Monday, 19 January 2015

Grandma Oh Oh

Our granddaughter reading
the book
I mentioned last week that Ian's mother had an unusual name, but that is one given her at birth. I have acquired mine from my youngest granddaughter and it is Grandma Oh oh! For Christmas I put together a book called "My Grandad," it was a way of sharing what Ian does on the farm and there was also a little bit about me of course. There was a picture of me feeding the alpacas and one of me skiing. Every time my little granddaughter gets to that point in the book, she goes Oh Oh! And that is the story of how I acquired my name. My daughter finds it hilarious and so I think there is a degree of encouragement going on there. I am also known as Grandma Jo and GJ, short for Granny Jo to my other grandchildren.

The front cover of the book
Whilst on the subject of Grandma's and Ian's mother we are heading to the UK the first week of February, for the funeral. It would appear there has been a spike of deaths over Christmas and a refurbishment of a crematorium, creating a backlog of funerals, hence the long wait. I am sure that must be hard for the families, for us at the moment it all seems so distant. I know it will hit us more when we see the family.  At least we won't be paying over £500 just to fly Ryanair though, which would be horrendous, the flights were much cheaper in February, not much of a consolation really. There was one point this week when the reality of it hit Ian, it was when he switched off the alerts to remind him to ring his mother. He had the alerts, because it is too easy to get busy and suddenly time has passed. It did mean that although she was so far away, he was in regular contact. It is such a shame she was afraid of computers, I'm sure she would have enjoyed a Skype to Skype call with him, rather than just hearing his voice.

Herk up to his usual trick of hogging the alpaca house.
Not too bad when it is fine, but he does this even when
it is snowing hard, so Tellus stays in the outside shelter and
poor Turbjørn ends up out in the cold. Doesn't seem to
be doing him any harm though. He seems fit enough.
One of the reasons for not dashing over is the animals. We have managed to find someone to look after them for the time we are away, as I mentioned last week, but it is a difficult time of the year to leave them for long. The days are short and they need more than just hay in the colder days. We had to give Veronica some more injections as we suspected she was being bothered by mites again, but the course should be finished by next week. We know a few people who would be willing to help, but it is a hard time to ask. One neighbour, who is the closest, also sometimes has the most difficulty in getting out from her house if it snows, because she is up the hillside. Another neighbour to where we live works regular hours and it would be difficult to fit in letting the animals out and putting them away at the times they need to be dealt with. At least another neighbour is more flexible and should be able to work something out if it snows heavily, which we hope it won't. I must share one funny incident about our alpacas that happened recently though. It was one of those, "I wished we had a camera handy" moments. We went up to the alpaca house to feed them and there sat on the back of Estelle, was one of the chickens. Obviously the chicken had found a very nice cosy place to sit, I bet her toes were warm. We were surprised that Estelle didn't seem bothered at all.

This was actually taken on the 6th January, but it is
pretty and since I am not at home today, it is more difficult
to get photos that Ian has taken
It has been another of those weeks of "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!" and in between melting away, but not quite. Ian is not a fan of snow any more, he used to enjoy it, but now it just makes more work that he has to do because of the animals. More work, more clearing and it stops him getting into the forest to cut down trees for next winter's fuel and progressing on the clearing work that needs doing. Chances are now the snow will be hanging around, once past mid-January the temperatures usually plummet and the ground is cold, so we shall see.

Ian kitted up for the winter. I keep
thinking he looks like one of those
Bayeux tapestry soldiers in that hat
and neck warmer
Sometimes I think I make it sound like alpacas are a lot of work. In many ways they are not, they need water, hay and additional feeding in winter. It is better to clean their paddocks daily, but since they have a communal poo pile that is not a huge problem. It is just that you have to be there at strategic times of the day at this time of year. In summer they are hardly any bother at all. Then it is just a matter of let them out, they eat grass all day, clean their communal poo pile to stop it spreading, fresh bedding in their living quarters every now and again, put them away at night and jobs done. There is of course the moving of fences for fresh grass from time to time and shearing. They are the main jobs. Of course as we get more, it gets more complicated and we have to think or rather Ian has to think, how we can manage them best. Like when do we want babies? Some folks have them all year round, we don't. I think the main issue is being tied, it is not like just caring for the land, where a day a way won't hurt.

