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Why I Heart Latvia

Brainstorm

This Latvian band I was a great fan of in my early teens. They also introduced me to the country and its language. A lot of other girls my age liked Brainstorm and Renars Kaupers. I remember being annoyed by one girl out in the yard singing their song. What’s she doing singing it?! This is MY favourite band. I even got their autographs and all the usual fangirl stuff. When I first heard their song”Under My Wing” in Latvian, I fell in love with the sound of the language.

Language

To me, it’s one of the most melodious languages in Europe. I love it’s soft L’s. University made it possible for me to learn a little as well. Not enough to hold a conversation, but the little I do know has proven quite useful when travelling in Latvia.

Ice cream

They actually make ice cream out of milk and cream in Latvia, not water and milk powder which head the ingredients lists here. The variety of flavours is greater too.

Cats

Latvians seem to love cats a lot more than Estonians.  The souvenirs of Riga feature a black cat from the roof top below, the Sigulda town centre is dominated by a chain that calls itself Cat’s House, including a cafe that serves a cake with a cat decoration on top. Or used to serve it anyhow. There’s a cat hostel in Riga’s old town, a cat feeding house in the town park, and one curious spot behind the opera house that I have started to call the Cat Park. There’s always cats there in that park. I don’t know why they are there, but they always are.

 

Cat hostel

Cat hostel

Flowers

Latvians also appear to love flowers more than we do. I love their Midsummer’s Eve tradition of wearing wreaths. I wish we had something like that still alive and it wasn’t just about making a fire and getting drunk. It was enchanting the first time I experienced it. They do get drunk too of course. Also, I have this quirky habit of smelling flowers while walking past them in the park. I don’t do it when I’m alone – that’d be too weird – but when there’s someone along, I tend to make a stop and smell a flower or two if they look promising.  Naturally, of all places, it should be in Latvia that I encountered the first and only person with a similar quirk. He too walked with his friend and stopped to smell the flowers in the park. It was heart-warming to spot a fellow-weirdo.

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Sigulda

Beautiful views and nature. Valleys, hills, rivers, castles, manors, shortage of ugly houses – what more could one want. A main square perhaps.

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And of course the plums! I got the best plums ever from one of the local supermarkets.

Cecis

I love the compact cute town centre. Sadly, lacking pictures of it. Never took any or deleted them, god knows, but lack is great.  Only found this castle.

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Kuldiga

Charming little town with beautiful nature around it. I wish I could go for long walks around there.

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I could live in any of these three towns much rather than I live in my own.

 

 

Cooking and miscellania

I think most people who know me are aware of what a terrible cook I am. I don’t shy away from informing people about it because I want to avoid possible disappointments or false expectations in the future. I’m definitely not the person who’d be a useful participant in making a grand dinner. I’m no good for anything beyond cutting carrots or peeling potatoes. Even that, I probably do badly according to experts. And the way I use or don’t use kitchen utensils can be frustrating to people who know a bit about cooking.

My particular catastrophes are soups and vegetables. Me cooking a tasty soup happens maybe once a year and I won’t be able to repeat that success. Me managing not to under- or oversalt the potatoes is a rarity too. My oven-baked vegetables will usually end up raw inside, my meat dishes dry and difficult to chew, and soups, the less said about my soups the better. Vegetables in boiled dirty water.

When I moved out of home to university and transferred to my own cooking, I lost 5 kilos. If I can avoid it (I usually can) I don’t inflict my cooking on others. And when I must, I feel bad and insecure about it. None of the long years of attempting to cook well have made a difference.

Until recently.

I think I can no longer claim that I’m a terrible cook all around. There are things I cannot make (soups, sauces, potatoes, pasta), but I’ve gotten very good with salads.  I could serve them to anyone at a dinner party and would even brave a food snob to do his/her worst. As I’ve improved with salads, I’ve also started using them as side dishes, and doing away with the more traditional side dishes that I cannot cook (potatoes, pasta). I’ve also started to use frozen fries and some other ready-mades. I avoided them for years because I deemed such food unhealthy, but I’m quite pleased with my choice to start using them.

My cooking has improved a lot since I gave up on the stubborn insistence on making everything from scratch myself. Now that I use these frozen or ready-made products in areas where my skills are poor, I get good results and can focus on the things I can do well. And I do actually improve in these areas now that I have one third or half of the plate less to worry about.

