Saturday, October 31, 2009

California (Swine) Flu in Ukraine

The news, these last three days, has been full of stories about a flu epidemic in Ukraine that so far has killed more than 30 people, mostly in Western Ukraine. BBC has reported nothing yet but I expect a story on Monday. Tanya has been following it on TV news and also on while I have been following

According to MIG, H1N1 which they refer to as California flu has been confirmed in 11 cases in hospital of 30+ tested and in one death (of 1 tested) however there is a very fast acting unknown virus also at work. In Ternopil Oblast some 10,000 people have taken ill and 7 died from the unidentified virus and in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast they are referring to the virus as "pneumonic plague".

Of course, it is silly season on top of it, with presidential elections in January and campaigning "officially" starting tomorrow. All three major contenders are shouting and waving their arms trying to look and sound impressive, concerned and in charge. Yulia Timoshenko as Prime Minister is best situated to take advantage of the situation.

The government has decided to impose quarantine in nine regions of Ukraine, namely: in Transcarpathia, Khmelnitsky, Rivne, Chernivtsi, Volyn, Vinnitsa, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil Regions. The movement of people between the regions and abroad –may be under special control - it may be limited due to the epidemiological situation, Yulia Tymoshenko warned.

She has also declared three weeks of holidays for ALL educational institutes AND a ban on public events. Yushchenko was scheduled to kick off his campaign tomorrow with a rally in St Sofia Square. That is off. Yulia was scheduled to campaign in Western Ukraine. She is still going as she needs to keep on top of the situation.

She has also put ALL pharmacies under state control, ordered each to have a supply of meds and masks and threatened licence cancellation for anything that looks like price gouging. They appear to be relying on the drug Tamiflu for control of H1N1. Ukraine has been in contact with India regading supply of drugs, according to the TV news.

Anyhow we are not going anywhere for three weeks, except to the store for groceries.

The Day Dawned Clear and Cold

So we seized the opportunity to do outdoor work.

Tanya attacked her flower beds to continue getting them ready for winter. She covered planted bulbs and some small plants with leaves to provide them extra protection, built little shelters around other plants and filled them with leaves. She likes leaves from our walnut trees as she says they are "yad" or poisonous to fungi and other plant diseases. She cut off more tall flowers and put them in a large vase for the house. And the "last rose of summer", actually two of them, lovely coral blossems, that appeared just after the start of fall rains, are now gracing our kitchen table.

I attacked the dog run, cleaning it up and getting their winter bed all snug and warm (er). I raked and swept all the leaves in their yard into a huge pile, along with leaves from the driveway. There were enough dry leaves that the pile burned, more or less. Lots of smoke but the wind was away from our house towards the marsh.

The dogs had a good run while we were working. Kuchma came over to see them and went to rub up against Volk in a friendly fashion as cats do. Volk promptly rolled over on his back in submission (or maybe he thought Kuchma would give him a tummy rub?). When I was cleaning up inside the room where their bed is, I noticed their eating habits. They each have a food dish into which I pour their dry dog food pellets, usually enough for two or three days, spilling some on the floor too. Volk eats the ones off the floor first, then eats from the dish. Bobik empties his dish then cleans up the floor.

It is now 7:00 pm and -2C. It will be cold tonight.

Happy Halloween, Everyone

Last year I created some controversy by posting a large pair of buttcheeks painted like a jack-o-lantern. This year I decided to go all Sweetness and Light. Just to confuse people.

Trick or treat?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Old Slides and Old Soldiers

In April 1991, I and several other members of a Saskatchewan trade mission to Kazakhstan had two free days in Moscow while our team leader, mentor and magician was busy turning two cartons of Marlboroughs into two more air tickets to Almaty. It was still the Soviet Union in those days, though the coming August would be the end of it.

We decided to spend a day in the Moscow Kremlin which as well as being the seat of Soviet (and now Russian) government is also wall to wall museums. Piled up against the armory were the actual cannons that the actual Napoleon had abandon on his actual ill-fated attempt to capture Moscow. The reality of history was suddenly overwhelming to this Saskatchewan boy.

