Monday, 28 November 2016

Goodbye! Hello!

Mari getting in the Christmas spirit and eating the Christmas
tree. Actually once the grass starts to go, Ian usually gives the
alpacas a Christmas tree to eat for the vitamins. They grow
like weeds on our land.
Winter returned. It is bitterly cold due to the northerly wind we have at the moment. We did see the sun today, but we didn't really feel the benefit. It didn't even warm the greenhouse through so much. The thermometer on the car said -4C or even -5C at times and that was during the middle of the day. Not too bad normally but I think the real feel was much colder. I think I'm also missing the 9kg of weight I lost this last year. The insulation was good for something. I think I might need to invest in some more thermals. I was able to manage before with layers before but this year I seem to be feeling the cold much more. It makes a change, cold didn't used to bother me so much. Must be my age. Heh ho!
Yes it has been wet too! They stayed out all day in it too, silly
birds. They are now tucked up in an ark in the greenhouse now
though. One of the groups of chickens we have started laying,
but then seemed to stop. We now think they were actually
eating the eggs. Anyway rather than feeding non-producing
hens over winter we have culled them and so made room
indoors for these ones. We know at least two of these are
laying on a regular basis. Another reason for moving them
indoors is that yesterday Ian heard a commotion from the chickens
and when he went outside he saw a fox rather too close to the
chickens. We know it would be back again and so it was important
not to give it the chance to take a chicken.

Ian had problems getting his camera to focus this day, because
it was so dark. I like the soft focus though of Aggie. She looks
so sweet here.
I have tried to get things done this week again, but everything seems to be taking too long. I was relieved that one paper for an academic journal I was supposed to finish for the 1st January has been put back to the 1st of March. Whilst I may have got something together by this time, it would not have been enough time for my co-author to go through it properly. I still aim to get it done by then so he has plenty of time though. Unfortunately I also got the news this week that my other paper had been rejected. The reviews were helpful and it isn't the end of the world because this is quite normal in the academic world, but it means back to the beginning again. I wouldn't mind so much but it took too long to get the response. It should have been six weeks but it was more like twelve, as they were waiting for the third review. The worst part is deciding, which academic journal to submit it to the next time around. Heh ho again!
She isn't always so sweet and here she is sending a warning
to Chanel to stay out of the way

Veronica also enjoying the Christmas tree
Just in case you think it is all bad news this week, there is some positive news. Ian had to go back to the doctor again to see if he still needs another operation. He had an operation in February but the doctor was not happy with the results in April. He wasn't sure that the technique he used had worked, although Ian in himself was feeling much better, especially now he doesn't have to look for a loo all the time when we are travelling. Anyway the outlook was improved this time around, although he still has an extra sac on his bladder. The final decision will be based on some blood and urine tests. If they come back okay then he can go back in a years time and just keep the situation monitored.
Ian's franken-scrubber. For those who have followed
the blog for a while, they will know what I mean by
"franken". Ian has cobbled together many an item
we use on our land. This scrubbing brush is affixed
to a hoe - we won't be doing much hoeing in the next
few months and so it is doing double duty to get the
well walls clean. It is still filling up quite a bit and is
looking a bit murky with silt. Hopefully this will help

Turbjørn winking
Our bath got fixed as well and so we had the first bath of the winter season. The fix looks a little industrial, but it works and that at the moment is what matters. We can sort out the appearance later when Ian is sure the fix has worked and won't start leaking again. Nearly every heating season seems to bring leaks of some description. Whether it is from our neighbours upstairs or our own fittings failing. They are just not fit for the job, which is extremely annoying. Having just read the most heart-rending tweet from Aleppo though, I think I will stick to just being extremely grateful we have running water of any kind.

Meanwhile his brother is looking all mysterious

Is it a shadow, or is it Mr. P? 
We also now have got ourselves sorted for uploading information online for our animals. It has taken a bit of time to get this sorted, but at least it is done now. It means we can just go to one of our friends' houses and sort out the details at their home, so we can be sure we are doing everything properly. At least in that respect it feels that little by little we are getting sorted.
Mr. P was difficult to photograph this week in the dim days.

