A Stately Day in the Magnolia State

Lazy Magnolia Brewery, by Christina Perez

During the final day of the Southern Legislative Conference, our last tour was to the Lazy Magnolia Brewery, located in Kiln, Mississippi. The tour started with a delicious lunch and Christina (the only 21-year-old ambassador) got a chance to sample the hard ice tea. Before the tour guide began to lead us, we had a few minutes to play some pool.

Southern Legislative Conference, Kiln MS, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

Once again, Makayla and Ryan, the masters of all games, demonstrated their astounding prowess.

Everyone finished eating their food, meanwhile, the owner of the brewery, Mark Henderson, began by telling his story. Lazy Magnolia was an idea he had after getting a beer-making kit for Christmas one year.

Southern Legislative Conference, Kiln MS, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

His wife, Leslie, helped make his dreams a reality, and that led to him providing us with a tour today!

There was a large room which contained the fermenting tanks.

Southern Legislative Conference, Kiln MS, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

A few of the workers were preparing to run the line, then box, and ship the beer. Mark Henderson explained all the moving parts which allowed us to understand the process of beer making without the kit. Another of the more interesting artifacts in the brewery, was the recreation of Amelia Earhart’s plane that hung from the roof.

Southern Legislative Conference, Kiln MS, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

The tour ended with Al Saucier telling us stories about his book, The Broke Spoke Moonshine Book. Inside the book are many facts about moonshine. For example, the story of the first moonshine high-speed race car. He shared many of his stories that inspired him to become an author. We headed to the bus and it felt bittersweet knowing this was our last tour for the SLC, but the state dinner was next and we couldn’t wait to represent the best state in the United States.

“Meet Me at The Crossroads” State Dinner, by Makayla Mason

The final night of the Southern Legislative Conference began with a cocktail hour.

Southern Legislative Conference, State Dinner, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, SHSU

We mingled with different legislators and had the opportunity to take a picture with Speaker Gunn of the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Southern Legislative Conference, State Dinner, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, SHSU, Speaker Phillip Gunn

He informed us that he was originally a Texas man and had graduated from Baylor University in Waco.

While we mingled, we were informed that we would have the honor of representing Texas during the Parade of Flags. A few minutes before the dinner began, we met with the other representatives of the states and lined up in the order in which we joined the Union. This meant we were in the 13th position out of the 15 states that were represented.   As we marched in to “Deep in The Heart of Texas” with our flag flying high, we couldn’t help but feel our Texas pride shine through us.

We made our way to the tables. Makayla and Beatriz sat with Oklahoma Representatives, while Christina and Ryan were seated with Mississippi Representatives. After a short introduction, presentations, and invocation, Speaker Gunn invited us to enjoy our dinner. We enjoyed a fresh salad with tangy and sweet Heirloom Tomatoes and Mississippi Watermelon. For our main course, we had Filet Mignon, Spicy Garlic Gulf Shrimp, Mississippi Grits, and Vegetables. Throughout the dinner, we were entertained by Pianist Bruce Levingston…

Southern Legislative Conference, State Dinner, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, SHSU, Pianist Bruce Levingston

…who was praised by the New York Times for his “mastery of color and nuance.”  We were honored, because he actually gave a shout out to us for being from Texas before he played his songs.

Also on hand was American Idol runner-up La’Porsha Renae…

La'Porsha Renae, SHSU, LEAP Center, Southern Legislative Conference

…who certainly knew how to fill out a camera frame, and to belt out a tune.

An interesting dinner conversation quickly led our way to dessert where we enjoyed Mississippi Mud Pave.

While we walked away from the night, we realized how special and bitter- sweet the conclusion of the conference was. As the majority of the LEAP Ambassadors are graduating in the coming academic year and Ryan leaves for the University of Arkansas, the relation of finality hit a little too hard.  The blow was softened, however, by a nice discussion with Levingston…

Southern Legislative Conference, State Dinner, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, SHSU, Bruce Levingston

…and a nice goodbye to some newly-made friends.

Before the night ended, the LEAP Ambassadors threw a surprise party for Stephanie, who always goes above and beyond for every single one of us. We decided to get her a Mississippi themed cake to represent the great time we had at Biloxi, Mississippi as well as provide her with a memory she would never forget.

