Monday, 29 February 2016

Not best chuffed

Still fuming a little! Hah! Just a little warm after digging
through the snow. Our caravan can get quite warm and in
contrast to the outside temperatures. Just in case you are
wondering, "not best chuffed" means we were not
pleased. British understatement.
Things got a little strained this week. We have had more snow and it was starting to accumulate around the greenhouse. Ever since our first one fell down under the weight of snow we have been anxious not to let it accumulate too much. Ian would normally get the snowblower out to clear it, but I had already moved one dumping of snow away from the sides by hand and this had now turned to ice. Using the snowblower was therefore far too difficult for me to handle in that particular case. I can just about manage when it is not so compacted, like I did last week, but dealing with the ice blocks was impossible. Part of the problem is I'm not strong enough, but I'm also far too short in the leg to get the leverage required.
Feeding hay to the sheep. They usually don't wait for it to be
unstrung and put in place.

Funny how animals will use and reuse the same trail, over
and over again. The hay on the path is just to cover the poop
I started to work on it by hand. My plan was to go slow and steady. I might not be as strong as Ian but I can do many things if I take my time and go at my own pace. Ian picked up a shovel to help. Not quite sure what I said, but Ian's frustrations at not being able to do much boiled over. It is hard for him, as he is used to being active and now he was being forced to curtail his activities. He shouted and I shouted back. Nothing particularly remarkable in that you may think, but in all of our time of marriage we have rarely raised our voices to each other. Sulked yes! We can do sulking! But argued with raised voices, nope! Not our general style.
The deer must be getting hungry to visit in broad daylight

Ian has been teaching Brencis to walk with the halter. The
first lesson was inside
Fortunately it didn't end there. By the time we had finished we were joking and I sent Ian off to communicate with the alpacas and walk Brencis. I also told him he should go and read his eldest brother's email to him, warning him from experience, not to try too much too soon. On the whole, Ian has been pretty good and taken things easy or in "friendly mode" as the Google translation of the doctor notes said.
Brencis has quickly got the hang of it though - well most of
the time

Agnese though is very good and walks
without tugging
Despite the snow, there are signs of Spring. One morning as we drove to the land, a small group of cranes flew over. They didn't hang around otherwise we would have heard them. They probably saw the snow and decided to keep flying. The animals and chickens also seem a little antsy, as if they sense the changing seasons and are getting frustrated at being kept cooped up by the snow. I'm sure they would sympathise with Ian. The Schisandra chinensis or five-flavour berry is starting to bud. It is usually the first to show signs of waking up from its winter sleep. I decided to risk planting some seeds in the bed I prepared in the greenhouse for early spring greens. I usually plant broad beans and peas for an early crop in the greenhouse, but not always quite so early.
Estelle too is very compliant. She sometimes fuses about having
her halter on, but once it is on, then she behaves

Mari, though, hasn't quite got the hang of it and perhaps
more nervous as a newbie
Two of our younger chickens appear to have suffered from frostbite on their feet over the winter. It's strange, because although it has been cold, it hasn't been as cold as previous years. We suspect it is more the dampness of the winter combined with cold snaps that seem to have caused the problems. Normally the cold weather dries the atmosphere out but not as much this year. We have always looked out for males over the winter, as they are susceptible to frost bite on their combs and wattles. One year we had to put a protective cream on one of our cockerels. The problem is that their large combs and wattles get covered in water when they drink and if it freezes they are in trouble. We have never known chickens get frost bite on their toes before though. The toes have gone black and some have already fallen off, leaving what we think are cockerels with club feet. They don't seem infected though and from research on the internet, it seems the best thing to do is let nature takes it course and just ensure they are not infected.
Not cooperating. 

Still not sure about this. She was better the day before and I'm
sure she will be walking along as good as gold soon. She has
the right temperament for it.

