Sunday, 6 November 2022

It happens!

7th October and the trees were glorious, now 
after some breezy and frosty days the leaves have
all gone.

Another month goes whizzing by and I'm left wondering what happened in all that time. The nice thing about writing once a week is that I could remember what I had done. I also used to write everything down on an excel sheet for work, now my calendar is my memory because I have had so many meetings just lately that there hasn't been much time to sit down and read or tick off jobs to do. 

Vanessa looks more and more like her mother.
This was a typical, "We are not amused!" look
that her mother had.
There have been lots of wet miserable days but 
some days are glorious. A fog bow

I have been so busy that there are times I'm feeling rather scatty. It feels like a maelstrom of ideas whirling around my head most of the time at the moment and it feels a bit frantic trying to fit everything in, but it's a process. It doesn't help that a project is still running on from last year, another one started in October and I'm teaching on a new course, which has had to be built from scratch. Keeps me out of trouble - well that's the theory. I also got elected to a new role at work, a role I actually started in September, so it was good to get the confirmation that I could carry on in that role.

Ian has been doing lots of fettling just lately!
The girls. Won't be long before they are confined
to the paddock for winter.

In my scattiness I managed to leave my hiking shoes in a hotel in Poland, even though I thought I had packed them. It cost me €40 to have them couriered to me, which was nearly the price of the shoes. I also managed to lose my car in the car park, something I have never done before. I do remember looking back and trying to estimate where it was parked but had to hurry to the airport due to the time. It was also only just getting light when I parked up. When I returned the car park was still jam packed with cars due to the work being done on the RailBaltica terminal. I went up and down the rows many times and gave up. I talked to the guys at the carpark and bless them they were good. Apparently it beats having to sit around doing nothing. 

Betty is not quite so bossy now and they are all
getting along fine. 

Queueing up for the evening feed

All snuggled up on the fleece together

I wonder what Norman will make of his first
glimpse of snow? Or will there even be 
snow this year?

One of the guys took me in the courtesy pick up van to cruise up and down the car park. After a few minutes of doing that a lady came up as they were stuck and told the guy they couldn't get their car started. The car park attendant dropped me off at the entrance again to see if his colleague could find the car on the cameras and he also gave the lady my car number for her to look while he and her husband got their car started. She found the car and it was not quite where I was expecting it. Sigh! Not really like me at all. I used to be able to gauge where I had left a car quite easily, but I think I used to pay more attention to my surroundings, as well as having a good sense of location. I could worry about it being a sign of old age, which I guess it could be, but I think it is more a sign of me just being very busy.

Our conference room all summer. It has served us
But, packing up time had to happen
Nearly all done!
It looks so bare! All ready for winter now...maybe
Karla looking bemused about something

On the plane on the way back from Spain, I caused a stir amongst the staff. I ordered a chicken and cheese panini. I opened up the package and tore a piece off the top. It was a bit hot, so I thought I would open up the sandwich to let it cool a bit. I was little shocked to find that my sandwich had no filling whatsoever, it was just hot bread. I called the attendant over and showed her, whereupon she exclaimed, "Oh my God!", which I thought was a little over the top, but I guess she was surprised. Pictures were taken for the record and I ended up having to pay another €1 to get a lasagne instead. I was a bit disgruntled at that and thought a small offering by way of apology would have been nice. I think the staff were new and so maybe not sure about the methods of keeping customers happy. I had no problem with the staff per se, they were attentive anyway and it was amusing. 

I love those mornings where the spider webs are
wet from the dew and capture the sunlight in a 
dazzling, sparkling display.
I especially like it when the whole field sparkles..
... where the dew drops look like a million crystals

One trip up to Estonia was a magical journey, 
where the sun burst through the mists making
the autumnal trees glow. 

As I mentioned I've been busy with meetings, more meetings, conferences, meetings, teaching and meetings, and so the autumn passed with barely a leaf on the trees now. The wind was blowing cold today too and it felt like a whisper of winter, although to be honest, up until today it has been incredibly mild. At least I managed to get my potatoes all dug up this last month. It took two weekends to get the job done, but at least that is finished. The tomatoes and the cucumbers were all picked and stored in our apartment and the chickens were put in the greenhouse for winter. They should be in the arks in the greenhouse, but I was greeted by two of them at the door this evening. They had managed to dig their way out under the side. I must sort that out tomorrow morning before letting them out of the hutch part when I feed them in the morning. 

