Monday, 28 March 2011

Going, going, gone!

Our polytunnel, that came down over the winter, has now finally totally collapsed, partly due to wind and partly due to a little help from us. One end section came down while Ian was working in the area. He had been sorting through the bits, separating the components and taking out nails and screws so the salvageable wood can be reused and remembers thinking that he wasn't stood in the best of places as it was a bit windy and the end piece could come down anytime, he looked up and the piece had gone. It fell onto the snow so quietly he never heard it and fortunately it fell away from him, otherwise it could have been a different scenario. The opposite end, however was a little more robust as there were still two sections held together with struts and so between the two of us we began the process of taking off the remaining plastic and weakening the construction - Ian inadvertently weakened it a little more than anticipated with the back hoe on the tractor as he drove over a bit of a hump in the doorway, it was only just a bit that caught the top of the doorway but enough to weaken the structure some more and split a crosspiece. A few hefty wallops from a long piece of wood removed some other cross pieces and then we were able to push the rest of the structure over. It was kind of sad really, all that work and aggravation to get it put up in the first place and then we ended up pushing it over. Still the site can now be cleared and work can begin on the new construction, well just as soon as we get the wood - hopefully it's on order but the guy ordering it for us had more important things on his mind as he was making the coffin for his sister-in-law, so we don't think we should hassle him really.

Friday night we had been out to some friends and as we rolled up to our doorway there was a group of young men getting out of the car in front of us, we groaned. Not that we have anything against young men but when this lot turn up, it usually means loud music ensues, well not really loud, but the bass can be heard clear up to our apartment from the first floor apartment (English -ground floor) and we are on the third floor (English -second). One of the delights of living in a concrete apartment block is the way that bass sounds carry, which is a shame as normally our neighbours are quite quiet really. The noise levels went up and down practically all night and meant we didn't have a great deal of sleep, if it had been loud all the time I would have got up but because it went up and down I would drift back of to sleep. The other reason for not getting up is the fact it doesn't really happen that often and could be far worse with a young chap in his late teens left to fend for himself as his parents work abroad (all too common in Latvia), however, when the music started again the next night I wasn't prepared to put up with it. We had gone to bed and it was just tolerable but as I lay there the music volume went up, so I waited till one minute past eleven and got up, got dressed (didn't want to frighten him too much and besides it was cold outside and they were in the next section along from our block of six apartments) and went to the apartment to confront the young man. I wasn't sure what to expect, but at least I knew he understood English; in fact he was perfectly pleasant and asked if it was past eleven with a grin (the hour at which noises should be kept to a minimum) to which I replied yes it was as pleasantly as possible. I was completely amazed that the music was then turned down and stopped low - perhaps he hadn't realised that his music can carry all the way up so many floors and thought since the neighbours above him were away it wouldn't matter if his music was loud.

Sad really! But had to be done.
Christmas seemed to come early or late this week, as we had lots of parcels all turn up at once, a book, a load of seeds, two phones and a packet of plasterboard raw plugs. An eclectic mix of things to be sure. We can get raw plugs here very easily but not plasterboard raw plugs so when our daughter-in-law sent us some phones to replace our fast dying ones I asked if she could put a few of the them in the post at the same time. My mobile phone is a very ancient beast as we bought it shortly after we moved to Denmark and so was close to 8 years old. Ian's phone was bought in America and the battery didn't seem to hold the charge, especially at low temperatures, which is not terribly useful when he works out on the land in winter, and we couldn't seem to get a replacement for it although we have tried. The replacements, therefore, came just in time to keep us connected with the world. Ian is happy now as he has the theme tune from Spike Milligan's Q8 series on his phone, think it might drive me nutty but fortunately we don't get too many phone calls. One thing I did learn with my new phone is that I need my glasses to input numbers I added * instead of + for all the international codes which didn't help when I wanted to send a text to one of my sons in England, took me ages to work out why it wouldn't send. Senior moment I think they call it!

