Monday, 31 May 2010

Noshing time

Ian rotavating the orchard. The yellow coat is not to keep
rain off but the mosquitoes
Ian raking our new orchard
We had to pay a visit to the tax office this week to register our new company. We were given a book of codes to describe what our company is going to do, there were hundreds of codes and some were very similar to each other, so which ones more closely matched what we planned to do? Tricky! Fortunately they were also in English so we didn't have to rely on our dear friend to translate it all, in fact she gave me the book to make the decisions; don't blame her really as she has so much to do because most of the information etc is in Latvian, of course! Well we decided on mixed farming for one, herbs another, silvoculture with something else and I can't remember the rest (plus the list that I do have is in Latvian and I can't read the writing very well), I think we managed to cover all the different bases though that we are endeavouring to include in our company without being so specific that we haven't got room to grow or diversify if need be.

Inside the greenhouse is now planted up with tomatoes
cucumbers, melons, peppers, chillies and  sweetcorn 
It has been a very busy week in the garden as we try and get as much started as possible, the season is short but thankfully intense. I sowed some seeds in trays in the new polytunnel,  it was so nice not to have tray after tray of seeds on our windowsills but unfortunately something got into the polytunnel and noshed on some of the seeds. Whatever it was wasn't that fond of the beans as only one was half-eaten but the winter squash which was just sticking out of the soil awaiting some more compost to cover them up were all neatly picked out bar one. I hope the one it left will produce something as the aim was to save the seed to produce more next year. It wasn't the only thing that got noshed either, one of our new apple trees had its barked noshed and so they are all now covered with a natty new coat made out of fleece, not sure if it will do the trick or not but it is the best we can do for the time being. Our orchard is looking rather good now as it has been rotavated, raked and seeded with grass and clover (clover to give nitrogen to the trees), okay the rotavation should have been done first but we had to get the trees in quick and early spring or early autumn is the best time to put them in. What we need now is some gentle rain to water the seed in, although in practice what will probably happen is all the grass seed ends up at the bottom of the orchard.

Our tomatoes are racing away now
I have also been well and truly noshed by mosquitoes, my head is like a relief map of the alps, my hands are covered in bumps and I even have a few bites on my knees as the the mossies took advantage of a gap in my jeans, it wasn't even a big gap but they found it. The problem is so widespread in Latvia this year that getting hold of insect repellent is very difficult and even if you find it there is only the stuff with DEET in, which is definitely effective at keeping the little blighters at bay but makes me feel ill in the meantime. We have a little Boots insect repellent for kids, left over from last year, but to be honest it is so vile as it makes us wheeze when it is sprayed, how someone can spray it on kids we do not know and so we would rather not use that either. Hopefully our youngest son who is coming out at the end of this month will bring some citronella insect repellent with him, otherwise he is back on the plane to get some. One thing that I have been talking to God about is the mosquitoes, if the earth will eventually be redeemed will there be mosquitoes and if there are will they still be drawing blood? And if we are a part of redeeming the land for his glory will he get rid of the mosquitoes? Unfortunately I haven't had an answer on that one yet and so I guess we will still have to put up with the little blighters for a little while longer.

Speedwell, I think!
I am not noshing quite so well though as I have more tooth problems, a filling fell out, it is sensitive but fortunately not painful. Can't complain though as it is a filling which was put in when I was pregnant with our middle child who is now 22 - lasted a while then and certainly lasted better than the two gold crowns which were put in first and I somehow managed to swallow. Whoops!

