Monday, December 28, 2009

Help *Pamper* Russian Orphans!

Say, care to help *pamper* Russian orphans? A nearby orphanage in Rostov-on-Don is home to 100 abandoned babies from birth to four years of age. Caretakers there buy disposable diapers for the children out of their own meager salaries. During the daytime, they economize with cloth diapers but use disposables at night.

Recently one of the caretakers sat me down, fixed me a plate of sweets and told me how much they would appreciate help with diapers. So, several of us jumped in and helped out. You might enjoy the video of diaper delivery. You can see for yourself how thrilled the caretakers were! I'm telling you, I felt like a rock star leaving the orphanage that day, even though the contributions were from our whole church there in Rostov.

Would you care to join us in this effort? I figure that we can diaper one group of children for a week for $30. There are 10 groups, if I'm not mistaken but my immediate goal is to help with three groups, the older children. So that runs about $100 a month, including taxi transportation to the big discount store where diapers are sold cheapest.

If you would like to make an end-of-year donation, here's how to do it: Make out a check to Prestoncrest Church of Christ and make a notation on the envelope and on the check "Rostov Orphanage Donation." Mail it to the Prestoncrest address: 12700 Preston Road, Suite 210; Dallas, TX 75230-1824. (Oh, and in the near future, I'll want a photograph of you or your group - so that we can post that at the orphanage and give credit to whom credit is due. You can easily contact me about that at

Thank you for considering *pampering* Russian orphans! It's the one thing the orphanage really needs.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Silent Monks Sing Hallelujah!

Just in case you've missed it, here's a super-creative take on the Hallelujah Chorus! This is worth watching several times!

Insomnia: While Angels Watched Their Flocks

This song and the fabulous a cappella harmony absolutely thrills me. And that's a good thing. Because it's 3:32 a.m. local time and I'm awake with this song going through my mind. . .

Oh, what absolutely magnificent harmony. Presented by the Church of All Nations Singers of Boca Raton, Florida (2005).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Of Masks, Furs and Frosty Reflections

Does the staff at your McDonald's wear masks? Just wondering. Because in Kharkov, Ukraine the current McD's uniform includes face masks. And I knew that you would want to know about this. But first things first.

(Click photos to enlarge) So they're featuring this neat menu item Grill Lavash, which looks very much like what was dubbed the Greek Burger, as I recall, during the 2004 Olympic games. At least at Russian McDonald's. Makes perfect sense, right?

Here's a close-up look at the Grill Lavash. Figured we'd better shoot it quick before any more disappeared. And yes, I'm quite aware of what this bite reveals about orthodonture and such, another topic altogether. . .

So here's McDonald's staff en masque. It's something to do with swine flu. Or politics. Or maybe it's about keeping warm on a very cold day.

After lunch, or maybe before, I happened upon this sculpture just outside McD's. Bet those two kiddos wish they'd worn their knickers. Or even a strategically-placed mask. Or two or three.

In the same spot are architectural feats of local buildings. You'll forgive me for not researching the names of these places. Because, for one thing, what is more interesting is the street scene in the background. This was around 2:30 pm, approaching dusk local time.

Another local building. More traffic backed up. Oopsie: Remember to turn off your flash, gypsy girl.

Later, picking my way along Pyhskinskaya, a store window with winter hats. Each degree the temperature drops, the fur hats with ear flaps look that much more fetching.

Speaking of fetching, here's a lovely blue coat in the window. Oh, and mercy me. . . there's a familiar face too. Say, the idea of a face mask sounds pretty wonderful right now. Just simply for keeping warm. Later learned that it was -6F.

Monday, December 14, 2009

While (Scottish) Shepherds Watch Their Flocks

Amazing the artistic feats Scottish shepherds, sheepdogs and sheep can pull off ~ with the high-tech help of cell phones, digital cameras and LEDs in a pastoral setting. If you're like me, you'll watch this again and again.

This creativity is so worth sharing. And so. . . a very Merry Christmas to you, dear blog-reading friends!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Fire Safety: Philosophies Differ

Several years back, I frequented this neighborhood school here in the center of Rostov-on-Don. Interestingly, the school saw use as a German hospital in the early 1940's when the city was occupied by Nazi troops.

Nowadays, seven hundred-plus students attend this school, children from early elementary school up through high school.

