Monday, 27 December 2010


Don't these make fantastic Christmas
trees, we have nicknamed them star trees
Well while the Northern hemisphere is shivering in the winter we are roasting in Australia, about 40C today and around 37/38C over the Christmas weekend. This meant that Christmas day was spent inside, in the air-conditioning, but it was a lovely relaxing day all the same, with our daughter and her fiancé. Needless to say the roast dinner was left until well into the evening, Christmas dinner mid-afternoon didn't seem quite so appealing somehow but the salad and fruit lunch did. We closed the shutters mid-afternoon to shut out the light to watch the Muppet's Christmas Carol and remind ourselves of cold winter Christmases. Once again Christmas down under seems topsy turvey to a Northern hemisphere lass but the good news is that from tomorrow it is due to get cooler - around 33C, much more bearable.

The tree top walk, not particularly good value for money
as it is so short, and would be much better opened early in
the morning or at dusk to see the animals and birds but
fascinating anyway as you get to see the trees from a
different perspective.
Our holiday in Denmark.... remember Denmark, a small town on the south coast of Western Australia not the European Denmark, was a little wet and when it wasn't wet the flies were a nuisance but all in all it was still a great time, at least the rain was warm. We stayed in a youth hostel, The Blue Wren, which was a fascinating experience, meeting so many people on journeys. It was a microcosm of life with some who we connected with and some we didn't, some we spent hours chatting too and still don't know their names, some who just left and we never said goodbye and some we did, and it was all so transient and yet ...... very real. I think sometimes we hold onto relationships and people so tightly that we are not able to enjoy the pleasure of those just passing through, or we don't even make the time to enjoy those people that doesn't mean I don't value long term relationships that go deep, I do but not all relationships have to be long term. As a Christian from an evangelical-ish background your sometimes made to feel that unless you get the gospel through to at least a dozen people and three come to know Christ then the trip isn't worth it, fortunately I don't see it that way. I believe that God will work through us, definitely, but I do not feel the need to finish God's job for him, but to merely be a part of his plan. If something about our life, or our words, touches someone and draws them closer to a loving Father then great but we are happy to let God travel with the people and for them to meet someone else along the journey who opens their eyes a bit more to the reality of that heavenly Father who loves them intensely, we don't have to do the whole job in one night. In life some people take the plane flights along to their destinations, some take the slow train and some walk, but they are all on a journey and that is something we really took away from the week and the sense of freedom that comes with being able to travel when you feel like it. These folks we met weren't lazy, they work hard, in the fields, in the restaurants, even in the banks but they work and then travel, moving on, experiencing different cultures, letting it change them; and yet so often they are thought of as irresponsible or it is fine to do while young but at some stage they have to settle down and get a proper job. Not so sure I agree with that. It was good to read Paul Leader's article on journeying and how they echoed our thoughts about those who travel and how inspiring they are, it is not just us then who think that way. I particularly liked how Paul pointed out that the Bible is full of sojourners and not settlers, food for thought!

So cute! Alpacas
We didn't spend the whole week in the hostel though, we did get out and about and visited beaches and towns, galleries and a sandalwood factory, natural attractions and farms. The things that stood out to us was the warm welcome from Mark Hewson of Torbay Glass Studio who we spent quite a while chatting to about his work and his life as well as our life. I love talking to craftspeople who have a passion for their work but also a passion to share and the glass he makes is inspiring, I really loved the glass water lily fountain, it was so delicate looking due to its transparency and yet robust looking, unfortunately we couldn't fit it in the suitcase. I also loved the idea, that if you wanted to, you could come up with your own design and work with Mark to make the finished product - now I would love to do that. We also went to a pet farm, which seems an odd thing to do when we don't have little ones with us but we did have an ulterior motive. We visited a shop in Denmark that sells alpaca wool products and they were so soft and light and yet felt so warm that we did wonder whether it was feasible to actually have alpacas ourselves in Latvia and so a visit to the Pentland Alpaca Stud and animal farm seemed like a good idea. It was a great visit and the lady owner was very helpful and gave us lots of information, so much so that we are seriously going to look into it when we get back, especially as we know that there are spinners and knitters in the village back home in Latvia. We also got to feed the alpacas and the kangaroos too, well you have to don't you!!!! They were all very sweet and good natured and we loved the alpacas, especially when they talk to you with their humming voices. 

