What’s happenin’.

Summer has flown by, but I haven’t documented much here.  I am part of an August photo challenge, so that is fulfilling my photography bug.  Three of my girls have been home more this summer, so I’ve tried to take advantage of the time we’ve had together.  Katherine starts her last year of nursing school, and then gets married.  Maddie starts college in October.  And Rebecca started high school full time yesterday – my first year of homeschool retirement.  So now I’m eating bonbons, and watching Dr. Phil.  Or not.

We moved Ashley to Atlanta from Bloomington, Indiana.  Matt will pursue his doctorate in Jewish Studies at Emory.  It was so good to see their new place, and tour a bit of Decatur, where they live, and Atlanta.  They will enjoy this new adventure, and I’ll enjoy living vicariously through them.  :)

These pictures are from this week:  Bec’s first day of school; Kat and her dad talking after lunch; and Ash Facetiming her sisters, to check in on Bec’s first day of school.

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Grand Isle State Park.

Grand Isle State Park is at the tip of Louisiana.  The waves were gentle, which disappointed the girls.  There was also a lot of seaweed that the park service raked into piles.  But on the upside…there were a lot of crabs!  We caught hermit crabs, and Matt caught a bucket of stone crabs (I think) for us to eat.  With his bare hands.  Highly entertaining, but they were too gritty to consume.

The first morning the kids ran out in front of us to get in the water.  When Marcus and I arrived, the kids were huddled on the beach:  SHARKS!  I couldn’t make myself believe there were dozens of sharks waiting to devour the kids with nary a warning from the park rangers.  So I asked the official-looking person studying a dead sea turtle.  He said they didn’t see too many sharks, but they saw lots of porpoises!  Matt and I explored further down the beach.  A wave broke about 20 feet from us…and in the wave was an extra-large porpoise!  They swim in groups in the morning to feed on the fish near shore.  It is rather alarming to see them so close (they are huge!), but we were relieved we wouldn’t be eaten.  At least some of us were relieved.  Some of my children Rebecca were still convinced there was a shark or two cruising nearby.

Other items of note:

Matt, Nebraska and Ashley shelled more shrimp than you could shake a stick at.  The jambalaya we made was FANTASTIC.

We spent the evenings reading and playing cards in the camper away from mosquitoes.

We got burned to a crisp the last day.  We reapplied that sunblock, but 6 hours in the sun was too much.

Ashley found a pallet in the water, and turned it into a raft.  The kids played with it for hours.

We brought home many beautiful snail shells.

This beach wasn’t as nice as the beach we visited in Alabama, but we enjoyed exploring a new place with its own unique beauty on the Gulf of Mexico.

 

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Life Group.

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Life Groups are small groups at church that meet to study God’s word, fellowship, pray and in our case, eat.  And then we go back for seconds.

I have been in a few Life Groups, and I must say our current one astounds me, because when I look around at the people God has brought together, I see something only God could do, and I am grateful.

My friend Keri and I have prayed over the downtown neighborhoods for years.  She had to move from the area we prayed over, yet God has brought the very folks we’ve prayed about through my front door on an acreage south of town.

We are all so different:  A single mama working and raising her two kids.  An airplane mechanic from Texas.  My son-in-law’s sister and husband from Washington. A gal who hopped on a bus in Oakland, California a year ago, and hopped off the bus in our fair city to start a new life.  The neighbors she invites!  Our neighbor and her son from Ohio.  A woman with an intellectual disability who loves people, loves to gather together, and calls me her aunt.

So we give God the glory for bringing this motley and amazing snippet of the Body together, giving us a rich fellowship and oh, so many different perspectives.   And a side blessing is that my kids enjoy this, too.  They actually get out of bed on Sunday mornings to join us.  That should tell you something.

An evening in New Orleans. A whole different ballgame.

I know what you think I’m going to say.  That after dark, New Orleans turns into the Den of Iniquity.  It may in some areas, and I assume it may get more so as the evening wears on.  But that is not what stood out to me at all.

In the evening, the heat lessens, the light gets softer, and the city turns a little magical.  Every city probably looks better in the evening light, but it really brought out the loveliness in New Orleans.

After our tour, we all checked TripAdvisor for some good, moderately-priced food.  We found (after a few circles) Capdeville, which was wonderful.  Old album covers on the walls, a jukebox, and the food?  The Mahi-mahi was the best fish I’ve tasted.  The truffle oil macaroni and cheese melted in your mouth.  Marcus wanted local cuisine, and had crab cakes with collard greens and grits souffle.  (Sounds weird.  Tasted surprisingly great!) We topped it off with expresso creme brulee, which could have been the nectar of the gods in the Greek myths.

