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Amara Graps

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From March 13, 2012
I have large changes this Spring; some of you haven't heard yet. I am switching research companies (now) and moving to Riga, Latvia (June). This is my best solution to staying in planetary science research while participating in my wonderful daughter's childhood. This plan has the possibility of both Vija and I to truly thrive in the next years. I'm very excited.

The driver is my currently unsustainable life: A six grant proposal a year job (that's 10mos of time) in a company with a high overhead in a city with one of the highest childcare costs in the country. For the last two years I worked every weekend ($100/day babysitters), sleep from about 9pm-12, 3am-6. Inadequate salary to cover my enormous out-of-pocket expenses. If everything continues the same, by the time Vija starts Kindergarten in 2 or 3 years, I will be 40K$ in debt, and Vija will barely know who is her mother.


1) Switch my research company from Southwest Research Institute (250% overhead on grants, employees must be physically located in the Boulder office) to Planetary Science Institute (35% overhead on grants, employees can work where they want). Pay benefits, life insurance, retirement myself.

2) Move to Riga, Latvia with my funded research grants with backup job editing scientific journal articles from home for American Journal Editors during periods of no grant funding.

The other many benefits of 2):

0) affordable childcare
(excellent state-run free childcare or private ~$300/mo childcare) until age 6 ... babysitters will be a fraction of the $12/hr Boulder costs.
1) affordable medical care (free state-run care and cheap private excellent care)
2) my father was born there, and my daughter and I have citizenship, so the usual set of foreigner paperwork will be greatly reduced,
3) Latvia has not adopted the euro yet, they have a growing 3%+ GDP economy.
4) Very healthy food (vegetables, dairy), emphasis on country life.
5) Family: relatives in Tallinn, and some nearby to Riga, Vija can run in fields and forests for weeks of the summer.
6) Riga has a good international airport, close enough for frequent travel
7) Latvia and the Baltics has among the highest speed broadband in the world (it's no coincidence that Skype was invented in Estonia, and where else can one find WiFI in campgrounds?)
8) Riga has a university with a possibility for me to teach (I love to teach astronomy) and have students,
9) With no planetary science at the university, I can make a difference there,
10) I'll finally learn Latvian! By my 3yo daughter, who will pick it up alot easier than I will and can teach me. She is bilingual Spanish and English presently. I will teach her to read in English at the same time she will teach me Latvian, so it will be a good experience for both.
11) I'll get myself out of the 15K USD debt I'm in now, with the strong possibility to save alot of money during my grant research periods and Vija will have much more time with me, no matter what happens.
12) My strong opinions about the U.S. and Colorado daycare regulations won't be tested every moment.

I'll reevaluate our lives in 4 or 5 years to see if this is still the best place for us, and if not, Latvia will be an easy stepping stone to elsewhere in Europe, which is where I really want to be anyway.

More details here:

"In Latvia the kids are alright"
(Appeared easily via a Google-search: 'raising a child in Latvia')


Cost of Living Comparison between Denver, CO and Riga, Latvia


"And the leader in high speed fiber broadband is... Lithuania"

Downsides of 2)

1) 50 sunny days/year versus the 300 sunny days/year, I'm accustomed to for most of my life. (I'll get full-spectrum lights to help me)
2) The Latvian language will be hard for me (as languages are, but this one is special).
3) More frequent travel (to workshops and conferences) will be necessary to keep up with the activities in my field.
4) I'll miss the rich scientific SwRI environment (that's why more frequent travel to my colleagues will be necessary) and my new Boulder friends.
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Six weeks in Riga.

I've been almost six weeks in Riga. In this time, I have enough evidence that all of my reasons for moving here remain true. My daycare bill is less than a third of what I was paying in Boulder, good babysitters are on average $4/hr, and from what I've seen and been told, children here have great childhoods. Food is high quality. I have a 100 Mbits/s bandwidth Internet for about $25/mo. From my experience of both private and public medical care: public gets the job done and is free, private does better and still doesn't cost very much. I'm not sure that international health insurance would have been beneficial for all of our needs so far, but at the moment, I have none, and Vija still got what she needed for her broken arm this week (xray: $13, the cast and doctor consult: $30).

I also have confidence that all that I need for setting up and maintaining a home office will work in Riga. I have already established good working relationships with the Mac service and repair specialists and the supplies I'll need for an office can be found in a variety of places. For Vija, I have found the equivalent of her drawing and painting and playdoh supplies, and the toy stores are plentiful. Children's clothing and shoes stores are abundant here too, but I still might want to continue buying those from Ebay-UK. I still must determine how easy the postal mail system works. My five boxes from the US arrived fast, not speedy, but not even approaching Italian molasses postal speeds, and nothing was stolen out of my boxes like what I encountered in Italy too. I'll learn soon enough how fast mail order works here. There is an unexpected 21% VAT charge on the delivery cost of a package, even if I have nothing of high value inside the package.

