Monday, 5 December 2016

Uggghh!

Our old oak tree covered in snow and lit by the sun looks so
pretty
After a week of Narniaresque type weather with beautiful snow covered trees, it rained. The snow is still here but it looks rather drab and dreary now. Such a shame as it all looked rather festive, although it did keep Ian busy clearing paths with the snowblower. Of course there is still plenty of time for snow to return before winter has finished, but for now the dark days are back.
Chanel with a bit of festive frosting

A path made with the snowblower
This time of the year is one of beginnings and ends. It is the end of the milk season for one of our milk suppliers. We have two sources for our lovely, thick and creamy unpasteurised milk. One has milk all the year round, presumably by staggering her cows delivery dates and the other opts for time off in the winter. I can understand that, as milking animals is quite demanding. Our friend the goat farmer looks forward to the rest she gets at this time of the year as she prepares for her goats to start kidding.
Mr. P shows up much better against the snow

The ponds are frozen but our well was still filling up until
a few days ago
The lighter days with the snow has meant some of our hens have started laying again and they seem to have got over their autumn moult. When the cold weather really kicks in the number of eggs usually drops off but come February time they should be starting to lay more consistently. We are going to buy some eggs this next year to raise more stock. We have managed to breed out consistent egg laying out of them, but some of them are a decent size for meat birds, so not all bad.
Eyre or Floss as we usually call her has got a good long coat on
now. So long it is starting to get all matted again. She isn't so
patient as Sofie but she let Ian comb out a huge chunk of matted
fur with the new super duper combs that have rotating teeth.

Lady V checking out the weather before heading out ....
We have our first booking for next year, on the first of January from a Russian family. We subscribed to a site that advertises rural holidays and activities but also puts tours together for individuals and groups. It will be interesting to see what else comes of this. We really do need a shop building for our products rather than bring them backwards and forwards from home though.
... for a roll around in the snow. I mean! At her age too

Investigating the old jar of oil 
On the subject of buildings, we were discussing our wish list and besides a shop we would like a purpose built workshop. I would love to have a round building that looks out over the alpaca paddocks with an offshot kitchen. The shop would be next door to that and then a barn at the end nearest the greenhouse. We were thinking of putting the barn nearer the alpacas but I think it would be nicer for people to have the possibility of seeing the alpacas better whilst doing some felting and not just when Ian brings them on a walk or far away in the distance. We would need to find funding for this though and so will have to submit proper plans, which is not too much of a problem, but we have to get organised and although we are getting there, we are getting there slowly.
Sunbathing father (standing) and son (sitting down). Brencis
is getting huge, he looks like he might be bigger than his
father. Let's just hope he remains a laid back sort of guy like
his dad.

I thought of decorating this tree for
Christmas, but I think the snow did a
better job of it
Last year we made some wine from our grapes. It was not a stunning success and the wine was at best palatable, however, it does make some rather nice gluwein. Well we like it and since we have plenty of bottles of the red stuff, we have been having a cup of gluwein on a rather regular basis. If we haven't had gluwein, we have had a hot juice drink with similar spices. We have plenty of juice from all our berries to get through but we are not big juice drinkers. We go through phases. I would rather have a hot drink though and so this makes a good alternative.
It was nice to see the sun this week

A bit cold for using the outside loo these
days
I noticed that a friend of ours had what looked like a turkey one mealtime and I asked her where she got it from. It turned out to be a goose and she got it from a friend of hers. I thought that would make an interesting change for Christmas and asked if she could help us get one. She gave me a number for someone called Martinš. We know of someone with same name and it sounded like they were in the same direction and so wondered if it was the same person. The name was on the noticeboard in our caravan with the number, so Ian checked and no it was not the same Martinš. A few days later I asked Ian to phone to arrange for the goose for Christmas, because I wouldn't be home. Eventually he remembered to phone, but the person who answered was not Martinš and neither did they speak English as we expected. Whoops! Turns out Ian had phoned the number on the board, it may have been Martinš' number before but not now and it wasn't the one I asked him to ring. Finally he got the right number and the right Martinš and so we are definitely having goose for Christmas now.
I would think the chickens are grateful to be inside these days.
This was meant to be removed and put under cover

