Monday, 26 August 2019

It's finished! - No really! It is this time.

Thirteen hay bales. Not all are usable but at least we can
move them off the field and decide what to do with them
Haymaking is finished. We nearly lost the grass that Ian cut last week. We had a day of rain and the grass was fairly green and leafy, so it looked like it might rot away before we got the chance to do anything with it. A few days of reasonably hot and dry weather, however, meant that Ian managed to rescue it and bale it. Not sure how worth it was doing it, as it needed turning and then spreading out and turning again before it could be baled. Not something Ian would do normally if it wasn't needed. At least it's all experience. Experience of what not to do next time.
Back to finding the shade. People often ask how they do in
the winter and we tell them fine, as long as they have enough
fleece on them. This year the fleece is growing well and so the
recent spell of good weather is hard on them. They enjoyed
the shower they got the other day when it rained most of the

Skype call from the office to colleagues. I didn't have my
video on, I think they would have been jealous. Actually
it's because the signal strength is not good enough for
Skype with a group.
I've been busy with my thesis this last week, trying to get all the work I've done pulled together into one piece of coherent work. As I mentioned last week I started with the easier chapters to get the writing flowing and it seems to have worked, as I actually feel like I'm progressing. I have had other work to do though, so maybe not quite as fast as I had hoped. Another day of washing helped.
How is that comfortable? Joesfs a bit
soggy and muddy and that was before
the rain. We have been having some
heavy dews in the morning.

A hard life!

Vanessa's crew up on the oak tree hill. When we had the
biodiversity team come to look at our land in June they
suggested that it would be good to graze the land to increase
the biodiversity. It should be cleared to ensure it does not
get taken over by aggressive grasses. The problem is that
also driving a tractor over this patch would likely end up
damaging it and so the soft pads of the alpacas is ideal. They
munch away, taking some of the nutrients away and deposit
it somewhere else. Perfect! Job done! I hope!
Where does all this washing come from at the moment? Well that has to do with another milestone passed this last week. After the rain we organised with the young chaps to come and help us out and remove some furniture that was on loan to the people who bought an apartment from us. We hadn't got the room to move all the furniture from two apartments into one very small one and the people who bought the apartment needed some extra, so it worked for the time being. Not long ago though I got a message that they were going to sell it and then another one to say they had found a buyer who  wanted a quick sale, which meant we had to move the furniture asap. Fortunately we had already discussed with a friend that we could store it in an unused cabin and so not a problem to shift it - once the horse box passed its technical though, which it did the week before.
Tut! Tut! Amanda. You are not supposed to be eating oak

They have a good view of the land from up there.

This is actually a quilt cover that
was used as a curtain in the
apartment. It was decorated in
August 1992 with the help of my
two oldest children. They were the
same age that their oldest two
children are now. 
And the washing? Well we had also left curtains,  they were a tad dusty and needed washing before they get stored away. Once the apartment was cleared the post key was left on a windowsill and we dropped the key to the apartment into the postbox. And that was it! We had finally vacated the first apartment we had had in Latvia. Time to move on from that chapter in our lives. We have no idea who the new owners will be, but understand they have connections with the people in the block.

Chanel and Ilvija. It is getting hard to tell them apart sometimes
Ilvija is definitely darker though

But not as dark as her father.

Alpaca fleece drying in the greenhouse.
Ian has also been doing some washing with our little portable washing machine that we bought last year and rarely used because we ran out of well water and there was no rain to collect rain water. He has been washing some of the not so good fleece, the stuff on the legs and neck, to give to a lady who visited just over a week ago. She makes duvets with sheep wool filling and so we are going to work with her to see if we can make alpaca duvets. We are starting off with small sample pieces to see how they work and what happens when you use them and see if it will work with Latvian linen. If it works we will get the wool processed in a factory into batts - it takes too long to process it all by hand for a full size duvet. If it doesn't work with linen then we may go for a good quality cotton manufactured in Latvia. We'll see!
Lady V not looking amused. Not surprising as she has a sore
on her leg that developed quite suddenly. 

