Monday, 24 February 2014

Getting things done!

Our sheep are climbing again!
I managed to finish my homework after the blog last week, but boy was it late for me - 11:30pm. Talking with some of the other students in class, it appeared I wasn't the only one. Typical student I suppose, only I hadn't left it to the last minute to do the work, it was just that it was a difficult topic to do and I had other priorities first, much like a lot of my fellow classmates. You don't usually do a PhD course just for the fun of it, although doing something you enjoy or are passionate about is fun, but because you are very interested in learning and are quite committed about it, just the compulsory courses are not always high on our agendas.

Who? Sweet innocent us?
At least my classmates from Latvia were heading back after the lecture and so I got a lift back to Valmeira and treated to lunch. I had had a sandwich on the way down, so decided just soup would do. The soup of the day was lamb soup, which is not common in Latvia and so I decided to go with that, only it turned out to be more like a stew than a light soup. Tasty though and the lamb was very tender. The trip back also involved two buses and meant a longish wait again in Cesis, but the discovery of the cafe in the supermarket near the train station and even better I discovered it has internet access and that makes the wait just fine. A cup of tea is also just 50c, so not bad! After two cups I was feeling human again after my late night and even better I got to get home one day sooner.

One of our balls of fluff. No wonder they didn't want to
come home to a centrally heated flat, they were roasting
in these coats. Only problem is that they are not the
most practical for barn cats and need a little disentangling
at times.
We went to the big town again this week to take the paperwork for our greenhouse. Amazingly the paperwork was fine this time! I was ready for a fight if it wasn't. Our translator did say that the lady did get a bit worried last time when I asked her to write down the things she was asking for. She refused to do that and insisted that we write down what she said, obviously she had no wish to go down on record. I wished I had remembered that I had my audio recorder in my bag, that would have worried her even more I think. At least the process has begun again and they will leave it until nearly the last day, before sending out someone to survey the greenhouse. What a performance for a plastic covered greenhouse! It even costs us more than the barn, because it covers a larger area.

The new Estonian trains on the right at Valga station. The
old Latvian trains on the left. 
We had a house meeting this week. It wasn't a pleasant affair, as it was a meeting to remove our house manager. We are now in the stupid situation, where there is no house manager to take responsibility for the household dealings. We do have a treasurer who will take the money and she should be receiving all the paperwork, which really makes her the de facto house manager, but she doesn't want that job and who would when people can be quite nasty with their bickering? Fortunately one older man, spoke up and although the majority vote was to remove the house manager, he did say that we need to be kinder to each other and take more responsibility for the house, instead of leaving it to one person. He even volunteered to take on the responsibility of making sure the heating is regulated properly and since he is an engineer, he should be able to handle that okay.

Sitting in the sun waiting for the bus
I went out to the land twice this week. Now it has warmed up a bit and feels more like April than February, it means that it is warm enough to work in the caravan, which also means I can go and help Ian for a few minutes. He needed help giving one of our alpacas an injection, as he has an infected eye, probably the result of bumping into something or banging heads with one of the other boys. He had managed the day before, but an extra pair of hands is always useful for these kinds of tasks. The following day I didn't do any studying, as it was supposed to be a nice day. I say supposed to, it was a foggy start and the sun didn't put in an appearance until late in the afternoon - unlike today which has been glorious of course and I was travelling. All the alpacas needed their toe nails cutting and that is not a job for one person. We decided to halter each alpaca up and tie them up to a hook to make it easier for me to hold them, while Ian trimmed their nails. It is a tough job, as those nails are hard. I half wonder whether they should have a gravel path to walk on to wear their toe nails down, but wonder if this might in turn damage the soft pads on their feet. The alpacas are much better now since Ian has been reading up on how to train alpacas. A lot of it seems to be working, at least most of the time, but like the book says, sometimes you just have to manually restrain the animal to get things done, not everything can be done by coaxing the animal to cooperate and cutting toe nails is one of those jobs. Maybe in months to come, even that job might become easier, but for now there is a certain amount of resistance from time to time and so a little alpaca wrestling was in order, when they started bucking a bit.

