Monday, 28 April 2014

Connecting and re-connecting

I forgot to buy some batteries for my camera on the way up
and so you have to make do with pictures taken from the
internet. You can find some other photos and more details
from here link
Well the day after my birthday saw me traipsing off again, this time to Tallinn. I have been to Estonia lots of times this past 18 months, but only made it as far as Tartu. Tallinn is definitely different. Tartu is leafy and very much like a Scandinavian town, just as you would expect from somewhere that was part of the Swedish empire and home to one of its universities. Tallinn on the other hand looks a right mishmash of styles. As I rode into town on the bus, it reminded me of a town in Lancashire with the limestone buildings, something I wasn't expecting at all. I then had to find the tram and following the fortunately detailed instructions I had been given, I made it to my accommodation, in the process I passed the oldest parts of the city which were situated on a hill, a hanseatic town surrounded by more limestone walls. The further north I went the scene changed to something more familiar of Soviet era buildings and wooden town houses. I have to mention the trams, definitely a relic of Soviet Estonia, the driver is separated from the rest of the tram in a cab and to pay you put your money in a metal tray and push it towards the driver, they then print the ticket and put it back in the tray and push it back towards you, no eye contact, and definitely no possibility of coming into physical contact at all.

The stop where I was introduced to the trams of Tallinn.
For my Lancastrian friends, don't those buildings look as
if they wouldn't be out of place there? To see more photos
of Tallinn you can also visit this link
The young lady who kindly allowed me to stay at her home was a wonderful hostess, she would get up every morning and fry eggs for my breakfast. Her husband and housemates were definitely very welcoming and hospitable and I felt very blessed to be able to stay there. I kipped out on a Soviet era couch, as it was described to me before my visit, but it was comfortable enough for me and I slept well. The housemates also shared a home-made pasta meal with me one night, which was extremely tasty. The trip up to Tallinn was for a conference, which wasn't quite what I was expecting. I was expecting to learn more about how landscape architects view the world, which to some extent I did, but it was also about the Estonian government working out whether to sign up for the European Landscape Convention, which has been signed by many countries in Europe and as I found out Lithuania signed it in 2004 and so Estonia has been rather slow to make a decision. Funnily enough some of the reason is due to the definition of landscape - there is no direct translation in Estonia and so trying to write laws that talk about landscape is always going to prove challenging.

Paldiski Lighthouse - again not one of my photos
On the second day of the conference we had a tour of Paldiski, somewhere that not even local Estonians could visit in Soviet times never mind the likes of me from across the Iron Curtain. Paldiski was one of the closed cities of the Soviet Union where only those with special passes could live, as it was a military enclosure. It was also brought home what difficulties these areas face. When the Soviet Union collapsed the Soviet soldiers were required to return to Russia, but often they left their families behind. As many as 75% of those in the area are non-citizens, in other words they only speak Russian and have not taken Estonian citizenship. These enclaves are the fertile breeding ground for propaganda beamed into homes from the Russian federation, people bereft in a world that left them behind. One of the women in the conference was also Russian and has a Ukrainian father and the whole situation in the Ukraine bothers her, she is incredibly embarrassed about the situation and what Putin is doing and said she is not the only one. She really helped us to understand what drives Putin's appeal amongst the people of the Federation and she explained that it is the desire to see a strong Father figure run the nation that is deep within the psyche of most Russians and Ukrainians for that matter.

The lovage was nowhere to be seen one day and then in
just a couple of days time they have grown to this size
I not only got to find out these snippets of information, but learnt a little of what is happening in Lithuania too. I even found out that there are plans to cull wild boar, every single one of them to protect the pig farms from African Swine Fever which is spreading from Belarus. Of course the conservationists aren't happy about that and I think that is a step too far. A cull to reduce numbers in areas of over abundance, where feeding is maintaining the populations is needed, but culling all! It is not really necessary either. Smaller populations are easier to control and less likely to be as affected if a disease did break out, over crowded populations are almost an open invitation. It will be interesting to see what the Latvian response will be. So all in all it was nice to make some new connections and with people in the field, it was also nice to meet with some Latvians who were at the conference one who I had met before. Interestingly enough he has a new job in one of the regional planning offices and needs some help with participatory planning, so hopefully will be in touch.

