Mardi Gras in New Orleans

It is finally time for the main event. We were so fortunate to get a wonderful house sit in the heart of New Orleans for Mardi Gras! Festivities in New Orleans last for about a month, allowing us plenty of chances to catch the parades and enjoy the excitement of the city.

About Mardi Gras

The lead up to Mardi Gras season actually begins closer to Christmas. According to tradition, 12 days after Jesus’s birth on Christmas, the three kings came to visit him bearing gifts. This day is known as Three Kings Day, the 12th Day of Christmas, or Epiphany. This day marks the first day of the Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations. The last day is known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday (translated into French as Mardi Gras). Traditionally, Christians would feast during this month of celebrations and enjoy the pleasures of food before the lent season began on Ash Wednesday (six weeks before Easter).

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Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

When in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, the festivities begin about two weeks before Fat Tuesday, with at least one parade scheduled every day. The parades are coordinated and run by social clubs called Krewes. Parade float riders wear masks (it is actually illegal to take them off!) and throw various items to the crowd. The colors of the holiday (yellow, green, and purple) can be seen everywhere throughout the city.

We joined the rest of the 10 million-plus visitors to New Orleans during the peak time, about five days before Fat Tuesday. The first of the super-krewe parades start on Saturday and Sunday, Lundi Gras celebrations on Monday, and the massive amount of parades and parties on Mardi Gras day.

Endymion Parade

We attended one of the most famous of New Orlean’s Mardi Gras’ parades run by the Krewe of Endymion. Rolling their first parade in 1967, the Endymion parade is now one of only three super-krewes and is the largest parade in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Each year they have a theme and celebrity participants. This year’s theme was Wonder Tales of Science Fiction. The celebrity participants included Flo-Rida, Lionel Richie, and Chicago.

Endymion Parade - New Orleans for Mardi Gras

Like nearly every Mardi Gras parade, the Endymion floats throw beads to the crowd. Over the years, the locals and crowds have grown tired of collecting the cheap plastic beads, so many of the “throws” are now more elaborate. There are limited edition beads, plush toys, glow sticks, and more. The motto of the Krewe of Endymion is “Throw Until It Hurts”. They absolutely lived up to that. Many of the crowd standing around us brought large bags to carry all of their collected throws. I wore all of mine and could hardly carry the weight of them by the end of the night.

New Orleans for Mardi Gras - The Places We Live

Mardi Gras at the French Quarter

We took a trip to the French Quarter for Lundi Gras. Less than half a square mile in area, it is the oldest section of the city. We walked through an excellent hand-made mask market, the French market (which seemed more like a typical American flea market), and explored several quirky shops.

Mardi Gras Masks - The Places We Live

Bourbon Street is located in the heart of the French Quarter and is one of the most infamous streets in the city. Even at 2:00 in the afternoon, the streets were packed with people. Above, there were even more people on decks throwing beads to passerbys. We saw several people flash their breasts in exchange for beads. I was very thankful I did not have to do that during the parade; my arms would have been awfully tired!

Bourbon Street, New Orleans for Mardi Gras

Ash Wednesday

The Mardi Gras holiday season ends promptly at midnight on Fat Tuesday. Mounted police march through Bourbon Street and announce the end of Mardi Gras and the beginning of Lent. I was up early on Wednesday to find Twitter packed with comments from tourists complaining they were kicked out of the streets at midnight. These posts were followed up by harsh criticisms from locals reminding the tourists of the local traditions. Out on the streets of New Orleans on Ash Wednesday, people were much more reserved than before.

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Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

As an outsider from both the city and the religion, it was interesting to see the transition from the Mardi Gras holiday of gluttony and revelry, to the penitence and solemnity of the Lenten season. It perfectly reflected my impressions of New Orleans. To me, it was a city of honest character. No matter how strange the actions of people seemed at first glance, I got the feeling that each action had purpose and meaning. Further, it seemed a city of people who were living their lives exactly the way they intended to.

In conclusion, I’m so glad we got the opportunity to visit this amazing city, especially during that special time. New Orleans has so much history and character even on an average day. To experience what makes New Orleans unique in the throes of one of the most famous American celebrations was unreal. It was a trip we will never forget.


Jen’s Christmas List

After spending the last year living out of our backpacks, we have a pretty good idea of what we need and what we don’t. If you have a nomad, vanlifer, or frequent traveler in your life, this list may come in handy for you. If you have some extra cash floating around and feel like buying me a gift, these are the exact things I would like. ♥

Gift Cards

I know. I know. Gift cards are a boring gift to give, but with exactly 50 liters of space in my backpack, gift cards are truly the ideal space saver. And if we are already on the subject of convenience and simplicity, the only gift cards I want are for Amazon.

