Monday, 21 December 2015

Not quite ready for Christmas yet!

There weren't many pictures this week - too dreich by far.
It was so dark today the light didn't even go off in the flat,
so I have been playing around with iphoto 
Christmas! Bah humbug! Well actually not quite. Christmas is different here and we are not quite in the swing of it yet anyway. I was always one to have the decorations up on Christmas Eve and not before, although this has changed to fit in with family visits from time to time, as in last year, or because here in Latvia and when we lived in Denmark, Christmas Eve was the day of celebration and so Christmas Eve then seems a bit late to be putting up decorations. We did listen to a whole evening of Christmas music yesterday and some of my favourite tunes were played, for instance "I believe in Father Christmas" by Greg Lake, "Driving home for Christmas" by Chris Rea and the theme from "The Snowman", so it feels a little more like Christmas.  Meanwhile we get on with the daily chores and I try to finish off some work before taking a break.

Again this is from last week but isn't much different today
I am not quite sure what we will be eating for Christmas dinner yet. A few weeks ago we had thought that if the hunters brought us some wild boar meat, then we would have roast wild boar. However since they turned up with the humungous beast it means we have already dined on wild boar meat several times  and we will  be eating it for quite a while yet, so suddenly the humble chicken seems much more appealing. We then had the kind of discussion that only those who homestead will probably understand, when Ian asked, "So who is it?" referring to the chicken sat in our freezer, as it is would be one that we knew personally, "Is it Tim?" Tim was the the cockerel that at first was quite friendly but a bit lacking in the brain department who managed to lose three of his girls to a fox or bird of prey, instead of defending them. Not terribly helpful! After he turned more aggressive and got ideas above his station, he was dispatched to our freezer. Anyway it won't be Tim we are having for dinner, it will probably be his brother, who never got a name, but was dispatched for being far too greedy and elbowing his ladies out of the way to get to the food - no manners at all.

The young alpacas have been having fun running around the paddock

Sheep in black and white
The ground was reasonably well frozen so that we could drive across with the tractor at the beginning of the week and therefore we took the opportunity to get some bales of hay out of neighbour's barn where we have them stored (yes they did know, just in case you were wondering). I got to the barn only to find out that our hay bales were now behind some rather large ones. There was no way I could shift the large ones at all. Ian had dropped me off while he went to let the animals out so that I could start the process of moving our bales to the doorway and I had forgotten my phone, so there was nothing for it but to just try and manage the best I could to lug thirty bales up and over the large ones. I couldn't physically lift them completely over the top, they are still too heavy as they have not lost a lot of weight in the drying process of being in the barn. I could lift them onto our small bales though and then up end them onto the large bales where I could then roll them off. I managed to get all thirty moved just as I heard Ian arrive with the tractor. Between us we managed to shift one of the large ones to one side to give us a clear path for when we collect the next load later on in the winter.

This is Eyre's first winter
After shifting hay we then had to take a trip to see the family doctor again. She wanted to know how Ian had got on last week with the consultant and she took the opportunity to ask lots of questions about us. We asked her about the price of the operation and she got straight on the phone to find out - no messing. Unfortunately we found out that the operation was definitely €700 as a private patient, otherwise Ian would have to wait a long time to get the operation - it would probably also mean taking money away from other patients due to the limited resources of the health service here. Waiting would also mean increasing the risk of serious complications. At least the timing of the operation is perfect for us (well as perfect as any operation can be) as February means Ian does not usually have that many jobs to do. The only downside is the problems we could have with the weather, but we cross that bridge when we come to it and make sure that there is plenty of hay close to the alpacas.

Trees with a dusting of snow and ponds full
It has been a rather expensive week in other ways too. Our car has not been handling very well on the rather dire roads we have around here at this time of year. That usually means that the tyres are in need of replacing. The depth of tread is fine for normal road use, but not for the mud soup we have at the moment, or the slippery conditions of earlier on this week. We ended up buying some winter tyres, rather than our normal all weather ones and the plan will be we will switch back to the old ones in the summer where we will get at least another year's wear out of them. It was a bit of a trek to get them though.

A picture from the only nice day we had this week
A friend of ours tried to put us in contact with someone in the big town, Madona, but that didn't quite go to plan as the owner wasn't there when we arrived, even though our friend had tried to organise it earlier. We hung around for a while to see if he would turn up (as we do on a fairly regular basis it seems) and I even managed to get an appointment for an eye test and order new glasses in the meantime (oh yes! more expense) but no news, so we decided to head out to another place a few kilometres away. This tyre place advertised on the internet and it said they had the kind of tyres we wanted, but when we got there the person behind the counter was obviously not going to go out of his way to help us, so we gave up.