We were relieved to see the hop that we bought last year
has begun to appear too
It was also a week of reconnections with someone I had made contact with before on an internet forum. A young friend passed me on some contact details for someone who was interested in rural development in Latvia from a facebook page she is connected with. She thought I might be interested. I fired off an email and then discovered in the reply that actually we had already chatted a while ago. So with any luck we will get to meet up in Latvia and talk about the kinds of issues we are both interested in. I thought it was funny though that we connected again, but via a different forum. Small world as they say!

The girls out on the grass. They love
walking through the branches that Ian
left in. The oak tree behind is looking
lovely with the removal of the birch
trees, a fact one of our visitors
commented on last week. She has sent
me a link to a site where they are
searching for the best looking oak tree
 in Latvia, as she thinks ours has
While I was on the tour Ian text me to say he would like to talk to me about Alicia. My heart sank. I knew that Ian would not send a text like that, if it wasn't important when he knew I would be in a meeting or something similar. Poor Alicia has been fighting with bad health since giving birth to Benedikts and this week was no exception. She wouldn't even get up and her breathing was noisy again. Ian called the vet out and she has prescribed more steroids and more antibiotics, along with hawthorn extract which is supposed to strengthen the heart. She has started to improve and even got up herself today, normally Ian has been standing her up. If she appeared to be in pain, we would have had her put down, but Ian felt her all over and she didn't flinch, so we are giving her a chance. It is so close to the time of year when a good day out on the grass will do her a world of good. The grass though is being slow to get going as we haven't had much rain, in fact none in the last two weeks with none really forecast for a few days more. There has been enough growth though to let the alpacas out to eat a bit anyway, although they have been spending quite a bit of time indoors due to the heat, as the temperatures are now starting to soar as well.
The boys enjoying the grass too

The lawn mowers in action
The sheep have also been moved out of winter quarters. That was a calm experience fortunately. As we don't have much in the way of spare electric poles at the moment, Ian plonked a bale of hay in the middle of the field where the sheep have been kept over winter and then took down the fence. Well that worked for a few minutes, but one sheep decided that no fence meant time to wander. Fortunately on the other side of the bales of hay that marked the exterior of their paddock the grass was long and green, so that kept them occupied for a while. Ian meanwhile was arranging the poles for their next enclosure. At one point I thought they were going to head off in the wrong direction and so just calmly walked up towards them, to discourage them from moving away in the wrong direction. They decided to just carry on eating where they were and then slowly little by little they moved further towards the place Ian was creating for them. The grass was enough to keep them occupied. Whilst Ian was sorting out electrifying it, I kept an eye on them, especially when they spotted the very green clover field, which I know wouldn't be good for them when they have been on hay all winter. Each time they got near to the fence I moved up close just to discourage them. There was just one point when the particularly nervous one decided to bolt and ran up to the fence, but fortunately not through it.

The chickens too are now out on the grass
Apart from that, there are just the regular ins and outs of farm life and gardening. I have done some more digging of vegetable plots and chased our new cockerels off several times from the greenhouse and the general area. Once I had to chase one of them out of the caravan as we had left the door open. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to encourage this rather large cockerel out, in the end I threw a towel at it and then left, hoping that would encourage it to depart - it did, but not quite how I thought it would; it managed to squeeze out with much squawking through the caravan window. Since there is not much for harvesting in the vegetable plot I have continued to add spring greens to our diets from plants I have foraged, so nettles and ground elder are pretty frequently in our diet, along with other plants like dandelions that are fine to eat at this time of the year. A good spring tonic. I did harvest our first rhubarb of the year from our allotment plot which is a wonderful change. I even managed to eat it without sugar after roasting it.

