The month of February found us in New Orleans. We have been to this city numerous times, but never for Mardi Gras. We checked off that bucket list item and it was WELL worth it!
We arrived in Belle Chasse, LA (across the Mississippi River on the west bank from the city) about a week before the holiday started. And by holiday, I truly mean holiday. The city was alive with color, people packed the stores like it was Christmas, schools closed for the week, and the post offices were also closed for Fat Tuesday. Businesses along the parade routes allowed working at home or just closed completely. The woman at the grocery store was shocked our son was not coming home for the holiday. I kindly informed her that this is only a holiday in New Orleans, not for the rest of the country.
Typically we took the ferry across the river. It’s a 5 minute ride and costs $2 (plus parking) and drops off across the street from Harrah’s. It’s about a 4-5 block walk to Bourbon Street but you do not have to wait until you get there to get your adult beverages. Apparently Louisiana allows open containers in your vehicle as many people grabbed one (or more) for the ferry, one for the road when departing the ferry, or just went through one of the many drive-thru daiquiri locations in the area. There are also plenty of businesses along the route to Bourbon Street to grab a frozen drink or from a curbside vendor selling beer.
We hit some of our favorite spots including Acme Oyster Company for po’boys and chargrilled oysters, Grandma’s for THE BEST bread pudding, and The Original French Market Restaurant and Bar (twice) for gumbo, bisque, fried alligator, fried catfish, and again….chargrilled oysters. Our final evening in the city we enjoyed shrimp and grits, crawfish étouffée, and a fantastic band at B.B. King’s Blues Club.
The parades seemed to be continuous and amazing! We attended Mystic Krewe of Hermes, Krewe of Tucks, Krewe of Endymion, and Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. Forgive me but I am a bit of a history buff and love this stuff….
Hermes was founded in 1937 and is New Orleans oldest nighttime parade and has beautiful, brightly colored floats.
Tucks was started in the 1960’s and is bathroom humor including a huge commode float. In addition to the beads that are thrown, you can also expect thrown rolls of toilet paper.
Endymion is by far, the most popular parade with AMAZING floats. The parade started by honoring the police, the military, the parade ambassadors, and the Budweiser Clydesdales. Each year “Endymion Squatters” stake out their spots along the parade route DAYS in advance. This year the ambassador was Robin Thicke along with other celebrities such as Tim McGraw and Styx. The superkrewe’s 2020 theme is “Dynasties,” with each float featuring an historic ruler or symbol of a past kingdom. This parade was expected to have 66 floats and is hours long. On a sad note, unfortunately someone was hit and killed by a float and the parade was cut short at float #14.
Zulu was founded in 1909 and touches on the African American culture of New Orleans. Parade-goers vie for the most coveted of all parade throws, hand-painted coconuts, AKA “The Golden Nugget”. Controversy occassionally surrounds this parade as participants dress up in black and white face paint.
Before we headed to the city, people warned us “Be careful!” “It’s dangerous” “Watch out for pick-pockets”. Let me tell you, the party-goers were out there to drink and have a ton of fun! This was not just a party for the young….as there were just as many older people as there were young people. I just could not envision my Mom partaking in thigh-high boots, a mini skirt and beads! Natives are proud of their city and their traditions. Everyone just wanted to have a good time and were respectful (notice the photo-bomber in the picture with me and my sister-in-law, Amanda…just having a good time). We did not see one fight, one rude person, one pick-pocket. It was so fun people watching and seeing how some people earned their beads. For the most part, the participants on the balconies would still throw you beads, even if you are a prude. We felt very safe as there were police everywhere, who basically acted as babysitters for the city. When I mean everywhere, it was not uncommon to see 12-15 officers in a one block area.
Earlier I mentioned I am a history buff and this city visit would not have been complete without a city tour to learn about the city and her history. On our final day we explored the New Orleans City Park sculpture garden. Beautiful…although most sculptures left me wondering if I truly don’t have an appreciation for art. This park is 1,300 acres and 54% larger than Central Park. I had beignets just because my mom and dad made me feel guilty for not visiting Cafe Du’Monde.
