Monday, 20 April 2015

Escape


The sky tonight was amazing
So what about this week then? Well it has been quite different to the normal routine, I have even escaped the house from time to time and away from the computer. Unfortunately the dratted paper was returned with yet more modifications needed, but at least they are happier with it and I think it is mostly structural issues now, so that is progress. The other papers plod on, but I'm hopefully getting there with those too.
Our computer savvy cat, Sofie

Ian has built a mini fence around the blueberries to deter
the wild boar. It wouldn't stop them getting in but we hope
it would just encourage them to go around and not dig in
between the blueberry bushes
The infected eye certainly caused me some difficulties. It is not easy to get work done with one eye not working properly and I had to make some progress. Fortunately though with salty herbal washes I managed to avoid having to get antibiotics. The problem is that there are a few antibiotics I am allergic to and so the less I use them the better; otherwise when I really need them I am not going to find any that work that I don't react to. I did find out though that oat poultices are no good for me also. They did make a really nice soothing poultice for my eye, but then it made my skin itchy. I know I am allergic to nickel and that is in high quantities in oats. I can eat some oats, just not a huge quantity, so I have a mixed grain porridge in the morning and not just an oat porridge. I wouldn't mind, I'm not a particularly finicky sort of person, it is just some things do react and it annoys me no end. I am quite pleased though that none of the meetings I tried to arrange worked out, otherwise I would have had to cancel them all anyway.
The trenches are working to help drain
the land slowly

Our gifts from school. The handmade dandelion was
made by the deputy head. I have never seen one
like it before. I have been trying to work out how
the bit just below the pompom top was made. 
This week we went to do a presentation in an English class, as it was language week at the school we had previously been to just before Christmas. I was so pleased that my eye was not as bruised looking as it had been the day before - goodness only knows what anyone would have thought otherwise. We had a lovely time and the kids were all paying attention and asking questions at the end. For our troubles we were provided with lunch and the teacher who invited us managed to sort out a problem I had with getting permission to use some photos. I needed someone who could understand what I needed and could then translate that. I also needed that permission by the end of the following day and so it was a bit tight timing-wise.
The wood anemones are out now

My new veg patch and the two wheel tractor with its new
attachment. The veg patch is twice as big as last year and
the plan is that it will be even bigger the following year.
Eventually there will be four plots for rotation, with one
plot fallow with chickens in it to manure the ground.
The following day we went to the outskirts of Riga to get a new rotavator that goes on the two wheel tractor. The one we have is difficult to use at times, the belts that are needed for it are not easily available and it cuts out at certain angles on slopes. All in all it is not a good machine for us. It is fine if you want to work a small garden on the flat but not for the amount we have to do. Using our little big tractor (you would know what I mean if you saw it, bigger than a two wheel tractor but quite small as far as farm tractors go) we can plough large areas, but often we don't want to do a large area and sometimes we have to wait too long for the ground to dry out to use the big tractor. At the moment the ground is still too damp for the big tractor to be used much without risk of churning up the ground, but it has been dry enough for Ian to get out and play with his new toy. He is so pleased with it, as it is so much less work than the other rotavator. So now we have areas rotavated for the new veg garden and areas prepared for manuring and green manure seed to be sown. We will wait two weeks to allow weed seeds to germinate and then hoe or turn those in before planting the veg seeds or seedlings.
An old strawberry bed has been rotavated.
Saves a little back work
It is easier to follow the contours of the land now with this
rotavator and so hopefully the water will not run straight
off down the land when it pours
We took a circuitous route back from Riga so that we can call into a small factory to get some more work trousers for Ian. We have been so pleased with the trousers from that small unit because they last so long and they are not so expensive either. Ian prefers side pockets part way down the leg for putting his mobile in, as he hates putting things in pockets situated higher up and so the styling of them is just right too. He also bought a winter coats as his other one is disintegrating badly now, unfortunately he managed to put a small tear in it already when he caught the coat on the fence today. Heh ho! The joys of working the land. The grand total for three pairs of trousers and his winter jacket was €93, a true bargain in every sense of the word. A true bargain is when both customer and producer benefit and since we were dealing directly with the producers then there is no middleman or six to factor in. Even better they took up the trousers for free there and then. Saved me a job.
These are the plots so far that have been either ploughed or
rotavated on our crop field
As you see, we are still getting snow showers or in this case
hail and the ponds are still quite high
Saturday we had visitors to see the alpacas. One of my fellow students at Tartu had wanted to see our alpacas for quite a while, she would love some herself and finally she was close enough to pay a visit along with my supervisor who makes regular visits to see us, err I mean the alpacas.  I had also arranged to meet up with someone about a conference that I will be helping out at in June, she happened to be in our village over the weekend and we had been going to try and meet together for quite a while so this worked out perfectly. She also wanted to see the alpacas. So Saturday saw me walking up to the hotel to meet up with the lady from Riga, travelling out to our land, showing her around, then going back to our village and being dropped off at our apartment. I then waited a few minutes and our next guests arrived and I travelled back out to the land with them. We had lunch with the left overs from a meeting they had been at and then they took me back home. I made our evening meal in time for Ian to arrive home and then straight after that I went back out for a proper meeting with the lady from Riga. It felt quite weird going backwards and forwards all day. I haven't done that in a long time.
This was the spot the sheep have been on all winter. The top
of this pile is nice and dry but the bed of hay they have
been on was about 20cm deep at least and well and truly
compacted. Ian had to use the big tractor to move it to make
way for the veg bed. Should be nicely manured there, but
must remember not to plant carrots in that spot.

