Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Da Bulls down South

I often write about the wonderful things Greenville has to offer children, families, cyclists, sports fans, locavores, internationals, history buffs etc. But there is something Greenville does not have – an NBA team. The closest teams are the Atlanta Hawks and the Charlotte Bobcats, but basketball doesn’t seem to have the following here down South that football and baseball do. However, this lack of a basketball team wasn’t a factor in the decision for our most recent guests to come visit, instead it was the proximity to Charlotte and a game against Da Bulls.

I grew up in Chicago playing basketball during the era of Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ three-peats. One of my most treasured basketball memories was attending a playoff game against the Jazz with Džako, the history teacher from Latvian Saturday school that somehow had secured press passes for about 6 of us. Nevermind that the standing-only tickets were in the nosebleeds, we had the chance to go down to the court before the game and watch them shoot around. Nevermind that the van got towed during the game, we got to watch all the players leave the stadium feet from us in their fancy sports cars. Nevermind that they won the game – it was history in the making!*

But I digress. The story is that part of the reason my cousins made the detour through Greenville on their way back to Chicago during their spring break was because they had been gifted tickets to the Bulls vs. Bobcats game for their respective birthdays. Roberts got lucky with an invite to join them and their dad, and so it was on a Wednesday afternoon that my aunt, cousin Annelī, Lauris, Mikus and I found ourselves on a girls afternoon out (well, as much of a girls outing as it can be with two boys along for the ride). That morning we had completed a tour of the West End, and after the boys took off for Charlotte we headed in a different direction, to the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and GroceryWhich means that while Andis and Edgars were hanging out with the Bobcats mascot and cheerleaders, we were snacking on chocolate chip scones, drinking lattes and stocking up on local honey and other groceries.

While they watched a Bulls win slip away in overtime, we were exploring the Greenville Zoo, Lauris and Mikus showing Annelī all of their favorite animals.

I think it was a win/win situation, as my boys would never have survived the drive/game/crowds, and instead everyone had an excellent time. Of course if Chicago had managed to keep their lead… although watching a game go into overtime must have been exciting. Plus there is the link to the Bulls of decades ago when I got to go to that playoff game – Michael Jordan. With six NBA Championship titles from his time with the Bulls, Jordan bought the Charlotte Bobcats in March of 2010. Would you have guessed he would be at the game?

*My memory isn’t what it used to be, but according to another of the lucky kids that was at that game, it was game 2 of the 1997 playoffs against the Utah Jazz. “…Jordan missed a triple double by one assist because Pippen missed an easy layup in the last minute of the game. I believe it was 1997 because I was in drivers ed and so was turning 16 that October. How about that for a memory?” That’s impressive Art, thanks for the review! I remembered that they won, but wow – you’ve got a steel trap. And congrats to you and Kendra on the birth of your third son; one girl away from your own 4-2 team!

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Dutch Easter in the Upstate

In certain parts of the Netherlands an important Easter tradition is the lighting of a bonfire that has often been weeks or sometimes even months in the building. As darkness falls on Easter Sunday the paasvuur are lit, with entire villages coming out for the event.

Our friend Monique is from Overijssel, one of the Dutch provinces that celebrate Easter in this manner, and so it came about that our Easter celebrations this year included an egg hunt/bonfire. Late on a Saturday afternoon we headed out to the Piedmont for a fun evening with food, music and time spent with friends.

Once the dozens of eggs had been found by the eager little hunters (although I’m sure one or two will show up in the coming weeks…) we settled in to listen to some live tunes. Angela Easterling shared with us her lovely voice and musical talent, and the country/folk music kept us entertained until the sun set low in the sky and it was time to head out to the pasture to light the bonfire.

