Monday, 27 October 2014

Planning ahead

Our cats have been cuddling up for warmth this week. 
The clocks changed, did you notice? We sure did, especially as Ian is now home from the land very early, about 5pm at the moment, by which time it is quite dark. The changing clocks really does focus our mind on the coming winter. This last week has been so cold (-10C/14F at night and not above freezing in the day) that the ground has well and truly frozen. This does mean that Ian has been able to get on with some work, like moving bales of hay with the tractor, but he can't get the wooden stakes in to mark the road yet for when the snows come. It should thaw though this next week and so that kind of preparation work will be undertaken in earnest. I should have got the garlic in a couple of weeks ago, but didn't and now I have to wait for the ground to thaw too to put them in. Mind you, I have a cunning plan, there are some chippings that have got far to rotten for Ian to put on the roadway, but they are not so wet that they are frozen. If the worse comes to the worse then I use that to put the garlic in, on top of the frozen soil. It will sort itself out in the Spring if not before.

Ian experimenting to see if he can get
our woodstove up and working out on
the land. It will help to dry wood out,
provide some warmth if the electric
ever goes out and heat up water for
the animals to drink
I mentioned last week that the heating was rather too warm, but the house manager got a system installed that seemed to be working to keep the temperature pleasant and so it stayed for quite a few days (no that is not a picture of our apartment house heating system). The last few days have been on the cool side, but I think that was due to the rather bitter cold wind we have been having. I don't care though, I would rather have it a tad cool than too warm or freezing. After all an extra layer or a blanket suffices or even the fire on if necessary, but when it is freezing for days on end or too warm, there is not much you can do when you have communal heating and no individual means of regulating the heat.

Improvements to the stove. Ian took
the legs off so it would sit lower in the
little woodstore area. He then put
stones around to retain heat. Next
will be some walls of some description
Besides preparing for winter I have been sorting out my students. I now have three, one in Estonia, one in Latvia and one in Uganda. The Estonian and the Latvian are both Masters students and helping me with my PhD research, the Ugandan is my Sociology student. I was a little concerned I wasn't getting work from my Ugandan student to mark, but it turns out the electric has been a little haphazard. Oh they joys of online learning! It is challenging supervising Masters students and tutoring someone at GCSE level, which are exams aimed at students primarily around 16 years old in the UK, but I like a challenge and would get bored if I didn't have challenges to keep me going. I met up with the Latvian student in Riga last week and we had a good time. I think we got a good understanding of the project and where we are heading, so that was encouraging.

The Freedom monument in Riga
I went by bus to Riga to meet up with the Latvian student and it was my neighbour who was driving. I got the privileged front seat, the one they usually rope off until the bus is full. It was a dark start at 6:40am and it made me realise how observant the drivers have to be on the dark country roads. I would notice the driver signalling and slowing down and then see a small bright light at the side of the road, that I had taken for a reflector on one of those road edge indicator posts. I did wonder what they used to do before bright torches and reflective strips. There was one guy who had neither of those and was dressed in a dark jacket and dark trousers. I wondered how on earth the driver saw him, but I guess it helped that by then the sky was starting to brighten. It was sad to see the tail end of the flooding though. There was so much water still standing in fields and rivers were also running high. Some of the large round bales of hay were sat in water 2/3rds of a bale high. All I could think of was the wasted effort and money for the farmer.

Old Riga, taken with my back to the Freedom Monument
Whilst in Riga I also met up with my young friend and she helped direct me to a little shoe stall on the market that had winter boots. I managed to find a pair, for which I was very grateful. I hate trudging around shops looking for things and to my delight, so does my young friend. We hit the second hand shops for about an hour, if that! Then we were both bored and had enough, perfect! I didn't buy any clothes, but she found some fabulous blouses that really suited her and were great for a more business like look. At least I know where to go for decent second hand clothes in Riga now. On my way to find my friend at the bus station I spotted a statue I hadn't seen before, I didn't think it was the prettiest of statues, as it looked like a fairly gaudy statue of Mary and baby Jesus that looked like it belonged in one of those very over the top, decorated churches or maybe the kind of relics they sell at tacky shops for Christmas. I was trying to work out what it was and why I hadn't seen it before, when the statue started to sink down into a black box looking thing. It was very freaky. Once it had almost disappeared from view and just the crown on its head was all that could be seen, another statue started to rise of a gentleman from either the late 1800s or early 1900s, quite yellow in colour. I'm sorry I was so bewildered by the scene I never thought to get out my ipad and take a video and I hadn't got my camera with me anyway. By way of explanation I did find this quote from a Guardian news article  
To mark its status as European Capital of Culture 2014, hundreds of small projects are aiming to explore Riga's rich heritage, while also looking to its future. Monument Wars is a new art installation on Brivibas boulevard, where a Lenin monument once stood. Designed to illustrate different influences on the city, it is made up of four alternating sculptures, including a Virgin Mary and a black-skinned Barbie in Swedish dress.
Well that explains one of the other statues and I know there was a fourth but I didn't hang around long enough to see what that one was.

