Monday, 23 February 2015

Now where am I?

Do you see that browny green stuff
down the path? That's grass! Oh yes!
The snow is gradually going
I had a lovely Skype chat today with my friend in America, who I met at my first academic conference in Florence.  Part of the time my supervisor joined in the chat to talk about academic things to do with my paper that I have been writing for ages, but we also had time for a good old natter. My American friend's first question was "Now where are you at the moment?" Good question! It is only mid-February and I have been up to Estonia three times already this year, as well as back to the UK and off down to the very far South-East of Latvia. Today I am at home! Having said that I have only just got back from Estonia, some of which was planned and some a last minute arrangement.

The ponds are beginning to show themselves too, although
Ian is wondering where all the melt water is going, because
the ponds aren't filling up
I knew there was not much point in booking interviews too far ahead, because from previous experience, that can mean they can get cancelled at the last minute and that is not easy when it takes a day to travel up. As soon as I got back from the UK I started enquiring as to when I could meet up with some "real" Estonians, in other words just ordinary folks not connected with the university and I tried to organise it so that it coincided with the rearranged doctoral seminar (the one that got cancelled and somehow I didn't get to know until the last minute). My answer came on Tuesday afternoon, could I make it up by Wednesday evening. My heart sank, would I be able to make it or not? I consulted with the Estonian bus webiste and it at first did not seem possible, as it looked like there was only one bus a day that connected. I was just about to decline when I decided to look up where I was going on the map and see where the website was routing me. At this point I found out it was routing me with an out of the way place and I could just as easily take my normal route up to Tartu and then catch a bus from there and those buses went about every hour and half - now that was more reasonable.

The castle gates of Põltsamaa. This
suffered a lot of damage during the
Second World War. It also houses the
towns wine cellar. Apparently the town
is the wine capital of Estonia, but not
wine from grapes but Estonian fruit
and berries. The town is also renowned
for its rose gardens
After scrambling around to get ready Tuesday evening, I set off from home on the 7:15am bus the next morning. I met up with the Masters student who is doing most of the interviews in Tartu and then we travelled up together to his home town, Põltsamaa. We were met by his father in a mini bus at 6:15pm and so after eleven hours on the road we were straight off to our first interview. Fortunately the type of interviews I do are more like homely chats and so it was not too hard a job. I just wanted to know what it was like to be an Estonian and a little about the way Estonians think, trying to weigh up along the way what differences I could detect from the average Latvian - whatever that might be. The Masters student's father sat outside for the whole of the hour and a quarter interview, but I guess he is used to that as he is a bus driver who drives his own buses.
Now if I remember the story correctly, this
statue is of a famous musician. He gets
pelted with eggs and flour at the end of
the year and the graduating students then
have to clean it up. At least I think that is
the right way around and why they do this
I'm not quite sure.

This was Lustivere the village where I did the interviews.
They are very proud at having won village of the year last
year and this bench celebrates that
After the interview I stayed overnight at his parents' house and was treated very well. Better than a hotel any day. I had roast chicken, veg and potatoes for the evening meal and in the morning giant pancakes with meat, cheese, pickles, sour cream, jam and some gorgeous honeys, one with blueberries in it and one with the honeycomb (not all together I might add). As our next interview was not until 11am there was a chance to chat with the parents. Of course the pictures of the alpacas came out, since people usually want to know what we are doing in rural Latvia and the pictures of the grandchildren. The mother of the family said I should really come back in summer when it looks much nicer, but I explained that I rarely get to travel about in summer these days, since it is the busiest time of the year on the farm. Still it was nice to have such an invite and it certainly made me feel very welcome.
I was given this rather nice pincushion after one interview

