia”. Indeed in a vote to establish the Greatest Russian, it is reported that Nicholas II and Stalin are tied for first place. According to a press release from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow received notice on October 6 from Russia's Foreign Ministry that commemorative events must fall in line with the Russian position on the famine or be cancelled. Russia continues to claim that the Holodomor was not a genocide and that Ukraine's effort to secure such recognition is "a political matter that is aimed against Russian interests."

There is no doubt that Ukraine was not alone in its suffering in that time. Many parts of the USSR were given the same treatment. Kazakhstan lost some 3 million people to starvation for the same reasons – to destroy any semblance of nationalist spirit and resistance to Stalinism. Some say that because everyone suffered it should not be labeled as specific genocide against Ukraine, though as other s point out the Jews were not the only group targeted by the Nazi’s for extinction yet it was no doubt genocide. Others claim that modern records show only 3.5 million starved to death in Ukraine as though somehow that makes it all right.

The Russians must have a guilty conscience over this because they are very defensive, yet no one is accusing the Russian people per se. It was “Stalin’s communist regime”, the “Soviet totalitarian regime”, “Communist policy”, the “totalitarian Bolshevik regime”, “Stalin’s Soviet regime”. It was the system, not the people. In Germany it was the Nazi system, not the people. For some reason, under terrible systems, people do terrible things. We need to be very careful that we do not allow terrible systems to emerge in our own countries, if it isn’t already too late.

1. from Holodomor – Ukrainian Genocide in the early 1930’s, The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, 2007.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Windshield Washer Antifreeze

The warning light had been on for some time as we were running the windshield washer fluid (water, in this case) level low in preparation for cold weather. Today I asked Andrei what to put in the car. Only in Ukraine - 1 litre of cheap vodka (40% alcohol) and 1 litre of water. Cost about $3.00 for two liters of windshield washer fluid.

Wonder if I could cut it 1 vodka to 2 water? 20% alcohol vs 13% alcohol? If it got cold, I could just pour another bottle of vodka into the tank? Any chemical engineers out there?

Windshield washer fluid (winter) at Wal-Mart was running $3 to $4 for 4 litres, last time I checked. There must be windshield washer fluid in Ukraine!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Johnny Cake

We found cornmeal in the new grocery store, so tonight I decided to try my hand at Johnny Cake. Didn't have the family recipe so went to the internet and found one that looked simple enough. One of the recipes dirtied every dish in the house and consisted of folding and blending and sifting and... Good grief, Charlie Brown, some people don't have enough to do.

Had to make a couple of adjustments. Not enough butter so I used sunflower oil. No milk (used the last on the cornflakes yesterday morning and forgot to get some) but I found a can of sweetened condensed (like our Eagle brand for Christmas fudge) that Tanya bought for some other recipe and added a little water to bring it up to 1 1/2 cups. Also no 9" square pan but a 9x13 worked just as well.

The new ingredients made it heavier than I recall and much sweeter. But with lots of butter and real maple syrup, it was delicious. Tasted like the real McCoy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Remembering the Farm - Our first tractor

While mechanization of Saskatchewan farm power had begun decades earlier with the big steam tractors, the final massive shift of farmers from horse power to tractor power took place after the War. Dad farmed with horses until 1950. At the age of eight years, the summer of 1930, he began working in the fields, helping my grandfather, summerfallowing with a six-horse team on a double-disc.
In 1950 Dad bought a used Massey Harris 44* for $600. The bank would loan two-thirds of the price so the dealer wrote dad a receipt for a $900 tractor of which $300 was paid. Dad borrowed the entire $600 price of the tractor.

Dad bought a used 12’ Massey Harris swather that same year and cut the crop with it that fall. This picture was taken when Dad was working close enough to home that Mom, with us kids in the wagon could take him his late afternoon lunch which would hold him until supper when he got home after dark. When I started running the swather, maybe by 1960, we still had the same one. The platform and the reels were raised and lowered by levers. The swather platform was too heavy for me to adjust so I pretty much cut it at whatever level dad set it. I could adjust the reels to the height of the crop if I used both hands. By the time I was big enough to handle it, we had bigger equipment, with hydraulic controls.
My brother and I went with Dad whenever we could, like this picture of hauling bundles of green oats home for cattle feed. Dad was pretty patient with us as long as we listened and stayed out of the way.

