Monday, 18 July 2016

Mission accomplished

Brencis just chilling
Well that's a bit how it feels. This week hasn't quite worked out in the way we imagined, but it still went well and we learnt a lot in the process. So  grab a cuppa, put your feet up and follow the antics on our alpaca farm for this week
A calm morning

Morning sunlight through the trees - pictures of the kitchen
will have to wait till next week. We forgot to take some
On Tuesday we installed a kitchen in our greenhouse, as you do. Doesn't everyone have a kitchen in their greenhouse? It was one of my mad ideas but in the end it has worked out quite well. One of our friends was getting rid of an old kitchen that has seen better days, but still useable and so we picked up the cabinets. I helped Ian to load it into the horse box so he could take it back to the land, but I couldn't go back with him, as I needed to do some cleaning at one of our apartments in preparation for some visitors and I also needed to do some washing. That left us with a problem of how Ian would manage at the other end to unload the kitchen. When I got to our apartment to do the washing, some friends of ours were there. I was expecting them to be in Riga to pick up their daughter from the airport but she had missed a flight and wouldn't arrive till that evening. Perfect! Well not for their daughter but for us it was and I quickly co-opted our friends to help. The guys went off to help Ian install the kitchen and I got the washing load on and went to do some cleaning with an assistant in tow. When I got back to the land the kitchen was just about installed.
Eager customers?

Galina, our felting tutor on the right and one our guests for the
course
Wednesday was an early start to go to Riga. First we had to find Baltcom, who supply our electric, because they had a problem with my account. I tend to enter my first name for various accounts but it does not correlate with my full name that comes with the personal code that all residents have here and they thought I had got a new family name. Middle names are not common here at all. Unfortunately the lady in the shop did not speak English and my rudimentary Latvian was not enough. In the end we made her photocopy my ID and put the company stamp on it to prove I had been to the shop and done what they asked me to do. What annoyed me is that there was no note on my account to explain what I needed to do.
Galina's assistant getting to know Aggie

The start of some socks
Next we hurried a little belatedly to pick up our guests, our tutor for the felting course at the weekend, Galina Blazejewska and her assistant. They had had a long overnight journey from Warsaw on the bus, so were tired but we needed to shop for wool whilst we were in Riga. It was the easiest way of making sure we had something that worked well for the felting course even if what we had didn't work so well. We had a very nice lunch in Ala, in Riga - highly recommended for a quality traditional Latvian style meal and fairly reasonable too. It is a little hard to find, if you don't know it and it is like making your way down into a labyrinth, but easy enough once you know. Then we navigated our way through the streets to find the two shops we needed for wool - we managed to make it without too much heated discussion. We don't do cities much!
The finished socks

The back of my poppy bag
Thursday was the calm before the storm, even if it was only a small storm. We took Galina and her friend out to our farm and chilled out on a lovely day. They helped us around the place as we cleared up the mess in our greenhouse, and then they picked fruit off our bushes for us. We also had a visit from a group who had made contact through the website. They were a lovely family and related to one of our neighbours. They even complimented me on my Latvian, which surprises me, it is really bad but I think my pronunciation sometimes isn't that bad, so people think I can speak more than I can. I do understand a bit more if I know the context, so that helps. We also had a visit from a lady who I "met" on the internet. We had been commenting on the same blogs for a while and found out she was originally from Lithuania, so as I usually do, I extended an invitation if she was ever in the area to call in and she did. She was visiting her parents in Lithuania and then making her way up to Estonia, so took a bit of a detour to visit. We had a rather nice email afterwards to say how much her children had enjoyed the visit and said if she was ever this way again, she would be sure to make time to meet again.
Another pair of socks

My completed poppy bag, modelled by
one of our visitors
Friday we got going on the felting course. We started off with a farm tour to meet our alpacas, and because we are English we had a break for tea, coffee and cakes before starting on the felting. We had one paying guest and our employee learning how to make socks or felt house boots and I learnt how to make a rather stunning poppy handbag (I can say that because I had a lot of help). It was a good start to the course and everyone really enjoyed themselves in a very relaxed way. We bought in food from the local hotel as we are not geared up for making anything more complicated than hot drinks and it proved too difficult to arrange a neighbour to do the cooking this time around. Most of the day was spent surrounded by people speaking Russian, as both Galina, our employee and our guest were all fluent and therefore it was easier for communication purposes.
Day two participants

I love this picture because our land looks like a picture stuck
on the wall, but it is the real view from our workshop for the
day
Saturday was a real international day to cap a week full of international connections. It was day two of our felting course and I acted more as a helper this time around as we had three paying guests. One lady was local and two were from America - our friend who has been with us for a few weeks now and her daughter who was delayed earlier on in the week. In addition to that we had two groups visiting us, the first were ones we weren't expecting a young man on his third visit with lots of girls and the other group who we knew about in advance. In total for the day we had at least six countries represented on our farm: Americans, Polish, Belorussian living in Poland, five French, some Latvians and a smattering of Brits (i.e. more than just us). Normally we ask for a contribution but the young man who had visited us before brought a bottle of wine, so that worked, rather nice wine at that.
Working on a bag handle

