Thursday, 30 August 2018

Indian Spice

My friend from India
A while ago I went to Peyresq, France for a summer school in connection with my PhD studies, as you do! It was a wonderful time up in the Alps (blog post here) with other PhD students, who were about the same age as my children. They were lovely and didn't make me feel old at all. We kept in touch but contact dwindled over time, although I did get to meet one of them when I went to Berlin. The offer was open though, if anyone wanted to visit they would be more than welcome. One of them did get in touch with me fairly recently, he was from India and had since married and moved to Germany for a year. He fancied a trip to see Latvia and Estonia with his wife and they would love to call in and see us and spend some time on the farm. The timing was perfect as our other guests had left the week before.
The nights may have been cool but the talk around the table
was warm

It wasn't raining all the time but still plenty of talking and
The weather was not great, but in many ways perfect. We badly needed the rain and it also meant there was not much to do but sit around the table and talk. As anyone knows who follows this blog, we love to sit around a table to talk and eat. So we not only enjoyed the delicious vegetables from the garden and greenhouse but also some genuine Indian food made by our visitors. It is a good job that Ian installed a light in our greenhouse earlier on in the year, as the chat lingered late on into the evenings even though some of them were a little on the cool side.
I had to go and drag them away from the alpacas as Ian
was on a roll. Maybe it was a bad idea to say they had time
to see the alpacas before we ate

Love this picture of the two little ones. It looks like they have
had a falling out. 
Of course we talked about our studies, but we also talked about farming. It was quite an education for city dwellers, especially city dwellers coming from a city the size of Dehli at over 20 million. I can't even begin to imagine a city that size. Riga is only around 800,000 and the population of Latvia is less than 2 million now. They would love to move away and get some land and they were exploring the options. We took them to see our goat farming friends and they commented on the contrasts between our conversations which included beavers and beaver dams, wolves and bears (no we don't have many, but there are some) and cheese recipes from Latvia and India, with the kinds of conversations they would normally have with their friends about cars and taxes, car parking spots (not easy in Dehli apparently) and traffic, things to buy and holidays to go on. So quite a contrast. Still it has been a great time with lots of ideas for them and we all have plenty to think about. I loved it when discussing changes that needed to happen in city management and my friend turned to his wife and said that maybe they were the ones to influence the change. I do hope so!
We went for walks too. We were on a mushroom hunt, which
is the best sort of hunt for vegetarian meals. The mushrooms
are just starting to appear now that the mornings are damp,
even if we are still not getting a huge amount of rain

Trying out the tractor
Ian has been doing quite a bit of preparation for our new arrivals next month. We need to build a new alpaca house, which will give us the room for expansion to our maximum capacity of around 20 alpacas - not that we are getting that many alpacas but we need to be prepared for that number when they have babies. This meant first relocating the old chicken house. That will be seeing a new use as a root cellar, but that will be a tale for another blog. First it had to be removed from the paddock area. Ian accomplished this by first taking off the roof then fixing some planks on the bottom to make it into a giant sled, which could be pulled by the tractor. He also moved a concrete beam from one of the old electric poles into the paddock for part of the base of the new alpaca house.
Ready to eat in the greenhouse. Thanks to our friends for
these photos. We didn't get the chance to take many, but the
ones below are by Ian

Rain clouds building, but still not much rain
We also finally got around to cutting the boys toe nails, since Ian's back had improved enough to be able to tackle the job. Well all of them except Brencis, as he needs to have fighting teeth removed too and that means pinning him down on the floor. There have been a few groups of visitors to see the alpacas this week too. One of the groups took three of our boys for a walk. The boys were very well behaved, even Freddie who was being taken for his first trip out with paying guests. We just had time for a sit down before the next group arrived. One of the groups of visitors this week arrived just as we were about to sit down and eat lunch, so Ian ate cold soup, while I sat and chatted with our Indian friends.
Rain to the north of us

A rainbow anyway
Summer is racing away and the land is beginning to take on the hues of autumn. I'm getting back into academic mode and so may or may not blog next week as I am away, leaving Ian home alone again.

