Monday, 26 October 2015


A trip to the beach
Are you going to get dressed? No!
Eat up your dinner! No!
Let GJ read a story! No!
Shall we go for a walk? No!
"No" seems to be my grandson's favourite word at the moment, but bless him he is cute and he has his moments when he is cuddly and makes us laugh. It is just the joys of a two year old and the phase is kind of short, until they learn different ways to mean the same thing. At least we hope it is a short phase. Poor little soul, his routine has been a little disrupted with me around, but we have still had some lovely moments. Like when we went to the beach together. We redistributed pebbles around the beach and discovered some stones roll and some make a big splash - great fun with a little one! We also sat on a wall together and watched race karts go around a track. We drew in the sand and watched a horse trotting along the beach too. We found pebbles with holes in that you can see through, we found shells of different kinds and we even found the empty egg cases of skates, sometimes called mermaid's purses and possibly of the catshark too.
A happy face
Another happy smiley face of my little
granddaughter this time
I like this rock garden outside a café we went to
The day after I arrived in England I went along with my daughter-in-law, grandson and granddaughter to toddlers. It has been a while since I have been in a hall full of little ones, so a little noisy. Alpacas aren't quite so boisterous as a hall full of under threes. I got roped in to help in the kitchen as someone was not able to make it that morning, so it was nice to feel useful. Despite the absolute change in routine for me I have enjoyed it. Plenty of opportunity for cuddles and changing nappies - well a couple anyway. I am pleased I haven't entirely lost the knack of changing a baby and putting their clothes on. Toddlers was followed by a harvest festival at the church that ran the group. It was amusing to see someone else trying to get the children involved in the story. I rounded up our little one and got him to join in the songs at least.
A novel use for a boat

The one that got away. This would
have been good for chunky knits, but
it wasn't meant to be.
A friend of mine told me about a weaving, spinning and dyeing biennial exhibition near to where my son lives and so I decided to go. It was delightful to talk to some of the stallholders and I also managed to buy some carders and a second-hand spinning wheel (picture later, it is sat in the boot of my car at the moment). These wheels are often really expensive, but second-hand they are a quarter of the price. I just have to work out a way to get it back now. It was great to see all the possibilities for woollen crafts, but I was a little disappointed that some of the prices on crafts were rather low. I realise that some people only charge for the materials, but when they do that, it makes it difficult for others to sell their goods at prices that properly reimburses their time, or at least goes a substantial way towards it. The argument often goes that people will not pay the prices expected, but then again why should they when people are prepared to work for a pittance?

A great moody shot of the sea, but not
one I can take credit for. My son took
this with my camera, along with the
picture of a happy smiley grandson
After the exhibition I went around to my friend's house for a coffee and to practice on her spinning machine. I was pleased that I sort of got the hang of what to do and just really need some practice. When I say friend though, in reality this is the first time we have actually met in person. Ian met her earlier on in the year and I have got to know her online over the last year. We got on rather well and had a wonderful time. It is nice when online connections work and it was fantastic to see my friend's work in the flesh so to speak. You can see some of the fantastic creations she makes on her blog, Fibre Frenzi. The day was rounded off with a nice plate of fish and chips with the family. A lovely way to finish a day.

A chilly walk along the promenade
Saturday was a day to chill out with the family and we took a walk along the beach. It is funny to think that most of my life I either lived in a seaside town or visited regularly to see grandparents, but I never really spent that much time actually visiting the sea. I do remember trips to the beach, where I built sandcars and not sandcastles. I remember the bracing Boxing Day walks along the promenade to walk off the Christmas Dinner. Rarely though did we play the tourist on the beach, it was not a place for holidays or days out, we usually headed inland or up to The Lakes, in other words the opposite direction to the tourists often.

My son racing 
On Sunday morning my daughter-in-law, grandson and granddaughter stood on a cold roundabout in the middle of the countryside waiting for my son who was racing. We got there a bit early which did not go down well with our little two year old and soon he was whinging to get out of the car. Then he whinged because he was cold, so he and I went for a little run up a path to get warmed up a bit. He then sat in the car for a little while before we managed to convince him to sit in the pushchair with a blanked on to watch for his daddy.  Eventually he cheered up, after I let him push the button on my camera, every time a cyclist went past. We didn't always capture a cyclist on camera, but at least he cheered up and I still managed to capture our son on his bike as he sped past briefly. He cycled past twice as he headed back to the headquarters and so the second time we shouted "Go, go, go!"
My little grandson's pictures! He didn't do too bad really

