Long time, no write! Another birthday and road trip plans…

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Cheers! Celebrating turning another year older and wiser (?)

I realize it’s been a long time since I wrote and posted anything—April 25th to be exact—and I’m guilty of preferring early-morning reading over writing as of late. I know that doesn’t help with finishing the Work-in-Progress, but there just hasn’t been that drive or sense of urgency to regain that much-needed discipline. Be that as it may, I have been busy with other things as well.

We’ve been piling up the miles since spring, with trips to Omaha, Nebraska, Rice Lake, Wisconsin, and Canton, Ohio. In Wisconsin and Ohio we successfully indulged in genealogy research in libraries and historical societies and visited some obscure cemeteries to locate and say hello to some ancestors.

Plus, June is the month when I turn another year older on the 11th. Happy to say that I had a wonderful and relaxing time quietly “celebrating” that annual occurrence last weekend at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Marblehead, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. My mom even had a cherry pie—my favorite! And it seemed altogether appropriate to spend my birthday with her. Happy to report that she’s doing quite well for an 88-year-old lady.

As for those highway miles, we’re just getting warmed up! In mid-September, we’re going to “head out on the highway” (Route 66, that is!) from home here in Illinois and drive to the other end of the Mother Road that is Santa Monica, California. We’re allowing over two weeks for the drive that has been on my “wish list” for a long, long time. The return trip will find us skirting up to Colorado for a few days and then on to Omaha once again for the annual Walk for the Cure cancer walk in early October.

But, before all of that, we’re going on an Alaska cruise in August. Flying from O’Hare, we’ll head to Vancouver for a two-day/night stay before boarding the MS Noordam that will take us through the Inside Passage, Ketchican, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and on to the Denali National Park via rail. Then we’ll fly back home from Anchorage. This will, no doubt, be a memorable adventure for the ages. As the summer begins to roll along, I’m getting thoroughly excited about what lies ahead.

To say the very least, I certainly won’t be stumped for things to write about as this summer and fall get going. My plan is to thoroughly enjoy every minute of our trips and capture as many wonderful memories as possible and to share as many as I possibly can. Perhaps there will even be further inspiration for getting back to serious writing to complete that obstinate Work-in-Progress!

 

Old Glory to the rescue to thwart the robin!

It’s been way too long since I’ve sat down and put together a blog post, so one of my goals IMG_2383.jpg
for today is to do just that. Now it’s time to catch back up with what’s happening here as spring is in full force once again.

And springtime means yard work and getting everything that we dismantled (deck and patio furniture, planters, decorative ornamental hangings, etc.) and put away back in late fall dusted off and back in their proper places.

Now, as the days and weeks wear on through April, things are shaping up nicely around here. The grass all around is healthy and relatively free from various weeds and those persistent dandelions. The first applications of crabgrass preventer and early spring weed-n-feed have been applied.

We’ve mowed five times already and have added mulch to our backyard “triangle” that IMG_2377.jpghas the tall evergreen in the center. The colors of the daffodils and the tulips (that survived the rabbit assaults!) have been spectacular for the last couple of weeks.
IMG_2379.jpgWhen all of the yard tasks are finished, I enjoy sitting on the deck in the late afternoon with a cold drink, or in the early morning with a hot coffee, and watch the birds come and go to our two feeders and our neighbor’s finch feeders.

Those mornings when the sunshine is magnificent (which it has been for the past several days), there’s simply an overall feeling of nature coming alive and all the vestiges of winter cold eradicated.

Which brings us to the saga of the industrious robins who, for the last couple of springs, have built a nest in the tall evergreen out back. It’s a perfect spot, offering protection from the weather and other nosey creatures.

I’ve watched the nest-building on those mornings when I’m on the deck, and I find it cool how organized the robin “nest builders” are. While one bird goes out and forages for nest materials (grass, mud, cloth, etc.), another one–some distance away, yet on alert–watches to chase away any intruding bird who might have ideas about disturbing the nest in some way.

IMG_2381.jpgOne morning a few days ago, I happened to notice one of those robins hanging around our deck several times. When I went out with coffee in hand, the bird flew out low over my head. I looked over to where it had come from and saw that it had been starting a nest on the top of our gas fireplace vent on the side of our house. The nest was pretty far along, too, so I knew I needed to get rid of it before Mama robin moved in to lay her eggs.

