Thursday, January 28, 2016

A cold, puffed up, White-throated Sparrow ...
It's been a real roller coaster last week, weather-wise, I mean. Some mornings were frosty, others almost 'balmy' at 62 F!

We're not doing much at the moment, staying inside more often and saving the touristy stuff for when it gets warmer.
We've been working on this bugger of a puzzle for weeks now, but finally finished it this week! Yeah! 

There's just too much snow, and branches, and on top of that this puzzle is made of featherlight, (thin) foam, so the pieces shift when you as much as breathe on it. Not good, especially when you have a 'helpful' cat in the house!

Also, I had so many beads left-over after decorating the awning that I hang the rest on the inside:

 I know, it's cringe-worthy gaudy but ... 'this the season'!

Mm, let's see, what else did we do?
Oh, yea, we went to the Hammond movie theater to see Star Wars! For 135 minutes, the 'Force' was with us again!

We never go to the theater so we really enjoyed seeing a movie like this on the 'big' screen again, with sounds to match, ... fun!

Other than that, there really hasn't been much going on this week, I have a few more bird pictures, and that is it:

Eastern Bluebird (female)

And the back-end of a Rufous-sided Towee

And I never see any ducks in the Bayou but this week this pretty Gadwall showed up ...

This coming weekend we'll probably go and see another Mardi Gras parade somewhere, the carnival season is still in full swing, so I bet I'll have more pictures next time! 


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I did it! I'm current! (with the blog, I mean, otherwise, I'm so NOT current ;-)) Yeah!

It's odd, to 'only' have to write about what happened just this last week.
Also, what to write about? Let's see ... the weather is always a good standby ... and it's been cold over here! We even had a couple of frosty mornings this week with temperatures just around freezing (30-32F).

As you can see in the pictures, the Bayou behind us was steaming while warming up in the morning sun ...

Overall the weather has been pretty good here, November was of course unseasonably warm, and even the first half of December was still quite warm and beautiful. 
From around Christmas on, it has been much cooler, with rather grey and rainy days, but fortunately it has been nice enough in between to be able to keep on golfing!

Which is a good thing, because for Christmas, instead of presents, we'd bought ourselves a 'Golf Crescent City' discount Card, which affords us to be able to play  a few different courses than just the little par-3 course in Hammond we call 'home'.

It's a Membership Card that gets you a free green fee at twelve New Orleans-area golf courses.
You have to book 24 hours or less in advance ahead and you must pay the course cart fee, even if you walk but it's valid anytime during the week and after 1pm on the weekends, and it saves you a ton of money!

For our first round, we picked the Oak Knoll Country Club, which is literary around the corner from us, just 5 minutes down the road, but since the fees are way beyond our budget we'd not golfed there yet.

Instead of their normal rate, $53 on weekends and $37 during the week, we now only payed $18 pp, and enjoyed the luxury of having a cart too!

It is a beautiful course, nicely landscaped with beautiful mature oaks, tall pine trees and (flowering) camellias ...

(I don't know what's with the weird colors in these pics, I must have had the little 'scene'-dial turned to the wrong setting ...)

One of the holes used a mirror to let you see if the fairway had cleared, since you had a 'blind' over-the-hill approach shot from the Tee-box ...

... yeah, you're good to go!

Some of the overhanging branches of the enormous oaks came down so low that the cart would only just clear it ...

Unfortunately, it had rained a lot prior to us getting out there, and the course was very wet, in some areas it was basically under water.
We weren't allowed to drive the cart off the paths, and it was almost more of a burden to have to walk back and forth to it, than when we would have walked the course.

I played terrible (I wish I could blame the course condition but that wouldn't be fair) but was very excited, and surprised, to come upon these beautiful Big Cypress Fox Squirrels, also known as Racoon Squirrel, Stump-eared Squirrel, or Monkey Faced Squirrel.

They are larger and more colorful than the regular squirrels that sometimes share its habitat, with a strikingly-patterned dark brown with black body, an orange belly and black and white bands on the face and tail.
Their hind legs are very powerful, allowing for huge leaps and easy running and they spend more time on the ground than their smaller cousins. 

    Talking about a tail, this was the only shot I got of that!

