Monday, 22 February 2010

Unexpected invites

My cough rumbled on all week and I was close to having to go to the doctors if it didn't improve over the weekend, fortunately for me it is now slowly getting better. On the Friday evening it was even a bit scary as I didn't feel I could breathe properly and the thought of having to go to the doctors and oh the hassle of arranging a translation just did not thrill me one bit. I got Ian to beat me on the back from time to time and it  worked wonders and helped me to breathe - hope no one could see in and misunderstand what he was doing though, rumours do have a habit of spreading rather rapidly round here. Going to the doctors always takes on a different edge when in a foreign country, in America it wasn't too bad as my doctor was a lovely Irish lady who was once a nurse but since qualified as a doctor but in Denmark and here in Latvia the chances of miscommunication are huge. The doctor here is good and is a no nonsense type and fearsome to boot, you don't mess with her that's for sure, she will make sure that children get their medication no matter how inept or drunk their parents are but that doesn't make going to see her any easier.

Having now finished the loo our next task in the other flat is to get what is now the shower room tidied up and a bath put in. We have talked backwards and forwards about what to do and how to do it, how to hide unsightly pipes without burying them in walls - burying pipes in walls risks leaks and more expensive work and it is always a balance between getting something looking neat and yet accessible. The components here are a bit hit and miss, sometimes they are brilliant and sometimes they are less than perfect and downright rubbish, not what you want when you have just kitted out a lovely new bathroom. One thing we realised with our newly enlarged loo is that there is now room for the water boiler - a huge boiler is the only option here, no tidy little units to speak of and so room has to be found somewhere, our Swedish friend also thinks the expansion tank can go in there too, hope there is still room for the loo by the time we finish (must get some photos though before it gets too cluttered). As we were chatting about different options our friend mentioned that he had just seen a great oven/boiler - kind of like an aga type thing and he thought it would be perfect for the flat. He waxed lyrically about it so much that in the end we went to have a look at it . When we got there we stood looking at it for ages, measuring it up, talking about its suitability measuring it up blah blah blah, could we let this chance go, was it suitable and so on and on. The problem is that we know if we didn't buy it we might never see something similar again. As you can guess we bought it and with our limited Latvian we managed to get the lady to understand we needed it delivering, at first she implied she couldn't help but a few phone calls later a few hefty blokes turn up with pick up van and follow us home with said goods in back. It was a sight to behold as they lugged that 196 kg oven up the six steps to the flat - good job it wasn't the three flight of steps up to the one we live in. I gave them an extra 5 lats to compensate having to work hard for their money which seemed to do the trick.

Earlier on in the week I felt there would be some surprising invites but wasn't really sure what - then again they wouldn't have been a surprise if I knew would they! The invites all happened on the same day which got a bit frantic. In the morning we were asked by some leaders of the church we attend to lead a home group. It is something that has been talked about for a while and although it is nice to think we would make an effort to see each other to support each other and pray for each other when we get together without the formality of having a home group the reality is we don't, we need to get more intentional and so a home group seemed like a good move forward. It was a little surprising to be asked outright to set the ball rolling but we feel that our previous experiences gives us a good base from which to start and although it is pretty much an ex-pat group at the moment that is not the long-term plan but we can experiment with the format and see what works, see how little or lot of structure is required and play around with ideas. It would be nice to be completely free about meeting together without any structure but we talk too much about things which are not about where God is taking us and if we believe that God wants to have a positive effect on the area we live in then we have to do more to search for what he wants us to do instead of getting side tracked amusing though those side-tracks are. Don't worry we won't get too serious there is plenty of time to talk at other times.

I said Friday was frantic, well that afternoon Ian got a call from his friend in Cyprus, she had retired finally, but as was expected it did leave a big hole in the area she worked in, no one had been trained up sufficiently to do the work despite repeated warnings. Ian's services together with his friend's were required to help get a lab on its feet, could he fly out?  Well with the snow still on the ground and no sign of it disappearing for a while, even if it was to suddenly warm up, then Ian is flexible to go, so with details sorted this morning (Monday) he booked his flights to go to Cyprus this Sunday. I have enough airmiles to go too and incredibly there were bookable seats on the plane for me to join him - he ho! Sunshine here we come! We shall leave our place and car in our Swedish friend's capable hands, the car needs a wash anyway and it always comes back cleaner if we loan it to him. At the beginning of our third year here in Latvia I do wonder where this will lead.

Ian finally got his back hoe (excavator, digger whatever you want to call it) onto the tractor and working this week, only 5 months after purchasing it. The final cost of getting the back hoe to fit the tractor was 100 Lats (about £123, US$ 190) which was an awful lot cheaper than buying the attachments as it was going to cost about £1200 to have them shipped out. Ian was having so much fun playing around with it (that is Ian concentrating not frowning really) that I did briefly wonder whether we should open a digger centre so all grown up boys can get to play with diggers, I am sure it would be a huge hit. We were laughing about how it will be surprising how many ditches, drains, ponds will suddenly become an absolute must on our piece of land. Don't worry I shall be keeping an eye on him and making sure we have ponds where we need them, hehe.

In Britain if you spend more than 10% of your disposable income on fuel then you are considered fuel poor and there are schemes to help those who have this problem. Here in Latvia 10% would be a blessing. Last year I said our fuel bills were so high that a pensioner barely had 30LVLS (£37, US$57) left after paying the heating, fortunately this year the bills are much lower due to the new re-circulation pump we had fitted to our apartment building, despite the incredible cold spell. The bills though are still high compared to incomes and are still just under half of a pension, or quarter of a teacher's wage, in Britain that wouldn't make them fuel poor but poverty stricken. One good thing to come out of this crisis though is the drop in food prices, food costs had escalated before the crisis particularly in the basics and now people cannot afford the inflated prices they are starting to slide downwards. The other thing that is starting to slide is company profits, but surprise surprise the interest rates remain high. Maybe the banks believe they are taking the pain of their stupid lending practices due to the high level of defaults but the high interest rates paid here in Latvia are not sustainable with the reduced profits causing companies to fold even if they are still able to get work. I can never understand why banks maintain high interest rates and accepting the huge number of defaults meaning people losing homes and businesses folding in such times. Why can't they drop their interest rates and help people to stay in their homes and businesses to stay afloat? Are defaults cheaper? I guess so as even if the home or business is repossessed the money is still owed. Is this system right? At the flip of a coin it is heads the bank wins, tails the bank win! Maybe someone out there can tell me it isn't so and how it really works? I would love to know and I am sure I am not the only one.

Photo 1 A lonely chair and fire
Photo 2 & 3 A before and after picture out the back of our apartment. The first picture was in October last year and the second this week. Play spot the bin (trash can)! That will give you an indication of how much snow we have.
Photo 4 Last year the snow froze and we walked on the snow, this year it has resolutely remained powder even making walking in snow shoes difficult.
Photo 5 Ian clearing the roadway on our land yet again, or is he just playing with the tractor?
Photo 6 Ian on the back hoe practising digging.
Photo 7 Our Father Christmas car.


  1. We've been discussing a similar thing about banks and how they seem to be more for themselves than those they are meant to serve. Interesting article in The Guardian's Citizen Ethos/Ethics (cant remember which) bit about captialism.

    Have a great trip and enjoy the sunshine X

  2. Hi Diane
    Is this the page you were referring to? I have just downloaded it to read, will be interesting what they have to say.
    After the rain today! First time we have seen that since before December I am looking forward to the sunshine, I don't like wet snow give me snow at -10C any day.


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