Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Be bold

Update: I was looking through this post and noticed a mistake. I was writing about pumpkin seeds and actually wrote about sunflower seeds. Oh well! Amended now
2nd January 2010, taken in Australia. What a contrast to
this year
We arrived home safely on Wednesday after having been looked after brilliantly by our son and his new wife, they are indeed excellent hosts and we feel very well cared for and cosseted. We loved the belated gifts we got for Fathers' Day and Mothers' Day and they produced much merriment. As I mentioned last week Ian got a lego tractor which he enjoyed putting together and it is now sat on the bedside cabinet and I got two books for knitting baby hats and snugglers or baby cocoons. I guess I need to get knitting in preparation, although there are no grandchildren on the horizon yet, but I might need to get up to speed, you never know. Our kittens were also well cosseted by our neighbour and her young son who came in to look after them and play with them everyday. They didn't seem to have missed us while we were away.

This is outside our flat in 2009. It has snowed the last
couple of days, but not quite so much. I had a
beautiful picture on my phone taken on New Years Day,
 but forgot to save it. Doh!
Our son, his wife, Ian and I squeezed in a trip up north to the midlands before Ian and I left the UK, to see our youngest son and meet his new girlfriend and her daughter. I think his girlfriend was a little nervous of us all at first, but she was lovely and we were all impressed with how imaginative and well behaved her daughter was. Despite mum still being young she demonstrated a lovely gentle patience which was a joy to see. I took a book for the little one but had forgotten how small they are when handling books. I bought Nick Butterworth's "The Treasure Hunt," he writes such beautiful stories for young children and so well illustrated and I loved reading them to my own children and children at playgroup when I used to lead one. The problem is that the book was soft back and big so is already a little torn but I am sure it will still be well used. I was fascinated by the little ones stories as she looked through the book, using the illustrations as a starting point for her own story and later on watching her play with her money from her purse and calling them money beans which she proceeded to plant in the carpet - that kid could go far!

A world away! Last winter in Australia
You know those moments "I'm sure that guy looks familiar?" Well we had one of those at the airport on the way home, as an older chap sat down nearby on the departure lounge . He looked like the kind of guy who loved pop/rock music from the 70s, complete with the 70s hairdo. Later on that day, on the way back from the airport, Ian was standing in the shopping mall waiting for me whilst I was visiting the loo (as you do) and was watching the tv screen, when up pops that familiar face, it was Chris Norman the lead singer in the 70s pop band Smokie, someone we remember as kids and he was playing in Riga with Bonny Tyler, so that's why his face looked kind of familiar, and he really was a rocker from the 70s.

This is the new wardrobe. The black
stripes are black glass and I am really
pleased with how it has turned out as
I came up with the design, and our joiner
friend suggested the sliding doors.
We didn't quite get the peace and quiet on our return. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago we were waiting for a wardrobe from the local delivery firm and sure enough it has finally arrived. I waited in all day again for the wardrobe and it eventually turned up at 9pm. The guys were barely able to stand as they looked so exhausted and so had to return the following day to assemble it. It turns out they had had a large order for doors, an answer to prayer indeed, but entailing so much work to be done in a short period of time. We had chatted a while ago about which way the economy was going, as the guy was really struggling with his company, as so many are in this country, the chat even made my blog late that week talking about all sorts of options and in the end I just said the only thing he could do was to watch for the signs from God. Apparently the next day he was given the opportunity of this big order - well I don't think you can get much clearer than that. I am so pleased as I was praying that he wouldn't have to leave the country and leave his family so that he could support them like so many Latvians are doing.

