Friday, August 29, 2008

Food Prices

Tanya and I went grocery shopping yesterday so I made a note of some of the prices in the markets for vegetables and meat. I saved the grocery receipt but at the moment I can’t find it on my desk so can’t remember the price of milk, cheese or bread or bottled water. Next time.
Some explanations. It is fall so vegetables are at their lowest price as most are supplied locally. Not sure where all the fruit comes from, much from Crimea, I expect. Eggs are sold in 10’s, no packaging. Plastic bag and be careful. The chicken, pork and beef are prices from the wet market. It is not the Safeway meat case by any stretch. Chicken is whole or cut up the way we are used to in Canada while beef and pork are still cut with a knife and giant cleaver into pieces. If you are familiar with how a carcass looks, you can sometimes recognize where the piece came from. Very little price differentiation between cuts though there is some.

Ground pork is from the meat counter in the local grocery store as are the rest of the prices. Sausage (Kielbasa) ranges from 30 to 50 UAH with a few brands up to double that. Bologna and related runs from 20 to 40 UAH. The liquor prices I remember from shopping for Tanya’s party.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good grief, she is digging again

It must be officially fall as Tanya is back in her flower garden. She is never happier than when she is up to her elbows in mud, digging holes to plant or transplant flowers. Three months in spring and early summer, with a two month hiatus. Yesterday it was moving peonies, today planting tulips and dividing and transplanting flowers she had set out in the spring. We cut down a couple of trees to make a sunnier location for the plants and will be taking out a few more before we are done.
Tomorrow it is moving strawberries to their permanent home. She moved an old bed to a temporary location for the summer to make room for flowers in spring. She is slowly getting a plan in her mind where things will be. I will dig the soil up and she will do the moving of them to a permanent bed.

In a few years we will have lawn, flower beds, orchard and kitchen garden all as she wants. I have to admit her flower beds look lovely and I am sure proud of her work. And I need the exercise.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Birds and Cats

Once the little swallows flew away, we shut the door to the passageway where their nest had been. But they kept coming back and hanging around trying to get inside. And they brought friends. One day I counted 17 flying around and perching on the roof. Must have been a good season for them. I hope they don't all try to build nests inside our passageway next year or we'll be knee deep in guano. Last night the door was left open and this morning there were several inside waiting for us perched on the gas pipe or flying around. We shoo'd them outside. the floor wasn't bad.

Cat lovers will already know all this stuff I expect, but I am learning from our cat Kuchma that they really are quite clever. I know all the jokes about dogs have masters and cats have staff. To me, cats are good for catching mice and birds, jumping on the table and eating butter and sleeping in the sun. Lazy and not too bright (like me). Well, Kuchma is lazy but pretty smart too. He talks to us. Sentences. All meows but different lengths, tones and expressions. Who knew? Mostly to do with let me in or out, feed me, the water dish is empty, rub my tummy or stroke my fur. He has learned not to sleep on the bed or at least not to get caught. And since we put a towel on the couch, he is quite happy to sleep there.

Plying one's trade as a Tom Cat in our neighbourhood is pretty tough on Kuchma as he only weighs about 3 or 4 lbs. He has a bald spot as big as a nickle in the middle of his head with four very deep teeth marks in it. That he got last spring. Now he is also lame on his right hind leg. No obvious external injuries and poking and prodding have not elicited any untoward responses. We may have to take him to the vet when we take the pups for their booster shots.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Georgia on my Mind

Anyone who hasn’t been glued to the Olympics these past two weeks will have noticed the news has been full of Russia’s invasion of Georgia*. The Abkhazians and South Ossetians, supported by Russia, have been poking sticks at the Georgian dog for some time now, which finally snapped and unwisely bit back. Russia has now declared the dog vicious and has in effect shot it. It is quite funny to hear the Russians imitate American rationale for invading and beating up on small relatively defenseless countries. They do not do it nearly as well.

Everyone is quite angry at Russia, of course, but you have to see their point, too. All the former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe are already in or desperately want into NATO to save their butts from just what happened in Georgia. NATO being All for One and One for All in defense against USSR/Russia. How would the Americans react if Central and South American countries had started signing onto the Warsaw Pact back in the Cold War days to save their behinds from the USA?

