Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

French Quarter -- New Orleans

We recently spent a day in New Orleans, exploring the French Quarter. I needed to interview a horse trainer in east Louisiana, and the boys had never been to the Big Easy, so we decided to make a trip of it.

Bob and I had been to New Orleans nearly twenty years ago. The French Quarter looks the same, no lingering scars from Katrina that we could see. I love the architecture, the history, the sights, the sounds. Not so much the smells, but I can get past that.

Jackson Square. Also here on the Square is the Louisiana State Museum. This museum is currently all about the history of Mardi Gras, which happens to begin soon, Jan. 6th.

What's a trip to New Orleans without cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde. Definitely worth waiting in line for.

We spent all day strolling and exploring the narrow streets of the French Quarter. My favorite is Royal Street, with its art galleries, antique shops, jewelry stores, hidden courtyards, colorful street musicians and entertaining magicians.

Here's an example of Christmas in the Quarter. Note the "Saints Country" sign. Saints fans may not be quite as fanatical as Steelers fans, but they've certainly got the fever this year.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

San Francisco -- Day 2

Bob and I got an early start this morning -- not hard to do when your mind is in central time and your body is in pacific time -- and headed down Highway 1 south. We took our time, stopping whenever something caught our fancy. We strolled beaches strewn with driftwood, kelp, and tidal pools. This is the lighthouse at Pigeon Point.

We visited Swanton Berry Farm. Cool place. Bought some blackberry jam.

We meandered up, down and over the mountains behind the coast near Davenport and found our way to Big Basin State Park, another amazing redwood forest. I'd nearly forgotten the thrill of hills, long and steep, twists and turns, switchbacks and zigzags. Bonine is my new best friend. We've had great weather, meaning it's been sunny and no rain. But it's cool, probably low 50s during the day, only 39 degrees when we hiked through the redwoods this morning.
We drove on to Santa Cruz, a charming seaside town, had lunch at a seafood restaurant on the wharf. Looks like the sea lions were taking a post-lunch nap.

Driving back to San Francisco, we watched the sun set over the Pacific. Early Thursday morning, we fly back to Houston, spend Christmas Eve with Bob's sisters and family, and drive back to Lake Charles late that night. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

San Francisco Day 1

Golden Gate Bridge.



Picking up a snack along the road to Muir Woods.
Muir Woods is a redwood forest. Coastal redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. Some of the trees here are over 1,000 years old! Is there anything more majestic and respectable than a towering ancient tree, nobly withstanding the tests of time?




After Muir Woods, we drove north on Hwy 1, up the Pacific coast.

We ended the day at Fisherman's Wharf, dinner at Bubba Gump's Shrimp restaurant. Tomorrow, we explore south on Hwy 1.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Flight Entertainment

How do you pass the time on a long airplane ride? Yesterday, I accompanied my husband on a business trip to San Francisco. The 35 minute flight from Lake Charles to Houston was easy. Read the newspaper and I'm there. But from Houston to the Bay Area -- 4.5 hours -- I had to get a bit creative. I'm not much of a sitter. For some reason, Bob and I weren't even sitting next to each other, so I had no one to lean my head against or talk to. I generally don't talk to strangers. Though the couple sitting next to me made a little friendly conversation.

I start out closing my eyes and resting. But I've never been able to sleep on a plane. The plane's movie system is out of order. I re-peruse the newspaper, attempt the crossword -- always fun in pen. I complete all but one square, and it's a tennis question. Where's my guy when I need him. He'd know the answer. Then the sudoku -- challenging if not impossible in pen. I don't finish. Soon the snack and beverage carts rattle down the aisle. I request the same drink I always do -- club soda with lemon. I never drink this anywhere else, but always on a plane. Always have. And I drink it reeaallly slow in an attempt to NOT have to pass the time using the aircraft lavatory. Yuck. I'm not even hungry, but I eat the snack anyway -- a turkey dog wrapped in bread -- why don't they just call it a kolache -- and a Twix bar. Eating helps pass the time.

Three more hours to go. I've exhausted the paper and pick up my book. After several minutes of reading, I start to feel a bit airsick. So I'm back to closing my eyes and resting. The drink cart passes through again and I haven't finished my first can yet. I decline.

Two more hours. I'll never make it. So I climb over the couple next to me, walk to the back of the plane, and wait in the long lav line. (Sip sloooower) After squeezing past way too many people on the return down the aisle to my seat, I pick up the book again and get about half of it read.

The highlight of the flight was at twilight, watching out the window, the plane skimming over an endless baby blue blanket of clouds, then descending through to the underside and over the twinkling lights of San Francisco. One can see the most amazing pictures from the sky.

