Thursday, June 30, 2011

Our last day of sightseeing in Kraslava

Mama Gretuda's friend Natalija picked up me, S and A at 12:30 p.m. for our last sightseeing event.  

We first went to the local museum where we looked at artifacts from the early days in the Baltic Region. There is a castle there which has been abandoned for years. There are people working to restore it so we could not go in there.

It doesn't look like the castles I have seen in history books and on TV, but I understand it was really grand in its day!
In the olden days, when there were hot days, the king would go to their air conditioned sitting underground area. Today was a hot day and it felt wonderful there!

Finally, she let me take photos of her!


Next we drove across the river to a beautiful small park.  This is an observation tower where you get a view of Kraslava across the river.  My knees wouldn't even think of climbing this.  S took the camera and off she and A went!

The forests are beautiful here.  In a few months wild mushrooms will be picked from similar places.

Natalijia dropped us off in the village so we could do some shopping.  We walked back to the apartment which was a great opportunity to take photos.  This is the Catholic church Sabina attended.

This is not necessarily a typical house here, Most are not quite so big or nice.  It looks so Swiss, I really like it.

There are beautiful flower gardens here.  This is just by the street in a public place.

This is the most likely way to live in Kraslava.....tired flats from the days of the USSR.  This is going down the road to Gertruda's apartment.  We are headed to the last building.

These flowers are by the apartment buildings.  The tired Soviet buildings with these beautiful flowers.

S and A heading into the building starting the five flights of stairs to the apartment.

I made it up five flights.  The apartment is the one on the left.  The door has four locks on it!

We came in and made Latvian salads and pirogis for dinner.  S and A were more interested in ice cream and chips.  Two of S's friends came to visit and they have all been laughing and talking in foreign tongue!  Now S and A are walking Zarina home.  I have strict orders to put the computer away before they return.  S does not like to translate for me, TV is in Russian, I have read everything I brought with me, and I can't turn on the lights because it uses too much electricity.  I thought the computer was a good idea!

Tomorrow at 2 p.m. we go before the judge for the final determination if I can be S's mother.  I love that child, even if she would make a good Soviet police woman!  When we get back to America and her precious dog Marley that will start fading away again.  Please say a prayer for us.  I think it is just a formality, but the unknown is always scary!  We are about to see another phase of God's adoption miracle unfold.  You gotta love it!  Good night from the most eastern part of Eastern Europe!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011

About 10:30 Gertruda arrived with I, A and N.  I didn't really know what was going on, but they were all in the kitchen and Gertruda was cooking.  I was confined to my bed as I have now been classified as an invalid.  I was given two pieces of bread with butter and sausage which tastes like bologna.  Later, Gertruda brought me breakfast which was macaroni sauteed with spices and egg along with two sausages which taste like hot dogs.  A brought me a cup of coffee.  I wanted more sugar and cream but was afraid to ask since I am under such restrictions!

Gertruda, L and S went to the village to buy gifts for L and I's host parents.  They are leaving tonight to drive to Riga.  The girls leave at 6 a.m. for Washington, D. C. where they will travel to Mount Airy, MD for five weeks.  I remember that experience last year so well.  S came off that plane looking lost and tired, carrying a little bag with gifts for me.  She brought me a wall hanging that had a tree on it and the leaves were made of amber chips.  She also had a coffee mug with a map of Latvia, filled with candies.

In the afternoon we went to Anita and Tourlic's home for lunch.  The recently bought a house.  They had previously lived in a two room flat.  They paid 15,000 lats for this house.  That is about $30,000.  It needs a little updating here and there, but is a nice house!  A large living room, two good size bedrooms, a small kitchen and a one car garage.  I also learned that Tourlic owns the apartment Gertruda uses in Kraslava.  It was bought several years ago for about the same as their house, but Anita says it would not sell for that now.  The economy has suffered greatly with all of the people moving away from the city.  They have about 1 1/2 acres of land which includes a pond and wonderful garden spot.  They have mostly root vegetables and then lots of beautiful flower gardens.  Anita gave me the grand tour, pointing out all the flowers.  She apparently has a green thumb.  Unfortunately, I brought S's camera but she had taken the memory card out of it.