Rainbow coloured beetle
The wildlife around is seems to be bursting with energy and colour now even with the cooler weather we have had this week. There are loads of ladybirds on the land and some rainbow coloured beetles (see the photo), I have no idea what they are called though. One incredible sight I saw when I went to fetch some water for our plants from the pond were shoals of tadpoles, not sure if that is the technical term for a group of tadpoles but the pond was black with them, they were all congregated together but slowly moving off in waves. We stood and watched them for ages, marvelling at the seething masses and then suddenly we thought of our pond on the land and grabbed a bucket and caught some. We put the bucket in the back of the car, wedged in nice and tight, but one thing you have to know about Latvia is that some of the roads are only gravel roads and so are not the smoothest of rides. When we got to the land we were greeted with some very sad little tadpoles on our runner board at the back and a few swimming around in the ridges of our plastic lined truck boot (not very technical I know but I am trying my best!), fortunately not many had escaped and those that had we scooped up and put them back in the water. We poured them gently into our pond and Ian assures me there doesn't appear to be any dead ones floating but lots still in the pond swimming around, so we are very happy about that.

A relief to some maybe but I have not pondered much this week as I haven't had a great deal of time. Hopefully once all the seeds are in then things will quieten down a bit and I will have more time but then I am looking at the backlog of washing and cleaning so perhaps not! Heh ho! It is different from studying anyway.

Monday, 24 May 2010


Cherry blossom
 Well this week we officially became partners in a Latvian company called SIA Jiksi (SIA is a bit like limited in the UK and the name is pronounced Yik- si). We have plans to sell fruit, vegetables, meat (maybe rabbit and chickens), snails, mushrooms, processed foods like jams and juices (only that might have to wait until next year as our new fruit bushes won't be ready till next year at least and only fully operational the year after that) and craft items. Much of it is still in the planning stage but we wanted to get the company up and running and work on it bit by bit and build up slowly. Unfortunately we will have to wait another week before we work on it again as our friends have just moved house and they have a lot to do on it and we also have a lot to do getting seeds in. The weather has been really warm this last week, so perfect for sowing seeds and now we have some wet weather to water them in, so hopefully as long as we don't have a repeat of last year's rain then our gardens will race away as will the weeds no doubt.

Sweetcorn beginning to grow
We are still looking at the best way forward to market our produce and I heard about a CSA or community supported agriculture here in Latvia. Normally a CSA works by people paying up front for produce at the beginning of the year and then each week they get a vegetable box in return but I wondered how it would work here with the economic situation so we joined the one and only CSA for a meeting at the farm. As I suspected the practice is rather different here as the vegetable boxes are only paid for a week to a month in advance and so does not work in the same way as elsewhere but the farmer does at least benefit from a regular income. The boxes do not require the same pre-packaging that the supermarkets require and so this makes the farmers work much simpler. The consumers help out the farmer from time to time too just like in other CSAs, so somethings are the same. I also wondered what happened over winter as there is not much fresh veg available mainly potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbages but the farmer explained that she supplements the veg boxes with jams or pickles that she herself has produced, which at least keeps people coming back for the boxes. It was interesting to see how the mix of ecologically minded city folks and the two farmers got along at the meeting and how much the farmer appreciated the regular veg box orders, so it is obviously working although it is still only in its first year. The CSA members were originally intending to work on the farm but the farmer said it was too wet - turns out it was her birthday and she wanted a day off but didn't tell anyone, instead we had a pleasant day out sitting around chatting about farming.

Neighbours regimented gardens - very neat and tidy
While we were chatting we discovered some of the problems with the term "organic" for Latvia. Certified seed is hard to get hold of, or at least Latvian grown organic seed is. This means they are allowed to use seed that is not certified as long as it hasn't been treated. Now that might seem wrong to the purists but to be honest a lot of Latvian agriculture is organic by default, they don't put a lot of artificial fertilisers and such on their fields, so I am happy with that. They then grow the crops on their untreated fields and then maybe get the certification that it is organically grown - fine so far, but what about cereals? Cereals need milling and the farmers we met take theirs along to the local mill to be ground and the flour produced from their bags was labelled organic until recently - now okay there could be a minor amount of contamination from a previous milling but nothing that I would jump up and down about. This all changed when one mega-mill was certified to grind organic flour, in practice it only grinds organic flour once a week after cleaning all the equipment first - fine for a large mill but not fine for the local mills. In order to comply the old local mills must now comply with the new regulations that came into being with the large mega-mill. The major problem is that to get the organic certification the little mills have to comply with the same rules as mega-mill which is too expensive and the little farmers cannot take their flour to mega-mill because they are too small - minimum 10 tonnes only. Result the little farmers cannot now get their organically grown grains ground to make certified organic flour, not what the organic movement is all about. The farmers and small local mills didn't change anything but the rules did. This means that it now makes much more sense to make sure you know where your flour, or any produce is coming from and not solely rely on organic certification - it is too expensive and does not necessarily benefit the smaller operations that are actually better for the environment certainly better than the mega-farrms.

