Saturday, May 16, 2020

Eleven years

Today Roberts and I celebrate eleven years since our wedding. As I've done since our second anniversary, I'm posting a photo from our wedding day, this one as we made our way down the aisle. 

I was looking through posts from previous years to remind myself which photographs I had already posted, and got a big laugh from last year's post; we were on our 'honeymoon' in Hawai'i, so I was a bit late posting my annual memory, but at the end I wrote "Now, to figure out where to go on our babymoon...." If only I had known what 2020 would bring! Global pandemics! Homeschooling! Cancelled travel plans!!! Oh, and yes - baby Kukainis, due this month! I wouldn't even have imagined, but I'm kind of getting what I wished for, aren't I?

Wishing Roberts a happy wedding anniversary, and although we might not be celebrating with a fancy dinner and champagne, at least we won't have to share this day's celebrations with Baby Kukainis #4... well, at least not that I know of as of posting, who knows what next year's post might reveal!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Nalley Brown Nature Park

We are blessed to have a large selection of parks and natural areas in the Upstate in which to enjoy the outdoors, from the state and county parks such as Jones Gap and Caesars Head, to our urban public spaces like Lake Conestee Nature Preserve and the Swamp Rabbit Trail. But what about those beautiful days when we don’t have the time to travel all the way up to the Blue Ridge, but want something different from the same-old, same-old? With the approach of spring, the lure of the outdoors will take families on explorations all over the Upstate, bringing the dilemma – where to go today?

A new park has opened near Easley, giving us another option for those days when the mountains are a little too far; Nalley Brown Nature Park. Located at 380 Adger Road, this recently-opened park features almost 3 miles of trail on its 38 acres, and is only 3 miles from downtown Easley!

The park opened last fall, and is many years in the making; Catherine Brown Ladnier donated the land in 2001, but over the past two decades the project stalled more than once and it took a push by the then-mayor of Easley Larry Bagwell to finish it before the end of his term.

Adjacent to the parking area visitors will find a small pavilion, and a play area with a few tunnels and climbing structures (keep in mind there are currently no restrooms). However, the heart of the park is its 2.5 miles of trails; leading through scrub pine and mature hardwoods, the trail network forms two main loops that can be combined for excursions ranging everywhere from a few tenths of a mile to almost three miles. Nalley Trail is the longest trail, and forms an outer loop of just under 1 ½ miles long. An inner loop, Brown Trail, is another 0.85 miles, and a wetlands trail connecting the two loops on the west side of the park adds another tenth of a mile with its boardwalk. Finally, an ADA accessible loop just off the parking area is a tenth of a mile long.

The history of the property bears influence on the forest we see today. The Nalley and Brown families farmed the property and owned it for around 150 years, and from the trail you’ll see reminders of the old farmstead: abandoned car parts here, old farming supplies there. Damage from long-ago farming practices still scar the land, heavily eroded ravines showing the result of bad farming practices, as well as more recent harm – the dumping of trash into these gullies. On the other hand, the mature beech-oak forest has towering hardwoods over a hundred years old, and the softwoods forest has its own charm with the smell of pine and the thick canopy of pine needles. The wetlands trail brings visitors down to a tributary of Eighteenmile Creek whose waters eventually flow into Lake Hartwell, and mosses and ferns line the sides of the ravines while the occasional wildflower bring spots of color to the forest floor. Bring a picnic to enjoy under the beautiful pavilion, or head to Easley afterwards; kids love the “Train on Main” scavenger hunt, and adults might enjoy a stop at Ninja Warrior Coffee House to refuel and local grocery and natural market Farmacy to pick up last-minute groceries for dinner.

Nalley Brown Nature Park is a welcome addition to the natural spaces of the Upstate, providing a hiking option close to home for those living west of Greenville as well as a way for people to get outdoors in what is becoming an increasingly-urban landscape. We hope to see additional improvements (such as restroom facilities and educational signage) in the near future, and look forward to seeing what the change of the seasons brings in this new park.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Baltic Christmas Day 24 - Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!

Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus! Linksmų Kalėdų! Häid jõule!

Once again, I would like to extend an enormous paldies to everyone who has contributed to this series; in the form of posts, photographs, illustrations, interviews and ideas. As to the readers, the friends who commented and translated, and those who put me in contact with bloggers and authors all over the world, I am so very grateful – the series would not have been a success without you. Special mention to artist ZILGMA for the uniquely Baltic logo (she’s also my ‘phone-a-friend’ for culinary questions!), and to I&G for the help brainstorming DIY Baltic gift ideas – that was fun! As always, thank you to Roberts and the boys for their patience with me while I immerse myself in the world of Baltic Christmas.