Another world away, but this time the date is New Years Day
Our New Year was a quiet affair, but I wanted to welcome it with eyes wide open this year. Sometimes we had even gone to bed rather than see the New Year in, after all it is a fairly arbitrary choice for the start of the New Year. Having said that, God does sometimes use our calendars to work with, and this seems to be one of those years I feel and so I wanted to be alert for the beginning of the year. It was amazing to see the stars glinting in the sky on a clearing night sky as the year turned and the fireworks signalled the start. We saw the neighbours children running around the building, torches in hands, enjoying the thrill. I was equally thrilled to receive a text wishing us all the best for the new year from one of our Latvian friends, being greeted in the morning with "A happy New Year" in English by one of our neighbours ( I replied in English and Latvian so I am as proud as he was) and a phone call from another friend later on in the day wishing us all the best for year ahead. We feel much more a part of the community this year, patience and a willing to build relationships seeming to bear fruit. We didn't want shallow friendships, we wanted to be a part of the community and its workings and although there is still some way to go yet I am content with the progress we have made so far and it sure feels like home to us.

This time from our time in Denmark.
January 2004
So what are our reflections on last year? Nothing too profound really. It came as a revelation to us that kale crisps and roasted pumpkin seeds are really tasty and are now a staple part of our diet. I had always thrown pumpkin seeds away with a tinge of guilt as I felt sure they would be good to eat, but how to prepare them was something I have only found out recently. Roasting with a little salt and oil till they start popping makes a really tasty and crunchy snack, either shelled or unshelled. Once they have stood around for a day though they need to be shelled but that is easier to do once roasted - unroasted they are far too fiddly. Mind you it is not the sort of snack you would want to eat in a posh restaurant as you crack the shell between your teeth. Another refection on our year was, we were rather busy, it seemed a rush from start to finish and we can't believe how fast the year has gone. We don't like being busy as we are reflective type folks and at least like to pause and think about life. In some ways it will be a pattern for a while, but at least if I complete my Masters this next year, I might get the summer off which will make life easier by far. Don't let our busyness put you off visiting though, many of our jobs can be rearranged and the only times we would really have problems is if the weather has been bad and we have to catch up on jobs such as hay making, but people come first. Mind you, if you fancy a week or two where you get the chance to work on a farm, feed some animals (hopefully get some of those soon), cut some hay, weed the garden then we have plenty of opportunities for that and then there are always the evenings to sit around the table eating food fresh from the garden and chatting away - now we can do that!

Vestvolden, Denmark. A canal that ran down the back of
where we used to live
One of the main bones of contention for us here in Latvia is the fact we cannot own the land we work. I can accept that on one level, as I understand how connected Latvians can be to their land and they fear foreigners coming in and buying up all the land on the cheap; what I do not accept is how foreign firms can create Latvian companies and buy up the land anyway (link here). This is one way a foreign company can pillage the land legitimately and be thought of as heroes and saviours as they "invest" in the land. Unfortunately they siphon off the profits and in return often only offer low paid jobs. In contrast if we owned the land, as much as possible of any profit we make would stay in the area on principle. What I was also astounded to find out is that it is mainly Swedish agricultural companies that own the land via their Latvian subsidiaries. I am beginning to wonder if Sweden has more influence now in Latvia than when Latvia was under the rule of the Swedish empire?

Ducks making the most of an ice free spot
on the Vestvolden canal
And to finish off the blog! I see the leaders in the EU are issuing grim news about this next year - oh great! Something to encourage people then? It would seem that only David Cameron issued anything like a call to encourage people - amazing I should agree with something he said. I wonder if it is just the British media's take on it though. Do they look for where they think there will be changes, so they are ahead of the game? No longer reporting news, but what might be? No agenda per se, but just looking for change, looking for news and maybe creating it along the way by generating a panic here and there? If the news is correct though it is a shame as leaders should be those who lead, inspire and guide. Things may indeed be tough next year, 2011 may indeed have just been a precursor to what is to come, but so what? Focussing on that, will not get us through, and get through it we must. Yes we need to be realistic, but come on, let's face the future with courage and make the adjustments necessary, let's work together for the good of our communities which takes more than money to put right - it takes love and commitment and willingness to help where possible. So in the words of David Cameron, taken out of context "go for it!"

