Namēja Gredzens (Ring)

How to Recognize a Latvian

Namēja is a possessive case. Namējs is a proper noun with a masculine suffix.

I’ve been identified as a Latvian more than once because I was wearing my Namēja ring. Apparently, they were once worn only by men. In modern times both men and women wear them. The rings come in sterling silver or gold.

Latvian identity ring.

A day or so after the Toronto Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the Yorkville neighborhood a woman saw me sitting in an outdoor cafe reading a book. She immediately recognized me as a fellow Latvian because I was wearing my Namēja ring. I invited her to my table and we had a pleasant conversation.

Another time I was in a department store in my hometown sorting through blouses on an upper rack when a woman’s voice startled me, asking, “Are you Latvian?” She had seen the ring on my right hand. Yes, I admitted I am a Latvian. She wasn’t a Latvian herself but had Latvian friends.

A friend once told me that if he were ever found dead without his Namēja ring on his hand, it meant that he’d been murdered and the ring stolen.

There are different stories about the meaning of the ring’s design. Someone once told me that the thicker and thinner bands woven together showed how the great and the small can work harmoniously together.

According to Wiki, the three bands woven together represent the three ancient Latvian lands, Kurzeme (Courland) Vidzeme, and Latgale. But if that were the case, why wouldn’t the thee bands be of equal width? Not to mention the fact that there were more than three ancient lands that comprise Latvia. Why wouldn’t they be represented?

Sēlija is also known as Selonia.

Also according to Wiki, the ring symbolizes independence, friendship, and trust.

Namējs was a legendary 13th Century leader of the Latgallian tribes who resisted the invasion by German crusaders attempting to Christianize the last pagans of Europe, the Baltic peoples. Namējs was forced to flee without his son. He is said to have given the boy a ring of twisted metal by which he would be able to recognize his son when Namējs returned. The German knights set out to find the boy. In order to protect their leader’s son, all men and boys started wearing similar rings. A novel, titled Namēja Gredzens, by the Latvian writer, Aleksandrs Grīns, served to popularize the ring as a symbol of Latvian unity. The novel inspired the film, The Pagan King. In Latvian, the film has the same title as the book.

The iconic ring even appears on the Latvian one-Lat coin.

Archaeologists have spoiled the legend by finding a ring of similar design in Latgale that dates to the 12th Century, long before Namējs was born. But who is to say that a ring like that nameless one could not, in the next century have been worn by the iconic Latvian hero and thus been named after him? Finding one ring does not mean other rings like it could not have existed.

I recently saw a question in an online article about which finger to wear the ring on. It never occurred to me to wonder. I wore it on the finger on which it fit, my right hand’s ring finger. The right, rather than the left hand so it wouldn’t be mistaken for a wedding band. In a way, it is a wedding band–it marries me to my people and my heritage.

Someone on a social media site asked if non-Latvians could wear the Namēja ring. My answer is, no. If the person is half-Latvian, then yes. Other Latvians may have a different point of view.

Not everyone can wear rings. Some people have acidic skin with which the metal interacts but they want to affirm their Latvian heritage. Friends wonder if there is any other option than wearing a ring. There are many–cufflinks, brooches, pendants, and earrings among them. If silver causes allergic reactions, gold may not.

They come with or without the amber cabochon.

You can get dark Namēja honey beer and wine and vodka.

A note about the oxidation on the silver jewelry that makes it look tarnished. Silversmiths deliberately apply oxidation to bring out the detail. It’s a characteristic of other Latvian silver jewelry. Please don’t clean it off.

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Bad Reviews

First bad words, now bad reviews. I’m not going to use any bad words about my bad reviews. A writer can learn from a well-thought-out bad review. The two bad reviews I got for the books I published on Amazon weren’t thought-out at all.

Whether a writer is traditionally published or self-published they’re bound to get bad reviews. A writer knows that any review is better than no review. Anything that will bring attention to your books.

“Bad” is in the mind of the reader.

Even better is for the book to be banned. Banning a book can be good for sales. There was a recent article in The Washington Post by an author who was highly indignant that his children’s book had not been banned. More than thirty years after it was first published Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, hit the bestseller lists after it was banned in Tennessee. Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko humorously demanded that his book, Boss, about controversial mayor Richard J. Daley, be vilified and banned. These two writers understood the lure of forbidden fruit.