The gouges left in the field as Ian pulled the horse box.
At least he got the horse box off, which is more than he
thought he would do at one point. At least we know the
ground will heal, it usually looks worse than this after
As I said, it feels more like April than February and so our snow has disappeared and the land is thawing out, which means mud! Our winter barley looks like most of it did not make it through the winter without its protective coat of snow and parts of the fields are full of moss - not good. Ian has been manuring the fields with alpaca poo by hand and that should help and this year along with the sheep that poo everywhere anyway. He is also going to try rotating the animals faster through the fields, so that the grass has a longer chance to recover in between being munched and he will also let the grass grow longer - which possibly means more fly problems, but some you win, some you lose. We'll see how it goes. Ian has been busy trimming trees in our fields over the last couple of weeks, he doesn't like removing them all, 1) that would lead to erosion and 2) it provides shelter and feed for the animals. He has also helped move one of our neighbours calves for them. Calf? This was no mere youngster though, it was a strapping 18 month old calf. The roads were also muddy and Ian was worried about getting stuck or sliding off the road a few times, but he managed and the neighbours were happy.
Trimmed tree and trimmings ready for shredding. The sheep
will be put down here as soon as the grass is growing properly
then it can be manured and weeds held back in check - well
hopefully, that is the plan. By putting the sheep on early in
the season, we also hope to set the cutting season back a bit
on this section. It is north facing so takes longer to mature
anyway and with an early munch the time to having to cut it
will be longer. Again that is the plan, to make it easier for Ian
The newly refurbished Valga train
and bus station
Today (Monday) is Estonian Independence day which is why I have only travelled up to Tartu today, as there was no GIS training this week. I wasn't sure what would be open and what would be shut. I also thought the buses maybe quieter than usual - not likely. It was busier in Latvia because it was not a public holiday and it was busier in Estonia as people were returning to the city after a weekend away, and students were returning to universities and colleges. The roads were especially bumpy on the first leg of the journey because they are not tarmac roads and that makes annotating pdf files very tricky and made me sleepy into the bargain. The other legs were either too short or too cramped for working on a lap top, so not much work got done today. Still I got some done and that's better than nothing.