As you may have guessed, I forgot to take photos or forgot to save them and so I thought I might treat you to winters past along our journey to where we are now.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

It's Christmas time

A place to sit and reminisce! This was from last week
when we met up with our long term friends
Well it's Boxing Day and our time in England is nearly up (for my worldwide friends Boxing Day is the day after Christmas day and there are various reasons for calling that, but I'll let you google it) . Our son has done a stirling job of keeping the parents amused and transported us hither and thither. It has been a good time with much reminiscing and many silly jokes. Put Ian and our children together and the jokes start to fly and you have to watch particularly for the low level jokes or you might get hit. The banter can be quite bewildering at times for those not used to it, for instance Happy Christmas became Apple Crumble - naturally! As it does! I think the reminiscing is so important though, in our family, as it binds the family together and reinforces the oral history of the family, bits get added as different members of the family remember different parts of the story until we have a whole story from many different angles. It was lovely to know that the time we spent putting up Christmas decorations on Christmas Eve after the kids went to bed many years ago was appreciated by at least one member of the family, as our son said it looked magical on Christmas morning. That tradition stopped though as the children got older and the bedtimes later and then they began to do the decorating themselves - well it kept them busy and amused on the day before Christmas.

Ian and his new friend
I mentioned last week that it was a bit of a cultural shock coming to a busy place after the quiet of our home in Latvia, but it has also made me realise how busy life is in the UK generally. Our life might seem busy at times and certainly some of our work has to be done at specific times - if the weather is good in July/August the hay has to be got in, there is no waiting around for a more convenient time, but that does not mean we have to rush about all the time. Life for us now is at a measured pace, we have time to take in the peace of the countryside, the sheer stillness of life in Latvia at times. We can gaze at the numerous stars on a clear cloudless night, because there is so little light pollution and if you are anything like us we find that awe inspiring. We have time to gaze at the pond life in our ponds, time to watch the neighbours children playing outside (so lovely to see children playing around getting fresh air and exercise without being cooped up on a playstation or something similar) and time to marvel at the infinite variety of creation as we sip our drinks. It is funny how modern life with all its labour saving equipment has often sapped the time to gaze and marvel, sapped our times to sit and reminisce and time to enjoy family and friends.

Ian prepared for the 3D film in his special
3D glasses
As I said we have had a lot of time with our son and his wife of just over a year, it has been lovely. We have been out for walks on the Downs  and in some nearby villages- sorry forgot to take photos of that, I have been to a Zumba session with my daughter-in-law and I am pleased to say there are definitely no photos of that. For those who have no idea what Zumba is, then it seems to be a bit of a cross between traditional keep fit with a bit of spanish dancing and belly dancing thrown in and so you should be eternally grateful there are no photos of me attempting that. It was good fun though and I was surprised to last a 3/4 hour session and not be too sore the next day. They also took us to see "Puss in Boots" in 3D at the cinema, definitely a film for cat lovers and amazing to watch with the 3D special effects. It was funny to see all those little quirks of cats included in the film and the thoroughly cheesy story line - just right for a bit of fun close to Christmas. The film reminded us of our kittens back home and so it was lovely the day after watching the film to have an email from our cat sitter telling us the kittens were fine and being well looked after.

Such a lovely range of natural colours
We also took the time to go and see an Alpaca farm and they were lovely. The alpacas are curious animals but we were especially privileged to have many of them coming up close and letting us scratch their necks under their chins. One particular alpaca took rather a fancy to Ian though and we joked for the rest of the week about his elevation to the heady heights of being an alpaca pin up. They certainly seem the right sort of animal for us, there were some llamas there too but they kind of towered above me (okay not hard I know), but I think it would take more time to get used to them. The alpacas are quiet, gentle moochy sort of animals and very quiet. It was quite extraordinary to see so many animals and not to hear much noise. We will definitely look at getting three next year and learn how to handle them and find out how to care for them before possibly embarking on breeding them.