They enjoyed the new grass for the first few hours and then
they realised that there isn't actually that much grass. It is
mainly weeds in this section and we are likely to plough it
to reseed it, but just in case we don't get around to it, we hope
they might eat the weeds down first to stop them flowering
or at least delay it. The grass is still not high enough to risk
putting them anywhere where we know we get decent grass.
Don't worry though, they won't starve, they can still eat hay.
At least they get more chance to move around now though

Monday, 13 April 2015

Spring fever?

Our free range chickens enjoying the spring grass. 
Not sure about Spring fever, we've had a few nice days and the grass is greening up nicely, but today is back to cloud and rain and I'm feeling under the weather too. I have an eye infection, again! I say "again" as if this is a regular occurrence or after a fairly recent happening, but when I look back at the last time this happened it was 4 years ago! I knew it wasn't last year, but I thought maybe the year before that. So time must have sped by. I'm not sick that often and so it is a bit of a novelty and one I would be quite happy not to become too well acquainted with. It was also an event seared on my brain because it took weeks for it to go the last time and two rounds of antibiotics and included two visits to the local doctor and once to the hospital. Hopefully that will not be the case this time. I also woke up with a sore throat and swollen glands but that is on its way out now, so I'm hoping the eye infection is related and then that will take a hike too.

These were the first three hatched. The more sprightly
yellow one and the black one were hatched yesterday and
the more timid looking one this morning. It had to find its
feet a bit yet, unlike the other two.
We started off a batch of chicks 21 days ago and two hatched out yesterday, which was a bit of a surprise as we have never had them hatch after 20 days. So far we have 11 chicks, 2 of them black and the rest varying shades of yellow. Two of our lady alpacas are also starting to look pregnant, which is a relief but the youngest we are still not sure about and have even noticed her standing in the corner of the paddock gazing at the boys - not a good sign really. If she is not pregnant then in about a month's to six week's time, we will try mating her again for next year. Apparently it is normal for young ones to not get pregnant the first time.

I said last week that the storks were back and here is one in
our pond. This stork has incredibly red legs, and I think
the trip down to Africa must have done it some good.  
Some of you may have noticed that there is a little bit of election fever going on in the UK. It looks like it might be an interesting race, as the UK is more used to two horse races and not multiple parties vying for power. I did get incensed at one point by an Easter greeting from the current Prime Minister. I thought it was hypocritical, but I was informed he has never made a secret of his faith. Okay fair enough! I suppose I mustn't have taken that much notice then. It wasn't just the fact he gave the message, but it was the "Britain is a Christian country" line that got to me and how concerned we should be about all the Christians being persecuted. Now before you blow your top at me, don't get me wrong, it does concern me, just I don't stop at concern for Christians, but stretches to anyone who is persecuted or tortured for their faith, their politics, for any reason whatsoever and I don't have a scale of concern depending on their faith, my scale would tend to follow the degree of persecution.
Enjoying a saunter through the woods
The alpacas ignoring the stork and the stork ignoring the
alpacas
As for Britain being a Christian country line - I know many of the laws of the UK are based on Judeo-Christian laws, but those kinds of laws are not exclusive to Britain nor the Christian faith. Neither does it explain why it took 26 years to get slavery abolished and only due to such forceful personalities as William Wilberforce and took Lord Shaftesbury over 50 years of his life to get people with mental health issues treated as people and not animals, not to mention the over 10 years he took to get reforms for children to spare them the horrors of the factories and so on. That in a supposedly Christian country and not even attempting to get into the colonial era and the abuses that occurred then. The UK has many fine people of faith and no faith and they are all valuable to the life of the nation. Besides, how can a country have faith? It is the people who have faith.

