Monday, May 31, 2010

The View from Ukraine

Some comments on an article that appeared in the July 2009 Country Guide about agriculture in Ukraine.  I sent this to the consultant who was the source of the article's information.  His comments were blunt but pretty close to the mark.

Privatization was a huge problem for the entire FSU.  Assets could not be sold as there was no money and the assets belonged to everyone i.e. everyone was entitled to the same amount as the next person.  The people who had accumulated money were those who were able to take advantage of their positions in the Soviet government to skim, collect bribes, etc.

Just an aside: In Stalin’s time, people were too worried about just staying alive to try to make money.  There was little or NO theft, bribery or corruption in those days, just the usual wide separation in living standards according to one’s position (the system that was supposed to do away with class structure actually exacerbated it, especially when goods were scarce).

Such enterprises that were privatized were sold for cents on the dollar, because no one had money to pay and because most was done on inside deals.  Also many were in similar shape to the farm machinery in the article and required huge investments to modernize.  The common masses felt (and still feel) cheated that the industries which used to bring revenue that was spent on everyone are now lining the pockets of the oligarchs while the general population is actually worse off than under Brezhnev, when as is pointed out in the article living standards were at their historical highest in the USSR. None of them understand why the system was unsustainable.  It had much to do with the lack of checks and balances.  There was no private sector, no NGO or civil society sector, there was only THE PARTY and non-conformists were frowned on to say the least.  Consequently for the last 30 years of the USSR, productivity of combined capital and labour actually fell 1% per year.
Decisions were made in Moscow at the highest level possible because taking responsibility was dangerous.  The only way to get ahead was to move up the system and there was only one system. So competition was more than fierce.  Any mistakes were immediately followed by seeking someone to blame (the system i.e. the party could NOT be wrong so it had to be someone’s fault.  In Stalin’s time it was “saboteurs and counter revolutionists – enemies of the people”).  So you handed responsibility off as fast as possible so you were not left holding the hot potato when the music stopped.  The results of that were evident through out the system.  Fish rotted waiting for Moscow to tell them to lift the nets.  Kazakhstan still starts seeding May 15 because that was what Moscow told them in previous times.

The bans on grain exports mentioned in the article were necessary because the grain companies would export all the grain, short the local supply, and then have to import grain to make up the short fall.  Of course they profited both ways and because the flour milling companies are subsidized by the government to keep the price of bread down, they had no incentive to buy ahead.  In fact anyone who could was likely in on the scam in one way or another.  And export permits are a great way to generate revenue too – for the guy who has to sign them.  Always remember that the status quo benefits someone and changes benefit someone else.  

There is no need for lobbyists in Ukraine.  The businessmen themselves are the deputies and that way can keep a close personal eye on the making of new laws.  And of course, any laws they pass will either benefit them greatly or are “just for other people”.  There are no real parties here, just extensions of the egos of the party’s leader.  E.g. Yulia’s party is known as Bloc Timoshenko.  There is no benefit in joining another party if your ego is big enough. Anyone can start a party and if they get enough votes are guaranteed a seat in the Rada as deputies are selected from party lists in order of “importance”. Wait until after the election and sell your block of votes to the highest bidder. 

The constitution does not allow individuals to “cross the floor” since they themselves were not elected.  Only the entire party block can decide which main party they will support – or not. This created problems for Yanukovich to cobble together a coalition government without going to the people.  He simply passed a decree ignoring the constitution and made it legal for individuals to cross the floor.  And of course, bought and paid for the ones that did.  It didn’t bother people that he did this as Constitutions do not hold the same legal power as we think.  People seem to understand constitutions as a vision of a perfect future, not as a basis for running a country. Stalin wrote one of the most enlightened, liberal constitutions ever. 

The circus of the past 20 years is the ONLY democracy that the citizens of the FSU have known.  To them it is a joke and is associated with crime, theft, corruption and the poorest standard of living they have had since the end of the Great Patriotic War.  They have never known anything except a “strong man on the throne”, whether Tsar or Party leader.  They never asked to be rescued from the previous system so one can understand why they would like some form of it back. Putin’s version of stage-managed democracy is familiar to them and not entirely unwelcome.

Another aside: some did want to change the system completely, obviously, recognizing all that was rotten with it, but the vast majority just wanted it fixed and run properly, (which has been the case with most riots and rebellions in most countries over the years, even in China, dating back centuries.. Rebellion and revolution anywhere is simply a sign of bad government.  Of course, those in power have no intention of giving up their positions so people are declared enemies of the people, terrorists, communists or whatever label suits the current politics of violently smashing the complainants instead of dealing with the problem).

