5/31/08

Super Friends

For the next few days we are hosting one portion of an orphans festival that includes a total of 1000 children from all over Ukraine and beyond.  Among this group are 4 teenagers that I must admit, have me a bit confused.  I recognized them the first time as a unit Friday afternoon when they comprised the superior 4/5 of a team in a football tournament from which they transitioned into a very good 4-man volleyball team.  It wasn't solely the fact that they are good athletes that caught my attention... it was their entire appearance and demeanor.

First, the 3 guys and 1 girl appear to have coordinated their hair styles so as to cover all possible genres.  Not being a hair stylist, I will do my best to describe them.

One guy has a bleached blond mop that, if I were a cruel person, I would describe as resembling a platinum KISS wig.  Fashionable in certain circles but very flamboyant for Kerch.

Another has an emo/80's skater cut which involves one side cropped short and then a part that brings all his bangs across his forehead and over his right eye, leading to frequent head tossing and finger-combing.  This kid also displayed his skill as a breakdancer last night at the bonfire.

The third guy has what I guess would be called a Euro-mullet which is common for Ukraine, Eastern Europe and footballers of all stripes.  It is basically the standard "business in the front; party in the back" type cut but with longer bangs and not so long a tail.

The girl, almost in defiance of the other 3 has a simple tomboy ponytail.  I would also guess that she was hands-down the toughest of the 4.


Secondly, they all wore full sporting uniforms; jerseys, shorts and socks.  Even down to the goalie wearing gloves.  Here's the twist...they were all different uniforms.  I know they are from the same orphanage and play sports together.  Generally when this happens the kids are proud to all show up at the game in matching unis (or as close as they can get).  Not these 4.

So let me paint you a picture...

I have 4 young people who are undeniably a team.  They all have a certain "look"; rocker, skater, athlete, tomboy.  They all have a pre-determined color that they wear as a uniform.  They are talented, clever and not unattractive kids.  What have we got?

Power Rangers, right?  Or I guess to be more culturally accurate, since Ranger is a more western idea, Mighty Morphin Power Cossacks.  

This was all I could think about when we were playing them at volleyball.  When will they get the call and have to jet off to save the planet?

5/30/08

LotD - Jon Acuff/SCL

This one is giving voice to my long held belief in free lunches at the office.  Previously my best line for this was "If it's free, it's for me," which, while rhyming nicely is pretty generic.  I like how Jon Acuff, the purveyor of the Stuff Christians Like site put it yesterday.

When it comes to lunch at work, my favorite flavor is "free." I'm like that little kid in the movie "Sixth Sense," but instead of dead people, I see free sandwiches.

5/29/08

Yet another new skill

Last week I talked about improving my newly-learned stick welding skills, but last night I have found another equally important and gratifying talent that I plan to foster - building the perfect bonfire.  You would think that this would be fairly simple and under the right circumstances, maybe it is.  However, as the situation changes, the level of difficulty is increased.

Last night Jim and I got very close to building the perfect bonfire.  I gauge this based on the following criteria:

1.  Initial appearance - Is the wood situated and presented in such a way as to make people think, "I can't wait to see that burn!"

2.  Starting explosion - Obviously for a high "wowy" effect, this must involve some sort of flammable liquid.  It also must be accomplished on cue with a relatively low degree of hand/facial hair singeing.  

3.  Speed of actual burn expansion - After the starter fuel burns off, has the pile of wood been sufficiently and evenly ignited?

4.  Peak flame size and ferocity - Once the majority of the pile is ignited, does the flame impress?

5.  Watchability - This is hard to quantify but it involves the amount of smoke and its direction, interesting variation within the flame, sound of the burn, etc.

6.  Aesthetically pleasing pile collapse - When the constructed pile structure does burn down, does it collapse in a way that keeps people around the fire or does it signal the end of the event?  Either is fine but it must correspond to the mood and intention of the event.

7.  Quality burn time vs. planned event time - Does the length of good flame and light (assuming a night burn) correspond to the period alloted to whatever celebration necessitated a bonfire?


Last night's fire was tricky in that we had very little dry wood (2 days of rain and short notice) and we had to coordinate through a language barrier with the clown (that's right, I said clown) who would be lighting the fire.  This meant that we needed prodigious amounts of fuel for ignition (long-burning diesel for the structure itself and gasoline for the "lighting trail" and initial explosion) but had to apply it in such a way as to not allow the gas to evaporate completely or kill the aforementioned clown.

