Monday, 28 December 2009

Last post of the decade

We have had a very strange Christmas this year, firstly because we didn't have any children to stay with us and we didn't pick up any strays along the way either. So Christmas day itself was just the two of us for the first time in 23 years. I did make some croissants for breakfast and we ate breakfast together which we rarely do, partly because Ian prefers breakfast as soon as he gets up and I don't, and I am up later than he is. I do have to add though it was Ian's second breakfast of the morning, he couldn't last until I woke up. We followed the breakfast with bacon butties for lunch and just didn't get around to going out, or doing anything really during the day- it was great. We didn't even have presents to unwrap because we have bought so many other things just lately and none of them can be wrapped and put under a Christmas tree. We couldn't even be really bothered to make a proper Christmas meal and had only been able to get pork anyway but it just didn't seem to matter. Eventually we got organised and made our way out to the local hotel where they had a string quartet - very civilised, they even played some traditional carols that we recognised. We then went to a "do" which started at 9pm. We had been invited by the orphanage but had no idea what we had been invited too and watched with amazement as people trundled in with bags of food and bottles of drink, and saw the band warming up. We couldn't work out if all these people were connected with the orphanage or not but gradually it dawned on us that they weren't but we still were clueless as to what was going on. Fortunately a young lass we recognised who spoke English turned up and we asked her what it was that we had been invited too. It turned out that we had been invited to  a dance with a country and western band, not quite our style but it was fun to watch Latvians out for the evening. I have to say some of the young men were surprisingly good dancers, whirling their partners around with practised ease, we were sure that Latvians are born dancing as well as singing which they are famous for.

Before you feel sorry for us that our children have abandoned us at Christmas our daughter has now come out to see us along with her boyfriend, just a few days late that is all. As I said earlier on this year we have always said that we would never insist on our kids coming to see us at Christmas, if they do come then that is great but we will never insist on it as it creates too many issues for young folks trying to balance family commitments. We also said that we would cross the bridge of a childless Christmas when we came to it and that bridge has now been crossed and to tell you the truth, it wasn't too painful, just different. Besides crossing the bridge of a childless Christmas this year we also crossed the bridge of leaving behind being the parents of teenagers as our youngest of three turned 20 years old. Scary how time passes.

Boxing day night we narrowly averted disaster, or at least hope so. We have a beautiful Christmas tree that we chose from the land and I watered it diligently but I forgot one minor detail about our ingenious Christmas tree base and that was not to fill the base up higher than the screw holes........ well water seeped out through the holes- not too bad as there is even a drip tray, the fatal mistake though was to lay some rather nice Christmas stockings over the base which sucked up the water and leaked it over the side onto our laminate flooring, not a good idea. A rather nice free Christmas tree nearly ended up an expensive one if it had lead to ruined flooring but hopefully the dehumidifier saved the day.

Just lately we have been looking into getting a chipper/shredder so that we can deal with the huge piles of clippings from the woodland that Ian has amassed over the last couple of months, hopefully making use of it for composting purposes and creating non-muddy paths in our polytunnel. As we hadn't seen any we thought we might have to import one from England but the other day we spotted one in Depot (a DIY store) while shopping for other bits and pieces, we hummed and harrhhhed and hummed and harrhhed some more before then deciding we had better buy it as it was less than the ones we were looking at in the UK and we wouldn't have to pay postage on it, it was also neat enough to wheel through the forest and shred on the spot as well. Perfect! At least we hope so. They only had the one so we didn't dare come back after taking some time thinking about it, this was one of our biggest "if we don't purchase it now, we may never see another one" purchases but it has got to be done when things are rapidly disappearing from the shops, even the shops are rapidly disappearing. You should have seen us dismantling the thing to get it into the boot of the truck to get it home in Depot car park on a freezing day though.

Last week I said I said that our apartment building has a fuse for the whole house of 35A but I stand corrected, there is 35A available for each block of 6 apartments not 18 as I thought. It still leaves us the with a problem; we can afford to run several appliances and so we can run pretty close to our maximum power output that we can draw through our 20A fuse, but the issue is what about our neighbours? If we pull enough power to run 2x2kW radiators during the cold autumn months before the heating is put on then that means there is only the same amount of electric available for our other 5 neighbours ie they have to share the rest of the 4KW between them. Does that mean that we are actually using more than our fair share of power and denying it to our neighbours? Well not at the moment but it could be if our neighbours buy more appliances. Being able to afford something or the right to do it does not mean that we should, we need to show consideration to others in the process.

On the subject of heating, our bills this year have thankfully been much lower. Many of our neighbours are suffering the effects of reduction in salaries and so heating bills in the order of last year (88-112 LVLS or £111-£141) would have been devastating, and we had such cold weather that our bills should have been higher but thanks to a re-circulation pump that was fitted a couple of months ago this last bill was only 21LVLs, an amazing reduction. This means that teachers who were earning around 500 LVLs last year and only around 250 LVLs this year will be breathing a sigh of relief, some good news in what has been a disastrous year for Latvians economy wise.

Not sure what happened or the reason for it but we found out that the waste removal will no longer be organised by the local Parish, so what now? Who will empty our bins (trash cans)? Our house manager has to phone a company and organise a personal contract for the whole house, but we do wonder how many others in the village will have their waste removed in the New Year. The local tip (landfill) has also been closed as it is not up to EU regulations and the nearest tip is 45 km away. It is going to take some creative solutions to deal with the waste produced even if the average Latvian produces much less waste than most European nations. It just seems very strange that something that I have taken for granted as a state responsibility will not be carried out simply because the contract was not renewed. Even stranger to me was the fact that our last delivery of the year was carried out on Christmas day. The thought of bin men turning out on Christmas day in the snow in England would be laughable, just not possible, but it did here.

Earlier on this year the director of the Latvian institute, Ojars Kalnins, commented that if the Latvian crisis was a book it was in the opening chapters and that there would be many twists and turns in the plot, well the twists and turns have certainly continued as the courts tell the government it is unconstitutional to cut pensions and they must return the money to pensioners. That totally messes with the budget that the government had set with the agreement of the EU and the IMF. If the lending institutions insist that the pension cuts must stay then they are effectively telling the Latvian people that the rule of law means nothing, that the rule of money trumps democratic processes. So what for the New Year, something has to give either the IMF or the Latvian people, somehow I believe the Latvian people will be like David in David and Goliath, how or why I am not sure but I do know the constitutional courts have made the right decision, illegal decisions cannot be inflicted on the country by a lending institution, the Prime Minister accepts he can't legally force the country to do it and the IMF can spit with fury but if they have really learnt that the country has to be responsible then it cannot and must not over rule the rule of law of any nation if it is to retain any credibility. It has to work with the system that is in place.