Blackcurrant bushes forming snow sculptures
I have been busy trying to process some apples that were a bit past their best and squashes that were not going to last long. We had run short of jars but after a sort out of various jars with small amounts of jam or chutney in them I managed to free some up, a friend gave us some more and after sorting out the boxes of empty jars I managed to find some the right size. Amazing what a little sorting out will do while procrastinating a writing project. So there is blackcurrant and apple jam, wild strawberry and apple jam, there is spiced squash and dried fruit marinating waiting to be turned into christmas puddings and some orange peel being turned into candied peel. There is also dried squash and dried spiced squash.
You can just about see the sign

Tree and snow art
Another reason for the sort out was that we need to free up freezer space for lamb. We cannot keep the male lamb as his mother was the best mother of all our ewes, she gave birth unaided and took good care of the lamb, hence his good size. The other two were rotten mothers, one didn't even attempt to feed her lambs and the other was not much better and her lambs didn't really thrive. We hope it is just inexperience and next year they should be better. I say next year, they are all pregnant again and we don't know when they are due. Whoops! If the lambs from this round survive then we will cull the ram, if they don't they have one last chance before the ram has to go.
I thought I might try to cover the Brussel Sprouts, they are about
pea size now

Aggie with her dusting of snow
Such is the farming life and trying to at least maintain some genetic integrity and not inbreeding them. Next year we plan on making a better shelter for the sheep at the top of the land for routine husbandry and hopefully what was the old alpaca house will be strengthened and repaired or replaced for winter quarters. We'll see what we actually manage. It is a problem when the alpacas are our focus but the sheep do a valuable job of providing us with mowing services on rough ground and provide us with some meat. The idea is also that the fleeces we get from them will help with making felted or knitted items. A little bit of sheep's wool helps alpaca fibres to felt or hold its shape.
A bit more obvious on Chanel and looks like that fungus that
kills bats. Fortunately this will not do any damage

Digging for Jerusalem artichokes
At least this week I managed to get some skiing done. Last winter season I managed to get my skis out only once in the whole season. I hope this year to get more opportunities than that. It is always with a bit of trepidation that I get back on my skis and I always practice out of sight, well mainly out of sight. Of course the bit where I started to wobble was in sight of the road, just as a car was going past. Despite the snow, the ground is not frozen and so I also managed to dig up another bucket load of Jerusalem artichokes, so the chickens will be happy and I brought some home for us to eat. There is not much else I can do on a winters day out on our land, Ian had made all the paths necessary.

A full bucket and deep snow. Good job I had ski trousers on
The lines across are my ski track, honest!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Goodbye! Hello!

Mari getting in the Christmas spirit and eating the Christmas
tree. Actually once the grass starts to go, Ian usually gives the
alpacas a Christmas tree to eat for the vitamins. They grow
like weeds on our land.
Winter returned. It is bitterly cold due to the northerly wind we have at the moment. We did see the sun today, but we didn't really feel the benefit. It didn't even warm the greenhouse through so much. The thermometer on the car said -4C or even -5C at times and that was during the middle of the day. Not too bad normally but I think the real feel was much colder. I think I'm also missing the 9kg of weight I lost this last year. The insulation was good for something. I think I might need to invest in some more thermals. I was able to manage before with layers before but this year I seem to be feeling the cold much more. It makes a change, cold didn't used to bother me so much. Must be my age. Heh ho!
Yes it has been wet too! They stayed out all day in it too, silly
birds. They are now tucked up in an ark in the greenhouse now
though. One of the groups of chickens we have started laying,
but then seemed to stop. We now think they were actually
eating the eggs. Anyway rather than feeding non-producing
hens over winter we have culled them and so made room
indoors for these ones. We know at least two of these are
laying on a regular basis. Another reason for moving them
indoors is that yesterday Ian heard a commotion from the chickens
and when he went outside he saw a fox rather too close to the
chickens. We know it would be back again and so it was important
not to give it the chance to take a chicken.

