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.

 

Gulf Shores-098 Gulf Shores-103 Gulf Shores-107 Gulf Shores-113 Vicksburg-073 Vicksburg-076 Vicksburg-094 Vicksburg-104 Vicksburg-107 Vicksburg-113 Vicksburg-134 Vicksburg-141 Vicksburg-159 Vicksburg-166 Vicksburg-179 Vicksburg-184 Vicksburg-188 Vicksburg-193 Vicksburg-195 Vicksburg-197 Vicksburg-200

 

Advertisements

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.

Vicksburg-346-2 Vicksburg-350 Vicksburg-356 Vicksburg-364 Vicksburg-371 Vicksburg-372 Vicksburg-375 Vicksburg-378 Vicksburg-384 Vicksburg-386 Vicksburg-393 Vicksburg-398 Vicksburg-403 Vicksburg-405 Vicksburg-409 Vicksburg-411 Vicksburg-412 Vicksburg-413 Vicksburg-414

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.

Gulf Shores-141 Gulf Shores-116 Gulf Shores-139 Gulf Shores-117

 

Gulf Shores-174

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.

Gulf Shores-180

 

Gulf Shores-184

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.

Gulf Shores-187

Gulf Shores-206

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.

Gulf Shores-191 Vicksburg-249

Gulf Shores-198

Gulf Shores-196

 

Gulf Shores-130

Gulf Shores-181

Vicksburg-334

Vicksburg-325Vicksburg-323Vicksburg-324Vicksburg-322Vicksburg-314Vicksburg-311Vicksburg-303Vicksburg-286

 

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

Vicksburg-274

 

Vicksburg-284

 

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

Vicksburg-270

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Why we should do foster care again. Even though it’s nuts.

photo38

On a day in November, just shy of her first birthday, our foster baby’s great aunt came to our house to take baby home.  It was quick, but not painless.

Our hearts were broken, just like we knew they would be.  But they are steadily mending, like we knew they would, too.  Baby’s aunt has called to tell us she is doing well, and she even sent some pictures.  This does our hearts tremendous good.  But…it is still difficult to think about loving a child again who isn’t legally mine, because my heart doesn’t know the difference.  A friend expressed it well, when she said her heart needed a switch.

As I have processed the why’s of engaging the broken foster care system, I have come up with the following:

We live in a broken world, of which the foster care system is a part.  God calls us to be his restorative agents of the broken things.  We are not equipped to do this emotionally, physically or mentally.  But He equips us.  He loves us and these kids.  Our hope is in Him, not the system.  When we pray over these precious children we are stewards of for a short (or sometimes longer) time, we believe our Father hears us, and is already working in their lives.  Furthermore, we are unable to love the moms and dads of these kids on our own.  But God gives us love and compassion for them, too.  I am amazed to see God changing my heart as I pray for our baby’s biological parents – that I feel grief for them, and hope God restores their lives, too.

As we all know, when we think we are sacrificing and helping someone else, God is usually helping us more than we could imagine.  When baby departed, she left expanded hearts in all our family members (and church members, too).  My kids, who didn’t necessarily love babies, loved her.  And we are all better for it.

Even though we don’t consider ourselves racist, we have had to admit we don’t understand what it is like to be a minority.  When my husband walked into a gym with a lovely brown baby to watch our daughter’s volleyball games, he felt the heavy weight of stares.  And it made him even more protective and loving towards that baby to know she would grow up feeling those stares sometimes, too.

Finally, baby’s caseworker wrote me about baby’s adjustment to her new home:

I am so glad that baby had the care that you and your family gave to her…..a big part of the reason that she has adjusted as well as she apparently has is because your family gave her a very stable, loving, nurturing nine and a half months of care.  She was, and remains, a very well adjusted little girl which has enabled her to make a smooth transition to where she is now.

When we left your house with baby, the aunt was feeling horrible because she saw how hard it was for baby to leave your family.  She said “you know this is a little bit right but it’s also a little bit wrong.”  And I don’t think she could have said anything more true.

Someday I may publish her picture, so you can see the little person who changed our lives.  But for now, be certain she is not a faceless statistic.  She is known and loved.

photo31

photo22

photo24

photo37

What I’ll miss.

endofyear-003

When Regular Life starts again Monday, I will look back on this part of Christmas break and sigh.  I like the big gatherings, the gift exchanges, the rich meals, and the different group activities.  But it was the moments like the ones above that caused me to pause, take a deep breath, and soak it all in.