Friday, May 22, 2015

A wild zoo party!

Lauris is five years old! We celebrated once with my sister and her husband, once on the actual day, and finally with a group of friends last Sunday. Sticking to the rule of years=guests, we invited five friends to the zoo with burgers and cake afterwards in Cleveland Park.

The idea came about when discussing possible themes; Lauris wanted to go somewhere to celebrate, and the zoo was the only realistic answer I received when asked where he would like to go. (Skiing in May in the South, anyone?) We set up in the picnic shelter, greeted our guests and finally ventured in through the gates, passports in hand. Using animal print paper from a craft shop, images from the internet and a little help from my mother, we made a scavenger hunt for the kids to complete while in the zoo. When they found an animal and answered the question they got their book stamped, an easy way to keep the group together and moving on through. It was a beautiful day at the Greenville Zoo, and I think the kids had a good time.

We emerged to find the grillmeister had been hard at work. I had filled up the big drink dispenser with lemonade, and the kids had a giggle with these cups – the beaver snout made an appearance at dinner tonight! Pinterest yielded a carved watermelon in the shape of a hedgehog that came out pretty cute, and we made sure to have a ton of veggies for the kids to snack on in addition to burgers and hot dogs. 

the toothpicks are the hedgehog's quills

After a quick dinner the kids were off to play on the playground for a bit, the benefit of reserving a shelter in Cleveland Park. However soon enough they were back, and we tried out these cool tattoos, transforming their hands into animals of all shapes and colors.

I had so much fun making the cake this year, and it was actually pretty easy (the hardest part was transporting it to the park). Using a double batch of my go to chocolate cake recipe from Martha Stewart I made a double layer 10-inch cake and a single-layer 8-inch cake. The darker frosting was with dark chocolate, the lighter with milk chocolate. Add cocoa batons from Trader Joe’s for the fencing, palm tree cake toppers (left over from the pirate cake), chocolate rocks ordered online, brown sugar sand to cover up the parchment paper at the base and a Wild TOOB, and you have a zoo cake! As the jello ocean was such a hit at Mikus’s party, I used a variation of it for a third enclosure – although I hope never to see a dolphin and an alligator in the same pool…

After opening up a few presents we regrouped in the grassy area with the piñata. Finding it a bit morbid to hit an animal (piñata) with a stick, I had hoped to find a palm tree or something jungle-themed at our party store. However we emerged with a giant pink star which the boys helped grandmother embellish with additional colors and patterns for a wild result.

Evening slowly crept up on us, and after a bit more playground fun, racing, snacking and even some face painting it was time to bid adieu to the guests and pack up. The guests headed home with goodie bags filled with (what else!) animal crackers and goldfish to counter the sugar of the candy gathered from the piñata, while the five year old headed home with a full stomach of cake and jello. Vilis and his first birthday are up next!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bald Rock Heritage Preserve

There are places in the Upstate so beautiful, so unique, that we take all our visitors there. It was on our way back from Pretty Place (a really tough act to follow!) with Andrejs and Anna that we stopped at Bald Rock once more, even though they had been once before on a previous visit.

Headed north on US 276 towards Caesars Head State Park you will pass a small turn-out about 5 miles before reaching the Park headquarters. This time of year there is almost always someone selling something out of a pickup – usually local honey or jams – parked at the turnoff, really just a wide spot in the road. Exercise extreme caution when pulling off or returning to the highway as a portion of the dirt parking area is in the curve.  After parking on the east side of the road cross the wooden footbridge to the rock outcrop. If you’re using mapping software or apps using the intersection of 276 & Club Terrace Drive in Cleveland will get you very close to the turn off; it’s actually just 1/10th of a mile south.

Bald Rock is a granite outcrop about two acres in size, surrounded by seeps, waterslides and a variety of mixed pines and hardwoods. Lichens and mosses have colonized a percentage of the rock outcrops, while the rest has been spray-painted by vandals. Although visitors are often dismayed by the unimaginative “john was here” and “harry loves sally” graffiti, the elements eventually prevail, wiping the slate clean for the next artist to use as his/her canvas.

The Bald Rock Heritage Preserve totals 165 acres and is part of the larger Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Adjacent to Caesars Head SP, the reserve is key in protecting two headwater streams that are essential in maintaining several groups of rare plant species including the nationally threatened piedmont ragwort, state threatened grass-of-parnassus, and other rare species such as the New England cottontail, woodrat and northern long-eared bat. From Bald Rock visitors gaze out over Greenville and Pickens counties with a great view of the east side of Table Rock Mountain. 

