Monday, 20 November 2017

The old routine

Whatcha looking at?
We have settled back into our winter routine now. Ian goes out to the land every day and I more often than not stay at home. I have at least managed to get the second draft of the paper finished for my co-authors to comment on and we will see where we take it from there. We still have to decide which academic journal to send it to and then I can tailor the work more closely to what they would expect. At least that is one thing out of the way for the moment and it means I can now concentrate on other things.
Soggy feet. Good job they are not sheep and prone to footrot

Best buddies
One of the other things is to get our apartment sorted for selling it early on next year. There is a lot of stuff to sort out and some build up over time. We have been here nearly 10 years now and there is always some sort of creeping accumulation, especially for us two hoarders. I still have nightmares that we will one day end up like those people you see on the television programmes who can't move for stuff. We are not that bad really but then we are spread out over various properties, two small apartments, one barn, one large greenhouse and one caravan. In our defence the incoming stuff is not as fast as for many folks, we don't buy a lot, it is just we do not readily chuck things out either and our rate of repurposing is not fast enough. I have lots of ideas but either not enough time or my stuff is all in the wrong place at the wrong time. Excuses, excuses I know.
It would appear that George is one of those alpacas that
attracts the hay. We have to get that out of his fleece next

Eating, eating on a murky day
We have been quite social for us. Not always easy at this time of the year, even though we have time. It gets dark so quickly that the thought of going out again seems to be an effort. Once out, however, it is never that bad. One lady I have been chatting to on Facebook moved back to our village fairly recently. She broke her ankle in one of those, I can't believe "I go around the world doing crazy things and break my ankle outside my own door" type of accidents and so was stuck indoors. Anyway I said it would be nice to chat in person instead of just via Facebook and so we finally got to meet up and Ian tagged along. We have met before, but quite a few years ago now and much has happened in the meantime. We had a lot to talk about as we are both trying to work towards our PhDs, although her's is more focussed on business development rather than community development like mine. There are plenty of overlaps in our approach though. which is interesting. We also got through two pots of tea and some cakes, so definitely plenty of jawing going on.
The boys doing the same

I took this at our friend's house last week. The cockerel
is huge but apparently a gentle giant. One of our young
cockerels started crowing this week. It is a bit odd as it
is the smaller of the cockerels that we thought was less
well developed and so put it in with the smaller hens.
Our next outing was to the local culture house, where they were celebrating the country's 99th birthday. Our small town/village has a population of about 2,500 but that's enough for a good dance troupe, a choir and lots of people for the play and in addition to all that the place was still packed out. We got there just in time to get a seat. Not much of a view, but enough. I love to watch the Latvians dance, they are good at it and even for a small place like ours the standard is high. I also love to see the different costumes for each dance, very elegant. Sorry I didn't get any pictures, I was just enjoying the scene and trying to make sense of what was going on. After the dance, they sang the national anthem and then the play began.
Yes it's been wet and yes Mari has been out in the rain and
the snow. Apparently George was reluctant to join Mari
today, he would rather stay in but if Mum's out then he follows
Agnese in contemplative mood
It was an overview of the history told through the story of a cafe. Fortunately I know much of the history of Latvia and so could follow along. The eeriest part was seeing a great big Soviet Union flag clearly dominating the set and this was followed by some danciers. To one side was a lady who represented Latvia, who was also dancing, she then began to just turn around and around. At this point the other dancers left the stage and the guy in a Soviet Union uniform began to bind the Latvian dancer up with a thick black strap, slowly, slowly, higher and higher until her mouth was covered and they then both walked off the stage. It was a sad, sad point and you could feel the pain of the moment. Time moved on and the next part was the gradual loosening of the hold of the Soviet Union. There was a video clip of the demonstration, the Baltic Way - where people held hands in opposition to the Soviet Union from Tallinn, through Riga to Vilnius, 600km of human defiance. Eventually the people were free to fly the flag of freedom and they unravelled a huge flag. The people in the place were moved and stood and watched as the flag was unfurled. We didn't understand much of what was said, but we did understand that freedom means a lot to those who knew occupation.
I was collecting seed and this is the remains of one of the
seed heads of Scorzonera a root vegetable. I love the metallic
colours in this one against the straw floor

This one was taken against the background of a sheet and
so has more muted colours

