Monday, 26 January 2009


This was the headline which greeted me on one of my perusals of the net.

"Chorley hit by snow storms
Heavy snow hit parts of Chorley today as temperatures dropped to freezing.

The wintry blast struck at about 1pm and it was still snowing at 2.15pm.

The snow was up to two inches deep on some cars but hadn't settled on the ground."

I nearly died laughing. Having spent two years in 
Colorado where one snow storm deposited three foot of snow in 24 hours and this winter in Latvia a snow storm deposited two foot of snow in 48 hours, a heavy snow storm is not something that drops 2 inches in just over an hour if it doesn't leave anything on the ground. Chorley by the way is where I used to live between the ages of 7-18 years old and I have to admit that I only really remember one instance of 4 inches of snow lying on the ground for longer than a day and one unseasonally late snow arriving when my parents were driving back from somewhere, so snow is fairly rare, poor things! 

Another perusal on the net was much more sobering, there has been a lot of different reports on the riots in Latvia as well as elsewhere  and a Greek psychology 
professor had this to say about the Athens riots

"There is a shared shock that the good times have gone. “The explosion conceals a compressed desperation. Many young people live with the unbearable knowledge that there is no future.”

What a dreadful thing to say! How hopeless! But how many people think like that? Fortunately I don't think that is God's perspective at all and one of my favourite verses in the Bible is:-

Jeremiah 29:11 (New International Version)

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.

That gives me hope as God has never let me down. He may have taken me down some routes I would perhaps have not chosen but he knew the way and the path that was best for me. Even now I am confident that he has it all in hand. I really do not have much more than the occasional inkling as to what God has got planned, and I am not even sure what slight impressions I have are right but I do know that God will reveal the next step in the necessary detail when he needs to and not before. 

As some of you may remember I am studying with the Open University at the moment (still loving it by the way), when I was reading how some people in the Christian Fellowhip forum were feeling rather depressed and it reminded me of a poem I wrote a while ago. I have shared it with a few people before but the time seems right to share it further afield. If you like it or feel it might be helpful to anyone then you are more than welcome to download it. 

The Winter of the Soul

The Winter of the soul is the time
when those sudden bursts of sunshine
seem all the more welcome
than the relentless summer sun.

Where the snow glistens like diamonds
reminding us of the richness and abundance of God
even in the barren times.

Where the trees in our life
are pared back to the essentials
from which new abundant life will spring.

The Winter of the soul is a watching, waiting time
pregnant with the promise of Spring
hidden but growing
until the right time

Don’t mourn the loss of the sun
Don’t mourn the loss of the green
But watch and wait
for the unfolding of God’s promises
in their proper seasons.

Those last two sentences resonated with me once again, God will unfold his promise at the right time, not before as it could kill the plan like the frosts can kill the first buds of spring butI can be confident that just like the seasons will continue his promises will unfold, it is just a matter of waiting for the right time.

Well this week our kitchen is still not finished and even as I write the guys are working and it is 7:20pm. I almost feel like writing in capitals so I can be heard over the occasional noise of their gadgets. It has been a puzzling experience at times as cultural differences rise up and strike in surprising places. What is standard? Well standard is standard at the place you are in and maybe not where you have come from. Two of our kitchen wall cupboards were hung earlier on this week while we were out and it is not until they were up when the truth dawned that the standard 60cm from worktop to cupboard is not standard in England nor is it standard in America, well not where we were living. Maybe it is standard for Latvians and some are quite tall and most are taller than me, not that that is difficult but the cupboards were just too high for me to really reach beyond the first shelf. Various solutions were suggested, step stool - awkward to cart about, footstool - fiddly to keep moving about, stilts - bit tricky when carrying hot pans and the most ingenious solution of all, offered by our friend Steve, a pull out base board to stand on that could be kicked back in place. In the end we had to have the cupboards dropped by 10cm so I have at least two usable shelves - which is normal for me, anything above that I have to accept needs a step stool. We used to have a phrase in our family and I can't remember where it came from, but we used to say "never make assumptions; assumptions get you into trouble" and when you start moving about you have to assume nothing, even if you think you are speaking the same language. You would think we have learnt that by now, but no we forgot. Well when it is all done and dusted we will sit down and work out the lessons we need to learn from this, and when we get the order in for the kitchen for the other flat, we won't be making any assumptions and we will be drawing up a far more detailed plan - just hope it works and we haven't made any more assumptions!

