Avery Island

Today is Mother’s Day, and I told my family that I wanted to visit Avery Island. I hadn’t been since the 8th grade on our Louisiana History Tour. Avery Island is in Iberia Parish and home to Jungle Gardens and the Tabasco Factory. It’s a great tourist stop for anyone visiting Southern Louisiana. I also knew that I could add a few birds to my 2021 list, which was exciting!

The Jungle Gardens can be a driving or walking tour. It is easy to drive and stop at different sights along the way. We saw lots of the nature of Louisiana, including mossy oak trees, egrets, and lots of alligators!

My daughter got me binoculars for Mother’s Day, allowing me to up my bird watching game.

Avery Island was developed by E.A. McIlhenny, who also started the Tabasco company. He received this 900 year old Buddha statue as a gift.

Bird City is an awesome roosting spot for egrets. I saw Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Anhingas.

Next, we went to the Tabasco factory, where the famous hot sauce is made. It consists of a self-guided tour showing different parts of the process. We also had lunch at the on-site restaurant.

Avery Island is actually a salt dome. The topography is very unique in southern Louisiana, including hills and is well above sea level.

After leaving Avery Island, we had a brief stop at another salt dome, Jefferson Island. We did not visit all of Rip Van Winkle Gardens, but did stop to see the peacocks and peahens.

Our last stop was at Rips Rookery, where I risked my life by walking along the water with large alligators swimming in order to try and get pictures of the roseate spoonbills that I could see in the distance. My phone couldn’t zoom very well to get good pictures, but my husband’s was a bit better.

Birds on the Brain

Yesterday, my husband called me a birdbrain. He really meant that I always have birds on the brain, which is true. 2021 has been the year of birds for me. It all started last summer when we moved into our new house. Cardinals nested in one of the small trees in my backyard, and I became obsessed. I watched them closely throughout the whole process. Honestly, I’ve never really lived somewhere with a lot of trees before. My current neighborhood is a lot greener than all of my former homes.

So I watched my cardinals and at the beginning of this year (2021), I hung up a bird feeder. I started to notice different birds and about halfway through January, I decided that one of my goals for this year was going to be to learn about birds and identify as many different species as possible. I downloaded the Merlin bird identification app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and went to work.

Everywhere I have gone for the past four months, I look for birds. I pay greater attention to all of the birds that live around us every day. I use my app to identify the birds and read about them. I’m keeping a running list of birds that I have seen in 2021. We are four months in and I have already identified 27 different birds! Here is my list, so far, in the order that I first spotted them:

  • Northern cardinals
  • Northern mockingbirds
  • Song sparrows
  • American robins
  • Carolina chickadees
  • Cedar waxwings
  • Great blue herons
  • Double crested cormorants
  • Mourning doves
  • Canada geese
  • European starlings
  • Muscovy ducks
  • Mallard ducks
  • Eastern bluebirds
  • American crows
  • House sparrows
  • Blue jays
  • Snow geese
  • Great egrets
  • American coots
  • Eastern kingbirds
  • Red winged blackbirds
  • Brown pelicans
  • Rock pigeons
  • Gray catbirds
  • House finches
  • Mississippi kites

That’s a lot of birds! And to further solidify my crazy bird lady self, I have organized any pictures I take of them into folders on my computer. Granted, it is hard to get good pictures of birds, so many are blurry or far away, but I’m only counting birds on my list if I can at least get some sort of picture to aid me in identification. It’s possible that I have a mis-identification or two, as I’m no expert. But I think most of them are spot on.

Mockingbirds are the most common visitor to my feeders (along with the cardinals). This one even came the day we had an ice storm.
Carolina chickadee
Cedar waxwing at the Hilltop Arboretum
My pictures are all blurry, but the flock of double crested cormorants by the lake at Blue Cross was super fun to watch. They swim like ducks and then take off and fly to perch in the trees.

The Muscovy duck did not show up right away in my app, because it is considered a domesticated duck and not wild. I had to google duck with a red, warty face to learn more about these guys!

Great egret by the LSU lakes
I had gone a few months without spotting any pigeons here in Baton Rouge. A visit to my hometown of Gretna, though, finally got me to add one to the 2021 list!
I had just been lamenting how I hadn’t added any hawks or birds of prey to my list yet, because they are always flying so high in the sky, where I can’t identify them. But yesterday I saw this Mississippi kite in a tree from my backyard!

