Flax at Mount Vernon, George Washington's home outside of Alexandria, VA.

Blue flax flowers in bloom at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation home outside of Alexandria, VA.

I am home after a whirlwind, week-long road trip (twelve hours each way) to the East Coast to visit old friends. Four different houses I stayed in; four sets of friends opened up their homes to me and my family in the middle of work and school demands and welcomed our often tired and hungry selves into their lives for a bit.

When my six-year-old daughter visits a friend’s house for the first time, she clings to me until she can muster up the courage to ask the most important item on her agenda, expressed in a shy whisper: “I want to see her room.” I can relate to that.  Inside each of my friends’ houses and apartments – even visiting George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon and and touring the offices at the Latvian Embassy in Washington, D.C. – is like its own little museum to observe, to appreciate, to help one understand each resident a little better. And I get to feel their lives for a moment: I am a traveling diplomat when I browse the wall of a friend’s photos from around the world; I get to watch TV and drink coffee surrounded by beautiful paintings in the homes of friends who are artists; I get shivers when I stroll by the wall of black-and-white portraits of ambassadors who maintained a diplomatic “house” despite the Soviet Union’s occupation of their home country; I shudder at the conditions of the rooms that slaves once lived and worked in on Washington’s plantation home; and I find comfort in the artwork of my friends’ children, who have posted their work on the fridge and their bedroom doors using stickers and lots of tape.

This last week, I saw home as a place of refuge; home as a place to keep treasures from another land; home as a terrible burden of work and suffering; home as a place to create and admire beauty. Here is a bit of what I saw:

Felted wool soap from Riga (the bar of soap is on the inside) in my friend’s apartment. So typically Latvian: inspired by nature but also modern, unconventional and beautiful.

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My friend’s tautas tērpi, Latvian folk dance ensemble, hanging up on her closet door and ready for the 2013 Latvian Song and Dance Festival, which takes place in Riga every five years. The fabric was woven by her grandmother in Latvia; the fabric and style of the tautas tērpi are typical to her grandmother’s hometown.

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The view of the Latvian flag from inside that country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. A few Latvians maintained a sort of embassy throughout the Soviet Union’s occupation of Latvia, even though there was no home government to report to in that period.

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Flax spinning wheel at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon home, in the sleeping quarters of the plantation’s slaves: “The spinning house was the most important structure on the north lane. At Mount Vernon ten or more slaves were constantly employed spinning and knitting. The wool and flax fiber that they worked with were grown on site.” Mount Vernon Educational Resources (Slavery: Plantation Structure)

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Sheep grazing at home, that is, George Washington’s home.

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