Tuesday, 31 May 2011

It is finished

Our orchard all nice and green
Yes the blog is finished, but also other things too. So first of all sorry for the late blog again, but some friends of ours were free and wanted to look around our land and see what we are doing, so we took a trip back out there and had a very interesting time chatting about land and edible plants, how to keep wild boar away and lots of other things. Anyway back to those things which got finished this week.

The view from my office. The lilac of course
helped the essays to flow, well maybe not!
I managed to get all my course work done and handed in and now I am just awaiting the marks. This finishes the diploma part of the course I am studying, which for those who don't know is Managing Sustainable Rural Development with one of the newest UK universities the University of the Highlands and Islands. I study this online which is why I am living in Latvia but studying with a Scottish University - complicated heh! In the next academic year I have a thesis to write for my Masters, and that will take up the whole year and one I have to plan myself, so no more tutors asking for specific work or for me to read through specific books, I have to find them for myself. Scary!

Yes finished! Rather nice isn't it!
Having finished the course I now switch into gardening mode and I am busy planting up seeds and plants that should have gone out a couple of weeks ago but had to wait until I had time. Yesterday I went out to our land with Ian to work on a plot that we have just turned over for vegetables and we were surprised to see the guys working on our greenhouse (Monday). They only work at weekends usually as two of them are still at construction school and this weekend they only made it on Saturday as one of them at least has exams and needs to study. They really worked hard to finish the framework of the greenhouse on the Saturday, but we resigned ourselves to it only being finished at the end of this week when they returned back home from school, which is why we were surprised to see them in the morning. Well they didn't half crack on with the work and one even had his lovely wife on the job too to make sure it all got done. So it is finished and it is looking good. It looks very sturdy and robust and so we hope it lasts a lot longer than the last one ie more than a year will be very good.

Before they put the plastic on they erected a wreath
of birch leaves. It is a Latvian tradition to celebrate
finishing the highest point of the roof. We will not
go into the other symbolism of it all, I will just take
it as they were pretty glad to get to that point. You
may have noticed that they hung the wreath by
the door when they finished the plastic
I mentioned a few weeks ago that we had given up part of our allotment outside our house to an older lady who had recently moved in, well we have watched in amazement as this lady, who is a pensioner, first dug over the section of the garden which had already been dug and plant it up; she spent many an hour on it. But did she stop there? Oh no! She then started on the patch which had not been dug over in all the time I have known it. Next in line were the trees. This dear little white haired lady was out there wielding a chainsaw and a machete and cleared the branches off to the local fire spot about 200m away. Did she stop there? Nope! Next on the list was a small greenhouse which was erected with a great deal of precision, which you don't often see here. And it goes on, because on another day I wasn't paying much attention,  as I was busy sorting out our garden, but could hear the drone of a machine and just assumed it was another neighbour who I knew was cutting the grass, when I looked up, however, I was absolutely gobsmacked as supergran was out there with a rotavator, not a little one either. Is there no end to what this lady will do?

Inside the greenhouse, looking pretty
sturdy. Ian did find out the hard way
though that this plastic lets the UV
through, unlike the other plastic we had
on that cost four times as much.
Earlier on in the week, dear hubby took me up to our other apartment for some peace and quiet so I could get on with my work because my eye has been bad and I have been ultra careful about making sure I didn't go out when it is windy, as it seemed to set it off again. He took a bit of time to have a cup of tea before toddling off to do whatever he was going to do when he noticed another leak. This time in the kitchen and not the bathroom. Doh! Fortunately we still had some spares and he spent a bit of time getting that fixed rather than doing what he would rather do and that is be out on the land. Good job we also have a dehumidifier for all these leaks we have had. Good job it also appears my eye is completely better this week when I need to be outside a lot.

Our new vegetable plot on the land, mulched up to protect
the plants from the hot dry winds of summer. Just in time
for this plot but our other plots are in bad need of the same.
It has been an active week in Latvia on the political front, first of all the Prime Minister published a book called "How Latvia Came Through the Financial Crisis" with a Swedish economist. Bad move I think! In one way Prime Minister Dombrovskis may indeed be right in the traditional GDP sense of the word and yet he is almost certainly wrong on many other measures. I think that the financial crisis could be over for Latvia, but only because the people are choosing to dig up more land and plant food for themselves to see them through this next winter and not trust in the Government to provide for them or they are just leaving the country looking for work. But I think he is oh so wrong to be pinning his hopes on economic growth as an indicator that all is well with the economy, and I think he is oh so wrong in looking to financial models to get this country out of the mess. A new day is coming and a new way of working and it is happening out on the fringes, out perhaps from underneath the noses of those in power.