Not sure if she has been nibbling it, as I would think it is a bit
difficult to reach. The flies were plaguing her though and so I
mixed some of my magic cream with clay. I sterilise the clay
from our land and it makes a good cover for the red sore patch.

Having a little chat with friends.
I will get my own chance to do some chinwagging later this year. I was accepted to take part in the European Rural Parliament, which sadly is in Spain. I know! It's tough isn't it! Spain in November too. I am also going to take the opportunity to connect with a few friends who live there. Although they do not live close by to the venue, it is still a lot closer than I normally am.
Busy eating

A wink from Jakobs
And the final piece of news this week. I got a pay rise or rather I am being paid a full week's work, rather than the four days a week I am currently paid for. The department has money for wages but not trips and so it was easier to employ me for extra days than pay for my trips. I'm not complaining, at least the trips get paid for eventually, one way or another. So this autumn I plan to go to Hannover in Germany, via Berlin; Helsinki and Mikkeli in Finland and  Madrid, Candás and Oliva in Spain. Just a few miles then and I promise there is only one return flight in that lot, the rest is by bus, train or ferry.
Let me whisper in your ear. These flies are bothering me!

Awww having snuggles! Not! They are actually play fighting.

The three muskateers

My garden

Knapweed seeds outside the greenhouse.

Monday, 19 August 2019

It is finished! - Well maybe not.

Ian stacking bales with under
supervision. Can you spot Sofie?
I was going to write about all the jobs that are finished this week, but they're not. We thought we had finished haymaking but with a change in the weather forecast and grass past our knees, Ian took a chance and cut the grass for hay. He would have had to cut it anyway as it is too long for the alpacas to eat, so thought we would see what hay would be like made with young grass rather than the stringy stuff. We don't make silage and so it won't do for that. There's no point as it is not good for alpacas. Neither is there enough to make it worthwhile for our neighbours to be able to bale, who do use silage. They would barely be able to turn around their tractors in this particular field and our bales are too tiny for them.
Over a hundred bales under cover ready for winter.
Field cut for the second time this year

We have seen plenty of clouds rolling in, but once again
not much has reached the ground. That's okay for the time
being as some of our neighbours and friends still need to
get in hay.
We have finished haymaking at one of our neighbours though. We got just over a hundred bales from his land altogether and so that means we are well stocked, as long - as Ian likes to remind me - as the bales store okay. We also got the hay cut and baled at the place we call the lake, the field where it floods in spring. While we were collecting hay there and I was rolling the bales onto the trailer for Ian to stack, he romantically said, "At haymaking time I'm so pleased I married you and not some wimpy woman." I can see his point. Being able to hoist a 30kg bale of hay or at least lever it up to past waist height and scramble over a hay stack or trailer to put on tarps is an advantage.
My waterlily is thriving. There are now four flowers on it.
Pity that I only had my phone camera that doesn't show it
so well.

Some of our other chickens eyeing up my veg through the
We sold our one and only hen that hatched this year and two young cockerels to a friend this week. It was going to be a challenge to add a single hen to our flock in the arks without adding a young cockerel, so when my friend asked for two cockerel I asked if she would take the hen too. It was funny when she came to collect them as the three of them went into the ark together, making separating from the other five large chicks easy. It was annoying that out of 8 chicks that hatched and survived, only one was a hen and the rest were cockerels. I now feel like Mrs. McCready from chicken run as the cockerels are getting extra rations to encourage them to fatten up. They will not be going into the greenhouse over winter, as there is no point.
One of our visitors spotted this
rather large caterpillar crawling up
the greenhouse. It is a rather unappealing
raw meat colour. Not sure what it is
and I haven't been able to find out
yet on the internet.  