Ducks on the pond in the early morning
Besides nursing Alicia, Ian has been busy trying to finish off moving wood piles and sorting out rough patches damaged by wild boar in preparation for ploughing. He even slept in the caravan while I was away, but wished he hadn't one night as the first few nights were rather chilly. The plus side of being out on the land is seeing it in the early morning and the ducks that visit at around 6 ish. It also meant he could let the animals out in the cool of the day, which I am sure they appreciate with their thick fleeces. The girls have been spending quite a bit of time indoors in the heat. We can't shear the two pregnant ones until after they have given birth and so they will just have to suffer for the time being and we need extra sets of cutting blades before we start on the boys, actually we need to get the seeds in first before we start shearing too. At least we now have a set of hand shears so that if the blades stop working on the electric ones, we still have a means to shear the animals.
The burial mound! Well it is kind of. This is the lowest point
 in the land and often gets rather boggy, so we have made a
raised bed of old rotten wood, soil and hay. It will be a
pumpkin patch this year. Over time it will of course sink and
rot down, but still at least raising the level of the soil at that

The wood piles have been moved and humps and bumps
kind of moved with the bucket of the front loader on the
tractor. Next will be the ploughing.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Better late than never

Our chicks were getting quite big and smelly and so it was
time to move them out to the land. This time they weren't
going straight outside, still a little too cool in the evenings
so we put them in the greenhouse
Right now where was I? I had some time off this week at last. So what did I do on my first day off? Cleaning! Oh I know how to enjoy myself. I got so far through the cleaning though and realised I wouldn't have enough window cleaner to finish, so I had two options, the first was to nip out and buy some and the second was to look on the internet to see what I could make up for a spray on window cleaner, rather than make a mess with lots of water and washing up liquid. So the internet won and I found a recipe that actually worked and was better than the bought stuff, as I now have smear free windows. Only I didn't have rubbing alcohol, as in the recipe, just some cheap lavender infused vodka - well it worked and I have lavender smelling windows. Here's the link if you want and you do have to shake the bottle otherwise the cornstarch (cornflour for us Brits) does settle and don't spray too much on the windows if the sun is shining, otherwise it is harder to rub off the cornstarch and may need a re-wetting.
Amazing how fast they grown in just a few days. They are at
the silly stage where they are strutting about and facing off
with each other, which looks very amusing when they haven't
got all their feathers yet and the last ones to grow are on their
The woods are beginning to green up now with a wonderful
carpet of flowers
I also got my academic paper submitted this week, one thing less to do. My supervisor was happy enough with my re-write that I didn't have anything further to do on it. Yeh! Now I just have to wait and see what the journal editor says and then probably wait months for the reviewers to finish with it. Maybe by next year it will be published, maybe!
Here's a close up. I know this is an annual event
Ian's water filter, to filter the pond water
I also finished off an exam or rather a series of questions related to making maps for one of the courses I have been doing this semester. It was an open book without time limit type exam, the only criteria was not to cooperate with another student. Easy enough as I don't know anyone else doing my level at this point in time, even if I had got the inclination to collaborate with someone, which I don't. Now I just have to write a review article on a topic of my choosing, so I am going to write on making maps with people and for people - well that's the gist of it and not exactly what I am going to call it, although maybe that would be a good strap line. I downloaded lots of papers to help me write the review and I can look at those while travelling later on this week, not up to Tartu this time but Tallinn - somewhere I haven't been yet. At least it feels like I am finishing off projects and they are not all mounting up the other end.

