Sunday, December 24, 2017

Remembering the Farm: The School Christmas Concert

In the 1950's I attended a one room, Grades 1 to 8, rural school that my father had attended before me, located in the remnants of a village which today no longer exists. There were two events which brought the community and the school together, the "sports day" on the  last day of school before summer and the annual Christmas Concert, held the last day of school before Christmas holidays, usually on or about December 20th.

About the first of December a few of the fathers would come in and set up the stage along one side of the school.  Planks secured to sawhorses and grey with age. Aged curtains, once olive green, were suspended on a wire or cable that stretched the length of the school.  The windows back of the stage were covered in brown paper, decorated by the older students in tempera paints. One end of the stage exited into the boy's cloakroom (Yes, that is what they were called); the other into a small corner with a record player (we didn't have a piano in our school) where the teacher stood to direct traffic.

And so we began to practice. The program was fairly predictable. Musical numbers, one act plays, the odd individual or group recital, and sometimes something called a drill.

On concert night, wooden benches appeared from somewhere and by 7:00 the place was packed, standing room only. Most families came by car though if roads were bad, some came with a team and sleigh or caboose and put the horses up in either the school barn or the old abandoned livery stable about a block from the school. The place was hot and stuffy but no one noticed as excitement and anticipation kept the adrenaline flowing.

We once did a recital of "The Old Woman Who Swallowed the Fly".  I was in Grade 1 and was chosen to be the anchor man. "I don't know why she swallowed the fly. I'll think she'll die". School terrified me from the first day I went and the concert was the end of my life as far as I was concerned.  Frozen with fear, I woodenly recited my lines as the audience rolled on the floor and wept with laughter.  The more the audience laughed, the more frightened I became and the harder they laughed the next go-round. Fifty years later my father could not tell the story without laughing so hard the tears flowed. 

Drills were choreographed marches set to music, involving almost all the students.  And were usually disasters.  In Grade 2, our teacher decided we would do a drill to the Teddy Bear's Picnic, that being a popular kids song on the radio that year.  Somehow she acquired Teddy Bear masks for all of us. We wore the masks for the first time the night of the concert. They didn't fit.  They were too big and slid down our faces blocking our view.  There was a stage plugged full of kids with no idea where they were going, trying vainly to execute the maneuvers we had practiced.  We crashed into each other, knocked each other down, and in general created an awesomely funny melee. The audience thought it was funny.  We didn't and our poor teacher was so embarrassed for us.

When I was in Grade 6, we did a one-act play about two brothers, bachelor farmers, trying to hire a housekeeper.  I cannot recall the  name of it.  The time period of the play was in the 20s or 30s but the situation was close enough to ours that the humour came through, no problem.Another Grade 6 boy and I were the farmers. We interviewed several job applicants who were less than satisfactory, shall we say. I only recall two. One was a flapper girl whom we wanted to hire as she was cute but since we didn't have a nice car or a radio she declined the honour.  The other was a recent immigrant from eastern Europe with a thick accent (half our community was from eastern Europe) who specialized in cabbage soup only. "My sister, Olga, she wash dish". The play concluded with the farmers deciding they were better off to do their own housekeeping.

At the close of the program, we sang Christmas carols and the audience joined in.  Soon we could hear sleigh bells and Santa Claus appeared to hand out candy bags and if the kids had drawn names, the gifts.  The candy bags were something special, I can tell you. Halloween wasn't a big thing in our neighbourhood so we didn't end up with the loot that city kids get today.  So we looked forward to the candy bags.  Two Mandarin oranges, peanuts in the shell, hard Christmas candy and sometimes even chocolates. There were bags for all the preschoolers too. At our house they were carefully doled out over the holidays as some years it might have been the only Mandarin oranges we got.

If there was a raffle fund raiser, Santa also got to draw the winning ticket.  One year a quilt was raffled off and the winner was a young man who had recently married a very attractive blonde.  The general consensus in the audience seemed to be he didn't need the quilt, he had a wife to keep him warm.

The last concert was in 1959 as the school closed the following year and we were bused to a larger centre.  If the new school had Christmas Concerts, I recall nothing of them at all.  For anyone nostalgic for the days of one room rural schools, I suggest you read Lois Lenski's Prairie School. It takes place in the late 1940's in South Dakota but is so close to my own childhood, it felt more like a biography.