Since we haven't taken any pictures this week, I thought I would put up some suitably wintry photos from our time in Denmark. Would have liked to have taken a picture tonight as we saw a deer feeding in the garden, we stood for ages watching each other but the deer didn't seem unduly worried by our presence but I think the flash of a camera would have been a different matter.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Getting there!

Optimism is good for you says Sir David Tang and I have to agree. Being optimistic for no reason is stupid but we have a hope in a Creator God who takes care of us, he knows what we need and he has promised us life everlasting if we follow his ways. What more do we need to be optimistic? I can be quite negative about things around me but I am still optimistic that things will change and God's will will be done on earth and that keeps me going. I enjoyed reading the prophecy by Sue Mitchell from Martin Scott's blog although it acknowledges that this year is going to be tough because God is shaking things which need shaking and yet the prophecy resonates with hope. At the end of December I said that life felt like being on the boat in the storm like Paul but I really sensed that we should hold on for now and wait for God's appointed plan and this prophecy by Sue Mitchell seems to echo that. As regards the negativity that is a work in progress that we need to move on, we are trying to be realistic without it being negative. It is wrong to look at everything and be oblivious to what is not right but it is also wrong to look at everything and be oblivious to what is good. 

Gas and heating have increased and this is no thanks to the increase in sales tax here in Latvia, for utilities it is up from 5% to 10%. Sales tax for other goods have gone up from 18% to 21% so it is no wonder that the Latvians are not terribly happy either with the Latvian Government, the IMF or the Scandinavian banks and there was rioting in Riga Old Town. The Latvians have no desire to see the return of the chaos that ensued after the declaration of independence and many suffered. A recent report has shown how the rapid privatisation after communism fell had a devastating effect on some people and led to a rise in suicides. Many in the west think that it was just a good thing that Communism fell but the reality of suddenly being cast into the market economy without a safety net was appalling. It did show that those with good networks did better and this is where the church could be so effective at helping people to work together while things are tough- if only they could stop their in-fighting (Ok so that is negative but look at the opportunities available to help people work together). 

So with the increase in sales tax, and the cold weather where temperatures were down to -21C (-6F) it means that our heating bill came to 112 LVLs (£143 or $208) for this last month. It cannot be the increase in gas prices from the end of last year as our heating is from the burning of sawdust from the local sawmills. (By the way we are not affected at all by the Ukraine/Russia spat over gas as our gas does not come from that particular supply network). Our network for the communal heat supply is perhaps not well enough insulated as we noticed when one lot of snow started to melt and there seemed to be a pathway of rapidly melting snow which came down through the garden and under the apple trees and headed towards the apartment buildings at the point where our heating enters the building. The costs to insulate it I would suspect would be too much without some form of grant being available but it does emphasise the challenges faced by many Latvians. I said before that our previous bill of 88 LVLs was a heavy burden to bear for many, especially the retired. Can you imagine being left with perhaps 48LVLs for your food for this month? It is no wonder that you see many folks slowly counting out their money in the supermarkets and checking and re-checking prices. The burden is going to be heavy this year for others as well as Government staff face cuts of 15% whilst food increases by 3%, they were not particularly well paid beforehand, average public sector worker gets 409 LVLs (£628, $912) before cuts. Anyone surprised that the average Latvian is angry?

I forgot to mention last week that we saw angels in Madona and Jekabpils, unfortunately not the heavenly sort just silver cut outs but my prayer is that it is a sign that God's mighty messengers are at work in this land. I wasn't quite sure what they were for but it was a reassuring sight if a little unexpected.

