Thursday, December 13, 2012

A touch of ice and snow

             Deep South residents feel pretty darn lucky this time of year. We’re not scraping ice off the windshield nor shoveling snow up to our knees. We may have to cover the plants once and a while when a hard freeze arrives and we usually complain about it so northerners can have a good laugh.
Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation
            But even with our mild winters and the ability to walk around barefoot in the middle of December (albeit with frosty toes) we could use a little winter wonderland. That’s why temporary ice skating rinks and the occasional snow mound appear, offering kids a chance to see how the other half live.
            In Houston, for instance, folks flock to Discovery Green for outdoor ice skating on Kinder Lake. Discovery Green is the city’s new central park, located downtown and offering a wide variety of fun. They freeze up the “lake” every year to offer ice skating from Nov. 17 to Jan. 27, 2013. Admission is $12 and includes skate rental and tax, but limited to 1 1/2 hour sessions. A portion of the tickets sale helps support the park’s year-round programming.
            The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation outside of Atlanta features all kinds of holiday packages for all ages, including ice skating at the AAA Five Diamond hotel. The 5,000-square-foot rink is open daily with two sessions until Feb. 24 in the lodge’s Pavilion. Skating is complimentary for resort guests; non-resort guests pay $30 for children 12 and under and $40 for adults, including skate rentals, if needed.
            The Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum turns a section of its popular attraction into Santa’s Christmas Village, and that includes holiday events, “the world’s largest snow globe” and an ice skating rink! Cost to skate is $10 and open Thursdays through Sundays during December.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cory Bahr's Restaurant Cotton one of many fun things to do in Monroe, West Monroe

            UL-Lafayette takes on UL-Monroe on Saturday at Warhawk Field, and yes, I'm focusing on football for this blog because I'm a Ragin' Cajuns fan and UL-Monroe is smoking hot this season and the team to beat. So for those traveling to North Louisiana for the game on Saturday, Nov. 3 (and everyone else, of course), there are plenty of fun things to do in the twins cities of Monroe and West Monroe. Just don’t call one the other, locals don’t like it.
             For starters, Chef Cory Bahr has transformed a historic cotton warehouse in downtown Monroe, serving up lovely Southern rural cooking and “North Delta” fare at Restaurant Cotton. Bahr has been awarded “King” of Louisiana Seafood, was named a “Chef to Watch” by Louisiana Cookin’ magazine and became a champion on the Food Network’s “Chopped!” this year.
            Atlanta claims Coca-Cola but Joseph A. Biedenharn was the first bottler and he built his home in Monroe. Visitors can tour the elegant home and gardens built in 1914, plus view the neighboring Coke Museum with its pristine Coca-Cola delivery truck, rooms full of Coke memorabilia and free samples at the replica soda fountain. For lagniappe, be sure and check out the Biedenharn Bible Museum. Emy-Lou Biedenharn collected Bibles and many are on display, including a Gutenberg Bible, biblical artwork and an original 1611 King James Bible. The museum also offers visiting exhibits and Russian icons from the Daniel R. Bibb collection.
             Across the river in West Monroe is the Cotton Port Historic District, buildings housing antique stores, specialty shops and restaurants. Bargains can be found in this “antique row” and there will be a special Holiday Open House from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, visit
            Other attractions to visit include the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum of Louisiana, the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum, the Masur Museum of Art and the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo, among others.
            Events happening Saturday include the Forest L Woods Outdoors bass fishing end of the season championship at Forsythe Park, “The Butler Did It” murder mystery at the Strauss Theatre Center, downtown River Market Days and Chris Tomlin at the Monroe Civic Center.
              A charming book series to read is the “Green Series” by Judy Christie. The books revolve around Lois Barker, who leaves her life at a major newspaper in the Midwest when she inherits The Green News-Item in a small town in north Louisiana. Christie has had her own experience working for newspapers and is also the author of the “Hurry Less, Worry Less” series and “Goodbye Murphy’s Law.”
            For information on the area, visit the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau at

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Lucky 13: Ghost Trails, Storytelling and Haunted Sites of Alabama

My ancestors arrived in America after the Revolution, landing in Georgia and making their way west as lands opened up after the Creek Wars. They settled in the South Alabama posts of Monroeville and St. Stephens, places that if you visit you will sense have lingering spirits of those tenacious Native Americans and early pioneers. Like most states across the South, Alabama has its share of ghosts and legends. The following is a list of 13 events compiled by the Alabama Tourism Department, which includes a tour of Old St. Stephens and the surrounding Black Belt region. If you see someone named Taylor lingering, tell him his descendants from Louisiana say “Hey.”

