Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Greenville Halloween

Happy Halloween!!!
So much to do here in Greenville to celebrate Halloween! Friday we headed to Boo in the Zoo, a trick-or-treat opportunity at our local zoo. For Lauris, a great introduction to the concept of trick-or-treating, as well as a chance to see that other children are wearing costumes too. The event runs the two weekends before Halloween, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

One small piece of advice: buy tickets beforehand. Instead of standing in the very long line (which moved quickly but had a wait of about 30 minutes) you can go straight to the gate. The crowds may have been partly due to some unexpected publicity; on October 22nd the female Masai giraffe Autumn gave birth to a male calf. The baby was named Kiko, which means autumn’s child in Swahili, but neither mom nor calf was in the haddock that late in the evening so we’ll have to return during the daytime to meet the new addition.

Meet Kiko! Source: here
Another great local Halloween event for those looking to participate in an alternative to trick-or-treating, is Green Halloween at Roper Mountain Science Center. Billed as “fall on the farm” there were games, crafts, snacks and candy, farm animals, a hay ride and even a live band. We returned home tired, but with a bag full of goodies that kept us busy the next day too.

Between the pumpkins from the pumpkin patch, the wonderful costumes from our Seattle uncles (complete with hats and fire axe! ) and trick-or-treating (yet to come) it has been a spooktacular Halloween. May all of you, whether celebrating in the US or abroad, have a wonderful Halloween, All Saints’ Day, Guy Fawkes Night, Miķeļi, or fall harvest celebration! BOO!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The pumpkin patch

Not every day out picking apples is as “fruitful” as our day at Sky Top Orchard

One week before our trip up to North Carolina I took the boys to an apple orchard a little closer to home to meet a couple of other moms. It was a beautiful day and a shorter drive (only 30 minutes from Greenville), but one little problem – no apples.

Turns out the season lasts longer up in the mountains, and with an early apple season the only apples to be had at Niven’s Apple Farm were straight from the refrigerator! Not to be deterred, we braved the school group crowds to enjoy the playground and check out the farm animals, then headed out to the pumpkin patch.

The boys couldn’t be happier with giant pumpkins to climb, dirt to dig in and endless rows to explore. This made it easy to snap some pictures and enjoy the day. We finally chose a pumpkin and some gourds, and carted those along with a bag of Mutsu apples from the farm store to tide us over until the big haul the following week.

Next year we start the apple business earlier, in September. Oh, and take dad along so that we can bring home one of these giants!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Jumis and huckleberry muffins

It’s harvest time here in South Carolina! The apple and harvest comes a little later here than in the northern US, just as the harvest season in Latvia is earlier yet (as the Baltics are much further north). The Latvian Apjumības or Miķeļi are celebrated for three days at the fall equinox, September 22nd – 24th, which coincided with the christening of Mikus (whose middle name is Jumis, pronounced you-miss). The pagan deity Jumis represents fertility and a good harvest, and there are a good many traditions and rituals that accompany the celebration (but I’ll save these for a later date).

The jumja zīme: imagine two crossed stalks of wheat (source here)
This time of year my thoughts wandering to the harvest celebrations is as predictable as the changing of the leaves. It’s been several years since we’ve been able to do any ‘harvesting’ of our own since we didn’t have a garden in Clermont-Ferrand (although last year I did help with an end of the summer harvest in Chatenet). Our trip to pick apples was long-anticipated and exactly what was needed to sooth my hands, itching to be digging in the dirt and harvesting a bounty of my own. But no sooner had the apples been put away in the refrigerator than the itch return, and I’ve been planning the installation of a couple of raised beds in earnest.

The berries are mostly gone from our local forest this time of year, it is only a few fruit that can still be found, such as persimmon and figs, which was why the package that I received from my godson in Seattle so delighted me. The small Tupperware with a few branches of evergreen huckleberry (vaccinium ovatum) stayed fresh in the refrigerator for a few weeks, until the day I was ready to carefully separate the berries from the leaves. Sitting out on the porch “picking” the berries I dreamt of the blueberry and raspberry bushes I’ll plant next to the house, and the reward once the plants have matured.