Of my homes, June was a temporary living apartment that provided everything that I needed, with the exception of the Internet that I thought it had, and at the end, needed to buy privately for myself. It didn't have a bathtub, either only a shower, and no oven. Vija and I adapted to the situation. It did have its own independent heating and hot water, which provided an interesting contrast to our new long term home.

After June, we moved into our new long-term apartment. 'Squeezed' is still the appropriate word, as it is one less room than I'd hoped for storing things. I'm using the patio and I've begun to use my parking garage space that I'm not using for a car for storing boxes. The ceilings are very high, in the way that I like, and one floor-to-almost-ceiling openable window in two bedrooms with the living room having two. The patio is entirely encased with some heavy-duty plastic material, with spaces between the plastic panels, so it is possible to put things there and have it be almost protected from rain and snow. My view is entirely over a large park. The park has a water fountain, that the neighborhood kids use as a kind of watering hole, a large sandbox-playground, which is reasonable in structures, but will be renovated starting in about 1/2 year time, and the park has good paths for Vija to practice riding her bikes and many lovely trees.

With my last twelve days of experience, my new home is an odd mix of very old and very new. For the old, it depends on both 'city' heat and 'city water heating', which is what the majority of homes in Riga use. I'm not sure if I will need to get a space heater to help me through October and April/May, when the city heat is turned off, but I will find out soon enough. The water is so-so for drinking, but I've now a water filter system to give me good tasting tea again. For the new, the kitchen fixtures and cupboards seem almost new, with some configurations for storage that I'm still trying to understand.  There are cupboards near the ceiling that are useful, but for which I will need to have the highest stepstool (or ladder) to reach. It has an induction stove that most of my cooking pots cannot cook on so I've bought new, coming in the mail, a set of induction cooking pots.

My household arrived with its own drama. The Latvian American Shipping Line (LASL) never received an inventory list from my US mover, so I did that, twice, once by photographing my copies and making jpgs/pdfs and emailing the pages, and once, later in the LASL-Riga office, while we were collecting all of the paperwork for EU customs. Which was substantial, as I needed to prove that I intended to be in Latvia for a while. I needed to establish residency, so now the Latvian government has an updated residence for me for their database from 20 years ago, and I needed to provide copies of my rental contract, a letter from PSI for work reasons. As backup, I brought my childcare contract and receipts of doctor visits for Vija's and my physicals, but we didn't need those papers. With these documents, my household passed through EU/Latvian customs with no duty charges.

The delivery arrived on a late (last) Friday afternoon with the second drama. In a conversation between LASL-Riga and LASL-New Jersey, the company decided that they should deliver my shipping container from the truck with which it was picked up from the Riga warehouse with several other shipping containers. For reasons of not risking any possible damage to the contents of my shipping container. That meant a very VERY large truck to my home apartment, which didn't really have the space for such a large vehicle. Upon backing into the driveway of the parking garage, the driver backed into the parking garage gate sensor unit, snapping the structure off its base. The three deliverers arrived without a dolly for the boxes, so they decided to unload the whole shipping container into the parking garage, to wait until more help with the dolly arrived (2.5 hours later, as the five other helpers were in Jurmala moving the US ambassador to a new home). With the exception of this little accident, the driver did a superb job backing the monster truck in that space, especially with a car parked where it should not have been parked.

To add to the dilemma of logistics, there was Valentina, the property manager. I had a sense that she felt that here was an opportunity to make a theater production centered around her. Every thing that the movers did from parking the monster truck in the driveway of the parking garage (it didn't block access, there was a second lane), to unloading my container into the garage, to using the elevator, triggered another round of her wrath. I was the only one spared from her wrath, but perhaps that was because she knew that I couldn't understand her. And then the weirdest thing of all happened, at the end of the evening, 9pm or so, her boss appeared, and she became very nervous and (the movers told me: 'scared'), and she got in her car and 'ran away' (the movers' words).

And my household appears in good shape. My stereo is more robust than I thought, and survived well, even though the mover didn't use my box or foam inserts I provided. I don't have the wooden pins for stacking my bookshelves when he disassembled them too, but I constructed something equivalent with other pieces of wood that I had. My desktop computer booted up no problem. My very old wooden hutch has a broken pin on the door hinge. My plaster torso pregnancy body mask arrived in great condition. My printer condition is unknown still, but I was extremely careful in how I prepared it for shipping. My stored box of appliances from Italy: blender, toaster, mixer, hair dryer, raclette are incredibly helpful. Of the other contents of my household, so far, digging into 3/4 of the boxes, there's a little damage: glass in two picture frames shattered. My two glass turkish lamps survived though, which were also put in the same box without any wrapper as my framed photos by the US mover. The picture frames can be replaced, the turkish lamps cannot, so I consider myself lucky. I'll find out the condition of the rest of the glass of my kitchen when I unpack those boxes, but I'm pretty confident that those will be ok. Now, after five days unpacking, there is almost enough space clear from the boxes to lay down my rugs, unpack the rest of Vija's toys and start assembling furniture. My 'office', which is a corner of my living room, is halfway to being fully functional. Important items for my household still to buy and have delivered: a clothes cupboard, bathroom cupboard, a kitchen pantry cupboard, as there is not enough cupboard and closet space.

