A Lab, Some Land, and a Newborn Baby

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mossI’ve been busier than a Ryan’s Steakhouse bathroom on Chili Mac night.  Coaching two little league teams,swim season, welcoming my fourth baby boy (Finn), picking up a daughter in the form of a cute little yellow lab (we call her Fii, which is short for Fiona or Confit depending on the day), and buying some land near home, leaves me precious little time to write or anything else. IMG_3930finn

Adjustments are hard with your first baby boy.  After three it’s easy.  During the fourth trimester,the 3 months after birth when babies are like larva, it’s pretty simple.  I change a ton of diapers, bathe him and daydream about the whatnot we’ll be doing.  Pretty much fall in love with him now that he’s not in mama’s belly. Finn’s already bonded with my oldest son, and is greatly amused if not a bit scared of his two other brothers, who are 6 and 3.  They adore him.  He’s a happy baby now, and has good reason. His every need is met.  For now, we are in a calm as far as babies are concerned, he’s immobile and quiet.  If he’s like my other progeny, that’ll end in about 4-6 months.

Meanwhile, Fii is assimilating into the family as well.  Her background story is romantic.  Her mother is a working girl for the guide service I used in my hunt with Hank Shaw.  Her father is a registered blue blood master hunter owned by a big wig in Ducks Unlimited.  A few furtive glances, and no doubt sniffs, led to an unpaid for roll in the marsh and pregnancy. Unpaid for being the key term.  See, stud fees for dogs like her father typically run about $2000 and the puppies are sold for anywhere from $1200 to $5000.  Nice gig if you can land it. Her owner couldn’t pony up the stud fee, so she’s without papers. But pedigrees don’t mean much to me, I just want a dog to go get what I shoot and let me scratch her ears. So when my professional dog trainer buddy Robert Murray of Murray’s Kennels, told me about her, I went and picked her up for close to nothing.  Fiona

Since moving to my rural community, I’ve looked for hunting leases and land with little luck.  But a few weeks ago, a Facebook listing on one of our local Buy Sale Trade groups produced a perfect property only 15 minutes from my doorstep.  It has electricity and a well, two ponds, a ton of pecans and oaks.  I saw three deer my first visit and there are pig wallows all over the place.  Should be able to draw in some teal, wood ducks and Mexican whistlers to the ponds and there’s a small but present dove population.  Squirrels and rabbits abound.

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The woods to the north area bout 50-70 acres, which should hold a bunch of game. I plan on planting some grains, greens and more trees to attract even more animals.

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The owner is leaving his pig trap and feeder.

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Fii checking out one of the wallows and many game trails criss crossing the land

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We don’t know if the pond is stocked, but we will soon be making a fishing trip to determine if it is.

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I’m really enjoying life right now, with a wonderful baby boy, a dog and some land to play on.  God has been too good to me and I look forward to writing about my exploits.  Stay tuned.

Tag Teaming Pork

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A new season is upon us.  My first born is now old enough to use a high powered rifle under supervision, a day I’ve dreamed about since before he was born. So my sons and I headed north last Friday for a weekend of hunting, scouting and deer season preparation.

At a quarter till 7, we were overlooking the alluvial flood plain of Lilly Creek, in what we call the Hauer bottom.  Pronounced in deep East Texas drawl as High-yer, it use to abut land owned by a German family who was at odds with Kaiser Wilhelm during the first world war.  He’d complain that German families could live off the farm land where my grandfather would turn his plow mule around.  Now, it’s the most remote area of our familial lands and gets the least amount of human pressure.  Surrounded by forest and accessed by a dry weather only road, it is where I learned to hunt. Squirrels abound in the encircling forests, wood ducks use the flooded timber as the creek rises, and predators lurk in the meadow just as I have since my middle school days. I shot my first deer here.

A short hike and we were seated in our two person tree stand drenched with sweat.  Oliver, less than thrilled by the sweltering 99% humidity, was nevertheless excited to be shooting at something besides a paper target.

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Our stand is in the shadows under the pine limb in top right.   This pictures was from a day or so before we arrived, regardless of the erroneous date.

