Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Back home again!

This is the nearest I get to doing the garden these days.
Unearthing beets from clamps, well what was left of them
after the voles had noshed on them. Amazingly some leaves
were still green though under their bed of hay. I also
scattered wood ash and soot on the beds to help them melt.
I was back on the trail again with another trip into Riga when I started writing this blog. I went in on the bus from one of the big towns so that I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn and spend all day wandering around Riga with not much to do. I did try to organise some meetings but they didn't work out and I don't do shopping if I can help it, so that wasn't an option. It also meant that Ian could get some supplies from a large DIY place and a small mini-greenhouse so we can start off seedlings in the big greenhouse. As I mentioned I was working on this blog while on the bus and so I wasn't taking much notice of the scenery, until one point when I suddenly realised that the landscape I was looking at had very little snow. It was quite shocking to have gone from a scene of white to one only speckled here and there. There were also lots of obviously rotten hay bales in the fields as they looked rather flat. The bad weather over the last year had not been good for them obviously.

This was stencilled on the wall of my hostel room, which
seems pretty relevant at the moment
This trip involved an overnight stop, as I wasn't able to catch a bus home after the event I attended. I booked into a hostel that was described as clean and had a good review. I was very pleasantly surprised. The owner gave me a brief introduction to the small hostel - I think there was only about five bedrooms with a small kitchen area. It was perfect and beautifully decorated. It was also blissfully quiet, despite being only a few minutes walk away from the train and bus stations. The owner and I also spent some time talking about Latvia and the problems of living in the countryside. It's always good to hear the perspectives of Latvians on the topic. I would definitely recommend the Green Cat hostel to anyone wanting an inexpensive stay in Riga,  especially as they have a kettle with tea and coffee available. That wins hands down over having breakfast available to me. Breakfast can be bought in easily, carrying a kettle around not so much.

Is it spring yet?
The meeting was interesting, especially as I have said for a long time that artists and storytellers are needed in development, only this was in the urban context. When artists move in is often one of the reasons that places become gentrified. The impact of artists is also something that would benefit rural areas, to open up the possibilities of what can be done. It often needs outside innovative ideas to stimulate the process, although it also has to be done with sensitivity to the people already there. It was good to hear of how these processes happen and maybe we can make that work in our village too. Maybe!

This young lady is starting to get noisy and demanding like
her mother. Not a good trait
It was also nice to be able to contribute to the discussions and draw out something from my observations of activists who I likened to spinning tops. They often spin so fast and are so busy that they run out of energy or they spin off in different directions. I suggested they needed time to reflect on what they had done to refocus on what they valued and that would help them regain energy and courage to carry on with a better focus on what is important. It is too easy to get engrossed in doing and forget what is important, sometimes it can't be helped but often it is unnecessary. I guess that is my advantage of being older than most of them there. One lady agreed with me and mentioned that focussing on values is always important.

Tracks in the snow
The good news this week is that the car is back on the road and functional. I had to go on the bus to collect it, so it is a good job that compared to some rural areas of Europe our bus services are okay, not perfect but fine for this sort of thing. The problem with the car was a stuck air inlet valve - at least that is what I understood and it appears to have been the problem for the last three years, because the usual issues that we have when the weather starts to warm up have also stopped. We also had a rattle that started after we got the car back of course, but that seems to have disappeared once Ian tightened up some wheel nuts. I am beginning to wonder if it is something to do with the extremes of temperatures we have here that seems to work some nuts loose, as Ian is not negligent when he works on our car. Well that and the dire state of our rural roads around here. Anyway, all is well and we are mobile again.

Chewing on life
This week has been a bit of a frustrating week from the point of view that I haven't been able to get on with much academic writing because I am waiting for replies and responses from others. I did at least get a reply from one supervisor about an abstract for a conference and he told me to just submit it, so that was easy. I must be getting the hang of throwing in the right words here and there to make it sound relevant to the discipline I am submitting the abstract too …. errr I mean I must be getting better at carefully crafting what I write these days. Whatever is happening, it is getting faster and easier to write abstracts for conferences.

