Sunday, December 23, 2012

On the third day of Christmas, a Christmas wish

I wish we did this more often.

We are spending our days with family, enjoying good company and good food. And the holiday whirlwind has only just begun!
Continuing the Twelve Days of Christmas blogging challenge!
23rd December; A Christmas Wish
24th December; A Christmas Tradition
25th December; A Christmas Day Portrait
26th December; Best Gifts
27th December; A Memory of Christmas Past
28th December; Your Christmas Angel
29th December; Festive Tipple
30th December; Three Great Memories Of The Past Year
31st December; How You Will Bring In 2013
1st January; A New Year’s Resolution (that you'll keep!)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On the second day of Christmas, a picture of our tree

We had a fun day picking out our tree, and although the decorating and lighting was spread out over a few days, we have enjoyed the tree every day since then; reading Christmas books next to it, looking at the ornaments, inhaling the evergreen aroma upon entering the room and relishing the twinkle of the lights singular to this time of year.
Continuing the Twelve Days of Christmas blogging challenge!
   22nd December; A Picture of Your Tree
   23rd December; A Christmas Wish
   24th December; A Christmas Tradition
   25th December; A Christmas Day Portrait
   26th December; Best Gifts
   27th December; A Memory of Christmas Past
   28th December; Your Christmas Angel
   29th December; Festive Tipple
   30th December; Three Great Memories Of The Past Year
   31st December; How You Will Bring In 2013
   1st January; A New Year’s Resolution (that you'll keep!)


Friday, December 21, 2012

On the first day of Christmas, a festive song

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me….”
I will be continuing our day-by-day count to Christmas, but I will also be joining in a blogging challenge, the Twelve Days of Christmas, and so the countdown starts anew.
Starting the 21st, each day has a topic. Day one is “A Festive Song,” and as this is the “Twelve Days of Christmas” challenge I find “The Twelve Days of Christmas” quite appropriate. Each day has taken us one step closer to the holidays with Christmas tasks checked off the list, the 21st marks a turning point of sorts as the festivities begin. Although I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve been documenting our preparations for Christmas this December, some days in a little more detail than others.  From the Greenville Poinsettia Christmas Parade and picking out our tree, to decorating the house and enjoying the lights and sights downtown, we’ve been busy preparing for our first Christmas as a family of four. This last week was no different.
Day 17:  “… a Playmobil advent calendar”
We’ve been tremendously enjoying the advent calendar that vecmamma Inga sent the boys. Growing up it was a family tradition that our godmothers (and sometimes grandmothers or other family members) would send us advent calendars to help us count off the days before Christmas. Often it was a nativity scene with Christmas images hidden behind little doors, or if we had been really good a chocolate. What makes the boys’ calendar so fun this year is that there is a toy for each day, together forming a set complete with Santa, a reindeer and elf, even presents for the sleigh and a naughty/nice list for Santa to check twice.

Day 18: “… two behaving boys and a Playmobil advent calendar”
Last minute shopping finished! And two stockings finished! Well, one I just put some finishing touches on, but Mikus has been a good boy this year and wanted a sock of his own to hang...

Day 19: “... three more pans of piparkūkas, two behaving boys and a Playmobil advent calendar”
Somehow it seems to take longer and longer to use up all the dough each year! The traditional Latvian Christmas cookie, the piparkūka, is a spice cookie in some ways similar to spice cookies or gingerbread. However, they are extremely delicate and time-consuming to make, and truly end up a labor of love to bake. “Only once a year” I remind myself, and proceed to burn another pan while busy plucking Mikus off the table he has climbed or helping Lauris find a missing toy.
Day 20: “... four generations, three pans of piparkūkas, two behaving boys and a Playmobil advent calendar”

The rain in Greenville reminded me of our adventurous trip up north three years ago while pregnant with Lauris. What started as rain in the Upstate turned into snow the farther north we drove, and after traversing only 60 miles in 4-5 hours' time, crossing a snowy median to escape stand-still traffic and detouring well out of our way, we finally found a hotel before driving the final 6 hours north the following day. This year the temperatures remained well above freezing and any driving was thankfully uneventful, which is how we came to have four generations in one room. What a blessing to be close enough to family to celebrate the holidays together!
Day 21: "... fiiiiiive cold little fingers! Four generations, three pans of piparkūkas, two behaving boys and a Playmobil advent calendar”

Snow!!! We woke to wind blowing and temperatures well below what we are used to in Greenville, but the inch or two of snow was welcomed with snow pants and gloves!  As we enjoy this time with family and take advantage of our unexpected luck with the weather, I wish every one of you success in your final preparations and the ability to sit back and enjoy the holiday season!



