Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A tad busy

I love this picture as it looks like a watercolour painting. I
gather the lens got a bit fogged up in the cold.
With last week's blog finally published I can now get around to this week's. Last week's blog would have been posted sooner but I was a bit busy and had some rather long days. It was a long trip to Lithuania and the following day was another long one too, but in the opposite direction to Estonia. I had a late request about two weeks ago to represent our department at the annual conference for PhD students at my university, I needed to head up there at some stage anyway and so decided to accept. I also fitted in a few meetings along the way. It turned out to be almost a military operation, with a great deal of flexibility and some people going above and beyond their call of duty. It worked anyway.
Mr. P. doing his best to disguise himself as a white alpaca
to fit in with the others

Joesfs glowing in the sunshine
The first meeting was in a lovely cafe, with some gorgeous cakes in Old Riga, (Bake Berry Konditorija) there I met a lady who is friends with our Polish felting tutor Galina. This lady does some wonderful work herself and I had wanted to meet her for a while. She doesn't speak much English and my Latvian is not great (mind you my Russian is even worse) but we managed. She gave me a few useful tips through by sketching her ideas and I gave her some alpaca fleece to experiment with. She was lovely and insisted that when I came back through Riga she was going to buy me a coffee and cake, which is what I did on the Thursday. 
Just in case you haven't guessed yet. Winter has arrived

The wooden trees my friend
I was meant to be dropping off some letters that had arrived at our old apartment for the new owners. as well The idea was to meet me in Old Riga, but on the day the lady was sick. After changing plans twice more I managed to drop them off with her husband at a bus stop just outside the National Library where my next meeting was. I then put my academic hat on as I was meeting someone from one of the Latvian Universities who I've met before. We had a nice lunch and a great discussion. It was nice to finally get to see the wooden trees that decorated the National Library restaurant where we ate. A friend of ours had made them in his workshop in our little town. He is the one that made our kitchens for our two apartments too.
Mother and son, Marie and Jakobs

A crystal oak tree
The meeting with the academic was arranged last minute as she didn't see my email until I was heading down to Lithuania the day before so it threw off my planning for the trip up to Estonia. On the bus into Riga I was trying to work out the best route and the bus and train timetables were not helping. I wanted to spend as much time talking with this academic as possible and so opted for a later bus, only it meant waiting in Valga on the border for a long while and getting in very late, which would have meant another very long day. I explained all of this to my friend in Estonia via Messenger, as you do and she offered to come and pick me up, a drive of about an hour. She said it was only fair as my daughter had driven all the way to pick her up from the airport when she joined me for a holiday in the UK. It was much appreciated though.
I think this is Valeria, but I could be wrong. I still haven't got
their names straight yet. (Update: I was wrong, it is Vanessa)

I asked if I could have a hand held mike because there was
no point me standing behind that lectern. No one would
have seen me. Well maybe a pair of eyes or just the top of
my head.
The following day was the presentation at the university and I was the third presenter of the morning. It was a good job I was able to get most of the presentation done on the bus journeys the day before, as I hadn't had much time to prepare beforehand. I was therefore really pleased with the response I got. Quite a few folks commented afterwards how much they had enjoyed the story. It was fairly easy for people to follow, especially compared to presentations on genetics or dissolved organic matter in Estonian lakes, important though they are, they take at least a bit of technical know how on the subject to follow along or understand the importance of the research. One person commented on the way I delivered a quote from one of my interviewees, as he felt it was a touching way to speak about isolation. It is one of the benefits of having read stories to children many times, that I can read with expression.
We've had a glorious few days

Vanessa's crew enjoying the spruce trees. Lots of vitamins
for them
During the first presentation the lady had a list of universities that she attended and one of them was the same as my friend, who I was staying with, had retired from. I messaged my friend during the lecture to see if she knew her. She did and very well. I was told to pass on my greetings, which I did. Later on in another conversation with my friend she said she wished she had known she was in town, so I suggested she come up for the coffee break. I had actually left the conference because I needed to get some work done downloading papers using the universities internet and I was sat waiting for my friend to turn up when the lady who had presented appeared to collect her coat. I leapt up to tell her that my friend was coming and wanted to say hello and fortunately she agreed to stay on for a few minutes. It was really neat to see them finally get to say hello to each other in person. You could tell they had had some good times together and I saw my friend's face light up at the thought of all the stories she could write about her friend's work. You can't take the journalist out of that Texan gal.
We had a rearrangement of chickens so they have more space
now. We culled the older cockerels when I got back. There
is no point feeding them over winter and they were taking
up space that the hens need. The older they get the more
aggressive they tend to be and so it is best for them to be
culled before winter. 

