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Small Stuff #24-26: Empty bags, full glasses and wet noses January 27, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Travels.
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Small stuff that I am grateful for today: an unpacked suitcase, a full glass of beer, and a big ol’ slobbery welcome home smooch from the Blue dog. Cheers, my friends!

Bonus: Gazing upon a beautiful moon over de bayou.

Small Stuff #22: Overcast skies January 23, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Ramblings, Travels.
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Small stuff that I am grateful for today: overcast skies on a 4 hour late afternoon drive to the west when I have forgotten my sunglasses.

Bonus: stopping at the Post Office and finding a new delivery from Netflix.

Double Bonus: arriving home late enough in the evening that I don’t feel all too guilty about slipping in to my pj’s and crawling in to bed to watch said delivery.

Long Days of Travel Brought Me From My Home… November 28, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Louisiana Wildlife, Photography, Travels.
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After my thoroughly informative and enjoyable trek through the world of Tabasco, it was time to head for the main attraction in my book–Jungle Gardens! I was a bit bummed that the sun had not decided to arrive while I was inside, but hey, it wasn’t raining so I decided I couldn’t complain too much.

So I headed back down the secondary gravel path to the main gravel path and hung a left, pulled in to the visitors center to pay my entrance fee and get my map to this 250-acre garden paradise. And not only did I not just get handed a map, I got a full blow-by-blow description of what awaited me around each bend by the most lovely and informative park attendant you could ask for. When I mentioned that this was my first trip to the island, Nonny grabbed her red pen and started circling and x-ing and drawing arrows to every little “must see” spot complete with reports on the wildlife she’d seen earlier that morning.  I haven’t seen that many red marks on a piece of paper since I got the first draft of my senior thesis paper back from Dr. Sipher at SUNY, Cortland. But while I wasn’t too excited about those red marks, I was practically drooling over these.

So armed with my map, I headed for the car and vowed to stop back with my report. I barely made it to the first corner before I had to pull over and grab the camera. I mean, could you ask for a more inviting path?

E.A. McIlhenny, son of the famed Tabasco genius Edmund McIlhenny, was the visionary behind this one of a kind treasure. An ardent naturalist and conservationist, McIlhenny was dismayed that the snowy egret had been driven almost to the brink of extinction by plume hunters supplying the feathered hat industry in the late 1800s. In an effort to save these graceful creatures, he gathered up the remaining seven left on the island, and built them a large cage over a pond. He also once built a cage for some nutria that he imported to the island, but that’s a whole different story that maybe we’ll save for another day.

Anyway, at the beginning of the next migratory season, he destroyed the cages, let them head south, and hoped for their return in the spring. And return they did, with friends in tow.

Now this guy really probably shouldn’t be here at this time of year, but Nonny seems to think he probably lost his mate round these parts and is waiting for her return. Oh, just break my heart why don’t you. But he was good for a bit of comic relief to cheer me up from that sad thought.

Another of my egret friends dropped by for a spell. He was a bit shy at first…

…but soon decided I was just another harmless Yankee with a camera.

You know, these guys are so graceful in profile, but pretty darn hard to take seriously when you meet them face to face.

Geez, I could have hung out in this spot all day, but I’d barely made it a half mile on the four mile path and I was itching to see what was waiting for me around the next bend. Oh man, doesn’t that look like an inviting spot for a picnic on a lazy summer day? Well, as long as no uninvited guests stop by.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, but ah yes, I had to take this one.

And I suspect that road is the one more traveled since it brought me to this.

I mean, are you kidding me? How did this get here?

And what a view.

Ok, must come back on a sunny spring day when the azaleas and the camellias and the irises are in all their glory and the 100,000 birds have returned from their winter vacation to enjoy this amazing Louisiana treasure. I guess we’ll just have to see if I can wait that long, but sure enjoyed a sneak peek. Hmmmm…where to next? So many choices. So little time.

Buddah Speaks
Peacefully I rest
Upon this lagoon’s bank
As pale green bamboo’s
Sway above my throne.
Clouds of blossoms
Soften the sifted light
Falling golden and misty
through the boughs above.
Long days of travel
Brought me from my home,
Yet I have known no hour of calmer rest
My thoughts are like
The swaying bamboos’ crest
waved to and fro
Above the rippling stream
Clear and blue
As from a glorious dream
–EA McIlhenny

Back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming November 27, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Photography, Travels.
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Hope y’all had a great T-Day. I certainly did. And yes, there was a bottle of Tabasco on the table. And yes, I splashed a good dose of it on my perfectly cooked turkey.

