Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A tale of two halves

With my two youngest grandchildren
Well here I am in England. It has been a busy old day, as it is my youngest granddaughter's birthday. She is one years old today and I got the chance to join her for her party - or rather one whole day of visitors in and out. Poor little soul is not so well and so I have actually had lots of cuddles as she slept for quite a bit of the time. There have been lots of friends coming and going and even my daughter and her family up North. I will get to see them again at the end of the week for birthday party number two for another granddaughter.
Opening presents with a little help from her older brother.
Fortunately she is too young to complain

The snow finally starting to disappear
I decided to use public transport to get to the airport this time, as I had an afternoon flight and being Easter we weren't sure if there would be visitors to the land. I debated whether to take the early bus to make sure I was in plenty of time for the flight but with around 5hour wait at the airport or whether to risk the late morning bus and have hopefully only an hour and half, as long as all went to plan. The move to summer time helped me to decide that the late morning option was the best one. Waking up at 5:40am to catch the 6:40am bus is early enough at the best of times, but after a time change was not appealing at all. In the end the transfers went without a hitch and I was at the airport in enough time to go through the quiet security - a relief after the atrocities earlier on in the week. It was also a relief to hear that I had managed to miss Storm Katie that managed to divert planes from Gatwick in the small hours of the morning following the day I landed there.
The sun shining too

But of course it is a process and we have first the icy pathways
and then the mud to contend with

The sign got very dirty last year but was kindly sanded back
and the letters routed out by a friend of ours. Ian finished it
off by repainting the letters and varnishing it.
Back home we have been getting geared up for the summer. We have been busy making decisions on what we need to do and we got the renovated sign up for the summer season. We even had a couple of visitors asking to take photographs after putting it up. We now have some help from a Latvian friend who has agreed to do some work for us and this makes getting hold of information a bit easier.
The alpacas have been enjoying what bit of grass they can find
and the bit of extra space. Of course we cannot let them out too
far just yet, otherwise the grass won't have a chance to grow
later for them.

Not my most glamorous photo and just in case you are
wondering, that is a trainer I'm holding while the glue dries.
The sole was coming off and I needed them for my trip
The week didn't get off to a good start with the news that one of our neighbours had suffered a large barn fire that killed over 560 sheep and one horse, as well as gutting the barn and severely damaging their tractor. Of course that is devastating for them personally but also for many of the campers who relied on the sheep farm for subsidising the camp part of the operation.
New gooseberry bushes starting to appear through the snow
Ian is finishing off the tree cutting before March 31st. This is the
date when all tree felling has to cease in Latvian forests to give
the birds a chance to nest for three months. We hope to plant
some woodland medicinal herbs in here

Under the fleece, looking ever so cute, but that is supposed to
be protecting my seedlings and so I'm not happy. It is looking
like the cats will have to be kept out of the greenhouse soon
and take their naps in the barn instead.
Amazingly many people have come forward to offer help, from the Latvian Sheep Association offering to help them get back on their feet with new stock, to the local municipality helping with equipment to deal with the burnt out structure to people coming forward to haul out the animals to be removed for disposal. Churches have also come forward to help with funding as a way of saying thank you for the role the camps have played in many children's lives. It must have been a roller coaster of a week for them.

Lady V (as she is often known) sunning herself with Mari
peeping round the corner.

Aggy enjoying a roll around

Looking alert and enjoying the sunshine

Enjoying the sunshine so much that Chanel is having a good
jump around. 

Whoops! A short delay

It has been a little busy today, but also I am having problems locating some photos from home. As soon as that is sorted I will post a blog.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Variety the spice of life!

