The end of the holidays has snuck up on us.  Things speeding up towards the end, with significant birthdays and grandparents visiting.  We made one last summer holiday day trip today just over the border to the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania.  Never get tired of this tourist destination  - first time we visited was around 20 years ago.  To make a long story short, the hill is covered in hundreds of thousands of crucifixes, which local Catholic Lithuanians and other visitors have placed there over hundreds of years.  The Soviets bulldozed the crosses a number of time but the site was always regenerated.

I don't find the place eerie - it's touching, and fascinating - a place where so many people have left a small token to honour their country, their family, their loved ones.  This visit I tried to focus the lens on  the home-made crucifixes placed among the mass-produced effigies of Jesus on the cross.

My first born babe turned ten last week.  Can't believe it was a whole decade ago I was labouring in the back seat of the car while Jem sped me past the Queensland Museum in the pink sunrise on the way to hospital.

TEN!!  I've gotta say that Tiss is turning into quite a gentle and considerate young man, particularly when opening presents and occasionally having to feign excitement at misguided gift from his parents.

Like this "man scarf" from his mum.  See that smile?  I expect I will be seeing a good deal more of that "I'll-indulge-you-mum-you-freak" grin before he descends into general teenage grunting.

So can you see the continuing theme in birthday presents around here?  Gotta say I'm  thankful for Star Wars, pretty soon the requested presents will turn in to "I want anything starting with an i..."

And in other news, my second born is starting grade one on Monday.  Don't know who's more excited, and nervous.  Me or him. Or should that be "I or he"?

Summer has been all about castles lately.  I suspect this is because Jem and I have downloaded and watched the whole first season of "Game of Thrones" in the last couple of weeks - I walk around during the day inventing new tribes of peoples that could emerge from beyond The Wall and proceed to attack the Winterfell stronghold...  that's probably why I was totally enchanted by the 2500-year-old tattoos on this Siberian ice-maiden mummy when she turned up in my news feed.  She could lead a new band of pagan warriors into that tv series, I reckon.

Image and article available here 

Yesterday we went of a day trip in Kurzeme to a medieval castle that we had always driven straight past.  This country is so littered with castle mounds and ruins and remnants of medieval castles, that after a while you get a bit complacent.  Most often the strongholds sport badly translated historical essays stuck on a post outside the ruins, with detailed lists of dates and owners related to the castle - and not much else in terms of interpretation.  So we were stunned on walking into Edole castle to behold an early 20th century interior...  recreated from photos of the Baron's rooms.  The boys started crowing about everything being just like Harry Potter, and we raced through the rooms goggling at the stuffed animals and floral wallpaper and kitschy hunting trinkets.  Apparently you can rent out the castle for weddings, parties, anything... gotta think of a reason!

...great place for a geocache!

Straight after we drove to our favourite beach at Jurkalne, where, inspired by our castle visit, we proceeded to build the biggest sandcastle in the history of our family's castle making.  I knew things were getting serious when Jem unloaded a garden spade and full-size buckets from the car boot.  Everyone got super-involved, Tiss drawing a plan for castle in the sand with a feather while Mikus built the ramparts and Jem dug the moat.  I decorated with rocks.  A true team effort.

I first heard the advice Andy Warhol's mother gave him, on an album by Lou Reed and John Cale: "The way to make friends, Andy, is invite them up for tea".  So simple, no?

I saw Mrs Warhol's principle in action when Jem and I had moved to Melbourne from Brivegas and I started studying museology - everything was so new and I was very alone - and was stunned by a dinner invitation out of the blue, on my first week in class, from my totally intimidating classmate, who had the grooviest haircut and the most intelligently outspoken comments during tutorials.  We ended up at her place - in true Melbourne style, she lived in an old corner pub that had been converted into a share house - eating pumpkin curry with total strangers, and loving it.  Needless to say, Fiona and I have been fast friends ever since, and from that time I knew that Warhol's mother had it right.

