Monday, 26 August 2013

Oh so quiet! Not!

The first time one of our alpacas looked like the one in the
middle, we thought he'd died. But no! Alpacas like to
sunbathe. In fact two of them were doing just that before
the photo, but one decided to sit up, just as I was taking it.
It's all quiet down on the farm, well if you ignore the roar of the tractor, as Ian digs up tree roots and the clacking of the two wheel tractor as he does another marathon grass cutting session. At least the work is paying off as the invasive ground elder is slowly disappearing. There has also been the sound of hammering as Ian continues on with the new alpaca house. Also in the distance there has been the continual yap of a neighbours dog - wait a minute, it didn't used to, maybe they have a new one, must pop round one day and find out. I don't have any tales to regale you this week on our attempts to capture escaped animals. They've been quite well behaved. Well that was until this afternoon. Some of our chicks were looking under the weather yesterday, and one we call Ronnie Runt for obvious reasons was quarantined for a couple of hours in the caravan, but then he/she picked up again and was sent to rejoin the flock. This morning they were all looking fine, but by this afternoon one had died and Ronnie Runt and another chick are back in quarantine for the night. It was about this time last year that we had similar problems and so we will have to try and work out what's going on with them.

The side view! If you look carefully, you will
see that the top looks like it has ventilation
between the uprights, but Ian is putting a
second layer on over the gaps. Don't want the
beasts getting cold now do we!
We do have more news though on the alpaca front, the deposit is paid for our new girls and we have agreed a possible date or range of dates with the transport company who brought our boys across. So far so good, but this is Latvia and we don't get too excited until the animals are in their paddocks (and not escaping everywhere). At least Ian is now getting on well with the alpaca house and he went to a local shop and found they actually have the kind of OSB sheets that he wants - amazing. The next big job will be trying to find the right kind of wire to do the fencing. These little darlings will have to be well and truly fenced in, to stop the babies escaping next year and one of our dear boys from joining his potential girlfriends. We do not want winter babies!

The pipe with a plastic cover and this is only about 10m
from the house (updated as promised)
Ian took his tractor up to a friend of ours this week to help him dig up a broken sewer pipe. Our friend did a test dig and discovered that it was crushed and needed to be dug out some more to see the extent of the problem. Boy! Was a sight to behold. It's a fairly new installation, but it would appear that the local company charged for pipes not even put in (prior to our friend's buying the place that is) and the pipe that was put in was not even a sewer pipe but a pipe to drain water from the land, in other words a pipe with holes in, and so the result was that instead of carrying away the water, it has been leaking overflow sewage from the septic tanks into the ground - fine if it was into sand and if it wasn't so close and uphill from their well or so close to the house. The result is that in spring the garden is a smelly swamp and they are not very sure about the quality of the water from their well. Ian dug a trench away from the short pipe that had been put in, along a line that could have been the result of some previous excavations and there was some more pipe, just not connected to the other sewer pipe. Is it any wonder that this local company, owned by the local pagast (council) is forever digging up around our village! And does this sound familiar? A company owned by the pagast, i.e. owned by the people really, who does shoddy work for the very people it is supposed to be working for?
The pipes used, not sewer pipes at all

The trench that Ian dug and the new pipes
ready to go in.

Showing the inside of the panel
We've had more visitors out on the land this week, at this rate we'll need to produce guidebooks. One couple have been meaning to come and visit since we got our alpacas last year and we have just not got organised. That isn't to say we haven't seen them or visited them, just not got our act together for them to visit us. One comment that was made, that we've heard a few times is that they had heard our stories, but until they had visited they couldn't really imagine it properly. So the moral of the tale is: if you've read the blog, or heard us ramble on and on, come and see for yourself what we are really doing. See the pole lathe and have a go, come and spend a few hours cutting grass - you'll never complain about cutting your own lawn ever again, come and chop wood or how about using the solar dryer, since it now works - although perhaps maybe next year, it is getting towards the wrong end of the year for that now. We also had a visit by a possible builder for our house, but there are still costs to examine. At least we should get to know what type of ground we are dealing with as he will borrow a drill to drill for soil samples. Looking forward to that.

