Sunday, November 6, 2011

Last Day in Latvia

It's hard to believe I'm finally writing about this is true that the longer you wait the harder it is to remember. But thankfully I took ridiculous amounts of photos and have the young minds of my kids to help me remember.  I find myself in a VERY rare moment of having no one in the house but my little one fast asleep so thought I would try to knock out this post...and then all there is left is traveling home, which is a long post in and of itself.

The last day in Latvia posed a few challenges for us...there was much to be done and only one day left to do it in.  We had really tried to make a vacation and enjoy ourselves and suddenly we found ourselves needing to go back to Spriditis for the rest of J's things, say goodbye to the orphan director there, pick up Visas at the Embassy, get our painting shipped and meet up with the daughter of our friends who we were escorting back to America for them.  And to make things really interesting we slept a little late too!  Shocker I know!

Oh, and I forgot that I had promised to get a cell phone for our friends who would be traveling soon and go ahead and get it to their daughter in Riga so they could contact her.  I was up at a decent hour and quickly got my shower.  Gary decided to finish up what was in the fridge and thought a good breakfast of our last bit of traveling bacon (sounds like a follow up to the traveling pants), eggs, potatoes and toast would be in order for our last day here.  While he was cooking (remember we can only use one unit at a time so it took forever for the potatoes to fry) I decided to run on out to buy the cell phone and get started on the many things to be done. 

I remember it was a beautiful morning..crisp and cooler but sunny.  I went to the first suggested spot and they said to go across the street.  At the Narvesson (where they sent me) I could get the Goldfish for the phone but couldn't get the actually phone...they sent me a bit further to the Tele2 store.  As with everything in Latvia, you take a number and wait.  All the little tags telling you which number to pull from were in Latvian so I took my best guess and pulled a number and waited.  I had no book, no smart phone, nothing to occupy my time but people watching!  So that's what I did...there were about 20 of us waiting and I began to wonder about each of them and their story.  The young woman who looked so very "put together," the older woman who was obviously a businesswoman in her suit and smart looking jacket, the old couple - he needing a shave and she with her cute dress and tennis shoes on - wondering what their lives had been like over the past many years of occupations and war and changes. 

After about 45 minutes, my number came up on the little screen and I hurried up to the desk and quickly asked if she spoke English. The answer?  "of course!!"  In short order, I asked for the right phone, gave her my Goldfish.  She activated it and I told her I needed it to be able to accept incoming International calls...she pushed lots of buttons and said ok..all set.  I paid and hurried out and back to the apartment. 

I miss Riga...I can still remember the way the sun felt glaring that morning as I realized it was after 10am and we needed to get on our way, yet taking the time to enjoy the views around me.  The flower market as I walked back, the grouping of students on the corner doing a small version of a flash mob and the not so good views too...of the beggars on the Russian Orthodox church steps. 

When I got  back, breakfast was ready.  We ate and everyone got ready and we tried to map out the day.  The dilemna?  Kemeri was a 1 hour train ride outside the city...the train left a 11:30am and we were definitely not going to make it.  I needed to be at the Embassy no later than 3pm because we were meeting our friend's daughter no later than 4pm. And that meant I needed to catch the 2:15pm train back to Riga from Kemeri (remember that 1 hour train ride?).  So, you do the math...there was no time for me to go...yet I couldn't leave Latvia without saying goodbye to the friends at Spriditis! 

We quickly got ready and called our cab driver from before to see if we could get a ride to Kemeri.  He was happy to oblige as we were a pretty decent cab fare...and I was looking forward to the children getting to see the road trip version out there...and in the cab, it was only about 40 minutes.  He picked us up and off we went.  We arrived to Spriditis and J took off...he wanted to go over to the school and say goodbye to all his teachers and friends there.  It was a little weird since  he didn't really want us to come along...but he's 15...and isn't that normal?  I often embarrass the ones I've had for much longer ;-)

E ran off with M&M to play on the playground and Gary and I went in to find our wonderful Orphan Director and visit for a moment.  We had a few more gifts to give out as well so once we found them we started with hugs, pictures, tears and gratitude for sticking with us and working so hard to help us get both of our boys.  And she had a gift for me!  A photo book of Latvia and a book of Old Riga...wonderful memories of our amazing trip.  They are truly amazing people at Spriditis!  The hour passed so quickly and we had to hurry off to the train.  I gave final hugs and promised we'd be back in November or so.  We all walked to the playground together and took more photos of all of them with E.  Then the we had to practically run to the train station to make sure we made the 2:15pm train. 

Without J with us, I muddled through buying tickets there and accidentally bought one too many.  She thought five of us were heading back and there were only four.  It was very emotional getting on the train from Kemeri station one last time...I know we'll be back twice more, but it was very odd to be there and be leaving three of my family there while me, the girls and E headed back.  Something about the finality of it just seemed weird.

We didn't realize about the extra ticket til we'd made the train and the ticket person came around...she asked me where the fifth pantomime of course.  I held onto the ticket...and then at one stop, realized someone had jumped on the train and was sitting on the steps and not coming in.  It dawned on me, this person was most likely either homeless or just couldn't afford to pay to ride the train.  When the ticket lady came around again, I gave her my ticket and asked her if she could just delight someone during the day who needed to buy a ticket...give them one for free.  She looked at me like I was crazy...and I said "gift...make someone happy?"  She laughed sweetly, thanked me and said "I try!"

That is something I notice continually about the people of Latvia...they are very kind, wonderfully sweet people.  But they aren't used to getting something with no strings attached.  Things that are kindnesses "just because"...these are foreign to them.  Yet it is truly delightful to be the one on the giving end of these interactions.

As we neared Riga, I began to get anxious and felt as if we were on the Amazing Race.  We deboarded the train and made our way to find a cab since it was already after 3pm.  We had switched our time to meet our friend's daughter to 4:30 or so.  We found a cab and made sure he knew where the new Embassy was and then conveyed we needed to go there and he needed to wait please.  It was supposed to be a quick run in and pick them up visit.  And it kind of was except it took nearly half an hour inside.  When I was in there it was so cool to be present when another Latvian family I'd met on FB was in there picking up her daughter's final packet declaring her a US was wonderful to get to see that happening!  Tears and happiness just all the way around.

After our number finally came up, I hurried back out and found a very antsy cab driver waiting there...but wait he did!  He hurried us back to Elizabetes iela and we quickly grabbed our painting to try and find the post office.  As we walked back towards Freedom Monument I was thinking we just didn't have time to handle this before meeting our friend's daughter.  We did finally find the PO and waited briefly...then we gave up and ran to meet her by Cili Pica (our hangout).  She's adoreable!  And she immediately hits it off with our girls.  She gives quick hugs and goodbyes to her foster mom and then she has to run.

We quickly head back to the PO and wait again.  They get to us pretty quickly and they seem shocked that I want to mail this painting.  The clerk (thanks to Em and her translating skills) tells me it will be 27 lats...and yes that's expensive but it's better than leaving the painting behind and it's also a lot cheaper than it cost to ship the other direction!  We wait and wait while she packages and wraps the painting...and I say a little prayer to please let it get home safely.  Finally we are done and we head on to the next errand!

We take our additional girl's things back to the apartment, get everyone a sweatshirt since it is getting cooler and then run out again.  I wanted to get over to Old Town as there were a few quick things I had wanted to  pick up for home.  After renting everyone bikes again, we headed quickly to Old Town...picked up some pottery, a matching bag like my daughters' got and hurried to the souvenir shop where I had seen these cute dangling rings...I got one for each of the girls.  From there it felt like we could breathe...and it was getting late.

We rode bikes back to the canal and I sat on the banks while they rode around a bit more.  It was starting to rain so we headed back, turned in our bikes and walked back over to the apartment.  I started packing right away because it then dawned on me, "we're leaving in less than 24 hours!"

Dinner was whatever was left in the apartment...which wasn't a whole lot...but enough to fill our bellies and save a dollar.  The boys finally made it back rather late and had enjoyed a really nice afternoon.  They had wrapped things up at Spriditis and taken the bus to Kauguri where J's grandfather lives.  Gary got to look at old photos, visit with grandfather, take more photos and J got to say goodbye.  Then they took the train to Majori and the boys enjoyed the coffee shop with the little Russian lady before heading back to us.

After settling in, getting everyone some dinner, we had Circle Time to help us refocus for the next day...the day we would actually leave.  We were ready to come home...but we knew too how hard it all was for J.  And honestly, I've said it before, I love Latvia.  Thinking back on that night, I remember feeling bittersweet.  Soooooo ready to get home to our family, both immediate and church, our pets, our food!! and Diet Mountain Dew LOL...but knowing I would miss this place. 

Prayers and bedtime and then on to travel day...which takes a post all on it's own.

I wrap up this post on Sunday, November 6...which is National Orphan Sunday.  I am so grateful God opened our eyes to how He wanted us to serve Him in serving orphans.  We had a great day today worshipping and sharing in church...and I urge all of you to find the way you can get involved.  Yes, it is 147million kids strong of an issue...and how do we fix it?  One child at a time.  Find where He wants you to be...but above all, do SOMETHING.  Don't just sit by with pity...that isn't what they need and that won't help the situation. 

And as I shared this morning that God just laid on my heart in the middle of church today...God showed us how to get involved and our family was meant to adopt.  But to be very clear, orphans do not live in our home.  Our children live here; our kids have come home.  Once we answered the call for Him, our sons became orphans no more. 

And I challenge all of you, please be ready to say yes.  Your child may be out there somewhere, waiting for you to get out of your comfort zone and find him or her.  You wouldn't leave your biological child waiting.  So if you feel even slightly that God is calling you to take that step, please don't hesitate. 

