Where we're heading next:

Home Sweet Home

Quote of the Day

Peanut, "Wow, mom, now we can say we've been to all 50 states! What are we gonna do next?"

30 April 2009

Rockets in Huntsville

Finding something unique to do in Alabama (with little kids) was as challenging as finding something interesting in Indiana. Remembering Space Camp, we found ourselves at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

The museum (indoors and out) stupefied Little Man and he insisted on writing 3 postcards, one of which said, "Your eyeballs would fall right off if you could see this!"

I took the kids into a Flight Simulator ride forgetting how sick they make me. Doodle, who I thought would fall out of her seat, was highly irritated with me and kept pushing my hands away when I'd try to hold onto her -- brave little thing.

Then, I took Peanut into a G-Force Accelerator that literally sucked my boobs right through my body and flat up against the wall behind me. Peanut's cheeks were flapping but I could hear her whimper, "I can't breathe!" I broke protocol and unfolded my arms, the force slapping my hand against her belly, and tried to reassure her, "Just hold your breath. It'll be over soon."

Our feet were off the ground, then slam, the floor beneath us reappeared making a deep breath possible, and all body parts were once again affected by the law of gravity (bummer!). I nearly puked. Peanut was pale and told Little Man and Doodle that they would not have liked it one bit.

Our included IMAX film was Tom Hank's Magnificent Desolation, which detailed the Apollo Missions to the moon. For some reason, my emotions take over when I think of these astronauts, and today was no exception. I highly recommend the film for your family; landing on the moon is ancient history to our kids; now these little ones are far more informed and touched by these prodigious experiences.

The movie ends with a tidbit of Socrates wisdom:
"Humanity must rise above the Earth, to the top of the atmosphere and beyond, for only then will we fully understand the world in which we live."

Alabama - State #42

Sometimes accomplishing our state sign picture can be unnerving. This has to be our most interesting yet. Alabama claims to be beautiful and we agree. Curiously, all the wildflowers were in bloom when we crossed the border!

This was one of our longer drives and you can see that Doodle is up to some of her old antics. She settled down when we promised we'd listen to her cd, when we finished listening to the story, "Misty of Chincoteague". As expected, it put her to sleep in no time.

Alabama License Plate

Jackson, MS

Today we traveled a path first carved by Native Americans, then hunters and traders, followed by Jackson's army and finally people like us! From a mere path through the woods, the Natchez Trace evolved into the scenic road from Natchez, MS all the way to Tennessee. We got off in Jackson, MS and bid farewell to a lovely morning on the road. (Thanks for the tip, Forest!)

Jackson has some

lovely churches (rivaling Dubuque, IA) but the city goes to sleep at 5pm -- at least near our historic hotel near the capitol. We went for a drive in search of
healthy fare for dinner and had to venture miles away to a lively neighborhood to find something open. (We're feeling t h i c k from all the heavy food.)

Fortunately, a Piggly Wiggly came into view and a new adventure was born. What fun to explore someone else's grocery store! Two aisles had our full attention: an entire row of various types of bleach (why?) and an entire row of canned vegetables -- in gallon-sized cans!

Our hotel picnic consisted of: salami, strawberries, grapes, apples, yogurt, rolls and Jell-O with fruit in it.
(They thought the Jell-O would be a treat, but none of them would actually eat it!) Then Peanut bit into a strawberry and goes, "This tastes weird; are these organic?" I said, "Eat it and be grateful we have anything fresh at all. We could be eating out of cans!"

29 April 2009

What does hard work look like?

Tomcat is slowwwwwwly recuperating back home after his long stint in the New Orleans hospital, and I really miss him at times like these; he stays very calm while I get wound up. Obviously, I had to simmer down before I talked to Peanut about Guide.

note: I'm adopting the "black and white" verbiage because it's how things are presented to us here as we tour around.

Peanut and I stepped aside and looked at the Frogmore Plantation buildings. I asked several simple questions so that she could assess the situation for herself:

1. Who lived in those houses? Slaves. Where did they work? Picking cotton or in the white people's house. How many people lived in one of those 2 room shacks? 5 or so. What did they do at night after work? Sewed, cooked dinner, went to bed.