Nearly as neat, our garden with the fleece for the colder
nights this week
News from our land is that we have a rather natty newcomer to our pond, this dark little fellow has fluorescent stripes down his back, so why does he have to have such a boring name - a pond frog! No pictures though, sorry, well not yet anyway. I do hope he gets busy eating the mosquito larvae as they are dreadful this year, which is not good for me as anything that bites thinks I am tasty and I react badly to all of them. Good news though is that we think our greenhouse is finished, we have not had any contact from the boss of the company so not entirely sure but at least it is now usable and we already have it planted up with tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers and chillies. Ian had to shovel a whole load of soil in it with his tractor to level it off and then rotavate it all so that he could get the stuff planted. It is not perfect but at least we can sort it out at the end of the year. I guess we could have organised our greenhouse a little better but it is looking pretty full already, maybe we do need another one - only I don't think I could go through the hassle again of trying to get it organised. Not yet anyway and I would want someone who can do it in less than 6 months.

We nearly dropped off our seats in surprise as we have actually got the plans for our new barn, only a week late perhaps; we even have some guys organised to get it done. Now we just have to pray that the weather is not as bad as Ian fears it is going to be so that it can be put up quickly (he has been reading last years blog and is worried that the bit of rain we have had just lately is the prelude to a waterlogged summer like last year).  We also have to pray that these guys are organised and will get it done on time and properly, which we have been assured of, but heard that one before too, but then again ever the optimist I think we may have found some good workers.

Horse Chestnut flower
As Ian also pointed out I have written less and less about what I feel God is saying, part of that is because some of what God is saying is not really something I can share in a public space but some of it is because I don't have a lot of new things to share. We are still learning the art of gardening and how that relates to faith, how weeds can sometimes get in and spoil a place, how sometimes they take a lot of skill to get rid of, and that is a lot like our walk with God, it is also like our spiritual environment. How preparing ground is important to get the finished result you want, it looks messy sometimes, like it does around our polytunnel right now but eventually the scar will heal and it will look less of a mess - at least I hope so. I am still amazed at the sheer creativity of God's handiwork, for instance I never realised how many colours there are in a horse chestnut tree flower, they just look white from a distance. Sometimes you have to get up close to see the detail of what God is doing!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Finishing off

No that isn't a mark on the camera, it is an insect on the
window that decided to take a peek at me working. This is
a view out of our other apartment where I have spent much
of the past few weeks working.
I have just one week of my course left, I managed to get another assignment finished and handed in today but it took me three re-writes before it was something I felt I could hand in and I am still not really happy with it, but it will have to do. I also had one of those oh no! moments in the middle of the night as I had actually posted my assignment already and then suddenly remembered that I hadn't completed all the references, fortunately my tutor was very understanding and I got the offending references sorted long before the noon deadline.I also have a re-submission to hand in and that is taking some doing too, it will have to be done by the end of the week though but it is slow going. The worse part is that I can't even remember reading through some of the articles from earlier on in the course and it makes me realise just how much the noises from our apartment has been affecting my concentration. Working in the other apartment has been a real blessing as it is quieter - well apart from one when there is a little chatterbox chattering away in the corridor like today. A strong urge to learn the Latvian for please will you be quiet welled up but he was too little for that to be of any use. Mind you our upstairs neighbour was very impressed with my Latvian today as I paid the management fees and she thinks I am very clever, which is very funny as my Latvian only really stretches to a few words and most of the time the words like "es nesaprotu:, "grÅ«ti" and "lenak" are used, in other words "I don't understand", "difficult" and "slowly". I think the fact I try at all seems to impress.

