Friday, July 31, 2009

Prisoner's Dilemma

There is a game, that apparently every Psych 101 student knows, called Prisoner’s Dilemma. I heard it explained on Peter Gzowski’s radio show many years ago and it stayed with me. The version (and there are many) was this:

There are two “players”, you and I. We each hold two aces, red and black. We both play one ace, face up, at the same time. If we both play a red ace, the “bank” gives us each $5. If we both play a back ace, we each give the bank $5. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Play red aces and slowly acquire a pile of money.

There is a hitch. If you play a red ace and I play a black ace, you must give me $100. Now what do you do?

If we trust each other, we continue to play red aces. How much do you trust me? How much do I trust you?

The safest is to continually play black aces and continually pay the bank $5. But no one wins that way, so we negotiate. We come to an agreement not to cheat, to play only red aces. How good is the agreement? Do you trust me? Do I trust you?

This is the dilemma faced by all of us in all aspects of life. Diplomacy. Business relationships. Personal relationships. We all promise to play red aces but there is always the temptation to play a back ace and cash in, quick and dirty.

Isn’t life fun?

Another Birthday Blog

Dana Wyzard turned 60 today and summed up her life in 60 incredible sentences.

She can be funny and bills herself as a humour blogger. But she can also be poignant. The blogs I like best are the ones like today's, when she writes of her life, how she feels, the difficulties she has overcome, her old dog Lucky and how she found Joe, the love of her life . She ends it all with "Life Is Good". She is a very good writer.

Of course, on rare (thankfully) occasions she will write very unkind things about people of other colours and cultures which makes my blood boil and I want to beat her. But I keep going back and reading her posts. Sometimes even the advertising ones she gets paid to write.

Happy Birthday, Dana, you are "halfway home".

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kuchma and Family

Kuchma's family has learned that there is food at our house, so they come to visit. Mama cat is pretty shy around people but little daughter is all brave and playful. Kuchma tolerates her antics and sometimes even plays along. We used to feed Kuchma in the house but he made such a mess he was banished to the front entry. So he has to share.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Maxim's Masterpiece

Mid-May - Mid-July. I told you we needed rain.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Assorted happenings

We have our tickets to Canada return bought and paid for. Turkish Airlines and WestJet. Round trip for two of us $2400 CAD. We are in Canada from Sept 12 to Oct 8. I can hardly wait to see my family. It has been way too long.

Papa got his birthday present today. Final installation of his new store bought teeth. He looks good and really seems to like them - they fit comfortably he says. Total cost about 350 CAD for a full set of very good teeth. No idea of cost in Canada. We'll try Pop's teeth with corn on the cob tomorrow. Not sure he'll eat it. He is a meat and potatoes man. Says only pigs eat corn. May have to buy him a steak or something to try them out if he won't eat the corn. Now that IS a test since with no grading system, it could be old cow.

All the "kids" were here for the day. Masha played with Maxim all day, Lena worked in the garden. The rest just enjoyed the day. Maxim showed us a picture he made from shells that he collected by the Black Sea this summer and glued onto a backing. I will go get a picture tomorrow. Wasn't thinking. The kid is so painstakingly detailed in his work for an 8 year old.

We talked about going to Canada and about my kids coming here. Roman and Andrei want all my family here at one time if possible sometime, "for a family picture". That would be nice. It is hard enough to get a family picture in Canada with all in one place.

My dogs love to chase cats but are real cowards if cats chase them. Kuchma took exception tonight to Bobik's playfullness, flattened in the grass and then charged. Never laid a paw on Bobik who took off screaming like he had been attacked by a cougar. Too funny.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Little Brother

My youngest brother turns 55 today. This picture shows the difference 50 years makes. He ages well. He is tall and slim*. And not much grey hair for a father of four and grandfather of two.

He owns and operates a massage parlour (sports and therapeutic) and organic food store in the heart of Bible Belt Saskatchewan. He never rubs people the wrong way and everyone who visits him gets a good feeling all over.He lived close to the home farm and got on well enough with Dad to help out in later years. When they passed on to glory, he handled the estate better than any one could have considering his siblings. He still manages the land which stayed in the family but is leased out. He has a wonderful wife, good kids and grandkids. He is active in local events, in particular Little Theatre. All in all, a good man!

