Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Remembering the Farm - Reading opens every door.

Author Lynda Beck Fenwick (blog HERE, Facebook page HERE) has written several blog posts and Facebook comments about the importance of education in both homesteading times and today.  She emphasizes the role of literacy and accompanying love of books in formal education and in continuing one's education throughout one's life.

That got me thinking about reading and books in my own life and the lives of my children.  Before I started school, I drove my mother crazy with questions.  I wanted to know everything and especially WHY?  Once I started school and learned to read, her life was much simpler.  By the end of Grade 2, I was reading at an adult level, which is to say, anything around the house.

Reading was a struggle for my father.  I don't recall him reading anything other than farm papers and The Bible.  He preferred to read early in the mornings when he felt at his peak.  One of the weekly farm papers ran serial fiction, one of which was called "Death and the Gentle Bull" featuring a Black Angus bull.  Dad had to read that and got hooked on the story.  We teased him ever after about "getting up early in the morning to read a murder mystery.

Mom loved to read.  I have no idea how or even if she did anything to foster my love of reading other than make sure there was lots to read.  The farm papers, Canadian Cattlemen, Country Guide, The Western Producer, Free Press Weekly, and  Family Herald (the latter two ceased publishing long ago) interested me, especially as I got older.  But Macleans and Chatelaine magazines interested me from day one.

They were quite different then from today's versions.  Both were monthly or bi-weekly, I forget which. Macleans was more literary than news magazine and I loved the stories and articles. Chatelaine was targeted at the 1950's housewife with a great deal of human interest and educational stuff.  Especially educational stuff.  I have no idea if my parents ever had "the talk" with my younger siblings but mom knew I was getting my education from Chatelaine so she didn't worry.

My first real book was Black Beauty which I got for my 7th birthday.  I had two Robin Hoods; one by Howard Pyle and one by Henry Gilbert.  Preferred the latter as I grew older.  Kipling's The Jungle Book or All the Mowgli stories was another favourite.  I was about 11 or 12 when someone gave me Zane Grey's "Spirit of the Border" and I was HOOKED.  Read a great many of his books, graduating over the years to Ernest Haycox (the best) and Louis L'Amour.  Westerns are still my reading to relax genre.

Dad was able to buy us the World book encyclopedia in the late 1950s.  He had no money but managed to find enough for the cheapest no frills set.  The lady who sold them was someone Dad had worked for back in the 30s and I think gave them to us at cost. It was our "internet" and provided hours and hours of reading.

No idea when I joined "Book of the Month Club" but was a member for over twenty years, maybe more.  My library was starting to grow.  Used book stores and the bargain shelves helped add volumes without exorbitant cost.  Couldn't say exactly when I morphed into history but by my mid-20s for sure.  If I had it to do over, maybe I wouldn't have taken Animal Science but History instead.  though reading it is likely more fun than writing it.

Ella was also a reader.  Mostly human interest stuff, biographies, that kind of thing.  And Harlequins. And Royalty.  When our kids came along the house was full of books and we made sure that there was lots for them to read too.  Little Golden Books, Berenstein Bears and Dr Seuss.  I can likely still recite Hop on Pop or Hand Hand Finger Thumb.

Likely I am responsible for warping my kids' minds with my interpretations of their books. The Three Bears opened with "Once upon a time there were three bears who lived in a house in the woods. Papa Bear pounded nails in the roof; Mama Bear watered the flowers and Baby Bear did tricks on the lawn".  I would explain to the children that I had no idea who Tricks was and that since she was never mentioned again must have been unimportant.  This horrified adult listeners but the children were oblivious.

The public library became a favourite haunt.  When we lived in Kindersley and our youngest was a wee new babe we had a blizzard that shut down the town.  So we bundled the kids and pulling two on the toboggan, we walked through the drifts to the Library - which was actually open.  When we moved, the Regina Public Library closest to us soon knew us all by name and our tastes by heart.

Our house continued to fill with books.  More and more shelving units were added.  One NEVER discards a book.  EVER.  The kids used to say that for any topics concerning WWI or WWII they had only to go to my books for their highschool reports.  They began accumulating their own libraries and by the time they began moving out it was "20 boxes of stuff and 20 boxes of books".

My oldest daughter has similar reading tastes to her mother.  After two degrees (Human Justice and Social Work) she swears she will never read anything on purpose from which she might learn something but on occasion she lies. My son reads history like his father but likes good novels even more.  If you take any newspaper's "Top 100 novels ever written" he has likely read 75 of them.  His thinking ability is far ahead of mine.  History helps me understand what happened and why.  Novelists invent the future.

