Family · Holidays · Reflection

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I am sipping coffee and contemplating why I always have loved Valentine’s Day. I find it to be one that can evoke many feelings based on your personal season in life.

Many of us as children exchanged cards and candy with classmates. We all had those teachers that creatively guided us through many art projects made from the shape of a heart.

My mother (I miss her on holidays) never missed an opportunity on any holiday, even St. Patrick’s Day and 4th of July, to give gifts. When I woke up on these “little” holidays, I would make a beeline to the kitchen to see what might be waiting. There was always a card. Like many Valentine gifts, there was likely a heart shaped box with a few chocolates and a little something else with the theme of hearts: barrettes, bracelet, earrings, or a shirt. It was never anything fancy yet I loves it. I loved incorporating a gift I could wear into my outfits that day. My mom was my favorite Valentine every year. Even in later years with boyfriends, best friends, and crushes, her gifts were the highlight. I wonder if I ever told her that?

As a Single Mom, I continue this tradition with my family. I didn’t plan ahead this year, so after being out of town for two weeks, I made sure last Sunday that my errands included picking up something for my children. Yes, my son is 22, his girlfriend is 21, and my daughter is 13. Like my mother, my children are never too old to gift. And like my mother, anyone in my home is part of the tradition. As a parent, we are our children’s first and continuous Valentine. Don’t you think?

So, they have Skittles and Russell Stover chocolates waiting for them.

And like my mom, I made sure I wasn’t left out.

I have these candy hearts to play with and nibble on throughout the day. I love these and conversation hearts. Perhaps this was the origin of my love for words. Thanks to my first and continuous Valentine: Mom.

Do you have Valentine’s Day traditions? Anything special planned for today? Whatever you do, I hope it is special and in the years down the road provides happy memories. Life isn’t about things. It is definitely about shared memories. As you can see I don’t remember the “things” in detail but the memories, they are quite vivid.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

P.S. It is also Ash Wednesday. Are you doing anything special this Lenten Season?

Reflection · travel · vacation

Happy Mardi Gras! History, My First Krewe Parade

Growing up with a French speaking Grandmother, I always knew that Mardi Gras was French for Fat Tuesday. I also knew that it was the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. Being raised Catholic Grandma made sure that I remembered to eat a big “fat” dinner that Tuesday every year because Wednesday meant a day of fasting and giving up something for Lent.

Over the years, I saw images and scenes depicting Mardi Gras festivals in places around the world. Even in school we were briefed on its history.

Mardi Gras is a season every year that really starts as Carnival and climaxes on Fat Tuesday. In places like New Orleans it has a very long history and more meaning than just the crazy costumes, beads, revelry, drunkenness, flashing and parades.

Knowing I was going to be in New Orleans during Carnival my planning included web research to brush up on the facts and found this Mardi Gras history lesson to be pretty concise and informative. I got lost in web land and remembered reading a book a few years ago, Downfall of a Good Girl. This sweet romance really piqued my interest in this annual event. Every time I see an NCIS: New Orleans episode around the week of Mardi Gras my yearnings persist.

2018 is my year. The Tri-Centennial Year of the city of New Orleans. Me. And my friends. In the Big Easy for Carnival.

Comparing my itinerary with the official Mardi Gras 2018 calendar brought out giddy girl excitement. Why? Well, the moon and stars aligned for me because the first parade of the season in the French Quarter hosted by Krewe du Vieux was the Saturday I was going to be in town. Yahoo!

Fast Forward to my trip. We went.

We stood in the crowds.

We met new people.

We had a great time experiencing a satirical and quite traditional Krewe Parade.

Satirical? Really? Oh my! Yes! This was not a parade for the narrow-minded. Nor was it a parade I would take minor children to. (This is certainly a parental choice. I did see a few children there and I am certainly not judging.) This year’s theme, in my mind was a sufficient warning.

The Krewe’s satire was bawdy and suggestive all while poking fun, or not so fun, at the Local Water and Sewer Commission. Some Krewes in New Orleans now steer away from some of these traditional satirical themes. Many use modern ways of pulling the floats. Krewe du Vieux (wikipedia.com) still holds to tradition with horses and mules.

History of Krewe du Vieux

Krewe du Vieux is quite known for bringing along the best Brass Bands in New Orleans.

better parade images than mine (nola.com) warning…some of these images are graphic and may be deemed inappropriate.