 

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The view from our stand. The pigs in the above picture were just to the right of the barrel of my gun.

In less than ten minutes, pigs announced their presence with snarls and shrieks from the forest behind.  The first time you hear pigs doing their thing in the wild is quite an experience, which was not lost on my little man.  IMG_1139.JPG

At times it sounded like the herd was just behind us, and at others they seemed to drift further away.  We could hear them criss-cross the small spring fed creek that runs parallel to the pasture just 15 yards behind us. This went on for about half an hour.

Suddenly, a large lone boar shows itself to our right.  Black as coal, its gate was hurried.   I look to see if Oliver was taking aim, but he’s staring at me, mouth agape and pointing.

I nod to him to hurry up and shoot. He raises his gun, pulls the trigger…click.  Forgot to take the safety off.

Now the boar is about to escape behind a tree island so I fire quickly and he spins and drops.  He then stands up, growls and runs a half circle, as Oliver attempts to draw a bead.  The boar abruptly sits, and falls over.  He moves as if to rise again, and I tell Oliver:

“Choot’em!” in my best Swamp People impression.  He does and the porker quits moving.

About three minutes later, the pig hasn’t moved.  We decide to go check on him, and Oliver scurries down the ladder.  Leaving his gun with me, he doesn’t wait and gets halfway to the pig when I call out to him:

“Wait, he might not be dead.”

As if on cue, the sounder of pigs behind us let out another chorus of screams.  Oliver flies back to the ladder and was half way up and almost in my lap in no time.   We both had a good laugh recalling Steven Rinella’s recent bull moose episode.  (Which, by the way,  is one of the best moments I’ve seen in hunting television.) We waited another five minutes to see if they too were on their way to us, but I decided I had enough to clean.   We eased down and looked at our pile of pork.

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As excited as he was, Oliver did chastise me for shooting first.  Still, when I explained how he “finished” him, all was right with the world.  As a sign of the changing of the times, the first thing he asked after a few pictures was for my phone to text Mom the news.  I told him to call her instead and he told her and his 2 year old brother of our heroic encounter.  This is our second tag team effort, but O admitted he wants a solo kill soon.  This fall is going to be epic.

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We loaded  the pig into the truck and returned to my parents.

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As we rolled up to the house, my middle son who elected to forego hunting and play on the slip and slide with his grandmother, met us at the driveway and was equally excited to see the pig.  I think it’s important to be realistic with your kids and the outdoors.  Of course, I want my 5 year old to come hunting with me every time and become as entranced by outdoor manly pursuits as I am.  But the truth is, he had more fun acting silly with his aunt and grandmother than he would have been sweating and swatting mosquitoes with his brother and I.

After putting on some gloves, both boys pitched in and helped me breakdown the carcass.  I used the gutless method for the first time and though I didn’t do it quite right, I can see the method has potential.  Keegan was as excited about helping to clean the pig as Oliver was to shoot it.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have predicted he’d be into it so much.  That’s the magic of fatherhood, special moments are often spontaneous and unexpected.

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My oldest is a little more hesitant about getting messy. My 5 year old has no such qualms.

Alive at a quarter till 8 and cooling in the ice chest by 10, I found butchering the pig in upper 90 degree temperatures not as unpleasant as I had expected.

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Saturday morning I slept in.  We shot bows, did some scouting and the boys rode horses with their aunt.  The flood gates opened around 5:30 and without rain gear, we chose not to hunt.

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I stumbled upon this dude while scouting. I couldn’t find its head under the grass. Any idea what kind of snake this is?

 

They boys found time to do some trick riding with their aunt.

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We estimated the pig to be about 160-180 pounds, my biggest to date.  Packaged and frozen, I brought home about 85 pounds of meat including the bones.  I hope to shoot many more, and all signs at the farm point to being a great deer and pig year.  Hunting season is upon us my friends.  Rejoice!