Ian had problems getting his camera to focus this day, because
it was so dark. I like the soft focus though of Aggie. She looks
so sweet here.
I have tried to get things done this week again, but everything seems to be taking too long. I was relieved that one paper for an academic journal I was supposed to finish for the 1st January has been put back to the 1st of March. Whilst I may have got something together by this time, it would not have been enough time for my co-author to go through it properly. I still aim to get it done by then so he has plenty of time though. Unfortunately I also got the news this week that my other paper had been rejected. The reviews were helpful and it isn't the end of the world because this is quite normal in the academic world, but it means back to the beginning again. I wouldn't mind so much but it took too long to get the response. It should have been six weeks but it was more like twelve, as they were waiting for the third review. The worst part is deciding, which academic journal to submit it to the next time around. Heh ho again!
She isn't always so sweet and here she is sending a warning
to Chanel to stay out of the way

Veronica also enjoying the Christmas tree
Just in case you think it is all bad news this week, there is some positive news. Ian had to go back to the doctor again to see if he still needs another operation. He had an operation in February but the doctor was not happy with the results in April. He wasn't sure that the technique he used had worked, although Ian in himself was feeling much better, especially now he doesn't have to look for a loo all the time when we are travelling. Anyway the outlook was improved this time around, although he still has an extra sac on his bladder. The final decision will be based on some blood and urine tests. If they come back okay then he can go back in a years time and just keep the situation monitored.
Ian's franken-scrubber. For those who have followed
the blog for a while, they will know what I mean by
"franken". Ian has cobbled together many an item
we use on our land. This scrubbing brush is affixed
to a hoe - we won't be doing much hoeing in the next
few months and so it is doing double duty to get the
well walls clean. It is still filling up quite a bit and is
looking a bit murky with silt. Hopefully this will help

Turbjørn winking
Our bath got fixed as well and so we had the first bath of the winter season. The fix looks a little industrial, but it works and that at the moment is what matters. We can sort out the appearance later when Ian is sure the fix has worked and won't start leaking again. Nearly every heating season seems to bring leaks of some description. Whether it is from our neighbours upstairs or our own fittings failing. They are just not fit for the job, which is extremely annoying. Having just read the most heart-rending tweet from Aleppo though, I think I will stick to just being extremely grateful we have running water of any kind.

Meanwhile his brother is looking all mysterious

Is it a shadow, or is it Mr. P? 
We also now have got ourselves sorted for uploading information online for our animals. It has taken a bit of time to get this sorted, but at least it is done now. It means we can just go to one of our friends' houses and sort out the details at their home, so we can be sure we are doing everything properly. At least in that respect it feels that little by little we are getting sorted.
Mr. P was difficult to photograph this week in the dim days.

Brencis being as daft as the chickens and staying out in the rain
Plans have also come together for a trip to a Swedish University. That has been about two years in the planning. Finally I now have the funding and the Professor hosting me has the time. I had a Skype call with him the other day to put together a programme for the week and it looks great, with plenty of different people to see who he thinks might be of interest. What was also lovely is I feel like I will be well looked after. He was concerned about the time of the year and the cold, would I be prepared? Of course I'm feeling the cold a bit more at the moment, but I do know how to go prepared, so not a problem. After 13 years of cold winters, it is not as much of a surprise as it once was and I take extra care when travelling to make sure I have enough layers, even if that means looking like Michellin man.
Everywhere was looking really wet, but now we have a thin
cover of snow again and the ground is beginning to freeze