Trying to get our boys going in the same direction
The next day on our farm we had visitors who had booked to walk an alpaca. Since there were three of them we decided to test the boys and see how they worked together. We only charged them for one, as it was an experiment. We found that it is necessary with three to keep moving, not as much time to stop and chat, otherwise they all start going off in different directions. The boys were good though and the folks were an interesting bunch, who liked to chat too. I'm hoping that the one who is into logistics gets back to me at some stage to talk about minibus hire. Useful to have a contact.
More visitors to the farm. Glad it is these guys and not the
wolves that visited another farm nearby and killed 10 sheep

The lookout on the mound

Beating a retreat

Monday, 13 November 2017

Moving on

It's been a bit damp just lately, can you tell? 
This has been a week at home, wherever that maybe. I have spent much of the week tidying up the paper I am writing and so nearly finished to the point where I can send it to my co-authors to go through. It has taken far too long to reanalyse and re-write, I shall be glad when it has gone off for review, it will be such a relief. I also heard that I should be getting the other one back soon that has been in for review since about April I think, so good timing as it will probably need more work on it, they always do. I shall be very shocked if it does not. Some jobs seem to be never ending but one day this phase of life will be over.
All our leaves have gone from our trees  now

Where has all the grass gone? Shock! Horror! 
It would also appear that my students have been catching up on work too, as I have had what to me is an avalanche of work to mark. I did find out though that for some students, if they get more than three weeks behind, they lose privileges and that might have had some bearing on the sudden influx. One piece of work was remarkable in its brevity, but I had to laugh as it reminded me of one of my own children and the problems I had in getting him to focus on work enough to get it done. It was a challenge to get the best out of him when his mind was somewhere else completely for much of the time. We got there in the end and I hope we do with this student too.

Teaching a class to wet felt. Some had done needle felting
before and maybe some had done wet felting but never
with alpaca
This week I went to do a bit of felt tutoring for a friend's ladies's group. It was good fun and I had seven ladies altogether. I did a little presentation of the different alpacas and they were amused to be deciding who's fleece they would be using to felt with. Some pieces worked better than others and some decided to finish off at home, but we all had good fun. I didn't charge a huge amount as it was a bit of an experiment to see how it all works. It was also a good opportunity to introduce myself to someone who will hopefully be selling some of our stuff later on in the year. Mind you I have to get my act together and start making some things. I have some ideas anyway.

Not quite the glowing brown colour
The tutoring was in the evening and so I joined my friend during the day, as we don't get much chance to meet with each other. We go back a long way as we have known each other ever since Ian and I first visited Latvia. She and her husband were some of the workers in the camps where we used to go to to teach English and that was before we even moved to Latvia. We have also stayed with her in the apartment we now live in when it used to belong to her and her husband and we helped with their camp preparations. She was also the one who owned the land where we now have our alpacas. So a lot of history really and so much has changed over the time we have known each other. My family have grown up and left and having their own children and my friend got married and has her own rapidly growing family of three boys in the time since we first knew each other 17 years ago.

Mr. P without his over long teeth. He doesn't look such a
toothy alpaca now. His teeth will continue to grow, so
may need trimming again at shearing time.
As it was going to be a late night and I needed the car, Ian stayed in the caravan and I went back to the apartment. The next day though I had to get out to the land, to help with the boys' pedicures and a little dentistry on Mr. P. We managed quite well with most of the boys but Brencis was just such a fidget and is now so tall that I couldn't hold him still,. In the end we had to put a harness on him. When he does have the harness on, he is much better and doesn't need so much holding. Quite a relief really that he is such a gentle giant really, but he's almost as big as a llama now. Poor Mr. P though had to be fully restrained so we could do his teeth. He needed his front teeth trimming and his fighting teeth removed. They have grown such a lot since shearing time, which is surprising.

