Atlanta

We drove to Bloomington, Indiana (I found out there’s a Bloomington, Illinois, too) in August, packed up the kids’ moving truck, and headed to Atlanta, where Matt is working on his Ph.D. at Emory.  I ended up being mostly emotional support.  Matt’s parents packed a lot before we even arrived, and unpacking?  Maddie was bitten or stung by a nasty insect that caused her foot to swell up to gigantic proportions, and itch crazily.  We spent time at urgent care while the unpacking occurred.  Convenient, huh?

Ash and Matt actually live in Decatur, which proved to be a delightful suburb of Atlanta.  They live in a large apartment complex built in the 1940’s, with lush green spaces surrounding them, and people have gardens outside their back doors.  Ash walks a few steps to do laundry, and even has a clothes line, which works when it’s not raining (good luck).

We toured Decatur, ate wonderful food, touched the surface of Atlanta, and drove 16 hours home.  The trip went quickly, compared to the 19-hour drive home from New Orleans earlier in the summer.  Did Ash and Matt NEED us to come move them?  No.  But we could help, so we did.  Seeing the place our kids would call “home” was priceless.

Here are the kids, in front of their apartment, and ready for adventure!

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Downtown Decatur.

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(Matt propping up the affronted foot.)

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Standing in line for tacos in a converted gas station?  Yes, please.  Visit Taqueria Del Sol when you go to Decatur.  You’ll thank me.

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Donuts!  Yummy, but the maple-bacon one was weird.

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Ash went dumpster diving before we left her apartment in Bloomington.  She scored.  An oak desk for the office, a 1950’s table for the extra bedroom, and another bookshelf.    White spray paint did wonders, even the places where I put masking tape over the screws.  Don’t tell Marcus.

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Onward to Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.  I could have watched the kids play in the fountain all day!

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The capitol building, where they were filming a scene from Ride Along 2.   I didn’t see anyone famous, and was irritated that I couldn’t get better pictures of the whole building due to props, cameras, etc.  At least we got to see the two-headed calf.

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We were looking for ice cream, and found an old brick building (across the street from this one) converted into a fresh food market.  So fun!  I am sure Ash and Matt shop for their tripe and cow feet there!

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I’m already looking forward to another visit, especially now that Lincoln has a direct flight to Atlanta!  What would we do with all our extra time if I got there in 3 hours instead of 16??

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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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’.

 

 

 

 

 

Michigan in black and white.

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On the way to Michigan, I actually had time to read Popular Photography.  It was very luxurious – almost like I was on vacation.

Anyway, one of the articles was about black and white photography, and how the photographers look for the contrasts in their images, instead of the color.  Pictures that would be totally boring in color, take on character when you focus on the light and shadows.

After reading this, I totally got it when looking at my captures from the trip.  When I first ran through these shots, they just blurred before my eyes with the rest of the (800) images.  But modifying them with black and white options?  Things got more interesting.

What is really amazing is that I got it!  I have drifted through so many books and magazines through the years, feeling like they were written in a foreign language.  But I am slowly deciphering it.

I love this hobby.

 

The visit.

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Marcus’ nephew got married two weeks ago in Davenport, Iowa.  That’s a drive.  However, Davenport is half way to Bloomington, is it not?  At least that was my reasoning, and why most of my girls (poor Maddie was gone on a concert tour) had an opportunity to see Ashley and Matt’s hometown, as well as a sweet wedding.

It wasn’t like we did a whole bunch of stuff.  We were just with Ash and Matt.  The memories are still fresh:

Matt singing Broken Social Scene to Baby. 

Matt catching crawdads in the stream, and bringing them to me even though the big one pinched him mercilessly. 

Matt finding a granddaddy geode with Bec (8 inch diameter!).

Matt, Kat and Bec swimming for THREE HOURS.  Then coming in and lying down because they felt woozy.

Eating bagels at the restaurant A & M recently discovered, and watching the pouring rain outside.

Driving around Bloomington with Matt in the back of the vehicle, seatless.

Getting up and feeding the baby with Ash, and snuggling in her bed while we did devotions together.

Noticing Kat having heart-to-heart talks with her big sister and Matt.

Watching Matt study for his Yiddish class, finding out it is similar to German, and who spoke it.

Having dinner with A & M’s Israeli friends, and the husband’s mother who was visiting from Tel Aviv.  They brought a giant ho-ho that tasted heavenly.  They said they made it with crackers and an instant pudding they brought from Israel.  I don’t know how this is possible, but I am a believer.  Besides fascinating conversation, it was fun to see my oldest practice hospitality.  It is exciting and weird to want her recipes and see the way she blesses guests with her food and table decor (she irons napkins!).  Not sure where she gets this from.