Saskatchewan, along with the rest of Canada, has changed and diversified from the days when 95%+ of our population was either Catholic or Protestant.  Beginning in the 1970s, immigration brought a mix of peoples who celebrate other religious holidays, many of them also in December. Catholic schools stayed Catholic but the Public Schools became multi ethnic and multi religious.  So Christmas Concert is out and Holiday Concert is in.  I think this is wonderful.  My kids were ready to be 'citizens of the world' at a much younger age than I was.

So I wish Merry Christmas to those of my readers who celebrate it and Happy Holidays to those who celebrate other occasions. And to all of you, health and happiness in 2018.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Forty-Seventh Canadian Western Agribition 2017

Canadian Western Agribition (CWA or Agribition) bills itself as the largest livestock show in Canada, primarily featuring beef cattle but including dairy cattle, bison, horses, goats, and sheep. In previous years it included all sorts of critters like pigs, lamas, alpacas,ostriches, and emus.

Purebred cattle enjoying their new facilities

The first Agribition was held in 1971, the brainchild of several far-sighted cattlemen, looking for a way to promote top quality beef genetics in Western Canada. The Regina Exhibition Association (now Evraz Place) would not take a chance on organizing something that new so the cattle industry did it themselves and have done so every year. . Along with a minimum of staff, the show depends on hundreds of volunteers who donate their time and costs because they believe in the show and because it is a great deal of fun.

The show has grown every year.  Agribition leases the facilities from Evraz Place but the show helped attract a great deal of infrastructure money from commercial sponsors as well as government. This year marked the completion of all planned new buildings and the end of the old wooden barns that served so well over the years. The facilities now total over 430,000 sq. ft. PLUS Brandt Centre (formerly the Agridome) and five NHL size hockey arenas converted to display space for the show.  All facilities are interconnected.  No more going outside from one facility to another in -30C weather (this year it was about -2C all week, lucky us)

Map of Agribition
Along with the traditional show and sale for each beef breed, there is also professional rodeo in the evenings, light, medium and heavy horse pulls in the afternoons, stock dog competitions, high school rodeo, a number of light horse events and a great many more livestock related events I likely missed. There is also a huge area of commericial displays including livestock equipment, feed equipment, animal health products, sadddles and western clothes, and the ubiquitous pickup trucks. One building is dedicated to consumer to buy, some related to livestock and some aimed at any consumers at the show.

Red Angus Females

Simmental Bull

Red Angus Bull

Dorset ( I hope) Sheep 

High school girl and mount ready for the next show

Kids loved the Trick Riding in the Brandt Centre

Where was this power staple gun 50 years ago when I needed it?

MacDon forty foot swather for grain or forage
The show is mostly about purebred cattle.  This year there were Red and Black Angus, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Horned and Polled Hereford, Limousin, Maine Anjou, Shorthorn, Simmental, and Canadian Speckled Park.  In years gone by there were other breeds and I was not sorry to see they were not there this year.  They were extremes or just didn't fit.

The Canadian Speckled Park (click on link for breed history) is a relatively new breed to which I am quite partial.  It was developed by Bill and Eillen Lamont of Maidstone Saskatchewan from Teeswater Shorthorn, Aberdeen Angus and British cattle with White Park colour pattern, which is to say black ears and muzzle. In 1972, three Speckled Park went to the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.  In 1985 the Canadian Speckled Park Association was formed by nine breeders. In 1993 the Association was incorporated under the Canadian Animal Pedigree Act as a developing breed and in 2006 the Speckled Park were declared a distinct breed under the Act. They have caught on in Australia and New Zealand as well as Western Canada. Heifers are trading at $16,000 for export.

Canadian Speckled Park calf at Agribition

Education is one of the pillars of Agribition.  Thousands of school kids go through the show every year with special information packages sent out to teachers in advance.  The Family Ag Pavilion (formerly Agri-Ed Showcase) gives kids an opportunity to learn how farm animals are raised.  Chickens, turkeys, sheep and cattle make up some of the exhibits along with all kinds of activities related to the production of each type of animal.  Electronic and manual Q and A boards, model farms and even a life size model cow which kids, under veterinarian supervision, can assist give birth to a model calf.

Canadian Western Agnes about to have her calf

In the above video Canadian Western Agnes is being assisted with a difficult birth by a future veterinarian.  When not at Agribition, Agnes serves as a teaching tool for students at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.  The calf can be positioned inside the cow many different ways and the students learn how to reposition the calf sight unseen inside the cow for an easier birth.

