Christmas this year was all about initiative and hardcore family tradition.  The boys turned a corner, whereby they transitioned from being passive pawns in our larger plans of "the Christmas experience", to being the driving force and dictators of events. 

Christmas this year arrived with a cold snap a few days beforehand, and we found ourselves in the country in minus 15 degrees, with a windchill factor of minus 500.  Or maybe it was 1500.  That night we slept in front of the fire, partly for warmth and partly so that we could stack it with wood every couple of hours and heat the house up quickly.  In the morning, when the house was only 12 degrees warm despite our efforts (and sleep deprivation), we suggested to the boys that we may have to abort and celebrate Christmas eve in Saldus at their grandparents' house.  "NOOOOOOO!!!" their sad little voices wailed.  "We ALWAYS have Christmas in the country!!!  We can't have Christmas ANYWHERE ELSE!!!", they cried, as they shivered and put on layers of extra woolly socks.

So we kept on heating, and ignoring Mikus' insistence at going out to chop down our Christmas tree in the local forest. Eventually it was moving towards afternoon and Jem gave in to the begging, packed the boys into the car and drove through the blizzard (yes, by now there was also a blizzard) to try to find a Christmas tree.  After almost getting bogged in the middle of nowhere in the snowstorm, with no chance to stop the car or turn it around on account of all the snowdrifts, Jem gently suggested we buy a tree at the market in town.  "NOOOOOO!!!!!" our little traditionalists screamed.  "We ALWAYS get our own tree!!!  We can't POSSIBLY buy a tree from the MARKET!!!".

So the boys devised a plan B - leave the car at the house, and WALK to the nearby forest to get the tree.  And lash it to a sled.  And drag it home.  Jem - poor sucker - agreed to their plan, and our heroes set out in the darkness, through the swirling snowflakes, with miners lights strapped to their heads - operation Christmas tree had begun.

Amazingly, everything from that moment on went well.  The tree was chosen, cut down, dragged home along the road, dodging snow plows and occasional cars.  What totally stunned us was the fact that the boys were the ones to motivate, organize and execute everything this year.  Up until now, we have had to encourage and cajole them into really taking part - into decorating the tree, help putting it up, making gingerbread etc.  This year they insisted on trudging out in inhuman conditions to make sure tradition was observed - and Jem says that neither of them complained, not even when Mikus was literally up to his waist in snow.

So there your go!  Turns out that the combination of Dutch stubbornness, Latvian tradition-observance and Australian spunkiness makes fine young male specimens!  If I do say so myself...

Here's hoping y'all had a wonderful Christmas with your own minor miracles - no matter how hot, or snowy it might have been.

 I had a fond memory of my grandmother today.  Margarita was trained at the Latvian Academy of Art before the war, and when she came to Australia she ended up teaching the Adelaide high society ladies to paint in the 1950s and 60s.  She was an incredibly "modern" person, an eternal optimist, forever interested in things and making new friends.  She also had a charming set of prejudices.  Apart from recoiling from men with beards (Is there a name for beard phobia?  ...just googled it. Its pogonophobia.  Seriously.), she also often wondered aloud why the women with the biggest backsides wore the tightest pants?  And she also hated the new hairstyle that "all the tv presenters have" - layered hair.  Another pet grouch of my grandmother's was framed, mass-produced prints of famous paintings, found on the walls of many Australian houses (hello, IKEA!).  "Why would you have a print on a wall?" she would rant.  "You should never resort to having a print on your wall!  You need to have ORIGINAL art!  There are so many art students out there!  Anyone can afford to buy art at student shows!"

And you know, although I dearly loved and greatly respected my grandmother  - I kinda like a beard on a man. And my own hair, could call it layered.  I won't comment on the size of my derriere, or the tightness of my pants.  But I have to say, I think grandma hit the nail on the head with her art show comment.  REAL art rocks.  And there is no better way to illustrate this than by making a stop at the Latvian Art Academy students' Christmas market which opened yesterday.  We try to make it every year - Jem and I raced in there at lunchtime today and were bowled over by the range of stuff the students were selling.  Amazing talent and creativity, all crammed into the one hall.  Every year we pick up a little something for a good price - probably cheaper than that framed ikea stock photo - something totally original, and completely beautiful, something to be kept at home on the wall to be enjoyed by family and visitors alike.

In our neck of the woods, you could be forgiven for believing that the end of the world was nigh. It's  4 p.m. and it's just getting dark.  There is a snowstorm outside - it's about minus 5 - so the snow is swirly, powdery and fine.  It's like Mrs God up in the clouds has gone crazy sifting the flour for gingerbread... or something.
The lights in our windows are twinkling hopefully, and I can hear the wood pellets jingling as they are fed into our wood furnace.  Fizzy is cosily crunching on some of her catfood, kids are snuggled in front of the TV.  Tiss asks me why I'm smiling - I didn't know I was.
"Because we're warm, and we're at home, and it's snowing outside", I say, realizing that it doesn't take much to be truly happy - not really.

The grade one teacher snuck me this letter Mik wrote to Santa this week.  For those of you who can't read Latvian:  "DEAR SANTA, ONE REAL TICKET TO AUSTRALIA. AND CHOCOLATE. AND ONE REAL KANGAROO.  Merry Christmas, Mikus"

Everyone's getting into the Christmas spirit over here.  Even milk at the market is putting on appropriate attire.  By the way, that festive looking bottle up there is actually a silent killer -  RAW MILK.  Shock, horror!  They sell it at all the markets here - and little Latvian children drink it down.  I hear ladies in New York have been rioting because it's against the law to buy raw milk for their offspring.  

All the bottles at our local artsy crafty organic foodsy market yesterday were getting cosy in the winter chill.  

We wandered down through the winter wonderland in the morning and tried all of the Latvian treats.  Tīss, my little feinschmacker, ooohed and aaahed over the fruit jellies and berry syrups and farm cheeses and bizarre jam combinations, and tasted every single item that was put out for testing. Meanwhile Jem and I tried the apple calvados in little paper cups and quizzed the seller why Latvia doesn't produce natural apple cider - we've got enough apples in this country!  He promised us that next year was the year for Latvian apple cider. Hip hooray...

Yesterday the snow was accompanied by a super blue sky and fabulous hoar frost.  Walking to the market was almost more exciting than eating all the free bits and pieces when we got there!


This advent wreath of moss and baby pine cones that I picked up last week has already had a work out - this time of year candles seem to burn all day on account of the all-pervading overcast-ness.  Not so bad since the snow has fallen though - this morning the sky is covered in clouds but totally white, almost as white as the snow settled on the branches of the maple outside our bedroom window.

Peaceful scene, huh?  Not really, if you turn around, this is what you see - Jem got bumped out by two boys iPad shopping for Christmas presents.  Those cold little feet under the covers.... brrrrrr


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