Many of the museums were Cathedrals some of which are now back in service (so to speak) for state occasions. One of them was the Uspenski Sobor or Cathedral of the Assumption. Photos were forbidden so I bought a set of 18 professional slides. They were in gorgeous colour and well worth the extortive price charged to foreigners.

The slides spent years in my desk drawer for want of a better place to put them, always with the idea of turning them into photographs for an album. Today I dug them out and scanned them. Many years too late as every one had faded to sepia tones.

Anyone with slides who doubts the warning that their quality does not last might look at these pictures. The coloured ones I pulled off the web from several sites.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Soddenly it began to rain

It rained again* this morning. Not much, just enough to keep everything damp, cold and clammy. The ground is covered with leaves too wet to rake. We have a pile of well rotted manure to spread on our garden waiting for the ground to be either dry enough or frozen enough to spread it. Kuchma has to have his feet cleaned off before he is allowed in the house, though occassionally he gets muddy cat tracks halfway across the living room before he is caught.

Today I took two sacks of sunflower seed to the local crusher for Lena and Roman. 40 kg of seed got them 12 kg of sunflower oil for cooking. The crusher makes his money on any oil over 30% plus the value of the meal. Ukrainians have been doing this for generations. Tanya will only cook with sunflower oil and says our Canola oil is only good for making bio-diesel. Phooey to her, too. Canola oil is very healthy and great for cooking, if you ask me.

Our friends, Volodya Fychak and his partner Oksana, from Krimenchug are coming for supper and the night. We haven't had a good visit with them for a few months now as they have both been busy with their cattle genetics company. Tanya is roasting chicken as I write and it smells so wonderful.

We are back on Standard Time now so it gets dark by 5:30. Ah, well, every day is a day closer to spring.

*A few years back, in one of my classes, I asked the students when the most rain fell in Ukraine. I was told FALL. Not true, it just seems like it. They do get rain in the fall - Oct, Nov, Dec are wetter than eg Saskatchewan by more than double but most rain is in spring and summer.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Day of Reckoning

There is no accounting for taste as the old lady said when she kissed her cow.

Today I set out to get my financial records sorted out from well before we left for Canada and tally up what it costs to go visit my kids. Accounting is not my idea of a good time. Visiting my kids is.

Airfare (Turkish Air and WestJet) was $2550 in total for the two of us . Dnipropetrovsk Regina return, including three nights in a great little hotel in Istanbul. It would have been even cheaper if I had not had to shuffle the WestJet tickets twice. Trying to match seat sales on two airlines is tricky.

In Canada we spent about $5000. $500 went on gasoline for May-B's car as we put 5200 km on it in two weeks (Thank you, my wonderful daughter). My mobile phone cost me about $200 for the month. Prepaid is NOT cheap. We only had one motel bill, thanks to strategically scattered kids and other relatives. Eating in restaurants is not cheap either and though we sponged as many meals as possible, we still took people out to dine and also ate while on the road. Teenburgers at 2 for $6.00 helped to satisfy my craving for North American food.

Clothing, for Tanya, for me but mostly for the family back in Ukraine. A winter coat for Masha and so forth. And stuff for the house like good quality bedding and bathroom accessories which we could never find in Ukraine - until after we buy it in Canada and ship it home. Then we can find it on the local shops. Go figure.

We went to Canada with three suitcases and returned home with four plus two boxes to ship, though to be fair the boxes are mostly stuff of mine that was in storage at May-B's. I still have 6 boxes of books at her place that need to be sorted. But we eliminated a number of boxes of souvenirs collected over the years from all over the world for which she was thankful.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Catholic Atheists

Yesterday's blog questionaire about religious beliefs reminde me of a story out of Northern Ireland some years back of a gunman who jumps out of a doorway, holds a gun to a man's head and asks, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “Actually,” says the man, “I'm an atheist.” “Ah, yes,” replies the gunman, “but are you a Catholic or a Protestant atheist?”

