Monday, 30 December 2013

An International Flavour

Our gift from our time spent chatting to the folks at Raksi
the camelid attraction farm
Well, when you can't go to see the world, have the world come to you! This last week we visited America, Britain, Sweden and of course Latvia and were visited by Britain and Mexico, courtesy of our international friends who live relatively near by, and I thought only last week it was going to be a quiet week. Our Christmas started with decorating the Christmas tree that ended up being done on Christmas Eve as usual and because we don't have young children around, we decided to have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve - how Latvian! Actually it was more like how convenient, as we were trying to juggle a couple of things with feeding the animals, which makes trying to have Christmas dinner during the day on Christmas day a little difficult, especially if we have a good breakfast.

My Estonian Walnut from my friend in
Estonia. The ribbons are in the colours
of the Estonian flag
Breakfast on Christmas day was croissants again this year, followed by good old fry up of home-made bacon, mushrooms and eggs (unfortunately not our eggs or our mushrooms). I made the croissants a little different this year, as I added a cube of dark chocolate to some of them and it worked really well. Croissants for breakfast on Christmas day is an annual tradition that started when our children were young. One of my son's commented this last week that he would like to come for Christmas next year, if he has a job, there were two reasons, first the croissants and second we have more chance of having snow than where he lives - not that we have any this year, but it is true that Latvia is more likely to have snow at Christmas time than in the midlands of the UK. I guess we'll have to put in an early booking then for some snow next year. I'm pleased though that our yearly ritual of having home-made croissants for breakfast on Christmas morning was appreciated enough to deserve a mention.

Eating croissants for Christmas breakfast
We had our breakfast out in the caravan, or rather I had my breakfast out in the caravan, on our land. Ian ate his at home and had second (or is it third) breakfast with me. Ian takes some filling at times and he has to eat as soon as he gets up, but there is always room for more and he snacks through the day as well as eating bigger portions than I do for main meals. He needs the energy though and is still as thin as a lat as we say (and that isn't as thin as a Latvian kind of lat, but as thin as a thin piece of wood which is also called a lat - confused? I wish I hadn't started now). For a change the sun actually shone on Christmas day and so we went for a walk after the croissants and before the fry up. It was then time to feed the animals, sit around and chat a bit, do some knitting for me and Ian pottered about, before it was time to feed them yet again and meander on home.

Eating hay in the sunshine
Once home it was time to talk with our two sons and their families and the briefest of chats with our daughter to book a chat for the following day, courtesy of Skype. Ian also phoned his mother and then it was time to go out to one of our American friends and his British wife, with their children of rather confused nationality- not quite sure how British, American or Latvian they are, but they are fluent in all three languages, switching with ease between all of them. We had a good time eating and chatting before playing a game of trying to guess our chosen profession. After the fourth round we were all thoroughly confused, as we had forgotten which round someone had chosen plumber, or astrophysicist etc. Still there were a few laughs along the way.

The little stuffed owl I knitted - don't worry,
the recipients have already seen the photos
There were no presents to open this year, but don't feel too bad for us. We got some fleeces from my parents but they arrived early, as we collected them from our son's house in November and with the cold snap we had we've already worn them and fully appreciated them. Our daughter sent us a gift card that is redeemable over the net and I am sure we will enjoy spending that some time soon, but not exactly something to unwrap. One son is unemployed and so no presents from him and we wouldn't expect one, he needs the cash more than we do. The other son said he has got me something expensive, but I have to wait, as it is a birthday and Christmas present (it will be my 50th birthday this next year) so that's exciting and got me wondering what he has planned or got for me. I have no idea what it is. I haven't been terribly organised myself either and I have only managed to finish one Christmas present so far this year and one early birthday present - it was meant to be a Christmas present but ended up too small for the recipient but makes a good present for a little one. I was only ready to post the aforementioned present today and would you know it, the post office was shut!