We had an hour left of parking (finding parking was relatively easy but expensive), so Ash suggested we see as much as we could see in an hour.  So we were off.  This may have been my favorite hour of our visit.

We enjoyed street musicians, and the blues music we heard from the bars.  We witnessed a wedding party walking from the church to the reception down a busy street with a police escort.  And I mean EVERYONE who attended the wedding.  The bride held a white parasol, and many others waved their handkerchiefs.  Why?  Look at my last blog post.  We saw the enticing insides of stores and art galleries whose lights glowed onto the sidewalk, making it difficult to walk past without peeking in.  Matt bought Ashley a drink because you can have an open container in the city, and someone had to exercise that freedom.  A party bus drove by, flinging plastic beaded necklaces into the crowds on the sidewalks.  Marcus and Nebraska both retrieved one.  (I heard if you flash someone at Mardi Gras, you get a necklace.  I reassure you there was no flashing to obtain these beads.)

In summary, I wouldn’t recommend Bourbon Street at night, but to really see New Orleans, you have to see it in the evening.

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Camping In New Orleans.

Yes, we are the family that camps (next to) big cities when we visit them.  We’ve driven our Land Yacht (a 1995 Suburban) and pop-up camper through L.A., D.C. and now New Orleans.  It adds some excitement to our adventures.  Navigating while Marcus weaves in and out of freeway traffic makes me thankful I believe in life after death.

Maybe someday I will write about why we camp all over, besides the fact it was the only way our family of 6 could afford to travel and see so many wonderful places together.  On this trip we actually camped about 25 minutes from downtown New Orleans, in St. Bernard State Park.  A lovely little place, with showers, laundry, raccoons, and frogs that croaked a symphony every evening in the lagoon beside our camper.

New Orleans, pronounced New “Orlins” by the natives (our tour guide told us only tourists say “New OrlEEns” or NOLA”), was over the top.  The first afternoon we visited, we hit the French Quarter, because we thought that was what everyone should do.  It was HOT AND MUGGY x 100.  I felt disenchanted from the heat, but also from the dilapidated state of the buildings we witnessed on our drive to the city, and the bright, painted facades covering ancient, rotting buildings.  You hear about the spiritual brokenness of this area, and it seemed like it was mirrored by its physical surroundings.

However, we went on a 3-hour air-conditioned bus tour the 2nd day.  It opened my eyes to the rest of New Orleans, and what an amazing city it really is.

Before the tour, we headed down Magazine Street, which was full of fun little shops.  Just off of Magazine Street were the Lovely Homes in the Garden District – homes you see in Southern Living.  The homes have basements, but not like ours.  Their basements are areas above ground that lift the homes to a higher elevation.  All the homes are built up from the street, which is a good thing, since during Hurricane Katrina 6 feet of water flowed through the streets of this stately neighborhood.  After the flood, several owners wanted to sell their 2-3 million (they didn’t look that big!) homes.  Not a lot of takers, as you could imagine.

We also drove by the beautiful campuses of Loyola and Tulane universities in the Uptown district.  Other properties that caused us to gasp were frequently private Catholic girls’ schools.  There is still a heavy Catholic influence in the area, as evidenced by the quantity of large churches, cemeteries and private schools.

As we were driving, I spotted a little coffee shop.  Of course we had to sample the local brew.  Crazy thing is, Nebraska, the friend we took camping, remembered the shop as the one her dad took her to when he used to live there!  The coffee was excellent, and the barista pointed us in the direction of her dad’s old address.  Across the street from the coffee shop was a large brick building.  Ashley checked it out, and it was an old “Infant Asylum”, or orphanage.  It had the original 1800’s furniture in it, historic pictures on the wall of the orphanage days, and a courtyard with a pool.  It is now being used as a half-way house.

After we explored a bit more, we found our tour bus.  Eugene, our tour guide, has lived in New Orleans his whole life, and had an Opinion.  He got straight to the point about voodoo, explaining it was mind control, and no one was gonna control his mind.  So that was that.  He also said gambling was outlawed in Louisiana, but the industry just changed the name to “gaming”, which solved that problem.   He showed us stone pigs someone had imported for their porch, and explained how they dress them up for every holiday.  He also told us the water level of each area of town we visited.