Cardinals are the original bird that got me obsessed. Yesterday, I found out that I had a new nest in my yard! I took a picture of the cute, fluffy baby. Today, he left the nest and has been hopping all around with his parents learning to fly. There are still two more in the nest.

So now you know my deep, dark secret. I’m a crazy bird lady. And I love it.

World War II Museum

It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post. I haven’t written since the 1st of the year! Life’s been pretty boring, and I haven’t been doing anything too exciting. But today, I visited the National World War II museum in New Orleans for the first time.

I have heard for years about what a great museum it is. It is actually the number 1 rated tourist attraction in New Orleans on Trip Advisor. But I had never visited until today. The museum is very well done with lots of exhibits. I learned a lot, but could go back and learn so much more. Because I was visiting with my family (including my seven year old daughter), I did not have the time to read all the information or watch all of the videos. A history buff could easily spend a whole day there.

I took a lot of pictures.

At the start of the museum, you can get a dog tag card. You board the train and are able to scan your card to learn one particular person’s story during the war. Each card is unique, so if your family gets multiple cards, you can follow the stories of multiple people. Throughout the museum, there are places where you can scan your dog tag and learn more about that person’s journey. My daughter enjoyed this interactive feature. The museum also provides each person with their own stylus to use on the touch screen displays instead of your finger!

While I was well aware of the United States’ extreme reluctance to join the war (prior to Pearl Harbor), I had no idea how small our army was compared to other countries at the time. The U.S. was 18th in the world in terms of armed forces during the 1930’s.

Throughout the museum, the stories and artifacts from particular soldiers was shared. Personal anecdotes, a copy of a journal, a uniform, etc. give a real view of how the war affected individuals. I liked seeing this poem written by a high school senior from the Westbank (where I grew up).

It is so interesting to learn about how everyone in the U.S. contributed to the war effort. Women took over the factory jobs for men to make the supplies needed. And of course, women served overseas also.

The museum did not shy away from the discussion of racism in America and how it was during wartime. There were definitely inconsistencies in our nation’s own practices and the fight to stop the evils associated with extreme racism by the enemy. But it took all of our nation (black, white, Latino, Chinese, Native American, etc.) to win this war. The Japanese interment camps are a particularly sad part of our history at that time.

The Four Freedoms

I learned that the Merchant Marines suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the armed forces.

The museum spans across several buildings and several floors. The buildings are connected by walkways that go over the street below. In one of the buildings, there are two separate immersive exhibits – The Road to Tokyo and The Road to Berlin. Each one gave detailed information about the battles fought on the two different fronts (in the East and in the West). I call them immersive, because the exhibits were designed to showcase the unique landscape of each battle.

There is a huge gallery (four stories high) that houses planes and other vehicles used during the war. You can climb all the way to the top to look down at the planes, also, but we didn’t do that for two reasons. 1) a museum employee warned us that it can be quite scary up there for those scared of heights and 2) the elevator was not working, so we would have had to take the stairs!

An interesting interactive exhibit gave you ethical dilemmas that had to be made during the war. First, you watch a video explaining the pros and cons of making the decision. Then you vote with what you would do. The statistics are put up on the screen of how your group and visitors in general voted. Next, you watch another video telling you what actually happened and how it turned out. My daughter and I are definitely not cut out to make those difficult wartime decisions.

We also watched the 4-D movie, Beyond All Boundaries, narrated by Tom Hanks. You buy tickets for this when you purchase admission. It is an immersive theater experience with props on stage with the screens. There are also special effects, such as gun shots, your seat shaking, snow, etc. There is a warning before you enter that it may be a difficult experience for those with sensory issues or post traumatic stress. The movie was very powerful, but a bit much for my daughter, who had to cover her eyes several times. It is an emotional journey through the war, bringing to life some aspects in a way that can’t be seen just through the exhibits. I definitely recommend attending the show if you visit the museum.

We also had lunch at The American Sector, the restaurant located in the museum. I needed a fork and knife to tackle this po-boy, but it was quite tasty.

Peach BBQ pulled pork po-boy.

We did not go to the main museum store across the street, which in addition to souvenirs and World War II memorabilia had super-cute vintage style clothing. We did pass by the two stores located in the museum, however. Among all of the Rosie the Riveter merchandise, I found this awesome shirt and had to take a picture.

