kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Five Blog Posts of 2014

You see the lists around this time of year. The Best XYZ of 2014. the Top Ten Whatchamacallits of 2014. A Year End Review of This, That, or the Other.

Which got me thinking . . . what were my most visited blog posts of 2014? What are my readers most interested in? What I discovered is that a popular post, based on number of views, doesn't necessarily mean it is particularly fascinating or poignant. Usually, the posts with the highest number of views are the posts that have been shared by other people who have large numbers of readers on social media sites such as Facebook.

Take, for example, my all-time most viewed post. On August 1, 2010, I wrote a post called Baby Turtle Finds a Home, after my husband Bob brought a small turtle that he'd found at work home to me. He had taken some pretty amazing photographs of this turtle to go along with the story. And at some point, Google Images picked up one of the photos.

So now, if you google turtle photos, that image, with a link to my blog, is one of the prominent sites that pops up. Consequently, over the four years since then, that post has had a whopping 26,483 hits. Really, it's all about exposure.

So here, based on number of views, are my Top Five Blog Posts for 2014.

5. Washington, La. -- people who enjoy antiquing found this post interesting.

4. The number 4 spot needs to be shared by two posts that had nearly identical number of views. Shangri-La Gardens in Orange, Tx. and Lacassine's Bayou Rum. Read here and here

3. Twelfth Night Extravaganza -- a post about the beginning of Mardi Gras season.

2. The Pint House Pizzeria and Brewhouse. Lots of hits on this one, only because the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau picked the post up and put a link to it on their own site. I now write blog posts for their website.

And my number one most viewed post of 2014, with 1512 hits, goes to Scott, Louisiana. This is because the people who live there have a great deal of love and pride in their hometown and pretty much every one of them shared the post on social media. I love them.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2015 be peaceful and prosperous.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Acadian Village -- Lafayette, LA

There are so many destinations on my Louisiana "bucket list." We scratched one off this past Friday. We went to Acadian Village to see the popular Christmas light display. (Can anyone tell me what LUS stands for?)

Acadian Village is open year around as a historic landmark depicting life of the early Acadian settlers. During the holidays, the site transforms into an enchanted Christmas wonderland. "Noel Acadien Au Village."

This year's theme is "A Blue Christmas." Everyone loves Blue Dog.

We ate funnel cakes.

And warm freshly roasted peanuts. This is Victor. The big green machine behind him is a old time peanut roaster.

Vic says the roaster is over 100 years old. He found it in a dump near Alexandria 27 years ago. He fixed it up and has been selling peanuts since then. Vic is the official peanut vendor at University of Louisiana at Lafayette sporting events. He can also be found at festivals, and apparently, he is a fixture at Acadian Village during the holidays. As we were leaving, I overheard a woman who just arrived say, "I want to get my peanuts before we do anything else."

In the midst of all the lights, there is this lovely nativity scene.

For the kids, carnival rides . . .

Strolling through Acadian Village, we immediately got into the Christmas spirit. We couldn't help singing along with the holiday music playing in the background. For my Pittsburgh readers, it's like a walk-through Hartwood Acres, back in the day. Don't you all miss that?

Special thanks to my dear husband for his photography skills. (I'm in between cameras.)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Little Town Called Scott -- Louisiana's Cajun Art Capital

On the way home from a quick trip to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, we stopped in Scott to explore this laid back little Louisiana town. We discovered Scott is quite a treat!

The first thing a visitor of Scott notices is the quirky odd roundabout right off the highway. I think an intersection with a light would work better, but that’s only my opinion.

When I go to a town I've never been to before, usually my first stop is the welcome center. Scott has an interesting-looking visitors’ center, easy to find, right by the roundabout, with a nice duck pond. Sadly, it was closed.

But that didn't stop these guys from rocking on the porch.

So we were on our own. We drove up St. Mary’s Street. The town has a historical feel – old well-preserved buildings and small tidy homes. And then this caught my eye.