Frosty days and autumn leaves have nearly all gone
 All this planning for future projects and winter preparations wasn't the only planning we have been doing this week. My daughter announced that she could come and visit us again in early December. I won't be there for the whole of the time she can come, but then it does give our granddaughter a bit of grandad time, which I'm sure they will both enjoy. It is nice to have her that much closer that she can come and visit more and it is nice to be able to do grandma-ey type things.

At least the sun has returned
I forgot to mention last week we had more pig damage and quite close up to alpaca fences. It is very annoying, as the pasture was finally looking good after a summer of loving care and attention. The advantage though of freezing temperatures this last week, was no pig damage. The ground was just too hard for their big snouts. This next week maybe more of a problem if there is a thaw, they could be quite hungry and it seems like the pigs will not be fed this winter to allow their numbers to dwindle to reduce the problems of over crowding to tackle the spreading African Swine Fever epidemic. Apparently they are still finding about one animal a day with the disease, but fortunately for pig farmers, none have been found in the domestic herds since September and so biosecurity measures seem to be working. 

And yes that is one my neighbours, raking up the leaves
and depriving the worms of leaf mould, whilst making a
very smoky fire to envelope the washing line. There will
not be a black hole in the grass, as the leaves are burning
in the ditch and fortunately there was no washing on the
washing line. 
And that brings me to the end of our week out here in Latvia, so I thought I would finish with my thought for the week. After all the negative thoughts about my neighbours last week, the thought crossed my mind "Who is my neighbour?" When Jesus talked about the Good Samaritan we forget how despised the Samaritans were. I am pretty sure that if Jesus was re-telling that story today, the Good Samaritan would be replaced with the Atheist, the Muslim or the homosexual, all groups often despised today by those who would call themselves Christians, just as the Jews demonised the Samaritans in Jesus' day. I know the way that some groups or authorities treat Christians is appalling, but often in those cases the venom and hate is not just reserved for those who profess faith in Christ, they reject any decent human being and sometimes those who are not decent too. They just hate, full stop! Not all atheists are God-haters, who take delight in pulling down Christians, some of them are quite nice actually, they just don't believe in God. Not all Muslims are terrorists, waiting to blow us up at the least provocation, many are longing for peace and secure families just like many of us. Not all homosexuals are out to pervert our children, again many just want to live in peace and some are the kindest people you might meet. I'm tired of hatred, so let's stop it, please!

If you are squeamish about insects, do not scroll down

I'm warning you! This isn't pretty 

You were warned

These monster cockchafers were found in our wood chipping
pile. The smaller ones you see are a more normal size and
there are some sprouting acorns for comparison. We have
never seen any this big before. Still not sure if I knew
they were edible if I would eat them, but then again, why
worry about that when the chickens fight over them.
Well some of them do anyway, some just look with complete
disdain at the offerings.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Up and down

This is my land. Well not exactly land I own, but it is my
home and these are the homes of some of my
neighbours. The scene is beginning to reappear as the
trees shed their summer apparel.
There are always points in your life when you get heartily sick of circumstances and fed up and this year has been quite tough for us. Trying to get my head around the paper I need to get finished along with being fed up of neighbourly disputes, was not a good combination. There was a point when I was beginning to feel like "What is the point, they are an miserable, argumentative bunch anyway, blah, blah, blah". Not helpful and not entirely true either. I started listening to "This is your land" from the City of Gold:Visions of Heaven album, quite an old album now, but one I have found encouraging along my journey. I couldn't find the lyrics anywhere apart from on the YouTube video and so I have written them out for you,


Golden leaves
Didn't anyone ever tell you
Didn't anyone ever say 
Did you capture a vision of glory 
As she held out her hand today 
It's reaching to the broken ones 
Right down to where you stand
Didn't anyone ever tell you:
This is your land 

Didn't anyone ever tell you
It doesn't matter the last will be first
For the sad, and the meek and the righteous
And all those who will hunger and thirst
So let the poor in spirit know
These dreams are not of sand
Didn't anyone ever tell you
This is your land 

You'll be give the robes of princes
You'll be  flying on golden wings,
You will live in pavilions of splendour
Be surrounded by beautiful things,
So hold onto these promises,
And keep them in your hand,
Didn't anyone ever tell you,
This is your land,  
This is your land, 
This is your land, 
This is your land


We do live in a beautiful land and I believe in heaven coming to earth, after all that is what we pray in the Lord's prayer, so I need to hold onto the promises that God has put on my heart and keep moving forward. This is my land, this is a place I am connected to for as long as God intends me to be here and I don't see us moving any time soon, if ever. 

