The Wedding in NOLA

Bryan’s little brother Michael got married.


I haven’t been involved the hustle that comes before weddings since getting ready for my own. It was fun to be caught in the edge of the whirlwind. As soon as we arrived in town, Mandy left again with the cluster of people headed to the wedding rehearsal. Bryan and I stayed behind to get the rehearsal dinner heated up and on the table – pans of pasta, french bread, salad, fruit, petits fours, brownies. And then there was the surge of people in the house after the rehearsal, more people than I’d imagined, stuffed into the big kitchen, laughing and talking, excited about being part of something happy. I got a plate of food and a Hurricane and retreated to a chair in the backyard.


At some point the next afternoon, Juliana and some people I didn’t know rushed into the house and took over the kitchen, with its big marble countertop, to make pralines. We went to do a few errands, an dress (black and white, but that’s fine) and about Aunt Dot’s dress (classy and gold-and-white, completely perfect.)


The day of the wedding was another whirlwind, though a somewhat more controlled one. We slept late and Bryan painted Mandy’s toenails. We scratched our heads over her tan lines, which she’d been working to smooth out, without much success. Julie did Mandy’s hair and makeup in the kitchen before running home to get herself and the baby ready to go. We fussed over Mandy’s dress and made sure her things were packed before sending her off for pictures.


I’d never seen Bryan’s dad or brothers in suits, and I was impressed by how handsome they looked. Michael met us at the car to open the door, a sudden gentleman escorting his grandma into the wedding hall. Kevin was there, and JD, dressed in dark suits and white vests and Chuck Taylors and boutonnières. It was a combination of classy and silly, and they all pulled it off very well. I was proud of each of them.


It was Mandy’s first bridesmaid gig, and she did a very nice job. Before the wedding, she helped Juliana get ready, and after the wedding she drank her officially-sanctioned Lemondrop without making a face. She looked lovely in the pictures and she danced with the little ones and she talked to the old people and she was gracious and thoughtful and she only ordered pineapple juice from the open bar and we were proud of her.


The rest of the weekend was good, spent in a sort of content wedding afterglow. On Saturday night, Mandy crashed on the couch next to Aunt Dot while Bryan and I went to supper at Deanie’s with my friend Cristina. We ate oysters and walked barefoot, far after dark, along the path at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. On Sunday we had beignets for breakfast and took Emma to the bookstore. We ate lunch with Bryan’s grandma, and a sudden afternoon thunderstorm trapped us inside the seafood restaurant, and Mandy dumped an entire glass of ice water into her lap, and none of these details are really important but the total of all of them is.


Welcome to our family, Juliana.

Another Thanksgiving in New Orleans


We left Wednesday evening just after work to drive to New Orleans – to Metairie, actually, which is a sort of suburb. We arrived, as usual, at about two in the morning. After the misery of LAST Thanksgiving with Bryan’s family – click here to go back to that story, because I don’t want to think about it any more – we expected to great time no matter what happened. And we did enjoy our visit, as we always do. Thanksgiving dinner with our family is a treat every year.

We brought Hayduke, which is extra trouble but works out all right. He’s a good traveler, and we never have any problems with him in the car on long trips. We stay at Aunt Dot’s house, and he spends several hours each day visiting with cousin-dog Bourbon at Kevin and Julie’s down the street. I had arranged for us to have a temporary ‘visitor’ pass for City Bark, the nice dog area at New Orleans’ historic City Park, and we took Hayduke (and sometimes Bourbon) to the park to run and play every day we were there. Then, he stayed in our bedroom in the evenings and all night. Continue reading “Another Thanksgiving in New Orleans”

NOLA Pukefest

We always look forward to our visit with New Orleans family at Thanksgiving time, and we always enjoy our time there. Almost always. Maybe not so much this time. But we’ll get to that.

We arrived in Metairie at our usual 2am on Thanksgiving morning, after the long after-work drive from central Arkansas. Hayduke and I got up early on Thursday for beignets and a trip to the dog park while Bryan and Mandy slept in, and then Hayduke went down the street to stay at Kevin’s house while the family enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner. It’s such a treat to spend the day with family. Continue reading “NOLA Pukefest”

Thanksgiving in New Orleans

We always go to New Orleans for Thanksgiving.

We enjoyed the lunch on Thursday with family and friends, and after lunch Bryan’s grandma Schambach and I went for a walk all the way to West Esplanade, trailing Mandy on her unicycle. That afternoon, we had a quintuple birthday party with presents and cake for Mandy, Aunt Dot, Juliana, Aunt Julie, and JD. (Emma blew out the candles.) Then we went to Bryan’s Aunt Lynn’s house for Thanksgiving supper with his mom’s side of the family.