These are gifts from the lady I met on the Tuesday and
Thursday. Here you can see some of the wonderful things
she makes (link), if you are interested in any of her work
she can write in English.
The following day I got another lift down to the border so I could talk with my supervisor about various issues that needed sorting. He added an extra half hour onto his journey to a seminar so that we had a chance to talk and it meant I didn't have such a long time on the bus. So the good news is that I am further along with having a part time job on a collaborative project with other universities and I now have my work planned out for re-writing papers that need to be submitted. Plus I managed to get an earlier bus down to Riga and so went to the library again to have lunch and do a bit of work before meeting the lovely lady I met on the Tuesday, along with two other folks. One gave me back a scarf that she had taken to show her mother who had owned a shop at the time. Sadly that had to close shortly after and so that meant a potential collaboration came to nothing. The other was someone actually buying a scarf from me that I had made. 

It was a bit surprising to wake up to snow. This is from our
new apartment window.
So with my work planned out I had the Friday to read through the project description and add my questions to it and do some catching up on marking work for GCSE students who I tutor online. Saturday was spent out on the land to do some alpaca pedicures and refreshing my memory on what is needed for taking over from Ian when it comes to looking after the alpacas now he is away. Sunday and Monday I got a start on re-writing a paper that needs resubmitting before January that no one else has got time to do. Well that should keep me out of trouble.

The wild boar have been back too. Not what we want. We hoped the numbers would stay lower for a while or at least stay in the forest more. Perhaps the dry summer has forced them out as there may not be as much to eat. Hopefully the ground will be too frozen soon anyway.
This damage was mainly done on
Monday/Tuesday night

his damage was also mainly done on
Monday/Tuesday night

More from Monday/Tuesday. Ironic that the hunting tower
is at the top there in the distance

This was Tuesday/Wednesday night. Not good! We had only
just got that bank nicely sorted out after the damage done a
few years ago and now we have to start all over again. The main
problem is all the weed seeds that germinate from these. If it
would just turn up grass or herb seeds we would be fine, but
usually docks, ground elder and nettles seem to be the result

Monday, 26 November 2018


The golden rays of sunrise, just before the sun went and hid
itself behind the clouds for the rest of the day. It was nice
while it lasted.
It has been an exciting time in our village for all the wrong reasons. There is a dispute over a forest next to a local museum that celebrates the life of a famous Latvian writer. It has even made national news and been the subject of debates on the tv. As usual there are some who are vehemently for the clearing of the nearby forest, arguing it is dangerous and is of felling age and therefore should be done. Then there are those who are equally vehement that it can be managed and there is no need for the forested area to be totally cleared and become an eyesore for the next five years or so. Even the National Heritage Administration got involved and a letter was sent to the local council, which halted the sale for two weeks. Apparently the sale was illegal as it is within a set distance away from a National Heritage Museum and a plan needed to be drawn up to ensure it is not be visually impacted in a negative way.
The sunrise gave a golden glow to the
trees out the front too.

Well I suppose it is warmer in there. Eyre asleep in some
plastic bags
I tend to agree with the latter group but mainly because it does not appear to have followed regulations and again takes no account of people's feelings on the matter. It seems the council is anxious to get the money from selling the felling rights though and so the auction is now timetabled to go ahead on the 30th November instead of the 14th as originally planned. Not long for a proper consultation or for drawing up adequate plans for the area in accordance with the regulations. A protest has been planned to coincide with the auction, adding to the already bitterly divided atmosphere within the village, between those who support the local mayor and those who want to see change for the better. There are some administrative changes planned soon though, so he won't be mayor for very much longer and it will be interesting to see if things do start to change then.
Lots of alpacas! It seems like it took a while to get there, but
it now feels like a real alpaca farm. The new acquisitions
are at the back and the ones we've had for awhile with the
babies are at the front. 