The resulting one cup of berries were just enough for a batch of mini-muffins. Mini, because huckleberries are pretty mini, and it'll take you a long time to pick two cups worth. Also, as we are still in temporary housing I don’t have a muffin tin; instead I have mini-cupcake papers that came with the cake forms I bought in a garage sale. So here’s the recipe for evergreen huckleberry mini-muffins, although I’m sure it’ll work just as well for regular muffins.


Evergreen huckleberry mini-muffins
(Adapted from a blueberry muffin recipe)

2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1 egg
4 tbsp butter
¾ cup milk
1 cup evergreen huckleberries

1.       Preheat oven to 350˚F. Toss the blueberries with ¼ cup flour.
2.       Mix the remaining flour with the salt and baking powder.
3.       Cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg and beat well.
4.       Slowly add the flour mixture and the milk, alternating between the two, until a smooth batter results.
5.       Fold the berries into the batter.
6.       Spoon the batter into your greased muffin tin (or your liners neatly arranged on a pan) and bake until golden brown. Tops should spring back to touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Autumn and apple orchards

Autumn has arrived in South Carolina! Beautiful fall colors, cooler temperatures and all sorts of activities to keep us busy, but I can’t help compare this year to last... Not better or worse, only much different.


Halloween is not really celebrated in France (possibly only by American expats!) and therefore all the accompaniments (store decorations, costume parties, pumpkin patches, mass volumes of trick-or-treating candy for sale) we missed last year seem almost like overkill this year. We’ve got the boys’ costumes almost sorted out, which was much harder than I thought it would be. Lauris is old enough to have an opinion about what he wants to be (let’s just say there is NO way he would put on the Spiderman costume he wore last year, this time around!), and Mikus is a little older than his brother was for his first Halloween so the 3-6 month pumpkin costume isn’t an option (even if a nine month old wearing 12-18mo clothes wasn't the case). But Halloween isn’t the only difference reminding me I’m not in France any longer.

Pick-your-own is a very popular activity here in the US. We have family outings to pick blueberries, strawberries, peaches, pumpkins, Christmas trees and this time of year, apples. In central France the closest thing to an outing to the apple orchards is a cider féte, and these celebrations aren’t as child friendly as a day spent in the country picking apples, choosing a pumpkin and jumping on a hay ride. Yesterday we headed to Sky Top Orchard in North Carolina to pick our apples.

Of the 22 apple varieties the orchard grows, four were still available for picking and we returned home with a half bushel of each: Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Arkansas Black. I plan to make quick work of the Golden Delicious and churn out some applesauce next week, and the Arkansas blacks will make some excellent pies. I expect we will have had our fill of apples, apple pies, apple sauce, apple pancakes, etc. before we run out. Any must-try recipes I should try with these varieties?

We had a wonderful time in the mountains, picking apples (or watching mom pick apples), running up and down the rows (or watching dad run up and down the rows) and enjoying the colorful scenery on our way. Now, off to find a snack… There’s a Pink Lady calling my name!


Friday, October 19, 2012

Washington DC

Lately Laurīts is talking about Obama kungs māja (translates Mr. Obama’s house, he hasn’t gotten the hang of the word President just yet). Luckily, it isn’t because of the extended election coverage on TV, nor is it due to any political discussion in our household.

We don't think Obama kungs was home
On our way home from Chicago we detoured to Washington DC, where two good friends got hitched. We attended a very beautiful rehearsal dinner on Friday, complete with half-naked, passed out kids in strollers.