It rained most of the day Friday. On Saturday morning, we went on a bike ride on the trail along Lake Ponchartrain. (The trail is closed, which we handled by just yelling “Over there!” at the policeman who tried to talk to us, and continuing to ride.) We rode across the 17th Street Canal to the site of the break that caused so much damage after Hurricane Katrina. The repair in the floodwall is clearly visible, and it’s obvious that a lot of homes that used to be in this neighborhood are gone now. The houses that have been repaired or rebuilt are on tall footings.

Late on Saturday afternoon, we got together with Bryan’s brother Michael and his girlfriend Juliana at City Park. We didn’t have a lot of time before dark, but we used the light that was left for some portraits.

My favorite shot was really an afterthought. The light was gone, we’d finished with what we wanted, and we were headed back to the cars when I saw a warm yellow wall, the outside of the old casino. Juliana sat in an opening in the brick wall, with Michael behind her. We wanted his face next to hers, but it just didn’t work out that way, so Bryan just shot what he saw, and serendipity gave us the best portrait of the evening.

Later, we came back to City Park for Celebration in the Oaks. Beginning each Thanksgiving, an area of the park is lit up with holiday lights and carnival rides. One of my favorite things to watch is the restored carousel, with carved wooden horses and brilliant lights and cheerful families bundled up for the evening.

Bryan’s mom, Mandy, Julie, and little Emma rode the train around the park. While they were busy, Bryan and I wandered through the park, taking photos.

The park was crowded, but we were able to find quiet moments.

It’s a big place, with lots of lights that almost but not quite totally don’t go together, a sort of cacophony of Christmas lighting.

Storyland is an area of the park set aside for little ones. It’s got lots of scenes from children’s books and stories, as big as life, and only slightly creepy. When the train ride was finished, we met up at Storyland to watch Emma play.

Emma’s a big fan of slides, but her favorite spot at Storyland seems to be the pirate ship.

We didn’t leave New Orleans until mid-afternoon on Sunday, so the drive home was one of our traditional late-nighters. But the extra time spent visiting with Aunt Dot and buying a supply of andouille and beer at Dorignac’s is always worth the midnight drive home.

NOLA Trip, Day 5: The End

This is a multi-day trip report, so if you haven’t already started at the beginning please click here to read from Day 1.

And then it was over. It seems amazing that after such a monstrous, weeks-long, city-wide party, the street could be clean and things could be back to what looks like normal so quickly.

I did a few errands, including a stop at Francis’ bakery to get a king cake to take to work on Thursday. I walked in the open front door, between stacks of FedEx boxes. The front room of the bakery is dirty, and tired, and the woman who came up front to meet me looked exhausted. “Do you have any plain king cakes?” I asked. She breathed out, a little short breath, and she leaned on the counter and looked at me over her glasses. “No, honey. We GOT to take a break SOMETIME.”

We really did eat this many Randazzo’s king cakes while we were in town, and they weren’t the small ones. We ate the king cakes, and we have the babies to prove it.

We loaded up the car said our goodbyes. I found one last baby in the last chunk of king cake I ate before we got in the car. We stopped in Amite to visit Grandma Sig and were home by midnight.

NOLA Trip, Day 4: Happy Mardi Gras!

This is a multi-day trip report, so if you haven’t already started at the beginning please click here to read from Day 1.

When I got down to Veterans at 6 am, wearing a coat and a jester hat, most of the grass at the edge of the neutral ground was already staked out. Either people had left blue tarps out all night, held down by ratty lawn chairs, or they had stayed out in person to reserve a spot. People in lawn chairs and blankets were everywhere, still trying to doze in the early morning cold.

I walked a couple of blocks before finding a square of unclaimed grass in the neutral ground, but there were some stakes lying on the ground nearby. I texted Bryan “have found a good spot but am unclear about property rights; please advise.”

Some guys walked by across the street, carrying cases of cheap beer and yelling.

“I like your hat!”


“Where’d you get it?”

“Really, I have no idea.”

“Yeah, man, I’m like that about most things. Happy Mardi Gras!”

Bryan arrived a few minutes later, with a ladder, and we staked out our family’s square of grass with chairs and a ladder. We built a little perimeter with beads left on the ground from the night before, and we waited together until about ten am when his cousins arrived to take over.

