Monday, 29 November 2010

.....and so it begins

We have about 3-4inches of snow but the temperatures have
plummeted from +5C last week to -17C this week. At least
my garden plants have a snow blanket
"And so it begins" is something I wrote on my blog back in May 09 when I had a sense of a change of season and I sense a change again. The last time I wasn't sure what that meant but it rolled in a very busy schedule for me, one that saw me take on two courses at once as I finished one course and started another with weddings and summer work in the fields and gardens followed by more course work, after all that I am quite looking forward to a rest. This time I am still not sure but I have a sense of how the season of winter is upon us but in someways it is a relief. The dull wet days of autumn are not particularly nice and the ground and the roads turn to quagmires but much work needs to be done in harvesting the last of the veg that you can, protecting trees from the frost, particularly the young ones, protecting trees from deer and generally just making sure that locks are oiled before they freeze up solid. Then the snow begins and the temperatures drop and there is not a lot you can do about it apart from wait it out and see what emerges. Will it be a little or a lot? Will the roads be navigable or will it require a snow plough? How cold will it get? Well we had snow, probably around 4inches (10cm) so not a lot but enough to provide a protective layer for my plants, and the temperature dropped rapidly from the 5C (41F) last week to -18C (0F) this morning, oh but the beauty of it all. There is a lot of frost on top of the snow and yesterday the snow glistened like diamonds in the sun, but not just the small diamonds but huge mega carat diamonds. So this is it! Winter is here! It's cold, it cannot be taken lightly but you know, it's not that bad really, it is so beautiful. I love winter as you can tell because most of the poems I write are about winter  I wrote one early this year and posted it and you can read it here and that talks about the fierce beauty of winter which inspires me so much.

Hopefully our vines are all snug in there
This wet autumn means trying to keep things dry but this is becoming a bit more of a challenge these days with biodegradable plastic bags. Once upon a time we could put clothes etc into the bags, and believe me we never just threw them out, but now a plastic carrier bag from the local supermarket is no good after 6 months they all start to disintegrate into lots of little pieces - biodegradable they maybe but useless for keeping things dry or dust free - now what do we use? Cotton re-usuable bags are not much use to keep things dry and I guess we need to re-invent the wax bag or whatever they used in days gone by, must do some investigation.

These were presented to us by our
English group because we make them
Been a funny old week with its contrasts of ups and downs. One of the ups was being invited by our English group to eat with them. We were treated to Latvian traditional dishes like pickled cabbage, now don't pull a face, it is actually really nice, this was served with meat pieces on bones (hard to describe and a bit fiddly but nice meat), some mince wrapped up in breadcrumbs, cheese and apricots along with some boiled potatoes with dill - there has to be dill somewhere this is Latvia. We also had a dessert of semolina (creamed wheat) whisked with cranberries and sugar and served cold with milk, very delicious. We started off with a drink of bouillon, which seems odd to me but tasty along with some little pastries filled with meat and we did finish with a nice cup of tea - trained them well!

Someone who shall remain nameless, but it wasn't me, left
the greenhouse doors open when it was -10C outside
I think it killed my experiment of how long plants would
last in the polytunnel
While we were chatting one of the ladies announced she was off to work in Guernsey that evening to join quite a few from their tiny village. In total there are 11 people working abroad, okay that doesn't sound like a lot but it is a tiny village where the main employer is probably the children's home itself and it also possibly represents 11 families who have a family member missing, often a mum or a dad will go and work abroad while the children stay at home with the other parent or even with grandparents. It is not uncommon in Latvia for both parents to go away and leave older children at home as in our apartment block, or one of the parents be away for a month near Christmas as they work during the busy period of the year while they get the chance. So when you see Latvians working nearby say "labdien" (pronounced lab-dee-en and means good day) from me and think of their families they have had to leave to come and earn some money.

It is still being worked on and should have the roof on next
week. Not much fun though in these temperatures, but
nothing new there if you look up our saga with the
The down this week was finding out that our Latvian driving licences does not entitle us to drive a tractor, unlike our old British licences. It took a lot of internet searching to try and find out what we were and were not entitled to drive, I mean when is a tractor not a tractor, when its a tractor unit of course, in other words a truck. Confused! So were we. You can see what the traffic department writes here and for a good half hour, I read and re-read the paragraphs but couldn't make sense of it, until the penny dropped. The site was written in American English, not British English as you would expect of a fellow European member site and in America a lorry can be referred to as a tractor and trailer - confused me no end while I was in America until I worked it out and confused me yet again while trying to make sense of the Latvian traffic departments website.