Photo 1 Cold misty day in the village
Photo 2 Train in Sigulda
Photo 3 Christmas Tree
Photo 4 & 5 The hotel in Licupe, after and before the fire
Photo 6 Ice roads
Photo 7 & 8 Wintry scenes in Latvia

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas

I haven't posted one single card this year, I just didn't have time to get organised. Well that is my excuse and I am sticking to it. What I do want to do though is to wish everyone a peaceful and safe Christmas wherever you are. May all of you who follow this blog know the deep peace of God in your lives, the excitement of a creative and exuberant God and know the loving hands of a Father holding you tight and loving you like no earthly Father can do. So here is my Christmas card to all of you.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Food glorious food

I got into the habit of stockpiling for winter in the early years of married life, we lived in Sheffield, England and the first few winters the snow was over 12 inches deep (30cms), which is a lot for England. This habit meant that there was always enough flour, milk powder, tins of food etc in the house and there were a few winters when it was a good job I had a stockpile. When we moved to a small village in Derbyshire we only had one car and Ian needed it for work in the winter, so if I didn't get the shopping done at the weekend, it didn't get done and snow occasionally stopped me getting out and about on a shopping day. Although we now live in a village here in Latvia there are two small supermarkets and so shopping shouldn't be too much of a problem, but if the weather was to get really bad or a there was a flu epidemic that could mean shortages and that would make things difficult. So as we had already had an early snowfall this winter, I began to stock up, but found I had another problem I hadn't thought about. The crisis has hit Latvia hard this year and now it is beginning to show in the shops, the occasional empty shelf, the regulars that we usually get not in stock, they even ran out of orange juice for two weeks - they had other juices and orange nektars but not orange juice, there was even one day when there was hardly any bread on the shelves. This has meant that some of the items that we had stockpiled are now running low, we are now down to one bag of raisins, which is a pain as we throw a handful of raisins on our breakfast every morning. We shall have to do what we try and avoid doing and that is to do a big shop in a big supermarket in one of the bigger towns.

Since we are on the topic of food, I will mention a classic cook book I came across while looking for my next load of books for my studies, it is a free e-book or you can buy the real book if you feel it will be of use.   It was written by the head chef to Queen Victoria, for the working classes to help them to improve their nutrition, it has such helpful hints like "buy a stove", now isn't that a good idea, would never have thought of that. To make your own bread you need a tub or trough to take a bushel or two of flour apparently; now a bushel is 8 gallons which is about a bucket and a half of flour - rather a lot of flour don't you think but I guess they did have large families in those days. I thought it was hilarious how beef was considered a common source of meat but an old chicken was a rarity, shows how things have changed.

Must also mention that I love the French's way of tackling obesity and that is to teach people how to cook properly, such a classically French approach and perhaps they are right. Apparently the five a day isn't working and sitting down to eat a proper meal may just cut the weight problem and stop people reaching for the fast food- pity it's not working for me though, I make just about everything from scratch and fishfingers and beans are about as processed as you get in our house. Hopefully though now my studying is finished for a month I can get out and about more.

As I said there was one day the bread shelves were virtually empty and since Ian lives off the stuff we thought it would be a good idea to get a new breadmaker for Christmas, funny thing is my American neighbour also went out and got one on exactly the same day, must be great minds think alike. Anyway Ian is a little worried about ours though as it is has the words "Hell" "Mittel" and "Dunkel" written on it he thinks it might be demonic, and it has a symbol on it that looks like fire. I did try to reassure him that it really meant light, medium and dark in German and this was perfectly normal on a breadmaker, and the fire symbol was really just an ear of corn, not sure he is convinced though but I don't think it will stop him enjoying the bread made in it.

Last week was rather chiily as it got down below -20C and at that temperature cars won't start (our car was fine but others had problems), chainsaws start freezing and did you know that the inside of double glazing freezes? Just some of the random facts I have found from experience. People from the UK often cannot understand how it can be quite bearable below freezing but the reason is because the air is a lot drier when it is persistently below 0C, when it hovers around freezing it is damp and miserable. If the wind is blowing it is not so nice and you can feel your cheeks begin to freeze but when it is still, then just making sure your wrapped up correctly is all that is necessary. The only real problem when it gets to 20C is that nose hairs freeze, if anyone knows what to do about the tickly feeling in your nose as they freeze when you breathe in then please do let me know. We did have a bit of a panic the other days though as our electric went out, my first thought was not to get some candles lit but what about the heat. We are still waiting for the plinth for our fire to be finished so we haven't got any independent heat yet and so it was a little worrying but fortunately the problem was only temporary and the lights came back on; apparently the whole house was taking too much electric and a fuse blew. There is only 35A for the whole 18 apartments, it is common for a UK house to have about 80A, so you can imagine the problem, especially when certain individuals go buying things like breadmakers!!!!

It was my name day on Tuesday so I was informed! Latvians like to celebrate, you can tell this because they don't only have a birthday they also have a name day too. If you click on the link you can see a list of all the names celebrated in the month of December or Decembris in Latvian (other helpful words to know are Svetdiena = Sunday, Pirmdiena = Monday, Otrdiena = Tuesday, Tresdiena = Wednesday, Ceturtdiena = Thursday, Piektdiena = Friday and Sestdiena = Saturday). While on the subject of celebrations we have two events planned for Christmas day itself, the first will be at the hotel as there is a concert and the other is a party for those who have been involved in the local orphanage in someway, which starts at 9pm. Seems so strange to have events actually on Christmas day itself as that is the last day I would expect anything but obviously not the case here.

One thing that has been resonating with me whilst studying is the idea of traineeships for farmers, where a trainee is shared between three or four farmers so they get plenty of practice and the farmers get extra help but not committed to one trainee each which can be a drain on finances for the farmers. It was interesting therefore to read on one blog of the importance of apprenticeships and learning from parents and relatives skills for life, skills that are important to pass onto the next generation. We live in an instant generation and passing on lifes skills is not considered of such high importance, plus kids have other distractions that means they don't want to hang around dad or mum or anyone older than them so they can learn. We are all missing out on so much more than say learning to cook or farm or mend, we are missing out the opportunity to pass on wisdom learnt over years of life.

Well the debt collectors are at the gate and they want more - not content with expecting the Latvian Government to cut 500m LVLs (£629m or $1012m) they now want 700m or 800m LVLs of cuts which amounts to around 347 LVLs per man, woman and child or put another way 42 days of working for a teacher.  If the IMF continue to expect the cuts to be made that they are asking then there will be nothing left in Latvia, nothing left for recovery. The Swedish owned banks are taking properties under their control and hanging onto them for five years or so and then hoping to sell at a profit because to sell now will not do them any good, apparently they learnt their lesson from a previous problem with the Swedish banking system. Really!!!! I am not sure they learnt anything from the Swedish crisis of the early 90s, otherwise they wouldn't be in the mess they are in now. Around 5 or 6 years ago many Latvians didn't even have a mortgage and now many of them are deep in debt, now that suggests aggressive selling techniques to me. I also find it incredible that Abu Dhabi can give Dubai their reckless brother state enough money to get them through but the 'prudent' EU states will not help just 2.3 million people - that is the sum total of the Latvian population, now how much would it take to at least make sure the poorest are cared for?