Babies, Birdnests, and the Beach or Raising Kids To Love Fish Slime

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Beaches and babies have been a big part of the last 5 years of my life. Today was fairly representative: sand castles and sand fights, trophy birdnests on the fishing reels, and an ice chest full of panfish–growing up, goofing off, and making memories. 20140308-205334.jpg

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Fiesty Atlantic Spadefish

 

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Can I touch it?

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Boys and slimy fish are well suited.  If you have access to either, I suggest you combine them and see for yourself.

Kayaking, Kids, and the Cure for Lonely Fishing

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It was time.  Plans were made, research was done.  Reaching out to my favorite kayak forum, I procured a pair of kayaks for the rest of my clan.  An Ocean Kayak Drifter for the oldest and Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem for the rest. Used, but well cared for. The marsh can be a lonely place, specially when you have a 2, 4 and 7 year old back home playing while you are looking for redfish.  In fact, it can drive a man to quit fishing.  But now I can see an end to the lonely times spent on the water, and we couldn’t wait for my call weekend to end to try them out.  Below is the prelude to this year’s adventures.  Come on warm weather!

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Entry went fine

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Handles well.

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Little brother is intrigued–and he too wants to float.

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Looking good, but I wonder if the kayaks are stable enough for them?

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Mom and baby jump into the fray

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Toddler wants to paddle

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Rumors of a pirate activity

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A hostile boarding, what could possibly go wrong?

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Oliver’s Accidental Duck Hunt

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You hear about quality time, but I’m a big believer in quantity time.  Some of my best times both as a child and a parent occurred as pure luck. The more time you spend together, the more likely it will suddenly turn out great.  This was one of those times.

For my little guys, action is the name of the game when it comes to the outdoors. Duck hunting is a fabulous way to break them into the hunting and with duck season around the corner,  I hope you’ll take some little guys or gals out hunting with you–though it may not seem easy or even practical.

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Some hunts lend themselves particularly well with bringing munchkins.  A dove hunt is simple:  make sure there is plenty of shade, hydration and their BB guns.  Toss in some OFF, sun tan lotion, and long pants and you will be good to go. Even deer hunting, when done out of a spacious box blind shielded from the elements is a good way to hunt with kids.

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My guys love playing with the future food. I encourage it–makes them a little more manly.

But duck hunting takes a little more effort. Water, cold, nasty weather, mud–mother nature doesn’t pull any punches during duck season. Throw in waking up way before the posterior end of dawn, and its easy to see why many Dads just choose to let their kids sleep during Daffy Season.

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Forgetting his gloves cut this hunt short. He was a trooper though.

So last year when my friend John invited me to Corpus to duck hunt I originally planned on coming alone for the hunt.  However, my wife developed a serious case of house-itosis, so she and the boys came along since I was getting a hotel room anyway.  We drove down and that night I left and met up with John for an evening hunt.

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Though he hadn’t mentioned them, John brought his oldest daughter and son.  I didn’t mind at all.   I hadn’t asked if this was a kids hunting trip–being the guest and all–and I felt rotten for not packing Oliver’s hunting gear.  We hunted that night, (more of a scouting trip since no ducks flew over) and I returned to get Oliver as outfitted as I could.

Thankfully, Corpus Christi is not cold.   That night we pieced together the warmest stuff he had:  A fleece sweatshirt on top of his favorite white Longhorn Jersey, a pair of sweat pants under jeans and some blue crocs.   Not exactly what you’ll find on the pages of a Cabela’s catalog.   Turns out you can kill a few ducks without camo.

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Normally, you’d wear a little more camo. However, three limits says its not always needed!

Some 70% of the redhead population winters in the Laguna Madre, and we had several land among our three dozen decoys before legal shooting time.  Oliver was sleepy and Jack was sipping some hot chocolate when John said,

“Take’m!”

PRetty redhead

He fired, and I pulled the trigger but forgot to take the safety off.  I was using a new Stoeger double barrel  I’d picked up to be my devoted duck gun and wasn’t as used to it as my trusty Remington 1100.  I flicked off the safety and scared a straggling duck that was probably out of range.  John, on the other hand, took his limit of red heads in one pass and I came up with nothing. After those were gathered and the blind had grown silent Oliver asked,

“Daddy why did you miss so bad?”  The amount of disdain generated in that 6 year old’s voice was impressive.  I chuckled and assured him I was in fact trying.

