Monday, 31 December 2018

In between times

Vanessa looking cute again
So Christmas came and went and it's New Year's Eve. I was doing my usual grazing the internet and nearly forgot it's blog night again. In a few hours we are heading out to join a party. It's a long time since we have gone out on New Year's Eve. We have tended to be a bit like hermits at this time of the year and last year we were heading home from the UK anyway.
Plodging through the snow. And if you don't know what
plodging is, try looking it up in a Geordie dictionary 😀

Looking through the fence
Christmas day was rather different as I didn't go out to see the alpacas. I had things to do like cleaning and a bit of decorating. I made us a steak pie with a suet crust in some pots I bought on my travels last week. Not exactly the traditional Christmas fare but something a bit different. We did have roast parsnips though and Yorkshire puddings with it, although they were a bit of a flop. We don't do presents, unless we have an inspiration as we have enough clutter in our apartment as it is. So all in all, a bit of a quiet, relaxing day.
There's a good piece of hay in there somewhere (Josefs)
Or maybe here? (Freddie)
Our friend commented that alpacas have such lovely big eyes
and they sure do.
The following day we had a friend around for a meal and this time the Yorkshire puddings rose. Phew! Before the meal Ian came back from the land to take us both out to say hello to the alpacas. She hadn't met alpacas before but could see why we love them so much. The girls were very interested in the carrots she brought with her, so much so they polished off the ones I cut up, so I ended up having to cut some more for the boys. It was great to see Freddie and George eating them, along with the usual ones of Mr. P and Brencis. Tellus and Herkules kept coming up to see what there was but each time they turned their noses up when presented with carrots. Fussy pair! Turbjørn of course wouldn't come near, whether it was grain or carrots.
Freddie just chillin'

The weather warmed up a bit this week and so the snow has
been slowly sliding off the alpaca houses. 
We had a lovely journey to take our guest back on the snowy roads. The main road to her little village is usually awful, but in the snow it wasn't so bad, not so bumpy. Her house though was quite a way out from the village and so we travelled on a road we have never been before. The last section had been cleared by her father and there were sticks on either side of the road to mark it. We used to do that every winter but now the boys fence indicates where the road is and so we don't really need to do that.
Amazing how it can slide so far off without breaking

Wonder if someone has taken a bit out of this one?
Once Christmas was out of the way, it was back on with some academic work. There is a joint paper that needs to be re-worked before January 15th and I needed to check through my data to see if there was anything relevant that could be added and post that off to my supervisor. I then had to get back on with my own paper, which involved sorting through some downloaded papers to see if there was anything I could use. So much sifting of data and academic papers. I might as well get used to it as that is what my job will be for the next 18 months.
9:41 on a dull day with Jakobs looking out towards the trees

Come on! Hurry up! Feeding time for the girls at putting
away time. Only 15:37 but it will soon be dark
Ian had a surprise request this week to do some shearing in Hungary in April. That works from the point of view that we don't start shearing up this far north until May, but there are so many logistical questions to run through first before he can make any decision on that, so he has been emailing back and forth while he processes the practicalities of it all. An interesting request though. I can't go for definite as someone has to look after the alpacas and I have my own work to do too.
Everyone is looking for the elusive bit of hay. Veronica's crew
certainly know how to eat, their feeders go down at an
astonishing rate.

Ian has been fettling. The plastic on our halogen oven has
been getting brittle and I broke the handle on it. This
meant the switch didn't work, so Ian has put a new
switch on the casing and made a workable handle. It will
last a little longer now. Rather annoying as the rest of it is fine
I seem to have done quite a bit of baking this week, such as the usual croissants - although I haven't got around to making our New Year breakfast ones yet, so that will be late. I've made a late Christmas cake, Chelsea buns, scones, mince pies and my usual bread. The mince pies are for the party tonight. Not quite the traditional heavy mincemeat for the pies, but Christmassy enough. At least it will keep Ian in cake for a week or so - maybe! That man can eat.
Switch added at the back

The boys alpaca house
Today I kind of took a day off and I didn't do any academic work. Instead I did some felting, only not the decorative sort, just the utilitarian stuff. I used Herkules fleece to make felt pads to repair some inserts for Ian's winter wellies as the bases of the inserts have started to disintegrate. I have got so far as making a good thick pad about the right size, but I had to wait for them to dry before using them to repair the inserts. Herkules fleece makes a good tight felt, but it cannot be described as ultra soft, so do not worry that I have wasted fleece on wellie inserts. So I should finish there really, as I will need to get photos added and then get ready for the party.
Vanessa's crew have been getting black necks from reaching
over this feeder. It was designed to stop the sheep from
climbing in or from pulling it down. The alpacas are a little
more genteel when they eat and can reach over the top, well
almost. Ian is going to lower the feeder a bit sometime.