Alright, where were we? Ah yes, our lovely tour guide arrived right on schedule and in we went. We learned that Avery Island sits atop an enormous monolith of one of the three-count ’em, three-basic ingredients used by Edmund McIlhenny to make his first batch of pepper sauce in 1866. As any good Tabasco-loving fool can tell ya, you’re not going to find anything in that famous little bottle but red pepper, salt and vinegar. Can’t get more pure than that.

So as you might have guessed, that enormous monolith is a massive salt dome. And when I say massive, I mean massive. This thing is taller than Mount Everest my friends, but only about 152 feet of it rises above sea level which accounts for about the only hill I think I’ve driven up during my tour of duty in south Louisiana. The rest of it descends for some eight miles underground. Holy moly! Talk about a journey to the center of the earth.

Alright, so how do you make three simple ingredients so tasty? Well, pick a peck of perfect peppers by paw first. And be sure to use the “la petit baton rouge” (aka “the little red stick” painted the precise color of the perfect pepper) to determine which peck of perfect peppers to pick or the fruits of your labor will be rejected by the designated McIlhenny descendant in charge of the metal cash box.

Next, get you some of that perfect Avery Island salt and toss it on that perfect peck of peppers and start mixing and mashing. Store the mash in a white oak barrel recycled from the Jack Daniels Distillery. But be sure to drill a hole in the top so the thing doesn’t explode and throw some more of that Avery Island salt on top of the lid and watch it harden like cement.

After a quick three years, pop the lid. Dump the mash in to a blending vat. Add some stong, distilled, all natural white vinegar. Stir it for five minutes each hour. Strain off the seeds. And viola, a recipe for success.

Alrighty then. There you have it. Be sure to make a stop at the Country Store after your informative tour for anything and everything Tabasco including a free sample of Tabasco ice cream. And no, I’m sad to say that I did not partake. It was ten in the morning and well, no kind of ice cream sounds appetizing to me at that time of day although I’m sure it’s an interesting experience.

Next stop…Jungle Gardens! AMAZING!!! Stay tuned to read about my adventures with the birds, the bees, the flowers and Buddha. What the what? How did this end up in southern Louisiana?

As Hot As You Like It November 25, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Photography, Travels.
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As I saw the sign for LA-329 and headed south, I started to get excited at the prospect of visiting an island and happy that I was not going to be planting marsh grass upon it. Yes, folks, if you haven’t guessed by now, my destination was the famed Avery Island–home of a Louisiana concoction that has graced tables around the world since 1868. Tabasco that is, red gold, Louisiana tea.

Yep, it was my day to be a tourist, although, honestly, I kind of feel like a tourist everyday in Louisiana. And truth be told, I like it that way. I really don’t know what the future holds, or how long I’ll be a resident of this Sportsman Paradise, but I sincerely hope I never lose my sense of wonder and appreciation for the treasures my adopted home so graciously and generously offers up to us around each bend in the bayou and each curve in the river and each fork in the road.

Relieved that the persistent mist had given up on trying to dampen my day, it was still pretty downright gray, so when I saw this sign I decided to hang a left and spend a little time indoors hoping the sun would decide to arrive in the interim.

The first tour of day was about 20 minutes out, so I decided to take a quick stroll around the grounds and got a chuckle out of this piece of artwork. Legend has it that when the reds are a-swarming and a-schooling, they’ll bite on just about anything you throw at ’em, including jalapeno peppers as Captain Todd Casey demonstrated in an infamous YouTube video that made the rounds to the in-boxes of most Gulf Coast fisherman a while back. Check it out.  Some say it’s a hoax, but looks real enough to me and I’ve been on a few of those fishing trips when every cast either nets you a red, loses you a red or snaps your line. Talk about some fun!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I learned that Tabasco is the official pepper sauce to royalty and if you’ve ever sampled English fare, it’s not hard to imagine that they probably forego the standard two ounce bottles and opt for gallon jugs with which to stock their pantry.

And check out that crock! Wouldn’t mind having me one of those in the kitchen filled to the brim with that mouth-watering delight, the smell of which was in the air and most assuredly making my mouth water. Hey, is anyone looking? Maybe I could nonchalantly back the car up here and pop the trunk. Darn, how come I didn’t bring the truck?

Alright, let’s avoid temptation and a sure-fire way to land myself in the Iberia Parish Correctional Facility and head inside to learn a bit of history and the culinary genius behind this masterpiece.

