Now, I get to describe an easier day. Just fun in The Big Easy.
We tried to take the ferry from Algiers Point across to Canal Street – thinking it would be a fun way to transport ourselves across the Mississippi. Well, ignore what that website says about a dollar for the car – you can’t take cars on this ferry anymore. No cars allowed.
Undeterred, we drove over to the 9th Ward to see the houses being built under the Make It Right Foundation. A very small personal connection to Hurricane Katrina exists for our family, Bennett was born when all the newspapers and televisions were covering the flood and the aftermath. (I told him that’s the only reason his birth didn’t make the front page. He rolled his eyes.) I remember being in labor and watching the news coverage. Afterward, I made the typical donation to American Red Cross, but when I heard my first Hollywood Crush, Brad Pitt, was the poster boy for this group that wanted to build smart, eco-friendly houses in the 9th Ward, I sent another donation to that. So we went to see the houses. They are super colorful, wild, wacky, inspiring, a greenies heaven. They bill themselves as the largest eco LEED certified houses in the US. There is also lots of criticism about spending so much money here in an area that is still below sea level and may never recover because the 14,000 people who used to live there have moved on. Only 2000 live there now. This was an interesting urban planning article on why putting houses here is a bad idea.
Our next morning was scheduled to rain again so we decided to go for another inside day in a museum. We had heard great things about the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. It used to be called the D-Day Museum. First question you might ask is “Why is the NATIONAL museum for this war in New Orleans?” Well, let me tell you. The Higgins Boat, the boat that made D-Day possible, that classic shot of all the troops pouring out of the front of those boats that landed right on the beach was designed and built right here in Louisiana. It was based on designs used in the bayous. Never knew that, now did you?
The second question you might ask is, “do you think it wise to take two children you often protect from scary movies to a museum that is dedicated to WAR?” Yeah, that’s a question we didn’t ask ourselves. I’m really not sure why we didn’t think of that. The kids learned a lot about war, with vivid, moving pictures of the horrors of war. I’ll come back to that in a minute. Let’s talk about the museum first.
It’s an amazing museum. The guidebooks say allow 2-3 hours. I say double or triple that. We got kicked out at closing time – which might have been bad because it talked about the end of the war and some of the good and bad that resulted. I also want to point out that this is a VERY American centric museum. This is the war told from our perspective. We barely mention the Allies!
The museum started on the ‘home front’ and showed the state of the country before the war. How few people we had in our military compared to the other world powers. That was one of my 3 takeaways – how FAST the build up was. The immense enlisting, training, deploying, feeding, bedding, treating, dealing with the death, the building of factories – all that is just overwhelming. My other take away was the sacrifices made on the home front, the rationing, the saving, the pain were so much greater than anything we have experienced for any war since. This is a war that changed the entire fabric of our country. The last take away was 650 million people. That’s the number of people that died worldwide in this war.
There were small booths throughout where you could hear amazing personal stories of everyday people talk about some aspect of the war – from women working in the factories, to men talking about the draft, to memories about the various battles that they fought in. Think Story Corps if you listen to NPR. They were small moments and very personal and intimate. That was very powerful for me.
Then there were the large moments – the guns, the uniforms, the ACTUAL planes you could get eye level with. There was an amazing movie narrated by Tom Hanks that was big and moving and emotional. In summary, it’s a great museum.
Back to whether we damaged our kids. Now that it has been a couple of days I just interviewed them about their views or memories of the museum. The day of the visit they were just blown away by the actual museum – buttons to push, screens to watch, huge planes to ogle. Now, they still think it was an amazingly well done museum. They aren’t sure that other kids their age should experience the “bad things” that they saw in the movies and the exhibits. Carter thinks that maybe 11 year olds should go (a year older than himself). I don’t think they are scarred in any way. In a way, I’m glad they saw it all, but I’m not sure with a time machine whether I would take them again at this age. I think they learned about war, but the one thing I will give the museum overwhelming credit for is that it wasn’t just the heroes and the victories and the glamour and Hollywood version that was presented. The museum was clear on the fact that war is hell, but I think it was also shown a picture of WHY we had to fight that war.
