Monday, 27 July 2009

Including things Scottish

I experimented this week with making pasta from buckwheat. I had to first grind the grain to make the flour and then make the pasta, it was so late by the time I made it that we ended up at the local hotel as I hadn't got around to picking the veg for our evening meal from the garden, we had to eat it the following night and it turned out okay - not too buckwheat-ish. The idea was that even if we couldn't grow the right kind of wheat here in Latvia, we can definitely grow buckwheat - pity I learnt to loathe it as a rice substitute in itself after an overdose of the stuff in one camp.

It has been a week of ups and downs here economically. First of all the IMF seemed to be holding out for cuts in pensions. Now do forgive me for being a bit slow but how does protecting the poor square with cutting pensions? There has been such conflicting messages coming out of the IMF that they wanted to protect the poor and vulnerable and yet asking for pensions to be cut further. Thank goodness they dropped that requirement but maybe it has something to do with the fact that Latvia has some of the poorest pensioners in Europe according the European Union The latest twist in the tale though is that the Latvian People's Part,y who were in power during the boom years, has objected to the IMF proposal of dropping the Public/Private partnerships ie the link up between private business and EU sponsored projects. These have been the source of so much corruption in the past resulting in many questions asked over such things as the rising costs of the new bridge in Riga. The old powers still want to hold on obviously.

I mentioned earlier on this year that I thought Latvians should come together in a display of solidarity for each other along the lines of the Baltic Way demonstrations against the Soviets in 1989 where a human chain was formed from Tallin in Estonia, through Riga in Latvia to Vilnius in Lithuania. Well there will be commemorative events but I pray for more than commemorative events, I pray for a spontaneous outpouring that leads to people getting out on the streets holding hands in solidarity once again. Frustratingly I might not even be in Latvia on the 23rd August as I maybe in Perth, Scotland (no not Australia) for Induction days for the new University I shall be studying with in the Autumn (online by the way - no I am not moving there), but if you can get to Latvia and show the folks of this land that they are not forgotten, on my behalf, that would be fantastic.

Gatherings have been in the news and on some blogs. First there has been a gathering of the clans in Scotland and it seemed significant, something to ponder, the desire of a nation to gather together and celebrate their heritage. In these days when my desire is for smaller gatherings as echoed in Martin Scott's blog this week I was wondering is there still a place for the large gatherings. Well I believe there is, just as a family and friends get together for a wedding it brings about a renewed sense of connection in the context of a celebration. Not sure if they need to be uber spiritual but they could be seen as an important part of being a part of a wider family. Not sure if I am going to make any in the near future but maybe I ought to think about joining one in a few years - now where should I go?

I was given a book while I was away, rabbit back yard farming, very useful but that is not the one I want to tell you about. It is a book by someone who acknowledges a Christian heritage but doesn't agree with all that it entails and struggles with the "sin" aspect but some of his thoughts are astounding. It is called Soul and Soil by Alistair McIntosh (continuing the Scottish theme running through this blog) and he talks about his experiences of reconnecting with the soil and the journey that has taken him on, including campaigning for the Isle of Eigg (pronounced Eigg) to become owned by the people of the island and also campaigning against a super quarry on the Isle of Harris both Scottish Islands. Some people will think that is weird, connecting with the soil, but the fact is that when God gave Adam a job it was to work the garden, when he created him he made him from the dust of the ground and his body became dust again, there is and should be connection to the ground we are given, it is meant to display the glory of God. We are not meant to rape and pillage the ground we are given, we are not meant to look for the profit motive in what we have been given, we are meant to allow the glory of his creation to shine through and speak on behalf of God

Romans 1:19-20 (New International Version)

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

One of the problems is that stewarding what we have been given has today been translated into getting as much as possible, virtually raping what we have been given. Instead we should view ourselves as stewards who are to pass the land on to those who will inherit it from us, preferably in a better state that when we got it. Shouldn't those with a faith in a redeeming Christ be looking to redeem the lands that have been spoiled so that they reflect God's glory once again?

