Monday, 26 February 2018

Whirling, dancing diamonds

Ice crystal tree in the morning sun
It sounds so pretty to say it: the scene outside our window this morning was a whirling, dancing shower of diamonds, sparkling in the early morning sun and it looked amazing too, but - and there had to be a but didn't there - it meant it was chilly and windy, with the wind sending the fine, dry powdery snow careering off the rooftops. The low evening sun now gives a warm glow to the snow but the temperature is dropping rapidly with the sinking sun, already it is -12C out on our balcony and the sun has not even set yet. Meanwhile in England, apparently in some places the shops are empty of teacakes, here life goes on, although the workmen might not be working outside if it drops too low and the children might get to stay home from school.
Snow blind

Cabinet regulations stipulate that children up to the age of 12 years should not attend an educational establishment if the temperature is lower than -20C degrees and children from the age of 13 when the air temperature is lower than -25C degrees. (LSM: Big freeze ahead for Latvia)
Pine trees in the snow
Pathways cut for the girls to get out and about in
I went out to the land with Ian once this week, but he brought me back straight after I had helped him sort out the girls. I had made up some dry shampoo to dust on their fleeces where they had got oily from previous treatments. They needed their fleeces as fluffy as possible to prepare for the drop in temperatures. I put just a bit of cream on Chanel, but didn't want to use too much, otherwise she might end up worse in this cold weather. At least the cold might kill any mites off, or at least put them into hibernation for a bit.
But do they go outside? Ian made this new feeder to entice
them out, but someone worked out, they don't need to go out

Mari's fleece from last year, that Ian is busy preparing to spin
It was a bit too cold to sit in the caravan and work, it's not so bad if you are more active, but I needed to write, which is why Ian brought me back. Instead I went to our other apartment, which I have done a couple of times this week, to light the fire. This is partly out of necessity and partly because our neighbour below is doing some renovations. I half wonder if he knows we are going and is getting some renovations done to get back at us for those early years when we did a lot of renovations. It mustn't have been much fun for him at times. Having said that, I don't think he is really the revengeful sort of person and is probably just getting on with his own much needed work.

Freddie hiding
I got the last of my papers written to a point where it now needs input from my supervisor and I got the brochure finished for the Latvian Alpaca Adventure (you can see that here). I even got a couple of outlines for abstracts for a conference done. So all in all not a bad week from the writing point of view. I am now at the frustrating point where I am waiting for replies. I can of course get on with writing my thesis, but it feels a bit pointless until I know for sure the direction I can take it, as the thesis is entirely based on my published works and to do that they need publishing, or at least to a point where they are accepted by the academic journals.
I love the different layers in this photo, with the most frosted
at the back
Untouched snow - until you look closely that is and see the
trail of footprints
With a bit of time on my hands, I got another cupboard sorted out. I even emptied out a few clothes from my wardrobe to make room for a hanging shelf to organise the space better for when we have less room. Now of course all the extra stuff is sitting in the hallway waiting for a new home. The more I sort, the more cluttered the place seems to get. I did find a nice pair of boots though, I think the reason they were put to the back of the cupboard is that they let in water, so I will take them with me to the UK to get them fixed. I know it seems a bit of a trek and there are places here in Latvia, but not in the same village, so not so easy as popping them in my suitcase - I might need them after all.
Natural lacework
This will be the last winter we see this scene, as this is from
the apartment we have sold
Time on my hands also means more time to do some thinking, it feels like a long time since I have had time to let my mind wander. Mind you at the moment it seems to be wandering onto the practical aspects of moving into an even smaller place and trying to figure out such things as how to fit our things in and what do we really need. The kitchen is narrower in the other apartment and has less workspace, so we could do with something to take the place of our table, that will not fit in. We will need it eventually, so don't want to get rid of it - so that is another problem in itself. The solution in the kitchen is probably a mobile kitchen island with a drop leaf on it, but that will need constructing from something and I don't think we have anything suitable to construct it out of - or have we?
This will be the view from my office window

A view of the skiers too on the cross country ski trail
My faith took a hammering last year. It was nothing I can put my finger on, but only to be expected at some time. I remember reading a few times about the dark night of the soul, when God seems so far away and was considered part of the Christian journey. I felt at times like I was barely hanging on by my fingertips and that is not a comfortable feeling. I wouldn't say that everything is right yet, but I have the feeling of walking out on a day when you know the winter is on its way out, the signs are rising, the sun returning, but life is still buried in its winter sleep. Something is stirring. So I hold on and keep plodding on, trying to figure out my place in the world.

