Monday, 14 January 2019

An employee at last

Because you need a smiley alpaca in your life
Most of my life I have been a freelancer of sorts rather than an employee. I worked for my parents as a teenager and then in the shop they opened just before I went to uni after my A' levels. Does that count as an employee? I did a bit of cleaning at our church once. These were the only times I remember being an employee. I don't remember any contracts though, maybe there was for the cleaning. My other careers involved childminding at my home, freelance children's worker, self-employed tutor for an online educational organisation (sort of employee but not strictly speaking, more of a contractor), a Mum at home and teacher for our kids when we homeschooled, alpaca owner, self-sufficientish homesteader, self-supported researcher, well you get the picture. Some are still ongoing, some are finished and in the distant past. Not often though was I an employee, with specified hours and paid holidays. Well now I am and will be until March 2020 when the contract runs out, unless other projects come along of course and it gets extended.
We live in a magical place

With some rather cute animals
My job does take me in a slightly different direction to where I have been going with my own research, but I think it will all add to my general knowledge on natural systems and how we manage them. Instead of rural places, it will be the marine environment. I was born by the sea, so a little bit like returning to my past, but not quite. I never really felt a deep connection with the sea, although I like places where the mountains come down to the sea and love to sit on the steep hillsides listening to the sound of the sea crashing onto the shore. There won't be much of doing that in the Baltic Sea region, which is more like a big lake than a roaring sea. Not even sure if there are any mountains that come down to the sea, maybe around Sweden or Finland, I don't know. I guess I may find out.
Ian is busy halter training the youngsters, they were very
good about it. They didn't make a fuss at all. Ian hasn't
put them on a lead yet though. That comes next

I think this one looks very funny. Jakobs looks like he has
blow dried his hair and applied to much lipstick
The first half of the week was made up of meetings of course. My colleagues and I were getting our heads around the work that needed doing and what our duties would be. I was welcomed as an official employee with a staff calendar and one of my colleagues said I was welcome to use the desk in her office, as no one else was using it - no official desk as such, as I still work from home most of the time. I finally got to see my other colleagues on the project via Skype, although that was a bit of a process in itself and I had to leave early due to a meeting with HR to sign my contract.
I love the winter sun. It has a very special quality

But there are downsides to winter of
course. Freezing rain is never pleasant
I had to read through a lot of HR-ese about health and safety and work/life balance and such. Not quite sure what that will look like at the moment, as my life is not full of clear cut boxes, things tend to merge into one another. I will be working this evening due to a deadline for a paper, as I am waiting for something to work on from another colleague. So I thought in the interests of work/life balance, I will take the morning off and work on the blog. Does that count?
A chance to play in the sun

Well maybe I will just come out for a little while. Turbjørn
sampling the snow. Sometimes the alpacas would rather
eat the snow than drink the water. The chickens are the same.
Work/life balance is hard when you also have a business and a farm. When does felting go from being a hobby, since I don't sell much, to work? I love the creative process anyway. So is that work? I am making myself a felted tunic and incorporating embroidery into it. It would probably be too expensive for people to buy, with the work that will go into it, but I also need to find out how wearable a felted alpaca tunic is. Will it hold up, or will it also need merino. I need to make another tunic because just laying out the raw fleece ended up with patches with no fleece on the cotton muslin fabric I had felted it with. Will carded fleece work better? Maybe! Maybe I am just not laying it on right or it doesn't work as well with the muslin. And so on. It might also be the actual fleece I use.
Frosted pink in the morning sunshine

I wonder if Freddie is having a laugh at what I am trying
to do with his fleece?
I know that I should make samples first, but I get bored with that and dived straight in. I don't have much time either and it would be tedious if all I did was to make samples. I love the spontaneity of it anyway and can use my embroidery to work on areas where there is no fleece. I have made another thin piece of felt on silk to make leaves that I will sew on to the fleeceless fabric areas. We'll see where it goes. I think I should just aim to enjoy the process rather than think of a finished product. Hopefully it is still something I can wear though and, even better, be reversible.
The patchy fleecy side. I think the photo
makes it look worse. The piece at the top
is what I shall use to make leaves

This is the side dyed with leaves from our
land and onion skins at the bottom

The close up of the leaves shows the
detail better. The brown patches are
the fleece poking through

This is a close up of the interesting
texture of Freddie's fleece

Ian has been cutting a lot of paths in the snow, sometimes
using the snowblower, sometimes using the tractor to
flatten the paths with the tipping box on the back of it and
sometimes by hand. The problem is that the recent stuff is
heavy and wet which is not so easy to shift whichever
method you use.

