kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

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.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for the ThibodeauXville Fall Festival

Like I imagine many of my fellow A to Z Bloggers, I must stretch the parameters a bit to find a subject, in this case a festival, to write about that starts with the letter X.

Here in Louisiana, SO many words, especially last names and the names of towns, which are often one and the same, END in the letter X. It's the whole French influence and heritage thing. Words I never knew existed prior to moving to LA. But I can, after nine years, tell you I'm getting MUCH better at pronouncing said words.

One common last name is Thibodeaux (TIB-o-dough). The same name can also be spelled, depending on the family, Thibodaux. There's a town by the same name. The Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce sponsors an annual event they call the Thibodeauxville Fall Festival. Thibodeauxville apparently was the original name of Thibodaux. The event is held on the second Saturday of each November, and I read they have arts and crafts, music, a car show, and fabulous food. Interestingly, no two food vendors can offer the same food. So I guess there is quite a variety! And there's a Louisiana inspired cook-off . . .
 . . . and a "famous duck race" where hundreds of yellow, rubber ducks float down Bayou Lafourche. Each duck is numbered and tickets cost $5 each. May the fastest duck win!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for the DeRidder Watermelon Festival -- #atozchallenge

After we moved to southwest Louisiana in the summer of 2007, I was determined to discover everything I could about this new country, er, I mean state. We called it our Summer of Immersion. One way to learn about a culture is to do what the locals do, see what they see, eat what they eat, listen to their music and their language. In other words, go to festivals.

Louisiana festivals have been the theme of my A to Z Blogging Challenge. W is for the the DeRidder Watermelon Festival. This was the very first festival we attended after moving to Lake Charles.

We drove north on Highway 171, taking in the terrain, until we came to the railroad town of DeRidder, about a 30-40 minute drive from our home in Moss Bluff. It wasn't hard to find the festival. We strolled around the fairgrounds, and because it was a watermelon festival, we were in search of some watermelon to eat. When we saw the price of a "slice" of the sweet juicy melons they grow in Sugartown, La. (population 54), we were a bit perplexed. The cost was more than we expected for a "slice" of melon. So we ordered just two. And then we understood why they were "expensive." The "slice" was more like a slab! We asked for four sporks and dug in!

Read about our Summer of Immersion here and learn more about the June 23-25 watermelon festival here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for VooDoo Experience -- #atozchallenge

In Louisiana, V is for Voodoo and of course, there's a festival for that.

This festival does not celebrate the actual practice of voodoo. No gris-gris bags or cloth dolls stuck with pins. Well, I suppose there may be some vendors . . . But the Voodoo Experience is an annual New Orleans festival that features art and "high octane" (aka hard rock/heavy metal) music over or around Halloween. This year's event takes place October 28-30. With Halloween as a seasonal backdrop, most festival-goers attend in costume. Festivities take place at New Orleans City Park.

The 2016 line-up has not yet been released, but past performers include Ozzy Osbourne, KISS, Marilyn Manson, Pearl Jam, Muse, Neil Young, Calvin Harris, Skrillex and Nine Inch Nails. 

I'll not be attending this event -- not my scene. But it is yet another example of the rich, diverse culture that defines Louisiana.

What genres of music do you enjoy?

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for the Uncle Sam Jam in Metarie, La. -- #atozchallenge

I think Uncle Sam Jam is a really cool name for an Independence Day celebration, don't you? This Metarie, La. event takes place July 3 this year. A beautiful park setting, hopefully fabulous weather, food vendors, entertainment, live music. And of course, a spectacular fireworks display! The only thing missing maybe is an apple pie contest?

Fireworks Uncle Sam Jam Jefferson Parish

I have fond memories of July 4th festivities throughout my life. When I was a kid growing up in a small town in southwest Pennsylvania, we'd drive to the Fayette County fairgrounds to watch the fireworks. As a young adult living in Pittsburgh, I watched fireworks from Point State Park, or a friend's boat on the river, or if I dared to fight traffic, from atop Mt. Washington. Thanks to Zambelli Fireworks, I don't think there is a city in the country who does fireworks like Pittsburgh. Or as often. Fond memories.

