Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A journey through Storyland at the UHM

June saw the opening of a new exhibit - Storyland: A Trip ­through Childhood Favorites - at one of our favorite museums here in Greenville, the Upcountry History Museum! The GHS-sponsored, bilingual adventure allows visitors to step into the pages of classic children's literature, featuring seven books that include favorites If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.


The traveling exhibit is geared towards children ages 0-8, with matching, rhyming, poetry and storytelling activities. All three boys kept themselves occupied during our two-hour stay, which is about how long it took to fully explore all seven books.

All three boys spent a significant amount of time at the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault) palm, sending letters up the tree only to have them tumble back down, just as in the book.


The Snowy Day (author Ezra Jack Keats) had a beautiful snowy vista that encouraged visitors build snowmen, make snow angels, and to walk through the winter wonderland to the sound of their own footsteps crunching through the snow.


If YouGive a Mouse a Cookie (by Laura Numero) featured a station where the kids could write a note to Mouse, and a giant cookie – a sensory station with items from the book hidden in each chocolate chip.

Th­e Tale of Peter Rabbit (book by Beatrix Potter) was my favorite, with a perfect little rabbit (and toddler) sized house. The boys enjoyed gardening with Peter, and searching for the hidden puzzle pieces that fit in various spots throughout.


Where’s Spot (Eric Hill) garnered the most attention from Vilis, who insisted on lugging Spot around to all the other exhibits...

The book Tuesday (author David Wiesner) was previously unfamiliar to me. The story of a Tuesday when frogs took to the air on their lily pads won the Caldecott Medal in 1992, and fit perfectly into Storyland with an percussion wall and clock activity.


Finally we read about Abuela (by Arthur Dorros), with Rosalba and her grandmother flying high above the heads of the children while they wrote shopping lists and helped stock the shelves of the store.


Storyland: A Trip ­through Childhood Favorites will be at the Upcountry History Museum through September 11th, and should be added to your summer bucket list for a visit on one of those hot, southern days. Relive your favorite childhood books while the kids learn the joy and power of reading through play, and don’t forget to stop by the library next door before you head home – maybe you want to take one or two of the featured books home?


Monday, June 27, 2016

The ten days of Jāņi // līgo, līgo

I’ve been told that these days in Latvia, Jāņi is a five day-long celebration: one day of preparations, Līgo vakars, Jāņi, a day of work and a day to recooperate… Here in the Upstate I’m tempted to call it a 10-day-long fest, as we included the strawberry-full moon summer solstice and two weekends into our celebration!

The Jāņu mielasts includes plenty of pīrāgi!

It started last weekend, when the festivities started in multiple cities and areas, including one of the larger svinības in Gaŗezers (which we attended two years ago). We līgo līgo-d right along, admiring the beautiful flower crowns, giant bonfires and tall pūdeles (the midsummer night fire on a raised pole) of friends across the world.


Then came the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year and the first day of summer. June’s full moon fell on the eve of the solstice for the first time since 1948. The so-called “strawberry moon" may have gotten its name from Native American tribes because strawberry season is at its peak in June, but when the moon is close to the horizon it does take on a reddish tint (in Europe the June full moon is sometimes known as the rose moon). We wandered to the end of the block to see the moon rise, and were rewarded with a glimpse of an owl on the hunt in the solstice twilight.


Līgo evening and Jāņi are celebrated on June 23rd and 24th respectively, the names days for Līga and Jānis. Since the solstice falls on different days on different years, Latvians will celebrate midsummer’s night on Jāņi. But on those years that Jāņi fall on a weekday, we often celebrate the weekend before or after, as was the case this year. This can be confusing – another reason to extend the celebration all week…

Jāņu siers and rasols

Līgo vakars was unbearably hot, and we used the excuse of making Jāņu siers to stay indoors that morning. The traditional Latvian cheese needs a day to compress, and so it’s smart to make it a few days in advance of the fête.


Jāņi day was a loooong day… One of the educational groups we participate in here in the Upstate travels to a different country every month, and it just so happened Friday was Tanzania at our house. The boys had an excuse to wear their dashikis, my mom got in her art-education fix, and the kids all went home with hand-stamped khanga cloth and Serengeti sunsets. Not your average Jāņi, that’s for sure! The highlight of the day was the return of Roberts from his month-long work trip – it’s good to have dad back, and just in time for the big Jāņi celebration!