Mari looking quite mucky as usual. Her fleece though
along with Jakobs her son spun up into a lovely 
speckled light-brown. I made some more hanks up
today to take to a shop.
The nights are arriving so early now. It is dark
now by 5ish but this was taken at 7:18pm on
the 24th October. It is amazing how quickly
the days get shorter at this time of year.

It did feel like I was processing grapes for ever though. We seem to have a lot and it takes time to cut them down and then steam them for juice. We talked about possibly getting them processed next year by a company that processes fruit into sealed bags and pasteurising them. It would save a lot of work but we would need 60kg of fruit, we might have half that in grapes if they are ready at the same time so we would also need to find apples and plums probably to add to that. It's a thought anyway. Either that or I need a bigger steamer or a fruit press. 

All the grapes in this picture have now
been processed. I'm sad to say quite a
few of the other types went to waste 
this year as there was just not enough 
hours in the day.
Of course, the autumn didn't last but it was a
colourful one.
Marvin and Norman just chilling on a frosty
morning. For some reason Marvin seems to be
feeling the cold in this damp, soggy November

I've been up to Tartu twice this last month, firstly to attend two small conference and meet with staff and then the second one to prioritise talking with students to see how they have been finding the courses at the mid-way point. The idea is to catch any issues early before they escalate if necessary. There will be a final review at the end of the semester too. It was good listening to the students and their opinions. It was a mix of good and some bad but it was encouraging to hear, that despite any issues we might have, one of the students is thinking of staying an extra semester rather than going back to his home university because he feels it's better in Estonia. The issues we do have are the reason for creating my new role as we need coordinators for the programmes we run. It is not to say we have major issues necessarily, just things can drift after a while and now there is a need for a re-evaluation - not surprising after two years of COVID restrictions. COVID of course has presented us with shifting challenges for education and workplaces in general. It will be interesting to see what universities all over the world will look like after a period of time to reflect on how much has changed.

Freddie with his mouthful. So pleased he's been 
castrated as he has calmed right down now and
doesn't start fights. He tends to stay out of them too
which is a relief. Not to say he never gets involved
but he doesn't generally start them and he doesn't 
really continue them.
Josefs on the other hand, tends to be the one
who starts and carries on the fights now. He might
be the next for castration but we have to see
what kind of babies he produces first I guess.
It was easy to make the decision with Freddie
as his fleece is not so good, but Josefs is 
rather nice.

I usually stay at a friend of mine's place while up in Tartu and it is lovely to return home after a day at the office to some hot food ready prepared - it kind of spoils me. The last time though my friend took advantage of me being around more for some cat sitting while she went on holiday. The cat and I got along okay and she would come and sit on my lap for a little while and let me stroke her. Every night I would kneel on the floor by the bed and bend my head forward towards the ground, this was not in prayer but to say goodnight and have a little chat with the cat who by this time was under the bed where I was sleeping. I wasn't so enthralled therefore at some very loud middle of the night, meow's on two of the four nights.

Despite his age, Tellus can alls start fights, 
usually with his son Brencis. Fortunately they
don't happen that often as generally they are both
fairly chilled alpacas.
The boys in their field

I've been on more field trips this last week and got to see more of Estonia. The first trip was to the very north near the capital Tallinn. It was just three of us, myself, my PhD student and her co-supervisor who has been working with her for much longer than I have. I'm just helping in the latter stages to help her finish up. We were looking at the characteristics of the landscapes in that area. I had never seen juniper as the main shrub to first take over a neglected field. It was quite fascinating. We also found a bog in an area that was private, but the owner let us in anyway. There were some fabulous cranberries that we snacked on while looking around. I also got to see the coastline and drystone limestone walls - something I'm familiar with from when I lived in Derbyshire. 