A puppet I made for our grandson
On a completely different topic I have to admit to a degree of disorderliness over Christmas presents and I only got around to posting them after Christmas. Incredibly some of the parcels only took four days to arrive, normally it is more like 10 days. Unfortunately Ian's mother's present wasn't one of them and so that didn't arrive until after she died. At least that wasn't as bad as the Christmas card she sent to us that was posted on the 16th December to us and arrived a few days later here than her parcel did. Having said that, we actually got two Christmas cards from her, as one arrived before Christmas. Not quite sure if Ian's mother had got confused, or the two daughter-in-laws both sorted out a card on her behalf, knowing she wasn't feeling well. It is the sort of thing that Ian's family would laugh about. They have quite a black sense of humour at times, but it is one way of coping with the bad times and sometimes not a bad way at all.

Our egg layers
Since it has been quite a varied week this week, the next topic is about development. Development in our area has not been particularly fast. There are bright pockets where people are working hard, but there are also real institutional barriers - to put it diplomatically. There is money available, but trying to get people together to access this money is a bit of a challenge, especially with those barriers. It was interesting therefore to be involved in the first meeting to do with the Leader programme. This has been run by the EU for many years and run quite successfully in many places. It is a way of getting local people to decide where money should be spent, it is also a way of getting local people to think of ways that would benefit many people, not just themselves, but as I said, people have to cooperate.

The setting sun
We were fortunate that there was someone there who could translate, there were actually a few people, but one was coopted - poor guy. I have heard a lot about this programme, but I had never seen it being set up in an area before and so it was quite fascinating to watch and take notes. We got talking to the ladies after the meeting, as a friend of ours had helped to organise the venue for it and the lady was working on getting farmers together to talk about their experiences - we are down to talk on February 26th about alpacas and tomatoes in particular, as my friend insisted we do that. I had to ask my friend what was so fascinating about the way we grew our tomatoes and apparently it is because we mulch them and don't water them as often as Latvians do. We also take all the leaves off at the first sign of blight. Didn't realise that was so fascinating.

Christmas lights in Tartu are still up, but the Christmas tree
is not. Lights tend to stay up longer in Estonia and in
Latvia, as it brightens the dark nights.
And last but not least, I had my yearly evaluation today. The evaluators didn't seem to have any problems with where I am in my studies. They shouldn't do, I have more than enough credit points. I need 60 by year four and I have just finished my second year and I have 65. I also have papers in progress and I need three by year four. That might be more of a problem, but hopefully by the end of the year, I shall have full papers published and not just the short papers so far. I did explain my approach, because I am working in a social science field and they are all natural sciences, at least my science background helps there. I think they were still a little bemused by my presentation, because it was bright, colourful and had pictures of art work and diagrams with pictures. All my creative embroidery artwork board prep and children's work coming into play there.
After! Courtesy of Google. They automatically created a panoramic shot

Monday, 12 January 2015

RIP Grandma Lolly

Grandma Lolly on her 80th birthday.
And yes that is me, with longer and
darker hair.
This is one of those blogs that are difficult to know where to begin. Something that you know may happen sometime and then the day arrives. Ian's mother passed away today, Little Grandma to our children and Grandma Lolly to all her great-grandchildren. So it seems only appropriate to talk a little about this remarkable woman.

The snow has been getting deeper here
just lately
Lolly was her real name, a little unusual admittedly but that was the name her mother gave her. She was 4ft 10 inches (147cm) in her stocking feet, but feisty with it. Her sons would know about it if they misbehaved for Mam, as she was known by them. She was born in 1926, two months after the Queen. This meant that she was a youngster in the Second World War and her first job on leaving school was in service in a big house, in other words a maid, not sure exactly which big house, but I am sure her older sons would know. Certainly it is a world away from the type of employment youngsters would expect to go into today. She met Ian's dad in the mine canteen where she went onto work and they were married for sixty years, giving birth to three boys about seven years between each of them, with Ian being the youngest.

