Monday, 25 January 2010

A cold, cold Winter

The cold morning when the car was slow to start and the temperatures ridiculously low, was also a beautiful day with the sun shining and glistening on the frosted trees and icy roads, so on the journey to take our neighbour to her lesson I jotted down a few thoughts to describe the day.

A cold, cold Winter
The intense cold has a fierce beauty,
the beguiling charms of a rose kissed, aqua tinted landscape.
The streams of liquid gold
lit by a low sun
that dances and sparkles through the ice covered trees
The crystal strewn fields shimmering,
inviting play
Smoke that barely rises
struggling to clear the heavy cold air
stretching out tendrils
twisting and turning
looking for escape.
The wind that cuts like a knife,
searching out the slightest vulnerability
reminding the unwary
that winter is without mercy
to those unprepared!

Yikes its cold

Over four months after starting our epic journey to get a woodburning stove installed in our apartment we finally made it. It was a bit worrying as they drilled holes in ceilings when it was -18C (0F) outside and I was praying there wouldn't be gaps left or the pipes partially installed. Bless them they got the indoor pipe installed and quickly sealed to the outside air as they carried on working upwards. It was perfect timing as this week has been oh so cold with temperatures down to -29C on one night shortly after the installation. I then spent the whole day cleaning the living room which was thick with dust from making the hole and guess who forgot to take the curtains down and the pictures off the wall!!! Serves me right I guess.

Whereas we were appreciating the extra heat from the woodburning stove our car sat outside was not. We took a trip into our nearest big town so that a neighbour could get to lessons and an exam and we needed some odds and ends anyway so was not a problem - well we didn't think it was a problem until the morning when Ian went downstairs to start the car 15 minutes before setting off. The car was definitely sulking and not impressed at being woken up on a morning when the car thermometer read -29C, I am sure it was thinking "You have to be joking don't you?" After a few attempts and a very rough sounding engine noise the car eventually began to warm through, just in time for our neighbour but also her husband who needed his van to be towed so he could go to work, his van was worse than sulking, it was point blank refusing to cooperate but with a lot of coaxing and a bit of uniced road (not much of that in our village) it eventually got going and we were on our way.

It has been one of those weeks when lots happens. One young man joined us this week and has been helping us out and he has certainly impressed us with his ability to work hard and get on with things, he is a joy to have around. He makes sorting out a little easier as well because his English is reasonable and he translates for us and this meant that Ian could go and get the tractor back from the little guy who can't speak English. The two of them then started clearing a path on the land with the tractor, problem was that the bucket for some reason stuck part way through the job, it seems to be low on oil for some reason. Something else to sort out, if it's not one thing it's another! We hope to be able to build a shelter and a woodshed and so need a path onto the land so that equipment can be carried on by car rather than transporting it through a field at least a foot deep in snow, carrying a saw table across a snowy field I believe is not easy!

 Our Swedish friend also carried on with getting the walls in the toilet sorted - he would get on a lot faster if it wasn't for the hours of interesting chat that Ian and he have been having, putting the world to right, well that and the fact that it has been so cold that the walls have been drying too slowly. One day a bucket of plaster was mixed and left to firm up while they had a chat and a cup of tea, and they chatted and chatted and chatted, so much so the plaster set and another bucket had to be made up. Hey ho! Good times!

I finally got one of my assignments back this week and I got a distinction so feeling pretty pleased with myself as that means I have passed the whole of my Human Ecology unit with a distinction, I'm over the moon to put it mildly. I have thoroughly enjoyed the topic which helps but it also helps to have moved countries and having to adapt to different cultures. It means I have had to learn to look at life from different angles and I appreciate the different perspectives I have come across, very helpful when looking at a subject that looks at the interactions between the society, economy and the environment in different cultures.

This week I have also started teaching English to a group, they are so keen they want two hours next week. Managed to convince them that two hours of a foreign language is too much (them and me) so it is two hours but with a break in between. They laughed a lot and all took part which is fantastic, in many ways much easier than teaching children who are often in a class because they have to be there, not because they want to be there. I know people say that it is easier to learn when you are young but it is not always the way, sometimes life helps you to learn better and also concentrates the mind on the subject and if you have chosen to learn the subject you have the desire to learn which helps enormously.

