Monday, 30 January 2012


A bit of a contrast to last week's picture,
the sun has been beaming but oh so cold
Last week I was kind of looking forward to those wintry days when the sun glistens on the snow and it is a delight to go skiing. This week has been really cold. Cold we can do but cold and wind is not nice and we have had more than a few ice blocks for toes this past week, fortunately though the sun has since come out from behind the clouds and we have had some beautiful glittery days with gorgeous rosy sunsets. It has also got a lot colder and we are seeing temperatures of below -20C in the mornings and it only warmed up to around -14C today. Sunny days are a joy to work in, so I'm told. I was stuck inside transcribing an interview again.

It is like a fluffy white blanket draped over everything
The interviews for my project for my course have been going well at national level and it is nice to know people are interested in my research to-date as well. It does make me feel that this is a piece of research worth doing. I just need more local interviews, but they have been a struggle since I need translations for them. Hopefully this week it is sorted, as a friend knows a young graduate who is currently unemployed who is free for at least part of February. We go to pick him up tomorrow and bring him back to our village so that he can arrange interviews for me and translate during the interview itself. I have one lined up on Friday for us already, but that is with someone who does speak some English and just needs a bit of help as there are times she struggles. Sad to say there are some local folks who won't speak to me, and say they are too busy. It could be that they are actually shy, who knows! I do hope that isn't the case for everyone else otherwise there won't be much for this young chap to do.

.. and you can see the snow is deep. The dark
centre is a land drain that takes water
from the road. This year it should get a cover
The cold days did not come with any improvement in the heating situation until today that is. We have had to light our wood stove most nights or endure apartment temperatures around 13C. It makes the thought of going out to ski very unappealing as I don't want to go out and come back to a cold home. I half wonder if the improved temperature of the heating today is due to being near the end of the month and bills due out soon. In the warmth people might forget the cold days we have had to put up with. We will have to look at the data and see how much of this month has been below standard and pay our bill accordingly.

The snow has not been deep enough to stop
the wild boar though. They are still digging
as the ground is still soft under its powdery
blanket. Maybe the cold will put a stop to
that now
Little by little we are preparing for the year ahead. Ian surprised me the other day by telling me he had emailed to enquire how much it would cost to use the ferry to fetch the three alpacas we are planning on buying. He usually leaves that kind of thing to me, but I think he must be feeling sorry for me as I have been typing up interviews which can take agggggesssss and then reading books for reference material (journals are so much quicker). Don't get me wrong he isn't a layabout, it is just that usually anything that smacks of admin I usually do and he usually does the research on machinery and gadgets. I did manage to email a company about an egg incubator so we can raise chickens for eggs and meat next year, although they deliver the incubators they don't deliver eggs, as they make take too long to arrive and are sometimes x-rayed by customs which isn't good for them. As an aid to preparing for next year we also started using a new software programme to help us with managing our farming and gardening projects. but I think that is going to take a little time to input the relevant data. It isn't until I was typing in the crops we grow that I realised how varied are the crops. It came to 48 different types of crops and that is only if we lump all varieties of tomato plants and herbs etc together.

I wasn't sure what to think of an American site announcing the loss of development funds to Latvia due to poor control of funds. I haven't seen anything on European sites. It is obviously not good for those who genuinely need the funding for projects, but it is good that the EU is beginning to tighten up on scrutinising where project funds end up. I am not sure that people really understand that when they spend money elsewhere and not where it is intended it makes it difficult for those who follow, they just see their own needs. There is definitely a need for improvements to be done on many homes but that shouldn't be money earmarked for a business say. Better accountability and better surveillance is needed in the system, but how can that happen when funds are being cut back on those very institutions that do the monitoring? This is always the issue, how can communities build their own surveillance systems when they are also being squeezed of funds for infrastructure? You can see why there is a temptation to use money improperly.