Monday, 17 February 2014

There and back again

The stream is melting and water
beginning to flow off the land into it
I am back to lectures this week and fortunately it is my last compulsory course. It is funny that the lecturer comes from Boulder, Colorado just 55 miles away from where I used to live in Fort Collins in the US, he even sounds like one of my friends from there. He managed to make part of the lecture entertaining by getting us to devise a rapid experiment to practice setting and testing a hypothesis. I felt it was a little basic, but at least we didn't have to sit for two hours and it made the point pretty well. In fact I think, with a longer time frame, it would work very well with even high school students, at least with a bit more support along the way in setting up the test hypothesis. We had to devise an experiment and hypothesis in 15 minutes, so no Einstein type of experiments here. One young chap came up with the idea of testing if it was quicker to go downstairs than to go up the stairs. So for the next half an hour five of us sauntered up and down four flights of stairs, we walked normally up and downstairs and then lastly we took the stairs at speed; only I had to repeat two of the experiments because on one I had managed to turn off my stopwatch and on the second a woman beat me to the door which ruined the experiment and being the conscientious sort, I repeated it. And the result of our experiment? It is quicker to go down the stairs in sauntering and normal mode, but in a rush it is quicker to go up than down! You can draw your own conclusions on that one.
Our winter barley is looking a little worse for the wear after
the winter. Not sure if it will survive or not due to the freeze
without much snow cover and now being swamped
These three are in bad books, they have been escaping, after
discovering finally the electric fence wasn't actually
switched on due to the cold. It is ON now though.
Downright ungrateful if you ask me, after all that effort of
making their pen better by covering all the poo with straw
The week didn't go quite to plan though, as there was a miscommunication with the mapping training I wanted to do - this is not a compulsory course, but one I feel will be useful to my research. I got to the computer room on Tuesday afternoon just as four people were finishing off some maps and no teacher. Apparently it was dropped on for that period because the week before only one person turned up. That means I have had to travel up to Tartu on Sunday again to do the course on Monday morning. At least it is only three or four sessions, although at the rate I'm going it will be more as I learn how to use a dratted Windows computer and mouse. Even failed on turning it on, but that is partly because I have never used a computer with a separate screen before and a long time since I have used a mouse and not a trackpad! Rather basic I know. I'll get there though and I'm sure I will speed up. It only took me for the polygon I was drawing, to disappear on me three times, before I found out the shortcut to extend a drawing, so I didn't have to keep getting nearly to the end of my drawing and then it disappear, I could part draw it, save it and then extend it!
Snowdrop showing her portly belly. She has been a little
uncomfortable this week and Ian was wondering if the
baby has been moving around a bit. Seeing the size of her
makes us wonder how our little Alicia managed to carry
Benedikts without showing that much. 
Electric in the barn, finally
I had a pleasant surprise when I got on the bus to travel up to Tartu at the unearthly hour of 7am (okay it is not really that unearthly, except it was a Sunday) my neighbour was driving. I have been travelling on buses from the company he drives for, for over six months now and never met him once. I told him I had a two and a half hour stop before I caught the next bus and so when we got to the end and I was preparing to get off, he told he I didn't have to, as he wasn't going on the next leg of his travels for a half and hour. At least sitting on the bus was warmer than sitting in the un-refurbished station of Cesis. He also told me about a cafe nearby which was open on Sundays, so when he had to go I trotted across the train tracks (as you do here) and headed for the supermarket that I hadn't realised was a supermarket. I also found out they had free toilets and the cafe was quiet, so I managed to get some work done, really pleased about that. I was also grateful as well that the snow, that was coming down quite heavily when we set off, fizzled out to rain and then stopped by the time we got to Cesis. I had had visions of me turning up in Tartu either freezing to death or looking like a snowman and fortunately neither was the case.
And now we have light
And chainsaws have new shelves
because the electric cable runs up
behind them
I have lots of work to do this week and it wasn't helped by a trip to the big town to try and sort out the paperwork on our greenhouse. We mistimed that badly as we arrived 20 minutes before the office was due to close and so she was not best pleased, so much so that she said we needed all sorts of stamps, codes and signatures that actually were there, but she hadn't looked properly. We got sent back to our local office and fortunately when we got back to that office, the guy was just heading out the door as there wasn't much to do and he was less bothered about having to go back. He was bothered though by what he was supposed to do and in the end rang up the lady in the big town and basically asked "what on earth do you really want, it looks fine to me." He added the code that was needed to the front page of our paperwork, so she won't miss it this time, added a stamp and signature and a few scribbles, just for the sake of it I think and we should be okay to get the greenhouse paperwork sorted next time we go back to the big town- more fuel and more time! Arrrggh! This time, mark my words, there will be no prevaricating, she will get it sorted, of that I am sure, otherwise she will be dealing with a very disgruntled foreigner and she won't like that. At least to compensate I managed to do quite a bit of reading on the buses, as I travelled and in the cafe. It did make me realise though why a tablet computer is useful, a laptop on a full bus is a bit of a squish with bags.
We also have running water. Unfortunately
this isn't a permanent feature
Full ponds again
There is a worrying rise of anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe at the moment. I'm an immigrant! I also don't speak the language of the country I live in, or at least not fluently enough to hold a conversation! Two criteria that should mean I'm ostracised, which thankfully I'm not. It is easy to make immigrants a scapegoat. It is easy to blame them for all the violence and crime without looking at the reasons. That is not to say that those who partake in violence are justified in what they do, but some of them are desperate, some of them have been brought up badly, some of them reflect the society that they immersed in, let's face it residents are sometimes no angels either and their behaviour can lead to retaliation too. It won't do any good to point fingers and throw verbal stones. We have to start looking at fairness and justice, both in the countries we live and the countries where the immigrants come from. Sometimes it is economics that make them move, but why? What part has our European nations had in creating the problems? Our corporations are bad enough in our own countries, you don't need to look far to see the lack of taxes paid and diabolical wages whilst they doing nothing to address this state of affairs. How much worse do you think they will be outside of Europe where the restrictions are not the same? Our European history has created unnatural divisions of nations all over the world, our past has not dealt kindly with the nations on other continents and left a legacy of what? Some good and a lot of bad? Can I suggest before reposting news stories that put immigrants in a bad light that we think carefully what it says about us as people? Are we scapegoating by reposting them on our facebook profiles and the like? I shall not get down off my soapbox.

