Monday, 27 October 2008

Mud and Heat

Hindsight they say is a wonderful thing. If only we hadn't hesitated we may have got through, if we had taken a different route maybe we would have got through, but no we hesitated and I was sure that was the route we were told to take and we came to a grinding halt and ended up axle deep in mud and "we weren't going nowhere!" Eventually our friend who we were trying to join for an evening meal realised that our lights were not moving from the entrance to the field that leads to his house and drove out to join us at the other end of the quagmire. We tried some branches under the wheels for some extra traction and pushing the car but it was only making the situation worse, then a four wheel ranger was brought in, still no luck it was stuck solid. In the end a tractor was brought in and only when the tractor was in four wheel drive (which only worked by holding onto the lever all the time) would it work and our dear new 4x4 truck was pulled out of the mud. Well the 4x4 system was good, but obviously not that good to tackle axle deep mud slowly. Our friend did say he was surprised how much water had accumulated in so short a time.  Ian did not end up like this though -link

Well we had another weekend without heat this week. It is amazing how powerless you can feel when you do not have the choice of having heat when you want it or not as the case maybe. I know I said that last week as well but it is true that choice is a wonderful thing if you have it. We at least have a choice of putting on a fan heater to raise the temperature but have more often than not resorted to the old fashioned idea of a hot water bottle and a quilt. My heart does go out though to those who are unable to afford the heat that will come on sometime soon (I can see the chimney stoking up for the day as I write this, so there is hope for heat for today) and it will be nice for us to have heat on all the time at this time of the year, better than sitting in a room at 15C (59C) but I know for some that will be a slide into yet more debt. 

The pension here can be as little as 100 LVL (Latvian Lats) a month and if the heat is 50 LVLs a month that does not leave a lot left for electric, even if it is only 7 santimes a KW/h or food. There is some social care here and if people are really poor they can get free meals up at the technical school but I am guessing they will have to get themselves up there first, as well as sign on to get the help. There are some who milk the system just as in most places but there are many more who are genuinely unable to support themselves. A past hard life is marked on many of the faces of the older people who are often younger than they look and often in the backs of the stooped older ladies, alcoholism is rife as they seek to obliterate the harshness of life and the hopelessness they feel inside. That sounds bleak and that is true but that does not paint an accurate picture of this place we call home, there are signs of life here, the bakery is warm and the food tasty, the hotel has times of being quite full which is good, our friend Victor who is making our kitchen has more than enough work. The new shoots are here but the old still hangs as a shadow over the place. 

Well Ian has got on with the rewiring and not too many swear words have been uttered. Good job really as I threatened to go out for a walk if ever the language deteriorated and right now that is not an inviting prospect as the weather has been wet to say the least. During the Soviet era aluminium was the metal of choice for wires but they do not carry the current very well and can lead to fires, so we are replacing the wires with copper wires but because these walls have also been peppered from so many 6 inch nails Ian is surface mounting all the wires in trunking (since this is underlined as I type then I am guessing that trunking is not an American term but basically it is plastic protection for wiring), not so pretty but much easier to do something with if there is ever a fault.

Our new flat was used this week and it was nice to be able to provide some restful hospitality, our friend slept well into the morning and so recovered from a hectic week of meetings and shuttling around the country. He brought his godson out as well later on in the week and his godson thought it was wonderful, much better than being in the city and on that I have to agree mightily. 

Although the weather has not been good this week one day was quite nice even if it was a bit breezy and I managed to get three loads of washing done, out on the line outside and dried. This might not seem such a big thing but when the heating is not guaranteed, we don't have a drier and washing needs doing then it does indeed become a big thing. I am having to rediscover what it is to have to choose when to do the washing, this was practically second nature in the UK but then I did have the option of putting on some heating if the worse came to the worse. Colorado was so dry, especially at the later end of the year as the temperature dropped that I dried washing inside the house just to increase the humidity and clothes could be dry within an hour or so, it was certainly a novel thing for me. One evening as I was heading up the garden to get some vegetables from the garden I was treated to a wonderful sunset and it was so nice I called Ian and told him to take some photos, unfortunately it didn't do justice to the colours so you have one of the original and one which I have tweaked with iPhoto because I could!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Apples, apples and errr yet more apples

