Monday, 24 June 2013

Confession time

These flowery sheep were outside the train station at Jelgava
where I was last Monday and Tuesday
Oh dear! Humblest apologies, I just ran out of time to add the photos to the blog last week. Or maybe I just didn't get my act together and then I forgot. I have been busy though, between gardening, sorting out some details about my course, sending emails regarding that, and doing some babysitting too. Amongst all that, there is feeding folks and we don't finish eating sometimes until about 9:30pm at the earliest, which doesn't leave much time for anything else. I still hadn't downloaded the pictures until this morning. Not to mention the two days in Jelgava on a seminar, and a lovely visit to a young lady who we have known since we first came to Latvia in the year 2000. We also got to see her family and I have to confess that I spent rather a long time talking to her husband about agriculture and Latvian society in general.

Thursday afternoon was spent in Cesvaine, for more dental
work. It's a nice place to visit and you could have seen the
castle, but my camera batteries ran out. 
I have further confessions to make too. I fouled up on checking the post this week. Normally that wouldn't be too bad, but this time it was. We are expecting the replacement shears to arrive so we can finally shear the alpacas and I forgot until 7pm Friday to check the post box, sure enough there was a letter to say a parcel was at the post office and guess what? It was the Friday before a bank holiday weekend and the post office is not open now until Tuesday morning. I was popular, especially as it is hot again. In fact it has been that hot and humid that my glasses that I have started wearing permanently have been steaming up.

Campanula is back out again, always
such a glorious sight and no tending
needed as they just grow in our fields
Further confessions? I snore! My room mate on the course I was doing, had the foresight to include ear plugs, so that was a relief, unfortunately the same cannot be said for Ian one night. After a particularly bad night he got up early, went out onto the land and went to sleep in the caravan for an hour and a half. Normally I'm not that bad, honest! It is quite embarrassing really and makes me a little anxious when it comes to sharing rooms for a summer school in France, which I found out this week I have been accepted onto. It doesn't bode well for other future events where I maybe expected to share. I do hope and pray that I can get single rooms as often as possible, or maybe I shall just have to take ear plugs too, for my room mates.

It was good to see our seeder worked
well and the beans are coming through
in nice straight rows. Many of the plants
I transplanted have taken, despite
the heat.
As I mentioned, there has been a lot of gardening going on this week and the strawberry glut has begun. I have already had to freeze some. I can now see my squash plants from amongst the weeds and piled the weeds up around their roots, to help keep them moist. Worrying about snails this year, doesn't appear to be the problem, worrying about the water situation is. Our ponds are dropping dramatically and some of our plants look a little wilted in the heat. I am trying to hang off actually watering them by hand, as I want them to send out deep roots and there is some rain forecast. It feels like a nervous game of chicken at times, to water or not to water. Our chicks also progressed from house chicks to land chicks today. They were getting too smelly and noisy to have in the house and it is warm enough for them to huddle together and keep warm, now that they have proper feathers on their bodies. They have moved into Hoppy's box - whose Hoppy? You will have to read a previous blog to find that out, if you don't know.

If only all gardening was this simple, no work needed -
well maybe keeping the ground elder at bay to stop it
taking over
This week the pressure to get the garden sorted, do some studying for my course and still remain human has been quite intense, as everything is taking far longer than I would hope. Not only are things taking longer than I hoped, I found out my study plan that took far to long to put together, has to be amended and so there will be extra work involved in that. At one point I had to take some time to sit and pour out my heart to God. Fortunately God knows my needs and later on in the week I have my young helper coming, a young lady who has helped me a couple of times before and she comes just a few days after my son and his family return to the UK.  An extra pair of hands in the garden will be most welcome, not that my son hasn't been helpful, he has, he has been helping Ian from time to time, but he has also got to spend time with his young family and his wife has to spend time with the baby, as she is still feeding him herself. Our grandson is also a little too young to help, maybe in about two years time!

