Monday, 17 April 2017

Coming and going

The sunsets have been awesome though, but wintry
Right now our village is looking pretty with its dusting of white, only I’m not really appreciating this beautiful sight right now. We had a lovely spring week last week but this week we have had cold winds and snow showers. Oh well! This is spring in Latvia, so I can’t complain too much. Last week I managed to put some seeds in the ground, I think they will be fine as they will just sit there until the weather warms up and then probably come away quite quickly, since they are brassica type seeds. The seedlings, however, I have no idea. I decided not to peek under the fleece that is covering them as every time I remember it is covered in snow. At least the tomatoes that have germinated are tucked up at home on the windowsills

The wagtails came back recently but I bet they are not
impressed with the frozen pond
Turbjørn in thoughtful mood
This week has been more mundane than most. Ian has finally managed to finish off the chipping of all the branches from the trees he cut down the previous winter and he has started logging that up. We had to take a trip up to our neighbour to get the last of the hay out of her barn. We still have the big bales of hay but almost out of the small ones now. We just need the weather to warm up so that the animals can eat more grass. We have the alpacas out on the grass, but Ian has to move the fences often to stop them over eating it and the sheep we won’t let out as they would decimate the grass in a very short space of time - they are protesting muchly about that too.

One of the many dustings this week.

Ian has been feeling the cold just lately. Sometimes
one of his fingers goes white, once the circulation
shut off to two of his fingers. Such a shame as he
has been doing quite well on Gingko Biloba for
quite a while now.
We have stopped out in the caravan a few times and one night it was down to -10C in the greenhouse so a tad chilly for carvanning really. It isn’t impossible with enough layers of clothing, a quilt and a couple of blankets. The heater is also right next to Ian and so he can switch it on in the morning without having to get out of bed. That warms his clothes through too. At least in a small space the temperature soon warms up, well sort of. It’s all relative really. In summer we would be thinking those temperatures are too cold, in winter we have a slightly different perspective on what is warm and what is cold, unless the wind picks up and then any temperature feels cold. The northerly wind this last week did make it more unpleasant as well as the snow showers.
A rather good capture of Mr. P. It is hard to
photograph him usually

Have you heard the news?
We decided to try a new venture and set up an “Adopt an alpaca” package on our website. It’s a bit of fun but also every little helps with trying to earn a living out here on our land. We tried to think what we could provide but also what people might like when adopting an alpaca. So “a week’s visit from your adopted animal with a complimentary bale of hay?” as Ian put on Facebook. Well perhaps not, But there will be and adoption certificate, a Christmas card, a birthday card (as long as we are given the date), email updates and a fluffy keyring with a piece of fleece from the adopted animal. It is amazing how many people would like to take away a little piece and so we thought we would include that in the package. If you are interested take a look at our Facebook page here where you can see all the pictures and our website with more details is here
A fluffy Brencis keyring

Tellus and Mr. P looking for grass
We have had a trickle of visitors over the past week too, some to see the alpacas and errrr some to see the alpacas. Let’s be honest that is why most folks visit us. Ian at least managed a couple of sentences in Latvian when a lady with we think her grandchildren stopped for a look and couldn’t speak any English, which is exciting. Even more exciting though we got to hear that one of Ian’s brothers and his wife are coming out to see us next month. It is the first time anyone has been out from that side of the family and we are looking forward to showing them around our home.
Somebody is standing on their food! They also
broke the feeder this week

Ready or not! Here I come! 
Ian and I have been chatting quite a bit about home just lately. Yes we still talk about the calamity of Brexit and still wonder what it will mean for us, but also my supervisor came to visit and I needed to talk about the paper that I have to re-write. I was a bit stuck with how to present the complexity of home or sense of place. I read an article about identity and how living abroad changes your sense of identity, it loosens it somehow in so far as we are not totally British any more (whatever that means) but neither are we totally Latvian (lack of language doesn’t help) we are somewhere in between with a bit of something leftover from Denmark and the US thrown in there too. Each place has had an impact on how we think, where we feel at home and how we feel at home. England is no longer home to us, it’s okay to visit and see the grandkids, but it is not home.
We are not sure if our champion mouser is also
reducing the bird population again

