Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Stone Mural Project

Ribbon cutting of the 4th mural in the Stone Mural Project series

In 2014, the first mural appeared - this one on the Rite Aid building at 1 East Stone Avenue, at the intersection of North Main and Stone. “Sunday in the Park a la Reedy River” was directed by Stone art teacher Eric Benjamin, and was modeled after Georges Seurat’s 19th century "Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande-Jatte" but with the inclusion of several well-known Greenville figures such as Shoeless Joe Jackson. The unveiling of the mural included the Stone Academy fifth-graders who helped paint the mural, as well as Mayor Knox White.

The following year a mural was installed on The Scout Hut, a West Earle building owned by the Earle Street Baptist Church. “Be the change you want to see in the neighborhood,” urges a boy scout looking through the aquarium. The artist, Calista Bockenstette, used interferon paint that changes color depending on the viewer’s perspective, bringing the aquatic seascape to life.

Then last year, the Stone Mural Project gained its third member, flower and plant-themed mural “Whatever you are, be a good one.” A group of North Main area artists, college students and fifth-graders painted the vibrant floral tableau on the blue-gray background of 217 E. Stone Ave. The mural was based on Stone Academy’s theme “Live Big,” and was directed by guest artist Jean Wilson Freeman.

This year’s theme is “New Beginnings,” and what more appropriate subject than the life cycle of the butterfly? Local artist Sunny Mullarkey Studio designed the mural depicting the life cycle of the SC state butterfly (the eastern tiger swallowtail), which has also been painted by the 5th graders and Furman University art students. 233 Stone Ave, what used to be WESC-FM Greenville’s country radio station, today houses Hammack Law Firm.

“Every day is a new beginning” marks the 4th in the series of 12 murals that is the brainchild of Stone Academy parent and North Main resident Stephanie Burnette. Speaking of new beginnings, the first group of 5th graders that participated in the Stone Mural Project will be graduating college when the 12th mural is being painted, resulting in a dozen Stone graduating classes that will have left their mark on Greenville.

The artist with the mural she designed at the unveiling

The ribbon cutting of this year's mural was today, Wednesday, May 31st at 11am.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A rockin' geology party!

Our family birthday tradition is to allow the birthday boy to choose a theme for his birthday, and then invite as many guests as he’ll be years old to help celebrate. Lauris chose a geology theme for his seventh birthday party, which pretty much planned itself!

We had set the table with some interesting rocks, desert TOOB animals and insects, and white treat boxes. Although the treat boxes had a few goodies inside – gold mine nugget bubblegum, rock candy from the SC Farmers Market, Hershey’s Nuggets, ring pops, a pencil “pickaxe” and a magnifying glass – the boxes were meant to be cases for the gems the kids would be excavating later. The kids decorated their boxes while we waited for everyone to arrive, using the minerals poster and a few books on rocks & minerals we borrowed from the library for inspiration.

As a quick snack we munched on ‘fossil cookies,’ per Martha Stewart’s recipe. These super-simple walnut cookies are easy to make, and although my ‘fossils’ didn’t come out as pronounced as Martha’s, they were delicious. The children had fun comparing their cookies and trying to decide what made the imprint on their cookie.

Once the drizzle stopped we were ready to head outside and start our excavations!  We started with a dig kit that I had prepared using plaster of paris, following these instructions. I had purchased a bag of polished stones from the Gemstore Mine downtown, and hidden those in the plaster/sand mixture along with arrowheads I ordered online. Aluminum bread pans from Wilson’s Five & Dime were perfect containers (I picked up the magnifying glasses, balloons and candy there as well), and we used the tools that came with this Dinosaur Egg excavation kit (which was a present Mikus received on his birthday) to chip away and uncover our buried treasure. It’s important to host this activity outside, as the sand/plaster gets messy!

As I was making the dig kits I had a nagging feeling that the plaster would harden to concrete and the kids wouldn’t be able to remove the gemstones (which luckily didn’t happen, the dig kits were easy enough to excavate). Since the shark teeth I had ordered online also came a few days later than expected, I decided to make a back-up excavation, just in case. Following this recipe of coffee grounds, sand and flour, I made ‘rocks’ with more hidden treasures inside. The recipe served well for the shark teeth, as the ‘rocks’ were far easier to break apart guaranteeing no one would hurt their fingers on the sharp edges.

