Monday, 30 April 2012

Phew!

Our patent pig proof protection! In
reality they are heavyish logs with
strips of wood nailed on from our
old greenhouse, which have more
nails sticking out. We have two rows
nailed on, which hopefully will stick
in pig noses if they so much as get any
where near our blueberry bushes.
Let me sit down and catch my breath a bit this week. I know some of you think we rush around doing a lot, but that's not true normally. Our life is different and varied and that is partly because we don't have nine to five jobs and so it leaves us free to lead a quite eclectic life with plenty of time to stop and observe, drink cups of coffee by the pond and spend the evenings just perusing the internet (sorry have to admit that). Last week was different because it did seem to pass by in a whirl. Last Monday I mentioned that we found out there was a possibility that we could get some local transport for the alpacas we wanted to purchase, the only problem was that there was a finite time to get them and that time was very soon ie next week and so that meant a sudden rush to Sweden to go and look at the alpacas and the farm where they live to see if the whole idea was feasible. Monday we booked the tickets and by Wednesday we were off to Sweden. The timing was great though because it was dry, if we had been at home Ian would have been itching to get out and about doing things, but still having to wait for dry conditions underfoot. It did mean that Tuesday and Wednesday morning was spent trying to get things sorted before we went like planting some new blueberry bushes we had got with some hopefully pig proof protection.

Leaving Riga
We took the overnight ferry from Riga to Stockholm, which was a novel experience for me. I think I may have been on an overnight ferry once before but not slept in a cabin and even then I cannot be 100% sure of that, as it seems to be only a vague impression and I would probably have to check with my parents to find out if I was imagining it. Our journey out of Riga took far longer than I thought it would, as Riga is not on the coast exactly and took an hour and a half before we reached the open water through an industrial landscape of towering cranes and silos. The big ship of course has to travel slowly in the river so it doesn't churn up the bottom, hence the long slow cruise past. We saw coal wagons that come from Russia being unloaded adding to the massive piles of coal and a ship being loaded with the coal, constant busyness, constant moving in a dirty soulless looking environment. I found it quite fascinating really. On the way back we sat on the opposite side of the ship and this was far more rural, with houses and boats, such a contrast! We had some noisy girls in a nearby cabin, but the noise from the ship drowned them out and so it wasn't too bad and it was certainly more comfortable than trying to sleep on an airplane and not as confined.

One of the many islands we passed on the way into Stockholm
I hadn't realised that Stockholm is situated on an archipelago a truly amazing sight to wake up to once out on the deck (no ocean view from our cabin I'm afraid). The islands rose out of the mists in the morning and we could see little cottages nestled amongst the rocks and the trees, as well as some quite grand houses. Some cottages were quite isolated, whereas some islands were quite densely populated. We stood for hours watching the islands sail by until the cold finally drove us in. Once in Stockholm we became quite nostalgic for Denmark. We lived in Copenhagen or KĂžbenhavn as it is known locally, for three years and in that time we got very used to the zone system of travel, which made getting around by bus, train or metro very easy. The Stockholm transport system isn't quite as easy to work out and there certainly isn't the information that there is in Copenhagen. In Copenhagen all the bus stops, train stops etc. have maps with the routes for the buses and trains on and it is easy to see what number buses and trains you need to get to where you want to go. The zones are also easy to work out. We thought we had worked the system out in Stockholm (once we found the bus stop that is, no information in the ferry terminal to say where they were), but when we tried to purchase a ticket it began to look rather complicated. In the end we decided to try walking to the train station as it didn't look to far on the map that Ian had picked up off the ferry and indeed it was a brisk walk but doable. We did manage to purchase some tickets in a metro station but once on the train we found out we hadn't purchased the right ones and ended up paying extra, which was fine and the conductress was very nice about it and very helpful. No complaints there then.

Yes a wind blown me with cute curly haired Gotland lamb
We had a marvellous few days just north of Stockholm as the farm is situated in a beautiful place by a large lake. We stayed at a little Bed and Breakfast place and the lady, an English lady who had married a Swede, had just got some orphaned Gotland lambs that needed to be fed by bottle. They had beautiful curly black fleeces which was so soft and so that breed was put on my list of interesting fibre producing animals for the future. We got to see our three alpaca boys who we hope to buy, but they were a little aloof without a bucket of food, so we didn't see much of them close up. By the time we get them though they will look rather different, as they will have been shorn, teeth cut if necessary and certainly toe nails cut - they were a little curly and ready for cutting. It was good to see the set up and noticed their land was just as wet as ours was when we left, which means that our rather wet land is not an issue. We were reassured that our accommodation arrangements were satisfactory and our winters were not a problem, in fact their fleece will benefit from the cold. Feed will also not be an issue as we should have enough hay from our ski hill to feed them and they need only a little additional feed on top of that.

