Monday, 25 March 2013


Well some signs of Spring! Inside! The
peppers are producing nicely, from the
plants we brought in from the
greenhouse last year.
I should be in Tartu tonight, braving the still icy paths, but I'm not. I'm sick and have been over the weekend so decided it was not wise to travel up today. Good job, I was asleep for two hours this morning and another half an hour this evening. I am on the mend, not coughing so much, thank goodness, but it hasn't been terribly convenient. It should have been the last week up in Tartu for a while and I so nearly brought my suitcase with spare clothes in back last week. Wish I had now. If I am well enough and Ian doesn't come down with it in the meantime, we will both travel up to Tartu, so I can go to the lecture and fetch my suitcase. If not it is plan B for what I take with me when we go away. It is not exactly what we want when we are contemplating going to see family, especially new born grandchildren.

Some of the things you notice when you let your mind
wander! In the centre of this picture of a train seat is "Jo,"
a name I am known by in England, Australia and the US
who almost automatically shorten names. 
As I said the paths are still a nightmare and I suppose I shouldn't complain when you see the snowdrift pictures coming from the UK. Snow is one thing, but drifting in strong winds is not pleasant. My Mum and Dad are once again snowed in. Good job they are used to it. The problem I have noticed more than anything else, about trying to walk on the paths, is how it narrows down my focus to just a few feet in front of me. Tartu is a beautiful town with lots of interesting buildings, well that is what I glimpse, but all I seem to see is ice. I decided it is a bit like being overly busy too, your focus narrows down to the few feet in front of you and taking your focus off the broader picture of where you are and what you are doing. A BBC article talked about the value of allowing children to get bored, allowing them freedom in their brains for creative thinking. One commentator also said it was good for adults too, allowing brains to wander over the landscape of our minds. I am sure we would be much more productive as a society if we did that more often. I know there are folks whose minds are in the clouds most of the time and that is not always helpful either, but allowing our brains time to wander helps us to make connections we perhaps wouldn't have made before.

Outside Eduard Vilde's cafe. Statures of Oscar Wilde and
Eduard Vilde, who never actually met in real life, but here
they are having a chat. 
It has been an interesting week of making new connections and reconnecting with old friends. About a week ago I had an email from a lady who lives in Tartu. She had read of my worries about getting stuck in Tartu if I missed my bus and had very thoughtfully offered a place to stay if I needed. She had been following my blog for a little while, but never commented, so the email was a little out of the blue. We agreed to meet up in Tartu over lunch to get acquainted, and she treated me to soup and salad at Eduard Vilde's. Well we chatted and chatted about all sorts of subjects, from the price hike of electricity in Estonia since they privatised the electric market (something that three people have now mentioned who live in Estonia, so obviously a worry) to growing vegetables and a little history of ourselves and where we've been. Mind you, as some things are on my blog, some of it was already known to my blog follower which is a little weird when chatting to someone I've never met before, but I guess one of those things I should get used to if I meet folks who have followed it.

The flags were out. At least we took them down before
the Latvian flags were out at half mast or with black ribbons on, commemorating the exile of
many Latvians to Siberia 
As I said we also had a lovely day with old friends, who we have known for nearly as long as we have lived in Latvia, but don't see so often as we live quite a few miles apart. In fact they have never made it to our apartment before and since they are English, I put out the English flags specially for them (thanks son for the flags, knew they would come in useful sometime). I must have been coming down with something when they came as I managed to have a few senior moments (or is it intellectual overload as another friend prefers to describe such moments) - I forgot to put the flour in the Yorkshire puds so had mini baked omelettes (nice in a sandwich), I nearly forgot to put the bread in the oven too. Goodness only knows what else I managed to achieve in the process. Still it meant we had plenty to laugh about and that is one thing we are good at when we meet. One of the problems of getting together is the fact we do like to chat - a lot! Had you noticed? So going all the way to their house and having to get back for the animals in the winter time when the days are short is not easy, there is just simply not enough time to chat, as much as we would like and even then they only left because it was getting dark.