Ian's fathers' day present. He enjoyed putting this together
Another thing I have noticed in England is the change in dress sense over the years. Once upon a time if you went to a shop like Marks and Spencers, Debenhams or British Home Stores you could be guaranteed to find some smart clothes for work, instead this time I had to go to quite a large Marks and Spencers store before finding some smart trousers so I can interview people for my project and look smart and professional. The range of clothes tended to be casual rather than smart. The problem is that I am definitely more apple shaped than Latvians and the cut of clothes found in the UK is more likely to suit my style than in Latvia, however, Latvians do know how to dress up. I found this in Denmark too, on the whole the Danes will dress casually but even then it could be very smart casual, not what I would call slouchy casual as in the UK. On special occasions the really smart clothes would come out in Denmark though and I am not sure if that is so much the case now in the UK. I am not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing really. I think it is a bad thing if your dress sense is what defines you, or if people look down on others for their dress sense, but I think that is also sad that there is a a lack of a sense of occasion and so no reason to dress up. I'm still trying to find the happy medium between the point where special occasions are too fraught because of the necessity to dress correctly and yet special enough to warrant taking some special care to go.

Me prepared for the summer with my anti-mossie net

Watch out for those low flying jokes!! And an Apple Crumble for all my readers.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Time creeps on

Wow the weeks are speeding by. I'm now sat in England, in my son's house and not in Latvia. The kittens are being cared for by a neighbour and her small son. It did feel very strange to be saying goodbye to them, knowing we are leaving them for a longish time. One of them was especially cute and cuddly in the morning as if she was making us feel bad for going away. Heh ho! A seaside town on the south coast of England is so different to rural Latvia with the seagulls making a racket, so much traffic on the wrong side of the road, and so many houses and shops. It is odd to have culture shock returning to a land we once knew so well, but something we have become accustomed to.

The week has been a time of preparing for going away, making sure we saw people we needed to see, tidying up so we don't come back to a mess and preparing for a wardrobe that never arrived. The wardrobe is a long story indeed and I guess it will be ready for when we get back, well maybe.We have got used to things not quite going to plan in Latvia fortunately. I had wanted a wardrobe for a long time and we looked around in shops and never really saw anything that would work for us and so we ended up arranging for it to be made locally by the firm that made our kitchen, but things have been difficult for him as normal and possible delivery dates have slipped time and time again. Frustrating but in the words of one of our friends "It is what it is" and getting irritated or even angry won't help at all. So for the time being the clothes remain in plastic crates until we get the wardrobe installed.

We landed in England and immediately were taken to a small town for a cup of tea, some food and a meeting with some friends we hadn't seen in quite a while. Our friends are people we knew from our time up north and one of them goes back about 25 years, a long time indeed. Our friends have since moved down south and were visiting relatives in the area where our son lives. It all seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. The time was spent catching up and reminiscing much to the amusement of the cafe owners. We stayed for a long, long time and apologies were even made when our party was leaving for spending so long there, but all was forgiven as we had spent enough money in the process. Phew! Good job really as it was only a small place with eight of us crammed into a cosy nook, taking up probably half the cafe in the process.

Today was spent in the company of my son's niece and nephew, released from school last week for Christmas and needing some entertaining whilst their mum still works. Part of the day was spent in a play place, where scaffolding type constructions are covered in foam and children can get to run around,  play hide and seek and slide down the slides. Perfect for running off lots of energy but oh so noisy for people used to the rural way of life, and there were so many people of different shapes and sizes! It was funny watching the little ones toddling around but we are definitely passed that stage in life of running around after our own little ones, well until grandkids come along and then we can pass them back. Watching our son dealing with his niece and nephew made us realise how far we have come from that young family who set off on adventures new to a small rural village in Derbyshire, that our friend who we had met up with again had witnessed, oh so many years ago. At that time we never dreamt that we would end up in a small rural village in Latvia, with our children spaced so far apart.

One of the things I forgot to mention last week was my book prize came and it's huge. I didn't realise it was an epic book of gargantuan proportions. Okay I exaggerate a bit, but it is only a bit. I haven't even had the chance to really sit down and absorb much of it at all, but I did get the chance of making pumpkin pie using one of the recipes; a recipe a little more geared towards the European palate with less sugar in it. It worked well.

