Monday, 25 October 2010

Where to start

Bride and groom
Such a problem to know where to start after two weeks of little internet access and so much has happened. I mentioned that our son's wedding was lovely and indeed it was. It was fabulous to see the smile on the faces of our son and his new wife throughout most of the day, although I noticed he was tearing up during the wedding service but then again so was his dad - what a pair. Gotta love 'em! I was given a gorgeous bunch of flowers which I got to enjoy for a couple of days and then gave them away to some folks in a nearby caravan to where we were staying. I think the lady was a little surprised but I didn't want to waste them as there was at least a week's worth of life left in them and I didn't think they would survive our journey back to Latvia.

The very happy couple
We had a buffet meal for the wedding as funds were short but goodness me the food wasn't short, we were eating sausage rolls on the way back home as well as cakes and pizza, and who cares that we hadn't had a three course meal for the wedding? We didn't, that's for sure, it's just not important. The promises they made to each other were important, after that it is all secondary. The cake was made by the bride's mum, and it was a stunning creation with carnations made from icing which she made herself, certainly a talented woman. Some friends of the young couple teach Salsa lessons and so the entertainment for the evening after the obligatory first dance was learning to Salsa and the vast majority of folks were all up practicing Salsa steps, very funny! I did notice though that Ian's brother who was the photographer for the event was adamant that he really needed to video the proceedings which meant he couldn't join in, didn't look too upset about it though. Certainly a bit different to the embarrassing discos where many folks don't want to join in, as most people were up dancing or in my case trying to. At least my waltzing when we had to join in the first dance as the grooms parents was a little better than my Salsa skills. Those ballroom lessons in my childhood had some use after all.

Mother of the bride, bridegroom, bride, best woman and me.
The mother of the bride and I were witnesses (and no I am
not wearing a plastic bag as Ian keeps saying)
Our son and his wife had a few other non-traditional touches such as a best woman instead of a best man, and the bride's mum walked her down the aisle. The best woman was a Danish friend of our son's from a time that he spent attending a youth bible college when we were living in Denmark (obviously). They got on really well and folks made all sorts of assumptions but they were always just good friends and she even spent one Christmas with us as she couldn't make it to her parents as they lived in Kenya. Fortunately she was comfortable enough with English to give a great speech and talked about their time in the bible college and how she was responsible for our son not being fluent in Danish as they spent so much time chattering away in English. She even got into trouble for it from the principle, but in the end it didn't matter too much since our son returned to England after the course.

Forgot to get a photo of the finished cushion and this is
a scanned picture before making it into a cushion. Still
you get the idea. The wheels are bike wheels since
our son works at a bike shop and they both go cycling
together and the lace is possibly tatting that my
grandmother made.
As the young couple were getting ready to leave our son turned to me and asked me for the red bag. Red bag!!!! O-oh! He had handed me the red bag when we were getting ready for the service in the caravan so that we could take it with us and I had dutifully taken it outside to put it straight in the car but I hadn't got the keys and I couldn't get Ian's or any guys attention whatsoever at the time, the reason being they were all entranced with the car that had arrived to pick our son up. Our son's boss had borrowed a friend's car - as you do, in order to take him, which just so happened to be a black ferrari. Aren't they always? Well failing to get anyone's attention I took the bag back in and promptly forgot about it in the hurry to take the best woman to church (she couldn't fit in the ferrari of course and so had to travel with us). Well our son had to give us directions to hotel where he was staying on his honeymoon night so we could take the clothes in the morning but we did keep the information to ourselves. Couldn't resist sticking a couple of bows, we happened to have in the car, on the windscreen wipers of their car as we left after handing the clothes over, well they had removed all the bows and paper chains from the night before and the car looked quite bare apart from just married written in lipstick on the windows. The funniest thing was the hotel was full of Jane Austen fans on a tour and down comes our son in his shirt and trousers from the wedding, proper dapper. Wonder what they thought?