Now in Lake Charles, I watch fireworks from the Civic Center, the docks at Bord du Lac Marina, or our sailboat on the lake. All my life, I've held a disdain for loud noises. But there's something about fireworks . . . the way the BOOM resonates in my chest, the wild colors, the surprise and anticipation of what might come next, and the thrill of the "grand finale." I've always loved watching fireworks.

This is my favorite Independence Day photo -- my husband Bob and sons Andrew (L) and Eric (R). Circa 1995. The boys were nine months old.

What are your favorite Fourth of July memories?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival -- #atozchallenge

T is for the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. Here's a festival that breaks from the expected carnival games and rides, food vendors, parades, and royalty and replaces them with words. Attendees at this annual March event enjoy five days to celebrate and showcase national and regional scholars and writers. The festival began in 1986 by a group of citizens who wanted to spotlight the region's rich cultural heritage through the art of writing. Besides over 100 literary speakers, a highlight of the festival is the popular contests for poetry, fiction, and one-act plays. Grand prize winners in each category receive $1500!

Apparently there's also a contest for this famous scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Stella!!

Image result for Tennessee Williams literary festival photos

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was an iconic American playwright famous for productions such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, and of course, A Streetcar Named Desire. Williams lived for a time in New Orleans' French Quarter. His play Vieux Carré was set in the Quarter. For more information on Williams, here's the Wiki link.

Locally, Keagan LeJeune, professor of English at McNeese State University, was selected as a finalist in this year's festival poetry contest last month. Congratulations!

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for the Sulphur Mines Festival and the Swamp Pop Fest in Gonzales -- #atozchallenge

S is for the Sulphur Mines Festival, which honors the rich industrial history of the town of Sulphur, upon which the town was established. The Brimstone Museum in Sulphur sponsors the event, which took place last month. Read more about the Brimstone Museum and the history of Sulphur and the Mines here and here.

S is also for the Swamp Pop Fest in Gonzales, La. This fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation takes place on July 15-16. See their website for more information.

Personally, I have a hard time differentiating between swamp pop and other forms of Louisiana music. This page on their site says swamp pop is Cajun music with a "rocking" flair, using electric guitars and saxophones instead of fiddles and accordions. For descriptions of the swamp pop, zydeco, and Cajun music genres, see this website.

What is your favorite Louisiana musical genre and why?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for the Iowa Rabbit Festival and the Crowley International Rice Festival -- #atozchallenge

We're a bit over halfway with the A to Z Blogging Challenge and so far so good. I've been featuring Louisiana festivals that highlight the unique diverse culture that defines life in Louisiana.

Today's letter is R and R stands for the Iowa (I-way) Rabbit Festival. The annual March event used to be held in Iowa but now takes place in nearby Lake Charles' Burton Coliseum. The festival began in 1987 as a way to promote the only rabbit processing plant in the area. I did not know that. According to the website, the plant is long gone, but the festival lives on. Food options include fried rabbit, rabbit stew, and rabbit sauce piquant. Hasenpfeffer! Naturally, there is a cook-off. And a rabbit show.

Andrew and I attended this event in 2011. You can read about our adventure here.

R is also for the Crowley International Rice Festival. One of the things that perplexed and fascinated us since our arrival in Louisiana nine years ago is the local culinary fixation on rice. The locals eat rice with everything! One of the most popular everyday meals is "rice and gravy." (They usually include meat. No idea why they don't mention that.) Granted, rice is a major local cash crop. But I'd be curious how many pounds of rice the average person living in southwest Louisiana consumes a year. A lot! Oddly, and sadly for me, rice pudding is not thing here. ??

Oh, about the festival . . . it takes place October 20-23 this year. Likely the dates have something to do with harvest time. The Charlie Daniels Band will entertain concertgoers this year. That's a pretty big deal! As well as many other bands. And the Budweiser Clydesdales will be there! Events include a Rice Creole and Cookery Contest, a Poker "Rice" Run for the biker set, a 5K Run/Walk for the athletic types, and a Classic Car Show, for the gear heads. Read more on this festival here.

What is your favorite rice dish? Have you ever owned a rabbit? Do you eat rabbit?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for New Orleans French Quarter Fest -- #atozchallenge

We all just missed this one. The 2016 French Quarter Fest took place April 7-10. Basically, it is a music festival with an extensive line-up scattered on twenty-three stages across the French Quarter.

