Friday, February 28, 2014

Life Lessons Learned

Amazingly, this post has nothing to do with Latvia or Latvians. I just wanted to post a link to a wonderful article spotted in the New York Times, "What You Learn in Your 40s." The writer is Pamela Druckerman, a journalist and author of the book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. She brings up a few good lessons that she's learned, and that many of us occasionally need to be reminded of.

My favorites:
 •Eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life’s great pleasures. Actually, scratch “unmedicated.”
•There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently. 
•Do not buy those too-small jeans, on the expectation that you will soon lose weight.
•If you are invited to lunch with someone who works in the fashion industry, do not wear your most “fashionable” outfit. Wear black.
•It’s O.K. if you don’t like jazz. 

Happy Friday, everyone!

Lake Michigan, somewhere near Old Mission Peninsula

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Latvian-American in GQ

Ernest Sabine is a Latvian-American who grew up in the Boston area, and has become a popular menswear designer in New York City. His company is called Ernest Alexander, and he often references his Latvian grandparents in interviews when speaking about influences. The men's magazine GQ (Gentlemen's Quarterly) recently visited Ernest's apartment, and an article with many photographs from the apartment has been published. The photos below are by Jon Snyder, and are from that article, which I recommend reading and looking at in its entirety!
Photo above couch of Ernest's grandfather's farm in Latvia
Ernest in his living room
Ernest mentions owning a Vija Celmins print
Ernest spoke (in English) at the TedX event in Riga in 2013; a video of that can be viewed here.

The fantastic television news magazine "Viss Notiek" has also interviewed Ernest (in Latvian) a number of times; one video is here, and another older one is here.

The Latvian-American community being as small as it is means that I attended the same New Hampshire Latvian camp as Ernest and his brother Andrejs one summer when I was ten, and they both attended the Latvian summer high school at Garezers for a summer or two when we were teenagers. Now, if I could only translate that Latvian connection into a discount!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Latvian Bobsled Team Returns Home

This made me tear up!

The silver medal winning bobsled team (along with a few athletes and officials) returned to Riga late Monday night. As in really late: in the middle of the night, around 1am Tuesday morning, actually. In spite of the late hour, over 200 people greeted them at the airport to congratulate the medalists.
Latvians LOVE flowers, so the athletes received bouquets from many well-wishers. Afterward, the team headed to the Freedom Monument to lay flowers at its base. If you'd like to read an entire article about it in Latvian, that is here. Photos I have posted here are from that same news website,
It is interesting to note that this is the first Olympic medal Latvia has won in an Olympic bobsled event as an independent country. As explained by Viesturs Zariņš in his article "Bobsleigh Silver Ends Drought" on LatviansOnline:
Twenty six years ago at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, a four man crew piloted by Zintis Ekmanis consisting of three Latvians and a Russian, and a two man crew piloted by Jānis Kipurs, brought home a gold and a bronze. Unfortunately the medals went to the Soviet Union. Four years earlier in Sarajevo, Zintis Ekmanis piloted a 2-man sled to a bronze.
Thus, it was fitting for these athletes to recognize Latvia and its history by visiting the monument that is beloved by the people and so very representative of Latvia's struggles and victories.
The woman depicted on the top of the Freedom Monument is known as Milda. She can also be found on Latvia's new Euro coin, and was previously pictured on the Latvian 5 lats coin. Just today the Bank of Latvia posted a wonderful video on the history of Milda.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Birthday Cake / Why Do Americans Work So Much? / Latvian Bobsled

To help celebrate my birthday, I invited over a few close friends for coffee and cake. Ordering a cake is a bit of a production because I avoid gluten. The entire DMV really only has one gluten-free bakery, The Happy Tart, which is located in Alexandria, VA - a good 45 minute drive for me. However, the drive is worth it, as their items are all amazing. Last year I had purchased a triple chocolate mousse cake, which contained three layers of different mousse flavors: white, milk, and dark chocolate. This year I choose the marjolaine, described on their website as: "Almond meringue layered with chocolate ganache, hazelnut cream, and vanilla cream." It is a long, skinny cake, and when I got home, I realized that it didn't fit on a single platter in the apartment! I resorted to placing the cake on a cookie sheet. While not the world's prettiest cake (or simplest to cut!), this dessert was incredibly rich and much that I was the only person to finish an entire piece. Naturally, the nicest part of the afternoon was to spend time with friends.

