Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mice on Main - a scavenger hunt

It’s the little things that make Greenville such a wonderful town to live in; in this case, really little things – mice! (Warning: If you haven’t already found the mice, this post contains pictures and information of the mice and their locations.)

“Goodnight Moon” is one of my boys’ favorite books, it was written by Margaret Wise Brown, author of “The Runaway Bunny.” They both enjoy searching for the little mouse that appears in nine different scenes in the book… but maybe it isn't the same mouse, instead a consortium of mice?

A boy named Jimmy Ryan also loved searching for the mice in “Goodnight Moon,” and when it came his turn to do a high school senior project, he came up with the idea of creating a special scavenger hunt in downtown Greenville. Because he imagined it to be a family of mice that appear in the story, South Carolina artist Zan Wells created nine bronze mice which were then hidden along Main Street between the Hyatt and Westin Poinsett hotels. We enjoy searching for the mice every time we stroll down Main Street, and we recently even brought our mommy-toddler group downtown to introduce them to the Greenville mouse family.

Millie might be the hardest to spot... unless you're shoulders above the competition!
The first mouse, Marvin (they’ve all been named) poses next to a bronzed sculpture of the book “Goodnight Moon”, which used to be adjacent to the fountain in front of the Hyatt. Due to the renovations of NOMA square, said fountain is no longer there and the mouse has been moved to a large boulder. Another mouse, the Piazza Bergamo mouse, has also been moved during construction, and it is not clear whether it will be returned to its original spot.* For the Mouse Hunters out there, be sure to step into the lobby of the newly constructed Project One building… whether it is Marcley the mouse that appears in the specially commissioned painting I really can’t say, but he does bear a close resemblance!

The cousins with Marvin the mouse before the remodel of NOMA square
For the hints that will lead you on a successful mouse hunt, be sure to take a look at the website before your visit to downtown. You can always run into Mast General Store for a free scavenger hunt fact sheet as well.

Līga checks another one off the list
As if nine tiny sculptures on six city blocks don’t provide enough of a challenge, there is the mysterious tenth mouse. Not part of the official Mice on Main series, the tenth sits at the feet of General Greene in front of the Greenville News building, drum in paw.

So now that you know Greenville doesn’t have a rodent infestation, please know that there are many more cool things to do and see in this town: while looking for the Mice on Main who knows what else you’ll find!

*Update 7/23/2013
All the mice have returned to Main Street after construction, for updated clues please visit the Greenville Mice on Main scavenger hunt page!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Janisse Ray

A friend of mine lent me “The Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” while I was still living in Georgia, working as a wildland firefighter and conducting prescribed burns in some of the very longleaf pine stands described in Janisse Ray’s book. In it she weaves together her childhood with the ecology of the vanishing longleaf pine forests that once carpeted the South. Either because the descriptions of the longleaf stands so vividly reminded me of my own time spent in the Georgia forests, or because I too, was hard at work to save the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW), but the book struck a chord with me. I jumped right into “Wild Card Quilt,” her second novel about returning to Georgia with her son after attending grad school at the University of Montana, then her third, “Pinhook,” which at that point in time was her most recent work. From these books I gained new-found inspiration for the work I was doing with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and it was with wonder that I visited sites such as Moody Forest Natural Area, the Nature Conservancy/Georgia DNR managed property on the Altamaha River. (Moody Forest is the only known example of an old-growth longleaf pine-blackjack oak forest left; the site is home to 200 to 300-year-old longleaf and slash pines, trees 600+ years in the cypress-tupelo sloughs, the endangered RCW, the gopher tortoise and Eastern indigo snake.) Magic was restored to my work in the southern pine forests after I had literally and figuratively burnt out from the southern heat, the fires, the attitudes of many a southerner/coworker and the hopelessness of trying to preserve anything from the sprawl of metropolitan Atlanta.

