Monday, 30 August 2010

Creative moments

This picture of Riga was from 2004 but then my photos
were not so good that I took this year. Not a good idea to
take photos in a travelling car.
We visited a textile exhibition this last week in Riga which was well worth the trip, just a shame that the main reason for our trip was to pick up Ian's powerbook which couldn't be fixed. He's not a happy bunny! I have to say though, that creativity in others excites me and inspires me, I can't wait to get out the paints and the fabrics and get creating again. I just now have to find some time. Creativity also reminds me what an exuberant, creative God we have, as he did not settle for one tree for example with one colour but such a range of trees, such shapes, such colours, such uses, it's breathtaking. The joy of creating something helps me to identify with our creative God and the sheer joy he must have put in to creating the universe, I wonder how much experimenting and tinkering he did before he got the creation just right. I know some folks think that he spoke and that was that, but since his creation reflects him and artists have as much joy in the creating as the creation I am sure God must have had such fun creating stuff, the sheer pizzazz of creation speaks of it - well it does to me! The sheer abundance of ideas he had for each piece of his creation amazing, I can almost imagine him going "well what do you think blue or white butterflies? Spots or plain? All of them? Good! Just what I was thinking. Now what else can I do with this model?" Now if you don't believe me, take a look at this site to see the process of creating ideas for artwork and look through the sketchbook projects. One idea leads to another creating spin offs and rabbit trails of ideas, now if God didn't do something similar how come we ended up with duck-billed platypuses and the range of butterflies we have? 

Our Amish tomatoes were looking a little sad
and not likely to produce much more so they
were uprooted and some autumn veg put in.
Lettuces, swiss chard, mustard greens,
cabbages, not shown are beetroot and calabrese.
This is a bit of a trial to see how far into autumn/
winter we can grow stuff in the polytunnel.

Isn't it just typical! Not all of creation has a happy ending. The first time I can recall seeing a thrush in Latvia was a dead one after it broke its neck flying into our window. We threw the last bird, that died after flying into our window, over the balcony expecting a cat to pick it up in the night but instead one of the little chaps from downstairs picked it up and was carrying it about the next day. Whoops! Didn't think of that. Where is a hungry cat when you need one? Talking of typical it was also typical that I dropped a full litre bottle of milk on the step outside the only family in our block ie the one with little chappie that picks up dead birds, the family where the kids regularly go outside without shoes (not because they haven't got any but because they want to), the only family in our block that has a dog that they let in and out without supervision and so is often outside their door, also the ground floor (first floor) step and we live on the second floor (third floor - confused! We were when you realise that most folks count from the ground floor as first) and so I had to dash upstairs to get suitable implements to deal with it, hoping that someone didn't walk in it in the meantime. I wouldn't have minded quite so much but I had forgot to put out a milk bottle the night before and so had only just hurriedly got dressed to put out the milk bottle for our milk lady before she disappeared off and pick up the milk that had already been put out. Emotiocons at this point would be wonderful to express the exasperation of that morning. Definitely one of those mornings when you just want to crawl back into bed and start again. Why is it that dropping a bottle of milk always seems such a tragedy? It's not the expense that's for sure. 

Barn foundations. Unfortunately those trees nearby are not
big enough for our barn supports. By the way, how far is the
forest from the barn? Where would you measure too? We
found out the other day it should be 4m away, but they
didn't tell us that before and goodness only knows if there
is a definition of the forest edge to measure too.
For anyone following our long running sagas to get things built we now know why there is not enough wood in the country of Latvia, exports have increased by 43.1%. So if you are in Sweden, Germany or Britain could you send a little of it back so that we can get our barn built? We may have found a possible solution in our friend who has recently started up a firewood business as he has a large saw, no not the one Ian brought back for him last week but another one - it's huge. Now all we have to do is source enough trees to cut down to build a barn - easy peasy heh? Somehow think not. At least the foundations will be well settled in. We did get a demonstration of the saw that Ian brought back last week though, it is an amazing piece of equipment, cuts the logs to length and then it has a log splitter, which makes cutting firewood a whole lot easier than by hand (should have had a video clip here I think, my words don't conjure up the ease of the whole thing) and the power of the log splitter. Scary! It is a good job it is so easy as last weekend he cut up 54 pallets worth of wood, and that is a lot of wood as a pallet is about a metre cubed. Ian ended up helping him out again this week by taking 3 pallets of wood to a collection point to make up a delivery load. Our neighbour's wife expressed thanks to us for helping them out again when they needed it and yet they have been such a blessing to us too, so how can we not help out? We would also be daft to pass up the chance of being connected to some Latvians and getting to know them a bit better, it's also good to hear the language being spoken. All good practice! It is nice to be appreciated though, even if we are only doing what is asked of us and sharing our resources - that's what we are supposed to do, right? 

