Friday, March 29, 2013

Lieldienas, Easter, Paques (or a Frenmericvian Easter)

See English translation below.....


Novēlu visiem skaistas Lieldienas!

Lai jums būtu veiksme olu sišanās, augsta šūpošanās un varena Lieldienu maltīte ar jūsu ģimeni!

Mums olas ir nokrāsotas un rupmaize izcepta, visas sastāvdaļas paskai nopirktas. Ir atvieglinoši būt atpakaļ ASV kur visas lietas rit vieglāk, bet tomēr pietrūkst Francija. Atceros, ka pagāšgad satikamies pilns dzīvoklis mēs mammas ar bērniem krāsot olas. Māciju kā sīpolu mizās tās vārīt un kuŗas lapiņas un zālīte rod interesantus musturus. Un nemaz nerunāsim par iepriekšējo gadu, kad Lieldienas svinējām Gorges du Tarn ar Matīsu un Indru! Un franču ticējums ir, ka zvans atved Lieldienu olas (nevis kāds zaķis!) un tamdēļ arī veikali pilni ar šokolādes un marcipāna zvaniem. Baznīcu zvani pāris dienas pirms Lieldienām klusē un itkā par šīm dienām ir aizgājuši uz Romu, no kurienes atgriežāš ar krāsotām olām un šokolādēm. Senās dienās tanī brīdī Lieldienu dienā kad visi zvani skanēja, tad tikai drīkstēja visi bērni skriet laukā olas meklēt. (Vai nav piemēroti, ka mani Čikāgas radi svinēs Zvanu ielā Lieldienas?)

Šādos brīžos jāatcerās, ka Francijā nepaspējām atrast šūpoles kur izšūpoties. Varbūt tamdēļ arī visu vasaru koda odi? Un notiekti nevarējām sanākt četras paaudzes ģimene kopā nosvinēt svētkus. Atradīsim mūsu zvaniņus kuŗus paskandināt Lieldienu dienā, izcepsim kādu burkānkūku, sitīsim sīpolu mizās krāsotās olas un kārtīgi nosvinēsim latviskas/franciskas/amerikāņu Lieldienas!


Wishing everybody a happy Easter!

We've colored our eggs, baked a batch of rye bread and bought all the ingredients for making paska. It's a bit of a relief to be back in the US for this holiday, as keeping with the various traditions has gone more smoothly, however I miss France. A friend reminded me how this time last year our apartment was full, as I taught everyone how to color Easter eggs the Latvian way, with onion skins. Even the year before that, when we celebrated Easter with Indra and Matīss in the Gorges du Tarn, what a memorable holiday that was! I miss the bells too; the French tradition has it that a bell delivers the Easter eggs, and only when all the church bells ring can the children run outside to search for the eggs les cloches de Pâques have brought from Rome. All the patisseries and groceries will be full of marzipan and chocolates in the shape of bells...

It's moments like this that I need to remember that it wasn't all bells and chocolate in France, as we definitely were not able to celebrate Easter with four generations of family. Some of the other Latvian traditions went by the wayside as well, such as swinging on Easter morning to keep the mosquitos at bay during the following year, since we never did find any swings.

So I'm off to search for some bells to ring on Easter morning before the egg hunt, and to double check I have everything to bake a carrotcake, because this year with our onion skin colored eggs and our Peeps we will properly celebrate a Latvian/French/American Easter!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Googly-eyed eggs

Growing up we mostly used the Latvian onion-skin method to color Easter eggs, but I remember a few times when my siblings and I cajoled our mother into using a store-bought dye set. It almost always made a mess, and the eggs never turned out very beautiful – at least that was my opinion. Plus, the natural way has the added bonus at the end; unwrapping the eggs to discover the designs left behind by the various leaves, flowers and blades of grass is similar to opening presents on Christmas morning!

I want the boys to experience a little of both worlds. Although they are a little too young to dye their own eggs, Lauris had a hand in collecting the leaves we used for this year’s eggs. He also helped in the tying, although after about one or two eggs he lost patience in the process and took off to play with trains. So when our playgroup organized an egg-decorating day I was glad to have the chance to try a different Easter tradition.

