Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Too much Halloween (but the kids aren’t complaining!)

There, I’m done with Halloween. I know, it’s not until tomorrow – but still, I’m done with it. I’ll open the door and pass out candy while my husband goes trick-or-treating (with the kids, I think), but otherwise I’m Done.

pumpkin carving is a serious business, bandannas required
Friday we headed to Taylors for Enchanted Tracks. At the Greenville County Rec area “Pavilion,” the Safe Kids Upstate sponsored event was billed as a fairytale trick-or-treat experience. Typically the Thursday through Saturday before Halloween, the kids get to trick-or-treat with some of their favorite fairytale (read Disney) characters and play carnival games in a safe environment. We paid $5/child in advance ($7 at the door) and had a great time – but it would have been better had it not been freezing outside. The temperatures really dipped for a few nights only, and I regretted not taking gloves and snowsuits for the boys. They most enjoyed the ride on George the Train*, which looped around and through the woods for a spooky but not scary treat for children and adults alike. The lines were not too bad, although certain carnival games and the train proved a longer wait. I felt slightly let down by the treats, as I had been led to believe there would be more non-candy treats like stickers and trinkets, when in fact it was almost 100% candy. We might return next year, depending on the weather.
Saturday it was a neighborhood block party, complete with Halloween parade, giant blow-up bounce house/slide, chili cook-off, tons of games and good food. It was spooky how exhausted we were afterwards.
Sunday it was off to Boo in the Zoo. We went last year and learned a good lesson; buy tickets beforehand. This year we probably avoided a good hour’s wait in line by jumping in the "pre-purchased" line, and it was shortly after the gates opened (albeit on the last day of this two-weekend event; for more information on cost, times and schedules please visit the Greenville Zoo’s homepage). However last year I remember the crowds diffusing once past the front gates, this year it was crowded! It was hardly worth the wait to try and see any of the animals (since we are there almost once every two weeks anyway), and if it hadn’t been for all the amazing costumes I would regret going. The boys came home with a bag full of candy and little Halloween trinkets (which have mostly broken in the 48 hours since) as well as a couple of cans of Pepsi. Yeah, Pepsi. If we go next year I will buy tickets in advance and we’ll go the first weekend of the event.
Happy 1st birthday Kiko!
Yesterday we had tickets to SC Children’s Theatre’s “Tell me a Story Costume Party.” We enjoyed the Pirate production early this fall and often go to storytime, so knew we would not be disappointed with their Halloween Boogaloo! The boys (skeleton & dinosaur) stared wide-eyed as witches, robots, princesses and animals (and a full McDonalds set: fries, burger & shake) arrived, and listened with rapt attention to the two stories read and enacted. Audience participation and a Halloween parade got the kids moving, and children didn’t leave empty-handed; each participant received a Halloween-themed finger puppet to take home. I hope the boys want to go next year!
I was disappointed the Roper Mountain Science Center didn’t put on their environmentally-themed “Green Halloween” this year, but I’m not sure we would have been able to squeeze in another event. It’s lucky the boys haven’t overdosed, although the rate of sugar consumption in this household has increased in the last week. Let’s see if we can make it through the actual holiday to the weekend… Oh, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Bū-čas!
Had to put this one in here Monique...
* George the Train was originally built by the Kiwanis Club in 1952 and ran in McPherson Park (then known as City Park and just around the corner from our house) until the 1960s. In March of 2001 the Greenville County Rec department brought it back to Greenville from Hattiesburg Mississippi, and it's been running its route at Pavilion ever since.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Some sunshine on an autumn day

Thanks to Sara in Le Petit Village who nominated me for the Sunshine Award! Perfect timing, as it gives me an opportunity to take a break from reporting on the minutiae of the last week (and the stuff that needs to be done around the house), and instead spend a few minutes sharing some things about myself and then passing the sunshine on to a few other bloggers.*

First – eleven random facts about me.

1. I didn’t know Pittsburgh was an actual city until I was in high school. My parents always joked about “sending me to Pittsburgh” or lost items being “in Pittsburgh” and I thought it was a made-up place, like Never Never Land, Atlantis or Montreal.