One ripe melon
It has been a good week of getting to know our neighbours better. The neighbours to the land jokingly said that we should invite them to a melon fest once our melons ripened in return for the bbq we had with them. Well our melons ripened and so the invite was duly extended and we hosted our friends for a meal. Trying to decide what to eat was a struggle, what would give them a taste of English cooking, well my version of it? Do I go for the roast? How English do I go? Well in the end I decide to make a mince and onion pie, only with minced (ground) pork instead of beef since that is hard to get, teamed with Mediterranean roast veg since we had loads of peppers and our first aubergine and a good way of using up those dratted errr I mean wonderful patty squash, potatoes and broccoli. We would have had beans too but forgot to get them out of the pan. Duh! Dessert was coffee cake, melon (of course) and apple (with grated patty squash, but don't tell anyone) crumble. So we had a great time talking about food again, and life in Latvia and England, showing them where we lived on the map and getting to see photos of their life too. It's fascinating seeing the photos of them collecting hay by horse and cart and seeing how they stack it on their Latvian style hayricks and all of this in the last 13 years. In fact the family are thinking of getting another horse to help on the farm as it is cheaper than a tractor. A horse is certainly tempting from our point of view (well maybe more mine than Ian's- can't think why!) as it doesn't make as much of a mess on wet ground as a tractor, the big downside though is that you can't park a horse up over the winter and sort of forget about it and that at the moment is important. We know that once we have animals it won't be as easy to travel and so we are holding off on that for a while longer, after all we have just booked our tickets to Australia to see our daughter getting married this winter (well summer, err winter, well you know what I mean!). 

We have had a number of big thunderstorms
over the summer this year. This is one brewing
Going back to the melons it has been interesting raising them, seeing how they grow and try to take over the world in the process requiring several hackings to keep them under control; I think they sulked and rewarded us with just one melon per plant instead of 5 that we were expecting. It does mean we still have a lot of melons but judging when they are ready is really hard. I thought it was when they were soft at the end, but how soft is soft? I hadn't realised that one type of melon goes yellow when it's ready and we ate one a bit early as it seemed soft enough, it tasted alright but nothing to write home about and we were a bit disappointed. A quick look at the seed packet later though, which fortunately I kept, revealed the truth that we should have waited till it changed colour. Well we waited and we waited and the melons just sat there looking very green for ages and then suddenly quite a few of them all turned yellow in the space of a few days and caught us by surprise. Some of them, however, exploded! Not a pretty site, or a particularly nice smell. Not sure if a certain little visitor to our polytunnel is responsible for some of it by nibbling some of them and encouraging the rot. He or she had better beware as the traps are set!!!! 

I love stormy clouds!
I found a surprising fact about Latvia this week, technically it is the only European country to retain the death penalty although in practice no one has actually been executed since 1996, thank goodness. Still, I did find it strange that it has not been struck off the statute books yet, especially as they have now joined the EU which is abolitionist as regards the death penalty. The death penalty now only remains for murder in wartime or treason in Latvia and so is not likely to be enacted, fortunately or at least I hope not.

The corncrakes packed their bags last week, or at least we
hope so as we have now removed their summer residence
and cut all the grass in the main field now.
As many of you know Latvia has undergone radical cuts prompted by the global crisis which hit this nation particularly hard and resulted in Latvia having to take out a loan from the IMF. The new cuddly IMF apparently does not "dictate" to countries that they "help" as they have done in the past, which is widely reported to have resulted in wrecked economies where the rich get richer and the poor suffer badly, all for their own good of course! They just have to understand that they are undergoing a "bit of pain" so that their country gets better. Yeah right! A slight case of death by starvation or illness you can't afford to treat is okay then to pay off the loan incurred under a despotic regime? Anyway off my rant and back to what the cuddly IMF has being saying recently "Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania should make sure wages do not rise faster than productivity, that business is not taxed excessively, that public finances are kept tight and that prices do not rise faster at home than abroad." Well that's okay then, after all they only said that is what they should be doing and included Estonia and Lithuania who do not have loans with the IMF, so it is only an opinion right? The fact that once again the poor should be kept on a tight rein and the rich businesses should not suffer unduly is okay? That if Latvia chooses not to follow this advice they won't get any further installments of their loan, is okay isn't it? That's not pressure or dictating to after all! Yet the most equal countries in the world such as Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden all tax their businesses and the rich heavily and have generous benefits for the poor which most of the people accept is the right way to do things (well they do in theory, I know the practice is not quite as squeaky clean as they would like you to believe but people are people!) and their economies are doing fine but of course they are exceptions to the rule. Perhaps!