Lunch was wonderful.  We had cold beet soup with rye bread first.  Just like S makes for us in America.  Then we had pork cutlets and potatoes. The potatoes were tiny.  Like our little new red potatoes but these were not red.  She had boiled them whole and then the girls peeled them.  Next, Anita cut them into little pieces and fried them with dill.  She made a wonderful dessert of an apple cake which included lemon and was topped with cinnamon and sugar.  I am calling her later to get that recipe.  Wonderful tea followed the meal.   She served the soup in normal type soup bowls.  The rest of the meal was on saucers.  That is apparently the norm here.  The kitchen is tiny by our standards, but big compared to Gertruda's.  It is not unusual for houses to be sold without kitchen cabinets here.  She said they paid extra for the former owners to leave the kitchen.  The cabinets and appliances are nice, but all small.   We are so spoiled in America!

L and S went with me and Gertruda to Anita's.  A, I and N stayed at the apartment.  When we returned I was sitting downstairs and shared that A had locked her out of the apartment.  As I can figure it, He locked out both I and N.  Eventually N convinced him to let her in but I did not want to go inside because he was being mean to her.  It seems most of the children are mean to her.  She is pitiful.  Even her sister, actually, especially her sister, is mean to her.  When we got inside the Russian was flying and I thought I was about to witness an international incident!  Maybe a nuclear explosion!  Everybody jumped on A.  S said that he had also destroyed an air mattress at the country home that morning.  I had seen it there.  It was a nice one like we have in America........double high twin size.   I don't know where it came from, but it appears to be a treasure.  I asked if it was an accident and S said no.  She said A was "nervousing" Mama Gertruda and she is about to send him to the children's home.  The reprimanding of A went on for a long time and he started to cry.  I don't know if she told him he was going to the children's home or what.  I am a softie, but I did think it was a bit harsh.  He has kind of attached to me and Gertruda kept saying my name and trying to get him into the living room so I could see he was crying.  He kept pulling away.  I didn't want to cause problems, but I did go into the hallway and pat him on the back.  I didn't want him to think I would laugh at him for crying. I think his medical condition includes scoliois.

They keep telling me he is really bad.  He does seem very young for 14, both in stature and behavior.  Locking the girls out was mean, but I think I have observed other meaner L hitting A and I.  It is a different culture.  I don't understand everything.  I mentioned to Anita that sometimes S has a very angry, mean tone to things she says to me.  I thought it might be a cultural thing, but Anita doesn't sound like that.  She said she could not be mean if she tried.  S and I will work on that.  I don't think she intends to sound so angry.  She just needs to be aware of the way she sounds and how that is interpreted by others.

June 28, 2011

We did not have any excursions planned today.  I worked on my photos and blog most of the morning.  For lunch we made open face sandwiches of chicken liver pate, butter, cucumbers and tomatoes on rye bread.  The girls made a trip to the small market for more ice cream chips and soda.  S thinks I spend too much time on the computer so she has me on restriction.  She is like a Soviet police woman!

We planned to go out to do a few things, but I fainted! I have never fainted in my life.  I don't know why I have to have these new medical experiences in Latvia!  I was sitting at the desk top computer and had a drink sitting on the table.  I don't remember anything, but S told me I turned over the glass, said I was dizzy and slumped over.  She and L got me over to my sofa bed.  I woke up three or four minutes later and asked what they were doing.  They were cleaning the soda from the carpet.  I have had occasional events of low blood sugar, but never passed out!  S called Gertruda who told her I should eat nothing with sugar, but I should eat yogurt, keifer and black, hot tea.  I think S made up the rest which included no computer because the radiation is bad for me!.  There are a lot of old wive's tales here about health.  I protested about these restrictions but S informed me that Mama Gertruda knows more than me about almost everything and especially health issues!

After the girls cleaned up the floor, L plugged in the computer and it blew fuses or something.  There is no electricity in half of the apartment.  The foster Dad will come check it in the morning.  We have been able to determine that the computer, microwave, fridge, etc. all work.  Thank heavens, I could just see me buying new appliances here!

