Tag Archives: NOLA

NOLA for Dummies Rookies

St Louis Cathedral

Special thanks to my friend LeslieAnn for the great photo!

My beloved city has been getting a lot of press lately. Camera crews are everywhere preparing for the Super Bowl. Talk shows are broadcasting live from the French Quarter and media credentials have been issued to reporters from over 200 countries. 

And as soon as the Lombardi trophy is handed to the game’s victor, we’ll shift gears into our biggest tourist event, Mardi Gras. After that, festival season kicks in, with event after event booking our weekends until the summer heat drives us indoors.

All this press will surely make a few of you yearn for a trip to the Big Easy. So I’ve prepared this little primer for traveling to New Orleans. Read it carefully before packing your bags.

Let’s Talk

First, let me address the name of our fair city. It’s New Or-luns. Not New Or-leens (unless you are singing a certain song where things must rhyme), and not N’Awlins. If you’re insecure with the pronunciation you can just say NOLA. We will respect you for trying, but we will love you for getting it right.

While we’re on the subject of word pronunciation, here are a few more you may want to practice.

The tiny, lobster-like crustaceans we love to eat are called crawfish (rhymes with draw fish). Not craa-fish (like in “Hey fish”).

Following that same pattern, the delicious sugary treats made in the French Market are called pralines (praw-leens, again, first syllable rhymes with draw), not pray-leens.

The nuts inside the pralines (remember, praw-leens) are called pecans (pa-cahns), not pee-cans. A pee-can is something completely different. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

And street names. Ahhh, street names. Don’t even try to pronounce Tchoupitoulas if you’re not from here. Just point and ask for help.

It will also behoove you to know that here, we ride in street cars, not trolleys or cable cars. And ordering a sandwich dressed means it will come with lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. When you’re ready to leave and you haven’t finished your drink, ask for a Go-Cup. Yes, they’ll pour your beverage (even an adult one) in a disposable cup and you can take it with you. Just don’t drive with it. That we take very seriously.

Cocktail Culture

Here in the birthplace of the cocktail, we love to raise a glass. (Please don’t judge. It’s just our way.) Locals don’t maintain a tourist’s pace every day. That would be deadly. But be prepared for a prevalence of adult beverages during your stay, and know what you’re getting yourself into.

For a list of 10 Classic New Orleans cocktails and where to get them, click here.

My suggestions: Make sure you try a Sazerac, the original cocktail. It’s a rye whisky drink with a fun history that you can read about here. It was developed by an apothecary in the 19th century, so you can claim it’s for medicinal purposes. They’re served all over town, but the legendary Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel is the place to go for the real thing.

I’d also recommend trying a Pimm’s Cup, a refreshing, relatively low-alcohol beverage best enjoyed at the Napoleon House. Skip the Hurricane and Hand Grenade, unless cheap liquor in large quantities is what you’re after.

Another pioneering bit of New Orleans cocktail culture is the daiquiri machine. These sweet and potent concoctions are kind of like an alcohol-laced slurpee. Daiquiri bars will boast more flavors than Baskin-Robbins, with machines lined up behind the bar to entice you. They’re great on a really hot day, but I’d skip those in favor of something a little more sophisticated.

The cocktail has become such a revered part of our history and culture you can now take a walking tour through the French Quarter bars and restaurants that have become famous because of their libations. Wear comfortable shoes and designate a driver if your hotel isn’t within walking distance.

When you have to “go”

Finding a restroom in a drinking and walking city sometimes presents a problem. During special events it’s nearly impossible. So city planners and event organizers will put out banks of portable toilets for the public to use.

Let me make this perfectly clear: If you are unwilling to use a Port-O-Let, you should stay home. When the number of tourists exceeds the population, there’s no avoiding it.

Watch your step

After a night of revelry in the French Quarter, a certain blend of “liquids” accumulates along the edge of the streets. We call that liquid Party Gravy. Never, ever step in the Party Gravy. Most of the time it’s harmless, just spilled drinks and the leftover puddles from our tropical showers. But sometimes people get a little carried away when they’re here, and forget their good manners. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Don’t discuss your footwear with strangers.

