How to make ice candles, without exposing yourself to the cold:

You will need:

- An excitable child or two
- water
-coke bottle
- something heavy

1. Wait until the outdoor temperature reaches minus 20 degrees or so.
2. Fill a bucket with water, put a plastic container like a cut-down coke bottle in the middle and put something heavy in it to weigh it down
3. Send a child outdoors with the bucket 
4. Leave the bucket outside overnight. (btw, let the kid come back indoors)
5. Next day, send the child outside to retrieve the bucket, the water is now a frozen block of ice
6. Remove the block of ice from the bucket by running the bucket under a warm tap
7. Pour boiling water into the plastic container to release it from the block of ice. 
8. Voila!  You've got an ice candle
9. Put some tea lights in there and send the child outside to place the ice candle in your back yard.  (PS. Don't worry, the child won't see through your ingenious and selfish attempt to stay warm. They will be excited enough about what they've made)

Who wants to read a blog that’s only updated every couple of months?  “Not I!” said the little red hen.  So she made a pact with herself to write something at least once a week.  “For good measure,” she clucked. And most weeks she had something – a lot of things, actually – to say.  And lots of sentences to start with the word AND.  And she was sure she could remember, in the musty back corners of her brain, that someone had taught her that you should never start sentences with the words BUT or AND or SO.  But the little hen didn’t care.  Oh no.  If JRR Tolkien could do it, so could she.  “So there,” she crowed with glee. 

There’s been far too much going on here for me to think blogging.  This week I have been writing funding projects.  The main one, where I have invested my heart and soul, is for funding for this documentary we are making.  I’ve learned lots about the need for budget items called “colour correction” and “sound engineering” this week.  Things I had never stretched my little brain to before.  And suddenly my budget is looking a whole lot more daunting!  Serves me right, upstart anthropologist, thinkin’ she could just film some stuff and make a doco, with no filmmaking knowledge at all.  “Certainly not rocket science”, I naively muttered to myself at the beginning of the project.  Ha!!

Funny thing is, that I’ve written a lot of grant applications in the last 10 years, and got funding for a whole lot of crappy and not-so-crappy projects.  And most of the applications I’ve handed in, I’ve been fairly indifferent about – if I get the money, great, if I don’t get the money…. meh.  Oh well.  And y’see – a lot of the time, I DO get funded, for those indifferent proposals.  But this time… this time I REALLY WANT to be funded.  I think if I get knocked back I will cry, at least for a few days.  Which makes me really wonder if the application will be successful…  So cross your fingers for me (if you live in Australia) and hold your thumbs (if you’re in LV)! 

In the evenings this week Jem and I have sprung back into action in terms of home renos – we have a very close relative staying with us downstairs for the first half of this year.  Kids are super excited and bouncing around, they love having relatives, and classifying people in our lives as relatives and non-relos. Between painting linseed oil on old walls and getting drips of ceiling paint in my hair, and learning all about different types of archival film footage, Australia day happened in there somewhere, didn’t it?  And y’all in Oz had camping trips and swims in the ocean and BBQs and Aussie flag temporary tats and the hottest 100.  Well good for youse.  Happy happy!  I did have a moment where I imagined you all.  I think that’s the day it dropped to minus 10 and my nose almost froze off walking to the bus.  There may have been a moment of yearning there.  Just maybe. 

We've just received some Vegemite in the mail (thanks G and M!).  Right in time for Oz day.  Tiss (who is always hungry) has worked out the best self-made snack in the world.  Joel, you know what I'm talking about...   

I don't know what's going on around here, but my tough 6 year old (who, at times, I could swear is a reincarnation of Mick Jagger) is starting to express his musical preferences.  If you asked him, he would probably tell you his 3 favourite songs are:

1. Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)
2. We Will Rock You (Queen)
3. Another One Bites the Dust (Queen)

closely followed by 4. TNT (AC/DC)

And I just wanted to ask: where the FREAK did the boy even HEAR these songs?  We have a very different set of songs on high rotation here at home.  Why the FLYING FRUITBAT is he not singing me refrains from Belle and Sebastian, or Beirut, or even LCD Soundsystem, or any of the other hundreds of groovy tunes blaring out of our home stereo??? Huh?  Instead he (and his older brother, yes, he's in on it as well) is "kicking your can all over the place, singin' "we will, we will ROCK YOU!"....

I guess I should be grateful its not Russian Euro pop.  Yet.

I don't care what the grown-ups say.  I think snow is awesome.  Pretty much every adult I've talked to in the past few months has said that they are glad there's no snow this year - you have to scrape it off the car when you want to drive, you get puddles of melting ice in the entryway, you have to  shovel it off the sidewalk, it makes icy slippery footpaths, kids keep losing their gloves, etc etc.  And YES.  All those things are true.  And yes, all those things suck.

Yesterday night I came out of work and walked through the park to the bus and the whole world had transformed while I was indoors. Eventhough it was almost dusk, everything was white. The ground was white, the tree branches were covered in white, the road was white, parked cars were white.  Bikes and people made black tracks in the snow as they drove past.  The big, fat flakes were coming down slowly, in a whispy dancing cloud all around.  And at that point, a big wave of pure joy came over me. I walked through the dark in this new world with the hugest, childish grin on my face, grateful for the snow and the insane beauty it brings. All the adult practical considerations be damned.

Best thing was also that I had my own personal soundtrack going - I've lately rediscovered the joy of walking to music on headphones.  You know, when you walk with headphones on you see the world totally differently, like you were in your own film clip...  a bit dangerous when crossing roads, mind. Walking through the dusky, snowy landscape with that "striped sunlight sound" made famous by Brisvegas darlings, the Go Betweens, and replicated by many others, was awesome!