Freddie running through the puddles at the bottom of their
Ian was reading an article about family friendly attractions in Latvia a short while ago and noticed that there was a mini-zoo with alpacas that we didn't know about. He wrote an email to make contact and this weekend we got together at their place. We spent about 2 hours chatting and had a really good time of sharing information and we got to see their zoo. It was the first time that I have ever seen porcupines, especially close up. I was quite amazed at their quills and I was given a fridge magnet with a picture of them and Ian was given one of angora goats. They were interested in Ian's shearing services for next year, so that is good. It is nice to be able to help and for Ian to get to use his skills.
A picture from the minizoo's own website of one of the

Our track, if you can call it that! More like mud bath. Our
well has been filling up slowly but after the rain over the
weekend it jumped suddenly by 40 litres, instead of the 7
litres a day before that
On this snowy Sunday I made my way to the old station where there was a meeting to talk about projects that people had completed and the process they went to. I didn't understand much of it at the time but it was nice to just let the Latvian language wash over me and absorb the flow of the language, as well as have fun trying to pick out words I did know. I got a summary of it at the end though on the way home. What was lovely was that the lady who lead the meeting, told me how encouraging it is to have me at the meeting because it meant that people from the "world" were interested and actively wanting the best for our village. It made sitting there much more meaningful knowing it was encouraging someone. I was also encouraged that people were sharing experiences with a view of helping others and so they could learn how to develop their own projects. It is much needed in this area.

If you look carefully you can see how much bigger that
Brencis is compared to the rest. He's the one on the right.
It has been a bit of an odd week too. I have had two emails that surprised me. One was from the place where Ian used to work in the UK. Why it came to me, I have no idea, but it was to request an address to send an invitation to a retirement party of his old boss. This is bearing in mind that he hasn't worked there for 14 years. Ian sent a message off to his boss to fill him in on life since they last had contact about 12 years ago, so errr quite a bit. Another email was for a request for me to give a lecture. It seems to be a bit out of the blue, but the title was not quite my field and so I probably won't be going. There are lots of spam type emails within the academic field but this one I think arose from my presentation (a bit different to an actual lecture as it is only 15 mins) to the planners in Estonia the other week and so intriguing.
Brencis' wet, soggy fleece

He might be the biggest but he's still our friendly one
One of the thoughts that has gone through my mind just lately is "God remember me" as I felt a bit like Joseph in prison where no one remembered him. I have had people thank me for my input and had great conversations taking a look at different topics but it never seemed to go anywhere and it is not helpful for planning the future and which direction to take, especially as I am coming to the end of my PhD. These emails this week therefore seemed to feel like finally something is turning. I don't appear to be the only one as someone we know from our days back in the Pioneer church in the UK has also gone through a season where he felt forgotten, even forsaken and is beginning to feel like he is finding his voice again. Even my new grandson's name means "God remembers" how awesome is that?

Monday, 6 November 2017

I remember this place

Sofie has found another warm spot to sleep, on our
dehydrator. Not helpful for evaporation when she sleeps
on the vent though
Yes we are back in the apartment. Until this week we have only spent one night here since April and only been back for showers, to do washing or prep food for winter storage. It is kind of familiar and kind of not. Sometimes I am not sure where my things are. Are they here? Out on our land? Or have they disappeared in the chaos of having such a turnaround of visitors? I know we have accumulated a few things that are not ours and maybe the same the other way around or more likely I have forgotten that it had already disappeared or been broken at some point. I'm getting to the stage that I'm not sure what I have, not due to the onset of some form of dementia or anything but just the result of things spread over two apartments, a caravan, a greenhouse and a barn. It's not an issue and rather amusing really, especially when I find something I haven't used in ages. It is also almost a novelty of being able to walk less than 3m to find all my supplies and equipment when I cook- well when it is actually in the apartment at all that is. I had to send an email to Ian to bring home my blender, so instead of pureed leek soup for lunch, it was soup with large pieces of leek in it.
Frederiks is still feeding from Chanel. Must be good stuff
he's on as he is putting on weight well and his coat is getting
very long. He looks to be a good fleece producer 