Unless you actually want to pay someone to shine your shoes, do not engage the shoe shiners. They will ask you in a somewhat polite manner if you’d like your shoes shined. Once you make eye contact and speak to them, they set the hook. Then it will go something like this:

“Want your shoes shined?”

“No, thanks.”

But he will not give up.

“Well, then, I betcha I can tell you where you got them shoes.”

“Sorry, no thanks.”

Still he will persist.

“I betcha five dollars I can tell you the exact street where you got them shoes.”

If you pause and make eye contact, you have accepted the bet. Certain that the dude has no idea where you purchased your shoes, you will engage. The shoe shiner will then announce that you “got them shoes on your feet” and that “your feet are on Bourbon Street.” There will then be a loud confrontation where he demands his $5. If there isn’t a cop within 20 feet you will pay the creep the $5 to get away.

Pace Yourself

No one comes to New Orleans to eat a turkey sandwich. Our food is rich and plentiful. And when it’s chased with a cocktail or two, you get easily fall victim to over-indulgence. Know your limits, and then only exceed them by a little. You gotta have fun, right?

If you decide to trek down to NOLA, give me a shout. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to make your visit memorable. And maybe even join you for a cocktail.

Have you been to New Orleans? If you have, did a shoe shiner ask you where you got your shoes?

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Disclaimer: This amusing description does not even come close to what New Orleans has to offer. It’s a great destination, full of history, culture, and energy. For more comprehensive information on travel to New Orleans, click on of these links. Then pack your bags and head on down!

New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau — http://www.neworleanscvb.com/

Go NOLA — http://www.gonola.com/

Louisiana Tourism – the official tourism site of the state of Louisiana — http://www.louisianatravel.com/new-orleans

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Happy Mardi Gras!

Today, I took one for the team. I stayed home on Mardi Gras.

If you don’t already know this, today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day, the culmination of our weeks-long celebration leading up to the somber season of Lent here in Catholic New Orleans.

If you’ve never been to Mardi Gras or to New Orleans, you should definitely put it on your bucket list. I know there are other Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations around the world, but ours is unique for many reasons. But I digress…

This story is about my family.

My family loves Mardi Gras. But we love it in different ways.

Uptown parade via Nola.com

Uptown parade via Nola.com

My idea of a great Mardi Gras is having a base camp at the beginning of the route with chairs and ladders and food and potty passes somewhere. My preferred location is on Napoleon Avenue, at the beginning of the parade route, nestled under a lacy canopy of live oaks, with actual grass beneath my feet. Because it the beginning of the route, you have to arrive early, while most of the city is still pondering their second cup of coffee. Or second Bloody Mary.

For Slick and The Trailblazer, a great Mardi Gras experience means being further up St. Charles Avenue, where throngs of high school and college students flock. (Mardi Gras is the new Spring Break.) The scene up there is a bit intense for me, and the thick crowds give me the heebie-jeebies, so I prefer to leave them with their own kind while I stay with mine.

For Mr. Wonderful, being in the thick of the action, not tied down to chairs and a home base, drifting with the crowd chasing an elusive Zulu coconut and eating from street vendors is Utopia. Before we had children, we schlepped through the French Quarter, caught the drag queen costume contest, roamed through the city in search of fun. It was never my thing, but he loved it so much I went along with it. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time, but I’m definitely a fair-weather fan of this season.

Once the kids came, we settled down a bit, hunkering in a hotel on St. Charles Avenue for the long weekend, partying til someone dropped. The kids slept on the floor of the old mansion-turned-hotel and ate pub food for days.

But as they got older, the family became divided. The teenagers tired of hanging with mom and dad for days on end. After three kids my bladder could no longer go all day with limited potty stops. But Mr. Wonderful’s lust for the party never ceased.

The kids and I were holding him back.