Been doing my usual pondering this week as I look around at the people in our community and realise that some are struggling for lack of work I wonder some more about where our money should go. We already try to think very carefully about making sure that, where possible, our money goes into the local economy, which is all well and good for things we actually need done or things we need to have, but when things are really tight for others should we dip deeper into our savings and give our money away to numerous worthy causes and individuals, does that help? Yes and no! In Petworth, England there is an enormous wall surrounding a big house, evidence of yet again the landed gentry separating themselves from the peasants you might think, and in one sense maybe it is but the story also goes that it was built in a time of need when the peasants were suffering and needed employment. Did the gentry need a wall? Maybe they did and maybe they didn't, it could conceivably keep animals in or out as the case maybe. Could the gentry have just given their money away - yes but would that have robbed the peasants of the dignity of earning the money? Was there dignity in being seen to be building a wall? Everyone knows around here in Latvia that if you are out cleaning streets you need money, but they do it so well and the place is so tidy and paths gritted, so is that employment dignifying or degrading? Is there value in creating employment for the sake of it in times of hardship for others? Is it fuelling the consumerist problems? Questions, questions! All goes to show there are no easy answers but one thing I am certain about is that we cannot do nothing.

Photo 1, 2 & 3 Winters morning
Photo 4 Me
Photo 5 Great tit
Photo 6 Nuthatch

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

And here it is....

This week our daughter set off to Australia to live and it felt really strange. I felt like I should have been there at the airport waving goodbye, but couldn't as she was setting off from England and I am here in Latvia. I have to say I didn't think I would feel like that, after all she left home 7 years ago this month and we have moved several times in between. I think it is strange how feelings can hit you like that, for years you accept things and things change and then suddenly an emotion hits you and your left thinking "where did that come from?"  The emotions I felt seemed to belong to a time long gone, but maybe in the busyness of moving myself seven years ago meant that I didn't have time to let emotions like that surface. Oh well! Life goes on and I am excited for my daughter as she starts on her new life and look forward to where that will lead, so it is not all sadness.

All of our family have moved around a lot in the last 7 years, some moves have meant moving to different countries and some just moving around in England, most of us are on our fourth move and our youngest on his fifth if you don't count staying in a place for less than a month. Some people would find that unsettling and they would miss their "home" but I have never felt like that. There are certain things I have loved about each place that I have lived in. In England I love fish and chips and the Derbyshire countryside, in Denmark I liked being able to get around by bike without the fear of being run over and I did like our Danish house, in America I loved the wide open spaces and the sense of majesty of the mountains and in Latvia I love the pace of the village life and the gentle philosophical people I have met. In each place we have met some lovely people and been sad to leave them but excited about the new relationships we have made, but in all of that the question is "where is home?" Where is home to you? For many ex-pats they still talk of going home in conversations, but to me I am home, wherever that maybe. Home to me is wherever God is and it is not a place but a sense of his presence. I love the description in a blog, Stories from the Street about home:-

"Home does not need to be defined by bricks and mortar. It was said of the early Celts that they carried home on their backs; forever mobile they had learnt that the inner place of being wasn’t dependant on the trappings of life but rather in the mementos and tender trophies that came out of the knapsack of their heart."

I think that is a beautiful way of putting it and pretty much how I feel about home.

I know the snow has been a nuisance for some in the UK but we have been loving it out here. We can't get out in the garden, it is under a foot of snow at least, and Ian can't get out in the forest as there is that much snow attached to the trees he would be under a constant cascade, which in -15C or colder is no joke. So we have been making the most of it and going out with our snow shoes, or trying a bit of skiing and generally relaxing. There was one day it was too cold to go out so we spent time watching the birds out on the balcony trying to hammer away at a mix of cake, bread and fat which had set like concrete in the cold. This way of life helps me understand why in some cultures winters are for weddings, when it is cold outside and you can't do anything then why not celebrate something, there is more time to prepare and for the agriculturists they will be busy the rest of the year. Letting the seasons set the pattern rather than fighting it is one thing we are learning and in many ways have been learning for many years through the growing of vegetables.

