Sunday, November 30, 2014

24 Days of a Baltic Christmas

Starting tomorrow on Femme au Foyer,
24 Days of a Baltic Christmas!

Join us in counting down the days until Christmas with a showcase of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian holiday food, crafts and traditions. Learn how to bake Latvian piparkūkas, hear about Lithuanian family Christmas traditions, celebrate an Estonian Christmas, listen to Baltic holiday music and much more!

We’ll be tweeting #24DaysofaBalticChristmas and pinning on Pinterest, with a new post every day sure to help you find your holiday spirit. Wishing you a happy first advent, and see you here tomorrow for Day 1 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas!

An enormous thank you to Inga Lucāne for the beautiful logo! It captures the essence of a Baltic Christmas perfectly!!!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Snippets of a Greenville Thanksgiving

Some yard work in preparation for the arrival of the inlaws

The leaves are really dropping this time of year

Showing off our favorite spots downtown

Among the beech trees in the Carolina Foothills Garden Club Sanctuary - Falls Park

One-on-one time with the grandparents


The Thanksgiving table

Someone has their appetite back after a being down a couple of days

The upside-down apple pecan pie makes another appearance for dessert

Thanks for coming to visit! See you again soon!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pedrick's Garden and Falls Park finished

It’s wonderful to see the last portion of Falls Park finished! The southwest portion now includes Pedrick's Garden and the Carolina Foothills Garden Club Sanctuary, a wild(er) section of woods along the Vardry Creek ravine. The more formal Pedrick's Garden is named for Pedrick Lowrey, one of the principal fundraisers for Falls Park, and is located behind the shops on Augusta Street in the West End. Connected to the Sanctuary and Furman Way by a new bridge, the Garden is a series of raised beds designed to resemble sunflowers, including a fountain that looks like the seed head.

The three-acre sanctuary is named for the club that was instrumental in bringing the possibility of Falls Park to the attention of civic leaders. Including a small waterfall, rock staircases built into the hillside and a spring house used by Furman University botany students to grow moss and ferns, the entire acreage was once owned by Furman University. The Furman Arboretum was the first in the state, starting out with 266 trees and rock-lined steps and trails throughout built by the Works Progress Administration.

We descended to Vardry Creek from Furman Way, hauling the stroller down a series of stairs and maneuvering it across the uneven dirt path. We don’t mind off-roading with the stroller as it is light enough to carry for short distances; however the trails are not stroller-friendly and I recommend sticking to Furman Way and taking the bridge at the giant beech tree across the creek to those looking for an easier stroll.

The Sanctuary can be accessed from Falls Park by following the walkway behind the stage. A small bridge crosses Vardry Creek, named for Vardry McBee who is considered a father of Greenville and at one point owned much of the land that is now downtown Greenville.

When Furman moved to its current-day location after WWII, they took some of the plants from the Arboretum with it, and when the side closest to the shops was filled in for a parking lot, creating a steep slope, the Arboretum was all but forgotten.

In clearing the thicket for what was to be the Sanctuary workers found a stone bench and an arch near University Street that are now accessible from the trail. Next to the small waterfall is the springhouse which is closed to visitors but is surrounded by a wall with moss and ferns already growing on it. A dozen beech trees are clearly visible along the ravine, their autumn foliage carpeting the understory.

With cooler temperatures and rain in the forecast the next few days, we’ll be giving thanks for the company of grandparents in from Michigan indoors – which makes me all the more grateful for a few more beautiful fall days spent outdoors here in the Upstate. Wishing all my readers blessings of health and happiness on Thanksgiving!   

Monday, November 24, 2014

Upside-down apple pecan pie

Still don’t have a dessert picked out for your Thanksgiving dinner? How about this upside-down apple pecan pie?

The recipe appeared several weeks ago in the Greenville Journal in an article on “Blue Ribbon Baking From a Redneck Kitchen.” Now I’m not quite a redneck, despite having lived in the backwoods of Georgia for several years, but I found this to be the perfect fall recipe. More exciting than an apple pie, and not as sweet as a pecan pie, it has a show-off factor that will have people asking for the recipe. The pecans end up topping an apple pie, if you are lucky forming a dome in the shape of your pie dish. (And if you aren't so lucky, it's OK! It'll still taste just as great!!!) Here’s my take on the recipe …

Upside-down apple pecan pie

1 stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 pie crusts rolled out to 11in diameters
1 ½ cups pecan halves
1 ½ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 cups sliced peeled apples

