Two Restaurant Finds in New Orleans….

Finding a good meal in New Orleans is certainly not a problem, and there is a wide price range to choose from, especially if you are willing to crowd into a narrow spot off the beaten path. During our recent trip, I actually planned only one meal ahead of time and I had gone back and forth between four choices. While Commander’s Palace was not the level I was seeking, those off-the-beaten path places weren’t in the running either. I opted for the Pelican Club, a restaurant with a description that sounded just right, and it was an excellant choice.

The Pelican Club is tucked into Exchange Alley in the French Quarter, so it isn’t a spot that you routinely see when strolling the Quarter. The moment we walked in the door though, there was the sense of this being a place to enjoy. It is a large restaurant with a decor you could find in many European restaurants. The service was the kind you should have in such a place and it was truly difficult to choose among the offerings. The prix fixe 4-course option was tempting, but I knew how much food I would be consuming over the three-day period. The wine list was equal to the food of course and it was a wonderful meal. I had the panned gulf fish with jumbo lump crabmeat and creole meuniere sauce while my husband and daughter-in-law went for the trio of duckling.

Our last night after the Nutcracker performance was going to be a very late dinner not beginning until 10:00 p.m., plus I wanted to be close to the hotel to cut down on travel time. Even though the restaurant in the hotel was good, it closed at 10:00 p.m., as did another one I had my eye on. I finally found Grand Isle on Convention Center Boulevard that was actually a very short walk from the hotel with evening hours of 5:00 p.m. until…., and that was what we needed.

While Grand Isle was not exactly the opposite of the Pelican Club, the atmosphere was decidely more casual and had a simpler menu, although a number of innovative twists. Had I not had such a large lunch, I really would have chosen the grilled fish topped with chili butter. The Fisherman’s Stew I selected was superb and a smaller portion. My husband had not had his shrimp and grits and declared theirs to be some of the best he’d eaten. Everyone at the table echoed the same about each dish they ordered. Of special note was the fact that it was apparently a slow night and the place was almost empty when the seven of us came in. Despite the fact that we soon became the only diners, there was not the slightest hint that the staff would like us to leave so they could close. The service was as good as one could ask for.

You may not have occasion to travel to New Orleans, but if you do and you want something a bit elegant – I can easily recommend the Pelican Club. If you want casual and great food, head to Grand Isle.

The Magic of Nutcracker…….

In costume for the opening role of Lamplighter

The childish delight of the Nutcracker ballet does not have to end at a certain age. If you allow yourself it can continue on into the time when you as an adult now bring your children or grandchildren. We were in New Orleans for a mini family reunion that was centered around our son guest performing as a part of Delta Festival Ballet’s 30th Nutcracker. Like many ballet studios and companies, Nutcracker is the big revenue generator for the year, and Delta Festival does a production with wonderful costumes and numerous guest artists they bring in for the more complicated parts. Our son specializes in the Russian dance (the Trepek) for them although he performed different roles in two other Nutcrackers this season and added in one Christmas Carol before he flew to New Orleans.

In costume for Trepek with one of the other guest performers

I digress from the point though. The fantasy of Nutcracker where young Clara is presented a fine nutcracker at a Christmas party and she later dreams of the Nutcracker coming to life as the Cavalier defeats the Mouse King, then watches an array of scenes with marvelous dancing characters and creatures can be fun for all ages. Every ballet company and studio that puts on a Nutcracker decides on how much of the ballet to include and puts in variations depending on the talent they have available and other resources. For the major ballet companies at the professional level, it can truly be a magical experience for a youngster, and for the four-year-old in the local community production who is part of the “Mouse Army”, it is usually a moment of incredible cuteness for parents to see. Taking a child to Nutcracker can be a memory-making event and for adolescents or teens, it can be their first introduction to ballet.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to all those past, present, and future “Claras and Cavaliers (or Mouse Kings)” and for family and friends that have taken the time to show a child or youngster this whimsical ballet.

An Artistic Enclave and Good Food……

It was one of those truly rare times that my husband and I had a spare afternoon and night on our way to New Orleans. While we could have gone on in, we thought instead to stay perhaps in Biloxi or Gulfport. We stopped at the Mississippi Vistors Center to gather some information and the lady at the desk certainly gave us some good suggestions. She then said that if we wanted to spend the afternoon strolling and poking about, we should go to Ocean Springs where the downtown section had a number of galleries, shops, and restaurants. We didn’t have a firm plan and it sounded like the type of place we would enjoy.

