Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Been and gone and been and gone again!

Having a scratch on a lovely spring day..... or is
that winter?
Well there has been no change in the weather from last week, it is still spring one minute and winter the next. It has also been rather cold most of the time and windy. Shearing may get delayed a week, rather than put too much stress on the animals by removing their very nice warm coats and leaving them with very little protection from the cold. Ian has decided that Chanel can wait until after her birth, as she is not a calm animal anyway and while the weather is still cool she will be fine. At least the weather didn't interfere with anything I wanted to get on with as I am busy sorting through interview transcripts to reanalyse them for the paper that got rejected last year. Heh ho!
Aggie wearing the latest fashion, spruce! Ian did
remove it later

My birthday cakes, that I bought from the bakery
It was my birthday this last week, another year older and not sure about any wiser. To celebrate we went out for a meal the day before since it was near to a shop where we wanted to buy some seeds from and close to where we get chicken food. Did you really think we would take a trip just for my birthday? I had breaded hake, that was advertised as crispy fried hake, so close enough. I had that with fries but wished I had ordered the baked potato wedges that Ian ordered with his meal, they were more like proper chips (just so my American friends are not confused, American chips in British English are crisps and what we call chips are larger than American fries and made from potatoes not cornstarch or anything weird like that). While we were getting chicken food we also got our friend some food for her goats and dropped them off at her house, which meant a bit of a chance for a cup of tea and a catch up.
Chanel with a nice round belly. Getting close now

Just lounging about with nothing to do
On my birthday itself there was a Talka, which is a Latvian word for a community spring clean. Lots of community spaces all over Latvia get spruced up after the winter and in our village one of the areas was the site of an old ruined castle. The women raked leaves and the men cut down dead trees. I did raise my eyes at the demarcation of roles but did decline to use a chainsaw, on the basis I would be dangerous with it anyway. I was surprised that there is still such a division of labour. I did shift some larger bits of wood, but it seemed to worry one of the ladies who felt sure I should leave it for the men to clear up, so gave up and raked leaves. I love the idea of Talka, as it is a good opportunity for lots of people to get together and do something positive in the community. I think the UK would benefit from more such activities, because I am usually shocked by the amount of waste lying around whenever I go back.
Lounging around with nothing to do, expect go for
a stroll perhaps?

Now how do I get down from here? Oh I know!
Slither and slide with claws out down the plastic.
Yes there are now holes in the greenhouse plastic
and we wonder how many more of them there are.
I couldn't stop for the lunch at the Talka though as I had too many other jobs to do. We were expecting a couple of visitors the next day and so I needed to print off leaflets for the Adopt an Alpaca that we announced last week and another felting course that we announced this week. It is quite exciting as we have had a flurry of enquiries and quite a few shares of that post, so a very encouraging start. If you want to read more about it, then details are here
Aggies starting to look portly around the middle too

A decidedly spring looking day. It didn't last though
The reason for the late post was that on Monday I went up to Obinitsa in Estonia. It is a place I have been writing about as I collected the work from two Masters student into papers that have been submitted to journals and yet I had never actually been. I had to rely on others to give me the context, which they were happy to do, but it was nice to finally see some of the places I had been writing about. Unfortunately I forgot to take some photos but it was a sunshine and snow shower day and so would have been tricky anyway. On the way home I stopped at a viewing tower and was able to see for miles. The viewing tower had the names and directions of places and I was able to stand up there and look over into Russia, only 14km away from the tower and only 7km from where I had been. Good job I didn't take any wrong turns then. If you want to see where I went then probably look at some nice sunny pictures here

The sticks mark the spot where Alpaca House 4 will be
The stones are ready for the base. Just need some
decent dry weather now

The alpacas need moving frequently at the moment

Turbjørn in front of our very old oak tree. It's girth is 470cm

Herkules enjoying the sun

Cat in a box! Of course. I had only just put them out

Monday, 17 April 2017

Coming and going

The sunsets have been awesome though, but wintry
Right now our village is looking pretty with its dusting of white, only I’m not really appreciating this beautiful sight right now. We had a lovely spring week last week but this week we have had cold winds and snow showers. Oh well! This is spring in Latvia, so I can’t complain too much. Last week I managed to put some seeds in the ground, I think they will be fine as they will just sit there until the weather warms up and then probably come away quite quickly, since they are brassica type seeds. The seedlings, however, I have no idea. I decided not to peek under the fleece that is covering them as every time I remember it is covered in snow. At least the tomatoes that have germinated are tucked up at home on the windowsills

The wagtails came back recently but I bet they are not
impressed with the frozen pond
Turbjørn in thoughtful mood
This week has been more mundane than most. Ian has finally managed to finish off the chipping of all the branches from the trees he cut down the previous winter and he has started logging that up. We had to take a trip up to our neighbour to get the last of the hay out of her barn. We still have the big bales of hay but almost out of the small ones now. We just need the weather to warm up so that the animals can eat more grass. We have the alpacas out on the grass, but Ian has to move the fences often to stop them over eating it and the sheep we won’t let out as they would decimate the grass in a very short space of time - they are protesting muchly about that too.

