Monday, 28 July 2008


Ok I confess I got sunburnt! How embarrassing after all those lectures to my kids and husband. I am normally much more cautious about the sun because I burn easily but the strong sunshine in Colorado which was practically year round seems to have built up a layer of tan that means I don't burn so easily these days, apart from places like my back that rarely if ever see the sun. I didn't think the sun was quite so strong as it was intermittently quite cloudy but it was too much for my unprotected back just above jeans level due to my t-shirt not being quite long enough. As you can tell it has been rather hot just lately and I have to confess to resorting to shorts, not a pretty sight so definitely no pictures. I haven't had to resort to wearing shorts for a long while, as it was so dry in Colorado it did not matter, and Brazil was so damp with not much to do except sit around and drip and this stickiness and trying to get things done is not pleasant. Still Ian is enjoying the sunshine.

After doing a bit of internet research I discovered that vinegar could be used as a water softner and to get rid of sweaty smells. Ideal when you have a husband who cycles so much and being so hot and sticky just lately, ordinary soap powder does not deal with all those sweaty smells (not that you really wanted to know that). Well the vinegar seems to do the trick, not perfect but certainly better than before and hopefully over time the clothes will get better. The clothes do kind of smell a little vinegary as they come out of the wash but it is more like the smell of dry cleaned clothes so is bearable and certainly better than stale sweat. Yuck!

We had an action packed week this week watching a video about composting toilets (see if you can count how many times the three different electrical options are mentioned). Now why should we be looking up such interesting and riveting articles? The reason is that quite a few homes in Latvia do not have indoor flushing toilets and we wondered how viable are the new composting toilets over the revolting outhouses we remember as children when visiting certain relatives. Mind you the little gems we were looking at turn out to be £1100 ($2204) not cheap!

We also spent one evening looking at houses in Australia. No it is not because we are thinking of moving but it sure is a fascinating glimpse into the priorities of another nation. The website is not as good as the Danish website as there is so much information on the Danish site which gives floor plans as well (Villa is a house, "vis bøliger" is "see houses" and remember that it is very approximately 10 kr to the £) . It is interesting to compare the houses though and how they present them. In Denmark they didn't always tidy their rooms for the photos, in America they like vaulted ceilings, in Australia they like the open plan in much the same way as the Americans and the Danes. Not as many houses seem to have really nice kitchens in the Australian photos though. One thing I did like about the Australian houses were the covered areas for seating outside which there didn't seem to be so much of in America, which I thought was a shame when it was so sunny and I couldn't sit out in the sun, but under shade that would have been nice. 

I had two strange dreams this week. On the first one I woke up just after someone had called me "Dr. Storie", it seemed rather convincing. I wasn't a medical doctor but not sure what field I held a doctorate in. I will have to file that one away in case God is trying to tell me something. In the other dream I was packing up baby things so that our daughter, Emma, could take our baby away for the week. I remember being really excited about a baby free week, but as I was waking up I remember thinking "What baby? I don't have a baby". I do hope that is not a case of God telling me I am going to have another baby, not now that all my kids have left home. I don't often have dreams I recall and so it is all the more unusual, especially such vivid ones. It is not as if I am broody because of empty nest syndrome either. I have enjoyed hearing what our children are doing now they have flown the nest, and I enjoy not having to organise things for them as well.

Continuing on from previous weeks regarding the wildlife around us we had a pigeon fly into our house this week. It flew straight in through our open balcony door and straight over Ian's head and into the office on the other side of our flat. Poor thing was a little confused that the light at the other end of the flat was not going to let it through. As Ian went to catch it it took off and flew back the way it had come but veered slightly so that it hit the window next to the door. Ian fortunately then caught the rather confuddled bird and released it outside.

In England I was always conscious of the need to provide natural areas where the insect life is to be encouraged. It always seemed like a good thing to do. Here however I want natural areas to encourage the insects as far away from me as possible; the Latvians cut back their grassy areas for a reason, to keep down the abundant insect life like horse flies which are vicious beasts along with deer flies and if you do not cut your long meadow plants (not a lot of grass in them like I explained last week) then you get bitten to death. Our friend, Marvin who visited us this last week for a meal said he had not seen so many biting insects even in Africa. Just in case I have put you off ever coming to Latvia to see us then June seems to be a good month as the horse flies don't seem to have got started before then, it is pleasantly warm and with all the flowers in bloom as well it is lovely. July and August seem to be months to avoid if you get bothered by insects of the biting kind. I must admit to not being bothered with them as much as I thought I would, but then again I do tend to be as cautious as possible so I don't get bitten. It was one issue I was not looking forward to, it used to be bad enough for the two or three weeks we used to come but a whole summer seemed too much but God has been gracious and the insects don't seem to have such a bad effect on me, I still swell up occasionally but not with every bite.

