Monday, 14 April 2014

I can't save everyone!

The lobster pot has been up all week and still we haven't
caught anything! Actually it is a contraption to keep the
hens off my cranberries.
My friend up in Tartu, who I stay with when I visit showed me a book with a cartoon dog in it (sorry I can't remember exactly which one it was). One of the cartoons stood out in particular though, it was of the dog out in the rain, he picks up a worm that is drowning and carries it gently to safety. He then looks around and sees another worm, then another and another, finally he howls, "I can't save you all." Outside the uni the following morning there were lots of dried up worms washed down off a bank and that phrase "I can't save you all" goes through my head again - funny how phrases are buzzing around my head once more. Anyway I thought about the work I am researching and how I long for my work to have a positive impact on communities, but I have to be realistic, I need to remember "I can't save them all." Not all of them need saving anyway and some certainly do not want some interfering foreigner telling them what to do, a point relayed to me by a friend this week, by someone who may indeed be disgruntled with my work a couple of years ago on the wild boar management and all the conflict around that. They didn't see the need to change the law on hunting, after all they weren't impacted by the severe effects of too many wild boar digging up their land. Oh well! You can't please everyone and besides, I'll leave the saving of mankind up to God, I think he will do a better job of it than I would.

One problem we had this year was the tarpaulin wasn't
adequate enough to keep the moisture off the hay bales.
Fortunately we have enough, but this is not good and
we are already planning on how to erect shelters for the
hay bales later on in the year.
It feels a bit weird this week to be writing this at home and not planning on going anywhere this week. I get to sort of chill. We are gearing up for Spring planting and I have been putting quite a few seeds in that I know will take a bit of frost yet need the moisture at this time of year to germinate. If they don't come there is still plenty of time to plant more, so I'm not too worried. So I have sowed rocket, beetroot, broad beans, carrots and peas outside along with some onion sets. I also sowed rocket, and radish inside the greenhouse. Some of the seeds are even starting to poke through from the first lot of seeds I planted inside the greenhouse. You'll have to wait until they are a little bit bigger though before you get to see them, not sure they would really show up on a photograph yet.
Spring is here - new frog spawn

Alicia taking advantage of a half finished alpaca house
to shelter in. You can also see the pine trees our alpaca
ladies have been eating. The brush on the right are ones
they have already chewed all the leaves off.
I have also helped Ian a bit this week. We fetched some OSB board for the roof of the alpaca house extension, named APH2b (Alpaca house 2b - because it is an extension of APH2). I helped Ian slide the sheets onto the roof and then acted as roof support to stop them sliding off while Ian screwed them down. It is a role I'm used to, not that we are always putting roofs on alpaca houses, but when Ian does construction jobs or repairs, I'm either gopher or prop. He managed to get a coat of bitumen on the roof and for it to dry a bit before it rained and today he finished off the panelling around the exterior, in between the showers that is. It still needs more bitumen putting on and a door handle on the new door, but apart from that it is usable. He is on a roll this week with getting things done, he even fixed the shower too, so that it doesn't pour with water once the inlet taps are switched on.

APH2 in use
Taken from the inside of the new extension
We decided on a new extension after Benedikts was born to Alicia at the end of January. Even though he didn't survive, it made us realise the importance of having somewhere to separate the mothers with babies and since two of our alpaca ladies are due at the end of May, Ian thought he had better get cracking with the job, now the ground has dried enough to be able to drive across it. We might also use it to separate off the cria when they are around 8 months old, so the mothers can concentrate on developing a new baby, as they will hopefully be pregnant again.

Ian reused some of the wood off the original APH2 and so
the extension is almost the same colour already. Here it is
in its almost completed state with full feeders. That hay at
least is nice and green and not black like the other stuff
I can spend quite a bit of time out on the land now we have electricity and a caravan, as I can work on my laptop. It means I can take a break and wander up to see what Ian is doing, or nip out and plant a few seeds. I am certainly feeling the benefit of the more relaxed schedule. I feel less overwhelmed this week and I guess that is partly because I am not travelling so much and partly because I have got quite a few jobs I needed to do out of the way. My supervisor was happy with the paper I finished off this week for an academic journal and even managed to get rid of over 1200 words to get down to 8000 without seriously affecting what I wanted to say, so I'm very happy too. No doubt I won't have heard the last of it though, as it has to go for peer review, which basically means that two experts in the field will get to look through it and make comments and I will then have to revise it again, but that's normal. It would be unusual not to have to make some changes.

A hard life for the wig on legs
I used to think that those who took their cats to those fancy places for them to have a haircut were silly, but then again, I never had long haired cats. It doesn't help that our long haired cats spend so much time out of doors, but their hair is getting seriously matted. I spent hours today, combing through one of them bit by bit to try and disentangle some of the hair. I had only spent quite a while, a few days ago getting her coat cleared and it is just as bad, if not worse again today. The problem is that even though they are quite small cats, their fur is about four inches long on average, which makes them look like wigs on legs. When Ian goes to see the vet, hopefully he will remember to ask what she recommends.