Notice the skis all forlorn by the caravan. I daren't use them,
as I dare not have an injury at the moment. I have managed
one session this winter
Our oldest chickens are also having problems, this time with scaly leg mites. Fortunately we think we have caught it early. They are getting cream on their legs to smother the mites and I cleaned out their hutch with some vinegar and put a load of mugwort down, which is a strewing herb to keep bugs at bay. It does seem odd that they have got the problem now and I wonder where they have picked it up from at this time of year. Maybe the hay or something or just getting old. I will make sure I add some wood ash to their bedding tomorrow, but needed to pick some more up from our stash.
Our youngest cat, Eyre, is no longer a little kitten. 

Treats are always welcome
Two pieces to finish with. Firstly a piece of advice, check all pockets before putting clothes in the wash and I mean ALL pockets. Mobile phones don't like hour long 40C washes. I now have a phone that switches on, but the buttons don't seem to be working. A job for Ian tomorrow no doubt to see if he can work some magic on it. This is the second time I have tried to wash phones and at least the first time the phone survived. And lastly I want to leave you with a link. It is a longish piece as it is the edited version of a speech given to #FOSSILFREEFAITH (link here) and it is a thought provoking read on why churches today should be at the forefront of cutting fossil fuel use and investments.
We have a dream of a Church that instead of being renowned for how little it cares for creation, is renowned for how much it cares.
We have a dream of a Church that stops watering down its mandate with theological hair-splitting and nit-picking – at times so heavenly-minded that it is of no earthly use – and instead reclaims its calling to change the world.
An unwanted visitor. We have had quite a bit of pig damage
again. The ground is not frozen hard under the snow. We
are hoping it just looks worse than it is.
If you agree write Amen and share - no, no...... seriously I do hate it when I see that on Facebook, as it usually is a Facebook like farming page - really I ask for the sake of our children, your children and my children, think about how we can tread more lightly in this world.

Monday, 22 February 2016


Looking wintry again
We've been taking it in turns to ache. Ian of course from the operation, but that is clearing up nicely and me from having to do battle with a snowblower, because finally we are getting snow in some quantity. Unfortunately the snow is not the sort we would normally associate with February, the light fluffy stuff that occurs at very cold temperatures, it is the heavy, wet stuff and that is harder to shift.
It has tended to drift over the last few days

Good job the chickens aren't in there this winter.
Ian did get to come home on Wednesday, although it was rather late. I heard he had got the all clear about 4:30pm and fortunately I had already put the animals away and was just outside our home when he called me. It still took me a little while to get sorted before I set off and arrived at the hospital at 7pm. We then had to go and pay for the operation before leaving, which added to the delay. The journey home was a protracted affair, with toilet stops and having to take the longer route home to avoid the atrocious Latvian dirt roads. They were not the sort of roads you want to take shortly after an operation and I was worried that further damage would result if we went along those.
They are in the greenhouse instead. Note the covering on the top.
That is there after the brown chickens escaped three days in a row.
This wasn't enough and now they are completely covered with a
fleece, which rests on a large cardboard box to give us the height
to get underneath for feeding and egg collection

Mari eating and Agnese having down time. It is hard to tell
Estelle and Aggie apart now, as they both had the same father
Of course Ian wanted to see his babies, the alpacas, as soon as possible. Not sure that was a thoroughly good idea, but he is recovering well generally, so not too bad. Aggie, his favourite, wasn't talking to him, the traitor! Obviously her allegiances are with the one who feeds her and since that is me at the moment, we are friends. That makes a change, normally she runs a mile if she sees me, as she thinks I will be treating her or party to toe-nail cutting time.
Snow clearing duties around the greenhouse.
That will have to stop now, there is too much