Monday, December 17, 2012

Roper Mountain Science Center Holiday Lights

Day 15: Despite the flurry of activity in this household regarding Christmas preparations we still found time to enjoy the company of friends and the lights of downtown Greenville. After a day spent up to our elbows in piparkūku dough (and no end in sight!), we cleaned off the dining room table and welcomed some old friends back to Greenville. We were able to catch up over some cheese and a glass of beer, let the kids play and show them the new house before heading downtown for dinner at Grill Marks, a relatively new burger place that we first tried out on that Paula Deen day not so long ago.

Partners in crime: the cookie thieves!
If you make it to Grill Marks, be sure to order the white truffle parmesan fries – you will not regret it. The burgers are more creative than the standard cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger  and I’ve heard the shakes are good, but the four different variations of fries have got our vote. They also feature a gluten-free bun and unburgeralternatives.
We stuck around long enough to have a snowball fight and watch our friends circle the ice skating rink. Santa was in town, driving a red rig and carting around those wanting to give him their Christmas lists while enjoying the holiday lights on Main Street. With the trolleys lit up, the trees sparkling with lights and the sidewalks full of people, I can say it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Everyone was full of holiday spirit, including the man in the red sweater who was nailed in the arm by a snowball – but only remarked to Lauris “you’ve got quite an arm, young man.”

Ice on Main, Grill Marks restaurant and Santa with his ride
Day 16: Piparkūkas, piparkūkas, piparkūkas. The pasta roller attachment I’ve ordered for my blender has yet to arrive and so I’m rolling out the dough by hand. Of course I’ve only had the dough rolled for me in my mother’s house (who has a hand-cranked pasta roller), so this isn’t new, but the addition of yet another distraction in the house is new; Mikus isn’t interested in baking cookies with me, he would rather drop items down our heating ducts.

What do the child labor laws say about piparkukas?
I called it quits for a quick dinner after which we headed out to the Roper Mountain Science Center Holiday Lights with the thought that maybe the rain would mean fewer crowds. We attended a Green Halloween there a month ago, at which time they had already started putting up this year’s lights. Last year almost 83,000 people passed through the 1.5 mile Holiday Lights loop, generating $150,000 for Rotary Club of Greenville charities and the Roper Mountain Science Center Association. Admission to this 21st year’s drive is $10 per vehicle (more for vans and busses, see webpage), and keep your eyes peeled for the “turn here to drive loop a second time for free” sign.

Despite the rain we stopped at the Winter Wonderland to visit Santa. There is no charge to climb up into Santa’s authentic late 1800 Portland Cutter sleigh to whisper that you’ve been behaving all year and would like “mantiņas, grāmatas, apakšbikses, piparkūkas, vilcienu un formiņas” for Christmas (or in our case, have mom explain to Santa that there are two well-behaved boys in our house who would like toys, books, underwear, piparkūkas, a train and cookie cutters” because not only have they both become completely speechless, but Santa momentarily forgot how to speak Latvian beyond paskaties as he was trying to get them both to look at the cameraman... ). Professional photographs can be purchased on site to help remember this moment.

The drive winds through the woods, sparkling with Christmas lights in the shape of holiday scenes. The rain on the windows and black asphalt reflected the lights, adding a shimmery, magical feel to what already is quite a spectacle. We listened to Lauris exclaim over every display and watched Mikus’s face light up and eyes shine with excitement, and the time to leave for home came much too soon.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas in Noisy Village

Day 10: We took care of some errands on Monday, mailing some Christmas packages. I hope this is the last we see of the post office, as it took way too long despite the best efforts of an efficient and courteous staff.

I associate cardinals with December, but usually there is snow as well...
Day 11: We had a lovely time at our friends’ home in Simpsonville, admiring their Christmas tree and playing with some very cool toys. Note to self: do not bake any “no-guilt” recipes that do not contain sugar, as there is a reason they are healthy – they taste like it. What’s more, do not bring the finished sugarless product to friend’s house without tasting it first.