See the snow is going, honest! Check back with last week's
blog if you don't believe me.
I wondered if the Latvian remembrance marches by those who belonged to the Waffen SS would make it into the news again this year, with all its dilemmas and problematic viewpoints; they didn't exactly, the news from Libya and Japan drowned out the yearly roasting the Latvians get from the march, however it is a play about the marches that has made the news. It may not solve the dilemma of whether it is is right to march in remembrance of fallen comrades of the SS, after all the Germans have remembrance parades too, but it does at least open people's eyes to the complexity of the issue, as to what is being remembered. Many of the soldiers fighting on behalf of the Nazis were co-opted and even if they weren't, they were fighting against the Russians who they feared would take away their sovereignty, which had oh so recently been won and indeed was lost when the Russians invaded. Don't think I am justifying the marches, I am not, as sometimes they are just an excuse to stir up racism against the sizeable Russian speaking minority but I do wish that the media were not so quick to condemn as they usually are, especially when only a few days later the Latvians remember so many who were rounded up and deported to Siberia, many of whom never came back, including children too.

Yes we have gorgeous piles of mucky looking snow, well
actually they look like great heaps of soil but really it is
more snow than soil. 
I had a bit of a shock last week in our English lessons. We were having a bit of a rest between topics and I asked one of the ladies when she was next going to Ireland to see her husband, only to be informed she was going next week and she was going for two months. I wasn't the only one to be shocked as her friends didn't know either, but it means that lessons are cancelled now until September as that would have reduced the class down to just two ladies and it is bit of a way to get there. By the time the lady returns back from Ireland it will be the summer holidays, hence the long gap. I shall be sad in one way not to be going, but in another it actually makes my life a little simpler as I have quite a few assignments due over the next 8 weeks before I finish the taught bit of my Masters; next year I start on the thesis proper. It was also good as our printer decided to act very strange last week and would only print out two sheets at a time before flashing an error message at me, which meant printing out the lessons for the next section a pain in the neck as I needed four copies of about 8 pages and doing them two at a time was not funny. I managed to print out enough for last week and then gave up, and now they will not be needed until September anyway.

I was going to post a picture to show you that finally our
snow was going, but it snowed again and instead of a
broad patch of grass we have pristine snow again.
Came across an interesting idea this last week called guerilla funding, a bit like guerilla gardening but planting money in strategic places instead of seeds. The idea is to plant money in places where money doesn't often get to and doesn't feed the glowing virtuous feeling that sometimes comes with giving to charity and doesn't have the hang ups of micro-loans and the problems that can come with that. It is just using money to bless people without them having to be eternally grateful to the giver. Love it! Another interesting idea is from a young man who set up a website called Save Latvia. His premise is that if enough people would give at least a symbolic 1€ then Latvia's debt to the IMF could be paid for or at least a good proportion of it. It is a brave and novel idea and I don't know if the guy is kosher but you have to applaud him for his initiative and so far I haven't found anything to doubt he is anything other than just a young student with a deceptively, creative idea. Still wondering whether to donate or not but then again I shall be contributing my own little contribution to the Latvian Government - I have to pay my taxes for this last year, while Ian gets a rebate for his work at the hospital. Jammy dog, as our family would say.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Good to be appreciated

Yes we still have a lot of snow to get rid
of! Ian has been moving it around, to
clear the snow from around the
polytunnel in preparation for work
to commence on it.
Well thanks for waiting, but I just plain ran out of time yesterday. I had studying to do in the morning and then in the afternoon we attended a young ladies birthday party. It was lovely to be invited as a way of saying thank you for the help with transport issues and a fantastic time to hear the Latvian language around the dinner table. We were invited along with some other friends of ours and so there was a good flow of English too and time just flew by as we laughed and told stories, talked about farms, talked about families and generally got to know each other some more. We even became quite well acquainted with Raimonds and Rudolfs, the house shrews. Their cats are not interested in the shrews and it is a farm so only to be expected - good job we are not easily freaked out as they scurried about the kitchen floor while we were chatting in the dining room. We also had a trip out to the barn to see the animals as they have acquired a few more since the summer when we last had a tour, it was an incredible sight. At this time of the year the animals have to stay inside as they can't go out in the snow, so there are cows in stalls, sheep in pens with their babies, pigs in their own pens, chickens everywhere, rabbits scurrying around with the chickens and edging their way in to feed from the same trough and some rabbits in cages. What a menagerie and what a noise but I would rather see that kind of sight than the poor animals in industrial scale farms where the animals will never get to see the light of day. These animals maybe inside for quite a while with the long winters but come April or early May they will be outside enjoying the spring grass, and they seemed pretty happy with the human attention they were getting.

