Monday, 24 February 2020

Home again

It's a hard life being an alpaca. It doesn't look like a
comfortable way to lie to me. 
It's a good job that I'm not a fan of routine. It sure would bore me silly. So last week consisted of a day in the Estonian office, a day of travelling back home to Latvia, a day out discussing alpacas and explaining my research, two days working from home, a day trying to think what I should do on a day off at home and a day off for an Estonian national holiday - Independence Day. So I make my own routine and get the job done.
Moving projections of flowers in Tartu

Relaxing in the local garden centre
The day in the office was as productive as it could be and so worth it to get the chance to go and meet up with everyone. Wednesday morning was the day off for the friend who I was staying with and so we pottered around a garden centre before I set off to go home. I haven't done that in ages. I bought some cacti to put in some decorative cups. They were a present but too small for me for my tea breaks but perfect for putting cacti in. I also got a weeding tool. Success! I'm not really a shopper but a garden centre or a craft shop works for me, especially if they have a restaurant to sit and chill with a tea or coffee and cake. I wasn't skiving either, I worked on the buses and trains using their Wifi.
I liked the ceiling patterns

Our alpacas relaxing in the sunshine. This was taken after a
bout of rising hormones brought on by the rather spring-like
weather. We won't go into details, bearing in mind these are
all male alpacas.
Next I was given a choice of whether to go to our friends with alpacas on Thursday or Friday and decided to take the Thursday off because the sun was supposed to shine that day. It did peek out but it wasn't stunning, better than the cold wintry squally showers later in the week though. It didn't really matter that much about the weather as we sat around chatting for most of the time. We chatted mainly about alpacas of course, but as I mentioned we also chatted about my research. It was interesting talking to someone who has studied rural tourism and moved back into the countryside, about the expectations of the younger generations who take similar decisions to start a rural business. I would love to do a study on the outcomes of those who make that move and see how they find it after five years, especially as children come along.
Mr. Tellus looks pleased with himself

Errr! Winter sunshine?
I have been doing so much on my thesis and work on projects that I have almost forgotten what to do when I take time off. I ended up doing some fairly random jobs as I saw what needed doing. I cleaned a windowsill that had got muck on it from some squashes that have been sat there since they were harvested last year. I brushed the floor. I made felt balls. I did some washing. I started on the leaflet for our felting course in August. Mainly though, I sat around wondering what I should really be doing. I definitely need a list of things I could be getting on with when I am not writing.
Brencis gazing out over the fields. Is that spit I see on the
back of your neck though, Brencis?

Will someone tell the honeysuckle that it is not spring, but
winter and it could be sorry for this burst of enthusiasm
It's still a weird winter here in Latvia, it is near the end of February and still no deep cold days below -20C, in fact it's been rare this season to even touch -10C and then only briefly. That did mean that after a morning of visiting friends I could still get in the garden and do some weeding today, even though the wind was a bit chilly when the sun sank behind the trees. The main thing is that the ground was not frozen, neither were the well rotted hay bales that needed the string taking off them. Instead of being impossible jobs with everything well and truly stuck to the ground or under a deep pile of snow, the very wet and soggy bales were fairly easy to move and the weeds easy to pull.
This has been acting as a reservoir for water rather than a
storage shed. Ian did a little sorting out so it doesn't keep
collecting water. 

Jakobs sporting his well brushed Elvis look
On my day off, when I didn't really know what to do, I watched a talk on revolutionising capitalism, by Dr. , where he argued that the economy needs to move to a system that relies more on relationships. I agreed with much of what was being said, but found myself thinking about the problems too. The argument was that the government have taken over the role of families, which is true to a large extent but we have to look at the reasons for that. We have to acknowledge that when families work well, they are good, but when they don't they can be very destructive.
Here Jakobs looks like he needs a brush. Decidedly wind blown

Flowers? February? How can this be?
Families cannot be isolated as that can be a recipe for abuse and neglect. He argued that families should relate to others through local institutions, but I have also seen where local institutions are not helpful to the local community or the families within them. Families have to be seen as part of the wider society and not untouchable units. There is a need for structures that allow families to flourish. As Michael said, capitalism does not help this, new ways of doing markets are needed. We have to understand that capitalism is not the only way of that markets can operate and that it is not capitalism vs communism, there are other ways, as neither works well.
Jakobs makes me laugh. Did he paint that moustache?

