Monday, 25 April 2011

Action packed week

I planted these miniature daffodils near the large oak tree on
our land. They were the first things we did on the land. I
love seeing swathes of daffodils in spring so hopefully
one day there will be a whole bank of them
Can't believe I have packed so much into this week but it has been lovely. We've had lovely weather too which is wonderful after the snow and we have had plenty of new experiences. Tuesday saw us in Riga as I had managed to get a placement visit to meet someone at the ministry of agriculture who was responsible for forestry. Last week I mentioned how happy I was to get this placement as it now only means I have one day left to organise, and joy of joys I have that one organised too, for this next week. I have been trying to work on getting placements for a unit of my course since September, but weddings, busy people and sickness all got in the way. The ministry visit was certainly interesting and I was encouraged that the skills I have been learning on my course, are necessary skills for Latvia. The people in the forestry division are trained in forestry, but see the need for development and, although they have picked up ideas as they have visited other places, they are not very sure how it should all fit together. I am coming at forestry from a different angle altogether, as I am looking at how it fits into the overall scheme of rural development, so my knowledge of forests is not so good but I can see what they are trying to do and have some ideas of what steps need to be taken. Unfortunately they haven't offered me a job yet but I think the lack of Latvian would still hinder me somewhat.

Surrounded by Macs! Ian making sure they
are all working and transferring data
We can't go into Riga and not fit in a few other jobs at the same time, so our car went in for its 60,000 Km service and we picked up the computers from the repair centre- finally! What a saga! At least I don't hear quite so many tuts and sighs from across the room now, as the old computer is once again relegated to purely playing internet radio until if finally gives up the ghost! We also bought a new flask, not very exciting you might think but in this household it is an essential household item; the reason being we drink tea by the gallon. A flask means we don't have to boil the kettle so often and we can take out plenty of tea with us when we go to the land. We haven't had much luck with flasks just lately though as Ian has got through three of them in the last year, one broke when it fell out of the car, one exploded when hot water was poured in and one just wouldn't keep the heat. He was beginning to despair of ever finding a good one when we came across a Stanley flask, the indestructible, keep things hot thermos flask. It had better be for the price it cost. Pricey! Definitely! So it had better last a lifetime. So far it is certainly living up to expectations as the tea is now too hot to drink straight out of the flask and that is all day.

Not sure what these are as we haven't seen them before
but there is a carpet of them under one of the oak trees
We have been into the school again to help with English lessons and I must admit it is all a bit confusing when it comes to trying to help the students understand what they are supposed to be doing for their exams, which are only next week. I think the style of exam is perhaps quite simple in some ways just not straightforward. To my mind it was all back to front as the teacher had a set of answers to questions and the students had to make up the questions. For instance the student would be told that they had to ask a question to do with reasons for moving to Latvia and the teacher had to answer with "I moved for a better environment for my children" but the student doesn't know the teacher has to say that, you could imagine the confusion if they don't ask the question in the right way to get the right answer. We also found out that the exams are assessed internally and then they all go to the education ministry to be assessed again. That is someone has to listen to all the students who graduate this year from the whole of Latvia! Not just a selection to make sure the assessors agree, but each and everyone. We were astounded at this method, it is no wonder it takes so long and people complain each year. We said that it would be better to have perhaps just one in ten selected to make sure that the assessors agree and only if there is a discrepancy would all students be re-assessed, which the head thought was rather a good idea and might suggest it. Not exactly a novel idea really as I think that is pretty much what happens in the UK.

A lizard out on the land
The head mentioned there was a meeting of the local inhabitants and said if I wanted to go she would translate for me so I didn't pass up the chance. The meeting was run by a consultancy firm as the district authorities try and find out what the local community want to see in terms of development. I must admit to seeing a demonstration of how not to initiate community meetings as I saw in development speak the 'capture by a local business elite', in other words someone not afraid to voice their own opinions and takeover a meeting, several people got fed up and walked out. It is really hard for the consultants as they have to give room for people to speak but they also need to pick up very quickly those who would seek to dominate the agenda for their own ends. For some reason as well, the month of June has been picked as the month to carry out surveys of 300 inhabitants, as the schools finish at the end of May, June is therefore a holiday month and perhaps not the best time for surveys. They would perhaps have more access to those who take the time to return for the very Latvian festival of Jani but then they wouldn't be folks who live here 12 months of the year. It would be funny if they picked us in their random sample to survey though.
The wrappings came off this week. I would have shown
you a picture of them without their winter clothes but
they don't show up being all twig like. The good news
 is that they have survived well and just about all of them
are beginning to burst their buds