Since we have had our new house it has been so much easier to invite people up for tea. I tend to do it  without much thought beforehand, and as a result we have made some interesting friends in the last year.  Like last month, for example, when it was one of those weeks with 100 things to do. Heatwave in Riga, gotta go to work, Tiss and I participating in the international folk festival Baltica, Jem has agreed to organize a group of expats to play AFL in Lithuania on the weekend, bank loan paperwork to organize, rental properties need looking after, we've double and triple booked ourselves for the entire week.... you know. And then one of my favourite blogging mamas pops up on Facebook -  "the Snapping Blabber" (hi, G!).  She and her family have been travelling the world for the last 1.5 years and been to SO MANY diverse and amazing places.  And her Facebook status update advertises the fact that they have hit LATVIA!  So of course, without hesitation, I write and invite her to stay.  Not that I know her, or anything.  Most contact we've had is me leaving a comment or two on her blog.  And before you know it, they have arrived at our house... all five of them! And we don't even know their real names. We weren't even home when they arrived - so left them the key hidden under the wheelie bin and crossed our fingers that they weren't really robbers or mass murderers.

The trick about "inviting people up for tea",  has been learning to swallow my own internal standards-for-visitors, inherited through a long line of proud hostesses.  My grandmother's version of Mrs Warhol's advice would definitely read: "The way to make friends, dear, is invite them up for tea - provided you have vacuumed the living room, got lipstick on, pastries in the oven and polished the silverware.  Anything less than this standard of preparation, and you should turn out the lights, draw the blinds in horror, and pretend you aren't home".  As a result, I have been using my "drop of a hat" invitations as a form of shock therapy.  The beds aren't made, there's "skiddies" in the loo, and you've got visitors.  Deal with it!  So once I got over my "oh god" moment, it was brilliant.  Our kids instantly got on like a house on fire, the "Snapping blabber" took over my kitchen and everyone was happy.  We listened to tales of travelling the world, ate pancakes, went to the beach, and were pleased to share a bit of why we love living in Riga with our visitors.  Quite a few days later, we waved them off on their next adventure, happy for taking risks and making friends.

This last weekend, we had an adventure with some other new friends, this time in the country... but more on that in the next post.  A sneak preview in the instagram feed on the right...
 "Little B" checking out our snowglobe collection.  I think she has been to more countries than we have globes.  The pic above is of our farewell dinner.  A bizarre but tasy combination of smoked flounder, chanterelle sauce, and pinot noir...

Things are bowling along at their use pace of summer intensity round here. I have to give credit to my mother's vision and optimism - I swear it was only a few years ago when she planted three cherry trees, refusing to plant any more because "when they grow, we'll have too many cherries, and we won't know what to do with them all".  At the time her statement seemed a bit "pie in the sky" (cherry pie, that is), and almost laughable after our hired help mowed down one of the trees with the whipper snipper.  Over the next few years the trees grew in fits and starts, and produced around 10 cherries each, which we never got to eat, because a flock of starlings would turn up right at the time they were ripe, eating them all in one fell swoop.  

But not this year!!  Oh no.  Mum and I decided to wreck the starlings' summer, and covered the trees in alfoil, which made shiny, rustling christmas decorations in the trees to scare away the birds.  Didn't do much for the wasps though, who came in droves when the cherries got ripe.  I spent a week in July fighting with the wasps for the cherries, and ended up with WAY too much jam and pie filling, with more cherries in rags, being munched on by fat, happy wasps.  So in my desperation, I had to resort to making bottles of...

Latvian olives.  You know, cherries with lots of sugar and vodka on top.  Let it sit until New Year's Eve, makes for a tasty celebration.  You wanna come over?

The fields are totally amazing at the moment, because our neighbour hasn't yet mown everything.  The wildflowers are over the kids heads in a lot of places, and when you walk in the field you can see the inspiration for Latvian folk costume colours, right there in the field.  Lots of subtle shades of browns and greens and yellows and purples.

I could go on, but summer is galloping, galloping, and I actually started this post weeks ago.  Need to post it so that I can write another one about the rest of the goings on in our part of the world.  Over and out. 


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