The kids had fun drawing on the hard-boiled eggs, covering them with stickers and gluing googly-eyes on. Mikus wasn’t able to participate just yet, but I predict that by next Easter he’ll have the sticker-sticking figured out, like Lauris this year. We had a mini egg hunt after which we went for a brisk walk on the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
The googly-eyed eggs are going straight in with the rest of our Easter eggs. I’m interested to see who chooses which eggs for olu sišanās, the egg war on Easter morning!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Natural Easter eggs

Judging by the amount of pins on pinterest I’ve seen about using natural dyes to color Easter eggs, the traditional Latvian method of using onion skins should really be in style this year. I went into detail on how this is done in a previous post, as the conventional method involves not only dying the eggs, but by using wraps to hold leaves, grass and other materials against the egg, producing beautiful designs.

Onion skins produce this lovely shade of brown
Another method I first learned about back in elementary school from my Latvian Saturday school teacher Mrs. Kupce, utilizes red cabbage. After chopping up a head of cabbage and boiling it in water for thirty minutes, you strain out the cabbage and add  1 tablespoon vinegar to every cup of water. Logically the amount of water needed is dependent on the size of the pot, as you want all the eggs to be covered, but generally a higher concentration of cabbage will produce a darker dye. After the pot has cooled (so as not to crack the eggs) you put your eggs in and bring to boil. Once boiling I turn off the heat and let sit, usually for about one to two hours.

Red cabbage gives this lovely blue
This year it was nowhere as difficult to find white eggs as it was in France the last couple of years, nor did I have to expend as much effort to collect onion skins; I still received odd looks while checking out at the grocery store, but it’s much easier explaining what I’m doing with a bag full of onion peels and no onions when I can speak English. Because it all went so smoothly I decided to try my hand at a couple of other natural dyes. I had heard blueberries produce a nice blue dye, but as red cabbage creates a similar effect I opted for two different colors. From making the traditional Latvian beet soup (recipe here) I knew beets always leave my hands stained a bright red, and after a bit of research I discovered carrot tops can produce a yellow dye.

The Greenville Latvians came by Friday to color eggs, so I made sure I had four pots on the stove, one for each color. The carrot tops and beets I prepared similar to the cabbage, chopping the carrot tops but shredding the beets. On Thursday I boiled each for 30 minutes, strained out the solids, then added 1 tablespoon of vinegar for each cup of liquid. By Friday morning the pots had cooled and we introduced the eggs. After bringing to a boil we let them sit for about 90 minutes.

Using beets resulted in a rich brown color
I didn’t have much luck with the two new methods. The beet-colored eggs turned out a beautiful, rich brown, but as the onion skins give a similar result I wasn’t impressed; I was expecting red. The carrot tops gave just a hint of yellow, nowhere near the vibrant color I saw online in my research. I can only guess that I need a lot more carrot tops (I used about 6 carrots which amounted to about 2 ounces). Talking to friends afterward I found that a possible solution for the beet-dye is to hard boil my eggs before placing in the dye (prepared as described), and not boiling them but just soaking.

The palest yellow eggs from carrot tops

The traditional onion skin and red cabbage eggs came out as expected. Some of the higher contrasting designs brought to mind those sun sheets I had as a kid; the paper reacted to sunlight, and would retain color under items you had placed on the paper before leaving everything out in the sun for several hours.
I’m curious to hear about any natural dyes you have used to color your Easter eggs. It would be interesting to give the beets another shot next year, and possibly turmeric can give the bright yellow I was hoping for with the carrot tops? And just so the boys get to experience something other than the traditional, we’ll be joining friends on Tuesday to decorate eggs with googly-eyes, markers and stickers. Are there specific googly-eyes I should be using?

