Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Water We Gonna Do About It?

Well folks, it’s that time of the year again, when our water gets so bad it’s truly hard to handle it sometimes. It’s a time when our toenails turn orange, we get out of the shower dirtier than when we went in, we gag when we brush our teeth, and the old adage “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” has become more true to life than I would like.

Echo taking a bath. This is freshly drawn water.
We don’t drink the water straight from our faucet. After a period of not being used, when I turn the sink water on, it sprays out a rusty stream for a few seconds before it starts to clear up. Last year, we bought a filter for the sink, and a Brita pitcher to filter it again, and even then we only use the water for cooking, and buy bottled water to drink. That’s three times filtered and I still don’t drink it. Even the native Russians don't drink the water on our farm.

(This video doesn't do it justice, but you can see when you first turn it on, it is reddish and then clears up a bit).

Our water in the winter was not so bad, and I’m not sure what the difference was. Maybe our water source is different in the winter time than in the spring and summer, but I had thought I was getting used to the water, until a couple weeks ago when the bad water came springing back.
When we first arrived here last year, I was pretty disgusted by the water. You could ruin a pot of uncooked ramen noodles just by adding the water. Day after day, it wasn't getting better, so I had to get creative. While Shane was working here alone last year, he ate at a restaurant that had no running water. It operated on what it collected as rainwater. It didn't sound too appetizing to me, but it did give me an idea. I may not want to drink the rain water, or even cook with it, but I figured I could probably wash with it. So, on one of the trips to town I bought a large bucket. Since it was raining just about every other day or so, I just put it under my rain spout outside and started collecting rainwater. Then I would boil a large pot of rainwater every day in which to wash my dishes. This went on for quite awhile until we found an individual filter for our kitchen sink. It helped immensely with the fumes as well as some of the dirt in the water. It also was nice to not have to boil my dish water every time I had to do dishes.

My solution to the water last year

My rainwater is cleaner than my house water supply.
On one of our trips back from the States, we brought a Brita pitcher. Now I filter my water from my sink filter a second time. I mainly use this water for cooking. Even twice filtered is not very clean.

The bottom of our Brita pitcher. You can see my fingerswipe across the bottom. The residue in the water is very hard to escape.
I know I don’t drink enough water because we buy every bit of our drinking water in a bottle. I guess subconsiously it just happens. Shopping trips get that much more crowded when you are hauling 5-6 huge bottles of water out to the truck along with the other groceries every week. On a side note, Shane is becoming quite the connessieur of bottled water. We have tried probably 10 different varieties so far.

I get over run with these water bottles. I've been very creative with them and use them for just about everything, but even then they kinda haunt me.
The girls and I long for the days when you can walk up to the fridge, and fill up a glass with water. Such a novelty. For me, I can’t wait until the day when it doesn’t matter whether I’m washing dishes, cooking, or drinking, I can go to one source for water instead of choosing which of the 3 I should use: Sink, filtered pitcher, or bottled water.

Getting ready to boil some water for dinner. This is what it looks like out of our sink filter before we had the Brita.

After it boiled for awhile, I decided I couldn't stand it and I dumped the water out. This is what was left in the pot.

When the residue dries, it's almost chalky. I brushed the inside of the pot and then dumped out that pile of "dirt". If I remember right, I used bottled water to cook dinner that night. Don't tell Shane--sometimes he growls about using up the bottled water too quickly. =)
Washing dishes is always fun. I turn it as scalding as I can get it because it leaves a greasy, grimy residue if I don’t wash and rinse in VERY hot water. It’s often so hot that my Russian rubber gloves disintegrate as I wash. The other day I even melted the sacrament cups in the water when I rinsed them. (Yes, we wash and reuse).

I lifted this pot out of the soapy water to wash it, and that's what my dishwater looked like.

My rinse water is not much better. That is a "white" bowl.

The bathroom water is even worse than the kitchen water because it is only filtered once from the house filter. It's pretty much horrible. When using the shower, the fumes from the water gag me. I often use the kitchen filtered water to brush my teeth with because the bathroom sink water makes me want to vomit when I rinse my toothbrush and mouth. Sometimes I find myself holding my breath when I shower. 
Laundry is always a treat, too. My whites are a nice dull orange cream color and smell horrible when they are drying on the line in our laundry room.

