Monday, 27 February 2012

Is it or isn't it?

You wouldn't think to look at this that Spring is on the way,
but this is Ian clearing through the slush.
Spring is coming, no it's not, yes it is. Well that kind of sums up the weather for this week. It has been a horrible, horrible time for weather, as warmer weather came in and it started to rain slightly resulting in one very slushy mesh. We had a call from the house manager at one point asking if Ian could clear the house (apartment block) yard because, although the snow was melting, it was due to freeze over the weekend and we had at least 10-20cm of wet slush outside, with cars struggling to get out and onto the road. The grip of winter didn't slip for long though and it did freeze again and the snow returned but it has been wet stuff, not the powdery crunchy stuff. Oh yes, the signs of spring! Wet slushy snow! We don't mind winter really, or the cold, but that period of time when it all starts to go is not so nice. It wouldn't be so bad if it was March and then you could be more certain that Spring really was on the way, but February is too early. There are other signs of spring though, such as the reddening branches of the trees as they start to flow with life, which is nice to see. 

Sorry it's not a good photo, but all this lot promises new
life. We just need eggs for the incubator and compost for
the seeds or some ground to put them in - when we find it
that is.
It has been a bit like Christmas again this week as another couple of parcels arrived. Our egg incubator and brooder came, surprisingly prompt I must say. The delivery guy was a little annoyed as he rang with just 15 minutes to spare, to tell us he was on the way, usually they phone the day before and I said I was in. Well I was but we were just nipping out to take our translator to the bus station and would be back in 15 minutes but that was far too complicated to explain. He arrived in less than 15 minutes and rang again and we had to make a hurried goodbye to our lovely translator and get back home. I understood all that he was telling us, but I just cannot formulate replies to what he says. Just "Ja" - "yes" and "viens minūte" - "one minute" to let him know that we wouldn't be long. Fortunately we didn't have the problem with the next parcel as that was in the post box, no delivery man to understand and try to talk to. The second parcel was the first of four deliveries of seeds I have ordered. I don't normally order from as many companies in one year but there were some seeds I specifically wanted to try and we just couldn't get them all from the same company. So our tally for this week is one pack of naked pumpkin seeds, three lots of maincrop carrots, some English garden peas, and some amateur tomatoes. We used to grow amateur tomatoes in Derbyshire outside and they worked pretty well, so we thought we would give them a go here and see how they do. We will probably have at least one plant inside so that we can gather the seed and be certain of having some more next year. 

This rather abstract picture is actually the base of one of the
supports for the greenhouse. That space you see is not
supposed to be there, it is the space created by the whole
frame rising due to the outside supports being raised by the
frozen ground.
We are quite chuffed that we actually made our first sale from our land this week, we didn't make any profit, but at least we covered some costs, we sold ten bales of hay to our neighbour. There is no way we would have charged more, as they help us out such a lot, but they needed more hay because they didn't factor in their new greedy horse when they calculated how much hay they needed. Hopefully that greedy horse will get its own bales off the land using the sleigh as the snow is quite high in places. Apparently the hay should be fine despite being left outside because it is wrapped so tight the water does not easily penetrate, and if it does it will only be down a few inches. That is why a farmer can leave them on the field all winter. This year we won't have the same problem as they will be small enough to carry off the field, as we will hopefully be using our new baler.

I think he just likes clearing snow and getting a chance
to play in his tractor really! He assures me it is to make
sure that the main part of the land where we park the car
and trailers clears as fast as possible and does not
 become a quagmire in the process.
I definitely move into the next phase of my project for my course this week and a comment on a blog by Frank Viola (Reimagining Church author) made me smile because I think I will know exactly what he means by this quote from Winston Churchill

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.” 
Parking area and road onto the land cleared
The interviewing stage has finished, a thoroughly enjoyable part of the project, as I have already mentioned and now begins the serious analysing and writing up. I still have questionnaires to get but I'm on the case with that and have my networks out working on that for me. It is far easier for people to fill in the questionnaires when someone they know is asking them to do it and it seems to be quite a successful approach for a village. I suspect I won't get many of the older folks filling them in, but it is not the main part of my project. The questionnaire is only really to assess how much backing there is for the way farmers or the hunters operate. If the farmers want wild boar culled and the local population want them protected then there would be a problem, if the local population are as fed up with wild boar as some farmers then there won't be a problem for the farmers if they can take action. (Just for those who don't know I am studying for a Masters in Managing Sustainable Rural Development and I am in my last year. My thesis is Wild Boar: Friend or Foe? Examining the conflict of wild boar management in my area of Latvia). 