This is the nearest we get to Spring
outside. That patch though is over
the spot where the heating pipe runs
I am not a great fan of genetic modification, aka Monsanto style that aims to tie up the market and keep farmers coming back to them time and time again for expensive seed and using genes from unrelated species i.e transgenic crosses, but I did see a model that I am prepared to accept. Crossing genes in the laboratory with crops from the same species, or cisgenic crosses, is far more acceptable to me. It is really doing in the laboratory what it would take years to do in the fields anyway. I also like the way that the Dutch University, who are developing blight resistant potatoes, are allowing the potatoes to be grown under licence by more than one company to prevent a monopoly. A much more healthy way to use scientific skills I think, especially after the problems of last years wash out crops of potatoes. The potatoes used are wild potatoes from Mexico and not a completely different species. Introducing wild potato genes is also likely to improve the genetic variability of the stock. Of course there still needs to be strict testing, as there should be for any new strain of plant, just to make sure that a monster has not been inadvertently created, but at least it is a start in a better, fairer direction. It should never take over either from the slower way of improving stock, that in itself may throw up other possibilities and the more possibilities we have of preventing major crop diseases the better, as long as it isn't introducing those unnatural genes into the mix.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Signs of Spring?

Pristine white snowy fields behind. Spring? Where are you?
No chance! Unless of course you consider the longer sunny days a sign of Spring. After all I actually arrived at my accommodation in Tartu in the light this week, a first. Unfortunately the temperatures are still so low that the nightmare ice is still in abundance and the sun is still glinting dazzlingly off the white stuff. Shows we live in a pristine environment that means we are not reduced to miserable mucky white stuff by now. Patches of winter weary grass are occasionally visible on sunny slopes, or where heating pipes lay underground, but apart from that - no, nay, never. I had hoped to lose some more weight with all the walking too and from the university up in Tartu, but I need a brisk walk not a slow shuffle, which is what I end up doing. 

This is the path that Ian chipped away
in the path so I could walk on
something other than solid ice. He hurt
himself with the metal rod he was
using too, so not having a good time
just lately
Poor Ian also went for a slide today out on our land and hurt his ankle, hip and neck. Not badly but he is waiting for the bruising to stiffen and see what happens then. So it is not just me, who needs to take care, although I am often in awe of those folks who just stroll on by as if they are on a dry path. I just don't get it! How do they do that? I have done fairly well on the ice and only minor slips all week (I hope you are taking note Liz, I did try not to do any ice skating), the most embarrassing one was thinking I was walking on water and it turned out to be black ice on a slope outside a supermarket and in full view of just about anyone in that busy area - in Valga. Still at least I glided fairly gently into an untidy heap and didn't come down with a wallop.

The snow melting does make some quite remarkable
snow sculptures though and just look at that blue sky
Apart from on ice I like to live dangerously. Teehee! I decided not to risk the ice to get my afternoon bus home, so after discussions with my host I decided to get the local bus down to the bus station. I was instructed to get the  no. 8 bus from close to the university, but instead  I got the no.6 which arrived earlier. I worked on two principles, the first is that it said Kesklinn on those flashy screens they have and since I had seen that followed by the word "centre" I reckoned that it was fairly safe to assume it was going in the direction I wanted. The second principle was that most buses head into town in such a small place anyway and couldn't be too far from where I wanted to be. Once down the hill the paths are a lot better and so I would be able to walk quite quickly to where I needed to go. Who said life was boring!

This is our rather stupid cockerel, we call him Charlie
because he's a proper Charlie (idiot). He would look really
grand but on the back of his comb, to the left, you can see
a bluish tinge, probably frostbite and all because he
won't go into the ark some nights. He would rather stop
out and it is still getting pretty cold at nights. Sometimes
he is caught and thrust into the box at night, but not always.
You'd think he would learn it was colder out than in, but no!