Holding forth on some interesting discussions obviously.
Actually she was doing her usual trick of hiding in the
caravan (trailer) rather than spending too long in the
greenhouse, despite it warming up to above freezing in there.
Last week I mentioned the problem of micro-nutrient deficiencies in our diets and especially of developing nations. I said it is possible to feed populations without resorting to adding unnatural genetic material to things like rice, even in the most remotest and most difficult of circumstances and I was right. A new tree is being promoted in South Africa that can grow in arid conditions and yet provides more calcium than four glasses of milk, the vitamin C content of 8 oranges and the potassium equivalent of 3 bananas - pretty impressive stuff for a tree that can grow in tough areas. Seedlings and powder are being provided at a cheap price by one lady trying to promote the tree to help those who are at risk of malnutrition and I think she is setting such an inspiring example of what an alternative economy can look like if we put the needs of the poor first. We need to rediscover some of the local plants that can feed populations well in other areas, as I am sure there must be other examples out there. I know we have personally introduced a lot of foreign plants into our area to extend seasons and food availability but I also have a heart to see what is really available locally. Now that would make another interesting project, oh so many interesting things to research and only so much time to do it in.

Living the life of Reilly! Who was Reilly
I'm not really sure what I thought Russians were like, but whatever I thought before I have to take my hat off them for some pretty creative forms of protest. A group from a Siberian city were unable to hold a protest as the authorities wouldn't let them, and so they created a miniature protest with plastic figures complete with placards, that now has the police confused. Brilliant! It did make me realise I still harbour some stereotypes in my mind and to some extent stereotypes are accurate but in other ways it just lumps people together. I love stories that bust the stereotypes and the story of a couple who are possibly the oldest married couple in the UK is another such story, it is a delightful story of how a Sikh couple have lived a long life, moved to the UK brought up a family and that family still love and honour them. The family seek to keep them healthy by making them happy to get up every morning. What an incredible testimony to a life well lived, and to how older folks can be cared for within the family when they all work together to make their life good. Okay I know there are some pretty cranky old folks out there, and I used to visit one old lady on a regular basis and she could be incredibly difficult, but get below the exterior bluff and she was a fascinating old woman. So what stereotypes do you hold? Who do you lump together as one unit instead of seeing the individuals in that group? I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Even the workshop has its blanket to keep it warm err cold
Finally for all those chocolate lovers out there, and you know who you are, here is the recipe for those wonderful chocolate desserts you always ask for at the local hotel. For those who don't know, the recipe is for a chocolate pudding that is cakey on the outside and oozing with chocolately goodness on the inside.

And finally! I know it's juvenile but I did snigger when
I saw this promotion on the slide doors of the
supermarket in the nearest big town. I wasn't sure
if I wanted to go through or not (by the way bums = boom)

Monday, 23 January 2012

To heat or not to heat, that is the question

Chilly days with frosty trees
A bit of excitement tonight, I got a phone call from our house manager - can we go up to the boiler house, there are two drunk people in there. I didn't really follow all the conversation but I did understand that our presence was required ASAP, so on go the wellies, on with the coats, the hats, the scarves and the extra socks and we walked up the boiler house, well it is rather chilly outside at -7C. Our heating has been a bit intermittent and rather lukewarm at times, which isn't fun when it is so cold outside. Admittedly we have our wood stove and can supplement the heat, but that was not the original plan to be using it whilst the communal heating is supposed to be doing the job, the intention was to use it for the times before the heating is switched on in the Spring or Autumn on those cool evenings. It is also not fun for those who have not got double glazing like we have and are on the end apartments and one such home has a week old baby in there and their house was only just registering 13C.

