The boys have been cooped up for the last week or so with a bout of the dreaded GRIPA. Although technically the word GRIPA translates as THE FLU, the implications of the word certainly don't translate over very well. In Latvia, the GRIPA is a terrible, terrible thing. If you get it, you have to obsess about where you could have possibly contracted it, notify everyone you have ever been in contact with, and if your children catch it, the underlying implication from those around you, is that you are A BAD MOTHER - oh, and don't even DREAM of sending your kid back to school/kindergarten until they have stopped coughing. Completely. We don't even want to hear them clear their throat.
Now obviously, flu complications can be dangerous no matter where in the world you are from, but back in Oz I seem to remember "getting the flu" as a fairly common occurrence that was accompanied by a week at home, a bit of panadol, fluids and lots of daytime tv. No stigma attached :)
Anyhow, after having over a week of the plague ravage our household, we finally went out to the park for the first time yesterday. It was uncharacteristically sunny and warm, around zero degrees, which is the perfect temp for sticky snow, good for making snowballs and snowmen. Best part was a huge mountain of snow about 3 metres high which has been created by bulldozing all the snow off the footpaths and into one spot. The boys have loved these snow mountains from when they were very little, climbing to the top and pretending the mountains were castles, or pirate ships, with icy steep downhill slides for quick getaways. Yesterday, of course, the hill gave a perfect vantage point for the boys to attack their poor, defenseless parents with as many snowballs and ice chunks as possible.
If you look closely you can see I am about to be sconned on the back of the head
Vicious little darlings
Jem fights back
What is it - is it a bird, is it a plane? Well, I can confidently say it's Riga's new breakfast taste sensation - in our house, anyway. A pankegg. Jem, the breakfast man, made an experimental pankegg a couple of weeks ago after reading an article on one of his trivia-will-take-over-the-world online communities. At first I wasn't convinced (yes, you may have guessed the recipe by now: fry and egg and then pour pancake batter on top), but for the last two weekends I've found myself waking up craving another one of those pankeggs. Now to solve the ultimate pankegg dilemma: savoury or sweet topping???
OK, so we celebrated a little early but today was a perfect winter day to hold the annual cricket in the snow. Australia Day is one of only 2 days where the normally slack Australians living in Riga actually come together for an event, the other being the AFL Grand Final. Mikus and I went this year together as Mook had to look after Matiss who was lying on the coach with a raging fever. After a brief kick of the Sherrin we divided into 2 teams to play a very haphazard game of cricket. Suffice to say the playing field wasnt exactly the best, with a thin layer of ice providing both a sense of caution and scenes of slapstick as people slid around trying their best not to fall flat on their arse. The game finished reasonably quickly as it is really is only a device to get us together. After the stumps were drawn we all went to Ala bar where Krisjanis had Sausage rolls and chips and gravy on offer. Mikus made a great friend today and in a surprising reversal of roles I was actually pleading with him to leave the bar.
We took a week off work to paint our house last week. I always thought we'd paint the interior a shade of white. Classic. And with all the artwork we've got, it would be a simple backdrop to all of those works we have stashed behind cupboards, because there's not enough room in our flat to hang them all. Although I enjoy coloured "feature walls" in other people's houses, they always seem to scream "LATE 1990S!!!" at me from across the room, so decided that we could do without them. Stay with the white. Simple, versatile, understated.
But heck, I'm not exactly sure what happened, but my plans for classic style went out the window within the first day. Maybe its because of the metres of snow all around, and we're all kinda sick of white around here. Perhaps it was a reaction to the fact that the boys, when asked, wanted to paint the different walls in their rooms each a different colour. In order to garner a truce, we decided the boys rooms could have one coloured walls each, and proceeded to choose colours based on complimenting flooring choices (carpets, which haven't yet been installed). Hey, they were the kids' rooms anyway, I wouldn't have to live with banana yellow and powder blue anyhow! (ok, ok, to be fair, they could probably more aptly named "sunflower yellow" and "ocean on an overcast day blue" - whatever). And then suddenly, before I knew it, the coloured feature walls were taking over the third floor... and I was there with a roller, painting MY OWN bedroom wall a colour which can only be described as "elephant-poo green". Jem talked me into it, and although at the time I supported the decision with a "marriage is about compromise" mantra, I'm not entirely sure it was a wise decision. Jem keeps telling me the colour should really be called "pistachio", or "olive". It's a grown-up colour, he comforts me. Hmmmm....
To be fair, though, the colour was chosen as a unifying backdrop for a collection of vintage greek and turkish rugs that I inherited from a very dear friend of my parents - a bachelor, and an avid traveller and collector, who knew just the person who would value and love such a collection. Surprisingly, the colour that seemed to be in common for all of these rugs was the green on our bedroom wall. So I think it will all eventually be ok - when I trot out the changing exhibition of rugs, you won't see the elephant poo for the beauty it is meant to frame and enhance. Or that's the theory, anyway!
The other two rooms turned out great, by the way. Fun and colourful, and the kids seem more than happy with the prospect of living in these two rooms. So far, so good. Only downside is that it took us a whole week to finish up the third floor. Only two more floors to go!
I love Christmas time in Latvia. Here, because of the winter and the whole darkness issue it has so much more meaning to me than it ever had in Australia. For me, Christmas is a whole bustling month of light and brightness, anticipation and tradition, as we await the shortest day of the year and welcome the sun back to our lives.
It starts some time in early December, when yellow sparkly Christmas lights start appearing in shop windows, brightening the walk home in afternoons when night falls before you finish work. Christmas markets begin to be set up in the old town, clusters of little wooden booths selling trinkets and other knick knacks. When you walk past you can smell mulled wine. Often in December there is the first proper snow fall and the fir trees in the park match the other Christmas trees set up around the city.
The kids wake up excited every morning, eager to see what the advent calendar has in store for them. Every supermarket sells an arry of ready-to-bake gingerbread dough, and we bake gingerbread (Latvian piparkūkas) often, the house filling with their spicy aroma. This year we even attempted a gingerbread house, which was moderately successful.
The evenings are full of kindergarten and school Christmas concerts and parties, we also attend our friend's band's traditional Christmas concert where they sing winter solstice songs, well known to everyone.
We spend Christmas eve at Kūgures. In the morning we go to the forest and pick a tree - always much harder than it sounds. This year it was no mean feat on account of the snow. We spent some time wading through snow drifts, for the boys up to their waists, and then abandoned the search to Jem. He came back with a fine specimen! The amount of snow at Kūgures was unbelievable, and after my family had "made it in", we basically barricaded ourselves in and spent the next two days celebrating indoors, which was wonderful. Everyone was together, sitting around, examining/playing with their presents, eating good food, playing cards, talking.
Another tradition we have during the winter solstice is our Latvian halloween, or ķekatas, which I described some time ago in this post. We went again this year, mainly for the boys, who love going in to stranger's houses unexpectedly and surprising the inhabitants with our songs and masked tomfoolery. They also loved the bit where you ask for food and can take as many lollies as they like!
All of the month of preparing for and celebrating the winter solstice is rounded off with New Years Eve - which for me is always a slight let down. I mean, I enjoy the parties, but after such a long and intense festive season, I've run out of puff. This year we celebrated at our friends' place at Jurmala and counted down to 2011 with sparklers at the (very snowy and frozen) beach. Revellers up and down the coast let off fire works and we watched a host of glittery explosions by the Baltic sea.