KPMG gives their workers a choice 1 day a week off or a month at 30% now I am sure that many of them will be understandably worried about the prospect of a drop in wages, although many earn mega-bucks, many will also have a lot of outgoings but what a fantastic opportunity to get a better work life balance. It is hard when the pay is reduced but with determination it will be possible to wean ourselves off debt and live with less and find out it is quite good fun too. I think it is encouraging that the firm have chosen to take the route of everyone suffering a little rather than go for redundancies and apparently is better for staff morale in the long run. Some of the blogs I have been following have been choosing to live some alternative lifestyles such as Tri and Nancy at Timber Butte Homestead, Tri is a pastor at at a Vineyard church and also cares for the environment around him enough to try and live a more ecologically sound lifestyle. It is interesting reading their first attempts at hay making when we are thinking of bringing a piece of land into production. Fiona Neville also chronicles her attempts to live life differently and loving it, she also posts some lovely looking recipes which she has developed to make use of the reduced section of at her local supermarket. Her and her husband have set themselves the challenge of feeding themselves for less. Last year they set themselves the challenge of cutting 25% off their weekly shopping bill and actually achieved nearer 50% savings most of the time. It is amazing how creative you can get when you set yourself a challenge. 

Our kitchen is still not in as you can see from the pictures but at least now it is underway. I have to say it looks fantastic, very smart. Hopefully by tomorrow the units will all be installed and then all we have to do is tile over the rather glamourous spotted brown walls. We do, however, have a new door on the entry to our flats - hopefully will keep the cold out and the warmth in. Just I was writing that, it strikes me that it is significant for the beginning of the year. Maybe for us there is not just a door to go through but this will be a completely new door. Look forward to seeing how that pans out over this next year especially as our Jubilee year finishes at the end of February. Ian has got the possibility of a bit of consultancy work in March but that has to be okayed yet, but it does at least point towards God confirming that the Jubilee year is at an end and there is something in store.

I would like a bit of audience participation at this point. I would like to know what people think of Ice breakers and Team building exercises? Who likes them? Who hates them? When do they work and when don't they work? Please leave a message and the area you live in or where you come from, just so I can also find out if there are any cultural differences. If you could ask around where you live or work as well that would be fantastic. I am just curious!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Dreaming away.

Well this week we took Mark, our son, back to the airport and wouldn't you know it, that was the day it chose to snow again, so a two hour drive took about three hours. At least we got him to the airport and his flight left on time and then we had to entertain ourselves while the plane flew him home and our next guest, Ian (the one moving in to Ergli - gosh this is getting confusing) over to Latvia. Ho hummm! Well we spent most of the time in Spice, a big shopping mall (well big for Scandinavia), and it is amazing how long you can take to eat when you are not in a hurry. We then wandered round the mall a bit, picked up some groceries for Ian so he had some milk and bread for his flat then stopped for a pot of tea, then wandered around again, in all we spent 5 hours there. There was no point in shopping as such as we don't really need anything- oh apart from some books, managed to get some more penguin classics to add to our collection, we didn't know there was a shop with english books in them. So as Spice closed we headed for the airport with our books and settled down for another hour and a half or thereabouts. It was around 3am by the time we crawled into bed that night. 

Some good pieces of news this week, first we sold our American car, unfortunately we had to accept a rather low sum to get someone to take it off our hands. Oh well! At least it is gone now or at least in the process, and the money will be useful. The second is that we are in the process of getting our house rented to the guy we hope will eventually buy it. All we have to do now is hope he absolutely loves it and is still prepared to pay what he offered in a few months time, and pray his buyer stops mucking about. Oh the joys of selling houses! At least we get an income off it in the interim period. 

The other good piece of news is that I got 71% for my last assignment on my course which is another distinction. I was rather relieved as I wasn't sure if I had got the approach right at all for the essay. It is so long since I have written essays myself, and the approach to the essays for the course is very different to what I did used to write. I certainly feel rusty trying to put work together but I think it is getting easier and the course is very well written so it does lead you in the right direction, certainly for the early part of the course. The next stage is more reflective - whatever that means, and I will find out in the next week when I sit down to study again. It is amazing how this course just seems to fit so well right now for me, I enjoy what I am learning and feel my experiences are helpful, and it seems to draw on all those things I have found fascinating over the years, I do hope this is one of the tracks down which God is leading me and not one of the dead end tracks. 

You may have noticed that I have installed one of those tracker thingymagigs in the corner of this blog. It is intriguing to see where the spots are located and makes me wonder who is reading the blog and how they got here. Some are easy to see as I know some folks who regularly read this (gulp! - keeps me on my toes) but others, I have no idea who they are. It makes you realise though how accountable you have to be for what you say in public, what information you disclose. It is so easy to rattle something off and not think about who might read it. On the other hand it also reminds me of those significant moments that come along when you meet someone out of the blue, and you know that God is working in it, and they say something to you that can turn your situation around, or lead you in a completely different direction to the one you thought you were on. I love those moments. 

