Tuesday, 27 March 2018

A change of scenery

The boys sunbathing in the snow
I know it is probably showing my age, but it still amazes me what can be accomplished through the internet at times. It is so easy to moan about all the bad things that are achieved that it can be forgotten the good that can also happen. I was doing some embroidery on a felt piece and at the same time chatting to a guy in Uganda about permaculture and farming. He asked me if I knew how to grow watermelons as he hadn't grown them before. I haven't had any success as they require a long hot season but I knew someone in the States who I thought did. I sent a message off in my American friend's direction and within half an hour had a reply with instructions on how to grow them, which I duly passed on of course. The internet has been a great source of inspiration and knowledge for us, since there is so much that can be researched on the net. Of course we also have to learn how to sift the good from the bad, but it is often worth it.
Lady V looking very regal as usual

We do feed our animals, honestly. There is also
some rather nice fresh hay to eat
I have spent time unpacking the boxes we took to our other apartment last week and then re-packing boxes with more stuff from the apartment we live in. At least the unpacking didn't takes as long as I thought it would. So far it is working okay and I am finding homes for everything, which is encouraging. I also got the cellars sorted and vacuumed at the one we are moving into - good job we have a heavy duty vacuum cleaner to tackle the thick layer of dust/soil that was in that cellar. The new owners of our apartment had arranged for someone to measure up for a new kitchen, as we plan on taking ours with us. This is partly for cupboard space, as there is a lack in our other apartment and partly because we spent quite a bit on it and it was made by our friend to order. Hopefully he will be back soon for a holiday and therefore help us to take it down. It helps when the person who constructed it helps to take it apart.
A downy birch tree

George is getting quite fluffy now around his face
and we are obviously going to face the same issues
we had with Mari when it came to shearing time
of how to shear around the cheeks and under his
Some of my waiting this week, that I mentioned last week, is over, as I heard that my application for the job  has been rejected without an interview. I wasn't really anticipating getting an interview and so wasn't too distraught, but it would have been convenient if I had, as the interview date was while I was still in the UK and it was one of the reasons why I took a chance and applied. I was encouraged though as some of my friends sent me messages of support when I told them they wouldn't be needed as referees.
Even though the snow is still down on the ground
you can tell spring is on its way due to the redness
of the branches of the trees. We also heard the first
cranes of the year and saw some swans

It can be a struggle at times to get
my work done with a certain little
boy giggling in the background
I don't think my supervisor was too upset that I didn't get the job either, as I think he was worried that I wouldn't have time to finish my PhD. I mentioned last week that I was also waiting for him to finish reading my papers I had written, which unfortunately he didn't have chance to do as he was at a conference. However, the good news is that he did get an unexpected opportunity to submit a paper with a faster turnaround. He would like me to contribute to that paper too and that would give me the third paper I need to finish. The problem is that it needs submitting before the end of this week, which doesn't give us a lot of time and it is a bit inconvenient as I am currently in the UK visiting grandchildren. I am pleased I did get a good start during my flight over and in the morning during a quiet spot of yet more waiting.

Mind you sometimes my little
grandson is engaged in other
activities like getting to grips
with car racing using the console.
He did choose a rather nice
purple car
I had a meeting with a professor today who was visiting the university in the city where my son lives. I have been using her work to analyse the situation in the villages that I have been studying and so it was great to be able to chat about my findings and encouraging to hear someone who has been thinking along the same lines I have in terms of development in rural places. I didn't feel like I had to start at the beginning to explain where I felt the challenges and opportunities in these villages lay, she understood where my ideas were going and agreed more work needs doing in the areas where I am doing the research, I still just need the funding to keep it going though.
Ian asked for captions for this on Facebook and one
of our friends put ""My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Unaccustomed as I am ..." I thought it was very funny

Not the tree in the city but out on our land which
often has the type of lichen that shows our air
quality is very good
After my meeting my son's partner came to pick me up but she needed to get a blood test doing (nothing urgent), so we went off to a walk-in-centre. It was not a problem for me to look after the kids while she went in, but what we didn't anticipate is the waiting time before she even got to go in. After two top-ups for the car parking charges, one drink time, one snack time, a drawing game, a drawing squares game, playing with playdoh, a walk outside looking at lichen and maple leaves later, she finally got to go in. It wouldn't have been so bad, but the school age granddaughter had an unexpected day off as the electric and heating was off at school (there may have been some dancing of joy in the morning from a certain young lady and despite the teasing she assures she wasn't responsible for the electric fault).
Mr. Herk looking good these days. His hair is keeps
growing back so well now.

