Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Orleans - The rest of the story

Katrina House
Seeing that we have been home from New Orleans for about a week and a half, I figured I should share the remaining narrative of our trip.  As previously mentioned, Madeline & I flew separately from David.  Due to the restrictions of the reward tickets of our different airlines and the fact that David wanted to avoid tacking on an additional vacation day from work, we decided that the best option for our situation was to depart a day apart from each other.  So, David flew out of New Orleans in the late afternoon on Monday while Madeline and I headed home the following morning.

We decided to squeeze in, as a family, a few last minute New Orleans activities during our morning before David left.  There was a brief discussion about what to do for breakfast but it didn't take long to decide that we, *once again* NEEDED beignets and cafe au lait.  That stuff is just too darn good and both David and I knew that this was the last opportunity to enjoy this treat.  We have visited Jon on numerous occasions over the past 15 years but I don't recall experiencing this beignet madness before.  Although I brought home a Cafe Du Monde beignet mix, I know it won't be the same.  Besides, David wanted to take home a Cafe Du Monde travel mug as a souvenir so...what a good excuse to catch breakfast while we were there!

Mama & Maddie silliness while Jon pretends not to know us.
Afterward, since the last time I visited Jon was pre-Katrina, I wanted to do a drive by of the areas that were hard hit by the hurricane.  I knew that would result in a major eye-roll from Jon, which of course it did, but Jon was a good sport and drove me around to "see destruction".  It has been five years since Katrina and although many of the residential homes have been rebuilt, the businesses are mostly gone.  We would be driving down a street that once had malls or strip plazas and there stood the vacant buildings that once held these retail centers.  And despite the fact that many homes were rebuilt, we drove passed numerous vacant lots where homes once stood.  Yet, the occasional "Katrina house" stood untouched, abandoned and marked with the spray painted markings made during the post-hurricane recovery period.

More shopping fun
Next, we headed to Manny Randazzo's to pick up a couple king cakes.  OMG! Yum!!!  I was lucky enough to snack on the one Jon bought for his house while David carted one home to take into work on Tuesday.  I was also happy to pick up a cake server (I really did need one so this wasn't exactly a frivolous souvenir purchase) that was decorated on the handle with beading in the Mardi Gras colors (purple, yellow & green).  Next time I pull that out to serve up some goodies for company, I'll have a pleasant reminder of our trip.

We also ended up grabbing some lunch.  Ahhh....gumbo and red beans & rice with andouille sausage.  Hmmm, I think I need to experiment with some of these recipes for our own at-home Mardi Gras celebration this March.  After lunch we needed to stop by Target to pick-up a couple items.  Madeline and I had some last minute New Orleans reveling as we got silly trying on the Mardi Gras hats in Target's seasonal section.  I particularly love the picture with both me and Madeline because the guy in the background is actually Jon trying to pretend that he doesn't know us.

Madeline peeking at my People magazine
Shortly after, David was off to the airport.  My last evening was laid back.  I spent the evening packing up the remainder of Madeline's & my stuff so that we would be ready for an early morning departure.  I also tried to help Jon pick out a few paint colors for his house but decided that I was way too indecisive and, thus, probably not much help.  Other than that, Jon and I watched a few DVRed shows on TV.  In the morning, we headed to the airport and I prepared for my flight back home with Madeline.  Prepared with my fully re-charged portable DVD player, a couple movies, some princess & My Little Pony figurines and a coloring book & crayons I was confident in my ability to maintain a well behaved child during a 4 hour flight home.  In fact, I consider the trip a success since I was able to indulge in reading a People magazine and I attempted to work on a few puzzles in a puzzle book as Madeline occupied herself.

We are now back home and are slowly getting ourselves back into a routine of our everyday life.  David had more travel for work upon our return home.  In the time that we have been home, David has already traveled to Boston and San Diego.  Me, well.....I am still trying to wipe that "vacation fog" off my brain.  I guess that is just further proof that I enjoyed myself in New Orleans.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hangin' In The Big Easy

Madeline holding Uncle Jon's hand
Still hangin' here in New Orleans.  Although New Orleans is often a trip filled with tourist activities for many, our tourism agenda has been relatively limited.  It is, after all, my fifth (at least) trip down here.  However, despite the fact that we may have made many trips here, when an out-of towner is looking for something to do, the tourist traps are a natural pull.  "Cringe, cringe", thinks Jon yet he was a good sport and indulged our yankee spirit.

Friday, Jon had to go into work and so David, Madeline and I had a lazy morning at Jon's house. At lunch time we met Jon downtown.  Madeline loves to visit her papa at work and so she thought it was pretty darn cool to visit Uncle Jon at his work.  The ladies in Jon's office had followed our adoption story while we were in Russia and they were thrilled to finally meet Madeline.  Madeline was spoiled with candies from their candy jars and so she was in her glory.  We went to lunch at Dickie Brennan's Palace Cafe, which is located just around the corner from Jon's office.  I tried turtle soup and it was delicious!  The remainder of Friday was low-key.  I cooked up a home-cooked breaded pork chop meal for the guys and we enjoyed hanging out and visiting.