2. I once scared a small child while dressed in a Smoky the Bear costume. Unintentionally.

3. Instead of buying the more expensive color-coordinated bag of M&Ms, I would rather sort out all the yellow/orange/browns to make Halloween cookies (and bisous to my husband for helping).

4. I’ve never been to Disneyland/Disneyworld/Disneyland Paris, but I really, really want to go!

5. My idea of fun in college was playing broomball with the Baltic Club, hanging out at a bonfire or selling Christmas trees with the Illini Foresters.

6. Speaking of college, did you know I played rugby? I was a line-out jumper for all of two months.

7. The longest inseam I’ve ever worn is 46, I prefer a 43 but most often make do with a 41.

8. Eight, eight, I forgot what eight was for

9. I'm a sucker for natural resource mysteries, like Nevada Barr, C.J. Box, Steve Hamilton & William Kent Krueger.

10. I'm a product of the Chicago Public School system.

11. I spent a month living out of an Audi in upstate Michigan while working with the Forest Service; ten years later my sister married my then-bosses cousin.

Next, I answer Sara’s questions
1. How would you describe your version of a perfect home?
Home is where the heart is! But wood floors, high ceilings and lots of natural light don’t hurt…
2. Tell me about your first date... what did you do, where did you go, and who was it with?
I’m not even sure, but I think junior prom was my first official date. Bart showed up in a tux (the average kid was wearing jeans and sneakers) with a wrist corsage for me, and we spent an awkward evening hanging out with friends on the playground, because the blaring rap that was being passed off as music in the school gym wasn’t our thing.
3. What was your favorite vacation ever?
Isle Royale, northern Italy, Greece, coastal Oregon… I can’t pick one, but I’m lucky to have someone to travel with and know there will be plenty of favorites to come.
4. Do you believe in ghosts?
                I’m not sure.
5. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of paying off all of my debt 4 years out of university, and giving birth naturally to my second after a Cesarean with the first.
6. Twilight or The Hunger Games?
                Ha, I haven’t read either!
7. If you could try out any job for the day, what would you like to try?
                Coral reef scuba diver. Is that a real job?
8. If you had a €1000 gift card to any store in the world, what store would you pick?
9. Describe your perfect weekend.
Travel (near or far), good food, good company and a little exploring plus a little pampering. The way last week went the kids might stay home with grandmother.
10. What would you choose as your last meal?
An apéritif, clam chowder to start, smoked salmon, then scallops, steak, sweet potato fries as a main, a cheese course, a dessert of truffles and coffee-flavored macarons, coffee and finally le digestif.
11. You inherit 5 million dollars the same day aliens land on the earth and say they're going to blow it up in 2 days. What do you do? (Gold star to anyone that can tell me what movie this is from.)
(Sara, it’s from Heather’s – I had to google it but I want my gold star)
I splurge and pay someone to get rid of those pesky aliens. However, I think it would only take a million or so, the rest would go to travel and investments.
Next, I nominate:
Inese Bokiša, Are you Happy?
Your eleven questions guys–
1. If you could choose only one blog post to represent you, which one would you choose?
2. Name your favorite author, and favorite childhood author.
3. What is one thing you are most looking forward to in the coming year?
4. Your favorite accent? (for example, an Aussie speaking English)
5. (Repeating this one from Sara) What would you choose as your last meal?
6. Do you have a favorite spectator sport?
7. If you could spend one year living anywhere in the world, where would it be and why? (Pretend language and distance from family isn’t a barrier)
8. Name five things your refrigerator is never without.
9. What is your biggest pet peeve?
10. You win an all-expenses paid, week-long vacation to anywhere in the world – where are you headed?
11 Describe the favorite place in your home.
* The rules: 1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger, 2. Share eleven random facts about yourself, 3. Answer the eleven questions set by your nominating blogger, 4. Nominate eleven bloggers yourself, 5. Post eleven questions for your nominees to answer then let them know they're up.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pisgah National Forest and the Balsam Mountain Inn