The cherry tree is beginning to open its buds
It is my birthday today, half a century old. Even sounds old when you write it that way and I wonder how I came to be 50. Time hasn’t slowed down since moving away from dear old Blighty either (England for those who haven’t heard the term Blighty before). I had my 40th birthday in Denmark and it doesn’t seem that long ago, but that’s life. I certainly would never have dreamt that we would not only be living in Latvia, which is what we hoped when we left the UK, but farming - even if it is hobby farming and that I would be studying for a PhD. I would have laughed if you had told me, probably hysterically at that. 
Mizuna seeds coming through in the greenhouse

My two cookbooks from my daughter. One is about bread
by Elizabeth David. It is a book I've heard a lot about and
now I get the chance to read it. It is more than just a lot of
bread recipes but also about making bread in general with
lots of information. The other book is in a similar vein and
is a book called Prairie Home Cooking and has plenty of
anecdotes sprinkled amongst the recipes. Fascinating reading
Since yesterday was Easter Monday, I thought that it would be a better day to celebrate reaching this milestone and I invited a few folks out to our land for tea and cakes. I didn’t want to stay in all day back at home, although that would have been easier for entertaining, as it wouldn’t have worked well for Ian and I would have been bored, so that is why I chose a tea and cake do. Cakes at least can keep in a cool barn, well in a fortress of plastic crates, weighted down to keep the cats off they can. Or maybe that should be cat? One is worse than the other, exemplified by the evening bbq where the dear little darling, kept creeping in to nick off with what ever she could before anyone noticed - only we did and she was evicted numerous times. Still didn't get the hint though.

Of course this is Latvia and so there were flowers
Not just one lot, but three lots and some hyacinth bulbs.
There was also sweets, chocolate and wine. Along with
more cake and so Ian has plenty to keep him going over
the next few months or weeks or maybe days.
Anyway, apart from the eviction of said cat on numerous occasions, things went rather well. Although I said anywhere between 10am - 8pm as I wasn’t sure what people’s plans were, most turned up in the late afternoon. Some of my friends are farmers and so fitting in visiting with animals requires a certain amount of flexibility. In fact everyone timed their visit so nicely that we were only just seeing off one group when another group turned up and we only eventually left the land as the light was definitely disappearing from the sky and we could only just about see to get packed up for the night at around 9.30pm. Oh the long days are upon us.

The annual picture of the caravan outside for the first time
of the year
At least the timing of people’s visits to wish me happy birthday worked well with Ian. We got the caravan out of its winter quarters in the greenhouse and outside in the morning, which also gave me time to give it a bit of a clean. That job is always a sign that we are heading into our busy time of the year. He also got most of the land graded or flattened out from all the pig damage and molehills and just needed a bit of time this morning to finish it off. This afternoon he switched to harrowing, which is like a big comb to just break up any clumps left after the grading and it also helps to clear some of the thatch of grass.  Now we just need a bit of rain to be forecast and then he can spread grass seed on some of the bare patches and it will mean our pasture will look much better. Hopefully the pigs won’t dig it up again, but there are no guarantees on that.

We have green grass
On a different note one of the things I have learnt over the last few years is the importance of transparency. It is a difficult balance between respecting people’s privacy and giving access to information of interest to others, but it is so necessary in public life. Vulnerable people, of course, need to be protected and those wielding power for their own benefit be exposed; too often it is the other way around. There were a couple of calls for transparency in Latvia recently, one was an open letter calling for the Maxima tragedy to be investigated transparently albeit partly so investor confidence can be restored, but at least it does mention others who need to know too. Another call for transparency was from Madara, a cosmetics firm that makes their product from natural ingredients, which has called on both businesses and the Latvian tax authorities to be more transparent in their dealings. The businesses may or may not be hiding something and unfortunately is a possibility - but where isn’t it? The state tax authorities seem to assume that everyone has something to hide though and can be quite aggressive in their practices and this doesn’t help.