A double rainbow with our wandering chickens. They
have had their wandering curtailed a bit this week, as
Ian hasn't been letting them out until lunch time.
Surprisingly the number of eggs have been going up! 
I was a little sad this week as I had to dispatch another chick this week, although it could stand on one leg, the other leg was not getting better. I had made a little cage so that it could be with the others and sleep next to them, without getting knocked over in the hectic rush of chick life, but quite often there would be interlopers in the little cage. It took me ages to work out how the little darlings were getting in, but I saw one fly up onto the cage edge and squeeze under the wire that stops them escaping out of their box. There isn't much room but it managed. I managed to keep it separated after that, but the day I had to clean the box out, I put them all in a cardboard box with a towel over the top, so they would all settle down and not run around with the sick chick in there, but at the end when I took the towel off, the sick chick was huddled in a corner and not looking terribly happy and I realised that it wasn't fair to keep it alive after that. I tried! The other ten though are lovely and healthy looking. Some of them are looking distinctly speckled and one is looking jet black. Hopefully at least five of them are female and then we may have hatched them early enough to produce eggs over the winter or at least more most of it anyway.
You can't have rainbows without the rain

A close up of the rainbow taken with a
polarising filter. Ian found out today
that the rainbow is highly polarised
and if you turn the filter the wrong way
the rainbow disappears
My family have been having adventures too this week. My youngest finally managed to pass his driving test this week, second time around and ironic that he hasn't been able to get on with learning to drive because he was so busy learning how to design them. He has also had a successful interview and is doing some training this week to see if he is suitable for a place. It might not be his ideal job and not one connected with design, but at least it is a start. My mother, daughter and granddaughter have also been having adventures of avoiding cyclones. They had hoped to visit the barrier reef, but it was all cancelled shortly after they flew into Cairns. My daughter mentioned a cyclone was the problem but there was no mention of it on the BBC. I checked around and finally found some reference to it in the news and found out it was quite a big one, equivalent to a category 4 hurricane and heading for Cairns, where my family were staying. Fortunately my daughter managed to get them on one of the last planes out of the area and onto Brisbane. Fortunately for the people in the area the cyclone lost much of its power and so the damage wasn't as bad as it was feared. Currently mother, daughter and granddaughter are relaxing in Fiji - or at least that was the last I heard.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Living on the Edge

Hatching eggs
I heard a song today and the phrase "Living on the Edge" came to mind, not sure which song it was and it wasn't the Aerosmith one, the words may not have even been in the lyrics, but it set me pondering. I feel like I'm living on the edge and in someways always have done, from living on the edge of towns to living on the edge of society. Not in terms of being homeless you understand, but in terms of living a life different from my peers. Ask our friends and they will tell you. We grew our own vegetables and bought organic before it was even fashionable, just whacky. I opened a fair trade shop in our church in the UK, because I believe passionately in justice for the poor. We moved abroad, not to be missionaries, like some of our contemporaries, but because we felt it was the right thing to do. We felt the leading of God for sure, but not in the traditional way. So we eventually ended up on the edge again, the edge of society as foreigners in a land where we don't speak the language well, to a country on the edge of Europe and to one that is feeling on the edge at the moment with Russia flexing it's muscle. It's not always a comfortable place to be, but then again I couldn't be comfortable for more than a few months, With a regular, normal job I would soon be looking for the next challenge. Not that I'm a driven person or anything, but I like to exercise my brain and tackle different projects. I'm curious about the world and people, I want to know how it works, how it fits together. And that in a paragraph I think sums up who I am.

Scrawny and helpless at first
So what is living on the edge like? As I said, it isn't always comfortable and at the moment we are both tired. It has been a hard winter, but today is my last trip up to Tartu for courses. I will have completed all my compulsory courses by tomorrow and I just have some work to do on an optional course to finish off. That doesn't mean I am completely finished for the academic year, there are still papers to write, lots of papers to read, then the  literature review to write for my thesis, so enough to keep me going in between planting seeds for food for us and the animals for the year ahead. At least today I had the use of a friend's car and it meant my journey was only four hours door to door and that was with a leisurely stop for lunch. There was one point when someone overtook me and gave me a fright, I fortunately saw him coming up quite fast and then heard him to my left. I also noted there was not much room between us and the lorry coming in the opposite direction and so I veered to the right to allow the individual space to pull in. At that point in time, I really did not want to spend the rest of the day extracting someone from under a lorry, even if it was their own fault, nor did I want to be explaining to the police what had happened. Had I had more presence of mind I might have used my horn to tell him what I thought of the manoeuvre, but I was so stunned that they had even tried to do what they did, that they had hurtled away by the time I had thought about it.

Perking up
Last week I took the train from Tartu to Valka and got off as normal to do the changeover from the Estonian trains to the Latvian trains, but there was a problem - no train! I wandered around the platform and the station, went to check on the monitor and it was still listed, but no train. Eventually a nice Estonian conductress pointed to a rather anonymous looking bus and said Riga. I deduced that they were probably doing the next set of train tracks and laid on a bus instead. It would have been nice to know and some signs would have been good. A young man got on the bus who offered to translate for the conductresses who seemed to be struggling with some passengers getting on who spoke English, they weren't English just using it as a common language like so many do. I asked the young man what the problem was and he confirmed it was track work. He told me a bit about himself and then gave me a bit of a guided tour of the area we were driving through and pointing out landmarks. He came from the area but now works in Norway, which I  feel is sad, as he was a really positive guy. He said he preferred other countries because they are more open and friendly and felt there was nothing for him in Latvia - even sadder. He was such a nice young fellow he even organised for the bus driver to drop me off nearer to where I wanted to be in Valmeira since the bus was going that way, rather than let me walk the distance back from the train station. It meant I had plenty of time for lunch before going to a meeting anyway. I also think I managed to convince him that Latvians have a lot of skills that have simply been lost in other countries and it is something to be proud of, so it's not all bad.