My second youngest daughter is finishing off her dissertation for a PhD in Victorian Literature.  Everything between Jane Austen (pre-Victorian and L.M. Montgomery post-Victorian.  And my youngest daughter took her history degree and a Masters in Library Tech and is now a Librarian in a highschool in London England. She specializes in reading Young Adult books as those are her students' reading material. Oh, yes, and Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis.  (By the way, LynnieC, there are several new Latin translations of Harry Potter books available).

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.     Erasmus

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Ukrainian Election

Preliminary results would indicate that President Yanukovych's Party of the Regions will form the next government.

The Kyiv Post reported at 5:30 Ukraine time the following results:

These are the preliminary results as of 17.30 p.m.
Preliminary results of the leading parties that pass the 5 percent threshold on the closed party list. Figures taken from the Central Election Commission, after 69.21 percent of protocols were counted.
PartyPercentage of votesNumber of votes
Party of Regions33.514 564 369
Batkivshchyna22.973 129 026
Communist Party14.511 976 813
UDAR13.131 789 236
Svoboda8.951 219 979
Preliminary results of the leading candidates in the single mandate districts. Figures taken from the Central Election Commission. Results are based on 59.22 percent of votes counted.
The First-past-the-post results can be seen here and are being updated as new counts come in.
Exit polls do not agree with the counts above that show the Regionnaires and the Communists with a lower percentage of the vote and the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and UDAR with a higher percentage.
The Economist's Eastern Approaches blog believes that Yanukovych will get a simple majority but not a Constitution changing 2/3 majority, which means that Ukraine gets a shot at unseating him in 2015. 
The Party of the Regions and its allies are unlikely to win two thirds of the seats in parliament. It wanted this in order to change the constitution to abolish direct elections to the presidency. This would lower the risk for the unpopular Mr Yanukovych of losing the presidential race in 2015. If direct elections were abolished the president would be elected by parliament.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Where we live in Ukraine

It is hard to explain to folks who haven't been here about roads and villages and such.  These pictures are from Google Maps and if you plug Zhovti Vody, Dnipropetrovs'ka, Ukraine into Google Maps, you can get much bigger pictures than these.  But these will at least help orient you on the larger map.

Zhovti Vody city limits, with Mar'yanivka village extending downwards in the center of the lower half of the picture
Our house.  From this picture you should be able to locate us on the larger map
Mar'yanivka village, extending along the Zhovti (Yellow) river
Close up of the "business section", about 5 km "south" of our place
Locating Zhovti Vody relative to Kyiv, Dnipropetrovs'k and Krivii Rih

Family Dinner

Yesterday we took a chance and invited the boys for supper, hoping we could have one more feed of shashlik before it got too cold.  The wind howled all night.  This morning it was +20C, though misty and drizzly.   A warm enough day for shashlik if the BBQ could be kept in the shelter.

Tanya made chicken salad this morning and cutleta (fried hamburger patties), chopped up the pork and put it to marinate. I drove Tanya to vote about 2:00 pm, then picked up Roman and Lina about 3:00 to start the BBQ.  Roman is THE cook when it comes to perfect shashlik.  Masha was in dance class until after 4:00 so I drove back into town at 4:30 to pick up Andrei, Tania and Masha.  School is out next week so Masha is staying over (and I get to sleep on the divan).

We all seven of us crowded around the table, ate and drank our fill and had a good visit.  How Sunday nights should be; filled with family, food, fun and love.  I wish the rest of our family could someday join us so we could all be one family.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Head down; Mouth shut

Today was housecleaning day.  Tomorrow is election day.  We are kind of hoping Ukraine cleans house too but of course it isn't going to happen.  Yanukovych's Party of the Regions is going to win and people know it.  Not that they have anyone else to blame.  They voted him in last presidential election and enough of his party last general election to form a government, knowing (or they ought to have known) what was in store for them.

It was bad enough when they had proportional representation. Ninety odd political parties, many of them fictional, produced little clusters of deputies who sold out to the highest bidder.  Party of the Regions won the most seats and so drew the most of the small blocks.  This time, they have gone back to 50-50  proportional and first past the post. First past the post favours the Regionnaires  as there will be dozens of candidates, again many of them fictional, to split the votes of the opposition.

Polls have been banned for the past several weeks.  When 87% of the populace say they hate your guts two days before the election and you end up with 53.7% of the vote, it is a bit embarrassing, so no polls please.

The Orange Revolution in 2004 was the only time in the past several hundred years that Ukrainians "beat city hall".  And it got them the square root of Sweet Fanny Adams.  A president with no balls and a prime minister with big brass ones.  The folks who helped bring them to power wanted their payback and turned out to be just as incompetent and corrupt as the crowd they threw out.  So in a fit of pique, Ukraine voted in the bad guy next go round.