*I always remembered it as a Massey 33 but the website says they were only built after 1952. If any tractor buffs read this and can help identify the model of the tractor in the picture, I’d appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Driving just became more expensive

Tanya and I are planning on attending an open-house at a big dairy farm (Agro-Soyuz) an hour the other side of Dnipropetrovsk. We will go tomorrow or Thursday (or not at all) depending. However it is not without its risks. A new set of traffic laws and fines came into force on Monday. The accident rate and death toll on the highways in Ukraine is horrendous. I know the public intent of the new laws is to try to do something about it. Privately, I think they are just to enrich policemen.

Parking 30 meters on each side of a bus stop - 500 UAH
Speeding >20 km over the limit - 500 to 700 UAH
No seat belt - 300 UAH
Talking on the mobile while driving - 500 UAH
Every car needs to carry a first aid kit, fire extinguisher and a warning triangle. Of course there are none in Ukraine as everyone tries to buy the required items. Not sure what the fine is but we will likely find out as we have been unable to get them.

The people who make the laws have no intention of obeying them. Nor will they apply to the rich or powerful. The big black cars with black windows won't be stopped for speeding as the policeman doesn't want to lose his job (or have to pay a bribe to them). Of course since the windows are black, no one will know if the seatbelts are done up or not, or if they are using the mobile or not.

The fines are between 25% and 50% of an average monthly wage (about $200 to $400). Paying a fine legally is such a bureaucratic hassle that people prefer to pay off the cops. The standard bribe will now go from 40 UAH to $40 (200 UAH). Andrei said that the first day a policeman in P'yatikhatki made 1000 UAH in bribes. The news today said the country took in 1 million UAH in fines in one day. Andrei figures it means the cops must have taken in 4 million in bribes.

Isn't it fun?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The World is my Oyster

The last few days I have been learning about the BC shellfish industry. Mainly oyster farming and processing, a $20 million dollar industry. Virtually all oysters produced in BC are farmed while e.g. about half the clams are still dug in the wild. Fancy oysters are sold whole and alive to restaurants where they are served on the half shell for large sums of money. They are eaten raw.
I ate raw oysters for the first and last time back in the late 80's in New Orleans where they were affordable. I was instructed thus: "One puts the raw oyster on a cracker, covers it with horseradish and then Tabasco Sauce (New Orleans sells Tabasco Sauce in gallon jugs) and then swallows it whole without chewing". Seemed pointless. I remember phoning home and announcing I had eaten six raw oysters but only three of them worked. Wives apparently have no sense of humour about some things.
My preference is smoked oysters which is my Christmas treat. Most members of my family consider them gross. Once I offered one to Bron's Black Lab, Desdemona, who promptly dropped it on the carpet and rolled on it, much to the delight of everyone else. I get no respect.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Visiting Mennonite History

Most of the meetings that Berny and I had in our travels were in Zaporizhzhia Oblast as that is where Berny’s interest and contacts are. Berny is of Mennonite descent. Zaporizhzhia was “home” to many Canadian Mennonites and there is great interest among the Mennonite people both in visiting and in helping in this area.

Mennonites are a branch of the Christian church, with roots in the radical wing of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Part of the group known as Anabaptists (because they rebaptized adult believers), the Mennonites took their name from Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who converted to the Anabaptist faith and helped lead it to prominence in Holland by the mid-16th century.

During the reign of Catherine the Great, the Mennonites migrated to Zaporizhzhia establishing two colonies Chortitza and Molotschna (now spelled Khortitsa and Molochna). There is a fairly concise history in Wikipedia for those who care to know more. Beginning in about 1870 a large number of Mennonites emigrated to western Canada and another group between 1924 and 1931, after the revolution. Berny’s family emigrated to Saskatchewan from the Molochna colony in 1924. His father was 16 at the time and his mother was 14.

So we were on Berny’s “home” turf. We took time to visit the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk. Molochansk was known as Halbstadt in Mennonite times and was the political centre of the west half of the Molochna Colony. Between Molochansk and Tokmok, we stopped at the village of Kutuzovka (formerly Petershagen) to visit a restored Mennonite church originally built in 1892 and used as grain storage during Soviet times.
Finally we stopped in Khmelnitskoye (formerly Friedensdorf) where Berny’s family had lived. His father’s house was still standing though unoccupied since Berny’s last visit. When his father lived there, a long stable would have been built on the back of the house and the roof would have run the other way, with the gable end facing the street.

