Monday, 25 April 2016

To do lists

On Sofie's to-do-list is sleep. Actually she does do a very
good job of keeping the vole and mice population in check
and away from our animal feed. Here she is sleeping on the job
An eclectic week as usual with a long list of to dos that described the variety. Two presentations to prepare with online groups from varying countries, reading for courses, writing of papers, advertising for our summer felting workshop, gardening jobs, car technical and so on. There were nights I have to confess to feeling pretty tired, but I at least felt I was getting somewhere as I worked down the lists. I wish I didn't have to do the courses now, but they are useful and just at the right time in other ways.

A damp looking alpaca. We are not quite sure what happened
the other day, but Tellus got out from the electric fence and
since then the boys have been a bit on edge. They wouldn't
even go in one night
Advertising for our farm and felting workshop was a top priority to sort out. Some parts required translation and when I got the translation through I had to add the translation to the poster I had designed, which required some jiggling around of the set out. Felt in Latvian is a longer word and so I had to move pictures to fit it in. Most of it worked the same though. I have also sorted out business cards for Ian and if all goes to plan we should have those and some posters in Latvian ready tomorrow.

Mr. P. having a bad hair day
Both the courses I have been doing recently required online presentations to be prepared. It is quite a challenge when people come from different circumstances with different access to the internet and different works schedules. In the end I set up a Facebook group for both of them  just so we can discuss the things we need to do without having to stick to trying to arrange Skype calls that not all of us can make at the same time. It did amuse me that I would do that as the oldest one in the group, but then perhaps the younger members would have suggested something different to do the same thing. The main thing is that we got there in the end and the presentations, worked well enough.

How could anyone resist a picture of an alpaca when they are
as cute as Mari? It is a good job she is cute though, she is
proving a bit of a handful for eating through fences, which
does not do the fence much good. That and her mountain
goat impressions inside the alpaca house when she wants
some hay. She has a sweet temperament though
Friday was my birthday and we had a day off, well kind of. Ian got a day away from the alpacas and I got a day away from academic work. Just to celebrate we went to the big town to take the car for its technical. We were a little surprised that it actually passed and so the work we know will need doing on it is not so urgent that it has to be done immediately and can be fitted in with our schedule better. The prices though for technicals and road tax (which has to be paid at the same time) have gone up with quite a jump over the last 8 years.

Any suggestions for a caption for this picture of Chanel?
We also had a meeting with a lady at the museum in the town, she was acting as translator for an older lady who wanted to book a trip to our farm. We wanted to meet to make sure about the arrangements. The older lady who was doing the booking was a very lively lady who gave me a handful of forsythia, a very spring-like gift. She didn't even know it was my birthday. She loved the pictures of our alpacas that Ian showed her on the computer and she had with her the article from the newspaper that featured us last year. We now have a booking for 54 seniors to visit in May. If they are all as lively as she is we will have a busy old time keeping up with them.

Hopefully Lady V is enjoying her year off from being pregnant
We rounded off the day with a late lunch at our local hotel and then got ready to spend time out in the caravan. We are slowly getting more organised for this and although the mornings have been on the cool side, even though the caravan is still in the greenhouse, we have slept well. Ian is often disturbed by our neighbours who are early risers when we are in the apartment - not that they are particularly noisy it is just he hears them moving around. I don't, but then I am as deaf as a doorpost really. It does mean though that we get up later out in the caravan, but still early enough to let the alpacas out at a reasonable time and I don't think we would get to sleep in much later with the cockerel in an ark right outside the caravan.