2. Where did the white people live? In the house like where we stayed last night. (see A Night in Southern Comfort post.) Where did they work? The women stayed at home and the men went to their offices. How many people lived in the Longhorn House we toured? She had 8 kids and Frederick, the slave. What did they do at night after work? Smoked pipes, lounged around, played piano, played with their kids. Did they do their own laundry or cook their own food? No. (I skipped whether or not they even managed to nurse their own babies.)

Then I explained to her that while the plantation owner's wife may have worked hard at some things, it can't be compared to how the slaves worked. We also talked about the struggles newly freed slaves had: no money, no possessions, no skills, no confidence.

3. Should we have kept them as slaves, especially since some owners were very, very kind, like Julia Nutt? No, because the slave children got skills and they could experience freedom better.

I ended with the fact that this is one of the precise reasons we make "travel" a family priority. Tomcat and I want them to understand these things with all of their senses so they can more accurately draw their conclusions.

Rant Against Plantation Guide

**to be clear, I do not support the implied points below in #1-5. Those were the points Guide was making. For example, they don't like Lincoln because he waged war and ruined their way of life. I argue that Lincoln was stellar.**

I'm feeling rather huffy right now. Hopefully I can keep from offending any harmless Southerners who happen to be reading our blog. (Please feel free to comment and set me straight if you see the need.)

Researching plantations to visit on this trip, I noticed a recurrent criticism with reviewers: where were the slaves? When I came across Frogmore Plantation, I was thrilled because it seemed to be the one and only southern plantation that could provide a well-rounded introduction on slavery and plantation life; this is a very new topic for the kids. We can pick cotton, tour slave quarters, see one of the few working cotton gins in the country, and then learn about cotton in the modern world. Indeed this was going to be a highlight for all of us!

However, immediately it fell short of my expectations. The tour was to be 2 hours long: 30 minute historical video, an hour walk through the buildings and another video at the end discussing modern cotton production. I asked if we could tailor the tour a bit to accommodate the kids' interests and Guide simply said, "No, because if someone else were to join us I'd have to give them the proper tour." (Okay, but until someone else shows up?????)

Guide said that I, as the parent, would just have to decide if they could handle the 2 hours. Fine. We watched the video and I found myself relieved that the kids were bored and lost in their own thoughts. Certain facts were verbalized, but the message given through tone and body language was disturbing:

1. Most nations at the time had slaves. (So we weren't that bad actually.)
2. Only 25% of Southerners had slaves and only 1% of them had more than a hundred. (Keep in mind there were about 4 million slaves altogether.)

3. The Union states also had slaves and Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation didn't free them. It only set the framework so all slaves could be freed later with the 13th Amendment. (
So he wasn't such a great guy afterall...)
4. Slaves were unhappy to be freed because they were no longer cared for and they left their plantations with nothing. (Freedom can be bad.)
5. Unlike Hollywood's depiction of Southern Belles, the plantation owner's wife was actually the hardest working person -- after the slaves, of course. (Entertaining is hard work, in a completely different kind of way.)

As we headed to our first building after the video, Peanut asked what all the tiny holes were, dotting the ground. Guide said, "Now is that really an important question? They're ants." I was stunned and explained to her that we really have no bugs where we live, so the ground is quite fascinating to them here in the south. She barely cracked a smile. She was extremely irritated with the kids asking questions the minute they walked in the door. She told them, "If you wait until I'm finished you probably won't have any questions left." There is truth to this, but we were the ONLY people here and we were actually the customers, right? Cutting them off so abruptly, they gave up trying to listen to her at all -- we all struggled with her accent and the speed with which she spewed out facts like a recorder.

This following example marks the moment when we truly understood each other:

Guide considered us misinformed, and I found her terribly condescending not to mention delivering an extremely biased and inaccurate history of plantation life. Peanut mentioned something about the southern ladies lounging around, and Guide looked her dead in the eye and said, "Who taught you that?" It was an accusation more than a question. Peanut sheepishly pointed to me and the guide lifted her chin and gave me a knowing look of disapproval. She explained that if a lady was lounging, it was because she had fallen ill. My mind drifted back to the fainting couch at Longhorn House last night where we learned Southern women often fainted (due to their tight corsets) and could land without showing their ankles. As we all know, it's also called a chaise lounge.