Well this happened today. I said it was heavy wet stuff. This
is the small greenhouse that we had covered with black plastic
that we used both for storage and as a drying place, It will
need to be totally replaced as there is no way of
reconstructing this
Before I get up in the morning when I am at home I like to read, I have two books on the go and one is Celtic Prayer and the other is a yet another Wendell Berry book called "Bringing it to the table". This is a collection of essays brought together in 2009 and with a foreword by Michael Pollan. I like the quote that Pollan finishes with, written by Wendell Berry with his collaborator Wes Jackson in 2008:
It is difficult to make out any landscape features now. The
pond has all but disappeared, just a depression in the snow,
the root cellar is now just a white mound with a pipe sticking
out of it, looking like an igloo.  
At the apartment the greenhouses are slowly disappearing in
the snow
For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we have food. This is a mistake. If we continue our offences against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy. The government will bring forth no food by providing hundreds of billions of dollars to the agribusiness corporations.
Everything is quite well blanketed now
Sofie is back. Ian brought her back. It didn't seem fair for
our neighbours to keep on feeding her. Sofie is not best
pleased 🤣
We haven't learnt much in the last 40 years since Berry and others have been sounding the warning regarding our treatment of the soil. We desperately need to listen now. There is something elemental about his writing and that of the Celtic Prayer, something that makes me feel like I am waking out of a deep winter sleep. It makes me feel like I am touching something real that we have lost in our modern life. We can feel insulated against what happens in the fields when we live in the West, because we still have food, even in the bad years. Yes we might grumble about the price of the lettuces in a year when there is a late freeze, but so what? There is still the glasshouse grown spinach, or radicchio, but is that a real way to live? What does it take for us to feel alive?
The slippers I made with help the week before.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Welcome to 2019

Let us out! Please! There were a couple of days of wet snow
and so they all got kept in, so they didn't get soaked before a
Welcome to 2019. I must remember that as I have already managed to sign something with the date 2018. It was interesting to welcome in the New Year with friends this time. Quite often we have gone to bed before midnight. We decided to back out of the ramble beforehand, as we weren't quite sure what we would be getting ourselves into and it was quite a long time before the party, not easy on Ian who may have been outside most of the day anyway. I also realised that I didn't actually have the right kind of footwear for that kind of thing either. I have wellies for the land and I have hiking boots but not for cold and possibly damp conditions. Anyway, the party was good and the people friendly, so that worked well.

Please! Please! Let me out!
Brencis looking pretty dapper I think
At midnight we went outside and climbed a hill. It was surprisingly steep. I have no idea why I have never noticed this particular knoll in our village before. I guess it is mainly due to living on the other side and only really walking out by our land. We celebrated the New Year with a glass of champagne and a mixture of being wished "Laimīgu Jauno gadu" and a "Happy New Year" by fellow partygoers. The hill turned out to be an excellent spot to watch the fireworks before clambering down the hill, without managing to kill myself in the process (yes it was that steep) and rejoining the party in the old railway station.
Even old Lady V, is looking good

And of course Jakobs is just looking sweet
Later on in the week the friend who helped me with the felting workshop before Christmas came to help me make some slippers. We were both interested to see how it would work with alpaca. Due to the snowy conditions we had to collect her from her parent's farm where she is living at the moment. It turned out to be a very interesting journey there as the snow was quite thick out that way and we had only travelled that way for the first time in the dark the week before. The only way we found the road to her house, was to follow the sticks her father had put in to show where the road was. It was even more tricky on the way back as it had snowed some more during the day.
Finally time to run off some energy

Snow dunes in the garden
The slipper production went well. She worked on one slipper and I followed what she was doing on the other one. We even managed to get them to be about the same, which kind of surprised me. We made the slippers from Herkues fleece. As I mentioned last week, it is not the best for nice scarves, but worked well for the base for Ian's welly inserts last week and worked very well for the slippers this time, as it made a very solid finished product with a satisfying "thwock" sound. My friend left me some leather for the bases and waxed sewing thread. I was quite pleased with them, especially as they certainly kept my feet warm and toasty. Now we just have to see how hardwearing they are.
Sunrise in winter

The deer have been visiting the land. We weren't too
concerned as they don't dig up the land like the pigs, but
now they are starting to find our orchard and eat the trees
there. That we are not so happy about. They don't normally
come so close to the greenhouse area.
Most of the time has been spent doing academic work, so I decided to go out with Ian one day to help with giving Vitamin D injections to the girls, tablets for the boys and do some skiing. The skiing didn't happen. I went out to pick the Brussel sprouts I had grown, even though they were tiny, and on the way back my eyes were aching due to the northerly wind that was blowing. I decided that skiing was not a good activity for the day, so instead I sorted out our seed order for the year. This year we needed a lot of seeds to replace older ones and I haven't managed to do much in the way of seed saving anyway. I also want to ensure I have my seed order for the next few years due to Brexit when I may have to source my seeds from a mainland European country and not the UK. Latvian seeds don't always seem to be very good, although I might start looking around to see if there are other companies.
They maybe didn't get soaked but still a little dusting of snow
one day

