Monday, 27 November 2017


Finally a bright sunny day
On our farm we try to apply certain principles such as, being kind to the land, to grow our own food with the minimum of external inputs and not using chemicals. We are not perfect and our roadway shows it is not always possible to be kind to the land, especially in wet weather. We just try to minimise our impact in thoughtful ways when it is unavoidable. These principles are also echoed in permaculture where the idea is to view the land and the life attached to it as a whole, one to take care of and enhance as much as possible for the sake of the future. The principles outlined below are taken from the Permaculture Principles site and I like the part where it talks about adopting the ethics to help us to transition from being dependent consumers to responsible producers, which is what we are trying to do, little by little.
The downsides of wet weather and animals. Mind you, this
would have been a lot worse with cows

A picture from the girl's paddock with the long winter
What is permaculture?
Permaculture is a creative design process based on whole-systems thinking informed by ethics and design principles. 
This approach guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics. 
I see the moles are working hard aerating the land. Hard to
be grateful sometimes though because if the humps are not
flattened then the soil gets into the hay
By adopting the ethics and applying these principles in our daily life we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers. This journey builds skills and resilience at home and in our local communities that will help us prepare for an uncertain future with less available energy. 
The techniques and strategies used to apply these principles vary widely depending on the location, climatic conditions and resources that are available. The methods may differ, but the foundations to this wholistic approach remain constant. By learning these principles you can acquire valuable thinking tools that help you become more resilient in an era of change.
The road that runs past our land until they graded it later

Prepping a new feeder for the sheep. The old one is in pieces
in the background
I think these kinds of ethics fit with God's idea of how we should work the land that he gave us. So in our efforts to try and work with our land and not against it we arranged to see some people connected to a permaculture organisation here in Latvia (link). We would love to join them on their workshops but we are usually busy on our own farm at the same time that they hold their workshops. Mind you it was nice to be able to just sit and chat in relative peace, which is probably not possible on a workshop day with all the other folks milling around. We especially went to see their grey water system to see how it works. A grey water system takes all the household water, except the toilet. We don't need one so much at the moment as we just throw the washing up water over the grass and let the grassland do its work. One day though we may need to find a different system and so it is nice to know how to go about dealing with water from a house that leads to clean water in the end. We also sat around drinking tea and eating Latvian garlic bread snacks whilst discussing life in general, I'm hoping they found it as relaxing as we did.
Ian has been fettling again. He has made an
Idle Irene, or is it a Slothful Susan, no it's a
Lazy Kate (front left). It is for plying wool,
he has also made a bobbin winder or rather
shortened something he had made before to fit
the purpose.
Ian does all our spinning and here he is winding
the wool he spun to make a skein for washing. 

Veronica just having a natter with Chanel

Back to her prim and proper self now

Did I mention that Ian had just brought in some fresh hay?
So of course on a nice bright day, the girls spent all day
inside eating
I have been doing a lot of writing just lately and even got started on my PhD thesis proper so it is nice to have a day off every now and again. Mind you my days off involve things like, digging carrots, parsnips and beetroot, cleaning out chickens, sorting out vegetable beds to put manure on over winter, cutting back the asparagus and putting them and the herbs to bed for the winter with a nice cozy spruce coat. Of course I had to go and cut a few weed spruce trees down for the purpose. Keeps me out of mischief anyway. If we had a house out on our land, I would probably do more of that during the day like I do in the summer, but now I spend more time at our apartment. Sigh! One day!
Sofie asleep on a bag of chicken food. Obviously keeping it
safe from the mice, which is a good job because Eyre keeps
bringing them in
The leeks obviously enjoyed the wet summer we had this year

George in contemplative mood
As I mentioned last week in an attempt to try and move to living out on the land more we are continuing to sort out our apartment that we live in, so it is ready to sell next year. The current project is sorting out our dump room. I have disassembled all the IKEA shelving now that has travelled around the world with us and we took those up to our other apartment. I also cleared out the other dump room in that apartment so that we can put all the shelving into one room and then I have to re-stack everything in there. I also said last week that I dread turning into one of those hoarders who keep so much stuff you cannot move and at the moment it kind of looks like that.
One of the spring lambs. Not so little any more
Cabbages are finally hearting up, at least the leaves are still
edible anyway

Texel greens. We had these a couple of sprigs of broccoli,
the cabbage, and some Brussel Sprout leaves for a leafy
stir fry this week.

