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Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Tuesday morning we got up early and were in the car just after sunrise. We were headed into New Orleans for a swamp tour at Cajun Pride Swamp Tours, in La Place north of New Orleans. I had looked at different swamp tours and several didn't take kids under five. That just wouldn't do for us. As I was scouring the Internet looking for appropriate swamp tours, this was the one thing I really wanted to do, I stumbled across the New Orleans Power Pass.

The Power Pass lets you pay one price for ten different activities available in and around the New Orleans area. Two different swamp tours were listed, as well as the aquarium, zoo, two plantation tours, a bus tour of the city and others. I could buy for one, two, three or five days. I decided on a two day pass. Luckily, the day I went to purchase them they were 10% off for a two day pass. They aren't inexpensive, but do save you money in the long run. We could have saved even more, but the grandkids could only take so much in one day. Plus, at some places you can go to the members' check in instead of standing in line.

Our swamp tour started at 9:30. I had misread the times and thought it started at 10:00. I had given us an extra half hour travel time for getting lost, and was hoping that would get us there in time. It did, thank goodness. I think I would have been the most upset if we had missed that.

The tour was on a large pontoon type boat. The guide was very Cajun and I had a hard time understanding everything he said. That didn't matter to me all that much. I was there to see, not so much listen.  I was worried that since it was such a chilly morning that we wouldn't see many gators. At first it looked like we would only see the tops of heads as the water was warmer than the air above. Since we were in their home, and not a zoo situation, if they didn't want to be seen, they weren't going to be seen.

As we floated slowly through the swamp other critters made their presence known. There were birds everywhere. All of different sizes and colors. The swamp itself was beautiful, even if we didn't get to see a gator in full. 

This is an Osprey, pretty cool huh?

I have no idea what was up with him,
but he held that position for several minutes

We even saw a raccoon. OK, so, we can see those in Iowa. Ours are a lot fatter, too. And the fact that they were out and about in the daytime was a bit creepy, but they knew they'd get fed marshmallows, they aren't stupid.

The air started to warm a bit in the mid morning sun, and suddenly alligators appeared, as if from nowhere, on logs throughout the swamp. (Hopefully, they didn't know where those raccoons are fed marshmallows, or lunch may have been raccoon tartare.) I was excited to see a full alligator head to tail. They blended in with the swamp so well, even when on a log, they were still hard to see. 

The grandkids were fascinated with the leathery lumpy critters of the swamp. Noah and Paxton helped each other find gator after gator. Kahlen spent almost the entire two hours hanging over the edge of the boat looking for the next surprise. Lorelei just loved being outside and not in her carseat. 

At the end of the tour, the guide came around with a baby alligator, that he had been raising, for us all to hold. I was surprised that Kahlen and Paxton had no intention of holding that baby. Noah, on the other hand, was all about it. Lorelei even got in on the action a bit. While she was sitting on Willie's lap, he held him. 

As the tour ended and the boat docked, the kids were ready to run around a bit. There was a giant turtle to look at, which somehow I missed, and a few things to climb on. And of course a gift shop to check out. It was also about time for lunch. We left the gators behind and went on our way. 
This is NOT a real gator, I promise. 

Time to Reenergize

On our first full day on Grand Isle, I had nothing planned. I figured after being in the car for 30,000 hours the day before, we could use a break from it. We would be driving into New Orleans the next two days, so a day out of the car was just what we needed.

The weather decided to rain on us, but that didn't keep us inside. The house has both a covered upper deck and a patio area underneath. Soccer balls were dribbled, footballs thrown around. The boys got soaking wet in the warm rain.

There were porch swings a plenty on both upper and lower decks. The grandkids swung on the swings to their hearts content. The view from the upper deck and the sounds of the sea beckoned as we waited for the rain to break.

Lunch time came and we got all the grandkids fed and had them rest for a while saying the rain might be done when they woke up from nap. Well, naps didn't happen, too much excitement being in a new place. Yatzee was brought out and it occupied the kids for sometime.

