Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pacific Northwest -- Mt. Ranier

Bob and I recently traveled to the Pacific Northwest. It was our anniversary vacation (22 years!), which, as of last year, since we became empty-nesters, is now a tradition. Neither of us had ever been to this part of the world, so we were quite excited about it. I should have started this blog series sooner, but I’ve been daunted, stymied really, by the sheer volume of photos my dear husband took on the trip with his phone – over 1000!! I’ve been culling through them, deleting the doubles (and triples and decaruples – is that a word?). And the blurry ones and the ones I just don’t like. It’s been a week and a half, and I’m still not through them all.

But it’s time to get started.

We flew into Seattle. Our first stop was Mt. Ranier National Park.

We stayed three nights in Eatonville, 25 miles west of the park, in a little motel called Mill Village. Nothing fancy, but clean, comfortable, and adequate. We were told we could see the impressive mountain from the balcony outside our motel room. But that first morning was cool and cloudy. All we saw was this.

Our first day in the park, we drove to the area called Paradise (and with good reason). We drove up, up, and more up through an enchanted-like forest, resplendent with age-old pines and waterfalls originating from either glaciers or snowmelt. We learned how to tell the difference. Glacier water is a milky green color because it is full of minerals and finely crushed rock. Like this dam.

Snowmelt is crystal clear. Like this stream.

This lovely Christine Falls I believe is from glacier melt.

Narada Falls I believe is from snowmelt.

All morning long as we drove, we looked and looked for Mt. Ranier. Overlook after overlook, we knew it was right there. But heavy clouds obscured the grandeur. It was like a cruel joke from Mother Nature. But the countryside was nonetheless incredibly breathtaking.

This is what much of rural Washington State looks like.

We arrived in Paradise and went first to the visitors center. We watched a film on the history of the park and learned that, because of the crazy weather and frequent cloud cover over the peak, some visitors come and never get a glimpse of that mammoth rock. That was the last thing we wanted to hear.

The lodge there is a beautiful historic building. Being a Sunday, we were thrilled to enjoy their popular brunch.

It was chilly that day, in the 40s, and I wasn’t prepared. I bought a knit cap in the gift shop before we set off hiking.

We hiked up and up into the foothills of the mountain. We had heard about the beautiful wildflowers that grow there. We expected that it was the wrong time of year to see them. Wow, were we mistaken. Incredible! Our Creator, what an amazing gardener!

As beautiful and breathtaking as it all was, we KNEW the mountain was RIGHT THERE. But we still couldn’t see it.

We hiked and drove and hiked some more, well into late afternoon. It was nearing time to head back to Eatonville, and we’d mostly given up on seeing the mountain, at least for that day. And then . . .

Soon after . . .

Look how happy we were to finally see the peak! Stunning, breathtaking, awe-inspiring . . . adjectives and superlatives in our English language are inadequate to describe this national treasure.

That evening, we ate dinner at a humble little restaurant next to the motel called Bruno’s. The Seattle area is well-known for craft beers and micro breweries. It was here at Bruno’s that I discovered my new favorite beer – Quilter’s Irish Death. I have no idea why they call it that. But it’s good. I haven’t looked around town yet, but I hope I can find it in Lake Charles.

Here’s what the view from our room balcony looks like on a clear day.

Here are a couple fun facts we learned about Mt. Ranier.
  • The Park was established in 1899.
  • Mt. Ranier boasts 26 active glaciers; more than any other mountain in North America.
  • Altitude 14,410 feet

·      The following day we returned to the park. This second day, the sky was clear and we could see the majestic mountain all day long.

More hiking, more trees, more waterfalls. Bob wanted to hike a bit farther than I did that day, so while he climbed higher, I parked myself against a boulder in the shadow of this lovely waterfall and wrote several haikus. Yes, I carry pen and a pad of paper everywhere I go. Just in case the muse strikes.

Water crushes rock
Rushes, roars, cascades to sea
Mist kisses my cheek

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2014

I've read many thoughts and memories of September 11 on Facebook today. So I'm re-posting my own account here, first published on this blog on 9/11/11, the 10th anniversary of that day.

I've not been to the 9/11 Memorial in New York, but my friend Carolyn was there recently. See her thoughts and photos here.