Of the people, I've discovered that they, the general Riga citizen, is much friendlier than I expected, and the average uncitizen is more criminal than I expected. I didn't have a problem with thefts in my subburb town of Rome until almost five years there, while I had a problem with thefts in Riga in ten days (my stolen bicycle). I've also been told that the criminal problem is more acute in Riga than the Latvian countryside.

So how do I feel generally, and how is Vija after these long weeks? Me, numb, I think. I've had a long series of large challenges. When I felt that I had passed through one, then in another day or two was another one on its heels. And so on for 6 weeks. First, I left my debit card in the machine at Riga airport. Then no hot water and no heat in my June apartment when we arrived. Then no cell phone service (TMobile has no coverage) in Riga, and I needed another phone service quickly (which still must be improved). Then another unexpected large payment to my US mover to make sure he was happy about  getting my household into a shipping container. Then doctor visits for Vija's and my physicals and TBE vaccination shots. Then barely any Internet in my June apartment. Then my bicycle and Vija's childseat got stolen. Then my good laptop computer developed a fatal malfunction on its motherboard. Then when I had my own Internet service and located a suitable apartment for us to live, how to pay for 3.5 months of unexpected initial rent. Then my largest NASA grant proposal yet, with a submittal directly during the time that I was moving from my June apartment to my long-term apartment with no Internet for submittal (I managed it using WiFI cafes and with my cell phone sim loaded with money for the long distance calls). Then one day with no hot water in my new apartment while the city makes repairs, and 3 days with no stovetop cooking while I learn the mysteries of induction stoves. Then the large paperwork for receiving my household. Then the drama of receiving my household. Then in the beginning of unpacking my household, Vija collides with another kid on the bouncy slide and breaks her arm. These were my challenges of my last six weeks. At this point, I'm holding my breath for the next thing, but really, what else could go wrong at this point? Isn't it all uphill from here?

For Vija, I think that she is accepting and beginning to really enjoy her new daycare, she has a good new friend named Lincoln, she is excited about her new 'apartment and playground' friendships, and she is generally adjusting to the transition. And we had a tremendously great Midsummer's day celebration that we will both not forget. However, I'm the direct recipient of her emotional state, which is especially hard for me when it's her/my bedtime. It's almost become a regular thing for her to hit me, kick me. At one of her kicks, she did it so hard, that I thought that my jaw was broken. At bedtime, no matter what is the routine we are in. And even when I try a different strategy to starting the bedtime routine alot more early than usual, she still thinks it's a game to get my attention that way, even though we've had endless discussions the next morning, and I remove her every time from me when she begins lashing out at me. Clearly something very big and something different needs to be done to change her behavior. I'm sure that my Love and Logic parenting course book has a strategy for dealing with this situation, but my mind is so filled with the other things that I'm solving every day, that I haven't had the energy for solving this one big situation too.

So at the six week point, I've made a substantial progress with getting us in our new home, her daycare and family doctor set up, household inside and almost fully functional. I'm interviewing babysitters to give me the help that I know that I need. I have tons of work, and was too saturated to look at email for one week, but I'm ready to get caught up on that too. It's work that is the largest worry for me now, as I need to do that, in order to have enough money to manage the large moving --- expected and unexpected --- expenses, and the other unexpected expenses (stolen bike, broken computer) too.  Fortunately $4/hr babysitters are the norm here and the daycare is super flexible to watch her more days (if I thought that was a good idea, but see above). Vija needs me more than she has been getting me these weeks, but it is not at severe as it was in Boulder, and considering that we just made an enormous move, I'll forgive myself. And I must say that I felt a tremendous satisfaction making Vija a rasberry smoothie last night, with the excellent kefir that is part of this culture, with my own blender, in my own apartment in my own kitchen in a new country.
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more pics uploaded to my FB album. (can't upload the videos of Midsummer's Day songs/dance/music until I get my other machine fixed/new machine)
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Four steps forward, one step back.

After 4 days of iteration with the owner, I signed a lease for our apartment today. I can use it as a declared address starting today. It was my second viewing of it, and I notice that the quality of fixtures and equipment is higher than my impression at my original viewing, so I'm more than satisfied. Many items in the apartment are new, for example.

