When Tiss was little, and we were just freshly moved to Latvia, I did what any self respecting mother/museum curator does. I took my kid to museums. Doesn't matter if they've only just started to walk - museums are places for kids and parents, right? Places where mothers can combine a bit of "me time" with entertaining the family.
Well, that's was my firm belief when I arrived in this country. And for a few years, I desperately held on to my belief and trundled Tiss to museums in Riga. Unfortunately, at that time museums in Latvia hadn't got the memo about mothers, kids and museums. Throughout most of our visits, we endured gallery attendants following us like hawks waiting to pounce on defenceless field mice. We endured gallery guards screaming at us (yes - screaming) because Tiss got excited about exhibits and accidentally touched the glass, or stepped over a line, or sat where he shouldn't. I endured lectures from ladies about the fact that prams could under no circumstances be brought into the exhibition hall (and yes - I was expected to leave my sleeping newborn outside in the snow in the pram), and then there were the well-meaning old biddies who told me I was misguided, because my toddler wouldn't remember anything from the visit, and I was wasting my time pointing out the ducks in the impressionist painting, or the details in the diorama. And after a few years of this kind of treatment, I finally got the hint: Mum, don't come to the museum. And if you must - please leave your snotty kid at home. By the time Mikus was born, I had almost stopped trying, and we soon stopped going to Latvian museums altogether, bar the science museum which has a "please touch" room of cupboards with doors you can open. To be frank, I could not bear the prospect of entering those hallowed halls and the inevitable bad experience to follow. And besides, it was lonely, because there were never any other mothers or children in any of the empty galleries.
This is not to say that we never went to ANY museums with the boys, mind. We have been to plenty wherever we have travelled. The boys have been to friendly museums and galleries in Mexico, England Germany, Italy, Australia, Sweden - lots of places - except Latvia. They have loved all of these experiences, so much so, that when we say 'we're going to a museum' the boys will squeal with excitement.
So this Saturday I woke up and lay in bed and wondered what we could do with the family. And I found myself wishing we could fly off for a couple of days, so that we could take the boys to some museums. And then I thought: hang on, we've got museums in Riga! They boys are older now, less likely to touch something accidentally, and more likely to listen to instructions from me. And another 10 years have passed - maybe Latvian museums have had a dose of customer service training since Tiss was born. Maybe - just maybe - we (both us and the museums themselves) are grown up enough to run the gallery attendant gauntlet without anyone yelling. So we made a tentative trip to the art gallery. We picked an activity especially for kids (!!), where you were encouraged to draw in the latest exhibition. I prepared the boys with pep talks about not running and yelling. I made sure they weren't hungry or thirsty or hyped. ...And we did it. We had a successful visit to the art gallery. The boys observed art works, and sketched and drew and coloured in. There were no altercations or bad blood, and everyone seemed to have a good time!
So much so, that this positive experience has made me make a resolution. We are not going to just stop at this triumph - oh no! While the weather remains in winter/spring/cold slushy limbo, we are going to pick a new museum as often as we can, and tour as many as we can. Next weekend I'm hoping we can go to one of my personal favourites - I am praying they haven't modernized their fabulously vintage dioramas and taxidermied specimens... but more about that later!
Our ongoing saga of encouraging Mikus' literacy continues... he is now reading, slowly, but unfortunately all of the Latvian children's books that are Mikus' reading level are about bunnies, and pussy cats, and various other domestic and forest animals. Which I love, by the way. But Mikus wants to be BIG. He wants to read cool stuff, like his brother does. Fighting and dragons and pirates and boys own adventure stuff. I remember there were cool series of beginner reader books when I was learning to read in Oz - like the series about the pirates of different colours. Remember them? But Latvia doesn't have anything like that...
One way I am trying to make things more interesting on the reading front, is commissioning books for Mikus. The boys' friend, G, is a budding author, who has started to write a series of graphic novels about the Black Ninja (mainly because his mother, the hard taskmaster, refuses to give him pocket money for nothing. She said he has to learn to work for his money!) This seemed like a great idea for me - I thought I'd take advantage of the child labour and pay G to write for Mikus.
So yesterday we went down to the great new cafe open in our neighbourhood to meet G and his mum, and the first "early readers" version of "The Black Ninja" changed hands. It is perfect - in terms of illustration, interest level, and language, and Mikus has almost finished reading it. Quite inspiring, too - after poring over G's series of graphic novels, the boys came home from the cafe and spent OVER AN HOUR writing, drawing, and making their own books. The silence was deafening.
So here's to young authors, and black ninjas, and original literature, and spending way too much money on fancy cakes at groovy cafes :)
Examining a full-colour spread in book 2 "The Scorpion Prince" (or suchlike)
And here's an onionskin dyeing update: that's the cardigan up there. Came out lighter than I had hoped, but still an earthy tone. Not bad for a first attempt at dyeing with natural materials.
I know it's an urban myth - that Inuits have hundreds of words to describe different types of snow. But it's one of those myths that I love. I totally get why you would think so. Especially as someone who hasn't grown up with snow, I have been amazed that there are so many different kinds of snow, depending on the outside temp and general weather conditions. Different types that do different thngs.
There's that fine icing sugar that swirls downwards when its super cold: "silver rain", the stuff of Latvian folklore legend, which sparkles and shines and twinkles as it falls. There's those big fat flakes, with the classic crystalline structure . Each flake is unique: you can stand and study their infinite, individual beauty as they briefly rest on your coat before melting. Then there are icy little pellets that probably don't count as snow but more as frozen rain; and many other types.
