Monday, 4 December 2017

Step by step, moving forward

The view from my window whilst writing. This was taken on
the first day of advent when the Latvians commemorate the
genocide of the Latvian people by the totalitarian communist
This week has definitely been mainly a writing week. I finished an article for an organisation and now I’m just waiting for a friend to proofread it for me. I have also continued writing another paper and a bit more on my thesis. Just plugging away, bit by bit. I at least feel like I’m in the right frame of mind for writing and it doesn’t feel like drawing blood. Maybe it’s due to the increased light levels with the recent snow or making sure I take Vitamin D, or maybe I have just suddenly switched back into academic mode, who knows!

Can you guess what Ian has been doing?
On the academic front it has been an exciting time. I notched up a second citation on my first paper for a start, which basically means that other academics have quoted from my paper in their work. It is not a huge number of citations, but then again I’m not particularly well known. It does mean though that others have thought my work was relevant to theirs and important enough to quote from, which is a satisfying feeling. It was also a quote in a report for the European Food Safety Journal on wild boar management, so even feels relevant to me. The first one I was a little surprised at, as they had interpreted what I and my co-author had written from a sociological perspective that I was not really aware of, so kind of interesting and felt a bit weird. 

A little snowed under now though
The second one on the academic front was finally getting the reviews back on the second paper. I was beginning to get really worried about this and wondering if we needed to withdraw the paper and submit it to another journal, which would have meant another long drawn out process. Anyway the reviews came back on Sunday night and they were really positive and only require me to make minor changes, nothing horrendous. It probably only needs a paragraph or two and then a bit of editing. This is such a relief, after the horrendous process with the first one where it went backwards and forwards so many times. I was so happy with the news that Ian was welcomed back home to me playing Pharrell Williams “Happy” at top volume on my phone. He kind of guessed I was in a good mood as I very rarely play music much during the day at all. 

I have been out on the land a couple of times this week. Ian got a call to say that the vet was coming to do some ultrasounds on the girls in the afternoon so he came and picked me up. The last time this particular vet came, Freddie and George were just pictures on her screen and she was enchanted to see our little fellas in the flesh- well they are rather cute. We found out this week that George and Freddie are in the top twenty names in the UK for newborn human babies. I don’t suppose folks know that they have named their babies after a couple of alpacas. Anyway it would seem that both Aggie and Mari are pregnant again, but probably not Chanel. This is a surprise as Chanel got pregnant so easily last time. This does mean that early next year we will start to mate Chanel with one of the boys, but not sure which one yet. 

Mari is pregnant
The ultrasounds would have been an easier process if Sofie, our cat, hadn’t tried to get in on the act. I lost count of the number of times we tossed her over the half door ( I hasten to add tossed her gently that is, so she could land properly). Every time she jumped back in. We couldn’t shut the doors as it would have been too dark, so we just spent the whole time, cat in, cat out, cat in, cat out, there were even a few times she nearly ended up on the end of the ultrasound scanner as she tried to rub up against the vet’s hand. Our alpacas also have a habit of chasing her, so it wasn’t safe for her to come in and so not quite sure why she was so persistent.

Snow sliding off the roof of the new alpaca house/hay store
Now that most of the veg has been brought in (we still have some under a heavy mulch such as carrots) we end up eating a lot of squash. We grew a new variety this year which has a lovely creamy flesh, but the skins are so incredibly hard, in fact they are so hard that it is almost dangerous to cut them open, so I tried an experiment. I used a method that has worked quite well with other squashes and that was to use the microwave. I pierced the skin like I have done before with spaghetti squash and set the timer. Hmmm! Well! Must make a mental note that Courgette -Tondo di Piacenza (yes it is a courgette rather than a squash but not like any I have grown before), apparently is not safe for microwaving. The bits did come off the interior of the microwave though, as I fortunately turned it off before it baked on.

Ian has been removing the snow in case it lands on the little
It is a good job that not all my cooking goes like that, as we had visitors this week. As I mentioned last week I found out there was a young couple, half Latvian and half English who were living relatively nearby and building up a farm business. They were keen to come and see our alpacas along with the lady’s brother, so I invited them over and suggested they come for a meal too. 

Although, they have been inside mainly, eating and eating
Earlier on in the day before they arrived, Ian popped back to pick me up, but first of all we finished off the shelves in our other apartment so that I could start to organise our stuff - no better word for it really, but at least I now have shelves for felting and shelves for material and it is all easily accessible - well it will be, at the minute the material is all over the living room floor in piles that look like a rainbow. I need to put them in crates so that I can see what is in them, then I am more likely to use them. After building the shelves and a quick lunch we headed out to the land

Aggies is pregnant too
They had the grand tour around, even though it had snowed. In fact we were wondering if they would manage to make it, but they have been in Latvia long enough and used to the conditions that it was not a problem. After putting the animals away we headed back to our apartment where I had pre-prepared an evening meal. We then had a great time talking about our experiences of farming in Latvia, they have a market garden and so much more productive than we are, but we share similar views on caring for the land in producing food, so plenty to talk about. I also sent them a few links and contacts that I thought would be useful.