The question actually makes more sense than it seems. If one is a non-believer, one must be a non-believer of something. What is it that one does not believe in? Usually it is whatever religious culture one was raised in. If I were an atheist, I would have to become a fundamentalist Protestant atheist.

It would be pretty tough for me to be an Orthodox atheist or a Muslim atheist or a Catholic atheist since I never grew up in any of those particular religious cultures.

I could never be an atheist anyhow. It takes way too much faith to believe there is no God.

Where do you belong?

Snowbrush posted this link on his blog. You answer 20 questions and it slots you into which of 27 religious faiths you most closely fit. I agree with the first slot but the rest???

My top five results:
1. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (100%)
2. Reform Judaism (94%)
3. Baha'i Faith (92%)
4. Liberal Quakers (88%)
5. Sikhism (85%)

Have you read Marx?

Yes. I think it is this chair I am sitting on.

My daughter is struggling through "The Communist Manifesto" for her exams in Victorian literature, so I decided to do some studying myself into what exactly is the ideology underlying "Communism". I more or less thought I knew what "Communism" did, how it functioned and have certainly seen the results. But what did Marxist Leninist ideology or dictatorship of the proletariat actually mean? These terms have been thrown around over the years by pseudo political scientists who likely had no more idea than I.

I used quotation marks above because Tanya insists that the Soviet Union never was "Communist" per se, that it never progressed past "Socialism". Talk about confusing this poor boy who always thought socialism was government provision of social safety net programs such as health, welfare, unemployment insurance and education (ie looked after its citizens) while the economy was strictly capitalist.

My main sources in this exporation have been Wikipedia and with a little help from . I have found a number of interesting definitions which I shall post over time. I can assure you that with statements like "Marxism is the theory of dialectical materialism based on communist practice", my head hurts.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Women Want

Tanya was busy on the phone this morning organizing our day. Finally, she turned and headed for the stairs, "Let's go. Do you need more time?"
"No, I was just waiting for instructions; for you to tell me what you want."
"You are 62 years old and you don't know what women want?"
"Not a clue."
"Women only want three things".

A little later we were driving downtown and she said, "Have you got money? I don't have any."
"Yes, here is 500 hrivnas. That is one."

Then, later she was showing off to Roman her new silver jewelry we bought in Istanbul.
"OK. That's two. What is the third?"
"I'll tell you tonight."

Who knew life was so simple?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Another Day

Tanya was talking to Masha yesterday on the phone.
"Please give the phone to your mother; I need to ask her something."
"Ask me."
"No, I need to talk to your mother. You won't know the answer."
"Ask me. I can try."
Her mother takes the phone, Masha bursts into tears because her beloved Babushka won't ask her whatever question. Kids.

Oh, by the way, Tanya, Masha's mom, can wear Masha's clothes. The white dress and the winter coat that we bought her both "fit" Tanya. Her arms stick way out of the sleeves and of course they are too short but the body fits. Masha is a very slender six year old. I guess that means Tanya is a VERY slender 32 year old.

When they were out for their run today, one of my dogs stole one of my Tanya's good running shoes . I thought the dogs were over stealing shoes as it had not happened for a year. They don't steal them to chew, just to carry until they get bored and we have to look for it. Took a while but we found it. Saved two lives. Mine and likely Volk's.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Going to Kyiv for Ribs

Yesterday we took the Express train to Kyiv (and back) in order to enjoy a feast of ribs from TGI Fridays. A long day. 18 hours bed to bed, 16 hours door to door and 14 hours station to station with 5 hours in Kyiv. It was a fun trip but we were dead tired when we got home.

Actually we went to deliver packages from friends in Canada for their relatives in Kyiv.

And the ribs were nowhere as good as Tony Roma's in West Edmonton Mall. Tanya says she will remember those babyback ribs for a long time. I think Tony Roma's has replaced the Chinese restaurant in Calgary's Deerfoot Mall as Tanya's favourite restaurant in Canada

Mutant Walnuts?