The favorite part of the party might have been cracking open geodes. I ordered a dozen online, thinking that most of them would be duds. However, we were pleasantly surprised that each geode, although small and plain on the outside, had super beautiful crystals tucked inside; the kids were absolutely enthralled! Roberts helped each child wrap the geode in a towel before allowing them to tap at them with a small hammer and flathead screwdriver. Most geodes cracked in half with only minor hammering (although one or two were tough to break), while a few split into 4-5 pieces. We had the kids wear safety glasses just in case; luckily our little geologists didn’t mind the extra precaution.

Finally it was time for dessert! It’s always good to have something that’s not pure sugar for the kids to eat, so we had a watermelon ‘cave’ full of fruit gems that rather quickly disappeared. Pomegranate seeds make perfect rubies!

Of course there was also cake. I had initially hoped to make a ‘layers of the earth’ cake, but quickly gave that idea up when I saw the amount of food dye and other stuff utilized in most recipes. Instead, I stuck with layers – call them sedimentary if you wish – that I’ve previously used with this one-bowl chocolate cake: fudge, crumbled Oreos, raspberry jam. The top of the cake was meant to resemble a gem mine entrance, and although it was fun to make, it turned out a little messy. Luckily nobody seemed to mind, and after a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday everybody dug in. (Rock candy - Mast General Store, chocolate rocks - amazon)

The geology theme was perfect for seven year olds. The kids have learned about rocks and minerals at school, and are fascinated with pyrite, geodes and gems of all kinds. On the other hand they are still young enough to enjoy a good treasure hunt, and their joy at finding an arrowhead or shark’s tooth was easy to see. It feels like any year now Lauris will want a more grown-up party for his birthday, so I’ll take the fun cake & themed activities while I can still get them – I hope I’ve still got a few more years!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Food on Friday – Craft & Barrel

It seems that there is a new restaurant opening in the Upstate every week, and while we enjoy trying out the trendy spots (which often become favorites), we also have our go-to restaurants. There are the ones that we visit when celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but we have a handful that are on regular rotation for occasions such as the fridge is empty, it’s too hot in the kitchen or mommy needs a break. These are the family-friendly places that have dishes suitable for the kids (but still have an interesting menu for the adults), have a fun atmosphere, include stress-free parking and reasonably priced meal options.


Don’t judge a book by its cover; just as a restaurant on Main St. isn’t guaranteed to be good just because it’s squeezed in among all the current bestsellers, being located in a strip mall shouldn’t disqualify a new author from consideration. I’ve recently become familiar with yet another dining option in Greenville that offers local craft beer and fresh, Southern-inspired menu offerings paired with a convenient location and plenty of parking – making it a sure bet for a weeknight.

Craft & Barrel gastropub specializes in local craft beer, hand-crafted bourbon & whiskey cocktails, and a fresh, Southern menu. The owners Ritch Matthews & Lauren Cramer have been in the food industry for more than 17 years and opened Craft & Barrel in the fall of 2016 where the old Cheers used to be. Be warned – this is a gastropub – meaning it’s more of a bar (but with great food!) than a restaurant, and although it’s a place I’ll take the boys, I will make sure it’s not a night when a live band is playing or karaoke night. We’ll bypass the bar and sit in the back room near the stage, or in the enclosed outdoor patio, and we might go a bit earlier to avoid the evening rush (Wednesdays are usually perfect!).

fried green tomatoes

The full menu features a wide range of options, with the entirety (other than a couple of exceptions) made on site, from scratch. With this in mind, here are a few of my favorites:
From the small plates – fried green tomatoes & housemade cheese sticks. The tomatoes are every bit as good as the ones made in Juliet, GA where the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed, the remoulade probably better. The cheese sticks with fresh marinara sauce are light without being greasy.
From the snacks – bacon jalapeno deviled eggs. A spicy twist on a southern fave, the locally-sourced cheddar and bacon kicking it up a notch.