The banks needed to support the Hrivna in 2008.  The value of my CAD pension went up 40% in UAH. Great for Tanya and I but terrible for everyone else that depended on anything imported.  Prices skyrocketed as goods adjusted to the new FX rates. And anyone foolish enough to borrow money in foreign currency with lower interest rates prior to the crash, to buy cars or other consumer goods, found themselves owning 40% more money than they thought.  There was a reason for high credit rates in Ukraine.  The Hrivna was vulnerable and banks knew it.

So now to reforming agriculture:  The collective farms (state farms, too but I can’t say for sure) were divided up among those who worked there, including pensioners.  Farms and factories looked after all the social needs of the workers, including health, education, village infrastructure etc.  That is how everyone ended up with a few hectares of land.  Not only did they not have management skills to farm on their own there was NO credit, as the article pointed out.  Land has been on the verge of being bought sold and collateralized since at least 2004 here in Ukraine but don’t hold your breath.

Land ownership is a serious issue in this part of the world as there has NEVER been private ownership of land.  Not in the Jeffersonian sense of inviolate property rights.  In Tsarist times, the nobility and the gentry owned vast estates, including towns and serfs.  Property was bought and sold BUT if you fell out of favour with the Tsar, it was all forfeit.  Peasants and richer farmers “owned” land in much the same way.  Bought and sold but no security of title. 

There is real fear in the minds of everyday Ukrainians that huge tracts of land will end up owned by outsiders who will indeed make them into serfs again.  Yet this is happening anyway.  First, look at Russia and Kazakhstan where huge corporations are buying up land consolidating it into 10’s and 100’s of thousands of hectares, including the villages where serfs, then collective/state farm workers once lived.  The villagers will either work for these farms or not at all. (How secure is the title on this land?  Well, you can ask Kodorkovsky how secure his title to Yukos was when he fell out of favour with Putin).  These giant corporations can get credit from banks (and quite often huge sums of money from government as well) because they are well connected or rich enough from other sources that they are better credit risks than a 2000 ha or even a 20,000 ha. small private farmer.

In Ukraine, giant corporations are putting together large tracts of land but renting it instead of getting title.  Lately they are signing 50 year leases and paying up front as a way to circumvent both ownership problems and the vagaries of fickle renters.  These companies bring their own money, earned in spare parts, in oil and gas, in grain trade, real estate, mining, iron and steel or somewhere.  Several are owned by foreign investors who supply money for equipment and operating.  They are also importing production technology that works from who ever has it. 

A great deal of land is still farmed by restructured collectives in what ever form and size they ended up – cooperatives, corporations partnerships.  They are running aged equipment like the stuff in the pictures, starved for operating cash and for new technology.  Former collective farm directors are the managers/owners of these farms as they are the only ones with any management experience, though there are young people coming up fast who do not have to unlearn everything in order to learn but they are still hampered by the agricultural research and education system in Ukraine which seems to have its head firmly up it rear end. 

And there is NO extension service, in spite of all kinds of encouragement from any number of countries.  I am not totally certain that the government is being quietly urged by other countries NOT to have a government extension service but rather depend on fee-for-service consultants.  What better way to make sure that their agriculture never catches up and becomes serious competition?  Only the big corporations can afford to acquire new technology.  All countries with developed agricultural industries had free government funded agricultural extension services for at least 100 – 150 years.  Once farms reach a certain size and sophistication they will automatically swing to fee-for-service, as is happening in Canada and the USA right now.  Government extension still serves a purpose but that is changing with the times.

What will come of it, I don’t know.  There is an article I just learned about from Al Scholz, Rethinking agricultural reform in Ukraine: . I have not had a chance to read yet.  FAO documents of 178 pages tend to frighten me.  I will read it eventually.  It was written in 2007 so should deal with today’s problems, I hope..

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vicki and Monty turn Five

May-B blogged about the birth of the puppies yesterday on their official fifth birthdays.  The whole affair was set up the previous fall to get May-B a new dog and though I didn't know it at the time, to get me a dog of my own so my house wouldn't seem so empty.  I think May-B said more like "to keep me from remarrying immediately out of loneliness".

Vicki was my favourite pup of the litter. She was (and still is) the kissingest pup ever from when she was just a couple of weeks old.  One is a lonely number so I acquired Monty to round things out.  They came home with me in early July. 

There was a big park in back of our condo units, with lots of wild rabbits and lots of yummy rabbit poop.  The pups loved to search it out in the grass.  (I wrote to IAMS and suggested if they could make their puppy food taste more like rabbit poop they would increase voluntary intake by 50%.  They didn't write back).

Montel at nine weeks
Vicki at nine weeks
When they had a bath they went all curly haired
They had a little basket bed which they slept in during the day.  And chewed on.
First haircuts and all decked out.
My friends Wayne and Gifty gave me a big handcrafted bowl as a house warming gift.  
It held two puppies quite comfortably
My kids were the champs at leaving little pieces of paper all over the house. the pups were even better.  A use for flyers  - as entertainment.  Problem was they also tore up their store bought pee pads, so I finally used old towels.