The three boys in the foreground.
Besides being reassured on the practicalities of raising alpacas we had a great time talking about a myriad of topics, as the couple who own the farm have lived in many places and so a wealth of experience on different cultures to talk about, which if you follow this blog you will know suits us very well, as we do like to talk to different people. We even managed to squeeze in the niggley little detail of looking through a contract for purchasing the animals, left till the last moment of course. We helped with the yearly barn clean as well, as we had interrupted a rather busy week for the owner to come and look, for which we were rather grateful, but were paid well with a fine feed afterwards. We also helped the bed and breakfast owner to pick wild anemones for a friend of hers and wired in her electric fence to keep her lambs in. I guess not every guest to the B&B would know how to wire in an electric fence.

Even the forests are suddenly carpeted with wood
anemones.
We arrived back to glorious sunshine and some very green grass. Everything looked so different, that we felt we had been away much longer. We hit the ground running though as we need to get so much done before we get alpacas and if it is as soon as next week we have a fence to build, but still fit in getting the gardens prepared for our veg growing season and a field to sort out. We had lunch and then headed on out to the land and finally got all that hay in off our land as the ground was so much drier, we even managed to get the horse box out of the barn with the car, which only four days ago was a mud bath (it's not perfect, but it at least walkable in now). Today we got the caravan out of the greenhouse to make space for the tomatoes, melons, chillis and cucumbers, and rotavated the gardens - well I prepared one garden and marked out areas not for rotavating whilst Ian got on and rotavated. I then headed indoors to get a bible study done and some paperwork which needed doing. So I admit, this week is a bit of a rush and we do feel the pressure is on to get work done, but that's okay the summers are short here and we know this is the busy season, there will be a quieter season in mid-summer when the planting is done and the crops are hopefully growing and again in the winter when it is time to relax - or work on my next academic project perhaps. After all as the good book says

                                           There is a time for everything,                             and a season for every activity under the heavens                                                      (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
A bit difficult to see but a parade of the King of Sweden's
guards as they went to change places with those who had
been guarding that week. 

One of the females - lovely coloured coat

Clown the father of the boys, getting a bit old now and
in grand retirement as there is now a new boy on the block.



Monday, 23 April 2012

Official now!

A little greener this week
Before I get to the all things official I mentioned last week we were in Jekabpils collecting eggs for our incubator, I didn't mention that we took the opportunity to do some shopping and have a fish and chip lunch - not often do you get those in Latvia, not proper English-ish style ones anyway so a rare treat. Later on in the day we were in one shop and we were looking at electric fences, as we will need two eventually so the alpacas can graze the land and not just stay in their paddock. Whilst looking at the different types a lady tapped me on the arm conspiratorially  and said something like "don't get that sort, these ones are much better." I've had shopkeepers tell me which sort of merchandise is better and not to choose what we were buying for different reasons but never a customer adding their opinion. Bless her! Hope she was right anyway, because we bought the sort she recommended.

Yellow flowers this week, maybe
Yellow Star of Bethlehem but if anyone wants
to correct me you are very welcome.
We were back in Jekabpils this week again, only this time we were handing in forms to register our barn for animals and get a flock number. It can seem a bit of a palaver at times to get registered for various things. We went to the office (once we found it that is!!!!! long story and involved several long telephone conversations with a friend to direct us there) and we gave them the forms, they looked at them and then gave us a piece of paper with the bank account details of the office and we then had to travel right across the town to the bank, pay the fees and then travel all the way back to take the receipt. That often happens with state institutions but it does ensure that they do not have to handle money and be a possible source of corruption. A photocopy was taken of the receipt, a quick phone call to a friend to finalise some details and all was done. We went home to await the arrival of our paper to say we are registered which we expected to arrive in about two weeks time, but much to our surprise we had a phone call from our friend and she had the numbers for our registration. Can't imagine getting that kind of service in many countries. So the palaver of travelling from one side of town to the other worked out for us in the end. Of course we still have to wait for the actual papers but we have the necessary numbers and that is what is important.

Okay so this looks like a plastic bucket to
you! It is but with the addition of a toilet
seat rim. After perching on bucket rims to use
the loo for the last couple of years we splashed
out on this. A very expensive plastic bucket
really, but as far as I'm concerned the comfort
is truly worth it.
So this means we are a step nearer to getting the alpacas, we have the necessary numbers we need to transport them, we even have transport lined up, because as we found out this week we might not be able to collect them ourselves,  and we are going to visit the farm on Wednesday to see the animals, but there is still a big question mark over whether we can get it all to come together and get the alpacas soon. It all hinges on whether they have the right vaccinations for the travel in the end, if they have then we will be fine, if not, it means waiting another 40 odd days and then trying to arrange more transport or arguing our case for picking them up ourselves.

