Kuldiga, aka, The Town with the Venta Rapid, Wonderful Doors, and Many Cats


Now, y’all, I did not choose a beautiful time to visit Latvia – late March to early April. Latvia is somewhat temperate, but winter is really long. On the last few days of my visit, I saw a few patches of grass turning green, some crocuses were starting to poke their heads out from the ground, and some ever-hopeful Latvians had freshly potted pansies decorating their doorsteps.

Nevertheless, most of the country was brown and damp for the entire visit. So please keep that in mind as you see these pictures, and try to imagine it in colors other than blue and brown! 🙂 Hopefully, we will go back this summer and revisit the area in warm weather.

One night, M went out to run an errand and texted me as he walked – “I thought of a place where we can go. Kuldiga. It’s really cool place. We can maybe go there now?” Since it was dark and cold at the time, I suggested we might go the next day, and he agreed that would work just fine.


Once again, you’ll have to forgive my extremely blurry photos – be sure you click through to the various links in this post for some clearer pictures. The camera on my Latvian phone leaves so much to be desired, but at least I have something. 🙂

So the next day, we went to Kuldiga, home to Europe’s widest waterfall. Now, in typical Latvian fashion, although it is the widest, it’s almost comically short. It’s maybe a 3 or 4 foot drop from the top of the waterfall to the bottom.


Photo by M, featuring his hand for some reason 🙂

In typical M fashion 🙂 we went off the beaten path. The thing about M is that he is an excellent tour guide, especially if you want to see the real Latvia, the place he has lived in and loved his whole life. He rides the bus and walks everywhere, just to see what he can find next. As I mentioned before, his sense of direction is ridiculously good and we didn’t get lost even one time. So when we went to Kuldiga, he just directed me down a path that I seriously didn’t even believe people could drive down (but they did – I saw more cars at the end), and parked us close to the waterfall.

This means that we didn’t ever do any of the touristy stuff. We just came, explored the waterfall, and then walked around the old part of town. There used to be a castle there, but it has long since been destroyed. Even so, parts of the castle were used to build the town, which leads me to how cool the doors are! I didn’t take any pictures of the doors, mainly because people actually live in these buildings and that’s a little creepy, don’t you think?


Shielding his phone from that bright sunlight…

Anyway, Justin called while we were there – since Latvia is 8 hours ahead of America, it was midafternoon for us and Justin was on his way to work – a rare opportunity for us to talk. The phone connection was even pretty good that day. While we talked, M and I wandered around the town. It seemed like every house had an amazing door and a fluffy cat on the doorstep, too. 🙂 I have never seen so many cats in one town before. There are beautiful waterways with ducks, gorgeous churches, and old stone houses. I just took it all in while I talked to Justin for a while. When we finished talking, M said, “Which way do we need to go to go find car?” Of course, I had no idea, but he did. It was a test, and I failed. 🙂




There are a few downsides to M’s method of exploring the country, too. He never reads the signs for things – he just knows what they are because people tell him. Therefore, since I knew nothing, we ended up reading any signage available (I got the English side, M got the Latvian side) and M kept saying things like, “I didn’t know that before.” On the other hand, he knows so many things that aren’t on the signs at all.


It turns out that the waterfall itself moves slightly over time because of the type of stone it is. (Don’t ask me to remember what kind specifically!) Additionally, one of the kings (?) used slave labor to build an extra channel that was supposed to circumvent the waterfall for shipping purposes. This ended up not happening (because of a war?) and the channel was never completed, but you can still see it, and it looks very man-made.

Apparently people also like to swim in the river during the warm months. I was surprised by this – people don’t swim in rivers where I come from, as they are viewed as dirty and dangerous places. But I guess this river is calmer and shallower than what I’m used to in America.

In Summary:

Time Spent: 3 hours
Best Features: We really enjoyed the waterfall itself and looking for the castle ruins (tip – there is almost nothing left!).

