Friday, April 9, 2010

feather bowling...

Ever heard of it?  It's a Belgian thang.  Actually, if you were to ask a Belgian person if they've ever feather bowled or even if they have ever heard of feather bowling, they'd probably tell you no.

It's like Jerome said last night, they took all the Belgian's out of Belgium that knew the game along with the alleys and brought them here, to Detroit Michigan, cuz we're the only ones that seem to know about this game.

Anyway, that's what we did last night.  We took the rents (at least the majority of them) and a couple of Belgian cousins out to the Cadieux Cafe in Detroit Michigan, had dinner and played two games of Belgian feather bowling.

My cousin Martine has lived in the Detroit area of the US for nearly 12 years, has heard all about the Cadieux Cafe and feather bowling, but this was her first time playing the game, seeing the game or even visiting the cafe.

The game is similar to shuffle board, curling, petanque, even darts.  You have to get as many of your cheese wheels as close to the feather at the opposite end of the alley as you can.

However, the alley is concave and made of years of packed down dirt and the cheese wheel is really a large, old wooden puck (of sorts) and it's 6 pucks per team (red and yellow).

The game takes about 30 minutes to complete, but it's a lot of fun.  I think this is probably the most fun Jerome's parents have had on this trip, minus the swamp tour...you really can't compete with a swamp tour.

Oh, and I hate to brag, but it was the Frenchies against the Belgians (which includes me), and the Belgians won!!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

DAY 8 (Saturday, April 3)...

Flying home.  A slight delay, but other than that, not much to tell.  I sat next to a woman who never stopped talking and kept me talking too.  I think we totally bothered everyone around us, but it kept my mind off the very bumpy ride.

When we arrived in Detroit, and I was to call our "ride"; Terry & Theresa, I realized I no longer had my cell phone.  I had it at breakfast, but somewhere between there and the airplane, it was gone.

DAY 7 (Friday, April 2)...

Started our day with French Louisianan Crepes, which were slightly different from what Jerome makes.  These were a little more pancake thickness, yet pretty tasty.

We headed out to Grand Isle as we started back toward New Orleans.
You could see many offshore oil rigs far off the shoreline.  A little ghostly.  This area's industry is two-fold; seafood and oil.  Oil companies are everywhere.
Grand Isle reminds me of Folly Beach, SC, where the houses are on stilts.  It seems like a vacation town, but we did find people who lived there all year long.
Later in the evening, when we were trying to find a hotel near the airport - we were sitting in the parking lot of a hotel that was not up to par.  By "not up to par" I mean that the girl at the front desk was snacking on a Wendy's frosty and seemed very put out that we came through the door.  she just wanted to enjoy her frosty.  She was quite rude and they didn't have any of the amenities that we had become accustomed to.  We were sitting in the car contemplating on whether we were going to stay there or not when all of a sudden, out of seemingly no where came a horse galloping along the busy intersection with two young girls riding bare back.  The horse seemed spooked, I mean they were right next to the highway, riding into a heavy trafficked shopping area.  I wonder what they were going to buy, where they were going to park their horse...just a weird site.

DAY 6 (Thursday, April 1)...

The day Justin arrives back in Michigan.  His girlfriend picked him up and they spent a day at the house alone together...taking a line from the movie "Juno"; She's already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could they get into?

We had nearly run out of things to do...Louisiana is not as large as my in-laws were expecting.  The night before, Jerome called the airlines to see if we could leave a day earlier, but they were going to charge us an additional $150 per person, so we decided to stay.

 On today's agenda was to visit the offshore oil rig that had been brought in-shore to be used as a training vessel and museum.  This was Morgan City, LA and it's about the only thing going on there.  We walked the streets a little, since we didn't have anywhere to go, and we needed to wait another hour before the tour started.  We walked by this consignment shop and didn't know what to make of it...would you actually buy something from this store?
The oil rig guide was pretty conservative, if you know what I mean.  He claimed that they have little or no impact on the environment and that they actually improve the under sea life by creating places for barnacles to attach and feeding areas for fish.  Sounds like a possibility, until...there is a leak that can't seem to be fixed and an oil slick the size of Rhode Island is heading toward shore, killing turtles and other sea-faring animals.  I'd like to take the tour now and see what he has to say.
Beyond that, we were just trying to find things to do, so we stopped at more Plantations.  Finally ending up at a B&B; Naquin's B&B in Thibodaux, LA. Interesting 70's style home - totally not updated.  Paneling and all.  They tried to update the kitchen, but they had only replaced the counter tops and kept the cabinets.  Not my style, but whatever works.  Plus they had a couple of newly built "apartments" that they also rented out - which were quite updated and really nice.  The inn keepers were very friendly and could both speak French.  My MIL had the French tour book that told her if they could expect some French speaking at the different tour spots - and it worked.