I think it is encouraging to see younger people beginning to engage with issues, such as education by the 19 year old last week that I mentioned. This week the youngster hasn't even left school and yet he is engaging with the issue of evidence based medicine. I hope this young man does indeed become a champion for evidence based medicine, it is sorely needed but ...... and it is a big but, that extends to so called conventional medicine too. As conventional medicine is often derived from natural formulations, separated from other components with a greater risk of side effects, then it is not always better for you. Conversely just because it is natural does not mean it is safe. Just because it has been used for years and years does not mean it is effective. The problem is that conventional medicine is not always based on evidence either, as sometimes evidence is tricky to collect ethically, but evidence still needs to be collected somehow. So where am I on this scale of alternative vs conventional? Neither really or stuck straight down the middle. If over processed food is not good for us, then perhaps over processed medicine which ignores a more holistic approach, may possibly not be good for us either. Remembering that many drugs etc are researched by companies aimed at making money, should help us to remember to keep a healthy scepticism of their claims too.

I have to apologise there are no photos this week either. Never mind there will be some cute photos of alpacas next week when we go and see them - hope I remember!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Petulance abounds

Starting to melt a bit now, but a wintry scene nonetheless
Petulance: Easily annoyed and behaving like a child! And what a petulant week this has been. I think winter has kind of flopped in like a petulant teenager, only appearing because it's supposed to be, but being very grudging about it in the process. It has snowed, albeit the wet, slushy, slippery stuff; give me minus 5C any day rather than this hovering around 0C/1C nonsense during the day. It has meant a shift in the tasks that Ian can undertake from the mainly outdoor jobs to indoor ones. The land is just too wet to do anything with and the trees are covered in snow, so they are not ideal to be felled and moved about. The days are also so short now, just light by 9am and dark just after 3 ish depending on how dark the sky has been. Some days we haven't even turned the lights off.

Our snow covered land
Our heating company has been just as petulant. We had good heat on Friday night and we have had good heat Sunday night, the rest of the week has been cool, sometimes down to around 16C, a wee bit chilly for sitting around in. It is a good job we have our wood burner but not everyone does and ours isn't the house that gets the coldest either. The good news is though, that there are a few of us who are monitoring the temperatures and hopefully the heating company will be taken to task over it this time. More likely they will do what they are supposed to do and provide us with adequate heat, but only because they know that people are watching everything they do and know they are not sticking to the regulations. Apparently the regulations are hung up on the wall in the boiler room, so there is no excuse for water that has not been heated up hot enough, unless of course you think you can get away with it that is!

Snow clinging to the trees
Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, is in petulant mood too - it troubles me and partly because it makes our stay in Latvia precarious if the UK ever did pull out of the EU. I am not sure whether he was right or wrong to do what he did, but I don't think his motives were good or the way he went about it. It is bad enough that the world leaders are, as usual, giving scant disregard to those who will suffer the most i.e. the poor, and it is they who will take the rap for all of us living beyond our means for too long, but to put British business interests at the forefront of the decision making, not just any old business either, but City business, is wrong and to go about it in a petulant manner is even worse. The City has had a huge influence in getting us into the mess we are in and it won't get us out of it. The system is dying and needs to change and propping it up will not help one bit. We can't let the system collapse entirely immediately, I know, as it is needed while new growth springs up, but it needs to be allowed to die gracefully.

A snowy bridge into the forest
We have had another bank scare in Latvia, although this one seems to be based on rumour rather than on substance. People are twitchy about their money, as some people had a lot of problems when they could not get their money out of the recently collapsed Kr─üjbanka. People just cannot afford to have their money locked in banks when they need food to eat and many ATMs ran out of money, although they are being restocked. It is not that long ago when other banks did go under, such as the Parex bank at the beginning of the crisis and after independence some banks folded, so the nervousness of Latvians is very understandable.