Cuteness overload
Ian had set some eggs in the incubator a few weeks ago and this week we had a good hatch rate with only one out of 14 failing to hatch. Unfortunately three of them ended up with gammy legs or spraddle legs if you want to look it up, one we noticed at the start, the other two may have been injured by the others in the rough and tumble of chick life. The three were all isolated and put back in the incubator for warmth and safety, but at the end of the day I had to dispatch one because it was too bad, it's joints were swollen and it couldn't even get its head up off the floor the poor thing. I had tried the bandage hobble but it wasn't working. It was ridiculously easy to dispatch unlike the adult birds, but not something I like to do of course. I know that coming this close to our source of food, means that from time to time drastic action is needed, another problem of living on the edge I guess.

Tap, tap here's your food
I said the other week we had a backlog of eggs and this week we had some interest in taking them, only they would like more than we can supply at the moment, but we will at least give them some. Our wandering chickens or happy hens as one of our friends describes free range hens are so happy wandering about they are not laying that much, otherwise we might be able to supply what they want. Well most of them were happy, one unfortunately died today. She hadn't been well for a little while and today Ian found her dead in the chicken house. The others are a little subdued after a visit from a large bird of prey earlier on in the week. We thought we had lost one of them when Ian saw feathers all around, but when he did a head count they were all there. After a bit of an inspection he noticed that one had flown into the wire of the fence in its haste to escape and severely stretched the wire - she must have been flying at some speed.

Look food!
Not only did we find a market for our eggs, they also wanted some blackcurrant bushes and we had a few of them heeled up over winter waiting to be planted this Spring, so that worked. Last but not least I was asked if we had some alpaca wool for sale and how much was it? Not being much of a business person I had not thought of that yet. We want some people to spin it and knit or weave it, so we can sell finished garments - not so we take all the profit but to give others an opportunity of employment and so I hadn't thought about selling just the fleece. The reason for the question is that I had taken some fleece to a lady who was giving a demonstration of traditional crafts and she wanted some different fleeces to show people the difference and just as I walked into the exhibition she was showing a group the alpaca wool - talk about perfect timing. One younger lady translated and I gave them a card so she could contact me later, as I said we had more that they could try.

I know some of you have seen these, but these
are the flowers I got for Mothers Day. They are
not doing bad after a week.
It kind of feels like we are on the edge there as well, we are getting there with having saleable items, but how much to charge is really, really hard. This is Latvia where things can be expensive for no reason and people do not earn much, so how much is reasonable? We want to provide opportunities, but also make a living ourselves. Being on the edge ourselves means we don't actually need much, not compared to many in Europe anyway, we have no interest in a consumerist lifestyle, not in terms of over consumption anyway. I would like to sell products that people want and really need, but will also last. Oh well! Need to do some thinking and meet the new challenges ahead.

Monday, 31 March 2014

I've seen the light

I wonder what these two are discussing?
....... you know, the one at the end of the tunnel and I don't think it is a train about to hit me - at least I hope not. I have actually finished off a lot of stuff this week, or at least posted them off to others to see what they think, before they push it back my way to do more work on. It feels good to finally see the workload depleting, unless my supervisor makes up more work for me tomorrow when I go and see him. There was also no further catastrophes on the travelling front. My Latvian classmate gave me a lift to Valmeira where I managed to grab some lunch and the late bus back to Cesis. It had only ten minutes to spare according to the timetable to catch the following bus and so it was a bit worrying, but it was a needless worry, as it actually got in 5 minutes early. I got back home on Tuesday and it felt like I had been away for a month, but it was really only a week. The last long stint away was to Peyresq in France, but that was so peaceful and remote with only around 30 people there, can't remember exactly how many, but it was around that mark, unlike the over 600 mark at the conference the other week plus catastrophes which didn't help.