Oh yes it's spring! Mr and Mrs Toad were a
little late for the ski run this year, all the snow
had gone by the time they were taking a hike
across our ski hill
We also finally got a contract signed with a hunter to hunt on our land this week. He would have liked to put a feeding station on the land in an out of the way place to distract the boar, but I said "no" as my research shows that they increase the damage and the numbers so I don't want that (I joked with his son, who was doing the translating that I had been reading too much). They are fine to drive hunt as long as the dogs are not released near our land - that was the advice of the hunter who specialises in training the dogs as they wouldn't like to be responsible for something bad happening to our alpacas and they are fine to build some hunting towers on our land too. So wild boar beware and maybe if you visit there might be a wild boar steak or two on the menu. At least that is a tasty way to help the environment, as they seem to be getting far too numerous and causing far too much damage and our out of balance with nature.

The school accomodation block is having a make over that
started this last week with scaffolding going up. You can
also see the smoke is still coming out of the chimney which
is situated behind the school and provides our heating. It did
go off this week though. Cooler nights are much easier to
sleep in.
Forgive me at times if I repeat myself and you may notice if you follow the blog that some of the same pictures appear year after year, well not exactly the same ones but something similar. That is because it is all part of our rhythm here, as our year is dictated by the seasons. Maybe I have mentioned the children playing outside our apartment before, but they are a joy to watch as they play with simple toys such as spades and buckets and not much more. Quite a few of them now and  different ages, playing together, having fun, getting muddy and splashing in the puddles in the sandpit. You can imagine the mess! I smile as I watch and part of me thinks, thank goodness they aren't mine, all that washing, but there is also a part of me that thinks this is the way it should be, not stuck in front of the telly or the computer, but outside in the fresh air and with active imaginations working hard. Oh and don't misunderstand me, the kids do have other toys but they are quite happy playing with their spades and buckets in the sandpit for hours on end. Even if I haven't mentioned the children, I will have mentioned all the things that are springing to life again, even after such a long time covered in snow. This week the grass is definitely greener, the days longer and flowers are starting to appear again. We even uncovered our fruit trees from their plastic winter wraps and turned on the electric fence again.

Not the best picture in the world but that
really is a water vole. Looking fairly
petrified poor thing.
Animals have featured prominently just recently from the eggs in the incubators to the wildlife on our land and our cats. One day we were sat having a cup of coffee watching the insects and frogs in our pond when I glanced up and there was a deer stood on top of the hill. I was quite shocked as it was mid-morning and said "Oh! Deer!" Which Ian, who was looking the other way took to mean "Oh dear!" and thought I was joking about the life we lead, sitting around absorbing the sun and drinking coffee on such a beautiful Spring day. Fortunately I managed to get him to see I meant a deer and we watched as it bounced across the land - they don't really run do they, they bounce! Another beautiful morning drinking coffee by the pond and we noticed something climb into our overflow pipe, it was the water vole again. We have found out they are vegetarian and not something we want to encourage near our greenhouse, but we wanted to be sure it was a vole and not a rat. We went to opposite sides of the overflow pipe and Ian fed a small pipe down the pipe to encourage it to my end while I stood with a bucket in hand to catch the thing. I wasn't too happy about this as I wasn't quite sure what it's reaction was going to be or if it was really a rat, but I managed and whipped the bucket lid on as fast as possible to stop it escaping. We then sat and finished our coffee while debating what to do about it. I was fairly sure it was not a rat, as it's face was too round and I am not sure that rats swim under the water so much and in the end we decided to release it in the bottom pond, further away from the greenhouse and so we wouldn't disturb it as much and also we felt it belonged on our land anyway. Just hope it doesn't cause too much damage.

Bella doing her car inspection last week
As for our cat! Hmmmm! We went for a walk around our land and our cats followed us, it was more like having a couple of dogs with us the way they followed us about. Eventually we must have gone too far and they bounded back towards the greenhouse, well that's what we thought. We walked the land, shifted a few bales to give the grass underneath a chance to breath and then headed back to the greenhouse, after inspecting the bulbs near the oak tree on the way back - and yes our mini daffodils are nearly in flower again. When we got back to the greenhouse there was no sign of any cats. We weren't too worried as they usually returned at some point and sure enough Sophie did, but not long before it was time to go. I put her in the caravan and continued packing things away and sorting out but still no sign of Bella. We called her by name and whistled for her, no sign! We walked back up the hill, calling and whistling, still no sign! Eventually we gave up and headed for home, there was not much else we could do. The next day we were up early as we hoped it would stay dry and we could shift the rotten hay off the land, but unfortunately it started to rain as we headed towards the land, gently at first but heavier as we got nearer the land. When we got to the land we half expected Bella to leap at us as she is not the bravest of cats normally and we wondered if she had been terrified by her ordeal. No sign! As Ian wandered down to the barn though, there she was! She seemed pleased to see us anyway, and she even seemed like she wanted to stay out, but that was all bluff, as soon as we got home after finishing jobs off in the greenhouse - no collecting hay as it was now raining consistently - she went to sleep and has pretty much dozed for the rest of the time.