Not sure who else will get the schematic I came up
with, but it sure helps me
I managed to come up with a diagram of little ships with anchors that travel through time and put out anchors into the different layers that make up our places that we call home or those we identify with. The more anchors the more like home it will feel, the more tied to a place. It could be family or friends who live there, the culture, or the physical landscape which is special to you. All have different values to different people. I’m not sure if I will use the schematic in the paper or not but at least it has helped me to organise my thoughts for the write up and that is a big help.
Eyre aka Floss in playful mood

There's actually grass there, before it got covered
again later on in the day
Not seeing the grandkids so much is a huge issue of course. At first we thought that they maybe able to come across more but that hasn’t worked out. Being across in the UK and helping my daughter out as well as seeing the others, was actually quite hard, because I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of just being with them. I was sat in church with my daughter and her family on mothering Sunday with these conflicting emotions and needing a word from God to quell the disquiet. There was no powerful preaching on the day and to be honest I am not sure I can hear much through crafted words, it is usually the off-the-cuff comments that catch my attention. This time it was the reading from Psalm 139. I helped one of the kids groups I helped out at to learn this one and I read it out at my one of son’s wedding. The part that resonated inside of me and quietened my anxious thoughts were the verses 7-10

Brencis out for a stroll
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
Another gorgeous sunset, just before a short snow
At least it felt like encouragement to me to keep going and somehow things will work out.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Transition time

I think this is a great shot that Ian took of a stork
visiting our land. I never cease to be amazed by
the storks. Not sure I would want too close, they
make quite a mess but they are still fabulous to
watch while they are around
It is that time of the year when we transition from being in the apartment to out in the caravan more, in fact Friday to Monday this last week. It has been relatively pleasant, a bit windy and sometimes cool, but it has been nice to be outside more. So lots of pictures and not so many words
They even visit the pond on a regular basis to catch frogs.
I hope they don't catch the fish though. We have seen the
fish in our top pond after the winter, but not this one but
they could be deep down hiding - hopefully
The storks eat the frogs but fortunately they don't eat the
frogspawn. It doesn't take long after the snow has gone for
the frogspawn to appear
A beautiful day today
Beds rotavated and some seedlings in under cover,
as well as other seeds such as cabbages and caulis.
The brassicas are always best under cover on our
land because they get attacked by flea beetles
otherwise, which puts lots of tiny holes in the
This week we have beds prepared for seeds and some planted up with cooler weather plants, we have areas smoothed out after wild boar activity (not recent fortunately, we seem to have escaped anything major for a while, so hopefully their numbers really have been reduced), weeding done, even the first washing on the line out on the land. It is early and we could get caught out by late frosts, but the sort of seeds I put in are more likely to suffer from dry weather, which could still come and so they are better getting off to a good start in the rain we will have over the next few days.

This is my first vegetable garden out on the land and
the soil is now quite dark for the most part as we have
added a lot of organic matter and wood chippings to
it. Some of it got a bit overgrown last year, but at
least it has had a good weeding to start the year.

Aggie was giving me a funny look because I was
laid on the grass to take this photo. She looks very
fuzzy but it was rather breezy
The biggest disadvantage with this time of year is the lengthening days, which is good on the one hand but does mean if I stay at the apartment and Ian goes out to the land he comes home very late to eat or we start eating separately - not something we are a fan of. Throughout our married life we have sat down to eat our evening meal at the table together and when our kids were at home we ate together with them too. That is one of the biggest reasons for making the transition to staying out in the caravan, the other is to save fuel of travelling backwards and forwards. When we are out there I only have to travel back twice a week, to get the washing done, take a shower, to pick up our milk delivery and do some shopping. Before anyone asks, daily showers are not only bad for the environment (think of all that hot water down the drain) but also bad for the skin's environment, a wash is quite good enough! Of course we do go into the village more often than that when we have forgotten something or need something from home, but our fuel consumption is a lot less even so.
Ian spent time re-modelling the scar around our well today.
He re-sculpted the bank to stop surface water flowing into
it, then rotavated the area around it 
He also scattered some grass seed on 
then raked it in
The inspector came to investigate. Which reminds me, the
inspector really did come to investigate today. A nice man
with a GPS came to assess our land for the EU payments,
he went away with a few photos of the alpacas too. 
The lambs are getting big as you can see, this one
is nearly as big as her mum now.
One thing I didn't mention last week was the trip back on the plane. I had the window seat and two blokes got on and sat next to me. They were this and that, which I absolutely hate, but then they ordered lemonade from the stewards and after the stewards had gone they started to top up their cups from a large bottle of vodka they had with them. Slowly over the course of the flight, they were getting louder and louder and at a few points in time even started singing. I wasn't really sure what to do and felt quite intimidated by their behaviour. I was saying a few prayers for sure. Just as we were starting the descent the one next to me had a nose bleed and asked his friend to get some tissues. I knew I had some in my bag so offered him some rather than let him bleed all over the place as it was quite a bad one. I also felt it might help to connect with him and help de-escalate what was happening. I think the nose bleed did that enough anyway, it seemed to calm them down a lot. It certainly isn't something I would like to have repeated again though.

