When I was about five, I was a huge monarchist.  HUGE.  I had an album called "Rule Britannia" with "all the songs that make Britain great", played by the BBC radio marching band, or suchlike.  I loved the Queen.  Especially 1950s images of her in her coronation robes.  One vivid memory of this period is from a trip from Brisbane to Adelaide at Christmas time - a trip we took every year to visit our grandparents who lived in Adelaide. Two days in our brown Renault station wagon with no air-conditioning,  right through the heart of Eastern Australia.  This particular year we had stopped towards the end of the trip at an antique store in Broken Hill.  All of us hot and sweaty after hours of crossing the desert.  The antique store was dark and musty, and I probably almost wet myself when I saw the framed portrait of the Queen in coronation robes hanging amongst the other artwork.  I got it in my naive, princess crowns-n-robes loving heart that I NEEDED the portrait.  I couldn't live without it.  My parents, who have always been radicals who need neither Church nor Queen, were horrified at my latest monarchist outpouring.  I wheedled: they denied; I pleaded: they ignored.  To cut a sad story short, my dad ended up picking me up, tucking me under his arm and carrying me out of the store, crying and screaming blue murder. I ask you, was it necessary?  Shouldn't they have just shelled out the ten bucks for the portrait and made a little girl happy?  And saved themselves the tantrum?  I know I wouldn't have.  But even today I cry a little inside over that lost portrait.
As life in Australia went on, and I went to Uni, I lost my monarchist leanings, and cultivated a healthy cynicism and disdain for the royal family and all it stood for.  News in Australia, as far as I can remember, was mostly either local Aussie news or information about the royals.  Fergie's toe sucking antics.  Diana's 100 metre train.  I remember being scolded soundly by my teacher in primary school because I had to write an essay about Diana's wedding dress and I hadn't put in enough effort.  Not enough detail about frills and pearls and flounces.  When the Republic vote came up I made sure I was naturalized and had my Australian citizenship all in order (I had only been a permanent resident before) - so that I could make my vote count.  We didn't need the royals, and they were obviously too involved in their own trashy affairs to need us.
Funnily enough after 10 years in Eastern Europe I have softened somewhat.  Probably because absence makes the heart go fonder - living here, you rarely hear anything about the British Royal family.  I haven't been ear-bashed about the Queen or Harry or Wills for a good, long time.  If you want to know any of the gossip you have to go looking for it online - because at the end of the day, no one in Latvia gives a flying fruitbat about Liz, or Kate, or Fergie, or Diana, or Camilla, or Charlie.   So when Jem (who works for a British government concern in LV) got an official British embassy invite to the embassy "wedding watch party" at the local Radisson hotel, I was excited.  I might have even squealed a little bit.
Today we managed to fight off our horrible post-Easter colds, put the kids in after-school care, got all dolled up and went to the wedding bash.  Of course there were oodles of people there, lots of free champagne, big screens with wedding scenes, door prizes, a pitiable amount of canapes, and a five-tier wedding cake.  Good thing we found two other acquaintances, Aussie closet-republicans, with whom to share the afternoon.  An ex-royalist couldn't ask for more!

All dressed up and somewhere to go.  That's our new kitchen behind us.  And Mikus' birthday celebration decorations on the left. (PS,  both of our outfits are op-shop specials, they come in under 20 lats ($40), but shhh, don't tell)

I can't believe it's a whole six years since I gave birth to this wonderful, spirited boy.  Seems like yesterday!  Mikus is a very happy six year old.  He is convinced that being older is the best thing ever.  He is waiting  for his teeth to start falling out.  Impatient to start school.  Demands to do things himself - things that are meant for much older kids.  He is also a big softie under his big-boy exterior, and give the best cuddles in the world.  We have a secret handshake to say goodbye every day at kindergarten, and sometimes Mik likes me to sit with him as he goes to sleep. Of course he was totally spoiled today, and got more Lego than he could handle,  which has been entertaining the boys all afternoon.  The old light-up globe was also a present from Granddad - the boys love maps, and Mikus likes to find obscure places that he wants to visit - like Madagascar, or Hawaii, or Laos where his Uncle Jon and Aunt Courtney live. Tonight's entertainment is a Star Wars rerun - by request of the birthday boy, of course. 

This is the view out of our bedroom window this morning.  The fluorescent green of budding leaves is one of my favourite colours.  Not that I want a jumper, or curtains, or eyeshadow in that colour.  But on a tree in April - just delicious.