Our very fluffy cat having a wash
It was nice for a couple of mornings to take my time getting up and not having to rush out somewhere. I took the Thursday off, but that meant getting up early to get out on the land with Ian. He is an early riser and the sun is up, so off he goes to see to his animals. Still the for the rest of the day I just pottered about and we sat and chatted for quite a while. I also helped Ian with the injections of vitamins and worming/anti-bug medications, which basically meant passing him the needles and then holding the heads of the alpacas after Ian caught them - support role really, but not one he can do alone with the set up we have at the moment. Ian is working on some ideas to make life easier for himself if I am away and he needs to give injections. Alicia our old alpaca is much easier to do something with, but if Snowdrop ever got sick, he'd be in trouble, she is so big and not as compliant as Alicia. Having said that, Alicia is getting rather canny when it comes to injection time, she knows and doesn't necessarily run away, but just sidles off.
There's just one problem! Her hair is that long........
She has to strain her head right back to get to the end of it
Since Spring seems to have arrived I decided to plant seeds, but since this is Latvia I played safe - well safer - and planted some in the greenhouse and covered them with fleece. I planted parsnips outside, but under black cloth to protect them, they take ages to germinate anyway and will stand a some frost. Inside I planted collards, spring onions, little round carrots, kale and corn salad. So I hope we have something to eat from that little lot sooner rather than later, our veg store is running low on variety now. It was with this in mind that I headed out into the field and snipped away at the just emerging nettles for a good spring tonic, the first harvested crop of the year. It was nice but a little gritty, must find a better way of rinsing them without stinging myself. Don't panic, for those who don't know, nettles are safe to eat after cooking, honest!

Oh yes! The sky was definitely blue that day
There have been plenty of other signs of spring, such as the kiwi plant in the greenhouse has started dripping from the buds, which means it's waking up from its winter sleep and some of the winter barley seems to have survived and started sprouting again, only hope the chill we expect this week doesn't finish it off. The storks are also back, the true harbinger of Spring around here and the first Ian knew of their arrival was when the chickens went berserk and started flying off in panic, pinging into the wire around the alpaca paddock in the process. Other signs are the bees, the wagtails, the ospreys and frogs in the pond. It is still rather chilly at night, the greenhouse can register -6C overnight, but then be up to +25C half an hour after sun up.

Spot the chickens! Hiding behind the alpaca
Ian had more visitors this week. The first he knew was Alicia screeching, a sure sign something was up. Ian went to investigate and found three adults and two children, heading for the alpaca paddock.  It was a lady who works in the local supermarket and her family, and she once translated for us when we visited the local orphanage. They spent about half an hour at our place and Ian let the kids feed Tellus, Ian also managed to get hold of Tellus, so they could feel the fleece. From hanging onto him the other day for his injections, I know he has a lovely thick fleece on him. He'll be a challenge to shear soon.

This is a series of pictures. Our attempt to capture a picture
of both of us, using a timed shutter with the alpacas. So
here is the first, just setting it up
I had an interesting email yesterday, from someone I don't know and at first I wondered if it was spam, because there was a link in it, but it was such a well written and lovely email my gut reaction was that it was not. I admit to sending it off to my son-in-law to check, since he is the tech savvy one and he thought it was probably not. Well I took a risk and I'm grateful I did. Hichu, wrote a piano piece entitled "A Journey to Somewhere" and put it up on the internet and then tried to google it, to see if it would come up and my blog came up. So if you want to listen then here is the link. To me it speaks of the halting and uncertainty of setting off on a journey to somewhere and is a lovely tune.

Come on boys, where are you?
I had a vague note from my oldest son, saying a present was on the way and was booked to arrive Saturday after 6pm. That actually got me worried, as I was thinking "no delivery company delivers on a Saturday and especially after 6pm." I asked for a tracking number, but he wouldn't give me one as he said it would spoil the fun. I was intrigued. At 6:20pm a ring on the doorbell and standing at the door was a lady with a bunch of flowers. It wasn't my birthday present after all (my birthday is later on in the month) it was a Mothers Day present. I know in most of the world Mothers Day, or Mothering Sunday is usually in May, but in the UK it is related to Easter, so is usually in March. The lady said some very nice things, well they sounded nice and I nodded and smiled, as you do when you haven't a clue what someone is saying as it was all in Latvian. That wasn't the only surprise I even got a phone call while I was travelling on the bus up to Tartu from my youngest son. We were never very good as a family about doing things for Mothers Day and so I was a little taken aback by all the attention, but rather nice.

Close but not quite
I think the biggest shock though was a post on  my youngest facebook newsfeed that quoted the verse below, I would think most have you have seen some version of it.

At 6 yrs "Mommy I love you"
At 10 yrs "Mom whatever"
At 16  "My Mom is so annoying"
At 18  "I wanna leave this house"
At 25 "Mom, you were right"
At 30 "I wanna go to Mom's"
At 50 "I don't wanna lose my Mom"
At 70 "I would give up Everything 
for my Mom to be here with me"

We definitely went through the stages 10, 16 and 18,  just not sure they were at that age though and so for the turnaround to "Mom you were right," feels rather odd at times, but nice.

Arrrhh! There we go, that's better
Another milestone passed this week, we finished watching War Time Farm. It was a fascinating story, as they said in the programme, we hear a lot about the effects of war on the cities, but not in the countryside. It was also quite surprising how much changed in those few years and in someways how much high intensity agriculture of today stems from that era. It is a good job that finished though 'cos we have farming to do.
Finally both of us, and an alpacas behind. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

To Timbuktu and back

"Okay what happened?"
 This week has been quite an adventure, only it is the sort of adventure I hope never, ever, ever to repeat again. The week started fine, apart from another early start and I caught the 6:40am bus from our village. I got into Riga at 9am and headed to a cafe for a supplementary breakfast, as I knew it would be a while before I ate. I then took the ordinary bus and not the airport shuttle to the airport. The Airbaltic bus from the bus station is €5 and takes 30 minutes, there is room enough to sit down and there is free Wifi, the ordinary number 22 bus from outside the bus station, however, wasn't quite so comfortable but I bought a ticket from the nearby Narvesen and it cost me a whopping 60c - bargain. I had to stand for part of the way, there was a two minute walk under the subway and no Wifi, but since there is free Wifi at the airport that wasn't a particular problem and the bus also takes 10 minutes longer. So far, so good!

