Ukraine. The Motherland


All my life I have been influenced by Ukraine.  My mom’s side is all Ukrainian,  half my dad’s side.  I was quite close to people with names like Stasiuk and Mykitiuk (Grandparents and Great-Grandparents).  Jan and I decided to travel with my mom to Ukraine.  We booked 10 days and went in September, 2016.  Mom has never been (let alone overseas), nor Jan and I.

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Jan, Catie and Mom!  Kiev.

It was a fantastic ten days.  Bonus:  Daughter Catherine and beau Henning joined us for a few days in Kiev.

Some take aways:  We were all surprised how little English there was.    We were also surprised how inexpensive it was.  Supper out for three could be $30 CDN with cocktails.    No one knew what perogies were.  One told us “Oh – my Grandma used to call it that.  We call it verenecki! ”  So we stopped asking for perogies.  We asked for “verenecki”.

We visited Kiev,  Lviv and Odessa.  They were all very unique.  In Odessa (by the Black Sea) Russian was the spoken and read word.  It seemed a city of less income than the earlier two cities but we enjoyed.  Lviv is a university city. Alive with young people and

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$3.50 CDN for a nice bottle of vodka.  We’re in!

fascinating history.  Kiev was beautiful as well.  We did Air BnB or hotels and all were fine.

We ate very well in Ukraine.  I for one insisted on perogies (sorry – “verenecki”).  We had sausage and other Ukrainian foods,  many familiar some new to us.   It did though taste 100% like home cooked food we know and love.  And dining was so inexpensive.   A cab ride across the city was $5 CDN.    We used nothing but local currency or credit cards easily.  We did a cooking class at a local couple’s apartment and that was fun.  We brought back a few recipes including borscht.

It was fascinating to be in a country where the borders have changed so much.  Russia,  Hungary,  Poland, Romania and I am sure a few others I forget all have made an impression here.   Ask, and the Ukrainians are pretty grumpy about the Russians and the current political climate and Crimean dispute.  Don’t blame them.

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Which one isn’t the “local” Ukrainian?”

It was fun to be among  a culture  I felt so familiar with.  I felt they had a unique personality that may explain why Ukrainians (and all my relatives) are as they are.  That was interesting.   It’s hard to explain.  For one, they don’t seem to be too stressed out impressing others.  There’s no “I’m Suzy and I’ll be your waitress, today” attitude.  Sometimes they even seem gruff.   A few waitresses told us what we would be eating!

Maybe the most memorable part of the experience was being there with my mom.  She spoke mostly Ukrainian at home until she was age five.   She was intrigued by the culture for sure.    It was a pleasure traveling with her.   Jan and I noticed she sure “fit in”.  If you put her with 10 ladies at the market you would not guess she was from out of country.   See pic above.  All the ladies there seemed to have the same stature, fair, same height.  Mom’s on the left.

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In Odessa we often bought fruit, vegetables and nuts from this lady I always called “Baba”.  Of course not a word of English.  She spent part of her day cracking nuts as you see here.

Ukraine is a very safe, affordable place to visit.  While we didn’t have any “family” to visit we really felt at home and at ease.  In fact I would say to a young family considering a European experience – consider Ukraine.  The history you want to explore but at literally a fraction of the price of say, Austria or France or Germany.

To travel to one’s “homeland” is something quite special.  To take someone like my mom,  one generation closer to that home,  made it even better.

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Lviv.  History.  Great food.  Lively town center.  Fun, albeit dated street cars.

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Food That Moves And Other Discoveries


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Seoul.

Jan and I spent 2 weeks in Korea spring, 2016.  We attended a Rotary International Convention. The first week was in Busan, in southern Korea, an ocean front city.    We enjoyed the Asian culture for sure.  Some of the difference we noticed (and there were many!) include:

The ladies definitely enjoy displaying more femininity.
Less alcohol.
More smoking.
More air pollution.
Adventurous foods (for us anyhow!).
The Koreans are not in the habit of smiling and acknowledging.  Even during an early morning power walk or in an elevator.
Less space.
More people.

Everywhere we travel we look for differences.  It’s easy to forget what makes home –

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Vendor at a market.  Recognize these creatures?  Neither did we.

home.  We love the wide open spaces of Canada,  the blue skies,  fresh air.   The familiar, changing seasons.   They wonder how we can tolerate the cold.  How we put up with the distances.