And of course, it wouldn't be a festival in New Orleans without amazing food! Vendors abound.

Special events during the recent festival included an opera, free dance lessons, a film festival, a juried art show on Pirate's Alley, and numerous lectures on various music genres.

I have not been to this festival, but I have been to the French Quarter on occasion. You can read about two of those adventures here and here.

Mark you calendars for next year's French Quarter Fest, April 6-9.

What is your favorite thing about the French Quarter?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Port Barre Cracklin Fest -- #atozchallenge

Cracklins. Another one of those foods I'd never heard of till I moved to Louisiana. And even then, I refused to eat them for years, until I was asked by a client to write a blog post on the popular Cajun delicacy and where you can buy them. So, in the name of research, I bought a small bag. At first, I thought I liked them. I tried them any place I could. For about a month. That was enough. I try to eat healthy, mostly, and cracklins are chewy golden nuggets of fried pig skin. So, there you go.

Photo from acadianatable.com

Oh wait, this post is supposed to be about a festival. P is for Port Barre Cracklin Festival! There is no current information on their website, but it takes place each November since 1985 and is a fundraiser for the Lion's Club. As the website says, this festival provides all the usual festival events -- pageantry, a parade, carnival rides and games, food, music, and . . . a cracklin cook-off! There are professional and amateur categories and prizes for both taste and booth presentation.

Photo from the festival website.

What are your thoughts on cracklins?

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for the Oyster Fest in New Orleans and Oktoberfest in Roberts Cove -- #atozchallenge

Continuing on with the A to Z Blogging Challenge, today's letter is O.

O is for the New Orleans Oyster Festival. "Shuckin' and jivin'" take place June 4-5. In addition to a shucking contest, there is also an oyster eating contest and oyster cooking demonstrations. See more about this festival here.


Fried oysters, oysters on the half shell . . . I may have eaten fried oysters in college, but otherwise, I do not eat them. Nor do I care to. Some people love them, but they look slimy to me. My Grandma Lowdermilk used to make oyster dressing. I wouldn't eat it.

O is also for Oktoberfest. The sleepy hamlet of Robert's Cove has been hosting an Oktoberfest since 1995. Okay, technically it is called Germanfest. Close enough? Do you allow me creative license? How about this -- it takes place on the first full weekend in October!

Festival attractions include German folklore, dancing, singing, and curiously, "old time swine processing." And of course, beer and a brewing competition.

Do you like oysters, and if so, how do you eat them? What are your thoughts on beer and home brewing?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights -- #atozchallenge

N is for the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights. Our son Eric attended high school in Natchitoches, so from 2010-2013, we became quiet familiar with this historic town. Read about my early impressions of Natchitoches from this 2010 post. But it was our son Andrew and his involvement with Sam Houston High's Marching Band that took us there for the Festival of Lights when the band participated in the festival parade in 2012.

I recall that day vividly. The weather was perfect, though maybe a bit too warm (close to 80 degrees) for December. Never certain that time of year, I wore corduroy pants and a long-sleeved holiday t-shirt. It was way too warm for that. And to boot, I assumed it would cool off after the sun went down, so I unnecessarily carried around a light-weight jacket all day. Imagine the band kids in those heavy uniforms, marching what I would guess was around a 3-4 mile parade route. This is Andrew’s “Oh, Mom . . ." look. 

I knew the place would be packed. Knowing I don’t deal well with crowds, I had mentally psyched myself ready several days in advance, but nothing could have prepared me for the masses that descend on Natchitoches for this daylong celebration – the parade, food, music, fireworks, and unveiling of the over 300,000 lights that adorn darling downtown Natchitoches. Out of curiosity, I called their Visitors Bureau after the event and discovered they estimated the crowd to be around 75,000! Wow! 

It was a good day overall. The parade was long, about two hours. Dance and cheer teams, floats carrying queens, politicians, and area business owners, high school marching bands, costumed characters, all tossing candy and beads to the throngs. I could have done without the noisy vroom vroom of approximately 175 motorcycles. And the policemen on their bikes needn’t have preened at quite so high a decibel level. But these funny Shriners made me smile. 

I did a little Christmas shopping in the overcrowded shops along Front Street. The fireworks were some of the best I’ve seen in my life (and I've seen a lot), truly choreographed to Christmas music and with different unusual displays of explosives I’d never seen before. 