I had ages to wait at the airport, as my plane didn't leave until 5pm, but at least I was able to get on with some work. Only downside was, I couldn't find a power outlet that worked, so I was fairly restricted in the time I could spend working. The plane was fine and I got into Berlin okay and then the adventure began. After a little bit of a hassle and after giving up waiting in a queue for a ticket machine that didn't seem to be going down, I managed to get a ticket for a bus into the city centre to take me to the venue for registration, from someone issuing tickets at the bus stop. The first problem I had was that I hadn't really understood the Google instructions and I got off at the terminus, instead of further back on the route. Google tells you how many stops, but not the name of the stop and I had forgotten to count them. I asked for directions at the station and got half the instructions from a person on the information desk and given a map of the transport system by another member of staff. I finally found the registration centre just before it closed at 8pm (Berlin is one hour behind Latvia). It was rather a rough introduction to Berlin's integrated transport service. Next I had to find the hotel, well that went okay, there were good instructions in the booklet I was give in the registration gumpf as it was quite close to the conference venue, which was not at the same place as the registration centre (are you still with me?). Unfortunately once I got there at nearly 10pm due to delays on the transport system, I discovered I had managed to book the hotel room for the wrong month, consequently I had no room and there were no vacancies.
Hmmm! That's exactly how I felt 
Bad night?
I am not sure if I knew something was likely to go wrong, but I had a couple of numbers for people in Berlin and I rang one person. There followed profuse apologies for ringing so late, but I was really stuck, did he have a room for the next four nights? He did! In fact he lived in an place that used to be a regular hotel and so there were 9 rooms, only it was at the other end of Berlin. Again the trains weren't running right and so my journey across Berlin, late at night, was slow. I didn't feel threatened though, it felt quite safe. At least I had the map someone gave me, to help me navigate around the train system. The good news was that the hotel was also right next door to the train station and the trains are fairly quiet. There had to be some good news didn't there. Well after that little escapade I rolled into bed at 12:15am, not a good start to my trip, as I had to be up at 6:45am and I was the first one to present in my session in the first batch of presentations. Not ideal on what probably amounted to about 5 hours sleep in the end. At least the transportation system around Berlin is fairly cheap, with zones A and B only €2.60 for any trip up to 2 hours. The system also reminded me of my three years in Copenhagen and that experience obviously proved to be good training for navigating the trains in Berlin, otherwise the evening would have been even more stressful.
Hens do like the poo piles. Anyone for eggs?
The oak tree once again stands tall after the silver birch
trees that were starting to overshadow it were cut down
I made a mess of the presentation and was not fluent at all. I managed to gabble my way through it and fortunately was coherent enough for people to be interested in what I had to say and I got some good feedback through the rest of the conference from people who had been in the sessions. I think the picture of a young wild boar and my joke about it being a particularly cute and cuddly looking specimen helped and it got a laugh. The rest of the conference went fine and I got to ask lots of questions, I was beginning to look like the class swot at times, but I wanted to know. I think part of the reason was that I am from a slightly different academic background to many of them, who mainly work with models of how things should be, whereas I like to get answers from real people by actually asking them questions - quite novel I know. I also have quite an interest in agriculture and I am not sure many of them understood some aspects of that either. For instance, some of the models predicting how much food will be available assume trees do not produce food, just fuel, timber and carbon sequestration - posh word for absorbing carbon, but in reality it is much more complex than that. For instance that tree could be producing bananas and underneath the shade of the banana tree, could be growing coffee, in other words food and a cash crop. Willow trees can also be used for fuel and animal fodder, our animals love it when Ian cuts a tree down with leaves on, he chucks them over the fence for them to nibble on, saves him trying to get all the leaves off when preparing the timber for cutting.
One of our new cockerels
I know! I know! You all wanted to see pictures
of Berlin. Well this is mainly what I saw
I told Ian of course about the escapade and in true fashion we started on a bizarre track of amusing comments centred around conferences and different countries. It started off with "Hope things settle down and enjoy the rest of the deep sea pipe welders conference in Oslo see you next Thursday," to which I replied "the deep sea welders conference is surprisingly interesting." There was more and, for anyone who knows us personally, that will not come as a surprise, so here is a list

Hope things are going well at the "Microbiome friend or foe" conference, I would have loved to go to that one. I also hear Budapest is quite pretty, you can show me the photos when you get back a week next Saturday" <------ note the changing days too

Brazil is great and the tropical forest lectures really helpful

The geese are back and heading north! Phew!
So how was the "soft furnishings and their role in global warming" conference  go today, don't forget to get as many freebies as possible, see you Saturday, I hear the shopping in Madrid airpot is quite good.