  • Try counting the number of cats, and bring some bread for the tame ducks, if you see them!
  • Be prepared to walk a lot, as always.
  • Latvia is much less into “safety” than America is, so there aren’t really guard rails or anything like that. They just expect that any reasonable person would be careful on the slippery rocks and stay dry, and if you get wet, that’s your own fault. 🙂
  • Spend a few hours just wandering around and enjoying the quiet atmosphere. This is my favorite part about Latvia: it’s peaceful!
  • There are a few shops with what M called “handcrafts,” which turned out to be baskets and knitted items (mainly socks and mittens). Very reasonably priced and beautiful work. I can’t tell you where that is because I had no idea where we were at any point in time.

Simplicity in cooking.

Here’s the thing…


Do we really need recipes for stuff like fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, fruit salad, soups?

Fried potatoes. IT’S IN THE NAME, people.

Scrambled eggs. Same. You don’t even need to do the traditional stovetop method. The oven works too. A hot pan on a grill works.

Fruit salad. To pull a Ron Swanson…cut fruit, mix, eat. Fruit salad.

Soup – simmer or boil food in liquid. More liquid, it’s soup. Less, stew. Almost none, “braised.”

But wait, you say hypothetically. What about different flavor combinations, different spices? How will we learn?

Try every food you can get your hands on – at a friend’s, at potlucks, at restaurants, at the grocery store. Buy spices and try them just to see what they are like. Don’t like it? Then give it away.

To give Pinterest and recipes their due, I have gotten ideas for food combinations from the internet and cookbooks. I do follow some recipes and use certain techniques as needed.

When you actually know how to cook, you won’t be paralyzed when faced with just a few ingredients and a hungry family. It’s okay if you don’t have everything your recipe says that you need. You can improvise! You can even use all different ingredients but similar spices to the original dish, and you will come out the other side with something pretty cool.

What about when you are, for example, overseas with your teenager for whom home-cooked meals speak love, and you have 2 burners and a frying pan? Can you cook spaghetti? Why yes, yes you can, because you can think creatively and not be bound to a specific recipe all the time.

(Pictured – NOT a home-cooked meal in Latvia – but a stack of home made sandwiches and a banana, aka, half of breakfast for M. Meanwhile, I still don’t know what animal that meat originated from and am a little afraid to ask.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is…it’s worth learning how to cook, REALLY cook, so that cooking doesn’t stress you out! Ditch the complicated recipes and just make what tastes really good to you. Be okay with that.

Do we need fancy food? Definitely not. Do we need nourishing, comforting food that bonds us to one another, allows us to serve one another, and helps us feel safe in our communities? Absolutely.

The Baltic Sea

When I visited Latvia in March/April of this year, I got to fulfill a life-long dream. I got to visit the Baltic Sea!


Can you tell that all of the sideways pictures were taken by M? #teenagers

One morning, M and I decided to go to Liepaja and Karosta.

This is what I originally posted on Facebook about this portion of the trip:

Latvia day 6 – Liepāja and Karosta

Today was a big day – I touched the Baltic Sea! And it wasn’t that cold 🙂 We walked quite a ways on the beach. Does anybody know what these structures in the water are? There are no shells on this beach, but many beautiful smooth rocks.

I’m left with so many questions since we didn’t visit the touristy part of the Baltic Sea 🙂

We walked about 10 miles today, including through Karosta, which is a mostly deserted military town. It was so quiet and peaceful with huge deserted buildings.

We also saw the outside of St. Nichols’s Orthodox Cathedral, but didn’t go inside this time. 🙂

Then, dinner at Cili Pica and a little shopping in a big Rimi, where I found Mom her souvenir.

Truthfully, that didn’t really remind me what actually happened that day! But looking at the pictures did jog my memory – so here is the real story.

 When we got up in the morning, M woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The thing is, even when he’s not feeling his best, he’s very sweet and can have a good time. So the weather forecast and I decided this should be beach day. Everyone loves the beach, right? Plus, after having spent a not insubstantial amount of time together, I knew he really likes exercise and thrives when he is active. After a few days of little walking, this seemed perfect.