Tuesday apple cake
Wednesday apple cake
Thursday out for tea but more apple cake 
Friday Broth with yes you have guessed it some apple puree. It was really nice and consisted of onions, beetroot (beets), kohlrabi, ginger, potatoes and a tub of mushroom cream cheese as well as the apple puree.
Saturday - Sausage and mash and gravy with some of our frozen courgettes (zucchini) and a little apple puree of course
Sunday - Pork roasted with cabbage, leeks, a few beetroot (beet) leaves, and yes apples, plus roasted potatoes and roasted swede (rutabaga) and we were still finishing off the apple cake or at least Ian was and then I made some scones - apple scones of course. Mind you I forgot to add the sugar but they still taste nice, especially with some jam.
(Photo from just outside our flat - a cheerful site, for me that is for Ian it just reminds him winter is on its way)

It has been another torrid week of rumours and rumours of rumours sending our poor jittery dealers in stocks into a panic. If it wasn't having such a drastic effect on people who don't deal in stocks and on pensions it would be funny. It has lead to some thoughtful comments though such as :-
"If the global economy can, almost overnight, find two trillion dollars to cut the risk of Freddie Mae and Bertie Mac and the global banking community from going down the pan, surely it can find a fraction of that to cut the risk of forests going up in smoke." Andrew Mitchell

I would add that if the global economy can find two trillion dollars to cut risk then maybe they could find a few billion to eradicate some diseases that are the scourge of the poor or maybe provide everyone with safe drinking water and I am sure everyone could add a few thoughts of their own.

In one of my internet trawls I also found the following comments which I found interesting from Communication for Social Change which outlines the direction in which they would like to
see communications evolve including the following points:

• Away from people as the objects for change … and on to people and
communities as the agents of their own change
• Away from designing, testing and delivering messages…and on to supporting
dialogue and debate on the key issues of concern
• Away from the conveying of information from technical experts… and on to
sensitively placing that information into the dialogue and debate
• Away from a focus on individual behaviors…and on to social norms, policies,
culture and a supportive environment

Interesting thoughts to stimulate some debates. Can you imagine what it would look like if we stopped thinking we had to make things happen to people so they can change to enabling them to change, giving them the voice to help the change happen that they want instead of something imposed upon them. 

Wednesday - we have heat yeeeaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!! Can you feel the excitement. Don't take your heat for granted! I guess at the moment don't take anything for granted except that there is a God in Heaven who cares for each and everyone of us and even if the road gets rocky he still loves us. He is bringing about a remarkable redemptive correction to the markets, when they seemed so safe in their ivory towers, uncaring for the effects they were having on the world and it's inhabitants they have been shown that it is not they who are in power. I pray for some remarkable turn arounds in their personal lives too, may they through their vulnerability at the moment find the God who cares. (If you look carefully at this picture you will be able to see some smoke coming from the top of the building, this sometimes indicates that we will be getting some heat, unfortunately this morning it did not materialise)

Well Wednesdays heat lasted for two hours but Thurdsay it came on in the morning and lasted most of the day and went off around 4pm - peculiar way of doing it and doesn't really fit in around people going out to work but does fit in around work hours for those firing up the boilers. Friday we had heat until 5pm and this was beginning to feel really good and then we had nothing over the weekend. It has made me think more about poverty though and the sheer powerlessness of it. We do not have any say in when the heating is put on, this must be partly a language thing but I am not sure whether having the language to question the decisions will make any difference whatsoever. Latvians don't like to argue or to make a fuss and can often just accept things the way but the result is damp and cold houses which cannot have a good effect on the health of the population or the ability of children to think. I have to do some work prior to the start of my course to bring me up to speed after too many years away from written assignments - well my own anyway and certainly at this level, to get warm enough to make my brain function I had to sit at the desk with a hot water bottle on my lap and a quilt wrapped around my legs and plenty of layers of clothing on, it seems almost prehistoric and not something I am really used to in my lifetime. I do remember times without central heating but not times without the choice of heating my room effectively. Good news is though that I am at least finding the work interesting and stimulating which is encouraging.

