Monday, 27 September 2010

A good old-fashioned workout

Fly Agaric. Not a mushroom for the pot obviously but they
are so beautiful. We have quite a few of these in
our forest.
After a week of reading books and papers I was ready to be out of the house. I spent all summer on the move and being inside isn't so great, well not while the weather is so nice. With a lovely weekend in store we decided to pick apples, we haven't many per tree but certainly enough for us to get by on. Never ceases to amaze me though when Latvians look at apples and say what sort they are and when they will be ready as one of our neighbours did when I showed him our haul. I am lucky if I can identify a variety in a supermarket, never mind on the tree. I guess I have a lot to learn. Also spent some time shifting yet more grass, is there an end to it? Something will change next year, I am positive about that, we haven't decided what to do as an alternative for definite and keep throwing ideas about but doing the same next year will not be an option, it just takes far too long. The sheer physical aspect of the work sure helps to work off some energy but my elbow is beginning to hurt, a sure sign that it is not a good idea to keep going.

Ian has been ploughing again. This was
another area covered with the dreaded
ground elder. We shall let the frost do its
work on the roots over the winter ready
 for planting something in the spring.
One thing that one of  the Latvian political parties seem to have missed is that the old traditional methods of farming take too long and too much manpower to sustain today, judging by some of the literature arriving in our post box. Latvia is heading for the polls on Saturday and of course we have had the usual political leaflets through the post. One of the leaflets has a typical old-fashioned Latvian country scene on it, the Latvian haystacks, storks, forests in the distance and lots of open fields. It is of course an illusion, yes you can still see the old hay ricks but they are becoming rarer because they take a lot of manpower to build them, the forests are not so distant as the trees grow up in abandoned farms and even the open fields that are left are at risk because of the explosion in wild boar digging big holes in them. If Latvians wish to retain their traditional looking countryside there is going to have to be a shift to buying more home produced food, dealing with the wild boar or accepting fences and hedges as a natural way to go (or roast boar anyone?), and maybe they need to spend some time helping farmers stack grass so they can keep the old ways going. Any volunteers?

Yes we have wood. At last!
And this is the base in all its glory! Well its a start.
The news that Latvian wood exports have increased by 53% in 7 months reminded me of something I forgot about last week , we have wood finally! In fact we even have a base for our barn. That is it mind, just a base but it is a start. We just seem to get to the stage where our patience seems to have run a bit thin and then there is a movement in a project, it has happened time and time again and we are kind of used to it, but sometimes it is just a tad irritating. Good job folks seem to have a sense of when we might be running out of patience and get motivated or organised to get on with something. 

A cute little fellow
Another project we have had ongoing all year is our other apartment. Part of the problem is that our Swedish friend who is helping us out has a lot of back problems and so from time to time he can't do anything, then he has been busy with projects on his farm over the summer and sometimes life just gets in the way. It hasn't helped that the work has been rather more complicated than we anticipated as the false floor that was put in for a walk in shower previously had warped slightly and let water through to the wood base, the result was that the whole floor had to be taken up but not before work had been done thinking it was going to stay. It would have been far quicker to rip it out at the beginning and start afresh. Still we did manage to find matching tiles to the original ones for the floor and the wall and so it could have been worse. 

A rather vain pond frog as he posed to have his photo taken
for quite a while
We are off to England soon and thought I had better check out if my old English SIM card still works. I had a few surprises, the first is that I found the SIM card, the second that the phone where it was residing picked up a signal when it was switched on. This of course is not normally such a surprising event but this was my American phone and it had never worked outside the city of Riga and so had been consigned to the draw despite being only two years old at the time. I was so pleased that it was working though as my old Danish phone is showing many signs of it's 7 year old lifespan and has taken to occasionally turning off at random times. Not helpful! So one night I spent switching the SIM cards around and entering all the new phone numbers I have for life here in Latvia, which took rather longer than I expected. It made me realise how many new people we have got to know over the past two years.