On a completely different note I did my first interview for my project this last week. It was a chance to make sure that the questions were okay and it gave me some indication of how long it will take to do each one. I hope to get some more interviews sorted out this week and then really crack on with them in the New Year. The first ones are likely to be the easiest to arrange, as they are people I already know, but after that I then strike out into unknown territory, as I start to try and get people I don't know talking to me, hopefully after referrals from friends though, but even so they will have to trust me to open up! I am looking forward to it though, as I hope to meet lots of new people and hopefully get some new perspectives on living in this place. Who knows where it might lead.

It might be a bit snow covered now but that
is a present from the wild boar that Ian is
standing in. A hole up to his knees
As usual I read the meters and then went online to pay the bill but I was in for rather a rude awakening, our electric had gone through the roof this month. It has been steadily climbing up recently, but we put that down to drying veg, which takes a long time and compared to the costs of running a freezer all year to keep them in or finding the space even to put another freezer, it was fine. Maybe it was drying the clothes this week which we haven't done too efficiently or maybe something else, not sure, but we are on the case though. We don't let that kind of bill happen all the time, just need to isolate the problem. So my daily monitoring of the electric is keeping us on top so far. At least it doesn't appear to be a fault on something as my recent daily checks have not thrown up any excess usage. If we keep this rate up for the rest of the month I will be very happy.

Did anyone else get to see the lunar eclipse? We did! I hadn't really taken much notice about the forthcoming event, but as we were heading out to the other apartment we noticed that only the bottom of the moon was showing and by the time we got up to the other place it was not showing at all. I wasn't sure if it was maybe cloud cover moving in at times, but the moon suddenly made a reappearance before being finally engulfed in snow clouds, so it confirmed we really had seen the eclipse. Shows what being in the right place at the right time can do, you get to see some pretty remarkable things at times.

And just in case you have forgotten what it was like last
week. No snow!
I had to include these thoughts by a 19 year old on education from my trawl through the internet this week. I don't agree with everything he has to say, as he does not agree with teaching children things they may not be interested in. I think there is a place for pushing through on certain things such as mother tongue language, maths and history. However, I do think that maybe if children were allowed to pursue their interests, as suggested, alongside doing some of the necessary bits of learning, then they will be more likely to understand the need for some of the other subjects that they don't feel are so important. Maths can look much more useful when it comes to accounting in a hotel, in the case that is talked about in the blog. Also a child allowed to make a proper construction will also soon learn the value of maths or the project will just not work. I home schooled my children for a period of time and my daughter joined a children's work course that was being run by one of our church members. She found writing up about children's work issues much better than anything I could have asked her to write about, as it was something she was interested in. To me it didn't matter what she wrote about as long as she had a mix of things to write about, and children's work covered story telling as well as report writing and research, so was perfect. She also learnt to do presentations and had to mix with a range of people in different settings, not exactly the kind of socialisation you get in schools and much more stretching. It was a very valuable time in her growing up and so I have to agree with the young man's concluding remarks

If we’re so concerned about building and strengthening the “next generation,” then we should also be doing something about it in the most important area of their young lives: education. 
Finally I thought I would post a link to a friend's site here, tales from a couple who have retired to Latvia and settled very nicely into their community. They do a fantastic job of supporting folks in their neck of the woods and loved for it. So stop by and say hello, I'm sure it will be a lovely encouragement to them.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Who's been eating my poridge?

What! Who Me? Yes you!
The cat, that's who! Our youngest one, Bella, to be more precise. I had just read about how to get creamier porridge by first soaking the oats before cooking and that is what I had been doing. No one explained that leaving it out on the kitchen table whilst soaking was not a good idea did they? Oh no! Ian found Bella busily tucking into the milk and she drank quite a bit of it before she was found. As good feline owners we never give our moggies milk, not good for them so they say. Well our Bella proved them wrong on two accounts, one is she thought it was very good and it didn't have any dire consequences on her digestive system either, thank goodness. She is still not getting milk though.

