Monday, 27 April 2009

Pizzas and Punctures

This weeks blog is a bit newsy really, as lots of little quirky things happened this week.
The clean up operation I mentioned last week in Latvia apparently had 110,000 participants, which for England wouldn't be a bad response at all but for Latvia I find it astounding as the population is just under 2.3 million so that is about 1 in 20 people who took part. What a commitment to keeping their land neat and tidy! I really commend them, especially when everything else around them seems to be falling apart. 

I had one of those "how stupid can you get moments" this week. I bought some shoes the week before and they are really light and feel like they should be incredibly comfortable but when I wore them one day they seemed to keep cutting into my feet just below the toes, I was really disappointed as I hate buying shoes and I was convinced they would be great. I decided to investigate the shoes to see where the problem was and discovered that despite wearing them for the whole day I hadn't previously discovered the cardboard insert was still in there. Doh! Ian is even worse than me when it comes to buying shoes, they have to be perfect straight off and the shoes he wears most often has a great gaping hole in them so they needed replacing and we have hunted high and low for some replacements. He eventually decided that some Ecco ones were just what he wanted, not cheap but hopefully good enough quality to last but they didn't have the right size.... Noooo! That meant that he would never ever find a pair as he would never find the right shoe in the right size, or so we thought. I spotted an Ecco shop just before we got to my exam and with the minutes ticking away to my exam time he tried on the shoes, and walked around the shop and hummed and arrhhed and eventually bought them. I am sure no one else finds shoe buying so traumatic, do they?

My exam went okay I suppose, I wrote for the whole time but it definitely felt like a load of drivel and not a coherent argument in sight. Time will tell as I get my results at the end of June. Besides getting Ian's shoes minutes before my exam we also had a puncture on the way in, fortunately it was only discovered once we got there but it was a really large nail and it would have been flat by the time we got back to the car so Ian's job while I was scribbling away was scrabbling away in the car park changing the wheel. The job was made even worse by the state of our car which is a beautiful two tone beige and red colour, it should be red but the dirt roads around here means when we go into Riga we stand out as a country car big time. 

I finished my exam at 5:30pm, not the best of times to be leaving a city so we went to the mall and found a pizza place. As I was tucking into the crust of one slice, a piece of it flew off the plate - embarrassing enough but worse happened! The pizza crust then proceeded to fly between the gaps in the glass screen, I couldn't have done that if I had tried as the gaps were just too small and the glass was angled, the pizza piece did not even hit the glass and slide down through the gaps, oh no that was too easy, it flew at great speed through the gap. Oh I didn't mention one other detail, did I! We were one floor up on a balcony so the offending piece of pizza descended to the floor below, or at least I hope it landed on the floor and not on some poor unsuspecting person. We giggled all the way home at the thought of all the possible scenarios of what could have happened to that pizza, we had visions of someone splayed out on the floor, concussed by a piece of flying pizza, I don't think that happened.... err I hope!

I mentioned last week that our youngest was having difficulty getting his qualifications recognised, that he had obtained while in Denmark, in order to get into University. Well I am proud to announce that he decided to take some advice and tried again to get someone to look at the grades and finally they decided that they were acceptable and gave him an interview, so as I was sat down eating my birthday tea (dinner) at the local hotel he rang to say they had accepted him as long as gets a good grade at the college he now attends. That was as good a birthday present as I have got from him, he kind of forgot again but I think he has an excuse this time. While we were at the hotel we ordered dessert and I went for the hot chocolate pudding (for all those who have been to Ergli the chocolate pudding is still a work of art and wonderful to eat), Ian was undecided and went to order something from the counter and while chatting mentioned that it was my birthday and asked if they could put a candle in my pudding. The waitress carried the pudding carefully across the floor complete with lit candle but also written around the edge of the plate was written "Happy Birthday" in English written with chocolate icing and with a smiley face on it, I wished I had my camera with me it was so sweet. I also got a present "The Soup Bible" from Mark, this is also a bit of a novelty as the last birthday present from him was opened on Christmas day, lol - my kids are full of surprises! My daughter, Emma says my present from her is a work in progress, not quite sure what that means, maybe one day I will find out. I also got flowers, no not from Ian, but the kitchen guy as they finally came to finish off the little details in the kitchen (that is an ongoing saga) and a box of chocolates from his company.