If it is meant to be, He will make the way.  And if it isn't meant to be, He'll shut the door.  But that's His call isn't it? 

Friday, November 4, 2011

September 13...Visas

Tuesdays are quickly becoming my favorite day of the week.  And how fitting that today, on a Tuesday, I'll be writing about a Tuesday nearly a month ago.  Tuesdays are now my Saturdays and I start my day early by choice.  I get to make breakfast for all five of my kids, pack lunches for four of them and my hubby and then spend my day getting things done and playing school with J.  I laughed when I told him I used to LOVE to play school when I was a kid...and he was a much better student than my stuffed animals!

But today, on this Tuesday, I'll share about THAT Tuesday...

Embassy interviews for Visas are required for adoptive families...we weren't sure what to expect but our appointment was at 11am and we had seven to get to the Embassy which was a little distance away.  Thanks to a friend on Facebook, we'd been given the advice to head to one of the bigger hotels and we would find a minivan kind of taxi.  So after being up a little early, getting everyone ready, we headed over to the Radisson Blu in search of a taxi. 

We found one straightaway and asked if he could take us to the US Embassy...important to note it had moved since March and we needed to be certain he understood where exactly the new location was.  I asked if he spoke English...yes we had J with us but often I wondered if he got tired of being our translator - Moms and Dads are supposed to make these arrangements, you know?  He did (he said) and said he understood.  I told him we needed to be there at 11am and he said ok ok, I pick you up there.  And pointed to the sidewalk.  10:30am came...and 10:35am and I began to get worried maybe he thought I said we needed to LEAVE at I sent Gary and J off to find him and make sure he understood.  No he had not!  Thankfully he was willing and able to load us up quickly and shoot off to the Embassy.

We arrived just in time, paid him and asked for his number to have him come back and get us.  Daina, our attorney, was waiting for us outside the security entrance.  She's like a security see her and all is right with the world!  This was old hat for Gary and me but the first time for all the kids.  As we went in, it's very cool to realize you are entering US Territory...ahhhhhh, home sweet home! 

I related the story to the kids when I was in college and went on my study tour to France.  I remember we visited the cemetery at Normandy where the French gave the US land to bury our dead there..our professor called out as we pulled into the area "Ladies and gentlemen you are now on US soil!" and one smart aleck student said "Great!  Can you run by my house and pick up my socks!  I'm cold!!"

So back to security you have to leave cameras, cell phones and anything with software like flash drives etc.  Gary had asked me to put his phone in my bag to make sure it didn't get hurt going through the xray.  As we got to the other side, I gave them the Latvian phone and my phone and camera...and we passed on through.  The grounds there are really pretty.  From the outside and on the street, it is a very non-descript building, yellowish in color and not very stately.  The streets leading up to it make you feel like you're going somewhere way off the beaten path.  But once you get through security, there's lovely plants and sitting areas and the guards are very very nice.  J commented as we walked through that a boy in Kemeri had helped with the landscaping there.  These kids are taught at an early age the importance of working and of doing a job well.

Passing through one more area of security and metal detection, we were directed to our waiting area where American TV and magazines were prolific.  It was a good bit larger than the last Embassy with four windows of interviewers.  It's very interesting that there isn't a private room or any place to "step away" simply walk up to the window.  After a relatively short wait, we were called up.  We were expecting a little more questioning and such but the only thing she wanted to be certain we understood was that J could not under any circumstances attend school while on this Visa.

I of course wanted to debate this a bit as it has been a point of contention among many of us.  How many people attend school illegally and yet, we are bringing them home legally and they can't go?  I also gave full disclosure about E's school to be sure there were no challenges there.  Thankfully since his is considered rehabilitative then he is fine.  She didn't appreciate the debating too much and simply continued smiling kindly and said, you understand about J right?  We waited and waited and then she said we were approved and we could pick everything up the next day.

As we headed out to security to pick up our things, Daina and I lagged behind chatting.  Gary and the kids had walked on ahead.  We got there and Gary was asking about his phone, insisting I had turned it in for him.  It was nowhere to be I looked in my bag and yep, we had broken a pretty big rule and smuggled a cell into the Embassy...oops!  The guards were very kind and I promised to behave.

We were pretty excited as we headed out and when we got well outside and headed toward where we would wait for our taxi, I wanted to take a photo...well wouldn't you know a very stern guard came out of nowhere and fussed at me in Latvian and then said "Photo...NO!"  I apologized and we quickly moved as far away as we could to wait for our cab. 

Daina had asked us to go to see the ladies at the Welfare Ministry...we had met them over the summer when they were in the States but they had also worked very hard and been hoping for a family for little they really wanted to see us while we were there.  We had our cab take us over and marched all seven of us up to the very top floor to have tea, coffee and sweets together.  We met these three women who are responsible for organizing the referrals for all our kids...three women who make it all happen for families all over the place!  What a wonderful time together as we visited, sipped tea, talked about E and J and how things were going, learned about their very refined ;-)  We spent about an hour with them and snapped some quick photos.

We realized as we left that we weren't that far from our apartment so we simply walked back to finally get changed and relax for a bit.  But only for a minute!  We'd been made aware that J had forgotten to sign one document when we were at Orphan Court the day before.  Gary was still fighting a head cold so, realizing we really had no other time to do so, we decided that J and I and anyone else who wanted to go would head out to Dubulti on the train and get that handled and then stop by the little kiosk I had wanted to buy soaps from before heading back. 

Typing this now, it sounds like oh so much!  We really were busy all the time...our choice of course.  A little more of the disease I deal with daily of not being able to just sit around. 

So, hop the train we did!  Marleigh and Mae wanted to go along and Zach and Dad stayed back with E.  We decided we should get off at Majori, rent more bikes and ride them to Dubulti.  That's exactly what we was chilly and overcast and starting to mist a bit.  But it sure felt nice!  Riding bikes that far, at least a mile or more to the court house, it felt like something we'd been doing our whole lives.  We all waited outside while J ran in to sign his papers and then we took off and headed back to Majori. 

We found our soap lady and bought one of each flavor!  The challenge is going to be deciding what to give away and what to keep!  I had planned that we would be back there before Christmas so this was meant to be just one part of our Christmas presents for friends and it might be all they get!

After our soaps, we continued down the cobblestones, stopping and shopping at a few more places along the way.  I wanted to see the sea one more time so we rode up there and just sat for a little while.  On the way back, we stopped in a Russian antique shop...wish I'd bought something there!  We had a train to catch though, so we hurried back and checked our bikes back in.  There was still a bit of time, so we went into the coffee shop located inside the train station there. 

This was our spot when we were there in March...Gary really liked the coffee from the Russian lady there.  J wanted to buy some sweets and a pastry or two and the girls wanted an ice cream. I got a coffee and a Honey Cake and again, it just felt so we were there just yesterday.  I remembered how when we were there in March, it was so bitterly cold and now, chilly but not so cold...and yet, warmed the soul just the same.  I remembered sitting there and chatting with J about hurrying home and now, here we were just two days away from going home...all of us together!

Finally the train came and we boarded and headed back.  It had been so chilly and it felt so good to get settled in and just enjoy the ride.  Funny, this was one excursion they convinced me not to take my camera with me and I told them there was definitely going to be a moment where we wished we had it.  Thankfully I did have my iPhone so I snapped a few with that, including a beautiful shot of the sun breaking through the low hanging clouds.

Once we got back to the apartment, we ate what was there, and got ready for bed.  It had been a long day and we were realizing we had a lot to accomplish in our last full day of Latvia. 

Another glimpse as to how crazy our lives are now...not crazy in a bad way, but busy!  I started this entry about three weeks ago and now here I am on a Friday night at 11:20pm finishing it.  And the sad part is that there is SOOO much I could and should have shared on all that has transpired over the past 1 1/2 months home. 

As I posted a few weeks ago, it just gets better every day.  I love the talks, the learning, the growing by ALL of us...melding us into a family.  I can't wait to get all the rest of the paperwork done and REALLY settle in...but for now, it's nice to try and simply live.  Every day, getting more and more settled.

Last day in Latvia...coming soon!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Taking a Chance...

Is there actually a chance I can have time to write about Monday...the 12th!  Gary and the big boys have gone fishing and the girls are at AWANA and me and E just got back from a quick swinging date at the elementary school.  Now we're back and no one is home and I've got about 15 minutes before it's time to fix him dinner and get his bath and he's happy with his cartoons for a minute.

So, let's try! 

Monday was Second Court date but it wasn't until the afternoon at 3pm.  We were able to sleep in a little, not much!  J needed new jeans.  I wanted him to have something a little nicer but that's not quite his style so jeans it was and we were all ok with that.  It gave everyone else permission to wear jeans and then Gary and I were the only ones to really "dress up."  After court we planned to go to Majori and go to the sea and I had this idea for taking our picture on the shore there.

So, after breakfast, we split up and Gary and the boys went in search of jeans and me and the girls and E went towards Old Town.  We rented bikes from Baltic Bikes to run our errands and what fun!  Cheap transportation and so so much fun!  Mae and Marleigh wanted E to ride with them so they took turns.  It really was quite fun.  We went all down to the furtherest section of Old Town and sure enough I found what I was looking for.  Black Latvia tees for all the kids and white ones for me and Gary. 

We headed back to the apartment and realized we still had some time so we stopped off to feed the ducks again and I sat and read while they rode bikes all around the loop where we were.  In short order it was time to head back so we returned the bikes and got back to the apartment to start getting ready.  The boys arrived right after us so we quickly finished up and were ready to go to the train station.  As soon as we opened the door the rain started!  We snapped a quick photo of Mom and Dad and the boys and hurried down to the consignment shop and bought the last two umbrellas they had.  Now we know why umbrellas are on the pack list for Latvia!  Rain just stops and starts there all the time!