Moreover, it has just the right amount of useful furnishings for me now. It has living room furniture and one set of bedroom furniture that the owner will remove in n (where n = what I want) weeks, so we can use it that extra furniture now and into July a little bit until our household on-the-ship arrives (not sure when yet). I have enough towels and some kitchen items and a little bedding material from our boxes, so that Vija and I can stay at our new apartment and be comfortable. We could move there now, if it weren't for the Internet being in my June apartment and my not being willing to let that Internet go until my PGG grant proposal is submitted (June 28 or June 29). We must be out of our current apartment by June 30, so I'm carrying around two sets of apartment keys right now.

The owner of our new apartment is a very busy Latvian lady who is one of the managers of the Central Market, which I've written about before. Some older pictures here: This woman has offered to Vija and I a good discount from some number of her best vendors for various (food and other) items. Suddenly living in Riga has become even cheaper for us.

The many days of iteration for me was the wording of the contract, its translation into English, and most of all, how to collect 3.5 months of rent in 2 days time. Latvian apartment owners don't really use references for tenants, they use extra money if they don't know you. The solution was a payment schedule split over 6 weeks time. Given what has already transpired for costs for this move, and the fact that Colorado apartment owners use just the first month and deposit and good references, I didn't have the necessary financial buffer so I depended on a credit card for the first half, that must be repaid in full in one months time. That one card also limited the amount of money retrieved at a cash machine, and even though my Heidelberg bank manager gave me permission to have the daily limit lifted for my purpose, their technicians didn't know how to do it. The majority of my Tuesday was spent on on Skype, talking to my German bank, running to the nearest bankomat machine and trying something (and failing to make the extra transactions), and then running to Skype and trying (and failing) and so on. So the owner will get more money from me at the end of this week. Cash.  I'm also paying her in the same way I paid my old Italian landlord: cash, every month that she will pick up, for reasons which I can make a strong guess. At least this time, contrary to what happend in Italy, she and I are keeping a written record and log for my payments. I have a good enough intuition about her that I expect that we'll have a good relationship, and that she can write a letter of reference for me at the end of my stay there.

And Vija was with me during our entire meeting, and the two seemed to like each other too. And Vija said: "We love our new apartment, don't we mom?!"

The one step back is that my fast Macintosh laptop has a signficant video hardware failure, that is either a well-known NVIDIA chip problem that Apple will exchange the motherboard for free, or else another chip problem of which the motherboard repair will come out of my own undeep pocket. I will know tomorrow morning which of the chip problems it is. Even if it is the first, my computer is one year too old to meet Apple's 4 year old computer limit, to seamlessly qualify for the motherboard exchange. But there is wiggle room, and if I can convince Apple Latvia, that they should allow me this exchange, then they can approve it, and the repair will be free. The weight I have on my side, is that I'm a PSI employee, and PSI is heavily using Apple equipment, and many of their scientists are funded by a well-known government agency (NASA.. yes the Latvians know who is NASA) so I might ask PSI to make the call to Apple Latvia to support me. If the video problem is the NVIDIA chip.

So now I'm well acquainted with the Riga Apple repair folks, which will be handy for my future. The place I left my computer at, this afternoon (dragging Vija along, for quite a distance on the bus), was a company called: 'Capital', who employ technicians qualified in some number of computer repairs. They don't work for Apple, but are qualified repair technicians. And they speak English, thank goodness. And could call me a taxi to get me back home with Vija, before she had a meltdown, since our afternoon return was about 4 pm, instead of the 1pm, of which I should have had her home to start her nap. She was really a good trooper with me today.

And thank goodness, I have my 8 year old, slow laptop computer with me too, with a full backup on an external disk of the fast failed machine, so I can work on my PGG proposal with the old (this one) computer. And if the failure is the second chip problem, a repair which will come of out my own undeep pocket, the company Capital has payment plans for Latvian residents, of which I'm one, and so I'll buy a new machine that way.
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Vija and I arrived in Riga, and now signficant parts of our new life are set up, as of June 15. 

Some pics here:

Here's a synopsis.

Vija and I left Boulder, Colorado for Riga, Latvia May 31, and we arrived June 1 to a temporary apartment on Rainis bulv. The Internet in the flat, however, was mostly down. My phone service: TMobile (which had coverage when I passed through the Balitics in 2008) has no coverage in Latvia now. I established our family doctor June 4 (TBE vaccinations and more to come on June 18). I fixed the Latvian daycare for my daughter (3days/week) June 7. I have a new Latvian sim in phone, but it doesn't work well for out-of-Latvia corresondence (will get another service). I have a new Latvian bank account, established June 13. I have a new personal Internet service, established in my June temporary flat June 13. I have a new apartment ... almost... June 15 (contract to sign hopefully on June 18, will move in on July 1).

I've been solving various issues since my last week in Colorado. So to help explain why the silence, here is a more detailed story. There's alot of difficult stuff in the beginning, but don't worry, it gets better as the story goes on.