The fabulous cake. All those flowers
are hand made in icing. Amazing!
Well it was rather a hectic weekend as we not only helped to clear up the hall after the wedding we also helped to clear our son out of his old flat and shifted into their new flat. It was rather surprising how much stuff they had in a one bedroomed flat. Doesn't help that they both come from a family of hoarders and his sister had cleared out her house a few months ago and taken much of it down to him. They did say they were going to get rid of some stuff on e-bay but first they will need to find the chairs to sit down on before deciding what they are keeping and what they are getting rid of. I was proud to hear though that as soon as the table was free they sat down to eat their evening meal at it, even if it meant sitting on speakers. Eating around the table is so important and something we are pleased for sticking with even with the odd grumpy meals due to someone being in a bad mood. Even now we sit and chat around the table for hours when we get together.

Mother and daughter
Well I guess so this doesn't get too long I shall summarise our trip home.
Folkestone - blessed with a bed and a meal out so we didn't have so far to travel to catch the ferry in the morning. Wish the rest of the trip had been that easy.
France - only 20km so we weren't affected by the strikes thank goodness.
Belgium and Holland - Boring! Tedious! Slow! Just too much traffic and we hit Antwerp at 3:30pm ish and apparently that was not a good time to get there (is there a good time apart from the middle of the night like the last time we drove around it?)
Germany - roadworks, even though we chose a different route there were still roadworks on the autobahns and so I must conclude they are digging up all their autobahns (okay maybe not all of them but it sure feels like it). It was funny though to hear Kraftwerk on the radio singing "Autobahn", not something that either of us thought we would ever be listening to whilst actually driving on an autobahn.

Fairy lights and balloons. Very simple and yet effective
Our wonderful room (courtesy of the hotel website)
Germany was redeemed in my eyes though by the sweetest of hotels, the Pension-am-See in Neustadt-Glewe which has a gem of an owner. I rang to say we were running late due to traffic in Belgium and Holland and he said not to worry they would still be there. Well, shortly after that conversation we missed our turning due to yet more roadworks and ended up with me having to navigate our way around Osnabrück at night, not happy was I! Further roadworks added to the length of the journey and meant we arrived at the hotel at 1:30am and I had to ring the owner and wake him up to let us in, which he did with a gracious smile of welcome. I was never so grateful for a warm welcome as I was that night. (Actually I tell a lie, it was the same sense of relief to be welcomed into a warm home after having to abandon a leaking tent and turning up cold and wet on someone's doorstep one holiday in Scotland). We collapsed into bed but despite the comfortable bed I didn't have a restful sleep at all as I was still navigating our way across Europe in my dreams and woke up exhausted. Breakfast was wonderful though, with a table in a nice warm conservatory full of autumn decorations and fairy lights on the table (had to put that after putting up hundreds of them at the wedding as our son and wife really likes them and they had bought them in the January sales for decorating the venue). At least that was a good start to the day, well nearly! I forgot to read all the details on the booking form and missed the bit about only cash accepted, so had to dash out to a cash machine. (Just a note for anyone planning on staying and I would highly recommend it, not just the hotel itself but also because it is in a really pretty area of Germany, but the cash machine is inside the bank and so only available during working hours).

The only photo of our whole trip. A view of the lake from
the hotel car park as we were leaving. The view from the
room was much better but it was raining and we just wanted
to get on our way and the camera was in the car.
Poland was lovely again and the northern route through it is well worth the travel. This time we stopped in a hotel next to a pretty lake. The rooms were large but spartan and for some reason the plug sockets didn't work but since we arrived late-ish again, we hadn't time to sort that out - it may have just been an isolator switch to the room that hadn't been switched on or something simple like that. It would have been hard to explain anyway as the receptionist only spoke German. Now I have done a bit of German at school and even have an O'level in it but wouldn't be able to speak it all these days but I can still remember some words and numbers and can understand some things, Ian however who professes to have no skills in languages at all, was far faster at translating what the receptionist had said than me. I told Ian later that I was really impressed with his ability to understand German since he supposedly didn't know German at all, at which point it was Ian's turn to be surprised, "he spoke German?" he said. Ian has been in so many hotels whilst working that he thought it sounded something like breakfast seven till 10 and not frokost sieben zu zehn, which is what the receptionist actually said and fortunately means the same thing.