but is Estelle pregnant? We are still not sure, some days she
looks like she is and some days she doesn't
Since we are out on the land so much now, it means that when it is dry I can get out and do some gardening. I can plan my day around the rather too frequent showers. If it is due to rain in the afternoon, I will do some gardening in the morning and then reading or writing in the afternoon and even into the evening, if need be. If it is dry all day (not many of those just lately) I can do my reading and writing interspersed with a bit of time off in the garden. The chickens are loving the buckets of weeds though and I hope that their eggs will be turning bright orange with all the greenery. At least I have now planted up the broad beans outside, along with sorting out the Jerusalem artichoke bed. I have extended it as we plan to have quite a few beds of those so the chickens can eat them over the winter. We didn't have enough of them to give them on a very regular basis. The alpacas can have them from time to time too. Actually so can we.
Aggie is changing and is now at the stage where she is ready
for mating. Our first alpaca to be born on the land, now
possibly ready for having babies of her own
Ian of course has been doing much more land work than I have. He has moved a wood pile that was in the way for fencing off the next section of garden where we will be planting vegetables. Once that was moved he could then shift the manure heap around with the tractor to make some raised beds. The manure is well rotted - at least most of it is anyway and that means we can plant into it and not have to do a lot of digging and rotavating. We left some rows for rotatvating because the cabbages and such like will not like being planted into the manure even if it is well rotted. We will mulch them with hay to add bulk to the soil. It is nice to see how our orchard plot is beginning to turn from a sandy colour to black from the amount of chippings, hay and compost that we have added over the years.

One of Ian's jobs. Moving the manure into heaps with the
tractor. Now they are in place he can fence the garden areas.
The beds that were made last week weren't straight and so the
first job was to straighten then up and then put the remaining
manure in the second plot. Eventually we will have four plots
that we can rotate so the sheep are not on the same plot
each winter and the chickens move from plot to plot too.
In between moving fences, showing visitors around, fixing the car, piling up wood and rotavating the field ready for planting, Ian has also been carding wool. At least it is something he can do when it rains. The drum carder is doing a nice job of cleaning the wool of the vegetable debris that our alpacas love to accumulate by rolling around in the hay and is a lot faster than hand carding of course. It needs at least two passes through the carder to get a relatively clean product and possibly three to really get it clean, but since it is relative quick to do, that isn't a problem. As I said Ian has also been showing visitors around and every weekend we have had a group or family turn up. It will be much nicer though on a warm day, it got rather chilly when we were chatting to our last group of visitors and one little girl decided that it was too cold and went and sat in the car. Her mum was fascinated though with the alpacas. I guess we must print out the brochures for the workshop so they can take one. We are not getting them professionally printed because they are too expensive just for the workshop, we will get them printed for general purposes though.

Rotavated fields in the background. She will need moving soon
but the grass is only growing slowly in the cooler weather 
this week
A friend of mine has been the source of a good few contacts, more recently via Facebook. I got chatting with one chap about development and we realised that our interests and thoughts were on the same wavelength. On my birthday we had a Skype conversation where we chatted about encouraging people to get involved and how problematic that can be, both getting people involved and then sometimes expecting too much from people who have lives to live. We both found it very encouraging from a professional point of view. It was funny though to hear how he felt I was the only academic doing the kind of work I do in the whole of Latvia. Scary thought too.

Green grass! Yum!
Just to finish off with something that caught my attention on the BBC, a Greek granny hosting several Syrian refugees on a meagre budget. I often see posts where the Prime Minister of Hungary is talking about Europe being a Christian country and therefore should not accept refugees but I feel that the Greek granny displays more of what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 25:37-40

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
The bible encourages us to care for the sick, the orphan and the alien amongst us. Aliens means not the same as us. There are no excuses for not caring for people in need and fear of the one who might cause us harm is no excuse for ignoring the plight of the rest. The Greek granny and others like her who reach out to the refugees and offer hope are my heroes.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Summer around the corner

Beginning to green up nicely in the few sunny days we have
This week was the first week after the winter when we ate fresh greens. We had nettles, bitter cress, dandelions, onion leaves, chives and ground elder. It is like weeding straight from the garden into the pan. Later on in the year, many of these plants will not taste so nice but at this time of the year they are like a fresh tonic after the stored produce we have been eating over winter. It is a relief that things are growing now, as we are down to the last few onions and carrots. I think I also have one bag of peas left in the freezer. We have lots of meat though, still plenty of fruit, potatoes and beets, some frozen squash and some that have survived storage over the winter, so we wouldn't have starved - just meals would have taken an interesting turn.