All-in-all the structure did very well, keeping it's pyramid shape for nearly the entire 45 minute program.  It showered a respectable amount sparks into the night sky while burning passionately to backlight the performance - which included breakdancing... so you can't beat that.

The only complaint was that we lacked any dry "transition material" that would be well lit by the diesel but burn impressively for a few minutes until the kindling got in the act... cardboard would have been ideal.  As it was, the diesel caught nicely but then receded a little too much before the rest of the pile really started crackling.  Oh well, lesson learned.

Seriously, this is ridiculous dissertation.  Am I over-thinking this?  Any suggestions?

Thursday 13: Top things from home that I wish I had here

Since I have the time on this dreary Wednesday afternoon, I am really going to try to make this 13 as diverse and entertaining as possible.

The top 13 things from home (that I currently own; not counting people), that I want to have here:

13.  Since it's not too interesting to count all my guns individually, I will make my bird gun, shorty shotgun, 300WM, Beretta and SKS the same item... oh and throw in a set of cammies for good measure.

12.  An REI to return my worthless pair of Asolo boots to.

11.  A set of nice, big Air Force Academy Football stadium cups.  Hot days call for more than a shot-glass worth of water.

10.  My American digging and flat shovels.  They have a weird idea that reversible shovels (ie. the same angle on either side of the digging head) are a better design.  

9.  My faithful dog Diesel.  He would have to do a little behavioral training to get along with the guard dogs but he would love it.

8.  My bed complete with my pillow.  I don't really know what the current sleeping situation is lacking but it's just not the same.

7.  An Apple store (ok, I don't own that but I still want one).  I get tired of tech people not knowing how to open a window.

6.  Our entire photo library prior to coming here.  All lost in the great HD crash of '08.

5.  Bath tub.  That one is pretty much Sarah's.

4.  Venison.  This speaks for itself... one can only eat so much bologna.

3.  An oven.  Also Sarry...

2.  My truck!!!!  I miss it almost everyday... in which I do not buy gas.

and...

1.  Gold Bond Medicated powder.  If you don't know what this is, you better find out.  Like the swiss army knife of the hygiene isle.

Bueller... Bueller...

I swear to you, I'm married to a Ferris Bueller.  I just thought I would pass on to the world that Matt is feeling much better now.  We've had two very concerned doctors willing to give any assistance they could (one trying to convince me over the phone that he needed to go to the hospital), the cooks wanting to come visit him here at the house, a visit from one of the guards checking in on him, every skype and email starting with "Hope Matt is feeling better."... You'd think the boy was dying.   No seriously, I'm very thankful that he is indeed doing better and grateful for all of your concerns. We think it was probably something he ate (feeling a little guilty since I cooked all of his meals), but is back to working today.  He's still a little weak from being in bed all yesterday but no more nausea.  If you would like to give to the Matt foundation, please leave a comment.

5/28/08

How I feel today

So this is about how I feel...
...not so bad anymore but not so good either.  I do have a new hair cut though.

I posted last night on the Obama gaff and upon rereading, discovered it was pretty dross.  I guess you can't win 'em all.  After that post I spent a little time rolling uncomfortably in bed with a few false alarms before I finally purged my belly at about midnight.  I've been pretty stationary today and despite my symptoms being relatively benign, I have had offers for multiple medications (one is a binge and purge type that I haven't had the guts to try), 2 doctor's opinions and an offer to go to the hospital.  I'm sure I'll be fine tomorrow.

So today I have the time to blog but not the ideas or motivation.  Ain't that how it always goes? 

I'll just work on my Thursday 13 for tomorrow.

5/27/08

Your uncle was where?

I had planed to do a longer, more well reasoned post on this topic but I feel like junk and it's late.

Apparently earlier in the week Barack Obama was discussing his lack of military service and transitioned into those member of his family that had served.  In this eloquent but largely substance-less oration, he claims that his uncle was part of an American army unit that liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, and later suffered mental anguish from what he saw.  A compelling story but one that is demonstrably false.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt that his mother actually has a brother and that man served in the European theater during WWII, he would have been the only American in Poland at Auschwitz; it was liberated in early 1945 by the Soviet Red Army many miles from where any American forces would be for the next 50+ years.

