Monday, 28 May 2012

Tyre-ing week

A bull frog 
Not been a good week for tyres this week (tires for my American friends). One of the mud guards on our tractor keeps getting stuck and jamming against the wheel, this time  it ripped a hole in the side wall of the tyre while Ian was trying to fil in pig holes. Not helpful at this time of the year. Fortunately here in Latvia there is a make-do-and-mend type attitude and the tyre will be fixed, just takes a few phone calls to the right guys and a few days. Saves a very expensive replacement anyway.

Pretty field flowers
The next time we had tyre problems was rather inconvenient too as we were on the way to the airport to pick up two guys who have come to see what we get up to here in Latvia. Fortunately we had left plenty of time to get to the airport and we got there on time, just! It was still a little worrying as we had forgotten to organise swapping mobile numbers in the process - not very organised of me. Fortunately Ian had swapped the tyres around earlier on in the week and so it was a back tyre that went, we only knew about it when the road noise seemed to get incredibly loud and a van went passed us and the folks in the van were gesticulating madly to us and pointing downwards to tell us we had a flat. We pulled off the road and Ian backed up to a spot where there was some tarmac to give a firm surface for jacking up the car. There was a slight issue with the area as it was an area where giant hogweed was growing and if you don't know about this particular rampant noxious plant it is dangerous because the sap from it can lead to serious burns when the sun gets on it - not good on a sunny day. The large leaves were not an issue as they were easy to see and set back from the road, it was the small plants that were gradually getting a hold that were problematic, as it was just the area that Ian was working in to get the spare wheel off the car and clean up the very mud encrusted wheel. Ian had some plastic in the car for such occasions - experience is a wonderful teacher, so it saved him from the chance of actually lying on the plants. At least we managed to get sorted.

Pond beetle sunning itself in the sun
Our guests are new friends we have made via the internet - well kind of! One of the guys, Paul, is a guest blogger on another friend's site and he became interested in what we were doing when I made comments on his blog, his travelling companion, Geoff, is a recent friend to him and since Paul enjoyed Geoff's company on a recent trip to Sweden he invited him to join him on this trip to Latvia. Well we waited at the arrivals gate, wondering if our friend Paul, looked anything like his pictures on facebook and wondering who this other guy was. The glass rolled back and two guys who were obviously looking for someone walked through, sure enough Paul looked like his pictures and the guy next to him! "I know you!" he says and sure enough his face was very familiar to us. We have to back up quite a few years though, but Geoff was from a church we had visited many years ago, as it was in a town not so far away from Ian's parents, so when they used to meet together at the leisure centre in the town and we were in the area we would join in their meetings. Paul talks about our life's journeys and joining the dots up and this seemed to be one of those occasions, reconnecting of connections made many years ago in some very different and unexpected ways. I love the way God works.

Our paddy field with the river running through it
Well that was yesterday, as for the rest of the week! I mentioned last week that we had a very peculiar thunderstorm that just seemed to roll on and on, we also had a shorter one on the following day, but with plenty of rain and one of our fields ended up looking like a paddy field - maybe a good job we decided not to plant seed last week. We literally had a river running from a land drain that drains water from the road right across our field and unhelpfully pooling in the middle of it. Ian spent quite a bit of that morning making ditches to drain the water away. We found out later that a wild boar had got stuck and drowned in the drain, not many tears were spilt over the animal I'm afraid. Still got to find out what we are supposed to do about it though.

Ditch digging to drain the field
Had one of those really sweet moments this week which really brightens the week. My neighbours little son, he is lovely. He was the one I babysat for last week, he is such a helpful little guy. He helped me take some dahlias, that his mum was giving me, in his little wheelbarrow to our basement to await being planted up. I think he would have carried on carrying them in his little wheelbarrow, backwards and forwards as long as it took if I hadn't got my much bigger wheelbarrow out and helped. He's one of those little chaps who is older than his years and he makes me laugh in many ways and gives cheery waves that really give a lift to any day. Mind you that is such a change from a year ago, he really struggled with the fact we don't really speak Latvian and was incredibly shy, now he just chatters away and has even got another little girl chatting away to us too. I still have no idea what they are saying but I continue to nod in all the right places, so we get on well.

