Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Decor and Lights in New Orleans

Quintessential New Orleans architecture
We enjoyed New Orleans so much last year we decided to go again this holiday season. This time, for a week with family. We got the timeshare Hotel de l'Eau Vive on Tchoupitoulas Street, off of bustling Canal Street, and just around the corner from Harrahs Casino, and a short stroll to the French Quarter. While the location was perfect, the timeshare was a whole different story. I won't dwell on it. Just know that a 2 bedrooms unit that sleeps 6 has only 1 bath. With a huge round, old bathtub that is good for parties, no doubt. Marked by long alley ways with exposed brick, this old building certainly has character.

Unwilling to fork out over $25 for parking every night, we searched diligently for a parking spot. We lucked out the first three nights at a parking lot for $10/day. Turned out that was the weekend rate, because when Monday rolled around, the rate shot up to $31! We hastily looked for parking elsewhere, and finally succumbed to Harrah's draw. The casino validates your parking if you play for at least a half hour. Fortunately, there were plenty of nickel slot machines around. We splurged $5 to gamble for half an hour for three days! Not a bad deal if you are disciplined and know how to manage your risks:-)

French Quarter, Jackson Square, Bourbon, Royal, Canal and Magazine Streets - we covered them all. We walked, shopped, ate (Commanders Palace is still our favorite restaurant!) and listened to music. Truly, anything goes in N'awlins. One evening in different parts of the French Quarter, we ran into a Santa Convention and a New Orleans jazz wedding. The latter was escorted by police, followed by a brass band parading the guests into their hotel reception. Very beautiful and unique. On our last evening, we saw the Lafayette Marching Band (University of Louisiana) performing at various locations on Canal Street. Other highlights include a ferry ride on the Mississippi River and a side trip to Baton Rouge. We took the scenic route to Baton Rouge, stopping at Oak Alley Plantation to check out the gorgeous grounds. All in all, a fun, memorable trip.
Inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel
Hotel Monteleone
Santa Convention at the Hotel Monteleone
Eat, drink, and be merry!

A home in the Garden District. A boater, ya think?
free ferry ride across the Mississippi River one foggy afternoon
Oak Alley Plantation

How was your holiday season?

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Monday, December 12, 2011

'Tis the season to be giving

Every holiday season, our boater neighbor Janice gathers a group of her friends to visit Orange Grove, a residential facility for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, where she used to work. Janice and her friends buy lunch and gifts for the 8 patients in the Orange Grove facility in Tiftonia. What a joy to watch them open their gifts!
Before heading to Orange Grove, the group enjoyed a luncheon at Logan's
Santa's helpers - Milly, Janice, Glenda, Elizabeth and Cindy (Shelby and Sharon not in picture)

In the spirit of giving, I got my ESL class at Chattanooga State Community College to participate in a project to send Military Care Packages to Sgt Brad Rich, a TN Adult Education teacher who was recently deployed to the Middle East for a tour of duty. Thank you everyone for participating! Thank you Cindy for the gifts from the Chatt State Bookstore! We appreciate it.

Below is a slideshow of pictures of my students meticulously packaging the goodies we bought and of our Christmas party.

As we celebrate with our friends and family this holiday season, let's count our blessings and be grateful for what we have. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful holiday!

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

'Tis the season to be jolly

A few days after Halloween, a friend and I made a trip to nearby Atlanta to do our Asian grocery shopping. We decided to take the backroads so we can enjoy the scenic fall foliage in NW Georgia. We stopped at Ellijay for lunch and shopped at the outlets in Dawsonville. By the way, William Sonoma has an outlet there, and the stuff and prices are outstanding.

We were starving when we got to the HMart Plaza in Duluth. We immediately headed for Chung Dam. It was my first time there. I had sashimi, and was quite disappointed. I couldn't recognize two of the fish on my platter. The banchan was alright. I still prefer Book Chang Dong, my favorite Tofu House directly across the parking lot from Chung Dam. I've never had a bad meal there.

Chung Dam

Sashimi (didn't see yellowtail or mackerel. Did you?)
Banchan at Chung Dam ( a little skimpy, but then the sashimi doesn't come with it)
Anyway, my biggest surprise was finding the restaurant all decked up with Christmas decorations. It was strange listening to Christmas music in early November. Call me old fashioned, but I can't get into the Christmas spirit until I'm done with Thanksgiving. Why take the wind away from the best holiday of the season?

Now fast forward three weeks. It's Thanksgiving week. We were invited to a boater friend's niece's home. It was so sweet of them to include us in their family gathering of over 30 members. I could not get over how efficient these people were. Everything was set up on the kitchen counter, ready to go. The garage was turned into a hall where tables were set up and festively decorated. The drinks and desserts were conveniently laid out there as well. Too bad we forgot to bring the camera:-(! We are thankful for the delicious Southern food and the great company. Thank you David and Janice for the invite!

