Monday, 30 September 2013

Getting older

Mushrooms in our forest. We still have to
identify these though
We are getting older, happens to us all, funny how that works! I noticed it when going to Hamburg and despite the fact I have taken to wearing my glasses all the time now, I still couldn't see the underground map properly at the train station to plan my route, so that meant a trip to the opticians when I got back and a new set of glasses ordered. Ian's eyesight is getting worse too, he used to have 20/10 vision or is it 10/20 vision, not sure now but it was certainly a lot better than average, so good that once a nurse complimented him, as he was the first person she had seen with such good eyesight. Whilst out shopping though he had to ask me what temperature some grease was able to handle, because he couldn't read the small print on the tube and fortunately I had my glasses on. For your information it goes down to -40C and up to 120C, so that should be alright.

Our pond is still low, despite the rain.
Good job we are not really watering
the things in the greenhouse now
We had quite a successful day the day we went to the opticians, as we also managed to hand in the paperwork to the land office as the first part of the complicated process of getting projects planned and already built onto the land book (the official record of what a property is made up of and if there are any debts associated with the property). It went pretty smoothly in the office, there was only a minor tweak that the lady made and she hand wrote the necessary addition and had us sign it - that was it! Unbelievable, it had taken us three visits to get that far. The problem came when we went to the post office and we were trying to sort out the payments for paperwork, it was here that a little knowledge of the language proved to be a dangerous thing, because it sounded like she wanted something that she already had the information for in front of her and so I was well and truly confused. Eventually we did manage to sort it out and pay. Well that was two things completed successfully and in addition to that we also managed to buy a fridge for our guest apartment - we've only been going to do that since the beginning of June. We were spurred on by the fact that we have guests there for two months. It is one thing to do without a fridge for a week, quite another to expect people to cope for two months.

They have eaten this lot down fast. Now where to move
them too? The pigs dug up the obvious next step
It is not just us getting old, so is the year. The temperatures have dropped quite dramatically and Ian, especially is feeling the cold. It has been damp and chilly some mornings and we have got used to the heat over the summer. It seems really peculiar to feel cold when it is 7 or 8 C, when that will feel warm in the Spring - but then again that is six months away and after temperatures that have dipped to -20C and lower. The alpacas have been on a feeding binge and the hens had all but stopped laying, we haven't had an egg for days, until today that is. So it is not just the trees preparing for winter but the animals are sensing it too. We finally managed to get Herkules' teeth sorted and it was a bit hairy to say the least. Our vet's husband is a builder and he came with an angle grinder. He was full of confidence that he could do it with that and to give Herkules credit he was very still for the whole thing, mind you there were three of us sitting on him at the time. The advantage with the vet's husband doing the cutting, is that he is very used to using an angle grinder and kept the angle grinder quite still and into his body, but it was still scary to watch - apparently. I was sat on his rear end and so didn't see what was going on, thankfully. We also managed to get his toe nails cut at the same time, but not with the angle grinder, I hasten to add. We joked that it would be interesting for our new acquaintance to put alpaca dentist on his CV

Guerilla knitting in Tartu. Take a close
look at that colourful tree
I'm now toing and froing from Latvia to Tartu in Estonia again. This time it is for the didactics course. At least now I know what it is and it is just a course in higher education teaching. The didactics being the processes of learning and the ethics of teaching. When I look the word up though, I am still not convinced it is used correctly. I have a feeling it is one of those words not often used by English speakers but regularly used by those who have English as a second language, like the word pedagogue that crops up often in different countries and is still a word that confuses me. At least the class went fairly well. Most people are reasonably confident to voice an opinion in a nice enough way, which makes class discussions interesting instead of forced. It is quite an interactive class that aims to draw out the values you have as an educator or a potential educator, since one of the requirements of the doctoral course is to teach some classes at some stage. It is nice to see them teaching something that is more interactive, as it is not something that comes naturally to educators in the ex-Soviet countries, where classes are more about the information than the learning process and it is the sole responsibility of the students to make sure they learn for themselves, regardless of how boring the lecture/class is. Fortunately this is changing gradually.