I am proud though to have joined a nation that can stare into the face of a crisis and say that some things are more important than having money. Some Latvians are reacting in a very positive way to the crisis now that they are getting over the shock of the collapse and this BBC podcast was very uplifting to listen to.

1 Sunrise around 8:30am on a bitterly cold day -20C
2 & 3 The forest that Ian has cleared out
4 One of the springs now nearly frozen over
5. The water must have been oozing out of the bank and freezing as it travelled down to the now frozen stream

Monday, 14 December 2009

Sun and the big freeze

We saw the sun today, it was gorgeous. There was enough snow to cover everything with a fluffy white blanket and the sun softly glinting off everything was enough to lift the spirits after the long dark autumn we have had (sorry no photos yet though as I wasn't at home and didn't have the camera with me but maybe tomorrow I shall take some). Be rest assured that the snow is not going to disappear in the meantime, that has something to do with the fact it was down to -16C (3F) at sunset, and what a sunset it was, just a few clouds in the sky and the sky darkening down into that wonderful winter golden orange. One of the things we have learnt since moving away from the UK is that below freezing is okay, it is often dry, not that damp just above freezing weather that chills you to the bone that you get in the UK. There are no heroics though, when it comes to what you wear. Layers have to be chosen with care, enough to keep warm but not enough to sweat as you don't want the sweat freezing. I hate hats but I wear one all the same, I wouldn't go out without one at those sorts of temperatures, a big difference to the UK where it was rare that I ever wore a hat. I was actually working at a flat we own nearby, trying to get some extra heat into the place since the temperatures have dipped so drastically and we don't want burst pipes and it was nice to have a change of scenery while I studied, but the walk back home for lunch was chilly as there was a breeze, but bundled up in my layers I was fine. 

I got my exam results back from the OU course this week from an exam that I took in October and I was very pleased with myself as I did a lot better than I expected. I knew I had passed but wasn't sure how well I had actually done, so was very relieved to get a very good result. It does now mean that I should get a Postgraduate Certificate in Development Management as I have passed the two units required which means I can put PG Cert Dev Mgmt after my name - that is if I ever remember and if I ever really need to. Having said that I do now have to wait for all the usual verification which means waiting a few more months before it is all confirmed.

I was also pleased to get some very good results back from my two assignments on my new course and so I set off to start my next assignment with confidence; unfortunately my confidence did not last and I got bogged down in it - it just would not flow. I got quite a way into the assignment and decided that as a good student I should have a look at the question and make sure that I am actually answering the question and the answer to that was "No! I wasn't" I really felt I had been wasting my time and could see time slipping away as I have another assignment still to do before December 18th. I was so tired that night as I was explaining to Ian but then I had a flash of inspiration, I could include what I had written but I did need to lead into it differently, justifying my approach - Phew! Saved! Amazing what a bit of waffle will do but why is it that flashes of inspiration strike you at rather inconvenient times? I had another inspiring moment just as I was dropping off to sleep and it was no good hoping I would remember in the morning, I had to get up and write it down there and then.

One of my assignment topics is foodsheds - so what is a foodshed? And no it is not where you put the potatoes for the winter, it actually describes the places our food comes from. It is a term kind of pinched from geography "a watershed" which is the area that water drains from into a river. When our grandparents or even great-grandparents were little their food came from fairly local sources and so they would have had a small foodshed but as our world modernised our food came from further and further afield. Have you ever looked in your cupboard and found out what is produced locally and what is produced further afield? Have you ever thought which foods you are eating, that came all the way from Chile or Kenya, could actually be produced nearby? Okay you may have thought about that as it has a lot to do with foodmiles, but how big is your foodshed? On average in America food travels 1300 miles from source to plate (and that is not to knock Americans, those are the statistics I could find, I don't think Europe will be much better) that is a lot of travelling and we suffer for it as the choice of what we have to eat is decided not by taste but how well it handles and how well it stores. I love the comment made in one of the papers

"We live in a world in which we are ever more distant from each other and from the land, and so we are increasingly less responsible to each other and to the land. Where do we go from here? How can we come home again? "

So how do we come home again? Foodwise that is? What choices do we have to make in order to reduce our foodshed? What changes in our diet would we have to make? That doesn't mean that all our food has to come from nearby, but it should make us more thoughtful in what we do eat.

Some more momentous news this week - our little tractor finally made it back to us and complete with a front loader, only nearly two months to the day after we should have got it but who's counting? Doesn't it look sweet? Ian enjoyed playing about with it on Friday using it to pull some of the wood out of the forest instead of doing it all by hand. Only he didn't have long to enjoy having his tractor back, as now that the front loader is fitted it now needs to go to a little old man who is an apparent whizz with engineering and he is going to make a frame for the back hoe to be fitted to. Heh ho! Maybe soon it will have all its fittings ready for the Spring so that he can dig ditches with it - no chance of digging ditches now, we would need one of those machines that break up tarmac to get through the frozen ground.

Having Latvian lessons gives us the opportunity to find out a bit more about the place we live in and we found that the state of the economy in our village is not so good as you would expect at this time. There are around four or five factories making wood products and the workers are down to working around 10-15 days per month, the local hotel also has workers who work around 10 days a month and the staffing level in the restaurant is down to one waitress and the cook operating the whole hotel and restaurant with no one on reception. There is also rumour of the local orphanage possibly closing down, I wouldn't normally mention rumours but even if this isn't true it is unsettling for youngsters who have an unsettled way of life anyway and this is something they could well do with out. The orphanage is not a plush place, it is basic but the kids are well enough looked after and their life is less chaotic for being there and I worry about what the outcome for them will be, they are smashing kids who look out for each other and now the future looks uncertain.

Obviously part of the reason for these problems is the fact that Latvia has a colossal debt to repay to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which was taken out to stop the economy collapsing. There are those who believe that the IMF are solely acting as debt collectors, making sure the banks who leant far too much money don't lose it all (just search on IMF and you will see what has happened over the last year if you haven't been keeping up to date), which hardly seems fair on those who have most to lose - the poor. In return for the loan the Latvian Government have had strict conditions to accompany the credit packages, including slashing public sector expenditures, hence the closure of orphanages, some of which have already closed. At the same time the World Bank (which like the IMF is also part of the UN) has warned governments not to cut social welfare programmes as they try to limit expenditure. "They should not now make dramatic cuts across the board or stop paying pensions. Many countries have good welfare programmes in place and these should be protected," the World Bank’s Barbone said. - all I can say is will someone please make up their minds!!!!! 