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Apaļš kā pūpols, vesels kā rutks, slimības laukā, veselību iekšā!!!
A Latvian tradition on Palm Sunday involves the first one awake rousing the rest of the household with a light spanking using pussy willow branches. Remember to bid them “round as a pussy willow, healthy as a turnip, illnesses out, health in!”
The belief is that those on the receiving end will be healthy for the next year. Historically, all the animals on the farm would have been “spanked” as well.
Pūpolsvētdiena (in Latvian called “pussy willow Sunday”) is the beginning to the last week of Lent, Holy Week. As Latvia is short on palms (which are religiously significant, as upon Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem he was greeted with palm fronds covering the streets), pussy willows took on increased meaning, as they are often the first harbinger of spring.
Last year I completely forgot, and truthfully I’m not even sure I could have found pussy willows in France. This year? Oh, I’m ready…

Some more things to think about…
On Pūpolsvētdienas morning, find the closest stream to rinse your face, as then you will be beautiful and energetic all year. If you can't find a stream, I suggest keeping the tap water as cold as you can get it...
Inspect the pussy willow branches, if there are few catkins then there will be few potatoes in the fall, but if there are many, then the beans and peas shall grow in abundance. The branches I bought from a local florist seem somewhere in the middle, so I'll hedge my bets and plant beans, peas and potatoes.
On Pūpolsvētdiena clean the ashes from your fireplace and scatter them in the fields which will be planted in vegetables, to guarantee a copious harvest. We do have fireplaces, they just haven't been used in 30 years - maybe I can scrape some ashes from the flue...
Do not brush the children’s hair on Pūpolsvētdiena, so they don’t contract lice. Wow.
To guarantee a good year, stay home on Pūpolsvētdiena. The weather today is predicted to be cold and rainy, so sure, we'll spend the day indoors, nice and cozy!

For the branches to be most effective, they must be harvested at the break of dawn on Pūpolsvētdiena. Sheesh, I blew this one. But I'm not sure pussy willows grow down south...

Wishing everyone a happy Pūpolsvētdiena, apaļš kā pūpols, vesels kā rutks, slimības laukā, veselību iekšā!!!

For a quick recap of how Latvians celebrate Easter you can visit this post...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rock Quarry Garden

A popular outdoor wedding spot here in Greenville, the Rock Quarry Garden is the site of a pre-Civil War granite quarry. Yet another waterfall in the city!

The cold weather and nightly freeze warnings have been interspersed with some bright and sunny days, and we took advantage of one such day to visit these gardens, managed by the Greenville Garden Club.

"Monelle and Perky" by Kevin Brady

In a few weeks the park will be ablaze with azaleas and the dogwoods will have bloomed, but on our visit we found colorful beds of pansies amidst the green grass. The stream runs right down the middle, teasing the boys with the prospect of splashing and rock-turning, but the chill in the air ensured mom kept them dry.

Close to Cleveland Park, the zoo and downtown, this oasis is another spot we will be returning to, the prospect of catching the park in spring bloom appealing.  We’ll pack a picnic and a change of clothes, and if the sun is warm enough there just might be some splashing involved.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The tale of a Clock Drive-In

Right at the intersection of Pleasantburg and Wade Hampton is a diner with a huge clock out in front. We’ve driven past it a hundred times, maybe more, but never stopped. I bet you know the one I’m talking about, right there by Bob Jones University?

It was recently reported that this Greenville institution will be closing at the end of the month, due to an increase in rent. There are six other clock diners in the Upstate, the original on the other side of Greenville on White Horse Road, but it is not a chain, they all operate independently.

One of the old menus from the drive-in days
The Clock Drive-In on Wade Hampton is the third clock diner, having opened its doors on June 7, 1953. Originally a drive-in with car hops, it isn’t hard to imagine dozens of (now) antique cars parked awaiting their orders. Nowadays the ordering is done inside, but with stools at the counter and booths filling the diner, it’s your choice whether to eat in your car or inside. Featured on Southern Living's "Carolina's Best Burgers" last year, it received the following write-up; "The Clock started ticking in 1953 as a drive-in where carhops on skates delivered barbecue sandwiches and milk shakes. These days, burgers have replaced barbecue as the top seller, and car service is no more. But the décor and the burger recipes at the original haven’t changed in nearly 60 years."

