Friday, August 26, 2016

100 years of the National Park Service!

Yesterday marks 100 years of the National Park Service, stewards of our National Parks as well as our national monuments, battlefields, military parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails and even the White House.

Arches National Park

Our first National Park, Yellowstone, actually precedes the NPS by over forty years, established by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Yellowstone was followed by Mackinac Island (MI) in 1875, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite in 1890, Mount Rainier in 1899, and a half dozen others through 1916: Crater Lake in Oregon, Wind Cave in South Dakota, Glacier in Montana, Mesa Verde & Rocky Mountain in Colorado, and what is now Hawai’i Volcanoes. On August 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill into law creating the National Park Service to oversee all these national parks, with the mission to conserve our natural spaces for generations to come.

Glassy Mountain, Carl Sandburg Home NHS

Today the National Park Service employs more than 20,000 men and women in the 412 national parks (and monuments, battlefields etc.), and last year 307.2 million people visited our public spaces. With the 2016 Find Your Park initiative, that number is expected to be surpassed; Find Your Park encourages everyone to find the park nearest them and to share their stories.

My junior rangers at Big South Fork NRRA

In celebration of its 100th birthday, the National Park Service invites visitors to celebrate with free admission to all 412 national park sites through Sunday, August 28th. In addition there are hundreds of special events taking place across the US; check out your local park’s website for more information.

In honor of this historical day, here are a few of my favorite National Parks as visited by Femme au Foyer…

South Carolina’s only National Park is Congaree National Park. But we’ve got a bunch more NPS sites in our neck of the woods, including Cowpens National Battlefield and Ninety Six National Historic Site, and on the coast you’ll find Fort Sumter National Monument which includes Fort Moultrie.  Just across the North Carolina border are the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site and Kings Mountain National Military Park, and up towards Asheville and further north are the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

Underground in Mammoth Cave

Of recently visited National Parks, Mammoth Cave is one of my favorites. We had just as much fun exploring aboveground as underground! I also enjoyed our brief tour of Everglades National Park, possibly the most famous of Florida’s national parks.

The view of Moccasin Bend from Point Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP

Roberts is a history buff, so he enjoys sites that document our nation’s history. One such stop was the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Ohio. Another was the first (and largest) military park in the US, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP with its combination of historical battlefields and scenic views.

Shenandoah NP's Blackrock Summit

Last fall we visited Shenandoah National Park, the vibrant autumn foliage just as breathtaking as the panoramic views from Skyline Drive. I recommend getting off the well-beaten path and getting in a hike or two, such as the Blackrock Summit Trail. On another recent trip we visited Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which really could be a national park – it’s got the breathtaking scenery and the unique geological formations.

Big South Fork - Twin Arches
Last, but not least, the very first national park I featured on Femme au Foyer, Arches NP.

From this rather short list it’s easy to see the wide range of sites managed by the National Park Service, although not as obvious are the challenges facing the agency as climate changes, urban areas sprawl and budgets shrink. After celebrating the first 100 years of the National Park Service we must now look forward to the next 100 years of our National Parks, and what better way to start than to Find Your Park! Visit the NPS website for all sorts of centennial info, not limited to just events but including everything from the national parks postal stamps to IMAX films to historic pictures. And lastly, if you haven’t already, watch the absolutely magnificent videos by More Than Just Parks (most recently one on Grand Teton). Here’s the trailer for the “They are More Than Just Parks: A Centennial Celebration," coming out this fall.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Meet Stomper, the new mascot for the Swamp Rabbits!

This past Saturday the new Greenville Swamp Rabbits mascot was revealed at Haywood Mall, where the children’s area has a brand new look thanks to our hometown hockey team!

The play area sponsorship was announced simultaneously to the exciting news that ‘Stomper’ will be joining the Swamp Rabbits family as the team mascot; after narrowing down the submissions for possible names from 300 to 5, fans were given the chance to vote on their favorite. One name ‘stomped’ out the competition (that included the suggestions Hopper, Buster, Rascal and Bogs), emerging as the official Swamp Rabbits Mascot. We cheered on the announcement over the din of cowbells, and after meeting the mascot we had a chance to play in the Play Zone and even shoot a little hockey.