Frozen waterfalls from the top pond to
the middle pond
This morning we were in school, no not to learn Latvian again unfortunately, but Ian was talking about his past career in the hospital labs and a little of his hospital work now. Not sure how much they really understood as it was all done in English and there was just one question - "what are you doing in Latvia?". How do you explain that one easily? It such a long story with many twists and turns but we say two things in essence, we have been coming here for a long time and we love it here in Latvia. The director came to sit in at one point and she then invited us for a chat in her office. She explained that once the school had 500 children but now there are 270, the village is dying as the youngsters slip away and don't return. She is passionate about keeping the village alive and knows how important the school is for that and we saw a common purpose in her aims and the things I am studying and what we would like to see happen here. We agreed that students do need to get out of the village at some time in order to enrich their experiences but the village also needs to be able to attract them back or attract others in to keep some vitality and life in the village, a problem they share with the Scottish Highlands and Islands and one of the reasons for studying with a Scottish Institute, even if it is online. I think there maybe more to come with that connection when we get back from our trip.

Ice-skating anyone. Not much point in ice fishing on this
pond but we did spot the first ice-fisherman after only 5
days of freezing temperatures.
This devastating article on the future of Latvia made me want to cry and echoes the pain the director feels as she sees the slow death of a place she loves. One thing that infuriates me more than anything else is that the churches are not helping, they funnel the brightest and best into mission work, leaving the economy floundering, when it needs fresh creative thinking to re-order the work places. I think the thinking is that Jesus is coming back soon so why bother and the market place is for the devil anyway, well I am sorry I don't agree. The Earth is the Lord's and everything in it, including the market place and if the devil has the upper hand in that, it is because Christians have let him and it is about time we started putting our faith into action and creating initiatives that correct some of the in balances of this dangerous pursuit of happiness to the detriment of the planet that the Lord has made. There that's better! Got that off my chest!

A snowy scene but not as bad as last year yet.
Talking of the economy though and creating alternatives to the dreadful system of pursuit of profit above all else, regardless of the planet we are trashing and the people who suffer under the system, it was interesting to hear that there are people out there who believe that we do not have to do business this way, there are alternatives and Peter Day on World Business took a look at what people had to say. I nearly dropped off my chair at this podcast, to hear that those with alternative views are actually being taken seriously. Changes do need to be made and we may as well get on and get used to it, rather than trying to cling to a way of life that does not satisfy anyway. One that slowly kills the joy and buries it in the oblivion of drink or drugs or retail therapy. We have never had it so good with our wonderful houses, with central heating (even if ours for some reason seems to be running so cold - must find out why), the double glazing that keeps out the rather cool temperatures we are having and the machines to do our work and yet we have never been so miserable either. It costs the planet in resources and brings us comforts in return but not happiness, there has to be another way.

Frosty is so pretty with its delicate patterns don't you think?
Trust as I have mentioned before is a major issue here in Latvia and to overcome this transparency is needed but for goodness sake, how can Latvia be expected to improve their transparency when bankers are getting away with not disclosing how much they are paid? Or we have to rely on the likes of Wikileaks to get to know what is going on in Governments. Interestingly enough though the releasing information is not necessarily the answer, as Mark Easton points out on his blog the recent release of information from the UK Government doesn't necessarily help accountability, it is transparent as it means the information is there but you have to look hard to see the wood for the trees so to speak. Too much information presented in an unhelpful format means someone has to sit for hours and trawl through the figures in order to even begin to make sense of it. In fact as one of my course books points out, the best way to discourage reading of a report done for the sole purpose of it having to be done and no one really wants it released is to set it in an unfriendly format, use lots of jargon and bury the key points (Research Skills Policy for Policy and Development edited by Alan Thomas and Giles Mohan), not that they advocate that but it was an example of what can be done to a report. So what we need is clear, easily obtained information and something I hope to do with my visits to the forestry department, to be able to produce a leaflet that shows who does what, and where to go for what information. It's a start anyway.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Happy Birthday Latvia

Kuldiga bridge in the West of Latvia, recently restored 
This week was Latvia's Independence day to celebrate the first time they achieved independence on November 18th 1918. It was a short lived independence and was lost to the Soviet steam roller in 1940 before being re-established again in 1991. This is why November 18th is celebrated as the birthday of Latvia and not August 21st when the second period of independence of Latvia was declared. Would have loved to have gone to the celebrations in the local culture house on the eve of the birthday but I was just heading into the village when everyone was starting to gather, and I was on my way back from Kuldiga, a four and half hour drive away so I just wanted to get home and have a nice cup of tea. One of these days we must get to the celebrations and imbibe a bit of Latvian culture. As the holiday fell on a Thursday people took the Friday off too but only after working the Saturday beforehand. Seemed strange last Saturday to go around our village and see children at school and office workers in their offices. 

