Traveling Mamas

Inspiring you to explore our world

  • My family is spending Christmas Eve in St. James Parish, Louisiana to witness the bonfires along the levee of the Mississippi River. This Cajun Christmas tradition dates back to 1870 when plantations would light bonfires here and there on Christmas Eve. Today, this humble tradition has become much bigger than a small family gathering. The first time I saw the bonfires was in 1987 on a visit to see the bonfires under construction.

    This year, I’ll be able to share this Louisiana tradition with my own children and maybe we’ll even read “A Cajun Night Befor Christmas” like my mother read to my brother and I when we were younger. While we’re all standing around the levee, watching the bonfires light up the Christmas Eve sky, we’ll be sipping on Louisiana’s Community Coffee and some hot chocolate.


    Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube

    This coming weekend will be The Festival of the Bonfires in St. James Parish, where there will be a fair, bands, and vendors with each evening ending with one bonfire being lit. On Christmas Eve is the big show, with bonfires of all shapes and sizes lighting up the levee of the Mississippi River in Louisiana from Gramercy to Lutcher.

    Here are directions the bonfire festivities:

    For The Festival of the Bonfires (December 10,11,12)

    From New Orleans, Take I-10 West to Lutcher-Gramercy Exit (194), Make right on LA Hwy. 3125 to LA 3193. Turn left to festival site.

    From Baton Rouge, Take I-10 East to Gramercy Exit, Travel South on U.S. Hwy 61 (Airline Hwy.) to LA Hwy. 3274 (approx. 7 miles on right), Turn Right on LA Hwy. 3125 to LA Hwy. 3193 (Lutcher Ave.) to festival site.

    On Christmas Eve
    It is recommended that you get into the area before 6:00 PM. The fires will be lit at 7:00 PM. Try spending the afternoon, walking the levee, taking pictures and touring the museum. Parking is available in lots along LA 641. Please do not park in lots that are roped off! There will be a 3 to 4 block walk to the levee. If you are interested in driving through, take LA 3213 to LA 44 (Exit before the bridge). This will take you to the first bonfire. Drive along River Road through Gramercy & Lutcher.

    Have you ever heard of “A Cajun Night Before Christmas” by Tee Jules? Here it is, all animated and recited by Tee Jules himself before his passing.

    Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube.

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  • The holiday season will find many travelers on the road, driving to visit relatives for that annual visit. Some travelers may opt to stay with their relatives while many others choose to stay in a hotel or vacation rental near the family gathering place. I know when my family travels, we not only try to pack healthy road trip snacks, but also to save money by not stopping at a drive through for every meal.

    My friends from The Pampered Chef sent me a holiday gift of new and classic items for making meal time easier for me and the family during this crazy holiday time. I’ve been using The Pampered Chef products and recipes for over a decade, as have many of my friends. A few of them even sell TPC products and the home parties are a fun way for friends to gather together, enjoy some new dishes, and learn about ways to make dinner prep time easy and fun.

    Here are some tips and The Pampered Chef items I personally use when taking a road trip.

    The Pampered Chef Twixit Combo PackTwixit! Combo Pack – These little clips are compact and handy for keeping snack bags and chip bags closed when on the road or at home. If you have a number of kids in your family, a fun way to personalize snacks is to use a paint pen to personalize a Twixit! for each family member. This not only makes them personally responsible for keeping their snacks from spilling all over the car, but will help identify snack bag owners so there aren’t as many disagreements. Twixit Combo Pack $5.50

    The Pampered Chef Scoop ClipScoop Clip – Everyone already knows I like to travel with my own coffee. The Scoop Clip not only keeps my coffee fresh and sealed, but it also is handy for measuring the amount of coffee needed for making a fresh pot. This is an ideal product not just for travel, but also at the office. Scoop Clip $5.50

    The Pampered Chef Cut N SealCut-N-Seal – When my kids were just a little bit younger, they insisted on the crust being cut off their sandwiches. The Cut-N-Seal makes sandwich construction easy and fun. I love how it seals the bread around the edges. For the road trip home, make some chicken salad sandwiches, but substitute the chicken with leftover turkey. Cut-N-Seal $9.50

    To celebrate the holidays, we’re giving away the three items listed in the above tips. One randomly chosen winner will win all three items. Just leave a comment with your tips or ideas for holiday road trip snacks or a way you use leftover turkey after the holiday meal. If you need a little inspiration on leftover ideas, be sure to watch the live cooking demonstation on The Pampered Chef Facebook Page on November 11, 2010 at 10:30AM CST or check out all the recipes and products available at The Pampered Chef official website.