I know it kind of looks like a big toad, but it isn't. It is
actually the first mushroom of the year - or rather it was
nearly our first mushroom of the year. Someone must
have stopped to pick flowers and seen it, because by the
time that I got to the land for our barbeque, the mushroom
that Ian had taken a photo of, had disappeared.
We did kind of celebrate Ligo this year with our son and his family. Ligo is the midsummer festival here and is a big event, only it isn't quite midsummer but two days later. People generally head out to the countryside, especially if they have a summer house, no matter what the state of the summer house is. They pick wild flowers, of which some were picked from our land, but that's okay. They decorate their cars and houses with oak leaves and sometimes flowers. They light bonfires, have a barbeque, eat cheese, drink lots of beer and sing traditional songs. Well we went out to our land, we did the barbeque, we lit a fire and used the charcoal from the fire for the barbeque, but we didn't drink beer and we didn't stay up to see the sunrise and if there were any fireworks this year, we didn't hear them. We were fast asleep.

Something to crow about?

I think so! Our little grandson, doing his beached whale
impression and even better, he learnt to roll from
back to front and then to his back again - fun times ahead
Update: Thanks Pene for the corrections, it is indeed my grandson and not my son in the picture above. Whoops! 

Monday, 17 June 2013

All change

Well here I am here in Jelgava, Latvia, sat in a café with Wifi, whiling away the time before I head for some doctoral seminars on methodology. Sound riveting? Stick an "ology" on the end and some folks switch off, but all this means is looking at different methods that I could use and others use, to do our work, in this case research. Always good to throw ideas around so that people can comment and hopefully we can then each improve our research methods and produce better results that have real benefit to the communities we serve, or improve the areas of research we are involved in. As my doctoral colleagues are in landscape architecture, that means it is important for the aesthetics of the place where people live, work and have their recreation, if our research methods are good and connect well with the world, then we can all be part of designing a better place or at least recognising what is important to keep intact. At least I have got over the first hurdle and found my way to a new city in Latvia by bus. It was just rather an early start, as the bus left my home village to Riga at 6:40am.

Pops and grandson having a great time!
It isn't just a change of scenery I have at the moment but a change of guests too. This last Wednesday we spent in Riga, as we took our youngest son and his family to the airport and collected our other son and his family much later on in the day. It did mean getting our neighbours to put our alpacas away for us, which they did quite happily, and it also meant I could arrange a couple of meetings with someone in the agricultural ministry and with someone who is instrumental in trying to get some green initiatives going in Latvia. Both were were such an encouragement to meet, knowing that there are people in this land, who are not out to serve themselves but to serve others and to make a difference, makes me more determined to try and help the best I can with my research.

Our son and his family took us out for a meal on their last day to say thank you, which was lovely and it was good to finish on such a high note when it was the first time they had all taken a holiday with us. Holidays with prospective parents-in-laws can always be fraught, so it was nice that we were able to relax and enjoy each others company. The high point of the meal was when I remarked that our little guest was surely going to become a scientist of a philosopher with her procession of logical thinking only for her to immediately retort, "When I grow up I'm going to be a princess!" Well that was me told!

Oh remember the saga of the shears,well eventually we got them by picking them up from the courier at the airport and lo and behold when we got them home they were not working. The company who sold them too us are being very helpful and have even allowed Ian to take the motor housing apart to see if there was a something stuck in the motor or a loose wire - which normally would invalidate the guarantee. In the many years that the company have been selling these machines, none have failed. They are going to send out a replacement immediately (via a different route we hope) and they will wait for our son to get back to the UK to take the broken shears back and they will even collect it from where he lives. It reminded Ian of the saga we had with an AEG drill that he bought and that had a fault with the chuck and it kept spewing out the chuck with the drill part in it, not terribly useful and when he took it back the salesman was also there and said that in his 20 years of working with AEG, he had never seen that fault before. Meanwhile two of our poor alpacas are still unshorn, but at least the temperatures are cooler this week.

