There are days lately when I suffer strong yearnings for the climate of my childhood, and its associated sensations - sub-tropical Australia in all its glory. Of course, I'm talking about the heat. Not just any heat: not dry, scorching Melbourne heat, but the humid, sticky muffled heat that is Brisbane in summer. All the windows and doors of the house open to let in the breeze, and the deafening nighttime sound of cicadas in the bush as darkness decsends. Waking up in the morning and going outside in your pyjamas and bare feet, and feeling the day heating up again, feeling the sun on your skin, and sensing the whole humming jungle around you "revving up" for the extreme temperatures of the day to come. When it does rain it buckets down, with big, warm drops and thunder and lightning, making little rivers on the dirt and mini-craters on the surface of the pool in the back yard. Just that little bit, I'm longing for the concrete that burns the soles of your feet as you scurry over the carpark to the shops, the smell of melting bitumen, and the lazy afternoons as you wait for darkness and possibly, a bit of cool relief. Dodging the cane toads (yes! even the cane toads) when you go out at night, the sound of the sprinkler on the lawn. The blady grass that grows like mad after rain and you wonder how anyone could ever tame its enthusiasm for taking over the garden. The jacaranda flowers and frangipani flowers that you string together into squidgy necklaces during lunchbreak at school.

That is what I remember of Brisbane when I was little. Moisture and humidity and succulent forest. For some reason (and I'm not going into speculation about global warming here), my adult years saw a great deal of heat with not enough rainfall, and Brisbane seemed to turn into a drier, more barren landscape, of which I remember getting caught barefoot in lawns full of bindi princkles, and brown, crunchy, drought-like terrain. A fight for survival in the garden, where no amount of watering can save the wilting plants. This shift in my memories of the sensations of living in Brisbane could be something about idealizing childhood, I guess, or the fact that we moved house when I started Uni, from a gully to a hilltop locale, which although was very scenic, was basically built on rock, and not good for developing luscious landscapes.

These childhood sensations come as flashbacks to me now. I wake up in the night and long for those cicada sounds; the humming bush; the fluid, enveloping humidity. My wishing for these sensations is getting stronger lately, I think partly because we haven't been in Oz for over two years, but mainly because of the extreme cold affecting this part of the world. We have spent the last 3 months in sub-zero wintery conditions, and the last few weeks with an outdoor temperature of minus 15, give or take. Whenever you go outside you are restricted by layers and layers, and you scuttle from one location to another without stopping to let your toes freeze. Indoors the central heating is working overtime and dries out the air, so that everyone is parched and static, with cracked lips and drying sinuses. So I find myself lying awake , scheming about somehow getting plane flights to the other side of the world, just so that I can feel that moist air, put on a light dress, and go through the screen door onto the brick patio barefoot, to watch the gathering electrical storm of an afternoon.

I also find myself pondering how important it is for my kids to feel and associate with these same climate-related sensations. And have realised that they will have a totally different suite of feelings they associate with their childhood, and which they could feel homesick for, if they end up living in some tropical climate as adults. Because they are children of Northern Europe. They will remember the brisk air as they come out of the house, snap-freezing nose hairs and the cold like needles on their cheeks; the puddles of ice and water they traipse into the corridor when they come home. Awe and excitement when they wake up in the morning and look outside and see fat snowflakes slowly sliding downward. The crunch of the snow beneath their boots, and the way that you can take a run up and slide along the pavement when it's iced over. The absolute silence and solitude of Kūgures when you trudge over the snow and into fields by yourself - everything soft and white and muffled for miles. Breaking off icicles for "snow shashliks", and making snow angels, and the cosiness of coming into the house with the fire in the grate. The feeling of gratitude and joy of seeing the springtime approaching, and the wonder of finding the first small green shoots and snowbells peeking out from under dry, crackly leaves... their sensations will be different, but surely just as powerful, and just as strongly feel like "home": and I realise that it's all good. Different place, different time.

Don't you love those classic kindy photos. Reminds me of my kindergarten photo from 1977, except in my one my teacher was smiling, and we had an octopus in the background - one with legs made of ladies' stockings stuffed with newspaper. For those of you who can't see Mikus, he's the cutest one - with a big cold sore...