We discussed all manners of things, including the Olympics, travel, babies, books, Oscar nominated movies, and so on. Earlier in the day I had read a wonderful article in the Washington Post about Americans' obsession with work, so I shared that with everyone. Because I don't have a working TV at home, I had not seen the commercial the writer references, so I had to look that up. Link to the video inside another article is here. Anyone who knows me would attest to the fact that I would much rather have more time off (and spend my funds on travel) than more toys (as can be witnessed just by glancing at my *very* old car). I am definitely interested in hearing your opinions on this commercial (particularly if you live in Europe), and the article. Comment away!

As for the lovely Latvian team bobsleds I mentioned in yesterday's post, it turns out that a young Latvian-Canadian woman who now lives in Latvia, Julija Gifford, was responsible. Please do check out her post on the design process. Kudos to Julija for a beautiful job!
This photos does not adequately show the Latvian ornaments - check out Julija's blog for better pics! (Source: Yahoo Sports)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

February Fun

The second part of February can be a bit dull, but this winter's Olympics have provided much needed excitement for those of us who root for Team Latvia. In addition to three medals I mentioned previously, the hockey team somewhat unexpectedly won a game against Switzerland to move onto the quarterfinals. The Latvians were outmatched in the quarterfinal game against Canada, yet played amazingly well. With the nine-hour time difference between DC and Sochi, the vast majority of my Olympics "watching" has taken place online via the official Sochi website, which lists results almost in real-time. My excitement could barely be contained as the game was tied 1-1 for a long time, and I do wish I would have been actually able to watch the action. The Canadians did manage a second goal to win the game, but by that point the Latvian team had many admirers. Online many compliments and kudos rang out, particularly for 21-year old goalie Kristers Gudlevskis. He had 55 saves, and earned a great deal of respect for that from hockey fans around the world.

On the last day of the Olympics the four-man bobsled team led Oskars Melbardis won a silver medal, trailing a Russian team by only .09 seconds over four runs. Other than winning Latvia's fourth medal, the bobsled teams stood out for their gorgeous outfits and sled, complete with ancient Latvian symbols.

The latter part of February is also slightly more interesting because it contains my birthday. Two co-workers took me out to lunch on Tuesday, and on Thursday another February birthday child and I were treated to fantastic homemade gluten-free sweet potato cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting. Lucky for us, one of our colleagues is an outstanding baker.

I have also received two amazing birthday gifts. The first is this gorgeous Latvian linen scarf, which I had mentioned in a previous post. It is lightweight summery accessory, so I will wait for warmer weather to wear this lovely gift.

Linen scarf by Amizanti on Etsy
The second gift is a family heirloom that is more than 60 years old. My mother sent me a sterling silver mechanical pencil that my grandfather had purchased in Germany before emigrating to the United States. (I asked mom, and it turns out that the refugees had to spend all of their German money before leaving Germany.) I will need to investigate to find out what size lead it takes, and hopefully have a more mechanically inclined friend help figure out how the darn thing actually works. The pencil, while very lovely, does not photograph particularly well, but here is a photograph.

Grandfather's sterling silver mechanical pencil

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Living Without Technology / Olympic Update

My iPad has been my constant companion when I'm at home since I purchased it two years ago. On Thursday evening I attempted to download the newest operating system; unsurprisingly, that did not work as intended. After having a friend try to help me fix it on Friday, all I could do was make an appointment at the Apple store for Monday, and then wait. As one of the dwindling number of people who still does not have a smart phone, and as one of the growing number of people who does not have a home computer, living without my iPad for a couple of days was certainly an adjustment.

Unfortunately that is why I am still not unable to share any snow photos with you, as Monday ended up being a very busy day with many errands.

In exciting Latvian sports news,  Mārtiņš Dukurs won silver in men's skeleton, while Tomass Dukurs came in fourth. These were the exact same spots in which they finished in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I cannot imagine However, this brings the total number of medals for Latvia up to three, which is a great number for a country of 2 million people! Richard Florida has an article in The Atlantic with a fantastic title: Norway, Slovenia, and Latvia Are Owning the Sochi Olympics. He calculated medals per 10 million people, as well as medals per $100 billion in GDP, which is how he came up with his argument.

