Monday, 29 September 2014

To Porto and back again!

A view from the restaurant area of the university. Pampas
grass grows absolutely everywhere, but I found out that
it is an invasive weed there, but unfortunately one that the
road crews like for verges.
I had a lovely time in Porto, the Portuguese that I met were not like I imagined at all. I guess I expected them to be a little like the Spanish, but that is a bit like expecting the French to be like the Germans, just because they share borders. The Portuguese that I met were all lovely gentle folks and yet they still managed to convey passion. One professor retorted to the suggestion, they should team up with Mediterranean academics for a regional coalition, was that as a nation they had far more in common with northern Europe, especially Britain, which took some of us by surprise, but I can see what they mean.
Porto has many houses with tiled fronts that I found unusual
A view of Braga, north east of Porto where I was staying
I had no complaints about the hotel, the staff were lovely and, as I mentioned last week, even though I left my phone on the table at breakfast time they returned it with no problems and had even tried to use the phone to alert those who knew me. The bed was a tad hard for me though and so I folded up the quilt and laid on that, then nicked the quilt off the other twin bed for one more layer and a top by folding it in half. I was rather amused and surprised to see when I got back to my room at night that the cleaner had made up my bed the same way. I really appreciated that. Unfortunately on the last day they must have had a change of shifts and the new cleaner tucked both quilts in as in a regular bed and I had to untuck them and fold them up again. The only other quibble I have is that they change the towels every day, even if you follow the instructions for helping hotels be greener by re-using towels. In the instructions it says that towels left on the bath and the floor will be washed, but if we want to help the hotel be kinder to the environment then hang the towels on the rails, which I duly did every morning and yet every evening the towel was replaced by yet another clean one. Made me wonder why on earth they put up those kinds of notices then.
St Martins of Tibäes monastery
I love doorways. 
Of course there was lots of conferencey things and people spouting forth on various topics to do with landscape architecture or people in landscapes. As someone new to the field it was quite interesting. At least it is not usually a very technical field and relies a lot on aesthetics, so there were lots of pretty pictures too from different countries. I learnt that South Korea had botanical gardens, as you maybe would expect, but they also had a children's garden for the education of little ones long before it became fashionable here, although it is now closed. I learnt about Swedish mothers being exhorted to think of their children's minds as a place of cultivation. I also saw some very clever folks coming up with some really interesting ideas, but who really need to learn to consult more with those they are designing for. I also met a lot of folks who are at Sheffield University where I graduated from many, many moons ago. So all in all, a very pleasant time was had.
Cloisters with tiles depicting the life of
St. Benedict. Some tiles are missing though
The courtyard view from the cloisters
There was also the usual trips to go on and this time I made sure I was booked on one. I thought it would be really helpful to try and see the landscape in the way a landscape architect would and in that way it did. I chose to go on the gardens tour rather than the tour that included wine tasting. Considering I cannot really drink much and only red wine not white, it seemed a little pointless. For the garden tour we went to Braga, about 50km north east of Porto. The first was a trip around a monastery, the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tibäes . The monastery was taken off the monks back in the 1800s during the liberal period, due to the fact that the monks were too well off and the land was redistributed to pay off debts of the state - at least I think that is what we were told. The buildings weren't well looked after and fell into disrepair and now back in the states's hands who are undertaking major conservation work. Interestingly enough the conservation work is being done whilst the monastery is open to the public, so that people can see the work in progress. It was shut though to most people on the day we went, due to work being done to host nine heads of state for some talkshop event. Only pre-booked tours were allowed.
A walled garden best viewed from high up for the guests
at the monastery
Part of the 40 hectares of walled gardens
On the tour we got to see the room where the leaders would be sitting, called the Chapter House, and told it was the same room that the Benedictine monks would decide on the future of the organisation for the following three years. They had responsibility for all of Portugal and Brazilian Benedictine congregations at one time. There were tile mosaics of Joseph's life in Egypt to inspire the leaders of the monastic order to rule wisely, a very apt backdrop to the talkshop I thought. I took the opportunity to pray in that room for wisdom and a leading of the Holy Spirit for those leaders who will be meeting there, a great privilege and a wonderful sense of timing at the opportunity. We also got to look around the gardens of course, not quite all 40 hectares of walled garden, but a good proportion of it. It was an amazing place with hidden corners and walls within walls. There were sudden surprise views and much evidence of it being both a place of prayer and a place of work that characterised the monastic order. There were vineyards of course and patches of maize, orchards of oranges and lemons and many other trees, especially sweet chestnut. Certainly worth the visit.
A moss covered object by a
reservoir of water
A place of pilgrimage "Bom Jesus do
Monte" You are supposed to climb
those steps not walk down
Our next stop was to a place of pilgrimage, where a steep set of steps were supposed to lead to the New Jerusalem. The stations of the cross were outlined in tableau form in small chapels that you could only glimpse in, and depictions of ladies representing the five virtues, lined the steps up the hill, or was it nine virtues? Hmmm! There were a few of them anyway and charity was the highest virtue that equates to love - I remember that much. We walked down the pilgrim way, as do most folks these days. The only ones we saw going up were runners!!!!! Rather them than me. We had a rather nice lunch at the top before wending our way down the steps at a leisurely pace. Apparently the formal gardens in Portugal are suffering due to a disease that is affecting the small box hedges that edge the ornamental plants.
I guess this is supposed to represent
the tomb