Not everything has come to a stop with the cold weather though, our Swedish friend started on our other apartment this week and is sorting out the room with the toilet in it, which needed replastering. Not very exciting you may think until we get phone calls saying "I was taking the plaster off the bricks and some bricks have fallen into the chimney, what do you want me to do with it?" He did say before he started that he wasn't very sure about the plaster on the wall as it looked odd. Well what we thought was a chimney wasn't exactly a chimney going up to the roof it was a badly built indoor flue that exited via a pipe to another chimney that did go up to the roof. The indoor flue was not necessary and so it has been removed making our little room slightly bigger which is a bonus. Hopefully there are no more calls like that.

The cold hasn't prevented a car rally in the village either and Ian took the time to go and see the cars racing around on the ice roads that we have around here. I meanwhile shovelled snow away from our polytunnel frame - a warmer proposition. Ian has always loved rallies as long as I have known him and one of the first things Ian took me to when we started going out was a car rally in Clumber Park in February, so I know about standing around in the cold waiting for cars to come racing past, unfortunately the thrill of watching the cars sliding around corners and powering up the straights just doesn't have the same effect on me. Still Ian got some good pictures and I got some exercise so a successful morning all round.

As I said before, in England they have been finding the snow tough and part of the reason for that is that it is not a common event. How do you prepare for something that only comes once in 30 years? What resources do you have on standby? A blog entry on Transition Culture made wonderful reading by highlighting the problems of the snow in a place not prepared for it, as well as bringing out some of the unexpected benefits as people adjust and embrace the change, and as communities come together instead of expecting the Government to come in and sort it all out. What shines through though is the beauty of the snow and the thrill of adapting to the unexpected and in our moans and complaints we can miss all of that. Being stocked up for the unexpected is always a good idea, after all if you are sick for a couple of days then you don't have to worry about what you are going to eat, or if there is a massive flu epidemic affecting the shops you won't starve but will muddle through, or if it snows again then their will be no need to panic but the preparation allows you the space to embrace the change, enjoy the different pace or just enjoy the camaraderie of people pulling together.

Latvia has been in the news a lot because of the crisis and so it is bizarre that in this time of economic recession a Latvian coin wins a competition, the coin of the year award for 2010. Does this say something about the Latvian economy for this year? Or just one of the bizarre twists in the story of this small out of the way country? Well my prayer is for the former that the coin speaks of unexpected rewards for the economy of Latvia.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Whoops sorry yet again

This blog is two years old today, I am amazed that I am still blogging on a weekly basis. Unfortunately as we had visitors tonight I can't post a full blog and I will have to do it tomorrow. So goodnight to all of you.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Soaring hearts

With our daughter and her boyfriend back in the UK and no studying to do it has been a very quiet week again. Rather nice really, although I think I am beginning to miss the discipline of the studying timetable, it is good to rest my brain though after the rather frenetic time I had studying at the end of the last year. Our Latvian lessons have also kind of stalled, our lessons in school have been sidelined for the time being as the teacher has got extra work for the next couple of months - a blessing for her I am guessing but not for us. So with all this extra time I have at the moment I have finally got motivated to actually start an embroidery and given myself two weeks to get it done, so out came the paints and the box of fabrics and I shall ignore the frowns I get when the place is a mess with my art work (note to Ian, I will try and be tidy, well sort of). 

Talking of art work I thought I might put an advert here for my friend Sancha's site on etsy for her gorgeous necklaces and hand knitted jumper (sweater). For those who don't know etsy, it is a site for those who produce handmade goods and so a chance to buy something that is a little different with money going directly to those who make them. I have always loved arts and crafts and take any opportunity to see what people do and this is a chance to browse a whole shop from the comfort of home, oh the wonders of the Internet.  I am seriously thinking of joining Etsy at some stage myself but have hung back and at the moment as I haven't got anything that I could sell but I may try and produce a few small items at the same time as producing my huge Derbyshire scene that I have just started. 

My dearly beloved husband had a snigger at my blog last week, don't know if anyone else picked up on it or it is just the sort of mind my hubby has, but when I said that "in faith we went and bought a big bright pink suitcase and in the following year we used it to travel to Cyprus" I meant that we took it with us and not as he implied that we were using it like a boat or coasting down the motorways on it, it's big but not that big. Still it did conjure up a rather ridiculous picture.