Our daughter driving us down the 4x4 track
We didn't quite manage the barbecue on the beach on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas for my American friends), it got too dark and the charcoal wouldn't light, added to which we only had my torch to light up the meal, so it got abandoned, but it was still lovely on the beach at night with the crashing surf and the millions of stars twinkling overhead, I even got to see a shooting star. The barbecue was meant to be the finish of a day where we went 4x4ing, I hadn't realised that there lots of tracks that 4x4s can use, but it is a regular hobby for some here in Oz, especially to get to isolated beaches. It was funny to see our future son-in-law taking on a family tradition of towing cars out of messes, this time it was a family with young children towing a large trailer which had got bogged down in soft sand on the track. I didn't get out of the car at this point, as the 40C heat meant instant burn for me and sand that was so hot that it was too hot to stand on, even with sandals on. We got close to the beach and the last section we walked but by the time I got to the sea my feet were burning, so it was straight into the water for a plodge and I spent the rest of the time either plodging in the water or sitting in the beach tent they had bought specially for me and my delicate northern skin. 

An emu coming for a closer look at the pet farm
I know in England there has been some disquiet at the student protests and some of the rowdier elements have been disruptive but I found the fact that students are willing to protest as encouraging. There are a few things that fill me with despair and one of them is the apathy of the younger generations, even my generation were pretty apathetic with few who have fire in their bellies. We need the youth to challenge our pre-conditioned way of thinking, we need them to not accept the status quo but to continually question, otherwise the powerful will takeover and people acquiesce to mediocre lives without even thinking about what they are doing and why. Even if at the end of the day we do not change, at least we should know why we are not changing and that is why I am encouraged by the students' protests. The youth with fire in their bellies, with questions as to why their future has been sold down the line by greed. Let's face it the generation that are making the decisions for the future are the ones that have squandered the resources of this planet, and squandered the chances they have had meaning that there is not much money now for our children's future. The generation that had free university places are no longer willing to pay for the next generation to have the same benefits. Yes the system needs looking at, why does everyone have to go to University? What kind of education is important? What do we need to take us into the next millennium? All important questions, but we should not rob this generation of their future and one young man on youtube shows what fire in the belly can look like, he doesn't have all the answers, but he's thinking, he is beginning to take an interest in the world around him and I am encouraged. Will be interesting to see where he will go, may he retain the fire in the belly for years to come.

Some more photos for you
Feeding a kangaroo
Vegetation near the beach

Sunset on the beach

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Still weird

Studying hard!!!!
Bit early this week but then again we are off to Denmark, remember Denmark, Western Australia, not Denmark, Europe! Also we happen to be 8 hours ahead of GMT.

Well it took until Saturday morning to finish my assignment and it felt like an epic to get it done. That did mean I was stuck inside most of the time, which when the sun is so fierce is perhaps not a bad idea really. I hope I have learnt something from the module and I hope I have passed, after that I am past caring, it was a slog. I knew this semester was going to be a challenge to keep on track with what I am doing when trying to fit in the weddings of two of our children but it was worth it to keep on track with getting the course completed and being an online course does mean that at least I am more flexible in where I study - always a good thing I think.

The beach near Fremantle
I haven't been inside the whole time of course and although you might think it is a boring existence to get out only to do some shopping, we did manage that. Not Christmas shopping or anything, haven't done any of that, just regular shopping. Shopping in a different country I find fascinating as it always gives you a clue about the food culture of a place, what's there and what's not. Fresh meat, fruit and veg, I am pleased to say, is abundant enough but rather eye-wateringly priced. Managed to spend on one evening for four what we would normally spend in a week in Latvia for two, but then again there are not many Kangaroo kebabs in Latvia. We even had steak this week, partly because it didn't cost much more than the pork, and we can get plenty of that in Latvia, very nice it was too on the barbie (Barbecue - just in case you are wondering, which I am sure your not) something you have to do of course whilst in Australia. Mind you I don't think that sitting outside having a barbecue is quite as popular as we imagine, sitting inside air-conditioned houses is though.

Fremantle Round House, looking very pristine for its 180 yrs
Finishing my assignment meant I was finally free to get out and about and see a bit more of Perth and so our daughter and her fiancé took us  to Fremantle or "Freo" as it is called locally. There are a lot of colonial buildings made of limestone that look incredibly new, but having checked the history I think it is just the difference between limestone bleached by the sun and not weathered by the wind and the rain like it is in the North England like we are used to. Having trundled around the town looking at hippyish market stalls and observing the architecture including Fremantle Round house we headed for a bakery for something to drink; never before has an iced chocolate drink looked quite so appealingly in December, hot chocolate maybe but never iced. The temperature a little cooler in the late afternoon and we headed to the beach for a swim, my daughter laughed at me but it took ages for me to get into the water it was so cold, I am not particularly fond of swimming in cold water, it was just a blessing that unlike England after a bathe in the early summer sea it wasn't freezing when we got out. Maybe you are wondering about Ian? Well!!!! He plodged and could not be persuaded to enter the water past his ankles but then again Ian and water that is not in the shape of a bath or a shower never mixed.

