Tuesday, 31 December 2019

It's Christmas time

Not quite Latvia! I have my oldest son to thank for the
photos this week as I keep forgetting to take my camera
On Christmas Eve, I had a surprise, Ian finally accepted my friendship request on FB. The surprise did not last long when I found out he didn't mean too and I had to explain how to unfriend me. Don't worry I'm not overly concerned. We can always send emails to each other..... errrr I mean talk to each other instead.

They wanted to see pictures of the alpacas
Usually on Christmas Eve, I decorate the apartment but not this year. I would be travelling and it would mean Ian putting all the decorations away and he's not that bothered. What he is bothered about is the Christmas food though. So instead of decorating I did the cooking. However, I didn't even try that hard with the cooking. Just enough to make it a bit special. It's hard to think of what to do when I bake so many cakes and we eat locally sourced, organic food throughout the year. Dried wild mushrooms? No problem, I have jars of the stuff. Different herb mixtures? I dry my own and use them regularly.

My helpers in the garden
I attempted croissants but they didn't work as well as normal. My arm was still aching so tried the pasta machine to make thin sheets of pastry. That bit worked all right but the croissants weren't as light and flaky as normal. They were alright and we still ate them for breakfast on Christmas day. At least I didn't have to do any cooking apart from making some Yorkshire Puddings. I also left Ian with a pile of leftovers to keep him going for a few more days before he had to start cooking for himself.

Taken on a family walk
On Christmas day I went with Ian to put cream on the animals that needed some extra TLC (tender loving care) before I went away. I also sorted out some of the things still left out in the caravan or in the greenhouse while Ian showed visitors around. We had a young couple from Riga. It was the husband's surprise treat for his alpaca-mad wife. He even blindfolded her in the car just outside of our village before they arrived, so she couldn't guess where she was. Ian took Brencis to the car for her to reach out and touch before he took the blindfold off. They promised to come back in warmer weather.

Well nearly all the grandchildren together in order of age.
One was not so happy about the idea.
On Boxing Day (2nd Christmas day) I took the early morning bus from our village to Riga so I could get to the airport to travel to the UK. It was weird to arrive in Riga with Christmas preparations still ongoing. A couple of guys were trimming the bases of Christmas trees for sale and at first I couldn't work out why, then it dawned on me that for those celebrating Orthodox Christmas (7th January) the preparations would just be underway. Since the proportion of Orthodox Christians is 26% in Latvia and most of those live in Riga it makes sense.

Opening more Christmas presents
Travel on Boxing Day is difficult in the UK and so my parents arranged to pick me up. Well I arrived but there were no parents to greet me. I sent texts and tried to phone a couple of times but got no reply. I headed for the Terminal pick up point and on the way I finally got through to my parents to find they were stuck in traffic at one of the large shopping centres. So having spent a huge amount of money on presents that might not last long, much of the population head to the sales to spend yet more money - and some people wonder why I don't live in the UK! Eventually my parents arrived and I went to their house for an overnight stay.

My youngest son and the amazing cake my
daughter made. She based it on a car that
my youngest designed and actually
went into production for introductory
level racing
The reason for leaving Ian alone for much of the Christmas period and into the New Year is that I wanted to be in the UK for one of my grandson's 7th birthday and my youngest son's partner had organised a surprise birthday present for his 30th birthday on the day after Christmas. I could spend about a week at each of my children's houses and still get to both birthdays. The surprise was a little dented in so far as we got stuck in traffic again, between my parents house and the venue for the party. We ended up nearly an hour and half late. At least we didn't spoil the initial surprise of having a party organised for him.

An evening meal with the grandchildren before their parents
went out in peace for a meal and left me to babysit them
all. They were all in bed by the time I was left alone with
them though. 
This time I travelled with my older son and his family to stay at my daughter's home as we were all staying there until the New Year. My youngest son came up for a pre-arranged day that he did know about and so I was together with all my children, their partners and children - all 15 of us.