10pm at night and it is still bright outside
It does seem funny, however, that on a week that the book "How Latvia Came Through the Crisis" gets published, we are beginning to feel like a bank. We've had four requests from friends and relatives for extremely varied reasons, and we are only too glad we could help, but temporarily for one day we had a cash flow issue too - a case of exceeding daily limits - must go and sort that out. In some ways though, the reason we have had to act as a bank is because the crisis is not over, people are still active in business maybe, but there is not a lot of cash sloshing about. Neither is the crisis over until people get their incomes raised to pre-crisis levels, when cuts are no longer applied to education, police and local authorities, as they continue to be. Only then can we really talk about an end to the crisis and not some arbitrary rise in the GDP.

Ian with good old sudocrem, chamomile
and honey cream. He promises to wear
suntan cream tomorrow when he works in
the greenhouse again. We actually think
we will add fleece or one of the filtered
plastics on the overhead struts to cut
down on the UV inside, otherwise I will
look even worse when I go in.
The most surprising event of the week though was the President calling for a referendum on the dissolution of Parliament. The President, who is elected by Parliament, does not have many powers apart from ceremonial and the ability to call referendums and next week there is an election to decide on whether to re-elect President Zatlers or another to the post making his decision an incredibly brave moral stance. The Parliament voted last week to decline the request by the Corruption bureau to search the house of one of the MPs and this was a step too far for President Zatlers, he stated that the lawmakers should not be above the law themselves and by that act had distanced themselves from the people, which is why he called for the referendum to see if people will agree with him or not. Whether he gets re-elected or not on Thursday of this week there will be a referendum and if people agree with him then there will be another election in October. Interesting times!

Just to finish off I have been reading the lyrics to the song "Joanna" sung by Jon Allen, quite amazing how it follows what we are doing in following new paths here in Latvia. My favourite line is "we'll train our feet to follow the footprints of our dreams," what a great description.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Whoops sorry yet again

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

Had a great week and a lovely evening with friends so will update the blog tomorrow night. Take care folks!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Oh we know how to have fun

I was going to take a lovely picture of all that lovely manure
but I forgot and so I guess you will have to put up with
this one instead. Would look even nicer to me if I didn't
know that is mainly ground elder in the foreground.
What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than shovelling manure, heh? You can tell we are gardeners when we are so grateful to neighbours for the offer of trailer loads of manure. One of the few advantages for a gardener here in Latvia is the length of time animals end up spending in barns and of course that means lots and lots of lovely muck, so we toddled off with tractor, car and trailer round to our neighbours, as that then meant we only had one lot of digging to do and that was out of the trailer. It was hard work and we were bushed after four trailer loads of the stuff and we only made a dint in the pile they have, so I guess we will be back for more. We also have another offer of manure from a farm that is nearer to our apartment allotments and so we have more fun to go yet. Oh yes we know how to enjoy ourselves indeed!

The cathedral is progressing well!
Digging manure was a break, can you believe? A break from writing essays. I have really struggled with the last few essays as I now just have too much information and trying to process it into an essay is not easy.  It took me all week and about three re-writes which is just not healthy. Good job my eye is still not quite right and I need to take care of it and so need to stay in a bit, but when there is stuff to do in the garden I want to be outside not stuck in. I am now onto antihistamines and anti-inflammatories to keep my eye under control and that seems to be working for the most part, I keep trying to reduce the amount until I feel it getting sensitive again. At least my assignment is finished and that is one more unit completed and just leaves me with a report to write now. I might resort to the old fashioned cut and paste method, you know the one with scissors? I did for this last assignment. I printed out the work I had done and wrote the titles of the paragraphs down on strips of paper and then cut up my printed work into sections and plonked them next to the paragraph headings I thought they would fit in. One reason was that I just couldn't settle on a structure for the essay to bring all the random bits of information together and then inspiration struck and I settled on a structure, but then all the information was in the wrong place. Hope it worked! Should get to know soon enough.