Chanel looking like she is having a chat
Most of last week I was in Tartu and got back to our village on Saturday evening. I was staying with my missionary friend and we have talked and talked and talked and... well you get the idea. I did get some work done as well, honest! It was nice to challenge and be challenged in an atmosphere of seeking to find answers to our questions. It was nice to see issues from different perspectives and have a chance to speak out about my own perspective without feeling I was being argued with or someone getting defensive. That isn't to say we agreed on everything, after all we are from very different backgrounds, different countries, a Texan and a Lancastrian, Southern Baptist vs Methodist/Charismatic/Apostolic/Assemblies of God/Unchurched (in other words a rather mixed bag).
The view from my friend's window. Despite being in the
middle of town it was nice to overlook the large garden. As
my friend said, a nice view without all the hard work
The newest addition
The best part of the week, however, was welcoming our youngest grandson into the world. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I was able to see a photograph soon after he was born and my friends forgave me for having the phone on the table whilst eating lunch so I wouldn't miss out on the updates during the day. The timing was perfect as I saw the news of his birth on Reformation Day (500 years after Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church) just as I was heading into one of the churches in Tartu to listen to a lunchtime concert. I was switching my phone to silent when I saw the message. I had warned him that there were going to be times I couldn't take a call from him if the baby arrived during a presentation or something like that, but it would be nothing personal. I was glad he didn't do that though. By the way, the lunch after the concert was wonderful and I had a mushroom brûlée. Never had mushroom for dessert before but it worked surprisingly well and my friends were happy to indulge me in showing off the pics of the little one.
The view from the balcony where my
friends and I listened to the lunchtime concert

A pattern on a set of gloves at the Estonian National Museum
I had a presentation to do to a meeting of Estonian planners on the Thursday. Last year there were some English speaking presenters but not this year, I was the only one presenting in English. There weren't many in the room when I presented either, but there were more in than for the first few students. The meeting proper started after my presentation and the first session was primarily for students to present their work. My Estonian speaking colleagues from the department were there though and they liked what I had to say. My supervisor came up and said it was a good presentation, he enjoyed it and he enjoys hearing me speak, there was just one thing wrong with it, I sounded like a professor and not a PhD student. Not a bad complaint I felt. I know a friend of mine who thought it was perhaps inappropriate as the hierarchical format of institutional learning is outmoded and we can learn from students too, which I totally agree with, but the spirit of what my supervisor was saying was that I hadn't really explained how I got to my thoughts; in other words I hadn't outlined my methodology, which would be expected from students. I was in many ways presenting my conclusions, which is different. It amused me anyway and the lunch was nice.
Embroidered detail on a dress. This was my
favourite dress because of the embroidery
 on it 

Carved symbols on a chair at the Estonian National Museum
I do have problems with methodology as I often make leaps in thinking and I'm not always clear myself sometimes where my ideas have sprung from. When I start to analyse what I am thinking on a topic it becomes clearer and I am often then able to trace the thread of these thoughts and how I got there. It is not always easy though to fit it into a single methodology - how do you sum up a lifetime of experiences and linking of ideas from disparate topics? But that is often the way with shifts in ideas, they are culmination of concepts and ideas that coalesce at a point in time. They sometimes look like ideas out of the blue but often they are just the pieces of a jigsaw suddenly all coming together. Like cracking a code and then suddenly everything makes sense.
An Estonian farmer's table. I love the detail
on the container

Dowry chests at the Estonian National Museum
The previous week I had watched "Amazing Grace" about the life of William Wilberforce. He had battled with ill health and battled with his direction as a member of Parliament over the years, sometimes losing his way and sometimes losing his will to fight on. At various points people re-directed him and gave him courage. This year has been a tough one for me too. I kind of lost the plot with the PhD, it was clashing with other work I was trying to do, I got too busy, I was experimenting with new challenges and the year was difficult one for growing food and haymaking. I know I am usually running to catch up with myself over the summer, but this year it seemed to linger a bit longer and I was tired. I could relate to William Wilberforce's battles.
Not a great selfie but the weather wasn't too
good. Aggie spat on my knitted alpaca hat
so I wore the poppy hat I bought from one
of the participants at our August felting course
and the scarf was made for me by Galina
the tutor of the course

An Estonian costume
I am not going to overturn the slave trade, which unfortunately still goes on, even though it is now at least illegal, but I am still doing what I can to think about and articulate what heaven on earth might look like in rural areas, particularly Latvia and Estonia. There are still battles to fight to hand a planet over to our children in a better state than we were given. In fact the battle is worse due to the rate at which we are trashing it, but at least eyes are opening and the gears are starting to turn to overcoming some of the lifestyle habits that are contributing so much harm. There is a recognition that we need to touch and feel the real world around us, to connect with others and nature and that is as true in the countryside with all the pressures on it, as it is in the urban settings. This is what spurs me on.
A male costume, I think this one was from the
Volga region