Monique explained that the paasvuur were community events where all generations came together to welcome spring and put the gloom of winter behind them. I found similarities to the Latvian summer solstice celebration Jāņi where bonfires also play an important part in the festivities. When looking into the origins of the seasonal celebrations by fire I noticed that although the bonfire probably has pagan roots, it was after Christianity came that it became a symbol of light and the Resurrection. The correlations between fire/light and rebirth /resurrection are strong in any case, and with the added connection to spring and the seasonal reawakening I grew to appreciate the beauty of keeping with this ancient tradition.

It was long after the stars came out and the fire started dying down that we started for home; pleasantly tired from the egg hunt, the smell of wood smoke in our hair and fingers sticky from the many s’mores consumed. The evening was a great reminder that sharing culture and traditions with others only makes us all richer for the experience – thank you to Monique and family for opening their home to us and bringing a little of the Netherlands to South Carolina!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Greenville's West End Tour

During the whirlwind that was the week before Easter we managed to fit in a tour of the West End. My cousins and family had been to Greenville before, but although they had found all the Mice on Main, been on our Caesars Head/Blue Ridge Escarpment tour and explored Falls Park, they had not been much further. We set out to change that on a sunny Wednesday, parking on the bridge and setting out due west.

Flashback to 2010 bb (before blog)

The West End originally grew up around Furman University, which was established in 1852 on fifty acres of land in the West End, and the arrival of rail transport connecting Greenville to Columbia which arrived in 1853.  Growth accelerated after the Civil War, when phosphate and guano fertilizers made it profitable for upcountry farmers to grow cotton; businesses supporting regional farmers thrived in the area, residential development increased and schools and churches followed. However the same financial conditions that led to the end of the textile mills in downtown in the beginning of the 20th century turned the tide in the West End as well. Despite the commercial focus shifting from cotton to soft drink manufacturing and bottling, the area remained somewhat depressed until the recent revitalization. However many of the buildings from this time in Greenville’s history remain, and it was in one such building that we ducked in for our first stop, Joe’s Place.

After a browse in the new bookstore we window-shopped our way further on S. Main Street, eventually arriving at the gates of Fluor Field. With a game against Charleston that evening the gates were closed, but the visitors got a good taste for this rather new addition to Greenville. The stadium serves as the west anchor to the historic district, which stretches from Falls Park down S. Main and Augusta Streets.

A must-stop West End destination is West End Coffee Company on S. Markley Street across from the main entrance to Fluor Field. Located at the West End firehouse for seven years (it had been a fire station for sixty), it moved to the present location just after the construction of the stadium in 2006 when the fire station became the Greenville Drive ticket office. The new West End building was built in 2006 from bricks from the Old Clinton Mill in Clinton SC – over a century old. Coffee beans mostly imported through NY are roasted on location, and several varieties commemorate local spots, such as Greenville’s West End Blend, Smoky Mountain Blend and Biltmore Blend. In addition to buying some coffee from their retail section in the front, we got a tour of the roasting room in back.

Circling around to Augusta Street we passed the South Carolina Children’s Theatre. Next door is a now-empty lot, which used to house the beautiful Victorian-style Cureton House. Built in the 1880s the home was one of the best examples of Queen Anne architecture in the Upstate. I say “was” because the last living family member, Josephine Cureton, passed in 2010 and her estate dictated that the house be demolished. The South Carolina Children's Theater will build a permanent home on the property, but I feel sadness for the lost piece of history every time I pass. Luckily soon after we were back in the heart of the historic district, passing the Shoeless Joe Jackson statue and ducking into The Cook’s Station, the kitchenware store fit for foodies and novices alike.

The final building before Falls Park is the unassuming Falls Cottage, now a protected landmark on the Historic Register. Built in 1893 by W.E. Touchstone, the superintendent of Camperdown Mill, it was a private residence until the late 1960's. At various times home to the Metropolitan Arts Council, Greenville Artists Guild Gallery, Tours Around Greenville and the Peace Center for the Performing Arts’ fundraising office, it was restored during the Falls Park redevelopment and has been home to Mary’s Restaurant since 2004.