Lithuania was still flat and the route a bit monotonous and boring but I do understand that Vilnius is nice but we decided not to call in, a little tired of navigating around cities unintentionally. At least they didn't have loads of roadworks and so better than Germany on that score. It was nice to get to familiar landmarks in Latvia, even if we had never actually seen them in the dark before (we only ever go to Jekabpils shopping so never there at night) and we made it back to our home village just before the hotel finished serving meals. Perfect timing or what? And judging by the snow that started whilst eating I think we did indeed get the timing right. After that epic journey, would we do it again? Don't know! The next time we fly, we are not going to do that route in the middle of winter, that is guaranteed.

Our friend's husband assembling one of the machines at
the orphanage. Just heard they have some money to
redecorate which will be good.
Saturday we went to the local orphanage to handover 9 sewing machines that we had transported back from the UK. A friend of ours had managed to get information out to folks about the orphanage's need for them to teach the youngsters sewing techniques and then to set up a project for unemployed youths to give them a diploma in sewing. Within weeks she had had the offer of the machines and organised them to get to us during our stay, she even brought some across herself to us. Some more will be coming later in a container but at least the orphanage can get started on the project with the ones they have now. The husband of the lady who managed to organise this tremendous feat happened to be in Latvia too so he came to see the place and take pictures and find out a little more about the orphanage and then joined us for tea.

Sunday I rested! How Biblical! Has something to do with a cough and a cold as well though, picked up in England! Thanks guys! And so to today, no chance of a rest this week either as I have an assignment to complete and so I am up to my eyes in the habits of wild boar, and the methods of monitoring their activity, preparing for a possible project next year for my Masters thesis. Ian meanwhile was back into his normal-ish routine too, transporting a neighbour, picking up our tractor from its holiday home at the nearby to the land neighbours (boy this is confusing), and checking to see how far our Swedish friend has got with the apartment. It is in serious danger of actually being finished but I won't hold my breath, it does look absolutely lovely though (I think lovely springs to mind far too readily, need to find a new word). Progress on the barn has been slow though, but I don't think the fact it snowed while we were away has helped either.

Monday, 18 October 2010


I have limited access and limited time this week. The wedding was lovely and the epic journey back begins tomorrow and so will have to do a two week blog next week with photos, so sorry for this ever so short one this week. To be going on with though here is the poem I wrote for the wedding

You are about to embark on a new venture 
Weaving the fabrics of your life together 
Let love be the stitching that holds the fabric together 
Let the love of God be stitched in bold across it, 
weaving impossible patterns as you grow together 

When the fabric grows thin in times of stress 
let love embellish it and strengthen it 
Let laughter sparkle in the threads 
Let precious shared tears add richness to the colour 
Let honesty and integrity deepen the hues 
Let faithfulness reinforce the weave
Love fiercely 
Love passionately 
Love tenderly 

Let your love be filled with mercy and grace 
Let your love reach out to others 
Welcoming all who come to your door 
Let your love mend hearts
causing spirits to soar and filling souls with joy
Let the love of God be your guide 
and wisdom be your friend 
Set Jesus at the heart 
And let the Spirit cover you
And may God bless your journey together

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The epic journey.

Had a lovely walk along the beach. I was
born in a seaside town and it is good to smell
the sea sometimes again.
So who else was amused by my "edible field guide to mushrooms" last week? My dearest husband pointed out it should be a field guide to edible mushrooms and not a book you can snack on while looking for mushrooms. Well at least we found a field guide to mushrooms that does tell us which ones are edible but believe it or not the book is not edible at all!