One of the many students attending Agribition.  I wish they'd had those huge backpacks when my kids were young and I was a parent helping on their tour.  It slows them down and makes them easier to herd.
Of the 47 shows, I attended likely 25 to 30. I was privileged to serve on the Board of Directors for a few years as the representative of Saskatchewan Agriculture and served as a volunteer on the Commercial Cattle Committee.  While I was on the Board, Agribition celebrated its 20th show in 1990.  (That year the Board voted to recognize each volunteer with a distinctive red Agribition jacket, while staff all got a matching jacket in blue.  The company which manufactured the initial order of red jackets commented that they had never used so much material to make 150 jackets).

Tanya and I were at Agribition in 2006 and 2007 and had not been since.  This year she went for two days and I went for four days, one day with a former colleague and another with my brother who drove in for the occasion. Ten years is a long time to be away.  There were still a few people I knew but not many.  The children and grandchildren of the people I knew in the 80s and 90s have taken over the reins and the show strings. Still it was nice to be back.  Made me (almost) wish I was young again so I could get involved. It is about people, it is always about people.  My time at Agribition over the years was always about meeting livestock producers.

Change, of course, is a fact of life but one change made me sad.  My beloved Commercial Cattle Show is just a shadow of its former self.  There used to be several hundred head of cross bred and straight,bred feeder steers and heifers in uniform pens of five, ten and twenty, contributed by cattlemen as a way of advertising their cattle to commercial buyers.  There were also pens of five and ten open and bred replacement heifers, straight bred and cross bred.  All that is left of the Commercial Cattle Show is the replacement heifers, mainly from pure breeders.  The feeder cattle are no more.  Likely because it got too expensive to make economic sense to participate.

All the pictures in this post were taken by Tanya. If you click on the CWA link at the top of the page and scroll down there are many pictures taken at this years show and at this site a great many more:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Catch 22 of Stuff

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. I wish all my American readers as Happy a Thanksgiving as possible under the circumstances.  I hope each and everyone of you has something to be thankful for.  And I hope none of it is stuff.  (Or stuffing)

Stuff, Things, Cargo, Plastic Happiness. The purchase of which is supposed to make us happier in some way or another.  With Christmas coming up and the world awash in stuff to buy, we all tend to fall prey to the notion, "If I only had. . . my life would be complete" whether it is for our selves or others.

Concerned citizens try to stay our hands by assuring us we are ruining the planet by our extractions and our junk. There are too many people using too many resources to be sustainable etc. etc. (Which is correct but have you noticed the people who say there are too many people in this world never volunteer to get off.  That is a rant for another day.)

Here is the conundrum (as opposed to an elephant sitting on a dinner roll which is a bunundrum) if we stop buying stuff, things, cargo, plastic happiness then the economy of the world would collapse and we would be worse off than drowning in a sea of refuse which will happen if we don't stop with all the stuff.

If there is an economist in the crowd, please explain to me how we stop buying stuff but keep the world turning round. Even if we just stop buying useless stuff like combination ramjet fly swatters and peanut butter spreaders.

The world adds millions of people to the work force every year, millions more than we had last year.  All of them need jobs that can earn them a living wage, define it how you will. Those jobs come from making stuff.  No stuff then no mines, no factories, no need for roads, rails, airplanes, shops, or garbage dumps. And no service industries. We cannot provide ourselves the basics, define them how you will, by taking in each others laundry. The basis of taxes which is the basis of civilization comes from taxing stuff and all the spin-off activity associated with stuff. From that we pay for education, health care, infrastructure, social safety nets and security.  No stuff, no civilization.  Stuff, no civilization but takes longer.

If I just had a sliding compound mitre saw and a semi-professional planer for my wood working shop. . .

My head hurts. I am going to bed. Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Football and Christmas

Football season is almost over in Canada. Eastern and Western Finals are next Sunday and the Grey Cup is the following week.  Our beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders made the playoffs and won last Sunday to advance to the semi-final against Toronto. The Riders belong to all Saskatchewan and all Saskatchewan turns up to cheer for them. Including ex-Saskatchewanians.  The stands are a sea of Green and White when the Riders play, even away games.

My son-in-law and his family live and breath Rider football.  The first game my daughter went to, she took a book so she would have something to do.  Now she goes to the games with him and watches the away games at home or in the sports lounges. She is a good wife.  SIL immediately bought tickets and airfare to Toronto when the Riders won last Sunday.  Daughter will join him in Ottawa the next weekend as SIL already has tickets to the Grey Cup.  SIL and his sister will go to the Grey Cup game and daughter will visit former Regina neighbours who now live in the nation's capital.  She is a good wife. . . to a point.