We drove 2 hours to Karosta, which used to be Soviet barracks but is now mostly abandoned. It truly felt like a ghost town. M and I walked around 12 miles that day, most of it in Karosta. It’s an eerie place. I would stop every now and then to marvel at how quiet everything was even with these huge apartment buildings. There were a few little corner shops but basically no foot traffic and not many cars, either.


St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral

We passed St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral twice, but didn’t go in. It was very beautiful, an enormous church. I learned later that it reopened soon after Soviet occupation was over. Surrounding the cathedral were raised gardens that were probably gorgeous in summer, but at the time were just dirt and sticks.

M has an excellent natural sense of direction and is great with maps. At one point, he looked at Google maps, decided on a beach he had never been to before, and got us there without ever looking at the map again. I ask you. How is that possible?

“I can smell the sea,” he said. Okay then.


The Baltic Sea — a blurry picture taken with my terrible Latvian phone 🙂

I read somewhere that the Baltic Sea has about 1/5 the salinity of an ocean. And it really didn’t have that briney, fishy smell that is so characteristic of the American beaches I’ve been to.

Anyway, M got us there. Then I got stuck in a Latvian porta potty which was obviously a great experience as well.

The beach at Liepaja has a bunch of smooth sea stones and sea glaas, but I didn’t see a single shell! I brought home a pocket full of rocks, including a large white stone that M gave me on the walk back to the car.

We walked along the beach, very slowly, climbed a few sand dunes, touched the water, collected stones and feathers. As we crested a sand dune, we saw big, dilapidated concrete structures in the water and right on the shoreline.


Photo taken by M. Yep, there’s an airport nearby too.

The section of beach M had chosen had zero signage, something also characteristic of Latvia. In this case, neither of us knew what these concrete buildings were. It turns out they are the Liepaja Northern Forts. Some had stairs, hallways, and multiple rooms, but they were also more or less uniform, except where the sea had worn them away. Some were literally falling into the sea.

Naturally, M viewed these enormous, slippery, crumbling pieces of architecture as a challenge, so he climbed them. He got some pretty great pictures, many of which are featured in this post. 🙂 Meanwhile, I realized that I had no idea how to call an ambulance in Latvia should the situation arise.


After a while, we took a different path back to Karosta, cutting through some woods in Liepaja (there was a dirt road) and saw some of the most beautifully rustic houses and yards. Wooden houses, wooden fences, beautiful gardens, cats. Absolutely lovely.

We also passed some huge, blank foundations; some trees had grown in the cracks and were pretty big, so who knows how long that property had been abandoned. That’s another thing about Latvia – a lot of things “pardod,” for sale. Or just left to rot.


When we finally made it back to our car, all the way back in front of Karosta prison (where I’d love to go next time!), M finally said it felt good to sit down. 🙂 And we were hungry. So we found a Cili Pica, which is a chain that sells pizza and wraps. We ordered 2 medium pizzas and M inhaled basically 75% of everything – he is, after all, a teen boy.

The Cili Pica was in a huge Rimi (kind of like Latvian Wal-Mart, except I called this one huge and it was smaller than your average Wal-Mart that doesn’t even sell groceries). It was a lot of fun to look around at what was available and to try to guess what was in various packages. Actually, the grocery store was a highlight of each day for me because I had such a great time looking at the different foods.


After dinner, we drove 2 hours back to Saldus and got there around 9pm, right when the “good films” come on TV. Remember how I said M woke up on the wrong side of the bed a little? Well, I asked him at one point if he had a good say, if he enjoyed the beach, and he lit up and said YES! This is something I still sometimes have to adjust to – he can be having a really great time and I’d never be able to tell by his expressions. 🙂

Next time – Kuldiga and Europe’s Widest Waterfall!

When 4 Feels Wrong

This morning, I packed our towels and swim suits in a bag to take to the lake.