This has been Ian's project this week. Unfortunately it didn't
go completely to plan. See if you can spot the difference
So those were the thoughts I was mulling over in the garden the other day. At one point I felt God say "why does it matter to you?" Hmmm! Good point! The people who decide on who is going to be in the Government for the next four to five years should be the people who live there and I live in Latvia. I had decided it wasn't right for me to take part, even though I could (at least for another four years anyway). It could affect us if the UK decided to take themselves out of the EU, but that would be a bridge we cross when we come to it. So why was I letting this get to me? Why was I getting steamed up on the one hand and refusing to vote on the other? So who was being hypocritical? Hmmm! So a decision was made. No more comments on the political scene in the UK for this election, or at least I will try. It is hard, I am an activist by nature, which is why I do the research that I do and feel as strongly about politics as I do too. Still there are plenty of other issues to get steamed up about and it won't do my health any good to constantly be mulling over the things I cannot change or shouldn't try to.

We now have a sign up. Only it wasn't up in time to let the
bin (trash) men know where we were. It was also set up in
stages in between the showers. We did get our bin though
At least whilst mulling all that I did get two beds dug over or weeded, lots of parsnip seed sown, a very small plot of wheat, another very small plot of hulless oats, garlic transplanted because the little seeds I had planted ages ago were now showing up in weedy spots in the wrong part of the garden and some spinach. The small plots of wheat and oats are from a small-scale seed company and so the aim will be to grow them up for seed next year, rather than try and make a loaf of bread out of them. That will come much later.

A close up of the sign. So have you spotted the difference
yet?
This week I won't be heading up to Tartu, as I thought I was supposed to be - probably a good job if I have this eye-infection. I despair though at trying to organise anything at the moment. I had an email late on last week announcing that they would like the slides for the presentation for the conference at the end of this week. Gee thanks! I had that down to do early next week, as I am still trying to finish of this major paper that is due the beginning of May. I did get some headway on the short paper for a conference that is in September, as the deadline for that is next week, so that is something. That was well enough organised anyway. Roll on mid-May when most of this stuff will be finished and I get on with the mega-seed planting season.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Sunshine and snow showers!

Melting snow, yet again! But it does look pretty
We've had another of those weeks with a dusting of snow, then melting and just when we thought we had seen the back of it, it snowed again. Saturday was a lovely day, not sunny, but warm enough to get in the garden and dig over a bed. It was lovely to work the soil, as it was noticeable that the edges that had not had much treatment were sandier and not as rich looking as the middle of the bed. It shows the straw bedding, the wood mulch and alpaca poo are all working wonders to make lovely rich vegetable beds. Since the beds are not frozen and the forecast was only for rain over the coming week, I thought I would plant our onions. The rain would help them swell and they wouldn't come to much harm in the cool nights. It was nice enough to take my coat and hat off as I worked. I got the onions in and went to see Ian to see if he was ready for a cuppa. As we sat and chatted in the caravan I noticed what looked like big fluffy flakes of snow falling. Sure enough the ground was white again. Seems like I was just in time then.