Mārtiņš tweeted the following photo on Monday. It is unclear who baked and decorated the cake, but it is a very sweet sentiment (no pun intended!).
The Dukurs Brothers: Our Heroes
This morning the DC area awoke to find a fresh coating of snow, luckily only about an inch in most places. I believe I speak for most of us in the area: this better have been winter's last hurrah, as we are very impatiently waiting for warmer, more seasonable weather.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sochi and Snochi

Latvian athletes have been performing admirably at the Winter Olympics. On February 12, brothers Andris and Juris Šics won the bronze medal in doubles luge. On February 13, the Latvian team won bronze in the luge relay, a new event, which the New York Times did a decent job describing in this article. What the article leaves out is who makes up the team. A luge relay team consists of a doubles luge (Šics brothers), one men's luger (Mārtiņš Rubenis who won bronze in the men's single luge at the 2006 Olympics in Turin) and one women's luger (Elīza Tīruma). Interestingly, overall, none of the individuals placed higher than fourth in their respective categories, but as a team they placed third.

Bronze medal winning Latvian luge relay team
My friend Liene shared a surprising article about Juris and Andris Šics. It seems that three years ago Juris was in a serious car accident in which he sustained life-threatening injuries. Doctors warned him and his family that he may never walk again, and to not even dream of being a world-class athlete. Yet, here he is in 2014, a double Olympic medalist!

Today, February 14, the first two runs in men's skeleton took place, while the third and fourth runs will be held on February 15. This is the sport in which many Latvians have assumed at least one of the Dukurs brothers would medal. After the first runs, Mārtiņš is in second place, and Tomass is in sixth. It would be wonderful to see them both medal tomorrow, but only time will tell!

Meanwhile, in the DMV, we were socked with Snowstorm Snochi. The weather forecasters were quite accurate in their forecasts, although I really only follow the Capital Weather Gang at the Washington Post. I have learned that CWG is the best of the bunch. Snow began to fall Wednesday evening, and by Thursday morning my neighborhood had a good foot snow. That was topped off by rain during the day, and another inch or so  of white stuff Thursday evening. Schools had already cancelled classes for the following day late on Wednesday afternoon, and even the government announced its closure late Wednesday night.

I had a very productive snow day: baked two different types of muffins in addition to a batch of honey cookies, took a walk, shoveled out my car (ouch! the snow was very heavy), spoke on the phone with five different people, and skyped with a good friend in Europe. I did take a few photos of both the snow and my baking, but am having some technical difficulties, thus am unable to share them right now.

However, a friend shared his photo of the snowbum he built. :)

Sadly, the results of my baking marathon were underwhelming. I attempted an applesauce muffin with toasted walnuts that turned out to be bland although I had added the called for amounts of spices. For the first time I did some paleo baking, making an almond butter and applesauce muffin. This, too, came out a bit underwhelming. I would cnsider making either recipe again, but not without serious doctoring - adding more spices, more nuts, and possibly chocolate chips. That said, my co-workers seemed to enjoy the fruits of my labor on Friday.

This weekend is a nice long one, with Monday being a federal holiday, and I am very much looking forward spending a bit of time watching the Olympics, as well as seeing some friends.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beauty of Names

An article and a blog post I read last month got me thinking about names.

Linda of Expat Eye on Latvia recently tweeted about the waning popularity of the name Jānis, which once was ubiquitous in Latvia, but has now fallen out of favor. She was referring to this article, which explains that in 2013 the most popular names for boys were Roberts (267); Markuss (228); Gustavs (208); Daniels (206) and Artjoms (195). In comparison, twenty years ago in 1993, the top five names were Jānis (657); Artūrs (483); Edgars (477); Kristaps (379) and Mārtiņš (366).

In terms of girls' names, last year the most popular ones in Latvia were Sofija (255); Marta (225); Emīlija (221); Anna (212) and Alise (208). In 1993, the most popular names were Kristīne (476); Laura (408); Elīna (327); Linda (286) and Santa (265).

Over at Confuzzledom, Bevchen put together a fascinating list of most popular baby names in various countries. It turns out there is a lot of overlap nowadays...many children are being given very international sounding names, which I think is a bit of a shame. For example, recently in Estonia, Latvia, Scotland and the U.S., the top girls' name was Sofia, Sofija, Sophie and Sophia, respectively. Emma took top billing in Canada and the Netherlands.

