Monday, January 30, 2012

Minding my own beeswax

Number ONE son worked on a honey farm for 13 summers and a few winters too.  The boss's wife,  Queen Bee, was and still is a second mother to him.  He was no drone, heading up the outdoor crew for most of those years.  I never cared much for bees, not that I am allergic and break out in hives or anything, but I am fond of honey.

We buy it in 3 liter jars and go through about three or four a year.  Someone had given us a large chunk of honeycomb which for some reason we didn't eat and it sat in a dish in the pantry for six months or more.  today I decided to do something with it.  Tanya said throw it out.  The comb was all darkened and it looked unappetizing. 

I stuck it in the microwave to see if I could melt the honey out of the comb.  It melted all right.  The comb turned really black and smelled disgusting.  Like the inside of the extractor house.  The wax floated on top of the honey but there was no way I could skim it off without taking most of the honey with it.

We compromised.  I took off most of the wax and the honey will be added to the dogs' porridge.  Tanya makes porridge (kasha) for us and the dogs every day in this cold weather. 

I got wax all over two plates and a large soup dish in the procedure.  Trying to clean beeswax off the dishes was not fun at all.  Sticks like glue.  Tried heating it in the microwave again.  Helped a little but I was quite a while cleaning up the mess.

Do you think I will EVER learn just to listen to my wife?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Righteous Abortion: How Conservative Christianity Promotes What It Claims to Hate

Righteous Abortion: How Conservative Christianity Promotes What It Claims to Hate

I shared a link to this on Facebook and got comments from two people.

One of the paragraphs in the article stated that in The Netherlands abortion rates were 1/3 that of America per 1000 pregnancies because they "de-stigmatized sexual education, de-mythologized virginity, and invested in broad access to the most effective contraceptives available". One of the comments received pointed out the obvious (though of course the religious right won't see it as such): If we truly want to reduce abortions (which we can all agree is good, right?), then promoting birth control and women's rights works! If we take away education and access to birth control, there are more abortions and more risky abortions which means the mortality rate for the mothers goes up also. That is anti-life.

Of course, the post also attracted comments from one who was shocked by it all: Wow, one of the harshest and most critical things I've every read. Interesting how the writer likes to quote OLD testament. People who read the bible know that Christ came to liberate and save us from that way of life. And it  is quite post-modernist in it's approach - life is all about doing what you want, when you want. It's all about the individual. I won't comment again, but I caution people against this type of diatribe.

Now I totally agree with the first commenter.  The second was more difficult.  Last time I checked, the OT was part of the biblical canon.  Certain verses are certainly quoted enough when they suit the ideology at least, especially by those who claim the Bible is infallible and every word is true and it must be followed to the letter.  This approach would seem to ignore the fact that, as the second commenter pointed out, Christ allegedly lived and died to save us from the letter of the law which brings only "death" because no one can follow it perfectly enough.

And it  is quite post-modernist in it's approach - life is all about doing what you want, when you want. It's all about the individual. I thought "post-modernist" related to a group of artists but I have much to learn.  Being free to do one's own thinking and set one's own course, as opposed to doing what we are told by the religious hierarchy, sounds good to me.  Not sure what the problem is.

And the inevitable warning, not to read such stuff.  You might get a flash of liberating doubt?  You might learn something?  You might begin to think and analyse the nonsense you are being taught? Keeping the peasants ignorant and uneducated has been the methodology of control since the dawn of time.  The religious right frown on higher learning unless it is at THEIR institutions where you are taught WHAT to think, not taught HOW to think. 

At any rate, the article will be preaching to the choir for many of my readers and most of the others won't read it lest they learn something they don't want to hear.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Darren is in the Doghouse

A Facebook friend of mine, we'll call him Darren because that's his name, posted this on his status yesterday.  Too funny.  His wife immediately countered that he was in the doghouse and his sister followed by posting the link to the JC Penny Doghouse ad, below.

Which takes us to a whole new area.  Gifts for women.  Men will never understand why women aren't happy when they get some electronic gadget for their birthday or Christmas gift. Men are ecstatic.  I got a jigsaw for Christmas from Tanya and thought I had died and gone to heaven.  If she gave me a slow cooker, same thing.  Women, not so much. There is no use trying to understand, just don't do it. Unless they are the practical kind and actually ask for it because they need it anyhow and finances are tight.

After I left Grad School, we lived in northeastern Saskatchewan for three years.  it was 100 miles to the nearest decent shopping and I made the trip once a week.  Ella usually went with me but the kid(s) were young and she couldn't always.  So one Saturday, I drove into Nipawin and among other things bought a garden wheelbarrow as we talked about needing one for around the yard.  Half way home, it occurred to me that the next day was Mother's Day and I had no gift for Ella. 