More than anything the food was a fascinating experience.  The markets were brimming with unrecognizable creatures and plants.  Eels and octopus,  fish of wildly different colors and appearances.  Our first night was a stop over near Seoul.   We stayed at a hotel by the airport.  It was along water.  We stopped at a beach restaurant.   Not a word of English.  We wanted a little meal.  He pointed to the menu on the wall.  We pointed to shrimp as it was the only food we recognized.   What we received was a large heaping meal of assorted sea foods, including the first late that was wiggling and squirming.   It was fresh raw octopus  – we think!   We didn’t want to be rude  – but it was a long flight.  We passed.  IMG_20160520_1517375.jpg

The Koreans avoid the sun.  Pale is hip.  Tans are definitely not. Gloves and umbrellas are common.  Airline stewardesses were similar looking to each other, polite and pale (compared to North Americans).  But a joy to speak with.

I quite like the Asian culture.  It’s fun to be in a country so unlike ours.  We absorbed a lot.  We toured,  we hiked.  We ate a bit,  we had very little wine.  Everyone looks for something different when they travel.  This was a new experience we are glad we had the opportunity to take.

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Iceland With My Daughters


IMG_20150705_150205Time slips by and I figured I’d like to do a trip with the daughters.  This after Momma and the daughters went to Portugal.  I suggested to the girls northern Canada,  then came up with the idea of Iceland.  There are direct flights from Edmonton now.  Once mentioned everyone was pretty excited.  We went early July, 2015.  It was very special for several reasons.  First,  time with the two daughters.  Very nice.  With Karly in Calgary and Catherine Montreal and soon to be Holland it was an opportunity.  Iceland and it’s near 24 hour day time meant a very unique experience.  Iceland was fantastic.  I would highly recommend it.  We did Air BnB (Good work, Karly!) so stayed in homes similar to B and B.  The capital was very walkable.  We enjoyed learning the history of this unique land.  The weather was around 20 degrees.  The coffee shops we loved.   It was very expensive, but we cooked a lot of meals  at home (great job, Catherine).  Highlights or memorable moments include the beautiful pools.  They take their aquatic experiences seriously.  Multiple pools that vary in temperature.  Coffee shops.  Wonderful food.  We loved Reykyavik, the capital.  The geysers,  the landscape,  the midnight sun.   For me my highlight was a hike up a mountain.  Not much English for signage so we didn’t know it was an hour hike one way,  up hill!    I was paranoid after my heart attack 8 months earlier.  We almost turned around.   Then an old couple strolled by and we thought “heck with IMG_20150711_183957it” and carried on.  The destination:  a mountain stream that was the temperature of bath water.   Was it worth it.  They had a little board walk and privacy walls where we put on a bathing suit.  Semi private.  We laid in that rolling river for almost an hour.   Wow.

Time with the daughters was the goal.   We laughed, we blabbed, we caught up.  We coffee’d a lot.  We strolled.   We experienced something very unique, together.

I would highly recommend Iceland.   The people are terrific.  The landscape fascinating.   Rich in history.  Easy to get around.  Credit cards used everywhere.  Just remember to save up a bit more cash.  It’s pricey.  But I guess the best things is life usually are.

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Touring a Brazilian Favela


Jan and I were a little apprehensive about touring a favela – (slum) – one of the worlds largest – in Rio de Janeiro.  Is it cool to tour someone’s misfortune?   In the end,  we were glad we did.  The 2 hour walk through was fascinating and it gave us insight into a huge issue.  The tour guide was very respectful and encouraged us to listen and learn.  And we did.  I don’t think we could solve the world’s problems ourselves but education goes a long way towards it.  We stopped and bought a few things from the locals including a baked treat.  A bit of commerce we hope is of assistance.  We left with a greater understanding of the way life is for far too many.    Click the pics for a quick slide show.

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Rocinha (little farm) is the largest favela in Brazil, and is located in Rio de Janeiro‘s South Zone. Rocinha is built on a steep hillside overlooking Rio de Janeiro, and is located about one kilometre from a nearby beach. Most of the favela is on a very steep hill, with many trees surrounding it. 69,161 (census 2010) people live in Rocinha, making it the most populous favela in Brazil.