Our pond was turned a very strange chocolate colour after
the heavy rains
People think we are very busy, but I have to confess to cleaning taking a back seat at every opportunity and so sometimes I am really pleased that people come to visit as it means that it has to move up the priority list and get done. So floors washed, windowsills cleaned after they had got grubby from growing plants ready for the allotments and a general spruce up and we were set for our two guests. I like housework when there seems to be a purpose to it, but not the normal run of the mill stuff. All we want to do at the end of the day is generally flop and so we try to ignore the housework for as long as possible, bar making meals and washing up.

Peacock butterfly
Continuing on from last week's concerns highlighted by the UN about the problem that Latvia faces as the economically active population moves away, France24 ran an article too highlighting the demographic challenges. The bottom line, however, is that there are few jobs for the young and the authorities are not very good at enabling businesses to start up and mentor them to keep them going, hence they move away. To stem this tide takes a different kind of investment from encouraging big businesses to invest in the country, that is the lazy option and not a very helpful kind of investment. It looks good because many jobs can be provided on paper, but the truth is they are often poor quality jobs as the top jobs go to outsiders. Investing in an entrepreneurial types at local level with local connections requires investments in schools to foster the right ways of thinking - not state dependent thinking and it requires bold initiatives and infrastructure changes and is not popular in an age of austerity. The other problem is that an entrepreneurial labour force is not an acquiescent work force but active and so they are not as easy to deal with. Much easier to deal with a docile people, who accept the way things are run now.

Out on the land
The European Commission has issued warnings on a slightly different note regarding the trading atmosphere in Latvia and the warning runs like this :-
 As is often the case with the Latvians, when presented with a straight-forward competitive bidding process to upgrade and modernize its rolling stock, they have turned the procedure into a thriller, and a potentially costly and wasteful one to the taxpayer, due to narrow and well-connected special interests. 
This sounds like fun but it is not in the best interests of the nation. Hopefully there will still be thrillers written about this nation, but it will be one where they show how they can over come the problems of the systems they have with an ability to cooperate and see through changes. I would dearly love for the Latvians to commit to holding hands across the nation again and sing in changes to the old order of things. They did it before in the Baltic Chain and they can do it again.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Storms in the heavenlies

The Heavenlies are churning
It has been a bit weird today. A thunderstorm started around two in the morning and it didn’t really shift until about two in the afternoon. I’ve never known a thunderstorm roll on for so long. It makes me wonder if this is part of an answer to prayer. On Saturday I was walking between our two apartments and a strong breeze was blowing and I started praying for the winds of change to blow through our village, for the hidden things to be revealed and justice to flow. All through last night I could sense the flashes of lights, but there wasn’t a great deal of thunder that I could hear - I can sleep through thunderstorms though - but each time there was a flash I kept thinking it was angels zipping through the room. I remember thinking I know how the disciples felt on the day that Jesus was betrayed, as I couldn’t keep my eyes open I felt so sleepy. It was as if I was sensing something changing but was too tired to work out what. Well maybe that is the meanderings of sleep befuddled mind, but if things start changing here in our village and justice happens for the oppressed then I shall be very happy.
A Bumble bee gathering pollen from one of  our
numerous, nay billions of dandelions
Of course it might not just be our village where justice starts to roll out. Only this week the facade that Latvia is doing very well after the financial crisis swung open. A report finally mentioned that people are not doing well in Latvia, no matter what the GDP statistics say. A UN expert raised concerns about the problems of the poorest and raised concerns that the economically active are leaving the country, he also stated that the improving economic situation had to address the issues urgently. It makes sense really as these issues do not aid the sustainability of a nation’s economy.
The tadpoles are getting big
I am writing this blog in our caravan out on the land, not that we have the internet here but I can still use my laptop to type this up. The rain has been that heavy from the thunderstorm that it was even been bouncing off the ponds and the overflow pipes between the ponds are gushing, even the middle pond that loses water easily is full to overflowing and so there wasn’t a lot of chance of getting on with much but I did manage some greenhouse work. Ian has been out in the rain checking on all the structures;