Our neutered kitten. She is recovering very well and been
bounding around from the start
Eyre went to be neutered this last week. We don't believe in letting our cats get pregnant to increase the number of feline murderers of birds. Two is quite enough around here to keep the mice out of our feed bins and stop the mice and voles from eating our newly sprouted seedlings and if anything happens to the cats, there are plenty of replacements from the village. I say we don't believe in letting our cats get pregnant, but we were a little late with Eyre, as the tom that visited the other week had obviously had a successful visit, however the vet terminated that pregnancy. I am pleased we didn't wait any longer.

Old manure forming raised beds
Other signs that summer is on the way is our ground preparations. Ian moved the old manure heap to make some raised beds. His next job will be to fence it off so we can plant potatoes in the beds. He has also been trying to clear the areas where trees are down so that we can get to parts of the field ready to prepare that ground too. We have had some nice sunny days, but we have also had spring showers that means we can't get the tractor out to work the ground, one is too heavy and would chew up the ground, the other small walk behind tractor would not cope with the wet and sticky soil. Hopefully it won't be too long though, as the ground tends to dry out quite quickly at this time of the year as the newly growing vegetation laps up the moisture. He has also been clearing trees in preparation should we make a final decision to fence off the land. It is obviously quite a bit of money and so we have to way up the pros and cons carefully.

Out on the grass
We moved the cockerel tonight into his new home with the good egg producers. He was such a sucker. I put a handle of grain down on the floor and then easily moved into to grab him. We will attempt to get a few more hens this year but we are not going into big production like last year. Although we will wait until we know we are not going to be out and about so we can take care of the little ones better. The cockerel wasn't the only one to be moved, the sheep finally got moved out of their enclosure. They were getting noisier and noisier because they could see the green grass and wanted to be out on it, even though there isn't really much and it will harm the grass to be eaten down to low. We decided to put them in an area that we don't mind if it harms the grass because it will be ploughed over anyway. It is not as if the sheep were starving, although they were getting through the hay at quite a rate, so we are pretty sure they are pregnant. Our neighbouring farmer friend who has sheep paid us a visit to check out for us and he thinks they are pregnant too. He came to see us as I got a bit confused with the timing. I suddenly had a panic and thought they might be due when we are planning trips out and it wouldn't seem fair to leave friends and neighbours in charge of lambing sheep. Fortunately we are pretty sure they are due at the beginning of June.
They had had enough of being in here over winter and were
nibbling the grass through the fence and in the process broke
a few corner posts - so definitely time to move them

If you look hard you can see a rainbow. We don't often see
rainbows in this direction, as it was from the early morning
sun and we aren't on the land that often at that time in the
morning at that time of the year. Anyway I missed it, but
Ian saw it as he was letting the animals out
Another sign of summer being around the corner is we have started living in the caravan again. We spend as often as we can out there during the summer months and it is now warm enough to be able to do that, albeit the caravan is still in the greenhouse because the ground is just a tad too wet to get it out. The problem was that just as we were preparing to nip home to get all the things necessary to sleep out in the caravan like a quilt and pillows, another sign that summer is around the corner turned up - cyclists. Two ladies from Riga came up to see the alpacas. I was expecting Ian to come back to collect stuff to take home and seemed to be taking rather a long time considering we had things to do, when I realised I could hear him talking. I peeped out of the greenhouse to see him walking across the hills with two lycra clad ladies, so I went to introduce myself as I don't like to miss out on chatting to visitors.

Mari demonstrating the use of a communal poo pile
We were busy chatting when we heard a car and since the ladies bikes were down near the road, we were a bit worried in case a car had stopped to nick off with their bikes. Ian set off at a jog to make sure everything was okay and a car drove up onto the land. Another group of visitors. I stayed chatting with the cyclists for a few more minutes, while Ian showed around the next group. This group were very interested in what we were doing and we chatted for quite a while - meanwhile time was ticking on. Eventually they left and we got ready to go home and eat and bring back what was needed - needless to say, it was rather gloomy when we got back with our car full of stuff. We just had enough time to sort things out when it was time to roll into bed. We slept well enough, as it is so dark and quiet out on the land. We slept even better the next night when we got the pillows the right way round - I had Ian's and he had mine.