This is the forecast for Wednesday onwards. Yes it's in
Danish, because it is more reliable than the Latvian site,
but as you can see we are bouncing on into winter now.
So what has been happening in this beautiful land? Flooding and frosts. Oh yes! Winter is on its way and just to reinforce it to us, the swans who are usually the last to fly away, flew off southwards this week. East of us in Latgale they have already had a sprinkling of snow. As you can see from the forecast, it is due to get cold this next week. That doesn't mean that winter is here to stay yet, that usually involves a bit of a battle between autumn and winter before that score is settled of course. The wet weather and the expected imminent arrival  of cold weather meant Ian has been keeping the alpacas in more. The last thing we want is a saturated alpaca and freezing conditions, especially our little one. Unlike sheep they don't have lanolin to shed the water.

Sorry not the most focussed of shots, but what is clear is the
most important part. There is smoke (or steam depending)
out of the chimney just behind the school buildings.
As you can see from the photo our heating has been turned on. It was turned on at around 6pm at night, just as our evening meal was ready and I had already put our fire on. That meant running around to bleed radiators, rather than sitting down to eat. At first the radiators were cold, but gradually they warmed up and then they got hot. If there is one thing we really are tired of is the dispute over the heating. It has either been too cold, or too hot, or too expensive. Just when something appears to get sorted another problem arises and so this issue has been ongoing with a pretty appalling service and increasing costs for the last five or six years. It was so hot we weren't sleeping properly and so I mentioned it to the new house manager. I was relieved to hear that they were installing yet another new system to resolve it and was even pleasantly surprised that when we got back on Sunday after a lunch out, the system was up and working and the radiators gently warm and the temperature in the home comfortable.

Peppers all harvested before the frosts too. They have been
under fleece for a few weeks now and been doing okay, but
we need to move the greenhouse into winter mode and not
risk these going mouldy. They were all cut up and frozen
that night too
As I said we went out to lunch on the Sunday. It was quite a nice day to go for lunch somewhere, not because the weather was good, but precisely because it wasn't. It wasn't nice driving on the rain sodden dirt roads, but it is much nicer being inside chatting over lunch and drinking lots of tea, than it is feeling that something needs doing either inside because of the rain or dodging the rain trying to work outside. At least it was a chance to thrash out some ideas about how to tackle the paper I am still trying to write. I also spent another day up at my friend's house making soap with goats milk. It is a project we have been going to do for absolutely ages. It was a long winded affair, but plenty of time again to sit around chatting and drinking yet more tea while we waited for various substances to cool down. It was surprisingly easy and now I have several bars of the stuff. It doesn't lather up like shop bought soap, but it doesn't irritate my skin either, especially my scalp, as I used it as a shampoo bar. An interesting activity anyway and much needed light relief for all of us I think.

All the ponds are full to overflowing. There is even a little
flooding behind the large pond as the overflow pipe can't
take enough water away.
In between the rain, which has flooded properties, broken bridges and eroded roads further downstream, we have also had some hefty frosts. The day before one of them was forecast, saw me out in the garden digging up carrots. It was a gloriously sunny autumnal day and quite warm, so a rather nice break from writing. The result was two crates and one bag full of carrots, in three stints over the day and I even carried the crates down to the basement of our apartment block. Who needs a workout? I was rather pleased that I didn't even really ache the next day, or at least not much. The summer activities has obviously given me quite a bit of strength. The following day I went out to the land with Ian and since the ground was hard, surprisingly so with all the rain, we took the opportunity to get the chicken arks into the greenhouse along with the caravan. Another sign of the changing seasons. 

I suggested a while ago that we could do with some shelves
at the bottom of our caravan as the arrangement of the table
just meant that everything got piled up at that end. Ian had
a brain wave as he looked at how to tackle the problem and
found by turning the table round we had much more space.
My many ponderings often revolve around economics and economic models. I know riveting you might think, but if there is going to be a change in our societies we have to detox ourselves from the toxic effects of the capitalist society. No I'm not about to expound on communist philosophies, that doesn't work either. The question that revolves around my brain is what kind of economy is God interested in? How do we value what should be valued and stop putting a £/$ or € sign against everything to try and determine its value. I know that sometimes if you charge a small amount of money then people may take more care over what they do or how they respect the event or item, but if you try and give something away they may take that as a cue that it is of no value.

Ian has also installed a plug socket into the toilet, so he can
put the fan heater in there. It will be a blessing in those
rather chilly days.
This hasn't always been the case and is still not true in some cultures. In some cultures a gift is important, not because of its monetary value but because of the significance of the gift. So if I lend or give someone an item, how do I communicate that the item is important and should be cared for, not because of the item's worth but because I have done this as a gift? We somehow have to build trust and respect that doesn't revolve around money in order to free ourselves from dealing in issues from a monetary mindset. Oh the thoughts that revolve around my head. Feel free to add your own and for anyone who has ever lived in what some would call a hippy commune then tell us why that community is either flourishing or died a death, we need to learn from such examples, examples of people daring to challenge the norms of how society functions.