We had some extra visitors one misty morning. Yes it is that
time of the year when cows are escaping

While we waited for our neighbour to turn up, this young bull
decided to go and see the alpacas. He stood for ages just looking

These mushrooms appeared in our field

Apparently not good for eating

Shame as they are huge

Monday, 27 August 2018


We have been enjoying the company of a couple from India this week and so the blog will be late. Food may have been involved in copious amounts

Monday, 20 August 2018

Llama whisperer

A splash of colour
Just for the record I have to say, I'm very proud of my husband - just call him the Llama whisperer from now on.
The boys feeding in the shade of the tree. However, they
don't seem to be eating the new tree seedlings that are
growing rapidly

Well maybe Freddie is having a go
These are American Cranberries.
It must be a good year for them,
despite the drough,t as I have
never seen them looking so large.
I suppose it helps they are grown
next to a pond but in a
raised bed 
Tuesday was an early start to shear alpacas about 2 hours away at a mini zoo. They gave us coffee and pancakes to start off with and the morning drifted on as we chatted. It was a good job they fed us early though as the shearing itself was a little challenging and took longer than we had planned. Ian was asked to shear the first alpaca to look like a dinosaur. In the end Ian just left sections that could be trimmed later with scissors as it wasn't the sort of shearing he is used to and proved difficult to do with shears. The next alpaca had sections left around the legs, which was a bit easier than the first request but meant we were running late as we had an appointment to see people at another mini zoo nearby. 
This rather large hole had a wasps nest that was dug out by
an animal of some sort. We were wondering what it was and
one of our visitors was a hunter from the local hunting
organisation, so we asked if he knew. The tracks are a bit
hard to see as it has been so dry, but in the end we agreed it
was probably a badger. Not something we have seen on the
land but makes sense with the type of hole that was dug. The
wasps have started to rebuild but it won't last long once
it rains, as the paper nest has no protection now.

My new waterlily is flowering
The next mini zoo had just opened and had bought their alpacas fairly recently. They had done a brilliant job of shearing, it was a very neat and tidy finish. However, they had given a home to a llama that no one wanted and it desperately needed its teeth cutting. It was rather unsettled due to the move and its teeth made eating difficult, so it was a bit grumpy. The first challenge was to catch him. The owner and I used a rope to trap him up against the fence but the llama whisper aka Ian was able to get the halter on with little issues. He even surprised himself. Fortunately it was not a large llama.

The blue flowers are chicory and the yellow ones are
Jerusalem artichokes
We had to ask visitors at the zoo not to stand too close to watch what we were doing, as there was some spitting going on, but not as much as we expected. Ian then walked the llama to the place where we were going to cut his teeth, as we needed an electric supply and couldn't do it in the middle of a field. Plus we didn't really want visitors seeing what we were doing, as it can look a little drastic. Ian passed the llama to me as he got the teeth cutting equipment ready and I ended up getting showered in little bits of spit as the llama got more and more antsy. As soon as Ian got hold of him, however, he quietened right down. 
A bee on a cabbage thistle. I'm glad the bees are making use
of it as it is spreading and the animals don't seem fond of it

The buckwheat is turning
The next step was to get the llama pinned to the floor. Some handles were fixed to a doorpost near the ground that acted as places to slide ropes through that were attached to the llama's halter. Whilst that got its head down the llama was not happy about going on the floor itself. Fortunately the lady was used to large horses and so between us both we managed to pin him down. There was a point where I was hanging over this llama praying he wouldn't try to stand up and thinking "I'm 54 years old, what am I doing here?" but this was more out of a sense of amusement than panic. Ian cut his teeth with his ferocious sounding gadget and then the fighting teeth with a wire. It doesn't sound or look good but it is a job that is made far easier and quicker with the right equipment and therefore better for the animal in the long run. Afterwards Ian took the llama back to the paddock and fed him by hand. This time he was able to take the feed better. Later the llama seemed to be interacting with the alpacas more - which he wasn't doing before. Obviously he was feeling much better and the reports from the zoo suggest he continues to improve.
A winking Freddie. I think we have to get a fly mask made for