When we were in P'yatikhatki on Thursday, Volodya gave us some unusually large walnuts from his tree. They are huge relative to the normal ones from our trees, with thick highly convoluted shells (if that is the right word). The meat inside is more than from our normal walnuts but not as much more as one would think from the size of the nut.

Planting them results in a tree that yields normal walnuts. Puzzel for the day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Elevated Status

Yesterday we went to the post office to collect Tanya's second shipment of flowers (100 crocus bulbs and a few other bulbs in need of fall planting). We drove the worst 2 km only to find the road blocked by a trenching crew repairing water lines and had to retrace our route. The alternate route proved even worse. As in horse or mule track worse. So once we had the package, we headed across country on the backroads to P'yatikhatki where we stopped for tea at our friends Valya and Volodya.

Got another update on the elevator ownership scandal. Seems the owner friend of Tanya's was less than honest herself when the elevator was privatized. Instead of shares going to employees, they went to her son instead or something like that. Anyhow her face is on a wanted poster issued by the P'yatikhatki authorities and she, having skimmed some $20 million in profits by over charging farmers for storage among other things, is reportedly on the lam in Greece.

Which explains why Tanya had little sympathy for her from the beginning. Isn't it fun?

Remembering Aunt Leone

Most of what I remember about Aunt Leone dates to my youth. I loved going to Bakers to visit. Baker Ranch was exactly 40 miles west of ours on the other side of the road but Tramping Lake being in the way, the detour around by Unity was 70 miles. Terry, Ross, Stan and I would spend most of our time playing outside in the bale stacks when we were younger and down in the basement shooting pool (or the breeze) when we were older. Ev, Wendy and Sandy hung out together doing whatever it is that young girls do (play with dolls and dream of soldiers?).

Aunt Leone was six years younger than my mom, always beautiful and classy, smiling and cheerful. She was always bustling about, too, especially at family dinners and get togethers. She never seemed to be still until everyone was fed and the place cleaned up. Her house was always clean and shining and her flowers outside so lovely, characteristics of her mother, too.

While Grandma and Grandpa were alive, the Johnson sisters and their families got together quite often during the year, especially Easter and Boxing Day. The families were close enough together that traveling wasn’t a problem and the 10 cousins got along famously.

Dinners in the big country kitchen of Aunt Leone’s were to be looked forward to and over consumption was the rule of the day. Aunt Leone could and did cook up a storm. Sweet potatoes were a regular item, something different in the 50’s when food tended to be pretty plain fare and even Chinese Food was unheard of.

Once the cousins started bringing spouses and partners, the old people hid in the living room and the young folks were relegated to the kitchen. I recall once, likely the first year I was married as I am sure Ella was there, making a side comment to Nancy out of the blue about an undertaker who was in dead earnest. Nancy got the giggles so bad, Aunt Leone came out to see what was going on, flashed her big smile and went back to the living room. Close call.

One of the reasons I loved Aunt Leone was that my father didn’t quite approve of her. She had freedom and she had opinions, both of which in a woman were an anathema to my father and both of which she exercised as the spirit moved her. I think my father was always afraid she would infect my mother. Too bad she didn’t.

As we all grew older, distance and responsibilities intervened, visits grew less frequent but I was always so happy to see her whenever opportunity arose. One this trip home, something told me we better not miss out and Tanya and I stopped in for a short visit. I am so glad we did because three weeks later she was gone.

Now she is at peace with herself and the world, reunited with that great big wonderful teddy-bear husband of hers. I am sure Uncle Frank was glad to see her. I can hear his laugh and his booming voice “Well, you sure took your time!”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Putting in a Plug for Snowbrush

Snowbrush is a blogger that I recently discovered, actually following him home from my blog or was it Rob Bear's. His blogs are well thought out and not the rants that some of mine are. I particularily recommend Something of substance and Some news stories keep me awake nights because I understand them; others because I don’t but read them all.

