laissez le bon temps rouler

Mardi Gras season this year has seemed extra long! I have been documenting Mardi Gras pictures since mid January, and have still been going a few days into March. Ian and I made it our mission to experience as much New Orleans Mardi Gras as we could this year, and I also endeavored into Eunice, La to experience Cajun Mardi Gras! Here are some photos that document 2017’s Mardi Gras Season.

Before the parades even started, Ian and I were drinking and nibbling our way through king cake and king cake flavored items. I became obsessed with finding the perfect king cake latte (final verdict: CC’s for taste, Bean Gallery for presentation), and we endeavored to find gluten free king cake for Ian to enjoy.  HiVolt provided us with our gluten free king cake donut needs, and even included the cutest king cake baby with each donut! We also made our own gluten free king cakes: Ian on his own, and then my friend Johnna and I made another! My other favorite king cake inspired treat was from Creole Creamery: king cake ice cream with added Nutella. Yum!

My cousins Emily and Hannah took Ian and I to the MOST MARDI GRAS STORE called Jefferson Variety Store. This place was amazing!  It was partially a well-stocked warehouse where krewe members can buy their throws, as well as a costume and fabric store.  The store had a large supply of beautiful masks, unique and sparkly fabric, glittery appliqués, and the cutest little plastic cups filled to the brim with glitter!  Hannah and Emily found this store useful for accessories for their Mardi Gras costumes, and my friend Lauren and I later found it extremely helpful when we needed a mask for our own costumes (more on that later).

My first realization in searching through my parade pictures, is realizing that I don’t have that many! I mostly have videos, which is better for my own documentation and memory purposes, but not convenient for posting to blogs. Nevertheless, above are a few pictures and screenshots of my videos to hopefully somewhat represent the parades Ian and I went to this year! (Ian and I also started a new tradition of hanging our Mardi Gras beads on a tall lamp that I recently bought… it looks very festive)

Our first parade of the season was Krewe of Eve on the Northshore.  Our friends Kayla and Matt live on the Northshore, and Eve rolls right in front of their neighborhood! It was a super fun way to spend a Friday night: eating tacos, chatting with friends, taking a nice walk, and watching a light-hearted parade!

Krewe of Muses was the next parade on our agenda! Muses is always the Thursday before Fat Tuesday, and it is ONE of my favorite parades.  Muses has an all-female krewe, which I think is super cool.  I always love to see all the Muses girls’ costumes, complete with fun colored wigs, glitter, full blown colorful makeup, and eccentric outfits.  To make Muses even better, this year their theme was DR. SEUSS!!! You can only imagine how adorable each float was. Each one adorned a Dr. Seuss inspired quote on the back, perfectly summing up each individual float’s message.

Next, we attended my ABSOLUTE favorite parade: Endymion! I love Endymion because it takes place in the best neighborhood in NOLA (Midcity), and it’s walking distance from Ian and I’s apartment! Every year for the last four years, Endymion has fallen on a beautiful, sunny day during Mardi Gras season.  It is a pleasure to spend the day tailgating, hanging out, and waiting for the parade to roll. I followed my three year personal tradition of wearing black&white stripes and heart sunglasses, and strolled down the bayou to my favorite parade.  I got to hang out with some awesome friends before the parade started, and Ian came to meet me later on when Endymion began rolling. The rest of the parade consisted of elaborate floats, bead catching, hanging out with our friends Trey and Hadley, and an epic sprint by me and Lauren.  Lauren and I realized that we missed our friend Matt on his float (#26), and when we realized we had missed him the parade was at float #31. So we made a spontaneous decision to SPRINT half a mile to try and reach him. It was a pretty epic moment, because we grabbed hands and began running as fast as we could through the parade route, dunking under parade go-ers that were trying to catch beads, weaving in and out of people, passing through marching bands and basically skimming on the sides of the floats! While we were running, music from the floats and the marching bands are blaring, so it literally felt like we were in a running scene in a movie (very Nerve-esque.. think the scene when Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are on the motorcycle… “Electric Love” in the background.  This should set the scene). Anyway, even after an epic run, movie-like moment, we did not reach Matt. :( But we had a blast trying and got over 10,000 steps in, sooooooo….

The next day, we met back up with friends on St. Charles Ave for Sunday parades! First, Krewe of Thoth rolled down St. Charles, and this was the most fun little day parade! I really enjoyed it.  I got to stand on a ladder for the first time, and the theme for Thoth this year was just so stinkin cute! It was Food Around the World (or something like that), so every float was a different food theme, every krewe member was wearing a chef hat, and the krewes were throwing adorable food themed items like pot holders and moon pies. Our friends also had the hookup with having a little rent house off of St. Charles, stocked with food, air conditioner, real chairs, and a bathroom. This is equivalent to “glamping” during Mardi Gras for me.

