Monday, 23 February 2009

Cyprus here we come.

We finally got to do some cross country skiing this week. We never got around to buying any skis instead we borrowed some from friends and went around the track on Saturday and because we enjoyed it so much the first time we went again on the Sunday. Although it was great fun boy do I ache. The skis aren't quite so maneouverable as downhill skis which was interesting on the hillier sections - good job the snow was powdery - yes you guessed it we fell over a few times. The Sunday we stuck to the flat section of the course just to get used to skiing with these types of skis and I think we got the hang of it in the end. Mind you we did find out that there are two types of cross country skiing, skating and walking! We were informed by a friend about 50 yards into the course and found out there are two grooves for the walkers to ski in and the rest of the track was for the skaters - well you live and learn. (Photos Ian clearing the car of snow yet again, and a sunny day from our flat)

This next saturday sees Ian and I finally heading for Cyprus which is about 10 years after I last travelled there as it was the last week of February and the beginning of March when we went. Ian has been to Cyprus quite a few times now, helping out at the Nicosia Children's Hospital with their leukaemia diagnosis, which is where he will be for the second week of our trip, but I have only been the once. The first time I travelled to Cyprus was together with all our family and it was in response to a prophecy that we had that we would travel as a family. We didn't have much money so in faith we bought a big pink suitcase - which we still have, maybe we should take it on a nostalgic trip back to Cyprus? We decided that travelling to Cyprus would be a gentle introduction to staying with someone from a different culture and travelling on a plane for our young family. Little did we realise when we set off how many journeys our whole family would take and it all started in a prayer week in Sheffield. 

Next year will be 10 years since we started coming to Latvia and I can hardly comprehend the changes that have taken place. Our children are now all grown up, they all have serious relationships, we have all travelled to different parts of the world, and none of our circumstances resemble anything like they did 10 years ago. Wow! What God set in motion has been truly amazing.

On a slightly more trivial note I found out this week that there is only one native speaker of Livonian still living which is a language related to Estonian (which is nearer to Finnish than Latvian) and was spoken by the people on the very West of Latvia in Kurzeme. We live in the Vidzeme region (orange on the map). It must be really strange to be the only person left who talks a language, I know it feels odd when talking English when everyone around is talking a different language but at least there is Ian and I and not just me. Talking of languages I had my first Latvian lesson this week. We have been slowly learning words that help us in our day to day living and we certainly won't starve and I know some words for the DIY projects we have been doing but that is about it. Latvian words are relatively easy to be able to guess at a pronunciation as it is very phonetic unlike English but the grammar is very different. Words have all sorts of different endings depending on the context in which it is used and I believe it is a bit more like Spanish for that and that is what I have been getting to grips with in my lesson. How much I will remember by next week will be the question but at leastI  now have some idea of the changes that occur and understand why and that is half the battle.

To add to the turmoil that Latvia is under at the moment the prime minister has resigned this week with the threat of the possibility of snap elections unless a new government can be formed which gains the trust of the people. These are interesting times in this nation and trust is at rock bottom and there needs to be a something to pull the people together. At the moment it would seem that the President is doing a good job of making the kinds of demands of the government that the people want, and any new government has until the end of March to come up with something to inspire the nation.  

It is interesting though that Trust seems to be such a big issue for the Latvian people right now as it is one of the things which has really struck me with the course I have been doing. Trust has enormous value, and one person in the development field said it is of economic value which sounds really strange but in a way it does because Trust=efficiency. If you have trust you don't need quite so many rules, you do not need to check up quite so much because everyone will be taking their responsibility. Here in Latvia there is a distinct lack of trust in politicians, not like in England or America where it is almost assumed that they are only in the job for the prestige but on the whole they are trustworthy, just they might be stupid and make stupid decisions if you don't agree and good decisions if you do agree. Here in Latvia it is assumed that the politicians are lining their own pockets and are not trustworthy in any form whatsoever. Neither do the bureaucracies trust the people or the people trust the bureaucracies and hence tax avoidance and heavy handed tax officials are rife. What a waste. There is a real need for the people to pull together at this time not fight with each other but how do you build trust? I think this is one place the church really needs to move on, the body of Christ has got to start trusting each other and helping each other, they have to show the way for others to follow. Not come up with more schemes that make you look good, but real and practical steps to work with each other in a genuine way that shows love in action.