Hard Times

Our "homeless" neighbour is gone, the man from Russia, with no documents, who moved into the cottage next door after Lucia's mother died in April. I think he got into the Vodka again in spite of wanting to quit. He apparently gathered all the (scrap or otherwise) metal in the yard and sold it so the owner turfed him. We had enough work for him all fall if he were still here. He was such a good worker. Last spring he cleared off the abandoned garden behind the cottage, spaded it black and planted a garden. The owner said he never harvested anything from it. It is so sad. He told Tanya once that he drank because he had no job and no hope of ever finding one, essentially no future.

Tanya was in the post office today when an old lady came in to collect her monthly pension. 600 hrivna or about $70 USD. She told Tanya she would pay her gas and electric bill but didn't know what she would do for money after that. Gardens were very poor in our area as we had no rain so there was not much yield and the villagers especially the older ones depend a great deal on their gardens. There was a young man in the Post Office who told Tanya he didn't know where he was going to find work, there was nothing. It will be a tough winter.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Butchart Gardens

Tanya and I were looking at our pictures from our trip this morning. The largest collection by far is of The Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Butchart Gardens is the number one tourist attraction in Victoria. Given Tanya's love of flowers, it was our second most important reason for going to Victoria, visiting with Ky being first.

Their website has hundreds of beautiful pictures taken during all seasons and there are likely thousands more on the web. Anyone who loves flowers and botanical gardens should certainly visit and if close enough, buy a one-year pass. Tanya and I could go every day. She says of we ever move to Victoria, she will apply to work there.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It takes a village to raise a flower

Tanya's mail order of plants and bulbs was scheduled to arrive while we were away. She left the money with Lucia and instructions with Lena. The shipment comes from The Netherlands and of course, with living plants, time is of the essence.

One of our neighbours heard that the mail lady was off sick and called Lucia. Lucia sent Zhenia to the village post office to see if the package had arrived. Our village is essentially a road on each side of the Yellow River several km long with yards of varying sizes, like a strung out acreage development. The Village Centre is 5 km from our place. One drives the first 2 km at between 5 and 10 kmph and the next 3 km at between 15 and 20 kmph. Going to the Post Office is not a task to be taken lightly. The Post Office was closed.

One of the men whose milk cow passes our corner enroute to pasture everyday works at the Selski Soviet or village council office which is located next door to the post office. Lucia gave him the money to pay for the package and in due course it arrived and the plants were plante and watered. Survival is questionable but the company stands behind its sales with replacements.

Yesterday we thanked the lady who had tipped off Lucia that the package would need to be picked up.

One Up - Finally

When we got on board Turkish Air in Toronto, they handed out a complementary pack of socks, sleep mask and foam earplugs. Tanya said if I snored she would push the earplugs into my nose.

A moment later, a very attractice woman decided Tanya's seat 10K was really her seat 10D. I looked at Tanya, looked at the woman, looked at Tanya, looked at the woman and made the "indecisive" hand waggle.

On the bus from the airplane to the terminal in Dnipropetrovsk, a young woman offered Tanya her seat.

Home again

It is hard to get back blogging again after three weeks not. I hope a few former readers will find me again. We arrived home Sunday afternoon. Andrei and Tanya met us at the airport and Lena and Roman had supper waiting when we got to the house. First stop was to pick up Masha of course. She and Babushka were very glad to see each other, needless to say. Bobik and Volk were glad to see me, too. Kuchma was rather indiffferent to it all as he was out of cat food for a day and unhappy about it.

Yesterday we mostly slept, did laundry and went for groceries. A mouse would have starved in our pantry. Today Tanya and Lena are planting fall flowers and next year's garlic crop. It is +26 outside but the forecast is for a week of rain. It is that time of year.

So I am back in the land of manual transmissions and potholed roads. Hard to tell which smells worse - the January presidential election for which campaigning is well underway or the freshly manured garden across the road from our house.