Chanel always looks like she has a lovely smile
We had other visitors too. We had a surprise phone call from one of our Estonian alpaca breeder friends to say her husband was in our village and could he pay a visit. We thought he was going to come in the evening but I got another phone call in the morning to ask if they could come. We decided to go to the hotel and guide them to our place as it is a bit hard to explain over the phone (will be easier with our brown sign). Our friend was doing a 4x4 course and the instructor was joining us too, so we had a 4x4 entourage back to our place. Mari, Chanel and Mr. P. all decided to ignore our friend - typical of animals really. I think it was really because they were enjoying finding those blades of grass too much.

If there is a blade of grass they will find it. Don't worry though
there will be plenty of time for this grass to recover before it
is eaten again. This year the animals have got even more space
to feed from that last year due to separating the boys and girls
further apart
One of the reasons for being away is that Ian has been offered shearing jobs up in Estonia and so we are trying to work out how to organise all of that. It should mean he will be shearing around 80 animals, not including our own. It is unlikely he will make much money this year, but it is the experience and finding out about the logistics that will be helpful for the future. He will then have a better idea of how much to charge next year.

More signs of spring, the grapevines are now showing signs of
Trying to track all the different things going on at the moment is a bit exhausting but I feel at least like I am ticking off jobs and getting things done. I am doing two courses at the moment and I hope I haven't already mentioned them and repeating myself. One is to make sure I have the right technical language for writing up my thesis later on in the year and the second one is to help us develop the business side of things. It is about social entrepreneurship, rather than straight ordinary business but it still gives me the right kinds of information that I need to get straightened out with the business side of things. I got a bit behind because this online course started whilst I was in the UK and then there is group work - challenging across time zones etc. One of the groups is now working together nicely, but the other one not so much. Not a lot you can do when it is like that. It is amazing though that it is possible to do group work in different countries, even me here in the caravan in the middle of nowhere. We have used Skype, Facebook, Google docs and an online Wiki. Quite a combination, but it worked.

Estelle finally beginning to look a bit pregnant. 
Another aspect of the Social Entrepreneurship course is that I have to do an interview with a social enterprise, but the problem is that in Latvia there are no formal social enterprises. I have opted to interview our neighbours who have a camp. They were the ones that lost the sheep not so long ago in a huge barn fire. They often employ people who struggle with work for one reason or another and that had become part of their goals, so it is the nearest to a social enterprise as I will get without an official designation of the business. The sheep business also helped to fund campers to attend the camps. Of course there will be issues this year, but they are working through them and seeing it as an opportunity to show value to people they employ as well as re-evaluate what they are doing - not much option really with farming. You have to carry on regardless of the losses to keep the whole thing going and to get subsidies that keep farms afloat. It is the reality for many in the farming industry and not all get through it, but I think, hope and pray these folks do and at least they do have a lot of other support, unlike some farmers.

This one is not ours but it is this sort, a very wide carder with
a large drum. We have got as far as opening the box and not
had a chance to play with it yet.
Finally we got a carder delivered this week. A carder combs the fleece so it is easier to use for spinning and some types of felting. It also cleans the fleece to some extent. I also brought back a felting machine with me from the UK. It was kindly donated to me by a friend and the felting machine has been on an epic journey. My friend lives up in Northumberland and it just so happened that another friend of mine was going up that way and so he collected it for me. The plan had been that his daughter would then take it down to Bath where she lives and another friend collect it from there as her children go to school in Bath, she would have then brought it back to Latvia (Did you follow all that?). My last minute plan to go to the UK though, meant that I could bring it back. So instead of going to Bath it went to Derbyshire where my daughter lives and then travelled back with me in hand luggage, after removing all the sharp needles and putting those in the checked in baggage. It did cause quite a laugh in security and it was a good job my daughter gave me a small suitcase to put it in, instead of the wrapping it had because I had to take it out of the bag as it was classed as an electrical item, like computers.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Hitting the road running

A borrowed hat and taking time to
see if we could spot the trout in the
The last few days in the UK were relaxed. After cancelling my trip to see someone about herbalism due to ill health (how ironic is that?) the rest of the time was focussed on spending time with my daughter and her family. At least bit by bit I was getting better, which made gentle strolls out feasible, especially at a small child's pace. I had to borrow my granddaughter's hat though, as mine wasn't warm enough in the chill wind.
A meal out with the family 