I loved the entire experience and pretty sure my friends did too. The throws ran the gamut from pieces of candy and mini frisbees all the way to these raucous fans.

I captured a few videos I have uploaded to my YouTube channel, She Sips Coffee. Feel free to stop over and take a peek. You will find them here.

Knowing what I now know about Krewe history in New Orleans and seeing a parade, I have a whole new respect for the hard work done by these organizations. Not just during the Carnival season, because the work gets done year-round. Many work to raise awareness and many drive philanthropic agendas. They plan themes and floats probably almost as soon as they tear down the last one. As millions of people swarm the Bayou to party, I wonder how many know the history and honorable work of many of these men and women in these organizations? The annual parades and balls boost the local economy each year and lots of crazy stuff happens. I wanted to learn another side, or the why behind a theme. I watched for the message the Krewes were sending to the local politicians. Colorful images with creative puns and bawdy humor were prevalent from float to float tying to the theme and proving the hard work of the smaller Krewes that collectively form Krewe du Vieux. It wasn’t about the best Brass bands marching in between although they set the pace and gave us a party rhythm. We danced. We laughed. We were shocked. We were awed.

I wish I could have seen more parades and taken part in a Krewe Ball or two. Guess I just have to plan another visit to The Big Easy and soak more of it in.

The day after the parade, I saw this on a corner in the French Quarter. (It wasn’t raining.)

I immediately thought about why they chose their theme. Ten years after Katrina and essentially with NOLA being 300 years old, I believe there is work to be done to ensure a sound place to live. And don’t you want to believe New Orleans citizens want to offer a great city for you and me to visit? I appreciated the satire even more. Seems the opinion of the Krewe is that it is time for change.

Have you been to Mardi Gras or Carnival in New Orleans or other cities? Share your stories and memories in the comments below. Please!

Family · food · lists · travel · vacation

New Orleans…Day Two…Eating on the Bayou

The French Quarter is a world in itself. It is colorful and musical and wonderfully unlike anything in my desert oasis home of Phoenix. Waking up in the Big Easy in The Prince Conti Hotel, mere steps from Bourbon Street was surprisingly relaxing. I could have stayed at a newer hotel but I wanted a place that had history and was locally owned. This hotel, although older, has a charm that appeals to my writing soul. If I didn’t have a day of adventure planned, I could easily relax here and let words flow. If you are going to visit this wonderful city, stay in a place like Prince Conti and feel part of the history. This was my second time in this city and my second time at this hotel. The decor always takes my mind to corsets, ball gowns, pegnoirs, and beignets. The stuff in all the historical romances I have loved to read for decades. The staff is friendly, thoughtful and helpful with directions and suggestions on what to do.

My bestie and I enjoyed the late morning and early afternoon. We wandered Bourbon Street stopping in to listen to live music here and there taking advantage of great bar service along the way.

I loved every minute she and I spent. I had a thing about this place because of the fire and water fountain. I had to take a picture.

I had to eat too. And finding gluten free in the French Quarter is not so easy.

My true mission the second day in the city was finding my way to The French Market. And by late afternoon I was hungry. When I asked the best walking path to the market, Prince Conti staff were quick to point me in the right direction and suggested I try crab cakes at Meals From The Heart. Little did they know. I already had that place on my list from my research. I was also in search of The Crepe Cart . I dragged a couple of friends with me.

What a treat! My friends and I walked just over a mile toward the river past Jackson Square.

Until we found the place for crepes.

The folks at the cart matched the personality of the deliciousness they crafted. I couldn’t decide between savory or sweet so I asked for a suggestion and I went with it: Goat Cheese, Nutella, Bacon, and Ref Pepper Flakes on a gluten free crepe….amazing combination of flavors. This was totally off menu. You don’t have to be as daring as me. But you really should visit the market for this great stop.

And crab cakes? I did save room for one.

Melt in your mouth moist and perfectly flaky crab cakes. This is literally the best crab cake I have ever had. Their secret to gluten free is no secret. They simply do not put in bread crumbs as a filler. Pure crab and spices. And gluten free. The owner was friendly. He shared stories of how his mother as the master chef makes it her mission to devise vegan and gluten free foods with authentic Creole and Cajun recipes. I didn’t have enough tummy space but I really wanted to try their gumbo too. There was nothing fancy about eating at these places but they were definitely hidden gems in the French Market. I know that each and every opportunity I get to return to New Orleans a day of tummy pleasing grazing will be planned in the heart of The French Market.