One example of love in action I saw on the BBC site is such an example of real care in the community where a vulnerable adult is taken into someone's home and cared for until they are ready to stand on their own - adult fostering. In Gheel a town in Belgium in the middle ages it became well known for families taking in people with mental health problems which is quite amazing, they didn't lock them away there. There maybe many opportunities today where we have a chance to reach out to those who need help and to stand alongside them. One of the important parts of the care according to the article was a chance to just talk without having to drag through the past like in a counselling session. Not that I am against counselling but there are times when people just need a ready ear and some tender loving care to get them through a down phase rather than a heavy period of counselling sessions. It is a joy to have people in the home who need a helping hand, and we used to be part of an organisation that organised breaks for those who needed it but wouldn't be able to afford a normal holiday and needed some support as well. We didn't do it that often but it was a privilege to help where we could and we enjoyed having the company of others sharing our home. I think it is expressed well in John 13:35 where it says 

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

I would like to explore that some more, see what that really looks like. What kind of love would it require that people would actually notice? I think that Ian and I saw a bit of that again  whilst sat around the table eating and sharing stories with some folks tonight. We know Marvin quite well now, as he has been and eaten with us quite a few times and we always spend hours around the kitchen table just chatting but his two friends we have only just got to know and they will be leaving almost as soon as we get back and yet we were able to share our hearts and share our stories.

While I was looking for the verse above this one came up and I love it, seems very relevant for this day and age.
Romans 13:8
[ Love, for the Day is Near ] Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Some final thoughts: It struck me this week that in the bible it talks about not lending with usury (still not entirely sure if it means without interest at all or just excessive interest), so isn't it odd that many of the main banks have now cut their interest rates to virtually zero. Is this God's way of bringing the banks in line to his biblical principles? What does anyone else think, has anyone out there studied what usury actually meant in practice?

This little snippet was from something called the Bretton Woods project and was the funniest award of three awards the others were for creative vocabulary, and best slip of the tongue.
Award for absurdity
Our thanks to Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times for finding this amazing use of the English language. She heard: “a World Bank economist who hedged his bets so cleverly it was impossible to know what his view was on anything. As he told the BBC World Service: ‘In our base case simulation there is an upside case that, er, corresponds on the flipside of the downside case in kind of an adverse direction.’”

And on that note I think I should finish.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Contemplation and Cakes

Monday saw us down at the immigration office to update our forms, only we found out that we didn't need to, instead we were told that we only need to tell the Latvian Government when we want to leave. That's nice we feel wanted! The benefits of being part of the EU, unfortunately if you are American or Canadian you have to go every year and spend lots of money, waste lots of paper and petrol (gas) sorting it out. Not so good!

We have had some beautiful, crisp, sunshiny days here in Ērgļi and the birds were singing and the drunks were roaming - it must be spring! Unfortunately alcoholism is fairly rife here, long cold winter nights don't help and little money coupled with a sense of hopelessness adds to it all. At least once the sunshine had brought them out rather than being cooped up in their homes, some of them just trying to stay warm. It is not all bad here at least they seem to be fairly harmless drunks and not the louts that you sometimes get, but there is no denying the problems. There are some wonderful warm loving folks here and there are also some very desperate situations. One of our favourite guys here is "Sasha" not sure if that is how you spell his name or even if we have got it right but he is great, an older guy who runs one of the DIY shops here and he just chatters away in Latvian trying to get us to understand what he is saying, usually we manage to get some of what he says. It helps when we are talking about things rather than abstract ideas and I can read a little German, or Danish on the packages and sometimes the dictionary comes out but we get by.

Talking of Spring it has been like the twelve days of Christmas here (okay that is nothing to do with Spring but I couldn't think of a better link) anyway..... on the first day of Christmas my true love brought to me one box of boxes, on the second day of Christmas my true love brought to me one box of unsorted clutter - unsorted that is since our last move from Denmark to the US, on the third day of Christmas..... well you get the idea. Earlier on this year we had finally sorted out the last room in our flat that needed work doing on it, but in order to do it we had to remove loads of boxes, as it was our dump it room. Unfortunately we had to bring them back from the other flat where we had been storing them, although our friends hadn't moved in yet they are due to soon. Well our dump it room is back to the cluttered mess it was before but it does have a nice laminate floor and the window has been plastered in now.