We do have a beautiful 9/11 Memorial right here in Lake Charles, near the Civic Center and Bord du Lac. These are two beams from the Twin Tower wreckage, set to look like the towers. There is a brightly-colored tile mosaic circling the beams, which are hard to see in this photo.

Feel free to post your 9/11 reflections in the comments.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Imagination Celebration -- Raising Funds for the Lake Charles Children's Museum

When it comes to events in Southwest Louisiana, fundraisers are nearly as popular as festivals. We love to throw parties to raise money for anything and everything! Cures for countless diseases, animal shelters, arts organizations, churches, and every non-profit group you can think of. And trust me, these organizers know how to put the FUN in fundraiser!

Last Saturday, I attended a fundraiser for the Lake Charles Children's Museum.

Brief aside -- when we lived in Pittsburgh, we practically raised our sons at the Children's Museum. It was housed in an old historic building and offered several floors of fun, entertaining, and educational things for kids to do. One of our favorites was a giant climbing monstrosity called the Luckey Climber. The kids would spend what seemed like hours crawling through it. Invariably, they'd climb all the way to the top and get stuck. Then Bob would have to squeeze through and rescue them.

Thomas W. ("Tom") Luckey (January 6, 1940 – August 19, 2012) was an American architect and sculptor, best known for inventing abstract playgrounds called Luckey Climbers.[3] Luckey also created furniture, merry-go-rounds, and interiors. Huh, I did not know that until just now when I looked it up.

Now I'm completely off topic, but it's important to say that, when we moved to Lake Charles, even though our boys were a bit "old" (7th grade) for the Children's Museum, it's one of the first places we visited. It's a fantastic asset for Lake Charles' families. Website here.

Okay, now back to the fundraiser. They call it Imagination Celebration and they had an '80s theme.

Slash was there.

And Madonna costumes were quite popular. I got a kick out of going to the secondhand store and looking for outfits. I found a top that had shoulder pads (required in the '80s) and a ridiculously large clown-like collar. (Why did we do that?) I tried to make my hair "big" but heck, I didn't know how to do it in the '80s. Getting ready for this event was a nightmare of hair spray and gel. Felt like glue in my hair.

 I was going for the Don Johnson/Miami Vice look for Bob, which also was very popular at the event. Loose slouchy light-colored jacket. Turned up shirt collar. Pleated pants. Skinny knit tie.

A DJ duo played '80s tunes. There was incredible food from over 20 local eateries. 

Love these guys from Pops and Rockets. They make the most incredible awesome unique gourmet ice pops. Check out their Facebook page here.

And like most all fundraisers, there was a silent and live auction, karaoke contest, and 50/50 Split the Pot (we called this something else in Pa., and now I can't remember. Help me out, northern readers.)

What's your favorite good time for a good cause?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Light Sport Aviation -- Flying Over Lake Charles

As a journalist, I have the opportunity to do some pretty exciting things sometimes. Recently, as part of an interview for a story I’m writing on Light Sport Aviation, I got to fly in this little two-seater airplane for a bird’s eye view of Lake Charles. It’s a fascinating perspective!

As you can see, plane owner Larry Roach is a big LSU fan.

In a lightweight plane like this, take off takes about two seconds.

We flew over my neighborhood.

The 210 Bridge

L’Auburge Casino Resort getting ready for the Weezer concert, Party by the Pool.

Lake Charles and the I-10 Bridge

Downtown Lake Charles

The Capital One Building and the Civic Center

Sun shining over the 210 Bridge

Approaching the runway at the Lake Charles airport.

Mr. Roach loves talking to people about Light Sport Aviation. For more information, call him at the number below and check out this website.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Blue Bell Ice Cream -- Brenham, Texas

People in southwest Louisiana tend to have loyalties at the grocery store. They drink Coke (not Pepsi). Community Coffee, almost exclusively. And if it’s not Blue Bell Ice Cream, they’d often rather eat no ice cream at all.

So on our drive from Texas to bring Eric home last Friday, we made a detour through Brenham to tour the Blue Bell factory. Pretty exciting stuff!

One thing I was NOT prepared for was the crowds! My first clue was when we couldn’t park in the parking lot, but had to park a bit down the road in a high school stadium parking lot. When we entered the visitors center, we were greeted by this mob scene. Our tour guide later told us they get an average of 2,300 visitors on an average summer Friday.