It's called "hoar frost", or in Latvian, sarma. I had only seen it before on a couple of occasions - a wintertime occurrence, where white ice crystals form on cold clear nights, due to heat loss into unclouded skies causing objects to become colder than the surrounding air. This last week we have had 4 or 5 continuous days of sarma - and I can safely say that it is one of the most insanely beautiful things I have ever seen mother nature pull out of her "bag of tricks". It is as if every single tree branch, twig, leaf, berry, has been dusted with a thick coating of bright, white ice - making each individual stem and stick a sculptural delight, and turning the whole world into a white, frosted celebration. This type of sarma doesn't happen every winter - but this winter seems colder than the previous few, and I can't help thinking that this is mother nature's way of apologizing for the appalling, dark dreariness that was October, November and December. I went for a walk today in bone chilling minus 13 and shot dozens of photographs, until my fingers began to burn and I had to seek shelter in a heated shop - below are some samples.

This ghostly landscape and the one of the berry covered in frost were taken by Jem on the previous day, when skies were grey.

So what else do you do in this kind of freezing weather on the weekend? Find the longest track of polished ice you can, of course, and go sliding down it on your bum, on your belly, or sitting on a sack, or sitting on your brother, or on a sled... whatever.

Checking out the slope

Even our renovator's delight is looking cheerful in the frost!

Well it's been a while - I've not blogged in ages, part of the reason being the all-pervading darkness, which was my last substantial post, and partly because there's been NO TIME, as per usual, and lastly - probably because I've got nothing to say.  Or to be more precise: I've felt mean spirited and haven't wanted to share my life on the internet.  Not that anyone forces me to do so, but these blog efforts are usually directed in a "form letter" format for those friends and family who we don't see as often as we'd like, and lately, I just haven't felt like informing everyone as to what I'm thinking, and what we're doing.  So - sorry. I'm back on it now. 

Tonight I have a spare minute to write because Tiss is doing homework, and Jem and Mikus are off at a kiddie gymnastics lesson, first time for Mikus.  Not sure how it is going to go, and whether it is the right thing to be doing for Mikus, because of his leg and the need to protect it - but we've decided to give gentle gymnastics a go, mainly because Mikus is ADMANT that he needs to do a sport, and has been hassling me daily for the last six months about wanting to start doing a sport of some kind.  Finding any sport for 4 year olds here in Riga is a challenge, it was pretty much a choice between swimming (did it last year and quit after Mikus got blue lips every week from the cold, cold pool); folk dancing (what kind of a sport is that?); karate (um.... NO) and gymnastics.  We have got Mikus to agree that he will be cool about NOT doing certain exercises if they put too much strain on his leg, and are hoping that this will be the active sporty stuff that Mik so obviously needs.

Christmas passed in a colourful blur, with festive events held at Kūgures, our annual Ķekatas foray in Rīga where we went from house to house in a traditional Latvian version of Halloween, and new year's eve spent at a friends' place.  The kids were thoroughly spoiled, as is the usual for Christmas, and this year Jem and I bought a schmiko SLR digital camera as our combined present.  So if nothing else, there should be some good photos to put up on the blog from now on. I've posted a couple of Christmas pics below, still taken with our old point-and-shoot.

Now we are back into the daily grind of work and school and kindy and fencing lessons and Saucējas rehearsals and house building.  The last few weeks the winter has changed from being warm and dark to the opposite - FREEZING and WHITE.  Like the rest of Europe, we have been hit with mountains of snow and sub-zero temperatures, and although it is a pain (literally) to go outside for any extended period of time, it has made life more interesting and, dare I say, exotic lately.  The skies are often blue, and weekends have been spent sledding and crunching through the snow, and most importantly - I am now getting to fully enjoy the other Christmas present Jem made me.  Something I have searched for in music stores and online shops for the last couple of years with no success - a pair of HEADPHONE EARMUFFS.  Seems like a natural combination, no?  But there don't seem to be any commercial versions, so Jem had to get creative and make me a pair.  And my, are my ears toasty when walking to work in minus 10 degrees!

 After the Santa fun run in Dome Square - the annual Christmas markets.  No, the guys didn't run, but they got medals anyway!

Beautiful clear dawn on the morning of Christmas eve - at Kūgures

The obligatory christmas tree chop in the forest over the road.  Trespassing and furtive tree hauling.

Making gingerbread is one of the best ways to keep kids amused at Christmastime here in LV.  They sell gingerbread dough in the supermarket: you just give the kids a lump of dough, some cutters and a rolling pin.  Lots of the dough gets eaten before it makes it to the oven!

Christmas eve


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