Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Oh "Dear John"s Day

Last week we celebrated St. John's Day here in Latvia. This Midsummer celebration has an entire traditional background throughout countries in Europe (plus some others). I'll let Wikipedia share the details so I can spare an hour of trying to figure out how to condense the essence of the holiday! Midsummer

We spent the evening at Janis and Zane's house in the country (remember them from past postings???) They organized an event for a group of kids they are currently mentoring. We were really inspired by their dedication to guiding these kids to know the Lord. Dedication to loving them despite their troubled home lives. Dedication to showing them how a group of young folks can celebrate a National Holiday in tremendous amounts of fun, without having to open a can of beer. That afternoon Janis had taken the kids on a 4 hour trek through the forest, where they were split up in 2 groups and performed certain team building tasks, followed by thought provoking spiritual shepherding. For example, Janis said at one point they were all told to choose a rock. They were instructed to write their greatest sin on that rock. They climbed to the top of a hill and CHUCKED THE ROCK DOWN THE HILL (or in the river), emphasizing how God forgives us of our sin and, well.....throws it away once we have sought forgiveness. I'd actually like to try that rock throwing activity some time. I'd like to collect a whole bag of rocks for that purpose, to unload a load of baggage from my heart, spiritually. 

Other things that made the evening amazing..........we arrived for an evening of games. I'm talking Tug of War, Put Your Grannies Pannies On and Race to the Finish Line Races (ok....they were Janis' pants), Blindfolded Spoon Races, etc. All those old school, hometown, good ole fair-time fun games.

Ghost Face
This spread like WILDFIRE! To escape swarming mosquitos, Clever Little Jekabs tied this over his face. You would not believe how fast those impressionable kids followed his lead. Soon, half of them were also Little Ghost Faces! Some people are truly born leaders. 

....Which leads me to mentioning this little 4.5 ft. tall boy on the far right of this picture. He was impressed on my heart the entire evening. He is a tiny little dude with a MASSIVE personality. He is a perfect example of a boy who was born with a God given trait to be a leader. And I don't think he has used it wisely. I could sense that troubled life and rebellious nature from the moment I laid eyes on him. I believe he is at that critical junction in life where he is going to choose to live his life in response to God calling him OR he is going to lead a life of rebellion. It just really seemed that obvious to me. Even more so, because he holds that special power of influence over his peers. Power through his personality, to either lead others astray or to lead others through a beautiful, wonderful life. I think I'll nickname him, Dynamite, and pray for Janis' good influence on him. 


Bonfire to guide us through the wee hours of the Midsummer Night. 

Janis and Zane

Bedtime was 4:00am
Our next great adventure (ironically, these days they are all happening OUTSIDE of the city) was at Jekabs' grandma's house in the country. After being in the center of Riga for a month, I think the country girl in me is screaming to get out! I'm not dissatisfied in the city, a person just needs to be reminded of the other side to stay grounded. Life does NOT revolve around crosswalks, catwalks, and cappuccinos in quaint coffee shops.
ENTER....the Country Life:

My fingerprints still have dirt ingrained in them. Sarmite (Jekabs' mom) and I spent 5 hours pulling and plucking weeds and pruning flowers in the garden at Jekabs' grandma's house in the country. I eventually was ushered to the strawberry patch. Isaac and I wound up with this batch. These are the sweetest tasting strawberries (which later made me sick).

My reward at the end of the day! Fresh picked bouquet of peonies from great grandma's garden.

In the past two days we have been to the beach twice. We are well aware that life, here in Latvia, has not been difficult on us. Today we packed into what I now refer to as the "Sardine Bus" and headed to a new beach on the Baltic Sea. The "Sardine Bus" is a mode of public transportation (otherwise known as minibus). It is about twice the size of a mini van and can hold approximately 20-30 people. Tidy.


For those of you wondering if Jekabs is getting any work done on his dissertation 
(not specifically.....ok.....specifically DBU associated folks....hehehe).....he is making great strides in hammering out his data. Everyday, before our  family fun begins at 4:00pm, he is spending his day with his computer at a nearby coffee shop or Edgar's (his uncle/pastor of home church) office studying. I am quite pleased with his discipline, and shall at one point, also credit myself with his success! LOL!  Those closest to me know that I don't deserve any credit! 


Time to end the post. I have kids to feed in the early hours of the morning and must get to sleep.

Loving the Lord,
Loving Living Latvia Outloud......


Endnote: If you are raising boys.........READ the Book Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson
I am currently reading it and it is tremendously helpful!

Sunday, June 19, 2011



For the non-sentimental at heart, I am just warning you....this is not the blog post for you! I am writing introspectively today. You know, the stuff that makes other people say, "B-O-R-I-N-G",  "Ya, I totally know what you mean" OR " Ok, she did it, she rubbed me the WRONG way!" So, here I go......I am rubbing my little hands together and just typing away what I think.