A scene from The Good Life! Or the Good Neighbours in
America, where it was also shown. If you have no idea what
I'm on about then go to this site for more info. 
A few weeks ago I mentioned that Ian has ordered me a birthday present, well it actually arrived and it did indeed come in plenty of time for my birthday, which was on Sunday (oh yes the day we were going to collect hay!!!!). An amazing feat for my hubby, that does not often happen. Love him really as I am probably as bad. He got me a full collection of "The Good Life" - rather appropriate don't you think? Ian credits the series as the reason we are in Latvia and doing what we doing, must have sown a seed in his heart I think. He was going to get it me last year apparently, but when he looked the series was about £250 and not even the complete series at that. Anyway one night recently he dreamt that we were the couple in the series and when he woke up he did some digging around for the series again on the internet and this time he found it and needless to say he didn't spend anywhere near £250 on it - I would've gone ballistic anyway. Well that is our Saturday night DVD nights sorted for errrm quite a while!

The balconies are being removed on this side and the guy
on the right is using a sledgehammer to break up the
concrete. I haven't watched long enough to see what happens
when they get near to the completion of each balcony though.
One final note, I thought it was interesting that the newest head of the World bank will actually be a development professional and not an economist. The World Bank is the biggest development agency in the world and not really as much of a bank as the IMF is. I wonder if the head will have an influence on policies? The World Bank has improved over the years but still has a long way to go on implementing policies that are proven or risking money to gain some improvements - not all money given in unstable situations is going to work and that does mean taking risks from time to time. There is also a need to be in development for the long term and not expect short term results - so where will that all lead? No idea! Let's hope and pray he is actually effective as a leader and channel money where it is needed and not into big expensive white elephants that displace many indigenous communities which has happened in the past.


Monday, 16 April 2012

How different!

Under that mound of soil is the last bit
of snow on that part of our land. There
is still some down the other end where
the sun doesn't get to as much.
Well what a difference a week makes, the snow has nearly gone, I have finished writing and so out and about on our land and in the garden and life is starting to return to our environment as it wakes from its winter sleep, even the grass has just a hint of green and not its post snow brown. Our ponds are starting to teem with life and we have already spotted the dragonfly nymph which we are keen to encourage as they eat mosquito larvae, and a water vole which we are not sure if we want to encourage as it is in the pond nearest our greenhouse. I had the fright of my life when something large, brown and with a rat like tail suddenly appeared and swam for cover in our pond. Ian also spotted our first lot of frogspawn ever in our ponds. He was a bit disappointed last year not to see any, especially since we have so many frogs that frequent the ponds and the year before we imported frogspawn from the pond nearest our apartment to increase the number of frogs we have - always a good thing when you have a garden.

Not a cloud in the sky and the storks soar 
I spent much of my time this week raking molehills and pig holes on the bank next to our currant bushes to flatten out the steep area that cannot be raked with the tractor, not an easy job but good exercise - at least that's what I tell myself when I ached the next day. I also planted more seeds in preparation for the middle of next month when we can start to plant things outside, albeit with some protection probably from previous experience, or in the greenhouse. Other jobs on the land included completing our new deep bed system that hopefully over time will improve the soil in the orchard plot which is a bit sandy. We have layered up rotting hay, of which we have got much, and topped with rotted wood chips. This will probably need some extra soil for the plants to grow in this year, especially the more shallow rooted plants, but next year will hopefully be an easy to weed but perfect substrate for the plants. Well that's the plan anyway. Ian also made a jetty for our top pond so that he can more easily get to the pond for watering the greenhouse. I think it will be a bit high for me to get buckets of water from, but maybe he can sort me out one of those windy up buckets that they have over wells - a project for when he isn't building fences, raking grass, harrowing ground, filling in pig holes, putting up wire for the tomatoes, landscaping around the barn, digging drains for the barn, ploughing some land for oats and clover, rotavating in the old buckwheat, and whatever else is on his list of jobs to do over the next month or two.
Such class work heh! The first step in