After waiting in a long line to buy tickets, we had an hour to wait for our tour time. We went over to the ice cream parlor for our free sample . . .

. . . .and strolled the grounds and learned a bit about the factory’s history from the posters and displays in the visitors center. This is the original truck that delivered their ice cream.

Here are some interesting facts you may not know about Blue Bell Ice Cream:
  • The factory opened in 1907. They started out making butter. Four years later, they realized ice cream sold better and they’ve been making ice cream since then.
  • In 1930, they changed the name from Brenham Creamery to Blue Bell Creamery, to reflect the owner’s love of the beautiful wildflower that symbolizes northern Texas. It was also this year that they switched from delivering ice cream in a horse-drawn buggy to refrigerated trucks.
  • 70% of all Blue Bell Ice Cream is made in the Brenham factory. The remaining is made in two satellite factories; one in Oklahoma and one in Alabama.
  • One day of ice cream production requires the milk from 60,000 cows, all from local farms surrounding Brenham.
  • One production line (and there are several in the factory going at a time) fills 52 half gallons of ice cream a minute. They can fill 180 cones in a minute.
  • Naturally, as is the case with many factory tours, there was no photography allowed. They say it is to protect the privacy of their employees. The Brenham plant employs 900 people; there are 4,500 employees company-wide, including the two other factories and dozens of distribution centers. Lake Charles has a distribution center. No wonder, as much Blue Bell Ice Cream as we eat around here!
  • A hallmark of Blue Bell is the myriad of flavors. The factory produces around 60 different flavors in a year. Some flavors are seasonal. Some are regional. Others are “standard” year around flavors. Seventeen different flavors are made at the factory a day. They create 5-6 new flavors a year. If a new flavor sells well, it becomes a standard. Otherwise, they nix it. My personal favorite flavor is Rocky Mountain Road (it’s better than regular rocky road). I also love Red Velvet Cake.
  • Most stores have approximately 25 flavors on display at a given time. For the best selection, go to HEB, their “signature store.”


Speaking of new flavors, while on the tour, our guide pointed out that they were currently producing a new flavor. She wasn’t permitted to divulge the name. But we could see through the glass a key ingredient. When we guessed at the new flavor, she didn’t deny it. I won’t ruin the surprise, but it comes in a turquoise container, it makes its grocery store freezer shelf debut on August 28th, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome!

For more information, check out their website here.

What's your favorite flavor of Blue Bell Ice Cream? Or, if you don't have access to Blue Bell, what is your favorite brand and flavor of ice cream?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The New Place in Town -- Pint House Pizzeria

I enjoy trying out new restaurants in town. The latest in Lake Charles is the Pint House Pizzeria on Broad St.

This piece of real estate has been occupied by several establishments in the seven years I've been here. They never last too long. The Happy Hippy was a pizza joint. Then Dharma. Not sure what that was like -- it was so short lived, I didn't make it there before it closed. But the Pint House got off to a good start, in my opinion, simply by very tastefully renovating the space. It looks great! The exposed brick and freshly painted tin ceiling give the place a historic feel. The red walls are warm and inviting.

In the back, they offer a dozen or so tempting gelatos, made on the premises. More on that below.

They specialize in gourmet pizzas in either 12 or 18 inches. Fourteen varieties are offered on the menu, but you can special order a creation of your own. Unique toppings include duck, beef filet, blueberries, pulled pork, clams, scallops, shrimp and salmon.

Because Andrew doesn't eat much meat, we ordered the Herbi, a vegetarian pizza with red sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, sundried tomatoes, onion, garlic, bell pepper, and artichoke hearts. It was very good!

This is Andrew impatiently waiting while Mom says, "Wait, we have to take a picture first!" *click*


And of course, dessert. I had an awesome chocolate cherry gelato. The boys ordered tiramisu and another coffee flavor. They also offer specialty sodas, shakes, and malts.

When a restaurant first opens, often there can be a learning curve regarding staff. I had heard they had a few service issues initially. But it seems they now have the kinks worked out. I highly recommend the Pint House. They do not have a website, but you can find them on Facebook.

Have you tried any new interesting restaurants lately?