Tanya is going home for Christmas.  Flies out Christmas Day and back Jan 16, all for under $1500 CAD. She deserves it, having nursed me 24/7 since July 1.  She is excited but not nearly as excited as the granddaughters. I will cope.

Christmas Day is a good day to fly. Youngest is coming home from London, and Second-Youngest from Vancouver on Christmas Day. Son is driving in.  Christmas Dinner is on Boxing Day at Oldest daughter's house. We have booked our favourite photographers (Free Lense Photographic) for some time that week to prove we are all in one place.  The photo will have a disclaimer printed on it saying Photoshop was NOT used to put everyone in the picture.

Winter arrived Nov 1st and stayed.  Snow means I cannot use my wheeled walker so I am using a cane. Ice picks on the bottom sure help with the slippery roads. I can walk (and even run a bit) without it but am unsteady on my feet.  Besides if I am shuffling across the street it buys sympathy from the cars waiting for me to get out of the way.

Other than that, not much happens on a day to day basis. Just putting in time.  The sun comes up and the sun goes down. The hands on the clock go round and round. I just get up and it's time to lay down. Life gets teejus, don't it?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Sleepless in Regina

Some nights I have trouble going to sleep and end up staring at the clock for hours since it is the only source of light in the room. As can be seen in the pictures below, it is an older digital model with little bars that light up to make the numbers. The system is quite simple.  Two bars make the number 1 and 7 bars the number 8.

Number   Bars

1               2
2               5
3               5
4               4
5               5
6               6
7               3
8               7
9               6
0               6

The least number of bars lit is at 1:11 for a total of 6.  The most number of bars lit is at 10:08 for a total of 21, unless you use the 24 hour clock when 20:08 would have a total of 24 bars lit.

I have not yet calculated the average number of bars lit over a 12 hour cycle.  That is for another sleepless night.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Learning to make pumpkin pie

Halloween night, my daughter picked me up at 4:00 to help hand out candy to all the little monsters.  I was supposed to take pictures of the costumes but my phone was dead on arrival.  I had one job. . .

Tanya cleaned the flat, made stew and then walked over to the Lawson Pool.  We picked her up at 8:30.  She says she can get a lot done if I am not there to help her.

Tanya has discovered pumpkin pie. She is addicted.  As of yesterday we have a freezer full of pumpkin. My cousin's daughter learned to make pie crust from her maternal grandmother so I volunteered her to teach us.  Once you can make pie crust, you can make anything from it, I figure. We had not had a visit with her since we got here and wanted to see their new (to them) house.  Tanya had knit a scarf and toque for their 4 year old daughter too.  My cousin and his wife picked us up.

We had fun.  The little girl loved her hat and scarf and played outside in the fresh wet snow with Grandma while Tanya and I were schooled in the art of pie crust.  Tanya was hands on while I observed the process. One can read pie crust recipes called never fail but unless you know what to do and when, they will in fact fail.  Process is more important than ingredients.

The pie crust recipe called for half a pound of butter and we had brought a pound so Maryanne doubled the recipe, figuring it would make five pies, two large glass and three small aluminum pie pans. The finished dough was divided into five balls and stuck in the fridge for an hour while the pumpkin custard was prepared.

We were supposed to bring heavy cream but our grocery store was out of it so Maryanne's mom drove to a nearby store to get it.  It had snowed Halloween night and the streets were icy, very icy.  She slid into a curb and flattened a tire. CAA to the rescue. . . eventually. Being in an expansive mood, Maryanne tripled the filling recipe, I think just to use up pumpkin.

The dough was formed into pie crust in the pans and baked for 10 minutes which was new to me. Parchment paper went into the pans on top of the crust and was filled with dry beans to keep the crust in shape.  This jar of dry beans was especially for pie crust and was over 7 years old.  The crusts were then filled with custard and put back in the oven.

We had brought a big glass pie pan and took our pie home when all was finished.  It is now gone where all good pies go.  I got 1/3 Tanya 2/3.  As she said she did the work and it isn't good for me to eat too much sugar. She also said Maryanne was a great teacher but the big pie from Costco for $6 was a lot less work.

Photo by Maryanne. Jack o'lantern by her 4 year old daughter

Monday, October 30, 2017

Update on Ukraine

I expect Ukraine doesn't make the North american news much these days.  Too much going on in both Canada and USA.  Besides, on a daily basis, not much changes.  Yesterday's news is as good as today's.