Together!
So happy New Year to you all, may this year ahead be one where we can move forward and address the many issues that have held us back and threaten our future from the last decade. May we all be bold enough to rise to the challenges of changing our societies to ones that care more for each other and the environment.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

I'm back! Did you miss me?

Miss you? Who me? Nah! (Taken at about 8:30 using the
light from a head torch) 
Of course you didn't miss me, I haven't been away for long and you will have much more important things to do at this time of the year anyway. I certainly haven't been away from blogland long enough for you to miss me either. I have been away this week though, up to Estonia to my university. It was a productive time and I even went to my office Christmas party and a birthday party. Now there's a novelty, especially for someone who hasn't worked in an office much. The downsides of remote working, I suppose, or is that the upside? Depends on your experience I guess.
Yawn! Don't wake me so early! Actually Jakobs it is 8:34, so
get up! I love the coiffured look though.

Wink! No of course I didn't miss you!
As usual my travel up to Tartu meant an early start in the dark. It wouldn't have been so bad but I'd had some rough nights, as my arm has been aching and it meant I hadn't been sleeping well. I think I have over strained it whilst carrying my heavy rucksack on all my recent travels. It has been improving with rest, but every now and again, I set it off. It may also have been lack of Vitamin D. There sure hasn't been much sunshine just lately.
A smiley Josefs

And a smiley George
Unfortunately an early start, does not equate to getting to Tartu early, it just means 3 hours of traipsing around C─ôsis. Someone told me there was a pop-up Christmas shop and so I went to investigate. I found it, as it was pretty much where I guessed it would be, but it was only open at 11am and I found it just after 9am. Too long to hang around waiting for it to open. I decided to resort to my usual habit of sitting in a cafe in one of the supermarkets where the drinks are cheap. At least I could work, although they don't have Wifi there now. I guess that is a good thing sometimes. I had my phone when needed and I knew I could charge it up on the train when I got to Estonia. While there is free Wifi on the Latvian trains, there are no charging points as the carriages are fairly ancient, unlike the newer Estonian ones.
Little Ilvija

It looks like the middle of the night, but it isn't. The sunrise
is about 9am at the moment but the days are dull. At least
it isn't northern Finland or somewhere like that.
My friend came to pick me up from the train station and we headed for the supermarket. Not my usual destination in Tartu, but I needed to get some dried fruit to make pseudo-mincemeat. Dried fruit is cheaper in the city and I can get larger bags. The added advantage is I don't have to carry it from home - less wear and tear on the old arm and shoulder. While my friend sorted out the meal for us and another couple who would join us later, I cobbled together the dried fruit for the pseudo-mincemeat. I even popped out for a bottle of rum to add to the mix to soak it in overnight. My pseudo-mincemeat was just dried fruit, Christmas spices (or actually pumpkin spice as that was handy) and lots of apples.
Lady V

These girls look like they've been partying all night. 
I am not a great fan of plain mince pies and I prefer mine with lots of apple in them, so this recipe worked for me. It also meant no long curing time either. The only one to know was my Yorkshire supervisor. In the list of things we were bringing, I did explain that I was going to bring mince pies and then a great long explanation of what that really was - but it was only for his benefit. I reckoned that no one else would know the difference and I didn't want to build up his hopes of the real thing.
Brencis

Josefs eating as normal
After a lovely meal with friends and a good nights sleep I headed on into the office. My colleagues and I worked hard on getting the protocol finished that has been ongoing for far too long and had a deadline of that day. The project leader gave us until 2pm. We got the majority of it done for then, but there were one or two rapid changes that needed doing. By 3pm we were done. We had worked through lunch and I had survived on chocolate, oranges and a student breakfast (seriously, that is the translation. To you and me it is a dried fruit and nut snack mix). I was ready for lunch and so was everyone else, so our boss treated us to a meal at a little Italian place. I had a smoked salmon salad and never seen so much smoked salmon on one plate. At least it was a nice starter for the soup that I knew my friend was making for our evening meal.
Looks like a lot of fleece already