One of the cabins was set up like a little kitchen with papier mache food sitting around, mostly breads and such. Peanut said, "Is all of this food fake or is some of it real?" Guide responded, "Now, what would this food look like if it was sitting out like this? Could it really be real? It'd be all moldy." I was so irritated with her condescending tone by this time that I said, "Peanut, tell her where we actually saw real bread that was several months old and looked just like this." They all shouted, "On the ships!" (See Plymouth, MA post.)

The final straw was just before the last video. Driving around the countryside, we'd noticed green bottles hanging on sticks all over the farms. Guide pointed to one on display and spoke something but all we understood was "so they know what to do". I asked her twice to please repeat herself at which point I looked at Grandma and said, "Do you understand what she's talking about?" I was fed up by then after an hour with Guide that I no longer cared about offending her. Grandma missed it, too.

Finally, we realized she was talking about BUGS (one of our favorite topics!), the Boll Weevil. She wasn't about to make it clearer, and instead stared blankly at us while we tried to make sense of her words that ran together like molasses. It was like pulling teeth to understand the the mysteries of those green bottles, but finally, we got it: Boll Weevils are attracted to the green color. They climb into the bottles and someone comes along to count them. Based on the count, farmers know which crops need to be treated with pesticides and which can wait until later.

One final sin: Grandma wanted to buy a book on Slave Quilts in the gift shop and she asked Guide if she'd read it. Her response, "Yes, and you'd have to decide for yourself if you believe any of it. I mean, slaves really exaggerated and I don't know, maybe some patterns could have different meanings, but I don't know where slaves would be able to get different colors to mean different things." Grandma opted to buy the book, and held back mentioning the Gee's Bend quilters.

**cool facts**
One of the slave quarters had a huge "cotton carrying bag" in it and we got to try to lift it. That's what they dragged through the fields every day. Slaves were chosen by their ability -- a "one hand" slave was 18-40 years old and strong, so they worked in the fields all day. A weaker slave would end up in the kitchen or laundry of the main plantation house or somewhere else picking cotton seeds. Cotton plants are in the Hibiscus family and can reach 6 feet tall. There are 26 seeds in every cotton boll; it would take a slave 10 hours to get the seeds out of a basket of cotton like the one Peanut and Doodle are holding in the picture. Eli Whitney, what can we say? Once the seeds are out, the cotton is called lint and is taken to be cleaned, then shipped to the textile industry. Any remaining fuzz gets turned into make-up, car parts, many random things. The actual seed becomes Crisco (Crystallized Cottonseed Oil), pure cotton seed oil, cattle feed or mulch.

Laundry on the Mississippi

I'm often asked how much we pack for a trip like this -- 6 weeks start to finish. Well, we opted to pack twice as many outfits on this trip: six changes of clothes each. We felt like we needed to look fresher and a bit more put-together in the Southeast, to show respect so to speak.

Laundry day finally arrived and we had to cross the Mississippi again, because the nearest laundromat was back in Vidalia, LA. (Check out the stats to see just how many times we've crossed the Mighty Mississip.)

Driving through a poor neighborhood, I asked a woman where the laundromat was and she looked up surprised, "Well, it's ovuh dat-a-way. I was jus headin' ovuh deh, so can I have a ride?" Now, I was the surprised one, "Sure!"

Now this was an experience for the kids. We quickly flung Doodle's things from the spare seat to the floor, opened the door and let the woman in. That's when I realized she was unwell. She was older, a bit crumpled, shaky, weak and her eyes were somehow wrong. I helped her into the car and for the first time in 42 states all three kids fell silent.

Her directions went like this, "Ovuh deh. Now dat-a-way. Left-uh heh. Right-uh deh. Mmm-hmm das it right-deh." When we arrived Grandma casually remarked, "I wonder if there's a change machine?" The lady replied, "Mmm-hmmm dey do. Now can I have a dol-luh?" I looked at her and said, "You need a dollar?" She indignantly answered, "Yes'm, I doooo." So, I gave her 4 quarters and explained to the kids that she'd earned it by giving us directions. She promptly walked into the laundromat and sat down, presumably to enjoy the fans because she had no laundry to speak of.