Later that night, we attended Krewe of Bacchus along the same route. Bacchus is always fun, and it includes fun floats like King Kong (where YOU throw beads at IT, instead of them throwing beads t0 you), as well as usually having a celebrity grand marshall, etc. However, Ian and I were honestly super tired from days of non-stop Mardi Gras, so we tapped out of Bacchus early and went home.

Next, onto our Cajun Mardi Gras adventure! Every year in Eunice, LA,
Faquetaique Courir de Mardi Gras is celebrated (don’t ask me how to pronounce that). Over the past few years, I have seen many of my friends and family participate and I became interested in participating myself, having never done something like that before.  I invited my friend Lauren to join me in the adventure, for several reasons! Lauren is originally from Pennsylvania, and has been living in Louisiana for the past three years. She has experienced a ton of Louisiana culture during this time, but has yet to venture to a small LA town like Eunice.  Additionally, she is moving back home to the Northeast region of the U.S. soon, and this seemed like the perfect time to introduce her to a cajun/country aspect of Mardi Gras before she leaves!

One of the traditions of Courir de Mardi Gras is preparing a fringed outfit and having a mask and capuchon (tall coned hat). Lauren and I looked at a lot of pictures for inspiration, and then set out to work on our costumes. We picked traditional Mardi Gras colors for our fabric first (green, gold, purple), and then threw in a cutesy pink color just to mix it up. We each dug out our sewing machines and went to work! We cut each color of fabric into strips, fringed each strip, and then began sewing the fringed strips onto a cozy cheap pajama shirt we found. This process took us about a week to do; as we worked on them a little bit at at time on random days after school.

We also needed a mask! We went back and forth on exactly what we wanted. We ended up back at the Jefferson Variety Store and searched for the perfect masks.  We picked a pink one (to match our rogue non-Mardi Gras color fringe), and it was perfect because it had a bird beak, which we had seen in our reference photos we looked at.

We also needed a capuchon! This was super last minute, and we literally grabbed giant birthday hats from Party City the night before, and mod podged gold glittery dots over the “happy birthday”sign. Super efficient.

On to Eunice! On Fat Tuesday, we woke up promptly at 4:15 am, dropped our friend Kat off at the airport by 5:00 am, and made our way to Eunice. By 8:00 am we were fully dressed in our outfits and mingling with several other hundred fringed humans. For the next seven hours, Lauren and I experienced first-hand a true Courier.  It’s hard to put into words exactly what happens. Basically the overall idea is that we are going from house to house begging for gumbo ingredients.  There is a song to sing to beg to the owners of the house, the owners give us ingredients, there is a lot of chicken chasing, boudin eating, A LOT of walking, singing, and cajun dancing. And ate at the end, everyone “uses the ingredients” to make a big gumbo! The pictures can honestly speak for themselves.

Overall, I had a great 2017 Mardi Gras season! It was full of great friends (new and old), delicious food (minus a partial Whole 30 mixed in there), and lots of diverse experiences!

Laissez le bon temps rouler!

“Goodbye my Darling…”

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The following entry is a guest post from my husband, Ian.  Ian’s nana recently passed away, and he wrote this lovely piece as a means to process the event in his own way. 

This entry is a few months in the making… When school is in session, much of my time is convoluted and I’m not sure where it goes… anyways I’ll get on with it.

Allison and I took a magical trip out to the west coast this past summer. It was a 2 week road trip through Lafayette, Houston, Austin, Albuquerque, a few pit stops at landmarks including the Grand Canyon, Newport, L.A., up Highway 1 to San Jose, San Francisco, and finally back to NOLA. The thing that stemmed this trip was a desire to see Arsenal play for the first time in the flesh, and the ability to see family and friends along the way. Despite seeing the club I was born into supporting, and the accompanying rite of passage of that experience, it was only part of my epiphany in this trip.

As I said before, this trip allowed us to share moments that were remarkable with family, friends, and in our marriage. Reconnecting with people always proves to be a fulfilling event, when you relearn what connected you in the first place, and create new meaningful memories together as you catch up, laugh, and share time. The paramount event was seeing my family in Newport and San Francisco.