We visited one of the many cemeteries in New Orleans. I don’t know what it is but I find such beauty in them. I wonder what these souls were like in this world. I marvel at the beauty of their tombs. I love the angels and Jesus’ looking over their tombs. I also learned that the above-ground tombs were started when the city had an outbreak of yellow fever in 1853, killing nearly 8,000 people in one summer. The above-ground tombs allowed the cemeteries to put “shelves” in the tombs and each shelf would hold a body. During that time, the Catholic Church did not allow cremation. The bodies would stay on the “shelf” for one year and allow nature to naturally cremate the body. After a year the body would be moved to the bottom of the tomb and create space for another body.
We passed through the different districts and marveled at all the beads hanging from the trees. The only thing that removes the beads are hurricanes so they prefer the beads. We passed by the beautiful colleges. We passed by the grandiose mansions. We continued our day walking to St. Louis’ Cathedral in Jackson Square. Unfortunately there was a wedding about the take place so we could not visit inside. In the end, we ended up at Pat O’Brien’s to listen to the piano players and enjoy the music and our adult beverages.
If you have never been to New Orleans, we highly recommend a trip. In the past we have enjoyed an airboat swamp tour through the bayou and explored the WWII Museum (phenomenal). And if you have been to New Orleans, but never Mardi Gras, you are really missing out. The history, the music, the food, and a few things that you will have to see for yourself.
Although I was in the spirit of having Christian home again, I still needed a little spiritual reflection. I spent the morning at Mary Queen of the Universe Basilica in Kissimmee, FL. I went there on Christmas Eve morning with the main intention of going to confession. I made my confession, reflected on my penance, and wandered the church as the workers transformed the altar into a beautiful Christmas scene with the empty manger awaiting the baby Jesus to be placed there that evening. On Sunday I tried to imagine what this church would look like when decorated and could never have imagined it being more breathtaking.
I removed myself from all the distractions, the traffic, the things I need to still do. Instead, I took time to kneel before Mary and thank her for answering God’s call to deliver to the world our Savior, Christ the King.
As I left the church, a small adoration chapel off to the right caught my eye. I had to know. I stepped into this chapel and it literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. In this small chapel, the entire space was transformed into the stable. The figures were life-sized and the straw transformed the entire space. The smell of this straw made me envision being in that stable the night of sweet baby Jesus’ birth. I spent some quiet time in there trying to imagine what the world was like that night. I wondered about Mary and Joseph’s anxiety as they were all alone, about to give birth. I wondered how bright that star was that called the shepherds and wise men. I thought about how weary Joseph and Mary were from traveling and giving birth. I wondered how long they stayed and when they began to travel again. I thought about that beautiful cry from the baby and Mary holding him close and feeding him. And I reflected on the angel appearing and the heavens singing. I was prayerful for this glorious night changing the world.
We attended the evening vigil mass. We claimed three of the last seats and people continued to pour in to honor our King. The basilica holds 2,000 people. And still they stood along the walls and in aisles. The choir (only 8 members) and orchestra were breathtaking, singing unfamiliar Latin hymns. The mass was beautiful and all for us. All because of the babe born in a manger.
Spiritually, Christmas has not changed for me. But the way we prepare and celebrate Christmas has changed this year. We are on the road, living in Seymore (that is what I named our little home). I imagined living in our brick and mortar house until we were old and gray, welcoming the kids and grandkids into our festive home, and decorating our great room looking out over the rolling hills. But, things change. My health changed. So here we are in sunny (and unusually cold) Florida.
