Monday, 24 September 2018

Where did summer go?

One of our neighbour's cat on another neighbour's quad bike
It was summer on Friday, autumn on Saturday. The weather has broken and the temperatures have dropped. We still haven't had much rain, but quite a few short showers over the weekend. Just prior to that we had the warmest days on record for September in Latvia. I felt sorry for the rather large group that came on Saturday. A group from the same village came earlier on in the month when the weather was gorgeous. Saturday's group were not so lucky and were rained on earlier on in the day, so they got quite cold.  At least we were able to make space in the greenhouse to fit all 42 people in so they didn't have to stand outside. They really loved seeing the alpacas and eating some of our grapes though and weren't in a hurry to go, despite the weather. It was nice to have such an appreciative group. The daughter of our friend who translated for us last week helped us with translation this week, she was brilliant. Very fluent.
The damper weather has brought
out the mushrooms. We will not
be eating these

Nor these, but mainly because I don't know what they are
We managed to get our drivers licences sorted but we had to make a decision. Did we want to keep our ability to drive 7 tonne trucks along with everything else for five years, or did we want to lose a few categories and keep our licence for 10 years? We decided on the latter because at least we can still drive a horse box and trailer and a minibus with up to nine seats. Apparently if we wanted to we could go and exchange our current licence for one with more categories, but of course that will cost more. So our days of driving 7 tonne trucks is obviously over. I think I have only once driven something remotely that big many years ago, when I hired a box van to move house and that was when our first two children were very small - about the same age as some of our youngest grandchildren now.
Not this one either

Nope! Not on the list. There have been some though and they
are in the dryer as I write, but we forgot to take photos of
those one of course.
On Tuesday morning there was the great unveiling of the fabric we had steamed with leaves the day before. There were some lovely pieces, such as the silk with a dye blanket and one with an iron blanket. Sorry you will have to wait for photos though. The cotton pieces were a bit hit and miss. The fresh flowers and spritzed onion skins worked well, but the autumn leaves did not. I think it needed some moisture, so I will have to try again. The linen was very disappointing. The iron worked better, but I think it needed the leaves to be soaked in iron too and even then I am not sure whether it is worth it or not.
Sunnier days. Brencis eating with Turbjørn looking on

What better way for Ian to spend his birthday than playing,
errr I mean using the back hoe on his tractor to shift soil
ready to cover the root cellar. 
We got the root cellar covered in polystyrene, a layer of plastic, a layer of earth, then landscape fabric and a thin layer of earth over the top of that with hours to spare before the rain. We had to actually finish it by the light of the tractor headlights to get it done. It still needs a second door, but we are thinking that we should wait over winter to see what happens to the construction and to allow the soil to settle. Once we know what kind of movement it might experience then we can decide how to put the front door on. At least it will be a cool spot to keep veg and food in over summer when we seem to run out of space in the hotter months.
It is beginning to look like a hobbit house. 

More cranes heading south again this week, along with some
swans. Each time we hear a flock of birds flying we wonder
if it is the geese. That will tell us that winter is definitely on
the way. They are a pretty good indicator that snow will be
with us shortly. Fortunately I don't think we've seen any yet.
It has been a bit frustrating this week as I got news that the article I thought had been finished was not finished and they wanted me to make some very minor changes. I had been cracking on with my thesis up to that point, in between harvesting, sorting out the freezer and the greenhouse that is. The plan was to get those things done to be prepared for the arrival of the new alpacas next week and sorted for winter before I go away to the UK. Instead I have been emailing my supervisor to get comments on pieces I have written. I'm getting there but it is taking time. The only good thing is that my supervisor enjoys reading my work and so it hasn't been such a chore for him. I can get quite lyrical when the words flow.
More sunbathing while they can.