As I waited for our guide to arrive, I met a lovely couple from down my way. They had made the trip from Lafourche Parish with two of their young grandchildren in tow to learn, to appreciate, and to savor all that Louisiana has to offer. While the young grand-daughter tried diligently to wrap her arms around an eight foot bottle of McIlhenny’s best which just wasn’t going to happen unless she spontaneously turned in to Stretch Armstrong, the young grandson explored an interactive map designating the some 130 countries to which Tabasco is shipped. I learned that the wife was originally from my beloved home state of Michigan. And I stumbled around for something pleasant to say when she responded to my question of “Oh, really. What part?” “Oh, yeah, Flint. Well, um, Flint is ni.., I mean, Flint, yeah, it’s pret…Really, Flint. No kidding. How long you been in Louisiana?” Hoping she’d say that she’d been here long enough to have escaped the devastation that has besieged the hardworking citizens of the town that General Motors forgot.

And just in time to save me from my mouth, our lovely guide appeared right on schedule. And unfortunately my scheduled blog time has come to an end for this morning. But y’all come back tomorrow so I can continue to share the oh so many treasures of Avery Island with you.

As Sweet As You Like It November 24, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Ramblings, Travels.
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Alrighty, where was I? Ah, yes, 20 ounces of steaming goodness, $4 of jaw tiring jerky, and a full tank of gas. When you live on the bayou, well, let’s just say ya gotta head north if ya wanna head west unless you’re looking to give your vehicle a mighty expensive car wash. So up de bayou I went, hit Houma, and hung a left.

As I traveled through Assumption, St. Mary, and eventually to Iberia Parish, it reminded me of traveling the highways and byways of the midwest past seemingly endless fields of corn. No corn round these parts however, but most definitely mile after mile after mile of sugar cane. From what I understand, sugarcane was first brought to Louisiana by Jesuit priests in the 1750s, is now about a $2 billion industry, and employs some half million folks, many of whom I seemed to pass in the fields as they cut the cane and on the road as they transported it to the boiling houses. Sunday is no day of rest for the cane farmers during harvesting season which we’re pretty much in the middle of right now.

Love that Louisiana sugar in my Community Coffee, but I got to say that I was relieved that the wind was carrying those huge white plums of steam from the processing plants away from the highway cause let me tell you that ain’t no sweet smell to the olfactory receptor neurons my friends. But I think that odoriferous assault is only when they’re burning the bagasse which I gather is kind of like all the fibrous stuff left over after the refining process. But I guess it is pretty cool that a lot of the mills can actually use this stuff as biofuel to power their facilities and pump in to the consumer electricity grid. And there seem to be a thousand and one different non-food uses for the stuff from ethanol, to filler for paper production, to production of fibreboard and particle board, to every conceivable type of food container, to a ton of other products I’m sure that I just don’t know about. Geez, guess I need to learn more about this valuable Louisiana staple other than I love me some in my cup of Joe.

Anyway, as I drove along, windshield wipers clearing the seemingly endless layer of mist from my view, I gained a new appreciation for that white gold on my way to a site of another type of white gold and some red gold to boot. Life as a sugarcane farmer, like most agricultural professions, certainly can’t be easy. The sugarcane industry has taken some pretty hard hits from past hurricanes, especially from Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. From what I understand, many of these farmers have been able to rebound, but unfortunately many have not. Throw in land loss and saltwater intrusion, and it’s not tough to imagine that it’s probably not going to get any easier for them in the near future.

Alright, so as I traveled along with LA-329 in my sights…holy cow, is it really that late already? Man, I haven’t shown you one of the 442 pictures I took yet, but unfortunatley it’s time to go make a buck to feed me and the Blue dog. See y’all tomorrow.

Head West Old Woman, Head West November 23, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Coastal Restoration, Ramblings, Travels.
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So yesterday morning I decided to put a few chores on the back burner and head west for a few adventures. I’ve not explored much of the beauties of south-western Loozy, although if you want to get all technical, my intended destination would probably be more appropriately deemed to reside in south-central Louisiana. And while every day really is an adventure when living life in the Louisiana wetlands, I was yearning for some new vistas.

At 6:00 AM, I grabbed my coat and grabbed my hat (it was a tad chilly and drizzily), left my worries at my doorstep, and hoped the sunny side of the street would be at my back. Unfortunately, the sun never did make much of an appearance except for about 30 seconds on my way back east. Guess it just wanted to show those meteorologists who’s boss.

Anyway, I made a quick stop at a local convenience store to get a little more Community Coffee pulsing through my veins. When you get down the bayou, a lot of the convenience stores tend to exhibit a flavor all their own which is decidedly different from the typical, I-could-be-in-anytown-USA, northern Express Mart flavor.