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Oliver was not impressed

Then, cutting through the wind like squadron of Blue Angels, a flock of bluebills bombed us from behind and I was able to redeem myself in my eldest son’s eyes with a double of my own.

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Just about done…

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Three buffleheads

Action was steady and within an hour we had our limits.  Oliver’s first duck hunt wasn’t well planned on my part, but he loved it.   I didn’t plan on us having one of those great father-son experiences, but it happened. Strangely, every other duck hunt last season included some sort of foul up.  Getting a bit lost on the public land, forgetting gloves, or being kept awayke by a group of rowdies as told here in my inaugural post:  http://wp.me/p3bCKM-d

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Beards weren’t necessary for these duck killers.

Despite some of our misfortunes, I look forward to spending more time with my boys duck hunting this year.  Who took you duck hunting first?  Do you have any advice about bringing little ones along?

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A Fate Worse than Legos

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Stepping on legos and army men don’t bother me like they once did.

A while back my folks got my oldest son a tackle box for Christmas, stocked with lures, and he was thrilled.

Fast forward a few weeks. I had barely woken up, shuffling to the kitchen to brew a cup of Joe when I stepped on something. We step on a lot of things in this house of three boys under 7. This time was different. I looked down and discovered a miniature jerk bait firmly embedded in my foot. Both treble hooks buried to the hilt. One in the thick sole of my foot and the other in the thin skin just above the sole.

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None of the “tricks” to remove hooks work on tiny trebles.

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My wife had to perform surgery at the dinner table. She did admirably.

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So do you have any hook removal tricks?

Now Offering Fully Guided South Texas Jungle Fowl Hunts

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I awoke with a start.  The sounds emanating from my backyard were an avian version of fingernails on chalkboard.  It was 4:18 in the morning my head hurt from lack of sleep and too much salt the night before.  Disturbed from a blissful dream, I cursed the animals who had ruined my slumber.

Daylight found me covered in sweat and mosquito spray.  The bugs were crawling through the leaves shielding my face from patch of barren ground where my preseason scouting suggested our quarry would appear.    I put my binoculars away, and told my shooter to make sure he was drinking plenty of water, as the soft clucks and  of the free range flock announced there looming presence.  True, it was my fault they were roaming free in the jungle behind my house.   Apparently when you buy baby chicks in orders less than 25, they add baby cockerels to the order for warmth.  Hard to imagine anything cold on this swealtering day in June.  Earlier in the week, attempts at netting and luring into a cage with feed had failed.  Each morning since, starting just after 4 am, the incessant crowing of these foul fowl would wake me, my 20 month old, and my wife.  When you have a baby, your sleep is valuable.

Armed with his  powerful and, unlike the roosters, silent pellet gun, Oliver soon made short work of the jungle fowl.  Calling out distances and windage to him:

“6 yards, no wind”

Thump.

“10 yards, top of fence”

Thump.  Whap, whap, whap, whap.

“5 yards, dont shoot the hen behind it.”

Thump.  Bucawk!  Bucawk! Thump. Thump.

“15 yards, by mama’s lavender bed.”

Thump.

When the last of the wings quit flapping and legs quit kicking, Oliver had all four roosters down.  It was too hot to pluck them, so we skinned, gutted, and froze them.

As we were taking pictures, a long, angry crow rained down at us from the top of the garage.  But before we could take aim, the forgotten rooster flew off into the sun—and straight into my nightmares.

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Photo Essay: Surf Fishing with my boys

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We hit the beach Tuesday to get some fresh fish.  Once again, the gulf produced.

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Getting Rigged

The set up is simple.  PVC pipes hold the rods, pyramid weights keep the bait down, and a circle hook with fresh dead shrimp as bait.

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The fish were really biting.   I was going to have four rods out, but it became apparent I could only work two at a time. I gave Keegan his rod and he was soon shouting “Fish On!”

