Our city has its own professional children's puppet theatre.  It's got puppet masters who have trained as such in the Soviet era, its own building in the centre of town, and a very active programme with a number of new shows every season.  It's always seemed super cool and super unusual to me that children's puppet theatre is taken so seriously here, that "professional puppet master" can actually be a real job description, and that many families opt to take their kids to see the puppets instead of go to the movies.
Well a couple of months ago I got a call from one of the said puppet masters, asking me to translate one of their plays that they had been invited to play at a festival in the US (as a freelance team).  I accepted immediately, excitedly, and was a little taken aback when she told me that they had no money to pay me for the job... but they could offer a barter.  A play, put on at the date and time of my choosing - or a wonderful Father Christmas, or an enchanting Easter Bunny... Long story short, I agreed, and tonight we held a puppet party at our place, as a Christmas gift for our godchildren and their families.  It was great fun.  The play itself was hilarious, with the mirth heightened by the fact that the performance happened at such close quarters in our lounge room. We all laughed and laughed - adults and children alike -at classic fairytale forest animals were infused with naivity, slyness, fun and comedy.
So good, that I'm hoping I get another barter deal from them again, so we can have another Christmas play next year!

Last year, when we were in the last throes of finishing off our house, I made a vow that on the next Christmas I would go into "pretty homemaker" mode.  I promised myself that I would have a triangle of advent candlesticks in every window, and that the apple tree in the back would be a mass of twinkling fairy lights.  I was going to have a big Christmas tree in Riga and another one in the country.  Oh, and choirs of angels singing all December, and a permanent freshly baked gingerbread aroma wafting from the kitchen.  So as Christmas  approached this year, and I watched November swallowed up by work trips, and made plans for exhibition openings, I realized that my American dream home Christmas special was going to have to be trimmed - and I don't mean the tinsel and baubles kind of trimming...

At any rate, we ended up getting a couple of triangle advent candlesticks (ok, so they are faux candlesticks these days with electric bulbs).  They are the most wonderful part of solidarity in Riga at this time of year.  The darkness is so all-pervading - I swear this morning daylight only fully appeared around 9am, and at 4pm it was already dusk.  So after dusk (and many people just leave them on all day) - many, many shops and houses and apartments switch on their golden sparkly advent candlesticks in the window.  Gives a bit of warm glow both inside the house and out.  Driving along the road in the almost permanent darkness, the little lights in everyone's windows lifts your mood.  Or at least they lift MY mood.

The apple tree lights seemed like way too much logistical effort for our work-addled brains, and as for the big Christmas tree - I settled for a smallish fir tree, in a pot.  I bought it with the boys at the local craft markets last Saturday, and rashly (and proudly) told the man selling them that I would carry it home by myself.  He offered to take it in his truck.  "Oh no!" I scoffed.  "I've carried children around for the last 9 years!  I'm strong as an ox!" and proceeded to have my arms almost drop off over staggering home 5 blocks through the sleet.  Anyhow, on getting it home, I realised that our city abode has no Christmas decorations to put on the tree.  And this, dear reader, is where this whole waffling post was going.  To my brush with the magical disappearing antique shop (cue Harry Potter music).

By chance, I stumbled into the magical disappearing antique shop a few roads up from our place when walking to kindergarten one day.  A brand new shop, never knew it was there, I ducked in and snooped around, and spied the big bowl of old Soviet glass Christmas ornaments for a laughable price per piece, noted them, and went on my merry way.  Well last Saturday, after realizing that we had no Christmas ornaments in the house, I made a beeline back to the antique store....   and it was gone.  I'm not saying it had closed up and moved away - it had completely disappeared.  I couldn't even find the building where it had been.  There was the photo salon, and the fruiterer, and the hairdressers, but the antique shop - in fact the whole building - had vanished.  Freaky.  In the following days I walked or drove up the street a few times, wondering if the shop had all been a part of my overactive imagination.  I could never find it, nor any sign on any of the buildings heralding an antique store.  Then, today, coming back from the tram stop with Tiss, there appeared a quaint, squat little wooden house with shutters and lit windows - the antique store was back!  Without further ado we crashed in there, made straight for the bowl of ornaments - which was, amazingly, still full of glass baubles, and picked out the best of the bunch.  Totally wondrous. The bearded shopkeeper, who looked like a friendly Hobbit in a flannel shirt, smiled knowingly when I told him I had lost his store, and silently wrapped the ornaments in scraps of old Soviet newspaper.