Have a Happy Birthday Little Brother and here's to another 55 years.

*I am short and fat. Either I got all the worms mother brought to the nest or he still has them?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Anniversary etc.

Yesterday was Andrei and Tanya's 10th Anniversary, so we invited them for supper. I fired up the Barbie and threw some burgers on to cook. Tanya boiled up corn on the cob (yes, from our garden) and we celebrated in style.

Masha never stops to eat. She and Maxim sat at the table long enugh for him to eat a burger and then they were off again. Tanya took Masha's home to eat before bed time. Kids eat then to avoid going to bed.

Maxim and his Baba Lucia were at the market this morning and he bought a new flower for his Babushka's garden. Lucia was busy transplanting it when I went over to admire the new acquisition. That kid knows the name of every flower on the place.

Friday and Saturday I had some repair work done on the car's rear suspension. Several hours work and the bill was about $130 CAD. Local mechanic. Kia Service who MUST change our oil and check the car over every 15,000 km to preserve the power train warranty charge that much for an oil change.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Second Chances

There are lots of guide books but no manuals for marriage.

Our marriage is the second for both Tanya and I. No matter whether our first marriage was a match made in Heaven or seemed to have had less stellar origins, mistakes were made, lessons were learned. We are determined not to make the same mistakes we made in our first marriages.

We are not having children. Just grandchildren.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Reasons I Love My Wife: #2644

Tanya decided she would plant some lettuce and as an experiment some cucumbers to see if they would yield in Sept/Oct. She went to one garden shop and came out with several packages of seed but they did not have one of something, so we went to another shop.

She was gone over 30 minutes, with Pop and I sitting in the car with the motor and A/C running as it was +38. She finally came out with two pots for house plants that needed repotting and anounced that they had a new plant in the shop with beautiful blue flowers which they had discussed at length, (though the sales person didn't know if it was for indoors or outdoors and gave her the wrong name of the plant also).

And they didn't have the seeds she was looking for, either.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Flower Pictures

Tanya took some of these pictures after a rain shower and caught the raindrops on the petals and leaves. These flowers' blooms last for one day. Don't know what they are called.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flying Trip to Dnipropetrovsk

Yesterday at 9:00 am, Tanya appeared in my office dressed for teh city and said she needed to go to Dnipro get see if she could find her blood pressure meds. None of the drug stores in ZV had them in stock and they are always expecting them "tomorrow". She had run out two days ago.

By 11:30 we were in the city and learned from a druggist in a shopping mall that the meds were unavailable as they were in process of reregistration or registration review. So Tanya went to the University Pharmacy and they helped her find a suitable alternative.

While she was down town, she had coffee with her friend Natalie. Natalie's husband had bought some land and needed the transfer documents registered with the city. It was more complicated than that but the upshot was for $15000 in bribe money, they would be happy to do it for him.

Ukraine has an obsession with documents, mainly I suspect because very document is an opportunity to extract bribes, hence no support for reforming the system. "What, you wanted it THIS century? Well, we are very busy but perhaps ..."

This is not something that grew out of the Soviet system. I just finished a translations of Gogol's "Dead Souls", written in the early mid 19th century and was surprised to learn that many of the practices I find objectionable in Ukraine are as old as Russian culture. People are appointed or removed from office at the whim of the person above them. NO ONE, Tsar, Party, or today's "democratically" elected government are answerable to the people. There is no accountability so to whom are you going to complain?

Explanations for The Guy

(1) Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.
(2) Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.
(3) Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. This means something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine.
(4) Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don't Do It!
(5) Loud Sigh: This is actually a word, but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to # 3 for the meaning of nothing.)
(6) That's Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. That's okay means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.
(7) Thanks: A woman is thanking you, do not question, or faint. Just say you're welcome. (I want to add in a clause here - This is true, unless she says 'Thanks a lot' - that is PURE sarcasm and she is not thanking you at all. DO NOT say 'you're welcome' . that will bring on a 'whatever').
(8) Whatever: Is a woman's way of saying F-- YOU!
(9) Don't worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking 'What's wrong?' For the woman's response refer to # 3.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Taste of Home

Tonight I BBQ'd hamburgers on a charcoal grill. Can't say how many years since I last did that. We got a gas BBQ in about '89 so I guess maybe 20 years. Made the burgers myself from scratch and memory. LEAN ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, Washdishyear sauce and ketchup. Put on the grill frozen, 5 minutes a side. Heaven. Served with raw onions, tomatoes, cheese slices and something like French Dressing for a burger sauce. Even found a package of pure white Harry's American Sandwich bread which had to serve as buns. 53% preservatives and cost about 4 times as much as the good stuff in the stores but tasted wonderful. Much as I love Tanya's cooking, sometimes I get lonesome for a taste of something familiar.

