Our Story

Welcome to our site! We are Joanne & Steve. After 20+ years working for a city school department and police department, we sold almost everything, bought an RV, and started living on the road with our three children. Joanne homeschools and works online.
What we have chosen is to live life as unencumbered as we possibly can and to spend time with our family, for our family, and as a family.
This website is a record of our travels. But, we also hope to educate, entertain, and inform others about RVing, roadschooling, and the great places we visit in this country.

Things to Do in Louisiana

A Spicy Trip to The Tabasco Pepper Plant

Today we drove to Avery Island to visit the Tabasco factory.  
The tour consisted of a short talk and a film, with 4 complementary mini-Tabascos each, and a final walk through a glass viewing area of the factory.

We learned a few interesting things today about Steve's favorite condiment.  The Tabasco company was begun by Edmund McIlhenny, whose family name is on the bottle, in the mid- to late-1860s.  He had married an Avery lady, whose family owned Avery Island in Louisiana; a salt mine larger than Mount Everest is tall.

Edmund was given Capsicum frutescens peppers from Mexico or South America and planted them on Avery island.  These peppers, along with the salt from Avery Island, gave birth to Tabasco  Pepper Sauce.
Some interesting tidbits:

  • Some of the barrels the Tabasco plant uses come from the Jack Daniel's company.  Jack Daniel's can only use their barrels once while creating their whiskey.  So, Tabasco takes them over using them anywhere between 3 and 100 years.  When the barrels finally fall apart, they are shredded into wood chips and sold for barbecuing.   

  • The peppers turn three lovely colors; green yellow, orange, until they are ready to be picked when they turn a vibrant red.  Pickers take only those that are ripe.  To help them, pickers carry a stick that is the color of the ripe pepper;  the red stick, or        le bâton rouge.  (The city of Baton Rouge may have been named for a red stick rumored to have been placed there; or for Native American bloodshed.)                                                                     

  • Each barrel of pepper mash, mixed with a bit of Avery Island salt, is fermented for three years.  Large amounts of salt is placed on top of the barrel, under which are holes for gases and juices to exit.  The salt inhibits unwanted items getting into the holes.  The salt then hardens to form a salt puck.

  • Once the mash has fermented it is mixed and stirred with vinegar, continuously, for 28 days.   After straining, any remaining mash might be used for Dentine gum or spiced chocolate.

  • The seeds for all and any pepper plants grown originate from Avery Island, specially chosen.

  • There's also oil in them thar hills.  

  • You pay $1.00 to enter the Avery Island, where private homes are and many of the Avery/McIlhenny family live.

  • There is also a large garden and bird sanctuary on the island.  Edmund started a bird colony to help save the egrets being slaughtered for ladies' hat plumage.

As soon as we exited the truck, we could smell the Tabasco.
Today's batch was heading to Germany.
Schlemiel! Schlimazel!
There is, of course, a gift shop where you can taste all the different types of sauces and condiments Tabasco makes.  Lots of different items to buy, too.  We bought an item or two, and got a free bottle of Buffalo Tabasco Sauce and !

A nice trip, short, but nice.  We left with a greater appreciation of Tabasco Sauce, the sustainability of the company, and the history involved.

LIGO in Livingston...time for Science

One of the few nice reasons to stay in Livingston, LA, has been the opportunity to visit LIGO; The Livingston Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.  When we first took our exit off of Route 12 West when we arrived in Livingston, we saw the sign for LIGO and thought about LEGO.  Then we dismissed it.  The local librarian told us to go check the place out.  School trips are the usual norm for visits, but we had a private 2 hour visit.  And it was worth it.

What is LIGO?  Well, it begins with Albert Einstein.  He brought forth the idea of gravitational waves. Einstein described space-time as like a fabric.  The presence of large amounts of mass or energy cause the "fabric" to warp, thus distorting space-time, creating curves.  When large masses move suddenly, these curvatures ripple outward, spreading, similar to the ripples caused by a pebble being thrown into a pond.  As the fabric of space stretches in one direction (say, left to right), it compresses inversely (top to bottom).  Like pulling on a piece of mesh fabric.