The river in Põltsamaa. I can't remember now how many
bridges there are along the river, but there are a lot of them
After a tour around Põltsamaa I was off down to Tartu in preparation to attend the doctoral seminar the next day. That was fairly uneventful but at least it meant being able to touch bases with both my supervisors - which is a miracle in itself, if not exactly startling news. One asked how I was getting along and how the interviews were going just after the seminar and one with a more general chat over lunch. One of the most annoying parts of the last few days though is that in my rush in the morning to get ready for the bus I forgot my computer charger. It serves me right for being on the internet and losing track of time, but it did mean that it was hard to do much work on my travels. I did at least have my iPad and so I could check my emails and read books but the time dragged much more this time. Such a shame as I really felt like I was getting the hang of utilising my travelling time to get stuff done. I did manage a bit of work on the iPad, but most of what I really needed to get done was still on my computer and not so easy on the iPad.
The old people's home in the former manor house in Lustivere

Hmmm! I think I got the best deal. I got moved in with
four more ladies
As for news down on the farm, we have had chicken chaos this week. Last Monday we decided to do the chicken change around. The young broiler cockerels in Ark 3 were being picked on by the more mature one and we knew they would need changing around soon anyway. It was a little like one of those games where you have to move a piece so that you can move another one and it had to be done in order or it wasn't going to work. First we moved out the cockerel from Ark 2 that was going to be culled into a basket to await his fate. The two young cockerels were moved into to take his place, as they were not as closely related to the hens in there, unlike the one removed who was their brother. Next the cockerel from the ark we call Ark 1 was swapped with the other two from Ark 3, a female broiler hen and the bossy cockerel.

What did you move me for? Life was so peaceful before
The hope was that moving the cockerel and the hen together would make it easier on the hen - it did not. Broiler chickens seem to be more docile and since she hasn't reached egg laying maturity yet, she is not so aggressive as the older laying hens. We are still waiting to see how that move goes, as she is still being picked on. There was a lot of squawking and complaining going on in the Arks even as we culled the male we had removed, until suddenly one of the young broiler chickens crowed for the first time. Suddenly peace descended and we decided it was time to make a move and go home, leaving them to settle down for the evening. Ian had to move one of the young broiler cockerels out though later on in the week, because the absence of the older bossier cockerel meant they both decided to boss around all the hens in Ark 2, so he has been put in with the cockerel from Ark 1 and after a short flurry, they settled their differences. We don't want to cull the other males just yet as they are probably heading for the outdoor free range accommodation, but it is too early yet and they can go out when the snow is gone and we are sure they are surplus to requirements in the Arks.
Sofie finding the warm spots again

Aggie or to give her her proper name Grizītes Agnese
Ian has been training Aggie to the halter this week. She has been really good and doesn't seem to mind the halter at all. He is thinking of getting her out on a rein, once he has found a halter with a good fit. Unfortunately the ones we have are a tad on the large side to be trusted to hold her firmly enough for a walk, plus the paths are still too icy at the moment and Ian doesn't want her slipping and getting freaked out. Although halter training has been going well, Aggie hasn't been a good alpaca all week. One day she tried to playfully butt Ian. Ian had to stamp his authority pretty firmly as he doesn't want her growing up thinking she can do this. He told her no and firmly but gently pushed her away. She seemed to have got the idea she had over stepped the mark and now she takes a little more care at approaching Ian. All good training to ensure she is people friendly but not a nuisance to anyone.

Monday, 16 February 2015


Our land is on the flight path for quite a few flights. Ian
follows them on a flight tracker to see where they are
Well we are back in Latvia after spending time in the UK for Ian's mother's funeral. It did feel a little surreal at times, firstly we stayed in his mother's house and of course she was not there. It was a sad occasion, but everyone was really happy to meet together. I think every member of the family almost felt guilty for enjoying the time we spent together, as everyone pretty much made a weekend of it. I think part of the reason for that was that her death was not unexpected, she had been ill for so many years and she seemed tired before Christmas. In some ways it was a relief to see her go and not suffer any more. I think we all dreaded a time when she wouldn't be able to cope on her own at home. She was adamant she was not going into a home and the thought of having to make that decision would have been immensely hard on the family, especially those living close by. So going after just a brief stay in hospital seemed the kindest way to go for her.