The only time I have regretted selling our home is over the holidays. I miss the comfort, the big stone fireplace, and to be honest, the space of finding a little peace and quiet….alone. I also miss Christian’s bedroom. That is what I miss the most. (Because when your kid hurts, your heart aches for them. For Christian, this was his escape and his place of comfort). And he misses it too. A lot. But, I have had a lot of fun decorating our new home. I NEEDED to make it as familiar for Christian when he came home from college. So for the past month, I have been decorating and crafting whenever I have the energy and strength. I brought some of my favorite decorations (what would fit in our storage compartment). One of my absolute favorites is the little ceramic truck and camper our daughter, Carmen, gave me last year. I hope you enjoy my little tour. I am very pleased with the results.
One of the underbelly storage compartments is mine and mine alone. I have seasonal decorations and wrapping paper. I had a 3′ tree in there that I bought especially for the house. But after it was up, it just looked to small and we bought a 6′ slender tree. The 3′ tree is now an outdoor tree. I hauled out familiar decorations and crafted a few new ones.
In the end, our home has the magic of Christmas. We are truly blessed. Merry Christmas from our family to yours!
I have been working on getting some type of blog set up and figuring out the right time to “release” it to my friends and family. Today is that day! I apologize if this one is long but this one is very dear to my heart (and I had a very hard time narrowing down the pictures). Since we have begun our adventure a couple of months ago, we have already seen a lot and experienced more than we imagined. Two days ago, we toured the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN. I love tours and learning the history of a particular place. We were immersed in the college culture and the love of their campus with random shouts of “Go Irish!” as our tour group passed by. Anyone who knows my family knows we are GERMAN and do not care for the Irish. (They celebrate drinking beer one day a year but the Germans celebrate the entire month of October….we win!).
The campus has 3 items around campus which all have a lighthearted references to football. Unfortunately, I did not capture a photo of the iconic “First Down Moses”
We learned a lot of interesting facts about the campus. Over 80% of the student population is Catholic, and 93% identify as Christian. The University recognizes students of all religious backgrounds and supports their choice to worship off-campus by offering transportation to services and a very large campus ministry program for all faiths. Mass is celebrated over 100 times per week and the ND staff has 100+ priests who are assigned to the campus. There are 57 chapels on campus, including one chapel in each of the 31 residence halls.
Now that we have covered a little of the University’s history, I would like to share something that drew me back to the campus today. I felt this was a perfect way to introduce my blog, RefreshedandBlessed. Today I NEEDED some time to meditate and pray. I returned to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Coincidentally, our son, Christian, attended Sacred Heart school in McSherrystown, PA which was attached to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (the oldest Catholic Church in America built of stone). I had a short private tour by Carol before confession and mass. I was in complete awe of the history, the beauty, and a few things I learned. Did you know cardinals cannot be buried?
The Basilica contains 44 stained glass windows, including 114 life-sized pictures of saints. The windows were designed and produced by the Carmelite nuns in the 1870’s – 1880’s in Le Mans, France. It is believe that the University of Notre Dame’s Basilica houses the worlds largest collection of Le Mans stained glass.
From the Notre Dame campus guide: There are three things that you need to keep in mind about this Basilica. (1) it is a work of art; (2) it is a landmark that has become both a place of pilgrimage and a tourist attraction; and (3) it is first and foremost a house of God. This is Notre Dame’s mother church, the campus’s premier place of worship, and the greatest physical manifestation of the faith that underpins the university.
Luigi Gregori, the Italian artist of Blessed Pius IX’s papal household was sent to ND for a 3 year residency to paint the Basilica. He ended up staying at the University for 17 years and became the school’s professor of art.
THE RELIQUARY CHAPEL
This chapel holds many significant relics including relics of the twelve Apostles, a hair clipping of St. Teresa of Calcutta, a piece of manger from Jesus’ birth, and a piece of the True Cross, the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
THE BASILICA of the SACRED HEART
On January 17th, 1992, Pope John Paul II raised the designator of the Church of the Sacred Heart to Minor basilica. This designator is due to the church’s antiquity, dignity, historical importance, and devotion. There are currently 85 basilicas in the United States. They are honored with a tintinnabulum and an ombrellino, displayed near the altar.