I hummed and harrhhed whether to add this bit but I thought I would be honest and share my feelings. One of the problems with blogs and commenting on them is being misunderstood and that happened to me this week. I posted a comment on a blog and it got picked up by someone else who also writes a blog, they didn't like what I had to say and said as much on their own blog. As I was reading their blog I at first felt quite hurt, then angry and then sad, I can laugh now but it took me a while to process it and in some ways it still makes me sad. In the blog I was accused of being green, no that is not quite right I was accused of being GREEN. Now last time I looked I was definitely pink with freckles and not green, but if caring about the environment that my Creative God has made is green, then I have to put my hand up and say "Guilty!" Apparently though you cannot be green and care about people and that I find very sad. It is precisely because I care about people that I care about the environment. I wouldn't be studying Managing Sustainable Rural Development if I didn't care about people and the environment they live in and how they can develop a sustainable living and not ruin the environment they live in at the same time. I chose that subject because I see so much neglect of the Latvian countryside, not because the Latvians abuse the countryside but because they cannot find a way to make a living from the land they have and so it is abandoned while they find employment that hopefully pays a living wage, and I want to make a difference if I can. There has to be a better way for the folks here to live and if that means turning a shade of green then so be it, meanwhile I shall apply my brain to searching for solutions and at the same time tapping into the reservoir of God's love and knowledge to see a transformation of his creation so that it provides for those who steward it.

I know that many of my friends are enduring the snow rather than enjoying it at the moment in England. England is just not used to the snow and so even a small snowfall can cause chaos but this time they actually have a decent amount of snow and some places have it worse than we have here in Eastern Latvia with the temperatures to match. I love the snow and I think it is magical, there was an area outside our apartment building that was so flat and crisp and looked so inviting to walk through, but then that would have spoilt it, didn't stop the deer though, as you can now see their tracks wending their way through the apple trees. This week we had sunshine making the whole place glisten. Glistening snow always makes my heart soar but with the wind chill factor it is rather cold outside, at the moment it is -16C (3F) with a wind chill of -26C (-15F), not pleasant. We did manage a walk but we have not been out on the skis much as I found after a couple of tries that the boots really hurt my feet because they are so solid. I have now got some new cushioned inserts for my poor pampered feet and I do hope that my shoes won't hurt now, otherwise I will be sending for some shoe inserts from the UK as I know exactly what I want (never a good thing as it generally means I can't get it). At least the forecast is for it to warm up a bit and the wind die down so later on this week I shall be giving the skis another try.

Strike one to David? Just before the New Year I mentioned that something had to give between the IMF and the Latvian Government as the courts had ruled the pension cuts illegal and the money had to be repaid to the pensioners. I felt that in the same way as David overcame Goliath so the Latvian people would overcome the Goliaths in their lives and one of the Goliaths is the IMF and the conditions "imposed" as a condition for lending to Latvia the money to see them through this crisis. Well it will not be done and dusted until the giant is down but the fact is that the EU and the IMF have little room for manoeuvre. If they insist the cuts stand then that means they consider that a nations laws are meaningless, and if they only allow the pensions to be paid back later rather than now when people need the money, then they will destabilise the Government, and that would be worse. Another Goliath I am looking to come down in this nation is corruption, it would be easy for the Latvian people to ignore laws and taxes and they have good enough reason not to trust the Government with their money but I am looking to see the Latvian people begin to see that good governance begins in the home and to insist that corruption becomes an unacceptable way of doing business, no matter how bad things get. I am also looking to see some major exposing of corrupt networks and it will look pretty messy for a while but as in any spring clean it will look much better when the dust settles (this follows on from the prophecy given by Paul Leader).

Photo 1: A Latvian home
Photo 2: Sancha's necklace
Photo 3: Child's jumper (sweater) by Sancha
Photo 4: Outside our other flat
Photo 5 & 6: Ski track
Photo 7: Top of our hill

Monday, 4 January 2010

A moving experience

A big surprise this week we saw a moose on the way to the airport, no the moose wasn't on the way to the airport we were. We were taking our daughter and her boyfriend back after their Christmas trip to visit us. We had a good time with them and our daughter was ever so sweet, she bought me a gift to pamper myself with, as she said no one ever buys me that sort of thing any more, which is true and really thoughtful. 

