Monday, 30 March 2020

A time to dream

Look up as my friend in Colorado would say
This time more than ever is a time to dream. The weeks ahead are going to be tough, whether sickness comes to us or not. The worry etc. is going to be hard to bear, but we need to plan and dream for days  beyond the crisis. What's important now, should help us to focus on how we organise our life in the future. It's not about stuff, we are almost certainly going cold turkey on that. It's not about toilet paper, important though it is, but its about networks that help us to find dignity in contributing to a society and food to keep us healthy. Artists and musicians, we also need you now and we need you in the future, to help us get through the unsettling times and to dream and imagine a new future.
There is quite a lot happening up in the sky at the moment.
Migrating birds are returning

However, this has become a rare sight. A plane! An actual
plane! Normally our sky is criss-crossed with contrails 
One thing I think we have all learned is that we now know who the key workers are and we need to value them, not just the nurses and doctors of course, but also the cleaners, the volunteers, the supermarket staff, the delivery drivers, the postmen, the transportation folks, the bike mechanics - who knew!, the car mechanics, they are the people that keep our society running. We need to value them more. Then there are the scientists working on cures, not more pills to take for our obese society, important though they are. Cures do not bring in the money for pharmaceutical companies, so we cannot outsource our health to them anymore.
The storks are finally back. Ian thought they would come on
Saturday, but they didn't. It was so nice on Saturday with a
southerly breeze. But no they had to wait for a northerly and
a cold day. At least it wasn't Sunday which was freezing,
blowing a gale and snowing.

A very grumpy cat. We got most of the tablet down her, the
rest was frothed around her mouth, as usuall but then she
had no option but to clean if off. Hehe
There is so much more to think about, but adjusting to thinking instead of doing can be hard for many, especially when it is enforced. I've always been a bit of a daydreamer. Always had my thoughts on something else, as I'm going about daily tasks or getting lost in a book. I'm so absorbed in my thoughts sometimes that I forget to look up and take in the scenery. While I have my head in the clouds, imagining the bigger picture and trying to think what life would be like if we changed how we approached agriculture, the economy, community and trying to link it all together, I sometimes miss the bigger picture of our land in the sunshine. Ian the detail man is the opposite, he takes in the bigger picture of the land, while sometimes getting tied into the detail of how things should be done. It can make for some interesting miscommunications at times.
Cup of coffee anyone

This was taken on Saturday to show our grandchildren what
we had been doing. We had just sat down for our afternoon
coffee after spending the afternoon constructing part of the
new greenhouse that you can see behind Jakobs. After this
we had a WhatsApp chat and watched our granddaughter
blow out her candles for her birday
The weather warmed up at the end of last week and we managed to get a start on the new greenhouse.    These are part of our preparations in the downtime for the future. Little by little we are transforming where we live to be a place to gather and talk, to relax and contemplate, to visit our alpacas, to do courses. We don't want a constant flow of visitors, the introvert part of us would not cope with that, as we will need rest and recuperation between the busy periods, but we do want more people to be able to share what we have and to benefit from it.
3 sheets of 12m length polycarbonate. It is a
good job I'm reasonably good at maths and
problem solving. The instructions say to cut 4x
3m lengths to do the ends of the greenhouse, but
the problem is that if we had done that then
one sheet would have been too short to go over the greenhouse in one go. So we measured the arcs
and realised that we could only cut three sections
out of the four for the ends and the last piece
will have to be a patchwork quilt. There will be
enough, but there won't be a lot of wastage.

Ian finished off the ribs for the greenhouse today
One of our plans is to have a cabin for people to stay in, nothing fancy, just something simple. We even had a quote for it this week from one of the companies that we saw at the trade fair a few weeks ago. Unfortunately although they do not cost a huge amount, we still don't have enough for that, so we continue to work with what we have. At least we should be able to grow plenty of food this year. Our beds for the potatoes are ready and our garlic is beginning to poke its head through the mulch. They haven't been noshed over the winter by the mice this time. Soon it will be time to start planting outside, but not yet, it is still too risky.
A smiley and slightly toothy Josefs

It's greening up slowly, as it is still too cold. Most of what
you see is moss too. So the alpacas will just have to wait and
still eat hay.
My life hasn't changed that much beyond the normal rhythm of life we have here in our country place. We were out in our caravan a week earlier than before and we have spent the week adjusting to being out here. There is always something we have left behind that we suddenly find we need. I still have to travel back into the village anyway, for supplies and to tend to my little seedlings that are too tender to bring out just yet, especially with the heavy frosts we've had over the last few nights. I managed to pot up a few of the tomatoes now they have germinated and growing well.
Mind you, it doesn't stop them trying to eat the grass. Tellus
actually managed to get through the gate today. Ian doesn't
know how the gate came loose but Tellus was definitely on
the wrong side of it. Ian just about managed to get him
back through before all the others sensed freedom and
were heading for the gate. Soon chaps! Soon!

