Monday, 29 December 2008

Great time!

It has been a cold week this week with some pretty low temperatures -11C (12F) last night. Not as cold as it has been in Fort Collins apparently, but then again in Fort Collins it is a dry cold, here we have thick ice and I don't do well on ice. I fell over right outside our local supermarket, thank goodness the only thing that really took a dent was some pride, thought I was going to end up with a cracking bruise but didn't. This first picture was taken by Mark on our Christmas Day walk.

The beginning of the week saw more emails arrive out of the blue. One was posted to our old Danish account and another from someone we had lost contact with two years ago. Getting very weird now and almost freaky. One of the emails we were quite glad to receive the other one was from someone we had rather been left in the past. When I saw the stork a while ago, and felt that I should expect the unexpected I didn't feel excited, I kind of felt it will bring both good and not so good things our way. I am not worried either, it just has a feeling of inevitability about it, as if it has to happen. 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 what has gone before. It all sounds a bit vague so I was quite relieved, well almost, to read this in Martin Scott's blog from a group of prophets meeting in England

"There are more volatile shakings coming to the earth. So God has planned for us a Season of Acceleration. In this season we will be faced with defining choices, taking a leap into the future, and walking in faith without seeing the next step. We will even be challenged in our faith with understanding the spirit realm."

That kind of sums up how I feel like we can't quite see the next step ahead, the picture that comes to mind is when Paul was in a ship in a storm and in Acts 27:17 it talks about how they fastened ropes around the ship to hold it together and dropped the sea anchor and allowed the boat to be driven along. I know God is in charge, I know we will go where he wants us to go and all he asks of us right now is to do one thing at a time knowing that he has the timing and the place in his hands. Can't think of a safer place to be!

We might not have had all our children with us this year for Christmas but Scott and Sarah stepped in and joined our family. Scott is the friend of our son Mark and Sarah is someone that Scott met at camps here in Latvia and they were both doing a camp either side of Christmas with nowhere to go in between. We also met Sarah this year when we looked in on one of the camps and she is on the same course as our other son Matthew. We had a really fun time cutting down a couple of Christmas trees, one for our flat and one for the flat they were staying in and then we went to the hotel for a late lunch. We didn't have any early lunches as Scott and Sarah were both pretty tired from the first week of camp and took the opportunity to sleep in. As we were eating lunch our friend Chris drove by and noticed us in the restaurant so popped in to say hello. I found out that he hadn't got any plans for Christmas day as his mother was in the States so we invited him over as well. It was cramped in our little kitchen with 6 of us round the table and required full participation of everyone to pass plates, or cutlery or kettles etc. which was quite funny at times but added to the occasion I am sure. It was lovely to have the gift of company to help to celebrate the special day, the shortbread was welcome to. 

In the summer we met Andzejs who has led worship for quite a few of the camps we have been to at Gančausķas and we agreed to meet up sometime. Problem is that he is quite busy now as he is a drummer in a pop band here in Latvia, so trying to sort out a time to meet up was quite difficult. Well we finally managed a meeting and arranged to meet up in Sigulda, it was quite funny really as he came by train. He doesn't have a car as he lives in the middle of Riga and it is easier for him to get a taxi to go to gigs. Can't imagine many English superstars travelling by train and there is no first class compartments here in Latvia that I know of. We had a great couple of hours over cups of tea or cocoa and pancakes. 

This photo was taken at our other flat by Mark. It is a picture of a plug socket for a radio. Every Soviet house has one so they can plug in a little radio and listen to the one radio station that they could pick up. Our friend Victors who is making our kitchen was explaining to us that every morning you would hear "Good morning comrades" type propaganda encouraging the people to work for the country - that sort of thing. It is an amazing little piece of history slowly disappearing.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Greetings from snowy Latvia

Well it has been snowing on and off again this week and the snow ploughs were out again today, at least we didn't get as much ice as the previous week. That stuff is not nice. I also got registered with the British Embassy today. Did you know they recommend that you do so every time you travel? I think it is something new so they know if something happens such as a major catastrophe then they know if they have any of their nationals in the area. It is also recommended if you are moving to another country - didn't know that and we left nearly 6 years ago. Lol!

Unexpected happenings are still happening, this week's out of the blue occurrence is an email from one of Ian's old school friends who was rifling through old Christmas cards and found one of my email addresses and sent an email to us. We haven't been in touch for a while as his last address for us was Copenghagen, it is really nice to be in touch again and catch up a little on some news.

We got a goose for Christmas, a bit pricey and the girl on the check out asked us if we were sure we wanted to buy it, bless her. Always wondered what a goose would be like and this one is a small one so will fit in the oven. Could have got a duck but there is not much meat on a duck. Will also be interesting to see whether it might be worth raising geese instead of turkeys for next year - or both - or none. We will really need to sit down at the beginning of the year and work out exactly what we do want to be heading towards as far as raising animals and food, although that does also depend on what resources we have available next year.

Had one of those moments when I forgot which country I was in. We were listening to KUNC which is a radio station Ian used to listen to at work in the US as he like the range of music they played and they don't saturate the air time with adverts, they were talking about the airports that are shut in the north of the US due to winter storms and for one moment I was desperately trying to think which airport Mark (our middle child for those who get mixed up and a photo that kind of sums him up - crazy at times!) would be flying into. We and our kids have flown into the US via Chicago, Newark, Houston, Atlanta, and Washington and then it dawned on me that unless Mark was going to take a humungous detour he wouldn't be flying into any of those airports, he would be on a direct flight between Gatwick, London and Riga. Oh boy! Think I might be losing it. At least we both didn't lose it and we managed to get to Riga airport at the right time on the right day. It has been known for me to mix up days (suddenly found out once that Ian was actually going to arrive one day earlier than I had thought. Whoops!) and times, which I did this time as well. I had organised for us to call in at our new friends Roger and Valerie, we always have a riotous time of laughter and we chat such a lot which is absolutely refreshing. The problem was that I organised to call in for lunch on the way to pick Mark up but he was actually not going to arrive until much later than we anticipated, fortunately our good friends were flexible enough to allow us to arrive for an evening meal instead. Phew! Unfortunately it also meant we didn't roll into bed until 3am. 

On one of my jaunts around the net and having got fed up of bad news I typed in "good news" as you do and found this "Riling against the ills around me won’t change them nor [does] real change, the personal one, require any special powers- only some commitment. In early 2006, I decided I would search and care for a piece of derelict land and make it productive. A small part of India where nothing had ever grown, a land that had been abandoned as worthless, an orphaned part of India as it were, seemed a good place from which to begin a new journey."

This was such a wonderful concept I had to include it and wondered what we can do to return derelict lands in our own lives, real or spiritual derelict lands with just a bit of commitment.

I was reading in my course book about "social capital" which is how groups work together and how trust is so necessary for that to happen. Kind of obvious really and yet it is not obvious. Trust is a major factor in development. Without trust power games become prevalent. The fostering of trust is more important than many strategies as many of these strategies will fail without trust. Latvia lacks trust between political and institutional structures and the people, this is partly due to recent experience but also due to 800 years of occupation which does not lead to a trusting nation. Communication between participants is necessary as well as more open and sympathetic institutions. Our experience has been very good here and positive but it is easy to suspect that this is because we are from another EU country, if you are from the country itself there is far less trust expressed. Latvia has come a long way but trust is lost so easily and difficult to gain and so much work needs to happen. 

Oh I could go on but I won't, instead I will wish you all a blessed Christmas from snowy Latvia and may you discover a richness and a depth to this time of year that you have not experienced before, a sense of peace that transcends all understanding.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Bad news and Good news!

A sad day this week Oliver Postgate died Tuesday, he was the creator of Bagpuss and Clangers. For any who have visited our abodes you may have noticed my pink and cream striped cats - my mini Bagpusses, which my children have bought for me, I even have a DVD and I once had a pair of Bagpuss socks but I am not sure what happened to them, maybe they got a hole in them. I used to love Bagpuss as a kid, in fact I used to like most of Oliver Postgate animations, they had a simplicity and childlikeness about them. They told simple stories with imaginative themes. What I hadn't realised was that the Clangers noises were actually real words done on a swanee whistle, so they had a real script. One particular script written by Oliver Postgate led to a summons by the BBC chiefs to explain the script which included a few swear words but of course the kids wouldn't have heard the real words so I guess that was okay.