Stone cold skies!
Anyway we got to the boiler house and our house manager hammered on the door, no response. One man appeared to be working, but apparently he wasn't the one who should be there and the other man, who should have been working was in a room with bottles of vodka, and we saw the photos to prove it, although by the time we got there the curtain was firmly shut. Another phone call, this time to the company, the second phone call of the evening to the them. Eventually someone turned up, he hammered on the door, no response, he hammered on the window, still no response. Off he goes to get a key, by which time we are getting rather chilly, the wind was blowing making it feel much colder than the -7C stated on thermometers, so we sat in the house manager's car to wait. Another gentleman from a similarly poorly heated apartment block, kept coming to see what was going on, also waiting to get in to check on the temperatures of the water directly from the boiler. After waiting in the car for what seemed like an age, discussing the problems of the company and our village, the other guy returned but still no key, so we all waited yet again in cars for what seemed like another age. Eventually our house manager got fed up and went and hammered on the door again, success! We were in. The guy inside the building could barely walk, never mind work he was that drunk, the smell of alcohol wafting around. The company guy went to the thermostat and we all read the meter, around 43C out and 33C back, I think those were the numbers and certainly in that ball park and not the figures that our house manager showed us on the chart. According to the chart -7C outside means the water should be heated to 75C, vastly different to the 43C. Eventually the night shift guy turned up and the other rather blotto chap was to be taken home, at least the new guy looked alert, but we are still waiting for that heat to go up, and depends on whether they can get more than just frozen wood chips to burn. Our house manager made it all official and she had written down everything on a piece of paper which we all signed, I think the company guy was very uncomfortable at doing this but it was better to see the proper processes been done. It's also great to see a Latvian taking the initiative to fight back on issues that need to be fought. No longer should it be good enough to accept inadequate heating and then pay a lot for it.

Thick snow on our land too, and landscape features slowly
We have had quite a bit more snow this week and it is beginning to look like a proper Latvian winter and so it was typical that Ian was not feeling too good; he wasn't very ill, but definitely under the weather and not up to driving around. I had three interviews to do this week, interviewing landowners about their damage from the pigs, one was in our apartment building and so not too far (he owns land elsewhere) but two of them were out in the sticks and I had to drive to get to them. The main road was bad enough and was like driving through sand but when it came to turn off the main road, there were big drifts across the road and in places I wasn't too sure where the road itself was, scary stuff. I made it though! I was worried about the trip back as it was snowing heavily but fortunately by the time I had finished the interviews the road was being cleared by one of the local farmers. I'm really enjoying these interviews as it is wonderful talking to lots of different people and hearing their stories.

Repurposed tablecloth
It has also been a fettling week again, just as it should be -the time of year to fix and make things. I taught Ian how to sew up his coat and he did quite a good job of it, I made a light shade for a lamp we brought across from America by recycling an old tablecloth that had got stains on it. The lamp had a light shade, but it was one of the few things that broke on the way across, so it has only taken me nearly four years to get around to it. I also fixed some pyjamas for Ian as there was a gaping hole in the neckline, so I cut off the collar and edged it with some extra fabric - waste not, want not! I have also sorted out my fabric stash into colours, I love to see studios with white box type shelving with all the fabrics folded up neatly on them, it inspires me and so just getting my fabrics sorted into basket temporary shelving is better than nothing. Ian also tried to fettle the microwave buttons that are rather temperamental again, and he thought he had done it but the buttons weren't working once reassembled and so the next step is to leave the buttons off and using a matchstick to press the contacts. Again waste not, want not! We will continue using it until it falls apart completely.

My newly organised fabric stash
I have been publishing the comments and trends on the Latvian population and this week the finalised figures were released. The figures show that 190,000 have left the country in the last 11 years, might not sound a lot over so long a period of time until you realise that is 8% of the population. The overall drop in population was 13% but that is because the death rate is greater than the birth rate these days. Some of the outer regions have seen even more of a drop in population of around 30% in some areas, which is pretty devastating really. The economist from Swedbank added his pennyworth to the discussions on the population figures and said that the Latvians shouldn't be moving abroad they should be moving to the cities. Now why does the phrase "Let them eat cake" come to mind I wonder? How moving to the city will make things better I'm not sure, If there are no jobs, there are no jobs and it is sometimes easier to live in the countryside where at least there is the possibility of growing your own food and housing is cheaper than if you live in the city where housing is expensive and bills for water and heating have to be paid. I know we have to pay for water and heating too, but that is because we live in an apartment with those things supplied, if we lived in our other apartment our heating is wood we cut ourselves and if you live in one of the old houses, wood maybe from your own woods and the water from the well - not an easy life but cheaper.