We finally managed to get a trailer this week but the process was not as simple as in the UK. We didn't realise that we would have to go and get it re-registered and tested and insured before driving it away- that doesn't happen in the UK. We knew that trailers have documents here in Latvia which, like the car, you have to carry with you at all times, but hadn't realised about the testing and insurance that it also needs. It is probably a good idea though, so that they are roadworthy. It also made me realise once again, how different things are from country to country. Sometimes you think you have the system sussed and then something else turns up that you think should be the same and find out that its not.

A major achievement was not only taking our daughter to the airport and buying a trailer in one day we also managed to get skis too. Now that might not seem like a big thing to you if you have lived in one country all your life but when you move around you realise that to accomplish more than one task in one day is a major achievement, usually it doesn't happen and the process can go on for months (like our woodstove an ongoing project to get it installed since September, we are close on that one but still not there yet at least we have all the pieces now, just need someone to install it now). We have a cross country ski run at the top of our hill and folks can be seen on that most days but for fun we decided to make our own on our land, The Everglades. Our own cross country ski run is not as convenient as the one up the road but then again there is no one there to laugh at a couple in their 40s making fools of themselves. Bit chilly though as it was -17C on the way home just before sunset.

I follow a blog and recently and a  prophecy was posted which declared that new oil deposits would be found and my first reaction was "Oh dear!", not good news but then it started me thinking - what if the oil deposits were not the black stuff but other sources being tapped and so I hit the academic journals and started looking at turpentine which turns out to be a by-product of the paper industry, I also found out that you can get a lot of turpentine and tar whilst making charcoal from pine, which can then be collected,  I also found a paper that used 75% turpentine to run a diesel engine. Early days maybe but for a country that has a wealth of trees due to increasing forest coverage that is exciting news - could the oil deposits be locked up in the trees?

The last 10 years have been truly amazing so much has changed. To set the scene I have to back up a couple of years to 1998 when a guy called Martin Scott (the same one who publishes the blog I mentioned above) prayed over me and said that we would travel as a family. Now at the time we didn't have a huge amount of money but in faith we went and bought a big bright pink suitcase and in the following year we used it to travel to Cyprus and stay with a Greek Cypriot friend of Ian's, a contact through work. It was a very gentle introduction to being immersed in a different culture even though it was only a week. 1999 was also the year a friend of ours first travelled to Latvia and went to some children's camps there; when he told us about it we began to think that maybe this was another opportunity to travel together as a family. So in the year 2000 we started off on our adventures, it was only two weeks but a huge step for us as a family with three kids 10, 12 and 13 years old; no one that we knew had gone to kids camps abroad and taken their children and we had no idea how it would work, but it did and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, so much so we went back the following year and took another youngster with us too.

2002 we began to feel that God was saying to move to Latvia and we started to pursue that idea and to look at the possibilities and opportunities but somehow we felt the timing was not right, God's timing for his purposes are so important to us. A question asked in jest by Ian to a pair of Danish women in a conference "Are there any jobs going?" set in train a sequence of events that eventually lead us to move to Denmark in 2003 and join a Danish company. This gave Ian extra holiday, extra pay and also meant we were half way to Latvia with more frequent flights from Copenhagen. We left our daughter in England though with another family to complete a course she had just started. I was home schooling our two sons at the time so we didn't have the problem of getting them settled into a new school at their age (13 & 15). We did keep hold of our house in England though as we thought it might be useful for an income but because the house we lived in was actually two terraced houses knocked together we worked like crazy before we left to turn it back into two houses, more rentable and ultimately more saleable. So that is how we came to leave our Derbyshire home of 15 years and move to Denmark.