Then last week, Mr. Wonderful and I found ourselves downtown on a parade night with only The Caboose in tow. As we approached the parade route, the boy ran ahead to get there first. Mr. Wonderful glanced back at me, looking for permission to follow. I nodded my consent and he took off after the little dude. I caught up a few minutes later to hear them shouting and having fun, with an armload of beads and a giant stuffed fish. Two peas in their Mardi Gras pod.

So Sunday, when Mr. Wonderful commented about last year’s Mardi Gras Day rain out, and how upset he was when the rain clouds passed and he saw the TV broadcast of the people on the streets reveling without him, I knew I had to throw him a bone. I convinced The Caboose that he and dad would have a great time on the man-prowl. No one to tether them to a bathroom, no one to make them stay put in mom’s happy place. They could travel light, work their through the crowd, go where the wind would take them.

I sent them off without me, so they could have their kind of fun.

My theory was validated at 9:25 this morning, when the first photo came via dad’s Blackberry of a smiling boy.

Shortly after that came another photo of The Caboose holding his Zulu coconut. More followed, all chronicling the day exactly as I hoped it would go. Father and son, having fun together, making special memories at on Carnival Day.

The Mardi Gras prize: A Zulu coconut. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

King Zulu. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

Hail Rex. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

I’m sure (OK, I hope) when they return home this afternoon, they’ll both say I should have come. But the truth is it couldn’t be both ways. Their kind of fun is different from my kind. And today I wanted them to have their kind.

Next year I’ll probably go with them, and we’ll figure out a compromise that covers us all.

But I’m certain that someday I’ll hear them telling stories about this day – the year they went out by themselves – and the adventures they had. And I’ll smile.

My Internet Dream Date with Renee Schuls-Jacobson

This post is about my Real-Life Dream Date with Renee Schuls-Jacobson of RAS Jacobson’s Lessons from Teachers and Twits.

You can be jealous that I got to meet her.  😉

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“Do you actually know this person? Are you even sure she’s a woman? You better hope she’s not a psycho.”

My husband’s sentiments were bouncing around in my head as I approached the hotel. I know quite a few stories about people meeting online, and then traveling across the country to meet in person. (Well, she was actually tagging along on a business trip with her husband – not a trek JUST to meet me – but all the other criteria were the same as one of those weird internet-friendships-gone-bad stories.) I had to admit, on paper it did sound a little strange.

But I was drawn to her anyway.

Her text said she was at the corner of Canal and Camp, and that she was wearing an orange coat. As I looked down at the orange sleeves keeping me warm I thought “psychos don’t wear orange coats.” And I pulled over.

That’s when a bundle of energy named Renee Schuls-Jacobson jumped into my car.

She squeed. We giggled. We shared our thoughts that this was a little crazy. (Her husband suggested to her that I might be a psycho. Imagine that.) Then the adventure began.

For the next seven hours, hardly a breath was taken. We had so much to say. Having “met” online, we knew the cursory information about one another. But I had no idea I was meeting a kindred. Someone who – although from the other side of the country – felt as familiar as my next-door neighbor.

We traipsed through the French Quarter in search of a hat. (It was record-setting cold in New Orleans last week.)

We shopped for souvenirs in the Market. (I like this voodoo doll better than that voodoo doll.)

We sat on the banks of the Mississippi River talking about blogging and writing and social networking, and asked a stranger to take our picture. (Yes, we need you to use both cameras. We don’t actually know each other.)

Clinging for warmth on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi.

We drove around the city on the ‘Tragedy Tour’ to see the Katrina damage, even hopping out of the car a couple of times to view things up close. (“Really, officer. We’re not trespassing, we were just looking. My friend’s not from here.”)

It was one of those intense bonding experiences like finding a BFF at summer camp. You just can’t squeeze enough in in the time you have together.

Hour after hour peeled away, and we still had so much to do and say. I kept thinking ‘I don’t want it to end.’ I was definitely smitten.

I wondered if our paths would ever cross again. She lived here once, many years ago. Perhaps I could convince her to move back… I mean, who wouldn’t want ME for a neighbor? Or perhaps ours was a relationship not meant to last, like a Tiger Lily that blooms only for a day.