Everyone had a great time at the Southern Legislative Conference and it was sad that we had to go back to Texas the next day.

Fun From Mississippi to Missouri

Gulf Coast Parasailing, by Makayla Mason

As LEAP Ambassadors, we contribute to the travel costs of our own trips.  This contribution is an investment in our own education, and while part of our money goes for trip t-shirts, conference registration and museums, our money also goes to fun activities that we engaged in on trips.  And that applied today, when we had a chance to go parasailing!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU
Makayla, Christina, and Beatriz Prepare for their Turns!

Only one member of our group had ever experienced parasailing and the rest of us were excited to embark on this new adventure. While making our way to deep waters (in every sense of the phrase), one of our tour guides helped the first pair into their harnesses. First up were Christina and Makayla, followed by Ryan and Beatriz, and ending with Mike and Stephanie. With the sun shining down on us, we were anxious for the adrenaline rush the thrill of parasailing elicited. The release from the boat was very smooth…

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

…and as we climbed higher into the Biloxi sky we began to understand why people love to parasail. It was a very peaceful 10 minutes, with a breeze and even sightings of dolphins!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

While a pair was up in the sky, the other four took advantage and enjoyed the boat ride filled with music and the occasional splash of salty water.  Probably the happiest of the para-sailors were Beatriz and Ryan, both of whom were productive while air-sailing.

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

Ryan filmed the entire 10-minute ride…

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

…while Beatriz waved her arms and kicked her feet in excitement!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

The view from the sky was amazing, with the boat looking tiny.

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

It’s amazing to have these opportunities as undergraduates, and we had a great time in our rarefied adventure!

Hibachi Dinner, by Makayla Mason

For dinner, we decided on going to Kyoto Japanese Cuisine. Beatriz had never experienced a Hibachi style dinner so we happily made our way to the flat top grill. We made our decisions quickly with Beatriz and Makayla sharing the Hibachi Chicken and Shrimp, Ryan and Christina shared the Rock’N Roll Sushi and noodles, and Stephanie and Mike split the Hibachi Chicken and Lobster. We told our Chef, who was a very humorous man, that Beatriz had never experienced a Hibachi Grill, so he invited her up to cook for us. Beatriz did not last long as our Chef. We experienced an onion train with fire, steam, and sound effects, and then we watched our dinner being skillfully cooked. Beatrix also tried lobster for the first time, she enjoyed it! We left Kyoto with full stomachs ready to dance it all off at the conference’s “Missouri Night” gathering.

Missouri Kick-Off Party, by Christina Perez

After dinner, we headed to the 2018 Missouri Kick-off reception. Each year, the state who is hosting the following year (in this case,  2018’s Conference) gives a preview of the conference by hosting a night full of their state favorites.  Although the states work together, there is no doubt they are a bit competitive, and the states try to provide as much fun as possible to “show off” their state.

When we arrived, we were greeted with goody bags which contained goodies from Missouri companies, and an entry way that was clearly Missouri made!

Southern Legislative Conference, STL MO, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU

We took a group photo and headed for the dance floor. Although some of us were too shy to show off our groovy moves (Ryan), others did not waste a minute. We danced to hit songs from famous artists such as Michael Jackson, Gloria Gaynor, The Isley Brothers, and many more–alongside legislators from 15 states, including at least one Speaker of the House! Makayla expressed her enthusiasm of how she had enjoyed dancing to one of her favorite songs, Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson.  Interestingly, for the first time ever, the LEAP Center Ambassadors are on tape “dancing”….

But this was not the last time!  As a special treat, we also danced in a conga line while holding onto the mascot for the St. Louis Blues.

According to Missouri’s Speaker of the House (Todd Richardson), the purpose of the event was to allow everyone a great time, and we think the “show-me” state did its job well!

See you next year St. Louis!

A Day at the Museums–in Biloxi

Beatriz- Day at the Museums

With a light wind blowing playing with our hair…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

…today was perfect for going out on a Day at the Museums.  And our first stop was the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, which was first planned in the early 2000s.  owever, when the actual construction started Hurricane Katrina hit Biloxi, washing away most of the construction. Undaunted, the city began construction again, employing the renowned Frank Gehry as architect.