Our rather tatty looking chicken arks. At least they still work
in keeping our chickens safe.
We want to be able to get new arks made or at least repair the ones we have. They are starting to show their age. The arks have proved their worth though, as two of our friends have been complaining that foxes and hawks have taken some of their chickens. That's why our friend came to get two of our cockerels. Even though the movable arks are on the field away from the main activity, we still have not lost a chicken to a fox or anything else. I just hope the badger that seems to be hanging around doesn't take a fancy to a chicken dinner. Not sure if it would be able to work out how to get into the boxes or not as they are at least off the ground.
The badger has uncovered two wasps nest in our orchard.
Not what we really want, neither the wasps because they are
eating our grapes or the badgers making great big holes in our

Little Ilvija came out to see me when
I was busy taking photos for the
blog. So yes, sorry if the quality is
not quite up to the usual standard as
they are my photos and not Ian's
I have been struggling to get on with my PhD thesis since I got the last paper published. I was trying to save time using the software to make a contents table and to add my references. It was just not working the way I wanted it too though. In the end I gave up and just started writing and now at least I feel I am getting in the flow of it. I should have the first of 7 chapters (of course one of the shorter ones) done fairly soon and then I can start to send work off for my supervisors to look at.
Aggie doing her usual, not talking to me

She did keep peeping out to see if I had
gone though. 

Are you safe? Little Ilvija is so inquisitive
I've also started getting into academic mode as colleagues return to work and I can finally get on with things. I am now booked onto a conference in Hannover in October and agreed to a presentation for a day workshop in Helsinki. Most of which at leasts gets some form of funding, well eventually anyway. My paper got funded for online access and so that was finished off on one day and published virtually the next one. Certainly a fast turn around. Not like my other papers that took absolutely ages and one of the reasons I am still trying to finish my PhD.
Cucumbers and tomatoes are now ripening, now that our felting
course is over. I was hoping they would be ready in time, but no!

I decided to tackle the monster wormwood.
It had started to take over the herb bed and
so it got a radical haircut.
So in between baling and stacking hay, washing (yes more washing), harvesting apples, potatoes, beetroot and turnips, weeding and writing, we also were able to welcome some guests. Two were our first Lebanese guests, so it meant continuing on with our international theme from last week. They were having a mini tour of Latvia on motorbikes and had meant to come and see us sometime, so we were pleased they made it out finally. It was also nice to shake hands with someone I had connected with via Facebook too.

The trailer might look old but it can still pass its technical.
We didn't bother unhitching it as we thought we were going
to collect our furniture from our old apartment, but the guys
who were going to help were busy with hay instead. Well we
will be ready when they are.
We have finished some things though. The trailer finally went for its technical and passed. The girls' toe nails finally got cut - they were embarrassingly long but it is only three months since they were done and not half a year or even year although they looked like it. We finally decided to call it a day with mating season too. It's too late now, so whoever is pregnant is pregnant, and who ever isn't pregnant will have to wait until next year. And last but not least is that Ian managed to book his trip to the UK.
So is she or isn't she? Will she have a
little one by this time next year. We'll
have to wait for the scan to find out later
on in the year.

The flash on the camera is the only reason
you can see these two stood in the
doorway. I could barely make them out.
I haven't booked my trip though. Not sure how I'm going to do it. I am unlikely to be able to make it soon due to work but the unpredictable political climate in the UK is making decision-making a real headache. I might not agree with Brexit and some of the decisions made my jaw drop, but now it is getting beyond that. Many people assure me that our place in Latvia is okay because the Latvian government has stated that they will allow Brits to carry on living in Latvia. The problem is that teh Latvian government add a caveat that they expect reciprocal arrangements in the UK for Latvians. I do not feel particularly secure when Priti Patel makes hostile statements regarding freedom of movement for members of the EU member countries on the day after Brexit regardless of how prepared they actually are. What on earth are they playing at? It is not a game. It is real people's lives they are fooling around with. It doesn't make them look particularly clever, in fact it makes them look hideously vindictive. I'm holding onto hope but sometimes veer into despair at times. Fortunately not the kind of despair that paralyses, but into the kind of despair that generates a rage. Not healthy really I guess, but what else can I do?
Tea anyone? 

Even the squashes have only just started appearing

The leaves on the birch are starting to
change. I do wonder if the disturbance
of its roots by the road maintenance crew
has anything to do with it though.