Grandma Lolly at our daughter's wedding
Grandma Lolly in her younger days
The funeral was a fitting tribute to the feisty little lady. She had planned much of it herself and all was paid for. That made the planning much easier on Ian's brother and testament to her thoughtfulness on such issues. Her two eldest granddaughters read a eulogy with a great deal of love and warmth and her youngest granddaughter, our daughter, sang Amazing Grace beautifully in her own distinctive style. One of Ian's school friends turned up for the funeral unexpectedly. He had read the obituary on my blog and checked out the details so he could be there. All three of us were amused that he had been mistaken for one of the undertakers by a family member and became a bit of a running joke through our catching up conversation.
It has been sunny here for the last two days and Sofie has
been lapping up the sun in the sunniest spots in the

Hard to believe that this morning it was -18C outside but
the temperatures in the greenhouse have been going up
during the day. Could Spring be on its way so soon?

Green in the UK when we left and definitely still white here
Funerals do have a tendency to make you reflect on life and the meaning of it. One reflection was how things have changed since Ian's father died eight years ago (not nine like I mentioned before - not that anyone is counting really). The same two granddaughters read the eulogy then and our daughter sang at that funeral too, but a few spouses had been added along the way and the number of little family members had grown. All of our children were single at their Grandad's funeral and now all of them have spouses and children in tow and our children weren't the only ones. When we went to the wake after the funeral each of the brothers had a big round table with their families around them, there was no fitting around one table, it was physically impossible. Seeing all my own family sitting there, really brought home to me how much our own family has grown.
Our two little grandchildren choosing their evening meal
(Photo courtesy of our son)

The remnants of the ice from the greenhouse broken up
and showered on the path by Ian's hard work and then
the snowblower
One family member lamented that the matriarch had gone now and wondered if we would all fracture into separate entities. After all when we go to England our primary focus will be our own children and grandchildren and that was expected of us and not said in a begrudging way. It doesn't help that Ian's family live so far north and our family is scattered around the UK. I'm sure we will be able to work something out, maybe holidays with family up in the North East would be the answer. Only time will tell though and it will take commitment on all sides to keep in touch.
We visited my mother and father too. This is a view from
their window - they had a bit of snow as well (Photo
courtesy of our son)

Deep tractor tracks to deliver hay to the animals
One of the things that struck Ian was how a connection with part of his past has gone. He can't ask his Mam if she remembers an incident and when we were looking through the photographs there were so many who he didn't know. It made us realise how important it is to document things so the information is not lost. We would hope to scan in photos and make comments on them, so that our own children will know who the people are and know part of their own history. As our son-in-law commented it will be nice to have the photos on the computer and they would take up less room than the bags upon bags of photos and mementoes. Having said that, there is also something special about holding history in your hands.
Grandad Ronnie and Grandma Lolly on their
wedding day