We loaded our clothes, and I tried to take Little Man and Doodle for a walk to occupy the time while Grandma waited in the car with Peanut to keep an eye on things. We found a store selling western wear and although the front windows had been through some kind of battle, the older man inside was very kind and gentle and let Doodle ride the saddles and Little Man test the whips. We wanted to check out a nearby church but we were too afraid to cross the road. (You should see all the road kill.) We ended up being stared down in a gas station, where we bought some new-to-us candy to try.

Inside the laundromat we became friends with a nice old man who talked more than we did. Trouble was, between Grandma and I, we could only understand some of what he said. Here's what we got: he was retired from the Railroad, had 2 sons that refused to do their own laundry (one was 40 years old), 2 grand-daughters on the honor roll, and a mind full of things for us to do (lakes to fish in, alligator farms, places to eat boudin and cracklins) when our laundry was finished.

We took none of his advice, however, because each of his roads led in one direction: Arkansas. Grandma and I told him several times that we were heading East to Alabama, but he carried on with directions to all these wonderful places with roads that ended somehow-someway in the fine state of Arkansas.

28 April 2009

A Night in Southern Comfort

We found the Guest House easily, but the front door was locked and all the lights were off. A tiny note left a phone number should we need assistance. Well, yes, we needed assistance. I called the number and a man from a sister property across the street ran right over to check us in. Strange, right?

As it turns out, we were the ONLY guests registered for tonight! My little traveling family had the entire place to ourselves, without even a receptionist on duty! Do things like this happen to anyone else?

We were too tired for any exploring so we climbed right into our 4-poster beds, staring up at the 17 foot ceilings, admiring the velvet drapes over windows which overlooked a sweet little courtyard. Seriously.

This morning, I said to Peanut, "C'mon, let's pretend we live here!" So we jumped out of bed and started to waltz up and down the hallways, pretending to hide our ankles, checking out rooms and taking photos wherever we felt fancy.

Little Man and Doodle joined us soon enough (couldn't resist playing hide and seek) and all was well until Peanut ran downstairs and then right back up to say, "Mom, there's a man downstairs!" I slowed down gracefully (thankful I'd gotten dressed before this ridiculous escapade) and said to the young gentleman, "Good morning. Are you an employee?" He answered, "Yes m'am, your breakfast is waiting: french toast, eggs, pan sausage, homefries, fruit..." Like a giddy teenager, I ran back upstairs to tell Grandma that we were being served in the breakfast room!

When Grandma got downstairs, he asked, "Did you do any reading in the bathtub last night?" and when he saw Doodle he said, "Hello, are you the Pooper?" This young man had read our entire blog! (See Grandma's Been Naughty and the White Sands posts.)

Needless to say, each of us was quite delighted with our stay and we feel like we lived a Southern dream at least for one night right here in Natchez, Mi-crooked letter crooked letter-i-crooked letter-i-humpback humpback-i.

Mississippi - State #41

We left New Orleans several hours later than planned and missed our Plantation Tour across the river, so we decided to spend the night in Natchez, MS. I asked the girl at the Visitor's Center if there were any Bed & Breakfasts that allowed children, and sure enough, she found us one downtown. That done, we hustled off to catch the day's final tour of

Longwood House -- a supposedly more interesting Antebellum Home tour for the kids.

This was the best introduction to the Southern way of life, and I'm so grateful to the woman who directed us here. The 97-acre estate has sprawling lawns with mature oak and cypress trees where the kids burned off some energy, and the enormous octagonal house is something words cannot adequately describe.

Julia Nutt
and her husband had the enormous home built (30,000 square feet) but he died after only the basement was finished. We got to tour the unfinished upstairs which was truly remarkable.

The grandiose ceilings and French doors opening onto the balconies brought an incredible breeze through the house and the architectural plans on display so we could clearly envision what "should have been". Where the kids are standing, for example, would have been a grand staircase leading to the patio within with circle of trees. Think of some Southern Belle's first kiss.

Julia continued to live in the basement of her mansion
, which was only 10,000 square feet, with high ceilings and full windows by our standards, raising 8 children alone. I asked if others in High Society looked down on her for living in a basement and the guide said she was actually considered lucky to have a house at all. When husbands were killed in the Civil War, many wives were ironically forced to earn money through their labors: doing laundry for the soldiers or baking and selling pies to the infantry.