The birthday girl
The last day was my granddaughter's birthday itself and she was rather confused as to why she was having another birthday, but just like the Queen, she got to celebrate her birthday publicly on one day and privately on another. So for her private celebration she opened presents with me, her baby brother, her Mummy and her Daddy, before Daddy went off to work anyway. After the present opening we went out to do a little last minute shopping and then headed over to one of family's old haunts from our time spent living in Derbyshire. We never took the kids to MacDonalds or anything like that, instead we frequented the little caf├ęs dotted in the little villages all over Derbyshire and one of our favourite places was Caudwell Mill. The last time we were in Derbyshire it was too busy to get in, but this time there was space to sit and so a chance to have a cup of tea and a small piece of scone (unfortunately the rather nice cakes they have are out of the question these days).
My present to my granddaughter
was a pair of wellies and welly paint.
I think my granddaughter enjoyed
the challenge
Alpacas in Derbyshire and just about visible at my daughter's
We managed to dodge the showers whilst shopping and sipping tea, what we didn't manage to dodge was the my little granddaughter being sick in the car on the way home. Poor little thing, and of course rather inconvenient timing, as we were heading for lunch at home before my daughter took me to the airport. Fortunately the littlest one was asleep and so while I bathed my granddaughter, my daughter got the unenviable task of cleaning the car seat and car. Again the weather was kind and she managed to finish the job before a hailstorm. My granddaughter quickly recovered and she ate her lunch with us. Diverting her attention at one point on the journey to the airport managed to avert a repeat episode, before she thankfully fell asleep.
The nice weather has meant the spring flowers have suddenly
started appearing here in Latvia
It was another windy day for flying but at least it meant the flight took less time, rather than any issues with crosswinds. I found Ian at the airport, but it took a little while and a few texts before we found our guest. Ian had only just arrived in time for my flight because he had had to take the car to the garage in the afternoon to get the wheel bearing fixed. He was pleased to be able to get that fixed before taking the two hour drive to the airport though. It just meant that he hadn't had the time to locate our guest who had arrived on an earlier flight.
The gooseberry cuttings have survived the winter
The wagtails are back
At least the improvement in my health meant that Ian didn't put me into quarantine, aka the horse box, on the way home and our guest brought with him some lovely weather. The first day back was a chance to chill and for our guest to get acquainted with the alpacas. He thought they were lovely of course. The following day it was down to business. Our guest is doing his Masters thesis and he wanted to interview the ladies who I had organised the workshop for a few weeks ago. We had a great time and we all learned a lot as we shared about reflection and evaluation and realised the importance of it to us all.
Our sheep are looking pregnant or in need of a drastic diet.
Wish we could say the same about Estelle, who we are still not
sure about and should be due within the next month
Unfortunately this wee beastie did not last much beyond
winter. It looks like a ferret, which are supposed to be
domesticated versions of the wild European polecats. So not
Over the weekend our guest took off to see the sights of Riga, whilst I got on with some catching up of my work and Ian, as usual was back out on the land looking after the alpacas. Monday revolved around a lunchtime meeting and another interview in Riga, before heading back to the airport for our guest to return home. It was quite sad to say goodbye as we had really enjoyed his enthusiastic visit to the land we now call home. We love it when people fall in love with this country and see its quiet countryside as the jewel it is, even though it is perhaps a little drab after the winter snows have just gone. I suppose the sunshine helped a lot.
Before the March 31st deadline, Ian had been clearing out a
bit of the forest to give the trees room to grow. We have a lot
of willow that can strangle other trees. This area will be fenced
off and sown with woodland medicinal plants

Sorted piles of brush for chipping
Recycling! These came from the local vet and we have bought
them to store feed and collect water
It is amazing to think how our meeting was all due to a combination of various technologies that were not available only a short time ago. We "met" on Facebook after a friend of mine shared a request for information that I was also interested in for my studies. We got chatting on Facebook, then Skype and all within a few weeks we had managed to organise flights and interviews.
Brencis' fleece is getting long