You may have missed it but it was Valentine day this week  and I would just like to say that romance is not dead in our home, we know how to celebrate Valentine's day. How? By filling in forms from our accountant in order to file our American taxes, for those unfamiliar with the system just read an article by a BBC reporter and you will get the picture, I can really identify with his pacing about and procrastination and I giggled all the way through the article. The forms got done with cups of tea supplied by hubby (that was his contribution to the process). We did have a special meal later in honour of our American Pastor, Darren (not sure if he is reading this - give him a nudge and make sure he knows :o)) we had pizza and corn muffins followed by Brownies. We thought he would be proud of us, okay the corn muffins weren't quite as sweet as Lucille's in Fort Collins but at least I could eat them with the pizzas. Lucille's cornbread was always so sweet I used to save them for dessert but they were worth saving. I was going to use my Crisco book given to me by Darren to make some brownies but unfortunately I didn't have enough eggs, but I have bought some cottage cheese and sour cream to mix together to get a cream cheese (well as near as I can get) and some extra eggs so as soon as Ian has finished scoffing the other brownies I will make some more from the Crisco book as the cream cheese swirled brownies looked really yummy. I am sure Darren would approve of the all the extra fat and sugar I am feeding Ian. 

Well I was still in contemplative mood this week and when I look back I wonder what have I actually accomplished this last year? What have I "done" for Jesus? But is that the right question? Shouldn't it be "have I done the will of the Father"? Jesus lived for thirty-three years and only three was in public ministry what was he "doing" for the previous thirty years. Growing, learning waiting for the right time for the Fathers purposes. I think Graham Cooke has it right when he talks about the ebb and flow of the spirit, we are not meant to live our lives at 100 miles an hour, "accomplishing" something every second of the day. There are times when we are going to be barely hanging on for the ride, and then there are going to be times for quiet, rest and contemplation. The seasons are great for showing that, each phase has its purpose, each phase has its own timing, its own pace and we miss something when we try to live life in the fast lane all the time.

The concern at the moment of course is what is God's will for us this next year as we come to the end of the jubilee year and I was praying about the way forward, or maybe there was an element of worrying rather than praying, but straight after I had finished praying and got to the computer to read the verse of the day that I follow I read :-

"Col 3:15 The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in the one body. And be thankful."

Well I was thankful, very thankful and peace did come to me in a big measure. Now don't get me wrong I am not a worrier by nature but there are still times when doubts creep in and I wonder if we have it right, and I need encouragement and God was gracious enough to send me some. (The photo always reminds me of some giant praying hands, it is taken from the Garden of the God's in Colorado as are the rest of the photos since we haven't taken any of Ērgļi this week, even though some of the days were glorious, sorry!)

Something else I had been thinking about is the place where we live, Latvia. It is a special place, but also a place of oppression, subjugation and at the moment a laughing stock of Europe but God delights in taking those out of the way places and setting them up for something special. We felt that Latvia had something to show the world when we moved here and now seems the perfect time to do that - just when all seems lost and the prophets of doom are circling round with their depressing analyses. I was therefore amazed to read the following comments from "Ojars Kalnins, director of the Latvian Institute which is responsible for promoting the country abroad, if the Latvian story is a novel, the country is just passing the opening chapters that capture the reader's interest.

'In a world of bad economic news, we have a unique case developing," he said. "If Latvia were to weather this storm, a bad news story would become a good news story,' Kalnins insisted.

'As in any good novel with plot twists, things may get worse before they get better, but if there is a happy ending, well, then you have a rip-roaring story!' he said."

I really believe he is right. We felt when we came here that there was going to be something that happens here that will reach out to the world and at the moment the world is watching and waiting to see what happens. Pray for this little country there is a lot at stake but something is going to rise up out of this place that will touch other nations.

I think Charles Dickens in "A tale of Two Cities" said it well when he said
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I only realised that it is over a year since I started blogging when Ian mentioned he was looking at the early posts in January of last year and at the time our friend Doug commented "Yay for blogging! The only thing i would ask of you is that you would be more attentive and diligent in your posting practices than I usually am with mine. (heh.)". Well I think I have managed that, I have actually managed to blog every week which I wasn't sure I would manage when I started.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Finsihed at last!