To keep up the excitement of travelling I tried to help an older lady on the train on the way home. She had asked me if the train fare was paid for in lats or euros and I said both (are you impressed, she asked me in Latvian and I understood), but of course there had to be a problem didn't there. She only had Euros and I'm not sure what the problem was, but she turned to me and asked me something to do with Euros; in the end I paid for her ticket in Lats and she gave me the Euros but I nearly short changed her. Whoops! The very patient conductor, who spoke more English than he was prepared to admit, managed to sort us both out so we were both happy and we both had tickets.

I threw some soot onto the snow to encourage it to melt
this week and it seems to be doing the trick. A few inches
gone, only another two foot to go.
The excitement continues as far as travelling is concerned. Our car went for its technical this last week and it failed due to a hole in the rubber boot on the driveshaft, so Ian took it straight around to the garage to book it in to be fixed. After the car was fixed the guys at the garage said the front wheel bearings and something in the suspension were in bad shape, something that should have failed in a technical inspection, which was odd. The garage though often tries to save us money, when we have a problem and so we have learnt to trust them, but just to be doubly sure Ian did take a look at the car over the weekend and sure enough it didn't look good. This left us with a dilemma for today as I was due to travel up to Tartu again; in the end we borrowed a car from a friend, rather than risk ours on a long drive on some rough roads for Ian to take me to the train station. It was an interesting trip driving a little two wheel drive polo after our big four wheel drive Mitsubishi L200, one L200 passed us and we realised how much bigger our car really is. One thing we are particularly grateful for is that fact the garage told us about it and it meant we didn't find out the hard way on some isolated country road or even worse on a patch of bad ice. A wheel bearing packed in on us before, possibly due to the way the technical was done, but they were gentler this time around, but still it should have been failed on that point (for the previous story see here and here).

These are our raspberry bushes that are half covered. They
are taller than me.
I was chuffed to bits this week that finally my tutors said an abstract was fine to be sent off for admission to a conference - not sure how all this stuff works, but I'm sure I will learn fast enough. I uploaded it to the site and with a great deal of relief it was accepted by the conference organisers. That now means I'm off to Italy at the end of July and meanwhile praying like mad the weather is okay over the summer so that we get the hay in before I go, otherwise I'm in big trouble. The next stage is to find out how to get the travel costs met and to see what else is funded or not as the case maybe. All very new to me applying for grants and reimbursements. 

There are two small pike in there and I
think the rest are small bream, but
since I'm not a fisherman, I can't be sure
I said earlier on this year (about two weeks ago) that I felt God say he would provide for us in some unexpected ways this year and he certainly has done this week. I already mentioned the electric which we had inadvertently prepaid and this week we have an abundance of fish. I looked in the freezer the other day and thought it is getting a bit on the low side in the meat department- it will certainly see us through until we go away, but a restock would be nice, a wild boar perhaps I thought? Instead we have the fish. A friend was opening up a big hole in his lake as the oxygen levels will be getting low - the long winter won't have helped and many of the fish he pulled out would have died eventually and so rather than waste them, he thought he would take some to a friend - us! I will always accept good sources of protein and you wouldn't get much fresher than these as it was so cold the fish were just about frozen when he brought them anyway.

Herkules, the alpaca (there spelt it right this time!). He
looks like he is in desperate need of a hair cut though
Last week it was Estonian mother tongue day, where they take great pride in the fact the Estonian language has survived despite the country being taken over by the Danes, the Swedes, the Germans and the Russians at various points in time. It is a similar language to Finnish, but is still distinct in many ways. I know I should take more care in my own mother tongue at times, especially since I used to home educate my children. My two boys were particularly bad at spelling, one would spell phonetically and one would spell creatively, in other words I had no idea what he was trying to spell at times. It turns out the youngest was dyslexic and so explains quite a bit of his problems, but he did improve at home. I'm sure though that in the process my spelling got worse (don't even go there with the grammar); well my host does a lot of proofreading and on reading my blog found a couple of mistakes. The first was the very basic mistake I used "their" instead of "there". I feel like I should write that out a 100 times, so I remember next time, I must have made the boys do that a few times in their education. The next mistake was to call Hercules (or rather Herkules, because he is Swedish) an alapca and not an alpaca. Mind you we sometimes call them our alapalacas anyway when we are in a silly mood.

