Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year to One and All

Tanya and I wish all of you the best for 2010.  May you be safe and free from want. May your year be filled with the love and laughter of family and friends.  May you and yours enjoy health and happiness throughout the year.  May your hearts be filled with peace and and contentment.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Faces in Ukraine

This year in Ukraine, with a population of about 46 million people, some 530,000 babies were born, a record number.  Obviously people believe in the future of this country.

I had noted the number of little babies in Zhovti Vody this year and thought maybe it was just  a local phenomonon but apparently it was all over Ukraine.  Baby carriages (do they still call them that?) are everywhere.  Good business to be in as most that I see are pretty fancy new rigs.  Kids stores are everywhere too.  Clothes and toys.

The economy shrank by 12% in 2009 yet people keep looking to the future.  I guess that is how Ukrainians have survived the last 1000 years or so.  It is "next year" country.

Speaking of which, the big grocery store was crowded today with folks buying for New Year's celebrations.  The line ups at the tills were several people deep.  Poor economy or not, there is money for holiday feasts.

Good Things Still Happen

Good News Network is a great newsletter that doesn't cost much to subscribe too and fills a void left by mainstream media.  I hope they pick up on this story from Russia.

On November 27th, terrorists derailed the Nevsky Express between Moscow and St Petersburg.  Twenty-six people were killed and over 90 injured as several cars went off the tracks at high speed.  An old grandmother who lived near the tracks had the front of her cottage destroyed by one of the derailed cars. She spent the night hauling all her blankets and spare clothing, other than what she wore to the people who were waiting to be rescued in the winter cold.

Today we watched on the news as she was presented, courtesy of the Russian state,  with a brand new cottage in gratitude for her help that night.  The cottage is lovely,  modern and completely furnished, including gas and running water which she had never had before.  Watching made one fell like tonight she is the "Grandmother of all Russians".  All the people they interviewed talked about how good she was to them that night and how glad they were that she was recognized for her selflessness.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Put on a Happy Face

I was using Google just now to find the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Kyiv as we need to go there on Tuesday morning to apply for a visa for me.  I found this Happy Face looking up at me so thought I would share it with you.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Christmas" Recipes

Yesterday we had roast turkey.  Tanya was nervous as it was her first time to cook one.  I did the honours of carving it.  It was a genuine organic farm raised free range turkey.  "Eight years old", lean, narrow and tough as shoe leather.  Should have cooked it in a slow oven.  Next time.  I even made gravy.  Very good gravy, I might add.  Which only I used.

Today was turkey soup day.  I threw the turkey bones in a stock pot, covered them with water, simmered them for three hours, picked the meat off the bones, threw the meat and the leftover gravy into the stock, added the usual salt, pepper, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, poultry seasoning (I have no idea what I am doing), threw in left over vegetables and coloured pasta somethings.  Decided it was too watery.  Threw in another bag of pasta somethings.  I now have pasta turkey stew; enough to feed the entire village according to Tanya.

The reason the left over gravy went in was that it is an unknown dish in this country.  Mashed potatoes with lots of butter and milk, yes, but gravy from any source is unheard of.  Tanya says it is too fatty.  This from a woman who on a good week can use a litre of cooking oil and who buys boneless, skinless chicken breasts, dips them in egg and flour and fries them in a quarter inch of sunflower oil.  I don't argue.

A favourite traditional Ukrainian/Russian dish, which I love and which everyone yesterday ate more of than turkey was liver kutletta.  This is the most delicious way to eat liver ever but preparation is NOT for the weak of stomach.

1 kg fresh (beef) liver
4 large onions
4 eggs,
1/3 cup of flour (2 heaping serving spoons)
2 dollops of sour cream or mayonnaise

Run the liver and onions through a meat grinder (a food processor would likely work), add the eggs, flour and sour cream.  Mix thoroughly, season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Note: you have NEVER seen anything as gross as this mixture unless you have lanced a large abscess on a cow).

Ladle about a quarter or half a cup at a time into a frying pan, the hotter the better, with enough oil so it won't stick.  It should make a thin "pancake".  Fry it fast and flip it so it is evenly cooked on both sides.

