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".