Our kitchen is finished at last - well at least the units are, we still need to tile and paint walls as you can see. It has been an interesting and steep learning curve for all of us involved in the process, I really felt quite sorry for Viktors the boss, as it has not been an easy time for him, trying to get the work done as there were quite a few things to delay him. We finished friends though and after a good chat with him we hopefully cleared up a few things from our perspective which we hope will help him deal with customers in the future it is such a new company and so much potential in a now difficult environment. At least it now means that we won't be going to our second home quite so often now -The Ergli Hotel Restaurant. (The colour of our units by the way is closer to the 2nd picture).

When I came across this report in one of my news feeds earlier this week it struck me that it must be the understatement of the week

[P]erhaps the strongest misery and anger is in the former Soviet states, and particularly the Baltic states. One serious source has reported that Latvia can expect a 10% fall in GDP this year (it already has by 10.8% according to reports out today) – something that's surely going to strike home across the society. Guardian Weekly All I can say is "Really? You do surprise me!" (sarcastically)

I am not sure if it is good news or not but the Latvian Prime Minister survived a vote of no confidence this week but the Agriculture Minister and the culture ministers have gone. The Agriculture minister went after the protests from the farmers blocked the entrance to his ministry - maybe he just couldn't get in and gave up and went home, can't say I would blame him if he did. 

Winter Olympics came to Ergli this weekend and there were coaches and cars everywhere. First it was the schools Olympics with snowboarding, cross country skiing and ice hockey (outside!), not sure what else there was as I couldn't decipher it. On the Sunday there was an open competition of cross country skiing. We quite fancy getting some skis and using the track which is just at the top of the hill from us but had little idea of how you actually do cross country skiing, especially the uphill bits. We did go with some others who were cross country skiing in Colorado but we took snowshoes instead. It looks to me to be like skating but on skis, which is a bit worrying really as I am not so good on skates. 
There were others who were not so confident who moved more by shuffling along which looked a lot easier. Still it looked good fun and now all we have to do is hope the snow lasts long enough for us to get some skis and try it out. I love downhill skiing but Ian is not so keen and the only downhill skiing around here is either down the road - not a good idea - or down the equivalent of a nursery slope which I think would get boring very quickly. The cross country ski tracks though are up to 15km long so plenty to try.

This week we booked tickets to go to Cyprus. Ian has a weeks work in the hospital in Nicosia - tough life isn't it! I got the chance at last to use some of my airmiles that I accumulated when I visited Brazil three times from the States (for those who live in Europe, Brazil is almost the same distance from the States as it is from Europe surprisingly. It is still an 8 hour flight from Atlanta). We shall be spending the first week of March on holiday in the Troodos Mountains. This is the first time we have had a weeks holiday with no children in nearly 25 years of marriage, we only had one day honeymoon in a hotel in Hathersage, all other holidays without children have been at friends or relatives, and lovely though they are,  I don't think they count. Neither do I really count the few days we spent in a hotel in Fort Collins after our stuff was packed up to go and we had to vacate our rented house, it was restful but not sure it really felt like a holiday and was only a few days anyway. Neither do the few days in the Ergli hotel count either as we were working on our new flat at the same time. It is interesting how this opportunity came up for Ian to do some work straight after the end of our jubilee year. He would have worked the first week but the first Monday is a public holiday (Green Monday -48 days before the Orthodox Easter) so he wouldn't have had a full week to work. 

For those who feel I have got a bit wordy of late I do apologise but I have so much going round my head that I just want to get it down in writing and if that is you then you can finish reading here as there is no further news just reflections (oh and a nice picture that Ian took this morning). I have been in a particularly reflective mood just lately which seems a bit late or early depending on which way you look at it as the new year was over a month ago, but our new year starts in just a few weeks with the anniversary of Ian's resignation from his job. Little did we think when we set off from America what a world wide storm would arise. I mentioned in previous blogs (here and here) that it felt a bit like being on the boat like Paul in Acts and this week I was wondering when this boat we are on is finally shipwrecked what will the world look like. When all hope in the material things of this life has been abandoned where will we be washed up? 

Acts 28:1-2 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.