It is delicious, trust me on that.  Hot or even cold.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, One and All

May all of you be "home" for Christmas, where ever that may be.  Enjoy the love of family and friends.  And above all travel safely if you are on the road.  
Merry Christmas from our house to yours.
Al and Tanya

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Old Church on Christmas Eve

The old church stood where two roads met.
As evening snowflakes fell,
I heard in the silence of cold winter twilight
The echo of the old church bell.

For many a Christmas come and gone,
Had a little choir sung.
For many a Christmas to 'Silent Night'
Had the old pine rafters rung.

Many years Pastors inspired their flocks
With words of the first Christmas day,
And the Spirit of Christmas filled many a heart
In a strange and wonderful way.

Now, God doesn't dwell in old wooden buildings;
He dwells in the hearts of men.
The peace in my heart on this Christmas Eve night
Came not from without but within.

But the old country church, unused and neglected,
Wasn't empty and silent this night.
I thought I heard singing; through the window I caught
The glimmer of Christmas tree lights.

Abandoned for years for more modern cathedrals
The church stood all dark in the chill,
Yet the spirits of those who worshiped and sang there,
Worshiped and sang there still.

The original version of this poem was written 39 years ago for a Grade 9 English Class.  I was working in Kingston, Ontario.  The family I was boarding with had a girl in Grade 9  whose boyfriend lived across the street.  I used to go to his hockey games and often took Kathy since I was "an adult and had a car".  They were assigned to write poems for their English class.  Roland brought his efforts to me to look at and I fixed it up for him and made it scan a bit better.  Of course, nothing would do but I had to write Kathy's entire poem.  There was an old church by a crossroads in northern Ontario where her brother and his family lived.  I had seen it on a visit to their home.  It served as inspiration.

Roland got 8.5/10 and Kathy got 9/10.  She was so happy she beat him.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anniversary Waltz

Today, Tanya and I are married three years.  We've been together as a couple three and a half which was June 2006 when she agreed to marry me.  She won't tell me the exact date and I am in some trouble for not knowing it as she counts from then while I count from the wedding.  To her a wedding is "signing some documents", the commitment was made when I asked and she answered.

At any rate we celebrated by going into town for groceries.  Figured it was time.  The fridge was so empty, when we opened the door the vacuum sucked the cat in.  $150 worth of groceries later we are ready for Christmas with at least enough food for triple the number of attendees to dinner.  The turkey came out of the freezer today, too.

At 3:00 Andrei drove us to Krivii Rih (his second trip of the day) to buy Tanya her winter coat.  We had been in last week and nothing fit.  There are lots of Babushka's her size and shape but apparently they have either already attracted the money to buy a leather and fur coat or never will. The shops in the mall had many beautiful expensive fur coats to fit the tall leggy luscious blondes that are attracting new money but nothing for my gorgeous blonde that got a late start.  One shop had called to say that they had a couple of coats in that would fit her so back we went.
Of course she had to try on coasts and dresses in several other shops first.  The two coats did fit and then it was "chocolate or vanilla".  One was a street length black leather suede coat with fur trim around the hood and sleeves, the other was car-length black suede with a fur collar and trim.  She looked like a million in either one.  She finally settled for the longer coat and promised she would buy the short one for next winter.

I had to go to a bankomat to get cash.  When I brought it back, I said to Tanya, "Happy Anniversary, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Valentines Day, Happy..."  The sales lady cracked up as she understood enough English to follow the conversation.

Then Tanya dragged me back to a dress shop where she had found a beautiful classy dress for about $250.  I said you can have it if they take MasterCard.  A safe bet, thank God, as they didn't.  Neither did the store where we bought the coat.  Cash only and no cash register.  This is 2010 and stores that sell clothing in the $250 to $2500 range don't have cash registers or bank card terminals.  And some guy commenting on an article in The Economist complained because they are referred to as "post-communist" countries after 20 years.

Tanya bought my Christmas present today too. Just down corridor from the coat store was a music store with not bad guitars for not bad prices.  Furthermore the store had electronic tuners for guys like me who cannot tune a guitar to save their soul. It has been 35 years. But I will practice.  My fingertips are so sore right now, but not bleeding yet so no complaints. 

Oh, the guitar shop had a credit card terminal.