It's a hard life
Another milestone this week was completing a job application for a large Christian charity. I don't expect to even get an interview really, but it was an interesting and helpful process personally. For one it got my CV up-to-date and helped me to understand the process of how to present, what after all, is a rather eclectic background to say the least. The other helpful aspect was to help me clarify what role my faith still plays in everything that I do. It is still important, even though it felt like I was wading through treacle last year. My faith shapes how I think and what I feel is important. It provides me with the motivation to do the most good that I can for the sake of others. That is not to belittle the inputs of others, but it is what motivates me the most. It was certainly an interesting and timely process to go through. Ideally, I would like to stay in academia, I love it, but I am finding it hard to find the right place because I haven't finished my PhD yet and until then I cannot apply for postdoc places. If that means me setting off in a new direction, well so be it. I know I can adapt and I love new challenges.

There are loads of these little creatures
crawling about on the snow now it is
beginning to melt. It is amazing how they
survive the winter. Mind you, they are in for
a shock as later on this week it is set to get
cold again and there might not be much snow
cover left to protect them.
We got to make a return visit to some folks who had been to see our alpacas previously, one is from the UK, his partner is Latvian but worked in the UK and then there was her brother. Well at least we did get the chance to visit once we found the place. Their Facebook page didn't help as the map only showed the village but they were miles outside of that. I rang and the lady sent me a map by text, but for some reason it first wanted to send us across the middle of a snowy field, so we decided to ignore that and go back to a road we had seen that seemed to take us in the general direction and hope the mapping software would work out a different route, which it did fortunately. Their house was in the middle of absolutely nowhere down a long forest track and was a very scenic route on a lovely cold, crisp, sunny day.

I attempted to ski again this week. The snow has been
melting though and the ski track was either rather slippy
for my liking and in random places the snow would give
way. After two rather slow circuits I gave up.
They now run a market garden, but of course apart from the greenhouse, which currently houses chickens for the winter, there was not much to see of their garden as it was under all the snow. We did get to meet their goats, sheep and geese and spend lots of time talking over wonderful soup, tea and cakes. We really enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine through the windows which overlooked their land. They are certainly an innovative and hardworking group and the nesting boxes for their chickens are designed to stop the chickens eating eggs. This is something that set Ian thinking for working out how to stop ours. Some of our hens are intermittent egg eaters but there are a few regulars who will be for the pot soon.

Chanel has improved slightly this last week. I put some different cream on her legs, a natural Latvian recipe this time. It should certainly help the crustiness of the skin and has the added advantage of an antiseptic element to it, which is not in mine. Mine has a more anti-inflammatory and tissue healing type of action. Ian also gave her some more Ivermectin and will repeat that for a few weeks. Mari has also improved, but she usually doesn't require such aggressive intervention to heal her skin.

I sometimes put leftover bits of meat in a box
in the fridge for the cats and of course I label
the box, well sometimes! This label seems to
have landed in the right place. Sofie and Eyre
went for their vaccinations this week, they
weren't particularly thrilled to see the nice vet. 
I actually got some more felting done this week. I started on a bag, but it still needs quite a bit of work done on it. The fibres I used are not the best quality, but they should be fine for a bag. It is part of the process of working out what to do with fibres that are not so good for scarves and hats. I was trying to see if the fibres would felt properly or not, but it did end up as a bit of a cobweb bag which of course will not really do and so I shall have to work on it some more. I will also add some embroidery to it as well.

Freddie on his first walk outside the paddock

One of the features of our marriage is that we very, very rarely argue. However, we often sulk or just do not communicate well at times. I used to write a letter when I got really frustrated as it allowed me to write what was on my mind and then work on it to try and communicate without the anger. It was a good process to get things out in the open and yet not just say the first thing that came into my head, which would probably have just been hurtful. Anyway some things have been whirling around in my head just lately and so I thought I would go for the updated version of the letter, an email. This allowed me to also illustrate my point in what I hoped would be an amusing way. Unfortunately it kind of backfired and only ended up confusing Ian. The first problem was that he viewed the file only as a preview and did not actually open, the preview didn't show the amusing cartoon figure and then for some reason I had managed to send an incomplete file. Anyway when I asked if he had appreciated the cartoon I discovered the issue - it has now been rectified and we have laughed about it. So alls well that ends well.