After leaving the museum, we headed down the street to the Higgins Hotel, where my brother-in-law works. The hotel is World War II themed and very nice.

Playing General Patton’s piano

I hope you enjoyed my pictures from the National World War II museum in New Orleans. It is an excellent museum, and I definitely recommend that you visit!

LSU Rural Life Museum

On Sunday, I visited the LSU Rural Life Museum for the first time. I’ve been to other things on the property such as the corn maze at Burden and Arbor Day celebrations, but I had never went to the museum before. It was the perfect place to visit during the pandemic because most of the museum is out in the open air. There were few visitors and it was really easy to spread out. Most of the time, it felt like we were the only ones there.

There were several rooms inside that we explored first. They were full of all kinds of objects from southern Louisiana that show what life was like in the past.

There was a lot of historical information on slavery and plantation life.

There was clothing and art.

Model T with Mike the Tiger on the side

There is lots to see if you are interested in historical artifacts. It’s fun to see local history also.

After exploring the indoor rooms, you go outside. The majority of the museum consists of many historical buildings which have been relocated here. They come from various parts of the state, but represent many different parts of rural life. There are slave cabins, a post office, a school, country houses, barns, and more.

If you love history and southern Louisiana culture, I definitely recommend a visit to the Rural Life Museum when visiting Baton Rouge. There are also other things to see on the property, including gardens and trails. We finished our visit with a stop at the playground towards the front of the property.

Celebration in the Oaks

My personal Christmas tradition is going to Celebration in the Oaks in my hometown of New Orleans. I’ve been attending almost every year since I was a child. In elementary school, I performed at it one night each year with my school choir. It was always a fun time, because after the performance, I could run around with all my friends seeing lights and riding the rides.

Through high school and college, I usually attended with a large group of friends. Some years, I went with my family. I’ve been living in Baton Rouge now for 14 years, but I still go into New Orleans every year to attend Celebration in the Oaks in City Park. There is something awesome about experiencing the same lovely fun year after year.

This year, of course, was different. It is 2020 and nothing is the same. It was only open for a driving tour. We still drove down last week to see it.

It was a mixture of lights used each year with some new ones thrown in.

Many of the lights are NOLA themed.

One unique touch is that your family’s names showed up on the nice and naughty lists as your car reached them. My daughter showed up on the nice list and my husband on the naughty list.

There was a special tribute to our healthcare heroes this year during the global pandemic.

Here are a few pictures from the past years at Celebration in the Oaks. My absolute favorite ride in all of City Park is the carousel, also known as the flying horses. I love carousels, but this is my favorite carousel ever.

Another great part of our annual tradition is visiting Storyland. It was updated a couple years ago, but many of the classics remain, including the dragon slide and Cinderella pumpkin.

And then of course there is the annual picture in front of the poinsetta tree.

During a normal non-Covid year, I recommend visiting Celebration in the Oaks. It is full of fun experiences. From walking through the lights, seeing the decorated Christmas trees, riding the Ladybug roller coaster, roasting marshmallows, riding the train, and more, it is always a great time.

JAMNOLA

The lack of travel posts on my blog over the past several months makes me sad. Thanks Covid-19! But today, I did go to an awesome place in my hometown of New Orleans. It is called JAMNOLA. The JAM stands for Joy, Art, and Music and it is an artistic celebration of New Orleans culture.

It is a guided tour through themed rooms which are each full of unique, colorful, and truly NOLA art. I highly recommend checking it out. It is fun and they encourage photography and fun selfies. It is a great place to spend an hour.

Much of the art is made with reclaimed materials, such as the lanterns in the feather room (made out of Gatorade bottles).

There were paintings, fun wallpaper, or other art installations on every wall and floor.

There was a room made up completely of recycled Mardi Gras beads and the reflective mirrors from parking garages.

The bling bayou was super sparkly of course.

This whole room was hand painted.

The crawfish themed room had lots of fun photo opportunities and the coolest wallpaper.

The costume room had lots of cool stuff inspired by Carnival.

The garden of legends had huge statues of famous NOLA musicians, from Irma Thomas to Louis Armstrong to Lil Wayne and more.

