Friday, October 31, 2014


Happy Halloween!!!

This year the list of Halloween activities for kids grew by a mile; there was absolutely no shortage of things to do, places to haunt or spooks to see. The local family website Kidding Around Greenville gives a good idea of the options with their 2014 Ultimate Halloween List – crazy, right?

We opted to go back to Greenville Zoo for yet another year of Boo in the Zoo. Once again, remember to buy your tickets beforehand in order to use the “fast lane” to get in and go the first week if possible; this is helpful in avoiding the lines. The night we went we would have done well to go later in the evening, as the crowd had thinned out by then.

I like that the treats handed out at the zoo are a balance of treats and trinkets, but be warned that the trinkets aren’t made to last. And I know that Pepsi is a local company, but what kind of message are we sending the kids by handing out cans of Pepsi at the zoo? Luckily Lauris and Mikus understood when we said that the organizers wanted to make sure the adults get a treat…

Next up was Enchanted Tracks, the Greenville County Rec event at The Pavilion. Complete with trick-or-treating in a forest filled with fairy tale creatures, bounce houses and all sorts of games, this was much more crowded than last year and luckily we arrived not long after it opened and were able to avoid the lines for the fairy tale forest. George the Train wasn't running due to required maintenance on the tracks, but he should be back up and running in the next few months. Thank you to Macaroni Kid for the tickets!!!

A local group hosted a fun get-together during the week, with a parade, piñata and plenty of friends to race around with. If we only did one Halloween-themed activity next year, I wish we could come back to this party.

And finally, tonight’s the night! I am forgoing my handing-out-candy duties here at the house this year so that I can join the boys out trick-or-treating. Be on the lookout for the pirate, firefighter and pumpkin, and make sure to save a Reese’s for their mom!

PS The boys requested to see their costumes for the last few years, and I enjoyed seeing how they’ve grown! Here is Halloween 2011 (in France), Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Free mini golf at McPherson Park

McPherson Park was originally known as “City Park” and is Greenville’s oldest public park. The prosperous period of Greenville’s history following the Reconstruction brought a population boom and saw the arrival of three railroads. It was around this time that Caroline Cleveland Choice (wife of attorney and political activist William Choice  and daughter of Jeremiah Cleveland – merchant, banker and one of Greenville's early settlers & large landowners) donated the land for City Park in 1884, located right in the heart of what is now the East Park Historic District.

East Park is significant in landscape architecture as an example of an early twentieth century suburb. The Cleveland family had a vision of a park-like setting, and this was accomplished with retaining walls accentuating the hilly topography, grassy lawns, and trees providing shade – qualities that extended to City Park. In 1907 famous landscape architects Kelsey and Guild were hired to develop plans for beautifying the city, including the park, and plans were initiated to build a band pavilion for concerts, dances and political speeches. 1911 saw additional acreage added with a donation by W.C. Cleveland, and during WWI the park became the site of training marches for soldiers from Camp Sevier, just as it had been used by Camp Wetherill during the Spanish American War. When Greenville saw an influx of wealth with the production of war materials for WWI, the park flourished along with the East Park neighborhood.

Parking lot entrance on the left with Sears Shelter visible behind it, and the bandstand
During the Great Depression the park saw many a patriotic rally, and with the assistance of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), City Park underwent major renovations. It was in 1941 when these renovations were finished that the Greenville City Council recognized John A. McPherson's contributions to the beautification of the city and renamed the park McPherson Park.  That year also saw Sears Shelter opened, named for the $7,500 donation from Sears, Roebuck and Co. that (in addition to WPA assistance and a contribution from the city) allowed its construction. The shelter was immensely popular with city residents, and was the site of everything from teenage square dances and children’s parties to club meetings. During WWII the facility was made available to military personnel every night until the end of the war.

From left: public restrooms, log cabin dedication and the Sears Center
In the 1950s McPherson Park saw its glory days, with a small lake for bathing, a baseball field and the completion of a miniature train for children (constructed by the Kiwanis Club). However, by the 1970s all that was gone, George the Train ending up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. (In a neat twist of fate the train was actually returned to Greenville County in March of 2001. Although currently down for needed track repairs, you can usually take a ride on it at the Pavilion Rec Complex.) Over the years the recreation center became a Senior Action Center, the bandstand got a new roof and a fresh coat of paint, and shuffleboard courts, tennis courts, covered benches & a miniature golf course were installed.

In 2005 McPherson Park saw additional improvements. Civil War cannons (which had been removed at some point) were returned, the children's playground was refurbished, and a bike/walking path was installed along with a commemorative stone pavilion. Even more recently a second children’s playground was built at the east end, and today the 12.5 acre park is home to the Senior Center and Log Cabin Gift Shop, lighted tennis courts, a picnic shelter and the mini golf course.

