Monday, 28 September 2009

A time for everything

The week did not get off to a good start as Ian lost his watch. Big deal you might think! If I had lost something, like a watch or keys, then it would be pretty much par for the course and it wouldn't be a big deal because I spend a lot of time looking for things but not Ian. It was also the watch he was given by work colleagues when he left the hospital before our move to Denmark, needless to say he wasn't a happy bunny especially as it slowly dawned on him that he had probably put it on the tractor wheel and goodness only knows where it might have gone, it was even possible that he had ploughed it into the field. In his frustration he asked God what he was showing him in all of this and he felt God say that he was no longer tied to man's time but now his time would be dictated by the seasons. "Great God, understood! But please can I have my watch back now?" was his thought. Well Ian did find his watch a few days later and it was fine if a little dirty but the lesson still stands, our activities, our plans will now be governed by the seasons, which in many ways is the way life is meant to be, it is not meant to lived at one hundred miles an hour irrespective of the time of the year or day.

Talking of seasons and timing my dream is to build a house and live out on the land, well actually we would both love to do that but timing is important. The time is not right yet (now where have I heard that before?), we may start building sometime next year once we get all the relevant details together, at least it would provide much needed employment which is badly needed here at the moment but to actually move out there on a permanent basis - no not yet and not for a long while either. We can take our time finishing the house off but we can't move out there until we have built up some sustainable relationships which will be far easier living in the village itself. Building relationships is far more important than building new homes as much fun as that will be and I have my desires and dreams and collecting pictures but at the moment that is all they are going to be, and there is definitely no building in winter.

Building relationships is going to get a bit easier as we have finally managed to find a teacher to teach us Latvian, in fact like buses wait around long enough and two come at once. One of our neighbours is a teacher at the local school but she teaches maths not a language subject but she did manage to get us a phone number of a teacher who does teach Latvian to children who do not speak Latvian themselves - perfect! I rang the number but totally confused the poor woman as I asked for English lessons - duh! I had to get a Latvian friend to ring and apologise and request Latvian lessons instead and arrange the first lesson. At the same time another neighbour of ours agreed to help us with Latvian too, so we now have two one hour lessons at the local school with the structure set by the teacher and our neighbour helping us to practice what we have learnt. Only problem is that now I have to get organised as I am still studying two courses plus I have an exam in three weeks time - at least I have now finished my assignment for my first course. Just glad this is one season that will not last.

Our treasure hunt for the elusive piece of paper to have a flue installed so we can have a woodstove has kind of come to an end this week. We now have the papers which have been paid for but I still have to hand one copy back signed by us both. We had been told by the architect which papers were needed and we took them in to her and she said she needed to come out again and visit but could she borrow a tape measure, "no problem we said", is there access to the roof she said, "errr yes up a metal ladder" we said (well through an interpreter). The strange thing is that our apartment building is like any other apartment building in Latvia built around the same time in Soviet times, they are all the same design with the same access so we weren't quite sure what else she was expecting. When she turned up she wasn't exactly dressed for the occasion as she was in a fur coat and had shoes with heels on. Our roof space is frequented by pigeons but up she went in stockinged feet, brave lady! She measured up and left and I went back to see her the next week, only to find she wanted more papers, why didn't she tell me that earlier? Managed to get all the right documents and she called round to our home again! Luckily this time it was just with the papers for us to sign - maybe she just likes our home.

It is amazing how a sentence can unexpectedly grab you and impact so deep that you don't even understand its implications and what it will mean for the future but you just know the meaning and significance will grow, well just such a sentence grabbed me this week, all it said was "Come closer friends, this house is yours". I have absolutely no idea why this sentence grabbed me, I have no idea what God is trying to say through it but it is whirling around my brain now. One thing that resonates is that "this house is yours" not "this house is mine but your welcome to use it" or "this house is yours but you have to behave a certain way" no it says "come closer friends, this house is yours" it is welcoming people into relationship as well. It will be interesting to see where this one leads.

A headline from a book title had a similar impact that is still working its way through me now and that is "What got you here, won't get you there" It is a management book to encourage managers to realise that sometimes you have to take a different trajectory to the one you are on in order to meet the goal you are after, but for me it was just the realisation that life was never going to be the same again to reach the goal that God had in store for me. I read that sentence when glancing at some papers of a fellow traveller on a plane going to Brazil whilst living in America and although I knew we would eventually end up in Latvia I didn't know how or when at that point.