Monday, 12 March 2018

A short interval

I'm not at home today and so my regular Monday blog will have to wait. In the meantime here is a photo from my hostel bedroom at the Green Cat Hostel (highly recommended for such a friendly, clean and convenient location). I love the quote on the wall.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Could be better

Winter sunsets are often glorious
It has been one of those weeks. Nothing catastrophic happened, but it could have been better at times. Yes we had some cold windy weather, which wasn't pleasant but we didn't have much in the way of snow, even parts of the UK got it worse than we did, a real beast from the East as opposed to the poodle in the East for some. We have about the same 25cm of snow we had last week. It certainly wasn't melting much in the sun, it was too cold. This did mean the first issue we had was frozen heating pipes or at least on the way to being frozen. The wind was causing a north facing wall to cool the pipes to near freezing when we discovered it, when a radiator refused to warm up. That meant three days in a row up at our other apartment during the day to run the wood fired heating to defrost it. The first day was rather chilly, the second day was pleasant and by the third day the heat had been absorbed by the walls and the pipe unthawed. At least we escaped any burst pipes this time around. At the same time Ian also tried to fix a leak in water pipe. Let's just say the pipe is fixed, but now the new valve leaks. There were certain utterances about the quality of components that you get here and not being good enough - or at least that is my translation of the utterances. Being slightly deaf is wonderful at times.
Yes it was cold and no you shouldn't take
selfies in the cold. The phone does not like it
nor do your fingers. Hehe! So here I am with
about five layers under a fleece lined coat, a
thermal hat with my hood up ( a rare sight)
alpaca scarf and a thermal layer under ski pants.
It was just about bearable because the buildings
sheltered me from the wind
Ian had taken the precaution of ensuring the battery was
always topped up so it would start on cold mornings. The
short runs to and from our land, of course are not good on
the car. Unfortunately it was not enough
Just as we got the pipes sorted the car started acting up again. By then we were seeing highs of around -8C. As a friend pointed out, that feels very spring-like when temperatures have been dipping to the low -20s with one night down to -28C. But for some reason the increasing temperatures sets off our intermittent fault that we still haven't worked out the cause of. I say "we", what I really mean is Ian and various other folks that at least have some knowledge of cars, I merely nod knowingly and don't usually have a clue. I understand if it is explained to me, but I don't really tend to be very interested in the inner workings of a car, until it goes wrong on me of course. Anyway the car spluttered for a few days in the mornings, until one day it decided not to splutter into life at all. It would of course be a day when we were expecting a visit from someone.
You just have to scratch that itch. Alpaca yoga

It sparkles like a field of diamonds
Fortunately we have some very good friends around here and were able to call someone for a lift. It could have been possible to catch a bus, but we have to take out water and supplies for the day and carrying 25 litres of water all the way to the bus stop is not easy. Ian has been taking warm water out, as some animals prefer it - some prefer the snow! The car, however, is still sat outside our apartment and Ian has had a lift in on the the last few days from one of the neighbouring farmers who also lives in the village.
George trying out his new harness. So far, so good. This is the
start of halter training in preparation for taking them on walks.
Also life is simpler when they are halter trained

Freddie sporting his new harness too. He was so calm
Our visitor turned up as planned and we took him around our land to show him various oak trees that we were worried about. One of them was a reasonably mature oak, maybe about 80 years old, with a rapidly spreading fungal infection. He showed us several places of concern on the tree that suggested it was indeed starting to struggle. We will have the oak removed because it is likely to end up on the barn in the future, otherwise. He also noticed that fungus was starting to appear on another oak nearby.  The other one may have some other trees removed from around it and then we can see if it recovers - depending on what the fungus is though.
Mum and Auntie V looking on

The two unbalanced oak trees are in the centre of the
picture and yes I am out on a ski run. My third time this
year. I have only fallen over once too and that was
because this section was icier than the other side that had
filled with snow on my first run round.
Two oak trees on our land have lost large limbs at some stage but our visitor says they are still okay, but they will be topped to balance them up a bit and give the tree some stability. Also it should encourage some of the new growth from further down. Another oak tree will also be removed as it is fairly close to the road and is hollow. As we were going round our visitor explained how we should trim the small oaks to help them grow into balanced trees, which was really useful. He loved our large oak tree and said that it was protected since it was over 4.5m circumference. We thought they were protected above 5m but apparently that changed. Not that we would even consider cutting that majestic tree down and Ian is working on clearing around it to keep it healthy too.
Snowscapes are so amazing I think. The way they cover the
landscape and change it and smooth out the contours