Autumn is here and so are the smoky fires.
I have been having a few Skype chats with my grandchildren this week, the wonders of technology, well kind of. It is odd how frustrating it can be when the picture quality is not so good and yet a not so long ago not even that was possible. Our littlest granddaughter gave me plenty of smiles, until she got tired that is and then she went crabby, we nearly gave up on the chat, but she fell asleep and so we just continued on. Our grandson looked like a little old man at one point sitting on the floor with his hands on his knees watching his dad set up the tv with us on. It was very comical to watch, we were crying with laughter at his faces. Our rubber granddaughter (now for this you need a bit of Swedish. Apparently it is a term of endearment for an adopted into the family person, so our friend was called a rubber mum by her partner's Swedish son after he visited them for the first time) anyway as she was on her way out she shouted out "Bye Grandma Jo," whilst I was talking to our youngest son. I guess that makes me a rubber Grandma then. Languages are fun aren't they with their little quirky sayings.

Monday, 19 August 2013


There be monsters in there. This wasn't quite
what I was expecting. The labelling system
didn't work this year and so I won't be using
marker pen on plastic cups cut into strips
again. Just now need to find out which type
of squash it was.
Hmmm! Tasty! We finally got around to dispatching our returned cockerel. He started getting crochety with the growing chicks, who would dive into the food before he even got a chance to bend down. At least the chicks now put themselves away, so he was superfluous to requirements and therefore he was put into solitary confinement in the other ark. The problem is that we really need that ark now that the younger chicks are getting bigger and we can't carry on feeding a bird that doesn't have a use, so he had to go. It took a few days before Ian was ready for the deed. Once it's dead he's fine, but it isn't easy to dispatch them in such a way that they are not distressed first. As he was an older bird I put him in the slow cooker for the day, as we didn't fancy rubber meat. What we didn't anticipate though was the dark meat on the legs, we always thought of chicken meat as white and turkey meat as white and dark, but no this bird definitely had dark leg meat and he definitely wasn't a turkey. It was very satisfying to sit down to a totally home-grown meal, even down to the meat. We had potatoes, carrots, beans, broccoli and our first sweetcorn of the year. The only thing not local on our plate was the salt and pepper.

Rally car test
Ian had a surprising Tuesday afternoon and a hark back to old times, well even better than old times really as he got to see some rally cars storming up and down the road passed our land, it was like his own personal rally. Ian used to follow the rally championships many moons ago and even occasionally got to see them race. This time a couple of guys came up onto the land to talk to Ian, fortunately one spoke English and he explained that they were closing the road to do some rally car tests and people were posted along the road at various points, wherever there was a chance of someone coming onto the road, to stop the traffic. They were all in contact with each other and so they knew when the car was going to go pass. Alongside our land there is a sharp corner and Ian stationed himself there and got chatting with the young lass in charge of the road that came on at that point, he didn't get any work done, but he thoroughly enjoyed himself. There was a slight hitch trying to get off the land after he had put the animals away, as the cars were still testing and the young chaps on duty on our access road had difficulty getting through to find out if Ian could go, they managed it in the end and he didn't have to wait until they were finished.