Books can be dangerous. They can open minds.

Dictators and wanna-be dictators understand the power of books. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 because his writing displeased the Politburo. He was allowed to return home only after the fall of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn’s experience is almost the ultimate bad review. The ultimate bad review is getting executed for your writing as happened to Russian writer Isaac Babel.

This post wasn’t going to be about these writers, it was supposed to be about my experience with my own reviews. I’m nowhere near their class and the one-star reviews of two of the books I published on Amazon have done nothing to improve my sales. People have to know about a book before they buy it or demand that it be banned. I’ve done very little to publicize my books so poor sales are mostly my own fault.

The person who gave my books bad ratings is someone named Jennifer. She used the exact same words for both books: “I find it hard to understand why the author sympathizes with fascist leaders who spread baseless propaganda.” I copied her exact words from her one-star rating.

One of the books Jennifer rated is “The Dissident’s Wife” which is set in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during the mid-1980s. My story is about a dissident Russian poet who has been accused of sedition and anti-Soviet slander. Valery Mironov goes from being a respected and beloved people’s artist to a pariah who’s been diagnosed with “creeping schizophrenia” ( a mental illness recognized nowhere in the free world) and incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t mention any leaders in my book, let alone defend them.

The Dissident’s Wife is no longer available on Amazon. I unpublished it because it is now under consideration by a traditional publisher.

It’s obvious that Jennifer never read the book. She saw the hammer and sickle and had a knee-jerk reaction. It’s also obvious that she is ignorant of the difference between communism and fascism.

For Pete’s sake! They’re Christmas stories for children.

Beats me who Jennifer thinks is the “fascist leader” in this book. Santa? The grandmother whom her family brings from Latvia to the United States? Or perhaps the mother who thinks a piano would be a fine Christmas gift for her family, a gift they could all use. I suspect that the word “Latvia” is what triggered Jennifer’s one-star rating. Darn it, she didn’t even demand that the book be banned. Rats!

Fortunately, not all my reviews are one-star.

Bad Word, Bad Words…

Whatcha Gonna Do When You Run Out?

Some people might consider me to be an old fogey because of what I’m about to say regarding bad words. I don’t consider myself to be old. I prefer the French term: une femme d’un certain âge.

I’m not going to tell anyone not to use bad words. I’m just going to suggest giving it more thought before you do so. Then maybe you’ll change your mind. Or not.

You’re going to see a lot of asterisks in this post.

These days people throw around bad words as if they were confetti. These words get used so often that they become banal and boring and lose their power.

Does this sweet little critter deserve to be called an ugly name?

What if you have a puppy that poops on your carpet and you call him an a**h****? The dog didn’t do it deliberately just to annoy you. If you call this innocent little creature who did something you don’t approve of because he didn’t know any better. If a puppy is an a**h***, what are you going to call someone who is truly evil? Someone like a loathsome politician? Are you equating your puppy to that horrible human being?

Why would a little critter like this deserve to be called an ugly name?

A photo of a little owl was posted on a social media page. Someone referred to the bird as a little motherf****er. When I objected to the language the guy said, “You must be fun at parties!” The parties I go to don’t include that kind of language. I didn’t say that to him. Instead, I said, “I’m ignorant. Educate me. Why is a word like this okay? Is it original? Is it clever? Is it witty?” The guy had no reply.

He must have expressed his genuine feelings to someone.

Some psychologist has claimed that people who swear are perceived as “genuine.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives a couple definitions of genuine, “sincere and honestly felt or expressed” and “free from hypocrisy or pretense.” Apparently, the psychologist didn’t realize that sometimes expressing your genuine feelings can get you punched in the nose.

Civilization is all about being artificial. We wear clothes instead of running around naked. We use restrooms instead of squatting on someone’s lawn to do our business. If we see someone eating a drumstick and we want it, we don’t grab it out of their hand and take a bite. We say “please,” and “thank you” and “may I?”

Do you suppose a lack of civility, too much expression of genuine feelings, could be part of the problems we have today?

The Latvian Song and Dance Festival is Over.

The Saint Paul Latvian Song and Dance Festival is over but if you missed it, you have more opportunities to see, and maybe even participate (if you’re a member of a choir and it is invited to take part) in Rīga, Latvia in 2023 and in Toronto, Canada in 2024. Start saving your money and renew your passport.