Having a laugh at the process
Sunday was a quieter day. we were expecting one person for the course, but in the end she didn't turn up until five to take Galina to Riga, but that gave us a chance to make some things for the shop and plenty of food left over to see us into the week. I'm well and truly stuffed with rather good food and found that cakes do not send up my blood sugar, in fact it sends it down rather ironically. It is still the potatoes, rice and pasta that seem to affect me the most it would appear. So as Maria Antoinette would say, "Let them eat cake."
The body of the bag starting to take shape

Gently, gently: the watchword for the course. You can also
see some of the kitchen in this picture
Working outside once the bag was wet and a visit by Brencis
Galina putting some effort in to shrink the
fabric to make some tough socks
Monday was a fairly relaxed day with a second visit by some of the folks who visited on Thursday. After the visit on that day we had a lovely email, asking if we would be interested in trading English lessons for some help - we are! As we were relaxing after the course, we were happy to chat and get to know the husband who hadn't visited before. The little children got a little antsy and so we sent them on a mission to collect snails for the chickens. They were occupied for quite a while and even found an enormous slug, which we don't find very often around here, plenty of snails but not many slugs. We then went on a walk with the alpacas so that the alpacas get used to walking with groups. The flies were a bit of a nuisance to Agnese and she wasn't so happy about Brencis being behind her and she played up a bit, but at least we know now that Agnese has to be behind Brencis to behave.

The husband came back a bit later as the little ones needed a sleep (apparently they both slept very well in the afternoon) and he helped Ian move the sheep. As he is an electrical engineer we explained about the tumbler for the fleece we could do with powering by electric. Something he is going to think about. It would be good to get that up and working well.

Wetting the fleece
Yes! Finished! And a wonderful time was had by all
As I said, the week hasn't been quite what we expected. In someways we were disappointed with the numbers for the course, but it actually made things easier to find out how it would work and what we need to think about in the future. The greenhouse worked quite well as a working space but our biggest problem was a hot day which was windy at times. Cool rainy days were fine, apart from the noise of the rain and hot days when it is still are fine for working outside in the shade. Still we managed and everyone, including Galina, were happy. Galina was even quite sad to go. I think our cats and alpacas were sad to see them leave too, as Galina's friend was enthralled with them and gave them lots of tasty treats. Another unexpected bonus is finding out our sheep were actually better fleece for felting than we expected. Always nice to find out.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Prepping

The roadsides are looking gorgeous this year with the mix of
meadowsweet and rosebay willowherb. I got permission to
cut some rosebay willowherb from a neighbours field away
from the road, as it makes a great tea. That has now been dried
in the solar dryer
Our youngest son surprised us recently, he rang out of the blue and asked us if we would like to go to the UK paid for by him. I was a bit flabbergasted really. He explained that the grandchildren were growing and they rarely saw us together and could we therefore spare a long weekend to come. He realised that longer would be more difficult to arrange since we have to get someone to look after the alpacas. We have been to the UK for longer periods of time, but not at the same time, as one of us - usually Ian - stays behind to look after the animals and the land. So it is all organised for later on in the year, the flights are booked and he has already arranged the Friday and Monday off, so that he can pick us up from the airport and take us back. He is even organising a get together with other members of the family. So I'm looking forward to being pampered for the weekend, I am assuming of course that we will be well looked after.
A rather sweet looking strawberry. The strawberries are coming
to the end but our red and yellow gooseberries, redcurrants
and raspberries are all maturing nicely now. 

It's play, spot Ian time
Besides all the regular jobs we have been prepping the place for our felting course that starts this week. We want the place to look as neat and tidy as possible and so Ian has been strimming round the garden and mowing the lawn. I say lawn, but really it is a rather large lawn and he still bears a grudge that I didn't let him buy the motor driven lawnmower. In my defence we only had a small lawn in the US when we bought it and a driven motor was not really necessary for that. I have to admit it would make his job easier now for those areas we want looking neat and tidy. It isn't necessary to use it all the time though, often he will use the flail mower but that doesn't give as neat a finish, but I can almost hear his regrets for not buying the more expensive lawnmower as he works hard pushing the mower up the hill.
One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow
That was a lot of work! And just in case you thought I was only
taking photos, I tied up our beans and weeded the garden, a mega
task in itself
Chanel having a roll in the dirt
Visitors are still turning up to the land to have a tour to see the alpacas and although they are not coming in droves, they are coming on a regular basis and quite willing to pay too. We even had our first contact through our website this week to book a visit. We have been talking about what we feel will be an acceptable level of visits, as we hear from friends of ours the huge numbers people they have visiting and we have nowhere near the same numbers. We don't have the infrastructure for large numbers of visitors and we are not sure we would want to totally go that route, we like the peace and quiet of the countryside and we think we would lose the joy of talking about our alpacas if we had group, after group, after group. We would want enough visitors to make it worthwhile and to run some workshops through the warmer months. We don't need much and so balancing our needs with what we can provide will be our goal.
He mowed beside the greenhouse so we can hold our course
outside on nice days