So now they are hanging on our tree.  Still need to find a star for the top.  I've got to say - I love those ornaments.  The pics don't do them justice - many of them are clear glass, with shiny colour painted on the back, so that in real life the baubles have real depth and mystery when you look at them.  Mind you, I know that certain readers will find the ornaments shabby, or too much reminiscent of their own Soviet Christmases.  But for me, they are just perfect.  Part of the sparkly lit up Christmas miracle...

Best thing about living in Riga is that it is a small, small pond.  Pretty much anyone who is anyone with half a brain and an ounce of creativity knows each other.  Also, as a Latvian who used to live in Australia, we used to act as "homestay" families to Latvian celebrities who travelled around the world doing concerts and lectures etc.  Sort of like if you were an Aussie living in an obscure place and having Michael Hutchence come to stay, because he's short on cash and needs a free bed for the night. 
Because I've sung with a Latvian folklore ensemble for 10 years, improved and learned more about my traditional singing technique, but mainly because everyone knows everyone in Riga,  I've had the chance to sing in some fun projects along the way, including with this totally legendary folk band on one of their albums.  Last Saturday they were celebrating their 30 year anniversary (yep, they started singing when I was 9), and everyone who was on their albums got invited on stage to sing a couple of tunes.  Lots of fun being a rockstar for a few numbers - the crowd was well over 1000 strong, and there were lots of colourful lights, and there was a professional lady out the back who did my makeup (orange lipstick, mmm, wish she had had time to do something about my HAIR), and lots of back patting and dancing afterwards.  A wonderful slow way to "come down" after my weeks of sun and interviewing in Brazil. The whole stardom trip would have been complete if I could have played the tambourine to complement my backing vocals.  Maybe next time.
Mind you, today I had the crash to reality, with the sleet and darkness, and occasional drudgery of motherhood, work and bill-paying and no prospect of further stardom anywhere to be seen.  That's why I started surfing to look for cheap flights to Morocco for a family trip next year!  You gotta dream, eh...

I'm finally back.  First off, I'd like a round of applause for Jem for keeping the home fires burning - not only in terms of keeping our children alive and relatively happy, but for building a whole lot of shelves in all the right places, and lastly - for keeping this blog going!  SO happy he took over posting about Riga life, I hope he is now a permanent addition to the hellolatvia crew....  so are you, Jem?  And by the way, wtf happened to our sleek, minimalist design???

The trip to Brazil was intense.  Mega huge workload, from getting up to late in the evenings - mostly interviewing and visiting and collecting for the museum.  I won't go into details, only to say that I have now had a crash course in interviewing while wearing silly headphones and holding one of those ridiculous fluffy microphones that look like a dead cat.  Met a lot of wonderful people (mostly aged over 70), heard some truly amazing stories. A few Indiana Jones moments, a couple of cachaca fuelled moments, mostly lots and lots of shut-up-and-listen moments.

I pretty much fought tears through the first week of being in Brazil though - probably a consequence of jet lag  but mostly because the places we went were in many ways SO similar to the Brissie backyards of my childhood.  Greener, wilder, with HUMMINGBIRDS, but basically the same.  Paw paw, mangoes on the ground, umbrella trees and blady grass and eucalyptus.  Cicadas in the evening and sweltering afternoon sun. I didn't think I would react so violently, but on the first day when I picked up a frangipani flower and smelled it, I dissolved into tears, as my primary school playground days of bare feat and stringing together frangipani necklaces came back to me.  

Travelling and working with two people who are workaholics and super achievers in their field also gave me time for reflection when away.  I spent many long inland road trips thinking about my own scheme and commitment level to various projects - and have returned with a new resolve to work harder, more carefully, more frequently. More resolutions than a sinner on new year's eve.  Feels good for now, we'll see how things a going in a couple of months!

This has gotta be my favourite pick from the trip.  Discovery channel, eat your heart out

Part of one of the houses where we stayed.  Idyllic.
 For us eastern Europeans, walking over mangoes and avocados on the ground, dropped from the trees like apples in autumn, was heart wrenching.  The mangos we gathered up and broke open with our fingers, inhaling the contents...

Did I mention.... HUMMINGBIRDS??

Pounding the mean streets of Santos, near Sao Paulo

Lots of strange fruits and berries in Brazil.  Some of them are SOUR!  
And um.... no, I'm not pregnant. Just too much mango and lazy abdominal muscles

Every year we put together an advent calendar for the boys. This year's was inspired by the 30cm pieces of dowel lying around the house. Behold the advent mobile!! Minor flaw in the design I realised this morning....when the prize is taken from one of the boxes the whole mobile is unbalanced and almost collapses....doh! Luckily we have marbles lying around to even things back up again.


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