What everyone has in their living room,
don't they? These are sunflower seeds
drying. Unfortunately they were getting
damp and mouldy in the greenhouse
and barn and so needed dealing with
before we lost them
This last week saw the Saiema (Latvian Government) adopt a new law that means that when someone loses a house through a bank loan they can hand back the keys and the bank cannot chase them forever and a day. As far as I understand they have a similar policy in America, but it is not so popular in Europe. Some people argue that it leads to irresponsible borrowing. I find it interesting though that banks don't like American type policies when it doesn't suit them. I also do not see why people who were lent the money irresponsibly in the first place, should be hounded by banks. Their lending practices have been pretty appalling and shameful for banks especially from the Nordic countries. I am not sure justice and fairness play much part in their thinking to be honest. There are now different ways of raising funds that means people do not have to rely on banks as much as they did and so it will be interesting to see where all that goes.

Monday, 13 October 2014

I'm home honey!

Autumn colour
Yes! I have spent a whole week at home. Can you believe it? And the most exciting thing we have done this week is watch someone cutting alpaca teeth. Riveting heh! I can see you are on the edge of your seats. So what have we done all week? Well let's rewind a little. For a start the paper I have been trying to write for an academic journal was returned again and still requires "major modifications!" Sigh! I have done all the little tinkering about they asked for, but I still have to get my head around how to word the most important part. I won't bore you with the details, but it is hard trying to think of yet another way of phrasing the same material again, for the fourth re-write or is it the third? Something like that anyway. I think I'm getting there, but I have had other things to try and get my head around this week and they have taken priority - partly because I get paid to do that and not paid to do my doctoral studies.

Autumn raspberries
I have explained that I work for an online educational organisation and recently started tutoring the Sociology studies. There is only one student this year and bless him he was not up to speed in handing in any assignments. I was getting a little concerned and sent an email - nothing, sent another email to check if he had got it - nothing, sent an email off to my boss to see what he thought and he suggested copying in his mother. Oh that did reap benefits, two assignments no less, however, that then meant I had to mark the work. When preparing the lessons I hadn't got my brain into gear about how to mark the work and so that took me a little while to apportion the right number of marks to the piece of work that reflected the input required for the question. I also had to think about how to approach marking the work and what helpful comments I could put in. Tricky one really. I have been trained for higher education and not for 14-16 year olds, but the same principles apply. I have also had experience of teaching my own children at home but not in this subject. Still we all have to start somewhere and I know I will speed up as time goes by.

Part 1: This is a stockade that Ian built about three years
ago to store old hay, wood chippings and compost
The weather hasn't been brilliant this week, warmer but damp and dreary. One day it was forecast to rain for most of it and so Ian text me to see if we should go and visit a couple of friends of ours, who we hadn't seen in ages. They have a farm too and we just don't get much time to see each other in the summer months, there is too much to do, especially this year for Ian with the extra animals. The rain filled days though are a different matter, as the ground becomes soggier there just isn't the amount of work to do, apart from some winter preparations. Most of the harvesting has been done, there are only some winter brassicas, carrots and beetroots still left and they can stay in the ground until we either need them or until a hard frost is forecast. So nothing exciting to report, just sitting around drinking tea and chatting about this and that. Nice really. Nothing too academic.
This was the stockade this summer with the squash plant
taking advantage of the lovely compost
Gone! Ian has cleared up the area, as it was beginning to
look rather tatty and we would like the place to look
neater. The compost has gone down to the bottom end
of the new garden area, the wood chipping pile
temporarily moved ready for putting on the road way and
stones moved down to the forest edge.
I have also had the news that a Latvian student is willing to undertake the Latvian side of the study that I am trying to research (for any newcomers I am looking into how rural inhabitants can be included in development planning in the area where they live). That is a great relief and will make a good contrast to the Estonian research. I shall take a trip into Riga to have a chat and see where we take it from there. I was a little shocked though that the student in question does not do Skype and doesn't like the application. Not sure why that is, something to find out I suppose. For me Skype is such a boon and has meant I have been able to chat to all my children and grandchildren this last week. It was so funny seeing a picture of my grandson with an ipad on his knee whilst chatting to us, that his mum took with her phone. I still remember my own children pretending to talk to grandma and grandad on the phone and wonder how the two little ones will pretend to talk to us.