Source: here
It was in the Greenville Journal that I noticed a tiny blurb about the South Carolina Native Plant Society hosting Janisse Ray as special guest speaker, and I was ashamed to see she had published a plethora of new books during my absence from Georgia. I intend to make up for lost time, I’ve purchased her two newest works and am already fully immersed in “Drifting into Darien,” about the extraordinary biodiversity of the Altamaha River corridor.
My friend had urged, “If you have the chance to go to a reading, do it. She’ll get you really fired up!” And of course, I went. For two hours I wasn’t mom/cook/household manager, but again the idealistic girl who believed that our world can be saved, one tree and species at a time. Ms. Ray, I thank you for that, as well as the ceaseless work you do on behalf of all the creatures and places that have no voice of their own.

Source: here
I insist you read “The Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” the recipient of multiple literary awards and honors, the book I chose to gift to my parents in attempt to explain The South to them. If you’re into the food revolution I suggest picking up her most recent work, “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food.” If you celebrated the possibility of the return of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from extinction, find “Drifting into Darien” and if you’ve ever (or wish to) canoed the Okefenokee swamp, then “Pinhook” is for you. I completely agree with the New York Times critic who proclaimed Janisse Ray the Rachel Carson of the southeast, and after hearing her speak I can’t wait to take my boys to Moody Forest so that they may pick up some magic of their own.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Twin falls and the road kill grill

As you might be able to tell from these pictures, we were out in the country last weekend. Sadly, the Road Kill Grill was not open for business, the neon OPEN sign for Bob’s Place was not lit, and the timing was not right to see exactly what talent Pumkintown has. Don’t worry, I’ve written the dates into my calendar so you don’t miss it again next year. But you know what else the Upstate has? Beautiful scenery, complete with lakes, horses, waterfalls and friends come to visit.

Lake Keowee
We met up with Vija in Sunset, SC, as picturesque an area as it sounds. On our walk out to the lake we passed rows of grapevines, an old stone wall eliciting memories of our time spent in Bordeaux. There were stables close by and we couldn’t resist visiting with the horses before continuing on.

Make sure to take with directions such as these if you’re headed to Twin Falls (also known as Eastatoe Falls or Reedy Cove Falls), as the trail is unmarked. There is about a 0.25 mile hike to the base of the falls along an uneven dirt path. On our way we passed a swimming hole at the bottom of a beautiful slide that I’ve mentally noted for a return visit once the heat of the summer arrives. It's a little further on that Reedy Cove Creek splits into two, half rushing down 70 feet of bare granite, the rest cascading in several drops to form a beautiful waterfall that was worth hauling a sleeping baby out into the woods to see.

One lunch at the Pumpkintown Mountain Opry later we had our tour of the castle, after which it was time to head home. The trees were still bare and the air cold up on the Blue Ridge, and although it can be hard to believe spring is just around the corner, it is nice to think we’ll be back to witness the mountains awake from their winter slumber.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Château du Upstate, or a castle in the Blue Ridge

On Sunday we lucked out in getting a tour of a castle, right here in the Upstate. Well, a partially finished castle. Brent Bruns II, of “Doomsday Preppers” reality show fame, showed us around the castle featured in the episode “No Such Thing as a Fair Fight.”

The National Geographic channel show “explores the lives of otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it." As my knowledge of planning for Armageddon is limited I will avoid that subject, but what I do want to share with you, is that we’ll soon have our very own château du Upstate. Brent’s family has signed on for more episodes, and the castle is getting a roof.

Originally meant to prepare for Y2K, a bomb shelter was installed, a well dug and the cinderblock walls constructed. South-facing solar panels and a wind turbine provide some power, and there are plans for greenhouses just downslope. I sincerely hope the castle will never be used for its original purpose, however I can’t wait to see it finished.

"Have fun stormin' da castle"
Located on a 50-acre mountaintop parcel, even the bomb shelter has a view. Table Rock State Park is clearly visible through the high-arching openings that will eventually be windows, and although I don’t know what that does for defense, I do know that once the property is finished it is sure to be in high demand. According to Brent the family hopes to rent it out for everything from weddings to corporate retreats, and as popular as the Blue Ridge area is I believe they’ll find a market.