Did you know the Washington Monument is closed for repairs since the August 23, 2011 earthquake?
Saturday, while my husband was off with the groom doing who-knows-what-it-is-they-do-before-the-ceremony, and Mikus was busy catching up with his grandmother, Lauris and I joined a group headed for the capitol. The White House, several monuments and reflecting pools later we were already on our way back to start getting ready. I would love to return to DC to do a proper tour of the area.

Maya Ying Lin, then a student of Yale, designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Then of course, the atkāzas on Sunday. Because it isn’t a Latvian wedding if it doesn’t go three days.

Mīļie Āri un Laura, novēlam lai jūsu dzīvē līdz mūža rudenim nepietrūktu mīlestības, saticības, laimes.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012


High schoolers don’t often agree, and thus it was a surprise to me fifteen years ago when I found total agreement among the friends I interviewed for a history fair project. The topic was whether growing up bilingual was an advantage in their lives. 100% of the bilingual interviewees - the project was on Americans of Latvian descent - were also confident that they would raise their children bilingually. One of my fellow American-Latvian high school classmates even joked that he would buy “Latvian Hooked on Phonics” for his children, and we exchanged funny stories about times we had spoken Latvian so that others wouldn’t know what was being discussed. “Latvians in Chicago” was the project, and discussing bilingualism was a secondary topic to the stories of three generations of Latvians in the Windy City but quickly took precedence in discussions with my friends.

Benefits through opportunities in travel surfaced early on in the interviews. Many of my friends had already visited Latvia but had also traveled extensively around the US and Canada to Latvian events: summer camps, scouting expeditions, youth association events and other cultural happenings. Bilingualism in travel turns out to be a multi-faceted benefit, as not only is it easier to navigate a country if able to speak the mother tongue, but a speaker of the native language will find it easier to complete everyday tasks, meet people and obtain employment. The motivation to travel internationally was also estimated to be stronger with the additional language under your belt; I doubt that any of my friends would have visited Europe at that young an age if not for the Latvian heritage and language.

Our family’s expatriate stint in France only reinforced my understanding of being bilingual and the connection with travel. The opportunity to move to France came about partly because of my husband’s previous French studies, and the extensive traveling we did during our time overseas would not have been feasible if not for his approach to - if it is a word - trilingualism. My knowledge of French was minimal, and I discovered the complexity of completing tasks without any language fluency; my husband took on the majority of household tasks involving any significant interaction with the locals until I managed to pick up a little French. Luckily this language capability soon accumulated in the form of grocery-store and post-office vocabulary.

inspire language learning
Learn English with Kaplan

Also mentioned as a benefit of bilingualism in the long-ago history fair project was a financial benefit to speaking two languages. My friends listed their dual-language capabilities on their resumes, and many have since gone on to use their ability to speak a second language with international employers, where a second language leads to an understanding of other cultures, even if the languages in question are different. Working with international companies oftentimes brings exclusive advantages to those who speak the language of the country that the company headquarters is in, and it was widely noted by interviewees that being bilingual is beneficial to one’s career.

In our own home, a large motivating factor in deciding to raise our two boys bilingually is the mental benefit. Several studies have shown that bilingual children have advantages in switching between two tasks, are more adept at problem-solving, more successful at creative thinking and overall, more mentally agile than children that speak only one language. There is evidence that bilingualism delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, in addition to making it easier to learn additional languages. (During our time in France I would not have been able to learn as much French as I did learn without knowing Latvian; it is structured far more similarly to French than to English.) Although toddlers raised in an environment where multiple languages are spoken may take longer to say their first words, the resulting mental flexibility that develops is an asset in development. My oldest, Lauris, is finally speaking in sentences and can differentiate between I, me and mine (which I see as a big milestone in his development), but I will admit that I was very nervous when all his French playmates were speaking and he had not yet started. It helped to remind myself that even as he seemed behind on vocabulary, he did understand most of what was said to him in French and Latvian, and once he started speaking he quickly made up for lost time. In any case, I feel an immense loss over leaving France before he had the chance to truly learn the language; it makes learning Latvian seem that much more important.

