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.