Josefs was not cooperating with having
his photo taken, He was either so close that
I couldn't take a photo or not posing for

The rowan berries look ripe.

So what do the skies tell us of the weather tomorrow? 

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Almost there

Our young helper in the tractor
We have passed several milestones in this last week both on the land and some personal ones too. We managed to get the baling almost finished at our neighbour's place. There is still some hay left to cut but they are in awkward places and so were not cut with the majority of it. Our young helper came and she helped Ian by rolling the bales together for collection while I prepared our greenhouse for the felting course that happened this weekend. She was tired when we took her back home, but she did work hard. She even got to ride in the tractor and bale some hay. All good training.
Practising baling, slowly of course.
An oven in a greenhouse! Doesn't everyone have one?

Collecting leaves ready for the following days dyeing
We had to rush to get the hay under cover though. It meant unstacking the bales that were in the trailers and re-stacking those ones under plastic. We then had to get the bales from the field and stack them before getting a second load. We finished off in the rain but at least the bales weren't soaked. Our young helper thought I was very strong, but this is the third round of collecting bales and my muscles have grown in the process. If it had been the first round, maybe not so much. I still love the fact I can clamber around on our tractor trailer when putting on the tarpaulin, I hope I can still do that in years to come. I maybe have to take up some form of exercise over the winter to keep up my strength. Hahaha! We have around 350 bales of hay or more, so about 50 more than we need, which at least means we should have some left over to see us into next year if hay season is late or for any other reason we need more.
Chilled out alpacas.

Sofie, ace mouse catcher.
The roadworks around us are still continuing. They have made some improvements to a bad corner and put in culverts where the road often floods, so at least that is progress. The road also dries out quicker, which is another improvement. We are still hoping they improve the camber of the road though, so we don't go sliding off into the ditches in the winter. Not sure how much further they have to go; they certainly have still got to repair the collapsed section of the road that fell into the river a while back. Apparently after a chat with the foreman today, the collapsed road is another project but we might get some better access to the land and our fields, just maybe not yet. We have a phone number anyway. We also found out why they hadn't contacted us beforehand. Apparently this is just road maintenance and not full roadworks. To them, it's just a little job, to us a major work. A matter of perspective really.
We had to move the spades and forks
further down the greenhouse to put
the oven in

Mr. P. now often spends time longingly gazing in the direction
of the females.
Ian is still continuing to take the male alpacas for mating with the females, although these are more checks to see if they are pregnant. As I have mentioned before, it is generally accepted that females will spit off the males if they are. We suspect that Vanessa is pregnant, or at least we hope so. It is difficult to tell with her, as she is so feisty and doesn't seem to like Mr. P. anyway. She seems more adamant though that he's not coming anywhere near and so that is an encouraging sign, not for poor Mr. P. though who gets covered in green spit. The others may also be pregnant, but some are more compliant and so we have the other problem of there not being a definite sign of a "spit off". We will be more certain when we have a scan done by a vet around November time. Once that is finished that will be it for the year and that could be as early as next week.
A very cheeky George.

Galina explaining to the participants.
We had our only felting course this year at the weekend. There were a multitude of reasons for not running two this year and my recent employment for an EU project is one of them. It was good to welcome our tutor Galina back for her fourth year and she brought her friend along as well again. Galina always feels like it is a holiday for her. Her friend made me some fabulous slippers using some of Herkules' and Freddies' fleece. She used the template I used to make some slippers earlier on in the year, but made some slip ones this time. Great for the morning when clambering out of bed. 
Preparing the fleece for felting my slippers

The slippers I made are on the right and my new slip on
ones on the left.
Galina giving me a telling off and telling me on the first day,
no experiments. Do what I'm supposed to do. She was only
joking, we had a good laugh afterwards.

Preparing a t-shirt for the dyeing process.
The weather was surprisingly good this year. Last year we baked in the greenhouse, this year, it was warm enough to work in and not as much rain as forecast. In fact, we had just about enough rain water to do all the dyeing and felting without having to bring it in from our apartment. We just needed to bring in drinking water. It is good to use the rain water for dyeing as there is too much iron in our apartment water and it affects the results of the dyeing process.
Preparing a pre-felt for adding to the dyed silk shawls. A
pre-felt is a piece of felt that is not fully felted but enough
to cut up into shapes to add to a felting project.