The cabinet making and its role in green energy was fascinating. Love and God bless from wintry Johannesburg

Oh no…… you must be in the wrong Johannesburg it should be end of summer

Thought there was something a bit odd, but turns out to be Johannesburg, Michigan

When I left Latvia there was 20cm of
snow on the ground and it was -10C.
As you can tell, it melted rather quickly
There was also mention of Bulgaria, London, Timbuktu, Larnaca, Turkey, Milan, Abu Dhabi, a floristry course and a visit to the pyramids. At least it made a rather stressful situation more bearable. It wasn't all stress though, the days were pleasant and we could have lunch sat outside - not sure that is possible yet in Latvia. I had a great evening with some folks at the dinner on the Thursday evening where again we sat outside, because there weren't enough seats inside for the buffet meal, one was from New York and now living in Australia and one from Berlin now living in Brazil. They had met a few times before on conferences related to academics interested in social justice, the environment and human health - right up my street really. After the conference finished I also managed to meet up with a an Indian lass I met in Peyresq, France in September. We had such fun in Peyresq and it was lovely to reminisce, she also treated me to a cup of tea at a Café Einstein and then she took me to an Italian restaurant, where they make the meal in front of you. A nice relaxing way to finish the week anyway.

And this is what happens when it melts
fast, it floods our barn. This meant Ian
was late home one night as he was pumping
water out of the hole he had dug for such
a time as this
Ian has had an interesting week, besides entertaining his wife with inventing improbable conferences in various countries. Ian had decided to take the car for its technical inspection on Thursday, but it snowed overnight and so thought he might not bother, but then actually felt he should. Part of the reason is that with snow on the car it reduces the amount of time that the inspectors want to spend under the car, hehe, especially when they start shaking it to test the suspension. Mind you, that is an advantage as on one inspection, we are sure they shook it so much that it actually caused the suspension to fail on the way home. With snow underneath they are less tempted to do that. As he was waiting for the window sticker to be printed, the guy behind started chatting to him, he had spent time in England and so his English was good. It turns out he would love to get into farming and was fascinated with what we are doing and so they exchanged phone numbers and emails. On Saturday the guy came to visit Ian and spent over four hours chatting. They also went to a neighbouring farm which has over 200 sheep, as he would like to get some sheep and it turns out that he already knew the shepherd as they had both done an Alpha course together. Life gets weird sometimes! It was also weird that he lives in an old water mill too, like the friend we visited just the other week and both of them have used the mills to generate electricity.
Yumm! Would rather be eating snow than stuck in Berlin

Well after a fairly stressful week and lots of travelling I shall sign off from Paris, or is it Minsk, maybe Vienna or Brasilia, noooo of course it's Tartu. At least I should finally get home tomorrow, it will be nice.

Monday, 17 March 2014

What a week!

This was just over a week ago, just to show you we did
have some lovely spring like weather. Our girls enjoying
the sun
 I gave a short presentation about my PhD studies to my fellow classmates this week, since it is one of the requirements of the course. There is a very short time for questions afterwards and one young man asked what I meant by the term "robust communities"which is what I would like to see as a result of my studies. It was a fair question, because it is a difficult term to measure and who am I to say what is "robust", but I answered him that I felt it was the ability of a village or community to adapt to outside shocks, like a banking crisis I suppose. Anyway he then got into a discussion on why doesn't everyone move to the towns anyway, as their career prospects would be better. I was a little incredulous at this point and asked him where he thought the food would come from to feed people, to which he commented that they could then use machines in the countryside. Face palm moment I think! Fortunately at this point the lecturer said we had to move on and we could fight it out later if we wanted to. I do wonder though if he thinks that isolated individuals communing only with their machines is a sustainable and ethical way to produce food, sounds like a dystopian vision to me, especially when so many people actually want to live in the countryside for a better way of life.
Who took the grass?
A rather damp looking Veronica. At least Alicia our old
alpaca has the sense to stay indoors in this weather. She is
also sounding a lot better than last week, but still not quite
fit and healthy yet.
There was much discussion about "our friendly neighbours" in the class this week too, as obviously the Ukraine/Russian situation has some of my Estonian classmates a little on edge. The discussion arose after one of the students was talking about Soviet history - should it be kept or obliterated, which is the theme of her PhD. It is an important question when memories are still raw, but should all signs of the past be obliterated, even if they are not pleasant? It isn't really possible anyway, otherwise there would have to be a massive rebuilding programme, as so many people live in Soviet era apartments. Still it is a debate worth talking about to decide how much and what to keep. I did worry though how a Russian classmate felt in that class. I have no idea where his sentiments lie, but he is a gentle soul and not a brash kind of guy, probably more concerned with his studies than politics anyway.

At least the sheep have the good protection of lanolin in
their coats to keep out the damp
I had lunch with the lecturer's wife, after the class. It is not the best time of year to come to Estonia from sunny Colorado, because in common with many more northerly countries, people tend to hibernate in winter and so it can be difficult to get to know folks. In summer time though it is quite a contrast and it is as if people go hyper, although perhaps still not as friendly as those in Colorado. Mind you I think there was a tendency for superficial friendliness in Colorado that annoyed me at times when I lived there. I don't mind being friendly with people, but a friend I think is something different, but I guess that's me being all northern. I hasten to add, I did make some very good friends while I was there and do recall my time there with a certain amount of fondness. It is funny chatting though about things we both knew since we used to lived so close to each other at one time, only 50 miles away. Not far in American terms and we had visited Boulder where they are from.