Source here

Hungry from our morning walk, we crossed the street and climbed the stairs to Chicora Alley. One of the West End icons back in the day was the Chicora College for women, which was established in 1893 overlooking the Reedy river, and named for Chicora Street (now Boggs Street). The College eventually moved from Greenville to Columbia in 1915 (or was merged with Queens College in Charlotte NC depending on the source), and with the burning of its buildings in 1919, the legacy of this college remains only in the name of the restaurant which opened in 2006. Serving up a fusion of island and Southern, Chicora Alley is a favorite for us not just for the food but also for the view. On this sunny Wednesday the scene was set with the showy blooming dogwoods and walkers out and about in Falls Park. Roberts often opts for the fish tacos and there are plenty of vegan options, but if you find yourselves perusing the menu be sure to order the sweet potato fries, which come with a side of honey butter and are just about the best in Greenville.

Chicora Alley on Urbanspoon

It was because we were so stuffed from lunch that we didn’t step into Spill the Beans, our usual stop for coffee and ice cream when in Falls Park. Coffeehouse and creamery in one, the indoor and outdoor seating areas provide stunning views of the waterfall on the Reedy River and the Liberty Bridge. I often treat myself to one of their signature coffees, such as the Leaning Tower of Mocha or Spillisimo the Beans, while the boys settle down with fresh baked waffle cones and ice cream. With comfy seating for students looking for a study spot, families looking for a place to recuperate or businessmen looking for a casual meeting location I suggest you give this West End favorite a try.

Spill The Beans on Urbanspoon

Our Upstate adventures with the Chicago visitors were far from over though… Although the older “boys” were off to NC that afternoon, there were still plenty of plans for Greenville and Paris Mountain in the coming days! 

For a complete list of the West End's National Register Properties please visit the SC Department of Archives and History site.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Cubbies fan in Greenville chimes in

Today Wrigley Field turns 100, and the Cubs are planning a season-long party! Retro uniforms like the ones worn today on the 100th birthday game against the D-backs are just part of the "Party of the Century,” with specialty food, bobbleheads, special guests and more planned for the length of the season. I’m originally from Chicago, and although I haven’t been to a game in ages, the Cubbies have my support this season.

Source here

As part of the celebration, "Throwback Sunday" games will include retro toy giveaways for children, and for each decade-themed Friday home game the first 10,000 fans at Wrigley will receive a bobblehead honoring key individuals or events from that decade. A golfer's night during the 1950s homestand last Thursday commemorated Sam Snead hitting the center field scoreboard with a golf ball, and collectible cups and helmets will be offered with food and beverages during the themed decade games. Sounds like a collector’s dream, doesn’t it?

Source here

The ballpark was built in 1914 at the Clark and Addison street location for $250,000, and was originally named Weeghman Park after Chicago Federals owner Charles Weeghman. It was home to the Chi-Feds (later the Chicago Whales) of the Federal League, and the first game was April 23, 1914. When the Federal League folded in 1915, Weeghman found the investors to purchase the Chicago Cubs. Among those investors was William Wrigley Jr., and in 1919 the park was renamed Cubs Park when Wrigley bought Weeghman’s shares. The name was changed once again in 1926 to Wrigley Field, and in 1937 it received the makeover that made it what it is today, with the now-famous bleachers, scoreboard and ivy.

Source here

To learn more about Wrigley Field's 100 years you can visit, which highlights each of Wrigley Field's 100 great moments as they're unveiled. Happy birthday to Wrigley, and good luck to the Cubbies!!! Now, if only they could win the Series for the first time in over a century...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pūpolsvētdiena, or Palm Sunday

Apaļš kā pūpols, vesels kā rutks! Slimībā ārā, veselība iekšā!

On Palm Sunday Latvians celebrate pūpolu svētdiena. One of the most common traditions on this day is for the first person awake to cut some branches from the pussy willow and use them to wake the rest of the household while wishing them to be “round as a pussy willow, healthy as a turnip.” I go into some detail about the history behind this here, and for more traditional skaitāmpanti and customs, this article from might come in handy.