1. Preheat oven to 450˚
2. Use entire stick of butter to grease a deep-dish pie pan.
3. Arrange pecans in pan, round side down, starting from center and working your way out up along the sides of the dish. The nuts should cover the pan without any gaps.
4. Cover the pecans with the brown sugar and then press one pie crust firmly into the pan, then set aside.
5. Stir together the flour, granulated sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract and spices in a large bowl. Add the apples and coat with mixture, then pour into the pie crust. It is important to try and pack them in tightly so that the beautiful crust doesn’t collapse while cooking.
6. Place the second pie crust over the apples and crimp edges with the first. Using a fork make vents in the crust. Remember, this will be the bottom of the pie.
7. Bake 10 minutes at 450˚, then reduce heat to 350˚ and continue baking another 45 minutes, until browned. Remove from oven and let sit a few minutes, then very carefully flip onto serving dish. CAUTION: the juices may be extremely hot, I suggest doing the flipping in an easy to clean area and taking care not to splash any on yourself. Serve warm, possibly with some vanilla ice cream.

Bon appétit! Or should I say, bon appétit y’all?

Friday, November 21, 2014

We found Treasure! at the Upcountry History Museum

We finally got organized and scheduled a group program at the Upcountry History Museum that corresponds with their exhibit “Treasure!” Having opened in October we really should have visited earlier, as it was the perfect thrill for these pirate-loving, geocaching, treasure-hunting kids.

Our field trip included storytime and drawing in the classroom, with a discussion on what the children consider their treasures. A map was drawn – it turns out the treasure is buried under the x on an outer space beach island covered with shells and apple-palm trees with scary monkeys hanging from them, protected by shark infested waters. To reach the island you must take a fish rocket ship and follow the path marked…
The kids utilized treasure maps to explore the exhibit, using the clues given to find five different displays and learn about that aspect of treasure.  Subjects ranged from the history of treasures and treasure hunting, the technology employed in hunting treasure, as well as the people and personalities that hunt for treasure, ensuring the adults learned something as well. But since the program was aimed at kindergarteners, emphasis was placed on the interactive portions of the exhibit:  the gold rushes of the Old West, pirate treasure, underwater salvage and family heirlooms in the attic.

Once the official 90 minute lesson was over we were left to our own devices. Lauris settled in at his favorite part, the pirate ship. Complete with cannons for sinking enemy ships, I was informed we “need one at home.” One station on the ship provided the opportunity to smell things often associated with pirates (such as gunpowder), a tad more tame than the similar olfactory display Grossology at the neighboring Children’s Museum.

Mikus preferred the modern underwater submersible, mobile via remote control. Flexible to swim in all directions, the kids quickly found that the camera could be aimed outside the tank for a sort of reality thrill-cam.
My favorite station was panning for gold – it’s not every day that the museum encourages water play indoors!
Modern treasure hunting was represented by a geocaching station, complete with a pretend geocache; to really make the exhibit interactive they should have placed a puzzle cache at the location! (Although if you’re really in a mood to geocache for treasure, “The Hunt for Treasure” cache is very close by!)
The exhibit will be around until February 1st so you still have time to discover this treasure for yourself. Be sure to swing over to the related “Hidden History: The Upcountry’s Underwater Treasures” exhibit for tours of the colonial Fort Prince George and Attakulla Lodge, hidden beneath Lake Jocassee and Keowee. And if you would like more information on scheduling a group program for the exhibit, please visit the Upcountry History Museum’s website here

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

An independence day celebration

The Latvians of the Upstate (and a few from beyond) gathered to celebrate Latvian Independence Day at our house. Having looked forward to the evening for weeks, it passed much too quickly… We listened to the president of Latvia, Andris Bērziņš’s annual address to Latvians living outside of Latvia and sang the national anthem. Lāču rye bread, Riga sprats, medus kūka, pīrāgi, kliņģeris and a table full of delicious food was accompanied by catching up with one another and meeting the newcomers. The kids found hidden reserves of energy and kept the party going until late, and the parents found it hard to leave as they too were having fun. I’m thankful for everyone making the trip to celebrate with us on a weekday evening, and look forward to our next big event – Jāņi

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Greenville autumn

The first half of the month has been the last breath of air before getting sucked into the whirlpool that is the holiday season. Tomorrow we celebrate Latvia’s Independence Day, commemorating the declaration of independence of the Republic of Latvia from German and Russian occupation on November 18, 1918. Not long after we welcome the grandparents to Greenville for Thanksgiving, and soon after that the Christmas season will be in full swing. Not that the last months haven’t been busy, but we’ve had the chance to participate in quite a few activities and spend time with our friends before everyone scatters for the holidays.

my boys! ...wait a minute...

