Monday, 4 January 2016

You have to laugh

The Aurora Borealis from our land. It is clearer in the photo
than in real life. It was just an eerie greenish glow. It almost
looked like city lights, but we live in a sparsely populated
area and when you get out to our land there is very little
light pollution really. You can tell by the stars! Amazing
to see. We can stand and watch them for ages, even on
cold winter nights.
A friend of ours has just celebrated 25 years of marriage and made the comment that laughter was so necessary for his marriage. It is so necessary for ours too. We laugh more now than we ever used to and that's saying something, as I married Ian for his sense of humour. Admittedly there were times when the laughter was rare and times were tough, but we have weathered many a storm together over the 31 years we have been married. There have been a couple of times this week when a potentially argumentative situation ended in laughter and a joke that carried on for a few days; rather than the sulk like we used to, which also used to carry on for a few days.
Looks a cozy place to be, but that is just the light on in
the caravan, which is in its winter residence in the

Ghostly shapes! Ian was using me to act as something to
focus on, only I didn't move fast enough in this photo and
I left a trail of torch light
I'm just cute :)
One example was over cutting trees. There is a section of forest on our land that is throwing a lot of shadow over a growing area. Normally Ian doesn't like cutting too many trees down, but this time he was all for cutting the forest right back at this particular point. The problem is that it is designated as forest on our land plans and therefore a certain number of trees need to be left in place; although part of the problem is the accuracy of the plans due to pre-satellite maps which do not necessarily correspond exactly with the picture on the ground. For instance the edge of the forest could be right through our barn, but really the old ditch that probably marked the edge and the pile of stones where they put the stones that come up after winter would indicate the edge is about 4 metres away at least and the forest has been slowly encroaching on the field area. Admittedly there is a need to clear out some diseased trees and leave space for other trees to grow stronger but how many to cut?

Snowdrop has been causing us some concern. She has been
sitting down a lot, but that probably conserves heat. She is
also still on the thin side and so Ian has been giving her extra
feed in the mornings
There is a certain amount of frustration for both of us over the lack of Latvian language, which means we can't just go and easily check online for the rules and regulations, but I still felt it was not right to cut all of the big trees down and just leave tiny saplings. Frustration boiled over into an uncomfortable silence as we walked back to our caravan, until Ian turned to me and said with a grin on his face, "I know! I've had a really good idea. I think we should cut down SOME of the trees at that end of the land." To which I replied, "That's a VERY good idea!" We laughed! And several times since, as Ian reiterates his good idea, accompanied by that grin.

Ian missed the window to get these ruts levelled out. They
are quite deep but it had been too wet to deal with. Now
they are too hard to deal with and set like concrete in the
frozen temperatures we have had this week. We had a low
of -23C this morning

Winterised shovel. Ian uses this to clear
the poop from the alpaca houses and
the metal handle has been too cold for
him, so a bit of pipe insulation has been
Tree cutting is one of the winter jobs for Ian, as long as the snow is not too deep. Although we have more snow and the ground is frozen hard it is still possible to cut trees. That makes it sound like Ian cuts lots of trees down, but it is a work in progress to trim out the forest to leave trees stronger rather than over-crowded as they are now and dominated by willow. It is also a long slow process, to cut the trees and then process them into logs for either firewood or construction purposes and brush for chipping. The work is also to comply with some of the national rules that state how we are supposed to look after forested areas. The authorities prefer to have managed woodlands rather than natural grown, which is fine for us as we can utilise the wood and we aim to harvest it in a sustainable way - without clear felling in the future. What we can't use are stacked either in the forest (or will be, sometimes it doesn't happen so fast) or used to make hugelkulturs or raised beds with wood, which are useful in the damp low lying areas. One of our aims is also to grow some woodland plants for harvesting, although we will have to think how we keep the wild boar out of those areas.
Snowflakes on Chanel's nose

Looking gorgeous
One of my winter jobs is sorting the seeds out. We have some that are left over from last year's purchases and some from our own plants. Once we know what we have, then we can start to plan what we want to grow for next year and topping up with the seeds we still need. For those who like these kinds of lists, here are the seeds we have. The ones in red are ones that we have some of our own seed.

