I haven’t written in what seems like a long, long time again. I seem to have lost my drive for writing, partially because I’ve been pushing all my energy into photography-related things. I’m learning new tricks with Photoshop and am even playing around more with colours and contrast. The results are good so far. Easter was spent with a group of friends at our friend Ilze’s house out in Jurmala. We had a feast of home-made Latvian style pancakes filled with ground beef, bananas and Nutella, and cheese. Soy cheese for me, of course. The fantastic soy cheese I picked up on that weekend trip to Brussels We also walked to the beach, took many photos, and then decorated eggs the good old Latvian way. Lots and lots of onion skins. The eggs also turned out lovely, and were then bashed to near smithereens during our friendly egg-wars. The weather has been better in Riga, too. The week after Brussels (which was a weekend trip of running around seeing everything we could possibly see and eating everything we could possibly eat — including escargot — which was DELICIOUS) we still had snow in Latvia, and the weather got rainy and damp and disgusting. Then it miraculously all passed and one day the snow was gone! Today was about 45ºF, which allowed me to go for my first run of the Spring season and spend most of my time outside for the rest of the afternoon. In the evening I was to meet relatives to go to a play at The Stage Theatre, but there was a huge miscommunication and two of the main actors were in some other Latvian city putting on some other play, so… everyone was apologised to and invited to come back the next weekend or to get a refund. So next weekend it is! Instead we backtracked a bit to Gallery kim? to catch the last three Baltic Student Film Festival shorts and then have a delicious dinner at Meta Cafe. The Spikeri area of Riga used to be kind of shady, but in the past year has improved by leaps and bounds and is quickly becoming a hipster/indie hot spot for galleries, concerts and good eats. Whereas before I would have told people to think twice before heading out there, I’d recommend it now. Even with all the drunks and slightly creepy people still around. But they exist in groups and generally stay to themselves.
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Oooh, happy 3/4 of the holiday season! I spent Christmas eve with my cousin and her lovely family. We ate goose, listened to poems recited and songs sung to earn the joy of opening presents and watched the tree warily to make sure it didn’t light on fire. Some of the ornaments did, but the tree itself stayed safe all night. Toward the end of the evening I got socked in the mouth by my god-daughter’s head and got to stand in the kitchen with an ice pack to my face and spitting blood for a few minutes. I still have all my teeth, but the cuts on the bottom part of my mouth still hurt a bit. This was probably subconscious payback for that time she hit her face on my knee and got a bloody nose. So we’re even, right? RIGHT?!! I am now being teased that I am incapable of walking away from a visiting session with my cousin’s family without any blood having been shed. We’re full of talent like that.
I got home just past midnight, I think, stayed awake for 3 more hours, then slept for an hour before waking myself up to call back to the States to wish people there a Merry Christmas. I got a little video-chat time in with the festivities going on at my mom’s house, and a surround-sound speaker phone effect when calling my dad and grandparents (I called my dad via Skype, then my grandparents called me on my cell phone…and no one thought to hang up one of the two calls. I don’t know what happened there…). Christmas morning — or day, since I slept in until 13.00 — I hauled myself out to my friend Ilze’s house (while Ilze is outside the country, I’m making sure her cat survives the winter) where I kept her cat some holiday company and continued to relax.
People, I did so much sleeping in those four days it was DELICIOUS. Three day weeks should happen more often. This week is another three day week; today I drove out with a few colleagues to Malpils, where we were scheduled to go spend some time with residents at an assisted living centre. But then the girl who was supposed to sing them some songs got sick. And then when we got to Malpils (an hour’s drive from Riga) we were told by the administrator that the majority of the residents and some staff were sick with this nasty flu+vomiting+diarrhea virus that’s spreading around faster than H1N1 on horseback through a wildfire. It took a few moments of deliberation, but we decided it would be best to just leave the dessert pretzel, mandarins and candies at the front desk, have the administrator say “Hello” to the residents for us, and left. It was too bad we weren’t able to visit, but I had a similar virus two years ago and would rather miss an opportunity to do a good deed than be stuck halfway between my bed and the toilet for a week and a half. Thanks, but no thanks.
On a slight side note, I will mention that the assisted living centre in Malpils looked really nice from the outside. The one we went to in Riga with the Martin choir wasn’t that pleasant to look at and it’s all I can do to hope that both places treat their residents (and as such, clients) with the respect and care they need and deserve.
Now I’m just a short while from another four day weekend. Tonight I’m going to a year-end concert with my dad (who is in Latvia now, HURRAH!) and some relatives. Last year’s concert blew my mind, so I’m extremely excited for this one. After tonight, sleep, glorious sleep! Then off to the store tomorrow morning to prepare for our New Year’s party tomorrow night. My first time with family PLUS friends. I have butterflies in my stomach. Will all go well? Will people enjoy themselves? Oh, the suspense!