Watching the puppies grow up was like watching my kids grow up only in fast forward.  I was amazed at the similarities.  Except the kids chewed the edge of the coffee table, not the baseboards.  And fight.  Unless the other wanted it first, it wasn't interesting.  they found a pair of socks in the park.  Two socks?  Useless.  So they brought one home and left the other.  Then they could fight over a sock in both locations.

But like my kids they grew up and went their separate ways, as did I.

Friday, May 28, 2010

We'll just go hungry till the girls get here.

My wife is so cute.

The lady who cut my hair for the last two years went on holidays for a month in mid April to visit her aging parents.  She was back May 15 but we have not had time to go for haircuts.  My hair was very long so Tanya decided she would cut it herself and save $8.  She is cutting and cutting and cutting.  "Do I have any hair left?"  "You don't need hair, it is summer. . . you look like a little boy. . . oh, well, in five weeks it will grow back".  Comforting words. . . and a not bad haircut. . . for a little boy.

Yesterday Lena was here and cleaned the kitchen.  Rooms are being cleaned one by one in preparation for two of my daughters to come and visit. When Lena was finished it had never been so clean.  Tanya informed me that I was not allowed to cook.  In fact I was not allowed in the kitchen (in case I gave it a dirty look?).  Since we can't use the kitchen till the girls arrive, it is no longer urgent that the sink is plugged solid and doesn't respond to plunging or to a litre of declogging liquid.  There are no dishes to wash.

The story behind the orders to stay out of the kitchen goes back a couple days to when I found Tanya sitting on the couch watching TV with two piles on the coffee table - a rapidly diminishing pile of sunflower seeds and a rapidly increasing pile of hulls.  There were hulls everywhere.  The Russian defense reflex is always to find something you did wrong to excuse their wrong doing. "The kitchen is covered in tomato sauce and the floor with coffee spills".

Earlier in the week Lena was working on the living room.  Tanya was sitting in the big chair while Lena worked and they were discussing reorganization of the furniture. I said, "What, are you the Tsarina sitting on your throne giving orders?"  She picked up her feet to show me her legs.  She was a very unqueenly mud to the hocks.  Lena works in the house.  Tanya plays in her flower beds.

When Lena cleaned my office, one of the drapery rod mounts pulled out of the wall.  Roman and Sergei offered to fix it.  I got out of the way.  I could have done it but if something went wrong (IF??) then I would be in trouble.  The boys decided to drill a new hole in the wall in a more solid area as determined by knocking on the wall.  (Brief explanation here of wiring a masonry built house - grooves are ground into the wall and wires are mudded in place - very near the surface.) Yes, the boys severed a wire and knocked out four plug-ins including the ones our computers are hooked to.  Tanya was less than pleased when I told her.  The only part of the ensuing rapid fire monologue that I caught was something about "done by a man not by a woman". I kept my head down and tried not to laugh.

Yuri will be here tomorrow to fix the sink.  Dymr and Volodya on Sunday to fix the wiring. Life will return to normal.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Feeling the Pressure

We hope we solved our water pressure problems.  Our electrician friends, Dymr and Volodya, told us that people in the city are installing small pressure systems, hooked up the city water lines.  They cut in when the pressure drops.  They gave us the name of a man who put one in his apartment on the 9th floor and now has water AND pressure.  He came and installed ours.  $250 for pump and parts and $50 for the work.  We rigged a separate line for the garden so the water doesn't go through our filter system.  And we put a second meter on it which was approved by Natasha from the Water Dept. yesterday morning.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

You have to be from Saskatchewan

A high percentage of Saskatchewan people have Ukrainian ancestry.  The "Peasants in the Sheepskin Coats" were part of Canada's drive to settle the west more than 100 years ago.  Most of them came from Western Ukraine which at that time was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.  They were not entirely welcomed by the English speaking people who were already settled there as they were "different", which of course, was bad.  They became the butt of a great many "Ukrainian Jokes" (see also Newfie jokes, Polish jokes, and if you are Russian, Chukchy jokes).

It took a couple of generations but they are now a proud part of the province.  As former Premier Roy Romanow remarked there really are only two kinds of people in Saskatchewan - Ukrainians and those who wish they were Ukrainians.  But the jokes remain and the Ukrainian community have adopted them and wear them as a badge of pride.

The Jews have a Wailing Wall in Jerusalem but in Saskatchewan the Ukrainians only have a Krydor.

Two guys  from a small town in Saskatchewan painted up an old car to look like the General Lee.  They are known as the Ukes of Hafford.

A Well Fed World

A friend of mine from Saskatoon, Al Scholz, is working on a dryland farming research project in Kazakhstan this summer.  It is his first venture into the FSU.  He has the fanciest blog site I have ever seen with lots of pictures and good explanations.

