Monday, 10 December 2018

A Tough Week

One sunny frosty morning and the boys are outside for a
It is weird how this week seems to have been both a long hard slog and yet flown by. It's hard to believe that in a few hours I will be going to collect Ian from the airport. As I mentioned in my last blog i was waiting for someone to come and help us to cull our sheep. The sheep were content enough waiting as they had hay to eat. That is until it was time to get hold of one of them. Apparently she was a little stronger than my friend anticipated and so escaped. In trying to sort that one out, another escaped. I managed to catch the last one and kept her pinned up against the fence of the pen whilst the others were enticed back in. They were a bit wary, until my friend had the brainwave to feed the penned in sheep with some grain and the others decided they wanted what she had, so in they trouped. Don't worry, I didn't unduly stress the one that was pinned up against the fence - I'm only little and she was a big sheep. Not sure what I would have done if she had actually struggled at all, she just stood their quietly.
It's been a mixed bag as far as the weather is concerned with
snow coming and going all week. Sometimes I have had to
break ice and sometimes the roofs are dripping in the moist
air filling the water troughs

One of the new girls sitting outside on a snowy day. I guess
she must be feeling warmer as it is no longer -12C like some
days last week, more like between 0 and -2C
Culling sheep is not a noisy affair and it was done as quietly and respectfully as possible. We started about six and were finished at nine, with the carcasses left to hang from the beams in our barn. I rolled into our apartment at about 10pm that night after defrosting the car before I could set off- so a long day. I spent the next two days sorting out the meat, ready for the freezer, so yet more long days. The meat needed cutting up, wrapping, labelling and sorting out into fatty bits and small pieces of meat for pies and stews. Some was minced and frozen in packs and some was turned into burgers. It was hard physical work and so I was absolutely whacked by the end of it all. Meat in our household is precious - we know where it has come from, what it has eaten and how much effort has gone into preparation of it, so we do our best not to waste any of it.
One of the days we had ice rain
that covered everything in a thick
layer of ice

It was beautiful if difficult day.
These plants look like glass

The trees were struggling though under the weight of ice.
Fortunately nothing really major but I did have to stop on the
road at one point and remove a small branch that had come
Finally after three long days I got an early night. While Ian has been away I have been going to bed earlier and reading a book with a cup of cocoa or a cup of tea. I find it a nice way to unwind at the end the day and get off to sleep, so it was good to get a chance to do that again. My current evening read is Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America". Back in the mid 90s he was arguing that we need to think carefully about the soil and how much it means to us and our sustainability, and how we should be caring for it. I wonder if he has the feeling of "I told you so!" because it is definitely a very current topic in agricultural sustainability. So much soil has been lost to the air or through water erosion. Not just centimetres but in some cases metres of topsoil has disappeared, either ending up in rivers and estuaries or polluting the air. The very stuff we depend on for our vegetables and grains - gone!
Brencis and Turbjørn outside. They look so alike and yet they
are nephew and uncle really. 

More melting snow on a misty day. This is the worst of
weathers to be driving in on the dirt roads. Even travelling
slowly in a 4x4 I was slipping, I resorted to the diff lock
Wendell Berry also talks about how much we have lost the connection with the land, from agribusiness to urban dwellers alike. On the one hand it is amazing to read and think that someone agrees with what I have been saying just lately and on the other hand I feel sad that someone has said it all before and not just recently but decades ago. The warning signs were there and we didn't heed them. Now we are heading for calamity unless we change course quickly. We have to reduce our consumption, we have to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels that not only affects our climate in terms of temperature but it pollutes our air, our waterways and our bodies. He likens it to us stealing from our future generations. In reality it is not 'just our future generations, it is our current younger generations who will be left with the mess we are making. Not a pleasant thought!
Is there some for me? Afternoon treats of carrots, squash and
alfafa pellets. I had to lead Chanel to a tray, she kept
wandering around. The others just got on and found a tray

Jakobs is getting the hang of this feed time now. I started him
on the grain at nights when he started pinching some from his
mum's tray. He now eats the squash and alfalfa pellets. He
doesn't seem so sure of the carrots though. His mum helps
him out - or steals from him, whichever way you look at it.
Well as I get ready for Ian coming back the apartment is beginning to resemble a home again and not a place just for passing through. The washing up is finally all done, scones made - Ian needs his energy, our evening meal ready for tomorrow to save time and the wood brought up from the cellar ready for the next few days. Maybe tomorrow I can relax a bit in the evening. Maybe!