What made this encounter really interesting is the fact that they're found most commonly around the Everglades of Florida, and even there are considered rare in their natural habitat.
They're on the near threatened list, due to deforestation and mange mite!

Beats me what they are doing here?!

Huge American Elm trees
Back home, I'm trying to faithfully go on my morning and afternoon walks,  mostly to get some exercise and enjoy the always beautiful grounds ...

... but also to compensate for that darned, fried and sugared, southern food!
Not that it seems to help very much since I've gained around 8 pounds since we got here. Yikes!
My biggest problem is that I'll start to snack somewhere around 2 or 3 pm and than can't seem to stop ... I just have to kick myself in the butt and break the cycle, because this is getting ridiculous! 

I've tried to find something flowering around the park and came upon these pretty winter-blooming camellias in the 'permanents' area ...

And some colorful azaleas, that are still hanging in there, despite the frosty weather ...


The birds are keeping a low profile, like I mentioned in the previous post, but this Northern Mockingbird is a tough little guy ...

This Great Blue Heron lives in the Bayou behind us. 
He's still not quite sure about me, and flies up whenever he sees only just a glimpse of me, but every now and then I manage to sneak up on him ...

He does look really cold to me though, standing barefoot and all bunched up in that freezing cold water!?

Last, but not least, I totally forgot to mention that James had another Birthday on the 17th! Sorry Hon', I won't mention that you're 57 now (oops, slip of the pen)!
We were all set to celebrate (after a round of golf) with a nice meal at Whites, the local fish restaurant which came highly recommended, but when we got there (at 5pm!) it was already completely full and there was an estimated 1 1/2 hour wait to get in!
Hmm, maybe not! We'll save that for another time, thank-you-very-much ...

See you next week!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Laissez les bons temps roulez - let the good times roll!!
This famous Louisiana motto is never more true than during Carnival season in New Orleans, and it has officially started!

Although some people say Carnival and Mardi Gras interchangeably, they are actually different things. 
Carnival is a time to eat, drink and be merry before the rigorous fasting and sacrifice during Lent, which starts on Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday", which is always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Carnival is filled with parades, balls and other celebrations, and last Sunday we went to Slidell to see our (and their) first Parade!

We went early, not knowing how busy it would get, and when they would close of the parade route, so we first had coffee (and beignets) at cafe Beignet-au-lait.
Hey, never miss an opportunity to have some beignets!

Next door was cafe La Pines, 'as seen on TV', featured in 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives!
We'd planned to get a po'-boy to go, to have for lunch while watching the parade, but as it turned out, they only serve breakfast on Sundays. Bummer!

We were the first to park the truck at a vacant parking lot, towards the end of the parade route, but were quickly surrounded by people who had the same idea.  Everybody backed in, tailgate-party style ...

James had the brilliant idea to put our chairs on top of the truck, which turned out to be a very lucrative move!
Since we sat high above everyone else, we caught the eye of many of the float's 'throwers'!


I'd heard about people bringing ladders for their children to sit on and these people had definitely done so before!

The parade was supposed to start at 1 pm but since we were early and about halfway the route, it took until 3 pm before the first floats showed up. It was a long wait!
Besides that it was also very windy and chilly until about noon, when it finally warmed up a little when the sun came out.


Time enough to do some people watching! 
When the road was finally closed off, people started to walk the streets and vendors came by selling anything from cotton candy to hats, beads and other souvenirs.

(Economic impact reports indicate that Mardi Gras generates over $1 billion in annual spending!)


Here's a little about the history of these parades; the first Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans on Feb. 24, 1857 by the Krewe of Comus. They began the tradition of presenting a parade with floats and following it with a ball for the Krewe and their guests.
A Krewe, by the way, is a private organization or any other social club with restrictive membership policies that puts on a parade (with at least 12 floats) and organizes a ball afterwards.
All of these parade organizations are completely funded by their members and it can cost up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars to join and than another couple of hundreds or thousands to buy your own 'throws', costumes and masks!

We were going to see two different parades that would follow each other along the same route; first the Krewe of Claude, followed by the Krewe of Poseidon.