Whoops missed

Autumn in Latvia. Ian took these
Today I went to another harvest festival for youngsters. It would have been for toddlers but since it is a half-term, some were a little older. Unfortunately though, it was time to move on and I had to say goodbye after some lunch. My little grandson wasn't too bothered, but he did want to come with me to see his Uncle Mate. That's not his real name, but one he calls my youngest son. "My come!" he told me many times. Fortunately he was persuaded that he couldn't come with me, as he had to go and see his cousins.
Autumn in England - Steyning to be precise

Ian has been busy while I have been away and the alpaca
house is complete. 
So finally I have arrived at my youngest son's home, but it was not without a little adventure along the way. I crawled around the London car park, aka the M25. After drawing close to where my son lives I managed to miss the final exit. I took the next turning and then kind of headed in the right direction until I saw a largish supermarket where I could call my son from. The problem was that my credit ran low on my Latvian phone which meant I couldn't call him, only text and it wouldn't even let him call me. I ended up having to get an English SIM card after I realised that my son must have gone to the wrong supermarket and therefore I wasn't where he thought I was.
A nice panoramic shot from our ski hill

Where there's a box, there's a cat - or is it the other way around?

Another panoramic shot, this time from the Oak hill

Estelle and Brencis. Brencis will only move to the new
alpaca house for a short while, before moving back to the
one he lives in now, as the girls will be the ones living in
the new quarters, so they are nearer to the electric points
in case we need to supervise them during births or keep
little ones warm.



Monday, 19 October 2015

I'm home - for now!

The site of the Latvian University of Agriculture. Well part
of it and the site for one of our lectures and lunch
on Tuesday
I never did find the kettle in the hostel I was staying at, but at least I did find out that there was one at the place where the course was being held... well eventually anyway. It was only a small course and the other students were lovely. The people who ran the course got on very well and it shows, with the lovely friendly atmosphere. In the afternoon there was always a themed break, such as chocolate break, apple break and cookie break and I ended the week with a rather high blood sugar reading when I got back home. Note to self - stay clear of the sweet stuff. That is going to be so tough for me, I do have rather a sweet tooth. Fortunately I also like fresh vegetables and there were plenty of those too for lunch.
Apple break by the river

Ironwork on the bridge over the river

A dowry chest in the old tower
The hot flushes have started up again and it is getting a little annoying to be talking to someone and then feeling myself suddenly getting rather hot and starting to sweat (okay you didn't want to really know that, but unfortunately that is the reality). Occasionally even my glasses start steaming up, thank goodness not too often. I just laugh though and say "It's my age!" I don't want people to think I'm embarrassed or anything like that, because I am not. I used to be easily embarrassed when I was younger, but not so much now.
Examples of old spindles made by young
men to demonstrate their prowess in
woodwork to the woman he wants to

Traditional patterns Zemgale,
a region in the South of Latvia

This is where I spent much of the week and is called
Valdeka palace
Overall the course was good, not because I particularly learnt much new. I did finally get the idea that cognition does mean, life the universe and everything, as I thought it seemed to do. The title was Landscape Cognition and as I mentioned last week the topic was a part of what I have been studying for over a year now. The problem was that I was always a little hazy on what the cognition part meant. I of course looked it up in the dictionary and tried to get my head around what it meant, but it just seemed too vague. I explained to my course mates that I too struggled with the word cognition, as they did, because it is not a word we use regularly. On the last day though, the Norwegian visiting professor pointed out that while it is true we do not use the word cognition very often, we do use the word recognition. Finally it made sense. When we look at a landscape our brain is matching the elements in that landscape to our knowledge, past experiences, our cultural understanding and so much more. Our brains are constantly trying to make sense of our surroundings and that is basically what cognition means, so it is life, the universe and everything.

The room was painted to recreate the
original interiors of the place

The wild horses
The course was not all study and we had a couple of excursions, one to see a spit of land in the river that regularly floods every year. They keep wild horses there to keep the meadow from turning into scrub. The horses are actually quite gentle, but are free to wander around, hence the term "wild". The gentleman who cares for the horses explained that they will be selling some of the young males off because they have too many stallions this year and so I have got his details in case we ever decide to get one. They are quite sturdy creatures and very hardy, because they effectively grow a fur coat for winter and so can be kept outside with some shelter, but not necessarily a shed, it can be a hedge, even in our harsh winters.
Furniture in the tower museum

The remains of the wall of the old church
The other excursion was to an old tower that once was attached to a church, but that part was blown up by the Soviets. The tower was kept to store explosives and the idea was that they would eventually demolish the tower. The problem was that it has really thick walls and by the time they were ready to blow it up they had built housing around it. To blow up the tower would have meant blowing out the window of every home for up to 300m around, so the tower was kept. It now has a nice glass roof on top with impressive views over the surrounding area. Our guide for the day was quite a lively young man, with ambitions on being a president one day. At least he has a positive attitude to life in Latvia, which is promising.
The greenhouse in the morning light