Poor Jakobs just looks bemused by it all. He keeps investigating
the trays but doesn't actually eat anything. At night he goes
for the hay in the feeders whilst the adults are all occupied

Mum can I have some milk now? I think the answer was "No!"

One of Vanessa's crew aka new girls eating the snow. They do
like the Christmas trees to eat too

Beauty in winter

The pond is finally beginning to fill, but you
can see the pipe along the upper most rim
of brown. That's how full it should be at this
time of the year.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Snowy days

Not quite the view on the way home from the airport but a
similar pinkish hue in the sunrise on the farm
The view on the way home from the airport after dropping Ian off was breathtaking. Just before I arrived in our village the landscape was suffused with the most delicate of pinks as the sun set behind me. I longed to stop and take a picture but had to suffice with drinking in the view whilst hurrying to the farm to put the animals away before the sun dipped below the horizon. Fortunately the animals have been good to me for the most part this week, apart from hiding their feeding trays from time to time. Having said that, sometimes they have been finding trays for me too. One was propped up on the side in the alpaca house one morning and then one was laid neatly outside the door one afternoon.
I have no idea how they manage
to place a tray on the side of the
alpaca house. It take some skill

It has been pretty cold and ice crystals have been building
On the first evening I was washing up when the electric went off. Charming I thought. The problem is that we have only been living in that apartment for about three weeks now and so I had to think hard where the nearest candles and matches were. Fortunately they weren't far. I then checked to see if it was just our apartment but then got a text from the electric company to say they were working on the problem, so obviously not just us. The other issue was that I had only just loaded up the wood fire so hurriedly had to clamp that off before it boiled the water in the heating system. Funny how Ian and I were only talking about the fact we should really have the back up sorted for the pump to run off a battery in an emergency. Shame we didn't get it sorted out earlier. Anyway no harm done.
We are not going out there!

Okay maybe for a bit.
I have been taking water in every morning. It isn't absolutely
 necessary as they all eat the snow in fact some of them will
only eat the snow and won't touch the water. I know though
that if I do not do it every day then I will forget and there is
still not much in the well yet.
The rest of the week has been fairly mundane as I took on the jobs that Ian normally does. I am out on the land about 8:30 am, which at this time of the year is early enough. Sometimes the animals don't even get up when I go in, as if to say "Oh it's you! What are you doing here at this time?" even though Ian is usually out on the land earlier than I am. The first job is to go around and open doors and collect feed trays. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes that is easier said than done. I then feed the chickens. Depending on the weather and how cold it is, or if snow was expected, I would either have a cup of coffee or go and clear the poo in the alpaca houses. Sometimes it was too cold for coffee straightaway and sometimes the forecast meant it was better to get chores done first.
As you might be able to see the pond doesn't even cover the
area where the rushes are yet because the water table is
still so low. The other pond still has no water in it yet.

I love the way the rosehips stand out so
much against the monochrome background
It has certainly been cold this week. It has been down to -13C that I know of. I keep forgetting to check the various thermometers around the place but usually see what it reads in he car in the morning on the way out and in the evening on the way back. It has made wrapping up to keep warm a challenge but I think I have the layers right now. It wouldn't have been so bad but there was a breeze most of the time and that made it feel even colder. Plus I haven't got acclimatised to it yet. By the end of winter -13C can feel quite warm and almost spring-like.
The log pile and the green bin also stand out