I have gotten the slight impression that folks around here just aren't that impressed by America. You know, our big, bad country that we think everyone wants to flock to for the chance of wealth and opportunity. Well, the people we have mentioned "America" or "Americans" to (which haven't actually been that many) don't seem that wildly impressed by us and don't really have a desire to go, much less live there. They like their European culture of cafes, coffeeshops, cobblestreets, sweets without sugar, and well, I don't really know what else because I don't really know the depths of their culture. And I am speaking in generalities. I think a lot of people here know at least one or two people from America and perhaps have even been there once.

I just met an American at the park the other day, who has lived in Latvia for 2 years (her husband works at the embassy). I asked if people have received her well here. She responded, "They haven't received me at all!" Hands off and unapproached. Even (forthright or possibly well-travelled) Latvians will tell you the culture is "cold", only warm and fuzzy with those you know very well (and even that depends on personality). Her experience is different than ours, of course, since Jekabs still has a network of family and friends from church, so we always arrive knowing we will be received well by certain family members and old friends. It makes a great difference.

I can see that by the sheer physical appearance of people here, you can tell it's a place where individuals feel more free to express (somewhat expose) themselves, for better or worse. In other words, I am thinking by my observations, that there is less pressure to conform. Most likely because you are always a bit of a stranger walking the streets, constantly commuting by foot or tram to get from point A to B to C to D.......that produces this sort of unfriendly demeanor on the street. And the reason it leaves such an impression on me is that I see it and feel it every time I am out. So, in the US we are in our cars minding our own business. Here, you are passing people constantly on the streets who are minding their own business, but it is at such close physical proximity that it produces an environment that feels, well.......unfriendly. I have to credit some of my sensitivity to the fact that I have lived in Texas for the past 12 years, which is quite possibly, the most friendly state in the U.S.! Seriously. Very friendly folks there. So, I am starting to understand the "street" mentality here now. Although, there seems to be very little connection between customer and customer paying money to keep lights in the shop/restaurant ON! Last night on tv, we heard a newsclip about Ukraine hosting the next European Soccer Championship games and how important it will be for waiter and waitresses to serve the customers politely and with a smile! So maybe the happy vibe will start catching on and spread like wildfire, afterall!

Honestly, I can't write much about understanding Latvian culture. Even Jekabs' family has their own unique family culture to them that I can't seem to understand the workings of! It just leads me to seeing that it makes no significant difference where you come from. What matters is who you are thru your actions. That is what I have learned from living with Jekabs for almost 7 years. I'll tell you, in a world of consumption and constant need for various affirmations, I have seen Jekabs portray the same character no matter where we go: Texas, Latvia, Portugal, Kansas, Italy, France..........I can't say that about myself. It is the difference between being driven internally and being driven externally. And, for you and me matter where in the world you are, there is an endless difference between being driven by the world's pressure or by God's purpose and impact on your life. One leads to peace, internal peace....the other leads to.....well, you can put that into your own words. "Give Me Your Eyes" song by Brandon Heath

Falling on Rocky Times

Ok....the title is completely misleading in the sense that we have fallen on tough times. No, we have revisited the rocky beach of Vidzeme (Vidzemes Jurmala). A place we first visited together on the day of our (first) engagement on June 30, ummmmmm....2003?  I was really excited to revisit this place, given our memory of that special day. Jekabs and his family used to spend weeks in the summertime here, living in a rented house, chopping their own firewood, swimming in the sea, and hanging out with other families.


We completed an orienteering race a few days ago. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work. Orienteering is a competitive sport thru the forest. Basically, you choose your distance (we chose 6K), mark your points on a trail (terrain) map, and jet off thru the forest. I could NOT have survived this without Jekabs. Unless you were born in the mountains or live near a forest would you ever have need to learn how to read a terrain map? This was a pretty tough run ( because the forest ground was unbelievably rough, rocky, mossy, branchy, swampish, hillish, old war trenchish, and all sorts of other words that make no grammatical sense! I am very pleased that we did this race. The forest was beautiful. Again, the history of WWII struck me as we ran past old trenches that were dug out during war time. How could I not stop and think about the place I was running past, so peacefully, and not consider the harsh tragedy of history.

I wish I had pictures of our running course. I think you would be impressed. Instead I only have a victory picture after the finish line.

We finally took a boat ride on the Daugava River. It was quite different than I expected, but very interesting because we got a good look at the industrial side of Latvia, a side we don't typically go looking for.

These huge cranes were loading piles of coal onto the ship. 

Ahhhhh....containers packed full of all the goods we love to consume. Shipped in or doesn't long as they make it home. 
It is really intriguing to see the inner workings of how a country functions with its goods.

Dome Cathedaral

We attended an International Service today at Dome Cathedral so I had the opportunity to snap some photos. Our service was located in the chapel, not the main sanctuary, as pictured here. 

When we were in the cloister (courtyard in the middle of the cathedral) Jekabs mentioned how it was formerly a monastery. The boys repeatedly kept getting confused...."There are MONSTERS here?" No, it was a Monastary......."There are MONSTERS in here?"  So funny. 

This is where we kept having the "monsters" conversation. 

Original ground level of the cathedral (it continues downward thru the gate). Current ground level had been built up thru the centuries. There is currently an archaeology dig at the cathedral to discover the different layers of ground from years past. 