Ian busy building the next alpaca house
Our animals are being relatively well behaved this week, well if we discount the oh so free range chickens. Occasionally the chickens start straying into territory they are not allowed in and end up being fastened in their hutch again and again and again. They are suckers really, as all Ian has to do is wave their food pot around and they come running, no matter what time of the day it is. The sheep have now got used to him and know when feed time is so they start bleating for their share. It isn't really necessary to feed them at this time of the year, but we would rather they know who Ian is than be afraid of him and it is far easier to round up some sheep who come for food, than those who aren't used to humans. After all it is definitely not one man and his dog around here! For all my non-British friends, One man and his dog was (is?) a tv show that displays the amazing abilities of working sheep dogs to herd sheep across fields and into sheep pens and since we have no sheep dog and don't intend to get one we have to rely on the bribery method to get some cooperation.
A man must not be separated from his music
A bit later on and a little strategic help
from me and the framework is complete.
Now just needs the sides and a roof.
Easier said than done though
We of course don't just have the domesticated animals on our land, there is a lot of wildlife too and yes the darned pigs have been back again. Hopefully the hunter knows about it now and with any luck one of those little beasties will end up on our table. They did make rather a mess one night, but not as bad as last year so far, but it is still early days yet, in fact too early. Fortunately not all animals are quite so destructive, although they do have the potential to be. This week Ian has seen an osprey and a deer on the land and one day while having lunch an eagle flew out of our forest, fortunately he didn't decide on a little chicken dinner at the time, as I think they weren't in places they would have been easy to catch. It does make being out on the land a true joy though, to know there is such an abundance of wildlife. I often see lizards and many different kinds of frogs and toads when I'm weeding the garden. This week I finished lifting the onions, not too bad a year for them, some are big and some aren't. Definitely a bit more hit and miss this year in terms of the growing season. We have also had blackberries, a reasonable crop this year, not just one or two like the last two years and at least enough for two blackberry and apple pies/sponge and still another load to come. Next year I am sure there will be far more as that blackberry bush is now starting to make a bid for freedom. Another new vegetable for us in Aztec broccoli, it is more like spinach but doesn't go away to a mush. It is proving a little difficult to grow though as the first year I tried it, it succumbed to black fly, the second year was just a dire year anyway and so this year is the first year we have had something eatable and very pleasant it is too.

Time for coffee!
It has been nice to share our enjoyment this week of our land and lifestyle, as two of our friends have brought family and friends around to see our place and show them around. Normally we take our friends to see their places, so it is nice they want to do the same. One friend brought his son and grandson, who he hasn't seen for a long, long time and another friend brought her friend who wants to be a vet and she wanted to show her that it is possible to live out in the countryside. It was really interesting listening to what she felt was important about what we were doing and explained how we worked so hard, well Ian works hard, I do more of the thinking kind of stuff. She was also telling her friend how I was writing a project to help people live in the countryside - well that might not be the exact way I would explain it, but it is interesting that she thought it was a worthwhile thing to do.

Ian has been driving me mad recently with his fussing over a noise coming from the car. Well my hearing is that bad I couldn't really distinguish the particular noise that was irritating him. Eventually he jacked the car up and had a look and then announced we had to take the car into Jekabpils to get it seen to, as there was too much play in the rear universal joint in the prop shaft (any the wiser?, I wasn't either, but I always nod knowingly). The guys at the garage took a look and said that indeed the said joint was shot, kaput and they could fit it in that afternoon. Good job as Ian didn't really fancy driving it back home and then back again another day.

As we were in for a long wait we decided to go and try to get some official books we are supposed to fill in for the animals. We had much merriment with the phone being passed backwards and forwards as the lady in the office was finding out from our friend who was translating what it was we needed. I think we got the right ones anyway. We took the books back to the garage and hoped to pop the books into the car, only to find out that they were already working on it ahead of schedule. Well we decided that we still had time for lunch and as it was Jekabpils, we decided it had to be fish and chip again. It has become quite a tradition for us. The news came through as we were waiting that the car was finished, so all was well and good and the car is surprisingly quiet these days - so I'm told.

