The World of Mardi Gras

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Let it be known that my sister is awesome. And thoughtful.

I thought we’d agreed to skip Christmas gifts this year, but then that sly lady talked to my mom. She did some research online and found what she thought might be a fun activity for a group gift: Mardi Gras World.

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I’d seen it online while doing research and for whatever reason, I discounted it. I didn’t think we’d like it. But I now officially take back those words. It was a lot of fun.

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Parking is a bit of a pain (I mean, you can pay $15, but I’m way too cheap for that). So the guys dropped us off in the bitter cold, while they found street parking several blocks away. Part of the draw of the museum is that they’ll pick you up in their bus from several locations around the city. It might be worth it to investigate that, if you’re interested.

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The waiting area for the museum is also the entrance, exit, and gift shop. We were early, and then had to wait quite a while for the guys to get back, so we had a lot of time to check out the gift shop (and maybe have a few extra servings of that complimentary king cake!). There’s a balcony out onto the Mississippi River that would be a nice spot in good weather, but we didn’t last long in the biting wind.

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The tour starts with an informative video, which sounds boring, but was a good introduction to the whole Mardi Gras ethos. It’s so much more than a parade. It’s a lifestyle and a culture and an industry and actually… a whole bunch of parades.

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Afterward, you tour the warehouse where old floats wait in repose, new floats are carved and painted and old floats get repurposed! It was a lot of fun to explore the colorful characters and marvel at that floats in progress. We loved the robot that carves Styrofoam into precise shapes in a glass-enclosed room. We got a kick out of the Chick-fil-a billboard cows posing in several corners. (You can see the business extends beyond Mardi Gras floats.)

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I could have watched the artisans work for quite a while. But it was lunch time, and many were on break. (Including sleeping head-down on the desk while the tours filed by. Awkward!)

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The tour was informative and fun, if a little hard to hear the guide in the warehouse from behind the large tour group. A certain little almost-four-year-old missed the tour, since she crashed in her dad’s arms and slept all the way through, waking up as we were leaving.

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All in all, it was a fun way to learn about the culture of Mardi Gras and beat the cold for about $22 each.

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Thanks, Kel!

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Cemeteries of New Orleans

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One chilly afternoon, we dropped by the Hurricane Katrina memorial on Canal Street.

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Though beautifully designed, it was a bit underwhelming, but maybe it was just the cold.

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I was distracted from the memorial by the cemeteries on either side and behind the attraction.

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After lingering just a few minutes, we popped through the trees at the back and tromped through a field to find a guy playing with his dog between cemeteries.

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For the kids, playing with that dog was probably the highlight of the day.

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The highlight of my day was wandering through the cemeteries and imagining the people who were buried beneath concrete and marble.

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New Orleans: The Food

We didn’t eat all the food in Louisiana, but we gave it a good try.

I accidentally found this place on a fun afternoon whim:
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Please. Just do it.

Does a Mimosa donut or Peanut Butter and Jelly or a Pistachio Cream change your mind?

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Those babies were so giant, nobody felt like having dinner that night, so I consider it a win.

Those other things down there that everyone goes nuts for?

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Meh. Just a greasy bit of dough socked with powdered sugar. And the coffee. Don’t even get me started.

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Save yourself the belly-ache and the line, and go straight to District Donuts in the Garden district.

Although, pro tip: you don’t have to stand for hours in line for the Cafe du Monde on Decatur. They have outlets all over the city! Google yourself one and skip the line. They even have the viewing area where you can see your greasy bits being cut and fried, so you won’t miss a thing from the original location. Your shoes will be just as coated with powdered sugar on your way out.

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(Another kid in a bar shot.)

We also hit Mandina’s, which has been around since 1932. During Hurricane Katrina, they had water eight feet up the walls, but they’ve since renovated their candy-pink structure on Canal street. We had to wait for a while, but the food was well worth it. I had gumbo #obviously, and my husband said his meatball sandwich was the best he’d ever had. My favorite part was that our friendly server was super into helping me slyly pay the bill so my dad couldn’t. He totally fake-talked to my kids while I slipped him the credit card. My dad’s reaction when the server brought me the receipt to sign was classic.

And then… there’s this place:

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I really thought that I’d maybe died and woken up in heaven. This is what my heaven looks like: polished white, with high ceilings and lots of natural light, and black accents. And heaven obviously has various gourmet food selections, because, Heaven!

St. Roch’s Market, you guys. Like I said, it was an unusually cold week in NOLA when we were there, so we rushed in from the cold and shed our heavy coats. I’m sure it’s amazing in the summer time. We went for breakfast, too, so some of the stalls weren’t open.

I ended up with this vaguely healthy bowl of goodness:

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But I also got a sausage biscuit from another vendor “for the kids”. There were also pancakes and shrimp and grits at my table, I believe.

Please don’t go to New Orleans without stopping here.

And yes, even the bathrooms look like heaven.

New Orleans: I’m the One Who Takes Kids to Bourbon Street and a Bar

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We hit Bourbon street early. Because, let’s face it: that’s the only time I want to be there.

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We wrangled the street maps and took the trolley to the French Quarter.

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We walked down Bourbon, gathered our beads, and and made it to Jackson Square.

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It was too early in the day and too cold for much else, so we hopped on one of the touristy carriage rides (but not before someone had to go to the bathroom, OBVIOUSLY.)

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A mule named Charlie Brown took us around town.

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His handler, who assured us that if Charlie Brown could make change he’d be out of a job, was a self-described Whiskepalian. He worshiped at the church of Reverend Jack Daniels.

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Me? I was a fan of the brightly painted facades, the plantation shutters and the fancy ironwork balconies.

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There was lunch, there was gumbo, there was walking holding a sleeping almost-four-year-old.

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There was a jazz ensemble in Jackson Square, because of course.

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Then there were pralines, we found the po-boys, and a stroll through the French Market.

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And then, and I’m 100 percent not kidding, someone had to go to the bathroom.

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New Orleans: City Park

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We piled in the car early on a snowy morning.

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Mission: south, to the home of Mardi Gras and gumbo.

We had 10 days, an Airbnb, two kiddos, one set of grandparents and one Vietnamese student.

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It was a long drive, but it was Christmas and we were ready to celebrate! The first order of business: groceries. The second order of business: City Park.

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We spent Christmas Eve in the 1300-acre park, marveling at the ancient oak trees (10 varieties!) strung with lights. We started with a train ride around the perimeter of the park, and then hit the rides at Carousel Gardens.

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It was unusually cold, but we toughed it out on the roller coaster, the carousel and that crazy ride that grandpa and the little one sat out, while the rest of us were spun and jostled like pairs of stone-washed jeans.

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It wasn’t until we were done and were trying to find the exit that we stumbled on some of the more beautiful light displays.

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But at that point, we were cold and tired and we blasted through looking for the exit.

And then someone had to go to the bathroom. Someone always has to go to the bathroom.