Chanel licking the salt block. She has been enjoying the
warm water that Ian has brought in from home. Aggie
meanwhile, continues prefers to eat the snow.
Later on in the day we discovered another issue to deal with. Chanel is still struggling with her health and her skin was looking rather scabby. When I got up close to look though I found out it was actually worse than we thought and her fleece was falling off on her legs. Whilst the magic cream I make up had worked really well on the others, it was not having the desired effect on Chanel and so we have started on the big guns now and given her an injection of Ivermectin. In a few days time we will also give her Fiprinol - not something I like to do, but sometimes drastic measures are necessary.
Ice crystals

I still feel amazed to think that this is our
place, our land. It almost feels like a fairytale
This year is a special year for Latvia, it is 100 years since they first declared independence and it is also now our 10th year in Latvia. We arrived on the 4th March 2008. It seems appropriate that we went to the hotel this last week to meet up with a friend who we have been going to see for ages. Not quite a celebration but it is somewhere we used to frequent more often when we first arrived. Unfortunately our friend's husband had flu and so we didn't get to see him.
The alpacas are getting fluffier

The sheep are putting on a lot of fleece too
It is also Estonia's 100th year and the former President in celebration of their Independence Day likened Estonia to a wild strawberry - not well known but when you get to know them they are well worth the find. I can relate to that, both the fact that wild strawberries are quite amazing, so fragrant and Estonia is quite a precious jewel of a place and worth the find. I am pleased I have had the opportunity to get to know more about the place and some of its people. A friend of mine had posted the article and she asked me how I would describe a Latvian farm and my first response was like a garden tended with love and care, because a Latvian farm is more than just a farm (actually that is true of many farms if people would only stop and talk to the stewards of the land), it is a home where people are rooted into its fabric. It is why when a farmer loses his land, he loses a piece of his heart, his history, his work and maybe the work of generations before him.
Tellus in reflective mood. The colours are like those in the
renaissance pictures - not that you would see many alpacas
in renaissance pictures though 
Tellus practicing his ballet dance steps

The moon at sunrise
I am not sure if it is the winter sunshine, or just turning a corner in life somehow, but once again my thoughts are racing away. I feel less like thinking through treacle and more like trying to swim with a tide of thoughts that threaten to carry me away, or coming at me so fast I hardly have time to catch them and examine them. Fortunately somethings are coming together and starting to make more sense, which is good news for getting my papers written - well as long as I can keep myself focussed on those. I think part of the reason for unstopping whatever was plugging up my thought processes is getting back to the ideas that first sent me in the direction of doing research. I feel like I am beginning to tie my faith back into my discoveries about communities. Another aspect was meeting someone else whose faith guides her politics in our area. I met her last week for the first time and she inspired me and helped me to realise I'm not alone in my desire to see the best for the area.
There's a pond in there somewhere

Eyre in reflective mood. 
On a blog I follow by Martin Scott there is a section called "The Stages of Faith" which makes a lot of sense to me, especially as it is possible to go through more than one revolution of the stages, as we go deeper. It mentions hitting a wall, which seems appropriate at the moment as that is kind of what I was trying to describe last week. I'm not sure if the wall only appears at one point though, as the schematic suggests; I think there is a possibility of struggling through to the next phase due to hitting other walls too. A friend of mine on Facebook picked up on my comments last week about just coming out of a place of struggle. She asked some good questions and prayed for me too. What was fantastic is that she deliberately tried to avoid making suggestions but focussed on those questions, which is definitely helpful to me.

Freddie is quite a sweetie, and you can see a video of him on
our Facebook page here
Other events that have got me thinking is firstly I am in the process of applying for a job with a Christian charity. The application process also asks some good questions that take me back to my core and make me ask, "What is important to me in my walk with God?" Secondly was joining in a forum of Christians who are interested in making a difference politically. Whilst I do not want to be a politician, I do believe in engaging with the political process and encouraging the younger generation to do so too, so that has been a good for stimulating the old thought processes. At least these have been positive steps forward mentally, even if we could do without the other issues.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Whirling, dancing diamonds

Ice crystal tree in the morning sun
It sounds so pretty to say it: the scene outside our window this morning was a whirling, dancing shower of diamonds, sparkling in the early morning sun and it looked amazing too, but - and there had to be a but didn't there - it meant it was chilly and windy, with the wind sending the fine, dry powdery snow careering off the rooftops. The low evening sun now gives a warm glow to the snow but the temperature is dropping rapidly with the sinking sun, already it is -12C out on our balcony and the sun has not even set yet. Meanwhile in England, apparently in some places the shops are empty of teacakes, here life goes on, although the workmen might not be working outside if it drops too low and the children might get to stay home from school.
Snow blind