Well unexpected happenings still keep happening and we certainly got one of those this week, a tax demand for an unpaid bill from Denmark for 2005 of 545DKK ($98, £66) and it cost us 16 LVL's ($30, £20) to pay the thing. We kept paying everything they sent bills for, so goodness only knows where this came from, that had better be it or I am going to blow a gasket. It was one of the reasons we couldn't even face a short time in Denmark, before Latvia. if Ian had to work some notice, as it has taken us ages to extricate ourselves from the system. They have made plenty of mistakes and I suspect this payment was actually interest from the time they overpaid us, then asked for it back - having taken over a year to sort it out, and it took us a while to work out how we owed money when they had just paid us!!!!!!!! Complicated! You should see our file! If there is one thing that depresses me it is dealing with incompetent tax authorities, and closely followed by incompetent tax consultants who need to be told their jobs. There! Got that out of my system now! Really looking forward to the end of the year to deal with a new tax system. Not!

Had some good news this week. I sent in my first assignment for my course last week and 
got the results back this week and I got a Distinction which as you can imagine I am rather pleased about. I have loved the course so far and found so much of it fascinating and it is wonderful to see the ideas that have floated around my head have relevance to this course. I had one of those ahah moments today when I was reading about high taxation on rural peasant farmers often leads them to give up on cash producing crops and resort back to subsistence farming. I think the system here is too complicated with EU directives for this and that and it does not surprise me that the farmers take the EU funding for cutting the hay in their fields and then just leave it to rot. That is taking easy money but what do you do with it when it is cut? How easy are markets to access? Where do you sell your excess produce? How many legal hoops do you need to jump through? What receipts do you need to keep in order that the taxman does not take all your profit? Many of the farmers here are at least in their 50's and most are older and they have spent most of their life under the communist system, with the state control of what you do and how you produce things and a certain level of recompense as long as you did some semblance of work and now they are expected to compete in a competitive, complicated market? It is no wonder they go back to subsistence farming, it is at least simple as the Latvian farmers are usually land rich even if they are not cash rich. I have got some ideas buzzing around in my head about centralised cooperatives that provide a market place with at least one person who is au fait with computers so they can keep a record of stock for sale and stock wanted by supermarkets. I know there are cooperatives for milk 
here and I am sure there is probably more scope for greater cooperation, although I recognise that sometimes trust is in short supply here, another legacy of Soviet times. Maybe any excess stock could also be used for making biofuels or electricity, just throwing ideas out there but they need investment - another sticky problem.

I wrote last week that I saw a shooting star which for me is really rare, well on our way home from visiting our friend Natalija we saw three more shooting stars well four if you include the one that Ian saw, and one lone firework. The shooting stars were part of the Geminids meteor shower and occur round about this time of the year every year but up till now I haven't seen them. I am still really perplexed at what God is saying, mind you he might be saying nothing at the moment just raising my alertness level, so it is still watch this space and maybe one day I will understand what this is all pointing to.

I wrote such a lot last week that I didn't mention that we had our heating bill for the month of November and it was 88LVLs (£109, $166) not sure what your bills are like but for an average Latvian 88LVLs is a lot of money. The average wage of a Latvian is 389LVLs (£482, $737) and so the 88LVLs is a big chunk of that, and the average pensioner gets 124LVLs (£154, $235) a month so you can see that 88LVLs is a very big chunk of that. It is also easy to see why they wait until late on in the year before putting on the heating. It is no wonder that some people also have a huge debt when it comes to heating bills. This didn't happen in Soviet times and it is easy to see why some people are nostalgic for the Soviet era, at least you were warm. 

Ian got to play this week with a mean machine. He needed to take a wall down in our new flat between a pantry and a bathroom to make a decent sized room. He was expecting a concrete wall but it turned out to be a concrete covered brick wall and his drill, while being a fine tool for drilling holes for electrical wires, which he as also being doing, was not up to taking a full wall down built with the aforementioned construction materials. A call to our friend Chris who we ate with last week resulted in a mean looking demolition hammer. It did the trick anyway and the wall is now in pieces. Now we just need to clean up and get the place sorted for Mark, our son, and friends to come over Christmas. We will also be getting the kitchen ready here in the flat we live in for the installation of the units at the end of this week - we hope. Lol.

Here are two pictures of doors. I like pictures of doors, especially those with character. I sense this next year will be a gateway year, one that will lead into our next phase and characterises what we will be doing for the next five or so years. One of the things I read this week was that the year before a jubilee year there would be produce enough for three years, one for the year they were in, one for the jubilee year and one for the year after while waiting for the harvest of that which was sown. So next year should be a sowing into our future harvest that will be reaped later. Interesting to see where that will lead.

 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year 
that the land will yield enough for three years. 
While you plant during the eighth year, 
you will eat from the old crop 
and will continue to eat from it 
until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.
Leviticus 25:21-22

Monday, 8 December 2008

Pontification abounds

Well we had more snow this week so Ian and I went out for a walk just to take photos. It was a nice break from course work for me and rewirng for Ian and there were some wonderful scenes. Hope you like the pictures.

I forgot to switch on the slow cooker for our evening meal one day this week and so we decided that we would go out to eat a day earlier than usual instead. We try and go once a week to our local hotel ( I am sure I have mentioned it before), a treat for us but also about spending money locally - such a hardship sometimes. Lol Just as we had decided a friend of ours rang to see if we were in and we said we
were actually just heading out and he asked if he could join us which we were more than happy for him to do. We had a great meal with Chris  and a great time of bouncing ideas about to help youth to engage. He runs the youth group in a town nearby along with a few others and he was wondering how to encourage the youth to feel part of the church community. It is really sad though that we have to think in terms of how to get youth motivated shouldn't we be holding them back trying to reign in their enthusiasm their idealism? Not that I am proposing putting a block on what they want to achieve, just helping them move forward with advice along the way to guide not hinder. Why do our youth give up so easily? What blocks have we and life in general taught them that says everything is useless? It's not worth bothering! Well just in case any younger folks are reading this then I say to you "Go! Try it! Reach out and dream! We of the older generations need you to be dreaming big". To parents I say "Let them go! Help them in anyway you can to try and live those big dreams and be their biggest cheerleaders and then watch them fly and help them out if they come in for a crash landing." 

On a different note we are soon to get our kitchen, we went to have a look at it while it is in the process of being made. Victors the guy who runs the business is so enthusiastic about making inset doors which costs more but matches our other furniture. It is lovely though to watch this craftsman get so much happiness out of the creative process. We are paying more but then the kitchen will still be around for a long time, and we get to see it being made, it is also being made with love and care. It got me thinking and the following phrase came to mind "Stop saving pennies by buying cheap stuff but start saving pennies to buy things worth having". I think William Morris's statement from 1882 still has much value and maybe even more so nowadays.

Have nothing in your houses that 
you do not know to be useful 
or believe to be beautiful. 

We have got so used to quantity that we sometimes forget about quality and I am not talking about the expensive named stuff, that can be as bad as the cheaper stuff sometimes. I am talking about the quality of relationships, the interaction with the craftsman that makes the piece of furniture just for you. We don't need a lot of stuff really so why not go for one or two really nice pieces instead of a whole load of junk that will fall apart in three or four years time. Some of my thoughts are hard to actually write down, you had to be there to see the joy on Victors face, we have worked on the creative process together, each contributing ideas, to come up with something that will be unique to us and fit the space we have perfectly, that has been more precious than the kitchen itself.
Another unexpected happening this week was a shooting star, although Ian has seen lots of them I have only seen them once before and that wasn't long ago in Colorado. That just raised my expectation of something that is imminent, so close. 

