Monday, 24 November 2014

Bath time!

Scary snow lady
Bath time! Yeah! You all wanted to know that didn't you? Yes we have had showers, but a bath is a treat. Bath time, of course, means that the radiators in our other apartment have finally been fixed and are working properly, ten months after they blew in the freezing cold weather at the end of January. There maybe a small leak, but only to be expected with the rather inadequate components often available here in Latvia. The radiators were fixed just in time too, as winter is now upon us and we will have to make regular trips up to the apartment to make sure it doesn't freeze. We have had our first snow fall of the year. Only about 5cm though, so not a huge amount, but enough for children to throw snowballs and make snowmen. The night we had a bath, the children from other apartments were playing outside and lighting up the snowman they had made, with a bright LED torch and according to Ian it looked rather eerie. The apartment we live in though has been rather cool at about 16C, which I don't mind as long as the costs for the heating reflects that. We will have to wait and see.
The view from our other apartment
Ian used the black geotextil type of fabric to let the hay
breathe but keep off the snow. He thought it will probably
last longer than the white garden fleece he used the last
time. It has lasted quite well, but hopefully this will be
Ian has been busy preparing for the winter and got the sticks in to mark the road. He was a bit worried that it might already be too frozen, but it wasn't and the sticks went in easy enough. The ground is pretty hard though where it has been compacted. He has also put up the cathedral windows over the greenhouse windows (you can see here what I mean) to stop snow from drifting into the greenhouse and the sheep pen has been moved into the winter sheep field, before that was frozen into the ground. The sheep haven't been moved into their winter quarters yet, as it is still early and the snow could well disappear - then again it might not! They have plenty of hay to eat though, so they won't go hungry, although they might try and convince someone they are with all the noise they make. The can hear the rattle of a tray no matter how quietly you try and fill them and they are a good few hundred metres away from the greenhouse where Ian prepares the trays.

Turbjørn enjoying the hay now the snow is on the ground
I mentioned last week that Agnese was being weaned from her Mum, to give Snowdrop a chance to put some weight on before the next baby is due - well hopefully she is due, but she still needs to put some weight on regardless. Agnese decided that she had had enough of just hay today and jumped the fence to get to her Mum. It is better to have more distance between them, but Snowdrop isn't that bothered and normally neither is Agnese, so normally it is fine, just occasionally she wants her Mum again. Agnese is obviously another alpaca that hasn't read the manual that they are not supposed to challenge fences, especially not by jumping them. I finally got the video of Agnese eating an apple this week, as well as the morning routine of letting the alpacas out - well the girls anyway. Take a look at Estelle who is on the far right of the video being let out the second door. She is not a morning alpaca and always is bleary first thing.
Here is a video of Agnese eating an apple, with Estelle getting in on the act

Tellus looking unperturbed
We tackled toe nail trimming again this week and it was less traumatic this time. I seem to be getting better at holding onto them and have discovered that if you stop them from dropping their head, they are less able to buck to get away. We managed all seven alpacas between the two of us, which I'm rather pleased with and that was without any toe nails coming into contact with my rear end. It was a little painful the last time. The only thing that got damaged were my over trousers that got a tear in them. Annoying but never mind, it will sew up. It is amazing how much their toe nails have grown in just over two months. We are wondering if that is an indication of the better condition they seem to be in this year and the amount of fleece they have on them. It would seem that they have settled down and probably adjusted to the local diet better this year.

The chicks are getting rather large now
The cats finally got their vaccinations too, only a month later than they should have, but we got kind of busy. The vet was happy enough with them, but she did say Sofie was kind of skinny. I am not sure she will ever have much on her. She charges around so much when she is feeling active, so there can't be much wrong with her. We also finally got around to moving chickens around. There have been nine in Ark 2 and they have got too big for that number in the ark for our liking. We are still well within regulations for the available space, but we like to give chickens more room to move around. They were also getting too mucky with that number in such a small space. We were waiting to make sure which were cockerels and which were not, partly because it was important that one of them was big enough to defend himself with a group of more mature hens. Anything less than a boss would not last five minutes with older ladies.

This old lady has been laying regularly too. The only one
in the chicken house that is. She is also the mother of
the ones that are laying in the Arks
We decided that this week they were big enough to fend for themselves and set about moving them in the evening. We put one cockerel in with four ladies in Ark 1 and put one cockerel in with the three chicks in Ark 3. The cockerel in Ark 1 had been a bit bossy in Ark 2 and as we suspected he has taken charge, but we have to wait and see if he will calm down with the ladies. It is a bit of a worry as the ladies had really come into lay again this week and we were regularly getting one or two eggs a day from them. One day we even had four, although we suspect one egg may have been hidden in the hay and not laid that particular day. There was one point we thought we were going to get 5 because one of the hens seemed to be in and out of the nesting box all day, but she must have been having us on. We think that the number of eggs will go down until they settle and so Ian will just have to monitor the situation. The chicks have been getting aggressive with each other, not because they lacked space, but must be the hormones starting to flow and so we hope the cockerel will actually calm them down a bit. We put him in early, because he seems to be a more mild mannered cockerel and didn't want the chicks to get too big and bossy before we put him in. He is also the biggest of the cockerels and so we hope a good one to breed from for meat birds. Oh this breeding lark gets a bit complicated as we try and breed robust hens for meat and for egg laying, without too much aggression.

The boys enjoying some good grass before the snow
I got told off this week by one of my son's, well more a mild rebuke. Last week I posted a picture of Ian's bike on a stand that allows him to use the bike in the house for exercise and not have to brave the weather outside or roads in poor condition. Anyway I called the stand a roller and it's not, it is a turbo trainer. So after me, must repeat, turbo trainer not rollers, turbo trainer not rollers. Have we all got that now? I suppose that's what comes of having a bike mechanic for a son, he should know his stuff. Just to prove it I noticed that the Bike Store, where he works, is now doing BikeFit to make sure that the bike fits perfectly, which is good when no one has the perfect body shape that is perfectly symmetrical.