DAY 5 (Wednesday, March 31)...

Today was the big day - Swamp Tour day in Breaux Bridge.  The last time Jerome and I came to Louisiana and did a swamp tour, it was at the end of November and we saw NO alligators - they were hibernating we were told.  This time, we didn't realize until later, we had a celebrity tour guide.  His name is Norbert LeBlanc.

Getting to the place was a bit of a challenge.  Samantha (our GPS) kept wanting us to turn down roads that either no longer existed or never existed.  Then she wanted us to turn down a grassy road that was fenced off.  We tried hard to figure out where we were supposed to go and then we overshot it and had to turn around - then finally, we found him.

He and his swamp tour have been featured in National Geographic, the French equivalent (Grand Reportage) and also on Charles Kuralt "On the Road".  Right from the start, it was way better than the previous swamp tour because he gave us all beads with a little plastic alligator hanging from them.
We immediately saw alligators EVERYWHERE!!!  It was a bit frightening - especially since we were in a low, flat bottom boat that only fit 6 tourists and one guide.  He brought us in the middle of the swampy bayou and stopped the boat.  He showed us the magazines that he was featured in and then offered us a shot of moonshine :D  The smell of the moonshine was enough to make me tipsy.

He was a very interesting old man with very white hair and a long unkempt beard.  He occasionally put on his "hard hat" made of a turtle shell.  He was clever and interesting and could speak a kind of French that my in-laws could sort of understand.

I would highly recommend this swamp tour above and beyond any other in the area.


Later that day we decided to go to the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory on Avery Island.  I'll bet you didn't know that Tabasco was made in Louisiana?  I know that it says that right on the bottle, but I just never paid much attention.  All Tabasco sauce that you see anywhere has come from this factory on Avery Island, Louisiana.  During the tour you get to keep 3 very tiny bottles of different pepper sauces, see a short movie about the McIlhenny family and try some Tabasco ice cream and soda pop.  Very cool, but I was burping jalapeno pepper ice cream the rest of the day.
We ended the day with a drive to the Gulf coast.  There was a little state park that we drove to and took a little walk along a boardwalk on the water. There was a family fishing off the pier.  The sun was nearly set.

Day 4 (Tuesday, March 30)...

We visited more plantations today; Rosedown Plantation and the Oakley Plantation in St. Francisville.  We were able to go into the homes and have a nice guided tour.  One of the plantations was where Audubon stayed for a time while he was painting some of his famous birds.  An interesting thing was mentioned about Audubon; he was a Naturalist, not a Conservationist.  Meaning he would shoot and kill the birds and pose them before he would paint them.
At this same plantation was a wondering turkey.  His name is Gus and he had been abandoned on the property - he is a true Butter Ball.  He would continually spray out his "wing" feathers and beat them against the ground to make a bit of a intimidating scene.  It worked for a while until the information lady told us that he is friendly...then he was my best pal.
Later that evening, we stopped at a restaurant that a local B&B recommended; Randol's.  It was for the coveted Crayfish that we went there, plus they were having an early bird  special.  There was live zydeco music and friendly people that spoke some sort of French.

DAY 3 (Monday, March 29)...

This morning we were determined to have our breakfast at the Cafe Du Monde.  When we had passed it the day before and there was a huge line, so we needed to make sure that we were there early enough to avoid the crowds.

The place was full when we got there, but we were still able to get a table.  Seems that most, if not all of the servers are from Asia and are mostly ladies.  They pile of powdered sugar that they put on the beignets is crazy.  You never need that much sugar and Jerome was remarking about how much they must go through in a year. Boo Boo and I used some in our coffee, but we noticed that an oil slick appeared on the top of our coffee from the deep frying oil.
We started heading out of the city for our journey around the lower portion of Louisiana.  On the way out, we stopped at the Mardi-gras World, where they house all the floats for the big Mardi-gras parades.  There is a free shuttle to bring you from the French Quarter to the warehouse, or you can park for $5.  It was going to cost us about $15 per person to take the tour, but the funny thing is, they walk you right through the warehouse, right through the mass of floats before you get to the place to buy the tickets.  If you're only interested in seeing big colorful floats, then you don't really need to buy a ticket.  You have nearly free reign.  So, we stayed for about a 1/2 hour, taking pictures and looking at all the floats - we even got to see people working on the floats.  These guys were using Styrofoam to create their figures.  It was neat and right on the river, so you could see freighters going by.

