Monday, 8 February 2016

We're all doomed

The snow didn't last but slowly melted away 
It seemed an appropriate title for a blog in this day and age, especially with the recent release of the Dad's Army film, since it was Private Frazer's favourite saying. I hope that the film is as good as some are saying and look forward to seeing it on video. Sometimes the world can seem like it is full of doom and gloom but if we focus on that and not the good that we see in others we could easily become paralysed and fearful of everything and everyone and that can't be healthy.
The moles are still active under the soil. Makes me wonder how
they manage to get through the hard frozen layer.

You can see Agnese peering out from inside the alpaca house,
which is where she ran when she saw me. Bodes well for next
week when I am looking after her. Mind you, I bet she changes
her mind when I have the feed trays. 
Our week began with the snow falling thick and fast and the fear our car wouldn't start. Ian went down early to make sure it did before I set off for Estonia last Monday in case I had to walk to the bus with all my baggage. The car started perfectly and ran well for a few days before starting to have issues again apparently and the snow melted into muddy puddles. There is one thing worse than having car issues and that is having intermittent car issues. Not a comfortable thought when Ian is heading for surgery next week and I will be home alone looking after alpacas while he recuperates in hospital. I am going to have to have a ......I hesitate to say....... crash course in what to do if the problem re-occurs.
The promise of wild strawberries later
in the year
Next year's Christmas tree?
The reason for being up in Estonia was for my annual evaluation. Hopefully it will be my last one for my PhD studies. It is a scary thought to think I could be defending my thesis this time next year, although this is unlikely as I have to have three papers published to qualify first and it took long enough to get the first one through to publication. At least the evaluators were happy enough that I had got one through to that stage. I also have all the credits I need apart from the ones for the thesis itself. The fact I have another paper nearly ready for submission and on track for getting another one together were added bonuses. I just need to do a few more interviews first. One evaluator wondered if the breadth of what I was doing was too overwhelming but he was content with my answer that I am more of a broad picture kind of person and I don't go into a huge amount of detail. I am looking for flexible frameworks that planners can use and adapt rather than THE definitive answer to all planning questions in rural areas.
I love the contrast of the green moss and
the trunk of the tree

A bleak view
Although that was on the Tuesday I had another presentation on the Friday to my colleagues in the department. As the travelling time is too long on public transport to go backwards and forwards I stay up there. With a few days to spare I took the opportunity to see both my supervisors and chat through what I will be doing over the next year and I met up with a lady who I have got to know over the last year or two but not had much chance to chat to in person before. She has helped me with my last paper and we have chatted a lot online as well as briefly in passing but just not for long. This time I made sure we got to spend some time together so I went for lunch and rolled out of her apartment after 7pm after chatting about so many topics that we are both interested in. We even managed to chat about those things you are not supposed to chat about if you want to remain friends, religion and politics. We're still friends!
A forlorn looking remnant of a sunflower that didn't grow
particularly well in the cooler summer temperatures of last year.
In the background you can see the beds we are preparing for
later on in the year to plant into.

The gate for the sheep enclosure stands ready, but no longer
needed for this time of the year. 
My presentation on the Friday was a little naughty, I didn't stick to the usual format at all. I made it participatory and I was trying to demonstrate to them how it is possible to include people in a fairly easy way. I had them answer three questions, "Who am I?", "Where have I come from to get here?" (that is their route in life to the department, not their morning route to get to the office) and "What keeps me here?" We didn't actually go through the answers but laid them out on a table roughly corresponding to our geographical origins (not to scale though, one lady was from Iran, a young guy from Ukraine, another from India and a couple of us from Latvia in addition to the Estonians). We then used wool to link each member of the department to those who they connected with, whether that be professionally or in a more relationship based way. The point of the exercise was to show that we had a map of a story for that department, it outlined our history, it outlined who we were as individuals and corporately and how we were connected to each other. Important starting points for any kind of development.
The trenches dug last year along the contour
of the hill is working. The idea is that it
captures the water and allows it to soak in,
rather than just running down the hill and
flooding the lower areas. They still got
flooded but at least this slows the whole
process down.