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Drop of a lifetime


Polio Immunization Day in India

Polio Immunization Day in India

January, 2015 I did a Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE) in India.  For two weeks Jan and I toured the state of Gujharat.  13 of us resided with Rotarians in 4 different towns.  The local Rotarians showed us their Rotary projects,  community facilities and events.  An RFE is not a holiday – it’s an experience.  One such experience is pictured left.  It just so happened we were there on a National Immunization Day.  Rotary is well known for working to eradicate polio from the world. Rotary has almost achieved it!  It remains endemic in 3 countries only.  A year ago India was declared polio free.  Every year N.I.D.’s set out to immunize local children against polio.  Although polio free the clinics must carry on for a few years as polio is in neighbouring Pakistan, for now. Rotarians help man the N.I.D. booths.  We got to assist.  Here I am giving two polio drops to a youngster.  It made me weepy.  For years I have supported the Rotary Foundation and talked about Rotary’s  End Polio Now program.  I never thought I would be at an N.I.D. in India.  Very moving.

India has been quite the experience.  The sights and sounds, the food, the air, the tastes, the smells.  The warmth, the humanity.  Incredible.   I found it exhausting yet exhilarating..   Jan nd I made lifetime friends and learned an immense amount.  We have new appreciations for home and the home of 1.2 billion people.  We have seen riches and desperation, hope and despair.  Jan and I always wanted to visit India.  The RFE made it  a unique way to discover the true India.  We also made a difference by assisting several Rotary projects.   And yes,  gave two drops to young people  who will never have to worry about the ravages of polio.

A Rotary funded hospital in Vapi, India - with the RFE team

A Rotary funded hospital in Vapi, India – with the RFE team

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Alaska by Cruise Ship


Our ship in port in Ketchican, Alaska

Our ship in port in Ketchican, Alaska

Jan and I did a one week cruise from Vancouver to Alaska this July, 2014.  We stayed for 3 nights in Anchorage and then flew home.   We hadn’t done a cruise for a few years.  It was Holland America.   I always wanted to see Alaska but didn’t relish the thought of driving. (We live one hour from mile zero of the Alaska Highway). 

So I’ll get this out right away.  We aren’t in a great rush to cruise again.  Too much food,  too hard to be active.  BUT,  having said that – we really enjoyed. The food was fine,  very good at times.  The scenery was breathtaking.  I mean to cruise up to a glacier spilling into the ocean is pretty unique.  We had great weather for that area.  We loved the opportunities to explore a few small Alaskan towns.  Best part of the cruise –  a good sized deck off our room. And it was a good size!  Our room was almost as big as a standard hotel room!  Nothing small about it.   We really enjoyed the deck.  After the cruise we landed at Seward, Alaska and from their took a train to Anchorage.   It was about 3 and a half hours and we really enjoyed it.  Relaxing and incredible scenery. 

One of my fav photos, taken with my Blackberry out the train window.

One of my fav photos, taken with my Blackberry out the train window.

We didn’t see much wildlife it seems but then again we see bears and moose all the time so we didn’t look too hard.  The average age on the cruise ship was certainly a fair bit older than Jan and I.  There were a few families with kids but not many.  It wasn’t hard to go to bed early and get a good nights rest.

The three nights in Anchorage were terrific. Great food, fun hiking around and exploring.  We rented a car.   I have never fished in my life much so Jan and I went salmon fishing with a guide.  It is stunning to see the salmon run.  I had a few close calls.  Jan caught a couple.  Very exciting for both of us.

It was a heck of opportunity to see Alaska.  On a cruise ship passing through the islands of the coast was mesmerizing.  Time with Jan together on a cruise ship fun.  I guess we have the rest of our life to walk off all those calories.  The cruise ship crowd made us feel young.

It was a trip well worth taking.  Alaska is so beautiful.  A cruise up that coast unforgettable.

Jan and the one that didn't get away!  Beautiful sockeye salmon

Jan and one that didn’t get away! Beautiful sockeye salmon

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Representing the President of Rotary International


SpeakingI was honoured to represent the President of Rotary International, Ron Burton – at a Rotary District Conference in California.    There are 532 districts in the world,  every one has a conference annually.  The standing R.I. President can’t attend them all so a rep is sent.  Jan and I were chosen!   The event was at Temecula, CA.  The rep (commonly called RIP REP) is to give inspiring addresses to the delegates and update them on news from Rotary International.  The conference is to inform, inspire and have fun!   We did it all.Balloon ride  We did a tour of the Los Angeles port,  we got to meet the past and future governors of District 5320,  we even did a hot air balloon ride.  Temecula is wine country!   We did some great power walking,  we cycled and boated even.  We were invited to local Rotarians home.   They sure made us feel special.  The conference seemed a smashing hit.

I gave 4 talks.  A greeting, a  talk on media and PR,  a keynote and a farewell.