Our not so new caravan, aka mission control. 
I said last week we were soon to be the proud owners of a caravan, and indeed we are this week. It is dirty, it's a bit battered on the inside, but it is dry, and comfortable enough to sit in and when your working the land you don't need a palace. The orange seats and orange curtains are just so 80's but who cares! Caravans like trailers have to have documents of ownership and so Ian went with the guy who owned the caravan and the guy's nephew to act as translator. The young man like so many other Latvians had spent quite a lot of time in England, working in a frozen food factory, I would only hope he was paid well for the responsibilities he was given, but I somehow think not. He is back in Latvia now to study and so I hope he does well in that, but first he has to get on a course which is not always that easy by the sound of it. I think there are just not enough places for the number of students who wish to study, from what I understand. When they got to the nearest centre which deals with transfers of ownership there was a note on the door to say the lady dealing with it was not in and so a short trip turned into a mega trip as the guy was anxious to get it sorted, as he was working for the next 6 days anyway. Still Ian had plenty of time to chat to the guys and find out a bit more about life for Latvians.

Ian ploughing
Ian has also been out ploughing again, something he loves doing. I think if it wasn't so bad for the land, he would just keep ploughing it all the time. He now needs to leave it a couple of weeks for the weeds to rot down a bit and then he can put a spring tine (not sure if that is right but that's what it sounds like) through it and then it will be ready for seeding. Hope we find something suitable. Why plough you might ask if we haven't really planned what to do with it? The reason was that the area was a mass of nettles and ground elder and hardly a blade of grass amongst it. Those rather invasive weeds appear to have largely gone now and we hope to plant it with a grain, probably buckwheat as it is a short season grain, but also some alfafa (lucerne) and some timothy grass for feed and hay (Oh yes and not altogether)- thinking ahead you see! Well sort of, if we were thinking ahead enough we would probably have got the seed by now. 

If you look carefully you will see a bee
Ian was a bit worried that the residents of the bird house he had made had gone off the idea and gone somewhere else, apparently that isn't the case. It would seem that the mum must be quietly sitting on the nest instead, so hopefully fairly soon we should be seeing plenty of activity as the parents feed the young. Apparently it is only about 14 days before they hatch out. We haven't heard the corncrakes back yet from their long journey but certainly heard the cuckoo, noisy beasts they are too. Funny isn't it how the sound of the cuckoo is a much heralded sound of spring and yet it is a murderous beast. One the way home from the land one night I spotted a head sticking up out of a patch of ground elder at the bottom of our ski hill, I kind of shrieked incomprehensibly at Ian to stop as I was sure it was an eagle. I got out  of the car and got the camera on my phone ready and walked slowly in the right direction, sure enough it was an eagle and it rather lazily flew up out of the grass and away to a telegraph pole. I am sure it was laughing at me though, as I could not get a decent photo of it, and I even tried the video option but couldn't tell if it was even pointing in the right direction due to the glare of the sun, and needless to say you will have to trust me that I saw an eagle. So far the weather has been for the most part quite pleasant just recently and rained when we needed it and so of course the richly biodiverse insect life of Latvia is appearing in greater and greater numbers, first the fleas, then the mosquitoes and I have even seen a couple of horseflies. Wonderful isn't it! There are some things I wouldn't miss if they did not reappear.

So just picture it, teenage son and bike in the box, and mum
I was reading a blog just lately and the poor woman who writes the blog had had a rough week and her son wasn't faring much better either as he had had his bike stolen and had to walk three miles home. I know it shouldn't, but it made me smile, but only because it reminded me of the incident our son had with having not all his bike stolen, but a wheel and a seat. Quick release is not a good idea sometimes! It was rather late one night and we got a phone call, "Can you come and pick me up please, I can't ride my bike home." Easier said than done, as at the time we didn't have a car, but what we did have was a Christiania bike like the one in the picture. Well you should have heard my son on the way home, it was so funny, all I got was "Slow down Mum, please!" He was crammed into the box with his bike, because there was no way I was getting in there with his bike and letting him be in charge of the Christiania. By the way it wasn't all bad news on the blog, Gina made a fantastic looking art doll, it has to be seen to be believed, wouldn't mind being able to be that creative on a bad week.

Monday, 16 May 2011

All sorts!

You have to use a bit of imagination here but that will
look really nice once the grass grows. Must admit we are a
bit tired of it looking like a muddy mess, but hopefully we
won't have to disturb the ground too much more soon
"The nights are cutting out," so goes the refrain in our house but unfortunately this is a multi-functional phrase depending on the time of year. In Spring it refers to the lengthening days, and in Autumn the longer nights. Anyway it is rather nice to see the days getting longer and to still see a glimmer of light in the sky, even well after 10pm. It's also nice to see the signs of spring and last week I posted some photos of our new residents in the bird house that Ian made (eventually anyway- do take a peek if you missed them), unfortunately we haven't seen them around the last couple of days and wondering if they have changed their mind and moved into a quieter neighbourhood. I would guess it has been pretty noisy around there as Ian has spent this last week re-sculpting the pond area and filling in the middle one a bit with some clay from the bottom pond to try and retain the water. We weren't expecting that pond to fill again until winter but one nights rain and it is full to the brim and instead of planning to put a pipe in at the end of the year to drain excess into the bottom pond Ian is now planning on doing that this week before we get the summer deluges. At least it filled up again anyway which is encouraging.

