Saturday, November 17, 2007

And everthing in it's place.......

One of Grandpa's favorite sayings, and one that he was fond of remembering when I couldn't find a tool was 'A place for everything, and everything in it's place. This was usually offered with an innocent expression of earnest helpfulness. But it was never received that way, at least by me. There was something just a little too innocent in the eyes and the quiet smile that was really thinking - gottcha. Checkmate.

And so as the evil and rebellious son I ever have been, I would just resolve that much harder to continue on the way I was, if not King of Chaos, at least and Apprentice Princeling. Truth be told, I had tried many times to organize my live, and many times have pretty much rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic. Grandpa's files were always logical and complete, and he could pretty much find what he wanted to find in a matter of minutes. I file by pile. I am now on the shady side of 50, and I don't think that it will ever really change. But I peck away at it from time to time.

This last year I started to build a lean-to shed in the back of my little shop building. Tonight it is mostly done. It was built with intention of supplying a place to stack wood, store the rototiller and lawnmower, ladders, and garden tools. I put the last of the shingles on tonight, and finished the roof and floor this weekend, and found to my very great disbelief that it is almost full already!!! I had such great plans.

Well, it is a start. When Guitar Boy painted the shed/shop this summer he hauled out every piece of wood, iron and junk that I have ever put back there, and quite a few that were there from the previous owners. A lot of it was pretty soft and I cut it up for firewood, now stored in the new shed... :) Some of it was still usable, and although not very pretty, I stacked it up like Grandpa would have and now have a little bone yard. I think that this week Annie and I will be ordering some fencing material, and will fence the north and east sides of the yard, and ask the neighbors on the east for all the old fencing..... and another project is born.

I was able to use old wood from the hay wagon and that we had to construct the lean-to, so my only cost was several sheets of chip board, tar paper, and some shingles. And cement and gravel for the floor.

Anyway. One small battle in the fight against Chaos. I think it helps if you are actually making places for things. This indicates that you actually realize that they are homeless, and cluttery. This might not seem like much of a realization to my judgy kids and kids-in-law, but it is quite a surprise to me, when I actually come to that realization. Anyway, that is my news here. We should be up tomorrow to eat some cheesecake, and celebrate SIL2's birthday. Looking forward to that.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Waldo and Lydia

When I was about 10 years old Grandpa got a series of assignments that placed him far from Wheatridge. He didn't want to disrupt school for us, and so he went out of town and worked for most of the school year, but in the summer, we moved down so that we could keep him company. We spent one school year down in a little town in south central Colorado named Monte Vista. Grandpa was working for Coors and was in charge of building grain storage facilities there so that they could store malting barley for beer making.

During the second summer that we lived there Grandpa rented a house from a Waldo. It was a stucco house, white with a nice small yard and lots of trees. We had a chain link fence around the yard. Waldo and Lydia lived next door and she worked at the local hospital as a nurse. Waldo had a serious heart condition that kept him from having a job, but it didn't keep him from working. They probably had at least an acre of ground there. He had built the house that we lived in that summer. They lived next door, and next door to that was another house that he was building, that they would move into eventually. The first two houses would then be rental houses.

They raised a garden, and he had a big block and stucco wall under construction, but the thing that sticks in my memory the most is the hatchet. Waldo always carried a hatchet and used it without mercy on any weed that was stupid enough to grow in this little piece of Germany that was located in the San Louis Valley. The hatchet was used because it could chop deep and remove the roots. Lydia also crocheted pillow covers. They were very nice people and Grandpa and Grandma like them a lot. Over the summer they told the story of how they had come to this lost little bit of Colorado, and how their lives had been turned upside down by the war. So here is their story, as best I remember it:

Waldo and Lydia were young and in love. They were Germans living in Poland in 1939. I don't know much about their courtship or their marriage but I know that they were married on Saturday, August 26, 1939. I don't know what town they lived in, or how lavish their ceremony was. They were married for six days when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and started World War II.

The United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand declared war on Germany on September 3. Others soon followed. The United States didn't enter the war for a little over two years, until after December 7, 1941 when Japan (an ally of Germany) attacked Pearl Harbor and we declared war on the whole alliance.

Poland was quickly defeated, and Waldo was drafted into the German army. For some time things went pretty well for the Germans. I have to assume that things went fairly well for Waldo and Lydia as well. I don't know where he served for the first two or so years of the war, or what he did, or how often they saw each other, or even wrote to each other. The scary part of the story started when Hitler decided that he had vanquished enough of Europe that he could turn his guns on Stalin and the USSR. In June of 1941, before the United States had entered the war, Unternehmen Barbarossa was under taken. France was conquered, England was staggering and close to collapse, and Hitler worried that Stalin would take the initiative and attack Germany from the east, while they were occupied in fighting on the west. Hitler and Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact, but I don't think that either of them ever thought it was more than a temporary truce. Roosevelt was very worried that Great Britain would collapse and did every thing that he could to strengthen her, and every provocative thing he could to to inflame Germany into striking the U.S. He worried that if Great Britain fell, Hitler would be free to turn his armies to the east, and the USSR would fall as well. This would give Germany time to digest this large meal and recharge.

The Russians fought fiercely but were no match at first for the German army. They fell back and back. The Germans marched on relentlessly. Waldo was among the Germans that marched on relentlessly as he had been assigned to fight on the Eastern front. As time went on, this became almost a death sentence.

Russia is a really big country, and as the Germans advanced on the retreating Russians, their supply line became ever longer. And then the Russian winter hit, with snow and bitter cold. The Germans advance until they could see the outskirts of Moscow, and then the Russians dug in and the slaughter began. We will leave these unfortunate soldiers here in the story and turn back to Waldo.

Some time during this campaign Waldo was captured by the Russians. He was lucky that he wasn't shot at once, but not so lucky as he was sent to a prison camp in Siberia. I think that this happened in the fall of 1942. It was a long and cold train ride up there, and I think that they had to build the camp and fence that surrounded them.

Later on in the Soviet Gulag, prisoners were worked until they were worn out, and then they were shot. I am not sure what work they did there, but I know that Waldo was due to be shot thee times. Fortunately for him, he had a gift and could speak a reasonable amount of five languages - German, Polish, English, French, Italian, and he learned some Russian. So he became something of an unofficial translator.

Conditions were terrible in this camp. It was always cold - Siberian cold, crowded, and the food was awful slop being mostly soup made from cabbage and turnips and black bread. And not too much bread. Soldiers came from many battle fronts, and they all had a different germ or two to contribute. Waldo got sick the first winter
with strep throat, and it turned into rheumatic fever. I don't know the details of how he survived this, but when spring came, he was still alive, and much weaker.

Another year came and went, and when the new winter came, Waldo again became deathly sick. He was very weak when spring came, and he decided that if another winter came that he would not survive it. He had become friends with a Catholic Priest during his time in prison, and the two concluded that they would die for sure if they remained in the camp, but they only stood a 90% chance of getting caught and shot if they tried to escape. That 10% chance was their window of hope.

I don't know that details of the camp, the railroad, the plot.... I am sure that it was more involved then two weak and sick guys sneaking into an open box car and burrowing down into a pile of stinking, rotten cabbages, but that in the end is what they did. And the train took them back to Germany, and they had stinking rotten cabbage to eat on the way.

Back in Germany things were grim. It was now early1945, and Germany was in a fight to the death with Russia. Waldo and his friend rode the train for many hundred miles, and I again, don't know all the interesting details of how exactly they made their way back to Germany. They eventually left the train and walked for many miles as well. Finally they were getting near the battle lines, and had made it to a forested area. I remember Waldo telling Grandpa that for the last final distance that they were able to move from tree to tree, hiding all the while from both German and Russian soldiers in the night. When they were sure that the soldiers they found were German, they called out in German and tried to surrender. The German soldiers were suspicious about these two ragged skeletons, and didn't believe the wild story that they told about an escape from Siberia by train and foot. Waldo and his friend gave their service numbers and the soldiers sent and inquiry to Berlin. Amazingly, within a few days they received a confirmation that these names and numbers were correct. Waldo and his friend were freed as neither was fit for any more fighting. Again, I am not sure what Waldo did now, but economic conditions were terrible, and it wasn't very long until Germany surrendered and was partitioned by the Allies.

With the surrender and partition of Germany, tens of thousands of people that had lost track of each other during the fighting began to seek each other again. The Red Cross and other agencies organized lists and meeting places. You could add your name to the list, and it would be published in many cities. Somehow Waldo found that Lydia has survived the fighting and bombing and was working in a hospital in East Berlin.

This provided some problems for Waldo who had escaped from a Soviet camp, and who would be on the next train back if it became known who he was. He decided to disguise himself as one of the thousands of out of work bums that rode the rails around Germany, and so stopped bathing and shaving for several weeks. When he looked acceptably filthy and disreputable, he rode the train over to East Berlin, and found the hospital where Lydia worked. I think that he waited outside the building and watched the nurses coming and going for a day or two until he found her. When he approached her, she didn't recognize him, and when he told her who he was, she fainted dead away.