One of the many dustings this week.

Ian has been feeling the cold just lately. Sometimes
one of his fingers goes white, once the circulation
shut off to two of his fingers. Such a shame as he
has been doing quite well on Gingko Biloba for
quite a while now.
We have stopped out in the caravan a few times and one night it was down to -10C in the greenhouse so a tad chilly for carvanning really. It isn’t impossible with enough layers of clothing, a quilt and a couple of blankets. The heater is also right next to Ian and so he can switch it on in the morning without having to get out of bed. That warms his clothes through too. At least in a small space the temperature soon warms up, well sort of. It’s all relative really. In summer we would be thinking those temperatures are too cold, in winter we have a slightly different perspective on what is warm and what is cold, unless the wind picks up and then any temperature feels cold. The northerly wind this last week did make it more unpleasant as well as the snow showers.
A rather good capture of Mr. P. It is hard to
photograph him usually

Have you heard the news?
We decided to try a new venture and set up an “Adopt an alpaca” package on our website. It’s a bit of fun but also every little helps with trying to earn a living out here on our land. We tried to think what we could provide but also what people might like when adopting an alpaca. So “a week’s visit from your adopted animal with a complimentary bale of hay?” as Ian put on Facebook. Well perhaps not, But there will be and adoption certificate, a Christmas card, a birthday card (as long as we are given the date), email updates and a fluffy keyring with a piece of fleece from the adopted animal. It is amazing how many people would like to take away a little piece and so we thought we would include that in the package. If you are interested take a look at our Facebook page here where you can see all the pictures and our website with more details is here
A fluffy Brencis keyring

Tellus and Mr. P looking for grass
We have had a trickle of visitors over the past week too, some to see the alpacas and errrr some to see the alpacas. Let’s be honest that is why most folks visit us. Ian at least managed a couple of sentences in Latvian when a lady with we think her grandchildren stopped for a look and couldn’t speak any English, which is exciting. Even more exciting though we got to hear that one of Ian’s brothers and his wife are coming out to see us next month. It is the first time anyone has been out from that side of the family and we are looking forward to showing them around our home.
Somebody is standing on their food! They also
broke the feeder this week

Ready or not! Here I come! 
Ian and I have been chatting quite a bit about home just lately. Yes we still talk about the calamity of Brexit and still wonder what it will mean for us, but also my supervisor came to visit and I needed to talk about the paper that I have to re-write. I was a bit stuck with how to present the complexity of home or sense of place. I read an article about identity and how living abroad changes your sense of identity, it loosens it somehow in so far as we are not totally British any more (whatever that means) but neither are we totally Latvian (lack of language doesn’t help) we are somewhere in between with a bit of something leftover from Denmark and the US thrown in there too. Each place has had an impact on how we think, where we feel at home and how we feel at home. England is no longer home to us, it’s okay to visit and see the grandkids, but it is not home.
We are not sure if our champion mouser is also
reducing the bird population again

Not sure who else will get the schematic I came up
with, but it sure helps me
I managed to come up with a diagram of little ships with anchors that travel through time and put out anchors into the different layers that make up our places that we call home or those we identify with. The more anchors the more like home it will feel, the more tied to a place. It could be family or friends who live there, the culture, or the physical landscape which is special to you. All have different values to different people. I’m not sure if I will use the schematic in the paper or not but at least it has helped me to organise my thoughts for the write up and that is a big help.
Eyre aka Floss in playful mood

There's actually grass there, before it got covered
again later on in the day
Not seeing the grandkids so much is a huge issue of course. At first we thought that they maybe able to come across more but that hasn’t worked out. Being across in the UK and helping my daughter out as well as seeing the others, was actually quite hard, because I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of just being with them. I was sat in church with my daughter and her family on mothering Sunday with these conflicting emotions and needing a word from God to quell the disquiet. There was no powerful preaching on the day and to be honest I am not sure I can hear much through crafted words, it is usually the off-the-cuff comments that catch my attention. This time it was the reading from Psalm 139. I helped one of the kids groups I helped out at to learn this one and I read it out at my one of son’s wedding. The part that resonated inside of me and quietened my anxious thoughts were the verses 7-10

Brencis out for a stroll
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
Another gorgeous sunset, just before a short snow
At least it felt like encouragement to me to keep going and somehow things will work out.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Transition time