Nope, no Easter eggs up here.  We checked yesterday, when Jem crawled up onto the roof of our shed to put a webcam up by the stork's nest.  For years the storks had their nest on an unattainable old electricity pylon, and we had no chance of seeing what was going on up there.  We would only know there were chicks, and how many there were, after they started popping their heads up over the edge of the nest.  But after last year's midsummer tragedy (for a recount look here) the storks have a new home in an architecturally designed and built nest on the end of our shed roof.   We were a bit worried that they wouldn't return to this man-made home this year, but as we drove into the yard this weekend, we all breathed a sigh of relief to see two familiar silhouettes up on the nest.  So we thought we would push our luck and put a webcam up there too.  This year we will be able to see how the eggs hatch, how hatchlings are fed, how they grow and learn to fly.  Assuming that all of those things happen, of course. 

It was so wonderful to be in the country over Easter.  We hadn't been since Christmas, and it was amazing to see the difference between the snow-covered wonderland we saw last time and the green pre-summer gloriousness of this visit.  Nature turned it on for us, with bright sun and temps above 20 degrees, which is unusual for this time of year.  So family arrived and we spent 4 days doing the usual:  eating, drinking, hanging out, digging up garden beds and pushing seeds under the earth.  Highlights were the egg hunt, of course, which Mikus seemed concerned about the night before - perhaps because I told him that the Easter bunny only visits well behaved children.  That's right, isn't it?  But he had nothing to worry about, because the bunny hopped around Kugures on Sunday, merrily tossing chokkies left and right.  We painted eggs the Latvian way (you can read about this process here and here), and for the first time this year played the traditional Latvian egg rolling game.  Kinda like bowls, except using a bit of old pipe as a ramp and coloured eggs as bowls.  Of course.  

Main thing for me is that the kids had a great time.  Both of them with chocolate stained faces and muddy bare feet, and begging not to leave the country this afternoon.  Another thing is that I spent some time this weekend in quiet Easter meditations: humble gratefulness for the sun, budding trees and new life that springtime brings after 6 months of darkness and cold.  Always a keen near-religious experience.  I suspect that others also feel the same - the storks above and us humans down below.

....and on my birthday yesterday, I was feeling old.  Happy - but way, way old.  Reason is, because WE MOVED ON THE WEEKEND!!  3.5 years after starting the house project we finally made the move.  Walls still need painting on floors one and two, lots and lots of finishing touches need to be made, there's boxes and bags and crap everywhere, but the main thing is - we are now living in our house!
Saturday was a marathon - the movers, two young strapping Latvian lads (we'll call them Brad and Keanu)  lugged furniture and boxes  down the five flights of stairs of our building, and into our new house for NINE HOURS.  Jem and I madly packed boxes in the meantime, and discovered 10 years of dust balls, lost birthday cards (complete with birthday spending money!) and other long forgotten treasures.  The kids watched nine hours of TV.  By the end of the day, I was more tired than I'd ever been, and Jem was having cluster asthma attacks.  But we were in the new house!
Yesterday we didn't stop to get boxes in order, or find kitchen utensils, or dust windowsills.  It was straight into party mode.  Bit hard to be a good hostess if you can't find your frilly apron, and your kitchen hasn't been installed yet, but I did my best.  The guests started by each washing a window or two, helping to put together a cupboard, followed by eating and merrymaking. 
So today was our first "normal" day in the house and it's feeling pretty good.  Lots of work to still do, but the move went well, and everyone seems relieved and that little bit excited to finally be living here.

Tiss - helping Brad and Keanu with the unpacking

Putting together our hall cupboard, a jugendstil number we bought years ago, when it was still affordable.  Its all held together by wooden pegs.

Part of the gang, loitering on the stairs (one of the things they've been told they're NOT ALLOWED to do)

My goddaughter Zīle cruising for avocado 

Our (gorgeous and just started walking!) godson Zigis 

Boys bedroom became a venue for a magic show, I am starting to feel the ache and the years are weighing heavily on my shoulders..

My eight year old son digs crochet.  Tiss came home from school last week all excited because they are learning in handcrafts class, and he had to crochet two 30 cm long chains for homework.  He has always watched my modest attempts at crochet with quiet awe (don't you love the fact that to your children, you are a legend.  Doesn't matter what the rest of the world thinks), although all I have ever knitted or crocheted successfully are scarves, which I join the ends of, like moebius strips and teach the kids to wind them around their necks all rumpled.
So now Tiss can crochet chains.  He picked this up easily once I showed him how, and has spent the last week making chains.  Long, long chains.  He is obsessed.  He crochets on the bus instead of talking to his mates.  He crochets between lessons, although his friend Theodore called him names to get him to stop.  "Obviously jealous of your crochet skills, darling" I consoled him.
Today he came home, pleased as punch, because he is apparently the second-best crochet-er in class.  How can you tell?  By the length of the chain, of course.  Arthur has a 7 metre chain, Tiss has a 4 metre chain, which makes him Nr 2. crochet king.  "And what of the girls?"  I asked.  "Where are they in the crochet hierarchy?"  -  "Nowhere, Mum.  Boys in our class are better at crochet.  WAAAAAY better." came the answer.  Hmmm, I can't help wondering about this.  Could it be that length doesn't matter so much to the girls?  Maybe they're into advanced double-treble-gravel stitch or something.  Who knows.  All I DO know is that the innocence of being eight is a wonderful thing.  I hope that I can teach Tiss the next step of crochet before someone wrecks his new hobby by telling him it's for girls!  