Chanel eating through the fence. Looks like she will be
having a rendezvous with one of the boys next year
Along with writing, winter days are also time to do some pondering. A thought that occurred to me was, did we ever think that we would know what it is like to live in the Soviet Union? In some ways we have a glimpse of that today, where the truth is cloaked in lies. Hidden in plain site to the point where it is sometimes hard to tell who is telling the “truth and how much of the truth. We are living in times when a President feels it is okay to openly spread lies and hit back at those who point it out. Yes there is a problem with terrorism, but it is not a Muslim issue, it is not a nationality issue, it is a terrorism issue. Terrorists are many different colours, many different faiths and none and turn up in many different places. They are outsiders who have learnt to hate, who desire a “pure” state, whatever that means to them and are prepared to kill for it. 

A chilly week at times, but the pond still keeps flowing, so
the water table must be high
Our society is breeding mistrust, breeding acceptance of half-truths and outright lies and it needs to stop. We need to stop it in our own lives. We need to check and re-check posts we want to pass on because it fits with our own beliefs of the way things are. We need to look for the truth, even if that truth is uncomfortable and doesn’t fit with our worldview. We need to be seekers of the truth and that doesn’t stop at our own religious beliefs, it may start there, but it must carry on into society to search out the truth in our daily lives and those around us. After contemplating these points, Ian sent me a link to a Guardian article on how we get sucked into debates where we want to score points and instead we should be more mindful of how we interact with others and not just purveyors of the truth. 

The snow has been coming and going this week
“Yet another sign you’re trapped in the Vortex is the phenomenon that’s been labelled “position creep”, in which otherwise sane people adopt, then feel obliged to fight for, the sort of black-and-white, nuance-free stances they’d never defend in calm conversation over cups of tea offline.”

Now that’s my line of thinking, there is so much that could be solved over a nice cup of tea.

Monday, 27 November 2017


Finally a bright sunny day
On our farm we try to apply certain principles such as, being kind to the land, to grow our own food with the minimum of external inputs and not using chemicals. We are not perfect and our roadway shows it is not always possible to be kind to the land, especially in wet weather. We just try to minimise our impact in thoughtful ways when it is unavoidable. These principles are also echoed in permaculture where the idea is to view the land and the life attached to it as a whole, one to take care of and enhance as much as possible for the sake of the future. The principles outlined below are taken from the Permaculture Principles site and I like the part where it talks about adopting the ethics to help us to transition from being dependent consumers to responsible producers, which is what we are trying to do, little by little.
The downsides of wet weather and animals. Mind you, this
would have been a lot worse with cows

A picture from the girl's paddock with the long winter
What is permaculture?
Permaculture is a creative design process based on whole-systems thinking informed by ethics and design principles. 
This approach guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics. 
I see the moles are working hard aerating the land. Hard to
be grateful sometimes though because if the humps are not
flattened then the soil gets into the hay
By adopting the ethics and applying these principles in our daily life we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers. This journey builds skills and resilience at home and in our local communities that will help us prepare for an uncertain future with less available energy. 
The techniques and strategies used to apply these principles vary widely depending on the location, climatic conditions and resources that are available. The methods may differ, but the foundations to this wholistic approach remain constant. By learning these principles you can acquire valuable thinking tools that help you become more resilient in an era of change.
The road that runs past our land until they graded it later

Prepping a new feeder for the sheep. The old one is in pieces
in the background
I think these kinds of ethics fit with God's idea of how we should work the land that he gave us. So in our efforts to try and work with our land and not against it we arranged to see some people connected to a permaculture organisation here in Latvia (link). We would love to join them on their workshops but we are usually busy on our own farm at the same time that they hold their workshops. Mind you it was nice to be able to just sit and chat in relative peace, which is probably not possible on a workshop day with all the other folks milling around. We especially went to see their grey water system to see how it works. A grey water system takes all the household water, except the toilet. We don't need one so much at the moment as we just throw the washing up water over the grass and let the grassland do its work. One day though we may need to find a different system and so it is nice to know how to go about dealing with water from a house that leads to clean water in the end. We also sat around drinking tea and eating Latvian garlic bread snacks whilst discussing life in general, I'm hoping they found it as relaxing as we did.
Ian has been fettling again. He has made an
Idle Irene, or is it a Slothful Susan, no it's a
Lazy Kate (front left). It is for plying wool,
he has also made a bobbin winder or rather
shortened something he had made before to fit
the purpose.
Ian does all our spinning and here he is winding
the wool he spun to make a skein for washing. 