This is a potential problem to deal with when the ground
defrosts. We have to find out how far the water is eating into
the bank and undermining it. This is the end of a land drain
that takes water from the road on the opposite side of our
What followed was fascinating as they started to think how the exercise could be used for planning purposes, how it gave people value and could connect them into a process. I was thrilled to see how it engaged them to think about how people could be put at the heart of planning. I was asked a couple of awkward questions about how this linked into my thesis but managed to think on my feet to answer that. I was then asked what had I hoped to gain from this exercise, since that would be the normal format for a doctoral presentation and managed to waffle through that it was informative to see how my own colleagues engaged with the process. What I actually hoped was that people would see that stories could be powerful ways to engage people in landscape planning - something that is understood as a good thing to do, but the actual practice is more difficult and not so well done usually.
One of the problems of surfaces becoming hard is run off that
then freezes - skating anyone?

I had eggs from a farmer in Estonia this last week but they
weren't as fresh as these ones from our own hens. If the yolks
were not burst they would not cook so well for fried egg
sandwiches. The bread was fresh too and home-made. 
Eventually it was time to go home. I checked the timetable on a Latvian travel planner, and was horrified to see that train times were still not connecting through as they did last year on my way home. It still said that the Latvian train was due to set off before the Estonian train got into the station - not terribly helpful for a connecting train. I had doubts though because it was winter and track works aren't normal in winter and so I checked the actual train site and it didn't correlate at all. So when I set off I had no idea whether the Latvian train would be in the train station or not. Fortunately it was. I was also a little concerned that there was a planned demonstration by the anti-immigration group in the city, but I didn't see any of that either.
Both cats have been banned from the caravan. They used to be
allowed in to warm up on the radiator but have discovered how
to break and enter into tins that held Ian's bread and cakes.
Fortunately for them the weather has warmed up and so not as
much need for the radiator now. This is a cosy enough spot in
the greenhouse
It looks like a giant hoof print, but is actually
a rather large hole that developed where we
buried Snowdrop. We have to wait for the
ground to defrost to refill it with the soil from
around it
One of the issues for many travellers is the toilets, where are they and what state are they in. Toilets on Latvian trains are not great, they are usually clean, but basic and do not always have hot water or toilet paper and so I choose to hang on until I get to the station. I was thrilled to see that the Riga train station toilets have had a makeover and no longer do people have to tear off toilet paper at the cashier desk as they pay, they actually have toilet paper in the cubicles. Bliss! No longer do I have to think carefully how much am I going to need. They even had posh sinks and the Dyson hand-dryers but somethings never change, the ladies on the cashier desk still don't smile.
As you can see, that despite the melted snow the ice can
still be quite thick in places

There is also the little pockets of life showing through and
the promise of the spring to come
The title of my blog "We're all doomed" often comes through in the various websites and Facebook posts I read, as scientists talk about their concern for the planet. There is often talk about how many are worried that we just seem hellbent on hurrying to our collective annihilation due to our lack of willingness to change lifestyles to stop our planet overheating and going beyond our planetary boundaries. It's not a comfortable thought. The Paris agreement was viewed by some as a victory because there was an agreement to do something, but what was lacking was any cohesive way of actually dealing with the issue they all agree now is happening. As someone explained to me, it is now not just a matter of cutting back on our carbon emissions, it is also about literally sucking it back out of the atmosphere. Something that technology alone is not capable of doing, at least at the moment and despite the Paris agreement there is not much money being ploughed into it either. 
Thinning out the trees on what should be a field. 

It might not look like caring for trees, but
many are dead or dying as the trees grow and
crowd each other out. Theoretically we are
supposed to cut them all down but we don't,
we choose to thin them out and let some
grow for shelter for our animals. 
Unfortunately the chances are we don't have the time to see if the planet will correct itself, or to see if it really is just a part of a greater planetary cycle, we have to act now to address the pressures we are putting on the planet. We have to act as if it matters, not just to us, but for the sakes of our children and grandchildren - they are the ones who will suffer if we don't do something radical. I'm an optimist and choose to believe that if we do alter our lifestyles and care for the environment, the trees and the soil in particular, there is a chance that we can turn things around. If we take care of others better and are more thoughtful in the way we treat others and the planet, at least we will be in a better shape to meet the challenges ahead. For those who are not entirely convinced that the world is going to overheat any time soon, won't it be a better world we leave to the future generations if we do change? 