Not as pretty as the Fly Argaric but some amazing structures.
Not sure if these are edible or not but going to investigate
In a previous post I mentioned the title of a book "What got you here, won't get you there" by Marshall Goldsmith, a management book that encourages business leaders to look at new strategies rather than rely on the old systems that had got them to the places they are in now. Something businesses are in dire need of now but that is not what captured me, it was the title. I knew that God was taking me on a different journey not one I had travelled on, and a few years down the line it sure seems that way. Now I am studying rural development, something I would never have thought of doing before and certainly not something that was particularly uppermost in my mind as I sat on a plane flying to Brazil from America where I was living, and rubber necking to see what the lady next to me was doing. The phrase encouraged me to step out and to try new things knowing that what had taken me on an extraordinary journey to the States via Denmark was not going to define my journey from that point either. I had learnt many lessons along the way, valuable lessons that still help today, such as adjusting to different cultures where needed but the trajectory is different. I still am not quite sure where it is all heading but I was reminded of it when I have twice come across the phrase "an action plan for getting from here to there" in my readings for my course. It all sounds very sensible to have an action plan to get to there from here, but where is there? How do you get there, if you have never been that way before? How much planning can you do? I think I would rather view what I know now as a toolkit that prepares me for the adventures ahead, rather than trying to plan too far ahead and get stuck along the way and mired down because I wasn't too sure of which direction I was heading. Travel light, travel easily, but travel I will. I shall plan for what I can foresee and trust for what I cannot.

Our first chili pepper. It is not a particularly hot one but
hot enough for us. 
On a completely different note I discovered this week that I am the right height for something at last! To be a hobbit at 4ft 11 and 3/4 inches I am a quarter of an inch off the cut off height for a part. Shall I apply do you think?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday tooooooo you

A gorgeous sunset making the hill
look like its on fire
I am having to do a bit of writing on my blog a little early this week as it is Ian's birthday on the day I should be posting and I am not sure if we will go out or have a special meal but whatever we do it will mean spending time together but not a lot of money. He has too many toys anyway, and his toys are not cheap! (Oh err sorry! Essential pieces of equipment! hehe). The dilemma is if we go to the local hotel he could have a nice steak but if we don't, I will have to track down some meat in this village - easier said than done. There are often salamis and there is usually some sort of pork but chicken is hit and miss and beef forget it. Roll on next year when we grow some chickens for the freezer. (update: surprise, surprise we went to the hotel and he had steak, at least I didn't have to do the washing up)

One of the culprits before it met its doom
You can tell when the temperature is going down when the layers start piling on. We have had some lovely autumnal days but haven't escaped the drizzle and the rain this season brings. It is hard to believe that not so long ago we were sweltering in humid 30 degree heat and now the temperature has slipped to about 10C during the day. At least it makes it pleasant to work in the polytunnel now, instead of being like a sauna. We removed the last of the big tomatoes from the polytunnel this week as it looked like blight might be starting to creep in and the rest of the summer plants are looking a little bedraggled and barely hanging on. We would remove them too but the melons haven't all quite ripened yet and the cucumbers are still producing so they are being left for the time being. Our other plants planted for the autumn are looking good, well if they haven't been stripped by caterpillars that is. I always think of caterpillars as being an outside problem but not in our polytunnel, the little blighters must have laid hundreds of eggs and there is one thing for sure I am not going to use a humane way of getting rid of them, so they get squished. Disgusting job but effective.

You can just see the clay irrigation pot poking out from
between the lettuces in the right hand pot.
Our clay pot irrigation trial is working well. It is a little hard to tell from the photograph but the lettuces with their little clay pot on the right are actually doing slightly better than the hand watered pot on the left. I have also found that the clay pot irrigation uses less water than watering using a watering can. These lettuces have only been topped up twice since planting too, so perfect for going away. The theory is that the unglazed clay pot acts as a reservoir from which the plants can extract the water. The pot has to be the kind of pot that allows water out and so should not be glazed or fired at to high a temperature, ie not over 800C preferably. We had ours specially made by a local potter and they have a quirky hand made appearance. Ours are also part glazed at the top which means that the pot can stick out above the plants making watering easier and yet not lose water to the atmosphere. It also has a jaunty little cap to keep out the bugs. We will roll out the trial for next year to see how they cope with things like tomatoes and melons but I think we will need some bigger pots made first.