I hesitate to call names but Obama is quickly earning himself a Clintonian reputation for truthfulness.

See LGF for the full story and the Obama camp's continued efforts to redefine the word "is."

5/26/08

Taste Test

Once again today we were working on the stage canopy that I mentioned earlier.  While trying to screw in cross bracing 20-some feet in the air on a rickety scrap-wood scaffolding I made the throw away observation that you can't tell a screw's length by it's taste.  It got me thinking...

Why can't construction suppliers make screws and nails in different flavors?  Don't tell me it's because you're not actually supposed to put them in your mouth... everyone does it.  So, dealing with reality, couldn't they just coat them with some thin candy shell so that even when you don't have a hand free, you would be able to ascertain which screw you needed simply by running your tongue across them?  It could open up a whole new world of identification by way of a sensitive palate.  Just a thought...

5/25/08

Blog Note

As I have mentioned in my little update space at the top of the page, it came to my attention yesterday that those of you who follow our blog via Bloglines, Google Reader, or some other aggregator have not been notified of new posts.  To combat this, I have created a new feed to which you can easily subscribe by clicking on the icon in the right hand column.

You may ask why I am essentially double informing you of this via the update above and separate post...  I needed to make sure that everyone got the word and - to be honest - I needed a post to test the new feed and I don't really have anything to write about tonight.

5/24/08

Special video hello from Cam

I realize that it may not be that interesting for all of you, but I owe the fam a video of vintage Campbell.  He was in a great mood for that today so I caught about 3.5 minutes or so of video to give you a glimpse of his verbal development and apparently my still wooly chest.  The background music was an accident; I didn't even realize it was playing until about 2/3 of the way through.

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Real (old) school

The past few days have been a little slow on the blog side due to some long work days, an uptick in Sarry's computer/internet usage needs, and a resurgence of my aforementioned crow hunting.  I have been spending most of my days building a new canopy for our outdoor stage.  This would be fairly simple except that it needs to be about 15 feet in the air, span a 25 foot wide stage with no center support and be able to withstand the Ukrainian winter winds.

The work has been hard, dirty and hot (it's been into the 80's for a few days now) but I have had the fun of working on a new skill that I desperately wanted to improve - stick welding.  I have dabbled a bit with MIG welding in working on my truck, hanging out with John Day and building a steel lamp that could double as a jack stand for my garage.  MIG involves an automatic gun which dispenses the welding wire while pumping inert gas on the arc point to protect against CO2 contamination.

MIG setups are expensive so here we have a regular stick welder.  This requires a bit more practice and artistry since it is basically just a steel stick held by a pair of jumper cables with silly amounts of electrical energy coursing through it.  I have gotten better at this process since we've doing a lot of it over the past few days.

Here are some shots of my work complete with a view of the actual stage and canopy.  Please be gentle with your comments... I'm just a rookie and it's not as easy as it looks.



5/22/08

Tax Refund

The other day I was looking at our bank account and I noticed an odd deposit for $1271.80.  Being as it wasn't payday and that would be roughly twice my normal paycheck anyway, I guessed that this was a special occasion.  And it certainly was...

Uncle Sam decided to give us back some of our hard earned money as part of a economic stimulus tax refund.  With a little prompting Cam was excited too.
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5/21/08

Our oldest has moved out/The emptier nest

On Monday night we had to say goodbye to our oldest adopted son.  Vlad (or Flag as Campbell calls him when he remembers to add the "L") was the last and only IVA student in camp for almost a week.  Due to some paperwork issues and having failed the first 2 times he took the driving test, he wasn't able to get his license until Monday; nearly 2 weeks after the graduation ceremony.  In his defense, the police took great joy in failing most of the students twice before passing them in order to receive the 36 hrivna testing fee in triplicate.  During this time there weren't always kitchen staff around so Vlad became a semi-permanent fixture around our house.  We joked that we would try to adopt him if the Ukrainian army would release their claim on his likely upcoming mandatory period of service.  He was great with Cam, funny to hang out with and really helpful around camp.

It was sad to see him go but I suspect we'll get to see him again sometime in the next few months.  Here's a family pic...
And a goodbye hug....