And I will wash it down with a nice cup of New Orleans Coffee at Cafe du Monde nearby.

If only someone somewhere in The Big Easy would master a gluten free beignet! My foodie heart would be complete.

Now that I am home all I can think about is beignets and I keep looking at internet recipes and thinking about making them at home. If I do, I am inviting all my friends over to help me eat them and tell me how close they might be to the real thing. What if I mastered them, moved to New Orleans, and opened The Beignet Basket in The French Market myself?

lists · Planning · Reflection · travel · vacation

New Orleans-Day 1 Reflections

Are you ready to travel along with me and hear about my 2-week adventure? You helped me pack and plan. Now I am ready to explore.

I didn’t even sleep a wink like I suspected. I don’t know about you, even at 47 years old I still anticipate the trip and stay awake the night before my vacation. I tend to watch movies and triple check the packing list because the last things to pack are important: hygiene, health, and beauty items.

So with no sleep I headed to the airport with my bestie Trish. And on each flight our giddy inner-selves emerged. And we met fellow Rock Boaters along the way and made sure everyone in social media circles knew we were coming.

We skipped fruit juice with breakfast and opted for the adult version in-flight. Why not? And even better, they were free.

Southwest last minute repairs had us departing late and worried about our connections. Juggling passenger flight changes while we waited so lots of people, including my bestie, ended up on different flight which coincidentally was my connecting flight. We met up with our other friends in NOLA baggage claim and headed to the hotel together.

The first day was packed full of fun. We stopped in at Famous Door and listened to music.

We waited with anticipation for our first parade.

I will write a separate post about the parade. I promise. That experience was amazing.

We ended up visiting bars on Bourbon. We loved Ticklers the most. We spent about 8 hours there with the dueling piano guys. And ran into friend after friend who would be joining us on the cruise. Sing alongs and drinks and merriment make for a great day. We made our way to famous Pat O’Brien’s because you have to have a Hurricane from that place. You just have to! And ran into more friends. Such fun.

I found out the next morning I did a few shots and we are a late night breakfast close to the hotel. Ummm. I would say day One was amazing fun. Wouldn’t you?

Have you imbibed in New Orleans on Bourbon Street? What was your experience like?

More tomorrow…I am sipping coffee now.

lists · packing · Planning · travel · vacation

Seriously…What to pack?

Saturday and Sunday I started packing, I organized myself and got down to brass tacks. I am sipping coffee and reviewing my lists. Because, well, do any of you live in New Orleans? Southern Florida, Cozumel?

I think I may need to adjust my plan. I see lots of rain and plain old chilliness on some days in the next two weeks.

I did the laundry, got the suitcase out of the closet and checked the weather forecasts. Then I put only definite items in the case and set it aside. Because I decided today was the day to look at the forecast one more time and make final adjustments.

Is packing such a process for you? I am still trying to avoid cranky. Cold and wet cranky is like a wet blanket. I think I need a couple of sweatshirts and sweaters in the mix. And a beanie and gloves to layer with my jackets.

I saw this post from a friend on social media saying that the day we sail out of NO LA will be chilly. To this Phoenician that high in the mid-50s will feel icy. I might look like I am heading to Alaska as we sail away but I assure you I am hoping that our captain puts the pedal to the metal. (What is the ship speed equivalent? Anyone know? Full Speed Ahead? Or is my Trekkie-ness showing with that one?)

Anyway. I never really worried about forgetting any thing because my lists have been ready and I will follow them. The dilemma is making adjustments. A reader suggested some capsule bloggers who are masters at packing and wardrobe optimisation. I may watch a few tonight. If anything resonates for me to recommend I will share before I set sail and let you know how it worked. For now, I have some coffee to sip.

Any last minute tips? Any suggestions to add to my “while in NOLA” list?

Family · lists · Planning

Blockbuster is so not Netflix-Not To Me

While standing at a register buying a cup of coffee in a local Circle K a couple of weeks ago, my cashier said to a nearby employee, “It isn’t like going to Blockbuster anymore.”