If you are interested in seeing how farming is carried out in large scale on land similar to the Canadian Prairies, this blog is for you.  Much of the farming methods are still conventional till however there is great interest in minimum tillage and Al is there to demonstrate how it can be used to good advantage for grain production in Kazakhstan.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

They are playing my song

The Countdown has Begun to get Serious.

In 22 days, Ky will be here for three weeks and in 31 days May-B will be here for two weeks.  Both leave July 2 on the same flight.  We have been dreaming and planning since they told us they would come to visit.  We have a plan.  OK, Tanya has a plan.

Tanya has put a huge amount of effort into her flower garden.  Roman and Sergei have been and continue to pour concrete.  My someday woodworking shop has a floor, the screened in room for BBQ has a floor (finished today).  They will next pour an area in front of the BBQ room and then a wider and higher sidewalk beside our outbuilding.

Lena arrived this morning and spring cleaning is underway.  The girls' bedroom has already been thoroughly cleaned; walls and ceiling washed, drapes washed, etc.  The door has been closed and will NOT be opened until the girls arrive, keeping everything perfect. 

There will be strawberries to pick and make jam and the yellow and red cherry trees are loaded with small green fruit  which will be ripe when they are here.  Our sour cherries are not looking good but we can buy a pail full to make jam.  We can send up to 24 kg of home-made jam back with the girls according to CFIA but I doubt they will take it, what with the new one-suitcase rule.

The car is in for final repairs on brakes and suspension and we'll get the 75,000 km oil change done before they arrive.  We hear the road to Crimea is impassible but hopefully they will have it patched before we attempt to drive it.

Counting, counting, counting...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You can run...

Our friends Volodya and Oksana were sponsoring a three day dairy genetics seminar at  Agro-Soyuz (where I had given my three day beef school in March). Three speakers were coming from Volodya's "parent" company, CRI, in USA.  Volodya wanted us to meet them because he hoped they would want us to work with them in future.

On Sunday, Tanya and I drove to Samara, a rest resort camp on the Samara River, where everyone was staying, about 30 minutes from Agro-Soyuz. Only one of the Americans had arrived, the other two were delayed 24 hours.  We sat in Volodya's suite (it is a fancy resort) and talked.  Peter (Pyotr Vladimirovich) was originally from Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.  He had started the livestock genetics company Semex Russia in Nizhny Novgorod in partnership with Semex Canada back in the mid 90's.  He was now the Eastern European Sales Manager for Cooperative Resources International (CRI) out of Iowa with a Canadian branch in Ontario that Volodya and Tanya and I had visited in 2006.

He didn't look familiar but too much of his 1990's history sounded familiar. Finally I said "There was a guy from Nizhny Novgorod came to Canada in the early 1990's on a Yeltsin Democracy Fellowship".  "That was me". "I hauled you all over Saskatchewan for several days". "That is why you look so familiar". 

History.  Peter was a very serious young man with a vision when I met him 16 years ago.  (He was also tall, slim, with black hair.  He is still tall). He had a degree in Law (the Genetics degrees he acquired later at Iowa State) and was an elected member of the Nizhny Novgorod Parliament, among other things.  He was very active in the Democracy movement in Russia and in Nizhny Novgorod they had one of the most forward looking reform minded groups in the country.

He spent three intensive months in Canada trying to understand "Why" we were as we were in Canada, our legal system, our agriculture, our attitudes, our everything he could think of.  I lost track of him after he left.  Email addresses changed regularly in those days and a couple years later, I heard he had moved to the USA.  I was disappointed.  I learned Sunday why he moved.

The old Communist bosses, the Oligarchs and the KGB "got to" Yeltsin and forced him to "take back Russia" (to coin a phrase) from those who threatened their power, their wealth and their criminal activity by wanting to reform the system, make it transparent, fair and responsive to the people.  Yeltsin canceled all elected bodies, though they still had three years of their mandate left and held new elections across the board.  Virtually every pro-democracy candidate was defeated.  It was the end of democratic reform and reformers were on the endangered list.  Peter had a brother in Iowa.  It was time.

Now he is back, doing his part to help modernize agriculture in the FSU.  I hope we can work together on some of it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

No, You CAN'T Make this Stuff Up

Yesterday, Friday, was the last day for the annual safety registration of our car for 2010.  While the ownership of our car is registered in Zhovti Vody, because our residence is registered in P'yatkhatskii Raion, we must go to the office of the Motor Vehicle Police (DAI) in the "county seat" of P'yatikhatki.  To register, one is required to provide a safety diagnostic from a licenced provider and a health certificate for the main driver.

