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We were debating what to do today, and I got a message from Lauren that she and our friend Cherie, along with Cherie’s two kids (Isabelle and Elliott) were planning a trip to the aquarium, and did we want to join them?  Absolutely!  That was actually one of the places I was thinking about going, and the kids being able to run around with each other made it a perfect idea!  (Also, it’s air-conditioned.)

We met up at the Aquarium of the Americas at 10:00, right when it opened, and bought our tickets.  It was too early to be really packed, so it was nice to be able to walk around and let the kids roam.  Holland and Isabelle made fast friends, and they were basically inseparable for the rest of the afternoon.  I think that Cherie and Lauren and I would have liked to have spent more time watching the penguins and otters and whatnot, but the kids barreled through the exhibits pretty quickly.  The place we stopped the longest was “Adventure Island,” the little playground upstairs.  They burned off some excess energy in there, and after that we were almost finished.  A quick wander through the Gulf and jellyfish exhibits, and of course a stop in the gift shop on the way out.  I’m glad Holland isn’t at the point where she wants the pricey stuff.  A sippy cup with some starfish on it makes her pretty happy (although she did try to walk out with a four-foot-long stuffed shark).

We piled into the truck and drove to the French Market for lunch and to help Cherie in her pursuit for a ring.  We went to the Magnolia Grill on Decatur, which isn’t the greatest place to eat in NOLA, but it’s good and kid-friendly.  I can’t complain about the catfish po-boy, but the “hot” sauce on the tables was anything but.  (Shameful.)  From there, it was on to the French Market to walk off lunch and do a little shopping.  The kids were getting a little overstimulated by the booths, toys, gator heads, and beads draped over all the tables, so we went to a few more quiet stores on our quest.  Once Cherie found her ring, we stopped for a drink at Envie on Decatur.  It was the most appropriate place, because we all certainly had the envie for something icy and delicious.  Holland and I shared a hazelnut iced mocha and a ridiculously big chocolate-chip cookie, half of which is still in a bag in the kitchen!

Since Holland had never ridden the ferry, we decided to hop on that after dropping Cherie and her kids off at their car.  At first, she wasn’t totally sure about the whole “boat” thing, but she gradually got interested in looking at the water.  It wasn’t until we were docking on the Westbank that she got brave enough to get close and look out at the river, but once she did, she didn’t want to get back in the truck!

She was a sleepy girl by this point, and snoozed all the way back to Oma’s house.  Good thing, because I wanted her to be in a good mood for her evening with Oma!  I had a date with Angie and Lauren at Skate Country.

I haven’t been skating in literally fifteen years, but thankfully it’s like riding a bike.  It only took a few wobbly minutes to get used to it again.  Angie’s a manager there now, which is funny because she and I used to be some of their most regular customers many, many years ago!  It was just as cheesy as I remembered, and the only things that have changed are the skates and the music.  The building’s room collapsed during Katrina, and it held a few feet of water because the walls are cinderblock.  It’s a little cleaner and more modern now, but the atmosphere is totally unchanged.  We skated till our legs were wobbly and then got back into our shoes.  A strange man flirted with us for a few minutes, and we left just in time because it was nearly impossible not to laugh.

Lauren and I stopped for a snack and drink at Chili’s, and then it was home and to bed for me!  Tomorrow I have to find something to wear to Chantal’s baby shower because, of course, I forgot to pack something cute.  Here’s hoping!

Today got off to a great start.  Holland slept in late, which gave me a chance to exercise this morning and work off some of the absolutely delicious food I’ve been indulging in since we got here.  It’s worth a few extra crunches!

After a bowl of Cheerios, we packed a lunch and hopped in the truck.  The last time we went to City Park, it was so crowded we could barely find a place to play, so I was relieved today to find that it was peaceful and quiet.  We took a few minutes to stroll through the sculpture garden, and Holland was really excited to find a Blue Dog sculpture tucked into the oaks.  She wasn’t really thrilled by any of the others, so we were off to Storyland for something more her speed.

Again, no crowds made our playtime so much nicer.  Holland had almost free rein of everything she wanted to see because there were maybe a dozen other kids there.  We met some really nice displaced locals (they were born and raised here but live in Florida now) and had a shady snack break with them.  She coerced me into going down the big dragon slide a few times, and I realized how easy it is to forget that those things are pretty steep!  I saw that she was starting to wind down, though, so we made the mutual decision that it was definitely snowball time.

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz has been open since 1939.  It was the original snowball stand in New Orleans, run by husband and wife Ernest and Mary Hansen.  They kept shop from early summer to Labor Day every year until Katrina.  Sadly, both died shortly after the hurricane, but their granddaughter has kept the business running and keeps it faithful to her grandparents’ motto: “There are no shortcuts to quality.”  They aren’t lying.  The shaved ice comes from a machine based on the one Ernest built and creates the finest ice I’ve ever seen.  Once the syrup is on top, it becomes the perfect slushy consistency.  I had satsuma and Holland had strawberry-banana.  Both were works of art and it was (almost) a shame to eat them.  However, the 100-degree temperature demanded that we indulge.