Berry bushes just poking through the snow
One of the sad things was parting with so many things that reminded us of Mam and Dad. There was only so much we could take back with us, such as some of the special gifts we had given them from our trips or just the little things that reminded us of them. We don't want to clutter our own home with too much stuff, just for the sake of it, after all that would just be a headache for our own children too one day. In one drawer was a whole load of tablecloths and napkins, so reminiscent of my own grandmothers, the difference was that I remember my grandmothers actually making those items and I had no idea if Ian's mother had sown or crocheted any of those things or if they were made by family members. Since I have a draw full of those things I didn't really feel I should take any of these, but I was so pleased to find a friend of ours who lives nearby to Ian's family who was able to take them for her own photographic projects and to share with other creative types. That seems a very fitting use for them.
Grandad time (Photo courtesy of our son)
Looks like Aggie is communing with the chicken. Wonder
what they are saying?
There were also reflections on what happens when we go! Our family will not only have our funeral to deal with, it is likely to be in a foreign place with foreign laws to deal with. What will happen to the alpacas? Will we still have them by then? Would they still want the land we are so passionately connected to? Would it pass into the family or be sold off? What would our legacy be? Would our grandchildren be saying kind things about us or will we hardly know them? So many things to think about, but at least as we processed these thoughts we got plenty of time to watch and cuddle our grandchildren. Mind you, I am not sure I want to sing "Row, row, row the boat, gently down the stream, if you see a crocodile don't forget to scream" and various other versions for at least a little while. I was our little granddaughter's in-car entertainment for many an hour.
Thar's snow on them thar hills. Actually there was snow in
the garden too
Diamond encrusted trees
We stayed for part of the time at our daughter's new house. It was really weird to be in a town in Derbyshire that we knew so well and now our daughter is actually living there. We have walked the streets of this town so many times and then walked back to our car and driven home in years past, this time we just walked up the hill to her house. On the night we arrived our daughter invited some old friends of ours to a meal on the night, it was lovely to hear their plans for the future and talk about where we are at. We also tried to visit a cafe that we had been to more times than I can remember and was one of the treat places for our kids too. We didn't take them to McDonalds or places like that, we took them to little cafes in Derbyshire mainly, where we would have cakes and drinks. We didn't often have meals out, as we couldn't afford them very often and I wasn't going to take them somewhere to eat junk food. Unfortunately Caudwell's Mill in Rowsley was as popular as ever and we couldn't get a seat and a certain little lady wanted some lunch. It was only afterwards that I remembered, if we were going to eat there, we went a tad before 12pm to get a seat. Still we ended up at another little cafe, The Eating house, Calver, that we have also been to before and the cakes were super and came with a little bowl of fruit too. I am sure it made the great wedge of cake healthy.
Our little grandson
Animal tracks and chicken tracks
There were a few irritating thing that happened before we left for the UK, one was the U-bend on our sink coming apart. It does do this from time to time due to the pipe leading to the tap that is extendable interfering with the outlet pipe somehow. That meant a flooded kitchen unit that needed emptying and leaving to dry while we were away. Ian has now tied up the pipe to try and stop it happening again. Another and rather more serious problem was the hand brake on the car freezing again and now the hand brake doesn't really work. The brakes aren't that good too and so it was a little worrying heading into Riga. Ian fortunately tends to use engine breaking rather than the brake pedals, especially on the ice, but they are still useful. He tried to fix them today, but it was -18C and the barn doors won't open enough to get the car in, so he had to try and bleed them on a bit of a slant.
Daddy time
More crazy patterns on the greenhouse
Another irritation was getting our clocks wrong. On the day of the funeral we needed to get up early and so I set the alarm on my ipad to get up at 7am. We thought we would be up early anyway, but just in case I set the alarm. Hmmph! When travelling one should make sure that all clocks are changed on all relevant items or at least take the time difference into account. Latvia is two hours ahead of the UK and so we actually woke up at 5am and by the time I realised my mistake it was too late. Ian rubbed it in! The next day, we had kind of come to and I asked what time it was? Ian said 7:20am but it wasn't. In the dark he cannot see so well without his glasses at that distance and it actually was only 6:20am. What a pair we make!
One of Ian's family holidays, this one to Ostend, with his
father, mother, godfather and his godfather's wife.
His father isn't in this picture - long story.

Caption time! 
We went to an alpaca farm while we were up in the North East. We were intrigued how they had managed to go from a few alpacas to over 100 and wondered what were the issues when scaling up. She said up to 25 was as much work as 3 or thereabouts, but above that was rather different. That probably explains why quite a few have about 25 and only a few are much bigger than that. We would probably aim to have around 25 and then see where we go. We think our land could support that many, but above that we would have to buy in hay or rent land. A lot of money had been poured into that venture too and that is something we can't do now, but at least it has given us some ideas, so watch this space.
This is Ian's father in his later years
Snowdrop in meditative mood and sat next to her daughter.
They don't often sit next to each other these days.
Our animals were in good hands while we were away and have not misbehaved since we got back either - remarkably! We did get an early phone call while we were away though as our youngest alpaca didn't eat her food that morning. Our friend looking after the animals knows herd animals very well and knows that when a herd animal goes off their food it can be serious very quickly and so he was obviously worried. Fortunately we guessed the reason might actually be the trace of spit from her mother in the bowl. Snowdrop is our alpaca that is likely to spit and has been known to spit in everyone else's bowl and then none of the others will eat, she then goes and polishes off all the food. She is much better now than she used to be, but still! Anyway later on in the day the little one was fine.
Playing nicely at my parent's house

So there is the ramble through the last two weeks and now we are kind of back to normal, with me finishing off some work for the blessed paper I have been writing for years (well it feels like that) and some work for my online job and Ian back out on the land, shifting snow, poo and hay.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Family time

Back next week, but for now, here is a view of Bakewell in the UK

Monday, 2 February 2015

The important things in life!

The snowshoes are out! Ian wore his today for the first time
this winter
My brain is a bit fogged up today, so excuse me if I don't make sense at times or lapse into academic speak, or whatever mess I make of this week's blog. I have been transcribing interviews all day or at least as long as my brain can take it. The interviews were done in Latvian and there is a translation after each bit, so I have been listening to Latvian and then madly typing up all the bits that were translated into English. It is good practice to hear the Latvian, but tiring. My fingers have that tingly feeling from tapping away on the computer for hours. Don't worry I did get up in between and take plenty of cups of tea to keep me going.
So the snow clearing has continued. It is deep in places
because the wind was quite strong, but not as deep as it
could have been due to the partial melts in between
snow showers. The snow blower has had rather too much
use for Ian's liking this year.
The hay run track. Ian has had to cut a track from the small
hay store behind the boys shelter to the girl's shelter
so he is able to get the feed up to them.

This was the church we visited. It didn't look
like this when I went as it was night time
and snowing
The interviews were done in Dagda, a place I have never been to before, way over by the Belarus border. Apparently it is set in a beautiful area with lots of lakes. I say apparently because it was a rather white landscape when I went, where even the lakes were white and so it was difficult to know where they were or whether it is just a rather flat field. There were clues along the way that there were lots of lakes, firstly there might be a group of cars parked near the road in the middle of nowhere and then across the vast whiteness that could be a field or a lake would be sat a little figure huddled over - obviously an ice fisherman. People do not sit motionless in the middle of fields at this time of year.
I didn't get to see this, but it is on the website
for the area. I would have liked to have done
some visiting but we just didn't have time
unfortunately and so will have to save that for
another time

I had a whole room to myself. The beds were on the hard
side, but that is because I'm soft. I've known hotels to have
harder beds, so this wasn't too bad.
I had a great time in Dagda. We stayed in the boarding part of the local school, as that was the only accommodation in the town/village/city. It does amuse me that the designation of places as towns, villages and cities varies so much between countries and is all relative and very fluid. It was a main administrative centre and so has a city hall/town hall/council office. Again it depends on where you come from as to what you would call the large imposing building, similar to many such buildings over the whole of Latvia. We had just one contact in the area, the mother of the sister-in-law of the lady conducting the interviews. She worked in the boarding part of the school and was a star, she helped to organise quite a few of the interviews and suggested we go to the local library for more. Within 48 hours we managed to do 14 interviews with 15 interviewees in total, which is pretty amazing in such a short time. It was also lovely to meet so many wonderful people who are soldiering on in a small rural place that is lacking funding and desperately needs some sort of intervention to stem the flow of people to the cities or even abroad.

I don't think the boys are that bothered by the snow, but
they have been getting through a lot of hay just lately.
I came away with a deep appreciation for the way families are so fundamental to keeping people connected in out of the way places. It also gave me much to ponder on, such as the merits or otherwise of offering jobs to local people who are known to those doing the offering. It keeps people there and if people know each other well, is there a need to look elsewhere, if you know the person can work well? Of course that is also a system open to abuse and exclusion. I am under no illusions, we couldn't conduct a thorough review of the area in that time, that wasn't the point, it was looking for pointers for further research or to generate ideas for others to work in the area. It was an initial foray into the area and to get a flavour of the place that can be compared to other areas. People seemed surprisingly open to be interviewed and seemed happy to talk about the place they live in. There were one or two who seemed a bit reticent at first but they opened up and that can only be accredited to the young lady who conducted the interviews. She did a good job of helping people to relax and made good eye contact with them to show interest in what they had to say. I must admit though, this kind of interviewing is my favourite part of the research and it is just a bit sad I have to mainly rely on others to do the work this time around, further interviews in small places in Latvia will be done without me.

In between snow showers, Ian has been clearing out trees
from a section next to our oak hill. This shouldn't really
have trees on it, but at least now the sheep should be able
to get in amongst it and start keeping the shrubbery down
Following on from all things studious, this week the university I am studying with (The Estonian University of Life Sciences) made the top 1% of most cited research facilities in the world. Just in case you think I now talking gobbledygook, what that means is that the papers that researchers publish in academic journals have been quoted from or at least referenced by other researchers in their papers. This is for two reasons, either the paper is of sufficient merit that others think it worth referencing when building up an argument for their own work, or it is sufficiently controversial to need debunking. Usually the first reason is the most valid. This piece of news was for the work done in the environment and ecology.
According to the Rector of the Estonian University of Life Sciences, belonging to the top 1% is a great achievement, because competition is made up of thousands of universities. „It is an acknowledgement showing that the research being done here in our small country and our small university is on par with the best universities in the world,“ he said.

A rather large stack of wood and small branches for
chipping. Ian would have liked to have got it cleared
away, but it is not to be just yet.
I have been doing a lot of pondering this week due to some comments made on facebook. It set me thinking about "The Other" - who are the other ones? I get cross when we start to define what "the other" would do, be or say. It is not fair when they cannot answer for themselves and it dehumanises them, be they Muslim, atheists, gays or whoever we choose to define in a disparaging way. It is sometimes used to justify atrocious acts done in "our" name. We have to stop thinking of people as "the other" but as people, with their own experiences, both good and bad, we have to start listening to how they see the world to understand what they are seeing. We have to acknowledge we too have violent tendencies, even if that tendency is "only" encouraging the violence to be done on our behalf, such as when we are complicit to the idea that drones are good because they get "the enemy". Hatred of any kind is not going to bring healing, violence at any time is not going to bring healing. We have to do better than this to see our societies heading in the right direction where peace is an expectation, where the human right to a decent job is part of the scene and we don't ship out our waste or our greed to others who cannot defend themselves.

Veronica is usually quite a laid back old lady, but this week
she got quite stroppy with Estelle. It might have been due
to a change in routine, we are not sure. But she was back to her
regal, slightly aloof self today.
A winter wasteland
I often think our Western societies display the same sort of arrogance that the upper classes of the Victorian society displayed to the poor - out of sight, out of mind. They didn't have to go far to see the harsh realities of the poor in their towns if they had really wanted to know what was going on. We also don't have to go far, we have the internet to see the reality beamed into our own homes, if we choose to see, whether that is in the local social housing estate or some far flung village in Bangladesh. We tend to think that the poor are to be blamed for the mess they are in and we fail to see how our lifestyles often contribute to their plight. Such as when we buy a cheap t-shirt or coffee not from fair traded sources when we have the option. I have to admit to not often buying fair trade coffee, but that is because I do most of my buying in a local shop and I don't travel to the large supermarkets on a regular basis where they might have the option of fair trade products. This limits what I can buy, but it also puts some money back into the local economy - a trade off, but one I have thought about. It is hard to take a truly sustainable and ethical route, but I think we need to put some effort into going as far as we possibly can. The world will be better for it.