Celebration in the Oaks: open nightly!

The Bayou Metairie Monster

The Bayou Metairie Monster

This is a reposted blog piece. The original piece from nola.com can be viewed by clicking here

By Melinda Shelton, Mid-City & More columnist
(on nola.com on December 04, 2014 at 2:57 PM, updated December 04, 2014 at 2:58 PM)

On a balmy, winter evening in New Orleans, my canine sidekick Liza Jane met me at the front door, leash dangling from her mouth, brown eyes bright with excitement. I recognized the "you're taking me for a walk, human" behavior.

"It's dark, Liza Jane," I told her. Her perky ears drooped a tad. "Ok, I'll just take you on a quick spin around the block. But that's it. You know we've been binge-watching 'Criminal Minds' so let's stay close."

Liza Jane dogged my every step to keep me on track. After I triple-locked the front doors, I turned in time to see Liza walk to my car and drop her leash. She shot me a killer canine look. I parked near Morning Call and barely had time to lift the car's rear hatch as she leapt out, triumphant. With my phone on silent and tucked it in a pocket beside my Mace, we started our walk around the lagoons in City Park.

It was eerily darker than usual. I realized park officials had turned off all of the lights, as in light poles and Christmas decorations, I suppose to build suspense for Celebration in the Oaks that was opening its nightly run Dec. 5. The lone illuminated display was the green serpent in the lagoon.

A musician shrouded in the darkness under live oaks played a mournful saxophone tune, which floated across the smooth-as-glass water. A talkative group of runners emerged from the shadows and disappeared again, reminding me of the flocks of birds I hear before I can spot them in a darkening twilight sky. A couple with a toddler ambled by, and the woman yelped when she finally looked up from her texting. "Sorry," she murmured.

I wanted to tell her and her male companion to turn off their danged phones for just five minutes, watch the kid more closely, and feel and hear and smell the park. Southern manners prevailed.

We made an abbreviated circuit of the lagoons and stopped at Morning Call.          That's where we met Erin Osbrach, an energetic worker at the 24-hour coffee shop. Before I could settle into a wrought iron chair on the patio, she had a glass of water on the table and said she'd be right back with my to-go order of beignets and small hot chocolate. She was back in a flash: "The beignets were just made and are hot," she said.

I was scribbling notes in a memo book, looked up and smiled. In the same time it took her to get my to-go order, I learned she's a college student, has been working at Morning Call for awhile and loves meeting the people, especially international tourists, and it's a really great place to work.

I introduced her to Liza Jane, who peeked out from beneath my chair, and she laughed when I said the dog loves beignets.

"You look familiar. Are you a writer?" she asked.  I nodded. Her exuberant energy was palpable. "I thought I recognized you from your photo. You write a column and you write about your dog sometimes, right?" Liza Jane emerged and nuzzled up to the human who recognized her celebrity status.

After a brief visit, I walked Liza Jane to the Great Lawn. As I sat on a bench and sipped creamy hot chocolate, Liza settled at my feet, and we shared beignets. I laid the brown paper bag on the ground and laughed as she stuck her head farther into it to get to the powdered sugar at the bottom. She emerged, muzzle caked with white sugar, sneezed, and smiled—really.

A nearly full moon emerged from clouds, and life unfolded, uneventfully, around us.

During 2015, I hope we all will take more time to disconnect from our devices and reconnect with family, friends, felines, canines—and delightful people like Erin.

Celebration in the Oaks

With the exception of Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, Celebration in the Oaks continues every night, including Christmas night, through Jan. 1, 2015. The hours are Sunday through Thursday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Admission is $8 a person, and free for children under 3 and Friends of City Park. Amusement park and train rides require additional purchases.

NOLA City Bark Deals
Our friends at NOLA City Bark have given current members an unexpected perk. In the past, one-year passes were good for a calendar year, January through December. However, the non-profit is getting on City Park's fiscal year schedule (March 1 through Feb. 28), so current permits will be valid through Feb. 28, 2015.

The board of directors is also raising permit fees for the first time in two years. In 2015, permits for a family and one dog will cost $48, and $43 for Friends of City Park; and permits for two or more dogs will cost $53 and $48, respectively. One-week permit fees remain $10, and two-week permits cost $15.

For information, call 504.483.9377. Melanie Paulina is the coordinator.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone.

Melinda Shelton writes about Mid-City and Faubourg St. John and the DeSaix area and Fair Grounds neighborhoods. She can be reached via email at melindalshelton@gmail.com.