It was very nice of the Ambassador, Dr Richard Moon, to have a do for me at the embassy for my birthday don't you think? Haha as if! We did go to the Embassy the day after my birthday but I think this had more to do with being St. George's day (the patron saint of England) than it was to do with my birthday and we had a wonderful time there, especially as there were a group of 6 of us who weren't the suits type, working in the financial field or whatever else most of them did. I think most of them were wondering why on earth we all chose to live in Latvia, the other 4 have retired here and the reason... we love the place and we love the people and feel right at home, what better reason could there be? 

Well a week without a bit of pontification wouldn't seem right so here goes. I was thinking about the roles of NGO's (non-governmental organisations such as charities) and I was thinking that if they were doing a good job they would be enabling the community to move beyond where they are now and then be able to move on to other projects, like the Red Cross be there in an emergency and take on training roles at other times. Too often NGO's though can end up creating a niche for themselves that they then can't get out of and I wondered if that happens in church culture too, leading to a dependency culture instead of an active living community based on reciprocal acts of love.  I often hear people asking us what "our ministry" is, and I have to confess to hating the phrase, it is suggestive of creating a niche where you stay. I would rather see myself as living in a community where my skills were utilised whenever necessary and the rest of the time I just got on with ordinary jobs of providing a home, food and whatever else is needed but with love and care. I don't need a special role, or a special name to call myself, I am just me, a child of God I suppose but just me nevertheless. Reading other people's blogs can often be encouraging as you can see the processes your going through are not unique - Martin's & Peter Birch's blogs both talk about the confusion that sometimes occurs with moving forwards, as we grope towards the plans that God has, not just for us but also for the world around us. I long to see the Kingdom of God coming down to earth and creation released from the bonds that man's sin has created and I am not sure what that will look like but as I commented on Peter's blog " I just have a feeling that God is messing up the picture so that he can start to redraw the new environment," or in the words of Jeremiah chapter 18 At the Potter's House
1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : 2 "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 

God is reshaping the landscape and I look forward to the new shape he is creating, I keep looking but I can't quite see it yet.

One last piece of news - well done for getting so far! I had my haircut today! Big news! Well kind of for several reasons the first thing is that I find it even more traumatic than buying shoes, I would rather go to the dentist than find a new hairdresser. When my neighbour suggested that a group of us English speakers goes to the hairdressers together (who is a lady from the church she attends), I thought why not for there is one thing worse than going to a new hairdresser is going to one who doesn't speak the same language and at least this way I knew someone could speak English and translate. Ian suggested I go short as it has been long - easier to cut for him! When I got there I found a picture I liked and the hairdresser began cutting, there was a lot of hair going and my hair is not thick to start with, gulp! Next she blow dried my hair and I was sat there thinking "I don't like big hair, I don't like big hair" as it was fairly fluffy and bouffant, not my style at all. All I could think of was that at least it would flatten within hours and second it would grow but then she took some potion of some description (they have loads don't they at hairdressers!) and rubbed it around my hair a bit and messed with it and voila, 
I was impressed, it suddenly looked just right. I have to say that it was the first time in many many years I was actually really pleased with the look. The funny thing is that a bloke who I had only seen that morning in a prayer meeting didn't recognise me at first, his wife who was working on someone else's hair didn't recognise me at first either and the funniest reaction of all was when we got to my friend's house, a young girl was stood outside who I know quite well and we always wave at each other, and she looked at me as I was waving, then she looked again and putting her hands to her mouth gave a kind of shriek - she hadn't recognised me at all. At least I hope that is why she was shrieking.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Snow and storks