The newly completed workshop
The view while I worked along with this winter's wood pile
I also spent a bit of time on our land finishing off the assignment, sat in our newly completed workshop with its wonderful view. It looks really good, although the wood for the doors were purchased from a local sawmill in the end rather than sourced from our forest like the majority of it. It was taking too long to select the wood for it and we were just anxious to get it done in the end. At least any similar constructions will be planned a bit better but you live and learn. At least we now know what type of wood works well and the saw table will make other projects easier too, such as a wood store and a toilet (It's alright for guys but I need a toilet).  We will have to work out the best way to construct a composting toilet as we have plenty of sawdust from all the construction work and then we can use the compost for the apple trees, and before you get squeamish if it is properly composted then there is no danger to human health and if it is used on something like trees then it is even better as the fruit won't come into contact with the compost, just derive plenty of nutrients. Still not sure? Then check out this link for all you wanted to know about composting toilets. 

Getting there, at least the doors are on now
Our polytunnel is nearly there, the windows for ventilation still won't open but the doors are on - only just though as they had been put up and a wind blew them open and bust the hinge of one door. The guys were out there this morning fixing it but it was before Ian went out, so we still don't know if it is supposed to be finished or not yet. Still until we are sure, there is no payment, so I am not in a hurry. At least now it is usable and we even got some soil packed around the foundations and Ian has rotavated the inside so that we can plant vegetables in it. It looks less like a building site now and more like a decent growing space, only months late but heh! Another steep learning curve. 

The scar left by the electric company that hopefully will
not become infested with ground elder and instead become
a walkable path, that we can keep clear.
The electric guys have not taken long to get the cable laid, we only signed about two weeks ago and already they have cleared a path, dug a trench, laid the cable and filled it back in again. It is a bit of an ugly scar that runs the whole length of our land but it is actually quite useful for us. In Latvia the road company are responsible for land up to 11m (36ft) away from the centre of the road, but where that point was we didn't really know and as most of our land runs along the road it is handy to know. The electric company have laid the electric cable 12m away from the centre of the road (I guess so there is no danger of those responsible for road maintenance digging up the cable) with a 2m scar, so we now have a clear boundary between that part of the land which is the road companies responsibility and that which is ours. Very good! Also very handy is the new heavy duty cable which we will be able to get a supply off at a later date, supplied by green biogas electricity sited just a few miles down the road. 

Teletubby land?
The Latvian countryside looks gorgeous at this time of the year with swathes of yellow from dandelions and cowslips amongst the spring green grass. Just about all the trees are in leaf now, the oak is not quite there yet but you can see it won't be long and the aspen is now shimmering in the breeze as only aspen does. This time of the year reminds me of teletubby land, not that I was ever a fan of teletubbies but the gently rolling, very green, hill where they used to live looks a lot like the area where we live, everywhere looks like a scene straight out of a fairy tale book, very pretty. The weather has been good for gardens, warm and showers and our neighbours are still very busy out in the gardens, lots of potatoes have been planted and it is interesting to see the various techniques used. Some employ tractors to ridge the ground and then they plant the potatoes into the furrows, they then use the hand ploughs (photo here from last year) to plough the ridge over the potato. Some of them work their way along a ridge and open up a gap, pop the potato in and then cover it up again. No one as far as we can see uses the English method of hoeing up the potatoes gradually over the summer, they are all ridged up ready. Summer definitely feels like it is on its way now the house martins are back and the cuckoos are doing their nut, they could send you cuckoo as well with their incessant calling - fun at first but annoying after a while. Talking of noisy birds, storks don't have voices but they do have clattering beaks and they make a right racket, not so sure I would want to encourage them near anywhere I live, the view of the stork's nest I have from the other apartment is fine but it is far enough away not to hear it. Can't understand why Latvians would want to encourage them to nest next to the house.