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Icy World

It rained last night.  At 8:00 pm the temperature was about +2C.  By this morning it was back to normal and tonight it is -17C.  I was out to look after the dogs, take them warm water and make sure they had enough food.  Their yard looked like the pictures below.  The fields are still covered with snow, though the road ruts are solid ice.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weather or Not

This morning the temperature was  -15C and tonight it is +1C and raining slightly.  The roads will be treacherous until they get salt and sand on them.  Snowstorms the past few days have stalled truck traffic across southern Ukraine.  Yesterday our big grocery supermarket was out of fresh vegetables and chicken.  Odessa stores were running out of bread according to the news.  This thaw and freezing rain won't help matters.

Andrei, Tanya and Masha came for supper tonight. Tanya and Masha built a snowman while Andrei shoveled the walks and driveway.  Bless his heart.  He is now having a sleep on the couch.  Masha is running wild, just glad to have space to move in.  Apartments are not much fun for little kids.

I let the dogs out of their yard to play at noon and of course, they had to get into trouble.  Zhenya's gate was open, they ran into his yard and were attacking the turkeys.  Didn't kill any but were biting at their feathers.  If I let them out at night, they go over to the neighbours behind us and play with her dogs, keeping an old woman next door awake.  The village has a dozen dogs running at large which don't attack chickens and turkeys, don't keep people awake at night (too often) and are generally well behaved.

Five more days until "Catholic" Christmas.  We are having the entire crew for dinner that day.  Roman, Lena, Lena's mom Luda, Andrei, Tanya, Masha, Tanya's mom Natasha and Tanya's grandmother Galina (Galya).  The wives are bringing salads and we are cooking the turkey.  Gift opening will be that day, too, rather than New Year's eve.  We will save the goose for New Year's day, Tanya says.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Tree Decorations

Some folks decorate trees just to be beautiful.  Tanya has done our trees like that as we started with all new trees and ornaments.  Other trees are decorated with sentiment and tradition.  Last year I blogged about our family Christmas tree when we were kids.  Over the years, when my kids were growing up,  we collected many boxes of ornaments, some bought, some gifts, some hand made.  Our trees were beautiful because each ornament had meaning.

One ornament we got from Auntie Marj, was this wintery looking little house that played a tinkly Christmas carol when you pushed a button.  Now May-B hates tinkly tunes that go on and on.  So of course we took advantage of this over the years to drive her crazy. Once she almost destroyed her birthday cake trying to stop a candle holder from tinkling Happy Birthday.  We would hide this house decoration on the tree, wait till we could hear her coming then push the button and run.  She would tear into the tree looking for it.

As we all went our separate ways, dividing up the Christmas stuff was part of May-B's storage clutter reduction.  She sent some to Tanya and I.  I can go through our house and tell you which  ones.  She took pictures of some for me that she knew I would want.

Crocheted by Auntie Noreen?

 Gift for Grandparents

Not sure who made these.  Noreen?

More hand made ornaments from the kids

Ky's Wishes for the World School Project

This sleigh held our Christmas cards each year for many years

A tiny Nativity reminds us of "the Reason for the Season".

Tiny gifts from Great Aunts when the kids were very young
and Carolers from Mrs Y

Business card

I was looking thorugh some old folders today and ran into this business card.  I stole the idea about 25 odd years ago from a colleague who fitted the description to a T.  I pass it on to others.  Feel free to update, adapt, plagerize or steal.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Saskatchewan Morning

Winter with a vengeance.  Not -20 but -12 with a -30 windchill, snow and blowing snow.  Snowdrifts here and there, not big ones of course but true drifts.  Easier driving as snow packs into pot holes and the roads become smoother for a while again.

Man came to read the gas meter and the dogs didn't even come out of their house to see who it was invading their yard.  The cat meowed to go out, not really meaning it but knowing it was a must.  He was back in 15 minutes.

We spent all day in town running errands.  We went to several home supply stores looking for stuff to remodel our chimney.  Also went to a new plumbing, heating and electrical retail outlet.  I'm always interested to see what new things they have that I might recognize as familiar.  The one home supply store carried Canadian asphalt 25 year shingles.  That was great.  A new kitchen store carried several gadgets we had only seen in Canada before. 

At one home supply I found a glue gun.  Grabbed it quick. How many glue sticks did I want?  I dunno...25.  Turns out they weren't glue sticks but silicone sticks and a foot long to boot.  I will go back to morrow and see if they have glue sticks. Tanya had never seen one before but it took her about 5 seconds to figure all the things she could do with it.  We are going to Krivii Rih tomorrow if it warms up or even if the wind dies down and look for a winter coat for Tanya.  I am going to look for another glue gun and real glue sticks.