After our hike in DuPont State Forest we headed north past Brevard, NC and into the Pisgah National Forest. Just south of Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah (and its neighboring Nantahala National Forest) is full of things to do and places to see. For those wishing to get away from it all, Pisgah encompasses Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness; we, on the other hand, had more easily accessible destinations in mind. First up, Looking Glass Falls, possibly the best known waterfall in western NC. Right off of Highway 276, an overlook allows those not able to climb the stairs down to the base of the falls to enjoy a scenic vantage point. Looking Glass creek falls 60 feet into a perfect swimming hole, and continues south to eventually flow into the French Broad River. Both the creek and the falls are named after nearby Looking Glass Rock, upon which water will freeze in the winter resembling a mirror. We enjoyed a reflective moment at the base of the falls before climbing back up the stairs and continuing north along 276.

Our next stop was Sliding Rock, a favorite summer destination for hundreds. A 60 foot natural water slide, the smooth slab of rock provides a swift slide followed by a plunge into the pool at the base. Managed as a Forest Service recreationarea, lifeguards and staff are on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day and a fee of $1/person is assessed upon entering the area. The slide is “at your own risk” when no lifeguard is on duty, but we’re saving the experience for a later, hopefully warmer date.

The Cradle of Forestry had already closed for the day, and so it happened that we continued on to our hotel, the beautiful Balsam Mountain Inn. Chosen by our friends partly due to the mentions in Southern Living (here and here) and partly due to availability, we were able to reserve one of the last two rooms and enjoy this great find. Our arrival coincided with the last of daylight, and as the sun set over the mountains the lights clicked on one by one to illuminate the magnificent Victorian structure - beacon, high up on the hill. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the grand dining room and ordered the specials; parmesan encrusted salmon, surf and turf, the local catfish, and don't forget the dessert (white chocolate cheesecake)! Finally, another stop in the library before retiring to our comfortable rooms.

Opened in 1908 to serve the highest railroad station in the east (3,500 feet), the hotel is conveniently located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and a short distance from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Inspired by the Inn at Saratoga (in Saratoga Springs NY), the hotel stood empty for some years until restored and updated by the current owner in the early 1990s. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the 50-room hotel retains much of its charm with two 100 foot porches, a library (complete with fireplace), spectacular views, gorgeous heart pine floors and delicious meals.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and spent some time soaking up the sun and the view on the grand porch before heading out, for our cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our experience in the Balsam Mountain Inn was short, but the experience memorable, and I recommend the hotel to visitors in the area. Between the late night reading marathon in front of the fireplace in the library, to the modest (but comfortable) rooms; from the games and puzzles in the front lobby area to the rocking chairs on the two porches inviting guests to mingle and share; from the hearty dinner to the included breakfast; our stay in this quaint inn (just oozing mountain charm!) was near perfect.
Balsam Mountain Inn on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

DuPont State Forest and its waterfalls

Although the main goal of the weekend was to catch up with our friends on the Blue Ridge Parkway, nothing could keep us from some sightseeing along the way. Western North Carolina is known for Asheville, the Biltmore Estate and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it also has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in our little corner of the world. In lieu of the highways we took the straight route of back roads into the mountains, leaving the rain behind us after crossing the ridge of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area and Caesars Head State Park.

Low visibility at Caesars Head meant the view from the summit was of fog
After the impromptu stop at Caesars Head our next destination was DuPont State Forest, just over the North Carolina/South Carolina border. Only about 40 minutes from Asheville and an hour from Greenville, this 10,000 acre state-managed forest has over 900 miles of hiking trails. I had scouted out a <3 mile route that would include three separate waterfalls but not prove too strenuous for those in our party with the shortest legs. Some of you might recognize these falls from the movie The Hunger Games, which was filmed in DuPont including around Triple and Hooker Falls, two of the falls on our itinerary. We parked in the Hooker Falls area, but headed first to Triple Falls.

Triple Falls from the overlook
Consisting of three distinct cascades and dropping about 120 feet total, these falls were also featured in the movie Last of the Mohicans. The first overlook was just a short distance from the parking lot, and a few hundred feet further is the spur trail that leads down to the large rocky area between the falls. We unpacked our picnic and enjoyed the spectacle – natural and human – before jumping back on the main trail.