On this final day of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, a review of all the wonderful contributions we’ve seen this month! On Day 2 we took a look at all the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Christmas markets taking place across the US, Canada, Australia and Europe.

On Day 3 we welcomed Andārte Phillips and the students of Krišjāņa Barona Latviešu Skola with their recipe for rupjmaizes kārtojums, the iconic traditional Latvian dessert featuring dark rye bread that is considered a classic treasure of Latvian cuisine. Māra Linde returned to the series on Day 4, with the story of how the San Francisco Baltic Christmas Fair came to be.

A collaboration between 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas and Baltic Imports brought us the Baltic Gift Guide 2019 on Day 5. Then on Day 6 food blogger and author Latvian Eats presented the truly traditional Christmas dish of koča or kūķis from her new cookbook Latvian Eats: Soups, Stews & Porridge.

On the 7th day of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, we took a peaceful walk in the woods. Then on Day 8, a humorous guide to DIY gifts to make for your favorite Balt!

We welcomed back Ilze Ieviņa from the blog Let the Journey Begin on Day 9. Ilze joined us with a traditional Latvian recipe that should be on every holiday table, štovēti kāposti – Latvian Christmas Sauerkraut. Then on Day 10 Nikolajs Timrots introduced us to the Lithuanian dessert grybukai (mushrooms) that are usually in the shape of a baravykas and are stunners on the dessert table.

Annelī’s Vegan Latvian Gingerbread cookies, vegānas piparkūkas made their debut on Day 11, providing a delicious, vegan alternative to the Latvian traditional cookie. Then on Day 12 a round-up of the top cookie recipes from the 6 years the series has been running, for the Baltic Cookie Exchange.

Learn how to make pītes with a traditional Latvian recipe of gray peas, bacon, onions, dill and potatoes on Day 13. Then on Day 14 read about the annual Lithuanian Christmas concert in Chicago, performed by Dainava.

On Day 15 a twist on the traditional gingerbread house with our piparkūku Pulvertornis! Then on Day 16 a favorite contributor, Inga Lucāns, with her recipe for a traditional Baltic fermented beverage, Honey-lemon kvass!

It was across the Atlantic to the UK on Day 17, with Margaret Drummond’s post on Kūčios in London, then and now. And on Day 18, Māra McLaughlin-Taylor shared the ways she has found to enjoy the Baltic winter!

On the final week of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas… On Day 19 we welcomed Adam Rang of the blog Estonian Saunas, for a guide on how to cut down a Christmas tree in Estonia. Then on Day 20, Krista Svalbonas, her husband Lars Alverson, and Dzintra Alverson brought us a Christmas story from the Wentorf displaced-persons camp in Germany, part of the “Displacement” project documenting the DP camps through interviews, photography and art.

The students of Krišjāņa Barona Latvian School of Chicago were the stars of winter solstice, Day 21, with their handmade ķekatas masks. Artist Lāsma Maher led the students in preparing the paper-mâché masks that were worn for the school’s annual Christmas pageant. Then on Day 22, Nikolajs Timrots took us on a tour of the Vilnius Christmas markets!

Finally, on Day 23 – thoughts on the variety of decorations we see in modern-day Baltic homes.

I hope you enjoyed this sixth year of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! We’re thankful to once again have been a part of your holiday preparations, and hope you found some Yule/Ziemassvētki/Kūčios spirit here on Femme au Foyer. I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas, and all the best in 2020.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Baltic Christmas Day 23

Are your piparkūkas and kūčiukai baked? Presents wrapped? Excellent.

Now that the log has been dragged and burned, the Christmas markets visited, and the krupnikas bottled, we can finally sit back and enjoy the season! Family is visiting, candles have been lit, Christmas music is playing in the background, and the aroma of pīrāgi and piparkūkas fills the air!

Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, and find a comfortable spot to sit for a few minutes, an hour… Soak it in, for Christmas will be over all too quick – enjoy the moment.

One of my favorite part of the holiday season is experiencing the spectrum of decorations. We have blow-up snowmen, Santa & reindeer on roofs, technicolor lights and inflatable snow globes. We also have quiet white strings of lights, wreaths of all kinds, garlands, and of course Christmas trees shining through windows. Indoors we have mantelpiece extravaganzas, gingerbread houses (or Pulvertornis), advent wreaths, window snowflakes and candles. Poinsettias and amaryllis and Christmas cactus blooming. Christkindlmarket mugs and Christmas china, Santa sweaters and auseklis leggings.