If you're looking for a good book of ghost stories, there are plenty. Jessica Penot relates tales in "Haunted North Alabama," while Elizabeth Parker describes the dead who walk Mobile in "Haunted Mobile: Apparitions of the Azalea City," both published by The History Press.

7th Annual “Historic Haunts Walk” — Oct. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
Held each Tuesday night in October, the walks begin at the Athens Visitors Center and includes tales of paranormal activity at 13 local structures. Hear about the college student who fell to her death and is said to still wander the halls at Athens University Founders Hall. Each walk is approximately 90 minutes. Contact Athens-Limestone County Tourism 256.232.5411 or

Ghost Stories at Rikard’s Mill— Oct. 12-13
Enjoy a pumpkin toss, pumpkin painting and relay race before gathering around a bonfire to listen to spine-chilling ghost stories at the historical Rikard’s Mill. The Haunted Swamp Trail will be open for those brave enough to wander its scary path from 6:30 – 10 p.m. each evening. Contact the Monroe County Heritage Museum at 251.575.7433 for more information.

Black Belt Ghost Trail– Self guided, year-round
Visit Alabama’s Black Belt Region to tour the popular ghost trail. The self-guided tour will take you to dozens of sites in three counties (Dallas, Perry, Wilcox) and includes restaurants, hotels, cemeteries and homes. A brochure provides a map and the haunted history of each stop on the tour. The trail also includes a site for visitors to view videos detailing the ghost stories. For brochures and more information: 334.636.5506 or 334.636.0120.

Tombigbee Haints and Haunts— Oct. 26 & 27
Participants will hear ghost stories, the coffin maker’s tale and more on this tour to the darker side of Demopolis. Local story tellers will share folklore and facts about the Tombigbee River and early inhabitants of the area. 334.289.9644.

10th Annual Haunted History of the Shoals Ghost Walk— Oct. 19-31
Participants will stroll the downtown Florence historic district with a local tour guide and author Debra Johnston Glass to be entertained with stories steeped in legend, folklore and truth. Contact Debra Glass, 256.757.7506,

Ghost Walking Tour – Fridays/Saturdays in October
Visitors have three tours to choose from and they run simultaneous. Call 256.509.3940 or visit for more information.

 Cemetery Stroll— Oct. 14
The annual Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll will take place on Sunday, Oct. 14, from 2 to 4 p.m. This event, which is free to the public, features over 70 locals dressed in period costume to tell the story of people buried at Maple Hill Cemetery. Call (256) 533-5723 for more information.

Ghost Tours, Mon.-Fri., year-round
Reservations are required: 1.800.338.5597,

Haunted Hearse Tours — Oct. 1-31. The tour visits Hank Williams’ grave in the Oakwood Cemetery Annex as well as by numerous other sites in Montgomery with “haunted” histories. Reservations, 334.514.4457. 

34th Annual Alabama Tale Tellin’ Festival— Oct. 12-13

“Haunted History Tours” — Fri., Oct. 19 & Sat., Oct. 20
Friday’s event at Old Cahawba Archaeological Park features a rare moonlit, guided tour to the town’s most haunted locations. Paranormal investigators will also demonstrate the art of ghost hunting. 334.875.7241 or 1.800.45.SELMA. Saturday features an investigation of spirits at Kenan’s Mill. Call 334.875.7241 or 1.800.45.SELMA.

St. Stephens
Old St. Stephens Historical Park, Oct. 6, 13, 20, 27
Take a tour of Old St. Stephens and the cemetery as you hear tales and ghost stories of the town that was Alabama’s first territorial capital. The town is now a historical park and archaeological site in Washington County. Call 251.247.2622.

History and Haunts Trolley Tour, Oct. 27. Contact Colbert County Tourism, 256-383-0783 or