On my course this last week I have been reading about various happenings in the world which led us the market systems we have now. In the 80's communism was dismantled, the 90's saw the collapse of state led development which only left captialism as a viable option for economics and that has just had a spectacular crash, although this isn't mentioned in the book because it was written a few years ago. It did set me thinking, in fact my course does that a lot to me and I sometimes have difficulty keeping focussed as it sets me off on another train of thought. Anyway what I was thinking was that now is not the time to retreat into protectionism but a time to advance. The world needs and is indeed waiting for an advancing army to which it can rally but it needs to be one that proclaims love and justice not hatred, judgmentalism and triumphalism otherwise those who have been abandoned will rally around the sounds of war, making this world an even unsafer place to be. My suggestion is simple less greed and more compassion, how we work that out is between you and God. If anyone wants to tell me that I am pontificating up the wrong tree then I would love to hear from you, I value debate and I think we need fresh ideas and fast or even better some God ideas. The world is waiting, paralysed, people don't have a clue what to do next, they don't know where to turn to or what crisis is going to hit next and that includes our leaders. For those of my age and younger many of us have not known hardship, I only vaguely remember power cuts and reduced working weeks due to the oil crisis of the early 70's and I must admit to the crises of the 80's and 90's largely passed our family by. Just found out today that it was in December 8th 1991 that the Soviet Union was officially dissolved, a significant day I think.

We have to believe though that our contribution counts as Christians. If one small boy's contribution of five loaves and 2 fish can feed five thousand in the hands of a living and loving God then what can our contribution to fairness and justice in the markets make? Or our care in the field of old peoples homes, hospitals and schools? One small nun made an magnificent contribution to the care of the unloved in Calcutta through her devotion. Our contributions maybe small but we can make a difference, it might not make us rich but it will enrich our lives and those around us. Well my small contribution this week was to fast for one day. I haven't fasted since I had gallstones around 6 years ago, it made me nervous of fasting, something I used to do quite regularly. I prayed for a shift! When I used to fast it was usually something short like that, a change or a shift, something to break and God was faithful. Sometimes I wasn't sure what the shift was for, I just understood it was God's timing and that was what I was meant to do. Well I fasted on Saturday for a shift and one notable shift I have seen is that Sweden have got involved in the discussions with Latvia and the IMF. There was talk that the Lat might have to be devalued a position that the Government was keen to dismiss, and the Swedish Government would be keen to avoid too. Now why would the Swedes not want their Baltic neighbours currency to be devalued? Nothing altruistic I assure you, it is pure economics, many of the Swedish banks have been lending irresponsibly here in Latvia, for instance ten year loans for a car, cars do not last 10 years on the poor gravel roads here in Latvia. The Latvians do a fantastic job of grading the roads to keep them usable but the weather soon puts potholes in them again and it takes it out on the cars. If the Lat was devalued the Swedish banks would be hit either because the value of the loan would be decreased or due to the increase on defaults owing to the fact that many loans are in Euros and devaluing the Lat would instantly increase loans to unsustainable levels. Well I guess I have pontificated long enough so time to finish and if you wish to read more pontification you can always read Clive Jame's article entitled "The brilliance of Creative chaos"  very funny! Well I thought so!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Unexpected happenings

The first unexpected happening this week was seeing a stork flying around Ergli. They are supposed to have left a long time ago, like September, so as you can imagine this was not a happy looking stork flying around with two foot of snow on the ground. I felt God was telling me to expect the unexpected, not sure what that meant and still don't.

The next unexpected happening was our youngest son, Matthew winning the Let's mUve competition where he designed a new concept for a wheel - don't ask me what exactly but it looked good. It is amazing because it was a competition for undergraduates and Matthew is not even an undergraduate yet. We were amazed as we were just really pleased he had got to the finals and were telling him how brilliant it was that he had got that far, we didn't actually expect him to win - mind you I don't think he did either! I also felt that it was another sign to expect the unexpected.

We managed another day of snowshoeing which was good but the snow has nearly gone now leaving some fantastic ice structures, pity they are a yucky colour though.

Last year we spent Thanksgiving in Colorado with the usual trimmings that go with Thanksgiving. I loved the Turkey, potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes and salads but I have to say I was not that keen on the sweet potatoes baked with brown sugar and marshmallows on the top - a little too sweet for my liking, and cranberry and jello (jelly - often strawberry) salad I find a little too unusual. I did like my friend Tina's cranberry and apple salad though (thinking about it I think that was a different meal but I do remember eating Turkey and pretending it was Thanksgiving). This year was a little different, there was lamb and errr pork (surprise, surprise), and lots of salads made from fresh vegetables, a red cabbage and onion baked dish which was really nice but no Turkey and no sweet potatoes - not exactly something you find about 15 miles away from the Russian border which is where we spent Thanksgiving. It was a good time though and there was even pumpkin pie (made from real pumpkin not out of a can) and apple pie for dessert. The food and the company was good though and I did say that I thought having a day set aside to be thankful to God and to spend with family without opening presents was an idea which should be exported but I was told that really it is often only about stuffing ones face and has little to do with being thankful at all in most American homes which is a shame.

I have been reading on my course about the change in production from Ford's original mass production to the Toyota model of batch production and this set me thinking in terms of employment generally. The basic minimum wage has become a symbol of the difference between ideological thinking of the right and left parties. The right argue that to have a basic minimum wage is detrimental to the markets and the left arguing that it is a basic human right to have a fair minimum wage. I have to side on the left side of that debate for a different ideological reason and that is I think it is wrong for companies to expect the state to provide their workers with subsidies while at the same time complaining about the level of taxation. I wondered if there was some sort of a biblical principle on the matter and I am beginning to think that maybe the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 21:1-15) is actually a good principle of an employer being fair in a sociological sense. A denarius was the equivalent of an unskilled workers daily wage and so the vineyard worker was ensuring that people of the area were at least achieving a basic daily wage. I can almost hear the employers squeaking now that production would become too costly but I would argue that it is too costly not to, and also those at the top seemed to have managed quite nicely on the backs of many workers who do not ask for much beyond a decent living wage. 

Monday saw us taking a trip to Riga to see if we could find a stove with a boiler for a reasonable price and reasonable quality. We could find some wonderful looking stoves but not many with boilers. We only saw one which was in stock but without the boiler that seemed to have a good build quality and would take two weeks to order with the boiler but it was pricey. We were informed of a stove with a boiler that was cheap enough but we couldn't see it before putting down 50% of the price and was made in China.... hmmm! We loved our Danish stove and the quality was good, and we are kind of spoiled but a good quality stove with a boiler shouldn't be impossible to find .... should it? Well we will have to keep looking I guess.

Additional note for my American friends I mean a wood burning stove that heats the house and water not something you necessarily cook on.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Snow, snow and more snow

We have had loads of snow after more than 48 hours of snow showers. Our American missionary friends have said that it was the most they had seen fall at once and that is in the 8 years that one of them has been in Latvia. Our house manager was telling me that it is the most she has seen in the 22 years that she has been living in the apartment building here in Ergli (at least that is what I think she said as she was telling me in German and my German is very very rusty and I wasn't sure if that was the most she has ever seen, or the most in November or the most all at once). It was certainly impressive but not quite as impressive as the three foot of snow that fell in 24 hours the first winter we were in Colorado and that hadn't happened for quite a while. Hmm wonder if there is a pattern there somewhere. This little fella was determined to get to the swing this morning. It was so comical watching him make his way through the snow that was up to the top of his legs in places. As you can see he made it and the swings are still above the snowline - just!

I had an email newsletter with the following verse in it from Daniel 11:32-33 (Amplified Bible)

32 And such as violate the covenant he shall pervert and seduce with flatteries, but the people who know their God shall prove themselves strong and shall stand firm and do exploits [for God]. 33 And they who are wise and understanding among the people shall instruct many and make them understand, though some [of them and their followers] shall fall by the sword and flame, by captivity and plunder, for many days.

As they said in the email that in such uncertain times it is good to remember that by standing firm in faith we can do great exploits for God, only they left off the bit at the end about the some of them and their followers falling by sword and flame for many days which isn't so encouraging. It would certainly seem that those who forgot the poor and looked to their own wealth were seduced and that has brought about the downfall of many but I am looking to see who will be the wise and understanding who will be instructing many. Sure some of them are certainly going to have a rough ride as none of us can escape the turmoil just because we are Christians in fact we should expect to see more than our fair share of turmoil according to the Bible. 

