Monday, July 25, 2011

10 things to remember as an expat returning to France after a long trip out of country

1. Your carte sejour. Otherwise you might spend 3 hours in immigration at the Amsterdam airport while a very nice official tries to get in touch with France to verify that you are in fact legally living in France. But don't worry, even though France never answers, he'll let you through with the threat that if it turns out you don't have a visa, you'll be flagged as "in country illegally."

2. They speak French here. It will do you no good to answer the door with a "how can I help you", you must dig through all your stuff to find your English-French dictionary, rapidement! when dealing with the apartment repairman.

3. Do not drink orange juice and eat brie.

4. When going for a walk, remember to look down, not ahead. Because that's where the landmines are.

5. Weigh your fruits and vegetables before going to check-out. Otherwise you'll be subject to THAT look and a long queue of impatient people awaiting your return.

6. While we are on the subject of shopping, remember that sweats and a T-shirt may be appropriate attire for a trip to Target, but Carrefour requires something a wee bit classier.

7. To stock up on the things not readily available in France; in our case, Goldfish crackers, Saran wrap, size 45 shoes and an emergency box or two of mac and cheese.

8. 1 kg is 2.2 lbs, not the other way around. Otherwise when the recipe calls for 1/2 lb of salmon, you'll have quite a bit left over.

9. For every one hour time zone change, you'll need one day to recooperate. So don't schedule doctor's appointments two hours before your plane lands. 

10. You're home. Time to relax, but start planning your next day, week-end, trip!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bastille Day

Known as La Fête Nationale in France and sometimes referred to as le quatorze juillet (the 14th  of July), it commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. Festivities and official ceremonies are held all over France, including a big fireworks display in Clermont-Ferrand. While I’m sad I wasn’t able to witness the celebration in France, we did have our own fête in Gaŗezers. Over the past years it has become a family tradition to celebrate Bastille Day with a sampling of French cheese, wine and other delicacies. Alnis selected the cheeses in Chicago, with plenty of telephonic assistance/advice from Daina, which was paired with a delicious rosé. My contribution was two different mustards, and one jar of peppers in olive oil, which went well with cream cheese on crackers. The thought had briefly crossed my mind that a cheese or wine would be much more authentic, but the mustard won out after I imagined the ruckus a smelly cheese could cause at customs…

Picking blueberries
During our stay in Michigan we also celebrated my good friend Kristine’s engagement. I was finally able to meet Daniel, whom I had heard so much about, and our friend Cathy was able to make the trip from Chicago as well, with her two children. The day was passed in and out of the lake, eating, laughing, and relaxing. How things have changed since our senior year! My high school friend Miśka also took a road trip to visit me, and was forced to retell her weekend plans only 10 times to all the various folks at the summer house. She had to return early the next day in order to drive down south for “Tour de donut” with her husband; a spoof on Tour de France, the bicyclists have a 5 minute reduction in their times for each donut they eat at the two pit stops during the 30 mile race. 

During the first week Lauris seemed a little shy, but it wasn’t long before he was tagging right along with his cousins and the other kids. In Gaŗezers the main crew included my cousins who range from 7 to 11 years old, but who loved having Lauris along on their excursions to the tree house, to the beach, or just hanging out on the deck. There was many an ice cream cone, watermelon slice and cookie eaten, and highlights included our trip to pick blueberries and quality time with Lauris’s grandparents and godparents.

Enjoying a quiet moment with grandfather

Friday, July 22, 2011

The wedding

The main purpose of our trip to the US was Roberts’s cousin’s wedding. 2011 seems to be another one of those years when the wedding invites are non-stop, and one of the saddest things about living in France is that we can not make it to all of them. However, we were able to make it to Asja and Brandon’s wedding, and Roberts had the honor of standing up (maršāls) as well as being MC for the festivities.

We made the trip south to Ohio from Kalamazoo with my in-laws, picking up my sister Z on the way. Springfield is the western part of the state, between Dayton and Columbus. We arrived just in time for the rehearsal, which was followed by a dinner at the charming Woman’s Town Club historic mansion. Built in 1852, this Queen Anne Victorian is one of the oldest homes in Springfield and was a perfect place for the small, intimate dinner hosted by the parents of the groom. A very pleasant evening culminated with a delicious dinner and dessert, and the surrounding garden provided Lauris additional room to explore once he had exhausted the stately rooms.

The next morning was spent in relaxed preparation. Roberts and Lauris went on an excursion to see the town while Z and I napped, and before we knew it, it was time to dress. Asja and Brandon had chosen Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the photographers were waiting to take the official pictures. Asja is Latvian, and although Brandon is not, the couple did a great job of weaving Latvian traditions into the ceremony and reception. This included walking into the church to be married together, and since that did not require the groom to not see the bride until he is standing at the altar, they were able to take photographs before the ceremony, ensuring everyone looked their very best.