Horse box - needs a new top
Workshop that will become the alpaca home- the roof is no longer leaking, so that’s okay
Greenhouse - a leak on the apex but no big issues
Barn - fine
What was nice though was being able to sit in the greenhouse and the caravan and watch the rain, only a few years ago we couldn’t do that as there was nothing built. We also spent a bit of time divot stomping. I only found out yesterday what divot stomping was, I had no idea. If you are as clueless as me, a divot is the raised bits of turf from a polo match and at half time spectators get out on the field and stomp them down. Now we don’t have polo matches on our land but we do have pigs that nose up divots and so it was those that we were stomping down since the ground is quite mushy.
The overflow from the top pond, to
the middle pond. That is a lot of
The rain reminds me, we think we may have worked out what the issue is with the orchard. Some of the trees look like they could have canker usually a sign of stressed tree but some of them look fine apart from the fact they are not coming into leaf. Our Swedish friend suggested that the high water table may have killed them off and that makes a lot of sense. We do have issues with water coming up in random places all over our land, even on the tops of the hill and so the water table must be high under normal conditions. In addition last autumn it was quite wet and this Spring it took a long time to dry out from the snow melt, not helpful for our trees. I should say though that our Gingko tree survived (or Gecko tree as it gets nicknamed in our house- well it sounds like Gingko doesn't it?) but that’s about it.  This means we have to either abandon the site of our orchard or do a rethink. Drainage is one option and it is on a sloping site so that helps but it will take a lot of drainage pipes as ditches are not an option, another option is to grow the trees in raised areas so that their roots are not sat in water, or some combination of the two. 
Enjoying being outside, although safely confined in the ark
On the animal front we candled the second batch of eggs, but we haven’t the experience to know for sure if they were viable or not. We did get two out of the fridge to compare them and that gave us a lot of hope that we have quite a few viable ones as there was a significant difference. We will try again next week as I think it will be quite a bit clearer then. The chicks that hatched out two weeks ago are now out permanently on the land as they just got too big to keep inside. They have grown so rapidly that they were bumping their heads on the mesh that keeps them safely penned in their box. They are not big enough to go outside all the time though and they are going to spend their nights in the greenhouse with some fleece over the top of their box to keep them warm and shade them from the early morning sun as the weather has been forecast to be warm (mind you, they hadn’t really forecast this thunderstorm, so I hope we made the right decision). On fine days they can go outside in the ark that Ian made, which they thoroughly enjoyed yesterday, but of course it was much too wet today to put in the little chicks which haven’t got their proper feathers yet.
Ian has been stripping the bark off logs
ready to make fence posts for the alpacas
We also have good news on the alpaca front, it seems like the Latvian veterinarian department are passing the responsibility to the Swedish vets and as long as it is fine with them, it is fine with the Latvians - that sounds like it is good to go then! Well nearly! We still have the issue with the transportation and might just need to spend a little time sorting that out this week.
I actually did some babysitting this week and was due to start at 6:30am. I woke early though as our darling, blessed cats managed to knock over a clothes airer and were making a right racket at 5:30am, at least it meant I didn’t sleep in! The children were supposed to sleep till 8am but as is usual in these cases one woke up before the parents left for work. Still I got to watch Rio, a film about a blue Macaw, not sure of the exact details as it was on very low and in Latvian anyway. It was funny though watching the places I have seen in Rio but cartoon caricatures of them. All kind of familiar but not familiar at the same time. Despite the language problems the babysitting worked out quite well, the oldest of the two chatters away in Latvian and I chatter away in English and we both nod and humm in all the right places as if we understand each other perfectly. It works!
Yes that's me in Rio. I had long hair then and it wasn't so grey
It is taken from the look out area where the Statue of Christ
Not the best video quality in the world as I was just using my camera phone but this is Ian ploughing with the two wheeled tractor again this last week. As he says, "Once the plough is set up right it goes really well!" Usually takes him about five rows to remember (I'm just as bad by the way, always forget the best way to set things up until I'm up and into it). I think he should add his findings on the blog, one for future reference to remind himself how to set it up and if anyone else ever wanted to know. Mind you a better video camera would be needed to do that.

Re-imagining a new world, does prison start with this?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Naff week

Our Christiania bike finally made it out of the
basement to our land. I was using it the other
day to cart water and compost to the orchard
If I had written this blog yesterday then it would have been a different tale, one of woe and misery because that is how we felt. I was so ticked off yesterday that I said to God that I really needed some encouragement to keep going and sure enough he sent blessings our way. Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed. The weather was perfect for working outside, not too hot and not too cool, on the way out to the land the clouds were so unusual; to me they looked like the tops of mountains and I just imagined it was like having the mountains that surround Jerusalem surrounding our piece of land. I also received two emails that were encouraging, which helped to buoy up my mood. The problems of the previous week are still there but I have more courage to keep going at them. I was clearing turf today to clear the way for a path that will keep the weeds down better and as I was chopping away at the turf bit by bit I felt God say that is what we were doing, clearing the way but it is tough at times and it is slow work but if we keep going we'll get there. That's good enough for me!

You can see the wing feathers are appearing. This is their
favourite pose - all huddled around the feed pot. I never
realised they could grow so fast, no wonder these could be
ready for the pot in as little as 8 weeks. 
Our final tally with the chicks was four, which is not exactly brilliant. One died at the pipping stage, which is a real shame as we heard it cheep and we saw it pecking it's way through but it just didn't make it. A little bit of me wonders if we could have saved it. Part of the problem was probably how we handled the incubation stage, so I have learnt from the internet. I don't like learning things the hard way when it comes to animals, but it would be worse if we didn't learn. I learnt that when it says that chicks can remain in the incubator for 48 hours without a problem, then it really means that do not, unless in extreme circumstances open the incubator until all the eggs have hatched, so they can bond together and possibly even help each other out. It also means that the environment doesn't fluctuate so much. Having said that it looks disconcerting to have a little chick floundering around in the incubator, bashing into all the other eggs and possibly banging into the section that keeps the incubator humid for hatching, it looked like it would hurt itself or the others in the process.

Our asparagus has survived the winter.
Unfortunately we have to wait until next year
before we try a spear or two and it won't be until
the following year when we get a proper harvest.
I also learnt that our broiler chickens are probably Cornish crosses, a hybrid that grows very rapidly and apt to keel over from a heart attack due to obesity. Judging by the ways these little ones grow and eat their food I can see that is no exaggeration, they are monsters already and to think they are only a week old. And eat! They are guzzling machines. I had hoped to breed from them, but I'm not sure if we will manage. I know they won't breed true but maybe we can cross them with something that will grow slower, but nearly as big and be less likely to have the flaws of the monster breed. They are still cute though. We have our incubator up and running with another 24 eggs but this time they are layers and we will see how much of a success we have with these. We will candle them (shine a bright light through the eggs) on Thursday to see how many are viable, hopefully in some ways not all of them as 24 chicks in the incubator would seem rather a lot.

Ian has been doing some more ploughing, this time with
the two wheeled tractor. Takes longer but doesn't use so
much fuel and gentler on the land.
I also found out this week that doing a PhD is expensive £3828 a year for the next three years, a big step up from my £1300 (or thereabouts) for the Masters year. I feel God set me on this path and so there has to be a way, but at the moment I can't see it. Spending that much money would dip massively into savings which is what we live off. If we use the savings for me to pursue the PhD then savings aren't going to last long enough. Hmmm! Back to the drawing board I think.

We may have possibly lost our orchard, but
this was the view on my coffee break one
cool day working in the greenhouse. Life
is still good!
We have also possibly lost our orchard, or the majority of trees from apples to pears to plums. One apple tree and one plum tree are the only ones that show any life on them at present, all the rest are dormant or dead. Ian jokingly said that he was cutting the grass in the graveyard today and we ought to have some tombstones cut for it. All around is showing signs of life and so it seems strange that we are seeing nothing on our apple trees, although I think that it does look like some trees may have canker which can kill young trees. I know it has been a tough couple of years for them since we put them in as the first year was very hot and humid, with rain every week and a half and last year we had a full month without rain and had to resort to watering them. We've also had some tough winters with record lows this year and so maybe they were just too stressed to survive. We don't know but if there are no signs of life after two weeks we will have to take them up and burn them.

The first of what might be a series of stone
pictures for a fellow blogger Diane, from
Digging in the Driftless. We were talking
about stone walls and how they are made.
So here is a Latvian example.
We made it onto Latvian TV again this week, well our car did as we drove past the cameraman who was taking a shot of our apartment buildings. We did wonder at the time what he was doing. The reason for the cameraman was to get a report on the fact that our local water company, who also happens to be our local heating company, have allowed a pipe to leak raw sewage into the pond next to the apartment block for the last two years, despite being alerted to the fact. They did fix the leak - the morning of the report though! How convenient! I must admit though, I wish we had known that whilst watering our veg, good job we water sparingly and only when we have a drought and to water seeds in.

I love patterns and this is the reflection of a
net curtain we have hanging over the
doorway of our caravan to keep out insects.
I can't show you the swirling effect as it blew
about in the wind but it is quite mesmerising
Talking of our heating company, that also contributed to the naff week. We have been letting the processes work their slow way through before settling up our bill for the first four months of the year, as we object to paying for heat that was inadequate, but the company have sent us a letter to say they are going to call in a debt company if we do not pay by the end of the month. They also wrote another letter that said, because people have complained about the quality of the heat they are not going to turn the heat on in autumn. The phrase that springs to mind is "if you don't play by my rules, you can't play with my ball." They have stated that according to the contract they can do this, but according to the contract they should supply us with heat that gives us 18C +/- 2C, which shouldn't be too difficult as we have double glazed windows and new radiators, but they didn't all the time. Well we have to work on a letter in reply to that! Hmmph! Not a happy bunny was I!

Still a lot of seedlings to pot on or out. Growing season is
definitely under way.
And last but not least naffness of the week. The alpaca saga, and saga it is indeed. It's sorted, it's not sorted, it's sorted, it's not sorted - it is driving us batty. Now someone has decided that we need to vaccinate the animals before they can come into the country, but we think this is different if we were getting them from Germany or Denmark, so we now have to argue the case and this is just making delay after delay. The problem with a vaccination is that they have to wait 42 days to see if it has taken, but that then leads to transport issues. The other issue we thought was sorted is the transport, due to the fact the seller is away when the transporter was available for all but one day. We also found out that the van to transport the animals doesn't actually belong to the guy we thought it did, but to a friend and it may or may not be available. Sorry if all that sounds complicated but it is! It doesn't have to be, this is the EU with common rules for all and there is not the need for all this complication, it would also be nice if we knew all facts up front, rather than bit by bit, but that's how it goes!

Ian has been doing a lot of sorting out of
wood piles this week. This piece would look
great polished up but I think it will just end
up on the fire. We also need heat in winter.
Like I said at the beginning, the problems remain but at least we have the courage to face them again. We just felt really tired yesterday and sick of the issues. So thanks to those who took the time to encourage us, it was greatly appreciated.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Phew again!

So green now!
It has been an exciting week but it was "Phew!" because of the temperatures this week. The weather has been glorious, especially when the cool wind dropped. I was working in the greenhouse at one point and it was 30C in there, not too pleasant. Fortunately today the temperature was much lower and we had some much needed rain, as it hadn't rained for two weeks. It's hard to believe that just two weeks ago we were praying for the rain to stop and the land to dry out finally after the winter. This has meant though that we have got a lot done on the land in preparation for our alpacas and for the growing season ahead. Ian has shifted all the wood from the area where he was working to make way for the paddock we are going to construct and we've shifted the remaining bales of hay off our ski hill to let the grass grow. We are going to need hay for our own animals this year and so it was quite important to get that job done. Ian also finished off the rotavating of the allotment plots, as well as rotavating a new area in our orchard plot so that I can put herbs in and rotavating some pig damage on a steep hillside to level it off.  He has also filled in some other deep pig holes on the land. If we didn't deal with damage cutting the hay later on in the year will be a nightmare. Not content with rotatvating Ian also ploughed a section of land in readiness for an oat and clover mixture that we shall plant for a slightly more nutritious feed for our animals.
Orchard plot

