How I Survived Hurricane Katrina: A Tribute to Lily

To be honest, I had no intention on writing a post recapping my thoughts on this 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The week long television documentaries, radio editorials, and Presidential visits have been emotionally overwhelming and I think I speak for most New Orleanians when I say this is one Monday we are actually looking forward to arriving. The daily pictures, videos and stories will stop and we can go back to our new normalcy. But as I was reflecting on my own Katrina experience, the same question kept popping my head.

How did I get through it?

And my mind drifted to the same answer…I had Lily.

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When we began packing to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Katrina, it was clear this was no ordinary trip. We now had a 6 month old in tow and being prepared suddenly meant diapers, wipes, stroller, high chair, bottles, steam sterilizer, baby food, medicine, pacifiers and of course, her favorite lullaby CD. This left little room to pack much else for my husband and I but we were sure we would be pack in 2 days or so. And off we went…

The Red Roof Inn in Shreveport, LA was invaded by many of my family, friends and pets (14 rooms to be exact). What started out as a fun “Hurrication” quickly turned serious as we huddled by the TV and watched our levees fail and our city, homes, cars….LIVES….drown. But despite the tragedy and the palpable sadness, it was Lily (even at 6 months old) that brought hope, laughter and purpose back into the air. And not just for me and my husband, but for all 14 rooms at that Red Roof Inn.  It was like Lily could sense that people needed some comic relief and when anyone walked into the room she flashed this biggest, brightest, funniest smile that instantly made them laugh…even if only for a few minutes.

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Soon, word spread about the baby and other Louisiana evacuees at the Red Roof Inn came to play with her in order to pass some time and forget about their problems. When I originally thought that evacuating with a baby would be stressful, I had no idea that she would actually be the stress relief for so many people.

Ten years later, my “baby” is now 10 years old and to this day, I don’t think she knows what an important role she played in the lives of those at the Red Roof Inn in the days following Katrina. I have spent several years thanking friends, volunteers, police officers and doctors for what they did to help us at our darkest hour. But this year, I am thanking my daughter.

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Thank you, Lily. If it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I would have made it. I love you. ~Mommy

 

Wrapping Up Our Scholastic #SummerReading

This post is written by the Experimental Mommy and brought to you by Scholastic. All opinions remain 100% mine.

Well, it’s over.  The swimsuits have been stored and the bedtimes are getting earlier. The first school bell has officially rung and my two littles have entered a new year of learning. We took the summer to spend lots of quality time together as a family and learn about geography, culture and history through travel. Because both girls had to complete a summer reading list as part of a school requirement, I credit the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge for encouraging them to surpass the required reading and learn to truly enjoy it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 7.20.10 PMBecause the girls went above and beyond, I asked them to submit a “5-word book review” for each of 5 favorite summer reading books. Here they are in no particular order:

All of the time my girls spent reading was logged into the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge powered by Energizer in order to help achieve a World Record!  Did you know that kids across the Nation have read over 208 million minutes so far this Summer? What an accomplishment!

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Need more inspiration? Energizer® and Scholastic are partnering to create the “Power the Possibilities” campaign which gives moms the tools they need to unlock their child’s talents. Parents can buy any specially marked pack of Energizer® brand batteries to scratch for a chance to win one of thousands of prizes that will power discovery and learning during the Energizer Instant Win Game. Prizes include a family trip to New York City, a Scholastic Study Corner Makeover, a tablet with Scholastic apps, a library of Scholastic books and more!

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These prizes definitely will help avoid the Summer Brain Drain that parents dread. Plus, Scholastic also has some fun games such as the Innovation Machine Game which inspire fun and creative writing as well as videos from Maggie McGuire that will teach you how to make reading a priority for your child.

Don’t miss out on any tips or promotions by following @Scholastic on Twitter and liking the Energizer® Bunny on Facebook! What are you doing to prevent Summer Drain Brain?

NOLA Cooking Classes for Kids: A Spoonful of Sugar Sneak Peek

For those of you that know me, it comes as no surprise that I am a novice in the kitchen. I do not enjoy cooking, baking or really anything that involves the stove, oven or mixer. So when my daughter started showing an interest in cooking and asked me to teach her, I did my best not to break out into hysterical laughter.