Little Man thought it was such a clever design to only have 4 chimneys when there were 26 fireplaces in the house but he was truly delighted when he saw Julia's "evening commode." This consisted of a lovely upholstered chair that when the bottom cushion was lifted, a hole was presented directly over a nice-sized porcelain bowl! He wanted to know if they ever emptied that bowl?!

Peanut was far more interested in why there were only paintings of white people on the walls. (This terminology of "white and black" is brand spankin' new with our entry into the Deep South.) "Did the white people not like them?" she asked. The guide eventually directed us to the dining room and to Frederick, one of only two slave paintings in all of Mississippi! Julia Nutt insisted he be painted along with the rest of the family, and legend has it that after Mr. Nutt died, he stuck around and helped her raise the kids, too. We were listening to the guide talk about Frederick when Peanut whispered to me, "How come all the white people look so pretty and happy and the black guy looks so tired and sad?"

Mississippi License Plate

Grandma's Birds

Grandma is dumbfounded that I've yet to mention the birds, and she's right. Pure neglect on my part. If only I were a professional nature photographer, I'd show you each and every one of the beautiful birds we've seen in Louisiana.

The swamp is loaded with different types of herons, egrets, ibis, osprey and the elusive owl. We never tired of watching them fly in and out of the 500 year old cypress trees or gum trees, but it was the large Yellow-crowned Night Heron who earned our respect.

We were mesmerized as we watched it construct a nest;
we're not talking mere twigs here, we're talking branches. It would fly by, land in a tree and we'd hear some chomping then a very large c-c-c-crack! as it successfully got it's piece. It'd soar past us, carrying the large branch over to its construction site.

But even on the freeway, we were distracted by the variety of birds! Forget crows and sparrows, there were flashes of red, yellow and blue as cardinals, warblers and bluebirds darted in and out of trees alongside the road. Yet it's the Red-headed Woodpecker I saw flying today, that stays with me. It's flight pattern had a unique rhythm, almost like poetry, dip, swaayyyyy, dip swaayyyyy. So brilliant in flight!

26 April 2009

Honey Swamp Tour

A bayou is a place you can navigate in and out of. A swamp is a place where you get stuck, with gators and snakes and such. Imagine spending your life on a swampy river, your house only accessible by boat, the river rising and falling at will. We saw a refrigerator floating by and the guide said it was full of groceries -- that one morning the people woke up to 2 feet of water in the house and the fridge had just floated off. It takes a special kind of person to choose a life like this.

Sadly, we didn't see a single alligator! They're just coming out of hibernation (who knew?) and starting to mate, so we figured they were a little busy.

No worries. There were a variety of Deliverance scenes coming to mind as we wound our way up and down the river to keep us plenty interested and freaked out. For example, there are rope swings hanging over the river that kids use all summer long. Apparently, there's only been one alligator attack on a human in the history of this place: a 12 year old boy had been shooting paint balls at a gator who eventually got fed up and chomped the kid's arm off. Our guide was very matter of fact about it: dumb kid. The guide, incidentally, had lost count of how many snake bites he'd received in his life!

25 April 2009

Near miss for another E.R. trip.

We happened upon a Oh! Susannah's doll and miniature Shop in the French Quarter and spent what felt like years in there. Doodle was picking her nose and kept saying, "The glass kind of tickles up there when I breathe." I had no idea what she was talking about, but I looked up her nose: dark and empty. At some point, Grandma heard what she was saying and pulled me over with eyes the size of saucers.

Apparently, before entering the store, Doodle had picked up a tiny piece of glass off the sidewalk to show Grandma. She told her to drop it, but Doodle thought it would be more interesting to shove it up her right nostril! Staying calm, I got a Kleenex and told her to blow. Nothing.

Plugging her other nostril I
asked her to pretend she was swimming and needed to clear out her nose, to please blow. She got silly saying, "I can't blow because the glass is too tickly". Panic set in.

Memories of tweezers the size of salad tongs ran through my head of a past doctor visit when Doodle was about a year old: she'd shoved a "dot to the lowercase i" up her nose from a puzzle we had -- never to be found. Another memory surfaced of those tweezers going up Peanut's nose when she was about 2 years old: she'd shoved a tiny marble up her nose which finally came out with massaging and a big sneeze, thanks to a can of pepper I dumped in her lap. And then a different kind of memory came forward: the afternoon a silver barrette (minus the flower) mysteriously showed up in Peanut's diaper when she was about 18 mos.; is it possible to safely pass a tiny piece of glass, I wondered?