Nooooo! It snowed again on Saturday. Snow is exciting in winter but not in April, at least it didn't stick but it just felt chilly - our oilfired heaters are working overtime and revising is done with my nice fluffy dressing gown wrapped around my legs  (thanks Emma for that Christmas present it is certainly coming in useful). Saturday was also the great clean up day here in Latvia, I am not sure that many of our neighbours ventured out into the snow showers on Saturday but there isn't a huge amount of rubbish (trash) around here anyway. Latvia may have crumbling footpaths (sidewalks), and some rundown buildings but rubbish strewn about the place it does not, it has to be one of the cleanest countries in the world - probably not the cleanest but certainly up there in the top ranking. Even the drunks if they leave their bottle seem to do so neatly. We were shocked when we went to Cyprus and saw the amount of rubbish in the mountains and it just made the place look scruffy, and I am sorry to say that England is a dump as there is so much rubbish about, especially along roadsides etc. Latvia maybe crumbling but it is doing so neatly and orderly, the women (and it is mainly women) who sweep the paths make such a good job of it, they seem to take great care with it and I pretty sure they don't get paid stack loads of money to keep it that way, I take my hat off to them! 

Folks have also been out in their gardens this week, now the snow has cleared, it is quite amazing to watch. One old couple have a tractor in every year and you see her walking up and down the garden supervising the tractor, trees are also being cut back and the Latvians do like a nice smoky fire, we even watched one lady flatten the top of the fire with fresh stuff, making sure it was nice and smoky - wouldn't want to let it burn up properly now would we? Good job the air is relatively free from all other pollutants otherwise it would be quite awful. I would have taken a picture of Ian digging away amongst the snow showers (I only stopped revising for a coffee break - honest!) but unfortunately he hasn't dug past the obstruction of the tree yet so I couldn't get a clear shot at him (I mean with the camera of course).

As far as updates go from last week, Mark and Kerry got safely back home so our home is rather colder (literally) this week and quieter as there is not so much to talk or laugh about. Oh well! Still I can  enjoy the peace and quiet instead. Our youngest is recovering well from his appendix operation but now having to talk to the University he applied to to accept his "unusual" qualifications. Having spent three years in Denmark and around 18 months in the US before returning to do a BTec in England he doesn't have GCSE's (16+ exams UK). Shock! Horror! Of course he doesn't but he does have an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Certificate with some pretty good results but apparently they count for nothing. So a well renowned prestigious international organisation's programme counts for nothing in the UK - rather short sighted I believe in these days of international movements of workers. Poor kid he is having a tough time of it at the moment, after all this has been his dream for years to do car design at this particular University.

An invite arrived this week to the British Embassy for St.George's day so we thought we might go along and see who turns up to these kinds of events. Should be interesting, at least I hope so having never been to anything like this before. Now all we have to do is work out what smart casual dress is and persuade Ian that jeans and a fleece does not correspond to that. 

Well here is your pontification alert! One of the things I keep reading is the debate as to whether the IMF is going soft? Well it would appear that they still do not appear to care where the cuts come as long as the cuts are made as they have postponed two payments for Latvia because they have not conformed and cut enough from their budgets, meanwhile telling everyone else to spend, spend, spend.
 They are supposed to have learnt from their disastrous days of imposing conditions on poor countries that devastated services for the poor and made the poor even poorer and more vulnerable to ill health and a lack of education.
 Latvia has to cut its budget because it cannot spend what it has not got but some of those cuts are in small cottage hospitals and small rural schools. England knows how cutting small rural schools hurts the community and means long travel for children to get to school. Here in Ergli the local hospital will lose its Accident & Emergency (ER) and that will mean a trip to Madona, a trip of 45km away. This community has poor health as it is, with many alcoholic or at least abusing alcohol, many are suffering from the hard times this nation has gone through, particularly the initial years after independence when the social care was none existent as well as the tough Soviet era times. 
Many of the inhabitants look 20 years older than they really are as every hardship they have suffered has been etched on their faces or in their backs, some women are bent over unable to walk upright. These are the ones who are going to suffer from the cuts. To put it in perspective, the IMF chief earns $500,000 per year, so in approximately two months he could pay the whole of the benefits payments for the parish of Ergli for a year, that would help a bit! "Asked whether teachers' salaries could be reduced more  if the government approves stiffer budget cuts, Stale the Director of the Financial Department at the Education and Science Ministry said that it is outright impossible, because in such a case teachers' salaries would not even reach the minimum subsistence level." whatever that means, but one thing for sure is that subsistence level is pretty low here. 