When you patronize one of these spots, you’re almost guaranteed the opportunity to satisfy that grease fix that accompanies fried chicken whether it’s on a stick or served up in the standard red and white checkered cardboard tray. And if chicken doesn’t fit the bill, no worries. Shrimp, oysters, crawfish, catfish, jalapenos and a multitude of other such fare should grace the menu as long as you don’t ask for it lightly sautéed in a nice lemon-pepper butter sauce. Should you desire a little beef or pork, sausage biscuits and boudin should do the trick and the jerky products typically have an entire aisle to themselves. And if you’d like to wash down all that fried goodness with a spot of Jack, no problem, just ask the clerk to grab you a bottle from behind the counter. And if you got a few dollars left in your pocket, you can slip behind the red or green swinging doors and play a few hands of video poker to see if lady luck is on your side.

So as I prepared the perfect cup of joe, the usual gang was there decked out in their LSU caps, well-worn work garb and white shrimp boots. I had arrived too late for the play-by-play recap of yesterday’s Tiger’s game and too early for the predictions for the afternoon’s Saints game, but had arrived just in time for the another favorite subject…

“I heard they’re going to close that canal and put some kind of thing that lets the water flow through.” “You know, what they don’t think about is a back-up plan.” “Yeah, well I heard they was going to put a bunch of rocks out there.” And it basically goes on and on with a whole host of “I’ve heard’s” for quite some time until someone says “You know there’s only one thing that’s going to save us. And that’s if we all just get the #@$! out of here.” Laughter erupts for about seventeen seconds and then the realization hits that such a scenario could be all too true and to dismiss that painful thought as swiftly as it arrives, the conversation quickly moves to the “What they outta do’s”. And it’s too bad more of the folks in charge don’t sit in on some of these conversations, cause these guys know a whole lot about this landscape and how it works and some of those “outta do’s” are pretty dog-gone smart.

But, time was a-wasting. So, armed with twenty ounces of goodness, $4 of jerky and a full tank of gas, it was time to head up the bayou…but, unfortunately it’s now time to hit the pavement. To be continued…

Too Sweet in the Shenandoah November 1, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Friends, Photography, Travels.
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So as I’ve previously mentioned here, I recently spent a day in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. And while the scenery was truly magnificent, I must admit that I was feeling a might bit homesick during my stay. Having been on the road for 10 days and 1700 miles at that point, and knowing another 1000 miles lay between me and the bayou, I’ve got to say that I was kind of wishing I could hop on a plane and be done with those traveling blues that I was momentarily suffering from. And as I sat gazing over a mountain so full of orange and red and yellow leafed trees that it appeared as if on fire, I was actually trying to conjure up images of the marsh landscape I was missing so deeply. But as I was about to put myself out of my misery, take a nap and hope for dreams of orange sunsets and red fishes and yellow corks bobbing in calm dark waters, a precious little girl approached and said, “You know there are a lot of fun things to take pictures of around here. Want me to show you?” But of course! How can you resist a private tour by a Shenandoah Valley expert? Let’s go!

Oh yes, that leaf is very pretty. Yes, of course I will take a picture of it.

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Oh yes, that rock is very interesting. Yes, of course I will take a picture of it.

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Oh yes, that water is very clear. Yes, of course I will take a picture of it.

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Oh yes, that bird cage is precious. Yes, of course I will take a picture of it.

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Oh yes, that flag is darling. Yes, of course I will take a picture of it.

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Oh yes, that birdhouse is very well crafted. Yes, of course I will take a picture of it.

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Oh yes, that swing does look very fun. Yes, of course I will take a picture of it.

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Oh yes, Hunter does go very fast on that tractor. Yes, of course I will take a picture of him.

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Oh yes, that frog does look very slimy. Yes, of course I will take a picture of him.

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Oh yes, we should let him go to catch another day. But yes, of course I will take a picture him before he hops away.

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Oh yes, that leaf does look like a heart. Yes, of course I will take a picture of it.

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Oh yes, my friends, she is too sweet and did steal my heart. Thank you Reese for showing me all of the wonderful things to take pictures of in your world. I never would have noticed them without you as my expert guide.

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Never stop exploring my little friend.

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We’re On a Mission… October 28, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Photography, Travels.
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…a mission from God. So I wanted to share two more pics from my Saturday afternoon in the City of Big Shoulders, but WordPress was not cooperative this morning. Let’s see if it wants to play nice this evening.

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It Was a Vision of Power October 27, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Photography, Travels.
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It’s a 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes; it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!

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And with that, WordPress has decided to stop cooperating. Too bad. Those last two pics I was going to share were pretty cool…but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.