The Festival always begins with a procession.

Tickets for these summer events go on sale early in the year and sell out quickly. There are usually several hotels where blocks of rooms will be reserved for attendees. These also go quickly. If you value a good night’s sleep, don’t reserve a room at the main event hotel. The partying will probably go on all night, not just in the public rooms but also in individual hotel rooms. I was at one such festival after-party in a hotel room in Pasadena, California. The room was crowded but I didn’t think we were all that noisy. However, hotel security came to shush us. We weren’t even dancing or anything though we might have been singing a little.

Don’t you just love those lace socks?

Contrary to what the “Visit St. Paul” website said, it was not the largest Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the world. Only 8000 visitors were expected. The largest festival, of course, was the one held in Rīga from June 30 to July 8 in 2018. That year was the 100th anniversary of Latvia’s original declaration of independence in November 1918.

My cousin and her husband were at the 2018 festival. He said there were so many participants in the procession that he and his wife went to lunch and when they came back the procession was still marching along.

These events are such a huge part of Latvian cultural heritage that I had to write about them again. Every third person in Latvia belongs to a choral group. I wonder what it would be like if 110 million Americans sang in a choir?

Since 2008 the Latvian Song and Dance Festival has been recognized by UNESCO as “one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

I wrote this post primarily as a way to introduce this YouTube video, which I think is pretty cool.

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Latvian Song and Dance Festivals

The XV General Song and Dance Festival is happening in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA this weekend and I’m not there. I feel sad and deprived. I’m lucky to have happy memories of many previous festivals. Only war was able to prevent the celebrations from happening in Latvia.

Song and dance unite us as a people.

The first song festival took place in Rīga over a period of four days during the month of June 1873. Forty-six choirs, with a total of more than 1000 singers from all over Latvia participated. These celebrations of song and our culture have taken place every five years since then no matter where in the world Latvians found themselves after the diaspora following the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944.

However, it’s not necessary to wait five years for the next festival. When they’re held depends on when Latvians in different countries first started putting on these fests. Sometimes two happen in one year. The next one will be in Rīga in 2023,

Despite being stateless refugees in German displaced person camps Latvians did not stop singing. Many artists, including musicians and dancers, were among the refugees. Choirs and dance ensembles were formed. Days of Song were held in various German towns as early as 1946. The biggest Song Festival in exile was held in Esslingen in 1947. This past June to mark the 75th anniversary of that occasion a festival was held in Esslingen.

The festivals aren’t just about singing and dancing. They have become celebrations of our culture which include theater productions, author mornings, and art and craft exhibits as well as the expected song and dance performances. During “author mornings” writers present readings of their latest prose and poetry.

Formal balls and informal parties are also a big part of the festivities. Latvians work hard and party hearty. There is the “Get Acquainted Ball” on the first night. The next night is the young people’s ball. The Grand Festival Ball happens on the last night of the big party.

Song Festivals are held in Australia, Canada, and the United States as well as in Europe. Until recently, the United States had two song festivals, the general festivals held in various east coast cities and the West Coast Song Festival. Sadly, the most recent West Coast festival which was held in San Jose, California is likely to be the last one. It takes lots of money and many volunteers to put on a festival. More Latvians live in the east than on the West Coast. I believe that the last festival in Seattle wound up in the red.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to attend song festivals all up and down the Pacific Coast from Vancouver, British Columbia to Southern California, as well as festivals in Toronto, Canada, and Rīga.

My memories of the various festivals I’ve attended over the years are pretty random.

Toronto has the largest population of Latvians outside Latvia. It was both surprising and gratifying to hear my language spoken almost everywhere I went. In a subway station on the way to the Latvian Cultural Center, I approached a group of Latvians to ask if I was on the right platform. I was. One couple turned out to be people who’d known my mother as a young woman back in Latvia.

During the festivals, there are always too many events going on to allow time for exploring the host city so I always stay a couple of extra days. One warm pleasant evening I was sitting in an outdoor cafe in the Yorkville neighborhood in Toronto listening to a street violinist play and reading a book when a woman at another table asked, “Are you Latvian?” She had seen my Namēja ring, a piece of jewelry that most Latvians, men, and women, wear. (I’ll have to write a separate post about them.) I invited her to join me at my table and we had a long amiable chat.