With two new umbrellas in hand and feeling quite European, we hurried now to the train station to make the 2pm train.  Turns out it was more like the 2:10pm train and we knew it was about a 30 minute ride.  We were a bit concerned but not too much.  Once on board and relaxed a little, we met an American living in Riga now.  What a nice conversation as he asked us why we were there.  We used our newest version...we'd come to pick up our sons since they'd been in Latvia for a few years and it was time for them to come home ;-)  His name was John and he'd married a Latvian woman and had been living in Florida, then Colorado, then France for four years and now Riga for four years...from there they had to choose where they were going next.

We finally made it to Dubulti and walked across the street to Orphan Court.  Everyone was there and we started right away.  They wanted to interview J first, then each of our bio kids (yikes..we weren't prepared for that part!) and then discuss with us about E.  J's was pretty quick, Zach charmed them and made them laugh so loudly we could hear them in the hallway!  The girls were pretty quick too.  All of the first ones went well, and for some reason I was very nervous about this court date. 

Finally it was time for us and E.  E regressed about six months and if you didn't know him, you would have thought he had serious issues.  These formal areas make him very nervous and this is how he deals with it...wallowing on us, humming loudly, rocking again.  We held him and answered questions as best we could.  Then they interviewed Gary about J and asked him to go ahead and take E out and they would continue with me.

With some humor they asked questions about traveling back for second trip, why me and not Gary, why didn't Gary and the children leave on the 9th since they had agreed he could, lots of random questions that showed they really adored my wonderful husband but really wanted to pick on him.  They said "He's afraid to get lost isn't he?"  We all chuckled a bit.  Then some more questions for our Orphan Director, then more for me.  After what felt like an eternity they said OK, I think we're done.  I said, "well?  Do we get to take them home?"  They said "Of course!  We decided that a while ago!"  Oh my word!  I can breathe now thanks!

Before we left, we had the boys give all the ladies the gifts we'd hauled all the way from America and Gary came back in.  There was much good-byeing and Gary had his chance to ask "all ok?"  They said yes and as we said goodbye Gary shocked them all by giving them hugs!  Not quite European protocol but they loved it and he brought his bit of Southern charm all the way to Latvia.

We gathered everyone up and out we went to the park to walk toward Majori.  These two towns are one train stop apart and you can see the stations just across the water.  The architecture there is really lovely and if I can ever get a minute, I will upload all the photos and label them so you all can have pictures along with my writing.  It does make a difference!  We were so relieved and happy!  We stopped in the park and the boys got out of their dress shirts and into their tee shirts I had bought them...then off we walked. 

It was about a two mile walk...maybe less to Majori.  The first thing we did was go straight to the Baltic Bike stand and rent four bikes for our four oldest kids...Mae wanted E to ride with her.  And then we continued toward the sea.  Majori is such a lovely little town...brick cobblestone streets, little boutique shops, cafes and bistros.  When you first come to the town, there's a statue of a knight slaying a dragon that's pretty big right in the grassy part across from the station.  The walkway (and it is motor vehicles that we saw) is about a mile I would guess, maybe less.  Gary and I meandered along as our kids looped and raced and rode all around us.  We looked at all the little stands selling their wares and really liked this one station with homemade Latvian soaps that smelled wonderful! 

When you reach the end of the walkway, you turn left and continue on down toward the sea.  J showed us which restaurant he had worked at this summer and the one his brother had worked at too.  Remember the last time Gary and I were there everything was frozen (in March) so it was so nice to see water in fountains and businesses actually open!  As we headed up toward the sea, there's a fountain that comes up out of the ground, shooting water straight up with cool lights too.  We avoided it the first time as we were in search of a bathroom to change clothes in.  While it was still warm, the bathrooms were shut down as "end of season" so we made do and yes, we quickly changed tucked around the corner keeping an eye out for each other.  I was able to teach my daughters what it means to "shuck off those slacks quickly and throw on the jeans!" 

Together we walked on up to the entry way to the sea and it was beautiful.  I still need to read up on what makes a difference between the ocean and the sea but the biggest difference on the shore is the beach area is flat...super super flat and really wide.  And there are no waves!  It was so cool to be here after walking on this very body of water when it was frozen solid.  We ran and played and Zach and J picked up the girls and pretended they were throwing them in and then all the big ones grabbed little E and pretended to throw him in and we played and played...and it was wonderful!  E threw sand and got in trouble...but not for long ;-)  Then I made them all gather for a couple of family pics and there is where we got our Christmas card photo.  It's just perfect!  All seven of us with the sea in the background and these tremendous clouds and the sun.  We looked for shells but didn't find any.

The wind was picking up and sand was blowing so we decided to start heading back...and shockingly the whole crew was starving.  That is SO unlike us!  After a few more snapshots we returned the bikes...but not before they took turns riding them through the fountain shooting out of the bricks!..., started getting eaten alive by mosquitoes again and made our way back to our little cafe where we ate with J back in March.  It was so warm in there and we were starting to get cold so we ordered our drinks and Gary and I and J got our Karamelu Caffe (yummy!) and we started deciding what to get to eat. 

After eating at Charlie's the night before where we'd gotten so much for so little, we just couldn't stand seeing these prices.  So in short order we decided to go catch the train and go to Charlie's again for dinner.  It wasn't REALLY breaking our pact of eating at different restaurants since J had not eaten there the day before...right?  We got to the train station and enjoyed an amazing sunset over the water and a full moon rising on the other side...just gorgeous!

The train felt so warm and after much walking it felt so good to snuggle in and enjoy the thirty minute train ride back to Riga.  Once there, we went straight to Old Town and made our way to Charlie's.  These cobblestones are so very quaint, and I love them, I really do!  But after several days they begin to become hard to walk on and my poor feet and ankles were soooo tired!  I was so happy to get to Charlie's, be escorted back to our same red booth in the back and really snuggle in for a warm relaxing dinner.  We were truly starving...I think we ordered six pizzas!  But remember they're only 30 centimeters!

Finally we were done and ready to head back to the apartment after a very long day.  J had gotten his pocket money that is given to all the kids at the orphanage at the first of the month.  I think it is about 6 lats?  Anyway, he had his own money and as we walked back he made a point to give one lat ($2) to the first needy person he saw.  Reminded me of Jesus' story of the woman and the rich man...his gift meant a lot!

I can honestly say the bed felt good that night.  Mae made us all a cup of hot tea when we got back.  We all rested well and enjoyed recapping our favorite parts of the day.  Looking back now, we had such wonderful times there.  Sure there were challenges and we were tired but it was wonderful. 

And just like Latvia, here I am at 12:30am, the entire house asleep but me and it's my quiet time to write.  My timing is getting better!  This post only took two days to write ;-)  and I can tell I need to find my muse once again.  Re-reading this one it sounds "tired" sorry about that.  5am will come early tomorrow as everyone heads out to school and work.  So, remembering to rejoice in ALL things...goodnight!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Don't Fall out of your Chairs!

I'm writing again!! 

I'm still going to go back to Latvia and catch you all up from where I stopped there...and much of that is for my own benefit as much as it is for yours.  But so so much happened and we saw and did so many things, I just couldn't let it not get on paper...or wait, digital?  It's hard to believe we've been home three weeks and I'm going to write about things nearly a month ago!  Anyway...let's go back to Sunday, September 11.

I was determined to have my family in church and they obliged.  We were up on time if not early and got ready for what we thought was a 10:30am service at the Dom Cathedral. We wanted to start the day together because J was going to go and spend the day with a friend and their family and say goodbye to all of them.  We weren't too thrilled about it but at the same time we've learned that there are many things that are unique about our entire experience and we've respected the things that have sometimes felt like a complete departure of "normal" for us.  Orphan Court had said when he needed to return but it was up to us as to when he went.  We agreed he could be on the mid day train that he could make after church. 

We set out from our apartment on what was promising to be a beautiful day and rushed along down through Old Town to the Dom.  There was very little foot traffic out...a quiet Sunday morning.  If I didn't feel so uneasy about the day, I would have enjoyed our walk.  But regardless, our whole family was together and we were headed to church! The Cathedral is under renovation but still open so we rushed in running right on find out there is no more service in English there.  One more minor set back in this long journey for which we have learned to take in stride. 

As we stepped back out into the sunshine and onto the cobblestone streets we debated about what to do next.  We decided to make the most of the morning and walk through Old Town back towards the park.  With little to no company there, we were able to see even more of the old buildings in Old Town including the Cat House and the Big and Little Guild.  There was no rush, and we were able to just wander. 

We headed back to the park and held our own little church of seven right in the park.  Sitting on a park bench, we read scripture and talked about how to apply it to ourselves and then prayed together.  We took a quick walk to the train station and put J on the train to head to his friend's for the day.  It was really an awful feeling letting him go away again and just resolved to have a good time together in spite of his going.  We stood there til the train left and watched him go and then the six of us headed back out into Riga.

We were starving and the weirdness we were all feeling was soothed with a burger from McDonald's!  After lunch we went back to the apartment to change clothes and rest for a bit.  I had the same problem in Latvia that I've had at home in that I can't seem to just relax...I felt we needed to be out seeing something or going somewhere.  Gary was pretty tired though so we sat and rested for about an hour and then struck out walking again.  We had plans to meet our friend around 4:30pm or so for what to do with our day?

We found ourselves back by Freedom Monument and the canal with the boats.  We remembered that they weren't very expensive so we decided to splurge and do the 45 minute canal ride.  What a wonderful experience!  The ride took us down the canal and out onto the Daugava and all the way across so we had amazing views of Riga, the bridges and the boats.  We went all the way down and got very good views of the big ferry we can take from Stockholm sometime.  E had to wear a life jacket and had his cute hat on...we called him Gilligan!