Not sure if it is the snow on the feeder that is being eaten
or chomping on the wood. They quite often eat the bark
off trees

Still hanging on in there and not slid off yet.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Step by step

The Christmas tree that delayed this post.
I have the Christmas tree rash to prove
it too. This tree was growing in my
garden and it was starting to get a bit
big for being in a herb bed.
We used to sing a song at a kids clubs that I used to help run, "Step by step we're moving forward, little by little we're gaining ground". Politically it doesn't seem like it and I was appalled that the UK British Government can go into recess having delayed any decision on Brexit. Less than a 100 days to go and they go on holiday after putting on the most awful pantomime first. I was not impressed to say the least. Fortunately apart from that, this week seems to be one of going forward.
As you can see though, Christmas trees grow like weeds
around here and we won't miss the odd one or two.

The view of a graveyard from the bus. Always with trees
and well kept plots - well they are well kept under the snow 
Tuesday of last week was spent getting ready for my trip up to Tartu and then in the evening travelling to another village to pay the final instalment on our new chimney. I have to say the guy is persistent in trying to communicate to us in Latvian. I got the gist of what he was trying to say and we managed to explain that we would email our friend who recommended him to clarify the details. Even if we had understood what he'd said, I think we would do the same, so we were sure.
I set off to Tartu on the early bus as usual. It takes a while to get up there and lots of changes of buses but I get a little extra lie in that way. It is also more scenic than going through Riga and hanging around there for hours. Due to the connection timings there is always somewhere I have to hang around, no matter which bus I actually catch. I lost count of the number of permutations I have tried and in nearly each case the buses or trains miss each other by a matter of minutes. It is quite frustrating really.
The oak tree on our land always looks more dramatic in winter

Ian has been getting the wood chopped and stacked ready
for burning next winter. We are getting an idea of how
much we need, now that we are in the apartment full time.
Still at least this is a lot cheaper than paying the heating bills
that we were paying last year.
There were two changes to my journey this time around though. As usual I arrive Valka in Latvia and walk over the border to Valga in Estonia. My usual watering hole though was shut for the day for a function, which was rather disappointing as there are not many places to eat in Valga or at least there didn't used to be. However to my surprise about three doors up there was a new coffee shop. I only really wanted a drink and not something to eat anyway and it was a bright friendly place to have a cup of chai. My usual place has good priced food, but the service is a little dour, although efficient enough.
This will not be a Christmas tree for
the house, but it looks pretty with its
dusting of snow

George with his dusting of snow. Shows the insulation
qualities of alpaca fleece anyway
After my chai and a cup of tea, I raced up to the bus station to catch my bus. I had more time than I thought though. Eventually the bus turned up and I got on, I told the driver where I was heading to and he pushed some buttons on his ticket machine and the ticket was printed. The strange part was that he didn't take the money I was brandishing and he had his hands folded as he said something to me. I was perplexed. The lady behind tried to tell me something and I apologised and said I only speak English. She shouted something up the bus and someone shouted back "Free." She then told me in English that the ticket was free. The penny dropped. I knew this was something that the Estonian government had planned but didn't know when. Not all of the buses are free, but at least this one was. Pity that the only way back on a Saturday morning was by train and those definitely are not free. Still it saved me about €5, so not too bad. I felt a bit of a nana (rhymes with banana) though as I explained in a message to my friend who met me in Tartu.
Is that a wistful look Mr. P?

