Monday, 31 January 2011

Confession time

Yes this is Robbie the halogen cooker, cooking pie, chips
and sweetcorn. Still need to fiddle about with the timings
but at least it didn't burn the bottom of the pie like my
ordinary oven - mind you it didn't cook the bottom very well
at all. The top was cooked. I am sure I will get used
to it though.
Okay I have a confession to make, we bought another kitchen gadget. Have we got room for yet another kitchen gadget? No! Do we need another kitchen gadget? Errrr! Welllllll! Yes! Honestly we have a very good reason or two for buying our recent addition to the paraphernalia we have in our kitchen and in our dump room (I said we don't have room). You see, it's like this, all this week our heating has not been sufficient to heat our apartment to sensible temperatures ie it has been between 13C to 15C, as the heating company hasn't been sending warm enough water around our communal heating system. We have resorted to our wood stove rather earlier in the year than we would like, our wood stove is really for when the communal heating is turned off, which is usually before we would turn it off; anyway I think that maybe our neighbour downstairs has probably had to turn his heating up to compensate for all the cold apartments around him as he runs his heating off gas and not the communal heating like most of us, and I wonder if all of us have been turning on the ovens more than usual to provide hot nourishing meals and warm our apartments up in the process, in short our apartment block ran out of gas. Not sure who is responsible for making sure there is enough gas in the apartment gas tanks or if there is a set delivery date but yesterday we went to fry up some fish fingers for fish finger sandwiches (cor more confessions) or should I say gently saute (is that healthier?) and lo and behold there was no gas, in fact there was no gas all day. We had been humming and hahhing over getting a halogen oven, partly so we wouldn't have to buy a cooker for the other apartment and yet folks still be able to cook and also to use ourselves the rest of the time, we had seen one in our local Aladdin's cave shop but decided against it, but when the gas went off and having to rely on a kettle, slow cooker and an ancient microwave we decided that maybe it would be a good investment after all. So please welcome Robbie our new gadget, I don't normally name our gadgets but this one looks so like a robot from the 60s it has to have a name.

The cleared roadway
As is usual for this time of the year our week has been dominated by the snow and clearing it away. Since the fiasco with our tractor window last week our tractor went up to our neighbours so that Ian could do a temporary fix to it before using it to clear an access road to get onto the land to start work on the other fiasco, our collapsed polytunnel. With the piece of plastic from the polytunnel and good old duck tape the hole was sealed and the tractor serviceable again. As a thank you to our neighbours and while he was up there anyway, Ian cleared away the snow from their yard to make it easier for them, something they didn't feel should go unrewarded either and so Ian was treated to a meat feast of a dinner (lunch), three slices of karbonade (for all you who have not visited Latvia it is battered pork in an egg and flour batter and fried -sorry sauteed), and a couple of thick slices of smoked bacon, and I was at home wondering what he had taken to eat!

Not as much as last year but still a lot of snow.
The next job was to try and find the road. Ian had tracked our road and various things on our land, like the polytunnel, barn, orchard and bushes, last year with a hand held GPS (yes I know another gadget) and this meant he was able to roughly retrace his route and mark out a path with his snowshoes which he could then follow with the tractor. Next year I think we mark out the track before it snows with sticks to make things easier as a GPS is only accurate down to about 3-5m which could land us in a hole unless we fill it in, or we could end up running over stones that are on the edge of the road. There is not as much snow as last year but it is much heavier with a distinct layer of ice from an ice storm. Once the road way was cleared it meant we could then get on with the job of clearing snow from the polytunnel. The first clear day was rather chilly at -21C in the morning but it was a beautiful day and a joy to be outside working, well it was for most of the day. Ian used the tractor to clear around the polytunnel and I freed up various parts of the structure with a good old fashioned shovel. The problem is at that temperature it is really important not to stop moving or you freeze. I had on leggings, ski pants and waterproof trousers, a t-shirt, a base layer, thin fleece, outer fleece and my coat but had to take that off when working as I was getting too warm; it is also really important not to sweat or you get into a lot of trouble when that freezes. So I worked steadily and slowly all day, apart from huddling around the fire to have some fried egg sandwiches for lunch, and that worked well, but towards the end of the day I was getting very tired but I didn't dare stop as the temperatures were dipping low again. I was so glad when we decided to call it a day. Fortunately the following day was not as cold so less danger of freezing to death, literally, but it took two days to dig away the snow. Snow and wind stopped any further work until today when we started to dismantle the collapsed pieces to try and salvage what we can. It would appear that the OSB (composite board) joints failed in most places but there were also some solid pieces of timber that had cracked. There won't be any OSB joints when we rebuild that is for sure!