On our way out to see the rest of Louisiana; in the direction of Baton Rouge.  First stop, The San Francisco Plantation.  Located on River Road, which is a winding road along the Mississippi.  This was one of many Plantations that we would stop and photograph, or stop for a bit of a tour.  On one tour we learned that the only difference between a Plantation and a farm is access to the river.  You can only call yourself a Plantation if you are on a river and can ship your goods using that river (or body of water).
As were were driving around, we happened upon something interesting; men at work building stuff - but stuff we had never seen before.  It was this large flat land area that had rows and rows of long strips of what looked like cement blocks - all lined up and stacked.  There were men and machines at work making these blocks, but these were no ordinary blocks - sort of like cinder blocks and unlike cinder blocks.  There were many machines that did different things like pour the cement, flatten the cement and then men would fill in the areas that needed more cement.  I think we counted 32 rows of 12 stacks of long lines of cement blocks.  The machines that most of the men were using seemed to be handmade tractors, where they fabricated machines using lawn mowers or ATVs - only on very tall tank-like treads.
We stayed and watched them work for 20 minutes or so, making our guesses as to what they were making.  Turns out, my guess was pretty on par.  I thought it had something to do with the levies.  And it did turn out to be the Army Corps of  Engineers (PUT NAME OF FACILITY HERE).  We asked at our hotel later and found out that yes, they make these cement blocks for making dams and for shoring up the levies.

palm sunday (March 28)...

Boo Boo (I call my FIL Boo-Boo) had his heart set on visiting an inner-city church that would have Gospel music.  MIL had her book and they suggested a church.  I don't know the exact street (I'll find out later), but I do know it was close to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. which, for a man of peace, MLK Blvd in any city is not the safest place to walk.  From Wikipedia "Streets named for Dr. King often traverse African-American communities within cities. It is a stereotype that any street named after King is in a rough neighborhood and is to be avoided. Picking up on this stereotype, the comedian Chris Rock has said, "I'm lost, I'm on Martin Luther King, Run!, Run!, Run!.....""

Anyway, we walked up to one church that was just letting out.  I approached a woman in her car and asked if there were any others that she could suggest.  She mentioned that there would be another down the street, so off we marché'd.  It was also just ending.  The lady we had asked earlier had followed us to this point and told us of one more; deeper into the city we walked.  Finally finding one that was just starting.

We, of course, were a spectacle, not only because we are white and the only whites at this church, but also because we were all holding cameras and three were speaking French.

We listened to the opening praise and worship portion of the service.  They took and offering.  They began the announcements.

After a few minutes, Jerome's parents were fidgeting.  They wanted to leave.  We were sitting near the back, but the deacon bouncers were all lined up along the outer aisles.

Jerome reprimanded his parents and told them that we were going to stay for the entire service.  He told his mother that this is to get back at her for all the masses he had to endure when he was a child.

They were relentless.  And lucky for them, at one point the "tithing" part of the service started and apparently, these Baptists always got up and went to the alter to offer their tithes.  So, that was our time to escape.  Which we did, but not unnoticed.  We then hung around on the porch of this church for way too long in my opinion.  They needed to get all their things into their bags; i.e. cameras, etc.

Just then, the original deacon bouncer that invited us in, came out to thank us for coming.  I apologized that my in-laws didn't understand English and they wanted to leave.  He told us to "stick together in this neighborhood and be careful" which sort of freaked me out.  I asked him which would be the best way "out"...he shrugged and shook his head and said again "just stick together".  YIPES!  We got in there with no problems...

Well, I think that he was fucking with us a little, because we got out of there with no problems too.  However, there were plenty more people awake (I call them "the sinners" since everyone else was in church) when we were leaving the neighborhood than when we arrived.  Just getting up from partying the night before maybe.  Anyway, they got what they came for; an experience.
Spent the rest of the day walking in the Garden District and riding the St. Charles Trolley.  As we were walking through the Garden District, we saw this sombrero having a siesta in the middle of a parking lot.  We picked it up and it became ours.  It was a windy day and happened to also be garbage day, so I really think this sombrero had been placed in the garbage, only to escape and fly into an adjacent parking lot, where we happened upon it.  It was real and "Made in Mexico" and it's all ours now!
We passed the Alliance Francaise and came across an art show that was in the garden of a private school.  Found one woman that could speak French to my in-laws and where I purchased a very cool pottery rooster container.  It has the colors of our bedroom, so that was my souvenir of the trip.
The trolley ride was really nice and relaxing as we trollied by all the beautiful homes on St. Charles.  We went all the way to the end and then turned around and continued to Canal.
That evening we had dinner at The Alpine.  I had the crab meat cakes with crayfish sauce and it was scrumptious!!!

DAY 1 & 2 (March 27 & 28th)...

Landed and had to wait for the bus at the airport.  Of course we missed the last bus by a few minutes and the next bus wasn't going to come for 20 minutes or so.

Jerome helped a couple of young ladies with directions - turns out they would be taking the same bus into town.

Took the bus from the airport into town.  We had to trek a bit with our luggage.  Can't say we were in the best of neighborhoods.

