Autumn leaves are like snowflakes, or people.

Each one is unique.


 Each one has its own shape and beauty.

I am amazed by the infinite combinations of patterns and colour. 

Every year.

PS. In other news, if you have been following the instagram feed on the right, you may have noticed that Jem has been in Athens for a work trip.  Today they started a general strike, lucky for Jem he got out of the central square before protesters and police started to clash - tear gas, petrol bombs...  he is on a plane back to us in LV now.  Back to cold autumn and colourful leaves, and no petrol bombs :)

Every year  I have a wild time on the 20th September.  Thing is, according to the Latvian calendar, today is my name day. Latvians (and lots of other cultures, as far as I know) celebrate different names on different days of the year.  Everyone knows who's name day it is each day - probably because they have calendars on the back of the toilet door to remind them - and people make sure that they congratulate each Janis, Ieva, Mara, Peteris or whoever on the appropriate day.  The tradition with name days is that you are allowed go visiting uninvited - with birthdays you have to wait to be asked, but on name's days you can just drop in.  Otherwise they are pretty much the same as birthdays - people buy gifts, have parties, spoil the relevant Janis, Ieva or Mara.

The problem is, that we never really celebrated name days living in Australia.  The only person who ever reminded me of the significance of the 20th September was my grandmother, who would call me.  Otherwise it was just a normal day. So gauging the significance of  name days when living in Latvia has been a difficult thing - because I didn't grow up celebrating it, I just don't FEEL that excited.  Today, same as last year, I had forgotten the importance of today until we got on the tram this morning.  There was Tiss' school friend singing "Happy name's day" with a gift bag of home-baked cookies.  And then the text messages, and phone calls, and chocolates and flowers started pouring in.  Gotta admit I felt like a bit of phoney accepting greetings and gifts for something I had totally forgotten about - but any time is a good time for a party, right?

As it turns out, tomorrow is Tiss' names day.  And in a couple of days, it's Mik.  One year we will have to have a big combined names day bash.  The sunflowers in the pic (Van Gogh would be jealous) were given to me by Jem, when he also realized it was my 'special day'.  The thoughtful guy doesn't even have a name's day of his own - he gets lumped into the 22 May - the day for everyone who is not included in the name's day calendar.  That sucks, big time.  Years ago, Jem decided to celebrate himself on the 29 October - on Elvis day.  That's right.  ELVIS.

This must be the year for "the little tree who could".  First cherries, then apples.  Lordy, lordy - the little apple tree we planted a couple of years ago, is going completely BANANAS!  (I mean, like bananas-crazy, not bananas-the fruit).  Just got back from a weekend in the country with two huge baskets full of gorgeous, tangy, crispy rose apples I picked off the tree.  Only problem is, what to do with them all?  I have a few plastic bags full of windfall apples I am going to juice, make sauce etc with.  But what about all those fresh, crisp lovelies?

That's where the small village charm of Riga comes in.  Realizing I was in a race against time, this morning I loaded a fabric shoulder bag with apples.  And doled them out to everyone I knew.  Friends on the tram got apples, mums at school got apples, my work colleagues got apples, my translating client got apples, and so did 2 friends I met on the way to work/back home.  By the end of the morning I had a spring in my step and an empty bag, and was humming Billy Bragg's "I am the milkman of human kindness... let me leave an extra pint" happily to myself.

This arvo I made a favourite around this time of year - apple pancakes.  Terrifically tasty, even for kids who eat fruit with suspicion. My friend Ieva has a crackpot theory that bad people simply cannot make good pancakes - and I tend to agree with her.  As for me, my pancakes don't always turn out well.  Occasionally they turn out rubbery, or burnt, or like cardboard...hmmmm.  But today - today I must be a good person.  Because those apple pancakes were tremendous.

And about the top pic - I have realized that apple season coincides with the start of school - in this part of the world, anyway.  Kids doing their homework and crunching on apples.  Maybe that's where "an apple for the teacher" concept came from??

