Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mesa Verde National Park

I've been home from our family vacation for a week and a half, and have been wanting to blog and share our adventure with you, but the two-week trip was so remarkable, so many incredible places and sights and experiences, I've been at a loss to know how to begin. But I DO want to tell you about our trip. So I'll start at the beginning of our enchanting journey through the National Parks of Southern Utah.

After picking up Eric in Dallas, we drove through northwest Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we spent the night. In Albuquerque, we wanted to ride the Sandia Peak Tramway -- we had a wonderful dinner at Sandiago's Mexican Grill (the cozy cafe at the bottom of the mountain), bought our tram tickets, waited in a long line . . .

And then right before it was our turn, this happened . . .

Disappointing, but we were fortunate. They shut the thing down; we'd have been stuck at the top of the mountain. Instead, we got our money back and found a hotel for the night in the pouring rain.

The next day, we headed north, cut northwest through a corner of Colorado, and into eastern Utah.

Passing the hours in the car.

First stop, Mesa Verde National Park. In addition to breathtaking sweeping landscapes (I could use that phrase for each park we visited), Mesa Verde is best known for these ancient puebloan cliff dwellings.

There are several scattered along the valley walls. This is likely one of the largest. Can you imagine what life might have been like living there?

Here are some examples of those sweeping vistas I told you about.

Next stop . . . Arches National Park.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

National World War II Museum, New Orleans

Bob and I visited the National WWII Museum on a recent trip to New Orleans. I've always said, and it is still true, I love history. But war history, not so much. And thus, I never had an interest in going to this museum. But EVERYONE who has EVER been there just raves about how wonderful it is. So, as it was really hot and a little bit rainy that Saturday, we went. And indeed, the museum is fabulous. If you're into that sort of thing.

They offer several films. We watched Beyond Boundaries, narrated by Tom Hanks. In 3D. Yikes! Bob said, along with the general consensus, that it "was very well done." And who can argue? But for me, the explosions were considerably too loud, the flashes of light too bright. I closed my eyes for much of it. But near the beginning, when they commented on the large number of recruits from various small towns around the nation, the first place they mentioned was my little hometown of Connellsville, Pa.! I felt such pride.

Primary exhibits are separated into the two war theaters -- the European and the Pacific. I strolled through relatively quickly, and spent more time on the Pacific side. Maybe because the exhibit is newer? More likely because we went there first. But I didn't want to miss the European side. I guess I hoped I would spot my grandfather in the background of a photo or video clip. He served in France. Not surprising, I couldn't find him. The exhibit seemed to focus on the fighters on the front lines. Who'd be interested in a mechanic who kept the tanks and jeeps running, possibly at times in the heat of battle. 

My grandpa. Wilbur G. Lowdermilk. He died about 15 years ago. Miss him!

I remember as a child, Grandpa spent nearly every Saturday afternoon watching war movies on television. But he never wanted to talk about it.

To be honest, I did learn a lot from visiting this museum. And isn't that the point! For examples:

  • In the Pacific Theater, only one in five soldiers who died lost their life in combat. The other four died from diseases, ie malaria.

  • Prior to WWII, the United States was not one of the top military powers in the world. We ranked 18th, behind Albania (or somewhere like that, as I recall).  That was one of the most interesting things about the U.S. war involvement, to me – the way the country rallied together, like a giant team effort, and built planes, tanks, guns, ammunition at lightning speed. Men and women dropped everything and either joined the military or the work force. Everyone had a role. Quite impressive!
  • 419,400 U.S. citizens (mostly military personnel plus a small percentage of civilians) died in WWII; a staggering number, until you consider there were over 60 million deaths worldwide. Approx. 7 million in Germany, 26 million in the Soviet Union . . . the U.S. came into the war on the late side. But probably more importantly, aside from Pearl Harbor, the war did not take place within our borders. What a difference, in terms of casualties!

This was my favorite part of the whole museum. The "I Was There!" table, manned by a WWII veteran who is available to talk with visitors and answer questions. Now THIS is history. Living history. He was there! I don't know how many veterans volunteer to do this, but at the time we were there, we met Forrest Villarubia. He's 90 years old and served in the Phillipines. I thanked him for his service and asked if I could take his photo. He said yes, for the price of a hug. It was the least I could do.

Have you been to the World War II Museum? What did you learn?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Running with the Bulls, New Orlean's Style

Bob and I went to New Orleans this weekend to attend the 10th annual San Fermin en Nueva Orleans Festival, aka the Running of the Bulls, which coincided with the event by the same name in Pamplona, Spain.

The festivities began Thursday evening with a Spanish Wine Dinner at the stately Bourbon Orleans Hotel . . . 

 . . . and was hosted by “Governor Bernardo Galvez,” a Spanish military leader and governor of colonial Louisiana from 1785-1786.

In addition to fabulous Spanish food and wines, we were entertained by the talented guitarist Daniele Spadavecchia.