Able to resist anything but temptation and knowing exactly what I was doing, I proudly presented her with the wheelbarrow as her Mother's Day gift.  She did NOT see the joke as funny and even on her deathbed I doubt she forgave me.

Jewelery is fine if it is real.  Flowers, of course.  Perfume if you actually KNOW what she wears.  Real estate (but NOT potting soil).  Holidays to exotic resorts.  Gift certificates.  These kinds of things.  But certainly not anything useful.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tanya's Name Day

Today, January 25th is the Feast Day of Saint Tatiana of Rome (January 12th on the Julian Calendar). It is also Robbie Burns Day so  presumably the saint balances off the sinner. Saint Tatiana is venerated by Orthodox Churches (and possible others, I don't know).  At any rate a complete list of her miraculous recovery from torture in 3rd century Rome can be found here.  They would wail on her all day and next morning after a night of prayer, she would appear before her accusers perfectly healed.  They finally cut off her head...(the original "Highlander"?).

Many countries celebrate "Name Days", which is to say if you are named Tatiana then your name day is January 25th. Tatiana is also the Patron Saint of Students so Tatiana's Day is also known as Students Day in Russia. 

A name day is is not quite as important as a birthday but still requires recognition.We needed groceries anyhow so we went into the city.  Flowers for Tanya and Tania and the four of us (Masha was already out of school for the day, Andrei was at work) had lunch at Sweet House, a not bad restaurant and a break from Marichka where we usually go. 

Next is Valentines Day which is catching on here, though International Women's Day, some 3 weeks after, is far more important. It is celebrated here like Valentines Day in North America. 

I am slowly learning "Do NOT miss buying flowers on important days". (like Tuesdays???).  But it isn't easy.  Our family was never much for celebrating "Hallmark" Days.  We did try to remember the kids' birthdays, though at least one has not forgiven her mother and I for forgetting many years back.  Apparently busy was not a valid excuse.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Next Year Country: "What the Hell do We Want Anyway?"

This blog post very nicely sums up the aims of the Occupy Movement

Next Year Country: "What the Hell do We Want Anyway?": John's Speech to Occupy Regina on 22 October 2011 By John F. Conway January 23, 2012.

Some very powerful and influential people are very, very unhappy with what you are doing and saying.

John Manley, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives – the group which designed the blueprint for the mess we are in – calls you “ridiculous” and just a bunch of “wanna-bes.” He speaks for the 150 largest Canadian corporations with assets of $4.5 trillion and annual revenues of $850 billion. They are the real rulers of the business dictatorship that now oppresses us.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Now is the Winter of our Desk Content*

* or as Peter Sellers might have said, Snow  fuel like an old fuel.

We have snow.  All Ukraine has snow.  A great deal of snow.  Three days worth, at temperatures around 0C.  Heavy, wet, heart-attack type snow.  The news tonight showed Kyiv up to its armpits and Dnipropetrovs'k, too. Traffic bogged down everywhere.

We went to town Friday for groceries and I was in town again on Saturday for printer cartridges but I should have stayed home.  The side roads were either heavy or slippery or both.  The plows and sanders had been on the main streets at least.

Yesterday we stayed put.  A neighbour ditched her Lada right in front of our house and her husband called a truck to tow her out.  Andrei came out in the evening to borrow my car.  The snow was "too deep for a Lexus".  His ride out brought a whole car load of boys "just in case".  They had to push both cars from our place to the corner.  I was young and foolish once myself.  Now I am not young anymore.

I did go out and shovel the walks twice.  Yesterday and again today.  With the help of the dogs who love the snow and were rolling around making doggy snow angels.  I hate shoveling.  My experience has been that if I leave it long enough snow usually disappears...Tanya gets tired of waiting for me and she shovels it. Guilt makes me do strange things.  Like shovel.

A tractor and blade cleared our road just as I finished shoveling.  Maybe we'll even get garbage pick up tomorrow.  The highlight of every Tuesday  - will the truck come or won't it?  Will the stray dog get he garbage before the truck does?  Heart pounding stuff out here in the village.

We were going to go to Dnipropetrovs'k today but declined the honour.  Good thing too.  The mini-bus from Dnipro took 4 hours to make a 2.5 hour trip.  Next week the roads and the weather will be better.  I hope there is something good at the theatre as we will take a flat ($35) and stay overnight.

One good thing from this wet snow.  Other than slippery, the roads will be heavenly to drive.  ALL the holes are filled in with packed snow and the road is smooth.