All dressed up
The ceremony was beautiful, with sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows over the bridal party and a full house of family and friends, come to share in this special day. One song in Latvian, one in English, one reading in Latvian, one in English. The bride was striking in a long white dress with lace over the shoulders and a bouquet of red roses, and all the groomsmen complimented the groom with tuxes and white vests, bowties. The finishing touch for the groom was a pair of white gloves, and a boutonniere with a single red rose enveloped by a sprig of baby’s breath.

Lauris and Z taking a break during the photo shoot
After the ceremony I took Z and Lauris back before returning to the church. Just across the street is Wittenberg University’s Benham-Pence Center, where the reception was held. Once again Latvian traditions were seamlessly incorporated into the evening, with Latvian songs interspersing the speeches, and a bride-stealing and capping ceremony late into the night. This probably needs some explanation; mičošana is the traditional Latvian “capping” ceremony. It was a very important part of the ancient Latvian wedding, which usually lasted three days. During mičošana, the bride and groom say goodbye to their single status and don symbolic hats to represent their new roles as husband and wife. This opens way for the stealing of the bride, which has to occur before mičošana and is completed by unmarried boys. She is then ransomed back to the groom, usually in exchange for a few songs or dances. After successfully getting Asja back, Brandon donned his new hat, Asja her aube, and the dancing continued on into the night.

As mentioned, the traditional Latvian wedding lasts three days. The modern take on this includes the atkāzas (directly translated, re-wedding) the following day. We joined the other guests the next day at Asja’s parent’s house for a hearty meal, more conversation until we finally had to say our goodbyes and head back north to Michigan. This was the point Lauris and I had to say bye to Roberts too; he was headed back to Detroit to fly back home, while we were on our way to my grandmother’s summerhouse for a few more weeks with family.
Wishing the new couple all the best in their life together

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's good to be home!

I was so happy to see Roberts yesterday, I promptly fell asleep. Then, Lauris and I proceeded to sleep until 1pm this afternoon. Now, having regained my senses after the trip home I realize that even though wonderful times were had with family and friends in Michigan and Ohio these last three weeks, I am VERY happy to be home.

My red, white and blue, 4th of July cherry pie
First, it is always harder being sans husband than I imagine. Although there were plenty of babysitters and extra pairs of hands, a second parent to get up with a jetlagged toddler at night is priceless. And the look on Lauris’s face when he saw his father at the airport was one-of-a-kind. I missed my husband, and I am glad to be back within hug range!

Then there are all the smaller things, so numerous I will only name a few. My bed and my pillow. My own kitchen, to leave my dishes unwashed in the sink and Lauris’s half-eaten rice in the fridge. Internet. The construction going on across the street that has Lauris staring out the window at the Kubota backhoe loader for twenty minutes at a time. The weather (currently 65º F or 18º C), a refreshing change after the 100+º F heat index (37º C including humidity) heat wave in Michigan.

It is also a very nice feeling that although I have neglected my blog for a few weeks, my readers have not abandoned me! I’m honored to have been picked as a Bastille Day Edition favorite over at Citrus Lane! And I promise to try very hard to catch up on events that have taken place over the last three weeks, including the wedding we attended in Ohio, and La Fête Nationale (or as we celebrated it in the States, Bastille Day).  But until then, we will settle for this picture of Lauris after picking raspberries with his Kalamazoo grandmother.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


For English, please scroll down a bit!
Būdami atpakaļ latviešos, ir no vienas vietas svinības; kāzas, dzimšanas dienas, vārda dienas, A.S.V. svētku dienas un kāzu jubilejas, jau sākot ar pirmo dienu pēc ielidošanas. Izlidojām no Francijas piektdien, 26. jūnijā un pēc Parīzes piedzīvojumiem bijām sarunājuši lidojumu cauri Amsterdamai. Viss gāja gludi līdz ielidojot Atlantā mūs draudēja mainīt maršrutu uz Našvili jo Atlantā esot baigās vētras. Tomēr bencīna trūkuma dēļ atļāva nolaisties ATL un steidzīgi devamies savākt mūsu koferus lai būtu gatavībā muitai. Skaidrojām muitniekam, ka tagad dzīvojam Francijā, un muitnieks prasīja ,,how's that going for you?” tad mūs vicināja tālāk. Nodevām koferus un pēc nosēdēšanas lidmašīnā stundu gaidot negaisa beigas, izlidojām uz Detroitu, kur ielidojām vienos no rīta. Laura vecpaps bija atbraucis mums pretīm un līdz četriem sestdienas rītā bijām gultā Kalamazū. Tomēr Laurīts izdomāja, ka laiks celties un bija raibs rīts. 