We also went to the village cemetery where his great grandfather’s gravestone was the only one left standing from Mennonite times. The other stones had been removed to use as building material.
I have read several histories of the Russian Mennonites in Zaporizhzhia so actually being there and seeing where it all happened was rather awe-inspiring.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Heifer Project International Ukraine

One of the NGO’s Berny and I met on our travels was Heifer Project International in Kyiv. Tanya had heard about them from a friend in Donetsk who told her how effective the project was. Tanya and I plan to go to Kyiv and meet with them for more information and then investigate potential for a project here in P’yatikhatski Raion.

Anyone looking for a worthwhile charity to contribute to, should investigate HPI. They are very effective and keep overhead to a minimum. The following information is adapted from their website.

Heifer Project International (HPI) is a nonprofit, humanitarian organization headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. HPI is dedicated to ending world hunger and poverty, and caring for the earth by providing food- and income- producing farm animals, veterinary supplies and agricultural equipment to needy farmer families to help them become self reliant. Also, HPI delivers intensive training in animal husbandry, ecologically sound sustainable farming and community development.

The recipients of HPI gifts are farmer families, who, as decided by the community, are most eligible for the support (families with many children, poor, etc.), regardless of their religious or ethnic heritage. They should be able to provide appropriate care, feed for the animals, and undertake to follow HPI “cornerstones” and project terms.

Animals from Heifer provide milk, eggs, plowing power and other benefits that lead to improved nutrition, higher income, education for children, health care, improved housing and literally new way of life.

Heifer requires its recipients to “Pass on the gift” by sharing offspring of their livestock with others in need. “Passing on the Gift” sets off a chain of giving that touches numerous lives in an expanding circle of hope.

Heifer Project International Ukraine started a pilot project in Ukraine in 1994 in L’viv Region and since 2000 when International Charitable Foundation “Heifer Project International” (HPI) was officially registered, has projects in almost all Oblasts.

By 2005, 989 rural families in different regions of Ukraine have been assisted through HPI projects. HPI Ukraine donated 689 heifers/cows, 53 horses, 365 sheep, 54 goats, 26 rabbits, 11 pigs and 668 bee colonies to farmers. Total number of families participated in HPI Ukraine projects is more than 1500. As of July 2005, 546 initial recipients have passed the gift on to other needy farmers.

Updated statistics for 2007 show almost 2200 families have benefited, about 1344 directly and 835 from “Passing on the Gift”

Friday, November 14, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

After almost two weeks of not blogging it is hard to get started again. This will be a dog's breakfast of things, just to sort of catch up.

Let Brotherly Love Continue - About two days before I left on this business trip, Volk and Bobik decided to decide once and for all who was top dog aka Alpha. I was just putting them in their yard for the night at 7:00 and something sparked the deadliest dogfight I never care to see again. It was savage mortal combat. There was blood everywhere, on the ground and all over them, all from surface wounds - ears, face, lips etc. Ten month old puppies with thick winter fur are not too deadly regardless of how hard they try. They took turns choking each other down. There was no separating them. Finally they tired out and Volk surrendered. Bobik is the new Alpha. Andrei showed up about them and saw the blood and phoned the veterinarian. By 8:00 pm two of them came out and in the light of the garage, cleaned and disinfected the wounds all for $20.

Eau de Steer Pen #5 - Bobik has a girlfriend down the street so yesterday he decided to impress her with a new cologne and rolled in the vilest rotted manure you can imagine. Of course, not to be outdone, Volk also rolled in it. One cannot get far enough up wind of them. The little lady sppears to like their new masculine smell but she is the only one.

Mouse About the House - I am upstairs working when I hear Tanya ask me to come down and help her. There is a mouse under the deepfreeze. It has been hauling walnuts behind the freezer and cracking them open for a healthy snack. Tanya grabs Kuchma and points him in the right direction. I tip the freezer back and POW! Got 'im! Thirty minutes of entertainment for Kuchma prior to termination of said mouse.

Banana Loaf - Three black bananas require throwing out or ... so I introduced Ukraine to the wonders of banana loaf. The wonder is that I had all the ingredients. Turned out not bad and so simple to make that I will add it to my repertoire along with apple crisp and Scotch oat squares. To tell if it is baked you stick a knife in. If the knife comes out clean, then it is done. When I was doing all my own cooking, if the knife came out clean I stuck the rest of the silverware in.

Roses, roses, roses - I promised Tanya when we got married to keep her in chocolate, champagne and roses. Now that we have a huge area for flower garden, the roses morphed into bedding plants, including rose bushes. Tanya was in Dniporpetrovsk for two days while I was in Zaporizhzhia. She said she didn't have a good time the first day because she saw everything she wanted but didn't have enough money to buy anything. The second day she went to the big market. Her brain said "I will not go to the flowers" but her feet went on their own. She bought five more rose bushes. Now we have thirty.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Temporarily Off the Air

Blogging with be intermittant for the next couple of weeks as I am off to a series of meetings which will hopefully lead to a project or two.