We had a wonderful day of sightseeing planned for tomorrow but S has determined that I am not healthy enough for it!  I can't seem to convince them that I feel fine!

I did not leave the apartment today so no new photos........

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011

Now that is an every day miracle from God!  It is 10:15 p.m. and the sun is setting.  How beautiful!

The day started with a visit from Gertruda, Tourlic and Anita.  Gertruda needed some documents from the apartment and Tourlic and Anita just wanted to hang out and wait for their car to be serviced.  We sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee and tea while sharing information about our lives.  It was very comfortable.  Anita is such a gracious woman.  She told me that to get her bachelor's degree she had to write a paper and defend it.  She compared the original Othello by Shakespeare with three modern film versions.  Now, I never had to do anything like that for my bachelor's degree!  ......And......she was doing it in English.  I don't think I could do it and English is my only language.

We finally figured out how to use the washing machine which empties into the bathroom and plugs into the wall in the hallway.  There is no dryer so our towels are hanging on a line on the tiny balcony.  We can't wash our underwear until the towels dry.  The line is not long enough!

This is the view out of the living room window.  Notice that entire yards are turned into gardens.  It is that way all around town.  Normally they have two gardens.  One for potatoes and the other for other vegetables, mostly root vegetables.  Every yard seems to have a very large wood pile.  They must spend all summer growing gardens and chopping wood.

We went on a little shopping excursion in the village.  There really isn't much there.  There is one gift shop and most of it came from China.  We went to another store where there was a lot of miscellaneous stuff.  The girls bought more nail polish.  I got toilet paper which is grey.  It was 34 centums which is about 68 cents.  The four rolls probably equal about one regular roll of Charmain.  I took the girls to a cafe which is really like a very small cafeteria.  This post is mostly about food!  I got a piece of pork which is what I would call a cutlet in America....they just call it meat.  It is very thin boneless pork chop which has been pounded, floured and fried.  With it I got two salads.  One is scallions which are not quite like ours, thinner and greener, chopped up with cucumbers and sour cream.  The other was wonderful.  It was whole kernel corn, mushrooms, cucumbers and tomatoes chopped very small and marinated in oil and vinegar.  They don't just cook a vegetable, they mix things together and make them into salads with lots of sour cream.  L got french fries which looked hard and dry to me, and the same corn salad I had.  S had baked chicken and Latvian potato salad which has green peas and meat in it along with potatoes, mayo, eggs, and carrots.

These are shops in the village

They call this area Center City.  The fountain reflects the Nordic history of the area.

Next we went to the outdoor vegetable market where everything is grown locally.  We got tomatoes, cucumbers and teeny tiny wild strawberries which taste like a gift from the heavens.  Then we were off to the butcher shop to buy sour cream which is stored in a large vat beside the cash register.  You pick out the size container you want and it is filled with the world's best sour cream.  From there were were to Maxima for more liverwurst for the dog and some milk and yogurt for us.  The milk and yogurt come in plastic bags.  Mayo is also in a plastic bag which has a screw on spout.  We then went to the veterinarian to get food and flea and tick meds for Kilo.  I take it she does not get these specialities often.  I have taken two ticks off of her in the past two days.  Sabina spent 5 lats of her saved money on these items (that is about $10).  They had Purina ProPlan which we feed our dogs.  The size bag we use costs us about $30.  It would have been $50 here, but they sell it by the kilo so you normally only buy a little at a time. Sabina got 1/2 kilo for her dog Kilo....Interesting name, huh?  Finally we went to another market to buy S's favorite sausages.  The word sausage covers lots here, but not anything like our Jimmy Dean.  It is more like kielbasa or hot dogs.

Back at the apartment I made salad by cutting cucumbers, tomatos and scallions very small and mixing with sour cream.  I eat that with pickled beats which S thinks is disgusting!  Labels on most of the food is written in Russian and Latvian.  Of course I have to guess at what things are.  The sun is almost gone.  It is hard to go to sleep when the sun is shinning in the window!!
It is now 11:30 p.m. and I believe it might be dark enough to sleep.  Goodnight from Latvia.