Brencis being as daft as the chickens and staying out in the rain
Plans have also come together for a trip to a Swedish University. That has been about two years in the planning. Finally I now have the funding and the Professor hosting me has the time. I had a Skype call with him the other day to put together a programme for the week and it looks great, with plenty of different people to see who he thinks might be of interest. What was also lovely is I feel like I will be well looked after. He was concerned about the time of the year and the cold, would I be prepared? Of course I'm feeling the cold a bit more at the moment, but I do know how to go prepared, so not a problem. After 13 years of cold winters, it is not as much of a surprise as it once was and I take extra care when travelling to make sure I have enough layers, even if that means looking like Michellin man.
Everywhere was looking really wet, but now we have a thin
cover of snow again and the ground is beginning to freeze

Really wet! And those toe nails are getting ready for cutting
I had a great day travelling to see some of my favourite people in a little place called Kaldabruņa. They run an organisation called Ūdenszīmes, or water lily and I am always inspired by their work in developing the small village. They have such big hearts for the people around them and such creative ideas to take the village forward. I needed to interview them for some more information for the paper I am currently writing and once again they allowed me to come and ask questions. I have invited them to come to our village and talk to the people we know who have a heart to see our village develop, I am sure they will be very encouraging and helpful to them. Now we just have to pray the weather cooperates as January can bring lovely crisp days or be a nightmare of icy roads. I also came away with a small ornament they gave me for our Christmas tree and three wooden brooches for the felted scarves. The wood is taken from small branches with the bark taken off and polished, all very distinctive.
A bleak day. Today there was a hint of pink with the grey. It
reminded me of Botswana agate or pink abalone. Rather specific
you might think, but my parents sold gemstone jewellery for years
and I started off helping them at agricultural shows and then in the

It might have been grey but I still think the photos are
interesting. By the way they are Ian's photos not mine
Another plus this week is that I finally got started on making a felt scarf. There is a bit of a problem with felting the fleece from our Mr. P and to some extent with Chanel, their fleece maybe better for spinning, but we don't know yet until Ian gets going on that. At the moment he is concentrating on the superfine fleece of Brencis with the hope we get a scarf made for someone. Mari's fleece though has so much crimp in it that it does felt well. I used that as a base and that helped. I wet felted the main scarf and next I shall run it through the felting machine that someone gave me to see if that helps. I'm not happy with the design yet and need to work on it some more, but at least I have started, which is good. If I can get into the routine of making them, then that will help.
So wet that the ponds overflowed, the well filled at quite a rate
and our temporary lake is back 

At least Sofie wasn't struggling to find water to drink

Enjoying some sunbathing


Monday, 21 November 2016

Is it spring?

This was the scene on Wednesday
It sure feels like spring after the two and a half weeks of snow we had. It has finally just about left us now. Just a few mucky piles of the stuff left over from the piles of cleared snow, mainly at the sides of the roads or in car parks. Of course that does not mean there won't be more, but at least Ian can get back on with some jobs that he could do with doing before the winter really does kick in. The only problem is that we now need the ground to dry up or freeze. Our well has been filling up at an incredible rate of over 250 litres a day with the melt. The recent influx though of water is mainly ground water and not the spring water so it is a bit murky with sediment. Part of the reason though is because the concrete rings were mucky from when they were put in, so hopefully this has cleaned the sides now. A friend of ours said it might take a year to settle down, so no worries yet!