No pictures this week our internet is so mega slow I would be trying all night with no guarantee of success.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

A more mundane week

It has been a more mundane week this week with lots of sunshine and loads of rain (as you can see in the first picture - vertical Latvian rain). The rain has presented its own problems as well as some cool cloud pictures. Our previous weeks have been filled with routine tasks and gardening but the question is what do you do when it is too wet to get out in the garden? I can always file papers - joy of joys! or I can do some embroidery or even get around to writing that handbook for helping children to engage in the prophetic that I have been meaning to get around to doing and haven't actually sat down with it until this week. Ian's problem has been that he has not had to fill in many days before and while he is happy to do the gardening or go out on his bike he hasn't really got anything that he can do in the house until we start on sorting out the electrics in the flat (apartment). Quite frankly at times he has been a pain as he keeps coming to have a look at what I am doing, and I am not used to someone watching what I am doing all the time (don't worry folks I know he reads my blog so I am not hiding anything :oD) this lead to a comment by me that he needs a hobby and it has become a running joke throughout the week. So if anyone has any suggestions for my dear husband to keep him entertained during those wet days when he can't get out in the garden or out on his bike, bearing in mind that we don't want to use the car too much due to the price of diesel, then we will be very grateful.

We did go and see our friends Steve and Natalija this weekend. Steve needed to take down some tents and because it has been so wet he couldn't do it when he had more help to do it, so he and Ian took a trip down to Tukums about 2 hours away from their house and dismantled tents while Natalija and I picked berries. We only have a small freezer but I still managed to squeeze in 10 boxes of fruit (red gooseberries, raspberries and red currants). (One of our projects is to buy an upright freezer, and possibly a bigger fridge/freezer but first we need to get the kitchen done). The weather was good for all of us and for the first day in over a week it was completely dry. I also got to watch "Finding Nemo" for the first time, I have never got around to watching it before but the rest of the family have and I keep getting left out of all the jokes that came out of that film (movie). It was nice to have lots of cuddles with Steve and Natalija's newest addition, Simon, who is now four months old and starting to take a lot of notice of his surroundings and complains about being put down quite so often now, he obviously is fed up of looking at the ceiling and wants to participate in what is going on. Unfortunately poor Samuel was too tired to be very sociable but he picked up at the end of the day and insisted that we stand and clap for his teddy as the teddy perched on top of some water bottles - why we had to clap for teddy I didn't quite understand but it was important to Samuel, who is nearly 2 years old.

On our way home from Birņi, where Steve and Natalija, live we saw a field with loads and loads of storks. It is quite common here to see storks following tractors in the fields in much the same way as a seagull would in England and quite often there can be 6 or 8 storks at a time, it is a wonder they don't get mangled in the machinery as they never seem to be in a hurry to get out of the way; this time there was a whole flock of storks and there could have been upwards of 50 of them. The storks must have travelled for miles around to all be in this one field it was an amazing sight and a little different to seeing over 50 seagulls following a tractor. 

When we got home I went into the garden to pick some veg for our tea (dinner, supper - this is complicated why can't we have just one word for an evening meal :P) and in addition to the lettuce which we have been picking for ages we now have green beans, kohlrabi and spinach. This morning while weeding the garden Ian accidentally uprooted one small potato and some Swiss Chard so we will have those for tea as well, we will savour our first potato of course.

To buy or not to buy that was the question earlier on this week. Our neighbours' friends are hoping to come out early next year to join them and us here in Ērgli and one of the flats (apartments) was up for sale but we knew it would need some work doing on it so we decided that it might be an idea to look at it now so that we could buy it and get started on some renovation and either our friends could buy or rent it or we could sell it on afterwards. After some consultation though we had to let it go as it is quite damp due to a lack of ventilation and could have more problems than we have money to rectify it. It was with dismay that later on we saw an advert for another apartment for 30,000 Lats (£33,900, $67,700) for a three bedroomed flat (apartment) of 73m2 (786sqft) which is a fantastic hike from even a year ago especially because they will need new bathrooms and new windows minimum and is ridiculous as Latvian wages are very low and is double what they were fetching last year. It would appear though that they are just fishing to see if someone, probably from Riga the capital would be interested or some foolish folks with money. These homes have a finite lifespan, perhaps another 20 years only as they are only prefabricated places. 