After taking 5 minutes to show her the extent of my knowledge (boiling water like a boss, making gourmet grilled cheese and brewing one mean cup of tea), I knew I would need to seek help. But in my search for cooking classes for kids in the New Orleans area, the options were extremely limited. Fortunately, A Spoonful of Sugar is opening it’s doors on September 12, 2015 in Lakeview and we are able to get a sneak peek!

Cooking Classes for Kids in New Orleans

A Spoonful of Sugar offers many cooking classes for kids including Mom & Me (ages 4-6), Cooking 101 and 102 (ages 6-12), and Cooking for Scouts to name a few. We opted to try Cooking 101 since even Mom can admittedly use some kitchen skills.

Cooking 101: Learn basic cooking principles. Practice chopping & cutting, measuring & mixing, and safety rules.

When we arrived, the girls were given aprons and name tags and asked to have a sit for a quick introduction. Basic first aid and the importance of washing hands before cooking was discussed followed by a serious talk about knife safety. Once all hands were washed, Ms. Betty and Ms. Daisye introduced the recipe of the day and it’s ingredients.

New Orleans Cooking Classes for Kids

Heading into the kitchen, the girls were excited to be making “Fruit Sushi” which included rice krispie treats, fruit roll ups, strawberries, kiwi and a vanilla drizzle. First, Ms. Daisye taught the girls the proper way to slice the fruit which acted as the sushi filling. I will admit, I was nervous about having my kids handle sharp kitchen knives but I learned that A Spoonful of Sugar uses kid safe knives that were efficient but would not harm the kids if they made a mistake.

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Following slicing and chopping skills, the girls learned how to use a rolling pin to create the base of their “sushi.” After assembling and rolling the sushi, the kids practiced measuring and mixing skills while creating a vanilla drizzle. The finished product was so cute and delicious! My girls had a blast and cannot wait to return. As a Mom, the facility was spacious and immaculate, the staff was very friendly and the activity kept the girls’ attention and interest. I highly recommend it!

Cooking Classes for Kids

A Spoonful of Sugar not only offers cooking classes, but also many options in manners and etiquette, too. Children’s birthday parties will be available and the facility can also be rented for baby or bridal showers.

Kids Cooking Classes

On September 12, 2015, you can join A Spoonful of Sugar for their Grand Opening Fairy Celebration and Open House! Reservations are required and space will be limited so don’t miss out! Details are below!

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Celebrating Dr. Seuss New Release with Carnival #SeussAtSea

If you follow this blog at all, it is no secret that my favorite family vacation is cruising Carnival. In fact, I spent my 40th birthday aboard the Carnival Dream which can only be described as magical (but heavenly works, too). Since we live in a Carnival port city, we jump at every chance we get to partner with the company and last weekend was no exception.

During our last cruise on the Dream, we took our kids to the Seuss at Sea brunch and were amazed at the attention to detail. Dr. Seuss himself would have been impressed. So, we were thrilled to hear that Carnival Cruise Line and its partner Dr. Seuss Enterprises recently teamed up with the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to celebrate the first release of a Dr. Seuss book in 25 years, “What Pet Should I Get?”

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We boarded the Carnival Dream and headed straight to the Encore Lounge to hear a special book reading by local celebrity and animal rescue supporter, Angela Hill. The kids were invited on stage to meet characters from beloved Dr. Seuss books including Thing 1 and Thing 2, to learn about how to care for a pet, and to meet some special puppies up for adoption. Following the reading, we were treated to the Seuss at Sea brunch which is absolutely spectacular.

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In conjunction with the event, Carnival is making a $10,000 donation to the Louisiana SPCA which is just another reason to love this company. While we didn’t leave with a new pet, it did open up the discussion at home about what type of pet would suit our family when the time comes. Dog? Cat? Fish? What kind of pet do you have?