The beans were once screening the
chicken arks. But the frosts we had
this week have killed them off. The
chickens are also busy eating their way
through the old strawberry bed and
fertilising it for the next crop, then
 they will be put in the greenhouse
I didn't take the bus or the train up to Tartu though, as someone kindly lent me their car. This meant that I could bring up enough clothes to have some spare, which is much easier than carting a suitcase through Riga, which was one of my plans. It also meant I didn't have to travel up on the Sunday for a Monday afternoon lecture and it means I can travel back at a reasonable time tomorrow. It was a lovely day to travel up as well, the sun came out and lit up the already brightly coloured trees. It is proving to be a gorgeous autumn with some intensely coloured leaves after the dry and hot year we've had. I wished I could have had time to get out of the car and take a picture for you, but there wasn't enough of a leeway to do that, as I needed to make sure the paperwork was complete for the first lecture (paperwork seems to be featuring rather heavily here) and I wasn't too sure of where I was supposed to be. I did get a little lost, as there are rather a lot of parks at the top of steps in Tartu near to cobbled streets which were the descriptions I was working on. Fortunately a very nice man was able to show me on a large map where I was and where I needed to be. I was a block away from where I should have been, but fortunately got there just in time.
And there are the Borlotti beans, already
for de-podding. I love Borlottis beans
and hate them all at the same time. They
are mainly creamy white with varying
speckles of pink on them, some are deep
red, but they all look like the chocolate
eggs I used to get as a kid. Makes me
hungry to see them
Oh yes! More beans. Don't worry we
won't be eating all these, we will be
feeding them to the chickens over
winter too
Life at the moment is like juggling balls, not only are we juggling some of the different demands on our time, we are also switching some of our roles within our marriage. Ian used to be the one who travelled a lot and I stayed home, now it is the other way around and so some of the things I used to do, now have to be taken on by Ian and vice versa. It's not easy and sometimes we end up dropping the ball or having to re-negotiate priorities and even that is a shifting from month to month. Take this month, the alpacas have been quite a high priority on our list, not because we think animals should have a priority over anyone, but because we have four new ones coming and two are pregnant. We have been negotiating for a long time to get them and only have a small window to transport them owing to their condition and also the condition of our roads in winter and spring. If you add into that mix that the guy we are buying them from has only a limited amount of time when he is at home, to make sure they are sent off in good condition, our transporter fits delivery in around transporting horses and we have other commitments you have a recipe for confusion and a headache. Plans are coming together and now we wait for the confirmation of the date of delivery.
More empty spaces. The long grass is
where the squash plants had crept across
the orchard grass. The frost finished them
off too
I should have done a before and after picture of this herb
bed. The weeds had taken advantage of my travels and
done a take over bid. They are sorted - for now!
If that was the only headache inducing decision making we had to make it wouldn't have been so bad, but we also have some family dos that we want to attend and that has been a bit of a nightmare to arrange and I wasn't doing most of the planning. It all got very complicated, but hopefully it is sorted now - well maybe. All this would get a bit too much for me, if it wasn't for my faith and belief that what I am doing is part of God's plan for me and my life. Not that I think he has a plan set in stone for me, but it is part and parcel of my walk with him. There are new things for me to learn and explore as part of my journey with him. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that and to reflect on how far I have come. Being at home with three young children many years ago felt like an important thing to do and it was, but God had other plans for me as well. Plans that would have absolutely scared me if you had told me then what I would do, such as helping to lead children's work for hundreds of children, preaching in foreign countries, not just moving house but moving countries and so on. Sometimes I get a bit apprehensive about what my next role will be, but a song from my first days of stepping out came back to me again this week "Beyond these shores" by Iona. It talks of stepping out beyond our known shores and casting off, confident that it is the path laid out for us and even if it isn't, that the path won't take us beyond the love of God. It is based on the life of St. Brendan who set off from the West Coast of Ireland, not even knowing if there was anything out West, just feeling the call to go.
The nearly empty side of our greenhouse. All the tomatoes
have gone, except for these red currant tomatoes that seem
to go on forever and very tasty they are too