Trip To The Border

On Sunday, Edwards, his wife and son took me and S to the Russian border.  It was only a thirty minute drive. 
That's it.  Not very impressive huh!   This is from the Latvian side.  We could not get any closer to the Russian side without a visa and who knows what that might cost or how long it would take!

This is Edwards and his son, Davids walking toward Russia
That is Russia up ahead

Getting a little closer!

The building in the distance are the Russian side of the border.  After this I was told "NO CAMERA!"
The drive there and back was more exciting than the border.  It is beautiful countryside, just like everything I have seen here.  Once we returned Gertruda had fixed salads and cutlets with fried macaroni.  Yes, they cook it, then fry it with egg.  It is ok.  The cutlets are great.  Salad is raw cucumbers and tomatoes mixed with sour cream which I have learned to love.  The children went outside to eat, and the adults sat around the tiny kitchen table.  With the help of Edwards, they asked me a lot of questions about living in America.  They think we live like kings.  They told me the average person in Latvia makes about $5,000 per year.  By that standard maybe we do!  They wanted to know what my house was like.  I live a very normal existence but even so, I downplayed it!  They told me that people in Latvia think America created the 911 crisis so we could go to war and our economy would benefit.  I told them it did not seem to be working since my house is now worth less than I paid for it!  The thought is that Americans should mind their own business and stop getting in the middle of everybody's wars.  They think we prowl the world sticking our nose in where it is not wanted or needed.  All at the same time, people are leaving Latvia in droves, many coming to America.  Edwards said five years the population of Kraslava was 15,000.  Today it is about 3,500.  Riga, the capital city has also lost significant numbers in the past five years.  It is interesting to hear how we are perceived by others.
Edwards and his family left to return to Riga.  The summer solstice holiday is finally winding down.  Gertruda, her friend Natalija and I went out to sit in the sun with the children.  Sabina translated a bit for me, but I was content to just sit there and enjoy the day.  The weather is cool but the sun is nice and warm.  Gertruda rounded up a for real lawn chair and I was totally happy.

Gertruda and N.  The children love this woman!

Natalija, Gertruda and G
It was just a nice, relaxing afternoon.  S, L and I left to return to the apartment about 5:00 p.m.  We took some photos on the way home.  Just pretty sights along the way.  Things that make me feel relaxed and content......I hope you enjoy them.

This is turning off the dirt road from the country home onto the paved road heading to the apartment,

L and S convinced Gertruda to let us bring Kilo back to the apartment.  She likes to ride in the back window!

S says the skies are more bright here.  She may be right!

I love this stand of trees
This house is above the norm here, but it is exactly what I would want.  It looks like Aspen wood and right on the lake!
Just beautiful land!  Another of God's every day miracle.
This horse is always staked out beside the road eating grass.  They move him each day, but he is always there.  I hope somebody takes him to the pasture every once in a while!
That was our day.  We went to the apartment and I made cucumber and tomato salad and the girls gazed through the fridge, eating everything.  They love sausages.  They are more like our bologna and hot dogs to me.  I don't like most of them, they are too spicy.  We had to buy liverwurst for Kilo.  I tried some of it and it was pretty good!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 25, 2011

Today three cars of people (including me and S) drove about an hour to a beautiful church  in Aglona, Latvia.  Here is some basic information from the internet.  This way, I won't confuse the history:
Basilica of Our Lady of Aglona is located in small town of Aglona about 40 kilometers northeast of the city of Daugavpils and is considered the most important Roman Catholic church in Latvia. It was elevated to the status of a basilica by Pope John Paul II on its 200th anniversary in 1980.

The present masonry church in Baroque style was built between 1768 and 1780 after the original wooden Dominican church and Dominican monastery from 1699 burned to the ground in 1766. Basilica of Our Lady of Aglona is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and is famous for the icon of Our Lady of Aglona from 17th century which has according to the legend miraculous healing power. Thousands of pilgrims assemble at the basilica every year on the day of the Assumption of Mary on August 15.