Monday, February 18, 2013


During my mother’s visit to Greenville we were lucky enough to get a table at Roost, the newest addition to the North Main Street culinary scene. Lauris and his father had tickets to the circus and after dropping them off the rest of us headed downtown. It was raining and it was cold, but from the moment we stepped inside we were enveloped in warmth; the smells, the lighting, the entire space is tasteful and hospitable with clean lines and friendly staff.

NOMA Square on North Main St.

Serving up  local, organic, and seasonal food, Roost offers “ a one-of-a-kind dining experience including outdoor seating in NOMA Square, an open kitchen with ringside seating along the Kitchen Counter, an open-air bar area, and a Harvest Table where guests can work with the chef directly to build their own meals.” (From the website, here) Since the menu changes, I’ll just mention that I enjoyed the duck and also the bite of my mother’s bistro filet, but the real winners were the smoked bacon & potato gratin, and the blue crab beignets. There’s a hint of bacon that complements the crab perfectly, as does the local honey served up alongside.
Mikus was very well-behaved, only scaring off two couples from sitting at the next table. When requesting a different table in both cases they looked directly at the baby sitting very quietly at the next table and asked for something “a little bigger”… It’s not that I’m offended, as I understand that every customer has the right to a lovely dinner just as I do, however I feel that a perfect evening was marred by having to experience this twice. As I mentioned Mikus in the reservation I feel that the whole situation could have been avoided by putting us in a spot where we wouldn’t be a bother. Maybe I need to grow thicker skin, and maybe the table was in fact too small, but it’s hard enough eating out with a child without getting grief from other customers. And I would like to emphasize he was on his best one year-old behavior. Enough said on that topic.

Mikus checking out the Hyatt lobby, photo credit: my mom
So Roost. Go for a romantic dinner, order the bacon-crab donuts, enjoy a glass of wine and stay for dessert. And smile at the mother and baby at the next table, it won’t be so bad, I promise.

Roost on Urbanspoon
Update 4/3/2013
Un a subsequent visit to Roost we were not served honey alongside our bread, nor our beignets. I was disappointed, as I had been looking forward to the wonderful local honey they served up on our first visit. However, I might have been partially mollified by the gluten free gnocchi - it was divine.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Watching the planes at the airport downtown

What kid doesn’t like watching airplanes? The two kiddos and this mom (young at heart) have just found another great spot to spend time. The greater Greenville area has two airports, Greenville-Spartanburg International (GSP, located halfway between the two cities) and Greenville Downtown Airport. According to their website, the downtown airport is the busiest general aviation airport in the state, and during our visit today we saw at least twenty planes taking off, an additional dozen landing and taxiing. In the past I had noticed the pull-outs next to the airport that allow the curious to watch planes coming and going, but it was only recently that I heard about the Runway Café. It turns out the Café is located almost right in the middle of it all, and is a great place to grab a bite with friends while watching the air traffic.

We met a friend and her two boys after lunch, so we didn’t have much in the way of a meal, but I can vouch for the fried Oreos. There is a patio area for prime airplane viewing, and with temperatures in the 60s we didn’t think twice about enjoying some sun. Lauris really wanted hot chocolate, and the waitress was kind enough to bring some despite it not being listed on the menu. I had a cup of soup, and the adults enjoyed relative peace and some conversation as Mikus was asleep in the stroller and the other three busy with their crayons/watching the planes/eating/reading. Then it was into the Community Aviation Park for some running around.

The park is actually still a work in progress, and is located adjacent to the Cafe. “Phase one” is complete, meaning the taxiway has been installed and the grass planted, but most importantly, the lot is securely fenced in. Plans include aviation-themed playground equipment, a picnic area and even a 737 plane fuselage entrance-way. Despite it being a work in progress the boys had a blast, running up and down the “runways” and watching planes zooming by. I can imagine we will be frequent patrons once the park is finished.

Source: here
Wishing everyone a  high-flying weekend!

For more information on the Community Aviation Park and its progress, please visit the Greenville Downtown Airport’s website:

Runway Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Columbia on Valentine's Day

A big bear hug to everyone on Valentine’s Day!!!