Imagine being a young women who was married a few days before the war started. Your new husband is called up into the army of the country that has just conquered your homeland, but you know you can't say anything about it. He writes from time to time, and for the first year or so, you might even see him once or twice. You work at a hospital and care for boys just about his age that are shot, burned, and blown up in all sorts of horrible ways, and you pray everyday that he can remain whole and live until the war is over and you can be reunited. And then word comes that he has been captured after a terrible battle.... or maybe just that there is a terrible battle and he is missing. I don't know if she knew that he was a prisoner. And then you don't hear any more. But you know that people don't come back from Siberia. Once the Russians have them, they are gone.

Finally, after an eternity, the war is over. At least the bombs aren't falling in Berlin anymore. And so you go to work. That is about all that you have left. All of your hopes and dreams are shattered. They love you had is just a hollow hole in your heart now. You get off work, you are tired and sad and you begin your walk back to a small apartment and a lonely night alone. You see a skinny, bent figure by a streetlight ahead and he seems to be looking at you. You decide to turn before you get to him. There is something about him that frightens you , and yet is almost familiar. You begin to turn away and he calls your name, and you recognize the voice. You turn and look at the filthy bearded face and the filthy ragged clothes and shake your head. He keeps looking at you and takes a step closer. You look at his eyes, and they are the eyes you have wished to see in every dream and day dream for the last three years, eyes that you knew were closed in death. You can't breathe, you can't call out. You are paralyzed with suprise and hope. Everything starts to get dark, and you are very dizzy, and then you wake up with your filthy, beloved husband cradling your head in his dirty hands.

I don't know how it really happened, except that his did become a dirty bum, and he did track her down in East Berlin, and she did faint dead away when she realized who he was and that he was still alive.

The power of paper is amazing. If the paper says that it is so, it must be, at least to government functionaries in just about every country. And so it was for Waldo. They cobbled him up some type of transport order, and then with all of her nursing skills, Lydia bandaged him in many places, and mostly all over his head and face. Then some poor chicken had to give it's blood to make the wounds look real. I am sure the chicken also was good with dumplings. With a fake transport paper and a chicken bloodied bandage, Waldo and Lydia boarded a train for West Germany and after some time there came to the United States.

To get the fare to come the the US, they indentured them selves for seven years, and worked off their debt in the Eastern US I think. I don't know how they came to live in the San Louis Valley in southern Colorado, but they lived there happily and in contentment for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oh, Say What is Wealth

When you think that you have arrived, that you are rich, what will you base that on? Ownership of a Porche or Lexus? Buying a very nice house on the Benches, or another desireable location? Will you feel you have made it when the house decked out with hand carved furniture? A big screen plasma TV? How about a home movie theater? Swimming pool? Maid? Gardener? Big stock portfolio? Suitcase full of silver or gold bullion? Diamonds?

In the world that we have all grown up in and lived in, who ever owns these baubles and toys could be considered wealthy. I think that we all know each other well enough to know that we all would be in debt up to our eyes. But even if they were all paid for, they would not be the kind of wealth that was measured in ancient times because they are all about consumption, and anciently wealth was about production and about saving.

You all know how Grandpa AH grew up. He told the most stories about it, but Grandpa MH, Grandma LS and Grandma NW all grew up when times were tight as well. But since Al's story is maybe the most documented, I will use it as the example.

He was the oldest son of the oldest daughter of a family of 17 people. My Grandma had 14 brothers and sisters. Grandpa's dad died while he was young. His mom moved back with her parents off and on for some years.

Great-grandpa was an immigrant from Russia of German heritage. The fled from Russia before the revolution, but things were all ready getting bad. They got off the train from back East in North Dakota, and in a few years had moved south to Colorado. His family grew. His income didn't. World War 1 came and went. Times got a little better but when Grandpa was 7 the stock market crashed and the whole country went broke. Unemployment went up to 30%. Out of work men and boys rode the trains all over the country looking for work.

I am not sure how many kids Great Grandpa had in 1929, but I know that my dad was living with them and they were farming beets. That is what Great Grandpa did right then. He hired out his small army of kids to the fields. He would contract to do all the labor on 80 acres or more of sugar beets, and then everyone who could went to the fields and worked from April until November. That was the income, and it wasn't a lot. It bought cloth, keorsene, coal, sugar, white flour, horse shoes, tools, seed, salt, and some was given at Church to help to maintain the minister.

Food was something that you grew. All the Grandparents had large gardens that produced most of what they ate. Grandpa MH didn't much care for chicken as they ate it all the time while he was growing up and he had to feed the hens, help with the butchering, and clean the dusty and smelly chicken coop. They raised chickens, milked cows, hoed the garden, harvested and canned, and it didn't cost them a cent. Actually, many farm wives sold butter and eggs and earned a little steady money that way too.

I remember many times Grandpa leaning back in his chair and looking at the fire and asking me the same question..... just what is wealth? He would tell me the story that I just told you, and then he would say 'we didn't have much money, in fact we were really poor. But we never were hungry or cold.'

He would then almost always go on to tell about how they lived and worked, mostly the same stories, and how it wasn't until he was in the Navy that he learned that as poor as they were, that their experience in the Depression was not nearly so bad as it was for some of his shipmates that lived in the cities. I remember him telling of one boy that was happy to have lard or bacon grease sandwiches for lunch. He told me of a man that wouldn't eat with his workmates because he had given the potatoes to his kids and he only had the peels. Any of you that have watched 'Cinderella Man' or 'Seabiscuit' you can see how grim it was for some people.

We don't live on farms - that time is past. We have been counciled to store a years supply of food and fuel, or as close to that was we can come, and to produce as much of what we eat in our gardens and orchards as we can. We don't do this as much as we should because gardens cost money to water and don't always produce much, and then it isn't always what we want to eat..... and the stores are stuffed with food, and it is cheaper then we can grow it.

I imagine that you all get tired of my peak oil bedtime stories of coming hard times, financial chaos, social upheaval, etc. But just to keep you up to date, the guys who track oil depletion - and not the USGS or the EIA - are largely in agreement that the peak occured in 2005. Now we are seeing $90 oil, and when the price retreats a little it falls down to $87.50. Guys in the mainstream press are talking about $100 by 2008, and more in the coming year. So the day is well spent. Almost all of the ease and prosperity that we have now is due to the fact that we have been able to consume so much energy. As this becomes harder to get it is time to try to position our selves so that we are also producers.

We need to produce some of our food, and the more the better. Gardens and orchards don't grow like Jack's beanstalk. Neither do gardeners. Get seeds. Get tools. Hand tools work just fine and are easy to get and store. Sharpen them. Get files and whetstones. If you are in an appartment, check with friends to see if you can dig up their back yards. Garden with friends.

Strange as it sounds, we should also give thought to producing some of our own power, and ensuring that our homes have some kind of emergency heat in case of loss of outside services. There have been more than 22 coal fired powerplants that were to be built over the next five years that have been canceled nation wide. The engineers that I work with all feel that we will be having brown outs in the foreseeable future. I haven't done anything about this yet. We have our little insert stove that we like, but it is worthless almost without the fan. But it is a small fan, and I think that I can get a PV and a battery and an inverter and provide power at least for the fan. Maybe even for the furnace or hotwater heater. You don't need to provide power to live like you live now. Think of the least amount that you would need and size your system that way.

Most importantly, don't crawl under the coffee table. The clouds gather, but you can still put up the tent. Don't crawl under the coffee table. Bottle something. Plant something. Bake something. Fix something. You will feel much better. Go to the Under the Coffee Table Blog. I am going to tell how to bake bread. The time is far spent, but it isn't spent. Do your best, and you will be blessed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Seeing Eye to Eye

There is a saying in business, and maybe in life - I just hear it a lot at work - that perception is reality.

I have always had kind of a problem with that, and I guess that I still do, but have recently had a weird and kind of eye opening experience that has made me realize that while we may be sitting in the same room, we might really be perceiving different worlds.

You see, our TV is on the blink. The color guns are shooting blanks in some colors and we need a new one. Also, for the record, I am red-green pattern colorblind. These two facts have come together in a bizarre way in that I can't see any red on the screen. Annie sees people with ghastly orange-red faces, but I see normal looking skin tones. But no red. I was watching 'The Replacements' and there is a scene in there where the quarterback gets sacked by kind of psycho kind of line backer in practice for about the third time, and the line backer says that when he sees red, it's just like a bull seeing red (which they don't do, having no cone cells, only rod cells - B&W) and the quarterback gestures to his jersey and says 'Red - like a stop light!!'.

But I see sunflower yellow. Moreover, when the quarterback is getting a ride back to his home by the girlfriend-to-be, her brake lights shine out bright yellow. Annie disputes these color realities vigorously and says she can't watch this TV anymore. Aside from the yellow thing, I don't have much of a problem. I do notice when the actors are supposed to be really cold that the edges of their ears are yellow. Not to normal in real life.

I feel a little like the guy in 'A Beautiful Mind' that sees all of these people that are totally real to him, and the only way he can tell that they are imaginary is that they never grow up. I know that brake lights are not bright yellow, so I know the TV is pretty pathetic, yet the skin tones and other colors that I see are fine.......

So then I wonder what does the Nurse taste when she eats pineapple? What does CuteGirl taste when she eats tomatoes, or Annie when she prefers chicken to beef. What does the Nurse like about fish that Pixie doesn't? What does Annie hear in so much of music that I don't?