Female costume. I think I needed to label my
photos or maybe go again.
There is a story called the Horse and his Boy, written by C.S Lewis and the young boy is heading back to Narnia where he was born, but he has to go over the mountains, when he doesn't know the way and he can't see the road ahead. The light is beside him but he doesn't know who it is or what it is and unbeknown to him the light keeps him on the road and on track. I feel rather like the young boy, not being able to see the way ahead, just trying to keep moving. Not really sure where I am going but just having some vague idea that I am kind of heading in the right direction. The way ahead is getting lighter and I feel that soon I will be able to see the path clearly. Hope is rising again.
Embroidered detail on a collar. Some of these pictures I
needed to take to see the detail myself as they were a bit
high for me to see clearly. And before any of my more snarky
friends/children comment, they were on pedestals too.

Geared up for the warmth with a fleece lined coat
Well after all that thinking, talking and processing it was nice to be invited out for a drink at a local cafe near the conference centre that afternoon. It was a lady I had met in Vilnius and really enjoyed chatting to. I have met her again in Tartu but I had forgotten to contact her to say I was in the area. I'm so pleased she spotted my message about being in Tartu on Facebook and we were able to arrange to meet up. It was nice to be able to talk about some of my observations of Estonian life and explore some of the motivations from an Estonian perspective, as well as just chat about life in general.
This lacework reminds me of the crochet that my grandmother
used to do. She was the one who taught me to embroider

Embroidered shoulder detail. So much effort by hand in
these outfits
For my last day in Tartu I suggested to my friend, who I was staying with, that it would be good to just get out of the apartment and go somewhere together, as I had spent quite a bit of time inside working on my paper, or my presentation, or marking work and we had both been doing a lot of talking. She suggested we go to the Estonian National Museum, which is in Tartu as they had an exhibition of costumes. I have done an embroidery course and used costumes as some of my inspiration, so it was wonderful to reconnect with my more artistic side after all the academic work. We didn't have a huge amount of time to look through the large collection of both ancient costumes and modern interpretations and so I took lots of pictures to just give me a flavour of the construction of the costumes and the details of the embroidery that I can go back to and study at a later date. After a couple of hours of wandering around we had lunch before heading back to the apartment for me to do more work my paper and my friend to take an English lesson.
This reminds me of some Jacobean embroidery. I have a book
of designs somewhere and I had a go with a few of them as
a child

Not bad for a snack bar. I had to take a picture of the radish
On Saturday I took my usual one train, three buses journey home. I have my particular places where I know I can go to eat along the way, but this time the usual place I was intending to eat at, next to the bus station in Valmiera, was shut. I was anticipating having a pizza instead when I spotted a snack cafe. It didn't sound too inspiring but I knew I needed to eat. When I got in I found the menu was in English and so looked through, eventually a lady appeared and told me in Latvian the Latvian menus were on the counter ahead, which I found amusing. At least it meant that despite a lady in a shop where I bought some work gloves speaking to me in English, I didn't look particularly English - until I opened my mouth of course. Still I managed to order my food in Latvian and I understood I would have to wait for change, especially when she wandered out of the door with my €20 note.

Frederiks, Chanel and Aggie
The adapted ark in its new location
I had set off from my friend's house at 10ish in the morning and arrived back just after 7 in the evening to our apartment. I wasn't particularly hungry but I was definitely glad to hear the sound of a cup of tea being poured. The next morning it was nice to get out onto the land and meet the alpacas again, even if it meant hanging onto the girls while they had their toe nails cut. I don't think they were so pleased to see me. After our morning coffee we sorted out the end of the greenhouse so that we could move some chickens. The chicks were not happy with each other and it was probably due to being too cramped, as really they are nearly full grown now. I had to get into the ark to extricate the smallest of the chicks and we put them into their new quarters. For the last one we had to resort to the net. They all seemed a lot happier about the situation. That will probably change a bit when the cockerels start crowing, but I think that might be a little bit longer yet - maybe!
Knitted socks. Many Estonians still knit socks

A modern interpretation using Estonian motifs

Detail on a modern jacket

A tabbard style top inspired by the past

I like the double collar, maybe not the colour
but the design 

Details on a wedding dress

A smart modern outfit based on Estonian motifs