Planting onions
This old lady is still a good egg layer. She was born in
June 2012 and still produces eggs most days
Just take a close look at that fleece! Agnese has been rolling
around in the hay again. She is absolutely covered.
Goodness only knows how we are going to get that out
While I was working on preparing the onion bed Ian had some visitors and he was stood chatting to them for about half an hour. Of course Miss Observant me, never saw them, although he could see me. He didn't want to shout, because he would have scared Agnese who he had on a lead and besides the chances of me not hearing him were high. He would have phoned, but of course I forgot my phone that day too. The people had been walking down the road and saw the alpacas and had stopped to look. Our alpacas noticed the people and so Ian who was walking Agnese at the time went to have a look to see what the alpacas were so interested in. He invited them over to meet the alpacas and stood chatting to them, since there were younger members of the group who spoke reasonable English. If there is one thing that Ian loves to do, is to share his enthusiasm with other people and that was something the group definitely picked up on. He thinks they were some more of our neighbours, it seems the alpacas are proving quite a draw.
If you look closely, you will see the evidence of a certain
alpaca and her tendency to stick her head through the
fence and eat the grass on the other side. That is despite
the small holes in the fence, specifically to stop them doing
that

Whistle! Whistle! Goes Lady V as we often call her, as
she sneaks away. At least that is what it sort of looks like

Who me? Innocent me?
I said it was wet! We have our temporary lake back again
The rest of the week has been a bit wet and so Ian has had to get yet another new pair of wellies. The wellies don't seem to be lasting very long at all no matter how much he spends on them. It is a near constant moan in our house when shoes or wellies go and he has to get a new pair. He just got a cheap pair from the local shop for the time being and they are not the steel-capped ones he usually gets. In fact they seem a bit soft, but maybe that's a good thing, who knows. The wet weather also means he has been doing some of the early season wet weather jobs like servicing the two-wheel tractor and the chipper. In between the showers he has been removing stones from the fields in readiness for a new rotavator he has ordered for the two-wheel tractor. The other one only really needs a new belt, but finding them has been impossible. It also cuts out on a slope if it is facing the wrong way, which is not useful on our hills. At least it means just taking one machine when we go to work our apartment allotment and not two. It should also be more robust than the other one and adjustable. Ian has also been taking lots of photos, since there is more time in the day to get things done and not enough jobs because it is still too early to get much done.
Did I tell you it had been wet? The road
is now like tram tracks
The evidence of the tractor using our land for a short cut
Ian's alpaca visitors weren't the only neighbours that he hadn't met before that he had some interaction with this week, only the next encounter was not quite so pleasant. We have noticed that one of our neighbours has been going up and down our ski hill in their tractor from time to time. This is not something we wish to encourage, because it will damage the hay and we do not want ruts running up the middle of our best hay field. Ian noticed fresh tracks on the road and went back to get his camera, he took some photos and then went back to work on a frame for our grapes. As he worked he heard a tractor, so ran to the top of the hill to see the tractor coming down the hill with a trailer, so Ian ran to get the car keys and the camera and drove quickly to block his access at the bottom of the road. He got out of the car and asked if the driver if spoke English and he said "No!" So Ian beckoned him out of the tractor and showed him the tracks and said "Nē, labi" (not good) and then showed him where he would let him come on and off our land. A compromise anyway. He didn't seem particularly upset and they even shook hands on it. Hopefully he understands and hopefully he stops using our land as an access point.
The new grape arbour
I love the contrast of the bright green against the logs
We are a bit worried about some other neighbours too. We have some new neighbours at our other apartment and I had noticed they have a husky which the young woman took out for walks. Yesterday I saw the husky on the loose with another dog I haven't seen before and they spent the whole time digging in someone's compost heap. It seemed to be also encouraging other dogs to join in, as there was a little dog that I often see and it was black from digging, something I have never seen it do before. I somehow think that explains the big holes that have recently appeared in the flower bed outside our apartment. I am quite annoyed because I had only just got Ian to bring some wood chip mulch for it to keep the weeds down and it was looking neat and tidy. If dogs are just going to dig big holes in it, I am not going to put the effort in to put some more plants in that I intended to do this year. It also does not fill me with hope for later on in the year with the allotment. The reason for keeping that on is because we have the wild boar digging up our land and don't want to risk all of our produce being eaten by them. Somehow I will have to convey my concerns to the house manager, that will be fun! Not!
A nice moody shot of our comparatively highly strung alpaca.
This is Turbjørn. He is lovely really, just rather nervous.
He is also very curious, just not curious enough to come
right up. He still only eats out of a bowl, even for Ian. He
certainly won't eat out of your hand. He also has a way of letting
Ian know when he wants something like a drink. He will come
up close to Ian with a look on his face as if he wants to
tell hims something. He is also the alpaca we deal with first
if we need to give injections, because otherwise he gets too
panicky to handle. 
The gooseberry bushes are sprouting
Had a little excitement this week on top of meeting neighbours. Oh we live the high life. I thought we were going to get our new bin. I mentioned previously that I thought we had organised a new collection for out on our land and cancelled the one at the apartment. I wasn't 100% sure, but all the signs were good. I didn't receive a bill for the next three months for collection at the apartment, so that must mean they got the cancellation and understood it. The next good sign was getting a contract, that was signed and sent off. The only thing is I had a nagging feeling I should have put a friend's phone number down for contact details or at least mention it was only if someone could speak English and sure enough this week, I had a phone call from the company and the guy did not speak English. At least I understood who it was who was speaking. I got my friend to ring him back, but they decided that we were too far out of Ergli for that particular run and they decided that they will deliver the bin next week instead. Nearly there then!