A sure sign the year is turning. Winter squashes are ripening.
The storks also seem to have left us, without even a wave
goodbye. Often we see them congregating before flying off.
Whilst we did see the first ones leaving at the end of July,
we didn't see the last ones go. One day they were walking
in the field, the next nothing!
We went back to the other mini zoo to finish off the shearing as we had left one alpaca still to do. Before we got started we were offered coffee, which we gratefully accepted as we had missed out on lunch. but was then presented with a very welcome meal of potatoes, tomato sauce, meat, bread, dessert and coffee. Suitably fortified we got on with the shearing of the last alpaca, which was given a regular haircut as it was getting late. It turned out to be a good plan as it showed up the markings on the back of the head rather well and looked really good. Admittedly not all alpacas look great after shearing, but the fleece grows back in the end and so not a problem.
The bottom pond is drying up rapidly. Fortunately there is
still a deep section that has not disappeared. We haven't seen
the fish in this one recently though. They may have buried
themselves or the heron may have got them

It is a good job we moved the fish from this pond, there is
nothing left now, except a wet patch

A view from our Oak hill
We finished shearing in the dim light and so were back a bit late for putting our own animals away. They had been looked after by some friends during the day but we said it was better we put them away at night as the routine is a bit more tricky with more animals, especially with the young ones, who tend to race around a bit before going in. Fortunately even our awkward animal, Turbjørn went in without a problem. He's often been left out in the past because he sometimes refuses to go in when it gets dim. 
Turbjørn, our curious but shy alpaca. A bit highly strung and
often grumpy. He will never go to anyone, not even Ian to
take food from his hand, If the food is in a tray, maybe -
well you never know if those hands have been washed do you?
Josefs being still - a rare moment

On the way back home we were listening to an old CD and one of the songs on it was "God will save the day" by Delrious? (the question mark is part of the band's name, just in case my grammar minded friends are wondering). 
God is bigger thanThe air I breatheThe world we'll leaveGod will save the dayAnd all will sayMy Glorious
Snuggling up or fighting over a piece of grass?
A dreamy picture of Mari
It was a long time since I have heard this song and I felt it lift my spirits. Things might look bad but I do believe that God will save the day. However I don't believe he is going to be like a helicopter parent who swoops in to make it all right. He expects us to help in tidying up our own mess. Together we can change the world, with God above doing what we cannot.
Aggie has a bandage on her leg to cover a sore, but she seems
to have started with another one on the other side. That might
be trickier to cover so I have put clay over the sore to stop the
flies attacking it and hoping that calms it all down.

Herkules is now sporting two bandages to cover sores. The
front leg is healing nicely but the back one has been a real
pain to try and cover so now we have resorted to an old pair
of my leggings. At least the flies can't get to it

As you can see he is not exactly thrilled with his fashionable
George has to take the high ground
Wednesday was a bit of a rest day but also a writing day with papers, emails and Facebook posts to write. I had hoped to submit my paper this week but it just needs a few final touches. So close, but not close enough. Thursday meant more alpaca wrestling, only this time our own. Our alpacas need their toe nails cutting and Chanel was not in the mood to cooperate at all. We think it means she is almost certainly pregnant, which is good news, but not for toe nail cutting. We ended up wrestling her to the floor to get the job done. Mari, however, was relatively well behaved but somehow Ian managed to rick his back doing her nails. Consequently the boys are having to wait to have their's done, even though they really need doing because Ian has been hobbling around since then. He is improving but slowly.
Volunteer tomatoes in my rockery. The dry year means that
even those tomatoes outside are doing well

Another volunteer plant - Amaranth growing on a heap of
soil near the barn
Again we have had visitors to the farm. One family were returnees and finished off with asking when they should come again? We were a bit stumped at this, as we weren't sure what to say, but then we remembered we are probably getting more alpacas in September and so that would be something new to see. The children go to a small school nearby and so the Mum talked about arranging a school visit too. Other visitors have been similarly encouraging and one shared our Facebook page and said it was like visiting a bit of paradise. Today's visitors consisted of someone we have known since we first came to Latvia and some friends of his. He asked us to re-tell our journey over the last 18 years of how we came to Latvia and how we came to be doing what we are doing now for a recording. That was a bit of a surprise, but it was good to tell the story of how our faith has guided our travels and the decisions we made. Sometimes it is good to look back and see how far you have come to then move forward.
The crosses Ian made to hang the shawls and scarves on