I studied the map she gave us and saw there was a grid of approximately eight streets by six streets of the area she was talking about, to include some B&Bs. I was chattering about that when my husband reminded me that most B&Bs don’t just have rooms for people dropping in. Since there was a cluster of motels by the I-10 exit, I agreed that might be best. We drove past them and within a couple of miles crossed a bridge with a casual looking seafood joint to the left, then a spot off to the right with a sign for the Julep Lounge, a steak and seafood restaurant, and a place that featured catfish. We were on the main border street of Washington, and drove slowly to get our bearings, passing through to the beach front on the bay. We saw some gorgeous homes, a nice walkway, glanced quickly at a scenic park, then reversed our route. As with many towns that have converted into a pedestrian friendly zone, parking was limited and after we found a place, we strolled under huge, old oaks that lined the streets. The Pink Rooster caught our attention and when we entered the gallery, we were greeted with a smile and a quick tour of three rooms. The art was predominantly oil, although there was some wonderful jewelry as well. There were several pieces we would have purchased if we had been in the art buying mode.

We lost track of the different cute shops and if we had needed Christmas presents, I suspect we could have found much of what we wanted with the variety of arts and craft mediums we saw. We mapped out multiple options for dinner and had a pleasant chat with the owner when we went into a kitchen store. She was fairly new in town and said she had bascially paid a visit, fallen in love with the atmosphere, and moved in to set up her business. She gave us directions to Shearwater Pottery and we retraced our route, looking into other shops, and noting the Thai restaurant, the Italian place, the candy shop and others. We had heard of Shearwater Pottery and it is definitely tucked back away from the road. We perused the museum section where three generations have continued the family tradition of design and production. We left there and drove around for a bit longer, seeing the harbor with a profusion of shrimp boats, then found the second beach area we’d been told about.

We selected one of the motels out by I-10 and studied the brochure to decide about a restaurant for the evening. It was actually a bit of a quandry and when we chose a steak and seafood place with a martini bar, we were not disappointed. Although the exterior wasn’t as attractive as some places, the interior was well designed and dinner was quite good.

I don’t know if we will back back near Ocean Springs any time soon. I can recommend it, however, as a place to visit whether as a day trip or overnight.

 

For Cat Lovers….

My husband never owned a pet when he was growing up, so when he married into our family with cat and dog, it was an adjustment. After we became empty nesters and the pets had gone to live with Grandmother, I promised him no more animals in the house. Our frequent travel also impacts having pets at home. When our very good friend was stricken with cancer and went to Orlando for special treatment, we knew she would be absent for an extended period. My husband agreed to bring Gracie, her cat, to our house and he was a good sport about it. While there were some obvious changes to deal with, it wasn’t overly dramatic. Our neighbor returned and Gracie went home.

Sadly, another round of treatment was later required and we did the “Gracie move” again. This time, however, when the neighbor returned it was under hospice care and she lost her struggle with cancer a few weeks ago. None of her adult children were in a position to take Gracie, the other neighbors already have cats, and no one we knew could help out. One of the neighbors did put us in touch with a woman who posted Gracie’s photo and situation, but she also alerted us that adult cats were not always easy to place.

However, an aunt of one of the women who works with the animal rescue group learned about Gracie, saw her photo, and said she was interested. Great, except that the woman lived near Gainesville, a six hour drive north. Ah, but we (okay, I) had a solution. Our trip to New Orleans would take us past Gainesville, so we would leave a day early. The next critical step though was that while Gracie has some amusing traits, traveling well is not among them, and in fact, getting her into a carrier is a process that I had never mastered. It was so difficult that the last two times we did the “Gracie move” I simply bundled her in a towel and held her close to me for the short walk between our houses. A two minute transfer was about her limit.

We were planning to leave earlier in the morning that would be convenient for the other neighbor whom had helped me before, but he gave me the name of Gracie’s vet. She copied Gracie’s thin file and gave us a sedative to try. Gracie is also not the type to allow you to poke a pill down her. I was advised about “Pill Pockets” that did prove to be a solution. Not as easy as we had hoped, but it did work when we tried one dose before the trip just to make sure she didn’t have an adverse reaction.

The cat carriers the neighbor had were the right size for a quick trip to the vet, but with a longer trip, I thougt more space might be in order and picked up a larger “Pet Taxi”, and a nice little rug to go inside. We managed to get Gracie into the carrier and I thought she perhaps appreciated my efforts until she upset the small water and food dish in her attempt to claw out the bottom. Her persistent mewing was less than a yowl though and she actually finally settled down for the last two hours of the drive.

When I was emailing with Gracie’s new “Mom”, she had warned me not to use Mapquest and sent directions that seemed clear enough despite multiple turnings as paved roads became dirt. The “near Gainesville” part was correct if you consider 30-plus miles as near. The real problem was a front-end piece of getting through Gainesville that I hadn’t properly checked, but the Iphone came through for us and after one more wrong turn on my part, we went off on a county road that was definitely curvy. We arrived to a modest ranch home in a lovely setting, one cat with similar coloring to Gracie sunning in part of the yard. The new “mom” was waiting at the gate for us and led us onto a screened-in porch filled with plants in containers. Unlike other times that Gracie had bolted from the carrier, she stuck her head out cautiously to sniff the new surroundings. The new mom brought out a bowl of water and began to explain to Gracie about the two older dogs in residence as well as the two other cats. While Gracie did not immediately go into her arms, she was calmly curious. We said our good-byes noting the many types of spots around the property that Gracie would enjoy. We think it will be an excellant home for her and there is no doubt that the new mom is an animal lover.