Civil War cannons overlook the park at the Park Avenue entrance

If you plan on visiting McPherson Park bring your own golf balls and clubs. I would suggest picking up a couple of putters at a yard sale as the course is outdoors, and frequently has leaf litter and other natural detritus on the greens. There is a large parking lot accessible from Park Avenue, and additionally steps descend from street parking along Main Street. The east playground is intended for children ages 2 to 5, while the larger, central one can be used by older children. Public restrooms are available, and the shelter is available to rent for parties and events. Finally keep your eyes peeled for the resident red-tailed hawk; each time we see it it’s had a successful hunt!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Travelers Rest and Upcountry Provisions

Travelers Rest is really just a short car ride away, but more often than not we drive through without stopping on our way north to Caesars Head, Jones Gap or Table Rock. Originally home to the Catawba, Creek and Cherokee Indian tribes, it later became a stopover for travelers and livestock drovers. In more recent years the town has gained popularity with outdoor enthusiasts heading north into the Blue Ridge Mountains, but since the development of the Swamp Rabbit Trail (the multi-use trail stretching almost twenty miles from Greenville Tech to Travelers Rest) a surge of new businesses have opened along this corridor, encouraging the growth of a quaint Upstate tourism spot.

It was the annual Art on the Trail that brought us out on a brilliant autumn day, a fine arts and craft festival with not just art but music, performers and food. Events were spread out over a stretch of Main Street with a shuttle set up to help get around. The main event was a juried art fair, and vendors were set up in Trailblazer Park selling pottery, jewelry, textiles and much more. We got a slight head start on our Christmas presents while admiring the wares of talented artists from all over the southeast. Musicians in the amphitheater kept things lively with the good southern stuff, bluegrass to country to folk and everything in between. (While we were there it was the Drovers Old Time Medicine Show, the self-billed 'foot-stompin' hillbilly band' based here in the Upstate.)  There were even performers on stilts wandering around from Greenville-based TimTv & the Secret Cirkus, getting both kids and adults into hoola-hoops…

Mikus learns to play the steel pan

We spent a good bit of time in the Kid’s Corner, making bracelets, eating popcorn, getting balloon animals and building a riding mower with Home Depot. The boys tested their ball-throwing skills and watched older kids playing soccer, but soon our stomachs were growling for something more substantial, and although a couple of food trucks and several other food and coffee establishments were represented in the park, we headed out to a place I’ve had my eye on for quite some time.

Located just off the main drag in town, Upcountry Provisions Bakery & Bistro has been supplying freshly baked bread, croissants and other goodies to Travelers Rest since 2011. The menu features sandwiches, wraps and salads named after famous Upcountry spots. For example I ordered the Swamp Rabbit - hummus, avocado, garden veggies, crispy onions, mixed greens & balsamic vinaigrette dressing wrapped in flatbread - and Roberts had the Blue Ridge: pepperoni, turkey, red onions, roasted red pepper, mixed greens & blue cheese vinaigrette on ciabatta. The flatbread and ciabatta are both made in house, as well as the cinnamon roll and pain au chocolate that the boys chose for their lunch. Everything was delicious, and coming from Roberts this is high praise indeed – most often he prefers a quick lunch at home, but his sandwich disappeared almost as quickly as mine… The croissant with chocolate was a little more “doughy” than flaky (compared to the typical pain au chocolate in France), but with a generous portion of chocolate it gets my vote, while the cinnamon roll practically oozed decadence. Both boys were in a state of disbelief that mom was calling this lunch!

More Upstate businesses than ever are using seasonal, organic and local produce when possible, and UP is one of them, boasting hormone free meats and cheese. Although we didn’t drink any this visit, I was happy to hear the coffee is also roasted right here in Greenville, by West End Coffee. There is outdoor seating in addition to the large room inside, perfect for cyclists stopping in off the Swamp Rabbit Trail or for sunny autumn days such as this one, and with breakfast, lunch and dinner on the menu there are plenty of options for the hungry traveler to choose from. Now that we’ve found this spot it will be much harder to pass through on our way home from our many destinations farther north; in fact, Travelers Rest might just become a destination in itself!

Upcountry Provisions on Urbanspoon

Located at 102 S. Poinsett Highway, Upcountry Provisions is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7:30am to 7:00pm.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Double Blessings Farm, Travelers Rest SC

The driveway leading to Double Blessing Farm gives nothing away as to what is grown there; it isn’t until you’ve crested the hill that the goat pasture and barn come into view. On a sunny autumn day we had the opportunity to tour the farm and sample some of their wares.

In the farm’s early days the owners purchased their first goat and named the farm upon finding out she was pregnant, or so the story goes. Today they breed goats and sell a half-dozen products made out of goats milk. Our tour of the farm included storytime and a short lesson about goats, after which we got to meet and greet the local residents. Lauris and Mikus were amused to learn that baby goats are called kids! Moms (and those of the kids who were willing) were then treated to goat cheese and crackers, a deliciously creamy, mild cheese that can be purchased at the Travelers Rest Farmers Market. Lauris tasted goat’s milk and declared it tastes just the same as cow’s milk, but the favorite treat was homemade fudge.

Double Blessing Farm is also the home of Red Clay Soap. We took a look at (and smell of!) some of the soaps currently available, all made with goat’s milk and for sale on their website. The boys took home small samples of the soap, and we had hardly made it home before they were washing their hands to try it out.

