The other night, while at the pub, Jem met the sister of an Aussie friend. When he asked her the usual 'what do you do?' she answered that she was a 'mother and a surfer'. Which I reckon is pretty much the coolest job description anyone could have (...and for those people who are WAY too into desktop technology, she meant she was a real beach surfer, not the internet kind). And when Jem and I talked about it later on, I realised that my own job description is similar: 'mother and a Saucēja'. (the group I sing with are called Saucējas, a saucēja in Latvian is a person who calls the first lines of traditional folk songs). And this explains why my blog only has photos of my kids and the things I do with the Saucējas! So here are some recent pics of my scallywags.
And by the way, it's nice to know that there's someone out there! Apparently my father-in-law rang Joel today and complained that I haven't updated my blog lately - thanks Gerry - so this one's dedicated to my handful of lurking readers.
Last night we went to the "Night of Museums", where all the museums have special events and are open until after midnight. The whole of Rīga comes out to join in the festivities. Above is Mikus watching Tiss play games with the older children outside the National History Museum. Below you can see that Matīss was having the time of his life.
At the Riga Navigation Museum they had some zoo animals on display.
Guess what animal we are all looking at (and about to pat)...
So, I bet all you Aussies reckon its a wombat!! Any guesses??? Here's a clue: I felt a bit guilty about employing those hunters after seeing this giant rodent up close...
And here we are a week ago in the country, on Mother's day. Below is Jem ringing his mum (hi Maria!)
A trailer ride with Vectēvs while he mows the dandelions. Best child minding facility ever invented - the trailer fits about six kids (eight if you stack 'em) and keeps them amused for hours!

Ok, I'm going to be brave. And admit that I've always hada slight allergy to anything Russian. I won't go into the reason (if you don't know why and you're interested, try reading some basic Latvian history) - but last week I got a partial cure for my allergy.
My singing group "Saucējas" was invited to a folklore festival in St. Petersburg and try as I might to get out of it, I had to go along. I felt funny about going - partly because I have never been away from the boys overnight, and partly because I'd be travelling in Russia. I dreaded going, but steeled myself by imagining I'd won a free holiday: "Congratulations, you've just won an all-expenses paid trip to.... St Petersburg!!!" (our trip was funded by the national cultural foundation). Secondly, I pondered for a moment and realised there was no point in fretting for the boys when they would be having the time of their lives without me - with their dad, grandma and uncle Joel. Thirdly, I started reading Robert K. Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra" to try to get a picture of Petersburg before it became Leningrad. And surprisingly, the things I noticed - and loved - were a lot more Petersburg than Leningrad.
The city had its fair share of massive, monumental architecture, but unlike Berlin, it all fit together in a compact and breathtaking way. Many parts reminded me of London sometimes, Paris at other times. Although distances between metro stations were huge, the streets were lined with Art Nouveau buildings, castles, churches galore. People in St. Petersburg seemed a tad more 'western' than in Riga - lots of women wearing short hair, jeans and sensible shoes which was a welcome change from the stilleto, glitter and solarium that affects our ladies in Latvia.
The Russian folklore groups themselves were fabulous - such perfection in their vocal style and execution left us a little nervous - but they were all very friendly and interested in our tradition, and invited us to come again, and commented on the huge differences between our traditions. Of course I could speak no Russian except for 'ņepanimaju pa Ruski' so my contact with everyone was a very basic, smiling and nodding level. There was a certain sense of social justice when we stepped onto the stage at the Rimsky-Korsakov conservatorium, with angels painted on the ceiling and gilt edges everwhere and a huge chandelier above our heads - and we called out some ancient songs, rotāšanas. A quaint detail of our small Latvian culture, which we have managed to preserve tooth and nail, even after persecution and cultural censorship from this massive, vicious neighbour - and then to climb onto their opulent, prestigious stages and sing in full voice, with everyone listening.

Another stunning experience was to see the collections of the Hermitage Museum - wonderful stuff, things I hadn't yet seen in art catalogues - a lot of the 'heroes' of the Hermitage collections were the works of French artists appropriated by the Russians yonks ago. The Russian Art Museum acquainted me with local artists who I had never heard of - we were apportioned only half an hour in this museum and they dragged me out kicking and screaming! A highlight here were the icons, angels with huge, kind, almond-shaped eyes.

We travelled by train which also added to the drama, midnight border crossings and the deep sleep on the top bunk of a retro 60s train cabin as the train clattered over the rails. Coming home was also great - Matiss riding as fast as he could on his scooter towards me down the platform, followed by Mikus running in front of the pram, "Mama! Mama!"


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