Lunch at the rocky area at Triple Falls
Triple Falls trail and High Falls trail form a loop, but we chose to stick close to Little River on High Falls trail and cut out a bit of the mileage by doing a there-and-back. Triple Falls trail heads further west, hitting Buck Forest Road and intersecting with High Falls trail and the Covered Bridge Trail about 1/3 mile from High Falls; we didn’t get that far, instead opting to turn around after the High Falls overlook.

High Falls and the covered bridge from the overlook
We did however take the short River Bend spur trail that leads to the base of the 150 foot cascade. The largest of the falls in the area, there is a beautiful covered bridge at the top that was built as a part of a planned real estate development in 2000. After a lengthy legal battle the state was able to purchase the land from the developer, ensuring the three waterfalls would forever be available to the public. Another 2 miles upstream you will find 120 foot Bridal Veil Falls, but we were headed back to Hooker Falls.

At the base of High Falls
After crossing back under Staton Road and over Little River we turned west on Hooker Falls trail. Pausing at the observation area above the falls we then circled down around to the base of the 12 foot waterfall. From this cascade Little River flows into Cascade Lake, outside of the state forest’s boundaries. Although smaller than the previous, Hooker Falls was no less beautiful, and it took a steady drizzle to finally force us back to the car http.

Hooker Falls

For a detailed description of the trail options available in the Hooker/Triple/High Falls area as well as a map, please click here.

Kidding Around Greenville

Monday, October 21, 2013

Autumn on the Blue Ridge Parkway

It’s the height of color on the south end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We cruised from Balsam to Asheville this weekend with some friends of ours, and every curve, every ridge we rounded brought another gorgeous riot of color.

The weather had been specially ordered for our enjoyment; the blue sky and crisp autumn air complimented the natural show perfectly.

We couldn’t help but stop at almost every pull-out, because each scenic overlook brought a unique perspective on the vibrant valleys and ridges.

Probably partially due to the reopening of facilities on the Parkway after the government shutdown, partially due to the fantastic weather, and partially to the timing of fall color, but the scenic highway was extra busy, overlooks and pull-offs packed with visitors.

This section of the Parkway contains the very highest point along the entire 469 mile stretch, at 6,047 feet. The 360˚ views from Devils Courthouse were also worth a mention.

What a difference a month makes, the changes visible since our Labor Day visit were astonishing! Another month and the branches will be bare, only evergreens adding color to the winter landscape. We’ll have to return for yet another glimpse into the many faces of this national treasure…

Friday, October 18, 2013

WWII bombers in Greenville

This afternoon three historic planes landed at the downtown Greenville airport as part of the Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour. The Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” WWII Heavy Bomber, the P-51 Mustang Fighter “Betty Jane” and a vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress ”Nine O Nine" will be on display until Sunday. As many aircraft were scrapped for aluminum after the war, it is rare to see planes of their type, much less planes still flight-worthy; we were privileged to see such notorious aircraft up close right here in Greenville.

The P-51 Mustang Fighter behind Lauris and his friend
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber, and is infamous for dropping more bombs than any other US aircraft during WWII. High-flying and long-range, the bomber was employed in daylight precision bombing against German industrial and military targets, and later Japanese shipping and airfields. It gained fame as an aircraft that could sustain significant damage yet still return home, and supposedly only 13 air-worthy planes still survive. We saw the bomber land, and then a few WWII veterans went up for a spin; I held my breath as the plane took off, seemingly creeping along the entire length of the runway before becoming airborne.

Lauris with a WWII veteran in front of the "Nine O Nine" B-17
Another heavy bomber, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator was a more modern design with a higher top speed, greater range, and a heavier bomb load, but also more difficult to fly and more vulnerable to battle damage. The most produced heavy bomber in history, it was a common sight to see one flying over Greenville as Greenville Army Airbase (now SCTAC) was a training center the aircraft during the War.