This is a little harder to see in the photo, but his is a hat
with a knitted owl motif and two big green button eyes
On Boxing Day (26th December for our friends who have not heard of Boxing Day) our British friends came to see us ......... errrrr, I mean they came to see the alpacas. Let's be honest now! They brought their adult son, who hadn't seen our alpacas before and our friends hadn't seen the new ladies we got in October. We managed a big meal in stages, first eating the first course, which I prepared whilst Ian was out on the land seeing to the animals, then going back out to the land for a quick wander around, feed the animals and then back for pudding. With all of us hailing from northern English stock, we could call it pudding without any confusion, for many of our friends it is dessert, pudding being something completely different to what we ate for many of them, and just in case you're wondering it was apple pie. Our first course was home-made boiled ham, roast carrots, parsnips, onions, home-made sausage balls, sage and onion stuffing, cranberry and applesauce, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, roast squash, leeks in white sauce and Yorkshire puddings (not dessert). I don't think I've forgotten anything! The day wasn't finished once they left either, they had hardly gone out of the door when we headed out to another friend's 40th birthday party (so that covers our Latvian and Swedish connections). We rolled back home, well stuffed.

Our own Christmas tree from our own land.
Can't get much fresher than that and not
sprayed with any chemicals either
Our last guest of the week was a friend I made on my Teaching in Higher Education course at Tartu University. He mentioned he was backpacking around the Baltics and I offered a place to stay if he wanted to come and this is where the Mexican connection comes in. He arrived fine by bus from Riga, if a little tired, as he had only just got in from Prague. I had to wave at him madly to get off the bus, as there are no signs for our end of route bus. He put his rucksack in the car and we went and bought a few things from the shop. As we were getting back in the car though, he mentioned he thought he had dropped his passport on the bus.

Decorations above the window, to brighten the place on
those dull winter days
We got home and he checked through everything, still no passport. I rang a friend of ours whose husband is one of the bus drivers and after a little confusion, she went to the bus garage and talked to the cleaner - no passport. The Riga bus station was emailed and a contact number was given - no passport. In the end we found out we needed to see a policeman to get a form to say it was missing. Easier said than done in our village, in some ways as the police station is not always manned, although one of them only lives around the corner from us, so not far to go if necessary. Anyway we managed to find some policemen, who were in a car outside the supermarket - which seemed odd, but later found out that is because they were not the regulars and only filling in for holiday time.

Rosy sunrise
Unfortunately they didn't speak English, but as luck would have it, our friends turned up, who we had visited a few days before and they translated for us. The whole of our village will probably know now that our Mexican friend had lost his passport, as we had to ask in the supermarket if one had been found, just in case it was dropped there or nearby. Of course it not often that a Mexican will lose their passport in the middle of rural Latvia and so it created a bit of excitement for the policeman. They had no idea what to do, so they had to phone up and find out. Not quite the type of excitement my friend my friend had in mind, I'm sure, but he did get to meet some of my friends. At least he has got enough documentation to be legal in the country, so gives him time to sort it out. We just need a piece of paper from the police to say the complaint has been registered, but that won't be very quick - they're on holiday remember!

Not the kind of Christmas present we wanted from the
wild boar. Those holes are deep
The lack of snow this year has been both a blessing and a curse. The animals prefer eating the grass to eating hay and so enjoying the green stuff, where they can get it. They are eating plenty of hay too. as the grass will not be terribly nutritious at this time of the year. The problem is though that they run out of good grass quite quickly at this time of the year and fences are deliberately small so that Ian isn't running around like an idiot trying to collect it when it does eventually freeze or snow. That in itself leads to issues with animals escaping, always looking for the greener grass. One of our sheep kept just walking through the fence, admittedly it wasn't electrified, but hadn't been for a while, since the snow. Even with four wires the little sheep kept walking through it. Fortunately now she is used to Ian feeding them in the day, so she comes running when he has a bowl in hand. With the continued mild weather, the fence is now electrified and being so damp, packs a powerful punch. She is not escaping now! Our other troublemaker is Hercules who would frequently escape by eating under the wire and gradually just moving forward with the wire going up over his back. Ian decided not to bother resorting to electrifying the fence when he spotted Hercules jumping the fence completely - good job he hasn't intentions of wandering. The boys are now permanently in their paddock with just hay to eat, they did fine on it last year and this year's hay is better quality.

Food, friends, fellowship, family - albeit via Skype! I think that has been my kind of Christmas, much of the paraphernalia that has been linked with the holiday is just rubbish compared to what's important. Would be nice to see our son next year and his family if he can make it. Something to look forward to.