So – one blow against our children’s innocence on Day 1 of our trip to New Orleans.
Started our trip to New Orleans in Acadiana Park Campground, a super quiet, cheap ($15 a night) little city campground. We took a walk on the raised boardwalk path and enjoyed our first night in Louisiana. There was one strange guy there who was in the process of painting his run down RV all black, but let’s go for that it was in preparation for Mardi Gras, ok?
Woke up ready to explore Lafayette when we realized it was Sunday and most of the restaurants suggested to us were closed, as was the Jean Lafitte National Park. Things close around here on Sunday. (How bad was the restaurant situation?? We ended up in a Mexican restaurant because we were hungry and needed to eat. Mexican in the middle of Cajun Central!)
However, the privately run (non profit) Vermillionville was open so we gave it a try. Vermillionville is one of those living history museums where everyone dresses in period dress and tells you about their history while showing you the ‘ways’ of the time. In my cynical world, they are build for school field trips. In this case the history was the Acadian, Native American, and Creole cultures – from the time period 1765 to 1890. The park sits on a 23-acres on the banks of the Bayou Vermilion with seven restored original homes.
It was all pretty standard fare and we might have been bummed about the admission charges ($36 for all of us) had the day not been saved by three things. One, we wandered into the science center at the museum, which was run by a woman who was determined to teach the kids some science in only the way that a retired teacher can do. She was awesome and let the kids play with dead bugs and a tornado machine and showed them pictures of snakes. Bennett especially was eating it up (not the bugs, but the knowledge and the interested adult). There is something about an ex-teacher when she gets a hold of interested kids. I loved how she reprimanded one of the boys when he answered something and she said “Yes, MA’AM, son, you are in the South now and you better get used to saying ma’am and sir.”
That was highlight number one; highlight number two was getting to catch lizards and a frog with a 9-year-old daughter of one of the volunteers.
Have you noticed that both of those highlights were about the boys and not us? Yeah, David and I were not that thrilled about the day, but it got saved for us because our admission entitled us to a Zydeco concert with Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp Band and included dancing! We had a blast watching this huge crowd of very varied age and look folks who obviously knew each other. We went out for a turn or five around the floor too. Zydeco – seriously, how can you not move to it?? It’s contagious. (Challenge – watch this videos or the ones on the side and I dare you to keep your feet completely still.) We learned later that it was a social group of dancers that are serious about their Zydeco. The woman that we talked to had retired here, just for Zydeco. There was a film crew working and one of them was filming an unaware Carter’s as his feet just kept moving to the music while he was watching from the sidelines. We got him out dancing too.
That concert was serious fun and totally worth the price of admission!
Off we drove from Lafayette and on to the KOC Kampground in New Iberia, LA.
Nice little campground with the best Wi-Fi we have found on the whole trip. When we pulled into our site, a Carter aged boy came over and asked if he could help in anyway. (That has NEVER happened before. Wow, we are really in the South.) We declined, but after we finished setting up, the boys went for a walk around the grounds with David while I got dinner ready. They ran into the boy again and we got a little bit of a cultural education. Dylan lives in the campground on the weekends. He explained to David that he likes to catch alligators, not big ones – just 5-6 feet. You just jump on their backs until they tire out, then you got to close their mouths with the good tape – the gray stuff, not the cheap black stuff – that won’t work. He also showed the boys a nutria pelt that they had skinned for last nights dinner.
Just how good was that Wi-Fi? David and I got to watch a Sherlock episode with streaming video.
The next day we went on a factory tour on Avery Island. Anybody know the factory? Their product has been to the moon, is a featured ingredient in MREs and President’s tables… Tabasco. Cute little factory tour on a beautiful piece of land and it was free with 4 little mini samples of sauce for all of us. Packaging is always the best stop in factory tours. Just watching machinery package up stuff is way cool.