Trying desperately to avoid the New Orleans E.R. from becoming a family affair, I pinched Doodle's other nostril and firmly told her that she
had to blow. "Too tickly," she insisted, followed by a fit of nervous giggles. Fortunately, her giggling made her snort, and, "Voila!" Out popped a much bigger piece of brown glass than I'd anticipated, landing directly on my finger.

Grandma and I took several deep breaths while our heartbeats slowed, and asked each other in a fleeting glance, "What could possibly happen next?"

The French Quarter


Everyone loved this day because there was a strong breeze blowing and lots of moving clouds to create momentary shade. (Peanut made it known that her feet were still sticky.) This couldn't compare to the "sticky" we were after eating beignets at Cafe du Monde; powdered sugar covered us as well as the table, chairs

and floor!

Walking to Jackson Square, we stopped at a big red basket full of squirming crawfish on the sidewalk. A big man walked over and handed us each one, then took our picture. Moments later, he dumped them into a giant steaming cauldron. None of us had noticed it before, or the piles of onions and celery which followed the crawfish into the pot. This was the most tragic event of the Road Trip for Peanut and I thought we were in for a breakdown but she held it together; Little Man was mighty upset as well. I was stunned by their response because our family is very open about the animal --> food link, discussing it often at our dinner table. (I know this is weird, but there you have it.) However, the kids have never actually witnessed the death of an animal and that is traumatic even for zealous carnivores like myself. Did I mention how delicious that Crawfish Stew smelled?!

Down the road, fully recovered, the kids were mesmerized by all the street acts, especially when I let them drop a buck into the tip jars. My thrill was buying the sweetest miniature painting from an equally sweet and tiny artist named Barbara Muscutt. In fact, I practically swiped the freshly painted canvas right off her easel! Ever since visiting Baltimore, I've been enchanted with these little gems...

We took a carriage ride (pulled by a mule) around the French Quarter with an amazing guide. Then, with hopes of Doodle taking a much needed nap, we also took a Grayline City Tour which included a cemetery and the 9th Ward Katrina damage.

For those of you who haven't been here, the cemeteries are uncomfortably beautiful and sacred. They're referred to as "cities of the dead".
In the past, bodies were buried underground, but they kept surprising families (boo!) by resurfacing after such and such amount of rainfall. They quickly learned to bury their dead above ground in little tombs. To save space and to keep kin together, they simply stack the bodies on top of each other and add their names to the cover stone. We counted 30 names on a single one! Here's the gory but practical part: each body needs at least a year to decompose enough to remove the wooden box so the next coffin can be brought in. Seriously! If two people die within the same year, the family either buys them their own separate mausoleum or they go into a freezer, until enough time has passed. The cemeteries are fantastic and I wish we could have taken one of the evening haunted tours, but the kids are too wee at this time.

Cheer for New Orleans!!

You really should come here on your next vacation, especially if you've never been here before. Or, if you were here before Hurricane Katrina. The history and culture are fascinating and their recent devastation has them working double-time to please their guests (you and me). Every penny we've spent has been graciously received and I already want to come back to support them, staying in different neighborhoods, eating at different restaurants and lounging on a huge porch or under one of their mammoth trees.

24 April 2009

Jazz Fest

Louisiana has many lovely people who dress-up in heels and make-up to trudge through the fairgrounds. (Note to self: wear more make-up on this road trip.) Along with this lesson, I also learned that whining goes up in direct proportion to the mercury. Today we soared above 85 degrees so you get the picture.

No matter how many times we were told, "Well, honey, this ain't even

hahhht," we were unequivocally
HOT. SWEATY. HOT. HOT. HOT! I feared the kids just wouldn't be able to cope, but they pulled through in the end thanks to the Show and Tell Storytelling Tent. Along with many shared stories, the children were given a lesson in storytelling: the punchline is especially important when sharing a story. So, here's the funniest story of the day for me:

Walking in and out of all the artist tents was wonderful -- a bit of shade, interesting folk art not to mention the artists being available to discuss their art with the kids. One beautiful painting showed a woman with her arms stretched wide, head up, with a golden tree within her dress, branches extending. I loved it immediately and Peanut asked the artist, Maurice Evans, if the tree was meant to be her body. He answered that yes, the piece was called Freedom Bird, and that her arms were stretched far out like a bird representing freedom.