The chickens have the right idea. Taking shelter in the boys
feeder. They have been getting through a lot of hay just
lately. They have been eating more than the girls, who we
expect to eat more since two of them are expecting
I also had a another meeting in Riga this week and I had a great time once again. The meeting was with two guys who help and support rural local organisations and we chatted about a few different things. They are interested in new methods to help local people and we had a real backwards and forwards discussion on different aspects of the topic. I think we all felt like we learnt something from it. It did kind of feel like this is what all my studying had been for. I was also able to send some ideas there way in terms of websites that I have come across before, that I thought might be useful. We also arranged to do a study where I help to assess how well the local organisations are doing, assessing what makes them a success. There is such a need to look at what helps people to be active in their communities and to see if there are any common threads in Latvia. I am going to organise what happens during the study and write a report afterwards, which basically means just working out a way to find out what I want to know and they will help with transport and translate. I think that is what is called a win-win situation.

Our girls having a bit of an argument. They do regularly
spit at each other, when they feel the other one is getting
too close, but usually never at us. Veronica though, does
have a tendency to spit more readily, but she is
usually much better behaved these days
After a long day of travelling and the meeting it was nice to come home to a neat and tidy place. I wondered what had motivated Ian to tidy up, after all he works hard out on the land most days, it was then that he reminded me we had visitors coming the next day. Whoops! Slipped my mind a bit. Still I think we should have visitors more often, our home might be tidier. Our visitors were the people who organised the Latvian camelid society at Raksi. They came to see our alpacas and see what kind of a set up we had. One of the guys is very used to handling alpacas, but unfortunately one of our alpacas was not used to being handled by him. He took some feed and managed to catch Veronica around the neck quite easily, but Veronica does have a tendency to spit sometimes, especially if she doesn't like something and she wasn't impressed at being grabbed around the neck. She spat a great dollop of green, good and proper, right over one of our guests fluorescent yellow jacket. We did warn them to watch for her. Apparently their alpacas don't spit quite so far if they do spit, or as impressively.

Finally the chickens are getting into the swing of egg
laying. Not all of them yet, and today we got 9 eggs, but
we have 20 hens. The large egg on the right is enormous,
but you wouldn't guess which chicken laid it - not exactly
one of the biggest build. 
It has been quite spring like this week, butterflies have been appearing, geese flying north, swans circling around looking for lakes, eggs in the incubator and Sofie our cat got her first tic of the year (what is it with that cat, she seems like a tic magnet). It was all to lull us into a false sense of security though, as we now have more snow than we've had all winter, we easily have about 20cm. That isn't much compared to previous winters, but not what we really wanted now when Spring seemed to have arrived and the promise of green grass not too far away. Ian isn't too happy, as the ground was getting quite dry and he was thinking of getting on with the extension for the ladies alpaca house, in preparation for the new arrivals at the end of May or beginning of June. At least, he did say he has managed to get far more done this winter than he thought he might be able to, due to the mild winter we've had.

Ian's double sided doorlock. We can now open both
greenhouse doors from the inside or the outside and don't
have to walk all the way around when we forget which exit
we used.
I have to mention the passing of Tony Benn, he was a member of Parliament for Chesterfield when we lived just north of that town. He wasn't our MP though. I didn't agree with his politics all the time, but I always felt he was a man of integrity, which is more than can be said for many MPs, unfortunately. There are not many MPs that would give up a life peerage in order to serve the people, which is a route he took. He was born into privilege, but decided to give up some of that privilege for the sake of others and for that he has my admiration. I will finish with a very apt quote from him
"This idea that politics is all about charisma and spin is rubbish," he said. " It is trust that matters."

Monday, 10 March 2014


The unremarkable Latvian/Estonian border
taken from the Latvian side and looking
towards Estonia
It was six years ago this last week that we arrived in Latvia. At lot has happened in that time and a lot has changed in what we do. We never thought we would be doing what we are doing now, even six years ago. We arrived with very few plans, in fact our only plan was to get the apartment sorted out for living in and see if we could grow some vegetables in the gardens outside. Well we did most of that in the first year. Six years on and I am sitting in the Estonian University of Life Sciences, trying to finish off this blog as quickly as possible as I have a deadline of tonight to finish some work for one of the compulsory courses towards a PhD. It is a good job that I didn't know that before we set off to Latvia to live, I think it would have frightened me to death. It was still a scary prospect starting out on the study trail, but I didn't realise quite where it would take me. Today I was lecturing for two and a bit hours to Masters students in the Landscape Architecture department.
Snowdrop enjoying the sunshine
Our poorly Alicia
Another thing we didn't anticipate although I think we always desired it, was to have a farm. We got that and seven alpacas, three sheep, two cats and goodness only knows how many chickens later and we have a mini-farm. Unfortunately life down on our farm hasn't been easy this week. I have been going out there a bit more regularly so that I can help Ian with the alpaca boys, as we are using a medication to try and tackle the mites that have got a hold on poor Herkules and started on Tellus too. The girls will need doing, but we need to know the treatment works before treating them. We are using an injection of something normally used for worming treatment, but it is used for other types of parasites too, that has to be given three time two weeks apart. We also have to apply a mix of mineral oil - purchased from the local tractor shop of course, an antibiotic, and a few other bits and bobs mixed at the local vets and applied directly on the skin to smother the mites, the problem is that poor Herk is fed up with all the treatment he has had just lately and won't stand still. His eye is still cloudy and he is now having a treatment to seal the cornea, to see if that works. At least so far it hasn't taken a toll on their general condition and other than that they are fit and healthy. Alicia our oldest alpaca, has also been having a bit of trouble breathing just lately. Ian called the vet out to see her as she wasn't interested in her food Sunday morning, which is not like her at all. The vet thinks she may have a bit of fluid on her lungs and so she is on antibiotics too. This is a good job it it Latvia and not the UK, we would have been bankrupt by now.
Not more chickens in our paddock!