Saturday, just about all gone and the grass is still green, unlike
after the winter snows next spring.
A path cleared with the snow blower
At least now the snow has gone, it means Ian doesn't have to do so much snow blowing. We had begun to wonder if this was going to be a feature until March or April, so although the days are duller now without the snow, more can be done. I also dug up the dahlia tubers that I had forgotten about, which need to be stored over winter and not left in the ground. I have now also covered my herb bed with spruce branches to protect them from a hard freeze.
Nature's artwork

And this is the result in the well. Nearly full to overflowing.
Approximately 3m3 of water. Should keep us going for a
while. Although Ian is planning on cleaning the sides of the
well with a brush and then pumping some of it out and letting
it refill.
It has been a strange week as we settled into living back in our apartment. We haven't lived there since mid-April and so many of our things have been put away or we have just forgotten where they once lived. Ian finally found my big, fluffy, purple dressing gown - something you would think was rather difficult to hide in a small apartment. He found it had been pushed to the back of a shelf in our wardrobe under a bag of clothes destined for the second-hand store or recycling. I still haven't found the tie for it though so for now it is tied up with a rather vibrant scarf - it works. Ian also found his body pillow - a pillow recommended by a chiropractor that Ian used to visit in the US when he was having issues with a bad back. We are also still in the process of bringing stuff back from the land that we still need at home or will be damaged in the cold winter temperatures, but it is a slow process.
If you were wondering how Sofie has got on after her hip
dislocation. I think this picture speaks for itself. This is above
the door in the greenhouse

She's also eager to be off on her travels. This was the day
after she had the pin out. It is hard to keep her in now.
We are also gradually sorting through our list of things to do and trying to get them ticked off. Ian and I finished off an article for a magazine and I finished off a book chapter for an academic piece of work. We have sorted through bags of fleece to decide how to process it.
As the snow melted off the roof, the icicles were left at a
rather perculiar angle

This little lass has discovered how to get into the food
cupboard on the wall. No wonder she slept so well today
We even got our friend round to help us finally make a decision on our sheep and what needs to be done with them. He gave us a few options and gave us his opinion, which was helpful. We are still not fully decided but will be by the end of the week, as we have a deadline to work to, always useful. Our friend also offered us some silage, as they have more than they need. That will help us with feeding the sheep, as they are getting through rather too much, much more than the alpacas despite their smaller size.
One eerie morning

Makes me thinkg of some fantasy winter scene for a movie or
something like that
Another item ticked off the list was to get our land onto the rural support scheme, which basically means getting some money for endeavouring to farm the land. We have to put a map together of the parts that we are including in the support area, as we know some bits have too many trees on at the moment. Some bits will be included but we will cut down the trees that need thinning out and some we won't bother with for the time being. I say "we," what I mean is Ian. He has the bulk of that kind of work to do. I shall be busy doing other things. I try to make a point of going at the weekends though to take a break from the brain work, but I cannot be there all the time. At least we are grateful for one of our visitors over the summer who is helping us get this sorted.
The mid-week snow made some
interesting sculptures

We have done some sorting out in here, honest!
We've had the usual problems with plumbing again at our other apartment. We can't blame the plumber, we know he did an excellent job with the best fittings available. The problem is that some of the fittings available are rather sub-standard. It is one of the reasons that all water pipes run on the outside of the wall and we have stop taps at multiple points. This time it was the bath tap that started leaking. It is the first time the water has been heated in a long while and so the tap split and water started squirting out the back of the tap. It was the first bath we had planned since April - don't worry we have had showers in the meantime, but the bath was a luxury soak we had once a week along with watching a DVD, not while we are having a bath of course. In the end we did neither.
I guess Turbjørn has his woolly blanket on, so can sit around
in the snow

Why drink water when you can eat snow?
One of the good things about being at home is the chance to have a trip to a nice little bakery in the village with a friend. She had been teaching us Latvian but I hadn't really had the opportunity to have a proper catch up in a while, so made a point of doing just that this week. We put the world to right, as you do over a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake. We were just about done on the topic of communities when her husband arrived and then the topic turned to hay, back home it was sociology. I can get through a few varied topics in a day.
I love the way that photos capture an agate quality of semi-frozen
ponds. In life it just looks a bit mucky.
The pond a few days later

The car gets left near the road, because the track up is too
muddy and it could get stuck. Rather than ruin the ground
even more we decide to walk to the caravan.
We also joined in with a local action group on Sunday. They are trying to make positive changes to the village, when the consensus it is a place where people come to die - not really true, as there are so many young families, but obviously they can find it difficult out in rural Latvia. We want to support the young folks, so even though we don't understand much, we can participate and encourage. Being younger, someone often does some translating and if nothing else it is a chance to hear Latvian being spoken.
Hopefully this will stop a lot of the snow getting in this time.
You can see the spruce covered herb bed to the right too

Glorious coloured dandelion leaves

Agnese in decidedly unfriendly mood to me. Head up, tail up
back arched and clucking. She is trying to say she thinks she
is higher up the pecking order than I am. I have news for her!