A few signs of spring
Coltsfoot. This is usually the first flower of spring to appear
although there doesn't seem to be many of them this year

This fungus is so incredibly bright red and stands out
on the forest floor

The yearly carpet of wood anemones - I love them.
They appeared about the same time last year, but
earlier than years previous to that. In fact if you go
back a few years, sometimes our land was still under
snow and ice at this time.
Blackcurrants are budding too

Mint appearing from under the winter cover of spruce
branches - this helps to protect them from the harsh frosts


Welsh onions. I have all sorts of onions left to sprout in the
garden because they start to come push up leaves so early
in the year that we can be eating leaves almost as soon as
the stored onions are finished

The lovage is another early plant to push up after the winter

Oh yes! And ground elder, the scourge of the garden, but I'm not
so bothered these days since I found out it is perfectly edible at
this stage and gives a sort of parsley flavour to meals.
This is the Schisandra Chensis in the greenhouse. We
use this in salads, in teas and as a spice too. We
don't get that many of the supposedly amazing
berries that give so much energy, but we aren't worried
since we found out all the other uses for it.
So this was pretty much our week. There was a slight misunderstanding at one point. Ian asked for another replacement Stanley flask recently as the vacuum stopped working again, despite their 25 year guarantee - we think there was a problem with the lightweight ones that hopefully has been resolved with their new design, which is what they replaced it with. A nice lady came to give us the replacement since she is from the area, so she got her relative who speaks English to phone to arrange the drop off. No problem, it was someone we knew. The problem in Latvia though is that we know quite a few people who have names that are similar, so if we want to talk about someone we have to add a description too, unfortunately they don't add those descriptions to their phone calls, so while Ian was convinced it was the guy who had dug the well who was coming with his relative, it turned out to be another guy with the same name. Never mind, Ian got a new flask as the lady came to visit with her grandchildren the next day.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Oh so quiet!

Our sign went back up today with a new roof to hopefully
stop it from discolouring as much this year. You can see the
alpacas out on the grass behind.
I feel slightly disorientated today. I have now been at home two days and out on the land for both of them. It has been ever so quiet, except when our very loud and demanding sheep get going. The weather has been lovely and so I have got some gardening done on the first day, but the second day I had to get some accounts prepared for the accountants, as well as get some marking done. It was nice to get outside and in the sun though and even though I had to do the accounts, I could take a walk every now and again and see what Ian was up to.
How on earth caught me in this pose, I have no idea. It looks
like I'm dancing when I am actually trying to break off the
old Jerusalem Artichoke stems

At least here I look like I'm gardening

It had been a hard day!
Anyway back to the previous week. I have enjoyed helping my daughter and her family while they adjust to the newborn. It has been busy and, as you may have guessed, loud. My little nearly two year old grandson is a lovely, huggy little chap, but he has only one volume and only just occasionally is he getting the point that actually he could turn it down a bit. It was funny though to hear him shout Ma-mar at the top of his voice and sometimes he would also run up to me and throw his arms around me and give me the most wonderful hugs. My granddaughter being a daddy's girl was not always so huggy, in fact the morning I had to get her breakfast because her daddy was away was the day she told me that she didn't want me. Oh boy! A good start to the day, but she came round and we had a nice quiet time before everyone was up later.
The older dynamo