Mr. Tellus on the right side of the fence. His eye is also
better this week
Unfortunately on my last trip back into the village, I wasn't able to get any bread for Ian. They were completely out of that - then again it was a Sunday and not very unusual for out here. He does like toast in an evening and so he just uses the cheap white bread. Good job I did think to buy some yeast, to make some bread. My sourdough is great for buns for sandwiches but not so good for making a loaf. Mind you, the loaf I did make, wasn't quite right for toasting either. It was too thin. It tasted great and had a nice texture, just not the right shape, so I need to work on that a bit more. I'll have to bring out some loaf tins - of course they are back in the apartment.
Herkules got quite thin over winter and so Ian has started
feeding him extras. He gets his in the training pen, so he
can eat in peace. He now goes and stands in there waiting
for Ian. Smart guy! He seems to be losing his position in
the herd though. He was always the boss, but now the others
challenge him more.
Despite getting thin, Herkules is actually looking quite bright
I think Brencis looks like he's developing. a teenage
I have also travelled back into the village for an online meeting as the reception for my phone is better there. I'm used to online meetings, as I've mentioned before, I'm part of a project with colleagues in different countries and so we can only meet regularly via Skype. However, despite having regular meetings with my overseas colleagues, I'm not used to being involved in meetings with my colleagues from my own university, but since they are now all online and working from home, I don't escape so easily. Still it was good to catch up with them and get their perspectives on the next project that I'm involved with, which I officially start on April 1st, but have already been doing a bit of work for.
Mr. P is getting quite grey now and his black is changing to
a dark chocolate.

The face! It is just hilarious
One thing that I have realised during the Skype meetings is how long my hair has got. I did lots of preparations for a lockdown, but entirely forgot about having a haircut. When doing the Skype calls with a video on, I get to see how my hair looks and the longer it gets the older I look. I'm not generally so vain, but my hair is now really getting on my nerves and several times I have seriously thought about getting Ian's hair clippers out and cutting it very short. At least with three months in social isolation, I wouldn't need to show my hair so much, but then I would look pretty silly wearing a hat on a Skype call. Hmmmm! I do confess to doing some research on how to wear a scarf to cover up the shortness.
Jakobs is finishing off the tree I think. and Brencis enjoying
some downtime in the sun. I think he's missing the visitors
though. He's very chatty just lately. Hemdidn't come
for a chat though when we were chatting to our grandkids
George as smiley as ever. He looks like he might need a
haircut too
It always perplexed me why Latvians considered a hairdresser such an important part of the community. I enjoy my visits to the hairdressers and she does a good job I think, but it has never rated high on my agenda until I have a presentation to do. But even in a small place, you will often find a hairdresser. Now, however, when it isn't possible to get out and get it cut, I can see why. Here in the rural areas the price is not high for a cut, but it is priceless to not have hair in my eyes and to not look silly with a hair that isn't straight when it should be. So add hairdressers to that list of essential workers that keep the country moving. We won't die if we don't have a haircut, but we often feel better with a decent cut and that is worth a lot.
Another migrant who returned this week, a wagtail


Mother and daughter staring at Sofie
the cat

Amanda, thinking! Dreaming! Planning...oh oh!

The new and the old greenhouse.

Bright but not green yet!

Monday, 23 March 2020

Such times!