Yulia is in the slammer, sitting this one out, which may not be a bad thing.  She is better looking than Yanukovych, 1000 times more clever, and just as corrupt.  If she and her cronies were in power, how would things be different today for the Ukrainian in the street?  Other than Russian would not be the unofficial official language, maybe not much.  Just a different set of folks would have enriched themselves. My opinion.

So folks here are pretty discouraged and resigned, which is too bad.  The Economist reckons that the defeatism may not only let the Regionnaires win the election but get a Constitution changing majority. won't that be fun.  World Affairs has also written off this election to the Regionnaires but speculates about when Yanukovych himself will get the boot from his own party and supporters who may also tire of his incompetence.

In the meantime, Ukrainians will revert to form.  Head down, mouth shut and try not to be noticed while working to survive.  They, as a people, survived the Poles, the Turks, the Austrians, the Tsar, the Communists and the Germans (though a great many of them didn't survive those two inflictions) and now independence and a "market economy".  They will still be here when Yanukovych is gone.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Personal Responsibility

When the Religious Right use the term "Personal Responsibility", they mean "I'm OK; F.U."  However in Ukraine, people are, in a many respects, responsible for looking out for and after themselves.

If there is a hole in the middle of the road, such as an extra large pothole, and you hit it and break an axle, that is your problem.  Same if you are walking through the park, day or night, and step into an open manhole, after someone stole the cover, that is your problem.  Streets, sidewalks and stairs to the Metro icy and you slip and break a leg, that is your problem.  Icicles fall off the old buildings as you are walking by and kill you, that is really your problem.

People are also responsible for looking after their own documents because there is no guarantee the authorities will have copies, in fact, more likely that they won't.  So if you visit the doctor, you keep your own medical records and take them with you next time you go to the hospital or the doctor.  Tanya has medical file folders for both of us.  And several file folders related to the house. All documents to do with the gas permits; to do with utilities contracts (garbage pick up fees are based on the number of people registered to that address); to do with the Village Council.  You name it, we have copies of it and Tanya has it filed away somewhere.

Not sure what would happen if any of them were destroyed.  I'd feel happier if they were all scanned onto my computer, not that the copies would be accepted but at least it would give us a start in replacing them - at a fairly substantial cost, I expect.

On a side note, when we go married, Tanya kept her previous name because of the cost and complexity of changing all the necessary documents.  For example, she graduated from Krasnoyarsk Agricultural University thirty years ago and would have to contact them to change her name on her Diploma.  Go figure.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Updating Deeds and Titles

Try to imagine a country in which nothing is legally surveyed.  Farmland, individual small plots, housing lots, nothing.  That was the status of Ukraine post break-up of the Soviet Union.  No cadastre system.  So how does one return anything to private ownership when there is no legal description that will stand up in court?  With great difficulty and expense and over a period of time.

Farmland is an issue I won't deal with, as I don't know enough of the history; just that there have been a great many projects and a great deal of money involved in bringing it up to international standards.  I will deal with housing as we are just beginning to go through it ourselves.

First off, in the late 80s, when Tanya decided to build in the village of Mar'yanivka (I spell it Marianivka too), which is our actual address, not Zhovti Vody, she went to the village council and was assigned the lot on which our house stands.  It is 25 meters wide and 40 or possibly 60 meters deep with an extra 35 meters behind which we rent for  our kitchen garden; we never measured it and there are two drawings which do not appear to be to scale.  She has clear title to the house but no title to the land because there has been no legal description to date.

We are now in process of getting our lot surveyed and getting a deed drawn up by  the village council.  We took all our documents to them yesterday.  The village office and post office are 5 km from here on the other side of the Zhovti (Yellow) river.  I have never driven past there so have no idea how much farther the village goes.  They tend to be very long and very narrow on one or both sides of a river or stream.

There is a company that does the survey work, using satellite.  The villager we buy milk from sits on the council and he said that once there are about 10 people ready, they will contract the survey company.  That way it is cheaper.  By the time we pay for the survey and all documents it will cost us about $500 (4000 UAH) which is a month's pay for someone in the city with a good job and an unheard of sum for poor villagers.

Once we have the land properly documented, then we will bring our house documents up to date.  We did some remodeling when we first moved in; tore out a couple walls and added an upstairs bathroom.  We need to have new scale drawings done and registered at the village office. Having done remodeling in Regina, it is not much different other than there we were supposed to get the permits first.
House and outbuildings.  NOT accurate or to scale, I think but gives you an idea. Outside dimensions look impressive.  Once you deduct 18" walls it is not so big inside.  Front faces more or less SE

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Problems with Links in Blogger

Every year on our holiday in Turkey, Tanya and I take a one-day excursion to someplace with ancient ruins.  We both love history and Turkey has a great deal of it.  The first year we went to Demre and Myra, then to Pamukkale and last year to Phaselis. This year we went to Dalyan (not to be confused with Dalian; THAT would have been an expedition).