Knitted socks
I titled this blog "good to be appreciated" and indeed it is, I feel well and truly blessed this week to have appreciative neighbours, like the ones who invited us to the party but that wasn't all. One evening there was a ring at the door and my first thought was it was someone selling potatoes but it wasn't, it was a neighbour carrying a small bag. She explained that it was a just a very small way of saying thank you for what we have done and handed us the bag containing two pairs of socks. Now to some that might seem like an odd gift but not here in Latvia. When you go to a Latvian house you will be expected to take off your shoes unless there is good reason not to, like in farm houses, so a nice pair of thick socks to keep the chill off, or some slippers that will slip into a bag are good. Not only are they a nice pair of thick, warm socks they are a nice pair of hand-knitted socks which makes them even more special. To cap off this week even our sons were appreciative too after having some good chats.

Dismantling of the ruins in progress
It certainly is a good boost after a bit of a low time when I was beginning to wonder whether we are still heading in the right direction with our plans here in Latvia. It is easy to think when things are not happening or coming together that maybe we are on the wrong track, but sometimes it is just a matter of waiting (as my friend Mavis points out in her blog "Waiting time") but it is nice to have some confirmation of that, no matter how small. It doesn't take much to encourage me to keep going, but this week I feel that I have had more than a little confirmation. One of the things that has just not come together is our Jiksi business which we set up last year, one idea after another just didn't get going and I was beginning to think we should close it and think of something else but this last week there have been people who have thought the ideas were good ones, always a good thing, and we finally found someone who can help us with the administration which has been a real headache. Administration in Latvia can be rather bureaucratic with paperwork needed to breathe - okay that is perhaps an exaggeration - but the Latvians like their paperwork and it is probably needed to reduce corruption sometimes, but it can seem like a never ending hurdle, and so finding someone who can tackle that side of things is a real Godsend.

Last week's picture for contrast with this weeks

Now play spot the difference. Believe me when I say a lot
of snow has gone, just there is still a lot more to go
On the week after my certificate arrived from the Open University confirming I now have a Post Graduate Certificate in Development Management and can put PG Cert (Dev Mgmt)(Open) after my name, I had some more encouragement by being able to actually put some of my studies from that course and the one I am doing now into practice. It is all right having the ability to put those initials after my name which proclaims to one and all I am now able to do Development Management, it is quite another actually putting what I have learnt into practice into a real life scenario. Another neighbour is hoping to set up a business that will benefit the area we live in and it was useful to her to have some things to think about regarding aims so she can apply for funding. It was good to be able to draw on the knowledge of what funders are particularly looking for, what ticks the boxes for them, and to be down right honest it sure felt good to be able to help something along that fits in so well with what we would love to see happening here in the village.

See it is going! These pieces of equipment were virtually
under the snow last week
As I mentioned in my rather short blog yesterday we were heading into Riga today. We managed to get there in one piece, a feat in itself as it was an hour and three quarter drive on what could be termed farm track in most countries for the state it was in, the dirt roads were either wet ice or washboard surfaces and the tarmac once again was the springtime game of swerving around the potholes. Ian was helping out in the hospital, which he usually does once a month, by advising the doctor regarding the machine she uses in the diagnosis of leukaemia and helping to rectify a problem she was having and I went to visit a lady at the State Forest Service headquarters which entailed me taking a bus from near the hospital to the centre of the city. I was rather proud of myself for getting there using public transport. I got to the bus stop just as a bus pulled up and on the front it had Centrala tirgus, so taking the risk that this was going somewhere into the city centre I hopped on, only to find that most folks seem to have swipe cards and I had a moment of panic wondering if I should have prepaid somewhere when I noticed someone paying at the front. The driver though did not seem to understand what I was trying to say but I noticed it said something about 70 santims on a notice so paid that and he seemed happy enough, just had to pray no inspector would come on and question me on the ticket. It was only after I sat down I remembered that tirgus was market which was right opposite where I needed to be, so all was good. The reason I was in Riga is because I was on placement for one module of my course and it involves finding out what I can over the course of five days about forestry in Latvia. Normally the five days are done in one working week but due to the nature of the organisations concerned with forestry here in Latvia and the fact that they are all under a lot of pressure due to budget cuts it is not fair to spend five days in one place and so I have been visiting different people in different places and finding out about all the different aspects of forestry over a period of several months. I still have at least two more visits to make to complete my assignment but for at least one of them I need the snow to go and the ground to get a bit drier so we can do a forest visit.

