So things have almost gone smoothly into "back to school" mode and we have a routine (of sorts) that has been lovingly scheduled by yours truly, in an attempt to lessen our amount of kid-ferrying time and increase the amount of house-renovation-yard-cleaning-freelance-work-general-cleanup time.  It helps that Tiss has shown an interest in taking the tram to and from school by himself (so what does the Australian mothering collective say?  Aged 9 too early to navigate crossing busy roads and tram lines on your own?) - mainly because all of his friends in grade 3 are already doing it.  I balked yesterday when Tiss came home crying, because some of his mates had organized to go to the local inner city department store on their own and hang out - and Tiss wasn't included, because I (mean, bad mother that I am) don't let him be independent, like other mums.  I told him that if he was as independent as going to the department store, he wouldn't even be able to find his way back to the tram stop, and by the way did he even KNOW the number of the tram he would have to catch to get back home???  (um.... no).  So after a storm of emotion and extended negotiating, we agreed to take this concept of freedom slowly.  Step by step.  Small increments of learning where the tram stop is, and the number of the tram he has to take, the route to get to school...  and maybe by year 12 he will be allowed to hang out at the store with his mates ;)
Am I being a bit too protective?  Well, too bad.  I'm already the funny foreign mum at school anyways, the one that writes cursive differently, has different ways to work out maths problems, dares to complain about the quality of the teaching, doesn't understand that any weather under 15 degrees REQUIRES a beanie and gloves and scarf on your child without exception, sends her kids to bed at 8.30pm instead of letting them stay up as long as they want, yadda yadda yadda.
Otherwise we are pretty much moseying along.  Jem is on a work trip to Lisbon (yes, I mean Portugal) this week and I am just a tad envious.  I have made him promise to bring back a baked custard tart.  I read somewhere once that custard tarts in Lisbon are one of the 100 things you HAVE to eat before you die. Can't complain too much though, because I'm preparing for field work in Brazil in November, this time we are taking a professional cameraman, so I'm on a crash course of "documentary making for dummies" at the moment.  Steep learning curve there.
After a few stressful summer-learning experiences, we decided to put Mik into a very formal pre-school coaching situation this school year, where he is learning to sit at a desk and listen to the teacher and sharpen his pencil and read and write.  With great trepidation we saw him off on his first day, wishing for our friendly montessori madness.  Amazingly, Mik is seeming to thrive in this structured environment.  He totally digs the fact that he is big enough to learn in a "grown up" way, and the thing he wants most in the world is a school bag and lunch box to accompany the experience.  So wonders will never cease!
And one final note - I now have a wheelie bin, and I am daily excited by this luxury!  For the last ten years we have been hassled by the daily issue of taking the rubbish out - for the first few years we could only take garbage bags down to the garbage truck and toss them in the back, when it stopped daily outside our 5 storey apartment block twice a day - once at 8:15am and at 6:45pm.  Needless to say, on an average day we would miss the truck - not be home at that time, or would forget, or wouldn't feel like running down five flights with garbage bags, or reticent to stand in the snow and freeze waiting for the traffic to clear so that the truck could get to our stop.  Later, we got big dumpsters in the back courtyard, which were almost always full, and still 5 flights down and accessible by trudging through the elements.  But last week, our wheelie bin was delivered to our new house.  Right outside our front door.   Emptied once a week.  I can't stop in luxuriating in the fact I can put full bags of rubbish out there whenever I want.  As many as I want!  I guess you never appreciate the little things till they're gone, do you.  Or until they're back again :)



Speaking of "back to school", here's the interior of Tiss' newly refurbished school, with a wise and confident Grade 3-er.  He used the excuse of having a sore throat to wear one of my scarves to school, for 3 days in a row.  I've loved men in scarves ever since we went to Paris 10 years ago and I spotted lots of rugged, designer-stubble Parisian dudes with lovely rumpled cotton around their necks...  Tiss is a man of my own heart.
BTW do you notice another thing about Jem being away - he takes the camera - and I'm left with the mobile phone camera.  Ugh. 



When we first moved to Latvia, I was totally enamoured by the drastic change of seasons, which I had never really experienced, having grown up in sub-tropical Brisvegas.  This means I was also totally besotted with chestnuts and acorns - still one of the best parts of autumn.  For the first few years, when Tiss was a wee tot, I would take him to our local park with a little plastic bucket and collect acorns.  Or more accurately, I would collect acorns, and try to make Tiss take an interest.  He couldn't care less, however, and just wanted to run, run, run past the oak trees, past the maple leaves raining down in golden sheets, past the chestnuts in the hedgehog-shells.  So I collected acorns, and pretended my kid loved them, when it was actually me.  Shiny brown nuts that had little "hats", which clunked comfortably in your pocket and could practically be used for currency.  I would imagine that each of those pointed nuts in my pocket could grow up as big as the huge, hundred-year oaks around me, and I felt rich.  I was lucky enough to be made a godmother a few years ago, to Zīle - which is a girl's name, but also the Latvian word for a bird (a Tomtit), and also the Latvian word for acorn.  Of course, when I was told Zīle's name, I was over the moon, because the bird didn't come into my mind - only the absolute perfection and unlimited potential stored in the tiny package of an acorn.

