Saturday, August 31, 2013

Circle of Moms Top 25 Southern Moms

Happy Labor Day weekend!!!
 
This time last year we had just returned from a trip to Utah, where I crossed off a lifelong wish to see Arches National Park. Soon after we were back in Gaŗezers for a last hurrah of the summer, and then it was back to house-hunting in South Carolina. It was a time of readjustment and reverse culture shock, and looking back on those hot and humid days spent in temporary housing I swallow hard, reminded of all I have to be grateful for. Although our time in France ended much too quickly, we gained so much from our experiences and adventures there. In addition, it was moving to Clermont-Ferrand that brought about this blog!
 
Hardly even a year into our expatriate journey Femme au Foyer was nominated as a Circle of Mom’s Top 25 Expat Mom Blog. If you look over to the right side of my blog, a little ways down you’ll find a “Circle of Moms Favorite” badge, which is just one more memory of the years in France – and a reminder of all the readers that cared enough to vote, to get this blog to #4 on the list. Best of all, I made several new blogging acquaintances, including Ariana at And Here We Are and Aidan at Conjugating Irregular Verbs - whom I still follow.

Circle of Moms Top 25 Southern Moms - 2013 - Vote for me!
 
Once again I’ve been nominated for a Circle of Moms Top 25 blogger, this time in the Southern mom category. If I could ask a favor from y’all, and to click over and vote for me? These first days I’m still listed under the “Pending Approval” tab, but all you have to do is find my blog and click on the red heart next to it. There is no signing in, no registration, only a few clicks. It would mean a lot to me to make the Top 25, and I’ll tell you why. First off, I look forward to checking out the other blogs and meeting some new bloggers from down South, and second, my competitive streak has kicked in. But most of all I look at this as an opportunity for some closure; no longer am I an expat mom blogger, and since I’ve been struggling a little with finding a purpose to keep writing, this recognition would give me a renewed sense of purpose to keep searching for my niche.
 
Thank you for each and every vote, comment and email. I wish all of you, whether French and expat friends from our time overseas, Latvian readers here and abroad, Americans, Brits, Aussies… all of the readers who drop in now and again, a wonderful Labor Day and last days of summer.
 
PS Please remember to enter the giveaway! Bonne chance!

Friday, August 30, 2013

My cousin, the entrepreneur! {giveaway}

A new store opened up in December of last year in my hometown, Local Goods Chicago. They sell goods made by over 75 local artisans, teach classes to the community and have a coffee shop inside. This past June they accepted a new consignor… my cousin!
 
In honor of her first business I am hosting a giveaway of one of her products, a gift-set of three dishcloths. Our first Annelī original was a housewarming gift on their visit just before Lauris was born. We have used nothing else since, even stocking up for our overseas assignment, and they are fantastic. Bold colors brighten up my kitchen, the durable materials stand up to daily use, and they are ‘green’ – instead of having to throw it out like you would a sponge, I just toss it in the wash with my dish towels.

 
To those of you in Chicago, I urge you to stop by Local Goods Chicago! Check out the lovely (yet functional) dishcloths and finger puppets made by a 14 year old local artist, browse the art gallery or have a cup of coffee, and then let me know what you thought of it, as I haven’t had the chance to stop in just yet! And to those not in Chicago, you can always visit the facebook page or website.

 
In order to have a chance to win a set of Annelī’s creations, please either leave a comment on this blog post (and if it is anonymous please leave me a way to contact you) or send me an email before Friday, September 6th, 2013. To those reading in France, Latvia and elsewhere outside of the US, feel free to enter. Duplicate entries will be discarded, and I will not be held responsible for anything damaged/lost in the mail. One winner will be selected at random by pulling a name out of a hat (or maybe a box or a bag, we’ll see how the day goes). I have received no compensation for this post, and the winner will be contacted for their mailing address soon after the giveaway closes.
 