I said I would post pictures of Ian's handiwork. This is the
coat rack made from a piece of wood destined for the fire
and three hooks. 
Since I am in rambling mood today I just wanted to ask if anyone has a similar problem to one I encountered this week. I managed to forget my key for our other apartment, not an unusual thing for me in itself, especially since I keep changing coats due to the warmer weather. I no longer need the cabbage layers and so just took a fleece last time I went to our other apartment. It takes about 10 mins to walk there and when I arrived I went to get the key out of my pocket and of course it wasn't there, it was in the fleece. I checked my pockets about three times but no it did not miraculously appear and then I stood and stared at the door, nope it didn't miraculously open just because I was staring at it. So what I want to know is why do we do that? Or is it just me? Why check three times in the same place and then stare at the door?  Anyway I walked back to get the key and then back again to the other apartment, but the weather was glorious and I needed the walk so no harm done.

The bath panel made from reclaimed panelling from our
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I got some Kefir grains and the good news is that they are doing well. In fact I they are doing so well that I have had to freeze some of the milk ones as I have an over abundance of them, and the water kefir ones are doing nicely too but I do need to feed them three teaspoons of sugar every other day. Besides an over abundance of the grains we were also getting an over abundance of kefirs and so I used it with some milk to make cheese using some rennet that my Mum sent me across in the post. Hopefully in about two weeks time I should have something with the texture akin to Lancashire cheese. If that works I think I might need to invest in some cheese moulds to make the job a little easier.

Okay not the best picture in the world, snow does not
photograph well on a dull day, but the bushes we planted
last year are just beginning to make an appearance in
their fir coats that they were wrapped in at the end of last
year before the snows came.
I managed to get some clarification this week on my frustrations with the lack of information regarding survivors to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami from a comment on a blog. I felt the concentration on the reactor and the economy seemed to have overtaken the real human cost of the earthquake but I found out that one of the reasons for the lack of information is the focus on the unfolding drama of the nuclear reactor in Japanese news. I guess what has been and gone has passed into history now but the reactor would seem to be an uncertain and present threat to the Japanese. At least I feel I understand the lack of news of the people now and I am glad to see that the news about the economy and all that happens with that has been relegated to a minor issue and not headlining.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Lovely day

Hiya, just a quick note to say I have had a lovely day at a young lady's birthday party today and I need to get ready for tomorrow as we are heading into Riga. Ian will be doing some work at the hospital and I shall spend a day getting to know more about the State Forest Service at their headquarters which is another day of my placement module for my course. Tell you more about our last week tomorrow as it has been an exciting week

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

I hear you

I also wrote a poem this week  for those who are walking a troubled route at the moment.

I hear you!

The road you are taking, 
maybe full of dangers ahead. 
The road you are taking,
maybe rocky and steep, 
but don’t worry my child 
I hear you.

The journey is not finished, 
there are many more miles to go, 
the answer is not where your looking,
it’s on the road ahead, 
but don’t worry 
I hear you.

