Monday, 25 April 2011

Action packed week

I planted these miniature daffodils near the large oak tree on
our land. They were the first things we did on the land. I
love seeing swathes of daffodils in spring so hopefully
one day there will be a whole bank of them
Can't believe I have packed so much into this week but it has been lovely. We've had lovely weather too which is wonderful after the snow and we have had plenty of new experiences. Tuesday saw us in Riga as I had managed to get a placement visit to meet someone at the ministry of agriculture who was responsible for forestry. Last week I mentioned how happy I was to get this placement as it now only means I have one day left to organise, and joy of joys I have that one organised too, for this next week. I have been trying to work on getting placements for a unit of my course since September, but weddings, busy people and sickness all got in the way. The ministry visit was certainly interesting and I was encouraged that the skills I have been learning on my course, are necessary skills for Latvia. The people in the forestry division are trained in forestry, but see the need for development and, although they have picked up ideas as they have visited other places, they are not very sure how it should all fit together. I am coming at forestry from a different angle altogether, as I am looking at how it fits into the overall scheme of rural development, so my knowledge of forests is not so good but I can see what they are trying to do and have some ideas of what steps need to be taken. Unfortunately they haven't offered me a job yet but I think the lack of Latvian would still hinder me somewhat.

Surrounded by Macs! Ian making sure they
are all working and transferring data
We can't go into Riga and not fit in a few other jobs at the same time, so our car went in for its 60,000 Km service and we picked up the computers from the repair centre- finally! What a saga! At least I don't hear quite so many tuts and sighs from across the room now, as the old computer is once again relegated to purely playing internet radio until if finally gives up the ghost! We also bought a new flask, not very exciting you might think but in this household it is an essential household item; the reason being we drink tea by the gallon. A flask means we don't have to boil the kettle so often and we can take out plenty of tea with us when we go to the land. We haven't had much luck with flasks just lately though as Ian has got through three of them in the last year, one broke when it fell out of the car, one exploded when hot water was poured in and one just wouldn't keep the heat. He was beginning to despair of ever finding a good one when we came across a Stanley flask, the indestructible, keep things hot thermos flask. It had better be for the price it cost. Pricey! Definitely! So it had better last a lifetime. So far it is certainly living up to expectations as the tea is now too hot to drink straight out of the flask and that is all day.

Not sure what these are as we haven't seen them before
but there is a carpet of them under one of the oak trees
We have been into the school again to help with English lessons and I must admit it is all a bit confusing when it comes to trying to help the students understand what they are supposed to be doing for their exams, which are only next week. I think the style of exam is perhaps quite simple in some ways just not straightforward. To my mind it was all back to front as the teacher had a set of answers to questions and the students had to make up the questions. For instance the student would be told that they had to ask a question to do with reasons for moving to Latvia and the teacher had to answer with "I moved for a better environment for my children" but the student doesn't know the teacher has to say that, you could imagine the confusion if they don't ask the question in the right way to get the right answer. We also found out that the exams are assessed internally and then they all go to the education ministry to be assessed again. That is someone has to listen to all the students who graduate this year from the whole of Latvia! Not just a selection to make sure the assessors agree, but each and everyone. We were astounded at this method, it is no wonder it takes so long and people complain each year. We said that it would be better to have perhaps just one in ten selected to make sure that the assessors agree and only if there is a discrepancy would all students be re-assessed, which the head thought was rather a good idea and might suggest it. Not exactly a novel idea really as I think that is pretty much what happens in the UK.

A lizard out on the land
The head mentioned there was a meeting of the local inhabitants and said if I wanted to go she would translate for me so I didn't pass up the chance. The meeting was run by a consultancy firm as the district authorities try and find out what the local community want to see in terms of development. I must admit to seeing a demonstration of how not to initiate community meetings as I saw in development speak the 'capture by a local business elite', in other words someone not afraid to voice their own opinions and takeover a meeting, several people got fed up and walked out. It is really hard for the consultants as they have to give room for people to speak but they also need to pick up very quickly those who would seek to dominate the agenda for their own ends. For some reason as well, the month of June has been picked as the month to carry out surveys of 300 inhabitants, as the schools finish at the end of May, June is therefore a holiday month and perhaps not the best time for surveys. They would perhaps have more access to those who take the time to return for the very Latvian festival of Jani but then they wouldn't be folks who live here 12 months of the year. It would be funny if they picked us in their random sample to survey though.
The wrappings came off this week. I would have shown
you a picture of them without their winter clothes but
they don't show up being all twig like. The good news
 is that they have survived well and just about all of them
are beginning to burst their buds

It has been a hard week trying to get my assignment done with so much else going on but I did make it in the end. I even had problems on clear days as one neighbour decided to start on some renovations above the apartment where I usually work because it is so peaceful and quiet and at the other apartment I got interrupted by someone trying to sell me pans - Latvian in full flow. The only door to door salespeople we usually get are trying to sell potatoes, so this was a bit of a change. To cap it all one of our young neighbours is still having his all night parties and I went round twice in one night to tell him to turn off his music, 2am and 4am. The second time I walked straight in and made my feelings known which I think he probably found rather embarrassing, but I was not in the mood for being polite. The next couple of nights we decided to sleep at the other apartment, so I was well rested to get my assignment done, and it was bliss as we even managed to sleep in till 8am one morning- quite late for us. This was the first time we had actually slept at the other apartment ourselves.