Madeline getting beads from a street entertainer
Parent-of-the-year award??
"Safer" shopping & God-awful shorts!! No, we didn't buy!
Balcony lunch - Decatur Street, New Orleans
On Saturday, we thought we would head out for a few souvenir items to bring home.  What better a way to start a morning in New Orleans than with beignets and cafe au lait?  Although the best known place in New Orleans for this treat is Cafe Du Monde, however Jon took us to a local spot called Morning Call.  They were sooooo good!  Instantaneously, I was convinced that I would *need* more beignets before we leave New Orleans!  After breakfast, David, Jon, Madeline and I headed down to the French Quarter.  There are many nice galleries and gift shops in The Quarter - and then there is Bourbon Street.  Well, since it was the middle of the day I figured it would be safe enough to take a quick stroll down Bourbon Street.  Keep in mind, that I was thinking more of shielding Madeline from the drunken antics that occur on Bourbon Street after dark.  Heck, we know all too well what too many Pat O'Brien's Hurricanes can do - been there, done that (pre-Madeline, of course!)  But like I said, it was the middle of the day and I figured we could hit some of the souvenir stores that line Bourbon Street.  Here is were David & I get "parent-of-the-year" award (not!)  Well, aside from this photo of Madeline posing with a completely inappropriate t-shirt, I had to depart from my shopping daze when David alerted me to the beads adorned with sets of boobies and the wind-up jumping peckers that were in this gift shop...and the next one...and the next one.  Okay, I guess on our previous trips to Bourbon street, we were too busy participating in our own drunken antics to do souvenir shopping.  Needless to say, it wasn't long before we removed Madeline from the jumping pecker scene and proceeded to more of the galleries and general souvenir shops.  Once the guys were "shopped out" (it didn't take long), we were ready for lunch.  The weather was nice enough to sit outside on a balcony overlooking Decatur Street and its horse-drawn carriages as well as a view of the Mississippi River.  I enjoyed another New Orleans treat, a shrimp Po boy and Madeline got a kick out of announcing the arrival of another passing horse as she nibbled on her fried shrimp.  The remainder of Saturday was pretty lazy.  The temperature was comfortable and we were able to sit outside as Jon grilled up some steaks for dinner.  Despite sitting under a patio heater and wrapped in a blanket, I enjoyed every second of the evening's fresh air because I knew that at home single digit tempts awaited us.

Jon, are you *sure* you want me to drive your car?!?!
One of our finds while out shopping
Sunday, we started out our day with more of those beignets that I *needed*.  This time we had them from Cafe Du Monde.  Again, yum!  Also, Sunday: playoff football.  With two guy friends, who have been friends for almost 20 years, do you actually think they wanted to do anything other than watch the games?  Need I say more??  That's okay - I totally didn't mind!  Jon, gave me the keys to his BMW and his credit cards and asked me to help him out with some decorating ideas for his house.  Really??  Go shopping and spend someone else's money??  Sure, no problem.  It was a win-win situation.  The guys had me and Madeline out of their hair for an entire afternoon while I got to shop, shop, shop....oh, and drive around New Orleans in a BMW.  By the time Madeline and I got back it was dinner time and Jon grilled out a delicious BBQ chicken dinner for us.

Our time here in New Orleans is winding down.  It is sad because we are really enjoying ourselves.  David heads home tomorrow evening and Madeline and I come home on Tuesday.  We will try to fit in as much fun as we can while we are still here and I will certainly keep you posted.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Journey To New Orleans

Here I sit in the kitchen eating area of Jon's house in New Orleans.  Who is Jon?  I am certain that I have mentioned Jon in numerous blog posts in the past but, Jon is David's best friend.  Jon really is more of a brother/brother-in-law to us, a true part of our family.  Anyway, we are here visiting Jon in New Orleans.  It has been many years since we have been here.  In fact, the last time I was here was pre-Katrina and David and I were kid-free.

Jon has been bugging us to visit and it has always been one thing or another that has prevented our travel here.  It also didn't help the travel cause when Jon was making fairly regular trips to Buffalo, as his mom used to live there and Jon was able to visit us and his mom in one trip.  Jon's mom, however, has since moved to Texas.   Jon recently bought a new home in New Orleans, a true dream home.  Also, Jon sweetened our incentive to get our butts down south by offering up two frequent flyer reward tickets on Southwest Airlines.  Even still, timing wasn't right. David had limited time off from work in 2010 due to his bout with pneumonia and frequent travels to Indiana.  Our New Year's resolution was to make the trip in 2011 and since the flight reward tickets that Jon offered up to us would expire in March, we had to move on these plans.