After one windy day this end piece
needed stabilising. 
If you follow this blog you will know that we have been away over Christmas in Australia and our daughter cooked us a lovely Christmas dinner but it didn't feel like Christmas at all as it was 40C outside and not cold like Christmas should be, well at least for a Northern Hemisphere lass. Fortunately our friends saved us a turkey they had reared and they brought it around this week and we decided to have another Christmas dinner complete with fairy lights and a few other decorations. We couldn't have Christmas dinner alone of course and so we invited our friends around too for a traditional English roast and I even bought them some little presents just for the fun of it. It was a great time, even if it still didn't really feel like Christmas - after all they had finished with all the Christmas songs on the radio.

Somewhere under there are current bushes
It has been a topsy turvey time for many of us thanks to the banking crisis of a couple of years ago. We have had a house on the market for over a year and this last week we arranged for another estate agent to have a go at selling it. So if anyone wants a house in Sheffield, England here is the link, the original estate agent is completely flummoxed as to why it has not sold, it is not as if there is anything wrong with it, it is actually quite a nice house. It is incredible to think though that it would seem that the bankers have learnt nothing from the debacle they helped to create. It seems that the bankers just sighed with relief that the worse is over and now carry on as before, they seem to think that's it, nothing else to worry about, but I am afraid they didn't heed the call. The foundations are rotten and I believe there will be more revelations of where their money comes from and the harm it does. I really wished they had changed their greedy ways, they had the perfect opportunity but decided that greed was the better option. How wrong they are!

There was a track there once down to our workshop
It is not just high street banks that are the problem though, it is the whole financial set up from the IMF, who the Latvian Prime Minister describes as the unpredictable partner, to those who lend microloans to the poor. I had my doubts about microloans, and I wrote about them in October 2008, as the interest rates are so high. It would seem that the Institute of Development Studies have reservations too pointing out that loans have a habit of encouraging more debt and loans do nothing to address the imbalance of power that keeps the poor poor. What is even more incredible is they point out that the World Bank endorse microloans as a means of helping the poor out of poverty and yet have not done any follow up research to see if this is really the case. Is this more evidence of the rotten core of the financial powers? The core that puts ideology before the real needs of the poor?

More snow! 
The rotten core of the financial markets have now also turned their eyes to the food markets leading to volatile prices of food, even when there is no cause for it. Speculation hinders proper pricing of foods. So who else thought that the hike in price of wheat was due to Russian wheat shortages? The fact is there is enough wheat in store to ride out a year or even two years of shortages but big grain companies and derivative speculators made a killing from the fear of shortage. There was no shortage of wheat in the grand scheme of things. So what is the answer? One answer is to enable small farmers to move beyond subsistence farming into the marketplace and ending the power of large agro-companies. It is not the large agro-companies that feed the world, small farmers are much better at it than we are lead to believe. And if you believe speculators should be regulated in the food markets then check this link out and maybe sign the e-petition. 
I love the contrast of our neighbours truck with the
white snowy world. A bit of snow doesn't stop him
from getting on with his job.

Monday, 24 January 2011

You've gotta smile...

Bit of a change from two weeks ago when we were sat in Oz!
You've gotta smile, otherwise you might cry. Laughter has been our safety valve and our help just lately. No we are not in denial, yes it was irritating at the time but it's life, it's tough sometimes. Things happen and if we can laugh and realise it is not the end of the world then we will get through it and get on. So what travesties have we endured this week?