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You can see the simple rig.

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As I was getting Keegan rebaited and casted out, Oliver gets hooked up.

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I repeated the process ad nausea and we had a couple doubles.  DSC_0200

The little guy just played in the sand and collected a pile of shells.  Oh, and a ball.

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Bringing the dog is always fun, but you better have a plan for the sand she’s going to bring home with you.

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Do not rinse in the tub, sand in the drain is a bad thing.

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We came home with some nice eating size whiting and so the cleaning lessons began.

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Of course, you have to know how to pose with a fish to make it look huge.

We eat these guys grilled whole so all that is needed is a good scaling and gutting.  Oliver is plenty old enough to scale a fish and can gut with supervision.  Keegan’s a champion caliber scaler as well.

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Who took you fishing first and what did you catch?  Do you have any tips for getting kids into fishing?

Guest Recipe: Oliver’s Super Rich, Paleo, Organic, Raw, and Creamy Mud Muffins

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Completely organic, Paleo and gluten free, this recipe is great for times your dad is on the go and is not paying attention to what he is eating.  It helps for the lighting to be a little dim, and for him to be in a hurry.  If you have someone you love who tends to eat ALL the brownies, then this recipe just might work for you.

Serves 1

Prep Time:  About 20 minutes

Clean Up Time:  None, let mom.

Ingredients:

  1. Muffin Tin
  2. Black clay from the garden
  3. small rocks as toppings, smooth preferred
  4. Twigs to taste
  5. Sand sprinkles

Put the dirt and clay into the muffin tin and set on the kitchen counter.  Dim the lights.  Wait approximately half an hour until your Dad comes home and immediately hit him with a thousand questions.  Then lead mom to him for her extensive To-Do list as well.  During her barrage of questions, pleas, exaggerated descriptions our your supposed whiny behavior and how the woman at the counter at HEB looked at her funny, do not let her mention you made mud muffins.  Have your Dad walk through kitchen several times, until he notices the dish.  Laugh discreetly as he takes a bite.  If he appears the least bit angry, be sure to remind him they were gluten free–then run like the dickens.

Field Trip: 5 Things to do in New Orleans with your Family

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If you’ve never been to New Orleans–or only been as part of a bachelor/bachelorette party, or during Mardi Gras in a drunken haze of an ill-remembered reverie–you may not think it’s a family destination.  And that’s too bad.  New Orleans has incredible food, culture, and things to do with your family. Here’s one day we had recently.

1.  Stay Outside of New Orleans

Easter weekend, my family (wife and three sons ages 6,4, and 18 months) made the 6 hour drive from our house to New Orleans.  Because it was spur of the moment, we weren’t able to land a room in the Garden District or the French Quarter for the price we wanted.  Typically you are looking at $125+ a night in these areas and paying for parking, around $25 a day.  Because we decided at the last minute, prices were much more.

Normally, I’d be bummed about staying outside of the Quarter or Garden District.  However, we discovered the LaQuinta in Kenner has a bar and grill run by http://messinascatering.com/.  The red beans and rice are amazing, as is the bread pudding.  When we were about 20 minutes out, we called and they had the food waiting for us.  Crawfish Etoufee, poboys, etc. This is indicative of the magic about the New Orleans area.  Tremendous food and culture just kind of appear out of nowhere.

 2.  Visit the French Quarter

So after grabbing a couple sacks of Beignets and Café Au Lait at the Café Dumonde on Veterans, http://cafedumonde.com/locations, we headed into town.  If you stay in Quarter and are an early riser, by all means go get your beignets at the original location.  But each morning we hit Jackson Square the line was at least 200 feet long by 9:30.  And I don’t know about you, but wrangling three kids in line for 45 minutes is not good times.

I always like visiting the French Quarter as early as possible in my New Orleans trips.  Something about the wet streets, pungent odors of last night’s debauchery and funky Spanish architecture just puts me in a relaxed state of mind. It does the same to my kids.  So we drank our Au Laits and walked around the Quarter.  The sidewalks and streets are easy to push a stroller and there are a ton of neat shops and historical markers to stop and see.