I know the answer you see 
is not the one you are looking for 
but wait 
be patient 
keep calm 
I hold the future in my hands
so don’t worry 
I hear you

Take my hand 
Trust me! 
Let me lead you on 
I know it’s hard for you right now 
but the plan you can’t see is ahead of you 
so don’t worry 
I hear you

I didn’t promise it won’t hurt 
but I promised to hold you 
I didn’t promise it would be easy 
but I promised to always be there 
so let’s keep going 
Don’t worry 
I hear you

Monday, 14 March 2011

An ordinary life

I think by next week this will look very different with the
start of the thaw. The tracks in the middle are a lynx
It's hard to write about ordinary life just after reading of such devastation in Japan, but ordinary life does go on and I am grateful for the ordinariness of life carrying on around me. I am grateful for the smiles and enthusiastic waves from neighbours (not really quite sure why the greetings were so enthusiastic, but still grateful nonetheless), I am also grateful for a warm house and food on the table. All perfectly ordinary, nothing remarkable until you realise how precious they are, how precarious it could be, how in an instant it could all be swept away by some quirk of nature, or by some revolution. In most earthquakes we read about, there is a concentration on the rescue stories, on the triumphs and the tragedies of ordinary people, but no not this time the media appear to have moved on to the threat of the nuclear reactor meltdown, or is that just the BBC? Or they are concentrating on the effects on the economy I to be honest I do not really care what speculators think of the economy of Japan, they should not be distracting the Japanese's Government from the mammoth task of clearing up and putting things to right, I think they have enough on their plate. I want to hear the stories, I want to hear how the Japanese people are? How are they doing, not the flippin' economy.

Ian dug out the drainage ditch for the
barn so the water can flow. He needed
me to give it a little perspective
So what has our ordinary life been like this week? Actually it hasn't felt that ordinary at all, things are changing - the sounds of Spring have rushed in upon us. For the first time in ages we hear the steady drip drip of the snow melting off our roofs,  we find out once again which roads are the dirt roads and which ones are actually tarmac and which ones are in desperate need of repair after the winter, it all seems so long ago since we saw them. We also discover there really is still grass under the snow and it still amazes us that it has managed to survive under its winter blanket and only needs a few rays of light to change from a dark murky green to the vibrant hue of spring. It was so warm the other day ie about 6C that we sat outside our workshop on the land on our patio chairs, Ian had to sink his chair into the snow, up to the seat, as there was not enough room outside our workshop for us both to put our chairs, but it was so good just to be soaking up the rays. I would have taken a photo but it was a long walk to get the camera along a path that was only half solid enough to walk on, part of it was still soft and meant sinking in up to my knees. After two days of warm temperatures there is still a lot of snow to melt and lots of puddles everywhere.

Not quite as deep as by the barn but a
pretty good indication of how deep the
snow has been
Post winter slush and dripping roofs seems a small price to pay for the return of the warmth of Spring. It is the promise of warmer days ahead that means I don't notice the pain of having to walk in the wet slippy slush, or the fact our car is not nice and clean now but the usual two tone colour it normally is. It is part of the process of transition, not entirely pleasant maybe in some ways, but the promise of the future is enough and the rays of sunshine help to make the slush bearable. As I said there is still a lot of snow to go, as there are mountains of it piled up all over the place; the snowploughs this year ran out of room to push the snow and had to have additional vehicles just to scoop up the snow to get it off the road. Of course a lot of buildings suffered damage with the weight of snow, not just our polytunnel and we see many collapsed buildings around. Ironically though buildings are still coming down as the snow melts off them, it is almost as if the only thing left holding them together was the ice and as that melts it all comes crashing down. We were round at our friends farm to see the new baby goats and we had a look at one of their buildings that had slowly been coming down over the winter, and Ian stepped in with our friend to have a look at the bent beams, only to find out that later that afternoon it finally gave up the ghost and fell down. Scary!

Cute heh! One of friends' new baby goat
Talking of our polytunnel we have finally made a decision on what to do. We have pulled the guys off building the barn to build the polytunel instead, as right now that is far more important to us. They can't really get going on the barn yet anyway as there is far more snow down there as you can see from the pictures, than on top of the hill where the polytunnel is. They are going to start off with beams left over from the barn and try to re-use what they can from the polytunnel and then we shall see what is still needed. They said it was going to be far quicker to take down the old framework still standing and start from scratch and so will build it using a different shape. They are also going to use sturdier beams in the corners and in the middle than use the same sized timber, so hopefully it will be far more robust. Well here's hoping anyway.