Vija and I left Boulder, Colorado for Riga, Latvia May 31, and we arrived June 1 to a temporary apartment on Rainis bulv.

It was a tremendous push to get the Boulder apartment emptied, cleaned and ready for the next tenant, packed for Latvia temporary living, items sold or given away including the car. Brocoli car decided to have another electrical failure on the day that the new owner took it for a test ride. The owner still decided to buy it, but it was a financial hit to both of us: She paid about $1000 for the repair and I received half of what I originally asked for the car. In those days, I didn't gauge well what would fit in the suitcases, and I was so focussed on getting my home packed a little early (the mover was a day early), that I didn't have the head space to prepare the one month stuff well, and at the end I had two extra boxes on top of the three I expected that I would have, to airmail to Latvia. But no time either to mail them on the last days, and my dear friend Anne took over that large task. The estimate by the mover of my stuff across the US didn't make an accurate estimate of my household either, when he saw my manifest of what I came to Boulder from Italy with, and when he walked through my home in April.  The mover also unloaded my household onto the dock of the Latvian American Shipping Line, instead of the open shipping container waiting for him, requiring another day of him moving boxes. The situation was misunderunderstandings galore, super stressful for both of us, and at the end, my move across the US cost double what was his original estimate. The estimate by the Latvian American Shipping Line and I however was accurate for the volume to fit into the container so that cost remained the same. I expect to see my household in Riga at the end of June.

I left my Colorado credit union bankcard in machine at Riga Airport June 1 in my excitement of finding one that dispensed euros, instead of lats. I needed to pay for my temporary June apartment with euros, and my only previous exposure to euros on this trip was in the Frankfurt airport, when I needed all of my time between the Lufthansa and Air Baltic flights to move my significant luggage, including an enormous bicycle box, between airport terminals number one and two, with no help from airport personnel. One person told me: "extra personnel are one of the cuts we had to make for the economy". I received my new card from my credit union 12 days after, despite paying $50 for their 'fastest' FedEx several day service, and my Colorado credit union sent the PIN to my old address in Colorado.

It was a cold snap when we arrived, temperatures in the 40s-50sF. The heat was not working in the apartment, nor hot water. On the second day the building maintenance people fixed that, and has been working since, although today, the heater system is making a tremendous noise. Something is up with that, that needs to be fixed.

The shift to this time zone and number of hours was significant. Riga ia nine hours ahead of Boulder, ten hours ahead of my institute in Tucson. The number of hours of darkness at this time of year in Latvia is about three or four. We slept a large part of the first weekend when we arrived, and was late to our first appointment with the family doctor at 10am on Monday morning.

Yes, this June apartment has Internet, but it is a building-wide Internet account with two routers for the building tenants. Which means that when there are many other users, the signal drops to zero. Which was why (I believe), my Internet access was down more than up, and not reliable. For a reliable service, I finally bought a contract from Lattelecom, and I can take it with me to my new apartment. At least the Lattelecom Internet manager speaks English. Which is a situation I'm finding (say, happily), is true so far for the service people I'm needing to communicate with. The throughput of this ordinary service is 10 Mbits/s.

My bicycle that I brought here at great effort wth all of my child carrying accessories, didn't last long in Riga. Apparently one is not supposed to take their eyes off their bicycle in this town, even when it is locked. A few days after I assembled my bicycle and stored it in the ground floor of the building of my daughter's new daycare while I went to use the Internet in a nearby cafe, my bike was stolen. The building that houses my daughter's daycare, is also home to a music museum and music school. My bike was locked to some electrical cables, in protection of the pouring rain outside, and in view of the building 'keeper'.  So on that evening, I received an in in-depth view of the Riga police workings (two police stations), while I filed a theft report, which was in reality a criminal investigation, which included another visit to the 'crime scene', where my bike was stolen, and I saw where the electrical cables were cut. Because I needed to wait a long time to have an official translator, I saw some typical workings of the Riga police department in all of that time too. There was a soccer match on TV they were watching. There was a drunken person they'd picked up. There was an Estonian police officer who had travelled all that way to deliver something, and he had the wrong police station to deliver whatever too. He spoke in English first, and the Latvian police acted like they didn't understand, but I knew that was an act.. they could understand more than they pretended. Finally the Estonian fellow used Russian, and the communication went better. Oddly.

Probably my low point in all of the things that have happened in these weeks was the three hours that Vija and I were in the police stations. It turns out the Latvian mobile phone service/sim card that I signed up for was not the best; it's popular for the local people because of free text messages, but not very usable if you correpond outside of Latvia, so my brief usage of my phone resulted in a block for me to make any outgoing calls/text messages on the evening I was sitting in the police stations. Which was also the evening that I had scheduled my first socializing with a great new friend Indra whom I met Sunday at the Riga Zoo, when our children were playing with each other. Indra was at the Freedom Monument, where we arranged to meet, and I was in the police station, unable to contact her to tell her that I was going to be very (very!) late for our meeting. And Vija had already spent one hour scribbling in my notebook, she hadn't eaten for 4 hours by that point and was beginning to get cranky.