Hockey season starts mid-October, with the first home game Friday, October 28th at 7pm. For ticket info, a schedule of games and promotional info, check out the Swamp Rabbits website. You can find the Swamp Rabbits on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and Stomper on Instagram and Twitter

Get your ears on for an exciting season of Swamp Rabbits hockey! Go Greenville!!!

The Swamp Rabbits Play Zone - can you spot Stomper?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hikes and waterfalls in Upstate SC and vicinity

We've seen many lists circulating the internet recently; you know the one, 'See all of the Upstate's waterfalls in 4.57 hours!', or '14 Trails in SC you must take if you love the outdoors!". However, after taking a closer look at over a dozen of these, I've come to several conclusions. First, the writers have never been to our beautiful state, second, many of the mileages and time estimates are wrong, and third, often the pictures don't match the description. I've seen articles urging hikers to visit Peachtree Rock - except it toppled over in 2013. Other pieces suggest visitors they should tackle Paris Mountain SP trail or Caesar's Head SP trail; each of these parks actually has a dozen hikes but the crazy mileages given don't correspond to any of them, and the beautiful views can mostly be seen without going too far from your car. And if you manage to visit all those waterfalls in 4 hours, well you should be driving for Nascar. 

View from Jumping Off Rock in Pickens County

After friends asked where my list is, I decided that I would at least have to put up a summary of the hikes and waterfalls I've already featured on Femme au Foyer. Although it's not a "17.5 Breathtaking vistas of the Upstate" or "83 shimmering waterfalls within walking distance of Pickens" article, it might get you started on your explorations of the Upstate. For simplicity, I've only included estimated mileages and approximate locations in this list - you should do a little bit of research before heading out with just a pocket knife and energy drink.

Falls Park, Greenville's crown jewel

Exposed beech tree roots in Falls Park

The Swamp Rabbit Trail, 21 miles: 
Conestee Nature Park
The Swamp Garden
Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery to Falls Park
Falls Park & Pedrick's Garden
The Falls Park to Cleveland Park
Swamp Rabbit Station
Furman to Traveler's Rest

The Swamp Rabbit trail entering downtown Greenville

Conestee Nature Park:
Racoon Run - a little over 1 mile one way
Heron Circle - loop trail, under 1 mile
Swamp Rabbit Trail

Paris Mountain State Park:
Firetower Trail - utilizing a section of the Sulphur Springs trail (3.5 miles)
Brissy Ridge Trail - 2.4 mile loop
Mountain Lake - there and back to the lake, NOT the entire Mountain Lake trail, under 2 miles there and back

Paris Mountain - dam at Mountain Lake

Pelham Mill Ruins - Greenville, SC (0.2 miles)
Cedar Falls - Fountain Inn, SC (various hiking options)
Horseshoe Falls - Musgrove Mill State Historic Site (0.2 miles)

Caesars Head State Park

South Carolina Botanical Gardens - Clemson, SC (various trail options)
Furman University Lake hike - Furman (1.5 mile loop)
Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve - Traveler's Rest, SC (1.25 mile loop)

Twin Falls

Jumping Off Rock - Pickens County, SC (difficult drive but short hike)
Twin Falls - Sunset, SC (1/2 mile in and out)
Oconee Bell Nature Trail - Devil's Fork State Park, Salem SC (1 mile loop)

Oconee Bell

Pleasant Ridge Falls - Marietta, SC (0.6 mile loop or 0.25 mile in and out)
Wildcat Branch Falls - Marietta, SC (1 mile loop or roadside stop to see lower falls)

Falls Creek Falls

Falls Creek Falls - Cleveland, SC (2.6 mile in and out)
Jones Gap Falls - Jones Gap State Park near Cleveland, SC (a little over 2 miles in and out)
Rainbow Falls - Jones Gap State Park near Cleveland, SC (5 mile round trip)

Rainbow Falls

Caesars Head State Park - various hikes, but scenic views @ 0.2 miles
Raven Cliff Falls overlook* - (2.2 miles one way) *the hike to the falls is an 8.5 mile loop

View from Bald Rock

Bald Rock Heritage Preserve - Cleveland, SC (roadside attraction, but a steep descent to the base is an option)
Pretty Place - Cleveland, SC (Fred W. Symmes Chapel at YMCA Camp Greenville)

Pretty Place

Issaqueena Falls* - Walhalla, SC (0.2 miles to observation platform, no official trail to base of falls)
Stumphouse Tunnel - Walhalla, SC (0.2 miles)
Yellow Branch Falls - Walhalla, SC (3 miles round trip)