Wood anemone 
This week one of our neighbours came up to us with another lady and started chatting away to me. I managed to understand that she was wondering if we would give up some of our allotment as this new lady had only just moved in late last year and wanted to grow something this year. We have more than enough space to grow things, especially now we have extended our electric fence to grow vegetables on the land too, so it wasn't really a problem, I just had to move some lavender that was growing in the section at the bottom. The lady has spent all week digging the garden over since, which won't have been too bad as Ian had dug it over thoroughly before, but she will just have finished when Ian takes the rotavator to do ours, which will not take him very long. Seems a bit of a cheat but we haven't got time to manage the land and dig over the veg gardens properly and we haven't really sorted out a bed system for it yet anyway so we can reduce the amount of digging we do. To manage all that we have to manage and for me to study, we have to cheat every now and again. Does feel a bit odd though having spent the time digging it over for someone else to benefit, but it feels right, she even gets the two year old strawberries too, as I had taken plenty of runners off them last year and we have two beds of them elsewhere, and I am sure that will be enough to be going on with.

Our extended electric fence so that we can keep the deer
and wild boar off our vegetables as well as out of our orchard
Had a really lovely Easter weekend. It was my birthday on the Friday and so I decided to take the day off and go and help Ian out on the land. It was a beautiful day and Ian rotavated the new veg plot and I raked mole hills. Moles and voles seem to have taken over Latvia this year and their hills and runs are everywhere, which won't make mowing the grass we keep short very easy at all and so I flattened as many of them as I could and filled in a few of the runs. Might not seem like the ideal birthday treat but it was just lovely to be outside doing something physical rather than sat inside using my brain. We did finish off the day with a visit to the local hotel for a meal and had the obligatory birthday treat of hot french chocolate cake, which has a gooey chocolate filling, so it wasn't all hard work. The next couple of days we had meals out at friends' houses. The first meal was with the neighbours to our land at some of other friends farm, our neighbours however had never been to the farm, or so they thought, and so they followed us out. Felt sorry for them as following anyone at this time of the year is like trying to drive through a sandstorm on the dirt roads, but we all made it safe and sound and it was then we found out that our neighbour had been before, in fact she used to be a vet at the kolkhoz where our friends farm is now. A kolkhoz was the name for the Soviet collective farms.

We were taken to see this lovely wooden chapel built in the
forest. It is next to a cemetery too, Latvians spend a lot of
time tending the plots and keeping them neat and tidy but
also very natural too, almost always up on a hill and
usually amongst a woodland.
The second visit was to see a couple who kind of live in Scotland, at least part time anyway, one of them is a professor in an Estonian university and so spends much of his time there but they also have had a house in Latvia for ten years, where they spend many holidays. I got to know them after making contact with the Estonian professor as he has written some of the few papers written about Latvians in Latvia and how they feel about their environment, so I wrote to him as I could tell he was not Latvian to see what his experiences of Latvia were and we have kept in contact since. We were invited for Easter Sunday lunch and so we had a beef stew - partly because Latvians don't really have beef joints for roasting and in fact rarely have beef at all and we had those with Yorkshire puddings. It is so long since we have had Yorkshire puddings, in fact we only seem to have them if we are making a traditional English meal for someone and so a wonderful meal and followed by apple and banana crumble - just so English. To round off this lovely weekend and to celebrate finally finishing my assignment and posting it I went out to the land again and this time we collected large stones (the ones that catch on the mower and don't do it much good) and filled in pig holes with some of the piles of soil we have lying around. The problem with the pig holes is they are rather deep and can tip the tractor if your not careful.
Taken on the 4th April
Taken on the 25th April, amazing
what difference a few days makes

Well I shall finish off with a follow up to something I felt God say last week "Wait and see what the Lord will do," funnily enough I had an email where I was offered $12.5m this week and it made me laugh after what I felt God say last week, but I thought I would not write back and claim it, not quite that daft.
e did though get some Lampreys - the food of kings. I have cooked them and frozen them as we have not had chance to eat any yet with being out so much. I do promise not to eat them all at once though as I believe that it is not healthy since a couple of Kings are supposed to have passed away after eating a few too many. Another surprise was an email for Ian asking for some help concerning flow cytometer usage, the machine he uses for diagnosing leukaemia. The lady he helps in the hospital passed on his name to someone doing research from the university, not quite the same field, but he did manage to find her the right information to help her. Not sure if that will go anywhere but you never know.


  1. Saw your wood anenomes! Not going to show my ignorance by asking what lampreys are! Pleased you've got good weather at last!

  2. Nice to hear the news of your very productive week. Looks like spring has finally arrived in Latvia.

  3. Your daffodils are lovely and so is your vision of a whole hillside of them. Love it!

  4. Julia, Lampreys are like eels only they like a little blood meal from any passing fish - quite revolting if you think of it too long and doesn't exactly sound like the meal fit for a King but they used to love them.

    Mavis, I agree Spring has definitely arrived in Latvia, it's lovely

    Grace, I'm glad you like the picture of a hillside of daffodils. Maybe you should take a trip to England one spring where you will see loads of them all over.

  5. lovely to see spring arriving for you...


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