Tanya had gone to P'yatikhatki several weeks ago to find out what the protocol was for the safety registration and what documents we needed.  Last time it took 10 minutes to get out little card.  I had traded a box of chocolates and a jar of coffee to the local head doctor for her signature on a health certificate printed on what we used to call scrap paper and we didn't need a safety diagnostic. Because our car was new when we first registered it, we had two years before we needed to come back.  I was not new but apparently my health certificate could wait the two years too.

This time there was no fooling about the health certificate.  They had a new fancy blue form which was constantly in short supply. Mine has my picture and stamps approving me as healthy enough to drive trucks and cars but not public transportation.  Andrei and I went to the local diagnostic centre where they check the brakes and steering, turn signals and head lights.  We got an official print out, which I didn't read, but it must not have mentioned our cracked windshield (nowhere near my line of vision but illegal none-the-less) or the fact that no matter how often you set them up, the emergency brakes do not work.

We also needed a copy of our insurance policy, my driver's licences and the usual passport copies.  We were set.  Oh, yes, one small detail.  Andrei had a couple of speeding tickets from some time ago.  When Tanya first went to check, she found them posted on the computer under our car's registration.  They have to be paid before you can get the safety registration renewed.  Andrei paid them Friday morning in Zhovi Vody.  Because his residence is in the city, he has to pay his fines there.

I picked up the receipts from his home and Tanya and I headed for P'yatikhatki.  First, because the fine payment would not have time to work its way through the system, we had to stop at the office in Zhovti Vody which deals with all fines.  Tanya took the bank receipt to them and got another receipt.  By 2:30 we were in the DAI office in  P'yatikhatki.  We sailed through the first part but when it came time to deal with the fact the tickets were paid, we had a problem.  TWO tickets require TWO receipts, not one for both.  After some discussion we got a document from them that had to be stamped by the DAI in Zhovti Vody.

So at 3:00 we headed back to the city, got the required stamps and by 5:00 we were back in P'yatikhatki. Tanya walked in the door and the computer crashed.  This is the program with every vehicle in Ukraine listed, which prints out the safety registration cards.  We waited until 6:00 closing time to see if the computer would come back up.  N'yet.

Kyiv sent a man down this morning to check the computer as it was not the main program which crashed.  He turned it on and it worked perfectly.  The man at the DAI office called tonight to say he would meet us on our way through P'yatikhatki tomorrow and give us our card.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Today's Cartoon

Salesman: One meter, (one) kiss.
Girl: (I) will (take) three, and my grandmother will pay.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dentists, Eye Doctors and Electricians

I went to see the local optometrist a couple weeks ago as my eyes have been bothering me of late.  It was like going back in time to when I was a kid and got my first glasses.  His equipment consisted of an eye chart and a box full of different lenses with which he tried unsuccessfully to correct my left eye vision.  I will be going to Dnipropetrovsk next month to a specialist with more up to date equipment.  I miss Dr Robertson's high tech office in Regina.

Yesterday, Tanya and Lena went to Dnipropetrovsk on the minibus and I went to the Dentist.  Tanya went to collect a shipment of flowers that was supposed to have arrived in late March.  Lena went to "help" her.  Good thing as they came back with both of them loaded with bedding plants and such from the big flower market in Dnipro.  We may need to buy more land shortly.

Andrei said that Dr Tretiak was an excellent dentist and I think I agree.  At least his equipment was modern.  Not totally high tech like Dr Weiss in Regina who looked after my teeth for about 25 years but recognizable.  And one of his techs spoke a bit of English which helped

I had my teeth cleaned last week.  That took 30 minutes and involved removing the tartar build up.  I didn't specify whitening or it might have taken longer and my teeth wouldn't still be yellow. Live and learn.  Anyhow yesterday was to repair a tooth that broke about two years ago. Split down the middle, leaving I'm guessing only filling and root.

Another 30 minute job.  No freezing.  Scared the life out of me, waiting for the drill to hit raw nerve but it didn't and it sure speeds things up and is a lot less painful afterward.  He chiseled out the bad stuff, packed it full of Redi-Mix, cured it with UV light and got out the angle grinder.  Even dentists have angle grinders in Ukraine! Shaped the top of the tooth, gave me a piece of carbon paper to bite on to check the match.  Perfect on first try.  And I'm on my way.  $50.00.

Today was one of Tanya's kind of days.  First she had all these flowers to plant.  Roman and Sergei came at 8:00 to finish the floor in my workshop and the tech showed up to install the AC in my office (which we bought last February when it was cheap).  The tech is the same guy who installed our upstairs bedroom AC a couple years ago.  He knows his stuff and really looks the part - he could do TV commercials in his green bib overalls with yellow trim.

But he got on the wrong side of Tanya by saying there wouldn't be much dust and then drilling a 2" hole through 12" of cindercrete blocks and getting dust all over our books and the floor.  And the electric cord from the inside unit hung down the wall and didn't look nice.  Then mid-afternoon, just as the boys finished the floor, the building shop brought another 10 bags of cement.  Instead of telling the delivery crew to put the bags inside, Roman headed for the shower and they stacked the bags outside. When Tanya saw it you could hear her all the way to P'yatikhatki.  I just keep my head down and try to look invisible.