I wish my beautiful, talented cousin much success with her business!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2 vagabonds, figs and head wounds

I’ve been following the blog “100 Latviešu stāsti" since about #40something. The two authors, Ģirts and Kristaps, are traveling the globe interviewing Latvian émigrés. By emphasizing the things that those interviewed miss most they hope to help those Latvians still in Latvia to appreciate the things they have. By staying with acquaintances and “couchsurfing,” the pair have been traveling low-budget all over the world - they've just departed this continent en route back to Europe. While in America, our paths unknowingly crossed in Gaŗezers and although we didn’t have the chance to meet (if only I had known they would be there!), I had quite the surprise the other day when I sat down at my computer. Story #85 featured a familiar face – my mother! So if you’re curious about how some Latvians in the US today have managed to keep their cultural identity, do take the extra 15 seconds to use Google translate and check out this article, “85.stāsts “Mazās Latvijas” darba rūķis – Inga.”

Then there is this article, “What Should a 4 Year Old Know,” that has eased my mommy-guilt about not sending Lauris off to preschool this fall to learn his multiplication tables, but also motivated me to spend more time with the boys, less time with the computer. Dad is supervising bathtime while I write, if you must know…

We are (I am) thinking of planting a fig tree in the backyard, but wanted to test out a few figs on the family before dedicating a piece of the backyard. Want a super-healthy, quick and easy dessert for those weeknight meals? Cut an x into the top of a fig, big enough that you can stuff a teaspoon or so (depending on how big the fig) of goat cheese in, but not so large that the fig opens up, sprinkle with some thyme (or Herbs de Provence) and bake at 400˚F for 8-12 minutes until fruit opens slightly and the cheese crisps. Drizzle with honey and serve warm. I’ll admit, the boys weren’t as big of fans as I was… Verdict on the tree? Probably only if we get a free tree…

roasted figs with goat cheese and honey
After giving away dozens of cucumbers and (sadly) having to compost another half-dozen, we finally caught up to the cucumber production from our garden. (And by caught up, I mean the seven cucumbers sitting in the salad drawer in the fridge will get eaten before going bad.) So one day last week found me buying cucumbers at Tomato Vine: why, you might ask? Well, because they finally had dill in stock, and it’s pickling time! As the cucumbers coming from the garden are the size of small baseball bats and my Ball jars are the Liter variety, I dug through the bin for some smaller, pickle-sized cucumbers. Dill pickles are sooo easy, maybe I’ll have to share the recipe I learned from my Latvian “neighbor” while living in Detroit, Rudzīšu kundze… She had a 5L jar, much more suitable for the 2013 summer harvest! But maybe you are already starting to plan next year's garden, so here's a little inspiration for those of you living in the city - City Farming Like You've Never Seen Before!

Source: here
We’re planning our fall calendar, and it looks like there might be a trip or two in the near future. If you’re also plotting out your autumn excursions, you might want to take a look at this article on budget-friendly road-trip destinations. She had me at Ben and Jerry’s! And to the author, I wish you and your love a long and adventure full marriage – congratulations on the engagement!

Our annual membership to the Greenville Zoo is still good for a few months, but we’ve been getting our full of the lions, ocelots and gibbons while the weather is warm. It turns out this is the ideal time of the year to visit the zoo; school is in session but the field trips have not been scheduled yet, the weather is slightly cooler but it is still open at 9am – a guarantee you’ll have the place to yourselves.

Saturday marked our first visit to an emergency care center here in Greenville after Lauris fell from a tree stump. Also involved was another chunk of the same tree and a chicken coop – sounds like the start to a joke, does it not? The gash on his head was not funny, but luckily didn’t require stitches. I was assured that the glue wouldn’t leave a scar, but as it’s above the hairline and scars look rugged on boys anyway… Once again, the ordeal was worse for mom (I’ve added a few gray hairs to my collection) and Lauris forgot about crying the second he was handed two giant bouncey balls by the doctor.