A tided greenhouse, well sort of. the paths are all raked and
the beds redefined. The celery is there to see if it will come
back to life and form plants to produce seed for next year.
Probably not but I'm not too worried as I am going to grow
lovage, a celery tasting herb which is a lot less faff to grow
As I don't work full time I try to make sure I take the weekends off, otherwise the writing will consume the whole of my life. One day was spent pottering around the greenhouse, trying to tidy it up in preparation for when we get started on seed planting, even if that is possibly not for another month yet - well not in the greenhouse anyway. We will probably start things off in the house soon, well maybe. It is tempting to rush into these things but if the Spring is late then we would be left with box upon box of seedlings all needing to be potted on but not enough room on windowsills to do that. Moving things around in the greenhouse meant our cats could play in a new adventure playground and they were chasing each other around like idiots - hope we can keep them off the seedlings when we do start on those.

Bella enjoying the redesigned playground
Another day was spent visiting folks. First of all I returned a dish to a neighbour and well we kind of got chatting, a cup of tea, some preserved pumpkin and a paprika stuffed with cream cheese later and I returned back home. The local wit, aka Ian, said as I appeared "I guess she wasn't in then?"  I think I was only away an hour. The next visit was to our neighbours to our land, and when we arrived it was to an unexpected, but very welcome lunch. It was so good to be able to chat about life the universe and everything with them and all over some rather good traditional Latvian food. They are enthusiastic about my wild boar project too and interested in the outcome of my interviews. Of course I can't go into details of who said what or anything, but I can outline all I have discovered along the way, and it is good to get their feedback as those who know what it is like to have damage. And if you want to know what Latvian food consists of, it is pork escallops (pieces of meat battered into submission, we can always tell when our neighbours are also having karbonāde as it is called) covered in a thin batter, some chicken pieces, grated carrots in oil, grated beetroot with garlic in oil, boiled butterbeans (or something similar), warm pickled cabbage, potatoes and sour cream. We even rounded off a lovely day with a visitor to our home, one who had ventured out from the snowy wastelands of his own home. He told us not to visit their place until the road was better as he only just got out and his truck has a little more ground clearance than ours.

See I said Spring was on it's way, well sort of
One concern that has often surfaced in my interviews is the problem of outsiders buying up land. Land grabs have been in the news quite a bit over the last few years, but often only refers to Africa. It is not just an African problem though, it is also a problem in ex-Soviet countries too (scroll down to see how the Swedes are impacting Latvia). Strictly speaking foreigners cannot buy up land in Latvia, but in one way or another it happens and is really frustrating as we would like to buy the land we work, and we would try and reinvest  as much of the money we make in the area as possible. Large outside investors are generally only interested in the profit they could make if the land went up in price, or the low costs of land to buy for agriculture and the low wages they can pay to produce the food. Granted they can invest a lot in machinery but that means less people invested and none of that machinery is made in Latvia and so not much is actually invested in Latvia itself. Mind you, I am not sure if some are worried that these new owners might change the status quo too, and some in Latvia wouldn't like that, they are quite comfortable in their own little empires and that might not be such a bad thing.

Skating anyone? Unfortunately it is now covered with snow
One thing I have noticed on the blogosphere just lately is the rise of a particular form of word verification. It is horrible to read and there have been several blogs where I have had to make three attempts to get the words right. I will apologise now if my blog turns to using nasty word verification of the unreadable sort, but the problem is that I can't turn mine off as I have the new type of blogger. I have however written to google to tell them what I think and entered my displeasure on a google help site. If I could turn it off I would, really. If you would like to leave a comment and are defeated by the ridiculous word verification then please email me, just click on the envelope sign on the right and I shall add it for you, and leave you a nice comment in return. I like to answer all my comments, I think that is the friendly thing to do after all.