Monday, 1 February 2016


Some soggy looking alpacas. Notice Veronica our older and
more sensible alpaca in the background - she isn't venturing
far in the yucky weather
I had a Latvian lesson this week in return for letting someone make felt. My teacher is nine years old. One of her parents is English and the other American but she goes to a Latvian school and therefore is able to use both languages competently. I told her that I would have to ask her a word lots of times before it sticks but we had fun making felt anyway and have plans to make some presents. Trying to find a teacher has been a nightmare and so we will see how this works. Mostly she told me about her school and what she does, she told me first in English and then in Latvian so I could hear both. I think that worked quite well.
Soggy messes and the winter isn't supposed to be over yet

As the weather warms up the cut surfaces of the felled alder
trees start to oxidise
My young Latvian teacher's Mum is doing a Masters in Music Therapy and we often chat about studying and various aspects of our work together. She had a brilliant idea the other week of us having a writing day together. We would each work on our own pieces in the same room. It helped to concentrate my mind for sure and we occasionally shared what we had written and commented on that. I actually got two pieces of work completed in the morning, which was great. We both have a lot of writing that needs doing in the next few months and so hopefully we can work together some more and encourage each other in the process.
My attempt at painting an alpaca. I'm happy
with the way it is going but not happy enough
to say it is finished. At least it looks like an

A little cherub
Ian and I finally managed to work together to get something spun and knitted with the wool from the alpacas. Ian carded and spun the wool and I knitted this cardigan. This little cherub is my youngest granddaughter, so it seems fitting that the cardigan also has buttons from my grandmother's stash that I inherited. My grandmother was one of my teachers and an inspiration for knitting. Many of the jumpers (sweaters) we used to wear were knitted by her. I have to admit though my granddaughter didn't smile all the time whilst wearing the cardigan, she did find the collar itched a bit, which is a shame. Her Mum will try some fabric softner on it first and if that doesn't work will sew in a piece around the neck. At least there is plenty of growing room in it.
Remembering cold, sunny snowy days

On bus number two of four to get to Estonia. This is an old
army town in Latvia and would have been off-limits to
even most Latvians in Soviet times
I am up in Estonia again today. It is a long time since I have made it up here and on the way I stopped off in a small Estonian village for an interview with a lovely lady who has an open heart and an open house. An American couple helped me with the interview since they know the language and have known the lady for many years. I love hearing stories from people who have such a generous heart and although she has three of her own children, there are many more who claim her as a Mum in their own lives. She had invited two of her grandchildren to be there too and they were testament to her generous nature, as they were infused with it too.
The boys were locked in one day because the paddock was so
icy they were in danger of hurting themselves

The snow starting to go Wednesday
At least the welcome at this dear lady's home was warmer than when I set off this morning. Last week it had warmed up a lot and just about all the snow disappeared into a wet sludgy mess. However it snowed overnight and so there was about 10cm of snow again this morning and more than up here in the North ironically, but that is because it is at a lower altitude. I have come to expect warmer weather here in Tartu than back home in Latvia.
By the afternoon of Thursday it had largely disappeared
until today
A veritable river of water running where water does not often
run, except like now when the snow melts
We have just got the results back from the histological examination on Snowdrop's liver (our alpaca who died just over a week ago now). We need to talk to the vet to check that Google translate has given us a reasonably accurate translation - as far as it manages with Latvian anyhow - but it appears to say that the cancer was in her bile duct epithelium and had spread to her liver; it was also a fairly aggressive type of cancer. That possibly explains why she wasn't jaundiced and why she deteriorated so quickly. At least we can be fairly confident that there was nothing we could have done for her except to make her last days as comfortable as possible. It is always a worry in case we had inadvertently caused her suffering, but I think that we can be reassured that it wasn't the case here.
And this is the result, our temporary lake