And painting some amazing patterns on our greenhouse
The weather was glorious here today, even if the news wasn't
Mam did not do any remarkable exploits like set up a business, or run for office or anything like that. She was a cleaner for a dentist for many years, but Mam and Dad lived for their family. They could have gone away more, or "done things" that people do when their children leave home, but they were content to be at home and receive the family as often as they chose to visit and visit they did. There was one thing that all of her grandchildren could expect from Grandma and Granda (and yes this is really about both of them, even though Ian's dad passed away about nine years ago), was a warm welcome, no matter who they turned up with or what exploits they had been up to, Grandma and Granda would be there to cheer them on.
The tractor has had many outings this winter

Mam and Dad on one of those special visits, when our
children were young. Makes you realise how long ago
it was, that little baby there is now 25!
They didn't even do special things together with the children, which is what you would expect from such warm memories of grandparents, but what they did do is spoil them rotten while they were there, tell lots of family stories and importantly always take notice of what the kids had to say. I have to mention at this point that Ian's dad was one of the sweetest men you would ever know, who would never put anyone out if he could help it. He also had a huge amount of humour and I am sure something that helped them through many of life's struggles. Ian's mother also had a remarkable way with the bairns, as she called them. Even though she had been in poor health for many years, she could still quieten a baby down to sleep and for some reason even the bouncy ones were content to just sit on her knee.
Granda with our daughter in the garden at our house in the UK

Still welcoming little ones 

Ian's mum about two years ago. Still had
the knack with the wee bairns

Only a portion of the knitted jumper on our youngest
child on the left, but you can see she could do some quite
complicated patterns. Pity we haven't got photos of the
whole jumper.
Mam used to be an avid knitter until the fibres started to irritate her too much and she always knitted the kids Christmas jumpers when they were younger. Mam was also a fairly traditional cook and didn't do many of the fancy dishes, something Dad would have hated anyway, but what she did cook she cooked well and if there is one thing that will go down in history is Mam's Yorkshire puddings. Every Sunday she would do roast beef, gravy, heaps of mashed potatoes, boiled to death vegetables and loads of those Yorkshire puddings. There was often a house full and I am sure it was as much for those Yorkshires, as it was for their company. There is often a sense of disappointment in our household when our Yorkshires do not match the quality of Grandma's and elation when we get them right.
Another glimpse of that jumper, only because he was so cute.
There has been a lot of snow clearing
going on just lately
So there you have it! An unremarkable life, expect for one peppered with heaps of love and lots of warm memories. Three sons, eight grandchildren, twelve great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. Although she never actually got to see them, she was also happy to hear the news of two more great grandchildren on the way later on this year.
Our car this morning

And what about us?
I have to put a bit of a disclaimer on this as I think the facts are correct on this, but sometimes the facts get a little hazy in the re-telling and with sons spread out over those numbers of year, it gets confusing as to who is who, so there maybe a chance that I might have to update things later but I think the most important details are there anyway.

and me? Well yes, we have sorted out today someone to
come and look after them. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

The bacon's in the cat and other tales

Sofie earlier on this year in the greenhouse
Oh yes! Sneaky puss! It took me ages to work out why there was no bacon in the bag that I had brought for our lunch. I thought for a while that I must have been having a senior moment. If it had been our other cat Bella, the evidence would have been all over the floor, but not Sofie. Since Bella is still missing it could only have been Sofie. She is so sneaky that she gently takes the food out of bags and so the only evidence was an empty bag inside another larger plastic bag. Unfortunately it meant our guests over the weekend had to have an egg and veggie burger instead. At least for one of them that was fine, as she is vegetarian.

January 3rd and our snow has nearly all gone
So with that introduction you can tell that we have indeed had guests over this last week. It was my crazy young friend, who I meet up with from time to time and her boyfriend, who I haven't met before. We had a good few days, despite the rather miserable wet weather we had. The snow that fell last week left us under the rather relentless rain that heralded the New Year, but it did fair up just enough for our friends to pay a visit to the alpacas of course. Our new friend is a chef and so he commandeered the kitchen one early evening and made his own version of pumpkin pie and rather nice it was too. He can come again anytime.