Ian cleared a section of the field from snow. I know we have
small bales, but it is still way over the height of those. Not
as much as in previous years, but still quite a bit of snow
still to go
Language does have a habit of changing with time though and that can lead to problems. Take the song "The sun has got his hat on," such a jolly little tune that comes into my head quite readily, especially when the sun hasn't been shining for a while. I only know a few words but I recently found out that the rest of the lyrics are not the kinds of words I would choose to use today in a time when people are sensitive to issues of race. Not sure if they were meant offensively or not, but they are considered that way today by using the "n" word. So I challenged a friend of mine (Liz who comments from time to time), who pointed out the rather un-PC terms in the song, to come up with a new set of words to the tune, and here it is.

Joanna's got her hat on, hip, hip hip hooray,
Joanna's got her hat on and she's coming out to play. 

Now she's crunching numbers
Down Estonia way

Then she's coming back,
If she can find the way.

Joanna's got her hat on, hip, hip hip hooray,
Joanna's got her hat on and she's coming out to play. 

Next she's breeding chickens 
Lunch is under way,
But the chick they pick
Is the one that lays.

Joanna's got her hat on, hip, hip hip hooray,
Joanna's got her hat on and she's coming out to play. 

Better warn the wild boar
Our Jo's had her say
She is now a master
So please go away

Joanna's got her hat on, hip, hip hip hooray,

Joanna's got her hat on and she's coming out to play.

Taking a drink of the melted snow. This pussy cat, Bella has
been in a lot of bother just lately. The darling little animal
has decided that anything in a plastic bag must be tasty
and the bag chewed through to test the theory. Even
bags that are put up high are now no longer safe from
the dear animal
The sunshine won't be much consolation to our Cypriot friends this week. Ian especially has spent a bit of time there helping out in one of the laboratories and we made good friends with the technician. It was therefore with astonishment that I read of the 6.75% and 9.9% tax they are going to levy on savers. It is horrendous that those who have saved money are the ones expected to bail out the irresponsible banks. Okay there are issues with some savers who are possibly money launders, but why penalise everyone else? The banks return to profit and do the people really gain from it? They are supposed to get shares in the banks in return, but will they be worth it? Gavin Hewitt of the BBC asks "have the [EU] sent a dangerous message to savers?" I think so, basically you will be robbed if you save, so what's the point? Not very helpful really.

This hen is called Spuggy, because she looked like a little
sparrow when she was born and sparrows are called
spuggies where Ian comes from. You can see her here when
she was little. In this picture she is enjoying a dust bath
with her mates.
It was with sadness I heard of the passing of David Iliffe this week. Some who follow my blog will know who he is, but many won't. David was the team leader when we first came to Latvia to the children's camps. Even though he was in his 70s when we knew him, he still had a zest for life and a desire to see children come to know Jesus as well as having fun in camps. So in some ways he is one of those responsible for us being in Latvia all these years later. Gratefully it was a peaceful end with some of his family around him and I'm sure that he will now be having a whale of a time with Jesus and enjoying watching children having loads of fun. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Skipping along. Not!

Blue skies of winter
Another milestone week this week, it is ten years since we left England. It's hard to believe it is that long, as time has flown by and we seem to have done so much in that time. We lived in Denmark, I learnt a little Danish, loved the transportation system in Copenhagen and liked our Danish house, if only it had another floor it would have been perfect. One of the ideas I would like to take from that house into our new one, if possible, is to have a utility room as soon as you come in the door, so that all those mucky boots, coats and vegetables have somewhere to go before being traipsed through the house. New Years in Denmark was always something to remember too, it was almost like being in the blitz, but an awesome experience. Colorado was inspiring too, all those mountains. Ian still misses the blue skies, but I missed the clouds when I was there. I also began to see how and why Americans think the way they do, it is different to a European mindset, not necessarily better and maybe not worse either, just different. Whilst in America I also got the chance to go to Brazil three times, which was quite an experience.

