Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Better late than never

Our chicks were getting quite big and smelly and so it was
time to move them out to the land. This time they weren't
going straight outside, still a little too cool in the evenings
so we put them in the greenhouse
Right now where was I? I had some time off this week at last. So what did I do on my first day off? Cleaning! Oh I know how to enjoy myself. I got so far through the cleaning though and realised I wouldn't have enough window cleaner to finish, so I had two options, the first was to nip out and buy some and the second was to look on the internet to see what I could make up for a spray on window cleaner, rather than make a mess with lots of water and washing up liquid. So the internet won and I found a recipe that actually worked and was better than the bought stuff, as I now have smear free windows. Only I didn't have rubbing alcohol, as in the recipe, just some cheap lavender infused vodka - well it worked and I have lavender smelling windows. Here's the link if you want and you do have to shake the bottle otherwise the cornstarch (cornflour for us Brits) does settle and don't spray too much on the windows if the sun is shining, otherwise it is harder to rub off the cornstarch and may need a re-wetting.
Amazing how fast they grown in just a few days. They are at
the silly stage where they are strutting about and facing off
with each other, which looks very amusing when they haven't
got all their feathers yet and the last ones to grow are on their
The woods are beginning to green up now with a wonderful
carpet of flowers
I also got my academic paper submitted this week, one thing less to do. My supervisor was happy enough with my re-write that I didn't have anything further to do on it. Yeh! Now I just have to wait and see what the journal editor says and then probably wait months for the reviewers to finish with it. Maybe by next year it will be published, maybe!
Here's a close up. I know this is an annual event
Ian's water filter, to filter the pond water
I also finished off an exam or rather a series of questions related to making maps for one of the courses I have been doing this semester. It was an open book without time limit type exam, the only criteria was not to cooperate with another student. Easy enough as I don't know anyone else doing my level at this point in time, even if I had got the inclination to collaborate with someone, which I don't. Now I just have to write a review article on a topic of my choosing, so I am going to write on making maps with people and for people - well that's the gist of it and not exactly what I am going to call it, although maybe that would be a good strap line. I downloaded lots of papers to help me write the review and I can look at those while travelling later on this week, not up to Tartu this time but Tallinn - somewhere I haven't been yet. At least it feels like I am finishing off projects and they are not all mounting up the other end.

The cherry tree is beginning to open its buds
It is my birthday today, half a century old. Even sounds old when you write it that way and I wonder how I came to be 50. Time hasn’t slowed down since moving away from dear old Blighty either (England for those who haven’t heard the term Blighty before). I had my 40th birthday in Denmark and it doesn’t seem that long ago, but that’s life. I certainly would never have dreamt that we would not only be living in Latvia, which is what we hoped when we left the UK, but farming - even if it is hobby farming and that I would be studying for a PhD. I would have laughed if you had told me, probably hysterically at that. 
Mizuna seeds coming through in the greenhouse

My two cookbooks from my daughter. One is about bread
by Elizabeth David. It is a book I've heard a lot about and
now I get the chance to read it. It is more than just a lot of
bread recipes but also about making bread in general with
lots of information. The other book is in a similar vein and
is a book called Prairie Home Cooking and has plenty of
anecdotes sprinkled amongst the recipes. Fascinating reading
Since yesterday was Easter Monday, I thought that it would be a better day to celebrate reaching this milestone and I invited a few folks out to our land for tea and cakes. I didn’t want to stay in all day back at home, although that would have been easier for entertaining, as it wouldn’t have worked well for Ian and I would have been bored, so that is why I chose a tea and cake do. Cakes at least can keep in a cool barn, well in a fortress of plastic crates, weighted down to keep the cats off they can. Or maybe that should be cat? One is worse than the other, exemplified by the evening bbq where the dear little darling, kept creeping in to nick off with what ever she could before anyone noticed - only we did and she was evicted numerous times. Still didn't get the hint though.