It was an honour and a thrill.  We were treated like gold by our aide PDG Bret Gerdes.  We made some great friends for sure.  We learned a lot and wow we listened a lot.  I hope we made a positive impact on the attendees.    I would say being chosen to be  a RIP REP was  areal highlight of my Rotary “career”.  So far!  Something I learned, too is – around the world Rotarians seem much the same.  Passionate, proud, fun, willing to share.  They sure did!.

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20 Days in South Africa – Rotary Friendship Exchange


Rotarians support this clinic that does a lot of work with HIV Aids.  We saw many fantastic Rotary projects.

Rotarians support this clinic that does a lot of work with HIV Aids. We saw many fantastic Rotary projects.

Have you ever traveled and  asked yourself “How do the locals live?  What makes this community tick?”.  I have – and Jan and I were fortunate to get those questions answered.  A Rotary Friendship Exchange is when a group of you visit a district,  home-stay,  and the local Rotarians show you around.  Then they visit your home district.    We visited Johannesburg and region for about 3 weeks.  Every 3 days we moved to a new community where a new Rotary club hosted our group.  In the morning we got up and they showed us their community,  their Rotary projects,  their events and celebrations.  It was exhausting but a rare privilege.  We went to Rotary meetings where we spoke about our country.   We

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District 6, Cape Town. At the height of apartheid 60,000 blacks were removed from here, their homes bulldozed but these few. They were forced to live in townships.

learned about their country, their culture,  their challenges, their success stories.  Our hosts families treated us like next of kin.  11 of us from District 5370 enjoyed laughs and tears.  We were entertained royally.  We were awed at their Rotary projects.  Highlights include the Mandela Apartheid Museum,  a few days in neighbouring country Swaziland.  (42% of the population HIV positive!)  Seeing the wildlife at Kruger Park.  And making life long friends in South Africa.

With the passing of Nelson Mandela just days after we left I feel it’s a rare gift to be able to get a taste of what Mandela meant to the South Africans.  While there it was as if the spirit of Madiba was everywhere.  You cannot explain to those outside of SA how much he meant to the citizens of that country.

I know you are wondering - "Are there blacks in Rotary Clubs in South Africa?"  Yes.  But more-so in some regions.  Change is slow but it is happening.  This is the President of a club where I spoke.

I know you are wondering – “Are there blacks in Rotary Clubs in South Africa?” Yes. But more-so in some regions. Change is slow but it is happening. This is the President of a club where I spoke.

Travel is such a gift.  To travel to a land like South Africa and stay in the homes of Rotarians is something that’s hard to describe to others.  We lived with the South Africans.  We danced,  we laughed, we cried.  We shared in their Rotary projects.  We talked about the struggles of apartheid and the progress since.  One host is credited with sponsoring the first black into his Rotary Club.  It was such an honour to spend time with him.

South Africa has been described as a dangerous country.   I imagine it is.  We saw a lot of fences and barbed wire.  Security gates are the norm.  Life is certainly different there.   South Africa is a first world country with third world problems.  At many events there were two types of people.  Blacks serving us, the whites.  But at other events and other regions it was much more mixed.   South Africa has a long way to go – but they are getting there.  There are success stories.

In our final days we visited  a township.  An area set aside for blacks to live during apartheid.  To this day the

A township outside Capetown.

A township outside Capetown.

townships remain. Thousands and thousands of blacks still live in townships just like Nelson Mandela did.  It is a community teaming with life, but teaming with challenges.  Segregated from the rest of the cities and towns they are world away from the rest of the country.  Such a sobering stroll for Jan and I and yet – how different is that from what we have in Canada – we call them reserves.

Some adventures can change you. I think this did.  This was not a vacation – it was an experience, a  gift thanks to Rotary International and the Rotary Friendship Exchange program.

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Japan. Respect. Culture. History. Beauty.


A garden in Hiroshima.  Caline Strach is  Interact President who earned the trip with us via a contest.  Karly and mom.

A garden in Hiroshima. Caline Strach is an Interact President who earned the trip with us via a contest. Karly and mom.