Not wanting to miss our chance to grab something to eat at this historic burger joint we set out Tuesday to check it out. It was only 11:30am but the place was absolutely packed! The stars aligned and the boys and I snagged a booth after ordering, only to watch the line get longer and longer until it stretched out the door and into the parking lot.

The regulars or those in the know will tell you to order a half-and-half plate; a burger or dog drowned in chili, fries and onion rings and a side of slaw. Since the kids outnumbered the adults this time around I went with a much simpler order, a cheeseburger for myself, a hot dog for the boys and plenty of fries to share. It still came in under $10, and after devouring the burger I can understand why the loyal lunch crowd keeps coming back for more. Just for the record, Southern Living recommends the Chili-Cheeseburger ($3). "Made the way they've been since the 1950s, with a slice of American cheese and a hefty scoop of homemade chili."

<sigh> is it time for another haircut already?
If the busy lunch hour is any indication, the Clock Diner will be sorely missed. Make sure to stop in and grab a burger in the next couple of weeks, enjoy the 1950’s diner atmosphere and check out the clock. I’m curious to see what will happen to the space; will it see new development or just a new business (but please keep the clock!)? Good luck to the owners of the business, I wish you luck in your next venture, and my condolences to all the regulars who will be looking for a new Greenville tradition… maybe we’ll have to check out some of the other Clock diners in the Upstate?
Clock Drive-In on Urbanspoon
Update 4/2/2013:
WYFF News is reporting that the diner will remain open after all. After support for the decades-old restaurant poured in last month, owner John Banias has negotiated a multi-year lease with the Clock Drive-In which will be signed sometime this week. Glad to hear this local favorite will be around serving up their signature half-and-half for at least a few more years!

Monday, March 18, 2013

On how to clean up spilt milk

So what’s the cure for crying over spilt milk?
Step 1: Say paldies, merci beaucoup and thank you to all the dear people that wrote, called, commented and volunteered to hop on a plane after my last post. I believe it has never been nicer to hear the “you are not alone” refrain, nor has there been a time more important to heed the call not to give in to the mommy guilt complex that runs rampant these days due to the proximity to social media. We’ve got some exciting adventures to look forward to in the coming months, and I just have to get through those days, the disastrous as well as the not-so-bad ones, one day at a time.
Step 2: Set alarm for 7am and after grabbing a cup of coffee leave all the boys at home and hit the yard sales. Can you believe this only cost me $1.50? Add in a couple of children’s books, some kids clothes in great shape, and you have a successful morning alone.
Step 3: Get home just in time to accompany the boys to the company Easter egg hunt. Watch five million children (I might be exaggerating just a bit but really, those eggs were gone in minutes!) scramble across the lawn stuffing eggs into their sacks like they were born doing it. Eat popcorn, cotton candy, mini cupcakes, chips, hot dogs and possibly more mini cupcakes. Watch your youngest son become enamored with the Easter bunny and go back for seconds. Cheer on your older son on his first amusement park ride. Start gearing up for our first Easter back in the US.

Step 4: Convince husband to get takeout for dinner, and spend time in kitchen starting a batch of rye bread instead of making dinner. Let dad handle the diapers while up to elbows in dough, luxuriating in the smell of baking bread.
Step 5: Have friends over to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a big lunch and some NY style cheesecake. Be grateful for not having mowed the lawn yet this year during our search for four-leaf clover.

Step 6: Send the boys out to get shamrock shakes while tidying up the kitchen and enjoying some uninterrupted phone time.

Step 7: Me-time with a glass of wine and some blogging.
I feel better already.