That just leaves me to wish you a very Happy New Year and may you be blessed with the important things in life. To finish here is a review of my photos of 2013, courtesy of Google

Monday, 23 December 2013

Dark days

The sun! It does exist
At 8:30am in the morning it is only just beginning to get light, by 9:30am we have daylight of sorts. It has been pretty dreach here in Latvia (dreach is a brilliant Scottish word, to mean horrible, dark weather and pronounced dreeek) and so it hasn't been getting very bright, although we did see the sun yesterday, for all of five minutes and today I actually saw some blue sky for a bit longer than five minutes. It doesn't last long though because by 12:30pm you can tell the sun is beginning to head downwards and it is dark by 3:30pm At least now the days will be getting longer since we have passed the winter solstice. 

No more trudging the streets of Tartu for
a while
I finished my travels up to Estonia and back on Tuesday and there are no plans to go travelling again for a while, well up to Estonia and back that is. I have plenty of work to be getting on with anyway at home and plenty of papers and books I need to read, so I shan't be bored and I shall enjoy not having to take long journeys to travel relatively short journeys, like 10 hours to do a journey that would take 3 1/2 hours by car. I have some unexpected work to do, a review of someone's Masters thesis. Should be interesting to be on the other side of marking so to speak, but it is in my field of study and so I should be okay. I also played host today to a distressed academic, well not exactly distressed but someone looking for a bit of advice on the minefield of referencing, in other words making sure credit is where credit is due to those who inspired the written piece of work and looking for a bit of peace and quiet to finish writing an essay, away from the kids that hadn't quite got the idea of leaving mummy alone to work. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to try and get work done with a house full of children.

Munching away on green grass instead of hay. Ian had
taken the electric fences down before the ground got
frozen, but with the recent rise in temperatures, he put them
back up again and the animals are appreciating it.
Winter is still coming and going, but the animals are glad to be back on the grass, now the snow has gone again. The problem is that the ground is so wet that Ian has had to lay a straw path to our ladies alpaca house. The boys paddock is on a slope and so their paddock area drains quite well, but the ladies paddock is fine on one side but doesn't drain well on the other side. We were worried about that when Ian built the accommodation, but it was the only flat place to put it. At least the piece does slope away and so some drainage can be put in and that should do the trick. Another job for next year.

Just a pity so much of our grassland looks like this! This
isn't recent damage from the wild boar, but you can see
how much grass we have lost through their digging
Our last attempt about a week ago, to cut the toe nails of some of our alpacas wasn't completely successful. One of the boys managed to escape from me as Ian tried to cut them and his front toe nails didn't get done. We tried leaving a bit of the door open and so he escaped, this time we shut the door and used a torch - not easy. Estelle our youngest lady alpaca got almost all her toe nails cut apart from one back foot. Not quite sure how it got missed. The problem with toe nails is apparently particularly bad for white alpacas with very fine fleece. One breeder was telling us that the more they bred for the good fleece, the more likely their toe nails are to curl and get long pretty quickly, obviously a genetic connection there then. This week we tried a different tack, Ian held the animals and I cut the toe nails. Not sure which is easier though, trying to hold the alpacas or trying to cut their toe nails, especially in the dark. Their nails are very tough and it took two hands to cut them, only I was supposed to be holding onto their foot with one hand.  When I tried to cut Estelle's toe nails, she kept trying to sit down and so hiding her legs underneath her and then one of the chickens that has taken residence up there walked in front of the torch - not useful! Anyway it got done well enough to last a bit longer, to a time when we might have a bit more light.

These little chappesses went for a wander today. Ian found
them down by the hay store, but a rattle of food trays soon
sorted them out 
Talking of the chickens that have taken up residence with the ladies, one has disappeared and we are left with another pile of feathers. The poor remaining chicken was huddled under one of the feeders behind some hay that was pulled out and made a hidey hole behind. It obviously had a bit of a fright. It is a good job it is one used to being on its own, as it was the first one to take up residence there, the other one Ian moved when it kept getting left outside and looking rather sorry for itself. The missing chicken had a peculiar gait when it walked, a bit like a goose-stepping soldier and we only discovered yesterday that it had swollen feet that didn't bend. We were not sure if it had been stood on by an alpaca or it was due to it going out in the cold and now we will never know. Rather sad really! We are not quite sure what to do about the hawk, if that is what got this one and it would seem to make sense after seeing the one flying around last week. It is obviously not scared of the alpacas. I feel some research coming on.
Our goose-stepping chicken is no more