Monday, 23 September 2013

Autumn days

Autumn days are definitely drawing in, as the temperatures drop, the rains finally arrive and the geese head south for winter as they were doing today (Forever Autumn lyrics floated through my brain at this point). We saw three groups fly over making a racket as they flew overhead. Now to see if the old wife's tale of geese flying south ten to fourteen days before the first snow holds up again. So far they have been pretty consistent - but that is because we usually do have some snow fall mid-October anyway. Well as our agricultural season turns I should mention that Ian has not been idle while I was away, as you can well imagine if you have followed this post for any length of time. He has now finished the second alpaca house and started back on clearing the woodland of weed bushes and doing some thinning out to improve the health of the forest, that is all alongside regular chores such as looking after the animals, moving electric fences, bagging up our 8kg of grapes for the freezer, bagging up the tomatoes I didn't manage to freeze, digging out bulrushes before they take over the pond and goodness only knows what else. At least the shorter days means getting home earlier though.

Not on our lunch menu in Tartu, but an out of season
strawberry growing in our garden. It even tasted nice, which
was surprising since it is so late in the year. We are going
to replant the plant from which this strawberry came from
as it is a plot that is to be cleared out, as the plot is past
its best. We are hoping that maybe we will have more late
strawberries next year
We had a nice drive up to Tartu last Monday, as I was meant to sign a paper. I wasn't sure exactly what paper this was, but I had to sign it. When I got up there I was given a paper and told to take it to the other university in town, where my university has an arrangement for them to teach didactics to International doctoral students. I had to look up the word "didactics" and even then I'm not entirely sure I understand what the aim of the course is, but I have to do it and I will just go along with that. In the end all I did was hand in the paper, along with a photocopy of my passport and that was it. Seemed like a long way for nothing, but since Ian came along for the day out we took the time to enjoy ourselves and a lovely day it was too. We ate in the cafeteria at the uni where I usually eat, and then went to a cafe near to the place where I had to deliver the paper that someone recommended to me called Werners. The cake was fantastic, not quite worth the three hours it takes to go there, just for that, but close.

The wild boar came back again and re-dug the ground.
They have also started digging in other places.
Hopefully the hunter will make a difference again
I suppose it kind of made up for the fact I abandoned Ian on his 50th birthday. While in Tartu we did some thinking and decided it was going to be better for me to travel to Riga by bus and stay in a hotel overnight. The cost was almost the same as Ian taking me and driving back and meant we both didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn plus it saved more wear and tear on the car. Fortunately our friends did us proud. I confess to letting them know it was his birthday and that I was going to be away and one couple rang early evening and invited Ian to eat with them after he had finished out on the land.  Before he left the land, some more friends walked over the hill to where he was, singing "Happy birthday." Ian said it was like a scene from the "Sound of Music." I wasn't all on my own though, I managed to meet up with a young friend of mine whilst in Riga. We maybe years apart in age, but we really enjoy each others' company and always manage a good old natter. I'm so pleased that the thought crossed my mind to text her and see if she was in the country and if she was free - she has been gadding about just lately, rather like me I suppose. She showed me a lovely little tea and coffee shop that I didn't know about and had a proper pot of tea for the first time in ages on nice comfy sofas. Perfect!