On the square proper, artists display their goods, street performers tie balloons in funny shapes,  pick pockets and con artists try to make an easy buck. Never make a bet with someone who approaches you.   E.g. “I bet you five bucks I know where you got your shoes.”  The correct answers is “On your feet.”  Don’t ask how I know.

Protip:  My strategy for con artists and hustlers is simple:  offer to sell them a magazine subscription and ask for a cigarette.  They will practically run from you.

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Here’s where we walked in the Quarter

3.  Visit Audobon Park

After lunch at Camellia Grill, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camellia_Grill, the kids are antsy and we head over to Audubon Park and the Zoo.   This zoo rocks, in part because they have animals escape at various times (though sadly, not intentionally).  We’d just walked through the gates and were soon hustled into the gift shop.  The threat level was announced as “Yellow” which after some questions I discovered meant,  some animal not as nice as a bunny rabbit (ruling out an Easter bunny sighting) and not as mean as a tiger.  Somewhere in between.    Nonetheless, I felt it necessary to get the scoop from a pro regarding our safety.

Minutes turned to half-hours.  I for one, began to feel intimidated and a wee bit anxious.  Toys and gifts were being spread out all over the floors.  I could barely walk.  While the zoo keepers moved us into the gift shop for our safety, no one was looking out for the gift shop’s safety.  Mad, sugar crazed toddlers were running rampant.  Mothers were getting snippy, and I got several stern looks–from not just my wife.  I put things back down.  Thoughts of abandoning it all entered my mind, and some of others’.

Luckily, everything turned out OK.

4.  Take in a Cemetery.  

Don’t let the guide books fool you.  Some cemeteries aren’t safe.  One guide we talked to said,  “Sure the cemetery is safe, but you can’t park anywhere safely nearby.”  So I’d definitely recommend  Lafayette No. 1.   Its the oldest city operated cemetery in town and is in the Garden District which is both gorgeous and safe.  A particularly touching tomb is dedicated to the Home For Destitute Orphan Boys, where a collection of small toys graces the front in lieu of flowers.  The last child buried there died in 1849.

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Notice it’s daylight–amp up the fun with a trip in the dark!

5.  Play in the sand, have a drink, and experience real Louisiana seafood. 

When I’m in Louisiana, I’m soaking up culture. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place than http://middendorfsrestaurant.com/.  Middendorf’s is specifically great  because it’s just out of the way enough for your average tourist to frequent.  So the people you run into are genuine.   It has a big sand beach with fences and a small fountain the kids can play in.  Bring a change of clothes or two.   The bar is accessible from the play area, allowing you to enjoy a cold beverage while letting the kids play in the sand. The fences are nice because they keeps the little guys from escaping. The food is incredible and I particularly recommend the broiled Italian oysters and thin fried catfish.  Susan likes the broiled stuffed shrimp.

Broiled Stuffed shrimp

Broiled Stuffed Shrimp

 

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Good times had by all

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Relaxed in the Sandbox

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Kung Fu is Allowed on the Deck


So these are some things we’ve done in one day in the Big Easy.  If you haven’t been to New Orleans, don’t let having a family stop you.  What is your favorite thing to do in the Crescent City?  Do you have any protips?

Al sip

Bloody Marys aren’t for Toddlers

Photo Essay: Playing with dead things

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One cool thing about living on the GulfCoast, or any coast for that matter, is what you find when doing other things.  Lately, we’ve been inundated with a several dead things washing up.

 

Of course we then play with them.

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Our favorite so far has been a shark tooth my son found.  All evidence points to it being a Great White.  The tooth is about 5-10 times the size of the state record hammerhead.

Shark Tooth

 

Though not native to the Gulf, its not unheard of to find them here.  This winter we also found an alligator and a porpoise.

Flipper                                                                           Alligator

If you find yourself wanting to play with dead things washed up on the beach, don’t let your son fall in the entrails after the necropsy.  And don’t take a picture as he falls…

Dont fall in!