I know people are meant to stay home Chanel, but really you
can go out into the paddock. 
I wonder what we will make of these times in 10, 20, 30 years? Will it just be a distant memory like the 2008 economic crash? Mind you that was an event that happened at a slower rater than the few months it has taken to descend into chaos across Europe with the Covid19 virus. Yet it doesn't feel like chaos out on our land, well not yet anyway. It has been a rollercoaster of a week though and I know that I'm not the only one. It is times like these that make it hard to be away from family, but then again, even if we were closer, the need for self-isolation would still make it difficult to gather everyone around.
It's no good hiding at the back Mari, get out into the sunshine

Coltsfoot: an old remedy for coughs
One of the reasons for the rollercoaster of a ride, besides wondering about family is that I hadn't heard anything about my PhD pre-defence (like mock exams for PhD students) until this week. For this I have to do a presentation with an Estonian opponent who will look through my work, critique it and ask me awkward questions in preparation for the final defence. This is supposed to be face to face with my supervisors present, but of course that is not possible now, because one of them is in the UK, one in Estonia and I'm in Latvia and none of us can cross borders. So it looks like we will now be doing this online, but I only found out on Friday. I got an urgent text and email from one of my supervisors to ask me to complete my thesis and send it to him to pass onto the opponent. And the defence? April 7th, so not long either.
The boys still enjoy a Christmas tree

Mr. Tellus had a sore eye again this week. He does seem to
get regular problems with them. I made up a slightly salty
thyme and hyssop tea and wiped it with that and he seems
better today.
So as far as possible we've stayed away from people so we aren't responsible for bringing a disease from Riga to our village and trying to stay healthy at the same time. Of course we have been to the supermarket on a regular basis, mainly because our neighbour is still not in milk production mode yet and therefore we still need to buy regular supermarket milk. Supplies are a bit lower in our little village shops, but there are stocks of most things, just maybe not every brand they normally have and a few spaces in between but at least it hasn't been as ridiculous as elsewhere.
Freddie getting his vitamins

Before Ian got ill he was preparing the area for the base of
the new greenhouse
Our panic buys from last week of a tent and greenhouse arrived, thankfully. Ian also got sorted out with supplies so that we...errr I mean he can get going on that. At least he will be when he has completely recovered from a stomach bug. Fortunately it wasn't the dreaded disease. All I can say is it is a good job we have toilet paper though. We had decided to go and stay in the caravan but that was nearly reversed so that we could take advantage of the better facilities at the apartment. In the end, we weathered the problem and Ian is feeling much better now. This is not the time to be ill though for sure.
George soaking up the sun and thinking about fresh grass. It's
growing, although the heavy frosts of the last two nights will
not have helped

Despite being closed to visitors, we have still had a few people turn up, only they weren't coming to see the alpacas exactly. The first group, three young men, came around 7 in the evening. One of them swore when I asked if they spoke English, so he got a reprimand. I don't like swearing at the best of times and I most certainly do not like someone using English swear words when they don't speak much English. He did apologise though. I must still have the withering look that was perfected over 20 years of doing children's work. It was not used all the time, but was effective when needed. Anyway, apparently they just wanted some diesel because their car had run out about a1km away. It was better for us to deal with it than let our neighbours run the risk of meeting young men who should have been at home.
Lady V reaching for the tastiest morsel of grass at the back
of the feeder

So hard to tell Chanel and Ilvija apart now
Our next visitors were neighbours and members of our local hunting organisation. We did get a phone call to see if we were in isolation and we were careful to make sure we were close enough to talk but not too close. There was no shaking hands and after signing the papers to renew our hunting contract with the organisation and taking receipt of our cans of moose meat we washed our hands. It is a good job that it is the soap that is the most important part of hand washing because our water is very cold at the moment. It might be beautiful and bright during the day but we have seen some of the coldest nights this winter, only it is supposed to be spring now.
Antonia sunbathing. Looks like she is
sporting a rather unusual hat though

Sofie in all her fluffy glory. In reality she is a felted ball of
fluff here.
Sofie decided to pay us a visit too. She's been at our neighbours most of the winter but made regular visits back. This time though she didn't seem so well. I had to get some worming tablets as she has obviously been making a big dent in the mouse population judging by her fat belly and the tapeworms she's managed to pick up in the process. She is usually a very skinny cat. She is also not a practical cat for a farmyard. She's a great mouser but her fur mats up so badly, very quickly. This time I think she could hardly move her neck. It took me ages with much patient cutting away of great wadges of felted fur. I've given her a day off before I start on the ones down her side.
Come on Amanda, you also can at least go out in the paddock

I think our kombucha tea should be ready
by now. Surprisingly refreshing
As I said, it all feels very weird for so much chaos going on in the world and yet all is calm and peaceful on our land, well kind of. Hearing the cockerels crowing is normal in the countryside and we tune out the noise they make. Even from day one of sleeping in the caravan with the cockerels just outside they haven't really disturbed us that much. However, the cranes are definitely back and oh boy are they loud. The noise they make rings clear across the valley.