I loved the mosaic pathways
So a after a good long walk to finish off my stay in Portugal, the following morning, all too early, I set back off to Latvia. As I got into the airport I met two ladies who were also heading for Latvia and taking the same route as me, much to our surprise, when we got on the plane we found we were sitting next to each other. As we travelled we chatted a little, but they had work to do and so out came the computer, so I caught up a bit with some of my work too. Part way into the flight they leaned across and asked me how to word a sentence in a proposal they were trying to write for some money for a project. I enquired a little more so I could help with the context and it was at this point I realised they were asking for money for a project that I was trying to do. That set us talking about how I could be involved, which was really exciting. I had to write my CV and send it off to them, which was rather scary, but with a little help of my computer files with various bits of information I put one together. In the airport. They also asked me about the technical term "stakeholder." They thought it meant an owner of a piece of land in the area of a project or initiative, but actually the term is far wider than that. As I explained, it is everyone with a "stake" in the area, whether that is by living there, owning land, the authorities, or you name it they are a stakeholder, even the researcher of the project really is a stakeholder. What I said was necessary was to define who the stakeholders are and why they are included or excluded from whatever process under investigation. I am not sure they have much experience of research in public participation, well neither have I, not the practical side of it since becoming "qualified," but I do know where to get the information they need. Watch this space and if you are the praying type, please do!
The ladies of virtue! The statues of course, no disrespect to
my friend wending her way down.
Ian's been busy replanting raspberries today
We had a long stay in Gatwick, but at least I had company. I was a little frustrated that I was so close to my son and his family, but couldn't visit. Because my trip was paid for by a grant, I couldn't take a stop over to visit, even if that meant not costing any extra. Very irritating, but without another source of funding I can't really do much else. The thought crossed my mind that I could do crowd source funding, some people have used that successfully to fund research, but as I prayed about it, I didn't feel that now was the time. We still have money and I just have to trust that it will see us through. Anyway back to the trip, it was rather nice to arrive and see Ian's face again. I even bought him a little present by way of compensation for not being there on his birthday, we don't really do presents these days, but I did buy a packet of chocolate digestives and a packet of shortbread. I know how to treat him.
Sunflowers suspended to dry, high in the eaves of the

