Monday, 27 August 2012

Say hello, say goodbye

This is where we stayed! You can see it in through
the trees! Really you can if you look hard. I
said it was a leafy town
I wrote most of my blog whilst sat in a house in Tartu, Estonia although by the time you read this blog I will  be back home. I was staying in a house, that was the only registered guest house in Tartu during the Soviet era, not that it is a guest house now, it is a family home. I found out that Tartu was a city that could not be visited by just anybody, as it was in a restricted military zone and so all the pretty, leafy streets of this rather interesting place would have been unseen by many. It is really weird to be walking round streets that kind of look similar to Danish, Swedish or Latvian city streets and yet hardly able to read a word of the signs or menus outside the cafes. I feel my brain trying to process the language but not making it. The streets were so similar to Copenhagen at times and the shops in Tartu that we got quite nostalgic about our time when we lived there.

The ruined cathedral in Tartu. Quite a
magnificent set of ruins and people were
playing boules around the perimeter
It is odd how we came to be in Tartu. Firstly the reason I was there was to talk about doing a PhD, something that a friend of ours suggested to me as he teaches in Tartu university. Nothing odd about that, apart from our friendship sprang from doing an internet search on papers written about Latvia, Latvian people and the countryside, of which there are precious few of them. These particular papers had been written by someone with a very English sounding name and so I hunted around to find out more about the author and contacted him - hence our friendship began with him and his wife. The place where we stayed also came about through the internet and an offer of meeting up whilst in Tartu which, turned into an offer of a room overnight. The offer of a room, sure made our stay easier to organise and it was nice to meet a new face. I prayed all morning whilst touring Tartu that I would be able to connect with the right people and that certainly happened. I am happy to say that I now have someone who is willing and able to supervise my PhD and the Specialist in Doctoral Studies is happy to help me gain admission to the university. Now all I have to do is write a good proposal for the area I wish to study and a research plan. It feels very surreal to have got this far.

Our poorly broiler chicken sat in its box
I mentioned last week that we brought home one of our chickens and I thought we would be off to the vets, but by the morning the bird was looking a little perkier and he was packed off and sent back to the ark. It's a good job we didn't try to go to the vets anyway as she was away and the other vet in the village doesn't speak English. All the birds in the one ark were definitely under the weather, lethargic and depressed. and before the week was out we brought another two birds home to be taken care of. We think it was a virus or something like that or maybe just the wrong food in that ark but at least after a couple of days most of them had perked up. Having chickens at home makes us realise that they really are smelly creatures, not good housepets at all. Let us say it is a good job we have tile floors! One of the chickens that was brought home was the female broiler chicken and despite her big size we suspect that she is bottom of the pecking order and maybe not getting enough food as the others grow and take precedence and this didn't help her to throw off the virus/ food bug/whatever. As I write this blog she is sat in the greenhouse in a special box all on her own, hopefully building up strength as she doesn't have to fight for her food.

More ruins, this time at our friends land and a picture specially
taken for a fellow blogger Diane, who is building an amazing
eco house that you can see here

Some of these stones had drill holes in them
the holes are drilled and either explosive added
or water. If water is added the stones are then
set on a fire to heat it to steam that cracks open
the stones. Quite amazing the power of water
A model of the old bridge in Tartu
We met with the young couple again that we saw last Monday and they took us for a tour of their land and heard more of their plans and talked and talked and did I say talk? As if that was not enough we also bumped into them the next day at the hotel and talked and talked and errr talked again. Ideas and possibilities floated back and forth and still we have no idea where this will lead. Progress comes though as people dream and try to live their dreams. Okay there is also hard work and graft to make dreams become reality but without the dream how do you go forward?

