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??

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’.

 

 

 

 

 

Sheldon Museum of Art.

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The Sheldon Museum of Art has grown on me throughout the years.  When I attended the University of Nebraska, it was a building I passed almost everyday.  When my children were little, it was a location for field trips, and rather stressful as I was constantly on the lookout for little hands getting TOO CLOSE to the paintings.

Now I make an annual pilgrimage (at least), and my enjoyment has grown exponentially as my love of photography has increased.  The architecture alone is enough of a reason to visit.  Some of the art engages me, and obviously photography exhibits are the best.  But many of the exhibits are…rather strange.  The surreal exhibit reminded Ashley and I of Alice in Wonderland: creepy.  But the room set up to make your own surreal exhibit was the highlight of the afternoon.

On a warm day you can enjoy the sculptures outside the museum, too.

The gift shop is wonderful, and I enjoy it as much as the museum.  Local artists sell their wares – so much variety and creativity.  I made it out with only one pair of earrings, but liked so much more.  And the last thing?  One of the janitors is the nicest man you’ll ever meet.

 

 

 

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My birthday is tomorrow, and it is a full day (my husband is having outpatient surgery; my daughter has a piano recital).  I was resigned, and not unhappily so, that there wouldn’t be a lot of birthday celebratin’.

My husband asked if we could go out tonight (we could).  I figured we’d go find some gourmet fries.  He informed me we were going out for something a little more upscale (we did).  The scallops were divine.  Thank you, my dear.  We celebrated, in spite of it all.