The fleece is looking good and thick
I finally finished off writing up lessons for the Sociology course that I am tutoring, so that is one year's worth of lessons written, one more year to go. All I need to do now is to think of a short project that would be fun to do, or how to enthuse students to do one and then sort out some revision topics or again how to get the students to do it for themselves. Any suggestions gratefully received. It has been an interesting exercise as I have almost come at Sociology via the back door. I haven't graduated through the stages of school exams, college, university, research, I have sort of done all of that backwards. Most of the work for the course has been looking at different aspects of society from a gender perspective, a marxist perspective or an ethnic perspective with a bit of social class thrown in. It is fascinating that they have picked on these particular aspects when examining issues and how education, families etc. is viewed through those lenses. I have to assume those are the dominant thoughts within those fields, despite not really coming across the marxist perspective much in my readings, the ethnic and gender are quite important in development for sure.

Snowy fields and frozen ponds
Anyway the final thoughts for this week centre around a phrase that kept coming into my mind all week, "Remember me!" We have met quite a few folks along our journey and we all get busy and get on with other things, especially for me in the academic field. I could really do with a few contacts coming through though and so that phrase keeps coming to mind. I found it amusing therefore, when one email that came through this week had the first words "I haven't forgotten you." Immediately after that email came through, a brief foray into facebook and a friend had posted a song by Amy Grant "I will remember you." So I guess the promise is there and I haven't been forgotten, but I still have to wait for contacts to bear fruit into something that will carry us into the next phase of life, with me earning a living.

I couldn't quite believe this little chap, crawling across the snow

Monday, 17 November 2014

Who am I?

No I don't work with two computers. The old iMac is not
used and will find a new role soon as a dvd player. Too
old for much else but I still love its style
It must be the weather. Dull, dreary and not terribly inspiring that has put me in a philosophical mood. As I sit at home thinking about the stuff I have to do during the day, there is a sinking feeling that the reading part of my studies is done and now I have to sit down and collate the thoughts and impressions from various other authors. Who am I to do such a thing? I don't mind bringing people to the table if you like, to draw out the good in their work, but to critique it, I find that distasteful. I would rather ignore it. Again the question rises, "Who am I?" Who am I to tell others they are wrong or what they say does not apply in all the cases they think it might? It is almost like the bars of a prison clink down one by one and shut down the clear thinking process, the process that is needed to put pen to paper - or rather fingers to keypad, but that doesn't sound so poetic. I then go to my desk with a sinking feeling and try to avoid doing what I know needs to be done. Such is the life of many an academic. Many would happily sit reading papers by others, setting up projects to research, but the writing part can be so hard. It is like putting your baby out there, knowing it will be criticised, vulnerable to re-interpretations that you never intended.

Processing lovely soft fleece for felting
Writing a chatty blog with things we have done is the easy part. Sometimes I wonder if people want to really read the stuff, but I know it is not a life many lead and the differences can be entertaining, but writing about hopes and fears is more vulnerable. In the same way distilling the thoughts of a thousand authors (okay not quite that many, it just feels like that at times) can be fine but trying to arrange my own, original thoughts on the way development could be done seems far more scary and again those thoughts creep in, "Who am I?" I can also hold what might seem opposing thoughts in tandem, because I can see there is more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes, which basically means there is not always just one right way of doing things. For instance I think that development should be much more about a relationship between the developers and the people and no one way of doing that will appear, because each person within that process is different and the context is different in each place. I see it as a coming together of a myriad of possibilities, clashing, colliding and reshaping what can be to what will be. How do you distill that in a paper and not be mauled by those who think there is only one way forward? No there has to be diversity.

A bucketful of sunflower seeds
Too many of us do get overwhelmed by the choices we have to make, the work we have to do and the work we feel we want to do. I read a good article this week on how not to be overwhelmed. I love the analogy of the ants that move one grain at a time, seemingly doing nothing but bit by bit, little by little they are building a network of tunnels and living quarters. Apparently writing is often like that, sentence by sentence, word by word until a whole is made. I could go on to say this is not about me, but it is. It is not noble to claim "that it is not about me, but it is all about Jesus and the call on my life" - which folks do say. The truth is that we are all important, it is about me, it is about you, it is about Jesus in each of our lives. It is about seeking a better way forward for me, for you and for our communities. Not in some isolated, inflated ego kind of way, but in open, humble (at least as far as we can, for we are all fallible) joyous living. Living as if all people mattered.

A pot of parsnip seeds processed this week
My lovely red rose
Well I haven't been sat at home contemplating my navel all week. In fact it has contained a few things rather different to the usual routine. First was an evening out - that in itself is rather rare. We attended the opening celebration of a new music therapy room in the local school that a friend of ours has set up. The room was a little boomy and so she asked if I had some wall hangings and I had two that were still under wraps, so she took them to decorate the walls. So by way of a thank you she invited Ian and I to her do and got a public thank you and a lovely red rose. We also got to hear a mini concert and an amazing young saxophonist. It was hard to believe she had only been playing since February.

Still working our way through the apples. Our animals are
enjoying them too
The following morning we had to be up nice and early for school, only not our local one but in the big town. It was time to repay our dues to the English translator, who also happens to be an English teacher. We took four classes of English. The kids seemed interested about our life - good job we are not that egotistical, just we don't do normal I guess. One young man was looking all teenagerish and slumped in his chair and it was most amusing to see him perk up and his mouth open as we said that Latvian people are friendly. Not something that he thought obviously. Latvians are not wildly friendly like we find American or Brazilian people can be, but give them time and they are quietly friendly and as long as you are not in their face, they are also very helpful we find.