Fortunately, my phone allowed incoming calls, so Indra finally called me to inquire where was I, and she also had some knowledge of how long this criminal investigation was going to take. So she high-tailed it to the station with her 2 year old and occupied Vija's attention while the 'criminal investigation' proceeded. Which was a 3 page, two-sided, hand-written report. The police had a computer in their office (that was what I used to get a picture from Facebook of my bike), but there was nothing electronic in the process of writing their investigation/report.

So in a week or so, my uncle in Cesis, whose address is the only one I currently have that I feel I can use as a a real address, will receive a document from the Riga police department describing the theft. And perhaps in one year or so, he will receive another that describes the result of their 'criminal investigation', which will be nada, I'm almost sure. Indra said that the Riga police department is 'famously corrupt'.  At least I was in good company, as the ambassador from Norway had his bicycle stolen in those days from the basement of his consulate house. A friend of mine has set up a recovery fund so we can get another bicycle with child carrier here: .

Vija likes her new Latvian daycare. There are three teachers and they have about 12 kids there, which includes a 3 year old girl from Spain (so Vija can speak Spanish with her), and a 4 year old boy from the US (so Vija can speak English with him). She is learning Latvian, she is taking her nap there, she is playing with them, singing with them, cooking with them. Next Friday will be the precursor to Midsummer's Day called 'Ligo', where Vija will wear a vija (flower/leaf wreath) in her hair and sing Latvian songs. The cost for 3X week daycare per month, withmeals (breakfast, lunch, two snacks) is about $275/mo. You can see now some of the drivers that convinced me to move here.

There are 3 parks with good playgrounds for children within 10 minutes walking of my June apartment, where Vija and I go every day. Two of the parks have additionally, a variety of 'bouncy' things: bounce house, bounce slide, trampolines, where you must pay (about $2 for 15 min), but that's enough time to get her bounciness out. Other places in the area have elaborate playgrounds too: The Riga Zoo, for example. But the best play area by far is the "Dzintari" Children Forest Park in Jurmala. A 30 minute trainride (which was about $3 rt) to the Jurmala seaside from Riga. The Forest park is about a 20 min walk from the train platform. It fills a birch and pine forest with roller blading trails, a skateboard park, a bicycle park, and then a playground with most elaborate climbing structures and some of the coolest children's toys I've ever seen. Which is free, and open all year round.

This web page gives more places in the immediate vicinity that are great for kids:

Latvia is a country where one can afford to eat out, and so Vija's having the education for restaurants that I didn't have the time or money to give her in Boulder. She tries something new on every meal, so her feeding is successful. She likes Riga's Old Town, and I don't know why, because there are not balloon men in Old Town. But there are musicians and alot of elegantly-dressed people. Old Town is surprisingly not crowded either, at least at this time of year.

There are three Apple product stores within 10 minutes walk of my June apartment, and I see people using Macs (and iPads) more than Windows machines in the Wifi cafes here. Interestingly.

I found my favorite Masala loose Chai tea.

The food is super yummy, especially the vegetables and fruit and dairy products. I will be able to sample them better when I am in my new flat and have close proximity to the markets. Presently the only reasonably good market is a 30 min walk, bus ride away.

My Latvian passport gave me a personal code too,that everyone uses for their residence status, so I don't think that I will need to do anything to establish my residence. When I can use my new apartment as my declared address July 1, then I will begin the paperwork for Vija's Latvian citizenship (to be dual Latvian/US, like me).

I've begun to learn the bus / tram/ trolly system, and know enough of the city street names to be experimental with getting on buses going in the general direction of where I want to go and getting off not too far from I want to be. I've had some oopses going completely in the wrong direction, but a hop on the opposite direction bus straightened that out. I've now some experience with the trains from the Riga train station with a short trip to the seaside Jurmala too.

I made a new friend, Indra, mother of 2 year old Max, while our children were playing with each other at the Riga Zoo.  She is a Latvian business student living in Riga for this summer, but living usually in Copenhagen, married to a French hydraulics engineer. Meeting the parents of Vija's daycare playmates and Vija's playground playmates seems pretty easy, although I haven't made as signficant of a friend as Indra, at this time. It's obvious to me that Vija is my ticket to establishing a social life and support system here.

On June 15, I visited my first Riga apartment, and I decided to take it. I will sign the contract on June 18. We are wrangling over the two weeks in June that it will be empty, on top of the 3 months of rent initially (first, last, deposit) that they request and I hear is typical? (but I'm not sure). I hope things don't go awry. Of the size of the apartment, it will be a squeeze for me, to fit in a 100 sq m (1000 sq ft) place, because in reality, the size is exactly as my previous, but now I won't have the garage space for storage any more, plus I'll need to fit in what was formerly in my work office, at home. But in my household office supplies on the ship is a PDF scanner, that will be the perfect tool to reduce my household. Of the condition of the apartment, is is basic, a little better than my Frascati apartment in what it provides, and it does meet most of my basics, so that's enough.

The overwhelming factor in favor of this apartment is that it will be a dream location for Vija. There is an ENORMOUS park, right outside of the apartment courtyard with a playground in the corner of the park that I can see half from my balcony. One can reasonably imagine in a couple of years when she is a little bigger that I can watch her from my balcony. The apartment looks over the whole park, so it's quiet, with windows on one full side of the apartment (living room + one of the bedrooms), where is the balcony. The balcony is covered with a kind of heavy clear thick plastic, so it's not fully enclosed like a 'garden-window', but almost. Enough to store some things like equipment and bicycles. When I told the realtors and property manager that my daughter asked me yesterday morning "if I can find a tree for her to climb", they laughed, because from the balcony, all you see are trees. A hundred. Vija can step out the back gate of the apartment courtyard, go through one more fence and there she is, in her own park / trees / play structures / playground.

Here are a few pictures I found. I took more pictures when I returned that evening and put them at Facebook. Another description of the park, that will be our back yard. The web page is part of a pretty good Latvian tourist site.

Of the neighborhood of the new apartment: I struck gold. I didn't expect the neighborhood to be .... as superb as it is for families, although the bus stop: Bērnu Pasaule = "Children's World", where we got off, should have clued me in. In a 2 square block region (even considering that Riga has large city blocks), there are three food markets, 3 toy stores (one with 3 stories), 2 children's clothing and shoes stores, and at least one family restaurant. a doctor's office. Kids and families and babies in strollers everywhere. I found a number of repair shops from auto repair, clothing (sewing) repair and computer repair, several banks, including my new one, and two organic/health food stores ... small, but I found my German muesli, and I found a sheep salami that looked interesting that I'm going to try too. The buildings I saw run the range from wooden, brick, art nouveau. They are graffiti-laden, messy, dirty, complicated.. let's say I doubt that I will ever get bored exploring the environment.

Other things in favor of the apartment is that there are very good neighbors (the property manager told me), a family of five kids in the apartment below, a Latvian owner (that should make my dad happy), there is an underground parking space for if/when I get a car too for no extra cost (I could store some things in that space, but it's less secure, so I need to think about that.) There is a security code to get into the apartment area (I am guessing about 30 apartments?). I can use the apartment very soon as a declared address for my home and home-office. It has all of the basics I need for the home with a little bit of closet space, but I will need to buy a few more storage closets for the pantry and clothes, but I know all about that from my previous homes in Europe. The price is also excellent for the Center of Riga: 500 Lats/mo (=717 euros, $900). It is still a shock for the upfront costs, however, but I vaguely remember paying something like first/last/deposit for my first apartment in Germany. 

This week I expect to sign a rental contract, get a better mobile / cell phone service, have a physical (and Vija too) exam by our new family doctor, finish the shots for our TBE vaccination, so we'll be 100% protected against tick-borne encephalitis and go into the forest with less worry and especially for me  to be working in a more regular way to get myself back on a financial track. It was a horrenous push to get here, especially with costs that ballooned out of control, but those initial costs are almost finished, with the parts that I need to set up our new life almost finished, I expect improvements in our lives in leaps and bounds.
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I was asked to write a bio for the next Planetary Science Institute newsletter. It gave me an opportunity to update what I had already written and to give more personal insight. Pasting below.


Amara Graps, 51, is a "renewed" PSI scientist beginning the process, June 1, to set up a PSI presence in Latvia, in its capital city: Riga, the city where her father was born. Although she doesn't speak the language yet, she has citizenship (dual USA/Latvian/EU), and expects better time for science and her young daughter there, while learning the Latvian culture of which she has only had brief samples up to now.

Amara's love of cultures probably mirrors Amara's love of the various facets of astronomy. One aspect is not enough, so if one can ask what is the common thread through her 32 year work career, it is 'everything astronomy'. Her astronomy career probably began in high school in Orange County, California, when she decided that she could make a better living at science than at photography, (although many years later, her experience working in Italy questioned that decision). At age 19, she had her first job in the field as an assistant to an observational astronomy instructor at Saddleback Community College. Not long afterwards, via a followup to conversations with a guest lecturer: Eleanor Helin at her amateur astronomy group, she applied for a position at JPL collecting asteroid data at the small Schmidt telescope at Palomar Observatory. While at Palomar, she met some members of the Voyager mission team, who were collecting auxillary data on Jupiter's moon: Io. With Voyager's recent flyby of Saturn, they needed help! Amara applied for a position studying Saturn photopolarimeter data from the recent Voyager 2 flyby and she applied and got the job. That marked her professional entry into the planetary science field. She was a sophomore in physics at University of California, Irvine at the time.

Working at JPL weekends and holidays and going to school fulltime meant that something had to give a little, which was school. Her JPL work was exciting, fun, fullfilling. Her school work was hard, tedious, but she did graduate with a B.S. in physics, however with not stellar grades. Which were deciding factors when she first tried to get into graduate school soon after and didn't succeed. But she remedied and bootstrapped those early poor grades with math and physics courses wherever she was living, while continuing her planetary science data analysis. I say 'data analysis' because Amara found that being a scientific programmer to planetary science teams was in fact a fine career. One that lasted 18 years before she pursued a PhD. But the scientific programming was beginning to lose its challenges, and a repetitive strain injury in 1994-5 forced her to take a critical look at her career path. She needed that PhD.

In July 2001, at age 40, she completed her PhD in Physics from Universität Heidelberg (Germany) and the Max Planck Institut für Kernphysik, researching the charged dust dynamics of the Jovian dust streams. Her previous formal education occurred in conjunction with her jobs: She earned her B.S. in Physics in 1984 from the University of California, Irvine while she was working at JPL, and her M.S. in Physics (w/Computational Physics option) in 1991 from San Jose State University while she was associated with NASA Ames.

Now academic training and career job converged. After her PhD and postdoc in Germany, she was in Italy as a (long-distance) associate researcher with PSI, her first stint, and as a researcher at the Institute of Interplanetary Space Physics (INAF-IFSI) in Rome, Italy, where she supported the space missions (Cassini, Rosetta, Dawn) that carry INAF's infrared spectrometers. She also worked as an astronomy instructor at the American University of Rome. But writing grant proposals needs a learning curve, and being fully supported by such is yet another learning curve, so her first try at being fully supported by research grants before her savings ran out didn't work, so she jumped to Boulder, Colorado to Southwest Research Institute for a two year contract supporting New Horizons,and continuing the grant proposal route to self-funding at the same time. In this period also, Amara officially started her family (her daughter Vija, now 3 years old, who might be the most planned baby on Earth).

Amara's life as a new mother (single parent) and following the self-funded research path demonstrated what works and what didn't. A flexible work life is key for a new parent, so that worked. What didn't work was high cost-of-living and childcare and working every weekend and half of every night for two years on grant proposals, while losing precious time with her daughter. So hence the return to PSI, to give her the possibility to live where she wants, and to Latvia with lower cost-of-living and childcare to have more time for her daughter and more time for science.

And her work? She is continuing to support the New Horizons Pluto mission and continuing her old PhD studies of circum/interplanetary dust charging and dynamics with a new focus on how dust charges and moves on asteroids. She has brought into her professional realm an old hobby interest of the question of the origin of water on the terrestrial planets via geochemistry and geochronology tools. But two year contracts for 20 of the last 30 years for 12 different astronomy teams shows the variety. Now after about 30 years, her work looks like this: In her ESA and NASA projects, she has analyzed data from the New Horizons space mission, Rosetta spacecraft, Ulysses spacecraft, GORID/Express spacecraft, Cassini spacecraft, Galileo spacecraft, SOHO spacecraft, NASA's Kuiper Airborne Observatory, NASA's ER-2 aircraft, the Voyager 2 spacecraft, the Pioneer Venus Orbiter spacecraft, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), the Space Shuttle's SpaceLab 2, and ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, California, and Arizona. The data includes calibration star cluster fields, dust from Saturn's and Jupiter's magnetosphere and Earth's geostationary orbit, the Sun, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, Comet Halley, Supernova 1987a, Venus, Mars, Io, Mercury, the Moon, Saturn's and Uranus' rings, asteroids, Earth's atmosphere, protostars, molecular clouds, galaxies, novas, main-sequence stars, and the exhaust-cloud around the Space Shuttle.

Amara's hobbies include bicycle touring, volcanoes, Cremona violins, photography, writing, watercolor painting, studying philosophy, and learning new languages. She is very interested in helping people learn about the cultural interdependent nature of people on our planet. And she adores her daughter, who has superceded her hobbies during the last 3 years, but her daughter is at the age when she can begin participating in them with her mom.
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[of the silence] Excuse me while I put 6000 pounds in boxes and submit a grant proposal and start a life in a new country.
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This is an excellent list!

I am so pleased to see "open" education continuing to expand. All knowledge should be free and accessible to everyone in order to realize/ maximize the greatest benefits for all of humanity. If only we could separate economics and greed from important systems/services like healthcare and scientific publications, more people would benefit from these services/knowledge.
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