I’m a little concerned about this writing style that seems to have taken over my recent posts – the “dump everything into a post by giving every event its own paragraph” approach. Although this capricious tactic might represent the state of my mind at the moment, I do feel as though I have a more cohesive month or two coming up; I hope you’ll bear with me and stay tuned.

Monday, August 26, 2013

It’s a pirate’s life for us!

To distract the boys from their father’s trip up north I reserved a spot at the South Carolina Children’s Theatre production of Ahoy Mateys! Pirate Party. Billed as “a chance for your very special youngster to wear their very finest pirate attire and attend a very fun and active event… a fun filled hour of pirate skills and sword fighting, a pirate story, and pirate grub.”

 
The biggest clue they know what they are doing? I was reminded three separate times to please not bring your own swords as swords will be provided… What they didn’t tell me was that the boys would get to keep their swords!

 
The Theatre is located on the West End, convenient in location and with a back lot for parking. We had a grand time singing, dancing, sword fighting and reading along with Captain Sparrow and her gang, and although Lauris wasn’t ready to go up front with the rest of the swashbuckling crew, we enjoyed ourselves just the same. The first mates were fed snacks at the hour’s end, and soon we were walking the plank back to the car.

 
The South Carolina Children’s Theatre’s next production is Annie (September 6-22) but eventually the pirates will be back for Jingle Arrrgh the Way! A Christmas Pirate Adventure.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

End of summer checklist

Attend the Park Hop closing celebration – check!

Held at Conestee Park, this event was the culmination to months of “park hopping” to complete the scavenger hunt sponsored by LiveWell Greenville. We visited 16 of the 17 parks featured (and technically I don’t believe the Fountain Inn Farmer’s Market counts as a “park”) and although we didn’t win any of the adventure-themed prizes, the boys had loads of fun running around Conestee during the game, they love their new shirts, and we had the chance to visit nine parks we had not yet been to. As Greenville county Park Hop 2013 is over, keep up to date with next summer’s hop at parkhop.org. I can’t wait to see which parks are chosen next year; hopefully one or two close to us make the cut, and the majority are a little more toddler-friendly than this year’s. (Cedar Falls Park was my favorite of the new parks visited on the hop…)
 
Run into random university mascot during storytime at the local library – check!

Sponsored by Cocky’s Reading Express (a literacy outreach program), the USC mascot and friends read a few books, posed for pictures with fans and gave each child in attendance their very own book. Although the boys were a bit weary of the life-sized rooster sporting a giant beak and talons at first, they warmed up after the bird took several tumbles during Chicken Little’s “The Sky is Falling.” End result = lifelong Gamecock fans? Not just yet, it will take a little more than a free book. Dear Clemson Tiger – do you know how to read also?
 
Check on the progress of the construction crew down the street – check!

The rain has really slowed them down, but a few days ago the site was buzzing during one of the few cool, dry days we’ve had this summer. Favorite construction equipment? The dump trucks and excavators.

 
Catch Downtown Alive – check!

The weekly music series at NOMA square ends with the last Thursday of August, so if you haven’t made it to downtown Greenville yet, you only have two more chances. With local, regional and national bands playing rock, blues, funk, and covers, this event is the single largest fundraiser for the Metropolitan Arts Council every year. Just remember: all the restaurants that have outdoor seating look like the perfect spot to enjoy the music while having a glass of wine or trying a local microbrew, but there is a citywide ordinance that says you must order food with your drinks if you want to sit outside.

 
Visit the doctor for well-visits – check!

On a glum and rainy day the boys walked out with a shot or two apiece, but luckily the day was saved by the arrival of Foršā avīzīte, the zine published by the cousins. Add in baking sugar cookies with our brand new train, plane and automobile cookie cutters, and you have two smiling kids.
 
 
Catch a Greenville Drive game at Fluor Field – check!