Ont. farmers urge halt to wind turbine development | Canadian Cattlemen

Ont. farmers urge halt to wind turbine development | Canadian Cattlemen

It looks like some folks are catching on that wind turbine generated electricity causes as many problems as it cures.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham

Pakenham’s very thorough history of The Boer War (1899-1902) reads like a novel and I could hardly put it down.  In my mind that puts him in a class with Barbara Tuckman and other reviewers have made the same comment.

The book was written over 30 years ago (published in 1979), so the author was able to interview a great many survivors from both sides, as well as access a mass of documents that were not available when the original histories had been written, just after the war. Pakenham regretted that there was not as much material available from the Boer side as from the British.  That is understandable as their army was purely volunteer irregulars, without the massive bureaucracy of the British military machine. There were also only 50,000 Boers vs 250,000 British.

Wars are not fought in abstract but fought by people.  The book is filled with dozens if not hundreds of characters all skillfully drawn, (though sometimes hard to keep track of, without a war room of maps and pins). While it is the politicians and officers whose names we remember from history…Asquith, Balfour, Chamberlain, Lloyd George, John Buchan, Roberts, Kitchener, French, Haig, Allenby, White, Buller, Baden-Powell, Wolseley, Churchill, Rhodes …Kruger, De Wet, Cronje, de la Rey, Botha, Smuts…Pakenham writes a great deal of his narrative from the perspective of the men on the ground, both Boer and British, as well. Their view of the war was one of deprivation, boredom, sudden death and frustration with both the enemy and their own commanding officers.

There are many conflicts within a war, not just between the side dubbed “us” and the side dubbed “the enemy” or even with the weather and the terrain.  Pakenham weaves them all into the larger struggle.  In England there were The Imperialists vs. the “Pro-Boers” as they are labeled; Colonial Office vs. War Office vs. Treasury; the “African Ring" under Wolseley vs. the “Indian Ring" under Roberts. In Africa, there were too many personal conflicts to mention here.  Initially it was Milner vs. Kruger which set the stage for the war. Then it was Buller and the other field Generals vs. Roberts/Kitchener; Rhodes vs. Milner and on it went.  Plots within plots.

It was a new kind of war Pakenham described.  Perhaps rightly called “the first modern war”.  The British, used to fighting poorly armed and organized natives in Africa and India, as usual underestimated their opponents.  (Was there ever a war that was not going to “over by Christmas”?).  The British had shed their red uniforms for khaki. It was the first war fought with smokeless powder.  Soldiers and artillery were now invisible to the enemy.  High velocity, small bore, magazine loading rifles, Lee-Enfields and Mausers, had replaced the old single shot breech-loaders. A soldier could aim and fire a clip of shots in the time it used to take to fire once.  Concentration camps, used by the Spanish against the Cubans, were used by the British who rounded up women and children as part of their scorched earth tactics against the Boer guerrillas.

The British were taught “no end of lessons” as Kipling put it, but they failed to learn the crucial one – modern weaponry combined with trenches put the advantage on the side of the defenders.  That lesson was brought home at great cost in France and Belgium during The Great War.  Buller had learned how to deal with this new way of war through the series of defeats he suffered in attempting to relieve the siege of Ladysmith.  No more one-day set-piece battles.  The new war required creeping artillery barrages, more individual initiative, better use of cover, and day after day of constant pressure.  But the pro-Kitchener crowd made Buller the scapegoat for initial British reverses and he was fired at the end of the war.  Histories are written by not only the victorious side but the victorious cliques.

Pakenham redeems Buller and illustrates that his replacements as Commander in Chief, Roberts and then Kitchener made as many if not more blunders under far easier conditions. A soldier in the field must have wondered (as I expect all soldiers do) who the real enemy was, the men facing him trying to kill him or the men behind him sabotaging his ability to do his job with endless wranglings for political position and endless blunders in supplying necessary provisions.

Without even trying, Pakenham has written an anti-war, anti-imperialism book.  Not by preaching or pointing out the obvious but by simply telling it like it was.  Another useless war.  For all that it was to be a “White Man’s” war; the Africans paid the greater price in loss of life, property and rights.  For all his Machiavellian plotting, Milner’s dream of a white non-Africaner British-only South Africa came to nothing.  The Liberals won the next election, restored self government to the four colonies and the Boer/Afrikaner parties won majorities. And in the end, Africa got her revenge on Milner who was bitten by a tstse fly and died of sleeping sickness. 

For a better and shorter review,  I suggest reading Jeff Cordell's review on Amazon at the link above. This was totally a learning experience for me, as previous knowledge was based on Canadian highschool history which was sketchy at best.  