If one factory tour is good, two would be even better, right? The Conrad Rice Mill – the oldest working rice mill in the country – was right near by. They sell their rice as Konriko – which I had always incorrectly assumed was an Asian company. Not so much, all the rice is grown right near here in Crowley, LA. Their rice mill is a National Historic Building so they can’t change any of it or the machinery. All those of you who think that might be a bad idea not to keep up with any current technology, raise your hand. Yeah, the place is dusty and the machines are ANCIENT. It was fascinating to know that these old workhorses are still spitting out bag after bag of rice. We learned quite a bit about the process. I loved how they have totally jumped on the gluten free bandwagon though. Good for them.
We drove on to New Orleans and the ever so fabulous Bayou Segnette State Park. 20 minutes from downtown and $20 bucks a night – try to beat that in New Orleans! One of the highlights for us that every night we drove back into the park we saw some new wildlife including a live armadillo that the boys got to get out of the car to check out. (I’ve only ever seen them dead on the side of the road unfortunately). We didn’t spend much time in the park (hello, 20 minutes from New Orleans), but it was spacious and clean and very pretty. Plus there is a wave pool there in the summer!
Rain was scheduled for our first day, so we got some homeschooling done and headed out of town for Laura Plantation, a creole sugar plantation a bit out of town known for its excellent tour. We got an excellent education about Creole vs. Cajun vs. Anglo and learned, for example, that in Louisiana, women were allowed to own property, inherit, and manage their own monies back in the times when that certainly wasn’t allowed in other parts of the country. Women ran this plantation for over 60 years! It was quite an interesting tour and worth the admission. We again were reminded how much Carter hears and listens when Carter was able to answer all of the questions David was trying to ask of the tour guide because Carter had been walking up front with her for the whole time. On these types of tours we tend to let the boys stick right with the leader and we hang back a bit. They spend so much time with us that it’s nice to let them soak up some education from someone else and it gives us a mini break. Just as some website suggested, we drove by the impressive Oak Alley Plantation for the view, but paid for the Laura Plantation Tour.
I’m going to stop here and post our New Orleans adventures in the next blog.
“Hold still! I’m going to measure you,” said the annoying mechanical voice. I was in the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans. I was fidgeting. “Do you have ants in your pants?” said the voice. I just simply walked away because there was better stuff to do.
I went to a room with a big rectangular tub. It had four spots that water was coming out. Each spot had a ramp that the water came out on. Each ramp could be blocked. At the end of the rectangular tub were lots of plastic rectangular pieces. You could block or change the direction of the water. I decided to do a big-ish project. I made a zig-zag path for the water to go through. After that I made another track that made the water go backwards.
The museum was a pretty good children’s museum. They had an air hockey table with a bell in the middle instead of goals. How you were supposed to “learn” was you were supposed to ricochet the puck into the bell. Most kids didn’t learn that, but dad insisted we learn. Altogether it was really fun.
After the museum, we went to a slightly inappropriate Mardi Gras parade. At the parade they threw out lots of junky toys and other stuff. They also threw out some candy. There were lots of fun floats and great costumes. My favorite float had lots of fake bugs on it with something that said “The SWAT Team.” There were lots of people walking behind the float dressed as bugs. A few of them gave out fake cockroaches.
I also liked the people on the balcony above us who every once in a while got tossed a necklace.
There were also bands between the floats. You could easily tell the difference between the bands who worked really hard and the ones that just wanted to play in a Mardi Gras parade.
I really think New Orleans is a great city and this is just one of the fun days we spent in it.
Note from mom: Krewe du Vieux is noted for wild satire, adult themes, and political comedy, as well as for showcasing some of the best brass and jazz bands in New Orleans. I’ll be writing about how we have taken away our children’s innocence in a later post 🙂
Showering in the RV is completely possible, but it is never truly enjoyable. It’s a super small space. You can’t raise your hands above your head. Your hot water is limited. Your water pressure is minimal. Lastly, you have to be concerned about using too much water and filling up the tanks of the RV.
As I was showering at Henderson Beach State Park in beautiful Destin, Florida yesterday, I realized it was the BEST shower I had experienced since leaving our house. As I luxuriated in the shower, I thought about the criteria needed for a great camp ground shower, listed in order of necessity.