Ukraine went off daylight saving time last Sunday. I switched all clocks and watches except my mobile phone. It doubles as an alarm when I need one, so this morning we got up at 5:00 instead of 6:00. Tanya just shakes her head and says "It's my husband".

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Woman to Spend a Lifetime With*

What kind of woman would I want to spend the rest of my life with?

  • Well, she would have to be very special as she would also want to spend the rest of her life with me, not an easy thing to ask of any woman.
  • She will be a strong independent woman, but not so strong or independent that she doesn't need me for the something that I bring to her life that makes her feel complete. I do not know what that something is but she (whoever she is) will know. Maybe it is humour, maybe gentleness, kindness, shelter from the world that she can come to when the world is too much for her to bear. Maybe it is firmness, someone who will stand up to her and not be pushed around by her.
  • She needs to be someone strong enough not to let me push her around either. Temper is OK as long as we can yell at each other then forget it when the storm is over. Passionate, emotional, alive.
  • Well read in subjects which interest her. Curious and interested in what is going on in the world - politics, current events - and who wants to travel and learn about other places and people.
  • Cynical yet wishing and hoping the world could be perfect. Someone driven by a desire to leave the world a better place than she found it by doing something that helps others grow strong and learn to help themselves.
  • A "people person", generous with her time and as finances allow, with money too. A home that is open to any and all. Lots of visitors around the table. Spare beds for adults, and kids sleep on the floor.
  • Someone who loves kids, dogs and me. Expects the best from all of us and helps kids, dogs and me to be better than we are. Patient and forgiving with my weaknesses but expecting me to grow stronger with her help.
  • An organizer who will keep me organized; who believes in me when I don’t believe in myself; who can balance encouragement with butt-kicking and knows when to apply each.
  • Someone who will accept 40 “I love you”’s a day and 40 hugs too. Someone who will give them back without prompting, who will reach over and take my hand for no reason, because I need the reassurance and the touch of one I love who loves me.
  • Someone I am proud to be with and who is proud to be with me.

    *When Tanya and I first started talking about possibilities for the two of us, she asked me to tell her what I was looking for in a wife. She wrote what she was looking for in a husband. We had the documents professionally translated by her friend Natalie and exchanged them by email. After almost two years, I have to say, I found what I was looking for. And much much more.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ticket to Ride

I need to buy a train ticket to Kyiv as it is far cheaper than driving and furthermore I have no intention of EVER driving in Kyiv. Tanya and I drove to P’yatikhatki today to get my passport stamped for another three months and to buy my ticket for Saturday morning.

P’yatikhatki is a railroad town. It has a lovely little railway station with several other buildings (administration etc.) located on a well maintained landscaped yard. There are about 24 tracks in the rail yard where the station is located. The problem of course is that the station and related buildings are all in the middle i.e. there are 12 tracks on each side. Up 50 steps to a pedestrian walkway and then down to the station yard/platform. And of course the walkway is as far from the station as it is possible to put it. A brisk 15 minute walk from parking lot to station. Younger folks can do it in 10 minutes.

I will take the Saturday morning Express train to Kyiv, arriving at 12:30. Kostia, our taxi driver, will pick me up and we’ll drive to Boryspil Airport to collect Berny at 2:00 assuming he clears customs and immigration. One problem. The Express does not stop in P’yatikhatki.

BUT it stops for 20 minutes at a non-station about 5 km out of town for crew change, technical matters and to let another train go by. The platform serves as a stuffed toy market with several stalls serving customers who hop off the train, make their purchase and hop back on. Legally, it is not a “stop” so new passengers cannot get on nor existing passengers leave the train at that location. However this is Ukraine. Andrei will get me onto the train.

My ticket is from Dnipropetrovs'k to Kyiv and cost 96 hrivnas or about $22 CAD at today’s ATM exchange rate for a 5 hour train ride in a comfortable coach.

Canada Ukraine Agrarian Development

My friend and colleague, Berny, arrives in Kyiv on Saturday. He and I are members of a small loose knit Saskatchewan-based NGO called Canada Ukraine Agrarian Development (CUAD).