Our errant sheep back where they should be. Any remorse?
I doubt it. 
 The highlight of the week was a weekend of pottering. I pottered around the garden on the day when it was forecast not to rain and thankfully it didn't. I uncovered more of a strawberry bed that had got inundated with weeds and hoed paths to keep on top of the places I have already weeded. There was one point when I heard sheep. I looked out and couldn't see anything and thought it must have been my imagination playing tricks again, then I saw them run past the greenhouse. The only problem is that they were supposed to be about 300m away up the field and not running around the greenhouse. They must have got bored with their surroundings and came for a visit. Ian fetched some feed and off they all set back up to where they should have been. No drama or anything.
I'm partly adding this photo for a friend to see what we built
to trap our sheep in when we want to do anything with them
or when Ian wants to move them and he has to dismantle
their fence. It has proved fairly useful over the summer
Can you tell where the sheep have been? The grass is not
recovering so quick at this time of year

The strawberries are on the left of the picture in front of
the blackcurrant bushes and in the centre. Oh yes! We will
have two full rows this next year and I will work on another
for the end of the year.
I then pottered about the house and cleaned. The problem with communal heating is that they put it on when they should and not a day before, so no heating until October 15th (just realised that's only two days away) and even then it is always a debate if they will. It hasn't been that cold, but cold enough and damp enough to start stuff going mouldy. We had to bring the dehumidifier back from the other place where it was still drying out the apartment since the last flooding we had there. We have also been sinking under stuff here at home. Stuff that we are keeping just in case and I really feel the need either to sling it, or at least stash it better so we are not falling over it. I dread turning out like those folks who compulsively hoard. They don't tend to use their stuff though, just keep hoarding it, but we do use lots of stuff and need endless bottles to keep produce in, bottles for the home-made vinegar, bottles for jams, chutneys and dried foods. Then there are bags of fleece that needs processing and the time to process it. There was a child's car seat sat in the middle of the floor too and that will come in useful for when the little ones visit. As for the piles of papers on the desk! Well that's next week's pottering sorted. At least most of the windows have now been cleaned with bleach. I don't like using bleach but the mould was getting in and needs must.

The strip on the left has more blackcurrant bushes in and
we are trying some suckers from the five spice plant we
have in the greenhouse to see how it fares outside 
And that leads me onto today's riveting day. Teeth cutting! One of our alpacas needs her teeth cutting badly, but we have been struggling to get it done. On a visit to a camelid breeder we know, they told us that some of their animals needed theirs' doing. We got a text yesterday to say the vet was coming and if we wanted to watch then we could come over. An early start for us and we went across. In the end it was just as traumatic for them as for us. We are now seriously thinking of buying a tooth cutting implement that costs a lot of money and then Ian going to cut their animals' teeth too, as a way of recouping the costs of the machine. That and possibly learning how to shear the alpacas properly and he could have quite a viable business going. Well that's the theory, now all he has to do is go on a course and see where we go from there.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Happy Anniversary

A bit hard to see here, but the bunch
was really quite pretty. The
candlestick still needs polishing though
It has been an anniversary type week this week. The first anniversary was the anniversary of the day we met which was on October 4th, 32 years ago, first day of the first term of our first year at Sheffield University. I was studying Pharmacology and Chemistry and Ian was studying Physiology, little did we know we would be working in such different fields, literally, 32 years later. In other words what we didn't know was that I would be studying for a PhD in participatory development in a landscape architect department and Ian raising alpacas on a 13ha farm in Latvia. Ian surprised me on this particular anniversary, first he remembered (have to confess to forgetting myself sometimes, so I can't make it sound like he is always the one forgetting)! Second he brought me a bunch of flowers that he had picked off the land and lovingly tied with baler twine into a rather nicely arranged bunch actually (we counted up how many times he's got me flowers and I do have to use both hands to count them). Third he made me another candlestick. He was trying to make a bowl, but it wasn't working for him and he needs some more practice on the pole lathe, but still not a bad candlestick anyway.

So here is a picture of the big day. We didn't have formal
pictures, just ones taken by friends and so there is none
of us by ourselves without a background of folks, which
sums up the day really. It made me realise though that I
had better scan these pictures in and save them somewhere
as they are deteriorating quite fast now. 
The second anniversary is today, October 6th just 30 years ago we were married. If you think Ian looks thin now, you can see he was a whole lot thinner when I married him. Actually so was I! Funny that, who would have thought. To say it has all been plain sailing would be to tell a lie and of course there have been ups and downs, but I'm pleased to say that the journey has been good and he's not bad to have around you know! He's also put up with my hormones along the way, which could make treading around me rather a delicate operation and I have put up with his angry moods as he struggled with being on-call and the general working conditions as a technician in the hospital, where he used to work, when he had a regular job. We've weathered the times when money was in short supply and enjoyed the few years when it was abundant. We've enjoyed living on the edge in many different ways and wouldn't know how to fit into "normal" society if you told us. I think all in all, we work pretty well as a team and that's the way it should be after 30 years don't you think? To celebrate we went out to the hotel for a meal and rounded it off with the hot French chocolate cake, as you do. Saved me doing any cooking anyway.
The end of the season look. All the tomato plants bar the ones
destined to feeding the chickens are pulled up now and the
grape vine hacked back to the wire. Just the peppers, drying
seeds and autumn crops in there now. We have things like
 mizuna, rocket and radishes for a late salad or adding to a stir fry.