I sense that for some it is time to be gathering the firewood so you can build the fires of welcome for those washed up on the cold shore and for some it is time to be prepared to be flung into the cold sea but confident in a God who saves. 

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (New International Version)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I am looking forward to those "unusual acts of kindness"

I stumbled across a sermon the other day on Paul and the storm and it was good to hear them preaching (November 9th& 16th) along the same lines as I have been thinking. One thing stood out though in the first sermon, which I missed in my reading of the story, was the fact that they didn't see the sun or the stars for several days, so not only had they thrown their paychecks (the cargo) into the water and their equipment (the ships tackle) they also had absolutely no idea where they were. Navigation was done by the sun and stars - they had thrown out everything they can and still they can't see the way ahead and had nothing to navigate by. That must be how our Governments and business leaders must be feeling right now, they have thrown what they can at the situation and still there are massive problems. I feel there is more to uncover yet, more scandals and cases of moral corruption if not strictly illegal corruption, but like a cancer it all has to go for there to be a chance of a cure. But if we hold on and weather the storm, even if we lose everything we have we can still wash up on the cold shore and be welcomed by a fire and those unusual acts of kindness. I will finish my musings this week and continue on with further thoughts next week (wonder how many sighs of relief I can hear? Lol)

Monday, 2 February 2009


Well Tuesday saw us on our way to the airport again, this time to take our friend Ian L. back. The roads were pretty tricky as there was a surface layer of water on top of the ice. We have had ice roads here in Latvia for the last two months now and no sign of them disappearing for a while yet. The temperatures dipped again this week and yesterday the high was -15C (5F). You can see the ice on the light and sensor outside our apartment block in the picture.

On the way back from the airport we got caught in a traffic jam which was rather reminiscent of our trips up the M1 in England back in March of last year when it took 7 hours to do what should have taken about 3 hours. Fortunately we only actually crawled along for around 20 minutes - it just felt longer. The cause of the traffic hold up was a protest by farmers in their tractors, they are not particularly happy with the Latvian Government at the moment. The Latvian Government is actually looking a little shaky at the moment over the issue.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that some Latvians would struggle to pay their heating bills and a recent survey from 2007 just released would back that up. According to the survey almost one in ten households (8.9%) had a debt owed to either water, gas, electricity or heat utilities in the 12 month period. This was down from 2006 when it was 12.6% but still high and you can only imagine what 2009 figures will be.

Robert Peston declares that "Davos has been disappointingly short of coherent visions of what will be constructed from the rubble". Just in case you are wondering who or what is Davos, it is supposed to be a meeting of the movers and shakers of our nations in order to discuss and debate lots of weighty subjects regarding the world and the way it works. I find it encouraging that they haven't got a clue, because it is about time they realised that they are looking in all the wrong places for the answers to their questions of how the world is run. I really believe that the answers they are looking for are going to come from surprising places, some very insignificant looking places. We forget sometimes that Jesus was born in Bethlehem not Jerusalem for a reason, God loves to birth his ideas in the small places, not the places of power. 1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. I really believe that we are going to see some "foolish" things in this world show the "strong" the way forward. How? I don't know yet, I am watching and waiting and more than that I am in anticipation to see what God will reveal. I do wonder if anything actually came out of the alternative to Davos this week which was in Belem, Brazil, (Belem is Portuguese for Bethlehem interestingly enough) frustratingly though there seems to be no news beyond the "World Social Forum was held in Belem" on any news sites, but plenty of coverage of the hopeless Davos summit.

In the meantime have a read of some article by the Chabad organisation, there is actually such a lot of calm sensible advice and perspectives. At the end of the day they state God is in charge and on that I have to agree. In some of the articles they congratulate people for standing up at such a time as this and agreeing to give more than before to charity or for at least agreeing to maintain the giving in the face of reduced income, that is inspiring.

As for the kitchen..... well..... it is nearly done. As I write they are finishing of the last touches and we are starving (okay not literally I know but you know what I mean) it is 9pm and we haven't been able to get in the kitchen this evening apart from a few minutes to get some toast while they had a tea break. We usually eat somewhere between 5-6pm so it is a bit tough. Hopefully though that will be it and we can reclaim our house and get rid of the dust that has accumulated over the last couple of weeks from all the sawing.