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.


  1. Congratulations for the new door handle!

    All that wild, free range food makes me a bit jealous. I can get venison, wild boar suasages etc here from the local Somerset farmers ... ... but at a price! And that enforced experiment with those chocolate puddings! I'm with Ian on that one. You really can't NOT do it, in the interest of serious scientific research of course. You've got to have some reward for braving such a cold winter.

  2. Thanks for the congratulations, I know you have first hand experience of that particular difficult to get out of door.

    I am sure Ian will be very pleased to hear of your encouragement to continue with the experiment. We will let you know how we get on

  3. From a friend on facebook, such a valuable comment I wanted others to hear it, with her permission of course

    very interesting the thoughts about resilience, so true. i heard the psychiatrist who invented the term, Boris Cyrulnik, telling his life story on the radio. what an amazing man. the key part of his idea is that what helps us recover from trauma is particularly simple acts of kindness or encouragement. he was orphaned by the concentration camps and lived on a work farm where he was severely neglected. when he finally went to live with his aunt he was illiterate and incapable of working in school. until his teacher put him in for a scolarship. he thought maybe she thinks i can do it ... so he did! he said in his work amongst refugees he's come across quite a few teachers and psychiatrists who were trauma victims themselves and came through it through someone's simple act of kindness so they want to do the same for others. so like you say communities with relationship even if it doesnt seem too intense, but it helps people survive and grow despite things and its those who are more isolated who do less well on the whole.

  4. poor you....testing chocolate puddings! I now appreciate how hard your life is! coupled with sub zero temperatures.....don't know why you don't just up sticks and get back to Lancashire with your own folks....we even have door handles!!

  5. Oh Karen that was classic! Must be all the rain I was exposed to as a child, done something to my head :)


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