If your traveling buddy is far away, an e-gift card is great and has so far worked in every country that I have tried to use one in. However, if you are able to give a physical gift card, spruce that thing up with adorable packaging. My favorite is the Amazon Shipping Box. For no extra cost, this Amazon gift card comes in an adorable box shaped like a shipping box and has a magnetic lid. It is so cute! There are plenty of the other styles available, so be sure to check out the selection and enjoy the free added bling to your gifts.

Memberships

“But Jen, I want to give my traveling friend a gift that will make them continue thinking about me for months after the holiday.” No worries! I have the perfect idea for you. It is the gift that keeps on giving: Memberships!

  • Netflix – A $50 gift card will pay for at least three months of unlimited viewing.
  • Google Play – A $50 gift card will pay for 3-5 months of unlimited music.
  • Audible – A $50 gift card will pay for at least three months of audio books.
  • Kindle Unlimited – A $50 gift card will pay for at least five months of unlimited reading.

Gadgets

We could not live the way we do if it wasn’t for our gadgets. They are our prized possessions and an integral part of our daily lives.

My goal over the last year was to focus on improving my photography and editing. I really enjoyed working on it and am now ready for my first “real” camera. The camera I have in mind is the Canon EOS Rebel. It is suggested as being a great starter camera, but still has twice the clarity of my phone.

 

The thing I get told the most is, “Jen, you should make more videos!” My heart just bursts every time I hear that; they’re time consuming and I always feel silly, so it makes me happy to receive positive feedback. However, making videos is no easy task, especially when I lack the proper equipment. I love my GoPro Hero5, but good video requires some accessories. So, if you want more videos, please consider buying your traveling friends (or me) a GoPro Karma Grip.

Besides for these two items, I am pretty well stacked for gadgets. If you are shopping for a friend that isn’t me, but may be like me, I suggest picking up some good power converters, a portable battery charger, and a heavy-duty phone case.

Clothes and Accessories

For the most part, my clothes need to be carefully chosen to make sure they fit the capsules I already have in place, so receiving clothes as a gift is a tricky business. However, I do find that I am always in need of basics like socks, underwear, and hair ties. Otherwise, my main issue in the clothing/accessory department is utility. I need more pockets!

I know it may sound crazy, but I am in desperate need of a fashion fanny. Things start getting a little too overwhelming when I have both my binoculars and my purse around my neck while walking up a hill. I would love a hands-free carrier with a bit of flair. I’m going to bring fanny packs back into style. You’ll see.

Keeping in the theme of fashion accessories, I have found that I could use a laptop case. Josh and I often make our way down to a local brewery or Starbucks with our computers in order to use the free Wifi, but to do so Josh ends up throwing my computer in with the rest of the contents of his backpack. It just seems like too much stuff floating around. I would love my own bag specifically made for keeping my computer safe.

We picked up a microfiber towel from our host in Chengdu, China and it was a life saver! I used it for the rest of the year for all of my toweling needs. It is well over a quarter the size of Josh’s towel and drys a million times faster. I will never travel without a microfiber towel again! The one we have is green. I would like to pass that one on to Josh and get a new pretty pink one for myself.

Wrap Up

The best part of this adventure has been our ability to spend more time with our family and friends. I can not express enough how much it has meant to us to get reconnected or better connected with all of the people we love and have neglected over the years due to “life happening”. Traveling can be lonely at times. Simply spending some quality time with your traveling friend is more than sufficient when it comes to holiday gift giving.

Honestly, the best gift I could receive from any of you, my lovely readers, is your continued support, shares, likes, and comments. I am only successful if I have fans reading my work. Support from my readers, family, and friends is what keeps us going.

P.S. If anyone is truly sending me Christmas gifts (OMG, Thank you!), please send them to Tammy’s house.


 

Songkran – Thai New Year in Hua Hin

We started our international journey with a flight out of Boise on New Year’s Eve. Since then, we have celebrated Chinese New Year in Chengdu, Persian New Year in Malaysia, and now Songkran, Thailand’s New Year, in Hua Hin. I hate to play favorites, but Songkran in Hua Hin has been the best by far!

Songkran was the official Thai New Year holiday until 1888. Now, New Year is celebrated on January 1st, but Songkran is still celebrated as a traditional holiday on the 13th of April each year. Like holidays all over the world, Songkran has varied traditions (my friend’s experience with Songkran in Chiang Mai was a tiny bit different). Some common themes, however, are visiting temples, giving offerings to the Buddhist monks, and using water to purify and wash away sins.