The cold weather has meant our two cats are now tolerating
each other much more. Cuddled up for warmth
One of the ladies on the course dropped me and another student off in Riga. On a previous trip through Riga I purchased a bus ticket, but I didn't need it as it was a celebration day and all public transport was free; fortunately it came in useful this week as we had to catch the bus to the bus station so I could get the last bus home. I got there in enough time to catch the bus, but not to buy a ticket for that trip at the station. Fortunately the last bus home on a Friday is not as full as the earlier one and so I got a seat. The earlier bus is usually standing room only for those who have not already bought a ticket.

The wine we started a little while ago
My first day back at home I sorted out the green tomatoes from the red tomatoes, sorted out the apples and removed the bad ones. I then cooked down some tomatoes, made green tomato chutney and made a batch of apple sauce and juice using the steamer. I also got two loads of washing done and read through my paper that was returned with amendments just before the course. It doesn't sound like a huge amount in one day, but it took ages to sort through the large amounts of apples and tomatoes alone. Cooking them was the easy bit.
Because there has to be pictures of alpacas :)

Ian working on the roof panels
The next day we decided to stay out in the caravan so that we could get on with jobs out on the land. The alpacas needed toe nails cutting and Aggie needed an injection, all jobs that I need to help Ian out with before clearing off to the UK for nearly a month. I also helped him with the roof panels for the new alpaca house. We have been joking that it is big enough to live in and it is seriously tempting to make it into a small house to stay in.
If we had a window in the new alpaca house, this would
be the view towards the road

One side finished

The mouse storage compartment revealed
One job we didn't plan on was spending rather a long time cleaning out Larry our Lada, but had to after we discovered that a mouse had been relocating alpaca feed into the roof space of the car. We thought that Larry had developed a leak as the roof liner was sagging, but when Ian drilled a small hole into it, no water came out, just dust. The mouse had shifted about 17kg of grain into the roof space - an amazing amount of storage for such a small animal. We had to cut open the fabric cover for the roof space to clear it out. We plan to feed the grain to the wild birds over winter, as we can't feed it to our chickens or alpacas and we don't want to tip it somewhere as that will encourage the wild boar. Sadly we had to put some poison out to kill the mouse as we don't plan on feeding mice all winter with alpaca food. It is a last resort as we haven't managed to catch it with a trap and we can't just lock the cats in there.

Some of the grain that was stored in the roof
Building inspector

Monday, 12 October 2015

A race against time

The Amaranth after the frost. Hopefully
the seed is still fine and I have started
processing it.
I mentioned that last week we had our first frost and this week we had our second frost early on in the week with the forecast for even cooler weather on the way, this meant we had to get motivated to sort out some of our crops. We harvested all of our climbing beans, they were all just about ready for harvest anyway and then we harvested the cabbages, although they will stand some frost the forecast was for up to -7C and that is a tad cold for them, so better in the freezer than destroyed. We also harvested as many apples as we could. In addition I potted up the basil to take home. All in one day. Not bad hey! Those geese were definitely in the know.
A peaceful scene, belying the fact that Herkules has been
escaping for much of the week. He has been forced to stay
in with a little help from the more powerful electric charger.
It is not as if there is nothing to eat, just not first choice and
since the other two in particular have weight issues they can
jolly well stay in that area until they have finished the grass

The caravan in its winter quarters
I did cover some crops up in fleece, as it was impossible to harvest everything, but it wasn't perfect. The autumn raspberries did okay for a few days, but the number of hard frosty nights we have had finished them off. Such a shame as there were still plenty to come and they had been ripening nicely. The hard frosts has meant we can empty the greenhouse sooner than anticipated and since I am planning to be away this next week and then about five days later I will be away for a whole month, we decided that the chickens and the caravan needed to be put away in their winter abode. Another one of those markers in the year, that tells us the seasons are changing.
Of course the chickens had to go in first, even though it is
still dry weather outside. I still think they appreciated the
move, one of them laid an egg and they had stopped prior
to this

I know you are not supposed to move
asparagus, but it was not working
where it was and so we have chanced
it and moved it to a sunnier spot. The
asparagus bed had also got weed
infested and so another excuse to move
them. They look nice and neat now
As many of you know who have followed my blog for a while we often have trouble with wild boar (wild hogs) but lately there has been African Swine fever making its way through the country. It is an extremely infectious disease apparently, so I had a look at the updated maps showing the spread of the disease and it appears to have moved into our area now. Not sure if that is the reason we haven't had much wild boar damage this autumn or it is because the ground is so dry meaning there aren't as many grubs to dig up and eat. Whichever way the decrease in pig activity has been very welcome. If it wasn't for the fact that wild boar will be suffering, I would even go so far as to do a happy dance.
Wish I could say all the beds were as nice and neat. Maybe
next year