On Sept 1st, children and families gather for the back-to-school ceremony, called the first bell.

The grand finale of first bell is a first grader's being carried around the area on the shoulders of a strong senior guy.

The young child gets to ring the first bell of the school year.

So, back then I went regularly to the school and helped out in English classes. I delighted in seeing the similarities and differences between schools in the U.S. and Russian schools. Eventually, I began noticing subtleties. For one thing of four big doors leading into the building, only one narrow door was unlocked during school hours. And in the back of the school, there was a single door and it was low and narrow. Students lined up to use either the front or back door.

Eventually I noticed stairwells and exits on the wings of the H-shaped building. But those stairwells were kept padlocked shut. What would you do in case of an emergency, like a fire? I asked an administrator one day.

We have keys for that very purpose. Someone would just unlock the doors, she said confidently.

It made me wonder, is there a fire marshal who makes unplanned visits? Are there regular fire drills? Chances are, nyet.

With last week's tragedy in Perm, reports say that the owner has been fined several times lately for not meeting fire code. But nothing had changed. Chances are that he paid the fine and slipped a few thousand rubles to the fire inspector and that was the end of it.

Interestingly, fire inspections can go the other direction too so that a building is shut down for reasons unrelated to safety. I've seen this first-hand. A certain facility located a block west of the school, had met Rostov fire code 9-plus years with nary a problem. Then a dispute arose in which the city wanted to purchase the building and property for a fraction of its value, and a conflict arose. Within days, the fire inspector arrived at the building for an unannounced inspection and announced that the flooring, for starters, was not up to code and he padlocked the whole 2nd level of the building.

The thing is, significantly more people die each year from fire-related deaths in Russia than in the U.S. or other western countries. Seems that there's a different outlook on fire safety: on the laws and on enforcing them. Beyond that, the bigger picture is a different outlook on the value of human life. Today is a day of mourning across Russia for the 120-some victims of the night club fire in Perm. Can't help but wonder if the fire inspector or the owner lost loved ones in the blaze.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Easing into the Monochrome of a Russian Winter

As the days shorten, the late afternoon sunshine gives a muted, gray look to the streets here in Rostov-on-Don. Care to join me for a quick look at highlights around the city?

Meet Alexander Pyshkin, (1799 - 1837) beloved poet of Russia. His statue above overlooks his namesake thoroughfare, Pyshkinskaya Boulevard. It's likely that every city across Russia has a street named in his honor. (Click photo to enlarge.)

A block south of Pyshkinskaya, on Voroshilovskii Street we see that the Planet of Languages awaits ~ if per chance you're interested in language study. English is first on the list there, followed by German, Spanish, Italian, French, Turkish and Greek. How about that flag on the tongue! It makes perfect sense to the speaker of Russian. You see, in Russian, one word - язык - means either language or the physical tongue. So it's a visual pun.

Now we're on the main street through town, Bol'shoi Sadoviya Street - that is, Big Garden Street - which runs parallel to the Don River, several block south. Before perestroika, this was called Engels Steet. And during World War 2 when Rostov was occupied, Nazi troops marched along it on their way to work. Nowadays, all that is mostly forgotten as young folks stroll along listening to their iPods.

Zipping east a couple miles on Bol'shoi Sadoviya, we come to Theatre Square. This area is a hub of community activity. You see the fountain, the Tractor Theatre on the left, Stella the obelisk in the distance overlooking the Don steppe. Notice the boys running on the right. They've got plans and we'll catch up with them in a minute.

Tractor Theatre, there on the left, yes it's really named that. Simply because of its shape, a salute to the value of agriculture in the area. Seen from the air, the tractor shape is more discernible. Well, surprise, surprise! I happen to have an aerial shot here handy. Especially for You!

Please click to enlarge. Beyond Stella, the white boxy building is the theatre. The wheel wells are there on the right and left. And the machine is headed this a way!

Back down on earth, let's zoom in on Stella, the golden girl who commemorates the end of Nazi occupation of World War 2. She's taller than the Statue of Liberty, as I recall, and is built overlooking the Don River and wide open steppe beyond that. Stella is visible for miles as a person approaches Rostov from the south.

Remember those boys? Well in the last few minutes they realized the fountain was perfect for climbing. A little muddy but that makes it all the better.