Lauris ar māsīcu
 Un tanī vakarā sākās svinības! Vispirms ieradās mūsu koferi, kuŗi paspēja pazust Atlantā pēc mēs tos nodevām atpakaļ pēc muitas. Sekoja viesības, kuŗas rīkoja Laura vecpaps un vecmāte lai apsveiktu mūs ierodoties un pa godu viņu kāzu jubilejai; viņi kāzas svinēja pirms četrdesmit gadiem 26. jūnijā Kalamazū, Mičiganā. Bija sabraukuši Kalamazū, Grand Rapida, Gaŗezera un vietējie radi, un Lauris ciemojās ar saviem brālēniem, māsīcu un mazo Viju. Atzīmējām arī Lauŗa krustmātes un Ryan 7. kāzu jubilēju. Trīs dienas vēlāk, 29. jūnijā bija manu vecāku kāzu jubileja. 1983. gadā tos salaulāja Ciānas baznīcā, Čikagā, Ilinojā.

Pārsteigumam sabraukušie viesi
Tieši tanī vakarā Laura krustmāte bija sarīkojusi pārsteiguma vakariņas Laura Kalamazū vecvecāku kāzu jubilējai par godu (par kuŗu viņi nezināja, kad rīkoja viesības sestdien) kur sabrauca viņu radi un tuvie draugi no pat Detroitas un Milvokiem. Viesības tika rīkotas četras dienas vēlāk lai dēls Matīss ar Indru varētu piedalīties, un viņi tik tanī dienā ieradās Mičiganā. Pārsteigums izdevās. Kaut abi brīnijās kā es ,,uzstājos,” ka man vajagot uz resturantu braukt nevis ēst jaukas vakariņas mājās un pukojās, ka Matīss ar Indru kā tik iebraukuši Kalamazū tūlīt devās tālāk ,,uzdzīvot ar draugiem,” beigās tie paši ieteica Cosmo's resturantu kur gaidija visi viesi. Ļoti jauks vakars, ļoti nozīmīga jubilēja, un liels prieks, ka visi trīs varējām būt klāt to atzīmēt ar ģimeni.
Having been back in the US over two weeks now, I feel like it has been one big party! A wedding, birthdays, name days, American holidays and wedding anniversaries, everything began the day we landed. We flew out of Clermont on the 26th of June, and after our CDG/ORLY adventure, we decided to fly through Amsterdam. Everything went smoothly until we began our descent into Atlanta, when the pilot announced we may have to divert to Nashville. Due to fuel levels they relented, but the storm had all flights delayed, some even cancelled. We collected our suitcases and entered customs, where the agent only asked if we are living in France now, then wanted to know "how's that going for you?" before waving us on. We rechecked our bags, boarded our flight, sat on the runway for an hour, then finally flew the last leg to Detroit, where Roberts's dad was waiting for us. Sadly, our suitcases were not. Nevertheless, by 4am Saturday morning we were in bed, although Lauris promptly decided that was a good time to wake up…

And then began the parties; Roberts's parents threw the first in honor of our arrival and to commemorate their wedding anniversary. Their wedding was forty years ago on the 26th of June in Kalamazoo, MI. Guests came from Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Gaŗezers and the area, and Lauris had a great time with his cousins and little Vija. We also celebrates Lauris's godmother and Ryan's 7th wedding anniversary. Three days later was my parent's wedding anniversary; in 1983 they were married in Chicago, IL.

On the same evening Lauris's godmother had organized a surprise dinner in honor of their parent's 40th wedding anniversary, which thankfully was a complete surprise; this is why we celebrated Saturday evening as well. This time guests arrived from Detroit and Milwaukee as well. The party was organized a few days after the anniversary in order for Matīss, Roberts's brother and his friend Indra to fly in from Latvia. I'm glad the surprise worked out, although Roberts's parents wondered why Matīss took off for a friend's house soon after arriving, and why I was so intent on going to a restaurant when they had a nice dinner at home planned. In any case, in the end we managed to get them to suggest the restaurant, Cosmo's, where all the guests were waiting, and we spent a very pleasant evening with family from near and far.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy birthday, America!

What better way to celebrate the 4th of July than fireworks, grilling out and cherry pie!

Although Lauris and I didn't make it to Atbalsis, the nearby resort that was hosting a gigantic fireworks display, on Saturday night we ended up with a personal show visible from the living room sofa. There were at least five spots around Long Lake that were firing off pretty big rockets and although I went down to the pier for a bit, there were less mosquitoes on the couch.

Today Alnis grilled up a pork tenderloin and we all sat down to a big lunch. Afterwards a unanimous decision was made to postpone the cherry pie for an hour...

Notice the napkins?
Did I mention the cherry pie had a stars and stripes top? And was red (cherries), white (whip cream) and blue (blueberries)?

I wish everyone a red, white and blue fourth!
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