After our last attempt at supporting our local minor league baseball team was rained out, what would be the chances of it happening again? Luckily between the Playcation package, the finished library summer reading program, a Michelin family event and a completed Park Hop we had a few extra tickets. Lauris enjoyed some one on one time with dad watching the Drive play the Rome Braves on Tuesday and we have our fingers crossed the weather holds for tonight’s game.


A last visit to the Children's Museum of the Upstate before the school groups take over – check!

We didn't go to Grown-Ups Only night, the party for adults hosted by the museum as a fundraiser, but we did have a ton of fun on several of the humid and hot days here in Greenville. As these tickets were also part of our Playcation package I really feel as though we got our money's worth, having visited the museum and the waterpark and having been rained out twice at Fluor Field. We'll definitely be taking advantage of this deal next summer!


Neither of the boys will be attending school this fall, but I still feel this sense of urgency to maximize every day remaining, take advantage of every opportunity and get the most out of the last days of summer. We've had a cool spell in addition to the rain, and I sense closet organizations, end of summer garden work and fall activities taking over our schedule in the next weeks. However until then we'll have to squeeze in a few more evenings spent downtown, more meals centered around all the wonderful fresh produce available this month and some time out on the porch swing reading books & sipping lemonade. Happy final days of summer, my friends!
 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The butterfly garden at Roper Mountain Science Center

We tend to visit Roper Mountain Science Center at least once a month. If not for one of the events (like the blueberry festival, Holiday Lights or Green Halloween) then it is usually for a playdate in the butterfly garden. Although you can easily become a member and enjoy free admission to the planetarium and observatory in addition to many other benefits, the butterfly garden is free to members and non-members alike.

a gulf fritillary
 
The butterfly garden is a joint project of the Roper Mountain Science Center, the roper Mountain Science Center Association, and the Greater Greenville Master Gardeners. Upon entering the RMSC drive keep your eyes peeled for a sign posted “gardens” and follow off to the right. Next to the Harrison Hall of Natural Science and Technology are the pond and the butterfly garden, as well as access to several of the trails that lead to the farm and even all the way to the observatory.
 
 
A butterfly garden is planted with species of plants utilized by butterflies for food, protection and reproduction. Host plants are the plants eaten by the caterpillar or larva and each species of butterfly has a specific plant that the adult butterfly lays her eggs on and which the caterpillar will eat. Nectar plants provide food for the adult butterfly, as butterflies will use their proboscis to sip nectar from the flowers of the plant. The garden will also have protection from the wind, a damp spot for puddling and sunny areas to soak up the sun. It isn’t unusual to see other wildlife in the garden, such as hummingbirds and songbirds, a lizard or toad, and all sorts of insects.

tiger swallowtails are a common sight
 
On our visits we often utilize the covered picnic area, splash in the running “creek” and visit the frogs, turtles and fish living next door in the pond. There is usually something blooming all through spring, summer and fall, and it is hard to decide which season we prefer. Although spring is nice for lack of mosquitos, summer has the widest array of butterflies and blooms, fall brings the beauty of leaves changing color in the adjacent forest and winter has its own beauty. The Greater Greenville Master Gardeners maintain the garden, and it isn’t unusual to see someone hard at work on our visits. Kudos to them for the inspiring work they do, and thank you to the RMSC for having the garden open to non-winged creatures as well, allowing us to learn and play in such a beautiful place.

 
For more information on the Roper Mountain Science Center and the various programs and resources, please visit their website, http://www.ropermountain.org/

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Greenville, Best Town 2013!

If you haven’t seen it, Greenville has once again made it on the “best” list, this time Outside magazine’s “Best Towns 2013.” Mentioned in the article were the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the new bike share program, the abundance of great restaurants and the proximity to the great outdoors - Paris Mountain and the National Forests of the Upstate specifically mentioned. The great thing about these lists is that they just reinforce what I already know; there is tons to do in and around Greenville! Other than the bike share program we’ve tried/been to every activity/place in the article in the recent past, hiking on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, catching a Ranger-led creek tour at Paris Mountain SP, trying out new restaurants and indulging in fresh, local food from the state farmers market and local groceries.