Photo above - our street at about 1am yesterday night. Photo by Jem

This is what we've been waiting for!  This year we don't have to make a formal excursion to the park for the boys to play in the snow - we just shove them out the back door.  Luxury.

Another luxury.  The novelty of snow had our boys cleaning the footpath for us this morning.  See how long it'll last....

What do you do when you've lost ALL of the pairs of gloves your mum bought you at the beginning of winter (that's six.  Did you get that???  I said SIX) ?  And suddenly there's snow outside, and no one helps you find any gloves, to make you sorry you've lost them?   Huh?  I think you all know the answer...

Guess what I got yesterday with my Christmas money.  A pair of pulse warmers - and I'm happy as a clam.  Ok, lets call them wrist warmers, for those of you who aren't as pretentious as I.  And before you think to yourself "what a useless piece of 1980s accessorizing", let me rave a little bit...

Wrist warmers, as far as I can gather, have been a traditional part of dressing in the colder climes for EVER.  They are a little-known piece of traditional Latvian dress, and were knitted from fine wool with glass bead decorations.  Latvian wrist-warmers were used for two reasons:  Firstly, as a decorative way to hide those dirty shirt sleeves before the Whirlpool and Omo revolution.  But secondly, and probably more importantly, they were used as an element in dressing warmly.  I suspect they were so important, because they cut off the draughts going up your coat sleeves.  Because for Latvians, y'see, the draught is arch-enemy extraordinaire - draughts cause  all manner of diseases, they can be blamed for anything from pneumonia to toothache to marriage breakdowns.  And that's not just in winter - oh no.  A draught through a room in summer, when your back is all drenched with sweat and you can't sleep, is an unspeakable horror, something that is bound to hospitalize you.  And to think in Oz we called them cross-breezes and designed houses to "catch" them!  So wrist warmers make complete sense for a culture trying to stamp out draughts - these nifty little woolen tubes will take care of breezes in unwanted places, that's for sure.

I have wanted a pair of traditional wrist warmers for ages but was always put off by the fact that most of the ethno-styling women around me were knitting their own - "they're so easy", apparently - but I didn't let the Latvian-women's-self-sufficient-craftiness fool me. I'm not having 10 failed attempts at knitting something so seemingly easy, before giving up in disgust! So this week a friend took pity on me and sold me a pair of wrist warmers whipped up by a lady who learned the art as a part of living tradition - she learned to knit them from an older relation who learned from her grandmother, who learned to make them from.... you get the idea.

I'll admit it - I've taken the easy road and bought myself a warm pulse.  Apart from the small smile of satisfaction I get when I see my beaded wrists peek out from under my coat, I've got to say - they really help with warmth!!!  Who would have thunk it.  The tight, protected glow that is created almost instantly after putting them on is truly amazing.  I actually found that they were the first thing I took off in the shop yesterday, when I felt overheated - because they really do make a difference in body temp.  I am already planning my next pair. 'Cause they come in all colours and patterns y'know - next I want grey, with deep red and green beads, like berries in the forest...

So there.  Is that enough convincing for all you Aussie craftswomen feverishly crocheting granny squares to start knitting wrist warmers?  Aussie winter is only a few months away, y'know!

How wonderful to disappear into the wilderness of the Latvian countryside for over a week at Christmas. No internet, no TV, just a roaring fire in the hearth and lots of food and twinkling candles in the Christmas tree.  Amazingly this year, there has been no snow - it hasn't even fallen down under zero degrees during the day - which means muddy and grey behind the window.  This year we also celebrated NYE in the country - I had dreamed of doing so for years.  Much to our surprise, everyone we mentioned it to was willing to drive the two hours into the bleak snowless cold to celebrate along with us -  so we had a fun time days holed up around the fire, listening to and playing music, going in the sauna, telling new year's fortunes and playing board games.  The boys and the rest of the visiting kids went on several boys' own adventure expeditions around the lake (with bows and arrows and wooden swords and mum's mobile phone, for security calls and taking photos of wild animals).

When I was younger I was always the conservative party animal who stayed sober and drove everyone home at the end of the night. After that I was pregnant and breastfeeding for years.  Lately however I've found myself drinking more - perhaps its the whole 6-months-of-cold-and-dark-in-Eastern-Europe vibe?  Or maybe because I'm working more intensively?  Whatever the reason, this NYE I learned my lesson after having a close encounter with a bottle of moonshine distilled from homebrewed beer (google tells me that distilled beer is just whiskey, but I tell ya, this didn't seem anything like whiskey to me), and have vowed never to touch booze without international alcohol certification again.

New Years day dawned sunny and gorgeous, with a very light dusting of snow - like icing sugar - on everything, and the puddles slowly starting to turn into ice. And maybe it was the moonshine talking, but I must admit I was happy at the prospect of a little bit of real winter, bracing air, frozen fingers and toes - the way familiar landscapes are transformed into strange worlds when they are covered in snow.
So here's a happy one to all of you, hope you find beauty in your indigenous landscapes, with or without snow...

One way we told fortunes was by lighting a candle in a little boat - that each person swirled into a bowl of water.  The boat stopped at the person's fortune for next year (written on slips of paper around the outside).  Both Jem and I got "Many visitors from far away lands" - so we're waiting for ya!

Fireworks are legal here!  We had a rip roarer of a fireworks spectacular...

Boys and dog, off on an adventure

A slightly pained look for the 1st day of the year.  Do you like my new hat?


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