Monday, 20 February 2012

And that was the week that was...

Well can you see them? The wild boar. They are the black
specks in the very distance on the road. The road is
the white trail between the trees ie under the snow.
Picture the scene, we are travelling along a snowy track, going to observe feeding sites for wild boar in the forest. Suddenly in the distance a group of wild boar cross the road. Stop! Stop! Says the hunter sitting in the back. So we come to a stop and I take out my camera to take a photo, but of course they are too far away to get a good picture. They cross the road and disappear into the forest and the hunter tells us to move on slowly. At the point where they crossed the road he tells us to stop, and he tells us to get out of the car very quietly and not to make a noise with the doors. We change the lens of the camera for a long lens, and creep out of the car. It is at this point I was wishing I wasn't wearing red - well how did I know we would actually see some wild boar at 3pm in the afternoon? I also wished I wasn't wearing a waterproof coat and waterproof trousers, as we cautiously and as quietly as possible followed the hunter. Suddenly he motioned us to crouch down and to look through the trees, the wild boar were in there snacking on the beets and potatoes. Gradually we stood up and moved a little closer, one juvenile who thought he knew better than to listen to mum was still hanging around. Ian being taller than me started to take photos, but it was difficult to get a good picture due to the trees. The hunter made a noise, the wild boar looked up and Ian got his photo!

And there's the youngster who wouldn't listen to Mum
Well that was the start of a very interesting week. I have met some amazingly brave people this week, who are working hard for the good of Latvia. It was a real privilege to meet them and talk to them. I wish I could share more, but sorry I can't; just to say if you are the praying sort then pray for those who love their land and long for a better place for their children and their children's children and are willing to fight to get that. Also pray for our translator, he has been doing a brilliant job and has really caught the enthusiasm for what I'm doing with my research project, which makes the job a lot easier. I have seen people with passion from all sides of the debate over wild boar management and heard tales to inspire and sadden. It has been the most incredible month but now the hardest part begins, to condense all that I have discovered into less than 15,000 words that will help the debate as best I can. Not much to do then! I had to smile when I read this somewhere this week (sorry I can't remember where)
"To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects ... is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism ... kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful." Thomas Merton
Because it was Valentine's day when we went
to the hotel for our weekly meal
I long to see communities flourish and be transformed from hopelessness and despair to one of hope and optimism and it would be too easy to get side-tracked along the way by all things that could benefit from change. Every time I contact my tutor he reminds me to stay focussed. So let's hope that I don't kill the root of inner wisdom, but rely on God to help me stay focussed and on track to see transformation in one area of life here in Latvia, or at the very least be a small part of that transformation - I am not sure that I can play an important part, but if all I can do is offer a word of encouragement here and there to keep things moving I will be very happy.

Who are you looking at?
It has been a week of highs and lows - aren't such week's like that. Poor Ian has been on the brunt of most of the lows. Early on one day Ian was in the car and made a right turn, he glanced away to check traffic and when he looked back the old lady he had seen crossing the road had disappeared from sight. He suddenly realised she was lying on the road having slipped on the ice, he stopped the car in plenty of time and got out and using the international work "okay" he helped her up and she was laughing "normal" she said. Phew!  Well that wasn't too bad but later on in the day we were in the nearest large town and we had been to the supermarket and needed some diesel to get us home. The petrol station is right opposite the supermarket and so Ian just pulled straight across the road - bad move apparently. A few seconds after getting out of the car a policeman approached. None of us had seen the "turn right" notice and now Ian has a 20 Lat fine I'm afraid. Now we know why the police sit in that particular position on a frequent basis, a bit of a moneyspinner place to sit methinks.