macaroni & cheese large plate

From the flatbreads – the pesto and heirloom tomato is a best-seller, and for good reason.
From the large plates – the buttermilk fried chicken, the fish and chips. My favorite menu item is the macaroni and cheese: jumbo shells blended with white cheddar cheese, chopped bacon, diced tomatoes and scallions, plus I add the grilled shrimp. Note, if you order mac&cheese as a side, you'll be getting the classic macaroni and cheese...
Sides – you can’t go wrong with the sweet potato chips, and a good test of a chef is his fried okra; ours was perfect.
Dessert – (Order it! Selections do change daily…)

pesto and heirloom tomato flatbread

The specialty drinks I’ve tasted have been excellent, interesting ingredient pairings with good presentation. The blackberry julep is a favorite: Bulleit bourbon, fresh blackberries, fresh mint & sugar. The St. Basil left me perplexed; what was supposed to be Basil Hayden’s bourbon, muddled basil, grapefruit bitters & St. Germain instead contained cilantro, however the combination was delicious and so I didn’t even attempt to clear up the misunderstanding.

Buttermilk fried chicken with sweet potato chips & fried okra

In addition to the live music that takes the stage most Friday and Saturday nights, there are plenty of TVs, a room for darts (that can have some serious competition certain nights), a weeknight happy hour and karaoke. Our service has always included good recommendations and a friendly stop-by from the owner, and the timing of food coming out is flawless. It doesn’t have to be downtown for it to be a Greenville favorite – Craft & Barrel is the perfect example.


Click here for Craft & Barrel's website.
They are also here on facebook, and are @craftbarrel on instagram.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chester State Park

It can be hard to tear ourselves away from the spectacular State Parks of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, but the parks in the Midlands have their own allure. Especially this time of year (before it’s gotten too hot), a weekend at one of these parks is a great budget getaway, especially as at least eight of them are under a two-hour drive from Greenville. These include Landsford Canal (with its beautiful rocky shoal spider lilies), Dreher Island, and the Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed Chester State Park.

Located between Columbia and Charlotte, Chester SP is in the South Carolina’s Piedmont region; gentle hills covered with hardwoods, the 160-acre Park Lake in the center. With 523 acres of trails, campgrounds, fishing and a disc golf course, there is plenty to keep you busy for the weekend. Or if you’re looking to do very little of anything, the lakeside scenery is the perfect backdrop for enjoying the latest novel and taking a nap in a hammock enjoying the breeze coming off the lake.

Chester State Park Lake spillway

In the 1930s the Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the same program that allowed for the formation of Paris Mountain State Park. A number of structures built by the CCC are still in operation today, one unique feature being the stone spillway at the west end of Chester State Park Lake. Water pours into a trough and out, creating a waterfall effect. A short distance farther there is an actual waterfall, and both are easily reached via the 1.3-mile Caney Fork Falls Trail. The trailhead is at the main parking area, and the hike winds past the boathouse and the camping area, hugging the shore of the lake and providing ample opportunities for wildlife viewing or fishing. For more on the Civilian Conservation and how they built Chester State Park, consider attending the program The Way We Worked - The CCC at Chester State Park on July 15.

Caney Fork Falls

The park is a popular place to fish for bass, bream, catfish and crappie. There is a bridge near the playground, a fishing pier located in the camping area, and a pier area around the boathouse that all may be used for fishing. Well-worn trails on the shores are a testament to foot traffic from those fishing from the banks. A valid South Carolina fishing license is required.

Chester State Park Lake bridge

The boathouse houses multiple johnboats that can be rented ($10/day), and a boat ramp allows visitors to launch their own boats. Kayaks and canoes are a popular way to tour the lake, and Chester SP hosts unique monthly Twilight Paddling excursions, ranger-guided twilight boat tours taking paddlers on an outdoor adventure from the historical boathouse to the new bridge. See the website for dates, or inquire at the park office. The office has a small store, handles boat rentals, and the info kiosk in front is where those of you participating in the Ultimate Outsider program will find the park stamp.

The boathouse and fishing area

The 25-site campground is just adjacent to the office, the sites capable of accommodating tents to 40-ft RVs. There is also a primitive group camping area available for rental, which is where we camped. The large, grassy area was previously a horse showing arena, and the old structure that at one point housed the judges still sits to one side. The stars viewed from this part of the park were absolutely incredible, with only minimal light pollution disrupting the view.