    Contest ends November 15, 2010 at 11:59PM CST. US residents ages 21 and older. Current and former contributors of TravelingMamas.com not eligible to enter. Prize provided by The Pampered Chef.

    Disclosure: TPC provided a promotional gift package of new products. This in no way influenced my opinion as I have been a customer of TPC for many years.

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  • It’s football season, and in the southern US that means the beginning of the SEC (Southeastern Conference) way of life for many of us. When we refer to football, we don’t mean futbol or soccer, we are referring to the cultural activities that occur on Saturday nights in households and cities around the south.

    LSU death valley flickr image by Jason Tinder

    This is a time where responsible citizens don facepaint and dress in all manner of fashion, in honor of their local university or favorite team. On college campuses everywhere, families pull in their RV motorhomes, break out the plastic partyware, and parents sit back drinking a cold one, usually with three televisions on silent, each with a different game, while the kids throw NERF footballs in the parking lot until the day’s meal is ready.

    I don’t know how tailgating is done at other SEC schools, but here in Louisiana, LSU fans set the standard for tailgating. Now, many of you other schools will leave comments calling me a blasphemer or uninformed. I beg to differ. My husband’s tailgating krewe, Phi Party Jamma, has been gathering for almost 20 years for tailgating at LSU. At each game, there are always a few out of town friends who have come to see just what all this bragging is about. By the time they leave after an LSU home game, they are wearing a look of awe and shock. Many have even dropped to their knees, bowing in respect for having been allowed to experience such an awesome lifetime event. It’s just that good.

    Our little Cajun family has season tickets and I’ve been personally going to LSU football games in Death Valley since I was nine years old. I’ve experienced home games and I’ve experienced road trips. I even married a man who asked to cut our honeymoon in Jamiaca short so that we could attend the LSU vs Texas A&M game since it would be the last time those two teams faced off for 20 years. Yes, I did give in and spent the end of the honeymoon in a Motel 6 with strangers (to me) sleeping on the floor of our room.

    Here are some tips for tailgating if you decide to take it on the road:

    Local Campus Rules: Check out the website of the campus where you plan on tailgating and make sure to read all of their rules. Many campuses do not allow alcohol on campus and some do not even allow tailgating. There may be parking passes required along with specified areas for visiting team fans to park.

    Traffic Routes: Major universities work with their campus police and local law enforcement to help traffic flow smoothly before and after games. You may find that many of the routes you want to drive down may be blocked and traffic rerouted. Websites, news channels, and local radio may have the information you need.

    Campus Map: Print out a campus map before you leave home. You might rely on a GPS system to help you get around when traveling, but with street closures, you may not be able to use the GPS.

    Mobile Phone Carriers: Mobile phone usage increases in capus areas during football games, which may cause a delay in trying to send important messages (like where to meet) or making phone calls. It’s game day and not a day to make any important decisions, so be aware that coverage will be spotty, if at all. Also, many major universities have marketing agreements with certain carriers and if your carrier isn’t part of the agreement, you can go ahead and prepare for NO CELL SERVICE inside of the stadium. (Example: LSU has an agreement with Verizon. I use AT&T. Any data transmission I make from inside Tiger Stadium WILL BE blocked.)

    Pack Everything: Pretend like you are preparing for the apocolypse or extended camping trip and pack all the necessities. Once you park, you won’t be able to drive anywhere and most convenient stores in the area are either shut down or have an hour wait to get in. Many of my friends who tailgate from their vehicles even pack a portable potty and place a tent over it. Food, drinks, grill, trashbags, utinsels, everything. Pack it. oh, and be respectful by cleaning up your mess afterwards.

    Bring Your Own Shade: Even though the weather is starting to get nicer, you may end up in the middle of a parking lot with no shade. Bring along one of those pop-up covers. You’ll be glad you did.

