Monday, 28 January 2019

Backwards and forwards

Outside the Estonian University of Life Sciences.
Not bad heh!
Well I applied for residency in Estonia and got it. It was all done in one day for the sum of €25. If I had waited until Brexit goes through, that would not be the same situation. I wouldn't say it was a totally pain free process as it was a good job that my Estonian friend was there to ferry me around and sign some papers. I went to the police station first, where they process the applications and the very nice policewoman gave me back the form I had filled in and said it wasn't necessary. She sent me off to the council offices to register there and told me to come back when that was sorted. We managed to get there about half an hour before their three hour lunch break or maybe it was the half hour lunch break and two and half hours where they get on with other work. Who knows! The lady at the council office gave me a form to fill in and sign, which my friend translated. He also had to sign that it was fine for me to stay at his place - which I do sometimes and off we went back with my piece of paper and a personal code back to the police station.
Meanwhile back at home

The frosted trees lend a magical touch even in the city
In the police station they have photo booths, it takes a digital photo that is sent direct to the system for the ID card they give you. I thought I felt a bit dizzy when the machine was preparing to take the photo, until I realised it was the machine that was moving downwards and it wasn't me having a turn. Of course the machine needed to move a long way down, since I'm so small. My friend had found the lady who had sent me off to the council offices and she took my paper and my passport. I signed another paper, paid by card and that was it. I just have to wait for the ID card now and that can take up to 30 days but usually less.
Chanel trying to disguise herself as a snowman

Outside the cafe of the uni
I got to my office (I even now officially have a desk, well officially for my use anyway) and then went for lunch. It was a long day of work ahead of me after that. I had already done a little in the morning in preparation for an afternoon meeting, but there was more to read in the evening when I got back to my friend's apartment. She was a star, she cooked me some good food that kept my blood sugar under control, which was a bonus. We had snatched conversations, but not much more on that day.
The gym building glowing in the winter evening. 

Anyone for an outside al fresco meal?
The ski track is just beyond the first
The next day I walked to work on a very crisp morning, it was glorious, but in common with many people it would be dark by the time I set back off to my friend's place in the evening. My day was made up with meetings, online with the international team and locally with my other supervisor after lunch. Then back to work in the office. At least lunch was in a nicer spot than the previous day. I found there was another room to the cafeteria and I could look out on the frost encrusted trees and watch the cross country skiers on the university ski track. At least that evening I got to chat with my friend instead of working.
Come on mam, let me in! Josefs in his frosted coat

Our old oak tree in the distance as gorgeous as ever
Thursday I headed off back home to Ian. The last time I was up in Tartu, Ian and I had got our wires crossed and he was expecting me back on the Wednesday, not the Thursday. A bit awkward, but this time we made sure we knew when I was due back. I worked in the morning in my friend's apartment and then met her in town to hand over the key, as she was teaching that morning. We had time for a coffee before my bus and then off I went. First by bus, cup of cocoa in the train station cafe, on the train with internet access, hang around for just over an hour in the next train/bus station, cup of tea from the little shop there, on the bus and home. Door to door it is about 8 hours. At least I get to set off at a civilised hour and I can work okay on buses and trains.
Ian has been giving Vanessa's crew a bit of room

Trying to keep the channel next the greenhouse clear 
On Friday I was able to do a little flexi-working as Ian came home with the trailer and we shifted two loads of wood from the wood store to the store down in our basement. Sounds easy, apart from the fact we had to first dig our way past a snow bank where a tractor had obviously cleared a path down to the garages but not the wood stores. We then had to push the trailer through the snow to the wood store before Ian reversed the car down. At least the second time around it was easier. Hopefully that should now see us through most of the heating season.
Glowing trees

The oak tree again sporting a more subdued colour
Saturday I did a bit of catching up for work since I had had Monday and Friday afternoon off . It took me all day but I caught up with what needed doing. Sunday I took the day off. I lay in bed until 8:30am reading, and then spent the day pottering around doing things like putting the Christmas decorations away, polishing our wood furniture, cleaning up the pine needles. I actually took the Christmas tree down on Friday morning. I threw the tree out of the door and over the balcony (we are on the ground floor) so Ian could take it away in the trailer. I also made my bread, some cheesy biscuits for Ian to snack on and some pizzas. I had planned on going out with Ian so I could do some skiing but couldn't be bothered being up and ready for when he leaves the house. He has always been a bit of an early bird.
We have a magical place