A bird cherry, I think! We have also found some in the
forest and so it looks like the forest is a lot more diverse
that we thought at first.
All sounds very idyllic doesn't it? It certainly does feel like a dream come true. Okay it is a bit frustrating when things don't get done but with views like these and no commuter traffic to get to work it still feels rather dream like, as if one day we will wake up and we will go back to ordinary life. It is amazing to read how lots of people are beginning to find out the simpler lifestyle and make do and mend is actually quite liberating in many ways. Fiona from the Cottage Smallholder website was talking about the joy of finding out how to live simply and all the discoveries it has brought along the way despite the hardship of having been quite ill with glandular fever. Even the Times online has been waxing lyrical about the benefits of simpler living. It makes me laugh a little to think that this is the way we have lived for a long time, bringing up three kids on a tight budget meant that all the skills I learnt from my parents and grandparents like cooking, vegetable gardening and sewing have all proved to be useful. At a time when many people were giving up on doing that sort of thing because it didn't seem worth it, we were making do and mending. Must admit that can go a bit to far like when our toaster was repaired so often that it only eventually toasted half a slice of bread, I was so relieved when Ian's mum bought us a new one but it has all paid off though. We only had a mortgage and the odd car loan along the way, we learnt very early on that credit cards were just not worth the hassle, and making meals from scratch with cheap, nutritious and tasty ingredients became second nature (okay my daughter still hasn't forgiven me for the lettuce soup, she is still scarred from it) but it has meant that where others cannot afford the leap we have made because they have huge loans to pay, we have been free to grasp the opportunity presented and are now reaping the benefits. We are still going to have to find ways of making a living from all of this but things are building, even down to the cuttings I took of the newly purchased blackcurrant plants a couple of weeks ago which seem to have taken and means around another 30 bushes. Hope they taste nice and produce plenty of fruit and juice for us.
Blackcurrant cuttings doing well

Update on Ian's back! He is much better than last week and manages to do most things but it is very strange how the old back twinges during the shopping and that basket was heavy I will have you know!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Oh dear!

Bear Lake, Colorado, a site that Ian paid for with a sore
back the next day
It was turning out to be a pretty mundane week and was wondering what I was going to write about this week about life in Latvia, until today that is. I was just enjoying the peace and quiet in the other apartment and working well on my assignment, when Ian rang to say he was coming home he had hurt his back. Now he is having difficulty moving about and in quite a bit of pain which is worrying. He assures me he wasn't doing anything he shouldn't, just moved wrong and it went. I think that personally he just doesn't want to put any more potatoes in as he was up at 8am this morning planting some in the garden outside our apartment. It is not the first time Ian's back has gone in a major way. The last time was my fault as we were out for a walk with some friends in the Rocky mountains and because we were at high altitude about 10,000ft (3000m) I was having difficulty breathing, so Ian was helping me by pulling me up the hills - bad move! The next day he was the one who could hardly move and he ended up taking a trip to the chiropractors, the first of many visits. The time before that he was mixing concrete many years ago for our kitchen floor back in England and when I got back from the weekly shopping trip I could see there was something wrong as he was trying to mix concrete with a straight back. I ended up mixing the rest of the concrete and wheeling it in the house in the wheelbarrow. Boy did I ache the next day but at least my back didn't go. The good news is that we have a great friend who knows how to do massage for sports injuries so he came to massage Ian's back, so hopefully that will do the trick.