Posted by Kripu Kasumarthy on facebook of ''You Blew Me Away''
Garden Sculpture by Penny Hardy.
As usual I have been pondering on life the universe and everything this week and one of the things I have been pondering on is dignity. The picture on the left set me off. It was posted by a friend on facebook and it first of all spoke to me of my cares being blown away by the whisper of God. It then it also spoke to me of those who have travelled so far in the face of such atrocities and losing little by little parts of themselves in the trauma. The Danish law that requires refugees to be searched and have their valuables removed to me is encapsulated in this picture too, where humanity is gradually being stripped away in the face of hatred.
Oh the joys!

The lady in Estonia reached out to her neighbours when they were in need. Even if they took her for granted at times, she still showed them much dignity. Some of those neighbours would often drink, losing themselves little by little in an alcoholic haze and yet she still reached out to them. All who came for help would be helped.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Spinning tales

The sun looks glorious through the
frosted trees
Well we have some good news this week, Eyre the kitten has recovered. She did have a trip to the vets and was given a drip and a course of probiotics, apparently she had gastroenteritis, but this morning she was bouncing out of the greenhouse to greet us as we arrived in her normal bouncy way. Such a relief, because at one point she wasn't even interested in drinking, just sleeping on the radiator.

These are the chickens that were free range and we brought
inside. They have settled in well and apart from one flying
out at night because I put them away in the wrong order, they
have stayed put in their enclosure.
We did however, lose another chicken. This one was regularly picked on by the four older ones in the same ark and never really fitted in. Again the prolonged cold spell we have had, must have been hard on it. Fortunately or unfortunately as the case maybe it is starting to warm up, with temperatures forecast to be above freezing this next week. So we are either going to have a dumping of wet slushy snow or wet soggy fields and we are not quite sure which is worse, especially when I shall be on snow clearing duties at our apartment block this week if necessary. I'm glad I got a bit of skiing in this last week while the snow was good. I found out that the tractor trails up to where we buried Snowdrop were ideal for skiing in because they had a light covering of snow, the ones that were fresh in the morning were too slippery for me and my cross-country skis as I'm not a confident or competent skier.

Such a cheery face. Mari is really getting quite bold now and
coming up to say hello. We think she will make such lovely 
therapy animal with her gentle nature
We both attended another Soil Science seminar this week and it has given us a lot to think about in terms of how we manage our land to protect the soil. I have known for a while that too much digging damages the soil, but how to manage land in a practical way to produce food was not covered in those kinds of academic circles, just the worry over the loss of microbial life and soil structure from conventional farming techniques. The seminars we attended this week were more practical in nature with remedial action that can be taken to correct problems and suggestions as to how to limit the damage. Now we just have to work out how to practically incorporate the details into our own set up.

Chanel is shyer but still such a smiley face
We have been out and about a lot this week it seems as today we took a trip to our friends at Raksi camelid centre. We haven't seen them in a while and we wanted to pass on the new information we have on the situation in Estonia and the opportunities for greater collaboration and training that we have. It was a good time to share our knowledge as they have looked at using alpacas as therapy animals but it didn't really fit with their operation, so they abandoned that idea. It could work for us though and so they will pass on what they know. We also had a good time looking around their place. They have new camels and they are very gentle animals and like some attention and a good nose scratch. Shame we forgot to take our camera. It looks like Ian might have another shearing job though in the early summer, providing of course he recovers well from his operation next month. He will have to be on best behaviour to make sure he does.

One of the dyed t-shirts
The rest of my week was spent preparing for my evaluation for my PhD which happens next week (sometimes in the car on the way somewhere, thanks to a mobile internet) and dyeing wool hanks and t-shirts. The t-shirts were all getting a bit yellow with age and so I threw them in with the wool hanks I was dyeing to give them a new lease of life. Ian's week has mainly consisted of looking after the animals of course, spinning wool and trying to mend my mixer. A slightly eclectic life we lead! Ian seems to be getting quite good at the spinning, he looks so relaxed as he either cards the wool to prepare it for spinning and then just gently peddling away as he spins the wool. I knew he would be good at it, at least he isn't tapping his leg all night making an irritating noise now, he is being productive in the process. The yarn is also getting better and more even as he practices.