Justin’s stuff

My stuff

Arane’s stuff

Verity’s stuff

…and then I counted twice, because I could have sworn I was forgetting someone?

Then it hit me. The last time we went to the lake, there were 5 of us. M was here. It was early August of last year. The lake is one of his favorite places in America (second to, perhaps, his bed…).

But today there are 4 of us, not 5. Hopefully, M will be here in a little more than a month. One of his first requests is some lake time.

Please join us in praying for M – for his life, his future, his security and stability.  Pray that his student visa is approved so that he is allowed to come back to America!

Coffee and Latvia

So, before I went to Latvia, someone sent me to a blog that I no longer remember the name of. In this blog, the writer described the gross coffee they were offered in Latvia – black, grainy, barely drinkable.

Fair enough, I said to myself. I will buy good quality instant latte coffee mix (aka, sugary caffeine powder) and therefore have a backup plan. You never know.

My awesome, sweet, kind, long suffering friend Lori came to help me pack right before I left. She, also a mom of young children, applauded my paranoid foresight. Because, priorities!

I brought 110 pounds of gifts for orphaned kids and donations for an orphanage. I brought 3 outfits and 1 pair of shoes…and my backup coffee. Again, priorities.

By way of background, you should know that although I am a 6 cup a day coffee drinker, I am by no means a coffee snob. I’m happy with good ol’ Great Value medium roast in my slow drip coffee pot. Or gas station coffee. Or, honestly, fancy coffee, but only for free, because goooood night.

I seriously cannot function without my caffeine. Hence, necessary back up plan!

So it turns out that the coffee in Latvia is fancy and amazing. I found your basic black American coffee at Lido (a chain of “traditional Latvian food,” more on that later) and added milk and it tasted just like home.

But otherwise, it was fancy and yummy. M always ordered everything for me, because like I said, he took amazing care of all the details. I guess a lot of it was espresso because I had a bunch of energy on this trip, although that might have been due to sleeping in every day for the first time in 5 years.

Nevertheless, I ended up doing the instant a lot because teenagers, no matter how mature and amazing, do not typically enjoy getting out of bed on a mom’s schedule. I used up all my American deliciousness (seriously, it wasn’t half bad) and then went to Rimi, which is kind of like Latvian Wal-Mart but small. Rimi had a big selection of instant coffee with dried milk and sugar in each packet and it was not good, but we drank it every morning anyway, which says a lot about us, honestly.

I can honestly recommend planning a coffee and pastry stop into every single day during a trip to Latvia. You won’t be disappointed!

Wherein I throw a super rockin’ Princess Party.

Okay, so I’m just going to throw this out there. I love hosting parties and events and gatherings. I love it when friends come over! Justin has a lot of dudes in and out of the house regularly, Arane and Verity have little friends come over, I have ladies over. I just enjoy hospitality and I think it’s an area that God has gifted me in.

This year, Arane turned 5. 5 years old, people. I’m not old enough for this. 🙂 However, the calendar doesn’t lie, and so she turned 5 on June 12.

Because of some crazy things happening in life (Latvia fundraising, Justin’s birthday just 2 weeks prior, the dryer breaking… just to name a few…), I procrastinated the heck out of this party. I had a Pinterest board and bought some colored tulle at a yard sale one time. That was it.

Arane wanted a Princess Party, so gosh darnit, she was going to get a Princess Party! One thing about Arane is that she hardly ever asks for absolutely anything. She goes with the flow almost all the time. She only had one birthday gift idea (school supplies – thanks Danielle, Ellie, and Izzy!). So when she asks for a Princess Party… Mama tries to deliver.

We also had almost no money at the time. I had $30 from a babysitting gig, so that was my budget.

Also, I felt it was very important to plant fresh flowers next to my front door before the party or so help me God. Even though literally nobody probably even noticed that because it was so dang hot outside that day.

And I have to say, it turned out pretty well!