CUAD’s goals are

  1. To support, foster, promote and develop patterns of sustainable agricultural production in Ukraine.
  2. To jointly pursue the development of appropriate structures for agricultural management and marketing
  3. To pursue the achievement of empowerment with people involved in the ownership and operation of their farms
  4. To mutually enhance the quality of farm operations in Ukraine
  5. To encourage farmer leadership
  6. To foster hope and enhance the lives of Ukrainian people through social development.

Berny is coming to follow up on a previous project, sound out a number of people for ideas and needs for new projects and introduce me as a CUAD member living in Ukraine to all his contacts. Our hope is that I can prove to be a useful contact for Canadians and Ukrainians in needs assessment, development and implementation of new projects. We have 10 days of meetings beginning in Kyiv, then in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

Zaporizhzhia is where the Mennonites settled in Russia at the invitation of Empress Catherine in about 1770 and from whence a large number emigrated to Canada beginning in about 1870, with the last major group, including Berny’s parents in 1924. There have been and still are a number of projects in Zaporizhzhia sponsored by people with Mennonite roots. CUAD is not limited to working in only one oblast but began in Zaporizhzhia as that was where their contacts were.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dogs Like Vacant Lots, Too, Just Like Kids

Fall days have been sunny and mild, +10º, great for working outside. Now that my back is better, Tanya is in her make-work mode again, cleaning the yard, raking leaves, digging, burning, etc. etc. etc. Bleah! But if I don’t help, she does it all herself, which is not conducive to keeping her a happy camper.

We let the pups out of their yard to play whenever someone is outside. They range about a block in all directions returning home every so often to check in. Chicken hunting is no longer a problem as long as the chickens don’t get so close they are irresistible. The marsh is east of us, there is a vacant garden lot grown high with weeds to the west of us, beside our garden. The road and pipeline make a boundary to the south. Down the road to the north live a number of dogs, a couple of which also run free on occasion and hang out with ours.

One of them is a little golden haired dog who has become Bobik’s girlfriend. Volk hangs around them but is mainly ignored. The other night when I went out to shut them in their pen, Bobik had decided to bring his girlfriend home for the night. Much as I am pro romance, I was afraid the old Babushka who owns her might worry. Bobik walked her home like a true gentleman and then came back to our yard for the night.

They love hunting in the reeds by the marsh and to their everlasting satisfaction, flushed a couple of pheasants one day. They get all wet, then walk home through the fresh ploughed garden and arrive looking like pigs. And the weeds in the vacant garden lot are home to many mice which keep the dogs hunting for hours. Doubt they ever catch any but it amuses them to no end.

I’m sure my missing slipper is out there somewhere, too. Volk loves to steal slippers. Not shoes. Too heavy. He doesn’t chew them, just carries them around, playing keep-away with Bobik until he gets bored and then drops it. I found it once but not this time.

They are now almost 10 months old, well furred out for winter and pretty well behaved, all things considered. They are no guard dogs but good dogs never the less.

Friday, October 24, 2008



Photographers and painters seem to like abandoned farms:
Weather-beaten grain bins, gray houses and stone barns,
Wagon wheels and rusted trucks, discarded farm machines.
Can’t people see the sadness of someone’s broken dreams?

What farmer hasn’t dreamed his farm would always carry on;
Or children planned to farm the land, when it became their own?
But quarrels, death or markets; hail, drought or early frost,
A dozen things take farm or farmer and the dream is lost.

Where people once planned next year’s crops with hopeful smile or laugh,
Another empty farm house stands, to paint or photograph.

Abandoned farms have always bothered me because they once were somebody's dreams now gone. Yet they are glorified in paintings and photographs as something beautiful. Maybe they are but it is a dark beauty if you take into account the human factor. My Toronto brother or his then girl-friend took the picture of our old house in 2005 and I wrote the poem the next year.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This ole house was home and comfort

This ole house was home and comfort. (Turn up the sound)

My Grandparents Hingston were married in May 1914. Grandpa joked that three months later the Great War broke out. Shortly after, they bought a farm two miles south of Cavell and moved there from the sod house on Grandpa’s original homestead which was another 6 miles further south. The house was a selling feature; I am sure, as it was big (for the time) and fairly new with white paint and green trim. It never saw another coat of paint and the shiplap siding aged to a dull grey which was the colour I always knew the house.
There wasn’t a tree anywhere in those days as the prairie fires kept them from growing. Grandpa had to haul firewood 30 miles from an Indian Reserve near Red Pheasant. Grandpa planted lots of trees around the yard; Manitoba Maples, Caragana and Lilacs. Trees that could take the drought and the cold. By 1945 when my folks got married and took over the farm, there were trees in the yard and poplar and willow trees grown up in the low spots in the fields too.