Our tenants for our house in Barlow gave notice to quit and now we are in the process of thinking do we keep the house or do we sever our link with the place we lived in for 15 years? It is not a good time to be selling houses in England but that doesn't worry me too much, but tax issues do, and having to find out where we stand with tax here in Latvia is not something I really want to delve into but will have to so we can move forward on our decision. If there is one thing I really dislike about moving countries it is the tax and trying to work out the different ways of working the system out and what applies in one country won't apply in another and vice a versa. So if you would pray for wisdom for us then that would be lovely.

Moving countries reminds me of something I saw today which illustrates what it is like to move. I transplanted cabbages from their seed bed today and they were looking really healthy and happy but they wouldn't have remained like that as they were too close together so I had to dig them up and move them, they wilted soon afterwards even though they have had a good watering. They will recover though like all the other plants I have transplanted. Often though there is a wilting period when moving countries, even if it is well prepared and necessary for the next stage of life but the good news is that we do recover. We have been transplanted into a new situation, one that we have been preparing for for over 6 years and there are times that we wonder what it is all for. I wouldn't say that we question whether we have done the right thing, God has graciously told us we have made the right decision but he hasn't given us a blueprint for what to do next and so we have to push some doors, and search for the next path. I keep thinking we get a glimpse of it but the doubts are still there but I am confident something will come together soon to guide us forward from here. 

This last week I finished the current year on NorthstarUK (an online school for which I am the student café monitor) for the summer holidays (vacations). It is a bit tricky at times when it comes to term times (semesters) in England and how out of step they are with the rest of Europe. I always find it funny when people complain about the long 6 weeks holidays that the English school children have as they have some of the shortest holidays in Europe, here in Latvia it is around 10 weeks, it was around 8 weeks in Denmark. Danish children and Latvian children finished at the end of June and the the Danes go back mid- August and the Latvians go back on the 1st September. 

Here is one of our neigbours colourful allotment. Latvians love colour and love flowers and it is lovely to travel around Latvia and see the colourful way they are painting their buildings - a change from the drab Soviet era they were coming out of when we first came. One day we will put some photos up of the various buildings like the new bakery in our small town they are just finishing off, it is bright orange and I mean bright but it looks gorgeous.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Musings and Ponderings

I was reading on the BBC this week about the issue of what is better big farms or small farms in Zambia. It is a tricky subject as sometimes the bigger farm do have the advantage of the economy of scale but at what cost to our environment? Bigger farms can at least invest in larger machinery and require less labour, and let's face it some of those labour intensive jobs were not always great jobs that everyone tackled with a smile, they could be back breaking and tedious. Small farms though can work well to provide for a family, can be versatile in what they grow and this is important for the environment. The greater the variety of foodstuffs grown the less problems with pests and diseases. The problem though with small farmers is lack of education and abuse by those in power. Oh if life was simple with simple solutions!

Another article that caught my attention is the elusive cash crop in Kenya. Coffee brought quick success back in the 70's but since then they haven't been able to find a crop that would produce such fast returns. The endless dilemma is to find something that will alleviate the poverty that is so prevalent in a reasonable time frame without actually making the situation more difficult in the long run. Get rich quick schemes are hardly ever any good as they tend to mean exploitation of someone or too many people cashing in together. 

What I would like to see in the West though is slow real growth or how about no growth! Why isn't that considered a good idea. What we see at the moment is big businesses getting all depressed - why? Because they won't increase their profit this year or because their profit is down from last year, has someone forgotten to look at the figures to see they are still making a profit and quite a healthy one at that. Okay so maybe this year it is only 1 bn something or other and not 1.6 bn like last year - so what! It is still more than the GDP of some small developing nations.

Well from pondering the state of the world's economy I needed to ponder on a more practical subject, that of making cornflour. I can get polenta but not the flour so out comes my Kitchen Aid mixer complete with milling attachment and voila - cornflour, yellow cornflour. I tried it with fish sauce and it certainly thickened the sauce but is still not quite what I wanted, cornflour has a quality that is not often found in many thickeners and not being able to find any is a little frustrating. After I ground up some cornflour I tried to grind up rice to make rice flour. It was fine at first but then I found out that it is the kind of job that is ideally done on a dry day, not on a damp day with nothing better to do than jam up my grinder with rice concrete. I had to take the whole thing apart and soak it for quite a while before it came off, and now my grinder has gone a little rusty. Oh boy! The things you learn.