They don’t flip the switch on the lights until after the fireworks, in a grand reveal. We’d grown weary of the crowds by then and wanted to head home after the fireworks (church and all the next morning) but in hindsight, I wish we had spent a bit more time looking at the lights. Traffic was an absolute nightmare. It took us an hour and a half to get out of the town. But it’s a worthwhile event to do at least once. It’s a Louisiana holiday tradition. 

(In the name of full disclosure, I did not take these night shots. I found them on the internet.) 

The festival takes place from November 19-January 6 this year. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for the Starks Mayhaw Festival -- #atozchallenge

I experienced the Starks Mayhaw Festival in May 2012. Naturally, I wrote a blog post about it. It was one of my more popular posts. So I will re-post it. Here is their website. Sadly, this year's festival has been cancelled due to the severe flooding last month in that area. You can read about that tragic disaster here. And let's wish all the folks involved with the Starks Mayhaw Festival a speedy recovery.

What the heck is a mayhaw?

I’ve learned so many new words since moving to Louisiana. Lagniappe (a little something extra), coolie (not even certain how to spell that one – couldn’t find it in the dictionary, but it’s basically a drainage ditch), and mayhaw, just to name a few.

I remember my first trip to the farmers’ market here in Lake Charles. A sweet woman proudly stood behind her display of jams and jellies. I saw Mayhaw Jelly. I’d never heard of a mayhaw. I asked, “What’s a mayhaw?” I think she told me it’s some kind of berry. I guess that answer must have satisfied my curiosity at the time. Naturally, I bought some mayhaw jelly. It’s hard to describe the taste. Sweet is all I can come up with.

Five years later, and I still didn’t really know what a mayhaw was. Does it grow on a tree or a bush? What does a mayhaw look like and taste like?

So when I saw advertisements for the Starks Mayhaw Festival this past weekend, I thought, Here’s my chance to find out what a mayhaw is.

Starks is a teeny little town west and a bit north of Lake Charles, near the Texas border, about a 40 minute drive. When we saw the carnie rides, we knew we’d found the place. The festival is a small affair, but not lacking in interesting sights.

This dog apparently sells ride tickets.

How many tickets ya want, lady, she seemed to bark. If they’d had my favorite ride, the Scrambler, I might have bought some. We called it the Merry Mixer when I was a kid. But they didn't have it.

Then I saw this woman carrying the cutest monkey. She said he’s a marmoset. He was shy and the camera seemed to scare him. I could only take his photo if I petted his head at the same time.

Several vendors at the festival sold various jellies, including, of course, mayhaw.

But I prefer jams. We found only one vendor who sold mayhaw jam. His name is David Griffis from Buna, Texas, and he told me everything I wanted to know about mayhaws. They are similar but somewhat smaller than a crabapple, so they do grow on trees. And I assume they are quite tart like crabapples. Mr. Griffis says he uses four cups of sugar for every six jars of jelly. He gave us a sample of the mayhaw jam. It’s good. Sweet. And he makes a mean blackberry jam, too. We bought a jar of each.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for the Louisiana Hot Sauce Expo and the Louisiana Renaissance Fest -- #atozchallenge

The Louisiana Hot Sauce Expo happens this weekend, April 16-17. The website calls it "a celebration of hot sauce and spicy food."

I found this photo on their Facebook page. Apparently, this man makes hot sauce and wins awards!

When I think of hot sauce, I usually think of Tabasco. A few years ago, I toured Avery Island, where they make Tabasco. Read that post here. We visited again recently, when Bob's sister and brother-in-law visited us. I can tell you, they have made some wonderful improvements. If you haven't been there in awhile, I encourage you to visit again. Jungle Gardens, adjacent to the Tabasco Factory, is worth the trip, too.

Lately, our son Andrew has me enjoying Sriracha sauce.

And I also think of a Dr. King White, a Lake Charles cardiologist. He has a hobby of making hot sauce from peppers he grows in his backyard garden. I had the pleasure of meeting this man when I wrote a story about him for Lagniappe magazine several years ago. And I'm still using the bottle of hot sauce he have me!

L is also for the Louisiana Renaissance Fest in Hammond, La. Andrew attends Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, but we have not attended this medieval festival, which takes place every weekend in November and the first two weekends in December. 