After a relaxing ride we got back and it was just in time for a wonderful September 11 ceremony Latvia was hosting at Freedom Monument in honor of America and the people we lost that day.  There was speaking, beautiful singing, dancing and PRAYER.  Such a nice way to spend our Sunday.  Our sweet friend Ines and her two foster children arrived right on time and we met by Cili Pica to spend the afternoon together. 

A few days earlier we had gotten coupons for a place called Charlie's Pizza and thought that would be a good place to head.  Ines' little ones had NEVER had pizza!  Can you imagine!  How fun to share this first experience with them.  We walked down through Old Town and found Charllie's.  Walking in, it's a really cool place!  I wasn't sure it would be good for kids but they welcomed us in!  The decor was plush purple and red banquettes that had huge high backs.  It reminded me of that cool place on Central Avenue in Charlotte that many of my NACE friends would remember...wonder if its still there ;-) 

We settled into a large red banquette and took over the back of the restaurant and proceeded to check out the menu.  There was a "discount" section in the back of the menu where cheese pizzas were 1,40 lats!  And fully loaded ones were only 2-3 lats...we had struck gold!  We were able to feed 9 people for about half of what we paid to eat at TGIFriday's!  And we had salads, pizzas, drinks AND desserts.  Best apple crumb with vanilla ice cream!  Oh, writing this now really makes me miss all of our experiences.

We cozied up in the restaurant and visited and ate and just was such a nice afternoon!  Ines needed to get back to the tram so we headed out and stopped in the square there to take some photos.  Then we walked her back to the tram and continued exploring until it was time to go meet J at the train station.  It had been a busy day and we met him and leisurely walked back to the apartment hearing about his day.  It was good and he felt good about saying goodbye. 

It had been a long day...a good day for all of us. And while it had been hard to be apart, it gave us time to enjoy different things and at the end of the day, we were all back together.  The next day was second court...and I'll write about that very soon.

I guess this gives you a glimpse of what my life is like has taken me four days and about seven different tries to get this one entry written.  Life is busy with work, school, kids and remembering that gorgeous guy I married almost 17 years ago.  But it's wonderful and I love it...didn't say it wasn't hard!...but I love it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Catching up...Today it was Trams!

Maybe you've noticed there hasn't been a post in a few days...SORRY!  And maybe you haven't, and that's ok too ;-)

Honestly, our days have been so long, at some point I had to decide to either go to bed at midnight or go to bed at 3am...and I've been so tired I chose midnight!  And that is why there've been no posts.  To share with you a little from Saturday...

Saturday began the first of our past four days of really just "being a family."  There wasn't any big sightseeing or trip planned and no souvenir shopping.  We were all wiped out from walking who knows how many miles (or kilometers!) at the castle on Friday and so we just slept.  Late!  As usual. 

We talked about all that we needed to do or had to do over the next few days and started mapping out how we would get it all done.  One of the things we did definitely want to do was see our friend Inese here and her two foster children.  She has been wonderful in arranging the apartment for us and we wanted to thank her and deliver some things that were sent by folks for her and the kids to use. 

We had to meet the lady here at the apartment at 3pm to pay for the rest of our stay and then as soon as she left we struck out to figure out the trams.  Inese lives in Mezaparks and none of us, even J!, were familiar with how to get there.  She had shared to use the Number 11 and it would be very easy. 

You buy the tickets for these at the Narvesson which are the 7 Eleven stores I was telling you about before.  We started out on our walk because the stop for the tram is located behind the opera house.  We stopped at the Narvesson, bought our tickets and continued on our way.  Remember I told you about the flower stands all around?  Well, I still love these things!  And so we thought (Gary and I separately and at the same time!) that it would be nice to take her some flowers. 

I asked the kids what they liked and they picked the red and white gladiolus.  They were gorgeous...I said two of each please!  J then quickly said, no need to buy five.  You can't get even has to be odd!  OK, I'll entertain this for now...give me five. 

Glads in hand we head on to the tram station.  It takes some figuring out but as we work our way around, ask several questions, we figure out where it picks up and that we have about 7 minutes wait.  Finally it comes and we board...and it's nice.  Cheap way to travel around the city and in about 30 minutes we are there.

Mezaparks is a lovely area with some beautiful homes and streets.  It's definitely one area I would like to spend more time in...but for ths day, only a quick visit.  We see the entrance to the zoo...but don't get to go.  And instead after a quick call to Inese, walk down the street to where she is.  Her apartment place is really lovely...a gorgeous house that has been outfitted into apartments.  Or maybe it was apartments all along, but really pretty. 

Her little angels are sitting on the couch and are there for a visit.  She gets them full time on Monday and it is so nice to see them being loved on!  They are beautiful!  Check out my facebook for photos of them.  Absolutely precious!  They don't know English but quickly seem to understand hello and smile! 

We visit in the other room while the kids watch AirBuddies in Latvian and Stuart Little in English.  Over a cup of tea we chat...about Latvia, about the children, about our children, about ministries.  She is a wonderful woman who loves God and has ministered to so many.  Such a privilege to be able to just sit and chat! 

Our kids are starving (sleeping til noon will cause this when you have breakfast of cereal at 12:30pm)...ugh, this will not continue in America!  ;-)  So we ask if we can go find something to eat nearby and we all go for a walk.  It really is a lovely area and we enjoy the walk to the restaurant.  It isn't very big and as soon as we walk in the girl tells Inese that she only has one cook so it will take at least 50 minutes for food.  We feel so welcome!  LOL

After some debate we decide it's getting late so we'll meet again later and have dinner some other day.  The little ones most likely can't take the wait.  We part ways and we head back into downtown Riga to find dinner.  We reboard the tram and ride back and get off at a stop closer to the apartment.  Double Coffee sounds like a good solution to dinner so we head there...they have the best Caramel Coffee!  My only wish is that these yummy beverages came in a venti size!

Here we encountered some "no one's ever told me this was not ok" behaviour.  Nothing major but the cell phone became a dinner guest and Mama and Daddy weren't happy.  One quick look across the table though silenced it and we finished dinner and headed home. 

We got home and I grabbed my grocery list and without having to ask had three volunteers to go to the store with me.  We got our groceries...some begging ensued for ice cream for which I relented (funny, it was the same kind we bought in the park the other day and it was cheaper in the park!) and then started the walk home. 

Finally, in for the night, another load of clothes, unpacking groceries and another "kitchen conversation."  I love the way these just pop up...many times instigated by our children.  Meaningful talks just out of the blue...some of them are better than others at starting them...but it's nice to know they WANT to talk. 

Parenting kids, teenagers, is never easy.  They are figuring out themselves and we are trying to walk them through it all.  And really this is what today became (well Saturday since I'm writing this way late) became the day we started figuring out our family.  No castles, historical places or shopping to distract.  Just a day where Gary and I and our five children went to visit friends...nothing fancy about it.  And it was good.  Mind you I said it was good...not perfect, not the way I want every day to be, not without challenges...but it was good, in ALL of it's imperfections.  ;-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles...Well, Not Exactly!

More like Buses, Golf Cart Cars, Feet, Cable Cars and Trains!  Today we were tourists!  Well, yesterday...I was wiped out...worse than wiped out last today I write ;-)

The one request by everyone was to go see a castle...a real castle.  So I began looking for them and there are tons in Latvia but we wanted to find the best one that wasn't too far away.  At least two natives here had suggested we go to Sigulda and that area was mentioned in our travel book too.  I looked up the train schedule and wanted to be on the 8:05am train out there.  Of course my teen, pre-teen entourage looked at me as if I had three heads and we compromised on the 10:42am train.

Well, as you all know, I have taken to staying up til 3am to write these blogs (except last night of course).  Alarm went off at 8:30am and I just couldn't move...add to that having a hard time getting everyone else going and at 10:30am we still had teeth to brush and shoes to get on and we are a good 15 minute walk from the train station.  Frustration set in...but then I realized little E most likely wouldn't last more than about 6 hours hiking all over creation so we went to option two...the buses!

We found one that left at 11am and the next after that to be 12pm.  None of us, including J, really knew where the bus station was...we knew general vicinity but not really where it was.  So we decided the 12pm was the best choice to give us time.  We struck out toward the train station where we believed the buses to be too.  It was neat, we got to walk through Central Market of the things I wanted to mark off of my things to see/do list.  We arrived, bought our bus tickets and made our way to the platform to wait.  It was to be about 45 minutes wait. 

While we were sitting there, I pulled out my book and looked for reading material.  As I read, I found out that the huge warehouse things right in front of us were built to be German zeppelin hangars in WWI...and now they are used for markets.  It's interesting, if you just open your eyes, you find the most amazing details in what's right in front of you. 

That leads me to our life lesson for the day.  As we sat there waiting, a man came by.  On face value he looked pretty ok.  Appeared to be clean, holding a shopping bag.  Until he started digging in the trash cans, looking for food.  He didn't speak to us, he didn't make eye contact, he just did what he needed to do to try and find food.  And as he passed, I noticed the "details."  He "appeared" to be clean and well put together...but in the details - the hem of his shirt was filthy, his pants down at the bottom of the legs looked extremely worn and his shoes...well his shoes had no laces and were just hanging on his feet, soles looking sooo thin.  He continued down the line of trash cans (they're placed about every other platform) and I couldn't stand it.  He didn't beg...he was just surviving.  I gave some money to J and told him to please go give it to him and tell him to get food.  He did and the man finally made eye contact. 