The game got over and about 2:00 pm the rain finally stopped. We wandered down to the beach. The wind off the water was chilly, and after taking a few photos I went back up to the house to get a warmer jacket. It was amazing to me how much colder the air was on the sea side of the berm. I went in the house and somehow, a big comfy chair distracted me and I fell asleep. A while later Willie came in and said they could see dolphins in the gulf. I tried to wake up, but failed miserably. When I finally did get my eyes to stay open our visitors had left and I worried I had missed my only chance to see a dolphin. 

As the kids made dinner I made it back down to the beach to take some photos. The solitude of the beach was inspiring. It was just as Belle had said. We pretty much had the beach all to ourselves. The rentals all around us were empty. We would be able to run and play as we wished.

Decisions, Decisions

Willie and I decided, that since we had a little extra money that I inherited from my dad, since we had only been on one real family vacation when the kids were little, now was the time for a real family vacation. We talked to our kids and offered to pay for a big family vacation for their combined birthday, Christmas and whatever else we would normally get them gifts for, this year. Basically I had Christmas all done by May of last year. Score!

I had already figured out where. I was Googling vacation ideas and found a vacation rental on Grand Isle Louisiana. Grand Isle is a barrier island about 100 miles south of New Orleans in Jefferson Parrish. The house, called the Milky Way, was owned by a couple named Lou and Belle (could you get a more southern name) Toups. I found them on a site called, which is associated with 

The house looked perfect for all of us. It had four bedrooms and four full baths. Each family could have their own room and bath room. Each room had a queen bed and a set of bunk beds. We could bring the pack and play for Lorelei since she's not quite ready for a real bed only being one. 

My original idea was to go somewhere to camp. With Lorelei being so little, I thought maybe not. Then I thought of renting an RV and bringing tents. This vacation was going to be in March on spring break. Tents might be a little cool to sleep in still. That left hotels. I looked at different travel sites, hotels were just not going to be a financial option. Four rooms a night at a decent hotel, way out of my league. 

It was just by happenstance that I stumbled on  the VRBO site. I can't remember how I got there. I found the rental house. I looked through the reviews and the photos. Then I closed out of it. A few days later I looked at it again, thinking how perfect it would be, closed out of the site again. I repeated this process many times for several weeks. Then I talked to Willie about the idea of doing this vacation for Christmas presents. He liked it, so with him on board, I looked at the site again, and again, and again. Finally, I texted the kids, asked them how they would feel about a family vacation for Christmas presents, and birthday and so on. They all loved it. I asked Alyssa when Kahlen's Spring break was, when she found out I texted the rest of the kids and told them to ask for the time off from work. It still took me a few more times looking at the site before I was brave enough to pull the trigger. Finally, I did. From that moment, until we reached the house and went inside, I was terrified it would be a dump and our money would be lost. 

I had never seen an ocean before, and while the gulf isn't technically an ocean, it was within the driving distance at which I was looking. Remember, we are talking about transporting four children, ages 7, 4, 3, and 1, by car. I knew there would be a tolerance zone that I couldn't exceed. I also wanted to go someplace warm, but not full of crazy college spring breakers. I had texted the owners of the house a few times asking if they got a lot of college spring breakers on the island. She told me they really didn't, and the local schools weren't out at that time so we should have most of the beach to ourselves. That helped calm some of my nerves, but she could have just been saying what I wanted to hear to get me to rent. 

I won't lie, for the 10 months between when I rented the house and we walked in the door, I was petrified what we would find. We had spent the night at my friends Dawn's in the St. Louis area to break up the trip a little. The Grandkids all got to help her pick out some new baby chickens. They helped her set up an area in the garage to keep them warm. I thought Kahlen just might sleep out there with them. It was a wonderful distraction from the stress of the unknown.

We got up early and left Sunday morning. As we drove down to Grand Isle, I could feel the nausea rising and the stress factor increasing. I had never planned anything on this kind of scale before. Especially not for 8 adults who all had their own ideas of what they wanted to do. 