Finding a Hide-Away for Lunch

I was embarrassingly under-prepared for this holiday. We had a basic idea of what sort of things would be happening. Many of the stores were going to be closed, there would be drunk partiers in the street, and people were going to be throwing water from unknown sources at us. I read that at one of the biggest celebrations in Chiang Mai, the water that is being thrown is pulled directly from the canal. The water in our nearby canal is mostly garbage, so we were a bit nervous about participating in the festivities.

However, we definitely were going to participate in this holiday, but exactly how much was up in the air. We dressed in some quick-dry clothing, put on sunglasses to protect our eyes from the scorching sun and potentially polluted water, and drove into town to go to lunch. The plan was to find a place to eat, hide away inside, and watch everyone have their dangerous fun from a safe and dry distance. (Are we really getting that old and boring?!)

The moment we turned out of our gated community, we knew we weren’t going to avoid getting wet. Our little local side street in Hua Hin was spotted with parties and puddles, and lined up with friendly locals ready to blast anyone who happened to be passing by.

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And We’re In

The reason for soaking someone during Songkran is to bless and purify them. With that first splash of water, all of our worries and cares were washed away. The people of Hua Hin were having the time of the their lives. Town was filled with music, laughing, and dancing everywhere. There was no way we were going to sit this one out. We parked the motorbike and headed on foot to the nearest party.

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We ended up at Lazy Daze Bar. A couple of days earlier, we had eaten dinner here and noticed that they had a sign advertising free food for the holiday. It was on the main drag (such as it is), had good music… Who am I kidding? The free food is what brought us in. I like food! Sue me!

Songkran with our new friends

I was a little hesitant at first. It looked like everyone at the bar knew each other and we were about to crash a private party, but the moment we walked in, we felt like a member of the family. We were greeted and blessed by nearly everyone there. The people were all so kind and accommodating, it took us a while to figure out who was hosting the party and who was just being friendly. We were given chairs and guided to the food, while one of the locals introduced us to the regular crowd and explained the holiday customs. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but we eventually settled in and felt right at home.

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Also, let me just say that this wasn’t “free food” kind of free food. You know, the cheap, mass produced stuff that gets laid out because people feel obligated to bring something.  No, this was a delicious spread of home-cooked Thai curry, Japanese curry, American chili, and rices. It took everything in my power not to go back for thirds… alright so maybe I did, but I didn’t go back for fourths!

Joining in the Fun of Songkran in Hua Hin

We spent a lot of our time watching and learning before stepping out onto the street to participate. That isn’t to say we didn’t still get wet. Blessing people indoors is also a thing.

I eventually worked my way outside, was handed a bucket, and experimented first by splashing the kids. Anyone who has ever been in a water fight before knows that it only takes one little splash to start an all-out war. Within seconds we were all soaked, laughing, and ganging up on passers-by.

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Like most of the groups on the block, we collected water from large barrels that were set out near the street. The barrels were filled with hose water and often had large ice cubes inside to keep it cool. We used small buckets or squirt guns to collect our ammo out of the barrel.

The majority of the water fight was among ourselves, but we also soaked most of the people who passed by. Our favorite passers were the ones who drove by in trucks. It looked common for families to drive by in trucks filled with buckets of water.

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Josh and I were happy to see that anyone who drove by with their hand up, their phone visible, or bags of groceries were let go without getting splashed. Even better, many of the motorbikes were stopped before we splashed them. Someone would hold up their hand for the passer to stop. Once stopped, they would be wiped on each cheek with a white paste by a single person, then soaked by everyone else.

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Heading Home

We were still excited as we walked back to the motorbike to ride home. We didn’t want to leave, but we were getting tired and the dogs hadn’t been prepared to be alone much longer.

As we drove back through the street parties, our new friends recognized us and gave us a good soaking. The next group did the same, and the next. We drove home feeling wet, cool, and with a feeling of happiness. We smiled and laughed the whole drive home.

Best. Day. Ever!


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Songkran in Hua Hin, Thailand - The Places We Live Songkran in Hua Hin, Thailand - The Places We Live Songkran in Hua Hin, Thailand - The Places We Live


 

It’s My Birthday!

Today is my American timezone birthday (it was yesterday for me over here in the future). I’m 33 today and feeling great!

Today is my American timezone birthday (it was yesterday for me over here in the future). I’m 33 today and feeling great!

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We started the day with our first American food since we’ve been here and, even more important, my first cup of coffee for 2018! I didn’t think I was an addict, but I am. I NEEDED that coffee.

