Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Experiencing Mardi Gras from the Vantage Point of a Parade Float

Early February has not historically been the most interesting time to have a birthday. It’s the dead of winter, usually cold and dreary. But there have been some notable birthdays. Like in 2006 when the Steelers won the Super Bowl on my birthday. That was exciting.

 This year, the peak of Mardi Gras festivities happened to fall on my birthday weekend. As I have said numerous times, one of the greatest revelations upon moving to Louisiana was learning that Mardi Gras is not a day but a season, lasting a month or two, depending on the date of Easter. I have been fascinated by the mystery and traditions of Mardi Gras since I arrived in Louisiana. I’ve been to all the various parades, the gumbo cook-offs, even a Mardi Gras ball. I've eaten more king cake than I care to admit. But until this past Friday, on my birthday, I’d never ridden on a Mardi Gras float.

Let's get this party started!

I was privileged to embark on my maiden Mardi Gras float experience with the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) for the Lake Charles Merchants’ Parade. They ride a float painted with a big green alligator motif.

Me and Megan Hartman, my contact at the CVB

Participating in a Mardi Gras parade from a float is a completely different experience than being a spectator. It’s a different perspective, looking down at the throngs of revelers who call out, dance, and wave their hands in hopes of catching beads and trinkets. "Hey, throw me somethin', mister!" I have no way of knowing exactly, but I must have tossed a thousand strands of glittering green, gold, and purple beads.

 I’m all about experiencing Louisiana from as many different angles as I can. This weekend, from atop a Mardi Gras float, I added one more to my list.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bayou Teche Brewing, Arnaudville, La.

Funny thing, here in Louisiana. Folks can take a simple ordinary event and turn it into a party. For example, say, a brewery tour. Of course, there is beer. But add barbecue and a zydeco band, and you have a full blown celebration of Louisiana culture. Such is the case at Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville, deep in the heart of Cajun country. Every Saturday, the brewery hosts live music, a trailer with a meat smoker, and tours of their growing facility.

Like so many destinations in Louisiana, Arnaudville is smack dab in the middle of nowhere. But it's an easy drive, just a bit north of I-10 at the Breaux Bridge exit.

On this particular Saturday, Nathan Plumbar and Steady Steppin provided entertainment.

The brewery is owned by a trio of brothers. Their father, Mr. Knott, serves as tour guide. He's a hoot. Sorry I didn't get a photo of him. The brewery is only around seven years old. You can read their history and beer bios on their website.

Bob and I first learned about Bayou Teche Brewing about a year ago when we volunteered at the Louisiana Winter Beer Fest in Lake Charles. (Read my post on that event here.) We were pourers for Karlos Knott, the oldest brother, brewmaster, and president of Bayou Teche Brewing. This year's Beer Fest is March 5. Mark your calendars.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My Top Five Most Popular Posts of 2015

This time of year we are inundated with lists: the top this, the best that, the most of one thing, the least of another. I was curious about which posts on my blog were the most popular in 2015. It's an interesting mix. Restaurants seem to do well. Local enthusiast clubs for various hobbies are high on the list, as well as organizations that serve the community. Basically, I think the most popular posts are those that hold a human interest. Or subjects that people are likely to search online for.

So without further ado, here are my Top Five Most Popular Posts of 2015.

5. The Green House Salad Company. It seems if I blog about a new restaurant in town, the post gets quite a few hits. Everyone wants to know about the new place. Fortunately, this place is still going strong.

4. The Lake Charles Beekeepers Club. Lots of buzz about this busy group. (haha). You can read that post here.

3. Heckhaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Director and sole animal tender Suzy Heck is one amazing woman!Read more about her efforts to help wild animals on my blog post or her website.

2. Mustangs in Southwest Louisiana. Car clubs are quite popular in the Lake area. I've written a couple different car club stories for various local magazines. People love their vehicles! And who doesn't love mustangs! My very first car was a red 1976 Mustang Coupe. My post here and the Mustangs of Lake Charles Facebook page here.

1. And here it is; my number one most popular post of 2015. Prime Cuttery! More than cars, more than animals, people love hamburgers! You can read this restaurant review here or visit their website here.

I look forward to many more adventures to share with you in 2016! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ten Things I've Learned Since Moving to Louisiana

I read this article a couple years ago on Huffington Post; Eight Things I Learned in the South. And it occurred to me; well, yeah, I've learned a few things since moving to the South, too, right! The Huffington piece prompted me to write my own post, Eight Things I've Learned Since Moving to Louisiana. (read that post here).  It's been one of my most read posts to date. 

In the past two years, I've learned a few more things, so I decided to expand on my original list. Here’s my list of TEN things I've learned since moving to southwest Louisiana. 

Mardi Gras – Yes, Mardi Gras season will soon be upon us. Lake Charles will be awash in green, gold, and purple. One of the biggest cultural revelations upon moving to Louisiana for me was that Mardi Gras is not a DAY (Fat Tuesday). It’s a SEASON of balls, parades, and a myriad of other festivities which begins each year on Epiphany and culminates on the Tuesday before Lent begins, called Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. I've posted many pieces here about Mardi Gras, because, especially at first, I was fascinated by it. Your can read  them herehere, and here.