Last week I mentioned the Storks that frequent our garden well this morning there were not just storks in the garden but a deer and her two fauns wandering about. Good job they went straight to the cover of the trees and not through our garden or even worse stopping for some food along the way. We also had some unwelcome guests to our garden this week, the Colorado Beetle. This is not something we brought across from Colorado, honest! In England it is a notifiable pest and if you spot one you have to inform the agricultural authorities as they can devastate the potato crop. Here in mainland Europe they are endemic and have natural predators so we need to keep an eye on them and get rid of them if we see them or their larvae but it is not such a big deal, or at least we hope so!!!!!!

Another thing that struck me this week (must keep a look out for all those low flying thoughts) was the variety of plants in the "grassed" area, something you don't often see in England or the States where weedkillers would be applied and the lawns kept to a couple of inches high. Some of the plants I have identified so far are plantains, clover, mallow, dead nettles, dandelions and vetch

This week we also spent a bit of time with our friend Steve who we met on our first ever visit to Latvia. 

He decided a few years ago to set up a camp in a box. The idea is to put a complete camp together and put it in a container. This does away with the need for high maintenance buildings but is better than a basic camp. This has been a work in progress for around 4 years and this year was the first time he has managed to get everything together and hold a camp. As you can see it is quite impressive and looks neat and tidy, everything is available even hot water on top and a beautifully laid out kitchen. 

The only big disadvantage was the enormous horse flies, I have only ever seen anything nearly as big that bites or stings and that was a hornet, they were scary, especially when I am quite allergic to their smaller cousins. 


Monday, 7 July 2008

It was a bit of a shock on July 4th,  The American Day of Independance to see flags at half mast outside our kitchen window, even the school flag had theirs at half mast. It fleetingly passed through my mind that it was a joke and a slight dig at the Americans. Just then Ian came through to tell me that 4th July was Holocaust memorial day here in Latvia. Phew! So my dear American friends while you were celebrating your independence from us Brits, the Latvians were remembering a particularly sad piece of history. However we chose to side with the Americans on this occasion and joined our American friends in celebrating American Independence Day, which is a little ironic as I have never celebrated American Independence Day in America, I was always in England on July 4th. In fact only Ian has been in America on July 4th and that was last year after a gruelling 24hr journey back from England and all he wanted to do was sleep which was a little difficult with all the fireworks. The photo shows our friend Bruce grilling shaslik - he is a pretty good BBQer the meat was done to perfection. 

Another History lesson. Back in the second world war the people of the land were caught in the middle of great dilemmas, the Russian army would take people they find and make them fight for their side and the German side would do the same and in so many cases brother could be fighting against brother. When you add that onto the domination for the last 800 years by different Empires imposing their will upon the land and its people then you have a heady cocktail of conflict and domination sown into the land. It is no wonder that it is taking Latvians a while to understand who they are and to establish an identity without becoming domineering themselves. National pride is one thing but nationalistic pride based on intolerance is a nasty poisonous mixture. 

Moravian brethren however  taught the peasants self respect and they were quite active in the land in the 1700's. They were often in conflict with the Lutheran church with their German pastors who were also supported by the German aristocracy of the time. The fact they made a significant impact is apparent with the statistic that 92% of the peasants in Latvia could actually read and write, an incredible figure for those times. The Moravian brethren also encouraged the song writers to write and Latvia is a nation of song. It will be a privilege to see the song writers arise out of this nation to sing of the wonders of God, already I have heard of a couple of examples of people beginning to write worship songs in their native Latvian, and one of whom the gifting has laid dormant for quite a few years.

On a different note did you know that milk has different flavours depending on which farm they come from? I didn't until I came to Latvia, some milk tastes fairly bland as I have come to expect milk to taste but some of the milk I have drunk has a distinct taste. At first I thought the milk was already off but then I realised that it was just a different flavour, it took a bit of getting used to but now I quite like it.

So far we are still just getting lettuces and Dill out of the garden but if that snail problem keeps up then they will be heading for the pot - if I can face it. I had a massive snail cull this morning but I have a feeling that tomorrow there will be just as many as it has rained again today. In England we used to have a Robin and some blackbirds who used to frequent our garden now we Stork patrols in our garden every evening, and this morning there was a flapping of wings overhead as the Stork flew in while Ian and I were in the garden.