The view from the boys paddock. I should have gone skiing
but I didn't. 
On the way up I had a nice early Christmas present, I finally got an official acceptance for my second academic paper. I had been told unofficially a short while ago and was actually close to sending a message to find out what had happened to the official email when this one came in. That takes me a step closer to finishing off my PhD. I need three papers, so two down, one to go. My supervisor jokingly said "Is it really true?" because it has been a strange and rather convoluted way of getting it through the process.
Ian had to get the snow blower out this week to clear some
paths. He also managed to fix the handbrake on the tractor
which got broken while he was away. 

Walking into work
It was a bit weird on the way up to the university from my friend's house this week. It is one I have walked a many times before, but this time I was actually going into work. The only time I have actually walked into work before is at conferences when I was heading for the children's venue, as I used to be a children's worker at Christian or church conferences. I did have a small cleaning job once when I was short of money, but that was a long time ago. Usually work for me is on my computer or on our farm.  So heading into a room to sit down with colleagues to discuss a project was rather novel. Quite nice for a change. I was still a little unsure about the project details, as I have never worked on a joint university project before and so I was encouraged to find out that neither were my colleagues and that it is common at this stage of the project. So even though I joined in a little late, I wasn't as behind as I thought I was. We managed to make quite a bit of headway and have a plan for the new year, so all's well.
The view from the room where we were working

Vanessa's crew have been outside a lot using the outdoor
feeder. They are the only ones that do. It is not so bad in
the cold as the snow shakes off rather than wets it. This
one is Silla 
One of the suggestions by the university HR department was to apply for Estonian residence. It took a little while for this to sink in that it is actually possible to have residence in more than one country. It is just if I am in the country for more than 90 days, which would be unusual, I would need a residence permit, so it is better to apply now and have the permission, even if I don't need it exactly. Seems daft having two formal places of residence but it just means I can work in Estonia without having to watch the number of days spent there. I'll still be resident in Latvia though. Not sure what happens in the event of Brexit, but not even the UK government can make up its mind on that, so we just keep on hanging on waiting for a final decision (I'll stop there now, promise!) I got as far as making an appointment to meet with the border police anyway, but that isn't until the end of January. Not a quick process obviously.
Vanessa's crew all outside
Vanessa looks really pretty in this photo. You wouldn't think
she was 10 years old and the boss of her crew.

Tartu square in festive array
My friend whose house I was staying in, asked if I wanted to eat in or out, so I suggested out, since I haven't been out for a meal in ages - eating on journeys do not count. She invited some other friends and we headed into town. My friend and I arrived first in the square and had a wander around the stalls and looked at the decorations. All quite festive. The decorations are up in our village too, but they stay up for ages to offset the winter gloom and so I don't tend to think of them as festive. It's one of the reasons that Christmas tends to sneak up on me, as I am not surrounded by all the reminders of the date. After a bit of dithering around by all of us, we settled on an Italian place. It was a nice way to round off my first day at work and a present to myself.
Chanel also in wistful mood

Eyre warming up on the radiator. She doesn't look like she
appreciates the privilege of being allowed in. She is usually
evicted pretty soon, once she has warmed through she goes
investigating for bread and cakes.
On Saturday I set off back home. I had to go through Valmeira for definite as I had managed to leave a new pair of gloves on the bus on the way up. Thanks to bus Wifis I was able to contact the bus company who managed to locate my gloves and they were left at the bus terminal for me to collect on the way home. I ended up in Cesis for rather longer than normal in the process though, so I went and did a little shopping for the kinds of things that you cannot get in a small village like cornflour and large bags of dried fruit to make a Christmas cake. After that with still about three hours to kill I went to the cafe where I can get cheap cups of tea, but they shut at 4pm despite the fact it said 8pm on the door. I was asked to leave. I felt like one of those homeless people as I had to go back to the station to wait another hour and half. It wouldn't have been so bad but a bus that could have got me within half an hour of home where Ian could have collected me left two minutes before my bus got in. Oh well!
Freddie has been eating the snow

I love the splash of red of the car in this otherwise
monochrome picture
When I got to the bus station the only people there were work folk. It looked like the whole place was going to shut down early too. Fortunately that was not the case. At one point a young guy came in who was well and truly drunk. He struck up a conversation with me, or at least tried to in Latvian, but switched to English when I told him I only spoke English - not quite true but true enough when it comes to a conversation. His opening words in English were "I'm f*ed up!" Not what I would consider an acceptable conversation starter for me, but I had to agree it certainly looked that way. We had an amiable conversation before he asked me for 50c, which I refused, then he asked for €1 - the logic escaped me. He said he needed it for the bus. I said "No!" He laughed and said, "You know I'm lying don't you!" I smiled and said "Yes!" He said "You are a good woman" gave me a buddy handshake and toddled off.