Friendships take time to nurture. I think this is true most anywhere. But I didn't learn it until I moved to Louisiana. We came south over eight years ago. I now have many dear friends here. But it took a long time, years, to develop these relationships. If you are new to the area, or new anywhere, hang in there. I know it's hard to make friends initially. Be active in the community. Join clubs or service groups you have an interest in. Volunteer. Introduce yourself and talk with your neighbors. Find a place to worship with like-minded people. Don't get discouraged. You'll make friends.

Kayaking – In Pennsylvania, kayaking is a daring, adventurous, often dangerous sport. It is almost always associated with river rapids. I’m adventurous, but I’m also chicken, and I would never consider kayaking on white water. Here in Louisiana, there is A LOT of water. And it's all quiet and slow moving. We have tranquil lakes, peaceful bayous, and rivers that move with the tides – a perfect place for me to kayak! This is me on Indian Bayou. It was January, hence all the winter garb.

It’s not always warm here in the winter. While it’s often possible to wear shorts and a t-shirt on Christmas Day, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, that pesky jet stream dips all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes it’s in the high 20s at night and only in the 40s during the day. After living in Louisiana for several years, one becomes accustomed to being warm, and 40 degrees is COLD! But the truth is, the cold rarely lasts for more than a day or two. Then it’s back to balmy. And I always say, I’d rather be hot in the summer than cold in the winter.

People around here will eat just about anything. I guess it’s the French influence, but nothing goes to waste here. They eat the craziest things. “Cracklins" are a very popular snack. It’s fried pig flesh, people! I've tried it a few times, but I'm not a fan. Though I do eat boudin, a type of sausage made with "parts" and a spicy rice mixture. We make jokes about roadkill gumbo (possums, armadillos, and raccoons are the most common), and speaking of roadkill, I know people who have accidentally hit a deer with their big truck, turned around, picked it up and tossed it into the truck bed, took it home, and processed the meat.

If it exists, there’s a festival somewhere for it. Every kind of music (Cajun, zydeco, jazz, swamp pop are popular), every type of food imaginable, and any Louisiana animal you can think of, and there’s a festival for it in some town somewhere. I've written more posts about festivals that I could list. But here's one from the very first festival we went to after moving here -- the DeRidder Watermelon Festival. 

I thought there would be more snakes, but I never dreamed there would be THIS many mosquitoes. I occasionally see a snake in my yard, as there is a large empty field just beyond our fence line. I've never seen one out in my kayak. I have seen a few when hiking through the woods. And dead ones on the road. But I thought I’d see more. On the other hand, no one could have prepared me for the nuisance of mosquitoes. All the horror stories in the world could not have convinced me of the extent of this pestilence. The degree of annoyance varies – it’s worse after a lot of rain. It’s less so after the mosquito fumigator truck goes through the neighborhood. Sometimes, they are so thick in the air, you simply can’t be outdoors without getting "eaten alive".

Boots are a thing here, apparently. And I have yet to figure it out. But people, especially women, LOVE boots. I have not worn a pair of boots since I moved to Louisiana. To me, a native northerner, people wear boots because their feet are cold. Who gets cold feet in Lake Charles!? And yet, folks get excited in autumn at the first hint of cooler weather so they can bring out the boots. I don't own any boots. But, I'm thinking about it.

The humidity takes some getting used to. We moved here in June 2007, and I was unprepared for the heat and humidity. But mostly the humidity. The air gets so heavy, it feels like you are breathing water. But I acclimated to it. (I grew gills.)

A unique balance of industry and the arts. The first time Bob brought the boys and me to Lake Charles, we drove in from the airport in Houston. We saw the signs that indicated we had arrived in Lake Charles, and the very first thing we saw from our view on I-10 was industry. Plant after plant after plant. And that was our first impression (post here). My heart sank. What kind of town was he moving us to? But while, yes, the town thrives and bustles because of the booming industries, I gratefully learned that Lake Charles also offers fine dining, entertainment, and a marvelous thriving arts community. Theater, ballet, symphony and other musical events, visual arts, museums, parks . . . it’s all here. And we have a great time!This was an art event a few years ago, held downtown on Ryan St.

So, though I had no idea what to expect or what life would be like in southwest Louisiana when we first moved here, I've learned that Lake Charles is a terrific place to live! For even more information on this great corner of the Bayou State, check out the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau website.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Grant Christmas Tree Farm

Under the category of "Things I've Wanted to do Since We Moved to Louisiana," Grant Christmas Tree Farm has been near the top of my list for many years. Alas, this adventure proved tricky to accomplish. Visiting this popular holiday destination is only an option for the three Saturdays following Thanksgiving. Until today, we either had other plans. Or the weather was lousy. And besides, we had an artificial Christmas tree and had no use for a real one. But last year, our trusty fake tree basically disintegrated.