A fine set of antlers on this one, although apparently
it won't be long before they lose them for this year.
Wouldn't have minded quite so much but the trip to the supermarket was a bit of a waste of time anyway as I managed to make a right hash of picking up some chicken for a quick meal. What I thought looked like some chicken breasts turned out to be the carcass of a chicken for soup. Here they often sell bones for cooking, you can get salmon scraps for soup stock, chicken bones for soup stock and pork bones for soup stock. I must, I must concentrate more when I'm buying food. We had a tasty meal, just not a lot of meat in it. Oh boy! I was in trouble because Ian hadn't eaten much that day and it being the night of the incident with the police it was not the best of nights to make a catastrophic failure in the purchasing department. Good job we can laugh about these things but it was close!

A hunting tower where they can watch
and wait for the wild boar to come
It was not the only incident with cars that week either. Ian had gone out to the land to do some work and I rang him to see what he was doing, and when he would be back for lunch, only to be informed that he was on his way to help someone out as they had crashed their truck. The truck had been on the way to make some deliveries of humanitarian aid around the village when another car misjudged a slippery road and the two vehicles collided. Ian had to take the driver back to his land to collect a tractor so that he could remove the vehicle from the road. So added to all that excitement one of our cats has managed to pee on our plinth under our woodstove. Not too bad you would think but it is a glass plinth inset into a wood surround and the pee managed to get under the glass and we can't move it to get to it. And finally to cap the week the motor that Ian bought for our Dyson vacuum cleaner to get it to run on a 240V instead of the 110V it ran on, was bigger than the one removed and took a little more fiddling around to get it to work than anticipated - to Ian's credit he got it in and working so we no longer have to plug it into a transformer, but what a palaver.

A winter feeding station for wild deer. 
Despite all the excitement of the week, I have managed to get some preparations for the year ahead done. First of all I have ordered an egg incubator and brooder so that we can raise our own chickens for meat this year. Not a bad idea after the supermarket fiasco earlier, also not a bad idea anyway, as the supermarket broiler chickens, as they call them, are not exactly the tastiest meat around. If there is one thing we are getting used to is tasty meat around here, even if it is a bit different to what we would have normally consumed in the UK. So this year it's looking like we will add quite a few animals to our two cats as we won't raise all the chickens for consumption and some will be for eggs. The other bit of preparation is to get our seed order in. We have ordered different kinds of chilli seeds although they are all relatively mild, but lots of different colours, some purple, some deep red, one brown, some orange and some a more normal red. There are also more of those squash plants that we have grown to love this year and we expanding the range of those we are going to grow too. One squash has what they called naked seed, so we can just go right ahead and roast them and not break our teeth on the husks in the process of eating them once they are cooked. Once we build up a big enough bank of seeds from the naked seeds, it might be possible to get oil out of them (and just in case you have absolutely no idea of what I am going on about, this link will show you what I mean). Another squash will be like baby orange pumpkins, just right for the two of us, so that we are not wondering every time we go to open up a pumpkin, how many different things can we do with pumpkin this time. Although at the moment they are starting to go over and so we are having to cut them up quick and freeze them - which is fine because it is much easier at this time of the year than in the middle of harvesting everything else, and they do make a great pumpkin cake.

A pile of tasty beets and potatoes for the
wild boar! 
So what have I also unearthed on the internet this week? One article was a fairly sobering article for my generation up to my parents generation - a span of 20 years. We are apparently the stumbling blocks for todays youngsters and not the stepping stones on which they build. For those about to retire, the times maybe good, especially if they have been employed all their lives, but for those who are younger, who have experienced unemployment the times are grim, and even if they have employment those jobs may not be the best with good working conditions and favourable pay. What legacies are we leaving our children? What future are we releasing to them? By the time I get to retirement age (goodness only knows when that will be in 20 years time or so) will things have balanced out again and brought a release of opportunity to the younger generation? Will they live in a fairer society? I do hope so, but if I have to spend all my energy to see that into existence then so be it. I want a future for my children, not a nice cosy life just for me.