Contented sheep, despite the weather
Taking over the jobs that Ian normally does has meant getting lessons on using the tractor as well as the snowblower. I used the tractor to take hay to the animals and managed fine, apart from one minor detail. Ian forgot to tell me how to tip the front loader. I could raise it up and lower it, but couldn't work out the mechanism for tipping it at all. In the end I lowered two hay bales for the sheep, over the fence as low down as it would go, then walked all the way around to the gate, which of course was on the opposite side and then just pushed the bales out. It worked. The next lot of hay, there was too much snow to get the tractor out safely and I hadn't had snowblower lessons, so just managed with a sledge.
Ice rain overnight meant that one morning I had to fetch a hammer
and screwdriver before I could get into the boys alpaca house and
through the girls' gate. The ice had effectively glued them up and it
was difficult to get prise them apart. 
Brencis is still feeding from his Mum, but she will only feed
him outside. It was quite a dilemma for her the other day as it
was snowing quite hard. He will have to be separated from
her quite soon
Today getting hay for the sheep was even harder because the snow has got quite deep for my little legs and was over the top of my winter boots - the problem of kid size boots. So once the snow had stopped falling, I got on with the snowblower and spent about two hours trying to sort out the paths to the sheep and the boys alpaca house. It was tough work and doesn't help they are such a distance and not exactly a flat route to the boys. Even though Ian had shown me how to use the machine yesterday, the snow overnight was sufficient to need the paths doing again. It's a good job the alpacas don't eat as much as the sheep and also there is sufficient storage for them in the houses that I don't have to top up as regularly.
Some serious icicles forming
Wet alpacas! I fastened them in today because the boys were
messing about. First Herk was sitting in the doorway and he
won't shift meaning two of them were outside. Later on they
went in, much to my relief. Looked again later on and this
time it was Herk being kept out by the others. He was
saturated, which is not good when temperatures may drop
next week. 
It is with some trepidation at the moment that we are watching the news about the EU referendum. I sincerely hope that Britain does not exit the EU, otherwise that makes it very complicated for us here in Latvia. Our permanent residency is dependent on Britain being part of the EU and therefore there would be a chance it could be revoked. There are also different rules for EU members than for those who come from other countries regarding land ownership, so no idea how that is affected. As we left the UK within the 15 year period - just! - I am seriously considering registering to vote in this referendum. At least my vote will count and it affects me personally. Normally I stay out of British politics, because I have no intention of going back there.
We have had a little problem with snow drifting into the boys
house, but the new one seems to be orientated better to avoid
the weather. Still could have been worse. Hay stuffed into the
over hangs stops the worst of it.

One rung was moved off the top of the hay storage and the
bales unstrung to allow the girls access to more hay, without
having to go and fetch it from the barn.

Monday, 15 February 2016

A little running around

We'll be good, honest! At least I hope so.
I'm looking after the alpacas this week as Ian is in hospital. Ian went in for his scheduled surgery today and had four bladder stones removed. He had been expecting major surgery as he was told keyhole surgery was not an option and he would be under general anaesthetic. Instead they did not make any incisions at all and it was done with an epidural. Hopefully if all goes well, he will be home by Wednesday.
Narnia struck again!

I'm not going out in that!
He was expecting to be in a week and he wasn't sure if that was a seven day week or a work day week, so only two days is a bonus. I had to leave him at the hospital this morning as they wouldn't allow me in while they prepped him for surgery. I did get a text to say when his surgery was going to be and was rather surprised to get another one from him in the afternoon. I was expecting the hospital to ring, as I was still expecting him to have a general. So why the change? I have no idea and will probably find out more later on in the week.
Half alpaca, half mountain goat. None of
the others do this. 