Cabinet regulations stipulate that children up to the age of 12 years should not attend an educational establishment if the temperature is lower than -20C degrees and children from the age of 13 when the air temperature is lower than -25C degrees. (LSM: Big freeze ahead for Latvia)
Pine trees in the snow
Pathways cut for the girls to get out and about in
I went out to the land with Ian once this week, but he brought me back straight after I had helped him sort out the girls. I had made up some dry shampoo to dust on their fleeces where they had got oily from previous treatments. They needed their fleeces as fluffy as possible to prepare for the drop in temperatures. I put just a bit of cream on Chanel, but didn't want to use too much, otherwise she might end up worse in this cold weather. At least the cold might kill any mites off, or at least put them into hibernation for a bit.
But do they go outside? Ian made this new feeder to entice
them out, but someone worked out, they don't need to go out

Mari's fleece from last year, that Ian is busy preparing to spin
It was a bit too cold to sit in the caravan and work, it's not so bad if you are more active, but I needed to write, which is why Ian brought me back. Instead I went to our other apartment, which I have done a couple of times this week, to light the fire. This is partly out of necessity and partly because our neighbour below is doing some renovations. I half wonder if he knows we are going and is getting some renovations done to get back at us for those early years when we did a lot of renovations. It mustn't have been much fun for him at times. Having said that, I don't think he is really the revengeful sort of person and is probably just getting on with his own much needed work.

Freddie hiding
I got the last of my papers written to a point where it now needs input from my supervisor and I got the brochure finished for the Latvian Alpaca Adventure (you can see that here). I even got a couple of outlines for abstracts for a conference done. So all in all not a bad week from the writing point of view. I am now at the frustrating point where I am waiting for replies. I can of course get on with writing my thesis, but it feels a bit pointless until I know for sure the direction I can take it, as the thesis is entirely based on my published works and to do that they need publishing, or at least to a point where they are accepted by the academic journals.
I love the different layers in this photo, with the most frosted
at the back
Untouched snow - until you look closely that is and see the
trail of footprints
With a bit of time on my hands, I got another cupboard sorted out. I even emptied out a few clothes from my wardrobe to make room for a hanging shelf to organise the space better for when we have less room. Now of course all the extra stuff is sitting in the hallway waiting for a new home. The more I sort, the more cluttered the place seems to get. I did find a nice pair of boots though, I think the reason they were put to the back of the cupboard is that they let in water, so I will take them with me to the UK to get them fixed. I know it seems a bit of a trek and there are places here in Latvia, but not in the same village, so not so easy as popping them in my suitcase - I might need them after all.
Natural lacework
This will be the last winter we see this scene, as this is from
the apartment we have sold
Time on my hands also means more time to do some thinking, it feels like a long time since I have had time to let my mind wander. Mind you at the moment it seems to be wandering onto the practical aspects of moving into an even smaller place and trying to figure out such things as how to fit our things in and what do we really need. The kitchen is narrower in the other apartment and has less workspace, so we could do with something to take the place of our table, that will not fit in. We will need it eventually, so don't want to get rid of it - so that is another problem in itself. The solution in the kitchen is probably a mobile kitchen island with a drop leaf on it, but that will need constructing from something and I don't think we have anything suitable to construct it out of - or have we?
This will be the view from my office window

A view of the skiers too on the cross country ski trail
My faith took a hammering last year. It was nothing I can put my finger on, but only to be expected at some time. I remember reading a few times about the dark night of the soul, when God seems so far away and was considered part of the Christian journey. I felt at times like I was barely hanging on by my fingertips and that is not a comfortable feeling. I wouldn't say that everything is right yet, but I have the feeling of walking out on a day when you know the winter is on its way out, the signs are rising, the sun returning, but life is still buried in its winter sleep. Something is stirring. So I hold on and keep plodding on, trying to figure out my place in the world.

Winter is so beautiful when the sun is out, that there are just so many photo opportunities
A view from our smaller apartment

Love the atmosphere of this photo, but shows
one of the issues we may have of parking

Frozen in time

I think they may have some help keeping this
driveway clear

Eating, eating, eating! You can see Chanel all covered
in frost

Brencis meditating on life

Mr. Herkules is looking particularly sprightly these days

Sunbathing as you do

Mr. P does photograph much easier in the winter. Look
at the red highlights he has