Had to share this email with you from Amazon, it read: "As someone who has purchased or rated Human Ecology: Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development by Gerald G. Marten, you might like to know that International Trade Regulation and the Mitigation of Climate Change: World Trade Forum will be released on 30 September 2009. You can pre-order yours for just £57.00 by following the link below." Sounds like a riveting read but I think I will pass on that one. Just wondered what other riveting combinations anyone has had?

This week the IMF are visiting Latvia to "help" them draft a new budget because the one they have now does not meet the loan criteria - I thought that the new fluffy IMF was supposed to give states freedom to choose how they implemented cuts, well that is what they say, it would seem that the practice is somewhat different. Prayer is needed and it will be interesting to see what comes out of this meeting, whether the poor will indeed be supported or whether they are in for a difficult winter and an even gloomier new year.

(Photos from around our apartment building and some of our autumn produce)

Monday, 21 September 2009

Ploughing the land

It was Ian's birthday this week and what did he do? Fulfil a prophecy! About 18 months ago a guy who has a prophetic gift visited our friend's church so we went along and he said this to Ian "Brother, God gives you a plough and says you are going to plough in fields where others have never even tilled the soil before. He says you are going to plough in virgin soil, and that it’s good soil and that he has gone before you." We didn't think last year that this prophecy meant a physical plough with a tractor, we were thinking more in spiritual terms of how we were to connect to the land of Latvia. We do indeed suspect the land we have been working on has never been ploughed before just cleared and used as grazing but our little tractor did well and although Ian won't be winning any ploughing competitions yet, the furrows were straight-ish and mostly all turned over apart from the areas where the ground was just too uneven.

It has been a frustrating week though for Ian with the implements he bought. Most of the implements here use CAT 2 linkages and our tractor came with CAT1 linkages (these are just the links between the tractor and the implements), which he only found out when he came to try and put the implements on the tractor. You would have thought it would be simple to get some adaptors but no it wasn't. Ian went back to the company where we got the tractor from and talked to the supplies department, the guy there was fantastic, he tried to think of all different ways to do it until finally he took Ian down to a machine shop and in an hour and a half they made him some fittings that would do the job. The guy at the supplies department really went out of his way to be helpful especially since the machine shop was a different company entirely. Unfortunately it didn't sort out the problem completely but that meant finding a machine shop in our home village (they are everywhere it would seem) and it was then that we found out one of our neighbours owned one. Using local businesses sure helps to build relationships which is brilliant.

The House Martins are flocking, and we spotted one lone stork looking very sad next to a local big supermarket, the leaves are turning a brilliant red, and we switched on our electric heaters for the first time this week, all sure signs of the year slipping away and autumn (fall) in full swing. I love the changing seasons and it was something I really missed in Colorado when we lived there. In Colorado there are the two main seasons summer and winter and then about two weeks of spring and autumn. It made me feel as if the whole year was in a rush and it hadn't got time to die slowly in the autumn or burst into life in the spring. Here the seasons transform slower and I feel there is time to savour each bit. Talking of our time in Colorado we have finally closed that era in a way, by closing down our American bank account. We had to leave it open for a while because we weren't sure if we would have American taxes to pay and it is a whole lot easier to pay through an American bank but the need for it is no longer there so the account is now closed. I always think it is funny that the last thing to leave a country is our money.. there must be a message in there somewhere.

Last week I mentioned that we were hoping to have a polytunnel built this week and I also said I would believe it when I see them turn up. Cynicism won the day, the company suddenly discovered that it was going to be a whole lot more expensive than they realised to bring everything out our way and that sent the price soaring beyond budget. Our joiner friend Viktors has stepped in though and due to the down turn in the market the wood is available straight away instead of having to wait a week, so hopefully, hopefully we might get a polytunnel in a couple of weeks time. Pray the weather holds.