The buildings have Gehry’s trademark curves and steel, making for an aesthetically stunning Museum (albeit difficult to photograph).

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry

There were  two guest artists being showcased at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum: Ruth Miller and Greg Moran.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry

First, we saw the pieces of Mr. Moran.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Greg Moran

He mainly deals with different types of metals, wood, and stone to create sculptures and he also designs paintings.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Greg Moran

Mrs. Miller also has an interesting method of creating her own type of art.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Ruth Miller

She uses stitches to bring to life tapestries.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Ruth Miller

She accomplishes these masterpieces by first taking a picture, then tracing it onto a series of lined paper, and finally towards becoming a stitched artwork.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Ruth Miller

We had never seen her work, and we were blown away by her skill and technique.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Ruth Miller

…and we enjoyed going through the entire exhibit.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Ruth Miller

Next, we saw the George Ohr exhibit. There are three defining features of an Ohr piece: 1) having many twists and turns 2) thin walls 3) and lastly naturalistic images.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Ohr Pottery

Ohr had many qualities and charms. He became and eccentric man in order to become more successful. He would stand on his hands in front of his gallery to draw the crowd in, gel his mustache to look like it was being blown in the wind, and he verbalized various quotes that added to his art, such as “This Pot is here, and I am the Potter who was”.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Christina Perez, Kentucky Senator Dorsey Ridley
Christina Discusses Ohr Pottery with Kentucky Senator Dorsey Ridley

After these exhibits we took a short break for lunch and then headed to a ceramic workshop.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Ceramics

After a brief tutorial, we each designed–with varying levels of skill–tiles…

As part of our conference participation, the tiles will be glazed and mailed to us.  It was fun to learn and, pending the outcome of the tiles, we might even have something to keep!

At the next stop, we visited the Maritime and Seafood Museum. Biloxi was once known as the Seafood Capitol of the world, but after Hurricane Camille hit, they lost that title–although they still have a thriving seafood industry. Throughout the entire museum, we learned about the history of the seafood industry in Biloxi.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Maritime and Seafood Museum

This included poignant stories of specific sea vessels to technological innovations, such as this shrimp-peeling device.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Maritime and Seafood Museum

We even found a boat called “Little Bee,” our nickname for Beatriz.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Maritime and Seafood Museum

One of the most interesting stories was about the lens from the Ship-Island lighthouse.  During the Civil War, Ship-Island was the site of a brief battle, and although the confederates declared victory, they retreated from the island, taking the lens with them.  Although it was returned and used again, the lighthouse became obsolete during the 20th century, and the Museum gained control of the Fresnel Lens.  During Hurricane Katrine, however, the lens was washed away, breaking into many pieces.  Originally crafted in France in 1820, the lens was believed lost forever.

Amazingly, however, the pieces of the lens were found and restored!

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Maritime and Seafood Museum

The curator described that restoration as a metaphor for the Gulf Coast, a hardy and durable area that, through teamwork, has managed to come back together after Katrina.

It was an educational day, full of networking and learning.  Little did we know what the evening had in store!

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ohr-O'Keefe, Frank Gehry, Ruth Miller

 

An Evening with Author Wendy Walker

With school still more than a week away, the LEAP Ambassadors still have time for some fun learning before the semester gets underway.  So, six LEAP Ambassadors and friends traveled to Houston to visit Murder by the Book and enjoy a presentation by author (and family-law attorney) Wendy Walker.Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

Ms. Walker has written several books, but her reputation as a writer was largely established with the publication of “All is Not Forgotten.” The book, addressing “memory science” and the affect that it can have on personality and the legal system, was a hit, and it prompted Walker to adopt a similar theme for her latest, “Emma in the Night.”  By “similar theme,” we don’t mean to suggest that she wrote “All is not Forgotten” part 2; rather, she is continuing her exploration of how cognitive or personality disorders can play out in families and in the legal system.

In “Emma,” Walker explores Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  As Walker notes, her books are a mix of psychology, family relationships, crime, and the legal system, and that is a good description of “Emma in the Night.”  It’s an engaging book.  In fact, it is so engaging, it has even prompted to Christina to read it!

Walker did a fine job of describing the book and her career at Murder By the Book.