Tubjørn and Brencis making sure they are more than 2m apart

That's right girls. When outside remember the social distancing

I was playing about with making felted balls. These didn't
turn out quite right but thought they would make some fun
little guys.

So which tomatoes were the first to make an appearance? The
ones labelled "mystery" of course. Typical!

We are not likely to run out of eggs. Our hens
have started producing again. Not brilliantly
but enough for what we need. 

Monday, 16 March 2020


Looks like it's been a rough week for Josefs too. Look at that
hair. He was the only one so wet the other day.
Well what a week. It's been hard to keep up. My university is closed to students. Lab work at our university can continue, but those of us who do not need a lab have to work from home, only I already do that, so not a problem for me. All learning will be done online, so a lot of staff will be trying to figure out how to get their heads around that. Fortunately I don't have any university students to arrange work for and even if I did, I'm kind of used to it due to my online tutoring work and previous experience of being a student on online courses.
Yes it snowed again. Here's Aggie with her tail up because
Ian called her name. 

Ian explaining to the boys that we won't have so many visitors
this year.
Borders are essentially closed and flights have been stopped to Latvia. The timing of this did surprise me. I know they have cancelled flights to areas of high infections, but didn't think they would stop all international flights so soon. There will be some repatriation flights this week for Latvians stuck abroad fortunately but they will have to self-isolate when they arrive. It was only after the event that it suddenly dawned on me that Ian and I have no way of getting back to the UK if we needed/wanted to. That was a bit of a shock to the system and not a pleasant thought, with family still in the UK.
George doesn't look too worried though, but I still think he
enjoys it when visitors do come, he's usually one of the first
ones there

A snuffly kiss
Here in Latvia this is the beginning of the school holidays but it will be followed by two weeks of closures. Sensible. I notice that some people are rather blasé about this virus and some are saying what about the other diseases that get ignored because it is the poor that suffer those. Very true, but the problem is that this virus is likely to impact the poor more and the slower the spread of the disease means that those who will suffer ill health for other reasons can still be treated.
Brencis does like a neck scrub

In a topsy turvy world, it's still nice to remind ourselves
that the world is an amazing place. Ice crystals on a muddy
My pharmacology background as prepared me a little for what is happening at the moment. It helps me to understand the progression of the disease. I could see what the potential problems could be back at the beginning of January. Quite early on I said we should stock up a bit on those things we buy regularly. We can manage without but it is just easier with those things we do buy, especially in such a rural location. Self-isolation is not hard for us to do and I said to Ian we need to sort out the caravan to move into this week, in case of any restrictions on movement. Of course there is the issue of what happens if we do get sick. Hopefully it would only be mild  if we get sick at all and so we can carry on looking after the animals.
Lady V enjoying a good scratch through a spruce tree

Where we would like to put a cabin. We would open up the
view the other way so people can see the alpacas, but it is
also a nice secluded place for a peaceful time.
As for the rest of the week, we took our friend's car back and stayed for a while to visit. We know we have to be careful as one of our friends is vulnerable to infections, so we wanted to visit before we went into Riga for a trade fair. Should we have gone to the trade fair? It was certainly quiet and I have never known men in particular ensure their hands were so clean. It was helpful for us to see the wooden cabins and the different companies who make them, since we do plan on getting one hopefully in the near future. The next day though the government banned all such events. Had I underestimated the risk? I don't know. From the trade fair we went to see a friend who has Tibetan Mastifs. We tentatively wondered if they would make a suitable dog to have around on our land. We certainly came away thinking if we were going to have a dog, they would be a breed to consider. She had some very calm ones that she breeds from, but we don't think the time is right at the moment, as we have a lot of other expenses.
Snow sparkling like diamonds

Mari and I having a little chat
The day after the Riga trip I had a blinding headache. A virus? Who knows. I fortunately have a tea for headaches and with that and a 3/4 hour nap, what was turning into a migraine, vanished. This evening it was Ian's turn, but on both occasions it was after a Riga trip - lack of fluid possibly. The evening after my headache I started coughing at 3am, of course it went through my head, I wonder if it is that virus. Fortunately, whatever it was had gone by the following afternoon.
Ilvija coming to investigate

Having a tickle under her chin. Her eye looks a little red in
this picture but it had cleared up by the evening and was
fine the next day.
Today's Riga trip was to do some panic buying. Only our panic buying doesn't look like everyone else's panic buying. We have some projects that we want to get on with this year and one of them needs doing before the start of the growing season - which seems to be coming around sooner than normal due to the warm winter we've had. The problem is that if deliveries get disrupted, then we won't be able to get what we need for the projects and we won't get them done, so we thought while everything is still working, we will get them ordered, only we wanted to see examples before we bought them, hence the trip into Riga.

