Monday, 30 April 2018

Getting ready

A lovely sunset
It is still that time of the year when it is tempting to get everything planted up and yet it might not be a good idea. There is still a long way to go before we can be certain (or as near as you can be) that there won't be any more frosts. We reckon on the end of May as our more certain time. Having said that, there is still a lot that can be planted, either indoors or a lot of work that still needs to be done to prepare for them.

Mr. Tellus looking happy with himself
So far the potatoes are in, mainly tucked into some alpaca manure beds or beds of old hay to save digging new beds. Last year's potato beds are a beautiful dark colour and now planted up with parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets and onion sets. There is just a little bit of space left in some beds for more onion sets and some are waiting for squash plants that I will start off this next week if all goes well. The strawberry bed that I remembered was too old has now been covered with a thick layer of hay and pockets of fresh soil from an old compost pile added for strawberry plants that I had dug up. We shall see if that gets over the issue of the bed being too old and full of disease with less work than digging it all over and moving it somewhere else. If it doesn't work then the hay will rot down and give me a fresh bed for something else next year.

Not sure about his rather wild hair do here though 
As well as sorting out beds for vegetables and still sorting out our old apartment we have been sorting out the EU subsidies for the land. This entailed going into the village to see the local contact lady and using google translate and gestures to sort it out. It was a bit of a slow process but it got done with enough goodwill and hopefully finished for now.  We should get just a little more than last year, which all helps to keep us going financially.

The clouds were building tonight at sunset and now it is
raining and we maybe in for some thunder
The weather has not been good all week and so there was an opportunity to go and visit friends. We went to our friends' goat farm nearby to do some catching up and then our friends further afield in Estonia to also catch up on what they are doing and collect six months worth of alpaca feed. I was rather jealous of their lovely new farm shop with all their alpaca products, coffee making facilities, some tables to sit at and lots of lovely space. I am sure it would make a great felting venue. They were busy prepping for their new season and so we didn't get to stay long.

Ian has been moving wood to start preparations for our
shelter for the caravan. It is getting a bit old now and
could do with an outer protective layer. It is certainly still
liveable in, but we are worried about being out in the sun
and rain over summer which will eventually end in a leak
somewhere. Moving it doesn't do it much good either these
I have also been doing some work on my paper but that is still going slowly. It didn't help that my supervisor was on a family holiday and so replies were not immediate - but then again maybe I shouldn't have been getting them at all really. At least it is still heading in a positive direction and not stalled completely. Hopefully I should get to hear soon about the other two papers that are already submitted.

George has been wowing the visitors with his cute face. I will
be glad to get him sheared though, so that he can see properly
The last two days have been very warm and this has brought out the visitors - well kind of. Yesterday we had a call that someone was planning to visit in the early evening. Technically we shut at 5pm, but we are not inundated with visitors and so quite happy for people to call in up until putting away time, which is getting quite late these days. We got everything prepared and set up and waited and waited and waited. I even went and got on with some work, as I got fed up with waiting. Eventually Ian texted to see where they were and apparently they ran out of time. It would have been nice to know. We can't leave everything out as our cats would sleep on it all, which is not good with dust and straw about. Oh for a nice purpose built shop!

The boys have gelled together quite nicely. We haven't had
any issues between them. Freddie was a sweetie today, as he
even took carrots from some visitors. 
Today we had three groups of visitors, although one group decided not to stay for an excursion around the property as they didn't speak English. They could have joined the group who had already turned up, as they were fluent and would have translated, but they decided not to. That is fine with us. If we know ahead of time that someone is coming who is not able to speak English, we try to make sure someone is around to help us, but that does require booking in advance and not everyone does that.

Despite Turbjørns elegant stance, he will not be in any
wedding photos - he is much too skittish for that
One of the reasons the first group came was to talk about a possible visit to take photos for a friends' wedding. This is something we have discussed ourselves but when you look at the wedding photos that people post, the alpacas are always in full fleece. Here in Latvia, it is not usually a good idea to have them in full fleece during wedding season, it is too hot. We also need to shear early enough to try and make sure they have enough fleece by the beginning of winter. It might look nice in the photos, but a hot and bothered animal is not a good idea. There is still a chance they might go ahead with it even though they might not be so fluffy, so who knows. Watch this space, either that or people need to organise their weddings for now, when ours are at their fluffiest.