We had a long journey across Europe, as you can imagine, from Latvia to France. We set off from Latvia at six in the morning and it was a lovely drive to Poland in the rich autumn sunshine on day one of the journey, Lithuania was flat but the north east of Poland is very pretty, lots of lovely rolling hills and shimmering lakes. I spotted one hotel near a lake and thought it would make the ideal spot for a holiday one day or maybe somewhere to stop for the night on the way back, hope we can find it again. We managed to journey at a steady pace making it a very relaxing drive despite our worries of driving through countries we had never visited before. We finally arrived in a place where we were relieved that we didn't have to stop and ask directions too as there was no way that we could have pronounced the name of the town, it began with a B and had lots of z's in it. After 13 hours of driving it was exciting to be able to spot the hotel easily from the main road and so good to be able to get in and head for bed and a good long sleep, so Hotel Focus in Bydgoszcz (any clues as to its pronunciation gratefully received) gets a massive thumbs up for service, nice rooms and good breakfast, just what you need after a long drive.

Gentle decay
Day two started off well and by lunchtime we made it to Germany but oh boy what a nightmare that was. We were either driving rather fast to go with the flow, watching our fuel economy plummet or driving slowly through road works and there was plenty of those. How many road works can a country have? They also seemed to be digging up roads that the Latvians would love to have. We were still in Germany at around 7pm with three countries yet to drive through and looking increasingly unlikely that we would make it to our French hotel for the 9pm check in deadline. Sat in yet more road works though is not the place to find out that you haven't got the right number for the hotel, it is just not fun. Two phone calls to a French number only resulted in a message in French which I did not understand and so I ended up texting our son to put more credit on my phone while I phoned customer services for Eurobookings to see why I couldn't contact the hotel. Customer services quickly established the number given by them was wrong and I was given the right number, which joy of joys actually got me through to the right hotel and a very helpful guy who assured me it wasn't a problem that we were going to be late. Bleary eyed we rolled into Dunkerque at just turned midnight and not 8pm we had anticipated. The Dunkerque hotel was a cheap and cheerful, although in reality it wasn't as cheap as the Polish hotel of a much higher standard by the time breakfast was added in. The room was what I call bijou, with a pod for the shower, toilet and sink and would have been noisy if it was busy, but the staff were nice enough and it was a bed and after travelling that far that was all I was bothered about.

I love pebble pictures
We had a leisurely start to our day as the ferry terminal was only 10 minutes away and such a contrast to an airport. It was so relaxing getting through security and passport control with no huge queues, no rushing about here there and everywhere. Perfect after the exhausting drive of the day before.

One thing we did find along our journey was how important the journey is to the enjoyment of the drive. While we could drive at a steady pace and take-in the scenery the journey was a joy and part of the experience but when our focus was on the end as it was in Germany, the journey ceased to be a joy. We didn't have time to take in the richness of the country or appreciate the cultural diversity, our goal became our focus. Too often in life we hurtle towards the goal and in so doing we fail to take in the aspects of life that adds richness to our journey. It also occurred to me that the journey was quite symbolic for us as we were travelling a new way, a way we have never travelled before and it resonated with the recurring theme of mine over the last couple of years, "what got me here, won't get me there". There are going to be new ways of journeying for us but the end is not to be our focus, our "there" is important but how we get there is also important as our cross European journey shows. To hurtle towards "there" is to miss out on so much.

Small local airport
Well here I am sat on the south coast of England with Ian out at his son's stag do - a curry, and me typing away while wedding order of services are being folded. Think I had better finish and help out.

By the way, sorry there are no pictures from the journey I was too busy navigating and making sure we stayed on track to handle a camera as well. Maybe on the way back, but don't bank on it.
Would have been a little quicker in one of these

Monday, 4 October 2010


Yes more mushrooms, there are loads of them of many sorts
now to get an edible field guide for mushrooms 
*Update - well here are the pictures, finally!
(Sorry no pictures tonight but I will upload them in the morning, otherwise I shall be up until the wee hours trying to get them uploaded.)