I looked at Peanut with big eyes and said, "Aha, Peanut! Look! Just like what you've heard your entire life!" (I've always said, "Free as a Bird" when I need them to stretch out their arms.)

For some ridiculous reason I wanted the artist to know we understood his painting, but Peanut just looked up at me quizzically. I searched her eyes and begged, "C'mon, what do I always say to you kids when I need to put sunscreen on you or help you get a jacket on or something?" She responded like lightning, "Freeze the bird!"

Tomcat's Turn at the E.R.

Tomcat arrived in New Orleans late last night and awoke to maximum shrills of delight from the kids this morning. We had breakfast, jumped in a cab and headed to Jazz Fest. The bummer is, he lasted about 30 minutes, hopped into another cab and spent the entire day in bed wondering whether he has the flu or pneumonia.

We called our doctor back home and you know the rest. He's been so eager to explore New Orleans that we feel just awful for him.

23 April 2009

Louisiana - State #40


Something has definitely changed since last April. Birthdays. Doodle is 4 instead of 3, Little Man is 6.5 instead of 5.5 and Peanut is 8.5 instead of 7.5. Dramatic changes are afoot in our family car. With nearly 8 hours on the road today, including stops, Grandma and I enjoyed a mostly peaceful ride. Hallelujah!

Blue Duck Cafe in

Lake Charles, LA was a deliciously authentic introduction to Cajun food for the kids. With Voodoo hot sauce on the table, I also gave an unexpected lesson on Voodoo dolls and black magic -- the entire time thinking about that Gilligan's Island episode. Doodle explained afterward that good magic was the Cinderella kind of magic. Anyway, eat there if you ever come this way. The chicken-andouille gumbo was perfect.

Somehow we ended up in New Orleans for Jazz Fest weekend; call it a Happy Accident. Our hotel is a block from Bourbon Street and while we waited in line at Felix's for dinner, I took each kid individually on a walk to kill some time.

Doodle liked the balconies with their colorful lights and getting strands of beads.

Peanut was self-righteous about the cigar smoke she was forced to breathe, but interested in the blues music and especially pleasant once she got her lovely butterfly mask.

Alas, our Little Man focused on the music and the street performing tap dancers, until he clued into all the other things Bourbon St. has to offer: boobs and bums. At first I heard him burst out laughing, and then he got terribly embarrassed asking WHY those girls were wearing their underwear?! I finally said, "Well, I told you about the Crazy Cajuns!" and rushed us back.

Our food arrived just as we returned, and we happily tasted the alligator nuggets. I have proof that they don't taste "just like chicken". These kids really don't like chicken fingers, or any fried food for that matter, but they gobbled up the alligator! (Except for Little Man who wouldn't even try them.)

Louisiana License Plate

Leaving Texas

We had one last interesting night at Sister's house.

A farewell pinata, a last cascarone cracked on Sister's head to remember me by and the fact that Doodle went missing.

She was eventually found in a locked closet with her 3.5 year old cousin "counting vitamins". Their dresses were made into bowls and were full of the gummies. We're unsure how many were actually devoured, but both of their mouths were full upon inspection. Hoping for the best, we opted against any medical intervention.

Then, just as we were about to leave this morning I realized I was missing Little Man's pjs. That's when I discovered that he'd soaked his bed last night -- which was on the floor of a walk-in closet made into a nice, cozy nest. My fault for feeling bad that it was so hot and giving him a bottle of water. I know better. So, we did 2 loads of laundry because cleaning up someone else's kid's pee sheets exceeds the standard hostess responsibility.

Having overcome all that we are heading to Cajun country!

22 April 2009

Dolphins & Churros

We've mostly avoided big amusement parks, but Peanut's pen pal in New York recently sent her a post card from SeaWorld and the talk of the town has been dolphins, dolphins, dolphins!

The heat and fatigue kind of did us in, but sure enough, feeding the dolphins made it all worthwhile! Sitting for the Beluga Whale Show cooled us off and gave us the chance to indulge in one more Texas treat -- churros!