We go where girls?
We had to do some rearranging with the chickens this week too, we need an empty ark for new chicks, as we want to start new ones much earlier this year, so they are laying by the winter and then hopefully through most of the winter too. These new ones this year, weren't ready and some are still not laying even now. We sent some of the new chicks down to the chicken ark, as there is still plenty of room in there and since they aren't laying yet, they are not so precious. We had to have a rethink on the males too and we asked our friend for a couple of her cockerels to replace a few of ours. It is hard, but we had to cull some fine looking cockerels because they are related to the females. James was one of those who was culled. Ian wasn't happy about it and Ian thanked James for being a good cockerel in looking after the girls before the axe was swung. He was tasty though! The new cockerels are much bigger and so we hope they will make good sentinels for the girls, at the moment though they are following the girls around who know the ropes.
A suave looking chap - our newbie

So this is the water mill, and near by is a lovely camping
ground overlooking a lake, So if you are looking for a nice
spot with a bit of trout fishing here's the link
We finally got around to making a visit to someone I had met at the Transition initiative workshop the weekend that Benedikts was born, all the way back in January. It was World Women's Day so I got given a hyacinth flower in honour of the day. Our new friend took us on a trip to see a rabbit farm where he had helped with project advice, a sweet shop that makes their own sweets and a walk around his own water mill which is on its way to being renovated that he has been working on for many years. He is a business consultant and has helped many people along the way to get going and realise plans, so is a good contact to know, as well as a lovely fella to meet. It was nice for us both to be doing something different for the day. If I go out to the farm, it means Ian doesn't get a break and if I stop in, it's boring.
Rabbit farm near Skriveri. No rabbits in residence though
they are waiting for warmer weather as the winters are too
cold here - thank goodness
Eggs are once again becoming a regular feature of our diet
It has been a hectic week for me study wise, so much work to do for deadlines and I have found it a bit stressful. I thought I was on top of it the other week, but obviously this week was not so good. It didn't help that there was an extra piece of homework for one course, some software to sort out for another one so I can run a mapping programme on my own computer and a lecture to prepare. It was wonderful to discover the delights of a techie son-in-law and remote access though. After a little bit of fiddling about, we got the remote access working and I went to bed on Saturday night and by the morning the programme I needed was installed and running. Yeah! He'll be pleased to know that I even got a map nearly prepared to finish an exercise on it. My lecture went well this afternoon and the course leader was pleased with the added perspective I brought to the students. He liked my ideas to demonstrate some of the difficulties experts face when trying to decide who the people are who have an interest in the development of a project and how hard it is to separate them into groups to help when interviewing. It was simple really, I gave each group a set of card with details of a person, such as an indication of how long they had lived there, type of job and any affiliations to groups. With those three simple details it was hard to think who would be most likely to work with who and why and there were always the problem ones who won't fit into a group. I think the course leader enjoyed trying to sort them into groups more than the students did.
Is this edible?
Whoops! Bella looks on as Sofie tumbles off the logs
Ian and I still watch a DVD on Saturday nights together if we can, even though we haven't been up to our other place for a bath since the radiators burst- don't worry we have a shower too. At the moment we are watching the War time farm DVD and it has been quite an eye-opener. I hadn't realised some of the issues facing folks in the countryside in the war, such as the culling of livestock and the millions of hectares of land ploughed up for food. I knew about the dig for victory drive, but hadn't realised the sheer scale of it. It has also made me realise how far the English society had come from knowledge of the land, I didn't realise how unusual my own grandparents knowledge was of natural plants and some of their remedies, never mind my parents. Here I am telling Latvians that people my age don't often know much about their natural environment and in reality the rift had started even further back than that. Here it is not unusual for people to know at least a few natural remedies, a good number of edible mushrooms and berries and they actively seek them every year. Around in rural Latvia, it is more unusual if someone does not know how to grow vegetables and it is not because they are poor, it is because they like the taste and they like to be close to nature. So obviously much more in touch with nature than even the Brits before the Second World War.
Still a tad muddy! It is amazing where
all this water comes from though, as
we haven't had much in the way of rain.
This must be the water frozen into the
ground after the miserable autumn days