Fence posts at the ready. We let the girls out for a bit of
spring tonic. There isn't a huge amount of grass, but one is
 still sick and two are pregnant and so need all the vitamins
they can get. The boys are still confined to quarters to give
the grass chance to grow
It doesn’t help when the Corruption Bureau is having issues, but this is between staff members who don't appear to be able to get on. If those at the top cannot sort themselves out, how is it expected those further down the line will? Not only have Latvians to contend with internal issues of lack of transparency and inability to get on, they also have to contend with outside interference too. Russian speaking activists have been defending the need for Russian speaking schools. Fair enough, you may say and I maybe inclined to agree with you, but not when it comes to aggressive policy of misinformation and propaganda from Russia. There is a greater need for encouraging integration of the Russian speaking population, so that there isn’t a repeat of the issues that Ukraine are having, but it won't happen with aggressive finger pointing from Russia. 

One hen nestling under the cover of the hay feeder. Our
dear alpaca here is being so lazy that he can't be bothered
to even lift his head or stand to eat.
Our lovage is beginning to reappear to as well. This seems
to have burst through in the last day or two.
Having said all that and recognising that it is hard for ordinary citizens to show the way, it would be a start. It is a risk when the state tax authorities breathe down people’s necks and people must account down to the last cent and I kid you not on that. Not the nearest $10 or £5 but the nearest €0.01. But there has to be a better way forward and trust will only be gained when there is a great deal more transparency in dealings and not the sort that costs a lot to obtain, which is often the way here. You can have all the information you want but it will cost you dear! Oh! Does that mean you don’t want the information? Sorry can’t help you there then! - Well that's just not good enough I'm afraid! Information needs to be out there and people need to be more transparent all round, then we can start to move forward. Well here's hoping for a more transparent future.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Well is that the time!

Whoops got carried away chatting to friends, so that means I shall just have to blog tomorrow instead. Anyway just to let you know, for those who follow this blog, I've had a lovely day, food, friends and lots of chatting. Who could ask for more?

Monday, 14 April 2014

I can't save everyone!

The lobster pot has been up all week and still we haven't
caught anything! Actually it is a contraption to keep the
hens off my cranberries.
My friend up in Tartu, who I stay with when I visit showed me a book with a cartoon dog in it (sorry I can't remember exactly which one it was). One of the cartoons stood out in particular though, it was of the dog out in the rain, he picks up a worm that is drowning and carries it gently to safety. He then looks around and sees another worm, then another and another, finally he howls, "I can't save you all." Outside the uni the following morning there were lots of dried up worms washed down off a bank and that phrase "I can't save you all" goes through my head again - funny how phrases are buzzing around my head once more. Anyway I thought about the work I am researching and how I long for my work to have a positive impact on communities, but I have to be realistic, I need to remember "I can't save them all." Not all of them need saving anyway and some certainly do not want some interfering foreigner telling them what to do, a point relayed to me by a friend this week, by someone who may indeed be disgruntled with my work a couple of years ago on the wild boar management and all the conflict around that. They didn't see the need to change the law on hunting, after all they weren't impacted by the severe effects of too many wild boar digging up their land. Oh well! You can't please everyone and besides, I'll leave the saving of mankind up to God, I think he will do a better job of it than I would.

One problem we had this year was the tarpaulin wasn't
adequate enough to keep the moisture off the hay bales.
Fortunately we have enough, but this is not good and
we are already planning on how to erect shelters for the
hay bales later on in the year.
It feels a bit weird this week to be writing this at home and not planning on going anywhere this week. I get to sort of chill. We are gearing up for Spring planting and I have been putting quite a few seeds in that I know will take a bit of frost yet need the moisture at this time of year to germinate. If they don't come there is still plenty of time to plant more, so I'm not too worried. So I have sowed rocket, beetroot, broad beans, carrots and peas outside along with some onion sets. I also sowed rocket, and radish inside the greenhouse. Some of the seeds are even starting to poke through from the first lot of seeds I planted inside the greenhouse. You'll have to wait until they are a little bit bigger though before you get to see them, not sure they would really show up on a photograph yet.
Spring is here - new frog spawn