The Namē ring affirms Latvian identity.

One time when the festival was held in Seattle, I reserved a hotel room in town so I would have to drive the thirty+ miles back home. Venues in Seattle are widespread. Some were downtown, and others were in Seattle Center, not within walking distance. One night after the main dance performance a friend and I took the monorail from Seattle Center to downtown. We were not alone. Other Latvians in their folk dress were on the train with us. To the bemusement of non-Latvian riders, the Letts sang all the way back to town.

I remember the monorail well. I wish every town had them.

During one festival in Vancouver, B.C. a group that included my cousin went to a dive in Gas Town. Other Latvians were already there and had pretty much taken over the place, singing, drinking, and carrying on. Later I heard that a group of dancers performed on the plaza in front of the RCMP building in the middle of the night. As far as I know, the Mounties didn’t chase them away. Maybe they looked out the windows and enjoyed the dancing.

The partying can get so raucous that I sometimes wonder why the host cities allow us to come back. They not only allow us back, but they also fly our flag to welcome us. Latvians from all over the world flock to these events. The organizer booked several venues for the numerous events. Three, four, or more hotels fill up for five nights. Business booms in restaurants in the festival neighborhoods.

The song and dance festivals in Rīga are massive. Wars may have stopped the festivals but the Soviet occupation did not. It just distorted it.

Once our country was free again the festivals grew bigger, bolder, and better. Thousands of singers and dancers perform for an audience of tens of thousands.

The Grand Concert choir is comprised of choruses from all over the world.

The Grand Festival Concert wraps up the celebration but that doesn’t mean that the singing and dancing stop.

This song, Es nenācu šai vietā could be the unofficial anthem of the festivals. “I didn’t come here to sleep. I came to eat, I came to drink, I came to have a good time.”

Choristers letting down their hair after the closing concert of the 2010Song and Dance Festival in Rīga in 2010
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Celebrating with Eau de Tap

0.0000704225353521126761 cents per word. More or less.

Amazon pays bonuses to authors who publish their books on Vella. The amount depends on the number of pages read. I just received a notice about my May 2022 bonus. Ten dollars! Woo-hoo! For a book that’s about 140k long.

How shall I spend this windfall? Go to Bali? Go to Capri? Buy an original Van Gogh?

Can’t even afford a glass.

This is not the first bonus I’ve received. It’s just the smallest one because someone read seventy-nine pages of my book. I received bigger monthly bonuses when my kind cousin-in-law, and maybe somebody else, was reading A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I think the highest bonus I got was sixty bucks.

Mostly, it’s my own fault. I haven’t done enough to publicize my novel. My efforts have been pretty sporadic at best. I don’t want to do PR. I want to write but when you self-publish, you don’t have much choice. Even traditionally published authors have to do a lot of their own book promotions. Fortunately, I just found out that one of my friends on Facebook publicizes books on her site. She urged me to send her a blurb and a link to A Home for an Exile’s Hearts Vella page. I did so but I don’t know what she will do or when. I’d love to leave it all in her hands but I’ll have to do my own PR, too.

When you self-publish, you also have to design your own cover. Even with millions of stock photos available for free, it’s hard to find exactly the right one. On a $0.00 budget, I had to settle for “close enough” images.

This was my first choice. My main character, Līvija (Lee-vee-ya) Galiņa (Guh-lyñ-ah) an exile from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944, is walking home from work on the snowy evening the day after Thanksgiving, 1952. Even without houses, this scene could pass for a street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. There’s a park on the hill so she could be walking past it. However, this image was too small and busy to look like anything but a vague mess in the cameo frame it has to fit into on Vella. I had to find a more simple image.

Courtship is a dance of love, intriguing and seductive. In one chapter my characters, Līvija and her hero, Cameron Quinn, a former fighter pilot who saves her from an out-of-control car on that snowy night, dance the tango.

Not a perfect match but it will have to do.

One of these days, I will have to turn my novel into a paperback. More nitpicky work I’d rather not do but I don’t have much choice. I have to wait for my book to have been available on Vella for thirty days before I can offer it as a paperback. When will that be? Who knows? I have yet to finish revising the last chapter in order to publish it. Since so few people have been reading Exile I haven’t been motivated to wrap up that final chapter.