I was busy working when this suddenly appeared outside
the window. Gave me quite a shock it did. Fortunately
I think they were just cleaning out the guttering, since
there seemed to be a lot of flying debris.
Back home now and we are back in the routine. Sometimes I stay home and get work done, either on my course or processing food and sometimes I take a trip out to the land. Poor little Aggie (Agnese our baby alpaca remember), as soon as she sees me her ears go back and she has this funny pained expression on her face, not surprised really and yes I did clean her foot again, which she is not happy about. She won't be happy with me tomorrow either as I have to help with injections. Her front feet are now much better, but one of her back feet does not look too good. Bit by bit we are getting there and it is at the worst time of the year for mites, so we feel we are winning, especially since the alpaca's condition are improving all the time. Herkules, especially is putting on weight now and his fleece is starting to grow back. We might go for one more oil treatment regime, as his skin is just beginning to look a little crusty again, but it won't need to be as long as previous treatments. He's another alpaca who groans when they see me.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Harvest time

Squash plants hardening off in the mini
Beans, plums, squash, apples and fodder beet have all been harvested this week and we haven't finished yet. The fodder beet at our apartment allotment had to be picked because there appears to be something eating them, probably voles. There are no cats at home and so the voles are free to eat away. Quite a few were just hollow shells with slightly wilted leaves on the top. While I was picking plums from our plum tree, the lady we call the goat lady came across and said I could come and collect apples off her tree. They are laden. I couldn't do it that day though, I had work to do and so I told her I would come in the morning. Bless her! She even collected them for me and all I had to do was carry basket loads and put them in our cellar. The alpacas and the chickens are enjoying the feast, well the lady alpacas are, the boys are a bit more picky but they are eating them and the chickens will eat anything practically. Funnily enough the goat lady already knew they were destined for our alpacas, as she mentioned them as she handed over the apples. I even managed to say in Latvian that the alpacas like apples - at least I think that's what I said. Anyway I also sorted out the badly bruised ones and they have gone into making Glutney (basically chutney with whatever glut there is and so this one contained plums, apples, squash and onions) since we are getting low on that, plum and apple juice for making cordial later, plum and apple jam and two small buckets of apple cider vinegar started.
The weird year means that many plants are still producing
and not many are large/

Can't believe we are well into September and our tomatoes
are still ripening away and not succumbing to blight
I forgot to mention a couple of things last week. One was we finally have a tarmac road that runs past our apartment. I think there is an election looming and so some things miraculously get done. Not that I'm a cynic you understand! I seem to remember though that another section of the village was tarmacked before another general election. I haven't got pictures yet, but since I'm away at the moment I can't take any and forgot before I left. We are not sure how long it will last though, especially the edges and now it makes the road quite narrow. Not quite sure if the sides will hold up if people will want to pass. So an improvement? We'll see.
The green grapes are also ripening now
Autumn raspberries
We also visited some friends whose mother lives in our apartment block and they have some land quite nearby to ours. We had heard reports of this piece of land, but never actually been. They showed us around and it certainly looks impressive with a lot of work put into it. They have an outdoor cinema in the woods, a woodland trail, a trail around a grassy area, a lovely sauna (I still haven't partook of a sauna as the thought does not appeal, but the building was really nicely done and the guy built it himself), a lovely lake they have made with fish, a cherry tree that has to be seen to be believed it is that high and the pièce de résistance as they say, the makings of a distillery in a kind of igloo shape. They have an amazing floor of friend's cast off tiles, but the lady said never again as it took too long to get them pieced together. The idea is that when it is finished they will get a license to run the place and it will be open to the public. She offered to have pieces of work made from alpaca wool on display too. They will also make bespoke alcoholic drinks from local ingredients - should be interesting.
Next years tomato seeds bagged and LABELLED! A miracle
for me at times
An autumnal scene, heavy dew and spiders webs
Back to this past week, it was Ian's birthday on Saturday and so we decided to do something special, get up at 4:20am so he could take me to the airport. Very sweet heh! I know how to treat my hubby. At least he got back to the land, let the animals out and then caught up on some sleep in the caravan. I have said it before, that caravan has been an absolute Godsend! It is used every day and allows Ian to crash during the day if he needs to. As for me, I am in Porto in Portugal for a conference I hasten to add, not gallivanting around.
The greenhouse set against the backdrop of rapidly changing