More signs of spring
I said it had been wet! This is the drainage pool from the barn

The start of a hedge. These are maples
that we transplanted a couple of years
ago. We are also going to put in hazel.
The hedge will be to deter the wild boar
from digging around our blueberries
Much of the rest of the week has been the usual current routine for me of writing a second paper. I have written about the writing process before by using a quote from Winston Churchill, that talks of the process turning from a lover to a monster. I am not sure that I could say that I start off that enthusiastically, but this current piece is worse. I think it is because I have only just finished one paper and this one has to be completed fairly rapidly that it feels more like a monster already, with each sentence being wrenched from my brain. In the process of writing the idea of trying to get the egg residue removed from a frying pan with glued on egg becomes a source of intense interest  - not that I enjoy cleaning glued on egg remains but anything becomes more interesting than sitting at the computer trying to conjure up the perfect sentence. And yet in a macabre sort of way, the process has its points of elation when a sentence or paragraph finally comes together and makes sense. I have also noticed that after the slow dragging out of each sentence there comes a point where desperation leads me to almost throw in various quotes and random sentences, hoping that something will stick and somehow come together in some coherent form and amazingly this is the most productive point of the process. Then comes the long and slow editing. From what I understand, I am not unique in this process.
The newts are appearing again too

Babbling pond overflows

Let me out! I'm sure I see green grass

New silver birch seedlings. At least I think that's what they are

Monday, 30 March 2015

Reboot Spring please!

The scene this afternoon
Will whoever turned off Spring and re-inserted Winter please stop it! I mean, we have had some lovely Spring like weather and now we are all white again! Heh ho! The joys of living in a northerly latitude. At least I don't feel too bad being stuck inside doing my writing, and yes I finally did get started on the actual writing phase. It was a good job that nobody visited me today, I had bits of paper all over the floor trying to organise my thoughts. It was only after I had printed out all the quotes to help guide my thoughts that I thought of a way that would be less paper intensive. I am sure I will get to test out my theory soon. I have plenty more writing projects to do yet.
Pieces of paper all over the floor
#oldschool

The beach at Tūja
It hasn't all been reading and writing though, I actually got to do some more interviews this last week. I headed off at the crack of dawn to rendezvous with my Masters student and we headed up the coast to a little village called Tūja. It is very popular in summer but rather deserted this time of the year and rather miserable in the rain, but we still managed to find some wonderful folks who agreed to be interviewed and tell us about themselves and the place where they live, even if we did nearly freeze to death in the process. The cup of coffee and biezpiena cake offered by one lady was most welcome. The place certainly has a few different issues to the ones I have come across elsewhere, but that is more due to its location on the coast compared to more inland rural places that I have studied before. At least that proves one of my points that each village will have its own particular issues and so there are no one-size-fits-all solutions beloved by the developers and policy makers.
A beach famous for its large rocks. 

A happy big brother with his lovely little
sister
It wasn't the only excitement this week, we became grandparents for the fourth time to a lovely little girl. She has been given the middle name of Lolly after her recently departed Great-grandmother, which I think is rather lovely and one that she would have appreciated. Our granddaughter's big brother is paying her lots of loving attention and reminds me of when we brought home our second child, his big sister enjoyed her role immensely and loved having a cuddle. We were alerted to our granddaughter's imminent arrival by text at 11:22pm and were awoken by repeated texts at around 5am to say she had arrived- oh the wonders of modern technology. It would have been even better if I had a smart phone, as my son tried to send a photo, but that phone packed up in the summer and I am back to a phone that Ian had in the States; so rather ancient by today's standards and certainly not capable of receiving picture texts.