And then there were the chestnuts. Every morning walking on the footpath under sprawling beech trees I would look for the green spiky cases on the ground - and would subtly walk faster when I saw them so that I could pick them up before any school kids did.  Break open the shell and inside would be a sleek, rounded, heavy chestnut - glossy and perfect - sometimes big, sometimes two small ones grown together.  Mind you, I never saw any other adults doing this - except for once, when a middle-aged lady in a camel coloured trench coat raced up and snatched the fattest chestnut before I could get there - oh yes, I remember!

As the years progressed I slowly got used to this decorative autumnal bounty (the chestnuts in Latvia are not the edible kind, like the ones in the UK), and enjoyed seeing how the nuts were used by kindergartens to make necklaces, animals, counters, money for play shops etc.  My own kids didn't really "dig it" the way I did, however.  Until last year.  This year and last year I have been secretly delighted that Tiss eventually caught the bug.  This morning he put his jumper on for school and a rain of acorns fell out of his pockets and bounced down the stairs, and I just smiled.  Last saturday when we rode to the park, Tiss spotted a chestnut tree in the distance and opted out of the skate ramp early so that he could go and hunt for chestnuts.  These pocketfuls, combined with Mikus' obsession with bottletops and miscellaneous bits of junk, which regularly come out in the wash, are stuff that parent-collectors dream of...



PS. These are pics from last year.  Which can be seen in more detail in this post.  This year's haul yet to be captured :)


Just had to share a little pic that I stumbled across today... this fabulous portrait of a Latvian lovely from the early 20th century.  She's been carefully posed with something she's making for her dowry... with her singer sewing machine... in front of a lush field of fully-budding hemp.  Scrawled at the top is something along the lines of: "we are all longing to know when you will visit us".  What potential guest could resist her smouldering look, combined with handicraft skills and obvious hemp-farming know-how??


Many of you probably know that Jem has just finished an awesome marathon: the 365 project.  An online project where you take a photo every single day for a whole year, and post daily on the web.  It was a great way for Jem to hone his photography skills, and now looking back at all the photos, I realize what a wonderful visual diary of a year it is.  You can see the seasons changing, and be reminded of people and places and celebrations.  Jem was very disciplined and resolved to only ever post photos taken on that day - so occasionally he was left at 11.30pm with not much light and no good subject.  "You can always use me as a model", I would offer - and that's how those numerous pics of me with dark circles under my eyes got into the mix.  Jem was considering doing another year, but decided against it. I have floated the idea of his picture-a-day becoming a component of this blog, his eyes lit up - so you never know.  Another collaboration in the air, perhaps?  At another daft moment I thought of starting a 365 project myself, with writing as a  more important factor then photo crafting - but I know myself well enough to know that I would fade half way through the year.  So I'll think I'll stick to sporadic blogging instead.
Anyhow, here is a link to the project, starting september 2010.
http://365project.org/jeremysmedes/365/2010-09


I've never been one for photographing stuff I own and blogging about it.  Not that I don't like reading about other people's stuff.  Nah, I love it - just not big on talkin' about MY stuff. But today I'm walking around the house loving a few "new acquisitions" and y'know what - it's my blog and I'll blog what I want to! So here goes.

Latvia is in to wooden eco children's toys.  Lots of new small businesses making versions of rattles, push along cars, puzzles and the like.  I bought this truck above with pegs/people last weekend at a market - one of those buys where you see the item, and then desperately try to think of WHO you can buy it for, so that you can justify the purchase.  For some reason this chunky approximation of a car spoke to me.  But in the end I've got it home and I'm loving it so much that I've decided it's MINE, and the unlucky recipient won't be receiving it (so sorry, Gabriel - will be sending you a different "welcome to the world" pressie soon).  I was wondering why I had this affiliation with this toy until today I suddenly remembered that I had a similar toy as a child - except it was a train, but the pegs/people were almost exactly the same - only mine were painted.  So there y'go, we are always subconsiously trying to get back to our happy childhoods, aren't we?


Second is this artwork by Sigismund Vidbergs.  A pic that used to be owned by my grandmother, who was an artist and a bit of a collector.  This pic sat next to her phone, and I always noticed it when walking in to her apartment.  The artist was fairly well-known in Latvia in the 1930s, and I was aware of him mostly through my interest in Latvians in post-war refugee camps - because Vidbergs ended up in these camps and illustrated quite a few programmes and books while he was in exile.  His detailed black and white pen and ink drawings are quite distinctive.  I've put the painting up in the kitchen, and have had a pleasant surprise all day when walking past the once-blank wall.


Oh ok, one more artwork - which I also love and is on the wall above the sink.  I look at it when washing dishes :)  It was given to me by my godfather after much nagging and pleading from me, and is called "Meditation upon Death", by Anton Solomoukha, 1979.  It was originally bought from a gallery by a dear family friend, who has now passed away, but who was cluey enough to start distributing his wealth of antiques and artworks about 10 years before he died.  Seeing as he had no children, many of us were recipients of his parts of his collection.  Gotta admit Solomoukha's mediation on death doesn't have the same cognitive affect on me.  I see a mother and child, perhaps in transit, on a bus or train...  life, parenthood, future generations... Isn't it interesting how objects are what we make them.  The associations we each have with objects that give them meaning...   sorry, taking off my museum curator's smock now.  Thanks for listening. 

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