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PS. After writing this post, I managed to cook up another culinary horror. I attempted to make mushroom pasta. As I complained about my failure to a friend, I was told I’m not that bad of a cook, I simply have gourmet taste. And while I dismiss this as a compliment, it may have a morsel of truth in it. I tend to hold myself to too high standards sometimes.

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I wonder if it would be at all possible to give this blog a scrapbook style look, so I could write marginalia on old posts, and publish bits of saved drafts months later, and use cuttings from old texts, so they’d look like cuttings, and paste them where I want.

Wishing the internet to be more like paper….I should just write on paper.

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Nightingales are singing outside the window and I’ve decorated my room with what I love best – the sweetest smelling blossoms – cherry and apple. There is an abandoned garden next to the house. It’s not charming as my fantasy childhood one, the house on this property has no roof and looks depressing, but the garden is a beauty in spring with two gigantic bird cherries, apple and pear trees in bloom. No one goes there, except children, and myself.  It’s a bit creepy to a coward like me. A part of me thought that perhaps there is some drunks residing in that house, but the non-wimpy side was tempted by the short-cut and the blossoms, so in I went. And now my room is filled with spoils.

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Why is it that some people can look both beautiful and ugly? Why do I have to be such a person? What is the truth? Average? Yes, but these contrasts can be disturbing. I look in the mirror or take a photo: ugly. And feel bad about myself and curse my fate. I look again from a different angle: tolerable. I go out and walk past a mirror in the store and am astonished and confused by how pretty I am. And all these things must be true. The ugliness, the averageness and the hint of beauty somewhere between the lines.

Swearing

I wonder if gamers  who make YouTube videos swear more than others?

It hurts my ears the way they talk with a ton of swear words thrown in. Trying hard to be cool and copying the lower IQ but higher social capital assertive types?

Or does every normal person just generally swear that much these days so that the F-word has become a conjunction?

My little experiment

Since I’m kind of fed up with my present stress levels, I thought I’d give magnesium supplements a try. There are a couple of studies that have shown the benefits of magnesium to people with anxiety, stress and depression. It calms down the nervous system, and that’s what I could do with these days.

Magnesium comes in more forms than one. I picked magnesium citrate because it is absorbed better than magnesium oxide. My supplements have vitamin B6 in them as well, which apparently also improves absorption.

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The main downside of my pills is that they are huge. Seriously huge. And there is no way I could swallow a pill this size without slicing it in half. Even then, it’s not exactly a joy. So I won’t be repurchasing this brand. But they seemed to contain the highest amount of magnesium on the market here, so my choice was based on that. Besides, you can’t see into the package and check the size. Still, one could consider the size of the bottle and the number of pills it promises to contain. If that ratio is high, chances are pills won’t be gigantic. Sadly, I didn’t think of that…

This is not a tiny puzzle piece

This picture does not do justice to the pill’s gigantic proportions. All I can say is that the puzzle piece is not tiny.

I’ll try to write about how I did in a month’s time. I’ve only taken it for a day now and there are no differences in mood, but I do experience one inevitable side effect. Magnesium is good for the heart. It lowers blood pressure. This is a benefit for people with high blood pressure, but when yours is low to begin with, it’s not great. I woke up in the morning feeling quite cold and thought a cup of green tea may counter that. But caffeine and magnesium does not seem like the smartest combination. One increases and the other represses excitability. So I’ll try not to do that. What I may have to do is take less than the recommended dose if the morning shivers, dizziness and cold becomes too irritating. This morning it was only cold, no feeling of fainting when getting up or shivers.

Other than that, I’m considering what job I could do. And pharmacist and dressmaker have made it to the list of options.

I feel so incredibly fickle for planning to quit psychology and pick something else. I don’t think I’ve ever quit anything I started in this way. And it doesn’t help that at my psychology entrance interview, I was asked how can they (the interviewers) be sure I would not be quitting. I said I wasn’t the type to give up things mid-way. It bothers me that I will betray that trust. Not that they’d remember. But I remember. And it bothers me.

Pharmacist and dressmaker are currently heading the list. I also considered radiologist and optometrician. My main priority is that it would be relatively stress-free. Translating, if done properly, is a very high stress job. Psychology – whether as a therapist or researcher – promises no sunshine and feathery cushions either. Translating is also a very socially isolating job. Too much so for my taste. I love it when I can pick my own working hours and the main issue is getting a certain amount of text done by the end of the week, but contracts like that are rare. I can’t expect it to last. So I’ve racked my brains thinking of jobs with low stress levels and medium-to-low amounts of social interaction. Dressmaker is the best in that regard. Majority of work hours are spent quietly by oneself sewing and cutting out patterns. But I’d get a little bit of socialisation when customers come to try garments on. And it’s a creative job unlike the others. What makes me doubt is that I’d probably need to set up my own business, which is a bit daunting but not too terrible in that field. Pharmacists are a little like librarians of drugs. Nice quiet job behind the counter giving people what they want. And I do really like pharmacology for some reason. Clinical psychology, psychopathologies and pharmacology courses were the ones I looked forward to the most in my studies. But studying it for three years to be handing out drugs seems like a waste of all that studying. And it might just be a bit too much socialisation. Dressmakers have a better balance.