Still some colour around from the Viburnum berries
It didn't help that we didn't manage to reassemble the shelving. Ian made some new shelves to add to the ones we already have, but somehow we didn't manage to get them sitting square on the uprights. We had spent the first part of the morning cleaning the chimney ready for the new heating season (it starts later in that apartment as we only really heat it to stop the pipes freezing for now) and so by the time we got around to sorting out the shelves it was getting late and we were hungry. We got one set sorted, but gave up with the other and left it for another rainy day. It looks like we will get a chance later on in the week as the forecast is still not looking good. I thought we did well though, the weather has not been the sort to encourage a positive, happy atmosphere and yet we didn't fall out at all.
The deer made a return visit
A Michaelmas Daisy still hanging on in there

Brencis is turning into a fine young chap. 
Facebook is one of those things that does consume too much time, but it also provides us with plenty of opportunities too. One was getting to know the folks at the permaculture organisation and setting up the meeting this week. Another one is getting to know new people and this week I have been connected with more alpaca owners, who we will hope to see next year. They live too far away to go and see them and be able to get back to put our own animals away, so we need longer days before embarking on that trip.
They are supposed to be white!
I erected this stone monument so that I wouldn't lose the stones
and get into trouble when Ian cut the grass. They are still there

A nice photo of Mr. P. He is hard to photograph at times
I also had an interesting discussion about rural Latvia and education this week on Facebook, with someone I haven't chatted to before. I like to hear other's perspectives and test out my own theories. It sharpens my own thinking for a start and keeps me looking for alternatives to the way things work in Latvia now. It was out of that discussion that we found out about a couple who have recently moved to Latvia to start farming relatively near to us, one is Latvian and the other English. I made contact and so hopefully they will come over to see us and our alpacas weather permitting, so we are looking forward to that.
The pond freezing over again
I love the rays of sunshine shining through the forest

The sunset after a very dreary day. A big difference to summer
when the sun sets much further to the right and I don't have
to practically hang out of the window to take a picture. At
least I didn't drop my phone as I was worried that I would
So on these wet dreary days besides writing I have also been trying to sort out arrangements for going to another conference, this time on the bioeconomy. There is a drive by the EU to build the bioeconomy and increase sustainability in the process. Of course this affects rural areas and so it will be interesting to see where they are going with this. I am particularly interested to see where their focus is and how they build up the rural areas to take advantage of these initiatives. It usually only benefits incomers who have an understanding of business and doesn't always address the issues of rural infrastructure to make sure it can continue. Too many initiatives start and then fizzle out and I am keen that this does not happen this time around, so sorry Mr, Ambassador I cannot make it to the British Embassy event again this year, maybe another time.
These amazing creations do not appear every year, but
fascinating when they do. They are called Frost flowers

Monday, 20 November 2017

The old routine

Whatcha looking at?
We have settled back into our winter routine now. Ian goes out to the land every day and I more often than not stay at home. I have at least managed to get the second draft of the paper finished for my co-authors to comment on and we will see where we take it from there. We still have to decide which academic journal to send it to and then I can tailor the work more closely to what they would expect. At least that is one thing out of the way for the moment and it means I can now concentrate on other things.
Soggy feet. Good job they are not sheep and prone to footrot

Best buddies
One of the other things is to get our apartment sorted for selling it early on next year. There is a lot of stuff to sort out and some build up over time. We have been here nearly 10 years now and there is always some sort of creeping accumulation, especially for us two hoarders. I still have nightmares that we will one day end up like those people you see on the television programmes who can't move for stuff. We are not that bad really but then we are spread out over various properties, two small apartments, one barn, one large greenhouse and one caravan. In our defence the incoming stuff is not as fast as for many folks, we don't buy a lot, it is just we do not readily chuck things out either and our rate of repurposing is not fast enough. I have lots of ideas but either not enough time or my stuff is all in the wrong place at the wrong time. Excuses, excuses I know.
It would appear that George is one of those alpacas that
attracts the hay. We have to get that out of his fleece next

Eating, eating on a murky day
We have been quite social for us. Not always easy at this time of the year, even though we have time. It gets dark so quickly that the thought of going out again seems to be an effort. Once out, however, it is never that bad. One lady I have been chatting to on Facebook moved back to our village fairly recently. She broke her ankle in one of those, I can't believe "I go around the world doing crazy things and break my ankle outside my own door" type of accidents and so was stuck indoors. Anyway I said it would be nice to chat in person instead of just via Facebook and so we finally got to meet up and Ian tagged along. We have met before, but quite a few years ago now and much has happened in the meantime. We had a lot to talk about as we are both trying to work towards our PhDs, although her's is more focussed on business development rather than community development like mine. There are plenty of overlaps in our approach though. which is interesting. We also got through two pots of tea and some cakes, so definitely plenty of jawing going on.
The boys doing the same