The above paragraph is from yesterday's blog post.  It contains several links but they don't show up as they should which is blue and underlined.  They come our grey and not underlined - example being Dalian in the last sentence.  I have tried to make them noticeable by bolding, underlining and using blue font before I create the link but I still get the grey .

Anyone have any advice on how to correct this problem other than by changing blog host?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dalyan, Turkey: turtles, crabs and ancient ruins

Every year on our holiday in Turkey, Tanya and I take a one-day excursion to someplace with ancient ruins.  We both love history and Turkey has a great deal of it.  The first year we went to Demre and Myra, then to Pamukkale and last year to Phaselis. This year we went to Dalyan (not to be confused with Dalian; THAT would have been an expedition).

We left our hotel at 5:00 am.  Dalyan is a 4 hour bus ride mostly east from Antalya on very good but very winding roads crossing at least four mountain ranges. We stopped for breakfast going and supper returning, all included in the Odeon Tour price.
Southwestern Turkey from Antalya to Dalyan
Turkish country side
Dalyan is a popular tourist resort area with a sandy beach, sea turtles, crabs galore, muddy sulphurous hot springs and ancient ruins.  The Köyceğiz-Dalyan Special Environmental Protection Area covers an area of over 460 sq km and is home to many unique plants, animals and birds.  The Iztuzu beach, a sandy spit at the end of the Dalyan River  estuary is the nesting site for the Loggerhead Marine Turtle and includes a sea turtle research centre run by the University of Pamukkale.

If you click on this link HERE, you get a very detailed picture of the beach and the estuary of the Dalyan River which is slowing filling up with silt and forming reed bed islands.  While we could have driven to Iztuzu beach, we were given the "three hour tour" down the river.  We stopped to go crab fishing.  A simple process in which a piece of chicken is tied to a string and thrown overboard.  It is immediately grabbed by a crab which will not let go and is scooped into a net.  For $10 they would cook us one for dinner.  Yeah, right.
Dalyan Estuary
As we approached the beach, we saw a crowd of boats around one boat which had raised a sea turtle with a bait on a line.  We got close enough to see it.  It was still at this boat when we left 1 1/2 hours later which made me wonder.  Either the turtle was dumb as spit or it had the gig down cold and would perform for treats or, and I hoped this was NOT the case, it was somehow anchored to the spot.
Loggerhead marine turtle
One our way back from the beach to Dalyan we stopped for lunch.   After lunch we threw pieces of bread into the water for the fish.
Feeding frenzy.  The fish loved bread.
From there we went to the mud baths, which were swarming with tourists.  Tanya and I are just not team players.  We didn't have crab with our lunch, we didn't go swimming at the beach and we didn't go into the mud baths.  What we wanted was to tour the ruins of the ancient city of Kaunos,  Kaunos (2nd link).  It was not to be. The ruins are a local tour and not included in our day trip.  We only saw the tombs and some rock structures from a distance, while we were on the river.
Ruins of ancient Kaunos
Lycian rock tombs similar to those at Myra
 Anyhow, it was still a good day, we saw some new country and got back to our hotel about 9:00 pm dead tired. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cookie Monster

We have been on a cooking spree this week.  It is something we totally enjoy doing together.  It is our quality time.

Monday was Borshch and potato salad; Tuesday Tanya made a yellow cake and I made Mexican cornbread, of which most went to her boys.  Cooking for two is no fun so we send stuff home to the family all the time.

Wednesday we made 8 pizzas.  Once I found out Tanya could make the dough and she found out I knew what to put on them, we were set.  This is the third time for us.  Tanya started the dough about noon and from 2 to 4 we cranked them out one every 15 minutes.  Our oven will only hold one 12" pizza pan at a time.  We sent five home with the boys.

Thursday Tanya made pumpkin-rice "casha" which means "mush" but we might translate it as porridge.  Pumpkin, rice, honey and milk. I don't know the name of the squash, but do know it is not pumpkin per se.  The hide is hard and the flesh thick, hard and bright orange.  It can be eaten hot as vegetable, or as breakfast porridge or cold as dessert.  I love it.

We had roast beef for supper Thursday night and lucked out on quality.  Mostly I never complain as beef is beef and a treat to me, tough or tender.  This roast was cuttable with a fork!  With beef supplied by the dairy industry and no grading system, mostly we eat it as ground beef.  A roast is a rare privilege, so to speak.