The muddy pool looking towards the forest
My eye is much better this week and I don't look like I have been punched in the face anymore but it did entail yet another trip to the doctors to get some more of the same antibiotics. I had taken the drops for 7 days and thought that would be fine but one day without drops and my eyes started to itch again, I managed to eke out the other drops until I could get a new prescription. I am very proud of myself as I went without a translator, but I did cheat, I got my friend to phone ahead to explain what I wanted and then all the doctor had to do was look at my eye and write a prescription - at least this time she didn't go "sheesh!" That was not the only time last week I managed without resorting to English or to a translator, I managed a whole phone call in Latvian. Mind you it was just the electric company who wanted our email address so they could warn us when they are doing work on the electric line, so nothing particularly difficult, and it must have worked as I got an email to tell me that there would be work done on the lines .... the day before they sent it!!!! Hopefully next time we will actually get to know ahead of time and not ten minutes after the electric goes off, like this week. It's very nice of the electric company to send a text when the power is off as at least I know they are dealing with it and I haven't got to go and find out what is happening.

The Cathedral, aka the new greenhouse
The electric going off is not terribly helpful when I have work to write up on the computer though, but at least having a laptop I get half a days work out of it and if I had been organised I could have got a full day by using our back up computer, but I wasn't so I didn't. Well actually I didn't know the electric was going off, that's my excuse and I am sticking to it. So by the afternoon with power low on my computer I decided to take the rest of the day off and go with hubby to one of the large towns to see if we could get some plastic for the new cathedral, aka the greenhouse (well we think it just needs a spire on the end and it would be perfect, what do you think?). We didn't get any plastic in the end, as we weren't sure that it was the right stuff or whether to spend about a third of the price of the last lot. The plastic on the original polytunnl was good stuff and maybe too good, would the polytunnel have survived if the plastic had ripped and let the snow through is one of those questions we will never know. Anyway in the end we got some plastic from another trip out as we decided that it was better not to pay too much for plastic if we end up having to replace the whole thing again. What we did get on our trip out though was a nice meadow grass mixture to spread around the ponds and on all the filled in pig holes to compete with the ground elder. At least I hope that is what it is and not some rampant grass that will take over, so I hope my translation was correct.

Tonights rainbow. We needed the rain, it has been rather
dry and our potatoes will have been gasping
For some reason the builders of our cathedral needed some extra wood and so they toddled off to one of the local wood supply places. Apparently the owner used to be a builder and sometimes worked in Riga but since he doesn't do that any more it meant he had a caravan for sale. Our workmen were relating this piece of information to Ian, or at least trying to but they were using an American term "trailer," and so when one of them asked if Ian wanted a trailer and he was stood right next to our trailer he was a little confused at first. Eventually they came to some understanding and we decided to take a look. It was a little tricky to sort out a time as the owner is now also a bus driver, who drives to and from Riga everyday, and so we managed to fit it in between bus runs. The upshot is that soon we shall be the proud owner of an ancient caravan, but at least it doesn't show any signs of leaks and it won't be travelling anywhere so hopefully it will provide us with a dry place to sit in comfort out on the land and even somewhere to rustle up a meal. It's a bit battered and a bit dusty at the moment but then it will give Ian something to do on the wet days when he is not working in the cathedral. It also means we now have the super budget option of a place to stay - anyone interested?

Another unexpected guest out on our land. Looks like he
needs a haircut
We had some unexpected guests this last week which is why my post of the pictures were later than promised. We bumped into someone we knew in the local shop, but we had only met in Riga before, at some meetings we used to go to, so it was a bit of a surprise to see her there. We were so pleased they accepted our invite to come around and were even more pleasantly surprised that they suggested that evening, not had guests pop round of an evening for a long time. We had a strange mix of conversation from the importance of relationships in the body of Christ to maintaining trees, as the girl and her friend had been spending time at the local technical school learning how to climb trees and cut them. They don't quite look the lumberjack types but fits in well with landscape design which is something else they are doing at college.