The snow started to melt and then it snowed again
It has been a varied week as per usual. One day out on the farm, other days sat working on the computer and another doing ordinary jobs like cleaning - only they don't seem that ordinary to me at the moment, but something slipped into the schedule out of sheer necessity. Don't expect a spotless house if you visit. This week I also taught at a workshop and I actually got paid for it, which was lovely.
But you have to admit, it does look pretty

A weird build up of ice on the car
The workshop was such a joy. It was actually quite simple in many ways, but it connected with the people in a way that sparked some amazing interactions. I didn't have a huge amount of teaching time, so they were more discussion starters to get people thinking. I first had a game to show how the local economy could work better, showing people how money can flow when we think creatively. We then looked at wider networks and where people had connections to other places.
My glass sculpture from a glass workshop after my presentation.
It will be fired and given a frosty look

Working on an activity, artists and workshop attendees
My last exercise was my favourite and linked artists with others to tell their stories. It was interpreted in some quite different ways, which was brilliant. It showed how interactions with artists can initiate new ideas and how artists could also convey the information in visual forms that communicated well with others and were great for conversation starters. I was also sent a sweet letter afterwards, that thoroughly blessed me, thanking me for taking the workshop. It felt like we, the leader of the organisation and I, had both appreciated the work each other had been doing.
Other pieces created in the glass workshop

Mr. B. seems to have settled in well now. Here he is eating
snow alongside Turbjørn. All the alpacas have been eating
snow again this week. They have got fresh water, honest!
As I said I also spent sometime out on the land. The mite problem is kicking in, as it seems to do every year as soon as there is a hint of spring. Hopefully we are now much more aware of the issues and know how to deal with it, but it is worrying that it keeps coming recurring. It won't be enough to keep using the same treatments over and over again and so we will have to keep an eye out for alternative treatments too. At least it only seems to be a problem for the girls at the moment, the boys seem fine, even Herk who usually seems to get the problems first. That was a relief as our youngster Mr. B. (or Brencis for his full name) has only just been moved from the girls place and thus was a likely carrier of mites.
Peedo, finally has a nickname and from now on, will be known
as Mr. P. Here he is looking a little frosted after stopping out
in the snow. He could have gone inside

No signs of concussion now
Ian got a little worried about one of our cockerel's this week. He found him flaked out and being stood on by the other chickens. He got hold of him quite easily and laid him on the floor by the side of the ark and he didn't move much. He then realised that it was not a good idea to leave him there in case he recovered and wasn't able to catch him, so he put him in our usual recovery place, the cat box. He put water and food in there and almost immediately he started picking at the food. Not much later he seemed to have made a miraculous recovery. The only thing we can think of is that he must of slipped off somewhere and concussed himself.
Chanel enjoying the spruce tree

Mr. P. investigating what Ian is doing
He's been fine ever since. So fine in fact that he actually started crowing just before I was due to set off for the workshop on the Friday. I had literally just got to the door when we heard the cockle-doodle-doo. Even our new cockerel hadn't made that sound so far since we got him and so we were shocked. We headed back to see who was responsible and saw the shocked look on the previously concussed cockerel and thought it must have been him. Then the new one started so we changed our mind, but next a competition started between the two of them. It was almost like a fanfare to send me off on my new adventure. It hasn't lasted though, none of them have crowed since. The new cockerel though, has finally gone in to the hutch part at night. He just didn't seem to understand or bother to investigate why the girls all disappeared every night.
The signs of an unwelcome visitor, dog footprints around the
alpaca enclosure. The dog had raced around too. Herkules
sounded his warning cry but Ian didn't get to see the culprit,
just the evidence.

A frosted forest of grass
We have taken on one of our friends to help us with the farm. It is much easier for her to write emails and get price lists and so hopefully we will get things running more smoothly. She will help us with the alpacas too and be available for visiting groups too. It is a bit of a step of faith that having someone available to help over summer will help us to get things moving in the right direction to be able to support our lives here.
This oak tree has grown around some barbed wire that must
have been nailed to it in the past. How long ago
did that happen?