The unfinished barn. Snow stopped play!
We arrived back in Latvia to rain, not pleasant when there is a lot of snow about, but useful for reducing huge piles of snow everywhere from mountains of snow to hills of it. Apparently while we were away there has been a lot of snow in Latvia which has resulted in utter chaos at times, places were cut off of course which is only to be expected, but also whole swathes of rural Eastern Latvia, Latgale, were without electricity for two weeks over Christmas and early January. Foreign crews from Sweden and Finland had to be called in to get areas reconnected as the local Latvian electric company were unable to cope with the scale of the problem. Latvia knows about snow and is usually well prepared but the type of heavy snow and the scale of it, overwhelmed this sparsely populated country. It also overwhelmed our polytunnel. Yes the very same polytunnel that took 5 months to get built and was built late in the season, which set us back last year right at the start of the rather short growing season. As you can just about see, two sections only are still standing and Ian managed to get in and knock the inches thick ice off the roof to try and save it. Much of the wood is salvageable we think, but until we can get in properly we can't be sure. It looks likes joints have failed rather than the plastic, which is what we thought may fail. We aim to rebuild it but next time we are going to try and put some more internal structure into it, using some of the leftover wood from the barn. At least we don't need the space for the tractor anymore as we have the barn - or will do when its finished (yes the snow stopped play there too) and we now have the two wheeled tractor to turn over the ground in the polytunnel.

A sad and sorry sight, our collapsed polytunnel
So, the polytunnel is down and to get to it we have been hiking across the snow in our snow shoes but to actually work on it and determine what can be saved we needed to get the tractor back to the land and clear space to work in. It would appear that is easier said than done too. The tractor just got back to the land and in the process of clearing space to get onto it when the rear window shattered, scaring the living daylights out of the driver, we got there just after it happened and I thought the driver was going to have a heart attack as he was white with shock. The driver was distraught but these things happen, like the glass on our oven door that would have to shatter while a friend was stood in front of it, this would have to shatter on someone driving the tractor as a favour as Ian cannot drive on the roads in a tractor here in Latvia. We laughed, we joked, we made silly comments and Ian went to get some plastic from our polytunel to cover the gaping hole at the back of the tractor. Well there had to be some use for the plastic now. Well our tractor is now parked up at our neighbours farm and Ian will make a temporary repair on it tomorrow before sorting out digging his way onto the land tomorrow. While he was parking the tractor up and sorting it out for the night, I was scraping the road of glass so it didn't get into people's tyres and cause an even bigger mess. Sheesh! The day started off so quietly too.

The tunnel created which protected our
vines which are all snuggly wrapped up
on the right
Other things have been niggly too, like the new four slice toaster we bought in England in October that was working when we left is now a two slice toaster, which in our household is a disaster. The internet keeps playing up - or rather our airport or wireless connection keeps playing up but in the grand scheme of things these are not important. While we have been sunning ourselves in Australia, our poor neighbours and friends have been struggling with snow, struggling with heat or lack of it, struggling without electric or intermittent electric and generally having a hard time and so who are we to get down with some inconveniences? Polytunnels can be rebuilt and thank God no one was in it when it came down, tractor windows can be fixed and an extra toaster was bought and we swapped the two slice toaster from our other apartment with our should be four slice toaster, so all is good! 

The view from the other side of the polytunnel. As you can
just about see both ends are still standing and it is the
middle that has collapsed forming a tunnel on one side.

The present left by our neighbours who
were keeping our apartment heated while
we were away.
We have many things to be grateful for, such as our neighbours that made sure our other apartment was heated when our friends who were going to do it got stranded when the snow reached chest height, our neighbours even left us a picture, a candle and fridge magnet as a little Christmas present. We knew that our apartments were in good hands while we were away and that is something to be very grateful for. Also amazingly when our polytunnel came down it didn't flatten the vines, the table and chairs, the small plastic greenhouse, the roof panels for the barn that had been stored in the polytunnel or the cement mixer. It has flattened the plants that were in there as an experiment but they were already killed off with cold when he who shall remain nameless left the door open when it was -10C outside, so no problem about that. It is bad, but not the end of the world, we shall learn, we shall start again only better and we move on, we won't dwell on it - well perhaps we will but only for the comic value we can get out of it.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Wedding Part 2

Wedding Part 1 in sunny Perth, Australia. 
It's a good job that I write notes to remind me of things we have done or I have read during the week, otherwise I would forget, especially this week. It has been rather a hectic week that started out in sunny Perth, Australia and now ending in a wet and windy England. Door to door it was 25 hours of travelling and it was so nice to roll into bed at the hotel at the airport, at least that way we were in a fit state to travel on to our friends the next day.