A log fire in the house of a guy who was a
playwright and author and sent to
Siberia but did return and when he returned
he built a rock garden
As I mentioned I have been on my own to Kuldiga, a really pretty old town in the West of Latvia, it was for work towards my course honest! The fact I got to stay in a really quaint place with a log fire for heating, called Sauleskalns or Sunny hill and taken on a tour of Kuldiga by someone who lives there was just a bonus. I was there to have a meeting with a forest consultant and the head of forestry for a large region around the Kuldiga area and beyond, mainly because they were willing to have me there and spoke good English and I am trying to find out what a new forest owner needs to know. They sure made my task easy and by late afternoon I had enough information to head back home. I found out about all sorts of things like pre-commercial thinning, commercial thinning, when clear felling is allowed and the requirements for regeneration following felling or a storm. There are lots of regulations which were probably necessary originally as there was little knowledge of forestry except amongst the older generation at the time of independence. These rules though are beginning to be relaxed but as is usual there is also a danger in relaxation of rules of abuse and not taking care of a forest. I also saw a newly planted pine forest about 3 years old all topped with some blue paste (wish I had thought to take a photo when I was there), turns out it is to stop the deer from eating the tops of the trees in the spring, something that happened to the owner when replanting another part of the forest and not something he wanted to repeat. I also spent time in school as the forest consultant showed a video and talked about the job she did to 18 year olds, watched a short consultation in progress and still found time to have a whistle stop tour of Kuldiga (it is small) and eat. I have to mention that the forest consultant was very gracious as I made a complete hash of trying to reverse 400m back down a single track after taking a look at the blue topped trees and she ended up guiding my steering wheel, but she did it with such sweetness, still felt like a fool though. In my defence it is hard to reverse just on mirrors in our truck as the visibility is not good. 

It has been rather wet, this was supposed
to be a walk way by the side of the river
One thing that does keep coming up in my meetings is the issue of trust. Latvians do not trust each other, they tend to trust us, although why on earth the English should be trusted any more than a Latvian is beyond me, we are not really a trustworthy nation - trying leaving something outside a shop and it is not likely to be there when you get back in England, let's be honest! The English do not always have scruples about taking something home from the office for use at home either, so no we are not a trustworthy nation on the whole but we still exhibit more trust of our nationals than the Latvians do. It is such a shame and restricts the way that Latvians help each other out or don't as the case maybe. A discussion on trust though did help the forest consultant to see how much progress she has made as people do trust her and want to join an organisation she has set up to purchase trees. This is something I would love to see more of as small holders of forests or land can do so much more when they work together and pool resources but it does require trust.

The famous falls of Kuldiga, normally a fall of 2-3m. A
channel was built alongside to get around these falls by
 tsarist Russia but failed due to economic reasons. Some
things don't change
Talking of land we have been continuing to get ready for winter before we go away. Our orchard now looks to be full of ghostly apparitions as the trees are all covered in bubble wrap. I wanted to find something a bit more environmentally friendly but we just haven't had the time to look and it has been so wet that anything like hessian or jute would just get saturated and freeze anyway and we weren't paying a fortune on some of the coir products they produce for covering trees. We have also finished covering what we can with fir branches to protect from the snow and cold that we are expecting on Wednesday, as the temperatures start to slip from the current 5C during the day to possibly around -10C daytime by Sunday. The wet weather is also set to continue, but turning of course to the white fluffy stuff. It has been so wet here that everything is completely and utterly saturated with puddles everywhere that seeing the white stuff will be a relief of sorts - I say of sorts as we are due to leave soon and we are hoping the white stuff does not throw our plans into complete disarray.

Our ghostly apparitions in our orchard
We are still harvesting from our polytunnel and we picked the last chillies from the plants, trouble is that somewhere in the meantime they turned from very mild green chillies to rather hot green chillies. I thought the last lot of green chillies were very mild and we even had three in a meal without really noticing but a green chilli and tomato soup with two and half chillies from the recently picked chillies was too hot for us to eat. I should have taken more notice as I tasted one of the seeds  just to test how hot they were and it was hot, but I thought it would be fine in the cooking as the last lot were - big mistake! In the end I bought a kilogramme of minced pork (ground pork) and added that with a load of grated carrot to the green chilli and tomato soup and we ended up with enough meals for five days out of it and we could still taste the heat. Still it was a good excuse to have some of Ian's Bill Gate's ice-cream, so named because it wasn't just rich as in the recipe it was super rich with lots of added chocolate, in fact he had upped the name to World Bank ice-cream today. We bought the ice-cream maker back with us from England as a certain someone was getting through so much ice-cream I thought it would be better to make our own and there were moans emanating about the lack of chocolate ice-cream from time to time, at least this way we should always be able to make it.