5/19/08

Today's Annoyances

I have a few things to vent about but I'll try to keep it short.

A few days ago my dad informed me that once again our bank has frozen transactions on our debit/credit card.  This has happened no less than 4 times, DESPITE having informed them exactly where and for how long they should be expecting specific cash withdrawals.  The 2nd time this happened the ATM seized my card at the insistence of our bank and 2 months later I still haven't received a replacement.  All these issues are compounded by the fact that the 24-hour service number on the back of the card doesn't actually connect you with someone who can answer your questions or reactivate your card.  They can only give you the number of the bank itself which is decidedly not 24 hour.  Since I get paid from the main US office via direct deposit in this bank, these cards (now card, in the singular) are our only access to my salary.  This whole situation is inconceivable to me since the members of this bank (actually credit union) are almost entirely military.  How can an institution that serves the US military not understand how to deal with overseas financial transactions?  Idiots.

Next...

Last night a few very industrious individuals decided that they were much more deserving of 2 of our circular saws, a belt sander, an orbital sander, a router and a handful of other tools.  A few of them made a big ruckus at the front gate to distract our dogs and Igor from security while another one or two went over the side wall and robbed our wood shop.  Thankfully, Igor safely scared them off before they got away with more.  In a strange turn of events since I started this post, this afternoon we come across one of the saws and the belt sander in the weeds outside our wall.  I suspect they either got spooked and couldn't carry all their loot or they put them down and couldn't find them again in the tall grass.

And yet again...

Before moving here I bought some all purpose boots for tackling any rugged activity that I may come across.  I was willing to pay a bit more for quality since I would not have the ability to exchange them once we got here.  I got a pair of Asolo boots on sale for about $120.  I had heard good things about this brand and liked the look, fit and feel.  Yesterday after lovingly waxing the leather I noticed that the toe was separating bit.  Upon closer inspection I discovered that the entire front portion of sole was coming off.  I have worn these boots pretty lightly for no more than 45 day since I bought them last fall; purposing trying not to add unnecessary wear and tear.  I can't believe I paid $120 for these pieces of junk.  If I wanted cheap Chinese quality I could have bought boots here...which is what I'll probably end up doing now anyway.  Asolo, you are not my friend.

Goodbye Winter!

Yesterday was the first taste of hangin' out at the beach.  Matt, Campbell, and I took our new "adopted" son/brother Vlad with us to enjoy a nice quiet Sunday morning.  Surprisingly, it was rather warm and we could've actually gotten away with wearing our bathing suits!  Campbell tested out the sea (with socks and shoes on) while Matt and Vlad dug to... China???  Where does one dig to on this side of the world?  So far no signs of oil on the beach so I think we will get to enjoy this on a daily basis when the summer camps start in mid June.  Sorry no pictures for you... you'll just have to trust it was a great time.  Today was again a beautiful day and we were able to leave the windows open to let the tropical smell of outside in... Lord knows we need it with two smelly boys.      

5/18/08

Shashlik and suffering for the Gospel

This is Sergey.  Some time this week he had a birthday and together with another Sergey who also had a birthday this week there was a party on Saturday.  If this seems a very odd coincidence, read this post about my first time at the banya and the prevalence of Sergeys in my circle of friends.
This is Ukraine so if it's summer (or spring, autumn or winter) and it's a celebration, it means "shashlik."  Шашлык in Russian, it is the former Soviet world's equivalent of every type of American cookout rolled into one.  You American's would probably call it shish kabobs but it is more... so much more.
In this particular case it was a backyard spread at Sergey the dentist's (the same one that polished Cam's teeth after he busted them half out) place outside of town.
I may not be Russian but digging into some tasty grilled meat is universal.
Sergey has also just finished a home banya which I believe we will frequent over the next 6 months or so.  Cam's not invited...too young for the heat.

Also, the previous post is, I believe, Campbell's first attempt at blogging.  I don't really know how it happened but it published and he is now immortalized in the blogosphere.

Can you give him a comment... perhaps interpreting what those three mysterious letters mean?

nm0

5/13/08

Tough Day at the Office

Cam had a rough one today.  Before breakfast he tripped on a pillar and busted his top lip.  It swelled up nicely as you can see.  The residual cut on his chin was from a prior accident.