Garlic salt and pepper
There was an unexpected pause as one class we were meant to be teaching were actually in a meeting with someone who had been at the beginning of the "Awakening" in the late 1980s just before the collapse of communism. We listened for a little while, but it would have been difficult for a translation as it would have disturbed the lecture, so we slipped out for a cup of coffee. We sat down in the cafeteria whilst the teacher went to look for some coffee and next thing we know we are presented with a bowl of soup. We were a bit stunned as the teacher was nowhere in sight and we thought lunch was going to be after the lessons, but since we have faced situations like this before, if food is presented just say "paldies" or thank you and eat. Next appeared a rice dish with pickled cucumbers and finally a jelly dessert. At this point the teacher returned with the coffee and joined us for lunch. Our talk went down well, so well that we have been invited back to talk to the other classes, including the older ones, they might also arrange an excursion to our land to look at the alpacas in May next year. Oooerrr!

Playing! I haven't finished it yet. This is to tidy up a load
of business cards I have. The detail on the side is actually
a piece of crochet that has been cut up and stuck on to
give a textured effect. I think I will go for a coppery look
in the end.
Another change to our routine this week came with a text about 9pm at night. It was from our neighbours to the land. So after a long stint of no towing, we had our first request. The text basically said her dad had had a weird accident and her brother was at the bus station could we help? Ian went out to pick up the brother and found her dad not far away from home but precariously close to a rather deep ditch. Fortunately nothing was damaged and he was easy to pull out. They tried to pay us, but Ian was not going to take anything, in the end he just said "piens" which means milk, so another few weeks of our extra milk.

Baking cakes. Can you tell that we didn't get any photos
taken outside this week? I ran around the house looking
for inspiration and realised there are a lot of things in the
process of being made or have been processed.
Ian also finally got the chance to do some jobs that have to be done. He bought some pipes for the heating system and connected up all the radiators using a heating tool borrowed from a friend. He then slowly filled the radiators. Next he lit a fire and we ran around bleeding air out of the system. So far so good. All the joints he had done were good and all the connections to the radiators appeared to be sealed. Only we had water coming out. As the pressure increased it caused one of the pipes to start leaking through a crack that must have happened when the system froze. We were disappointed and annoyingly it is a a holiday weekend and so no shops will be open until Wednesday. Still at least everything else seemed okay and so he just has to replace that one pipe - pity it is a little awkward to replace and pity it was a thin pipe as he had plenty of the thicker pipe. Yes they should all be the same size, but this is Latvia.

I mentioned that Ian goes on his bike
regularly but inside to someone who
commented on the blog last week. Well
here it is, the bike inside on rollers
Ian also got on with separating Agnese from her mum to give Snowdrop a chance to put on some weight before the winter. Giving milk to Agnese takes a lot out of an alpaca mum, especially when they are also usually pregnant with the next baby. Agnese and Estelle have been given one half of the alpaca house and Snowdrop and Veronica the other half. The paddock also had to be divided. Estelle though disgraced herself and muscled through the wire fence and broke it. Ian thinks she got a bit of a fright and he thought she wasn't going to go in tonight, but eventually she did. Now he just has to make sure there is a hay feeder in that side and everything is set so that Snowdrop can dry up and concentrate on hopefully feeding next years baby as well as herself. Ian was saying it is now easier to feed Agnese and Snowdrop since they are separated. Snowdrop is greedy and she would go to different bowls, which makes it difficult to actually plan which bowl she will eat from, so not much point in putting down extra for her, Veronica though will not allow her to take her food, so she has to stick to her own bowl. Most of them also will try to muscle in on Agnese and so with just her to concentrate on, Ian can make sure she eats in peace.

Leftovers in our toilet. Ian fixed the
hole that was made after the neighbour
complained we were leaking water into
his basement - which we weren't, it was
a leak from the roof, missing us and
leaking into his apartment beneath us. 
One of the problems that we face as we farm our land - I still hesitate to use that word "farm" because I know we are only dabbling compared to others - is the risks from diseases and infestations. This year we have fought a mite problem nearly all year. Fortunately winter times the little wee beasties tend to die off or find warm places to hibernate in. One of the advantages of not cosseting our animals with heating is the wee beasties have nowhere to hide on our animals without risking a freezing and so our animals get a respite from those and as long as we feed our animals well, they cope well enough with the temperatures. Others though face much more serious diseases like the African Swine Fever where neighbours have had to cull their domestic pigs and hunters have to beware of not trampling the disease into farms that have pigs. I was sad though to hear of a duck farmer who is having to cull his whole flock due to Avian Bird Flu. It looks a big farm and probably run as a very commercial enterprise, there is no information on that, but even so, they are still farmers, it is still their livelihood and what do you do when the whole unit is wiped out overnight? How do you build up your stock again? Or do you give up and go get a job in the city? None of that is reported, no comment on how the farmer is coping or anything like that. Just a matter of fact report that glosses over the impact on a livelihood.

Monday, 10 November 2014

400th post

I realise now I should have turned this around, it looks like
rather a large amount of potatoes and not much else. This is
Ian's plate and he needs the carbs. On the right though are
squash, carrot and mushroom burgers that tasted surprisingly
meaty, with a salad of mizuna, rocket, dandelion and lettuce
leaves, with fresh tomatoes (if you can call them fresh as they
were picked a few months ago, but they are storage type) and
the last fresh pepper.
Wow, not sure I ever thought I would make it this far, but I did. 400 posts and nearly 7 years worth of blogs. I have even managed to just about blog once a week, no matter where I was in the world. I can be very organised, or maybe I should say, I used to be very organised, but not very disciplined and never have been. I waver, I get bored, I think of a zillion other things to do and so I stop doing something, not because I planned to, but just because..... I also like short term projects, things I can get my teeth into and then move onto something else. I need new challenges to keep me going. That doesn't mean though I gad about and flit from one thing to another, after all I have been working towards a PhD for the last six years and that isn't possible if I flit around too much, but within that process I have found new challenges to keep me going and I do stick at something until its done if I have to. Aren't we all full of inconsistencies? Anyway I'm here and still going on the old blog.