Just to prove it! Here's me swimming in the sea in December
Ian has been spending the week on a borrowed bike and walking around the area while I have been studying (no he hasn't been walking around with the bike, he would go out for an hour or two on the bike in the morning and a walk in the afternoon and is consequently getting quite brown already)  and he has been itching to get me out on a bike as he was telling me how good the cycling paths are. I don't mind cycling but I do like to use a bike as a means of transport to somewhere rather than just cycling for the sake of it, a point Ian is well aware of and so he told me there was a wonderful little café along the way. Sold!!! Sunday morning we set off and the bike trail took us besides the Swan river, a well used river for recreation by the look of it, with people picnicking, power walking, strolling, power boating, kayaking  etc. both young and old. We wended our way past conservation areas with wetlands - yes such a thing does exist in Australia and maybe a valuable means of protecting the river banks from erosion due to the use of pleasure craft on the river, past the marshmallow plants and the bullrushes, past the trees that appear to have almost naked and polished trunks, past the sign saying beware snakes on the path - doesn't specify which snakes or whether the idea is not to hit them or not to get bitten by them, and onto the little tea shop, which very conveniently for us, is situated about half way around the loop we were cycling. I don't go in for iced tea normally but being a little hot, decided on an iced peach tea, which was ..... very peachy and iced. Ian had a latte to keep him awake, think he was close to falling asleep I was going much slower than he would normally go, actually he said it was good to go slow as he hadn't really had much time to take in the scenery when he had been hurtling around the track this last week.

The little fella keeping Ian entertained while I was swimming
With plenty of good company to eat with and a lovely home to stay in, all in all its not been a bad week even if I have been stuck in a good bit of the time but I did put at the top of this post "still weird", well it is still weird. Being bitten by mossies in December, seeing star shaped pine trees and weird twisted trees, seeing Christmas decorations in a little tea room but sitting outside in the shade, hearing the wafts of Christmas music in the malls and it is not a mistake as in Latvia where they carry on playing the Christmas music into June in our local restaurant because they don't understand the lyrics, just little things that take some getting used to.

Monday, 13 December 2010

It's just not right

Beautiful but no idea what it is
Well it is weird, definitely weird. Snow scenes in the shopping malls and balmy nights with Christmas lights, eating outside and people sitting at other tables wearing Santa hats and pulling crackers. All upside down and back to front somehow. It doesn't feel like Christmas. No shopping done, and no time at the moment anyway as I am still trying to write an assignment, and having difficulty getting my head around it, although it is beginning to flow a bit now. Maybe it is jet lag but I don't feel that bad and sleeping well.

The backgarden! A little different methinks!
It doesn't feel that odd that it is so warm and yet the nights darken so early, I got used to that in my visits to Brazil and when living in Colorado. It doesn't even feel that odd seeing all the different types of trees and plants as they remind me of Cyprus. Neither does it feel that odd that we set off from snowy lands to land in a pleasantly warm one, we experienced that last year in our visit to Cyprus in March. No what does feel odd is the occasional glimpses of Christmas, the occasional house decorated with fairy lights, the wafts of Christmas songs in the shopping malls, people greeting each other with the phrase "Are you ready for Christmas yet?" It's just not right! It jolts the system and gives me a strange "not quite sure I am with it" sensation. It is also odd being bitten by mossies in December! Don't they know its nearly Christmas? I may as well have dropped down on another planet, such is the strangeness of landing in Australia near Christmas time.

What a life!
The weather has been good to us as it has been quite pleasant most of the time and only on one night did it feel stuffy and that was before we discovered how to put on the air-conditioning courtesy of our future son-in-law. Okay we know how to operate air-conditioning but we are staying in someone else's house who is not here at the moment and it is difficult to know where the air-con controls would be situated, even if they are right under your nose. We did meet the young couple whose house we are borrowing before they set off to the other side of Australia for a family wedding, in fact we even drove their car back from the airport so they didn't have to get a taxi. I find it so encouraging though to find a couple with such a gift of hospitality, a very underrated gift I might add in Western cultures. In the bible, hospitality is highly rated. Romans 12:12-14 says

12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

I think the Western church is very good at preaching about the first verse, less so about the second though and yet it is so needed. Hospitality used to be the hallmark of the Celtic monasteries where even an important fast would be broken for the sake of hospitality (The life of St.Columba), and they took their fasts seriously in those days. Sharing your home with a stranger is not easy, but if you can do it with grace and humility then that is a rare and precious gift, this couple have it in abundance. 

It has been interesting getting to know the place where our daughter now lives and spending some time with the about-to-be-married couple. We have not had much chance to get to know our future son-in-law up until now, so it is a special time indeed, just hope we don't put him off - as if we would!!! (Innocent smiley here I think!). Still he has made all the right moves by taking us out to eat, to a lovely quaint place out of the city in a place called York and our Christmas present from the both of them, was to pay for a holiday on the South Coast in Denmark next week (or was that to get rid of us for a few days? Hmmmm). York! Denmark! Not quite like the places we know that are called by the same name, we even lived in Denmark at one time but it wasn't in Australia that is for sure. 