Two of the dyed hanks of wool
A while ago I mentioned that I was testing my blood sugar because it seemed to be going to high at times, well after about four months of testing and adjusting my diet to the findings I have lost about 8lbs (about 3.5kg) in weight. I am nearly at the same weight that I got down to about 13 years ago when I had gall stones and had to monitor my fat intake religiously or suffer dire consequences - you could wave chocolate under my nose and I was not interested, unheard of for me and of course didn't last once I had surgery. I spent one week or so doing regular tests throughout the day to see what it was that was sending my blood sugar up and then used that information to adjust my diet and now just test in the mornings to make sure the diet is working. Scientists are beginning to see how individual our responses are to foods and it certainly showed in the differences between Ian and me. I have found that I cannot eat more than a small potato at night, or a small portion of carbohydrate rich food, but potatoes are the worst, whereas they didn't seem to affect Ian that much and he needs more calories than I do.

Our sheep have responded to the cold by putting on a lot of
fleece. They must be well insulated as that snow doesn't
melt off their backs
Timing is also important I can eat two of my own home-made breadrolls for lunch but not in the evening. I found that out this week after a rather high reading one morning. It makes sense when we remember that our bodies have a diurnal rhythm (daily rhythm). I take my time making bread and so it is more of a sourdough recipe, which also helps, I did find out though that shop bought white bread is only for emergencies, as the blood sugar rise is quite alarming. It is annoying though that if we run out I have to spend so much time reading the labels on bread to see which does not have added sugar - a good job I have new glasses and can see all the small print now and a good job that Latvians like a sour-rye bread and so easily available, even if I do have to hunt for it.

Yes we still have our Christmas tree up, but
it will be coming down at the end of the 
week. It is now starting to drop needles but 
it has been such a lovely addition to our 
lounge that it seemed a shame to throw 
it away too early
Paradoxically fruit is great and desserts are okay as long as they have protein in it, so small piece of cake (and I mean small) and custard - no problem. Ice-cream - fine! Once in the hotel I asked for just ice-cream and they gave me the ice-cream with baked banana in caramel sauce and nuts and the next day my blood sugar was not too bad and certainly not as bad as I had been expecting. If it had been two potatoes, that would have been a different story. Of course the initial rise may have been high - I didn't test that, but it did come down again by the next morning.

Our chain harrow disappearing beneath the snow.
I can also eat porridge in the morning, which not every person struggling with blood sugar can, but I do wonder if that is something to do with making a big batch of 4 or 5 grain porridge. If pasta is better cooled and then re-heated for blood sugar control, then maybe the carbohydrate structure in porridge also undergoes a similar transformation. I have found the same effect with both milk porridge and porridge made with fruit juice or fruit purée (we have a lot of berries in the freezer). I eat my porridge with apple sauce and kefirs and only add honey to the fruit porridge. That all worked out fine without any dire blood sugar spikes. One morning I made the porridge and ate it that same morning and my blood sugar rocketed up.

We don't like leaving these out, but not much choice unless we
build barn number two
One of the advantages of the revised diet is that it has pushed me into using some of the grains we have grown such as quinoa and amaranth. These are actually classed as seeds or pseudo-grains rather than actually grains (grains being the seeds of grass plants) and so higher in protein than the traditional grains. The quinoa is the easiest to process but harder to grow successfully, so we haven't as much of that. Amaranth is very easy to grow but far more fiddly to process because the seed is so tiny.  Quinoa makes a great substitute for rice and is quite tasty. I made a nice mix of the quinoa with fried carrot, peas, sesame seeds, linseed, apple, blackcurrant and gooseberry. The fruit was just warmed through but not enough to disintegrate. It was nice cold later on too. I think we will definitely have to work on upping the production of that this next year.