Back in the herd again!
Alicia our old lady (the black one) gave us a bit of a fright this week, as she seemed to be separating herself from the others and breathing a bit funny. It might have been just a pain in her tummy, but she carried on eating and the next day was feeling more soicalble. It is a worry when a pack animal separates themselves off, as it is not normal behaviour and can mean they are quite ill. Often with a pack animal, the first time you know there is something wrong is when they drop down dead and that is no exaggeration. Ian though is spending more and more time with the animals and getting them used to him - something he does in winter when he has more time. So hopefully he will know very quickly when an animal is not so well.
Another issue we are facing is the increase in moss in our
fields. You can see all the light green patches. It is going
to need a serious raking in the spring

Any guesses on what Ian's newest Franken creation is?
Judging by the increase in "What is Christmas all about?" comments and stories I guess Christmas is pretty near. It has kind of snook up on me. Christians can often feel that they have a right to the day and get offended when it is not treated with some weird view of respect. I am a Christian, but I'm not going to argue with anyone who wants to celebrate a day of feasting and family at this time of the year. After all many others celebrate winter festivities at this time of the year, how else do some people cope with the long winter nights? For some Christmas is just a name, for some it is the only time they think of Jesus and then only as a baby. I wonder how many other people in this world have their birthday celebrated, by only remembering their birth and not the other years they spent on this earth? We can't really lay claim to the day of Christmas anyway, after all for some Christians the celebrations really occur around January 6th - epiphany when the wise men brought presents, okay not really on that day, but that is when it is celebrated. I don't think we can impose our view of what Christmas should be, after all that has changed over the centuries. Presents? Feasting? They are all fads that have come and gone, with a spiritual spin put on them to suit the times. Xmas? Ooohh! Leaving out Christ? Yes but putting in the cross. Happy holidays? Oooohh! Leaving out Christmas and therefore Christ? No, after all holidays comes from Holy Days and that is what Christmas is meant to be, right?

Now what would you call this?
To finish on a more festive note, here it is! The tree Ian selected. We didn't even fall out over the tree, instead we reserved it for processing a bag of leeks - a bin bag full that is, not a carrier full. We were both tired I guess. Anyway as you can see, the tree is up, just not decorated. I will get around to that tomorrow. Must get the decorations out first though. So I hope you all have a super Christmas no matter how you chose to celebrate it.
It's quite a nice tree on three sides,
which is perfect. The slightly
flatter side has been arranged to be
at the back. Not bad for a weed tree

Monday, 16 December 2013

Washing day?

Just curious. Turbjorn came up closer, but kept backing off
when I got the camera up to take a photo. Obviously
camera shy
Washing day? Well you will have to stick with me to the bitter end to find that out. If you have been following along with the blog, you will know that last week the lecturer didn't turn up for the first lecture of the week. There was no phone call and our administrator couldn't even contact her. Well on the Tuesday she did appear with what seemed like some lame excuse of "unforeseen circumstances." Makes you wonder what unforeseen circumstances stopped her from even picking up the phone to say, "Sorry can't make it." It certainly doesn't help a lecturer to develop rapport with the class, but she did make an excellent study for my teaching course. I think I spent more time analysing what she was doing and trying to achieve than actually listening to what she had to say, as well as amusing myself by watching the other students reactions. One student is five months pregnant and as time to eat came and went, you could see her tolerance levels were dropping and more and more food was emerging from her bag. The teacher didn't take the hint though. Unfortunately she seemed to be making just about every mistake in the book. She paced around the floor, didn't make eye contact and after spending ages explaining someone's theory, she told us that she didn't agree with it anyway. So what was the point in that!