Once more, happy new year to everyone! I’ll be hitting 2010 approximately 7 – 8 hours before most of you. I’ll let you know how it starts out
Saturday night some friends and I went to Kiploku krogs – The Garlic Bar – and had a very flavourful dinner. As far as I know, almost everything on the menu has some amount of garlic in it, including some of the desserts and beverages (ice cream with honey-garlic sauce, anyone? Or how about some delicious garlic mulled wine?). The joke/saying that goes with this restaurant is that if you plan to go, it is recommended to spend the rest of the evening hanging out with the same group of people who were at dinner, as you are the only ones who will be able to stand the garlicy company. I don’t think any of us ate enough garlic for it to be seeping out of our pores, but I definitely still had the taste on my tongue the next morning.
But the food was delicious, the garlic mulled wine was as well (for this they don’t actually crush the garlic, just drop one steamed clove into the drink, so the garlic taste is almost undetectable) and the prices were decent. Definitely a must as far as going back for more.
Now about the visit to the vet. Oh, experiences. First I called the taxi company to make sure I could transport the cat that way (by car from my apartment is the most direct, as with any other transport I would have to walk through the city for 10-15 minutes to reach the respective tram stop or the main train station with a howling, dagger-spitting cat, then sit on said mode of transportation for another 30 minutes while people eye me either warily or with annoyance as the cat makes horrific “I think I’m dying slowly and painfully so I’m going to make you experience every second of it” sounds. The cab company is run by saints who allow pets and even said “Hey, if you have a kennel for the cat – even better!” Like I was going to just carry the cat down to the car without any problems. On the way to the vet the cat literally crapped himself silly (at least we had some fecal samples for the doctor when we got there) and stunk up the cab. Not my problem.
The visit itself went well; the vet was a younger guy who kept dropping things all over the place, including at random and uncontrollable intervals from his pockets. He also knocked a few things off the exam table and expressed his frustration that something was going strangely that morning. He couldn’t find anything wrong with the cat, and I started to think it might be because of his own judgement. The man is holding my cat down while sticking a thermometer up the poor animal’s butt and tells me, “Wow, your cat is really freaked out.” I just looked at the vet and kind of laughed. If he can’t see the reason for the cat’s nerves, then he’s beyond my help.
The cat got a de-worming pill, prescriptions for a kind of anti-diarrhea pill and a “natural bacteria” balancer, and I got tagged with an LVL 19 bill (NOT bad at all – this price includes the medicine) and the strong suggestion to take the cat in for more de-worming and the next round of shots once he feels better.
The cab ride back started with the cabby picking up the cage and looking at it, then up to me with eyes glowing like a small child’s and asked excitedly “A kitty!?” The cat was able to control its bowl movements better during the return trip and immediately forgot his recent trauma once back at home and stretched across the top of the radiator.
At this time it seems like the cat has gotten better. It was absolute hell trying to get the medicines in him; the pills were ridiculous (my cousin, also a vet, said that he doesn’t even give that specific type of pill to clients for their pets until he chops them up and puts them into gel-caps to mask the bitter taste) and if I faile miserably trying to shove those down the cat’s throat, I was generally too tired to try to get the other paste (which is apparently semi-delicious and tolerable) into his mouth. But the symptoms of whatever look like they’re gone and I was able to call the clinic and let them know that everything seemed to be back in order. The cat is now splayed out on my lap, but little does he know that another vet visit is just around the corner.
Tonight I also went to choir practice with the Martinu koris. It went about as well as I could have expected it to go. I haven’t completely forgotten how to sing, though practising my violin more will definitely get that hearing back into shape. Tomorrow night I go to play my violin in a Latvian fiddle-type setting with some folk dances/games people. That may be a bit more nerve-racking.
As information about Rome, my Latvia road trip and my recent visit to the vet with the cat are STILL PENDING, I’ve been greeted on this my Name’s Day with a lazy, snowy morning. I’m still trying out pumpkin pie recipes for an event at work at the end of the month. Recipe number two seemed to be better consistency wise, but I did something wrong with the oven temperature and scorched about half of the top of the pie. I’m bringing it with to work today as my Name’s Day office treat and am planning on slathering it with an artistic layer of whipped cream to cover up the damage. I made cupcakes for my birthday and though I realise that this process is more time-consuming than just buying a torte, it’s also less expensive and more interesting for me.
That being said, pumpkin pie is very easy to make, completely from scratch. Like, almost dirty easy.
Pumpkin “goo” used for the pie filling can also keep in the freezer for a little over a year. This means it would be possible to steam, blend and pack pumpkin for an entire year’s worth of pumpkin pies, cookies, and other assorted baked goods. I know I could go the soup route, but I’m not into that. I deal with oveny things.