Snacking nirvana achieved, we left the city and stopped to say hello to Oma at work on our way back to the house.  Tonight’s agenda, jambalaya with alligator sausage, and possibly a visit to Puccino’s for another iced almond latte’ (genius!).

Sunday morning found us packing (we’re getting really good at this!) and moseying down Highway 90 to Patterson for a visit with Oma Wies and Opa.  At the risk of sounding like an overenthusiastic mom, I think Holland remembered the last visit, because when I turned onto Rizzo Street, she said “Oma Wies?  Opa?”  I was proud!

Opa was still in the process of being let loose from the hospital when we got there, so we had some nice quiet time with Oma Wies.  We ate lunch and chatted and waited as patiently as we could.  His goal was to get home before the Netherlands-Spain World Cup game started at 1:30, and by 1:00 we were crossing all the fingers we could.  Finally, at 1:27, the back door opened, and in walked Joey and Opa, ready to go in his “Dutch” shirt.  Frankie and Ethan came over around halftime, and Oma Wies gave up her recliner so she could sit on the sofa by “her man.”  (That’s a quote – how cute is that?!)  Sadly, Netherlands didn’t win, but it was a good game, complete with Opa talking trash about Spain.  We knew he was feeling better!  Oma Wies made turkey pastries for dinner, and I finally got the recipe.  I’m already plotting when to make them for the Maryland crew.  Everyone on earth should experience these things.  Holland passed out on the sleepy couch around 6:00 because she hadn’t napped and played hard all afternoon.  Around 9:30 I moved her to the bed, and that’s where she stayed until 7:30 the next morning!

Monday morning was quiet as well.  Aunt Lou came over in the morning for a little while before Oma Wies’s doctor’s appointment and she told us that hopefully Chris and Issie would be over for a visit.  We ate lunch and they took off for Morgan City while Opa took off for a nap.  Holland, of course, did not.  This whole “not sleeping during daylight hours” is getting to be a habit, I think, but I can’t fault her for not wanting to miss anything.  Sometime later, Chris and Issie did show up, and the little cousins-once-removed finally got to meet!  Much cuteness ensued while they got to know one another.  Oma Wies and Opa were both so excited to have two of their great-grandchildren over at the same time, and we’re already looking forward to having four of them together at Christmas!  Issie was full of smiles for LouLou (we think that’s what Aunt Lou’s decided to be called), and we were sad to see them go.  At least we kept both girls awake long enough for them to get good and tired!  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Holland crash that fast.

We woke up Tuesday and watched a fun movie about musical instruments from Aunt Lou while getting packed to go back to Oma’s house.  It may have been the first time ever that Holland flat-out refused to watch Elmo, which is huge.  We left after lunch and went straight to the mall to meet Lauren for an afternoon adventure!

Although the sign on the door said “No one under 18 allowed,” the gentlemen at Uptown Tattoos were kind enough to let Holland come in.  I guess it being a quiet Tuesday afternoon had a lot to do with it.  I’ve been carrying around a picture of a tulip for a while now, one to go with the fleur-de-lis on my left wrist, and decided to go and get it done today.  It was a longish wait, but Holland had a good time naming the pictures all over the walls.  “Mommy, that’s a sad baby!” (a devil baby with horns).  “Mommy, that’s a chicken!  Bok, bok, bok!!” (a rooster with a serpent tail).  “Mommy, that’s tiger!!  GRRRRR!!!” (these were actual tigers).  This went on for almost an hour and kept us pretty entertained.  Finally, the artist was ready to go.  Holland couldn’t come in the room, but she watched from the doorway and behaved herself wonderfully.  She almost got to see her mommy passed out for the first time!  (Almost.)  Fifteen minutes and lots of grimacing later, we were finished and now I have my Dutch flower to go with my NOLA one.

Back to Oma’s for dinner, then a quick trip to Babies ‘R’ Us for gifts for Chantal and Tess, and then a nightcap at Puccino’s Coffee from Lauren.  I swear Lauren slipped a shot of espresso into Holland’s chocolate milk, because for the hour we were there, she was nonstop all over the place.  She was running around, giggling, and entertaining the two gentlemen sitting near us.  She was a little rambunctious, but hopefully didn’t annoy anyone else there.  I’d hate for her to be “that kid” but at least she was laughing instead of screaming or crying.

Finally, we left because it was long past bedtime and we have a busy day planned for tomorrow…Storyland and a snowball from Hansen’s!