After visiting the zoo in Melbourne years ago, and staring into the human eyes of the Orangutangs, I vowed never to set foot in another zoo again.  The manic repetitive patterns of the pygmy hippos and the desperately wise and sad faces of the apes left me so uneasy  that I knew I didn't want to pay to look at animals in a glorified prison ever again.  
After the boys were born, though, I have changed my tune - partly because the amazement and learning that children gain from going to the zoo is really quite extraordinary.  Another reason is that I visited the Riga zoo with two Aussie vets, who had travelled around a lot of the world and seen many zoos.  They said that Riga zoo was one of the better ones - the animals displayed very few signs of being stressed, and all looked happy and cared for and quite contented.  So armed with this knowledge, combined with the fact that we live on the 5th floor and like to get outdoors with the kids, our family goes to the zoo regularly.  We always take pens and paper and draw the animals.  
One annual trip is on "Bird day" - which is held on one of the first warm(ish) springtime weekends.  It's glorious to be running along without worrying about slipping on the ice, feeling the sun on your face and watching the animals enjoy it just as much.  A celebration of making it through six months of big freeze.
A special feature of "Bird day" is making a nesting box.  The zoo hands out a plan, bits of wood, hammers and nails, and then all the parents (mostly dads) determinedly spend an hour nailing on bits of wood, working out it's wrong, undoing it, nailing it back together.  The kids watch, hammer the occasional nail, and at the end feel very proud of the nesting box they've built.  The parents then carry the box around for the rest of the zoo trip.  

(two pics above - Matiss; two pics below - Mikus)

Our friend Bella working on her "Giraffe" masterpiece

A relieved Jem + helpers having successfully put together the nesting box

The zoo's old cafe, only open in the summer season. Totally fabulous and in desperate need of repair.  At the back there is a deck overlooking the lake Kisezers.

So, in January our house was near to being finished.  Still needed floorboards down, kitchens, bathrooms - not much in the grand scale of things.  I was totally sick of waiting and threatened everyone at home, that if we weren't moved in and having a huge combined 2-day housewarming party by the time I hit my birthday in mid-April, I would move out of home.  Forever.  Say goodbye to our old apartment, our new house, the family and take off by myself, with a jaunty backpack, a swag of lonely planet guides an eye for adventure, and definitely NO interest in architecture.
Everyone listened to my ultimatum and promptly forgot about it - heck, it was months away and we would surely be moved in by then!
Things were going fairly well through January and most of February.  Our two last-stop finisher builders from the country, Normunds and Juris, were living in the house and moving forward at a cracking pace, laying and oiling floorboards, hanging old doors, tiling away.  Then the water pipe leading into the house froze.  And there was no water.  Doesn't sound too bad at first - we transported big containers of water over for the builders to use in the mean time, spring was coming, we could unfreeze the pipe somehow, it would only be a couple of days.
The fairly small diameter metal pipe was located 1 metre under the ground.  Jem and the builders spent a good couple of days searching for the pipe - digging a long trench along the side of the house through frozen ground (note to self:  next time, mark the entry/exit points for pipes on the wall of the house!).   When they finally found it, they dug along the whole length of it in our back yard.  And then they heated it. We took the advice of hardware store experts, the internet and our plumber, and bought a special pipe-warming electrical cord.  It didn't work.  We poured boiling water on the pipe.  Didn't work. We bought a fan that blows non-stop hot air and blew air on the pipe for hours.  Still nothing.  We got a blow torch and blasted the pipe until it was hot to touch.  Nothing, nothing, nothing.  The frozen portion of the pipe was obviously not in our backyard - but in the neighbour's yard, under their nicely paved driveway.  "Oh well", everyone shrugged their shoulders, "just have to wait until it thaws, spring's around the corner".   By this time, our house was cold inside, because the water pressure in the heating system had fallen to zero.  The whole house was covered in gyrpoc dust and sawdust and building dust, with no water to clean it up.  The builders were getting well stinky, considering they had nothing to wash in.
So we waited for spring.  About a week ago the temperature climbed up to 10 degrees, and the piles of snow on the street began to melt fast. "This is it!" we thought.  By now the builders had finished their jobs and moved back home, for those eagerly awaited showers and flushable toilets.  We had a finished house with no water, heating or sewerage.  Every day in the last week I drove over to the house and hopefully turned on the tap, waiting for that bubbling and hiss of water joyfully rushing out to meet me.  But it's been useless.  Zip. Zero. Nada.  Not a drop.
We were all out of ideas and wondering when the pipe would unfreeze, when there was a horrible moment of realization - it's my birthday next weekend.  I wondered out loud where our backpacks were - you know, the ones from when we were young and free, travelling sans kids, houses, pipes or any other responsibilities.  Jem took a deep breath, and opened up Google.
This morning saw him meeting a couple of guy who he had found on the internet:  "we unfreeze any pipe, anywhere, anytime".  We were both deeply dubious about their claim, as we had pretty much tried anything the experts could suggest, short of digging up the neighbour's paving and replacing the entire pipe.  Jem watched all morning as the guys tried to blast the ice through the pipe with the help of a pressurized air tank.  No movement at all.  Things were looking depressing. Then they called in the big guns.  Their mate from the other side of town, who had a dodgy-box electrical contraption with wires and fuses and alligator clips.  They clipped the machine to the pipe, plugged it into the wall, and electrified the pipe.  Gave that that ice plug an electrical shock of 240 volts for a couple of minutes.  And who would have thought it - it worked.  A stream of water welcomed Jem when he turned on the tap.  Amazing!!!
 So now it's full steam ahead.  We've got to clean all the dust out with copious amounts of water.  Pack up this place, and get OUT of here - so that on my birthday I can wake up for the first time in my new house.   Jem's never been a man for wooing me on his knees with bunches of flowers.  But the guy knows when things get desperate - an internet search for some guys in leather jackets and home-made electrical gear will do the trick. Couldn't think of a better early birthday present!