Do you see those ripe figs I picked up at the supermarket the other day?  Aaamaaaaazing.  Made me think of how far this country has come, shopping-wise, in the last few years.  When we first moved, the situation was dire, and we had friends and relations bring us all manner of substances from overseas. Most things were not heart-stoppingly important - just those little things that you miss when you don't have them.  Really early on we couldn't get toasters in Latvia and got used to having sandwiches for breakfast. There was no household bleach, or nappy liners, or takeaway coffees, or decaf coffee, luxury items like snap-lock bags, or spices like cumin, curry paste, brown sugar.  English language books used to be hard to come by, and at Easter time, you couldn't get chocolate Easter eggs anywhere. Reasonably priced Chinese takeaway food is still a distant dream.

Things slowly started improving, however, and the expat community would share information on where to get highly sought-after items: coconut milk, cranberry sauce, choc chips for baking.  For a long while, Jem said that he would be completely satisfied with life here when he could get "big" toaster bread instead of the mini rounded loaves of white bread; and when he could by a kebab for lunch.  Abracadabra, zippety zoo - and lo and behold, both the requested big bread and turkish fast food showed up. So apart from Vegemite, we can pretty much get everything and anything in Riga now, as long as you have the cash to pay. Shops full of iced cup cakes. Bath bombs, sushi bars, even beauty spas where little fish eat the dead skin off your feet - you can pretty much get it all.  And that, I'm happy for.  Especially the ripe mangoes that turn up in the supermarket occasionally.  On those days the emails between like-minded mango eaters spread like wildfire.

Another thing that reminded me of how far Latvia has come lately was the art festival we went to on the weekend.  Obtuse installations from local and foreign artists, the best one was an interactive steam-punk labyrinth all the way from some good folk in Barcelona, which brought a bit of  old-school mechanical fun to Riga.  The labyrinth had doors all through it, which you could only open by working out various puzzles attached to the opening mechanism. Games with magnets, blocks on rope, combinations like on a safe.  Everything was wooden, or welded metal, completely touchable, incredibly simple and awfully appealing.  We all played and played in the labyrinth, totally enchanted by the clunky physicality of all of the parts.  Made me wish I lived near a spanish artist's workshop/studio, so I could tinker with these things all the time.  Maybe one day.

Dame Edna and Morrissey should have been Latvian teachers.  They would love the gladiolas - the most popular flower to give your teacher on the first day of school. I don't know why. The first day of school in Latvia is a big celebration for students of any grade or university, everyone gets all dressed up and has a party after assembly, then goes home!

This one was an extra special beginning for us, because Mikus started grade one. We all woke up super early and super nervous.  Put on his linen shirt and tried to talk him into tucking his shirt in. This year I certainly didn't have the "should my son wear a mini-adult suit with a bow tie?" dilemma, like I recorded in this post - I've lived here long enough by know to be confident in which traditions we follow, and which ones are, well, just plain silly. And interestingly (and predictably) enough, it turns out that your kid couldn't care less what they wear, as long as their parent seems confident with the option.

Then we went down to the market to get some flowers for the teacher.   In my boys' opinion, the bigger the flowers, the better.  Typical males.

We only spent about a short time at school watching the opening assembly, where the grade ones are brought into the room, holding hands with grade nines - kids who are starting their last year at the school.  The whole time they come in, a bell is rung.  A solemn celebration, where the big, frightened eyes of the littlies make you get teary and smiley at the same time.

In the meantime, Tiss was with his class of fourth-graders.  Too cool for school.  Relaxed, joking, jostling mates who had been through it all before.  And in the blink of an eye, with the comparison of first grade and fourth grade in front of me, it brought the realization of what a long way Tiss has come, and also the calming revelation that Mikus would be ok.  That there was still a whole lot of learning and growing up to do, and it would all happen in the space of this lovely small school we have chosen to be ours.

PS.  No, contrary to popular belief, I didn't cut those fringes myself.  But I can confidently say we're never going to the local hairdresser again!


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