Freezing cold outside but lovely and
warm in the greenhouse. A chance for
feet up and a James Herriot book
It is also five years since we came to live in Latvia and in that time we have done out two apartments, had a barn and two greenhouses built (if you remember one fell down in a bad winter), got animals and just thoroughly enjoyed our time here. I have also got a Masters degree and now embarking on a PhD, something I would never have envisaged when we set off on my travels. In all that time we have met some remarkable people along the way, not many of them would think they are remarkable, but they are and whilst sadly it hasn't been possible to keep in touch with everyone for one reason or another, we are still the richer for having known them.

Ian's been busy again. He made this trailer for the tractor.
I love the little details like the stand for the trailer, just
like on the real thing and the wooden thingymajigs on
the wheels which he made on his lathe
Talking about my course I am taking statistics as one of the compulsory courses I have to do, it is not a subject I'm particularly fond of, but our statistics lecturer loves his subject, however 2 1/2 hours is perhaps getting a bit long for a lecture. I actually leave early (well on time actually but he is still talking when I leave) as I have a bus to catch. If I miss it then I am stuck in Tartu for an extra day, nice though it is, it is also nice to get home. I nearly managed to miss the bus this last time, as there were lots of people at the bus stop and they all had tickets. I found out today that I have to be down there 15mins before the bus leaves to be able to buy a ticket at the office, this is going to be a challenge on Wednesday with the paths being so icy. I shall have to put on a bit of speed where the paths are not so bad. This March seems to be turning out to be colder than February, with sunny days to melt the ice and intensely cold nights to freeze it rock solid again.

Icy here too. That snow bank is also snow from the
greenhouse, it wasn't that deep really. 
The icy paths are not doing my nerves any good, two falls in recent weeks has not improved my confidence on the ice, I feel such a twit when folks just stride on past and there am I with my ice grips on my shoes, shuffling along. Still I would rather shuffle along than hurt my arm again. The first arm I hurt is fine now, if anything it is tired because I hurt the other one and it has do more work and being my left arm it is protesting (that conjures up some funny visions). My right arm that I hurt last week is getting better, but it still hurts a lot and I haven't got full mobility back in it. I keep stretching it bit by bit to try and get it moving yet I still feel rather pathetic when I wince putting my coat on. Mind you that is an improvement from last week, the reason it hurts putting my coat on is the weight of the coat, at least I can put it on easier now, last week putting on a blouse hurt. I must say I was really grateful for all the sympathy I got last week on the blog, thank you for taking the time to comment, it was greatly appreciated.

More seed boxes made too, ready for when we get back off
our hols
The weeks do tend to fly by just lately and if we are going to see some of our neighbours and friends we have to try and make a point of seeing them when I am not in Tartu, otherwise the weeks would pass and we wouldn't really talk to anyone much. We didn't get off to a good start with one of our neighbours, but we have made amends this week. Ian went to move the car so one of our neighbours could clear the snow away from the roadway with his tractor, which I mentioned that last week. While he was down there, he got chatting with the young man that we hadn't seen eye to eye with and found out he really wanted to see development in our village, Ian suggested to him that he could do with talking to me, since that is my field of study. One evening we decided to call around and see if he wanted to chat some more, we were welcomed in and spent hours chatting, later on relatives arrived too and we were invited to a small party with cakes and more jasmine tea - how could we refuse, especially since we knew the relatives reasonably well and I had taught the mother-in-law English a while back. The occasion was International Women's Day, not a big thing in England but celebrated here for sure. Still one excuse is as good as another to eat cake! Even after we left the home, we met another neighbour outside who was having a smoke, we knew him as a child from kids camps but he isn't often in a talkative mood, he was that night though, and surprised us by the fact he remembered our boys from those times in camp. We perhaps could have chatted longer but it was far too cold to be stood outside for very long.