I never realised until lately that this is what
a Jerusalem artichoke plant looks like.
A friend of ours gave us some this year and
they can take over, so they are in the middle
of the plot, where they cannot come to much
harm and be mowed if they get too much.
On our way home we decided to go via the biogas plant to take a look at the fields around there. I wanted to know if they had planted maize again for the third year running. They have indeed. In fact there are many many hectares of the stuff, that we found as we took a round trip around the area. It was distinctly depressing. All we could think about was the ruined fields due to planting the same crop in the same ground year after year. The risks of diseases building up is high and also it is pig heaven. Wild boar absolutely love maize and they find it so easy to hide in. The fact that they are now cutting the maize is probably why we are seeing more pig damage on our land, as it will be driving them our way.

The bees seem to like them anyway
I had a revelation this week. You know how you think you know someone well and then suddenly you wonder if you do know them as well as you think you do, when they say something unexpected? I had one of those moments with Ian. He likes cheese! So what, I think you would probably say, but I was under the impression that he wasn't really that fond of cheese. He was fine with it added to food, but I've always been careful not to use it too often, well because he wasn't fond of it, or so I thought. Now where did I get that idea from? You can imagine my surprise one day when he commented he would really like some cheese to go with the tomato sandwiches he's been living off for the past couple of weeks (his choice by the way) and he was rather shocked when I said "but you don't like cheese." Oh well! I guess we'll get over the shock eventually.

We bought a hop plant at the DIY store.
I had been wanting a hop plant for ages
 and seeds didn't work.
I had a few more revelations this week. One was that I can reuse material that I have already written. Each presentation does not have to be completely different to the one before, I can copy slides for one thing, especially as the same people are not at every conference I go to. I might get bored with the content, but they might not, unless of course I also sound bored. Allowing myself to reuse material goes against the grain, as I had spent many years trying to get my children to write interesting pieces that do not repeat themselves for lessons, when I home educated them. Realising this important point took a bit of pressure off me as I worked on a poster presentation that I have to do for my next trip. The next revelation was that I might be low in iron again and maybe that is why I was so tired. I never got my blood levels checked, but around two years ago I was going through an intense tired phase and because of heavy periods (sorry chaps but telling it like it is) it was quite likely that I could be low in iron. Taking iron tablets certainly seemed to help at the time and I took a three month course and then topped up as necessary, i.e. monthly. Relying on diet to keep my levels up the rest of the time. Somehow the tablets stopped and it was only after wondering what on earth was wrong with me this time around and another heavy bout and the penny dropped. So back on the tablets again, and it seems to be working. I actually walked up our three flights of stairs and didn't feel exhausted by the effort.

A tidied garden in the sunset
I definitely feel much perkier, which is a good job, as there is a five hour hike in the mountains to look forward to on my next trip. I am also more alert mentally and don't feel so paralysed by the work I need to do. Stupid really as I know I can do it, but the physical exhaustion of doing the garden, possible low iron levels and the studying was really not doing me any good. It did make me realise as well that I was possibly running a bit too much on my own steam and not relying on God to help me. I'm feeling much more relaxed now, I still have some deadlines to meet, but knowing that God has my future in his hands means I don't feel like I have to strive so hard, just get on with the work I have to do and leave the rest up to him. I have my friend Steve, from Colorado, where I used to live in the US for two years, to thank for regaining a bit of perspective with his last blog post on weakness.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Meet the biomowers

The biomowers, enjoying the shad. The one in front is the
As you know, Ian has spent a lot of time mowing the grass to try and keep the ground elder at bay and the fly numbers down. It's been hard work for him, so when a friend of ours asked if we wanted any sheep we said "yes." We have been talking for a while about getting some, just to keep the grass down, particularly in the harder to reach areas that are more difficult to cut, like between trees and on steep banks. Sheep are easier to get hold of than alpacas and maybe only a stop gap until we have enough alpacas to keep the grass down anyway, although there is one advantage of sheep over alpacas. Alpacas are relatively tidy animals who have a poo pile, but that is not good for randomly distributing manure around the grassland to improve it, so it might work to have a mix of animals, maybe sheep with good fleeces that can be mixed with the alpaca fleece. A while ago I was talking with a weaver who wove with alpaca wool and said a mix of 25% sheep wool and 75% alpaca wool meant that the wool garment would hold its shape better. Something to bear in mind!