Yellow Branch Falls

Hatcher Garden - Spartanburg, SC (various trail options)

Dreher Island State Recreation Area - Little Mountain, SC (various options)
Congaree National Park - Hopkins, SC (various options)

Congaree NP boardwalk

North Carolina Arboretum - Asheville, NC (various options)
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site - Flat Rock, NC (various options)

Glassy Mountain - Flat Rock, NC (around 4 miles, various trail options) (Carl Sandburg NHS)
Bearwallow Mountain - Hendersonville, NC (2 mile round trip)

Bearwallow Mountain summit

Looking Glass Falls - Brevard, NC (Pisgah National Forest, adjacent to parking lot)
Sliding Rock - Brevard, NC (Pisgah National Forest roadside attraction)
The Cradle of Forestry - Pisgah National Forest (various trail options)
Pinnacle Peak - Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County, NC (4 mile round trip)

Pinnacle Peak

Fern & Lake Trails - Crowders Mountain State Park (2+ mile loop)
Pearson's Falls - Saluda, NC (less than 1 mile in and out)
Little Bradley Falls - Saluda, NC (2 mile round trip)
3 waterfalls in DuPont State Forest - Cedar Mountain, NC (3 miles total)

Triple Falls, DuPont State Forest

Blue Ridge Parkway:
Balsam Gap to Devil's Courthouse - milepost 443.1 - 422.4 (various hiking options)
Sam Knob - milepost 420 (2.2 mile loop)
Mount Mitchell State Park - milepost 355.4 (various hiking options)
Linville Falls - milepost 316.3 (various hiking options plus campground)
Grandfather Mountain - milepost 305 (various hiking options)
Julian Price Memorial Park - milepost 297 (various hiking and camping options)

Blowing Rock

Blowing Rock - milepost 291.9 (private attraction)
Stone Mountain State Park - milepost 229 (various hiking options)
Cumberland Knob - milepost 217.5 (a scenic, educational stop)

Stone Mountain

Lake Lure NC (various options)
Chimney Rock State Park - NC (various options)
Rocky Broad Riverwalk - Chimney Rock, NC (1/8 mile long)

Chimney Rock & Lake Lure

Friday, August 19, 2016

What's new at the SRC&G plus the King of Pops!

It’s hard to miss all the changes that took place this summer at our favorite locally-sourced grocer, the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery. Just driving into the parking lot you’ll notice the large chain link fence is gone, and once you step in the front door you might wonder if you’re in the right place; the grocery portion has moved next door, leaving the café to utilize more tables and provide more seating to customers. A door has been built into the wall to the store next door, where local produce, meats, dairy and other products line the shelves.

The Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Local Food Promotion Program which will fund equipment and personnel to increase the capacity to buy, store, process, and sell local foods. The expansion (which is now well underway) will more than double available space from 2,600 square feet to 6,100 square feet,  creating a delivery area for farmers, expanding the current kitchen area, and adding additional walk-in cooler and freezer space. By investing in storage and processing equipment, SRC&G will increase capacity by 50%, adding 20 new suppliers to the 150 local farmers and producers already supplying the business. 

the expanded seating area in the cafe

There is an obvious increase in goods in the grocery, with increased cold storage and freezer space as well as shelving and displays. In addition to the usual fresh fruits and vegetables, customers are also able to purchase house-made pesto and ready-to-eat items, made in the new kitchen facilities. Those facilities will soon be a space where farmers can make products to sell, and meanwhile the kitchen will also be used for cooking classes, teaching how to use local and seasonal ingredients to create meals from scratch. And the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery isn't stopping there; their newest campaign is aimed at bringing an outdoor brick oven pizza kitchen to the cafe! For more info on that, clicke here.

Our favorite SRC&G products are all still present: the delicious scones are served up in the café while the stecca can be bought either in the grocery or the café. And although we can still get the best summer treat of all (popsicles!) in-store, King of Pops has also expanded… to the space next door!

They’re not just popsicles – King of Pops are fresh, all-natural, frozen treats in unique flavors like blackberry ginger lemonade, watermelon mojito and salted caramel. The new kitchen and walk up window make trying every single one of their flavors easier than ever, although KoP will still be hitting the local farmers markets and festivals with their signature cart.