Wedding Part 2 England. Notice the difference? The shawl
was needed for this one.
We were impressed with the Emirates flights as the food is certainly not bad as airplane meals go, sometimes a little too spicy, but not bad. The service is good too with plenty of entertainment to while away the hours. It is amazing how much difference pleasant staff and reasonable food can make to a plane journey - something the American airlines as a whole could learn from. The ambience on the emirates planes is intriguing, as they play bird song near the end of each flight, not sure if it is to wake passengers up or relax them but it is nice, along with the changing colours of the dimmed lights as we are coming into land finishing with lights reduced to what looks like star light at the end. All very pretty. Getting off the plane in England though, I was shocked by the filthy state that passengers left the seating area. Does it really hurt that much to pick up sweet papers and lids off the meals? I know people are paid to keep the planes tidy but there is no need to leave that much mess. Our journey was good, 40 minutes early in Dubai, an hour late in Manchester which didn't bother us, but I guess inconvenienced many others, but our daughter's journey a couple of days before was rather worse as they had to divert to another airport due to fog and ended up sitting on a stationary plane for 7 hours while they waited for fuel and crew to be delivered to an airport not geared up for the larger planes. Not ever so helpful for their preparations for the second part of their wedding.

Shawl detail. I appliqued and
embroidered poinsettia's onto the shawl
along with lots of stars to hold the fabric
and base layer together
Well wedding part 2 was good, the shawl/stole/pashmina whatever you want to call it was completed the day before the wedding, thank goodness and we managed to get into the hall and decorate. It was really weird to be working with our friends, Graham and Steph again, who we have worked with for many years in children's ministry setting up in the very same building where our daughter was getting married. We still seemed to have the knack of working together each doing our separate things and yet working together to a harmonious whole, we were pleased with the result, this was despite me getting up at 5:30am to be ready to get some flowers for the arrangements.

Love this photo as they look like they are having
so much fun
The wedding itself was a little different as our daughter and her new husband were legally married in Australia and so it was a chance for them to decide exactly what they wanted to do and arrange it the way they wanted as they did not have to go through any of the formalities. I was proud of the way they rejected the rampant commercialism and tried to do everything as well as they could and yet not spend a fortune. I was also proud of the fact that people were invited to all of the wedding and not just parts of it. I never understood the way many invite people to the wedding service and then expect them to go away until the evening do, while the selected few ate a sit down meal. I know part of it is due to costs but why go to the expense of a posh meal if you can't have everyone there? Why not do something simpler and share it with everyone or wait until later to have the sit down meal after the main body of guests have gone? Each to their own I guess! We did enjoy the chance though to join our daughter and her new husband the next morning for breakfast, after the busyness of taking down all the decorations the night before and to give them a big hug before they set off on their honeymoon. We then spent a lovely afternoon with our oldest son and his new wife (the ones who were married in October remember) looking at all the photos from the day before and laughing so much over many happy memories which spilled over into the Sunday lunch with our friends who had done so much to make our daughter's wedding special. A very tiring but thoroughly enjoyable weekend, not bad for a wedding really!

The decorated hall. White material down the poles with
ivy and red bows. Fairy lights and fabric around the cross
plus two carnations in a glass vase. One large flower
I was rather pleased with this
arrangement, it didn't take me nearly
as long as I thought it might after such a
long period of time since I last
did arrangements.
It has been a privilege to see our daughter married in Australia and England but also a privilege to see so many willing helpers prepared to make both days special. Rather than impersonal services provided at great cost by a company, the wedding was prepared with love and care by those who demonstrate the love of Christ through their actions. So if you are reading this, thanks very much to all who helped, you made the days very special and a precious time to remember.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Sew, sew, sew