The dark line that runs up the side of
the road way is where the pigs have
turned over piles of hay that were
used to slow down the flow of water.
This and some activity beside the top
pond means the pigs were worringly
close to the polytunnel 
Outside on our land the wild boar have been having a field day, there are patches of churned soil all over the place and some alarmingly close to the polytunnel, fortunately not many of them are deep. They are becoming such a nuisance that I might even make them the subject of my study for my Masters degree. I was going to look at how new landowners or inexperienced ones anyway get help and support, possibly contrasting the new crofters scheme in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with what happens here in Latvia, but after this week I have come to the conclusion that you can give new landowners all the help you want in order for them to set up sustainable enterprises on their land but it will all be a waste of time unless the problem of the wild boar is sorted. There are tales of people digging up carrots while the pigs are at the other end taking their fill, of fences not being sufficient to keep them out and vast damage done to gardens - the problem is that these are people's essential winter supplies. Our neighbours had to dig up their potatoes early due to pig activity alerting them to the fact the pigs had their eyes or rather their noses, since they smell very well but can't see so well, on their garden. A friend of ours is increasingly afraid of going out at night as the pigs are often in the garden, eating the apples and digging big holes and one night they hurt their alsatian dog quite badly. I did some quick research to see if looking at this problem would make a feasible project and I found that pigs normally will stick close to the forest cover when rooting and so the middle of fields should be safe, but this is not the case here. The pigs are obviously not afraid of people or other wild animals like wolves.  There are no wolves close to us that I know of and farmers here cannot shoot on their own land unless they have an agreement with a hunting organisation that they are part of and have the permission of the organisation to hunt, which means organising a special event. So complicated!

A rather deep pig hole
Our wild boar problem makes me wonder if Latvia does not suffer from a few human versions of the wild boar too. Greedy, opportunistic, turning over the ground irrespective of what is there, a disaster for farmers and the rural poor in general. They don't care that they are destroying the farmer's fields, all they care about is filling their bellies. Now within an ecological standpoint that is fine and wild boar do have a valuable role to play in the ecology of the land but when they get out of control then we have problems. The destructive nature of some of the elite which does not care about the rest of humanity is as destructive to the landscape as the wild boar and both will lead to the abandonment of the farms ultimately, unless something is done.

Love this lichen encrusted sign but it is looking a little
worse for the wear this year.
Well on a different note I saw a couple of blog posts this week with phrases you have to think about. The first one was "The more quietly you speak the farther you will go". I think that too often as Christian's in the world we do a lot of shouting, "Come this way", "I will show you which way to go" etc. We are on a journey, and we might know the final destination - a city where God dwells, but the journey is not as straightforward as we think sometimes, there are twists and turns and sometimes we need to ask the way of others. Yes we can be guides to those also on a journey who need some help and direction but we don't necessarily need to stand on a mound shouting at everyone as if we have all the answers. Maybe if we heeded this phrase then we might indeed be heard when we have something relevant to say!

Mushrooms in the forest
The next was from Amnesty International's Advocacy director "The only real question is not whether impossible things can be achieved, but how and when?" Such an inspiring thought! I am often accused of being too optimistic, but how much more optimistic can you get? The examples he used were from events that led to the fall of the Soviet Union, a huge momentous event which was amazing to see and happened so suddenly and rapidly. A mighty stronghold brought down by some people willing to make a stand with tomato ketchup and songs (see the article). Impossible things do happen; after all when Elton John sang "Nikita, you will never know, anything about my home" about a border guard on the Soviet side, we believed that was true and yet the strain on the system was showing only two years later and the collapse a mere 4 years later. Likewise who thought the banks were invincible in their greed? Yet the system is creaking and people are busy papering over the cracks and the warning sounds have not been heeded. They are trying to revert back to business as usual - bad mistake. Maybe you are thinking that is nothing to be optimistic about but I find it both exciting and exhilarating because I believe there has to be a better system than the one we have and I am looking forward to seeing it come into being. So hold on folks the ride might be a bit hairy but there is a good ending - I read the end of the book.

