Monday, 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas

Well blog night falls on Christmas day this year and since I am with family I will keep this blog short and just wish you all a wonderful Christmas. May it be filled with love, joy and peace.

Monday, 18 December 2017


Freddie venturing out in the snow. Mind you, he seems to
be the only one from this group, the others have largely
remained inside
I think that kind of sums up the week. I'm improving. My leg is getting better, the next paper is coming along and my PhD is progressing into its final stages, although there is still a while to go yet but at least the end is in sight.
Off for a wander on his own

Yes! Quite warm and toasty here, I think we will stay in
I have been hobbling along for most of the week, but I have progressed from using two walking sticks to one and then none most of the time. My leg still aches a bit but I found liniment seems to help a lot. The first half of the week I was at home and only went out to go to our other apartment to do some sorting out, a nice 10 minute walk on a good day but a bit nerve wracking with ice on the ground but I took it slowly and there were no incidents.
Well Brencis doesn't mind sitting outside

A very blue scene
The reason for going up to our other apartment is because it needed heating now that winter is truly upon us and I needed to organise my fabrics that were lying on the floor. I no longer have a rainbow assortment on the floor, it is all stacked neatly on shelves so I can actually get to them and see what I have. That really feels like progress to me. We had decided to that since I was at the other apartment and had been heating it all day we may as well have a bath night. I thought it would be nice to soak in a nice warm bath, it would certainly help to ease the aches.

Mr. P
Ian came round after finishing on the farm and at some point he spotted a mouse, looking like it was having a good sleep on the floor next to the stove. One of the issues we have had at that apartment is evidence of a mouse. It had eaten some of my seeds, fortunately just the squash ones which I have quite a few of anyway and of course left little tell-tale signs in places. I was fortunate it hadn't chewed through my fabric stash. We put it on the fire since we knew it would have died from the poison we had put out for it and didn't want the neighbourhood cats getting sick by eating it if we threw it outside. Ian decided to check to see if there was evidence of any more mice and got the torch out to look under the sink next to the stove. He found that the floor was wet and one of the pipes was leaking. Sigh! We are often having issues with pipes leaking, whether it is ours or our upstairs neighbours. The components are not good that we can buy here and Ian said he will plan on renewing the plumbing before we move in. For now the water is turned off.

This is Lady V and the photo was taken at the end of
The following day I had to go out with Ian to the farm as he needed to give Lady V some injections of vitamin D and some minerals to help her with dodgy legs. I went back there today to put some liniment on her legs too. I managed to find one with arnica in it and another one with the deep heat effect which is what I have been using. I made her some treats with comfrey, turmeric and plantain - all good anti-infammatory stuff. She gobbled those down. Hopefully it will help her feel more comfortable. I don't think we will cure her dodgy legs but if we can stop it getting worse then that will be good.
Tellus sporting the jaunty red-neck look

More blue tinged scenes
I haven't been buying meat from out butchers just lately, we have more than enough for us at the moment from our own sheep and chickens. What we have missed though is bacon sandwiches, so I had a go at using the mutton to make bacon. It does not look like pork bacon but a deep red colour and it wasn't cut quite thin enough as it was more difficult to cut than the pork I would normally use, but it worked. It made a passable bacon and that's all I ask.
The boys making it out of their alpaca house, well just

The sheep in their winter paddock. They have finally started
eating the hay and stopped digging through the snow for the
grass underneath it
On Thursday I had to head up to Tartu to present my work in a seminar to my supervisors and colleagues on the Friday. I decided to take a different route to normal as it meant less walking, but it did mean sitting around in a little cafe for three hours. Fortunately it is just a supermarket cafe and so not expensive and one drink an hour suffices. In fact I had an early lunch there too and it only cost me €2.90 including a cup of tea. Originally the plan was to take the early bus to Riga and take the train up to Valga and then the bus, but the meeting that was booked in Riga was cancelled due to the lady having treatment at the dentist, which was worse than she anticipated. At least it meant a 15 minute lie in, which is nice at that time in the morning. A 6:55am bus always seems better than a 6:40am bus. That got me into Cesis at 8:55am and the train left at 12:30pm.
Mr. Tellus again

Looking a little forlorn and lost in the fog
I got into Valga station and noticed the Estonian train on the opposite side and even better it was going to Tartu. I hadn't realised one of their few link trains would be there- it no longer works for me the other way around rather annoyingly. So instead of getting into Tartu just before 5pm, I was there just after 3pm. My friend came and picked me up from the train station too. I had meant to work on my presentation slides on the way up but I had to sort out some questions to send ahead as they had a new format for the PhD seminars and I wasn't aware of it. It was all good preparation for my thoughts though.
Still not exactly venturing far