We saw these guys last weekend at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia. The entire weekend was planned around the boys: hotel with pool and breakfast included, a children’s museum, zoo, delicious culinary experience… Well maybe not entirely around the boys!
It all began rather inauspiciously. Columbia is only a 90 minute drive from Greenville so I timed our arrival to coincide with lunch. I had picked a bakery voted “Best in Columbia” for many years, but turns out is closed for private parties on Saturdays. My next choice was dark and shuttered and my final choice had a for sale sign in the window. We discovered later they had simply moved a few blocks down (which explained the “yeah, we’re open” phone call we made after discovering #2 was closed) but at this point, stomachs growling, we popped into 116 Espresso & Wine Bar on State Street, also on my list but winner only due to convenience. At that moment our luck turned, as we got a table rather quickly and ended up with a rather gourmet meal for such a nondescript location.

On our walk down Gervais Street
Then off to the EdVenture Children’s Museum, where the boys had a blast exploring the “World of Work” and water works, making music, playing hockey and even conducting a newscast. I can’t deny that mom didn’t enjoy hitting the puck a few times or trying out the step-activated music machine, but I will also say it was a relief when it came time to leave, as the museum was swarming with enthusiastic (read: loud) kids not always as closely chaperoned as this mother might prefer.

I found the giant child to be on the creepy side, they're hard enough to handle regular size...
As Mikus had napped at the museum we were able to follow the EdVenture with a dip in the pool. Mikus was terrified at first, by the time he had warmed up to the sensation of being with mom in the water both boys’ teeth were chattering. It has also dawned on me that when I was a kid, hotels with pools were the best places, but as a mom I’m not really looking forward to our next pool experience; the enormous blue expanse of my childhood has been replaced with a tiny, possibly not-so-clean and definitely overcrowded with rowdy and unsupervised tweens pool.
I then dragged my reluctant troop to the Motor Supply Company Bistro. With a different menu every single night depending on what is in season and chef’s preference, we could only view the menu just before departing. Even with the boys in tow, we were treated with nothing but courteous and helpful staff, and the meal was fabulous. After our time in France I often times think I might have become too picky for my own good, but this place left me satisfied and feeling like we got a great value for our money. We started with Prince Edward Island mussels, sautéed & tossed in a shallot & garlic herbed pan butter sauce, which I followed with a duo of crispy duck thighs & house smoked sausage with a petite vegetable and nettle velouté. Roberts had the sea salt rubbed NY strip topped with caramelized leek & marsala gastrique, which may sound a little snobby but was perfectly cooked to order and had me wishing I had ordered one as well. Lauris preferred the crème brûlée which I very generously offered to share with him, something I now regret, thinking of the equipment needed to make this dish at home. If you’re looking for a place to have a special dinner in Columbia, I heartily recommend the Motor Supply Company Bistro.

The handwritten menu from our visit
Motor Supply Co Bistro on Urbanspoon  

Sunday morning we enjoyed a long breakfast at the hotel before heading to the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. I’m not quite sure why I feel the need to go to the zoo when I’ve got my own right here at home, but this place was awesome! We got up close and personal with some giraffes, hung out in the kangaroo enclosure, fed the birds, and had a spectacular time! The enclosures all have a very natural feel to them and didn’t give that caged feeling I get watching the big cats in many other zoos, and through the various attractions enabled the boys to get really up close and personal with the animals. We will be taking visitors here in the future, that’s for sure.

Do you see the baby giraffe sticking its tongue out?
We crossed the river and into the gardens portion of the site. By just wandering around we ended up taking a roundabout route through the woods (the “Woodland Walk”) and along the Saluda River to the Saluda Mill Historic Museum. It wasn’t open, but the ruins of the old Confederate fabric factory were clearly visible, and the entire climb up to the ridge top I envisioned Confederate soldiers lunching on the big rocks and marching through the trees, smoke visible from the burning of Columbia. That bridge we had crossed replaced a covered bridge that was burned by the retreating troops during the Civil War, the rock foundations still visible from the modern variation.
And then we emerged into gardens so beautiful, even this time of year that I exclaimed in happiness over and over again! Reminiscent of the Keukenhof gardens we visited in Holland, our stroll through the various pavilions and gardens was an inspiration and rejuvenation. I can’t wait to return to better explore the various beds and borders in a few months, in bloom and in full color!