Storm brewing
We had everything out on the tables again for the first group as they had booked in advance and I said to Ian as we were packing it all away that maybe we should have left it up in case we had more visitors. I should have listened to my own voice of reason, as we were half way through a late lunch when the next lot turned up. We had to hurriedly stick our sandwiches in a drawer to stop the cats nabbing them while our backs are turned and then went to meet them. When I asked them if they spoke English (asked in Latvian of course) the lady turned to her young son and he immediately started translating. He looked about 12 or so but translated very well. He was also quite curious himself and so he also asked lots of questions and didn't just translate for his mother and grandmother. We could do with someone like him around.

Lady V, looking contemplative
So all in all, it is definitely the start of the busy season. We never know who will turn up and yet still have our farm chores to do on top of that. I also still have my academic work and that probably will continue so that I can try to finish my PhD before the end of the year. It's no wonder I am not appreciating our early alarm calls - we really do need to move the chickens further away soon. At least it is getting warm enough to do that.

Our boys were pronking around the paddock this week. We haven't seem them do this before, the girls we have, but not the boys. If you are not sure what pronking is, then you will need to see the video from our Facebook page. (Link here)
Donk! When life has just got too much for you! Actually it is
probably Aggie just having a good scratch around her ankles

You put your left leg in, your left leg out!

Monday, 23 April 2018

Prep time

Wood anemomes
I have spent the whole week prepping, or so it seems. Such as prepping our newer apartment so that the one we were living in can be emptied.  I say newer because we have still had the apartment for a while, but not as long as the one we lived in up until now. I've also been prepping garden beds ready for sowing seeds and transplanting strawberry plants. Well that's just about it! Short blog then! Hahaha only joking.
The woods look really pretty illuminated by the evening
sunshine and carpeted with the wood anemones 

The four heaps in the background are the un-composted hay
that was put on the beds over winter after the potatoes. They
will now be used to grow squash on and the four beds
in the front are for carrots and parsnips. I also need to prep
some beds for onion sets too.
Most of this week has involved a high degree of planning, which is a bit unusual for me as I either wing it these days or just have a rough idea of what needs doing. This time though I needed to be more prepared. One day my list read as follows
                     1. Go to new apartment prepare bread and leave to rise
                     2. Go to old apartment and put on washing load number one
                     3. Fill empty boxes with books, stack in the car
                     4. Take eggs to friend
                     5. Do shopping
                     6. Collect washing load put on second load
                     7. Go to new apartment and hang out first washing load
                     8. Unpack boxes and empty area in the office ready for bookcase and sideboard
                     9. Bake bread and cakes
                     10. Go back to other apartment and collect second washing load
                     11. Finish off tidying up, sort out kitchen and wash up
                     12. Back to the land and do gardening.
More prepping. These ones are for sweetcorn, salad plants
and other things but not brassicas as this is where they were
last year

One lone hanger on after the winter. They were meant to be
Brussel Sprouts, but it will give us some cabbagey leaves
There was that much to-ing and fro-ing that I think the neighbours must be wondering what we are up to. Meanwhile Ian was clearing out the bedding out of one of the alpaca houses. He did the other one the day before while I sorted out veg beds and a strawberry bed. I suddenly realised that the strawberries had been on the same patch of ground for longer than three years and I know from past experience the number of strawberries plummets after that.
Coltsfoot is often the first plant to flower on our land

Poor Chanel, she is missing Freddie, but it is for her own
good. We had hoped she would wean Freddie herself, but
that wasn't happening and she needs to recover some
condition in preparation for getting pregnant again. Normally
the alpacas would have been weaned by now, certainly the
more experienced Lady V had weaned off Brencis much
We have also done more shifting around, both furniture and animals. The young boys needed separating from their mums and because we now have more males than females we needed to move the girls up to where the older boys were and the older boys to the girls alpaca house. This in itself had to be planned too. We constructed a corridor to ensure that the animals would move between the two places. Ian shut the girls in their alpaca house with the younger boys separated into the small side. We then haltered up Brencis and Mr, P, as they are used to walks and the plan was that Ian would lead those two and the rest would follow with me encouraging them from behind.
I'm happy to see that my rose that Heather Potten (one of our felthing tutors) gave me last year is still alive and looking good

Wise old Lady V. taking the changes in her stride - well she
 is now
Well that was the plan anyway. What actually happened was that the older ones headed straight out leaving the ones that Ian had haltered up behind and Ian almost getting tangled up with the pair of them. It was amusing to watch, if a little disconcerting that things were not going to plan. Turbjørn is our most sensitive animal and freaks out easily, but this time he did a fantastic job of leading them all out and into the field where they could be contained while we sorted out the girls. There was only one point where we were a bit worried he was going to go the wrong way at a section that narrowed up, but with a bit of encouragement he got through. That went better than expected, if not quite how we planned it.