Hah, that’s a no brainer. We almost had a nuclear war when the Russians tried to put missiles in Cuba, though the USA had them in Turkey. Fair is not fair, depending on who you are. Yet I am sure that if Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador etc. thought it would have worked they would have tried. Any time they tried to install a government (by fair election or overthrow of a dictator) that cared more about its people than American business interests, they got slapped upside the head for being “Communists”.

Georgia, too, was all about business, though the Russian invasion played well with the crowds back home, who are feeling quite nationalistic. Russia doesn’t need nukes these days. They have gas and oil and Europe needs it. Badly. Russia has already demonstrated a willingness to let Western European bastards freeze in the dark, to coin a phrase, if they mess with the Bear. They have muscled in on distribution channels (pipelines). “You want our oil and gas? Then you will sell us a (controlling) interest in your pipelines”.

But pipelines from the Caspian Sea oil patch, controlled by Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan can pass through Georgia and avoid Russian control. So Russia has to protect her interests. It will be interesting to see what happens next to rescue Georgia but my guess is nothing. If I were president of Georgia, I’d be looking for the back way out in a hurry.
My real fear is Ukraine will be next. There is a fair Russian population mostly east of the Dnieper River and then there is Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Crimea has been Russian since the 18th century and before that it was ruled by the Crimean Tatars and the Ottoman Empire and before that… It NEVER was part of Ukraine. Until 1954.

On the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav (under which Bogdan Khmelnitsky traded Polish overlordship for Russian overlordship, though he didn’t realize it at the time) an allegedly drunken Khrushchev “gave” Crimea to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine. In those days it didn’t matter as borders were merely administrative anyhow. Now it matters.

Crimeans are, by and large, Russians, though they are currently citizens of Ukraine. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is HQ’d in Sevastopol, now a Ukrainian sea port. Yushchenko, in a show of solidarity with Georgia, just told Putin that he wants 72 hours notice before any ships are moved out again and that Ukraine may not renew the Sevastopol port contract with Russia when it comes up.

Don’t go ‘way folks and don’t change that dial.

*For the geographically and historically challenged, I referenced Wikipedia. You know who you are. I could name a large country full of them but will save that for another blog.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Masha's Mobile

Masha loves having her mother's old mobile phone to talk to her Babushkas. Yesterday she phoned Tanya to say she had been at the shop with her mother and had asked for some toys. Her mother had refused and she was upset. Tanya replied that she had a house full of toys and didn't need any more.

Masha says, "They are all broken, Babushka".

Tanya says, "Well, that is your fault. You need to be more careful. Besides, you need books, not toys. You will start kindergarten this fall and need to learn to read. You do not need more toys".

"Babushka, I will not talk to you any more". Click.

But she phoned her back last night and said "When you get up tomorrow morning, will you go to Maxim and say hello to him from me".

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Married life

When married men get together in Canada they tell jokes like this:
Q: What food reduces a woman's sex drive 90%?
A: Wedding cake.
Q: How do you paralyze a woman from the waist down?
A: Marry her.
Q: What position is most common for love making between married couples?
A: Doggy style. The Husband sits up and begs. The Wife rolls over and plays dead.

When married women get togetherin Ukraine, they tell jokes like this:
Three women are walking home late at night. In the darkness they stumble over a naked man passed out on the roadside. They cannot see who it is. The first woman puts her hand on his privates and says, "It is not my husband". The second woman does the same and says, "No, Halya, it is not your husband". The third woman repeats the action and says, "Why, he is not from our village at all."

For May-b

Q: Someone has told me that PMS is mentioned in the Bible. Is that true? Where can it be found?
A: Yes. Matthew 14:92: "And Mary rode Joseph's ass all the way to Egypt ."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Flowers and Trees of Late Summer

The air is filled with the smell of burning as people take advantage of tinder dryness to clean fields, meadows, ditches, yards and gardens. It has not rained since mid-July. It is hot…damned hot. Temperatures have hit the upper 30º’s by noon every day in August.