Now this guy needed physical, clothes, you know the drill.  But the lesson I shared with our kids last night is the fact we need to pay attention to the details.  There are people around us every day who are hurting...they may have the best looking clothing but if you look at them closely, really get to know them, we find they are filthy inside and in need of something we can give - a kind word, a hug, a shoulder to lean on, the truth of Christ and how He can change all of that.  I am not naive enough to think we can help all the hurting people either here or in any city...but I do believe we are called to action. One at a time...that's how we impact any issue, right?

Our bus finally came and we boarded...not super luxury but not terrible either.  It was a little hot but otherwise ok.  We all piled on and got comfortable.  The issue we had was that no one was really certain where exactly we were to get off.  As we drove, everyone took a little nap or read for a while.  It was a little over an hour ride and as we got closer we started speculating on where we should get off.  At one stop, it looked right, so we started to...and this wonderful man sitting next to Gary said No! Wait a little more. So grateful he spoke up!  The bus pulled us right up to the main station and the information center with a fabulous English speaking clerk was literally right next door. 

Our main goal was to see a castle so she offered us several options to see several castles and then get back to the train.  It was later though so we decided we should go straight to the biggest one and then make our way back down.  They called a Golf Cart for us and we ran across the street to a pizza place to get some lunch.  We ordered three pizzas to go (their larges are like our we're not being exceptionally piggy ;-)) and drinks and as they came ready, our cart pulled up.  We had a sweet driver who showed us some sights as we went up the mountain.  The actual town for the castle was Turaida and was only 6 km from Sigulda. 

She offered us all blankets, said it gets cold as she drives.  M&M&E accepted but our "tough guys" decided they were fine.  And I was upfront beside her.  We got to the top and we were all COLD!  We sat outside the gate on some benches and ate our pizza and then went through to enter.  They had prices for two adults, and two kids (family) and we were trying to figure out how we would pay.  Finally, I told her, "let me just tell you what we have and you tell us how much."  I told her we were two adults and five kids and all were ours.  ;-)  She let us go in for the same family price as the two and two! 

We started out and went up by the oldest wooden church in Latvia and where the Turaida Rose is buried with a hundreds year old linden tree keeping her company.  Then on down toward the castle.  There's a gift shop there with authentic Latvian made items inside...super expensive!  I wanted a wrap badly but it was 42 lats!  So, not this time ;-)

I cannot tell you the surreal feeling as we crested the hill and the castle came into view.  Imagine being, for real, in a place straight out of Lord of the Rings.  The castle tower rising above the road.  Standing still for a minute and imagining what we're reading.  There used to be two towers with a gate in between and a moat...oh my goodness that serious dip in the ground used to be a MOAT!  Wow!  J said to me, wouldn't you like to be able to go back in time and just see what it might be like?  Like if there was a way for you to just see the figures moving...but I suppose that is what our imaginations are for ;-)

We continued on in and saw the courtyard, the areas where the guards lived and worked, the well, the jail!  The furnace room and the gardens.  This is alll from 1207...hello that's like 800 years ago!  We kept saying as we walked we just could not believe we were walking in these places!  The wooden part of the castle was destroyed by fire in the 1700's I think and was never rebuilt.  So the palace part was purely imagination...nothing but the foundation remains.  We all took a turn with the archery there...not too bad.  J and Zach hit the yellow part of the target, Gary was good too.  I actually hit the white paper!  E and at least one of the girls missed the board completely ;-)  It was fun!

We climbed the tower...which was a LONG way up!  All of the stairwells and walkways were super narrow.  We laughed about how everyone must have been skinny and short back then.  But one really cool observation was that the stairs were worn. The bricks had smoothed out curves in them where hundreds of feet have gone up and down.  We walked and walked and walked up the stairs til we finally reached the top and could see the most amazing views.  The River Gauja in flowing right beside the castle and in the distance, Sigulda Castle and Krimulda.  Sooooo much cool history here!

J commented that he felt like a tourist...we told him he was.  Our answer has become, when people ask us why we are here, we are here to pick up our sons...they've been living here for a long time and they're coming home now.  ;-) 

So the deal was we had a ride up the mountain but we were to walk down it and see sights along the way.  And off we went since it was about 6pm.  The first sight we came to was the largest cave in Latvia.  That was so cool.  Legend has it that the Turaida Rose was murdered here because she would rather perish at the hands of an admirer than deny her love for her true love, the gardener Victor from Sigulda.  There's also a stream there that flows out of the cave where women in olden days would bring their newborns to wash their heads there and it would make them smart and beautiful.  I laughed with our kids that boy did I miss an opportunity HAHA.  The cave is made of sandstone and people have carved their names and dates in it for years.  The oldest one we could find was from Lucy Lane 1817. 

On we walked past another smaller cave and then to Serpent's Road.  This was a ,80 km walk UPHILL along a winding road.  You could say we certainly got our workout in!  At the top of the hill is the Cable Car ride and after a brief rest and wait it came.  While we waited there were some kids playing with motorbikes.  Gary really enjoyed this as they were rundown bikes but he loves this stuff.

On to the Cable Car that would take us over the valley and directly over the River Gauja.  These views were amazing...great pictures of Turaida, Sigulda New Castle and Krimulda Manor.  And the best gift was an amazing rainbow that appeared in the clouds just as we crossed.  This Cable Car dropped us right at the Tarzan Parks where we had promised the kids to ride the toboggan.  Mae was scared...not sure she wanted to.  They took off down the mountain and they got to ride the chair lift back up.  When they got back up there was a chorus of "again Mom...please!!"  I sent them right to Daddy and he more. 

From there we started heading to the train station and realized that by the time we got back to Riga, it would be after 9pm so we just happened to pass another pizza place ;-)  This place was cheap...amazingly so.  We went it and it felt wonderful...the seats at the tables were like armchairs and couches and it was so warm (it was getting really cold outside!)  We cozied up and ordered more pizza and cokes and even ice cream and then it dawned on us, hmmmm, the last train to Riga, we don't know when that is??  We asked the server and she said she thought 9pm...uh oh, it's 8:30!  Cancel the coffee, gotta go! 

We headed out foregoing pictures with the HUGE spider yard art out front and walking quickly to the train station.  We got there and found out it was really 9:20pm for the we had some time.  The girls and I ran back to the same pizza place for lunch for a bathroom break and wonderfully, saw he had a coffee machine!  I ordered two capuccinos to go and back across the street we went. 

We finally boarded the train and settled in for the hour long ride back to Riga.  What a wonderful wonderful day!  All outside, all walking and hiking...definitely time for a nap.  After getting all toasty on the train, looking at all our pictures on the camera of our day and napping a bit, we finally arrived back in Riga.  It was a freezing walk back to the apartment where we relaxed with a cup of tea and Circle Time. 

What a blessed day!  What fun!  The only "bummer" part of the day was thinking of how many of our friends and family would have loved to have been here with us.  Those who would appreciate it for the history and the fun.

We had a great day...but we are READY to go home.  And now we're down to more of the "business" we came here for.  Today we are going to meet a friend in Mezaparks and maybe go to the zoo.  Monday we have court again and then going to the Baltic Sea.  Tuesday Embassy interviews and Wednesday picking up their Visas. 

Please keep praying for these last gets a little harder every day and a little easier too.  I know that may sound odd but it is true.  Lots to plan for and lots to say goodbye to.  Very much need the support and prayers of our friends and family.'s hoping we continue to get stronger and build even more family memories together!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Do Not Be Anxious About Anything!

Well, we've all heard that one before...but today, I was stubborn!  I went to bed at 3am again after blogging once all the kids were in bed.  I have this issue that my twins like to write too so while I start writing, they start talking and before you know it we've gone an hour and a half and it's crazy! 

Anyway, I was awake at 8am freaking out about to make myself ill worried about flights.  Would we be able to find a flight for the 15th, how much would it cost, can we get J and our friend's child on the same flight with us.  I got up and starting surfing the web trying to find phone numbers.  We had a travel agent do all of the arrangements for us and with the Hurricane changing everything he did the first leg of changing with no fees.  Then he had surgery...and I have felt terrible in having to bother him while he's healing!

But our challenge is that we had no way of knowing if our departure would have to be changed til we got here.  So at 8am I'm trying to figure out what to do on my own....I've always been an Expedia kind of girl so this is daunting.  I email our agent, I email a friend and I facebook a friend who I think might have a clue as to what to do...and then realize it's the middle of the night in my real world and there's nothing I can do.

So, I pray about it...and go back to bed and try to sleep a little more.  Finally at 10am I get up and decide to give it a try on my own.  I grab my trusty Latvian phone and call the Latvian number for FinnAir.  Mercifully, the wonderful woman Eva speaks English.  I tell her our situation and she finds our records and says she'll need to work on it...can she call me back.  I thank her and wait for her call. 

Shortly after she does call me back and give me good news and bad news.  Good news is she found flights that all 8 of us can fit on...the bad news is it will be $250 to fix the six tickets (PER PERSON!) AND 150 lats per ticket on J and our friend's child.  Deep breaths...we'll figure it out.  My biggest concern is having our behinds on a plane on the 15th.  So I tell her fine, we'll take them and figure out any reductions later.  I'm kind of in a tight spot boys (That's a movie reference for my parents.)

Not that easy...she can't take my card over the phone...can we come to the airport?  Well, sure, that's not a problem...ugh...just not the way I had planned to spend my day.  Showers done we head to the airport to work it all out.  Before I go in their offices, I check my email once again to see if there's anything from our word.  But an encouraging email from my FB friend saying she'd be praying and to kindly but firmly keep asking for a supervisor.