I wrote the title earlier on in the week after my son arrived (trying to get some of the blog done beforehand so I can remember what has happened this week and fit it in so it is out on time) but last night as I thought about today, I did sense a change and the sweeter air this morning both filled me with hope and a sense of a new season. There are just days when we can know that something is about to change, maybe not in any obvious earth shattering way, but sometimes just a shift that leads down a path we haven't been before. Somehow, I feel that this week will open up paths for the days ahead, I guess I will just have to wait and see what happens, but it is nice to go into a meeting with that sense of the future whirling around my head. Maybe I'm just a dreamer.

One more thing before I wrap this blog up I passed my statistics course. I am so pleased to get that out of the way. Some of my future courses may look a bit tedious, but I feel that I should be able to get my head around them anyway, for instance copyright laws and that type of thing. It has to be done and should be fairly straightforward - at least I hope so.

(Just a note to say I will update the blog with photos tomorrow, they are on our other camera and I haven't got them with me.)

Monday, 10 June 2013

New arrivals

Meeting new friends
We have 17 baby chicks and some lovely company too. Pity it has also been hot, hot, hot! and we've all been flaking in the heat and humidity. My son, his fiancée and her four year old daughter arrived from England and we had our chicks timed to hatch about the same time. Not sure who was most enamoured with them though, our son or his little step-daughter. Our chicks arrived over three days and so far they have been doing well. We do have concerns over the last one to arrive because it looked like it couldn't walk properly at first and had the gait of an ungainly penguin, but that improved and it is now walking around normally. We did worry that it would end up walking like hoppy, the chicken we had to dispatch last year because it couldn't walk properly.
Aww Sweet! Our son and his

Playing in the park
Our son has helped us a lot with cutting grass, shredding some of the piles of brushwood we have had around the place and the all important bbq. In the meantime his step-daughter has been entertaining us with her constant chatter. She has an active imagination and is as bright as a button, she sure keeps her mum on her toes. Being such a chatterbox was no hindrance to playing outside our apartment in the park with the other little children, what's a language barrier anyway when you can play in the water and the sand and make as much mess as you like. I didn't think of the park being such a big deal, until our son explained that he won't let his step-daughter play at the ones near them, due to the hypodermic needles you can find around the place and offensive graffiti. It is so sad the kids in the UK do not always have the freedom to roam and explore like they do here in rural Latvia. It has also been nice getting to know his fiancée as we have only seen each other a couple of times before and only for a few hours then. I wish I had had more time though, but there were also pressing things to do in the garden to prepare for the year ahead as well as an application to a summer school to prepare. At least I got the majority of things planted out.
The great explorer

Helping Grandma Ian, okay
perhaps we haven't quite got
the names right yet, but
everyone found it amusing
Our son's step-daughter hasn't quite known what to call us all week and for the most part it was Matt's mum, but gradually she has come round to calling me Grandma Jo, to distinguish me from her other grandmas. It hasn't always stuck though. We had a good time getting to know each other better though and she has helped me in the garden planting some carrots and beetroot and making scones for tea. I wasn't sure if I was going to end up with a clump of carrots or not, but she could only take a little pinch with her little fingers and so I think it worked out quite well in the end, not that I would have minded the odd clump of carrots anyway. She also helped me to pull some weeds. That was easy as it was in an area where it didn't matter about trying to distinguish between the weeds and plants, they were all weeds.

A glowering sunset to match my temperament today when
talking to the courier company. I have to admit to losing
my temper with them
It was a difficult day today. We have been waiting for shears for our alpacas, the delivery company arrived on Wednesday while we were out, now normally a Latvian delivery company would phone beforehand to inform us, but not this time and so we didn't know about it until we saw the note on our post box. We got a neighbour to phone for us and she said the parcel would arrive on Friday, Friday came and went and no sign of the delivery company, they would come Monday! I was furious, I have never had to wait in for two days for a delivery company here, they have been a bit late perhaps, but never not turned up at all. I phoned and the guy spoke English and I told him I expected them to arrive on Monday by 10am otherwise I would take it further. Monday 10am came and went, and we had an appointment with the architect that had already had to be changed, no shears, they will be here by noon, then they will be here by...... by the end of the day they are refusing to answer the phone to me and my neighbour and when I get through on yet another phone he hangs up. It is not looking good, meanwhile our alpacas are sweltering. In the interim period we have also got back to the company we bought the shears from to exert a bit of pressure from that end and we found the headquarters of the Latvian company to start talking to folks higher up the chain.