Test drilling for the well at 7am. We are pleased that he
decided to drive down where we take the tractor and
didn't mess up the area that Ian has spent all day mowing
We had a visit on Sunday evening from a guy who was recently recommended to us for digging wells. He came by and did the tour of the land with the hazel sticks and decided there was a spot close to where the last guy said. At least they agree! He also came early the next morning and brought a drill to do a test dig. It was encouraging because he had a great deal of difficulty getting the drill out at one point due to the suction from the wet ground. We do indeed seem to have a very wet layer, not exactly gushing at this point but promising anyway and only about 3 metres down, low enough to be below freezing level and not too deep that it will be difficult to dig. We presume he will be back before long to see what he thinks and then we can talk about actually getting the well dug.
The paths to the garden look neat and tidy too

Lady V the indomitable old lady
I mentioned last week that we have started the process of mating our alpaca girls. Our original idea was to put our black male, Mr. P. with our white females, Lady V and Aggie and our white male, Tellus with our coloured females, Chanel and Marie. We had to rapidly change our mind though about Lady V and Mr. P. because she will not let him anywhere near her and has completely intimidated him. She only has to look in his direction and he backs off. At least Tellus is not so easily intimidated, but Lady V. despite her age is giving him the run around. We hope she gives in soon, because we only plan to mate her this year, before retiring her. We think Chanel might be pregnant already though, as Tellus is suddenly not interested in her and she won't let him near now, although she was flirting heavily with him at first, so that is promising at least.
Yes it has rained a lot this week and so we have more rainbow
photos. Our ponds are also still continuing to fill
This fabulous looking spider was not cooperating in having
its photo taken. It crawled along the wire, upside down and
so this the best I could do. I shall try again another day
Last week a friend of ours set off on her travels and so she arranged for us to have the keys to her car. It was a good job she did as Ian suddenly discovered that we had forgotten to insure our car and it had run out the day before he found out, by which time it was too late to get it insured at the office in the village. We discovered later we could have rung and got it insured over the phone and paid today, so we will know if we ever have the same problem again. At least while I had the use of the other car, I could get on with the jobs I needed to do and Ian got the chance to change the brakes and fix the fog light on our car that was damaged by the deer we hit on our Estonian trip.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Finished! Well not quite

This was taken at 9:23pm and it is still quite light for a while
after that.  
It has been one of those weeks when a lot of things got finished off, thank goodness. Firstly the potatoes have finally been strawed up out on the land, a job I have been going to do for over a week and more difficult now they are racing away. We put old hay around the potatoes to increase the potato yield without hoeing them up, which is even harder work when raising potatoes in beds rather than rows. At least the potato plants look healthy enough now and I suppose that has a lot to do with the amount of rain we've had just lately. Some good soaking rain, which is what we needed and so we have gone from just a few potatoes poking through to a well covered bed.
The clouds have been quite amazing this week. One day the
darkest of clouds rolled in and it was as dark as late evening here
even though it was in the middle of the day. It then poured down
so hard it squashed some of our barley. Heh ho!

Our friends collecting some of the hay off the field. This
section will be kept mowed to keep it looking neat and tidy
for our workshop days
We are pleased we got our hay cut last week too and the ski hill where we cut our hay is already greening up nicely so maybe we will get a second cut if we need to - providing the weather cooperates of course. We are also pleased we managed with help from our friends to get all the hay into the old alpaca house, it was tight and two of the bales that we were not so sure about, as they still felt too wet, went outside under the adjoining, very dilapidated shelter. No good putting them inside as they would be a fire risk or spread mould, both not what we want.
A pied wagtail enjoying the view from the top of the girls'
alpaca house

The swallows have also made progress on their new nest and
obviously used some of our leftover hay. Sometimes you
can only see the long grass bobbing through the air, a
very weird sight.
We were going to wait to put some of the hay away as the forecast was for fine weather the next day, but I wasn't so sure when I was looking at the clouds. I suggested we put them away while the weather held instead of getting on with other tasks and I am glad we did. We would have been racing to put away about another 20 bales on our own otherwise. Even better when we were starting the job, we had a phone call inviting us for an evening meal, so that saved us even having to think about preparing that after we had shifted the bales. It was rather nice too, fresh roasted goat with salad and roast potatoes, followed by a selection of goats cheese.
We hope the swallows will deal with these nasty beasts.
At least the girls fleece has grown back enough to make the
horseflies struggle to bite