But the best, the very best snow is the kind that fell today. Sticky snow. Because contrary to popular representations in American cartoons, not all snow is good for snowman building and snowball fights. Much of the time its too cold and powdery, and won't stick together. But not today. Oh no! Just ask Mikus, or me. Today the temperature climbed to around zero, and conditions were perfect for snowmen, igloos, snowball fights, snow tunnels...
It always seems to me that other people have more hours than I do. I have no idea where mine go, but other people seem to have things like Lazy Sundays. Weekends where they stay home and potter about, knit, arrange their handmade cushions on the couch, have afternoon naps, and hang around with their kids watching old movies.
I only do that kind of thing when we go to the country - minus the cushions, and the knitting. Mainly because in the country there is no possibility there to do any other chores, no list of friends I haven't seen for ages, no home renos or freelance work lurking on my desktop.
But this weekend, I actually worked really hard to make it a lazy weekend in Riga. I ignored phone calls, I rejected invitations, and stifled the urge in myself to invite people to our place, I pretended the freelance work had all been finished. Total lazy weekend. Well ok, we went to the local craft/farmer's market yesterday, and bought marmalade made from the superfruit - Sea Buckthorn berries. Yep, you heard it right. Sea Buckthorn berries are a whole post in themselves :)
Another thing, the most important part of a weekend that I'm suspecting was not quite as lazy as it seems - I went and voted in the referendum about making Russian a second state language. 70% of all eligible voters got motivated and trudged over the ice to the ballot boxes, and in our calmly, orderly, dispassionately Latvian way, voted to maintain and protect our small and precious culture and language from big bullying outside influences. But I better not get started! Plenty of stuff on the internet about the referendum by people much cleverer than me...
And we had family come over today - but that was a treat, and not much effort. A wonderful visit from the newest member of our family. It snowing outside, and the whole world is white, the little flakes have been swirling by in great drifts past the windows. Hot cups of coffee, and banana bread. The snow caps on the fence posts growing, and growing.
On Friday night I actually managed to finish a book I started ages ago - a tome snaffled from my grandmother's bookshelf - Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Quite an amazing read, when you consider it was written in 1931 - and if you have every seen any movies like the Matrix, or Gattaca or such. Highly recommended.
Another thing I did yesterday - and I need you to keep me to the following promise, dear reader - was to dash into the local op shop, which was having one of its "everything for 1 Lat" sales again. Of course, I came home with way more stuff than I need, or want. Stupidest thing I got was a lemon yellow machine-knitted cotton cardigan, which I couldn't leave behind because it was almost new, soft as anything and comfy. But seriously - LEMON YELLOW? Of course, I've got a theory which totally justifies the purchase - I'm going to dye the cardigan, not with commercial chemical dyes (oh no, can't make it simple and practical, can we?). I'm going to use onion skins and see what happens. Because if my theory works, the cardigan will be just the colour for my mismatched earthy wardrobe. I'm blogging the decision so that I can't back down now. I expect y'all to be asking me about the finished product. If it's not better than the current jumper, I'll eat my hat. Or maybe those onion skins...
I know Canadians and Siberians would scoff at this post - but holy HELL, it's cold in LV at the moment! It's so cold that even the locals are talkin' about it - it's one of the main stories in our daily newspaper every day this week. Last night when we went to bed, our thermometers told us it was approaching -28 degrees celsius (that's about - 18 degrees farenheit). It's been so freezing that the boys got two days off school last week. Mind you, I think the rule about primary school kids not having to go to school if it's under minus 20 was invented for those poor country kids who have to walk 3 kms to school. Not the spoilt city kids who go from a heated house to a heated car to a heated school. In my book, the boys should TOTALLY have been at school every day last week - but I just couldn't let them down when they were excitedly jumping around in their pyjamas because the thermometer said they were getting a day off... could you? Don't you remember the days in Brisbane (if you grew up there, that is) when you wished for the thermometer to hit +40 degrees so you could get a day off school? I can't remember if I it ever happened. But I certainly remember wishing, hoping, dreaming that it would.
So last week I left the kids all toasty at home and braved the walk to work. In this cold your nose hairs snap freeze everytime you breathe in. Your face has pins and needles from the freezing air, and after a 10 minutes or so, the tips of your toes and nose start to get sharp, searing pains. Or at least that's what it's like for me. The cold is all pervading, and although our new house is well insulated, the sub-zero winds (dare I call them - evil Latvian draughts) seem to find their way in through random cracks and tiny un-insulated portions of wall. As a result, I no longer have any water in my kitchen or laundry taps - the pipes are full of ice, as they are for many other home owners around the country. Lucky the loos still work :) Power lines for trolley buses are snapping, in Vilnius the central heating central burst last week. Our wood pellet heating system is chewing through the pellets, and even so, our indoor temperature would not be more than +16 or 17 degrees. Great temp for museum objects, not so comfortable for humans.
On a lighter note, cold days like this always come with no cloud cover and bright sunlight on white, snowy terrain. Ice flowers on windows and clear, crisp, crunchy outdoor dashes - to the car, to the shop, back home again. Friends of ours are going on a quick trip to Italy, leaving tonight, and are looking forward to "winter" Italian style - can't help wishing it were me. Instead we get to babysit their dog until they get back, and I am under strict instructions to take it for a walk twice a day. HA!!! Poor pooch will have to make peace with one quick - VERY quick - trot around the local park occasionally...