January 4th and it is back again
I love the way that the frost has made a star pattern on our
barn door
Because the weather was rather dreich (I do love that Scottish word, so evocative of wet, miserable weather) that we were sat in the caravan for much of the visit to our land, but while we were sat there, two of our cockerels who had just started crowing, decided to start a fight. Normally when our cockerels fight, it is because a slow developing bird suddenly finds its voice and tries to challenge the top cockerel. The challenger then finds out that it is a stupid idea and rapidly backs down. These two though, appeared more evenly matched and after a couple of minutes we realised neither of the cockerels were giving in. It wasn't pleasant to watch at all. Ian had to step into the ark and grab one of the cockerels and isolate him. As the weather was still mild, he was eventually placed in the horse box and we dispatched the pair the next day, as neither were for breeding, although we had hoped they would put a little more weight on. Still tonights tea (I'm northern, so it is still breakfast, dinner or lunch and tea in our house in that order) was roast chicken, roast veggies, mashed potatoes and steamed beans, all home-grown and very tasty.

A frosty morning
Our hens seem to be responding to the longer days and the relatively mild weather we have been having, by upping the production of eggs. We even had four eggs one day from our four very productive hens that have been keeping us in eggs over the winter, normally we have been getting been one to two per day from that ark, occasionally three. Another chicken from one of the outside hen huts has also started laying and I'm not sure if it was shock or fear, but one of the young hens started laying for the first time that was in the ark where the cock fight happened. Maybe they took me seriously that they would end up as stock or soup if they didn't get a move on and start laying.

I made this felt waistcoat from Tellus' fleece. 
I have been enjoying some down time over Christmas and getting some presents made. I know, I'm a bit late - No I'm very late actually! At least I feel on a bit of a roll now and I feel like I have sort of got the cleaning under control in our apartment, which leaves me freer to create. I have been fine as long as it was handwork, such as knitting and hand embroidery, but eventually I managed to get organised to do some sewing on my sewing machine. Unfortunately that didn't last long as my machine started to mangle up the stitching. The bobbin case cannot handle the old cottons I have and the annoying thing is that even when I have bought supposedly new cotton from the local shop, that wasn't new enough either. I am not happy with my machine, a BabyLock Quilters Choice - so not a cheap machine and I am beginning to regret buying it. When it works, it is very good, but not much use to me if it is temperamental over the cottons I use. I did a little research on the internet and I think I can buy 10 bobbin cases for my machine from China for the same price of two in Europe or America and then I can use a silicon spray on the threads to stop them snagging on the bobbin cases. If that doesn't work, I will be very annoyed. Only thing stopping me, is that I have never used Alibaba before or bought anything directly from China before. Hmmm! At least today, four parcels were winging their way across the waters to the UK with some belated Christmas presents.

A close up of the alpacas that I cut out and sewed onto
the waistcoat front. I love the bobbly texture of the felt.
Not quite sure why it did that, but it works I think!
Some felt Christmas tree decorations. The wooden bead
heads were also turned by Ian on his pole lathe
I said last week that the snow had come and gone and come and gone again. We have had a little of the same weather again this last week, as you may have gathered, but there was at least enough snow to finally get my skis out. I don't think I got them out at all last winter. The wind was a bit keen and the snow not so perfect, so I didn't ski for long, but at least I did manage something. The snow blower has also had another couple of outings, as we try to keep the greenhouse clear. We are perhaps a little paranoid about it not falling down, but one 18m by 6m greenhouse falling down in the snow is quite enough, thank you! There was also enough snow to get our car stuck, or rather enough ice underneath the snow to get it stuck. Fortunately it was out on the land and so Ian just got the tractor out and dragged it out while I tried to steer. It was a little difficult to get it heading in the right direction, but we managed.
More snow blowing duties

