Today we went to birthday party for a friend of the boys, who turned eight. An arty and determined soul, he had spent the last few months building knight's helmets and armour out of plywood, so that his guests could launch a huge battle in his backyard on his birthday. Today was the day - and the battle was fierce. Funny thing is, although the temp has been hanging around -7 or so, it didn't feel cold. We must have acclimatized. Or our brains might be frozen.





Playing pirates on our bed. Most exciting part is when someone gets swept overboard and we have to haul them back on deck. Costume direction by Captain Mikus.



So we aren't going to be in our new house by Christmas. Things were moving a a cracking pace until most of the gyproc and structual work was finished, then about 10 or 12 of the workmen moved onto other houses, leaving one erstwhile builder to finish the first floor. We have been waiting for the last month for him to finish the "dirty jobs" -sanding plasterboard etc - before we bring in new handymen to finish up the inside work. All we have left is the wooden floors, doors, painting, tiling. You know, all the important stuff! In the meantime we have been interested to see if our woodfire heating system can cope with temperatures of minus fifteen and lots of snow. So far, after the inevitable teething troubles, things seem to be going well. I am finally getting impatient, because we are so near, and yet so far, to moving in.
Although we have gradually come to terms with the fact that our old wooden house is now a brand new plasterboard box, we are still trying to incorporate old details where possible. Many rooms have "feature walls" where we have left old wooden or brick walls exposed. Above is a photo taken yesterday when we found a beautiful old wooden door complete with wooden handle discarded by the dumpster behind our house. We managed to load it into the car and take it to the house for installation, a small feat in door and child stacking (can you see Mikus in the photo?).
Here are some photos from the last month of work.


Upstairs bedroom

First floor granny flat

Kitchen with a view to the back yard


Loung room with electrician

3rd floor stairwell

My beloved staircase - discussing the finish

... between drinks. Or writing blog posts, for that matter. I have just been inundated with things in the last month or so - with the stuff of real life, I guess.
Jem has been on two work trips, to various Scandinavian destinations, in which we at home went into lock-down, get-through-until-dad-gets-home mode. Then I had to fly to Muenster, Germany for a work conference (with a classic swap-the-kids routine, where Jem flew back home on one evening and I flew out the morning of the next day). We have been in mourning for my grandmother, who I still can't believe is gone. I've also had some kind of dreadful lurgies and sicknesses in the last month, and have spent two longish periods on the couch with high fevers and no energy for anything. Mikus' kindergarten moved house a couple of weeks ago, a future blog post in itself, which has meant a whole new drop-off, pick-up, public transport routine. Somewhere in the middle of all of this we have managed to celebrate the 18th November, Latvia's independence day, and have started preparing for Christmas. (The picture from above is a highlight from "Staro Riga", an annual light festival that is held in Riga in the days around 18. November).
While all this has been happening to us, nature has been doing its thing as well, bringing in the pre-Christmas freeze and dumping snow all around. The long darkness has begun, and we are hurtling towards the shortest day with conviction! As a catch-up post, here's a couple of pics of the last month. By the way, Jem has been involved in a great website project where you post one photo a day for a whole year. He has kept it up admirably, and is now 25% of the way through, or something. He is using the project as a way to improve his photography and knowledge of our SLR camera, but a great visual diary is also starting to form in his pictures. The address is http://365project.org/jeremysmedes/365.
Next post I will give a visual update of our renovator's delight, which is actually almost finished. Hopes of moving in at Christmas have been dashed, of course, but I fully expect we will be moving in fairly soon nonetheless! Yipee!

There was a good snowfall just before the weekend so we decided to take off to the country for a bit of snow action. The house was bitterly cold, and Jem and I spent most of our energy on the weekend hauling firewood and stoking the fire to try to get the house to heat up, while the boys played outside, blizzard or no blizzard.

The lake has now frozen over, and the powdery snow on top of slippery new-formed ice made for fabulous snow angels.

Another favourite for the boys - icicle hunting. Knock them down with a broom handle and then you've got popsicles for the rest of the day. Doesn't matter how many times your parents tell you that its probably not good to eat the icicles.


For the last few years we have made an advent calendar for the boys. It always takes a different shape and has a different way to open the "doors". First year the boys had to rip tissue paper stretched over the ends of cardboard tubes which contained little trinkets or lollies. Last year they had to unpeg and untie small fabric bags from a line strung across the room. This year they have a more classic row of windows. After the first year, and a considerable investment of time and funds, I decided an easier option for the following year would be to buy the small cardboard and chocolates calendars you can buy at the supermarket - but unfortunately I created a monster - the boys exclaimed sadly at this thought, and now the expectation is to have a home-made advent calendar every year. Not that I'm complaining - it's fun for us to buy little bits and bobs to put in the calendar, and to think of different ways of delivering the goods. And the main thing - seeing the excitement and happiness in the boys' faces every morning in December is totally worth it. Spoiled darlings :)

Jem was away in Sweden this year on 18. November so we celebrated with a good friend and her sons (their dad was also away playing in 18 November concerts) making a red-white-red Latvian flag cake with all of our boys. Tasted good, very sweet, and quite crumbly, we ended up holding it together with skewers! Didn't stop us from eating most of it in a night though. Afterwards we raced back to the centre of Rīga to watch the fireworks.