A wedding in the garden. Not the best picture but I promise
to post more later
Yes that does say sew, sew, sew and not snow, snow, snow - that might be in about a week's time when we get back home to Latvia. We have managed a few days of sightseeing, here in Perth, Australia but the rest of the time was spent on wedding preparation including sewing. Early on in the week it was decided that the really abrupt tan line on our daughter's back was not going to even out in time for the wedding and the only option was to hide it beneath a panel insert and so on the Tuesday before the Saturday wedding we whizzed off to a local fabric store to get some net curtaining - as you do, don't all brides wear net curtains? As our daughter was having her hair highlighted and cut, I got started on the embroidery to go on the panel; at least they gave me coffee and water while I was sewing even if they must have thought it a bit odd me sitting there embroidering. Fortunately the panel wasn't huge but it did need some decoration. Unfortunately there are no pictures yet as that is a surprise for the English part of the wedding next week. I also finished sewing the shawl to keep her warm in England as there is going to be rather a huge difference in temperatures between the Australian summer wedding and an English winter wedding. I must say I am rather pleased with it, again you have to wait for pictures of that too. By way of compensation though you can see the place where the wedding was held, it looked so pretty and we had great fun decorating her friend's back garden.

One of the pretty little places in Guildford with the not so
aesthetically placed for sale sign
There were a few things that marked this out as different to an English wedding, firstly it was outside in January, the sun was definitely shining and all I had was a cheap sun hat and not a glorious wedding hat - would have looked over the top anyway for this casual wedding. Secondly it was in someone's garden, all that is needed is someone registered to carry out a marriage and that was a friend of theirs who is Australian but they met him in England when they all lived there. We also had a fly pass of big black birds, only these weren't crows or anything like that, they were a parrot type bird called red-tailed cockatoos. Thirdly the day nearly started out in disaster when the one of the hosts got bitten by a redback spider which can be fatal - fortunately not all bites are serious and usually only for little ones and this one wasn't. One other spider was spotted later and swiftly dispatched. It was a lovely day, so relaxed that even though I managed to leave my bible and glasses in my handbag (purse) in room inside the house for the reading, it didn't matter as I toddled off to get them. It does mean though, that it may be one of those stories that gets recycled and I get teased about for a few years, along with the story of how with an hour to go to the wedding I realised I hadn't any suitable shoes for the wedding, only a tatty pair of sandals. I nearly wore a pair of purple flip flops, or thongs as they are called here (stop laughing Brits), very Australian. Instead I resorted to borrowing a pair of high-heeled shoes from my daughter and managed not to kill myself in the process walking around in them - major achievement for me.

What everyone should have growing over their
garden wall in January
Our two outings this week consisted of going to see Historic Guildford, a town built in the 1800s, and a walk around the river area near the centre of Perth. The phrase "historic" makes me giggle here in Australia as it did in America's mid-West, as their idea of historic and mine are rather different, but I guess it is just a matter of perspective and the Italians would possibly find my idea of historic just as laughable. One story that made me smile on the interpretative panels they have dotted around the town of Guildford, was of a young lady, who with her aboriginal servant rode into the sea many times to save quite a few people from a shipwreck and a certain Mr. Brockman on hearing of her heroism immediately rode out to meet this remarkable young woman. They eventually fell in love and married. A bit different from your soppy romantic stories where the young lady swoons into the arms of some heroic young man.

One of the cycle paths around Perth
I am not fond of cities, I have to say, but Perth as cities goes is not bad. It has many cycle lanes which makes getting out and about reasonably easy - well it does in the rest of the year, it is a bit hot for me at this time of the year. We did go for a long walk though that meant we could stop and take photos of some of the statues which are dotted around in the parks and on the streets, as well as the parrot type birds and the scenery. Just a pity that it must take loads of water to keep it all looking so green in such a hot and dry climate. Also managed to take some pictures of the naked ghost gum trees this week, those that shed their bark in summer, which is something to do with drought resistance apparently. I find that strange as I would have thought the bark would keep the moisture in. So sorry folks, I have got quite brown for me and this is despite it being January.

Short post this week as we are packing and cleaning, or rather Ian is as I write this to head back to England rather too early in the morning tomorrow so here are some more pictures from our trip
One of those naked trees that have shed its
bark. Hope to have some more next week
as they are still on my camera and my lead
is packed somewhere.

Noisy as a galah, so the saying goes. An apt name for these
noisy parrots

Some of the many statues in Perth

Perth with the infamous or famous grounds where England
were defeated this year for the only time in Australia to regain
the Ashes. Apparently it is because it was the only pitch that
was hard, the rest have been soaked by rain which favours the
English according to one shopkeeper we got chatting too
in Guildford.