My girl-crush was obvious.

I watched the clock and saw our time together dwindling down, and I started feeling a little anxious. But then I remembered our roots, that if the internet had brought us together, the internet could keep us together.

Relief. My girl-crush didn’t have to end that day.

By mid-afternoon I had to return to Real Life, and my new BFF had other friends to see (ones she actually knew before she got here). I had to give her back to her loved ones, and return to mine.

But the memories of our day together will always be special to me. And if our paths never cross again, if was only meant to be that once, I’ll have to come to terms with that. If there are no more memories to be made, I’ll cherish the ones I have.

Renee, we’ll always have NOLA.

Our last moments together. She showed me how to use the rear-view mirror to take a phone picture.

Five fabulous things about Renee:

When she casts her eyes down to read a menu, she looks like Barbara Streisand. The restaurant was dimly lit, but her crystal eyes sparkled through her glasses. (I nearly swooned.)

She’s not as tall as I expected. Her online presence is BIG. I expected her to be taller. Turns out she’s a wisp-of-a-woman. And her hair is FABULOUS. (Is my crush showing?)

Her energy is contagious. When walking with her, my step had more spring than usual. My voice was a little more animated. Even strangers picked up on it.

She speaks about every one of her students like they are her favorite. Story after story unfolded about them, both past and present. I hope someday my boys have a teacher as committed to her students as she is.

Her novel is going to be fantastic. I’m hoping our bonding time here earned me a little shout-out when she’s doing the talk show circuit. Or at least a signed copy with little XOXOs under her name.

I (heart) you, Renee.

Click HERE to read Renee’s post about our day!

Lovin’

Here are a few of the things I’m Lovin’ these days:

{ Source: Pinterest.com }

  • Slick getting his own car.
  • Fresh memories of The Trailblazer being home.
  • The forecast for a mild winter.
  • Pinterest.
  • Trying new recipes.
  • Cooking big, so I can send food to The Trailblazer and his roommates.
  • Helping Slick make plans for his future.
  • Listening The Caboose rehearse for an upcoming concert.
  • The freedom that comes with having older kids.
  • Finally loading music on my iPad.
  • My new laptop.
  • King Cake

Share your list!  Post it in the comments below, or drop in your link!  Can’t wait to see what you’re Lovin’!

Leaving the Storm Behind

With the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, I’ve made a decision.  This will be the last year I mark this anniversary.  I’m willing to tell the story one last time, as a final catharsis to anyone who still wants to hear it.  Then I’m going to declare it in the past.

The first responder marking says: 1 Dead in Attic. Photo credit: Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

The first responder marking says: 1 Dead in Attic. Photo credit: Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

Katrina is still in our daily vocabulary.  We use her as a reference in time.  We refer to her as an experience that reshaped our lives and our communities.  We blame her for our losses.  We thank her for our renewal.

Putting it in the past is going to be a hard thing to do, for every day I drive past vacant lots where families once lived, and empty houses with broken windows and spray-painted first-responder code still on the front.  But I also drive past gleaming new schools, manicured parks, and thriving communities.  Those who haven’t moved forward with rebuilding have obviously made their decision.

This memorial is across the street from the Convention Center. The inscription to the right reads: Honoring the people and remembering the events that occurred August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Photo credit: community.devexpress.com

I’m going to be part of the “new” New Orleans.

I’m going to reflect one last time on this event that changed my life.  I’m going to recall a few details, commit the lessons to my memory, and thank those you saved me when I most needed saving.

One last time.

The Running of the Bulls — New Orleans Style

The secret’s out.  We do things a little differently here in New Orleans.  Usually bigger, louder, and with a hell-of-a party at the end.  So when I heard about the Running of the Bulls, NOLA style, I knew Mr. Wonderful and I had to be a part of it.

Officially, the Festival of San Fermin in Nueva Orleans, NOLA’s Running of the Bulls is a little different from the centuries-old event in Spain you may have seen on the news this week.  It starts off with the traditional procession featuring the statue of San Fermin, the patron saint of Navarre, who is rumored to have met his death by the horns of a bull on the streets of Pamplona in the fourth century.  But our version differs from the traditional after that.

