Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Weekend of NOLA Festivals

City Park's Botanical Gardens
When October arrives, those lazy summer months fall to the wayside and festival season kicks into high gear. I had our calendar booked and had mentally prepared the family for a packed weekend.

Pony rides at the Children's Book Festival
We started off Saturday strapping the kids in their strollers, loading them up with dinosaurs and drink cups and setting off for Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue. The New Orleans Children's Book Festival was already swarming with pint-sized individuals and their parents when we arrived. Stacks of free books, categorized by age, lined the entrance walk. Charles nearly squealed with delight when his plea for a dinosaur book was answered with My Teacher is a Dinosaur, while August happily slobbered all over his First Big Book of Animals.

Hosted by New Orleans' First Lady Cheryl Landrieu and Ruby Bridges, icon of public schools integration, the annual event featured storytelling, book signings, free food, pony rides, kids activities and lots of free books. We took pictures with the Mayor and then ate our jambalaya and Lucky Dogs in a shady spot under a tree.

Giraffes taking in the Celebración Latina
After a walk back to the house and a brief rest, we headed off in the car to the Celebración Latina at Audubon Zoo. Latin American dancers shimmied to the beat while Charles showed the crowd a few moves of his own. We lounged in the field by the stage for a bit, taking in the smells of Spanish food and picking out our dinner options. The kids didn't last long in one spot though, and we soon made our way around the sea lions, past Monkey Hill and over to our favorites - the giraffes and mysterious white alligators.

Fall Garden Festival at the Botanical Gardens
We all slept sound that night, re-energizing ourselves for the Fall Garden Festival at City Park's Botanical Gardens. We're regulars at the Botanical Gardens, enjoying their normally quiet setting. The place transforms with the Garden Festival, though, when rows of vendors offer plants ranging from everyday standards to the rare and exotic. Charles and I painted pumpkins--and his face--at the children's table, while Paul and August made the rounds buying up dozens of plants for our already overflowing yard.

We didn't make our last destination for the weekend. I suppose I was a bit overzealous in my planning, and the Crescent City Blues and Barbecue Festival fell to the wayside. Even though we missed seeing famous musicians playing soul and blues music and passed up eating some tasty barbecue, I still wanted to mention it for all those wanting to check it out next year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Straight Drive Down Carrollton Ave.

Colorful, locally grown bell peppers at Hollygrove Market

Every Fall, I feel the urge to search the web for u-pick farms and local produce. I'm not much of a gardener myself, shying away from dirty fingernails and mosquito attacks, but the prospect of pumpkin patches and fairytale gourds draws me out to the country—normally. This time, though, we traveled less than a mile before pulling up at an urban farm.

The gardens at Hollygrove Market
Hollygrove Market & Farm on New Orleans' Olive Street boasts rows of community gardens and a produce market with fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and even meats. We picked up our first satsumas of the season and inquired as to "What's in the Box?". For $25, every week you can get a box of seasonal produce all grown from the region. This week's box included mustard greens, rice, sweet potatoes, squash, okra, green onions, arugula, satsumas, microgreens, corn, turnip greens and cornmeal—all from Louisiana and Mississippi communities. The only thing not at the market was a pumpkin patch, but we still managed to nab a couple for sale.

The Pitot House on Bayou St. John
Following Carrollton Ave. toward Lake Pontchartrain, our next stop was a walk along Bayou St. John to the Pitot House. Thanks to a friend's Groupon purchase, we were card-carrying members of the Creole country house built in 1799. Once home to notable residents such as Edgar Degas' great-grandmother, New Orleans' first American mayor and Mother Cabrini (America's first named saint), the Pitot House is now owned by the Louisiana Landmark Society and open for tours and special events.

Three-year-old Charles picked most of the flowers in the front yard before we strapped both kids in strollers and took a quick tour of the house and its period furnishings. The home takes you back in time to when living on Bayou St. John meant living in the countryside. Two rooms that particularly stood out were the dining room, with its warm brick floor and modest, but elegant, dining table, and the upstairs parlor with doors opened wide to a veranda overlooking the bayou.

Ruins of Fort St. John
By this point, the kids had become balls of energy, and we headed toward the lakefront and the ruins of Fort St. John where they could run—or crawl—until they passed out from exhaustion. The fort, built in the early 18th century, was the first erected in New Orleans, and it defended the city at the mouth of Bayou St. John. Today, all that is left are a few brick ramparts and some rock pillars, resting at the foot of a levee holding in the bayou.

Charles and I raced each other to the flood control structure dividing the bayou's waters from those of Lake Pontchartrain. Younger brother August giggled with delight while he bounced on my hip with each step forward. We topped off the visit with a few pushes on the tree swing, and then made our way back home to renew our search for a pumpkin patch.