We made a little photo booth out of cardboard, foil, and Arane’s markers. 🙂

We made “Princess snacks,” which were glittery rice crispy treats and chocolate-dipped pretzel rods and some popcorn with chocolate and glitter topping. I was going to make edible glitter myself, but saw it at Walmart for like $2 a pop, so went with that.

We got all of the decorations at the Dollar Tree, my favorite store ever. (When I checked out that day and my total for plates, cups, napkins, and decor was $8, I might have gushed to the cashier way more than was truly necessary.)

For party favors, we bought a bunch of necklaces and some princess crowns and gave them out at the start of the party. My mom took each child’s picture in the photo booth and then we turned on Cinderella for them to watch (Arane’s choice! I borrowed the movie from a friend – thanks Lori!)

We told the children to come dressed up in whatever makes them feel like royalty. Arane bought a new dress from Once Upon a Child (another place that makes me gush to the cashier) for a whopping $4.50. Meanwhile, Verity wore an Elsa themed dress-up dress that another friend found when we were at a yardsale together (thanks Janice!). So all told, we spent $5.50 on clothing for this shindig. I let each girl wear a fancy fake-pearl necklace that I already had.

And that was it. IT. We literally just invited kids over, watched a movie with snacks, opened presents, and ate cupcakes.

And I’m pretty sure all the kids had a blast. Arane was over the moon! The kids were relatively quiet and happy, and got to eat a lot of sugar! The parents just hung out and chatted! Cleanup was easy, the food was easy, the entertainment was so easy I hesitate to even mention it.

I think we may have come in slightly over $30 once we accounted for all of the food and drinks (pink “tropical punch,” whatever that is, and lemonade), but considering we had 10+ kids and their parents and some relatives, I think we did pretty good.

If I can do it, so can you. What is your favorite simple party to throw?

We don’t need to get all pinteresty to throw a great party. Just do what your child likes and roll with it!

Let’s talk Latvia.


Photo credit: M 🙂

I seriously wish I had thought to start a blog BEFORE I went to Latvia in March. I got to visit the super cool, amazingly awesome M there for 10 days. I spent a lot of time googling Latvia before my trip, hoping to find some info that could help me, especially since I planned to travel alone. I really didn’t know how much time M would be able to spend with me and didn’t want to expect too much of him, mainly because he was still in a very challenging trade school at the time.

Long story still long, M spent almost every minute with me and even wanted to crash on my couch every night. I learned so much just hanging out with a real, live Latvian on his turf.

Here’s what I learned from my pre-Latvia research:

  • Latvians are not nice (false)
  • There’s a huge bar scene in Latvia (true)
  • Public transportation is really good (true)
  • Latvian women are beautiful (really really really true)


    Kuldiga, Latvia – Europe’s widest waterfall. Wide but short.

Here are some things I learned from actually being there:

  • The most important thing is that M totally headed off potential trouble without me even realizing it. People say teens are trouble; clearly, they haven’t met M. I was around a lot of teen boys who are considered “at risk” and I felt just as safe there as I do in my own living room. There were a few different kids who really looked out for me as much as I looked out for them, and without their knowledge of Latvian culture, I would have been totally, completely lost multiple times. So if you are traveling to Latvia alone, it’s easier if you know a Latvian.
  • Latvians wear their coats in the store, completely zipped up.
  • Even when the weather is “nice,” like in the 50s, they wear coats completely zipped up, usually along with other gear like scarves, goves, and boots. M and I stuck out a little since #1, he forgot his coat on the day it snowed, and #2 I am cold always anyway so who cares.
  • Cashiers don’t generally acknowledge your existence, but when they do, they are really friendly.
  • Checking out of rented apartments is ridiculously easy. It’s mostly a matter of locking your door after you and leaving the key.
  • There is a reason Latvians have a reputation for being unfriendly, and it’s that they don’t look at each other as they walk down the street. Even their happy faces are different. It seems like we Americans smile constantly. I could spot kiddos who have come to America just by their American-Latvian smiles.
  • The food is totally delicious. I mean, I craved American food big time at some points, and everything is different. But completely delicious. I only tried 1 thing I didn’t like (Klavss) but everything else…o.m.g.
  • There is very little signage in Latvia. In America, you get instructions about everything, whether verbal or written, usually both. Maybe it’s just that I don’t speak much Latvian or any Russian, but I pretty much didn’t understand the protocols for doing stuff (parking garages. nightmare!!) at any point. M totally saved me there multiple times.
  • Latvian burgers…way messier than American, and also not as tasty.
  • Latvian sour cream is also messier than American, but it’s way better!
  • All of the buildings are old and super cool. I didn’t get to visit a castle on this trip, but will on the next one.
  • As my dear friend Lindsay says… there is a bakery on every corner! And everything is delicious!
  • As M says… there is a casino on every corner! Also true. Sometimes you can literally stand next to a casino and see another down the street.
  • Latvians have a sense of beauty that is almost unreal. Even M, who by his own admission is crazy cool, says, “We like things what are pretty and nice.”
  • Latvians also have an amazing culture of gift giving. I got to hang out a couple times with another “at risk” gal, “I,” and her foster mom sent me a beautiful, thoughtful gift without ever having met me. This has really inspired me to step it up a notch with the thought and attention I put into details when giving gifts.
  • Latvian parents are gentle. There isn’t a lot of loud parenting. I could hear American parents a mile away.
  • Actually, Latvia is crazy quiet in general. I think I raised the noise level in the whole country significantly, and I’m not necessarily even loud by American standards.

I’m sure there was a lot more, but off the top of my head, this is what stands out to me a few months after the fact!


Blurry photo of M and me after a long day of touristy stuff. You can see my guidebook on the table!

Trying to know where to begin.

Hey everybody! Lizzie here.

It’s been a long time since I last blogged — 3 children and 3 (or 4?) moves! So let’s just pretend that never happened.

Honestly, I don’t have a “theme” for this. I just get the urge to write things down sometimes, and I figure if anyone else enjoys it, hooray. If not, I still get free therapy.

Life seems pretty simple to me, but now that I sit down to try to explain it, I don’t even know where to start! So let’s just do this bullet-point style and dive right in.

  • I’m happily married to maybe the best husband in the world, Justin. He is kind and caring and hard working. Best of all, he really, truly cares for the family and for every person he meets. I have never met someone with such unending energy for connection and love. He is such a gift. Justin works at Veterans United Home Loans as an Account Manager, and he does a great job.
  • My 1st born daughter is named Arane, which is pronounced AIR-ah-nay and means peace. And lo, she lives up to her name quite well. Example: today I kept wondering where she was. Kept finding her tucked into little corners looking at books. Books. I ask you. Such a troublemaker.
  • My youngest is named Verity, which means truth. And lo, she too lives up to her name quite well. She speaks her truth in no uncertain terms, and has since the very second she was born. (The nurse said she had never heard such a loud, unhappy baby before.) Verity is actually very sweet and her truth sometimes is great things, like, “But I wuv you, mama.”
  • My oldest kiddo (not my 1st born) has an actual name, but until he is 18, we have to call him “M.” M is an Eastern European teen who we first got to know through New Horizons for Children. We hosted M twice for a total of about 10 weeks, and then I got to go visit him in his own country for 10 days in March 2017! We love M so much and are trying to bring him back to America more permanently to finish high school and to live as a family all together.
  • We also have 2 cats, Seamus and Percy, who are outdoor only because I got tired of scooping the box. #fulldisclosure
  • I’m a stay at home mom who picks up some side gigs (babysitting and the like) and spends a lot of time fundraising for M’s student visa fees. More on that later.
  • We live in a big, rambling country house in the Midwest. It’s a bit of a challenging place but we have grown to love it.

Enough on that for now. Stay tuned for some themed posts that hopefully someone will find enjoyable, or at least not leave nasty comments about. (I aim high, people.)