Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Have fun storming the castle!

A few weeks ago we joined a dozen friends for the Amazing Castle program at the Upcountry History Museum. The hands-on exhibit is geared towards kids 4-8 years old and introduces visitors to medieval history through a make-believe castle village community. The program was the perfect opportunity to storm the castle, as it included various other activities outside the exhibit.


We started in the classroom, learning about medieval knights through a storybook and mini-lecture. The resident bearded dragon demonstrated differences between real-life and fairytale dragons, after which we made shields complete with emblems designed by each child.


Next up was a story read aloud in the exhibit, and then the kids discussed the various “jobs” in a castle community. After a guided tour exploring each station the kids were let loose for free play.


Mikus (age 2) thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit too, and I feel both boys learned something from our visit. We would have had a blast even without participating in the program, as there are plenty of things to do within the walls of the castle: dressing up in costumes, harvesting vegetables, building castle walls and answering questions correctly to prompt the appearance of a dragon were among the favorites. The informative nature of the display guaranteed older children had a great time as well, and in my opinion this is truly one of the better-designed exhibits at the Upcountry History Museum from the ones we’ve been to, especially with the boys in tow.



Admission rates to the museum were as follows: $5 per adult, $4 per senior/college students with valid ID and $3 per child ages 4 to 18. Pricing varies for programs, call for information on groups of more than 15. The exhibit runs through September 28th, so you still have plenty of time to explore!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The new and improved Greenville trolley

On Thursday we had the distinctive honor of being the very first passengers on the new Greenlink trolley!

The brand new open-air trolleys have wooden benches seating 35, a bicycle rack on the front and a wheelchair-accessible door and seating in the rear. Televisions run scenic shots of Greenville while pleasant music plays in the background. There was none of the exhaust blowing back into the trolley as with the older ones (which possibly are the same vehicles that have been in service ever since the trolleys started running in 2006), and the ride was much quieter and more enjoyable.


In addition to the new trolleys, the route has been revised and service has converted from flag-stop to a fixed-stop. Look for downtown trolley signs about every other block on the new route, which can be found here. (However I didn't see too many signs, and the driver was stopping for people flagging her down, so I think that's still a work in progress...)


The benefits to utilizing this free service are many; less stress to park downtown, quick shuttling to and from the ball games at Fluor Field, the ability to enjoy the festivals downtown without having to drive (for those that live close to the trolley route in the North Main neighborhood) and a scenic way to show off the very best of Greenville from the comfort of a vintage trolley! We’ve often used it as a hop-on, hop-off mode of transportation when showing guests around town.

The new route still goes past Fluor Field


Thursday’s ride took us exactly 30 minutes to complete the entire route, and we had to promise to take the boys back the next day in order to get them to disembark…  The hours of operation are Thursdays and Fridays 6pm until 11pm, Saturdays 10am until 11pm and Sundays 1pm until 8pm. The trolleys run year-round - I can't wait to see them decked out in holiday lights!


Friday, August 15, 2014

The 11th Latvian scout and guide jamboree, Mantojums!

In a few days Latvian scouts and guides from around the world will descend upon the wilderness of New Jersey for the 11th Latvian scout and guide jamboree, Mantojums. These jamborees are organized every four years in a location in North America, the previous one, Zvaigžņu sega, taking place in Michigan in 2010 with attendees from the US, Canada, Australia and Latvija.

Lauris attends his first jamboree! Also pictured: my father, mother, aunt, grandmother, godmother, sister and cousins who attended Zvaigžņu sega

I attended my first jamboree Draudzības Lokā at the age of five, technically a few months too young to be a guntiņa but proudly wearing the forest green uniform nevertheless. At that time still organized every five years, in 1992 I accompanied my troop to Canada for Ugunskurs, and then another five years later to New York for Kopsolī. 2002 was Kalnaine in Massachusetts, then Dziesmu Gars back in Canada in 2006. Despite Lauris being only three months old for Zvaigžņu sega, I have not missed a single Lielā nometne in my lifetime other than Kāvu gaisma, the 4th jamboree that took place when I was only nine months old. Until this one.