Maybe not so clear on this photo but the roots
of this tree were so interesting, Kassinurme, Estonia

Not such a nice idea. It might look pretty when 
these ribbons are tied to the tree but not so
nice later on in the year once they have faded and
worse some of them seemed to be made from
plastic so will not rot away. My colleague
was explaining that it is part of a neo-pagan 
ritual where people say they are reconnecting
with the pre-Christian past but often they are
imported rituals. Kassinurme, Estonia

Looking very mysterious in the mist, 
Kassinurme, Estonia
Who is this fellow rising out of the 
mist? One of the many carved
statues on a Viking site, Kassinurme,

The other field trip was closer to Tartu and quite different to the northern area I visited the day before. The weather was glorious on the trip up north, but damp and foggy the next day. The students all laughed when the organiser explained that on the right is - whatever he was talking about (it was in Estonian, so I didn't get what he said at the time) and all the students could see was a bank of fog. The fog lifted by mid-day though, so it wasn't too bad. It actually was quite appropriate for our first visit which was to a Viking settlement with the carved wooden statues rising out of the mist and an eerie Viking style wooden fort. The wooden steps were treacherous though and the handrails wobbly. I went down them, very, very slowly. We also saw typical villages, a restored windmill, some good views over the valleys from the drumlin and of course, since it is Estonia, another bog.

Breakfast anyone?Kassinurme, Estonia
A model of a Viking fort, Kassinurme, Estonia
Camping anyone? Kassinurme, Estonia

This last month has been a month of reconnections. The first one was from a PhD student who I had met a while ago at my university when I was still doing my PhD. He was studying bears in Latvia. He came with his family to see our alpacas on his wife's name day. I had forgotten what he looked like, but I did remember his topic. They had a good time and seemed interested in what we were doing. 

I love the use of non-straight timber for these
covered areas, Kassinurme, Estonia
A map on a wooden board, Kassinurme, Estonia. 

The other reconnection is with a pastor of the church we went to in the US. We last talked to each other nearly 15 years ago. Not that we fell out or anything, it was just we hadn't really connected in all that time. I sent an email with a concern I had and he suggested we talk. It was really refreshing to hear how he still has a heart to give people space to talk and connect, so important in this era of division. 

Entrance to a cemetery in Estonia
Restored windmill, Kuremaa, Estonia

Our other reconnection was with some friends we have seen a little more recently but not much more. They were a couple who came out to Latvia the year before we first did and they came back to our church to tell everyone about what they had done. We enjoyed it so much that we decided we would go out the following year and the rest, as they say is history. It was the start of our journey towards living here. Something we didn't really think about in that first year, even though we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was hard work and Latvia was not as developed as it is now, but it did sow a seed in our heart and 8 years later we made the country our home. 

Walls of a manor house, Kuremaa, Estonia

Manor house, Kuremaa, Estonia

Kuremaa Lake, Estonia

Laiuse, Estonia

Laiuse, Estonia

Sunday, 2 October 2022

It's over

A rainbow! That means rain.

I started to write this late August and then events and work overtook me. So well over a month later and an era is over with the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II making the title I chose back then seem even more relevant than ever. I'm not much of a monarchist and if anything rather ambivalent to the whole pomp and ceremony aspect. I didn't even watch the funeral as I had work to do. I didn't have a bank holiday since I work for an Estonian University and funnily enough it wasn't high on their agenda. There is still a sadness though, as I did admire her Majesty's dedication to duty and I expect at times that it was a very onerous job, but she also had the perks of a rich heritage and plenty of money to compensate. When I see the millions that go into electing a President in the US, I do wonder if a monarchy is cheaper but I think the election of a head of state by a Parliament as they do in Latvia, is perhaps the best option, although with the current crew in charge in the UK, I'm not sure about that either. What I do not like to see is gross inequality that is highlighted with an old fashioned monarchy. I guess we will see how it works out for the next generation. I do hope that some of those resources will now go towards serving the ordinary people better. 

It's over! They're heading south!

I think we all miss our lovely intern, who was such
a fabulous help over the summer. 

Oh no! Summer over?

So back to my original start of the blog, summer is done! I'm back to work; the hay is cut, stacked and under cover.; the leaves are starting to turn and the nights are getting longer. The summer heat continued for a while longer after the last blog and we were still suffering a drought but the cooler and longer nights meant more dew on the ground in the morning to keep things ticking over. We'd barely had enough rain to wet the ground in quite a while and so the plants were not exactly accelerating away, apart from some of the squash plants that excel at sitting there for months and then suddenly exploding in size over night. But the rain put an end to that and then the early frosts arrived As I headed up north to Estonia for the start of the academic year, I dressed for summer but packed for winter (well slight exaggeration, autumn).