But what is the primary benefit of being bilingual, the main reason we are raising our children to be bilingual? The one answer that rang loudest during that interview over a decade ago is the same I submit today: love! Love for Latvia, the Latvian culture, the Latvian people and the Latvian language. Language connects children to their ancestors, it binds us to a country that might be far away but is very close to our hearts.

Both my husband and I were born in the United States, but we identify ourselves as Latvian in addition to American, and being bilingual has been integral in shaping our identity. It is the often mispronounced name, and the Saturdays spent in school building vocabulary and learning grammar. It is answering questions about where Latvia is located, doing history fair projects on Latvians in Chicago and explaining that the language differs very much from Latin. Our language is the tie that connects me to a country thousands of miles away, a granddaughter born in the US to her grandmother born in Europe. My grandparents arrived in the United States after WWII not as immigrants but as displaced persons, and some of the only possessions that they carried with them were their language and their customs. Today speaking two languages is a privilege, not a necessity, and I reap the benefits every day.

As I realized when hitting stop on the tape recorder during that interview of my friends many years ago, the Latvian language is the one thing Latvians have that no other people in the world have. But it was to be another dozen years before I would fully understand the benefits that learning a second language would give me. When my parents made the decision over thirty years ago to teach me Latvian and English, I was given a gift. That gift of a second language has opened doors, created opportunities, and left me with an insight into and appreciation for different cultures and different worlds than my own. And the realization that has come to me today is that I possess no greater gift which to give to my sons.
This essay is my entry into the Inspire Language Learning: Blogger Challenge.
As the winner will be determined by a combination of facebook "likes" and a jury panel, please help me by hitting the "like" button below!
Thanks to Russell Ward for bringing my attention to this contest! You can check out his entry over at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall(ing) for Greenville

Fast forward a few weeks from our time in Chicago and we are back in Greenville enjoying all things autumn – pumpkin patches, apple orchards, the colorful mountain hardwoods and this weekend, Fall for Greenville. A three day outdoor festival modeled after the likes of Taste of Chicago, Greenville’s “a taste of our town” features over 35 restaurants and seven stages of live entertainment – definitely something for everybody. We had been warned that the crowds would make enjoying the day downtown difficult, so we timed an early arrival with a departure before the younger, more boisterous evening crowd arrived.

As expected, Main Street was full from curb to curb! The lines for tickets were easy as there were booths on every curb, and lines for the separate restaurant booths weren’t any worse. Our longest wait was only a few minutes, and the food was delicious. A very quick way to sample the fare from dozens of downtown restaurants without eating out every week, tickets cost $5 for eight and food is between 3 to 6 tickets per serving.
We spent a bit of time in the Village Green while Keith Johnson, The Bubble Guy was performing. There is something enchanting about watching giant bubbles float away into the blue sky… above the madly waving arms of fifty screaming children.

Throwing frisbees overhanded?
Plenty of freebies available for those willing to give out an e-mail address or wait in line. We had a free photo-booth style family portrait taken, and Lauris spun a wheel to win a frisbee. However we were there to sample the food, and sample we did.
Lauris’s favorite from those sampled was the kettlecorn. We tried a falafel burger (The Nose Dive), and a wild caught salmon slider with Asian slaw (Two Chefs), both of which were yummy. Roberts liked the raspberry lemonade best, which only serves as a reminder to me that I can lower the bar for family dinner in our house. I thought Bimini’s Oyster Bar had a great clam chowder, however I wasn’t a big fan of the Sabroso mini mesquite grilled chicken chimichanga. A Japanese bagel (Takosushi III) was a nice change of pace – basically a salmon/cream cheese sushi roll. The seafood gumbo from the Brown Street Club was a little spicy and so we followed it with an iced caffe mocha from Coffee Underground. And although the Belgian frites were nothing like I remembered the fries in Belgium to be like, the bourbon BBQ mayonnaise that came with them (The Trappe Door) was delish! Finally, my favorite, and therefore the winner of our people’s choice voting ticket <drumroll please?> were the fried Oreos with powdered sugar from the Runway Café. They were so good in fact, that I went back with our last three tickets in hand to get a second serving… 10 mile hike tomorrow, right?