Downtime and enjoying the sun

At least someone is enjoying a nap in the sun, rather than under
the fleece that was protecting my seedlings

Monday, 11 April 2016

Apologies abound

Yes another apology for no blog this evening. I have had a long but enjoyable day and our guest was delivered safe and sound at Riga airport

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The ups and ups and the downs

On her birthday bike. Maybe a little room for
growth, but I am guessing not that long
though. What else do you expect from a
dad who is a bike mechanic? 
It has been a lovely week visiting grandchildren and I have now made it to two birthday parties. One of the biggest problems of living abroad is not being able to make it to many of their birthdays, so this was lovely. Unfortunately the children may have been overly generous in sharing their bugs. I am not normally ill and was a little shocked to come down with a rather nasty virus that has taken some shaking off. It hasn't completely stopped me being out and about though, although I did have to cancel a meeting today to talk about herbalism, because I didn't feel up to riding on the bus and passing around the germs. It was a good job that I cancelled as I also lost my voice at times too.

Eyre's new boyfriend has been hanging around the place
My little granddaughter was quite upset today as I could only read one book before my voice gave out and I told her I couldn't read any more until later on in the day - well actually I squeaked the last bit of information. It was also funny trying to convey to people my desire to get through with a pushchair, as I could rarely shout loud enough to make myself heard and so people ignored me. Having said that my daughter said people rarely moved anyway, so it wouldn't have mattered if I had been loud enough apparently.

Taking a rest in the garden centre
So backtracking up a bit, some of the fun things I have done this week is to plant seeds with my grandson. These were seeds I had bought for him in January to grow his own salad. We first had to go out with his dad and little sister to buy some compost of course and while we were out we had a drink in a cafe and bought presents for the second birthday party. Such ordinary activities if you live close by I guess, but not so ordinary for me and quite a treat.

Our sheep would have been over those fences in two seconds
flat and certainly not tolerate the visitors in quite the same way
Next was a trip to a working sheep farm. It was amazing to see so many sheep calmly standing around in their pens while people milled around, some just having given birth and some about to. Our three female sheep only have to get the scent of people they don't know and they would be half way down the field and the low fencing they had around the sheep pens at the farm we visited would have proved little obstacle to them. It was quite a clever set up really as they only open to the public when most of the sheep are in the barns. People love to see the lambs the most of course and the rest of the year they are an ordinary farm with the sheep on the hills. They also have tractor rides out onto the South Downs where there were good views for miles around, even out to sea.
The official photo! Two very serious little faces
The selfie taken earlier

I look ever so small sat there. There were five of us in the
car and my daughter-in-law had to squeeze in the back
Saturday we took the long journey up north to the second birthday part and a chance to see all my children and grandchildren together. It is a long time since I was with them all at the same time. My parents came too. Just a pity that Ian couldn't have been there to complete the reunion. The problem of having animals.

Cousins having fun in the park before lunch
A view from the tractor ride towards the free range pig
farm on the opposite hill

My son who had driven me up with his family stayed overnight so we joined our daughter and her family for a time at Messy Church at the local Anglican Church. I was most impressed with the warm welcome and the fact some of the older ladies took the time to say hello and chat a little. It is far more important to make people feel welcomed into a community than to have the most exciting services. You can keep those for all I'm concerned and would much rather sit down for a chat with a nice cup of tea and a sausage sandwich like we did that morning.

Meanwhile back at home Ian says the snow is nearly all gone, the storks are back and Eyre has a boyfriend - so she is definitely going to the vets when I get back. He also said the wagtails were back and tormenting Eyre. I must admit our cats are not good for the baby wagtail population and I wish the cats would stick to hunting mice and not eat the birds. Ian has also seen some little orange butterflies and a bee and the first flowers of spring, the coltsfoot, are out on the oak tree hill. If I am still coughing when I get back I might be making some coltsfoot tea (although I do know it is a plant to be careful of for that)

Just possible to see the sea
And just in case you are wondering, I am feeling quite a bit better this evening, Although it would be nice to have a clear day tomorrow, I am hoping that I won't be taking any bugs back because I have been threatened with being put in quarantine by Ian otherwise.