This gallery was closed, with an “open by appointment” sign. But next door is the Gallery Acadie.

We walked in and found two men painting at easels. Colorful art work adorned the walls. We struck up a fascinating conversation with one of the artists, Bryan Theriot, and learned a lot about the town and how they promote the Cajun culture through their artwork. He told us the 1902 building was originally the town saloon and the original bar still flanks one wall.

Theriot on left and his business partner Brad Oleus Boudreaux.

Theriot also told us about one of his mentors, world-renown Cajun illustrator Floyd Sonnier, who once lived and worked in the building. Sonnier used pen and ink to create scenes depicting the Cajun country lifestyle or buildings in Cajun towns. He also drew festival posters. Across the street from Gallery Acadie is Sonnier’s Beau Cajun Art Gallery, operated by Sonnier’s widow, Virlie. Sonnier died in 2002.

For these reasons, Scott has recently been named Louisiana’s Cajun Art Capital.

Not far from these galleries is a charming antique shop called Revival. They have a large inventory of antique furniture, among other things.

I’m also told there is a Christmas shop in Scott, but we didn't see that. And there’s this coffee shop. I like it when a town converts their old train station into something useful. Trains still zip through the center of town every 15 minutes.

Scott is also well-known for boudin. They have a boudin festival every April. There are several purveyors of boudin in the area. The artists recommended The Best Stop. Supposedly, they were the first to sell boudin in the area.

So we went there first and bought three boudin balls. I prefer boudin balls to links. Just seems easier, not messing with the casings. For my non-Louisiana readers, boudin is a special sausage made (mostly) from a pork and rice mixture. The boudin balls are that same mixture but made into meatballs, breaded and fried.

Then we tried the more visible (right on the interstate) Don’s Boudin. We bought more boudin balls there. I won’t say which I preferred, BUT Best Stop sold 3 boudin balls for $1.50 and Don’s were 2 for $1.50. And Don’s tasted saltier.

Another fun surprise was Candyland Cottage and Ice Cream Shoppe.

They sell a variety of confections, including some hard-to-find vintage candies, and Blue Bell ice cream. They have a large Christmas display and a fun collection of antique toys. There’s a patio with tables in the back by a pond.

Scott is conveniently located right on I-10, just west of Lafayette. Definitely worth a trip!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Delta Downs and Horse Racing

I've recently started sharing some of my adventures with the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau. When I share with them, I'll share with you here, also.

One of our latest adventures was to Delta Downs. It's a casino/resort, but we went there for the horse racing.

Click on this link to read the story.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Walk and a Wish to End Alzheimer's

I participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s last Saturday at Lake Charles' Prien Lake Park.

These particular types of fundraisers are ubiquitous on any given Saturday morning. Associations for most any disease you can think of have a Walk to raise money for research, a cure, and to help those afflicted with the disease. I've often contributed to various such organizations, but I never attended an event.

Until now.

Because now it is personal.

Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around three years ago. I remember refusing to believe it. I was in denial. She’s too young, I thought. (She was 70 at the time.) Her memory isn't that bad. With me living in Louisiana and she in Pennsylvania, I didn't see her as often as my sisters and my stepdad Tom. So it was harder for me to recognize the subtle changes in her abilities and personality. This is me and Mom on her 70th birthday, July 2011.

By Christmas 2012, the effects of the disease were more obvious. But she was still “Mom.” I thank God for my sister Lisa, who courageously brought her to Lake Charles in May 2013 for my sons’ high school graduation. Her decline was undeniable at that point, and yet, as we sat in the bleachers of a gymnasium for Eric’s graduation ceremony, she was the first to spot him amidst that sea of blue caps and gowns. “There he is!” she exclaimed.

When I visited Mom and Tom that fall of 2013, nothing could have prepared me. My sisters and I had no idea how devastatingly bad things were getting at home. By the following January, 2014, she was in a nursing home.

How did all that happen so quickly?