In front of the B-24 "Witchcraft"
In contrast, the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was a long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber, used not only during World War II but also the Korean War. First flown operationally by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the enhanced engine resulted in unrivaled performance at altitudes above 15,000 feet, giving the Americans the edge over the Luftwaffe's fighters at this altitude. During World War II, Mustang pilots claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft shot down.

The P-51 Mustang Fighter “Betty Jane”
The Collings Foundation is a non-profit founded in 1979. The purpose of the foundation is to organize and support "living history" events such as the Wings of Freedom tour, that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation. Honoring the sacrifices made by our veterans and educating visitors about our national history and heritage, the tour has made more than 2,600 visits to airports across the United States in 22 years.

Checking out the interior of the B-24 bomber
Although “flight experience” runs a tad steeper (and reservations are needed), access to all three aircraft including a walk through tour is $12 for adults, and $6 for children 12 and under (there is no charge for WWII Veterans). We were able to climb into both of the bombers and explore the interior; quarters were cramped, but it was certainly an educational experience. I find it hard to imagine being inside while airborne. The planes will be open for tour this weekend, 9am to 4:30pm both Saturday and Sunday, with flight training and experience available afterwards at an additional charge.

Lauris and "Witchcraft," the B-24

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fall for Greenville

There is no doubt about it; October in the Upstate is an incredibly busy month! The Spartanburg International Festival and Balloons over Anderson are behind us, as is the annual Fall for Greenville, which was this weekend. However now we can look forward to the Halloween festivities! My boys are especially anticipating Boo in the Zoo, Greenville Zoo’s trick-or-treating event, and Green Halloween, Roper Mountain Science Center’s autumn festival. Boo in the Zoo will be taking place the next two weekends, Friday through Saturday (for more information click here), and we will also be checking out a few other Halloween events here in the Upstate. I’m tempted to drag everyone out to the Upper SC State Fair in Pickens, but it will be a very busy weekend, as Wings of Freedom is also taking place – three rare WWII planes are arriving in Greenville on the 18th and will be available for a walk through the entire weekend at the downtown airport.

Back to Fall for Greenville, the annual festival which could be compared to Taste of Chicago, with 40 local restaurants offering a sample of their fares. Visitors buy “taste tickets” which are then used to purchase food and drink, as well as pay for rides in the kids’ zone. On average food menu items cost between $3 to $4 and beers range from a little over $3 for draft beer to $5 for a craft beer. I was a little disappointed in my choices this year, as it seemed that the lines were longer, the food colder, the quantities smaller and the offerings more bland than previous years. The signature lobster mac n’ cheese from 21 East was disappointing, the flat iron BBQ pork taco from Gringos left me feeling queasy, and the she-crab soup from Larkin’s on the River was barely a taste. I’ve been hoping to get a chance to try all three restaurants as they’ve gotten rave reviews, but the festival left me with the feeling that they weren’t really trying. The chicken souvlaki from Never on Sunday Greek Restaurant was ok (a bigger hit with the boys than me), as were the garlic shrimp from Passerelle Bistro and the city beer cheese & chicken nachos from City Range. My favorites this year were the Malaysian chicken satay w/ peanut sauce from Yap! and the Nose Dive falafel – motivation for us to try to get there for date night sooner than later. Dessert was a no-brainer, I knew we couldn’t go wrong with the fried Oreos from Runway Café (as I order them every time we eat there after playing in the new playground) and the chocolate velvet gelato from Luna Rosa Gelato Café was quickly polished off by Lauris with little assistance from dad.