The kids' mom used to make the best home made hamburgers in the universe. She would make up about 10 kg at a time and freeze them with Saran wrap to separate. Chiseling them apart was a trick but supper could be served in 15 minutes flat from a standing start once we got a gas BBQ and didn't have to wait for the charcoal to heat.

She always put onions in the mix. Usually chopped up more or less fine. But one day we had two families coming for supper who informed us they DIDN'T eat anything with onions in it. So Ella pureed the onions in the blender. Said guests pronounced them the best burgers they had ever eaten and devoured them all.

The Old Swimming Hole

When we were in Siberia, Tanya looked up a couple of friends she had grown up with and we went for a picnic to the river by her old village where she learned to swim. The river where all the kids swam was a branch of the Yennessee, which formed a sort of delta in the area. Her friend Volodya waded into the river but said the water was about +4 C and so all declined the honour of swimming that day.

Her village was called Kalyagino but when she was 18, the government decided that a new dam created a flood risk and moved the entire village. People moved to a number of nearby villages and Tanya's family went to Belii Yar. Buildings were moved or demolished. In the case of log houses (most of them), they were dismantled with each piece numbered and then reassembled in the new location.

Every spring, all the women in the village took their mats, rugs and carpets to this rock and washed them in the stream.

This huge grain storage, handling and cleaning facility is typical of the Soviet technology that dragged their agriculture so far behind they had to import wheat from Canada to feed their people. Horizontal instead of vertical was the logic of the day. Why they didn't all starve is beyond me. Their agricultural scientists were useless, partly because they had no ability to travel and learn from the rest of the world and partly because the higher ups in the system took all the credit for everything, so why bother.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Starting Young

Masha was here again today to play in her pool. Ivan and Maxim came over, of course and being boys, eventually began teasing her. She stomped into the house in a huff and sat with us adults for an hour or so. When she went out again, the boys approached and she said to Maxim, "I am not speaking to you unless you appologize". "I am sorry, Masha". "OK". And off they went.
He will make a good husband some day. He has already mastered the most important husband skill.

This flower garden shot is a bit of an experiment, a stitched panorama shot that should give pretty good detail (if it will open when double clicked - I have trouble on my blog for some reason).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Long Hot Week

This week has been a bit slow for news on the home front, as you may have gathered. Temps have been in the mid-30's all week so things are growing again after the good rain last weekend.

The garlic and onions are dried and drying respectively, tomatoes keep us in eating but there is a mass of blooms this week again so we may have some to preserve.

Cucs are slow but will pick up again with the moisture and heat. We have about six 3-liter jars of pickles. Lena's recipe so I am looking forward to that. First time I saw Horseradish leaves go into dill pickle jars.

The root cellar is full of jam, apricot, strawberry and raspberry. Runing the apricots and strawberries through the meat grinder on coarse makes a better jam than whole fruit. The fridge is full of raspberry jam. I call it freezer jam. Tanya disagrees. It is refrigerator jam. We froze about 15 packages of beets on Thursday. All the preserving heated the house to unbelievable temps. Next year Tanya says we are going to set up our summer kitchen in the outbuilding. We have electricity and gas, just need to clean and paint and put in a couple windows and some lights. (I remember we used to do a lot of our canning and freezing outside using the side burner on the gas BBQ).

Today Tanya and Masha brought Masha's big paddling pool which we set up. The neighbour kids came over too. Maxim and Ivan along with Maxim's cousin Vovo who is 2 1/2. Maxim's mom, Tanya, came to look after Vovo (yes, we had three Tanya's here).

Lena and Roman invited us to supper at their place which suited my Tanya as she didn't have to cook. Lena is a tremendous cook which doesn't help Roman with his diabetic diet problems but sure makes their home a great place to visit.