How do you pass the time on a plane?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ready for Christmas?

"Are you ready for Christmas?" I've been hearing that question a lot lately. And I can say, comfortably, No, I am not. I'm not done shopping, haven't begun wrapping, my cards are not out yet, I decorated my house minimally, and baked even less. And this year, I am so okay with that. I made a decision early in the season that I would not stress over holiday duties and details, but instead that I would focus on Advent, and all that implies. Waiting. Anticipation. Expectation. New birth. I'm relaxed. Peaceful. And looking forward to Christmas.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fog, Frost, and Festivities

It did snow last night, but if there was even a skift of accumulation through the night, by early morning, all that remained were surreal layers of fog and frost, held in place by a heavy chill even the bright sun struggled to chase away.

The boys were busy today. Andrew (center left, second from bottom) marched with Sam Houston High's Pride and Spirit Band in the annual Lake Charles Christmas parade. Eric, dressed scarily as the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast) spent the day with his theater group doing "character dining" -- think Disney World without the castle.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Snow in the Forecast!

My Yankee friends would get a kick out of the hub bub here right now. It might snow two inches tonight! Truly, this is big news. Assuming it will snow, it will break the record for the earliest snowfall. And didn't it just snow once last year? It's practically unheard of for it to snow two years in a row. Some events have been cancelled. School let out at noon today, in anticipation of icy roads this afternoon. Folks part and say, "Drive safe!" To which I eavesdropped a reply, "I know, I'm scared to death." But honestly, the concern is not unwarranted. There are people here who have never driven on snowy icy roads. Most everyone's tires are bald. There's no such thing as a salt or cinder truck. Or a snowplow. Cause they (normally) aren't needed. Though I did hear on the news that they'll put "chemicals" on the bridges if it gets bad. If a road becomes icy, they simply close it. And tell people to stay home. Sounds good to me. We're putting our Christmas tree up tonight. Maybe a little fire in the fireplace. Hot cocoa. Christmas music. And maybe I'll have some "winter" pictures for you tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pizzelles

I spent this rainy dreary chilly afternoon listening to my Josh Groban Christmas CD and making pizzelles. No one around here has ever heard of them, so if I'm going to eat this Pittsburgh Christmas cookie tradition, I have to make them myself. I do get a kick out of telling Louisianians about them. First, they can't figure out the word. I say, "pizzelles." They say, "What?" I say, "pit-cells, you know, like pizza," even though the only similarity is that they are round and flat. Then when I say I make them in a waffle-like iron and they're usually anise flavored, they really look at me quizzically. Anyway, I'm so glad Mom and Tom bought me the pizzelle-maker last year for Christmas. They're somewhat time and labor-intensive to make. Unlike cookies on a sheet that you pop in the oven and sit back and wait for 10-12 minutes, (unless you want to start the dishes) with pizzelles, you can only make two at a time. And you have to stand there and watch the clock for 50 seconds. Then put in the next two scoops of batter. But they're worth it. As you can see, I need a little work on my technique. If any of my Italian friends back home know the trick to getting them centered, even, and uniform, please let me know.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lost Without My Laptop

As anyone who might be accustomed to working on a laptop might know, you get used to it. I didn't even realize what an appendage mine had become until it fizzled out a few weeks ago. Completely fried. And I miss it. Terribly. As if I'd lost an arm or something. Now I'm limited to the family desktop. I'm not happy. The keyboard is slightly different, so I'm making tons of typos. The desk chair is uncomfortable and squeaks like a chorus of mice. Speaking of mice, the mouse moves erratically and is difficult to control. I can't walk around the house or outside with the desktop. And I've got deadlines to meet, emails to send, blogs to post, newsletters to read . . . the Dell confirmation letter states my new LT should arrive December 4th. It's amazing the many different ways God tries to teach me patience.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all had a pleasant and peaceful Thanksgiving. We celebrated here at our house, with my sister-in-law Sue and our good friends the Duttons. I've been feeling quite emotional this Thanksgiving season, realizing, after this year, I don't think I'll ever feel quite the same about Thanksgiving. Certainly, there has been loss, such as Sue's tragic car accident. And Eric's ordeal. That was so difficult. But he continues to recover and he's doing so well. As a family, we have so incredibly much to be thankful for; an amazing family, terrific friends, good jobs, wonderful weather (no hurricanes this year). I'm overwhelmed by the blessings. Thank you, God.