However in order to properly bring context to the revelations I had, I need to divert slightly and recap some family history/feelings. Family has always been a tumultuous subject for me. The Graff side has provided me with the “large family” experience that I feel many experience, though mine has been sporadic and limited. Let me be clear here: there is by no means any drama or anything of that sort. Distance is the factor that has played the major role, as most of my life has been spent in the southern portion of the states as opposed to the Graff northern base. Early in my life living closely to them allowed me firm support, memories, and relationships I can rely on even today. My sporadic interactions via their visits, reunions, or my travel has allowed me to solidify those connections over the years. As for the Gregory side, things have been unique, those who know me well know that the influence of my English heritage looms large in my life. From manners to worldview, my passion for soccer/football and love of warm treats & drinks, etc. Distance playing another role in the family aspect but in a much larger way, a hop across the pond has minimized the extended family connection. Fortunately for me, through the beautiful nature of people coming to this country in search of various things, providing me with not only my Mum (obviously), but also the long term influence of my Grandparents on the Gregory side. They have had the sporadic impact of someone who also lives some distance away (Southern California), but involved they have remained consistently. So this summer when going to California, I jumped at the opportunity to see not only them but my uncle and his family as well.

Now you might be asking yourself: where is Ian going with this? Or why bother to meander into this area? Well, as I have matured and began to constitute what my views and values in life are, I haven’t always looked to my family. Many that I know have used their families as a self-reflective avenue to build off of, where as much my life I have sought to rely more on myself just trying to be inventive or different.  This shouldn’t reflect on my family negatively nor should it indicate there is negative feelings, my parents have largely been positive character examples & supportive, but things happen… life happens, and relationship expectations change. The past 8-9 years or so my life has taken its own turns, meanwhile, all of this has allowed my family to evolve into the functioning units it looks like today. Back to the matter at hand, my perspective received such a rousing awaking in this area while in California.

While being the second of the two visits, I want to focus on my Uncle & his family first. I felt a lot of connection meeting up with them, as they were very accommodating, authentic, & cheerful people to be around. We talked about all sorts of things, from the history of San Francisco, to houses, of course a shared love of Arsenal (that mainly was between my Uncle and I), shared laughs, food, and a lovely walk. Now to most people this may sound like a regular family outing, however it had been some time since I had the opportunity to meet up with this portion of the family, and to see so many of the values and things that are a part of my life also evident with another part of my family was comforting. Now onto Allison and I’s time in Newport. On the way there, I began sharing with Allison all the memories over the years that were flooding my mind. As we got closer and closer to Newport, the thought of visiting with my Nana and Poppy seemed so refreshing and pleasant. We would be staying in their charming condo practically a skip and jump away from a harbor, a beach, and a cute little island. We settled in, caught up, relaxed, and prepared for the next couple days together. As a mentioned before, and I’m beginning to think my family has a genetically predisposition to, we took a long walk to and on Balboa Island. It had a picturesque little marina, neighborhood and shops, and regardless of my Nana’s multiple hip surgeries, she and my Poppy were determined to share their love of the area with us. (In the pictures, you can see as my Nana holds onto my Poppy’s arm as they gently meander down the sidewalk, and them resting on the bench together).

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The walk revealed my Poppy’s love of sailing to me as he took in and knew every intricacy of the boats as they passed. The walk eventually lead to dinner, a chat about sports, music, college, teaching, and the trip. I have to again mention the propensity for them to be accommodating, pervading throughout the day. At night, windows open, gentle breeze gliding in, and other topics of conversation ensued as we sat in the condo watching BBC shows. BBC shows have been a love of mine in the realm of TV, so we shared about new shows, explaining premises to each other, all while enjoying the witty & gritty ones we had on.

The next day allowed me to take more of a listening/learning role, as again, a walk, ferry ride, & pool visit allowed me to hear stories of adventures, bits of advice, and perspective poured out from the marriage that I had witnessed between the two, and I could see how it had a real, loving, and committed legacy. (There was also the occasional story about rearing my Mum and my Uncle, both serious and entertaining).

On our last day, after sharing a brief morning with my Nana and Poppy, Allison and I were off to our next stop. I was left with a contemplative demeanor as I began making so many connections with humor, interests, the blending American/English heritage, worldview, and the values I have championed my whole life. I was comforted in now understanding better the why behind and the who of who I am. I saw with new eyes the majestic character of my family: extended, immediate, then in myself. The compassionate, authentic, willful, & complex elements to being a part of my family’s legacy and how it has shaped who I am today and can aspire to be in the future.

So, this is both a “Thank You” to my family and the generations that have come before me.

As I sit here and write this, as some may have seen, my Nana has recently passed. My hope in writing this is that you can see just a small piece of who she was. This is sadly a reflective homage and loving Goodbye to someone who has shaped me as a man. She was Queen among her peers, friend to any she shared a chat, and nurturer at heart. With love and respect to my “Nana”, Leslie Gregory. I’ll never forget you, or our last goodbye, which was a reflection of who you were so well… “goodbye my darling.”