It is the same temp in my office as outside (30) so I can open the windows to get a breeze, finally. Sure glad we have AC in our bedroom. We can sleep cool, if you call 24 cool.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Judge a Book by Its Cover

LynnieC, my Librarian daughter, provided a link in one of her blogs to a site featuring the worst possible book covers, called "Judge a Book by its Cover".

JBC in turn provided links to a site featuring the top 20 best spoof book covers here and here. Warning: Do NOT read with your mother or your 10 year old looking over your shoulder. A few are beyond questionable taste.

My favourite of them all was this one. Where was it when I was reading Dr. Souse for the 5, 732, 461st time? I would have read them this one and then they would have grown up all warped and twisted like me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Violet

Miserable Bliss is one of my favourite blogs. It chronicles the misadventures of a normal couple raising three normal children. No wait, that's Lyn Johnson's For Better or For Worse. Miserable Bliss is even better.

Violet and Coffee, a couple in their early mid 30's, a year and several months ago adopted three brothers, who have now completed Kindergarten, Grade 3 and Grade 6. Adopting older children is not for the faint of heart and adopting three at a time takes the kind of courage or insanity that most of us don't have. Violet has purple hair and Ramona Quimby tattooed on her arm, which should explain something. She is an SAHM and Coffee is a computer programmer.

Violet writes the blog. At least one entry per day and sometimes several. She is a marvellous writer and a marvellous mother. And if even half the stuff she says about her husband is true, she should be the envy of women everywhere. Violet recounts hilarious conversations with the boys: Maymo, Middle One and Oldest One. Her blogs show a great deal of wisdom (and here and here and here), and patience or lack there of in raising the boys. She talks about her own life and how much she misses her dad. She blogs about their house full of pets and if you look in the May Archives there are pictures of baby bunnies born in their back yard in a nest in the lawn.

It was no great shock when Violet announced she was going back to school this fall to earn a Social Work degree. For 45 spaces there were 500 applicants. She will be a natural.

If you are raising kids and especially thinking of adopting older kids, this is the blog for you. And if, like me, you have seen your kids through to adulthood, well it is nice to enjoy (in a sadistic sort of way) the trials and tribulations of other parents and cheer them along.

One of the things I enjoy about her blog is the daily Grace in Small Things. Five things she is thankful for each day. And in most of them, Coffee figures in at least one item, sometimes two.

Today is Violet's 34th birthday, she says and I wish her a very happy one indeed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pigs, Pandemics and Polemics

Gwynne Dyer is a military and Middle East historian whose books include a major study "War", first published in the 1980s, completely revised and re-published in 2004 and a trio of more contemporary books dealing with the politics and strategy of the post-9/11 world: 'Ignorant Armies' (2003), 'Future: Tense' (2004), and 'The Mess They Made' (2006). I have read and enjoyed all of them. He also writes a very outspoken twice weekly column on international affairs.

On May 16, his column “Of Pandemics and Pork” attempted to paint a dismal future for mankind, filled with epidemics such as the current swine flu, more properly known as A-H1N1. He says epidemics will happen with increasing frequency (he “guesses 10 times”) brought on by factory farms which concentrate huge numbers of animals, thus increasing the chances that a disease will jump from animals to humans.

Dyer is extrapolating from Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”. Diamond explains that all of mankind’s killer epidemics pretty much began once we domesticated animals some 10,000 years ago and began living with them cheek by jowl. Every few hundred years a major killer epidemic swept the earth. Smallpox, bubonic plague, etc. The flu epidemic of 1918 being the most recent, with a few scares thrown in since then.

Veterinarian Dr. Bruce King countered the column in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune pointing out that all of the animal to human epidemics to date including A-H1N1 have originated outside modern farming practices. Where animals (including humans) are crowded together in close proximity, the risk of disease spreading increases. That is why the factory farms use strict bio-security, to prevent disease from entering the premises in the first place. All-in; all-out production practices, plus fast population turn over help prevent disease from ever establishing long enough to do any serious mutating.

Dr. King touches on but does not elaborate the key issue. Several of our recent (almost) epidemics (Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, Bird Flu, etc. originated in SE Asia where huge numbers of people and huge numbers of animals and birds live in very close association. What is missing on the factory farms are people. Lots of animals or birds but very few people relative to “traditional” agricultural practices.