You can tell Ian has food with him.
First Ian had to go to the garage to get a newer prop shaft cover fitted, since they finally had managed to source the part, we then set off for Riga. Our first port of call was to a company who sell greenhouses. The one we wanted was not assembled, but they did have plenty of frames on display so we could see them. They look sturdy and appropriate for a possibly windy location, so that was sorted. They did have a larger version assembled and that made it easier to see how it would be constructed. We also found out that it was a good idea to have tape on the bottom, to let the carbonate holes breathe but also to stop insects crawling up inside. That in itself is not too much of a problem, but birds trying to peck at them would be. Who knew! This wasn't a sales gimmick though, as we know the problems of birds pecking through the plastic for the insects in our big greenhouse, so it is good that this could possibly be prevented in the carbonate ones.
Our greenhouse casting a strong shadow in the sunshine

Footpath in the snow
Our next visit was to see some PVC marquee tents. One of the problems we've had with our felting courses is in hot and windy weather the conditions in the greenhouse get rather warm, so we needed a solution to that, but also we need to renovate the greenhouse, as I've mentioned before, and we need somewhere to put some of the things. So by putting up the marquee we can put the tables and such like undercover. We can also put the marquee nearer to the trees so there is more shade on those warm sunny days. We had gone with the intention of getting a 5mx10m tent but we decided that 5mx8m was going to be big enough for what we need. Ian was a little worried about the strength of the construction but a 4mx8m one was not available and they were waiting for delivery from China! Hmmm! Anyway, I'm sure it will be a great addition to our farm and have other uses besides a felting course. Weddings? Photo shoot changing room?
We had some windy weather that snapped
a few trees

We don't always get to see this side of the hill. It looks nice
now but the bumpy patch in the centre is a patch that has been
dug over by wild boar a while ago. We still see their footprints
but fortunately nothing serious at the moment.
Our last panic buy, or rather convenience buy, was a new jacket for Ian. We buy his work trousers and jackets from a small factory that only meant a minor detour to get to on our travels today. His last coat lasted for quite a while and is just beginning to look a bit shabby, so it seemed sensible to go back to the same place. It's also really nice to be able to support a small business rather than get a mass-produced one that doesn't last so long with the rigours of farm life. They have many different styles and so getting the right one took a bit of doing. Ian has got used to the pockets on his old one, so this one is pretty much the same style. Not bad for €45!

You can tell they have fresh hay
So we head into this next week, not quite knowing what the next decision of the government is going to be. When will they put more draconian measures in place? The next measure is likely to be that there has to be more than 2m between customers but that hasn't passed through into law yet. So all we can do is continue to prepare for a total lockdown and hope for the best. So far infections are low in Latvia and we hope it remains that way. We did close our alpaca farm to visitors just in case. We don't want to encourage people to come and visit us from Riga, where the number of infections is likely to be highest. It was also hard to know what protections to put into place for the safety of our customers and without the language to enforce that, it makes things difficult. It is also best for us to try and stay as healthy as possible for the sake of our animals, as they don't have anyone else to look after them. So no more trips into Riga if we can help it.
High five!

I still marvel that this is our forest. I
also love the way the tree in the centre
glows in the sunshine
What world will we wake up to though when this is all over? Preparing for this disease should have been uppermost in all politicians' minds as the risk from a pandemic is always there, but more so is how we prepare for the aftermath. We can be all doomsday about this, especially for those who think these are end times and everything will only get worse anyway. Can I just say stop with that thinking right now! For those who pray, when we pray the Lord's prayer we ask for God's kingdom to come on earth, just like it is in heaven. When we prepare for Heaven on earth it is preparing for end times where we are coming into a time of joy not despair. So roll up your sleeves and start working for a better community in which to live and that does not come by imposing superficial laws on moral behaviour, it means getting down and in touch with people, not just wagging fingers. It means being servants to others, not imposing rules. It also means stop with this wasteful lack of stewardship of God's good gifts on this earth. One thing this disease has done is to show how vulnerable our way of life is, we need to change, but we can do this - together.