Today was cookie baking day.  Tomorrow Tanya is going with Masha and her school class to Krivii Rih to the circus and a museum.  Masha requested oatmeal raisin cookies.  For 27 kids, two teachers and Tanya.  So we made two recipes today.  When I put the cookies in the pans I am lucky to get 40 from a batch, so I asked Tanya to do that part.  She got 60 cookies from the first batch and 48 from the  second.  We lined a new shoebox (apparently I wear large shoes) with serviettes and filled it with cookies and still sent home a dozen to both Andrei's and Roman's.

Did you ever notice when a recipe MUST turn out good, it presents all sorts of problems you never experienced before.  So it was with the cookies.  But they taste pretty good and the kids will love them.  Tanya figures Masha is thrilled because it is HER Babushka bringing them.

Tomorrow I make chili.  Yeesssss!  Tanya can't eat it, too spicy, so I make it when she is away.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ukraine Slowly Loses Its Freedom

I said in an earlier post that the Regionnaires would likely win the election 10 days from now and it appears I was right to think so.  The Economist blog Eastern Approaches today posted this article: 

Ukrainian politics - Ten days before polling day

The ruling Party of Regions and its allies look set to win Ukraine’s parliamentary election on October 28th. They may even gain a constitutional majority with control of two-thirds of the parliament. This will likely happen despite the fact that most Ukrainians regularly tell pollsters their country is heading “in the wrong direction” and less than a quarter of them plan to vote for the Party of Regions.
Perhaps the most important reason for this is that Ukraine has reverted to the mixed proportional and first-past-the-post system last used in 2002. Back then, it allowed Leonid Kuchma, an unpopular president, to secure a working majority in parliament thanks to a divided opposition and post-election defections to his camp.
The same conditions are in place now for Viktor Yanukovych, the current president. His candidates can come out on top in first-past-the-post constituencies where three or more opposition politicians are competing. On October 14th the two main anti-Yanukovych forces agreed to withdraw some of their candidates in some districts in order to limit this phenomenon, but they have stopped far short of a genuine alliance. It is testament to the current parliamentary opposition’s ineffectiveness that it allowed this electoral reform to pass last year, giving the ruling party a chance to retain power in an election that could be classed as free and fair (given that an elected parliament had agreed to its rules).
Still, it appears Mr Yanukovych’s team sees no compelling reason to take that chance: there are plenty of ways to skew the vote before international observers, who see this election as a crucial test for Ukrainian democracy, arrive to observe the polling itself. Evidence from various quarters suggests this machinery is in motion across the country.
For more click HERE
This article is not comforting and simply reflects how Ukraine is sinking deeper into the morass.  It is becoming more and more like Putin's Russia.  It was more free under Yushchenko than ever before but that is rapidly giving way to government control and a police state.  Ukrayinskiy Tyzhden, Ukrainian Week has a very depressing article on how the government is clamping down hard on the few remaining independent media outlets, including their own magazine. They concluded the article with this information on a new Law on Slander that will kill investigative journalism.
On September 18th, the Verkhovna Rada passed a bill “On Amending the Criminal Code and the Code of Proceedings of Ukraine to Increase Liability for Attacks on the Dignity and Business Reputation of Individuals”. Officially sponsored by the Party of Regions’ Vitaliy Zhuravsky, the draft law was actually designed at the Presidential Administration as proven by an electronic file posted on the parliament’s website. The list of crimes in the new draft law includes slander, punishable with prison terms of one to two years or two to five years. Slander that accuses someone of a serious crime may carry up to a three-year jail sentence. Top officials are not hiding the purpose of the draft law. In its response to a question by the online publication Economic Truth regarding corrupt property foreclosures based on court decisions, the Ministry of Justice wrote that it was “dishonest activity” similar to that of the publication that “brought forth the legislative initiative to implement liability for slander”. The question about corruption was left unanswered.
If passed, the law on slander will destroy the remnants of independent journalism in Ukraine. In lieu of a fair judiciary, any journalist who criticizes an official or publishes an investigation on potential corruption will automatically become an object of criminal persecution with the outcome known in advance. This is essentially an attempt to apply the tools used against jailed opposition members to attack legitimate free media outlets using obsolete soviet provisions of the Criminal Code. Despite promises from government representatives to soften the draft law following sharp reactions by the Western and Ukrainian public and politicians, the law, if passed, will signal the end of free speech and journalism in Ukraine. After that, journalism in the country may degrade completely.The government seems to have taken a step back under pressure from the public. When this publication was being prepared, the Party of Regions’ Vitaliy Zhuravsky stated that he would recall his draft law on slander. However, he also said that he was going to submit a finalized version to the parliament after the election. According to The Ukrainian Week’s source in the Party of Regions, legislative changes on criminal liability for slander will “definitely” be passed after the parliamentary election. 