Following on from that I also read the following in my daily devotional readings

Proverbs 28:8 (New International Version)

8 He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

So for those who have amassed their wealth on the back of sub-prime mortgages, lending to the poor at exorbitant interest rates and that isn't just the loan sharks (or rather some sharks were bigger than everybody thought and appeared quite respectable, the wolves in sheep's clothing perhaps!) it is time for that money to go to those who will be kind to the poor. Just as the bankers were creative in their approach in masking the deceit and intrigue so I believe that there will be a release of transparent and honest creative solutions to those who are going to help the poor. Questions are beginning to be asked about the traditional aid given to those in need and that is not just on my course but on the BBC  and the New Internationlist, not that aid is wrong but the effect and how much of it is used is wrong and doesn't really address the issues of all the power in the market resting firmly and squarely in the West. So it is going to be an interesting time when God raises up those who are going to be giving to the poor and it won't be using the traditional models but some radical reshaping of the markets.

Talking of my course I have been hard at work and I am still enjoying the challenge. As I read some of the chapters I am questioning the data, the sources, and the concepts and then finding this is what I am supposed to be doing and I am questioning the right kinds of things; which is encouraging for a starter course that is supposed to get you into thinking about the different aspects of development and the challenges to the theories and methods used. I notice that while I am reading articles on the internet that I am able to break it down into different concepts, pigeon holing to some extent but useful as a starting point and means I am getting the hang of the language used in development (or at least I hope so). Ian is very supportive he comes in with cups of tea to keep me going and asks things like "Well Aristotle how's it going?", either that or Plato or Archimedes (have you noticed they are all men!). I had an online tutorial on Saturday which was interesting and again I was encouraged that I was on track, I could think outside the box but also could grasp the ideas. The only problem that I had was that my ears ached after having headphones on for two hours and I must admit my attention was beginning to wander at times because I was watching the snow outside.

Since we are into name calling in our house at the moment (only in jest honest!) Ian is now the new Vidal Sassoon. I hate trying to find hairdressers which I think I have mentioned before and since my hair was getting rather long again it was time to get the scissors out and let Ian chop it. It looks alright and he is happy with it, but no pictures - I'm camera shy!

Sunday saw us out on our snowshoes that we bought in our last few days in Fort Collins. We had traipsed through a near blizzard over Cameron Pass (10276ft) to try out different snow shoes at a shop sponsored event in January and I found a brand that didn't seem to make my knee sore. We decided that snow shoes might actually be quite practical and Ian loves snowshoeing and is not so keen on skiing and although I prefer skiing I realised that there would be more opportunity to try out snow shoes than skis and that proved to be the case. There was not enough snow to ski on but there was more than enough for the snowshoes, so we had a wander around the local countryside and it was great fun. Oh yes I nearly forgot, we nearly got the car stuck again, this time in a snow covered ditch. There was some sideways slithering down the hill which didn't free the car but looked impressive, so we took a chance and Ian reversed onto the field and built up some speed and managed to get across on a slightly flatter section. Thank goodness the field wasn't boggy underneath or more ditches.

This week saw us going to a meeting Sunday night as it was the launch of the Ērgļi Baptist Church. We are not really sure if we will make a firm commitment to this particular Church but we would love to see the Latvian Christians built up and really taking hold of the faith for themselves, rather than either being spoon fed or just told what to do which often happens. At least it was a chance to see who the Christians are in the village and encourages us to keep trying with the language. 

Monday, 17 November 2008


This week we had to take a trip into Madona and we spotted a butchers tucked away that we hadn't noticed before. I have mentioned before how shops here in Latvia are often tucked away and you cannot be sure what they are until you actually go in, and hopefully it is a shop and not someone's home with the door open (slight exaggeration I know but some places do look like homes at first). Shops in most countries I have been to have large window fronts so that you know exactly what is inside, as well as large advertising signs to let you know before you even get near the shop. At least now I am beginning to recognise the words on the signs which helps to identify what is inside. Anyway when we got into the butchers there wasn't a huge amount of meat out and I couldn't translate the sign at first but the lady behind the counter pulled out a big piece of meat and held it up - it looked like beef, one lady put up her hands to her head and as if she had horns, and said cow in English - it was beef! We haven't seen beef since early on in the year, we have seen pork and pork and errr pork and occasionally chicken but not beef, even the mince (ground meat) is pork. Needless to say we bought it. It is now cut up into two pieces for roasting, two lots for casseroles or pies and there were two slices for braised beef with onions and mushrooms. You would think with this statement that perhaps we are huge meat lovers, which is not really the truth, I make a little bit of meat go a long way with lots of veg which I do love. It is funny what you would really like though when you can't get it and the chance of some beef was just a little too tempting. The next night I also made a steak and mushroom pie - lovely!

For Ian's birthday in September he got 4 DVD's of  "The Good Life" (Good Neighbours as it was called in America). For those too young to remember (sigh!) It is about Tom and his wife Barbara who at the age of 40 decides to leave the rat race and become self-sufficient and chronicles their attempt and their relationship with their two neighbours Jerry and Margot. It is very funny and we loved it as kids when it first came out. What is really weird is how our life has somehow paralleled the series. Ian is now without a job at the age of 45 and we have got back into the swing of growing our own veg and next year we might even look at raising some animals for meat, and growing on a slightly bigger scale. 

We have had chickens in the past and we miss having our own fresh eggs. It isn't until you raise your own you realise how old supermarket eggs actually are. I could never understand the old method of poaching an egg by using metal rings placed in boiling water, you then drop the egg into the centre of the ring to poach it. I always found that the eggs seeped under the ring and made a mess and just thought the whole old method was really stupid. When we got our own hens however in England, I found out that the egg whites are a lot thicker and won't seep out, in fact they are a pain if you want a hard boiled egg because the shell comes away with the egg white. To get a decent hard boiled egg the egg needed to be about 7 days old, then the white would separate from the shell relatively easily. Since boiled eggs were never a problem with supermarket eggs I have to deduce they are at least 7 days old by the time you get them, not a problem for health reasons but certainly not the freshest.

We had to take a trip into Riga for a meeting so we took the chance to do a bit of shopping. I managed to find a pie dish as my old dish had cracked. I only remembered that it had cracked the night I wanted to make the steak and mushroom pie (isn't that always the way?) and that was after hunting through the various places I have kitchen stuff as I still don't have my new kitchen yet, so there are at least three different possible places to look. In the end I had to use the lid of one of my pyrex dishes. One other thing we managed to find at last was a dehumidifier, and we are now in the process of trying to reverse the penetration of damp into our belongings that happened in the month of October before we got regular heat but plenty of damp days. We have a few pieces of wooden furniture that have swelled with the damp and a few of our books went mouldy, as well as some walls. Not useful! Still it is working well and we must have pulled at least a litre of water out of the air, which doesn't sound a lot until you realise that air holds around 20g per cubic meter at 21C to be fully saturated and our dehumidifier is set to 55% humidity so the air will have 11g of water in 1 cubic meter by the time it finishes. Our flat is around 183 cubic meters so should have around 2 kg of water at 55% humidity in the air so 1 litre of water which weighs 1kg is a lot of water. Hope your following this! Do you realise how long it took me to get the answer to that question?

Anyway the reason for going to Riga to do the above shopping was in fact to attend another meeting with Steve Janz and a group of people interested in doing camp work next year. Steve wants people to see camps not as a means to an end but as part of an ongoing build up in relationships with children and youth and also communities. The last meeting we were at one lady was talking about how it was difficult to get children to go on camps as their parents were reluctant to let their children go, especially if they didn't know the leader or the organisation organising the event very well which is very understandable. This week she was talking about the difficulty in getting involved as she has four children and when the tents hold enough for 1 adult with four children in order to be able to build relationships, then she is not really able to help much. I asked the lady about the possibility of inviting families and she got quite excited about the idea. She could see a church getting together to have a week away camping where families from the community could be invited to build relationships with whole families instead of just the children. Many families are so broken and messed up here in Latvia with problems of absentee parents while one or even both away earning money abroad so children are being looked after by the remaining parent or grandparents or even older siblings, alcoholism is also a major issue; how positive it would be if whole families could be loved and supported in their role to bring up their children by the church!