Out of the blue this week we were told that the hotel where we had been meeting with other Christians was no longer available, not quite sure why but it does leave the dilemma of where to meet. The default option is to meet out at a camp which is a few miles outside of the village but this is not really the best to build a church embedded in the community in which it lives and working out Kingdom life in that community (oh and when I say build a church, I don't mean a church building). It will be interesting though to start looking at the possibilities. Houses? Community buildings? There are pros and cons to all of them but I know that personally I would hate to see a purpose built building that looked like the sort of thing that everyone thinks of when you mention the word church. I long to see more of church life expressing the life and vitality of a risen Christ, and how appropriate then that at this time of year our own church community is homeless - turned away from the Inn, I wonder what will be birthed from this?

Photos this week
Photo 1 - a desolate looking landscape just as the big freeze began to set in
Photos 2 & 3 -More ice creations - I am beginning to think that it is the ice that forms as it gradually opens up rotten wood as it freezes the contents. 
Photo 5 -Ian in his tractor
Photos 4, 6, 7 & 8 Tractor WITH front loader.

Monday, 7 December 2009

What is it all for?

So another week gone by, and now I am getting into more assignments for my course. I love the topics, producing reports on "Stemming the tide of migration of rural young people" and "Foodsheds and their relevance to sustainable communities" (well those are the abbreviated titles) but the deadline I set myself of one assignment finished this week and then the next one the following week makes me feel tired before I start. Hunting for information, putting it together and hoping I am answering the question I find exhausting but I will get there and then I actually have some time off to look forward too. Yippeee! Not like my poor unfortunate youngest who was given work for over the Christmas holidays from his Uni course. The beauty of my course is that it consists of distinct units, so I complete the first two units on December 18th and don't start the next two until sometime in January. Mind you I have a book list a mile high and a stack of interesting papers to read over Christmas which may or may not be useful in the future, plus planning for next years tasks on the land to do but I guess that is what comes of learning for my own purpose and not just for a course.

I really felt like I was doing what God asked me to in taking up the studies for my course but I have sometimes wondered "what it is all for?", "what is the point?" and "where am I going with it all?" but this week I feel a little clearer on why I am doing it. A quote on a blog from Jeremiah 6:16 “Stand at the Crossroads and look.....and find the Ancient ways....and walk in the good ways”" started me thinking. The point of the quote was that we should stop to consider the way ahead at the crossroads, instead of charging off in one direction. I feel what I am doing is almost like sitting down at the crossroads and studying in detail the destination of each direction and the places along the route. Not just reading the signs but getting the map out and studying the terrain thoroughly. Hopefully by doing this we will be able to plot our route more thoroughly and not take too many detours along the way.

While I am studying Ian, as I mentioned before, is busy clearing the woods, I even went and helped him over the weekend, just to get out of the house. As we stood drinking a cup of tea and looking around I commented that it now feels like a friendly wood, and Ian agreed as it was now one you could have a gentle stroll around, instead of hacking through the undergrowth being attacked by stray branches with a whip like intensity. There is one big problem though with all the clearing that Ian does, for some reason he comes back smelling like a fishmonger, it is quite revolting. Not quite sure why he smells like a fishmonger really because on analysis it is the smell that you get off wet logs but as he comes through the door there is definitely a smell that wafts in ahead of him like day old fish, not nice.

Despite the early snow and cold we had, the rest of November has been dark and grey, it is so bad that this year nearly all the plants that we brought in to protect them from a harsh winter, gave up the ghost and died. It is incredible how quickly they seem to give up too, one minute they look okay and then over a couple of days they start to droop as if they haven't been watered even though they have (no not too much either) and then they completely shrivel. I think our chance of some early peppers are gone now, unless we get some snow to brighten up the days as we only have about two plants left and I think they are on the verge of abandoning all hope.

We have finally had some progress with the front loader for the tractor. Ian was all geared up for a showdown, 'we get the front loader soon or we want our money back' type little discussion when they got in first and rang to say the parts had finally arrived and could they come and collect the tractor? So Friday Ian waved goodbye to our little tractor once again, as it set off back to the workshop for the third time. Hopefully this time we get it back this week complete with front loader!!!!!!!!!!!!! (For the full saga link 1, link 2, link 3). It should have been fitted by the 12th October so it is rather on the late side and we have no idea of who fouled up in ordering the front loader parts for a tractor with a cab; the one they tried to fit originally was for one without a cab and had we used it would have smashed into the cab - not recommended really.

Climate change is obviously back on the agenda, think it is due to a little conference in one of the places we used to live in errr now let me see, oh yes Copenhagen. That oh so green country!!!!! Not really! Having lived in Copenhagen we appreciated the fact we didn't need a car to get around, the bike facilities and public transport meant we were well catered for and they do recycle a lot  but that is because they need to, you should see the amount of junk mail that comes through every week, no wonder there was a paper bank for recycling paper on every corner. As I mentioned last week many don't believe that the climate is changing and think it is just a chance for Governments to tax us heavily and companies to make a lot of money. Perhaps they do not realise how much money a lot of big companies, particularly oil companies, are ploughing into trying to dismiss the claims because if we take climate change seriously and reduce what we consume then they will lose their big fat profits big time. I also said last week that to be honest I don't really know if the climate will change catastrophically, I do know there is a God in Heaven who cares for us and I am sure he will take care of his creation but I also believe we have our part to play which was put very eloquently by a lady called Pat Meadows. Basically Pat will continue living simply and frugally, reconnecting with her food and community for no other reason than it is the right thing to do anyway, the "anyway principle". She does this because she believes we have a mandate from God to repair and heal this world we live in and we can't do that by our hectic, consumerist lifestyle. 

Photos this week
Photos 1, 2 & 5 are actually hair-like structures made from ice. How the ice forms these shapes we have absolutely no idea but they are fascinating to see. How do they curl like that?

Photos 3 & 4 are of the silver birch that Ian tapped early on in the year for the birch juice. It is the same tree on the left hand side in both pictures that you can see but maybe what isn't so clear is that all the criss-crossed branches have been removed just leaving the nice straight trees with hopefully room to grow.

Photo 6 - the woodland floor with just a dusting of snow.

Monday, 30 November 2009

An interesting week

The week started off by a visit from immigration officers. One of the not so nice outcomes from the open borders agreement in much of Europe is that now the immigration officers need to check up to make sure people really have left after visas expire, or to make sure that people are up to date on their registration documents and so entails periodic home visits from the dear folk. The last visit I had there were four guys who all looked pretty intimidating, but fortunately the one who spoke English was a nice enough bloke who was very courteous. This time it was a visit by a man and a woman but they still looked intimidating with their official cards and huge jackets with immigration written on them, oh yes and don't forget their pistols, however they were really nice and checked our passports and asked some questions about a friend of ours who has left the country. The only question I do have, is how come they always wait until Ian is out of the house before visiting? Hmmm!