Double Blessings is also home to chickens, a border collie Mollie and a husky-cross, Moo. We admired the chicken coops and threw Mollie a few sticks, but soon it was time to head home. I’m already thinking about returning in the spring when there will be baby goats to pet, although we might catch the owners sooner on either of the last two Thursdays this month at the Bluegrass Festival & Harvest Market. (One of the largest farmer’s markets in the Upstate, the Market is located in Trailblazer Park, Travelers Rest from 5 to 8:30pm, and includes not only local vendors such as Double Blessings but also food trucks and live music.) Fingers crossed they have some of that goat cheese for sale!

You can find the Red Clay Soaps website here.

Information on setting up your own tour of the farm is available here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The mud kitchen with a mosaic

There is something every child with even the tiniest backyard needs, and you’ve probably never heard of it.

A few years ago one of the boys received a play kitchen from their grandparents for a birthday. With a rotating supply of tupperware, empty boxes, spice jars, egg cartons and other food empties, the kitchen always provides some amusement while I’m working in the real kitchen. The boys diligently mix imaginary soups, cook eggs, wash dishes and serve up some pretty interesting dishes. However they are not allowed to play with real food, water or anything else that would create a serious mess.

One day in the backyard they had again dug a giant hole in the turf to make mud patties and I decided they needed a mud kitchen. Well, I didn’t know it was a mud kitchen per se until I searched the internet and found out that’s what it could be called: a station for beating mud eggs, mixing grass soups, flipping wood chip pancakes and baking sand-leaf muffins.

Once I had designed a general plan it was a matter of finding the time to build it. We had a large pallet and some scrap wood that we set aside for the frame, and we dismantled a box that had been used to ship paintings for the top. I scavenged garage sales for spoons, spatulas, an egg beater, a cheese grater, measuring cups and spoons, sieves and brushes. After a trip to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore we were in possession of a sink, and a coworker donated a faucet. Then one weekend we assembled the frame; the pallet provided the back, and we added a few 2x4s to form a rough table-base, screwing scrap wood around the base to stabilize it. The plywood tabletop was affixed last, after cutting a hole for the sink.

The mud kitchen saw some use in the next months, although we were awaiting the grand finale to its construction – a tile counter. Partially for aesthetics, partially to protect the surface from the elements, I wanted a durable and safe work surface. When master-mosaic-layer vecmamma Inga came to visit in August, we put her to work. She strategized with the boys, using chalk to draw the basic designs and then following with tiles and cement. After covering the entire surface she grouted the result, polishing the tiles to get the desired look. Which was wow! and the realization that if we ever move we’ll have to pack the mud kitchen. Not only have the boys’ Latvian folk symbols been incorporated into the surface, but their drawings of people, cars, mountains and circles decorate the table; it’s a work of art!

Roberts paved a small area with bricks and placed the kitchen on top, to help keep it level and to keep the area around the boys’ feet from becoming… well, muddy. With hooks for the various kitchen implements and a milk crate or two to store all their containers, it’s easy to clean up. Every once in a while we pull the hose over to rinse it off, but the boys don’t mind the leaves and pine needles that fall on top; if anything, they get incorporated into that day’s cuisine.

Some friends have suggested adding fittings to the faucet so that we could run the hose directly to the sink, and a downspout under the sink for drainage, but we tend to try and conserve water and I think the boys have enough fun as is. We’ll pour a couple of pitchers for them to incorporate into their sauces and soups, and that will usually last a while. An improvement I do hope to make is to return to ReStore and buy a used cabinet. The shelves would make for better storage, and I would fashion the surface into a “stove” of sorts, complete with burners and knobs. Or maybe two cabinets, so they have an oven as well…

As with any toy the boys will occasionally lose interest, but they always return and spend a surprisingly large amount of time playing in and around their mud kitchen. I don’t mind when the kitchen tools wander over to the sandbox or picnic table, and we often find jugs of mysterious concoctions stored in the playhouse or on the porch. Today Lauris had mixed up mud paint and was busy painting his playhouse with the pastry brush, while Mikus sorted his little treasures into a muffin tin. The kitchen is always a big hit when they have friends over, and when playtime is finished we send them to the pool or rinse them off with the hose. It’s a win/win situation; the boys can get creative with little or no boundaries, and I get to keep the mess out of the house!

Close-up of the mosaic on the sides: a car and the three brothers

This is a project that can be built to suit almost any budget and skill level. Our most expensive additions were the sink ($10 used from ReStore) and the mosaic top, but both of these could be omitted. Most people can find some extra implements in the kitchen they aren’t using and keep a few plastic containers out of the recycle bin to stock the shelves. For a more custom fit you could spend a little more and not used scavenged lumber, but the beauty in this project is that you don’t have to be an architect or in design – instead of building the frame from scratch you could always use an old coffee table or cabinet (check out all the different kitchens people have come up with!). The kids will love it just as much!

Now that the days are cooling down we won’t be hosing off too often after our play in the mud, but we’ll still be spending as much time as possible outside before the cold really kicks in. You’ll find us collecting colorful leaves to use in our next salad, harvesting pine cones for tea and picking weeds to put in our casseroles... Maybe you’ll join us?
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