Not time to plant anything yet!
It is unlikely that the farm will be our only source of income but it needs to be getting us there. At least we do get most of our food from off the land, although it is going to be close this year. Our freezer stocks are getting low. We have loads of frozen berries and tomatoes and not much else, we also have stores of potatoes, beetroot, carrots, onions and squashes but most of those are low too. At least I do know what we can eat in terms of leaves that are going to start to appear soon so there will be fresh onion leaves, dandelions, nettles and a whole host of other greens that are good in Spring. Of course it is not the end of the world if we run out, there are still the shops, but if we can avoid it, we will.
Frosted sheep too. You can tell their coats are keeping them
well insulated as the snow doesn't really melt in the cold

Signs of spring in the greenhouse. When the sun comes out
the temperatures actually get quite high in the greenhouse
I often hear moans about the youth of today, but let's be honest, when was there ever a time they weren't moaned about? I'm sure folks used to moan about my generation too. I think we need to give these kids space to re-think their future, not one constrained by the greed and selfish of our generation.
Different generations getting along
The storks are not back on their nest yet. 
I get heartily sick of folks knocking these generations for being self-absorbed, but has anyone asked them? Selfish? That's rich coming from the generations that have over- used resources to such an extent that some of them, if not many of them, will either run out or be badly polluted. A same generation that moans has saddled the next ones with debt to furnish their comfy lifestyle whilst they might not live to reap the storm of the future trajectory that we have set this planet on. Selfish? Let's give the younger generations a break and help them to put right what we started and to re-imagine a new day. I think this Guardian article sets out the problems they face quite well
Ian has been looking at my Kitchen Aid mixer, which is showing
signs of wear. The delight though is it is easy to take apart and
the parts to repair it with relatively easy to obtain

Signs of Spring at our other apartment too
I have been digging out a few poems I wrote a while ago and this one was originally written in 2009, but I think it still has echoes for today, as the chill snowy wind blew around this week.

When the wind of history blew

When the wind of history blew
The banking system shivered
Drew its coat around itself
and carried on
Tree felling before Spring to give space for more growth

When the wind of history blew
Governments trembled
Threw some money into the banking system’s begging hats
then carried on

When the wind of history blew
The people paused and
For a moment considered a future different
To one they had relied on
When all seemed to be restored
Once again they carried on
Not as much snow here, but a cold, cold day

But a few saw the cracks
Opened up by the wind
Growing, creaking its way into the system
Space is being created
Space into which a new Kingdom will come
Quietly without much fanfare
But sweeping across the nations
Blowing through
Sculpting a new tomorrow

Monday, 14 March 2016

Spring so near and yet so far!

A glorious day that offered the hope that Spring was close
For a few days this last week we almost dared to think that Spring had arrived. Ian has heard the cranes settling in and seen them flying around with bits in their mouths for their nests and the sun has shone. In fact it was so nice yesterday that Ian sat outside the greenhouse to have his morning cuppa and to eat his lunch and I hung the washing outside on the balcony of our apartment. It didn't last though, we had light snow showers all day on and off today and the forecast is for another cold snap down to around -10C overnight later on in the week. Oh well! Nearly there.
Not the best shot, but at least you can see it is a crane

Time to move on from the female alpaca house 
The animals have been pretty restive, especially our male alpacas and so it was with some trepidation that we separated Brencis (or Mr. B as he is more often known) from his Mum and put him with the other boys. He looks so little in comparison and he has moaned such a lot about it. He is obviously not enjoying the change, but it had to be done sometime. During the day I had cut some paths to give them a bit of room to move around and alleviate some of the boredom of not having much space. Fortunately apart from some initial overbearing moves from our older breeding male, where the other two older ones intervened, there hasn't been too much hassle. We have no idea why the other two males intervened, but when Tellus tried to mount poor Mr. B they spat in his face, which put a stop to his antics. We could anthropomorphise the actions of the two males stepping into protect a younger more vulnerable member of the group, but we are not convinced that was the case, but welcomed nonetheless. At least their actions seems to bring a kind of peace to the transition.
Poor little thing spent most of the day near the fence 