We "spotted" a hairy woodpecker "hanging out" on our most recent stroll
Day 12: We received the most wonderful news today – our good friend gave birth to a baby boy. Welcome Edward William! Congratulations to beautiful mom, proud dad and adorable big sister B!
Day 13: Our holiday activity of the day was showing a visitor around downtown Greenville, giving a tour of Falls Park and Main Street. In the evening we skipped the trolley ride as the traffic on Main was immobile, but did enjoy the nighttime view of the official Greenville Christmas tree and skating rink, as well as a delicious dinner at the best barbecue joint in town, Henry’s Smokehouse.

For us, the holidays are a series of traditions – some smaller, others larger, some newer, some older – but together forming a collage unique to this time of year. There are customs that are associated with our heritage, such as baking piparkūkas, the Latvian Christmas cookie. Other traditions we remember from our childhood but haven’t really repeated every year, like making a gingerbread house. (I remember making a gingerbread train one year, another we made a house with stained glass Lifesaver windows, but this year is the first in many we’ve built a house, and the first together with the boys.) Some of the newer traditions have accompanied us from France, such as riding the Christmas train (or trolley). Others are so old they have become habit, like writing Christmas cards or decorating the tree. I’m certain there will be new traditions formed now that the boys are growing older, as there might also be some that take a rest for a few years.
It’s Lauris that is prompting a few of our Christmas activities that have become a daily tradition of sorts this year. My favorite is reading Christmas books every day, most often Ziemassvētki Rezgalē. A Latvian translation of Astrid Lindgren’s Jul I Bullerbyn (featuring the six Bullerby children), it was released in the US as part of the series “The Children of Noisy Village” and follows the adventures of the children in their Christmas preparations. The illustrations provide such a cozy, warm image of Christmas that immediately our spirits are bolstered and the day’s difficulties eased, if not forgotten.

The important thing about tradition is that it helps bind our family together, and gives us a sense of belonging. To Greenville, to the Latvian community, to the expat community, to the parents club… And the very best thing about traditions and customs are doing them as a family, which was why I was overjoyed when on…
Day 14: Roberts came home after his week-long business trip.
(The end – of the post, and any remaining energy and intelligent observations I might still have had!)

Throwing snowballs with dad

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ice on Main and some Christmas art

Day 7: Christmas arts and crafts! Our play group had arranged to meet at Creating Artists for Tomorrow, an art studio, for “Table Time,” several different art activities involving a variety of mediums and materials. This was our second time attending, and Lauris got more involved this time. We started in the sandbox before trying out the easel, and although bubble-wrap painting was fun, the favorite was making spin-art ornaments.

Christmas tree made using a branch of redcedar, and spin-art ornament
Day 8: The weekend, perfect for ongoing projects! Roberts continued staining the deck, and I worked on the Christmas cards. The final touches were added on the gingerbread house project: two trees and some decorative frosting.

You try doing the decorative icing with two little helpers...
Day 9: We lit the second candle of the advent wreath. A few weeks ago we cut some holly branches while hiking, and using jewelry wire I made a wreath for our dining room table. Now that it’s dried out it is looking a little bare; I might wind some ivy in it to fill it out again. The leftover holly went up in the kitchen, in a small wreath over the archway and a few sprigs in a vase on the windowsill.

Our morning adventure was ice skating: for Lauris a first, and for me the first time in probably five years, when I went with the Čikāgas lielgaidas in Millenium Park. Lauris had to be cajoled into a trip around the rink, he declared it grūti (hard!) and settled in to watch with some popcorn while I took a few more shaky loops.

My little hockey player to-be
Ice on Main is open daily, and costs $10/adult, $8/child under 12 (including skate rental). You can skate as much as you wish on the day you purchase your ticket; all you have to do is keep your wristband on, so that when you return you can pick up new skates. Which is exactly what we did later that night, so that we could enjoy the Christmas lights downtown.

We took the free Downtown Trolley for a loop around town and hopped off at the rink for round 2. Lauris did a couple of more laps with me, and this time even carried some of his own weight. We took in the lights and ended up at the Carolina Ale House for a quick dinner before heading home. Very successful weekend, now to see how my legs will feel today after my Olympic figure skating day...



Friday, December 7, 2012


Day 5: This is the picture that best sums up my day –

Waterzooi, Belgian seafood stew, source here
My absolutely wonderful husband arranged for two absolutely fantastic friends to swing by after work to watch the boys for a couple of hours. About what a speed-date might feel like, we managed to fit dinner at a swank new restaurant in downtown Greenville, complete with dessert, and my tottering to and from said restaurant in ill-fitting heels into those 1.5 hours. I felt like an adult, with no food on my clothes, finished sentences and a perfectly prepared meal set down in front of me. Go to Trappe Door, eat their fantastic Belgian specialties, have a beer from the incredible list of Belgian beers, but save room for dessert.