Inside the hutch. They've been seeing rather a lot of that
hutch just lately. Oh yes! They are still in bad books.
Our introduction to the sheep was not endearing to Ian. I got the look that said "And whose stupid idea was this and there had better be some improvement fast." We did quite well .... for the first five minutes. We picked them up from our friend's place, took them back to ours. Lined up the trailer with the gate, I stood on one side to stop them escaping and the gate was used on the other side to stop them going the other way. Ian got into the trailer and directed them out and off they charged, straight into the paddock. Result! They even went running off a bit and then stopped to start eating. It was at this point we made the fatal mistake, we went to see how they were doing. Even though we had quite a powerful electric fence on, the fear of us was enough to make one bolt through the fence and then quickly followed by the other two. For the next half hour, we vainly tried to get them back but all we succeeded in doing was herding them into a spot where they were content to graze and could keep them contained but not secure. I have to add at this point I was meant to be resting and so I need to back track a little before carrying on the saga.

Thee little fellas though are getting much better behaved.
They have really learnt when it is time to put themselves
away now.
Earlier on in the day I went to the dentist, if you follow my blog then you will be familiar with the description of a big Russian speaking guy with tattoos up his arms. I also found out, due to the type of white coat he had on this particular day, he was tattooed across his chest too. Not the kind of guy you would want to bump into on a dark night, only really he's a big softy at heart. I had gone to get my tooth sorted that had been temporarily filled before I went to Florence, but half way through he suddenly stopped and started chatting to the assistant. I could tell at this point something was not right and they told me to phone my friend. Out comes the trusty translator, my mobile phone and I phoned through. Apparently I had managed to crack the tooth vertically and the only option was to extract it, was that okay. Ooerrr! Yup! Not much choice really. It was at this point I was really glad that he was kind of this big scary looking guy and not some wee slip of a lass like the last time I had a tooth extracted. The last instruction though from my translator was that I needed to rest afterwards. Right! Well out came the tooth and the dentist patted me on the shoulder reassuringly, I think it was more to reassure himself than me though, so I patted him on his hand reassuringly back and laughed. He even showed me the tooth - good job I'm not squeamish.

Ooh! Ooh! What are those woolly scary things?
So back to the sheep. I didn't chase the sheep around the field, I just walked, honest! We phoned our friend and asked her to come over, as we thought they might respond to her better, and she was rather more clued in about them than we were. She might be but the youngsters were not and they were not going to cooperate with anybody. Eventually, however, we managed to get them into the alpaca paddock, as that was easier and shut them in. That was where they stopped overnight. The next day we let the alpacas out and they were not happy. Our three big brave lads, hared around the paddock a bit and when they ran, the sheep took the cue and ran with them - well that's what herd animals do isn't it! Eventually they settled down a bit, but the three brave fellas spent the day crowded together at the top of the field in the corner in the blazing heat of a very hot day and if the sheep - who by now couldn't care less and were more interested in just eating grass - came anywhere near, they started off haring around the field again, first of all followed by the sheep. After awhile the sheep gave up the game and either concentrated on eating or sat in the shade of the chicken hutch. We were beginning to wonder at this stage who had the most brains, the alpacas or the sheep, after all the sheep were only lambs really, born this year, in other words three very young females as opposed to our alpacas who are at least five years old and above.

Hmmm! Clover
The next day, they were left in the paddock and each night when Ian fastened up the other animals he fed the sheep too and they soon forgot their fear. Sheep concentrate is far more interesting after all. The day before I went out to the land, Ian fixed a long corridor to the sheep paddock and before we let the alpacas out, the idea was that he would entice the sheep up to the place where they should be and I follow quietly with the mobile gate that we had had to use to block a potential bolt hole in the alpaca paddock - one that the alpacas never bother to try and get through, but we felt sure the sheep would and they are smaller too. Well that was the idea! When we got there one of the sheep was out of the paddock, there was by this time too little grass to keep them interested and one had pushed through the fence. Eventually after a bit of a song and a dance we got her back in the paddock and managed to electrify one of the strands and that concentrated their minds somewhat. We let the alpacas out and let everyone settle down a bit. We hadn't bothered electrifying the fence, as that one is rusty and needs replacing and the alpacas never bother to try and get through it. Needless to say, it will be sorted before next year when we have young cria.