August 1987, my first lielā nometne

With our move down south and the years spent in France, I have not been active as a troop leader as there are no Latvian girl scout troops in the area. This is possibly the second hardest thing for me about our living in South Carolina, the first being our distance from family, as scouting has played a large role in my life from the very first. With a mother, grandmother, godmother, aunt and various uncles and other relations who were/are active leaders in the organization, I grew up a guntiņa, then a gaida, eventually a lielgaida and finally gave my scoutmaster oath in 2006. The love of camping and the outdoors that took root during this time led to my degree in forestry and career with the Fish & Wildlife Service and US Forest Service, and I hope to be able to instill the same love of nature in my children in the years to come.

After giving my vadītāju solijums, with my grandmother, mother and godmother

About a year ago when the planning for Mantojums kicked into high gear I accepted a request to help with planned activities. It was with a heavy heart that I had to write back and report that I wouldn’t be able to attend the jamboree after all; I was so happy that Lauris and Mikus would be able to accompany me to New Jersey and attend the daycamp usually scheduled for those too young to be mazskauti and guntiņas, but with my due date estimated to be four days before the start date, there was no way any of us would be attending.

Roberts swears he first remembers meeting me at a winter scout camp - possibly this one? (See arrows)

And so, to all my sisters and brothers attending Mantojums, esiet modri! Enjoy your week in the woods forging new friendships and discovering yourselves and the wonders of the outdoors. I will be there with you in spirit, singing right along with you –
Šis ir mūsu mantojums, - ai          
Tik daudz laba nodots mums.
Saņemsim un sargāsim un
Tad to tālāk nodosim!


And maybe a little sīkguntiņa will arrive in the world just in time for Lielā nometne


Monday, August 11, 2014

Flooding at 40 weeks

Considering we are coming up on week 40 of this pregnancy, I thought it would be about time to take note of the experience this time around, before the jumble of sleepless nights and sleepwalking days that are life with a newborn begin anew. We’re still neck to neck (well not quite, a giraffe’s neck is a smidgen longer) with Autumn and her pregnancy (as of writing this Sunday), but I will not kid myself – I know this pregnancy will continue only a few weeks, longest. I’m also not impatient for the little one to arrive; being my third pregnancy I know all too well how the pampered (if somewhat uncomfortable) last weeks of pregnancy suddenly descend into chaos, and I’m ready to enjoy those last days of being spoiled rotten!


Things that are different this pregnancy:
I’m not craving the bacon-cheese fries as much (who doesn’t crave bacon and cheese!) as with Lauris, instead I’m leaning more toward peaches and chocolate. As Mikus meant frequent evenings out in search of Clermont-Ferrand’s best truffade (also potatoes with ham and cheese), I take this to mean my husband will deliver with his promise of a girl.
I haven’t put on as much weight as with Lauris, another sign that a) it’s a girl and b) I’ve been laying off the bacon and cheese. Then again, I have a two year old and a four year old at home – the best way to not put on tons of pounds is to keep moving.


With this being the third child:
I’ve already gotten the first comment of “you know how (pregnancy) happens, right?” and with it the first inkling that the step from two to three is a big one. As I’ve got two sisters and a brother and my husband has one of each, three children seems normal; however census data indicates the average American family has fewer than two children. My question is, will we still be invited over to playdates at friends’ homes that only have the one child….
We’re pretty set on clothes. I can’t believe how many baby clothes I have amassed, and how many of them are neutral and suited for a girl. They’ve been washed, diapers have been purchased, the crib set up and nesting completed. Just absolutely crazy, this instinct to clean and clear and sort and ready!


With this pregnancy being back in the US:
As my first pregnancy in Greenville ended in high stress and C-section, we decided to go a different route this time around. I had a successful VBAC in France with Mikus, and that coupled with a better understanding of American maternal care and “the system” than during my first pregnancy has led me to the Greenville Midwives. Not only for crunchy/hippy mommas anymore, the midwives have provided stress-free, comfortable care completely different from the high-pressure, extremely clinical experience full of scare tactics and intimidation that I had at the hands of the staff at Carolina Women’s Health. I still expect to give birth at the hospital, only it will be on my terms, instead of the schedule of the surgical staff. The midwives aren’t far removed from the system in France, where I had one physician tend to me my entire pregnancy, doing the ultrasounds, performing needed exams, answering my questions and ultimately guiding me to the right path for a successful VBAC. I’ve met every single one of the midwives who could possibly be on call when the time comes, and I feel each one of them knows my history and will do all she can to help me achieve the safe and healthy birth experience I desire.