Ren-Fest Fun

Ren-Fest Fun

Ren-Fest Fun

See their website for more terrific photos! I had a hard time choosing a few. 

Have you been to a Renaissance festival? What was your experience? And do you have a favorite hot sauce?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kaplan Louisiana Cajun Food Fest and Kentwood Independence Fest -- #atozchallenge

K is for the Louisiana Cajun Food Festival. Well, not really, but it's held in the town of Kaplan, so that counts, right? According to a website promoting last year's festival, the event includes live entertainment, children's activities, food (naturally, it's a food festival) and craft vendors. And that's about all I can discern about that. 

K is also for the Kentwood Independence Festival, held, of course, on July 4th. Their website is not up to date. But at least they have one. From what I can tell on their Facebook page, it looks like a big party at a campground.

Do you know of any good festivals that start with the letter K?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is for Jazz -- #atozchallenge

Today we explore jazz music. Jazz has historical roots in Louisiana, so it is fitting that we celebrate this aspect of our culture through festivals. Up in the northwest corner of the state, music lovers will enjoy the thirteenth annual Highland Jazz and Blues Festival on September 17 this year. Highland is a historic neighborhood just south of downtown Shreveport.

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. It began in the late 1800s with a trumpeter named Buddy Bolden. Soon after came musicians like Louie Armstrong and Joe Oliver, Dizzy Gillespie, and the Marsalis family.  For more information on the history of jazz in New Orleans, read here and here.

Louis Armstrong

Stroll down any street in New Orlean's French Quarter today and you'll likely hear someone somewhere playing jazz. Bob and I enjoyed this street musician on a visit to NOLA last year.

The Highland festival website thus far is sparse for information -- they say they'll post the entertainment lineup this summer. But they do have a fundraiser associated with the festival coming up a week from today on April 19 that sounds like fun. A "Dish Crawl." Ticketholders will sample food and drinks from several different restaurants and breweries along the route. Live music, presumably jazz and blues, is included.

Harry Connick, Jr.Thinking of jazz musicians, I'm personally fond of Harry Connick, Jr. Who is your favorite jazz artist?

Monday, April 11, 2016

I is for the Tickfaw Italian Festival -- #atozchallenge

Back in Pittsburgh, a festival celebrating Italian culture would seem quite expected and ordinary. Gnocchi, cannelloni, manicotti, tortellini, lasagna, pizzelles . . . . it's all as common in Southwest Pennsylvania as rice and crawfish in Southwest Louisiana. So I was rather surprised to discover an Italian Festival in Tickfaw, La. Mark your calendars -- it's coming up soon, April 22-24.

I don't know much about Tickfaw, except there's a wonderful state park there. Bob and I visited this beautiful park one day on our way home from a trip to Hammond. You can read that post here. So of course, I have not been to this festival. But this is what I learned from the website.

spaghetti: spaghetti bolognese

Tickfaw, a village in central Tangipahoa Parish, is home to many Italian-American descendants. At the festival, there's a spaghetti cook-off. And otherwise, it's a typical festival with carnival rides, entertainment, a pageant and parade.


And tune in tomorrow, where we'll celebrate jazz and blues.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is for the Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival and the Louisiana Honey Bee Fest

The letter for today is H and here on this A to Z Challenge blog, that stands for hot air balloons and honey bees.

The Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place in Gonzales, La. each September. I couldn't find information on this year's event, but here's a site from last year. 

Riding in a hot air balloon was something I'd wanted to do most all my life. I finally experienced that dream last month on a trip to visit my in-laws near Phoenix, Arizona. In a word, thrilling. You can read about that adventure here.

H is also for honey bees, which scientists say are in peril these days. So it is fitting that we consider them. Beekeeping is a popular pastime locally. There are several vendors who sell honey at the area farmers' markets. My favorite is Santa Rita Honey Bee Farm, at the Tuesday Cash and Carry Market.

I found traces of a honey bee festival in Ponchatoula, La., but I couldn't find any up-to-date info on the event. I get the sense it is something they do at their farmers market in September to celebrate National Honey Month.

I met some members of a Southwest Louisiana beekeepers club a few years ago. Read that post here.

Check back on Monday, where we'll celebrate the Tickfaw Italian Festival.