Rhetorical questions to be sure, but it kind of makes you think about what the others in our life are really experiencing at any given time. Are they in a room filled with spiritual splendor, or all the people in the room breathing all the air to where you can hardly keep yourself from running out of the door because it is so stifling?

In the end, we all have to give and bend some so that we can have interactions, have jobs, marriages, callings, and lives. Life is a compromise, but it is good if everyone can be aware of these little quirks that we all have and we can all give a little ground.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The (real deal) Great Escape

In the late 1800's in Southern Russia the Germans that had moved there about 100 years earlier began to think that things were not so good, and were getting worse. When Catherine the Great (a German Princess), Empress of Russia advertised and invited German shop keeps, artisans, craftsman and farmers to come to Russia she promised them that they would never have to pay taxes, and most important for these immigrants, their son's would never have to serve the Russian Army. They would have land (Germany was pretty crowded) and generally could become as prosperous as their ambition would allow them to be.

This was the lure, and it worked quite well. Many, many came down the Danube river, through eastern Europe and to the port city of Ismail or to modern day Odessa in the Black Sea. From there they were distributed to various townships and given land and sometimes not much else. The story of this immigration will have to come in another post because this happened for the most part in the late 1700's or so and everyone was settled and had lived a generation or two by the time our story starts.

Of course Catherine had died. She was quite a colorful ruler and did much to build her adopted country into a great nation. While she was alive, she kept her word and the Germans mostly thrived. Catherine's idea in bringing the Germans to Russia was something of a cross cultural breeding experiment. She wanted the Germans to come to Russia and bring their skills and work ethic and marry good Russian boys and girls and hopefully energize Russia economically. Sadly for all concerned it didn't work out that well. The Germans were glad to have a home, and one in where they didn't have to pay taxes. Many pacifistic sects came, grateful to be far from the constant bloodletting that was western Europe, and not to have to serve in the Czar's army either. So they were glad to be there, but they didn't want anything to do with the Russians and held themselves apart. They considered the Russians dirty and they wanted nothing to do with the Russian Orthodox Church. They continued to speak German, brought school teachers and ministers from Germany, kept up on the German news and generally held themselves aloof from their new homeland. Perhaps foolishly, they actually believed that 'forever' actually meant 'forever'.

I think that it was during the reign of Alexander III that things started down hill. Alexander II was a gentle man who had married a German princess, sometimes spoke German in private and was a bit of an idealist. He was kill by a bomb, and his son Alexander III became the Czar. Alexander III had no love for the Germans and during his rule taxes were instituted and young men had to serve in the army, or serve as laborers in the forest, cutting wood and making trails.
Many, many Germans felt the shift of the political wind and many emigrated to other countries, notably the United States. Many of them started this migration in the 1880's, and it carried on until the Revolution in 1917. But not everyone wanted out at first, and then not everyone could get out when they wanted to leave. Our story is about a group of Mennonites that stayed in Russia until things became fairly bad, and how they made their Great Escape.

Fast forward to the year 1922. Most Germans are trying frantically to leave Russia. Canada is allowing in most of those that find a home. Germany is letting in a few, but mostly acting as a go-between in getting the German-Russians to Canada. Then Canada decides that they have enough. There are thousand of Germans that have sold their farms, sold everything they have and have moved to Moscow, hoping against hope that they will be able to emigrate. Russian secret police are gathering up the men and boys and shipping them in cattle cars to Siberian work camps. I don't know what happened to the girls. Nothing very good I fear. But not everyone was trying to go to Canada, Brazil, and the U.S.

Some families were looking to move East. Russia had opened up large areas of land East of the Urals, and Mennonites, Catholics and Lutherans were all found in the new area. This was an improvement, and the farmers from about 1907 until 1922. That was when new grain taxes were imposed. The taxes took basically all of harvest and kept the people at near starvation levels. Sometimes so much grain would have to be given to the government that they didn't have enough to plant when spring came.

About this time more land was opened up for homesteading in Eastern Siberia. The Trans- Siberian railroad had been completed and Russia wanted to settle all of the land. It was about a 5000 mile journey from Western Siberia, and about 7000 miles from Southern Russia where we started our trip.

This is a Google Earth screen shot of Asia, taken from the equivalent of 3200 miles above the earth. The yellow marker is the destination. There are now two villages in Kazakhstan called Petrovka, and I don't know for sure that either one of them is the actual village that these families departed from. But it gives you an idea of how far they traveled.

This give you an idea of where they settled, and shows the river that they crossed in the middle of the winter to enter China. This would be the view from about 16.6 miles up.

Here is one of the old original buildings in the village. I had to copy the name carefully into the Google Earth search dialog, and would never venture to try to say it out loud.

The grain taxes were part of Stalin's plan to force farmers from their land onto collectivized farms. The farmers were an independent lot, Russian or German, and they fought the program as best they could. But it was a losing fight. Prosperous farmers, the ones that could farm from several hundred to several thousand acres with horse drawn equipment were called Kulaks, and then the secret police labeled you thus, you were bound for a work camp in the north. About 24 million people died across Russia due to Stalin. A significant number were farmers that had everything confiscated and died of starvation in the breadbasket of Asia. Many were transported to the north for resistance. Suffice it to say that you couldn't trust anyone. There were spies and informers everywhere, and it only took a whisper to end up in a northbound cattle car. Trials were swift and appeals nonexistent.

Many Mennonites kept moving from Southern Russia to Western Siberia to Eastern Siberia. The farther from Moscow, they felt, the better. The rabbi's prayer from 'Fiddler on the Roof' could have been prayed by these people - 'May God bless and keep Stalin far away from us'!

after this had happened to him: " You are so nice and healthy and strong, and have good horses and harnesses. There are so few at this time who have so much land as you do. How much can you earn with all this? Give it all to the government - your grain and anything A large number left for the Armur region in 1927 with cattle, horses, equipment all shipped by rail. They recieved 400 rubles and were given fertile land in the river valley. They felt like they had made good their escape, but in 1928 the GPU and collectivist farm managers showed up and began the process anew. Farmers were raided in the night and forced to take all of their supplies and clothes to a central square for redistribution. You can imagine that they only got back a small portion of what was taken. If they resisted they were told as was Jacob Neufeldesle that they want. We know what all you have and if you give it willingly we will take care of you later so you will not have need or suffer. But if you are stubborn about it and do not give everything, then woe to you. We'll clean you and your family from off the face of the earth. Not even the dust from you will be found" (quote from The Oddesy of Escapes from Russia, the Saga of Anna K." by Wilmer A. Harms M.D. page 44.)

There are too many escape stories to tell in this post. You could probably dedicate a blog and a hundred posts to all the heroic escapes that were undertaken. But one struck me as memorable. It was the escape of the Schumanovka Village, and it happened on December 1930.

People had been crossing the Armur river for several years. Guards watched the river pretty constantly and they had actual guns. As opposed to the farmers who might have had a shot gun, but no machine guns. There were two or three crossing area, some wider than others. Informants were maybe more dangerous than guns, because they were paid well and action would be taken on the vaguest conversations, referances or activities that might identify someone planning to leave.

Jacob Siemens was the chairman of the collective farm that had been formed and he was also the former mayor. He organized a small group of trusted friends to plan for the escape of the entire village. He couldn't bear the thought of leaving anyone behind.

Since he was the chairman of he collective (sounds a little 'Borg-ish' doesn't it?) he had a little leeway and trust. They had delivered their quota of grain and built a new flour mill and so he proposed that they be allowed to buy sleighs and horses to do work in the forest during the winter.

Once the sleighs and horses were in their possession he began to widen the circle of people that he trusted with this plan. It was a very dangerous thing to do, but gradually more and more people were brought into the scheme.

Next he sent two trusted men into China to arrange temporary accomodations for the village. They also hired a Chinese smuggler who was kind of like the Coyotees that smuggle people across the Mexican border today. Everyone was to be ready on December 15, but at the last minute the near by village of 'New York' that was also in the on the Great Escape, balked claiming that they needed another week, and threatening to inform the authorities unless the Schumanovka group waited for them. Two men from the New York village stationed themselves at each end of the Schumanovka village street to ensure that they wouldn't leave early. Siemens canceled the escape for that night but knew that he and some of his close allies were due to be arrested and if they waited for a whole week, it was likely that no one would make it.

Siemens scheduled the escape for the next night, but had to wait until the men from the New York village went home. This they did shortly after midnight. The word was then passed to get ready to go. Two suspected GPU informers joined the group even though they were unprepared. Alexander, the Chinese Coyotee was already in the village and was anxious to get going. In about an hour 60 sleds were assembled. They had been packed and provisioned for days but were hidden in straw. It was all very well organized. The families had an order to assemble in, and to travel in.

It was very cold (40 Rumor degrees the book says... but I think it might be - 40 Reaumur. I think this would translate to about -50 F.) Anyway - very cold, and the sleds kept breaking because everything was so cold and brittle. Several riders went up and down the line to make sure no one fell behind, and that repairs were made when necessary. At about 8:00 am the first sleds started up the banks on the Chinese side of the Armur river. 54 sleighs, and 218 people had safely made it to China. Alexander settled for 22 of the best horses from 54 families.