More snowy pictures
I have a heart for the rural areas too, you may have gathered, if you follow this blog and so the Swedbank economists comments do not sit well with me. The rural areas can be revived and indeed we need them reviving if we are to meet the food needs of the future, Latvia's population maybe decreasing but that is not always the case in the rest of the world. But who am I and what difference can I make? What keeps me doing the course I do in Managing Sustainable Rural development? I mentioned a while ago that I feel almost compelled to do what I do and it is because I believe in a God that can turn whole nations around, he can reverse the degradation of our planet, he can reverse droughts both physical and economic, but he is not a fairy godmother to produce this on a whim. He is shaking trade routes and bringing down the mighty, but we cannot be complacent. I am not sure what the outcome will be, but my trust is not in politicians, banks or businesses for my future or the future of this land or the future of the rural areas, my trust is in God alone. It appears I am not the only one who stake their future on a God who really can change things in a major way and willing to live by that, another person who I greatly admire for stepping out to do things differently, sometimes in a very physical way by walking, he has staked his colours to the mast so to speak and spoken out that he is going to trust God to change the trade routes and follow where that will lead. If you want to read more, here is Steve Lowton's blog, hope it inspires you in the same way it inspires me.

Our kittens are getting big, and cause much consternation
as they charge around the apartment after each other, but
then they look so cute all curled up together on the chairs.
One last thing to mention is a paper I saw published on the internet on the problems of mico-nutrient deficiency. This is a problem in Bangladesh, but it is also a problem in developed countries too. The reasons in developed countries is the awful diet that many have, leading to an overabundance of calories but a lack of essential nutrients. Obviously in places like Bangladesh it is a lack of adequate food generally. Industrialised farming also leads to problems as cows fed solely on grain and not the mixture of grasses of course will produce meat of lower quality and our lack of fresh fruit and veg doesn't help either. The stupid thing is that much research is being done on adding the micro-nutrients to foods such as rice which are just high in carbohydrates, when the answer is so much simpler as the above paper mentions. Eating a range of foods that are available locally and can be grown on a small scale to supplement diets is both cheaper and far more sustainable. Even in cities some foods can be grown to increase nutrient intake, from herbs in pots on windowsills to a few containers outside the back door. The other advantage in growing a range of foods is that if adverse weather hits, some will be more likely to survive than others. So expanding the range of foods grown will not only improve the health of people in Bangladesh, it could improve many local communities health and improve sustainability of whole communities.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Crazy times

The lilac bushes outside our other apartment

Okay so we are crazy but you love us anyway heh? Can't believe some of the things we get up to. We finally got around to starting to deal with the buckwheat seeds that we harvested over the summer. Of course it was nice and snowy outside so once we had worked out the best setting on my kitchen aid flour grinder just to crack the hulls, we then had to separate them. Now normally a nice breezy day outside would be perfect, but inside? Arrh! So our hallway was transformed, cleared of boots and shoes and rigged up with fan at one end to separate the husks from the seed. Mind you we found out at the end the the easiest way to get buckwheat flour is to grind it to crack the hulls and then grind it again to get flour and the hulls can then be sieved off, with just some ground into the flour to make the more traditional black buckwheat flour. We also found out that it was probably best sieved right at the start to get rid of the grit out of the husks and seeds. Oh well! We'll try again next week.

We have a Father Christmas car again
Talking of harvesting, the deer left a note saying "Thank you very much for the tasty kale, same again next year?" Yep you guessed it we are left with stalks and the swiss chard that was covered with pine branches to deter the deer from eating them so we have spring greens to grow back next year, were also disturbed. Will be interesting to see if we have got any come back up next year. All is not lost though and we can still have tasty kale crisps which we have got rather fond of, because we have some more growing in the greenhouse, so unless the deer work out how to unlatch the door or go through the plastic which is unlikely, then they will be safe, especially now we seem to be on top of the mice problem. We caught six mice altogether in the traps and the poison bait is no longer being removed, so they won't be tucking into kale either.

