Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Ladies Guide to New Orleans

Joe and I spent several days in New Orleans last week. This Southern city has quite a reputation. Many people think of New Orleans as a hard-partying town that needs to be cleaned up, while others think of it as the city that Katrina washed away. And both of these ideas bare some truth. In 2005, the nation watched with horror as Hurricane Katrina brought catastrophic damage to New Orleans and surrounding Gulf areas. But in the three years since, much work has been done to rebuild the city. And although there is still work to be done, the city is eager to welcome tourists. Still many are hesitant to visit New Orleans because of its hard-partying reputation. And there is certainly a wild side to this city. But for many, the noise of Bourbon Street's party scene has drowned out the lovelier notes this city has to offer. There is so much more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras. It is a city rich with history, music and culture. I hope you will see the softer side of New Orleans through the images from our trip. Please scroll down to see the sites. Along the way we'll admire the architecture and foliage, sample Cajun cuisine, and roam the French Quarter searching for treasures. And as the jazz music plays on, you might just find that you have fallen in love with New Orleans.

New Orleans Flavor

Historic Jackson Square is a well-known New Orleans landmark.

Flowers bloom on the grounds of Jackson Square.

New Orleans architecture is stunning.

And behind every gate there is treasure to discover!

New Orleans Blooms

It seems no rooftop, balcony or sidewalk is neglected in New Orleans. I snapped these photos as we roamed the French Quarter.

Tea at the Windsor Court

One of my favorite things to do when Joe and I travel is to have tea, and I especially love visiting tea rooms I have read about. So when Joe and I visited New Orleans last week, I was thrilled to go to tea at the Windsor Court Hotel. The Windsor Court was featured in TeaTime Magazine's book The Tea Experience, so I took the book with me. When I visit a featured tea room, I like to have people at the tea room sign their page. So on this visit the Windsor Court page was signed by the Louisiana Philharmonic harpist who has played to hotel guests for more than 20 years. It was a lovely afternoon!

Afternoon tea is served at 2 and 4:30 behind these doors.

Flowering jasmine was my tea of choice on this visit.

Strawberry cream puff swans, chocolate dipped strawberries, fruit tarts and assorted truffles gave a sweet finish to our afternoon tea experience.

Joe and I found this plush gathering spot when we wandered through the hotel.

Shopping the Big Easy

For a girl who loves to shop, New Orleans has a lot to offer. When we began planning our trip a couple of months ago, at the top of my priority list was visiting the retail location of Orient Expressed. So our first morning in New Orleans, Joe and I took a trolley from our French Quarter Hotel to the Garden District. From the trolley stop we walked the rest of the route, wiggling our way through neighborhoods until we reached trendy magazine street. After lunch at French bistro La Petite Grocery, I nearly skipped down the street to Orient Expressed. After drooling over their childrens clothing catalog for years, I couldn't wait to shop in person. This trip did not disappoint! Although the shop is small, I found linens, gift ware and samples of some of my favorite OE designs. And I was really excited to shop the half-price clothing rack! I found several things for the girls, and a precious outfit for my niece. We got caught in a torrential downpour when we left Orient Expressed, and even ducking into shops along our route back, we were still thoroughly soaked by the time we made it back to the trolley stop. But even with matted hair, drenched clothing and squishy tennis shoes, the adventure was totally worth the enjoyment of visiting this little boutique!

I enjoyed window shopping on Canal Street as Joe and I walked around the French Quarter, and the outfit in the upper right corner of the collage caught my eye on our way to the hotel. We passed this shop window several times when the store was closed, and each time I liked it more and more. I could see myself out on the town in the ruffled raspberry top and silky black crop pants, and I already had earrings and strappy black sandals to complete the look. I couldn't wait to try it on! As I walked to the shop during store hours, I thought about how much this outfit would cost. Although I hoped to find a steal, I wondered how much I could spend. Could I get both pieces for $50? Probably not, but maybe $100, or possibly $150? I was prepared to do some negotiating with Joe --maybe get just the shirt and pair it with pants I already owned. When we entered the shop, I quickly took the staircase to the ladies clothing department on the second floor. There on the center rack I found my perfect outfit! In my size! For $600.

Shopping on Royal Street was the highlight of the trip! This dream drive boasts unique shops brimming with art, antiques, jewelry, rare books and custom clothing. One of my favorite finds was Fleur de Paris. Entering this lovely shop was like stepping into a dream world of custom-made hats, day dresses and couture gowns. Paul A. Greenberg wrote about Fleur de Paris and the art of millinery in The Essential New Orleans. "Southern women are all about being ladies," the shop's head milliner Nicole LeBlanc told him. "There's a quote that says a lady can be dressed without a hat, but she cannot be dressed up without a hat. Southern women resist any kind of defeminization. My customers are from all over, and some of my best customers are not from the South. But they equate hats with the South, and New Orleans with a certain femininity." The little girl in me could have spent hours playing dress-up in this shop!

