Monday, 16 January 2012

Crazy times

The lilac bushes outside our other apartment

Okay so we are crazy but you love us anyway heh? Can't believe some of the things we get up to. We finally got around to starting to deal with the buckwheat seeds that we harvested over the summer. Of course it was nice and snowy outside so once we had worked out the best setting on my kitchen aid flour grinder just to crack the hulls, we then had to separate them. Now normally a nice breezy day outside would be perfect, but inside? Arrh! So our hallway was transformed, cleared of boots and shoes and rigged up with fan at one end to separate the husks from the seed. Mind you we found out at the end the the easiest way to get buckwheat flour is to grind it to crack the hulls and then grind it again to get flour and the hulls can then be sieved off, with just some ground into the flour to make the more traditional black buckwheat flour. We also found out that it was probably best sieved right at the start to get rid of the grit out of the husks and seeds. Oh well! We'll try again next week.

We have a Father Christmas car again
Talking of harvesting, the deer left a note saying "Thank you very much for the tasty kale, same again next year?" Yep you guessed it we are left with stalks and the swiss chard that was covered with pine branches to deter the deer from eating them so we have spring greens to grow back next year, were also disturbed. Will be interesting to see if we have got any come back up next year. All is not lost though and we can still have tasty kale crisps which we have got rather fond of, because we have some more growing in the greenhouse, so unless the deer work out how to unlatch the door or go through the plastic which is unlikely, then they will be safe, especially now we seem to be on top of the mice problem. We caught six mice altogether in the traps and the poison bait is no longer being removed, so they won't be tucking into kale either.

A winter wonderland
The snow finally came this week and the colder temperatures followed it. We cleared around our greenhouse, which is still up thankfully this year, so that the ground had a chance to freeze. We found last year that a large amount of snow on top of soft ground is really difficult to shift and ends up making a big mess of the ground when digging away the snow. We haven't got as much snow as last year, but it is enough to give everything a good covering and the ski season has started. Our cross country ski run even has floodlights now so that people can ski in the evenings, which we did this evening. We were a bit worried about the floodlights at first as they were on all night, not good for light pollution, but they seem to have sorted out some timing on them now and they went off at 9pm tonight. Still we got a good chance to ski and even some lessons from one of our neighbours, who showed us some of the techniques.

Not a star but the new floodlights to light
our cross country ski run
The cleaning fairy has been in operation most of this week, Ian tidied the office and discovered lots of space that seemed to just appear - not a lot went out so no idea where it all evaporated to, although there were many cardboard boxes taken out. Maybe the wall post on facebook that someone posted is true after all "Cleaning is just putting stuff in less obvious places" (not quite sure who is responsible for that witticism). Along the way a bunch of photos were discovered that we appear to have inherited from the church we used to go to in America, it seems to be a bunch of pictures of a Sunday School trip. Another find was a CD given to us after we had seen the mayor of the village which contained some presentation pictures of activities in the village - nice to be able to recognise some of the folks now and actually put a name to a few (hopeless with names anyway, so just being able to recognise the people and where from is an achievement). It is amazing how much brighter and more space we feel we have now that room is cleared - next week the dump room, weather permitting ie lots of snow to keep him indoors. Our flat appeared to get worse since we started the gardening work in earnest, which has kept us busy, the polytunnel collapsing last winter and the weddings, plus my course work, all conspired to keep us on our toes even through what would normally be the quiet times. I'm still doing my course work but Ian has more time this year. We do struggle to throw things out though as we do re-use lots of things. Old clothes get morphed into bags, quilts etc. Our bedroom curtains are curtains from our Danish house, our office curtain was a shower curtain in a previous life, Ian's jacket was repaired yet agin this week with binding I have inherited from goodness knows where and last year his over trousers, which he managed to burn a hole in, were repaired with fabric that I had in a box. So you see we don't waste a lot. The cardboard boxes will end up as weed barriers, and the polystyrene packaging will reappear somewhere else - not sure about that yet but we can always do with insulating things. You can also guarantee the minute we throw something out will be about five minutes before we discover we did needed it after all.