Modern Tartu by the river. It was rather dull but at least
it didn't rain until we were inside
We've eaten out a lot this week, which at least means I haven't had to cook much, which is always nice. It is even nicer when there is good company to share it with and the company this week has been a mixture of old and new friends, hence the title "Say hello, say goodbye" as we have been doing a lot of that this week. One American family who came to visit for three months has been the catalyst for many a meal we've had just lately and it has been lovely to share with them and the new people they have introduced us to. One meal we were at we chatted so long it started to get dark and by the time we got to the land we needed the headlights to put away the alpacas again but they weren't playing ball that night, of course they were letting us know they weren't impressed at being put away in the dark yet again. They have also escaped from their temporary enclosure yet again, but fortunately they usually don't go far, although obviously the grass is greener on the other side. I did say that they don't usually go far but the fact is that two of them were away up to our oak hill one day, which is stretching it a bit. We think we have them sorted now though as we have added another layer of wire to the fence, but lower down than you would expect as it means they can't eat underneath the fence. We'll see how that works for now. Our friend was saying that it's the autumn, she doesn't know what gets into the animals, but it seems to make them into escape artists. She used to look after sheep and they would stay quite content in the fields all summer but as soon as autumn started to set in they had a great urge to find pastures new and now her goats are trying the same thing.

This street really reminded us of Copenhagen
with the style of houses and the cafe
We have quite a dilemma now that we have animals. There are difficulties emerging of when to put them away. Too early and it is not fair on the animals, too late and our evening meal is extremely late, especially if I have been out on the land. Do we cook out there? If we do the caravan cooker needs replacing. Do we build a house? That is expensive and where would we build it? Do we stay put in the flat and just try and work a way around it? Decisions decisions. Looks like next year will have some changes in it, but what? We don't know yet! We will have all winter to talk about that I think, well in between writing my proposal that is!

Monday, 20 August 2012

No way to plan

I don't know why the crickets are attracted to our caravan
but we regularly find them in there, like this rather
splendid chap. Do you like the decor by the way?
Gorgeous colour don't you think? No! Not my style either
What an interesting week it's been and finished with quite a flourish in some ways. The weather has made a hash of any plans we have had this week, but I will get onto that and thoughts about the weather later but first I will tell you of another of our interesting encounters. Ian was out on the land, as normal, when a couple drove onto the land, they live in America (now doesn't that sound familiar?) and they or rather the young man's parents own the property adjacent to ours, but the opposite direction to the American family we met the other week. Now the young man's parents still live in Latvia, but they feel it is too far to come out to the property very often, so this young couple are feeling like they would like to come out and do some work on the land, something sustainable, experimenting to see what works. Again this all sounds rather familiar. They drove onto our land to talk to the crazy American couple they had heard so much about. Americans? Who us? Okay we speak English and we have lived in America and most of those associated with the camp just up the road from us are Americans, so we will forgive them for their mistake, funny what neighbours say about us. Ian ended up inviting them around for a meal and so tonight we have been sitting around the table listening to their hopes and dreams and they have been listening to ours. Seems like we may see more of them in the future and certainly we felt like a meeting of minds.

The first garlic I have ever grown successfully
 and harvested. The bulbs were given to us
last year by one of our neighbours and
they seem to have done well.
They aren't the only visitors to the land this week either. Our daughter and her husband of course who went back to the UK to continue on their merry go round of visiting as most expats do when returning back to their mother country and another couple too. She is Latvian whose parents live in our apartment block and he is French and they both work in Luxembourg, and they came out to see our alpacas. It was interesting to hear their story, to hear them yearn to have more of a stake in this land. Is the land calling back some of its younger folks? Those with dreams and hopes and visions? Those with ideas and a peacefulness to live in a rural place? The Latvian government have been talking just lately of attracting back some of their young folks, particularly those with a good education, but they don't seem to be so keen to attract the foreigners. I know they fear dilution of this small nation but few are pure ethnic Latvians anyway, and an infusion of new blood with an enthusiasm for the land and willing to be wedded to the land is more important than just attracting the nationals back. Build a vibrant community who love the land and you have something to attract the others back to.