We reap what we sow but sometimes in unexpected ways. Two of Ian's ex-work colleagues made contact with him this week unexpectedly but all as a result of action taken by Ian a little while ago.  The Perdue website is a site for those who are interested in flow cytometry and Ian keeps his eye on this when he noticed an old acquaintance of his, he emailed him to see how he was doing. In the email he asked if he knew what had happened to an old work colleague who Ian had lost contact with and was given a bit of information. A while later this old acquaintance actually met Ian's ex-work colleague on a bus of all places and next thing we know the ex-work colleagues has sent an email making contact. Ian was really pleased to reestablish contact as he was a little worried what had happened to him, as the last he had heard was he was off long term sick and had then left the company they had both worked for. Another contact was reestablished after Ian noticed that another ex-work colleague was on a list of people who were involved in a patent and it stated he was in Denmark, no address but a bit of a surprise as the last we knew was he was in Fort Collins. Ian sent a message to HR asking if his ex-work colleague had indeed returned to his native Denmark, this message was passed on and lo and behold the ex-work colleague got in touch. He had lost Ian's details in the move back to Denmark. I am really pleased that these bridges have been reestablished as I felt they were both important, not sure how but time will show that.

Friday morning I noticed on the calendar for Northstar UK, where I monitor messages posted by students online, that I was supposed to be in Brazil in about a weeks time, it threw me for a minute until I realised that I was in Brazil around this time last year and I must have accidentally made the entry a yearly event. Shame really I would have loved to have gone back again this year but so far I haven't had the chance yet. 

Monday, 13 October 2008

God's plans and nothing but God's plans

I thought I would start off with my thoughts today before telling you all what we have been up to this week. Well I know that I know that I know that God has plans for me but it is nice when God confirms it too. I finished reading "Acts for Everyone" by Tom Wright yesterday and so resorted to my standard read of a "Bible in One Year" for my daily bible reading and read Jeremiah 27-29 which contains one of my favourite verses Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." It always leaps off the page to me and then I read it again on the Biblegateway verse for the day. I think I get the message! I have been reading some of the news regarding the credit crunch and often feel like knocking heads together and telling the stock traders to calm down and get a grip. There is so much greed and it is oozing all over the place, and so many frantic trips by ministers of the different nations, scrabbling for a solution. Strangely enough though it does not frighten me, I have been saying for awhile that now is a time of opportunity and Martin Scott's prophecy in September "then look for the connections of peace, and without great ado make the connection, gently but deliberately placing our seed into that place/in that direction". We have been getting prepared to do some deliberate planting and I feel the time is getting near now and I actually feel quite excited. 

Some things I read on the Night Watch Prophetic Network seems a little like end times paranoia but some really resonates with me and one in particular was a prophecy by Cindy Jacobs and Dr. Sharon Stone (no not the actress) entitled "Pray for the Economy". Wouldn't it be fantastic that instead of reading about the bull market or the bear market we were reading about the lion market? Wouldn't it be fantastic that the economies of this world were really seeking to look after the poor instead of getting rich for themselves? Wouldn't it be great if the world's leading bankers were actually sorry for their responsibility in this mess (and no they are not the only ones guilty, we all are when we have been looking to make a quick buck) and sought to put it right by helping those very people who were given too much credit that they in reality couldn't afford? Wouldn't it be great if the poor could actually get credit if they really needed it at rates that the rich get? 

That actually leads me onto another topic I have been looking at this week and that is the role of microfinance. I have had some reservations regarding the role of microfinance when I realised what incredible interest rates were being charged. Some of the finance does go to some worthy causes and really helps in the battle against poverty but I do wonder if it is really that helpful if the interest rates are well over 30%, even if that is better than the local money lender and does come with some business advice and support. How much better it would be if small businesses in the developing world could get credit to start up a business or develop their business that was nearer to the rates that we expect here in Europe or in America for the rich. I realise that sometimes we have to give people the means to start or develop their own business but sometimes I also realise they need to have ownership of that business so giving them a handout to start their business might not work, sometimes it does. I guess that is where we really need to get to know the people we are lending to or trust the intermediaries.