Well, that is it. Crossing a frozen river in the middle of the night with over 200 people. Risking gun shot, arrest, imprisonment, separation, falling through the ice in the middle of the winter, informers and frostbite (not all of their toes made it out of China). After all of that, making their way with very little help and very little money, and not knowing the language, to the Americas has to be one of the greatest escapes of all time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


(It has been so busy that I haven't felt a lot like blogging. Sort of being chased from pillar to post. But it is better to wear out than rust out I think. There is a short new post at TradeTheTrend if anyone is interested.)

Some of you know Kay's story. She used to tell it in the schools and sometimes for Firesides. I hope that I don't butcher it too badly because I am relying on my memory for a lot of this.

Kay was born probably about 1930. She lived in Berlin as a girl, on the East side. Her family were members of the Church, and her father was a Councilor in the Branch. She had several brothers and sisters, but I think that she was the oldest. I don't remember what her father did for a living. It seems to me that he had a shop... but it is fuzzy.

When Kay was about 9, Hitler invaded Poland and their world began to change. The war went fairly well at the beginning for Germany, and while the people had some shortages and discomforts, mostly it was life as usual.

Just as a time line, WW2 started for most of Europe in 1939 when Hitler's army attacked Poland with the blitzkreig or lightening war. Hitler annexed Austria, then attacked France. Britain was France's ally and entered the war on her behalf. I don't want to make this post all about the interlocking treaties and how each country entered the war and what happened next. Suffice it to say that soon all of Europe was drawn into the war, and then it expanded greatly when Hitler attacked Russia. At first they seemed to be able to fight the whole world. France was conquered, the German army had marched all through the Balkans and made it all the way to Moscow before being crushed by a combination of the Russian winter, and Russian heroics at saving their city. That was the beginning of the end. The tide began to turn. The Germans suffered massive losses on the Eastern front, and there seemed to be no end to the replacements that Russia could recruit and field. With armies coming from both the East and the West, Germany was slowly being crushed. The Luftwaffe raided Britain and was slowly destroyed by the RAF until the RAF and the USAF ruled the skies.

When that happened, Britain and the United States started a concentrated bombing campaign of German cities. Some were completely and utterly destroyed- burned to a crisp and all of the inhabitants obliterated as surely as if an atomic bomb had been used. Dresden was such a city. No atomic bomb yet existed, but incendiary bombs were almost as effective.

Now, back to the story: Berlin was also bombed heavily and repeatedly. These were terrifying times for Kay and her family. They could hear the bombs exploding all over the city as they hid in their home and prayed for safety. Sometimes the bombs would be on the other side of the city. Sometimes closer. Buildings all around them were damaged, some were hit directly and everyone inside died. They lived in fear for months. 'if I die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take' wasn't just a children's prayer - it was their reality. Finally the building that her home was in was damaged by a very near hit. All the windows were blown out. Electricity didn't work, and there was no running water. I think this was in the late winter or early spring of 1945. They were cold and afraid every day that it might be their last as the bombs continued to fall.

I am not sure of when exactly Kay's dad came back. It seems like he had been gone for some time. I remember her saying that he was so thin that his head looked like a skeleton. Even though they had very little food, he scoured the city to visit the Saints in the branch and do what he could to keep them safe and comfortable.

Germany surrendered on May 2, 1945, and right around that time there were food riots as people were literally starving. Sometime in the early spring a mob of people broke into a military warehouse and ransacked it. I don't think the soldiers cared much at that time, and they didn't shoot anyone in the crowd. People came away with what they could carry, and even though they felt bad robbing the warehouse, they also felt like they needed the food, and had suffered enough for the Reich.

Kay's dad came back to their little bombed damaged building with a huge cheese. That was all. They traded cheese for flour and other necessities for a while, and then the cheese was gone, and there was nothing left to eat.

By this time it was probably about mid-June. The Russian Army had taken over the East side of Berlin, and they were everywhere. It has been said that when the Russian army came to Berlin, and they raped every woman from 8 to 80. While this was not absolutely true, they were a brutal and lawless lot that took what they wanted to, and no one better stand in their way. Everyone, and especially the women were terrified of them.

So it was mid-June. There were Russian soldier everywhere, and there was not any food to be had in the city. Kay's family heard that in the country that some crops had been planted, and that if you had something to barter, you could sometimes obtain something to eat. Kay was the oldest girl, and the only one that could be spared to make the trip to the farming areas. She set off early in the morning on foot and walked East.

After several miles she came to a farm that had some crops in the ground. She had a little money and was able to buy some young bean plants. It was too early for them to be bearing, but she planned to take them home and chop up the stems and leaves and cook them for a vegetable. All was going well until she was close to home. It had been a long trip, and had taken her most of the day to find the farm and collect the beans and return. As she was coming into town she could see that there was a roadblock up ahead, manned by the Russians.

Fear clutched at her, making her want to run but she prayed that she might be kept safe, and that she might return home in safety with the food that her family needed. As she walked and prayed a calm came over her and a voice told her to walk right through the soldiers and not to talk to them. And that is what she did. She said that they didn't challenge her, didn't stop her, and didn't even seem to notice her. She walked right past them. She could hear them talking, could smell the cigarettes and could hear them laugh at each others jokes, but they didn't even seem to see her.

I don't know what all happened after that. She came to the U.S. and settled eventually in our little town where she taught school for many years. She would be about 77 now. I don't know if she even lives here anymore. But she is a great lady, and has been gracious enough to share this story with many of the children of the valley. She was full of faith and had many miracles in her life.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

They Are Back!!

Today was a busy day as we left early to travel to SLC. We took S3 and Cute Girl (See Annie's report on Cute Girl) along with us. Annie's sister and her husband have just returned from a 23 month stay in Malawi, so we have a lot of catching up to do. Most of Jan's children were there as well as Funky Disco and Family, Pixie Stylist, Nurse and Family and Aspen Leaf. I think we had 28 people in and out of the house. So it was busy getting there, and hard to have a conversation during the stay. We had a wonderful celebratory dinner including steaks, cheese cake, watermelon, great salads, and chocolate chip cookies. Time to get back on the treadmill. I have had too much prosperity.

We had a nice dinner, and some good talks, and then a nice long drive home. I think that Cute Girl was a hit. It was deep water as she met the family, or half of it anyway. But she is charming and poised, and carried it off well.

On the way home, we followed Aspen Leaf to south SL to see the home that she and the Card Shark are trying to buy. It is an older home in a very nice neighborhood. Quiet, nice trees, winding streets. Brick. It needs some work, but has a really nice sized yard. They will close the deal soon, and will be moving in the next week or two. I am a little shaky on the dates, but am excited for them buying the house. I think they will be really happy there.

Tomorrow is Labor Day and we will be lying somewhat low. S3 and CG will do some painting on the house, but have to get back to their respective schools and S3 has to get to bed fairly early as he is up at 3am each day. Amazing how sleep deprivation can encourage regular habits. So we don't look for world changing progress, but for a little effort. I have quite a bit of wood to cut, split and stack yet. I think Annie has some sewing. So we will labor a bit on the day, and probably grill or dutch oven something before S3 and CG have to hit the road.

Also, I found a little time to write a couple of posts to TradetheTrend, so if you are interested... Two on BinLaden type option buys, and one on basic calls and puts. Hope that you all have a great day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Scripture Guys - A Few More Thoughts

There are so many stories that we could liken to ourselves, so much drama of good and bad. Here are a couple of stories that seem to me to be ones that once you put your self there, everything kind of changes. Briefly:

David and Bathsheba. We always read the story that David had Uriah killed so that he could have Bathsheba for his wife. It seems to me that David actually fell in love with Bathsheba. He had lots of wives and concubines in his life, but you never see a lasting relationship. Then he takes Bathsheba as a lover, she gets pregnant and things get complicated.

Uriah has been off at war and with the troops. David calls him back and wants to smooth over the pregnancy with a short leave from the war. But Uriah doesn't want to help with this little plan. David tells him to go into Bathsheba and Uriah declines, sleeping in the gates of the city so that everyone will know that he didn't enjoy his time at home while his comrades-in-arms were away from their families. So now what? David gave him a chance but he refused. We can never know whether he was a patriot and Boy Scout at heart, or if he suspected that things weren't as they seemed and was determined to play dumb and keep the king and his little wife on the hot seat for a while. Not being and expert at the Mosaic law, I don't know this, but suspect that if she would have been found with child, that she would have been stoned. Did Uriah and David have an intense, smouldering interview with not too much said, but everything understood? Was Uriah just totally clueless and just as dangerous to Bathsheba? We will never know. Uriah went back to the front, and David gave the order for him to be put in the hottest part of the battle, and then left to fend for himself. We know the rest of the story. Not a lot of ambiguity there. Still, it seems like it was a lot more complicated of a situation than a casual reading would indicate.

Thought #2

Potiphar's Wife: The conventional idea of Potiphar's wife is that she was an experienced sexual predator and trying to get Joseph by hook or by crook. Some how I see her as young, and totally gaga. Potiphar would be in his late 40's or early 50's. A little heavy with bad teeth and worried much more about trade and business then bringing this new little bride flowers, jewelry or perfume. Or what ever was the romantic gift of the day. So he was gone a lot, and Joseph was maybe 20. Trim, gentle, learned perhaps. Pious, certainly. What a catch!

It could have been the other way too. Plenty of possibilities. Somehow it seems like less of s stretch to have a younger girl attracted to a very desirable guy more her age. Less creepy too.

