Monday, 14 December 2009

Sun and the big freeze

We saw the sun today, it was gorgeous. There was enough snow to cover everything with a fluffy white blanket and the sun softly glinting off everything was enough to lift the spirits after the long dark autumn we have had (sorry no photos yet though as I wasn't at home and didn't have the camera with me but maybe tomorrow I shall take some). Be rest assured that the snow is not going to disappear in the meantime, that has something to do with the fact it was down to -16C (3F) at sunset, and what a sunset it was, just a few clouds in the sky and the sky darkening down into that wonderful winter golden orange. One of the things we have learnt since moving away from the UK is that below freezing is okay, it is often dry, not that damp just above freezing weather that chills you to the bone that you get in the UK. There are no heroics though, when it comes to what you wear. Layers have to be chosen with care, enough to keep warm but not enough to sweat as you don't want the sweat freezing. I hate hats but I wear one all the same, I wouldn't go out without one at those sorts of temperatures, a big difference to the UK where it was rare that I ever wore a hat. I was actually working at a flat we own nearby, trying to get some extra heat into the place since the temperatures have dipped so drastically and we don't want burst pipes and it was nice to have a change of scenery while I studied, but the walk back home for lunch was chilly as there was a breeze, but bundled up in my layers I was fine. 

I got my exam results back from the OU course this week from an exam that I took in October and I was very pleased with myself as I did a lot better than I expected. I knew I had passed but wasn't sure how well I had actually done, so was very relieved to get a very good result. It does now mean that I should get a Postgraduate Certificate in Development Management as I have passed the two units required which means I can put PG Cert Dev Mgmt after my name - that is if I ever remember and if I ever really need to. Having said that I do now have to wait for all the usual verification which means waiting a few more months before it is all confirmed.

I was also pleased to get some very good results back from my two assignments on my new course and so I set off to start my next assignment with confidence; unfortunately my confidence did not last and I got bogged down in it - it just would not flow. I got quite a way into the assignment and decided that as a good student I should have a look at the question and make sure that I am actually answering the question and the answer to that was "No! I wasn't" I really felt I had been wasting my time and could see time slipping away as I have another assignment still to do before December 18th. I was so tired that night as I was explaining to Ian but then I had a flash of inspiration, I could include what I had written but I did need to lead into it differently, justifying my approach - Phew! Saved! Amazing what a bit of waffle will do but why is it that flashes of inspiration strike you at rather inconvenient times? I had another inspiring moment just as I was dropping off to sleep and it was no good hoping I would remember in the morning, I had to get up and write it down there and then.

One of my assignment topics is foodsheds - so what is a foodshed? And no it is not where you put the potatoes for the winter, it actually describes the places our food comes from. It is a term kind of pinched from geography "a watershed" which is the area that water drains from into a river. When our grandparents or even great-grandparents were little their food came from fairly local sources and so they would have had a small foodshed but as our world modernised our food came from further and further afield. Have you ever looked in your cupboard and found out what is produced locally and what is produced further afield? Have you ever thought which foods you are eating, that came all the way from Chile or Kenya, could actually be produced nearby? Okay you may have thought about that as it has a lot to do with foodmiles, but how big is your foodshed? On average in America food travels 1300 miles from source to plate (and that is not to knock Americans, those are the statistics I could find, I don't think Europe will be much better) that is a lot of travelling and we suffer for it as the choice of what we have to eat is decided not by taste but how well it handles and how well it stores. I love the comment made in one of the papers

"We live in a world in which we are ever more distant from each other and from the land, and so we are increasingly less responsible to each other and to the land. Where do we go from here? How can we come home again? "

So how do we come home again? Foodwise that is? What choices do we have to make in order to reduce our foodshed? What changes in our diet would we have to make? That doesn't mean that all our food has to come from nearby, but it should make us more thoughtful in what we do eat.

Some more momentous news this week - our little tractor finally made it back to us and complete with a front loader, only nearly two months to the day after we should have got it but who's counting? Doesn't it look sweet? Ian enjoyed playing about with it on Friday using it to pull some of the wood out of the forest instead of doing it all by hand. Only he didn't have long to enjoy having his tractor back, as now that the front loader is fitted it now needs to go to a little old man who is an apparent whizz with engineering and he is going to make a frame for the back hoe to be fitted to. Heh ho! Maybe soon it will have all its fittings ready for the Spring so that he can dig ditches with it - no chance of digging ditches now, we would need one of those machines that break up tarmac to get through the frozen ground.

Having Latvian lessons gives us the opportunity to find out a bit more about the place we live in and we found that the state of the economy in our village is not so good as you would expect at this time. There are around four or five factories making wood products and the workers are down to working around 10-15 days per month, the local hotel also has workers who work around 10 days a month and the staffing level in the restaurant is down to one waitress and the cook operating the whole hotel and restaurant with no one on reception. There is also rumour of the local orphanage possibly closing down, I wouldn't normally mention rumours but even if this isn't true it is unsettling for youngsters who have an unsettled way of life anyway and this is something they could well do with out. The orphanage is not a plush place, it is basic but the kids are well enough looked after and their life is less chaotic for being there and I worry about what the outcome for them will be, they are smashing kids who look out for each other and now the future looks uncertain.

Obviously part of the reason for these problems is the fact that Latvia has a colossal debt to repay to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which was taken out to stop the economy collapsing. There are those who believe that the IMF are solely acting as debt collectors, making sure the banks who leant far too much money don't lose it all (just search on IMF and you will see what has happened over the last year if you haven't been keeping up to date), which hardly seems fair on those who have most to lose - the poor. In return for the loan the Latvian Government have had strict conditions to accompany the credit packages, including slashing public sector expenditures, hence the closure of orphanages, some of which have already closed. At the same time the World Bank (which like the IMF is also part of the UN) has warned governments not to cut social welfare programmes as they try to limit expenditure. "They should not now make dramatic cuts across the board or stop paying pensions. Many countries have good welfare programmes in place and these should be protected," the World Bank’s Barbone said. - all I can say is will someone please make up their minds!!!!! 

Out of the blue this week we were told that the hotel where we had been meeting with other Christians was no longer available, not quite sure why but it does leave the dilemma of where to meet. The default option is to meet out at a camp which is a few miles outside of the village but this is not really the best to build a church embedded in the community in which it lives and working out Kingdom life in that community (oh and when I say build a church, I don't mean a church building). It will be interesting though to start looking at the possibilities. Houses? Community buildings? There are pros and cons to all of them but I know that personally I would hate to see a purpose built building that looked like the sort of thing that everyone thinks of when you mention the word church. I long to see more of church life expressing the life and vitality of a risen Christ, and how appropriate then that at this time of year our own church community is homeless - turned away from the Inn, I wonder what will be birthed from this?

Photos this week
Photo 1 - a desolate looking landscape just as the big freeze began to set in
Photos 2 & 3 -More ice creations - I am beginning to think that it is the ice that forms as it gradually opens up rotten wood as it freezes the contents. 
Photo 5 -Ian in his tractor
Photos 4, 6, 7 & 8 Tractor WITH front loader.

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