Beetroot dug up - check!, Carrots dug up - check! Hamburg Parsley - check! Small plastic greenhouse taken to polytunnel - check! Peppers harvested and dug up and dried- check! Cushion embroidered for the rings for our son's wedding - check! Friends and neighbours recruited to look after our apartments and stuff -check! And so the countdown begins for the big drive across Europe, just as foreign offices are issuing warnings about possible terrorists attacks across Europe. Smart! So does this mean that ferry operators will be on high alert? Wouldn't be surprised! Oh what fun we may have in store. At least we are getting done what we need to get done, even had my haircut again today so that's ready for the wedding. We also have a list as long as your arm for things to bring back, little things like cornflour, vegemite and cutter bars for two wheeled tractors and the list grows daily, Ian is hoping he will still be able to see out the back window. We will also be bringing back some sewing machines for the orphanage due to the fantastic efforts of one of our friends who has single-handedly organised getting the information out to people that we needed sewing machines and organised for them to get down to our son's in time for us to take back to Latvia. It remains to be seen how many we can actually get in the car to take back with us, but at least there is a later shipment where more can be taken.

There is a thornless blackberry plant in there somewhere
This week the Latvians have voted in parliamentary elections and they haven't gone for glamour and empty promises they have gone for integrity. They decided not to trust the old politicians who had rebranded themselves and were telling everyone that they would not follow the IMF guidelines nor would they make savage cuts but not where the money was going to come from. The Prime Minister, however, promised more cuts, more pain and the Latvians acknowledged that is the only way forward by increasing his coalition numbers so that his minority government is now a majority government. That does not mean that I agree with all the cuts, the rich could still do far more to alleviate the pain of the poor in this country, without the indignity of handouts but under the current system we have and the likes of the IMF breathing down their necks there is little choice. I am impressed with the Latvian voters who chose to reject glamour and hype, something many countries could learn from.

Our blueberry bush looking very fiery
On the subject of the IMF there was a small snippet of news where some influential economists wrote an open letter to the IMF demanding that governance is improved. Not much but at least it is a start. Who these "influential" economists are I have no idea and really only recognise two of the institutions that two of them represent but it is a start indeed. If the Western nations are calling on developing governments to show more transparency to counteract corruption then influential organisations like the IMF and the World Bank should be leading the way, not being dragged kicking and screaming into more transparent dealings.

One of only two aubergines we got from loads of very
healthy looking plants. We let this grow big for seeds
and I half expected it to be brown in the middle but it was
still edible, amazingly!
I decided to use a different template for the blog, you may have noticed, as someone commented that my blog was hard to read. Must admit the font wasn't easy on the eye but I couldn't really find another font that I liked and looked okay on the blog so I have gone for a different background design instead. So I hope this makes it easier for everyone to read, wouldn't like anyone to miss out :o) In messing about with the backgrounds though I found one I liked but then it decided to corrupt everything I had written and turned out jibberish; at this point I thought I had lost a whole months blogs before I had a chance to save them. Not happy was I! I tried yet another background and found, much to my relief, the blogs returned back to normal but I am not as keen on this background but I daren't mess around with it again just yet. Another problem I had was with google analytics because we are just plain nosey to know where people come from who read the blog or rather glance through it (well at least I'm honest). Everytime I change the background though it messes with the analytics and I have to try and work out how to correct it. So for my reference and anyone else out there who struggles with this, this is my version of how to do it.

How to add the tracking back to a blog
First get the tracking code from google analytics (this is assuming you have already opened an account)
Click “Edit” (on the same line as your blog address)
Click “Check status” (top right hand side)
copy code from the section "paste this code on your site" (do this exactly, don't copy any extra spaces)
Now go to web page dashboard
Click Design (on the same line as new post)
Click HTML (tab at the top of the page)
Search for  "< /head. 
Done - easy when you know how!!!!!!!

