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.