And while Joe stepped into a French Quarter cafe for a bowl of gumbo, I was happy to revisit two old favorites near historic Jackson Square: Quarter Stitch and Rendezvous Linens. After browsing handpainted canvases and fibers at the needlepoint store, I meandered my way to Rendezvous Linens. Although this shop had to close for two months because of Hurricane Katrina, it was still as lovely as I remembered. The scent of roses lingers on the layette set I picked up here as a baby gift. Souveneirs picked up for the children and their grandparents rounded out our French Quarter shopping experience in fine fashion!

Dining in New Orleans

Dining is serious business in New Orleans, and Joe and I thoroughly enjoyed sampling some of the best food the French Quarter has to offer. Our favorite dinner spot in New Orleans is Red Fish Grill, known for their hickory grilled redfish. This fillet of fresh redfish is grilled over hickory and topped with Louisiana crawfish tails and lemon butter sauce, then served with tasso and wild mushroom pontalba potatoes. This delicious seafood dish melts in your mouth! On the other end of the spectrum, I love to stop in to the street side Cafe Beignet for the breakfast of locals: cafe au lait and beignets. Here you can indulge in these square doughnuts, fried to a crisp and coated in powdered sugar, knowing you will spend the next few hours roaming the shops of the French Quarter.

Red Fish Grill holds special memories. When Joe and I celebrated our 10th anniversary in New Orleans a few years ago, he put a new wedding band in the top of our dessert.

What could beat breakfast with legendary jazz musicians?

Beignets and cafe au lait: a great way to start a day of antique shopping!

This open-air cafe is a great spot for breakfast on the go.

Garden District Views

Our last day in New Orleans, Joe and I drove around the Garden District so I could photograph some of the lovely homes. I think I would feel right at home in a pink house!

Garden District Views

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Slip, Slide into Summer

We celebrated Memorial Day in a big way Sunday with Joe's parents. Joe and I had a happy reunion with the children after spending several days in New Orleans. Carson and Mary Ashley stayed with my parents, and Christian and Emma with Joe's. We appreciate our parents so much for taking care of the children and giving them such happy memories of visits to their grandparents. As much fun as it was to have a little time away, Joe and I couldn't wait to get everyone back together. And it was great to spend the afternoon with Joe's parents, my brother- and sister-in-law and our nephews Hollis and Reese. We enjoyed grilling out while the children fished, swam and played on a water slide. After a full day of lakeside fun, Joe and I enjoyed the ride home with our van full of wiggly, giggly children. Bring on the summer!

The Walk of Hydrangeas

This is a view of the sidewalk leading to the dock at Joe's parents' lakeside home. I wrote about the significance of my mother-in-law's hydrangeas here.

Views from the Lake

We enjoyed scenic views of the lake from Joe's dad's boat.

Our sweet nephew Reese, wrapped in comfort after a swim.

Joe's mother's day lilies are gorgeous.

Seeesie, as Emma calls him, deep in thought.

Emma's First Boat Ride

Joe's parents live on a lake, so a highlight of visiting them is enjoying the water. Emma watched longingly from the shore when the older grandchildren went fishing in Pop's boat Sunday afternoon, so she was thrilled to get a special boat ride of her own after supper. The photo collage above features some of the stunning scenery we viewed from the boat, but the most beautiful site of all had to be Emma's smiling face.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Welcome Summer!

After a busy week of school activities and travel, we enjoyed an unhurried day at home this Memorial Day. We had our first family swim today, and Joe grilled hamburgers this afternoon. I think we'll make the most of our remaining daylight with more outside play and ice cream cones. Welcome, summer!

Water Buddies

Emma got in our pool today -- her first time this summer. She loved for big brother Carson to play with her, and he was so sweet to oblige. When he would tire of carrying her around, he would set her on the steps so he could play by himself. But Emma would cry and call for him until he came back for her. Then she would gleefully jump into his arms again. Looking at the pictures, I can't tell which sibling enjoyed their time together more.

Emma has complete trust in her big brother.

It's fun to be the little sister!

Riding the waves.

Don't drink the pool water!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Christian's Last Day of Kindergarten

We heart Christian's teacher, Mrs. Turner.

Best buddies.

Treats from the teacher for summer fun.

Christian and his crush.

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