We spent our first full afternoon in the park
and as you can see it was warm enough for
an ice cream
It is nice having little grandchildren but it is also nice having a nine year old step-granddaughter who has a curiosity about life. We've talked about all sorts of topics, discussed complicated words like Ostinato - a musical term that had my son and I looking up musical terms because she could remember it was to do with rhythm and began with an O but had forgotten the actual word and we hadn't got a clue. I've already baked a cake with  an orange icing drizzled on the top with her or rather supervised as she baked, as well as played the waiting game at the walk-in-clinic today. While outside we also discussed making maple syrup from the sap of maple trees and using lichens as an indicator for air quality. She is quite the bright spark.

Getting his vitamin D. The days are sure getting
longer now in Latvia. I am quite surprised here in
the UK when it seems to be dark for longer, even
taking into account the clock change
Ian is home alone looking after the alpacas once again. I did go out a couple of times before travelling to the UK to help sort out a few things and check up on the skin issues we have been having. We decided to give Chanel the heavy-duty stuff to try ensure the mite issue is well and truly under control. She has stabilised but we cannot risk a deterioration while I'm away. Our snow is gradually going so Ian is still on the winter jobs of cutting trees and taking the alpacas for a walk. Ian often times his walk to coincide with one of the buses going past our land, as the driver always gives an enthusiastic wave as he goes past. The bus driver even seems to make sure the passengers knows they might see Ian walking them, as occasionally he has been seen pointing out the alpacas to someone on the bus.
I had to take a picture of the ivy on the rock, we
don't have that in Latvia or at least it is fairly
rare, but here in the UK it is everywhere

Spring is obviously further on in the UK than it
is in Latvia and the celandines are already out
The nicer weather over the weekend, meant that we did have some visitors. Typical how they wait until I go away, I try not to take it too personally (only joking). Talking of visitors we have had lots of virtual visitors too, both to our website as people begin to search for things to do in Latvia on their holidays but also to a video I posted online about two years ago. The video shows our younger girls pronking around the paddock. Pronking is a technical term for the stiff legged way they bound about sometimes, antelopes are known to do something similar. It seems that it appeared on searches after someone on American Idol said they wanted to win the competition so they could realise their dream of owning an alpaca herd. Last time I looked the video was up to 17, 680 views - a bit different to the views we normally get. You can see the video below

Monday, 19 March 2018

Waiting, waiting

Waiting for the snow to go
I seem to have spent most of the week waiting for someone or something. I started off the week waiting for the bus to get home. Ian collected me from the bus station to take me out to the land as we were expecting visitors. A family we had met to see their alpacas were making a return visit after a trip out to Sigulda. So after a quick change into suitable clothing, in other words out of my city clothes, and a quick trip to the bakery we set off. Well we waited and waited, we even gave in and ate some of the pastries we had bought specially - or more likely just in case they wanted a cuppa and something to eat.
Slowly but surely

You can see the frozen puddle though and it is only
the sun that is causing the melt, not the air
temperature, which has rarely got above freezing after
the mega melt earlier on in the week
We had just about given up on them and thought they must have found the roads too bad when they turned up. It wasn't the best of days for a sightseeing trip because, although it had warmed up quite a bit, that meant a mega melt, hence the bad roads. It was a very brief trip, as they had to get back to their animals and it was another hour and a half at least and that's on a good day. I hadn't even taken my computer so I hadn't been able to get on with any work while waiting.
Ice from our pond. Ian has to keep chipping away to get
water out of it.