Friday, March 15, 2013

On crying over spilt milk

Do you have days where you feel like everything is out of your control, where the only progress you make is on adding things to the to-do list? Days when your youngest son gets into the bathroom and plays with the potty his older brother just used while you’re trying to make breakfast? And then while you’re cleaning that up, the glass of milk you just poured yourself to drink while the boys eat breakfast gets spilled all over the library book and iPad? You know that day, the type where the entire contents of the boys’ wardrobe gets rearranged all over the room while you’re trying hard not to cry over spilt milk, and all this in the first thirty minutes of your day?
Well, on these days I try really hard to remember to get dressed before buckling Thing 1 and Thing 2 into their car seats and driving, anywhere really, in the hopes that by doing so the house will still be standing when we return.
I hit the drive thru and order a decaf caramel mocha coffee because I’m not kidding myself, I know I don’t need any more caffeine, just a cup of liquid sugar to keep my outlook on life sweet while the kid in the backseat asks his 200th question of the day.
I keep the Goldfish crackers coming after strapping both boys into one of those giant carts at the grocery store that are impossible to navigate unless you’ve had a cup of sugar and the other store patrons avoid you like the plague due to the wild look in your eye.
I call up my husband to meet him for lunch, just to share with him how *my day is going*.
I meet up with a friend who gets it, as she has three boys, and then proceed to spend entire time with said friend retrieving one son from precarious positions on stairs and furniture while attempting to corral the other and keep him from getting us kicked out of the coffee shop.
And then I cry, when I’ve gotten home and both boys fall asleep simultaneously, allowing me 30 uninterrupted minutes of cleaning the house before a salesman rings the doorbell and wakes them both up.

Of course I ask myself why my husband couldn't have walked in the door ten minutes earlier, instead of while I'm in the process of scrubbing the floor and removing the entire contents of the bunk bed to the washing machine after an unfortunate accident that could have been prevented had I not been busy changing the diaper and clothes of another member of the household.

I ask myself what my degree is worth when I deal with cooking, cleaning and bodily fluids all day, wonder what has happened to the intelligence I'm pretty sure I had at one point.

I ask myself where I lost myself along the way, and wonder if it's something I'll find again once the kids have grown, like an unmatched sock in the dryer lint trap. Which I then remember I need to empty. Mustn't forget to empty the lint trap.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Liberty Bridge and Falls Park on the Reedy River

What does Greenville, SC have that no other city of its size has? A waterfall right in the middle of downtown! Beautiful Falls Park was a visionary idea that is a large part of the reason why Greenville has been successful in revitalizing its downtown, maintaining a diverse and successful culinary scene and keeping the tourists and locals coming to its city center.

The area surrounding the waterfall on Reedy River has been called “the cradle of Greenville” as the falls were the reason behind the first white settlers choosing the area. The same Richard Pearis whose misspelled name is in the roots of Paris Mountain’s name, that Mr. Pearis had a trading post and grist mill at the base of the falls in 1768. Because he married a Cherokee woman he was able to circumnavigate the laws against buying property from the Native Americans, and this is how he came to own some 50,000 acres in the area, including the falls. Mr. Pearis sided with the British during the American Revolution, and upon returning to Greenville after the war his family and business were gone, burned by his opponents.

Camperdown Mills and the Falls, source here
Over the next two hundred years the falls changed ownership several times, with a variety of industries clustering along the Reedy River: ironworks, the Gower, Cox, and Markley Coach Factory, a sawmill, a paper factory, an armory, grist and corn mills, and Camperdown Mill, which produced yarn and gingham until 1956. Whole families, including children as young as 9 or 10 worked at the mills, renting rooms at the mill houses for 50 cents a week. The river came to be heavily polluted and in 1960 the Camperdown Bridge was built across the falls, obstructing public view and creating a barrier to public access for over 40 years.

Camperdown Bridge, source here
In 1967, Furman University donated six acres surrounding the falls to the City, which in turn agreed to create and maintain a park, but despite the work of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club and the City of Greenville’s plans, not much changed around the actual falls until the bridge was removed in 2003. It was then that a $13 million dollar investment was made to transform the park into a space that would be utilized by the public and bring tourists to the area. A new pedestrian-only, curved suspension bridge was constructed, designed by architect Miguel Rosales and standing 355 feet long, providing dramatic views of the park and falls. Liberty Bridge could be considered the crowning achievement of a 25-year revitalization plan that has successfully brought people and businesses back to downtown Greenville.  