Meeting convened with Lady V offering her advice

We used to worry about our alpacas whenever they were laid
 out like this. Now we know they are just sunbathing
The next phase was to drive the girls out through the gate towards their new place. There was some hesitation at the gate and Chanel heard Freddie and panicked. She ended up getting caught in the wire and breaking several electric poles in the process. We got the girls back in the alpaca house and went to Plan B. We haltered up Aggie who likes to go for walks and Chanel, who doesn't to say the least. Well Chanel spat and kicked and created havoc, but with rather more manhandling than we would like we got her out of the paddock and following Aggie at a brisk pace. Once on the move she wasn't so bad.
See! Mari is fine

Aggie enjoying the sunshine too and looking rather pregnant
Next we had to get Lady V and Mari haltered up. Mari was okay if a bit stubborn about walking, however Lady V thought it was beneath her and showed she can still put up a bit of a fight if there is something she does not want to do. We got them both going in the right direction but bizarrely Lady V kept thumping Mari with her neck on Mari's back- those two don't really get on very well, usually they just tolerate each other. Anyway we got them up to where we wanted them and fastened all the girls in for the night. The boys in comparison were not too bad, with a bit of persuasion they did go in the alpaca house.
The guard hairs are long on Mari's fleece

All the boys together now
The little ones were on the smaller side of the alpaca house and the older ones on the other side. There was much sniffing through the fence, but all seemed fine and they were also locked away for the night. The next morning Ian kept them in until coffee time, when we went up so we could watch how they interacted with each other. We didn't need to worry. The youngsters seemed to take a liking to Mr. P and followed him around everywhere, which Mr. P found rather alarming. The youngsters also quickly found out that Uncle Turbjørn was as crotchety as Auntie Aggie and needs to be avoided. Apart from that, as long as normal alpaca manners were observed then they were fine.
Chanel looked more content eating today. You can see the
problems she had with her fleece on her hind legs. The sun
and the grass will do her good though

Father and son together. I think George takes after his Mum
(Mari) rather than his father in looks. His colouring too is the
the colour of Mari's spots
Today we shifted more furniture, two sideboards and a large bookcase. This means we now have places to store more of our stuff and start to put away most of the hundreds of books we have. What is encouraging is that everything seems to be fitting in quite nicely and we can still move around the place, which is rather surprising considering it is a smaller apartment. There are still a few large pieces to move but we mainly know where they are going, so that works. Moving in small amounts at a time, gives us time to sort things out, but we are also restricted by first the size of our horse box, but also by the road between our two apartments - there is a short bumpy section which we wouldn't want to bounce too much stuff around in the horse box
- we would just end up breaking things.
A sign of spring. This is in the top pond for a change. We
usually see it in the bottom pond. We also saw the fish this
week, so at least some have survived the winter. We are not
sure how many though, as we are only seeing a few tails
peeping out from under the dead weed floating in the middle
of the pond.

Sometimes it has been chilly due to a cold wind, but we still
can have coffee looking out from the greenhouse onto our
So that's about it, apart from Sunday when I celebrated my birthday - well when I say celebrated, I mean we went to the hotel for dinner to save me from doing the cooking and Ian from washing up. We don't tend to do birthday presents these days, but the fudge my daughter sent me home with was a rather nice. Still it was a pleasant day, the sun shone, we had coffee watching the boys who all seemed to have settled together nicely, I did more gardening and enjoyed my evening meal - what more could I want?

Brencis looking for grass

The gooseberries are leafing up nicely

The roads are generally drying up, but this is an appalling
section just past our land. I have never seen cars slowing
down quite so much on this stretch and they are bouncing
around all over. We went up in our four by four just to see
what it is was like - even we were bouncing around a lot.

Tractor tyre tracks. The grader did stop and put its blade
down, but I think he didn't make a good job of it and was off
somewhere else anyway.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Final week

Look! No snow! In fact Ian has had rather nice
In the last week of my trip to the UK, I slept on the sofa at my son's house. Each morning the children would come down after eight o’clock, when the sun rose on their clock (what a brilliant invention, where the clock face changes from a moon to a sun to tell them when they can get up), I would then give them their breakfast. Most of the time they wanted toast with the lemon curd made by my mother that I had brought down for them. One morning though I was asked for snap, snap by the little one. I had to ask her older brother what she meant and found out she meant rice crispies – You know! The ones that go “Snap! Snap!” of course and has a picture of a crocodile on them. I should have guessed.
Someone has found a cosy spot