Definitely a grumpy looking cat and a bit of a scar on the
side. She isn't that grumpy though, really
One of our children has managed to get flights booked to come and see us in June, bringing with him his wife and baby son. It will be the little ones first visit to Latvia and they are already teaching him a little song about tractors, which he loves. At around six months old, the little one will probably love seeing our alpacas - or at least I hope he will. Mind you, as much as I am looking forward to them coming, I wasn't so ecstatic at the time I got a text regarding what flights to get. At just gone midnight I got a text with the query and a few seconds later a second one apologising - oh yes! Someone had forgotten what time it was in Latvia. I suppose it shows that kids can still wake you up in the night, even if they are over 25 from time to time. I'm sure I will get over the fact he managed to wake me up the night before a 2 1/2 hour statistics lecture - no wonder I was having trouble staying awake.
Our chicken that was sick last week is on the mend. So far
all bits are where they should be and she is eating well now.
Same can't be said for the cockerel on the left. As he was
the most immature of cockerels he is no good for breeding
and only kept as long as he has been to add his body heat to
the ark over the winter. Now he has gone to the great freezer in the sky, well actually the freezer in our dump room and I
have the scratches to prove it. No he wasn't unduly treated
badly, it is just chickens flap around a bit after being
dispatched and I didn't have hold of him properly.

They've talking about us (Hercules and Tellus)
We have been wondering what to do about the alpacas. We would like to buy some more and we are looking at options for buying. The ones in Sweden are more expensive as they were the last time, but we know how to get them sent across now. We are thinking of talking to someone locally but not sure about the genetic quality of the animals. They maybe okay with our male as he might have some good genes to pass on - he had a very good fleece as a youngster but never tried as a stud male. Our options are more limited with trying to get a house built this year too. We had wondered about seeing if people would like to sponsor an alpaca, after all they are rather cute. It has been done by other farms too and usually involves sending cards, pictures and updates a few times a year. Sounds like a bit of fun, I mean what would we write about the alpacas in a quarterly newsletter? I am sure there must be some more ideas out there though and wonder what people would think is great for a bit of fun and what some people would just think is silly. So all ideas gratefully received and if you want to sponsor one, then you can always send me an email (just click on the icon on the left-hand side).
Pick me! (Hercules)

Happy chap! Blue skies, what more could he ask for?
Ian and I were chatting this week (yes we do sometimes actually talk to one another) as we had both seen an article about an accident between a motorcyclist and a bison. You don't often see a bison on the road there, believe me, we lived there for 15 years, but the occasional cows and sheep we have seen. The tight twisty roads don't help either and you always had to drive as if you expected there to be something around the corner, without getting to paranoid about it. Apparently the farmer checked the field every day, but says there is little he can do when cars and walkers damage stone walls and fencing and I agree. Even if the farmer is very diligent it is still possible for animals to get out, okay some farmers are not quite so diligent as others but even with the best will in the world, those critters will escape. Some are more likely to escape than others, like Hercules our alapca. If any of them were out it was usually him. Eventually we got the better of him and managed to stop him escaping, but it took time to find out the best method of keeping him in. As far as cows are concerned, usually one strand of electric fencing will keep them in, but not all of them and not all the time. Putting up and taking down the fences is hard work and farmers have got other things to do with their day and so country dwellers  and visitors do need to take care on the roads and not expect them to be clear.

Evidence of a visitor, but what animal?
We did get onto more philosophical fences too and wondered if some fences were meant to be broken. Some of the fences are their for our own good and sometimes they are there to keep us out of places we would rather be or are even better for us. So should you be breaking out of a fence today? Or should you stay where you are? Always worth a ponder or two.
Not this one for sure.