This week I also discovered a squeamish side of me I didn't know existed and if you are of a delicate disposition, then please skip this paragraph. We decided to buy some of the local carp as I had the great idea that the lake that keeps appearing could be developed into a fish pond, well there is not much point in developing a fish pond if you don't like the type of fish that grows well in it so it was important to try it out. Well the fish was fresh, some of it was still flapping in the buckets but the one we bought didn't flap, well not until I started to gut it. Gutting fish I can cope with fine, but not when fin moves, even more so when it opens its mouth. It kind of freaked me out a little and I made Ian come and do the manly thing and dispatch it properly before I continued, he wasn't particularly happy about doing it either but he managed. So the lesson learnt? Make sure you know how to dispatch fish properly before starting to prepare it for cooking. Now I know some of you would be thinking at this point that really the lesson learnt is to buy a nice little pre-packaged thingummy jig at the local supermarket - problem solved! Well here in Latvia they keep the carp in tanks so it would still be flapping when they give it to you, and besides I think we do need to reconnect where our meat and fish comes from and not be quite so squeamish. I am going to learn how to make sure the jobs done properly though in future.

Been a good week for feasting and sitting round a dinner table chatting, which is my idea of a perfect time. Earlier on in the week was the American Thanksgiving, sorry to be absolutely correct United States of America Thanksgiving as the Canadian Thanksgiving is a month earlier, and Canadians are American too so it was pointed out to me that evening (well yes I kind of knew that). Amazingly we had a huge turkey, which is not all that common here in Latvia, both the turkey and huge; normally if you can find a turkey at all they are of the scrawny variety and not the well fattened sort. America exports many things including ideas and celebrations but not Thanksgiving, which I think is a shame. I am all for a celebration that revolves around eating (notice a pattern here) and being grateful for the past year with friends and family and, as one person said whilst I was in America, no pressure to buy presents. Mind you with hindsight I wonder if his wife thought the same way about it?

The other feast was a wedding. We were invited to the wedding of one of the camp leaders we met in the first year of camps we did in Latvia back in the year 2000. She is a bubbly, passionate kind of girl and looks like she has found someone who is equally passionate about his relationship with God and I think they will suit each other well. The wedding was a little of an English-Latvian fusion because there were many guests from England, including the "best couple" who were good friends of ours from our church back in England - in fact the couple who were responsible for getting us interested in going out to Latvia all those years ago. Latvians love flowers and use any occasion to give them and so instead of flowers being arranged by the couple, every family brings along flowers to give to the bride and groom. There were lots of vases around so I think that the huge number of flowers given were actually distributed around the church building where they got married to decorate it rather than be wasted. Other differences to the UK traditions I noticed was no bridesmaids and once the father walked the bride down the aisle he immediately handed her over to the bridegroom instead of an elaborate handover ceremony. At the reception the bride and grooms family did not sit on the top table, it was the two supporting couples. There were songs sung by the bride's brother and friends, which is not surprising in Latvia as they do like to sing even if they don't go to church, there was a game where the winners got to take the young couple out over the coming year, for instance one couple will take them to the cinema one month, one will organise a romantic meal another month and so on, not sure how normal that is for Latvians but seemed an interesting enough idea. One thing I understand is common is the regular banging on glasses with cutlery and the shouting of "kiss, kiss" in Latvian of course and then the couple were expected to kiss, a real headache inducing tradition.

On the way to the wedding in the morning we came to an area where it was unexpectedly misty and I couldn't quite work out why until we came round a corner to see a very sad sight, a hotel that was on fire and by the time we were passing the spot was a mere shell with the outside walls still standing but no roof and only the chimney stacks still visible; by the time we went home the whole thing had collapsed. It was a great shame as it had only just been spruced up since we arrived in Latvia, in the bright yellow colour that the Latvians love (as you can see from the picture)

On our late night trips back home we usually see plenty of wild life and this time was no exception. If you see one deer on the road you can usually expect more so Ian is always careful to slow down. This time there were three deer stood in the road who were looking in the opposite direction to our car, we expected them to at least scatter when we approached, but no they didn't even turn around to look at us. You would think that a car at night with headlights on would warrant some attention but it wasn't until we were within metres of them did they seem to realise we were there and run off. We decided at this point that wolves have got it all wrong, they don't need to go around in sheep's clothing to confuse the deer, they just need to take up driving, the bigger the car the better, they would be sure to be able to sneak up on the deer then.

It has still been rather wet here this week so it was quite a surprise when the sun actually put in an appearance today and so the dark night took a little longer before it really took hold, well perhaps 10 minutes more daylight than normal often it is pretty dark by 4pm, and we have even needed the light on for much of the day sometimes. Makes you realise why the Northern Europeans like candles in winter time. Talking of winter Father Christmas was spotted today having a walk around our village, he does seem to have lost quite a bit of weight though in preparation for the annual stuffing of eating all those mince pies and shots of sherry at the UK addresses. Which reminds me, I guess that must mean Christmas is fairly close! Oh! Crumbs! Well never mind the kids aren't actually going to be coming out this year on Christmas itself so I should be safe. First one arrives two days later, next one two months and errr the other one?????? Whenever!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Further quiet times and musings

This week continued to be a pretty quiet week without Ian, I only had the radio on once while he was away. Some people might find that scary, I have often heard people remark that they cannot live without the sound of voices somewhere. I personally don't have a problem with silence, it gives me space to think and ponder and I guess I have had time to do that this week. I would have had more time to ponder if I wasn't catching up with coursework though. Still I got a lot of studying done too. There were no startling revelations this week in my studies but I did find out the Common Fisheries Policy is a mess, which I guess we all knew anyway. Still I will leave others to delve more deeply into that as I concentrate on more land base issues. Nice to find one area that I didn't really want to pursue amongst all the others that have come up. I have found so many areas to explore within the course that it can be quite overwhelming at times.

I did get out onto the land a couple of times since Ian wasn't around to keep an eye on things and to carry on digging ditches (oh the fun you can have playing in mud). There was one scary moment as my welly (rubber boot) became stuck and I suddenly thought "What do I do? I am out in the middle of nowhere and my phone does not often get a signal in that spot" I remembered that if I got really stuck I would have to throw myself flat on the floor in the mud and crawl out, I would then have to get back to the apartment and walk up three flights of stairs caked in mud, not a happy prospect. Fortunately at that point of visualising myself skulking into the building trying not to be seen, there was a deep squelching noise as my boot came free and I scampered out of the muddy mire.