Rotavated pig damage

Ploughed land

All the tomatoes in and most are made cosy with a bed
of straw. As you can see though, there is still the other
side of the greenhouse to sort out and plant up. That's
what comes of using the greenhouse as a storage place
over winter.
You should see the list of jobs Ian has written for himself, it runs to a full page of his notebook where he writes down all his jobs and where things are planted. I haven't been idle though, I have planted all the greenhouse tomatoes this week and made sure they are all cosy with a nice thick bed of straw, as well as planting onions, peas, beetroot, hamburg parsley, fodder beet, cabbages and cauliflowers. We have such a short season that it is tempting to get everything out but we can still get cold temperatures and so we have to be wary. The longer days also are quite deceptive too, as there is still a hint of light in the sky at 10 pm now and there is some light in the sky at 4am, by 5:30am the sun is up and the day is bright which doesn't help when trying to get some sleep for the day ahead. Sunday though we slept in until 8.22am - that is really late for us. We often sleep in until 8am on a Sunday but not this week. Maybe we needed it!

Chick number 1 - no names but then again there is no
guarantee that we will know which is which by the time
they all hatch
I said it has been an exciting week and that is because we are now the proud owners of three baby chicks. We candled the eggs when we got back from our Swedish trip (which means shining a very bright light through the eggs to see if there is a chick inside) and we were a bit disappointed to have to take out 14 of the 24 eggs we had bought, as they didn't seem to have been fertilised. They weren't expensive and so it wasn't the end of the world but it was kind of sad to have to take them out of the incubator. To leave them in though risked infecting the other eggs if they went bad. On Saturday we took the incubator of the rocker mechanism and raised the humidity in preparation for the chicks hatching, and on Sunday the first cracks appeared. This morning Ian came in with his usual cup of tea for me and he announced we were the proud parents of a baby chick. Maybe that was why the cat was meowing at 5am this morning - I wasn't impressed with her for waking me up with her noise and let her know what I thought. When we got back from the land baby chick number 2 was hatched. I told our neighbour who has a little boy that some of the chicks had hatched and so they came round to have a look and we all watched with delight as chick number three hatched. I don't know which was the best, seeing the chick hatch or the little boy's face lighting up as it managed to kick off the last bit of egg shell.
Chick number 2 looking a little groggy

We haven't got our alpacas yet and it is still a work in progress but we did get the chance to talk to the person who we hope is going to transport them. That was an interesting evening as the guy who will hopefully transport the alpacas is German, but his wife is Latvian. The Latvian lady's daughter was visiting and speaks good English and so we were invited round to talk about the details for the transportation. It was a rather pleasant evening as we sat outside and as we had walked around Ian even had a beer (he does not drink and drive at all), we chatted about the alpacas but also got onto other topics including the inevitable question of what were we doing in Latvia (if you don't know then you can read a potted history here). This story is not a short one and made even longer because it had to be translated first into Latvian and then into German - mind you the story got shorter with each translation I noticed. I think its great how we can have a great time despite the language barriers and we even got invited back any time, which was rather nice.

Marsh marigolds
We do live in a beautiful place but it is not a rich place and so we were rather surprised to be told that the gardens at the back of the apartments where we have one of our allotments along with about 20 other people is up for sale and the price tag is 80,000 Lats ($149,300 or £92,000) for 4 hectares (about 10 acres). These seem like Riga prices to us, not rural Latvia prices. If someone was to pay those kinds of prices it would price the locals out of the market, it would also upset those who would lose their gardens - a source of fresh veg which is not readily available in the local shops and also a necessary supplement to reduced wages and reduced pensions. If someone was to buy the land for building then they would be building on a steep piece of land and be overlooked by the technical school, the accommodation block for the school, several homes and an apartment block. I somehow think that anyone paying that much money for a piece of land would not want that - well I hope they don't. The reason for the sale is a financial crisis for the Latvian Lutheran church that owns the land. It would be interesting to see if they can choose a different economic path when it comes to selling property they own. It is a real chance to engage with the community and to seek a fairer more equitable share of the property.

A rather tired pussy cat after spending a night out on the land
So in the face of so much crisis the artwork "The Scream" goes for a record sum, hmmm now why does that remind me of that song again (Del Amitri "Nothing ever happens" which I have blogged about before several times). When will record sums stop being paid for paint on canvas? There are plenty of artists today who would value the revenue to keep producing beautiful objects, inspiring pictures or challenging prose. How many potential entrepreneurs could have been given a start with that sum? Instead the money is locked up in a single painting, painted by a man who is now dead! I think we should value old things, our history etc. but we need to value the living more.