A view from the top of our ski hill with the remains of one
of the light posts to light the hill at night 
Not so encouraging though is a brief run through of the recent history of the Roma, it is a tragic story of a despised minority. The current expulsions by France fill me with horror that people can be treated this way in a so called modern nation. I am not singling out France either because they are doing what many people would like to do as we saw from the success of the far right party in Sweden. Is it not time that this particular minority were actually listened to with a measure of compassion? Their way of life has been under pressure for a long time and their options limited. They are in many ways a good example of stewardship by shunning the use of large energy hungry houses and by resourceful reuse of materials and yet I am not blind to the issues of where they stay and some of the problems they have. How much of that though is because of a lack of choices? Shouldn't we be able to dialogue with a group of people rather than stigmatise and ostracise? Maybe, just maybe a better understanding between Roma and non-Roma may diffuse the tensions and maybe, just maybe a better dialogue with immigrants and nationals may help people to live together peacefully.

The top of the hill and we think the remains of the ski lift
Reading through the Coloradan today I found out that there was a brush fire about a mile away from our old house in Fort Collins which seems really bizarre as we are sit here in Latvia after having a torrential downpour last night that meant we could hardly see through our windows at one point. It is hard to remember how dry it is in Fort Collins now- bet they still have green lawns though!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Empire expands

Our new Lada
We started off this week by adding yet another item to our inventory, a Lada! Yes I said a Lada! Ian has had his eye on a Lada ever since we got here, to be precise a 4WD Lada Niva. It is interesting to see that over the years the changes in car ownership in Latvia. When we first arrived the cars were mainly Soviet era makes, and don't ask me what they were I have no idea, I just know they weren't the state of the art modern looking cars. The only modern looking cars were the dark windowed Mercedes that you didn't ask who owned those! As time went on the cars changed and more and more European cars were seen on the streets, in fact quite upmarket cars, but the Lada Nivas were still seen around, well maybe not in town but certainly in the countryside. The Ladas continued to chug on, nothing glamorous or elegant in any shape or form but robust little workhorses. We used to have a Niva in England and I have to say it was a pig to drive, it had a small steering wheel and no power steering so driving it from our village to the next town was a physical endeavour that took a lot of energy, however and it is a big however, in the snow it was perfect. It was like a different beast entirely. The Lada we have acquired is a suped up rally version as it was used in competitions around the local forests. This means there are no frills at all in this car as it is as light as possible but it does what we want it to do which is to travel over the land without chewing it up quite as much as the tractor and tows a trailer at the same time. It has a winch on the front that will pull 5 tonnes and so it might be useful for winching some of the trees from the forest but we still have to try it out on that. It now means as well that Ian gets to partake in one of his favourite hobbies of messing around with cars, I think he has missed the dirt and the swearing as something doesn't go back together the way it should and we don't have to worry about putting our newish, heavy vehicle into situations where it could get stuck or damage it. If we damage the Lada, the chances are it will be fixable and cheap, damage the truck and it is likely to cost us money - lots of!