Tellus supporting the "Enough Food If Campaign"

Monday, 4 March 2013

Not again!

Oh yes! More snow, just when it had been
melting away nicely. What a way to greet
the new month
Oh yes! I have managed to damage my other arm this week, just as my left arm heals up nicely I went for a slide on the ice outside our apartment block. There was no thought, "this is going to hurt,"this week, it was instant pain. Ian is not often one to give much sympathy, would hate that anyway, but when he worries then it is a tad serious. He had to help me up off the floor and by the time I got to the apartment I was a little pale. It is a bit of a problem considering I'm right handed and it is another study week, but at least it is getting better than when I first hit the floor. Fortunately I can manage quite a few tasks with my left hand, but it's not easy. At least my injury got me a ride right to the door of my accommodation in Tartu, instead of being dropped off at the bottom of the hill and walking up. I also got a lovely bowl of sweet and sour veg and mini meatballs and a little later in the evening, whilst working on this blog in my garrett bedroom, I got an email that said lemon cookies freshly baked in the kitchen if you would like some with another cup of tea, how could I refuse?

We have had some nice weather too. This is a view from
a friend's farm
The studies are going okay, I'm coping with the statistics and getting used to the Estonian version of English, but there is one thing that is guaranteed to make me feel stupid! Plonk me in a foreign country where I don't know the language and try to interact with a machine. Bleh! Last week it was the cupless cocoa until I discovered where the cups were (underneath the machine of course, doesn't everyone know that? Well everyone except me, probably). The next was trying to extract a twix bar from a snack machine. Failed! And somehow there is a 20c coin in a slot that wasn't designed for 20c coins. Oh oh! I think the machine still works though. At least I now know the words for greeting someone, tea, coffee, thank you, please, pasta and beef stroganoff in Estonian. What more do I need? As long as I can politely get myself a drink and some food, that's fine for me.

The snow piling up in the local petrol station. I had to take
this photo from inside the car, because on my side the water
was pouring off the roof and down the door. If I had got out
I would have been soaked
As I said I am coping better with the stats, but guess who was the last to leave by far for the practical! Yup you guessed it, me! Some of the young whippersnappers left after an hour. Now had they finished? Can they whizz through their work faster than me? Had they conflicting timetables? Who knows, but I slogged on until the end, fighting with the computer to get the work done. The software we are using is open sourced, but it doesn't like Macs, as much as PCs and it is acting a bit peculiar on my computer - either that I am doing something wrong, which is equally probable. I will get there in the end though.

A grand looking fella
On the whole I am finding that the Estonians are very polite. People always seem to greet the bus driver as they get on the bus, they all seem to say thank you as they get off and I have never had the door opened for me so often in such a long time. Mind you I think I realised that it was mainly young gentlemen holding the door open for the older lady - so I'm feeling old now! Mind you the manners of one Estonian driver could do with some improvement, or more likely their observational skills! I have to watch the path whilst walking, as it is quite icy and so I don't take much notice of the road, the problem is that there are quite a few puddles too as the temperature has been hovering above zero during the day. Well you can work out what happened! I got absolutely covered by icy water, right over the top of my hat too. It is not good to get covered in muddy water whilst wearing a blue coat and so you can imagine that I blessed the driver mightily, especially as it took two attempts to wash the coat and it still has muddy spots on it. Not a good idea to have a light blue coat I guess.

Taking care of his ladies
Travel is getting better, I feel much more comfortable taking the trains and buses now. I even learnt something about knitting on one train journey. I have tried knitting on the round needles a few times, but not been terribly successful and resorted to the double pointed needles. The problem I had was that the number of stitches was too few to knit on a round needle and I couldn't work out how to knit say a hat using the needles I had. On the train I saw a lady knitting a small round something, not sure what it was, maybe a sleeve, and she had the spare wire from the knitting needles poking out from the knitting. The stitches, therefore were not evenly spread around the wire, as I thought they should be. Not sure if that makes a great deal of sense, to anyone except and expert knitter, but it just goes to show what you can pick up by being observant of others.