So, Madeline and I flew together on Southwest while David flew separately on Delta.  Why did we fly separately?  Well, due to an amazing fiasco of events while traveling on Delta last May (click here for that story) we had compensation vouchers that covered David's airfare to New Orleans.  So, for a total of $15 , the three of us were able to make our way to visit Jon.

Armed with a fully charged portable DVD player and a backpack of toys, I was ready to mange a 5 year old on, what I thought would be, a 4 hour flight.  Here lies the problem.  After we boarded the plane in Buffalo for an 8:45am flight, because of mechanical problems, we were delayed at the gate (sitting in the plane) for THREE HOURS!  Although this really sucked, Madeline and I were in a good spot.  Although many passengers were going to be missing their connections and many of them were given the option to leave the plane in order to take a later flight out of Buffalo, Madeline and I didn't have to because we were already on our connecting plane.  We weren't supposed to have to change planes when we landed in Baltimore.

David's flight left later in the day.  After dropping Madeline and me at the airport, David had time to take Sobaka to the kennel and get back to the airport for his later flight before we even left our gate.  In fact, David and I were talking on the cell phone and I was able to describe my position on the plan and David and I were able to wave at each other - he inside the airport awaiting his flight and Madeline and I STILL sitting and waiting to leave Buffalo.

All was going well and Madeline was actually holding tough.  However, I mentally thought ahead about the remainder of the day.  We would only just be leaving Buffalo an hour earlier than we should've been ARRIVING in New Orleans.  Without a connection in Baltimore would mean no opportunity for food in Baltimore.  We ate a quick drive-thru breakfast on the way to the airport and would not end up landing in New Orleans until 4pm EST.  Forecast: a grumpy mama and even worse, an even grumpier, ravenous Madeline.  Outlook: stormy!

Just then, while STILL sitting at the gate, I hear an announcement from a flight attendant, "Passenger Amy Gxxxxx, please indicate where you are sitting."  David, from inside the airport, obviously thought through the same scenario in his head and purchased Madeline and me sandwiches and drinks and asked the Southwest crew to pass the food along to me.  As pathetic as I am, I was ready to cry over these sandwiches.  My Prince Charming saved the day!!  I tucked away our lunches and was able to pull out our meal at lunchtime, right after we departed Baltimore.  David, you are THE BEST!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What??? It's a new year???

Waiting to see the Buffalo Philharmonic "Visit With Santa" Holiday Pops
I have been quite neglectful of my blog lately.  Christmas came and went in the blink of an eye and we are already a week and a half into 2011!  I will have to write a novel to discuss all that has happened since my last post so, instead, I will briefly bring everyone up to speed and try to tell the rest of the story with lots of pictures.

The Christmas season is always hectic and ours was no exception.  After returning home from our visit to Marysia, we were busy with last minute preparations, school pageants, etc.  Certainly we understand and celebrate the "reason for the season" but we also get visited by Santa.  5 year olds are at prime Santa age and Madeline was bursting with excitement in her anticipation of Santa's arrival.  Madeline must've been a very good girl this past year because she got lots of goodies from Santa on Christmas morning.  We had a very quiet Christmas Eve and Christmas day celebration as it was just the three of us.  Christmas Eve's dinner was the traditional Wigilia (click here to read 2008's post for description of my Wigilia) and Christmas dinner was what is now a tradition for us - Beef Wellington.

Outside Kleinhan's Music Hall.  My great uncle sculpted this statue of Chopin
The day after Christmas we were on the road to head to Indiana to visit David's family. (Not sure how this happened but I can't seem to find any pictures from there!  Did we not take any?!?!)  David's mom is doing great.  It is amazing what a difference a year makes!  Unfortunately, our trip was quick and we were heading back home with another long car ride on the 29th.

New Year's Eve was also quiet and uneventful.  Madeline celebrated her "New Year" at 8:30pm, complete with noisemakers.  She didn't know any different and this allowed David and I a quiet evening in front of the TV, watching the ball drop and eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream.  Wow! I think we are getting old.....although, we DID still make it up 'til midnight.

We went to Mass at a gorgeous old church in downtown Bflo before the philharmonic.
David and Madeline watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Madeline's school's Christmas Program
After ringing in the New Year, I hosted a post-holiday Christmas party at my house last week......which is the ONLY reason my Christmas trees are still up!  By this time in January, they are beginning to look like an eyesore, however, we are so busy now and are preparing to leave for New Orleans later this week.  I am embarrassed to say that those trees won't come down until after we get home.

Last minute cookie baking
Wigilia table
Cookies and milk for Santa
Carrots and water for Santa's reindeer
Christmas morning
Wishing each of you a very happy and healthy 2011!