New Orleans

About three weeks ago, my husband and I took advantage of the kindness of grandparents and left our children for three days while we took a just-us vacation. We went to New Orleans–chosen partly because we both love France, and New Orleans was the closest we can afford to get to France right now!

We had a great time. Our itinerary included eating lots of good food, walking around a lot, drinking gallons of water (it was HOT, even without sweaty children to tote), and listening to some jazz. Since we didn’t need to worry about babysitters while there, we also took advantage of the opportunity to (finally–we were afraid it would already be out of theaters) see the new Star Trek movie (very enjoyable, assuming you like Star Trek).

Here are a few pictures and highlights of the trip:

  • Walking around the French Quarter:
Cathedral of St. Louis

Cathedral of St. Louis

Jazz band playing just outside the cathedral.

Jazz band playing just outside the cathedral.

  • Walking around the Garden District, deciding which houses we would like to live in if one of us could right bestselling novels ala J.K. Rowling (and, as an aside, if you haven’t already heard this story, you should go check it out):

    This seemed like a decent place.

    This seemed like a decent place.

  • Eating at some fun restaurants. We had a fancy dinner at this place:
    Court of Two Sisters Restaurant

    Court of Two Sisters Restaurant

    but also enjoyed visiting Cochon and Butcher, two restaurants owned by the same person, the first one fancy, the second more of a sandwich shop (although an upscale sandwich shop). They were recommended by our guidebook, and definitely worthwhile (assuming, in this case, that you aren’t vegetarian). I particularly enjoyed Cochon because we were seated at a bar area that looked into the kitchen, so it was like dinner and a show all at once. Also, we stated from the get-go that we were just ordering appetizers and salads, but we were still welcomed and served extremely gracefully and graciously. I didn’t think to get pictures of either Cochon or Butcher (we ate there twice!), but I would definitely recommend them to anyone visiting New Orleans. One other benefit, for us, was that they were closer to our hotel (in the Warehouse District) than most of the places we visited.

  • Riding the streetcars:

    St. Charles line streetcar--came right by our hotel!

    St. Charles line streetcar–came right by our hotel!

  • Seeing, and getting out on the Mississippi:
    Looking out toward the Mississippi Bridge

    Looking out toward the Mississippi Bridge

    Taking advantage of the free ferry to see the French Quarter from the water.

    Taking advantage of the free ferry to see the French Quarter from the water.

  • Of course, a quintessential New Orleans breakfast at Café du Monde (this was also an activity we repeated!):

    Beignets and café au lait!

    Beignets and café au lait!

  • Following our particular traveling agendas:
    If you travel with my husband, you look for organs...

    If you travel with my husband, you look for organs…

    ...and if you travel with me, you look for libraries.

    …and if you travel with me, you look for libraries.

  • Discovering a neat independent bookstore in rooms that Faulkner used to rent, down an alley that’s literally just next to the Cathedral (no picture, sadly).
  • And, finally, staying in a hotel that has a parrot in the lobby:
    Parrot!

    Parrot!

    The Hotel Modern was really very nice–and we appreciated finding a deal on the Visit New Orleans website. We had two complaints: the housekeeping service was a little spotty (they only came in to clean the room if we put the sign out, and forgot some things like refilling the shower gel container or putting bags in the trash can) and I found the bed uncomfortable, even for a hotel bed. However, the overall cleanliness of the hotel was just fine, the service was exceptional (which more than made up for the housekeeping–we could just call and ask for anything we needed changed/fixed/added), and we liked the fact that we weren’t right in the middle of the Quarter. They had an in-house restaurant, which was also very nice–we just had dessert there one evening, but it was fantastic. I would stay there again if it looked like we were returning to New Orleans anytime soon!

It was a really fun time, and just the right length for our first trip-without-kids (we went from a Wednesday afternoon through a Saturday evening, and by Saturday, we were both ready to get back to the kids). We don’t have any plans to return to New Orleans soon, but we had a lovely introduction to the Crescent City. Who knows, maybe when our kids are grown, we’ll head back that way again.

Vacation Reading

Just home from vacation, and since I got three books that were not picture books read, it can automatically count as a good vacation. I enjoyed all three books, another plus. Here they are, so you can go enjoy them, too.