Source for map here

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blessing of the Water

Today is Epiphany or Theophany in the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Church (January 6th on the Julian Calendar falls on January 19th on the Gregorian Calendar).  Beginning at midnight last night, many believers took plunges into icy water to cleanse their sins of the previous year and experience a sense of renewal.  Cross shaped holes are cut in the ice and the water is blessed by the priests prior to people taking the plunge. Pictures from several countries are HERE and HERE.

Tanya and I went to the local well where the community get their drinking water and pulled out two larges jugs of water which we will use for drinking and cooking over the next little while.  The reason is that many people, Tanya included, believe that all water is blessed or renewed this day. 

The following is lifted straight from Wikipedia;

Russia and Ukraine

The Epiphany, celebrated in Russia and Ukraine on January 19, marks the baptism of Jesus in the Orthodox Church. Believing that on this day water becomes holy and is imbued with special powers, Russians and Ukrainians cut holes in the ice of lakes and rivers, often in the shape of the cross, to bathe in the freezing water.[76] Participants in the ritual may dip themselves three times under the water, honoring the Holy Trinity, to symbolically wash away their sins from the past year, and to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth. Orthodox priests are on hand to bless the water, and rescuers are on hand to monitor the safety of the swimmers in the ice-cold water. Other less intrepid Russians may limit their participation in the Epiphany rites to those conducted inside churches, where priests perform the Great Blessing of Waters, both on Epiphany Eve and Epiphany (Theophany) proper. The water is then distributed to attendees who may store it to use in times of illness, to bless themselves, family members, and their homes, or to drink. Some Russians and Ukrainians think any water - even from the taps on the kitchen sink - poured or bottled on Epiphany becomes holy water, since all the water in the world is blessed this day. In the more mild climate of the southern city of Sochi meanwhile, where air and water temperatures both hover in the low to mid 10 degree Celsius range in January, thousands of people jump into the Black Sea at midnight each year on Epiphany and begin to swim in celebration of the feast.[77]

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What is a Sunday without a Sermon?

Tom Weisz is a friend of my brothers and now a friend of mine.  He delivered this - his first and very likely last - sermon at the Unitarian Church in Saskatoon back in October.  I have his permission to reprint it. A bit of a lengthy read but I hope you find it worth the time.  I certainly did.
Truly, no-one is more surprised to see me up here than I am. First, other than in my professional capacity, I have no great comfort in public speaking. Second, I must ask myself, just in case you’re not doing so, what the heck am I doing in some place that calls itself a church, presuming to speak? After all, I am an unrepentant cynic, who has over the years come to believe that while many individuals might well be fine and good as individuals, groups and organizations, especially when tied to a specified and common belief system, are uniformly a potential, and very commonly a literal, danger. So how to explain why, of all the options, has this one particular place become my choice to stand up before you all, doing something like this for the very first time?

First, please allow me to outline my convoluted journey to here and now - it is a considerable part of the answer.

Born in Hungary to survivors of the Holocaust, I came to Canada during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. We came to Canada, a land of refuge, as refugees.

I grew to adulthood in Montreal, in La Belle Province, cheering for Les Habitants, Nos Glorieux, Les Canadiens de Montreal, at a time when it was still the standard routine for the priests to preach at Easter time that it had been the Jews that had crucified Christ, and all that followed that belief. I learned that in the 1930s, after only Germany, Quebec had the largest Nazi party membership in the world. It was only in the 1960s that McGill University stopped having an openly quoted Jewish quota. Lest we get smug around here, I have also learned that Biggar Saskatchewan was the Canadian center for the Ku Klux Klan, and that the Klan is presently active in Regina and Calgary, at the least.

I have seen Pulitzer Prize winning photographs of Hindus or Muslims bayoneting each other during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1972. I have watched over the years the rise of the Protestant Fundamentalist movement, when books entitled “God Wants You To Have An SUV”, and other such were sold in the front lobbies of megachurches, even as our planet’s temperature rises through our actions.

I vaguely remember hearing about the deaths of First Nations people at Wounded Knee, and in June of this year read about a group of faithful First Nations Christians on a reserve in Northern Quebec who burned down a sweat lodge because it offended their beliefs, despite the sweat lodge being used to help their own people reduce their drinking and other harmful behaviours.

I have learned some of the sad history of the residential schools, created in the name of God to bring a new civilization to a people who already had one.

And I still see some Arab states and other organizations calling for the eradication of Israel and all the Jewish people, and increasingly overt examples of the old anti-semitism all around the world, and the State of Israel still taking obviously unjust actions in the name of its very survival.

And let us not forget the most recent atrocity, the targeted massacre of those young adults in Norway, yet again because of the fear of and therefore loathing of those identified as “the others”. Even if we can agree that the immediate cause was the psychopathic nature of one individual, it was the expression of a commonly identified and openly expressed hatred that was his trigger.