Ian has made new latches for the gates. Better than blue
string anyway that freezes to the gatepost
Occasionally the students, yes that included me, would just start discussing something that they felt was important, without any prompting from the lecturer or it might have been just to amuse ourselves and to stop us falling asleep (I'm not sure if one student did fall asleep and that's not easy in a class of about 12). It showed that as scientists and researchers we wanted to discuss the topic of the philosophy of science, but I just don't think the lecturer gave us much space to really unpack what we had read. It was almost as if the outdated theories were more important than engaging with modern thinking and the connection to scientists today. Scientists do have to grapple with the philosophy and to some extent, a lot of my work is challenging the way scientists and experts think in relation to "ordinary people" and to their pet subjects. Just because you are an expert in the field, doesn't make you the font of ALL knowledge, just your area. Likewise a farmer knows his fields - literally and better than an expert. Both can learn from each other  (I know, I know I said something like that last week and maybe the week before. Pet rant I suppose). At least that point came out quite well in the discussions.

We still call the one in the middle spuggy, because she
looked like a sparrow when she was born. 
Our next lecturer, turned up a few minutes late and was very apologetic. After the performance of the first lecturer on the subject we were ready to forgive just a few minutes. This lecturer though seemed in contrast, as timid as a mouse and she tried so hard to do all the right things, but it didn't quite work, as she still talked too long. I really felt like telling her that a few weeks with our lecturer in higher education teaching would work really well for her. At least she gave us more time to unpack what she said and again we enjoyed the time to discuss. I suppose it did help that she wasn't trying to cram two days worth of lectures into one day, like the other lecturer. 

I don't think this is meant to be an art
installation, but I thought it had an
artistic quality
I have also been analysing my classmates on the higher education course and their 15 minute lecture practice, but we were supposed to be doing that, so that's okay. I was quite pleased in a group analysis that one of the students commented on my practice about two weeks ago and said he enjoyed the activity, so that one will stay on any course I do. There were quite a few things we learnt from each other, such as looking at the students - seems obvious but it is easy to forget when trying to think about how to put a point across well. Being enthusiastic can help enormously, even a less than perfect presentation can be lifted by at least conveying enthusiasm for the subject. Ending on a high is also a good one. The last presentation, the lady struggled in what to convey in just 15 mins, but she finished by letting us play with paints and a chinese calligraphy brush - this was such a change from all other lectures that it meant we actually quite enjoyed her presentation and it was a good way to end our mini series of lectures. Another student was a good story teller and this meant that she could get away with more time spent talking than the rest of us. That makes the point that we should play to our strengths and we don't all have to teach the same way. 

The pond filled to overflowing with the snow melt from last
week. Quite a difference to earlier on this year, when it
was just one deep hole in the middle
It wasn't all lectures last week, just nearly all week; I also took my host, who has been letting me stay at her place during my time in Tartu, out for a meal, as a way of saying thank you and as a little Christmas gift. Since my host resides in Tartu, I left it up to her to choose where we go, although I do confess to admitting that we couldn't go anywhere swanky, but she knew that anyway. Still the meal was very nice, we went to Crepp, which is a pancake restaurant, not that either of us had pancakes though I had smoked fish pasta salad in a creamy sauce, followed by crème brulée and my host had warm chicken liver salad followed by the same dessert. With coffee and a pot of tea for me it came to about €22, so not bad for a city. I do think that Tartu is a very pretty city to visit and as it is not very large at all, it feels very intimate. They have decorated it beautifully for Christmas and every turn of a corner presents a different view of Christmas lights. Although my trips up here have finished this week I shall be back again and the next time will be February for GIS training. GIS is a type of mapping programme that gives rich information in map form – well that's the blurb anyway.

Ian feeding the boys
Now you hear a lot about my trips up and down to Tartu, but what about Ian? Especially now the winter is set in. A typical day for Ian starts around 8:30am ish when he gets to the land and he starts by turning on the radiator to warm the caravan through, before letting the animals out. Having electricity out to the land, is making a big difference for him. Our chickens that are in the greenhouse are in three arks and they get let out in rotation, one set per day to have a run around the whole of the greenhouse. This is a bit of extra exercise for them, but also means they can eat any greenery left, grubs if they find them and do a bit of manuring in the process. The morning is rounded off by different jobs on different days and varies with the needs of the day.

Made it past the girls
Around midday he goes to feed the animals. Now that it is getting colder he is supplementing their feed of hay, with sheep concentrate and vegetables for most of the animals and some extra layers pellets for the chickens. Now you have to try and picture the scene, as Ian carries 7 trays, two bowls of sheep concentrate, plus one bowl with some veg and some chicken feed in a screwtop jar (I think with more animals this might have to change a little, as the tower of trays might make it difficult to balance). His first task is to throw some feed into the chicken hutch to distract the chickens whilst he feeds the male alpacas. This gives him the opportunity to watch the animals and get a feel for how they are doing, as well as helping them to get more and more used to him.