Ian working hard and wrapped up against the chill
I am not sure it was a good idea to let Ian go to our daughter's, it seems to have had expensive repercussions. He suddenly found out that a laser levelling device, a laser measuring device and an electric mitre saw were the must have items for the newest constructions he is doing. Wouldn't mind but he has had to take back the laser level already, though it did start working again after a bit of tinkering at the shop and now he will have to take the measuring device back. Not good for Bosch products really. I always associated Bosch with good quality and now not so sure. I've told Ian that he will now have to build the house to justify the costs. Hahaha! I wish. To be fair though, he had already requested an electric mitre saw to make the building of the alpaca houses easier and faster.
The base laid out

I helped with the first two uprights and the rest, Ian has
been busy with while I'm away
It wasn't the only repercussion. Our daughter has a blood sugar monitor and since diabetes runs in Ian's family he decided to try it out. Our daughter informed him that he was showing signs of being pre-diabetic due to his fasting blood sugar levels (she is a qualified nurse). That meant he needed to buy his own monitor when he got back home, more expense. Fortunately the monitors themselves are not so bad, but it is the strips that rack up the cost. I decided to try the monitor one morning too and what was even worse was that my fasting blood sugar was higher than Ian's. At least I can lose some weight to see if my levels will go down. I have lost the usual weight over the summer but I would need to keep an eye on it over the winter. Ian doesn't really have any weight to lose and trying to keep his calorie intake up without overdoing the carbs is going to be a bit of a nightmare. Thank goodness fat is getting less bad press than it used to.
Our little pest. If she can get in the way
she will at the moment. At least she is a good
mouser, just wish she would not leave them
lying around all over the place

Tellus in the frosty morning light
It is quite odd really, as one of the ways of managing blood sugars is to use less carbohydrates that cause the sugar spikes. What is needed is a slow release carbohydrate or a way of slowing the release down. Many moons ago while we were at university, we took part in some studies to observe how to modify the sugar spikes from foods like apples and sweetcorn. It is as if the research we were part of back then is going to affect how we eat in the future. We did something useful after all. Wish I could say the same about the paper I have been trying to get published. It has been sent back again regarding the quality of the English. I know this blog is not always written in perfect English, I am often a bit tired when I sit down to write it and it isn't an academic exercise and so I am not always so careful, but really my English is not that bad, nor is my co-author and definitely not the lady who proofread it. I am really quite bewildered by the comment and thoroughly exasperated by the process. Oh well! At least the editor made the changes she felt necessary and so I need to go through them and find out what the problem is ..... again!!!!
Herkules our escape artist

Turbjørn looking quite jolly in this picture
We had a brush with the law this week too. The regional police have been doing a tour of the area looking to generate a few Euros by some accounts. We were travelling back from the land and there was a BMW behind us and Ian was expecting it to pass us once we got onto the tarmac, but it didn't. Instead a police car overtook both of us with lights flashing and then pulled up in front of us. The policeman was unusually brusque. Once they realise we don't speak much Latvian the Latvian police usually try and deal with us as quickly as possible and are usually reasonably polite, at least not rude. Ian wasn't quite sure what they were asking for and so I explained that it was the driver's licence, but in the meantime the policeman seemed to be muttering something about in Latvian speaking Latvian. I realise that we should, but it would have been quite rude if we had just been visitors and at the time he didn't know whether we were or weren't, apart from the car being registered in Latvia. The policeman looked rather disappointed that Ian had zero for alcohol when he used the breathalyser and they couldn't find anything wrong with the car either.
An empty space where a caravan once stood

Estelle. Now is she pregnant or not? We think she is
To wrap up this week, I am in Jelgava on a course. The course description is something similar to the research the students did for me earlier on in the year about Sense of Place - how people are attached to places and what they feel about them. Should be interesting to hear some different perspectives. It was a rather early start as normal when I catch buses and it was also a very cold start, as it was minus 5C (23F) this morning. So after that early start, I am now sat in one of the university hostel rooms, which is noisy from the traffic outside and that is with the windows shut and I can hear voices from the room next door, but at least I am not sharing a room and the bed is comfy. I am also longing for a cup of tea, but there won't be one until later on in the day tomorrow because they do not seem to have a kettle in the communal kitchen area. They have mugs, two cookers and two frying pans, but I cannot see a kettle.