Lots and lots of sweet grapes

Even the usually tart wine grapes are
sweet this year

A variegated sweet corn growing
in the greenhouse

Lots of tomatoes ripening

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Visitors galore

Looking for mischief?
It was a strange start to the week. We only had one person booked onto our English workshops but I and our friend from Texas (but living in Estonia) carried on preparations anyway. We felt it was right to prepare for it, as we were sure we had a good idea and we had that time set aside.  We deliberately didn't cancel it, just in case people had a last minute change of plan. As it was, our one participant actually hiked to our village and caught the bus from there to our place, as his car was in service and the bus from his town would have meant arriving either very early or on the late side. So that kind of puts our preparations in perspective.
The storks are still around and
probably enjoying the rain and
the increase in snails and frogs.
They'll be going soon though
Aggie does like to sunbathe
We wanted to go through the course plans with our participant so he could give us some feedback. He was very enthusiastic and asked if we would be willing to actually teach a group of 20-30 English teachers in the region nearby where he is based. That was a bit unexpected, but apparently they are having difficulty getting people who are willing to do some training courses in their area. So we finished off this week by submitting a proposal and CVs for a meeting planned today for a two day seminar at the end of the month. A slightly different direction for both of us.
Josefs is definitely a curious alpaca and always comes to see
visitors. He won't let them get close though
The cria with Aunty V
Whilst we were starting our introductions and presentation on the course, Ian was in our apartment, fixing a leak from the shower. Sigh! Fortunately our friend had the sense to turn off the water, so it wasn't a major leak. He also had to get more antibiotics for Herk. Herk is healing, but only slowly, which is what the alpaca books said would be the case. In fact the honey treatment seems to work the best on the wounds, but it is finding a way of applying it and covering it so the flies don't bother them and make it worse. I seem to have got the front leg sorted for that, but the back leg is proving a challenge. Aggie seems to have something similar. I am using my magic cream on it, but it is only keeping it in check and not healing it. I want to get the honey treatment on her too but again we have to work out a way of applying it and getting it covered.
Josefs certainly looks a cute alpaca

Jakobs is pretty cute too though. Not sure he should be
eating the dock seeds but I guess a little won't harm.
The following day we prepared an area so we could sit in the shade of the trees instead of in the hot greenhouse for English on the Farm. Despite the interest, no one actually came, but it was a mid-week thing, so possibly had something to do with it. Again we won't waste the planning, as it means we have a programme for schools that can be used and we can take that to the teacher training if it goes ahead.  So in many ways the week was a restful putting down of foundations, which was quite enjoyable and a much needed rest of sorts.
A glowing and hopefully pregnant Chanel. She is still rejecting
the advances of Mr. P

My waterlily in the pond that still has water in it. The other
two had very little in until the rain, even then there is still
not much.
My friend and I went on a road trip too after we were sure no one was going to unexpectedly turn up. We needed a large bin for our greenhouse, which we couldn't get one in our village. Just in case you are wondering about our green credentials about getting a large bin - it is so the cats can't get in it. They would be constantly in a small bin. It still fills very slowly and I even cancelled this month's rubbish collection as there was not enough to collect. I also wanted a water lily for our pond so that it will reduce evaporation in the future, so we visited the waterlily pond nearby and bought a nice pink one. The little dark pink one I really wanted wasn't for sale that day. I guess someone must pull them up and put them in bags for sale to the public, rather than get them there and then. We also went to the restaurant named Ūdensroze (waterlily in Latvian) for some home-made blueberry lemonade. Very nice on a hot day.