Err hello! Our first chick to hatch from this batch. Another
batch already on for 20 days time or thereabouts
The other difficult part was going to the dentist who doesn't speak English with no interpreter. It wasn't the end of the world as there is always the mobile (what would I have done without that?) and if I had really needed an interpreter I could have had one, it was just too hard to organise when it was a chance for our son and family to look around a different place to the one they had been in all week and that meant the car was full. It also just that added to a day when we got a list of building costs from the architect and our house dream is looking a little too distant. At the moment we can afford to lay foundations and then that would be it, well not strictly true but not enough extra to put up enough of the house to warrant continuing. There was a moment of amusement today though at the dentist when, instead of a woman dentist that I expected, I realised that the giant of a tattooed man in the corner speaking Russian was the dentist. Oooerrr! James Bond eat you're heart out! And villainous scenes flashed before my eyes. Actually he was quite nice and I am not sure, but I think he was a little nervous - after all, what could he say?

Monday, 3 June 2013


I challenge anyone to moan about mowing their garden
lawn, when you see what Ian has been cutting. You can
see the greenhouse and the barn, way in the distance. He cut
most of it with the two wheeled tractor, so a lot of walking
Somethings in the air! It was the local elections this week in Latvia and in our area people seemed especially nervous and on edge this time, debates were heated at times according to our sources. Rightly so! Changes were afoot. It was interesting that in the week 12 months after the unusual thunderstorm I talked about in a previous blog there were meetings of people to plan their election campaigns - something was shifting for sure. The battle was won 12 months ago, but the outworkings and the rumblings continued. On the surface of it, the election didn't seem to change much in the end, but in reality a lot has changed. Instead of 13 seats on the local council, there were only 9 due to administrative changes. The mayor's party still won, but instead of 7 seats out of 13 he had 5 out of 9 and one of those deputats as they are called rarely attends meetings anyway. The other four seats were won by people with determination to see change and will begin to question every policy and every santim spent. It will sure be interesting to see what happens regarding decision making here.

A nice arty shot! Ian can take the credit though
I just pray that those active members do not become co-opted into any dodgy schemes or under the table working, but I think they know that there are plenty of others who are in turn watching them to check to see they are working with integrity. I don't feel that a significant number of people are satisfied any more to accept that sweetners are the way to get things done. I think a lot of people are tired about that. We were talking to one of our neighbours about the election and she explained how many people are still afraid of the mayor, afraid of losing jobs when so many are teachers in the various schools, and technical college, or in the various jobs associated with the council because they are owned by the council or have contracts with the council. I loved her response though, "I'm free!" she said "and my son is free. I might lose my job, but I'm free." Quite right too, and when others discover that freedom, then the chains on this place will fall off. So for all my praying friends out there, pray for freedom of hearts and then we will see a people rise up with pride in who they are and where they live and choose not to be afraid.

Not all are frantic, some have time to lounge around in
the sun
It has been a bit of a frantic week at times, I have had deadlines for an academic paper submission and an application to a summer school of interest - only to realise I had until Friday to complete the application for the summer school, starting from Monday when I found the information. We also realised that I needed a passport, which was is in the UK being processed (I hoped!) or a National ID card in order to vote in the Saturday elections. Ian was fine, but I had neither, so we trundled off to the big town to see if I could get one, and Ian applied for one as well, since he was there. When we got to the immigration office, a very nice lady helped us out and in the process informed us that if we so desired we could have permanent residency now, rather than just our temporary residency. At this moment in time we are not sure what the implications are for this, or if it makes any difference at all, besides the fact we can have our National ID card for ten years and not five. The upshot of all this is that we are now permanent residents of Latvia. After all that worthwhile fuss I now also have my passport back - was the extra £50 for priority processing then?