I despise this disease. We all do. We have no idea in what ways this is hard for Mom. We can't imagine. It’s so hard for my sisters and Tom, who see her regularly. It’s hard for me, because I don’t. Not only do we grieve for our mother before she is even gone, but we fear for our own futures and those of our children.

Lisa wrote all our feelings so eloquently in an email today.

I miss so many things about Mom every single day.  I miss talking with her about everything, venting to her, weighing my options with her, talking through my concerns about the kids with her. I miss her every time we get together as a family because she should be there. And I get so angry; the thing that bothers me most I think, is that Alex and Emmett don’t get to grow up with her as the grandma she was before this disease, because she is the most loving grandma a child could ever have.  That’s the hardest thing for me to accept.

“This never ending grieving is so hard for our minds to process.  I get upset with myself when I refer to Mom in the past tense, because she’s not dead and I feel like I’m being disrespectful.  Yet, the way she was such an integral part of our lives is in the past.  And the grieving never ends because there’s really no closure.  We still see her routinely, but this is a reminder every time of what we’ve lost.  It’s like a wound that can’t heal.  It’s open, and raw and still very painful.

This is one of my favorite photos of Mom, taken in February 2010. Before any of us had any idea of what was coming.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Kona Ice

I love this. Kona Ice is the "coolest" idea. Combination ice cream truck and snow cone stand (read my snow cone stand post here). 

Kids love the self serve/pick your own flavors feature. But they also have dozens of flavors to choose from inside the truck.

Kona Ice shows up at events and they motor through neighborhoods. They play a variety of island songs (key word variety, take note traditional ice cream trucks.)

What is really awesome is that when they go to fundraising events, such as the Walk to End Alzheimers this morning, they donate a percentage of their revenue to the cause. For the Alzheimers Walk, they donated 25%!

I have both loved and feared ice cream trucks my entire life. As a very small child living in Cleveland, Ohio, I heard the ice cream truck approaching on our street. I asked Mom to let me get something. It was my first time going to the truck, at least by myself. Mom gave me a dime and I rushed to the truck, where a crowd of kids had gathered. Ten cents may have been enough for a popsicle back then, but I must have requested a fudgesicle or something like that. I didn't have enough money. The man driving the truck was gruff and somewhat mean. I only recall being scared and humiliated. Funny how kids remember stuff like that. To this day, I can't see or hear an ice cream truck without thinking of that time.

In college (Wheeling Jesuit University), the gang I hung out with had a good friend named Brian, aka "Country" because he was from Bluefield, West Virginia. Country drove an ice cream truck, and would bring it on campus, much to our delight. Note the ice cream in one hand and a beer in the other. That's pretty much how it was.

Readers, do you have any ice cream truck stories? I know Kona Ice is a franchise. Where have you seen them, outside Lake Charles?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pacific Northwest Part 4 -- Seattle

Bob and I concluded our trip with a couple fun days in Seattle. Super city! Since it was our first time to this town, we did what most tourists do.

Pike Place Market, aka the fish market

Besides fish, they sell just about everything there. Loved these berries and wreaths made from peppers.

My favorite part of Pike Place was the incredible flower vendors. Huge beautiful bouquets for ten bucks.

As you can see, it's a colorful city. For example, the infamous "gum wall." How does something like this get started? And once it does, who decides it should be a tourist attraction?

We rode the giant ferris wheel. Awesome view from up there!

Of course, we went to the top of the Space Needle.

But by far, my favorite place in all of Seattle was the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. Words cannot express the beauty of glass artist Dale Chihuly's work. Photos barely capture the awesomeness. No trip to Seattle would be complete without a visit to Chihuly Garden, at the feet of the Space Needle.

This is a ceiling.

And there's an outdoor garden.

Other favorite things in Seattle: The Inn at El Gaucho, where we stayed. Surely one of Seattle's best kept secrets. And the Tap House Grill. 160 beers on tap!