At the beginning of the book it talks about a friend of the author restoring a broken down well and near the end he talks about the blessed role of those who open up the ancient wells and it reminded me that Martin Scott had prayed over me that our family and he said "I see you opening up wells". I had always viewed this in spiritual terms but I saw that it was also a physical thing to. Our son, Mark, got this long before I did as he trusted what God had said and prayed over a broken well in Albania and the next day it was working. There are quite a few springs on the land which we are starting to work on and one of them we would like to use as a water source for some poly tunnels but we hadn't actually found the source of it so I thought it seemed like as good a time as any to go and try physically opening the well and pray over it to provide sweet water for us. I am not sure we found the exact source but we certainly have a deeper hole that filled up with water that is now clearing and we had a great time of praying for the land of Latvia. We emptied some ashes into our well that were gathered from a campfire on our second ever visit to Latvia. At that campfire we had also prayed with the campers for a healing of the land because like Jericho in 2 Kings 2:19-21 the land of Latvia is well situated but the water is bad and the land is unproductive, it has also been dominated for too long and there is discord between ethnic groups and we prayed for a healing of that too that night.

I sensed this week that there was a turning of the year, somehow the summer was near the end and slipping its way into autumn. I am not quite sure what it is, something about the light and the smell in the air that reminds me of blackberries, it is a soft and gentle smell. This fact doesn't please Ian though as he doesn't feel like summer ever got started but I love this time of year. Don't worry though folks, it doesn't mean that summer is gone yet, it can be a long slow slide into autumn proper but it just signals that there are changes ahead.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Quiet week thank goodness

I was trying to think what we have actually done this week and couldn't really think of very much. Quite nice really! Especially after the 1000 miles of tearing around the Northern Counties of England. Our friend the Swedish plumber who had borrowed our car while we were away drove us home from the airport, I think he was ever so sad to let us have our car back, he had thoroughly enjoyed having the use of it, especially since his car was so sick. He told us what a smashing vehicle it was and so surprised that for a truck it drove like a car and when we got the car back it was gleaming, he had obviously looked after the car well.

As I suspected our garden was full of weeds and the peas...... I have never seen so many peas all at once in my life. It took two days of weeding to find the vegetables again and ages to pick all the peas that were ready and there are still loads more to come. It is lovely though to go to the garden and pick the veg for the evening meal and today we dug up our first potatoes which we ate with our young friend Marvin. Marvin comes on a regular basis and we have a great time of chatting, eating and laughing talking about faith and life and generally just chilling - isn't that just what church should be? One thing we realised though is that if it is hard work coming back to a largish garden plot after two weeks in July then there is not really much chance of getting away in the summer months if we are to take farming the land properly seriously. What we do and how we go about life will be governed by the seasons and the community in which we live, that doesn't mean we will let the land govern us but if we want to get the best out of it we have to work to the rhythm of the land we live in, we have to work with the land not against it. At least Latvia is blessed with short seasons and until we start getting into animal work then we can at least get most of the winter off.

We have pretty much decided now on a New Holland tractor and we are looking at getting a couple of large poly tunnels which means we can get the new season off to an early start next year. So we will be avoiding trips anywhere come early Spring of next year. One of the criteria that Ian had for a tractor besides being small was that it should have a cab and initially that was because it can get pretty cold here in winter and if he was going out in it then some form of cab with heating was going to be a necessity but a trip onto the land the other day brought home another reason for needing a cab and that is to keep the horse flies off. We had driven onto the land trying to think where we would site the poly tunnel and I was just about to get out of the car and stand on the sill of the car to get a better view when I realised that we were in a cloud of horse flies and some of those things were huge. Horse flies are horrid and they bite, each year I spend quite a bit of time with swollen hands or arms where I have been bitten by one of the little dears. I react badly to anything that bites and horse flies are particularly bad. Ian doesn't react quite so bad but a cloud of them will not be fun when mowing the long grass, you can just imagine the swerves as he fends off the beasts.

This week has been a confusing one as regards the IMF and its relations to Latvia. They have so far refused to lend any more money and according to the Latvian Prime Minister it is because the IMF have introduced tougher restrictions on the borrowing to those already agreed but confusingly the IMF have stated that they do not want the cuts to impact the vulnerable and social care an issue they wish to clarify before handing out more money. The IMF have also stated that they do not dictate to Latvia or tell them what to do - strange when the power relations are such that if they do not like what is being done they can withhold funding and there is no escaping that vulnerable people are being affected by the cuts - how else can the Latvian Government save money? What is even more confusing are the different agendas of the EU compared to the IMF as the EU have already handed over what they agreed to Latvia. This might be an indication that we are still in a position where the powers that be have no idea of the best way forward. I love what it says in Genesis 1:2 in The Message

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don't see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

I think we have an abyss at the moment and a soup of nothingness in people's minds for sure - no ideas, no clues, nothing. God's Spirit is brooding over this mess and it feels like it is close to something momentous happening, such a fundamental shift in the Heavenlies is coming that nothing will ever be the same again, will we notice here on Earth - who knows! I do know that we should expect to see the new shoots of something happening here on Earth but it might take time for them to be noticed by everyone. It is an exciting time to be in.