It might be a nuisance, but snow does make for nice pictures
At least this does mean that the six-eight weeks I was planning on being home to see to the alpacas might not be necessary. It was funny to see the alpacas today, they obviously sussed that I was not in treatment mode, but there to look after them, as they weren't running away at all when I arrived with the bucket and shovel to clean out their alpaca houses. In fact I had a hard job trying to clean out the girls shed, because they kept getting in my way and coming to see what I was doing. At one point Agnese nearly poked me in the eye with a straw she had in her mouth because she was being so nosy. The sheep also decided I was their best friend and I ended up getting soaked because they kept brushing up against me when I was giving them some feed (their fleece is obviously holding a lot of water at the moment). One of them let me scratch her on the nose too.
The pond near our apartment building

The pond out on the land
This last week though has been a sorting out week with lots of running around trying to get all the pre-op tests done. First Ian had to go and get a blood test taken, then the following day an ECG and an x-ray - fortunately these were all done at the local village hospital. After that we had to take a drive to the big town to see an anaesthetist. It is all rather different to the UK system, or at least the way we remember it. There was a bit of an issue with a few of the results not being available when we saw the anaesthetist but fortunately they had them at the big hospital. He was warned that if all the results were not there he would be sent home, a trip of nearly two hours, because the regional hospital where he would have the operation was even further away. The distance is one reason why I won't be visiting until it is time to pick him up. It is too far and too costly to drive there and back and not really an option with animals to see to.
I was good and cleared around the barn as
instructed by Ian. The problem apparently is
that when it melts it leaks straight into the
barn, so needs clearing to keep the barn dry

Herkules looking more perky now
The regional hospital was half way between us and our Estonian alpaca friends, so we decided to call in there first and get some of the new feed, they have developed with an Estonian feed merchant, to see if Herkules continues to improve on it. His skin seems to be looking much better and beginning to get hair on his legs and ears again, He lost a lot of hair in those places due to a mite problem. He also looks brighter in Ian's opinion. As Ian had to be in hospital at 7:30am we also decided to stay overnight in a hotel nearby to the hospital. It is the first time in my life we have spent Valentine's day in a hotel. The hotel was lovely and the evening meal was delicious but not exactly a romantic weekend away.
A moody sky this afternoon before putting away time

The boys like to be out in the snow even if the girls don't.
Well when I say snow, they don't mind being out in the snow,
just not when it is snowing - sensible types. Sometimes!
As a side note, the meal had potatoes with it, three large ones and I thought I was going to have a high sugar reading in the morning. I didn't! In fact I had one of the lowest I have had for a while. Either I have to go back to the drawing board to work out how that happened or put it down to the fact we missed lunch, albeit a piece of fruit cake due to our travels. Working out what makes my blood sugar levels high or low is a nightmare. I wish it was simple.

Prepping for early seed time. I put black
bags on these today to melt the snow,
because it still hasn't melted completely
after two days. We will grow hardy
greens, peas and broad beans to get an
early start on fresh veg.
The other major news this week is we made it onto Facebook. Or rather Griez─źtes alpakas has made it onto Facebook (you can see it and like our page here - link). That was nearly more traumatic than the thought of surgery. Ian will be running that mainly, because he can upload pictures on a regular basis. Ian is not a fan of Facebook and so trying to explain how it works and also trying to work out what a page does and does not do myself has been well...... trying at times. Little by little we will get the information out there about what we are doing and hope to do, as well as getting to grips with what we can achieve with having a Facebook page. We have a few ideas that we are hoping to organise over the summer, so keep in touch, especially if you are in Latvia.

Monday, 8 February 2016

We're all doomed

The snow didn't last but slowly melted away 
It seemed an appropriate title for a blog in this day and age, especially with the recent release of the Dad's Army film, since it was Private Frazer's favourite saying. I hope that the film is as good as some are saying and look forward to seeing it on video. Sometimes the world can seem like it is full of doom and gloom but if we focus on that and not the good that we see in others we could easily become paralysed and fearful of everything and everyone and that can't be healthy.
The moles are still active under the soil. Makes me wonder how
they manage to get through the hard frozen layer.