Our share of the haul of mushrooms
We have been venturing out again this week, this time picking mushrooms with one of our Latvian friends. During the English lessons I teach we are often asked if we have been picking mushrooms in our forest and had to confess that to be honest we hadn't had time to look but even if we had we weren't one hundred percent sure that we could remember which were the safe mushrooms to eat. It turns out that one of my students is an ace at picking mushrooms as she knows the best places to go and picks loads of them, so we put her on the spot and asked if she would take us out and show us the safe ones, so earlyish Saturday morning saw us out in the woods with our friend and two young helpers who could translate. We set off into the woods and our friend wandered off in one direction and the helpers in another and we were left a little bewildered as to what we were looking for and where we were but as if by magic eventually everyone re-appeared and found each other again, much to our relief. We did eventually get the hang of which mushrooms to pick and saw some beautiful examples of what we were definitely not looking for, the classic red mushrooms with white spots but also there are some brown ones which have similar spots on the top - didn't know about those, but we did learn the Latvian for poisonous that's for sure. Pity I didn't have a camera with me to take a photo of the red ones, they are so pretty and there were some beautiful examples of them. The afternoon was spent processing our haul into mushroom sauce, dried mushrooms, mushroom sandwiches and guess what we had for tea (dinner) too - yup! You guessed! Mushrooms!

A lovely spot to work
It has been good to be exercising my brain again and getting back into the swing of academic work but what was even nicer was sitting outside on our land today in the sunshine and the peace and quiet reading my course book. Well it would have been quiet but someone was hammering away trying to do something with the wheel on a certain Lada, thank goodness it didn't last long. I think if I was going to do that on a regular basis though I will have to invest in a comfier chair although it was a good excuse to get up and wander about looking at the changing colours of the trees, watching the pond life and generally doing something other than reading from time to time. Ian meanwhile continued shifting hay off the main part of the field into a humungous pile that will eventually become compost. What it has helped us to realise though is that we can't do that again every year, it takes far too long when there are plenty of other jobs to do. We will have to mull over the solutions early next year I think. The options are to get in the contractors but that costs quite a bit of money and they won't be very happy at baling up our degraded grassland with all the raspberry canes in it and we are unlikely to recoup the costs from sales of the bales, get a baler ourselves that we can at least avoid the places that mess up the machines, borrow a horse and use the old-fashioned grass collectors or get sheep! Sheep are a strong possibility particularly for steep areas but I think we will be restricting ourselves to fattening up lambs for the table so we don't have the winter expenses too soon. Still we have the winter to mull these things over and that's what winters are for, to plot and plan for the year ahead and eat what you have grown during the year, oh yes and to see our children getting married.

A pond frog hiding. Not the prettiest of names for such a
pretty coloured frog
One thing Ian and I struggle with at times is making decisions. Sometimes we can make rapid decisions but often we take ages. Planning our trip to England to see our son getting married is a nightmare. Part of the reason is not having an income yet and so seeing savings dwindle as we live off them can be a bit scary at times and there is still no sign of our house in Sheffield selling and that means we really should be being careful with our money. Accommodation in the south of England is a bit problematic but finally we found a caravan to stay in which is near enough to our son to not have a long round trip every day. Next we have to plan to actually get there, we have decided on going by car - well that's one decision down but now we have to decide where to stay en route as we don't like the idea of sleeping in the car, not even sure it is legal in some places, and a nice bed, shower and breakfast will make for a much more pleasant journey. Oh well! Back to surfing the internet for hotels along the way I guess.

For all my Colorado friends, aspens in
our forest.
One other decision I have to make fairly soon is on a research project to do, both a short one for a placement, an assignment and then next year the big one for my Master's thesis. One thing I will have to do is to engage with some of the Latvian authorities to find out what help they can provide to assist my research in development in rural Latvia. In one way I am dreading it as I know how long some things take. I have been reading how important the first contact can be in social research and how a bad initial contact can put up barriers to any further research, so that does not instil confidence. We are blessed though with a neighbour who is an environmental journalist which means lots of useful contacts but a busy schedule and so that meant taking two weeks just trying to find some contacts with someone in the state forest service. I now have to find someone to translate for me, at least for the initial contact. I suspect that there are people who would be able to speak enough English in the organisation for me to work with them but gaining their confidence is crucial before someone is willing to admit they can speak English. Picking the right person to translate is also going to be crucial too and so time slips by - at least I have a year to get somewhere on this one, that is some consolation. One day, one day! I will be able to speak Latvian and that will be one less problem to work my way through but until that day I have to rely on others, which in itself is perhaps not a bad thing - making myself vulnerable and dependent on others.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Good times