Bell with her natty purple apron
Our cats were not happy this week as we sent them to be neutered. There are plenty of lovely looking kittens in this village without our cats adding to the number and I am sure the local bird population would agree. Of course our cats were pretty groggy when we got them back and we were highly amused by their attempts to walk, unfortunately Sofie also likes to lick and we ended up having to put an apron on her that the vet had given us to prevent her licking the wound. Bella's was put on at night before we went to bed since she is not so compulsive at keeping clean like Sofie. They did look silly in them, and I think Sofie agreed, because the next morning she was not in it. How she managed to get out of the apron with the strings still tied and in the confined space behind our settee we have absolutely no idea. Could just have understood it if it had been a normal day, but right after her operation, how could she move her limbs enough to slip out of the apron? Houdini cat I suppose.
Sofie with her lovely white apron. Now you tell me
how she got out of that in a confined space?

Latvia to the right. Definitely very Northern, but where is
Eastern? Finland could also be classed as Eastern European.
I have a question for you, so where are you? Our geography doesn't always match up to our feelings. The Brits for instance, if you live in England you are less likely to feel European than if you live in Scotland but that belies the fact that Britain is in Europe, it is sits on the European plate whether we like it or not. Now take Latvia! I hesitated last week at adding the thought about Eastern Europeans and how many in far flung countries are separated from loved ones because I was effectively lumping all those coming from ex-Soviet countries as Eastern Europeans and one of my friends mentioned that Latvians do not always like to be called Eastern Europeans. But take a look at the map! Where is Eastern Europe? Who are the mythical Eastern Europeans? How far west do they come? The Latvians actually now prefer to be thought of as Northern Europeans because that is what they are, not as northerly as their northern neighbours Estonia and then Finland but still way up there. They are, however, not the only ones separated from loved ones, doing the jobs many in Britain do not want to do, the cleaners, the toilet attendants, the potato pickers, the maids and the list goes on and so does the list of countries that contribute valuable services to Britain, the Latvians, Lithuanians, the Poles, the Filipinos, the Indonesians, the Sri Lankans etc. etc. etc. sending back valuable finances to their homeland, targeted aid supporting education, nutrition and goodness knows what else. And if you want to see the effect of these emigrating populations on towns and villages around Latvia, have a look at this video from the BBC about a town called Cesis

Clearing the snow from the roadways to encourage them to
freeze this week to make any subsequent snow clearing easier
I mentioned about two weeks ago that Swedish agricultural companies were starting up Latvian companies to buy farmland expanding the Swedish financial empire. Seems the Swedes haven't bought everything up yet, as this week a Swedish company bought the Latvia's national commercial TV channel. It would not be too bad if the Latvians benefitted from all this "investment" but I am not sure they do, hugely. In my research and the internet stories I read, it states that home grown enterprises are far more likely to add value and jobs to an area than outside massive investment. The problem with the big investments is that profits leave the country, whereas home grown enterprises are more likely to reinvest into the area. They are more likely to support local causes and seek to bring about improvements in their area because they have a big investment in that area, namely their families. Big is not necessarily better, even economies of scale are not always what they seem. Sure a big company can create a lot of stuff and cheaper, but at what cost to the environment and what expense to its workforce? Cheaper loses some of its lustre when it binds people to a life of drudgery because they cannot afford to live well. Swedish companies do not always do much better outside their own nation, in the same ways the Brits are not exactly likely to promote welfare and good practices once outside of the nations control. We are often aware of it at a long distance as in India, China or elsewhere but not so aware when it is within Europe. One rule within  a nation, but outside of it? Having said that I have got to give praise where praise is due, Swedbank have written down some of Latvia's debts as a goodwill gesture. Not sure what that means in practice but I think it is a positive move and at least sends out the right kinds of signals. It isn't the first bank to do so though, SEB (another Scandinavian bank) was first and at a lot earlier a stage.
Icicles hanging from the barn roof



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