And now for a quick look at posters on display in an underground walkway. On the left: To sell in a civilized, cultural manner ~ (is) honorable work! On the right: Come comrades! Come join us at the collective farm!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Spiritual Feast in Rothenburg, Germany

Last week was the Euro-American Family Retreat in Rothenburg, Germany. This is the 46th year of the Christian retreat, originally hosted by military families based in Germany.

Rothenburg is a medieval town. (Click photos to enlarge.) The original city walls are still standing, thanks to a U.S. general who decided they should not be bombed during World War II. Then, as the city was being rebuilt after the war, residents went with the medieval style, including roof tiles and signage. It's a charming, quiet town. So we did some tours, some shopping during free time.

A highlight of the week was recording 45-minutes worth of songs and prayers for Christian friends who are deployed out of Kaiserslautern, Germany. Our brother Greg Larson came up with the idea. He ministers there and had a list of folks who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We prayed for them by name and sang our hearts out.

Brother Frank from Oklahoma City led the singing and prayers. It was rousing, to say the least. Greg planned to send the music files to the soldiers by Thanksgiving morning. What a clever idea!

Here's a taste of our singing. This little video is a patched-together production because it was recorded with my regular digital camera, which does 30-second video. So. . . it's a little choppy, but still you get the idea.

So yes, we sang a lot and what a treat that was. Most of us who serve overseas rarely sing in English and, you know, there's something about singing in ones native tongue. Leading songs above is a dear brother who serves as an army chaplain in Germany.

This is Sunday worship. Our lessons were from John 17, which one speaker described as the second Lord's prayer. As you may know, this prayer is Jesus' prayer during the Last Supper with His disciples, where he pleads for glory, for unity, for protection from the evil one. Such a poignant passage.

Group Shot: 105 were present from 15 countries. Everything was in English. Simultaneous translations were available in French and Romanian.

Mike Armour - the one gesturing and talking, above - and wife Fran were with us from Dallas. Mike was one of the featured speakers. He's president of Eastern European Mission, a vital printing ministry which serves us well.

The children loved their classes. Three sisters from Dallas dedicated themselves to teaching the children's classes morning and evening. Parents were thrilled and so were the kiddos.

Lucky me ~ got assigned to room with Linda, lead teacher for the children's classes. Oh we had so much fun together and survived four nights in a very small hotel room. What a delightful person is that Linda!

Back out on the streets of Rothenburg. . .

Our tour, starting with the city map.

Keeping warm, couple from Belgium.

Waiting for 3:00 sharp, when something dramatic was to happen with the windows of the town hall.

Three little kittens who lost their mittens, waiting for 3:00 drama.

End of tour, heading back toward city hall.

Aeroflot flight Frankfurt to Moscow. Back to Russia on Thanksgiving afternoon. This would be . . . over Germany. Or maybe Poland. Hard to say!

Parking lot at Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 airport. Then connecting flight to Rostov-on-Don. International trips are never inexpensive. But a magnificent investment ~ learning and growing, meeting new friends, exchanging ideas. Such Christian conferences are invaluable. So thankful for those who organize the Euro-American Family Retreat!

How about you dear Blog Reader? Ever been to Rothenburg, Germany? Or to the Euro-American Family Retreat? Please do share. . .!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Universal Studios Free Photo Booth: Pranks

Dear Friends, Good belly laughs counts as exercise in my book and they count double on Thanksgiving weekend. Let's see if these tickle your funny bone as they did mine. Oh, and happy *Black Friday.*

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey and *I Will Survive!*

Happy Thanksgiving dear friends! Tina Turkey has a special treat for you here. With a nod to Gloria Gayner, presenting a parody of her 1978 hit. . .

At first I was an egg, I was petrified. Kept thinking I'd be lost or I'd get cracked and fried. But you took me to your nest before it was too late and kept be warm. And helped me incubate. . .

And then, just simply for nostalgia's sake ~ versus the sake of Thanksgiving ~ here is Ms Gayner herself. . .

Monday, November 23, 2009

Freezing Rice: Super Cool Kitchen Secret

Rice is nice. . .that's what they say. Rice is nice. . .throw some my way. Remember that song?

Rice can be great but come dinner time, I'm disinclined to fiddle around with cooking it, especially the ultimate - brown rice. But hal-le-lu-jah, there's an easy-peasy way. And that is to cook the whole big bag and freeze it in meal-sized portions.