Progress! We now have a roof structure on and I will not
tell you how they put those structures up apart from
to say that it involved a tractor.
Well where have my trundles taken me this week on the internet? One was to an Irish paper talking about the recent capitulation to the axis of bankers as they put it. Suppressed anger emanates from the article and yet a resignation to the inevitable. It is interesting to see how the journalist highlights the bankers stealth in the take over, knowing they had won and yet willing to wait rather than force the hand of the Irish so that it appears like an agreement. It is also interesting using the word axis as it means enemy and taken from the second world war where you had the axis of Germany, Japan etc and the allies. Bankers have a hard PR job to do if they are ever to convince people they are respectable organisations and not vultures. 

As you can see it is wet here too. The tractor didn't help, the
channel got blocked but we cleared it. Oh we love digging
in the mud
Another was to Steve Lowton's musings on silence and waiting and the difficulties he has with it. I in turn began to muse on why I don't find waiting so hard and silence is okay. I did spend around 5 years when my children were at school in a wonderful routine of housework, followed by reading my bible, then a walk and in the afternoon doing something creative, most of the time anyway. It was a time of getting to know God deeply and walking out of many things which held me back and a development in being able to listen to God and hearing his voice. That in someways still doesn't explain why I was able to drop into silence and waiting  where my thoughts would wander, but in a good way not just aimlessly, and I could switch off from the world around. I remembered after a while that I had learnt the art at my Grandfather's knee, Ian likewise learnt it in the presence of his Dad. My Grandad and I could watch a fire for ages and not talk as could Ian and his Dad, with no need to talk, we were just enjoying the company of our Grandfather/Father. Little did we realise what a valuable lesson that would be in a busy world full of distractions that we have today. I remember as well the open fire in our family home was a draw on a winter's evening when  all five of us would be sat around reading or doing something quietly, enjoying the warmth and no telly on in the corner blaring away. Wonder if my kids have learnt the art of waiting and silence? 

As you can see it is not so pretty as earlier on in the year.
Rather dark and muddy, nothing a good bit of snow can't
sort out!!!
My last trundle was an article on the BBC about the deserving and the undeserving poor. One aspect covered how people could lose their benefits for up to three years for refusing training or job opportunities. Now I know some folks are lazy and take the easy way out and would rather sit on the dole (for my American friends this is a phrase we use for claiming unemployment benefit) than work, but I am not sure how significant a number that really is but it makes for a good scapegoat when things are bad; what I want to know though is it a real job if the wage on offer is not sufficient to live off? Why should the tax payer subsidise employers who refuse to pay a living wage through the benefits system because its not economical in their eyes of the employers to do so? No one seems to be looking at that aspect of it. There is probably more money spent on benefits for those in work being offered pitiful wages than there are those sponging off the state on the dole, so who are the bigger spongers? Those who are lazy or those who exploit the welfare system to not pay their employees properly? The tax payer ends up paying in both cases anyway.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Cry freedom!

Unfortunately not taken this year, this was November 16th
last year at sunset. I haven't had the chance to take many
photos this week. Sorry!
Sometimes I forget things I should mention and last week was one of those weeks. I forgot to mention how God had been really reassuring to me even though I didn't think I specifically needed the reassurance. I think he knows me better than I do myself and so I guess I was more worried than I thought I was. Three times in one week I heard or read the verses from Matthew 6:25-34 in different places with no connection. 

    25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
   28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Memories of sunnier times but also an expression of
the freedom from worry of what to wear, what to eat,
the freedom to soar high above the cares of this world.
What was concerning me was providing for our future, what steps should we take. What should we set aside and what should we use now? I felt that whatever seems sensible now will not provide for our future and that God would work things out and I should leave it in his hands, but was I being naive? Was I just being silly? In the world's eyes - definitely! I felt reasonably peaceful about it but my thoughts would keep returning to the issue and so I think at the back of my mind I was worried and God's reassurance the other week was comforting for sure and something to hold onto in the years ahead.