Making a path up to the sheep

My exercise for the day, clearing the
snow from around the greenhouse
that had slid off the roof.
Today I feel like I have spent most of it, trying to organise a meeting. It had been due to happen tomorrow, but the longer distance travellers were reluctant to travel for a one and a half hour meeting when it takes them four hours to drive down and the lady we were meeting up with has to work, so couldn't meet for any longer. I was a tad annoyed that I had to cancel it at the last moment, but in the end it works out better for me, as it means I can get a lift back up to Tartu and so fits in better with my timetable. Some you win, some you lose!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Unequivocally a white Christmas here

A brooding scene
It was one of those weeks of "Is it, isn't it going to be a white Christmas?" the snow came and went, came and went again. Some mornings we would wake up to a snowy white world and the next it would be green again. Eventually though we had snow on the 23rd and it has been white ever since. Mind you, we haven't got as much snow as some of our friends in Sheffield in the UK, which is rather unusual. Still it does mean that skiing season has begun here as I spotted some folks walking around with skis in hand today. It also means that the snow clearing season has begun and the snow blower actually made it out of the barn for the first time this season, which is about as many times as it made it out of the barn all of last winter.

Ian is there somewhere
We didn't plan much for Christmas itself, apart from what we were going to eat. We decided to go for free-range pork for the dinner, aka wild boar! You can't get more free range than that! It was rather tasty done in plum juice, sage and lovage, all from the garden, with just a little balsamic vinegar, mustard and worcestershire sauce. I also roasted other vegetables from the garden, like carrots, turnips, onions, beetroot and potatoes. It was rather satisfying to sit down to our Christmas Dinner knowing that so much of it had come from either our own garden or from the local area. I followed it up with a type of tiramasu, made from home-made chocolate cake soaked in squash and raisin rum, (which we have just decanted off from last year's brewing) and coffee, layered with home-made custard and blackcurrants. We ate Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve as we were visiting neighbours on Christmas Day itself.
Beautifully labelled! Not! Quite a few bottles of squash or
squash and raisin rum and it all tastes rather nice.
When I go out to the land, I usually feed the chickens and
as Ian went out the door, he called "Don't forget to check
for eggs." I do forget sometimes! As I checked I found a
package with five twix bars in the egg laying compartment.
The clever chickens had double wrapped them and written
a lovely little note for me. Isn't that sweet!
The croissants were made once again for Christmas Day breakfast. This is an annual ritual for many years. I'm not quite sure how it all started, but it makes a change from porridge anyway. I have baked them in the morning of Christmas Day for the past two years and then we've taken them out to the land to eat. As I've already mentioned we were visiting neighbours this year. We usually collect milk on a Thursday and weren't sure if we should go up, but since most Latvians have their main celebration on Christmas Eve it wasn't a big deal to be going to pay a visit on Christmas Day itself. Our neighbours daughter was home from university too and so it was an ideal time to catch up on some news of how it had all gone. What we weren't sure about before we went though, is whether we would end up eating there, as it has been known for us to turn up and a meal prepared when we weren't expecting to be fed.  As it turned out snacks were provided and we had pīrāgs (which is a kind of bread roll filled with ham and onion usually) and apple cake, just right after a large meal the previous day. We also came away with a bag of apples and more apple cake, so that will keep Ian in cake for a few days. As for the young lady at university, it was nice to find out that she is doing very well and really enjoying the work, as well as adapting well to the city.
I said he was there somewhere
Still in captivity! At least they haven't escaped just lately
We have more exciting news to announce this week, grandchild number five is on the way next year, this time around the beginning of July. It doesn't seem that long ago since we were announcing the arrival of our first two grandchildren or telling you about our adoption as grandparents by our son's fiancée's little girl. It has seemed such a rapid transition to life as a grandparent, albeit from rather a long distance. Thank goodness for Skype. It not only keeps us in touch with our grandchildren, it has helped Ian keep in touch with his elderly mother, who has not been very well just lately. It is a pity that she is afraid of computers, otherwise he could talk face to face, but she is happy enough hearing his voice. Just in case you are wondering, Ian still has brothers nearby to his mother and so we know she is well looked after by them. It is still a worry though, not quite knowing how she is. She ended up with a trip into hospital this week and we are not quite sure if she is out yet or not at the moment.
The snow might be a nuisance for Ian and adds to his chores,
 but it sure looks pretty.
Looking for seeds in the sheep's hay bedding
There is no denying that I am at a certain stage of life where hot flushes are a periodic reminder of how old I am. They have been both a curse and a blessing this last week as they seem to have returned with great regularity. In some ways they are quite nice for warming up freezing toes, but as I have discovered they can be quite dangerous too at below freezing temperatures. I was out on the land with Ian and although we have the caravan, it has a lot of warming up to do before it reaches a good temperature of about 6C. When a hot flush ensues I have to start whipping off hat, gloves, scarf and opening my coat up before I start to sweat as the last thing I need when it is -8C outside is sweat freezing. I then have to wait for the flush to subside and try and judge the best time to fasten up my coat and put all the other things back on to keep me warm and toasty. So far I seem to have judged it right and I've not frozen afterwards.
This little chap seems to be spending a lot of time around

