Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two Holiday Outings: Cirque Dreams Holidaze and Celebration in the Oaks

Frosty the Snowman at Celebration in the Oaks
 
During this magical holiday season, we decided to take the kiddos on a tour of some of the "magic" happening around town. At nearly 4 years old, Charles seemed prepared for his debut into the theater scene. A travelzoo offer got us $11 tickets to Cirque Dreams Holidaze, and although the acrobatic circus show started a bit late in the evening, we couldn't pass up the deal.

All dressed up in his collared shirt and navy pants, Charles had even allowed us to brush his hair before we set out for the Mahalia Jackson Theater. Armstrong Park's fountains of water danced in the artificial light, and we half ran (a.k.a. chased down Charles) over the various bridges to see what sculptures had been added since our last visit. When my feet started screaming at the heels I was wearing, I resorted to telling Charles he'd better stick close or else the ogres living behind the trees would get him. I'm sure my stories will one day give this child a complex, but at the time, it convinced him to walk beside us.

A performer balances rings in the air.
He was excited, though, by his big-boy night out, and every little detail enthralled him - right down to his favorite-color-blue lights that lit the stairways to our seats. And the show itself was captivating with fast-paced music, lots of color and twisting and turning acrobats performing nearly impossible feats. From juggling and roller skating to flying and clothes changing, these performers were true artists of their trade and kept us all hanging on the edge of our seats.

Two child star performers particularly impressed Charles, and throughout intermission, he practiced his own moves by balancing both legs and arms on the chairs around us. By the second half, he was reaching his limit though, and after he watched two acts through half-closed lids and sprawled across our laps, Paul and I hoisted him up and exited the theater. Before passing out in his car seat, he gave me a sheepish smile and said, "You know the girl with the thing on her head, she was pretty, mom."

The evening's success gave us confidence to take both kids over (a few days later) to City Park's Celebration in the Oaks. Every inch of the Botanical Gardens, Storyland and Carousel Gardens were covered in "a festival of lights."

Rides spin and twist at City Park's amusement park
While August ooh'd and aah'd at the colors and pointed at every light his stroller got near, Charles was fixated on the rides in the amusement park. People were zooming in circles on the Scrambler and Tilt-a-Whirl and falling from the sky on the Monkey Jump. He stared wide-eyed, but glued to his seat, too afraid to move an inch...until he spotted the carousel. Now this was his kind of ride, and several minutes later he was up on a horse grinning with delight. Meanwhile, August was crying his eyes out, perhaps scared that his big brother was galloping away into the night.

The lights became more elaborate as you entered the Botanical Gardens, and at one point, they flashed and created fantastic displays illuminating the story of the "Cajun Night Before Christmas." In other spots, dripping icicles covered massive live oaks and Frosty the Snowman danced under the stars. It was indeed a magical place, and the boys enjoyed every moment of it.

New Orleans' celebrity Mr. Bingle at Celebration in the Oaks

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Family Traditions at Percy Quin State Park

Percy Quin State Park and Lake Tangipahoa
For more than 40 years, my husband's family has spent a December weekend at a cabin at Percy Quin State Park. Continuing the family tradition, we headed up I-55 toward McComb, Miss., and met the relatives at a large cabin on the lake.

Our lovely cabin
After a quick detour in Manchac for a seafood lunch at Middendorf's, we arrived at the park by mid-afternoon. The fire was already roaring in the den's large, brick fireplace. My mother-in-law had hung festive lights and miniature Christmas trees around the great room to make us all feel at home. Everyone quickly dragged in their luggage and claimed their spot in the 5-bed cabin before heading out the back porch and down to the lake.

The 700-acre Lake Tangipahoa, surrounded by fragrant pine trees and a hiking trail, serves as the focal point of this park constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. We watched the sun set below the trees and then hurried back inside as the temperature rapidly fell. The evening entailed hot dogs and marshmallow smores roasted over the fire as the children played hide and seek.

Saturday always follows the same routine, with more relatives and friends arriving to spend the day with us. For breakfast, we utilized the kitchen this time and left the fire for warming cold hands and toes. Then we all set off on our annual hike, starting on the paved trail behind the cabin.

The lodge at Percy Quin
Once the sidewalk ended, our group continued following the lake toward the main lodge, where we all took a break for the kids to play the old-fashioned pin-ball machine and video games. With its exposed beams and large fireplace, the lodge, although underutilized, is a beautiful testament to the work of the CCC. Our self-made trail continued through the woods to the playground, passing a raised pipe along the way that has served as a balance beam for as long as I can remember.

This year, with several small children present, we stopped our walk short at the playground, where the kids romped and the adults knocked mistletoe out of the trees. In past years, though, we often set off over a bridge and into the woods a bit before turning back. The afternoon was filled with coffee and conversation, while the older children built a fort in the red cliffs overlooking the lake to our left.

Even our three-year-old paused for the scenery.
I always look forward to this trip every year, and this one didn't disappoint. While some things may have changed, such as the flat screen TV we immediately unplugged and the championship golf course by the entrance, all in all, Percy Quin is much the same as usual. Quiet and peaceful, it forces you to relax and slow down. There is nothing spectacular about our trip--no wild adventure sports or amazing discoveries, but somehow it has become one of my favorite times of the year. And as I watched the fog slowly burn off the morning lake, I realized once again that this is a special place.