Factory farms may facilitate inter-animal disease transmission but are actually far safer for species to species transmission of disease than traditional agriculture. Dyer got it wrong. His prejudices are showing badly.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Papa's Birthday

Today was Papa's 78th birthday, so we threw him a party. Roman brought Lena's mother; Lena is in Dnipro for two days on business. Tanya and Masha came and brought Baba Natasha and Baba Galya. Andrei was working in Krivii Rih and didn't get home. We are just glad he has work again. Zhenia and Lucia rounded out teh crowd.

Masha's Tanya came this morning and helped my Tanya prepare enough food for twice as many people as were invited so everyone got to take food home. Bliny with mushrooms, roast chicken, stuffed peppers, Salad Olivier, roast potatoes and teh usual cold cuts, cold veggies etc.

This picture is of Masha and her two great grandparents, both 78 years old. Great Grandmother Galya is Masha's mother's paternal grandmother and Great Grandfather Pyotr is Masha's father's maternal grandfather. Both the old birds hit it off right away. Too bad they live so far apart.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Defining Moments

During Soviet times, all art and literature had to conform to the ideology of the Party and be approved through official channels prior to any release to the public. One popular play received for its author the medal "Hero of the Soviet Union" for its portrayal of a Russian who defected to the West. He was overcome by the decadence of our evil ways and took to dressing in women's clothing and cavorting with aged courtesans. The title of the play was "Lacenik and Old Arse".

I just threw that in as it has nothing to do with the title. The following story was told me by several Ukrainians over the years and any I have asked about it know the story and ruefully agree there is way too much truth in it.

A Ukrainian walking by the Black Sea finds a lamp buried in the sand. He rubs the lamp to clean it and a genie appears who offers him one wish. "I wish my neighbour's house would burn down".

The following story needs no explanation.

An American and a Canadian are arrested by the French for spying and sentenced to die on the guillotine. The American goes first, bravely singing the Bar Strangled Spanner and choking back the tears ends with the line we all love "The Land of the Flea and the Home of the Knave". He puts his head on the block, regretting among other things that he has but one life to give for his country. The executioner pulls the lever and the knife drops.

It stops, quivering in its track a mere five centimeters above the Americans neck. They try twice more, raising and dropping the knife and each time it stops just short. "It is a miracle, M'sieur, a sign from God. You are innocent and therefore we set you free".

The Canadian mounts to the platform, stops by the executioner and says, "I think I see your problem. There is a knot in the rope and it catches in that pulley up there."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Garden

We had our first good rain in four months on Thursday. Even though the garden had been watered three times while we were away, it showed the effects of the heat and drought. The roses were pretty much finished when we got home as were the white daisies (?). The petunias had gone crazy and over grown the place. The gladiolas are just beginning and the lilies are in full bloom. Last night Tanya went through the flower garden like the Wrath of God and anything that was done blooming was cut off short and the petunias thinned.

Lena had looked after the kitchen garden, picking ripe tomatoes and cucs for pickling. The beets are ready to process for the freezer. The garlic is all pulled up and left to dry. The onions are next. Our huge bean patch was a disappointment - yielded nothing. Like it had been picked clean while we were away. Spuds will be a couple weeks yet before we try to see how they did.

Kuchma watching Tanya work

Friday, July 10, 2009

More Email Signature Lines

Here are a few more email signature lines that I have used in the past few months. The previous post is here.

"The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."…Mark Twain

"Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket?" Anonymous

"What is the matter with her? I was giving her my undevoted attention”…Stan Hingston

I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’…Bob Newhart

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - Albert Einstein

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does” …..Will James

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astound the rest.” ……Mark Twain

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. - Elie Weisel.

The living language is like a cow-path: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change. A cow is under no obligation to stay. – E.B. White, writer (1899-1985)

“I would like to quote what a judge said not long ago – that all his experience both as Counsel and Judge had been spent in sorting out the difficulties of people who, upon the recommendation of people they did not know, signed documents which they did not read, to buy goods they did not need, with money they had not got” … Gilbert Harding

A man marries a woman thinking she will never change and she does.
A woman marries a man thinking he will change and he never does.

"Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others." Groucho Marx

We hand folks over to God's mercy, and show none ourselves….George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), novelist (1819-1880)

“I’m never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don’t do anything. Not a single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don’t even do that any more” Dorothy Parker

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. -George Orwell

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the same sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart. H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

Any fool can make a rule And every fool will mind it. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

"I’m learning patience. I’d rather learn immediate gratification." May-B

“I took a day to search for God,
And found Him not; but as I trod,
By rocky ledge, through woods untamed,
Just where one scarlet lily flamed,
I saw His footprint in the sod”
William Bliss Carman

Family History Continued

Please read "Some Family History" as a refresher prior to reading this blog .

When we were in Abakan we visited Tanya's (Father's Cousin) Aunt Tonya (see picture bottom of previous history post). She is a very healthy and active lady in her very early 70's. She is going to Moscow to visit one of her daughters in August and offered look after Papa on the train on the way home so we have to get him to Moscow on August 17th. Tanya said when she was young she looked so much like Tonya's three daughters that everyone thought she was Tonya's kid.

I learned more about the Franskevich family while I was in Abakan. Great Grandfather Franskevich did come from Poland to Siberia in the mid-1920's. There was a picture of him, now lost, in Polish uniform. He had money when he came and set out to become a sucessful farmer, renting land, buying horses, a grist mill, a mower and a grain harvester (likely similar to the old original McCormick harvesters which were mfrd in the USSR until the late 40's). When Stalin collectivized all agriculture in the early 1930's, he lost everything to the new state farm created in the area.

Sometime during the Great Terror of 1938-1939, the KGB came one night to Kalegina, the village where they lived and arrested all males with Polish family names. They were never seen again. The KGB had gone to Tonya's father, who was the postmaster and demanded the names and addresses of all Polish people in the village. Because my Tanya's paternal grandfather was his brother-in-law, he left their name, Franskevich, off the list.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Home Again

When Tanya bought our Moscow Dnipropetrovsk tickets several weeks ago, the train was almost filled up with families headed to the Black Sea for holidays. The three of us got top bunks in three separate compartments but at least in the same wagon (car). Hoisting Papa up onto the bunk was no easy task but we got him there and he promptly fell asleep and stayed that way till Immigration stop in Bilgorod, Russia at 6:00 am

Clearing Russia at 6:00 am was no problem. I handed the nice lady my passport and looking as stupid as my picture, kept my mouth shut when she asked a question. One of the other ladies in the compartment, briefed by Tanya before hand, answered for me that I had been holidaying with my wife. Stamp, stamp stamp.

It was the *&%#$%@ Ukrainian immigration an hour later in Kharkiv that wanted to put me off the train because I had overstayed my three months and therefore couldn't enter the country. Tanya showed them my Ukrainian Permanent Residency Passport and they said it wasn't an official document. Tanya immediately called Oleg Nikolaievich, our Immigration Officer in P'yatikhatki (Thank God for cell phones as it was 6:00 am there.) who spoke with the border people and sorted it out.

There is always one more imbecile than you have figured on. Sometimes two.

We rolled into Dnipropetrovsk at 12:00 noon and Andrei was there to meet us and drive us back to Zhovti Vody. First stop in ZV was Roman and Lena's apartment. They got married and moved from Dnipro to Zhovti Vody while we were away. Watching Roman with his Grandfather was so sweet. He kept hugging him and patting him and just couldn't keep away from him. It had been 8 years since Roman had been to Abakan and 16 years since Papa had been here.

Not sure when Papa had seen Andrei last, he had never met Tanya nor Lena before. When Masha got out of Kindergarten at 5:00 pm we went and got her. She was so excited. Not only was her beloved Babushka home but she had brought Pradeduska too, whom she had never met. In Moscow when Pop's legs were threatening to give out, Tanya wasn't so sure that my insisting that Papa come to visit was a good idea but watching him and her family greet each other made it all worth while.

Every once in a while I do things right. Makes up for the rest.

