Monday, 6 October 2014

Happy Anniversary

A bit hard to see here, but the bunch
was really quite pretty. The
candlestick still needs polishing though
It has been an anniversary type week this week. The first anniversary was the anniversary of the day we met which was on October 4th, 32 years ago, first day of the first term of our first year at Sheffield University. I was studying Pharmacology and Chemistry and Ian was studying Physiology, little did we know we would be working in such different fields, literally, 32 years later. In other words what we didn't know was that I would be studying for a PhD in participatory development in a landscape architect department and Ian raising alpacas on a 13ha farm in Latvia. Ian surprised me on this particular anniversary, first he remembered (have to confess to forgetting myself sometimes, so I can't make it sound like he is always the one forgetting)! Second he brought me a bunch of flowers that he had picked off the land and lovingly tied with baler twine into a rather nicely arranged bunch actually (we counted up how many times he's got me flowers and I do have to use both hands to count them). Third he made me another candlestick. He was trying to make a bowl, but it wasn't working for him and he needs some more practice on the pole lathe, but still not a bad candlestick anyway.

So here is a picture of the big day. We didn't have formal
pictures, just ones taken by friends and so there is none
of us by ourselves without a background of folks, which
sums up the day really. It made me realise though that I
had better scan these pictures in and save them somewhere
as they are deteriorating quite fast now. 
The second anniversary is today, October 6th just 30 years ago we were married. If you think Ian looks thin now, you can see he was a whole lot thinner when I married him. Actually so was I! Funny that, who would have thought. To say it has all been plain sailing would be to tell a lie and of course there have been ups and downs, but I'm pleased to say that the journey has been good and he's not bad to have around you know! He's also put up with my hormones along the way, which could make treading around me rather a delicate operation and I have put up with his angry moods as he struggled with being on-call and the general working conditions as a technician in the hospital, where he used to work, when he had a regular job. We've weathered the times when money was in short supply and enjoyed the few years when it was abundant. We've enjoyed living on the edge in many different ways and wouldn't know how to fit into "normal" society if you told us. I think all in all, we work pretty well as a team and that's the way it should be after 30 years don't you think? To celebrate we went out to the hotel for a meal and rounded it off with the hot French chocolate cake, as you do. Saved me doing any cooking anyway.
The end of the season look. All the tomato plants bar the ones
destined to feeding the chickens are pulled up now and the
grape vine hacked back to the wire. Just the peppers, drying
seeds and autumn crops in there now. We have things like
 mizuna, rocket and radishes for a late salad or adding to a stir fry.

A picture that captures our present right now, with buckets
and crates everywhere. The top green crate is full of apples
that are bruised and need dealing with soon, the bottom
is full of small squash that will need freezing, the bucket is
full of the last of our tomatoes. Only one for a change,
usually we have far more of the green ones left. 
Well back to the present now. The time since I got back from Portugal has been rather nice, with bright sunny days and crisp mornings with many a frost. Came as a bit of a shock one morning when I headed into Riga so I could meet up with a couple of people, go to the dentists and then head up to Tartu. That meant  first of all a 6:40am bus, which usually means Ian takes me up in the car to the bus station, only this time he discovered he had to defrost the car first and I was just on time to catch the bus, as opposed to having a few minutes to wait. It makes us realise the descent into winter has really begun in earnest and emphasised by the sight of geese heading south. The Swans will be next and then it is the anxious wait for the first snows. The winds have definitely been chilled and so out have come the leggings and roll neck jumpers. Ian even had his thermals on and the heater in the caravan.

An additional shelter for bags of alpaca poo - a valuable
The girls were moved nearer to the boys. Here Estelle
is taking an interest in what the boys are doing, let's
hope that is not an interest leading to leaping fences. If
she is pregnant then that will be the last thing on her mind,
but if not......
The trip into Riga was good. I got to meet an old young friend, or is it a young old friend? Anyway, she is still a wee slip of a lass really, but we have known each other for a while now. I always enjoy meeting up with my crazy friend, although this week we were much more civilised, as we had coffee in a cafe instead of stood outside in the seriously minus temperatures in the middle of winter, like the last time. After meeting her, I met up with another young lass, who I was hoping would be able to help me with some work towards my research. We had a good time chatting, but I have a feeling that is not going to get anywhere. We'll see! At least I did get to hear of someone else interested in doing some research towards their Masters this last week, where she will be use the type of research that I am directing - for want of a better phrase, so all is not lost. I wish the next appointment was as pleasant as the first two, but a trip to the dentist is not my most favourite of activities. The appointment to be fair went fine and the rogue filling was sorted, but not the tooth that cracked a while ago, for this I would have to go back three times and will cost around €300 as it involves root canal treatment and then a filling. Errr! No thanks! It doesn't hurt and €78 for the filling was bad enough, as that is nearly four times the amount I pay in the sticks. I realise that is not necessarily the best treatment, so somewhere in the middle would be much better to my mind.
The boys have a spot with the currant and berry bushes in it.
We are still trying to work out if this will do them good or
a bad move. Still I won't have to do any pruning and the
boys seem to be enjoying walking through the bushes for
a good scratch. Don't worry, we have other bushes.
Weeds all trampled and dead wood definitely knocked over
amongst the raspberry bushes. 

Something seems to be attacking the hornets nest,
obviously taking advantage of the drowsy state of the
Some of the markers of the changing seasons are escaping and argumentative animals. The grass always runs out sooner and is not as tasty and at this time of the year the grass is definitely more appealing on the other side of the fence. Fortunately we don't feel the need to freak out when they escape as they don't go far and are easy to entice back. Although Ian was a little concerned when he showed some folks around recently, some of our neighbours who hadn't visited before, as the sheep had disappeared, fortunately they had only gone around the corner of the grove that is growing near where they were supposed to be. Ian thinks the neighbours who came for a visit came from the block of flats that are nearby or it could be the farm. In the Soviet times when they collectivised the farms they built blocks of flats for the workers and hence you get these dwellings that don't seem to fit in a rural location, but should be in towns. The older lady seemed to be able to follow what Ian was trying to explain, although his Latvian is very, very limited, so maybe she was actually from the farm and not the flats. One day we may be able to converse better with our neighbours and then we will know for sure. It is taking some adjusting to when people feel they can just appear on the land, they don't have quite the same sense of private property that we do in the UK and in some ways that's okay, just different. Well as long as they respect fences and such. Although thinking about it, farmers in the UK have to account for rights of way that run across their land and so they do have to expect people traipsing through from time to time, so maybe it's not that much different.

I love the symmetry of sunflower seeds. These are drying
for seed for next year. The rest are drying for seed for
the chickens over winter.
As I mentioned, I made a trip up to Tartu again this week. It was an opportunity to see both my supervisors and thrash out some details for the year ahead. For them both to be in the same place and free to see me is a little like waiting for the stars to align and so I took the opportunity while I could even though it was at short notice. I also got the chance to meet the young man who will be doing some of the research for me in Estonia. I was quite pleased to hear my supervisor telling the young man that I brought certain skills into the department from my development background and teaching experience. It does make me laugh to hear someone say I have teaching experience, which I do, but not in the conventional classroom setting, as it involves teaching in churches, sunday schools, workshops and my own children. Still all valuable experience though for what I'm doing now, reaching out to ordinary men and women in rural areas. On the way back I stayed overnight with a friend and his family in Sigulda, I took the opportunity to discuss the house plans to see if we can take it forward a bit more, we seem to have come to a bit of a halt with that at the moment.

Oh yes! More apples. Should keep the
animals busy for a little while
My studies to date have sure made me question the role of aid and I have covered topics where people have debated if aid is any good at all. An article in the Financial Times by Ernesto Sirolli is on the one hand very provocative in stating that aid is not working and on the other hand is honest enough to state that as an aid worker he made a mess of things. In the article there is a quote by a Zambian born economist Dambisa Moyo who goes so far as to say aid is malignant. Sirolli argues that aid is best when it is in response to the people themselves and meeting the needs that they see in developing entrepreneurial ventures. I definitely see that providing the kinds of resources that people feel they need is a whole lot better than benevolently providing what we have either cast off or feel they need. I do see one flaw and that is where the entrepreneurial spirit has been squashed out of people, that is where I see a place for the kinds of aid that breeds hope and develops people's ability to work together and that takes time. Still that is better than blithely handing out goods to make us feel better.


  1. Happy anniversary!! It will be 31 years for me this year....and I'm only 16 :)

    1. Thank you Karen. Amazing 31 years and you are only 16, who would believe it? :)

  2. Happy Anniversary!
    Hopefully we can catch up next time you are in Tartu.

    1. Thank you Pene and yes it would be nice to catch up with you when I'm next in Tartu

  3. Happy anniversary! It seems your life journey has been interesting and delightfully unconventional. May it always be so. :)

    Here too we are transitioning to the new season. I envy your buckets of apples. The production of our young trees was light this year and now long gone. On the other hand, our fall veggies are coming along very nicely, though we're fast approaching the frost/freeze danger zone.

    1. Thank you Bill. May it indeed continue to be unconventional, I get bored with convention :)

      Oh to have a longer growing season! Well maybe! We've already had the frosts but the hardier plants have weathered through that. I think the nice thing about the short growing season is knowing there is an end to harvesting, the downside is not much in the way of fresh veg in the winter. With any luck the carrots and beets will see us through this year and hopefully the squash well into the new year. I don't think we will get away with early spring veg in the greenhouse, we might be using the greenhouse for lambing time this year.

  4. Happy anniversary. What an interesting life you have.


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