Perhaps the best use of our tickets was the merry-go-ride; the boys enjoyed taking a spin, we didn’t have to wait in line and the enjoyment lasted for more than a few minutes. I appreciate the effort Greenville made this year in regards to the parking situation (a free park and ride was provided to help alleviate congestion), but we just wanted to take the trolley, and not a single festival worker, nor the trolley website or info-number could tell us if the trolley was running, and if yes, where it had been rerouted. The trash situation was also better than previous years, and with six stages spread out over the 7-block stretch of Main Street bands were not competing with one another, yet there was always something going on.  Final verdict; Fall for Greenville is a great idea, a fun festival for kids and adults alike, but the crowds can be challenging with two kids. Next year I’ll remember to take along more water (temperatures were probably in the 80s), we will set a budget as it is easy to overspend, and I hope to walk to the festival again: no hassle with parking, great way to walk off those calories and a great way to enjoy autumn in Greenville.
Last year’s post is here – Fall(ing) for Greenville

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hot air balloons in Anderson

Having missed the popular Upstate hot air balloon festival on the Fourth of July weekend (we were in Latvia), I had marked Balloons over Anderson on my calendar far in advance. Out near the Anderson Civic Center, the festival is an opportunity to see hot air balloons up close, take a ride in one, enjoy a magical nighttime light show, and spend quality time with family at a free event.

There are five scheduled flights throughout the weekend which are all weather permitting, therefore check the weather and event schedule before your visit. The festival started Friday with an evening flight and kick-off concert, but we opted to time our trip to coincide with the second flight on Saturday. Parking is free, and there are attendants throughout to help direct traffic. It was just a short walk across to the grounds where a couple balloons were already visible.

The balloon we had been able to see some distance away was tethered, rising up and down with festivalgoers who had paid a small fee per person. A second balloon was half-inflated on the ground, allowing visitors to discover the interior of one of these beautiful balloons. The atmosphere was of a carnival, with rides, greasy food and booths providing additional entertainment, however we were there to see the balloons. Having determined where the take-off would be occurring and in which general direction the balloons would be traveling, we spread out our picnic blanket and settled in for a wait.

The time window for lift-off was two hours, and due to lack of wind it was a good 30 minutes in before we saw any action. The chase trucks with their loads drove out onto the field, unrolling the balloons and setting up the baskets. Large fans were used to inflate up to a certain point, at which point the burners were switched on until the balloons were full and upright. The heat could be felt dozens of feet away, I wonder how the flimsy looking fabric doesn’t ignite or melt!

Soon the colorful orbs were popping up everywhere, and it wasn’t long until they started drifting off, carrying their passengers up and away over the Anderson countryside. We stayed until the last one was out of sight, only to be surprised by one balloon returning to land only 100 feet from where it took off – something I’m told is rather rare.

Our experience wasn’t over yet; we spent some time listening to the band, biding our time until the glow. The balloons lined up at dusk, inflating as soon as it was dark and illuminating the night sky. We had the opportunity to see them up close, but the magical moment was over far too soon and the crews sprung into action to pack up their cargo.

The Anderson hot air balloon festival is free to the public, in contrast to the Fourth of July weekend event in Simpsonville. I highly advise to bring the family and make an afternoon/evening of it; this is a fantastic spectacle with 25 hot air balloons rising almost simultaneously into the Anderson skies, not to mention the balloon glow at dusk. Our boys thoroughly enjoyed the experience, feet never leaving the ground.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A small slice of Greenville, and Tupelo Honey Cafe

A wonderful benefit to representing Latvia in the International Festival in Spartanburg was the opportunity to have friends in from out of town. Arianna is a sweet, positive, beaming girl from the east coast who is living in Augusta, GA for a year. We were glad to have her here, not only as chief photographer during the festival, but also as a captive audience to show Greenville to.

Showing off the falls on Reedy River
An out-of-town guest was the perfect opportunity to try out brunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe, which it seems everyone in Greenville has already been to. People who have been to their Asheville, NC location report that the vibe here in Greenville is different, but I think that is to be expected; downtown Greenville has a much different atmosphere than Asheville. Sunday brunch meant a long wait (as they don’t take reservations), but we took the opportunity to show our guest Main Street.