Our haul, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, forget-me-nots
and a roll of plastic for the greenhouse
We were meant to be going to a conference this weekend as part of the prayer team but it got cancelled as more people were interested in going to a conference on learning tips for leadership. It's sad really as the cancelled conference was going to be based on building relationships to mentor and disciple youngsters in the Christian faith, using camping as a starting point. If there is one thing we could do with in the body of Christ it is spending more time learning how to relate to each other better and less time learning how to be boss. We can't all be leaders, but we can all relate to others. Still it meant an unexpected free weekend and we decided to go and visit our friends who had tried to get the conference together anyway. We had intended to set off early to be able to have a lovely long day with them but it wasn't to be. We generally stay at the other apartment at the weekends, even though it is only 10 minutes away but it feels like having a weekend break away from home, and I went to step into the bathroom and had a rather rude awakening as I stepped into a cold puddle of water. Fortunately our Swedish friend had made the place watertight as the plumbing components here leave a lot to be desired but that still meant a rather large puddle of water that needed to be dealt with and so the next couple of hours Ian dealt with that while I went to the butchers for some meat and made a sausage mixture. Eventually all was sorted and away we went

Cowslips. Often rare in England but abundant here
Despite the late start we had quite an entertaining day with our friends and their young boys, as they were learning to call us Mr and Mrs in preparation for when they go to live in Canada, where their Dad is from, in Autumn. Apparently it is better to be more formal in their Canadian circles. We met in a town part way to their house so we could both do some shopping and have lunch and then boys rode in our big red truck on the way back to their house, which for a 3 and 4 year old is very exciting, apparently! So exciting they didn't go to sleep as expected  (by the way if any of our American friends are reading this, it is not as big as an American big truck, it is only 2.5litre engine not the huge 4 litre engine, but big for Europe). Our friends have a lot of fruit bushes and grapes in their garden so we also came back with a lot of cuttings and suckers and we were so pleased to get a blackberry bush. We have missed having blackberries as they don't seem to grow wild here in quite the same way as they do in the UK, so getting a whole plant was fantastic - blackberry and apple crumble here we come.

Horsetails, lots of these too
One thing I have come to expect with living abroad is presents at odd times of the year, certainly it is rare for anything to arrive on my birthday. Mind you it is rare I am organised enough to send anyone their presents on their birthdays too, so fair's fair. I did get three books from my daughter this week, only three weeks late so not bad going really. There was a book on Wormeries, one on keeping chickens and one on preserving - do you see a theme here! Perfect for the year ahead anyway. Just waiting for the parcel to arrive from my Mum too, so I think I will have plenty to read once I finish my course in just over a weeks time.

The start of next winters wood for our fires
My trawls through the internet netted a gem this week it was an article where the independent internal auditors of the world bank are chastising its investment arm for not evaluating their methods properly or doing what they are supposed to be doing which is providing private investors with funds in order to make an impact on poverty. Also it chastised them for going after rapid growth instead of seeking a pattern of sustainable development - wonders will never cease! Any branch of the World bank actually evaluating their policies is a major step forward, and actually deciding that rapid growth is not the way forward is even more amazing. Not that I want the poor held back at all, but it is not fair to expect rapid growth which does not usually improve conditions for the poorest of the poor anyway, and certainly does not eventually trickle down to them as economists used to think would happen, in fact it can often make things worse and so I am really pleased that finally the World Bank has listened to the NGOs that have been telling them this for a long time and may actually be doing something about it.

Monday, 9 May 2011

I choose life

Yet another apology for taking my time on this, we had unexpected guests and then the internet was down, or rather our electric was off, but the promised photos are posted now. 

We are having glorious weather, almost too
glorious as even Ian says we need rain but
as you can see life is positively bursting out
The phrase "I choose life" has come to me a lot just lately, and it was interesting to see a guy called Martin Scott has been having similar thoughts too. It is not an avoidance of death, as that comes to us all, but a choice to live life while we still have breath in our bodies. So even though the world seems to be constantly teetering on the brink of disaster either from terrorists or economic terrorism "I choose life", I choose not to be afraid of the future but to embrace what is to come. I choose to hold tightly to a God who created me and this amazing earth around me, and choose to believe that he wants the best for all of us and for us to chose life too. I choose life so as not to be shackled or paralysed by fear. I also choose life when all around me fear for the future and say there is no hope in rural Latvia. It is easy to become despondent and worry about the future here in Latvia and to despair of there being a future at all. The first question we get asked nearly every time we first talk to someone is "Why are you here in Latvia?" Not in any purely curious way, although there is that as well, but more in the tone of "why on earth made you choose to come here? Should't you be anywhere else but here in this country? Anywhere is better than here?" sort of tone. So Latvia, "I choose life!"