This is an important point, because even crazy people are connected to their historical time and environment. I recall a psychotic young man I once worked with, who believed that the unknown “they” were speaking to him and giving him directions from outer space through the satellites, which they then channelled through the television sets to him, telling him what to do. Think about the specifics of this young man’s psychotic point of view - this particular expression of madness could not have existed a hundred years ago - there were no satellites or even TVs then (yes, children, it’s true. And no internet either - there were barely telephones and they were all on land-lines!).

These examples have ranged across many of the belief systems that we are all familiar with, and I don’t doubt that with a minimal effort we could find many more. The sad old joke used to be that only the Buddhists were truly good - if they became sufficiently upset at what someone was doing theywould kill - but only themselves. And the Buddhists have their own issues of getting along.

All these evils I have just spoken of are based on the belief, held equally firmly by each one of those groups, that only they and their fellow believers have the singular specific answer to the question, “What is God”. All of these atrocities, stupidities and inanities are based on the concept of “The Other”, one who is not us, therefore to be feared, hated, judged and, if at all possible, eradicated.

So, I have come to rather firmly believe that I have earned my cynicism honestly. Sometimes I think that it can only be the blood of my father flowing in my veins, who despite his personal tragedies was the most cup-half-full individual I ever knew, that keeps me from forsaking even the concept of the possibility of finding goodness, or at the least an absence of direct malevolence, in the world.

So, what exactly am I doing in some place that calls itself a church? And why here?

The first time Chris and I came here was to listen to a topic of interest to us both - to be honest, I no longer recall what it was. I came somewhat reluctantly - as I have said on many occasions, I’m not much of a joiner, but Chris was interested in the topic, as was I.

To my own vast surprise I felt comfortable and welcomed. Not simply by the individuals here, which I had no difficulty accepting, but also by an organization that had made a deliberate, conscious decision to specifically consider how to welcome those such as I. And I was welcomed not because I share a history or belief with all of the others here, but precisely because I don’t. Here I have felt welcomed for what I have to bring, for good or ill. Here, to my vast surprise, the roots and cause of my cynicism have been understood, sometimes even shared, and more importantly, challenged. Here, the phrase “yes, I see what you’re saying, but…” is welcomed. There appears to be no singular meaning of God held here - each individual’s understanding is just as likely to be correct, or not, as anyone else’s, and all the possibilities are equally deemed valid. Here, more than anywhere else that I have wandered, I have found that being “The Other” has made me welcomed, not shunned.

There are some quite specific reasons why I so celebrate this welcoming of those so often and easily defined as the “Others”. As I had mentioned, I am a child of Holocaust survivors. The murder of the Jews, as well as of the Gypsies, homosexuals and anyone else not on the Nazi OK-for-this-week list, is an extreme, but historically hardly unusual use of otherness to justify atrocities. Yet in the case of the Jews, and so many of the others, what was it all about - just an unshared belief, a different way of life, a different faith, or a different amount of melanin in the skin. Faiths, religious or otherwise, can be so closely clung to that there are always those who are prepared to kill or to die to prove the worthiness of what is, after all, simply one out of the innumerable choices of particular sets of shared beliefs. And all of it unprovable, unknowable - the very definition of faith.

My father’s faith in religious belief did not survive the Nazi work camp that he survived, but somehow his faith in humanity, in people, did. He had been raised in an Orthodox household in Tet, a small village in western Hungary. By the time the Hungarian Jews were being rounded up he had married and had a child, my father’s daughter, my sister, and neither she nor her mother survived. It is a peculiar aspect of my own thinking that I have long realized that I owe my very existence to the death of my father’s family.

My father spoke of his war experiences only once to me, long after I had already formed my own opinions. He told me then, that after what he had seen and experienced, it was impossible for him to accept or understand how, if the Jews were indeed the chosen people, much loved by God, they could have been so obviously abandoned by the aforementioned Almighty. He found the world had been too cruel, too haphazard, too arbitrary, to accept the idea of an all-seeing, omnipotent, omnipresent supreme being. Some survivors found that their faith had been strengthened through their experiences, but my father was not among them.

Even so, somehow, in spite of all that had happened to him, my father remained one of the most “glass-half-full” individuals I have ever known. Perhaps it was his ability to find, recognize, and accept love and hope that nurtured his innate optimism -- for he remarried and went on to a long and deeply loving marriage. Not to mention, of course, the unmitigated joys of having my sister and me, who were, it goes without saying, exemplary children. At least I was, as I recall.