Estelle looking rather mucky, because she has been rolling
in the mud. Goodness only knows what her fleece will be
like to clean after shearing. Hard to think that this time
next year, she will hopefully be pregnant. 
On another note, the EU have introduced one of their not so helpful laws (some of their introductions are I think fair, and some aren't) they are set to lower the limit for benzopyrenes in foods, which sounds good since it is considered a pollutant and carcinogenic, however it is not good news for small local smokeries, using traditional techniques that abound here in Latvia. Smoked food is not eaten in large quantities, but then again they are eaten by children, so there is a dilemma. Cigarettes also contain benzopyrenes but that just means that adults are allowed to kill themselves with the effects of the pollutants. The other sources though are gas roasted meats, over-fried foods and the bbq. The black parts being the worse. Some of our friends were thinking of selling smoked food and so are not happy with the new law. I have done a little research and found an article that says marinating food and adding herbs for their antioxidant properties maybe helpful and so hopefully that might be a solution and make the food healthier into the bargain. I do hope so!

And because I don't know where else to put this, our hens have finally started laying again! Yay! Fresh eggs.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Good day at the office, dear?

On the road back from Jekabpils, a stone house on the hill
Things are settling down a little here and we are getting back to some kind of normality, whatever that might be. Normal for us, isn't exactly most people's idea of normal. I often ask Ian if he has "had a good day at the office" knowing full well that his office is the caravan, or the woods, or the alpaca paddocks. So Ian is now back to his regular routine of going out to the land, a bit earlier now each day since the days are getting longer, where he first lets the alpacas out, feeds the chickens and has a cup of coffee whilst sitting down to watch the chickens, usually with the cats on his lap. Next he will clear the alpaca poo, gathering up the precious manure for the gardens later on in the year or for the pasture, before then giving the animals fresh hay if they are low. After that it depends on the day, cut up wood, clear some more of the forest, sort out electric to the barn, do maintenance on the car, or other myriad winter jobs. After lunch he feeds the alpacas with beets, squash, apples or carrots depending on what we have, with some commercial food concentrate. The amount of concentrate varies according to the temperature. Their rations will be cut this week as the temperatures have risen, so much so that the snow has practically all melted. Then it is back to the other jobs of the day.
A little village where we take a short cut
Every time we take this route, we wonder if it will still see
this house standing, as the weather slowly eats its way
through the cob walls
My days have been filled with studying again. I got some good news and bad news this week on that score. The good news is that the academic paper that I finally submitted has not been rejected, the bad news is that I have to do a bit of a re-write of one of the sections and a cull of some others. I was actually encouraged by the pre-review process though, as the editor was quite encouraging and the basic work of interviews with different people can remain the same - at least at this stage and that means the core of the paper was good. At first I was wondering what on earth would I have to cull, but after looking at the paper again, I can see where the editor wants me to aim and I think I might be able to use the carefully crafted work in another paper (not all my own crafting I hasten to add, my supervisor has been working hard on it too), so in the end, she may even have done me a favour and I like that bit.
A frozen river. Sorry the photo was taken
whilst Ian was driving - hence the lines
There is lots of sand mining in Latvia. Many hills are just
plain sand
I am trying to take weekends off from studying to give my brain chance to process things and pace myself better. I will study at the weekends if I have had to take days off to do something else during the week, but otherwise I have been much better at putting the work away. This week I made some bread, sliced the bacon, packed some files away, sorted out the knitting patterns, did some washing, put some new elastic into my pyjama trousers, resewed the channel for the elastic by hand and finally put away the nativity scene (oh yes, the nativity scene! It just kind of sat there, rather unobtrusively and got forgotten about). The Christmas tree is still up though, albeit without decorations and it is only just now beginning to drop needles, but I think that is because it hasn't been watered for a while.
A little cottage by the woods
They are trying to add wild ponies back to some areas
This week I did take extra days off, as we had to sort out the radiators at our other apartment. If you read last week's blog you will know that our old ones cracked or even exploded in the freezing weather. As the weather warmed up slowly, the radiators began to leak and the floors still needed cleaning from the bursts before that all liquified and ruined the laminate. I seemed to have spent quite a bit of this last week on my knees and it wasn't in prayer. I cleaned up our living room floor where we live, because of all the mess from Benedikts over the previous week and then I spent the rest of the day cleaning the floors and emptying pots sat under the leaks at our other place. A friend of ours came with some young men to remove the old radiators on the Tuesday and take them for scrap, thankfully before the real thaw got going. One advantage of the old radiators is that the cast iron weighs a lot and we got enough to cover one replacement radiator anyway, which we got from Jekabpils. We were blessed by the fact that one of our neighbours was outside when we got back and he immediately offered to help take in the radiators for us.
Most of Latvia is like this, flat!
Looks like it has seen better days
A trip to Jekabpils does mean "Fish and Chips" but we were disappointed this time, no pureed peas, French fry type chips instead of English style chips and the batter was all wrong. It was okay as a meal and the fish was nice, but it was not like our little bit of Englishness that we had come to expect. We are pretty good at not really missing much from the UK in terms of food. If we can't get it, we either do without or I make it. So I am quite adept at making bacon now, although that is actually quite simple anyway and I make pies and cakes from time to time. After that it is pretty much the way I have always cooked, using what vegetables we have. We make a joke that we eat a lot of processed food at this time of the year, the difference is that we have processed it, so we eat a lot of frozen food or food in jars and really we only have squash, potatoes and onions that aren't processed in some way.
The race against time. The sun is setting here and we had to
get back to put animals away
The cake display today was even better than this
So that's about this week, a fairly ordinary week! I am back in Tartu again after my regular four bus journey starting at 7:15am and going through till 5pm ready for lectures to start tomorrow morning at 8:15am (that is not a civilised time of the day to have lectures) and Ian is still back at home. I did find though that Cesis on a Monday morning is a little livelier than Cesis at about the same time on a Sunday morning and I even found a lovely little cafe for a hot chocolate and a piece of cake. I wish I had taken a photo now as the window looked even more stunning today than in this photo taken off the internet.