Josefs beginning to master the alpaca yoga scratch
While we were away Ian decided to make a secret present for our friend from Texas. She asked earlier on in the week if we had seen a wooden ladder that she could hang quilts on. We hadn't seen anything that would be useful and I jokingly suggested that Ian could make one. He had been making crosses for displaying our shawls and scarves on and thought the wood he was using would make a nice ladder. He was a bit bemused by this as he couldn't quite work out what we meant. I showed him some photos but he still looked a bit bewildered at the idea of a ladder for quilts. Anyway, he mustn't have been quite so bewildered as I thought as he made a lovely rustic looking ladder about the size that she wanted. She was thrilled with it. Maybe photos to follow next week.

We are seeing more of the storks just lately, I guess it maybe
due to the fact there is no need to stay on the nest
The end of the week saw a rotating door of visitors to make up for the lack of participants on the courses. Our Texan friend had to get home and so she visited us for coffee and to return the key to our apartment before she set off. Shortly after that, my supervisor, his wife and his brother came for lunch. We made good use of the area we had cleared for the English on the Farm day, as it was still baking hot. We had to cart things down the area though and so we used our log basket as a picnic basket and the wheelbarrow, as you do. We were just in the process of taking our things back and sorting out when another set of visitors turned up for a farm tour. The visitors were two young women and Ian told them about the adopt an alpaca scheme and one of them said that would be perfect for the other friend and meant her birthday present was sorted. That will take our adoptions up to twelve if they do. Every little helps as they say.

Brencis in contemplative mood
The next day we had visitors from Estonia. We had sheared their animals for the last three years but they have never been down to visit us. They decided on a Latvian road trip and called in to see us. They arrived a bit late so they were anxious to get off on their tour once they had seen the alpacas and didn't even stop for a cup of tea. This meant we sat down for our lunch rather late. We just started tucking into our egg sandwiches though when another set of visitors arrived.

A fun picture of George. He looks like he is amused about
This time it was a young couple with his mother and younger sister. I was pottering around the greenhouse when the young lass came to the door and apologetically asked for some water, she had just been sick in our forest. I gave the water and then made her a cup of mint tea to help settle her stomach. Apparently she was 2 1/2 months pregnant. We had a lovely chat while the rest of the group continued on their tour. She said she preferred the British people to the depressive Latvians, but I talked her through some of the good things about Latvians, such as their knowledge of herbs and growing vegetables. Knowledge that is lost to a large extent in the UK. I also said it was understandable given the history of Latvia and it is still a young country. She looked much brighter about her country after our chat.

A blustery day. A bit different from the hot temperatures
we've had most of the summer
On Sunday we had yet more visitors to the farm, they were the new alpaca owners who live nearby that we had done some shearing for. They came to see our little ones and talk about some of the things they were worried about, they also brought a large tray of tomatoes and a large bunch of carrots. At least they arrived before the heavy rain that we had that afternoon. We decided that no one would come to see us on a rainy afternoon so we took a trip into the village to visit the bakery for a cup of tea and a pastry for a treat. I think we deserved it.
First shower

The rain really shows up the dark fibres on the back of Jakobs
One of the things our visitors on Sunday were worried about was how to cut toe nails so we agreed to call in and show them. Ian demonstrated on the first alpaca and then got the lady to do it herself, so that she had had good practice by the time we left. She should be fine as she used to have large animals anyway.

Chatting to Mum
Turbjørn looking coy
We finished off this week with another meal at the hotel, courtesy of the latest apartment guests. It seems that other people have stayed in our apartment for longer periods of time than we have. Although we officially moved in to the place in May, we still haven't stayed overnight there this year and it is a long time since we stayed more than one night anyway. Still that is likely to change in November this year when we transition back to apartment living. We were also joined by a friend of theirs at the hotel and her little 10 month old who has been walking for a month already. That brings back memories of my youngest who also walked at about 9 months and was running around all over by a year. I really need to practice my singing though. The little one liked Row, Row, Row the boat but I kept forgetting the verses and she drew the line at the Wheels on the Bus, she started crying for Mum at this stage. Oh well! Can't win them all. 
Wink! Wink!

Best buddies still

Not sure what Frederiks has been up to but he is submissively
avoiding a spitting from Brencis. Alpaca speak for watch it, boy!