Well at least the fog lifted sometimes
The presentation went surprisingly well considering there was only one other PhD student there besides me and the supervisors. It meant I could skip through the background and we had some really good discussions. It was even better that they felt I had identified areas of research that were still needed. I was not sure if it was an area that had been covered somewhere within the discipline already but it hadn't, so that is exciting. They were also quite excited that my paper has had two citations already. The problem is there are so many papers written in the academic field that getting a citation, where someone quotes from your work, can sometimes be rare, unless you are very well-known and I am definitely not.
No it is not the greenhouse on fire but the lights on in the
caravan, which is inside the greenhouse and taken early in
the morning 

My friend, Edith Chenault took this photo as she was on the
right side to take it. It looks so ethereal on this snowy,
foggy day.
My trip back was easy, well it was for me. My friend who I stayed with for a couple of nights decided on an adventure to drive me home and then head back on her own. She has driven to Latvia before and came down for the felting course in August, but this was winter and she hadn't done the trip alone before. There was also the issue that the last time she came down a rock hit her oil sump and she broke down. We decided on a route that had tarmac and not a dirt road, as the roads have not been good and we found a very pretty snow covered route through Nitare. It would have been even prettier if it hadn't been foggy. My friend stayed overnight and headed back the next day. The trip didn't go quite to plan but she made it back okay, so an accomplishment.
Frosted car badge

Monday, 11 December 2017

Grandma Oh Oh strikes again!

Such a smiley face
Before you ask, I'm fine! Really I am! Just a little tightness in the muscle now. Honest! I got away lightly I know. The snows came, the snows nearly went and then it froze. Walking around on our land was fine, lots of crunchy snow and where it wasn't snow it was just thin ice that cracked as I walked over it. Or rather, what I should say is, that it was mainly thin ice, except for the bit I stood on. Last week I titled the blog, "Step by step, moving forward" Hmmm! Well this week it is more "Step by step! Whoops!" I'm not called Grandma Oh Oh for nothing, as one of my granddaughters nicknamed me. I had gone out to the land to help Ian with the sheep, collect some more vegetables that were still in clamps (piled together and covered in hay to stop them freezing) and put some cream on Aggie's foot and Veronica's legs.
And another sweetie

I didn't realise Ian had taken this photo, but this is me sorting
through the barrow load of veg. Some for the chickens and
some for us
I was doing quite well, I cleared out the chicken arks and left them to dry a bit. While I was waiting I went to collect the vegetables and was walking back to the greenhouse with a barrow load when I slipped on the ice. Ian was in the girls' alpaca house and didn't see me, so I just sat there for a while with one leg straight out in front of me and one at an uncomfortable angle. I thought that's not good. After catching my breath I moved to the side and straightened out my leg. I managed to get up and hobbled back to the greenhouse with the wheelbarrow. I was nearly there before Ian came to find out what was wrong. He had seen me walking a bit oddly. I decided it was time for a cup of tea and rest my leg.
In contemplative mood

The lambs are not so small now. Here they are with the new
feeder that Ian built. They are still interested in what bit of
grass is under the snow at the moment though
We still had the sheep to move and so I suggested we get that done before my leg tightened up too much. It involved sorting out their shelter as it still had sheepskins hanging up from when we slaughtered some earlier this year and hay needed putting in their feeder. We went over to the sheep and I had the bowl of feed to entice them out as Ian lifted the wires for them to go underneath. The sheep maybe pretty stupid most of the time, but they are not so daft when you lift the wires, they do remember where they should be. The young ones seem to be getting the hang of this moving lark though and one of this year's lambs was the first under the wire. Once one goes through the others usually follow and so I set off with the bowl. I was a bit slow but the problem was that they have got used to Ian with the bowl of feed and so they went to him rather than me. Once they were all out of their enclosure, Ian took the bowl from me and he walked them over to the paddock where they will now spend the winter.
The oldest ewe eating the salt from the salt block that Ian fixed

Determination to get to the hay here. Mari is also the one
who puts her head through the fence outside to eat the grass

A certain little alpaca is still sneaking some feeds. George
on the right occasionally still gets away with taking milk
from Chanel, who is not his mother
I still had other jobs to do, but my leg continued to tightened up, not good when I was planning a trip to Riga for three meetings at separate locations. I finished off the chickens arks by putting fresh sawdust and hay in. I also finished off sorting through the vegetables and separating them from the leaves. I had another rest before putting the animals away and ensuring that they got the treatments they needed, Vitamin D for all the girls and cream on Aggie and Veronica - then home and my leg up. I had used comfrey and plantain cream on my knee, the same stuff I use on the animals and I think it helped. Still I decided that it was not wise to go into Riga. There could have been a lot of walking and definitely some bus rides. It was okay getting on and off a bus that was stationary, but if the bus set off before I sat down as they do in the city, then I wasn't so sure my leg would hold out, so I cancelled.