Phew! Glad they've gone now
After a while we decided that they had settled down enough to do something with them, so we fastened up the alpacas and the chickens - who will cooperate reasonably well with bribery and proceeded to entice the sheep towards their enclosure. It worked and this time we decided to let them settle down before going to see how they were doing. I'm glad to say that they seem to have quite taken to their new enclosure, although we still half expect to see at least one of them running around where they shouldn't be - at least we have warned the neighbours that we have some sheep now. We were a little worried though that the low shelter that Ian had made for them to protect them from the elements seemed to be an enticement for them to jump on, they are still lambs after all and boy can they jump high - I've never seen sheep of that size jump and I've been around sheep a lot. We were surrounded by fields of them back in Derbyshire where we used to live. Maybe their a special breed of woolly jumpers (okay I won't give up the day job!) They also like the trees to shelter under and spend quite a bit of time  under them. We did wonder if they would only eat the very green grass around the edge that had been cut, but they have started to make in roads into the long grass too, so it appears they are doing the job we wanted them too. Phew!

Some buckwheat hanging to dry, ready for threshing. The
rest was baled as an experiment, but once again we are not
sure if it was dry enough, like the oats we tried earlier.
Still the chickens will get some of it anyway and if the
experiment works it is a fast way of preparing buckwheat
for the winter and the chickens can thresh it for themselves.
As for the rest of the week, it has been a time of harvesting tomatoes, onions, tomatoes, beans, tomatoes, buckwheat and did I mention tomatoes. Oh yes! The tomato glut has begun. Apart from eating tomatoes till they come out of our ears I have been mainly just bunging them in the slow cooker and making sauce for the freezer. I will do other things with it later like make our own jars of baked beans, but for now it will do to just get them cooked down and frozen. Yesterday I had tomatoes in one large slow cooker, some yellow ones in a small slow cooker, a large metal tray and a large glass dish full of tomatoes in the oven. Our house as you can imagine smells of a very rich tomato sauce.

The buckwheat all harvested now
We also had a visit from friends, one of them a fellow academic, so it was time to unwind and retell the conference to someone who could relate to it around a barbecue fire. We baked, we did and not just the food, as it was another glorious summer's day. They were a little disappointed that we hadn't got the new alpacas yet, but our boys did put on a display of rolling around the field to compensate, as it was before they were perturbed by the sheep. I also had some feedback from one of the keynote speakers at the conference. I hadn't had time to talk to him as there were some others I really needed to speak to and he had a long queue of folks waiting to speak to him anyway, so I emailed him to tell him how much I appreciated the work he was doing and thought it would have some value for my own work too, as he was re-evaluating the value of allotment gardening as not just a reactionary move governed by poverty but a lifestyle choice of people who valued tasty, organic food, no matter how much they earned. When I am examining the lives of rural inhabitants it will be great to have such a positive piece of work to reference. Anyway, as I said I emailed him and today I had a reply, apparently he had sat in on my presentation and thought I had done some good research and presented the work well. This is brilliant, as it is the first proper piece of feedback I've had about my presentation and I wondered how I had come across. I was satisfied that I had done okay, I had my work done to time and didn't go over, despite the tight time frame and so I was happy enough, so to have confirmation that it went well was quite a relief.

Monday, 5 August 2013


Well what can I say about Florence? It is indeed a museum of a place, quite amazing really, which is what you would expect me to say really. I enjoyed my stay there immensely and the conference wasn't bad either.  