Tasty looking?
Talking of food, have you seen the BBC article on eating grubs? Well it set me thinking, what about the cockchafer bugs we were pulling out of our composted straw pile earlier on this year? Were they edible? And the answer is ......... yes! I think I was rather hoping they weren't. I mean the thought of throwing away good protein is not what I like to think we do, but we were. Does it make me want to try them? No! Not at the moment anyway, but just in case you do, here is a link, to some tasty recipes. Enjoy! And if you fancy a try and can't find any, I'm sure we could oblige with some specimens for you.

This was taken on 28th November

This was taken today 5th December. It is a pond that never
filled up for most of the year. Whenever it rained it quickly
drained away. Here Ian has added a couple of barrel loads
of clay and silt well mixed with water to try and silt up the
holes. Hopefully that will help us to keep our pond next year

The dreich weather continued this week and our land is getting wetter and wetter, it is also getting more and more damaged by wild boar and worryingly some of the damage was close to our electric fence around the orchard and vegetable garden and also close to our young blueberry bushes. Not good news at all! Our neighbours, however are seeing less damage this year, which is good for them, just wish they weren't migrating over to us. I wonder what will happen when we have alpacas though? Will the presence of the strange animals keep the boar away? Will the electric fence keep them off? Or will the presence of the lynx finally sort the boar out, since that seems to have possibly made a reappearance? Having said that, will the lynx try and catch our alpacas? I wonder if the answer will be in the humongous book we got this week called "The Complete Alpaca Book." It certainly looks very complete and is rather thick, covering everything from the history and predator problems to health and nutrition and more. It is going to take us all winter to read it I think, at least it is something to do whilst we have this rather dreich weather.

It looks quite bright on this picture, but it wasn't really.
It was 10:30am in the morning and I still needed the
lights on.
As for other snippets of information, I won a book and I am now awaiting the delivery of it all the way from Estonia - not too far then! Hopefully I shall be able to discover some Estonian recipes that will expand the range of things to do with vegetables that can be grown locally. I also finally got the results from my presentation for my course. For some reason the email system had swallowed my post, as the tutor did send it in my direction much earlier. At least when I got the results, I was very encouraged with the comments, now I just have to write up my thesis to a good enough standard - the hard part. At least the basis for the proposal was sound anyway. Another snippet actually should have been in last week's blog. I had one of those, "you're not from round here" type moments. At the beginning of the month I got a bill for our water at the other apartment, we are not there that much to really use a whole load of water, and so we only get a bill every now and again. This time the bill seemed to have doubled, when I thought it should have gone down to nil. I took the bill and complained, "not right" I said in Latvian, only to be told that actually the bill meant I had overpaid and I didn't actually owe anything at all. Whoops! Embarrassing really! Should have checked all the words before I went.

Recycled welly (rubber boot). This will keep the water out
of the locks and hopefully stop them from freezing.
Ian has been tootling along this week despite the weather, he has braved the elements on many a day, but he also took some time off to do some "real" work, i.e. work that he got paid for. He went back into Riga to play his consultancy role, at one of the hospitals. (No he's not a doctor! A well qualified lab technician for those new to the blog). Tired him out poor dear, came home and went to sleep! Strange isn't it! He can spend all day out in the fields, or logging trees and he's fine, maybe a little sleep in the evening, a few hours consulting and he's fast asleep by the afternoon. It is not as if the commute is particularly difficult either, compared to what he used to do. It is an hour and a half on mainly empty roads, until he gets close to the hospital, whereas he used to spend an hour commuting into Sheffield with extremely clogged roads at the end of it, requiring an early start to ensure getting a space to park. By the way the "real" is inverted commas, not because I class it as his real job, just in many people's eyes that would be considered his real job, and the rest of the time is not - no money in it. Well not yet anyway but there is a great deal of satisfaction.

While in Riga, Ian also picked up a UPS - uninterruptible power supply unit. The idea is that if our power supply fails then we can keep the pump running on our wood fired oven for 24 hours, hopefully enough time to keep it going until the electric comes back on and not explode our oven in the process due to over heating. What happens if the electric goes off for longer is a problem we will have to think about later. At least we have an emergency back up system for now.