We spent the night at Steve's house so that we could babysit Samuel and Simon, his two small children, for him and his wife Natalija. They have had only one break away from the children earlier this year so were longing for a bit of time without children. Mum and Dad left and the kids didn't even whimper - nice to feel loved heh! Reminds us of our kids who used to smile and wave when we left them at other peoples homes or kick and scream when we had to take them home. I hasten to add the reason was that they loved going to other peoples houses and not because of a difficult home life, lol (hope the kids will back me up on this!). Anyway we played with the kids for a half an hour and then gave them some lunch before putting them down for an afternoon nap. As we had stayed up chatting till nearly 2am, Ian was rather tired so took the opportunity to go for a nap as well. Well a few hours later the baby Simon awoke so I got him up at which point Ian got up. Ian fed Simon and then Samuel woke up by which time it was nearly time for Mum and Dad to come back, as I said to Steve anytime they wanted an afternoon together would be fine, after all babysitting like this couldn't be any easier.

On the way back from Steve's we saw a huge number of cars making their way through our village - well huge in terms of normal traffic here where three cars in a row is a rush hour - we had made it back just in time for the end of an event in the culture house, presumably celebrating 90 years since the first declaration of independence. Latvia first declared independence in 1918 but this was followed by a chaotic war of independence with three Governments, a German one, a Russian one and an independent one. The country was not actually able to hold free elections until 1920 and this only lasted until 1934 with a bloodless coup by the previous Head of the Government, Karlis Ulmanis, who was in power until 1940. In 1939 though Latvia had to agree to Russian troops being stationed in their country and then the Germans invaded before the Russians retook the country in 1944 and they never left until the final withdrawal in 1994, although they redeclared independence in 1991 . So think about the Latvians as they celebrate Independence Day tomorrow, 18th November. Pray for a rising up of the gentle people, pray they gain confidence in the future despite what they have suffered and also despite the state of the world today.

This morning we woke up to our first dusting of snow, with more expected towards the end of the week. The place certainly looked better for a dusting as it was looking a little drab with all the damp. Mind you the temperatures don't look promising either with temperatures barely getting above freezing even during the day. Sorry I didn't get around to getting a picture, I got busy doing my coursework. I am really enjoying the course and finding the facts fascinating, for instance today I learnt that the five permanent members of the Security Council of the UN, Russia, USA, UK, France and China who are charged with promoting peace in the world are responsible for 80% of world trade in arms. Makes you think! Well it does me. 

Well here is a picture that Ian took earlier on in the year in our last weekend in Fort Collins. I was playing about with sharpening pictures and seeing what some of them looked like in Black and White and I liked this one. By the way if you like Black and White photos check out Cole Thompson's website.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

First of all I have permission to announce that Mark has got a girlfriend and she is called Kerry. Actually they have been going out about a month but I have only just got permission to announce it to the world. Lol. It seems weird that this year all of our children are now in relationships. I have chatted with Kerry a few times on MSN and she seems very sweet. 

Earlier on this week Ian and I were heading into Depot a DIY store when Ian started singing the following song:-

Busy Doin' Nothing

We're busy doing nothing,
Working the whole day through.
Trying to find lots of things not to do.
We're busy doing nothing,
Isn't it just a crime?
We'd like to be unhappy,
but we never do have the time.

Feel a bit like that at times, busy doing nothing, where does the time go? Days slip by and I wonder what we have done or achieved, but is that important? Yes some of the things we do are a waste of time like lounging around on the internet but then again there are times of conversations with friends and family that have been important and timely and have happened precisely because I am on the Internet a lot. I have also found a lot of the stuff I like to read has been useful for my course. I will read something for my course and think of an article I have read in the past that suddenly takes on a new relevance and so I have to go looking for it and add it to a list of useful articles for reference purposes. 

I like the rest of the song too especially this one 

I have to watch the river,
to see that it doesn't stop.
And stick around the rose buds,
so they'll know when to pop. 
And keep the crickets cheerful,
they're really a solemn bunch.
Hustle, Bustle,
And only an hour for lunch.

When was the last time you took the chance to watch a river flow, to try to imagine how many molecules and droplets that are contained within it hurtling down towards the sea, then taken up to sky and down as rain to join the river (okay I realise this maybe a little painful for some who have lost their summer to lots of said droplets dropping down to rejoin the river but still it is a fascinating process)? Our God who made us, made the water to circulate around to water our land - our creative is that! There is lots in the Bible about not being a sluggard but there is also lots in the Bible about observing and meditating on God's creation, it tells us so much about our Creator God.

Psalm 8:3-4
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

David was a man after God's own heart and he took the time to consider the heavens, we can be so busy actually doing nothing of importance that we don't take time to consider the works of his fingers, to allow that to speak to us, to let his mystery shape us and lead us. So are you doing nothing but allowing God to speak to you, or are you doing lots of something that is really nothing in the end? I love it in Acts 2:46 as well where it talks about "They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts" - they spent time with each other eating together. I guess part of the problem is that we see verses like 

1Co 15:58 So then, my dear friends, stand firm and steady. Keep busy always in your work for the Lord, since you know that nothing you do in the Lord's service is ever useless.

We then think by being busy we are doing work for the Lord, I don't think this is the case. There is a very distinct difference between being busy for the sake of being busy and being busy for the Lord. It is just me or am I being lazy? To me taking time to observe the wonders he made for us, the shapes of the leaves, the colours of the sunsets are being busy doing the Lord's work, they are there for us to enjoy or else why did he create them? They don't actually serve a purpose as such, except to remind us what a wonderful, creative, exuberant and generous God we have, to ignore them therefore by just being busy is to disrespect the gifts he gives us.

Well on a final note I am not particularly proud of myself this week. I have been particularly prickly of late and part of that is to do with getting over the honeymoon period and the novelty wearing off of being in another country. It is a phase, one I am well acquainted with and I know it will pass, I know it also means that it is time to re-examine what we do and why - something you don't tend to do when everything is chugging along nicely. Anyway that is not really the reason I am not proud of myself, it is the fact that after 5 years of moderating a Student Cafe I forgot the one thing that I am consistently telling my students, "Remember there is a real person on the other end of the email" and in your haste to make a point don't email something that will hurt or cause upset for no real reason. I am not saying that you should never stick to your principles and argue your case but there are times and ways of doing it that don't bring unnecessary hurt and I blew it! There was no need to push my point in the way I did. I have emailed an apology which was graciously accepted but a little more thought and consideration initially would have saved a lot of heartache. 

(P.S. Please don't get worried that everything is going horribly wrong as it is not in the least. As I said there is always a phase when the novelty wears off and things which seemed quaint a few months ago can become frustrating, especially when we still have nowhere near got to grips with the language. No one should ever imagine that moving to a place where they feel called to be or where their heart is, is not going to be without mundane ordinariness coupled with some frustrations which are wearing. Life is never all highs so we shouldn't expect it. What I do know is God is good and that is all I need to know right now!)

Another after thought that has just occurred to me as I was about to post the blog is it is my mother's birthday today and she is spending it at the Taj Mahal - as you do! (That is the Taj Mahal, India not the local restaurant)

Monday, 3 November 2008

Year of Jubilee

I was hunting through to look at what it means to have a Jubilee year. The Jubilee Year was the 7th cycle of Sabbatical years each 7 years apart, but in addition to letting the ground go fallow for the year as in a Sabbatical year they also returned all land to the original owners. The Jubilee has, as far as I can find out, never been celebrated in Israel but we have certainly been living off the proceeds from previous years this year, we have planted and sown this year which is not strictly in keeping with the rabbinical laws but on the whole we have only lived off what we have (or rather Ian has) earned in previous years so I think this has very much been a Sabbatical year for us personally and yet there is something about the Jubilee Year that won't go away, because this feels more than a Sabbatical, maybe I need to keep digging to see what it all means.

While I was hunting for information about the Jubilee Year I also came across the term “Don’t be a shvacher shutaf” a weak partner. This was a story talking about a weak partner in trade with a rabbi but it was also talking about the need to trust God and don't be a weak partner when he tells you to do something. There are times of doubt, there are times when I wonder what is there going to be at the end of this year, wondering what on earth we are really hoping to achieve and all I have to go on is the feeling that this is where God wants us, this is the time and the place, and let him work out the details. I still feel a bit like a kid before Christmas who wants a sneak preview of the presents but in reality that would kill the joy of opening it when it really is Christmas, so I guess I shall just have to keep waiting to find out what God has in store for us next year.