It is 175 years since the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to Transportation - their crime? Forming a trade union! There was a time in the 1980's when you almost think that it should be declared a crime once again, the Unions had become such a dirty word, a byword for men stuck in the past and making life difficult for those who wanted prosperity in the land. Unions though have had many positive things to contribute to the way we are today, if it wasn't for Trade Unions we wouldn't have holidays (vacations), we wouldn't have the right to have sick leave and the list goes on. Some managers would rather that was still the case and they moan and complain about the costs to industry but who is the industry serving? People or Money? I remember the heroism of the Tolpuddle Martyrs from my history lessons and I for one am glad of the sacrifice they made in order to stand up against the tyranny of power that deprived the poor of a decent days wages, unfortunately there is still much tyranny around today. We do well to remember that these men who started a movement that stood up to the powerful were simply rural labourers with a song of freedom in their hearts. Let's stand in these days with songs of freedom in our hearts and not be afraid. Let's look to our creative God for fresh ideas of how he wants this world organised. Let's be the little people who make a difference.

Sorry no pictures this week, I was too busy weeding the garden or avoiding the heavy rain showers. Some friends or ours had to dig channels to ease a rapidly overflowing lake before it got to some cabins and we had a mini lake on our land again, the first time since the meltwater from the snow created a lovely one.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Photos at last

Grandma, granchildren and great grandchild

Bride & Groom with Bride's parents

Derwent near Sheffield

Now why is it that my daughter happily walks up hills without a moan?

Monday, 13 July 2009


What a week! It has been one long week of visiting. It has been fantastic to catch up with folks but I must admit to feeling rather tired and looking forward to some rest back home - well kind of as I rather suspect the weeds will have taken over in our veg patch. We have visited old church friends, an old colleague of Ian's, our daughter of course, other relatives up in the North East and not forgetting the primary reason for visiting in the first place was to see Ian's niece getting married. In all we have clocked up 1000 miles over two weeks.

The day of the wedding provided some entertainment, first of all one of our sons announced that he had forgotten to pack his smart trousers for the evening wedding do, he had got them out but somehow they hadn't made it to the suitcase. A discussion ensued about suitable attire for an evening do when Ian announced that he was going to wear his jeans in the evening!!!!!! I couldn't believe it. Jeans for a wedding????? Well I persuaded him that it was not suitable attire and so at five minutes to nine we were stood outside a retail outlet waiting for it to open. Whilst there I asked Ian which tie he had brought "the black one" was his reply! Nooooo..... you can't wear a black tie to a wedding, that is for funerals ie the last time he wore his suit. Oh boy! That's it, next time I check before we leave the house exactly what he is planning on wearing, mind you I don't think that I will get away with it as one of Ian's brothers was wearing jeans for the evening! Doh!

On the way to the wedding wasn't much better. Ian asked about the order of the day and I said that the wedding was at 1pm and we were eating at 4pm although there were canapés after the wedding ceremony. Well confusion ensued - I can't last until 4pm without food was Ian's thoughts and I said again that there were canapés only he thought I had said "canopies", I was in hysterics but since I was driving that wasn't very helpful and I nearly had to stop. Being up in the North East with the very distinctive accent and Ian and his brothers together made for a hilarious weekend. The one thing we agreed on as we were driving away about Ian's family is they have the capacity to make fun of everyone there is no favouritism, everyone is on the end of a joke somewhere along the line. It is a remarkable family and a very welcoming one, which is a good job because just about everyone takes a few days to adjust to the accent and keeping up with the jokes can be a nightmare until you are used to it.

Ian's family has taught me much about fun and laughter and loving acceptance. I ache as they don't know Jesus but they do know how to love. The family is not perfect - whose is? But they do have much to teach that Jesus would approve of.