Monday, 3 February 2014


He almost looks like he's smiling here.
He was so much better on this day, so
perky. Here he is pictured with the soft
toy we nicknamed Dally, as in Dally
Llama. It is amazing how close they are
in colour
No suspense this week, I can't do it. It is one of the most difficult posts I have ever written, as  emotionally I am quite exhausted. Our little alpaca, who we named Benedikts -meaning blessed - died on Friday and it hit us both hard. We tried everything we could to keep him alive and still it may have been our inexperience that lead to his demise, although to be fair to ourselves, it was partly our experience and that of friends that kept him alive to that point. Before I go onto explain, I do want to say I'm not looking for sympathy, I really find it difficult to take much fussing. Life can be tough sometimes especially if you have animals and intend rearing them. We know this will not be the last death of a cria we will see, but it is our first and that's always tough. I know brighter days are ahead and even now we are starting to recover; the sight of our young female alpaca prancing around the paddock, without a care in the world was funny to watch and cheered us up. The random huge angel model in the window of the technical college also helped, but it still hurts that we couldn't do enough.

Mum time
Well I guess I had better fill you in then. We may have over done the Mum time on the Monday, as little Benedikts (oh yes! I am spelling this correctly, as this is the Latvianised version of the name) was rather poorly on the Tuesday. We called the vet out and she spent quite a bit of time with us. She tried to put a drip in, but it was tricky as she wasn't exactly sure of the anatomy of an alpaca - they don't teach that in veterinary schools here in Latvia. It didn't seem to work well, so Ian tried. His haematology training coming in handy. It worked best with our vet and him working together to locate a vein and this time it worked. Our vet also wondered if the baby milk was not doing him any good, so she rang around and located some goats milk and her and Ian went to get it from an old lady. I think the old lady gave us pretty much what she had and unfortunately it wasn't a huge amount, but enough to get us by and she agreed to give us some every day after that. The drip gave him enough energy for us to risk taking out for a brief visit to his Mum, but this time we kept it short. It kind of broke our heart to see the distress it caused Mum when we took him away, but there was no other option, he couldn't stay with her and he needed to maintain contact if possible. Ian managed to get hold of a number of a breeder in England and he ran through a few things to try and his chat was reassuring.