And just to update you, back home in Latvia I am told there is 40cm of snow. Looking forward to landing in that when we eventually get back - I think!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Snow, snow and more snow

Not exactly snowy Manchester but certainly frosty and more
importantly not foggy now. Hopefully we can set off today
to sunny Oz
Well we found out why it was so cold (14C, 57F) in the apartment last week, beside being minus 17C (1.5F) outside, the heating company apparently ran out of wood over the weekend!!!!!! The wood chips they had were too wet to burn and their chipper broke down meaning they could not create any more and so they ran out of something to burn. If that is only partly true then it is gross incompetence as there are old folks and young families in the apartment buildings. They do seem to have an apparent disregard for the comfort of the folks in the buildings which is difficult to comprehend, hence their lack of planning. Good job for us we were not in that night and were out at the school in the morning, at least it wasn't until the afternoon I began to feel the cold.

This week has definitely been a very interesting week. Tuesday morning I was finishing off getting ready for our trip to England and I was reading comments on facebook by my friends in the North of England. I quickly realised that the situation was not good and the weather forecast was no better, it was looking increasingly risky to try and do an overnight stop in the Sheffield area. Fortunately I remembered that some friends of ours know some folks in Bedford, which was really handy for Luton airport, only 40 minutes away, and they gave me their number. Bless them! The young couple in Bedford opened their home to us and welcomed us in, which as it turned out was one of the best decisions we made of the week. It felt a bit weird sorting out the accommodation as we were walking to the plane to get on but it was an extraordinary situation setting off from a slightly snowy Latvia and heading for a rather snowy England, knowing full well that England does not cope well in the snow. Getting onto our flight was a bit weird too as they made us walk to the plane and then stand outside in a half-covered walkway for about 10 minutes (felt longer) in temperatures hovering around -10C (14F) and not everyone was dressed for the Latvian outdoors. We were pleased that we were still carrying our coats, hats and gloves.

We woke in Bedford to just a smattering of snow but reports of absolute chaos in Sheffield where we were supposed to have been the night before, with more snow forecast. We started to head north with some trepidation wondering what we were heading for. Occasionally we would hit a snow shower and think "well this is it, here we go", but it didn't last. Then we reached Sheffield!!!! We have lived there for 5 years and just south of there for 15 years and we have never seen scenes like it, there was so much snow, more than we had ever seen in that area and we had seen a few snowy winters. There were also lorries stacked up on the side of the motorway, obviously stranded overnight. More phone calls to our friends in Sheffield led us to abandoning any thought of going there and we just carried on very slowly along the motorway past it, grateful that we had not tried to make it there the night before. Even if we had made it to Sheffield, the chances are we wouldn't have made it out. We carried on heading up north and although it was slow going and snowy, it was not as bad as the Sheffield area. It would also appear that we flew in at the right time on the right airline, a day earlier and we would have been caught in the chaos of Sheffield, a day later and planes to Gatwick, the other airport we use regularly, was shut for two days. Phew!

Ian's Mum's backgarden
The snowy conditions meant several changes to plans as we were late arriving at Ian's mum's and when it was time to leave we chose to leave earlier in the day than originally planned so we could travel in daylight. Some roads were icy as temperatures were around -7C (20F) in the daytime which is unbelievably cold for England, even the motorways were icy in places which is a bit scary but we took it steady and arrived at my mother's in daylight. I have known temperatures that cold before in England but not that cold and snowy, it seems to be one or the other. Service stations along the way on the motorways were full of people taking breaks on long journeys and many had bonnets up and appeared to be looking at their washers, cars and screenwash are just not set up for such cold conditions. We were okay using our washers but only because we had poured neat screenwash in, which may not be good for the paintwork for the car in the long run but when it is that cold the choice is between being able to see and having your windscreen mist up from the spray off the roads. We also left my mother's a day earlier and booked into a hotel at the airport rather than risk the ice preventing us getting down from their rather isolated location or an incident on the roads in the morning from the ice or fog. We had had to leave our car at the bottom of the hill anyway and my dad came down in his 4x4 to pick us and our cases up but it was still rather slippy.

Not had much time for the internet this week but I did find out that 182,600 people in Latvia earn just the minimum wage of 180LVLs (£215, $338) per month out of a total working population of 960,400 ie 19% of those working are paid the minimum wage. Not good! Despite the crisis the Government are increasing the minimum wage to 200LVLs per month in 2011, I guess that is so they can extract more tax but I do believe it is a step in the right direction as it requires around 164 LVLs, according to Government statistics just to purchase the basics and so 180LVLs after tax of 25% is less than what is needed to live off and doesn't leave anything for electricity and heating.

Sorry not many snowy pictures either as we didn't have much time for that and too slippy to take out the camera on our walk.