Someone has the right idea
In the evening I worked a bit on a presentation for the following day, but also spent quite a bit of time making the mince pies and a Christmas cake that turned out to be more of a pudding. I think it was because the mix was too wet and it was cooked in a glass dish rather than a tin. Still I am assured it tastes good and that's all that matters. I divided it up into small portions and gave one to my boss, as it was his birthday on the Friday (I didn't know that until the day before). Three pieces went to Ian and two stayed with my friend.
About 11:15am this morning. No snow but to me this is
Christmas weather - only UK Christmas weather, not Latvia

A journey to somewhere
In Estonia the birthday person has to buy the food for a party, so at 10am there was a buffet of Estonian food. Fermented cucumbers, lamprey, brawn, sauerkraut, fat slices, liver pate and dark rye bread followed by a cheesecake and blueberry jam, with most of the ingredients sourced locally. It was interesting! Actually it was quite tasty. I'm used to trying all sorts of foods and so I don't often come across anything that I can't eat and I prefer this sort of food to a MacDonalds for sure. Having spent quite a bit of time in Latvia now, I can understand why much of the food would be fermented, it's a great way of preserving food over the winter and it is healthy with plenty of probiotics and vitamins.
A rather twisted tree.Look at the base! A sad end to an
apple tree. This one had little but very sweet apples
Another mangled tree

The moss on the granite boulder is so vibrant
In the early afternoon I gave my final presentation as a PhD student. The next presentation I give in Tartu will be my pre-defence and then my defence. There weren't many people there as many were busy trying to finish off their work before the holidays, but three of my colleagues did manage to hang around, at least for a bit, so there wasn't just my supervisors there. In fact one of my colleagues got quite excited by one slide in particular and we had a lively discussion that was very helpful for my final write up. It helped to clarify one of the outcomes of my research. He was pleased that one of his comments had produced the basic picture that I created a while ago and it was great for me to know that the more recent changes I added (actually that morning) were helpful for visualising a concept. I now have a picture in my head that could be of use for others - at least I hope so! Fortunately I have some talented colleagues who should be able to help me create a good diagram from my ideas.
A ski track! Can you tell? It's missing a
little something. Can't think what!

These catkins took some photographing.
I think it was a combination of low
battery and a dull day. My camera
didn't know what to focus on.
I managed to miss lunch again but decided this time not to keep going on snacks and just wait for the evening Christmas party. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, having never been to one before in all of the 7 years I have been doing my PhD. This was a sit down meal with a selection of Christmas foods from a variety of nations, so it was a German, Ukraine, Estonian and British fusion. I think there were a few other nations' foods in there too but the result was delicious and it was hard not to overstuff myself. I was pretty full by the end of it as it was. It is strange to say, that one of the most remarkable facts about the evening, apart from the good food and good company, was that one of the younger folks was using an old-fashioned 35mm camera. I haven't seen one of those in years and she was probably young when they were taken over by digital ones.
Autumn came and went

The river near our apartment
Saturday I had a lift to Riga and so I was in plenty of time to catch the 3pm bus back home. It was lovely not to be arriving after 7:30pm like normal and I even had company on the way back. My friend's daughter who had helped us during the felting course was on the bus and so we chatted on off for the whole journey. She is an enthusiastic learner and bright, so attends university lectures on a Saturday during school times. It was interesting to hear about her experiences.
A different view of our apartment block. It's kind of rural

The bank is washing away
So back home it was more tidying up, collecting post from the post office that had arrived while I was away. Since the post office is only open till 3pm in our village, Ian cannot collect the post easily. There was also a trip up to a friend's to get some printing done. Our printer has run out of ink and we haven't got around to getting any more. At least it meant a catch up over a cup of tea, which seems like a nice way to pass the morning.
Heading into the river
Just needs a bit of snow.