Snug under a blanket of straw
The temperatures remained low and there was a cruel wind blowing, which wasn't helping our little one. One of our friend's was in the nearest big town and so we got him to purchase a heat lamp for us, to see if that would help with Mum time. He also came round to help us see if we could still get any milk from Alicia, Benedikts' Mum, as there just hadn't been much time to milk her, we weren't hopeful and he only managed to get a little. She was obviously drying up and only to be expected. We kept the time with Mum short again and went through the agony of separating them. Her calls for him were heart rending. It's not easy to convince an alpaca Mum that her baby wasn't safe with her, not in those temperatures anyway. Benedikts and I both sat in the caravan, next to the radiator and wrapped in one of my Granny's Jacob blankets, while we waited for Ian to finish his daily chores. I think my Granny would have approved of me wrapping up our little Benedikts in the blanket she crocheted many years ago. It had the advantage of being big to wrap him up well and yet dried fast when it got soiled.

Potty training!
We found Benedikts would get some energy and have a little walkabout, but then he would crash, so lots of ups and downs. On Thursday though there seemed to be a real improvement, with him wolfing down his milk, as if trying to make up for lost time. We even risked letting him spend a little longer with Mum and both of them seemed to appreciate it. I took him back to the caravan and continued feeding him there and now he was getting strong enough to make a real effort to get up when he needed a pee - made looking after him a whole lot easier and a few less blankets to wash. I think I was washing blankets twice a day up to this point. We just weren't set up for him at home, apart from loads and loads of blankets that I happen to have. There was one point he needed to pee and I took him out to the greenhouse and he even took a little run around. It felt like he had really turned a corner and was on the mend. We even took him around to the vet to show her and get him weighed at the same time.

Mum was taking a keen interest in his feeding
We had had an exhausting week, as we were taking it in turns to feed him through the night. I would take the late night shift and Ian would take the early morning one. We slept on the couch when it was our turn, just to keep an eye on him. His midnight feed went okay but in the early hours of Friday morning he took a turn for the worse. He wasn't comfortable at all. We wondered if he was constipated and so gave him an enema after consulting our vet. It seemed to help. He continued to deteriorate during the day, to such an extent we didn't even take him out to his Mum, just out for a ride in the car to the land to see if whatever was troubling him would shift, but it didn't and I just ended up nursing him again in the caravan for a little while before deciding he needed to go back to the vet. Once again Ian and the vet worked together to find a vein and Ian got him hooked up to a drip. Ian then had to go back to the land to put the animals away. Meanwhile the vet gave him another enema and again he perked up. Before Ian got back our vet had to take her daughter for music lessons and our little perked up Benedikts went for an explore around the surgery and shop while we waited for everyone to come back. By the time Ian had got back though he had flopped, but was still perkier than when he left.

Alicia, his Mum
Friday evening though, he lost energy. He wasn't suckling and he even seemed to lose his ability to swallow at all. His little eyes lost spark as I tried to dribble feed him. He also seemed to be in pain and so uncomfortable that eventually at 11pm we decided enough was enough. We phoned the vet and started to get ready for going to the surgery, for one last attempt to save him. It was at this point Benedikts seemed to go into cardiac arrest, he threw his head back. My immediate reaction was to start pumping his little chest and try to bring him back, we knew we were losing him. Ian tried too, but then we stopped, it wasn't fair, enough was enough. We had to let him go. At 11.10pm we phoned our vet and said not to bother coming out, it was too late, he had gone. It was a hard night. We both cried a lot. I'm not usually so emotional, but we had fought so hard for him and seemed to be winning only the day before. It all seemed so unfair.