It has been a hard week trying to get my assignment done with so much else going on but I did make it in the end. I even had problems on clear days as one neighbour decided to start on some renovations above the apartment where I usually work because it is so peaceful and quiet and at the other apartment I got interrupted by someone trying to sell me pans - Latvian in full flow. The only door to door salespeople we usually get are trying to sell potatoes, so this was a bit of a change. To cap it all one of our young neighbours is still having his all night parties and I went round twice in one night to tell him to turn off his music, 2am and 4am. The second time I walked straight in and made my feelings known which I think he probably found rather embarrassing, but I was not in the mood for being polite. The next couple of nights we decided to sleep at the other apartment, so I was well rested to get my assignment done, and it was bliss as we even managed to sleep in till 8am one morning- quite late for us. This was the first time we had actually slept at the other apartment ourselves.

Wood anemone 
This week one of our neighbours came up to us with another lady and started chatting away to me. I managed to understand that she was wondering if we would give up some of our allotment as this new lady had only just moved in late last year and wanted to grow something this year. We have more than enough space to grow things, especially now we have extended our electric fence to grow vegetables on the land too, so it wasn't really a problem, I just had to move some lavender that was growing in the section at the bottom. The lady has spent all week digging the garden over since, which won't have been too bad as Ian had dug it over thoroughly before, but she will just have finished when Ian takes the rotavator to do ours, which will not take him very long. Seems a bit of a cheat but we haven't got time to manage the land and dig over the veg gardens properly and we haven't really sorted out a bed system for it yet anyway so we can reduce the amount of digging we do. To manage all that we have to manage and for me to study, we have to cheat every now and again. Does feel a bit odd though having spent the time digging it over for someone else to benefit, but it feels right, she even gets the two year old strawberries too, as I had taken plenty of runners off them last year and we have two beds of them elsewhere, and I am sure that will be enough to be going on with.

Our extended electric fence so that we can keep the deer
and wild boar off our vegetables as well as out of our orchard
Had a really lovely Easter weekend. It was my birthday on the Friday and so I decided to take the day off and go and help Ian out on the land. It was a beautiful day and Ian rotavated the new veg plot and I raked mole hills. Moles and voles seem to have taken over Latvia this year and their hills and runs are everywhere, which won't make mowing the grass we keep short very easy at all and so I flattened as many of them as I could and filled in a few of the runs. Might not seem like the ideal birthday treat but it was just lovely to be outside doing something physical rather than sat inside using my brain. We did finish off the day with a visit to the local hotel for a meal and had the obligatory birthday treat of hot french chocolate cake, which has a gooey chocolate filling, so it wasn't all hard work. The next couple of days we had meals out at friends' houses. The first meal was with the neighbours to our land at some of other friends farm, our neighbours however had never been to the farm, or so they thought, and so they followed us out. Felt sorry for them as following anyone at this time of the year is like trying to drive through a sandstorm on the dirt roads, but we all made it safe and sound and it was then we found out that our neighbour had been before, in fact she used to be a vet at the kolkhoz where our friends farm is now. A kolkhoz was the name for the Soviet collective farms.

We were taken to see this lovely wooden chapel built in the
forest. It is next to a cemetery too, Latvians spend a lot of
time tending the plots and keeping them neat and tidy but
also very natural too, almost always up on a hill and
usually amongst a woodland.
The second visit was to see a couple who kind of live in Scotland, at least part time anyway, one of them is a professor in an Estonian university and so spends much of his time there but they also have had a house in Latvia for ten years, where they spend many holidays. I got to know them after making contact with the Estonian professor as he has written some of the few papers written about Latvians in Latvia and how they feel about their environment, so I wrote to him as I could tell he was not Latvian to see what his experiences of Latvia were and we have kept in contact since. We were invited for Easter Sunday lunch and so we had a beef stew - partly because Latvians don't really have beef joints for roasting and in fact rarely have beef at all and we had those with Yorkshire puddings. It is so long since we have had Yorkshire puddings, in fact we only seem to have them if we are making a traditional English meal for someone and so a wonderful meal and followed by apple and banana crumble - just so English. To round off this lovely weekend and to celebrate finally finishing my assignment and posting it I went out to the land again and this time we collected large stones (the ones that catch on the mower and don't do it much good) and filled in pig holes with some of the piles of soil we have lying around. The problem with the pig holes is they are rather deep and can tip the tractor if your not careful.
Taken on the 4th April
Taken on the 25th April, amazing
what difference a few days makes