Later, while wearing his sweet summer gear he took a nice digger tearing up both knees a bit.


I'm not too worried about he boy.  When I was kid I ground off half my face on asphalt 3 times, had a see-saw almost take my head off, and tripped and took a tent stake in the roof of my mouth.

So here's the question...

What was your worst childhood injury?  Let's make it before 5 years old.  Everyone add one even if it's not too bad.

5/12/08

Umm...Hello???

Did you all just pass over the above update despite it's being in blood red and the first item on the blog?!?

I ask again...
Has the speed of the page loading slowed down since I added the "recent comments" section in the right side bar?  If so, I will consider removing it...  So, how's it working?

5/11/08

First Public Speaking Gig

Sarah is working on finalizing the slideshow of the last day of IVA but I wanted to point out one particular photo from that upcoming show.  Below is an example of how most of the graduation ceremony looked....
Notice that while Andrey does a very serious portion of the program, Campbell does his best interpreter impression.  After seeing what a translator gets to do, Cam decided that any time a person went up for their part in the ceremony, he was needed to stand nearby and babble incoherently into the base of a non-live microphone.  It took most of the show before most people realized what he was attempting, but I laughed almost the whole way through.

ИВА 2008

Last week we said goodbye to the IVA students.  They had become like our own kids so it was hard to see them go. 

 Graduation day started off with a "5K" run... not an official 5K but certainly close.  As you can see in the slideshow the students were none too happy to be up at 7am for a "Fun" Run.  The staff came to cheer on the runners and of course we had Ukrainian and Crimean flags and some rockin' music to get them fired up.  I was so proud of them all as they really did give it their all (okay most of them) and ended up having a good time, I think. The winner for the boys was Ivan... Matt said he started to walk near the end but Matt pushed him to keep running and ended up taking 1st.  Alla was my first girl to cross.  I don't think she'd ever made herself run so hard before.  She thought she was going to die when she crossed the finish line and wondered what that burning lung feeling was in her chest.  

The slideshow starts off with the race, then a few shots from earlier months, and finishes with graduation.  The more we learn about each of these students the more we want to take them home with us.  They will forever be in our prayers and we are so thankful we could be a part of their lives for the past 5 months... we just wish it could've been longer.  Each of the students were given a 3 volume set on Christian apologetics and they all heard some great testimonies from the work team before they left.  

To all our prayer warriors... pray for them as they head back to their everyday lives... pray for jobs as many of them need to support their families... pray for protection as many of the home lives are far from ideal... and pray for God to capture their hearts. 

"Meant To Live"  by Switchfoot

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5/10/08

Cam's New Bed (updated)

This boy makes us so proud.  Tonight was his first night in his new bed - one without railings.  That's right...he's 2 years, 2 weeks old and he is in a big boy bed.  We made the decision based on the fact that if he wanted to stretch out completely in his crib, it required him laying diagonally.  So from tonight on, he will be sleeping on the love seat/hide-a-bed pictured in the photo below.
We were fully prepared to have to put back in bed a few times before he understood that he must stay there all night, but after a quick book, a prayer and some goodnight kisses he let us walk out with no complaints.  It's just after 10pm as I write this and we haven't heard a peep from him.  Sometimes I literally wonder how other people could want to have children, knowing that they won't be as cool as my son...but that's just a proud daddy talking.

Update: After I wrote this post Sarah informed me that she had taken some pictures of the boy's new digs which should have been included on this post.  Some funny shots...

If this room looks suspiciously like an office, that's because it's an office.
Far from it being difficult to keep him in his new sideless bed, I think he would have thrown a fit if we had asked him to leave it.  Who knew sofa beds were so much fun?

I hate $19.95 plus tax

I referenced in an earlier post that I am always keeping my eye out for things that Ukrainians have right. I was reminded of one that I noticed earlier but forgot to mention while in Yalta.

In the US everything is $___.95 or $_____.99 plus tax. We end up always paying amounts like $7.14 and $11.83 with bills and receiving change that only serves to annoy people with excess weight in their pockets and make purchasing things more difficult.

Here they have a 20% sales tax but they factor it in to the cost of the item. So if something costs 6 hrivna and you pay 6 hrivna - the vendor just reverse-computes to give the necessary portion that must be rendered in tax. It's not as simple as taking 20% of the purchase price as that would come out to a higher amount than what is actually owed, but it is a simpler system than we have.