A visit to our joiner friend revealed that shortly after I had been out on the land we had had visitors, they were finally getting on with constructing the poly tunnel frame. Since Ian was not around I asked our Swedish builder/plumber come general handyman to come out with me and check it out. I was a little worried about how they were going to manage when the area was so muddy. I had no idea how they were going to erect the ribs of the tunnel, they couldn't use ladders that was for sure, would we get there and find some half buried young men? As we came over the brow of the hill we saw the half constructed tunnel, it was so peculiar to see this upturned ark like structure stuck in the middle of a field, somehow they had indeed managed to put up the ribs. An inspection of the site revealed how they had cobbled together a prop for the ribs from some of the branches that Ian has been cutting down, very ingenious. Good news is that my trenches had made a difference and the land was beginning to drain a little too so we didn't have to dig anyone out.

Paid a visit to Jekabpils this week, the nearest large town to us, to try and find some fabric to make a traditional Latvian costume as some presents for littlies. Now I have been to Jekabpils quite a few times, it is quite a pretty town with lots of little wooden buildings and a few modern ones. We have walked around it many a time but I had never seen any fabric shops but, as usual here in Latvia, you have to know where things are to find them. Some shops are obvious with little window displays but many are not and you have to go inside to find out what is there, for someone used to the UK or America with commercial areas, shop windows and distinct districts, it can be a bit frustrating at times but also a bit like a treasure hunt. It is amazing where the Latvians can tuck a little business, and even some bigger businesses and it is definitely a case of not what you know but who you know in order to find them.

Went to pick Ian up on Saturday from the airport and I saw the sun for the first time, all five minutes of it. Although Ian didn't really get much chance to get out and about he did at least see the sun but he was still glad to get home. We'll see what he thinks after a few days rain though, the weather forecast doesn't look good. The trip went well and he managed to sort out some technical issues while he was there, as well as support and encourage his work colleague. He also met up with our youngest son's girlfriend's parents who are Greek Cypriot and in Cyprus at the same time, even though they now live in London. Ian got to meet more of the family and see where the father was born and grew up; he also heard some of the stories and exploits arising out of the more recent Cypriot troubled history of the 1970's. We are not sure if he will get the chance to go out again as his work colleague retires next year but we will just have to wait and see if anything else develops or not.

A friend of ours suddenly had a free day and decided to visit us before the snow came and so we had the pleasure of showing him around. It is great to be able to show him all the places we know now, and to pass on all the snippets of information we have found out in the last year. We took him out to the Everglades and we tramped through the wet fields, painting a picture of what could be, let him have a drive in the tractor and talked about the history of the place with all the evidence of the battle that had been fought in the forested areas. So much we have found out, and yet there is so much more to discover about the complicated history of this land. So much more to learn about the culture of the people and so much more to learn about what will grow in this land and more importantly what should we grow in the land. Is there a difference you might ask, and there is. Too often we can plant something that will grow well in an area, in fact too well. We do not want to cause problems by planting what will be come invasive weeds, whether they be spiritual, cultural or physical.

I said I had been pondering a lot as well and one of my ponderings has been about climate change. Someone posted a video on the discussion board of my course labelled "The most terrifying video you will ever see"..... well actually it is not but I think it does ask some good questions. I am a little tired of people saying we can't be sure that climate change is happening etc etc which is true, but..... if it is then we ought to be doing something about it, even if it is only remotely true we still should be doing something. Whether climate change is true or not, we are polluting our world and ought to do something about it. In Victorian times the rich lived in the towns but upwind from the factories and away from the overcrowded, polluted, disease ridden houses of the poor, now we live in different countries entirely. Our factories are still producing goods for our consumption just like in Victorian times but instead of it being a few miles away they are thousands of miles away. There is never any need to go down and see what providing us with our comforts actually does to those who make them, or those displaced so we can have the raw materials to have them. We are as guilty as those indifferent mill owners and the upper classes of the Victorian era, if we do not care how the poor are living, or open our eyes to see the damage being done. How can we stand by and say "Well it will hurt the economy if we start making changes", the damage to the economy has already been done, now let's start making a difference to our environment instead of fouling up what God gave us to look after, whether that is in our own backyard or in far flung places. We can stop being greedy and wasteful for a start and that is something positive we can do, we will then not have to work just to provide us with new things and maybe we will actually enjoy life more.

Another biggie to think about "Democracy" is it good for us? This was a comment by one guy on the BBC site on the appointment of the new President of the EU.
"The best top level appointments are necessarily based on the proven, and potential, ability to make and maintain relationships that will serve the best interests of the organization and all of its members. What support the chosen individuals have, and the quality of their staff and advisors, is a factor in any such decision. It appears that the EU Council had those factors in mind when the selections were made. Certainly a better system than popular public election where charismatic dictators and demagogues, party platforms, and the inept and unproven can sell themselves to a naive public, gaining power that they should not ever have. The roles in question are not starter jobs, with long learning curves, as is the case in some similar situations in some countries, but instead senior leadership roles that require experience.
Bob, Hamilton, Canada

So is democracy good for us? If so was the election of the EU president democratic, after all the decision was made by elected heads of governments, or was it undemocratic because we personally didn't get to vote? Does it matter? Well I think it does, we have to think about what shape of society we want. I personally wouldn't want an elected president with all the razzmatazz that goes with it, I am quite happy for our elected representatives to do that but I do want to be able to influence decision making in one way or another. I think my take on it was put rather well by Monbiot

"Our power comes from acting as citizens - demanding political change - not acting as consumers."

When we purely think of ourselves as consumers we are still wedded to the idea that the market can solve everything, our money can change things. When we start thinking like activists, no matter how small then we can start to act independently of our money and the market and start demanding a change to the system as well. Sounds like something I need to mull over some more.

Photo 1: Can you spot the blue bit in the sky?
Photo 2: The eerie structure in the distance
Photo 3: The poly tunnel ribs close up plus mud
Photo 4: Ian giving instructions on tractor driving
Photo 5: Our friend complete with the remains of an exploded bomb and Ian taking his picture.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A quiet time

One of our  Latvian lessons was a little different this week as we had a little visitor. Our teacher brought her little son along as his dad wasn't at home. He is a bit shy of us, maybe his age but also possibly these strange folks who he doesn't understand. One little girl in Denmark, where we used to live, got very upset when I spoke in English and cried every time I saw her, other children, usually boys, just prattle on as if you understand everything they say as long as you nod in the right places. We don't have many toys for little ones, actually we don't have many toys at all but I do have a hobby horse that a certain someone bought me for Christmas so I could continue my riding lessons even though we were moving countries, hmmph! This hobby horse has a button in its ear that when you press it it makes a galloping noise, then a horse's neighing noise followed by a noise like it has just been shot, it provided endless amusement one Christmas and Rudolfs the little lad thought it was hilarious too. My years of children's work paid off though, out came a plastic picnic set of plates and cups, a wooden spoon and a bag of pegs and he played quite happily for awhile. He even contributed to the lesson occasionally by saying "ok" or laughing. Well I am glad he finds our Latvian funny!