5 flavour berry Coriander Parsnip
Amaranth Courgette Peas various
Amelanchier Lamarckii (Juneberry) Cucamelon Pepper 
Apple Cucumber Peppermint
Ash False Indigo Poppy seeds 
Basil –various Hemp Quinoa
Beans - Borlotti, french, runner Hollyhock - black
Short beans of different hues Kale - Siberian Radish
Broad beans Lavender Rosemary
Beetroot Leeks Sage
Beets - fodder Lovage Shallots - banana
Chinese Cabbage - Chinese Marigold - African Spinach
Cabbage Marigold - Pot Spring Onion 
Calabrese Melon Squash - various
Caraway Mizuna  Sunflower
Carrot Mustard leaf Green in snow Swede
Catmint (Nepeta cataria) Nastursiums  Sweetcorn
Cauliflower Nigella Tokyo Bekana
Celtuce Oats - hulless oats Tomatoes -lots
Chard - Bright Lights Onion Turnip 
Chickory Pak Choi Canton Dwarf Wheat 
Chilli Parsley - curled Willow herb
Choy Sum Hon Tsai-Tai Purple Parsley - Extra tripled curled

We've been good, honest!

Carrot seeds
Have I got everything we grow? Nope! Some of the seeds are a bit old and some we have lots of but I buy more to ensure that our crops have a good genetic make up. You can get lots of seeds from just a few carrots, but the genetic variation will be low and so we buy in a few more packets to help this. We have lots of squash seeds too (after all it only takes one squash to get lots of seeds), but this year we had a lot of difficulty with the growing conditions and some of the types we like to grow did not do very well and so I am not happy with the seeds we have. You might also wonder why we have seeds for things like willow herb? Well that is because it makes quite a nice tea and we grow it for its medicinal properties. Plus why fight against the things that will grow quite naturally on our land when we can make use of them?
Our three wise men

Big Bird defrosting on the radiator
with Sofie looking on and wondering
what that chicken was doing in her
usual place.
Another winter job we did this year, that we haven't done before is to bring in the free range hens. One of our hens we call Big Bird was really struggling, we had had to defrost  her twice because her feet had frozen solid, in the low temperatures we have had this week. Another problem was that most of the free range ones are getting on a bit now and there were only four in the largish chicken house and so not enough to keep warm in that large space. We were surprised that Big Bird has survived this long though. Firstly she is a broiler chicken and they have a tendency to overeat and put on weight and so rarely last more than 18 months, so for her to get to over 3 years old is quite an amazing feat. They usually die from broken legs when they put on too much weight or heart attacks. She has also barely survived several fox attacks, partly because she was usually the last one out of the forest when the fox struck.

No longer free range, but warmer and safer from foxes
We had a spare chicken box that would fit in the greenhouse and we had some netting to keep them confined, so we brought them in and Big Bird was put in overnight with her usual companions after spending the afternoon on top of the radiator to thaw out. The next morning she stumbled out of the box, but she was still eating. However after Ian had finished his morning chores he found her dead body in the coop. It is kind of sad, but in some ways we are grateful that she had a good innings, she has passed on her genes and given us bigger - if daft - chickens and in her final few months actually looked a lot healthier than she had all summer. She had been toddling around getting into trouble for being where she shouldn't be by wandering far from home. Ian had been dreading having to cull her if she didn't improve, as she is from the first batch of chickens we hatched out. All the others had been males and so ended up on the plate.