The sermon this week was good, it was in English so that helps, most weeks we play spot the words to see if there are any we know and try and build our vocabulary. I can't remember much about it as my head is filled with Millennium Development Goals, Structural Adjustment Programmes etc etc from my course, but what I do remember is the speaker talking about the fact that Jesus wants to dance with us, no matter how dirty we are in our hearts, and heads, and he will forgive us if we step on his toes - pleased about that! Well this week I want to dance with Jesus, I want to let him lead this week and see where we go.

Well enough pontificating for now as tomorrow I sit my first exam in absolutely years errr lots of years, clue the day after is my 45th birthday. The stork in the pictures has been nicking grass from our compost for its nest. It is quite amazing to have such large birds just wandering about the garden in front of our flat, they do seem to scare off the little birds though which is a shame.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Full of surprises

Well what a week this has been. First I had an email on Wednesday to say our house sale, the ongoing one from September, would probably complete by the weekend and being a holiday weekend I was thinking "No way!" (for my American friends the Europeans often have Good Friday off). Well by Thursday it was completed, a minor problem with bank details means we won't get the money until next week but at least it is done and dusted. So we have now severed our connection to the place we lived in for 15 years, not sure if that fact has sunk in yet, it was a lovely place to live for 15 years but God has moved us on and it seems right to have severed that connection now.

The other surprise was from our hypochondriac son who was sure he had stomach ulcers earlier this week, and I said not surprising as he stresses too much. Well as the week went on he got worse and he went first to a walk in clinic (a clinic you can go to when you can't get to your own doctors or in the case of a minor emergency - I think that is what they are, they are kind of new) and the nurse told him to see his doctor as he probably has appendicitis. A visit to his girlfriend's parents' doctor because he wasn't at home near his own doctor, saw him off to A&E (ER) the following night (Thursday) where he was admitted. The following morning (Good Friday) the surgical consultant confirmed he would be going for an operation but it wasn't until the early hours of Saturday that he was operated on as unfortunately there were three more urgent cases than his. Turns out it was actually quite a severe case but at least he is now back at his girlfriend's parents' house recuperating. I know he will be well looked after there, so I am not worried. I decided not to post the picture of his appendix which he sent me - good job I wasn't eating at the time hehe!

The last big event of the week is the fact that Mark, our middle child, and his girlfriend got engaged on Easter Sunday here in Ergli, Latvia. We celebrated with a meal out as you do. Kerry is lovely and it has been nice getting to know her over the last week and a bit. I also thought it was rather romantic of Mark to propose on Easter Sunday. 

The other bit of news this week is the snow has just about gone now, after over 4 months on the ground. Spring seems to be well and truly on its way, as you can see in the pictures, from the bulbs coming through and the lambs being born at a nearby farm. Even the locals are starting to appear now and get out to look around their gardens and towards the end of the week the ground seems to be drying out enough to be able to actually start gardening. We have already bought our seeds ages ago as last year there were hardly any left in the shops by the time we found out we had a garden to use, so as soon as they appeared on the shelves this year we were buying packets of seeds. Home grown veg here we come!

One local custom at this time of year is to tap the silver birch trees to get the sap to drink, it is supposed to be very healthy and good for your kidneys, but I also hear that it is often allowed to ferment and make a rather strong drink by the end of the year too - I don't think that version is quite so healthy but it might get folks through the long winters. Ian had a go at tapping a tree and we now have about 5 litres of the stuff - it tastes really like water but a bit astringent too which is a bit weird but drinkable anyway and not sweet like we thought it would be. 

Monday, 6 April 2009

Clever codes and visitors

In some ways it has been a busy week as we got some things sorted out that would ordinarily be fairly routine but can present a challenge in a different country with a different language. First of all we took the car for its annual inspection, even though it is only a one year old car it still has to pass its technical. In England you do not have to take the car for its MOT (english technical inspection) until it is 3 years old. We had heard some horror stories about them not being keen on foreigners and being pedantic with the inspection so we were a little worried but we decided to try on our own anyway. We managed to sort out the payments first for the years tax and the fee for the inspection with a little english from the cashier and then we went for the inspection - they turned out to be very nice and friendly even tried to fix our headlight which is off by a centimetre but it passed anyway as everything else is fine. It was quite a relief to get through with no hassles on that one.