Alicia taking advantage of a half finished alpaca house
to shelter in. You can also see the pine trees our alpaca
ladies have been eating. The brush on the right are ones
they have already chewed all the leaves off.
I have also helped Ian a bit this week. We fetched some OSB board for the roof of the alpaca house extension, named APH2b (Alpaca house 2b - because it is an extension of APH2). I helped Ian slide the sheets onto the roof and then acted as roof support to stop them sliding off while Ian screwed them down. It is a role I'm used to, not that we are always putting roofs on alpaca houses, but when Ian does construction jobs or repairs, I'm either gopher or prop. He managed to get a coat of bitumen on the roof and for it to dry a bit before it rained and today he finished off the panelling around the exterior, in between the showers that is. It still needs more bitumen putting on and a door handle on the new door, but apart from that it is usable. He is on a roll this week with getting things done, he even fixed the shower too, so that it doesn't pour with water once the inlet taps are switched on.

APH2 in use
Taken from the inside of the new extension
We decided on a new extension after Benedikts was born to Alicia at the end of January. Even though he didn't survive, it made us realise the importance of having somewhere to separate the mothers with babies and since two of our alpaca ladies are due at the end of May, Ian thought he had better get cracking with the job, now the ground has dried enough to be able to drive across it. We might also use it to separate off the cria when they are around 8 months old, so the mothers can concentrate on developing a new baby, as they will hopefully be pregnant again.

Ian reused some of the wood off the original APH2 and so
the extension is almost the same colour already. Here it is
in its almost completed state with full feeders. That hay at
least is nice and green and not black like the other stuff
I can spend quite a bit of time out on the land now we have electricity and a caravan, as I can work on my laptop. It means I can take a break and wander up to see what Ian is doing, or nip out and plant a few seeds. I am certainly feeling the benefit of the more relaxed schedule. I feel less overwhelmed this week and I guess that is partly because I am not travelling so much and partly because I have got quite a few jobs I needed to do out of the way. My supervisor was happy with the paper I finished off this week for an academic journal and even managed to get rid of over 1200 words to get down to 8000 without seriously affecting what I wanted to say, so I'm very happy too. No doubt I won't have heard the last of it though, as it has to go for peer review, which basically means that two experts in the field will get to look through it and make comments and I will then have to revise it again, but that's normal. It would be unusual not to have to make some changes.

A hard life for the wig on legs
I used to think that those who took their cats to those fancy places for them to have a haircut were silly, but then again, I never had long haired cats. It doesn't help that our long haired cats spend so much time out of doors, but their hair is getting seriously matted. I spent hours today, combing through one of them bit by bit to try and disentangle some of the hair. I had only spent quite a while, a few days ago getting her coat cleared and it is just as bad, if not worse again today. The problem is that even though they are quite small cats, their fur is about four inches long on average, which makes them look like wigs on legs. When Ian goes to see the vet, hopefully he will remember to ask what she recommends.

A double rainbow with our wandering chickens. They
have had their wandering curtailed a bit this week, as
Ian hasn't been letting them out until lunch time.
Surprisingly the number of eggs have been going up! 
I was a little sad this week as I had to dispatch another chick this week, although it could stand on one leg, the other leg was not getting better. I had made a little cage so that it could be with the others and sleep next to them, without getting knocked over in the hectic rush of chick life, but quite often there would be interlopers in the little cage. It took me ages to work out how the little darlings were getting in, but I saw one fly up onto the cage edge and squeeze under the wire that stops them escaping out of their box. There isn't much room but it managed. I managed to keep it separated after that, but the day I had to clean the box out, I put them all in a cardboard box with a towel over the top, so they would all settle down and not run around with the sick chick in there, but at the end when I took the towel off, the sick chick was huddled in a corner and not looking terribly happy and I realised that it wasn't fair to keep it alive after that. I tried! The other ten though are lovely and healthy looking. Some of them are looking distinctly speckled and one is looking jet black. Hopefully at least five of them are female and then we may have hatched them early enough to produce eggs over the winter or at least more most of it anyway.
You can't have rainbows without the rain