Mineral licks for the deer too, to keep them
Many of you may have seen the news that the Latvians have sent a resounding no message to introducing Russian as a second language. I wonder though was this effective democracy in action? After all the last referendum ousted the last Government and sent a clear message that people are tired of corruption in Latvia, but referendums are costly and I am not sure the majority of people really wanted the country spending money on the latest referendum, when schools and hospitals are closing or barely surviving. At least that didn't stop them turning out to register their votes, 69% bothered to vote. That in itself was a good thing.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Got a handle on this?

Updated link that wasn't working

The door handle! Are you impressed?
Before I start I have to set something straight, I inadvertently forgot to mention a momentous event that happened last week in our home. Ian ..... wait for it!!!!!!! put a handle on the inside door. Why is this momentous? Because it has taken him nearly four years to get around to doing it. For the past four years our inner door was opened by sticking our finger into a hole and pulling, not too bad when you know that and not too bad until winter time when gloved hands get a bit too big and then it gets awkward. So I'm glad I put that straight and now I shall get around to the news from this week.

The stuff of life! It is in this temperature.
This week hasn't been as cold as the week before, still low at around -25C (-13F) at night and up to even -6C (21F) one day in the sun. This was certainly an improvement on sub -30's (-22F) the week before and lucky if we saw it below -20C (-4F) for most of the day. Our apartment heating, however, did not improve much this week, it has been up and down all week, no consistency at all. I was even surprised that there wasn't a huge improvement during the Latvian Schools Winter Olympics that is held every year here. I wonder how much of that was to do with a much scaled down event this time, it had finished by mid-day on Saturday and so no fireworks. It is sad when the countries economic woes hit events like these, but I guess there is the added expense of the Olympic games in London this year for the Latvian Olympic committee to fund. We had another meeting this week with the mayor and the director of the heating company together and at least it helps us to understand what is going on and how we get our heat and the issues involved. The next step is to carry out some experiments to see what effect the recirculation pump has on the heat we get - gosh somethings are never straightforward, but Ian is in his element helping to devise experiments and looking forward to analysing results.

All in the cause of research of course! It's a
hard life, but here is the hot chocolate
pudding, a bit too runny this time.
We have eaten well this week, part of the reason was that we had invited a young friend of ours so that our translator, who has been helping me to interview local farmers and hunters, could have someone to connect with, who was more his own age and possibly some similar interests. To facilitate that we dug out the free range turkey, we were given by some other friends and laid on a lavish feast. Well any excuse really for a good nosh up. So we had roast turkey, roast spuds, a rice mixture (okay I forgot to check how many spuds we had and we didn't have enough for mash as well; wouldn't mind but we have sackfuls of them but up at the other apartment), some other roast veg and of course Yorkshire puddings, all followed by a red and blackcurrant sponge with Ian's home-made ice-cream. It was rather nice, if I do say so myself! Later on in the week we went to the hotel and had to carry out an experiment - in the interests of science of course! We had to test the chocolate puddings as sometimes they are runny in the centre, which they are supposed to be, and sometimes they are completely set but still make a yummy pudding. I explained this to some students in the student cafe I monitor and one of them asked me how often did they came out right? I guessed that 75% of the time they came out just right but of course I wasn't entirely sure, cue excuse for an experiment. Ian, ever the scientist, said that we had to carry out the experiment at least 20 times to be sure and so we have started on the challenge. Mind you I don't think we really are going to carry out the experiment for 20 times, it will take far too long to get the results and it is the most expensive dessert on the menu (If you want to make it yourself then here is a recipe if you missed it in a previous blog link).

We are not the only ones with wood stores, here are just a
To top off the week of good eating we finished off with a jar of venison and wild boar which had been produced by one of the ladies who used to attend my English class. Her husband is a hunter and I got to interview him this week for my course and he came with his good lady wife and laden with three jars of a meat product. I say meat product because I can see it has a bay leaf in it and meat, but apart from that I have no idea of the rest of the contents. It was tasty and in some ways reminiscent of a tin of corned beef, but with chunks of meat instead and I guess none of the fillers and nitrates that normal corned beef has. Ian was elated to have found something like corned beef and I have a feeling that the next jar will be reappearing as a meat and potato pie or more likely something resembling a corned beef hash pie. Although we do love the taste of corned beef, the last time we actually had some, we both ended up with sore mouths, as the preservatives used in those kinds of products causes some sort of an adverse reaction now we are not used to foods with chemicals in it - well if you discount salt, fat, oil, vinegar, citric acid and those sort of chemicals which I add to bottled foods.