These are early thoughts, however. I will come up with some more options, no doubt, and change my mind plenty of times yet before something definite emerges. Possibilities for now.

EDIT: the magnesium did absolutely nothing in the three months I took it. I then switched to D vitamin and … I don’t know if it is this or the improvements in my life in general, but I’ve been unusually content and happy for three months, with only occasional low mood days and anxiety about the future. This is a noticeable improvement. But it may have other causes than the D vitamin, so it is impossible to draw final conclusions.

My embarrassing sense of humour

Sense of humour is one of those qualities that hasn’t really interested me, neither in myself nor in others. I don’t fully know what type of sense of humour I got. I do know what kind of comedies I like as a rule, and what kind of jokes I don’t like, but my own sense of humour? I don’t even know whether it exists. I’ve never put much thought into it. What does one have to do to qualify for having a sense of humour? I can get a joke – usually – and sometimes I say things that aren’t serious, but are playful or exaggerated or completely opposite of what I mean. I love a good banter and regret there are few with whom one can have that. I have only ever known one person! I wouldn’t say I have a good sense of humour. It always seemed to me that you’d have to be and do a bit more to deserve that description. So no, I don’t describe myself as funny and it’d be a surprise to me if anyone did.

When asked what kind of people I like, I wouldn’t be mentioning that I wish they were fun and had a sense of humour either. It’s one of those things that has always existed on the periphery for me. A nice thing to have, but not terribly important, and kind of empty as a descriptive too.

Today I caught myself laughing at the absurdest things. Such as this conversation:

A: Are you going to make any Christmas presents for your pets?

B: Yes, my dachshund will have a package waiting under the tree.

C: My cat will have a new bowl and maybe some snacks.

D: Animals don’t care about Christmas. Mine will get nothing.

E: I gifted my dog a sterilisation surgery.

 

Yeah. It was the E. It came so out of the blue and was so inappropriate that it made me laugh quite a bit.

I don’t really like black humour, or the absurd taken too far. I don’t like most of Monty Python, for example, but I think the main reason this sterilisation comment was so funny was its complete unexpectedness and deadpan delivery. In a lot of conversations and situations, there is a pre-existing script of how it will go, so when someone disturbs it seemingly without any intention…I like that.

Of course I pitied the dog, what sort of gift is that?! It’s such a wrong thing to say, but in that context, it sounded hilarious.

I was once told I got a dry sense of humour, so maybe that is the term that describes my preferred style? One of my favourite Rowan Atkinson sketches is where he reads out the list of pupils with dirty names. I generally like most of his sketches, but liking this one feels kind of childish. In a different context, dirty words either cause no emotion or annoy me if overused, but in deadpan style, I’ll laugh. As the sensible part of me looks on in slight disapproval and thinks “Grow up!”.

And the sensible part of me is very much in the right because as per my sense of humour, I felt tempted to title this post “Eyemadick”….

I think it’s a manifestation of that very same disturbing of scripts and previous patterns which appeals to me. The unexpected in a situation where people more or less know what is coming, at least in terms of tone and the general drift.

I don’t exclusively like or use this sort of humour. It wouldn’t have gone undetected otherwise. It’s just the oddest one, the most puzzling one – how I sometimes laugh at things that aren’t supposed to be funny and make jokes that most people don’t get are jokes or don’t appreciate. I really don’t know how I’ve developed this sort of humour. Most of my jokes are rather ordinary, friendly, easily enough understood, and then I do this weird dry humour thing….

Fortunately, I do have enough consideration for others so when I see it doesn’t go down well and is misunderstood, I won’t use that style with that particular person. It takes more than one person to make a joke work after all. And it’s not terribly important to me, so I can easily just not joke and it wouldn’t be any loss.

Postcards

I don’t really collect anything. Not with any passion or particular devotion, but if I had to pick one item I borderline collect, it would be old postcards.

