Monday, 26 December 2016

Flying home for Christmas

The nearest I got to a Christmas tree this year. Not mine but
at the quaint little hostel in central Uppsala
I just about made it back home for Christmas and that is a tale in itself.I arrived back in the early afternoon of Christmas Eve. I was nearly bumped onto a flight via Helsinki that would only have arrived in the evening into Riga and then another couple of hours to get home.
My chalet. It was a little chilly on the first night, but then
someone put a fan heater in my room and then it was snug

The manor house where I had breakfast. This was very nice

This was the more spacious hostel I was in the first half of
the week. It was much quieter but perhaps needing in a bit
of updating. I slept better though, as I am so used to the
peace and quiet these days
I could kick myself now for turning down the offer of £200 vouchers they offered as compensation to take the later flight but Ian had already set off from home and I couldn't quite catch where he was because of the general  noise in the airport. I didn't think until two days later that it could have come in useful for either flying to the UK next year or flying out someone from the UK to join us.
Aggie has been worrying Ian, she has a lump on the side of
her face. We will have to have the vet come out and deal with
it, but it is a worry he could do with out, especially in the damp
depressing days

How did Mari manage to get so mucky on the top of her head
I also didn't think until after the event that perhaps the gentlemen who didn't put up such a fuss had children to fly home to, they just seemed kind of stunned and resigned to it. I just hope that they would have put up more of a fuss if they did. I was just rather tired and wanted to get home, so I wasn't thinking straight. It does kind of dismay me that I was so thoughtless though.
It was a good job it was a quiet time of
the year as it allowed me to spread my
work out on the table. I needed to arrange
the work I was doing in a specific order
to organise my thoughts and the best way
for me is to print it out and then cut up all
the bits I need and arrange them

The second hostel was very Scandinavian
in style, but quaint
At least the week before was wonderful. As I mentioned last week I was very well looked after, despite the closeness to Christmas and all the family preparations. I had plenty of meetings and chats with other academics in the department, which were helpful for me to clarify in my mind the way I was thinking. It is also great to hear from people on the same wavelength that the urban and rural areas need each other and need to support each other and not just think of rural areas in terms of production of agricultural products - that will kill the very industry that is needed to make the urban areas sustainable in the long-term.
A rather nice dining area and tea and coffee was free

The kitchen was very well equipped
The best meeting though was getting out into a rural area of Sweden to talk with a gentleman who is interested in seeing slow development in his village and not the addition of 200 houses, which he estimates would increase the population of the village approximately by 50% in a very short period of time. He wants slow development so there is time to assimilate the newcomers and welcome them into village life. He also feels it would be better so that the infrastructure can develop slowly to meet the new needs. The Professor and I had a few different suggestions that he liked the idea of and so I was tasked with writing a proposal for a way to help the villagers plan a way forward. It will be exciting to see where that leads. It would be nice if I can also be a part of that process.
The rooms were tiny, but big enough. I
had to stand on the bed to get this photo
and the desk was a drop leaf attached to
the wall. 

This is outside our apartment a few weeks ago, but finally
managed to get the photos off my camera because I have a
SSD slot on the computer and don't now have to find the cable
which has been lost for weeks
I bought myself a computer on the last day. I found out that it was cheaper to get it from Sweden than in the places I looked online in the UK, which seems really odd, as Sweden always used to be far more expensive. I was worried that my 6 year old MacBook could pack up on me any time, something I could ill afford to happen when I have a thesis to write next year.  Also I needed to update the software but since it was getting old and cranky I wasn't sure how well it would handle it.
It would be nice to have some snow back
with some cold weather to freeze the ground
better than all this mud
Ian taking the muck to the compost heap - such a cheery scene

While I did at least see some sunshine from my office
window, this was Ian's view. There are some sheep somewhere
in there
My MacBook was also heavy for lugging around on my travels and I just needed something lighter. I can't say I am completely enthralled by it and I it obviously is not depositing everything I want in the places I want it to, but I will get used to it in time. It does bother me though to have to buy a new gadget, I don't like the idea of buying new things, I would rather make old things work better and one day I hope we can do that. Admittedly there wouldn't have been much I could do about the weight.
Lost! Some alpacas!