Veronica just having a natter with Chanel

Back to her prim and proper self now

Did I mention that Ian had just brought in some fresh hay?
So of course on a nice bright day, the girls spent all day
inside eating
I have been doing a lot of writing just lately and even got started on my PhD thesis proper so it is nice to have a day off every now and again. Mind you my days off involve things like, digging carrots, parsnips and beetroot, cleaning out chickens, sorting out vegetable beds to put manure on over winter, cutting back the asparagus and putting them and the herbs to bed for the winter with a nice cozy spruce coat. Of course I had to go and cut a few weed spruce trees down for the purpose. Keeps me out of mischief anyway. If we had a house out on our land, I would probably do more of that during the day like I do in the summer, but now I spend more time at our apartment. Sigh! One day!
Sofie asleep on a bag of chicken food. Obviously keeping it
safe from the mice, which is a good job because Eyre keeps
bringing them in
The leeks obviously enjoyed the wet summer we had this year

George in contemplative mood
As I mentioned last week in an attempt to try and move to living out on the land more we are continuing to sort out our apartment that we live in, so it is ready to sell next year. The current project is sorting out our dump room. I have disassembled all the IKEA shelving now that has travelled around the world with us and we took those up to our other apartment. I also cleared out the other dump room in that apartment so that we can put all the shelving into one room and then I have to re-stack everything in there. I also said last week that I dread turning into one of those hoarders who keep so much stuff you cannot move and at the moment it kind of looks like that.
One of the spring lambs. Not so little any more
Cabbages are finally hearting up, at least the leaves are still
edible anyway

Texel greens. We had these a couple of sprigs of broccoli,
the cabbage, and some Brussel Sprout leaves for a leafy
stir fry this week.

Still some colour around from the Viburnum berries
It didn't help that we didn't manage to reassemble the shelving. Ian made some new shelves to add to the ones we already have, but somehow we didn't manage to get them sitting square on the uprights. We had spent the first part of the morning cleaning the chimney ready for the new heating season (it starts later in that apartment as we only really heat it to stop the pipes freezing for now) and so by the time we got around to sorting out the shelves it was getting late and we were hungry. We got one set sorted, but gave up with the other and left it for another rainy day. It looks like we will get a chance later on in the week as the forecast is still not looking good. I thought we did well though, the weather has not been the sort to encourage a positive, happy atmosphere and yet we didn't fall out at all.
The deer made a return visit
A Michaelmas Daisy still hanging on in there

Brencis is turning into a fine young chap. 
Facebook is one of those things that does consume too much time, but it also provides us with plenty of opportunities too. One was getting to know the folks at the permaculture organisation and setting up the meeting this week. Another one is getting to know new people and this week I have been connected with more alpaca owners, who we will hope to see next year. They live too far away to go and see them and be able to get back to put our own animals away, so we need longer days before embarking on that trip.
They are supposed to be white!
I erected this stone monument so that I wouldn't lose the stones
and get into trouble when Ian cut the grass. They are still there

A nice photo of Mr. P. He is hard to photograph at times
I also had an interesting discussion about rural Latvia and education this week on Facebook, with someone I haven't chatted to before. I like to hear other's perspectives and test out my own theories. It sharpens my own thinking for a start and keeps me looking for alternatives to the way things work in Latvia now. It was out of that discussion that we found out about a couple who have recently moved to Latvia to start farming relatively near to us, one is Latvian and the other English. I made contact and so hopefully they will come over to see us and our alpacas weather permitting, so we are looking forward to that.
The pond freezing over again
I love the rays of sunshine shining through the forest

The sunset after a very dreary day. A big difference to summer
when the sun sets much further to the right and I don't have
to practically hang out of the window to take a picture. At
least I didn't drop my phone as I was worried that I would
So on these wet dreary days besides writing I have also been trying to sort out arrangements for going to another conference, this time on the bioeconomy. There is a drive by the EU to build the bioeconomy and increase sustainability in the process. Of course this affects rural areas and so it will be interesting to see where they are going with this. I am particularly interested to see where their focus is and how they build up the rural areas to take advantage of these initiatives. It usually only benefits incomers who have an understanding of business and doesn't always address the issues of rural infrastructure to make sure it can continue. Too many initiatives start and then fizzle out and I am keen that this does not happen this time around, so sorry Mr, Ambassador I cannot make it to the British Embassy event again this year, maybe another time.
These amazing creations do not appear every year, but
fascinating when they do. They are called Frost flowers