Mari's son, Jakobs. Oh he's looking cute and cuddly. He's also
turning into a friendly little soul too
A rather nice shot of Sofie. Our neighbour was telling us how
she turns up to her place and often sleeps in her cow barn.
The next day was the day before Christmas eve and so I thought I had better go out with Ian to the land and cut our Christmas tree. It had been growing in the garden and was getting too big and so we had already planned to use this one for Christmas. Of course it was covered in snow though, so spent the night in the bathroom to thaw before I could put it up. The first job for Christmas Eve was to tidy the apartment. Of course I had brought home all the seeds that needed cleaning up as they had got dusty and they needed sorting out into a couple of robust boxes rather than falling apart ones before I could even start on the other unsorted boxes in our living room. Eventually I managed to get some order into the place and shunted boxes around so that we had places to store them.

It amused me that the boys decided to all go outside when
Ian was around with the snowblower, trying out the paths
he had just cut.

Out for a stroll on the freshly cut paths

The only problem with the paths is that you can guarantee
that Turbjørn will stand in the middle and not let anyone
else get past

I love the startled look on George's face. Caught in the act?
Which brings me to the reason the blog is late. I was still decorating the tree in the evening, preparing some baking and so on. There was no big rush though, as we didn't have company for Christmas day and it would just be the two of us, but it was nice to finally get the living room in some sort of order and get rid of the boxes that had been lying around for too long because I was too busy. I get there eventually!

Monday, 24 December 2018

Oh is it Christmas?

I'm not very good at planning for Christmas. It kind of sneaks up on me every year nowadays. So yes, I was finally decorating and cooking this evening, but before I did all that I had to clean and tidy. Not so easy when we are still trying to work out where to put everything. Anyway, that's just to say, there's a lot happened this week and I will get around to blogging about that later, but not tonight. I'm sure you all have much better things to do with your time anyway than read my blog.

Monday, 17 December 2018


Jakobs is changing colour. He started off almost startingly
white but now he seems to be getting more creamy coloured
like his mother
This week has been a case of returning to normality. A chance to get back on with my academic work in relative peace, with my own routine. That's not to say it has been all plain sailing but I can explain about that later. First of all the good news. I actually signed a contract this week for some academic work with my Estonian University. I shall be joining a project that looks at wellbeing and the Baltic coast. Not quite rural, but at least it has nothing to do with cities per se. I can also work from home and it means employment for the next 18 months. It is only part-time and so there is time to finish off my PhD and still do my chores in the summer on the farm. The income is not huge, but enough and takes the pressure off our dwindling finances. It is a relief to being part of a project finally, as it hopefully also gets my foot in the door.
He's getting almost as big as his mother too. Ian had to put
sand down on their paddock area when Jakobs did the splits
on the ice. All's well now though.

It is no wonder that Aggie is thin when Josefs is also getting
big. He won't eat from the tray yet like Jakobs, but he will
eat the hay while the others are all eating from the trays.
Tuesday I went out to the land with Ian so I could show him all the things that had broken while he was away or are in need of fixing before they break at least. The sudden drop in temperatures didn't help and somethings have got fragile out in the sun in the greenhouse during the summer and then broke due to the freezing cold and perhaps a little cack-handedness on my part. I managed to break the door handle on the greenhouse, the plastic water jug and the rim of the loo. I even managed to break the handle on our halogen oven on the day I was showing Ian all the other things I had broken. The oven had got very fragile out in the sun in the greenhouse over summer. The problem though is that it won't work now, as the handle has to be down to turn it on. Other things have just got old, like the string on the chicken ark that regularly needs replacing -a simple enough job but just one I didn't have time for last week. The tractor hand brake cable also snapped, but not on my watch, or kind of because I was there and not Ian, but it wasn't me, honest! At least I found two of the bits, not sure if that was useful or not, but at least meant the problem could be identified. I also managed to lose one of the small kitchen knives, but Ian found that today.
A blinding flash!