You see, there was a kilo of rice that was sitting in the cabinet calling my name, singing that Rice is Nice song. So I gave in, cooked it up and most of it's frozen in small portions. Then come dinner time, throw the rice onto a hot skillet and it's done in no time. So here's the methodika, as we say it around here.

While water is coming to a boil, pick through for any pebbles, diamonds or other precious stones. Not that I've ever found any, but there's always a first time. Then run some water through the rice and boil it until just a tad under-done.

Talk about quick rice, here in the blink of an eye, in the flash of the cursor - our rice is cooked. Rinse it off in cool water using the strainer. Then cool to room temperature in shallow pans.

After cool, package the rice for freezing. These quart-size zip-lock bags I bring from the US and put 2 cups rice in each bag. That works here in this household of three, which includes two little birds. They're such gentleman though, they let me have all the rice. So package it according to how much rice you would serve at a meal.

In the freezer, these packets stack nicely. Being thin, it's easy to break of a chunk of rice and slide it out onto a hot skillet.

Happens that we have a hot skillet here, two in fact. One for heating the rice, the other for whatever else is cooking. In this case it's chicken chunks, straight out of the freezer too.

And here we have an easy lunch, ready in about 15 minutes.

Try freezing rice sometime. It's more economical than the boil-in-the-bag packets, which are not always available here. It's so handy come dinner time because there's no messing w/ a big pot of water and then cleaning it up after. So that settled, altogether now, a rousing rendition of rice is nice!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pumpkin Fruit Bread

Steamed pumpkin today for making wonderful pumpkin fruit bread next week. Will mash the pumpkin here in a few minutes and then freeze it. Pumpkin fruit bread or muffins is/are always a hit. I hope to make it for orphanage staff for Thanksgiving. Here's easy secret of how to freeze unbaked muffins and then have them freshly baked for a special breakfast. And then here's the recipe. Oh it's so good. So is the batter, by the way. . . ;)

Freshly steamed pumpkin - oh can't you just smell it. Look at all that Vitamin A just sitting there. Fabulous!

Say dear blog reader, what favorite recipe(s) do you plan to make for Thanksgiving? Does your family have a favorite fruit bread or nut bread recipe?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Escape of the Century: Night Crossing to Freedom

Although they had no experience with hot air balloons, Peter Strelzyk and Gunter Wetzel tossed around the idea of building one to escape from East Germany. Peter was an electrical technician and both loved to tinker. They headed to their village's one library and bookstore and began to dig for information.

Last Monday, November 9, 2009, was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In honor of the event, we've had a look at various methods of escape used to get from East to West Germany. People escaped through the border, under the border and even over the border as did our heroes, the Wetzel and Strelzyk families.

The two men and their wives worked 18 months on a balloon, scouring stores across East Germany for taffeta, nylon thread and lining fabric. They worked at night and in utmost secrecy. A sizable balloon would be needed to transport the eight of them - the two couples and their four children - across the border.

The taffeta panels which made up the balloon were stitched on this machine. The final product was the height of an 8-story building. Just imagine the spools of thread and bobbin-winding that would require.

Strelzyk, the architect of the project, designed the ignition system and used 4 propane bottles for fuel. That eight people crowded onto this small platform, contained only by ropes, and sailed high overhead makes my tummy do flip-flops. Amazing what folks will do in order to be free.

And so it was, in the pre-dawn hours of a September morn, 1979, the two families boarded their vehicle. They were aloft just 30 minutes but that was long enough to sail from East Germany to the west, floating high above the vicious attach dogs and ditches, above the land mines and self-triggering shrapnel guns, above guard towers and search lights. After landing and confirming that they really had made it to the west, the two families opened the bottle of champaign they had brought along.

Getting to West Germany was not the end of problems for these folks. The story of their dramatic escape garnered such international attention that the East German government was determined to make an example of them. They received hate mail and kidnapping threats. Peter Strelzyk's electrical shop was bombed. They were constantly on the run and moved 13 times during their ten years in the west. Finally, after the wall came down and Germany was unified, the families returned home to East Germany and were able to live in peace.

Their story of escape is recounted in Night Crossing (1981) , starring Beau Bridges. This write up in Popular Mechanics is fascinating (pg 100). Their flight to freedom has been called the escape of the century.