The new girls, our most recent acquisitions, now called
Vanessa's lot. Vanessa is the one at the front.
My concern is over the division. We seem to be going through a period of time when divisions seem to be deepening in many places. There are those who are working in the opposite track though. This quote was taken from the blog Empathic Creativity: Generative Transformation and reflects on the actions of the young girl nicknamed Scout in the book To Kill a Mockingbird. It involves a scene where she faces an angry mob who want to lynch a local black man and she reaches out to one of the neighbours as a human being.
It must be Movember!
If we are faced with an angry mob, ready to do the unthinkable horror of our days, what would be our response? To fight back with fire against fire, respond in hatred against hatred? I suggest we follow Scout's lead in calling people to remember. Scout did not confront the bigotry by arguing for justice. What she accomplished in her naiveté was to step into the mob, to remind people that they were her neighbors. Within a culture that is full of cynicism, apathy and anger, we must remind one another to remember. Our task as artists is to remind people that they are our neighbors. Our arts should lead others to recall who they are. And by doing so, we may remind them, and ourselves, who we are. Our responsibility is to re-humanize the divide, to speak a "third language" of generative creativity that defuses the cultural war language.

Best buds! Well maybe. They are so active still
It's a long read but worth a look. It argues for a redemptive kind of talk, one that builds bridges rather than burns them. In this day and age we need it.

I was in the gallery so looking down on the rather nice
natural decorations
The 18th November was a momentous occasion for Latvia, the country we now call home. It is one hundred years since they first declared independence. Such a young country and yet they had it snatched away from them for 50 years by the Soviets. Of course there were lots of events and fireworks over the anniversary weekend. It is kind of hard to drag ourselves out in the evening, especially when it has been damp and dreary all day though and so I nearly didn't make it out. There was an event on in our village the day before the anniversary but we went to a friend's house instead, since we hadn't seen them in ages. On the day of the anniversary I decided to go instead to an event in the nearest little village with my friend who I had seen the day before. Of course it was all in Latvian but I could kind of follow along with the general gist of it, so that was nice. It also followed the usual pattern of singing, voice overs and then followed by an hour of thank yous, so I knew the format well.
The choir gathering bunches of flowers from all the people
that thanked them

Veronica, Vanessa's mum. Definitely no green grass now
If you follow my blog you may remember that I apologised for not posting last Monday - my normal blog night - as I got back rather late from a Lithuanian road trip. Earlier on this year we had a visit by a local family who had just bought some alpacas. There were a couple of issues with their purchase, such as one turning out to be older than they were led to believe and two not being pregnant when they were told they were. It made them realise that there needs to be more collaboration between breeders and maybe even a register, so we all took a road trip down to Lithuania to meet with another breeder with similar ideas. Ian had taken them up to Estonia last month while I was away to talk to other breeders up there, so that slowly we start to build up the networks and make some positive changes.
He's such a mucky kid, but cute with it. We think he must be
rubbing himself on the salt block. He doesn't seem to be
actually eating it that much. Mind you Valeria from Vanessa's
lot is addicted to the salt block and Ian is going to remove it
tomorrow for her own good.

I'm cute too you know! 
Whilst we were in Lithuania it was interesting to hear of a slightly different approach to raising and caring for alpacas. They do not have as much land as we do and so the males and females are let out on alternate days, which surprised us. They looked well on it though, the food they were given obviously suited them. So we are trying out a bag to see how our alpacas take to it. We like the stuff they are on at the minute but it has two drawbacks, one it is expensive and two it is so small that it makes it difficult for Ian to use for halter training. We would consider using both together rather than just one sort. We found out the vet the lady uses has quite a lot of experience and so that might also be a good contact to make to help to improve knowledge in Latvia. There are many more alpacas in Lithuania and hence more experience. We found out though that there is generally not so much interest in the fleece quality, which is much the same as in Latvia and Estonia. We also got some more ideas on treating mites and possible treatments, so we will probably give that a go. Just need to get hold of the cream now.