How long has it been since I had even heard any reference to that storefront? Yep, you guessed it. I eavesdropped. Even better, I jumped right into the conversation and realized I missed that place. Or the experience of the place. This past weekend when my family and I were browsing all things streaming through our Amazon Firestick, we couldn’t seem to pick anything to agree on. Frankly, I got annoyed by the browsing along with the respectively bored faces . We kept saying no. Browsing by topics we vetoed one after another. Nothing seemed new. At first I thought it was my desire to grab the remote and manage the search process. We through one title after another when everything seemed like the same old same old. Then Blockbuster came to mind again. I asked my son who is 22 years old if he remembered going to Blockbuster. He recalled a vague memory and it made me a bit sad. Especially when I realized my daughter, a mere teenager definitely seemed clueless. Game Stop is probably the closest comparison and she loves that place.

Blockbuster, and the experience it offered, seems so lost on the next generations tuned into the more common addiction to satellite tv, cable, On Demand, binge watching the seemingly limitless streaming services.

Think I am Crazy?

Maybe. I miss going to Blockbuster. I miss walking the aisles of New Releases and other movie sections looking to see something I might have missed seeing or an old favorite to see again. I miss the conversations my friends and family and I would have about movies we loved or hated. We reminisced about who we experienced movies with, some of the crazy covers, the actors, the soundtracks all while we picked cases up and held them in our hands. Date nights were fun because you learned each other’s likes and dislikes. And sometimes you talked to strangers who offered recommendations or chimed in on conversations. How about times when you would browse alone and pick something and meet your co-conspirator in another aisle with a suggestion or two in hand? Wasn’t that fun, like a scavenger hunt?

I loved picking out 2 or 3 movies, debating to a point where some were mutual selections and others were compromises. It was energetic, frustrating, fun, disappointing, and great quality time together.

I loved the chance to pick up used DVDs on the cheap to add to my personal collection. I miss the overpriced snacks, drinks, toys and collectibles that were perfectly placed like a concession stand as you waited in line to buy or rent the movies. Oh and the games too!

Why did we let this part of “date night, family night, friend night…whatever night” fade to black like the end of so many great movies we wished would keep on going?

Netflix? Yeah. We picked something to watch together. But I don’t think we all wanted to watch it. Some of us fell asleep. There was no build up for what was next. We never spend 30 minutes browsing titles saving and queuing two or three movies and devising a game plan on what to watch first. We aren’t dividing and conquering in the virtual aisles either. We did search for snacks in the house. But the selection wasn’t as great. They were free.

Streaming Better Options

Sipping the last of this cup, I miss the Blockbuster experience and for the life of me, I just cannot think of a plan to bring that to life with the unlimited streaming options I have available with those around me. Is it because we aren’t engaged physically? Is the search and browse method limiting? I remember walking through Blockbuster many Fridays in a row and feeling like there was nothing to get. I also remember going in expecting to get our hands on a New Release only to find all the copies were claimed. I kept going back though. Redbox and Netflix became the newer things. Redbox can simulate the debates and the sale tion is much smaller at the kiosks. But still full of experience gaps.

Is it the process? Vould it be the lack of options in Streaming? Is it how we are blindly looking at only what we can see? I really think Netflix suggestions were better ten years ago.

Does anyone have a method that takes us through the process that ties it back to the relationship and the experience? Are we just lazy and expect our technology to know what we want when we don’t know ourselves?

Do you miss it? What else do you miss? Do you have streaming struggles too? Why?

Family

Managing Mondays-Expect the Unexpected

I started writing this post Sunday morning but something kept pulling me away while I sipped coffee. That something was mostly my mind. Ever have days where your mind wanders and you lack focus? That was me yesterday. I thought it was because I was thinking about my trip and needing to finish packing and delegating at work and home. So I put the blog post in draft and walked away. And drank more coffee. Then I turned on the television and caught up on my DC shows on The CW Network. Escapism is not productive but it was what I needed yesterday until I was ready to tackle what was on my mind.

A pot of coffee later and caught up on TV I picked back up the planning and looked at my spread for the week.

I realized there was a lot to be done before vacation and I needed to highlight the fun things and the trash. And only those. Any week before I take time off is hectic and this week would be no exception.

So keep loose and don’t overly commit is the plan I went with. And I am glad I did. Monday was crazy and so will be each day. But when I look at the plan, I see the important things and the end game: vacation. Some weeks I don’t focus on the pretty stickers and washi tape or the meetings and priorities. Just the end game.

How about you? How do you plan and get ready for the weeks you know not what to expect?