The view from my chair 
I saw an interesting link today that may seem to have no connection with choosing life but it does. In the link they explain how they have given new life to some old gas lamps which possibly inspired C.S. Lewis's idea of having an old lamp covered in snow to greet Lucy as she entered the land of Narnia in 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.' It's an old technology, past its best, brought to life by the application of some new thinking and the addition of some new technologies the system now works better than before, with the added advantage of lasting longer than the new technologies often do with their built in obsolescence. I wonder how many other "old" technologies could be brought to life with the application of a bit of brain power and some modifications. This type of application would be great for a place like Latvia that still has many people with the skills to build the old type technologies but finding they are not wanted any longer as people want the new, but new is not always better in the long run. New street lighting is only supposed to last 30 years but the gorgeous old gas lamps are still working from Victorian times.

Some trees still are waiting to come into leaf but many are
now festooned in their spring green
Well on the road to choosing life in this country I am still wading through my course of "Managing Sustainable Rural Development", and the reason for doing that is because I believe there is a great deal of potential that is locked away and I would love to be a part of the unlocking of that potential. At times though, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information I seem to be accumulating. Not all of it is from my course but also the rabbit trails that lead from my studies. I am glad that summer is on the way and maybe I can start to process some of this information for use at a later date, rather than just accumulating it. I am counting down the assignments left to do before I start on next years Masters thesis. I have just got my results back from the last assignment I handed in and that was a good enough result to keep me on track. Quite pleased as it was a critical analysis and I hate critical analyses, I would rather work with what does work and I guess ignore, what doesn't, on paper at least. In two meetings I have been in I have noted what I consider weaknesses in the projects but without further investigations and probing I cannot find if the deficiencies are really there or I just didn't have all the data, hardly a proper critical analysis then. I think my main problem is knowing that there is more than one way to "do development," and it definitely depends on who is involved, the culture of the place where the development is happening and a whole host of other variables and consequently I find that sometimes it is hard to be really critical, after all it might have been the right approach but the wrong time, the right approach but the wrong people involved and a whole host of other reasons, including what side of the bed someone got up on that morning.

Dandelion time of the year
As I am finding out more and more, some things work and some don't and sometimes there is no really good reason why that should be. One of the rabbit trails took me to a Norwegian site called Ide Banken (The idea bank) and it states there:

"A better future cannot be brought about through down-to-earth realism alone. It can only grow out of the continuous contest between what people dare to dream of and the resistance that reality has to offer."

In other words things won't happen just because someone sits down and decides it will, but people have to dare to dream big enough for that to happen and fight against the inevitable set backs and problems and yet continue to dream. So I choose life and dare to dream that life will flow out with abundance in this place I live in.

Newts in our bottom pond
Daring to dream doesn't come about without disappointment and this week we were disappointed to find out that we still are not able to own the  the land we work. Apparently there is a three year extension on the original law and it means we can't own it until at least 2014. Why they can't just have a residency requirement which will prevent people coming and buying land without living here, I don't know, we have been here three years now. Denmark has a similar restriction on summer houses, you have to have lived there five years before you can buy one, fair enough! It is mainly so that Danes can still buy summer houses and not be all bought out by foreigners, particularly Germans who live so close. It is not those who move out to foreign lands to live, who necessarily push up prices, although I know it can be a problem, I also know a large influx of incomers can lead to tensions with locals but that is not likely to happen here; but those who do come in, can possibly breathe new life into stagnating rural locations, so there are some losses and some gains. The problem is that the law is to stop foreigners coming and taking advantage of the cheap price of land, but in reality the law does not stop big businesses buying up land because they set up a Latvian business and buy the land anyway. We are in some ways no different personally as we have the full rights to do what we want as we have power of attorney on the property yet the original owner still "owns" it. The difference though between us and a big company is that should we eventually profit from the land then the profit, as far as possible will remain here in Latvia. We also already invest into the area by trying, as much as possible, to buy locally, something big businesses don't tend to do.