My father was born in that house in 1921, youngest of four, on Dec 18 and first came downstairs Christmas Day for dinner. Claimed he never missed a meal since. The four of us kids were born in the hospital in the nearby “big” town, but the old house was home.

The house was big but it wasn’t really. I think the two storey part was about 14 ft x 20 ft (but should check with my little brother for those details). Downstairs had a front veranda on the west side which we never used, that linked into a lean-to kitchen and unheated “backroom” which served as storage on the north side of the house. There was a big L-shaped dining and living room in the main house, with space along one wall taken up by the stairwell. The kitchen was heated by a coal and wood cook stove and the livingroom by a coal and wood space heater. That was eventually replaced by an oil burning heater which meant dad didn’t have to get up at night to keep fuel on the fire in cold weather any more.

Under the stair well was a trapdoor that opened to the cellar; a dirt hole under the house that held our vegetables and preserves. It also was home to a couple of salamanders or geckos. My little brother who was a bout 6 at the time could imitate their clicking sound perfectly and he and the salamanders would hold conversations to the amusement of the rest of us. There was another trapdoor in the “backroom” but I think the cellar had caved in or something, as I don’t ever recall us using it for anything.

The upstairs had two bedrooms. The bigger of the two was where the three of us boys slept. Mom and Dad slept in the “East Room”, a small bedroom in the south east corner, with the stairs and hallway cutting back on their space. The furnace pipe came up through the floor of our room and provided heat but Mom and Dad’s room had no heat. The house had no insulation and on bitter cold winter nights with a SE wind, they would have to sleep on the couch downstairs just to survive. When my sister was born, she slept on a cot in the folk’s room until she was six. Then I moved downstairs to the livingroom couch and she got a curtained off area in the “West Room”.

Dad always planned on building a new house. Dad always planned on a lot of things. Finally, in the early ‘60’s, Mom’s dad gave us an old house in good condition and paid for the moving and much of the renovations so mom could have running water and some warmth and comfort. I can’t remember the exact year they left the old house but it was mid-60’s because I was in University. Dad never did finish the “new” house. The nails on the trim around the windows were never countersunk and the holes filled. Maybe my brother will do that when he retires and moves back to the farm from Toronto.

He did tear down the veranda and lean-to on the old house and always planned on tearing down the rest but I think he didn’t want to as there were too many memories associated with it. So it sits empty, full of musty old junk. The rest of the farm sits empty too, waiting for my brother.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Remembering the Farm - Remembering 1961

1961 was the driest year on record, drier than the Dirty ‘30’s. Every bit of crop the grasshoppers didn’t eat, we cut to feed the cattle. Fortunately we had a stack of straw in reserve and by spring we were looking for feed where ever we could get it. The grasshopper pesticide, Dieldrin, had a big residual effect that meant you couldn’t feed animals with straw from fields that had been sprayed. It was cheap and effective but killed a few careless farmers too and was banned after that.

Chicago Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup, beating Detroit Redwings. The playoffs were in early April in those days, not in June. I had chicken-pox in October and got to listen to the World Series (we didn’t have a TV yet). New York Yankees beat the Cincinnati Reds. Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford was the hero along with first basemen Bill "Moose" Skowron. Roger Marris and Mickey Mantle had been in a tight race all season to beat Babe Ruth’s home run record. Marris won, hitting 61 homers. Because it was in more games than the Babe, the “record” was disputed ever since.

Mostly I remember my Grandma Johnson died on December 30th. I was 14 and had all four grandparents to that date, which I was told was pretty special. Grandma had not been well all summer though exactly why never was diagnosed that I know of. Grandma’s family got together that summer. Mom’s two sisters Aunts Betty and Leone and most of Mom's cousins on Grandma’s side all lived within easy driving so family get-togethers were not uncommon. (Grandpa’s relatives were all in Iowa so we hardly ever saw them). Uncle Vince was a grain buyer and Uncle Frank was a farmer like my dad. The three sisters all had teacher training but as was usual in those days they were stay-at-home mothers. All we cousins were pretty close and I loved to visit with them. Family pictures were the order of the day.

Our big after-Christmas treat was to go and see Ben Hur at the Roxy Theatre in Wilkie. It was the third movie I had ever seen; Old Yeller and The Ten Commandments being the other two. Being good Christians we didn’t go to picture shows. When we got home, we got word Grandma was gone. First time I realized that people I loved could die.