You can see Agnese peering out from inside the alpaca house,
which is where she ran when she saw me. Bodes well for next
week when I am looking after her. Mind you, I bet she changes
her mind when I have the feed trays. 
Our week began with the snow falling thick and fast and the fear our car wouldn't start. Ian went down early to make sure it did before I set off for Estonia last Monday in case I had to walk to the bus with all my baggage. The car started perfectly and ran well for a few days before starting to have issues again apparently and the snow melted into muddy puddles. There is one thing worse than having car issues and that is having intermittent car issues. Not a comfortable thought when Ian is heading for surgery next week and I will be home alone looking after alpacas while he recuperates in hospital. I am going to have to have a ......I hesitate to say....... crash course in what to do if the problem re-occurs.
The promise of wild strawberries later
in the year
Next year's Christmas tree?
The reason for being up in Estonia was for my annual evaluation. Hopefully it will be my last one for my PhD studies. It is a scary thought to think I could be defending my thesis this time next year, although this is unlikely as I have to have three papers published to qualify first and it took long enough to get the first one through to publication. At least the evaluators were happy enough that I had got one through to that stage. I also have all the credits I need apart from the ones for the thesis itself. The fact I have another paper nearly ready for submission and on track for getting another one together were added bonuses. I just need to do a few more interviews first. One evaluator wondered if the breadth of what I was doing was too overwhelming but he was content with my answer that I am more of a broad picture kind of person and I don't go into a huge amount of detail. I am looking for flexible frameworks that planners can use and adapt rather than THE definitive answer to all planning questions in rural areas.
I love the contrast of the green moss and
the trunk of the tree

A bleak view
Although that was on the Tuesday I had another presentation on the Friday to my colleagues in the department. As the travelling time is too long on public transport to go backwards and forwards I stay up there. With a few days to spare I took the opportunity to see both my supervisors and chat through what I will be doing over the next year and I met up with a lady who I have got to know over the last year or two but not had much chance to chat to in person before. She has helped me with my last paper and we have chatted a lot online as well as briefly in passing but just not for long. This time I made sure we got to spend some time together so I went for lunch and rolled out of her apartment after 7pm after chatting about so many topics that we are both interested in. We even managed to chat about those things you are not supposed to chat about if you want to remain friends, religion and politics. We're still friends!
A forlorn looking remnant of a sunflower that didn't grow
particularly well in the cooler summer temperatures of last year.
In the background you can see the beds we are preparing for
later on in the year to plant into.

The gate for the sheep enclosure stands ready, but no longer
needed for this time of the year. 
My presentation on the Friday was a little naughty, I didn't stick to the usual format at all. I made it participatory and I was trying to demonstrate to them how it is possible to include people in a fairly easy way. I had them answer three questions, "Who am I?", "Where have I come from to get here?" (that is their route in life to the department, not their morning route to get to the office) and "What keeps me here?" We didn't actually go through the answers but laid them out on a table roughly corresponding to our geographical origins (not to scale though, one lady was from Iran, a young guy from Ukraine, another from India and a couple of us from Latvia in addition to the Estonians). We then used wool to link each member of the department to those who they connected with, whether that be professionally or in a more relationship based way. The point of the exercise was to show that we had a map of a story for that department, it outlined our history, it outlined who we were as individuals and corporately and how we were connected to each other. Important starting points for any kind of development.
The trenches dug last year along the contour
of the hill is working. The idea is that it
captures the water and allows it to soak in,
rather than just running down the hill and
flooding the lower areas. They still got
flooded but at least this slows the whole
process down.

This is a potential problem to deal with when the ground
defrosts. We have to find out how far the water is eating into
the bank and undermining it. This is the end of a land drain
that takes water from the road on the opposite side of our
What followed was fascinating as they started to think how the exercise could be used for planning purposes, how it gave people value and could connect them into a process. I was thrilled to see how it engaged them to think about how people could be put at the heart of planning. I was asked a couple of awkward questions about how this linked into my thesis but managed to think on my feet to answer that. I was then asked what had I hoped to gain from this exercise, since that would be the normal format for a doctoral presentation and managed to waffle through that it was informative to see how my own colleagues engaged with the process. What I actually hoped was that people would see that stories could be powerful ways to engage people in landscape planning - something that is understood as a good thing to do, but the actual practice is more difficult and not so well done usually.
One of the problems of surfaces becoming hard is run off that
then freezes - skating anyone?