Enjoying the extra treats
The next stage of the process is more complicated. Two of the new chickens that we took down to the big hen hut have taken up residence in the new alpaca house with the ladies and they have a tendency to wander around under Ian's feet while he tries to carry the trays to the girls. A couple of the ladies, also try to get ahead of the game by getting into the feed before he has had a chance to distribute them, so he tries to shield the trays from the onslaught of the girls, meanwhile trying not to trip up over the chickens. He then throws the chicken feed to distract the two pests and then puts out the trays for the girls to feed from. Again he is watching their condition and just getting acquainted with them. More important for these, since they are the ones that he will have to interact with more when they are having babies. Next are the sheep. At some stage there is also the bashing of the pond to clear the ice to get some clean water for the animals. Then done! Till evening when the process is repeated, but this time the trays are put in the alpaca houses.

One of the pests, before disappearing under the alpaca
This week we lost two more chickens, two of the four we took down to the big hutch. Unfortunately one succumbed to the cold, but it was a fairly small one and the other just went missing. Of the other two, one relocated to the other alpaca house and Ian took the other one up when he (?) was looking rather cold and lonely. We found out how they are going missing this week. Ian and I were just preparing to go and dig up some carrots and things and headed out of the greenhouse, when there was quite a commotion amongst the chickens and our alpacas were charging around the paddock. It was difficult to know what was going on at first, but then we realised that one of the birds flying around, was not a chicken but a hawk. It was actually flying around the chicken hutch and the alpacas were spooked by the squawking and went charging out of the way. Hmmph! So much for the theory of them keeping the chickens safe. Ian half wonders if the male alpacas are quite glad that the chickens are disappearing, as they seem less tolerant of them than the girls do. We thought that the hawk was catching the chickens out in the open when they went wandering, we didn't realise that the hawk might actually get so close, especially with the alpacas in there.
Alicia being inquisitive with the one of the chickens
The sheep's turn
From time to time I comment on other blogs and occasionally someone will respond to the comment and post something on my blog. This week has been particularly encouraging, as I have a new blog follower and what is amazing is that she has some fascinating insights into the area we live in , as some of her family lived close by for a number of years. It has really brought home to me though how complicated family relationships can be in Latvia, even more complicated than I already knew to be the case. You have to imagine the turmoil of rival nations fighting each other across the Latvian landscape and different sides taking different members of the family as they found them, brother could end up fighting against brother. Some families were forced into exile in Siberia and some families were torn apart when trying to escape the Soviet advance. As you can guess you have a recipe for a nation in trauma. Whilst it maybe time to move on, as one Latvian commented to me fairly recently, sometimes these things need to be looked at, to come out into the open. Not hidden away to be brooded upon and in the process affecting the future generations. Other European countries, also need to understand the repercussions of these actions, especially as it makes sense of the lack of trust in the nation. Trust doesn't just happen, it has to be worked on and is too easily broken. At least it adds more to the picture of Latvian history on a personal level that I hadn't thought about. Bit by bit I get more of the jigsaw, as I listen and read.

Another piece of felt I have made, with some knitting yarn
that opens up to a net texture felted into it. Any ideas for
uses? It is about 20cm squarish
Piece number two. This has different fabrics felted into it.
Some have sequins on. There is also some woollen
knitting yarn and some yarn that looks a bit like a shiny
ladder. I think I should have photographed the constituent
parts too
A final thing to finish on, that is rather amusing and cannot go without mention (otherwise I will never hear the last of it from dearly beloved). One of my neighbours came ringing on the doorbell yesterday, I couldn't quite understand what she was telling me, but it involved people and trousers. I had to phone a friend to find out what she was trying to say, as she was quite determined I know what she was going on about. Turns out I had left some washing on the line, not only just left it on the line, but it had been there a month. I had wondered where my trousers were and we should have guessed the washing was ours, as the other piece I had left on the line was a bright orange polo shirt which could only be Ian's. I guess that proves it has been rather a busy month and I haven't been around much in the light.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Philosophising - well maybe!