Enjoying a summer stroll on the Swamp Rabbit Trail
The easy access to nature might be my favorite thing about Greenville, but the availability of healthy, local food probably comes in second. I’ve already blogged about my favorites: Tomato Vine, the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery and the state farmers market, but there are plenty more options in the area. Saturday we headed out to the downtown market, which is possibly a little pricier than the year-round alternative, but is more of an experience than a shopping opportunity.

We picked up some breakfast and coffee, found a spot to let the boys run around and took a pause: on a beautiful summer morning this is a great destination. It wasn’t all just lounging around, as we did buy a wonderful chèvre from Spinning Spider Creamery,  but mostly it was slow strolling – a perfect start to a relaxing weekend. There are often cooking demonstrations and live bands playing, but make sure to drop by soon, as the Saturday Market only runs until October 26th.

A very recent favorite local store of mine is Parkersway Food. Another place that isn’t much to look at from the street, this family owned business supplies many local restaurants with their meat, including Northgate Soda Shop, famous for their pimento cheeseburgers. On my first visit I was a bit put off by the grocery selection, but after driving by a few more times and seeing steaks and other cuts of meat advertised outside I decided to stop by again and give the butcher a chance. Am I glad I did! At competitive prices the meat is loads fresher than what the local supermarket stocks, and the owner cuts to order. We buy almost all of our beef, pork and poultry there now and have not been let down once. They make their own sausage, smoke their own pork and can get me almost anything I ask for. The customer service cannot be beat, and giving a local store my business in exchange for fresh food is a win-win in my book. Tip: they stock Suber’s Old Style Water Ground Meal, produced the old-fashioned way by grinding with a water-turned stone. To get the best tasting grits and cornmeal you’ve ever had, try Suber’s Corn Mill’s products.

The best “local” experience in the past week however, did not come from a store. Imagine the boys’ happiness at finding heavy machinery, chain saws, men in hardhats and a roped-off street… without having to leave the front porch! An old telephone pole was finally removed, freeing us of the worry that the already-loose post would topple on a passerby or vehicle, and this mom got her 15 minutes of zen… They say they’ll be back tomorrow to fill in the hole, maybe if I time it right I’ll get another 10 minutes of peace.

Friday, August 16, 2013

On cooking with kids - gateau au yaourt

I’ve got two boys that love to “help” in the kitchen. Although I can’t wait for the day that they start washing dishes, it can be tough to find things for them to do; Mikus is too young to be left unsupervised, and Lauris still needs help with many tasks. My goal with them is not to create more work for myself in clean-up; instead I aim to familiarize them with the ingredients that go into the foods they eat, teach  them the kitchen basics and keep them out of trouble while I’m cooking.

 
While living in France I often heard about gâteau au yaourt, or yogurt cake. You might be familiar with it from the book “Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” by Pamela Druckerman. Although I found many things in the book to be stereotypes and not representative of the French parents I knew, the yogurt cake was in fact often baked in many households. Not only does it teach children the basics of measuring, mixing and baking, but it instills patience (yes, in the parents, also…), as the kids have to wait for it to cook before they can have it for their goûter, or afternoon snack. I waited for a while to try it out with the boys, as I wanted Lauris to be able to work independently for the most part – that is after all what yogurt cake is all about. Although he still is not able to follow the recipe completely by himself, he does well enough alone that I can concentrate on keeping his brother out of trouble.