It might have been nice but it was still muddy. Ian
took the wheels off to give them a clean as he
didn't want all this lot on the wheels when he was
The last morning there was a bit of a problem as I woke just before 7am and thought, oh good, a whole hour before they come down. Wrong! Mummy had got a bit mixed up when putting them to bed and turned the alarm to the wrong setting and so the oldest one was up almost a whole hour before he should have been. Fortunately, I managed to persuade him it was still early and Daddy would only be up later to make pancakes so he needed to play very quietly at the other end of the sofa from me, although he was allowed to snuggle under the quilt to keep warm. The little one arrived about 20 minutes later and snuggled up to me and sat quietly reading a book to herself – well she was running her finger under the words anyway. I was quite surprised that they were quiet for the whole hour so I could catch up on the news.

It might just look like a dew drop on a dried up
twig but this is the sign of the grapevine beginning
to wake up from its winter sleep. The drop is sap
that is rising up the vine
I like the idea that all my kids have made Saturday breakfasts family events with special breakfasts. Their own kids seem to enjoy it and I think it is an important part of cementing their families. I also like the fact they all have their evening meals together as a family as much as possible and so continuing our tradition. Ian's family and my family did eat together sometimes but not every evening, however we decided it is something we wanted to do and felt it was important for our family. Sometimes it was tough, but the outcome seems to be have been worth it.

Our smaller apartment lacks cupboard space and
so we will use the kitchen from the old apartment
and squeeze in shelves wherever we can. This one is
above the sink in the toilet 
Most of my third week was spent at home, as we couldn’t go far with the little one, especially as their Mum couldn’t walk too far. There was also not enough room in the car for all of us and some days we had to wait for midwives and health visitors to turn up to monitor Mum and baby. That meant plenty of time for playing games with the older ones, lots of changing of nappies and cuddles with the baby and a foray into the park on one occasion.

With the alpacas, but not ours
We did manage to get out a bit, and on one day I went to a mini-farm with my son and the older two, where we got to see some alpacas, along with a peacock with the most amazing green iridescent tail that I have ever seen. We tried to see if any of the alpacas looked like Brencis, as the older one considers that Brencis is his alpaca since he has an adoption certificate for him. He is looking forward to seeing his alpaca one day but for the time being we had to make do with the ones on this farm. They weren't as friendly as Brencis, in fact Brencis ran up to me when I got back. I suspect he thought I had some food, rather than because he missed me while I was away.

A clear frosty morning for Ian - yes I'm pretty bad
at remembering to take photos 
One afternoon my son dropped me off with his two older ones at Messy Church (a church service for little ones). I got to be on the other end of messy craft activities with the children. Oh! it brought back memories. I used to run craft activities for large and small church-based conferences and so I would have been the one devising the craft activities for people to do with the children. It was nice just to work with my two grandchildren and help them make things.
However I did take these at the mini-zoo so that I could
show Ian some ideas for the roofs for egg boxes on our
chicken arks. He plans to make some new ones

So this is the other version

Sunrise through the mist on our land
My poor son still had to do some work - one of the problems of being self-employed and having a baby at the beginning of his busy season. Whoops! He runs a mobile bike repair and servicing business and of course, at this time of the year, business is just beginning to pick up. He took off as much time as possible though or popped back from time to time when he could fit it in around jobs. It is not so easy nowadays to run a business like that from home, especially a small home. There were upsides to having a workshop as part of the home in days of yore I guess.

In the lift heading for departures
I arrived back late on Saturday evening and I could tell immediately that the weather had been much better in Latvia while I was away, as Ian looked quite tanned already. It was well after midnight when we arrived back at the caravan where we will be based until late autumn. Unfortunately this fact didn't seem to bother the cockerels who were crowing in their arks just outside our caravan at just after five in the morning. Back to rural reality with a bump.

Ian was busy taking out the kitchen
at our old apartment while we were
away. The idea is eventually to put
it in a new house! One day!
We had a pretty chilled out day on the Sunday, but now we are getting back into our summer schedule with the added job of continuing with the house move. Ian had moved some boxes and the kitchen bases from one apartment to the other one and I spent this morning trying to figure out where everything should go, so that we can make room for the next load. It is nice not having to do it all at once. The next round is to fill more boxes and then get the large items moved. That should be fun! Not!