Lots of paths to make Ian's job easier
Today was back to academia but working on a paper for my PhD. I'm still plodding on with that but at least I feel I am making progress, so all's good. Inside was the best place to be today anyway, since it snowed all day and there has been some drifting too. Apparently the alpacas stayed in too, only occasionally venturing out. It's a good job we sorted out the wood supply on Friday.
Turbjørn lapping up the sun

The snow is a bit deeper in Vanessa's crew's paddock

I am always so amazed by the frosted trees in winter

The contrast is stunning

Mr. P soaking up some sun too

Our neighbour's greenhouses are beginning to disappear in
the snow and our wood store is to the right of that lot

Looking the other way out of the back of our apartment

Out the front of our apartment. The ridge is getting
quite high

Hmmm! I think I might have to do a bit of snow clearing here

Monday, 21 January 2019

After the excitement

We have had snowy days this week and so Ian has had a
lot of snow clearing to do
I suppose this last week was a bit of a reality check. I was employed and I had work to do. Procrastination was not a good habit to encourage and so for most of the week I had my head buried in academic papers, only coming up for air to take a break or make our evening meal. I made notes, contributed comments by email and generally did what most office bound people do, only I didn't leave my Latvian apartment. I did find out some interesting facts about our sewage systems that are not able to filter out the vast majority of pharmaceutical compounds. This surprised me. I knew there were issues with hormones and recreational drugs appearing in our waterways and seas but didn't realise so much were getting through the water treatment plants. So folks, don't flush unused drugs down the sewage system.

Jakobs and his mum, Mari, obviously playing at who has
the longest straw
On Friday we were expecting visitors to our farm and so I decided to take the day off and go with Ian. First we had to go and get chicken food and I got my haircut at the same time, well, not exactly at the same time. I know this is Latvia, but animal feed operations don't normally also do haircuts. It is just the hairdresser and the feed place were in the same village. I did think I would have time to go skiing before our visitors arrived, but due to a bit of miscommunication we ended up hanging around a bit waiting for someone to show up. Eventually an old guy turned up and so I had to manage with my very rudimentary Latvian to get the right feed stuffs we wanted. The lady who normally works there doesn't speak English either but she knows what we regularly order. Anyway it worked. At least I can manage the names of the grains and I know the difference between flour, kibbled wheat and whole grains in Latvian. I might not be able to hold a conversation but our chickens won't go hungry.
Brencis and Freddie. It all looks a bit too much for Brencis

Josefs with a snow moustache
Our visitors were people who had stopped by our place last year and Ian had gone down to chat with them. They came bearing many gifts, such as chocolate, an enormous pumpkin, apple juice, apples and chopped carrots and apples for the alpacas. They had obviously been doing their research and knew quite a bit about alpacas. They were also used to interacting with animals and were patient with them. Something we will probably do in the future is to sell animals, but that will be very hard for Ian - it will be like selling his children. However the lady was very sympathetic and we jokingly said that references would be needed. She mentioned they maybe interested in buying some in the future and were welcome to go and visit them to see their farm so we would know what they would be going to. At least that is reassuring for Ian.
Snow moustaches were obviously contagious as Aggie also
had one

Mr. P though was having a snow bath instead
Just after we arrived home I had a text from our neighbour upstairs, wondering if we were home and if she could come and chat. I had mentioned the week before that if she wanted to practice her English she would be very welcome. She is a bit concerned as her exams are looming and she doesn't feel comfortable enough speaking in English yet. We agreed for her come down when we had finished eating and spent the rest of the evening having some great conversations. We were able to reassure her that she is very clear and I am sure with a few more evenings like that, she will improve a lot. I also sent her away with a Dorling Kindersley book on Russia to practice her reading. Plenty of text but also lots of pictures.
Meanwhile some were just having a sunbathe. I'm still not
quite sure who is who here and I'm not at home to ask Ian.
Ian has been having a job trying to sort out the doors though
on the new alpaca houses as they are getting stuck as the
ice rises. 