George hasn't quite known how to behave when people come.
He is interested but he hasn't got the hang of feeding from
visitors like Freddie has. Instead he seems to get excited and
then jump on Freddie or another alpaca that then reacts.
Hopefully he will get the idea soon.
I have felt like I was in an alternative reality this week. I was quite shocked that some people felt that Mrs. May was disrespected at the summit with EU leaders. I suppose I shouldn't be shocked by now, but I couldn't understand why she felt disrespected. I still cannot get my head around the attitude of the British Government regarding leaving the EU. It is the British Government who decided to leave, not the EU leaders. I wonder if during the negotiations the EU negotiators felt that if they waited long enough the whole thing would turn around and Britain would stay in, especially if they realised how difficult it would be to extricate themselves. The British Government have hardly come up with any clear steps forward though that isn't cherry picking at any point in the negotiations. Most of the time they don't seem to know what they want and yet they blame the EU. You cannot decide to leave a club and then still expect all the benefits for nothing, which is what it appears to me that the British Government are asking for. It is disconcerting that nothing has been sorted and there is now less than six months to go. We still don't know for sure what our status will be here in Latvia. Not helpful at all! All I seem to get is spammed by the British Government with emails about what happens to this that and the other in the case of a no deal Brexit. As if they really know! I don't think so!
Good chums

Some of our chickens. It won't be long before they are in the
greenhouse. They will have to be in before I go to the UK.

Monday, 17 September 2018


Hmmm! What mischief can we get up to today? We have
done the escaping through the electric fence lark and been
rumbled. Ian our human only went and switched the electric
on didn't he! That put a stop to our wanderings
It's raining as I write. Not much rain, little bits both welcome and not welcome. The forecast was for a clear day with rain to the north. Well most of the rain was to the north but it also drifted southwards. It wouldn't be so bad but we are in the middle of putting in a root cellar and wanted to do that while it was dry of course. It also rained a little on Saturday and the tractor broke when a log managed to break the accelerator pedal. A sheer fluke of an accident. Ian has fixed it for now but it just meant hours wasted, first trying to identify the problem and then trying to solve it. It could have been worse of course and it is a good job Ian is reasonably handy when it comes to things mechanical.
Just walk away and look nonchalant. We are being watched

Still waiting for the move into the hole.
At least we managed to get the old chicken hut into the hole that was dug and onto a layer of insulation. It was tricky trying to get it into the hole with our small tractor, but with a bit of the appliance of science and a few hefty planks to push, it went in perfectly. The roof was cut to size, as the hut doesn't need an overhang now and then some plastic on the top for now to keep the rain out. The floor has also been fixed as that was getting a bit loose in places. The forecast for the rest of the week is quite pleasant, so hopefully today's rain won't hold us up so much.

Herkules without his fashionable apparel, which he didn't
appreciate anyway
It would have been better if we hadn't been in the village this morning when the weather was fine. We had to get a medical to renew our driver's licences which runs out on Saturday. It was an amusing time, once we got in to see the doctor. We went back twice because it was too busy the first time and we had other things to do in the village. It was a joint effort with the doctor and two others. We had to have our blood pressure taken, do an eyesight test and a test for colour blindness. The eyesight test was done partly in English and partly in Latvian much to the amusement of everyone. I can do my numbers relatively easily in Latvian but I get confused with the letters so I did those in English. Ian did all of his in English.
He looks happy about that anyway. I just hope that the flies now
stay away. He kept tearing the garments made from old
t-shirts, so we gave up. He seems to be improving now.

Just chilling on a sunny morning.
Whilst doing the test for colour blindness we both said "r" with an English pronunciation and the lady said "no", which confused us, she then said "r" with a Latvian pronunciation. We laughed. The rest of the book was done as a Latvian letter practice. Maybe she could teach us Latvian? We then had a form to fill in. Many of the medical terms are familiar to us but occasionally we weren't sure of the answer, in those particular cases the doctor who was sat on the other side of the desk piped up and answered them for us. She knows her patients well and knows what they do and don't take and since we are not on any medication for anything she could answer for us.