Well, that is enough speculation. No revelation here, just curiosity. Then there is Baalam and the talking donkey, Lehi and his gang of permanent grouchy campers, Noah and the great boatbuilding project. And what a muddy mess the world would have been in when they got out of the stinking ark. No wonder Noah got drunk and slept the tent. Daniel and the lions, Paul and the shipwreck. The Resurection and everyone's experience there. Joseph's visit by and angel telling him to grab Mary and Jesus and book it for Egypt. Mary's reaction to that. That is a great story....."Annie, I had a dream and an angel warned me to take you and the baby as soon as you wake up and go to Mexico. The CIA is after the baby to kill him..... " Happy reading.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Scripture Guys -Adam and Eve

We have been told that we should to liken the scriptures unto ourselves. I take that to mean that we should try to put ourselves back into their world, or find a good analogous situation in our world, and take the lesson to heart. I like to do this, but sometimes the results of my imagination lead me to conclusions or at least conjectures and are best not shared in Gospel Doctrine. I don't mean to say that they are evil conclusions, but sometimes they are pretty unorthodox, and GD isn't the place to try out a new theory. Gospel Doctrine isn't an idea factory, it is a class that has a subject, and a limited time to reinforce the subject matter in our mind and then class is over and off we go to the next meeting.

But when you put yourself back in the scriptures in time, place and culture and try to see how things might have happened, you have to relax a little and let your imagination go, within the confines of what we know from the text.

Case in point: You go back to Adam and Eve and try to wrap their reality around you and you find a lot of gaps. We have all been camping, and we think that we are roughing it. But when you get chucked out of the Garden of Eden with a coat of skins and that is it.... It is just kind of shocking. No sleeping bag, no gun, no fishing pole, no metal, no plastic, no leather, no chapstick, no Walmart, no car. No job to get back to. No library, no Harry Potter, no scriptures, no Garden of Eden, no face to face talks with Heavenly Father any more. No Monday night football, no stores, no TV, internet, text messages or camera phones.

In the film they go forth bravely, but how many times in 900 years did they wonder if that apple wasn't over priced? Then, there is the whole sexuality thing which I really don't want to explore, and I have never been asked to in GD either.....strange. Child birth must have been quite an event. YIKES!!! Not even a coffee table to crawl under. Sickness, fever, broken bones, snake bite, spider bites , ant bites... I know that they were taught by Heavenly Father in the Garden about a lot of things, but I can't help but feel that not only was the Lone and Dreary World uncomfortable but very lonely as well. They had only each other to hang onto, and prayer to communicate with Heavenly Father. No Conference, no Institute, no BYU/Utah football games. No council, no advice.... just the stars at night and the sun in the day.

Maybe he cheered on her efforts to learn to sew with a bone needle, and to spin thread and weave cloth from wool and cotton, and linen etc. Maybe she cheered on the first watermelon that he got to grow in the garden. I am with Mark Twain on this one. Twain said that he knew it wasn't a watermelon that they ate in the Garden, and we know this because they repented. I feel certain that Adam made the first fire, and am also pretty sure it was a dark rainy night when he finally got it to work. She was shivering in the dark and damp, and she cried a little for the comfort and hope that the flames gave in the dark night. He probably got carried away with making it a bigger and warmer fire and might well have started the thatch on the roof on fire. Good thing that it was raining, and they could get it out quickly. Of course this became her favorite story that she told the children about their sojourn from the Garden.

Who learned to milk and make cheese and butter first? It isn't the obvious thing to do. Likewise butchering chickens and other animals..... with stone tools. How did he learn to make the stone tools in the first place. I have tried this and I have not had much happen except lacerated hands and a blackened fingernail or two. Grandpa did learn to flake obsidian but he didn't teach me. He would have been a handy guy to have around.

Did they sing? Was he a poet? Was she a composer? Did she paint? Did he whittle? Did they have an aniversary? At least he couldn't forget her birthday. He had to bring her a rose or a lilly sometime. What was it for? I guess we will never know. Did they fight? Probably, but I hope not too much. How lonely that would be.

Was he the potter, or was she? How much fun did they have firing the first pots and having an air bubble inside the clay? How about glazes? Did they leave that for the kids or what.

When we read the scriptures we buzz over them and it is like they moved into a new home and just had to deal with kids and the PTA. Speaking of kids, this had to be a really tricky dating and marriage situation. How did that work? Maybe I don't want to know. We know the kids went wild pretty quick because it wasn't that long before God was whispering to Noah to build a big boat, and not to worry about the HOA.

Well, enough speculation. Most of this we will never know, or need to know. I think the thing that we do need to know is that things weren't easy for people who tried to follow the Gospel even back then. When we read about them we don't have the details, and we tend to just assume that they were more faithful and that it was easier for them to obey. Enough. Time to pick some tomatoes from the Garden of Delta and make some BLT's. We aren't told who made the first BLT, but my hat is off to them.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Broken Branch and Provident Living

Almost a week ago we had a gust of wind break a large branch on one of the locust trees in our front yard. The break wasn't clean, and the branch remained attached to the tree, and touching the lawn. It was next to Bret's house and we waited until he had moved his truck and then I pulled the branch down. Next came some ladder work and handsaw work to get the offending branch down to the ground.

We worked until about 10:30 to get the smaller branches broken/cut to firewood size and to get the leaves and smallest twigs into the truck and the dump, and the big branches into the back yard. I am tired today, and I imagine that Annie is tired as well. We have two big wheel barrows full of small twigs that we snapped and cut to size and will use as kindling this winter in the wood stove. I mention this because it took us quite a while to do this, and it would have been easier to pile them into the truck and take them to the dump.

In 'Big Business' Rose (Lily Tomlin) accuses Sadie of being 'above her raisin' ". Annie and I were both raised by parents who had live through the Great Depression, and were often almost compulsive savers. They grew up on farms and didn't have a lot of money.... Ok, maybe didn't have any money most of the time.... that would be more accurate. They used everything, and as we snapped and clipped those little twigs to be used as firewood next winter I couldn't help thinking of how much both Annie and I are a product of that way of life and those ideals. 'Those ideals' are not the ideals of today, but I think that they are valuable and needed.

You probably all cringe to see where this is going..... is it headed toward the energy situation?? Another rant on oil? Stories about walking to school barefoot, uphill, both ways in the snow? Eating lard sandwiches for lunch at school (One of Grandpa's classmates used to have this for lunch. Not hard to tell why they called it a Depression). The answer is yes, and no. I do get going some times on the energy situation and I guess it is somewhat like the weather - everybody talks about it, but no one does anything about it.

We live in an incredible age of ease and wealth, and we as a people have gotten so used to our surroundings that we can't comprehend that things could ever be different. It is kind of funny to watch the National Geographic or Nova type documentaries when they talk about how man became a tool user. Funny in that we mostly don't use tools and our main skills are becoming shopping, and Internet surfing with some intense computer games and sports watching thrown in. . Not only don't we know how to hunt or gather, but we don't know how to garden or farm. Most people in the U.S. have never even opened a bottle of home canned fruit, yet alone ever processed one. I would bet that there isn't one person in 1000 that has butchered a chicken, gathered an egg or milked a cow. It isn't a phenomenon of just the cities either. It is sad to see the fruit rotting on the lawns in our little town. Nice to see that there still are fruit trees, but sad to see the waste.

We were taught to live providently. Being a provident liver sounds like a medical condition, and living providently is pretty much not even known in our country. I liked that part in this article that said that living providently is the opposite of crisis management (and current market mess). But then where is the adrenaline rush if there is no crisis? How boring is that? Maybe it will be just right.

But things change, and if we are prepared, we don't have to fear. Things are changing now in the world.
We have lived so well for so long that we can not comprehend that change is coming or that it can come at all. We can't comprehend that most of us are only about two months from being homeless. Lose your job, run out of unemployment benefits and you might be living in your car. This has happened to a lot of working class families when factories were shut down or businesses downsize.

When our kids were still pretty young we liked to go to Lake LaBaron in the mountains in the southern part of Utah. I remember the first year that we went there, it was in August. We could never seem to schedule these things before the monsoonal rains came with the hurricane season. We left our little desert home and headed for the hills, the van packed to the gunnel's with kids and food and gear. It is a pretty good trip down there, and it was mid afternoon by the time we found a good place to camp and started to unpack things. Through the trees I was watching the clouds and became a little concerned when I saw that the little white fluffy things we had at home had turned dark and massive and ominous. When you have a raft of little kids faced with a gully washer rainstorm it is very motivating. I ran around then (somewhat like I do now) explaining and exhorting anyone within reach that we had to get the tent up NOW!! No hiking or fishing. Get the tents up and everything inside and safe. Then play. We got the tents up and everything stowed and even played a little and I started supper. The clouds continued to gather and intensify. The tall and shady trees tended to make it even darker. Finally, dinner was ready and we all gathered around to bless it. During the prayer lightening struck about 150 feet away and rang us and the whole campsite like a big bell. Then the rain came down like it had been poured from a million buckets. We ditched the tents and headed for the van. The Swan was still a little girl, and I remember carrying her out of the rain. We were snug in the van, and later found the tents mostly dry and our gear dry as well.