When we got back from Turkey we removed the tin foil from our West windows, for some reason I no longer recall..We may no longer be considered trailer park trash by my daughter but my office is 30º by night fall. At least the nights are cool*. It goes down to 15º so we can sleep.

The brilliant reds of spring and summer have been replaced by the golds and rusts of Zinias and Marigolds and the pinks of Cosmos and Hollyhocks. Many flowers in the beds along the street have already gone to seed. The petunias, of course, struggle ever onwards until winter stops them completely.

The carefully tended graves of April have grown to weeds, grass and wildflowers. They rest peacefully in the heat of the day. though some have been lovingly tended for the second time, it almost seems a shame to disturb them..

Mountain ash trees and other berry shrubs are bright orange and red, ready to feed the birds over winter. Rosehips by September will be ready to dry for winter tea.

* ♫♫The nights are cool, and I’m a fool; each star’s a pool of water…cool water♫♫. Sorry about that. Bursting into song on cue is a family tradition. It doesn’t only happen in movies and on Broadway. Never use the word “Sisters” around Ky and Lyn, for example.

Wasn’t that a party?

My beloved Tanya hit the big 5-0 on Friday along with Vladimir Putin. Madonna and Ahnold the Gubernator turned 50 on Saturday the day of Tanya’s party.
Galina , a friend from Moscow, arrived on Friday morning. Lena came after work on Friday night. Roman had been here since Tuesday. Saturday morning Sveta Romanenko, Tanya’s niece, arrived. Friday was spent cooking; Saturday morning relaxing until about noon.

The party began at 3:00 pm as we crowded 15 people into our living room around our big table and our patio table. Zhenia and Lucia, Katya and Yuri, two neighbour couples, Valya and Volodya, Tanya’s long time friends from P’yatikhatki, Andrei and Tanya and Tanya’s mom, Natasha filled out the crowd. Five people who previously were coming had sent regrets. Two had to work and three were still at the Black Sea on holidays. If they had showed up, I have no idea where we’d have sat them. Masha and Maxim were too anxious to play to eat anything so we let them run off. And it was hot. It has been in the mid 30º’s all month and the house was about 30º with so many people.

Everyone brought flowers, of course. Tanya loved the live plants that came in pots. She now has five new plants. The sweetest was from Maxim who gave her a tiny pot with a tiny African Violet which he himself had slipped and grown “for his friend Tanya”. The boy is a natural gardener.
There was twice enough food, of course. Two salads (including Olivier, my favourite), roast chicken, shashlik, battered and fried fish, battered and fried cauliflower, cold cuts, bliny stuffed with mushrooms, smoked fish, raw veggies and more. I made sure everyone took too much so the puppies ate well afterwards too.

Shashlik for the uninitiated is shish kabob pork. We cut 5 kgs of pork into 1.5 to 2” cubes which were marinated for 24 hours in mayonnaise and lemon juice, then skewered and BBQ’d on natural coals. That was Roman’s contribution. He is a first class shashlik chef.

Lucia brought the cake and is contracted for my birthday. It was sooo good!!!

Everyone took turns toasting Tanya. Galina translated all the wonderful wishes and complements for me. Dinner lasted until 7:00 pm and by 8:00 pm everyone who was going home had gone. The rest of us sat around and visited until 1:00 am (except me, I grabbed a 3 hour nap in between). Galina and Sveta left at 11:00 Sunday morning and Lena and Roman at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Sunday evening I took my sadly neglected puppies for a long walk.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Masha's Kot

Today we went to vist Masha and meet her new cat, named Kiray. He is a two month old kitten who has already made himself at home and is soaking up all the love and affection he can get. He sleeps with Masha, watches cartoons with Masha, plays with Masha. She is turn is reveling in having a friend. When Tanya phoned to see if we could come over Masha said "I can't talk now. I am busy petting the cat".