Thanks for putting us up, A & M!

 

 

 

Chicago

Last fall Ashley told me she was already making plans for her third anniversary, and wondered if Marcus and I would be interested in going to Chicago with her and her husband.  They had honeymooned in the Windy City, and wanted to show us the sights.  I told her to COUNT US IN!  I was just a little excited.

We found a great hotel deal on Hotwire, and Ash sent me an email from time-to-time, suggesting activities for our time there.  I didn’t care what we did, but only that I had an opportunity to see Chicago and Ashley (and Matt)!

We had a fantastic time.  Our cheap, clean and very conveniently-located hotel permitted us to use our legs as transportation.  The architectural boat tour took us down the Chicago River, and the guide explained the fascinating history behind the buildings along the shoreline.  How about that Old Chicago Main Post Office, with an abandoned 2.5 million square feet?  Matt said he bought the space for us, so we are open to suggestions on how to use it.

We ate breakfast in our room, then tried to find an inexpensive lunch (almost impossible), and had wonderful suppers (twice we gorged on Chicago-style pizza).  Despite what the menu and waiters told us, we were only able to barely eat a medium.  Don’t order the large!

We traveled to the top of the John Hancock Center at warp speed ( I don’t want to think about how the elevator ascends that fast), and were allowed full reign of the cocktail lounge and its spectacular view if we bought a drink.  Bottled water went for $5, but I ordered a Skyscraper.  How could I resist?

Ashley and I gawked at every building and took a picture of it, while the guys waited patiently.  We also did a bit of shopping.  I am sure there were deals to be had, but we didn’t find many.  Going into a store on Michigan Avenue is an experience in itself.

The people were as interesting as the architecture, and we took them all in each time we stopped to rest.  Matt saw some professional hockey players, and a hockey coach.  I am sure Ashley and I saw some famous people, too.  We just didn’t know it.

Many things were free:  walking into a car dealership that sold Porches, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Bugattis.  We tip-toed into a cathedral.  We admired the planters along the sidewalks, and enjoyed all the green spaces.  A lady saw us admiring a beautiful building, and told us it was free to go inside – the adjacent museum was $20/head, so we tried it.  A surgeon had started an association of surgeons, so they could gain credibility.    He built this mansion as their meeting place.  There was an art showing there, featuring  an artist who painted Chicago landmarks.  It was so fun to recognize the buildings in the paintings!  They had great bathrooms, too.  Public bathrooms are a rare commodity in Chicago!

The last night we revisited the special restaurant Matt and Ashley fondly remembered from their honeymoon:  McCormick & Schmick’s.  We shared our meals and everything I tried was top-notch.

The only drawbacks I had was that the food was more expensive on the trip than I anticipated.  We finally found a reasonable lunch spot on the last day, where we ate chili-cheese dogs and Chicago-style wieners (hotdog, dill pickle, mustard and onion).  Also, by the third full day, all of our legs were turning to lead.  Had we known two full days of walking on concrete would have left us so tired, we could have planned more sedentary activities for the last day.  As it was, we made impromptu plans:  we hauled our carcasses to the huge downtown library, which is a true architectural monstrosity, and rested, trying to find something to read.  It was harder to find a book there than expected, so Ash and I read what was already on the table.  Upcycling couldn’t have come at a better time.  Ash and I almost split a gut laughing at the ludicrous suggestions:  sewing old belts together to make a door mat; dipping plastic bananas in silver paint, then hot-gluing them together to make a fruit bowl; hanging pillow filling from the ceiling for decorative clouds?  We felt like we had been up all night giggling at a slumber party when the library closed.

I have trimmed our trip down from five hundred pictures, but there are still too many.  Scan through at warp speed, and slow down if you see something interesting.  Then make plans to see Chicago yourself!

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Notice the lovebirds hugging in this picture.

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The “corncob” towers.

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The previous four pictures were from the Chicago Cultural Center, formerly the downtown library.  (FREE!)

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The Bean and the outdoor amphitheater in Millennium Park.  The Bean was worth the whole trip.

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Matt was first in line at The Doughnut Vault, which he had heard about on The Splendid Table.  At 6:00 a.m., he had walked to Do-Rite Doughnuts.  Then he went to the Vault so we could compare.  The Vault won sticky hands down.

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Lake Michigan from the John Hancock Center.

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Yiddish, anyone?

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Trump Tower.  No sign of Donald.

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Slurpee break on the last afternoon. 

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The library Ash and I almost got kicked out of.

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We should have peeked inside!  Next time.