The world that we live in is an artificial construct that is dependent on almost limitless supplies of cheap energy. Our food production and distribution system is built around transportation- lots of it. If you want to see how far we move our food, try to have a "20 mile dinner" where everything you eat has been produced within 20 miles of where you live. If that doesn't work, try a 100 mile dinner. That can be tough enough as there are few local orchards, vineyards, or even farmers markets. And if you do it, it is likely that it will be a vegetarian meal, unless you supply the fish or fowl from your own hunting endeavors.

Other clouds gather now. Never in all the history of the world has mankind had the opportunity to use as much energy as we use today. From a historical perspective the amount of energy that we use and mis-use defies understanding. Yet, to us this is how the world is. This is not how the world has been, and it is not how the world will be forever or even for very much longer. We are sucking hard on the straw that is sunken into the richest and easiest to use energy pool that God has placed upon the earth. What will happen when energy becomes dear? When we have to suck really hard to get a little more out? I don't know. But things will change and the world that we look upon as so permanent, the world that we have all of our expectations built on, our skills honed to will change, and the change might be wrenching.

The changes will be less wrenching for those who have been living in a provident manner. Those with an education and a wide range of skills will find opportunities. Those with stored food, water, and fuel will be able to stay out of turmoil and strife and remain safe at home, warm and fed. Those with gardens and fruit trees will be able to harvest new food, and perhaps barter some food with others. Those with some supplemental and independent power will be able to surf the Internet, as well as have hot water and refrigerated food.

This is not something that you wake up one day and decide you will accomplish before noon. So don't be discouraged if you are not there yet. But then most good things are built line upon line, precept upon precept. We are living the years of the fat cattle and the full ears of corn. It might be three millennia later but the concept is the same.

I admit to being a boring crank about both the economy and the energy situation. I don't think the 'they' in the government actually know what to do in time to avert some uncomfortable times. It is doubtful that we as a voting public would support them in doing the things that are needed to be done in order to avoid catastrophe. So I think it is up to us as individuals and families to make the changes in our lives that need to be made in order to be ready for the storm clouds that are gathering. Open your eyes and ears, use your education and skills to understand what is going on in this complex and confusing world. Plan. Pray. Act. As much and often as you can, stand in holy places.

Monday, July 30, 2007

We'd like to keep the lights on for you, but.....

Lots of coal power plant projects are being cancelled. This is kind of disturbing. We have been kicking this around at work for a while, as we have been aware that there is a huge new ground swell of opinion against coal fired power. But we also havea big concern that there is almost no infrastructre of wind or solar generation. What to do? As we talk about it, there is not a person that I have talked to at our plant that doesn't believe that it won't be long before we see power outages. There really isn't any other options if electrical demand continues to grow as it has in the past. They can't just build these plants in an afternoon. It looks like our planned expansion will not be happening, although 'taps' hasn't been played yet it would take a major change in California polictics and a change in California state law to allow our expansion to take place.

As you can see in the article, there are many, many more proposed projects that will not be built. Nuke plants take about 15 years from proposal to permit, and maybe another 5 years for construction. Natural gas plants will provide EXPENSIVE power. Oil isn't an option. You do the math.

So, strange as it may be to think of, unless you like using your storm candles, you might want to make some plans for supplemental power. A generator will provide some stop gap power, PV panels will become expensive when everyone else figures this out. I haven't figured this out yet, but really don't want to shower in cold water in the dark.

I realize that most people would find a comparison between Africa and the U.S. not to have much validity, but the point is that Africa's electrical woes have roots in poor planning, little modernization or investment and a good deal of bad luck. But poor planning, with no investment tends to create bad luck as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Thoughts on Immigrants (1)

Annie's mother, and both of my parents were descendants of ethnic Germans that had immigrated to Russia in the late 1700s to early 1800s. They had moved to southern Russia in response to and invitation by Catherine the Great of Russia, who was also a German princess.

Catherine's army had dislodged the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and chased everyone of Turkish heritage out of the area. Catherine hoped to bring in many industrious Germans, and hoped that they would make this area their home and would intermarry with the native Russians that were still in the area. Or so is my understanding. Many villages and towns were deserted, and after the offer was made, many land agents went to Germany and told the trusting Germans that there were houses waiting to be moved in to. This might have been true for some of the earliest arrivals, but not for either my mother's family, or my dad's family.

Mom's family had floated down the Danube from Ulm, Germany to Odessa, Russia in a large barge (Ulmmer schactel) for about 2500 km. A very long float trip. These barges were often over crowded and disease, mostly cholera would rip through the population. When Mom's family disembarked they were put in wagons, along with their few possessions and some lumber from the barge (it was a one way trip, and they took it apart for the lumber and the nails), and hauled out into the steppe and dumped on the site of their new home.

These people were not farmers or builders for the most part. Much like the Saints in the Salt Lake valley, they arrived somewhat late for planting crops and I don't think they had much in the way of livestock or draft animals. For the most part they built sod houses and tried to get ready for the Russian winter.

I don't know much about Dad's family. They settled off of the steppe, up in the Caucasus mountains. Life was very had at first as well, but in the end they built stone houses and had wonderful gardens, orchards, vineyards and livestock of all types.

Annie's mom's family were Mennonite and moved to Russia from Germany as a congregation. When they moved to Kansas, they again moved as a congregation, making sure that no one was left behind.

All of these German families lived in Russia for several generations. Their ancestors had moved from Germany to Russia because life didn't look too good in Germany in the late 1700's. Germany had a hundred little states. Wars were common, opportunity was not. All three of these families were strongly against war and fighting and one of the strongest motivations was that if they went to Russia, their sons would not have to serve in the Russian Army.

So they went, and for several generations things went pretty well. Catherine died of course (1796) and eventually the promises that she made were set aside and taxes were levied and young men were called up at first for duty in the many forests, and eventually into the military. Our families were troubled by these changes and I am sure there was fierce and emotional debate on what to do about the deteriorating situation.

I don't know much about the specifics of the debate, but Mom's family, and the Mennonites left around 1875 and made their way west. Dad's family held on longer, hoping against hope, I imagine that things would get better.

We have a lot of family histories about the people that came. I always wondered about the people that stayed in Russia. There is a Mennonite history book either here or at Annie's mom's house that tells about those that stayed. It wasn't very nice. They ended up having to endure the Russian revolution, and the almost constant raiding of the Red and the White Armies. The reds of course were communistic, and the whites backed the Romanov's. They descended on those little villages filled with pacifistic farmers and artisans, shot anyone who opposed them, and most of the educated people that were community leaders. They stole all of the food, shot and ate the farm animals and then left after extracting a pledge of loyalty. The battle lines went back and forth so on Monday you might pledge your fealty to the Red army while literally having a gun at your head, and Wednesday you might have the exact same experience while pledging undying (you hoped) loyalty to the Whites. Winter, meanwhile took no prisoners and the Germans died like flies in the frost. But, to be fair, the Russian peasants also died like flies. I think about 24 million people died, mostly of starvation in the revolution and consolidation of power when Stalin took over from Lenin.

Early on I wondered how people could be so dumb as to stay and just hope for the best. As I got a little older I realized that it isn't that simple, and in a community like that it also isn't about the person. Annie's Mennonites sold all that they had and sent scouts to Kansas to purchase land and plant crops. Everyone in that congregation came. But that was 1875 or so, and you could still sell property. All of my ancestors came as extended families, but the ones that came earlier found it easier to leave, and also found opportunities in America more abundant than did those that left in 1905. So what do you do if you would like to go, but your family wants to stay? Maybe your parents are in poor health, or just won't leave home.... maybe your babies are sick. Possibly you just can't raise the money. Maybe you have heard horror stories of families being separated by quarantine and decide that, fine, let them come, we will die together and meet together in Heaven.

I don't actually know anymore now than I did then about the ones that stayed. I have thought about it a lot, but still don't know. My Grandpa's uncle went back to Russia because he was just very homesick and was caught up in the war and died of starvation. The Guitar Boy is named after him. Some of my Dad's extended family were separated by a quarantine. The mom was held back, the dad and kids came to America. They started farming and saved up enough money so that the dad and youngest son (who had been a baby when they parted) went back to Russia. The rest of the kids stayed on the farm and worked. The family in Russia got caught in the war and the mom and dad starved. The little boy was sent to Siberia after WWII and died there at about the age of 40.

Well, it is time for bed. This story doesn't really have a conclusion, at least not one that I am aware of tonight.

Maybe C.S Lewis said it best. In 'The Magician's Nephew', after Digory and Polly have traveled to Charn and are contemplating the bell on the table set with food, and surrounded by royal looking people that look like they have been turned to stone. A sign by the bell said: Make your choice, Adventurous Stranger, strike the bell and bide the danger, or wonder till it drives you mad, what would have happened if you had.

Sleep well.

Monday, July 23, 2007

All you ever wanted to know about Growth, Energy, and Money

Actually this is sort of a bait-andswitch. You probably wanted to know how to buy cheap energy and invest in growth and make lots of money. This won't tell you that.

Dr. Albert Bartlett is/was a physics professor at the University of Colorado, and both a very sharp guy and a very good teacher. For the mathmatically intimidated, this is an easy read. And he is kind of funny. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Arithmetic, Population and Energy

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Johnny Sitting Bull

Thanks for the kind words from the post on Walt. Annie has a whole journal of interesting or inspiring people that she has met or whom have touched her life in one way or another over the years. I like to read those stories, and thought I might share of few interesting stories with you as well. So now you all know a little bit about Walt, and hopefully we can all be inspired a little by his faith, hard work habits, and his patient and enduring love.