I took this at our friend's house last week. The cockerel
is huge but apparently a gentle giant. One of our young
cockerels started crowing this week. It is a bit odd as it
is the smaller of the cockerels that we thought was less
well developed and so put it in with the smaller hens.
Our next outing was to the local culture house, where they were celebrating the country's 99th birthday. Our small town/village has a population of about 2,500 but that's enough for a good dance troupe, a choir and lots of people for the play and in addition to all that the place was still packed out. We got there just in time to get a seat. Not much of a view, but enough. I love to watch the Latvians dance, they are good at it and even for a small place like ours the standard is high. I also love to see the different costumes for each dance, very elegant. Sorry I didn't get any pictures, I was just enjoying the scene and trying to make sense of what was going on. After the dance, they sang the national anthem and then the play began.
Yes it's been wet and yes Mari has been out in the rain and
the snow. Apparently George was reluctant to join Mari
today, he would rather stay in but if Mum's out then he follows
Agnese in contemplative mood
It was an overview of the history told through the story of a cafe. Fortunately I know much of the history of Latvia and so could follow along. The eeriest part was seeing a great big Soviet Union flag clearly dominating the set and this was followed by some danciers. To one side was a lady who represented Latvia, who was also dancing, she then began to just turn around and around. At this point the other dancers left the stage and the guy in a Soviet Union uniform began to bind the Latvian dancer up with a thick black strap, slowly, slowly, higher and higher until her mouth was covered and they then both walked off the stage. It was a sad, sad point and you could feel the pain of the moment. Time moved on and the next part was the gradual loosening of the hold of the Soviet Union. There was a video clip of the demonstration, the Baltic Way - where people held hands in opposition to the Soviet Union from Tallinn, through Riga to Vilnius, 600km of human defiance. Eventually the people were free to fly the flag of freedom and they unravelled a huge flag. The people in the place were moved and stood and watched as the flag was unfurled. We didn't understand much of what was said, but we did understand that freedom means a lot to those who knew occupation.
I was collecting seed and this is the remains of one of the
seed heads of Scorzonera a root vegetable. I love the metallic
colours in this one against the straw floor

This one was taken against the background of a sheet and
so has more muted colours

Trying to get our boys going in the same direction
The next day on our farm we had visitors who had booked to walk an alpaca. Since there were three of them we decided to test the boys and see how they worked together. We only charged them for one, as it was an experiment. We found that it is necessary with three to keep moving, not as much time to stop and chat, otherwise they all start going off in different directions. The boys were good though and the folks were an interesting bunch, who liked to chat too. I'm hoping that the one who is into logistics gets back to me at some stage to talk about minibus hire. Useful to have a contact.
More visitors to the farm. Glad it is these guys and not the
wolves that visited another farm nearby and killed 10 sheep

The lookout on the mound

Beating a retreat

Monday, 13 November 2017

Moving on

It's been a bit damp just lately, can you tell? 
This has been a week at home, wherever that maybe. I have spent much of the week tidying up the paper I am writing and so nearly finished to the point where I can send it to my co-authors to go through. It has taken far too long to reanalyse and re-write, I shall be glad when it has gone off for review, it will be such a relief. I also heard that I should be getting the other one back soon that has been in for review since about April I think, so good timing as it will probably need more work on it, they always do. I shall be very shocked if it does not. Some jobs seem to be never ending but one day this phase of life will be over.
All our leaves have gone from our trees  now

Where has all the grass gone? Shock! Horror! 
It would also appear that my students have been catching up on work too, as I have had what to me is an avalanche of work to mark. I did find out though that for some students, if they get more than three weeks behind, they lose privileges and that might have had some bearing on the sudden influx. One piece of work was remarkable in its brevity, but I had to laugh as it reminded me of one of my own children and the problems I had in getting him to focus on work enough to get it done. It was a challenge to get the best out of him when his mind was somewhere else completely for much of the time. We got there in the end and I hope we do with this student too.

Teaching a class to wet felt. Some had done needle felting
before and maybe some had done wet felting but never
with alpaca
This week I went to do a bit of felt tutoring for a friend's ladies's group. It was good fun and I had seven ladies altogether. I did a little presentation of the different alpacas and they were amused to be deciding who's fleece they would be using to felt with. Some pieces worked better than others and some decided to finish off at home, but we all had good fun. I didn't charge a huge amount as it was a bit of an experiment to see how it all works. It was also a good opportunity to introduce myself to someone who will hopefully be selling some of our stuff later on in the year. Mind you I have to get my act together and start making some things. I have some ideas anyway.