Losing our view
A similar view in February of this year
I can't get out in the garden this week to plant potatoes or anything else as I need to get my work finished on my course before we finish next week for summer, then I shall be out catching up with all our neighbours and getting seeds in. Mind you it has been cold this week so I don't think it matters to wait a week anyway, the wind has been bitter at times. One thing we will probably not be doing though is planting potatoes on the land, we have been told by many people the wild boar love potatoes and so we are just asking for trouble if we do. If we do plant some just to see if how they do then we will probably fence it off somehow. We were at a bbq the other day and we got chatting about the wild boar and the explosion of numbers and problems farmers have with them. The wild boar are fed over winter to keep their numbers up for hunting and one of our friends has seen the feeding troughs 10m away from the boundary of his property but for some reason the local authorities that deal with that sort of thing don't seem to be anxious to deal with farmers' concerns. The wild boar cause many problems through what they eat and how they go about it. They eat the eggs of ground nesting birds, many of which are protected, they root up the ground for different roots and tubers which can destroy vulnerable species of plants and these areas then can become infested with invasive ground elder. The digging that they do also means the ground is so uneven that it is uncuttable, reducing the amount of land that farmers can utilise fully. Uncut fields quickly turn to forest in Latvia which is fine in some ways but does mean that the numbers of birds adapted to meadowland are further reduced, the Corncrake being one of them, a protected species. It also means that farming is increasingly not viable when farmers are already struggling to make a living. I think it is about time the authorities take notice of this problem as these problems are occurring in protected sites designated by the European Union. I think there will be some letters heading in certain directions and I shall be finding out how to get the attention of those who need to take attention. Busy summer I think! 

So much green after so much white
So different to February

The rest of the week has consisted of trying to work out what trees we have on the land and it is getting easier and easier to identify trees as we get to know them either by their bark , by their buds and now the leaves that are unfurling. We are also beginning to find out what uses the trees have, which hopefully will be useful in the future. I find it is incredible though how much attention to detail that God has put into the design of trees, it never ceases to amaze me. How can anyone think all this arrived by accident? Aspen has diamond shape marks on its bark and the leaves appear to flutter all the time, Norwegian Maple has yellow flowers that make it look frothy in Spring with a sweet scent that you catch on the breeze at times, the Rowan leaves have unfurled revealing their charm so gradually. Did you know there are two types of birch with peeling bark, downy birch and silver birch? Silver birch has weeping branches whereas downy birch is more upright but they can also hybridise. So many differences, so many uses, God is not boring at all, otherwise he could have produced one multi-functional tree that does everything but then the world would have been far more boring.

If you look to the bottom of the flag pole you can see a
greenhouse covered in plastic and finished!!!! Not worked
out why it is covered in yellow plastic though. Any ideas?
The same greenhouse started three weeks ago!!!!! Okay
ours is much bigger but I don't think that explains why
ours has taken 6 months.
Our poly tunnel is nearly finished amazingly. Only the doors need finishing now, they are up just not fitted properly, but at least both layers of plastic are up. It is still frustrating the way the workers disappear for days or even weeks at a time without telling us what they are doing and what the problem is but at least we have got this far and we can put plants in it now. Our workshop is nearly finished too- the poor guy is fed up with it now, he just wants it finished. 

On a completely different note, times taken for post to arrive has been interesting. We had one piece of post from America to tell us the IRS have lost a piece of paper from a filing for 2008 (of course they didn't say that they had lost it, but since they had one sheet and not the other I somehow think it was they that had lost it and not us; after all they did not shout earlier and it is over a year since it was filed), it did, however, require a response within 30 days and since it was dated 1st April and didn't arrive until the 3rd May that was not going to be possible? I think a delay due to some far flung volcano  on some out of the way piece of rock had something to do with it. In contrast our son sent his wedding invitations off on the 5th May and our daughter got hers today (10th), the same as we did, only we are in Latvia and she is in Australia and our son is in England. So that seems to mean that if you are going to post something somewhere you may as well post it to Australia it doesn't take long at all.

My course Managing Sustainable Rural Development is very informative and certainly in the early days excited me greatly as I read through the literature but a lot is repeated and crosses over a bit with a previous course on Development Management and so has become more routine in places but one academic writer in particular does excite me, he has a sense of humour and a humility which is commendable and he also writes some interesting articles, his name is Robert Chambers. This is what he writes in his paper 'Reflecting Forwards"

"We have agency, the ability to act and change the world, and this brings with it responsibility for the effects of actions and inactions. Responsibility is an unsmiling word, often used critically – ‘That is your responsibility’, ‘Who is responsible for this?’ and ‘Who can we pin responsibility on?’ meaning who can we blame."