And the game is Ian! You would think he would find
a better hiding place than that at his age.
Talking of all things cuddly, cuddly Monsanto and DuPont, the saviours of the world - well so they seem to think and like to let everyone know it, are up to old tricks by touting the benefits of drought resistant corn that yields up to 13% greater yield than non-drought resistant corn in times of drought (doesn't say how it compares in years when there isn't a drought). Roedale has been piloting trials in organic methods of raising corn and in drought years their methods produce 31% more than using conventional growing methods. I know which option I would prefer. It also makes a lie that choosing organic methods always leads to a loss of production. 
Our baby oak grove.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The gentle sounds of summer

Lunch on the land! Enjoying the sun and the cooler
In England the quintessential sounds of summer are the annoying noise from lawnmowers cutting lawns and the thwack of a ball on willow as the gentle summer game of cricket is played around the country from villages to towns. Not that I have ever lived within hearing distance of a cricket pitch but I have heard it enough on TV to associate the sound with a lazy summer's afternoon. Here in Latvia the sounds are different, instead of lawnmowers it is the strimmer (bushwhacker) whining away for hours on end, the noisy clacking of the storks from the rooftops as they show off to their mate and now that the storks have gone and summer is drawing to a close it is the gentle thwack of potatoes in buckets. Yes the potato harvest has begun in earnest. We managed to get ours done and dusted in two days which was a surprise as the forecast was for showers, instead we have had some lovely weather albeit with the odd shower.  The good news is that this year the potatoes are much bigger than last years puny excuses for a potato, the hot weather with some good downpours has obviously worked a treat, unfortunately the bad news is that there is not a huge number of potatoes as we had to use last years puny excuses as seed for this year and they were in a shoddy state when we planted them as our basement is too warm over the winter. I think quite a few of them gave up the ghost after planting. Still the contrast in size from last year is quite staggering considering they are from the same stock.

We remembered to take flasks of tea,
(and yes I did say flask not flask) but
we forgot our cups. Ian came up with
this ingenious device to drink from.
The bottom part is to hold the tea
softened upper plastic part. He thinks
of everything - well sometimes!
Having spent much of last week piling up hay out on our land the vegetable gardens did get a little neglected and there are a few problems when vegetable gardens get neglected, one is the weeds obviously and another are the monsters that grow in leaps and bounds while your back is turned. Anyone who has grown any sort of squash plant will know exactly what I mean. Sweet tiny little fruits take on manic, take over the world proportions, in the space of just a few days and there are always the ones which lurk under a leaf that you didn't spot. The first day back in the garden I collected four bucket loads of patty squash from 5 plants and I have run out of jars to make squash butter which tastes wonderful and uses up lots of them, so thanks to Shelley for that on the Cottage Smallholders forum. I could also make chutney, freeze some, dry some and of course eat some but I am not sure if we will still get to the end of them, some may just end up as compost. It has felt almost like a full time job in itself sorting out the veg for the winter but I think the end is in sight, the days are cooling down and the mists of autumn are forming in the evenings now and the short summer season will roll over and the bulk of the harvest will be in. Here in Latvia there is not a lot of point of planting veg to grow over the winter, not much grows under three foot (1m) of snow or at below -20C but we will try and extend the season with some winter veg in our polytunnel but not for the whole winter, the polytunnel is not that good.

Last years mystery pumpkin plant that appeared in our
manure pile
One thing you will notice travelling around Latvia are the pumpkins they grow, lots of them all over the place. Our visit to our neighbours to the land explained that they are good for keeping weeds down as they grow and smother all in their path, they are also good for animals, particularly cows and makes the milk tastier. I remember when I came to Latvia to live that I discovered that milk can have different flavours. I thought milk tasted of milk and that was that but it has more to do with the blending of different outputs from different farms and the fact that many cows are fed the same diet anyway in most of Europe and America. Here in Latvia the cows are fed on different grasses and foodstuffs and so varies from place to place. Some milk production is still on the industrial scale but not all of it, hence the difference. Giving cows pumpkins to eat though does explain the presence of our mystery plants last year growing on our manure heap.

The offending polytunnel. There be monsters lurking here
this time they are melons though.
Talking of polytunnels we got into a bit of trouble with our polytunnel with an official letter from the council saying we had an unauthorised building on the land. Turns out that the building inspector had been out to look at our barn which is still not past the foundation level as there is still no wood for the local sawmill and so is not very visible and he thought that we had built the polytunnel instead. The polytunnel is not subject to the same rules as a barn and we are still trying to establish what rules really apply, rather than what rules may line someone's pocket if they can twist them around. Rules in Latvia are seldom clear as they are still working things through and it does take time to clarify all possible scenarios. The polytunnel is not subject to the same rules as the barn as theoretically we could take it down anytime we like and move it, not easy but possible. Still we will see what the architect has to say about it on Friday.