We gained a hunting tower to help get some control over
the wild boar and the problem we have of them digging
up our land. 

I love the angle of this shot. It makes it look like we have a
Chinese pagoda on our land, with the mystical George
moving through the mists. Just in case you are wondering, it
is just the tin roof of the boys alpaca house

Sweet little Freddie hunting for some green grass. Don't
worry we have plenty of hay, but the do prefer the grass.
I will do a catch up for the last week tomorrow. It was a busy old week.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Lithuanian Road Trip

We had an early start this morning and only just got back. I have another road trip tomorrow and so won't be able to update the blog until later this week or next week.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Oh so quiet!

Always the nosy one. Brencis first and then Freddie. Mind
you, at least Freddie doesn't barge in like Brencis, he just
comes up very shyly with a sweet, inquisitive look on his
So a whole week with no noise from grandchildren playing, no noise of traffic, not much noise from anything really and even then I wouldn't hear so much. My coughing has just about subsided but my hearing is still bad. One ear refuses to pop, although it is giving mini pops now so hopefully it will clear soon. Ian has to face me so I can see his lips moving for me to be certain what he has said. Good job I can lip read -well in a good light and if people speak clearly. Oh the joys! Not as if it is the joys of getting old, because I've always had hearing issues and borderline needing a hearing aid for ages. No point in sorting that out yet though until my hearing is back to normal - well normal to me. Hahaha!
Hmmm! Now is that Amanda or Valeria? I'm never quite sure.
Ian tells me after consulting his photo album that it is Valeria.
Even he can't tell them apart all the time. He is better up close
now though

George looking rather weird after the rain. He looks so
different without his mop of hair.
It has been a weird week trying to find all of our stuff and gradually moving more things back from the greenhouse and caravan into the already cramped apartment. I'm getting there slowly and been sorting some things out along the way. Another weird thing is getting used to the heat. Last year we were lucky if the apartment got above 16C most of the winter, but with our own heating it has been much warmer without even really trying. We have a woodstove that I light about 4pm. We keep it going as low as we can but even so we get rather warm. We do not let it run much past 10 pm and it is still hovering around 17C during the day. Admittedly it is a relatively warm November, but the walls are retaining the heat nicely.
This is Silla, still obviously enjoying the grass and looks like
she's having a good chat about it in the process.

Silla in more contemplative mood. She is a feisty one though

Brencis looking suave with his savvy hair do
I have also been making some scarves. I have been experimenting with using Veronica's raw fleece for two of them and her carded fleece for the other two. One of the reasons it was the last of that particular year's fleece and there was lots of bits in it, which will took a lot of cleaning, so I thought it would be easier to card it first for the second two scarves. Cleaning it was just taking me ages. It is amazing to see how they perform. The raw fleece gives an interesting texture but the carded fleece is smoother. I still have some work to do on them but it's getting there.

Is that George looking for an escape route? Or more grass.
The grass is getting pretty brown now and they are starting
to attack the hay. George has stopped his escape routine
now though, a little electric obviously worked wonders
I have also been getting back to academic work. I looked again through the reviews of the rejected paper and some of the comments are fair enough and can be fairly easily rectified, but some of them I do not agree with at all. It is interesting to see that one reviewer liked to see all the quotes and the other reviewer most certainly did not. I have also been asked to do a presentation at the University and so need to get myself up to Tartu for that.

The welcome and not so welcome visitors. The couple
walking the alpacas were very welcome and we enjoyed
their visit as much as they seemed to. The disturbed ground
shows the not so welcome visitors - the wild boar have been
back again.
We had some fantastic visitors the other day. They emailed the day before to ask if they could take a couple of alpacas for a walk. I decided to tag along. They earned the title of the alpaca visitors who have stayed the longest, we even had to put the light on to keep talking and they joined us for a cuppa to warm up. They said they were going to come back in the spring before they are sheared, which is rather sweet.
They've made quite a mess

And more damage here
Before they came we managed to get the new girls' toe nails cut. It went better than we anticipated but it gave us a sense of who are the feisty ones - the smallest one of course! We are having difficulty what to call the group, as it seems silly to keep calling them the new girls when most of them are older than the other group. We think it will probably be Vanessa's lot and Veronica's lot, since they are the matriarchs of those groups.