LIGO detects the ripples in space-time by using a device called a laser interferometer.  Basically, two 4 km tubes (arms) are laid perpendicular to one another.  From where they intersect, a beam of light is emitted and splits into halves; one half entering into the X tube and one into the Y tube.  At the end of each arm (a metal tube covered in concrete so as not to attract lightning), the laser light bounces off a mirror and heads back to the splitter.  Since both arms are the same length and the beam of light is one single beam split, the lights should return to the splitter simultaneously, and when they hit the laser, cancel each other out.  If there is any difference between the lengths of the arms, one beam may return from the mirror before the other beam, and thus some light will travel to where it can be recorded by a photodetector.  This would be evidence of some sort of gravitational wave, according to LIGO.

Why would one arm be longer than the other?  Well, it goes back to the mesh fabric.  When those ripples occur in outer space, they disrupt the fabric that is space-time, distorting it as if we pulled on mesh.  This would, in theory, "lengthen" one arm, thus altering the time the light takes to return.

This is worth watching: LIGO

I say in theory because, since opening in 2000 to the tune of $300M tax-payer dollars, no gravitational waves have been detected.  
But, I am no physicist.  So, let's talk about what you can do when you visit.

Tien, our guide, was wonderful.  Like a hands-on science museum, there are plenty of exhibits, models, and displays to play with and learn from.  We saw a 7-minute video (I think the youtube one I inserted here was better), had lots of time with the exhibits, and got a guided tour of part of the facility.  

Tien explains how our eyes can trick us. 
Iron filings and strong magnets are very cool.

Creating waves and nodes.

node is a point along a standing wave where the wave has minimal amplitude.
So, what that means is, everywhere but the red dots is moving.  This contraption the kids are looking at has white sand vibrating around, except for where the nodes are, and a design is created.  You can create different designs by changing the frequency of the wave.

Heat sensors.  Our noses and fingers were black from low to no heat. Except Steve.  He had no cold areas! 

Wearing prism glasses and trying to shoot a basketball.  You had to keep learning how to re-see and make adjustments.

Tien explains how a laser light can transmit information.  A laser, instead of a speaker, was attached to a cassette walkman.  The laser was then pointed to a photocell, which is attached to a speaker.  Press play.  Listen to the cassette. Don't ask me to explain why this works.

Tien explains air pressure using a soda bottle (with the top placed at the bottom) and a balloon.  This was cool.

Doug "walks" us through the arms and the "clean" rooms where the laser begins.  The graphs above his head measure the vibrations caused by the ocean, earthquakes, and people.

Playing with the earth and a blower.

LIGO and a part of one of the arms.

Slinky showing us waves and nodes.

Playing around with light and mirrors.

Having fun with bubbles.

As you travel, talk to the librarians and check out some of these local, hidden gems.  We had a very educational and fun day.

New Orleans...worth the visit

We visited New Orleans two days...once traveling through in our huge truck and never parking, and the other renting a car and enjoying the city for a day.  We WILL be back.  And you should plan to visit. 

If you do, book the VIP tours.  http://www.vipcitytours.com/

We had Henry, who was wonderful.  The tour takes you through the French Quarter, the 9th Ward, a Louisiana cemetery, and areas surrounding.  It's a two-hour tour, and worth it.

So far, we know Henry and Dino are superb, but I guess all the tour guides are great.

In the short time we spent in the city, Café du Monde is a must.  Well, when we went it was obviously in the process of getting ready for Mardi Gras-Superbowl-Mardi Gras...the, I believe, Vietnamese waitstaff was less than sociable...but you go there for the tradition and the coffee and the beignets.  Don't sneeze or breathe in suddenly.  LOTS of powdered (or Powdahed if you are from RI) sugar.

While you are there you need to have a Po' Boy, and a Muffaletta.  Johnny's is supposed to be a good place.  And then there's plenty of places to grab a drink to-go, as there is an open container law in N.O. and you can walk around with whatever drink you choose.  

Beyond the food and the drink there is the art and the architecture.  

Plenty to see and do, to buy and eat, to drink and inhale.  Best to stay more than a day...
We'll be back for sure.

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