On our recent visit the boys were able to explore further than they had ever been before thanks to the leadership of onkulis Andrejs. Anna and I had doubts whether they would make it back up of their own steam, but they did, the story of all they had seen overflowing from their lips even before they reached our vantage point. We crossed the expanse of rock to the stream where we let the boys explore for a few more minutes before continuing the route down the mountain; we still had several things to cross off of our to-do list before we could head home.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A hopping-good weekend!

I’m finally sitting down after a heck of a weekend – and all I want to do is go to sleep. However, we just got done looking through some of the pictures taken (and having a good laugh at some of them!) and I’m super excited about some of the posts coming up these next weeks: a little bit of travel in the Upstate, a local celebrity, a themed cake and another community garden. Most of that was last week, however this weekend kept us hopping too…

…with the Park Hop that is. We’re joining in the LiveWell Greenville park scavenger hunt again this year, and headed to Conestee Park for the opening ceremony. Braving the crowds and hot sun, we had fun playing games with the various participating organizations. We hit baseballs, threw Frisbees, ran golf ball races and measured our vertical jumps. It didn’t take much to convince this mom to jump – seems like I’ve still got (a little of) it, I hit the 17 inch mark. We snapped this picture with General Yucky Ducky, the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District mascot who reminds the kids to keep our waterways clean…

…and here I am, all cleaned up. Roberts and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary with a dinner at Breakwater Restaurant and Bar on the West End. A big thank you to vecmamma Inga for taking care of the three hoppers while we enjoyed the peace and quiet that comes with our first night out alone in almost a year.

Sunday was the last of Lauris’s birthday celebration, with a visit to the GreenvilleZoo and a party in Cleveland Park. We said goodbye to Kiko who is leaving for greener pastures at the Toronto Zoo, and admired the progress made on what will be the giant anteater/rhea enclosure. The two month old siamang was cute as can be, getting a ride from mom around the enclosure, and spring was in the air for the Aldabran tortoises, who were the most frisky I have ever seen them. It was a wonderful afternoon with good friends, and now that the party planning is over we can relax and enjoy our time with the grandparents, as vectētiņš is arriving tomorrow! 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Six years

In honor of the big G50 celebration coming up and our 6th wedding anniversary! We married in Three Rivers, MI and celebrated with family and friends in Gaŗezers. It was a slightly chilly spring morning, but the dogwoods were blooming, the forest was bright green with buds and I said “yes” to the man I love most in the world.

Mīļais Robert, daudz laimes 6. kāzu jubilējā! 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Thursday nights at Quest Brewing Co.

There is no shortage of things to do on a Thursday night in Greenville, but if you’ve ‘been there, done that’ Downtown Alive scene then you have no choice but to head to Quest Brewing Co. for a night of family-friendly fun. My sister and her husband were in town last week to help celebrate Lauris’s birthday, and hearing that Mountain Homes was playing that evening at Quest’s weekly concert sealed the deal for us – we headed towards the Greenville Downtown Airport.

Quest Brewing Company is located on 55 Airview Dr. just east of the airport. There’s plenty of parking, and we joined the flow of people walking with their folding chairs and picnic blankets. The setup is simple; everything is outdoors, with the stage, the brewery and a food truck forming a triangle. On our visit it was Thoroughfare Food Truck dishing up choice eats such as disco tots (tater tots smothered in white cheddar gravy), meatloaf sandwiches and fish tacos.

You are allowed to bring lawn chairs, blankets and bottled water, and children (of the two and four legged variety) are welcome. Dogs must remain leashed and owners must dispose of pet waste. In case of rain the concert will take place inside the brewery, and no outside food or drink is allowed, although the food trucks and Quest have all the bases covered. As far as beer goes I enjoy a darker, hoppy beer and so Quest’s Smoking Mirror smoked porter has become a favorite, but the seasonal brews and barrel-aged IPAs I’ve tried all have been good. We watched the kids run around with new friends, listened to Mountain Homes do their thing and enjoyed the evening with our guests as the sun set on another awesome spring evening in Greenville. I just thought to myself – why don’t we do this more often?

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