This is Josefs looking unusually lazy. Normally he's haring
around like in the video below
We heard about the costs of the chimney and it seems like a reasonable price, so that's good. At least the quote was slightly lower than he said, but we still expect there to be some additional costs in there and budgeting for that - or rather anticipating that, rather than budgeting for it.

The video shows Josefs and Jakobs playfighting. It is best to click on enter full screen to see it properly.   Well that is just about it on this rather quiet week. I'm probably working my way up to some pondering as there is a lot swirling around in my head at the moment.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Up North

I missed the rest of autumn while I was away. Although the
weather is unseasonably warm the leaves have gone from
the trees
Well all is quiet now, almost painfully quiet. No noise of grandchildren running around, in other words I'm back home in Latvia. It does feel kind of weird as we are now in the apartment and not the caravan. We have never lived in this apartment since we bought it about 9 years ago. Other people have made good use of it in the meantime though. The good news is that it is warmer than the other apartment. We have our own heating but also the apartment also seems to retain the heat better. It is a brick built apartment rather than the concrete shell like the other one. Anyway that will be a story for another time.

We finally have water in our pond

Yes it rained! Josefs has certainly grown while I've been
away and is even more active than before.
It is nearly two weeks ago now that I attended a two day seminar on leadership in urban and regional development  in Manchester. Manchester has never been a favourite place of mine but the seminar was good and the accommodation booked through HomeAway, a bit like AirBnb, was fine too. The networking meal was excellent at a Greek restaurant close to the Manchester Metropolitan University and hopefully I will have a few contacts from that. I also met a professor from Estonia. I had worked with him briefly before and was rather surprised to see him there. I had to book a taxi to get from the restaurant to the accommodation and had a ride with a lovely taxi driver from Kashmir. He was quite chatty and I found out that he has got a bit of land out there and his family have three buffaloes and grow vegetables - lol the things you find out about strangers.
Ian finally got the car back too. Spot the difference. It is now
two tone red and brown again though.

Some glorious days while I was away
It was a bit embarrassing at the seminar as my walk up to the university in the morning in the polluted atmosphere aggravated a cough I had got from my grandson the previous week. Oh yes! Yet another virus from life's little petri dishes. At one stage I had to leave the room to cough. Unfortunately it wasn't easy to actually get out from the corridor to get to the kitchen to get a glass of water because it needed an electronic key. Fortunately someone heard me and went to get me some so I could return to the presentations.
And some fairly cold ones

There were visitors while I was away too. Not all of them
welcome. The pigs are back!
After the meeting I took a train. It was chaos at the station, the screens didn't seem to work properly and trains were late. I don't seem to have much luck on the trains in the UK as the train to the seminar ended up being a bit of a saga. It was a cheap ticket that went the long way around and included a trek across Warrington to get from one station to another to get my connection. I ended up with a later connection too as it took me a little while to find the station and the previous train was running late. Fortunately for me on this second journey the connecting train was also running a bit late and so I got to the little remote railway station of Grindleford without a problem to be met by my son-in-law and the older two grandchildren; there was no trek across a town either.
Some visitors were more welcome though and left tasty
carrots for the alpacas on the trees

Even Freddie and George seem to have grown up while
I was away
My daughter, our eldest child of three, now has three bundles of energy herself. I was launched into looking after two of them and one of her friend's little ones the next morning at playgroup, while she and a friend attended a funeral. I did pretty well at just about keeping an eye on all three and even sat on the floor for song time. Mind you, after being bounced on by three energetic little ones, getting up was more of a challenge. I think it would have been no matter how old I was though.
Foggy mornings of late autumn

Me and my grandchildren at Sudbury Hall (photo by Edith
My Texan friend, Edith, living in Estonia flew over to the UK to join me on the Friday. She had never been to the UK before and this area my daughter lives in is very pretty with a lot of history. I thought she would enjoy visiting a more rural area than visit somewhere like London and I was right. We had to laugh when we found out that the stately home of Sudbury that we visited was perhaps only a few miles away from where some of her family may have emigrated from a few generations back.