Our “bulls” are roller derby girls, clad in red and black with horned helmets and baseball bats.  They roll through the streets amongst the runners, shrieking and swinging their bats.  It’s one of those things that you really can’t explain.  You have to be there.

We started our day early, pulling out of the driveway about 6:30 a.m.  By 7:00 the crowd was already thousands-deep.  Some had coffee, others Bloody Marys (blood being the theme of the day), and the purists had their beer.  The bulls were tightening up their skates and straightening their fishnets, while the runners roamed the area seeking friends and photo ops.  It was surreal.

Me and my peeps getting ready for the big event!

At 7:30, the formal procession began, with the statue of San Fermin carried through the streets accompanied by musicians and hordes of the “faithful.”  As his procession concluded, the announcer called for the line-up.

The procession begins.

"Making the way" for San Fermin.

The Encierro (bull run) is led NOLA-style, by the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi.  (Yes, the plural of Elvis is Elvi.)  As they blaze the one-mile trail thousands of runners follow behind, waiting for the release of the bulls from one of the three “bull pens” along the route.  When the bulls hit the pavement, the casual pace turns frantic as runners hear the bulls coming up behind them, and the sound of the bats striking (and I do mean striking) is immediately followed by yelps from the runners.  The first couple of strikes let you know exactly what you’re in for, and gives you the chance to make the decision whether to remain in the street or seek refuge on the sidewalk.  I chose the former.  (No regrets.)  I did skip the gauntlet at the end, though.  (Maybe next year.)

Bull Pen at Line Up

The media reports said 10,000 people participated!

The Krewe of the Rolling Elvi led the run.

Some of the bulls took their roles with a bit of humor.  Others took it very seriously.  About 1 in 10 “whacks” was delivered with a vengeance.  I understood fully the sign announcing that we were to “run at our own risk” once that first serious blow struck my hind quarters.

Big Easy Roller Girl!

Whack!

At this point, you may be asking “Why?”

To that, there is only one response, ¿Por qué no? 

It was, without a doubt, one of the longest and most fun miles of my life!  Accompanied by my BFF Elena, (our husbands and Elena’s firstborn left us behind) I experienced a strange explosion of fear, excitement, and chaos, wrapped up in adrenaline.  Words can’t describe it.  So here are a couple of videos:

The first video was professionally produced, and is worth the 10-minute investment to watch.  It tells the story well.

The next video was taken by a cell phone, so its quality is less impressive, but it was taken by my BFF’s son Ryan, and makes you feel the chaos.  One of the shouts you will hear is Mr. Wonderful.

As with all things, there is something to be learned.  Never attempt to block a bat being swung at your backside with your hand.  There are no bones in your backside, and it can survive a blow better than a hand.  (I drove myself straight to the Urgent Care Clinic after the party for an x-ray.  Hairline fracture.  Well worth it!)   Mr. Wonderful took one on the thigh.

Mr. Wonderful's battle scar.

As El Padrino announced from the balcony of Ernst Café  before the start of the event, “New Orleans ain’t for the normal.”

So if you feel the need to experience this unique event next July, give me a shout.  I’ll bring the sangria.

I (heart) NOLA

And I want my kids to (heart) it, too.  So when I realized that my Little Guy wasn’t developing the same affinity for it that the rest of us share, I had a mission:  to convert this suburban kid into a proper New Orleanian.

I feel blessed that I got to grow up here, and that – after wandering about for a few years – my husband and I decided to return and raise our family here.  We settled in the ‘burbs for mundane reasons (insurance, property taxes, sidewalks you can safely ride a tricycle on, and playgrounds) but our hearts were always in The City.  Despite our mailing address saying otherwise, we consider ourselves New Orleanians.  (By the way, New Orleanians NEVER refer to our hometown as “The Big Easy.”  It’s The Crescent City, The City, or NOLA.)