Agnese in friendlier mood

I still find it hard to believe at times that we own this forest.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Home! I think!

A winter wonderland
Where is home? Good question. I am now back in Latvia, so that's a start. We are even now back in our apartment, but is this home? It would be fair to say there is a degree of despondency about the transition. Part of that is because it marks the beginning of the winter season and all the issues we have with that, such as the long nights, dealing with a frozen car in the morning, remembering to leave the windscreen wipers up, the hand brake off and the car in gear, so the brakes do not freeze, the increase in fuel costs and so on.

Agnese in soft focus
The despondency I also think has something to do with becoming more deeply rooted in the land through staying out there for such a long time. It is harder for Ian than it is for me. I do not have so much to do out there now, but Ian does. He is out there every day, seeing to the animals, making sure the jobs that need doing get done - weather permitting of course and in winter cutting down trees in the forest - again weather permitting - for next seasons fuel. Unfortunately there are still a few trees on the floor that were going to be chopped up for firewood and are now under snow.

Yes we still have icicles
Yes the snow is still with us and set to stay with us for a few more days at least, before it maybe all melts and turns to mush later on in the week. I managed to go for my first slide of the season, whilst still up in Tartu, Estonia. I hate ice and not particularly good in icy conditions. I always marvel at those who sail past me as I make my way in slippery conditions at a snail's pace.

The view from my attic window in Tartu
Fortunately at the moment, it isn't particularly icy and there is plenty of crunchy snow to walk on, however, not everywhere of course. I saw a patch of what looked like thick, slick ice and decided to walk to the side of it where the snow was. Unfortunately it also happened to be snow over ice and down I went. I was carrying my suitcase with me at the time and that went down on the ground first and slowed my descent so it meant I didn't hurt myself at all. I just embarrassed myself trying to get up off the slick ice and the young chap who obviously observed all of this, only rushed to my aid when he saw that I was leaving my hat behind.

Growing up 
Despite that, it has been a good week when I got to talk to different people. I met up with a lady I met in Vilnius a couple of weeks ago. We had a great time talking about Estonia generally and more specifically the problems of changing from one system of mental health care to a more inclusive system in the community. Not that I am a great expert on the matter, but I could appreciate some of the difficulties that can entail due to my research on communities and through some discussion in the past with my daughter about issues of those cared for in the community and in a hospitals in other locations.

Eating rather too much too soon. Rather a problem this year
and we will need to cull some sheep. They have been rather
demanding - more so than usual
I also spent quite a while chatting with a chap who has been at the forefront of village development in the early years of transition. It was interesting to hear how it developed over time and some of the influences on those transitions. It was also interesting to hear how even during Soviet times, not everything was done according to the strict expectations of the Soviet authorities and perhaps some things were done a little differently. It made me smile to hear there were such undercurrents going on. I knew of some examples but not in an agricultural management institute. He also brought some apples as a gift for me, which were an old Estonian variety and were definitely different and tasty.

We took the rather ragged plastic off this greenhouse to save
the poles. They are already in bad shape and it doesn't seem
as robust as our first cheap greenhouse.
That's not all. One day I was chatting with a lady who came to our land earlier on in the year with her husband and young daughter. The little girl was the one who had the misfortune to discover nettles for the first time and called them Stingrays - such an apt description. The lady has an idea for a series of children's books on environmental issues, to help children understand some of the problems. She had met with varying degrees of skepticism and some support but was encouraged that I loved the illustrations she had already done and I liked what I was hearing.