Friday, July 27, 2012

It's cherry picking time in Wisconsin

            I always thought cherries came in cute little glass jars, swimming in thick syrup so you can easily add them to ice cream and cocktails. 
             Then I visited Door County, Wisconsin, the largest cherry producing region in the state, and sampled tart red cherry juice at a tour at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek. The orchard is run by the family’s fourth generation and visitors can tour the orchards every season, including winter, sample their fruits and fruit products, and enjoy tastings from their winery and cider mill. 
            My favorite was the tart cherry juice, a surprisingly delicious drink that’s packed full of antioxidants. In fact, the owners showed me a chart comparing all fruits with cherries at No. 1. The next best fruit — blueberries — had been left far behind in the cherry’s dust.
            The 2012 cherry harvest season is now wrapping up, but the press release in my email this morning said fresh cherries are still available at local roadside markets and orchards. The harvest was lower than usual this year because of “unfavorable spring weather conditions,” but local cherry growers are predicting a harvest of more than 700,000 pounds of cherries, according to Terry Sorenson, president of the Wisconsin Cherry Growers, Inc. 
            Can you taste those cherry pies now?
            I recommend visiting soon to sample those scrumptious cherries — at Lautenach’s for instance, fresh cherries are available in season only. Or wait a month or two, sample that incredibly healthy cherry juice or cider while enjoying a hay ride through the orchards in autumn or visit during the Fall Harvest Festival Sept. 22, 2012. They offer sleigh rides too! Whenever you visit, you’re in for a treat. For information, visit
          For a good book, try "Cherries Galore" cookbook by Jean Hill and Jody Littler of Fruitful Enterprises. The mother-daughter team grew up in the orchard business in Sister Bay and their cookbook offers cherry recipes that go beyond dessert.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's about blooming time!

As I write this, the azaleas bushes right outside my window are about ready to burst forth. It’s that awesome time of year, when colors explode in shades of pink, crimson and fushia all over the Deep South. Nothing quite matches the first blooms of spring, when the azaleas announce winter is over.
            Here are a few places in Louisiana to visit where displays of azaleas are magnificent:
            Avery Island
Most people recognize Avery Island as the tourist destination for Tabasco pepper products. Tourists can tour the Tabasco factory, but the companion 250-acre Jungle Gardens offers brilliant displays of azaleas as well. In addition, there are centuries-old oak trees laced in Spanish moss, thousands of snowy egrets in the “Bird City” rookery and a shrine with a Buddha as its centerpiece. The driving tour usually results in many gators sunning themselves along the pond and bayou banks so bring a camera. To enter Avery Island costs a dollar toll, and there’s a charge to tour Jungle Gardens.
Jefferson Island Rip Van Winkle Gardens
The Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island is a dramy escape from reality, acres of beautiful azaleas as well as centuries-old oak trees draped in Spanish moss and the tranquil Lake Peigneur. Actor Joseph Jefferson, known for his role as Rip Van Winkle, built his home here in 1870 with a dramatic view of the lake. A successor developed the surrounding gardens, naming them “Rip Van Winkle Gardens” in honor of Jefferson. In addition to the gardens and historic home, visitors can enjoy lunch at Café Jefferson.
            Hodges Gardens State Park
            More than 700 acres of gardens, both wild and cultivated, await visitors at this spot near Toledo Bend, south of Many. The gardens are a product of oilman A.J. Hodges Sr. who opened them to the public in 1956 and were later donated to the state as a park. They contain a variety of flowers, including azaleas, and a lake created from an abandoned quarry that pipes water through waterfalls and fountains throughout the property. In addition to the 5-mile walking trail, there are rental cabins, campsites and boats for use on the lake. For more information, call (800) 354-3523 or visit
            Heading to Shreveport to visit the impressive collections of the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, including the artworks of the American West, is reason enough. But the free gallery sits on 40 lovely wooded acres that includes extensive varieties of azaleas. These hundreds of native flowers bloom in a rainbow of colors as well, including red, yellow, orange, pink, purple, white and a mixture of many, and visitors can view them all via a walking path that includes a pond, a bridge over a stream and waterfall, benches and outdoor sculptures. If you visit Shreveport, be sure and stay overnight at one of its charming bed and breakfasts such as Fairfield Place, one of many historical properties in the city’s Fairfield-Highland district. You can even take a walk through the neighborhood and witness more azaleas — and other flowers — blooming, then enjoy a fabulous meal at one of the city’s landmark restaurants, Ristorante Giuseppi.

Centennial within a bicentennial
            This year marks the bicentennial of Louisiana statehood, honoring our state’s entrance into the Union on April 30, 1812.
            This year, in March, also marks the centennial of M.S. Rau Antiques, one of the most impressive antique dealerships in the United States, located within the French Quarter of New Orleans. Rau’s 25,000-square-foot store is the largest antique seller in North America by sales. Products include famous paintings, European furniture, classic jewelry and silver such as Paul Revere armorial coffee pots, among so much, much more.
            This year the antique dealership will launch the Rau for Art Foundation, a non-for-profit program and art contest for New Orleans high school art students in the 10th to 12th grades. Prizes and scholarship money totaling $17,000 will be awarded to the winners and their high school art departments. Winners’ artwork will be exhibited at M.S. Rau Antiques and Fine Arts in March. For information, visit