More signs of spring
I have also been getting in the garden and getting a jump start on the weeds as well as digging over a vegetable bed. It is always much easier at this time of the year, but it won't be long before the weeds get ahead of me and other jobs need doing.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Mud, mud, glorious mud

Spring has arrived out on our land in Latvia
The weather hasn't been much better this week, but we still got out and about. My daughter and I have been to Costa coffee a few times because my daughter prefers their coffee and she and a friend often meet up there with their kids. I'm just happy to tag along. It works well with the older ones colouring and the younger ones confined to a corner playing and at least it is out of the house for an hour or two.
Morning coffee spot for Ian. I hope I don't miss all
the good weather though

All the migrant birds have been returning. Ian even
saw four storks on the day our newest granddaughter
was born
There were dry evenings and so my daughter and her husband went for a couple of evening bike rides while I babysat. They came back rather covered. They may as well take advantage of me being around though. Mind you, I did end up on sentry duty on the door of the boys bedroom as they weren't exactly getting the idea of what sleep was for that night. Still been there, done that and got the t-shirt, so I didn't really mind too much. It's a phase!

The new baby with proud older brother and sister
We were beginning to wonder what was going to be the best way for me to get to my son's for the third and final week, as my daughter didn't want to take a long ride down if my son's newest baby hadn't arrived, however, the baby finally decided to make an appearance on the Wednesday. It was very exciting to be able to say hello via Skype to my eighth grandchild and in plenty of time for me to see her. I love that her name also means resurrection or miracle.

At least the drainage is still working
to clear away the melted snow by
the side of the greenhouse

A bit dark but my granndaughter is blowing out the candle
on her birthday dessert.
It was my granddaughter's birthday at the end of the week and I had put together a little bag making kit from some of my fabric stash so I could make it with her. We spent one afternoon having fun sewing. I'm not sure she was that bothered about the bag in the end, but she enjoyed the process. It was lovely to be able to carry on a tradition, as my grandmother was one of those who taught me to sew when I was young.
Another sign of spring - deep ruts
And muddy driveways. We obviously still need to
work on the drainage here

Stomping in mud puddles
One of the joys of little children is their ability to find fun in a muddy woodland walk. It was a relatively nice day (one of the few) when my daughter, her friend and all their children went for a walk around a reservoir. Those children managed to jump in just about every puddle along the route, they found it hilarious and were soaked by the time we got back to the car. Near the end of the walk was a steep hill and the kids enjoyed rolling down, well the oldest rolled down but the younger ones only really managed to roll in circles.
There has also been some spring snow showers too
out on our land

The little one I rescued in his all-in-one
There was one point where one of the little ones was rolling round in circles when the oldest was coming down the hill rather rapidly towards him. I played my role of Supergran and swung into action by hoisting the little one out of the way by the back of his all-in-one suit. I always knew that swinging hay bales around would come in useful sometime.
A lovely spring day and the alpacas are getting the freedom of eating out in the fields

Young alpacas love to roll in the grass too
On my last full day we went to a soft play area in a sports centre. I was impressed with the chap who was supervising. He trundled the kids around on a snake for most of the two hours and played basketball with them, although he did have to spend a while trying to extract an over large ball that got stuck in the net. It was lovely at the end as shook all their hands as they left and thanked them for coming. He obviously had a big heart for kids and keeping them active. We finished the day with a family birthday pizza party. The kids were truly amazing, especially the two year old who managed to hold it together despite a lack of sleep and a lot of running around all day. I was half expecting a melt-down but he didn't.
The girls' field doesn't get as much sun as the boys
one does

Another spring returnee
Eventually it was time to leave and so we set off early on the Saturday morning to my son's house. On the way down we stopped off at a pub for lunch run by my son-in-law's older brother. We had a lovely meal but the best part was observing the conversation between my two year old grandson and my son-in-law's brother. He's been a bar tender for many years and he just went with the flow of the little chap's conversation. It was a classic and I was in stitches listening to them.
The girls' field may not get as much sun, but they still
find the bits of green grass
Our cats have been joining Ian on early morning
walks while I'm away. I think I am going to have
some major time change adjustments when I get back.
Apparently all the cockerels are crowing at 5:30am
After a long drive we made it to my son's house and I got to meet my eighth grandchild for the first time. It was lovely having a chaotic afternoon with six of my grandchildren and their parents, but sadly I had to say goodbye to my daughter and her family as they travelled back home. So now I am on the south coast getting to spend time with another set of grandchildren and helping mum with the new baby. I even took all the little ones to the park today for a bit of fresh air including the baby- another muddy place but fortunately for me, we managed to avoid the worst of the mud this time around. I think there will be enough washing to do this week somehow.
Eyre enjoying the sunshine on top of the cupboards
in the greenhouse

It wasn't me! Mari stood on the remains of the hay