This is nothing new. If the tactics employed by the government on a massive scale succeed to win them a constitutional majority in the new parliament (300 out of 450 seats)—even if supported by no more than 25% of the population—the Yanukovych regime will be able to completely ignore the international community. In doing so, he may point to having “absolute popular support” and a constitutional majority in the parliament as signs thereof. “All questions about Ukraine will be answered after the election,” said Yanukovych at the Yalta European Strategy conference. In this light, this phrase may gain an entirely new meaning.

For the full article, click HERE

To be honest, moving to Russia is appealing.  At least there it is all Russians and one knows how the system works.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Alarm at Greek police 'collusion' with far-right Golden Dawn

Return of the Brownshirts a result of IMF austerity in Greece.

Greece's far-right party, Golden Dawn, won 18 parliamentary seats in the June election with a campaign openly hostile to illegal immigrants and there are now allegations that some Greek police are supporting the party.
"There is already civil war," says Ilias Panagiotaros. If so, the shop he owns is set to do a roaring trade.
It sells camouflage gear, police riot gloves, face masks and T-shirts extolling football hooliganism.
On the walls are posters celebrating the last civil war in Greece, which ended in 1949.
"Greek society is ready - even though no-one likes this - to have a fight: a new type of civil war," he says.
"On the one side there will be nationalists like us, and Greeks who want our country to be as it used to be, and on the other side illegal immigrants, anarchists and all those who have destroyed Athens several times," he adds.
You hear comments like this a lot in Greece now but Ilias Panagiotaros is not some figure on the fringes: he is a member of the Greek parliament, one of 18 MPs elected for the far-right Golden Dawn in June's general election.
To read more click HERE

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Prairie School by Lois Lenski

Sometimes a kids' book is not just a kids' book.  I last read Prairie School by Lois Lenski almost 60 years ago.  It was 1954 and I was a Grade 2 kid in a one-room prairie school that my father had last attended some 20 years before.  The book came in a box of books from the school board office which had to be read and returned within the month. I never forgot the book. My kids found it on E-Bay for me for Christmas one year not long ago, 1951 hardcover, exactly as I remembered it, and I read it again just now.

In the Foreword, Lois Lenski explains that in May 1948 she received a letter from Maple Leaf School, a "one-room rural school in South Dakota, just west of the Missouri river and near the North Dakota state line".  The pupils wrote to tell her how much they liked Strawberry Girl which the teacher read to them when it was cold and they gathered around the large floor register over the furnace to keep warm.  Ms. Lenski received other letters from the students of Maple Leaf School in school year 1949-50, describing the terrible winter and their life on the Dakota plains.

She determined to write their story and inspite of delays of snow storms into May, she made the trip, met the students and their families, observed during class, slept in the teacherage.  Prairie School is a composite of their stories.  Maple Leaf School became the model for "Oak Leaf School".  The community was mainly German-Russians from the Odessa region of what is now Ukraine who settled there in the early 1900s. Their language and customs are captured by Lois Lenski's dialogue and also her wonderful pencil sketches.

 Eleven kids from 6 to 13 from six families came on horseback or horse drawn cart or walked in summer and winter.  Farm work interrupted school work for the older boys. The winter of 49-50 was long and hard; the Christmas Concert was cut short because of weather; school was closed often due to weather and once the children were caught and had to stay at the school. Spring was late but never-the-less arrived and the meadowlarks sang. The book ends (for me) with sadness and a feeling as empty as the school. Oak Leaf School (and Maple Leaf School) closed at the end of the year and the kids were bused to town in the fall.  As Miss Martin, the teacher, said "You must grow up and go on to better things".

Ten years later, the one-room rural schools were closed in our school district (which, by the way, was mainly German-Russians from the Volga who came to Saskatchewan in the early 1900s) and the kids bused to town.  I was in Grade 8 by then.  Prairie School described a piece of my own childhood and reading it was like a trip back in time.

Sometimes a kids' book is not just a kids' book. Sometimes it is a reminder of how life was.  Anyone who did not grow up on the prairies and who did not go to a one-room school will find the book interesting, even though it is intended for "8 to 12 year olds", but not nearly as meaningful as for those of us who shared the experiences.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Quiet Life

We've been home a week now and settled back into the old routine.  Plus rain.  Fall in Ukraine is when we get the rain we needed all summer.  So far we have had about 60 mm or 2.5 inches; my dog dish isn't very precise.

Tanya managed a half day in her flowers and gutted the front flower bed so it was a good thing I got pictures when I did.  Since it is too wet to work outside we are in cooking mode.  Which is time we can share so we are both happy.  Borshch yesterday.  Potato salad today.  Pizza tomorrow.  Mexican cornbread next day or maybe tomorrow too; Tanya has a hankering. Friday will be a double batch oatmeal raisin cookies as Saturday Tanya is going with Masha's class to Krivii Rih to the circus and museums.  There will be 27 kids plus two teachers and Tanya.  So I need 60 cookies.  Or maybe 90.  Masha made a special request.