Clearing up the ice
I went with Ian back out to the land in the morning, we were both still emotional and needed each other's support. We had to tell the old lady, we didn't need any more milk and the irony of it was, that it was possibly the first time we had ever communicated something effectively in Latvian apart from ordering food in a restaurant. After breaking the news to our friend who had first helped Ian when we saw her in the village, we headed on up to our other apartment to light the fire and look forward to a bath that evening and some downtime watching a DVD. Unfortunately that turned out to be a bad idea, when we got there a disaster had happened during the week. Ian had been in at some point in the week and everything was fine, but sometime after that our cast iron radiators had blown with the ice due to the extreme cold we have had. In fact one had blown a piece of iron clear across the room. There was ice on the floors and black marks up walls. It wasn't a pretty sight at the best of times and not something we really wanted to see. We went home at that point, we needed to sit down and have a cup of tea. How English!
The power of ice. It blew this piece of cast
iron, clear across the room
One of the bedrooms
We knew we couldn't just leave it though and went back after that breather and started on the clear up. Ian chipped up the ice and I followed with a bucket of water and cleared up the black stuff. Fortunately as we worked, that side of things didn't seem so bad. The water hadn't penetrated the laminate. We worked away on that for a while, until the vet rang again. When we had rung her to tell her that Benedikts had died the night before, she suggested an autopsy to see what we could learn and we agreed. We wanted to know as well. It might seem odd to some of you, but we stayed to watch the autopsy, I suppose it was the scientific side of us coming into play. It wasn't just a morbid fascination though, we really wanted to know what an alpaca looked like inside, so we knew when they were ill, what part was in pain. We also wanted to learn from this and take the lessons back with us and sometimes we just have to see with our own eyes for the lesson to stick. What we did find though was disheartening. The milk was in the first stomach, when it should have been in their third stomach. Apparently when that happens in calves, it usually means the milk was either not warm enough or they weren't suckling properly. Our conclusion was that if a baby alpaca is not suckling then they need to be given sugared water, or even an enema with sugar in it and when they are suckling, make sure that the milk is warm enough. I guess not having bottle fed babies when they were first born meant that I didn't really internalise that message strong enough and not even sure whether coolish milk is harmful to human babies or just not desirable. We are still not sure if this really was the problem and the guy from England that Ian rang earlier in the week, suggested that sometimes it is just a problem with animals settling down in a place. It was ultra cold, not a good time to have a baby anyway and just a few months after relocating. The odds were stacked against little Benedikts.

Not much snow, but bitterly cold
We took Benedikts back to the land after the autopsy. Ian fed the other animals first and then we spent the rest of the afternoon chipping through frozen ground to dig a hole big enough to bury him. We had to dig in the bed where the Jerusalem artichokes are, because it had a layer of straw on the top, that meant it was less like concrete than the grassed over areas. This winter has not been a kind one from that point of view, we are more like the hard frozen tundra of Mongolia, than the soft snow sculptured land we have seen in the past few years. It almost seems superfluous to say we felt so sad. This little gift of life that burst into our lives with no warning, was now laid to rest under the frozen ground.

The sheep have been making good use of the shelter
in the cold that Ian built them 
Fortunately the news this week hasn't been all bad. Just over a week ago, I was trying to get a form filled out for an evaluation I had to have done this week, in order to be allowed to carry on studying. I was having a hard job contacting my supervisor, as he is often away. I text him to let him know about the email and found out he was having trouble with his computer. This wasn't going well and hence I was fairly stressed before the weekend. I really don't do stress normally and need to get a handle on this, I'm sure I will find coping mechanisms soon. Anyway I ended up trying to get this stuff done while nursing the little one - not good for the nerves either. I requested a change of date for the evaluation, as I realised that I wasn't going to be able to make it on the Friday up to Tartu, no matter what happened. In the end it was decided to do it by Skype. As Benedikts was much better on Thursday, I managed to get my head around what I had actually done last year and got some notes down on my computer. I was reading through the notes in preparation for a 10am start, when the Professor rang and asked if we could do the evaluation straight away at 9am instead and make one of my poor student colleagues wait. Fortunately they took pity on me and weren't expecting a full presentation and just asked me to run through the past year and then asked a few questions. They even told me that the evaluation form was very thorough. I am so pleased that's over with. Only another three years to go!