It is a perfect spot for a nest, I realized, as it’s surrounded on three sides and out of the way and protected from strong winds. The problem, however, is that we don’t want a bird building a nest so close to the deck where we’re going in and out. Also, we don’t want grass, mud, stones, and other nest materials clogging up the fireplace vent.

I figured I could remedy this quickly in its early stages by getting the broom and sweeping away the grass and mud that our industrious little friend had placed there. I even wedged an old shovel handle through the deck privacy wall in hopes that it would deter the robin from returning to build its nest.

IMG_2382.jpgAll seemed satisfactory until the next morning when I checked it out, and the bird had re-started the nest, having deposited a good amount of grass once again. So, I repeated my earlier sweeping and put the handle back over the vent top, thinking that this time I’d surely discouraged the little red-breasted birdie!

Not so!

The robin was persistent, though, doing the same thing as before the following morning. Something more had to be done to deter the robin from nesting on our fireplace vent, and my creative juices were in overdrive.

What I came up with is as follows: Inside a coffee can I placed a heavy stone for weight and then punched a hole in the IMG_2374.jpgplastic lid just enough to fit a miniature American flag through. I hoped that the waving of Old Glory would keep the eager robin away, and the lid and can would keep the top of the vent covered and inaccessible to the robin. So far it has worked.

Each time I go outside, I check to make sure that the little flag is waving and no grass has been placed in or around the can on the vent.

I still see robins out and about, bouncing and bobbing right along on the green, green grass of home, and I’m pretty sure that one is nesting in the big evergreen as before.

But wherever they are, I wish them and their babies well–Just not next to our deck and on our fireplace vent!

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Photo: learner.org

Last day in NOLA-Day 5

DAY 5

Thursday, February 23

As always happens when a wonderful time is being had by all, the time to pack up and leave arrived before we realized it! But, yes, today would be our last on the New Orleans tour with our bus friends.

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An ancient live oak on the plantation (photo: visionoftravel.org)

We started the day with a short bus ride to Destrehan Plantation, where we toured the main house and many of the outbuildings of the scenic surroundings just a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River across the way.

 

Following that, we made our way back to the French Quarter for free time on our own and lunch somewhere therein. Carolyn and I decided to pay one last visit to Bourbon Street, in the quieter time of the day there, and enjoyed leisurely browsing up and down the various streets leading to Bourbon Street.

Along the way, we came upon another parade, this time featuring the young children of the area, eagerly handing out beads as they smiled and passed along through the crowded French Quarter, down Orleans Street.

Eventually, hungry and thirsty, we found ourselves back on Bourbon Street in search of a good place for a good lunch.

It wasn’t long before we decided on Johnny White’s Pub & IMG_2001.jpgGrill, with an old New Orleans balcony that would be perfect to people watch while we had lunch.

Surprisingly, the place wasn’t crowded, and we secured a table outside on the balcony. I sampled a local brew, and Carolyn imbibed a “modified” Hurricane, the signature drink of the New Orleans scene!

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Lunch on the balcony of Johnny White’s Pub & Grill overlooking Bourbon Street

After our lunch of fish and cold drinks, we made our way back up in the direction of where the bus would pick us up once more, stopping into various shops along the way.

 

I found and purchased a book about the history of the French Quarter and called my shopping finished. Carolyn did so as well soon thereafter, and we strolled back in the beautiful warm afternoon to board the bus to head back to the hotel to change for dinner.

Dinner this evening would be at the Boomtown Casino & Hotel. Provided by the tour company, this affair would be a culminating experience where we’d enjoy our last night there with entertainment and dinner with a couple of other bus tour groups besides ours. Our group planned to do it up big by donning Mardi Gras attire and making a grand entrance upon our arrival.

Unfortunately, our arrival that evening was delayed nearly an hour due to traffic snarls and backups due to a serious accident.

So, by the time our group had arrived at the

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Dinner in festive Mardi Gras garb at the Boomtown Casino

casino, very few of the other groups were there to witness our grand entrance, having already headed out themselves. In spite of this, we still had a fun time and enjoyed the group photo and the entertainment of good music. Soon, it was time to get back to the hotel to pack and ready ourselves for the morning’s departure. Carolyn and I had a long drive ahead of us, and the bus folks had a long bus ride facing them.