Mr. B with the other male alpacas. Tellus who was the most
unfriendly is actually his father. 
Ian has continued to take the female alpacas for a walk, at least he can do that with the snow on the ground, although the routes are a little restricted and monotonous. Mr. B will be given a week off to settle in, as Ian doesn't want him to get too attached as this could cause problems later on down the line. Mr. B has to relate to the alpacas first and foremost, otherwise we could end up with an aggressive alpaca in the long run. Which would be a great shame as he is a lovely looking young alpaca and hopefully with potentially great fleece making qualities.
Here is Mr. B relaxing in the sun though with Turbjørn
standing, so not all bad.

A tree stripped of its bark
There are other signs of Spring out on the land, such as an increase in wildlife as they come out of the forests looking for food. Ian saw three roe deer today and earlier on in the week he saw evidence of an enormous elk (or moose for our American friends). The footprints were of a similar size to mine, but went right down to the ground suggesting a huge beast. It also damaged one of the trees by stripping off the bark - that tree won't live to see another year now. Our chickens are also noticing the increase in daylight and started laying more eggs. About time too. Our youngsters from last year, however, have still not got the idea of what chickens are for and we still have seen no evidence of eggs from them. Chicken hotpot sounds in order soon for some if not all of them.
An elk footpring

The ruler gives some idea of how far
apart the footprints were for this
sauntering beast
The temperature in the greenhouse was even up to 28C this week and the seeds I planted, as well as some weeds have started to sprout. Quite relieved as we could do with some greenery soon to supplement the dwindling supplies of vegetables in storage. It isn't called the hungry gap for nothing in days gone by. We forget these kinds of realities for rural folks of yesteryear when we have a year round supply of anything we like. We also forget the reality of what it takes to get those things to our table though as well unfortunately.
A rather small egg. Maybe one of the chicken's has just started
laying again. This came from one of the more mature hens

Ice-cream? You wouldn't think there was a bucket of fresh
water to drink would you?
It was unfortunate that Ian hasn't been able to work his magic on my mobile that I washed a couple of weeks ago. He got it working and after I realised some settings had changed I got it functioning fine apart from the lack of the down button. It didn't last though and with the aid of a magnifying glass, Ian was able to see that the problem was the contacts had got corroded under the board and would probably just carry on getting worse. Big pain. I'm now back to Ian's old phone that wouldn't charge up, but using my old phone to charge the battery - my phone didn't work apart from being able to charge the battery. Confused! Not surprised if you are!
Tellus our oldest breeding male, normally a gentle soul

Mari still up to her climbing tricks
I have made a few contacts over the last few weeks online, which has been exciting. One of them was with a felter in Poland. It has been a bit of a slow progress as we are still working on an acceptable figure to charge for the workshop, but I'm beginning to think it is a relatively new type of venture when not connected with cultural events and so funded by alternative sources. I tried looking online and there were shorter courses in Riga but no whole day events with lunch provided. I don't think there are many felters wishing to share their knowledge, they may see it as a threat to their livelihood and not another way of earning a living. We are getting there though and soon I should be able to release details.
Sheep sunbathing too

Sun with a halo
The other two contacts were with academics. One was someone who has studied wild boar for over 17 years in Germany. It is fantastic to find someone with such knowledge because here in Latvia there is no one doing that kind of research. I could have done with this kind of knowledge a few years ago when I was doing my own research, but I still keep an eye on what is happening as it is still an important rural issue, especially with the difficulties over the current African Swine Fever in the area. Another contact is looking at groups who decide on how a particular type of EU funding is spent called LAGs - not the most elegant of names but stands for LEADER Action Groups (LEADER being the type of funding and is actually a French acronym that I won't even attempt to write). This is hopefully going to lead into a bit of a collaborative effort and one that might use the format of a reflective workshop that I had developed for another occasion. That will be a nice feeling to know something I have done might actually have a wider use.