Oh yes we have bales! Lots and lots and lots of bales. We
probably have around 600 of them, just over 300 are useful
for feed, the rest are compost. At least our neighbour who saw
Ian baling the wet hay was rather relieved to find out that
was all they were destined for, she was rather worried about
I have made some progress on what to do about the PhD, and this next weekend we are off to Tartu as someone has kindly offered us a place to stay for the night and means we get a good start to see Tartu University with our Professor friend who teaches at that university. The offer of a place to stay has come about through a contact from this blog, interesting how the blog has forged some contacts that I never envisaged. It will also be interesting to see where this visit will lead. I wasn't sure if working with an Estonian University on a Latvian issue was the right way to go and so it was interesting that today's encounter involved an Estonian descendent and a Latvian, even if they do live in America, almost like it is a confirmation that maybe this is the way I should go. Sorry if that sounds a bit vague and woolly but it is just my ponderings at the moment.

These bugs seem to adore my echinacea
plants. These are quite frightening to see
when they are flying as they sound like a
bomber plane and are difficult to work out
what they are in flight.
It must be the weather as I have been pondering a lot just lately. There are times in our lives when things are settled and life is predictable and then there are times when it is not. Sometimes that is just a personal thing but sometimes it is more general, like when an economy is in trouble, then just about everyone suffers, although there are often some winners in that too. Life at the moment is unpredictable for most people, even if personally it is predictable with a steady income and what seems to be a secure job, there is still this sense of something about to happen or the future looks uncertain. This year our life has been unpredictable and it has been hard for planning and that is mainly due to the weather. None of the forecasts has given a reasonably accurate forecast for the following five days. It has been "it will rain" "it won't rain" all summer and the forecasts have changed frequently meaning what first looked like a dry spell suddenly turns out to be showery instead and vice versa. Even the time we got the hay in, was uncertain as to whether we would actually get enough fine days or not, at least in the time it takes us to get the hay cut and baled. Some plants have thrived in the cooler weather, not as bothered by the insects that usually decimate them or just enjoying the cooler wetter weather, some have most certainly not. We will be eating more carrots and onions this year by the look of it and it is a shame we haven't more cabbages as they have done well, but I don't really like storing cabbages, although theoretically it is possible. As it is sauerkraut is looking to be on the cards as we have a few more cabbages than we can eat. We have plenty to eat at the moment but I'm not sure how much we will have to store over the winter. Of course that does not mean we will starve, we have plenty of reserves to see us through. We have managed pretty much on our own veg and some fruit for much of the past few years and so managed to reduced what we buy to a bear minimum, but whether that will change this year or not I don't know, but it is a pity in a year when prices are likely to be high. I'm guessing seeds will also be at a premium next year as some harvests fail.

Three trays of onions here, two white and
one red. And there's more. We like onions
we use them a lot!
That paints a pretty bleak picture and you would be forgiven for thinking I'm depressed or over tired but I'm not. The unpredictability actually encourages me. I can't think of anything worse than for this world to carry on as it is, with the unfairness and injustice. If the "unpredictable" gets the attention of people and gets people thinking differently, then I am all for it. I will happily put up with the temporary inconvenience while a new order is built. At the end of the day I still believe in a God who so loved the world he sent his Son to die for it, to set it right. Okay it is taking a little longer than most folks would like and maybe not happening in the way we would like, but he still loves the world and he will sort it out. He also wants us to get on board and work with him to set the order, maybe then we can start to plan ahead a little more confidently. Meanwhile he calls the dreamers and visionaries home, those who yearn for something purer, less corporate. An interesting week, an interesting week indeed!

And this is a banana shallot. Banana shallots
are small onions really. This one I wouldn't
have been upset to see as a real onion in size
it's huge. I was expecting something a
quarter of the size 
As I said an interesting week but not all good, we have one dead chicken and one sick chicken. Ian brought home the head male from the flock and he is looking decidedly sad. Not moving around and all hunched up. Guess it is off to the vets in the morning to check him over and see if the flock need some sort of worming or antibiotics. Drat! Just when we were feeling that the chickens were doing well.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Frolicking in the hay

120 bales of hay under that tarp, with Ian posing nicely for
a sense of scale 
We had a house meeting this week, I didn't understand a lot of what was said, but it is interesting watching people react and I knew some of the details already anyway, such as the issue with the heating inspector. The news is that the set up of the heating monitor is incorrect, but that is not the fault of the house, it is the fault of the heating company and in addition it has been an issue for the last three years and nothing has been done about it. The heating company are in the wrong also for not addressing concerns about the cold, they are meant to address the issue immediately on notification and not send a letter a month later. The company are also required to give one to two years notice of any termination of contract - not six months. Now it will be interesting to see what they make of all that.