Even though it’s tropically hot here, we decided to take some time in the morning to visit City Park’s playground.  It was definitely an “earlier rather than later” excursion simply to avoid heatstroke.  We got sunblocked and packed a lovely, healthy lunch of fruit, granola bars, hummus, and juices (most of which was ignored, of course) and hit the road.

The playground next to the peristyle was jam-packed with kids, which was surprising until we saw the buses from NORD.  It was a summer program for the inner-city kids who rarely get out of their neighborhoods.  Even though it was crowded, Holland barreled right on in, full speed ahead.  She played hard for a good hour, all the while with me chasing her and shoving water at her and making her drink it.  She looked like she had just gone swimming she was so drenched with sweat!  There was another little girl about her age, and the two of them became fast friends and chased each other in circles for a while.

I finally convinced her to take a breather and have a snack, and we watched a few kids playing football in their Saints jerseys.  I have to say, it was a sight that made my heart happy.  After resting in the shade of a live oak for a while, we walked over to the peristyle to visit the ducks.  There was a personal trainer there with her client, and as she guided him through exercises, Holland started marching and counting along with her, interrupting their session but giving us all a good laugh.

Although I really wanted to bring her to Storyland and the sculpture garden, we were both sun-drunk and exhausted, so those will have to wait until another day.  We went home for an afternoon nap and a shower.

PawPaw came home from offshore later with a surprise – Braiden was coming to spend the night!  Holland woke up and the two of them played hard all night long (so I heard) with only a short dinner break.  I went out for dinner and a beverage with Jeff, so I unfortunately missed the shenanigans at the house.

Camellia Grill was, in the words of Richard Collin (hilarious NOLA food critic), “platonic,” meaning “the best imaginable realization of a dish…perfect.”  It wasn’t just the food, though.  It was the entire atmosphere.  There are only about 30 seats around a counter with a completely open kitchen.  The menu is elegantly simple (sandwiches, breakfasts, red beans on Monday and gumbo the rest of the week).  My gumbo arrived in a grandma’s house-patterned Corningware bowl and was filled to the brim.  A thick dark roux, lots of file’, sausage, chicken, and shredded pork with fluffy rice was placed in front of me by Leon, our server.  The smell alone is enough to make you look to the heavens and whisper a “thank you.”  Even though it was getting more crowded, they didn’t rush us to leave, and when we did get up to pay, Leon gathered our plates, gave us fist bumps, and told us to make sure to come back.

In need of post-dinner sweets, we went to Puccino’s Coffee to visit Lauren and indulge in something caffeinated and chocolatey.  It’s actually in Metairie, but well worth the drive.  Funky, fun atmosphere, great drinks and pastries, and the best barista in the world!  We had a great visit with her, and decided it was time for a more “grown-up” sort of drink, which led us back Uptown.

Igor’s.  Igor’s Lounge, Game Room, and Laundromat, actually.  Everything I’d heard about the place said it was “sketchy” and “the perfect dive bar.”  This, of course, meant it was a must-visit place.  We were strangely disappointed when we got there and realized that it was decidedly non-sketchy, but the disappointment quickly changed to happiness when we saw the tacky Christmas decorations, the checkerboard tables, the Tide detergent vending machine, and the scruffy patrons bellied up to the bar.  Before we knew it, we had been there for hours, indulging in Abita Amber and crispy french fries with hot sauce.  Prime people-watching and super-friendly bartenders mean a return trip is an absolute necessity!

From there, it was time to go home and get rested for a full Saturday of grilling and playing with Holland and Braiden.

I awoke this morning to the sound of four little feet running down the hallway and my favorite voice calling “Mama!”  Holland and Braiden spent the night curled up in the big bed with Oma, and were raring to go almost as soon as the sun was up.

Fueled by Cheerios and the adrenaline that is unique to small children, the two girls were on 10 the whole morning.  Books, toys, puzzles, sidewalk chalk, ice cream, hot dogs, and they were deliriously happy.  Other than a few tense moments regarding the sharing of the Rock Band guitars, things were surprisingly cooperative most of the day.

Finally, around 3:30, Holland had enough.  She was getting more antisocial by the minute, which definitely meant that a nap was in order.  I put her in bed, and after two minutes of bloodcurdling screams, there was total silence and she was out.  Nikay and Braiden left during a break in the rain that snuck up on us, and the rest of the night was calm and quiet.  Crawfish for dinner and a good night’s sleep, and we head for Patterson on Sunday to watch the World Cup with Opa!

Today was a busy, busy day!

We went to the French Market and the rest of the Quarter for a good wander in the Louisiana sunshine.  We also had to fetch a gator foot for Taylor, so there was an actual purpose for the trip.  We found a great parking spot and started off toward the market.  Lots of stopping and browsing along the way (the little stores along the way are irresistible!).  We roamed through the French Market after a short stop at a little park tucked between South Peters and Decatur Streets.  There are some pretty fountains and statues, but Holland was more interested in playing with the leaves on the trees.  Whatever makes her happy is fine with me!