Our little square of grass slowly filled with people. Beth and Jeff had arrived with baby Lucy, and even Grandma Schambach and Aunt Dot came out to watch the parades. Our spot was near the end of the parade route, so the Argus parade didn’t reach us until about one in the afternoon.

The bands and marching groups were a little tired-looking. They were near the end of the last parade of the last day of the carnival season, and I think most of them were just ready to be finished. But the floats were still funny and the riders were anxious to get rid of their last toys and beads before the end of the parade.

We got daiquiris from the daiquiri store’s walk-through window. I hadn’t known that “Octane 190” was a FLAVOR.

Mandy enjoyed watching everyone from her perch at the top of her ladder. She’d made a “My First Mardi Gras” sign with posterboard, hoping for more throws, but she quickly abandoned it in favor of a bulls-eye.

Lucy watched the proceedings calmly and with great interest. She seemed to really enjoy all the people and the activity around her.

After the “traditional parade” of the Krewe of Argus had passed, the Jefferson and Elks Jeffersonians truck parades followed, each with about 75 floats. Aunt Dot went home. We caught wads of beads. I managed to get a feather boa for Mandy. Grandma Schambach survived being crashed into by a guy trying to catch a Saints football. Lucy fell asleep. The parades ran together into a sort of colorful, hours-long blur of loud music and screaming people and things flying through the air.

And then the parades were over, and people went home. Bryan and I walked back down to Veterans, which was still closed. The street was empty except for the trash left by the crowds: food wrappers, cans and bottles, plastic bags, and beads were everywhere. It looked as if drunken clowns had exploded in the street. Bryan sat in a folding chair someone had left, and a young man in a toga sat next to him.

Toga Dude: “Whatcha doing?”

Bryan: “Waiting for someone.”

TD: “Yeah, man, me too.”

TD: “Do you see those girls over there? They’re pretty hot, aren’t they?”

B: “They’re cute, I guess.”

TD: “Think we can get a lap dance?”



TD: “Hey, man, if want to, lets go right now and get a shot.” (motions to bar across the street)

About this time I came back, and Toga Dude stood up and introduced himself.

TD: “Hey, I’m Ivan. I’ve been friends with him forEVER.”

Toga Dude/Ivan wandered off to warm up in the aforementioned bar while Bryan explains to me what just happened.

This photo was taken near sunset on Veterans Memorial Highway after the Metairie parades on Mardi Gras Day.

And how do they clean up the awful mess? Here’s a time-lapse video of the Last Parade, with a special appearance by Ivan (look for the toga at the 37-38 second mark):

Here’s the final photo of our Mardi Gras loot, all 145 pounds of it. As always, click on the photo to see it larger.

NOLA Trip, Day 3: On Lundi Gras, We Eat

This is a multi-day trip report, so if you haven’t already started at the beginning please click here to read from Day 1.

The whole bunch of us tried to go to Deanies for lunch, but we were foiled by the hour-and-a-half wait for a table. We had to eat some more fried oysters and garlic fries at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood instead. Also, Mandy has somehow become addicted to cream soups with crawfish. I’m not sure how that happened.

After a trip to the grocery store, I made a couple of chicken pot pies just on the principle that it’s good to have chicken pot pies around. Mandy sat for a couple of hours and looked at photo albums with Aunt Dot, talking about traveling and listening to stories. In the evening we walked down to Veterans with Kevin and Julie and Emma to see the Zeus parade.

Click on photo to see it bigger.

NOLA Trip, Day 2: We See Breesus

This is a multi-day trip report, so if you haven’t already started at the beginning please click here to read from Day 1.

There were five parades today on the ‘Uptown parade route‘ but we hung around the house too long to catch them all. We walked into the middle of the Mid-City parade, with shiny floats built with colored aluminum foil. We wandered through the enormous block party that followed, dodging the running kids and the barrage of footballs thrown down the street. We found Rick and Judy and their family and squeezed our chairs in near theirs, across from St. Elizabeth’s Asylum, just before the Thoth parade started.

We’re told that usually the crowd thins in the couple of hours between the day parades and the evening parade, and we hoped that we’d be able to spread out a bit and move closer to the street. But Drew Brees, the Saints’ QB, is this year’s King of Bacchus. The whole city’s turned out to catch a football or a string of beads from his nearly-anointed hands. Even more people pressed themselves into the tiny gaps in the crowd, and the people next to us continued drinking and chain-smoking, and the street was full to bursting by the time the Bacchus parade started at 5:30.