Now a race to the finish. I think Marvin's ahead
by a nose.

Just lazing around

In all the years I've been with the Estonian University, both as a student and then member of staff, this was the first time I've been there for the start of term. I was there to introduce myself as the head of the masters programme, so they would know who I was. I then went on a field trip with them the next day to see parts of Estonia I haven't seen much of before, which I really enjoyed. I took the precaution of wearing a mask on the bus, glad I did! I was the only one though. The following week on another trip several staff members became sick with COVID. Not sure if the mask would have been effective on that trip but decided that in small confined areas or rooms, I would wear a mask now that I'm starting to mingle again more. 

Two falls and a submission
Lake Peipsi, Estonia

Another view of a lake in Estonia. Forgotten which
one now - guess I'll be in trouble!

A textile exhibition in a manor house

Just starting to turn colour

Back on the farm it's not been a great year for the garden. First the spring nights were cold that meant everything got off to a late start, just in time for the period of neglect when other jobs take priority. So generally the paths are barely visible and some beds look like a jungle. Fat hen the prolific but tasty "weed" was a staple in our diet for quite a bit of the summer, along with herbs which seem to be doing okay and the volunteer potatoes that taste awesome (volunteer as they sprout up in places where they were not deliberately planted). Our lawnmowers in the orchard have been the chickens this year as we've moved the arks around there rather than cut the lawn around the trees. Consequently we have suckers coming up from the plum trees in various areas. We will have to decide whether to cut them back or keep them I guess. Now the chickens are starting on their slow trek to the small greenhouse for the winter.

What are you two arguing over? Tis the season of
arguments amongst the animals.

Then the next minute, all is calm and they are 
sitting down ruminating.

Frosts? What are those? You are about to find out
little chap.

I do wonder how much we will get before the heavy frosts set in and just as everything is starting to produce. The tomatoes had only just started turning and before I set off for the start of term in Estonia we'd only had the grand total of two up till then but with lots to come. The beans were and are still flowering away and there are signs of some small beans but they haven't amounted to much over the last month, we had a handful one meal time. Some squashes were romping away but others are sitting there rather demurely. Oh the joys of a neglected garden. I planted some more seeds for some autumn veg and was hoping with some watering and the extra week of heat, they would get going but they have been slow too. I'm always loathe to water the garden as I prefer a rain-fed one and mulching - less effort and more sustainable. At least we are not using municipal treated water, just the water we collect from the run off from the barn roof or pond water. 

Ian's birthday mug
Rather vibrant fungi

Talking of sustainable water collection, I read an article recently where they used plastic mesh to collect the moisture in the air to irrigate new trees to repopulate an area damaged by fire. Maybe that would work in my garden to ensure the moist air is trapped. It might also mean that the wee beasties are kept off the plants and might provide a bit of protection from low overnight temperatures. I will have to experiment I think, but I think that might be an experiment for next year now.

Socks completed by our friend for a
Little Betty. We keep her in the cage at night, as
we wouldn't want her to become a little snack. 

I mentioned in the last blog that we seem to have lost GT. He still hasn't returned and so we fear the worse. However, we now have a new kitten. Ian phoned me from the place where he had gone to do some late shearing and said they had a kitten they needed to re-home, did we want it. I said yes, and so we welcomed Betty to our farm. She's quite a sweetie, very affectionate. Not wild like the previous two were as kittens. She can be a bit feisty too though. She is not afraid of Rocket Ron and poor Rocket Ron didn't quite know what to think of her at first. She sometimes chased him off, but he started to fight back a little eventually. Nothing serious, just a paw to say, "Keep off!" or "Enough!" It was hilarious to watch this tiny little kitten chasing a cat three times her size. Generally they just sniff each other though, so that's a relief and now they seem to be fine together.

What is that scary little thing? 
Chanel, our temperamental, stressy, spitty alpaca
but she's sweet really.