Hamburg town hall
My destination this weekend was Hamburg and I arrived there about an hour late, as there seemed to be a few problems with the weather, with some flights cancelled and others delayed. Couldn't work it out when I looked at the weather satellite and there seemed to be nothing in the news, so I have no idea what the problem was, even my Latvian travelling companions didn't know. My impression of Hamburg is that the public transport system seems okay, with plenty of trains and an underground at relatively low prices, but the city itself, I wasn't so impressed with. Maybe it is because folks are so tall and seem to smoke a lot, that it seems quite claustrophobic. Maybe it is because it is a Saturday afternoon and that is not a good day to explore a city when you are used to the quiet countryside. There were also lots of folks sitting around drinking, begging or just sleeping on the floor. I haven't seen that for a long time and it disturbs me. There were also a lot of flyers on the floor, presumably from the German election, making the place look a mess. Just to add to the surreal nature, or at least my perception of it, there was a gospel choir playing outside the main station as I neared our hotel and on a stroll around there was a guy pacing around with a huge book in his hand, presumably a bible and he kept lifting it up to his mouth and singing. Just as I walked past the guy sang "Jesus ist hier" (Jesus is here), at least my German stretches that far to know what he was singing. I felt like turning around to him and saying "I know that, but right now it is difficult to grasp in this seething mass of humanity and with you pacing about without much sign of peace." A bit later on though, as I sat to eat a pastry there was another guy playing a cello, it seemed an oasis of peace in that place for which I was very grateful- I put some money into his bag.
A close up of the town hall

A balloon over the town hall

I didn't see much in the way of lovely architecture in
Hamburg, but then again my own nation's bombing during
the war didn't help. 
Although I wasn't too impressed with Hamburg as a city - wouldn't like you to think that I only go to warm sunny places all the time now anyway - I did enjoy the course I was attending. It was aimed at getting doctoral students together from different universities to talk about what they are doing and to provide help, support and some guidance along the way. I was greatly encouraged by a professor from Portugal, she loved what I was trying to do and thought it was very much needed in the field of Landscape Architecture (just in case you've missed out on what my studies are, it is aimed at finding ways to encourage people to participate in decisions affecting the place where they live). She appreciated the fact I have studied in another discipline to the one I am now in and therefore bringing different skills to the subject, including my life skills. If Landscape Architects are going to make a positive difference to the environments where people live, they do have to find good ways to engage with the local inhabitants and so she encouraged me to stick with it and she stated quite emphatically that she thought I would be able to do what I set out to do. I guess it's nice to be believed in from time to time.

Autumn leaves against a fading wall
Within the field of Landscape Architecture (and conservation like the previous course I was on) the application of the African proverb "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together" is very relevant, especially when dealing with places that people use or live in. This saying resonated back through my head this week for another reason though. I heard it at the course in Peyresq (where my previous course was held) and thought that's nice, but sitting in yet another house meeting to deal with issues arising in our apartment block, it became more relevant. I was beginning to wonder that, if I cannot see a way to help resolve some of the conflict amongst my own neighbours, how can I hope to comment on conflicts at a wider level. After re-reading through some profiles of speakers from my time in Peyresq, it dawned on me that much of the conflict centres around a lack of hope and shared vision of the future. That looks a good place to start then, a visioning exercise. Sounds dreadful but it is not as bad as it sounds. It basically means thinking through how you want your life to be, what do you want to see happen and then working out how to get there. It is about envisioning a more hopeful future, rather than one locked in the conflicts of the past and present. Well it might be a start!
Any clues as to what this little fella is? I rescued it from
the road near our apartment block as it seemed determined
to kill itself on the road

Monday, 16 September 2013

Peyresq and a little bit more

Not quite Latvia! The view from our lecture room on
my course
Well what can I say about the last two weeks? It was good! Very good! It started off with a fleeting visit by some friends from Fort Collins in Colorado, where we lived for two years. Unfortunately we couldn't manage more than a couple of days between us and all too soon we were waving them goodbye at the airport, only it was me leaving by plane and not them. They went on to meet other friends in Riga. One of our friends helped me pick tomatoes and I managed to process some of them for the freezer, but not all of them, the rest was left for Ian to continue, along with a whole list of other jobs I left him with. At least they got to see our home and where we live now and we had a chance to talk - nothing new there then, there is always time to talk. I am sad to hear, though, that while I was away that Fort Collins and places further afield - places we visited like Boulder and Estes Park, have been hit by flooding. Some of those canyons that looked remarkably like places I visited this last week have been deluged with life-threatening storm surges of water racing down the canyons. It always amazed me to see the signs "In case of flood, climb!" I used to wonder how on earth anyone could climb out of those canyons in a hurry. Those signs were obviously designed for times like  now.