Photographing Mr. P. is challenging any time of the year and
even harder now due to his colouring. He is also loosing
his baby teeth - hence he looks like he has a mouthful of
rather crooked teeth
I had some reservations about the actual language used, I felt it was a bit too complicated for young readers, but felt it had a lot of potential. I could hear the story, so to speak, it just needed some different words, which is easier for me with English being my first and to some extent only language (well at least sometimes and if I put my mind to it). I have also worked with children for a while and read many, many stories to them. In fact that was something I could do quite well and even today the ability to read text with enthusiasm helps me enormously when presenting.

Just chilling
I was treated to a lovely Indian meal of curried chicken, sweet rice and a fresh fruit salad. This was then followed by pictures and videos of India and Indian life, so that I could understand the lady's background and where she was coming from when writing the stories. It was a fascinating and very enjoyable afternoon, and topped off with lots of hugs from her daughter and those kinds of conversations you can only really have with bright, bubbly almost five year olds.

Turbjørn determined not to look at the camera
Not content with chatting to Estonians, Indians and my Australian friend who I stay with, I also spent an evening chatting with another friend who is from America. I didn't communicate very clearly to my Australian friend how long I would be staying up in Tartu, I think I must have written the email in my head rather than actually sending it and so there was a problem over one night when they were expecting someone else to stay in the room I normally sleep in. My American friend, however, said if I ever needed to stay somewhere else then she was willing to put up with me, or rather put me up. So another chance to chat away and put the world to right. I stayed in her apartment, even though she was going to a conference the next night and it was a chance to absorb the peace and quiet of her place. It is quite close to the city centre and yet it was quite peaceful and not really noisy at all. I needed that.
Tellus' old fashioned hair do makes me laugh, but don't tell

Post it note workshop
On the Friday of last week I did a short presentation to my doctoral candidate colleagues and my supervisors. I deliberately kept it short, as to be honest I'm a bit bored with presenting and I wanted to try an experiment with them. I wanted to see what characteristics they felt rural village leaders had or should have to be helpful in the participatory development process; in other words, what do leaders need to be able to draw in other inhabitants in an active way. It was quite entertaining to lead them in the process of doing a mini-workshop on the topic. I laughed at my supervisors remarks at the end, which were basically along the lines of thank you Joanna for  once again taking us on another thought provoking journey and perhaps not quite what we would expect in a doctoral seminar. I think I'm getting a reputation for pictures of my alpacas and not conforming to the normal pattern. As long as I get my doctorate at the end, I'm not too worried.
At this time of the year, the alpacas seem to prefer snow to 
cold water. It is easier this year for Ian with the well now
though and means he doesn't have to traipse down three flights 
of stairs with heavy containers of water

On our way home, shock, horror, I made Ian stop the car to
take this photo.
And finally? I actually chatted to my husband. I know a bit of a novelty. We arranged to meet up near to the Alpaca farm in Estonia where we get the feed from. I took a bus from Tartu to near Pärnu, also in Estonia but on the coast and he drove up from home. I was a bit puzzled though in the week as he told me he was expecting a visit from a nice lady who had emailed him and so he would have to cancel it. I thought he was talking about another visitor and it was only in the car that he explained it was a joke and the "nice lady" was me, since he thought I was travelling home by bus and had forgotten we were possibly going to collect feed. He's called me many things in our over 32 years of marriage but a "nice lady" was not one of them and so I didn't twig. We often have jokey emails while I'm away but I missed this one.

But of course I couldn't make him stop more than once and
we ended up putting the animals away in the dark as it was.
So after a very short visit to the alpaca farm for coffee and cakes and a visit to see their newest alpacas who had arrived since our last visit at shearing time in May, we set off back to Latvia and home, where we have spent the last couple of days trying to locate various things. We have stayed in the caravan for so long that all the familiar routines and places have been forgotten. I still haven't found my dressing gown and there are boxes and crates full of fruit and vegetables or clothes all over the place.