Such a pretty picture. I love the colours in winter
Sunrise on a wintry morning

Peach coloured clouds
When I got back home I found out I wasn't the only one to be in the wars as we say. One of my grandsons had had an unfortunate argument with a car boot lid and lost. I had a chat with my son whilst they were waiting to be seen in A&E (accident and emergency or ER for my American friends). It is getting a bit too regular to be chatting with my sons while they are waiting for their children to be seen, my youngest son has been in a couple of times with their little one due to concerns with jaundice recently too. Fortunately nothing serious in the end for any of them. This time around the poor little chap needed a gash on his head gluing together and then he was good to go.
Frosty greenhouse

Ian found these leaves. We thought they had such an
interesting pattern
After a restless night for me it was nice to be able to lie in and get up slowly rather than rushing around getting ready for a couple of days in the city. I would have had to stay over night because I wouldn't have been able to get the bus back after the evening meeting. Instead I hobbled around the apartment a bit in the morning but gradually the ache in my ligaments subsided and just left me with the tight muscle. I am walking properly, albeit slowly. At least it did mean I got more writing done which I also needed to do. Little by little getting finished.
Ian had the snowblower out this week to clear paths, so
of course they were first to melt. the tracks to the side are
for the well, which is coming in useful again

The sun glistening off the path like
Besides writing I have also been to a conference. I unexpectedly got some local funding to go to it and a lift there, a double bonus. It was still an early start and Ian had to drive me about 25 minutes to the rendezvous for the lift, but at least it wasn't any earlier than my usual trips. The conference was on the bioeconomy, which of course influences rural areas but one thing I had forgotten about was the interaction with the scientific community to develop products. This meant a trip to the university to see their food product development department, which was quite fascinating. Such a long time since I've been in the labs, but it also brought home to me how my background is proving useful for rural development. Rural development is so much more than two farmers and a cow.
These two pictures amused me. First Tellus at the front looks
like he has something to say

then its Herkules turn

Chomping on the hay
Having a wide range of interests and a background in science is proving useful. I might not know a huge amount about each topic, but enough to get by and can hold a conversation with a range of experts. I also can make connections with the different types of knowledge and see possibilities that could potentially open up. It was so encouraging to meet someone else who could see those types of synergies too and it is not just me with some crazy ideas. It was also encouraging to meet someone working for a municipality in Lapland who was thinking in similar ways to me about how to improve regional planning and even better he was getting to put it into practice. I do hope that something comes out of all these contacts, as I still need to make some headway next year on what to do.
This was a view out of my bedroom window at the conference.
It was right by the river Daugava

A view the other way

If you look carefully you can see a hairy
growth over the wheel of this bike. I think
potatoes attempted a takeover down in our

Monday, 4 December 2017

Step by step, moving forward

The view from my window whilst writing. This was taken on
the first day of advent when the Latvians commemorate the
genocide of the Latvian people by the totalitarian communist
This week has definitely been mainly a writing week. I finished an article for an organisation and now I’m just waiting for a friend to proofread it for me. I have also continued writing another paper and a bit more on my thesis. Just plugging away, bit by bit. I at least feel like I’m in the right frame of mind for writing and it doesn’t feel like drawing blood. Maybe it’s due to the increased light levels with the recent snow or making sure I take Vitamin D, or maybe I have just suddenly switched back into academic mode, who knows!

Can you guess what Ian has been doing?
On the academic front it has been an exciting time. I notched up a second citation on my first paper for a start, which basically means that other academics have quoted from my paper in their work. It is not a huge number of citations, but then again I’m not particularly well known. It does mean though that others have thought my work was relevant to theirs and important enough to quote from, which is a satisfying feeling. It was also a quote in a report for the European Food Safety Journal on wild boar management, so even feels relevant to me. The first one I was a little surprised at, as they had interpreted what I and my co-author had written from a sociological perspective that I was not really aware of, so kind of interesting and felt a bit weird. 

A little snowed under now though
The second one on the academic front was finally getting the reviews back on the second paper. I was beginning to get really worried about this and wondering if we needed to withdraw the paper and submit it to another journal, which would have meant another long drawn out process. Anyway the reviews came back on Sunday night and they were really positive and only require me to make minor changes, nothing horrendous. It probably only needs a paragraph or two and then a bit of editing. This is such a relief, after the horrendous process with the first one where it went backwards and forwards so many times. I was so happy with the news that Ian was welcomed back home to me playing Pharrell Williams “Happy” at top volume on my phone. He kind of guessed I was in a good mood as I very rarely play music much during the day at all. 