Moss and lichens do kind of glow in
the low light levels though
I have to say the service though in El Giganten was fabulous. The lass who served me tried her best to get me a cheaper returned computer, but unfortunately when they do a factory reset, Pages (the Mac equivalent of Word, well sort of) wasn't on it, which she wasn't aware of and I need that programme to do some of the work I do. There was quite a bit of faffing about trying to work out why it didn't have Pages on, which entailed me trundling off to the nearby IKEA to get some lunch and of course I ended up turning the wrong way and having to go part way through the store to get out. I managed it without further purchases, but it was close, I nearly spotted something to buy but managed to avert myself at the last minute.
And the moisture glistens on the end of the branches

I still find it hard to think that this is our
Coming home in the afternoon of a damp and dreary Latvia meant that we have done without a Christmas tree this year. I would have gone out to our land with Ian if it had been dry, to get one but it was so miserable, it just wasn't worth it. It would have had to stay down in the basement to dry off before bringing it into the apartment and the next day while Ian was seeing to the animals I was busy cooking a goose and a dessert to take with us to a Christmas meal we had been invited to, so no time for putting up the Christmas decorations. I did get out the fairy lights though and hooked one lot to a curtain rail and twisted around some silver stars and hung up a star and baubles next to it and the other set of fairy lights were stuffed into a large vase and a star perched on the top. Not the most festive but it works and cheers the place up a bit.
It is not all neat and tidy forest, there is also a lot of swampy
areas where the willow ends up in a tangled mess

Moss and wood
We thoroughly enjoyed the meal with our friends. We had our first course and then went out to the land to put the animals away, some went out for a walk and some just hung around the house. We then went back for dessert. My dessert went down very well, which was a good job as it wasn't quite how I planned it. It was a sponge layer with lemon, squash cream layer (which tastes like lemon curd), followed by a layer of raspberries and then meringue. The lemon layer took longer than I anticipated to make and so I was having a hard job putting it all together. The meringue was meanwhile slowly decreasing as it was standing around. It worked though despite the hassle of making it. I know next time to allow more time to get a thickened lemon layer, although that may have been an asset in making the slightly soggy sponge layer. At least the meringue could have done with being made later.
I think we had some visitors nibbling on the bark

Not quite Thomas the Tank Engine on the telly, but GJ and Pops
We have managed to say Happy Christmas to two of our children and their little ones. Skype is so great for that. We sat and watched one of the grandkids building his lego set while we chatted. It is funny to watch the little ones interacting with us and they seem comfortable enough with us being either on the computer or on the telly even. Not as good as being there, but at least the next best thing.
Ian has found it is easier to ply two strands of wool together on
the drop spindle rather than on the spinning wheel, but then it is
difficult to make it into a ball after that, so he made this gadget
to hold the spindle and turn while he winds the wool up

One final comment. Heather and I managed to finalise the plans for our felting workshop for next year. We will put up details soon on our website, which is at Griezītes Alpakas and on our Facebook page. So on that note, I wish you all a Happy Christmas, what's left of it and a great New Year.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Lots of visiting

Ian was hunting alpacas in the fog today
meanwhile I had lovely blue skies and a
gorgeous sunset on my walk back to the
hostel in Uppsala, Sweden
I’m a little fed up tonight and it is probably because I’m tired and in a strange environment. I actually worked in an office today and it was really weird. I had a meeting this morning with a very nice chap north of Uppsala in Sweden. I am currently on a study trip at the Swedish Agricultural University, the aim is to make connections and so I am being hosted by one of the Professors. He drove me to the meeting, introduced me and facilitated the exchange of ideas, which was great. It was very productive and led to some possible avenues for future work, although as usual, it is all dependent on getting funding. So far so good! The professor then took me to the university and showed me around, so definitely no complaints with hospitality, I feel very well looked after. After showing me where to get lunch he then left me to my own devices to work in his office, which was fine, but like I said it’s weird, as I have always worked in the home or from home before and definitely never in an office.
Ian's view today