Turbjørn and Brencis
There were the usual stupid questions about drugs and alcohol - as if anyone is going to answer those truthfully if they really did have a problem. When Ian was answering and the nurse said "alcohol?", Ian said "ne"(no) and the doctor quipped "kapec?" (why?) with a big grin on her face. Again we laughed. Occasionally we resorted to phoning our friend to make sure we understood a question but on the whole we managed well enough. It helps that the village doctor is relaxed about these kinds of things to make the process easy even though we don't have the language. If we didn't have things to do, it would have been an entertaining morning really.

Leaves on linen
Our friend who helped us with the translation was coming to us in the afternoon anyway. She was fascinated with the botanical printing I did in August with our felting tutor Galina, so we planned a session to experiment with the process. I pre-mordanted the fabrics, which is a process that helps the dye from the plants to stick to the fabric the day before, so all we had to do was to go and pick leaves and then arrange them on the fabric. I showed he which leaves should work better and explained a bit about the process from what I could remember. You can't see any photos of the finished articles yet as it was steamed over the afternoon and the great unveiling will be tomorrow.

Freddie - inquisitive as always
I have said the rain was both welcome and not welcome. Our friend was explaining this week that they have run out of water on their farm and having to use lake water for the animals and do washing in the village at the apartment that she also owns. She also told us of someone who had dug a lake a couple of years ago and that had completely dried up and the river which usually you could swim in was now walkable. She also said that someone who was getting on in years remarked that he had never seen the water situation so bad as it has been this year. You would think by this that everywhere would be brown, but it isn't as the dew in the morning keeps everything going - just! How the plants will fare over winter with so little moisture in the ground is a worry though and our friend said that many fruit trees may die if they don't get the moisture to their roots. I know a few years ago when it was very dry one summer our new fruit trees really suffered and they have only just recovered to fruit properly this year.

Mr. P. always looks so toothy, but he's not that bad really.
He had his teeth trimmed in May after shearing
The plans are coming together for the new alpacas arriving in October. We will be culling our sheep. There is no way we would be able to keep them this year due to the hay situation and the extra work they create. We have enough hay for the alpacas including the new ones, but not if we have sheep and three sheep eat about the same as five alpacas. Most people around here are scrabbling around for hay or silage and two of our friends' farms only have around a third of what they need. Some farmers in the country are selling to Sweden for nearly three times what they could get here. We heard that many farmers are reducing stock levels if they can, but sometimes that is not possible or desirable if farms are trying to build their businesses.

Some serious eating going on here
Culling the sheep means I need more freezer space and it is full with fruit and veg at the moment. I have been spending time making juices and jams so that they are in bottles rather than the freezer. I fit this in with the runs to the apartment to do the washing and fetch water for us and the animals. The recent rains have eased the situation a little, as we do catch the water off the roofs of the alpaca houses and barn. It sure makes us careful when we use water and makes us appreciate how others suffering from a lack of water must struggle, especially when they don't have the resources we do to fetch water.

Hopefully Chanel is pregnant, she is excitable enough. We
tried to give her some treatment for her feet as they look
to be having problems again, but she makes it difficult.
The most recent treatment we gave her, doesn't seem to
have worked so we have to get some more tomorrow. 
I forgot to mention last week that two of my papers have gone to review whilst I was away.  Hopefully that means I only have another five weeks to get some idea of whether they are acceptable or not to the reviewers. One of the papers is not my main responsibility, as I was only one of the co-authors, but the other one concerns the major part of my research. It was rejected over a year ago by another journal and it has taken sometime to write as other projects got in the way. At least it got past the first stage and the editor sent it out for review, it's pretty bad if it fails at that stage.

Josefs is getting quite tall now. They grow so quick. 
I also got my thesis structure kind of sorted. It didn't take me too long. I had made some notes when waiting in the airport last week and finished them off and collated them this week. I have a feeling of things beginning to slot into place now, which makes life a lot simpler. The plan is to get a good way on with putting the flesh on the bones of the structure, so to speak.
You can at least tell that Mari and Jakobs are mother and son

Jakobs is very fluffy and very cute. He looks so innocent, but
he's not! He's a crafty one!
It was interesting this week that I was able to drag up this quote from something I wrote with some co-authors and presented to a Sustainable Educational conference back in 2015.