I think this is a great shot that Ian took of a stork
visiting our land. I never cease to be amazed by
the storks. Not sure I would want too close, they
make quite a mess but they are still fabulous to
watch while they are around
It is that time of the year when we transition from being in the apartment to out in the caravan more, in fact Friday to Monday this last week. It has been relatively pleasant, a bit windy and sometimes cool, but it has been nice to be outside more. So lots of pictures and not so many words
They even visit the pond on a regular basis to catch frogs.
I hope they don't catch the fish though. We have seen the
fish in our top pond after the winter, but not this one but
they could be deep down hiding - hopefully
The storks eat the frogs but fortunately they don't eat the
frogspawn. It doesn't take long after the snow has gone for
the frogspawn to appear
A beautiful day today
Beds rotavated and some seedlings in under cover,
as well as other seeds such as cabbages and caulis.
The brassicas are always best under cover on our
land because they get attacked by flea beetles
otherwise, which puts lots of tiny holes in the
This week we have beds prepared for seeds and some planted up with cooler weather plants, we have areas smoothed out after wild boar activity (not recent fortunately, we seem to have escaped anything major for a while, so hopefully their numbers really have been reduced), weeding done, even the first washing on the line out on the land. It is early and we could get caught out by late frosts, but the sort of seeds I put in are more likely to suffer from dry weather, which could still come and so they are better getting off to a good start in the rain we will have over the next few days.

This is my first vegetable garden out on the land and
the soil is now quite dark for the most part as we have
added a lot of organic matter and wood chippings to
it. Some of it got a bit overgrown last year, but at
least it has had a good weeding to start the year.

Aggie was giving me a funny look because I was
laid on the grass to take this photo. She looks very
fuzzy but it was rather breezy
The biggest disadvantage with this time of year is the lengthening days, which is good on the one hand but does mean if I stay at the apartment and Ian goes out to the land he comes home very late to eat or we start eating separately - not something we are a fan of. Throughout our married life we have sat down to eat our evening meal at the table together and when our kids were at home we ate together with them too. That is one of the biggest reasons for making the transition to staying out in the caravan, the other is to save fuel of travelling backwards and forwards. When we are out there I only have to travel back twice a week, to get the washing done, take a shower, to pick up our milk delivery and do some shopping. Before anyone asks, daily showers are not only bad for the environment (think of all that hot water down the drain) but also bad for the skin's environment, a wash is quite good enough! Of course we do go into the village more often than that when we have forgotten something or need something from home, but our fuel consumption is a lot less even so.
Ian spent time re-modelling the scar around our well today.
He re-sculpted the bank to stop surface water flowing into
it, then rotavated the area around it 
He also scattered some grass seed on 
then raked it in
The inspector came to investigate. Which reminds me, the
inspector really did come to investigate today. A nice man
with a GPS came to assess our land for the EU payments,
he went away with a few photos of the alpacas too. 
The lambs are getting big as you can see, this one
is nearly as big as her mum now.
One thing I didn't mention last week was the trip back on the plane. I had the window seat and two blokes got on and sat next to me. They were f...ing this and f...ing that, which I absolutely hate, but then they ordered lemonade from the stewards and after the stewards had gone they started to top up their cups from a large bottle of vodka they had with them. Slowly over the course of the flight, they were getting louder and louder and at a few points in time even started singing. I wasn't really sure what to do and felt quite intimidated by their behaviour. I was saying a few prayers for sure. Just as we were starting the descent the one next to me had a nose bleed and asked his friend to get some tissues. I knew I had some in my bag so offered him some rather than let him bleed all over the place as it was quite a bad one. I also felt it might help to connect with him and help de-escalate what was happening. I think the nose bleed did that enough anyway, it seemed to calm them down a lot. It certainly isn't something I would like to have repeated again though.

A few signs of spring
Coltsfoot. This is usually the first flower of spring to appear
although there doesn't seem to be many of them this year

This fungus is so incredibly bright red and stands out
on the forest floor

The yearly carpet of wood anemones - I love them.
They appeared about the same time last year, but
earlier than years previous to that. In fact if you go
back a few years, sometimes our land was still under
snow and ice at this time.
Blackcurrants are budding too

Mint appearing from under the winter cover of spruce
branches - this helps to protect them from the harsh frosts


Welsh onions. I have all sorts of onions left to sprout in the
garden because they start to come push up leaves so early
in the year that we can be eating leaves almost as soon as
the stored onions are finished

The lovage is another early plant to push up after the winter

Oh yes! And ground elder, the scourge of the garden, but I'm not
so bothered these days since I found out it is perfectly edible at
this stage and gives a sort of parsley flavour to meals.
This is the Schisandra Chensis in the greenhouse. We
use this in salads, in teas and as a spice too. We
don't get that many of the supposedly amazing
berries that give so much energy, but we aren't worried
since we found out all the other uses for it.
So this was pretty much our week. There was a slight misunderstanding at one point. Ian asked for another replacement Stanley flask recently as the vacuum stopped working again, despite their 25 year guarantee - we think there was a problem with the lightweight ones that hopefully has been resolved with their new design, which is what they replaced it with. A nice lady came to give us the replacement since she is from the area, so she got her relative who speaks English to phone to arrange the drop off. No problem, it was someone we knew. The problem in Latvia though is that we know quite a few people who have names that are similar, so if we want to talk about someone we have to add a description too, unfortunately they don't add those descriptions to their phone calls, so while Ian was convinced it was the guy who had dug the well who was coming with his relative, it turned out to be another guy with the same name. Never mind, Ian got a new flask as the lady came to visit with her grandchildren the next day.