ET phone home! Blinded by the light! Hahaha

That's better! Herkules bless him
The rest of the week I was safely in our apartment and managed not to break anything else. It feels though like a time of shunting files around my computer, trying to organise them for the next writing phase and sorting them out in terms of importance. I have also been trying to clear some files off my desk top to give me more space. Not an issue I've ever had on other computers, but obviously one I have now. An absolute pain.

Guarding the treasure of our village
The apartment is not as confining as being in the caravan but still I hadn't been out much for most of the week, so it was nice to get an invite to a presentation and a craft day. The presentation was the culmination of an outdoor installation, so a bit of a cold event. Fortunately it was finished off with tea and cakes inside to warm up with. The installation consisted of a walkway to a pagoda to overlook the river and two ironwork sculptures of Great Danes. The legend goes that they were to guard the treasure of the castle and to me they represented guarding the greatest treasure of the village and that is the hearts of the people who live there. There has been much division in the village and it is telling that the mayor was not there, even though this must be the most significant installation in ages. There were representatives from the municipality but they were people who are less contentious than the mayor has been. Having said all that, folks who turned up were appreciative of the good work done and the improvement to a largely forgotten and neglected place of historical importance in our village (you can see more pictures here, see if you can spot Ian and I in the crowd, we do appear a few times).
The models, blue Great Danes. I think we were all blue
by the end of it, blue with cold. 

Freddie getting in the Christmas spirit with a dusting of snow
The next day was a craft workshop in an old railway station that is being renovated into a tourist and information centre. I was asked to come up with something for a craft that anyone could do that would make a nice Christmas gift for the poor or lonely members of our community. I worked on some Christmas trees but I wasn't especially thrilled with those and in the morning I made a quick bowl. There was someone there to help me, especially with translation, and she was a felter too, between us we came up with some simpler ideas for felted Christmas trees from sheep's wool and some mug warmers made from alpaca wool. The alpaca I was using was not from one of our animals that make nice scarves, but from Herkules who felts well but is not so fine. The lady who helped me has only just moved back lately and so we will hopefully get to know her better.
Mr. P didn't want to be outdone apparently. What is it with
these boys, going out and getting covered in snow?

I think someone was intent on getting as much as possible
from the outside feeder
It was mainly children who did the felting, but it was interesting that there were more boys than girls there. They even took part in the Christmas table decorating craft made from bits of a spruce tree and Christmassy decorations. It was refreshing to see that, after all the years of children's work when I had to take care over the choice of crafts and being aware of what boys would consent to do in the UK, here there seemed to be no concept of these are things boys will make and these are things girls will do. We stayed on after most people had gone home and just chatted over coffee and biscuits. It was a nice way to wind down at the end of the day.
And point! A little ballet lesson going on here

Antonia and Vanessa having a little chit chat after a foray
out into the snow
I was looking forward to getting started properly on my job today with an online meeting with other colleagues from different countries. Unfortunately I was unable to actually hear or see anything. I could see there were other participants and I could write messages, but I could not seem to get the audio part working, something to do with the way the plugin worked or rather didn't with my computer. I wasn't the only one and she also had a Mac. It is so infuriating that even today there are problems between Mac and Window operating systems. I thought we had seen the back of those kinds of days years ago. I hope to get this sorted out later in the week if I can with our tech guys up in Tartu. Another day!
Turbjørn eating the snow
At least Chanel doesn't look like she was out for long
Sorry to bring up the B word this week, you know Brexit! It has been such a sorry saga. I am filled with a mix of incredulity about the whole debacle, as has most of the rest of the world by the sound of it. Theresa May seems intent on dragging the whole thing out now, especially when she backed down from getting the MPs to vote on the deal. I feel that the UK Parliament should not be allowed to shut down for Christmas until the vote is held, as it just drags the whole show into the new year. What is that going to achieve? Perhaps she feels she can have a nice Christmas while folks like ourselves are left hanging once again, while we wait to find out where we will stand in just over 100 days from now. 100 days to try and sort something out and she postpones the vote to January 14th. Unbelievable! So will we be left scrabbling around to find documents etc. come March to sort out residency? Please someone stop this madness!