A trip of a lifetime.   Japan was 12 nights of amazing sights and friendships.  The trip was one of the best ever.   Karly got to see her host family in Koriyama,  the Peace Forum in Hirsoshima was impressive,  the people were quite unlike North Americans.   We had 4 fabulous nights in Koriyama, Fukushima hosted by Rotarians.  Tokyo was incredible.     I want to go back.   Some of the highlights:

* Hiroshima was very green.  The Peace Park where they remember the atomic bomb drop is something I could never forget.
* Touring the sight of where the tsunami hit land in Fukushima is hard to describe.  Even after 2 years –  immense work remains.
* The Rotary members in Koriyama treated us so well.  We saw Japan in a way you couldn’t if you were on your own.
* The people have a quiet respect for one another.  Very admirable.
* We spent time with 2 PR people from Tepco, the company that operates the nuclear power plant that was shut down after the earthquake.  They have 1600 staff dedicated to improving the lives of the 150,000 people who will receive compensation as a result of the plant.  The 2 apologized to us for the problem.  It will take 35 years to clean up.

Where water hit the land..   Befoe the tsunami this was a neighbourhood like any other.  It was haunting and emotional to drive through and stroll about.   We picked up tiny toys where children once played.

Where water hit the land.. Before the tsunami this was a neighbourhood like any other. It was haunting and emotional to drive through and stroll about. We picked up tiny toys where children once played.

* Tokyo was a pleasure the 2 different nights we stayed.
* Meeting 2 special people –  Ako was a Rotary Group Study Exchange student who stayed with us for 4 days,  7 years ago.   Michiko was an exchange student who lived with us for 4 months about the same time.  First time we saw both since.  Very special.
* Standing in a train station someone said “stand back a train is coming”.  I thought nothing of it until one zipped by – at 300 KM’s an hour!
* The food is very different.  Lots of raw fish.   I did not put on weight.
*Rotarians are the same around the world.  All wanting to do more,  all proud of their accomplishments.  This summer my district will host 5 Japanese youth – all displaced from their homes due to the Tepco plant.  Rotarians working together.
* Seeing and hearing daughter Karly speak Japanese.  magic. So proud.
* Tea ceremony.  An honour.

We had the most incredible two weeks.  We attended a Rotary Peace Forum,  we bought along a future leader (Caline),  we experienced Karly’s Japanese families,  we saw old dear friends and made new ones.  What a trip.

Very special out for supper in Koriyama.  All past host families for Karly.

Very special out for supper in Koriyama. All past host families for Karly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Four and a Half Million Dollars Raised


Lots of smiles with 12/13 President of Rotary International Sakuji Tanaka

Lots of smiles with 12/13 President of Rotary International Sakuji Tanaka

This was a thrill of a lifetime and I am so honoured to be a part of it. Raising 4.5 million dollars!   The media release says it all below.

A unique fundraiser occurred Saturday evening, May 11, 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta that successfully raised 4.5 million dollars for the Rotary Foundation – well over the target of one million dollars.  Organizers were particularly excited to have in attendance the President of Rotary International, Sakuji Tanaka.  Kevin Hilgers is the Governor for the district that includes northern Alberta, NW Saskatchewan, NE British Columbia and Northwest Territories.  “The fundraiser was unique whereby we asked Rotarians to include the Rotary Foundation via their will and estate planning.  In other words –  become a member of the Foundation’s Bequest Society.    We asked them to provide documents so we could substantiate and track the commitments, and certainly recognize them for their efforts.

Our object was to find over one million dollars of new commitments to the Rotary Foundation. This also included members who chose outright gifts of cash to the Foundation.  We marketed this for almost a year.  It wrapped up May 11 with the Million Dollar Dinner. In the end a check totaling just under 4.5 million dollars was handed to President Tanaka in front of a crowd of 150 supporters of the Foundation.  Even after we printed that check we had several more commitments come in so in fact we are over the 4.5 million mark.  Many in the room were stunned at the amount raised.  4.5 million dollars in commitments to the Rotary Foundation!  We will make a difference tomorrow and in the future, locally and around the world – thanks to these individuals we recognized at this event”.

Hilgers adds, “The picture (attached) says it all.  It’s not every day you can “wow” the President of Rotary International in your own hometown.  It certainly was a thrill in many ways.”  Lastly some advice for any other Rotary Districts who wish to hold such an event.  “We had a team that put on a terrific event.  It really sparked interest in this sort of fundraising.  It captured the imagination and excitement of Rotarians. If anyone wishes to look into doing a Million Dollar Dinner we would be happy to share.  I would highly recommend doing this.  It’s a very fresh approach and one that obviously inspired many”.

UPDATE – I had so many ask about this unique fundraiser I built a “How-To” website so others can easily do the same.   www.milliondollardinner.net

Update:  The magazine Rotary Canada did a story on the event, click here.

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