One of the good things about a downturn is the soaring prices of goods, evident last year in the Latvian market, has curtailed and the price of some goods are actually coming down to more realistic levels again. The minimum subsistence level is now at 165 LVL for food per person down from 174 LVLs in January but this has to be weighed against the average pension being around 150 LVLs and people's salaries have been slashed. You can see from that the figures do not add up and the pensioners are once again in for a difficult winter ahead.

Earlier on in the year a Latvian minister declared that the Latvian crisis would read like a story with twists and turns so I was interested to see how this is now echoed in a news article "So as the budget discussion heats up, there are sure to be new hair-raising twists and stomach-churning turns in the plot. People's Party jumps off the ship of state! Budget proposal tied to the tracks as a train full of opposition politicians hurtles toward it at full speed!!! Could this be the end?!" Sounds a bit dramatic for a news article on the economics of a whole country but the crisis is certainly unique, pity that it involves the livelihoods or real people.

(Photos: Ian's ploughing, his plough, a wonderful autumn sunset, scalped land after mowing)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Yahey Tractor arrived

Well the big news of the week! Our tractor finally arrived, on the last delivery date possible . Unfortunately the day did not go smoothly as the tractor arrived on the back of a truck but with no means to get it down, Ian was not exactly chuffed (translation: he was not best pleased). Eventually with the help of a friend we found a ramp in our village in a works yard and with quite a bit of manoeuvring and some borrowed timber from someone's wood stack(don't worry we put it back when we finished) our friend backed it off the truck then he drove it out to the land which is about 5 km away, or would have been 5km if it wasn't for a diversion due to the ongoing water system renovations in our village. Ian couldn't drive it out as he had never driven a tractor before and was hoping to practice on the land. At least since then we have both had a go on the little baby, oh it is so cute (never thought I would say that about a tractor).

Our garden is still producing well and we are now eating fresh sweetcorn nearly every night along with the dreaded courgettes (zucchini). We are heading into the time of the year though where we start to battle the elements waiting for the frosts to finish off many of our plants. Last year we had our first frost on the 1st September but this year the frosts have held off but the chill is definitely setting in. One other battle this week was with caterpillars, honestly our attention is diverted for a couple of days and the monsters descended on our crops of brassicas, their favourite being broccoli. Well we responded to the onslaught with a vengeance (skip the rest of this paragraph if you are squeamish), Ian clapped his hands over groups of leaves and caterpillars and I squashed them between thumb and forefinger - not a pretty sight and pretty messy, it was a proper caterpillar massacre. A few days later I went back up and discovered yet more of the little darlings but this time I went armed with a bucket and dropped them into the bucket and drowned them in a pond - hope the fish appreciated them.

This week has been gorgeous for the most part here and so one day I decided to take the morning off from studying and went mushroom and cranberry picking. I will only pick chanterelle mushrooms as they are the only ones I can identify, and Ian and I are still here to tell the tale so I guess they were okay and not poisonous. It was much nicer this year picking the cranberries as the sun shone into the little patch where they grow in a damp mossy bit of ground; last year it was cold and my feet were freezing. It takes ages to pick cranberries and I got perhaps a jar full after picking for half an hour, good job they have such an intense flavour and a little goes a long way. There is a lovely aroma in that part of the forest too, I really can't identify it but it just smells magical, and reminds me of all those tales of magical forests with mythical creatures. So if you can imagine a sunny clearing in the forest with mossy mounds and glistening red berries of cranberries growing on slender wiry stems amongst the moss, and a sweet scent wafting around then you have a picture of my favourite place in the forest.

Ian and I also took the time sit with cups of tea and chat and wander about the land trying to decide what is going where, sometimes the place seems so small and manageable and then sometimes it seems huge and we wonder what we are going to do with it all. One area has been designated for polytunnels and we will dig out the well some more and make a pond, so we have water on hand for the polytunnels. Next to where the polytunnels will go is also a natural basin that isn't really suitable for continually driving the tractor up and down as it is so steep, so we are thinking of putting fruit bushes in there and maybe some grape vines on the sunny side of the basin, but maybe it will be a frost pocket too and that will only become clear as we work the land and spend time observing the seasons. Already we are becoming acquainted with the changing flora around the land indicating the areas which are rich in nutrients (hence the deep coloured nettles of which there are plenty) and the areas which appear rather sandy and poor. We are going to have to try trial plots all over the place working out bit by bit what will work where and what works in this climate and what doesn't, trying to glean from the locals the crops and varieties that work well. Besides enjoying being out on the land we also had a site inspection for the polytunnels and were rather shocked to hear that they may come on Wednesday this week to start putting one of them up - well that is what they said on Saturday, I will be convinced when they turn up, I have been here long enough not to rely on dates given but to go with the flow but we need one up before winter otherwise it won't be useful to us until Spring 2011.