An experiment to see if clay pot irrigation works as well
if not better than manual watering.
Ian had another unexpected long trip last week besides our trip into Riga and that was to help a neighbour pick up a saw. Things do get a little lost in translation sometimes and so Ian was not quite sure what it was he was going to pick up besides the fact it was going to be a big saw. He had to borrow a trailer from a local garage which was handy as he wasn't aware they had a trailer for hire and he and our neighbour went to collect the saw. It turned out to be a very big saw and very heavy, too heavy to lift manually and it had to be lifted into place with a forklift. The roads in many places are atrocious, especially as the main dirt road is undergoing major works such as straightening and even tarmacking (asphalt) in at least some places (would be nice if they would do the whole lot, we wait with eager anticipation to see if that is the case) and so required a different route to be taken along some windy roads. What would have been a 3 hour trip took 5 hours as they carefully navigated potholes and rutted roads. On getting close to home Ian asked how they were going to get the saw off the trailer, something that hadn't been thought about. Surprise, surprise! Amazing how many times we have had stuff delivered to the land with no means to take it off the back of a trailer or out of a van, it would seem that people do not think that far ahead. Anyway a phone call meant that a telehandler, or a telescopic handler to give it its posh title, was on hand to help. Something else that is useful to know should we have the same problem again with a delivery.

Not easy to see but this bit of land is now flooded. It never
used to flood until they put the new electricity line in and
so they must have damaged some drainage. You can also
see some of the hay piles dotted around our land, like giant
molehills everywhere. 
Another long trip is planned for tomorrow since it is forecast to rain quite heavily because we have to go back into Riga to collect Ian's computer. Unfortunately my last title was a bit too apt and the stupid thing could work but only at great cost, almost half the cost of a new computer of the same size. The hard drive still works but it is the logic board that has gone kaput and if like me you are not sure what that means then all you need to know is that it is a crucial component of the computer also known as the motherboard and it is very expensive to replace. So looks like he has to put up with the slower little powerbook that he got when he started work in Denmark in 2003 for the time being and although it has its issues it still at least works. Pity Apple can't get all their computers to be as long lasting as his little powerbook.

Found the perfect washing machine on the internet for our house and maybe even for our bike mechanic son in England, a pedal powered washing machine! What a great idea! I could get it hooked up to Ian's bike and he could do the washing while he cycles. Perfect for winter when he uses his turbo trainer to keep fit when the weather outside means he can't get out on his bike. Wonder what else I could get him to do at the same time, no point in wasting all that energy.

A stork taking off! Some of the last times we have seen
them for this year. Summer is nearly over by the time they
leave. The place is strangely empty without them but I
thing the frogs are happier.
Another item of interest on the internet is the subject of names. In the UK I was known as Jo but I found while travelling about that this actually causes confusion and I have to explain how I got the name Jo ie a shortened version of my real name. If I say my name is "Joanna" then I don't have a problem and everyone seems to understand, only here in Latvia they pronounce it "Your-anna." In the UK a names a name and the surname you have is one you inherit or obtain when you get married or have chosen and changed by deedpoll. Many countries though are more complicated than that and here in Latvia a surname denotes your gender and ends in "s" for men and "a" for a woman. One article explains how surnames are treated very differently in other countries, for instance in nearby Lithuania the surname even denotes marital status, something that would never have crossed my mind at all but causes some people lots of headaches at foreign border posts as they explain that yes they are married even if their surnames are slightly different. The world is a fascinating place and somethings we take for granted in one country just looks plain odd in another. I love it!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Can't get this stupid thing to work

Offending jamming part!
Ian fettling!
Can't get this stupid thing to work go the lyrics to a song by MIC and it was a bit of a theme tune in our home when the kids were still around and was sung when anything didn't work, especially if someone was losing it over the non-working item. The song has been going round my head a bit just lately, firstly when Ian's computer died, not sure if there is a possibility of a resurrection or it is permanent but we will have to go into Riga to find that out and we have to wait for a rainy day and secondly when the two-wheeled tractors grass cutting unit kept jamming. The little tractor had probably done around 30-40 hours work and we are not sure if the barbed wire hiding in the grass caused the cutter bar to jam or just the fact it got stuck in so many pig holes but the end of the cutter bar became unpinned causing it to spin round. Fortunately Ian did get that working again but we are perplexed with the presence of barbed wire as it is not that common in Latvia, the only barbed wire we have found on the land is embedded in a tree and quite possibly been there since World War II, not so sure this has been around that long though.