Our front loader for our tractor has still not arrived so I had to go and practice reversing the tractor out of the tight place where it is parked in preparation for having to fill in for farmer Ian while he is away in Cyprus. I did okay and I am sure it would get easier with use but I can't say I enjoyed it knowing that I might have to get the tractor out while someone is waiting. I drive it very very slowly, they would have time for cup of tea by the time I get the tractor out. 

It has been ever so quiet around here since I took Ian to the airport, I haven't even had music on at all today, I don't think Ian can last a full 24 hours without music. I did go out to the Everglades though (our land remember?)  just to make sure everything was okay and since I am not really adept at using a chainsaw like Ian (come to think of it I don't think I have ever used it) I pottered around digging ditches instead, trying to drain the water from around the foundation blocks of the polytunnel, all the blocks are surrounded by what looks like miniature swimming pools. Not sure I was very successful but I was as happy as a kid at the seaside digging in the sand...... well mud.

Talking of things mechanical our selector went on our car again and so we had an unplanned trip into Riga to sort it out. Not happy! Even more unhappy when they said that Ian is not selecting gears gently enough and that is why it went! My dear husband is not the sort of person to thrash a car and to be honest I thought Mitsubishi trucks could stand a lot of hammer. I thought that is what they were designed for, to be rugged, and as far as I am aware the people who usually drive these kinds of vehicles will not be as gentle as my dear husband. So be warned! It had better last longer this time otherwise we will be in for a fight. I don't give in easily.

Latvia is a great place to live according to the Baltic Times and I have to agree with them. I thought the article was a fairly amusing piece that stated that Latvians moan a lot but the Brits have the edge, maybe that is why we get on so well. I don't think our criteria for what makes Latvia a great place to live is the same but it is interesting to read their choices, choir singing (one of these days I shall have to go along and actually listen to one of these choirs, they are very popular and more so since the crisis,  when the chips are down the Latvians sing), Grandma's pickles (well having never tried Grandma's pickles I can't really say), downhill skiing on any available hill (not tried the downhill skiing here and having been to Austria, France and Colorado skiing the slopes do look more like baby slopes), the coastline (stunning as you can see in the photo, quiet, empty white beaches and accessible too) and lastly the diversity of people (not sure on this one having lived in the UK, where diversity is more obvious). My top five reasons for living in Latvia in no particular order are the people, they are shy and sometimes take time to get to know but it is worth it as they are a generous people, having a cross country ski run at the top of the road is a boon, the quietness of the rural village we live in, the cleaness of the air and lastly the simplicity of the lifestyle. 

Living in Latvia it is hard to escape that this is a time of crisis, maybe it has eased for others but Latvians still have the long winter months to get through and so my thoughts often turn to what what might be. I don't believe God leaves us bereft but I don't think our comfort is also that important to him, he is in the business of transforming this planet and though we can't always see what he is doing, I believe he has a plan and is not shocked by what is going on. And so what have my musings and prayers lead me to? Well I believe structural rearrangements will continue, some people think that business will get back to normal now the worse of the crisis is over, well it might for awhile but for how long, I am not so sure. I also believe that structures are going to be rearranged and by some very surprising sources, rather like some beavers who decided to do a little rearranging of their own in the heart of Riga the capital of Latvia as they felled a couple of trees one outside the opera house. About four weeks ago a major branch was broken off an oak tree on the Everglades, at the time Ian felt that something had been released and something restructured. I know God likes to work out of insignificant places and using surprising choices in which to do it, I mean who else would have thought of using a cross to bring redemption to this world in an insignificant out of the way nation if it wasn't for a God who cares enough to do something about our situation personally and delights in using the seemingly insignificant to shame the wise. I believe there are going to be some rearrangements structurally in some big institutions of this world and I think we can look for further signs of this happening around the world in the natural first. I look forward to seeing some how God is going to work through this period. Big changes can seem frightening but if you look at the big changes that happened 20 years ago as communism fell, it is surprising what small acts can build into some surprisingly big changes and surprisingly rapidly too.

As well as looking forwards sometimes it is good to look back and I loved this report about a missionary,  Brother Flackwho is retired now but at over 100+ has this to say - "Go as a learner. Be prepared to learn from the national people and from the culture of the country. Do not try to make the churches like the one in your own country. Do everything you can to develop indigenous growth. Do not be masters; be servants. Identify in every way you can with the people God puts you among. You are there to establish self-supporting; self-governing and self-propagating churches." Isn't that what Jesus set out to do 2000 years ago? Refreshingly simple if we would only follow the Master's plan!

I have been enjoying my courses and over time I have found out some very interesting facts but this week I was completely staggered by what I found out. Apparently it took 100 years from discovering that asbestos was dangerous to it actually being banned. Considering the awfulness of the consequences of coming into contact with asbestos it would seem down right criminal to have known about a risk for so long and not done anything about it. You can read the report ( large file 1.7Mb) for yourselves if you wish and it also covers some other surprising facts such as the fact that Monsanto (company behind GM crops) ignored the danger of PCBs (a mixture of synthetic organic chemicals used in electrical wiring) for so long even though their own workers were falling ill while manufacturing it. Question is will we learn?

1,2 and 3 are from a Latvian holiday in 2002 when we actually toured around a little instead of staying in the camps for the whole of our trip. As you can see the beaches are wonderful.

Photo 4, shows the rather grey day we had today, I had planned to go and take some photos of our village to show you but it was too miserable until the last few minutes before dusk. 

Photos 5, 6 and 7 are the last few minutes as the sun was setting and dipped below the cloud line which lit up the trees as if they were covered with fairy lights, very pretty. 

Monday, 9 November 2009

Humour needed!

Thought I would give a little update on the Latvian lessons first. We are by no means fluent in any shape or form as I have just not had the time to do more than glance at the books before the lessons and Ian is struggling to memorise what he needs to remember but we muddle on through. The great thing is though that our teachers are wonderful and patient and when things aren't going well we can laugh. I was listening to a service which was part translated on Sunday and I realised that I could recognise quite a few words which was great and I even managed to follow along with a piece that wasn't translated - I don't think I got the whole of it but at least I think I got the idea of what they were talking about which is encouraging.

Last week I mentioned how Ian was switching between the roles of consultant, farmer and househusband and the pattern continued for the rest of the week and the result of that is that he is off to Cyprus at the end of this week. He told his colleague that he will only go if she can guarantee some sunshine to which she replied she couldn't guarantee the sunshine as it is cooling down now in Cyprus, but she can guarantee it will be warmer than in Latvia. How true! The Everglades have just begun to defrost slightly with a rise in temperature and the snow that fell at the end of last week is disappearing but it is going ever so slowly, the crocodiles are ever so sluggish!