Snails anyone? Unfortunately not the beginning of our
snail farm. 
How true that is, and yet he advocates that for those who have money, who have privileges and that includes most who read this blog no matter how small you feel, should be taking responsibility for the state the world is in with all its inequalities. We do have the power to act, no matter how small those actions, we also have the power not to act and to ignore the injustices. Take the example of this film student who put together a simple yet profound video, an anthem for the youth of today perhaps. A rallying call to put the destructive practices of this world into reverse. A call to action!

A proposed design for our business. What do you think?
One thing I have liked to do ever since I was a kid was to play about with figures from time to time and the recent sale of the Picasso nude for a record sum of $106m reminded me of the song "Nothing ever happens" by Delamitri where it talks about a painting going for the price of a hospital wing and wondered how much of Latvia's debt would it have paid for had the money been put towards that and not a painting and found it is a small but not insignificant amount of 1.4%. Also if each Latvian owed $3260 - (that is the IMF loan divided per person and is equivalent to 5-7 months teachers wages- all figures are approximate by the way) then it would pay off the debt for 32,515 people which is a rather large number of people, instead it paid for a painting! 

Monday, 3 May 2010

Off week

Stormy skies and greening grass
 Its been an off week this week, water off, electric off, heating off, me off. They are working on the water system again as they upgrade the whole lot to European standards and they did warn us the water was going off (amazing how quickly you cotton on to key words when you need to ie udens = water, remonts = repairs and added together means your water is going off) and it did, the night before they said though and so we had over 24 hours without water. Fortunately we have a pond nearby which kept the toilet flushed but we had to buy some water for drinking. Must say though it is not much fun lugging buckets of water up three flights of stairs. Keeping hydrated fortunately wasn't a problem but what do you do about having a wash? And food preparation can be a problem as things like potatoes need too much water to prepare even if you save water by baking them. Still we managed. I tend to keep a jug of water handy now just in case it goes off again, without warning, like it did again today.

Surprisingly the wild boar haven't eaten all the bulbs I have
planted. These were such a beautiful, unexpected sight
Not sure why the electric went off and whether it is anything to do with messing about with cables to put new lights in along our road, but I doubt it as it went off in the middle of a holiday weekend; just the vagaries of our system I think, as it does go off on a regular basis especially if it is windy. Maybe one day they will upgrade that system too. Talking of electric the electric company have now marked off the path for the new cable that will run along our land and so there are lots of red and white tapes flapping about on twigs or tied to trees. That work will probably start soon as I signed the papers to give them permission in my official capacity as power of attorney on the land ie we don't own it but we can do what we like with it (within reason of course).

These wooden constructions form the basis of the
 old-fashioned hay stacks that are often still seen around
Latvia, although it is now more common to see the white bales
As for the heating I think the heating company must have been reading my blog last week as I mentioned that I was surprised the heating was still on as we had had some lovely days, they obviously took note and agreed with me by turning the heating off. Hmmph! Should have kept quiet as wouldn't you know it the next day was cold and damp. It did mean we could test the wood burning stove in our apartment though and it worked really well which is a relief. We have used it as a supplement to the heating when the temperatures got down to the -20s but the intention was really for it to be used in the in between times ie when the heating company think the weather isn't cold enough to put the heating on but we do, and when they think it is warm enough to do without, which normally does not coincide with when we think it is warm enough.

Leaves unfurling
Me being off? Well I have been struggling recently with studying and finding it hard, I had decided it was due to tiredness but then began to realise that it was actually to do with a problem with the apartment construction and the way it transmits noises. There is an intermittent low frequency hum that seems to make my brain resonate and the wavelength of it means it is worse in our living room. The noise is difficult to escape from as it can be heard in the rest of the apartment too and so I have often been trying to study with the noise without really realising it. I have started going up to our other apartment for some peace and quiet as I find I can think clearer there without the hum. Problem is though that once the other apartment is cleared of stuff which should be soon then our Swedish friend will be sorting out the bathroom and then there won't be much peace and quiet there either, might have to go up to the hotel and work as I can at least use the internet there. Good job that I have only two weeks to go and all assignments should be handed in by then.