On a different note, every morning Ian brings me a cup of tea, and normally I am awake and praying  for my kids (well trying to pray and keep my mind on track) and just generally chatting with God or reading my Bible but this morning I was still fast asleep, in fact I was dreaming. I have said before I don't normally dream a lot but since coming to Latvia I have had a few, one of which set me on the road to doing the course I am doing now. This morning I was dreaming I was at my Nan's (grandmother's) house in Blackpool and I was just preparing a salad for President Bush who regularly pops in for some rest, away from the clamour and stresses of regular life - as you do! Why any of those things should be in my dreams I have no idea but the idea of providing a safe place for people to relax and just chill out as always appealed to us. The reason we had two houses in England side by side that we made into one big house was to provide a relaxing safe place to be, and we had a few families and individuals over the years who stayed with us. While I am not sure we will be providing a place for President Bush to chill out, I do believe that we will be able to provide hospitality again for those in need of rest and I feel that is something we need to work towards. 

I wonder as well if this land is also a place of dreams, some places seem to be dream filled places. Many Latvians seem almost afraid to dream anymore. They dared to dream when they broke away from Russia, they then dared to dream when they joined the EU and this year things are crumbling again and for some life has never been easy with the changes and for some it got harder. Maybe this is the year when God wants to reawaken some dreams, especially those dreams which seem so distant and impossible to realise, after all that is the time when our creative God often steps in and helps to remind us that he is the God of the impossible, don't you think?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Winter wonderland

Here are the photos as promised

First sunsets

Then sunrises

Monday, 5 January 2009

Short and sweet

We went to see a friend of ours called Levi. He lives in the mainly Russian speaking area of Latvia but has a significant prayer ministry. We took some clothes and blankets out for him to give out as it is a very poor area. We also decided to take a portion of lamb out to him as a portion for a Levite - it seemed the right thing to do, not quite sure why but I am sure he could make good use of the meat anyway. We also took him a cake from our new bakery here in Ergli, it is great to have a wonderful bakery to be able to take gifts to our friends - well that is our excuse and we are sticking to it.

Sunday night was a rough night full of doubts. Will we sell our house? If not will it be rented out? What are we going to do about employment or at least making a living come March time - the end of our Jubilee Year? There is still money in the bank but it is hard not to be anxious when you read the news and it would be silly to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the what is going on in the world. I know there is a different way coming but what will it look like? Will I miss the signs? As I sat in bed praying in the morning for my children the sun started to stream in through the curtains - a welcome sight in these Northerly hemispheres where it is dark at this time of the year by 4pm. As I opened the curtains I was greeted by the sight of shimmering ice crystals, like a million diamonds falling through the air lit by a shaft of sunlight and I knew that God was in charge. I wrote November 3rd about how in England on a day when I felt the weight of not knowing if we were going to have enough money and taking a walk in the fields behind our house and seeing the snow glittering like diamonds on the ground and suddenly feeling rich, rich because I could see this sight that would be missed while busy working in an office, and rich because I knew that my Provider had it all in hand and indeed he did. What a gracious God we have who sends us the signs that he is in charge not once but often. 

The good news on our house is that there is still another couple interested in it as well so it keeps the pressure up on our buyer to see the purchase through and they are not likely to lose interest or buy somewhere else in the meantime as their son lives next door. Our potential buyer though is going to rent for us for the time being, until the issue he has on the home he is selling is sorted out. Hopefully by the time the rental period is finished we should be able to actually get the house sold one way or another. 

It has been really cold here in Latvia -20C during the night and warming up to -9C during the day but the days have been beautifully clear and we have some good photos which I will share with you soon, I will make an extra post especially to do that. I haven't had much time to write today as I have been writing an essay and it is not flowing very fast but it must be finished by Friday, problem is that we have Mark with us until Wednesday and then we take him to the airport and pick up our friend Ian who will be moving out here permanently in March - he is coming to do some work on the flat we bought for them to live in and we will get back in the early hours of the morning on Thursday. Doesn't leave me much time to write this essay so I have to get moving with that.