Afternoon treats
As it is winter I have also been giving extra feed in the middle of the afternoon to our female alpacas who have little ones to feed or are pregnant. They always have hay but they appreciate the extra too. They have either been getting fodder beets, carrots or squash, all of which they enjoy. I noticed though the young ones getting more interested in the feed. Normally they are older before they get interested in it and Josefs is still more interested in the hay whilst everyone else is tucking into grain. I noticed last night though that Jakobs was trying to pinch food from his mother's tray, rather than eating the hay like the night before, so tonight Jakobs had a tray of grain to himself and he wolfed it down. Mind you there was pandemonium generally as no one knew which tray to eat from.
It was very eerie this morning in the pink mist
All was so quite too

Some days the sun did shine and the clouds parted
At the moment I am still in the caravan, even though it is pitch black outside because I am waiting for someone to come and help me with culling the sheep. This afternoon a friend turned up and he brought some sheep panels. It was a fairly easy job to entice the sheep into the enclosure (while there was still some daylight) - a lot easier than either of us anticipated. Having fencing still up that hasn't been taken in yet and the panels made it a lot easier than any of the other options we had. Once this is done we will no longer have any sheep and Ian can then concentrate on looking after the alpacas. Since we now have 18 of them, I think it will keep him occupied.

I made it out for a walk twice this week to take a
look around the land. Sometimes I didn't have time
with hay to move or it was too windy or even snowing

Who are you?

I love the frosted shapes made by this
oak tree

George blocking the door way 

It looks like these two are sharing a joke

More frosted shapes, this is the lovage plant

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A tad busy

I love this picture as it looks like a watercolour painting. I
gather the lens got a bit fogged up in the cold.
With last week's blog finally published I can now get around to this week's. Last week's blog would have been posted sooner but I was a bit busy and had some rather long days. It was a long trip to Lithuania and the following day was another long one too, but in the opposite direction to Estonia. I had a late request about two weeks ago to represent our department at the annual conference for PhD students at my university, I needed to head up there at some stage anyway and so decided to accept. I also fitted in a few meetings along the way. It turned out to be almost a military operation, with a great deal of flexibility and some people going above and beyond their call of duty. It worked anyway.
Mr. P. doing his best to disguise himself as a white alpaca
to fit in with the others

Joesfs glowing in the sunshine
The first meeting was in a lovely cafe, with some gorgeous cakes in Old Riga, (Bake Berry Konditorija) there I met a lady who is friends with our Polish felting tutor Galina. This lady does some wonderful work herself and I had wanted to meet her for a while. She doesn't speak much English and my Latvian is not great (mind you my Russian is even worse) but we managed. She gave me a few useful tips through by sketching her ideas and I gave her some alpaca fleece to experiment with. She was lovely and insisted that when I came back through Riga she was going to buy me a coffee and cake, which is what I did on the Thursday. 
Just in case you haven't guessed yet. Winter has arrived

The wooden trees my friend
I was meant to be dropping off some letters that had arrived at our old apartment for the new owners. as well The idea was to meet me in Old Riga, but on the day the lady was sick. After changing plans twice more I managed to drop them off with her husband at a bus stop just outside the National Library where my next meeting was. I then put my academic hat on as I was meeting someone from one of the Latvian Universities who I've met before. We had a nice lunch and a great discussion. It was nice to finally get to see the wooden trees that decorated the National Library restaurant where we ate. A friend of ours had made them in his workshop in our little town. He is the one that made our kitchens for our two apartments too.
Mother and son, Marie and Jakobs

A crystal oak tree
The meeting with the academic was arranged last minute as she didn't see my email until I was heading down to Lithuania the day before so it threw off my planning for the trip up to Estonia. On the bus into Riga I was trying to work out the best route and the bus and train timetables were not helping. I wanted to spend as much time talking with this academic as possible and so opted for a later bus, only it meant waiting in Valga on the border for a long while and getting in very late, which would have meant another very long day. I explained all of this to my friend in Estonia via Messenger, as you do and she offered to come and pick me up, a drive of about an hour. She said it was only fair as my daughter had driven all the way to pick her up from the airport when she joined me for a holiday in the UK. It was much appreciated though.
I think this is Valeria, but I could be wrong. I still haven't got
their names straight yet. (Update: I was wrong, it is Vanessa)