A resident moving into their new home. Ian is very chuffed
that a pair have decided to nest in the box he has made
I am not sure why the Government are so concerned at selling off the land to foreigners anyway as they seem intent on selling off any other valuable assets that Latvia own in the name of privatisation, and the next thing that is on the cards is the sale of the government's share of the phone company Lattelecom, it is already part owned by a Swedish company so it looks like there is a possibility of yet more profits finding there way to Sweden. Well it was not so long ago that a petition was going around requesting signatures that supported a Swedish take over Latvia, but they don't seem to have noticed that is precisely what seems to be happening, not democratically but by corporate takeover, and if it isn't Sweden it is Germany, or America or ......., but not Latvia.

As you can see we are going for a more traditional shape
this year. 
Although it was disappointing to get news about the land we have been making progress in other areas. Our greenhouse is coming along nicely now, which is a good job as our cucumbers and tomatoes are making a bid to take over in our flat. We also had a surprise request from a neighbour who would love to raise chickens for meat, something we had wanted to do too, but just not had the time to get going on it. Anyway we had some plans and ideas from a magazine called the Home Farmer and our neighbours has a father who is retired and good at making things, so hopefully we can get together and start raising chickens for the freezer. I am really looking forward to raising some good quality chicken as chicken is a little anaemic here and not always in the supermarkets anyway. Definitely making greater strides to being able to provide more of our own food. I haven't bought any vegetables since early last year, just fruit and although the choice in the freezer and dried food is getting a little more limited as time goes by we are doing okay as the seeds are getting planted up now and we should be able to start supplementing with salads soon, especially as those rampant cucumbers are already starting to grow cucumbers in the pots on the windowsill.

We are not the only ones building new greenhouses, there
is a positive flurry of building, some of them are
rebuilding after collapsing under the snow but there are
also many new ones being built too.
You will be pleased to know there are no scary photos of me with a swollen eye this week, fortunately the second load of antibiotics with the steroids worked and I think the infection is cleared, but just waiting now for my vision to properly clear and all the swelling to go down, but the doctor did say it could take up to two weeks to go. It has kept me confined to the house though for most of the week, which was rather annoying as most days have been quite bright and warm but the wind got around my glasses and made my eye sore again. I ended up with some of Ian's more wrap around sunglasses which looked a little odd one day when the day was a bit gloomy, but I still couldn't spend long outside. At least by the weekend it was distinctly better and I could supervise Ian planting peas - lots and lots of peas. I have missed having peas in the freezer over the winter, so hopefully these should give us plenty for freezing. Must remember to take a watering can up to the other apartment next time we sow seeds though, I am not quite sure if the neighbours thought we were completely mad as we needed to water the peas in because the ground is so dry again, and the only thing we had to hand was a big bucket and lots of plastic bags, so we came up with the solution of putting the water in the bag, punched some small holes in the bag and started watering the peas. Not sure how long the neighbours had watched what we were doing or how much merriment it caused, but one neighbour took pity on us and went and filled his watering can to lend us and just indicated to put it back in his greenhouse when we had finished. They are lovely up there and very helpful, we call the guy who lent us the watering can Mr. Smile-a-lot because he and his wife always give us a big smile and cheery wave when they see us, maybe it is because we provide them with lots of merriment - hmmm, not sure now.

Monday, 2 May 2011


Sorry I know its a bit scary but this was what I looked like
this afternoon. Fortunately no bruising so could be worse
I suppose.
Well I finished this week looking like I have done a few rounds with the recently departed Henry Cooper and lost, not a pretty sight. I started off on Wednesday with a red eye, by Friday I had to admit defeat and go to the doctors for some antibiotics, which unfortunately did not work. This morning I woke with an eye so swollen I could barely see out of it and yet strangely enough it felt better, still it needed to be seen and dealt with. The problem is that our Latvian is no way sufficient enough to be able to converse with the doctor yet and so I had to rely on a friend to make the appointment and translate for me. The Friday appointment went fine and I left with my prescription, total cost for seeing the doctor 2 LVLS (£2.50, $4.20) and prescription antibiotics 5.10 LVLs (£6.40, $10.70). This morning my friend rang the doctor and she was told that the doctor was going to refer me to the nearest big town, about 30 miles away, just call in and get a referral letter. We barged in on another patient to get the referral letter, common practice here, and the doctor took a quick look at my eye and went "sheesh" - translates quite well really. So off we toddle to the big town to see the doctor there, a bit pricier this time 3 LVLs (£3.80, £6.30) for seeing the doctor and prescriptions totalling about 8 LVLs (£10, $16.80), mind you the doctor looked so much grumpier than our dear local doctor. It is a good job that the weather is bright and so sunglasses looks perfectly in keeping, otherwise I think I would scare the local population.