 

Before turning in, we said our goodbyes to all of the other bus friends, as we’d be out and away the next morning before any of them would be up and about.

Early Friday morning, we grabbed one last breakfast and coffee-to-go at the Ramada and were in the gassed-up Equinox and working our way out of New Orleans. The next stage of our winter trip was underway: Florida!

City tour, French Market, WWII Museum & Druids parade fun-Day 4

DAY 4

Wednesday, February 22

There’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep to get one revved up once more for another day of fun and good times, and so it was as we started Wednesday with a guided tour around various sections of New Orleans. Having a tour guide join the bus group made for an educational experience and a greater appreciation for the history of New Orleans.

At the conclusion of the two-hour tour, we arrived at the French Market and had lots of time to walk about and browse and purchase from so many different vendors with the Unknown.jpegvarious kinds of items prominently on display. Carolyn and I took a break for lunch at one of the sandwich/muffuletta storefronts, and enjoyed eating in the open air among the busy market place.

Of course, my major purchase at the market was a New Orleans French Quarter ball cap. Ball caps are pretty much the standard items I buy when visiting a new place. (Before this road trip would end, I would have several more added to my burgeoning collection of hats!)

By 1:30, we’d had our fill of the French Market, and it was time to return to the bus waiting nearby for our next stop at the National World War II Museum, of which I’d heard endless positive comments previously. I couldn’t wait to get there, despite the limited amount of time we were faced with.

Once checked in, we walked through at our own pace to the various “theaters” of the War, and I realized that one truly needed an entire day (probably more) to see and appreciate everything the museum has to offer. We sort of had to keep an eye on the images.jpegclock, also, for our appointment in the Solomon Victory Theater to see the museum’s production of the documentary Beyond All Boundaries. This moving and excellent production was well worth the wait, and anyone visiting New Orleans should be sure to pay this museum a visit to view it.

Our dinner afterwards was in the museum itself, in a large auditorium, the Stage Door Canteen. In fact, many historic photos of celebrities from the WWII Era were prominently displayed on the walls.

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(photo: Frischhertz.com)

During dinner, plans were being bandied about regarding hanging around downtown during the evening to view one of the many pre-Mardi Gras parades. Tonight’s parade was going to be the Druid Parade. I wasn’t sure what that was all about, but suffice it to say that it all means something in the culture of Mardi Gras.

As it turned out, a great viewing point nearby at General Lee Circle seemed to be our best option. Plus, the bus driver agreed to find somewhere nearby to park and wait until things were over with later in the evening, so the quickly laid plans were moving forward.

16832186_384291258595723_5066108288731869924_n.jpgWe walked a couple of blocks and were early enough to grab a place right by the traffic barriers surrounding the circular area—an excellent spot for watching the floats and bands as they passed by tossing beads and coins to the eager folks of all ages!

It was a wonderful evening, and I enjoyed the event, but I was ready to call it a night when the parade finally concluded. There were, however, some folks who chose to keep the evening festivities going and would get back to the hotel via Uber. The rest of us would hike back to the bus parked in front of the museum and head back to the hotel.

Riding back in the quiet of the bus, I thought back on the past few days and nights we’d spent in New Orleans and couldn’t believe that the next day would be our last full day to enjoy it all. There were many things we’d done already, but tomorrow would be our last opportunity to “catch up” on anything we’d not done yet. Thinking of that, I looked forward to another good sleep to get revved up and recharged once more.IMG_2357.JPG

Beignets, a river boat cruise & Preservation Hall-Day 3

In a post back in January, I wrote about our upcoming road trip/vacation to New Orleans, followed by our continuing on to Florida for a few weeks, beginning on February 19. (Read it here). We returned home to Illinois on Monday, March 13, after logging over 4,000 miles. The next several posts are highlights and summaries of our adventures and experiences in the Crescent City and in the Sunshine State.
Day 3

Tuesday, February 21

This morning I found out what a beignet is! Seems as though ever since we signed up to go on this tour to New Orleans, that was what everyone familiar with the city and the culture there had talked about most often: “Can’t wait to have some beignets!” I had been told that there was quite a bit of powdered sugar involved, and I was curious to find out.