The girls have a new hay feeder, a special long one so more can
eat at the same time
The amaranth though is more difficult to use and needs to be treated more like polenta. I am also going to see if it works as a porridge for the morning, as this will reduce the total amount of starch I eat. I made flour from the amaranth to use in a crumble for a savoury squash dish and that worked okay and I will have to find out how much I can use amaranth as a substitute for flour. I already use a commercial pea flour to substitute a quarter of the flour in bread sometimes, so I can work on playing with that recipe.

A corner feeder too. Obviously well appreciated
The reality though is that overall the one strategy that has kept the weight coming off more than any others is portion control. I use the same plates I have always used, but instead of filling it, I use the circle that edges the pattern on the plate as my guide. My evening meal has to fit within the circle. A very simple technique. The next part of the portion control is that instead of half being carbohydrate, now it is a third or less. It is easy to visualise and keeps me on track for blood sugar control. After that I eat exactly the same as Ian does. Despite the fun of playing about with new recipes, I do find it hard sometimes. What I really miss though is toast when I feel like a snack, so I can relate to this video of a song from my childhood (forgive the overdone specimens of toast in this clip though, link here). Hopefully over time though my body will recover from its insulin resistance and I won't have to be quite so careful, as long as I keep the belly fat off.

I cannot get enough of the stunning
colours of frosty wintry landscapes

To finish off with, we have just realised that I missed an anniversary last week. It was 8 years ago on the 18th January that I wrote my first blog. We were still in Colorado then and just preparing for our move to Latvia. We didn't know what we were setting off to and certainly had no idea that eight years later we would be caring for alpacas and working out how to process alpaca fleece, along with managing 13ha of land. I had no idea then that I would be studying towards a PhD either. Amazing what you can do when you set off prepared to take the adventures that come your way.

Monday, 18 January 2016

RIP Snowdrop

Snowdrop in June of last year
I finished my blog last week with the worry that we were in for a snow storm, fortunately that did not materialise. We have had snow but nothing we couldn't handle. Not so fortunately, however, we lost Snowdrop. Our vet came out again to see her with another vet and both said it felt as if she was pregnant, which we knew would have been extremely unlikely. There was a day when she and the others got out of their enclosure, but the only intact male we had at the time was still safely within his enclosure. He would have had to have jumped over the fence and then nipped back in, which would be rather unusual. Alpaca mating is also a rather noisy affair, so I think Ian would have heard. Ian joked to the vet that if she was pregnant he was going to change her name to Mary.
No snow storm, but lots of frost

Winters are often stunning times of the year here in Latvia
The examination by the vets though seemed to tip the balance and shortly afterwards Ian found her on her side and breathing very shallowly. One of us stayed with her for the next 3 hours or so as she faded away. We, along with our vet performed an autopsy on her shortly after she passed away. We didn't have a choice, with temperatures way down, there was only a short window of time to investigate before having to deal with a frozen animal. We needed to know why she died so we can increase our knowledge, it also helps the vet to know what she is looking for when examining other alpacas. They don't learn this in vet school yet, not here in Latvia anyway.

The same oak tree taken at sunrise this morning.

The ram is finally taking an interest in at least one of the ladies
Towards the end it looks like her heart started to fail, a little like Alicia's did a couple of years ago, but it didn't appear to be that that made her sick, it was her liver. Firstly it was huge and it was also unusual, not a fatty liver thank goodness, which would have had possible implications for our other alpacas, but probably cancerous. The liver is now awaiting a histological examination. We don't have the facilities to do that sort of investigation.
Frosted tree, perfect blue sky and the moon

Frosted tree, cloudy sky and the moon
Snowdrop was a bit of a character. She wasn't a dear, sweet, old lady. She would have been twelve years old next month and so technically nearly a geriatric, but some alpacas in good condition are still producing cria at her age. She was the one we used to have to lock away when we had visitors as her interest in food was always paramount, and if she thought another alpaca was going to get "her" food she spat. Not helpful when you want visitors to come. She was also always, always, always the first in at night and we placed her food down first in a corner so that we could then feed the others. Woe betide any alpaca trying to eat from her tray. She had calmed down a lot though, as she got used to us. As long as we handled her correctly to make sure she didn't spit in our direction when trying to deal with her for any reason she was fine. She was only articulating her displeasure  after all.
Liquid gold sunrise