The Doctoral Colloquium was good and helpful. It is nice to be surrounded by folks who are older who are either just doing their PhDs or recently finished them - it gives me hope. There are still lots of younger folks too of course. The evening finished with the conference proper that I am also attending and a small reception. I arranged with my supervisor to eat with him and his wife afterwards, but then the thunderstorm that threatened rolled in. At first it was nothing serious, but then the heavens opened and it poured for ages. Apparently Porto should be brown, but this year they have had a really wet summer and everywhere is green and one person who lives in the city said she had never seen a sky like that - it just looked like a regular thunderstorm to me. After one particularly loud crack of thunder and for the safety of those remaining folks, the organisers bless 'em started ferrying folks to the hotels which were fortunately close by, so I managed to get back without a good soaking.
Mr. Tellus looking very noble as usual in the autumn sunshine

Agnese growing well and eating well. Her fleece is gorgeous
with such a lovely crimp on it
I had another senior moment today and managed to leave my phone at the breakfast table at the hotel. I didn't discover this until I got to the conference and was left wondering what time it was for most of the day. Not always so helpful, as I had also forgotten to put my watch on. Fortunately the hotel staff found it and kept it safe and it is now back in my grubby little hands. These kind of things had better stop happening, I'm not too keen on this amount of disorganisation. At least I didn't spend the day worrying about my phone, I felt pretty sure it was at the hotel or at worse on the bus they used to ferry us between the hotel and conference building. I had enough to think about as I was doing a presentation today on a theory or hypothesis I have about using music or song and dance to help people overcome the barriers to cooperation. I think it went okay, must ask a couple of the young women who came to see me and my presentation. Both of them are also students under the same supervisor as me, but at a different university - he teaches in a few different places and I met them for the first time this week. I have also been spending time finding out what it is like to live in Tokyo, one thing is sure it is expensive. Whilst I wince a little at prices - not too much, but a little - my new friend is thinking wow that's cheap.
Two shorn sheep with the third now tidied up from her
Rastafarian look
The girls munching their way through a new patch of grass,
well grass and lots of weeds actually, but once they have
 eaten the grass down, Ian will flail mow the weeds too.
Managed to find a few minutes to make this as a present
for my daughter. I don't think it would fit in the suitcase
though, so she will have to take it with her another time

Monday, 15 September 2014


Yes in the greenhouse again, but we
forgot to take pictures this week and so
these are the cast offs from last week.
So cute though, I'm sure you don't mind
I took the opportunity to relax a little this week and do something completely different with our little granddaughter around. She has been such a joy to have around with her little giggles and inquisitive nature. I'm sure her Mum winced occasionally when she was scrabbling around with her food, but we are all well aware that kids need dirt in their lives to build up immunity and reduce problems with allergies. She ate lots of fresh food though to compensate, although tomatoes aren't too her liking - except once. If she was whinging a little due to tiredness or hungry, she was offered plums, apples, pears or cucumbers all freshly picked and not a chemical residue in sight. Sometimes our daughter cooked too and it was nice to have someone else do the cooking. One night they took us to the restaurant - a treat as we have only been once in the last year or so and that was recently when our friends took us out.

Showing Mummy how to collect tomatoes. Shame the wee
one doesn't like them 
We sat around and talked a lot too, yet still got wood stacked in our basement for the winter and radiators attached to walls thanks to our son-in-law. We continued our walks around to see the alpacas and chickens and of course, the wee one preferred to see the chickens - much more interesting to youngsters. According to the little one, chickens go "arrrrggghhh!" not cluck cluck and she is sort of right really when you really listen to them.