The best news; if you stop by the Swamp Rabbit King of Pops window and buy a popsicle at any point before 6pm this Sunday, you'll be entered to win a t-shirt or 12-pack of pops! I feel that if this heat doesn’t break, we’ll be there every afternoon! Their hours are 11-7pm Monday through Saturday and 11-6pm on Sunday… See you there?

the new door connecting grocery to cafe

Links: Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery website, on facebook, twitter and Instagram,
  King of Pops website, on facebook, twitter and pinterest

  And more information on the Local Food Promotion Program here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Stick bread twists

I found myself in charge of designing a program for thirty 6 to 12 year olds for the annual Latvian 3x3 camp in Gaŗezers, Michigan, and although coming up with ideas was easy enough, implementation was a different matter. Our assigned space was one of the new Avoti classrooms (used by the 6-week summer high school program), but as a couple dozen kids buzzing around me in an enclosed room lacked appeal, we spent the majority of our time outdoors. In addition to hikes and nature walks, one of the most successful activities was a morning in the kitchen… outdoors!

The Saulgrieži (indoor) kitchen was being used by the Latvian cooking class for adults in the mornings, and although we could have tried to squeeze in 10-15 kids one afternoon, the space is just too tiny. My mother was the first to suggest cooking outdoors, and once I had convinced her to be the guest teacher, a plan quickly fell into place; we would make bread.

Although the bread recipe featured in this post isn’t Latvian, per se, bread has always been honored and appreciated within the Latvian culture. Traditional rye and barley breads nourish not just the body but also the soul, and hold a special place in the lives of many latvieši both in Latvia and abroad.

Nāc, Jumīti, mūs’ mājās,
Še būs laba dzīvošana:
Došu maizi, došu zirņus,
Saldu alu nodzerties.

The day before our campfire bread baking activity, we gathered wood for the fire and found small saplings to cut down and strip of bark for cooking sticks. The afternoon in the woods featured many lessons: how to identify poison ivy, how to find dry wood, teamwork, and which species of tree to harvest (and which to leave). By the end of the day we had a stack of firewood ready, and the next morning all that was left was to build a fire and start cooking.

There is an art to building a fire, and although I’ve found that offering the students some suggestions will help speed things along, I prefer to let them learn from experience. The kids worked together to stack their ugunskurs, and with a little help we soon had a hot fire burning. I threw on some bigger logs, and then we stepped over to a picnic table to make the dough – the fire would have to burn down to coals so that we could cook on it.

My mother had found a recipe that could easily be made in Ziploc bags. Similar to the bannock that originated in Scotland and Ireland centuries ago, it is an unleavened bread and features only a few simple ingredients. To exclude the possibility of illness from bread that hasn’t cooked thoroughly we skipped the eggs, and by sticking measuring spoons and cups in with each ingredient, we nearly eliminated measuring error from the equation. Here’s the recipe we used…

Stick twist bread (cooked on a campfire)


1 tablespoon sugar
2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt to taste (less than 1 teaspoon)
¼ cup milk
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil


1. Mix together dry ingredients in Ziploc, then add milk and oil. We helped measure out the liquids so that it wouldn’t get messy.
2. Press out all the air from the bag and seal, then knead until all ingredients have been combined.
3. On a flat surface dusted with flour (or simply in your hands), roll the dough out into a long ‘snake’. Flatten, then wind around your cooking stick.
4. Cook over the coals of the fire until done, then serve!

The result can be called stick bread or twists, as the dough is wrapped around a clean stick; we stripped green saplings of bark and whittled them down for our cookers. The key is in getting the dough to the right consistency: not too dry (it will fall off the cooking stick as it warms and dries out) and not too wet (too sticky to work with). But kādreiz tā gadās, and when losing the dough to the fire seemed imminent, we would place the half-cooked bread on some aluminum foil to allow it additional baking time over the coals.

Placing some larger logs around the coals eased the baking process, as the children could rest their cooking sticks on the logs while still keeping them close to the heat. By rotating the stick often and toasting the bread over hot coals instead of open flame, the bread cooks evenly. It’s done when it has a deep golden-brown exterior and sounds hollow when tapped – around 5-10 minutes, depending on the fire and thickness of dough. Last of all, a drizzle of honey over the finished product really sweetened the deal (although I found the bread tasty without). I imagine cinnamon, Nutella and jam could also serve as toppings in a pinch...

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