A days work shifting damp grass into neat piles and it
rained on me!
I was using two-wheeled tractor one day to cut a steep part of our ski hill (yes we have a ski hill, well it was a ski hill in Soviet times and if you live in the alps you would barely consider it a ski hill at all except maybe for toddlers but here in Latvia it is a ski hill) and there was a point when the whole tractor unit sank into a rather deep hole made by the wild boar now overgrown with grass so I didn't see it. The problem was that this was the second time it happened and it occurred after several hours of hard physical work and I was shattered. I could have cried at this point as I wasn't sure whether to leave the unit running or not but figured this would lead to a grass fire so thought it was best to switch it. It did mean though I wouldn't be able to use the unit to drive itself out. Ian was oblivious in his tractor but finally he stopped and I waved wildly at him, he appeared to notice but then got back in his tractor. My flabber was gasted  and I would have slumped on the floor at this point but the presence of so many ant hills sliced through by the cutter kept me on my feet. I then realised that Ian was coming and hadn't abandoned me, he was just taking his tractor up the hill in my direction. It would seem we are making a habit of getting tractors stuck, fortunately this one didn't take 6 hours to dig out, just 10 mins of huffing and puffing.

A hand rolled bale! Okay so this is not perfect but it was
quicker than trying to pile it up with a hay fork
Corncrake from Wikipedia
We had hung on and on to start cutting as we knew there were corncrakes in the field last year but we weren't sure if they were there this year as they had been rather quiet; I have only heard them twice all summer. August 15th is supposed to be the date when you can cut if you have corncrakes but we started in areas we had never heard them on the 11th taking advantage of the prolonged good weather. We did take the precaution of stopping before cutting the last swathe just to check to see if any animals or birds were still hiding but we never saw anything. Saturday (August 14th) Ian was cutting the largest section still left to cut when he spotted some rapid movement in the grass and so eased off the throttle a bit, suddenly a little bird popped its head out of the undergrowth with a look of panic on its face, Ian slammed on the brakes of the tractor and the little bird, which tuned out to be a corncrake, darted out startling a stork into the bargain, both birds took fright the stork flying backwards slightly and the little bird ducking back into the undergrowth before flying off. After a short discussion we decided to leave that section just in case there were any young ones still left in the undergrowth and cut elsewhere but aiming to leave large square patches of hay in case there were any other groups of ground nesting birds. Ian was going well and was just cutting another section when either the same little bird or another of the same kind darted out of the undergrowth and was swiftly followed by a stork, the wise little bird ducked back into the undergrowth and Ian abandoned any cutting in that area with the larger tractor for two weeks until we are absolutely certain they have all flown off to warmer climes and if they haven't gone by then we will pack their bags for them. If the weather turns bad we can use the two-wheeled tractor since Ian had fettled it (mended it) to cut the rest or if this good weather holds we can use the big tractor. The big tractor tends to churn the ground up pretty badly in wet weather, even if it is only a dinky little tractor compared to many of them.

Don't mess with me! Okay! 
Corncrake summer residence! These three patches have been
left until we are certain they are gone. They are a protected
species after all.
Having cut the grass on the hay ski hill the other day and the weather still being hot means that the hay is tinder dry and we have just spent all day raking it up with the chain harrow and making big piles of it. I have a great deal of respect for those guys who make the nice neat hay ricks we see dotted about the place, they work so hard and they have to do it, we have the option of not collecting it as we are only going to compost it this year. In future we might consider baling it now that we know that it consists of what seems like good grass unlike the majority of our land which is riddled with raspberry canes and ground elder - not exactly very palatable for winter fodder or useful for bedding. Nearly forgot to mention in my befuddled state - I blame the hot weather - that I actually got to drive the tractor today for part of the time anyway. Ian was feeling very sorry for me as I was piling up the hay in the heat while he was sat in his nice air-conditioned tractor raking it up. I have been reluctant to drive it as it has so many gears and sticks and things plus you have to watch out for all the pig holes that I was frightened of tipping it; Ian managed to convince me though that harrowing was the easiest job to start with, on the flat that is. Well I was going well but Ian was hanging around waiting for me and eventually stopped me and asked me if I was using the throttle? Throttle? Whoops! I had been using the tractor on tick over which as you can imagine is slow, nice for getting used to it but not very practical while raking a field. Oh well! Only another hectare (2 1/2 acres) to go.