Kuchma and I are in the doghouse.  I suppose we should be in the cathouse by rights but that has a different connotation.  I let him in the house at 7:00 am and went back to bed.  We were out of milk so I gave him sour cream instead.  The cat didn't complain so I guess it was OK.  He must have lost his mind as he jumped on the bed on Tanya's side.  She flung him over to my side and he proceeded to pick dry mud out of his feet all over the blanket.

So far the green netting on top of the fence has kept Bobik from climbing out and when they are let out to run, they come back in an hour or two, happy to go back in their pen.

The Bible commands us to love our enemies and love our neighbours, which Mark Twain observed is usually because they are the same people.  We have not been on good terms with our neighbours for a couple of years now.  They are not easy to get along with but again, there are always two sides to a story.  I am by loyalty, forced to pick one side...however...

The rain has washed holes in the pavement that were patched earlier in the year, making driving difficult again.  Water soluble pavement is a new one to me.

We have an election coming up this month sometime for Deputies to the Verkovna Rada (Parliament).  The Party of Regions are the crooks currently in power and have little support in most of the country except Donbass region.  There may be up to 90 parties to choose from; one of the "benefits" of proportional voting.  Deputies from the smaller parties will sell their souls to the highest bidder after the votes have been counted.

The Regionnaires will most likely win.  It is not who votes but who counts as Stalin noted.  Several parties have teamed up to try to defeat them but I won't hold my breath.

Tomorrow is garbage day.  I am so excited.

Bobik climbs the gates without the green mesh on top.

Front garden Oct 11 before Tanya re-readied it for winter

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Staying at the Hotel Sydney 2000 in Turkey

Beldibi is a "town" that runs along the beach from Antalya to Kemer, about 30 km. It is wall to wall resorts from 3 to 5 Star and at least one 5+++ Star.  There are mainly Russian and Ukrainian guests along the strip and russian is the second language of the business people.  Other strips attract other countries as when we were flying home there were about 6 charters headed to different parts of Germany, for example.

The Hotel Sydney 2000 is right next door to the Sumela Gardens where we stayed last year. We liked Sydney much better and think we have found a "home".  We talked to others who have been coming there for 8 to 10 years.

Sydney is a small 3 Star; simple rooms, maybe 150 at best; simple fare.  The food was fabulous, though.  While there had to be some kind of rotation, in the 17 days we were there, there were no repeats.  You could not tell it was "Tuesday" by the menu.  Four hot dishes, a big salad bar and a dessert bar.  Even the salad and dessert bars had a certain amount of variation.  Always some fresh fruit on the dessert bar, too. Wi-Fi in the lounge but if you needed a table to work on, it also reached into the cafeteria.

Because we were end-of-season, the hotel was only three quarters to half full.  Not many staff but great service.  End of season is cheaper and not deathly hot.  We like +30C (86F) much better than the +45 (113F) in peak season.

The beach is narrow and gravel, not sand and drops off rapidly as you move out from shore.  Not small kid friendly yet there were always several small kids there who had a great time.  One mom was there with four very rambunctious kids ages 11 to 2.  Every Babushka in the place helped her look after them.

Cost for the two of us for 17 days, end of season, including airfare from Kyiv was $2050. I have no idea if there are American and Canadian packages available but Turkish Airlines is a very good airline and not expensive to fly.  I am sure that something could be worked out.  For those who love history, Turkey has 10,000 years of it and ruins from every culture and civilization.

Back of the hotel, pool and dining area

Path to the beach, grassy sunning area, kids playground on the right
Beach.  Most sunning is on lounges for comfort.  It is a swimming beach
Weekly entertainment night included a fire-breathing juggler
Tanya took this one.  I wish she'd have taken one of his girlfriend too in her white bikini
Front walk to the street

Friday, October 12, 2012

Not tonight, Dear, I have a Headache

Caught up on two bloggers tonight, Demeur and Author Lynda Beck Fenwick.  Too tired to think further so please accept these pictures of cute cats instead.

Please don't eat me.

He is always staring off into space

If you did your job, I wouldn't have to

Looking back to see 
Mom, Billy peed in the food dish again


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Things go swimmingly

People familiar with the sea and who can swim, will read this and wonder what the big deal is but for a flatland prairie boy for whom 4" of water on a Saturday night bath was significant and who never learned to swim, it is an achievement.  I let go of the shore line this holiday and ventured out into deep water.