A close up of the rainbow taken with a
polarising filter. Ian found out today
that the rainbow is highly polarised
and if you turn the filter the wrong way
the rainbow disappears
My family have been having adventures too this week. My youngest finally managed to pass his driving test this week, second time around and ironic that he hasn't been able to get on with learning to drive because he was so busy learning how to design them. He has also had a successful interview and is doing some training this week to see if he is suitable for a place. It might not be his ideal job and not one connected with design, but at least it is a start. My mother, daughter and granddaughter have also been having adventures of avoiding cyclones. They had hoped to visit the barrier reef, but it was all cancelled shortly after they flew into Cairns. My daughter mentioned a cyclone was the problem but there was no mention of it on the BBC. I checked around and finally found some reference to it in the news and found out it was quite a big one, equivalent to a category 4 hurricane and heading for Cairns, where my family were staying. Fortunately my daughter managed to get them on one of the last planes out of the area and onto Brisbane. Fortunately for the people in the area the cyclone lost much of its power and so the damage wasn't as bad as it was feared. Currently mother, daughter and granddaughter are relaxing in Fiji - or at least that was the last I heard.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Living on the Edge

Hatching eggs
I heard a song today and the phrase "Living on the Edge" came to mind, not sure which song it was and it wasn't the Aerosmith one, the words may not have even been in the lyrics, but it set me pondering. I feel like I'm living on the edge and in someways always have done, from living on the edge of towns to living on the edge of society. Not in terms of being homeless you understand, but in terms of living a life different from my peers. Ask our friends and they will tell you. We grew our own vegetables and bought organic before it was even fashionable, just whacky. I opened a fair trade shop in our church in the UK, because I believe passionately in justice for the poor. We moved abroad, not to be missionaries, like some of our contemporaries, but because we felt it was the right thing to do. We felt the leading of God for sure, but not in the traditional way. So we eventually ended up on the edge again, the edge of society as foreigners in a land where we don't speak the language well, to a country on the edge of Europe and to one that is feeling on the edge at the moment with Russia flexing it's muscle. It's not always a comfortable place to be, but then again I couldn't be comfortable for more than a few months, With a regular, normal job I would soon be looking for the next challenge. Not that I'm a driven person or anything, but I like to exercise my brain and tackle different projects. I'm curious about the world and people, I want to know how it works, how it fits together. And that in a paragraph I think sums up who I am.

Scrawny and helpless at first
So what is living on the edge like? As I said, it isn't always comfortable and at the moment we are both tired. It has been a hard winter, but today is my last trip up to Tartu for courses. I will have completed all my compulsory courses by tomorrow and I just have some work to do on an optional course to finish off. That doesn't mean I am completely finished for the academic year, there are still papers to write, lots of papers to read, then the  literature review to write for my thesis, so enough to keep me going in between planting seeds for food for us and the animals for the year ahead. At least today I had the use of a friend's car and it meant my journey was only four hours door to door and that was with a leisurely stop for lunch. There was one point when someone overtook me and gave me a fright, I fortunately saw him coming up quite fast and then heard him to my left. I also noted there was not much room between us and the lorry coming in the opposite direction and so I veered to the right to allow the individual space to pull in. At that point in time, I really did not want to spend the rest of the day extracting someone from under a lorry, even if it was their own fault, nor did I want to be explaining to the police what had happened. Had I had more presence of mind I might have used my horn to tell him what I thought of the manoeuvre, but I was so stunned that they had even tried to do what they did, that they had hurtled away by the time I had thought about it.

