Just a few snaps of us preparing for Christmas eve. As you can see the snow at Kugures was quite spectacular - especially when the skies cleared and turned a bright Brisbane blue! The boys have been so excited over the last few weeks - that preparing and celebrating with them is just so much fun - they throw themselves into any Christmas related activity, heart and soul.
Here's wishing y'all a bright and wonderful Christmas! Sorry I am so slack with Christmas greetings of any sort - I haven't even emailed any this year. Thanks to everyone who has remembered us! Let's see what the New Year will bring....

Posing with the tree we just picked out in the forest!

Bringin' it home...

Starting to decorate the tree... to be continued!

This post begins with an apology to my father and you, dear reader, for leading you astray in this post last year. Dad has just started reading the blog (hi, dad!) and insisted that I amend some information I wrote about the Doukhobors. For a quick recap - whenever the subject of a surplus of material possessions comes up in my family, my dad never fails to mention the Doukhobors - what I thought was some mythical African tribe, who supposedly burn all of their dwellings and belongings every seven years and start all over again. Well as it turns out (and this is where the apology comes in), the Doukhobors are not mythical. And they are not African, or, for that matter, a tribe. The idea of them burning down their houses every seven years is also a distortion of the truth. So I would like to offer my humble apologies for my complete lack of ignorance - I suppose those who live in Canada or British Columbia would be well aware of the Doukhobors, and the things in this post would be nothing new to them. But for me, this small piece of history has been a surprising and fascinating, gripping tale, which has answered a few questions, and raised many more in their place.
The Doukhobors are a Christian sect that originated in Russia in the 18th century. They were real indpendent thinkers: they believed that God was in every person, and rejected secular government, Russian Orthodox priests, icons, all church ritual, the Bible and the divinity of Jesus. What a list! As you can imagine, the church and the authorities in Russia at this time didn't quite know what to do with them. So when in doubt, just banish people to exile, right? Doukhobors took up the offer to resettle in what is today known as southern Ukraine, and were also exiled to regions of today's Georgia and Azerbaijan. By the 19th century, the pacifist Doukhobors had sworn off the use of tobacco and alcohol, strongly resisted conscription, and staged a public burning of their rifles, to avoid the temptation of using them even if in defence or emergency.
As repressions such as conscription, exile, arrests and public beatings didn't dissuade the Doukhobors from their beliefs, the Russian government agreed that members of the sect could leave the country, which many did in the late 19th century, most of them settling in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Unfortunately, this move didn't bring all the peace the Doukhobors had hoped for - some of the more radical groups , and one in particular called "The Sons of Freedom", were dissatisfied by the requests of Canadian authorities to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown - which had always been against Doukhobor principles - compulsory education in government schools, and issues of private land ownership, and reacted through mass nude protests and arson. Gotta love those nude arsonists. What amazed me in reading this, is that we're talking the early 1900s here... what a form of dissent! Particularly interesting is that this was not just practised by men - women would also disrobe in public, for example, at public speeches by politicians, if they disagreed with the speaker.
To cut a long story short, Doukhobor protests and communities continued right through the 20th century. As far as my scant reading shows, the protests and arson got particularly serious in the 1950s and 60s, with arson attacks on school and other government buildings, as well as Doukhobors burning down their own houses and belongings to protest perceived injustices. So Dad, you got a bit of the story right, I guess. Incredible stuff. Of course there seems to be a massive contradiction for a supposedly pacifist sect committing arson to get their way - and you can't condone these activities, particularly if they lead to a loss of life - but for me there is also something quite admirable about people who have the conviction to take such radical action to stand up for their beliefs. Materialist or not, standing naked watching your house and possessions burn to the ground, even if you deliberately lit the fire yourself, would be a tragic and monumental experience.
Today an estimated 20,000-40,000 people of Doukhobor heritage live in Canada, with around 4,000 claiming "Doukhobor" as their religious affiliation. There are also communities in the USA, Russia and neighbouring countries.

We have been taking the boys to swimming lessons since September. Once a week - Mondays - each boy goes to their own class at the Riga Olympic centre - a beautiful, super-modern, brand-new public swimming pool, which is on the third floor, and it has two big glass walls so that you can look out over the city as you swim.
Because the boys are still at drownable stage, we get in the water with them, and encourage them as best as we can. I figured it was high time that Tiss learned to swim, because although not that many kids can swim at his age in Latvia, I am still judging bits and pieces of child development by Australian standards - and a six year old that can't swim in Australia is just not normal.
So anyhow, we've been persevering with swimming lessons for a couple of months now. And both Jem and I have had moments of concern, because, unfortunately, I think Tiss takes after me in the physical agility stakes. Meaning, he has trouble coordinating arms and legs. He also takes after me in the "drama" department - highly developed skill there - so that combined with the coordination issue makes for some interesting swimming lessons. We've had lots of swallowing water and crying and "I don't want to put my head under" issues.
But last week, it finally happened! And I've got to say I'm not sure who was more excited - Tiss or me. Tiss can actually swim!!
What I found the most interesting and instructive in the whole process, was that it proved that you can't rush a kid to learn something - they have to do things in their own time and their own way. Although I'd heard this theory a hundred times - especially because we've flirted with Mrs Montessori - I'd never really seen it in action so obviously. The earnest instruction of the swimming coach, Eddie, has been constant, but (and sorry to all you PE teachers out there) I'm not actually sure that Eddie's efforts were the most important influence here. Last week, when Eddie and I forced Tiss to do something we both knew he could do - push off from the side with his legs and kick over to where I was standing 1 metre away - Tiss freaked, struggled, and sank down under the water with a panicky gurgle. Then Eddie went away. And I cuddled a howling 6 year old, and told him that it was cool and that he would do it when HE himself was ready... then he calmed down, and stopped freaking out, and held my hands and put his face into the water. Then he let go of my hands and floated... and then kicked a little... and then floated some more. Then he put his head up out of the water and said, "Eddie forgot to say that you need to get that floaty feeling before you swim. Let me get that floaty feeling first, then I can do it". And he did it!!! After Tiss had swum around for a while we both just stood in the pool smiling and laughing like crazy, and floating some more, and laughing some more. It was truly incredible! To see the moment it all clicked together - to watch a child really GETTING something for the first time - suddenly they're swimming, while a minute ago they were sinking.
By the way, I'm not trying to devalue the input of the swimming coach. Without a doubt, a lot of the exercises that we have been doing for the last three months have helped Tiss to FIND "that floaty feeling" - how to kick and use his arms and get him used to the water etc - but ultimately, the big step had to be taken when Tiss was ready, not when the teacher decided he was ready. Anyhow, this post isn't meant to be a comment on teaching philosophies - I know nothing about them - all I DO know, is that seeing a child learn a new skill is one of the most amazing, exciting and beautiful things I've ever seen. You lucky primary school teachers you!
PS. The pic above is of Thailand 2006 - When Tiss was still well and truly wearing floaties and clinging to any available uncle. We keep saying that on our next trip (to Mexico!) Tiss will be able to swim by himself in the resort pool!!!

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