The view from my hotel
I had an early, early start as I had to be at the airport for about 7:20 and we usually give ourselves 2 1/2 hours to get there, just in case of mishaps, although 2 would be enough. So two rather weary and bleary eyed people set off that morning as my dear hubby Ian valiantly drove me there. It was so early we didn't even need to let the animals out as there was plenty of time to get back and let them out, even if it was just a tad later than normal, but not unusual. It was a good trip and I spent a loooooot of time in Rome airport, six hours in all. I suppose I could have gone for a quick look around Rome in that time, but I would rather not get lost in a strange city with a plane to catch - I'm just not that brave. I also slept on both plane journeys, the one from Riga to Rome and then Rome to Florence. I was exhausted after all the physical work I had been doing and trying to get my head around what I would say and how I would say it at the conference. I had a lovely lunch in Rome, a humungous bowl of salad leaves with croutons, hard tangy cheese and six decent slices of smoked chicken. I followed that up a bit later with a wonderful gellato - Azteco chocolate scoop and another of hazelnut, very rich and very filling - good job as I didn't eat anything after that. The one downside to Rome airport though is the toilets, they smelt so bad it was horrible. Tissues are not placed down the loo, but in bins next to the loos and they really needed emptying a little more often. Riga has the same set up, but the bins do not ever get into the smelly state of the Rome ones and it can get pretty warm in Riga too. Well that's enough on that subject, I don't want to put you off your food if you are eating.

My new friend! Can you tell we were having fun? This is
actually on the last night but I will tell you more about it
later. The credit must go to another friend I made during
the week, so thanks for the photo.
I met some lovely, lovely people, especially a lady who turned out to be a pastor's wife. We met at the hotel when she came up to a group of us waiting by the hotel desk and asked very brightly if we were at the conference too, to which we all replied yes. The other two ladies were just checking in, but I was dithering over what to do next and as my new friend had decided to go and take a quick tour around Florence before the evenings session which was to be in the middle of the city, I asked if I could tag along. Well after that we had a blast! Just as we reached the end of our bus journey into the city it started to pour with rain, which was not entirely promising for a bit of sightseeing, but eventually it eased off enough for us to track down a trattoria to eat at. It carried on raining and so we carried on talking and eating and in all spent an hour and half over our meal. As time was ticking on and we were supposed to register sometime soon, we decided to wend our way through the streets to our first destination of the conference. We weren't in a hurry and the rain had stopped and so we took some time to see the sights too and take some touristy pictures one of which was this handsome fella below, the copy of the statue of David, the real one being tucked away in the museum.

Next to this chap was what looked like a salvage yard full of statues, not particularly carefully arranged but stuck under a covered area to keep them safe from the rain until they had a better home, well that is what it looked like

On we travelled until we reached the river. Hang on a minute, we weren't supposed to reach the river, we had gone too far, but we took photos anyway. I never really thought that Florence, or Firenze in Italian is situated amongst the hills and mountains, shows how much I know of the geography of Italy.

We retraced our steps and landed back in front of the statue of David, it couldn't be in here surely, it was one of the most famous museums in Florence. It was then we realised it was the Museum Vecchio and we were meant to be in the Palazzo Vecchio. We wondered if there was a back entrance or something, but there was nothing obvious and so we went on in

 Nice ceiling heh! But still no clue yet as to where we were meant to be

Everyone should have an entrance like this shouldn't they? Finally through another doorway and we saw the signs to our conference and we headed on in.
This is where we ended up, the Salone del Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio. It was impressive and as the person who had organised the event had said, it was meant to stir the emotions. It did feel slightly surreal. These next pictures were taken on the way back to the hotel after our buffet meal

 I have to say the statue insisted that I have a photo taken of us both, which sounds rather bizarre but that was the truth and I didn't drink too much, in fact I was on fruit juice - honest!