You can see a wild boar track quite clearly on this picture.
How can we tell it is a wild boar? Wild boar are heavy and
have short legs and hence they leave a wide trail in this
depth of snow. Last year the metre high snow made it
difficult for wild boar to even get around.
The interviews, for my course project, are going well again this week and I have interviewed another farmer who gave us the telephone number for someone else, a local State Forest Service senior forest ranger who is responsible for hunting at the local level and another hunter who is trying to get local hunting organisations to work together and to improve how they work by the creation of a new hunting association. In the last interview of the week I got to see a wild boar face to face but fortunately for me, not the wild boar of course, it was hanging from a ceiling in the process of being butchered. The interview with the hunting association organiser was at a facility which included a place where the hunters can go to butcher the meat they have shot, hence the gruesome scene. I have to say it was a grim satisfactionto see it up there, knowing all the damage they can create in just one night, although it was kind of sad too. After all the wild boar are opportunists and well fed ones at that, and that is why their numbers are increasing - man's fault really. Apparently wild boar won't eat all potatoes though, you can get a spray that will stop them eating them - question is would you eat potatoes that have been sprayed with something that wild boar with their sensitive noses refuse to eat?

Our greenhouse is still up! Yeh! The internal supports
though, no longer rest on their plinths but are about a
centimetre above due to the outside ones rising in
the frozen ground as the ice expands.
So as I said we have eaten well this week, meat with no artificial preservatives, and certainly free range. You can't get much more free range than an animal shot in the wild. Our feasts usually don't cost that much, due to generous friends, but what would happen if we were to buy it? Would it cost a lot? In some ways it should due to the effort gone into obtaining the meat. Even our veg that we have eaten this week has all been won from the land by the sweat of our brows. Good food, however, only appears expensive if it is bought, because we don't see the hidden costs of the cheap food. Tax payers money is often channeled into producing factory farmed meat, that is no good for us or the animal, but since no one actually pays that at the till it makes the food seem cheap. This is a big problem with the system we have, that penalises the small producers for producing good quality products and encourages damaging industrial processes (see here for an article that goes into more depth on the issues).

Cold weather often brings some glorious
I have been a bit bewildered just lately by the differing comments that are all supposed to have emanated from the IMF. On the one hand Latvia is supposed to have emerged stronger than ever from the crisis, not sure how many Latvians would agree with that analysis though. On the other hand the Latvians might agree with the emergence of the fact that the Latvian crisis has exacerbated poverty and fuelled the rise of inequality. So the IMF thinks that Latvia has emerged stronger when inequality has increased and yet according to many reports inequality fuels instability, the more equal a society is the more stable it is - surely the strength of a nation should therefore be measured by its equality? The IMF has also stated the safety net was important to the recovery - what safety net? The one that guarantees a minimum of 40 Lats a month when our heating bill was 40 Lats this last month? Or is it the one that guarantees 40 Lats a month when the minimum amount to live on is 164 Lvls (or is it higher now)? These sort of conflicting reports do not really help nations to move on from a crisis. The measurements of what is a success and what isn't should really rest with the nations inhabitants who have to live with the issues and the consequences and not some dependence on a discredited financial system that has not aided many people to find a satisfying lifestyle, that meets their needs.