Inserts for Echo's cloth diapers. The one on top is brand new. The two underneath just had their first wash. I'd say they came out pretty clean, don't you?

I sent Rain in to shower the other day and she came out with orange rust streaks stained onto her legs where the water ran down in rivulets. Same thing happened to me. I would count my blessings and say it’s a good way to get a tan, but it looks like a wipe-on tanning lotion that has gone horribly wrong.
The girls love to use the soap at the bathroom sink to "wash" their hands and then run to me for me to smell how “clean” their hands smell. Mostly I smile and hold my breath as I “smell” their hands, and then nod about what a great job they did washing their hands.
The shower never stays sparkly because within a day or so, the rust stain has crept back over every surface the water touches. But I must say the shower is quite clean from about the neck height and up.

Our lovely shower. I'm embarrassed to say it has been even rustier than this picture.

Sometimes I can't stand it anymore and give it a good bleaching. It lasts about 3 showers before it is stained again. But it's beautiful while it lasts.
The water also has other lasting effects. When I was home for Christmas my mother commented on how dark my hair had gotten, and not even just dark, but it had almost a rust tint to it. So there you have it, a cheap way to color your hair. If anyone is ready for a new color, I can bring a bottle back on our next trip.
Soooo, "water" we gonna do about it? Be thankful we have water plumbed to our house, of course. After all, we could be dependent upon a community well...Counting my blessings!

Community pump in a small village we drove through looking for cows.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

10 Things I Have Learned Living in Russia

June 1, 2013, marked our one-year mark in Russia for me and the girls. (Shane is closer to a year and a half). If you recall our first trip over here, we actually left on May 29th, but due to missing our flight and being stuck in LA for 2 days, we didn't actually ARRIVE in Russia until June 1st. We've made the trip back and forth at least 3 times now, so I guess technically we didn't spend 365 days IN Russia, but for the sake of the pat on the back, I'm calling it a year. So there you have it, one year in Russia. And in commemoration of this, I am posting (Finally!) a SHORT (Wow!) post that lists 10 things that I have learned over the course of this past year.
Here they are, in no particular order:
  1. It doesn’t matter where in the world I go, or how many times I have reset my sleep schedule, I am forever and eternally, a night owl.
  2. You can live, and be happy, with only a hundredth of your current worldly possessions. You only need a smidgeon of items to make a comfortable, happy life for you and your family. Read: I have TOO much STUFF, even in Russia—even after I left most ALL my belongings in storage.
  3. We did not use the library enough when we lived in the States. I have read our 2 dozen books, and the 4 issues of the Friend magazine more times than I would care to count. 
  4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the same, no matter where you go, or how small of a congregation you are. Some of my favorite Relief Society classes had 2 other sisters. It was wonderful.
  5. I am not a preschool teacher. As much as I would like to do artsy, crafty, educational projects, I am juggling too many other things in order to plan it well enough and to execute it patiently. We just do our best and it is enough. 
  6. I have learned to cook from scratch, even more than I had before. Tortillas, cream of chicken soup, chicken stock, alfredo sauce, gravy, biscuits, rolls, bread, cake, pizza, applesauce, jam, etc—I’m starting to get it down! I baked from scratch a lot in the US, but not EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL. This also includes changing all my recipes from cups, tsp, and Tbsps, to grams, and kilograms, and Fahrenheit to Celsius.
  7. I can go an entire year without a blow dryer or curling iron—no sweat.
  8. I can run a household with no AC, no dryer, no dishwasher, and somehow we all still survive. (That being said, we do get tired of cardboard towels, and shirts that have lost all shape and form, have stretched out necks and have clothes line creases across the middles).
  9. It is more acceptable, and often the preferred method, to relieve yourself or your children OUTSIDE the store, than to ask the associates to use a restroom INSIDE the store.
  10. Whenever you sit in a vehicle and choose to drive/ride to another destination, you will either develop nerves of steel or become a nail-biting, scream-suppressing, fist-clenching pile of nerves held in place by a seat belt. I won't tell you which one I am.
  11. It doesn’t matter if you start putting your children to bed at 7:00PM or 10:00PM, they will NOT fall asleep before 10:30 PM because that is when it finally gets “dark” enough to convince the girls it is BEDTIME.
  12. Yes, there are 12 things in my list of 10 Things I Have Learned Living in Russia. I have also learned you have to be flexible like that.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Across the Big Blue