Nine people were sat around this table earlier.
You can just see the Alpaca book on the end
of the table - I said it was thick.
This week we were invited out to eat, but first we had to listen to 2 six minute sermons, which were recorded for a visiting pastor's course. His deadline was due before he got back to the US and so as some of the few native English speakers in the area we were dragged in to help. Dragged in very willingly I may add, after all, it was a fair exchange - 12 minutes of sermons for a roast dinner. Sounded like a fair deal to me. We also invited some other friends over for a meal at our place later on in the week. A group of us have gelled together quite nicely and have similar interests in farming, so we can learn a lot from them and we can throw in some discoveries that we have made along the way usually from the internet. We have a bit of an advantage, as lot of information on the internet on current methods and not so current methods is in English, so we can forward our research results to them to see what they think. We also just enjoy each others company, and each others cooking it is fair to say. As it was our turn to cook, we decided to eat up at our other apartment as we had a table and room enough for nine people there, unfortunately not all the equipment and place settings for nine people were, and so there was a bit of toing and froing in the process of putting the meal together. Still it worked in the end and it was very tasty, especially the cake that one of our guests brought with them. We decided not to eat the turkey that night as that was still fresh, it is now sitting in our freezer waiting for a more convenient time to cook it, or a few more friends to invite around.

So much fun and just an old camera
There have been a few interesting articles on the internet this week. The first was a TED talk done by a guy, Chuck Collins, who admitted to being from the 1%, or at least his family are. If you haven't discovered TED talks yet then check them out, there are some amusing ones, some mundane ones and some very informative ones. This guy who is from the 1% was explaining why those who earn a lot, and even those who don't make so much but make their money from companies that they may have worked very hard to build up, should still pay their taxes and not baulk at it. He explains that all those companies have benefitted from either their own education or the education of their workers through the state system. He believes that we should be building a society that funds education that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit, that nurtures the dreams and beauty. He also believes in funding libraries that support that learning, along with other services that enable rather hold back businesses and that all requires money and usually from the state. He certainly builds a convincing case.

Old hat and oh yes there's that camera
again. Cool tourist
As someone who has studied the development field for the last three years I was very interested in the comment of a leading figure in the field Erik Solheim, Norway's development minister

"The lender should bear responsibility as well as the debtor when a loan goes bad........ – something that may be applicable to countries closer to home in the current eurozone crisis."

Does this mean there are plans to sort out the debts of Latvia and Greece to see what is illegitimate debt? That would send the markets into a panic and yet in many ways is only right. Some debt was taken on and shouldn't be, but some debt was taken on and should never have been lent in the first place - so who has the moral responsibility in these situations? Who will sort out the mess? And who will lead the way?

An old box, a bit of time, a bit of paint and an old cot toy.
Voila! A car for a little boy and hours of fun in the making
and in the playing
My final trawl through the internet found a report that has been published in the UK that suggests that parents think their children will be worse off than they are. Isn't it about time that we started selling the idea that just because our children may have to live their lives with less resources means they will be worse off? They will be so much better off if they discover the delights of growing their own food, even if it is a few herbs on a balcony than be force-fed dreadful food that currently passes for the norm these days. They will be much better off if they discover that community is important, especially when it works together - we need to rediscover the delights of the equivalent of barn raising in today's communities, the coming together of the community to help someone out with a basic need, knowing that come the time they need help that others will rally around them. They will be much better off when they rediscover the delights of playing outside rather than sitting on their playstations for hours on end. Food, friends and family are far more important in this world than having the latest gadgets or the coolest clothes. Someone you can turn to when times are tough are far more important than having hundreds of friends on facebook because it makes you look popular. Our children could be far richer in their lives than we have been in ours if they discover what is really important in life. So if you are now stuck what to give your child that will show them how rich they can be on so little, have a peek at these suggestions from this link from a geek dad no less.