A picture that captures our present right now, with buckets
and crates everywhere. The top green crate is full of apples
that are bruised and need dealing with soon, the bottom
is full of small squash that will need freezing, the bucket is
full of the last of our tomatoes. Only one for a change,
usually we have far more of the green ones left. 
Well back to the present now. The time since I got back from Portugal has been rather nice, with bright sunny days and crisp mornings with many a frost. Came as a bit of a shock one morning when I headed into Riga so I could meet up with a couple of people, go to the dentists and then head up to Tartu. That meant  first of all a 6:40am bus, which usually means Ian takes me up in the car to the bus station, only this time he discovered he had to defrost the car first and I was just on time to catch the bus, as opposed to having a few minutes to wait. It makes us realise the descent into winter has really begun in earnest and emphasised by the sight of geese heading south. The Swans will be next and then it is the anxious wait for the first snows. The winds have definitely been chilled and so out have come the leggings and roll neck jumpers. Ian even had his thermals on and the heater in the caravan.

An additional shelter for bags of alpaca poo - a valuable
commodity
The girls were moved nearer to the boys. Here Estelle
is taking an interest in what the boys are doing, let's
hope that is not an interest leading to leaping fences. If
she is pregnant then that will be the last thing on her mind,
but if not......
The trip into Riga was good. I got to meet an old young friend, or is it a young old friend? Anyway, she is still a wee slip of a lass really, but we have known each other for a while now. I always enjoy meeting up with my crazy friend, although this week we were much more civilised, as we had coffee in a cafe instead of stood outside in the seriously minus temperatures in the middle of winter, like the last time. After meeting her, I met up with another young lass, who I was hoping would be able to help me with some work towards my research. We had a good time chatting, but I have a feeling that is not going to get anywhere. We'll see! At least I did get to hear of someone else interested in doing some research towards their Masters this last week, where she will be use the type of research that I am directing - for want of a better phrase, so all is not lost. I wish the next appointment was as pleasant as the first two, but a trip to the dentist is not my most favourite of activities. The appointment to be fair went fine and the rogue filling was sorted, but not the tooth that cracked a while ago, for this I would have to go back three times and will cost around €300 as it involves root canal treatment and then a filling. Errr! No thanks! It doesn't hurt and €78 for the filling was bad enough, as that is nearly four times the amount I pay in the sticks. I realise that is not necessarily the best treatment, so somewhere in the middle would be much better to my mind.
The boys have a spot with the currant and berry bushes in it.
We are still trying to work out if this will do them good or
a bad move. Still I won't have to do any pruning and the
boys seem to be enjoying walking through the bushes for
a good scratch. Don't worry, we have other bushes.
Weeds all trampled and dead wood definitely knocked over
amongst the raspberry bushes. 

Something seems to be attacking the hornets nest,
obviously taking advantage of the drowsy state of the
insects.
Some of the markers of the changing seasons are escaping and argumentative animals. The grass always runs out sooner and is not as tasty and at this time of the year the grass is definitely more appealing on the other side of the fence. Fortunately we don't feel the need to freak out when they escape as they don't go far and are easy to entice back. Although Ian was a little concerned when he showed some folks around recently, some of our neighbours who hadn't visited before, as the sheep had disappeared, fortunately they had only gone around the corner of the grove that is growing near where they were supposed to be. Ian thinks the neighbours who came for a visit came from the block of flats that are nearby or it could be the farm. In the Soviet times when they collectivised the farms they built blocks of flats for the workers and hence you get these dwellings that don't seem to fit in a rural location, but should be in towns. The older lady seemed to be able to follow what Ian was trying to explain, although his Latvian is very, very limited, so maybe she was actually from the farm and not the flats. One day we may be able to converse better with our neighbours and then we will know for sure. It is taking some adjusting to when people feel they can just appear on the land, they don't have quite the same sense of private property that we do in the UK and in some ways that's okay, just different. Well as long as they respect fences and such. Although thinking about it, farmers in the UK have to account for rights of way that run across their land and so they do have to expect people traipsing through from time to time, so maybe it's not that much different.

I love the symmetry of sunflower seeds. These are drying
for seed for next year. The rest are drying for seed for
the chickens over winter.
As I mentioned, I made a trip up to Tartu again this week. It was an opportunity to see both my supervisors and thrash out some details for the year ahead. For them both to be in the same place and free to see me is a little like waiting for the stars to align and so I took the opportunity while I could even though it was at short notice. I also got the chance to meet the young man who will be doing some of the research for me in Estonia. I was quite pleased to hear my supervisor telling the young man that I brought certain skills into the department from my development background and teaching experience. It does make me laugh to hear someone say I have teaching experience, which I do, but not in the conventional classroom setting, as it involves teaching in churches, sunday schools, workshops and my own children. Still all valuable experience though for what I'm doing now, reaching out to ordinary men and women in rural areas. On the way back I stayed overnight with a friend and his family in Sigulda, I took the opportunity to discuss the house plans to see if we can take it forward a bit more, we seem to have come to a bit of a halt with that at the moment.