This year our lovely Jāņu māte and Jāņu tēvs were Inta and Leonard in Charlotte, NC. We spent the morning in hurried preparations for the feast: vecmamma Inga baking pīrāgi while we harvested oak branches and Jāņu zāles, ironed our tautas tērpi and finally crafted our flower and oak leaf vainagi (crowns). Finally it was time to head north to celebrate.


The evening passed in a flash of delicious food, good company, folk songs and bonfire. We burned our vainagi  from last Jāņi on a fire started with a birch bluķis from Estonia. We drank beer from Latvian ceramic mugs. We ate too many pīrāgi and pieces of Jāņu siers to count. The kids ran free, sugar fueling their energy and glow sticks marking their location. And although there was less dancing than in previous years due to the heat, the songs kept coming until the chorus of projām jāiet, projām jāiet, es nevaru šeit palikt (it’s time to leave, I can’t stay here) rang out sometime after midnight.


As we put away our tautas tērpi and accompanying brooches and accessories, washed the dishes from the previous day’s preparations, stored away our Jāņu vainagi for burning in next year’s bonfire and finally sorted through the dozens of pictures, I drifted off in memories of dozens of Jāņi past… Our celebration of this most popular of Latvian holidays has brought us to  dozens of places in the last couple of decades, introducing us to new people and places but also bringing us back to the family, friends and places that define us; this annual tradition has contributed in shaping our family traditions just as surely as our Latvian roots. As children, the short nights seemed endless – and I saw this reflected in the eyes of my boys last night as they ran free long after their usual bedtime. But although the fatigue catches up with me faster now that we are adults, Jāņu nakts is still the one night that sleep is elusive…

Līgojam, līgojam,
Neguļam, neguļam,
Redzēsam, redzēsam,
Kur saulīte rotājās!



Thursday, June 23, 2016

On the farm trail with the 10th annual Upstate Farm Tour!

(Continued from this post, on the 10th annual Upstate Farm Tour)

Earlybird Farms in Hodges, SC

From Possum Kingdom Kreamery in Belton we headed to Happy Critters Ranch in Honea Path. While we waited for our tour to begin we enjoyed a glass of sweet tea under the giant oak, at a long table decked out with a checkered tablecloth and flowers picked that morning (the farm was a meal stop, though we had just eaten at the previous farm and so stuck with the lemonade and tea).


The tour took us from the fields to the wooded trails where the farm’s animals are pastured, the children marveling at the piglets. A tom was gobbling and strutting his stuff while a half dozen turkey hens grazed nearby. We sampled pork breakfast sausage made on location in the ‘up-cycled’ smoker and were so impressed, that we bought a couple of pounds to stick in the freezer. And finally we admired the old chimney and foundations that at some point could have been the main house on the farm.


The farm’s poultry, beef, lamb and pork products can be purchased at the farm on specific days of the month, online, and through a HCF membership; see website for details.

Our next stop on the tour was Bio-Way Farm. You might recognize the name, as they have a booth at the TD Saturday Farmer’s Market on Main St. in Greenville and the Slow Foods Earth Market at SRC&G on select Thursdays. The result of a transformation of a hunting retreat into a small market farm, the farm is the brainchild of Chris Sermons. Since the late 1990’s Bio-Way has been providing row crops and perennials to the Greenville market, including Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery, Whole Foods, Bacon Bros. Public House and Stella’s.


The three boys were impatient before the tour even began, and soon after Chris started I realized we would be disrupting the experience of the rest of the group if we stayed on. With apologies to Chris we headed on a short self-guided tour: an exploration of area around the greenhouse and fields, and a quick foray into the forested gardens. Beyond the blueberry bushes we found landscaping featuring native plants, edibles and soil enhancers, with special attention paid to pollinators, woodland medicinals, mushroom production and foraging opportunities. After picking up some fresh-from-the-fields veggies we hopped back in the car and made tracks for the last farm of the day, Earlybird Farms.

minnows, to be sold as bait

Located on Highway 25 in Hodges, this farm is rather far from Greenville; probably due to the distance it wasn’t on my radar. Now, after having visited and taken the tour, we will be on the lookout for Earlybird products such as mushrooms, honey and fish emulsion fertilizer. The unique homestead featured three acres of gardens, a commercial-size greenhouse and a worm/minnow farm (sold as fishing bait). We were impressed with the waste not/want not approach towards every aspect of the operation, for example the minnows that died before being sold would go into the fish emulsion fertilizer, while those that were too big were relocated into a large pool until they would be eaten. Ducks, turkeys, rabbits – all raised as food, not pets, and a homemade chicken plucker brought that point home. In terms of teaching the boys where their food comes from, this was the most valuable stop on the tour; I thank Earlybird for their honest and educational approach while captivating our interest on the last stop of the day.