Finally, the first Krewe arrrived! Yeah!
The Krewe of Claude turned out to be an all-black parade, and first up were the King and Queen ...


The floats they rode on were in the traditional Mardi Gras colors, chosen in 1892 by Rex, the King of Carnival. 
Purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

In between the floats there were bands and dance groups ...

They start them young!

As suits Poseidon and his mermaids, their floats were aquatic themed.
This is their King and Queen:

And somewhere along the line, there were some Indians involved too ...?

Parades are a major part of celebrating Mardi Gras, and what's a parade without some really great floats? 
Ever since Krewes began parading through New Orleans over 100 years ago, parade floats have played a major role in Mardi Gras history.

This was my favorite!
Some floats are elaborate and beautiful, while others are funny and satirical. Many Krewes have a theme to their parade each year, and so floats are created to reflect those themes. 

Thousands of dollars are poured into making these floats, and they're not made overnight. Krewes work on these creations year-round, often at secret "dens" around the city. 
Krewes take their floats seriously!

Dozens of Krewe members will ride on each float and there are anywhere from 15-40 full size floats in any given parade, tossing beads and home made "throws" to cheering crowds chanting "Throw Me Something, Mister"  (or "Miss" as the case may be)!

So what are "throws?" Well, they are exactly what they sound like - items that Krewe members on floats throw to parade-goers as the floats pass by! 
Throws often include doubloons, beads, cups, homemade trinkets,  cups (otherwise known as New Orleans dinnerware), long pearl beads, stuffed animals and more!
The throwing of trinkets to the crowds was started in the early 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers, and is a time-honored expectation for young and old alike.

The richer the Krewe, the better the throws! The most 'wanted' throws are the custom made ones, with the Krewe's name on it, and the ones with the larger, or more special beads.
The 'collecters' items are worth fighting for and sometimes they do ...!

                  He's showing off some 'big ones' ...!

Your best bet to get the beads, is to yell and wave to get the attention of, and than make eye contact with, a thrower and since we were higher up than anybody else, we were hard to miss!
At some of the rowdier parades, especially the ones in the French Quarter and the ones that roll at night, there are women who flash their boobs in order to get the best throws ....


But like I said, we were an easy 'target', and we were covered in beads, cups, balls, a spear, and even a sword!
No flashing necessary!

Float riders are required to wear masks by law but I saw several throwers without one. Some are simple and some quite elaborate.
In the beginning, masks worn during Mardi Gras allowed wearers to escape society and class constraints. When wearing a mask, carnival goers were free to be whomever they wanted to be, and mingle with whatever class they desired to mingle with.

On Fat Tuesday, everyone is free to wear masks and it is also the day to wear a custom if you want to, the sillier and more colorful the better!

As you can see, the whole parade is one big, colorful party!

No parade without horses ... dressed up for the occasion .

And there are always some interesting looking cars, or in this case buggies from the Shriners ...

As with any respectable Parade, the end was formed by cars and trucks of the local police and fire-brigade.

Right behind them, the road was opened up again, and the crowds dissolved almost immediately. 
As you can see, by that time the sun was setting and the temperature was plummeting again, so I guess everybody wanted to go home!

Part of the yearly fees that the Krewe members are paying, are used to hire cleaning crews to clean up the mess that was left behind on the streets!

 When we got home and spread out our 'loot', it turned out we had 18 pounds in beads alone!

What to do with it? You can throw it away of course, or recycle (there are places around town that will take them, clean them and re-use or sell them for next year).
Some people make all kinds of 'artsy' things, like jewelry, lamps, or picture frames with the beads. 

We decided to decorate the RV with them:

How fun is that, they glitter so pretty in the sun!!


This was my 'prize' one, a fish necklace from the Poseidon Krewe, I hang it inside:

Well, so far for our first parade(s). We had a ball! A little warmer would have been nice and next time (!) we're not going quite THAT early, but it was a lot of fun.

Also, no Mardi Gras without a piece of King Cake! We bought one at the local grocery store. 
It came with some beads, of course, and a little baby 'on the side'.
Since some people have made a fuss about it being a choke hazard, some bakeries now give you the option to you hide it yourself somewhere in the cake, so they can't be sued.
Some people are such party-poopers!