And seems rather bold

Playing with my camera again. The alpacas in the snow
using the sketch setting
In the UK a rather well know supermarket used the Christmas truce of 1914 in their advertising. It is quite remarkable that in the middle of a war, men stopped firing at each other and played football, or sang Christmas hymns to one another. It makes you wonder whose war it was? For a brief period of time, men stopped seeing each other as enemies and made connections with each other. One of the soldiers of time, Louis Barthas, said this
"Shared suffering brings hearts together, dissolves hatred and prompts sympathy among indifferent people and even enemies. Those who deny this understand nothing of human psychology. French and German soldiers looked at one another and saw that they were all equal as men."
You can read a fuller version of the story on the BBC here. It makes me wonder what could have happened if the soldiers had then decided to call a complete halt to the war. Was it possible? It is sad that not long afterwards they were shooting at each other again, after orders from above and the moment was lost. Something wondrous happens when we stop seeing people as enemies or the other. It means we can see them as people, with hopes and dreams. It is hard to see some people in that way, especially when they have carried out heinous acts. But what happens when we do see them as young men and women with distorted dreams? Dreams of a pure life with a certainty, but bought in blood? What happens when we see them as people who have grown to hate our world with its inequalities and all consuming greed? Will it help us to sit down and try our hardest to try and work out why our society spawns such hatred and try to do something about it? I hope so.
Turbjørn looking handsome in the snow

Tellus in sketch mode

Aggie and Estelle looking inquisitive.
Looking upwards into a snow covered canopy of aspens
Well New Year is nearly upon us. What will this New Year bring? People are certainly filled with uncertainty and are worried what it will bring. It is hard to hold onto hope at times, but I cannot and will not let go of it. I still have my dreams, I still have my faith. I still believe that God is into renewing this planet that he made and I will work to the best of my ability alongside him. I cannot take any certainties into the New Year, but I can take hope and that is enough. Many years ago, as I looked forward into what appeared to be an unknown future, I took encouragement from a song called "Beyond these shores" by Iona. It gave me the courage to take risks and to step out of my comfort zone. I'm not in my comfort zone at the moment, but I can still keep going based on the hope this song inspires.

Another photo playing around with my
camera. This reminds me of the song 
- a song to take us into the New Year
Beyond these shores Into the darkness
Beyond these shores
This boat may sail
And if this is the way
Then there will be
A path across this sea

And if I sail beyond
The farthest ocean
Or lose myself in depths below
Wherever I may go
Your love surrounds me
For you have been before
Beyond these shores

Beyond these shores
Into the darkness 

To hear it on YouTube, here is the link 

I've been busy dyeing today. This pink
fleece is sat in a shallow layer of blue

This will be Ian's mother's Christmas
present. I still have time, Christmas is not
over yet!
Because it's Christmas here are a couple of videos, first our alpacas in the snow. Herkules loves to sit in the snow or even roll around in it. Unfortunately Aggie likes to roll in the hay, just look at her fleece and all the bits in it when you see our youngest alpaca. She is meant to be white and I am finding out how hard it is to clean the fleece once it is spun. Can you imagine how hard this will be.

This one is a panorama of our winter wonderland