Columbia does not have a reputation as being a culinary center, nor a must-see destination, but our impromptu trip showed us a side of the city I had not seen. The two-day itinerary was ideal for the kids, fit well into our busy schedule and gave us a respite from the winter blues, and I enthusiastically endorse a visit to South Carolina’s capital to all visitors to the Upstate.

Lauris and the Larikeets

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

First birthday guests and Anderson, SC

It wasn’t all just cake and circus animals on Mikus’ first birthday, oh no. There were also horseback rides and long hikes, books read and walks taken. Mikus was blessed to have his godmother fly in for four days, his grandmother for three and uncle for two. We were lucky to make six separate trips to the airport, one all the way to Charlotte during an ice storm. (And that’s sarcasm, we were lucky to have visitors in January, that’s what!) It was an action packed week, and I can’t imagine a better first birthday for my little boy.

Uncle Andrejs arrived after a rescheduled flight, I believe it was because he wants to be as close to his wife as possible, even in delayed flights. Then it was off to Anderson, about 40 minutes southwest of Greenville. The third largest city in the Upstate, it was named after and surveyed by General Robert Anderson of the Revolutionary War. But we were not headed for the downtown area, we were headed to visit a friend in the country. We made friends with the horses and foraged for pecans, a perfect afternoon.

It’s always fun to cook with my sister, we had a delicious shrimp and scallop cream pasta that I like to make for special occasions because it requires very little effort other than shelling the shrimp but tastes like a little slice of seafood heaven. The bizet torte came out well, I’m thinking maybe I should make it more often as the leftovers guaranteed a few days of indulgent snacking. There were crêpes on Sunday morning too, we love our guests here in Greenville. Sunday was also the hike in Paris Mountain State Park, I like that we have a little bit of France right here in the Upstate, even if the area is not named after the capital but is instead a mispronunciation. Since Andrejs had an early evening flight out we decided to have an early dinner in downtown Greenville, popping into the Carolina Ale House for a quick dinner before a stroll and goodbyes. 

Our guests and Lauris with a Greenville celebrity - the wild boar?
Trading one guest for another it was off to pick up the grandmother on Monday. We celebrated the first birthday three days in a row, in true Latvian fashion! It seemed much too soon when we made the last trip to the airport. Once again, the house seems on the empty side after being filled to the bursting with laughter and love for a week.

First pony ride for my little guy
* I was interviewed for an article discussing the differences in parenting between French and American moms, and although my place in the spotlight is a mere couple of sentences I like the points Ms. Urist brings up. See for yourself on!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paris Mountain State Park

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal that operated from 1933 to 1943. It was designed to assist unemployed, unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25 (who had difficulties finding a job during the Great Depression), as well as provided unskilled manual labor for the conservation of natural resources on rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. At one point as many as 300,000 men were enrolled, and in nine years 2.5 million young men participated, sending $25 out of their $30/month wage home to their families. Nearly 3 billion trees were planted, 800 parks constructed nationwide, State Parks upgraded, forest firefighting methods updated and a network of service buildings and public roadways built in remote areas [1].

Mountain Lake
We have taken many of our visitors to Paris Mountain State Park, located right here in the Upstate and one of those built by the CCC. Easy-to-get and cost-effective materials such as local stone and wood were used in creating these State Parks and the design principles intended these structures to be in harmony with nature. All this can still be seen in the preserved stone and timber exterior of the renovated bathhouse (currently serving as the Park Center), and a number of other buildings in the Park. Because of this history, as well as the lakes and dams built by the Paris Mountain water company in the 19th century, Paris Mountain SP is listed as a historic district on the National Register.