Anyway, after breakfast, once we all loaded up on the bus (yes, our car would remain parked at the hotel for the remainder of the New Orleans tour), we made our way into New Orleans, through morning traffic on unfamiliar highways and byways, past the Superdome and other city landmarks, en route to our daily drop-off spot on the corner of Front and Bienville streets, just outside the French Quarter and right alongside the Mississippi River.

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Photo: sweetsavant.com

The pleasant morning weather welcomed us as we strolled down Decatur Street toward the green and white striped awning where the famous Cafe DuMonde French Market Coffee Stand awaited, directly across from the famous Jackson Square. Even from a distance, we could tell that the place was packed and a line had formed outside the wrought iron fence surrounding the place.

Getting a table was first come, first serve, so we were immediately on alert. While we waited, we chatted with a friendly couple from San Diego and ended up sharing a table with them. As soon as we “claimed” an open table, a young girl cleared the mess of powdered sugar and splashed coffee from the previous customers and then took our order. A few minutes later the beignets and coffee arrived, and the four of us quickly tied-in to the fried dough squares under mounds of confectioner’s sugar! They were the perfect complement to the hot café au lait chicory flavored coffee served there.

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Photo: yelp.com

 

After twenty minutes or so of indulging in powdered sugar delights and tasty coffee, as well as good conversation with our San Diego companions, it was time to brush ourselves off of the powdered sugar and make way for other hungry folks waiting. We bid farewell to our table mates as they were on their way in another direction, and we set off to explore the French Quarter on our own.

We spent the next several hours walking about various streets of the French Quarter–in and out of the many shops– and ending up on the famed Bourbon Street. By this time, it was time to find somewhere to eat lunch, so we wandered back up to Decatur Street where we’d earlier passed a restaurant named Cafe Maspero, and we had thought it looked like a good place to eat.

Neither of us was disappointed in our choice, as we had a tasty seafood lunch. Afterwards, we walked over to the Natchez Steamboat Wharf to wait to board for our afternoon river cruise. This was an excellent time to “people watch” and sit in the shade and listen to the loud calliope located high atop the Natchez. The atmosphere was wonderful, helping us become immersed in New Orleans culture and lifestyle, especially as we set off down river for a two-hour cruise a short time later.Unknown-1.jpeg

Once back at the wharf, we walked the short distance back to Decatur Street to the Crescent City Brewhouse for our evening’s meal. Each meal with the tour group provided us with opportunities to get to know each other, and it was one of the great rewards of being on this trip

Once again, the service and the food were excellent! Carolyn and I both had a catfish selection, followed by a Cajun specialty: bread pudding. Yum!

images-2.jpegAfter the meal, everyone was free to spend more time in and about the French Quarter. Some of us decided to head toward St. Peter Street where Preservation Hall is located. Just as its name says, Preservation Hall was established in 1961 “to preserve, perpetuate, and protect traditional New Orleans Jazz.” (http://preservationhall.com/hall/) To get tickets for the 8 p.m. show, we had to wait in line beginning at 7. In the meantime, we had a couple of cold beverages in Pat O’Brien’s next door to Preservation Hall, and we enjoyed the “dueling” pianos while we awaited the 7 o’clock hour.

As the evening turned out, the seemingly long wait, and the $15 apiece for tickets, were well worth it. Even though we were crammed into a very small and well-worn “hall,” the music that the Preservation Jazz Band All-Stars provided was beyond wonderful. And, as in all good performances, time flew right on by and the show came to a close. images-1.jpeg

We found our way out and enjoyed a brisk walk several blocks back to where the bus awaited to haul our tired selves back to the hotel. Our first full day in NOLA had been packed with lots of good things, and we looked forward to what the next day would offer. I drifted off to sleep that night with songs such as Tailgate Ramble pleasantly rambling around in my head!

On to Metairie, Louisiana-Day 2

In a post back in January, I wrote about our upcoming road trip/vacation to New Orleans, followed by our continuing on to Florida for a few weeks, beginning on February 19. (Read it here). We returned home to Illinois on Monday, March 13, after logging over 4,000 miles. The next several posts are highlights and summaries of our adventures and experiences in the Crescent City and in the Sunshine State.
DAY 2

Monday, February 20

Refreshed from a good night’s sleep and a tasty breakfast, we were on the road once more shortly before 8 a.m. Our ultimate destination today would be our hotel in Metairie, Louisiana, but en route we would pass by many unfamiliar names of towns and cities. It’s always fun to venture through previously un-traveled areas, and this was, indeed, new territory for us!