Our next trip was to get our tax paid here in Latvia.  I do like our accountants here, it is so nice to have accountants who you feel care about you and not stuck in some far off office who are much to busy dealing with very important people with much bigger incomes than you. Funny thing is that for the first time in our married life I had to pay tax and Ian didn't. 

Mark, our middle child and eldest son, is here in Latvia this week, now we will find out how many times Mark signs on to my blog and looks at my little cluster map that you can see in the top right hand corner. Hehe. So how many of those UK visits on the map are his? We shall see! Talking of Mark his prayers are now known to reduce children to tears. We took a visit to see some friends of ours Steve and Natalija and they have two young sons, the oldest is just 2 years old. We were sat around the table about to eat our evening meal and Mark took a bite forgetting that our friends usually pray before meals (we usually pray before our main meal too but not every meal) so we jokingly told him he could pray and Steve agreed, at which point the little guy started complaining that he wanted his daddy to pray and not Mark. Steve patiently explained that Mark was going to pray and so Mark began at which point the little guy started wailing, we all fell about laughing until Natalija reminded us we were not helping and for the rest of the meal we had to eat whilst barely concealing our giggles. It was one of those situations when you can't help but laugh and the need as adults to remain composed is a near impossibility but has to be done. I wonder if that will go down as one of those treasured moments as he grows? It certainly be one of ours as we have been teasing Mark ever since.

Ian was trying to write an excel code to do clever things with graphs this week, I was revising but it struck me we seem to be having similar problems. Ian runs his code and then gets stuck part way through and the code won't run. I think I have sorted a problem out with my understanding of part of my course and then try to answer a question and realise that I have not understood something else and it is kind of like where Ian's code gets stuck, the ideas just won't run. We both end up having to go back through to try and find the bit we are getting stuck on. A blog I follow explains it far more pictorially

"As I climb over a fence into a new field there is a feeling of space for a while until the next fence comes into view."

That phrase really hit me when I read it, and I really think yeah that is exactly how I feel at the moment. I have enjoyed the year of Jubilee we have had coming to Latvia, yes it has had it's challenging moments like having hubby around 24/7 when I am used to time and space on my own but coming out of that year and realising that there has to be some serious planting ahead in order to get a harvest - whatever that means - feels a bit like coming up against that fence. I am not really sure what kind of a fence it is but I have a feeling I need to work that out so I can climb over it, you don't go climbing electric fences without turning the electric off first. 

This week is Passover and according to one Jewish site it isn't only about the freedom from their Egyptian masters, it's also about liberation from their internal Egypt, which still holds them hostage. That is kind of like coming up against those fences too- kind of our own internal Egypts! I guess we all have those barriers from time to time and some take a long time to get over, or through or round but one thing I have learnt it is worth the effort to get to a place where you can feel the freedom of a new space where God intends you to be and I am looking forward to getting there and Spring and Easter sure seems like as good a time as any to embark on new adventures. 

Spring has finally begun to show itself this week and we are watching with amazement as things reappear out of the snow and as the grass begins to turn green, it is as if Spring is in a rush to get here now that it has started. You can see from the pictures how much snow has disappeared compared to last week. The first picture is looking in the same direction as the deer was feeding last week and the seats around the sandpit in the second picture were invisible until earlier on this week and the grass only showed 
where the heating pipe runs underground. Even the taller seats near the table were only just poking through for much of the Winter. As you can imagine though the whole place is absolutely saturated definitely wellie weather (wellies =rubber boots). 

One last thing, my books arrived for the next unit of my course this week and I nearly didn't get them at all. Ian has a habit of ringing the doorbell every time he comes home and so does Mark now he is here, quality control he keeps telling me; they had gone for a drive to see if they could get the car stuck errr I mean drive in some remaining snow, when the doorbell went and I assumed it was them returning, and after leaving the guy hanging around at the door for a while I thought I had better investigate as no one seemed to have come in, and sure enough there was a delivery man. One of these days we are going to have an important delivery and I am going to ignore them totally.