During the heat of the summer the greenhouses are utilized to grow mushrooms


I had penciled in two more farms on my list, just in case we made it through the first four in record time… However, it was not meant to be; it was already past six as we headed back towards Greenville from Earlybird Farms, and all five of us were happily exhausted from the day’s adventures. A big thanks to Carolina Farm Stewardship Association for another awesome Upstate Farm Tour; you can bet we’ll be back out next year to explore more of our local farms! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On the Upstate Farm Tour trail - Possum Kingdom Kreamery

The hot weather broke Saturday here in the Greenville, just in time for the 10th annual Upstate Farm Tour! This Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) event featured 22 local farms, including 6 stops new to the tour from last year. We picked up our button at Swamp Rabbit Grocery & Cafe and come Saturday, hit the road – due south.

  
Last year we ventured west (see post 1 here and post 2 here), visiting a total of nine farms over two days, most of them located in the southwest to northwest range from Greenville. This year we turned our attention to the south, to the farms CFSA had included on the ‘green adventure trail,’ a route that would take us from Belton down to Honea Path and around to Hodges and Ware Shoals. Although one of the stops would be a repeat from the previous year, the distances we would have to cover were already pretty ambitious without even trying to switch out stops. So a little after noon we hit the road, and just after 1pm arrived at Possum Kingdom Kreamery in Belton.


This is one of the kids’ favorite farms in the Upstate, having been there previously on the farm tour as well as with school groups. In addition to the licensed dairy and creamery, the farm features a menagerie of animals including the goats (which produce the raw milk that is also used to make fresh farmstead goat cheeses) and their kids, free range hens, ducks, the rare breed of draft horses (drum horses), a fawn, a hog, dogs, turkeys, cats, ponies and even Teddy the llama and monkeys Jimmy, Toby and Spencer!


Live music offered the perfect backdrop; the Americana/bluegrass/blues/roots band Conservation Theory out of Tamassee, SC was on hand to keep things lively with toe-tapping tunes that felt like the soundtrack to the Possum Kingdom experience. Conservation Theory plays a lot of local venues; you can catch them Friday night at the Appalachian Ale House in Pickens and Saturday at Velo Fellow right here in Greenville for some 'romping stomping Appalachian Folk'!


Roots Smokehouse was serving up their unique twist on tostadas – the $8 plate was loaded with smoked chicken, corn salsa, fresh veggies and a ton more, and topped with cilantro and lime for a delicious meal while kicking back and listening to the tunes. If you were still hungry you could visit the various vendors that were on hand: City Scape Winery (which we visited on last year’s tour), Lazy Farmer Rabbit & Produce (that we saw that morning in the TR farmer’s market with their luscious peaches!), Bethel Trails Farm (pastured pork, beef & chicken, also familiar from last year's tour), Simmon's Produce, Pound Cakes by Dorcus and Bella Vita Farm with local honey & fresh baked bread.


The farm store was open for tasting, and after sampling a couple of the spreadable chèvres we settled on the garlic & basil, and plain. The best thing about the plain is that you can pretty much make your own flavor – so far I’ve tried it with blueberries, green onions and honey (separately of course!). The boys also sampled the raw goat milk and declared it tastes just like regular milk. Although it was nice to buy these products straight from the source, Possum Kingdom Kreamery is a long drive, which is why we are lucky that nearby Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery carries several PKK products. In addition to farmers markets across the Upstate you’ll find their products in a handful of other local stores (see website for details).


We paused one final time before continuing on to the next stop on the farm tour – in the garden. Raised beds full of tomatoes, squash, peppers and other vegetables, with a pastoral setting of horse pastures beyond! We could have easily spent another couple of hours at PKK, listening to music, eating another tostada, the boys petting the goats – but we were off to the next stop on the tour… Happy Critters Ranch! (to be continued…)




Friday, June 17, 2016

Pleasant Ridge falls

With temperatures in the upper nineties all week, we were looking for a hike in the foothills in hopes of lower temps and humidities. While it turned out to be a scorcher (and the humidity seemed even higher!), the Pleasant Ridge hike turned out to be a perfect solution for a hot summer day - a 0.6 mile hike followed by a cool-down at the base of Pleasant Ridge Falls.