He is 78 next week. That is old in this country. His birth certificate says he is only 77 but his mother fudged the date in later years somehow to keep him out of the army one year longer. If we didn't get him here this year it wasn't likely going to happen. His grandsons needed to see him again and his great granddaughter needed to know this man, if only to have a memory to attach stories to in later years.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Homeward Bound

Tanya, Pop and I left Abakan on the bus Monday night at 6:30 for a 400 km trip to Krasnoyarsk that was to take 8 hours according to the schedule. The fairly new Mercedes bus was off on sick leave so we made do with a fairly new 35 passenger Chinese bus. The seats were comfortable enough but the suspension creaked and groaned loudly and constantly. We made two pit stops at non-descript roadside cafes and I will never again complain about service station restrooms.

We arrived in Krasnoyarsk an hour ahead of schedule so by 2:00 am we were at the airport for our 9:00 am flight. The waiting area couches were almost all occupied but we found a place for Pop to lie down, in hopes that he would sleep. Like putting a four year old to sleep. Couldn't get him to shut up. Finally he sat up and Tanya slept for a while.

The 737-800 lifted off on time at 9:00 am and after a five hour flight, we arrived in Moscow at 10:00 am. Tanya was dead beat and so was I. Papa was all bright eyed and bushy tailed spry. That lasted until we had to drag him through the Metro. You don't realize how unfriendly it is to old people until you have to shepherd one along. By the time we got to our train station he was too tired to eat. I left him and Tanya on a leather couch in the restaurant and hope he laid down and slept before they threw them out.

It is 3:30 pm, our train leaves at 7:00 pm and I think we will sleep regardless of the bunks and temperatures either too hot or too cold. Two stops for immigration will be annoying but I hope nothing more than that. I got into Russia. The next trick is getting out.

Tanya is really very tired. As she said she has two "children" to look after. One old and one even older.

Bobik the Second

Sometime early Saturday morning between midnight and 7:00 am Zvonik disappeared. I noticed at daybreak when I went outside that he didn't crawl out of his nest to greet me but didn't look for him. By 7:00 Ksenia was hunting high and low for him. Papa said he noticed the gate was open. There was also a hole in the fence he could have crawled through.

The accepted explanation is that he was outside the fence when people in the town/village (Beli Yar has 12,000 people) were taking their cows to pasture and simply picked him up. It is plausable and I hope it is true.

By noon he was replaced by the next door neighbours' spare 6 month old puppy and named Bobik. By Sunday night he had explored the entire yard, was thoroughly at home and practicing his bark. I ignored him. He barked at me. He barked at the cats. He stole a shoe and chewed on others, not significantly, just enough to be noticed. He slept in the shade all day and when I went out at night, came bouncing up to be played with. He will do.

Friday, July 3, 2009

More cuteness

Not puppies, this time. Kids.

Ksenia is Luda and Valerie's youngest. She gets her almond eyes, freckles and mischief from her father, her boundless energy from her mother and Aunt Tanya and her leadership and determination from her Aunt Tanya. She is 7 years old, 16 years younger than her brother, and will start Grade 1 this fall. (Kindergarten is part of daycare not the education system but she can read and write and do math at what we would consider a grade one level. Highschool finishes at Grade 11).

Ksenia lives to draw, dance and sing. She was lead dancer at the Kindergarten Graduation Exercises, which was the day before we arrived but we watched the video. A couple years ago she said to her grandpa "If you are alive in spring, will you buy me a bicycle?" He was and he did. She disappears in the morning and appears only to eat and go to bed.
Uliana is 4 years old, with a 4-year-old's energy. She is the granddaugher of Tanya's late brother Sasha. As she has no grandparents at all now, Luda and Valerie (mostly Luda) have become surrogate grandparents. Uliana comes after kindergarten until her folks get off work.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Zvonok, the puppy.

Luda's family has a new puppy named Zvonok, which means ring (sound of a bell) or chime. The name made no sense to me until Tanya translated it as "Doorbell".

When we arrived on Saturday, he was so sick, we didn't think he would live. It was like he was coughing, gagging and heaving all at the same time. He may have swallowed a chicken bone as he was bringing up small amounts of blood. We took him to the vet on Monday. She said all we could do was wait. She said to give him two spoons of water from boiled rice about four times per day and two spoons of buttermilk. She also told Ksenia to keep the cat food where he can't get it as that was likely where he found the chicken bone.

Next day, he was much better, running around and bright eyed and cold nosed. He is still heaving a little once in a while but body functions seem normal. He is the kissingest, chewingest puppy since Vicki. I love him to bits.