Bella! "Wonder if I can get up there?"
This week was a quieter week as we didn't do much visiting, were not visited and I didn't have to help with the baling, so I have taken the opportunity of bottling up some of our harvest and now we have more bottles of cordial, jam, tomato sauce and chutney. It is interesting that the cordial I made, gooseberry, ginger and lemon tasted different to the jam I made from the leftover pulp. I love using the steamer to make juices and cordials, as it is so easy. For a juice I just pile the fruit in the steamer, stalks and leaves and all (washed of course) and then steam for one hour, what comes out is a lovely syrupy juice and these can be poured directly into warm, sterile jars and that is the end of that process. Cordials are similarly easy to do by layering in sugar as well. I use 6oz of sugar to 1lb of fruit and for the gooseberry, ginger, lemon cordial I put in 7oz of fresh ginger to 10 lb of fruit and the peel and juice of two lemons. I then put the pulp through the vegetable strainer on my kitchen aid, which works wonderfully when the right pieces are assembled together (not easy when I have several attachments in one box) and then add a little more sugar to the pulp to make jam. The cordial had a light refreshing taste that sort of reminds me of elderflower cordial, but the jam is much more lemony and almost tastes of lemon marmalade but without the peel and is a thick pulp jam not a jelly like consistency. Weird!

Our escapee alpaca, Herkules. Obviously the grass is
greener on the other side
Ian has continued to cut the grass and turn it this week and if we get a dry week it will be ready to bale. So far though it has been showery and so it is a good job that the majority of it is only fit for compost and we have already earmarked where it will be put so that is not a problem. So far we have 156 bales of hay stacked on the field where they were cut and have now moved another 120 to the hub of our land where most of our activities are. The alpacas have been given an extension to their paddock during the day when we are around. We have used the plastic temporary poles that they use for electric fences with a single wire but not electrified it and they seem quite happy with that, until yesterday that is when one of them found an escape route, fortunately the others didn't and they don't like be separated and so fairly easy to herd. They enjoyed finding all the dandelion leaves though, which we are really happy about but they don't seem so fond of ground elder which is a shame and so their paddock will have to be mowed to sort that problem out where they have eaten everything around them and left swathes of the dratted stuff. 

My surprise present! A rustic pergola for the grapevines
We had a lovely meal at one of our friends, cooked by an American family so that our friends didn't have to worry about leaving to see to their animals. Only trouble is that we had to leave a bit earlier to see to ours - such is the life of a farmer, albeit on a small scale at the moment. The meal was a fusion of tex-mex and Latvian as some of the ingredients are not quite what they would use at home and so we had crisps - the dorrito type, with guacamole and salsa followed by chicken enchiladas. It was lovely all the same and we also got to meet some new people, a kindergarten teacher and her husband who works for the electric company. It is nice getting to know more and more folks from our community and something we really enjoy doing, there is nothing better than getting to know folks sat around a table eating and chatting, beats the computer any day. 
Rose buds embroidered onto denim - a belated present for
my daughter's birthday

Daisies on denim

Close up of daisy

Close up of bullion knot roses

The rampant chilli plant. At our other apartment. I didn't
realise they could grow so big. At least it is finally
flowering. We have smaller plants of different varieties
 in the greenhouse
Our daughter and son-in-law arrived yesterday and so I thought I would make a banana and chocolate cake as you do. Well you know those stupid cook books that insult the intelligence by saying things like "first assemble the ingredients?" I should have used one of those as I found out in the process that I only had three ounces of flour. I can't ever remember running out of flour before. I probably have but it must have been so traumatic that I erased it from my memory. I had to blitz some cracked wheat and oats to make enough flour and I had to use bicarbonate of soda instead of baking powder. The resulting cake is okay, it does, but you can taste the bicarb and the cracked wheat wasn't totally blitzed and so there is an added crunch. Oh well! I tried. I also managed to throw a jar of roast tomato sauce on the floor and so wasted a quarter of a bucket of tomatoes. Hmph! Could have got the day off to a better start, but at least I got to see my daughter and lovely son-in-law.