We had company over last week to help with the Easter egg coloring. Using all natural materials and the traditional methods, we were quite successful with both the onion skin and the red cabbage eggs. Although we generally followed the steps I list in my previous articles about technique (Œufs blancs for the onion skin method and Natural Easter eggs for the red cabbage method), we noticed some differences in shade and definition.

Utilizing old nylons instead of cheese cloth and foregoing the “onion skin nest” produced a much darker brown and more definitive shapes. Make sure to use water to “adhere” your leaves and grasses to the egg before slipping them into the nylon.

Although the eggs nested in onion skins and then wrapped in cheese cloth or nylons resulted in lighter shades of brown, the outcome was a more dappled, multi-hued work of art.

I had difficulties getting the same vibrant blue I had achieved previous years using red cabbage, but letting them sit in the dye bath overnight brought about this beautiful color.

My second batch of cabbage eggs were just a robin egg blue, but they are delicate-looking and unique nonetheless. I have to wonder if I had more water (and therefore a more diluted solution) than previous years, or if the red cabbage I bought was just less vivid…

With visitors coming to Greenville, Easter next weekend and some extremely energetic boys, I have a lot of excitement to look forward to. I hope you have a wonderful week, and good luck with your Easter preparations!

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Greenville Drive at Fluor Field - opening day

Happy opening day!!! Yesterday Greenville Drive baseball returned to Fluor Field with the season opener against Kannapolis Intimidators. The first pitch was thrown by retired Sergeant Michael Batton, who served as an active duty Marine for 10 years before being injured in combat in Iraq in 2006. Greenville managed to tie it up in the eight inning, and the final score was 7-6 after the 10th, with The Drive coming through with a victory in their first home game.

Greenville’s baseball stadium is located on S. Main Street in the West End. Modeled after Fenway Park (home of the Boston Red Sox), Fluor Field even has its own “Green Monster,” a 30-foot high wall in left field with a manual scoreboard. The dimensions all around the outfield wall are to the same specifications as Fenway Park, including “Pesky’s Pole” in right field. Home to more than 70 Greenville Drive home games a year (unless they get rained out like last year!), the stadium also hosts a number of other functions, including the St. Patrick’s day festivities we attended last year and other special sporting events.

On May 28, 2005 with the ground-breaking in what used to be a lumber yard, the construction of West End Field began. Less than 11 months later on April 6, 2006, the Drive defeated the Columbus Catfish 6-1 in the first game played in the new stadium. That year the Field was selected as the "Ballpark of the Year" by, an award given to the best new/rebuilt ballpark, whether it's from the Major, Minor or Independent Leagues. On February 26, 2008 the stadium was officially renamed Fluor Field at the West End after a corporate partnership was reached between the Drive and Fluor Corporation.

Source here

A Minor League team, the Greenville Drive is a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and a member of the South Atlantic League. Previously the team played in Columbia and was known as the Capital City Bombers. Our mascot is a frog named Reedy Rip'it, and we’ve become accustomed to seeing him at events around town, such as last summer’s Park Hop.

Source here

Check out this season’s schedule here, and for ticketing and other information visit the official site of the Greenville Drive here. Great editorial by the Greenville News here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Preparing for Easter

Easter season has officially kicked off for us with the annual company Easter celebration. We cut it close but made it just in time to participate in the egg hunt, and soon the boys were just two of over a hundred kids scrambling to pick up a basketful of eggs. We had great weather, played our share of games, ate a lunch of popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs and chips, saw the Easter Bunny & Bibendum, checked out the rides and finished everything off with popsicles and balloon art.