Not quite the glowing brown colour
The tutoring was in the evening and so I joined my friend during the day, as we don't get much chance to meet with each other. We go back a long way as we have known each other ever since Ian and I first visited Latvia. She and her husband were some of the workers in the camps where we used to go to to teach English and that was before we even moved to Latvia. We have also stayed with her in the apartment we now live in when it used to belong to her and her husband and we helped with their camp preparations. She was also the one who owned the land where we now have our alpacas. So a lot of history really and so much has changed over the time we have known each other. My family have grown up and left and having their own children and my friend got married and has her own rapidly growing family of three boys in the time since we first knew each other 17 years ago.

Mr. P without his over long teeth. He doesn't look such a
toothy alpaca now. His teeth will continue to grow, so
may need trimming again at shearing time.
As it was going to be a late night and I needed the car, Ian stayed in the caravan and I went back to the apartment. The next day though I had to get out to the land, to help with the boys' pedicures and a little dentistry on Mr. P. We managed quite well with most of the boys but Brencis was just such a fidget and is now so tall that I couldn't hold him still,. In the end we had to put a harness on him. When he does have the harness on, he is much better and doesn't need so much holding. Quite a relief really that he is such a gentle giant really, but he's almost as big as a llama now. Poor Mr. P though had to be fully restrained so we could do his teeth. He needed his front teeth trimming and his fighting teeth removed. They have grown such a lot since shearing time, which is surprising.

Freddie running through the puddles at the bottom of their
Ian was reading an article about family friendly attractions in Latvia a short while ago and noticed that there was a mini-zoo with alpacas that we didn't know about. He wrote an email to make contact and this weekend we got together at their place. We spent about 2 hours chatting and had a really good time of sharing information and we got to see their zoo. It was the first time that I have ever seen porcupines, especially close up. I was quite amazed at their quills and I was given a fridge magnet with a picture of them and Ian was given one of angora goats. They were interested in Ian's shearing services for next year, so that is good. It is nice to be able to help and for Ian to get to use his skills.
A picture from the minizoo's own website of one of the

Our track, if you can call it that! More like mud bath. Our
well has been filling up slowly but after the rain over the
weekend it jumped suddenly by 40 litres, instead of the 7
litres a day before that
On this snowy Sunday I made my way to the old station where there was a meeting to talk about projects that people had completed and the process they went to. I didn't understand much of it at the time but it was nice to just let the Latvian language wash over me and absorb the flow of the language, as well as have fun trying to pick out words I did know. I got a summary of it at the end though on the way home. What was lovely was that the lady who lead the meeting, told me how encouraging it is to have me at the meeting because it meant that people from the "world" were interested and actively wanting the best for our village. It made sitting there much more meaningful knowing it was encouraging someone. I was also encouraged that people were sharing experiences with a view of helping others and so they could learn how to develop their own projects. It is much needed in this area.

If you look carefully you can see how much bigger that
Brencis is compared to the rest. He's the one on the right.
It has been a bit of an odd week too. I have had two emails that surprised me. One was from the place where Ian used to work in the UK. Why it came to me, I have no idea, but it was to request an address to send an invitation to a retirement party of his old boss. This is bearing in mind that he hasn't worked there for 14 years. Ian sent a message off to his boss to fill him in on life since they last had contact about 12 years ago, so errr quite a bit. Another email was for a request for me to give a lecture. It seems to be a bit out of the blue, but the title was not quite my field and so I probably won't be going. There are lots of spam type emails within the academic field but this one I think arose from my presentation (a bit different to an actual lecture as it is only 15 mins) to the planners in Estonia the other week and so intriguing.
Brencis' wet, soggy fleece

He might be the biggest but he's still our friendly one
One of the thoughts that has gone through my mind just lately is "God remember me" as I felt a bit like Joseph in prison where no one remembered him. I have had people thank me for my input and had great conversations taking a look at different topics but it never seemed to go anywhere and it is not helpful for planning the future and which direction to take, especially as I am coming to the end of my PhD. These emails this week therefore seemed to feel like finally something is turning. I don't appear to be the only one as someone we know from our days back in the Pioneer church in the UK has also gone through a season where he felt forgotten, even forsaken and is beginning to feel like he is finding his voice again. Even my new grandson's name means "God remembers" how awesome is that?