Johnny Sitting Bull was young man who we met in central Colorado where my dad was running a construction job. Johnny's last name really wasn't 'Sitting Bull' but that is what he wanted to be called for the Native American ancestry that he claimed. He was probably in his early 20's when I met him. I was about 10 years old. He had a terrible alcohol problem which I suppose was mostly binge drinking.

All though the week he was a good worker but on Friday night he took his check and headed for the bar. I was pretty little but remember him showing up on our door step about 7:30 or so almost every Friday, having spent his check, paid his drinking debts and was now broke and wanted to borrow money from my dad. He always paid Dad back any money that he borrowed, and although Dad didn't really want to contribute to his condition, Johnny was so persistent and sooooooooo drunk that in the end Dad would give him some money and send him on his way.

We were lived in this little town on and off for about four years, and Johnny was a frequent visitor, at least in the first year or two. Always grateful for any help he would get, he sometimes wanted to make Dad part of his family. I remember one night- very, very cold. We lived in a poorly insulated trailer house and all the windows had ice on them, and there was some ice creeping onto the wall. Dad and Johnny were sitting at the kitchen table and talking. Johnny was trying to get Dad to become a blood brother. He had a knife and wanted to cut their wrists and mingle their blood. Dad was trying to talk him into using a needle, but Johnny was afraid of needles.

The last that I saw of Johnny was one of the last summers that we lived there. He had two younger men that were literally supporting him as he made his rounds of paying old debts and borrowing new money. We moved away and I forgot about a lot of the people in that little town. If I had thought about Johnny, I would have been sure that drink had taken him to an early grave. I didn't know anything about his childhood and didn't bear him any ill will. He was just a character that passed through my childhood, and one that seemed to be heading for a tragic ending.

So, as Gomer says: 'Surprise, Surprise'!!! It was probably in the late 70's or early 80's when Mom ran across someone from that little town. They compared notes on people that they knew, and she told Mom the amazing story of the redemption of Johnny Sitting Bull. It seems that some time later in his life, and he probably would have been in his 40's or so, he met a nice mormon girl that believed in him, and helped him to believe in himself as well. I don't know all the details to the story. I don't know if Johnny joined the Church or if the love of a good woman was just what it took to make the change. But it was a happy ending, and the world needs more of those.

The Old Baked Bean

When I graduated from high school, a girl that I liked a lot wrote in my year book not to put my head in an oven and I would never have a baked bean. Or words to that effect. It was good advice I suppose, although at the time I was hoping for something that promised or at least hinted at future intimacies.

But after yesterday and last week, I feel like the ultimate baked bean. The song says that it's 'summertime, and the livin' is easy', which is probably more or less true, but I am getting tired of the heat.

The Mother Earth News had a helpful (but not revelatory) article on how to keep you house cool. I am glad that we could comply with the part that advised large shade trees, and very glad that I wasn't planting little sticks with hope for the future. There was a long discussion on how to site a house to take advantage of any stray breeze, which breezes are sort of a hard wind or a dead calm in this little town in the desert.

One fairly practical piece of advice that they gave was not to heat up your house with various appliances. Our house has been moderately cool due to the shade trees and swamp cooler. Parts of the house become uncomfortable during the day and we have an elaborate system of box fans to move the swamp cooler air around the house. This helps not only to cool the house but distributes the moisture that the swamp cooler injects into the house. But our elaborate system is a fragile system that can be over powered by the heat from the dryer (in-house venting), the oven, a long, hot shower or even several loads of wash or a big dinner cooked on the stove.

The dryer and oven use are fairly obvious and we have avoided them mostly during the warm summer. Since I read the article I have been trying to cook with the dutch ovens and BBQ grill outside, and I think it has helped.

Our house is both sprawling and labyrinthian, and has many dark nooks and crannies that need illumination. Most of our lighting is incandescent lighting which is to say mini-space heaters. Annie and I are pretty good at turning of the lights, but it is easy to be in a hurry and forget. If we have the equivalent of 10- one hundred watt bulbs on, it is about the same as if we had a 1000 watt space heater going and trying to overcome that heat source. And that is just with the lights. Anything that uses electricity produces heat, and if produces light and heat, the light will be absorbed and will become heat. If the appliance produces coolness and isn't vented outside, it actually heats your house. So standing by the open refrigerator door is the same as standing near a very well disguised and unconventional space heater. You might get the cool right now, but the compressor kicks on and pumps the heat out of the interior of the fridge, and into the hot coils that are either in the side walls, or in the back. Strange to think about. All this might not even be noticeable if you have an exposed west wall that has poor insulation and/or lots of glass.

This morning it seemed like a biscuits would go well with some gravy that was leftover from dinner last night. The idea if heating the oven up to 400 degrees in a day that would be a scorcher seemed pretty stupid. I also had already showered and was mostly ready for church and didn't want to fool around with the charcoal and dutch oven. Then I remembered that Annie had given me a Coleman oven.... thats right, a collapsible oven that can be used over a gasoline or propane stove. So I put it over the grill and went back inside to make up the dough. It didn't get as hot as I would have liked it to get, only about 320 deg. or so. I don't know if that is because it was over the grill and not over a stove or if that is about all the hotter that it gets. No matter, it did bake the biscuits. I piled them into a pie tin, and that was probably a mistake since it was such a cool oven. The biscuits on the edge got done, but the ones in the middle needed some more time. If you decide to try this, keep the biscuits separate so the hot air gets all around them. I baked them for 30 minutes or so. They didn't get wonderfully brown or anything like that, but were edible and the kitchen didn't get hot.

So that is about it. Nothing too exciting here. It is almost Monsoon season here. There is some cooler air that might be here on Monday or Tuesday, so relief is in sight. The garden is enjoying the heat and the sun, and I almost have Guitar Boy's car back together, so he will be spreading his wings soon. Hope all is well with all of you.

Friday, July 20, 2007


We can be grateful that we have been counciled to keep our weddings simple.......

This article details how a lot of the 'traditions' followed in weddings aren't traditions after all, but were invented by the 'wedding-industrial' complex. Not a long read, but I was amazed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


They say that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. And I guess that also we might have to consider that sometimes you have to pass through a good deal of life before you are ready to look into some books.

Walt is the father of a childhood friend. His daughter is a year older than I am, and his son about 18 months younger. Not much difference at this stage in life, but some difference as a kid. Walt was a sober, hardworking, church going, frugal Christian man. Strict in raising his kids, his rules were exacting, and he required obedience. I knew that he was the foreman on concrete construction crew, and had heard that you never wanted to get on his crew as he gave a very full days work to his employer, and made sure that the rest of the crew did so as well. He could work just about anyone into the ground.

This is the impression that I had of Walt. Not fun loving, but rather humorless. All business. HARDWORKING. That was the Walt that was in my mind when I left home and Annie and I started our home. We moved away from Denver, and lost touch with many old friends. I didn't talk to Walt for thirty years. Then Dad passed away and I ran into Walt and Velma at the funeral. Walt is about 88 now. Small, lean, spare, but he had rather more of a twinkle in his eye than I remembered. I learned that he has no grass in his yard. Both the front and back yards have been turned into garden, vineyard, berry patch, and orchard. So he is still pretty hard working.

As we talked he told me of how much he liked my parents, what good people they are. We talked about all the water that had gone under the bridge since I used to play at their house as a kid and somehow the subject turned to how he and Velma had met.

I remembered that Mom had told me that Velma had been in a TB sanitarium years ago. Walt told me that he had met her, and she either was already in the sanitarium, or was going to it soon. He continued to see her and visit her there, and one day, after several months of visits, proposed marriage to her. She was terribly torn, but good person that she is, she told him that she couldn't marry him. It wouldn't be fair to him. She might never get better. She might never be released. Walt told her that it didn't matter, and that he wanted to marry her anyway. He said that when she was released, he would be waiting.

And so it was that they were married, and she continued to live in the sanitarium for two more years. Finally she was declared to be free of the disease and was allowed to go home. And Walt was waiting faithfully, like he said that he would.

In these days of instant gratification it uplifts my spirit some, and restores some faith in the goodness of people to remember a man like Walt, and to know that a little romance and tenderness can be found in the most unexpected places. You just have to read the book, and maybe a little between the lines.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Independence Day on the Edge of Nowhere

Today our little town celebrated it's 100th anniversary. As the mascot for our local school is the rabbit, at 9:00 a.m. most of the town showed up on main street with paper ears to see if we could set a new record for the number of people at one time doing the 'bunny hop'. We heard later that about 3900 people were in the line.

Getting 3900 people to assemble on Main Street to put on paper ears is something of a feat. Many towns our size would have trouble getting that many people to the parade on a day when they could sleep in. Here, it isn't all that easy to sleep in on July 4 as the local fire department guys cruise around in pickups with a small mortar in the back and starting at 6 a.m. they begin the assault of the sleepy. I am not sure what they are shooting, but it sounds like about a half of a stick of dynamite. They pop them up about 150 feet in the air so the sound isn't wasted. When we first moved here, we were unaware of this service, and my wife was highly annoyed when the artillery opened up that first summer and woke the baby.