You would think that Chanel and Josefs were mother and son, but they are not related at all. 

Adopting sustainable landscape governance needs inspiration and participation more than mere information. It has to address minds by providing a toolkit to help frame problems and possible solutions, but it also has to address hearts as well. There is a need for innovative approaches to draw artists and story-tellers, scientists and therapeutic professions, conservationists and policymakers, the public and experts into a conversation to help formulate images of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, well connected to the landscape and the environment in which people live. This is not about portraying a utopia, but inspiring people and bringing hope. Without a dream of the future, without hope, it is unlikely people will be willing to make the tough changes needed to get there. 

These are the cranes heading south. I always have the lyrics
of Forever Autumn run through my head when I see the
birds flying off.
"I watch the birds fly south across the autumn sky
And one by one they disappear,
I wish that I was flying with them
Now you're not here."

The autumn raspberries are producing well this year. They
are easier to pick since we made a pathway down the middle.
It is hard to think that we only started with a few sticks from
a friend and now we have quite a job keeping them in check
and there are escapees showing up in various other bits of
the garden.
It just seemed to fit very nicely with what some others had been writing about. I feel very encouraged that others are beginning to feel this is a way forward. We need to change, we cannot stay the way we are. It is like my garden, it needs the rain, it looks kind of okay as it heads into autumn, but it's still dying. Not the kind of end of year death that we see every autumn, but the kind where it will not grow back next year. We need a vision for the future, that we can grasp and hang on to to make the painful changes we need to do. If we don't our civilisation will continue to die. That is not the way I feel it ends. I believe in a God who created this world that we are busy trashing and he is in the business of restoration, but we also need to be onboard. We have to catch a vision that we can change and we have to change. We need those artists and storytellers to show us that future, so we can track how to get there.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Part 2: Round tuit

On the bus on our way from Clermont Ferrand to Mende
What is a Round tuit, you may ask. Good question! It is a play on words from the phrase "When I get around to it". It has been hard getting a round tuit, this week, they have been in short supply. I had quite a long list of jobs to do before I could start on with the blog again. At least the list is going down but that's an item for the next blog. The point is, in a long and convoluted way, I am now getting around to writing up the blog for last week. As I mentioned last week I was in France on a conference. It was a two site conference with a field trip in the middle. I think it is a great idea to have a field trip in the middle, because after two days of listening to people rattling on, even if they are rattling on about interesting topics, my brain starts to freeze and I gather it happens to most other folks too.
I just thought it was an interesting
combination of textures, colours and
design details
A quaint little town
I teamed up with a very nice Swedish lady for much of the day and after lunch we took a short walk up behind the venue to look out over the city. As we were wandering down a young chap was just coming up the path, obviously he had a similar idea. Turns out he was Latvian and he was a bit surprised to find out I lived there too. We met up over lunch later on in the week and chatted a lot about Latvia and Latvian life. Apparently I am an honourary Latvian because I pick mushrooms, collect herbs for teas and medicines and bottle various vegetables for winter.
On the bus. I think I should have
taken more notice of where we
were, but my head was too full of

The entertaining chap in his bright orange trousers. Such a
great heart for the people and the valley where he was born
The field trip was hosted by an entertaining chap, a lecturer who was born in the valley. I didn't catch what his subject was but I think it was something to do with tourism. His guided tour was from the heart. It wasn't just about the various landscapes and quality of life - topics of the week, but about the people who live there. There were lots of little anecdotes and at one point the coach had to slow down as we were going past the house where he was born. The trip was based on slow tourism, which apparently means getting to know the host and the surrounding area, rather than rushing off doing lots of activities. I think our recent guests have enjoyed that kind of approach at our place and it is something we did talk about.
Here they were trying to develop the flatter area of the region
for visitors who are not able to tackle the nearby mountains