Safety: The first level of safety is ‘will I even go in alone or are there too many creepy people hanging around.’ Showering is a vulnerable activity so a basic level of safety is needed before we can even explore other criteria.
Hot Water: Although it is convenient not having to mess with getting the right mix of hot and cold water with the taps. That is sometimes so annoying as you put on a little more cold and then a little more hot just so you can get it just right… In 90% of the campground showers, you just crank that baby to full hot and you can get a nice tepid shower. So hot water and enough of it to actually get a full body shower with hair wash is a super nice thing.
Cleanliness: First off, of course I have shower shoes. I use a pair of Crocs. However, there have been some bathrooms where I’m not sure I want the bottoms of my SHOES touching the shower floor.
Water Pressure: I have to say, this isn’t typically a problem, but if you are listing criteria, I have to include it around here.
Security: I know, you are thinking, she already listed safety, what does security mean? Well, ‘safety’ is a yes / no criteria. Will I take a shower there or not? Security is a sliding scale of how comfortable am I WHILE taking a shower. Is there a good lock on the door, is there a sense of security that I have while showering or am I jumping at every noise? By the way, I won’t take a shower at night and I try to aim for the ‘just after being closed for cleaning’ window.
Space: Lastly, the main thing the RV is missing is a little space to move around. Space to put your clean, dry clothes on a hook where they won’t get wet as you are showering. Space to put your leg up so you can shave them (or at least wash them). Space is nice.
Given these criteria, I hereby award the showers at Henderson State Park, the GOLD MEDAL WINNER of showers. They blew out all the competition and really shone on that SPACE category. (Totally inefficiently big showers, but, oh what a joy.)
OK, since one of the purposes of other people’s RV blogs is to help others do this, I’m going to include the following tips for showering on the road.
Have a Ziploc bag with all of your shower stuff – for during and after shower – like shampoo AND comb, deodorant, etc. Have one of these bags for each member of the family labeled.
If you have kids, get each person their own color towel. Sure, they don’t match, but now you know who left theirs behind and who dropped it on the floor.
Consider using a washcloth or other small towel to get off most of the water after the shower and then use a big towel for the final work. Small towels dry a lot faster.
I haven’t done this yet, but I’m considering getting a small container with suction cups that I can put up in each shower. Even the gold standard showers didn’t have room for my tiny shampoo bottle, etc in the shower and I have to put it on the floor (see note about cleanliness).
For inbetween shower days, baby wipes are your friend.
Anybody have any other showering tips for road folks?
I see tall trees. They’re green trees too. Wonderful green! (I have not seen green for a while.) I see the small camp host sign and the camp host RV. The RV is probably bigger than ours. I know there is a dog in there somewhere I saw him earlier. The dog is very shaggy. I see a big bird flutter across the road (maybe a owl?) (I thought those were asleep during the day?)(I later learned it was a falcon.) I see the camp host golf cart next to the camp host sign. Compared to the camp host RV the golf cart is quite small, but compared to the camp host sign it is quite big.
I see a school bus drive in to the campground. I did not know they did field trips out here. Driving behind it there is a camper. It turns on a different road then the school bus. Now an RV is driving down the road, suddenly it stops, a guy gets out, walks around the RV, gets back in the RV, and drives away. I wonder what that is about.
There is a dumpster on the corner for garbage and it’s blue. In front of us there are 2 sites, they are both about the same size. One is for a camper and one is for a camp host. By the site for a camper there is an electrical outlet with the number 1 on it. The road surface and the site are both white because of the material they are made of. I smell water and shampoo because Dad is taking a shower.
I feel relaxed because I am happy that I got this done with. I feel safe because I am inside the RV. Mom and Dad are up front. I don’t feel that comfortable because I don’t like writing in my journal like this.
Houston, Texas – Stephen F. Austin State Park (Site 3)
What dam holds up the Colorado River and was finished 2 years before planned?
The Hoover Dam. It is AWESOME!!!
