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. 


  1. wow, international fame, i've got published !! xx

  2. It was worth the challenge.

  3. Hi Joanna,
    We are also under a thick blanket of snow now in England. Where the heck is Spring?! I love seeing pictures of your animals...

  4. I have been watching the amazing pictures coming out of the UK Ariana. I have friends and family up north who are either snowed in or had difficulty travelling home. It is certainly a legendary winter, I had only heard of tales of those kinds of snowdrifts before. I had hoped our trip to the UK would be one of transitioning into Spring, I guess it is not to be.


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