Funky and Fun – The Camellia Street Grill…….

Everglades City is one those out-of-the-way places that will not appeal to everyone. It sits off Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail) that connects Miami to Tampa, Florida. It is also one end of the Wilderness Waterway, the famous Everglades backcountry route that links Everglades City to Flamingo. It is a small town, really more of a village, that has thriving stone crab and other seafood businesses as well as a relatively short history. You can take boat and other watercraft tours, visit the charming museum, and generally spend 2-3 hours wandering about. We recently met with some friends at the Camellia Street Grill and couldn’t have asked for a more pleasant experience.

Inside dining is limited and I can see where bugs would be an issue the wrong part of the year. That was not a factor for us though and the outside area is terrific. The sense of colorful funk is immediate when you park and walk past the herb garden and other shrubs/plants festooned with yard sculptures.

You order inside, find a spot, and then your meal is served to you. The menu features seafood of course, but there is plenty to enjoy that is land-based and vegetarian selections. I think there were vegan, but I can’t be certain about that. My husband continues his quest for the best grouper sandwich so his choice was easy and one of the others thought that sounded good. I was in the mood for a burger and opted for the Philly cheese one with sauteed onions and melted provolone. The fourth in our party ordered one of the specials – spiced shrimp and cheese grits. This is not a fast food place, but the drinks were cold and the view over the Barron River was lovely. When our food arrived, it was excellant, although I have to admit I thought their french fries were a bit better than the onion rings (the onion rings were good, mind you, just not great). The carrot cake one person order was said to be delicious and if my husband and I hadn’t been utterly stuffed, we would have shared that or one of the other lucious sounding desserts.

If you are feeling adventurous, they do serve alligator although it is sauteed with herbs rather than fried as you find in most places. I can heartily recommend Camellia Street Grill as well as a leisurely few hours in Everglades City if you are looking for a pleasant way to pass a morning or afternoon.

 

One of Those Dives I Wish I’d Been On……

A Small Goliath Grouper

I heard the chatter as I walked up to the dive shop to say hi to everyone and collect my husband for our lunch before we ran a couple of errands. It only took a moment to realize what they were talking about. “Two Goliath groupers at the safety stop, I mean hanging out at the safety stop,” my husband said. Then I caught part of another conversation “….Man, it was great, they were like right there practically in your face.” (For those who may not be familiar with a safety stop, it is as the name implies; literally hanging to a line or hovering for 3-5 minutes at a depth of 15-20 feet as a part of proper ascent procedures after a deep dive.) I have seen many interesting sights during safety stops, but never Goliath groupers.

The title of the recently released Groupers and Gun Mounts: Inside the USS Spiegel Grove, comes from the fact that Goliath groupers (also known as jewfish) are frequent visitors to the artificial wreck, the USS Spiegel Grove. As I mention in one part of the book, when divers meet a Goliath grouper in a passageway of the ship, the diver usually tucks back to give the grouper room to move. It is not that Goliath groupers are dangerous, it is merely that when you are facing a 200-400 pound fish that is between six and eight feet long, you tend to give them the right-of-way.

The group on this particular dive was part of the NASCAR crowd that had stayed for diving after completion of the final NASCAR weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was their last day of diving for the trip, so the plan was a double-dip on the ship; getting in two dives with an approriate surface interval in between. Having that many Goliath groupers in such an up close and personal way was extra special. As NASCAR professionals, going far enough into the machine shop to see the lathe and milling machine was an additional treat that they enjoyed. During the second dive, they cruised  into the Executive Officer’s cabin and up onto the bridge. A big green moray was taking it easy underneath a plate on the deck as the group headed back to the mooring line. It was one of those great days with visibility nearing 90 feet and very little current - ideal conditions for diving the 510-foot ship in a leisurely manner. It would have been pretty much a perfect end to a dive vacation and it’s a dive that I do wish I’d been able to make. Ah well, maybe next time.

 

Why Making Real Apologies is So Difficult…..

Oh, I’m sorry,” is something we often say in a casual way, in casual circumstances – late for a meeting, forgot to send a timely email answer, pick a hundred things that we do to trigger this response. That’s usually a gesture of good manners, notwithstanding people who apologize to the point of being emotional doormats, but that’s not the focus of this post.