The Trappe Door on Urbanspoon

Christmas activity for the day was the construction of a gingerbread house. Kit as seen here, icing here, final product not yet ready. I’m under the illusion that I will be able to make some icing trees or at least some mini-wreaths to decorate the house, so pictures to follow in a later post.

Day 6: I felt like a new woman after the mini-vacation yesterday, and our jam-packed day reflected my more positive attitude. We started the day off at the Greenville zoo with our friends from England. As today’s high was about 20 degrees lower than that of two days previous it finally felt a little like December, but the animals were out with complete disregard for the weather. Kiko and parents, elephants, the lions and monkeys, all put on quite a show for us. They’ve got their letters to Santa posted on their cages (with something for every budget: from pvc piping to old blankets, maybe our family will help Santa out with something for the ocelots) and the zoo looking very nice in preparation for the Santa Safari this Saturday.

That's the lion upper-center - very impressive
After lunch some Latvian friends dropped in for coffee and hot chocolate; it was a pleasure watching all four kids play together, instead of next to one another. I love visitors even more than usual this time of year because the house looks so cozy with the Christmas tree and decorations. If only I had some piparkūkas to offer… Something to keep me busy this weekend!

Your turn! Any Christmas/holiday tasks crossed off the list this week? Big plans for the weekend? Ideas I should add to my list? (Just kidding!) Have a wonderful weekend!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree!

Day 3: Put the lights up in the tree while the boys ate popcorn and watched How I Met Your Mother.

Day 4: Decorated the tree. When in the world did we accumulate so many ornaments???

Oh, not Christmas related but we went to the park, too. Because today we had a high of 72 degrees. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

The countdown begins!

The countdown to Christmas has begun for this family! As just looking at my Christmas to-do list has me a tad stressed, I’ve decided there is no point in agonizing over everything and so we’ll just take the holidays a day at a time this year. If I can cross off one thing every day we’ll be in great shape! And if I don’t cross off anything at all, well the boys will probably both still enjoy this Christmas tremendously. As I keep this diary of our holiday projects and celebrations this year I hope you will add to it by sharing your preparations and what you’ve been doing to celebrate the season.
Day 1: The day actually started off not-very-fun as we had company over the previous night and the kitchen was quite a mess. However it ended with a perfect kick-off to this countdown, with the Greenville Poinsettia Christmas Parade.

First came this fire engine, decked out in full!
We arrived a little over an hour before the start time of 6pm, which was almost too late to secure front-row seats along the parade route on Main Street. I squeezed us in between a lady that was saving curb space for her mother and a father that had four lawn chairs set up awaiting his wife and kids not participating in the parade. It was a tight squeeze, and every time the police officers and parade patrol came by to check viewers weren’t encroaching on the street we had to pull our legs up, as the curb was the official do-not-cross line. I saved our spots while the boys took a walk, and the hassle was completely worth the prime seating as the parade was much more enjoyable close-up and without the jostle of standing several deep on the sidewalk.

"You're as cuddly as a cactus, you're as charming as an eel!"
Dance groups, scout troops, high school marching bands and even the Senator, Lindsey Graham. As he was passing he made a comment about the current state of affairs and I was amused that my husband was the heckler that shouted out “well, fix it!” So, South Carolina, when things “get fixed” you can thank my husband, who Senator Graham referenced when he pronounced “I will! For that guy!”
We later asked Lauris who his favorite was, and he chose robots – I think there was a robot, but I couldn’t tell you who it was with. I can tell you that Lauris waved to every single person that marched past, and even some other bystanders.

Mikus was unmanageable before the parade started and I was worried at how we would contain him once it had started. Completely unnecessary it turns out, because the kid was held in thrall by the lights and the sounds, and watching his face was better than watching the parade.

Day 2: Happy first advent!!! We decided to take advantage of the 70 degree weather to pick out our Christmas tree. I would have preferred to cut one fresh, but in our area the only cut-your-own trees are cypresses, cedar and white pine. We prefer Fraser firs, for the smell and the sturdier branches, but the three hour round-trip to North Carolina to cut our own was a little too much for us this year. We found a farm near our home that had pre-cut NC trees and headed out.

After expending some energy in the tree farm portion we returned to the firs and chose our tree. Not an hour later the living room smells of fresh needles and now all that remains is to put in the lights and decorate it!

Photo credit: Lauris
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