Well now onto what has been happening in our household this week. We or I should say Ian has been shovelling muck most of this week- boy that stuff is rich! There is not much straw in it, and it is slightly liquid, makes your toes curl thinking about it but we are sure that by Ian double digging the garden (ie going down two spade depths down for the uninitiated amongst you) and putting a layer of the good stuff on it then our garden will continue to be as productive as it was this year. We are still getting leeks, swedes and cabbages out of the garden and living off the potatoes we dug out earlier this year. I am only just now starting to use some of the stuff we froze earlier on in the year and that is only to give us a bit of variation on cabbage.

I wouldn't like you to think that while Ian has the job of shifting the evil smelling stuff that I am swanning it in the flat, I have been dealing with bucket loads of apples. We did our bit for the local economy and bought a juicer for me and a wheelbarrow for Ian and that means we can both get on with our jobs a little easier. I have found out that one large bucket of apples produces two well concentrated bottles of apple juice or four not so concentrated bottles (not sure we will have enough bottles to do the less concentrated stuff but it takes hours to gently evaporate off enough to give us concentrated apple juice). I also discovered that the juicer gives off a lot of froth which is quite thick, and Ian prefers apple juice without the bits, so I was then left with the dilemma of what to do with it. I boiled the froth down and this makes a very tangy apple sauce which makes a nice spread or adds a subtle apple flavour or sweetner to most things. It is amazing how much is improved with a bit of apple sauce when you have loads of the stuff. Just hope the pateurisation of the apple juice kills off all the bugs so we don't end up with 
exploding bottles later on in the year.

Finally got signed up for the open university course - but something struck us as we were chatting about the confusion of getting on the course, I didn't fit the norm. There was a little confusion as to precisely which course I should sign on for and that has been the story of our life we don't fit the conventional boxes. Most of our life has been a series of confusions  because we can't be categorised - it's wonderful! If you don't want to be fitted into a box then don't do what everyone expects, simple!

On Wednesday we met the Mayor of Ērgļi and it was a real privilege he is such a humble and modest man as he would not take credit for himself. He has been Mayor since 1997 and his purpose is to serve the community in which he lives. He concentrates on small projects that do something rather than massive waste of money type projects and it shows in the gradual change that has happened here. I do hope that we maybe able to meet him again and help him in serving this community.

On the way back from meeting the Mayor we saw a notice stuck on the door downstairs, our Latvian is not great but some words we did know and some we could guess made us quite excited, it looked like we might actually get some heat the next day. Well we waited and Ian bled the radiators (let the air out) several times and we heard a couple of gurgles and lo and behold we had heat - well for five minutes we had heat. Not sure what happened after that, but the heat did not appear as promised and then the weather warmed up so we still do not have heat in our apartment except a small fan heater that we use when we get really cold. We have resorted to old-fashioned techniques like lots of layers and a quilt that someone made me. Warm comfort food is in and salads are definitely out! If it was not for the end of year garden preparation I would seriously think about being away for the whole of October next year or maybe it would be cheaper to install a wood heater. We also had another power cut this weekend which lasted about three hours, but we had a walk to the shops and called in at the bakery on the way home - well we didn't have any heat or electric so we may as well warm up at the bakery, that is my excuse and I am sticking to it!

Monday, 6 October 2008


We took Kathleen and Ian (the ones we have bought the flat for and will be coming out in March next year to live in Latvia from England) to see our new friends Roger and Valerie who moved from England to Latvia in May this year. I thought that Kathleen & Ian might have a lot in common with Roger & Valerie but I didn't realise how much. It turns out that Ian, Roger and Valerie lived in the same area for many years. They spent much of the time saying do your remember such and such, my aunty worked there and do your remember those who lived on such and such farm etc etc? It was great fun to listen to though. We also fitted in a visit to Rundāle Palace as you can see from the picture.