So many signs of life
The problem is that we have to be careful not to think of families within the nation as static things. Too many leaders are following the populist route and demanding that the traditional values be put first, which supposedly adheres to the Christian faith - not one that I recognise though. We have to be aware that static families fixed in some rigid view of traditional families can lead to parochialism and inbreeding. There needs to be fresh blood. As they say, travel broadens the mind, and I think it also helps to show us that we are all the same with the same needs but expressed differently and that is okay.
Hollyhocks coming through in the greenhouse. Some early
spring greens anyway

Chives starting to peek through
We still need the safety nets, the balances and checks that outside authorities can help with. We have to acknowledge that not all family relationships are healthy and be wise when to intervene. We also have to think of families as open units and not fixed, some will move and some will stay. They should not be forced one way or another. I for one need new challenges to keep my mind active, whereas some prefer routine. We need the life blood to flow to in our communities, in our families and local institutions, refreshing them and bringing oxygen and nutrients. New people coming in with new ideas that can also refresh tired old ideas.
Mr. P's teeth look much better since they were trimmed.

Mr. Turbjørn sat on his own as he seems to like to do
When I think of the Celtic Church, I think of it as a fluid community. There were those who stayed and tended the land, providing hospitality for those who moved through. They provided healing, teaching and then encouraged those who should to move on, to find their own place in the world. Traditional families have their value and they are under threat from rampant capitalism but we need to take care what we demand. It should not lead to the demand for an exclusive and elusive ideal that stifles innovation. Not that I think that is what Dr. Michael Schulter was suggesting but just some of the thoughts that sprang from what he said.

Monday, 17 February 2020

So close!

Mr. Tellus
I'm back up in Tartu and fortunately for me the chaos of Storm Dennis hasn't really been an issue. It was a bit noisy last night but nothing serious. It was more of a worry for me wondering what was happening to my children in the UK the night before, especially the one who is currently in a caravan with his family. Still all was well for them at least, not for many people living near rivers though. It's sad to see the devastation that can occur through such events, but I'm grateful we live in an area where we can prepare to some extent due to modern day weather forecasts.

Frosty sillouhettes 
Most of this week has been tied up in project work, writing and communicating via emails, so it is nice to be able to get up to Tartu for some face-to-face meetings. I love the flexibility of online working, but I think it's healthy to have to mix of some social interaction from time to time. It is one of the reasons why I think that having business hubs where people work in the same place can be a good idea, especially for those who thrive on social interaction. I enjoy it but I also like the peace and quiet and space of my own, so I prefer to have the occasional meetings spread out with plenty of time on my own in between. It helps me to think. It is then good to test those thoughts with others though. I see the value in both.
Marie with Ilvija behind and Chanel just peeking out

Too much colour for this time of year, despite the frost
This last week I stuck to a more traditional work week and took the Saturday off again. Well, when I say took Saturday off...... I mean I went and did something else other than computer work. The first job of the day was to cut the alpaca toe nails, which Ian did, while I held onto the alpacas. Having got the difficult one out of the way last week, in other words Brencis, the job was not too bad. Most of the alpacas were fairly well behaved and settle down quite quickly once held. Brencis was put on the other side of the divide in the alpaca house though and allowed access to go outside. He was still nosy and wanted to see what was going on, but at least he couldn't get in to "protect us" from any slightly jumpy alpaca, which is not helpful.
A closer view of Ilvija and Chanel peeking out. Chanel is our
spitty alpaca. We had to get Ilvija onto the other side, so that
we could avoid being directly spat at by her mother. She is only
trying to protect Ilvija, but it's not pleasant. I was quite pleased
to see that Chanel's fleece has improved a bit over the winter.
At least that meant we only had toe nails to deal with and not
put cream on her - a nightmare in itself.