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For my present, I requested a book that helps teach kids how to read. It is full of 1-2 page children’s stories. I finished one story yesterday which was a pretty blatant copyright infringement of Winnie the Pooh. It was a tale of Little Bear who took advantage of Mr. Rabbit’s hospitality by eating way too many steamed buns. When Little Bear stormed off at the lack of further food, he got stuck in the door frame. Mr. Rabbit and his friend Robin tried to pull Little Bear out, but he was stuck. After a full week of Little Bear not eating or drinking any tea, Mr. Rabbit and his friends were able to work together and pull Little Bear out of the doorway. I feel like the book will greatly improve my vocabulary… and offer up a few giggles.

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After dinner, Josh and I celebrated with a “chocolate cake” and card games. The cake was, of course, lacking any taste of chocolate or sugar. It is crazy that Chinese food is so deliciously packed with flavor, but when it comes to baked goods, most are very bland. I still enjoyed it though and had a wonderful night. Happy birthday to me!!

White Christmas

This was my first holiday back home since Christmas of 2004.

I’m super behind in my blogging (I have about five drafts half-written), but I don’t want to get bogged down by trying to post in order. Here is what happened for Christmas… you know… yesterday.

This was my first holiday back home since Christmas of 2004. We’ve heard horror stories about family holidays and have built some fun traditions of our own, so we were a little bit nervous diving in head-first. Buying gifts on our limited budget was a bit stressful, especially as it came right before our trip, but in the end, all of the chaos and stress was worth every second.

Half-way into the month, my sister came up with her husband and three kids from Nevada. We enjoyed a couple of meals, ice skating at The Village in Meridian, and some present-opening before she had to make the trip back home before Christmas.

Throughout the month, our schedules were jam-packed with dinner and lunch dates. We met with high school friends, cousins, aunts, nieces and nephews, and Grandma. It was so nice to finally have the time to catch up with everyone. We always feel like our time in Boise is way too short to visit with everyone, so we made sure to take advantage of our extended visit.

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On Christmas Eve, Tammy took us a out for an amazing brunch at 13th Street Grill. It snowed for most of the day and night, ensuring a white Christmas. For dinner, we all went over to Dad and Martina’s house. We sat around a long table and enjoyed some delicious prime rib along with the homemade horseradish sauce I always look forward to when I come to visit.

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We woke up a little earlier than usual on Christmas day, had some cookies and coffee for breakfast, then broke into the presents. Mom joined us on Skype and watched me win $15 on the scratch tickets from my stocking. Tammy heard I was a present-shaker, so she trick-wrapped all of the presents using multiple boxes and decoy items. It made each gift a little more exciting to open.

We all went over to Dad and Martina’s for Christmas supper. It was a full house with both my step-siblings and their families. We had various sausages and potato salads for dinner. I tried a little piece of each and decided the chicken sausage was my favorite.

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After supper, we played games and opened presents. Josh and I had a lot of fun watching the chaos of five kids collecting and opening their gifts. It was a storm of wrapping paper, amazon boxes, and tissue paper. There was some light chatter, but the bulk of the noise came from the seemingly random shouts of “Thank you, Oma and Opa!” from every corner of the room and the occasional, “Does anyone see the baby?”

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I found her!

It was a wonderful Christmas. We got all the perfect gifts (nothing bigger than 3 inches square) and had an amazing time with our families. This is the perfect send-off before we head out for our next big adventure, and something to look forward to when we come home next year.

Happy Thanksmas Holiday

In my family, holidays are celebrated when it is convenient, not when the calendar says it’s time. Mom continued that tradition this week by announcing yesterday as Thanksmas (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Happy Thanksmas!!!

In my family, holidays are celebrated when it is convenient, not when the calendar says it’s time. Mom continued that tradition this week by announcing yesterday as Thanksmas (Thanksgiving and Christmas). So Happy Thanksmas!!!

On Monday, we put up the tree. The tree was decorated in a cartoon theme to match Mom’s ‘toon-style decor. We turned on the Christmas music and went all out. Later that night, we left the house and felt instant embarrassment at the sight of our beautiful tree through the window… in early November… in 80 degree weather.

Tuesday was spent wrapping up work projects so that we could take the next couple days off to celebrate. Wednesday was meal planning and grocery shopping. Then Thursday was the big day.

We woke up early, wished each other a Merry Thanksmas, put on our holiday best, and celebrated the day. We played games, watched a movie, did some yoga, took a walk, and really just took the day to relax.

Attendance: Mom, Roommate S, Grandma B and Woodstock (the elderly neighbor and her dog who kept randomly barging in), Josh, and myself.

Menu: Cornish game hens, cornbread stuffing (my fav!), candied yams, cranberry jelly, mashed potatoes, corn, olives, deviled eggs, dinner rolls, mud pie, and pumpkin pie.

All in all it was a great holiday celebration! We had fun making the house look great, eating delicious Thanksgiving favorites, and passing out in front of the TV.