I had eggs from a farmer in Estonia this last week but they
weren't as fresh as these ones from our own hens. If the yolks
were not burst they would not cook so well for fried egg
sandwiches. The bread was fresh too and home-made. 
Eventually it was time to go home. I checked the timetable on a Latvian travel planner, and was horrified to see that train times were still not connecting through as they did last year on my way home. It still said that the Latvian train was due to set off before the Estonian train got into the station - not terribly helpful for a connecting train. I had doubts though because it was winter and track works aren't normal in winter and so I checked the actual train site and it didn't correlate at all. So when I set off I had no idea whether the Latvian train would be in the train station or not. Fortunately it was. I was also a little concerned that there was a planned demonstration by the anti-immigration group in the city, but I didn't see any of that either.
Both cats have been banned from the caravan. They used to be
allowed in to warm up on the radiator but have discovered how
to break and enter into tins that held Ian's bread and cakes.
Fortunately for them the weather has warmed up and so not as
much need for the radiator now. This is a cosy enough spot in
the greenhouse
It looks like a giant hoof print, but is actually
a rather large hole that developed where we
buried Snowdrop. We have to wait for the
ground to defrost to refill it with the soil from
around it
One of the issues for many travellers is the toilets, where are they and what state are they in. Toilets on Latvian trains are not great, they are usually clean, but basic and do not always have hot water or toilet paper and so I choose to hang on until I get to the station. I was thrilled to see that the Riga train station toilets have had a makeover and no longer do people have to tear off toilet paper at the cashier desk as they pay, they actually have toilet paper in the cubicles. Bliss! No longer do I have to think carefully how much am I going to need. They even had posh sinks and the Dyson hand-dryers but somethings never change, the ladies on the cashier desk still don't smile.
As you can see, that despite the melted snow the ice can
still be quite thick in places

There is also the little pockets of life showing through and
the promise of the spring to come
The title of my blog "We're all doomed" often comes through in the various websites and Facebook posts I read, as scientists talk about their concern for the planet. There is often talk about how many are worried that we just seem hellbent on hurrying to our collective annihilation due to our lack of willingness to change lifestyles to stop our planet overheating and going beyond our planetary boundaries. It's not a comfortable thought. The Paris agreement was viewed by some as a victory because there was an agreement to do something, but what was lacking was any cohesive way of actually dealing with the issue they all agree now is happening. As someone explained to me, it is now not just a matter of cutting back on our carbon emissions, it is also about literally sucking it back out of the atmosphere. Something that technology alone is not capable of doing, at least at the moment and despite the Paris agreement there is not much money being ploughed into it either. 
Thinning out the trees on what should be a field. 

It might not look like caring for trees, but
many are dead or dying as the trees grow and
crowd each other out. Theoretically we are
supposed to cut them all down but we don't,
we choose to thin them out and let some
grow for shelter for our animals. 
Unfortunately the chances are we don't have the time to see if the planet will correct itself, or to see if it really is just a part of a greater planetary cycle, we have to act now to address the pressures we are putting on the planet. We have to act as if it matters, not just to us, but for the sakes of our children and grandchildren - they are the ones who will suffer if we don't do something radical. I'm an optimist and choose to believe that if we do alter our lifestyles and care for the environment, the trees and the soil in particular, there is a chance that we can turn things around. If we take care of others better and are more thoughtful in the way we treat others and the planet, at least we will be in a better shape to meet the challenges ahead. For those who are not entirely convinced that the world is going to overheat any time soon, won't it be a better world we leave to the future generations if we do change?