Fried oreos!
I’m very happy we braved the crowds to attend this year’s Fall for Greenville for several reasons. First, it was a beautiful autumn day, and I’m glad we spent it outside. Also, a portion of the proceeds goes to local charities; according to the booklet we received at the ticket booth over $350,000 has been donated in the event’s history. Navigating with the stroller was a little stressful, but considering how many people were in attendance the festival really has figured traffic flow and logistics out over the last ten years. But final reason why I’m glad we went? It’s a tie between not having to cook dinner for a night, and fried Oreos!


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mikus kristibas

Mikus Jumis, iekristīts Detroitas Svētā Pāvila draudzē 2012. g. 23. septembrī. Manas krustmātes krustmāte māc. Aina viņu kristija Čikagā, jo dzīvodami Dienvidkarolīnā mums rīkot kristības Detroitā sagādāja lielus šķēršļus. Čikagā arī varējām nodrošināt, ka lielākā tiesa ģimene un draugi varēs būt klāt šinī nozīmīgajā gadījumā.

Par krusttēvu nāca Roberta brālis Matīss, un par krustmāti mana māsa Anna. Ģimene sabrauca no tuvienes un tālienes, pat Latvijas, Sietlas un Toronto.

Pēc Dievkalpojuma iepazīstinājām Ciānas draudzi ar Miku Jumi un pacienājām tos ar manas vecmammas ceptiem pīrāgiem, mammas ceptu kliņģeri, un tantes un krustmātes sieto Jāņu sieru.

Mikum mugurā kristību kleitiņa kuŗā kristija viņa brālēnus Ronaldu un Matīsu, viņa māsīcu Ināru, un arī viņa tēti, krusttēvu un tanti Gintu.

Mana mamma salika altāra puķes. Tamdēļ, ka rudens jau klāt izvēlējamies saulespuķes.

Priecājamies, cik daudz ģimene sabrauca būt klāt svinēt šo dienu ar mums.

Kas mirdzēja, kas vizēja
Viņā ceļa galiņā?
Kūmas veda mūs’ pādīti
Svētu rītu baznīcā.

Kas tur nāca no baznīcas?
Visi meži locījās.
Tā bērniņa vārdiņš nāca,
Ko šodienu krustījām.

Grieziet ceļu, grieziet ceļu,
Mazam Mikum Jumītim!
Mikus nāca istabāi
Liela vārda dabūjis.


Mikus Jumis was christened by my godmother’s godmother on September 23rd. By having the christening in Chicago we were able to make it more convenient for a large portion of our family to be present, although family came from as close as just down the road as well as all the way from Latvia, Washington and Canada. We were delighted that our family made the trip to share this day with us, it just made the event that much more beautiful and meaningful.

Roberts’s brother Matīss and my sister Anna consented to be the godparents. When he was a baby, Matīss was also christened in the dress Mikus wore for the occasion, as were Mikus’s  father, aunt and three cousins.

After the service we introduced Mikus to the congregation. My grandmother had baked pīrāgi, my mother kliņģeris, and my godmother and aunt had tied Jāņu siers for the occasion. As we mingled and met with everyone it was amazing to watch our little Mikus’s smile reflected in so many faces. The day was a blessing in every which way.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The "cilts" welcomes Mikus

Christianity was introduced to Latvia in the 13th century. However, the pagan beliefs weren’t completely replaced. Pockets of paganism endured, especially in the countryside, and these ancient roots are still visible even in holidays such as Ziemassvētki  (Christmas) and Lieldienas (Easter). Often what originated as pagan ritual has survived as culturally significant tradition, and we celebrate both our religion and our tradition through our faith and our customs.