Another article I found interesting on this Jewish site that I was perusing was their take on
Halloween . It was a thoughtful piece that made a really good point. The Jews celebrate Purim in March  where the children dress up and go round to peoples houses visiting the sick and the old to spread joy and laughter. They take food and drink and collect money for charity. It is amazing how different it is to the whole philosophy of Halloween. So as Christians maybe we could stop celebrating this Pagan festival with all its nasty associations and celebrate Purim instead. I know that in America it is celebrated differently to the way it is in England, for a start trick or treating is mainly for little kids in America not older ones as in England and a lot of Europe but at the end of the day it still feels like sugar coating the Devil.

Two prophecies from the Night Watch Prophetic Network have struck me recently. Both of them are so gentle and they are by the same person but I feel they will have an enormous impact. They are from a while back but I keep returning to them so thought I would share them with you.

Small Straws In A Soft Wind by Marsha Burns -- October 10 2008

Be spiritually sensitive and listen for My direction. I am positioning you for optimum advantage for the near future that will set you on the path of maximum benefit for the distant future. You must be flexible to take advantage of unexpected opportunities that will ultimately bring your life's circumstances into divine order. Never forget that I am for you and not against you, and that I will never leave you nor forsake you says the Lord.

Romans 8:28 "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God to those who are the called according to His purpose."

Small Straws In A Soft Wind by Marsha Burns -- October 22, 2008

Consider carefully the decisions you make at this time, for they will undoubtedly produce long-term consequences. Quiet your own soul, your mind, and emotions, and allow your spirit to be influenced by My Spirit, says the Lord. If you will be sensitive to that still, small voice of wisdom, you will be directed to choose what is best for you and those around you. But, you must be still in order to perceive the influence of My Spirit.

Isaiah 30:21 "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,'This is the way, walk in it, whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.'"

Both these prophecies draw me in and speak to my situation quite clearly. They are so short and yet so powerful. Draw near to God in quietness of soul and he will lead the way. 

Ian has spent most of the week rewiring and now we have copper wiring throughout and no longer use the fire hazard aluminium wiring. It is not so much of a worry now when we turn on an appliance that will use a lot of current and have to think what else is on, not because it might trip the fuses - which it still does - but because it could have started a fire. For those in the know we only have 20A max for the whole apartment and in England it is 32A for each ring main. For those who found that last sentence double dutch then all it means is that the power that we have coming into the flat is small and you cannot run a lot of heavy appliances all at once for instance the kettle, hot water cylinder and washing machine all on together would trip the fuse resulting in no electricity until the system had been reset.
I spent quite a bit of my time working through the pre-course booklet which was really useful for  getting to know some of the jargon used in Development Management and learning how to write essays again. I had marked the kids essays when I was home schooling and proof read some of Emma's for her nursing course but doing my own was rather a long time ago. I just put that in so you didn't think I was skiving while Ian was hard at work. At the end of his project he had some wire left over which wasn't worth saving so I took the copper wire out of the middle and got creative with it. Hope you like the finished result - the feather by the way is one a stork dropped in our garden. Unfortunately the plugs behind the picture are not Ian's handiwork that was done when our Swedish friend constructed a new wall for our bathroom, but as you can see we still need to sort out the doors for the two rooms. 

I know I keep mentioning it but the heat for our house was not just on during the week this week but also over the weekend which was wonderful and yesterday the heating stopped on all night as well. Bliss! It is really weird being at the whim of some faceless person who decides whether you have heat or not, we have got so used to having that choice that we feel quite frustrated and powerless at times. I have been learning about the different definitions of poverty on my new course and one definition is not having choice, and although we personally do have a choice of getting a better heater, or going out to the hotel, or going up to the other flat and lighting a fire if we got too cold it is humbling to know that there are people around us who have none of those choices, they really are at the mercy of the person who decides. While I am at it did you know that 15% of the world's population consumes 49% of the world's energy generated in a year? Just thought I would throw that random fact in!

Poverty can be relative when you live in a rich society and do not have the options of those around you because you don't have the same income and there have been times when we felt poor and not quite sure if we were going to have enough money for the bills when we were in England and during one of those moments I went out for a walk in the fields behind our house. The fields that day were covered in snow and it was hard work walking but the sun was shining and the snow glistened like a million tiny diamonds, it was at that moment I felt very rich especially when I thought of all those folks stuck in offices and unable to revel in a moment like this. It felt like a promise from God that he would look after our needs, maybe not our wants but certainly our needs and he sure has done that in an abundant way which has lead us on the path to this point. I was reminded of this day this week when I was looking out of the window and the trees were covered in little drops of water that were glistening in the sun (hope you can see them). I don't know what the future holds but I sure know who holds my future.  

Monday, 27 October 2008

Mud and Heat

Hindsight they say is a wonderful thing. If only we hadn't hesitated we may have got through, if we had taken a different route maybe we would have got through, but no we hesitated and I was sure that was the route we were told to take and we came to a grinding halt and ended up axle deep in mud and "we weren't going nowhere!" Eventually our friend who we were trying to join for an evening meal realised that our lights were not moving from the entrance to the field that leads to his house and drove out to join us at the other end of the quagmire. We tried some branches under the wheels for some extra traction and pushing the car but it was only making the situation worse, then a four wheel ranger was brought in, still no luck it was stuck solid. In the end a tractor was brought in and only when the tractor was in four wheel drive (which only worked by holding onto the lever all the time) would it work and our dear new 4x4 truck was pulled out of the mud. Well the 4x4 system was good, but obviously not that good to tackle axle deep mud slowly. Our friend did say he was surprised how much water had accumulated in so short a time.  Ian did not end up like this though -link

Well we had another weekend without heat this week. It is amazing how powerless you can feel when you do not have the choice of having heat when you want it or not as the case maybe. I know I said that last week as well but it is true that choice is a wonderful thing if you have it. We at least have a choice of putting on a fan heater to raise the temperature but have more often than not resorted to the old fashioned idea of a hot water bottle and a quilt. My heart does go out though to those who are unable to afford the heat that will come on sometime soon (I can see the chimney stoking up for the day as I write this, so there is hope for heat for today) and it will be nice for us to have heat on all the time at this time of the year, better than sitting in a room at 15C (59C) but I know for some that will be a slide into yet more debt. 

The pension here can be as little as 100 LVL (Latvian Lats) a month and if the heat is 50 LVLs a month that does not leave a lot left for electric, even if it is only 7 santimes a KW/h or food. There is some social care here and if people are really poor they can get free meals up at the technical school but I am guessing they will have to get themselves up there first, as well as sign on to get the help. There are some who milk the system just as in most places but there are many more who are genuinely unable to support themselves. A past hard life is marked on many of the faces of the older people who are often younger than they look and often in the backs of the stooped older ladies, alcoholism is rife as they seek to obliterate the harshness of life and the hopelessness they feel inside. That sounds bleak and that is true but that does not paint an accurate picture of this place we call home, there are signs of life here, the bakery is warm and the food tasty, the hotel has times of being quite full which is good, our friend Victor who is making our kitchen has more than enough work. The new shoots are here but the old still hangs as a shadow over the place. 

Well Ian has got on with the rewiring and not too many swear words have been uttered. Good job really as I threatened to go out for a walk if ever the language deteriorated and right now that is not an inviting prospect as the weather has been wet to say the least. During the Soviet era aluminium was the metal of choice for wires but they do not carry the current very well and can lead to fires, so we are replacing the wires with copper wires but because these walls have also been peppered from so many 6 inch nails Ian is surface mounting all the wires in trunking (since this is underlined as I type then I am guessing that trunking is not an American term but basically it is plastic protection for wiring), not so pretty but much easier to do something with if there is ever a fault.

Our new flat was used this week and it was nice to be able to provide some restful hospitality, our friend slept well into the morning and so recovered from a hectic week of meetings and shuttling around the country. He brought his godson out as well later on in the week and his godson thought it was wonderful, much better than being in the city and on that I have to agree mightily. 