They say during the Second World War that prairie boys signed up for the navy and merchant marine in great numbers.  Partly perhaps, because vast empty expanses with horizons at 180 degrees held no fear for them and partly because they already knew how to work and being a grunt held no attraction for them compared to shipboard with no marching under heavy packs.  But maybe mostly just the sight of so much water at one time.

Water deeper than 3 feet and wider than I can see across has always fascinated me and I have paddled around in lakes when opportunity afforded it and a few times in the ocean - once in the Pacific, twice in the Black Sea and now four times in the Mediterranean.

This was the best holiday ever for me and our fourth vacation in Turkey.  I had nothing hanging over me and was able to totally relax.  The sea is almost always calm in the mornings; some mornings there aren't even wavelets washing the shore. And it was warm; 27C or 80F.  It wasn't like I hadn't been in the water there before but for some reason it dawned on me I could not sink regardless of what I did.  Tanya said that the Mediterranean has 30 grams of salt per litre, which combined with my body massive index mean I was pretty much guaranteed to float unless I hit an iceberg.

The fat in my head and the lead in my ass balanced so well that I stood at attention in deep water and floated, with my head above water.  Long ago I had learned to float on my back even in lake water so I was off.  Using my arms as oars I rowed my way around.  A rowboat from Ukraine; a veritable Hunky Dory.

Now I didn't move very fast and sometimes when Tanya was in a hurry to get to shore (lunch time??) she would get behind and push me like a tugboat pushing a barge.

There was a rope barrier way out there to separate swimmers from boaters and I actually swam/rowed my way out to it twice every day, a few times three times out and back.  It was an awesome feeling not to panic simply because I had no sea bottom to touch.  The only time I did almost panic was one morning I got out there and found the barrier had broken and drifted away.  There was NOTHING between me and the entire Mediterranean.  There was no limit to how far I could go and that was scary.  A good psychologist could have a heyday.  Analyse this!

Narrow gravel beach.  Drops off quickly.  Great swimming

The rope barrier is about where the white line is.

Along the beachfront are piers every so often for sunning and diving

About 2/3 of the way there and rowing for all I am worth.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trying to Stay Sane

Reducing stressors has become a must.
I've made some rules for myself which I am more or less following.  Mostly regarding politics, religion and related social issues.

I have stopped trying to read everything as it is simply impossible to start with and I am finding that the themes repeat and repeat.  I have canceled several of my regular newsletters or whatever you call them.  Ezines is a horrible word.

If the tone of the headline or beginning of the article is ugly I stop reading it.  If it looks like it might be reasonably intelligent, well argued and that I might learn then I will attempt to read it.

One of the things that depresses me is the knowledge that the real enemy is not the person or problem in front of you that "hates you and wants you dead".  These are honest and can be dealt with.  It is the people who are supposedly "on your side" that are the true enemy, that seem to do everything to prevent success of the stated goal, caring only for their own vanity, position, wealth etc..  Ask any soldier.  Or anyone who ever worked in any kind of bureaucracy.  Hence my frustration with the "Luddites of the Loony Left" who divert energy from the more important goals of social and economic justice.

Instead I look for stuff that makes me smile.  DogHeirs website with cute puppy videos is great (I know cute puppy videos aren't news, Doonesbury, that is why I watch them). GoodNewsNetwork is another source of smiles.  And of course, FaceBook is loaded with cute pictures of dogs, cats, lids and other critters.  Jango is a great "radio station" in the net with all of my favourite music.

And I will steer very clear of serious stuff on this blog.  So much as is possible.  Three of my regulars commented yesterday about the overload of politics in America being depressing.  I need to keep up more or less with politics in four countries.  Canada and Ukraine.  America and Russia.  Not a pleasant prospect.

Oh, I have a couple of consulting projects ahead of me AND have begun reading my backlog of books.  History and otherwise.

Our holiday in Turkey was the best ever and that will fill a couple of blogs.

Tanya and I in Turkey on my 65th birthday

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Starting again

To my readers, thanks for staying with me while I took a much needed break.  I have been on my new meds for two months; Tanya and I are back from our annual holiday in Turkey and I am ready to face the world again.

Now to catch up on reading everyone's blogs that I missed over the past five weeks.

To those of you who are receivers of spam because of linking to my blog I am truly sorry about that and have no idea how to cure it.  My ISP is which is a Russian owned company I believe and I know that a great deal of spam gets routed through their servers though I don't know where it originates.

Me off my meds

Me on my meds
Maddy is a Cockapoo.  Having raised five litters of pups, which was one too many according to her, she has little patience.  She is quite protective of her owner which used to be my oldest daughter (MayB in her blogging days) and now belongs to MayB's sister-in-law.  She has a ferocious fake snarl and bite but wouldn't hurt anyone.  I think the kiss-and-make-up was genuine.