The day after Thanksgiving, we rounded up the troops and had a hot pot dinner. With all the stuff we got from Atlanta - mix seafood, tofu, mung bean noodles - plus some fresh veggies like spinach and napa cabbage, and of course shrimp, sliced chicken, pork and beef.

Putting up lights and Christmas decorations, playing Christmas music. Now we're talking. 'Tis the season to be jolly.

How was your Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping?

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fall Colors along the Tennessee River

The word is out. Gary Kramer, contributing editor of Heartland Boating magazine got wind of the Color Cruise Festival, and came to our marina last October to do a story on the event. The result is "Glory of Autumn on Display," which appeared in the magazine's October issue. It touched on the history of the festival, the beautiful Tennessee River Gorge, and the boaters who cruised here for the party every year.
Tennessee River Gorge from atop Signal Mountain, early September
Fall colors along the river near our marina last weekend
We had the Color Cruise party last weekend. It was a tad smaller. The weather wasn't exactly boater friendly. Most boaters had cruised in the rain on Friday to get to our marina. Some of these die-hard boaters have been making the trip here for the last 15 years, no matter the weather, and Color Cruise Festival or not. That Friday evening, the rain stopped, but it got windy, and the temperature went down to the 40s. We huddled around the stove top fire (from Steve's homemade burner) to keep warm while eating our potluck dinner.
The next day, the sun came out and the afternoon got warmer. The marina had continued the tradition of the Color Cruise Festival with a bluegrass band and a handful of vendors. There was chatter about fried Oreo cookies. This is one cookie even the French crave. Now we have to fry it? Give me a break.

Thanks to Ronnie and Sharon, we were treated to a cruise on their 37-foot Sea Ray Killerbees. This year's fall color is prettier than years past. And this was the perfect weekend to see it.
The captains - Doug, Ronnie and Steve
Our buddy boat, Hula Girl (Greg and Cindy)
First mates Elizabeth and Sharon and their precious dogs - Skipper and Tippy

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Hiking at Fall Creek Falls Picking pecans in the fall Hiking a new trail at Raccoon Mountain

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hiking at Fall Creek Falls

Fall Creek Falls in the Spring
Fall Creek Falls State Park is a huge park, comprising over 20,000 acres of nature, complete with campground facilities, playgrounds, picnic and grilling facilites, creeks, cascades, waterfalls, suspension bridges, and a nature center. If that isn't enough, there is also a golf course, a lake and an inn. We first visited Fall Creek Falls State Park in the spring of this year. We were smitten with the park's beauty and planned to come back again in the fall.

Fall is a beautiful time of year in Chattanooga. From late September to mid October, we'd get cool mornings, sunny days followed by colder nights. This kind of weather is perfect for hiking the mountains around here. I offered my ESOL students and their families to hike with us at Falls Creek Falls. The park is an easy hour and a half's drive from downtown Chattanooga. After hiking a couple of trails, we had a picnic. The kids had a blast, as did the adults. Hoping to see more fall colors, we went again the following week. Unfortunately, the leaves that had turned were either blown away or were brown; they did not get a chance to reach its peak of brilliant reds, oranges or yellows, like the fall colors you see up north.
George Hole
Fall Creek Falls in the fall

Cane Falls

But our hikes down the cascades to Cane Falls and Fall Creek Falls, and our walks on the swaying suspension bridges were exhilarating and lots of fun.
Suspension Bridge

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall Colors at the Chattanooga Farmers Market

At the spur of moment two Sundays ago, we rounded up the usual suspects at the marina to go for breakfast in downtown Chattanooga. Hoping to try a new restaurant this time, we shooted for Southern Star, only to find that it was closed. Our fall back plan was to go back to our favorite greasy spoon restaurant - City Cafe. A quintessential diner opened 24 hours, this is a place popular with locals and tourists alike, and it was packed as usual. Luckily, our group of 8 didn't have to wait too long; we got seated in about 15 minutes.

After feeding our growling stomachs, we drove several blocks over to the Chattanooga Market. Unbeknownst to us, we were showing some locals their hometown. Wanderers like us always seize the opportunity to explore, so there aren't too many local (as opposed to touristy) places we haven't visited in our 5 years of living in Chattanooga. The market was busier than we last visited. The theme was Culture Fest, and the festivities included cooking demonstration, Japanese tea ceremony, and many kinds of dances - from Indian to Mexican Aztec to Filipino bamboo dance. Fall harvest like mums, apples, pumpkins and many varieties of squash were on display at various vendors. It was a lovely fall day to be outside!
The Chattanooga Market

Belly dancers from Zanzibar StudioLone Mountain Band playing bluegrass music
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