In the last blog I mentioned that trying to get permission to put a wood stove into our apartment building is a bit like a treasure hunt. Last week we were sent from one place to another and ended up back in our home village only to find the office shut as it only opens two days a week. Well this week we got to the office to speak with the building inspector, but he said we needed to speak the architect so had to come back later in the week... are you getting the picture?...... we went back on the Friday with someone to translate but the architect did not turn up, the building inspector however decided to come out to our apartment, then and there, to have a look. After his inspection he gave us the number for the architect and our friend rang her and she said she would come on Saturday before 12pm. We waited and waited and cleaned our apartment while waiting but she didn't turn up but informed our friend when he phoned that she would come after 2pm, well we were fed up with waiting and it was a beautiful day so we went out to the land and had a cup of tea and a walk around and eventually at 4pm she phoned to say she was waiting. Being Latvian she wasn't upset at having to wait for us. She was positive about the project and told us what papers we needed from our house manager and said she will be in on hopefully we have everything now and the treasure hunt ends... well possibly...errr you never know.

We also had tractor implements delivered today and this is the first time we suspect someone has tried to pull a fast one. We wanted them delivered to the land as we have no storage at our apartment for ploughs and grass cutters and the driver of the van tried to tell us that because we had said the implements were to be delivered to our village (around 45km from the shop) and the land is about 5km (3 miles) away from our village they wanted an extra 10 LVLs (£14, $21). We had had enough difficulty organising everything as there was only one guy who could speak some English and he didn't always understand us, but we paid the bill for the implements at the bank and then the van, with the implements in, followed us to the land (how about that for service, you don't get that in England, delivery within the hour). After a few phone calls they dropped their request for some extra cash for the extra few miles but we did suspect that the driver wanted the extra cash for his own pocket and not the shop owners. Sometimes if you read the news about Latvia you would think they were a nation of con artists but this is the first time someone has tried hard to get some extra cash out of us, normally we find that the Latvians go out of their way to make sure we don't spend too much by showing us the cheaper articles in the shop, or splitting packets if we don't need whole packets of tiles or laminate flooring or whatever else you can think of. We have been shown much kindness and consideration even if we half frighten them to death because we can't speak their language properly. This week we have even found a rapport developing with people in our community, the lady in the post office even smiles and jokes with us (I know what she means even if I don't understand her words) whereas before she often seemed sullen. One of our neighbours was also quite helpful trying to think of someone who might be able to help us with the language, unfortunately she is a teacher of maths and didn't feel able to help herself but promised to ask us what we have learnt and help us that way and she also told us to help ourselves to the plums which hang over our garden plot.

Monday, 7 September 2009

To rescue or not to rescue that is the question.

Ian was doing his knght in shining armour bit this week - well what else do you have a truck and lots of time for, especially as he likes the word "semi-retired"? Okay it was not knight in shining armour, more like man in shiny red truck accompanied by his trusty companion for the day, our neighbour Bruce. A while ago I mentioned that we shouldn't succumb to white charger syndrome, the need to be seen as a rescuer or a knight in shining armour. I am not saying that we shouldn't help but our whole identity cannot be built on that and I still stand by that but being available to help when asked is important, we can get too busy to be of service to those who need a helping hand. The rescue entailed a two hour drive to collect another neighbour's white van that had broken down and also involved being stopped by the police but fortunately it was just a routine stop. Being stopped by the police can be a little entertaining here as they are usually just looking for someone who has been drinking, or driving without insurance, which is common enough, and it confuses the policemen that we have Latvian licenses and Latvian car but unfortunately still don't speak much Latvian so generally it means they just check documents and send us on our way without any hassle at all.