Yes there really is progress on our barn 
We mentioned in my English class last week that Ian had had his birthday earlier in the week and this week when we arrived he was presented with a bunch of flowers - as they do in Latvia - and a cake stand on which was half a dozen apples. It was lovely of them to think of him but it did show the cultural differences between our nations. I don't think I have ever seen men being presented with flowers and a cake stand before in the UK and certainly not something I would think of doing, but here flowers are normal and an accepted part of celebrations, from the flowers given to teachers on the first and last day of school, no matter what gender the teacher is, to birthday and name day celebrations, a new house or a first visit to someone's house, the occasions are numerous where flowers are the appropriate gift to give. Just in case you are wondering what a name day celebration is, it is a specific day when all those with the same name celebrate and there are calendars you can buy with a list of names by each day showing who is celebrating their name day. Today Francis, Modra and Zaigonis celebrate their name days, and just so you don't get mixed up Francis and Zaigonis are men's names and Modra is a woman's name, men's names end in "s" and women's in "a" or "e". You can see a list of name days for Latvia here

A gingko biloba tree. This 7 year old tree will eventually
reach 20m tall, honest! Also gingkos grows in Siberia
I read an excellent article this week on the subject sadness and it asked if in the lifting of the stigma of depression we have lost the importance of just feeling sad? The article makes the distinction between the range of emotions that we go through, the way we go through ups and downs and how this is perfectly normal so why not embrace it, learn from it, but don't get bogged down in it or you may end up truly depressed. The article managed to do this though without diminishing the need for empathy with those who are depressed or even just sad, in fact it even argues that we should allow people more room to be sad, rather than hiding it and pushing it down. I find it very helpful to acknowledge that changes in life, even positive ones, can bring on a period of grief for the loss of something. I allow myself a period of mourning if you like but I also see it as a transitory phase, not one that will last. I think we so often push away sadness because we fear it and therein lies the danger to our mental wellbeing. Life is not all a bed of roses and sooner or later we are going to encounter down days and we may as well acknowledge them and acknowledge the grief we feel because the sooner we do so the more likely the down days will pass and sunnier times come around once again.

The spots of death
Ian and I were sad today as we went around marking trees which would be eventually removed from a portion of our forest. Some are easy as they are not looking healthy but some trees look perfectly healthy, they are just growing too close together and so we had to make a decision as to which ones to remove and which ones are to be saved. If we left them all then the forest would eventually lose vitality as the trees compete for space and so is a necessary operation to undertake for the sake of the health of the whole forest but sad as we don't like cutting down trees. Some trees are not so valuable commercially as others but then to remove all of them would also diminish the variety of life in the forest and so we have tried to maintain a healthy mix of trees, knowing that some will last many years like the oaks and the maples and some will not last as long such as the alder, a pioneer species that after 25 years or so gets diseased and dies off leaving the hardier species like oak to carry on. In one small section though we have found aspen, maple, oak, alder, hazel, spruce, willow, silver birch and rowan, not a bad mix of trees I think. As well as earmarking trees for the chop though we have planted some more, a gingko biloba tree and a cherry tree. Both trees have been planted in our orchard and importantly inside our electric fence for the time being. The cherry tree will stay in our orchard but we haven't decided on the gingko tree yet as it grows very tall. The gingko tree takes thirty years to fruit, so only 23 years more for this 7 year old tree, just in time for us reaching our 70s, how about that for forward planning. We have also planted a thornless blackberry type plant, not entirely sure if it is just a blackberry or some other cross, our Latvian is not that good, a red bilberry and a citronlianas or magnolia vine (apparently an excellent source of vitamin C and gives you lots of energy so we are told and not to be eaten just before bedtime). Trying to decide where to plant things is a bit complicated as we try and visualise what we want to do with the land and how big trees will reach that we are leaving and spaces where they will be removed but we are getting there.