We’re starting to get the hang of the way this is done. I took my turn holding an 80-pound kid on my shoulders to get her closer to the bead-throwers and passers-out-of-toy-spears, but Bryan was much better at it.

We did in fact catch a whole bag of special beads and a stuffed animal from Breesus’ float. The parade went on and on, with beads and cups and stuffed things flying through the air, and people screaming. The local bands shoved us back against the curb. “GET IT BACK, PEOPLE! WATCH OUT FOR THE SWORDS!” I actually overheard one of the big, burly drum boys say very calmly, almost to himself, “I’d knock theah ahms off.”

Police are a constant presence at these parades; I don’t know that there’s been a time at any of them that I haven’t been able to see a policeman. The crowds are loud and pushy but generally much friendlier and more polite than I’d expected. It wasn’t at all unusual for people to catch something and then give it to a child nearby. At one point, two guys crossed the street in the middle of a marching band, and the nearby policeman shoved them hard, pushing them back across the street and into the crowd, delivering a terse lecture about manners.

Then, just a few floats later, in a quiet moment, the same cop looked straight at me and said “Hewwo.” I stared at him, completely baffled, and he added “My name is Elmah Fudd.”

It’s a strange, strange place.

Click to see the photo bigger.

NOLA Trip, Day 1: A Missouri Yankee in Mardi Gras Court

I woke up this morning to find that Bryan and his mom had taken the car to buy king cakes–eight of them. We went to New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood for lunch. Oysters. And so it begins: two items already crossed off my ‘to eat’ list.

Today’s big parade was Endymion, and we made arrangements to meet Bryan’s cousins Rick and Judy and their family in “Mid-City”. We thought they’d have good advice about where to park, and where to stand. (Bryan asked “So have you been parking in the same place for this parade every year for the last twenty years?” Judy thought for a moment and said “No, I think it’s more like thirty.”) Also, we like them.

We waited in front of a huge building, still standing ruined and empty and paint-tagged five years after Katrina. The parade started at 4:15, and the first floats and bands reached us about two hours later. Here’s an interesting side point about bands in Mardi Gras parades. Normal parades have well behaved crowds, obediently sitting on the curb, like we did for the parades of my childhood, politely waiting for a wave or a handful of candy. This is different. It’s not that Mardi Gras crowds are BADLY behaved, it’s just that they’re crowd-y, and they actively push in toward the street, taking over the space, looking and waving and yelling and catching things. The out of town bands don’t know how to control this, being from places like Wisconsin where people wait meekly at the curb, and they end up shoved to the center, the whole band in a sad little knot walking in the middle of the street, a three-lane marching unit reduced to a lane and a half, sort of in crisis mode, looking worried and bumping into each other as they play.

So the NOLA high schools have BOUNCERS — this is not a joke — and they precede the band and they shove people back. “BACK TO THE LINE, PEOPLE, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO MOVE IT BACK RIGHT NOW.” Big guys and black women in track suits, out ahead. “KEEP IT BACK, PEOPLE.” And then the band comes through, and the band DOES NOT GIVE UP this space, and the guys on the end walk that lane line and if you’re in their way you’re just going to get knocked down, or hit with a drumstick, BOOM BOOM BOOM right in the head. So they put the BIG kids on the outside — the hefty burly band kids next to the pushing crowd, the little ones in the middle of the band, protected. And they keep that street, and it’s THEIR STREET.

The special throws for Endymion this year were a special stuffed football (in honor of the Saints’ great season) and a stuffed, embroidered penguin (because a baby bird was born on this day last year and named Endymion in honor of the krewe.) We caught enough beads to fill a huge bag, two of the footballs, and an amazing array of other junk: doubloons, cups, stuffed animals, a blinking necklace, fabric roses. Mandy didn’t get the special penguin, in spite sitting on Bryan’s shoulders and shouting requests for them at nearly every float. We’d only seen two penguins the whole time. They were pretty rare.

After every float had passed, we turned to leave. Back to the last float, headed toward the car, Mandy was in mid-gripe about her penguin-less-ness when she squealed and pounced on something lying face down on a patch of bare dirt. It was a penguin.

We got back to Metairie about ten, when the Isis parade was just reaching the spot a block away from the house. Mandy stayed with Aunt Dot while Bryan and I, along with his parents, walked down and waved at some more floats and got another half-shopping bag of stuff, including a couple of their special throws for this year.

(Stupid, stupid, I know. It’s like materialism but in a totally useless way, a strange combination of silliness and greed. What in the world am I going to do with plastic boxes full of beads? But it’s a new thing, and it’s funny, and we’ll have lots of nifty things to share when we get back to Little Rock.)