Our pond is beginning to look very pretty now with all
the vegetation growing around it. Pity about the piles of
soil still waiting for a new home.
The neighbours we got to know last week invited us back for a barbeque and we spent hours chatting around the table until it was so dark we couldn't see. We have learnt such a lot from them and their farm, we found that cows on chains can get fed up of staying outside and make their way home. I always wondered how they tethered the cows to stop them wandering off around here and now I know that it is really just symbolic, the cows know that is where they should be and stay put, unless they get forgotten about in which case they take off anyway, chain and all. We also found out that it is possible to hand roll bales of hay. I wondered why there was a change from square bales to round bales. Square bales always seem much more practical as they are not so huge and are easier to stack. I also wondered who thought to roll grass into bales anyway and what I have discovered this week is that it is actually quite easy to roll grass into some sort of bale and if you have a barn set up for it then it is easier still. I found that it was far quicker to roll the grass that had been lying around a bit and was damp than to try lugging it about when it had been rolled into long tight sausage shapes by the harrow. Dry hay though is easier to shift with a fork. I bet you always wanted to know these kinds of little factoids, just the handy piece of information next time you are in a field full of grass that needs collecting.

Monday, 9 August 2010

I cut that!


After! I cut that!
Sounds like the start of a children's story, "I cut that! But I didn't cut that!" Well that is what Ian and I have been doing all day, cutting hay. We decided to start cutting today on our land in areas where we have never heard corncrakes and we also cut carefully and slowly, partly because we cannot go as fast as the big tractors and partly to give wildlife a chance to escape - a mixed blessing for some frogs and toads as the storks were ready and waiting. I used the two wheeled tractor to cut some steep areas which Ian does not like cutting with the compact tractor and he cut the flatter areas. We also stopped at the last cut just to check there was nothing hiding in the undergrowth before we made the final cut, and I am pleased to say there was nothing I could see. The two wheeled tractor is slow but effective, cutting through wild raspberry canes and small saplings with no bother at all but it is heavy to pull round when the ground wants to take it off in a slightly different direction to the one I want to cut. In shorter grass that had been previously cut the two wheeled tractor was a doddle, just tootling along at a slow walking pace with very little effort but with the longer overgrown stuff I had to stop several times and take a breather, but I did it! And that is what matters. Have to confess though that Ian had to top up the petrol as the petrol can was full and I had almost finished cutting so I was rather tired and there was no way I was going to be able to lift a heavy petrol can and carefully fill the petrol tank. 
After. Ian cut that!
After. Ian cut that! Well he did have the bigger tractor
The tractor attracted a lot of interest from the local stork
population. We think they are young ones as we saw
some storks taking off yesterday and the older ones go first.
Amazing how the youngsters will still find the way though.
Stork in close up.
These are storage tomatoes, so hopefully down in our nice
cool cellar (basement) they may last until January. Well
if we don't eat them first.
We ate our first melon this week. It wasn't sparkling but
maybe I didn't leave it on the vine long enough, so I am
going to leave this one a little longer before we try again.

We managed to surprise our neighbour the other day by expressing an interest in some scrap metal they had that would be useful to us – we are the rich ones (comparatively) and yet interested in what others throw out. Not sure what they make of that yet! Subversive economics is fun! The thing is that we have grown up with the "waste not want not" philosophy and making good use of things that others think are waste, and having a bit of money hasn't stifled that. So now we are the proud owners of an old tin bath which I will fill with soil and water and put over a fire to sterilise the soil for potting compost and a set of shelf supports that get wider towards the bottom (if only we had been quicker though as we had seen them stood outside a shop complete with shelves but the shelves were burnt).

Patty squash. Some of these went to make marrow
butter but what to do with the rest!
A mouse had has a little nibble at this one.
Ian has given it a nice protective fleece coat to stop the
marauding nibbler.
It has been an interesting week getting to know folks. Sometimes we feel like royalty as we wave to people we know as we travel to the shops or the hotel, they are friendly bunch in our village. The funniest scene though is when all the children are out at our other flat (apartment) wave so enthusiastically as we drive in and then when we get out of the car they all say "hi", even the littlest one practises his English, and I don't think he is more than 3 years old. Funny how this week children have been trying to communicate with me more than usual. Children have varied reactions which usually range from fear of this person who utters strange sounds to rambling on oblivious to the fact I have no clue what they are going on about and only requiring the occasional ahah along the way. One little laddie often makes a point of saying "ciao" to me but this week he showed me his fishing rod as I was heading out the door and I could see it was in a bit of a tangle, so I sat down on the step and sorted it out for him. I even managed to answer the question "do you fish" in Latvian. Just in case you are wondering, no I don't! Now he tries talking to me on a regular basis which is helpful in many ways and he doesn't seem overly upset that I can't always answer his questions.

Ian was driving to the land and gave a lift to a lady who he recognised as a neighbour to our land. We thought she didn't speak English but understood a little, it turns out she knows more than we thought and as Ian found out her daughter is an excellent translator. Ian offered to show them what we have been up to on the land and they took him up on the offer. They were surprised at what we have managed to achieve in the time we have been working on it and impressed which is rather nice. Helps when you have the right equipment though. He also gained an invitation in return to show us around their farm the following day. So the following day off we trundled with gifts of marrow butter (doesn't sound good but it is gorgeous), some dried basil and a patty squash - all home made or home grown. After the tour around we sat and talked for two hours, finding out a little of their history and aspirations, and hearing how the Soviet times for them were not too bad, they had a house, a job and healthcare. The capitalist system has not been kind to them and to be honest I have to agree and say it is not a fair system either. There has to be a better way! We did not leave empty handed either a dozen fresh eggs and a jar of preserved fruit.