A cormorant who was not photo shy and even stretched out
for me to get a better shot of his feathers. Show off!

One for my friend Ju, a nice rusty train

Monday, 3 January 2011

Just chatting

My bunch of flowers

Where has this week gone to? I don't feel like I have done much and yet it has flown by. I seem to have spent much of the time making alterations to our daughter's wedding dress. I thought it was sorted and then she would try it on and something else would need altering but finally it was finished. The next task was to get it dry cleaned - Sheesh!!! One company told us it would take 2-3 weeks to be done, not good with just over a week to go to the wedding, and the cost was eye-watering, fortunately another company told us it would take a week and wasn't quite so eye-wateringly high, it should be ready on Friday, errrr only the day before the wedding. I did get a lovely bunch of flowers though from our daughter for my efforts, so all is good. 
Sunset from the backgarden
Still managed to get to the beach again at the weekend, everyone else ie Ian, our daughter and fiancĂ©, biked it there and I drove the Land Rover, well someone had to and it was supposed to be hot. I did go for a swim in the sea to make up for the lack of exercise on my part, just so I earned the fish and chip lunch we had. One thing I learnt on that trip, though, was relying on technology to get you somewhere when you are the only one in the car is a recipe for disaster. I was trying to follow the route with an iPad but it kept switching off at the wrong times and no traffic lights were on red long enough to check my route, I would have been far better writing all the road names down and following that and it would have saved missing my junction many a time. I have to say that driving around Perth normally is quite easy for a big city, all the road names are signposted before you get to them, which is very very helpful when trying to navigate your way around a city you don't know. 
Typical scenery on our way to our holiday before
A pelican that rather obligingly flew back so we could
get a better picture
Ian and I also managed to see a friend that we met when we lived in Denmark (Europe) who just happens to live in Perth - small world. Both of us have come a long way since then and so it was good to chat about life, faith and kids. I know it seems to be a long way to come just for chats but I love to do that and in some ways would rather have a good old chat than go and see all the sights your supposed to see on trips like this. It is the conversations that I remember best and I guess that is why we enjoyed our stay in the youth hostel so much before Christmas - at this point my daughter can say "I told you so, I knew you would enjoy it!" To cap it all, someone we were having a chat with while we were on on holiday got chatting to our daughter's friend and they worked out they both now knew this crazy couple who live in Latvia, how weird is that? Goodness only knows where that will go.

Since the New Year has come and gone, I was pondering on the year ahead, as you do, and wondering what our focus should be. I wanted to know what God thought on the subject, as that to me is more important and straight away a thought came into my mind with surprising speed, I was expecting a long drawn out conversation with God about the year ahead. The thought that came to mind was the scene in the Muppets' Christmas Carol where the ghost of Christmas Present appeared and his first words were "Come on in and know me better man." I knew immediately what God was getting at, my focus was to get to know the God I love even better, simple! Nothing complicated. Just in case I didn't get the message, a friend posted a verse from Ephesians 1 which says 
17 "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better." 
Ian jumping the waves at the beach. That's as near as he
gets to a swim
Okay I get the message God!  He is good! I love it when he just makes sure I have got the message. I have also had the song "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine" going around my head, which on the surface sounds a bit maudlin really, but I do have a sense that the world from my perspective is going to look very different in the year ahead, and you know.... I do feel fine, not scared, not worried, in fact I even feel quite curious about it. Thought it was just me but another blogger, Martin Scott, also feels the same way as he is looking to navigate the way through what will be a changing year by closely listening to God, good to know I am not the only one tracking that way.
Wilson inlet, another photo from our holiday before

One article I have to mention this week is the news about Neo, remember him? The guy who published the earnings of many of the top earners in Latvia after he hacked into the tax services computer system, due to some very lax security. He has been voted the European  Person of the Year 2010 in Latvia, for "daring to defend democratic and European values in Latvia." Many people supported his actions as he highlighted that, while many workers for state owned organisations were getting pay cuts, those at the top were not suffering in the same way and earning, by Latvian standards, obscene amounts of money. He certainly brought into the light things which some people would rather be hidden.