Postcard pile

My interest is not so much in any motif or period, though I have a disproportionate number of cat postcards, but in what is written at the back of the cards. In other words, I collect postcards with unusual, whimsical, clever or absurd writings at the back. A simple “Merry Christmas! Aunt X and Uncle Y” is not quite it. Sadly, cards with uncommon messages are hard to find, so I have a number of plain ones too.

 

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And lastly, this absurd cat postcard where one cat seems to have half of her body missing.

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Was it a vision or a waking dream?

I have a couple of childhood memories that seem so peculiar I can’t but doubt their veracity.

First one is this: I’m out with my baby sister and parents. They have to pop into a store in one quiet side-street. The five-year-old me is told to behave, not leave the store front, not talk to strangers and mind the baby. I proceed to do so until a strange woman approaches. She is very old, has a long nose and wears a black coat reminiscent of a cape with a hood. She looks into the pram and asks me something or tells me something about babies. I’m absolutely horrified. She radiates evil and mental instability. And I’m to be in charge. I’m so terrified I can only pray “Please go away, please go away. Please leave us”. She eventually goes away and all is good again.

But her likeness to a witch, the black cloak, the crooked long nose, the manner of her peeking into the pram – could women like that really exist in the 1990s? Or has my memory heavily embellished it?

Another peculiar memory comes from my teens.  We lived in a city flat near a busy road and opposite our house was a small park. One day I saw a brown horse in the park. There’s a little yellow house nearby where the horse was kept in a stable and sometimes the owner took it out for a ride in the park. In the middle of a city. Across a heavy-traffic road! Who keeps horses in the city! On a property no larger than 1800 square metres. And goes to ride in the park……..

Another memory with horses: I’m walking on a forest path which connects one part of the city with another. Two people on horseback come and ride past me. Once again – in the city! It’s rare enough for someone to keep goats, though that has been done, but horses? On small town properties?!

Figuring out: my relationship with travel

Every time spring approaches, I start dreaming of travel. The reality, however, has not always been as pleasant as the dreams. Fact is: I absolutely hate journeys. I love visiting new places, tasting new food and seeing something different from the habitual, but everything else surrounding travel is either too stressful, too overwhelming or too bloody inconvenient.

The beginning

My relationship with travel started out like the average young person’s: backpacks, trains and Couchsurfing. I travelled alone and if these experiences gave me anything, it’s the conviction that I can manage alone. Even when practically penniless and lost in a strange city at night. I had a few mishaps on my journeys as well. They might make for amusing tales, but it is not for tales I travel. I travel for beautiful and unforgettable experiences. But – I blame this on being a highly sensitive person – with such a pace, so many stimuli, so much organising and no one to rely on but me – I didn’t make many beautiful memories. When everything is too overwhelming, it seems my brain stops storing memories at its usual level. Mostly, these trips are a blur, with a few more luminous spots.

Second attempts

So, the next step was to try and travel only if there was someone waiting for me at the destination country or if I had a companion with me. I also found it very helpful if I could stay in one spot for greater lengths of time and only make day-trips elsewhere. That eliminates the need to book a ton of hotels, make sure you find them and the constant packing won’t be necessary either. It gives travel a more leisurely pace.

Yet, long and inconvenient journeys to the destination spot remain. I do not fly, one may say I have a fear of flying. This means I travel by train or bus. Imagine sitting 18 hours on a cramped bus. It bores the life force out of me. Watching films for 18 hours doesn’t work for me. I’m also incapable of sleeping while travelling, so when I reach my destination country, I’m most likely: a) grumpy beyond belief b) starving hungry c) looking like a slob d) sleep-deprived. I feel sorry for people who need to meet me or who travel with me. I obviously have a low tolerance for being stuck in one small place for great lengths of time.

What next?

I’ve fallen in love with the idea of road trips. Road trips may spell to a lot of people the epitome of inconvenience, but for me they signify freedom. They eliminate a lot of stress-sources. I’m not bound by anything. If I get fed up with driving, we can make a stop anywhere. If I want to wash, we can book in a hotel. If I want to eat something other than a sandwich, once again, one can stop and do just that. No tight schedule. Absolute freedom. If all hotels are full, one can sleep in the car or set up a tent some place. I have only made short road trips so far, but here is hoping this mode of travel turns out right for me.

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Two for the Road – a road trip movie with Audrey Hepburn

I have a good feeling about it. It seems to be the right mode for me at last. I love leisurely pace and independence. In everything, not just travel. Doing things in my time, not after a schedule imposed by train departure times and hotel check-in hours.