 
What makes this the perfect recipe to bake with kids is the measuring system; the empty yogurt containers are used to measure everything but the vanilla and baking powder, and for those a ½ teaspoon measuring spoon will do (3 “spoons” baking powder and 2 “spoons” vanilla). I grease the pan for Lauris and then read off the ingredients, but he does the “measuring” and pouring. Mikus lends a hand with adding a few ingredients and mixing, and then mom handles the baking. We opted to add chocolate chips this last time around, as it was that kind of day, but really you can put just about anything in it: berries, fruit or nuts to give the kids some variety, lemon zest or rum to make the grown-up version. There are two basic recipes floating around, we use the one from Druckerman’s book, which is also the one I’ve included at the bottom of this post. I’ve found that baking it in a loaf pan extends the cooking time and creates a crunchier crust, but a cake tin will give you more of a smooth cake-like texture. It’s delicious either way, and as long as the boys keep eating it we’ll keep making it.

 
Bringing up Bébé’s gâteau au yaourt
 
Ingredients
2 six-ounce containers  of plain whole-milk yogurt
2 eggs
2 containers sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Just under 1 container of vegetable oil
4 containers  flour
1 ½ teaspoons  baking powder
Crème fraîche (optional)*
 
Directions
Preheat the oven to 375˚F
Use vegetable oil to grease a 9-inch round cake pan or a loaf pan.
Gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and oil. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients; mix gently until ingredients are just combined (don't overmix). You can add two containers of frozen berries, a container of chocolate chips, or any flavoring you like.
Bake for 35 minutes, then five minutes more if the cake doesn't pass the knife test. It should be almost crispy on the outside, but springy on the inside. Let it cool. The cake is delicious served with tea and a dollop of crème fraîche.*
 
*As crème fraîche is not readily available in Greenville, we tend to eat it alone, or with a dab of butter (must be the Southern influence, thanks Paula Deen!)
** Another option is to top with slivered almonds (before baking) or powdered sugar (before serving) for a more glamorous result. Perhaps the mommies are coming over for a playdate and you don’t want them to know your son did the baking?
*** If you wish to lower the sugar intake you can cut the 2 cups the recipe calls for in half easily without hurting the end result – it just won’t be as sweet, which isn’t a problem if you’re adding berries or chocolate.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kannika's Thai Kitchen, a new favorite!

There’s this Thai place in Chicago that was a family favorite for years, still is a family favorite as we often celebrate birthdays or graduations for which I’ve returned to my hometown. Opart Thai for me has set the bar on what Thai food should taste like, and I still find myself ordering chicken satay at every Thai place I have ever eaten as a first test; if the peanut sauce isn’t the real thing and the satay is tough, I go for the easy meals and avoid anything more complicated as I know it just won’t measure up.

 
Over the weekend we stayed busy running errands, and as it was approaching lunchtime Roberts commented on a Thai place in the strip mall across the street from the mall. Before we moved to France there was another Thai place in that spot, and if I remember correctly I had heard mixed reviews. As my husband does not often suggest restaurants my curiosity was aroused, and not long after we found ourselves in front of the unassuming storefront on Haywood Rd. Any doubt I had evaporated upon entering, as the interior of Kannika’s Thai Kitchen is lavishly decorated complete with a running-water piece and beautiful ornaments on the walls. Although the first real test (of satay) was yet to come, I was already impressed as we were efficiently seated in a great spot. A high chair was provided and glasses and knives removed from the kids’ places, which lets me know they are used to younger patrons and happy to have them. The trend continued, as the service was great throughout: never pushy, always polite and helpful.

 
The satay and peanut sauce passed with flying colors, served with the little bowl of cucumber salad as it should be. My husband ordered the pork Pad Thai, and I chose the garlic chicken (Pad Gr ate-um), and the servings were large enough that we had plenty to share with the boys and still had some to take home (which saves me from having to figure out dinner tonight, win!). I was impressed with my stir fry; the veggies were crisp, the beef tender (and fresh, not the usual cut you see in stir fry) and the sauce delicious. As my experience in other Thai places in Greenville has been of exquisite-smelling food that ends up being tough work to chew (and loses the taste before you can even swallow), I immediately knew we had found a new favorite Thai place without even trying Roberts’s noodles. And yes I eventually did, even though I’m not a Pad Thai fan, and they were delicious too! I can’t wait to try other dishes, such as the soups which have been getting good reviews on urbanspoon.com, or one of the house specialties… My Thai iced coffee was the perfect complement to the semi-spicy meal, and I really couldn’t have been more satisfied with the food, the service or the price.