THE GROTTO of OUR LADY of LOURDES
I spent some time after mass in the Grotto. Praying the rosary, which I received from a dear friend over 10 years ago. Ironically, my rosary is made from the rose petals left at the Grotto in Lourdes, France and to this day it has a very strong rose scent. The Grotto is a replica 1/7th the size of the one in Lourdes, France. Rock from the original Lourdes grotto is incorporated in this peaceful spot. Students and faculty, as well as visitors come here regularly to light votive candles, especially before exams and football games. There were many people here while I was visiting. [The rosary is prayed here every day of the year, rain or shine]. I was very impressed with the number of students and faculty in the Basilica and at the Grotto, just dropping by for confession or a few moments in prayer.
One last piece of trivia about the Grotto…Back in 1985 the Grotto was badly damaged from a massive fire. It was the first football game of the season and the Irish were facing off against Michigan State. About 1,500 candles were lit and the heat was so intense, the plastic candle holders melted and burst into flames. The rocks were charred, as well as the statue of The Virgin Mary. Those on campus who remember this fire also remember who won the game—Notre Dame.(credit: http://www.WNDU.com)
What a beautiful place where you can just shut out the rest of the world and be one with our Lord.
May and June were completely crazy months for us! Our house went on the market and sold in 13 days. And while we should have been busy packing and moving, we had out-of-state family members visiting for our son’s high school graduation. Needless to say, the last week in the house was absolute chaos!
We took a three week trip to MN for a graduation party, college orientation, a country music festival, and a few fun events like dinners with family and friends and a Red Sox game (Red Sox won!).
This past week we purchased our new truck, our new 5th wheel, and have been living out of suitcases in an extended stay hotel. We are busy sorting through boxes and organizing what needs to go in our new home and making campsite reservations.
This weekend, our poor pup, Biscuit, can hopefully calm down and know we are finally settling into a new routine and lifestyle. Enjoy the little things, it’s going to be quite an adventure!
Hi Everyone! We are Tony and Karla and we have a passion for travel and adventure. For us, life would be dull without discovering new places and enjoying God’s abundant blessings! We have traveled the world and realized we have barely scraped the surface. Riding camels on the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey, discovering the ruins and history of Istanbul, feeling like royalty at Neuschwanstein Castle, eating Chinese food and great pizza in Italy, taking in the breathtaking views of the Alps in Austria, a week of cultural immersion in Belize, soaking up the sun in the Caribbean….but what about the good ol’ USA? We have traveled our beautiful country extensively but realized there is so much more we have left to discover. We need to refresh and enjoy the blessings all around us. Come along for our journey, you won’t regret it.
Thanks for joining me as our next journey begins. A little background…My husband and I have dredged through the typical, hectic, stress-filled life of parenthood. As we ventured through work schedules, kid activities, and home ownership, we grew TIRED! Our weekends and days off were filled with errands, appointments, home maintenance, and occasionally, a nap.
Over the past 10 years I have endured an autoimmune disease, psoriatic arthritis, 4 major surgeries, a few minor ones, and blood pressure medicine as a result of life-changing chronic pain and yes, a bit of stress. My faith and family (our kids were incredibly helpful and my husband…well, I couldn’t ask for a better partner!) got me through every hurdle I have encountered but I remained TIRED!
Over two years ago the hubby retired from the Air Force with visions of relaxation. But, he continued in the workforce, working a ton of hours. And guess what? You got it, he is still tired!
As we encroach on the whole empty-nester thing, we decided we would sell the house and move somewhere tropical. Our philosophy was “As long as there is rum, water, sand, and sun, we’re good!” About a year ago as we sat on the couch, I casually mentioned we should first buy a fifth wheel and take two years to travel across the U.S. and Canada visiting all the sites we have dreamt of. And so, a spark ignited and we began the planning process. The excitement has ignited a new energy in us and we are progressing nicely towards our next adventure. Join us for the journey with RefreshedandBlessed.com
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton