Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Blooming Christmas to all of you!

Huddled together for warmth
Spent lots of money again this week and it was nothing to do with Christmas, but with -23C predicted and Ian out there in the cold, without electric then he needed some warm clothes. We managed to find some thermal wellies rated down to ...... get this ........ -70C. Can't even imagine what that would be like, -32C last year was bad enough. He also got some warm underwear, not sure they are rated down to those temperatures though. Unfortunately we didn't find any good gloves that will take the hammering of handling wood though and so he has had to make do with some cheapies for the time being. Previous years it wasn't too bad as we didn't have any animals out on the land, but this year has meant a change in routine and this early winter has meant our animals are having to put up with some pretty low temperatures rather early in the winter. Our alpacas are putting on quite a bit of fleece now in response and are sensible enough to stay inside their stable when the temperatures are really bad or when it is blowing hard. This week it was the chicken's turn to look a bit miserable, especially the males with their fine tails, which kind of looked sad when they are shivering - mind you it was -17C outside and not much warmer in the greenhouse.

Turn the heat up will you! Our alpacas, expectantly
waiting to see if Ian has brought some more food for them.
The good news is that on the electric front we are close to getting connected, they just have to get a counter in and then we are good to go. Mind you today's weather might not help as it has been blowing. If it blows the snow off the laden trees it might be okay but if it is just the last straw for trees hanging over wires then it will mean the electric guys will be busy again. I'm sure they will be looking forward to a Christmas rest if the weather will let them.

Frankenfeeder 2. Have you noticed how
people have latched onto the Franken concept?
There is now Frankenfish
I was a bit naffed off today as I had made my way twice to the post office this last week to collect a parcel that had arrived on Thursday and the post office was shut. We decided not to rush to get the parcel on the Friday when we got back from our shopping spree as there wasn't long before closing time and I thought that I could collect it on the Saturday instead, wrong! The post office shuts on Saturday, not sure when that happened, could have been a while ago as I haven't tried to go to the post office on Saturday for a long time. I had hoped that it would be open Christmas Eve too but not the case. I wouldn't have tried if I had realised that it was shut but didn't see any sign in the window. I have now been informed that all Latvian calendars give the government days off in red and they usually have the 24th, 25th and the 26th off and the post office follow the government holidays. Hmmph! I will not know until the 27th if the parcel is a present from my Mum, a book for my studies or a book for extending our gardening year or a surprise. So it will be a bit like the 12 days of Christmas in our house I think.

A Russian orthodox church in Jekabpils
Mind you I did get one present through by email, one from Oxfam unwrapped. When our daughter asked what we wanted for Christmas I said that they could take us out for a meal when we visit in April but she sent us a present as well, well a donation on our behalf to the farmers in Timor to learn more sustainable farming practices. It made me smile! Even if our presents haven't got through by post, one got through.

Driving in a winter wonderland
It has been a bit of a mixed week this week. I have just finished a present for our first grandchild due in January (sorry no pictures until they have seen it though). I am still finishing my parents' present. I thought I had nearly finished it, but it didn't look finished and so it needed more work doing on it. So once again the present will be late - not very good at getting presents to people on time any more. I have also still been doing more international trade negotiations. It means I am finding out lots of interesting facts like there isn't that much Ash in Latvia (not that there will be much Ash in other countries with that new disease), probably due to the colder climate. I have also been working on increasing understanding between the two parties of how each group works - that can always be a source of tension when trading partners don't understand the restraints or cultural differences and so just trying to smooth the path for both of them is interesting.

A winter wonderland walk to the shops
We have had more snow this week and so there have been plenty of snow clearing duties, keeps me fit anyway. I have also been doing some extreme gardening! Ian found a box with some garlic bulbs in and garlic seeds in the caravan- I had wondered what I had done with them. Anyway they needed planting now or there would be no point at all. In England it is said that garlic is planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest, so still time, the only problem was to find the ground to plant them in. Fortunately I knew where the other garlic bulbs were that I had put in earlier, as there was one of our A frame hay ricks standing over the top of them and so it was easy to work out where the bed was and where the paths were. So after digging down about a foot through snow we found the ground, which wasn't too frozen and so with frozen fingers I planted the bulbs and scattered the seed about. We also saw some leftover brussel sprout plants and so pulled them up as the chickens will enjoy them and we even managed to harvest enough for Christmas dinner. Who'd have thought we would be gardening at -15C, not recommended though.

A sunrise winter wonderland outside our home.
Taking apart a large hay bale in these kinds of temperatures is interesting, especially when the hay bale has been sitting around outside for two years. The inner bit is fine, but getting to it is challenging. We prised frozen outer bits off using a fork and a machete. It worked anyway and when we got down to a small enough core we were able to roll it directly into the greenhouse and just used a hay fork for all the loose stuff. At least we have plenty of hay for bedding inside now. We don't want to use the ones we've baled this year for bedding, at least not yet as we don't know how many we are going to get through yet and so we want to save it for food for the alpacas. I suppose we should be grateful that we didn't quite get the -23C forecast, otherwise it would have been even more challenging. At least the weather has been good enough to do some showshoeing around the land and we were able to check to see if there had been any recent damage from wild boar and I'm glad to report we didn't see any. We did see some other interesting tracks though and not too sure what they were. The problem is that the snow is powdery and so doesn't show footprints very well, but it did show an animal that could run and it wasn't a deer and certainly not a boar. It is possible it was a hunting animal of some kind which is a bit worrying now. Obviously we will have to continue to monitor the situation.

Nice of the wind to blow around the stable where the
alpacas sleep and not up against the door. The rest of the
field is knee deep in snow
Our car was in for testing this week too, as it hasn't been starting too well even at -15C. Ian has been taking the precaution of bringing in the battery at night so that at least it is warm. We found out that it was the two of the glow plugs that have stopped working. This is not good news in low temperatures. The glow plugs are heating devices used to aid starting of the diesel engines in cold weather. Not necessary in summer but crucial in winter. The car is running a little better since Ian changed the oil but still not happy in these temperatures first thing. Of course being Christmas it won't get sorted until the new year as they need to order in the parts. Good job the forecast is for warmer temperatures.

A windswept road
I forgot to mention last week that the tower on top of Gaizinkalns, the highest mountain (sorry hill, Latvia doesn't have mountains really) was blown up last week. It was built in the Soviet era to make the hill higher than the rival hill in Estonia which was 6m taller at 318m. The tower was badly built and never really finished and has been unsafe for many years. It does make me wonder though what other tall towers in Latvian life will come down? You can see the action here on this link. There are certainly some towers that need to come down in the area, particularly where people dominate others as if they still lived in the 1990s, just after the Soviet era, before the rule of law really got better established.

The site for our extreme gardening
A comment by someone this week led to one of those weeks where I feel compelled to ask "who am I?" and "what drives and motivates me?" I am a researcher, almost obsessive I guess, the desire to know and understand is deeply ingrained in me. My motive and desire is for truth and justice. I am passionate about truth, I don't mind stories, but I don't like it where a story is dressed up as truth, if it is a story say it is a story, if it is not then fine. Some emails and facebook posts are nothing worse than the old chain letters and should be treated in the same way, binned. There is no excuse for manipulating people to get a message out, it should stand or fall by its own merits and I know that means that some will fail, not because they don't contain truth, but just they get missed somehow. I get sick and tired of lies and half truths passed along with no one questioning of their validity. Why are people content to do this? Why do people not check? It doesn't take long, once you get the hang of it - 5 minutes perhaps!

The bridge across to the forest over the stream
My other passion is justice. I hate to see people labelled, ostracised, picked on. I have been described as a terrier before, a little dog with a fierce loyalty that won't leg go - I suppose they could be right. There are times I won't let go, not because I am always right, but I want to be sure I'm right at the end. I don't mind changing my mind, but convince me to do it first. Prove it to me, that is why I ask questions and lots of them. Asking the awkward questions makes people feel uncomfortable, and sometimes I make no apologies for that. I guess it just makes me the way I am!

One tree down due to the winter weather. Next year's firewood
My friend Mavis was musing on Christmas traditions recently and this week she commented on the tradition of Santa Claus. It reminded me that when one of my children was 5 he asked me if Santa Claus was real, so I asked him what he thought and he really didn't answer. Two weeks later, clearly having thought it through, his answer was "no." I don't believe in telling lies to children in answer to genuine questions and so I admitted the truth, but warned him not to tell anyone at school as it might upset some of them. He managed to upset one of the dinner ladies instead, who thought it was awful that a child of that age didn't believe in Santa Claus. I was somewhat amused. The dinner lady created the myth of Santa Claus to keep her child believing in it for years, even to the extent of putting "reindeer tracks"on the roof one year. It was almost as if her whole Christmas was dependent on her child believing in Santa Claus. No idea what happened when he finally worked it out, poor guy.

A little too large to take home for Christmas! The tale
of the Christmas tree will wait until next week
On the subject of Christmas I have to admit it, we as Christians can be grumpy, particularly around Christmas time, we don't like it if you say holiday and not Christmas, despite the fact that holiday is actually a shortened version of holy day, we don't like leaving the Christ out of Christmas despite the fact that it still leaves the cross, as in Xmas, and don't you dare mess with our nativity, that embellished story of our Lord's birth. We are also touchy on numerous other subjects and believe that we are in the right all the time, of course, well we have God on our side don't we? We want to pray when and where we like, even if it offends you and insist that you pray, even if you in all honesty don't believe. Yep I admit it, we Christians can be pretty bad news to many around us, unwilling to spread peace and goodwill to all men, irrespective of belief, irrespective of culture, irrespective of whether you are being honest enough to say what you do or don't believe. Sorry! So why do I still believe when seeing such grumpy behaviour and animosity to others because of the season? Why do I cling to those old stories as you might call them? Well it is because I look around at an awesome planet that we are in the business of trashing and still see the awesome creative God breaking though, I have walked a path where I have known my God and my Saviour walking by my side and whether I feel it or not, I know he is there and at the end of the day I still trust God to work his way through a lot of horror, evil, stupidity, ignorance and greed to weave a story that speaks of, to quote an old hymn, a guilty world being kissed in love and using a lot of broken people to weave that story.

On that note I, in the words of the immortal Raymond Brigg's Father Christmas, wish you all a Happy Blooming Christmas and on that note I shall now go and put up some Christmas decorations.


  1. Can't imagine what it is like to live and work in such low temperatures! Have a lovely time in spite of the cold! Don't get 'bored'! :-)

  2. The temperatures aren't the problem Ju, it is the wind. If the temperatures are low it is actually more pleasant than at 0C when it is damp and that feels cold. Unfortunately it has warmed up and we have rain.

  3. We've had nothing but rain for weeks - my garlic still isn't in the ground as it would have been washed out several times. I am impressed by your nonchalant attitude to cold!

  4. Hi Allotment Blogger, I was just reading your blog and feeling very sympathetic about your rotten weather. As for my nonchalant attitude to the cold, that could be because in the nearly 10 years since we left the UK, we have had snowy winters every year with some pretty cold temperatures. We have found that below -5C it starts to dry up and feel okay. We also now know how to dress in the cold and once you have that sussed it isn't that bad, just keep moving, but not too much to get sweaty and all is fine.


I love to hear your comments and will always reply, so go ahead, ask a question or just say hi