I used to be a DEMON op-shopper.  I spent most of my late teens and early 20s collecting vintage frocks and kitchenware from op shops in Brisvegas and Melbourne.  Back then I had a figure to rival the 60s Twiggy and could fit into anything, and my poor university campus was submitted to visions of me frolicking in my latest fluro paisley flared THANG that I had picked up for a couple of bucks.   When we left Australia we packed the double garage at my parent's house full to the rafters (yes - the rafters) with our stuff - and most of this was thrifted, including Jem's huge chest full of collectable toys and those old bentwood chairs and squatter chairs and chaise lounges and 50s kitchen dressers that I was getting around to doing up.

So moving over here was a bit of a jolt to the system.  Mainly because of  the restrictions of manufacturing and availability of goods during the Soviet era, there simply isn't that much junk available from the last 60 or so years.  And stuff that did exist was either worn out, thrown away, or not considered as something worth selling.  For the first few years of living here we found an old junk market where people would congregate outside, unfolding their meagre wares on dirty old blankets on the side of the road.  Every hour or so, the police would come by, and all of the junk sellers would disappear in the blink of an eye - just fold up your blanket and walk away.  We never found much in this makeshift marketplace, among the taped-up stereo walkmans, phone cards, worn novels, rubber squeaky toys, war medals and electrical equipment. Frustrating - because I knew there must be attractive, retro Soviet material culture out there, but no one was selling it.  Probably because most people owned (or HAD owned) one of most pedestrian things that were manufactured at that time, and often associated Soviet memories with these things.  No one wanted to sell the stuff, if it still existed, and n one wanted to buy it either.

Antique stores and pawn shops around the city have always sold this and that - but most of it is pre-war, or even Tsarist era, more along the lines of your classic antique store.  Which is great, we've collected quite a bit from these stores, but its not always affordable, and quite classical.  It doesn't have that element of discovery or evaluation or just plain kitsch fabulousness that later-origin items have.

In the last few years things have improved marginally - we have found an awesome collectables fair that's held twice a year - it's on next weekend!  There are also amazing shipments of humanitarian aid that are sold on every street corner op shop - mostly clothing - last year's fashions discarded by Brits or Germans and donated to charity.  The selection is mind boggling - though mostly modern clothing.  I suspect that 90% of Riga is dressed in second hand gear from these shops.

And still.  From the perspective of Oz op shops, it's pretty slim pickings.  Although I must say our house is still full of old crap.  Whatever we can collect, we do.  I need to take a car full to the Red Cross!  So, ladies - remember when you are blogging all of your latest oppy finds, know that there is an avid reader in Eastern Europe living vicariously through your vintage sheets and surprise bits of decorative pottery.  It's interesting for me to see what's out there these days.  Gotta say, I am a bit surprised by certain bits of 80s nanna kitchenware that people seem to get excited about  - but I guess its the time moving along, and the fact that all the cool 50s and 60s stuff is stored in my double garage!

I've decided to now and then blog a bit about what I've been collecting lately on this side of the world -  bits and pieces over time.  Let's start with a couple of pics from last year's collector's fair, in anticipation of next weekend.

Yep, all sorts of poison here, I was particularly taken with the crocheted toadstools

Our haul from last June - how do we get it all in the car?  

This box of watch parts totally captured me last fair we attended - a plain wooden box, with a whole world of gears and cogs when you opened it up.  Like something from one of Nick Bantock's "Griffin and Sabine" books.  At the time I wasn't sure what I'd do with it, but I've remembered it ever since. I've sworn to buy it if I see it there again next weekend!

It's that time of year again.  The moment when the cold, hard semi-permanent winter just falls away.  You blink, and suddenly you are in the middle of a perfumed paradise.  We were in the country on the weekend and completely awestruck by the sea of yellow dandelions that greeted us, the perfume of apple and cherry blossoms in the air, the bright sunlight and long evenings and relative warmth.  I know I rave about it every year, and this year hasn't left us disappointed. We didn't even have to physically push the kids into the garden this weekend - they just kept running out there on their own.  Amazingly, Tiss actually got a reasonable case of sunburn, and for the first time in his life walked around whingeing about how his shoulders hurt because they'd been burned.  Who would have thought it could happen in Latvia??  I collected way more herbs for tea than I would ever use, but the sweet smelling flowers and the joy of finding them in the field got the better of me.

In other news, I have actually honored my new year's resolution.  In my opinion, "new year's resolutions"should be renamed "a list of things that I am least likely to achieve this year" - because, let's face it - we rarely actually remember our resolutions after we make them on the big night. Or is that just me?  Well this year I promised myself to start attending the "Healthy Back" gym and physio centre which is located right next to our house.  Seriously.  It is about 40 metres from our front door.  I've had posture problems ever since I've been in high school, which were made much worse by pregnancy and looking after babies, and decided that finally, FINALLY I was going to fix my back and abs and everything else.  But try as I might, I hadn't found the time to go into the centre in the last five months.  I've been walking past the centre daily with a feeling of guilt (and hunched shoulders), but last week - TA DAAAAA!! - I did it.  I went and talked to a physio, who seemed very excited to tell me how desperately asymmetrical I am, and how I have NO BUM MUSCLES at all.  And today I started exercising with the physio.  Just us two.  And can I say, with all of nature transforming into pre-summer loveliness, I'm feeling purely saintly to know that I have started on my own little transformation as well.  So here's hoping I stay with it!