My first piece of felt from our own alpacas. It is not as
flimsy as it looks here. It is quite a sturdy piece of fabric
I had a spare few minutes this weekend, or maybe actually I was avoiding reading vast numbers of papers for my next course, so I decided to make my first piece of felt from Herkules fleece. Herkules is not our best fleece producer and the part of the fleece I used was probably the roughest bit, but at least it  did work. I got a decent size, if itchy, piece of fabric that felt tough enough to use for something. It also came up nice and white in the process. I am not wonder woman, felting is really easy and I even used to teach it to children, quite young children sometimes too. All you need is the type of wool that felts easily, some washing up liquid and as hot water as you can stand or lots of energy if you can't use hot water. Without any extra equipment apart from your hands, it is possible to make felt balls, with a bamboo mat it is possible to make fabric like in the picture. The only problem was that there was fluff everywhere from the process. I will have a go at making some more pieces and see what I can do with them. 

Reunited with the flock. Do you like the Google animation
on this? Clever isn't it!
Our sick sheep has improved and was reunited with our other two sheep. Ian thought it was quite important to do this as it seemed to be developing quite a bond with the brown chickens. Ian lets the chickens run around in the greenhouse for some of the morning and they head straight for a pile of buckwheat and so did the sheep when they were let out. She put her head close down to them and just stood there. She didn't do much, apart from lick a chicken from time to time and they let her do it too. Strange kind of bond, but we decided that she was probably lonely and needed the company of her own kind. We will just have to see how she gets on for the rest of the week. 
One of the brown chickens that the sheep had bonded with

Looking good
All our animals were given vitamin injections and worming injections this week, apart from one errant sheep who Ian couldn't catch. The vet came to help us do this since it was our first time and she also take some samples of skin from two of our alpacas just to make sure they haven't got mites. She loves our alpacas and thinks they are so easy to deal with, even if she had to avoid one of them every now and again, who was registering her displeasure about the skin scrape and injections by spitting. At least she had good reason for spitting, but next time I will knit her a spit bag, so she can't spray everyone at the same time.
Sitting down on the job! The job of eating that is

More snow this week
We re-visited the camelid place this week. I went along mainly to make sure Ian did not come back with a camel or a llama. Well that is what I told everyone. It was a good chance to talk to the ladies who run the attraction place and find out how they look after their animals and what they do to make sure they are healthy. We feel we are on track, but we are going to start giving monthly vitamin injections for the winter, and we are trying some different vegetables to see if they will eat them. So far only the older one likes veg, which actually works out really well as her condition is not absolutely brilliant, she is a lot older and this might account for it, but we would like her condition to be better next year, so she can have one more cria (baby). The others tend to muscle in if there is the sheep concentrate on offer, but the veg they don't care for and so our old one gets the chance to eat all she wants of that, with no interference from the others. 
Sunrise on a winter's morning

Even the lake is starting to freeze in our village
Ian would still like a camel though and wondered if it could be trained to pull a plough. Now that would make folks stop and stare. They are bad enough stopping to gawk at our alpacas. Good job the road isn't a particularly busy one or they would cause an accident. One thing we learnt about camels is that they live for 50 years, so if we did get one, our kids would likely inherit it! Now that would make for a funny reading of the will. The other thing we learnt is that young camels like to play! They jump about and skip and try to get people to join in, only they are bigger than me. I think I will stick to cria, at least baby alpacas are only small. 

Snuggling up in the alpaca house. Unfortunately another
chicken that was doing the same has disappeared

The travelling continued this week. I took the train back to Riga as usual and they are still working on the train tracks, which means getting on a bus for part of the journey. Getting back onto the train though is like mountain climbing, the train is so very high up from the platform at Cesis. I can barely get up with my rucksack on my back and handbag in hand. The lady behind me was struggling even more, she had a huge and very heavy bag. I stopped to give her a hand and between the two of us, we managed to get the bag up onto the train. Makes me wonder how they would manage with a wheelchair - there is space for one on the train with a special restraint for the chair. The travelling is much easier now and time just seemed to fly by. I got work done on my computer and was at the various stops before I knew it. In my weekly travels though, I am always astounded by the ability of young men to fall asleep. They get on, pay for their ticket and then nod off. Youngsters just don't seem to have the stamina these days! (only joking by the way - I need emoticons on this)