To my family in Pennsylvania, I miss you all so much. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DeAngelo's Restaurant

Not long after we moved here in 2007, Bob and I, on the recommendation of, well, everyone, tried a popular Italian restaurant here in Lake Charles, DeAngelo's. We loved it. DeAngelo's was our new "favorite restaurant." Then about a week or so later, it burned to the ground. Bummer! Believe me , there aren't too many good Italian restaurants in Lake Charles. There aren't many Italian places, period. Anyway, we heard rumors that they would rebuild. Seemed like it took a long time, a year or more, maybe two. But they finally reopened a couple weeks ago. The fam and I went there tonight. It was crowded, noisy, and the food was excellent. I had Tuscan minestrone and chicken artichoke ravioli. Mmm Mmm. We've got our favorite restaurant back.

What's your favorite restaurant?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bayou Writers' Conference

The Bayou Writers' annual conference, A Bridge to Publication, this past Saturday was a success. We had a respectable turnout, about the same as last year, wonderful, interesting and informative speakers, good food, and great conferees. Everyone seemed to have a good time. Having been on the planning committee, I can breathe a sigh of relief that it's over. Here's a photo of me and one of our speakers, my friend Melanie Rigney.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Avenue of the Flags-Veterans' Day

I awoke before first light this morning and met the scouts, 6:00 AM, at Orange Grove-Graceland Cemetery for the bi-annual (Memorial Day and Veterans' Day) Avenue of the Flags event for a Boys' Life story I'm writing. Sponsored by the Sons of the American Revolution, scouts have been hoisting these veterans' casket flags for 25 years. The flags are donated by families.

Orange Grove-Graceland Cemetery would be impressive even without the flags. Crumbling tombstones date back to the 1800s. Moss and vines cover elaborate crypts. Ancient live oaks create canopies over the acres of peaceful plots. But today, with 760 flags lining the winding gravel roadways, the cemetery presents a poignant patriotic picture. I'm told this is the largest display of veterans' casket flags in the country.

Today we honor all those who have served our country. Thank you.




Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Donuts

Who doesn't love donuts, right? Donuts are different here in Lake Charles than Pittsburgh. Or at least buying them is. In Pittsburgh, if you want a donut, or a dozen, you drive to the local Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donut, or hope that Giant Eagle's aren't leftover from yesterday. The grocery store bakeries here do sell donuts, but there are no chains. Instead, we have these amazing mom & pop donut shops that often sell them hot, just like Krispy Kreme. The photos below are only a sample. These corner confectionaries are everywhere here. As far as I know, most all the shops have drive through windows (so you can buy donuts in your pajamas and no one knows) and walk up windows. Some you can actually walk into and sit down at a table to eat your donuts.

One thing bothers me. I am seriously in the mood for what I call a bear claw. Now, they sell what they call bear claws here, but they're really apple frittery-type things. A bear claw, as I know it, is donut-ish, large, with cinnamon and walnuts, and topped with maple icing. Does anyone know where I can find one? Another bothersome thing is that they close so early in the day, usually when they run out of donuts, often by 11:00, but definitely by 2:00. What if I want a donut in the afternoon? Walmart, I guess.

Behind the glass cases lined up along the donuts are kolaches. I had never heard of kolaches before moving here, and it took me awhile to figure out what they are. Essentially, they are pigs in a blanket. But the pigs are hardly ordinary hot dogs. Cajuns take their sausage seriously. There are often several different types of kolache to choose from. Mild or spicy, at the very least. Boudin (boo dan) is a blog post all to itself. Some other day.

These first two shops are in Moss Bluff. This one is Dixie Donuts. I love Dixie Donuts. There used to be a sign, but I don't know what happened to it. Seriously, how could Dunkin compete with Dixie Donuts? Well, maybe the coffee is better at Dunkin, but who cares. I can make coffee at home.

I've been told that Donut Palace is actually a chain, but I'm not convinced it's nationwide. I could be wrong.

Dino's is in Westlake. I love Dino's, too. We rarely head west on I-10 without stopping at Dino's for a bag of road trip donuts. I actually met Mr. Dino when I stopped to take the photos. He seems like a great guy.


My guess, and it's only a guess, is that part of the sign fell during a hurricane and never got put back up.

Who could resist Happy Donuts?


I used to have a ring in the 70's that looked just like that yellow O. Actually, I still have it, but I wore it everyday for so many years the cheap metal finally wore through and cracked.



Do I have a favorite? I don't patronize any of these establishments often enough to claim a favorite. But do tell me, what's your favorite donut hole-in-the-wall?

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Fun Fall Birthday Weekend with Flat Stanley

One day not long ago, I received a letter from my niece in Pennsylvania. Folded inside the envelope was a perfectly-colored Flat Stanley, of picture book fame, and instructions to take Flat Stanley on adventures, then return him with a letter and photos. It's all part of a geography/social studies project her second grade class is doing. So, this weekend we showed Stanley around SWLA a bit.