Today friends are coming over to join us in coloring eggs the traditional Latvian way, with onion skins. Here are the links to the posts you need to make your very own Latvian Easter eggs:
Œufs blancs – the onion skin method
Natural Easter eggs – the red cabbage method

And don’t forget to pick up the farmer’s cheese for the Easter paska! (This post also covers many of the traditional Latvian Easter traditions)
Joyeux Pâques! – my grandmother’s paska recipe 

A nice way to remember the Easters we spent in France is by incorporating some of the French traditions into our holiday here in the US.

I have one week to procure pussy willow branches for Palm Sunday; I wrote about this Latvian tradition in my post I forgot, again! about Latvian Palm Sunday, Pūpolu svētdiena.

I wish everyone luck in beginning your Easter preparations! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

A drawing lesson from Jan Brett

It seems rather cosmic that I met author and illustrator Jan Brett on International Children’s Book Day (although I wouldn’t have known Tuesday was the day except for attending her demonstration). Celebrated since 1967 on Hans Christian Andersen's birthday, this year’s theme is Imagine Nations Through Story sponsored by Ireland. 

I wrote about visiting the Upcountry History Museum with my mother and the boys a few weeks ago. We really enjoyed viewing Jan Brett’s artwork in the special exhibit, but meeting her in person was a treat. I didn’t take any chances and bought a ticket a few weeks ago, and turns out this was the right decision as only 200 fans were able to attend the hour-long demonstration and were first in line to get books signed.

“I wake up, feed the chickens, eat my breakfast, and then I get to color all day.” Mrs. Brett spoke about her inspiration for her most recent book, “Cinders,” loosely based on the fairytale Cinderella but featuring chickens and more sympathetic stepsisters and stepmother. Instructing the artists in the room she described the importance of drawing the eyes to show emotion, and reinforced her point with a game; the audience had to guess her emotion (happiness, sadness, fear, etc.) by only looking at her eyes.

The highlight of the evening was watching her at work. Starting with simple shapes Mrs. Brett formed a chicken, and with a few spots shaded and the addition of color the main character from “Cinders” appeared before our eyes. Of course the illustrations in her books aren’t so quickly drawn, as the media used is different from the markers used Tuesday and the amount of detail in the average illustration is staggering. “An inch an hour” was her estimate.

I then spent an hour waiting to meet her and get a couple of books signed, during which time I marveled how she was able to spend the morning at a local school, sightsee Greenville, give an hour-long presentation and still find the energy to greet every fan with attentiveness and a smile… and the line must have numbered at least 300! Thank you again for the lovely evening, and we’ll treasure our copy of “The Mitten” even more now that it has your personal touch inscribed!

*** I urge you to visit Jan Brett’s website, full of coloring activities, videos, games and more of her beautiful illustrations - Maybe you will be the lucky fan to win a Jan Brett visit to your local school?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Smithsonian in Greenville

"Animal Connections: Our Journey Together" was in town this week, parked next to the Greenville Zoo. The traveling truck exhibit on the bond between humans and animals is meant for children and adults alike, and as we already had plans to head to Cleveland Park to meet friends, we decided to check out the mobile museum on the second day of its Greenville visit.

There were several aspects to the exhibit. The first was human interaction with animals in our home environment: animals in the backyard, urban encroachment and other places our paths might cross. The second was human interaction with animals in learning environments: zoos, farms and the like. Animals as pets and service animals was a third topic.

The exhibit was more suited for adults and children already in school, as many of the displays requiring interaction were a little more complicated. On the other hand, the material was presented in a condensed format, meaning both boys had the required patience to explore the entire exhibit. The displays also elicited questions about some of the various animals featured from both Lauris and Mikus.

A display focusing on human products poisonous to animals

Animal Connections is free to the public, and with high quality displays I felt it was worth the trip to see it. There was no wait to get in and it was actually quite roomy inside, with the expandable sides fully extended providing enough space for double the people that were inside. The Cleveland Park Animal Clinic veterinarians were on hand to answer any questions, and a full exploration of the displays took about 30 minutes.

Presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the next destination on their itinerary is the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus, Ohio. To find out if Animal Connections will be visiting your hometown, click here
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