I find the bridge graceful and aesthetic, adding to the scenery instead of detracting from it; the nighttime skyline especially is enhanced by the elegant lighting. I first visited Greenville in 2004 and so I never saw the old Camperdown bridge, but I have witnessed the transformation of Greenville’s West End into the popular neighborhood it is today, and I believe it has a lot to do with the river that runs right through the heart of the city.

Monday, March 11, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Parade

What better to do on a beautiful Sunday than go watch the Greenville Saint Patrick’s Day parade?

I guess they didn’t get the daylight savings time memo, as instead of starting at 1pm as planned, they finally paraded past closer to two. But we didn’t mind waiting, did we?

After the parade the gates to Fluor Field were open for the continuation of the festivities. Music, food, St. Patrick’s Day gear and face painting, the stadium was lively. One green glitter activity later we continued on.

Falls Park was full of people enjoying the beautiful weather. The fountains near the entrance reminded me of my hometown; in honor of St. Patrick’s Day the Chicago River has been dyed green for 43 years. If you’re in Chicago you can go watch this Saturday, the 16th at 10am.

Ice cream at Marble Slab Creamery and dinner at the Trappe Door; after 10 days of the flu and stomach issues we haven’t completely recovered but we’re close, thanks to a wonderful day spent downtown.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Georgia Aquarium

Ten million gallons of water. More animals than any other aquarium in the world. More than eleven million visitors to date.

With numbers like these, there was no doubt we were in for an exciting day. I visited the  Georgia Aquarium not long after it opened while Iiving in Georgia, and although my memories from that day included horrible Altanta traffic, expensive tickets and a very crowded aquarium, I hoped visiting with kids would bring a different experience.

Prices remain the same, but for the price of a ticket everything is included: the dolphin show, a 3D animated feature and the special exhibit (currently “Frogs – A Chorus of Colors”). We lucked out, kids under three are free. As far as I found, the only ways to get a discount is to become a member (and go more than once thereby getting a lower per-visit cost) or to visit as a school group. There are certain days that offer discounts, for example this Saturday is princess and pirate day, when kids 12 and under who come dressed in princess, prince or pirate attire will receive free admission with each paying adult. You can also cut costs by taking public transportation and avoiding the parking fees, by skipping lunch at the Café Aquaria, and by ignoring the gift shop that you have to walk through to exit the aquarium.

Now that I’ve gotten the bad taste of high ticket prices out of my mouth, I only have good things left to say. From the very first tanks, which line the hallway and envelop you as you enter, to the “hands-on” exhibits, the place is amazing! We had the chance to pet the stingrays at Brookfield Zoo, but here we could pet the stingrays, pet a shark, pet horseshoe crabs and sea stars! There are “pop up” windows and crawl through caves that allow you to experience the exhibits in an even more up-close and personal way, as well as from a different perspective.

My favorite was “Ocean Voyager,” the home to four whale sharks (the largest fish species in the world), manta rays (the only manta rays in a US aquarium, ever) and thousands of other fish in 6.3 million gallons of water, the largest aquarium habitat in the world. We walked through an acrylic tunnel allowing us to see the underbellies of the giants, and we hung out while the whale sharks were fed.

Lauris listed his favorites as the sharks and the dolphins. I can understand how the latter made quite an impression, the show was something else. If you look past the theatrics (and the “Glee”-style musical) the show really is action-packed, eliciting oohs and aahs from everyone except Mikus, who finally took his nap in the darkened auditorium.

Mikus possibly preferred the jellyfish; three different species in three tanks, the space had the feel of an art gallery. The tropical reef, the seahorses, the lionfish, it was one wonder after another. Overall, the visit was a complete success. My only regret; not bringing Roberts along.
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