Growing up in the Latvian-American community, I am accustomed to kids having rather international names. These are names that can be pronounced and spelled by both Latvians and Americans. Examples include Roberts, Pēteris, Ēriks for boys, and Māra, Kristīne/a, Larisa for girls. Having been named Daina by my parents, I have always struggled with instructing non-Latvian speakers on the proper spelling and pronunciation, but on the whole I love my name precisely because it is so distinctly Latvian (and, well, Lithuanian).

Like many Latvians, my sister and I did not have middle names. Naturally, as kids tend to be, we were envious of our friends who did have middle names. One of the ways we would kill time while sitting in the back of the car on our way home from Latvian school on Saturday afternoons, or while on some road trip was to figure out what our middle names should be. Even as a child I was down-to-earth and practical, so the name that I stuck to for many years as my "fake middle name" was Anna. It was a name that Latvians, Americans, and Germans would all recognize, be able to spell, and pronounce.

Thanks to Linda I discovered the Latvian government's name database. Input any given name (Kristaps or Zane, for example, not Bērziņš or Kalniņš), and you will quickly find out how many folks in Latvia have that name. What a treasury of mostly useless, but entirely engrossing information!
The woman depicted on the Monument of Freedom is Riga is named Milda

For example, you can find that there are only 936 women in Latvian named Milda. However, there are six with the first name/middle name combination Anna Milda, and six each named Milda Emīlija and Milda Marija. Good to know, right?

To save you, my dear readers, precious time, I have toiled many hours to find information about a few names that might interest you. These are not necessarily the top names per se, they are just ones about which I was curious and suspected some of my readers might be, as well.

The database includes only those people who are are registered as residing in Latvia. In other words, those of us who have Latvian citizenship but live outside of Latvia are not included in the numbers. I've listed women's names here; I might list men's names later. If you happen to be a non-Latvian reader: yes, all Latvian women's names end in -a or -e.
  • Kristīne: 14,868
  • Ilze: 12,130
  • Liga: 10,497
  • Ieva: 9,248
  • Diāna: 9,001
  • Lidija: 7,726
  • Linda: 7,614
  • Liene: 5,485
  • Daina: 4,875
  • Māra: 4,473
  • Madara: 4,461
  • Ruta: 4,197
  • Ligita: 3,362
  • Anda: 2,947
  • Ksenija: 2,757
  • Laila: 2,242
  • Ruuta: 2,066
  • Lauma: 1,562
  • Andra: 1,201
  • Vilma: 1,059
  • Leontine: 425
  • Izabella: 274
  • Isabella: 19

Honey Cookies (with a Latvian connection, of course!)

Most of my weekends contain some Latvian aspect to them, and the last one was no exception. On Sunday I had some unexpected free time, and therefore decided to finally bake honey cookies. I say "finally" because back in the fall a Latvian friend had given me a large container of honey from her godmother's country property in Latvia. The honey tastes fantastic in my green tea, but I wanted to experiment and try something new.

This is the recipe I used. Because I don't eat gluten, I used two different kinds of gluten-free flour mixes I happened to have on hand. Also, instead of plain old white sugar, I used coconut sugar. Additionally, I decided not to roll the dough in sugar, and I'm glad I made the choice, as it seems like overkill. Even so in my opinion the end result was a tad too sweet, but the texture and taste were absolutely phenomenal. The edges were slightly crispy, the middle was chewy, notes of both butter and honey were appreciated while eating.

I sent some to a friend (via her husband whom I met while at a Latvian event on Sunday; how these would travel in the mail I don't know), and her email the next day said: "Oh my goodness!!! I usually don't care for cookies without anything chocolate in them, but these are amazing! Can you send me the recipe?"

These delicious and simple cookies are certainly entering my regular baking repertoire. Next time I will adjust the amount of sugar and/or honey in an attempt to dial down the sweetness a bit.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Olympic Update

The Sochi Olympics begin tomorrow!

Edgars Orlovskis, on his blog, (in Latvian) predicts that Latvia will bring home three medals. I do hope that's the case. He also put together a great document available via Google Docs (available to anyone) that shows game/race times for all Latvian athletes in the games. It's available here.

On her blog, Liene writes about rooting for several different teams. I can relate - I root for both American and Latvian athletes, as well as the Estonian and Lithuanian teams.