Really wet! And those toe nails are getting ready for cutting
again
I had a great day travelling to see some of my favourite people in a little place called Kaldabruņa. They run an organisation called Ūdenszīmes, or water lily and I am always inspired by their work in developing the small village. They have such big hearts for the people around them and such creative ideas to take the village forward. I needed to interview them for some more information for the paper I am currently writing and once again they allowed me to come and ask questions. I have invited them to come to our village and talk to the people we know who have a heart to see our village develop, I am sure they will be very encouraging and helpful to them. Now we just have to pray the weather cooperates as January can bring lovely crisp days or be a nightmare of icy roads. I also came away with a small ornament they gave me for our Christmas tree and three wooden brooches for the felted scarves. The wood is taken from small branches with the bark taken off and polished, all very distinctive.
A bleak day. Today there was a hint of pink with the grey. It
reminded me of Botswana agate or pink abalone. Rather specific
you might think, but my parents sold gemstone jewellery for years
and I started off helping them at agricultural shows and then in the
shop.

It might have been grey but I still think the photos are
interesting. By the way they are Ian's photos not mine
Another plus this week is that I finally got started on making a felt scarf. There is a bit of a problem with felting the fleece from our Mr. P and to some extent with Chanel, their fleece maybe better for spinning, but we don't know yet until Ian gets going on that. At the moment he is concentrating on the superfine fleece of Brencis with the hope we get a scarf made for someone. Mari's fleece though has so much crimp in it that it does felt well. I used that as a base and that helped. I wet felted the main scarf and next I shall run it through the felting machine that someone gave me to see if that helps. I'm not happy with the design yet and need to work on it some more, but at least I have started, which is good. If I can get into the routine of making them, then that will help.
So wet that the ponds overflowed, the well filled at quite a rate
and our temporary lake is back 

At least Sofie wasn't struggling to find water to drink

Enjoying some sunbathing

Chanel

Monday, 21 November 2016

Is it spring?

This was the scene on Wednesday
It sure feels like spring after the two and a half weeks of snow we had. It has finally just about left us now. Just a few mucky piles of the stuff left over from the piles of cleared snow, mainly at the sides of the roads or in car parks. Of course that does not mean there won't be more, but at least Ian can get back on with some jobs that he could do with doing before the winter really does kick in. The only problem is that we now need the ground to dry up or freeze. Our well has been filling up at an incredible rate of over 250 litres a day with the melt. The recent influx though of water is mainly ground water and not the spring water so it is a bit murky with sediment. Part of the reason though is because the concrete rings were mucky from when they were put in, so hopefully this has cleaned the sides now. A friend of ours said it might take a year to settle down, so no worries yet!
Friday 

Saturday, just about all gone and the grass is still green, unlike
after the winter snows next spring.
A path cleared with the snow blower
At least now the snow has gone, it means Ian doesn't have to do so much snow blowing. We had begun to wonder if this was going to be a feature until March or April, so although the days are duller now without the snow, more can be done. I also dug up the dahlia tubers that I had forgotten about, which need to be stored over winter and not left in the ground. I have now also covered my herb bed with spruce branches to protect them from a hard freeze.
Nature's artwork

And this is the result in the well. Nearly full to overflowing.
Approximately 3m3 of water. Should keep us going for a
while. Although Ian is planning on cleaning the sides of the
well with a brush and then pumping some of it out and letting
it refill.
It has been a strange week as we settled into living back in our apartment. We haven't lived there since mid-April and so many of our things have been put away or we have just forgotten where they once lived. Ian finally found my big, fluffy, purple dressing gown - something you would think was rather difficult to hide in a small apartment. He found it had been pushed to the back of a shelf in our wardrobe under a bag of clothes destined for the second-hand store or recycling. I still haven't found the tie for it though so for now it is tied up with a rather vibrant scarf - it works. Ian also found his body pillow - a pillow recommended by a chiropractor that Ian used to visit in the US when he was having issues with a bad back. We are also still in the process of bringing stuff back from the land that we still need at home or will be damaged in the cold winter temperatures, but it is a slow process.
If you were wondering how Sofie has got on after her hip
dislocation. I think this picture speaks for itself. This is above
the door in the greenhouse