A winter wonderland
The snow finally came this week and the colder temperatures followed it. We cleared around our greenhouse, which is still up thankfully this year, so that the ground had a chance to freeze. We found last year that a large amount of snow on top of soft ground is really difficult to shift and ends up making a big mess of the ground when digging away the snow. We haven't got as much snow as last year, but it is enough to give everything a good covering and the ski season has started. Our cross country ski run even has floodlights now so that people can ski in the evenings, which we did this evening. We were a bit worried about the floodlights at first as they were on all night, not good for light pollution, but they seem to have sorted out some timing on them now and they went off at 9pm tonight. Still we got a good chance to ski and even some lessons from one of our neighbours, who showed us some of the techniques.

Not a star but the new floodlights to light
our cross country ski run
The cleaning fairy has been in operation most of this week, Ian tidied the office and discovered lots of space that seemed to just appear - not a lot went out so no idea where it all evaporated to, although there were many cardboard boxes taken out. Maybe the wall post on facebook that someone posted is true after all "Cleaning is just putting stuff in less obvious places" (not quite sure who is responsible for that witticism). Along the way a bunch of photos were discovered that we appear to have inherited from the church we used to go to in America, it seems to be a bunch of pictures of a Sunday School trip. Another find was a CD given to us after we had seen the mayor of the village which contained some presentation pictures of activities in the village - nice to be able to recognise some of the folks now and actually put a name to a few (hopeless with names anyway, so just being able to recognise the people and where from is an achievement). It is amazing how much brighter and more space we feel we have now that room is cleared - next week the dump room, weather permitting ie lots of snow to keep him indoors. Our flat appeared to get worse since we started the gardening work in earnest, which has kept us busy, the polytunnel collapsing last winter and the weddings, plus my course work, all conspired to keep us on our toes even through what would normally be the quiet times. I'm still doing my course work but Ian has more time this year. We do struggle to throw things out though as we do re-use lots of things. Old clothes get morphed into bags, quilts etc. Our bedroom curtains are curtains from our Danish house, our office curtain was a shower curtain in a previous life, Ian's jacket was repaired yet agin this week with binding I have inherited from goodness knows where and last year his over trousers, which he managed to burn a hole in, were repaired with fabric that I had in a box. So you see we don't waste a lot. The cardboard boxes will end up as weed barriers, and the polystyrene packaging will reappear somewhere else - not sure about that yet but we can always do with insulating things. You can also guarantee the minute we throw something out will be about five minutes before we discover we did needed it after all.

Bell with her natty purple apron
Our cats were not happy this week as we sent them to be neutered. There are plenty of lovely looking kittens in this village without our cats adding to the number and I am sure the local bird population would agree. Of course our cats were pretty groggy when we got them back and we were highly amused by their attempts to walk, unfortunately Sofie also likes to lick and we ended up having to put an apron on her that the vet had given us to prevent her licking the wound. Bella's was put on at night before we went to bed since she is not so compulsive at keeping clean like Sofie. They did look silly in them, and I think Sofie agreed, because the next morning she was not in it. How she managed to get out of the apron with the strings still tied and in the confined space behind our settee we have absolutely no idea. Could just have understood it if it had been a normal day, but right after her operation, how could she move her limbs enough to slip out of the apron? Houdini cat I suppose.
Sofie with her lovely white apron. Now you tell me
how she got out of that in a confined space?