Monday, August 11, 2008

Masha's Birthday

Today, my step-granddaughter Maria (Masha) is five years old. We went this morning to wish her happy birthday "С днем рожденья!" and take her her gifts. She is getting a cat for her birthday so we brought her a little house*/bed for the cat, water and food dishes and most importantly a litter box. Masha is so excited to finally have a "friend" (her words) in her apartment.

Later in the day her parents drove her to Dnipropetrovsk to buy a cat. She is allergic to some cats so they needed to find a cat with very little hair**. She phoned her Babushka a little while ago (she has her own phone, her mother's old mobile, which she uses mainly to call her Babushkas) to tell her they had purchased a non-pedigreed Scottish Blue.

*No comments please about cat houses.
** If a camel with no hump is called Humphrey, any suggestions what to call a cat with no hair?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Singin' the Blues

A coyote's cry under a full harvest moon may remind prairie dwellers of the vast loneliness of the western plains. The howl of a timber wolf on a cold winter night may send shivers down the spine of the Mountie in his lonely log cabin (on the fourth floor of RCMP headquarters in Ottawa). But when Bobik and Volk decide to serenade us at 2:00 am, our emotions are much different.
Usually when Tanya speaks to them they listen up but good. Not at night. They listen to me. When I yell at them out teh bedroom window, they quieten right down. It is like they understand "Shut up you stupid mutts or I'll beat you within an inch of your life". Their master's voice.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Still Beating After All This Time

Since we got back from Turkey, I have been increasingly tired to the point of exhaustion. By late afternoon, I could go to bed for the night but would still be tired in the morning. So this morning, Dr. Tanya, Veterinarian, decided to take my blood pressure. 120 over 80. Not bad in my books but my pulse was 50, then 45. No idea what this means other than I think I am suffering from a coffee deficiency but Tanya calls her friend Ira (pronounced Ear-a, short for Irina) a nurse who runs the Pharmacy Kiosk in our little grocery store.

Her doctor husband Valerie scoots over on his scooter to check me out and decides we need an ECG since I don’t have a recent one on me. In Ukraine, your medical records are yours and your responsibility to look after which makes more sense to me than the Canadian system where your doctor holds them captive in case you might want to see another doctor. Valerie calls the hospital which sends the ambulance. They bring in a cute portable ECG machine in a bag and start to hook it up. When they pull out all the cables and wires to attach to me, I ask if they learned their trade at the Lubyanka which gets a laugh (and Tanya repeats the joke the rest of the morning).

The doctor isn’t sure about the portable ECG readout so we are bundled into the ambulance and head for the hospital. The only thing which might have drawn more attention in our neighbour hood would have been if the police had taken me away with sirens and blue flashing lights. The ambulance is a mid-80’s full size van, with a driver and two “paramedics”, a stretcher, first aid kit, oxygen and portable ECG. On the way up the hill on Moscovskaya St., the ambulance flatlines so they call in a back up. It is an army-green Russian-built 4WD that by western standards should have seen service in the Spanish Civil War.

At the hospital I get another ECG which is taken upstairs to the cardiologist who reports back in a few minutes that it is good, no problems. A nurse comes and takes a blood sample for haemoglobin and sugar among other things. Twenty minutes later, the lab report is back. All is well. Blood sugar is 6 which is the high end of normal though it didn’t surprise me any, since I had scarfed down two kolbassa sandwiches along with a cup of coffee two hours earlier while waiting for the ambulance.

So Tanya is all happy. I will not die on her just yet. I am well and healthy, just need to eat more fruit and veggies and less sweets (and drink slightly more coffee and one cognac per day). I feel better already.

When I do pass on to my reward, she is supposed to cremate me and ship the ashes home in an urn to be dropped in a post hole in the family plot. It might be simpler just to give my corpse an enema and mail the body home in a shoe box.

I Jump Over the Wall

Bobik is being a brat. Brat, by the way, is the Russian word for brother (I can hear sisters everywhere saying Amen to that). He has discovered he can jump over the makeshift fence at the back of their yard. Bobik takes a running leap, hooks his front feet over and scrambles up and over to freedom. If I put him back in the yard, he is out and waiting at the front door for me before I get back. Volk just cannot figure it out so stays in his yard and crys by the gate.