There has been plenty of sun this week.
Rather nice! Only problem is that we
have had just a touch of frost and so
that prompted some hurried harvesting
Our sheep are finally sheared, but were greatly threatened with having a rendezvous with our freezer in the process. They escaped twice after shearing, but we think it was because they were unsettled with having strange people around who helped with the job. Our sheep are very easy to keep and move around, but as soon as we need to do anything like shearing or injections, they are an absolute pain to get hold of. You wouldn't think that one of them actually likes a nose rub, would you? At least they settled down for Ian when he took them some food in the evening.

The amaranth is in the two strips in the centre. Not exactly
well advanced. Not done so well this year with this

My daughter and family returned on Friday and I went with them to the airport, as I had a dental appointment in Riga. They ordered a taxi for me from the airport as I had to take their child seat with me and then we have it for any little visitors in the future. I was a little late as the taxi got stuck in traffic, but that was okay. I don't miss city traffic, that's for sure. The dentist whipped out the broken tooth and then took two x-rays, one of the tooth and one of a tooth that is sensitive to pressure from time to time. Since the broken tooth is not hurting, she arranged another appointment to deal with it for three weeks time. This time it only cost me €12.30 - not too bad then.

Sunflowers again and showing the autumnal look to the
As I had two hours to kill after the dentist I decided to walk back into the city centre to catch my bus. The child seat was very light and quite easy to carry ....... for the first hour. I did something that is not like me at all, I took a wrong turning and ended up walking for two hours - not quite what I had in mind when I thought about killing time. To cap it all I got there too late to buy a ticket at the kiosk and the bus was really full, so I had to stand for over an hour. I was so pleased to reach a stop where people were actually getting off the bus and not on it and I got to sit down then. I then spent an interesting hour chatting to a young man, who I've met before. He was enthusiastically re-telling me many a tale of changed lives when people listen to God. He is a young man with special needs and yet he has a deep wisdom to know that listening to God and acting on it will help him and others immensely. I love it when God uses the people considered weak or foolish in society's eyes for his purposes.

The bees are still busy
Our son-in-law loves a good challenge when talking and he certainly posed some interesting ones this week. After we had spent rather a long time picking a poor harvest of potatoes, he commented that he could buy lots of bags of potatoes if he had been working for that length of time. He's right of course and we could argue, they won't have been picked by us, the ones from the supermarket would have chemicals added and all sorts of good reasons to continue growing our own. However, the one thought that struck me, long after he had gone, was that it demonstrates the price we put on our food. Not everyone can become a software engineer of course and just about anyone can grow potatoes if they wanted to, but the price we pay in the shops doesn't just represent that the farmer has better machinery to pick potatoes, it also represents the low wages we pay those folks who sort through the potatoes that the farmer lifts. Somewhere in our system we have decided that those who produce food are not worth as much in the economy as those who design clever systems to make our life easier or help industry to run smoothly - all well and good, but with no disrespect intended, we can live without those things, we can't live without food though.

An acorn year for sure! Hmmmm! Lots for the wild boar to
eat over winter then.
A big announcement this week we have a new grandchild on the way. My oldest son and his wife are expecting again and so our grandson is going to become a big brother. Time does fly and it is funny to see how little he looks and yet when his father was born, his big sister was only 15 months older, younger than our grandson is now. My grandson will be over two when his little sibling is born, in fact more like the gap between his father and baby number 3 in our household. Gosh we were all young then. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A brave new world

Preparation for moving berry bushes
 Well if you read yesterday's blog, you will realise that the wee one, did go down for a sleep for me, but first of all I thought I would start off with some ideas that struck me earlier this week, just for a change. As Christians we often have a reputation for doom and gloom. It is well known that many think that we will be whisked away while the rest of folks are left in a deep, black time of hardship and struggle. Few will make it, so the thinking goes! I did think that at one time, but a few years ago I had my ideas challenged and I am back to the belief that God intends to renew this Earth. Revelations 21:1-4
Sunflowers looking good in the early autumn sunshine
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
Yumm! Mushrooms
This week I read an article about the way that science fiction can influence tomorrow's scientists and engineers. When the writers start to imagine a more positive outcome, then that inspires the future ideas that can be made into reality. That should be true of the Christian community too. When we get hold of the idea that God is interested in renewing and not destroying this world, then we are more likely to be inspired to work towards that and take better care of this planet and its people. I think it helps when we think of the Lord's Prayer where we say "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." To me that means we are meant to be a part of bringing God's Kingdom to Earth, not in a dominating, violent way, but in a peaceful, renewing way. That is something that inspires me and something that makes me want to work towards a more positive future. So what are your thoughts? Does it give you hope and an optimism for the future?

I don't think we will be eating these ones though
Anyway onto the regular day to day stuff of life here in Latvia. This week I have been mostly cleaning. Our home does rather suffer over the summer and our daughter and family were due to arrive on the Friday and so cue cleaning time. It's nice to be able to sit somewhere that is tidy for a change. Part of the challenge was trying to make the house a little more baby proof, since this is the first time that one of our little grandchildren have visited whilst mobile. Our grandson did visit last year, but he was just a tiny baby and our other adopted granddaughter is old enough to leave things alone or not try to eat everything in sight.
Not the sort of wildlife we really want to see

Nor this. Some kind of fungal disease probably
Intense concentration picking those
Our little granddaughter has spent a couple of days out on the land and in the garden and so it has been rather amusing to watch her and have her "help," she got really dirty picking up potatoes and helping her Mummy put them in a bag, then finding worms and stones and ....... Afterwards she also lent a hand with sorting through the potato harvest with her Mummy and Daddy, so  I suspect we are going to find one or two potatoes in some strange places. Our little granddaughter and I have been for lots of walks to see the alpacas and the chickens and on one ramble we made our way back through the greenhouse. She stopped at the tomatoes and tried to pull off a green one and so I showed her a red one she could pick and we took it to Mummy. Later on that day she set off by herself and took the watering can and started pulling off tomatoes and putting them in it, even got some red ones in there.
A watering can, just right for picking
tomatoes right?
A happy wee soul
Besides helping with the potato harvest our son-in-law helped me to pin the alpacas down whilst Ian clipped their toe nails. White alpacas with fine fleece have toe nails that grow at rather a rapid pace and, just a few months after they were trimmed when we sheared their fleece, they were back to needing a trim again. Herkules, unfortunately escaped out the door with me desperately trying to cling on and Estelle bucked a little when she was having her's trimmed and ended up catching me on the backside, just below the belt line. It was just a scratch, albeit a deepish one but everyone found it very amusing. Had to resort to the vodka for that though - for cleaning the wound of course. Agnese also got her toe nails trimmed for the first time and at one point when she was protesting we thought that Snowdrop, her mother, was going to spit at me for tormenting her child. Fortunately she didn't, as we talked to her gently to calm her down.
The marigolds are still looking good
Harvest moon
We have had yet another leak from the apartment upstairs at our other apartment. Fortunately our daughter and son-in-law spotted it and took appropriate action in the evening. The next morning we had to go and talk with the neighbours and the lady of the apartment was distraught that it was happening again. We had to insist on them turning their water off for the weekend, so that it didn't continue, which made us feel awful. We did offer to bring them up some water if they needed it, but they said others would help. The fitting that was leaking looked new and we wondered if this was the replacement for the part that burst the last time and totally flooded us out. We do despair at times and this is one of those time when I wish I was fluent in Latvian and could deal with the company myself and tell them exactly what I think about them and their workmanship.
Flowering onions
Sofie, off on her night travels
Today we got to look after our little granddaughter whilst Mummy and Daddy went on their own to Riga. She was a little treasure, she didn't moan and was a happy little soul most of the time. She certainly was very easy to look after and giggled a lot. Not bad considering that the most contact I have had with her is via Skype and Ian even less so. It will be nice to see her a little more often now that she will be living in England, I shall be looking forward to their visits.

Major Fowler on guard
Some debate on this, but I think it is a hornet's nest. Quite
incredible really but something to deal with over the
Jerusalem artichokes looking good