Primitive camping area

The 18-hole and 9-hole tournament grade disc golf courses are located near the primitive camping area. The first SC State Park tournament sanctioned Disc Golf Course, 3 loops are suitable for tournament play, and 18 holes have alternative tees for beginner/amateur level players.

The Park is also a great spot for birdwatching, and we saw plenty of wildlife on our visit including a bald eagle, black rat snake, evidence of a beaver and one of the largest lizards I’ve seen in SC. The wildflowers were also bountiful – just keep one eye out for poison ivy!

Clockwise from top left: bluebonnets?, a red-headed woodpecker, fire pink, Indian pink, a broad-headed skink & blue-eyed grass

Our stay in Chester State Park was a relaxing change of pace. The environs are highly different from the Upstate state parks, and it was interesting to observe the differences in wildlife and plant life. Spring is a beautiful time to visit, although I hope to return in the fall to see the park in its autumn colors. For more information on Chester State Park, visit the SC state park website. Admission  to the park is $2/adults, $1.25/seniors and age 15 & younger free. The park is open daily from 9am-6pm, and 9am-9pm during Daylight Saving Time.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Starry Nights at the newly-renovated Hooper Planetarium

The T.C. Hooper planetarium at Greenville’s Roper Mountain Science Center (RMSC) reopened early this year with more than $1 million in improvements. The 1989 planetarium was forced to close last year due to mold, but is back and better than ever this spring. The three shows currently running have been selling out in advance, and with the solar eclipse at the end of the summer approaching, the planetarium’s popularity is only going to increase.

The renovations are obvious as soon as the show starts; the old planetarium projector was replaced with a new 4K digital system, and a 360° full immersion dome with dynamic 5.1 surround sound and state-of-the-art cove lighting has been installed. Simple cosmetic work was also done, including painting the theater and lobby, and replacing the chairs and carpeting.

My boys loved the new arcade-style games in the lobby, especially piloting the moon lander. At one table they can build their own spaceship, and cool posters line the walls. RMSC advises ticketholders to arrive 20 minutes before the start of the program to facilitate parking, seating and a timely start, but a line will sometimes form in the lobby even before then. Don’t want to show up 30 minutes early just to guarantee a spot in the front of the line? Although the seats in the rear of the planetarium are considered the best, the comfortable chairs and 360° full immersion dome mean that even those visitors seated in the front row will still have an excellent experience.

In addition to programs for the 50,000 students that visit the planetarium annually, RMSC offers public programs each Friday on “Starry Nights.” Tickets cost $6 for adults and teens, and $5 for children, senior citizens, and military. Admission is free for RMSC members and children under the age of three. Currently showing are programs appropriate for a wide range of ages.

The ceiling in the lobby

In One World: Big Bird’s Adventure children can join Big Bird and Elmo on an unforgettable journey to the Moon and back. “When Elmo’s friend Hu Hu Zhu stops by Sesame Street for a visit, he notices that Sesame Street is a little bit different from his home in China. But when he looks up at the sky, he feels right at home. Elmo and Hu Hu Zhu may live in different cities, but they share the same sky! With a little help from Big Bird, the two friends learn about the Sun, the Moon, and the Big Dipper, then blast off in an imaginary rocket to the Moon! Along the way, they invite the audience to sing along to songs about space and celebrate the sky that belongs to everyone.”

In Magic Tree House: Space Mission travel with Jack and Annie in their Magic Tree House as they proceed to answer questions left for them in a mysterious note. “With the help of the astronomer, the Internet, an astronaut, books, and the note's author, Jack and Annie are… taken on a wondrous journey of adventure and learning.” Space Mission was produced by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, and features Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Tree House book series and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Finally, in Eclipse: The Sun Revealed, viewers are taken on a journey through the historical and cultural view of eclipses, exploring the geometry behind an eclipse while covering how to safely view an eclipse. With a first-hand account of one eclipse chaser's experience during a total solar eclipse, the audience will be ready for the solar eclipse this August. RMSC even has viewing glasses available for purchase in the lobby.