Can you see it?  That longing pose that Fizzy has in behind those daffodils?  Yes, folks, the miracle has finally happened again this year - spring finally arrived.  Fizzy spends most days mooning about near the open window, sniffing the pollen filled air and watching birds flitter about in the maple outside the kitchen.  When she ventures into the yard, the big orange pirate cat, who hangs out in our back yard beats her up.

Do you remember this post about the crap in our back yard?  So glad that view is finally history - we spent last week working ourselves to the bone in the back yard.  Knocked down the old derelict wood shed, hauled a tonne of bricks and rotten wood and 50 years of rubbish and debris to the skip.  We now have a practically empty backyard, ready for "landscaping".  Ooooh, that sounds good, can I write it again... "laaaandscaping".  Mmmm.  At this stage it will probably only be a bobcat to smooth out the ex-building site and some grass seeds.  Maybe a bit of paving near the door.  Sounds a whole lot more fancy when you call it landscaping, though...

Here we are having a drink or two after day #1 of smashing buildings and hauling bricks.  Our friend U on the left and my relative Jānis on the right - two people sucked in to helping us with the demolition work.  Jānis stuck with us for all 4 days of work - amazingly, he was still smiling and having beers with us by the last day of hauling - day #4.  I know there's still a pile of crap in the background.  But that is a small, small pile compared to what we got rid of.

Another thing that happened recently is our week-long celebration of Mik's birthday.  I don't know how he got so old, but somehow the kid has made it to the ripe old age of 7.  Starting school this year.  Needless to say his 7th birthday was an excuse for lots of parties and spoiling, but I also that Jem and I have started to use that old threat for good behaviour :  "you're SEVEN now!  What a big boy!  Big boys don't.... (fill in the blanks: "pick their snot and eat it"; "have tantrums about losing a game"; "bite their brother" etc, etc).  Probably not a page out of "good parenting 101", but it seems to be working for now.

Mikus' "big pressie" from us was one of these table football games.  He is now an expert at the game after I gave him a bit of sage advice on the day he received it: "SPIN LIKE CRAZY!!!". This morning Mikus, all confident with his new fussball skills, made a wager with Jem:  that they play a game, and if he wins, he doesn't go upstairs and get dressed and go to kindergarten.  Foolishly, and buoyed by his own expert fussball experience, Jem agreed.  The outcome was painful, and not for Mikus...  ouch!

Last week we were in full mother's day mode.  Kindergarten concerts and all.  Gotta say I got a bit teary during Mikus' concert.  It wasn't because the "cool girl" of Mikus' class started to vomit on stage right in the middle of the proceedings.  Although that was definitely a moment you wished you were filming for a funny home videos show (said Jem).  It was because I realized that this was my last year of kindergarten mother's day goodness - and there is nothing better in the world than  those colourful, smiley pictures of you painted by your preschooler.  

 Last few weeks have been intense.  Could be because I turned 40 recently - something I was not remotely worried about, until the birthday loomed nearer and nearer.  Then suddenly I really, really didn't want to be 40.   I felt a bit panicky and regretful.  Doesn't matter that I got a whole lot of encouraging emails and theories about only really starting to live after 40.  Nope. SO not convincing.  The main thing about it was that you haven't got a choice - no amount of whingeing or pleading or money or influence can change the fact that time is marching on... OK, ok, that's it, enough of a window into my burgeoning  mid-life crisis.  To cut a long story short, I had a little  tanty and told Jem that I DIDN'T WANT A PARTY, although he had already started organizing it, and thoroughly enjoyed my day with close family - but no balloons or streamers. It was great.

Then on the weekend we went away to Saaremaa, an island off the Estonian coast.  Booked into a fancy spa hotel, we got totally chlorine-logged swimming in the various pools, the boys taking every opportunity to swim, while I curled up on the deck chairs reading on my new kindle (yay!) and pretended we were on the beach at Coolum.  Just as good except no sunburn....

Saaremaa was a fabulous surprise for all of us.  A friend told me we would be facing a touristy metropolis, so I was stunned when the little town of Kuressaare boasted only 3 souvenir shops, a couple of antique shops selling nautical equipment, and a handful of cafes.  Lots of quaint wooden cottages. A big moat-surrounded, well-preserved medieval castle.  There weren't too many other tourists, and it really felt like we were on the edge of the earth when exploring the delights of the island.  Deserted beaches with artful grey rocky shores and little wooden fishing boats pulled up on the rocks.  A lighthouse we could barely see for the fog. Geocaches hidden in the most interesting places -in bird boxes hidden in pine forests; in the ruins of Soviet bases set amongst juniper bushes; in rocky outcrops near old wooden windmills. What a wonderful weekend.

Guess it's not so bad turning 40 after all.

BTW, I figure 40 must be good for something - I managed to successfully make a pavlova first time in my life.  All those years of wisdom, I tell ya.

Jump forward to Saaremaa.  My little hedonists on the way to the pool. Or was it their "kiddy" massages?  Either way, they were SO excited about their robes, which were, of course, "ninja outfits"

Looking for a geocache on a deserted beach.  In the middle of this adventure Mikus said: "Now I know why it's called E-STONE-ia!!"  Came home with a car boot full of beautiful rocks.

Exploring Kuressaare.  Gotta love the street names.

 The boys performing their "happy birthday mum" dance at the Kaali meteorite crater.  Oh, YEAH!

This one's for you, Maria and Gerry!


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