In the Lower Ninth Ward, we drove through houses that had been built by the Make it Right Foundation (Eugene called it the Brad Pitt Foundation).  They are brightly painted houses that all have their own unique design.  They all have escape hatches in the roofs.  One even breaks away and floats if the water rises.  If the original residents can prove they owned the land before the flood, they can get a house with a no-interest loan for $120,000.  The houses we saw were well-maintained and cheery.  Much of the neighborhood was still in sorry shape, but we saw hope in action.  Eugene said that the economy was in bad shape before the flood.  The government helped people relocate after the flood, and many were able to find opportunities elsewhere.  So in that way, the flood did help some people.

Eugene also drove us right next to the levy that broke and flooded this area.  He said a barge was anchored in the canal, and was supposed to be moved before the hurricane hit.  It wasn’t moved, and broke through the levy into the neighborhood.  The water followed, flooding the area to 26 feet.  When you saw the helicopters dropping sandbags in place, it was the block-and-a-half breach the barge made.  What?  It took 2 months to pump the water into Lake Pontratrain.

And the cemetery?  Get outta here.  These crypts can cost you $40,000-$60,000 big ones.  But it’s full, you say?  They can fit 350 bodies into one crypt.  And here is how it’s done in New Orleans:  1.  You get buried in a balsa-wood box, and they set you on a shelf in the crypt.  2.  After a year and a day, the bone crusher opens the crypt with a skeleton key, gets your remains, burns the clothes, and breaks the bones into small fragments.  The fragments are put into a burlap bag, and put into the “dead space” in the bottom of the crypt.  3.  After a few generations, your family may not care about owning the crypt any longer, and may want to cash in on it.  You sell it.  They take down the door with the engraved family members’ names on it, and put up a new door with the new family’s names.  4.  I assume they leave all the burlap bags from the previous owners in the tomb.  Someone must keep track of who is in there.

I know.  This sounds nuts, but when I tried to see if it was true, I couldn’t find anything to contradict it.  So there you go.

And there’s more.  We saw a small portion of City Park, which is bigger than Central Park.  Live Oak trees are everywhere, complete with Spanish moss.  During the flood, 9 feet of water covered the park.  The Live Oaks suffered from the brackish (mixed fresh and salt) water, and they thought they’d lost these centuries-old trees.  But they revived.  Whew.  While at the park, some of us toured the sculpture garden.  Amazing!   When we left, we saw a family having a picnic.  Not only did they bring their smoker, but they also had a huge kettle for boiling seafood.  They did it right.

So, even though my neighbors warned me about New Orleans (don’t stay after dark!), and the first afternoon seemed hot and oppressive, I left the city feeling like we’d only seen the tip of the iceberg (I didn’t even get to the Warehouse District where you find the arts; the Business District, where skyscrapers are only 50 stories tall due to the marshy ground; the trolleys…).  There was a lot of brokenness in New Orleans, but also a lot of hope.  So much history and beauty.   You should put this city on your bucket list.  The end.

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The outdoor dining at Cafe du Monde.  We had heard this was a MUST-SEE, so we went.  The chicory coffee was good.  The steaming beignets were tasty.  But the whole finding a seat/a waitress finding us to take our order/finding enough cash to pay for us/the bathroom line was a little nutty.  But we got to cross it off our list.  And wade through powdered sugar.

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These guys were fantastic!  When they started playing “When the Saints Go Marching In”, some elderly ladies started dancing.  A waiter from a bar passed out napkins for the ladies to wave while they danced.  Why all this waving?  We witnessed it during a wedding procession the next evening.  I found some info if you’re curious here.

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These “half buildings”?  There were several houses and apartments that looked like they had been chopped in half.  These were slave quarters, according to Eugene.

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The lots for homes were skinny and very deep.  So were the houses.

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Check out the nuns’ head gear.  Worth the trip right there.

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The courtyard behind the coffee shop Nebraska’s dad used to take her to when she was a youngun’.

 

 

 

 

 

Maddie’s senior prom.

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I missed Maddie’s prom last year when I went to visit my oldest daughter in Indiana.  This year I tried to redeem myself by taking LOTS OF PICTURES.  I’m thankful Maddie was a gamer and balanced on those high-heeled shoes out in the field.  She aerated the lawn with them, too.

I have realized how important it is to be present for my kids.  They don’t ask for much-Maddie didn’t need help getting ready, and I didn’t need to prepare anything.  She just wanted me to be there to see the process, the finished product, and celebrate the moment with her before she went off to dinner and dancing with her friends.  And I gladly did it.  What made it even better was listening to her favorite comedian and belly laughing while trying to paint the stairwell.  I’m thankful I didn’t roll down the stairs.

Love you, MP!