Although we've had rain, we also have rainbows
It has rained a lot this week, which has meant that I finally also got to put all the squash plants in. Some have gone on our wood/soil/hay pile or to give it its posh name hugekultur, the ultimate raised bed. It is one way of using up rotting wood that has been lying around too long and also doing something about raising the soil level - not that the soil level is particularly shallow here in most places, but the more soil there is the more carbon is stored in the ground. It offsets the carbon we released by digging a pond I guess. The newest pond is filling up nicely with all the rain we have had, which is great. We just have to hope that it keeps its level even when it doesn't rain so much, then we can water the field area when necessary and not have to go down into mosquitoville to collect water from a field drain outlet.
We have also had sunshine and so we have been able to convert
this old greenhouse into a solar dryer using a black plastic cover.
It has now been anchored down with some stones as it blew off
in the storm we had the other day, but at least the dryer works in
the sun and the herbs are already pretty dry. It is so hot in there at
times we half wondered about using it to heat up water, but then
again the water in the pond has been warm enough for watering
can showers. I used an old tin bath for a bathe the other day, it
worked

Chanel enjoying the sunshine
We have had quite a few different groups of visitors again this week. Some have come back for a second visit but brought others along with them, whether that is grandchildren or friends. Some folks were just passing by when they saw the sign and decided to stop. Another one was a lady who was originally from the village where we live and regularly returns from Riga, but we only "met" for the first time on Facebook. We had quite a discussion on what our hopes were for the future and the possibilities, even in rural areas. Something we hope to explore more on her return visits. Its nice to feel we are on the tourist trail and people are quite prepared to give us a small donation for showing them around, some are even quite generous and it all helps towards keeping us here on this land raising our wonderful alpacas.
Mr. P has been up to see the girls. We decided to mate him with
the white alpacas to generate more colours, but Lady V had other
ideas and spit him off. We hope she gives in soon and doesn't
intimidate the poor guy entirely. At least he managed to mate
with Agnese, so that's a start

Ian giving him some grain as a consolation for being the
focus of Lady V's wrath
This week I have finished another course that I was doing this year on Social Entrepreneurship. Our working group nearly missed the deadline as none of us realised that files needed to be uploaded by 9am CET and I found out at 8:45am. I hurriedly sent messages to the other members of the group and I think most of us got it posted just in time. All of us should have read our email better of course, as we should have noticed the deadline time, but all of us have been busy with other things too, some were writing their thesis. It does help to get these kinds of things done and it means I can concentrate on preparing for our felting course we will be holding on the land soon and getting some tidying up and weeding done - in between showers by the look of it though.
Lady V, the old battle axe. We hope to get one more baby off
her before retiring her, so we are hoping for a better outcome
soon

Mr. B has been trying to move up the pecking order in the boys
alpaca house. He is really trying it on with the older ones
With all that we have been doing this week it has been hard to keep up with the political farce in the UK. I couldn't believe it when Farage announced his resignation stating "I want my life back." Well Mr. Farage, I would like my life back too. I would like to go to bed tonight and know that we are safe here in Latvia, that there won't be any moves to make us "go home," and that Mr. Putin is not going to take advantage of the chaos in Europe to send in little green men. Mr. Farage, you have made that dream a little harder to pursue these days due to your misleading campaign - and I'm being generous there.
Nibbling toes, alpaca style

Oh to have the flexibility of an alpaca. I think I would look
pretty stupid or do myself an injury trying to scratch behind my
ear using my feet.
We live in Latvia because the EU allows us to do so as EU nationals, that will be taken away from us. We may be allowed to stay because we have been here so long now, but nothing is certain in this world. I also study at an Estonian university and I don't have to sort out student visas or anything like that because I am an EU national, hopefully that should not change as I should finish next year, but then what? Part of my studies has looked at some of the issues that have arisen within the EU and how it operates, the intentions of the initiatives are good but it doesn't always get the result needed - I never felt this was reason enough to get rid of the EU but enough to need some changes, but what institution doesn't need to change or evolve over time?
I love clouds, especially with such interesting patterns

No it is not the shock of the UK political
scene at the moment but alpacas taking
a sunbathe
A lot of the work that goes on in universities is based on collaboration and that will be affected by the changes if the UK definitely leaves, so even if I had to go back to the UK, would there be funding to work in a university? And the list goes on. So thank you Mr. Farage, thank you very much for your lack of care and consideration for me and lots of people like me, who now spend the next few months or years wondering what the outcome of all this is and God help us if you ever get to be involved in the negotiations - will you bother to turn up?