The smaller but louder dynamo

A thoughtful little chap and usually quite peaceful once the
ordeal of the nappy change is over
I had lots of cuddles with the little one too, but generally because he is a baby who needed cuddling and was a bit colicky at times. Poor little soul also got a cold, which fortunately didn't last long. He loves his baths but hates the process of being undressed and dressed, so during the bath time he is so content that he falls asleep, but before and after he is screaming the place down. He reminds me of my youngest who also hated the process of nappy changing for the first six weeks of his life. Oh well! Two down, four more to go and then he will probably be fine. He is already better than he was. Still I couldn't complain at having plenty of excuses for cuddles.
Full of cheek and here is his special photogenic

The view from my daughter's house

I did do a bit of gardening too. At least got rid of the dead
stuff out of the beds. After the building work though, it is
going to need some hardwork
The last week seemed to fly by in a whirl of preparing young ones for trips out to take the oldest to pre-school and swimming or all of them for mother and toddler groups. I did manage to fit in some time to sew some more waistcoats but had to bring back two to finish off. I also got to see a friend who I haven't seen in quite a few years now and we had a great catch up. She even bought some lovely flowers for my daughter and a little toy for the youngest. We also talked about assignments since we are both studying even though we are mature students.
On the way to the airport I had lunch with the family at a
place where we used to take the children on a fairly regular
basis. Not McDonalds for us but Caudwell Mill, where they
serve some rather nice cakes.

An eerie day with some weird cloud formations
I also had a meeting with an academic from Nottingham University who is researching the effects of ageing in the farming community, she was in the town where I was staying to connect with those who go to the agricultural centre. It is quite a sensitive topic and it is difficult for families in isolated areas to cope, especially as support networks have decreased over time. It was interesting to hear of the various overlaps of our research and interesting to find some of the areas where it diverges. After talking with little children for quite a large proportion of the week, it was nice to have a more academic chat too.
Errr! I thought it was spring! A dumping of 8cm of snow on
31st March

Not much grass in the paddock
So back to the land, we are hoping the lambs have inherited their father's more demure tones and not their mother's demanding ones. I have been around sheep for a large part of my life, either visiting my Godmother up on her hill farm in the Lake district or going for daily walks through the sheep fields around where I used to live in Derbyshire, but never in all those years have I known such noisy sheep as these. It is not just the volume or the length of time they make a racquet but the tone, which almost sounds aggressive. They want to be out on the grass of course and whereas we have started letting the alpacas out, the sheep are far harder on what little grass there is since they eat twice as much as the alpacas, which means they would do irreparable damage. So for the time being they have to continue to eat hay but what they really want besides the grass is the sheep grain, which they get each evening. So until the grass gets going we have to put up with it, or rather Ian does. Methinks there are some heading for the freezer later in the year.
A rush to get out on the little bit of grass

Mari looking very fluffy
There have been a few visitors again this week, some before I got back and some after. The first couple of visitors booked for a walk with Brencis and he performed admirably. Ian tried to take Mr. P as well but he was more reluctant. This is the first time we have had a request for a walk and been able to let them. The first couple who asked, we had to refuse as the conditions were too slippery. Hopefully they plan to come back again. The other couple happened to see the alpacas and stopped to have a look at the strange animals.
The boys, especially Turbjørn, knew what Ian was doing and
were queuing up at the gate in anticipation

In a rush they are through
Ian's week has been an eclectic one from chipping small branches from trees he cut over winter (which will be used on the road way) to fixing our halogen oven with a thermostat I brought back from the UK. He also managed to chain harrow the grass, which is like giving the grass a good combing after the winter to take off some of the dead thatch. It isn't necessary every year and last year he didn't manage as it was too wet and then the grass grew too long. In between dumpings of snow, there has been enough dry days this year for the ground to firm up, so he can get the tractor out to do those kinds of jobs.

Hopefully Chanel's fleece is as good this year. I wonder
what colour her baby will be though. She should be due at
the end of May or beginning of June
Whilst I have been away he has also been processing Chanel's fleece, which seems to be another super warm type similar to Veronica's, so it will be interesting to know how it knits up. There is less time to process fleece in the evenings now though because he is spending more and more time out on the land as the days get longer. Soon it will be time to transition to living in the caravan again and our days will be spent trying to prepare the land for planting and all the other spring and then summer tasks. And so the cycle starts again!
The lizard's are appearing and we have seen fish and
frogspawn in the ponds

The birds of prey are also coming back and we have heard
the cranes starting their very loud mating calls. The storks
too have returned