My morning walk to breakfast
It was all too early in the morning as we set off to the airport a week and half ago and so soon after the drinks were served on the flight I fell asleep. I woke up to see a cloudy scene with some small wispy bits of cloud above the main body of cloud. Well that's what I thought at first, then I realised they weren't wispy bits of cloud but mountains covered in snow sticking up above the clouds. I had reached the alps. We flew in to Nice from over the sea and it was obvious why the coastline is called Cote d'Azur, the sea indeed was a beautiful azure blue and quite breathtaking from the air, so was the airport and not for its beauty. The airport is situated on a spit of land in the sea, come in too early and you would be in the sea, go too far and you would be in the sea also. Well that is what it looked like as we flew in, but it was bigger than it looked from the air - thank goodness!
Or maybe this way instead
But not always easy to walk on

Peyresq, perched in the mountains
I arrived a good hour before the bus to my final destination, but I soon spotted a someone who looked like they maybe heading for the same place I was. It is not every day you see someone in the airport with a cardboard tube and a backpack, sure enough it was a young lass from Poland attending the same course I was on. It was a good job really as I would have looked a bit silly introducing myself. By the time the bus arrived, there was quite a group of us who had gathered, all except me I think was carrying either a cardboard tube or a plastic poster holder. My poster was in my suitcase, the largest suitcase we had, as I didn't have a cardboard tube, as I mentioned last week and it was the only suitcase big enough to hold the poster (birthday/christmas hint here, as I am sure it won't be the last time I carry a poster on a trip). I felt rather silly with such a large suitcase and I was rueing the decision when we got to the village, which was going to be home for the next 10 days. Not only was my room nearly at the top of the house, it was up a rocky steep path and I had to carry that enormous suitcase up it all. Fortunately someone helped me with my rucksack that I was also carrying. It didn't help that Peyresq is situated at 1500m and so I was also a little breathless. It was a good job that I was shifting hay bales earlier on in the year, in obvious preparation for the task.
A steep gorge in the Alps. Those cliffs are

Pituresque windows 
I was a little worried about the course, as I knew I would be far older than most of the other students, but fortunately for me there were a few others who were older than my children. The younger ones were very gracious though as they accepted us all regardless of age. The only time that age was anything of an issue was when I sensed a need to urge on the younger generation. They will have far more time than I have to make a difference in this world and I am sure that many of them there will go on to do that. They had such a passion for this world and the living things on it, as you would expect of ecologists and conservationists, but also a passion for people that was a refreshing mix. Too often I see scant regard for this living planet, which I believe was created by God and as such believe that we have no right to decide that a species doesn't matter. If it was created by God then save it, if at all possible. I don't think it is an issue either that justice for people trumps these issues, as often the race for profit impacts indigenous groups and the poor, just as much as other living creatures. What was also refreshing was seeing scientists getting all touchy, feely instead of just objective as they have been taught to be. Scientists have feelings too and often they are deeply saddened by the impacts mankind are making on this planet and rightly so. Well rant over, I shall move on.