Just an update about the language. We are still struggling as we don't pick up the language quickly, it develops word by word and that is only occasionally. We have tried to see if any teachers of English would like to teach us Latvian, but so far have drawn a blank but since the schools have just gone back then there is still time. So pray we find someone soon.

We are working on trying to get equipment together to work on the land and that has meant trips here there and everywhere - well that is what it feels like at time and has usually meant Ian doing a lot of leg work as I have been a good girl and stayed at home to study. Our tractor apparently is on its way here from Italy and so should be on a truck..... somewhere.... en route, so who knows where it is at the moment, but at least should be here soon... well possibly! We have also been to look at some poly tunnels which have a wooden constructions. The wood we think is sourced here from Latvia from their own wood yard (if we understood correctly that is). We are working on the premise that wooden constructions are repairable and also they can be double lined which is a boon in this climate. Next challenge will be to get them ordered and at least one up before the winter then we can start veg off early next year. Once winter sets in there will be no chance of getting one until well into the spring, especially if we have as much snow as we did this last winter. It will be a race against time I think.

Today we intended to set off and purchase a wood stove so that we have some independent heat, as it was very very cold last year before they decided to put the communal heating on and there is no guarantee that they will even switch it on at all this year. We decided to check with our apartment manager first, to see what was happening about the heating and we found out we needed a piece of paper giving us permission to be able to install a wood stove in our flat, which is reasonable enough but hadn't been told before even though we had asked (boy oh boy mutter mutter). She wrote down in Latvian the permission that we needed and rang to find out where we got the paper from and we duly set off on a 45km trip to Madona. As it turned out it was more like a treasure hunt. We got to the fire station only to find no one there who spoke English but in German were told to come back later, so off we went for lunch. A little while later with the help of Google translate we were told we couldn't get the paper there we had to go to see the building inspector at the town hall. With the help of a very kind lady from the tourist information office we found the building inspector. He could speak some English, but told us we couldn't get the paper there for our area we had to go back to Ergli and we were given the name of a person to speak to, and when we got there.....? The office was closed and they only work Wednesday and Friday mornings. So no paper, no fire! Well not yet anyway. The hunt will continue for the elusive paper. Part of the problem here in Latvia is that some things are done illegally - sometimes out of ignorance of new laws and sometimes because it costs too much to do it legally for many, and then with the crisis lots of offices have shut and certain operations amalgamated so no one is really sure who does what now.

Well besides treasure hunts and rescue missions it has been gardening this week, bringing in the harvest. We now have about three quarters of the potatoes dug but it has been hard as it has rained quite a bit over the weekend and I was getting a little worried they may just rot in the ground but there was a bonus to a wet weekend - a husband at a loose end. Ian finally painted the outside kitchen wall, it is not quite the colour I wanted but it looks better than it did and freshens the place up so I am not complaining (can't complain too much I chose the colour, so don't know what happened there). I have also been trying to deal with the glut from the garden and trying my best to use up courgettes (zucchini) and green tomatoes and I am getting to the stage that if I see another courgette this year I think I will scream. Betty Crocker's zucchini bread is very useful for using up lots of courgettes, so thanks to my neighbour Kim for that recipe, and I added courgettes to the green tomato chutney thanks to Google for that recipe. I have also made green tomato mincemeat - no idea what it will taste like but it smelt wonderful and Christmassy - oh the wonders of google for recipes, next project is green tomato ketchup! Hmm????

On a more serious note the news is still not good here in Latvia. The winter looks like it is going to be a tough one and I have a great deal of respect for the women getting in their crops this year (allotment gardening is mainly a woman's job here), for them it makes a considerable difference to how well they do over winter, for us it more an inconvenience if we don't get everything in as we can still go to the supermarket and buy what we need to if necessary. One of the frightening statistics in the news is that 68% of people who are working have taken a cut in salary this year. It is hard to imagine what it is doing to people or how they feel, we hear snippets from time to time such as they wish someone like Sweden would come and take them over again, or they would like to go back to the certainties of Soviet times which is all a bit scary really. There are times that we wish we could sweep in here on a white horse and change everything but it won't help, we need to encourage, we need to be responsible with our purchases and above all we need to pray for wisdom as to what we should do under the circumstances.

(Photos: Our newly painted kitchen and the largest lettuce I have ever grown)