There's a river there somewhere! The
continuing cold weather has meant that
most rivers have now frozen over.
Over the duration of my course I have been looking at issues such as resilience and so one article on why some people don't get depressed caught my eye. The article was looking at what makes an individual resilient? But I think that perhaps is the wrong question? It should be what makes a community resilient? Communities are the backbone of life, separated off, isolated individuals with everyone in their place does not breed resilience. A mix of people, the cranky, the friendly, interacting makes a community and breeds resilience. You learn how to deal with people and you can learn from people how to deal with life, people need robust resilient communities to become resilient and to pass on resilience to others.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Oy vey it's cold

It was that cold that even the thermometer had to be
brought in so that we could read the minimum temperature
recorded overnight. 
It has been a distinctly difficult week. You may have seen on the news that sub -30C temperatures have been affecting large parts of Europe and we have been no exception here in Latvia. The record for us was  -32.4C on Sunday morning and I am grateful that it was nowhere near that this morning. In fact the temperature even got up above -20C before noon today which must be the first time in days and feels like weeks. People sometimes ask how do we cope in those kinds of temperatures - layers is the answer. Yesterday it was around -25C and we needed some shopping and our car wouldn't start for the second time this week and so we had to walk. To walk in those kinds of temperatures I had on two t-shirts, a polo neck jumper, a thin fleece top, a fleece jacket and then my ski coat which also has a fleece lining. I also had two pairs of socks and well insulated hiking boots, base layer leggings, my jeans and a pair of overtrousers. The trick then is to get out of the house before you start sweating and keep up a pace enough to stay warm and yet not get too hot. Sorry I didn't mention the headband, hat, thick scarf and warm gloves. It wasn't too bad at that temperature, but I kept having to dry the moisture away from my scarf encased chin before it froze. It is worse if there is a wind and today although it was a lot warmer the breeze occasionally blew and it was not pleasant at all.

Whoops forgot to clean the windowsill before taking the
photo. What you can see is a layer of ice on the inside
of our double glazed windows, despite the heating being on.
You know it is below -15C when ice starts appearing
on the inside of the double glazing.
I mentioned our car wouldn't start this week and it doesn't help that it is a diesel. We weren't the only ones though, most of our neighbours were also having problems at some point in the week. Our car not starting became a bit of a community event though as folks came to have a look and offer advice. Eventually one of our neighbours told us the trick was to heat up the engine compartment with a hairdryer or fan heater and we also heard many of our neighbours take their batteries in at night so they don't have to start from cold. You learn something new everyday. So we abandoned attempts to start the car one day, took the batteries in to warm up (we even wrapped them up in an electric blanket at one point) and be charged up. The next morning we ran a cable from our third floor (second floor for my English friends) apartment down to our car and connected up a fan heater pointed at the fuel filter and left it for an hour to heat up. I have to say that it is not a good idea to be feeding cable out of a window with freshly showered hair - it freezes. Eventually though our car did warm up, but it was distinctly poorly, but that is part of another story.

It might be cold but it looks beautiful 
Last week I said we were going to pick up a translator and that very nearly didn't happen. Last week on a trip to the big town our car seemed to lose power and I wondered if it was the type of fuel we got locally and so we filled up in town with some winter diesel that went down to -31C. It didn't seem as bad on the way home, but it was still acting up a bit, yet it was fine around the village. Tuesday we set off to pick up our translator and the car got worse and worse, which seemed odd as we thought it would improve as the car got warmer. At one stage we wondered if we would have to cancel the trip and stopped for a little while, when we got going it improved again and we made it. The trip was worth it as my translator has been doing a good job, just not necessarily to do with my course.

I love the pattern of these trees against the blue sky
The first task he had was to translate for a meeting with our local heating company director. It was a an eye-opener in how grievances are handled here in Latvia. Our next meeting was with the mayor and was also not an easy one for our translator to translate for. Out of that meeting though we have organised another meeting with the director of the heating company to find out exactly how the bills are calculated, as we suspect that we end up paying more for cold water being sent around our radiators than we pay for good hot water. We will also ask a lot more questions related to the supply of energy, which I am sure they are not used to. The rest of the day must have seemed like a piece of cake as he had to organise several interviews for me, which meant kind of cold calling people whose numbers we had been given or found for organisations and local farmers that I want to interview. To his credit though he organised several interviews and one for the Wednesday. Unfortunately though our car was not playing and sulked - don't blame it really as it was definitely -29C on the car thermometer and this was midday, that turned out to be the first of two interviews and a visit to make a new friend to be cancelled this last week.