How is it that Americans invented the telephone, the automobile and the computer and yet we can't figure out how to invert a simple mathematical equation to eliminate the cumbersome addition of sales tax?

5/9/08

Manchester United's telling debt number

I just heard on the Guardian Unlimited podcast (yet another of my football links to the real world), that despite their success, Manchester United is in serious debt.  They mentioned a number and I verified it here.  Those filthy Mancunian scum (non-coincidentally known as the Red Devils) are in fact 666 million pounds in the hole (anyone know how to make that little 'L' symbol that means British pounds?).

It brings to mind the age-old story of the man selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for virtuoso talent.  It verifies that the Mankers skipper Sir Alex Ferguson is, if not Satan himself, at least very well acquainted with the Prince of Darkness.

I wonder where this leaves me since I am obliged to cheer against Chelsea in PL and the Champions League final.  Decisions, decisions....

Campbell Video

This was an improptu video from last night after the May 9th (actually May 8th) festivities downtown on Mount Mithradates (photos forthcoming).  I have been a little surprised by Campbell's apparent tendency to punch things - much in the way I was surprised by Diesel's love of fighting.  We'll need to stay on top of this to make sure he doesn't attack other dogs...er, kids.  I guess this is what you get raising a boy in a camp full of 20 year old guys.

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Yalta Trip

Here's another Ukraine slideshow.  This time it's our trip to Yalta earlier in the week to sightsee with the American work team and see them off in Simferopol.  Campbell stayed with Tanya for a few days to allow us a little vacation.

First some semi-interesting things about Yalta
  • While not very far from Kerch and also a coastal city, Yalta has a sub-tropical climate; meaning that unlike the rest of Crimea, it almost never gets below freezing.  This is created by the sheltering affect of the mountains that ring the city.
  • The Swallow's Nest castle is a symbol of Crimea and probably the most famous structure in all of Ukraine.  As you will see in the video it sits precariously on the edge of cliff thanks to an earthquake dropping its backyard into the sea.
  • Yalta was the secondary capital of Czarist Russia, with the beautiful White Lavadia Palace as a little Emperor's cottage (the slideshow contains many photos of the palace).
  • The Nikita Botanical gardens contain plants from all over the world - from bamboo to redwoods - and is one of the most relaxing places I've been.
We stayed in a sort of bed and breakfast in the "old city," a very expensive and very European area.  The place was wonderful but the same cannot be said for the neighbors.  The view was great (shown at the beginning of the slideshow) and owner was kind and accommodating.  Plus at $40 USD per person in the most expensive city in Crimea, you couldn't beat the price. 
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5/8/08

Fort Totleben; Visit #2

This weekend we had an opportunity to revisit Fort Totleben in Kerch and got a much better array of photos than the sleeting, windy day when we first made its acquaintance.  It was also a smaller group which included the HopeCenter's very own translator extraordinaire, Jenya.  This gave us the chance to get a more accurate historical narrative regarding the location.

As it turns out, the fort was actually designed (as the name suggests) by Edward Totleben, a Russian general of German heritage.  He constructed it for Czarist Russia in the 1860's using the lessons learned during his service in the Crimean War in the siege of Sevastopol.   It was revolutionary in that he redefined the concept of a fortress from being a walled, defensible enclosure to being a series of interconnected entrenched fighting positions (in this case completely underground) that confuse the attackers and make total victory hard to achieve and even harder to define.  The caretaker/tour guide pointed many of the ambush points that were carefully designed into the architectural designs.

That is pretty deep so let me explain it very simply.  Totleben was a complex of over 3000(now only about half that) partially or completely subterranean structures that served as barracks for soldiers, cannon/mortar/machine gun emplacements, ammunitions depots and anything else a military needs to maintain a fighting force.  It was able to go 6 months without resupply from outside and was impossible to spot from the sea.  Even with it predating the use of military aircraft by half a century, it is difficult to see from above.