The most well-dressed kids in the park. You know, with matching cold weather gear and all.
Historically the region was within the territory of the Cherokee Indians. In 1765 an Irishman from Virginia named Richard Pearis settled in Greenville county and married a Cherokee woman, gaining the trust and land of the natives. Legend has it the chief passed on the responsibility of protecting the land to his daughter and her husband, and when the husband sold the mountain, the daughter of the chief killed her husband. What isn’t legend is that the name “Paris Mountain” is a variation on “Pearis’s mountain.”

In the 1890s there was a popular resort named the Altamont Hotel not far from current-day Park boundaries. Eventually it was sold to N. J. Holmes, who founded the Altamont Bible and Missionary Institute there, later known as the Holmes Bible College. It isn’t possible to visit this historic structure though, as it burned down in 1920.

One of the earliest uses of the mountain by the city of Greenville was as a source of water between 1890 and 1916. Numerous lakes and dams in the park were built in 1890 by the Greenville City Water System as part of the reservoir. When the Table Rock Reservoir was put into service in 1928 the Paris Mountain supply was no longer needed; however, numerous water control structures still remain within the Park.

The old water control mechanism at the dam at Mountain Lake
Located in the Piedmont region of the US, Paris Mountain is a monadnock, a mountain that stands alone in an area. Over 2,000 feet in elevation but only a 30 minute drive from downtown Greenville, the State Park is a popular destination for bicyclists, hikers, birdwatchers, fishermen, boaters and many others looking to escape the city. George Hincapie, a Tour De France participant and native of Greenville, is known to train in the park. I wonder if we saw him in France last year?

Park hours and entrance fees, as well as more information on camping, fishing and events can be found on the official Paris Mountain State Park website.


[1] Source:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

While we were gone

Expatriates hear enough about the surprising difficulties in re-acclimating to their home country upon return, to know to be weary of repatriation. Our reentry has not been without difficulty; however my most comical challenge may have occurred this weekend.
Over twenty years ago there was a television show set in and named after a fictional town in Washington, Twin Peaks. The plot followed an investigation headed by an FBI Agent into the murder of a homecoming queen. Filmed in the Washington towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend, I remember the show well, not only because I later visited the famous Snoqualmie Falls in that area, but because the creator of the show, David Lynch, had an art exhibition in Clermont-Ferrand last year (the town in France we were living in at the time).
On Saturday evening after spending the day reconstructing a playground set (a story for another day), we headed to a local sushi joint for happy hour half-price sushi. Upon arrival we found a line out the door with happy hour about to be over, and so we rerouted to the closest restaurant I could think of, one that opened while we were abroad and seemed to embody the mountain/outdoors similar to that television show from way back.

Opening credits to Twin Peaks, source here
My local friends might see where I’m going with this; it was complete culture shock to enter and realize I had just convinced my husband to take the boys and me to a restaurant of “scenic views.” For those friends abroad (or anyone obviously not in the loop such as myself), the scenery consists of wait staff dressed like this:

Source here
I can laugh about it now, however I was mortified throughout dinner, especially when asked if I wanted my beer in a “girly” size or a “man’s” size. My discomfort was probably due more to my embarrassment than to the girl’s outfits, but then I have to ask did we become desensitized in France, as what I may consider risqué was commonplace there? Thankfully we were not the only family there, nor was I the only female diner, and the food was surprisingly good. I especially enjoyed the apple turnovers, which were beignet-like with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar and a side of caramel for dipping. But I’m getting off topic thinking of dessert!
This somewhat surprising side-effect to expatriation, the realization that things changed while we were gone, to the extent that I unknowingly walked into a chain restaurant based on “eats, drinks and scenic views,” this is something that I’m reminded of everyday. We’ve returned to a different place than we left, and although there are the things that stay the same (such as a great Superbowl, it was SO much fun watching the game with the boys tonight), there are the things that change and continue to change. Not just restaurants, but people. New additions to families, the loss of loved ones, babies born and weddings celebrated. Our time abroad, however brief it may feel, has irrevocably changed us as surely as our surroundings. We are better for the experience, of that I am sure – stronger, more able to deal with adversity and the unexpected. I’m pretty sure I will not be returning to Twin Peaks, but I can say I was able to enjoy my dinner and even order dessert.

Twin Peaks on Urbanspoon
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