Love the atmosphere in this shot. Ian can certainly take a
good photo
I am trying to be good and rest my brain properly for a couple of days a week. One of the days off  is on a sunny day of the week and so it varies. This week we took off to the nearest big town, as the car needed to go for its technical. We were hoping that it would fail so that we could bump the test to the following month. It is difficult if anything goes wrong for Ian to work on the car in the cold weather. Instead the car passed, but even better, for some reason we don't quite understand we got an extra few weeks anyway and it won't be due for the next test until April 22nd 2016 (yes we did double check that it wasn't for 2015). It was quite a productive day, as we managed to find a replacement printer at a reasonable price, bought food for the alpacas, got Ian's passport photo done and found some more Sodium Hydroxide for soap making, all that and even managed to stop for some pizza at our favourite Italian pizzeria - the real thing, made by an Italian.

Ian drawing pretty pictures with his plough. We are trying
out another experiment to reduce the water flow down the
hill, which causes flooding in the bottom half and washes
away nutrients and ungerminated seeds if planted at the
wrong time. Ian has roughly followed the contours of the
slopes with plough lines to give the water somewhere to
run into and then seep into the soil. 
The other day off is usually a Sunday when we head up to the other apartment for bath night and to watch a DVD. It also keeps the place heated, so pipes don't freeze. Before I went I made two scarves using a darker base material to felt onto (nuno felting if you want to look it up). It seems to work, sorry no photos yet. I also attempted to decant some liquid soap that I had made into a bottle. I wanted a soap base that I could use for hand soap and ended up with something the consistency of thick snot. I only intended to make about three litres, but by the time I have added enough water to it to make it liquid enough to pour, it is more like 6 litres. Those manufacturers sure know what they are doing when they sell hand soap for such a huge sum of money compared to a bar of soap, when so much of it is water. Only approximately 1 litre is oil with about 125g of Sodium hydroxide to turn it into soap. It should keep us in hand soap for a while anyway. I just need to play around with scent combinations now.
Frog spawn

There has been a short film by a 12 year old American girl of Latvian descent doing the rounds just lately on facebook. I watched the film, which is about the Baltic Way and wept. There are evocative scenes of so many people standing hand in hand against Soviet oppression, with nothing but a sense of determination on their faces and dreams in their hearts. I didn't weep for the image I saw of those people, I wept for the broken dreams. I wept because some on the video who spoke about that time with such emotion, used their freedom to leave. I don't blame them, I really don't, it is just that freedom has been so hard. I see those who stayed here who work and work and work to do the best they can to keep this country alive, buried under a layer of exhaustion. I see those who found the adjustment hard and are slowly drinking themselves to death. I see those who are trying to work out their painful past and not quite figuring out how they fit in today. I see those who had dreams in their hearts which turned to sawdust in the reality of a cold market place and wondering what they have to do to earn a living? I see neighbours not trusting each other and seeing a building fall apart because no one wants to take on the responsibility of doing something when all they get is aggravation for their troubles.

A sign of Spring, can you see it? Okay I know, I
have to learn to zoom in with my iPad, but I was
in a rush and it was cold when we opened the
window to take this shot. The stork arrived back
this morning, just in time for the snow. 
But I also see a beautiful country with signs of spring after a long winter, even despite today's snow. I see a people who long to see a better world and trying to figure out how that happens. I see the potential for those dreams to reawaken and grow like a pruned bush in warmth of the early spring sun. I have hope in a group of people that can appreciate a herb tea, picked by their own hands at the height of summer because they know which herbs are good to pick and which are good for health. I have hope in a group of people who know how to raise a garden of vegetables and think it is the most natural thing in the world to do. I have hope in those who struggle on despite the setbacks to reach for that dream of something better that cannot be bought with money. Putin maybe causing us worries from time to time and the American army might be over here to "reassure us" whatever that might mean, but I still have hope for the future.