No this wasn't the car when I got it back to Ian, it is our
Lada, our workhorse on the land. No frills this car. Looks
fantastic in black and white.
Now back to more recent events. Last week I borrowed the car and went to a meeting at one of the regional Rural consultancy offices, here in Latvia. It is a big event when I use the car as Ian and I have completely different set ups for the seat and he always moans it takes about a week to get comfy again but he graciously let me go on my own, he had things to get on with anyway (this is where sniggering emoticons would come in really handy). It is funny organising my own field trips to do with my course and all feels a bit surreal, on the one hand I am just a student doing a bit of research, on the other hand I am learning to do a professional job and this is my research  for professional development purposes, learning to ask the right questions in the right places. My trip last week was to start to make contacts with professionals in the forestry field, trying to find out how the system works here in Latvia. It was very informative and I got pages of notes and also a glimpse into some of the challenges of working in the forestry field. Forestry is a big issue in Latvia and so it should be with over 50% of the country covered in forest of which roughly 50% is owned by the state and 50% by private forest owners and that is a lot of land, Latvia isn't small, the numbers of Latvians maybe small ie 2.3m but they occupy an area which is only slightly smaller than the Netherlands and Belgium put together ie Latvia 64,589 km2 Belgium 30,528 km2 and the Netherlands 41,848 km2. Latvian private forest owners are fragmented though and not many are motivated to actively manage their forests for a complex number of reasons but fascinating nonetheless. Latvians do not cooperate well on projects it would appear but often that is due to mistrust - trust issues raising its head yet again. It is so sad that the recent and not so recent past holds this nation back and stops it being more progressive. 

Memories of last year too, no less wet and our polytunnel
not finished. This time it is our barn that is not finished.
It is progressing but they are now working in mud too.
It has been rather wet here which means it's towing season once again, it was rather a regular feature of our year last year. This season started with an early morning call from our neighbours to our land - their car was stuck and the guy with a tractor was unreachable, could Ian help? No problem, Ian went to tow the car out of a rather deep hole created by a ditch dug earlier in the year to lay new pipes which hadn't packed down well enough yet and performed a rather good attempt at trying to swallow a car. For his trouble he got a bag of apples but even better was when the neighbour who speaks very very little English shouted across and said "Good friends!" - a precious comment indeed. 

Our certificate

Later on that evening our English class came to our house to eat an English meal, pie, leeks with white sauce, mashed carrots and swede and mashed potatoes followed by apple sponge and custard. They brought the typical gifts that Latvians do when they come to a house for the first time of flowers, honey, a whole rather large box of chocolate marshmallows and also another precious gift of a certificate of appreciation for our English lessons (see picture). So sweet and so thoughtful. I would just like to underline the headline at the top though that we are their first English teachers and they are just on the simpler stuff at the moment and I shall not be sending the certificate back with red lines through it, well not yet anyway (laughing emoticon here!). I do really love the fact that they have gone to a lot of effort to make the certificate and try to write some thoughtful lines in English, it makes us feel thoroughly appreciated, well that and the invitation to a reciprocal meal in about a fortnight. 

An arty photo from earlier this year. I
was reminded of this on a blog
where an artist loves to post pictures
of rusty objects because they are so
interesting. Check out the site here.
This is a photo of a hoe after dredging
out pond weed.
I said it has been wet this last week and our allotment at our other apartment is under water in places and so when someone posted a link facebook on how to build an ark I couldn't resist posting it myself and having a good laugh with another friend planning on how to build an ark - thought we might wait until it stops raining first though before commencing the building project. Just in case you need some directions here's the link to the plans for building your own ark. Our other allotment does look in a sorry state with so much water and we half wondered whether to just leave the plants that are left to rot away as many of the plants were put in a little too late to be ready for picking and we had too many cabbages all ready at once, at least by leaving them it would return the nutrients back to the soil. We changed our mind though after Ian had been working up at the other apartment and looking out over the allotments of ours and our neighbours made him think it actually reflects rather badly on us, planting things that we don't harvest even if the cabbages do look past their best. The Latvians plant their gardens to feed them over the winter and even if I have a freezer full of veg, loads of chutneys, and lots of dried food, it does not look good to let food go to waste - our neighbours probably have enough for themselves and probably would not appreciate soggy cabbages but it still looks wasteful. We decided to go and collect the remaining cabbages and was surprised that once we removed the outer sogginess they actually weren't too bad at all. Now we have the challenge of trying to process them somehow, so some are drying and some will freeze now I have made a bit of space by making some cucumber, apple and orange marmalade (it's not as bad as it sounds, honest! In fact it is quite tasty). Any other suggestions on what to do with a bag full of actually reasonable cabbages gratefully received.