The local grocery store Bi-Lo has a program that one of the mom’s groups we hang out with had signed up for. The goal of “Our Food Detectives” is to teach kids the benefits of nutrition and how to make healthy food choices in the grocery aisle. Although I think they could work on their definition of “healthy food,” the boys enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the various departments of the grocery store… about as much as the balloons and other goodies they got to take home with them! For more information on how to schedule a Bi-Lo Food Detectives tour visit their website here.

photo credit: Shannon K

We’ve been back to the Greenville Zoo a couple more times for Wild for Reading Wednesdays. On one afternoon we met a resident python, and on another a beautiful sun parakeet. The story read that day was “The Perfect Pet” by Samantha Bell and we were lucky enough to have the author/illustrator herself read it to us!

One rainy morning we drove out to an open play day at Bricks 4 Kidz, the new Lego-themed business in Greenville. The boys had fun building and playing, but most of what they can do there we can do at home, so I’m not sure if we’ll be back again. A structured class might be different, especially if we can get some friends to join us.

The library has hosted a slew of fun events, including a storytime with Greenville firefighters. A demonstration of how a firefighter puts on his/her gear helped the children understand that we don’t have to be scared of firefighters if we ever encounter one, and “stop, drop and roll” was explained and shown. The boys’ favorite portion of the program was clambering around on a real engine.

Fridays in October we returned to the library for their Storyventures program based on the Reggio Emilia learning philosophy. Lauris really opened up by the second half of the month, and both boys have been enthusiastically eating pomegranates since then. Over the four weeks they learned about all the senses, with the series culmination being an exploration of light and vision.

Someone celebrated a birthday. With a kliņģeris that traveled all the way from Chicago! (Thanks mom!)

And we had a visitor, Kristīne. Next time you have to stay a little longer!

It’s been fun, and I think we took full advantage of the warm and colorful autumn in the Upstate. But please, tell me where the time has gone! How have we already been to two Thanksgiving celebrations? Why do I feel a pressing need to attend to Christmas decorations? But most importantly, where did this two-and-a-half month old come from?!!?!

To all my Latvian readers, sveiks svētkos!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Treehouses and the fall harvest festival at the RMSC

As I wrote in my post about the Latvian holiday of Mārtiņi, it is expected that by this time every year all preparations for the winter are finished; luckily the temperatures here in the Upstate are far warmer than in Latvia, and I still have a few weeks to finish everything (or at least so I tell myself)! Of course the preparations nowadays are far different than those celebrated with the fall harvest celebrations - shutting off outdoor water spigots, replacing furnace filters and putting storm windows back in lieu of salting meat & fish, making preserves and storing the harvest). We opted to procrastinate another weekend on some of those modern preparations in exchange for learning about the fall harvest on the Living History Farm at Roper Mountain Science Center’s Second Saturday.

This autumn has seen no shortage of clear, crisp days ideal for outdoor play, and the day of the Fall Harvest Festival wasn't any different. We skipped the indoor labs and discovery rooms of the Harrison Hall of Natural Science to enjoy the sun and fall colors of the farm, while learning about trades and chores of the days of yore. Demonstrations of woodturning, basket and soap making (our friends from Red Clay Soap!), blacksmithing, weaving and pottery provided the boys plenty of opportunity to watch and learn, even having a chance to make a pinch-pot out of clay that is currently awaiting a coat of paint on a shelf in the living room.

Grinding and husking corn, and a lesson in the one room schoolhouse

Hands-on activities included corn husking and grinding (if only I could get Mikus to participate so enthusiastically in picking up toys!), draft horse plowing (we just watched) and pressing fresh apple cider. The experts at the woodturning station were producing little tops for the kids to color that are now being spun on the dining room table before and after most meals. We tried out various toys such as rolling hoops and stilts, and then engaged in some back and forth with the game of graces; equipped with a pair of wands we sent small hoops back and forth like little comets, colorful ribbons trailing behind.

Watching the field being plowed

Ducking into the woods on one of the many trails, we cut through to the butterfly garden, on our way passing the pond and one of the new tree houses. Four "ultimate cool green tree houses" have been built along the nature trails and were officially initiated during the center's Second Saturday on July 12, but we’ve only found two of them. The one overlooking the pond is “Treetop-Clinic” by Batson Associates and Triangle Construction Company. On the Rainwater Platform we learned about the water cycle through illustrations, and discussed the water collection and distribution feature. Meanwhile the Solar Deck demonstrates the sun’s path and provides a lesson on the solar cycle.