Water main broke on Maikovska street when we were going into town and water was roaring down the hill a couple of inches deep. We ducked down a side street to keep from icing up our wheels.  A month of -30 weather would literally destroy all the water and sewer works in this city. Most lines are buried three or four feet deep, not the obligatory 8 feet deep of Saskatchewan. City workers sure earn their pay in winter.

The news tonight says major snow storms in Odessa and Donetsk today.  900 cars stranded in Odessa.  Police are hauling gasoline to stranded cars and villagers are bunking stranded travelers in for the night or hauling tea to others who are sticking with their cars.

When we were kids, the highway ran past our place, built in the 1930's, with two bad cuts a quarter mile east and west of our farm.  We would get stranded motorists every winter that buried their cars in the drifts in those cuts.  Nice to know that this happens other places and that people respond to those in need.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gas leaks and other winter hazards

Concrete and brick houses don't catch fire easily but they do blow up.  Yesterday we could smell gas in our kitchen.  Tanya immediately phoned the gas company and we set to work clearing out stuff so they could get at the tap and lines to the stove.  They are located behind our kitchen counters (don't ask).  We were being Watched Over from Above, as a call to the two guys who installed the cupboards brought them on the run in 10 minutes.  They were not due to go on shift at the plant where they work until later so were free to help us.  They had the counters out in a few minutes, just as the gas company arrived.

The tap was faulty and was replaced.  Volodya and Dymr put the counters back and headed for work.  All is well. Except today we have to go to the gas company and get a record book for them to record service calls.  We were supposed to have one but no one told us.

We are also extending our chimney today.  it is supposed to be above the ridge of the roof, though it seems to me it is far enough away that it should still draw. But it certainly needs new insulation.  Chimney pipe here does not come in insulated lengths for some reason, and insulation must be done after installation.  This I have to see.

Temps are supposed to go to -30C tonight so Tanya is out adding extra covers to her roses.  It is currently -12C with a strong wind.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday NIght

Computer is working better than ever.  Found an updated software package for my HP 5590 scanner that works like a dream.  Skype is working well for me from home for the first time.  Talked to two of my kids, no problems, third one connection problems.  Still better than 35 cents a minute.  Thirty years ago it cost that to call Rosetown from Regina, now we complain if it costs that to talk half way round the world.

Am working on a tight deadline to finish a business plan for a client on Vancouver Island. I subcontract from a friend who does the legwork and financials, while I do the internet searchs and the writing.  Dumb questions are referred to my friend who digs out smart answers.  This is about the fourth or fifth such collaborative work we have done.

Masha was here today for the afternoon.  She and Maxim played together while Tanya cooked up a storm.  Speaking of which, we have winter here now. Snow and -7.  Our furnace (hot water) is acting up again as it does every year when it gets cold.  The repair man was here and told us teh same thing as he told us last year.  We need a new chimney or something like that.  Anyhow, Tanya will handle it.  she is the pro general contractor.

Andrei needs the car tomorrow which is good because it is filthy and he always washes it.  Now that it is cold it will stay clean anyhow.

Time to get back to work.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beauty and Muscle - at a Price

The Guy bought a shiny new black truck.  He may let May-B drive it when she gets older.  Or after HE puts the first dent or scratch in it.  I saw on MSN website the other day that of the Top 10 Gas guzzlers in North America, it ranks 9th. 



Christmas Decorations

Just a few pictures of the house.  We are getting into the festive season, though it doesn't really start here until Dec 31st. It snowed all last night and today.  Temp of -1 C means sloppy streets but lovely trees and fields.





Adobe Acrobat 9 STD would not download.  Adobe suggested I try another browser.  I installed Firefox.  Worked like a charm.  Adobe downloaded!  All 315 MB, though it too half the day.  I'm sold on Firefox and have installed it as my default browser.  I suppose someone told me to do that long ago and I didn't listen?