Yes we did have more snow and yes it virtually disappeared
again. I have been showing off my scarf this week that
contains some of Chanel's and Mari's fleece 
So the reason I’m fed up? It is in trying to get online and the fact my computer is acting strange. It is getting a bit cranky anyway and the last thing I want is for it to suddenly start doing odd things like reverting to factory settings for my desktop picture like it did tonight or taking ages to connect through to the internet on different systems, both at the university and here at the hostel. I even resorted to writing this blog in Word so I don’t have to spend ages doing it online. I also tried to connect my camera to the internet and at first it didn’t want to get online either. It wouldn’t find the connection. Of course it could be the hostel’s own system, but to deal with that it would mean going up to the house and finding someone to sort the problem out. There are not many staff about because it is out of season and there are not many guests around, especially yesterday as I was the only one. It also means a trip outside as I am in a kind of chalet (must remember to take some photos tomorrow). Anyway it isn’t the end of the world and I am sure a goodnights sleep will help. Well it will help me, not necessarily the internet connection. 
The sheep looking fairly ghostly

Heather gave me this scarf. It has a pink silk panel with
alpaca and merino felting. I think it is absolutely gorgeous.
Sorry the photo does not do it justice, but I wanted to show
you all
Last week was quite a hectic but pleasant week. As I mentioned in my belated post yesterday, Heather Potten came with her husband and I was showing her around the different activities we could try when we hold a felting course next year. We want to attract people from abroad to do felting but also to experience more of Latvia and what it has to offer. Of course we are out in rural Latvia with lots of interesting activities but they are maybe not the most sophisticated kind of activities all the time, but we do think it will be fun.  
A random photo from a while ago. I finally
worked out how to get photos off my camera
without the lead, which I can't find at the

Mari tucking into the "tasty" snow
We of course went to see the alpacas and then we went to a neighbour who makes his own alcohol. Everyone else got to try it but I was the designated driver, so I didn’t. There were some interesting combinations, some apparently were better than others, but the whole trip was very entertaining with a very theatrical host. We had a guided tour around a porcelain factory and saw what we could do there and finished that day off with a trip to a very nice restaurant that Ian and I have never been to before. We decided this will make an excellent end of course dinner. We went to the local museum on a beautiful, sunny, crisp, winters day. The view from the top of the nearby museum was gorgeous, just not so easy to visualise it on a summer’s day, at least it will be warmer. 
Brencis lapping up the sunshine

On the way to Riga. The ipad does not do justice to the
colours of the sunset
We did get to do some felting at least on one day, we had hoped to do more, but it didn’t quite work out that way. When I get back I will have to do plenty of test samples to work out exactly what the properties are for each alpaca. Some have fleeces that felt better than others and we are trying to work out what the characteristics are that make it work easier. 
Tubjørn also lapping up the sunshine but he does look funny,
as if he is deeply meditating or singing - I assure you he

A gorgeous sunset, but like I said, the ipad
didn't do it justice
All too soon the week was over. We had enjoyed some good food, some warm Latvian hospitality and some great conversations. We have just about managed to put a plan together for the week and we now need to finalise a few costs and then it will be ready for promoting early next year. We finished the week off with a quick visit to our friend’s goat farm where we hope to sample or even make cheese and after a quick lunch I said goodbye to Ian and went with Heather and her husband to the airport. They were flying on the same day as I was, but they were going later, so they dropped me off and headed back into Riga. I meanwhile headed for Sweden.
Tellus and Brencis were having a disagreement 
Mr. P. taking the wisest option and staying out of it

Lady V contemplating life
I flew into Stockholm and caught the bus to Uppsala where I was met by the Professor. He ensured I was safely deposited at the hostel, with a bus card so I can get around and a map to make sure I don’t get lost. The following day he invited me to see the ecovillage where he lives, as well as the nature park and agricultural areas nearby and then we went on to have lunch with his wife at his home, like I said earlier, I feel very well looked after. 
A gorgeous sunrise in our village

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Company's coming!