Back in the day (before we had kids) my husband and I were very cool people.  We would hop in our car (a shiny, blue Alfa Romeo convertible!)  and drive around The City, looking for a place to land.  Like most we developed a pattern of regular places, but we were always eager to find a new spot, too.

When our first round of kids came along, except for dragging around more gear, our pace didn’t change much.  We continued our regular jaunts to the French Quarter, City Park, and Uptown.  We’d go to Mass at the Cathedral, have dinner in the Quarter, and walk along the river.  Once we rode the entire streetcar line – from the beginning to the end of the line and all the way back.  New Orleans was our extended back yard.  As the kids got old enough to start whining about these “adventures,” we caved in and did it less often. But when we had visitors to show around, or a grown-up night out, our car instinctively crossed the 17th Street Canal* into The City.

The City would become an integral part of our big kids’ lives, too.  They went to middle school in City Park, and high school in Mid-City, so they returned to the familiar paths we once roamed.  They practiced lacrosse at Scout Island, played games at Pan-American Stadium, and ate dessert at Brocato’s.  Unlike many suburban kids, going into The City was part of their daily life.

So when the Little Guy started showing signs that he’d rather remain in suburbia, I knew I needed to do something about it.  (I learned this on a recent field trip to the Musee Conti wax museum, when he wanted to go home rather than roam the streets of the Quarter with his friends from school.)  Seizing a day from Spring Break this week, I planned an outing designed to make him become aware of the very cool things that are in our big back yard, and turn on his lust for all it has to offer (well, almost all of what it has to offer.  He’ll have to learn the rest from his brothers in a few years.)

Since no adventure is complete without a running buddy, I called the mom of his friend K, and she was in.  A little brainstorming and a plan was hatched.  There were some logistics to consider (picking up The Middle Child and K’s brother from school at 3:00), so we decided to leave our cars in Mid-City and take the streetcar down Canal Street to The French Quarter.  We wanted to roam aimlessly (sort of), have lunch someplace cool, and roam down a different path back to the streetcar line.  (I prefer to do this kind of thing with a VERY LOOSE PLAN, to avoid turning into a drill sergeant, which doesn’t become me at all, and can bring the mood down in a milli-second.)  Knowing my Little Guy as I do, I feared it would turn into a whining session fast if his brain wasn’t engaged in the moment, so I made a scavenger hunt-list of things he and K would have to find on our adventure.  Operation I (heart) NOLA was born!

We learned some historical things (that the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the War of 1812 had officially ended), some interesting things (that pigeons will eat Red Beans and Rice from your plate if you’re not paying attention), and some practical things (that the mystery fluid along the street is called Party Gravy, and you NEVER touch anything in it).

B & K riding the streetcar, acting goofy.

Lunch at the Gazebo Cafe.

Statue of Joan of Arc, patroness of New Orleans. (Joanie on the Pony to us.)

We learned that NOLA has her own rhythm (played to the beat of street musicians), and that streetcars aren’t very predictable (give yourself extra time when relying on them for transportation).

Street performer playing a James Taylor tune.

Lucky Dog vendor (We did not eat Lucky Dogs. I have conflicting opinions about whether that’s a cool thing to do or a game of intestinal roulette.)

We marveled at the beautiful paintings on the ceiling of the St. Louis Cathedral (how did they do that) and discovered the secret courtyards tucked between the beautiful buildings in the Quarter.

B & K at Jackson Square. B acting goofy again.

Completed scavenger hunt! (We had to re-route in the interest of time, so we skipped the Market and went back via the Hard Rock Café.)

Operation I (heart) NOLA was a success! Next year, the Little Guy will transition to his new school in The City.  As he starts venturing there daily I hope he develops the same love for NOLA that his dad and I share.  I hope he learns to love it so much that he’ll never want to leave!

(For a complete list of awesome places to visit in New Orleans, send The Lucky Mom a message!)

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Stuff you might not know:

*The 17th Street Canal divides Jefferson Parish and Orleans Parish. (We call our counties “parishes” in Louisiana.)  It became infamous when, during Hurricane Katrina, the canal’s levee failed, flooding the adjacent part of town.