Another memory of summer but also another symbol of
freedom. I like this one as it is in such an incongruous
place, makes for a nice contrast of natural amongst the
industrial rather like the beauty of freedom in the midst of
It has been an exciting week this week with the twin announcements of the release of captives, the British couple released by Somali pirates and Suu Kyi in Burma released from house arrest. It really feels like a cry freedom week, a cry coming up that cannot be contained. Even though the situation seemed hopeless there was something that could not resist the cry of freedom. May that cry of freedom echo throughout the world into the very recesses of power, bringing release from bondage of many, whether that bondage be to banks charging excessive interest rates to claw back their profits, or release of slaves sold into prostitution or the burdened people under corrupt regimes. More Lord is what I want to pray! Let the cry of freedom rise! 

Monday, 8 November 2010

Whirlwinds and silence

Frost or snow? Nor sure really but they look like
icing covered oak leaves
Tuesday evening last week was an amazing evening as we met two women from the Latvian State Forest Service in the car park of the local government office and within half an hour they had organised for me to travel with them to a meeting to sort out a placement for my course and booked us an appointment with a forest guy to look at our forest plan - not only that but organised a translator too. What a whirlwind of characters those two appear to be. Then we had a chance meeting with some friends who are busy organising a national launch of a programme to help people with addictions (quite important when alcoholism is so prevalent) and so we weren't going to be able to see them for a fortnight (two weeks for my American friends) and we just happened to be eating out at the same hotel on the same night so that worked out well. Next we caught up with our other friends out on their farm. Not bad for one evening - that doesn't happen very often here in Latvia things usually move at a much slower pace thank goodness. Mind you in the end it was decided that I didn't really need to go with the two ladies to the meeting as they would be talking shop most of the day and so would be a long way to go for little benefit. What a shame I was really looking forward to being up at 6am to be ready in time to go (just in case you miss it I am being a tad sarcastic, I was looking forward to the meeting but not the early rise and being in shape for a long car drive with two human dynamos). All is not lost though as I am now in email contact with two people who can help me out with placements and so far that is looking promising, some sort of progress anyway.

Fruit bushes all wrapped up in their winter fir coats
We did get to meet up with the forest guy though and he was a little bemused as to why we wanted to see him but we did manage to establish that Ian can cut down as many trees as he needed to, that are 12 cm or less but we did need extra papers to allow him to cut down anything bigger so that gives us a little breathing space while we work out exactly how much needs to be cut by cutting out the smaller trees first and then seeing what else needs to go. The forest is looking quite open now, even with just the small trees cut out and so should give much more light and space for some of the slower growing trees like the maples and oaks. We should have quite a diverse forest by the time we finish. Well that's the plan anyway. Also found out this week that every forest in Latvia needs an inventory of the trees in it, but not a management plan as I thought, unless you want to do anything in it like cut down bigger trees, so it is an inventory that needs to be carried out every ten years. Next I need to find out who does that. Confused! No different to many folks here! So much has changed in the last twenty years with the collapse of the Soviet system followed by the introduction of European rules that not many people really know exactly what is required for many aspects of life here and so the endless chasing around is not unusual. A drop of transparency with some clear, readily available guidelines of who to see when wouldn't go amiss.

Smelt like Christmas whilst wrapping
up the bushes and look like lots of
mini Christmas trees dotted about. Just
hope it works to keep them protected
against snow, ice and nibbling deer
The news about the A380s came as a bit of a shock this week as we are booked on one for our trip to Australia in December and I wondered if all A380s would be grounded, but it turns out the one we are booked onto has a different engine, so that's okay ..... isn't it? Mind you our daughter who returned to Oz pointed out that it was entirely possible that she had flown on that very plane only 5 days earlier - could all be a bit scary really if you chose to dwell on those kinds of things. What ifs are far too time consuming and soul destroying to linger long on that kind of thing.