This week Ian was also fixing bikes at the orphanage. As you can imagine the bikes do get a hammering and so a bit of TLC (tender loving care) was needed, some miracles also were required but unfortunately not forthcoming. At least that which was repairable was repaired. Our bike mechanic son would have been very useful at this point and next time he is over he will be getting a job or six to do. Bikes weren't our only worry this week, our car was too. We had taken our two wheeled tractor to our friends to cut their hay as they desperately needed it cutting before August 15th to keep agricultural subsidies and on the way back our indicators stopped working, the dashboard wouldn't light up and unbeknown to us the brake lights weren't working either. Things were getting fraught as Ian tried to work out which fuses had blown and where they all were and it was looking increasingly like a trip to Riga yet again. It doesn't help when the only handbook we have is in Latvian despite requesting an English version. Eventually he found all the blown fuses and found somewhere in the village that stocked them and mercifully everything started working, it would appear that it is our trailer that is to blame. The roads around here are tough on vehicles and so something could have worked loose or dirt got into the contacts but at least now we know where all the fuses go - well Ian does!

This week has required a lot of food to be processed as the gluts in the garden start to arrive. I don't mind processing food when there is nothing else to do and the temperatures are cool but it was hot again this week meaning a steaming kitchen even with every window in the flat open and a breeze blowing through. I really did not want to process all the food by blanching as that requires pots of steaming water around. There is also nothing worse than spending all day out in the garden and having to deal with the harvest that evening because of the temperatures, still I won't be complaining come winter time. What was worse though is they decided to repair the gas pipe on a cool day I had earmarked for getting a lot of processing done. That was a bit challenging to say the least with just a microwave and a slow cooker working. Well that is once the electric came back on after the thunderstorm.

This was last week's dessert at our local hotel. One of the
reasons we were back there tonight! Well that and being
too tired to cook.
There has been quite a debate this week over the use of the word "Christian", to be or to not be a Christian is the question. A follower of Jesus, yes! A Chrisitian well that is arguable. While visiting friends last week someone asked us "is it difficult to be a Christian in Latvia?" I don't think he got the answer he thought he was going to get as we said yes due to the poor reputation of Christians in paying debts and poor treatment of workers not because people treat us any differently because we are Christian. Anne Rice this week and Paul Leader both asked the question is the name "Christian" so sullied that it is no longer a helpful label to use, in fact Anne Rice states she is still a follower of Christ but she is not a Christian anymore as she can no longer tolerate being linked to such a hate filled religion which is anti this that and the other. It is so sad that the loving faith that Jesus calls us to has become so tainted by some of those who claim to follow him. 

A friend of mine recently posted a quote on facebook "We are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son" (Rom. 8:29) Too many Christians are working hard at getting people in to heaven. But we should make more of an effort at putting heaven in to people." Brilliant! Let's bring a little of heaven to earth as we go about our lives. What would heaven on earth look like? Sure feels a bit like heaven when we have lots of cheery faces waving away and saying "hi". 

Not sure what is going on with the photos in blogger but they weren't where I wanted them exactly. Oh well.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Good times

Our attempt at a Latvian style hay rick. Not too bad for our
first time
It has been a busy week this week, still hot and humid with lots of thunderstorms too which has added to the mix making planning work on the garden interesting. My young helper left on Tuesday and we had great fun chatting about faith and gardens, squishing caterpillars and building our first hay rick on Latvian style wood supports. There is so much that can be learnt from the garden which relates to faith, such as the necessity to remove those things which maybe good in themselves and yet inhibit the growth of other things which could be developed, a useful lesson to learn in a busy life. Anyway she did not leave empty handed and took with her bags of carrots, lettuces, beetroot and beans and pots of marjoram, sage, mint, lemon balm and chives to start her own indoor garden. My young helper is very concerned about the way tea plantation workers are treated in many places and since fair trade tea is not readily available here in Latvia she decided that growing her own herbs to make teas in the winter would be a better option. I love it when the younger generation get passionate about justice and she is hoping to get a website up and running soon to voice her passion, so as soon as it is set up I shall pass on the website address.