Although the weather has not been good this week one day was quite nice even if it was a bit breezy and I managed to get three loads of washing done, out on the line outside and dried. This might not seem such a big thing but when the heating is not guaranteed, we don't have a drier and washing needs doing then it does indeed become a big thing. I am having to rediscover what it is to have to choose when to do the washing, this was practically second nature in the UK but then I did have the option of putting on some heating if the worse came to the worse. Colorado was so dry, especially at the later end of the year as the temperature dropped that I dried washing inside the house just to increase the humidity and clothes could be dry within an hour or so, it was certainly a novel thing for me. One evening as I was heading up the garden to get some vegetables from the garden I was treated to a wonderful sunset and it was so nice I called Ian and told him to take some photos, unfortunately it didn't do justice to the colours so you have one of the original and one which I have tweaked with iPhoto because I could!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Apples, apples and errr yet more apples

Tuesday apple cake
Wednesday apple cake
Thursday out for tea but more apple cake 
Friday Broth with yes you have guessed it some apple puree. It was really nice and consisted of onions, beetroot (beets), kohlrabi, ginger, potatoes and a tub of mushroom cream cheese as well as the apple puree.
Saturday - Sausage and mash and gravy with some of our frozen courgettes (zucchini) and a little apple puree of course
Sunday - Pork roasted with cabbage, leeks, a few beetroot (beet) leaves, and yes apples, plus roasted potatoes and roasted swede (rutabaga) and we were still finishing off the apple cake or at least Ian was and then I made some scones - apple scones of course. Mind you I forgot to add the sugar but they still taste nice, especially with some jam.
(Photo from just outside our flat - a cheerful site, for me that is for Ian it just reminds him winter is on its way)

It has been another torrid week of rumours and rumours of rumours sending our poor jittery dealers in stocks into a panic. If it wasn't having such a drastic effect on people who don't deal in stocks and on pensions it would be funny. It has lead to some thoughtful comments though such as :-
"If the global economy can, almost overnight, find two trillion dollars to cut the risk of Freddie Mae and Bertie Mac and the global banking community from going down the pan, surely it can find a fraction of that to cut the risk of forests going up in smoke." Andrew Mitchell

I would add that if the global economy can find two trillion dollars to cut risk then maybe they could find a few billion to eradicate some diseases that are the scourge of the poor or maybe provide everyone with safe drinking water and I am sure everyone could add a few thoughts of their own.

In one of my internet trawls I also found the following comments which I found interesting from Communication for Social Change which outlines the direction in which they would like to
see communications evolve including the following points:

• Away from people as the objects for change … and on to people and
communities as the agents of their own change
• Away from designing, testing and delivering messages…and on to supporting
dialogue and debate on the key issues of concern
• Away from the conveying of information from technical experts… and on to
sensitively placing that information into the dialogue and debate
• Away from a focus on individual behaviors…and on to social norms, policies,
culture and a supportive environment

Interesting thoughts to stimulate some debates. Can you imagine what it would look like if we stopped thinking we had to make things happen to people so they can change to enabling them to change, giving them the voice to help the change happen that they want instead of something imposed upon them. 

Wednesday - we have heat yeeeaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!! Can you feel the excitement. Don't take your heat for granted! I guess at the moment don't take anything for granted except that there is a God in Heaven who cares for each and everyone of us and even if the road gets rocky he still loves us. He is bringing about a remarkable redemptive correction to the markets, when they seemed so safe in their ivory towers, uncaring for the effects they were having on the world and it's inhabitants they have been shown that it is not they who are in power. I pray for some remarkable turn arounds in their personal lives too, may they through their vulnerability at the moment find the God who cares. (If you look carefully at this picture you will be able to see some smoke coming from the top of the building, this sometimes indicates that we will be getting some heat, unfortunately this morning it did not materialise)

Well Wednesdays heat lasted for two hours but Thurdsay it came on in the morning and lasted most of the day and went off around 4pm - peculiar way of doing it and doesn't really fit in around people going out to work but does fit in around work hours for those firing up the boilers. Friday we had heat until 5pm and this was beginning to feel really good and then we had nothing over the weekend. It has made me think more about poverty though and the sheer powerlessness of it. We do not have any say in when the heating is put on, this must be partly a language thing but I am not sure whether having the language to question the decisions will make any difference whatsoever. Latvians don't like to argue or to make a fuss and can often just accept things the way but the result is damp and cold houses which cannot have a good effect on the health of the population or the ability of children to think. I have to do some work prior to the start of my course to bring me up to speed after too many years away from written assignments - well my own anyway and certainly at this level, to get warm enough to make my brain function I had to sit at the desk with a hot water bottle on my lap and a quilt wrapped around my legs and plenty of layers of clothing on, it seems almost prehistoric and not something I am really used to in my lifetime. I do remember times without central heating but not times without the choice of heating my room effectively. Good news is though that I am at least finding the work interesting and stimulating which is encouraging.

We reap what we sow but sometimes in unexpected ways. Two of Ian's ex-work colleagues made contact with him this week unexpectedly but all as a result of action taken by Ian a little while ago.  The Perdue website is a site for those who are interested in flow cytometry and Ian keeps his eye on this when he noticed an old acquaintance of his, he emailed him to see how he was doing. In the email he asked if he knew what had happened to an old work colleague who Ian had lost contact with and was given a bit of information. A while later this old acquaintance actually met Ian's ex-work colleague on a bus of all places and next thing we know the ex-work colleagues has sent an email making contact. Ian was really pleased to reestablish contact as he was a little worried what had happened to him, as the last he had heard was he was off long term sick and had then left the company they had both worked for. Another contact was reestablished after Ian noticed that another ex-work colleague was on a list of people who were involved in a patent and it stated he was in Denmark, no address but a bit of a surprise as the last we knew was he was in Fort Collins. Ian sent a message to HR asking if his ex-work colleague had indeed returned to his native Denmark, this message was passed on and lo and behold the ex-work colleague got in touch. He had lost Ian's details in the move back to Denmark. I am really pleased that these bridges have been reestablished as I felt they were both important, not sure how but time will show that.

Friday morning I noticed on the calendar for Northstar UK, where I monitor messages posted by students online, that I was supposed to be in Brazil in about a weeks time, it threw me for a minute until I realised that I was in Brazil around this time last year and I must have accidentally made the entry a yearly event. Shame really I would have loved to have gone back again this year but so far I haven't had the chance yet. 

Monday, 13 October 2008

God's plans and nothing but God's plans

I thought I would start off with my thoughts today before telling you all what we have been up to this week. Well I know that I know that I know that God has plans for me but it is nice when God confirms it too. I finished reading "Acts for Everyone" by Tom Wright yesterday and so resorted to my standard read of a "Bible in One Year" for my daily bible reading and read Jeremiah 27-29 which contains one of my favourite verses Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." It always leaps off the page to me and then I read it again on the Biblegateway verse for the day. I think I get the message! I have been reading some of the news regarding the credit crunch and often feel like knocking heads together and telling the stock traders to calm down and get a grip. There is so much greed and it is oozing all over the place, and so many frantic trips by ministers of the different nations, scrabbling for a solution. Strangely enough though it does not frighten me, I have been saying for awhile that now is a time of opportunity and Martin Scott's prophecy in September "then look for the connections of peace, and without great ado make the connection, gently but deliberately placing our seed into that place/in that direction". We have been getting prepared to do some deliberate planting and I feel the time is getting near now and I actually feel quite excited. 

Some things I read on the Night Watch Prophetic Network seems a little like end times paranoia but some really resonates with me and one in particular was a prophecy by Cindy Jacobs and Dr. Sharon Stone (no not the actress) entitled "Pray for the Economy". Wouldn't it be fantastic that instead of reading about the bull market or the bear market we were reading about the lion market? Wouldn't it be fantastic that the economies of this world were really seeking to look after the poor instead of getting rich for themselves? Wouldn't it be great if the world's leading bankers were actually sorry for their responsibility in this mess (and no they are not the only ones guilty, we all are when we have been looking to make a quick buck) and sought to put it right by helping those very people who were given too much credit that they in reality couldn't afford? Wouldn't it be great if the poor could actually get credit if they really needed it at rates that the rich get? 