There is more snow out on the land as it is slightly higher
in altitude, although even here it is going
I have also been waiting for my supervisor to report back to me on a paper. In the end I had to send him a list of things that needed doing and a priority list to get something done. I can't say I blame him as he is pretty busy, but it doesn't help me to get things finished. At least I got an abstract in on time for a conference, so that was one step forward. Mind you, he will probably end up presenting it as I won't be able to afford to go. Sigh! Still it was nice while the funding lasted to get to go to some rather nice places.
It is melting faster on our south facing ski hill. We still call it
a ski hill, even though there has only ever been one
person ski down it the whole time we have known it.
We don't know who it was, but the tracks were there

Peekaboo! With the sunnier weather, Ian has locked the
girls and their youngsters out to make them get outside in
the sunshine
I am still waiting for further news from the paper that has been submitted. I know it is now with the Special Edition editor, so hopefully that is a step in the right direction, but I haven't heard any more than that. It is so frustrating, as I could do with knowing whether that paper is complete or I have to do more work on it. It feels like the end is in sight but still a long way off and there could be a few twists and turns along the way. Still at least with all this waiting it has meant I could do some more felting and more preparation for our move.
A needle fetled picture with embroidery

Time outside
Freddie playing twister with mum

George out for a walk with his mum
Part of the preparations for our move meant tackling the cellar. I had to do that in two stints as it was pretty dusty. It was amazing what was down there. Lots of cardboard that had seen better days, some collapsible crates that were rather handy, three watering cans (why do we have three watering cans in our cellar I may hear you ask? No idea actually! One I could understand, but three!!!!), lots of bike bits, an overhead projector (anyone want one?), bags of soil, a gas powered bbq, electrical and plumbing bits and bobs, a folding camping chair, some gardening tools and a bag of something that was later identified as clay. At least we have plenty of room in our rubbish bin to get rid of some stuff, it usually takes us ages to fill a bin. I have had to cancel a collection several times because it is just not worth it.
George is getting a lot of fleece now, especially around his

Anyone need any coat hangars, I have a few

The boys like to get outside, apart from Herkules who is
probably still inside eating
Of course we recycle what we can, so all the old cardboard will go in the garden to suppress weeds and then we put manure on the top of that to make no dig beds, so that's actually quite handy. The bag of clay had me flummoxed for ages though, until I realised that it was the clay that I had used to show Latvian children the Derbyshire tradition of Well Dressings. The clay is spread out on a board and then flowers (or just the petals depending on which tradition you follow) are used to make a picture that is then used to decorate a well, at least that was the case in the old days, in more recent times they are purely decorations.
Tracks in the snow from daily walks with Ian

Mr. P enjoying the sunshine
Ian surprised me last week and said that he could bring the trailer back home and we could move somethings up to the other apartment. Well I waited and waited, in the end I asked when he was going to do that. He told me it was up to me. Communication is a wonderful thing when it works. Hahaha! Well it is getting kind of close to the time when I am off to the UK, so there isn't much time to get anything done before I set off, so we needed to get our act together. Despite the mega melt earlier on last week, it has been pretty cold here but fortunately without the snow, well not much more than a dusting anyway. However it is forecast to warm up and so that won't help with the state of the roads again and so we decided to get some things shifted today.
I think this might be a bit big for a Christmas tree in the

Sunset outside our other apartment
We currently live on the third floor (British second floor) and that feels like a lot of steps to carry boxes down, especially when we have as many books as we do. We took two bookcases and a writing bureau too. The heavier furniture will have to wait until we have some help of the younger, stronger kind. At least the other apartment is a first floor one (British ground floor) and so there are just a few steps up and so that stage was much easier, especially as my knee was giving me some gip (trouble) on the way down the stairs. Upstairs it is fine, but down not so much.
From the macro to the micro view. These berries are still
hanging on in there after the winter

It was only possible to do the moving in the morning for two reasons. Firstly we were shattered from going up and down the stairs, but also the roads were melting, even though it was cold and that would mean it would be difficult to get the horse box onto the land. After picking up my lunch and laptop Ian dropped me back off at the other apartment before heading off to the animals. I spent most of the afternoon first cleaning the furniture and then filling them up from the numerous boxes we had brought in. I probably only sorted through about a third, if that. So I guess that will be my job again tomorrow. I do know that no further work will be done on my paper as my supervisor is away at a meeting. Oh well!

It amused me to see that some folks in the UK actually had more snow than we do. I guess that is what happens when the Beast from the East (or mini beast in this case) meets the damp atmosphere of the UK. The laments over the length of this winter reminded me of a poem I wrote about 8 years ago, so here you go!

I really like this view of our land
The Winter Sleep
The blanket lies white upon the ground
So deep,
Muffling sound
Hard to believe
What lies beneath
Colour locked in bulbs
So deep
Waiting in their earthly dreams
For warmth to seep from above
To awaken and stretch
Their dress of velvet cloth
Refreshing drab senses
Dulled by the long winter months
Lethargy peels off
Hope arises
Winter loses its grip.

Ian has been thinning out the trees again this week. That
job will have to finish by the end of the month when tree
cutting season finishes so the birds can nest

Next season's firewood. We will need more this year
since we will be heating our own apartment and not relying
on the communal heating system

Sofie out for a stroll

Well someone's been busy

A sunbathing Brencis

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Back home again!

This is the nearest I get to doing the garden these days.
Unearthing beets from clamps, well what was left of them
after the voles had noshed on them. Amazingly some leaves
were still green though under their bed of hay. I also
scattered wood ash and soot on the beds to help them melt.
I was back on the trail again with another trip into Riga when I started writing this blog. I went in on the bus from one of the big towns so that I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn and spend all day wandering around Riga with not much to do. I did try to organise some meetings but they didn't work out and I don't do shopping if I can help it, so that wasn't an option. It also meant that Ian could get some supplies from a large DIY place and a small mini-greenhouse so we can start off seedlings in the big greenhouse. As I mentioned I was working on this blog while on the bus and so I wasn't taking much notice of the scenery, until one point when I suddenly realised that the landscape I was looking at had very little snow. It was quite shocking to have gone from a scene of white to one only speckled here and there. There were also lots of obviously rotten hay bales in the fields as they looked rather flat. The bad weather over the last year had not been good for them obviously.

This was stencilled on the wall of my hostel room, which
seems pretty relevant at the moment
This trip involved an overnight stop, as I wasn't able to catch a bus home after the event I attended. I booked into a hostel that was described as clean and had a good review. I was very pleasantly surprised. The owner gave me a brief introduction to the small hostel - I think there was only about five bedrooms with a small kitchen area. It was perfect and beautifully decorated. It was also blissfully quiet, despite being only a few minutes walk away from the train and bus stations. The owner and I also spent some time talking about Latvia and the problems of living in the countryside. It's always good to hear the perspectives of Latvians on the topic. I would definitely recommend the Green Cat hostel to anyone wanting an inexpensive stay in Riga,  especially as they have a kettle with tea and coffee available. That wins hands down over having breakfast available to me. Breakfast can be bought in easily, carrying a kettle around not so much.

Is it spring yet?
The meeting was interesting, especially as I have said for a long time that artists and storytellers are needed in development, only this was in the urban context. When artists move in is often one of the reasons that places become gentrified. The impact of artists is also something that would benefit rural areas, to open up the possibilities of what can be done. It often needs outside innovative ideas to stimulate the process, although it also has to be done with sensitivity to the people already there. It was good to hear of how these processes happen and maybe we can make that work in our village too. Maybe!

This young lady is starting to get noisy and demanding like
her mother. Not a good trait
It was also nice to be able to contribute to the discussions and draw out something from my observations of activists who I likened to spinning tops. They often spin so fast and are so busy that they run out of energy or they spin off in different directions. I suggested they needed time to reflect on what they had done to refocus on what they valued and that would help them regain energy and courage to carry on with a better focus on what is important. It is too easy to get engrossed in doing and forget what is important, sometimes it can't be helped but often it is unnecessary. I guess that is my advantage of being older than most of them there. One lady agreed with me and mentioned that focussing on values is always important.

Tracks in the snow
The good news this week is that the car is back on the road and functional. I had to go on the bus to collect it, so it is a good job that compared to some rural areas of Europe our bus services are okay, not perfect but fine for this sort of thing. The problem with the car was a stuck air inlet valve - at least that is what I understood and it appears to have been the problem for the last three years, because the usual issues that we have when the weather starts to warm up have also stopped. We also had a rattle that started after we got the car back of course, but that seems to have disappeared once Ian tightened up some wheel nuts. I am beginning to wonder if it is something to do with the extremes of temperatures we have here that seems to work some nuts loose, as Ian is not negligent when he works on our car. Well that and the dire state of our rural roads around here. Anyway, all is well and we are mobile again.

Chewing on life
This week has been a bit of a frustrating week from the point of view that I haven't been able to get on with much academic writing because I am waiting for replies and responses from others. I did at least get a reply from one supervisor about an abstract for a conference and he told me to just submit it, so that was easy. I must be getting the hang of throwing in the right words here and there to make it sound relevant to the discipline I am submitting the abstract too …. errr I mean I must be getting better at carefully crafting what I write these days. Whatever is happening, it is getting faster and easier to write abstracts for conferences.

It's a hard life
Another milestone this week was completing a job application for a large Christian charity. I don't expect to even get an interview really, but it was an interesting and helpful process personally. For one it got my CV up-to-date and helped me to understand the process of how to present, what after all, is a rather eclectic background to say the least. The other helpful aspect was to help me clarify what role my faith still plays in everything that I do. It is still important, even though it felt like I was wading through treacle last year. My faith shapes how I think and what I feel is important. It provides me with the motivation to do the most good that I can for the sake of others. That is not to belittle the inputs of others, but it is what motivates me the most. It was certainly an interesting and timely process to go through. Ideally, I would like to stay in academia, I love it, but I am finding it hard to find the right place because I haven't finished my PhD yet and until then I cannot apply for postdoc places. If that means me setting off in a new direction, well so be it. I know I can adapt and I love new challenges.

There are loads of these little creatures
crawling about on the snow now it is
beginning to melt. It is amazing how they
survive the winter. Mind you, they are in for
a shock as later on this week it is set to get
cold again and there might not be much snow
cover left to protect them.
We got to make a return visit to some folks who had been to see our alpacas previously, one is from the UK, his partner is Latvian but worked in the UK and then there was her brother. Well at least we did get the chance to visit once we found the place. Their Facebook page didn't help as the map only showed the village but they were miles outside of that. I rang and the lady sent me a map by text, but for some reason it first wanted to send us across the middle of a snowy field, so we decided to ignore that and go back to a road we had seen that seemed to take us in the general direction and hope the mapping software would work out a different route, which it did fortunately. Their house was in the middle of absolutely nowhere down a long forest track and was a very scenic route on a lovely cold, crisp, sunny day.

I attempted to ski again this week. The snow has been
melting though and the ski track was either rather slippy
for my liking and in random places the snow would give
way. After two rather slow circuits I gave up.
They now run a market garden, but of course apart from the greenhouse, which currently houses chickens for the winter, there was not much to see of their garden as it was under all the snow. We did get to meet their goats, sheep and geese and spend lots of time talking over wonderful soup, tea and cakes. We really enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine through the windows which overlooked their land. They are certainly an innovative and hardworking group and the nesting boxes for their chickens are designed to stop the chickens eating eggs. This is something that set Ian thinking for working out how to stop ours. Some of our hens are intermittent egg eaters but there are a few regulars who will be for the pot soon.

Chanel has improved slightly this last week. I put some different cream on her legs, a natural Latvian recipe this time. It should certainly help the crustiness of the skin and has the added advantage of an antiseptic element to it, which is not in mine. Mine has a more anti-inflammatory and tissue healing type of action. Ian also gave her some more Ivermectin and will repeat that for a few weeks. Mari has also improved, but she usually doesn't require such aggressive intervention to heal her skin.

I sometimes put leftover bits of meat in a box
in the fridge for the cats and of course I label
the box, well sometimes! This label seems to
have landed in the right place. Sofie and Eyre
went for their vaccinations this week, they
weren't particularly thrilled to see the nice vet. 
I actually got some more felting done this week. I started on a bag, but it still needs quite a bit of work done on it. The fibres I used are not the best quality, but they should be fine for a bag. It is part of the process of working out what to do with fibres that are not so good for scarves and hats. I was trying to see if the fibres would felt properly or not, but it did end up as a bit of a cobweb bag which of course will not really do and so I shall have to work on it some more. I will also add some embroidery to it as well.

Freddie on his first walk outside the paddock

One of the features of our marriage is that we very, very rarely argue. However, we often sulk or just do not communicate well at times. I used to write a letter when I got really frustrated as it allowed me to write what was on my mind and then work on it to try and communicate without the anger. It was a good process to get things out in the open and yet not just say the first thing that came into my head, which would probably have just been hurtful. Anyway some things have been whirling around in my head just lately and so I thought I would go for the updated version of the letter, an email. This allowed me to also illustrate my point in what I hoped would be an amusing way. Unfortunately it kind of backfired and only ended up confusing Ian. The first problem was that he viewed the file only as a preview and did not actually open, the preview didn't show the amusing cartoon figure and then for some reason I had managed to send an incomplete file. Anyway when I asked if he had appreciated the cartoon I discovered the issue - it has now been rectified and we have laughed about it. So alls well that ends well.