There are various pre-parties and post parties associated with the festival, but the REAL party – the Running of the Bulls -- takes place early Saturday morning. Bob and I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and walked from Hotel Le Marais to the event site, The Sugar Mill, across from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The party had already started.

In true quirky New Orleans style, the "bulls" are roller derby girls (especially New Orleans' own Big Easy Roller Girls) from around the country who rollerblade after the "runners" and bop the runners' butts with big plastic or foam baseball bats. At 8:00 a.m. sharp, thousands of runners took off, pursued by over 300 roller girl bulls. “Running” is a misconception. Truly it’s more like an easy stroll.

Look out!

The runners dress in traditional white pants and shirt with a red sash and bandanna. But the bull costumes steal the show. I love their creativity!

Hard to tell but it's a red dinosaur head.

An alien?

After the one mile course (hey, it’s New Orleans in July and it’s hot out there!) the party begins in earnest with more food, drinks, music, mechanical bull rides, a dunk tank, an Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest, and more.

This event is a fundraiser for Beth's Friends Forever (a cancer victim fund) and Animal Rescue of New Orleans. Special thanks to the New Orleans Hotel Collection for being a San Fermin sponsor and hosting the Spanish Wine Dinner!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rikenjaks Brewing Company

Rikenjaks Brewing Company in Lake Charles is open for business! This much anticipated brew pub had beer enthusiasts on the edge of their bar stool for several months. But their home brews Old Hard Head and Contraband Brown Ale were worth the wait.

Supposedly they are still in their "soft opening" stage. But the place has been packed most every night for weeks; both inside the cozy bar and outside on the patio by the outdoor bar.

Because they're so busy, the wait for food requires some patience. But on a recent visit, my family and I didn't mind because there's this crazy fun outdoor game area. And there's live music to listen to.

We've only been there once so far to eat, but I think the food is good. The kids had burgers and Bob and I had fish tacos.

And here's my new favorite beer, Old Hard Head.

Out of town friends and family, come visit me and I'll take you to this fun place for good food and beer. (Locals, I know you've all already been there.)

Located at 3716 Ryan St., Lake Charles, and online at

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Swallow Falls State Park, Maryland

Everyone has places they consider favorites. We say things like, "It's one of my favorite places in the whole world," even though we've only seen a small fraction of the whole world. But if we define "the whole world" as our own personal limited experience of the world, well, then the expression works.

Swallow Falls State Park is one of my "favorite places in the whole world."

Muddy Creek Falls

Rock formation at the base of Swallow Falls

I grew up in these woods; knew the rocks, the trails, the water intimately. My family camped there frequently, often with another family we were great friends with, the Flanders. In my youthful imagination, colorful mushrooms became umbrellas for fairy folk and hidden rock formations served as enclaves for elves.

Me and my friend Chris Flanders hiking the trails, no doubt looking for fossils. I was maybe 14 years old. Or so?

As I grew older, I sensed God in the majesty; the rush of the river, the scent of pine and primordial decay, the glisten of dewdrops on pink rhododendron petals, the texture of cool green moss. The place became sacred to me.

Tulliver Falls

In my 20s, I took any friend who would go with me to this park. I wanted to share its beauty and serenity. I hadn't been there in too many years, and though I'm sure they were there at some point when they were very young, I had the pleasure of taking my sons to this favorite place last week when we traveled to Pennsylvania and Maryland to visit family and friends. My dad and step-mom Mary came with us.

My Happy Place

Where's your favorite place in the whole world?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zydeco Music -- #atozchallenge

The "unincorporated community" (aka lots of crop fields and a few houses) of Plaisance, La., which I'd never heard of until I researched zydeco festivals, hosts the annual Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival.

The event got its start 34 years ago as a way to celebrate and preserve the rich history of zydeco music in Louisiana. Key instruments in this genre are the accordian and washboard. Zydeco is said to have originated with the French Creoles, but this Wiki link suggests there are Atakapa (Louisiana native American Indians) and African roots, as well. All I know is the music is fun, upbeat, and people love to dance to the lively sounds. Check out this video by Chubby Carrier at a festival a few years ago.

One of my most fun experiences of zydeco happens every Saturday morning over in Breaux Bridge at Cafe de Amis's Zydeco breakfast. It's a blast! Read that post here.

For more information on the festival, see their website here.

And that, folks, concludes the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for the Yambilee Festival in Opelousas, La. -- #atozchallenge

I've been to Opelousas a couple times, but I was not aware they have such a passion for yams. The French, Spanish, and Acadians learned to eat sweet potatoes around 1760 from the Native American Indians who lived in Louisiana. The Sweet Golden Yam has been a stable on Louisiana dinner tables since then.

This festival to celebrate yams and Louisiana farming has been an annual event since 1946 and takes place late November. I've often wondered if there is a botanical difference between yams and sweet potatoes. The festival website uses the words interchangeably, so I'm guessing not.

I've never been to this festival, but as I said, I've been to Opelousas. You can read about one adventure to the interesting historic town here.

And I've eaten Louisiana yams. I love to buy them at farmers markets or roadside stands. They're very good!
For more festival information, check the website.