The last chapter may not be ready to go, but I have a tentative design for the cover.

If only I were an artist, too.

It’s time to stop lollygagging and finish that chapter, publish it, and start publicizing my book. Writing it was a labor of love but it was hard work nevertheless. I can’t let it all go to waste.

World Refugee Day

My family and I were refugees from Soviet Russia’s invasion of my parents’ homeland Latvia. My heart goes out to all refugees, particularly those who have had to flee from Ukraine because of the invasion of their homeland. Very little has changed in the last 78 years. For that matter, too little has changed since the Bolshevik Revolution that happened in Russia in 1917. Different dictator, same brutality.

This poem, by Latvian poet, Velta Toma (1912 – 1999) speaks to the soul of a Latvian refugee. To refugees anywhere.

This diaspora happened in the same year Ms. Toma composed her poem.

This is the fate from which Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians fled three years later. Germans drive the Red Army out in 1941 but the Reds invaded again in October of 1944,
Bēglis

Aiz manis tumsā zūd ceļi,
deg mājas, un sagrūst tilts.
un visi dzīvie kļūst veļi.

Kā vēju vajāta smilts
es klīstu pa svešām vietām
bez darba, dusas un cilts. 

                    - Velta Toma, (1944)



The translation is my own. 

Refugee

Behind me, the road fades into darkness,
my home burns, the bridge collapses
And all we living become ghosts.

Like a wind-driven grain of sand
I drift through foreign lands
without work, without rest,without kin.




An Explosive Anniversary

On May 18, 1980, after two months of earthquakes and steam blasts, Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, USA, erupted at 8:32 on a Sunday morning. The eruption spewed ash 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere. The eruption went on for nine hours and reduced the height of the mountain by 1400 ft. (426.72 m) The ash was deposited in over eleven states as well as parts of Canada. I was 156 miles (approx. 251 km) north of the mountain. Since it was the weekend, I was sleeping in and knew nothing of the eruption until much later. In my area, all we got was a light layer of ash on our cars. The mountain exploded laterally so Eastern Washington got the worst of it.

Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980

But this isn’t an article about the eruption, the lives it took, or the damage it did. I’ve blogged during other Mays but have never felt inspired to write about the eruption. It seemed that everybody already knew about what happened or if they didn’t would learn about it every year in the days leading up to the anniversary.

What inspired this post was a comment by someone on social media about Harry R. Truman who lived with St. Helens for 52 years during which time he owned and ran the Mt. St. Helens Lodge. When it became apparent that the volcano would erupt local officials tried to evacuate Harry. The old man refused to leave. He was one of the more than fifty people the eruption killed. The woman on social media called Harry a science denier. So, I have to defend Harry. He was a rascal and an independent old coot but even though I never knew him, I have no doubt that he never questioned that the volcano would erupt. The huge bulge in its north side would have been a major clue even if the earthquakes and steam eruptions hadn’t been.

Harry R. Truman.

Even though I’m only speculating, I can understand why Harry refused to leave his beloved mountain. He was 84 years old, twice divorced, and once widowed. He had only one child. He’d lead an unconventional, independent life. He was a WW 1 veteran having served in France. On the way to Europe, his troopship was sunk by a U boat. Later in life, he was a bootlegger, a poacher, and a thief who stole gravel from the Forest Service and fished on Native American land with a bogus license. He was never caught in any of these acts. Before moving to the mountain he ran a service station. Though he may have been a rogue, I seriously doubt that he was a fool.

Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lakve beore the eruption.

I can’t blame Harry for not wanting to leave this gorgeous area or live to see the devastation he must have known the eruption would cause to the splendid place where he’d spent more than half his life there.

Harry wasn’t fond of old people. I’m sure he’d rather have this guy for a neighbor.

At his age what would Harry have done and where would he have gone if he left his home? Give up his cantankerous independence? Go to a nursing home? Become a burden on his only child? Sit around and rock, waiting to die? The mountain was his life. Better to make a spectacular exit than to give up the only life he’d known for fifty-two years.

I hope Harry was sitting on the porch of his lodge, drinking his favorite cocktail, whisky and Coke when the mountain blew.