Oh yes! Back to the river, but there was also a gellato place and my friend needed gellato, so I kept her company of course. The next day was a bit simpler as it was just a 15 minute walk down to the University where the majority of the conference was held. It was a bit nerve wracking as I was the second presentation in the first session. I had no opportunity to find out how most people did it and re-jig my presentation if needed. It was in at the deep end stuff. My talk was fine and I'm pleased I refrained from putting too much information on the slides, unlike many folks. Working in children's work for twenty years did at least teach me that less is more to keep attention and hubby's wise advice helped a lot too. I was surprised to be honest at the presentations given, as many were poorly presented and didn't make good use of powerpoint at all. My slides were static ones, no fancy transitions or anything but then I have a Mac and always worried about a Windows system messing them about and so I try to keep that aspect of it simple, but they were colourful and not bland like many. After the presentation I could relax as the hard work had been done. In fact due to the fact there was only walking to do and not lots of physical hard work, I actually felt quite refreshed.

Duomo - 15th Century cathedral
I did get the chance to ask a couple of questions at the conference. The first one was after we had been presented with a lot of statistics on villages of less than 500 where unemployment runs at 30% and I asked "Who are these people?" After all they could be sick, or older and do they want to change anyway? I felt that someone actually needed to go and talk to them, not just decide they need transforming based on statistics and fortunately the guy heading the workshop I was in agreed with me.

I also asked in another working group "How rooted in the land is European culture?" From the presentations it was easy to see that Nigerian culture is, Mexican indigenous culture is, but is European culture? Is it just food, singing and dancing? Dressing up in costume? What do you think? What is your culture? How important is place to you? Discuss! (Whoops sorry, slipping into teacher mode I think)
Also at the Dumo
I was able to encourage one young woman, who seemed to have discovered a different Poland to two other academics, but the big difference is that she had met and interviewed the people, she had connected with them. Maybe one other academic had met the people, but you could feel the antagonism, they need to change was the overriding feeling you got, did she put them off? Did she just ask set questions? Or did she really get to know people, their desires, their needs, their aspirations? Or did she just rely on statistics too. Funding cuts don't help here of course, academics live in cities and need money to go and talk to people, but until they can, they will have an imperfect picture of what the situation is really like and their initiatives and findings will count for little.

Well being hosted by an Italian university meant we also finished with a flourish and so we were greeted at the door by two of these guys
Natty trousers heh! And as we made our way into the entrance hall where there was wine, fruit juices, hors d'oeuvres and a humongous cheese we were welcomed with a fanfare by buglers, or were they trumpeters?
We wandered around salons with impressive mirrors and furniture, although the furniture was sparse and amazing ceilings

More hors d'oeuvres and more chats with different people from the conference and finally to the dinner and we ended up in the cheap seats, in other words we ended up in the room where there was no air conditioning, whereas the majority of folks were in a bigger dining room which was somewhat cooler. Put it this way, the daytime temperature was 38C and so I have no idea how hot it was that night. 

So chandeliers and infinite mirrors, just a taste of the grandeur we had to endure. After this I think the location maybe a bit of a let down for future conferences. A few other photos just to finish off
I wanted a bag to carry my computer in, that didn't shout
 business traveller and this is what I came up with. It even had
made in Firenze on a label inside

My other handbag started to fall apart just
before the conference and totally gave up on
me during my stay and so it was the perfect
opportunity to buy a bag after an early finish
one day.

The detail on the bag. I have to say at this point, I am not
obsessed by bags, it was just I really did need one and not
one with lots of bling. Normally I hate shopping

Our afternoon respite from the sun. Lunches were amazing too
octopus one day and that was just a regular canteen lunch

The streets of Florence. I did get a little lost
but Florence isn't huge and so I found my way
to the river and then it was easy after that

Down by the river yet again, but brutally hot walk to get to
somewhere I knew

One of the many plazas in Florence

Rainy skies over Florence
So do check in again next week, as there will be news of some new arrivals but not enough space to talk about them today.