But Lena came in the afternoon to help plant to flowers, tidy up the yard and clean up the dust.  Tanya phoned our electrician friends Dymr and Volodya - who, as it turned out, were working a couple blocks from our house.  they were here in 20 minutes and fixed up the electric cord so it looks like part of the trim moulding.  I made a nice supper of veggies, cheese and tea which was all either of us wanted.  Now she is all happy again. I am too.

Tanya said she totally agreed with (May-B) "All men are dumb".  Not exactly what she said at age 15 when she came home and slammed the door so hard the pictures fell off the living room wall.  "All men are scum", I believe was the expression. But close enough.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Wife is Not Always Right

Roman and his friend Sergei were here all day mixing cement for the floor in what will be my woodworking shop some day.  Tanya went to town for a haircut this afternoon.  While she was away, Roman came to tell me that his mother was wrong about our neighbour being responsible for our water pressure problems.

I kind of figured that was the case as even when their taps were shut off our pressure was still fluctuating and besides he was on the wrong side of us.  Like blaming someone downwind for the bad smell.  I had tried to argue the point with Tanya when the whole issue first blew up.  There are two chances of having a reasonable discussion with Tanya when her mind is made up - fat and slim.

I told Roman he could talk to his mother.  I was staying out of it.  We both knew it was futile.  When she came home, Roman is trying to explain and she is having none of it.  Roman and I are doing our best not to crack up.  She caught me smothering my laughter and I said in Russian "I understand nothing".

Ogden Nash said it best:

“To keep your marriage brimming, 

With love in the loving cup,

Whenever you're wrong, admit it; 

Whenever you're right, shut up”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Remembering the Farm - Cows I have known

Today is Mother's Day.  I will call my Mother-in-Law once I am sure she is home from church.  Everyone is writing great glowing things about their mothers or grandmothers.  My sister has been writing something every day since March 1st about our mother, who has been gone 8 years now.  Since I can't top that, I will write about another set of mothers that have had a great deal of influence in my life.  Also it will drive my kids nuts as they hate it when I talk about COWS.

Dad always had 20 to 30 cows so they were part of my life as soon as I could walk.  I'd follow the calves through the oat field and mom knew where I was as she could see the calves moving even if she couldn't see me. We milked three to six cows, separated the milk and shipped cream for cash money, up until 1960 when dad started driving school bus.  He sold the cows in 1981, the year he turned 60. It snowed in September and the price bottomed so it was time.

Back in the olden days before ear tags were common, cows had names.  There was Ramona and Beauty, two purebred Red Polls.  There was Mag, who was a great granddaughter of old Turnip Teats.  There was Jane, a light red cow with horns, that I had to milk in the evenings when dad was in the field.  I was pretty young and she was very hard to milk.  You almost needed pliers to squeeze milk out of her.  There is nothing as nervous as a cow being milked with a cold pair of pliers.

Three cows in particular, though, stand out in my memory.

Gooseface was a red cow with a white patch under her chin and up her jaws like the white patch on a Canada Goose.  She raised a good calf every year and so she should have as she grazed the neighbour's wheat field most of the time.  The fence wasn't built that could hold her.  We finally sold her to the neighbour, figuring it served them both right.  When we got her in the corral (the third time) Dad tied her to a post with a logging chain until Jim got there with the truck.

Indian Cow was the best mama cow we ever owned.  Red white face, with needle sharp horns but a good disposition and a good milker.  Dad got her with heifer calf at foot in trade for a John Deere Clipper combine from a guy from a Reserve north of Battleford someplace, hence the name.  She raised a dandy calf every year and so did her daughters.  When Dad sold the herd, half of them were related to her.

Black and White Cow was my nemesis from when I was a little kid and she had her first calf.  A fiercely protective mother, she hated kids, dogs and women in skirts and would charge if any got too close.  I was terrified to go up to the pasture by myself on foot until I was in my teens.  But she raised good calves and she didn't bother Dad any.  But she got old and thin.  We kept her home one winter so she could get extra feed.  She broke into the chop bin on a cold night and died of grain overload.  Not what I would have chosen for the old warrior.

An Historical Event

Foreign troops marched in Red Square today as part of the Russian V.E. Day celebrations.  Troops from Allied nations - USA, Great Britain, France and Poland participated in the huge parade involving some 11,000 troops and a 1000 person band. 

The last time there were foreign troops (not counting troops from various countries of the Russian/Soviet Empire, of course) on Red Square may well have been 1812 during Napoleon's brief stopover. 

Angela Merkel was in the crowd of dignitaries. Prince Charles was not, though he offered.

