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.

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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.

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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.

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Find ASADA on facebook, instagram and on their webpage, www.asadarestaurant.com.

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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