So it just leaves me with the task of wishing you all
A Very 
Merry 
Christmas.

Monday, 16 December 2019

A title?

So what do you think Aggie? Have you got an opinion? Yes!
Aggie does have opinions and usually it is "What are you
doing here?" When she sees me. I guess she was relieved
today that I was not putting cream on her feet. She's doing
pretty well this year.
How do you title a week like last week? From the minutiae of daily life to potentially life-changing events over which I have no control. Life has been full of the little things and one of the extraordinarily large ones. Little things like we now have a working electric smart meter. I no longer have to make sure that Ian gives me the reading from our land to send to the electric company, it updates our records automatically. That won't stop Ian from checking on a regular basis though - Mr. Excel-man. If it's measurable, it's in an excel sheet somewhere.
Frosty mornings

Ilvija. Baby alpacas are cute. She looks like she is going to
be much darker on the top of her head than her mum.
There are also the little things like having to put my magic cream on the legs of two of our alpacas. Lady V must be starting to feel the immune-suppressing gloom we have had just lately, as this is the first time I've had to put cream on her in ages. Freddie, unfortunately has inherited his mother's over reactive skin problems and it is starting to spread, so he is a regular for my cream. Little Ilvija has started eating out of Ian's hand and so it gives him the opportunity to start the training to accept a halter. First he gets to tickle her under the chin and then stroke her face. The more used to touch the better as we do not want another spitty alpaca that hates any form of contact and lets everyone know about it within a 2 metre range, like her mother. Don't get me wrong, her mother is a lovely alpaca, just not when you have to try and put cream on her, or give her an injection or at shearing time and so on.
Lady V in contemplative mood
Freddie, the other recipient of the magic cream

Eyre, not Sofie. Eyre is the one usually in trouble, but not
this time
There are also the little thing challenges of having a cat, who is determined to get out. We had been keeping Sofie in our greenhouse to stop her going up to our neighbours, but she clawed her way through the plastic when she couldn't get out of the hole in the back of the greenhouse that she dug out years ago and Ian had blocked up. Ian taped up the hole she had made at the weekend, only today she tried to go through again in two separate attempts. This was despite the fact that the hole was unblocked and Ian showed her that she could go through after the first attempt. Not happy was he!
It's a good job she will be darker on her head than Chanel. It
will be difficult to tell them apart otherwise in years to come.
Ilvija is still feeding but Chanel is not giving her enough
to keep up with a growing alpaca, so it is nice that she is
now eating the feed like the others. She gets her own tray now
Ian finished off the repairs to one of the chicken arks that had sat outside in the rain until recently. We had managed to collect it one frosty morning and take it down to the barn where he could work on it. It needed a new base as the old one had rotted through. As the ark was in two pieces we could easily slot the components through the gaps beside the caravan and set it up in situ. Finally we could bring the last group of chickens inside the greenhouse. The last few days they have enjoyed not being rained on or sitting huddled in their hutch all day. We even got a blue egg today. The hen that lays the blue eggs hasn't given us an egg in ages. Unless of course she's been eating them. I wouldn't feel too sorry for them though, the stupid chickens quite often refused to go in and would sit up on top of the ark, in the rain and even the snow, rather than go in, or even sit underneath the ark where there was shelter. It has also been relatively mild, but it is nice to get them inside before the real winter weather hits.
Has someone been sitting down?