These bushes provide hours of entertainment to our cats
as they sit glued to the window watching the birds flying
in and out. Very funny watching their intense gazes
and swishing tails.
Our car was booked into our normal Riga based dealer because we have a five year guarantee on it, but the problem with Riga is it is too far to go with a very sick car and so we needed a tow truck to take it. Organising a tow truck was interesting though, firstly the local guy was in a similar predicament and couldn't get his lorry started - maybe when it's warmer!!!! The Riga dealer should collect our car, but only if it is a warranty issue (not what they said two years ago when our wheel bearing went when we ended up paying for a tow truck to take it in) and since we suspect it could be a fuel problem and not a warranty issue if they came out to collect the car it could be 150 LVLs ($280, £175) and then a repair bill on top of that. We decided that we would stuff the guarantee on the car as it was actually costing us too much money to get it into Riga and not worth the effort for us. We found a company that sells and works on similar cars in a nearer town and decided to try that, at least a friend of ours could then follow Ian in as he drove the car in case it died completely and bring him home afterwards while the car was in the garage for repair, well that was after giving the guy a tow because his car wouldn't start in the cold either (how bizarre is that!). So for the present we are car-less, which is interesting. We are now also effectively warranty less as well, and means Ian will now service the car - I think he's missed messing about on the car really. It did mean though he needed a repair manual for the car and he hadn't seen one at all while in England which was a bit of a worry. We asked our daughter to search for one in Australia as the car is available there but under a different name and she found a manual on a CD, which will hopefully be shortly winging its way across the waters.

Swept clean
On top of all that our cat discovered she could get out of our living room where she is locked up at night and bounded onto our bed purring away at 6:30am, we mustn't have closed the door well enough. I most certainly do not want that kind of an alarm call every morning - good job I was already vaguely awake before she joined us. I also had one of those interesting conversations with God this week too, which added to the rather weird week. I was reading in the bible about the story where Jesus had just finished talking to the crowd from a boat and told his disciples to "Cast out into deep water." That phrase resonated with me when I read it (in other words something just felt right about what was being said), "but I'm already in deep water" I said to God as I was thinking back over the last week, "just because you can't touch the bottom of the lake doesn't mean you're in deep water!" came the reply Hmm good point! Especially at 5ft nothing. I somehow think it is going to be a challenging year ahead. At the beginning of starting my course I felt like it would certainly be the start of something and I wrote "And so it begins" because I could feel the changing season as I moved into a new phase of life. "And so it begins" and it certainly has done, it has been an amazing journey so far with me meeting people I never expected to get access too, but they have been generous with their time and listened if I had something to contribute. I have felt out of my depth at times, but I guess it wasn't that far out of my depth and so I wonder where my next step will take me as I begin to wind down on the course I'm doing.

Evidence of life
I know this has been a long and arduous week, not helped by those little annoying mishaps that happen on difficult weeks, like Ian's back is niggling him and I have to go on record and say my naming of jars has to improve. I opened a jar of tomato sauce today to go with some pasta but as we ate the meal I realised that the sauce was a type of ketchup sauce and not a pasta sauce as I had been expecting. I have jars labelled ketchup too, and I have other jars labelled as sauce, so how many jars labelled sauce are actually ketchup? Oh boy! They are labelled this year, which is better than usual but I guess there is still room for improvement. At least I got plenty of reading done for my research so not been a total waste and I have had plenty of time to talk to our translator about what my research is about, given him interviews to listen to so he knows what to expect and what words he will need to remember and also talked about faith a lot as well, so actually it's been quite a good week really in a weird sort of way. I also have to say that even the Swedish finance minister made an excellent comment this week too as he said that Swedish banks should regard the Baltics as their home and act like they do at home. Absolutely! Spot on! And why couldn't he have said that a few years ago? If the banks had acted like they did in Sweden, Latvia wouldn't be in quite the mess it is in now. Sweden learnt in the 90s that a speculative bubble in the housing market fuelled by banking loans was not good for the country or for banks and learnt some painful lessons, unfortunately they weren't ones they applied to Latvia.