Mikus is a ball-point pen man.  It his only drawing implement of choice.  He has never been interested in colour or making something pretty. Both he and his brother use drawing to act out situations - the point of the drawing for them, seems to be the ACTION that occurs during the drawing itself, a kind of extension of the games they play with each other.

But to be honest his pictures worry me a lot of the time, because they are only ever renditions of ninjas, or monsters, locked in battle, guns blazing and swords glinting. Unhappy people at the mercy of some big, evil force. Much of this drawing theme comes from Mikus' kindergarten friend -we'll call him Walt - who is a big authority on all things war-related, and who is allowed to play shocking adult first-person shooting games.  I find this totally disturbing, but you can't choose a five year old's friends for him, and it is difficult to protect your child from the influence of their friends while they are at kindy.  In addition, although we limit the amount of tv/computer the guys get to watch, I still think they are influenced by them too much, and am trying, subtly, to cut back the computer/tv time even more.  The kids aren't happy about this.  So sue me.

Funnily enough, I mentioned being worried about the drawings of Walt and Mikus to Walt's mum the other day. She said that it didn't worry her at all - it would concern her more if the boys were coming out with stereotypical kids pics, you know, flat green grass, square house with a triangle roof, a flower, and a sun.  And I've got to admit she's got a point.  At Mikus' darkest and most maladjusted point, when he was attending a different kindergarten, he started drawing like that.  The only theme was a rainbow: all the right colours, next to a flower, on flat green grass.  Over and over and over again.

My worry about drawings and my active tv censorship is mostly because I can see that Mikus has been fearful lately.  He is scared of everything:  playing on the top floor of our new house if I am not within eyesight.  Getting up in the morning and going into the loungeroom.  Going to bed at night. The world news (we have stopped listening to the BBC since Mikus began to fret after weeks and weeks of  updates on floods, cyclones, tsunamis, egyptian presidents and libyan madmen).  Partly this is probably an age thing.  And partly its the impending move to the new house.  And my guess is, that it is a lot about the computer and tv he insists on watching.

I am hoping that there is a change afoot, however. The drawing above, which Mikus brought home last week, was a refreshing change from the monster-ninja battles we always see.  I have wondered what an art therapist would say if they saw the pic, but I'm not planning to go down that road - just publish it on the internet!

According to my sensitive son, the picture is of a mechanical robot, built by Mikus.  On the outside it looks frightening, but no one knows that on the inside the robot is a virtual aladdin's cave: it contains all of the things you could ever want (and all of those things are displayed on the little pedestals in the "neck area" of the monster).  The little figure lying squashed between two big rectangles in the middle is Mikus himself.  He is lying on a tall bed, watching a large-screen tv.  The two people with their hands in the air down the bottom are me and Jem.  We are happy because we are eating chips.  On the left, in the tail of the robot, is Mikus' friend Walt.  The figure with the devil horns and the big muscly arms.  Walt has captured someone - a tiny, tiny figure on the far left - and locked them into a cell.  On the right is an anonymous soul, running away because they can only see the scary outside of the robot.  To my surprise, big brother Matiss is not in the picture.

Hmmm.   Lots for me to ponder there!


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