The alpaca pruned Christmas tree

Not the same Christmas tree. Ian cuts down Christmas trees
for the alpacas to eat. Plenty of vitamins. These are the weed
ones that need taking out to let the grass grow, or other
trees to thrive
Snow clouds gathering over the girls' alpaca house
Talking of weather, the snow has come and gone again this week. Now we are just back to gloom and wet soggy land. Ian even had to get the tractor out to sort out the roadway and create a run off to take the water away as it was just getting more and more boggy. This of course made a right mess, but hopefully in the long run it will improve. He now has the water running into the ditches the road company made. At least the rain means the water table is high and hopefully soaking its way into the underground stores, keeping the pressure high in the springs and water bearing sections of our land. 150 litres of water went into our well yesterday and once again it is close to the top. This represents quite a force to keep the water at near ground level on a slope. The actual water bearing layer is about 2 metres down.
A gloomy day, but not as gloomy as today after the snow has
melted

Hello Mr. Tellus, how are you today? Good? 
We took a trip into Riga this week. I planned to visit the Latvian Aquatic Ecology centre to see someone I had met in Helsinki. Ian took me in so that he could get some tyres for the car. Here in the sticks he would have had to order them from one place, then organise to get them fitted at our local garage. In Riga we can just go in and get them fitted quickly, without waiting weeks, but of course it costs in fuel and time to get it done. At least this way it was an opportunity for me to visit without an early start or having to hang around for buses. So while he was getting the tyres fitted I had a tour of the small centre. Despite its size, the centre had a range of labs for testing numerous aspects of the Baltic Sea. Heavy metals, toxicology experiments, algae experiments, nutrient load etc. I think there were about 8 or so small labs. It was fascinating to see the work that up until then I had only been reading about.
Hmmmm! Sunshine. Mr. P doing a bit of winter sunbathing

Minimalist headgear worn by Josefs.
The people in the centre were also a lovely bunch. I'm not sure they get many visitors and so they were quite keen to show me around and tell me about what they are doing. I got to talk about pharmacology and the issues with pharmaceuticals in the water with people who understand the issues. In our EU project that I'm working on, I'm the only one with any pharmaceutical knowledge and my knowledge is a bit antiquated. At least I understand the concepts and the risks and so it was nice to talk with people who shared my concerns and to confirm that I wasn't way off base in my thinking. Meanwhile Ian arrived back and talked to some of them about alpacas, as you do.
All attention on a little, teeny, tiny cat!

Jakobs often looks like he's wearing make up
At least this was on a day when I needed a bit of a distraction. It was election day in the UK. Up until recently I only kept a distant interest in the ins and outs of the UK elections since leaving. I didn't think it was fair to inflict my choices on those who still live in the UK. Now it feels unfair to have choices inflicted on me with no say. I left the UK over 16 years ago. After 15 years I have no opportunity to vote, whether it affects me or not. The saddest thing I saw was a lady who had worked on behalf of the UK government for over 20 years being denied a vote that would mean her job disappeared. She was settled in Belgium, her children were there. Now! Who knows and who in the UK government even cares.
That is a serious eyebrow work there, but maybe a bit hasty
with the lipstick.

George, Jakobs half brother is not into the make up though.
He's more into the natural look
It was with a degree of schadenfreude that I saw Anne Widecombe was denied a seat in Parliament. She will shortly be leaving the EU Parliament, where she and the rest of Farage's team only seemed to offer stupid comments. At least she and Farage will not be able to walk into another parliament to utter further ridiculous pronouncements. I doubt they will suffer the heartache that many will feel who will now also be losing their jobs for certain in all the EU agencies. All those jobs rested on being from an EU member state. About the only bright point is the uncertainty will end, but not the negotiations. Finished by December 2020. I think not! Democratic decision? No way! How can a democratic decision be made when over 80% of the output consists of lies? What kind of democracy is that? Something is definitely broken in the politics of the UK. I hope and pray that this galvanises a rise from the grassroots level to put it right. Meanwhile I will be looking at learning Latvian to see about Latvian citizenship. I pray my brain will cope.
Soaking up the sun

Jakobs mum

Antonia also looks like she likes a bit of make up. More the
Egyptian eyeliner look though

Going to be a frosty night
These next three photos look like they have had a filter put on them, but this was the colour in the sunset. So weird. These were taken about 13 days ago when we had more snow.