Latvia to the right. Definitely very Northern, but where is
Eastern? Finland could also be classed as Eastern European.
I have a question for you, so where are you? Our geography doesn't always match up to our feelings. The Brits for instance, if you live in England you are less likely to feel European than if you live in Scotland but that belies the fact that Britain is in Europe, it is sits on the European plate whether we like it or not. Now take Latvia! I hesitated last week at adding the thought about Eastern Europeans and how many in far flung countries are separated from loved ones because I was effectively lumping all those coming from ex-Soviet countries as Eastern Europeans and one of my friends mentioned that Latvians do not always like to be called Eastern Europeans. But take a look at the map! Where is Eastern Europe? Who are the mythical Eastern Europeans? How far west do they come? The Latvians actually now prefer to be thought of as Northern Europeans because that is what they are, not as northerly as their northern neighbours Estonia and then Finland but still way up there. They are, however, not the only ones separated from loved ones, doing the jobs many in Britain do not want to do, the cleaners, the toilet attendants, the potato pickers, the maids and the list goes on and so does the list of countries that contribute valuable services to Britain, the Latvians, Lithuanians, the Poles, the Filipinos, the Indonesians, the Sri Lankans etc. etc. etc. sending back valuable finances to their homeland, targeted aid supporting education, nutrition and goodness knows what else. And if you want to see the effect of these emigrating populations on towns and villages around Latvia, have a look at this video from the BBC about a town called Cesis

Clearing the snow from the roadways to encourage them to
freeze this week to make any subsequent snow clearing easier
I mentioned about two weeks ago that Swedish agricultural companies were starting up Latvian companies to buy farmland expanding the Swedish financial empire. Seems the Swedes haven't bought everything up yet, as this week a Swedish company bought the Latvia's national commercial TV channel. It would not be too bad if the Latvians benefitted from all this "investment" but I am not sure they do, hugely. In my research and the internet stories I read, it states that home grown enterprises are far more likely to add value and jobs to an area than outside massive investment. The problem with the big investments is that profits leave the country, whereas home grown enterprises are more likely to reinvest into the area. They are more likely to support local causes and seek to bring about improvements in their area because they have a big investment in that area, namely their families. Big is not necessarily better, even economies of scale are not always what they seem. Sure a big company can create a lot of stuff and cheaper, but at what cost to the environment and what expense to its workforce? Cheaper loses some of its lustre when it binds people to a life of drudgery because they cannot afford to live well. Swedish companies do not always do much better outside their own nation, in the same ways the Brits are not exactly likely to promote welfare and good practices once outside of the nations control. We are often aware of it at a long distance as in India, China or elsewhere but not so aware when it is within Europe. One rule within  a nation, but outside of it? Having said that I have got to give praise where praise is due, Swedbank have written down some of Latvia's debts as a goodwill gesture. Not sure what that means in practice but I think it is a positive move and at least sends out the right kinds of signals. It isn't the first bank to do so though, SEB (another Scandinavian bank) was first and at a lot earlier a stage.
Icicles hanging from the barn roof

Monday, 2 January 2012

A successful week

Enjoying a cuppa! Not our advanced Mac user, but a user
of the Macs warmth methinks
We have decided our cat is an advanced Mac user. This week Sofie walked across my laptop and up pops a box to choose the language for the keyboard, we had no idea that pressing "cmd" and space bar could do that. I have two options for my keyboard, British and Latvian, so that I can write the extra Latvian letters "ā, ē, ī, ģ, ļ, ņ, ō š" and so it is really useful to have a quick way of changing between the two languages, especially as leaving it in the Latvian keyboard means I end up typing a š instead of an apostrophe s. It has taken four years to find that out and it just takes a 9 month old kitten to walk across my computer! Mac users they maybe but mouse catchers? Hmmm! Despite taking our kittens to the greenhouse to play it did not seem to deter the mice in the caravan which is currently stored in our greenhouse and so just recently we have resorted to traps and then poison. At least we had some success with that and caught 6 mice now and the poison has been eaten - let's hope that sorts it for the time being as we don't really want a family of mice living in our caravan insulation.

A snowy scenes
I have had an amazing response to my request for interviews for my project on wild boar management and the conflict that results over it. Arranging interviews had been an usually protracted process for another project last year and so I was amazed to get a response to my three emails to people at national level within hours and I managed to get all organised for one day this week. All went smoothly with everyone available at the right time and everyone was extremely helpful and generous with their time. The only mishap was nearly sliding off the road in some atrocious slippery conditions on the way there, on the first corner out of our village. I also got some farmer interviews under my belt too this week and so I feel on a roll. Thank goodness! Mind you, one hour of interviews does translate to many hours transcribing them, and I don't think they would transcribe well using transcribing software, not with the accents, mine and theirs.