The death toll isn’t certain. A couple of people were reported missing but turned up alive. It’s not certain if the people who were found later were the missing individuals or people with the same name.

White Tablecloth Festival: Celebrating Lativa’s 2nd Independence Day.

(Thank you to my friend for allowing me to use her photos. She prefers to remain anonymous. You know who you are)

On May 4th, 1990 the Supreme Council of the Latvian SSR adopted a resolution “On the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia”, turning a new white page in the history of Latvia. The White Tablecloth Festival celebrates the anniversary of Latvia’s renewed independence after decades under Soviet rule.

A clean new page is understandable but why a white tablecloth? The cloth was chosen as a symbol of national pride, unity, and self-confidence. On feast days tables are traditionally set with a white linen tablecloth. Latvian friends, neighbors, and families all over the world, those in Latvia and the Latvians of the Diaspora in their adopted homelands are encouraged to gather together as one family to celebrate Latvia’s renewed independence with reverence and joy.

The white tablecloth also symbolizes that Latvia’s break with the Soviet Union was achieved relatively peacefully through diplomacy with the occupying power.

Except for social media I’ve been out of touch with my local Latvian community. I’m not even sure if they’ve adopted the White Tablecloth Festival. I learned about it just the other day when a friend in Ohio shared photos of her Latvian community’s celebration of this anniversary.

It’s about time more attention was paid to this important holiday which usually gets little notice compared to Latvia’s original Independence Day. November 18th has been celebrated by Latvian exiles in their new countries. During the years of Soviet occupation, such a celebration was illegal in Latvia.

Buffet at the Latvian Center in Cleveland.

Whenever Latvians gather to celebrate there is always lots of food. On this special occasion in Cleveland, there were also speeches (hardly a unique occurrence) recitations of poetry, shared memories, and stories about what it means to be a Latvian. They also saw a video about the dedication of a monument to a Latvian freedom activist who died shortly before renewed independence became a reality.

Intricate drawnwork (Dresden work) embroidery.

The day before the party participants were invited to bring heirloom tablecloths that were handmade by their mothers and grandmothers to be displayed on the walls of the Latvian Center.

Crewel embroidery on a linen tablecloth.
Textile works of art. Some might even have been brought along when fleeing from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944.

Of course, human nature being what it is, especially Latvian human nature, not everyone is eager to embrace the White Tablecloth Festival. Some people think it’s silly because white tablecloths are used for every celebration that involves feasting (all of them) Others prefer the name Renewal of Independence Day. I think White Tablecloth Festival is more of an attention grabber.

Glory to Latvia!

Whatever it’s called, May 4th is a day to celebrate the restorations of freedom.

As we celebrate we are all hoping that there will soon be a day for Ukraine to celebrate renewed peace and freedom.

Glory to Ukraine!

To clarify any misunderstanding. I am not collecting money for Ukraine. I prefer to leave that to long-established and respected organizations such as CARE, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and other charities. The donations are compensation for me for my work on the blog, researching, writing, and illustrating. I apologize for not making this clear.

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Song on May Morning

We’ve had the third coldest April in forty-five years in my little corner of the world. The thirteenth coldest since records have been kept. On the fourteenth snow came down thick and fast for maybe a half-hour. It even stuck to the grass. Then it was over as if it had never happened. Usually, the Pacific’s breath keeps our climate mild, even in mid-winter but this isn’t the first time it snowed in May.

We’re all hoping that May will be more like the month described in John Milton’s poem.

The pale primrose stopped blooming weeks ago.

John Milton – 1608-1674

Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
  Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
  The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
  Hail bounteous May that dost inspire 
  Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
  Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
  Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcom thee, and wish thee long.

Cowslip, not cow’s lip. A European flower of the primula family.

Happy May Day!

In 1889 labor activists turned May Day turned into Labor Day in some parts of the world to commemorate the Haymarket riot in Chicago. It was a terrible event but I wish they’d left the joyous celebration of Floralia, to honor Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers alone, and been content to commemorate workers on the first Monday in September. I guess American influence has its limits.

May Pole

May first was once considered to be the beginning of summer. A time to dance around the May Pole and for children to surprise friends by bringing them flower baskets, leaving them at the door or hanging them on the doorknob, knocking or ringing the bell, and running away. What a lovely surprise for the recipient.

Lilies of the Valley