On Friday, I met Bob for lunch at a little diner in Lake Charles called Mary Ann's so Stanley could try some authentic Louisiana chicken and sausage gumbo. He loved it and so did Bob and I.

Later that evening, we traveled north to Reeves with two other families so all the kids could get lost in a cornstalk maze. The maze is so cool, made in the shape of Louisiana.


Saturday was Eric and Andrew’s 15th birthday. Supposedly they are now eligible to obtain their driver’s permits, but that’s a blog for another day. We went camping at Sam Houston Jones State Park, an easy six miles down the road. So convenient I went home on Sunday to feed the cat and take a shower.

We took Stanley on a hike through the swamp. Unfortunately, Stanley didn’t have a bike, so he couldn’t join the boys on their rugged trail rides.

The air was chilly Sunday morning, so Stanley warmed himself by the campfire.

Overall, I’d say Flat Stanley enjoyed his visit to Louisiana, but it’s time to send him home.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bicycling

Bicycling has aways been one of my favorite activities. I loved biking in Pennsylvania. I miss the rails-to-trails, the challenge of cranking up the big hills, and the thrill of flying down them. Biking in SWLA has its advantages, as well. For one thing, it's easy to bike year around here. More or less. Spring and fall are, of course, the best seasons. In the summer, one has to start early enough or wait late enough so that it's not too hot. In the winter, you have to wait till late morning or afternoon when the sun finally chases away the chill. The terrain here is certainly easy; it couldn't be any flatter. There are miles and miles of quiet country roads to get lost on. And there are challenges. One is dodging roadkill, primarily armadillos, opossums, and snakes. The other more formidable foe is frequent headwinds. Imagine pedaling with all your might, only to feel like you're being pushed backwards. Of course, if there's a headwind, there must also be a tailwind. Depends on which direction you're riding, and from which direction the wind is blowing. Unlike in Pa., where the wind almost always blows from the west, Louisiana breezes blow from any direction, sometimes at the same time. Tailwinds are a biker's best friend. They make me feel like super-biker, effortlessly powering down the road at high speeds, especially if they sneak up and catch me unaware. But sooner or later, usually after 30 minutes, I must turn around and head home. Right into a brick wall. Like I said, I miss the hills. At least once I got to the top, I could coast back down to the bottom.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Autumn in Southwest Louisiana


Last week, we had high temperatures around 90. But this past weekend brought cooler temps and we're enjoying highs in the 60s. As if someone flipped a switch, we're suddenly drinking hot chocolate and warm apple cider. Colorful fall wildflowers dot the roadsides. We placed a big pumpkin in our front flower garden. The boys sport pants to school instead of shorts. Jackets have migrated out of the closet. While we hear reports of snow flurries in the northeast, we're soaking up sunny clear blue skies, lower humidity, and open windows, the AC taking a much needed break. Never mind that the weatheman says we'll be back to 82 degrees by Wednesday. Fall is a favorite welcome season in SWLA.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Routines

I have a favorite line from a favorite song from one of my favorite CDs, Magnolia, by Aimee Mann. "Even when it's approaching torture, I got my routine." We're certainly in a routine around here. To a point. Despite the routine, every day is different and I'd be lost without my calendar. One thing for certain; every day is busy and involves a tremendous amount of driving around. I remember when Eric was in the hospital, how I longed for life to get back to normal, for a routine. And now that we're back in a routine, I find myself wishing for a break from it. Funny thing, human nature.

Speaking of routine, Eric had a routine chest x-ray and repeat pulmonary function test today. The docs want to keep tabs on how his lungs are healing. I saw the x-ray. I'm no radiologist, but I thought it looked . . . much better? Nearly normal? We'll wait for the physician report on that one. The pulmonary function report shows significant improvement in ALL numbers. In just three months, Eric's vital capacity (amount of air he can blow out in one breath) increased from 37% to 54%, total lung capacity 55 to 64%, diffusion 43 to 58%. Huge, in my book. So we're very encouraged.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Homecoming -- Day 3 -- The Dance

By all reports, the boys had a fun time at the Homecoming Dance. Eric met his date at a friend's house. They and another couple went to the park and met two other couples for photos. They had dinner at Outback before the dance. Andrew didn't have a formal date, and the girl he was to meet there fancied another guy, so Andrew played the field and supposedly danced with twelve different girls. Eric had my camera. Fortunately, he got one shot of Andrew at the dance. I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story.