While on the bus, a young man was handing out little slips of paper with a youtube address on it.  I overheard him tell the young ladies that Jerome had been helping that he was a rapper and that this address was to his latest video.  I made a mental note to look it up, but he ended up giving me a slip of paper too.  He was a very nice guy with gold front teeth and a small "jailhouse" tattoo of a cross on his forehead; barely visible.  His name is Johnny Mobile and all you have to do is type johnnymobile1980 into YouTube and you will see that he has tons of videos up.  The one that he's busy marketing now is called "4 my peeps".  I like it.
For the two days we were in New Orleans we did the city tour...walking around.  We saw several street performers, we ate at the street food vendors that were set up along Bourbon Street, musicians everywhere, parades for no reason (weddings), Bourbon Street, the church in the center of town (St. Louis), a cockatoo on the window grate.
Our Guest House was in the French Quarter.  It is called St. Peter Guest House.  If you stay there, I would not recommend the rooms we stayed in.  They were very dark and dirty.  Maybe if you had a room on the second floor, it would be better, since there is a typical New Orleans ornate balcony up there.  My FIL remarked about how loud it was when he was trying to fall asleep.  And Burgundy is a quiet street compared to most.

trip to the big easy...

For a few years now, my Father-in-Law has been talking about going to New Orleans.  That was his trip of choice the last time they visited back in 2006.  But since Hurricane Katrina had hit only a year prior, there was really no way that it would be "back to normal" by September 2006 - so they ended up visiting San Francisco and the Sonoma Valley at that time.

I believe they were thinking that it would be more French speaking, since it was owned by the French and they have the "French Quarter".  I believe that they thought it would be more "put together".  Maybe their idea was more thoughts of how it is during Mardi-gras.  I don't know, but what I do know is that they were pretty disappointed with how the real New Orleans is.  And sort of a funny thing - looking around at the condition of the different areas, I would ask waiters or shop workers if that area was badly affected by Hurricane Katrina and they would always tell me "no, this area was not affected at all".

We made plans to visit New Orleans and drive around the southern part of Louisiana.  We were there for a week.  We found that a week is just maybe a little too much time.

We stayed in the city for 2 days and then headed out towards Baton Rouge, Lafayette, New Iberia & Thibodaux.

the rest of the first week...

Really not much to write about regarding the rest of the week.

We brought Jerome's parents to Younger's Irish Tavern for $1 burger night, just so they can get a taste of how life is for him here in the states.
My new office friend Dianna made a chicken casserole for me to take home one evening to feed the parents.  That was such a nice gesture.  She is really something.  It kinda blows my mind to have someone go WAY OUT of the way for you like that, out of the blue.  If she were a man, I'd be worried :)

the beginning of the three weeks...

My Mother & Father-in-law arrived from France on Sunday, March 21.

The language barrier is more pronounced when they are here and now that I work 3 days a week, I'm with them more than their own son.

I had an idea, I have a work laptop that I was able to bring home with me so that while Jerome is at work, I could use Google Translate so that I could communicate with my in-laws and it could be portable.

The Monday after they arrived, I was on my own with them and it was decided that they could come with me and my mother on our weekly afternoon together.
We picked up my mother and drove to Port Huron to the Art Center.  My niece Jordan's art project that she made in school was being displayed.  It was a self-portrait in mask form.  We toured the Art Center checking out all the kids art projects - very colorful.
Then we headed out to have lunch at The Raven in Port Huron.  The Raven is such a cool little cafe on Main street in PH. They have a very nice atmosphere and good little things to eat.  Our MINI friends; Lou and Dee took us there one Saturday night and it had a lasting impression.

Since our afternoon started later than usual and the drive to PH was over an hour, we ended up at The Raven pretty late.  As we were going in, I heard my FIL say that he was not hungry, that we would be eating in the evening and my MIL tell him to have a salad.  They don't really know how much I understand of their language, so I'm sure they thought this went undetected.  I had brought the laptop along and used the Wi-Fi to communicate that I was sorry, when my mother and I are together, we have lunch late.  My MIL said it was not a problem.
On the way back, I missed an exit and we ended up taking a very long way home using the back roads!  UGH!

One problem that arose was that we were using my parents handicap van, of which I become the driver when my mother and I are together.  The van is old, loud and makes all kinds of noise as it shakes and rattles down the road. 

My FIL was in the front of the van with me while my mother and my MIL were WAY in the back part of the van.  The ladies could not communicate with each other and neither could me and my FIL.  My mother kept trying to have a conversation with me from WAY back there and although I could hear everything she was saying - she could not hear ANY of my responses.  It was a comedy of errors.  But an opportunity to make a mental note; in the future, the inlaws stay in the back with each other and my mother stays up front with me.