Estelle has caused me injury before, but this time she was
as good as gold. She is definitely looking pregnant now
I forgot to mention the pre-Christmas treat our alpacas got - toe nail clipping! Not that they thought it was a treat though. I asked our neighbour, who finds our alpacas help her relax, to help us with the task. We are so pleased we did because the task went so well. Ian did all the clipping, but either I or our friend held the alpaca around the neck and the other held onto the fleece on the back of the alpaca. I think the extra calm presence of someone who they had met before worked a treat. We managed all eleven of them within a short period of time and no distressed animals or people - there is usually one or two who cause us a problem and either we end up hurt or the animal gets away without all the toe nails clipped. We have even harnessed one of them before now to get the job done.

I love winter mornings
It is customary at this time of the year to reflect back on the past or to ponder the year ahead. Just before the last New Year I wrote this :-
Well New Year is nearly upon us. What will this New Year bring? People are certainly filled with uncertainty and are worried what it will bring. It is hard to hold onto hope at times, but I cannot and will not let go of it. I still have my dreams, I still have my faith. I still believe that God is into renewing this planet that he made and I will work to the best of my ability alongside him.
A sugar coated alpaca or more likely someone has been
rolling in the snow.

It certainly turned out to be a difficult year, but one in which I did hold onto my faith, even if it did wobble at times. We went to visit some friend's of ours during the week and on the way back I got to musing over the following year. I felt a sense of turning of something momentous brewing, something as momentous as the Berlin Wall coming down. 2015 felt like a year to endure, not especially bad for us, but a long hard slog of uncertainty, just as I had felt it would be at the beginning of the year. I feel the same for the beginning of 2016 but a new shape of things to come around the corner when the storks return. I came home to an email in my inbox that started off "Onward to a new era" that felt like the whisper of confirmation to me. So hang on in there for the first few months of 2016, but hold onto hope and look for changing times ahead, or even better, take part in them and make them happen.

A couple of final things that I forgot about earlier - our horse box passed its technical now it has new winter tyres and I got new glasses today. I don't like these as much as the last ones and the photo is not good - winter hat hair into the bargain  , so I started messing around with photos and the second one is much better but still reminds me of Joe 90


  1. love the chicken on top of the radiator! Innovation at its best...

    1. Innovation we can certainly do :) Just a pity it didn't help in the end, but at least she wasn't ill for long

  2. Always such interesting posts Joanna. Happy New Year to you both!

    1. Thank you Gina. A Happy New Year to you too and every success with your new venture. Your cakes look fabulous and I am enjoying seeing all the pictures of them on your blog

  3. Hi,
    We are not acquainted but I am very impressed by your initiative to come and live in Latvia. It couldn't have been an easy transition! But I feel fortunate that you did so, as I think Latvia would only benefit from such obviously good, decent people such as yourself coming, from another land, to settle and make a life in Latvia - which is definitely not the first place people think of when the talk is about moving to a foreign country!
    I hope you have a good year and that your husband's surgery and recovery goes well. While the doctors are paid little in Latvia and the medical system is in dire need of reform, they do their work well. The problem is getting to see the doctors in the first place, but it will (fortunately or unfortunately) definitely help that you are paying the private price.
    Will definitely check back for updates every so often. It's nice to see someone writing about their day-to-day life without the defeatism and cynicism that is often an integral part of people's "reports" about their life here - both locals' and expats'. :)

    1. Thank you for dropping by Valdemar. If you ever wish to visit, just drop a line via the email link on the right hand side of the page.

      It was actually one of the easiest transitions that we have made. We are Brits who moved first to Denmark, then Colorado in the US before settling here. We had visited many times before and made some good friends, all helpful in making the move. Having moved around gave us the perspective that whilst people are similar in many ways the world over, there are also some unique characteristics to each country and as a Swedish friend of ours often says, "It is what it is!" We choose not to compare too often, and if we do Latvia often compares favourably, so that keeps us focussed on the positives of living here. We could not possibly have afforded to do what we are doing in the UK without a substantial extra income.


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