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

She discussed her various careers, her slowish path to becoming an attorney, and—most interestingly—her foray into writing.  Her first books didn’t sell well (“friends and family”), and her agent told her to adopt a new approach to her plots.  Taking a step back, inspired by a NY Times article on memory science, and working more closely with her agent, she produced “All is not Forgotten.”  With that hit—and the film rights picked up by Reese Witherspoon—Walker got the sales and publicity needed to become a full-time writer.

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

Walker was more engaging than most authors, and she was particularly gracious in reaching out to us during her presentation, asking us what we were studying, what interested us, and thanking us for coming.

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

We had time for a nice group photo…

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

–she even indulged us in a selfie–

Wendy Walker, Emma in the Night, SHSU, LEAP Center

…and she spent time discussing her travels and career after her presentation.

We thought about inviting her to dinner with us, but she had previously mentioned her crazy book-tour schedule, and we didn’t want to impinge upon her sleep availability further.  So we headed off to Azuma on our own, to continue to expand our cultural horizons with six types of sushi!

It was also a chance for us to catch up—four of us work full-time, two of us work part-time—and to begin some preliminary plans for our trip to Big Bend National Park next week as well as the beginning of the fall semester.

The night was a nice break from the summer job grind, and many thanks to Wendy Walker for an educational and entertaining evening!

 

 

More Gulf Coast Fun, Night 2, Biloxi

Biking in Biloxi, by Beatriz Martinez

In order to work off the food, the Leap Ambassadors parted ways to see the seashore while exercising. Professor Yawn and Ryan went on a gator excursion, where they fed gators and got to “pet” them. The girls, however, went a much simpler route by doing a variety of safer alternatives.

The first of which was, of course, shopping.  Being at Beau Rivage, we decided to, briefly, get a glimpse at the casino. Being that not all of us were of age, we moved on to the shops and away from the casinos.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Along the way we happened to chance upon a face painter and of course Christina and Beatriz got their face painted.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Later, after touring the rest of Beau Rivage, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our next excursion.

Part of the city of Biloxi’s recreational/ tourism efforts were incorporated in a bicycling program that you could use in order to cycle across most of the city of Biloxi. The three of us: Makayla, Christina, and I, took advantage of this opportunity and used it to ride 4 miles along the beach.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Part of Biloxi’s charm are the sea-themed sculptures along the shore.  Made from trees damaged in Hurricane Katrina, the community brought in artists to turn the dead trees into beautiful art.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Tree Sculptures

It’s a classic case of making lemonade from lemons, and we enjoyed the sculptures (Galveston adopted this program after Ike).

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU,, tree sculptures

After more than 1 hour on the road, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for another night of fun.

Family Night, by Makayla Mason

With a beautiful sunset and perfect weather luring us into the Southern Legislative Conference’s Family Night, there was excitement in the air. To start the night with a hit, Jackson State University made a grand entrance.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU,, Jackson State University Sonic Boom Band

The crowd was cheered with approval as we all enjoyed their enthusiastic dances and electric music.

Southern Legislative Conference, Jackson State University Sonic Boom Band, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Ocean Springs MS

Their whole program was exciting and wonderful.

And the music and moves were great!

Speaking of moves, a certain couple–Christine and Aaron from the Lift School of Acrobatics–had some very flexible ones.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Arron and Christine, Lift School of Acrobatics

Their balance, elegance, and strength were amazing!

For the rest of the night, we enjoyed a picnic-on-the-beach style dinner with many items to choose from such as hamburgers, corndogs, nachos, cotton candy, and s’mores!

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU

While enjoying our tasty dinner, we enjoyed live music by Steve Azar.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

Steve Azar, a Mississippi man, fully hit the country scene in 2002. His song “I Don’t Have To Be Me til’ Monday” was the first single to reach #2 on the national country radio charts.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

We were lucky enough to sing along with him as he played that very same song that is still popular on the radio today.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

As the night grew late, we played a few beach side games. We even played a tournament of bean-bag toss.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Playing Horseshoes in the dark was interesting. Half the fun was trying to find where the horseshoes had buried themselves after we had thrown them. Makayla was the only one to get a ringer but Ryan had a few close throws.

We were sad to leave the Fun Zone, but it was off to get sleep for the next day’s adventures.