The Big Dipper and Ursa Major in the Upstate's Sky Tonight

Each program kicks off with Upstate’s Sky Tonight, a 15 minute pre-show where you’ll learn what’s visible in tonight’s sky with a view of the planets and constellations as visible in Greenville. Then after the feature program comes the Mars rollercoaster, although this aspect may not be as popular with viewers who tend to get motion sickness…  

After each show, viewers are invited to observe the stars through the 23-inch refractor telescope at the Charles E. Daniel Observatory. For tickets and more on Roper Mountain Science Center, T. C. Hooper Planetarium and Starry Nights, please visit the RMSC website

Friday, May 19, 2017

Food on Friday - ASADA

It seems that there is a new restaurant opening in the Upstate every week, and while we enjoy trying out the trendy spots (which often become favorites), we also have our go-to restaurants. There are the ones that we visit when celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but we have a handful that are on regular rotation for occasions such as the fridge is empty, it’s too hot in the kitchen or mommy needs a break. These are the family-friendly places that have dishes suitable for the kids (but still have an interesting menu for the adults), have a fun atmosphere, include stress-free parking and reasonably priced meal options.


The first time I tried Asada, it was from the food truck – the very first of its kind in Greenville. Five years later I finally made it in to their brick-and-mortar, and we’ve been fans ever since. Asada is a neighborhood restaurant; on any given night it will be full of couples and families that have walked over from their Vista Hills and Stone Lake homes.

Enjoy a drink on the patio

Inspired by Latin American cuisine, Roberto Cortez and his partner Gina Petti offer menu options using seasonal and local produce. Global meets familiar, the menu features new twists on popular favorites. Tacos, burritos and quesadillas take their place on the menu next to options such as Nicaraguan-style churrasco and grilled chimichurri wings w/crispy rosemary potatoes.

The chimichurri wings

In addition to the wings and churrasco, I like the chicken karaage taco and the Korean burrito. You can’t go wrong with a side of the Bolitas De Yuca Con Queso – fried yuca balls stuffed with cheese – a scrumptious appetizer only made better with the tangy but creamy side of mild spicy Peruvian Huancaína sauce (made with Ají Amarillo peppers).

Made fresh, in-house, including the insanely addictive pico de gallo

This time of year it’s all washed down nicely with sangria, and on our most recent visit there were two on the menu: a white and a red. I opted for the white, complimented nicely with citrus and apple. There’s a perfectly respectable beer menu for those going the less-fruity route.

A post shared by ASADA (@asada_restaurant) on

And if you’ve still got room after the huge portions Asada dishes up (and even if you don’t), you’ll need to sample the tres leches cake to guarantee only the sweetest dreams. Trust me, you won’t regret it – and you’ll be back soon for more.


Find ASADA on facebook, instagram and on their webpage,

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Brooklyn Bridge Park - Pier 6

My last visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park was some time ago: Mikus was still flying for free and One World Trade still stood unfinished across in Manhattan. We explored DUMBO, saw Jane’s Carousel, stopped in at Jacques Torres Chocolates for hot chocolate, and even spotted a piece by Banksy in a construction site. As far as the Brooklyn Bridge Park goes, we didn’t make it past Pier 1, and I’m not sure if they had started work on 3 yet, much less 5 and 6.

See related post: Mikus and the Big Apple 

Brooklyn Bridge Park is an 85-acre post-industrial waterfront park that stretches 1.3 miles along Brooklyn’s East River edge, affording great views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Spanning from Jay Street (north of the Manhattan Bridge) to Pier 6 & Atlantic Avenue, it includes the reclaimed piers (1-6), Empire Fulton Ferry, John Street, Main Street, Civil war-era Empire Stores and the Tobacco Warehouse. Sports fields, playgrounds, boat launches and greenways today fill piers that at one point were slated to be sold for commercial development.

New works of art are introduced to the park every year, and as part of the Public Art Fund’s 40th Anniversary season Pier 1 has welcomed Anish Kapoor’s Descension. Kapoor is known for sculptures like Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park. We had caught a glimpse of Tom Fruin’s Watertower 3 from the interstate our first morning in NYC, but had a much better view of the piece from the park. On display at 334 Furman, the 1,000 salvaged scraps of acrylic are illuminated by the sun during the day and by solar-power at night.