It has been difficult to choose photos from the ones Ian has taken

Of course we have also been trying to think back over the last few months to try and identify if there was anything that we could have done differently, any signs we should have been aware of etc. I don't think it would have made any difference to the outcome, but it could help us to recognise when another alpaca is sick. It is often difficult to recognise when herd animals are ill, because they don't show until it is often serious and something we just have to accept. There were a few things though that we now know were signals that something was wrong. We were worried about her weight, as she definitely seemed thin and despite not breeding from her this year to allow her time to recover, she didn't put weight on, despite extra feeds and free access to hay.
Soaking up the sunshine

Sometimes our animals prefer snow to the cold water
Another sign was the day she walked up to Ian and looked him hard in the face. When some of the others do that it usually means they would like some water, but that wasn't what she wanted. We remember an alpaca breeder mentioning that if an alpaca was pregnant and seemed to want attention, then something was wrong with the birthing process so perhaps it also means they are trying to get attention when they are sick. The final sign was a rapid weight loss in the last few weeks. I was surprised how much she seemed to have lost since it got cold, but I guess all her energy was going towards trying to stay warm. Thank goodness those two blankets made her comfortable in the end.
Says it all

The morning view from our apartment
Her name and her birth date should give you a clue that Snowdrop was a winter baby. The breeder we got her from didn't intentionally breed at that time of year and she was a surprise birth. It almost seems fitting that to bury her we had to dig through 40cms of permafrost before finding ground soft enough for the back hoe to handle. We had to use long handled chisels and a masonry drill to get through, then the frozen ground was so strong we were able to excavate underneath it without it giving way. So our feisty old lady is now buried beneath a blanket of snow, close to Alicia.

A picture I painted in our art class on a fantasy theme
The nibbler
She isn't the only one causing concern this week. As I mentioned last week I made a coat from an old sleeping bag. The bag must be over thirty years old, as Ian had it before he met me and we have known each other 33 years and so the fabric is not terribly strong. Our youngest alpaca, Brencis, is nibbling everything in sight at the moment. It is possible that he is a bit hungry as he isn't feeding as much from his mum and he hasn't quite got the hang of feeding from the trays yet. More often than not he picks the tray up in his teeth and so scatters the pellets everywhere. He does have free access to hay though and chomps his way through that, but you know how it is when kids are growing fast and trying to fill them. Anyway, he managed to tear a big section of the blanket and the next morning the patch was torn right off and no evidence of the fabric anywhere. We can only surmise that he has eaten it. Ian keeps checking to see if it has appeared, but nothing yet and after checking the internet it could be a while. Apparently the contents of an alpacas stomach can stay there for up to 60 days!
Our geriatric alpaca, is still going strong. Her condition is good

Eyre with her winter ruff
Next on the concern list was Eyre our youngest kitten. She may have eaten something she shouldn't have and definitely has worms. Great! Anyway I finally found the tablet we have for worming cats in my handbag at home, so tomorrow she will get that and hopefully that sorts her out. She got to spend a night in our caravan, rather than the greenhouse like normal. Don't worry about our cats though, firstly the greenhouse gives them lots of protection from the elements and they have both put lots of growth into their fur coats and have bushed up beautifully. We used to take Sofie and Bella (our previous cat) home in the winter, but found they hated the over-heated flat at night, which is why they stay out now. Finally we also lost one of the chickens yesterday. It was the one that was sick a little while ago, so the cold probably hasn't helped. At least the rest seem okay.

I finished knitting my Christmas hat
Talking of over-heated flats, that isn't the case this year. For anyone that has followed the blog over the years, you may realise that we often have heating issues. Too hot or too cold and too expensive regardless of the heat. This year it has been consistently cold and we even had mouldy walls. We now put our woodburner on in the evenings to keep us warm enough and to dry out the place. It is no good complaining, because it is a house issue and not just the company who provides the heat. Until the people in our apartment block decide to come off the communal heat, it will remain expensive and unpredictable. The re-circulation pump that was installed at excessive costs about eighteen months ago is the reason for the cold, but steady temperatures from what we understand. So the saga continues.