I have been out on the land a couple of times this week. Ian got a call to say that the vet was coming to do some ultrasounds on the girls in the afternoon so he came and picked me up. The last time this particular vet came, Freddie and George were just pictures on her screen and she was enchanted to see our little fellas in the flesh- well they are rather cute. We found out this week that George and Freddie are in the top twenty names in the UK for newborn human babies. I don’t suppose folks know that they have named their babies after a couple of alpacas. Anyway it would seem that both Aggie and Mari are pregnant again, but probably not Chanel. This is a surprise as Chanel got pregnant so easily last time. This does mean that early next year we will start to mate Chanel with one of the boys, but not sure which one yet. 

Mari is pregnant
The ultrasounds would have been an easier process if Sofie, our cat, hadn’t tried to get in on the act. I lost count of the number of times we tossed her over the half door ( I hasten to add tossed her gently that is, so she could land properly). Every time she jumped back in. We couldn’t shut the doors as it would have been too dark, so we just spent the whole time, cat in, cat out, cat in, cat out, there were even a few times she nearly ended up on the end of the ultrasound scanner as she tried to rub up against the vet’s hand. Our alpacas also have a habit of chasing her, so it wasn’t safe for her to come in and so not quite sure why she was so persistent.

Snow sliding off the roof of the new alpaca house/hay store
Now that most of the veg has been brought in (we still have some under a heavy mulch such as carrots) we end up eating a lot of squash. We grew a new variety this year which has a lovely creamy flesh, but the skins are so incredibly hard, in fact they are so hard that it is almost dangerous to cut them open, so I tried an experiment. I used a method that has worked quite well with other squashes and that was to use the microwave. I pierced the skin like I have done before with spaghetti squash and set the timer. Hmmm! Well! Must make a mental note that Courgette -Tondo di Piacenza (yes it is a courgette rather than a squash but not like any I have grown before), apparently is not safe for microwaving. The bits did come off the interior of the microwave though, as I fortunately turned it off before it baked on.

Ian has been removing the snow in case it lands on the little
It is a good job that not all my cooking goes like that, as we had visitors this week. As I mentioned last week I found out there was a young couple, half Latvian and half English who were living relatively nearby and building up a farm business. They were keen to come and see our alpacas along with the lady’s brother, so I invited them over and suggested they come for a meal too. 

Although, they have been inside mainly, eating and eating
Earlier on in the day before they arrived, Ian popped back to pick me up, but first of all we finished off the shelves in our other apartment so that I could start to organise our stuff - no better word for it really, but at least I now have shelves for felting and shelves for material and it is all easily accessible - well it will be, at the minute the material is all over the living room floor in piles that look like a rainbow. I need to put them in crates so that I can see what is in them, then I am more likely to use them. After building the shelves and a quick lunch we headed out to the land

Aggies is pregnant too
They had the grand tour around, even though it had snowed. In fact we were wondering if they would manage to make it, but they have been in Latvia long enough and used to the conditions that it was not a problem. After putting the animals away we headed back to our apartment where I had pre-prepared an evening meal. We then had a great time talking about our experiences of farming in Latvia, they have a market garden and so much more productive than we are, but we share similar views on caring for the land in producing food, so plenty to talk about. I also sent them a few links and contacts that I thought would be useful.

Chanel eating through the fence. Looks like she will be
having a rendezvous with one of the boys next year
Along with writing, winter days are also time to do some pondering. A thought that occurred to me was, did we ever think that we would know what it is like to live in the Soviet Union? In some ways we have a glimpse of that today, where the truth is cloaked in lies. Hidden in plain site to the point where it is sometimes hard to tell who is telling the “truth and how much of the truth. We are living in times when a President feels it is okay to openly spread lies and hit back at those who point it out. Yes there is a problem with terrorism, but it is not a Muslim issue, it is not a nationality issue, it is a terrorism issue. Terrorists are many different colours, many different faiths and none and turn up in many different places. They are outsiders who have learnt to hate, who desire a “pure” state, whatever that means to them and are prepared to kill for it. 

A chilly week at times, but the pond still keeps flowing, so
the water table must be high
Our society is breeding mistrust, breeding acceptance of half-truths and outright lies and it needs to stop. We need to stop it in our own lives. We need to check and re-check posts we want to pass on because it fits with our own beliefs of the way things are. We need to look for the truth, even if that truth is uncomfortable and doesn’t fit with our worldview. We need to be seekers of the truth and that doesn’t stop at our own religious beliefs, it may start there, but it must carry on into society to search out the truth in our daily lives and those around us. After contemplating these points, Ian sent me a link to a Guardian article on how we get sucked into debates where we want to score points and instead we should be more mindful of how we interact with others and not just purveyors of the truth. 

The snow has been coming and going this week
“Yet another sign you’re trapped in the Vortex is the phenomenon that’s been labelled “position creep”, in which otherwise sane people adopt, then feel obliged to fight for, the sort of black-and-white, nuance-free stances they’d never defend in calm conversation over cups of tea offline.”

Now that’s my line of thinking, there is so much that could be solved over a nice cup of tea.