Beautiful winter sunrise
I can't remember where that phrase is from but we had been busy preparing for company this last week. I was so busy that I forgot to post my blog last week and apparently I did something similar last year, according to a Facebook trip down memory lane. So to save you an over long blog, I will post the blog I meant to post last week and post the next instalment tomorrow hopefully, but bear with me if I don't as I am still kind of busy.

Cold but the snow nearly all disappeared
I was ticking off the jobs to do; in reality they are jobs that have been on the list for ages but this last week there was an added impetus to get them done. I have been trying to put those things away that have been hanging around waiting for a home after our move back to the apartment. Some of those things, like dried herbs which are currently in plastic bread bags need jars to be stored in and I am fast running out of old jars of a reasonable size, so that is still a work in progress. As fast as jars are being emptied they are getting filled again.
Ian has to now bring up the water from the well, since they can't
eat the snow and the water freezes over night

Another batch of snow, just about gone
In the middle of that I have been trying to think of one hundred and one things to do with squash, since a few of them seem to be starting to go rotten at the same time. I don't think they cured well enough in the damp autumn and the lack of sunshine. So far this week they have been added to potatoes - which helps my lower carb diet, the puree has been baked with eggs, dried tomatoes, mushrooms, frozen peppers and frozen beans, they have been pureed to put in bottles, they have been made into lemon squash cream based on marrow cream recipe)- which tastes a bit like lemon curd, they have been made into a type of Christmas pudding, a small amount has been frozen, some made into soup and the rest dried. If there was a way of squeezing it into a recipe, it was squeezed in there.
The ice can take a while to go and is treacherous in places

Herk looks better this year after being on the proper alpaca
feed with added zinc. Still not perfect but better
We have also been processing the lambs this last week. I mentioned before we weren't able to keep them, so we asked a neighbour of ours to help us dispatch them. He got them into a small enough size for us to deal with and we finished off jointing them and preparing the meat for the freezer (and hence not much room for the squash). We have only had chickens raised on our land that we have culled for the table before, so it was bit sad to be dispatching something bigger, but needs must. If the female lamb had looked like she was thriving, we would have kept her, but she wasn't. We did get the old chicken hut sorted out so that if the next round of lambs are born soon, we have somewhere to put them, where they can be kept safe and out of the weather. The hut had been used as storage for windows and doors since we had given up free ranging the chickens after loosing too many to foxes and birds of prey. We will also get the horse box sorted out as an emergency shelter if need be too.

Lady V having a scratch
We have also started on the routine husbandry of the alpacas, aka cutting toe nails and checking for signs of mite infections. Aggie as usual seems to be struggling a bit with the mites and so she was given an injection. Since being pregnant she has got a bit more spitty, so we tackled her with some trepidation, but she wasn't too bad. I handled her in the same way as I used to do with her mother so I didn't get covered and she didn't jump around as much as she did when she first got pregnant.
Aggie and Lady V

Chanel looking all sweet and innocent
I still needed to wash my coat because Chanel was a bit excitable and being smaller it is harder to hold her head out of the way, still could be worse if Ian wasn't so calm with them. Lady V is much better these days, but Ian wasn't sure if she was showing signs of mites too or if she had just scratched herself. Since she responds better to the spray we used that as a precautionary measure. Funny how each animal seems to respond differently to the different treatments available for the same issue. It will be the boys turn when I get back home from my trip (but that will be in tomorrow's post).
Trimmed toe nails, didn't get around to the nail varnish though

Mr. P is easier to photograph in this weather, he is also turning
more brown as his fleece gets longer
We were pleased to hear that Ian's lab results were positive, well we were when we realised that it meant they were negative for anything that shouldn't be there like signs of infection, in other words the results were good. Confused? So were we at first. We had a bit of a laugh over that, obviously something was lost in translations somewhere along the way. At least it means he won't need an operation, thank goodness, at least this year. He will have to have regular check ups though to monitor the situation.

The boys tucking into a new bale of hay
And the reason for not posting? Well that was because we had a visit from a felter from Edinburgh, Heather Potten,  and her husband. I went into Riga to meet them and take them to a lady who also does felting in Latvia, but a different style called Ieva Prane and then guide them to our home. Well we got chatting and chatting.........