All photos courtesy of Arianna
45 minutes later we were seated, and after a minor puking incident (life with a toddler, and credit to the host who didn’t even bat an eye) we put in our orders. I liked the industrial-rustic décor, and they were accommodating to our +2kids situation with a high chair and lids on the drinks. The ‘southern’ in “Nuveau Southern cuisine” was immediately evident when the biscuits and jam came out; these biscuits were every bit as good as I had read in reviews. They were soon to be eclipsed by the Tupelo crab scramble however; lump crab, fresh spinach, caramelized onions and Havarti cheese, all scrambled with eggs and served alongside breakfast asparagus and sourdough wheat toast. I’ll admit the toast was left uneaten – I was too busy eating what was left of the boys’ pancakes! We had ordered for them off the fantastically refreshing kids menu, and although their portion didn’t include the “whipped peach butter and spiced pecan” topping, the cinnamon and sweet potato flavored buttermilk pancakes were a hit with everyone at the table. There are a bunch of options when it comes to sides, but I’ll vouch for the sweet potato fries and chèvre grits; southern on a plate (other sides include benne coated asparagus, cheesy smashed cauliflower, fried green tomatoes, fried okra and scratch mac-n-cheese)! It wasn’t meant to be for me to try one of their signature drinks on this visit, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be back; this is a great place to bring guests due to location, the high quality food and the family-friendly atmosphere.

Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon
Our Greenville tour continued in Falls Park. We walked the usual route, starting at the waterfall and continuing across Liberty Bridge around to the giant beech tree on Furman College way. After a stop to blow bubbles it was on to the train fountain, which provided a great place for the boys to cool off - we are still having days of decidedly un-Octoberish weather. We crossed back over the river and passed the old grist mill before circling around the Peace Center back to our car. It was the perfect weekend morning in Greenville, letting our guest sample three of our favorite things about the city: good food, Main Street and Falls Park.

The rest of the afternoon slipped by quickly while enjoying the beautiful weather in our backyard. Arianna, thanks for the beautiful pictures of the boys, they don't stand that still for me! Now if we could just do something about that hair... We had to say our goodbyes much too soon, but I know we’ll see Arianna again soon; if we can’t lure her back to Greenville we’ll just have to head to Augusta!



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Spartanburg International Festival

With temperatures more suitable to lounging on the beach than donning the traditional Latvian wool and linen folk costume, we braved the heat to represent Latvia at the International Festival in Spartanburg last Saturday. One of the 50 countries represented at this annual festival in Barnet Park, we spent the day stamping passports, telling people about the Latvian people and culture, and marching in the parade of nations.

In addition to stopping by the various “countries”, visitors could also watch exhibitions, taste food and listen to music from around the globe. Spartanburg hosted the first festival in 1985 to celebrate its international community, and almost thirty years later it is estimated that up to 10,000 people attend the one-day event.

There were about thirty of us representing Latvia, some born there, some here, some elsewhere. We took turns speaking to visitors and exploring the festival ourselves, enjoying the music and food of the other participating cultures.

The next tent over was South Africa, and they kept a great beat up throughout the festival
I wore my folk costume for the first time in its entirety. The skirt was a present, and I lucked out this summer and found the blouse and belt to match. Despite its size Latvia has hundreds of districts, each with its own distinct costume. I am wearing the Suntažu skirt with rietumu Vidzemes blouse and belt. My aube, or head covering, shows that I’m a married woman (unmarried gals wear crowns), and was made by my aunt Zinta for my wedding day. The broach may not be entirely proper (I have some additional research to do!), but it is typical (as is the amber necklace) of the jewelry worn with the tautas tērps. Neither of the boys was wearing a full costume, but Lauris had a linen shirt given to him by his grandmother, and both were wearing the traditional brooches.

With the chance to reach out to a large audience of people, many who do not know where Latvia is located or anything about the culture, geography and people, we’ve discussed branching out; one possibility would be to represent the Latvian cuisine. If the Latvians in Chicago could supply the thousands of pancakes (plānās pankūkas) needed to satisfy the Cultural Festival’s attendees back in the day (for recipe click here), I’m sure we could manage a few hundred. But we would need to start up a mazskautu pulciņš or other nonprofit first... I’ll need to sleep on that.

Thanks to everyone who came out to help with the booth, or just visit and support us. And thanks to the Spartanburg festival organizers for finally (after five years) spelling Latvia correctly! See you next year...

For Spartanburg's Herald Tribune's photo gallery of the festival (including a familiar face at the very beginning), click here.
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