Monday, 20 November 2017

The old routine

Whatcha looking at?
We have settled back into our winter routine now. Ian goes out to the land every day and I more often than not stay at home. I have at least managed to get the second draft of the paper finished for my co-authors to comment on and we will see where we take it from there. We still have to decide which academic journal to send it to and then I can tailor the work more closely to what they would expect. At least that is one thing out of the way for the moment and it means I can now concentrate on other things.
Soggy feet. Good job they are not sheep and prone to footrot

Best buddies
One of the other things is to get our apartment sorted for selling it early on next year. There is a lot of stuff to sort out and some build up over time. We have been here nearly 10 years now and there is always some sort of creeping accumulation, especially for us two hoarders. I still have nightmares that we will one day end up like those people you see on the television programmes who can't move for stuff. We are not that bad really but then we are spread out over various properties, two small apartments, one barn, one large greenhouse and one caravan. In our defence the incoming stuff is not as fast as for many folks, we don't buy a lot, it is just we do not readily chuck things out either and our rate of repurposing is not fast enough. I have lots of ideas but either not enough time or my stuff is all in the wrong place at the wrong time. Excuses, excuses I know.
It would appear that George is one of those alpacas that
attracts the hay. We have to get that out of his fleece next

Eating, eating on a murky day
We have been quite social for us. Not always easy at this time of the year, even though we have time. It gets dark so quickly that the thought of going out again seems to be an effort. Once out, however, it is never that bad. One lady I have been chatting to on Facebook moved back to our village fairly recently. She broke her ankle in one of those, I can't believe "I go around the world doing crazy things and break my ankle outside my own door" type of accidents and so was stuck indoors. Anyway I said it would be nice to chat in person instead of just via Facebook and so we finally got to meet up and Ian tagged along. We have met before, but quite a few years ago now and much has happened in the meantime. We had a lot to talk about as we are both trying to work towards our PhDs, although her's is more focussed on business development rather than community development like mine. There are plenty of overlaps in our approach though. which is interesting. We also got through two pots of tea and some cakes, so definitely plenty of jawing going on.
The boys doing the same

I took this at our friend's house last week. The cockerel
is huge but apparently a gentle giant. One of our young
cockerels started crowing this week. It is a bit odd as it
is the smaller of the cockerels that we thought was less
well developed and so put it in with the smaller hens.
Our next outing was to the local culture house, where they were celebrating the country's 99th birthday. Our small town/village has a population of about 2,500 but that's enough for a good dance troupe, a choir and lots of people for the play and in addition to all that the place was still packed out. We got there just in time to get a seat. Not much of a view, but enough. I love to watch the Latvians dance, they are good at it and even for a small place like ours the standard is high. I also love to see the different costumes for each dance, very elegant. Sorry I didn't get any pictures, I was just enjoying the scene and trying to make sense of what was going on. After the dance, they sang the national anthem and then the play began.
Yes it's been wet and yes Mari has been out in the rain and
the snow. Apparently George was reluctant to join Mari
today, he would rather stay in but if Mum's out then he follows
Agnese in contemplative mood
It was an overview of the history told through the story of a cafe. Fortunately I know much of the history of Latvia and so could follow along. The eeriest part was seeing a great big Soviet Union flag clearly dominating the set and this was followed by some danciers. To one side was a lady who represented Latvia, who was also dancing, she then began to just turn around and around. At this point the other dancers left the stage and the guy in a Soviet Union uniform began to bind the Latvian dancer up with a thick black strap, slowly, slowly, higher and higher until her mouth was covered and they then both walked off the stage. It was a sad, sad point and you could feel the pain of the moment. Time moved on and the next part was the gradual loosening of the hold of the Soviet Union. There was a video clip of the demonstration, the Baltic Way - where people held hands in opposition to the Soviet Union from Tallinn, through Riga to Vilnius, 600km of human defiance. Eventually the people were free to fly the flag of freedom and they unravelled a huge flag. The people in the place were moved and stood and watched as the flag was unfurled. We didn't understand much of what was said, but we did understand that freedom means a lot to those who knew occupation.
I was collecting seed and this is the remains of one of the
seed heads of Scorzonera a root vegetable. I love the metallic
colours in this one against the straw floor

This one was taken against the background of a sheet and
so has more muted colours

Trying to get our boys going in the same direction
The next day on our farm we had visitors who had booked to walk an alpaca. Since there were three of them we decided to test the boys and see how they worked together. We only charged them for one, as it was an experiment. We found that it is necessary with three to keep moving, not as much time to stop and chat, otherwise they all start going off in different directions. The boys were good though and the folks were an interesting bunch, who liked to chat too. I'm hoping that the one who is into logistics gets back to me at some stage to talk about minibus hire. Useful to have a contact.
More visitors to the farm. Glad it is these guys and not the
wolves that visited another farm nearby and killed 10 sheep

The lookout on the mound

Beating a retreat