Sunset at home
It's official it has been the hottest summer on record after the coldest winter in 100 years.  The only record that wasn't broken was the hottest single day recorded in Latvia which was 36.4C (97.5F) in 1943 in Daugavpils but as far as averages are concerned that was definitely broken with a full two months of hot weather - and boy don't I know it! The heat has meant changes to routines, perspiring from every possible pore on my body (I know you didn't really want to know it but these things happen!) and to boot I have lost 10 lbs in weight. Summer is definitely over though now as the leaves turn colour, the children go back to school and the autumn mists descend each night heralding the cooler days. We did have a few rather wet days but the sun has returned and we having some rather pleasant daytime temperatures but the nights are a little chilly and we only just hung on and put the first fire on in September. I guess we have got rather used to the heat.

One of the distant memories of summer spent shifting lots
of hay
The children of the village went back to school on the 1st September as they do every year in just about all ex-Soviet countries, they were dressed up smartly and all carrying bunches of flowers for the teacher. The day is characterised by lots of speeches and clapping and not much else as the true school day starts the following day. My course started today though along my job with an online school and so summer slips away to a distant memory and the storks fly ever further away (they were seen over Malta this week). We have learnt much over the summer though and done battle with the heat, the insects and the weeds. The insects this year have been awful, first it was the mosquitoes and the kamikaze daytime ones which didn't know that they were supposed to wait until the cooler evenings before appearing, followed by the numerous horseflies after the mosquitoes tailed off, which obviously enjoyed the heat and then the flies who revelled in the very hot temperatures. I had to wear sunglasses, not just because of the sun but to keep the flies out of my eyes while working and I heard of one lady who wore a bee suit to milk the cows because the flies were that bad. One of the nice things about the cooler autumn days is the lower numbers of the flying pests, unfortunately we seem to have the jumping pests which we must have picked up from somewhere and they have the itchiest bites of all.

One thing I was sad about was that Avon So Soft does not work to keep off the mosquitoes and horse flies, it does put them off a little but the need for my blood over rode any nasty taste they were left with from the oil spray. At least we did find a non-DEET spray but how much safer that is I am not sure but it was very necessary at times just to be able to get any work done in peace.

No sign of the errant beans at this point
and yet they managed to bring these
massive plants down once they got going
So what have we learnt? We learnt that growing sweetcorn with beans and squashes doesn't work with the varieties we grew, the beans pulled over the sweetcorn and the squashes never really got going. With hindsight we probably grew the wrong sort of beans with the wrong type of corn and the squashes were put in at the wrong time. A less vigorous bean with maize rather than sweetcorn and pumpkins rather than squashes would probably work far better as the maize and the pumpkins would be ready about the same time and the less vigourous bean wouldn't pull over the corn. Still the corn did grow tall and I wonder how much of that was due to the beans supplying nitrogen.

This melon grew so well but the nibbling from a certain
little fur pest ensured that the melon eventually rotted
leaving a stinking mess. So sad!
Melons can be grown in Latvia is one thing we proved but we were too late to really benefit from the heat to grow lots of melons. The late finishing of our polytunnel and my problems getting assignments done at the end of the last modules really set us back by at least a month, so to get the production we did was a bonus. We also learnt that the melons are better grown upright rather than sprawling on the floor round the cucumbers as we can't get to the cucumbers easily once the melons take off. We found out that ripe melons can explode and they stink when they do, a really sweet cloying smell that is hard to get rid of. We found out that tapping the branches of tomatoes and chillis improves fertilisation and aubergines are difficult to set even using a paintbrush to fertilise them. I think a bee hive near the polytunnel will be a good idea for next year. Straw mulches were a real blessing this year as they kept the weeds down in the critical early stages and the soil damp during the dry spells saving us much time and effort which was a good job as working in three separate plots was hard work in itself. Next year we really need to be more organised to keep on top of it all.