The Latvian Olympic Committee's website has lots of great information about the team. Yesterday most of the Latvian delegation, along with much of the Lithuanian Olympic delegation, headed to Sochi together on a special AirBaltic flight. Meanwhile, in Sochi, the Latvian flag was officially raised in the Olympic Village. I couldn't help but snicker at this image of Russian soldiers raising the flag of an independent Latvia.

(Photo: I. Znotins, via
Also, for the first time in the history of Latvia's Olympic participation, there will be a "Latvia House" in the host city. Many other countries have had such hospitality houses in the past - a place where fans, athletes, journalists, and other guests can mix and mingle. At times they'll be entertained by some of Latvia's favorite musicians such as Linda Leen, Marija Naumova, and the group "Instrumenti."

Four years ago, at the Vancouver Olympics, Latvian fans had no central location at which to get together. That's why there is a Youtube video featuring a good friend of mine (he's the guy with the accordion) leading a group of Latvians in the national anthem - at a bar. Naturally, just because there will be a Latvian hospitality house doesn't mean that Latvians will stop congregating in pubs, but - hey - we can hope, right?

Here in the States, all we can hope for tomorrow evening is that NBC will actually show all of the teams entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremonies. That has been an issue in the past when some delegations, particularly from smaller countries such as Latvia, have not been shown on the U.S. broadcast. Let us hope that the campaign waged by Latvian-American prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics on this issue means that it has been resolved once and for all.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Sunday

The Super Bowl is a super big deal in this country. Far too big, in my opinion! Football itself is boring, and the ads during the game's broadcast too often tend be rather sexist. However, it is a grand reason to throw a party.

Some dear Latvian-American friends of mine have been hosting extravagant Super Bowl parties for many years. I prepared by eating a light lunch, knowing that the plethora of delicious food options at their event would be too good to pass up. In true Latvian style, this is a party that you cannot even attempt to leave hungry. Among the smorgasbord of choices ranged from the traditional (for a SB party, anyway) chips with salsa and guacamole and chicken wings to the classier spanakopita, mushroom paté, warm crab dip, shrimp, smoked salmon, brie with a side of honey and green grapes, salmon mousse paté, and - the piece de resistance - candied bacon. Then for the main course: chili, with optional cheese, onion, and sour cream toppings. Finally, for dessert: mini cupcakes, fresh strawberries, and Latvian chocolates.

This was the second time I'd been able to enjoy these lovely delicacies, which are made in a tiny village called Pūre, near Tukums. In checking out their website, I learned the chocolatier offers tours of the facilities, and even an option to make one's own truffles. Sounds like a great day trip from Riga, or a worthwhile stop while driving around Kurzeme!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Valoda / Language / Sprache

A few years ago I was given this old letter by a relative to whom it had originally been sent. I am so glad that snail mail was a big deal when I was growing up, and that - I presume in an effort to get us to write in Latvian - my mother often sat my sister and me down to write cards and letters to various family members who lived in other cities. Luckily, some recipients of my cards and letters kept them, and I was quite touched to see this one.


Dear xyz and abc:
I had good grades. We will go to Great America and Garezers. We will go to camp. I know how to read, also in German.
13 June, 1982


1. Great America was an amusement park a couple of hours from our house, and clearly planning on visiting that was a big deal. Naturally, the thing that I remember best from that visit was not being allowed to go on many kids' rides because I was too tall. This would not had been as problematic had my younger sister not been more average-sized and thus being able to enjoy the rides while I watched from the side. Nope, not one of my fondest memories!

2. Garezers is the Latvian camp and cultural center at which we spent most of our summers. Our family lived there for about eight or nine weeks each summer because my parents worked at the camp, and at the appropriate ages my sister and I attended the two week long kids' camp and later the six week long summer high school.

3. Although we spoke only Latvian at home, my parents decided to send my younger sister and me to a German immersion elementary school once we began kindergarten. Our city was one of the first to have public language immersion schools; founded in 1977, the school was only a few years old when we began attending. From kindergarten through second grade students were immersed in the foreign language 100% of the time. From third through fifth grade, half the school day was in German, half was in English. Both my sister and I continued studying German for many years, including spending time in Germany as university students. Interestingly, although the language is considered less useful than others nowadays, both of us have used our German skills in at least one job.

A. Bi- or multi-lingualism = good.
B. Writing old-fashioned letters and cards = good.
C. Keeping certain mementos = good.