As you watch this slideshow keep an eye out for the following interesting pictures:
-because the design kept soldiers isolated from each other, you will see inscriptions on the on the walls of dates and names.
-WWII was its only major action and you can see signs of the fierce struggle that the undermanned Soviets put up against the Nazis.  This includes bullet holes, walls broken by bombs/artillery/tanks and a big blob of ammunition that was burned and exploded.
-the highest point in the fort is also the highest point in Kerch, giving an amazing view of the surrounding area.

Feel free to ask me any questions in comments about any of the pictures as I have learned far more than you all could possibly want in this post.

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5/5/08

Mark Steyn: Greenies care more about the planet than its residents

I just read an enlightening post by Mark Steyn on the unintended consequences of the environmental movement.  The gist of the article is that being "green" comes at the expense of the "red and yellow, black and white" (see the children's church song).  In employing biofuels to fight the supposedly disastrous effects of a 1 degree temperature increase over the span of the 20th century, enviros risk stopping the reforestation of Europe and North America (a process that has been ongoing much longer than the green movement) and speeding up deforestation in the developing world.  In short, while increased prices and demand for crops leads to a greater desire for crop land (ie. stopping the current century+ trend of allowing land to return to a natural forested state), a lessened supply of FOOD crops from the industrialized west will lead the developing world to further clear-cut their own native forest in order to offset shortfalls.

To take government funds and subsidize the use of crops like corn and soy for fuel, as Steyn puts it:

"accomplished at a stroke what the free market could never have done: They turned the food supply into a subsidiary of the energy industry."

If a grower can now make more money (artificially inflated) per ton on fuel crops, why grow food?  This isn't an issue for us in the industrial world where we can grow substantially more food than we could possibly consume, but the rest of the world will suffer for our arrogance.  I relish the day when the enviro-alarmists will be forced to acknowledge that not only were they wrong but that they did more harm than good with their histrionics.

Liverpool; Trophy-less Again

I have waited a while to write this post because frankly, I'm speechless.

Last Wednesday, with an aggregate even score (though behind on a devastating last-second away goal) coming out of their first meeting at Anfield, Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League one goal away from reaching their 3 final in 4 years.  Chelsea put forth an inspired performance that has been seldom seen from the soulless side this season.  A variety of results would have been acceptable; only a loss or a scoreless draw would end our run after 90 minutes.  We were able to finish regular time at 1-1 on another clutch Fernando Torres goal, but extra time saw Chelski score twice on a Frank Lampard penalty kick and another slick Didier Drogba goal.  We pulled within a goal on a wonder-strike by Dutchman Ryan Babel, but with Torres on the bench it was too little, too late.

Reds will inevitably look back at John Arne Riise's own-goal in the closing seconds of the first game which not only proved to be the difference but also put LFC manager Rafa Benitez at a tactical disadvantage going into the away leg.

I had not expected the extent of the disappointment that I have felt the past week.  After all, Liverpool was basically out of the league race by mid-March, lost to pub side Barnsley in the FA Cup and dropped out of the Carling Cup to none other than Chelsea.  Since the other cups are essentially meaningless and everyone in the top flight fields reserve sides until the semis, I wasn't really that worried.  Failing again to even be in contention in the league is another story, but I still wasn't as gutted over this failure as I was last week. I think the differences between failing the in Premiership and the Champions League are two-fold:

1.  The Premier League is like the proverbial frog in a pot of hot water.  The results come in slowly and the gap gradually widens; the hit is spread over a month or 6 weeks as you see the chances for a title slipping away.  Add to that the fact that until about 3 weeks ago, we were really just fighting for the 4th spot that would qualify us for next year's CL.  The loss to Chelsea was immediate, hitting like hammer when Drogba's second hit the back of the net.

2.  Here in Ukraine I only get to see English football under one condition...European competition.  This loss means that my season of watching the Reds play is over.  The shock of that was as bad as the loss itself.

The consolation, if you can call it that, lies in the backstory.  Frank Lampard, scorer of the Blue's second goal, was playing for the first time since losing his mother (to cancer, I believe) the week before.  Upon scoring the go-ahead goal, he pulled a black memorial armband from his upper arm and clearly emotional, ran to the corner flag kissing it and pointing to the sky.  Even as a Red and one who generally despises all things Chelski, I was touched by the raw tenderness of the moment.  If we had to lose, I would have preferred it to be to Frank on that day than to that whining brat Drogba; which unfortunately ended up being the case.