It was not all sunshine! Honest! Someone stole the mountains
The little church in Peyresq
I think the best thing to do would be to highlight some of the snippets of my time in Peyresq, a little village perched on the rocks in the Southern French Alps. On the first day I was rather amused by God's sense of humour that meant that the "random" piece of paper I was given with a statement on, was Genesis 1:28, but written in old English. We were meant to decide whether the statement was more about society or about nature and more about man's domination of nature or nature's domination of man. Well in the old version, words like "man having dominion over nature" meant the meaning was quite clear, but it is not a view I take due to the context of other verses, where man is supposed to care for nature and I said as such. When asked if I was a Christian, of course I replied yes, as did the other guy who got the same statement. Coincidence! Methinks not and I'm sure I heard a snigger from my Father in Heaven.

Spot the shepherds hut
My roommate was a lovely lass, but she was a little concerned for me after the first couple of days when it became obvious that we weren't heading for our room around the same time at night and so she organised to go to a separate room and that meant I had the room to myself. I was also blessed by the care and concern of many on our downward decent from a long walk in the mountains to visit a shepherd who lives on the mountains with the sheep in summer (although the one we met was a stand in, I think the other shepherd was sick). My knee started to act up about half way down and folks were rather worried about me when I had to stop to stretch muscles. One of the leaders fortunately had a spare walking stick with him and so he lent me his and I therefore made it down fine after that, I even carried on carrying my rucksack despite the offer from one gentleman to carry it for me. I have felt rather spoilt at times this last week, especially with the food. The food was very good, although I really appreciated the term demitarian by the end of the week. A demitarian is someone who eats less meat and more vegetables, a state that is a mystery to someone from the Provence so we were told.

I love old doors! There would have been more
but my camera batteries died
I didn't just get to spend the week with a highly intelligent bunch of people, they were also great fun to be with and incredibly creative. We were often entertained by one guy playing the piano and sometimes a lass joined him and they ad libbed the music, others joined in with tambourines, shakers and guitar. On the last day the students put on a play to encapsulate what they would recommend to people in the region where we were studying, based on some of the things we had learnt along the way. Unfortunately I missed actually being in it due to a miscommunication, but it meant I got to watch the whole thing and it was great. The best part for me was when a guy playing Jesus, told everyone what a mess they were making of the world and gave them a second chance. Brilliant! Now what would we do differently if we were given that chance? Well in the play, the ageing farmers weren't the only ones cultivating the land the younger ones were also there and developing plenty of local products to sell to ecologically aware tourists who respected the farmers and their farming ways. They utilised other forms of energy, such as wind and solar - of course! The flocks of sheep were kept in smaller herds and had more people looking after them to give more employment and meant they didn't over graze the mountains and so on. As I said, brilliant!

Lavendin field
We also got to go on a day long tour of the area errrr I mean field study trip of course. This meant visiting the lavender farms or lavendin farms as we found out. Lavender grows wild up in the mountains but the big farms utilise a more productive hybrid of lavender. The soil is so rocky though that the fields there are not as lush and green as fields around us here in Latvia, but then again we don't grow hectare after hectare of sunflowers and lavendin. We didn't go at the most beautiful time of the year when the lavendin blooms, they had already been cut when we got there. That was maybe a good thing as the scent of lavender was heavy in the air without the blooms, goodness only knows what it must smell like with the flowers in bloom. The sunflowers also looked rather sad, with their heads hanging low. They must have been close to being cut as they also looked rather dry. We visited a goat farmer who told us how they took the goats up the mountains to feed amongst the trees of the mountain slopes. The trees were planted to stop soil erosion after problems in the 18th century due to the forest all being cut down. The farmer was paid to graze her herds of goats by the State so that it reduced the risk of forest fires. The only problem now though is that wolves are moving into the area and her herd has been attacked a few times now. The goats are now accompanied by someone, but of course it is  getting scary. We wended our way along canyons and through pretty villages also clinging to rocky outcrops like Peyresq and along the valley bottoms populated by people now that villages don't have to cling to rocky outcrops for protection from raiders. We visited a lake that was created by a hydroelectric dam, providing water for two cities as well as electric, but in the process flooding productive agricultural land and places where 4 tonnes of truffles were collected annually and bringing in a revenue of millions in the process. Progress? Difficult one that as the lake also provides flood protection, except one year when the normal rate of 30m3 per second was increased to 1400m3 per second.
The lake, under which used to be the truffles
the farms and a village. Now clean drinking
water for cities
The goat farmer also had pigs. These pigs are taking
advantage of the acorns from the oak trees
Well those are a few of my highlights from the last two weeks. Of course there is more to say and maybe some of my new friends will add their favourites, but for now that will do from me. If you want to know more, then you will just have to come and visit and spend a few hours chatting. I will finish though with this story of my trip home. I've been talking about the wild boar and the problems they cause a lot over the past week and on the way home we nearly collided with a whole family of them. I've seen family groups a couple of times before but never so many, it was obviously a good breeding year for them. Hmmm!
Clinging to the gorge walls