For our last adventure in New York City we set our sights on Pier 6. With a dog park, 3 sand volleyball courts, Fornino’s wood fired oven pizza and the Governors Island Ferry, Pier 6 is a popular destination for families – and did I mention the playgrounds? Five destination playgrounds kept the boys busy exploring for hours, and the hideaway-style play spaces were geared for all ages, so I can imagine coming back again and again and never tiring of it.

Our first stop was Slide Mountain, with 2-story slides and jungle gyms on a dynamic playground with plenty of seating for caretakers. Vilis slept through this one…

Once he woke up we headed for Sandbox Village, the largest sandbox in New York City. Lauris and Mikus loved the little houses on stilts!

The Water Lab is considered the park’s most popular playground, but it was closed for the season. Despite the spring temperatures there was still a chill in the air, and while the kids would have had a ton of fun, I’m sure they would have gotten soaked as it appeared super hands-on. I want to build something like it in our backyard.

Ten swing sets of all sizes in Swing Valley are set in little hidden spaces. It was a race against time to try each and every swing in the park…

The final park is Marsh Garden, an opportunity for children to immerse themselves in the natural environment. But the fun isn’t over, because back behind Fornino’s and the volleyball courts are large grassy areas, perfect for picnics and games of Frisbee. We walked through the flower field to reach the end of the pier where we encountered the grandiose finale of our visit.

The view of the Manhattan skyline and all the ship traffic was breathtaking. The boys caught a glimpse of the Staten Island ferry, and behind Governors Island we could see the Statue of Liberty, torch raised high. Even after snapping dozens of photos we still lingered, the scenery not allowing us to leave.

The chill that accompanied the sunset finally urged us on. All the playing and the boys had worked up an appetite, and so we headed over to Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, my favorite dining experience of the whole trip. The old-school soda shop has a full menu, but the sundaes, shakes and ice cream can’t be beat. The waffle was the size of the entire plate, buried under ice cream, whip cream, caramel and who-knows-what other toppings. This might just be the friendliest spot in Brooklyn to boot, with treats handed out to the boys for being on their best behavior on the way out the door. Brooklyn Farmacy is worth a trip, and whether you sit at the counter or one of the old-fashioned booths, you’ll love the experience.

The vacation in NYC had come to an end, and only a long car ride stood between us and a return to daily life. We’re so lucky to have family in the city, to show us the best spots and to put us up. What an incredible spring break, and how nice to spend it with the fam! Paldies A² for a memorable trip – your turn, see you in Greenville!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Eight years

This picture was taken during mičošana, the Latvian “capping ceremony.” Mičošana was a very important part of the ancient Latvian wedding, which usually lasted three days. During mičošana, the bride and groom say goodbye to their single status and don symbolic hats to represent their new roles as husband and wife. At one part of the ceremony, the unmarried men gather around the bride and groom to sing their goodbyes, after which the married men break into the circle to welcome the newly married couple to their ranks. As you can see, it is a literal (as well as symbolic) capping; I am wearing an aube, the traditional headwear worn with the Latvian folk costume for married women, and Roberts has a hūte and pipe. Some of our guests are wearing hats also, which announce their membership in various Latvian fraternities, organizations that promote education in Latvian traditions and history. It is customary for fraternity members to have krāsu kāzas, inviting guests to wear their fraternal colors to the wedding. 

Mičošana traditionally occurs around midnight.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Central Park - from Hallett to Belvedere

I could spend an entire NYC vacation in Central Park and it wouldn’t get old. Every time we visit, I get a new perspective of the 842-acre refuge: sometimes seasonal, other times depending on the area we visit or the company we bring. We returned to southern border of Central Park on this particular visit, but skipped the crowded paths for a visit to the newly-opened Hallett Nature Sanctuary – read about it here.

View from 5th Ave Subway Station stairs

From the Sanctuary we headed north past the Dairy Visitor Center and Gift Shop, one of the Central Park Conservancy's five visitor centers. Park architect and designer Calvert Vaux originally created this Victorian cottage as a retreat for children and their parents, the Dairy becoming a source of fresh milk and snacks in the 19th century. By the 1950s the neglected building was an eyesore, and the Parks Department tore down the loggia and turned it into a maintenance shed. In 1979 the building was restored and became the Park's first visitor center, and in 1980 the loggia was recreated from historic photographs.