Ice rinks in the making as our ponds begin to freeze over
It hasn't been a proper winter here yet, but it might have just arrived this week. We have had weeks of snow here, snow gone, snow here, snow gone and it has left us with a rather muddy mess. It started to snow on Saturday and a good few centimetres fell, enough to send most of Britain into complete and utter chaos, but hardly worth mentioning here in Latvia. At least it has covered the muddy mess and, unfortunately for me, it also covered the frozen ice from the melted snow on a car park. The snow was not thick enough to cover the ice with a less slippery surface but enough to hide the ice, and I greeted a friend's New Years greeting by slipping flat onto my back. For a change I had two gallant men to help me up, makes a change from being sniggered at. Time for the Yaktrax methinks. Nothing was hurt beyond a bit of pride, actually I thought it was quite funny as I can think of better ways to return someone's greeting than sliding gracefully to their feet.

Snow covered roads. At least it fills in
some of the potholes
The reason we went out was, because I wanted a joint of pork for the weekend. We had had a lot of vegetarian meals over the week and I just fancied a joint for a change. It was a well timed action as a little later on that morning I had a phone call from a friend who was just about to set off to the near-ish big town to us, from his village some distance away, and was even sat in the car, when he found out the meeting he was intending to go to was called off. Since he was all ready to go somewhere he decided to pay us a visit instead. He had never actually made it to see us, we had always gone to see him, so we got to show him around the land we manage, as well as sit down and talk around the table. Oh we can sure do that and getting much practice just lately as you may have noticed if you follow this blog. In fact while we on our way back into the apartment with our friends, one of our neighbours was sledging with her little one and she stopped to chat a little and she invited us round for a chat another day, which was later was changed to a meal. Oh yes! we can talk and eat at the same time, and the fish supper this evening was superb too and the conversations fascinating.

A disappearing landscape under a blanket of snow
This week the Latvian State Employment Agency announced that unemployment was down 3%, they are still worried that many people are still looking for work though. A 3% drop though is pretty good don't you think? Or is it? There has been a fall of 34, 256 registered unemployed people, but there has also been a fall of around 23,000 in the population - many will have been adults who have left the country this last year. That doesn't make the fall in unemployment quite so spectacular does it! It is also worrying, because some of those may return if employment conditions worsen in other countries and there may still be no jobs for those returning. Having said that, there are some jobs that some companies are having difficulty filling, because those who can do a good job are often the ones that leave and those who are motivated to work hard are sometimes scarce. It would be easy to criticise those left behind as people who are lazy, and perhaps some are, but they are also trying to deal with a legacy of soviet system thinking that does not encourage a motivated workforce. Many battle alcoholism and a sense of hopelessness. Not easy to turn around a whole nation in less than a generation and there is still a long way to go yet, they could have done with some better politicians in the past and some better external advice, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, it is still a young nation and it all takes time.

The hat I knitted for Ian, hopefully it is
warmer than his other one.
The flip side of so many leaving the country is the anguish that one mother feels over the death of her daughter. In an article in the Daily Mail she blames herself for the deteriorating relationship with her daughter brought on by moving away in order to help her family financially. She feels it has lead to her daughter getting into bad habits and in with the wrong crowd, something that she feels may not have happened if they had all moved together. Mind you it is far harder to move with families, when the jobs the Latvians and others like them do are often low paid; it is easier for them to send the money home and live as a single person.  So spare a thought for those Eastern Europeans and think of how many families they represent back home who are missing loved ones, missing a father, missing a mother.

Just want to add Happy birthday to Mavis this last week. It has been great getting to know you through this blog and in person over the years. Mavis has followed this blog almost from the beginning and been such a support to me to keep going in the writing and then blessed us even more by coming out to see what we were doing and so it seems only right to send birthday greetings from my blog. If you want to know any more about Mavis then take a trip over here and read more about her adventures at our place here.