Personally, I'd just let them both go but they roam the neighbourhood, chase chickens and cats and unforgiveably, hold wrestling matches in Tanya's flowerbeds. We have raised the fence several times but now need to rebuild it completely I guess.

Ukraine Wheat harvest

Last weekend we drove out to the village where my Step Daughter in Law, Lena, grew up and where her mother still lives. It is about 2 hours east of Dnipropetrovs'k while we are two hours west. Saw a lot of new country. Winter wheat harvest is almost complete and much of the land is already worked in preparation for reseeding in early Sept. Corn crop is elephant-eye high and even and sunflowers are everywhere (like canola in Sask in mid 90’s the year it (almost?) overtook wheat as the big dollar generator). Lena says wheat ran about 6t/ha (88 bu/ac) and as high as 8t/ha.

Lena and her mom have 27 hectares (includes her grandmothers share) of the old collective farm where her mom worked. They lease it out to a private farmer. Their crop share is 7 tonnes for the 27 ha but they pay no land taxes or crop expenses. Wheat was 1000 UAH ($230 CAD) in spring and is now 600 UAH ($138 CAD). They sold 3 t for cash and will store 4 t in their garage/storage shed. Grain is still pretty much flat stored except on the new more modern and better financed farms and for small quantities like Lena’s crop share, it is bagged.

Lena’s village used to have about 1500 people but there are fewer than 700 there now. Anyone who can leave has left. There are abandoned homes and apartments everywhere. It is well off the beaten track and far from both Dnipropetrovs'k and Donetsk so residential property has no value. At some point they may sell their farm land but for now it has not enough value to buy a home in the city so they will keep it.

We visited friends of Lena and Roman’s at another village. A young couple, with a couple of kids, struggling to make it work. He works for a private farm. A scooter provides transportation. They build a new house and converted the old house into sheds and stables. They have a couple of cows, some pigs, the usual chickens and geese and a big kitchen garden. Anyone longing for the good old days of small farms and "pure" food is likely welcome to change places with them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An American Tale

A redneck farm hand radios back to his boss, the farm manager: 'Boss, I gotta big problem here. I hit a pig with the pickup. The pig's ok but he's stuck in the bull bar at the front of my pickup and is wriggling and squealing so much I can't get him out'.
The manager says, 'OK there's a Wichester behind the seat, take it out and shoot the pig in the head and you'll be able to remove him'.
Five minutes later the farm hand calls back. 'I did as you said, Boss. Took the rifle and shot the pig in the head and removed him from the bull-bars. No problem there, but I still can't go on.'
'Now what's the problem?' raged the manager..
'Well Boss, it's his motor bike. The flashing blue light is stuck under the right front wheel. You still there Boss?'

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Lena is the partner of my Step-son Roman. She will be 30, two days before my birthday. She is enrolled in a Doctorate program in Agricultural Economics in one of the Institutes in Dnipropetrovsk. In Ukraine, doctoral graduate students are called Aspirants. She also works full time for the Institute and is still supposed to be meeting deadlines on her dissertation. Roman works when his health allows it but this summer he has been in hospital with pneumonia. Needless to say they have almost no money once the rent is paid.

Her mother still lives in the little farming village where Lena grew up. She is very ill with diabetes and finds it a struggle to walk or work, though she manages to look after 20+ geese all summer. They have a garden behind the now abandoned cottage where her grandmother used to live but it is three km from the apartment. The garden and the geese provide food for the three of them in the winter. In the summer Lena goes home many weekends (three hours on the bus) and all her holidays to plant, weed, harvest and preserve garden. In fall, she will kill and process the geese, canning them into three-litre jars.

The only handicap Lena doesn't have in her life right now is a child, though I think Tanya might have a comment about Roman at this point.

She and her mother are the last of the family as each was an only child. Lena's father abandoned them when she was young. Lena said to me one day, "I have no Papa. Will you be my Papa?" Needless to say, I now have (another) adopted daughter whom I love dearly. I can hardly wait for my kids to meet her.