 
Not long after, back at home base just in time for naps, dark clouds rolled in and thunder was soon booming overhead. We’ve not even crossed half the items off of our to-do list, but it has been a wonderfully productive, yet relaxing weekend. As the summer draws to a close we’ve quite a few activities planned for these last weeks of August, but judging from the super-satisfying meal we had at Kannika’s we’ll have to fit in another visit there as well.

Kannika's Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon
 
* As of November, 2013 Kannika's has moved to a new location. They are now down the street at 430B Haywood Road, and although I wasn't as wowed by the interior as by their previous home, the food is still just as delicious!

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Doomsday Castle in the Upstate

“Nothing brings a family together like Armageddon!”
 
In February we toured what I dubbed “Château du Upstate,” the unfinished castle from reality show Doomsday Preppers episode “No Such Thing as a Fair Fight.” Due to high popularity rankings and “prep score,” the castle inspired its very own spinoff, Doomsday Castle.

 
“Castles were the ultimate homes for the original preppers – kings and noblemen, who were under constant threat from neighboring enemies. But for American prepper Brent, a castle is the perfect defense for the doomsday scenario he fears will set the world back to the Dark Ages – an electromagnetic burst that causes massive power grid failure. Brent, with the help of his children, is on a quest to finish his towering castle that is isolated deep in the Carolina mountains. But the apocalypse he fears might shy in comparison to the clash of characters of his five children as they try to live and work together to prepare for the worst. If doomsday comes, will this family survive to rule the mountains, or will it self-destruct before the castle is ever completed?” (source here)

 
The all-new series premieres tomorrow, August 13th at 10pm on the National Geographic Channel. For a run-down on the characters you might want to visit the Doomsday Castle website, or you can watch this short promotional clip:

 
Although I'm not the biggest reality show fan (and let's be honest, 10pm is way past my bedtime!), having been there before the castle was finished I'm looking forward to catching the show.

Original post: Château du Upstate, or a castle in the Blue Ridge

Friday, August 9, 2013

Last notes on Michigan

The last couple of days in Michigan went by far too quickly, and seemingly hundreds of goodbyes were said as we prepared to head back down South. As we are not sure when exactly we'll be back, bidding adieu to the grandparents was especially hard.

 
While in the car I though I heard Lauris say es mīlu tevi, mamma. When I replied in kind he said nē, es mīlu treileri, mamma!

 
He also loves several onkuļi and tantes, and has been talking nonstop about them since we've returned. You know who you are.

 
Mikus seems a little lost here at home. He keeps taking off to the bathroom in attempt to fill up the tub - I think he misses Long Lake the most.

 
The rain has followed us back again - or it never left. My cucumber harvest has intensified (if that's even possible), and the mosquitos are insufferable. At least in Michigan it cooled down after it rained...

 
To try and get over the post-Gaŗezers depression we are staying busy. Now, if I could just get motivated to do the laundry!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Volleyball weekend

For any Latvian (or many friends of Latvians), the words “volleyball weekend” or “4-2 weekend” mean two/three days of nonstop partying during the annual volleyball tournament at the Latvian Center Gaŗezers. The 4-2 refers to the ratio of males to females on each team, and over 20 6-person teams compete for the prestigious win of the tournament each year. With several brackets (the power bracket featuring college team-level players and then the “beer bracket” at the opposite end of the spectrum) and a youth tournament (up to 19) the first day, there is room for every skill and energy level. Growing up watching the games I thought everyone played as well as the athletes on the court Sunday night come semi-finals, and was shocked to find I could compete in high school despite only playing beer bracket on 4-2. At the top level of Latvian volleyball you might remember the London Olympics in 2012, when the men’s beach volleyball team of Pļaviņš and Šmēdiņš came from no recognition in the press to a victory over the top American team and a run to the semi-finals. (These two Latvians are currently winning tournaments and competitions across the world.) A Latvian was also a starter on the 1984 gold-medal winning American Olympic team; this weekend his sons played in the “power” bracket.