We still have snowy roads
I know God provides and he has certainly done that in the past and the money we have had has lasted a ridiculously long time since we've been here, but it is getting to the time where we need to make some choices, as building a house is going to whittle away at our finances. I want to be sure it is in God's plan and not just a wild idea, if it is part of God's plan then he will provide the means. I was asking for some surety on this and I felt him say that we will find the finances, but in some expected ways. Just to make sure I wasn't making it up, I asked for confirmation - always a wise move I find, before moving forward. The first unexpected surprise was to find out that I have overpaid our electric bill - not sure how that happened, but it means we don't have to pay for about 5 months, which is rather nice. A few days later we were treated to a box of chocolates. Not that surprising if it was a friend visiting but it was someone coming to do a job for us of finishing off the wardrobe. We still hadn't had the baskets put in, even though it was a year ago that the wardrobe was put in, just not got around to it, but we hadn't expected him to bring chocolates too. It would be nice if God dumped a whole wad of cash into our laps, but I don't expect that, I do expect him to just keep us going and see where that leads.

"Tell me! When will this white stuff go away?"
Ian's towing ministry has been a little quiet of late, despite all the icy weather. In fact he hadn't been able to serve the community of Latvia in that way for quite a long time. That did change at the weekend. We had rather a large dump of snow, over the weekend, in fact we got caught in blizzard conditions on the way home from a meeting on the Saturday night, not pleasant. The next day one of neighbours who has a little tractor was trying out his new snow plough attachment and helping by clearing the road way at the back of our apartment, unfortunately he went too far into the deep snow whilst trying to move the snow off the road and got his tractor stuck. Ian had gone down anyway as he needed to move the car to allow him to clear the roadway and so was on hand to pull him out.

The path to the right of the picture was
obliterated over the weekend and Ian
had to get the snow blower out once again
It wasn't the only tow of the week though, he had to pull himself out using our own tractor on our land today as he was trying to come home to take me to catch my lift up to Tartu. Our roadway has got quite nicely packed down over the winter, but just to the sides is some soft snow and with the new layer it was more difficult to ensure that he got into the right track and managed to slide off. It hadn't been a great day, as snow clearing was not what he really wanted to do today with the short amount of time he had to work and to cap it all, one of our chickens had a prolapsed vent (google it if you want the full gory details), but basically the poor chicken had difficulty laying an egg and ended up with bits hanging out that shouldn't be hanging out. The chicken has been given a chance to see if she recovers by bathing the area and pushing the bits back into place, if she recovers she can go back to the ark, if she doesn't, it will be soup I'm afraid.

The subject of a facebook enquiry. Amazing
what you can find out by asking a few
friends. This mysterious object is a pickle
container. The white handled bit can be
pulled out and the pickles are ready drained
During my trawl of the internet I came across a surprising discovery. I always thought the secret ballot was crucial to democracy, but now I find that perhaps that is not always the case. The secret ballot was used to stop people being bullied whilst voting in general elections, but a secret ballot is not so good when the voting should be open and transparent. Local councillors, members of Parliament etc. should all be accountable for the decisions they make and so in these cases secret ballots are not the way forward. In the CITES conference (a conference to decide on world trading rules for endangered species) has a secret ballot format, but people are suspected of saying they are going to vote one way but instead vote another. There needs to be more transparency in this case, that would allow people from the countries represented by the voters to call these people to account for their decisions. One intriguing aspect of whether a secret ballot enables or hinders democracy is in the event of cheating. What happens if those who find filling in ballot papers difficult have to rely on someone doing it for them? What happens if the person filling in the ballot paper on their behalf puts down a different candidate to the one stated? Would the results be different if everyone knew who had voted for who? Interesting and depends on the possibility of bullying or vote buying. Getting democratic processes right is more difficult than just getting a secret ballot obviously.