Oh yes! More apples. Should keep the
animals busy for a little while
My studies to date have sure made me question the role of aid and I have covered topics where people have debated if aid is any good at all. An article in the Financial Times by Ernesto Sirolli is on the one hand very provocative in stating that aid is not working and on the other hand is honest enough to state that as an aid worker he made a mess of things. In the article there is a quote by a Zambian born economist Dambisa Moyo who goes so far as to say aid is malignant. Sirolli argues that aid is best when it is in response to the people themselves and meeting the needs that they see in developing entrepreneurial ventures. I definitely see that providing the kinds of resources that people feel they need is a whole lot better than benevolently providing what we have either cast off or feel they need. I do see one flaw and that is where the entrepreneurial spirit has been squashed out of people, that is where I see a place for the kinds of aid that breeds hope and develops people's ability to work together and that takes time. Still that is better than blithely handing out goods to make us feel better.

Monday, 29 September 2014

To Porto and back again!

A view from the restaurant area of the university. Pampas
grass grows absolutely everywhere, but I found out that
it is an invasive weed there, but unfortunately one that the
road crews like for verges.
I had a lovely time in Porto, the Portuguese that I met were not like I imagined at all. I guess I expected them to be a little like the Spanish, but that is a bit like expecting the French to be like the Germans, just because they share borders. The Portuguese that I met were all lovely gentle folks and yet they still managed to convey passion. One professor retorted to the suggestion, they should team up with Mediterranean academics for a regional coalition, was that as a nation they had far more in common with northern Europe, especially Britain, which took some of us by surprise, but I can see what they mean.
Porto has many houses with tiled fronts that I found unusual
A view of Braga, north east of Porto where I was staying
I had no complaints about the hotel, the staff were lovely and, as I mentioned last week, even though I left my phone on the table at breakfast time they returned it with no problems and had even tried to use the phone to alert those who knew me. The bed was a tad hard for me though and so I folded up the quilt and laid on that, then nicked the quilt off the other twin bed for one more layer and a top by folding it in half. I was rather amused and surprised to see when I got back to my room at night that the cleaner had made up my bed the same way. I really appreciated that. Unfortunately on the last day they must have had a change of shifts and the new cleaner tucked both quilts in as in a regular bed and I had to untuck them and fold them up again. The only other quibble I have is that they change the towels every day, even if you follow the instructions for helping hotels be greener by re-using towels. In the instructions it says that towels left on the bath and the floor will be washed, but if we want to help the hotel be kinder to the environment then hang the towels on the rails, which I duly did every morning and yet every evening the towel was replaced by yet another clean one. Made me wonder why on earth they put up those kinds of notices then.
St Martins of Tibäes monastery
I love doorways. 
Of course there was lots of conferencey things and people spouting forth on various topics to do with landscape architecture or people in landscapes. As someone new to the field it was quite interesting. At least it is not usually a very technical field and relies a lot on aesthetics, so there were lots of pretty pictures too from different countries. I learnt that South Korea had botanical gardens, as you maybe would expect, but they also had a children's garden for the education of little ones long before it became fashionable here, although it is now closed. I learnt about Swedish mothers being exhorted to think of their children's minds as a place of cultivation. I also saw some very clever folks coming up with some really interesting ideas, but who really need to learn to consult more with those they are designing for. I also met a lot of folks who are at Sheffield University where I graduated from many, many moons ago. So all in all, a very pleasant time was had.
Cloisters with tiles depicting the life of
St. Benedict. Some tiles are missing though
The courtyard view from the cloisters
There was also the usual trips to go on and this time I made sure I was booked on one. I thought it would be really helpful to try and see the landscape in the way a landscape architect would and in that way it did. I chose to go on the gardens tour rather than the tour that included wine tasting. Considering I cannot really drink much and only red wine not white, it seemed a little pointless. For the garden tour we went to Braga, about 50km north east of Porto. The first was a trip around a monastery, the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tibäes . The monastery was taken off the monks back in the 1800s during the liberal period, due to the fact that the monks were too well off and the land was redistributed to pay off debts of the state - at least I think that is what we were told. The buildings weren't well looked after and fell into disrepair and now back in the states's hands who are undertaking major conservation work. Interestingly enough the conservation work is being done whilst the monastery is open to the public, so that people can see the work in progress. It was shut though to most people on the day we went, due to work being done to host nine heads of state for some talkshop event. Only pre-booked tours were allowed.
A walled garden best viewed from high up for the guests
at the monastery
Part of the 40 hectares of walled gardens
On the tour we got to see the room where the leaders would be sitting, called the Chapter House, and told it was the same room that the Benedictine monks would decide on the future of the organisation for the following three years. They had responsibility for all of Portugal and Brazilian Benedictine congregations at one time. There were tile mosaics of Joseph's life in Egypt to inspire the leaders of the monastic order to rule wisely, a very apt backdrop to the talkshop I thought. I took the opportunity to pray in that room for wisdom and a leading of the Holy Spirit for those leaders who will be meeting there, a great privilege and a wonderful sense of timing at the opportunity. We also got to look around the gardens of course, not quite all 40 hectares of walled garden, but a good proportion of it. It was an amazing place with hidden corners and walls within walls. There were sudden surprise views and much evidence of it being both a place of prayer and a place of work that characterised the monastic order. There were vineyards of course and patches of maize, orchards of oranges and lemons and many other trees, especially sweet chestnut. Certainly worth the visit.
A moss covered object by a
reservoir of water
A place of pilgrimage "Bom Jesus do
Monte" You are supposed to climb
those steps not walk down
Our next stop was to a place of pilgrimage, where a steep set of steps were supposed to lead to the New Jerusalem. The stations of the cross were outlined in tableau form in small chapels that you could only glimpse in, and depictions of ladies representing the five virtues, lined the steps up the hill, or was it nine virtues? Hmmm! There were a few of them anyway and charity was the highest virtue that equates to love - I remember that much. We walked down the pilgrim way, as do most folks these days. The only ones we saw going up were runners!!!!! Rather them than me. We had a rather nice lunch at the top before wending our way down the steps at a leisurely pace. Apparently the formal gardens in Portugal are suffering due to a disease that is affecting the small box hedges that edge the ornamental plants.
I guess this is supposed to represent
the tomb