A picture of Ūdensroze from their facebook page.
By this time we were pretty hungry and more than ready for some lunch. I had heard good reviews about Ūdensroze at Vecpiebalga and so it seemed as good an opportunity as any to go. It turned out to be a good move. It wasn't the cheapest place, but not too pricey either (especially compared to the UK). I was amused at the translation of shepherd's pie as I felt sure that it wouldn't be anything like the shepherd's pie that I know. The Latvian name for the dish was Vecpiebalgas jēra pīrāgs, which to me would suggest lamb in tiny bread dough pies (I must take a picture of pīrāgs one day to show you), but it was nothing like the dish that turned up, which was a very tasty English style shepherd's pie with a potato topping, so the translation was correct after all. As we were eating we got a text to tell us the tyres would be €140 each, which if you say it quickly enough isn't too bad and not for the type of car we have. The tyres were duly ordered and Ian would collect them another day, meanwhile we headed home as these dreich short days means the animals need putting away around 3pm. The only thing that worries us about the new tyres that our purchase of new tyres often seems to result in bad winter, so I am going to apologise now - just in case!

Just to remind us that there is sun up there somewhere
The other news is that my paper about the conflict over the management of wild boar here in Latvia has finally gone to the publishers. It is available online, but not completely finished. I haven't seen it yet as a completed paper, but I have seen it pop up on a google scholar email alert which amused me. The novelty will wear off I'm sure. At least that is one job permanently crossed off my list now. I am so relieved.

Seeds waiting to be sorted. They have been drying for
months on the radiator. They didn't need to dry that long
just not got around to sorting them yet.
Driech days are definitely days to ponder on life in general and one of the things I have been pondering on is one of my favourite verses from the bible is from Isaiah 43:18-20 (New International Version)

18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
A skein of wool spun by Ian and plyed together ready
to be knitted into a hat or woven. I haven't decided yet.
It sure needs washing though
Often I used to read it as God transforming the desert so that new things spring up and the desert is pushed back, but lately I am seeing a new perspective on this. Not that the first one was wrong but right for the time. Desert experiences are not all bad, they can help us re-evaluate what is important to us and help us see somethings with greater clarity. The desert is lifeless to those with no knowledge of the desert, but to a desert dweller they are full of life. Rain in the desert, although rare, can transform the landscape with breathtaking speed revealing the hidden life in all its technicoloured splendour (This amazing video captures the beauty of the transformation, link here). "There is life in the desert", the writer in Isaiah is saying, "can you not see it?" As Joyce Hugget mentioned in her book, Listening to God, that I am reading (something I talked about last week), desert experiences are not comfortable but can be valuable experiences, something to draw us to deeper places.

The nearest we get to a desert rose, this is actually an ice
flower that we found in December 2009 when the
conditions were perfect for these formations. Never
seen them since
I wouldn't like to live in a desert but it can be similar to winter here in Latvia. There are the dark days of November and into December sometimes, then the harsh cold of winter proper, with hopefully snow on the ground to brighten the days. It can seem like it goes on forever, then the storks arrive and the grass starts to get green, the coltsfoots bloom and you know spring has arrived and new life is bursting out in an almost unseemly rush. We know that life is there, waiting, because we have lived through it. Although drab and dreary, life is on hold, waiting for the sun's rays to waken life again. There is life there, can you not see it yet!

The drabness of the days since the snow has gone helps me to realise why there should be a festival of light at this time of year.  So on the shortest day of the year, when we look forward to the return of the longer days I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.


  1. It's interesting the differences between countries as far as celebrating holidays goes. Here in the states, most of our neighbors have decorated for Christmas right after Thanksgiving.....a full month of lights and such. One of the few really great things about here....
    I laughed about Tim the chicken (or his brother....).
    I had forgotten that about owning chickens. After a time, they do become dinner. You wouldn't know a grocery store chicken-LOL! (or even if it really is chicken)

    1. To be honest most Brits would have their decorations up somewhere between early and mid-December. Here in Latvia where we now live it tends to be more mid-December. We got into the habit of only putting up decorations on Christmas Eve when the kids were little, so that they would come down to a transformed living room which I thought would add to the magic. As they grew older it kept them out of mischief by giving them something to do.

      The difference in taste between a grocery store chicken and ours is quite startling. He was tasty :)

  2. Merry Christmas from Virginia! Hoping you and yours had an enjoyable day. All best wishes for a peaceful season and a very happy new year!

    1. And a very merry Christmas to you and Cherie too. We did have an enjoyable day thanks. All the best for you and your endeavours in the New Year. May the deer take a rest from snacking on your garden


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