Perking up
Last week I took the train from Tartu to Valka and got off as normal to do the changeover from the Estonian trains to the Latvian trains, but there was a problem - no train! I wandered around the platform and the station, went to check on the monitor and it was still listed, but no train. Eventually a nice Estonian conductress pointed to a rather anonymous looking bus and said Riga. I deduced that they were probably doing the next set of train tracks and laid on a bus instead. It would have been nice to know and some signs would have been good. A young man got on the bus who offered to translate for the conductresses who seemed to be struggling with some passengers getting on who spoke English, they weren't English just using it as a common language like so many do. I asked the young man what the problem was and he confirmed it was track work. He told me a bit about himself and then gave me a bit of a guided tour of the area we were driving through and pointing out landmarks. He came from the area but now works in Norway, which I  feel is sad, as he was a really positive guy. He said he preferred other countries because they are more open and friendly and felt there was nothing for him in Latvia - even sadder. He was such a nice young fellow he even organised for the bus driver to drop me off nearer to where I wanted to be in Valmeira since the bus was going that way, rather than let me walk the distance back from the train station. It meant I had plenty of time for lunch before going to a meeting anyway. I also think I managed to convince him that Latvians have a lot of skills that have simply been lost in other countries and it is something to be proud of, so it's not all bad.

Cuteness overload
Ian had set some eggs in the incubator a few weeks ago and this week we had a good hatch rate with only one out of 14 failing to hatch. Unfortunately three of them ended up with gammy legs or spraddle legs if you want to look it up, one we noticed at the start, the other two may have been injured by the others in the rough and tumble of chick life. The three were all isolated and put back in the incubator for warmth and safety, but at the end of the day I had to dispatch one because it was too bad, it's joints were swollen and it couldn't even get its head up off the floor the poor thing. I had tried the bandage hobble but it wasn't working. It was ridiculously easy to dispatch unlike the adult birds, but not something I like to do of course. I know that coming this close to our source of food, means that from time to time drastic action is needed, another problem of living on the edge I guess.

Tap, tap here's your food
I said the other week we had a backlog of eggs and this week we had some interest in taking them, only they would like more than we can supply at the moment, but we will at least give them some. Our wandering chickens or happy hens as one of our friends describes free range hens are so happy wandering about they are not laying that much, otherwise we might be able to supply what they want. Well most of them were happy, one unfortunately died today. She hadn't been well for a little while and today Ian found her dead in the chicken house. The others are a little subdued after a visit from a large bird of prey earlier on in the week. We thought we had lost one of them when Ian saw feathers all around, but when he did a head count they were all there. After a bit of an inspection he noticed that one had flown into the wire of the fence in its haste to escape and severely stretched the wire - she must have been flying at some speed.

Look food!
Not only did we find a market for our eggs, they also wanted some blackcurrant bushes and we had a few of them heeled up over winter waiting to be planted this Spring, so that worked. Last but not least I was asked if we had some alpaca wool for sale and how much was it? Not being much of a business person I had not thought of that yet. We want some people to spin it and knit or weave it, so we can sell finished garments - not so we take all the profit but to give others an opportunity of employment and so I hadn't thought about selling just the fleece. The reason for the question is that I had taken some fleece to a lady who was giving a demonstration of traditional crafts and she wanted some different fleeces to show people the difference and just as I walked into the exhibition she was showing a group the alpaca wool - talk about perfect timing. One younger lady translated and I gave them a card so she could contact me later, as I said we had more that they could try.

I know some of you have seen these, but these
are the flowers I got for Mothers Day. They are
not doing bad after a week.
It kind of feels like we are on the edge there as well, we are getting there with having saleable items, but how much to charge is really, really hard. This is Latvia where things can be expensive for no reason and people do not earn much, so how much is reasonable? We want to provide opportunities, but also make a living ourselves. Being on the edge ourselves means we don't actually need much, not compared to many in Europe anyway, we have no interest in a consumerist lifestyle, not in terms of over consumption anyway. I would like to sell products that people want and really need, but will also last. Oh well! Need to do some thinking and meet the new challenges ahead.