It was the first time since the dissolution of the USSR that military hardware was on parade.  I was interested in the T-34's and the old WWII uniforms more than the modern stuff.  I have no way of knowing if the modern weaponry displayed is  technically advanced or if it would be effective against an enemy armed with similar stuff.  It is great stuff for the last war (they clobbered mighty Georgia) but not likely too useful for the next wars if Afghanistan, Chechnya, Sudan and Iraq are any indication. 

There were many old men and women in uniform, loaded with medals, tears in their eyes, as they remembered The Great Patriotic War.  The hardships, the suffering, the loved ones lost.  And they looked some proud as the soldiers marched and the hardware rolled past.

The USSR was never defeated.  It collapsed from within of its own weight.  Destroyed by Gorbachev and Yeltsin if you ask the person on the street.  This leaves a great deal of room for "stabbed in the back" theories and for machinations around extreme nationalism. Sound familiar?  Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

V.E. Day

May 9th is V.E. Day.  Much celebrated in Russia and Ukraine.  The rest of eastern Europe not so much as they traded Hitler's Nazi's for 45 years of occupation by Stalin's Communists and those of his successors.

Russia makes much of its victory over Hitler as in the last 100 years, it was about the only thing they got right.  If you don't count 20 million dead.  Many of them to Stalin's incompetence as a military commander and many of them to Stalin's forced deportation of millions of people to east of the Urals, where a third to half died (on the way or after arrival).  We are still inundated with WWII movies on TV.  New ones and old ones.

So today the veterans are honoured and the dead remembered in parades and at memorials across the countries.  These working girls from a cartoon in the local paper are doing their part.  The sign reads: Holiday Special: Veterans of Great Patriotic War 30% discount.  The hopeful young man is inquiring if they have student rates.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Whisky is for drinking...

...water is for fighting over".  So said Mark Twain and he sure got it right.

We don't have a shooting war with Zhenia and Lucia but never-the-less... 

We are the last two houses at the end of a city water line.  The line was replaced in 2007, including a new line to our house.  I think the city line was 4 or 5 inches in diameter.  It didn't help our pressure problems which we traced earlier this year to in our own lines .  We fixed the lines and we had pressure.

Until a couple days ago.  It has been dry and both Tanya and Lucia have been watering. Now we knew that in previous summers when people were watering gardens and such we had NO pressure at all. Now we were back to no pressure again.  Two days ago, Tanya figured it out.  Zhenia had built a reservoir underground some years back, before my time anyhow, from which he pumped water for his own big gardens with his own pump which can move a fair bit of water.  He tapped into the city water line with a large diameter pipe to fill his reservoir.  Unofficially, of course.

When he opens the tap on the big line to fill his reservoir, there is enough flow that the line pressure drops, according to Tanya.  And when he shuts off all his taps we have pressure, so maybe she is right.  I need an engineer's input on this one. (Dan M, are you civil?).  The three of them got into a shouting match and Tanya threatened to call the City Water Department. 

She would never have done so but it scared Zhenia. By yesterday morning he had installed a meter at his garden reservoir and brought the City Water Dept people out to make it official.  This will hit them where it hurts.  Previous water bills were like 5 cu meters while ours were 20 cu meters.

Wonder how long it will take for this to blow over?  Some days I can't understand why I want to learn the language.  Being an innocent bystander has its advantages.  If the stray bullets miss you.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More Reasons I Love My Wife

When we put in a new water meter, we had to get someone from the water department to come and read the old meter and break the seal.  Then when we put the new meter on, we had to get someone from the water department to read the new meter and attach a new seal.  Both times it was a VERY attractive blonde named Natasha (What?  You expected Jennifer?).  We had to provide transportation both ways.  After she read the new meter and sealed it, I went to drive her back to the office.  I said to Tanya "Don't worry.  I'll come back.  I am an old man".  Tanya said "Yes, but sometimes you remember a little".

Today we went to Yubileni (Jubilee) an appliance store, to order a new anode for our water heater.  We took the manual with us so they would know what to order as of course they no longer carry that brand.  The guy had gone for lunch and the woman holding his section of the store was clueless.  She said, in Russian, "Need man" (there are no articles in Russian).  I said to Tanya "All women say need two men".  She replied "I'm already surrounded by idiots".

Tanya was in a dress shop and I was teasing her about what dress she should buy.  She threw me out of the shop.  When she came to the car, I said "I do love you, you know".  In Russian, "Yes, like (a) dog loves (the) stick (that beats him)".

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

European Mole Crickets

Tanya has gone out to the garden to spread bait for Medvedka, the European Mole Cricket.  You can get more information here and here. She lost six tomato plants last night and that means WAR.