Gulf Coast Fun, Day 2 in Biloxi

Lighthouse Tour, by Christina Perez

Biloxi, Mississippi is known for its delicious seafood, beautiful sunsets, and of course its lighthouse. The Biloxi Lighthouse is the signature monument that has withstood many sunny days and several stormy nights, as the city grew around it. It all began in 1847, when the US Congress authorized funds for a lighthouse to be built in Biloxi. By 1848, it was ready for operation.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

Today, the Leap Ambassadors climbed its 57 spiral steps to the top that many keepers have had the task of climbing.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

Inside of the lighthouse are the water marks of where the high waters of certain storms reached.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

The most damaging of all was that of Hurricane Katrina, whose waters went up to 21.5 meters above sea level. Although the high waters and high-speed winds damaged most of the city, the lighthouse stood firm, a (literal) beacon of hope through all the disaster.  As we reached the lantern room, we could see the mesmerizing glass lens that had illuminated the town through every situation imaginable.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

The tour guide shared many fun facts about it and the lighthouse in general. Through the windows we could see miles and miles of sand, as well as people enjoying a day at the beach.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

We also had a chance to explore Biloxi’s interesting Visitor’s Center, which has art…

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

…exhibits…

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

…and a nice porch for observation and relaxation.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint, by Makayla Mason

For lunch, we decided to go to Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint. A family style diner, it had a character all of its own. As a starter, we snacked on Hummus with Brick Oven Flatbed as well as Portobello Fries. Both were delicious. After thoroughly contemplating the menu, we finally decided on two of Sal’s Selection Pizzas: the Rockaway Beach and the Gambino. After trying each, the savory Gambino was the resulting table favorite. Following soon after was our dessert.  We ordered Crème Brûlée for those who have never tried it before. We also ordered the Grand Central Station. What pulled up to our table was 10 scoops of 10 different flavored ice cream balls with 10 different toppings. Afterwards, we had to ask ourselves “Did we conquer it, or did it conquer us?”

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Sal & Mookie's

Gator Ranch, by Ryan Brim

As some of us spent time roaming the beaches, riding bikes along the coast, combing the beach, and relaxing this afternoon, two of us rode a bus to Moss Point, a town about 30 minutes away, to go on an airboat tour excursion at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

The airboat tour of Gator Ranch was less a gator-spotting adventure, and more of what can be described as the nautical version of an ATV driving through mud.

The trip was not a complete loss for those who wished to see an alligator while out on the murky waters.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

We saw what our tour guide estimated to be a three-year-old gator, which was around three feet long. He (our tour guide, not the gator) also said that female alligators grow up to nine feet long, and that male alligators will continue to grow their whole lives.

Surprisingly, alligators really seem to enjoy marshmallows. When we asked who found this out, he said that some poor guy must have dropped his snack and the gators tore it up. That poor fellow’s sacrifice was surely a noble one, and now our tour guide had something to lure the little reptile to the side of our boat for a better photo-op.

The fact that we only saw one or two gators was fine, though, because after we finished our thrill-filled boat ride…

Surprisingly, alligators really seem to enjoy marshmallows. When we asked who found this out, he said that some poor guy must have dropped his snack and the gators tore it up. That poor fellow’s sacrifice was surely a noble one, and now our tour guide had something to lure the little reptile to the side of our boat for a better photo-op.

…we visited the gator ranch side of the facilities, where around thirty alligators were visible in a sectioned off part of the bayou.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

With gator ranch under our belt, we returned to the hotel, eager for a “family-night” evening on the beach with more than 500 state legislators!

 

 

Biloxi News: Southern Legislative Conference, Day 1

Our first day in Biloxi, Mississippi began in a typical LEAP fashion: getting to discover what the variety of local attractions the Magnolia State had to offer. Having gotten to Biloxi late last night, we were unable to even glimpse what this new state was all about, but today we took full advantage of what it had to offer.

Half Shell Oyster House, by Christina Perez

Our first stop was in a quaint, local restaurant called Half Shell Oyster House. Nestled in Mississippi’s downtown area, this refurbished bank turned restaurant, was a hidden pearl. Surprisingly enough, about half of the ambassadors had never tried oysters, so the main course of our cuisine consisted of just that, including both raw oysters and grilled oysters.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Half-Shell Oyster House

To make it even more of a MS treat, we had fried tomatoes and crab cakes, The first timers prepared their oysters, and together took their first bite. All were glad to try it, but some proved more adventurous than others.