There were several chemistry-related activities taking place at the Symmes Hall of Science in honor of National Chemistry Week. Adhering to a theme of “the Sweet Side of Chemistry!” we experimented with Skittles and M&Ms in “Candy Chromatography,” made jello-type sweets, and discovered the chemistry of sour candy while learning about acids and bases. The boys were a little too young for many of the concepts explored and a little too hungry to watch all that candy being wasted on experiments, so we headed back towards the parking lot passing another tree house on the way.

This one is located between the butterfly garden and the loop road, but it is currently flagged with caution tape and off limits while the Science Center explores ways to make “Anatomy of a TREEHouse” a little safer for the public. Representing a tree with exposed concrete “roots” and a roof and rainwater collection system “canopy, the treehouse has an elevated deck complete with rope ladder, bucket pulley, fireman’s ladder, tunnel slide and actual tree growing through the “squirrel’s deck.” With a living roof irrigated by rainwater and constructed with salvaged and reclaimed materials, the result is something I want to play in – I hope the treehouse is opened to the public sooner than later. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It’s not easy being a soccer mom!

We jumped at the opportunity to enroll Lauris in a soccer program here in Greenville. Soccer is the sport he has shown most interest in playing, and as he’ll turn five next year we thought an organized sport would be a great opportunity for him to practice his English, interact with other kids and learn player/coach dynamics. Having dismissed Saturday leagues as they would eat up our family time, and some other options as simply being too far for us to drive once a week, the City of Greenville Parks & Rec youth soccer program seemed perfect.

With the coed U4 (for 3 year olds), U6 (ages 4-5), U8 (ages 6-7) and U10 (ages 8-9) divisions, the program covered a wide range of experience and age. U6 met Tuesday evenings in nearby Holmes Park for eight weeks: the first four covering the basics, the last four being non-competitive games. We ended up out on the field yesterday (despite it being week 10) as two evenings were rained out and rescheduled. Vilis was still very young the first weeks, so Lauris was accompanied by Mikus and dad or vecmamma Inga, who declared that never in her life had she been a soccer mom – “the things we do for our grandchildren!” Vilis and I made it to all four games, and so it came about that I learned how it really is to be that “soccer mom.”

The program is really focused on having fun and learning the fundamentals of soccer. There was no score kept during the games (although believe you me, the boys knew exactly how many goals had been scored and by which teams), and more attention was paid to skill development and encouraging the love of soccer in these young kids than to strategy and winning. I love how excited Lauris got about soccer, and the nights it rained he was heartbroken that practice was cancelled but already babbling about how great the next week would be.

But he is also 4 years old, and this is the reason why it’s hard being a soccer mom. It was clear from the beginning that no negativity would be tolerated from the parents, and a notice was sent out that the general philosophy was to build on qualities, techniques and skills of enrichment such as sportsmanship, teamwork, character, development, encouragement and fun. I think this is important for kids as young as Lauris, because it is easy to discourage kids from wanting to participate, but HOLY COW was it hard not to say anything!!!  As a completely normal four year old, we had lying down on the field, inattentiveness to the ball and the game being played, a certain amount of chopping, wiggling and other goofing off, and the sort of stuff that drives a competitive spirit nuts!

So although there is the voice in the back of my head saying “we need to work on that” and “come on already, chase the ball not your shadow,” I’m proud of my little cleated Lion in green. Not only did he kick in the very first goal in the very first game, but he earned his first trophy and team shirt. We learned about kicking, dribbling and passing, and tried (mostly successfully) to give Coach our attention. Lauris played on a team for the first time, and he told anyone who would listen about the team, practice, the last game, the next game and the fun he is having for three months straight. Not only has he decided (already) that he wants to be a soccer player when he grows up, we’ve already registered him for basketball per his request. And now that we know we have such a wonderful program almost in our backyard, we’ll be registering Mikus next year for the U4 program – maybe by then I’ll have learned the proper soccer mom game-time cheers!

For information on the City of Greenville Parks and Rec department and the programs they sponsor please visit their website and facebook page

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Latvian holiday Mārtiņi and its equivalent across the world

Priecīgus Mārtiņus! (Warning, this is a dense post - but I promise you'll learn about a bunch of really cool holidays and traditions you've probably never heard of before!)