The little tour guide
My friend and I babysat while my daughter and son-in-law got away for a night. My granddaughter had a few tears for Mummy and Daddy in the evening but her younger brother came up and gave her a big hug whilst she was sat on my knee. It's nice to know they are growing up to be kind, of course they have their moments but they are not bad hearted kids at all.
Jakobs may have grown but he is still cute and fluffy

Monsal Head after the frost
It was always going to be a challenge to get around as my daughter had just sold her 7 seater and so my friend and I decided on a bus trip. The two older children were very excited about this and I think travelling on the bus was the highlight of the day. We got a family Hopper ticket that meant we had all day travel for £15, so it didn't work out too bad - at least for the UK anyway. We saw Monsal Head, which has some quite striking views. It was a bit cold though as there was a frost and the side with the views and the walk was in the shade in the morning. With an hour to wait for the next bus we had a bit of a challenge to keep the kids entertained. We went for a short walk and turned back at the squiggly tree - well that's what I told my grandson to keep him going for a few more minutes. We had some snacks, another little walk and then waited for Father Christmas to turn up again. Well the driver did look a lot like Santa with his white bushy beard and cheerful demeanour.
They were enjoying themselves, honest!

So let's try and get a good picture

And again! At least they are smiling

The ducks at Castleton
We then went to Castleton. Here we had lunch at Tilly's. Highly recommended. I had a Welsh rarebit that was reasonably priced and very filling. However we couldn't stay all day in a cafe and so we set out to explore the village. We found the entrance to the castle but decided that would be too expensive and not enough to entertain two little ones, the cave we decided would probably be too scary, especially as it was Halloween. Instead we found lots of little back alleys and saw some ducks in the river. We also saw some ponies in a field and my granddaughter enjoyed seeing those but my grandson was close to a meltdown because he wanted to see a T-rex. I did explain that a T-rex wouldn't be good thing to have around as he might want some ponies for his tea, so the owner wouldn't be very happy. He wasn't entirely convinced but we managed to distract him with a view of a classic car in his favourite colour of dark blue.

Well they wanted a picture in the middle
of this circular seat
We also spent time at the Castleton visitor centre. The kids really enjoyed the short videos and the interactive display, where you move your arms to open and close pictures of the Peak District. The only problem was that the display was not designed for three year olds and so I had to play at being an extension for my grandson to change the pictures. We had one more stop at Tideswell where we had hot chocolate and cakes before heading back for a roast dinner with Yorkshire puds - how very English!
Almost a smile!

Tellus looking almost angelic here, apart from the spit marks
on his neck. Today he was in a bad mood and was fighting
with the others. Ian split him up from Brencis and so he went
for Peedo, then the others. Normally he is very placid and
easy going, but he has his moments.
The rest of the time we went for walks, took the kids to the park and read stories. My friend also had her first taste of proper English fish and chips. All too soon it was time for our daughter to take us to the airport. We went with the youngest one, who spent many a time in my arms for a cuddle over the previous week. Apparently he was asking for Mommar after I had left. The flight across was fine and I have to say that the Ryanair lasagne was not bad for airport food. It was filling enough anyway. My friend managed to find her car at the airport without too much hassle and I guided her to our apartment. She stayed overnight and then left with a jar of home-made chutney, jar of tomato sauce made from our own tomatoes, a large marrow and hopefully many happy memories from her first trip to the UK.
This is Veronica but with the arrival of her daughter and
granddaughter it is hard to tell them apart in the photos

Let us out! Kept in on rainy day
So I'm back to a normalish winter routine now. I went out to the land over the weekend and Ian and I spent most of the Saturday talking and catching up. I then spent most of Sunday digging up a bed of Jerusalem artichokes. It was a bit weird though as the sun still felt warm and not quite right for a November. Monday I stayed in the apartment and prepared petals to make some scarves tomorrow. We also had a man come round to give us some advice on the chimney. At the moment it goes into a ventilation shaft, which is not technically legal. It is also starting to disintegrate at the top and so will not be okay in the future. We agreed to get a chimney to go out of the house at the back of the house and sorted that out with the house manager through a friend who came to translate. More money! A bit of an expensive time, but all necessary.
The new girls are slowly settling in and enjoying being out
on the grass