It is said that the waters from there promote healing.  Mama Gertruda convinced me to drink from the fountain and put some over my heart.  Time will tell if I have a kinder heart after this!  Gertruda had the children bring large empty water bottles to fill up.  Maybe that is the way she manages so many children!!

We then went to a protestant church close by.  The church itself is not totally complete and is a rustic wooden structure.  What is interesting is that there are religious wooden sculptures all over the hillside.  Since my camera quit working, Sabina took photos with her cell phone.  I will send them when I figure out how to do it.
We then went to a lake which was created by a meteor.  According to the group, there is a force that pulls things down so you cannot swim in the late.  There are a lot of superstitions here.  The park was beautifully maintained and the lake was a beautiful shade of green.

Next we returned to the country home where Gertruda fried fish.  I was with the children when she was cooking so did not see the "catch" until I went into the kitchen........whole fish......heads, tails, bones, etc.  ...only the guts and scales removed.  I think I ate a whole skeleton!  Plus, they were tiny.....I have seen gold fish bigger!  Those bones were LITTLE!  What meat I got from them was delicious.....all except for the bones!
Now we are back at the apartment.  It is 10:16 p.m. and still very light outside.  Tomorrow we are driving to the Russian border.  We would have gone today but Sabina and I did not have our passports.  I did not realize this, but when you are in the border area, meaning about ten miles before the border, police can stop you and require that you verify your identity.  I will take Sabina's camera for sure tomorrow.  Good night!

June 24, 2011

Today, we slept late and then went to the country where we just kind of hung out.  I spent most of my time outside with the children.  These two A and I have just won my heart.  They totally enjoyed sitting by me, taking photos with my  camera and showing me their treasures around the farm.

A is 14 but very small for his age and always smiling.  How could you not love him!  He is considered "hyperactive," and he has some physical problems.

I seems sadly longing for a kind word and love.  The other children seem to pick on her.

We discovered babies in the barn.  We think there are three but only found two.  Just more of God's everyday miracles.  My heart swells for all the beauty He has made.

This is as close as we could get to this little guy.  He stayed in the rafters.

The children seem especially proud of the chickens.  This is N who is being adopted by a family about an hour south of where we live.  They hope to travel to Latvia in August to bring her home.  They have four biological children and are adopting N and another boy who is about 13.  I believe N is 11.

The chickens entertained all of us on the roof of the barn.

Kilo is the family dog.  Her dad is a dachshund and her mom a cute mix of a lot of things.

Kilo's mom along with her human, Natalija, who is also S's godmother in Latvia.

Rex is also the family dog.  Reportedly he is part wolf and is about 18 years old.  He eats anything you give him!
This guy is not a family pet.  He is fattened to take to the butcher and feed the crew!

A and I took turns making photos with me.

I look pretty pitiful but keep in mind I was awake until 4 a.m.!

Doesn't this look like years gone by!  Part of the farm.

I is welcoming us to their clubhouse which is an abandoned block building.  It looks like it was a weigh station of some sort at one time.  There is an old broken scale in it that would weigh really big things.  They call this the "Poker Club."  Wonder where they came up with that!

The grand tour of the Poker Club

One of A's favorite places.  He has on a t shirt my niece, Morgan gave S last summer.  Everything gets recycled here!

A is proud of his tree house too!

This day is best explained by photos.  Just lots of God's everyday miracles.  These children are miracles because they are surviving.  Mama Gertruda gets $160 a month to house, clothe, educate, medicate and feed each of these five children.  S has taught me to make cutlets like Mama Gertruda....It is about half meat and half bread.  Meat goes further that way!  Every where you look people grow potatoes.  They store easily and go a long way.  Housing is less expensive than America, but it seems everything else is as much if not more.  S fussed at me yesterday because my hair dryer was making the electric meter spin.  We turn the shower off to soap up.  We are going to start implementing those rules when we get home!! 

This is an enchanted place of stark contrasts.  There is all of God's beauty and nature, and there are people like Mama Gertruda; then there are angry people in the market who do not look at you and never smile, and there are rows and rows of apartment buildings which have been here since the USSR and look very tired and worn.  I think God has brought me here for something special.....I know part of that is my precious S, but I feel some other tug at my heart.