Mikus in the arms of his grandfather
Our son Mikus was christened while we were in Chicago, and after the service we invited friends and family to the banquet hall across the street from the church to help us mark this important occasion. It was fun organizing the party, but I most enjoyed incorporating some of the aspects of these ancient Latvian customs into our modern day fête. In Latvian the christening is called kristības, but the pagan equivalent – krustabas.

Preparing for the ātrā maltīte
In the old days the krustabas would be the first big celebration in a child’s life at which time he would be given a name. The word krustabas is derived from the Latvian word for cross, krusts, which is also found in the words godmother and godfather, krustmāte and krusttēvs.  The infant is called a pāde, and the celebration starts with the ātrā ēšana (fast eating). So called because the white foods (usually bread and milk, white which symbolizes purity so the child has a bright future) must be eaten quickly so the pāde grows up with a good work ethic and not lazy. The guests stand in a circle, close to one another (so the pādes teeth come in evenly) and hopefully don’t talk amongst themselves too much, so the pāde doesn’t grow up to be a gossip.

Onkulis Alnis takes a turn during the pādes dīdīšana
Later the guests gather again, this time for the pādes dīdīšana; a sort of meet-the-baby ritual that differed from region to region. Omammīte recalls how Roberts was izdīdīts, the guests had to "rain silver" into his cradle which entitled them to a dance with the baby. Our guests formed a circle again, singing their well-wishes while each person took a turn dancing with Mikus. It is believed that good luck and happiness will result from this dancing, but I like that each guest had a chance to hold Mikus, if even for only a minute.

Some take the dīdīšana a little more seriously than others
There are many more traditions and beliefs associated with the krustabas, ranging from how to decorate the room to what foods to serve, and I really enjoyed learning more about these customs as my sister Anna was putting together the pādes dīdīšana. For example, a child must wear the same shirt as his brothers so that they get along. Mikus wore the same christening dress as not only his brother, but as his cousins and father, and for the krustabas he wore the same shirt and pants Lauris and my brother Māris wore for their dīdīšana. I’m hoping there will be harmony not just between brothers but among the extended family.

The happy pādīte in the arms of tante Zinta
We had a wonderful time with family and friends and the day ended much too quickly. An enormous thank you to my sister and Mikus’s godmother Anna for organizing the krustabas, putting together the booklets of lyrics and ensuring the completion of these traditions on the day of my son’s christening.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A day in Chicago, or, the lielā pupa (big bean)

My brother joined us for a day downtown. We took the Metra into Union Station.

54,000 people use the station (built in 1925) on a daily basis.
We crossed the Chicago River and passed the Sears tower. Actually the Willis tower, the naming rights were transferred in 2009.
It was the tallest building in the world for almost 25 years.
On a similar note, did you know the tallest structure in the EU is in Latvia? The Rīga Radio and TV Tower stands 1,209 feet tall.

We had lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized by SNL and the Chicago Cubs curse.

Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger. No Pepsi. Coke.

After a short rest and quick diaper change in the shaded gardens we visited with the famous lions guarding the entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago. The building that houses the museum was finished in 1893 in time for the World’s Columbian Exposition.

I had not been in Millenium Park outside of the winter months since it was completed in 2004, and so I had not seen the $17 million Crown Fountain in action. Creepy. A black granite reflecting pool is bewtween a pair of transparent glass brick towers that display videos of faces with fountains of water shooting out of the "mouths”.

Designed by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa and executed by Krieck and Sexton Architects
Nora’s father says no visit to Chicago is complete without a visit to the big bean, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate.

Said to have been inspired by liquid mercury, the statue weighs about 100 tons
Even before we boarded the Amtrak to head home both kids were asleep. But that evening Lauris asked for vēl pupa, more bean.

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