The early start was not helped by the unexpected dumping
of snow we had had in the night and it is starting to get
quite deep, despite the melt we also had one day this week
Saturday was an early start. We were out on our land just after 7:30am letting the animals out and feeding the chickens. We had a two hour drive to see some folks who needed some help with trimming an alpaca's front teeth and removing its fighting teeth. The job itself didn't take very long and we spent the rest of the morning talking about alpacas and eating the spread that their mother had prepared. Much was homemade from the bread, the meat, mustard sauce, jam, hazelnut butter, and sunflower seed butter. At least we didn't need any more for lunch. Ian dropped me off at home so I could continue working on papers that I had also been reading in the car - well when the car was on roads that were not so bumpy.
Chanel glowing in the sunshine

Ian messing about with reflections
In the evening a friend came around to talk to us a bit more about a job offer for Ian. Ian needs to be earning a sufficient income to help us with our residence situation after Brexit, if that does go ahead and working at the nearby camp on organising a garden and fruit bushes was one way to do that. He earns some money from shearing, EU subsidies and the visitors to the land, but it is not quite enough and he needs to top up really to ensure he is above the minimum wage. We are not sure how it will work out and the hours will be flexible but at least we can see how it goes. It is obviously only part-time and not far from our own land. Summer can be quite hard physically and so of course that is a bit of a worry, but we can only try and do what we can, like any other farmer.
A short while ago these were frosted leaves
now they are icicles

Larry the Lada car, gradually disappearing under the snow
Sunday was back to the papers and marking students work for my other job I have. It wasn't just reading papers though, it was also helping in the writing process. We didn't finish the one off last week and we got an extension to get it done. The idea was that I would do the polishing off as the only native English speaker working on it. I was going through the bits I thought were finished when I got a phone call from my supervisor to tell me to slow down. Not often am I told that. I went and put the heating on, made our evening meal, cooked a summer fruit crumble from our freezer stash of berries and some blackcurrant muffins while I waited. We finished the editing just before 10pm. Some of the conversations we had while working on the paper in the google chat got a bit silly, but at least we got the work done. So the paper is now safely resubmitted and we wait and see what the reviewers have to say about it this time around.
The softened contours around the pond. At least it might
fill up with water when it all melts. That will be helpful and
get our year off to a good start. 

The support for our outdoor grapes.

Today's lunch. Not bad for Estonian fish and chips
Today I am in Tartu again. This time I didn't have to wake up extremely early, as a friend of ours - the same one who offered Ian a job, offered to drive me up. He doesn't work as much at this time of the year and so happy to take me. It was beautiful day for a drive and the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the fields were covered in a glistening blanket of snow. Quite breathtaking. We met my friend who I stay with at one of the local malls to have lunch together and have more of a chat about life. It was so nice to set off in daylight and arrive in daylight - not something I do often. My friend hosts a bible study once a week and so I joined in with that. A pleasant finish to a pleasant and relatively relaxing day. Well it was for me, not so sure about for my friend who did all the driving, but it was much appreciated anyway.

Monday, 14 January 2019

An employee at last

Because you need a smiley alpaca in your life
Most of my life I have been a freelancer of sorts rather than an employee. I worked for my parents as a teenager and then in the shop they opened just before I went to uni after my A' levels. Does that count as an employee? I did a bit of cleaning at our church once. These were the only times I remember being an employee. I don't remember any contracts though, maybe there was for the cleaning. My other careers involved childminding at my home, freelance children's worker, self-employed tutor for an online educational organisation (sort of employee but not strictly speaking, more of a contractor), a Mum at home and teacher for our kids when we homeschooled, alpaca owner, self-sufficientish homesteader, self-supported researcher, well you get the picture. Some are still ongoing, some are finished and in the distant past. Not often though was I an employee, with specified hours and paid holidays. Well now I am and will be until March 2020 when the contract runs out, unless other projects come along of course and it gets extended.
We live in a magical place

With some rather cute animals
My job does take me in a slightly different direction to where I have been going with my own research, but I think it will all add to my general knowledge on natural systems and how we manage them. Instead of rural places, it will be the marine environment. I was born by the sea, so a little bit like returning to my past, but not quite. I never really felt a deep connection with the sea, although I like places where the mountains come down to the sea and love to sit on the steep hillsides listening to the sound of the sea crashing onto the shore. There won't be much of doing that in the Baltic Sea region, which is more like a big lake than a roaring sea. Not even sure if there are any mountains that come down to the sea, maybe around Sweden or Finland, I don't know. I guess I may find out.
Ian is busy halter training the youngsters, they were very
good about it. They didn't make a fuss at all. Ian hasn't
put them on a lead yet though. That comes next