With my super-cuddly godson - he is so placid and gorgeous that I dreamed all night about giving birth to little baby boys!

The artful flag-cake from above

Ooooh, can I squeeze in another piece??? (fyi... yes, I did. Maybe that's why I had nightmares/vivid dreams that night)

On Saturday we will say our last goodbyes to my very strong-willed, artistic and caring grandmother Margarita, who passed away last Friday. She will be sadly missed by all of us. This is a picture of her and my grandfather Eduards, on their engagement day in 1933.

I travelled to Georgia a week ago with the "Saucējas" to sing at a festival in Batumi, a resort town on the Black Sea. We spent a whole week travelling to various places: a few days in Batumi singing, dancing and walking on the grey and pebbly beach; some time in the capital, Tbilisi, which we already knew from a trip 2 years ago, and day trips out to various places in the country - amazing cliffs with networks of caves long abandoned; a monastery made of rock with monks still living within; a shashlik meal in the country with the parents of our homestay host. Georgia is totally inspiring - very few tourists, the locals are friendly, generous and don't hassle, the sights are like pictures from national geographic magazine: the views are so stunning it is hard to believe they are not just painted backdrops. Food is delicious and simple and cheap, the weather is fine, and the wine is delicious. What more could you want?
Jem struggled through at home without me, which was not easy, and I think my three boys missed me as much as I missed them. Although the trip was amazing, it was sure good to be home!

Uplistsikhe

Batumi

Batumi - before a concert

Indiana Jones eat your heart out

David Gareja monastery

Tbilisi - the dilapidated wooden buildings hide the splendour of glazed windows visible from the inside

Tbilisi market

Country roads all had small bakeries selling freshly-baked traditional bread

Spicy fabulous Hinkali - just like Pelmeni, only bigger and tastier!

Here's some random snaps of things we've been up to lately - many related to autumn, of course. Even after 10 years of living here, I am still amazed by the way our lives are so intricately linked to the seasons in Latvia. So this post is obligatorily about chestnuts and acorns and woolly jumpers. As it should be in late October!

At Kūgures on the weekend we made a menagerie of chestnut and acorn beasts. Lots of fun.
The building bug has bitten my parents, and a month or so ago they embarked on a dream of mum's to extend the Kugs living room to a kitchen area out the back...

In the spirit of Charlie and Lola (who are Mikus' favourite storybook characters at the moment), the next picture is named: "We have absolutely new jumpers and we will never not ever behave when mum is taking a photo" (thanks Oma for the very warm and gorgeous hand-knitted masterpieces)

We are into watching the amazing race at the moment, and this next one is from portrait photoshoot for the boys when they enter as a team. Art direction by Tiss... I wouldn't want to mess with the guy in blue!

Another early-autumn classic for Latvia is mushrooming. We don't do too much of it, because we are scared of picking the wrong mushrooms, although it is great fun to go into the forest with basket in hand, looking for funghii treasure in the undergrowth!! The pic below is a pan of chanterelles (the most basic mushrooms, and most edible, and unmistakeable!) which we picked a couple of weeks ago when visiting a friend in the country.


And here's one for the cat/old chair/red kettle lovers out there...

Miaow!

Our house is moving along nicely. We've had a complete change of work crew for the interior work and it really does look like we will be in by Christmas. So much so, that I have begun to imagine actually moving in and LIVING in the area. Our suburb, Āgenskalns, is a wonderful suburb just over the river from the old town - a challenging mix of the most gritty Riga life, and the most interesting and charming. It is an eclectic blend of 100 year old stately wooden homes, set back from the street in beautiful gardens with old trees - many of which have now been gentrified; plain old wooden "boarding houses", which contain many small one room apartments that were built to house workers in the early 20th century; and multi-storey concrete monstrosities, locally called "hruschovskas". Many of the smaller streets have simple names like "Bee Street", "Flower Street", "Bell Street", "Pigeon Street", and they wind haphazardly around with no sense of planning. Some of them are still dirt.
The centre of Āgenskalns is a striking old red brick market hall, which hums with food traders and second-hand clothes stalls most days of the week. A tram line rumbles through the heart of the suburb, and it is not unusual for strangers to stop and talk to you on the street. Some of the richest, and also some of the most downtrodden people call Āgenskalns home.
On Saturday, before driving down to the country, we stopped in at our new place to check out our new front door and then did a stroll around the block, to get acquainted with the neighbourhood, eat some ice-cream and take in some autumn colour. We started here...










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