At long last, I have collaborated with Shane to get a firsthand account of his little boat trip across the Atlantic. It was a good experience for Shane--one that I believe he wishes to NEVER again repeat.
In Shane's own words:
I left my family in the States in the middle of November and flew back to Russia. I had only been in the US for 10 days before they said they needed me back at the farms. I was in Russia only 2 weeks before they said they needed me to leave in 1 week to go back to Garden City, KS to ride on the boat with the next shipment of cattle and horses across the ocean. I flew into Garden City on Dec. 3rd and then the ship sailed from Galveston, TX on the 8th of December. We went around the tip of Florida, went North for awhile, then East straight across the Atlantic to the Azores Islands, then North up across the Bay of Biscay (which was really rough water), into the English Channel, along the German coast and into the Kiel Canal, to the Baltic Sea, below Sweden into the Gulf of Finland, to the port of Ust-Luga, near St. Petersburg where the cattle were unloaded from the boat, directly onto trucks and transported another 30 hours or so to the Bryansk region. 

Garden City, KS feedlot. We put neck bands on all the horses and marked the collars. Each group had a color code, so I knew what group they were in. This way I could keep them in the right group on the boat, so I could reduce the horse fighting. There were 12 horses in a group. They stayed in these groups throughout the whole trip, and into quarantine. By traveling in familiar groups, they didn't have to keep reestablishing the pecking order.

Horses lined up, getting banded, numbered, and coded.
I know there were a lot of crazy numbers floating around, so now I'm here to set the record straight. On my boat there were 115 horses, 670 bulls, 2639 bred heifers, 620 open heifers. So, in all, about 4,044 head on the boat.
The boat will haul 6,000 head (800 lbs/each), but the horses and the bulls took up more space. They took up 2/3 of one deck of the boat. There were 7 decks. Horses were on Deck 5, along with bulls, which took up the rest of Deck 5 and most of Deck 6. This was actually a small livestock carrier vessel. They are building another one that will carry 16,000 head of cattle!!! (Star: "I just can't imagine that many cows on one boat").
An interesting note about water: the boat de-salinated 200-300 tons of sea water a day to water the animals and for other boat needs.
It took 79 trucks just to haul the heifers to the port from the feedlot. This was almost a mile of truck after truck lined up as I drove past.

Heifers in the feedlot. This year, this feedlot has sent 29,000+ head of livestock between January and May to Russia. They have shipped more cows to Russia than any other one feedlot. Right now they are strictly processing cattle for our company.

Bulls in the feedlot that went on my boat.

THE BOAT (minus the crane)
Here is a better picture of the boat I was on. It was named Ocean Outback. You can check out this source for details about the boat and credit for the picture. You can also check here for a Live Map of ocean traffic. If you put in the vessel name, OCEAN OUTBACK, you can find out where my boat is right now! It's actually on it's way back to get another load. I know you are all dying to know this stuff, right?

Home Sweet Home...NOT! I had the cabin to myself.. all 6 six beds! And sometimes I slept on the floor because it was more comfortable. The sleeping quarters were in the front of the boat, so you felt more of the up and down as the boat moved forward. More up and down=seasick! But on the flipside, if the sleeping quarters were in the back, we would have been "downwind" of all the animals.
Just loaded these horses out of the rain and onto the boat.

Heifers on board.

Horse crew and company.

Bulls loading onto the boat.

Setting sail. Bon voyage!


Both sides of the boat


Front again: Mainly Shane wanted to show you that as far as the eye could see, on all sides, was nothing but WATER!!! Not very encouraging for a landlubber.

You can see an oil rig off to the left in the distance in this picture.

Heifers settling in.

Ramps in between decks

More heifers.

The bags toward the inside are sawdust for bedding, and the bags on the outside are chopped hay. Everything could be no longer than one inch lengths because it would plug the pumps.