That actually leads me onto another topic I have been looking at this week and that is the role of microfinance. I have had some reservations regarding the role of microfinance when I realised what incredible interest rates were being charged. Some of the finance does go to some worthy causes and really helps in the battle against poverty but I do wonder if it is really that helpful if the interest rates are well over 30%, even if that is better than the local money lender and does come with some business advice and support. How much better it would be if small businesses in the developing world could get credit to start up a business or develop their business that was nearer to the rates that we expect here in Europe or in America for the rich. I realise that sometimes we have to give people the means to start or develop their own business but sometimes I also realise they need to have ownership of that business so giving them a handout to start their business might not work, sometimes it does. I guess that is where we really need to get to know the people we are lending to or trust the intermediaries.

Well now onto what has been happening in our household this week. We or I should say Ian has been shovelling muck most of this week- boy that stuff is rich! There is not much straw in it, and it is slightly liquid, makes your toes curl thinking about it but we are sure that by Ian double digging the garden (ie going down two spade depths down for the uninitiated amongst you) and putting a layer of the good stuff on it then our garden will continue to be as productive as it was this year. We are still getting leeks, swedes and cabbages out of the garden and living off the potatoes we dug out earlier this year. I am only just now starting to use some of the stuff we froze earlier on in the year and that is only to give us a bit of variation on cabbage.

I wouldn't like you to think that while Ian has the job of shifting the evil smelling stuff that I am swanning it in the flat, I have been dealing with bucket loads of apples. We did our bit for the local economy and bought a juicer for me and a wheelbarrow for Ian and that means we can both get on with our jobs a little easier. I have found out that one large bucket of apples produces two well concentrated bottles of apple juice or four not so concentrated bottles (not sure we will have enough bottles to do the less concentrated stuff but it takes hours to gently evaporate off enough to give us concentrated apple juice). I also discovered that the juicer gives off a lot of froth which is quite thick, and Ian prefers apple juice without the bits, so I was then left with the dilemma of what to do with it. I boiled the froth down and this makes a very tangy apple sauce which makes a nice spread or adds a subtle apple flavour or sweetner to most things. It is amazing how much is improved with a bit of apple sauce when you have loads of the stuff. Just hope the pateurisation of the apple juice kills off all the bugs so we don't end up with 
exploding bottles later on in the year.

Finally got signed up for the open university course - but something struck us as we were chatting about the confusion of getting on the course, I didn't fit the norm. There was a little confusion as to precisely which course I should sign on for and that has been the story of our life we don't fit the conventional boxes. Most of our life has been a series of confusions  because we can't be categorised - it's wonderful! If you don't want to be fitted into a box then don't do what everyone expects, simple!

On Wednesday we met the Mayor of Ērgļi and it was a real privilege he is such a humble and modest man as he would not take credit for himself. He has been Mayor since 1997 and his purpose is to serve the community in which he lives. He concentrates on small projects that do something rather than massive waste of money type projects and it shows in the gradual change that has happened here. I do hope that we maybe able to meet him again and help him in serving this community.

On the way back from meeting the Mayor we saw a notice stuck on the door downstairs, our Latvian is not great but some words we did know and some we could guess made us quite excited, it looked like we might actually get some heat the next day. Well we waited and Ian bled the radiators (let the air out) several times and we heard a couple of gurgles and lo and behold we had heat - well for five minutes we had heat. Not sure what happened after that, but the heat did not appear as promised and then the weather warmed up so we still do not have heat in our apartment except a small fan heater that we use when we get really cold. We have resorted to old-fashioned techniques like lots of layers and a quilt that someone made me. Warm comfort food is in and salads are definitely out! If it was not for the end of year garden preparation I would seriously think about being away for the whole of October next year or maybe it would be cheaper to install a wood heater. We also had another power cut this weekend which lasted about three hours, but we had a walk to the shops and called in at the bakery on the way home - well we didn't have any heat or electric so we may as well warm up at the bakery, that is my excuse and I am sticking to it!

Monday, 6 October 2008


We took Kathleen and Ian (the ones we have bought the flat for and will be coming out in March next year to live in Latvia from England) to see our new friends Roger and Valerie who moved from England to Latvia in May this year. I thought that Kathleen & Ian might have a lot in common with Roger & Valerie but I didn't realise how much. It turns out that Ian, Roger and Valerie lived in the same area for many years. They spent much of the time saying do your remember such and such, my aunty worked there and do your remember those who lived on such and such farm etc etc? It was great fun to listen to though. We also fitted in a visit to Rundāle Palace as you can see from the picture.

Great news this week was we had an offer on our house for more than I had set as a figure that I would like to get for the house and we hopefully get to sell it to a local which I am really pleased about. Obviously it is still early days yet but everything is proceeding fine so far. Just have to pray that the solicitors back holds up this time. Last time we used this solicitor he hurt his back and was off for months and it really messed up the continuity, I was so pleased when he came back and sorted out some details that were not up to date at the end.

Wednesday saw us with our official documents to say we actually own the flat we agreed to buy earlier on this month. The lady who sold us the flat and her daughter helped with tying up some of the other paperwork which made life a lot simpler. They even helped us to organise getting a plumber out to sort out the pipework in the new flat. I am now regretting not getting a photo as it is quite complicated to explain but the upshot of it is that the water supply that was in our new flat ran through our meter and then carried on upstairs to the water meter in the flat above. Effectively meaning that there was two lots of water running through our meter, fortunately it was spotted by my ever so observant husband when investigating a leak from upstairs and checking on our pipes as well with our Swedish cape crusader who is the man to know in such circumstances. 

On Thursday Ian had just left our flat, to let in the plumber to our new flat to sort out the pipes as arranged, when there was a tap at the door. "Strange!" thinks I, "why would he be knocking on the door?" I went to the door expecting to see Ian with a handful of things in his arms but instead there were four intimidating looking men. Gulp! One of them flashed some official looking documentation in front of me which I couldn't read until one of them had the sense to switch on the landing light. All I could tell is they were from some Latvian ministry. "Angliski?" I said as they were babbling away in Latvian - which means "English?".  At this point one guy stepped forward, he was actually the friendlier looking of the four, and said it was the Latvian Immigration service and they wanted to ask me some questions. Fortunately someone I knew had had a visit from Latvian Immigration a few months before and said that since the open border agreement within Europe, the officials are now required to check individuals, which meant this was just a routine visit. Well after answering a few questions and having a little chat with the guy who spoke English then showing my documents they went away happy. My poor American Missionary neighbour got more of a grilling though as they have to conform to certain criteria in order to stay, whereas I only had to have the appropriate documentation and confirm there was only the two of us in the flat.

Friday saw us heading off to Riga, we had been invited to help with some mentoring and it was a good time of sharing our story with some young folks. The pastor who was attending told how he waited 8 years before accepting Jesus and wished he had done it sooner and we shared about waiting on God's timing but I think it was good to see both sides and to explain when God says "go" then "go" and when he says "wait" then "wait". The obvious key though is to listen to God in the first place and learn to hear his voice. We then went back to stay overnight with Steve and Natalija who had invited us to the meeting and their kids. Simon the youngest is only 6 months old starting to try and talk like babies do and it so funny, he does it with the biggest cheesiest grin ever. 

Sunday we decided to go apple picking as there are lots of apple trees that go with our new flat and it was a gorgeous day. There were three kids playing around outside and they said hello, practicing their English on the strange couple. They also babbled away a bit in Latvian which we didn't really understand much of but I had wondered whether they had offered to help us, this was confirmed when Ian came downstairs with one end of a stack of shelves and one of the kids on the other end. They were so funny as they kept coming down into the basement with things like apples (no idea where they were getting them from, and couldn't really ask), and coffee flavoured sweets. They then gave us a small bunch of wild flowers they had picked. I think they might be helpful to us in picking up some Latvian words, I am sure they will think it huge fun to teach us, and I think they may improve their English too.

Well it is our Wedding Anniversary today - 24 years! We didn't really do anything special as we had eaten out at a restaurant with our friends on Saturday and I feel like I have eaten too much just lately and the day before we went round to the new bakery that has finally opened this week, so we didn't want to go back to often - well we do but I don't think it will be good for my waistline even if we walk around there. Forgot to mention while we went to the bakery on the day it opened we saw the mayor of the town there, I introduced myself and explained that I am going to start a course on development management and would probably use Ergli as a subject so would like to know some more about the place, he agreed to meet up with us so will be doing that later on this week.