Design Inspiration from At Home

As the Experimental Mommy, it should come as no surprise that this Biology loving, math solving, computer coding woman does not have an artistic bone in her body. Enter Pinterest. This platform has been a godsend when I am trying to be creative with things such as meals, kid crafts or decorating. However, many Pins are deceiving! They look so easy and convince this science geek that she should totally redecorate the living room and change the motifs of both kids rooms. News flash: these projects are not always as easy as they seem.

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When I tackle a big project and finally admit that I am far from a DIY legend, I call for help and run to a local home decor store. Fortunately, one of the best just opened a few miles from my house. Welcome, At Home to New Orleans! This home decor superstore boasts more than 50,000 unique items that will make you look like a master interior designer.

My family and I were invited to check out the Grand Opening of the new At Home and were provided a gift card to do a little shopping, too. I should have guessed that my daughters would quickly make good use of the gift on items they just “had to have.” But as soon as we walked in the door, we were all a bit mesmerized. This place is enormous!

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The patio section caught my eye first with a huge selection of colorful chair cushions, umbrellas and accessories to make your backyard the most comfortable place in (or out) of your home. But my 10 year old daughter noticed a sign on the wall that simply stated “SPARKLE” and she was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

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Making our way to the “sparkle” section, we found lots of wall art, frames, decorative pillows and just plain fun accessories. If you have a college freshman, the campus shop is just as enticing to make a dull dorm room feel like home.

After making our purchases, I literally had to drag the kids (and my Mom) out of the store which was only successful with a promise of returning soon. Do you shop At Home? What has been your favorite find?

Top 5 Things to Know Before Heading to Dollywood’s Splash Country

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy. While tickets were received to facilitate this review, all opinions remain 100% honest.

On a recent trip to Pigeon Forge, TN, my family and I decided to cool off at Dollywood’s Splash Country. Below are a few tips based on our experience.

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1. Pack it: While I am sure you won’t forget your sunscreen, you should know that the park does not provide towels. Since we did not pack any in our luggage, we chose to purchase beach towels at the park. We were able to get 2 towels for $25 which not only served their purpose but doubled as excellent souvenirs as well. Bonus tip: the sidewalk gets hot, consider wearing water shoes to protect little sensitive feet!

2. Climb it: To this below sea level, flat terrain Louisiana girl, the hills of Tennessee are no joke! Do yourself a favor and do some cardio training before you visit especially if you have kids that want to ride the slides again and again and again……

Dollywood Splash Country River Retreat

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3. Rent it: By far, the best money we spent on this entire vacation was on the River Retreat at Splash Country. Nestled against the lazy river, our private retreat featured patio table and 6 chairs, 4 lounge chairs, flat screen TV (with the Disney Channel), two ceiling fans, a locker and wait for it……ROOM SERVICE. That’s right, no standing in long lines for lunch and fighting for a covered table. We ordered food from our retreat phone, designated a time for delivery, and went on our way to enjoy the park. When we returned, our food had been delivered for no extra charge and no extra hassle. As a Mom, this little hideaway in the middle of a bustling theme park made a World of difference in the mood of the kids and stress level of the parents. Worth EVERY penny!!

Bonus Tip: TimeSaver passes are available for $20 per person. This wristband allows you to schedule times to experience popular slides without waiting in line. For us, the lines were not unbearably long when we arrived and a team member told us bands could be purchased at any point in the day. So we decided to wait it out and see if we needed to take the leap. Crowds did not pick up so we opted against the bands which saved us $80!

4. Buy it: We opted to buy the refillable drink mugs the day before when we went to the Dollywood theme park. In the heat, it is important to stay hydrated and the mugs cost us $35 for 4 mugs. With the mug, refills are only $0.99 and we were excited to learn that we could use the Dollywood mugs in Splash Country, too.

5. Conquer it: With all the things you need to pack, I can recommend one thing to leave at home…fear. Let it go and experience new things! What an incredible feeling it was to see my girls conquer their fears of the unknown and truly enjoy life. Splash Country provides quality time (read: no electronic devices) together with my whole family.  The staff was incredibly friendly, the facilities were clean, the food was yummy and a fun time was had by all!

Have you been to Splash Country?