FinnAir was wonderful...they called their supervisor but unfortunately because the ticket was issued by American Airlines, there's nothing they can do.  And they don't have a number I can call.  Grateful for free wifi in the airport, I start searching for American's help desk line while sitting at Lido.  Finally I find a number and using my $2 a minute phone, call.  I get this wonderful woman named Sandy who checks it all out and sympathetically listens to my story...she checks and says the best she can do is if we can leave two days after our scheduled departure since that is the amount of time we were behind in arriving.  I explain to her it isn't that easy...I'm working with the courts here in Latvia...we're adopting!  She says I should speak to a supervisor (wink wink...thanks Sandy!) She puts me in touch with Ann and I explain it all again...Ann thinks about it, explains her side.  I recap to her that we have court Monday, Visa interviews Tuesday, pick up Visas Wednesday, leave Thursday.  I assure her we aren't just hanging out to sightsee some more.

She puts me on hold...and then comes back to say she's going to confirm the seats and I'll need to get back to FinnAir to take care of the other two seats.  She finishes and says "is there anything else I can help with?"  I said, well, how much is it going to cost me?  Her reply, Oh nothing...I just exchanged them for you.  I cried, called her an angel, told her she was an answer to prayer and ran to the FinnAir office! 

We did have to pay for those to be changed but Ann saved us $1500!!!  And it's so cool...because we found out later we needed to pay a little more to stay longer in our apartment too.  But here's a cool story too...when we thought we needed to pay for the ticket exchange, we were trying to remain calm and figure out how we would finagle the money to make it work.  It's cool y''s all His but we've got to be responsible with it.  So math lesson...we had a certain amount we were encouraged to bring in cash by our agency.  We thought it was way too high but complied.  We knew how much we needed for court costs and we knew how much the apartment would cost and we knew from our trip in March we could use our cards and ATM's all over.  But grumble, grumble, fine we'll take it.  Well, checking out our accounts back home, thinking of which cards to dawned on us, how much cash do we have left?  We deducted the amount we needed to pay for legal stuff and the amount left over was EXACTLY what it would have cost us if we'd had to pay for the change.  It just encouraged me soooooo much!

We returned to the apartment and decided to take our usual walk of the area.  We needed to get passport pictures/visa pics made of the boys so we went in search of that so we could handle it for the next day.  We found ourselves again by the Dome Cathedral, then looking around St. John's Church and this cool little walkway that used to be the monastery entry.  We walked through a neat courtyard that had many restaurants and the food smelled sooooo good.  But we were on a mission.  Out the other side of this ancient courtyard and there was a brand new mall (the malls here go up instead of out and have really great modern architecture).  Inside is where the passport pics were so we went down and she was still open! 

Mark that off the list!  While we waited for them to be printed there was a tiny pet shop across the way so we looked around.  We saw our first ever chinchilla for sale.  He was so cute!!  Photos done, E bouncing off the walls, frustrations with parenting stuff starting to bubble and I was hungry!  We walked out and Gary asked me what I wanted to do.  I spouted off "I want to find a lovely restaurant with a beautiful courtyard where we can have an amazing meal and relax outdoors and just appreciate we're in Latvia!  But it's late and I seriously doubt that's going to happen!"  Then my sweet Marleigh said, Hey mom...why don't we go back to that place that smelled so good.

So we did...the Black Pigeon was our dinner spot with this beautiful courtyard in the middle of a 17th century old monastery...and as we read about it, isn't it fitting it's actually a hotel restaurant?  And it was soo good!  They had a family style dinner that was supposed to feed 4...she looked at us and said "it will be enough."  Sausages, pickles, french fries, pork ribs, two different sauces (Latvians like their sauces), onion rings, chicken "shishkals" shishkabobs and of course our obligatory coke and coke light.  It was so refined they brought us cloth placemats when we were seated and little wine glasses to drink our cokes and apple juice from.  And the whole meal for all seven of us was about 35 lats.  A little over our daily budget but we took home enough meat to make another meal out of it!

It really was relaxing and fun and a wonderful experience eating a true Latvian meal.  Check one more experience off the list please!  We walked back through Old Riga and it was fun to see it at night.  The cobblestone streets, the night life (both good and questionable)...there was a three or four piece 50s style music band playing right on the square...if it weren't chilly I would have enjoyed sitting and listening for a while.  But our little one was really really tired. 

I hung back and watched them walk...girls goofing off taking turns walking funny, boys dancing like sillies as we walked past the band, Daddy holding the hand of little E as we walked and him dancing along. 

Closing down for the night with Circle Time and funnies about the day...I love this part of our family time.  It's when I was reminded, so gently by my sweet daughter..."do not be anxious about anything" cause it's in the Bible!  Please continue to pray for us.  We are trying to have fun (and we are) but we feel distractions and pulls trying to steal our joy.  There are many who realize this is it for J, he's really going...and some, not all, are trying to make that departure emotionally difficult for him.  Mae even said as her prayer request tonight for "evil to just stay away from us."  So please be praying.

And me?  I'll remember that in all things to give thanks...but to not be anxious for any of it.  Cause He's already figured it out...He just hasn't shown me how yet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It Feels Like...

Our family has always done birthdays big.  Not like tons of presents or extravagant parties that would be featured on some reality TV show...but we love to celebrate each other!  And I'm a party planner by trade and creative thanks to God so it's always a bit more involved than it has to be...and my husband embraces! my craziness. 

The day started out like every other...E in the bed with us at 7am, trying to sleep in spite of his rolling and tumbling, starting to give up when it got to be...oh wait, is that the phone ringing??  Yep, I rush out of bed at 9am because our dear friend is calling and I need to meet her to deliver some papers.  I actually thanked God for her as I went to shower because I needed to get up...and that was my incentive.  Get going Shelley!

We made arrangements to meet by the Opera House and I ran to get a shower.  As most of you know by now, today was J's birthday.  And as you may or may not know about us is that we have this tradition.  You get the number of gifts that you are he was in line for 15!  Now, don't go crazy on me...they aren't big gifts.  There might be one or two that are "fun" but they aren't a big deal.  However I was up til 3am last night because I write these cute little poems to go with them and leave little numbers all over the house...the kids have to find them.  So, before I left I had to get a couple set up and leave instructions on where the next few were in case he found them too quickly.

Before coffee, before granola bars...Zach and I headed out for the short walk to the Opera House.  It was a nice walk...beautiful morning!  We got there in time to see the posting of the guards at Freedom Monument...did the quick exchange with our friend and headed back.  It was some great one on one time with my firstborn.  Love that kid!! 

I know I've mentioned this before but there is something so refined, so cultural, about Europe. Today's observation was a cute little girl riding on her Daddy's shoulders dressed to the nines.  Purple leggings, purple cordoroy skirt, light colored jacket, blond hair in pigtails and a proper little kerchief tied over her head.  Adorable!

When we got back, I got my coffee, yogurt and granola and settled in to start looking through my tour books (you know my nickname is Tour Guide Barbie).  The girls were giving J an introductory lesson on how this birthday deal works and he was loving it.  We also realized there are seven of us and we have seven days left we decided to give everyone a day to plan...and today was J's. 

He said he didn't know what to do, so could we just go grocery shopping and hang out here.  We thought, well maybe he doesn't know what to let's just get out and walk around.  So off we went...heading toward Old Town again and let's see what we find.  We always walk straight into Old Town and for some reason stay to the today we decided let's go right.

The girls wanted to feed the ducks so we took the bread we thought was wheat that turned out to be rye (not a fave in our family) and headed toward the Riga Channel that runs through town.  As we headed down we saw the boat landing with paddle boats we had been in search of two days before!  And everyone thought it was a good idea to see how much it costs.  The girls and E went to the channel's edge to feed the ducks and we sent the two big boys over to find out costs.  They called to say it was only two lats per boat...pretty economical in Riga.  We decided it was a good birthday idea!  And they were willing to let us have E ride with Gary and me.

We all piled in our boats and took off.  Sooooo much fun.  I'm not sure I've ever done paddle boats before and I'm certain our kids hadn't.  It really is cool the different perspective you have of the city from those little boats.  However, about 10 minutes into it you understand why they are booked in 20 minute increments...our thighs were screaming at us!  Ouch!  We paddled, had a bit of bumper boats, coasted, dodged a bigger boat! and all around just had a blast.  Funny, towards the end, the kids took to paddling (pedaling) with their hands because it hurt their legs! 

Once we climbed out, we started walking through the park...and the first thing we saw was an ice cream cart.  These things are all over Riga.  In the strangest of places...but really ALL over the city.  We relented and bought one of the cheapest on the list...again, a fun birthday thing to do.  And we kept walking.  There's this raised area in the park that looks like it could be a cool historical spot...but I haven't been able to figure it out we walked to the top of that. 

I think I mentioned yesterday that we had invited J's sister and brother and nephew to dinner for his birthday.  I think it was something he was so excited about but didn't want to be a bother...but meekly he added two more to the guest list and we were happy he wanted to share this day - and us - with more people here.  The one friend was coming at 3pm to meet us in Riga and we met up at Cili Pica and continued our walking.  As usual we headed into Old Town and had our history lesson for the day. 

The Powder Tower (circa 1647) is situated right at the edge and has cannonballs stuck in the side of it said to have been launched there by Peter the Great himself (I think...I don't have my tour book here with me ;-))  And inside this tower is the Latvian War Museum going all the way from the 1200's to present day.  Very cool.  We spent quite a while in there as it was a total of four or five floors of museums.  The area that struck me the most was the section about 1991 and their fight for independence.  As I stood there looking at the photos of the resistance, I thought about what I was doing in 1991.  I was one year out of high school and one year into college.  I was worried about what I was wearing to Emerald Ball, how I was doing in class and when I was going to see my boyfriend again.  These people were fighting, life was hard...and the economy and the wonderful resilient people are still rebuilding from this. 