A salad made by Ian from the flowers and leaves I had
collected from our garden.
I organised the food again this year and everyone was welcome to join us. I do not provide food for the participants exactly, it is up to them if they bring their own or contribute something to the meal. In previous years we have used the hotel to provide food but it was more stressful and far too expensive. This way we use food from our own garden and freezer with the addition of some local cheese from our friend, cakes from the local bakery and some sausages from the local butcher. Of course with potatoes, eggs and my own home-made bread the food goes a long way and there is plenty to share. 
Bread fresh from the oven.
Ready for lunch.

Giving instructions on baking bread and scones.
Preparing food was even easier this year as the daughter of our friend who makes the cheese came to help, so brought the cheeses with her (she is the same one who helped us bale the hay earlier in the week). I love the fact that as soon as she had put her bags into the caravan, she went into the greenhouse and started washing up. I didn't even have to tell her, she just knew it would need doing. In fact she was so good we asked if she would help again next year. I do hope she can. It did mean I got to do some felting myself this year
Boiling potatoes.
Local goats cheese.
Lunchtime. A lovely view!
Looking the other way at lunchtime and you can see the
grapes ripening
The wind was from the south this year, which meant we
could leave the doors open and not risk our fleece flying
everywhere. It was also a little overcast most of the time
which meant it was cooler. 
The other milestone was hearing that the final academic article that I needed to go towards my PhD was accepted. I found out on Friday lunchtime and my ecstatic reaction surprised everyone. I am not usually one for enthusiastic outbursts but I was surprised there was no further work to be done on it, apart from a very few editing issues or clarifications before publication. We clinked tea and coffee cups in celebration together. I also heard that the costs for this open access publication will be met too, Yay! I was half expecting to have to pay for it, so rather pleased I'm not, as it amounts to nearly a month's wages and this was one of the cheaper ones. I've seen some astronomical costs for open access papers. It does mean you read it though - if you want to that is (link here).
Wetting the fleece and starting the felting process.

Nooo! Don't go. The storks gathered to leave as we were
eating lunch.

Once the fleece is wet, tables were moved outside to work on.

A shawl with pre-felt leaves being added
Monday meant dealing with the aftermath of washing. Five washing loads were done, albeit in a 4.5kg washing machine and not a big one. Some of it may seem bizarre, such as bubble wrap. My neighbours at the apartment must have wondered why I was washing plastic when they saw it hanging on the line, but it means it is ready for use again. Some of it was catching up with clothes washing. One load a week is our usual, two at the most but I hadn't had the chance to get that done for over a week, so that had mounted up too. There was also bedding from two lots of guests. Still it is nearly all done and the rain held off to get most of it dried. The rest of the wet washing is hanging up in our greenhouse. Sitting around waiting for the washing machine to do the washing meant that I had time to get the final amendments to the paper ready for publication. So a productive end to the week.
Rolling, rolling rolling.

The finished shawl and bubble wrap drying.

Dyed t-shirts and pillow case.

Galina with her sample scarf, a piece of cotton fabric she
dyed for me while I was busy and a participant's t-shirt
dress that was dyed with the leaves from our land.

Carefully felting

Felted bookcover in the process

Galina and participant working together.

My finished shawl, or is it? I haven't decided yet. I think I
might work some more on it.

Two rather well fed pussy cats.

Another shawl made by one of the participants.

Feeding Brencis.

A little chat with Brencis.

Wearing our garments.

Always the way, too many things to hold
onto and finding it difficult to sort it out.

Showing off our garments to the boys, not sure if they were that
impressed but they did like the dandelion leaves.

I was given the shawl a long while ago
but didn't like the colour. Will have to work
out what to do with the dyed material that
goes quite nicely with it.

The boys.

I look so small 😂

End of the course!