The new jetty, complete with woodchip path
so no slipping in wet weather


Sophie on the run!
We have also been adding to menagerie or at least plotting and planning to. We finally managed to get a source of eggs for our incubator and we went to collect them today and they are currently in the incubator. Hopefully we don't have to do much with it  for the next 19 days as it is an automatic one but then we prepare the incubator for hatching by increasing the humidity and stopping it from turning the eggs and they should hatch out at 21 days. Quite excited really as we saw in the lorry, where we collected the eggs from, whole trays of little fluffy chicks - very cute! Must remember though these are utility eggs and they are broiler chickens, some will be to raise more eggs but some will be destined for the freezer - sad I know but we love chicken and a decent roast chicken will be a very welcome change to the pork we get here. The other decision we've had to make is on the type of alpacas that we are going to get. We have finally managed to get in touch with someone with alpacas for sale that is easy to get to to collect them ourselves. He has offered us either two neutered (castrated) males and one which has won a prize but is an untried male, so it has potential to be a good breeder but that is not guaranteed or the two neutered males and a pregnant female but that female has had difficulty rearing her cria (baby alpacas) before and have needed some tender loving care to help them survive but could mean we have a breeding female and a baby so four altogether. We are thinking that the three males are going to be the best bet though as that means that next year we will already have the male and it will be easier to collect females next year if we decide we are going to go ahead with the breeding of alpacas. At least it is a step nearer to our plans anyway.

Two furry mechanics doing a bit of an inspection of the
bodywork of the car
Our heating situation continues to be a bit of a pain. For the whole of March the heating was barely enough to keep the place warm, but at least they haven't charged a lot of money for that - surprising really isn't it! Think it might have something to do with checking up on them? Who knows! This month the heating season is supposed to finish on April 15th and to be honest I am pleased the heating is still on today the day after the heating season is supposed to finish, as the weather has turned chilly with the rain, but I found the heating was too hot last night resulting in a poor nights sleep, could be something to do with our home being 21C instead of the 17C we had got used to. Something definitely needs to change next year, but what is a problem. The heating company despite apparently poor finances seems to have stocked up on wood chips - fairly wet woodchips judging by the smoke/steam coming out of the chimney stack, but why are they able to buy in woodchips when finances are poor? Is it something to do with keeping the dormitories warm for those working on the technical school's accommodation block and upgrading it to passibhaus standards (highly insulated standards)? Or could it be an amazing bit of forward planning of buying wood chip cheaply - experience tells me that might be an over optimistic thought, but you never know.

My original inspiration, but it
already looks nothing like this
I took the opportunity of a cold afternoon to start another fabric piece that is, as usual, turning out to be an evolving project, i.e. one idea triggering another. I liked the picture on the left by a textile artist called Bobby Britnell. I thought maybe I could do something along these lines but with blocks of fabric rather than painted blocks. I then decided some of the blocks of fabric needed dyeing and started off with teabags and then added some onion skins expecting to get an orangey-brown colour but it turned out to be bright, bright yellow. Looked nice! So my next idea is now to colour some more fabric with onion skins and then make some sunflowers to stitch over the top of the fabric blocks, i.e. nothing like my original idea.

Frogspawn
I nearly fell on the floor laughing when I read an article about the dear old chancellor for the UK, Geroge Osbourne and his shock that those who earn a lot do not pay much in tax. Errr! Which planet is he on? It does not bode well for the UK economy for a politician to be so blind to the ways of those who have much money. They pay accountants a lot of money to find any loophole there is in the system and anybody who has even an ounce of nous about them will know that is the way the system is played. Surely he was not that naive? Surely it was just the way it was reported that makes him look so silly? 

A bird box added to the barn
While we are on the subject of the economy, could someone tell me who owes what to who? Who are we risking people's health, and livelihoods to repay? And for what are they being repaid exactly? I know Greece cooked the books so to speak, but that was with the aid of Goldman Sachs. I also know there is a living beyond the means problem and so scaling back on some things maybe necessary, but foisting the cuts onto the poor and the needy, expecting the grassroots population to fund the paybacks is repugnant and unjust. Unfair debt is unfair debt and even more unfair when those least able to pay and least responsible have to pay for it. It isn't just the UK with the rich who pay little in the way of income tax after all. Sounds like Divine Comedy might have a very good point in their song the Complete Banker.

Can anyone led me ten billion quid?
Why do you look so glum, was it something I did?
So I caused the second great depression, what can I say?
I guess I got a bit carried away
If I say I'm sorry, will you give me the money? 
The pied wagtails are back. They seem to find it highly
amusing to torment the cats, especially by sitting on top
of the greenhouse where they can't get to and singing their
little hearts out.
So start trying to think of ways no matter how small to get out of the corporate culture, otherwise they will own everything in the end. It can seem like an immense task to get out of that culture but often these things do start in small ways, buying one fairtrade box of tea in five is a start, better than none. One hand-made article for a present for someone special, secondhand clothes, mending things instead of throwing them out. Those are just little things, but add up over time and help break the cycle of better, newer, bigger that we can get sucked into. So let's make sure that the next time the bankers or any other professions feel they can get away with sucking the economies dry there is not the scope for them to do that because we have turned to making our own local economies work, and paying others a fair wage to make what we cannot get locally, without relying on our credit cards to do that.

Even the ice has nearly gone on our bottom pond.

Monday, 9 April 2012

It is finished

Winter has nearly finished, not much left to go now. Mind
you I've said that before, about three times this winter.
It is finished indeed and no I'm not just talking about Jesus' mission to save mankind accomplished on the cross, I'm talking about my thesis. I finally completed the writing for my course and now it is just awaiting some photos, a grammar check and then it needs assembling into a complete document to send off to my tutor for his perusal and marking of course. It has taken me four years to get to this point, the first year I studied Development Management with the Open University, but due to the increase in fees I started a bit of hunting around for another course and found Managing Sustainable Rural Development with the University of the Highlands and Islands. I am so glad I did as I think this course is much more applicable to Latvia, where I now live, than the OU course, good though it was. The OU course was aimed more at developing countries, rather than a European setting, but it still gave me a good foundation in what development is all about  and the history of it that has helped me enormously in the current course. It also gave me a good start to get back into studying, for which I am very grateful, as it has been rather a long time since I was at Uni, in fact in the meantime my eldest had started a nursing course and is now nursing - that should give you an indication of how long ago it was. The course also gave me a Post Graduate Certificate in Development Management, maybe it will come in useful at some point.

A little creativity to stop me burning my fingers
Last week our car passed its technical inspection, or to be more precise the previous week, but who's counting? It is always a relief when our car gets through the technical without a hitch, especially as one year the inspector, who was inspecting our car, shook the car so much to test the suspension that we suspect it damaged the wheel bearing. It may have been going anyway, as the roads around here are tough on cars, but the shaking it got would have made it far worse. Even the tyres passed which is surprising, as we are still on the original tyres and we've had the car 4 years now, we will change them this winter though as they are slowly starting to perish. As you can tell the dirt roads we have around here maybe tough on the suspension, but they are not so tough on tyres, unless there are nails in the roads of course and we have picked up a few of them along the way. The dirt roads have been particularly bad this spring and we have never seen such a bad state in all the time we have been here and not to such a large extent, think giant washboard and you might get the idea. We have a robust 4x4 and even we were travelling at 20km an hour to save the car and I have never seen so many Latvians travel so slowly, it was like serious off-roading on road. We were expecting the roads to remain bad over the Easter weekend and so were very surprised to see the grader out on the Saturday and I'm glad to say the roads are greatly improved.

We even have flowers now
That reminds me we learnt the word for potholes in Latvian this week, fortunately it was through the insurance lady when we were sorting out the comprehensive insurance or kasko as it is called here - it is a name that kind of worries me, as it reminds me of the word catastrophe and I know that is what we want to insure against but I would rather not be reminded of that, comprehensive sounds so much more friendly. Anyway just in case you are wondering the Latvian for potholes is bedre and there are plenty of them around on the tarmac roads at this time of the year (yes we do have some around here, they are not all dirt roads). For small cars they are definitely worth insuring against as some of those holes are deep and you can bet they won't have enough money to do a good job on the roads and so once again as soon as the frosts are a thing of the past then the guys with their lorries of hot tarmac will be out patching the patches. Getting our insurance was quite a mammoth performance as we managed without an interpreter (although we had been in about a month ago with an interpreter to check things through and so she knew we would be back). I think we were there about an hour which included her photographing the car and getting us to test the alarm. The question is though, how do you test the alarm without actually breaking into the car? We managed in the end by winding down the window, locking the car and then Ian waving his arm madly through the open window and eventually it went off. Nice to know it is not over sensitive - I think! Next she needed to take some photocopies of the registration document, but wasn't sure which way round to do the copies so that the front and the back of our document was visible on the same page, side by side (it would have me confused too), meanwhile the photocopier jammed too. Well eventually Ian and the insurance lady managed to get the thing sorted and we were finished, apart from nearly leaving the registration document in the photocopier - bit of a problem as you are supposed to travel with that at all times here in Latvia.

Coltsfoot
Having finished my thesis meant I had a real sense of freedom for the start of this Easter holiday, rather apt really. Friday was a lovely day, if a little cool and so I went out to the land with Ian to soak up some sunshine and do a little pottering about. On the whole it was a fairly restful day, until Ian wanted some help shifting some timber that is. He was sorting through the timbers to see what was leftover from building the barn, as we want to build a shelter for the caravan. It is a bit old to be left standing outside and it would be better under some kind of protection. We are thinking of making it a more enclosed shelter then we can have an area in front of it that we can sit and relax out of the weather, rather than sitting in the greenhouse. It was a bit tricky negotiating with some rather long pieces of wood and I managed to slip in the mud, no bones broken, no ankles twisted but managed to get caked in mud. Yuck! Must remember to leave some spare clothes in the caravan.

The little finger puppet I made. The fabric
is some I had dyed a while ago and had tested
machine stitches on it. So as you can
see there is a reason for me never throwing
out scraps of material
On the Saturday I still went out with Ian, but took some sewing, as it was lovely just to sit in the warmth of the greenhouse and sew. I sewed a little finger puppet for our neighbour's little girl as we were invited to her first birthday party. I love going to the kids birthday parties as it is a great chance to sit and listen to Latvian in full flow and our neighbours fill us in with some of the conversation so we don't feel left out. It is also lovely to feel included, even though we are quite a bit older than our neighbours who have children, but somehow that doesn't seem to matter. We were treated to rasols or a sort of sausage and potato salad and cake and plenty of cups of tea. We also got to try maple juice, the sap from the maple tree. We've tried birch juice before and that can be okay but usually it tastes of aspirin to me, but this maple juice tasted of a slightly sweet but refreshing water. I guess that is another new taste to add to a whole host of other things we have tried since living here. The storks also arrived back outside our other apartment on Saturday and so now it finally feels like Spring may have arrived.

Purple flowers too. Must try and find out
what they are, wouldn't mind but I planted
them. 
Sunday saw us heading off to see some friends of ours that we have made through my course. Simon has written academic papers about Latvia, some of the few that I have found whilst investigating topics for my coursework. I realised that Simon was not a common name in Latvia and did a bit of digging around on the internet and found some contact details and contacted him. I was really interested to know what his research had shown about Latvia and Latvians as I thought it might be useful. Although Simon does not live in Latvia, he does have a house here and when he comes along with his wife, he gets in touch and we meet up. Simon and his wife have a wealth of experience of different countries and development and they love Latvia and so we always have much to talk about. We had a very pleasant day with good food and talk and a walk around the area but it was a little disheartening to walk around as Simon showed us the new wild boar damage they have and it was pretty extensive, not deep but certainly a lot of turf turned over. After my research on wild boar damage in our area I can see there could be trouble ahead in his area unless the hunters get on the case and take some decisive action, which they maybe doing fortunately; hopefully they won't end up with the same scenario that has happened around here with wild boars digging up year after year after year.

Gathering up the hay, yet again. This will only be good for
mulching and composting but that suits us fine.
At least the snow on Sunday didn't amount to much and didn't even stick, which was a little surprising since you may recall, if you follow this blog, that as soon as the snow has just about gone it has snowed again. Our friends to the south weren't quite so lucky though this time as they had about 4 inches of snow (10cm). That did mean though that Monday saw another glorious if cold day, another good day for those piles of snow to continue to melt away and for the ground to start to dry up. We pottered around the land in the morning waiting for the ground to melt a little and I got some tomatoes potted on into bigger pots and in the afternoon we started on picking up the hay off the field that we hadn't had the chance to gather up before the weather turned bad last year. Most of it was remarkably dry, but some was heavy and sticky and the ground became squelchy in places - there's still a lot of water in that ground. I seemed to spent a lot of time shifting hay by hand over the last few years, hopefully this year it will just be in small bales and not using a pitchfork. We need to shift the hay, otherwise it makes it difficult later on in the year to cut the new hay and also it gives the grass a chance to grow back better. It is also less of an attractor to the wild boar and there is enough of that damage on our land this year already from before the winter. If the weather stays dry enough then we might be able to get out and start to sort out some of the damage and get some grass seed down, now that will be nice. Hopefully I won't be too sore tomorrow either. Nearly forgot, we sold another 7 bales of hay to our neighbour and so we have just about sold all our spare hay now and nearly covered all our costs - very pleased.

Sophie
Ian ordered me a birthday present this week, not so unusual you might think but it is. I have been known to wait two years to get a present and not only is this present actually ordered, it is ordered in plenty of time that I might even get a present on my birthday, as it isn't until much later on in the month - now there's a novelty.

There's no pontification this week but I will share a little about our cats, as I haven't shared much about them lately. They are quite talkative cats - is that because they are female cats or are they just noisy? I do wonder as we've only had male cats before. I think Sophie has learnt off Bella, who is definitely the nosier of the two. Bella just tends to be noisy when she wants something but Sophie seems to try and communicate. It is hilarious though when Ian sort of says "neowww, neowww" and Sophie then rolls over on the floor - I thought it was only dogs that rolled over for their owners. Being the fluffier of the two she also slides across the floor easier, which she seems to think is a great game and lets Ian do it quite a few times and comes back for more, he's even started calling her Slidy Soph. The cats are also enjoying their freedom a bit more as we let them out of the greenhouse and even took them down to the barn this week as we hope they will keep the mice at bay in there. Well there is another week on the Baltic equivalent of the Archers combined with the Little House on the Prairie as one friend described our tales.