Here is the other baby, obviously otherwise engaged. Mum
is not much older as she is the one that escaped to go to the
boy goat when she wasn't supposed to.
It seems like its been a week of preparation for the coming year, from finally making a decision on the polytunnel to planting seeds. It seems the promise of Spring is all that is needed to spur us into action. One of the things that crossed my mind is that if we are going to have alpacas then I really need to get up to speed on the knitting as the hope is to have some gorgeous alpaca wool from them. I have never really been a great knitter, as Ian's mother was a prolific knitter, but I do have a go from time to time and made a couple of jumpers (sweaters) for Ian and myself and knitted a few baby clothes. I decided that since I have wool stored I would start off with knitting baby clothes (no pressure kids!) and so I pulled out a pattern I have kept from years ago and got started. Well I thought I understood the pattern but as I knitted I realised I had forgotten a few techniques like how to increase stitches in a pattern, I had also never come across the instructions K1B before, I have come across KB1 and thought it was the same. KB1 means knit into the back of the stitch but it didn't give me the nice chunky fisherman's rib as the picture showed me in the pattern. I pulled that piece out four times, checked on the internet three times before I got the hang of what I am supposed to be doing ie knitting into the row below but the good news is that it is flowing nicely now.

Trying it out for size! Ian decided to move the tractor to
higher ground and it is a good job he did as this will be
very muddy by now. When it has its roof on and a concrete
floor it obviously won't be so bad.
Ian also has done a few finishing off jobs on our other apartment, like put up a coat rack. We are quite pleased with it as we used a piece of wood which was heading for firewood but we liked the design of it so put it to one side, added some hooks, and voila! Easy and very cheap. A lot cheaper than the nice coat racks in the DIY shop. He also used panelling from the apartment we live in for a bath panel. We ripped it off the walls  because someone in their infinite wisdom had cut into them to put a radiator in and there was no chance of matching it up again. The bath looks pretty smart now and so we decided to christen it. Well actually we thought we had best test it out, to make sure it didn't leak, as it hasn't been tested since it was put in and we may have a visitor sometime in the next week. So we had our first bath in ages! Bliss! A bath that is long enough to lie down in and one which is deep enough to be submerged in - our American baths were so shallow they were almost pointless.

Makes our ponds look like they have sunk but we think
that it is the sides that are so deep with snow. Not sure
if they have reappeared from under their blankets yet.
It hasn't all been sweetness and light this week for me as this last week I was quite poorly for about 24 hours. I started to feel a bit achy one afternoon but by the evening I was really bad, so bad I went to bed before Ian which is errrrr very bad! I was so cold and I just couldn't get warm, so I was tucked up with the old hot water bottle trying to get some heat into myself.  I was very achy the next morning too and felt really unwell when I woke about 7am, so one cup of tea and a couple of paracetamols and I went back to sleep. I slept till 12pm and that is not like me either. I don't do sleeping in! I think I could count on my hand how many times I have slept in past 9am and that is even as a teenager. Just can't do it. No idea what it was but after my sleep I felt much better and apart from the odd bout of tiredness I am fine now.

Lynx tracks. Two large paws at the front and two smaller
paws at the back. Lack of claws means it is not a dog or fox
I posted a picture of a possible lynx track the other week but we weren't sure if it really was a lynx or not. Now we are pretty certain it is a lynx and it is a regular visitor to our land. Its also probably male as our polytunnel ruins has a slight whiff of "Essence de Tomcat!". Down by our lowest pond are lots of very characteristic cat tracks and, as someone commented, the only other cat besides lynx with a similar gait and foot pattern is a leopard, and there are not many of those in Latvia, so we go with lynx. Funnily enough since the lynx tracks appeared we don't seem to have as many deer tracks, can't think why. Some of the tracks are quite incredible as there is a huge distance between each set of tracks. The lynx must have been on the run but what a colossal stride it has, certainly would not like to meet one on the run.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Friends old and new