After my mother’s death, when my father was already 95 years old, he moved into a Jewish seniors’ residence in Montreal. He was a rarity - a male in good mental and physical health for his age. Often he would be called upon to help have a minyan, the formal requirement for 10 adult males to be present to be able to hold prayers. He never hesitated to go, despite his personal lack of faith. And I know why, and this might yet be the central secret of it all. He went for community. He went to support the people whose lives he now shared. He found it agreeable to be useful to others. It gave him, even so late in life, purpose and satisfaction. I hope that I might be echoing my father yet again - here, in this place that calls itself a church, I may have found a community where I am comfortable, where I can fit, and even though we don’t share a single, central God-belief, we do share many other beliefs and hopes.

When I was a young man I had taped to my bedroom door the two works we just heard. John Donne’s “No man is an island entire of himself…” serves to remind me that I do not live in isolation, I do not stand in isolation on my individual island. I need, am needed by and share a responsibility to a larger community; however I choose to define my community.

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” reminds me that decisions have a price, yet freedom demands that decisions will always need to be made. And sometimes the price is discomfort with the unfamiliar, in getting out of our comfort zones.

So it was, that when Liz put out the call for volunteers to speak here, I didn’t manage to clamp down quickly enough on the voice inside my head that said --- put up or shut up.

Next Year Country: World Peace Hanging by a Thread

Next Year Country: World Peace Hanging by a Thread: By Fidel Castro Ruz Cuba Debate Jan 14th, 2012 Yesterday I had the satisfaction of having a pleasant conversation with Mahmoud Ahmadinej...

Reposted from NYC

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The End of Holiday Season

Today is old calendar New Years Day in Russia, Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe which used the old calendar up to the Revolution. Last night the kids all came for supper - one last holiday feast.  Roast goose, roast pork, liver cutleta, cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes, three kinds of pickles, lots of fresh veggies filled the table to overflowing.

Goose meat is very dark but tastes wonderful. Lots of fat melts down into the bottom of the roasting pan which the dogs will enjoy today. We bought the village raised goose in the market.  When we went visiting on January 2, the village streets were filled with chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks all out enjoying the mild winter.  I saw at least two breeds of everything.  Chickens that looked like the Rhode Island Reds of my youth and Bronze turkeys which I didn't know they even made anymore. 

Today, Tanya took down all the Christmas decorations. Kuchma was busy casing the attic while Tanya stows everything.   She put them up while I was in Canada so they have been up for over a month.  Last night she went around taking pictures of the decorations and of all of us in various states of recovery from supper. That is what I get for putting fresh batteries in her camera.

We didn't wrap any gifts this year.  Bagged them all (thanks, MayB)

Ewwww.  They're kissing.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2002 - The Year from Hell - 10th Anniversary

Ten years ago yesterday morning, 11/01/2002, my mother dropped dead of a massive heart attack, two months shy of her 81st birthday.  This was the opening salvo in a year like none other.  She had gone into the local hospital in Biggar 50 km away for a couple days of tests and they found nothing out of ordinary so she was being discharged that morning.  Dad was driving in to get her and they met him at the door with the news.

Ella and I were in Edmonton when we got the phone call from Dad.  We were at Ella's cousin's, having arrived late the evening before.  Carolyn was in the last stages of an 8 year battle with breast cancer and we wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.  She and Ella were closer than cousins, closer than sisters.  Her battle was Ella's battle for eight years.  Carolyn's funeral was mid-February.  Ella was devastated.

Two weeks after Mom's funeral, Dad went in for replacement of his right hip   Something to take his mind off being a widower after 56 years.  He recovered pretty well and was adjusting to being alone.  He was actually able to seed the home quarter in late May.  His 60th crop planted but not harvested.  On June 27, in the afternoon, he was driving into Biggar, hit a gravel ridge in the middle of the highway, rolled the van and it was all over.  The construction was well signed but in the glare of the sun, the gravel was the same colour as the road.  We learned later that friends of ours almost hit the ridge earlier.

My Uncle Frank, husband of Mom's youngest sister, came out to the farm the day of Mom's death but he never got to her funeral.  He was admitted to hospital with a brain tumor.  His funeral was in October. His wife had remarked at Christmas that it was so wonderful that the three sisters and their husbands were still alive and well.  Ten months later three of them were gone. Such is life.

About a month after Carolyn's funeral, Ella started bleeding.  Badly.  This had happened eight years previously when Carolyn had been diagnosed.  She should have had a hysterectomy then but whatever meds the doctor gave her at the time did the trick. We assumed they would work again this time so I took off for Ukraine where I had a four month contract, two in spring, two in fall.  The meds didn't work.  D&C didn't work.  She was VERY sick and MayB carried the load because I was away.  Finally had the hysterectomy just before I got back from Ukraine.

Can't recall whether it was just before Dad's funeral or just after but the biopsy report had come back and Ella went into see the surgeon.  I sat in the waiting room.  She sat down and the Dr asked if she had anyone with her who could sit in on the meeting. It was not going to be good news. 

There are two kinds of cancer, Carcinoma and Sarcoma.  You can look them up.  If you have to have cancer, carcinoma is the kind you want.  Sarcoma is BAD news.  Fortunately it is rare.  Not only that but there is a very bad kind of Sarcoma, the name of which I cannot recall, which is even more rare.  Not rare enough.  Most cancers are rated by stages 1-4 or a-d.  This one had no stages.  You got one cell in your body it is all over but the crying.  They hoped they had it all and would use radiation to make sure.  So they did.  All summer. Things were looking good.  I went back to Ukraine.

Got back in late October.  Ella met me at the airport looking scared to death.  She hadn't told the kids.  Her abdomen was so full of tumors you could see them. Oncologist said we'll try radiation but take lots of family pictures.  The stuff they put her one was pretty deadly.  The handlers gowned up like it was nitric acid.  One week a month, then hope her blood count would recover enough to give her another treatment. There was a limited number they could give her before the treatment would kill her.

One thing about having a cancer no one survives is that someone has got to be first.  So we all put our hopes on that and carried on.  The kids painted the kitchen while she was in having a treatment.  Our friend, Lois, whose house at Christmas is dubbed Little Las Vegas, came and decorated our house for the holidays while Ella was in having her third treatment.  No. 1 Son and LynnieC late one night cut David Letterman's picture out of the paper and hung it on the Christmas tree to see if anyone would notice.  We didn't but DL's picture is now a family tradition ornament. Ella even got her annual Christmas Letter out.  We survived Christmas.

Not a year I would care to repeat.

I'd like to end the story there but need to close it off better than that.  2003 was a pretty good year for 10 months at least.  After 6 treatments, they could find no sign of cancer.  Nothing.  Nada. She was the poster child of the cancer ward.  Ella even went back to work half time for six months and had the opportunity to clean up a problem that had been bugging her for several years.  Alas, the first survivor had yet to be and the cancer was back in November this time as a brain tumor.  The operation paralyzed one side and it was time for a wheel chair.  Then the abdominal tumors came back with a vengeance and April 9, 2004, Ella lost her battle.

A roller coaster ride I would not care to repeat either.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Cat thinks it is Spring

Just because we are having unseasonably warm weather with temps in the +5C to +10C in the day, the stupid cat thinks it is spring.  He comes in grabs a bite to eat and a cat nap, then meows loudly to go out again.  Then he wants to come in again...then go out again.  This would not be so bad if it were dry outside.  It is not.

We are having "West Coast" weather.  Cloudy all day and night.  Mist, drizzle and once in a while rain.  It is cold, wet, muddy and miserable. If Kuchma sleeps outside in his chair long enough before we let him in, his feet dry off and he just leaves lumps of mud inside the house where ever he cleans his feet . 

But when he comes straight in, mud to the hocks, leaving tracks, he is less than welcomed by some parties. He seems to know when he is going to be in trouble.  He comes in through the door and ducks behind the furniture so Tanya can't grab him.  Doesn't work.  He is quickly hauled into the bathroom where a wet rag is used to scrub at least the thick of the mud off his feet.  Kuchma does not really appreciate this but will grudgingly accept it since it means he can eat and sleep inside.

Once a day for this is enough but three or four times is too much of a nuisance.

Interesting Happenings in the State of Maine

Sedgwick Maine passed a food sovereignty law, essentially giving federal and state regulators the bum's rush.  Something called "The People's Boycott (you can find it on Facebook) posted this link below.

Interesting approach.  Looks like little communities all over the USA are banding together to fight back against The Man. I hope they get far.

“Food Sovereignty” law passed in small Maine town to allow sale of locally produced food without interference of regulators

Friday, January 6, 2012

"С Рождеством Христовым!"

For all my friends who are celebrating Orthodox Christmas, I wish you Merry Christmas. 

The family were here for supper tonight.  I am sure we had 12 different dishes but not all meatless and there was no buckwheat and honey in sight either.

I would like to go to the midnight service but it starts at midnight.  So we have been watching the evening service from the Cathedral in Moscow and listening to the Patriarch's Christmas Message.  Moscow is two hours ahead of us.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Grandma Turns 92 Today

My kid's last remaining grandparent completed her 92 year today and is still pretty chipper for an old girl.  One of my "must visits" on my trip home in December was to see her.  She was the best Mother-in-Law a person could ever hope for and I love her dearly.

She is living in a senior's residence not quite a year now, in the same city as her youngest son, leaving her home of some fifty odd years.  Her short term memory was getting so bad it scared even her.  She would forget where she put money or her keys or something and then stew about it no end until she found it again.  She quit likes her new place but would rather live on her own if she could of course. She says there is nothing to do there.  And worse, no one to look after. She, who spent her whole life looking after everyone else, feels lost without busy work.  So she reads a lot.  The place has a good library so she never has to walk far for another book.

She is in good health she says and now that she gets three square meals a day has actually gained some needed weight.  Tanya bought her wooly PJs and felt slippers for me to take her and the slippers fit but the PJs were too small.

Her little dog, Vicki, (who used to be my little dog), now stays at her son's place, and can only visit periodically but can stay all day on Fridays.  Vicki still knows who she loves and sits on Grandma's lap any chance she gets.

I called her just now to wish her Happy Birthday.  She had had several calls (couldn't remember from who all but could if we gave her time, I expect) and was surprised I remembered and would call from so far away. We chatted on the phone for about 10 minutes. I asked what she was going to do for her birthday.  She said read a book, go for meals, go to bed and keep breathing.  Same as she does every day.

Happy Birthday, Grandma, and keep healthy (and breathing) for many more years.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

But Then It Was Too Late

The following is an except from the book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer.  I found it on several sites so I guess one more won't hurt. I was actually looking for Dr. Lawrence Britt's The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism when I ran across it. The link is to and there are several good reviews as well.

As Harper's Magazine noted when the book was published in 1955 (U. of Chicago), Milton Mayer's extraordinarily far-sighted book on the Germans is more timely today than ever. This crucial book tells how and why 'decent men' became Nazis through short biographies of 10 law-abiding citizens. An American journalist of German/Jewish descent, Mr. Mayer provides a fascinating window into the lives, thoughts and emotions of a people caught up in the rush of the Nazi movement. It is a book that should make people pause and think -- not only about the Germans, but also about themselves.
But Then It Was Too Late
"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know it doesn't make people close to their government to be told that this is a people's government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing to do with knowing one is governing.
What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
"You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the universe was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was "expected to" participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one's energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time."
"Those," I said, "are the words of my friend the baker. "One had no time to think. There was so much going on." "Your friend the baker was right," said my colleague. "The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your "little men", your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about - we were decent people - and kept us so busy with continuous changes and "crises" and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the "national enemies", without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?
"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it - please try to believe me - unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, "regretted," that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these "little measures" that no "patriotic German" could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice - "Resist the beginnings" and "consider the end." But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have changed here before they went as far as they did; they didn't, but they might have. And everyone counts on that might.
"Your "little men," your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemoller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing: and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something - but then it was too late."
"Yes," I said.
"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to "go out of your way to make trouble." Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, "everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to you colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, "It's not so bad" or "You're seeing things" or "You're an alarmist."
"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.
"But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to ö to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.
"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked ö if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in "43" had come immediately after the "German Firm" stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in "33". But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying "Jew swine," collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in ö your nation, your people ö is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
"You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.
"Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done ( for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.
"What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or "adjust" your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know."
I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.
"I can tell you," my colleague went on, "of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn't an anti Nazi. He was just ö a judge. In "42" or "43", early "43", I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an "Aryan" woman. This was "race injury", something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case a bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a "nonracial" offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party "processing" which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the "nonracial" charge, in the judge's opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.
"And the judge?"
"Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience ö a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That's how I heard about it.) After the "44" Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don't know."
I said nothing.
"Once the war began," my colleague continued, "resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was "defeatism." You assumed that there were lists of those who would be "dealt with" later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a "victory orgy" to "take care of" those who thought that their "treasonable attitude" had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.
"Once the war began, the government could do anything "necessary" to win it; so it was with the "final solution" of the Jewish problem, which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its "necessities" gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany's losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it."
-- Milton Mayer


Monday, January 2, 2012

The Haircut

Yes, Virginia, I still have hair.  With a small amount of grey but not enough to notice.  The problem is as my head gets fatter and my hair gets thinner, I don't like anyone looking down on the top of my head.  Like a poor wheat crop, if you look at it from the road it looks not bad, but get out into the crop and you can see not only is the stand poor but there is likely nothing in the head.

When I got back home from visiting my kids, I needed a haircut desperately as it had been well before I went to Kazakhstan since I had my last one.  Tanya had both of us booked in for 9:00 am, two days after I got home.  Yulia has been cutting my hair since we moved to Zhovti Vody.  Since a haircut is only $5, I can tip her the same amount and we both think we have a bargain.

She takes a full 30 minutes and worries and fusses until it is just right. It is a great haircut when once she decides it is to her satisfaction.  The problem is that the style makes me feel like I look like Victor Yanukovich. Put it another way, how would you feel about a haircut that made you look like Stephen Harper or George W Bush.