Eggs frying on our stove, what better
setting could you have for a Sunday
I have been making sure to take Sunday off from studies though and Ian and I both go out to the land usually. This time we took some bacon and eggs and a frying pan and had bacon butties (sandwiches for the uninitiated) followed by egg butties. They were wonderful even if we did get a bit smoky because we haven't go the little wood stove connected up to a chimney yet and the wind kept changing direction - oh but it was worth it. We had a walk around so Ian could show me what he had done that week and things are certainly changing. We now have an orchard of 9 apple trees which ripen at different times, 3 pears and 7 plums of different colours. We also have a five rows of bushes with raspberries, gooseberries (sweet ones we are told), blackcurrants, white currants and red currants. He has been harrowing more of the land too which means he has been dragging spikes across the grass to get rid of the thatch. Hopefully this will give us quite a bit of compost eventually but is also making a big difference to the grassed areas as the areas that have already been harrowed are much greener than those that haven't - it is almost as if the grass has a chance to breath now its thick winter coat has been taken off.

There is an orchard there, honest, if you look very, very
carefully you will be able to see the white labels on the trees
Even Ian has had an off week too. Tired with excuses he sent a text off to the company and asked when the polytunnel would be ready in rather undiplomatic terms shall we say. It had the desired effect though as on the Sunday in the middle of a holiday weekend we arrived to see some guys working on the polytunnel. We now have doors fitted and the start of the inner layer of plastic (two layers will be needed as we want to extend the season that we use it and temperatures can plummet quite quickly). Felt a bit bad that they had turned out on a Sunday but then again if they had got it right in the first place it would have been finished by now.

Ian signing the papers for the new company. Starting as we
mean to go on, on our knees hehe
All this work will be a bit useless unless we can do something with the produce and so we thought it would be a good idea to set up a company with some friends and we started the process of getting that underway. We are hoping to call the company Jiksi which we got from playing around with our initials and pronounced Yik-si in Latvian. We don't think there are any other companies with the same name and it doesn't really mean anything so should be okay. I think it sounds a fun name too. We started off the process by opening up an bank account and putting the required amount of money in and then filled in the relevant forms and took them to an office for registering companies. The office was quite a nice office with friendly staff but with the most unwelcoming entrance you could ever hope to see, it looked more like the entrance to a garage or maintenance building with wiring everywhere. We only had one hiccup as we needed our signatures notarising (ie verifying by an official for you Brits) but fortunately that could be done in our home village and meant we didn't need to make the long round trip back to the office to register, we just had to post everything off to them. Well at least that is what they said when we were there, we will have to wait and see I guess if they still think that next week when they get the forms in the post.

The ploughed rows with our fruit bushes
For once there are two positive items on the internet amongst the dreary depressing statistics about Latvia and one was on the Latvians love of singing. Latvia has been called the land of song and their recent independence was started with a singing revolution, reminds me a bit of the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Aslan the lion goes around singing things into existence and the Baltic nations in some ways sang their nations into existence as they showed their defiance to the Soviet system through their songs.

A beautiful Spring day
Another item I found surprising was that Latvians love to smile, maybe they visited our area as they do smile a lot, apart from the local building supplies merchant who has only been known to smile once; that doesn't mean he isn't helpful and tries to save us money, he just doesn't smile. In the survey Swede, Latvian and Estonian officials, shop assistants and bank clerks smile when helping. I have found that Latvians elsewhere in Latvia are helpful but I wouldn't have necessarily put them at the top of the smiling league. Still it is nice that someone has found them pleasant which I would agree with. At least that is a nice way of finishing what has otherwise been an off week.