With the major work completed on our other apartment, our barn progressing nicely, and some progress on getting a placement for my course things seem to be chugging along now, albeit slowly at times, but at least it is in the right direction. It does make me wonder though what lessons are being learnt in the process of waiting, after all we waited 7 months for the polytunnel to get built and so far the barn has taken 5 months with some fairly incomprehensible reasons like no wood in a country covered by over 50% forest, and I think I got part of the answer this week by reading a blog by Steve Lowton. He is going through his own waiting time and he doesn't do waiting very well but is beginning to see the point of slowing things down and discovering some of the ancient pathways of silence and stillness where you have to wrestle with your own personal demons. Standing in our forest yesterday having just dragged out some of the felled trees we just stood and listened, the silence was deafening and a welcome drink to the soul. Having to wait though is not all about drinking in the silence as it can also bring with it a certain amount of powerlessness and the impotence to do anything which frustrates planning. Learning to live with that is hard but if it is something your used to like the poor and dispossessed of this world then can be life-sapping, as decisions are taken that outside of their control. Planning is meaningless for them as the powers that be chop and change their minds and still the poor wait for justice. Often our waiting is only a matter of time and we are not short of choices but for the poor they have no choices and that is the most disabling of all. So next time you are stuck in waiting for the powers to be to turn up, or waiting for a plane that is late, think of those who for whom waiting in a powerless state is a way of life and not a momentary inconvenience.

Frosted blackcurrant leaves
Well on this snowy night (isn't it a good job I am not setting off to a meeting tomorrow) and the thought of valued silence in the forest it reminded me of a poem I wrote last year, so here it is.

More frosted blackcurrant leaves

A quiet place!
The snow lay thick on the ground
and a grey blanket spread out
covering the sky
"Shuuush!" He said
"Why?" asked the little one
"But I can't hear anything."
"I know!....
It's beautiful!"
he said in awed tones,
and the silence hung in the air
like the ice from the trees
easily shattered.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Fettled coat with added pocket detail
It has been a fettling week this week. For the unenlightened among you who haven't a clue what I am going on about, the word fettle is a great word that cannot be found in the Cambridge online dictionary, well not my use of the word, but can be found in the Collins English dictionary apparently and is a dialect word which means to repair and mend something. Mind you that doesn't encompass the full meaning of the word to fettle, as it suggests a tinkering about to get something mended, a make do and mend type approach rather than a straightforward technical fix. And what do I mean by that? 

Well fettle number 1. Our combination microwave has been getting a little temperamental and getting it to start was getting harder and harder. We took it apart, and I do mean "we", a joint effort as it was going to take two of us to remember how to put it back together. In fact it took two of us to work out how to take the thing apart in the first place. Anyway on examination we decided that the switch mechanism was perhaps a bit worn and so the buttons weren't able to make contact, so technical fix - two layers of cardboard, expertly cut by me from an alpen cereal packet. Sorted! Well it works better than before. 

Can't see the tear at all now
Fettle number 2. Ian was given a coat by our son and within a week of wearing it had managed to tear the pocket. Tearing the pocket of itself wasn't so much of a hassle and sewing that up invisibly was not a problem but the torn fabric at the top was rather harder to manage without the repair shouting that it was just that, a repair. Hunting around in my stash of haberdashery bits and bobs (sewing stuff for the youngsters) I found some small lengths of ribbon, the sort I suspect are for sewing into coats to hang them up with. Why exactly I should have small lengths of ribbon to hang up coats with I am not sure as I have inherited many a strange item from grandmother's and aunts, anyway it was very useful to sew over the tear and one on the other pocket to match and now it looks like a pocket detail. Well at least I hope so, you will have to look at the picture to see what you think.

It can only be a Swede who would add
blue and yellow stripes (see the Swedish
flag to know why). Like the look though
Fettle number 3. My dishwasher was also getting temperamental and seemed to only work intermittently. This type of fix though required a different set of skills to get it going again and sharp words of a technical origin such as "I'm not cooking anymore until this washing up gets done" seemed to work wonders. Dishwasher fixed! Only joking about the sharp words though, we did have a little banter over the fact the dishwasher didn't seem to be working well at the moment and suggesting it would be advantageous to get it fixed, pronto. And just in case your confused, my dishwasher is Ian.

Fettle number 4. This was in part a fettle as there has been a lot of creative thinking gone into finishing off some work in our other apartment by our Swedish friend. He has managed to use an ordinary door to make a sliding door, he has built in a box with a magnetic access for pipes and meter reading. He used some wood he had lying around for some bits of a partition wall, painted some funky stripes on the wall because he didn't like the blue I said to use, and managed to fit a bath and sink into a small space without being too cramped. In short he has done a marvellous job, even if it has taken rather longer than he had hoped. There are still little finishing off jobs to do but nothing that Ian can't handle on a rainy day. 