Thornless berry leaves
I had a last minute meeting with a lady who is monitoring meetings between a government department and ordinary people. It was quite fascinating and very encouraging to hear about. It seems like the work is going in the right direction, at least in some departments anyway. I had to wait a little while for her to arrive for our meeting and I waited in the doorway of a shop and was much amused to watch two young women photographing a willow structure reindeer with a parcel balanced precariously on its back. They moved the reindeer successively towards the door and then eventually out of it? It was even more amusing to watch them trying to keep the parcel on its back when it was obviously just made out of cardboard and it was windy outside. But what that was all about, I have no idea. As I said the meeting went well and we were chatting and chatting, eventually I said I really have to go and she showed me to the lifts. I didn't know my way around the shop very well and when I got out of the lift, I obviously headed in the wrong direction and came out on a street I wasn't expecting. It took me a little time to get my bearings and ended up running for the bus - well part of the way anyway. I turned up, just in time to see the bus pulling out of the bay. I was just very relieved it wasn't the last bus home, otherwise I would have been in trouble.

Sitting around on straw in the snow seems to be the thing
to do
I have mentioned before that Ian is having to do some of the work that I used to do and this week he had to sort some paperwork without me, not easy. He was going to finalise the papers for the apartment we ended up buying, so someone didn't lose their home (explanation here if you missed it) and also to make sure the greenhouse was registered properly on the land book (the paper that notes all owners, past and present, not much of a book at the moment, but over the years I think it will be). The problem is that I sent him with the wrong file that didn't contain an important piece of paper, he also found out it could have been done at the same time as the barn project was done, which is annoying as I had mentioned it at the time we were trying to sort that out, but we had been told not to bother just then - not the bureaucrats fault this time. Arrrgghh! It means a few more trips backwards and forwards, which is very annoying for Ian, as his time is limited with the short daylight hours.

Tartu university, not the one that I go to, the other one
This week I was supposed to have a full week of "Philosophy of Science" and to prepare for this I was confronted with many, many papers to read of great length and some were really irritating to read. It was even more irritating when the tutor didn't show up in the morning. I have to wait until tomorrow to find out what happened to her. Despite the irritations however, I do like some concepts, such as facts are not facts in a vacuum, they depend on our perception of them. For instance measurements are not absolutes they are relative - what do I mean by that? Measurements are just an aid to measure changes or how big things are, but it is based not on a fact but on a standard developed to measure those changes or sizes. You can measure using imperial measurements or metric, which are both based on standards developed, both equally valid, but different. If measurements were absolutes, the Mars orbiter would not have crashed into Mars because the measurements would have been fixed, instead there was a mix up between the imperial measurements and the metric. Whoops! Only a mere $125m mistake. Kind of makes the point though that which standard you use is important.

Tartu city centre Christmas lights
Scientists like to think they are neutral, that their work is purely based on facts, but they are not as neutral as they like to think they are. It came as quite a shock to me, coming as I do from a natural science background, to realise that my understanding of the world determined the results and outcomes as much as what I measured. I think I kind of realised that when I finished my degree in Pharmacology and Chemistry, as there was one thing I was absolutely sure about and that was, I was not going into the pharmaceutical industry, as I did not agree with the ethics. The pharmaceutical industry is not a neutral evidence based industry, but one based on the profit motive. Drugs are not developed for their effectiveness but for their ability to generate a nice fat income for the company, so forget those one off cures, they are looking at heart disease where the incidence is high and they can keep feeding people drugs for quite a while and don't even get me started on Statins.

Winter jobs, putting fleece around the hay to stop most of
the snow getting to it
Whilst on philosophy I can't leave without mentioning the passing of Nelson Mandela. I have a huge respect for a man who sought peace and lived out forgiveness. He was no saint and that in itself is inspiring. He was grounded in reality and worked hard to see his people walk in freedom. There is still a long way to go in South Africa, but it is inspiring how far he did take the country and not always from the seat of power, as he chose not to stay in that place but work from the outside. I wonder what his legacy will be?
Pathways, roadways and ponds are now marked out with
sticks so we know where they are in the winter when the
snow gets deep