The water it holds up is called Lake Mead and is the largest man made lake.
What we did was go on a tour inside the dam and see the power plant. The part of the power plant we saw had 10 generators. One small generator only generated part of the power for the Hoover Dam lights and was completely rusted. The whole dam capacity is just over two million kilowatts of power. A normal electric room heater uses about two kilowatts, so the Hoover Dam could run one million electrical room heaters. After that part of the tour, we walked down a long underwater, underground hallway and every time you said something it echoed back at you. After we got to the end of the long hallway there was a vent. This vent was on the non-wet side of the dam. I stuck my hand out of the vent.
After the tour we found lots of coins under the feet of a statue. I made about one dollar in coins. Also before the tour we saw a big hole that also echoed back at us. The big hole was the overflow chamber for the water. It helped them build the dam.
There is a bridge nearby that gives a great view of the dam and you can be in two states at one time.
We had a great day. If you go, take the long dam tour.
White Sands, the world’s largest gypsum dune field, is in New Mexico. Did you know that sand dunes can move up to 25 feet a year? The sand dune does that by having more and more sand blow over the top of a dune.
When we visited White Sands we rented a sled and slid down the steep part of the dunes. It was very hard to climb to the top of the dune because it was so steep. I collapsed nearly every time into the sand dune as I climbed up to the top.
We went to the place where a lake would be during the rainy months. When the lake dries up during the nonrainy season the gypsum is then selenite, which breaks down from the wind and gets smaller and smaller until it is sand. The water from the mountains around White Sands is gypsum rich because there is gypsum in the mountains.
Walking on the dry bottom of the lake reminded me of walking on Oreo cookies. When you walked on it, it was the sound of crushing Oreo cookies. The white of the selenite was very white.
We had a great time at White Sands National Monument. If you go, I recommend renting the ten dollar sleds. Check the weather because it was cold the day we went, but it gets really hot there. It’s in a desert you know!
First, we have to discuss Tombstone. Let’s get it right out there that the kids loved the OK Corral reenactment of the famous gunfight complete with actors and booing and cheering of the ‘heroes’ and ‘bad guys.’ It was loud (real blanks in those guns) and hokey and overdone and all that would have been fine, but the admission was 10 bucks each (no discount for kids). (Video link not filmed by me and I don’t actually have the bandwidth to watch it all, but it looked right) I looked around the audience and calculated they made about $1500 from our half filled show on a quiet Tuesday. They do these performances THRICE daily – probably more on the weekends. The show lasted about 30 minutes AND then the actors were asking for tips. Someone is making out like a bank robber from the Old West on that business.
The rest of Tombstone is souvenir shops and old-timey photo booths – BUT they are all set on a cute boardwalk with western looking storefronts. There seem to be a plethora of folks walking around in period costume also. The kids got to shoot 6 paintball bullets out of a real gun in one of the stores ($3 each). Woo-hoo, the excitement just doesn’t end. One highlight was a diorama narrated by Vincent Price that was so 1950s it was fun. I don’t want to give away too many plot points, but the little plastic cowboy figure falling down after he was shot and then springing back up again as the diorama turns was a hit with David and me. Lord knows, I love a good diorama. * In summary, David and I weren’t huge fans of Tombstone, but the kids had fun.
The next day we drove a short 30 minutes down to Bisbee, Arizona (cue chorus from song above). I loved this town! I want to move here. David is a little scared I’m serious, and likely I will forget about it in a few months, but the whole place just gave off a great vibe. It was finally summed up for me when I saw this bumper sticker.
Bisbee – It’s like Mayberry on Acid
Everybody was super friendly (but not in a ‘we are here to take your money so we have to be nice to you’ way), there was a ton of fun artsy shops**, a great mining museum, Bennett and I ate a fantastic deli called the High Desert Market***, there was art everywhere you looked in every random corner, AND the town doesn’t get boiling hot in the summer. (They have a small monsoon problem, but what place doesn’t have some faults?). Everybody seemed to know each other and stopped to have a conversation. How can you not like a town that has this statue for the “Virile Copper Miners” or that their big fundraising event is the Bisbee 1000 that makes you run all the outside stairs around town?