Mikus has developed a lifelong aversion to mascots after meeting the Dzelzs Vilks
 
Those not playing volleyball might participate in the Cook Associates- organized golf tournament with proceeds going to Gaŗezers, or in the East coast vs. Midwest soccer tournament. If not athletically inclined, one might spend the weekend watching the games, catching up with friends, soaking up the sun on the beach, going out in the boat or driving over to Three Rivers for a meal or supply run. We spent a large portion of our time on the beach, with friends and family stopping by for a chat or to join in the fun. For a few hours we crossed to the other side of the lake to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of my GVV (the Gaŗezers summer high school) graduation.

The good lookin' GVV class of '98
 
Years ago volleyball weekend was a perfect opportunity to get a picture of almost all the grandkids (on my side of the family), as the majority of 12 grandchildren were either working at the Latvian Center, or attending camp and summer high school there. These days it is slim pickings, and although we’ve acquired two “kids” through marriage and two great-grandchildren, almost half of our bunch was missing. Nevertheless, I present to you the mazbērnu bilde 2013!

 
Volleyball weekend also brought the closing picnic for bizbiz bērnu camp, and this proud mother watched Lauris’s first ever performance in what will no doubt be a long history of skits, graduations, campfires, recitals and concerts.

 
The most interesting event of the weekend for me might have been the unearthing of the SP time capsule. In true saimnieku puišu fashion nobody could remember exactly where the container had been buried, and the “nine paces from the tree marked with the old Dodge key” evolved into “nineteen drunken Daukšs paces” as additional beer cans were emptied. After an hour of fruitless digging the Kubota was brought in, but as the pit increased in size it soon became clear that a new strategy should be sought. Another two hours later the faithful struck paydirt, and a relieved crew of SPs celebrated the contents which I cannot reveal here; not only what happens at the vecais dump stays in the vecais dump, but I would hate to violate the SP code. Of course I might possibly have been the only SP who had to hurry back from the reunion to put the kids to bed…

 
And so the weekend ended, and Dzintari quickly emptied as people escaped the vortex to return to their “real” lives. We stayed on a few days to spend a few more hours with relatives, as well as recuperate from excessive… vortex-ing, and already the hours spent cheering on our favorites during finālspēles seem a distant memory. Time to start working on setting, bumping and spiking with Lauris and Mikus!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Summertime, and the living's easy

Lauris caught and reeled in his very first fish, a beautiful bluegill that posed for a couple of pictures before swimming off back to his friends to tell a story of “the littlest human he’s ever caught.”
 
 

We’re spending a lot of time on the lake despite the rainy weather that has followed us from Greenville. A few days cooler temperatures kept us out of the water, but if I let them, the boys would live on the beach.

 
We’ve had the opportunity to try out a few new sports, including pier-jumping, flipper-walking and minnow-catching.

 
Wednesday my cousins arrived, and Lauris and Mikus have already learned all sorts of new tricks. Plus, they have access to the tree fort…

 
Near the beginning of the week the boys’ cousins and Lauris’s godmother were here. I’m so happy for them to have relatives so close in age, and sad that the distances keep them apart for such long periods of time.

 
Lauris’s godfather also managed to get some time off work, and we spent some time digging in the sand with two more of our favorite people.

 
Despite the vacation atmosphere our time in Gaŗezers has been jam packed, slowly ramping up to the volleyball weekend. With large numbers of friends and family descending on Michigan it’s sure to be a good time. The best part? The boys get to see their dad soon and I might get a moment’s peace…


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