On the Donetsk front Russian backed troops attack Ukrainian positions many times per day resulting in 1 to 5 deaths of Ukrainian soldiers and 1 to 10 wounded.  These are the official counts.  The attacks are always driven off; no accounting of Russian deaths or wounded.  Rinse, repeat. Occasionally, the Ukrainian side will retake a few meters of ground in driving back an attack but they must be careful or they will be accused of "breaking the Minsk Accord".

However the Ukrainian government has passed two laws regarding the war in Donbas that essentially lay out the Ukrainian understanding of the Minsk Agreements in black and white regardless of how Putin would like it understood.  The first law "establishes that a special procedure for local self-government in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions comes into force only after all the conditions set forth in Article 10 of the law have been fulfilled, in particular, with regard to the withdrawal of all illegal armed formations and their military equipment, as well as militants and mercenaries, from the territory of Ukraine." 

The second law "defines the temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions as: the land territory and its internal waters within the limits of separate districts, cities, towns and villages, where the military forces of the Russian Federation and Russian occupational administration have established and carry out the occupying government and general control; internal sea waters and the territorial sea of Ukraine adjacent to the same land territory; airspace over these territories.

In other words it is no longer an anti-terrorist operation.  Russia has been named as the invading and occupying force in Donbas.

There have been a number of kidnappings of Ukrainian citizens who are taken to Russia and imprisoned on made-up charges.  Recently a young man was lured to Belarus by a girl who had been coerced by the FSB.  The young man is now in Russia, charged with plotting to blow up a school.  His actual crime was blogging something the Russians didn't like.  Two young men in the Russian controlled area of Donetsk have been arrested and sentenced to several years in jail for spying for the Ukrainians.  Their actual crime was waving a Ukrainian flag. In Russian occupied Crimea, Tatars are specifically targeted by the Russians for extremism or terrorism.

A number of people have been assassinated in broad daylight in Kyiv.  Bullets or bombs.  By whom is never certain even when the trigger men are caught.  Could be both sides or even third parties. Two ammunition dumps were blown up this year.  Sabotage.  The most recent in Vinnitsa Oblast was a main  arsenal of the Ukrainian army and fortunately 70% of the ammunition survived the blast.

The real war is in the Ukrainian parliament with the old guard fighting tooth and nail (sometimes literally) to preserve the corruption that has made them or their allies rich.  Progress is made slowly, mainly forced on them by outside pressure. (You need eg IMF money?  Clean up your act). Reforms have been quickest in areas that do not affect the lawmakers.  The price of gas and electricity have gone up dramatically, as an example.

The attempt to reform the health care system is a good example of the difficulties faced by reformers.  The Minister in charge has submitted a bill to parliament to reduce the corruption levels and provide more money for actual health care.  The bill was not initially passed in July as it did not get support.

“The state has spent about 300 million UAH [$11.5 million] to build the new facilities for that hospital; 60 million UAH [$2.3 million] was spent on equipment—which disappeared,” Suprun explained. . .
In many countries the hugely expensive equipment in hospitals is leased. But in Ukraine, that’s forbidden by law. Why? Because kickbacks are built in to the sales, generating enormous income every year for everybody in the corrupt chain. “The pharmo-mafia and some hospitals make billions of dollars, while we want the purchasing to be done by international organizations including the UNDP, UNICEF, through tenders,” Suprun explained. . .
“There is a tiny piece left to fix the poor infrastructure of hospitals and pay extremely low salaries for the workers,” Suprun said. The average salary of a Ukrainian doctor is about $200 a month. “That’s what makes medical workers charge payments for their services, then kick back up to their head doctors and higher,” she said.

The bill was finally passed in October.  The following article provides an overview of the reforms.  It will give you an idea of the situation I faced in the best hospital in Dnipro. And of course how or even if it is implemented is another question.

The hardest fought battles are in the area of reforming the courts, judges and prosecutors.  This is the root of corruption in Ukraine.  Attempts to establish an independent anti-corruption court has not gone anywhere and may never if President Poroshenko has his way.  The powers that be dare not allow such a court because they know they will all go down. Again, such a court is being forced on Ukraine by outside pressure but there are many ways to sabotage it.

Optimists such as Alexander Motyl that Ukraine is reforming slowly but surely. As my father once said about me, "You have to put a stake in the ground and use a tape measure to discern any movement at all." OK, maybe it isn't as bad as I think but I am not optimistic until they fix the roads.