Grey days bring beautifully frosted trees
March is a month of milestones for us as Tuesday was the 8th anniversary of us leaving England, and Friday was the 3rd anniversary of our arrival in Latvia, it is also Ian's 25th anniversary this month since he entered the world of work after a period of unemployment following his degree. He likes to think of himself as retired now, but it wasn't to be this morning. Our neighbours to the land called late last night with a request for a lift into the village as their car was stuck because of the snow and they live about 7km (4.3miles) outside the village. We didn't have much snow yesterday but we did have wind, accompanied by a 10 minute blizzard where our village disappeared from sight, and it meant that their road was not passable with an ordinary car, in fact it was barely passable with ours. The problem was the young lass needed to be in village the following morning, the only catch was that it was for 6:20am, an early start for Ian then. In our three years of living in Latvia we may not have learnt much of the oral language but we do feel we have learnt more about the culture and we feel accepted despite our failings with the language as our neighbours know they can rely on us when they get stuck. We feel it is important to help out where we can, as we never know when we might need help ourselves and besides we get nice invites to birthday parties, so worth the effort.

Repaired tractor window
One of the benefits of helping out was the wood we managed to get last week, to top up our rapidly diminishing reserves. This wood was from a friend who had a lot of waste wood from his business of preparing firewood for sale, and Ian had helped him out a few times with lifts when he needed them to get work done and helping him get his car started on cold mornings. Now we can hardly move in our basement and the wood store down the garden has as much wood it can hold without removing the trailer but at least our friend can move around better in his workplace. It's what we call building social capital on my course, because it is a bit like putting cash (capital) into a community bank, something you can draw on in times of need because you have made deposits into it in your lifetime and it makes living together as a community a lot easier.

Especially for my friend Pauline, she likes
hearts. This box was made by our daughter
at school quite a few years ago now and
at first they had salt dough leaves in, but
they got soggy, then they had two lots of
dried leaves in and now dried orange peel.
Last week I mentioned we had reconnected with friends some of whom we hadn't met for a little while as we had all just got a bit too busy last year, well this week we had the chance of reconnecting with some friends who we hadn't met for even longer, we weren't really sure how long, but it was heading for the 15 year mark. They had some unexpected free time in Riga and we had to take our poorly computers in for repair and so we drove 2 hours for a cup of coffee and a chat. We had kept in touch in a roundabout way through mutual friends so we all knew what had been happening in each others lives, just not chatted for a long time. I knew them both from the time I helped them run a children's session for 3-5 year olds at a Christian conference called The Event and organised the craft for 5-7 year olds at Spring Harvest where they were leading the programme for that age. Sounds easy writing it but there were just over a hundred 3-5 year olds at one stage in a big tent and about 500 children to prepare craft activities for, not to mention the organising of their helpers to ensure the crafts were successful. I think organising the helpers was sometimes the hardest part, particularly if they were new to that type of work or professed to be hopeless at crafts.

She made quite a few boxes of different sizes. They will
shortly be hung on a stick and then hung on the wall
at our other apartment
On the opposite side of the spectrum we will be connecting in person with someone for the first time in September, someone I have only got to know over the internet . Always a bit of a risk but we have got to know each other quite well over the years as Mavis has followed this blog and then more recently we have connected via facebook. I mentioned last week we had got our apartment into a state where I feel we can invite people without having to apologise all the time and Mavis commented she liked it, so I replied that she was more than welcome to come and see it for herself. The brave lady took me up on the offer and booked her tickets to come and see us after checking out to see if I was serious. We are really thrilled as Mavis has been such an encouragement over the years, as she has followed our exploits and so it will be fantastic to meet in the flesh and to show her around what she has only seen as pictures on this blog. She even wrote a lovely piece on the up and coming visit on her blog on the subject of friends