We stopped in Memphis for lunch and ate at B.B. Kings. That was a very welcome diversion. The grandkids danced around to the live music. Except for the fact that Willie decided he needed to stay with the cars, most of our stuff was in the back of his pick up with no way to lock it up, we had a lot of fun. I felt really bad that he wasn't in there, but when he said a few guys came around and were looking in all of the cars, I was glad he stayed. 

The rest of the drive was uneventful and full of bathroom stops, and chances for buying snacks. We all decided to wait for supper until we got to the house so we wouldn't have the same issue with the stuff in the truck. As we FINALLY entered Louisiana, I could feel my excitement increase along with a sense of dread for what we would find. We skirted around New Orleans, and came to the bridge that would take us across the wetlands onto Grand Isle. It was dark and we couldn't see much. The bridge was long and had a crazy sharp turn that looks like a lot of people were not ready for, probably because there were no signs warning of it. The scrapes and gashes in the bridge barrier gave testament to that. 

We finally got to the island and started looking for the house. Alyssa and Shane, in one car, and Willie, Josh and Caitlin in the truck, were waiting at a corner for Valerie and Joel and I. Apparently, I gave Alyssa the wrong address, and the house she pulled up to was truly a broken down shack. I'm so glad I wasn't with her to see that! I think my heart would have given out. 

Joel took the lead, Josh and Shane followed, and we drove down LA 1 looking for the correct house. We reached the Milky Way, from the outside it looked like the photos. That helped ease my fears a bit. I walked up the steps to the upper deck, found the lock box, put in the code and retrieved the key. With everyone at my side, I unlocked the door and entered. I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders as I looked around and saw that it looked just like the photos. 

There was a musty smell, probably due to it not being used most of the winter. We all walked around the house checking everything out and picking out bedrooms. Once that was done, I snuck out, walked over the berm to the beach, and took in my first look at a body of water bigger than I had ever seen. 

I stood there watching the waves sparkle as they came in under the light of the full moon. I listened to the waves and the wind as they rumbled and sang their separate songs. I felt the wind blow my hair and smelled the aroma of the sand. Even though it was dark, It was magical. A place I never thought I'd ever be. I'd always dreamed about seeing an ocean, which, again, I know technically the Gulf isn't, but it may be the closest I ever get and it was amazing. 

Soon the kids and grandkids joined me on the beach. The grandkids ran around in giddy excitement. Both excited to be free from the cars and struck with wonder at a site they had never seen. The week ahead seemed like a great adventure just waiting to be had. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Last Day

The rest of our vacation involved more exploration Letchworth State Park. We had seen the falls on the south side, but there was a damm on the north end that needed our attention.

We drove to the other side of the gorge to get to the damm. The damm spans across the gorge from east to west, but the east side is where you can take a tour. The Army Corps of Engineers built and control the damm. Being a part of the military, Homeland Security does not allow pictures to be taken inside the damm. The tour was fascinating. The best part was the views from the damm.

After we were done at the damm, we went back down to the south end of the park to see a the house of William Pryor Letchworth. He was the man who bought and granted the land of the state park to New York state. His personal mission was to keep this beautiful area from being developed, ruining forever the mystic of the land. in a dedication to the park in 1910 he wrote,

"God wrought for us this scene beyond compare
But one man's loving hand protected it
And gave to his fellow man to share."

His house is now a museum dedicated to him and the development of the park. Called the Glen Iris Inn, it is also adapted for the use of a hotel.

The museum has many artifacts collected by Letchworth over his life time. He was very interested in Native Americans, and many of the artifacts are from their history. There is also a very large mammoth skull that takes up much of one room. 

Up the hill from Glen Iris is the grave site of Mary Jemison a pioneer of Scots-Irish decent. At 12 years old she was captured by a French and Shawnee raiding party during the French and Indian war. Later she was adopted by a family of the Seneca People. She made the Seneca her family and lived with them the rest of her life. Her remains rest  on the grounds of the Seneca Council house.

After another happily busy day, we returned to our campsite for our last night of our vacation. One last campfire before the long drive awaiting us the next day.