Just in case you think we have finally lost it and maybe you are not so far wrong on that score, our piece of land was jokingly labelled the Everglades last week as the ground has become rather saturated over Autumn. The problem with jokes in our household is that they have a tendency to rumble on for weeks, if not years. It is a trait of Ian's family! Honest! His Dad used to joke that the Queen would regularly pop in for a cup of tea on her travels and the spin offs from that joke still rumble on now and Ian's Dad died a couple of years ago but they are heroically kept alive by son and grandson in his honour. So various jokes about the Everglades have abounded, hence the crocodiles and the frequent mention of hovercrafts. 

One of the things we have to get used to in Latvia is the attitude to private land is rather different to that in England. I would never dream of venturing on land in case it belonged to someone but here there is no such scruple and perhaps that is as it should be, as long as they are not damaging land and respecting the environment. Often people go into woods to collect mushrooms or willow which is fine. One incident that I had forgotten about from the previous week happened to Ian while he was busy clearing out the wood. Ian came out of the wood and spotted a lot of people with high visibility vests on, Ian's first thought was that it was the police and there had been an incident, especially as they were all in a long line walking across the ploughed bit of land. Ian summoned up courage and went up to one of them and asked if they spoke English (Angliski?) which fortunately the guy did and he explained that it was a hunt. Phew! Well they set off into the woods "whooping" as they went along, I guess they were driving the game towards those with guns - no wonder they had high visibility jackets on then. Not quite sure what I think about folks driving game off the land we are stewarding but in some ways I just hope they reduce the number of wild boar as I can foresee they maybe a real problem if we try and grow veg. I perhaps would feel better if we could benefit from their activities though, I don't think I have actually had venison but wild boar is pretty good. 

We don't often have guests turn up unexpectedly very often  but  this week was an exception which has been fun. I agree with one blog site that measures how beautiful a home is, not by the elegant setting or the eclectic chic appearance but by the abundance of generous hearts, so hopefully our guest was blessed by arriving at a meal time and my eking it out to feed three instead of two, he seemed to appreciate it anyway. Our young American friend, Marvin, also came round for a meal for the last time this week as he is off back to America, he will be sorely missed around here. His last visit will be memorable for one reason in particular though as he made an explosive exit  - well not him personally but the front glass section on my oven shattered while we were in the kitchen preparing the meal, thankfully no one was hurt. Not sure what I am going to do about the door now and it is proving interesting trying to get food into and out of the oven as it does not stay fully open due to the lack of weight from the missing glass front and it requires an almost yoga type exercise in order to keep the door open. 

A few weeks ago I asked on a forum site if anyone had any good ideas for marrows as I had used them in just about any way I could think of and had run out of ideas, an interesting suggestion was to make marrow rum. The recipe was easy enough, brown sugar, juice of an orange and some yeast all packed into the hollowed out centre of a marrow and left for a few weeks.  Eventually the marrow started leaking and so we thought we had better deal with it as we didn't want anything exploding in our dump room, I think that would entail a far more complicated cleaning up job than the exploding pumpkin down in the cellar (anyone get the impression that it is getting dangerous around here?). We opened up the marrow and a very pleasant but alcoholic smell began to permeate the apartment, we tipped the juice into a plastic bottle and added more orange juice and yeast, scraped the rest of the flesh out of the marrow and left it to drain in a colander to extract the maximum amount of liquid. The sweet alcoholic smell lingered and wouldn't you guess it that is the time for more unexpected guests to turn up, we smelt more like an illegal distillery and wondered what our neighbours would think as the smell wafted out the door. Alcohol is a major problem here in Latvia so they probably thought we had just succumbed to the onslaught of poor weather and turned to drink. Fortunately our guests saw the funny side of it and we laughed and giggled about it. 

Last week I mentioned that our tractor had been driven back to the tractor company and wondered how long it would have taken them as it takes an hour by car and our tractor is only little, well we found out it took them three hours. Three hours of bumping around on dirt roads for our little tractor - poor thing! Can't imagine whoever drove the tractor was in good shape either at the end of that. Worse thing is that didn't even solve the problem, our front loader is still not fitted. Somehow the wrong part was either ordered or sent and we have to wait for the right part to come from Italy. We had the tractor delivered back to us for the time being though and would you believe it, it arrived one snowy evening! And yes the transit pulling our tractor on a low loader did get stuck didn't it! And yes Ian pulled ended up pulling it out to the land. He is going to have to get a new tow rope at this rate but Ian did say it looked rather peculiar with our red truck pulling a big transit that was pulling a low loader with a tractor on it. So what is the betting that the part comes next week while Ian is away? I have to go and get tractor driving lessons to learn how to reverse it out of the tight space where it is parked just in case. Deep joy! Advantage of the returned tractor is that Ian could turn the tractor lights on and the guys finish off the concreting for our poly tunnel base, we are kind of glad that bit is finished despite the mud, rain, ice and snow, just not so sure about the wisdom of trying to concrete in the ice though. Only time will tell on that one.

Our eventful week was rounded off by the announcement that our chimney is ready for our new stove. We weren't able to find the right parts but that doesn't seem to matter here in Latvia, if you don't find the part, you find someone to make it for you. That did mean that our living room needed a radical rearrangement. Well we kind of put it off as long as possible as changing furniture around and deciding where it is going to go is fraught with problems in our household, Ian hates change - I think it might be a man thing, not sure, but I love to change things around and would do it a lot more if it didn't cause so much strife. The thing I don't like though is the wires to all the bits and pieces of electrical stuff - now that causes me strife. Well we survived the trauma without too much strain and if anyone asks the yellow bruise on Ian's nose is because a twig hit him last week. OK!

Just a quick ponder this week so here goes, as I sit and write this blog it is 20 years ago since the fall of the Berlin wall. I remember the shock of that happening and the consequent falling of the communist regime. It was amazing how such an act can have consequences down the line and even the fact that I am sat here writing this blog here in Latvia would not be possible without the momentous changes that  occurred all those years ago.

And talking of wonders that will never cease an influential think tank released a blog this week that supported the work of the Latvian Prime Minister in the face of the IMF and doesn't think he deserves the flak that he is getting and believes that the IMF has been making a hash of things in Latvia. Now where have I heard that before?

Pictures 1 & 2 - Our wintry village
Pictures 3 & 4 - The cleared out woodland and the pile of brush (I know I am only little but that pile is still huge and one of I think three)
Pictures 5 & 6 - More scenes from the land.
Picture 7 Our new stove, do you like the fire?