A small French village in the Verdon region

A view of a valley in the Verdon region

Monday, 2 September 2013

Puddles and squashes

Autumn begins
I forgot to mention last week, the storks have gone! We saw some circling around on a Sunday a couple of weeks ago and then we saw just a few after that - the stragglers. Definitely all gone now though (well that's what we thought until we saw one very lonesome looking stork on the way into Riga). With the exit of the storks, the trees have taken their cue and decided it's autumn and autumn colours are beginning to tinge the countryside. We even had our first proper rainfall in a few weeks, enough to actually wet the ground. We badly, badly need the rain as our ponds are almost down to a puddle. I have never seen them so low, even in the last hot dry summer three years ago, which is bad news as we still have the greenhouse to water and now have to think about bringing in water for the animals as there hasn't been enough rainwater collected off our caravan and the pond water is too low to give them that. At least the cooler days means they don't need quite so much water and there is lots of moisture on the grass first thing in the morning. That is something that has really surprised us this year, that despite the lack of rain, there is so much dew that the grass is actually growing quite well.

One of our pond puddles
We managed to collect the most important crop of the year in this week, our potatoes. As usual the potatoes were grown on two separate crops, one had a good amount of potatoes but a lot of blighted ones too, one had lots of small potatoes but some of the plants were still green too. We decided to only lift half of those and see if leaving it till later would mean a bigger crop. Not sure if maybe the different variety we bought in this year was just a later maturing crop or it was due to the place they were planted and the type of year we've had. Oh well! As a gardener you are always living and learning and there is always next year. At least this year we have more potatoes than last year, that's a blessing as we are not planning lots of trips away, well Ian isn't.

Well I'm okay now! 
Another surprising thing this year, we saw a  squirrel. A very skinny looking brown/red squirrel. We didn't get a good look at it as it was while we were driving along and it very nearly ran out in front of us. Now that would have been just typical if the first time we see a squirrel in this country we ran over it, but fortunately it took a double take and decided to scamper back into the woods. We feel sure it has heard there are hazelnuts on our land. That's another first too, we haven't seen those around our place, hazels yes but none with the nuts on. I have some sad news too this week. We lost six chicks in all, to whatever ailed them last week. Not exactly very good at all, but at least the rest have perked up and looking pretty good now. Even the big chickens are looking much better after their bout of illness, not related to the chicks, but some mould in the buckwheat made them wheezy. Just one hen is still causing us some concern, but they are starting to roam around again and it probably won't be long before they are all being a nuisance again.

Gaining trust!
I have been rushing to get some work done this week for my paid employment before the start of the new university semester. I have taken a step back in my job and I will no longer moderate the student cafe that I have been doing for the last 9 years, a younger lass is taking that bit on. It means I don't have to be online all the time, which makes it easier when I am jetting off here there and everywhere. I also felt I was getting too old for chit chat with teenagers all the time. I love talking to teenagers, but not for a job any more. I'm still around for trouble shooting and I have some bible studies to do. There is still some details to work out as to what else I do, but it will be nice to make a change.