A summers day
Last week when our neighbours to the land joined us we found out the young lass of the family had got through to the finals of a national competition and needed to be in Riga on the 1st September but was worried as the family car was broken and not likely to be fixed in time. We offered to help out if needed and sure enough on Tuesday Ian got a call to ask if he could take the family into Riga and would he join them at the event as there was a spare guest ticket, the only requirement was to dress smartly. Getting Ian to dress smartly is a major achievement as his days of shirt and tie for work, even under a lab coat, are well and truly behind him, he is much happier in a pair of work trousers and warm tatty tops. The refrain of 'your not going into the bakery like that!' can often be heard, okay it's only a bakery but there are limits believe me! Unfortunately there was only one spare ticket so Ian went alone with the family. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to and due to a mishap along the way they arrived only just in time but could not sit together, so there was Ian at an event with no clue as to what was going on and no interpretation. At least most events are kind of self-explanatory by following the clues of those around, ie clap when they clap, smile at the camera (oh yes, didn't tell you that bit, it was being broadcast live on national state television), and look like your enjoying yourself, which fortunately he was. He is of course now quite happy to sign autographs following his moment of fame (or not as the case maybe as we have no idea if he really was on camera or not). He rolled into bed at 2am the next morning, a very late night but happy to have been able to help.

A rainy afternoon project
Our friends who we helped out the other week with the wood deliveries were also so sweet that they invited us for dinner to celebrate their youngsters 3rd birthday party. It is a looooong looooong time since I have been to a 3 year old's birthday party but we had good fun. I used the invite as an excuse to make a puppet one rainy afternoon for a present, not sure he was really that bothered with it as he is into tractors and grass cutters and I had made a dragon but the parents loved it. Nothing much was organised, there was food and the parents sat around chatting and eating whilst the children entertained themselves by playing nicely and so it was a great chance to hear a lot of spoken Latvian. One thing I have discovered whilst moving around is that I am not a great fan of simultaneous translations as it means I can't listen to the flow of the language, fine if you are not living there and only on a short visit but not good if you need to learn a language. The evening turned out to be perfect as most of the adults could speak English reasonably well and so they would stop every now and again and tell us what they were talking about and giving us enough space to be able to contribute if we had something to say and then carried on in Latvian, so they made us feel part of the group without reverting to talking in English all the time. Another invite for an evening meal the next day from friends returning to Latvia and all in all this week has been very heavy on the social calendar side which makes a big change from the summer when it was eat, sleep and work and not much else.

Someone enjoyed playing with the dragon, even if the
recipient wasn't really that bothered
Weddings have been very much on my mind just lately with two of our children getting married in the next four months and so it was funny to read the differences between wedding traditions in different countries. I think my children will be glad that they are not Russian where the groom is expected to carry the bride over seven bridges, I think here in Latvia is only over one and you can see many groups over the summer congregated around a bridge waiting for the groom to carry the bride. The Latvians also have a similar tradition to the Russians of shouting out at random times that leads to the bride and groom having to kiss - not sure exactly what it was they were shouting out at the wedding we attended but it was a bizarre experience to be sitting down eating and suddenly having this fairly raucous noise erupting from one side of the room and everyone waiting for the bride and groom to kiss in response at very random moments.

Grandad in practice?
Update on our barn building saga, wood has finally been located in the nearby large town and we have it on order to be cut this next week. I am not surprised there is finally some wood there as that town was struck by a powerful storm that wrecked many trees and roofs in the area fairly recently. Whilst on the way to get my haircut we passed many trees snapped like sticks and piles of already sorted out branches cleared up from trees already dealt with. It looks like they must have had a tornado as the damage was fairly localised in places and look like someone had gone through with an almighty machete clearing a path as they went. Glad that one didn't pay us a visit.