    Hydrate: This is the most important thing you can do. Many tailgaters imbibe in their favorite libations throughout the day. Water intake is important so that you don’t have to be hauled out of the stadium by ambulance right at kickoff.

    Have Fun: Sure, there’s some mental competition with everyone rooting for their favorite team, but football is a game and it’s also a way of life here in the southern US. Keep it clean, and keep it fun. Remember – Don’t drink and drive!

    Do you have some tips for tailgating during football season? Please leave them in the comments to be entered to win a tailgating prize pack that includes an EZ Grill portable grill, one Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka limited edition flask, two Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka drink coozies, and a Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka t-shirt.

    One comment per email address. Former contributors of TravelingMamas.com not eligible to enter. Winner must be at least 21 years old and live in North America (I’m paying shipping costs), and must claim prize within 3 days of being notified that they’ve won. Bonus entries for tweeting and liking on Facebook (leave a comment for each way to count). Comments will be rescued from spam and winner chosen randomly via Random.org. Contest end Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 11:59 pm CST. Winner announced sometime the next day. Prize provided by EZ Grill and Firefly Vodka.

    tailgating giveaway winning commentWinner Update: Thanks to everyone who entered. Congratulations to comment #4, Susitravl, who was randomly chosen for this tailgating prize pack. Have a safe football season and remember, don’t drink and drive.

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  • While in New York City, TravelingMamas.com was invited to test out a few new Chevy models coming to the market for 2011. The event was called Chevy Blogher (being that it was held just before Blogher began) and bloggers from around North America participated in the ride and drive.

    The plan was to break into small teams and drive the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze from Manhattan to Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, NY. Themeparkmom, MommyMusings, and I went with Chris, a representative from Chevrolet. We checked out the interior to see how comfortable and practical this vehicle would be for a family or group of friends on a road trip.

    MommyMusings, ThemeParkMom, and CajunMama at Chevy Blogher Event in NYCThe Exterior: This vehicle is designed as a compact sedan. The Chevy Cruze is a tad bit bigger than the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic (I used to own a Civic) and definitely more pleasing to the eye. It comes in some nice colors, with the red version being my favorite. It is a four door vehicle making it a smart purchase for families, couples thinking about expanding their families, boomers, college students, or for a company vehicle.

    2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ

    The Interior: When I sat inside the Chevrolet Cruze, I really felt like I was in more of a luxury car than a compact midline vehicle. This model starts at $16,995 but comes in fully loaded at around $22,000. We took a ride in the loaded model which has sunroof, leather seats, and for families with kids – plenty of power plugs for those DVD players, game systems, or laptops. This vehicle sits four and the back seat has a built in drink/gadget holder in the middle, providing a boundary line for kids that argue over space during road trips. ThemeParkMom and MommyMusings sat in the back on the ride up to the farm while I chatted with Chris and played with all the front seat gadgets. It does have the OnStar system, as well as an iPhone/iPod docking station and built in GPS. The ride was smooth and the noise level from outside was almost eliminated. I guess that would be from the triple-sealed, acoustic-laminated glass windshield and liquid-applied sound deadeners, which are just some of the techniques used to help make the road seen, not heard.

    2011 Chevrolet Cruze Interior

    Under the Hood: {from Chevrolet} The available small displacement 1.4L turbocharged engine, ideal for Cruze, is designed to deliver efficiency without compromising performance. Coming late 2010, the Cruze Eco is expected to offer an estimated 40 MPG highway. Cruze Eco adds ultra-low-rolling resistance tires and other technologies to boost efficiency. And Cruze Eco is decked out with a rear spoiler and 17″ wheels, so saving gas will finally look as good as it feels.

    2011 Chevrolet Cruze Under the Hood

    Safety: A Mama is always concerned about safety, and with the Chevy Cruze, you can feel confident that your little family pod will be safe and secure. {from Cheverolet} Cruze sets itself apart from other compacts on safety with 10 standard airbags, including frontal, front seat side-impact, roof-rail head-curtain, rear-seat side impact, second row side, and front knee air bags. Technologies like StabiliTrak Electronic Stability Control System with Traction Control and four-wheel antilock brakes help you stay on the road and in control. And should the unthinkable ever happen, Cruze is equipped with OnStar® Automatic Crash Response standard for the first six months. Built-in sensors can automatically alert an Advisor, who is immediately connected to your vehicle and can request emergency help be sent to your exact GPS location, even if you’re unable to respond.(note: I work in emergency services and we really DO get calls from OnStar notifying us of emergencies.)