She's also eager to be off on her travels. This was the day
after she had the pin out. It is hard to keep her in now.
We are also gradually sorting through our list of things to do and trying to get them ticked off. Ian and I finished off an article for a magazine and I finished off a book chapter for an academic piece of work. We have sorted through bags of fleece to decide how to process it.
As the snow melted off the roof, the icicles were left at a
rather perculiar angle

This little lass has discovered how to get into the food
cupboard on the wall. No wonder she slept so well today
We even got our friend round to help us finally make a decision on our sheep and what needs to be done with them. He gave us a few options and gave us his opinion, which was helpful. We are still not fully decided but will be by the end of the week, as we have a deadline to work to, always useful. Our friend also offered us some silage, as they have more than they need. That will help us with feeding the sheep, as they are getting through rather too much, much more than the alpacas despite their smaller size.
One eerie morning

Makes me thinkg of some fantasy winter scene for a movie or
something like that
Another item ticked off the list was to get our land onto the rural support scheme, which basically means getting some money for endeavouring to farm the land. We have to put a map together of the parts that we are including in the support area, as we know some bits have too many trees on at the moment. Some bits will be included but we will cut down the trees that need thinning out and some we won't bother with for the time being. I say "we," what I mean is Ian. He has the bulk of that kind of work to do. I shall be busy doing other things. I try to make a point of going at the weekends though to take a break from the brain work, but I cannot be there all the time. At least we are grateful for one of our visitors over the summer who is helping us get this sorted.
The mid-week snow made some
interesting sculptures

We have done some sorting out in here, honest!
We've had the usual problems with plumbing again at our other apartment. We can't blame the plumber, we know he did an excellent job with the best fittings available. The problem is that some of the fittings available are rather sub-standard. It is one of the reasons that all water pipes run on the outside of the wall and we have stop taps at multiple points. This time it was the bath tap that started leaking. It is the first time the water has been heated in a long while and so the tap split and water started squirting out the back of the tap. It was the first bath we had planned since April - don't worry we have had showers in the meantime, but the bath was a luxury soak we had once a week along with watching a DVD, not while we are having a bath of course. In the end we did neither.
I guess Turbjørn has his woolly blanket on, so can sit around
in the snow

Why drink water when you can eat snow?
One of the good things about being at home is the chance to have a trip to a nice little bakery in the village with a friend. She had been teaching us Latvian but I hadn't really had the opportunity to have a proper catch up in a while, so made a point of doing just that this week. We put the world to right, as you do over a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake. We were just about done on the topic of communities when her husband arrived and then the topic turned to hay, back home it was sociology. I can get through a few varied topics in a day.
I love the way that photos capture an agate quality of semi-frozen
ponds. In life it just looks a bit mucky.
The pond a few days later

The car gets left near the road, because the track up is too
muddy and it could get stuck. Rather than ruin the ground
even more we decide to walk to the caravan.
We also joined in with a local action group on Sunday. They are trying to make positive changes to the village, when the consensus it is a place where people come to die - not really true, as there are so many young families, but obviously they can find it difficult out in rural Latvia. We want to support the young folks, so even though we don't understand much, we can participate and encourage. Being younger, someone often does some translating and if nothing else it is a chance to hear Latvian being spoken.
Hopefully this will stop a lot of the snow getting in this time.
You can see the spruce covered herb bed to the right too

Glorious coloured dandelion leaves

Agnese in decidedly unfriendly mood to me. Head up, tail up
back arched and clucking. She is trying to say she thinks she
is higher up the pecking order than I am. I have news for her!

Agnese in friendlier mood

I still find it hard to believe at times that we own this forest.