Don't get me wrong, I think some - maybe even most - here are just fine...really fine.  They have wonderful lives..."normal" lives.  And honestly many of those are the wonderful people who are helping those of us who have children here.  But for those on whom it hasn't been as easy, I think there is still a sense of extreme hardship.  Whether it is financial, addiction or just having been dealt a hard luck hand...the hold just isn't as easy to climb out of.  All of that just hit me as I looked at those pictures from 1991.  And I thought of J's 1991 she had two kids already and she would have two more...and what was she doing in 1991. 

So after our long visit there, we headed back just as a rain set in.  J said every year it rains on his birthday!  We rested for just a second and then headed to the grocery.  He had to  pick out his cake!  I had a pretty long list and we walked around the store gathering all our things.  Latvia's most challenging thing for me is the size of the items you can buy.  For example, one cannot buy a gallon of milk's all quarts.  So for a family of seven this can get very expensive!  Cereal comes packaged in these little bags that would take care of my boys one morning!  Eggs come in a 10 pack, not a dozen.  You get the picture. 

We headed over to the pastry counter to look at cakes.  They are works of art...really gorgeous!  With the number we have coming we decide we better get two.  J doesn't know what to we talk him through it.  Do you like berry, or just chocolate?  We decide on one that is mostly chocolate and one that is kind of a cheesecake with cherries on top.  They both look amazing.  Again, my high culture or maybe it's old fashioned observation is that they put it in this pretty box and place a lid on it and then tie it up with these strong ties - but pretty - so you can carry it old fashioned style just from the little ties.  Yes, I took pics.

We check out and head back and we're all starving because we didn't really eat lunch.  After a quick snack of fresh baguettes, salami, mozzarella, tomatoes, cucumber and the like Gary and I start cooking.  Peeling potatoes, putting the macaroni I brought from home on to boil (mac and cheese velveeta style is on the menu) and opening up the sugar peas I bought.  J wanted the potatoes fried so that's what we did. 

About 10 minutes in he said his sister and nephew had arrived and would be at Freedom Monument soon.  I kept cooking while he and Gary went to meet them.  While they were gone the power turned off three times!  Apparently you can't run more than one unit at a time on the stove without tripping the breaker! 

I'm not sure I've fully described our kitchen situation.  We have a kitchen up front with refrigerator and great countertops...but no sink or stovetop.  The kitchen in the back is about the size of a hallway (smaller really) and has the cooktop, sink...but no fridge...hmmmm.  Tough when you get like five people in there some making tea, some slicing potatoes, some washing up dishes...a leetle tight!

I realize at this point I should have done all the potatoes first because they take the longest.  But the noodles are already on for the mac and cheese so I'm committed.  I finish these up and Gary returns with J, sister and nephew and now E is in heaven!  He has a playmate!  We keep cooking (having a small frying pan doesn't help either) and just getting such joy from how happy J is.  He keeps coming back to check on us...are we ok?  do we need anything?  Thanks for doing all this. 

As potatoes get ready, we offer for those who are here to go ahead and eat...but we find out that his brother and his best friend are coming soon, so can we wait?  And the answer is of course we can. They arrive in perfect time and J and his sister walk to meet them.  When I meet them all, I just can't help but hug them all.  These are the people who love J...who have helped shape him into the boy he is. 

Marleigh has been busy entertaining J's friend who came early, Mae has been almost obsessively cleaning the apartment and setting up the buffet (I think she's gonna be like her mamma!) and Zach has been resetting the breaker box, slicing potatoes and helping tidy up.  We get everything set up finally and everyone is here and gathered.  The buffet is Rotisserie chicken from Rimi, Velveeta Shells and Cheese, Sugar Peas, Fried Potatoes and beautiful cakes!

We all gathered in the den for prayer before dinner and then the buffet was open!  They were somewhat shy at first...but it really is amazing what the language of love and acceptance can do to bridge the gap.  We got everyone fed and had to hurry a bit through blowing out the candles and cutting cake because J's friend had to head back to school.  While everyone was eating dinner, J's grandfather called.  He wanted to wish him a happy birthday.  We so wish he and his other brother could have come but they were both sick.  J translated what he wanted to say to us - thanking us for taking care of J, he wishes us only the best in life and please keep doing what we are doing with our good hearts.  Wow...I love this man and have never met him.  I cannot imagine how hard this must be for all of them.  We've asked J to be sure this is what he really wants...and he tells us he wants a family who can care for him AND loves him...and this is what his family here wants for him too.  We tell J he needs to go visit before we leave...we have to make the most of every day we have.  God is SOOOO AMAZING!

He had such a good time and we were so glad to be able to do this with and for him.  We snapped a quick photo of everyone at his party and then he and his sister walked his friend to the train station.

We tidied up a bit and then just visited with our guests until they too had to go to the train station.  I went in to check with Gary about who would walk them back and he was exhausted.  Here's where the title for tonight comes in ;-)  We are beat...our backs hurt, our feet hurt, we're just plain tired.  And here's the fun realization...we feel EXACTLY like we do after we host a birthday party for one of our kids HAHAHA (that's me laughing with joy) because ladies and gents, we just did.  His very first that was all his...and it was wonderful!

And the other realization I have is how truly blessed J is.  He has two brothers, a sister and a grandfather that love him and want what's best for him.  And now he has us who love him as one of our own...poor kid, he's a Belk (soon).  And sweet E...I realize just how blessed we are.  No one's asking to say goodbye to him...but again, he's already said goodbye.  His last name might not be Belk yet, but he's a Belk through and through.

At Circle Time, J shared with us what a good time everyone had.  We complimented him (Zach's observation) on what a good host he was.  He worked the room visiting with everyone to make sure no one felt left out.  I remember when he made his plate for dinner, he said "Mom, there's so much food.  It reminds me of America." This made me happy and sad at the same time.  He also shared with us that his friend felt we were too "good" for him to mingle with us.  He was too "bad."  Made me so happy that I'd given him a hug...praying that showed him we love everyone just like Jesus does. 

Then he said it was the best birthday he'd ever had...and he was ready - so ready! - to go home.

Want to know what J's 15 presents were:
1  underwear
2  socks
3  a card from his brothers and sisters
4  three toy skateboards
5  deodorant
6 a calendar
7 hair gel
8 basketball shorts
9 undershirts
10 a tee shirt from annapolis
11 cologne
12 a card from me and Daddy
13 two snicker bars
14 a sketchpad with a drum set on the front and a paper jamz guitar from burger king
and 15?  oh yeah...
15...a plane ticket home

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thanks Mom...for Holding me Accountable ;-)

My mother missed my blog post last night so the first thing I did this morning was post my blog.  Since she's my best friend, financial advisor, prayer warrior Mama...I decided I wouldn't keep her waiting again.  So here we go:

It was a chilly, rainy day in Latvia (sounds like the beginning of a great book huh?)...and we slept in.  Wait, that sounds like every other day!  Seriously though, we did sleep a little late.  Gary and I were troubled about several things and I personally didn't sleep very well.  That coupled with the fact that a certain little boy magically appears in our bed around 6 am every morning to then flop and flip and elbow us with hugs and kisses sprinkled in makes for the fact I woke up tired and a bit irritable. 

I immediately got coffee from my hubby and then blogged before Mama called me out again ;-)  At 11am we decided the kids needed to rise and shine so we rousted them out of bed.  Breakfast was an "on your own" kind of thing with cereal and granola bars...this family goes through so many bananas I'm beginning to think the moniker "monkeys" is quite fitting.  Once done with breakfast, Gary and I decided a talk was in order. 

It was a good, cleansing, get it all out in the open kind of talk.  And everyone felt better afterwards.  While the kids were held hostage by "yellow" (it's all E wants to watch...Sponge Bob Square Pants) Gary and I got our showers and discussed what to do for the day.  J had wanted to go to Kemeri to get his things from the orphanage...another big step in this process.

I really cannot imagine what it must feel like to have been in a place for three years where it's been the only home you've had and now you're moving out...and you're moving out because you now have a family.  It has to be wonderful, scary, thrilling and sad all at the same time.  I had emailed his Orphanage Director to make sure that was ok and had not heard back but he called and it seemed to be ok.  So we took an empty suitcase and off we went. 

It seemed God was really smiling on this as the rain stopped and when we got to the train station, blue sky was already starting to show.  And it had been raining ALL morning...hard! 

The train ride is an hour to Kemeri.  We all piled on and the trek began.  E got bored pretty quick but I gave him my music on my iPhone and my ear buds and before long he was jamming out bigtime.  Zach and J were sharing ear buds on Zach's iPod.  Marleigh and Mae were between reading, listening to music and snacking (they are very efficient travelers...never leave without a bag and always have a snack).  Gary borrowed Marleigh's ear buds and before I knew it he was serenading us on the train with some good Beach Music.  I told Marleigh...the train ride was 13 lats for all of us...but the entertainment was free!

Finally we got to Kemeri and off we piled.  There's a short cut through the woods I knew our blond kids would enjoy.  So we took the suitcase and E and went by the sidewalk and told J to take the others through the woods and we'd meet them at the orphanage.  We got there and went up to his room...he wanted all of us to come.  He packed a few things, showed us a few things, got his guitar immediately and asked Gary to play while we packed him up.  After a few minutes, he asked if we could walk around some.  We had about two hours before the next train.  So we did...

His sister works at the little market on the corner so we went down there and visited her and bought some chips and cokes for a snack.  His brother...VERY SHY...was coming to meet us for the first time and visit with him and bring his little five year old nephew to see us too.  We hung out and just walked around...getting eaten by mosquitoes again!  His brother arrived and little Zhenya bounced off the bus with him.  It was so good to finally meet this brother and see little one again.  We set out walking around and just looking at the area.  Stopped and took a few photos along the way...shocker!