Travelling up to Tartu by bus. This is Valka station
The following day I thought I had better stop in before heading up to Tartu and get my packing done. I thought I would finish off a piece of felting but then realised it was already felted enough and so started on a tunic instead - as you do! I didn't finish it and so ended up taking it with me to my friend's in Tartu. At least I got it as far as a stable enough fabric to move, even if it did mean I was weighed down with lots of bags to carry.
I then walk over the border into Estonia. The
little sentry box still stands to mark the border,
but of course there are no border checks here
nowadays. Over the border is Valga

Sofie, who is now on holiday
Our cat hasn't turned up to our greenhouse when Ian goes in the morning for a few days. We found out that she is on holiday at our neighbour's farm. I needed to order some milk from her and asked if she had seen her and she had. We were relieved she was up there, but we hadn't realised she was living the life of Reilly, as we say. Our neighbour's car had broken down and so her son rang us and asked for a lift home. Ian went to pick them up and as they got chatting he found out the life she is now leading. Apparently she is sitting next to the grain to eat the mice that come by, so at least she is earning her keep too. She is also being fed sausage and gets some milk, fresh from the cow, so not sure if she will ever want to come back home, maybe in Spring.
On the bus in Estonia

An old Soviet era train near the Valga train station
Recently I have been reading Wendell Berry's "Unsettling of America" in the mornings, one of a set of books some friends bought for me. His arguments are a little circuitous and hard to follow at times, but still there is much to ponder. I can appreciate the philosophical ponderings that overlap being on a farm and academia. He suffered the frustration of academic thought that gets locked in silos in the universities of his day- thank goodness that has moved on somewhat since his book was written, but it still exists to some extent and frustrates me at times too. Ideas and concepts can look good on paper but in the real messy world there are barriers to spreading the "pure" knowledge and rightly so. So my musings have centred on the issue of the distance between the cities and the countryside and the impact that has on society today.
George might be growing up, but he is still cuddly

Frosted hay
Cities seem to behave as if life in the countryside is unimportant. This is because those living in the cities have often lost the connection to the land and the food produced from it. They have also lost the connection to the concept of stewardship in the process, as land and people are consumed and not cared for. Food is consumed without thought of where it comes from and how it got there - until something goes wrong of course. Then it is the fault of the supplier or the farmer but not the supermarket or consumers for abdicating their responsibilities in the first place for sourcing their food in an ethical manner. Ethical to the people and the earth we live on.
Vanessa's crew's paddock surrounded by frosted trees

I love the look of these frosted oak leaves. Such potential for
some design work
The rise in veganism and the eat organic movement shows people want to care but not necessarily how to care. It is after all hard to do when the processes are so little understood. How can those in the cities understand the natural cycles on which their food supply relies unless they reconnect with the land in some way? How can this vast disconnected society be turned around? Who wants to work in the fields anyway? And yet maybe we should. We mock the totalitarian regimes that sends the workers into the fields - such a waste of talent we might think, such backwardness.

Someone else looks like she wants to get out.
I do not advocate enforcing people to go into the fields for planting, weeding and harvesting, but what happens if we re-value this kind of work? Physically getting our hands in the dirt as a communal activity once again? Many of the interviews that have been conducted in my research in Latvia and Estonia recall the times of communal activity that finished in a celebration, such as haymaking, potato harvesting and apple picking and processing. It was hard physical work, but done together, in connection with the land and the seasonal cycles that produces the food they need to nourish their bodies. Some still enjoy those activities with friends and family, but many also yearn to at least see some of that kind of activity again. Maybe it isn't such a bad idea after all.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Not again!

Yes again! I've been travelling all day and then ended with a lovely evening. Short for - no blog today and maybe not tomorrow either, we'll see 😀

Some people may wonder why I post apologies. I have read many comments in the past where people have followed a blog for a long time and then they suddenly disappear. Rather than worry you, a short apology at least lets you know that nothing untoward has happened.