We didn’t even do the big tourist attraction, the Queen Anne’s Mine Tour, because we still felt a little entertainment budget ripped off from the day before, and it was also pricey. However, it does get good reviews and the tour guides are mostly retired miners.
We stumbled onto a glass blowing shop where the artist had a sign on his chair that said, “Please don’t hesitate to interrupt me.” He was actively making a glass piece over the flames but he took the time to answer all of our questions even though it was pretty clear we weren’t real customers. He also had two nice dogs guarding the shop that we got to pet for a quick dog fix.
In short, if you are ever in this area, glance around Tombstone and then drive on down and embrace the warmth of Bisbee. If David leaves me for a younger model when I’m 65, I’m moving down there.
*I HATE homework assigned dioramas – especially when they are assigned to students as a mandatory project to describe a time in history or book or whatever. They can be on a list of 20 options of how to do a project, but never mandatory.
** David reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from a 5th grade student of mine long ago… “If everyone is an artist, who buys the art?”
*** Carter and David ate at a nice Mexican restaurant across the street. Although the owner of the deli tried ever so hard to find something gluten free/nut free/egg free for Carter, the choices left were a little too fancy or spicy for him. After we ate, Bennett told the owner that it was the best sandwich he had ever had. My eyes rolled back into my head after I tasted her coconut Thai soup. (Our review might be tempered by the fact that we have either been eating my cooking or Costco deli for a while, but it WAS good.)
A friend of mine told me that she hesitated texting me because “we are on vacation and she didn’t want to bother us.” I told her that was ridiculous because we aren’t on vacation; this is just our life for the next 7 months. I need my friends to text me when they have a random thought of brilliance, I need the ridiculous email chain showing a series of gorgeous pics of actors or the thought provoking one about rich parents volunteering. I need more of that. It makes me feel connected. I have awesome, amazing friends and I miss them. Facebook makes this much easier to stay connected, but Facebook is always about putting the best foot forward and never showing the embarrassing or too personal.
I have to think about “vacation” though because, well, technically, we are on vacation – we are travelling, we are seeing amazing sights, 5 years from now when we look back, we will look at this as the RV Vacation. So, it’s vacation, right? On the OTHER HAND, it is life. The kids get haircuts, we have birthday celebrations, I’m still cooking and cleaning (and trust me when I think ‘vacation’ it does not involve me cleaning the toilet every other day).
Then there is the homeschooling. That’s not vacation. (I’ve been getting a few questions on what we do for homeschooling, I’ll summarize it with it’s more than some and less than others and will try to write up a blog entry on it when I’m not being lazy.)
David met a family last night that is planning on traveling for the next 4 years. FOUR YEARS. They have 3 kids, 8, 6, and 3. The 3 year old isn’t completely potty trained. (OH MY GOD, THAT WOULD BE SO HARD. I love the age of our kids for this trip.) In David’s brief talk with them he found out it probably would have been fun to talk to them further. We seemed very similar in outlook about money and parts of life.* The dad works remotely (great post here on the care and feeding of your work at home husband). Are they on vacation? I would answer a no on that one.
*How much did we have in common with these folks? I backed a Kickstarter project in November for a board game that teaches programming called Robot Turtles. It wasn’t available in stores – only to the Kickstarter folks. They have a picture of the same game on their website! How random is that? Unfortunately they are driving west and we are driving east and they left for church this morning before we were even awake. (Well, that’s something we don’t have in common.)
Anyway – back to the vacation idea. Vacations are breaks from reality – two weeks in Hawaii. Traveling is our reality right now. We are incredibly fortunate to be living our dream and seeing all of these amazing sights, but it isn’t completely a holiday. Maybe that’s what I should call it. We aren’t on vacation; we are just living our dream…
P.S. Many of my cooler blogging friends have musical interludes for their blogs. While writing this, all I could think of was the Go-Go’s “Vacation.” Further proof that I’m just not that cool.