The fire in the woodstore
Last week I posted this picture and someone on facebook asked "Why does Ian have a fire in the wood store?" Good point! It is not really necessary to have a fire in the wood store as the air circulation should dry out the wood. The reason for the stove though is to have a place to heat water for the animals in the winter. When it snows they often eat the snow and that is sometimes better for them as they don't get as wet trying to get water. Getting wet means a chance of freezing, whereas snow brushes off in very cold temperatures. Sometimes though, temperatures dip before the snow and we are left with frozen ponds and no way to get water easily for our animals. We then have to start bringing it from home and that is a lot of weight to cart up and down three flights of stairs. Our caravan does have electric and gas, but they cost, our wood is free to us, well apart from the petrol used in chopping down the trees with the chainsaw, so being able to heat water or melt ice using a woodstove makes sense for us. It will also give Ian an additional place to warm up, especially if the electric fails and it will also help dry the other wood out and herbs and beans in the autumn. So lots of positives for having heat in our wood store.

New wood cut and stacked to complete the walls. Shame
the chimney is outside for now. Improvements I am sure
will be made in the future
Aggie's (aka Agnese) our little baby alpaca or cria, as I should really call her, has learnt a new party trick besides escaping the fence on a regular basis. She can eat a whole apple from Ian's hand. Not in one go mind, but bite by bite as he turns it around for her. It is quite cute really and she prefers to eat it from Ian's hands than the chunks he cuts up for her. The ladies are fine with eating the chunks though. Ian is supplementing their feed more and more, as the grass nutrition will be declining as the year goes on. It is still quite green as the frosts have still not returned, but the number of daylight hours has declined and it is often dull and miserable. We are surprised that some of the chickens are still laying occasionally, even one of old ladies.

There is a door in there somewhere. Helps if you are short
like me. You can see how dull a day it has been, with the
flash reflecting off the tarp
I said the daylight hours is declining and we found out this week what is worse than waking up in the dark, it is waking up in the dark without electricity. No porridge for me then, as I usually use the microwave. No tea until we went out to the land, where at least the electric was on. The radiators were also cold with no pump, but fortunately it is still mild and we are used to cool mornings. There was also no internet to keep us in touch with the outside world - although maybe that is a good thing. Using the loo in the morning was also done by candlelight, since we have a toilet without a window - good job we have emergency lighting on hand in there just in case of being plunged into darkness at an inopportune moment.

Bottle carrots and home-made bread. All the small carrots
won't last long without some kind of processing and so
to save freezer space I bottled these ones.
My trips out to the land are not so frequent now either and very weather dependent. I look at the weather for the weekend and decide which day to go and if none of them look promising I might take a Friday off or a Monday. I am so pleased I don't have a regular 9-5 job for that reason. This week though the forecast let me down. I went out to the land on a Saturday expecting nice weather and it rained, the following day was lovely and I was stuck inside prepping carrots for storage. Still I managed to get the beetroot picked that had been under fleece. Due to the weird weather this year though, some were still quite small but there was still a whole large crateful of beetroot that were a decent size to pack away (it is layered with sawdust so not maybe as many as you might imagine at this point). The rest the sheep can eat when they get put into their winter quarters, which at the rate the grass is disappearing, might not be long.

The rest of the week was spent reading academic papers and writing up Sociology lessons. All this was made possible because last week I found a desk under a pile of papers - in other words I managed to tidy up and find some space to work. I do work much better at a desk, even though the chair is too high and I have to sit with my feet up on a little stool. One day I may get a chair that will be easier to cope with the height and a desk that moves up and down, so I can stand or sit at the desk.

Ian has been fixing up shelves and sorting out his table
where he prepares the food for the alpacas. His chopping
block is the triangular piece of wood and the knife is tucked
in behind. The roll of paper is supported on a thick piece
of electrical cable - because that is what was lying around
Ian went back into Jekabpils this week to take the car back for the timing belt to be changed. The glow plugs were also changed to make sure the car starts on those cold mornings and with our record for having work done just before a cold snap, we wonder what the weather will hold for the next month. The fuel filter was put in for free after being given the wrong one last week and a few other bits and bobs that go along with major service on the car were also done. All in all the total was €600 and Ian got the car back for 2pm. If you say it quickly it doesn't sound toooooo bad, does it?

Mild chilli peppers, basil with a rogue tomato plant in it
and a cowberry plant that was rescued before the alpacas
were put to graze around the current bushes. The cowberry
plant has never really thrived where it was put and we don't
think it would have survived the onslaught of the alpacas.
The car being ready for 2pm wouldn't have been so bad, but Ian had rung me earlier in the day to say it might not be finished in time and so could I go out to the land to put the animals away, as he might not be back on time. Sure, so I took the 1:50pm bus, as that was the only one that would get me there before dark at 4:30pm, in the rain. I got dropped off at the stop I knew to ask for and then realised that perhaps I would have been better to get the name of the next stop as it would be nearer and I could possibly get the driver to stop where I wanted me to. So I had a soggy walk to the land, and coming over the hill I nearly freaked the alpaca girls out, but fortunately they eventually realised who I was and I tried chatting to them to reassure them. I did wonder how frightening their look of intense curiosity would be to a stranger though, especially when Estelle started moving forward. At least I knew her stance was not aggressive, just curious. Ian rang just as I got off the bus to say the car was ready and he would be back in time, so I didn't need to go out there after all.

As a blogger there are always things that you write about and then somethings that do not appear in the blog, because it would not be good and is private. No one wants to mention the ins and outs of relationships in detail, although I might mention a few things to keep things real. I have also mentioned some things about neighbours, but I do not identify who they are or where I am exactly. I live in rural Latvia and that's enough for anyone to know on this blog. I might mention things in vague terms where there has been a problem, but again there is always that check, should I or shouldn't I. Well I thought I would share this incident. It did kind of shake me up a bit and worries me. I went to talk to a neighbour yesterday and inadvertently ended up in the middle of a row of which I understood very little, but what I did understand was that there was a real danger someone was going to get hit if I didn't stay and somehow intervene. At one point I physically stood between a gentleman and a child on a swing, rather than allow him to make the child get off. Like I said, I could not follow the argument but one thing was sure, the children were not going to be hurt in the process nor was I going to stand by and watch physical contact occur between adults. I even gently took the elbow of one of the women involved to stop her kind of fighting with the other woman over holding the swing that another child was on. They knew enough english for me to be able to express my concern about the children and they tried to argue back, but they could not really explain as there english was not good enough. I think that was a blessing as I could not then be drawn into the argument and without physically hitting me, nothing was going to make me move or allow them to force the children of the swings. After much verbal stuff and accusations of someone's mental state, the man and woman walked off. I spent the rest of the day wondering what on earth is feeding this hatred. It is stupid to make children pay for the arguments between parents.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Weird and wonderful things

Ian has been busy stacking wood to make walls around the
stove. Half way there now
It has been quite weird this week how things have worked out. Not always good and not always bad either. Firstly it is November - how did that happen? Okay I know that you know it is November and it comes around every year, but it doesn't seem that long ago since we were waiting for the snows to clear to get in the garden. It seems such a lot has happened this year, so much so it has really raced away. Anyway onto the subject of happenings this week

Estelle and her hopefully wobbly remaining tooth
If you follow the blog, you may remember that we have been worried about the teeth of one of our alpacas, Estelle, as they have grown so long they needed cutting. Ian phoned our friend last week to help, but he was just setting off on holiday the following day and so we were supposed to phone another guy, but stuff got in the way, as it does. This turned out to be a blessing. One day Ian was looking at Estelle and noticed her tooth was more twisted than ever, she bent down to eat, looked up and her tooth was straight. Ian by now was beginning to doubt his eyesight. This happened a few more times and so in the evening, at lock up time, he got hold of her and took a look at her mouth. Her tooth was wobbly! Of course the questions then arise. Have we left it too long? Is there something wrong with her? Or........, she couldn't be ......... losing her baby teeth could she? Do alpacas have baby teeth? Well apparently they do and they don't lose them until they are about 2 1/2 years old, Estelle's age, which seems rather old to us, we would have thought about a year. There are other teeth further back that they lose later, up to 6 years old. So I guess, we now wait for the other tooth to drop out, rather than put her through the trauma of trying to cut it. Phew!

A view along the river at Jekabpils
Our car went in for a service this week, as a rubber boot on the front drive shaft had split and the last thing we want on the numerous dirt roads around here is for grit to get into that. Ian does all the regular routine stuff, but for something more complicated we take it into a garage at Jekabpils. We had to be there for 9am and so it meant an early start. The day turned out to be rather nice and much warmer than the previous week so we wandered around a little and Ian bought a new mega thermal neckwarmer and we found a new café, deep in the bowels of a row of shops. We were obviously the first customers of the day, as they vacated their chairs where they had been drinking their morning coffee to serve us. After wandering around some more we went for fish and chips at our usual place then did a little boot shopping for me (yes more boots but this time the sort that go on feet and these are for out on the land when it gets too cold for my wellies and three pairs of socks) lastly we went for a walk by the river. It is so long since we just mooched around anywhere and took in the sights. It almost felt like we were on holiday. It has been awhile! In fact it was when the grandchildren were born and we took a visit to the UK and Australia to see them and so about 18 months ago.
Such a glorious day
Along the path and looking towards the bridge
We then headed back to the garage and waited a little while for them to finish on the car. They would have worked on it some more, as some glow-plugs were not functioning properly, which is what Ian suspected and had asked them to check, but we had to get back to put our animals away - one of the downsides of this time of year is the early hour we need to be back. Ian also asked about the timing belt on the car and how often that should be changed. It turns out every 100,000 km and it costs around €450 (that does include other jobs done at the same time though, like changing the water pump). Yikes! Was it necessary? Oh yes! You should have seen the colour drain from the face of the guy when Ian said we had done over 120,000 so far. It's booked in again for this coming Friday. I won't be going though, I need to get out on the land and spend some time there and I can't go if I keep taking days off.

Mr. Herk are you eating through the fence again?
As I said Ian usually does the routine maintainance and so when we were at the garage he ordered an air filter, oil filter and a fuel filter for him to fit. Ian tried to change the fuel filter, something he was doing as a precaution due to the possibility of dirty fuel here and also just as a precaution before winter when we can end up with wax coming out of the fuel on especially cold days and it is good to have a clean fuel filter before that happens. Or something like that anyway (she says not being particularly mechanically minded when I don't feel like it). Anyway, as I was saying, Ian tried to change the oil filter and the emphasis here is on the "tried". The one that the garage gave him, didn't fit and so fortunately he was able to carefully put the old oil filter back on and order another one. A day later he got a phone call from a friend who has just bought a similar car and it started dying on him on the way back from a holiday after the car had been stood in the airport car park for a week. Although, as I have already said, the weather is warmer this week, it was bitter last week and the fuel has not been changed to winter fuel yet and so there is a possibility that the waxes in the diesel may have come out and started to clog the fuel filter - we sound so knowledgeable but it only has to happen once for us to be ultra cautious about it happening again. Well it just so happens we have a spare fuel filter as we haven't had the chance to return it to the garage yet and since it was supposed to fit an L200, maybe it would fit his! And it did! Weird. So we spent Halloween around at their place while Ian helped to fit the fuel filter, thereby avoiding any kids who come knocking at the door to extract sweets from us that we don't have. There seems to be more and more of them every year.
The look that says "It wasn't me!"
Veronica looks quite the stately dame
Well apart from doing some more work on that blessed paper I have been trying to write all year (at least it feels like that) and visiting the garage, we took a visit to a mini zoo at a place called Rezekne to have a look at their alpacas. We had hoped to meet the owner, but it didn't work out quite the way we had planned. Ian had phoned to talk to the lady, but apparently she didn't speak English, she did, however, get her daughter to ring back later. Ian spoke very carefully and arranged a visit for Sunday 2nd November. All well and good. The problem is that Rezekne is a two hour drive from us and he wasn't convinced that the arrangements would work out. Still a day out.
... but does she look pregnant yet? We think they might be
beginning to show, but then again it could just be their
fleece growing
Snowdrop! Is she or isn't she?
As expected when we got there, no owner and the lady who was there, couldn't speak English. The daughter, who spoke English, who Ian thought he had arranged to meet was also not there. The lady we talked to when she realised that my understanding of her Latvian was not keeping up phoned for someone to interpret. A nice young man on the phone then informed us that the alpaca male was €2000. Whoops! We think there was a misunderstanding then. We are not in the market for a male alpaca at the moment. We will need one in about three years time when it comes to mating with any females born this next year, but not before. We would also like to know the pedigree of the animal, as we are anxious to maintain fleece quality of our stock and we weren't given any of that information. Oh well! After 15 mins we headed home. On the way home we visited a supermarket to stock up and tried to go to a restaurant we had visited before, but that was shut and to cap the day off, a stone hit the windscreen and cracked it. Not a particularly good day out then!

Ian has also been busy building a small enclosure inside
the girls paddock area for a training area. He hopes to train
our dear little bundle of mischief to walk with a halter.
We'll see!
As always a slightly different note to finish on, but one that is rumbling on due to the politics in the UK. Why should the politics in the UK affect me here in Latvia? Most of it doesn't, but one issue does and that is the one of immigration. It was slightly chilling to read that Angela Merkel of Germany would accept the withdrawal of the UK rather than change the policy of free movement within the EU. Well good for her in one way, but the thought of that happening is not pleasant. If the UK clamps down on immigration from the EU this will almost certainly have repercussions for those UK citizens who are living in Europe now. It probably won't affect those already in a job, but no job and that could change things.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Planning ahead

Our cats have been cuddling up for warmth this week. 
The clocks changed, did you notice? We sure did, especially as Ian is now home from the land very early, about 5pm at the moment, by which time it is quite dark. The changing clocks really does focus our mind on the coming winter. This last week has been so cold (-10C/14F at night and not above freezing in the day) that the ground has well and truly frozen. This does mean that Ian has been able to get on with some work, like moving bales of hay with the tractor, but he can't get the wooden stakes in to mark the road yet for when the snows come. It should thaw though this next week and so that kind of preparation work will be undertaken in earnest. I should have got the garlic in a couple of weeks ago, but didn't and now I have to wait for the ground to thaw too to put them in. Mind you, I have a cunning plan, there are some chippings that have got far to rotten for Ian to put on the roadway, but they are not so wet that they are frozen. If the worse comes to the worse then I use that to put the garlic in, on top of the frozen soil. It will sort itself out in the Spring if not before.

Ian experimenting to see if he can get
our woodstove up and working out on
the land. It will help to dry wood out,
provide some warmth if the electric
ever goes out and heat up water for
the animals to drink
I mentioned last week that the heating was rather too warm, but the house manager got a system installed that seemed to be working to keep the temperature pleasant and so it stayed for quite a few days (no that is not a picture of our apartment house heating system). The last few days have been on the cool side, but I think that was due to the rather bitter cold wind we have been having. I don't care though, I would rather have it a tad cool than too warm or freezing. After all an extra layer or a blanket suffices or even the fire on if necessary, but when it is freezing for days on end or too warm, there is not much you can do when you have communal heating and no individual means of regulating the heat.

Improvements to the stove. Ian took
the legs off so it would sit lower in the
little woodstore area. He then put
stones around to retain heat. Next
will be some walls of some description
Besides preparing for winter I have been sorting out my students. I now have three, one in Estonia, one in Latvia and one in Uganda. The Estonian and the Latvian are both Masters students and helping me with my PhD research, the Ugandan is my Sociology student. I was a little concerned I wasn't getting work from my Ugandan student to mark, but it turns out the electric has been a little haphazard. Oh they joys of online learning! It is challenging supervising Masters students and tutoring someone at GCSE level, which are exams aimed at students primarily around 16 years old in the UK, but I like a challenge and would get bored if I didn't have challenges to keep me going. I met up with the Latvian student in Riga last week and we had a good time. I think we got a good understanding of the project and where we are heading, so that was encouraging.

The Freedom monument in Riga
I went by bus to Riga to meet up with the Latvian student and it was my neighbour who was driving. I got the privileged front seat, the one they usually rope off until the bus is full. It was a dark start at 6:40am and it made me realise how observant the drivers have to be on the dark country roads. I would notice the driver signalling and slowing down and then see a small bright light at the side of the road, that I had taken for a reflector on one of those road edge indicator posts. I did wonder what they used to do before bright torches and reflective strips. There was one guy who had neither of those and was dressed in a dark jacket and dark trousers. I wondered how on earth the driver saw him, but I guess it helped that by then the sky was starting to brighten. It was sad to see the tail end of the flooding though. There was so much water still standing in fields and rivers were also running high. Some of the large round bales of hay were sat in water 2/3rds of a bale high. All I could think of was the wasted effort and money for the farmer.

Old Riga, taken with my back to the Freedom Monument
Whilst in Riga I also met up with my young friend and she helped direct me to a little shoe stall on the market that had winter boots. I managed to find a pair, for which I was very grateful. I hate trudging around shops looking for things and to my delight, so does my young friend. We hit the second hand shops for about an hour, if that! Then we were both bored and had enough, perfect! I didn't buy any clothes, but she found some fabulous blouses that really suited her and were great for a more business like look. At least I know where to go for decent second hand clothes in Riga now. On my way to find my friend at the bus station I spotted a statue I hadn't seen before, I didn't think it was the prettiest of statues, as it looked like a fairly gaudy statue of Mary and baby Jesus that looked like it belonged in one of those very over the top, decorated churches or maybe the kind of relics they sell at tacky shops for Christmas. I was trying to work out what it was and why I hadn't seen it before, when the statue started to sink down into a black box looking thing. It was very freaky. Once it had almost disappeared from view and just the crown on its head was all that could be seen, another statue started to rise of a gentleman from either the late 1800s or early 1900s, quite yellow in colour. I'm sorry I was so bewildered by the scene I never thought to get out my ipad and take a video and I hadn't got my camera with me anyway. By way of explanation I did find this quote from a Guardian news article  
To mark its status as European Capital of Culture 2014, hundreds of small projects are aiming to explore Riga's rich heritage, while also looking to its future. Monument Wars is a new art installation on Brivibas boulevard, where a Lenin monument once stood. Designed to illustrate different influences on the city, it is made up of four alternating sculptures, including a Virgin Mary and a black-skinned Barbie in Swedish dress.
Well that explains one of the other statues and I know there was a fourth but I didn't hang around long enough to see what that one was.

Frosty days and autumn leaves have nearly all gone
 All this planning for future projects and winter preparations wasn't the only planning we have been doing this week. My daughter announced that she could come and visit us again in early December. I won't be there for the whole of the time she can come, but then it does give our granddaughter a bit of grandad time, which I'm sure they will both enjoy. It is nice to have her that much closer that she can come and visit more and it is nice to be able to do grandma-ey type things.

At least the sun has returned
I forgot to mention last week we had more pig damage and quite close up to alpaca fences. It is very annoying, as the pasture was finally looking good after a summer of loving care and attention. The advantage though of freezing temperatures this last week, was no pig damage. The ground was just too hard for their big snouts. This next week maybe more of a problem if there is a thaw, they could be quite hungry and it seems like the pigs will not be fed this winter to allow their numbers to dwindle to reduce the problems of over crowding to tackle the spreading African Swine Fever epidemic. Apparently they are still finding about one animal a day with the disease, but fortunately for pig farmers, none have been found in the domestic herds since September and so biosecurity measures seem to be working. 

And yes that is one my neighbours, raking up the leaves
and depriving the worms of leaf mould, whilst making a
very smoky fire to envelope the washing line. There will
not be a black hole in the grass, as the leaves are burning
in the ditch and fortunately there was no washing on the
washing line. 
And that brings me to the end of our week out here in Latvia, so I thought I would finish with my thought for the week. After all the negative thoughts about my neighbours last week, the thought crossed my mind "Who is my neighbour?" When Jesus talked about the Good Samaritan we forget how despised the Samaritans were. I am pretty sure that if Jesus was re-telling that story today, the Good Samaritan would be replaced with the Atheist, the Muslim or the homosexual, all groups often despised today by those who would call themselves Christians, just as the Jews demonised the Samaritans in Jesus' day. I know the way that some groups or authorities treat Christians is appalling, but often in those cases the venom and hate is not just reserved for those who profess faith in Christ, they reject any decent human being and sometimes those who are not decent too. They just hate, full stop! Not all atheists are God-haters, who take delight in pulling down Christians, some of them are quite nice actually, they just don't believe in God. Not all Muslims are terrorists, waiting to blow us up at the least provocation, many are longing for peace and secure families just like many of us. Not all homosexuals are out to pervert our children, again many just want to live in peace and some are the kindest people you might meet. I'm tired of hatred, so let's stop it, please!

If you are squeamish about insects, do not scroll down

I'm warning you! This isn't pretty 

You were warned

These monster cockchafers were found in our wood chipping
pile. The smaller ones you see are a more normal size and
there are some sprouting acorns for comparison. We have
never seen any this big before. Still not sure if I knew
they were edible if I would eat them, but then again, why
worry about that when the chickens fight over them.
Well some of them do anyway, some just look with complete
disdain at the offerings.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Up and down

This is my land. Well not exactly land I own, but it is my
home and these are the homes of some of my
neighbours. The scene is beginning to reappear as the
trees shed their summer apparel.
There are always points in your life when you get heartily sick of circumstances and fed up and this year has been quite tough for us. Trying to get my head around the paper I need to get finished along with being fed up of neighbourly disputes, was not a good combination. There was a point when I was beginning to feel like "What is the point, they are an miserable, argumentative bunch anyway, blah, blah, blah". Not helpful and not entirely true either. I started listening to "This is your land" from the City of Gold:Visions of Heaven album, quite an old album now, but one I have found encouraging along my journey. I couldn't find the lyrics anywhere apart from on the YouTube video and so I have written them out for you,

Golden leaves
Didn't anyone ever tell you
Didn't anyone ever say 
Did you capture a vision of glory 
As she held out her hand today 
It's reaching to the broken ones 
Right down to where you stand
Didn't anyone ever tell you:
This is your land 

Didn't anyone ever tell you
It doesn't matter the last will be first
For the sad, and the meek and the righteous
And all those who will hunger and thirst
So let the poor in spirit know
These dreams are not of sand
Didn't anyone ever tell you
This is your land 

You'll be give the robes of princes
You'll be  flying on golden wings,
You will live in pavilions of splendour
Be surrounded by beautiful things,
So hold onto these promises,
And keep them in your hand,
Didn't anyone ever tell you,
This is your land,  
This is your land, 
This is your land, 
This is your land

We do live in a beautiful land and I believe in heaven coming to earth, after all that is what we pray in the Lord's prayer, so I need to hold onto the promises that God has put on my heart and keep moving forward. This is my land, this is a place I am connected to for as long as God intends me to be here and I don't see us moving any time soon, if ever. 

This is the forecast for Wednesday onwards. Yes it's in
Danish, because it is more reliable than the Latvian site,
but as you can see we are bouncing on into winter now.
So what has been happening in this beautiful land? Flooding and frosts. Oh yes! Winter is on its way and just to reinforce it to us, the swans who are usually the last to fly away, flew off southwards this week. East of us in Latgale they have already had a sprinkling of snow. As you can see from the forecast, it is due to get cold this next week. That doesn't mean that winter is here to stay yet, that usually involves a bit of a battle between autumn and winter before that score is settled of course. The wet weather and the expected imminent arrival  of cold weather meant Ian has been keeping the alpacas in more. The last thing we want is a saturated alpaca and freezing conditions, especially our little one. Unlike sheep they don't have lanolin to shed the water.

Sorry not the most focussed of shots, but what is clear is the
most important part. There is smoke (or steam depending)
out of the chimney just behind the school buildings.
As you can see from the photo our heating has been turned on. It was turned on at around 6pm at night, just as our evening meal was ready and I had already put our fire on. That meant running around to bleed radiators, rather than sitting down to eat. At first the radiators were cold, but gradually they warmed up and then they got hot. If there is one thing we really are tired of is the dispute over the heating. It has either been too cold, or too hot, or too expensive. Just when something appears to get sorted another problem arises and so this issue has been ongoing with a pretty appalling service and increasing costs for the last five or six years. It was so hot we weren't sleeping properly and so I mentioned it to the new house manager. I was relieved to hear that they were installing yet another new system to resolve it and was even pleasantly surprised that when we got back on Sunday after a lunch out, the system was up and working and the radiators gently warm and the temperature in the home comfortable.

Peppers all harvested before the frosts too. They have been
under fleece for a few weeks now and been doing okay, but
we need to move the greenhouse into winter mode and not
risk these going mouldy. They were all cut up and frozen
that night too
As I said we went out to lunch on the Sunday. It was quite a nice day to go for lunch somewhere, not because the weather was good, but precisely because it wasn't. It wasn't nice driving on the rain sodden dirt roads, but it is much nicer being inside chatting over lunch and drinking lots of tea, than it is feeling that something needs doing either inside because of the rain or dodging the rain trying to work outside. At least it was a chance to thrash out some ideas about how to tackle the paper I am still trying to write. I also spent another day up at my friend's house making soap with goats milk. It is a project we have been going to do for absolutely ages. It was a long winded affair, but plenty of time again to sit around chatting and drinking yet more tea while we waited for various substances to cool down. It was surprisingly easy and now I have several bars of the stuff. It doesn't lather up like shop bought soap, but it doesn't irritate my skin either, especially my scalp, as I used it as a shampoo bar. An interesting activity anyway and much needed light relief for all of us I think.

All the ponds are full to overflowing. There is even a little
flooding behind the large pond as the overflow pipe can't
take enough water away.
In between the rain, which has flooded properties, broken bridges and eroded roads further downstream, we have also had some hefty frosts. The day before one of them was forecast, saw me out in the garden digging up carrots. It was a gloriously sunny autumnal day and quite warm, so a rather nice break from writing. The result was two crates and one bag full of carrots, in three stints over the day and I even carried the crates down to the basement of our apartment block. Who needs a workout? I was rather pleased that I didn't even really ache the next day, or at least not much. The summer activities has obviously given me quite a bit of strength. The following day I went out to the land with Ian and since the ground was hard, surprisingly so with all the rain, we took the opportunity to get the chicken arks into the greenhouse along with the caravan. Another sign of the changing seasons. 

I suggested a while ago that we could do with some shelves
at the bottom of our caravan as the arrangement of the table
just meant that everything got piled up at that end. Ian had
a brain wave as he looked at how to tackle the problem and
found by turning the table round we had much more space.
My many ponderings often revolve around economics and economic models. I know riveting you might think, but if there is going to be a change in our societies we have to detox ourselves from the toxic effects of the capitalist society. No I'm not about to expound on communist philosophies, that doesn't work either. The question that revolves around my brain is what kind of economy is God interested in? How do we value what should be valued and stop putting a £/$ or € sign against everything to try and determine its value. I know that sometimes if you charge a small amount of money then people may take more care over what they do or how they respect the event or item, but if you try and give something away they may take that as a cue that it is of no value.

Ian has also installed a plug socket into the toilet, so he can
put the fan heater in there. It will be a blessing in those
rather chilly days.
This hasn't always been the case and is still not true in some cultures. In some cultures a gift is important, not because of its monetary value but because of the significance of the gift. So if I lend or give someone an item, how do I communicate that the item is important and should be cared for, not because of the item's worth but because I have done this as a gift? We somehow have to build trust and respect that doesn't revolve around money in order to free ourselves from dealing in issues from a monetary mindset. Oh the thoughts that revolve around my head. Feel free to add your own and for anyone who has ever lived in what some would call a hippy commune then tell us why that community is either flourishing or died a death, we need to learn from such examples, examples of people daring to challenge the norms of how society functions.

What everyone has in their living room,
don't they? These are sunflower seeds
drying. Unfortunately they were getting
damp and mouldy in the greenhouse
and barn and so needed dealing with
before we lost them
This last week saw the Saiema (Latvian Government) adopt a new law that means that when someone loses a house through a bank loan they can hand back the keys and the bank cannot chase them forever and a day. As far as I understand they have a similar policy in America, but it is not so popular in Europe. Some people argue that it leads to irresponsible borrowing. I find it interesting though that banks don't like American type policies when it doesn't suit them. I also do not see why people who were lent the money irresponsibly in the first place, should be hounded by banks. Their lending practices have been pretty appalling and shameful for banks especially from the Nordic countries. I am not sure justice and fairness play much part in their thinking to be honest. There are now different ways of raising funds that means people do not have to rely on banks as much as they did and so it will be interesting to see where all that goes.