More creativity. I have finished the embroidery (more hearts
Pauline) and added a frame to it. I learnt to make these
frames on a course in Denmark using the canvases that are
readily available and customising them
I finally got around to tackling a mound of paperwork this week and I have been putting it off for ages, but it couldn't be put off any longer as there was a piece of paper I needed and I knew it was probably in the pile somewhere. It was worth the effort though, besides the satisfaction of having sorted it, I also found a £20 note ($32),  5 Lat (£6.13, $10) notes and a AUD$5 (£3,$10) amongst all the paperwork, a nice haul for my efforts! It probably means I should actually take more care of our money but we won't go there. Talking of paperwork we also got our heating bill for February through this week and surprise, surprise the bill was about the same for January, that is despite the fact that the inside temperature in January was significantly lower and the outside temperature was higher. So it took about the same amount of heat to not heat our house through milder temperatures as it was to maintain our apartment temperature at a respectable level through a bitterly cold month with temperatures below - 20C a lot of the time at nights and barely creeping up above -15C during the day for much of the month. I somehow think the sums are wrong, don't you? Will be interesting to see what the company have to say, we haven't as yet paid for last month and we are not going to pay this month until they get it sorted out but they have to answer the letter of complaint sent by our house manager by the end of the month.

Looks like we will have heat this week too.
There are huge piles of wood chippings there
but they don't last long, they have to heat
two apartment blocks, a technical school and
its accommodation block. The company though
haven't got around to building extra storage
space, hence the reason they keep running out.
Although the weather has been quite a bit warmer this last week it has been quite grey, it is now up to about zero at some point during the day most days and it makes such a difference when we step outside, it feels so mild - all relative I guess. We were back to sunny days again today and it was very cold this morning but even so the temperature during the day was only just below freezing. The shorter nights are really helping I guess and so we thought we had better get around to ordering seeds seeing as how Spring does actually feel like it is on its way. We saved quite a few of our seeds last year but we still had plenty we needed to get and so we are trying a different seed company this year, MoreVeg. The prices are low and in some cases you don't get many seeds in a packet but then again, how many squash plants do you want? We have got one mix which gives two seeds each of four different squashes, butternut, vegetable spaghetti, buttercup and black futsu. If they all come we will still have more than enough squahes for over the winter, especially if our pumpkin seeds come that we kept and it also means we get to try different types relatively cheaply. Now all we need is the compost and oh yes the minor detail of a polytunnel repaired. We are still dithering over that as we are not sure what we are going to do with it, same shape just strengthened or change the shape. Any ideas anyone?

Fancy owning a ski hill? Not sure if this one's for sale but
there is one for sale in our village but both are not working.
There is a ski track though for cross country skiing
I read an interesting article this week on "Life after capitalism." Life after capitalism is not about moving away from trade, we will always need to trade whether that be because we have a particular skill we can use to make things or whether we have excess produce but it would mean moving away from the commodification of everything and giving it some arbitrary value. And if you are wondering what commodification means it just means putting a price on something, which is fine with goods but what about the air we breathe, or the forests we visit. It would seem the UK public don't like the idea that the Government had put a price on forests, as far as many were concerned it was without price and not for sale. In Government hands it was in the hands of the public and could be visited freely, something that might not be the case if they were sold. Some things should not be priced, some things should be held in common and used for the common good - which doesn't mean a free for all but used according to agreed rules and principles and decided by those who use it, not at the whim of an owner.

These hangings have travelled around the world with us
and now are helping to keep the wall a bit warmer in our
other apartment.
I was surprised to read that several prominent members of Greek society had called for a debt audit to examine the legitimacy and legality of the debt incurred. This is what Eurodad had to say on the topic

"Debt audits have been used across the world to allow civil society to hold to account those responsible for the damage caused by their country’s indebtedness. An audit in Ecuador in 2008 encouraged President Correa to default on some of Ecuador’s most unjust debt, leading to a write-down by borrowers." 

What if Latvia did a debt audit - wonder what that would throw up? What if the lending to individuals was put under scrutiny and measured against the terms of lending to the banks origins ie Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Germany? Would they stand up to the lending laws of those countries? Food for thought anyway.

Update: Nearly forgot to mention but our friends who have had a dreadful winter rang me this morning to say that one of their goats had given birth to two lovely kids, she shouldn't have been pregnant at all as she is not quite one yet and the goats were only going to be mated the following month, but in her youthful exuberance she escaped and paid a visit to the male goat. Our friend is thrilled as is her daughter who found them, on her birthday too.