GanĨauskas 2002. This building was originally a KGB
place, can't remember if it was for training or for holidays
This week was an important milestone for us as it is 10 years since we first visited Latvia. This was the start of our journey that took us to Denmark, America and finally to live in Latvia. Our Latvian experience started at GanĨauskas camp where we travelled to this last Thursday to meet some friends of ours from our old church in the UK. They had come to help out at an English camp for young Latvians wanting to improve their English, just as we had done all those years ago. Normally when we visit our friends in camp we only manage to snatch some conversations as they travel between activities and so it was great to be able to sit around in the staff kitchen drinking tea and chatting away during some free time. It was also an important milestone for some of our friends who have lead the teams to Gancauskas for many years as it was their last year, time for them to move on too!

Our indoor mini forest of sweetcorn. It
is now around 3m high, only another
metre to hit the roof!
We had a visit from Simon Bell who I first contacted after finding papers he had written for a PhD on how Latvians feel about their countryside. Very few academic papers are written on Latvia in English, I found out whilst doing my studies, and to find a paper written by someone with an English sounding name was very exciting and I wondered what connection he had to Latvia. An internet search lead to his website and I contacted him. I was surprised to get a response and we met up last year at his holiday home in Latvia and chatted about forestry which is his main area of expertise, PhD's and life in Latvia. This week he and his wife paid us a visit and we went for a walk in the forest, or rather Ian and Simon went for a brisk hike through and his wife and I wandered through at a more sedate pace. What we did glean from the walk though was an outline management plan and it confirmed to us the trees we need to keep and those that need to go, we also found out the most common tree in our forest, alder a pioneer species, does not live very long before getting diseased and dying and so it wasn't a problem to get rid of it and let in some light to other more valuable species like spruces, oaks, maples and birches. At least we feel much more confident with our approach to managing the forest. By the way getting rid of many of the alders is not a major problem as there are still lots of the other trees too.

A ginormous mushroom, possibly a cep and edible but we
didn't try it.
I still managed to keep up with some of the internet feeds that I keep an eye on for the sake of my studies and it was great to read that in Brazil they managed to pass a major anti-corruption bill that bans anyone convicted of a serious crime from standing for office for 8 years. I have been to Brazil three times and I have sat in one of the states government buildings and I know from those times the way corruption weaves itself into the life of Brazil and so this is a major major breakthrough. Even more amazing is that 1.5 million people signed a petition to get the bill through the governmental processes despite the fact that 147 out of 513 members of the lower house and 21 of the 81 senators will be affected by this law and not able to stand at the next election. This is a huge victory for democracy and for people power and I really pray that Brazil can go from strength to strength as they clean up not just their governance but also their society at large.

Meet Fred! I found him (or her) in the cabbage patch and
thought I would keep him as he is huge, rather than squish
him like his numerous cousins. I was wondering though
if he is edible!
Another article was the way that Haiti's peasant farmers have said no to Monsanto "aid" and yes to local native seeds. Monsanto have seemingly generously offered 400 tonnes of seeds of which 60 tonnes have already been delivered. The Haitian farmers though have realised that this will then lock them into future purchases of seed as the local native seed will be ousted and not grown. Reduction in native varieties of seeds puts farmers in greater danger of pests and diseases. Greater variability of seeds developed for the various environments is the ideal situation for a healthy vibrant seed bank, and not reliance on expensive herbicide dependant seeds from a major international conglomerate.

The oddest cucumber we have ever grown, looks rather like
a duck we think
The Latvian fireservice have had a major boost this last week too with news that the US army corps of engineers are to fund developments in many fire stations. Amazingly they will actually pay for local companies to be employed to do the work so that they are not only improving the safety of communities but boosting the local economy too. Wish many missionary organisations would take note too, instead of well meaning goods being shipped from long distances which are not always useful if the goods need repairs which cannot be accessed locally and sending folks to work on projects when people here need jobs to boost much deflated wages. The funds are being made available to fit roll top doors to fit the new larger fire engines which have been funded by the EU, so many of the fire engines in service at the moment are ancient looking beasts that look like they came out of the ark, rugged four wheeled drive but ancient looking nonetheless (must get a picture of our local fire engine). Our own local village fire station was offered a newer engine by a German twin town and it makes me wonder if it will be too big for the little place, I guess I will have to wait and see.

Our neighbours are rather generous, these are the second
gift of zucchini we have had this week. The first lot there
were three of them. Good job we have a freezer and a
food drier
These strange contraptions are the internal structures of
the Latvian hay ricks that Ian made ready for the grass he
cut the other day.
Ian is on a roll with the two-wheeled tractor and spent a
whole day cutting this steep, pig roughened, bank 

And while Ian was making hay ricks I was carting stones to
build up this bank. Our second pond is still emptying fast
which gave me a chance to get lower down to add more rock.
Good job as that night it absolutely lashed it down and now
the pond is full again and staying full for the time being.