After crossing Center Drive we found ourselves on the Central Park Mall. The Mall, a quadruple row of American elms, is one of the largest and last remaining stands of American elms in North America. The majestic trees form a cathedral above the Park’s widest pedestrian path, the only straight line within Central Park. At the south end of the mall lies the Literary Walk, with statues of well-known figures such as William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. At the north end of the mall is Bethesda Terrace (see my post Central Park, Mussels and More). The stretch provides some of the best people watching in the entire park. In addition to the visitors out for a stroll, you’ll find vendors and entertainers of all sorts; we stopped to watch a student from Japan advertising haircuts with a sign indicating that his goal is to cut hair in 100 countries. He quickly found a taker and soon had a line of customers, not to mention the crowd that established to watch him work.

Once we reached Bethesda Terrace it was just a matter of finding a seat at the fountain for more people watching. The fountain sculpture was the first major public commission for a major work of art in NYC to go to a woman, Emma Stebbins. A bronze, winged angel carries a lily in one hand, and with the other hand blesses the water below which flows from an upper basin to the pool surrounding the four cherubs, Temperance, Purity, Health, and Peace. Also called the Angel of the Waters, the statue refers to the Gospel of John, where there is a description of an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda, giving it healing powers.

The arcade in the lower passage features Minton tile ceiling, the only known example of Minton encaustic ceramic tiles used in a suspended ceiling. The majority of the nearly 16,000 tiles had been in storage for more than 20 years before the 2007 unveiling of a $7 million restoration by the Central Park Conservancy.

Adjacent to Bethesda Terrace is Cherry Hill fountain, a Victorian-era stone water fountain. It was the perfect time to visit as the cherry trees were in full bloom, and among all the visitors taking photos was a couple taking their wedding photographs. From this vantage point there is also a great view of The Lake and Bow Bridge, the 60ft cast iron bridge with a walkway constructed of ipe, a South American hardwood that turns a deep red when wet.

We ended up doubling back to The Mall for a short spell, and the boys found a performance artist with a tub full of soapy water and enormous bubble wands. If you ask them, it was probably a highlight of our visit.

Passing through Bethesda Terrace once more, Lauris spotted a man writing personalized poems and got his very own literary souvenir of the day in Central Park. Not a bad way to spend a day – sitting on the terrace and writing poems for tips...

Past the Boathouse is the border of the formal gardens with The Ramble, 38 acres of winding pathways through what was described by creator Frederick Law Olmsted as a "wild garden." Famous for urban bird watching opportunities (approximately 230 species have been documented), visitors can find a secluded spot for a picnic, listen to the gurgle of the man-made stream, or just enjoy a stroll through the woods. Or, if you're like us, take a break in  a grassy area to test dozens of paper airplanes...

North of 79th Street is Belvedere Castle overlooking Turtle Pond. Named for the Italian meaning "beautiful view," the panoramic views of the Delacorte Theater, the Great Lawn, Turtle Pond and the Ramble are exceptional.

The 1869 castle was originally designed to be a Victorian Folly, a structure without a real purpose. However, in 1919 the National Weather Service began taking measurements from the tower, and the castle is still used for this purpose today. Rainfall, wind speed & wind direction are recorded and sent to the weather service's forecast office at Brookhaven National Library on Long Island.

From Belvedere we headed west through the 4-acre Shakespeare Garden, where spectacular blooms and landscaping are accompanied by plaques featuring quotes from the garden’s namesake. The garden features plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s poems and plays (such as columbine, primrose, wormwood, quince, lark’s heel, rue, eglantine, flax and cowslip), and is designed to resemble the Bard’s native English countryside.

Fritillaria imperialis, a charming fence, and snowdrops

We emerged from the park at the Museum of Natural History, and although the boys would have loved to stop at the Diana Ross playground, we still had a subway ride back to Brooklyn ahead of us. Having settled for a snack, we descended to the subway (with its mosaic depicting the nighttime constellations), tired but in wonderment of all that we had seen that day. The next day we would be celebrating Easter, our final day in New York before returning home.

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