Well I shall finish off with a follow up to something I felt God say last week "Wait and see what the Lord will do," funnily enough I had an email where I was offered $12.5m this week and it made me laugh after what I felt God say last week, but I thought I would not write back and claim it, not quite that daft.
e did though get some Lampreys - the food of kings. I have cooked them and frozen them as we have not had chance to eat any yet with being out so much. I do promise not to eat them all at once though as I believe that it is not healthy since a couple of Kings are supposed to have passed away after eating a few too many. Another surprise was an email for Ian asking for some help concerning flow cytometer usage, the machine he uses for diagnosing leukaemia. The lady he helps in the hospital passed on his name to someone doing research from the university, not quite the same field, but he did manage to find her the right information to help her. Not sure if that will go anywhere but you never know.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Bits and bobs

The red leaves are from a plant that has
survived very well in its winter fir coat.
In Latvian it is called Bruklenes and
cowberry or mountain bilberry in English
and will produce small red edible berries.
I am a bit worried about Ian, I have been for about a month now. He is whistling a lot and making optimistic remarks, now anyone would think I should be glad about this, but it is unnerving really. I married Ian for his sense of humour, but that doesn't mean he is optimistic by nature - I'm just not used to it. Mind you the fiasco of buying a pressure washer to wash the car and tractor equipment after use, helped to return things back to normal, as we were sent away with the wrong pressure gun for the one we bought - not a happy bunny, especially when the shop is 30 miles away. The good news is that we didn't have any difficulty changing the offending item for the correct one, well once I used my well worn phrase "Vai jums runat anglu valoda?" I am not entirely sure if that is correct but it usually gets the desired response of someone who speaks English. 

Coltsfoot - spring is here and the first of a succession of
yellow spring flowers
There are further signs of Spring this week, the communal heating is now off (no half measures now), snow is just confined to a few places and I don't see Ian for most of the day as he toddles off, with a cheery wave. The standard morning joke is, "have a nice day at the office dear" as turns to go, carrying his two battered blue bags of stuff and wearing his battered red coat and yellow wellies, they would die of shock if he ever turned up to an office dressed like that. I also unwrapped the bushes from their winter fir coats at the weekend, and the fir is all shredded and put down as a mulch for our blueberries that like acidic conditions. I even got a tad sunburnt, as I really should have been wearing a hat, but it is only April for goodness sake. Although most places are drying out, the road at the bottom of our ski hill is still in a very bad state. Fortunately our friends haven't got stuck this week, but a grader that came to sort out the road got stuck and made it worse, plus a logging truck got stuck by their pond up to its axles (like one of these, link). Fortunately we didn't get asked to pull any of them out as it needed a big John Deere to do that, actually it didn't need just one tractor, as it needed another tractor to pull out the John Deere which also managed to get stuck and then two of them to pull out the truck. What a performance! What a mess!

I knitted this for our newest neighbour and even got to give
her a cuddle, she is soooo cute. Her brother who is normally
so shy was easily bought with some chocolate eggs and was
quite friendly when we went round, normally he hides behind
his mother's legs
The picture is not so good but this is
one of the buttons on the cardi
Two weeks ago I mentioned that the headteacher had asked if we could go into school to help out with the conversational English, I actually ended up in school quite a bit this week. Both Ian and I went to help with the class, as planned, and then I found out that a whole load of dignitaries and business folks were coming into the class to observe an English class being taught de Bono's methods of creative thinking (lateral thinking) which I thought would be fun to see, so invited myself along. I went along to that and then sat through a meeting in Latvian with the teachers where the visitors were trying to convince the teachers of the merits of creative thinking in schools and businesses. I didn't understand a great deal of the meeting but I could observe the reactions of the teachers, who didn't seem that convinced at times, but they listened politely enough. The headteacher has been explaining the problems of the Latvian education system which is still trying to shake off its Soviet roots and the consequences are a lack of initiative and lateral thinking which is quite necessary in business, I also added there doesn't seem to be much in the way of analytical skills - which I can understand wouldn't be a particularly favourite subject within a Soviet education system. One of the teachers there was a lady who taught us some Latvian over a year ago and she was really sweet, she doesn't speak much English but she made sure I sat next to her and we chatted a bit afterwards and she was thrilled to hear the news of our children who had got married in the year since we last chatted. Anyone fluent in English and Latvian would have laughed at our conversation with gesticulations and half butchered sentences, but it made sense to us.

Downsized polytunnel! Not as big as last year heh! Since we
still haven't got a replacement we thought we would buy a
temporary construction since they were on special offer. Later
on it will be put inside the larger construction for added
protection of the tenderest plants and to extend our season
One of the days in school I took in a copy of some ideas I have been jotting down for possible areas for development and I was going to chat about them with the headmistress. I have no idea whether any have been tried or whether others have thought about them, but they struck me as possibilities whilst reading through studies and examples of development in other areas. The headmistress was very pleased with them and asked if she could take them along to a development meeting she had been invited too, which I was more than happy for her to do. She is going to get one of the students to translate it too. Will be interesting to see what comes out of that. Not sure what else I released this week, but a chance comment I made to the headmistress has increased my faith to expect something to change "I see a lot of potential here, and there has to be a way to make it work" I said and I really believe that. It doesn't look much written down, but on the day I sensed that if there is God in Heaven, which I believe, then there must be a way of making his creation work well or at least better than it does now. I think she was surprised that I can see potential here in rural Latvia, not many do, unless it is timber companies of course and they are not much help to the local economy at the moment.

We have ponds again
I have had a few occasions to skip around the room this week (well maybe not literally but metaphorically anyway), one is that our house sale is still progressing - hallelujah (okay a cautious hallelujah as I have known house sales stall before now) and the other is the fact I managed to get an appointment for the fourth of my five days of placement I need for a unit of my course. Just got to squeeze one more in before the end of May with enough time to write a report and I shall be ecstatic. I have been trying to get this pulled together since September. That means that tomorrow morning at an unearthly hour we are heading into Riga, again. Ian will sort out the car for a service and pick up the repaired computers while I head to the ministry of agriculture building for my meeting. Which reminds me, I haven't been keeping you up-to-date on the computer saga. If you remember (well possibly if you have been following me long enough) our computers both died, MacBook pros too! They were bought within a month of each other and died within five months of each other, one just being under three years old. We were told in October it was the motherboard that had died and was so costly that it was cheaper for me to buy a MacBook (not a pro) in England with my student discount than to have the other one repaired. Well apparently the company who did the evaluation of the problem were not doing their job properly as there is a known issue with graphics cards that can affect motherboards and they should have contacted Apple. When the next computer died Ian contacted Apple care - or equivalent as we live in Latvia which doesn't have the full services, and the guy was very helpful. One computer was repaired within the week, even though it was sent to Lithuania first, the other however had a screen issue, a dvd player issue as well as the logic board issue. Unfortunately sorting out the second computer was a little more complicated for some reason, it didn't help that the guy from Apple also had a motorbike accident in the meantime which meant he didn't get back to Ian as promptly as he would have done normally (why do things get complicated for the most obscure of reasons?). Anyway both computers are now repaired and for a lot less than it would have cost if we had had to pay for all the repairs ourself and means that we now have a spare laptop which will be our media centre as Ian's very ancientPowerbook (over 8 years old now) from when he was working for the Danish company is dying slowly and that is the one we use to play the internet radio on. So there will be no more tutting and sighing from across the room as the ancient beast takes sooooo long to load, so I'm told. 

More evidence of winter visitors. We
think they are mole tunnels and there
are lots of them, all over the place. At
least they help with drainage, I guess
On a completely random note a thought came to mind this week and has been bouncing around my head - must be pretty empty for it to bounce so much but in the words of one of my sons my antennae is up (makes us sound a right batty lot, well you're probably not far wrong if you have come to that conclusion). I was thinking and praying about our house sale and looking forward to it going through and then really sensed that it didn't really matter one way or another because God has his plans which will be fulfilled, he is not relying on our house sale to go through and the phrase that came to mind was "Wait and see what the Lord will do" - no idea what he will do but looking forward to what will open up, looking forward to seeing the plans he has for us.

Ian's latest construction, a wood store. The roof is made from
lino we took up from our apartment floor. He assures me it is
very robust as he can swing from it.

These car tyres were lying by the side of the road and just what
Ian was looking for to help with chopping wood. He had heard
about the idea of using a tyre to reduce time chopping as they
stop the wood flying off, saving time retrieving them. Here
is a link on Youtube showing the technique

Everywhere is a mess right now, with small piles of earth left
from moving snow, large piles of earth from the barn
project and gouges in the soil from a tractor. Our
nice flat slope is now well rutted - not Ian's doing! I keep
feeling like I should be apologising to the land as it seems such a
shame. Next weekendI shall be out with the rake to level off
what I can by way of an apology. 
Updated - the old computer was actually a Powerbook and not a MacBook Pro - hand slapped now for making such a mistake. 
For all of those who thought I had completely lost it, apologies for the ramble on the last photo - you were all too polite to mention my incoherent ramble. Must try and make more time to proof read my blog before posting :oD

Monday, 11 April 2011

Spring! Yay!

Spring has finally arrived here, the snow is now rapidly disappearing and we only have small piles of the stuff lying about now, plus only a dusting of snow since last week, the roads are drying out and bumpy, the storks are here and mating (honestly it's like an x-rated movie outside our kitchen window), and the Latvians are lighting their smoky bonfires. It is so good! Ian can finally get out on the land and get things done as the land begins to dry out, which he loves doing. Just today he made some guttering for our workshop, finished taking apart the remaining bits of greenhouse using his new drill (the batteries on his old one were only lasting about 15 minutes before dying, and it costs nearly as much as the new drill for one battery and he needs two) and he rigged up the wire fence in readiness for taking the winter wraps of the trees later on this week, when the chance of frosts have reduced. Not bad for a days work. The electric fence is to keep the deer away from the new tasty shoots on the trees, since the grass is still a bit scarce, just in case the lynx isn't doing its job properly. Over the weekend we were having a look at the trees to see how they were doing and one of our new trees, the Ginko biloba, seemed to have disappeared completely. Admittedly it was not much more than a stick when we put it in, but we felt sure it should have appeared above the level of the snow by now, and so we started scraping back the layers of snow still on the ground in the general area of where we thought the tree should be. We did finally find it, squashed flat to the ground by the weight of snow. At least it wasn't completely snapped like one of the plum trees so we propped it up and are hoping for the best.

A bit misty this day but here are our two storks behaving
modestly at least for the camera.
This week we took a round trip of 200 miles to see the dentists, the bill for my filling was less than the cost of the petrol. Our dentist who is really lovely and speaks good English had moved from the nearest big town to much further away, to a place called Rēzekne, almost too far for us to bother but we have a friend who lives nearby, who we had meant to see over the winter and hadn't managed to so we decided to take the opportunity of seeing a town we hadn't seen before, and see our friend. I did so well navigating us to the right place until we got to a junction and I suddenly realised that the roadworks we had just crossed over was the road I wanted us to take, and we were in the middle of strange town wondering how to get to where we wanted to get too, fortunately Rēzekne is not Rīga and it wasn't too hard to navigate our way around, well kind of! Where we wanted to park was full and so we had to wander around looking for somewhere. We eventually found a parking place and managed to find the dentists which of course was in a medical centre situated in a hotel - as you would expect, right? When we got back to the car, I was beginning to wonder at the wisdom of our choice, as I hadn't noticed how near a rather swollen river it was.

The stork looking for frogs and toads
Had a really good time talking about faith, life and development. It has been a tough winter for him as he was one of those without electric for two weeks over the winter and that meant no heat either, not much fun when temperatures can dip pretty low. It certainly made me think about what we need to do, to make sure we can still run our boiler even if the pump goes off, there must be a way of keeping it going either with a manual pump or one run from a battery. Anyway, I think he was glad that someone had finally made it out to see him. He gets to see many folks over the summer period but not as many apart from locals over the winter, and many of them have lots of needs which can be wearing to deal with all the time. Also left him with a pile of websites to check out that might be useful, one of the good things about my course is the myriad of useful sites I come across. The place where he lives used to supply the Czars with fish from the lake, nowadays there is not much coming out of the little place where he lives but funnily enough, such an out of the way place ends up supplying Riga with hand me down clothing. Our friend has a lot of humanitarian aid coming in and word gets around resulting in a phone call from someone in Riga wondering if they had any clothing to give away. Must make sure we don't let time run away again and get out and see him sooner rather than later.

Our neighbour has been having their forest cut down as
most of it was alder and birch which don't last so long,
around 40 years. This pile here is the second
load to come out.
I said that the snow has been disappearing rapidly and that means there are areas where it is pretty damp and whereas many of the roads are drying out nicely, some sections are not doing so well and one of those sections is on the road next to our ski hill. Our neighbour lives at the top of the hill and had managed to get out in the morning to pick up their daughter who had been on an exchange visit to Germany, but they got well and truly stuck on the way back. We had only just driven past the road that morning thinking it looked pretty nasty and driven back to our village, done some shopping and then we got the phone call, can we come and pull them out. First Ian tried to pull the car forwards up the hill to dry ground but that didn't work and for a moment looked like he might get stuck himself, he ended up pulling the car out backwards, back onto the dry road and then they took a run at the road together with Ian keeping the neighbour's car going when it started struggling. It was close, it was nearly a get the tractor out job.

Finally grass and our tractor implements are no longer
encased in a wintery blanket
With the arrival of spring has come the arrival of a new baby in our apartments, a little girl too! All the other children who live here are boys, all six of them. It does mean though that any news from our heating company will have to wait as it is our house manager's little girl and she will have more than enough on her hands with two little ones, without having to argue with heating companies. Such is life here in Latvia, things get sorted out in their own time and not necessarily according to a timescale of our own choosing.

Our temporary lake re-appearing
I forgot to mention an amusing incident last week at the hotel. We sat down with the menus at the table and were busy deciding when a few minutes later the waitress turns up at the table with a grin on her face and two cups of tea in her hand. We are just so predictable we don't even have to ask!

Had some good news finally on our sale of our house in England, we are fairly sure we have a buyer but these things are never certainties until people sign on the dotted line in there. We have now had a valuation done for the mortgage for the prospective buyer and so little by little and very slowly it is moving forward.
We have steps again, these bushes
were buried up to their tops in snow not
long ago.

River in full flow, the trees in the background
are not normally in the river
I have been playing around with the video on my new phone and had hoped to post  a video of the local river as there is a lot of water flowing through the weir at the moment but unfortunately the video keeps posting over my writing and it won't work for me anyway, so you will have to put up with a static picture of a very full river. The river is overflowing in a few places and I wouldn't like to be down stream from it as we are at the source pretty much.

We have ponds again!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Reappearing things

The remains of the polytunnel and our reappearing tractor
Good job I make notes from time to time about the things I will blog about, I had forgotten most of what happened this week as I have been doing my assignment for my course allllllllllll week. I think the problem was that I couldn't really get my head around the essay question which made it really hard, but at least I think I have done enough to pass so that should be okay - I hope! I really have to say I admire those who do the course I am doing but work as well, as I am not sure I could manage it. I certainly couldn't manage two units per semester and stay sane at the end, if I was working too.

We think one of the neighbours dogs is on heat and so we
have lots of local dogs wondering about, fortunately they
are not aggressive and as you can see, this one was soaking
up the sun
A neighbour called around one evening to talk some more about a project to make clothes and accessories from local materials and as soon as she walked in she remarked how peaceful it is in our apartment. I guess it helps that we no longer have three small children running around since our children have all flitted the nest now, and hers are still so young, but it is funny what atmospheres people pick up on and I think it is lovely she finds it so restful in our home. We had a great time surfing the net looking for possible machinery to help in producing fabrics for the project, from felting machines to looms. Do you have any idea how many different types of weaving looms there are? I didn't! Neither did I realise that I would have to learn a whole new vocabulary, never mind my friend who struggles with English sometimes. I love all things crafty and seeing the long pieces of felt that can be made on one machine had me hankering to get some more craft projects done, all I need now is a free day!

Returning swans
Poor Ian hasn't been able to get out as much this week, not because the weather has been bad but because it has been so nice and spring like, which means the snow is melting away quite fast now and making everywhere quite muddy. It is really strange to stand in the kitchen hearing the water gushing down the drainpipes while the sun is shining, just doesn't seem right somehow. I'm not complaining though, because I have been busy and Ian hasn't had a lot to do on the land, he has been cooking some of the meals and cleaning the house. I could get quite used to it I think, but I've been told it won't last, as soon as the land dries out a bit Ian is out there. Still it made a wonderful change to come home from studying at the other apartment to be greeted by wafts of cooking and a lovely cleaned hallway. And before anyone feels too bad for Ian, he hasn't been totally confined to the house, cooking and cleaning, he has taken the time to build some nesting boxes to encourage even more small birds into our forest near our ponds (the more birds the less mosquitoes, I hope!) and he has also been out on the land  a little bit and one day while he was there he saw many migrating birds starting to return and in one morning he saw geese, swans and the storks coming back. Our own storks that nest opposite our other apartment, that we can watch from the kitchen window, have also returned and we saw them heading up that way whilst sitting eating our evening meal. It is such a thrill to see them return as you then know then that spring is definitely on its way, well that and all the other birds chirping away.

This scene was similar to the one I wanted to take last week
just before we had another four inches of snow dumped on
it. More and more grass is beginning to show
Ian was out on our allotment opposite our apartment to see how deep the snow was and if any of the things we had left in had started to reappear and met another of our neighbours out there. I was quite proud of Ian as he asked our neighbour in Latvian about his greenhouse (siltumnica in Latvian) as we can see that it seems to have suffered a bit in the snow as the plastic is flapping about, to which he replied so so - or the equivalent of that anyway, he then presented Ian with a small smoked fish that was still warm from the bucket he had in his hands. It would seem he must have a smoker out in his greenhouse and he was smoking the results of his ice-fishing expeditions. Yes people are really still ice fishing here, even though there is a thin film of water on top of the ice. I know the ice must still be quite thick really, but I must admit I wouldn't trust it.

With the disappearing snow comes the puddles
We were quite relieved that this year our car passed its technical (MOT for Brits) without a hitch. Last year we suspect the mechanic checking our car was so brutal with it that he shook the front suspension enough for it to fail the technical - a bit odd for a two year old car. Anyway this year the mechanic was much more thorough in checking the car, even checking seat belts which we haven't seen before, but he didn't shake it to bits. The poor guy though had to put up his hood while checking under the car as there are still bits of ice melting off it. The problem in the winter here is that there gets to be quite a build up of ice underneath that may never melt off until spring - not good for the fuel economy.

Reappearing ponds too 
I mentioned two weeks ago that our English lessons were finishing early for the summer as one of our ladies was going to Ireland to see her husband for two months. I was so pleased when it got to Thursday and I was still doing my essay that I hadn't got any English to prepare, but it was amazing that this week we bumped into a local headmistress that we got to know late last year and she asked us if we would help out in school with preparing the oldest class for exams with some conversational English. Such good timing! Good from the point of view we haven't got our other English lessons and good timing as we don't normally go to the hotel to eat on Mondays, but went tonight as I couldn't really face cooking as I am so tired after last week's marathon essay write (I hasten to add that I wasn't writing the whole time I was doing some writing, lots of reading and lots and lots of thinking). It will also give me a chance to find out where our village is in relation to development, to see what is happening and what is not happening here.

Reappearing geese
As you can imagine I haven't been on the net much for anything other than studying and unless you want to know about the World Bank then there is not much I can tell you but I did find one interesting piece in my trawl and that is the work done by the daughter of a Nazi soldier. Her father died a hero of the Nazi regime and was a part of the terror that happened but interestingly she sees it is important to confront the past and to help in educating the school children that these things did happen and they shouldn't happen again. I somehow think something like this needs to happen here in Latvia, for people to honestly confront the past. Some bad things happened and some good things happened in the past, both in the far past and in some of the recent past, truth and reconciliation would be very healing here. Mind you, wonder how much healing many of us would experience if we confronted some of the things in our own personal past.

Reappearing roads. This one is outside our apartment
as you can see we have been driving on several inches
of ice all winter. 
One nest box awaiting new owners

These bushes were barely visible
earlier on this year.