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently received this as a gift, and since Ms. Konigsburg died this year, I wanted to read it sooner rather than later. I didn’t really discover her books until I was an adult, but I think I like this better than her others that I’ve read.

Like her other books, the protagonist (Margaret Rose Kane) is a precocious child (well, teenager in this case). However, I don’t feel like she’s “Benedict Society smart” like some other Konigsburg characters are. She’s also kind of grouchy, at least when the book starts, and since I seem to be kind of grouchy these days, I felt like she was a kindred spirit. I also pretty immediately fell in love with her Polish immigrant uncles, who had some similar qualities to my own favorite uncles, but with the added bonus of being European.

There’s a fair amount of flashback in the storytelling, but I found it easy to fall into the flashback-then-advance-the-plot rhythm that was set up. Once the main conflict was revealed, I also got into worrying about whether the uncles’ towers would be saved or not.

Both the plot and characters were enjoyable, and even some of the meaner characters get the chance to redeem themselves (and really, kids and teenagers who are mean should get the chance to redeem themselves). The only part I found distracting was that the book was set in the early 1980’s. This turns out to be important to the resolution, but I kept forgetting about it, since many of the descriptions seemed like they could apply to the present day (or because I was born in the 1980’s and am now old enough to forget that it’s not the present day?).

All in all, a fun book–I think older elementary kids (4th-5th graders) through younger teens would enjoy it.

The Joys of LoveThe Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered a Madeleine L’Engle book that I’d never heard of before this spring, so of course I snatched it up. I just got around to reading it on vacation, and it doesn’t disappoint–if you like Madeleine L’Engle’s other YA fiction, which I do.

I marked this as historical, but it’s not really–it’s set in the 40’s, and it was first written in the 40’s. It wasn’t published until recently, after Ms. L’Engle’s death, by her granddaughters, which is why I hadn’t heard of it before.

The story follows Elizabeth, an aspiring actress working as an apprentice on scholarship in a summer theater. The two main conflicts are her trying to follow her professional dreams, despite her guardian aunt’s lack of approval or support, and her romantic entanglement with an older, suaver, but slimier, actor/director. This character, Kurt, is probably the weak link, as is Elizabeth’s falling for him: the problem with all of Madeleine L’Engle’s romantic villains is that, while they may occasionally be sympathetic, the reader can pick them out as slime balls from a mile off.

Luckily, the book is not a tragedy, so all ends well. Some of the best parts are the real friendships Elizabeth forms and getting a picture into both the camaraderie and the problems that make up a small theater company in the 1940s. Also, the note by Ms. L’Engle’s granddaughter at the front indicates that Elizabeth was largely autobiographical, and much of the story does ring true with her nonfiction work Two Part Invention.

I now need to dig up my copy of Certain Women, an adult book written much later, to see if the Elizabeth in The Joys of Love is the same character as the Elizabeth in that book (I am fervently hoping not, but in Madeleine L’Engle’s fictional worlds, you never know).

Dark Lord of Derkholm (Derkholm, #1)Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second Diana Wynne Jones book–I read the obligatory Howl’s Moving Castle back when it was a big thing, and I never read anything else, despite hearing how good an author Ms. Wynne Jones is.

Well, she is.

It took me awhile to get into this (admittedly longer) fantasy world, which follows the problems of a magical world trying to get rid of a leech and bully from our world–and particularly, the problems of one wizard family who’s father, Derk, is forced to play the “Dark Lord” in the yearly “Pilgrim Parties” that the villain Mr. Chesney brings through.

The plot is complex and the characters many and varied–the comparison on the back of the book that suggests Ms. Wynne Jones to Harry Potter fans is particularly apt when considering the depth of world building involved–so here are just a few of my favorite points:
-The family in question has both human and griffin kids.
-There are carnivorous sheep (not usual, even in the magical world).
-There is romance, but just a dash.
-None of the characters are perfect, but most of them are likable.
-Some of the name borrowing from other fantasy books is hilarious.

As I said, it took me awhile to get into this, so give yourself 3 or 4 chapters before deciding whether you like it or not.

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