This past weekend I embarked on my first major work-related leisure trip. It ended up going much, much better than I had anticipated. I had a great time getting to know my colleagues better, joking around and taking pictures.
Half of the work trip weekend was spent sitting in a 20-seater mini-bus, while the other half was spent drinking, eating and enjoying the Czech-Polish borderland countryside. At least as much as was possible. We left Riga late Thursday night and got to the location Friday afternoon. I ended up being recruited to do all of the communication with the owner of the manor and property, as the man spoke Czech and German, but no other languages. I traveled to the Czech Republic with a group of Latvians, only to speak German. It was interesting being the lingual saviour until the Czech-speaking branch offices showed up.
Initially we were supposed to stay in 4-person cabins, which was a great idea, until we saw the cabins, which were damp, had little insulation and sported flimsy foam mattresses 2′ thick. Call me spoiled, but at Latvian camp our mattresses were at least exceptionally thick and tolerable, despite being 20 years old and stained. Luckily for us, I was able to figure out that the owner of the property was a very laid-back guy, just wanted everyone to have fun and, since there was a mix-up in the roomming or attendee count anyway, was find with us setting up shop in one of the first-level attic rooms. The room had 12 beds, we were 12 people, it worked out famously.
For the first night our group was on its own, so we barbecued and relaxed and just enjoyed Latvia group time. The next morning we headed into the nearest town and walked around a bit, checked out the stuff market, picked up some more groceries and headed back to the campsite. The other groups didn’t arrive until 1 p.m. and even after they did people mainly stayed in their own groups. This is something I wasn’t really expecting, considering everyone present is definitely 23 and over. 30-year olds grouping up in cliques? UNFATHOMABLE! And yet, it happened. Even the Czech coordinator who told us “Come, join the others! They don’t even know you’re here!” returned to her group and did little socialising outside of it the rest of the weekend.
I was also surprised at the complete lack of the English language. English was only spoken if you had to ask someone you didn’t know for something. I had assumed it would be an international event and that everyone would make an effort to communicate with one another. On the plus side, I freaking HATE ice breakers and “get to know each other” games, so my complaining can only go so far.
Saturday our Latvia group climbed the mini-hill behind the property, probably strayed into Poland a few times (the border was roughly 300 metres from the property), balanced on precarious rocks and took many pictures. It was an intense climb that no one was prepared for, but did anyway. At the top we realised we had to get down somehow, too – getting up to the top always seems to be the easy part. Once we got to the bottom and back to the manor there was a quick bathroom and beer break before heading out to the football (soccer) field to first watch others play then start a game of our own. Not something I think many of us were prepared to do after scaling the mini-mountain, but HEY! THIS IS VACATION(-ish)! I also jumped in on the action, kind of surprising my colleagues, I think, with my ability to TAKE PEOPLE DOWN. (On the last work trip I was openly labelled “the quiet one”.) I applied the phrase “no blood, no foul”, and I believe that they now take that seriously. I took down our IT guy and kicked my direct superior in the shin. Overall I think it was a productive game.
First to arrive, first to leave. Sunday morning after showering and eating breakfast we packed our gear up and left the cosy 12-bed attic and returned to our mini-bus. If the trip TO the Czech Republic was eventful because of a leaky tire that was fixed somewhere in the Polish suburbian boonies, the trip BACK home was eventful because the cardan joint busted. We were just outside of Warsaw, across the road from IKEA and a mall with an H&M store in it. TORTURE.
However we did make it back to Riga in time for most people to run home, take showers or sleep for an hour or so before returning to the office. Oh yes. Monday was NOT a free day.
We’re hard core.
Other than that I led an English language lesson today for 14 high schoolers from Daugavpils. The students had won a UNESCO competition and were awarded a 90-minute English language lesson by our office. As a result, I was chosen to lead the activity. I will now also be teaching conversation groups for high schoolers on Friday evenings, as well as making a public appearance at one of Riga’s many malls one weekend to… to basically “be American”. When finding out this was my assignment, I held back from telling the coordinator that I don’t know HOW to act American. Get drunk and openly grope people? While I down some hamburgers? Hopefully this question will be answered no later than one hour before the event.
Lots of rain in Riga. I’ve been essentially eating nothing but vegetables since getting back from down south. There was just too much bread (something I thought I’d NEVER say) and too much meat. No fruit. No veg. But lots and lots of Czech beer. The country has a clear set of priorities. On a related note, the Czech and Polish country sides are amazing. Very vast and very colourful. Driving through Poland was also a great experience. Well, the idea of it more than the act, since all we did was sleep most of the way. It also makes the idea of driving around Europe less daunting than I had previously decided it was. This makes me look forward to November with more gusto.
In other news, I’ve gone pro: now even more on Flickr.
I’ve also had “Tightrope” by Yeasayer on loop for most of the day. Minnesota Public Radio has a live studio performance on their YouTube channel here.