Sand Sculpting....competition currently on display.
 For the competition, many different types of sand were dug up and analyzed for their sculpting quality and the final sand was a perfect mix of clay sand, which pleased the sculpting artists by allowing them to put much more detail into their art. 

We shrunk Dome Cathedral


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hobble on the Cobble

Today, June 12th, marks our 1 month anniversary of being on our "real life sabbatical" (actually Jekabs is having many productive days of working on his that is going very well) and we are still going strong. Everyone is still healthy and happy.

Jekabs and I went on an evening "Hobble on the Cobble" the other night. We strolled thru Old Riga. Want to know the reason we now call it a "Hobble on the Cobble"? Well, we had been to the market early in the day and I found a pair of 1.5 inch heels I liked, so I bought them. I thought, "If all these women can walk so smoothly on these cobblestone streets with 4 and 5 inch skinny heels, surely I can handle a pair of 1.5" inch heeled sandals." Hehehehehe......HARDLY! I have had shin splints for the past 2 days over 1 afternoon of "hobbling on the cobble in my wacky heels." Those will be special occasion shoes and I will resume wearing my flip flops for the majority of time!

Largest market in the Baltic region


Flashing my money before buying my heels at the market! Some might call me foolish, but I could only get away with this because I have a Super Hero Husband who can be both American tourist AND Latvian local at the same time!
He gets surprised looks all the time now because he chats away with me in English (He's an American tourist!) and then abruptly switches to Latvian (whoa.....he's a local!)....keeping the unsuspecting shopkeeper or waitress on their toes! 

More from our "Hobble on the Cobble"........

Outside of a knit you see the knitted pipe cover? 

This series of buildings is affectionately known as "The Three Brothers"


 On top of Hotel Latvia with a great view below
This is what we ordered to have the privilege of being there

I REALLY don't like trying new foods, so this was actually not something I was looking forward to putting in my mouth.  But, it tasted really good! 

View from the window

On to visit Omama and Opops

This is how we visit Jekabs' parents. We board this train, sit back and enjoy the ride. 

Jekabs had a flash back memory of selling newspapers on the train, long ago, after a lady passed thru selling ice cream. This hot and toasty train ride just got a little better with cold, soothing ice cream. 

We had gone, that afternoon on the train, to Salaspils to join Jekabs' parents on the beach of the Daugava River for a swim. While there, I collected river rocks! I love these rocks! I am completely infatuated with them (doesn't take much to impress me!). I originally had coasters in mind for the large flat rocks (which still may work out if I smooth them out a bit more), but then I created this lovely cross out of  my collection and plan on devising a (probably somewhat sloppy) scheme to get them permanently glued together so I can hang it on my wall at home for a memorable souvenir. If I had hundreds of dollars to spare I would ship home boxes of these rocks. Please, let me know if YOU have the spare money to sponsor this for me.......hehehehehe! LOL! 

We have a little indoor garden of plants from Jekabs' Aunt Kristine's garden.

Our cute little strawberry patch!

Isaac had a sad little accident with a bike this week. A lot of bikes travel so fast thru the parks. He had a brief moment where he wouldn't listen to Jekabs' command to STOP (because he saw the bike heading straight for Isaac) and our little dude crashed into the bike. Fortunately, the biker had seen Isaac and slowed down (in anticipation of running into him). It could have been a lot worse than just a scraped up knee.

Hanging out with Jekabs' cousin, Ieva, last night at the Flying Frog cafe! Fun time, good conversation (late night for her!!!!) It had been 6 years since the last time we saw her.
 She lives in Athens, Greece (8 years+) and became fluent in Greek during her University studies there. These European folks sure are impressive with their language skills. 
Random fisherman mug Jekabs picked up with someone special in mind. Hmmmmm.....who could that be? 


I am ending this post with something fun! A little contest!!! I have 2 items that I purchased from my very favorite local store, Medus Istaba.....Honey Room. To win one of the two souvenirs, just answer the questions below by posting your answer in the comment section. After 3 days I will put all the names of participants in a hat and draw out the winners! Contrary to the name of the store being "Honey Room", the prizes are NOT honey! After the contest is over I will post pictures of the prizes so you can all see (and if anyone wants to place an order for me to bring home for you, I can do that, too). 

Prizes hidden in a baggie! Will be revealed soon!

Brown bag mystery

If you want your name to be entered TWICE, answer BOTH questions. If you are satisfied with your name being in the hat just ONCE, just answer ONE question!
Have Fun!!!!! I look forward to your comments and answers!

Question 1: What type of stone are my earrings made of?
Hint: This natural stone is found in abundance along the Baltic shore and is very popular among Latvian tourists. It is fossilized tree resin. (Jekabs bought these for me on our 1st trip together to Latvia 8 years ago.)

Question 2: What local attraction would YOU visit if you were in Latvia?
Advice: Browse the internet for a minute or two to see the many wonderful sites in Latvia...and choose one that catches your eye! 

Loving Living in Latvia,