Morning mist
There has been frustrations galore this week. I had to redo a proposal for a doctoral seminar. Basically it means writing a piece that they think is acceptable to be discussed amongst my peers, well I made a complete hash of it. I hadn't been able to get hold of my supervisors (holiday time) until this week to get it amended and so I had to redo it all before Friday. I got something together anyway that was acceptable, but it was just a hassle I could do without. Deep joy! I wouldn't mind but I made some terribly basic mistakes, the sort of mistake that had my kids done it when doing home-ed I would have asked them if they had actually read what they were meant to do. I think my mind is still too distracted and I need to de-clutter it sometime. At least I don't feel so tired as I did about three weeks ago, the iron tablets seem to be having an effect. Going up and down the stairs doesn't seem such a hassle either now.

Horsetails looking bejewelled in the dew. Pity we don't
actually want horsetails in our field but they look pretty
At least I managed to get a poster printed on time. I have to take that with me to a course I am attending in France this week. I was so pleased that they were able to do it and have it delivered to the apartment by Friday. I was even more pleased when I saw the van roll up outside the house, I could have kissed the guy, but I don't think he would have appreciated it. I even have business cards now, the poster and cards are all designed by my youngest son. He can do the work a lot faster with the software that he has than I can. The problem with the poster though is that firstly it didn't come in a cardboard tube, just thin card surround it and bubble wrap and secondly it will only go in one of our large cases and not wrapped in the card or bubble wrap. I have wrapped the poster around certain items of underwear and put a large towel on top of my clothes and under the poster. The bubble wrap was then put across the top of it. Hopefully that will stop it from getting crushed and I just hope I don't get stopped to open my case.

Another beautiful summer's day in the nearest big town to
We have made some progress on the house. We now have our address and we went to the notary to sort out a contract with the owner of the land, to get a lease. Only the owner of the land is in Canada and we have power of attorney for her. This meant that one of us represented the owner and one of us represented us. So Ian is leasing the land from me in effect and he has to pay me 10 Lats (£12) a year (I won't spend it all at once, honest). We had an issue at first as the notary would not handle the writing of the contract, as we don't speak Latvian, but she said we could write out a contract between us ourselves using an online template and she could notarise it (legalise it), as long as we had a translator present. Off we went to the architects office and the architect wrote out the contract, she also managed to get a translator - an English teacher from one of the local schools. A very nice fellow indeed. Needless to say we now have his number in case we need his services again and I'm sure we will. He nearly didn't take any payment either as he said the architect had done most of the work, we still gave him a token payment anyway.

Nice and clean and don't the squashes look nice on the
I spent Sunday cleaning though. We have visitors today and our apartments needed floors washing. The problem with summer is there is not that much time to do it and so it needed to be done. It wasn't just the floors though, there were squashes that needed a wash and laying out, onions needed outer skins taking off and soil removing before putting neatly into some baskets. All jobs that have sat there for a couple of weeks. We have over 100 squashes now, to last us through to next year. They are not just for us but also the animals. I like squash because you just plant them, they may take a bit of time to really get into their stride but then they just sprawl over the place and take care of themselves by smothering everything in their path. The squash just then need cutting off the plant, curing the outer skins so they are nice and hard and then leaving until winter time. Some squash last just up to Christmas, some into the new year and some we have this year, should last through until this time next year if we wanted to. They are great winter food and when they do start to go off they can be made into preserves or frozen at a time of the year when there isn't that much to do and it isn't that much of a problem to have the oven/cooker/fire on all day. Easy! This year it will be even easier as the animals will be getting the majority of them. Even if we are a fan of the squashes we grow, we can't really eat that many of them.
Close up on the bedroom windowsill

Bedroom 2

Kitchen windowsill

Living room windowsill. Do you think anyone will notice
that we use this apartment as a storage place too?
See you hardly notice them
Not so sure where these will go though! 

It's a hard life
There is definitely no blog next week. As I said I am swanning off to the South of France, ten days up in the mountains. Life's tough heh!