Winter is so beautiful when the sun is out, that there are just so many photo opportunities
A view from our smaller apartment

Love the atmosphere of this photo, but shows
one of the issues we may have of parking

Frozen in time

I think they may have some help keeping this
driveway clear

Eating, eating, eating! You can see Chanel all covered
in frost

Brencis meditating on life

Mr. Herkules is looking particularly sprightly these days

Sunbathing as you do

Mr. P does photograph much easier in the winter. Look
at the red highlights he has

Monday, 19 February 2018

Everything changes and nothing changes

The sun has melted some of the snow off the oak tree
Well today, as normal, I am sat in the apartment that we have called home for the last ten years writing this blog, and yet the apartment is no longer ours. We signed some papers today to sell the apartment to an American family. Nothing changes yet though, as they are heading back to America later this week and we will gradually sort out and move out over the coming month or two. The paperwork is more a formality that needed to be done while they were in the country. The difference to us, is that this is now real, not just an idea. Now we have a proper timetable to work to. It is the slow closing of another chapter in our lives.
Ice-cream anyone?

Last week's frost on our orchard garden
We still have our other apartment of course and so we won't be out on the streets. The first and most pressing thing to do is to create more storage space. It is going to be tight for a while until we sort out what we are doing about a cabin and even then that will only be small, compared to this apartment we are vacating. I guess it doesn't help that house prices dropped so precipitously shortly after we moved here and never really recovered from that point. Still that's life and we are blessed in so many other ways here, for example with our land, alpacas, barn, caravan etc.
Iced flower heads

Ian has been having his morning coffee sat outside, some
It feels like we have been backwards and forwards to the big town this week, as we had to take a trip to the hospital for me to have an ultrasound. This was something that the gynaecologist wanted me to have after she visited our village in November of last year. It takes time sometimes to get around to these things! I have no idea what it was for exactly, but that comes with the territory when there are language barriers and I couldn't be bothered with getting more information. We are kind of used to it. I think the ultrasound was fine from what little I understood. It is a good job that we are conversant in gestures though, as sometimes that is the only way to communicate without being constantly on the phone. It works and sometimes it quite funny trying to work out what people mean. At least today we had an official translator for the legal stuff, now that wouldn't work with gestures of just using a phone so well.

A bit different from the frostier scenes last week
Some of our alpacas have been giving us a little cause for concern. First one of our youngsters, Freddie, doesn't seem to move his leg properly. He seems to swivel it as if there is something wrong with a joint and yet he doesn't seem to be in pain. Ian was concerned enough to decide he needed to see our vet. Since he is only small we decided to take him to her rather than drag her out to us. Well at least we thought he was only small, it turns out he was a bit bigger than we anticipated but still small enough to get in the car and sit on Ian's lap - well kind of. He is more fleece than anything, but still he took up a lot of space.
Mari is always up for the challenge of finding the food at
the back of the feeder. Is it any wonder she had to be scalped
last year to get the straw out of her hair

Not a good photo, but a picture of Ian with
Freddie at the vets. We were joking that
maybe we should bring him again later on
in the year as he was certainly attracting some
interest. You can't see the row of ladies all
lined up just out of shot, cooing over him
He was quite calm in the car and even when we took him into the vets and people were coming and going and fussing over him, he was still quite calm. We were quite surprised. The problem is that he wouldn't really walk about much, which means our vet couldn't see what the problem was with his leg. Like us, she couldn't find any painful spots or anything that seemed swollen, when she examined his leg. In the end we put him on a lead and took him outside, which Ian didn't really want to do because he hasn't been halter trained yet. He wasn't terribly happy about that and he jumped around and kicked on the icy car park. We were worried he was going to do more damage to his leg and so Ian got hold of him. For the first time ever that I know of, he squealed his displeasure and started spitting. I don't blame him though. Once inside again he calmed down fortunately. So we still don't really know what the problem is. He has been given some vitamin D and other bone and ligament type medicines to be going on with. Maybe it will improve when he gets on the grass, at least we are reasonably sure he isn't in pain anyway.
Winter sunrise

Freddie with his mum, Chanel
The other alpaca of particular concern is his mum, Chanel. She also has a problem with the same leg, which seemed to start after we got back from taking Freddie to the vet. Typical! This time we found a hot spot though and her foot was definitely swollen. She is on antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory. She now seems to be walking on her foot better, but she is a little shivery. She is quite a sweaty alpaca and we think this might be causing her problems in our current cold weather. Another issue with her is that whereas Aggie and Lady V seem to be responding well to the magic cream, it is hard to say with her due to her dark skin. It is easier to see if the red spots are healing on a white alpaca, not so easy on Chanel. She also seems to have a problem with lots of crusty skin and we are beginning to think she is one of those zinc dependent alpacas. The newer feed has less of that but more balanced in other things. We need to work out a way of getting more zinc into her and then see if that helps with her general skin problems. Sigh! At least the boys seem okay.
Aggie enjoying some sunshine and actually outside the
alpaca house.

My ski tracks from last week are still visible
In between all that I continue with my writing. It is a funny process for me. I always seem to be getting somewhere when it seems to throw up some missing aspect that needs addressing. When I address that, it then seems to be even further away from being complete. At least at the moment I feel like it is all coming back together now. I hope one full day will see it pretty much ready to go to my supervisor for looking at. Then I will probably get the other one back to do more work on. And so it goes, everything changes and nothing changes in that respect too. At least one piece of work should be finished by tomorrow and that is the brochure for our Latvian Alpaca Adventure. It has taken perhaps a bit too long, but better late than never. So watch out for the news later on this week.

Lady V. Despite her age, she still produces some lovely
So that's about it for this week, Ian has been spinning Lady V's wool in the evenings and we now have a collection of hanks lying on the back of the settee as you do. I actually read a real book. A non-fiction book at that. It was good to be reading again. It is a book by someone I "met" through this blog, called Bill or William as his book says. The book is called Jim Wrenn (by William Guerrant) and is based on a news article he saw about a lady who wanted a new home for her children because she couldn't look after them any more. He imagined what happened next. It really emphasised the precariousness of life before social safety nets and proper working conditions in factories, a situation that sadly many people across the world still face today, even though this was set in the early part of twentieth century America. I enjoyed the book particularly as it wasn't a rosy story, it was one that did not gloss over the hardships of life, especially in a rural farming community.  I look forward to the next book, as I understand that Bill is in the writing process too.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Normality restored

Winter wonderland
Just kidding! Normality! What's that? Having said that, it has been a quieter week. There was a trip to pick up some roofing sheets to get ready for putting the caravan outside but under permanent shelters as soon as the weather improves - although that will not be any time soon by the look of it, but it could be when I go away, so it is best to be prepared. Another reason for the trip was also because the horse box needed to go for it's technical (trailers also need to have roadworthiness tests here), so it was just a matter of going from the testing station to the builder's merchant close by. It therefore saved a journey another day.
Lots of paths need to be kept clear by Ian. I don't get out so
often as writing on the computer in temperatures of just above
zero is not too much fun. 

I love the laciness of the trees 
Having said that, some like to sit outside in it. 
We were a bit worried about the brakes on the horse box because they have been freezing up. We now leave the horse box parked without the brakes on, to stop them freezing onto the wheels - a problem we had last year. This time though we were worried that they would freeze in the off position and not stop the box during the test. We were relieved that it wasn't a problem at the test station and it passed all the tests. The problem was when we got to the builder's merchant. As we got out of the car there was a strong smell of rubber and the wheel was quite hot. In doing the test on the brakes, they had frozen on. Fortunately the heat unfroze them and on the way back it wasn't a problem. Mind you Ian stopped several times to check.
Our wood pile and hay stack are disappearing in the snow

You can see the sore patch under Aggie's chin that needs the
magic cream. At least the lump now seems to have
disappeared from last year's issue with the tooth abscess
I've had to go out to the land twice this week to apply the magic cream to the girls. The milder weather seems to have resulted in an early onset of the mite issues that we get plagued with from time to time. The magic cream is just comfrey and plantain infused olive oil with a few essential oils in it and that seems to do the trick. The girls loved it on the first day as the cream was still warm from having beeswax added that morning. You could almost hear them go "Hmmmmmm! Arrrrrhhhh!" I think they may have been a bit disappointed the next time it was applied, as it was much colder.
Freddie smiling

We had blue skies and sunshine too, just not on the day that
I was out on the land of course
Ieva Prane's workshop
My next trip was to our Latvian felter on the outskirts of Riga to discuss a project for the next felting course in June. It is exciting to see what she is planning and we discussed how she can best use her skills to encourage people to develop their design work. We didn't manage to finish the article but at least we got a feel for the project and the potential it has, so I am looking forward to seeing the finished product and to see what it looks like on. On the way back to pick Ian up from the caravan where I had left him at lunchtime I saw a racoon dog and a deer on the road not far from our land.
Our project with an alpaca fleece fringe
I love the colour of this little oak tree that has clung to its
leaves all

It is a good job the snow isn't as high as it was about 8 years
ago, our sign would have disappeared too
Much of the week I have continued with my writing. I actually feel like I am seeing the end of the tunnel and it shouldn't take much more to actually get them finished, which is a rather nice feeling. I am still waiting for a reply to the last one I submitted and will probably hear in the next week or two. My supervisor and I have even started to discuss when I defend my PhD, although I do have to get some sort of conclusion to these papers first though. Preliminarily though we are talking about a pre-defence in September. This is the time when the glitches in the thesis should be ironed out and is the hardest part. Then it goes in for a period of a re-write and hopefully defended in November. If all goes well on the day I get my doctorate. Well that's the plan! Let's see first how things progress - as the Seto people in Estonia say.
There's a pond in there somewhere 
Eyre out and about in the snow

Brencis spent sometime reflecting on his own this week. He
must have had a fight with Tellus before Ian arrived to let
them out.
One of the nice things about our life at the moment is the access to good food. We know where the majority of our food comes from, since we have watched it grow. I have even started off onions and peppers to get a head start in the spring. The onions should be fairly hardy but the pepper just seem to take too long to come to maturity and so starting them early might help and we will keep them inside for as long as possible. We did try overwintering some but not sure if they have enjoyed the cool conditions in our other apartment.
Preparation for next year's tasty Latvian potatoes. I am
always so sad as I pile the potatoes onto Ian's plate and
then put a small amount on mine. I do love Latvian potatoes
One day our evening meal consisted of our own lamb, dried rhubarb, dried tomatoes, dried chanterelles, herbs, beans, peas, onions in a nice rich stew, all from our land. You might wonder at the dried rhubarb but it adds a tang a bit like adding lemon to a meal and cheaper as it means we don't have to buy lemons. Another day we had a go with Rocky Mountain Oysters - I will let you google that one, but suffice to say they were surprisingly tasty. I have also started making our own chocolate bars. In essence they are really more like a very rich cocoa butter icing I suppose, but it hits the spot, is cheaper than a bar of dark chocolate and we don't have as much problems getting the ingredients as we do trying to get dark chocolate in our village.
Mr. P is much easier to photograph these days

 Low fat, low calorie Ice-cream! Yum
I suppose I should add that all this good food has not done me so much good over the last year and some of my weight has crept back on. To be fair it tends to leap on when I go away and not drop off afterwards so readily, especially in the winter months when I am much less active - fear of ice does curtail activity to some extent. It has now got to the stage where it seems to be interfering with blood sugar levels again, so the weight has to come off and I need to sort out those things that affect the levels the most and cut down on them. Heh ho! Still at least I have more idea than I did when I first started measuring the sugar levels, what does and doesn't affect them. Dark chocolate is still okay - in moderation of course, okay in a loooot of moderation!
A bit of a wobbly start to the first skiing session of the

That's better on a roll now

You may have heard of slow food! Or slow fashion maybe!
Well this is slow skiing aka Nordic skiing with Grandma Oh Oh!