    2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT

    Overall Impression: The ride was smooth and quiet, so it definitely gets a thumbs up for comfort. I don’t know about the other Mamas, but I really liked the Chevrolet Cruze and I’m even considering investing in one as our next family vehicle. Besides the safety features and good gas mileage, the technology alone has sold me. I want to plug in my new iPhone 4 and listen to Pandora as I take a road trip to the Gulf Coast or Missouri with the family, opening the sunroof to smell and feel the fresh air. A bonus? Well, that would be the new OnStar iPhone app that allows you to check your fuel levels, monitor any service needed, and even start your car from around the block or inside your home. Now THAT’s rockin’ cool!

    As a mother of two (a tween and teen), I ditched my SUV a long time ago and realized that I could save money on road trips by driving a more economic and environmentally friendly vehicle. Plus, it’s easier to find a parking space in a smaller vehicle. I can’t wait until the Chevrolet Cruze is out on the market. You can check out the Traveling Mamas Chevy Drive experience by watching the video in the upper right hand of the page. If you can’t see it in your browser, here’s the direct link: TravelingMamas.com Test Ride the Chevrolet Cruze.

    Have you checked out the Chevy Cruze? What did you think?

    Disclosure: Chevy treated us to lunch since we were on a farm for the day. This had no influence on our impression of the Chevrolet Cruze.

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  • All my life, I have driven on I-75 to and from Florida once, twice or a dozen times a year. And for those of you who have done it, you know that means you see a lot — a lot — of Georgia interstate.

    You also see a lot of fast-food joints and chain restaurants. But if you can wait to eat until you’re around Atlanta, there are a couple of gems just off the highway that are great for families. Here are my favorite spots for a meal along I-75 near Atlanta:

    The Varsity (I-75 Exit 249D)

    The Varsity has been serving up chili cheese dogs, onion rings and fried pies for 80+ years in Atlanta. The food is good, but this place is really about the experience. It’s packed at nearly any time of the day, and you’d better have your order ready when you get to the counter, because the cashier will bark “What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” until you spit it out.

    Kids can pick up a free paper Varsity bell-hop hat. And be sure to get them a Frosted Orange – which tastes like a creamsicle in a cup. Just being in the hustle and bustle of the Varsity is exciting, and there’s plenty to read about the history of the place, too.

    One note of caution, though: If you’re road tripping during college football season, you may want to check to see if Georgia Tech is playing at home that day before planning a stop at The Varsity. On a normal day, the restaurant serves two miles of hot dogs and 2,500 pounds of potatoes. On a Georgia Tech game day, those numbers double.

    Marietta Diner (I-75 Exit 263)

    The Marietta Diner‘s menu could be the biggest challenge you face all day. There are literally hundreds of items to choose from. Just about anything you can think of – from pastas to pies to pork chops – is on it. In fact, on a recent visit I asked about an item and stumped the waiter – he couldn’t find it when flipping through the multi-page menu for himself.

    Most of the meals include a salad AND a soup. I recommend the Greek salad made with a ton of fresh ingredients and a huge chunk of feta, and the chicken matzo ball soup. In fact, I’m full after eating those two things and the free spanakopita that is served with the bread on the table.

    But then the entrees come, and they are amazingly huge, too. We’re talking two 1 1/2-inch thick pork chops on a 16-inch platter of rice and teriyaki vegetables. For one person. It’s the kind of thing I could serve my whole family and still have leftovers. So plan for that by sharing, or if you’re going to have a microwave where you’re headed, take it with you. Trust me, no one is walking out of this place without a to-go box.

    Not surprisingly, there’s plenty to choose from on the kids menu, and kids will get a kick out of eating in a classic chrome diner. They’ll also need some time to ogle at the dessert case, which is filled with cakes that stand more than a foot tall.

    (You’ll be too full for dessert at the end of your meal, but do yourself a favor and take a piece of cake to go to share at the hotel later.)

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