After the bunny hop came the overflight of F16s. I am assuming that this is calculated to increase our feelings of patriotism, rather then make us think of any tax deductions that we really weren't entitled to. The planes actually make the rounds at parades all over the state. After they made their double strafing run on Main Street they seemed to be followed by a tanker plane. This is new, and I will be the first to admit that I could be very wrong here, but it was a four engine jet flying fairly low, and we just don't get those here. It looked like a C-130. So if they are going all over the state, they might be bringing the gas station along with them.

We had a daughter and son-in-law come down for a visit, so we had a good time chatting today as well. The social ones of our group (everyone but me) came home after the parade, but went to the park to listen to local bands play. I took a nap and weeded the garden which had gone sadly to weeds in our absence (See Annieofbluegables post on our trip to Taiwan). So it was a good day for everyone I hope. Our youngest son went canal swimming with his friends and then after a quick shower he went to the crash-up-derby.

Demolition Derbies are very popular in this area. This one sponsored by the Lions Club and every year had 3500 or more people packing the stands to watch local drivers crash modified cars into one another until there is only one running. I remember the look of amazement on the face of a young man from Hong Kong one year. He was new to the area, and to this country and not familiar with our customs. I was driving him around town some time after the Derby and the dead cars were everywhere. Dented, squished and not resurrected yet (most cars are rebuilt for several races in a season, and sometimes for several seasons). They have all the windows taken out, the doors welded or chained shut, and the gas tank replaced by a one gallon can. It looked bad. I told him that on our Independence Day we get about 250 cars and organize them into six or seven heats and then they crash them into each other until only one engine is running. He asked me why we do this..... and all that I could do was to shrug.

That was mostly it. We didn't go to the Derby as it is hot, and long. Unless you are cheering on someone in particular, once you have seen one or two of them, you have seen all you need to see. But then I feel that way about all of the _____ball sports as well. So maybe you shouldn't use me for a guide. We did drive down and watch the official fireworks after the Stylist and the Student lit off the rest of the package that they had brought down. And a good time was had by all. Time for bed now. The dawn is already scheduled.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Lord of the Libraries

If you liked 'Lord of the Rings' you will love 'Lord of the Libraries', a trilogy by Mel Odom. I am in the middle of 'The Destruction of the Books' and should have started with 'The Rover' but it was out and it looked kind of cool. Plenty of dwarves, humans, wizards, elves, and 'dwellers'. Dwellers are small, slight, generally cowardly, and very bookish. Looked on as little more than vermin by the Goblinkin, they live mostly on the Island of Graydawn Moor. They also are mostly librarians, and as such they are the keepers of the 'Vault of all Know Knowledge' which I think would make the Smithsonian a little humble.

So far it is a great read. Lots of magic, magic protected books (unreadable), giant snakes summoned from wooden furniture to protect said magic book, sea battles with goblin ships (The Blowfly vs. Windchaser), evil enchantments, and evil wizard....good stuff. Not nearly so ponderous as Eye of the World. So if you love libraries, and have felt like the librarians of the world need a super hero to identify with, this is your series.

Have much fun.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Way of the Wrench - note the 'r'

For you Robert Jordan fans out there, I am sure that you recognize this title as a corruption of 'The Way of the Leaf', the pacifistic and fatalistic philosophy of the Tinkers the 'Eye of the World' series of books.

Pacifism and Fatalism are two philosophies that have great value when repairing cars.

Fatalism is good because it prevents any finger pointing at previous owners/operators/car salesman etc. On coming to full realization of the screwed up mess that you are trying to fix, it is much better for your blood pressure and spiritual purity (Ok, Ok, work with me on this one...) to say that this car was fated to go through the trials and abuse that it did, and to end up in my driveway. It was destiny.

Pacifism is good as it keeps the anger down when you realize that the two small bolts you have left were supposed to fasten the rear main seal to the back of the engine block, and yes, now you have to take the car all apart again, split the engine and transmission and wheedle those bolts into the holes. Pacifism teaches us not to use weapons, and not to make our tools into weapons.....and going back to Fatalism, it was Fated that I would forget those bolts, and probably a Cosmic Lesson in Patience.

Yes, I have taken up the Wrench again. I know that the Scriptures say that those that use the Wrench will perish by the Wrench...... or was that sword. No matter, either one can be a fine weapon/tool at need.

Tonight I was not diligent in my duties. The Nurse's ex-Neon is on blocks and is Fated to receive a new head to stop the oil leaking into the coolant. (Note that no finger pointing can be directed at the Nurse..... but some at the used car salesman that probably knew what was up with this car....) Fated I say...... Now if I can just help fate along a little each night after work. The reward will come when it is back together, and I see Guitar Boy heading off up the street, blowing the horn and starting the rest of his life.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Watch Maker

Click on 'The Watch Maker Title'. This is pretty cute. A very nice distillation of the issue. I hope you all like it.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Armed Forces Day Concert

Saturday we were able to come to SLC and spend a few minutes with the Nurse, the Rooster and the Little Stinker.... and really that should be changed to the Little Charmer. Happy Birthday little guy. Very much fun. Pixie came by with her good husband who I just can hardly refer to as the Toad.... come on people, lets remove the perjoratives! Fun to see everyone, but too short of a visit as we had to hurry off to the CASU Armed Forces Day Concert.

Being from a family that has a lot more history in pacifism than militarism, it is not my impulse to honor the military. But I have come to have a lot of respect for the sacrifices that have been made in behalf of this country, and that I have benefited from. George Orwell once said that
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
George Orwell
Hmmm.... I certainly enjoy the quiet, safe little town that I live in, and sadly, I think that this is a pretty good point. We live in a telestial world, and generally might prevails in the contests of the world. I would love to think that 'world peace' is just around the corner, but I think that Miss Congeniality and her friends are going to be disappointed.

So I am thankful for the sacrifices that are made by honorable men and women. This day wasn't about this war, or any war. Not about politics or our current leaders, our past leaders, or leaders at all. It was about the guys and girls that put on the uniform every day to do their job. Some of them come back damaged and broken, some don't come back at all. They know each day what can happen to them. And still they do their duty.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Well, the deed is done, the garden is planted and it is almost bed time. There is just time for a quick thought.

Last night I opened a cupboard and found a little wooden chest that Grandpa made in high school shop. Inside there is the watch that he got when he retired from 28 years of work at Coors, an OLD lighter from back in the days when he smoked - and engraved boldly 'Al Hahn'. Also present was an old silver cigarette case, a set of dice, and several old pocket knives that are almost worn away from sharpening. Dottie and John didn't want any of this stuff, and really it isn't valuable, or even especially useful.

I guess that I am not one that always has to have stuff that is valuable or useful. In fact, I think I am sort of a magnet for useless and invaluable stuff most of the time. It was the pocket knives more than anything that I liked. The blades worn down to nubbins, and still fairly sharp brought back a vision of the characteristic grimace that Grandpa used to get when he was cutting a piece of rope, or screwing a screw into a board. It was the result of total concentration on the task at hand, and he didn't have any idea of how ferocious it made him look. Kind of scared me when I was little. Essence of Al Hahn distilled into a very intense grimacing scowl, teeth clamped tight, lips drawn a little back into almost a snarl. He WOULD prevail!

I kind of like that box of stuff. I only have to touch one of those old knives and the memories come flooding back. Useless? Worthless? I guess that I am not a practical person, but I think I will keep the old box, and memories it contains.

Sleep well all.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Days Just Fly By

Ahhhh Friday night. At last. Well, really Thursday, but I am taking a day off to work on Mom's car and try to get caught up on the yard work a little. How would it be to pay someone $85 / month and have the yard mowed, the house painted, the roof fixed, and the sprinklers working.... Probably pretty nice.

We used to have the Outage in March, when it was pretty cold and gray... (and yes Pixie, it was harder to celebrate your birthday then...) but someone with a spreadsheet decided that they could save several million dollars per year on replacement power, and then changed it to April without even consulting me. Not even an email. So, now when the Outage is over, we are beaten up and tired, and all the yard is crying for some attention. Well, tomorrow is the day. Mom bought tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and broccoli plants. Once the plants are safely in the ground I will find Mr. Russell have him bring over the freon detector and we will try to find the leak in the AC system of Mom's car. And then maybe Dan's car as well. No rest for the wicked I guess.

We had Scouts this Tuesday. The first time for quite a while. The Outage disrupted the schedule a lot, and since they are very picky about having two deep leadership at all times, we just didn't have Scouts during April. We only have two boys, and they are not so much about getting the badges. But their parents are all about that the badges so Joseph took one boy and quizzed him on requirements while I took the other one and we varnished oars and glued a seat into one of the boats. We have to compete with water polo, skate parks, and baseball, so we have to have some fun. Our fun isn't too structured, just kind of making things and hanging out. Tuesday we will go to DMAD and try the boats again. I think that then they can take them home. It has been a fun project. Next they want to build bows, and maybe spears. John and I once built some spears..... we made the spear head out of heavy sheetmetal, and sharpened it like a razor. Very cool, but Grandma wasn't impressed. I don't know what happened to them, I am sure that I put them in the garage, but Grandma was pretty sure that I lost them.... One of those unresolved mysteries.

That is about it. It is nice to have a little warm weather on a weekend. Hope you all have a very nice time.