E was so funny with Zhenya!  Acting like the big man on campus and making him hold his hand as we walked.  J really needed this time I think.  It wasn't closure yet...but the beginning.  When it was nearing time to go for the train, we walked back to the orphanage and got his suitcase...packed a few more things in.  He said goodbye to the lady who works mostly in his group...she was obviously touched by him...happy for him.  I gave her a hug and said so much!  These are the women who have tried so hard to work with and care for our sons.  And they have made a difference.  This makes us want to so badly to do something for and with this orphanage. 

It is a unique place...not perfect but wow, so caring.  And it made me sad too for E.  He has nothing to gather from this place.  But at the same time, he's the happiest kid around.  He could care less about stuff to take away...look at what he's got!  A FAMILY of seven people...where's he's the Baaabbbbyyyyy!  (drag that out and put a little sing song on it).  However, at orphan court, their director commented that when she saw us with E in March, her heart had let him go.  Now how many directors out there would get that attached to their kids?  I'm telling you, she's a GREAT director!

We walked to the train station and re-boarded to head back to Riga.  I reflected to Gary how fortunate we are.  We'd spent the afternoon walking around this small town admiring the little things.  Houses might be run down but did you see the flower garden?  Front yard a little rough but how about that very cool ladder built out of two tree trunks with smaller logs for the rungs?  Just appreciating the little things in this town that our boys have called home for three years.  And seeing other orphans from their home riding each other on bikes around the block, taking turns.  It struck me...who's there to doctor a leg if they fall down and scrape a knee?  And who's going to make sure they get a bath before bed?  These kids are cared for but they need homes!  At one point, J had seen another kid out and about...and J said, "he's too young." And he yelled across the street and told him to get back to the orphanage...he knew he wasn't supposed to be out.  I hope more of the older ones help look out for them.

As we pulled back into Riga, J was the happiest he'd been since coming with us.  All four of the big ones piled into the little exit area and started making lots of noise.  He commented "everyone's going the other way because there's a bunch of Belks back here!  And Daddy's trying to act like he doesn't know us!"  We struck out toward the apartment walking quickly because we were all starved for dinner.  Half the crew had Ramen noodles and Gary cooked the others a breakfast supper. 

We spent some time catching up again and just chatting and then Circle Time. I think "home" is starting to come about again finally for all of us.  It seems every time one of us "feels" good, Satan comes along trying to steal our joy again.  And he does for a minute...but then, somehow, it all comes right again.

Tomorrow is J's birthday...and while one of our issues has been not to make everything "all about him," tomorrow needs to be.  He said to me that he's never had a birthday cake that wasn't shared with someone else.  And he said everyone forgot about his birthday...except his parents (THAT'S US Y'ALL)!  We've invited his brothers and sister and little Zhenya to eat dinner with us.  I'm making mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, sugar peas and this really yummy looking rotisserie chicken from Rimi. 

We're all ready for home...and the next 9 days are going to be long.  Please be praying for us to make the most of it and not miss any opportunity to enjoy each other and give glory to the One who's brought us here.

Sorry Y'all...I Was Just Too Tired!

You know I had to be tired to not feel like writing last night!  It was a busy day and we're still trying to figure out this timing!  I can't stand staying up so late and sleeping half the day away...but somehow that is what tends to happen when puzzles, UNO or other activities are going on and it's just fun!

So, yesterday...the social worker was to come at some point but we didn't know when.  She was going to call or text J's phone (they got that from him at first court before I could share that we had a Latvian cell).  Now early in the morning is most likely not the most reliable time to text or call a 14 year old.  I was up at 8:30am or my shower, tending to laundry.  Just waiting for the call.

By about 10, we figured we better get everyone up and tidied up...we hadn't heard yet but surely it would be soon!  Yesterday was a gorgeous day and we were anxious to get outside and seeing more of Riga.  We woke J and asked him to check his phone and sure enough, there was a text from her...she was outside right now!  Once she came in, she politely removed her shoes - a Latvian custom I think we will adopt - and I offered her coffee.  I had some of my French Vanilla Creamer and she loved it!  (Mental note as to what my next round of gifts will be!)  Then we found out she'd been outside the apartment for over 30 minutes! 

Yikes...great impressions already.  She asked me simple questions about the layout of the apartment, sleeping arrangements, how many bathrooms there were.  Then what we'd been up to and what our plans were for the rest of the time.  She then spent the next 20 minutes or so with J...asking questions and interviewing him.  When that was done, she came back to me and shared the final schedule of court and embassy meetings.  We are free and clear til next week.  She did confirm that Gary and the school kids can leave on Friday if need be...but all of us can leave on the 15th.  That seems like so far away!

M&M are really missing their fluffies!!!  And we're all ready to get home and get into a routine, whatever that will be.  She was so so nice though and thanked us several times for wanting both boys.  She said we would not see her again until "big" court on our second visit. 

After she left we were hanging around waiting to hear from Daina so we can get some documents to her.  By 11, I went ahead and called her and she was in Old Town...asked if I knew where the McDonald's was to meet her.  I feel like I know this city like the back of my hand now...and yep, I still love it!  Gary was wanting to go to a consignment shop right next to the apartment so he and our big boys went there and me, my girls and E went to meet Daina. 

That was a quick drop off so from there we went in search of the paddle boats and how much they cost.  We got into the park and began walking the direction we had seen them:  up past the National Opera House and behind it ( is such an upscale area and yet, behind the opera house there were some artsy, young, hippie looking people hanging out back there with a few bottles of's now 2pm?)  These park areas are really pretty. 

We went on up and made our way to the light to cross the street.  There we saw an old woman, sitting flat on the sidewalk with her old, swollen, arthritic looking legs stretched straight out in front of her.  And one hand stretched straight out, unwavering, begging.  I couldn't look at her without thinking of my own one her age should have to be sitting and begging.  No one should have to beg period.  I pulled out my wallet and Marleigh asked if we could give her something.  I gave her a coin without looking and said yes.  Turns out it was a lat...and while that may seem like a lot ($2) it seems so easy to part with it since it's a tiny coin.  But what it meant to her?  She cried out in a voice I'll never forget "Paldies!  Paldies! (Thank you!  Thank you!)  It brought tears to my eyes. 

As we crossed the street, I noticed that she got up and starting shuffling down the street, her it was really a stick...helping her move along, barely.  So I wonder if that was enough for the day...or if her need was so great that she needed to go tend to something right away...and the cynical person would say that she'd gotten enough from that corner so she'd moved on.  But seeing her...friends, we need to open our eyes to the needs around matter the continent we are on.

The girls, E and I continued down to the other side of the park where the paddle boats were no where to be found.  So we found a sunny spot and sat in the grass to have a snack and wait.  It was so peaceful and nice and quiet!  We sat there on the banks of this little river and they played, feeding more of their snack to the birds that came around than eating it themselves.  E picked me a bouquet of fallen leaves which of course he asked me to hold for him.  I called the boys to tell them where we were and found out they were search of an inexpensive barber shop for Gary.  They were headed to the train station because it's really like a mall in there.  I told them where we were and pulled out my travel books to figure out where we wanted to go after we all got back together.

It was so nice lying there in the soft grass, watching the girls and E find feathers, name all the birds (Snowy, Puffy, Pinto, Hairy, Fluffy, you get the picture).  They would get the little, downy feathers and blow them off their hands and then try to keep them airborne.  Finally the girls laid in the grass too to read and of course that bored he began jumping on us and when we said no, he'd flop over like he'd passed out...we'd make a fuss over him and then it started all over again.  So much fun!

The boys finally showed up...Gary got a Latvian haircut - he looks even more European (everyone thinks he's from here)...and they had this great idea to go have hotdogs from the train station Narvesson (kind of like a 7-Eleven).  So off we went.  For 9,50 lats we fed all of us and the dogs were pretty good.  The buns were like these pretzel buns that had been grilled and the hot dogs weren't very thick but they were long and the mustard (they call it mayonnaise) and ketchup were good.  Pickle relish they call salad...all very good.  We sat on the wall outside the train station and ate. 

Oh!  I almost forgot to share!  We had to go to the restroom at the train station...and I got to experience what Shannon Starr had written about!!  15 centimes per person to use the bathroom and you got your toilet tissue at the place you paid!  Our lady was very nice and could tell we didn't speak Latvian...she spun her hand around a lot to show us to take it there.  No limits.  Marleigh thought she was telling her to hurry LOL.  Very interesting and I thought a great way to keep the place cleaner!

I remembered when we were at TGIFriday's and we asked the server if refills on  beverages were free...she said to Gary "This is Latvia, Honey!"  Hilarious...and she was wonderful!

Then it was time for the history of the day!  I led the way with my trusty map...complainers in tow.  We went to the oldest warehouses still standing (from the 17th century) and continued exploring til we found the last part of the fortification wall from 1537 still standing.  Gary was thoroughly enjoying the adventure and all our kids enjoyed what they called the "creepy, cool old streets."  We were really in the section of Old Town not frequented by tourists...which made it even more fun. 

As I continued to lose my audience, I offered them 10 lats if anyone could give me the meaning of etymology.  No one could but I had their attention...and we did a quick lesson on the street names and their derivations.  I LOVE history...and my poor children suffer for it! 

We walked back and got to the apartment in time to sit for a minute and then made sandwiches from this really good stuff I got at the store.  I bought some Buffalo Mozzarella with Basil already in it, Salami, Herbed Crusty French Baguettes and Tomato.  Oh my word what a great sandwich! 

Puzzles, TV and Circle Time wrapped up a great day in Riga. 

Today so far it is raining...and pretty hard at that...not sure what today will hold except a walk to the consignment store to buy an umbrella.  We forgot all of ours!