We knew our ultimate destination was Latvia but how long that would be was an unknown to us. At one point I was praying and asking God whether to put down roots in Denmark or to prepare to move, the answer that came back was quite clear and quite startling "You will move once more before you go to Latvia  and that will be to America. When you get there you will get a key to open the door to Latvia".  How on earth was I going to tell Ian that one? He never really liked America. His company though had a unit out in Colorado and he had to go out there on a business trip and when he came back he commented how nice it was out there. Gulp! One of my conditions of telling him is that he would respond positively to being out there. I told him about what I felt God had said and we waited for the right time once again. In the meantime another of our children left home. Our eldest son completed his GCSE's (we returned to the UK briefly for him to take the exams needed) and he then went to an Efterskole which is common in Scandinavia and gives youngsters a chance to try something different, improve their schooling if necessary and live away from home, the one Mark joined was similar to a junior Bible School. His year at the Efterskole took him all around Denmark, to France then to Albania all by coach travelling through many different countries. He also visited South Africa and travelled through Zimbabwe to Zambia. Travel as a family!!!! We initially thought that was together but began to realise early on that it meant we would all just travel. After the year at the Efterskole Mark then went to England to study carpentry and shortly after that Ian was called into the office and asked if he would like to relocate for up to three years to America. Hmmm! Would need to think about that!!!! Well for all of 5 minutes, actually. Ian did not say yes straight away, as that would have looked rather strange, he had to at least appear to consult his wife. 

So early 2006 with just one child in tow this time we set off for Colorado. We decided to sell the Danish home as renting that out was more problematic than in England and we didn't think we would be back anyway, a rather fortuitous decision as we sold at the top of a housing boom that had seen the house prices nearly double in the two and  half years we owned it. Our time in Colorado was enjoyable and Ian thoroughly enjoyed the over 300 days of sunshine a year, I missed the seasons though. Two weeks of Spring and Autumn didn't seem quite right somehow. Colorado is stunning though with the Rockies nearby and mountains over 14,ooo ft (4200m) high, the people are friendly and it was certainly relaxing to live there. For the first time in our life we had money left at the end of the month as Ian was on a Danish wage but paying American taxes which meant we could pay for our kids to come out and see us and me to go to Brazil three times. While we were there we also passed into the realm of being empty nesters - it was great! Shortly after we moved to America the Danish company reorganised meaning that the whole of Ian's division was now based in America and then about a year after that they decided to sell the division, it became clear to us that it was time to go. Right until the end though we didn't know if we were going to be able to go straight to Latvia or take a detour along the way but the Danish company decided it was cheaper to pay for us to move to Latvia than to keep Ian, on, as there was in reality now no job to go back to Denmark for.

The key? Well while we were in America we bought a flat off one of our friends who lives in Latvia with proceeds from our Danish house, so we had a real key to a real door to our new home in Latvia. So 2008 saw us finally move to Latvia after 6 years of waiting for the right time. In those 6 years Latvia had become an EU country making our right to stay there so much easier. House sales the Danish one and one in England made sure our finances were also in good shape to help us through the transition process and it also meant we are now debt free - no mortgage. 

Well that is obviously a very brief run through the process of getting to Latvia and does not do justice to all the friends we have made along the way, the wonderful experiences and the many frustrations of moving 3 times in 7 years, all international moves. We have gained a great deal of knowledge on removals, paperwork to expect on entering a country and also enough knowledge to realise that absolutely everything takes at least twice as long as you expect and to expect the unexpected. We have also learnt to adapt to cultures or at least learnt to live within them, we have learnt to take our time and watch and wait, and I hope we have seized the right opportunities as they have come along.

Changes continue to happen while we are here in Latvia and last year we passed some major milestones in our family. Our youngest, Matthew started University to study a subject he has always longed to do, automotive design, plus he turned 20 years old. Our middle child, Mark, got engaged and our eldest, our daughter Emma, finished her nurse training and in a few days time sets off to Australia to live. We celebrated 25 years of marriage and I gained a Post Graduate Certificate in Development Management. Not a bad list of milestones for one year.

As we move into the next year I feel like it will be a year that sets the pattern for the years ahead, it will not be like anything that has gone before. Back in 2006 or 2007, not sure when, a phrase that hit me from the title of a book is "What got you here, won't get you there" and I believe that is as true today as it was back then. So here's to 2010, a year I look forward to with a sense of anticipation, excitement and some nervousness.

Photo 1: a barbed wire sculpture of a moose in Colorado (sorry I didn't have a camera with me to take a photo of the one we saw this week)
Photo 2: Skis and snowshoes drying off in the shower cubicle
Photo 3: The two end houses were actually one house for 9 of the 15 years we lived in the village in Derbyshire
Photo 4: Our Danish house
Photo 5: One of the squirrels that used to visit our Danish house
Photo 6: Our American house
Photo 7: Our Latvian apartment building.