In the 1940’s South Carolina’s State Parks were segregated. With Greenville’s African-American population exceeding 30,000, the Pleasant Ridge property was purchased in 1950 and Leroy Smith was hired as the first African-American superintendent of a SC State Park in 1951. The State Park finally opened in 1955, and Mr. Smith served as superintendent until his death in 1979. Pleasant Ridge didn’t see integration until the 1960’s; a class action suit was filed in 1961, and although an order was issued for the state parks to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1954 that July, the S.C. Attorney General responded by closing all the parks in 1963. By the following summer, however, they were opened on a limited basis and, by 1966, they were returned to full operation. Pleasant Ridge became a county park in 1988 and today is managed by Greenville County Rec.

rhododendron on the left, hobblebush with bumblebee on the right

The nature trail at Pleasant Ridge is named in honor of Mr. Leroy Smith, and it was this trail that was our destination. The recently-opened 5.2 mile Jorge F. Arango (JFA) mountain bike trail is also within the park (and intersects with the Leroy Smith trail), but the trails have separate trailheads and are easily distinguished from one another. Parking for both trails is in the first parking lot to the right upon entering the park.

salamander!

From the parking lot we crossed a grassy field with a stream running through the middle. The trail is one-way going clockwise, and soon after entering the shaded trail on the right we found ourselves at the waterfall. However, we had decided to save further exploration of the falls for the end of our hike, and so headed on paralleling the creek. Before long we reached an unmarked intersection at what used to be an old moonshine still. Here the trail turns east and climbs a steep slope, but first we decided to take a left to see where the spur trail would take us. Climbing up the stairs we emerged to the 4-acre fishing lake, a small playground and a large grassy field.

The playground, with the lake visible in background

The boys immediately shot off to the fishing pier to investigate, but soon were called back out of the heat of the midday sun. A quick snack in the shade and we were off, down the steps, past the moonshine still and up the steep incline of the Leroy Smith trail. Here we added a frog to the list of animals seen (the baby turtle at the lake was the first entry) and reached another trail intersection.

The view from the opposite side of the lake

The map at the beginning of the trail is inaccurate. It shows a single trail going into the woods, where in reality, the Leroy Smith trail is a loop that circles the draw before emerging on the grassy field adjacent to the parking lot. In addition, the JFA trail transects the LST, making for two intersections on the trail. There are no signs at the first intersection, and intuition would insist on making a right turn to circle back towards the parking lot; however, this would put you on the JFA trail (not the LST), and so instead hikers should keep straight. The trail isn’t as well-traveled and leads up a tangle of roots, but once at the top you’ll see an informational placard on the spiders of the area and know you’re on the right track. Another short distance later you’ll cross the JFA trail again, this time carsonite posts marking the two trails. If you were to turn south onto the Jorge F. Arango trail you would emerge on the south end of the parking lot.

The map on the left shows the LST in red, when in reality it looks more like the line in blue on the right, the green being the JFA on both maps (source for map on the right here)

Once we finished the trail we dived right back into the woods, re-hiking the 0.1 miles to the Pleasant Ridge falls. The double tiered falls drops 8 feet, then runs for about 25 feet before plunging 15 feet over the second tier. Although the wooden bench (which at some point had a prime viewing spot of the falls) has toppled, one can find several downed logs for a quiet spot to sit and enjoy the waterfall. The base of the falls allows for a great spot to splash around in, only be careful of slick rocks and snakes, both of which we encountered on our visit. We also managed to catch a few crayfish, and spotted small fish in several of the pools.



After the snake incident we were quick to get back on the trail, this time retracing our steps back to the parking lot. While there are certainly other more-exciting and more strenuous trails in the vicinity (in Jones Gap and Caesars Head State Parks), Pleasant Ridge County Park provides a great Upstate experience with plenty of perks: a short (but interesting) hike, no fees, no crowds, and a waterfall to cool off in after your hike. Although the park has been closed to camping and swimming, please visit the website to learn more about the JFA trail, the fishing lake and the picnic shelters.



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