I loved the mosaic pathways
So a after a good long walk to finish off my stay in Portugal, the following morning, all too early, I set back off to Latvia. As I got into the airport I met two ladies who were also heading for Latvia and taking the same route as me, much to our surprise, when we got on the plane we found we were sitting next to each other. As we travelled we chatted a little, but they had work to do and so out came the computer, so I caught up a bit with some of my work too. Part way into the flight they leaned across and asked me how to word a sentence in a proposal they were trying to write for some money for a project. I enquired a little more so I could help with the context and it was at this point I realised they were asking for money for a project that I was trying to do. That set us talking about how I could be involved, which was really exciting. I had to write my CV and send it off to them, which was rather scary, but with a little help of my computer files with various bits of information I put one together. In the airport. They also asked me about the technical term "stakeholder." They thought it meant an owner of a piece of land in the area of a project or initiative, but actually the term is far wider than that. As I explained, it is everyone with a "stake" in the area, whether that is by living there, owning land, the authorities, or you name it they are a stakeholder, even the researcher of the project really is a stakeholder. What I said was necessary was to define who the stakeholders are and why they are included or excluded from whatever process under investigation. I am not sure they have much experience of research in public participation, well neither have I, not the practical side of it since becoming "qualified," but I do know where to get the information they need. Watch this space and if you are the praying type, please do!
The ladies of virtue! The statues of course, no disrespect to
my friend wending her way down.
Ian's been busy replanting raspberries today
We had a long stay in Gatwick, but at least I had company. I was a little frustrated that I was so close to my son and his family, but couldn't visit. Because my trip was paid for by a grant, I couldn't take a stop over to visit, even if that meant not costing any extra. Very irritating, but without another source of funding I can't really do much else. The thought crossed my mind that I could do crowd source funding, some people have used that successfully to fund research, but as I prayed about it, I didn't feel that now was the time. We still have money and I just have to trust that it will see us through. Anyway back to the trip, it was rather nice to arrive and see Ian's face again. I even bought him a little present by way of compensation for not being there on his birthday, we don't really do presents these days, but I did buy a packet of chocolate digestives and a packet of shortbread. I know how to treat him.
Sunflowers suspended to dry, high in the eaves of the
greenhouse

I was busy working when this suddenly appeared outside
the window. Gave me quite a shock it did. Fortunately
I think they were just cleaning out the guttering, since
there seemed to be a lot of flying debris.
Back home now and we are back in the routine. Sometimes I stay home and get work done, either on my course or processing food and sometimes I take a trip out to the land. Poor little Aggie (Agnese our baby alpaca remember), as soon as she sees me her ears go back and she has this funny pained expression on her face, not surprised really and yes I did clean her foot again, which she is not happy about. She won't be happy with me tomorrow either as I have to help with injections. Her front feet are now much better, but one of her back feet does not look too good. Bit by bit we are getting there and it is at the worst time of the year for mites, so we feel we are winning, especially since the alpaca's condition are improving all the time. Herkules, especially is putting on weight now and his fleece is starting to grow back. We might go for one more oil treatment regime, as his skin is just beginning to look a little crusty again, but it won't need to be as long as previous treatments. He's another alpaca who groans when they see me.