The market isn’t as gigantic as I remember it being when I was younger, or else I just don’t feel the need to stop at every booth anymore.  Either way, it was a kind of short excursion to find the gator feet and look for a place to eat lunch.  I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been before, so we just sort of meandered around the backside of the Quarter, near the Marigny, but not that far.  (Looking back, this was a mistake, but more on that later.)  We were deep into a beautiful residential area I’d never seen before, and could have stared at the amazing buildings and galleries for hours, but tummies were growling and there were no little restaurants in that particular neighborhood, so we turned the stroller toward busier places.

On our trek, we saw that the St. Louis Cathedral was open for touring, so we made a short detour inside.  Holland was very good about whispering inside the sanctuary, and behaved beautifully when she walked around.  She was actually much more polite and respectful than 90% of the tourists inside!  She lit a candle for Opa all by herself, we said a little prayer, and left in search of food again.

There’s a little restaurant on Chartres Street called The Alpine that I’ve passed a hundred times, complete with the old black man out front inviting people in, but I’ve never eaten there.  He was nice, though, and the menu looked good, and it was a new place for us to try, so in we went.  He even helped carry the stroller over the front stoop!  I immediately decided on the gator sausage po-boy, simply because I=catfish and shrimp ones are everywhere.  Our lunch took a little while to arrive, but they brought a coloring sheet and french bread for snacking, so that was fine with us!  Sadly, the loveliness ended there.  Holland’s chicken was greasy, greasy, and my po-boy was the saddest one I’ve ever seen.  The sausage was the only good part.  Bread was overly chewy, toppings consisted of a sparse little pile of wilted veggies forlornly resting on the side of the plate, and they forgot to bring my side items.  We ate enough to get un-hungry again (which in Holland’s case is not much) and after about 45 minutes finally got our check and left.  The service was friendly, but s-l-o-w and the food is mediocre tourist fare at best.  D+.

Off for more travels.  We made our way to Royal Street for a post-lunch “coffee milk” at Royal Blend.  Walking into that place is a treat in itself.  You follow a dark corridor into a lush courtyard and enter the shop to the symphony of delectable scents of coffee, chocolate, sugar, and pastries.  The guy behind the counter made me the best hazelnut iced mocha I’ve ever had, and gave us the biggest double-chocolate chip cookie in the jar.  We had a wonderful time watching a lady give palm readings, listening in on another lady giving an “angel reading” with tarot cards over the phone, and playing in the fountain outside.

Finally, it was time to go to the car and get back home.  We stopped at Oma’s office in the way to visit everyone there, and finally went back to the house for dinner.  Aunt Lauren came over, and we watched Backyardigans until Holland passed out on the sofa.  Lauren and I took advantage of the sleeping baby and snuck off to Morning Call for coffee and beignets and a few hours of girl talk and catching up.

A full day, but a fun one!

We left early Sunday morning for Patterson to spend a few quiet days with Oma Wies and Opa, and other assorted Smoorenburgs.  We got there just in time to see Joey, Laura, and Bailey who were stopping by on their way to Baton Rouge for a big Father’s Day family lunch.  Since Holland loves seeing Bailey, it was a treat!

It was a lazy afternoon.  Lots of napping by almost everyone there, lots of snacking on the goodies laying around.  Uncle Frankie came to visit for a bit in the evening, and we learned a lot firsthand about what’s going on in the Gulf, and of course it’s as bad as we think, if not worse.  But enough of that.

Laura dropped off some crawfish etouffee for dinner, and it was quite possibly the best thing I’ve eaten since being back.  Nothing like homemade!  Hunks of cake all around for dessert (Holland most certainly approved!) and once the old folks went to bed, Holland and I went for a long, long walk and then made a pan of banana-berry bread for breakfast. 

Monday was another quiet day.  Chris and Issie were supposed to visit, but were still too tuckered out from the day before.  Oma and Opa each had doctor’s appointments during the day, so Holland and I were there to make sure no one got lonely!  My friend Joie came over to visit in the evening with her little girl, Bella, who reminded me how teeny six-month-old babies are!  She’s adorable, and she and Holland spent a while grinning at each other in their silly-kid way. 

Holland and I left a little after lunch and a visit with Oz today.  Bad weather was threatening, and we wanted to get on the road before it hit.  It cleared up in Morgan City, though, and we tried to visit Brownell Park to see the cypress trees and the bell tower, but it’s closed on Tuesdays.  Some chicken nuggets made us feel better. 

Tonight is Oma’s turn to play with Holland while mom gets to go have dinner with some friends she hasn’t seen in years!