Not much room but you can just see
the sliding door, now just needs some
I have been reminded this week of a story from a long time ago when Ian and I were young with two young children and we had just moved house. We had borrowed a little more money so that we could buy a car when we moved out to rural Derbyshire as it was going to be a long commute for Ian otherwise and we would have been a bit stranded as public transport was not too good and went the wrong way for where Ian went to work. We were stretched to the limit and it was a little scary. We used a little money leftover to spend on a holiday though and we went up to a B&B in North Yorkshire, our first holiday not spent at parents. The reality of the big step we had taken loomed large over our holiday and spending money on treats was not really something we could freely do but we made the best of it and the B&B owners were lovely and helpful considering we had two little ones with us at the time, who were about 2 1/2 and one years old. One day we came back from a trip into one of the local market towns and there on the windscreen of our car was a cucumber. Of all the things to be left on our car! It made us laugh but it also made us realise that God was with us and would provide for us in some surprising ways and that is a promise that God has kept all through the years. Some of God's provisions have indeed been as unconventional as a cucumber left on a car in a random car park, but provided he has, and he has never let us down.

The new stove works a treat and looks
good against the newly plastered and
painted walls. The flooring was an
inspired choice as it looks so good with
the kitchen. Proper chuffed we are!
So why was I reminded of that this week? Well it is a little scary living on savings with no income in your 40's with no prospect of a pension in the foreseeable future. With a house in the UK on the market since late last year and getting to the stage where I really feel we need to let it go whatever the price and cut our financial ties with England, things get scarier still. I emailed the agent and told him to reduce the price again and re-advertise but if it didn't go then it was to be sold to investors at a big loss. Mind you the loss in reality is only a loss of what might have been, rather than a loss where we have to find money to cover it, as there is no mortgage on the house. The next day after the email went, Ian returned home after collecting the tractor from neighbours, where it had spent its holiday, with a big block of cheese. We have money in the bank, and we are not about to run short just yet, but that doesn't matter to God, he is in charge, and whether we have a lot or a little he will provide in his own way. I had to laugh as  that cucumber suddenly sprung to mind and now I can rest easy knowing that even when the leaders of countries do not really have a clue  on what will stabilise economies or what is good for a nation and where the recklessness of banks can bring countries to their knees, I know that God will provide, in surprising ways!

Looking the other way. Needs a new
cooker and once it was tidy it
looked very smart.
After the wedding the other week and the epic trip back from Europe I hit the deck running when we got  back home as I had one week to get my head around an assignment and get it posted. I managed it and even enjoyed getting the pieces together on wild boar management and reading around all the papers written about the damage that they do. I did find though that very little has been written from the farmers perspective. So much investigated and hours spent researching and only about three reports asked the farmers what they did or what they felt about the situation. Robert Chambers back in 1983 said:-

Rural people’s knowledge and modern scientific knowledge are complementary in their strengths and weaknesses. Combined they may achieve what neither would alone. For such combinations, outsider professionals have to step down off their pedestals, and sit down, listen and learn.

Well hopefully if my assignment is on track then this is precisely what I hope to do next year, sit down and listen to the farmers and what they think about the wild boar damage, how they cope, how they feel it is being tackled or not, what they think should be done, what they feel they can do. 

When I mentioned my assignment on facebook recently a friend replied "i'll get the kettle on. your life seems to be one extreme or another - locked in writing about agriculture, or battling mud, or food mountains :-)" and I think that kind of sums me up at the moment because this weekend after finishing my assignment I got around to pulling up pepper plants that were suffering from cold which meant I had a box full of peppers to dry. Also the apples in our cellar were looking like they needed attention as they wouldn't last forever and so I have tackled a box full of apples as well. I have steamed some with rowan berries to make rowan berry and apple jam and jelly, others are boiled to make apple sauce, others earmarked for apple and chilli jelly and yet others for an apple crumble.

So there it is, food strainer all set up and ready to go. You
can also see the other range of gadgets I have, a steamer
for steaming fruits and getting juice from them and a
dehydrator. All valuable helps in processing our food
I was looking for clues on what to do with apple sauce on the internet and looking through their suggestions of how to sieve the apples once they are boiled up when I noticed that they used an attachment for a kitchen aid. On close inspection I realised that I actually had one of those. I couldn't ever remember their being a bit which pureed food which is why when I was in England I had been looking for a mouli to puree food, as it would be a lot simpler than using a sieve and easier on the wrist. Digging through my bookshelf with all the booklets from all the bits and bobs I have in the kitchen I spotted a booklet for a food strainer. Voila! So with booklet in one hand and various kitchen aid bits I proceeded to put the strainer together. It was one of those moments both of elation at finding something that would make life simpler and the realisation that the aching wrists I had suffered the last time I made rowan berry jam was completely unnecessary. Doh! To quote a certain cartoon character.