One of many sunset pictures.

After a couple days on the water, we hit our first storm.
Breakers. We had four lovely days of it. The biggest swells were at night, so sleeping was even more of a challenge. The motor broke the first day of the storm. The boat typically brings the parts and supplies they think they might need to do repairs while on the water, but for some reason, they could not find the critical piece for this particular job. There are 2 motors running at once, which puts us at about 12-13 miles an hour. With one motor out, we were going 4-6 miles an hour. They had to keep the other motor running to keep on course and to keep ventilation systems going so the cows didn't overheat, and to keep making water. On the fourth day of the storm they miraculously found the part, the storm calmed, and we continued on our journey.

Bulls: "Are we there yet?"


This was known as The Bridge,  which was the steering compartment of the boat, charting, etc.

Horses: "How much LOOOONNNGGER?"
First boat I saw on the water. This was about 2 weeks into the trip.

Christmas Eve Dinner
And in case, you needed a closer introduction. MEET DINNER: His name was Wilbur.

This is холодец (pronounced kholodets). Basically it is pieces of meat, veggies, and some greens congealed in a fatty jello. It is solidified fat, and it eaten cold. So far, it is not our favorite dish.
They make this into quite elaborate pictoral dishes, such as the two examples below. But I must say it looks prettier than it tastes. 

And onto the next entrée in line...

Lamb, and raw shrimp to the right side.
The crew was mainly Filipino. The captain is from India. He is on the far left, gesturing with his hands.

Land Ahoy!!! First time I saw land since I left Galveston, TX port. Oh, happy day!

This is a pilot boat.

They drove a pilot out to our cargo ship and then he came on board to steer the boat along the German shore (which you couldn't see). We had one guide us through the English Channel, and then he got off, another one guide us from the English Channel to the Kiel Canal, another one guide us up to 300 feet from the Kiel Canal, another one to guide us into the locks, and then another pilot guide us through the Canal.

Kiel Canal

Going into the locks. We would drive into a lock, which closed behind us, and then they would fill the lock to the level of the canal, and then open the gate in front of us and we would move forward. So, we went through the locks once going into the Kiel Canal, and once going back out on the other side.
Cruise ship in the Baltic Sea. At this point, I was quite envious of their cuisine available to them. On my boat, I ate mostly spicy dishes, beans, rice, meat, etc, which suited the Filipino crew just fine. But not me. I despise peanut butter, but even some days, I was driven to ask for a peanut butter sandwich to get me through. 

Kiel Canal

Breaking ice with the boat, about 1-1/2 to 2 days away from Ust-Luga, a port about 60 km from St. Petersburg.

Docked, looking out from the bridge.
Unloading well underway. It took a little over 24 hours to unload the boat.

More trucks waiting to be loaded.
One of these cattle trucks holds 12 horses, or 16-20 bulls, depending on size, or 24-28 heifers, depending on size. They were trucked 30 hours, straight off the boat to the farms for quarantine.

While unloading, we had 2 heifers jump over the loading chutes, straight onto the dock. We got one tranquilized right away, but before we could get the other one, she jumped 6-7 feet off the dock into the freezing cold ice water, with chunks of ice floating around. She swam and swam and swam. We figured she was done for and went back to loading the trucks. Meanwhile, one of the tug boats went out and put a rope on her and had her hooked to the crane on the boat and then they tranquilized her. They brought her to shore, put her on a pallet, and then a fork lift came and lifted her up and put her in the truck. They loaded a few more, and sent them on their way. I never heard if she made it. It would be a miracle if she did. She swam for at least 30 minutes in hypothermic waters, and then was loaded into a truck for 30 hours, while being tranquilized. Part of the risk, I guess. 

Overall, we had 4 heifers die on the boat, and 4 more that we had to put down. They ended up as shark bait. (Ooh Ha Ha! -for any Disney fans out there.)

Final words of advice: Don't fall in, because despite all the signs about what to do if someone falls in, if you do, no one will see you, and you will become the next ocean meal. I despise water.

It was hard to be away from my family, especially during that time of the year. I missed Star's Birthday, Christmas, and New Years. But I was sure glad to get home when I did.