A hair cut definitely needed in this heat
We ordered shears this week for our alpacas and confirmed our order for more alpacas, still waiting for the invoice though. We had thought it would be good to have the  animals in September or October, before bad weather sets in, but one of them is pregnant and can't be separated from the cria (foal) until later ie November, unless we were willing to pay even more money for the cria as well, varying between 7500 SEK(£750, $1140) if it is a male to 25000 SEK (£2500, $3800) for a female. We decided that was a step too far at this stage and so we decided to go for the later delivery date and pray the weather holds. I somehow don't think the weather will be quite like the weather we are having now, which is a tad too dry for my liking (visions of having to water all my plants flutter past my mind's eye) and rather hot. Today it reached 32C (90F) and rather humid so I was a little drip for most of the day.

Plenty of grapes on the grapevine
There are a few random things to mention too this week, we found a rather nice Italian pizza place run by a young couple, a Latvian married to an Italian, who met in the Manchester area (UK)- of course! It is not often we bump into people in these more rural areas who have a clue where I come from and thus rather unexpected. It was nice to chat though. Another unexpected event might seem trivial, but for me it is significant because it showed care and concern. I mentioned before it has been very hot (sorry for those who have suffered some rather cold weather in the UK just recently, not trying to rub it in really) and I went to our other apartment to do some gardening, but forgot my hat. One of my neighbours was out working already in her garden and she asked me about it, and I told her I had forgotten it (in Latvian, are you impressed? Okay it was only single words, but at least I remembered them). Later after she had finished for the morning, she came up and gave me her hat to borrow. I gladly took it from her, as I had a lot to do, all I needed to do was to leave it in her greenhouse when I had finished with it. She's a treasure for a neighbour, always ready with a smile, in fact we have nicknamed her and her husband, Mrs and Mr Smile-a-lot. At least it meant I got the potatoes hoed to cull the weeds and strawed up to keep the moisture in with our hot, dry weather.

And plenty of blackcurrants on the bushes on the left.
These bushes come from off cuts of our original bushes.
The heap is ready to take some squash plants, just need
time to plant them now
The last random even is a severed wire. Our alpacas are kept in a shed overnight, but during the day they can run around in their paddock (not that they run that often, unless it is throwing it down with rain or they are fighting) or in an extension that we set up in different areas linked to their paddock. The extension is electrified, but only when they are out. Last night something broke the wire. It looks chewed rather than broken and none of the posts were knocked over, neither was there any damage to the ground. This makes us wonder if it was a fox rather than wild boar that we often have problems with. We wonder if it had got entangled in the wire and chewed through it. Something has been around and has made one of our cats quite nervous, jumpy at the least little sound. So maybe a fox! The other cat, we don't know about, as it looks like she is off on her travels again. I don't know why she disappears for days on end, and it was a few days before our other cat got jumpy, so we don't think that was the problem. Talking of unusual animal responses, one of our alpacas came right up to Ian today and looked him in the eye, they don't do that unless they are upset about something. Ian thinks the flies are really bothering him, so we will have to see about making up a fly repellent spray for him and see if that helps. Just need some essential oils of the repellent kind.
The comfrey rescued from the side of
the road is doing well. It wouldn't have
survived this winter as the snow ploughs
really went wide this year and this plant
would have been in the way

Our transplanted rhubarb made its appearance too

Strawberries flowering away

Garlic under the A frame. No special reason for the A-frame
being there apart from I haven't shifted it from last year.
Latah tomatoes under the little greenhouse thing and self-
seeded lettuces on the right. No shortage of lettuce then.
These are from the plants that had gone to seed and I had
fed the chickens with last year. Worth trying again to see
if we can have early lettuces in places where we want them
next year.