Ice crystals
After toe nail cutting we went for a wander around, so I could see what Ian has been doing. It is good to plant trees to absorb CO2 but on our land the trees need managing, because too many have grown too close. Some have smothered fruit bushes in the process. We spent some time discussing which trees might be best to leave and most of that centred on which ones would absorb the most CO2. We also decided to let others grow nearby for when the ones we leave reached maturity. From what I understand mature trees do not absorb as much CO2 as less mature trees that are still actively growing. Our aim is to have more trees on our land but spread out for shade that we can cut on a rotational basis maybe.
Our ski hill with a frosted tree backdrop. Kind of weird colouring

A frosted pine tree liberated from
encroaching birch trees
After that I started on the job of doing some pruning of apple trees, cherry trees and plum trees. They should have been done a bit earlier in winter I think, mainly because winter seems to be ebbing away already. It was a bit difficult to work out what needed pruning and what not to prune. The damage done by the deer last year set some back and seemed to have stimulated others. I wanted to make sure that there was some growth from lower down in case the upper damaged regions suddenly started dying back. If they continue to grow healthily I will trim off the lower branches another year. I tried just to make sure the trees looked more balanced and crossing branches removed.
Spring? Winter? Or an autumnish spring as the Latvians have
nicknamed it?

I think this looks a bit like a watercolour painting with the
weird light.
As I said there are signs of spring but this is way too early for us. Normally at this time of year it is well below freezing and we have snow on the ground. The snow still keeps coming and going but it is not hanging around for long. Most of the time it is also above freezing even at night, which is really weird. Ian even heard swans flying back. I hope they don't get caught out by a late cold spell.
The same view from the year before. A more normal view
for us.

Another picture from a year ago
Sunday I set off to Tartu and I arrived in the afternoon in time to join my friend at her church. I had to giggle at one of the songs we were singing as it talked about having an anchor in Jesus when the storms of life roll in. It reminded me of my son, who has his caravan anchored down against the winds. At least those anchors held.

I love the way that the frost has edged the pine needles
It is weird being back in a church meeting again. It is not that I have fallen out with the Christian faith or anything, far from it. I've often felt a bit like a Celtic monk though, out in the wilds on the edge. I have to admit though there have been times recently when I've just wanted to lie my head down and say, "Stuff it! It's too hard." Then the small voice has whispered, " You are so close. Just keep going. A bit further sweetie!" Sweetie! Who dares call me that? Yet that is what I need to hear. Don't anyone else try that. You would do so at your own peril. But in those low moments, when the world seems too much, the voice of love and care is like balm to the soul.

Spruce needles this time
I checked out some words I had written many years ago. I felt they were something that God wanted to say to Ian then and yet the words captured me. It was if they were written for me now. It said, "I saw a man stood in front of you holding a flaming torch. He said, 'will you run with the flame for me? Take the light to those places where it is needed the most, this is what you have been training for.'" I'm coming towards the end of my PhD. As I said last week, the end is in sight and yet what is in the future? Where do I go from here? I have spent the last 11 years, nearly 12 years, getting to this point and now what? It was amusing therefore to go to work the following day after reading those words and my colleagues telling me about some possible funding - nothing certain but a team needs to be put together to examine some rural issues and I'm the department's resident expert in that field. Resident expert! Well I guess so! Is that what the training has been for? We'll see.

Monday, 10 February 2020

It's getting real!

Which is the way ahead now?
How could I forget to write about the most momentous point so far this year in my blog last week? The fact that I lost my EU membership or rather had it taken away from me. It was ironic that the day before, I was presenting my research to a group of mainly Latvian academics at the Latvian University Geography department. The German host of the session I was presenting in, brought up the point and said it was a good place to be at such a sad time. I was giving a talk on a subject I love, rural Latvia and Estonia, in a country I love, Latvia, and to a group of people who understood the sadness of the occasion. It seemed appropriate anyway.
George in a reflective mood

Turbjørn is a strange one. He likes to be on his own and likes
his space. All alpacas like their space but some more than
others. He is often the one who steps in when there is an
argument to calm things down, although he is grumpy
enough to start a few too, but not serious ones.
The reason I was able to present that day is due to the accumulation of benefits that EU membership has given me. The benefits that have allowed me to live in Latvia all this time, become a permanent resident, study in Estonia and so on, all with relative ease. But who cares that I lost my membership? I do of course, but what does it matter about me in the grand scheme of things? For one I fail to see the benefits of losing EU membership. I cannot see the benefits for my children and grandchildren in the UK either. There is no glorious past to return to, the countries of the former empire have moved on, they are not interested in shoring up the egos of a small country. It might be the fourth largest in Europe after Russia, Germany and France but in the world? 21st apparently!
Tracks in the snow, but not enough to
ski in.