Well I will finish there for the time being as I am completely full and I need a few hours sleep before heading to the airport. It was nice to finish the time in England with a wonderful meal compliments of our daughters boyfriend but I don't think I will even step on the weighing scales for at least a week, I think it will be far too frightening. There were lots of photos from the past week but I shall post a few tomorrow or maybe the day after.

Monday, 6 July 2009


Spent the first half of this week at my Mum and Dad's which was nice, we haven't seen them in while due to distance so there was plenty to catch up on and of course plenty to eat. My Mum and Dad like to entertain around a dinner table which I thoroughly agree with. They also took us out for a steak and kidney pudding which we haven't had in absolutely ages. I am not so sure that eating all these traditional English meals is a good idea when we hit England, none of them seen to be particularly low in fat but boy do they taste good, waistline is suffering though.

Well we have been tractor hunting this week whilst on our travels. It does help to get information in proper English rather than half of the information and trying to make sense of the rest, they do try in Latvia but if they are not used to conversing in English then of course it is going to be difficult and we don't know enough about tractors to fill in the blanks or enough Latvian so we are kind of stuck. Still the trips have been useful and even surprising. We turned up at one tractor dealer and told him our story and he took us outside to see a tractor. He kept looking at us and I kind of felt like he didn't trust us or something like that, after all it was an unusual story living in Latvia and getting a piece of land to work and we hadn't got a clue about tractors really. Just as we were finishing off he said "I'm sure I know you", well I was a little perplexed as we were not in an area we visited often when I lived with my parents and certainly not after I had left home. I did wonder if it was anything to do with travelling round the agricultural shows with my Mum and Dad selling jewellery in craft tents - maybe he recognised me from there. No! Eventually we worked out that he was one of my Dad's old school friends, in fact we had only been talking about him during the week as my Dad thought he would be really useful for information about tractors but he had lost contact. I guess looking more and more like my Mum has some advantages and I had great delight in reconnecting them both.

We had a lovely time in an old stone house making some new friends just south of Lake district. It is a gorgeous area and a stunning place to visit, all stone walls, sheep and rolling hills with trees weathered by time. It was interesting to hear God unfold another part of his plan for us by these dear new friends but it looks like it will be a gradual unfolding of the plan and I have a sense that God wants to unfold something bigger than we imagined and we need to get ready for that step up. While we were there we took advantage of being close to where my Godmother used to live, which was a farm up a very steep track only accessible by foot. Usually when you remember something from childhood your perception is that something is bigger than it really is but in this case it wasn't - that track really is steep and to think my Godmother retired to that farm and used to carry her shopping up there and the farm hand in his 90's could make it faster up that track on crutches than we could walk up.

We got to the farm gate and stood outside were two walkers trying to work out where they were and if they were on the right path, and it was easy to put them straight as to their exact location as the place was so familiar to me - seemed weird and significant to be reaching into my past to give directions, I think I will have to ponder that some more.

One thought struck me this week (really there were more but this one seems like something to ponder on too). It occurred to me that so often as Christians we believe we have a duty to rescue people as if we have all the answers, the white charger syndrome! Why do feel the need to rescue, can't we just learn to play our part as a member of a community? I sometimes wonder if we can speak to our local communities more in our learning than in our rescuing, more in our vulnerability than in our strengths. As I write this I wonder if we are more helpful in pointing fellow travellers in the right direction from time to time rather than constantly jumping in and trying to be the answer to everything.

I passed another milestone this week, our daughter drove us to visit some friends. Might not seem like much of a milestone but this is the first time I have ever been driven by one of my children and I have to say it did not feel as weird as I thought it would. She drove very well and parked much better than I can now - I used to be able to park a car before going to the US but now I can't park in those tight narrow little parking places where people park on the streets here in the UK. So this week finishes where it started around the table eating and talking only this time with some friends from our old church, our spiritual family not my physical family though. These were friends who set us off on our journey to Latvia by filling us with enthusiasm to visit the country as far back as 1999. Seems appropriate for a week of revisiting the past.

The pictures this week are all of the lakes. The first shows the narrow country lane that passes for a road only one car wide, the second is some recently shorn Herwick sheep - the sort my Godmother used to farm, the third more sheep, the fourth is the steep track up to her house and the last is the house where she retired to. Worth the trip!