Hoppy our hero. Hoppy due to being sick is used to being
handled and is quite small, so Ian took her on a trip around
the cabbage patch to eat all the caterpillars they could find
I saw a very entertaining video this week on the internet that talked about edible landscapes and reconnecting children with food, it was a wonderful talk with astute observations like
“There's so many people that don't really recognize a vegetable unless it's in a bit of plastic with an instruction packet on the top.”
The talk was about a group of people who have got together to encourage planting of edible plants in spare ground or in areas where they normally plant prickly bushes to keep people off. Instead they plant things that people can help themselves too, such as fruit bushes and trees, much more friendly.

One more piece of good news from this week, I have finally finished with the Inland Revenue (UK tax authorities). They owe me £4.25 and so I won't be spending it all at once but at least they got the message this time that we have finished with all connections with the UK 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Still hectic

Winter on its way? Tee hee! I usually tell my dear hubby
off for that sort of comment.
I know what the Matron of husbandry means on her website when she says 
"No time to take a breath because winter is on the way.  I feel it in weeds I pull – they don’t yield like they did a few weeks ago.  I smell it on the air, the first leaves decaying, and the scent of elder flowers always means don’t tarry with those tasks, this is a fleeting time.  Soon the mornings will be brisk and you’ll see your breath.  Hurry Hurry!"
The year has turned here in Latvia in the same way it has in Wisconsin. The summer seems to be all too soon flying away and harvest time has arrived. Summer has struggled here in Latvia, we've had some high temperatures but we have also had too many cool nights. Some plants that normally do well haven't thrived, like the beans that usually are very well behaved and produce prolifically are still struggling to grow, whereas some things that struggle in the heat normally, like brassicas and peas are doing really well and we only just hitting the problems with caterpillars now. The soft fruit is now just about in, the last of the gooseberries are picked and I even got some bonus red ones from a neighbour who had had enough of them and invited me to pick from his bush - my it was a vicious bush and no wonder he had had enough picking them as they fought a good fight to prevent me picking them too with all the thorns. Just got some blackcurrants left to pick and then hack back and it will be finished.

At least we still have blue skies and green grass for now
The previous weeks we have been a bit anti-social and not seen many folks as we cut, turned and baled the hay. This week we have had visitors galore. People even turned up on our land to see us or return things and they weren't just coming to see the alpacas. I did forget to mention one incident the week before when we went to the hotel to eat. We called around at our neighbours for something, can't remember what now and they told us about their eventful day when four people turned up who lived in America but owned the land adjacent to our ski hill. They had had a great day showing them around and talking to them. Later on we saw four people who fitted the description our neighbours gave and so we introduced ourselves, since they are effectively our neighbours too. It was interesting talking to them and I even got onto my pet subject the wild boar and the problems and was able to confirm the picture they had of some digging was indeed wild boar damage. I also explained how it needed dealing with otherwise the problem will just increase and enlightened them in the rather complex issue of hunting here in Latvia. A bit later on in the week while we were baling they even stopped by to see us out on the land and ask our opinion on some machinery for land management. Not that we are experts on that for sure.

And flowers
This week, like I said folks were turning up left right and centre. Our Swedish friend turned up for some small bales of hay since they had run out on their farm, they will be taking half or thereabouts of our ski hill hay anyway, once we have counted them all and worked out how much we need. He was so pleased to be able to stack the bales in the back of his truck so easily because they are the small size rolls rather than the humungous size they usually do around here. To date we have 156 stacked and that is only about half of them, we also have another 52 purely for composting and Ian baled up 20 from round the alpaca area that he cut this last week in order to try and reduce the horse flies that were plaguing the poor animals. Problem is we might be running out of string. Other folks turned up to help us stack the hay, or to drop their son off to help us while they were painting at the orphanage - not his forte so we understand. Someone also turned up to drop our trailer off that they had borrowed. Of course we have also had the visitors to come and see the alpacas. It is not normal for us to have many visits while we are out on the land and we are lucky if people call in more than once in three months, so it has been quite a welcome change really.