Click to see the photo larger.

Thanksgiving in New Orleans

We arrived in Metairie at a completely normal two in the morning. Because that’s just how we travel.

On Thanksgiving morning, after a trip to Morning Call for beignets, we helped put together a big dinner. This is the first year in memory that the meal’s been at Bryan’s mom’s house instead of his grandmother’s. This year our contributions were a turducken and Bryan’s lemon-snow pie. The turducken (a conglomerate mass of stuffing inside a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey) was okay. The pie was wonderful.

After lunch, Mandy put on an impressive unicycling demonstration. (Over the course of the afternoon she taught herself to ride off an 6-8″ dropoff.) And then we went to Bryan’s Aunt Lynn’s for Thanksgiving supper. And then his Uncle Edgar and I conspired to break a lovely decorative serving plate by flinging it across the driveway. This is something Uncle Edgar and I hope everyone forgets about before next year.

On Friday, after a trip to Morning Call for beignets, we picked up Bryan’s grandmother and headed into New Orleans. We parked at the end of the streetcar line and rode all the way down Carrollton and St. Charles, past the park, past Tulane, past all the interesting houses, past history.

We got off at Lee Circle and walked to the National World War II Museum. (Mandy had chosen this spot from a list of possible Friday activities, based entirely on the fact that she knew nothing about WW2. I was proud of this reasoning. Most of us choose based on things we know and like, things we’ve already filled in somehow; Mandy chooses based on blank places.)

The museum is EXCELLENT. It’s well put together, with a great mix of physical artifacts and printed-on-the-wall stories and little alcoves with continually playing movie clips about different small pieces of strategy and destruction and sadness. It’s put together chronologically and makes sense. After eating lunch we saw the movie in their new “4-D” theater, which was stunning. I think we all learned a lot, from Mandy all the way up to Bryan’s grandmother, who clearly remembered getting shoes with ration stamps. And we enjoyed the streetcar ride back to the Subaru.

On Saturday, Mandy got up early to go fishing with Bryan’s dad and his brother Kevin. This time not only did they catch actual fish, but she managed to stay in the boat. (Last time she’d fallen out while peeing off the side.) After a trip to Morning Call for beignets, Bryan and I had some rare quiet time to visit with his Aunt Dot. During this “quiet time” Bryan and I demonstrated our skills on the Rolla Bolla we had recently constructed. Bryan is able to do a “jump mount” onto the Rolla Bolla and then juggle three balls while continuing to balance.

And in the evening we ate what fish our fishermen had caught, along with Bryan’s rice pilaf and some cauliflower withbeachamel sauce.

After supper we had a little birthday party for Mandy, complete with the now-traditional birthday doberge cake. And there were presents: some clothes and games, a neat book, cards with money, and the real prize: a new pocketknife from Mister Grandpa JD!

On Sunday morning we met up with our friends Beth and Jeff in order to say our first hello their new baby, Lucy. (Don’t worry, I still got my beignets. We met at Cafe Du Monde.) By the time we got back to the house, Bryan’s dad had my old broken sled all torn apart. He was replacing the splintered deck with new white oak slats. After a trip to Lowe’s for bolts for the sled, and a trip to Dorignac’s for groceries we can’t find at home in Arkansas, and a stop for poboys at the gas station, and goodbyes all around, we loaded up and headed home.

The trip home went well, though we drove in and out of rain. At ten pm, in Dumas, we stopped to get a snack at McDonald’s. In a downpour, we turned back onto the highway and started driving again. Our conversation was tedious and involved, as it always is when there’s nothing pressing to discuss but there’s a need to keep words flowing, on a drive, late at night, just for something to hang in the air, just to keep eyes open and on the road. I think we were talking about skydiving. The rain came down in sheets. About an hour later, expecting to be near Pine Bluff, Bryan remarked that it was odd to see a lake, there, on the left-hand side of the road. A green road sign that it was just 16 miles to Greenville. And that wasn’t good, because we’d crossed the Greenville bridge hours before.

We’d turned the wrong way, in the rain, in Dumas. And we’d driven south for an hour before noticing. We couldn’t be mad–as driver, Bryan should have had the sense to know which way to turn, but as the copilot, I should have had the sense to notice something was wrong. There was nothing to do but turn around. It was still raining at midnight, and as we drove past the McDonald’s in Dumas again, the light blinked off.

We got home at two in the morning. Because that’s just how we travel.