And yes there were hills, lots of them
I think the main thrust of the tour was to visit places where guests could chill out in small numbers. It was important to the various places that they were not over run with people as the facilities would not cope with a huge number. We also visited a restaurant run by a farming family and so we had examples of local beef, cheese and salad for lunch. Vegetarians really struggled this week and one guy gave up and ate fish. I think there is more chance of getting a vegetarian meal in Latvia than in France. I am not sure a vegan would stand much of a chance at all, with all the cheese.
Three cheeses to choose from, or
all three as I did

And mountains and rain. The only rainy day of the week. I
didn't begrudge the farmers their rain though. I know what
it's like to be longing for rain. We have had only one substantial
day of rain since April and maybe three good showers. The rest
have been pitiful and barely enough to wet the bone dry ground.
The only reason it is so green where we are is because of the
dew in the morning now. 

A view of the Cathedral in Mende. This time built with white
limestone instead of black volcanic stone
I stayed at another AirBnb place. This one was in an old house in the city centre. Very convenient for the university and the gala dinner. It literally took me about two minutes to walk home after the meal. It was beautifully done out and very spacious and only ruined by the overpowering smell of the laundry and air-freshener. The next day it had eased off and I realised then it was partly due to trying to mask the slight mustiness of old houses. Not something that I particularly minded as it wasn't bad. Getting into the place was interesting and fortunately two other folks also appeared at the same time and one of them was able to ask a local where the entrance was. It was described as the red portal, but in English would have been better described as a red gate topped with wrought-iron work. I suppose a gate is a portal though.
A view of the bridge built by Gustave Eiffel, the same as
the tower in Paris

I did find this gem of a cafe in Mende
which had a whole range of teas, in
fact pages of different teas. White,
green, black and herbal teas were
all on offer. 
I got back late on Friday night and was met by Ian at the airport with his usual Griezites Alpakas sign. Even better he had brought fruit salad, pastry and a flask of tea. Bliss! I was beginning to crave fruit, veg and tea. At least I had got a decent salad at Schipol airport. A late night meant a sleep in the next day. I bet those alpacas were tapping their toes in the morning waiting for us to wake up, I mean they had to wait until about 8am before we woke up. At least Saturday was a fairly leisurely day if interesting day.

Somewhere near the Puy Mary at a lookout point. I didn't
get to see it as it was going to rain anyway and the mountain
unlikely to be seen.
Ian and I sat around and talked for quite a while but we also went mushroom picking and fishing. Our bottom pond is now just a tiny puddle and the fish were clearly visible and struggling. The bottom was still a bit soft but by using wood Ian was able to stand and catch the fish and pass the net up to me. I got them out of the net and put them in a bucket. We caught 7 fish, which is not bad when there was 8 put in. They are also getting to be a reasonable size now. There were also visitors to show around.
More views from the lookout point

From the look out point

And because no blog would be complete without some
pictures of the alpacas.
The following day I had to go back to our apartment and do the washing. Ian came back too and we sorted out the gas cylinder that had run out before I went away. It was rather inconvenient as I was trying to get some tomatoes bottled and I am not sure if they had their full time in the oven or not. At least they did seal. I returned later in the day and some visitors turned up and asked if they could look around. I said I would find Ian, as he usually does this. I looked around but couldn't find him. Eventually I phoned - not that that always works, he often doesn't have his phone with him. As it turned out, he was showing another set of visitors around who had turned up on bikes. No wonder I hadn't heard them. So while he continued showing them around, I showed this group around. It's a good job I have heard Ian's spiel many a time.
Ian has been trying to get the new alpaca house finished
whilst I have been away. No news yet as to how many we
are definitely getting

Don't be fooled by that sweet innocent face
Monday meant the start of catching up. I had work to write, work that needed marking and gardening to do. I try to do some writing and then take a break with some gardening. Whilst I was out in the garden, I was a little shocked to hear someone running. I looked up and there was my husband haring down the path with a fishing net in his hand. I wondered if the chickens were out again, but he didn't say anything to me as he ran past. I then noticed there was a single fish in the net. Apparently it hadn't died, it was just hiding. Ian had found it flat on its side He thought it was dead at first but then saw it, gasping for breath.