Let me say upfront that I don’t have a degree in counseling or psychology. I’ve lived long enough though to learn that most people struggle with giving an apology for a genuinely substantive matter. I’ve spoken words in anger and haste that were just flat wrong and hurtful. I bear unresolved anger from an incident or two in my life that I would like to have someone apologize for. I have no idea how many books and articles have been written about this subject, and I have a Facebook friend who finds all sort of posters with meaningful sayings about forgiveness and letting go of anger. That comes later in this post, but as a building block to that, one of the first difficulties is recognizing that you have done damage to someone. Perhaps it was on a very personal level, perhaps it was on a professional level, perhaps it was a social setting. At times it is easy to recognize – a hurt look, a project you let someone down on, a slight that embarrased someone. Now comes the other difficulty – acknowledging to yourself what you did. I don’t mean rationalizing it, I mean looking at it from the other point of view and seeing it for what it was. This is one where you may need help in talking to friends or other people to get another perspective. If the hurt party (parties) has expressed their anger and requested (more likely demanded) an apology, that usually sets the defensiveness and rationalization into play again. How often do we snap out/stammer out apologies while inwardly saying, “Fine, but it wasn’t really my fault”? There is no question that people can take offense where none was intended and that is another aspect of being human. Valuing a relationship, whether personal or professional, may lead you to one of those apologies that are in fact done solely for the sake of keeping peace.

The deep personal wounds though, the grievious errors on the professional side, the apology that forces you to openly acknowledge that you were at fault comes with the risk of exposure of your flaws. If you adhere to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (glossed over too quickly by many people), Belonging is an important one; a vital one to we humans. If you have committed an act that requires an apology of the magnitude that I am talking about here, then on some level you realize that you risk “not belonging”, or in the popular venacular, “being voted off the island”. This is at the core of why making those apologies is difficult – what if our action causes us to no longer belong to that person, that group? Make no mistake about it, that could be a consequence. If that does occur, how you handle it is most assuredly a different subject.

With that said, there are two other components to the type of apology that I am discussing. If you muster the courage to make the apology, that has to be accompanied by at least the genuine intent not to commit the same offense again. I say genuine intent because personal relationships and professional situations are different. Let us say that you made a business error that caused a project to fail. You understand what went wrong, you learn from it, and have the ability not to make that same mistake. You ask for a second chance and it is granted. On a personal level though, you may have a flaw that you can work on without necessarily overcoming it. Promising, “I’ll never do that again,” sounds good, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The second component is whether or not the other person accepts your apology and forgives the action. As in the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Ay, there’s the rub.” You’ve done your part, and the other party is not willing to let go. How dare he or she!, can be the reaction, either articulated or not. When that occurs, the barriers almost always go up again and can set yet another cycle of emotional responses into motion. Deep hurts cannot always be resolved and you may indeed, “no longer belong” with the individual or group, and as painful as that is, it too is a part of this human life.

This type of experience, personal and observed in others, is one of the reasons that I chose Living Forward, Looking Back as the basis for this blog. As I mentioned in a previous post, holidays can be times of reflection as well as celebration. If you owe someone an apology, or if you think someone owes you one, perhaps you should reach out.

I touch on this theme in my story, The First Step, if you want a fictional presentation of struggling with asking for understanding, if not out-and-out forgiveness.

 

 

About that, “Is There a Santa Clause?” Question……

This is one of those moments that most parents, and many grandparents, vividly recall. It has been termed as one of the passages of childhood and I suppose that it correct. Who doesn’t remember leaving the cookies and milk and either drinking the milk or pouring it back in the carton? Eating the cookies, of course, making sure to leave a few crumbs and I admit that I didn’t mind the, “You have to go to bed or Santa won’t come,” line.

You know the question is going to be asked, but not whether it will be a pensive question, an indignant one, a hey-did-you know one, or some other form. In my case, it was a two-part event. One of my son’s older friends (often that or a sibling) had in a typical older kid fashion assured my son that it was all a story. I wouldn’t say he was upset, but there was a discernible level of concern. I wasn’t really prepared for it and weasled with, “Well, what do you think?” In that few minutes as my son said, “It would be hard for Santa to get to all those houses in one night,” I thought, Okay, this is it. “But maybe his sled really has a jet engine,” he concluded, satisfied with that as a solution. Whew!, I’d made it for at least another year.

In actuality, I believe it was two years before he solemnly announced in early December that it was okay, he understood who really brought presents. He was ready at that point and we talked very briefly about the fun of Santa Claus even if he wasn’t real. There is a poignancy however fleeting, in having that conversation, and that is part of the enduring affection for, “Miracle on 34th Street”. (I confess that I still love the 1947 version, although the 1994 one is good.)

So for those who still have children who believe in Santa, enjoy it while it lasts and don’t be embarrassed if you feel a twinge of loss when that little piece of magic disappears.