Mārtiņi (Martin's Day) is the name of the festival celebrated in Latvia on November 10th, marking the end of the fall and the beginning of winter. Halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, in ancient Latvia Mārtiņi marked the passage from veļu laiks (season of the spirits) to ledus laiks (season of ice). By Mārtiņi it was expected that all preparations for winter were finished, such as salting meat and fish, storing the harvest and making preserves. This day also marked the beginning of mumming and sledding, among other winter activities. Mummers, also called ķekatas and budeļi, are costumed and wearing masks, traveling from home to home bringing their blessing, encouraging fertility, and scaring away any evil spirits.

The seasons and their associated deities and symbols - source here

As with many of the ancient Latvian holidays, there are certain ways to tell your fortune for the following year. For example, young, unmarried girls must toss their skirt into the middle of the room before going to bed; the one she dreams picks up the skirt is the one she will marry. Superstitions were also numerous; supposedly to guarantee the health of the horses through the harsh winter a rooster should be killed in the stables. Coincidentally it is tradition to sacrifice a rooster in Ireland as well; the blood was collected and sprinkled on the four corners of the house to bring fortune in the following year.

Everything you might need to know about the holiday can be found in this book

For Latvia’s neighbor to the north, Estonia, Mardipäev symbolizes the merging of Western European customs with local Balto-Finnic pagan traditions. Mardipäev marks the end of the period of All Souls in the Estonian popular calendar - the season when the souls of ancestors were worshiped, which lasted from November 1 to 11th). On this day the end of the agrarian year & autumn is observed, and the beginning of the winter period is celebrated. Children disguise themselves as men and go from door to door singing songs and telling jokes to receive sweets, similar to the processions occurring in Austria, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, where children go through the streets with paper lanterns and candles.

Source here

Historically a widespread custom in Germany on Martinstag was to have a bonfire, called the Martinsfeuer. Still lit in a few cities and villages throughout Europe, it symbolizes the light that holiness brings to the darkness just as St. Martin brought hope to the poor through his good deeds. It is believed that the procession of lanterns replaced the large bonfires over time. Traditional foods include Martinsgans (St. Martin’s goose) and Martinshörnchen, a pastry shaped in the form of a croissant symbolizing the hooves of St. Martin's horse.

Source here

As we see with the German version, the day has blended the pagan with the Christian; the resulting variety of traditions is something we see across the continent. November 11th is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, honoring the friend of children and patron of the poor. In Slovakia, the Feast of St. Martin is like a 2nd birthday for those named after the saint; they are given small presents or money. However it is also a day of foretelling the future, as if it snows then there will be snow on Christmas. This is a theme that repeats itself in the Czech Republic where the first half of November is the time when it often starts to snow. Czechs roast goose and drink Svatomartinské vino, a young wine from the recent harvest. Wine, a symbol of the harvest, is a recurring theme also; in Slovenia and Croatia the “must” (considered impure and sinful) is baptized and turned into wine, while in Austria Martinloben is celebrated as a harvest festival with wine tastings, art exhibitions and live music.

St. Martin, source here

In Denmark Mortensaften is celebrated with traditional dinners, most often goose as in many other countries on this day, such as Sweden, where the entire day of Mårtensafton is a celebration of the goose. Other Martin’s Day foods abound, such as the rogale croissants in Poland. In Portugal magusto (chestnuts roasted under the embers of the bonfire) and água-pé (an alcoholic beverage which is a byproduct of wine) are consumed, as St. Martin's Day is the celebration of the maturation of the year's wine. However in Spain the goose is replaced by pork, in that St. Martin's Day is the traditional day for slaughtering fattened pigs for the winter. In Switzerland the 5+ hour long Repas du Saint Martin includes all the parts of freshly butchered pigs, while the Auvergne region of France (our home while we lived in Clermont-Ferrand) traditionally hosts horse fairs instead of feasts on this day – bringing us back full circle to the Latvian association of Mārtiņi to horses; on Mārtiņi we pass from the influence of Ūsiņš, the horse deity of summer, to that of Mārtiņš, a winter deity.

The preparation of magusto in Portugal, source here

In the United Kingdom, St. Martin's Day is known as Martinmas, when historically cattle were slaughtered and preserved for the winter. However November 11th in England is now better known for being Remembrance Day, commemorating the end of WWI and honoring those that serve in the military as Veteran’s Day (US) and Armistice Day do.

The American cemetery in Normandy, France

Whatever it may be that you observe, Martinmas or the Danish Mortensdag, Martinpäivä in Finland or the Feast of Saint Martin, I wish you a beautiful day. Although we will be honoring our veterans tomorrow, today we will celebrate Mārtiņi – the first of many, as now we are blessed with a Mārtiņš of our very own, little Vilis Mārtiņš!

The Mārtiņš symbol, source here

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