Bella being noisy

Monday, 2 April 2012

Spring cancelled!

Well it was nice while it lasted
After all the excitement of seeing the grass again last week it was sad to see it get covered again under a layer of snow. Spring and winter have had a right spat this week, with any signs of spring being rapidly covered by yet another layer of snow, then the sun comes out and melts the snow and spring fights back, only to succumb again later. Currently it is white again. Not white enough to keep the storks away though and I saw one today flying in over the nearby school. Silly birds, they should have waited until the weather warmed up.

Green grass! Okay I know for most of you that is not the
most exciting thing in the world but it was a sign of spring
At least Sunday was lovely, well out of the rather brisk northerly wind that is. It was lovely to see the snow receding throughout the day and although the grass looked a little weary, it was still good to see. Our land was still wet but not gushing, as the amount of snow still left to melt receded. I mainly pottered around the greenhouse and took forays out in the sunshine to take photos. We have peas, cauliflowers and cabbages starting to sprout in our greenhouse within the greenhouse, but we had to put a layer of polystyrene under and over everything to help ward off the cold night time temperatures.

But it didn't last and we saw signs like this most of the
week on and off.
Today though put a stop to all that euphoria as it snowed for much of the day and Ian has been trying to tiptoe around me as I continued to work at my dissertation. I have been trying to make sure all my references are squared with the text and typed up correctly - a bit of a nightmare and a tedious job really. Ian doesn't do that well cooped up any more, but at least a brief wave of domesticity over came him and he changed the bedding and got his outdoor clothes washed. I'm sure it won't last and he'll be out in the fresh air for much of the day again. He did manage to fix the leak from our top pond and it was not as bad as he feared, with a realignment of the overflow pipe and a big stone to block up where the pipe was laid originally and the pond is now as good as new, waiting for later on in the year when we do some more re-sculpturing to strengthen the ponds and level off the forest side of things.

We have had nice sunny days and you can see the snow
has nearly all gone in places. A bit tundra like though
and the wind was raw.
Ian has also been trying to co-ordinate a trip to the UK to get some alpacas and that is proving to be a big headache. First of all we want to travel using ferries as much as possible to save long overland trips with our horse box, but there will be nothing in it on the way to the UK, going back though we will have animals. With me so far? Well on leg one Klaipeda, Lithuania to Kiel, Germany it was easy, provisionally booked no problem, leg two same company, Esbjerg, Denmark to Harwich, England we have to book as cargo!!!! Leg three Harwich to Esbjerg we have animals, further complications, and leg four is also cargo division but different department! It's all the same company and I won't bore you with all the details but suffice to say, it is no wonder people travel by plane or drive.We are now seriously looking at seeing what is available in Sweden as Ian got a much more prompt reply from Tallinlink who do the Riga-Stockholm link than from the DDFDS routes to England. It is also a bit cheaper than we thought it might be and is making the extra costs of the alpacas look worthwhile. So we now email the Swedish alpaca people and see what they have to say about costs and see what they have. The internet does have its uses in many ways like for booking trips and finding out information, but I also think it makes it even more frustrating when things don't work well, there seems to be less excuse for systems not to work.

The overflow pipe from the top pond to the middle pond
is creating some amazing ice sculptures. They look like
crystals in the sun
I was reading an article this week on municipal ownership in America where a district is planning to take over the provision of electric for the area. Now you would think it should work wouldn't you, power in the hands of the people? Yes it can work when the people are motivated enough to make sure it does, but when people do not expect much, then it won't, as many of us have experienced in times past when local authorities ran many of the local services in the UK and sometimes it was not run well at all. Problems often begin when people expect poor service and don't know how to challenge the status quo, then it doesn't work and the service becomes run for the interests of a few and not the people who really own it. That is the problem with the heating company here, it is supposed to be owned by the local pagast or district, that means it is owned by the people, but it is not run in their interests. Somewhere along the lines it has been hijacked and run with only a few interests in mind, but so badly its own debts are high. So who will be accountable for that? Where is it all going to lead? So where is it going wrong, is it too late to bring the company back from the brink? Who knows! Things can trundle on for a while and we are waiting for the procedures to take their course before pushing for the next step. The ideal would be with a fully accountable and affordable system, it should be possible, as many people have got the resources to actually supply the woodchip boiler that heats the apartment blocks and the school and surely it can't be any wetter than the stuff they are burning at the moment. We see smoke constantly emitting from the boiler house at the moment, and that is not comforting that means they are trying to burn water and not dry woodchip. Not impressed!

The hay rake is looking a bit lost now on the hillside

Fixed!

Home-made bread! Hmmm!

Lots of little tomato seedlings using wood slivers that you
can buy for starting the fire here to label them. Hopefully
we will keep everything labelled up properly this year.