5/3/08

Work Projects Accomplished

Having the American work team here has been huge.  We've completed far more tasks than I would have though possible and I think the IVA students at least partially enjoyed the work.  Sarah and I took some pictures of work and finished products.  If you've been here, you'll see the marked improvement in our renovations.

Below Vlad does renovations on our sewer access.  Obviously this was not a job for which we had an abundance of volunteers.  The goal was to stop dirt from leaking between the bricks, clogging the sewer system.  After this was achieved, we replaced the sleeve and cover so that...
...they look slick and finished like the picture below.  Andrey, our camp director isn't afraid to jump right in.  He did the finishing for this concrete as well as helping to clean out the debris that had dropped into the sewer line during repairs.  That's true leadership.
Anyone who has been to HopeCenter will recognize these steps immediately.  During camps we spend a lot of time here just outside the dining hall with the kids waiting for the meals to start.  The steps were redone earlier but the team rebuilt the sides and finished them expertly.  If you look closely you can also see the new entry door.  I assure you that this made a big difference during those cold January days.

We put a few IVA guys on the sprayer to repaint the curbs around camp.  After a little practice they really got the hang of it. 

After constantly having to apologize for the junk tree that made getting trucks near our humanitarian aid storage nearly impossible, we finally cut the whole thing down yesterday.  This will be an ongoing project after the team is gone.  The pallets were necessary to protect an electrical line that we had to pull down in order to fell the tree.
Like the front steps to the dining hall, the sides of the back steps also got face lift.  Greg, a professional mason that came with the team did a good job of jumping from site to site to supervise and instruct all us amateurs; plus putting a professional finish on all the concrete work.

These are the steps of the guard shack and you can see how excited Jenya is about having a decent entryway.
For a few days I was on the back corner of the camp trying to maintain a burn on our emense amount of leaves, sticks and weeds.  They were only dry on the top so it was difficult to keep a actual flame going.
The steps of the medical building below were truly a disgrace.  They look really nice now.
This is the real pride of the team.  I posted pics of the old entry steps which was completely destroyed to make way for a functional patio.  It's longer and deeper than the original plus we did a frame for a roof, which will make it a great all-weather hangout for internationals.

Thanks so much to Rich, Carol, Tom, Darlene, Bob, Mickey, Greg and Jack; you have been a great temporary addition to the HopeCenter and pray that we'll see you all again soon.

5/2/08

Vitalik

Earlier this week I attached the picture below to the bottom of a post.

Since then I realized that I haven't done much in the way of introducing the vocational school students to my readers back home.  The guy that drew that picture is Vitalik.  I went and got a picture of him tonight so that you could actually see his face.  The first shot I took was without a shirt but I decided against posting it since I have some ladies that read this (one in particular who has a thing for Ukrainian guys) and I wanted to avoid any swooning.

When I said that the earlier picture was amazing, I used up the word which I needed to describe his self-styled shirt today.  I have no idea how long it takes him to do these but this is his second in 3 or 4 days and it is exponentially more complicated and intricate than his first.  Further, since I don't believe he is a Christian, I have no idea where he got this imagery.
Vitalik (or Choot Choot to Campbell) is from the small city of Armyansk in northern Crimea.  He was in the Ukrainian navy - though he may have been more like a Marine - for 2 years before coming to HopeCenter.  It took him to nearly all the nations that have a coast on the Black Sea and his military experience still shows.  He loves to work out and as such, he is a beast when it comes to doing heavy lifting or demolition around camp.  Despite this strength, he is a pretty kind guy and the only time I have seen him legitimately angry was when he felt like one of the guys was picking on his friend Igor unfairly (which is funny since Igor is easily the biggest guy here).  His other friend Vlad told me that "Choot Choot" had seen a lot of violence in his life and he now avoids fighting if possible.

Vitalik gave me the shirt pictured above in trade for one of mine but I can't see myself ever wearing it.  The marker/pen is probably not permanent so I may cut the drawing off and mount it in a frame when we get home.

Take a second and just look at this drawing....the symbolism, the detail, the beauty.  Sarah and I were just discussing what an amazing thing these drawings are.  Does he even realize what he's drawing or is the Lord just speaking through him?  We hope to have some time to discuss all this before he leaves in a few weeks.  Please be praying for him.