I think this one looks very funny. Jakobs looks like he has
blow dried his hair and applied to much lipstick
The first half of the week was made up of meetings of course. My colleagues and I were getting our heads around the work that needed doing and what our duties would be. I was welcomed as an official employee with a staff calendar and one of my colleagues said I was welcome to use the desk in her office, as no one else was using it - no official desk as such, as I still work from home most of the time. I finally got to see my other colleagues on the project via Skype, although that was a bit of a process in itself and I had to leave early due to a meeting with HR to sign my contract.
I love the winter sun. It has a very special quality

But there are downsides to winter of
course. Freezing rain is never pleasant
I had to read through a lot of HR-ese about health and safety and work/life balance and such. Not quite sure what that will look like at the moment, as my life is not full of clear cut boxes, things tend to merge into one another. I will be working this evening due to a deadline for a paper, as I am waiting for something to work on from another colleague. So I thought in the interests of work/life balance, I will take the morning off and work on the blog. Does that count?
A chance to play in the sun

Well maybe I will just come out for a little while. Turbjørn
sampling the snow. Sometimes the alpacas would rather
eat the snow than drink the water. The chickens are the same.
Work/life balance is hard when you also have a business and a farm. When does felting go from being a hobby, since I don't sell much, to work? I love the creative process anyway. So is that work? I am making myself a felted tunic and incorporating embroidery into it. It would probably be too expensive for people to buy, with the work that will go into it, but I also need to find out how wearable a felted alpaca tunic is. Will it hold up, or will it also need merino. I need to make another tunic because just laying out the raw fleece ended up with patches with no fleece on the cotton muslin fabric I had felted it with. Will carded fleece work better? Maybe! Maybe I am just not laying it on right or it doesn't work as well with the muslin. And so on. It might also be the actual fleece I use.
Frosted pink in the morning sunshine

I wonder if Freddie is having a laugh at what I am trying
to do with his fleece?
I know that I should make samples first, but I get bored with that and dived straight in. I don't have much time either and it would be tedious if all I did was to make samples. I love the spontaneity of it anyway and can use my embroidery to work on areas where there is no fleece. I have made another thin piece of felt on silk to make leaves that I will sew on to the fleeceless fabric areas. We'll see where it goes. I think I should just aim to enjoy the process rather than think of a finished product. Hopefully it is still something I can wear though and, even better, be reversible.
The patchy fleecy side. I think the photo
makes it look worse. The piece at the top
is what I shall use to make leaves

This is the side dyed with leaves from our
land and onion skins at the bottom

The close up of the leaves shows the
detail better. The brown patches are
the fleece poking through

This is a close up of the interesting
texture of Freddie's fleece

Ian has been cutting a lot of paths in the snow, sometimes
using the snowblower, sometimes using the tractor to
flatten the paths with the tipping box on the back of it and
sometimes by hand. The problem is that the recent stuff is
heavy and wet which is not so easy to shift whichever
method you use.

Well this happened today. I said it was heavy wet stuff. This
is the small greenhouse that we had covered with black plastic
that we used both for storage and as a drying place, It will
need to be totally replaced as there is no way of
reconstructing this
Before I get up in the morning when I am at home I like to read, I have two books on the go and one is Celtic Prayer and the other is a yet another Wendell Berry book called "Bringing it to the table". This is a collection of essays brought together in 2009 and with a foreword by Michael Pollan. I like the quote that Pollan finishes with, written by Wendell Berry with his collaborator Wes Jackson in 2008:
It is difficult to make out any landscape features now. The
pond has all but disappeared, just a depression in the snow,
the root cellar is now just a white mound with a pipe sticking
out of it, looking like an igloo.  
At the apartment the greenhouses are slowly disappearing in
the snow
For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we have food. This is a mistake. If we continue our offences against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy. The government will bring forth no food by providing hundreds of billions of dollars to the agribusiness corporations.
Everything is quite well blanketed now
Sofie is back. Ian brought her back. It didn't seem fair for
our neighbours to keep on feeding her. Sofie is not best
pleased 🤣
We haven't learnt much in the last 40 years since Berry and others have been sounding the warning regarding our treatment of the soil. We desperately need to listen now. There is something elemental about his writing and that of the Celtic Prayer, something that makes me feel like I am waking out of a deep winter sleep. It makes me feel like I am touching something real that we have lost in our modern life. We can feel insulated against what happens in the fields when we live in the West, because we still have food, even in the bad years. Yes we might grumble about the price of the lettuces in a year when there is a late freeze, but so what? There is still the glasshouse grown spinach, or radicchio, but is that a real way to live? What does it take for us to feel alive?
The slippers I made with help the week before.