Chanel is still causing us some issues. It has been too hot sometimes to wash her as she would boil as she dried out. Then there's been the times when we are cutting the hay and there are just not enough hours in the day to sort her out too. If she was an even-tempered, easy-going alpaca like her son, then we could have done more with her, but because she is so temperamental and difficult to handle then we cannot work on her as much as we would like. Unfortunately the last washing she had meant the skin was soft enough for the flies to start working on her again and she got some nasty sore spots. Blue antibiotic spray followed by turmeric and garlic powder worked well. The patches at least now look dry. She was too sore tto carry on the washing programme and now it's perhaps too cold. Sigh!

Over? Really?
Well never mind, there's always hay!

Our summer house progressed slowly but now the main structure is finished and we even have an electric supply to it. The roof boards and shingles were put on before the rain started thank goodness. There was some frustration as there were days of rain forecast that didn't actually materialise or there was so little that it hardly dampened anything. Frustrating when dry weather is needed to get a job done, even if the water was needed for the garden. So this is the worst of both worlds. Now the damp days with bits of drizzle is holding up the work to get the outside preservative on. Most of it is done now though, so it isn't so stark and dominant. We chose a dark colour to help it blend in. 

More flying south

I got Ian to take some photos of
me for work, but thought that
I looked rather like my 
grandmother. I think it's the 
colour of the jacket. Quite scary

The week I went up to Estonia some of our family arrived for another visit. It was lovely to see them again when I got back from work and Ian enjoyed the company of our grandson every morning as he got up early to help with poo clearing again. We were really grateful to our son for helping Ian with the flooring but we didn't think he needed to test the strength of the membrane and netting that we put to stop mice nibbling through. I hope his leg is okay now, he did get a bit of a bruise from it. It seemed like everyone had a good time though and the kids got plenty of opportunity to play outside in a sandy patch and play with the kitten (I'm sure she misses them).

Well the colours are better I guess!
One haircut, my favourite colour purple
and a black wall at work. Well that's 

All the fun of playing in the sand with an auger!

All too soon it was time for them to go home and and me to head to Poland. I decided to drive down to Kielce. It was quite a journey and so opted to stay in a hotel in the north of Poland before heading for the event the following day. I think I've said this before, as we drove to the UK for our son's wedding years ago, but Poland is big. It also has some very pretty places and a lot of new roads. I can understand them building the new roads, there was so much traffic, but it is sad to see them carving them through forests and green belt land. Nice to drive on but not good for the environment. I would have taken the bus down but I just could not face an overnight journey to Warsaw, I long for the Rail Baltica project to be completed and for Europe to get their act together with overnight trains. During my time in Poland it was also time for our Ukrainian guests to leave for the UK. We will miss their borscht, smiling faces and our spotless apartment. 

Weaving linen in Poland

The workshop room for the workshop
I was hosting

A view from the tower of the workshop room. I got 
stuck in there as the lift stopped working. Had to 
find the service lift, but thankful that the guy who was
also stuck up there was Polish and could contact the 
service crew.

Already for the workshop

The not so beautiful view of the grain silos 
situated next to the hotel I was staying in. The
hotel was quite posh and had lovely breakfasts, 
so all was good.

The rather grand bed on my way back from Poland

The t-shirts were a gift from our intern. Spit 
happens is a common phrase amongst alpaca
owners but it genuinely never occurred to me
that it might resemble another phrase that I 
would not really use! Sigh! How naive I can 
be at times!

I did appreciate being able to see many familiar faces and make some new acquaintances at the conference I went to (The European Rural Parliament), although I still feel uneasy about the consumption of resources to cover such events. Out of the new networks I've made I've  been asked to speak to an online lunchtime seminar in the UK about my research and one lady said she would love me to go to Iceland - not holding my breath on that one though and the uneasiness over travel by plane concerns me for its impacts on the environment - so difficult when I do actually still like travel. I was slightly alarmed on this trip though that I developed a cough but in the end decided it was all the chemicals they use in the air-conditioning systems and the cleaning fluids and it was setting off an asthmatic cough. Once I was outside my coughing subsided. Anyway, in preparation for a flight to Spain I got my COVID booster. That's enough flights for one year anyway. Planting a hedge to screen the alpaca boys from seeing the girls seems like a good idea and would offset those airmiles - and yes I did add extra for offsets to the air tickets, which is a concept I hate. So many dilemmas to face.

Progress on the summer house