Of course this is Latvia and so there were flowers
Not just one lot, but three lots and some hyacinth bulbs.
There was also sweets, chocolate and wine. Along with
more cake and so Ian has plenty to keep him going over
the next few months or weeks or maybe days.
Anyway, apart from the eviction of said cat on numerous occasions, things went rather well. Although I said anywhere between 10am - 8pm as I wasn’t sure what people’s plans were, most turned up in the late afternoon. Some of my friends are farmers and so fitting in visiting with animals requires a certain amount of flexibility. In fact everyone timed their visit so nicely that we were only just seeing off one group when another group turned up and we only eventually left the land as the light was definitely disappearing from the sky and we could only just about see to get packed up for the night at around 9.30pm. Oh the long days are upon us.

The annual picture of the caravan outside for the first time
of the year
At least the timing of people’s visits to wish me happy birthday worked well with Ian. We got the caravan out of its winter quarters in the greenhouse and outside in the morning, which also gave me time to give it a bit of a clean. That job is always a sign that we are heading into our busy time of the year. He also got most of the land graded or flattened out from all the pig damage and molehills and just needed a bit of time this morning to finish it off. This afternoon he switched to harrowing, which is like a big comb to just break up any clumps left after the grading and it also helps to clear some of the thatch of grass.  Now we just need a bit of rain to be forecast and then he can spread grass seed on some of the bare patches and it will mean our pasture will look much better. Hopefully the pigs won’t dig it up again, but there are no guarantees on that.

We have green grass
On a different note one of the things I have learnt over the last few years is the importance of transparency. It is a difficult balance between respecting people’s privacy and giving access to information of interest to others, but it is so necessary in public life. Vulnerable people, of course, need to be protected and those wielding power for their own benefit be exposed; too often it is the other way around. There were a couple of calls for transparency in Latvia recently, one was an open letter calling for the Maxima tragedy to be investigated transparently albeit partly so investor confidence can be restored, but at least it does mention others who need to know too. Another call for transparency was from Madara, a cosmetics firm that makes their product from natural ingredients, which has called on both businesses and the Latvian tax authorities to be more transparent in their dealings. The businesses may or may not be hiding something and unfortunately is a possibility - but where isn’t it? The state tax authorities seem to assume that everyone has something to hide though and can be quite aggressive in their practices and this doesn’t help.

Fence posts at the ready. We let the girls out for a bit of
spring tonic. There isn't a huge amount of grass, but one is
 still sick and two are pregnant and so need all the vitamins
they can get. The boys are still confined to quarters to give
the grass chance to grow
It doesn’t help when the Corruption Bureau is having issues, but this is between staff members who don't appear to be able to get on. If those at the top cannot sort themselves out, how is it expected those further down the line will? Not only have Latvians to contend with internal issues of lack of transparency and inability to get on, they also have to contend with outside interference too. Russian speaking activists have been defending the need for Russian speaking schools. Fair enough, you may say and I maybe inclined to agree with you, but not when it comes to aggressive policy of misinformation and propaganda from Russia. There is a greater need for encouraging integration of the Russian speaking population, so that there isn’t a repeat of the issues that Ukraine are having, but it won't happen with aggressive finger pointing from Russia. 

One hen nestling under the cover of the hay feeder. Our
dear alpaca here is being so lazy that he can't be bothered
to even lift his head or stand to eat.
Our lovage is beginning to reappear to as well. This seems
to have burst through in the last day or two.
Having said all that and recognising that it is hard for ordinary citizens to show the way, it would be a start. It is a risk when the state tax authorities breathe down people’s necks and people must account down to the last cent and I kid you not on that. Not the nearest $10 or £5 but the nearest €0.01. But there has to be a better way forward and trust will only be gained when there is a great deal more transparency in dealings and not the sort that costs a lot to obtain, which is often the way here. You can have all the information you want but it will cost you dear! Oh! Does that mean you don’t want the information? Sorry can’t help you there then! - Well that's just not good enough I'm afraid! Information needs to be out there and people need to be more transparent all round, then we can start to move forward. Well here's hoping for a more transparent future.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Well is that the time!

Whoops got carried away chatting to friends, so that means I shall just have to blog tomorrow instead. Anyway just to let you know, for those who follow this blog, I've had a lovely day, food, friends and lots of chatting. Who could ask for more?

Monday, 14 April 2014

I can't save everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 7 April 2014

Living on the Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 31 March 2014

I've seen the light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 24 March 2014

To Timbuktu and back

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

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

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

Brazil is great and the tropical forest lectures really helpful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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