Monday, 31 December 2018

In between times

Vanessa looking cute again
So Christmas came and went and it's New Year's Eve. I was doing my usual grazing the internet and nearly forgot it's blog night again. In a few hours we are heading out to join a party. It's a long time since we have gone out on New Year's Eve. We have tended to be a bit like hermits at this time of the year and last year we were heading home from the UK anyway.
Plodging through the snow. And if you don't know what
plodging is, try looking it up in a Geordie dictionary 😀

Looking through the fence
Christmas day was rather different as I didn't go out to see the alpacas. I had things to do like cleaning and a bit of decorating. I made us a steak pie with a suet crust in some pots I bought on my travels last week. Not exactly the traditional Christmas fare but something a bit different. We did have roast parsnips though and Yorkshire puddings with it, although they were a bit of a flop. We don't do presents, unless we have an inspiration as we have enough clutter in our apartment as it is. So all in all, a bit of a quiet, relaxing day.
There's a good piece of hay in there somewhere (Josefs)
Or maybe here? (Freddie)
Our friend commented that alpacas have such lovely big eyes
and they sure do.
The following day we had a friend around for a meal and this time the Yorkshire puddings rose. Phew! Before the meal Ian came back from the land to take us both out to say hello to the alpacas. She hadn't met alpacas before but could see why we love them so much. The girls were very interested in the carrots she brought with her, so much so they polished off the ones I cut up, so I ended up having to cut some more for the boys. It was great to see Freddie and George eating them, along with the usual ones of Mr. P and Brencis. Tellus and Herkules kept coming up to see what there was but each time they turned their noses up when presented with carrots. Fussy pair! Turbjørn of course wouldn't come near, whether it was grain or carrots.
Freddie just chillin'

The weather warmed up a bit this week and so the snow has
been slowly sliding off the alpaca houses. 
We had a lovely journey to take our guest back on the snowy roads. The main road to her little village is usually awful, but in the snow it wasn't so bad, not so bumpy. Her house though was quite a way out from the village and so we travelled on a road we have never been before. The last section had been cleared by her father and there were sticks on either side of the road to mark it. We used to do that every winter but now the boys fence indicates where the road is and so we don't really need to do that.
Amazing how it can slide so far off without breaking

Wonder if someone has taken a bit out of this one?
Once Christmas was out of the way, it was back on with some academic work. There is a joint paper that needs to be re-worked before January 15th and I needed to check through my data to see if there was anything relevant that could be added and post that off to my supervisor. I then had to get back on with my own paper, which involved sorting through some downloaded papers to see if there was anything I could use. So much sifting of data and academic papers. I might as well get used to it as that is what my job will be for the next 18 months.
9:41 on a dull day with Jakobs looking out towards the trees

Come on! Hurry up! Feeding time for the girls at putting
away time. Only 15:37 but it will soon be dark
Ian had a surprise request this week to do some shearing in Hungary in April. That works from the point of view that we don't start shearing up this far north until May, but there are so many logistical questions to run through first before he can make any decision on that, so he has been emailing back and forth while he processes the practicalities of it all. An interesting request though. I can't go for definite as someone has to look after the alpacas and I have my own work to do too.
Everyone is looking for the elusive bit of hay. Veronica's crew
certainly know how to eat, their feeders go down at an
astonishing rate.

Ian has been fettling. The plastic on our halogen oven has
been getting brittle and I broke the handle on it. This
meant the switch didn't work, so Ian has put a new
switch on the casing and made a workable handle. It will
last a little longer now. Rather annoying as the rest of it is fine
I seem to have done quite a bit of baking this week, such as the usual croissants - although I haven't got around to making our New Year breakfast ones yet, so that will be late. I've made a late Christmas cake, Chelsea buns, scones, mince pies and my usual bread. The mince pies are for the party tonight. Not quite the traditional heavy mincemeat for the pies, but Christmassy enough. At least it will keep Ian in cake for a week or so - maybe! That man can eat.
Switch added at the back

The boys alpaca house
Today I kind of took a day off and I didn't do any academic work. Instead I did some felting, only not the decorative sort, just the utilitarian stuff. I used Herkules fleece to make felt pads to repair some inserts for Ian's winter wellies as the bases of the inserts have started to disintegrate. I have got so far as making a good thick pad about the right size, but I had to wait for them to dry before using them to repair the inserts. Herkules fleece makes a good tight felt, but it cannot be described as ultra soft, so do not worry that I have wasted fleece on wellie inserts. So I should finish there really, as I will need to get photos added and then get ready for the party.
Vanessa's crew have been getting black necks from reaching
over this feeder. It was designed to stop the sheep from
climbing in or from pulling it down. The alpacas are a little
more genteel when they eat and can reach over the top, well
almost. Ian is going to lower the feeder a bit sometime.

Not sure if it is the snow on the feeder that is being eaten
or chomping on the wood. They quite often eat the bark
off trees

Still hanging on in there and not slid off yet.