JAMNOLA is a uniquely New Orleans experience full of color, joy, and music.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

I spent the past three days in New Orleans attending a conference. Yesterday, I had some extra time between sessions during my lunch break and decided to walk into the French Quarter to visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, since I had never been there.

It is the perfect size museum for a short, lunch break visit. It is located on two floors, so not accessible to those who can’t climb a big flight of stairs. There are lots of interesting exhibits and plenty of fascinating information.

There were many tools used by both pharmacists and doctors, illustrating the evolution of medicine.

It was interesting to read about the use of certain substances for medicinal purposes that are now considered illicit or still being studied, such as marijuana and heroin. It was especially interesting reading about the problems with prescription opiod addiction in the 19th century, in light of the current crisis our nation is facing.

There was an even an exhibit on alcohol and spirits used medicinally. Pictured below is a prescription for alcohol written during prohibition.

The shelves were filled with all different sorts of medicines, arranged by the type of ailments they treated.

Here is a leech jar. Thankfully, there were no leeches in the museum. I have always had quite the irrational fear of leeches.

Pharmacies also used to be soda fountains.

The museum is full of interesting facts and history.

There was even a section on voodoo medicine, which of course has a strong history in New Orleans.

The topics covered in the small museum are quite thorough.

I feel like I learned a lot with all of the exhibits.

There is even a nice little courtyard located at the back of the museum.

If you are visiting the French Quarter, I definitely think it is an interesting place to spend an hour or so, if you like museums. It costs only $5 for general admission, which is worth it for all the cool things you get to see.

Elsie’s Plate and Pie Review

Elsie’s Plate and Pie is one of the best restaurants in Baton Rouge. If you haven’t been yet, do yourself a favor and go. Especially if you like pie. And who doesn’t like pie?

Last night, I went with my husband and daughter. I ordered a seasonal special which was pork tenderloin with a blueberry pepper jelly sauce and some roasted Brussels sprouts. I swear, they were the tastiest Brussels sprouts I have ever had. The house salad dressing is a pepper jelly vinaigrette. Yum.

Portions are generous. I saved half of my entree for leftovers (and so I could eat some pie)! They accidentally brought an adult size catfish entree to my daughter instead of the kid version. There were five whole fillets of catfish on a plate of fries. My daughter still put a pretty big dent in that plate of food.

And then, of course, there is the pie! They serve an assortment of savory and sweet pies. My husband’s entree was a Louisiana seasoned chicken pot pie that he loved. The tomato pie is a favorite of mine. They also have meat and seafood pies.

Last night, we had two sweet pies – a s’mores pies and a cherry hand pie. Both were delicious. In fact, everything that I have ever ordered at Elsie’s has been delicious. You can get lemon meringue, coconut cream, and even pie nachos!

Elsie’s Plate and Pie is a great casual mid-city dining destination. It is worth the drive, even if you are not normally in that neighborhood. The menu is diverse with far more than pie available. If you haven’t already, check it out!

Be Bright, Sunny, and Positive – like a Sunflower

This afternoon, I brought my daughter to visit the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens. We have been before, but I wanted to take some pictures in the sunflower fields that have recently bloomed.

I wish that I could grow flowers. Flowers are pretty and full of color, and I wish that I could grow some at home to look at daily. But I have quite the black thumb. I should probably keep trying.

My daughter’s favorite part was the swing, of course, not the flowers. There is a playground in the children’s garden. We also visited the rose garden.

Spending time in nature has been shown to improve your health, mood, creativity, and spirits. I need to make an effort to do it more often.

Seize the Day

Musical Theater.  It is the absolute best.  They take a story and tell it through song, and it goes from good to great.  I think it is because songs tap into a deep emotional side of us. Add in some drama and dance and you are good to go.

Last night, I went to see Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of Disney’s Newsies.  I had never seen Newsies before, neither on stage or the film. I know – I’m behind the times.  It was excellent, like every musical I’ve seen at TBR is. There is something extra special about community theatre.  Seeing all that amazing talent and knowing that these are the kids, doctors, teachers, etc. who reside and work right here in Baton Rouge.  

The singing, dancing, acting, and production were all great.  It is an inspirational tale of the Newsboys strike of 1899. If you haven’t seen it yet, they added two dates next week that still have tickets.  I guess I need to get around to watching the movie now.