As it has been so dry just lately Ian has had the chance to
do some more work on the ponds. He plans to extend the
lowest pond and make it easier for the water to run into it.
He even managed to avoid getting the tractor stuck this
time around.
The rest of the week has been busy again but at least I have finally got all my placement days completed for one unit of my course. It didn't go quite as planned as I ended up attending a meeting on the use of waste wood in communal heating instead of meeting up with a local forestry consultant. At least the main speakers were Finnish and they spoke English and it was translated into Latvian, so that was okay and the rest was in Latvian, but because I understood the concepts, I could pretty much follow the thread of what was going on, which was really interesting. I was amazed that the Finnish guys didn't have a translation of the rest of the meeting though, so they could follow along and actually spent time on the internet and therefore missing a lot of the interactions which I was observing. I could tell the concept of cooperatives was not really going down well and I can understand why given the history under the Soviet regime and some bad experiences with corrupt leaders of organisations after independence. Still I made a couple of interesting contacts with other people attending the meetings which hopefully will prove useful later.

I have passed this eclectic looking house many times this
week on the way to forestry meeting and to the farmers'
market, we also passed it last week too, and yes it really is
 a very bright pink and a very strange shape.
One of the contacts helps to organise one of the few farmers' markets here in Latvia and she invited me along to see the market. It was bigger than I expected and as we wandered around I could see some stalls I had seen elsewhere and I wondered how much they adhered to the concept of a local farmers' market. We went around a few of the stalls and asked about their products and I could see the problems in running a local market, one guy had honey and handmade pottery but was from the other side of Latvia, one guy had a local pottery business but employed 22 people, which does not fit into the criteria in England for a farmers' market as a family run business, but that in itself might not be a problem if the aim is to provide a better market for local businesses. It was very funny talking to the stall holders, as she introduced me as a rural specialist, well it would have been funny if it didn't carry with it a great deal of responsibility. I wanted to remind her that I am just a student, but then again in just over a months time I may well have enough credits for a diploma and so be considered qualified in the area of rural development, I guess I had better just get used to it and try to live up to the title. At least I can find the kind of information she requires and can ask some of the right questions they need to be asking, and if I can help in getting a good model set up that works in Latvia then hopefully we can do something similar in our home village, so I can help her now and hopefully she will be able to help me later.

A before and after picture of our hallway at our other
apartment. I know I posted the completed pictures a
short while ago but thought it would be good to see the
before and after side by side.
Besides working on my course I also spent some time out in the garden and I sorted out strawberry plants while Ian planted potatoes. It was much easier for Ian with all our mechanical gadgets as he was able to rotavate the soil and then plough ridges in which to plant the potatoes. Took two days to get all that done and now the soil is ready for seeds too. We were hoping that some rain was on the way as we have only had a light shower for ages and could really do with some rain now to help things grow. It clouded over and we could see pockets of rain around us but nothing over us and so we just have to wait. Still if nothing else this year we can dine on potatoes and strawberries. Talking of strawberries, I didn't realise how invasive those plants are, we started off with 12 plants two years ago and now we have two beds planted up with some more sat at home waiting to go out on the land. Not bad considering the lady who took over the bottom of our plot has the original 12 plants and another row of runners herself. I also sorted out the small flower bed in front of the kitchen window at the other apartment and noticed some rather bare patches and was wondering what I am going to fill those in with when one of our neighbours offered me some plants which she was lifting and dividing, so hopefully we now have some lilies growing - well I think that is what she said they were.

The bathroom is rather different now too!
I can't not mention the big event of the week now, can I? Of course I am talking about the royal wedding, I hadn't set out to watch it, honest I didn't. In fact I hadn't even really given it much thought as I assumed I wouldn't be able to watch, considering that nothing works on BBC iplayer outside of the UK, but I hadn't realised that the Royal Channel on Youtube was doing a live streaming of the event, so yes I got drawn in, and I followed the event online, and joined in some of the chats about it on facebook too - but I was working as well, honest I was! It was a lovely event though, with lots of pageantry and Kate did look splendid, very regal for a commoner, although I did feel sorry for her mum as she looked almost terrified. I am sure there are a few analogies to be drawn there as part of the body of Christ and royal weddings but somehow my mind won't quite function to put something coherent together that won't sound trite, so I will just leave it at that, as a beautiful event to inspire, full of dignity and love and I wish them well.