Now if only I can get my HP Scanner to work.  I found a new driver for it but likely need to reinstall something but will NOT touch anything.  Even with a System Restore Point.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vindicated - Sort of

Volodya brought my computer back this morning.  He said that the problem was incompatibility between the HP Scanjet 5590 driver and Windows XP Service Pack 3.  I think that is what he said. I understood the English words. We asked Tanya to help but she didn't understand anything he said, Russian or English.  When it comes to computers Tanya makes my sister Evelyn seem like an IT Geek.  At any rate the scanner which worked before no longer works 100%.  I have to figure ways around the parts of the software that no longer work.

Why it worked before and not after the format and reload escapes us both.  Volodya went on line and found that all sorts of people were having the same problem and if he found a solution, we couldn't communicate well enough for him to tell me.

 He helped me put a bunch of programs on it, just to make sure everything stayed working.  And I left and will leave all the programs on it which I don't want just in case one of them is important.

They say when you find yourself in a hole you should first quit digging. Good idea.

Now if Adobe Acrobat 9.0 upgrade will just download for me all will be well.  That and the Office 2007 compatibility package for Office 2003.

The Saskatchewan Computer Virus

There was a gag email going the rounds a few years ago called the Saskatchewan virus.  "We are simple folk here, not able to do sophisticated programming so please forward this to all your friends and then format your hard drive".

My desktop computer came back Saturday morning and by Sunday night I had it so screwed up it would not function. The IT tech was here Monday afternoon and took the computer back with him.  Says he will bring it back today.

I'm going to buy a big Pit Bull.  My job will be to feed him.  His job will be to attack me if I ever go near the Registry again.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bloomin' Idiots

Tanya planted these flowers in late Oct.  I should say transplanted.  Bought from someone at the market.  They bloomed in early November and have continued to bloom since, oblivious to the cold and damp.

Other cases of Bloomin' Idiots are less positive.  The nightclub fire at Perm, Russia in which about 120 people have died last count.  Only one door unlocked.  The pensioners in Lugansk Ukraine whose allotment of government coal was so dirty and gravelly that it will hardly burn and throws little heat.  Whoever got teh contract pocketed the difference in cost and likely split it with the person responsible for investigating the crime.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Please Wait While I Reload

Got my computer back by 11:00 this morning and have been loading and downloading ever since.  Starting over with older software meansre downloading all the updates, patches and Service Packs at painfully slow speeds. 

And of course there is always HewlettPackard.  Their hardware is excellent.  I bought an HP laser printer when I first started on my own in 1997 and it ground away at 8 pages per minute for 10 years.  I have a big 5590 Scanjet and a little photo scanner.  They work well IF you can get the software to install properly.  HP software has given me nothing but headaches.  First off, their internet registration and updating has NEVER worked on any software I ever installed as it "Cannot contact the internet.  Be sure you are connected".  I owned a 5550 scanjet and one of the program files was a *.tmp, which disappeared every time you did a computer clean up as it searches for tmp files to delete.  That took a while to figure out.  Then the 5590 software would not work properly on my desktop but would on my laptop.  The nice lady in Mumbai had no clues about that. 

The 5590 software was working fine on my desktop computer until I sent it for Dusting and Cleaning; now it won't reinstall properly.  From the CD or from the download.  GGGRRRRR!!! 

Took a couple of hours away from the desk to get the snow tires put on.  Remove wheels, remove and replace tires, balance, replace wheels.  Took an hour and cost $16, including Nitrogen gas in the tires.  I picked up Masha on the way home.  She was allowed to come visit without her mother today.  My Tanya remarked that "It will snow tomorrow".  Much gentler than "Hell must have frozen over".

Babushka and Masha decorated the upstairs tree.  In a few days I will post pictures of our decorations but "WE" are a long way from finished.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Back on Line Again - Briefly

My desktop computer is in the shop getting its hard drive reformatted and a few other minor things.  I took it in on Monday evening.  Tomorrow we are going to Dnipro so it will be Friday before I get it back.  I have my notebook computer hooked to my monitor and keyboard so it is a little like "home" but I don't have all the same programs and files on it.  I learned yesterday that Roman had rigged it up to use Tanya's KyivStar modem so we are "sharing".  I plug it into my computer unless she wants it. At least I can check emails.

The IT tech says he has to come home with the computer which tells me he has not got it all running again.  Especially the internet modem, which is what I was most worried about.  I think he is missing a driver for the Mobile as modem but will see on Friday.

Stay tuned.