So today was the day! The Farm opens at 8:00 a.m. -- we aimed to arrive then. We got up bright and early, drove the hour and twelve minutes, and were shocked upon arrival to see a hundred cars already  in the lot at 8:15. Like I said, it's a popular place this time of year. You should have seen the parking mess when we left three hours later!

We headed straightaway to the tree fields. Our first decision was to choose a variety of pine. The Farm grows several.

Once we determined which variety, we searched for "the perfect tree." We were limited by the height of the tree -- no more than six feet -- so it would fit in the back of our vehicle (which is new and waiting to have a roof rack installed.) We don't know the name of this tree variety, but we liked it. What do you think?

Then we strolled the grounds of the festival. There's a lot to see and do. Hayrides, arts and crafts vendors, Santa and other activities for children. Roasted peanuts, fresh-boiled cracklins . . .

this huge swing . . .

animals waiting to be fed . . .

"Hey, got any food?"

new pups and an old dog who loved to have his belly rubbed.

This donkey walks countless circles, demonstrating the frontier way of grinding sugar cane to extract juice to make cane syrup.

There's live music, a gift shop, but the highlight of the festival, besides the trees, seems to be sausage biscuits. Sausage biscuits plain. With cane syrup. With white gravy. Or both. We waited in this line 40 minutes for  . . . sausage biscuits.

I was somewhat baffled. But I gather it is a tradition. Part of the experience. So, we waited.

Apparently bees are fond of cane syrup, too.

We ran into one of the boys' former middle school teachers who told us she and her family have been going to Grant Christmas Tree Farm every year for the past fourteen years. I'm certain we won't go every year -- we'll likely get another artificial tree next year -- but I suspect we'll be back someday. We enjoyed the holiday family time, and I can check this adventure off my endless list.

Trees in the processing area, waiting to be taken home.

What is your favorite family holiday tradition?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Walk-On's Bistreaux and Bar

Tia Juanita's Fish Camp, Blue Dog Cafe, Restaurant 1910 . . . if I tried to write a post on every new dining establishment that has popped up in southwest Louisiana lately, my travel/adventure/miscellaneous blog would turn into a full-time restaurant review.

But every once in awhile, I feel compelled to share my "adventure" at a new restaurant in the area. Like today, for example.

Walk-On's Bistreaux and Bar opened up on Common St., Lake Charles this past weekend. It's a great new addition to the lake area restaurant scene!

The staff -- greeters, bar tenders, and the servers (aka America's Cheerleaders) -- are energetic, enthusiastic, and friendly.

While this family-oriented establishment is obviously a sports bar, the main attraction at Walk-On's is the menu. It's a surprisingly fascinating read! You might expect typical bar fare at a sports bar. But not at Walk-On's. There's plenty of Louisiana favorites; poboys, crawfish, fried alligator, boudin, gumbo, shrimp, catfish . . . as well as burgers, creative salads, wraps, and more.

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On our first (and certainly not last) visit, I had a Pepper Jelly Spinach Salad and Bob had an Ahi Tuna Wrap. Both were excellent. For dessert? Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding!  Oh, and did I mention there are 50 beers on tap?

Because this cool new place is within walking distance from our home, Bob says it's our new neighborhood bar. We'll be back.

What's your favorite sports bar or neighborhood pub?
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Irving Berlin -- Learning About a Legend

Many people might define success as being remembered long after leaving this world; in effect, becoming a legend. Over the course of his 60-year career, iconic songwriter Irving Berlin wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films. He's clearly a beloved author in the Great American Songbook.

Berlin in 1941

I love learning new things. The SAGE Series, part of McNeese State University's non-credit Leisure Learning Program, schedules informal classes on a myriad of fascinating topics. Obviously I had heard of Irving Berlin, but I didn't know much about his life until I recently attended one of these classes.

Performed at the University's Tritico Theatre, two theater majors narrated the show, imparting interesting tidbits of his life, while five voice majors sang a selection of some of his most well-known songs.

Israel Isidore Baline was born on May 11, 1888 to Russian Jewish parents who escaped the pogroms and immigrated to the United States when Israel was still a young boy. (He later changed his name to Irving Berlin.) As a kid, he sold newspapers on a street corner and discovered he could sell more papers and earn tips if he also sang songs. He soon realized he had a knack for song writing.

His first hit was Alexander's Ragtime Band.

(Youtube is great but I dislike the ads, especially when you can't stop them early!)

Berlin was a versatile song writer. He wrote love songs. For example, he wrote his first ballad, "When I Lost You," after his first wife died of typhoid fever soon after their honeymoon. He wrote "Always" for his second wife, Ellin Mackay, after her wealthy father disowned her because she eloped with Berlin. Berlin gave the song rights to her so she would "always" be taken care of.

Berlin loved theater and wrote scores for musicals. His most famous was Annie Get Your Gun, starring Ethel Merman.

He wrote holiday songs that continue to be favorites to this day. What is the Christmas season without Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas."

He was a soldier in World War I and wrote several marches, military, and patriotic songs. I did not realize Irving Berlin wrote "God Bless America."

It was a pleasure to learn about this legendary American songwriter's life.

What is your favorite Irving Berlin song or musical?