No clouds and a clear view of the moon. Nice for a change.
The problem though is that exiting the European Union is just a milestone in the process. There are still another 11 months to go before we really know the situation. It very much depends on Boris Johnson's government of course and I have to say I am not encouraged by the direction they have taken so far. Some directions are downright alarming, like suppressing the freedom of the press and the resurrection of the Windrush scandal. These are not directions that fill me with confidence. At least for now, there is little effect, since we are in that transition period and I shall continue to benefit from being part of EU projects until at least the end of June.
Grass peeping through the dusting of snow. Still it does
brighten up the day. The girls are all inside though and not
out enjoying the sunshine.

This is February and the river is not
frozen. There are quite a few warnings
about ice fishing on thin ice.
Another transition phase I am in is the process of finishing off my PhD. We are now starting to talk about dates, as I now have a confirmed opponent. Just in case you are not aware of the process; first I had to have three papers published in academic papers, which I managed last year. In fact I now have four with another one on the way. The next stage was to weave those separate papers into one coherent story about my research - called a thesis, which I have more or less done now. The next phase is a pre-defence, where local colleagues challenge what I've done and I have to respond to their comments and criticisms with satisfactory arguments. This will probably involve a partial re-write of my thesis. Finally an opponent from outside of Estonia looks through my work to satisfy themselves that I have produced a piece of research that is satisfactory in quality to be awarded a doctorate; again I have to respond to any comments and criticisms with sufficiently good arguments in an open defence - which means a presentation that anyone can attend. After that, they have to agree that my work is of a sufficiently high standard and hopefully award me my doctorate.
A backdrop of trees

The cross country ski track near our apartment. Not quite
enough snow though for skiing
Another transition phase is the season, only I am not sure the weather really knows which season it is supposed to be heading into. The Latvians are calling it an autumish spring. I think that just about sums it up. We had the tail end of Storm Ciara here today. It was a bit breezy with snow initially that then turned into slush. Not nice. We haven't really seen much of good winter weather here and wonder if we will this year. The Latvian Schools Winter Olympics was cancelled, ironically the day before it snowed, but it wasn't enough to save the event anyway. Very sad for the local businesses around here, as there is usually quite an influx of people for that event.
Storn Ciara, well maybe not storm, but miserable anyway,
with wet snow at a 45 degree angle

Snow melting on the spruce tree

Alder catkins.
I didn't quite follow the normal rhythm this week of working on projects during the normal working week and taking the weekend off. The reason was that it was forecast for sunshine on the Friday and rather overcast and miserable at the weekend. The joys of remote working meant I could take advantage of the good weather and it also meant I could help Ian a little with some work on the farm. I also got out for a bit of a walk around our land too, just enjoying the sun and the scenery. I'm glad I did as the weekend wasn't as pleasant. I did do a bit of work on the Friday as there were some emails that needed to be responded too, but most of the work I saved for the Saturday.
Ian chipping wood to put on our road way

George does like to stand in the doorway
just like his mum.
Sunday I was back out on the land, as we had some visitors booked in, an Australian couple now living in Latvia and their Latvian neighbours. We gave most of the animals injections of Vitamins A, D and E before they arrived and they kindly helped us with Brencis with his injection and while we got his toe nails cut. He wasn't the model of good behaviour, but he wasn't at his worst either. I think he is calming down a bit now or giving in, not quite sure which. Brencis did startle me a bit though as he tried to bite George on the ear while I had a hold of George. I held my hand up to Brencis and told him, "No!" and he backed off. He is reasonably submissive in situations like that for which I'm grateful, as he is on the large side. We think he is trying to protect us, which is kind of sweet, but not helpful.
Our wild sown apple tree

I had never noticed this waterway before. It is quite
close to our apartment
There were lots of questions for Ian to answer about looking after alpacas as they are interested in maybe having some alpacas themselves one day on the land they own in Latvia. How odd to be doing that, when we were in the same situation talking to an alpaca breeder in Australia about 10 years ago, while we were deciding on whether it was a good idea or not. We've come a long way since then. We were doing some working out. Ian has been caring for the alpacas for over half the time he spent in a hospital laboratory in England, about 8 years now. So this has been the second longest job he has done. We also calculated that in March, Ian will have spent as much time doing other jobs as he spent in the labs in the UK. He spent 17 years as a hospital technician in the haematology labs and left that job to move to Denmark 17 years ago. Quite scary really and what an amazing adventure we've been on.
We don't often take pictures on this side of the hill.

The sun was shining through the trees
making the snow glisten like diamonds.

Looking at the back of the girls' alpaca house.