I asked if I could have a hand held mike because there was
no point me standing behind that lectern. No one would
have seen me. Well maybe a pair of eyes or just the top of
my head.
The following day was the presentation at the university and I was the third presenter of the morning. It was a good job I was able to get most of the presentation done on the bus journeys the day before, as I hadn't had much time to prepare beforehand. I was therefore really pleased with the response I got. Quite a few folks commented afterwards how much they had enjoyed the story. It was fairly easy for people to follow, especially compared to presentations on genetics or dissolved organic matter in Estonian lakes, important though they are, they take at least a bit of technical know how on the subject to follow along or understand the importance of the research. One person commented on the way I delivered a quote from one of my interviewees, as he felt it was a touching way to speak about isolation. It is one of the benefits of having read stories to children many times, that I can read with expression.
We've had a glorious few days

Vanessa's crew enjoying the spruce trees. Lots of vitamins
for them
During the first presentation the lady had a list of universities that she attended and one of them was the same as my friend, who I was staying with, had retired from. I messaged my friend during the lecture to see if she knew her. She did and very well. I was told to pass on my greetings, which I did. Later on in another conversation with my friend she said she wished she had known she was in town, so I suggested she come up for the coffee break. I had actually left the conference because I needed to get some work done downloading papers using the universities internet and I was sat waiting for my friend to turn up when the lady who had presented appeared to collect her coat. I leapt up to tell her that my friend was coming and wanted to say hello and fortunately she agreed to stay on for a few minutes. It was really neat to see them finally get to say hello to each other in person. You could tell they had had some good times together and I saw my friend's face light up at the thought of all the stories she could write about her friend's work. You can't take the journalist out of that Texan gal.
We had a rearrangement of chickens so they have more space
now. We culled the older cockerels when I got back. There
is no point feeding them over winter and they were taking
up space that the hens need. The older they get the more
aggressive they tend to be and so it is best for them to be
culled before winter. 

These are gifts from the lady I met on the Tuesday and
Thursday. Here you can see some of the wonderful things
she makes (link), if you are interested in any of her work
she can write in English.
The following day I got another lift down to the border so I could talk with my supervisor about various issues that needed sorting. He added an extra half hour onto his journey to a seminar so that we had a chance to talk and it meant I didn't have such a long time on the bus. So the good news is that I am further along with having a part time job on a collaborative project with other universities and I now have my work planned out for re-writing papers that need to be submitted. Plus I managed to get an earlier bus down to Riga and so went to the library again to have lunch and do a bit of work before meeting the lovely lady I met on the Tuesday, along with two other folks. One gave me back a scarf that she had taken to show her mother who had owned a shop at the time. Sadly that had to close shortly after and so that meant a potential collaboration came to nothing. The other was someone actually buying a scarf from me that I had made. 

It was a bit surprising to wake up to snow. This is from our
new apartment window.
So with my work planned out I had the Friday to read through the project description and add my questions to it and do some catching up on marking work for GCSE students who I tutor online. Saturday was spent out on the land to do some alpaca pedicures and refreshing my memory on what is needed for taking over from Ian when it comes to looking after the alpacas now he is away. Sunday and Monday I got a start on re-writing a paper that needs resubmitting before January that no one else has got time to do. Well that should keep me out of trouble.

The wild boar have been back too. Not what we want. We hoped the numbers would stay lower for a while or at least stay in the forest more. Perhaps the dry summer has forced them out as there may not be as much to eat. Hopefully the ground will be too frozen soon anyway.
This damage was mainly done on
Monday/Tuesday night

his damage was also mainly done on
Monday/Tuesday night

More from Monday/Tuesday. Ironic that the hunting tower
is at the top there in the distance

This was Tuesday/Wednesday night. Not good! We had only
just got that bank nicely sorted out after the damage done a
few years ago and now we have to start all over again. The main
problem is all the weed seeds that germinate from these. If it
would just turn up grass or herb seeds we would be fine, but
usually docks, ground elder and nettles seem to be the result