AR19790551t100550.jpgMost of the morning we rolled through Arkansas and discovered a McDonald’s that provided free coffee. Can’t argue with that. Soon after, approaching Memphis, we crossed over the bridge on the Mississippi River into Tennessee, but only for a brief time as Mississippi loomed just ahead.

Cities with names like Jackson, Grenada, and McComb began to appear on the green Interstate signs as we continued south toward Louisiana. We figured that it would take us most of the afternoon to click off the Mississippi miles before arriving at the Louisiana Welcome Center where we planned to snap a picture of the Louisiana welcome sign.

What made things even better was the beautiful weather that had decided to settle in with us. I had donned shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, which would be my standard “uniform” for the duration of the trip. Long pants have never been my preferred choice of attire!

IMG_1997.jpgTrue to form, one mile after leaving Mississippi, we came to the I-55 Welcome Center near

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Photo: Louisiana Dept. of Culture Recreaton & Tourism

Kentwood. One of the nicest Welcome Centers we’ve experienced, this one provided a wonderful break from all of the miles driven and the ones still remaining. Plus, the good folks there offered free coffee!

After a walk around the beautifully landscaped area and a coffee break, we resumed our “push” southward to Metairie.

By late afternoon, we were getting close. The landscape had become swampy and rather desolate looking. I-55 ended by joining up with I-10 East, and we were now driving on a 23-mile long elevated stretch of highway that skirted around Lake Ponchratrain. It was a never-ending scene of water and vegetation, a perfect outdoorsmen’s paradise!

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Photo: DSchwen.com

This road led us right into Metairie and the Ramada, just off Exit 228. Carolyn and I checked in, again ahead of our fellow travelers who we’d meet up with at the restaurant in a while. For now, though, we were content to get settled into our room, walk around the hotel, and be out of the car for a while.

We looked forward to meeting the tour group at Piccadilly’s Restaurant, a short distance

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Piccadilly”s Restaurant

from our hotel, and to relax with a good meal.

Day 2 certainly had been a good one, and the “real” touring would begin in the morning as we’d pay our first visit to the Crescent City.

The road trip south-Day 1

In a post back in January, I wrote about our upcoming road trip/vacation to New Orleans, followed by our continuing on to Florida for a few weeks, beginning on February 19. (Read it here). We returned home to Illinois on Monday, March 13, after logging over 4,000 miles. The next several posts are highlights and summaries of our adventures and experiences in the Crescent City and in the Sunshine State.
DAY 1

Sunday, February 19

We left Cortland, Illinois, just before 8 a.m. and headed out Rt. 38 to I-39 for the first leg of the journey south. Today’s destination was Dyersburg, Tennessee, where we would meet up with the bus tour group at the Grecian Steakhouse restaurant before checking into the Sleep Inn hotel for the night.

We had lots of fog for quite a while until we got closer to Springfield. Despite the fog, the temperatures were rather mild as we continued on through  St. Louis and down through

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Approaching the famous St. Louis Arch

Missouri to Arkansas and then into Tennessee.

There were no issues along the way, and we enjoyed the many rural sights of Arkansas and crossing into Tennessee. We also made a stop at the Tennessee Welcome Center near Reel Foot State Park to pick up some pamphlets and other information about Elvis and Graceland for Grandson Matthew’s school presentation that he’d be doing in a few weeks.

Before long, we arrived at the hotel and checked in. Right about that time, we heard from Scot, the tour company owner who was on the bus, that they would meet us at the Grecian Steakhouse, conveniently located right off the interstate in Dyersburg, within the hour. Good timing!

The restaurant was a large smorgasbord with plenty of choices, which we enjoyed immensely. As such, I found the restaurant’s name quite curious. At any rate, we all had plenty to eat. Then it was back to the hotel for the night.

Up early on Monday, Carolyn and I had the complimentary hotel breakfast and then hit the road once more for New Orleans, another long eight-hour drive. As before, we pulled out before the tour bus did, giving us another head start on the day—another sun-filled one at that! And we both looked forward to enjoying all of the new places along the way we’d pass by on our way down I-55.