Hoppy and her mates. Not quite the city centre but then
we didn't take any photos there
We also took a trip into Riga to see some old friends from the UK and spent a good day talking over cups of tea and lunch. It was interesting the first question, one of our rather perceptive friends asked which was "What have you sacrificed to be here?" It is a question we have talked about ourselves as we have much to do at this time of the year and if we hadn't got the hay in then we would have had to have canceled, rather than risk our animals going hungry over winter. The day had been forecast to be fine and so we effectively lost a days work to be there and we also were disappointed not to be able to show them what we are doing. We are keen for folks to visit us in our natural habitat so to speak, as it is then we can really show them where our heart is, it doesn't have quite the same ring about it when we chat about these things sat in the middle of the city centre and we can't verify what we do just by talking about it. We could paint a very rosy picture of what we do and it could be a total fabrication, unless you come and see for yourself. Anyway that does not mean we didn't enjoy the day and they very kindly treated us to all those cups of tea and lunch in return for us coming to see them. We also did enjoy talking about where they are at in their faith walk and where we are at too. It is interesting to see where people are journeying too and how God is taking people in some surprising directions.

Who are you looking at?
Talking of directions it was good to talk to one of our friends who had come to see us, or was it the alpacas? Hmmm! Actually it is someone we see about two or three times a year normally, either at their summer house or our house and we always go out to the land to have a look around anyway. He is a professor at Tartu University in Estonia and so it was interesting to find out a little more about the process of doing a PhD and the work involved and in consequence I shall go up to Tartu later on this month to have a look around and talk to some of the people who I might be able to work with. Meanwhile of course I shall also look at other places to see where that leads too.

It's a hard life isn't it? Catching a snooze in the caravan.
You'd never catch us doing such a thing now would you?
Errmmm well perhaps you would from time to time.
Just to round off the visits and visiting we paid an impromptu visit to some friends whose house we frequently pass and feel rather guilty for not having the chance to call in earlier. We ended up with a little cheese and bread supper and could have joined in with the champagne as they were celebrating their wedding anniversary, but Ian was driving and I don't really drink much alcohol anyway. There was also an interesting programme on the telly about Latvia in the 60s seen through the eyes of home movies and she translated it for us and we chatted about the comparisons during the advert breaks. It reminded us of the 50s in the UK, with the style of clothes and so we decided that it was at this point the Soviet Union was 10 years behind and were gradually slipping further and further behind from that point. Today we also took a trip to a town/village to deliver a sofa and chair using our horse box. An American family are visiting the area and had made friends with some folks who go to a church they were put in contact with and found out that the lady needed somewhere better to sleep on. The family were given some money by someone in their church back in America meaning they could afford to buy her something and so we volunteered to take it. Not a big deal really but meant we got to meet some new folks, which we are just about nearly always up for.

I don't sleep all the time
Despite all the visits Ian has at least cut all the areas that he can cut with the big cutter, all that needs cutting now is the parts that need the two wheel tractor or strimmer. Not sure when they will get baled though as the weather is looking a bit iffy this next week, but since it is mainly for compost that is no big deal and certainly better than our friend was explaining is happening in the UK where even silage is difficult to get as there isn't enough dry weather to even wilt the grass so they can bag it up. The weather is bad when even silage is impossible. Hay needs the minimum of three days and so that can be hard sometimes, but silage!!! Oh boy! That's bad.

Okay to me it looks like an upside down pig,
how about you?
It might seem hectic at the moment with late days and not eating until 8 or 9 pm and next week we have our daughter and her husband visiting, so the visiting side of things continues, but we only have a few more months before we are properly winding down for the winter, where there will be time to ponder and time to do the jobs that we just don't have time for in the summer. A time of the year when the hardest part of preparing a meal is not to go out and get it from the garden but to open the freezer, or the store cupboard for a jar and taste the season just gone. Winter is a time to breathe. Let's just hope by the time it comes around we have the blue skies and some snow - not too much but enough to make the day seem bright.