Things that are just not fair:
Tomato season rolling in just as the squished stomach and acid reflux of the third trimester come knocking.
Maternity shirts not designed for tall women, meaning even the most accommodating pregnancy tops leave my underbelly exposed. Thank goodness for maternity dresses!

For comparison - Sunday I took the picture on the right

Saturday evening we had a large storm move through the area, dumping as many as six inches of rain in some places. When we ventured out on Sunday we found that portions of Stone Avenue and Cleveland Park had flooded, leaving mud and debris covering streets, parking lots and playgrounds. With the zoo closed maybe Autumn has had a respite from her celebrity status and can concentrate on her labor? Baby Watch 2014 continues…

(And as far as Madame Zaritska goes, here is my birth experience prediction! - and the last prediction here!)
"The day you deliver, outside will be cold. Your baby will arrive in the late evening. After a labor lasting approximately 16 hours, your child, a girl, will be born. Your baby will weigh about 10 pounds, 11 ounces, and will be 17 inches long. This child will have dark violet eyes and a little patch of brown hair."




Monday, August 4, 2014

Blueberry tarts and baby giraffes at 38 weeks

You might remember that before Mikus was born I was taking bets on which would arrive first: our new refrigerator or the baby. Thankfully the fridge came first, otherwise I don’t know where I would have hidden the chocolate during that last week or two. Then of course there was the tie between my mother landing in Clermont-Ferrand and Mikus making his debut into the world. With the Greenville Zoo’s announcement that Autumn is now on “Baby Watch 2014” and my approaching 39th week, I once again declare the race is on! (You hear that baby, it’s August in The South and all my maternity shirts are too short!)


The similarities end there; I did not endure a 15-month gestation, nor will I be live-streaming the birth. Seven year old Autumn delivered her first calf 21 months ago, much to the delight of a million viewers worldwide following the pregnancy on the zoo’s live GiraffeCam. Once again you can check in on a live-stream of the mother, with one camera monitoring the paddock and one inside the barn. Fun facts: giraffes are born hooves-first, they weight between 120-150 pounds, they stand 6-feet tall at birth and usually take their first steps within the hour.

Along with the last weeks of pregnancy come the last weeks of blueberry season here in the Upstate. Since none of the berries from our bushes have made it past the hungry little hands playing in the backyard I picked up a gallon at Blueberry Hill while we were up in the Paris Mountain SP area last week. They mostly get consumed by the handful, or tossed over cereal, but some did make it to a batch of blueberry muffins and most recently, into this blueberry tart.


If you already own “Pēc acumēra un garšas, kamēr gatavs,” the Chicago Latvian scout and guide cookbook in its fourth printing (with 150 tried-and-true recipes ranging from traditional Latvian favorites such as pīrāgi and kliņģeris to soups, salads, main courses and desserts considered favorites by the best chefs in Chicago), then you’ve got this simple recipe that makes blueberry season worth it! If you don’t have what is commonly referred to as the dzeltenā pavārgrāmata (yellow cookbook) then you’ve got a chance to buy one while in Gaŗezers next weekend, as they are on sale in the kantīne for a limited time. For those of you not in the vicinity of Michigan in the next weeks, here is Dzidra Cīrule’s blueberry tart recipe…

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Melleņu rausis

Ingredients for crust: 1 cup flour (I use unbleached)
          ¼ teaspoon salt
          2 tablespoons sugar
          ½ cup unsalted butter
          1 tablespoon vinegar
Ingredients for filling: 2 tablespoons flour
          2/3 cup sugar
          ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
          4 cups blueberries, divided
          powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)

Mix 1 cup flour, salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar, combine with butter and then incorporate the vinegar. Press into a 9” tart pan.

Combine the rest of the sugar, flour and cinnamon, then add 3 cups blueberries. Pour mixture into prepared tart pan.

Bake for 1 hour at 400˚ F.

Scatter the remaining one cup of blueberries over the tart and let cool on cooling rack before removing from pan and decorating with powdered sugar.


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