Wiki says the American ones (imported about 100 years ago) grow from 35 to 45 mm long but Tanya says they get twice that long here and that cats like to catch them.  I don't want to think about it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Old Man's Alphabet

A is for apple, and B is for boat,
That used to be right, but now it won't float!
Age before beauty is what we once said,
But let's be a bit more realistic instead.

A 's for arthritis;
B 's the bad back,
C 's the chest pains, perhaps car-di-ac?
D is for dental decay and decline,
E is for eyesight, can't read that top line!
F is for fissures and fluid retention,
G is for gas which I'd rather not mention.
H is high blood pressure--I'd rather it low;
I for incisions with scars you can show..
J is for joints, out of socket, won't mend,
K is for knees that crack when they bend.
L 's for libido, what happened to sex?
M is for memory, I forget what comes next.
N is neuralgia, in nerves way down low;
O is for osteo, bones that don't grow!
P for prescriptions, I have quite a few,
just give me a pill and I'll be good as new!
Q is for queasy, is it fatal or flu?
R is for reflux, one meal turns to two.
S is for sleepless nights, counting my fears,
T 's for Tinnitus; bells in my ears!
U is for urinary; troubles with flow;
V for vertigo, that's 'dizzy,' you know.
W for worry, now what's going 'round?
X is for X ray, and what might be found.
Y for another year I'm left here behind,
Z is for zest I still have-- in my mind!


I've survived all the symptoms, my body's deployed,
and I'm keeping twenty-six doctors fully employed!

A Bum Rap

In general, tom cats have the reputation of Republican politicians. However I am beginning to wonder if it is entirely deserved.  Several weeks ago, our neighbour did away with "bilia koshka", the white female cat that had been our Kuchma's friend and companion since kittenhood 7 years ago.  He has been one lonely lost cat ever since.

He got sick and stopped eating, taking two weeks to recover.  Now he eats but irregularly and wanders the nearby neighbouring yards, meowing and meowing, looking and looking.  He will come home, still meowing.  I will give him a dish of milk which he used to inhale.  Now he might just look at it and set out again on his search for bilia koshka.  The nearest house cats are a couple of blocks away.

We may have to get another cat just to keep him company.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fruit Trees

A person does not realize just how many fruit trees were planted in Ukraine unless you are here in spring when they are in full blossom.  Our trees survived the -26C winter weather and are in full bloom, all but the apple trees which will follow in a week.

This is the yellow cherry in our front yard, framed  by our upstairs balcony window.

 These are sour cherry trees across the road that belong to Lucia and Zhenia

 This street in Lozovatka Selo is lined with fruit trees in blossom; as is virtually every side street in every town or village.  I couldn't tell you which kinds, as I recognize only two kinds of trees - Christmas trees and others.

If you click on this picture of Lozovatka Selo (village) and make it full size you can get an idea of the number of fruit trees - just look for the white patches.

When I started to put together this blog entry, the lights went out for a couple of hours so Tanya and I sat outside.  Lucia, Zhenia and Maxim came over and we visited like real neighbours used to before TV and computers provided alternate forms of entertainment.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mayday!!! Mayday!!!

Summer is here.  It is +25 outside.  Our demented cuckoo is back and begins at 5:00 am telling the world he/she is cuckoo, cuckoo.  It is enough to drive you cuckoo.  The marsh frogs are singing a dozen different languages all night long.  And it is dry.  We need a good spring rain.

Tanya spent all morning working in her flower garden  transplanting stuff.  I know some were asters as she gave a bunch to Maxim.  Now she and Lena are planting tomatoes.  Today.  May 1st.  Big holiday in this part of the world.  This was NOT Lena's idea.  Tanya wants her flower boxes back so she can put her petunias in them.

One of this morning's jobs was trimming the flowers off the red tulips.  Tanya explained the science of tulip breeding. Red is THE dominant colour and will eventually change the colour of all the tulips if left alone. I thought they grew from bulbs only but I guess there is some kind of pollination takes place too.  Once the bulbs have had a chance to get big, Tanya will dig them up and store them dry for the summer, then plant them again in the late fall.

She has a bunch of miniature flowers - hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, irises and even lilies.  The latter she just discovered from some of the bulbs she bought and planted last fall.  She knows WHERE everything is planted but sometimes forgets exactly WHAT is planted until it blossoms and surprises her. 

Japanese Peonies, not blooming this morning when I took the picture, are beginning to bloom tonight. The lilies, planted too near the peonies will be moved this fall. The lilies in the background are about done.
Looking from street to back of the side flower garden.  Tanya is using shavings to keep the soil from drying out.  She hopes.  The iris are growing rapidly and the rose bushes are looking good.  Everything seemed to have wintered well.
Looking from back to front.  Since I took the picture a bunch of double petal petunias have gone in.  Along with over 90 tomato plants in the kitchen garden.  She also has hung flower boxes by our front entry with purple and red petunias. 

It is 7:30 pm.  She says she is too tired to eat supper.