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.