Great news this week was we had an offer on our house for more than I had set as a figure that I would like to get for the house and we hopefully get to sell it to a local which I am really pleased about. Obviously it is still early days yet but everything is proceeding fine so far. Just have to pray that the solicitors back holds up this time. Last time we used this solicitor he hurt his back and was off for months and it really messed up the continuity, I was so pleased when he came back and sorted out some details that were not up to date at the end.

Wednesday saw us with our official documents to say we actually own the flat we agreed to buy earlier on this month. The lady who sold us the flat and her daughter helped with tying up some of the other paperwork which made life a lot simpler. They even helped us to organise getting a plumber out to sort out the pipework in the new flat. I am now regretting not getting a photo as it is quite complicated to explain but the upshot of it is that the water supply that was in our new flat ran through our meter and then carried on upstairs to the water meter in the flat above. Effectively meaning that there was two lots of water running through our meter, fortunately it was spotted by my ever so observant husband when investigating a leak from upstairs and checking on our pipes as well with our Swedish cape crusader who is the man to know in such circumstances. 

On Thursday Ian had just left our flat, to let in the plumber to our new flat to sort out the pipes as arranged, when there was a tap at the door. "Strange!" thinks I, "why would he be knocking on the door?" I went to the door expecting to see Ian with a handful of things in his arms but instead there were four intimidating looking men. Gulp! One of them flashed some official looking documentation in front of me which I couldn't read until one of them had the sense to switch on the landing light. All I could tell is they were from some Latvian ministry. "Angliski?" I said as they were babbling away in Latvian - which means "English?".  At this point one guy stepped forward, he was actually the friendlier looking of the four, and said it was the Latvian Immigration service and they wanted to ask me some questions. Fortunately someone I knew had had a visit from Latvian Immigration a few months before and said that since the open border agreement within Europe, the officials are now required to check individuals, which meant this was just a routine visit. Well after answering a few questions and having a little chat with the guy who spoke English then showing my documents they went away happy. My poor American Missionary neighbour got more of a grilling though as they have to conform to certain criteria in order to stay, whereas I only had to have the appropriate documentation and confirm there was only the two of us in the flat.

Friday saw us heading off to Riga, we had been invited to help with some mentoring and it was a good time of sharing our story with some young folks. The pastor who was attending told how he waited 8 years before accepting Jesus and wished he had done it sooner and we shared about waiting on God's timing but I think it was good to see both sides and to explain when God says "go" then "go" and when he says "wait" then "wait". The obvious key though is to listen to God in the first place and learn to hear his voice. We then went back to stay overnight with Steve and Natalija who had invited us to the meeting and their kids. Simon the youngest is only 6 months old starting to try and talk like babies do and it so funny, he does it with the biggest cheesiest grin ever. 

Sunday we decided to go apple picking as there are lots of apple trees that go with our new flat and it was a gorgeous day. There were three kids playing around outside and they said hello, practicing their English on the strange couple. They also babbled away a bit in Latvian which we didn't really understand much of but I had wondered whether they had offered to help us, this was confirmed when Ian came downstairs with one end of a stack of shelves and one of the kids on the other end. They were so funny as they kept coming down into the basement with things like apples (no idea where they were getting them from, and couldn't really ask), and coffee flavoured sweets. They then gave us a small bunch of wild flowers they had picked. I think they might be helpful to us in picking up some Latvian words, I am sure they will think it huge fun to teach us, and I think they may improve their English too.

Well it is our Wedding Anniversary today - 24 years! We didn't really do anything special as we had eaten out at a restaurant with our friends on Saturday and I feel like I have eaten too much just lately and the day before we went round to the new bakery that has finally opened this week, so we didn't want to go back to often - well we do but I don't think it will be good for my waistline even if we walk around there. Forgot to mention while we went to the bakery on the day it opened we saw the mayor of the town there, I introduced myself and explained that I am going to start a course on development management and would probably use Ergli as a subject so would like to know some more about the place, he agreed to meet up with us so will be doing that later on this week.