My relatives often have Scandinavian-influenced decorations next to their Latvian trimmings. Ornaments made by children hang next to the Christmas pickle, dried orange slices next to a glitter-covered snowball. The straw puzuris next to a silver paper one made with metallic pipe cleaners.

Maybe your only ornament is a candle in the window, or an extra setting at the table with a candle on an empty plate. Maybe you will feast with twelve courses, maybe nine. Santa might show in the evening to listen to your poem, or leave a present only when you are asleep. However you and your family celebrates – be it Yule, Kūčios, the winter solstice, Ziemassvētki, Jõulud, Christmas – I hope you find peace, happiness and hope in your celebration this year. Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!

The photographs in this post are of holiday decorations at my uncles home – aren’t they beautiful? A little bit of traditional Latvian, a lot of natural materials, and a touch of creativity...

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Baltic Christmas Day 22 - Feel the Magic of the Christmas Season in Vilnius!

Welcome back to Nikolajs on Day 22 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! 

“Nikolajs Timrots is an American-Latvian who spent his whole life in the Washington, DC area until relocating to Vilnius this past September. You may remember him from such hits as 2019’s “Grybukai.” He is now in that awkward stage where he knows enough about Vilnius to know how little he actually knows about Vilnius.”

Christmas markets in Europe are amazing. It’s a well-known fact. You can get hot booze, eat tasty food, look at some pretty lights, hear some Christmas music, and get your Christmas shopping done, all in one stop. Vilnius is no different! But there’s something about the layout of the old town here that makes it extra magical.

Let’s start in Cathedral Square. This is a big open plaza next to, you guessed it, Vilnius Cathedral, which is just below what is likely the most famous landmark in Vilnius, Gediminas Castle. However, for the month of December, this square becomes the site of Vilnius’ official Christmas tree, and most popular Christmas market.

For the last few years, the arrangement has been a ring of booths around the Christmas tree itself, making for a stunning setting. It looks amazing as you approach, and even more so as you walk around the market itself under the lights strung up overhead! The theme for 2019 seems to be chess- oddly, I didn’t see anything about that at the market itself or online- but it makes for a really eye-catching light display! 

The food and drink selection is outstanding. All kinds of boozy teas, non-boozy teas, boozy coffee, non-boozy coffee, hot wine, hot chocolate, regular chocolate, gingerbread cookies, and fresh-made waffles and crepes. My personal favorite is šaltalankių arbata (buckthorn tea), with or without herbal liqueur. There are also all kinds of stocking stuffers to take back home with you. Oh, and toys with lights. Boy, are flashy light devices popular, especially with the kids.

Head west toward the center of Old Town on Gedimino prospektas, and you will be treated to a really beautiful avenue covered in lights as far as the eye can see, as this street is almost perfectly straight for two kilometers. The ice white lights and the color of the streetscape make for a most pleasant walk, especially if you’re lucky enough to do this when it’s closed to cars! Even passing by on a cross street on my way to and from work each day is a real treat, especially since it’s only light for about 7 hours this time of year. Since the sun doesn’t ever seem to come out to say hello, having lights everywhere at night is a real mood booster!

Source here
Hang a left onto Vilniaus gatvė to catch more Old Town sights and lights. Eventually, you will reach Town Hall Square, the other big Christmas market in town. This location is nice because it truly feels like you’re in the middle of Old Town, and instead of white wooden huts, the little shops are in clear, geodesic domes, which help give the appearance of a true winter wonderland!

Source here
The best part of all of this is you can really feel the spirit anywhere in the city. If you like Christmas, you’ll love that many stores start playing Christmas music and selling for the holidays as early as late October! And because there are many Orthodox Christians living here and visiting, decorations and music continue through January 6. For a non-traditional Christmas celebration, go visit the historic Lukiškės prison for a unique experience, and some perspective on what it might be like to not see Christmas lights for a long time. And finally, when you come visit Vilnius, don’t forget to visit the famous confiscated items tree in the airport!

Linksmų Kalėdų/Merry Christmas!

Paldies Nikolaj, for taking us on a tour of this year’s Vilnius market! One of the things I miss most about living in France is this particular season – the lights, the markets, the boozy and non-boozy coffee… Vilnius has long been on my travel bucket list, and the more I hear about winter in Lithuania, the more I think this might be the way to experience it for the first time. What do you think?

Thank you for joining us today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! Stay tuned for Day 23, a peek at some exquisite Latvian Christmas ornaments!

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