Next, we decided to partner up and share a plate so that we could save some room for dessert. Beatriz and Christina ordered a Seafood Sampler which included oysters, crab cakes, shrimp, and two sides: Sweet Potato Crème Brulee and Fried Okra. I couldn’t wait to taste the scrumptious Sweet Potato Creme Brulee. Ryan and Makayla decided to also be adventurous by ordering a Big Easy Surf and Turf which included a 6 oz filet over a crab cake. Strong reviews were given on the variety of seafood plates and then it was time for dessert.

We all decided on the Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding and the Bananas Foster Cheesecake. The Bread pudding was made with cinnamon rolls and topped with Homemade Spiced Rum Sauce. Professor Yawn, being the bread pudding connoisseur that he is, began to compare it to other bread puddings. It was delicious. So delicious in fact, that many of the Leapsters ended up burning their mouths due to their impatience for another bite. Everyone left happy and with full bellies towards the next adventure which would be a good compliment to the food.

Chandaleur Island Brewery, By Makayla Mason

As part of the Southern Legislative’s Conference first event, we went to tour the Chandeleur Island Brewery. We were greeted at the entrance by some sweet artisan ice pops, handcrafted by Pop Brothers.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

After a day in the hot sun, we thought the popsicles were heavenly!  There were even some pleasant surprises such as an entire Oreo on the inside of the “Cookies and Cream” popsicle!

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

After enjoying our ice pops, Chris Vignes, the City of Gulfport’s Public Information Officer, gave us some of the brewery’s backstory, and he explained the City’s economic development philosophy and vision for the future.

Once behind the the bar, one of the owners supplemented the tour, and we learned about the interesting history behind the building, the background of the company, and process of composing the beer.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

Chandeleur Brewery was never meant to be just a bar.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

Instead it was meant to revive the interest in hand-crafted beer and be a place where families could relax. Bringing the community together was crucial to the existence of the Brewery. Their beer cans were designed by a local tattoo artist, which we all thought was an interesting fact! Over the years it has grown to be quite popular and in the 14 years of the Chandeleur Brewery bartender’s experience there has never been a fight.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

Wanting to partake in the famous reputation of this Brewery, we sampled some of their beers (by “we,” we mean those of age). Out of the 5 samples that we could try, the popular vote went to the sweeter blueberry-flavored beer. After that, we played a couple of games ranging from Jenga…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

…and Bean Bag Toss, or “Corn Hole,” as Christina and Ryan call it.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Popbrothers, Chandaleur Island Brewery

As part of the advertising the many treasures hidden downtown, we learned about Fishbone Alley.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

Just a block away from the Brewery, this alley had a charm all of its own.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

Once an plain-looking alley, it had gotten a touch up by many local artists from the area, decking it out in a variety pieces of art.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

This also enhanced the community bonding that the Brewery was trying to promote.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

This alley created a space where people from the community could get together for music, peace and quiet, expressing themselves through the medium of art, or some of the rather odd games the city sometimes hosted. The alley is a continuous project in which locals are excited to see grow.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Fishbone Alley, Gulfport MS

Jet Ski Adventure, by Ryan Brim

After getting back to Beau Rivage from the Chandeleur Island Brewery, we still had some time before attending the welcoming reception. Quickly, everyone decided to take the extra time to change at the hotel into some more beach-appropriate attire and drive the short distance to a jet ski rental stand right off the beach. None of us had ever ridden a jet ski before, and we were very excited for the opportunity.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Jet Skiing, Biloxi Beach

First, we paired up, with Christina being Makayla and Ryan partnering with Beatriz. We donned our life vests and waited a few minutes for the jet skis to get set up. After a 2-minute training, we were off. Time seemed to rush past us as we zipped every which way, skimming along the waves.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Jet Skiing, Biloxi Beach

Both teams switched drivers, taking turns and experimenting with the jet ski until they felt comfortable on maneuvering the machine around.

It was easy to get the hang of, and a whole lot of fun!

Finally, our time was up. Sadly, we trekked across the sand back to the shore…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Jet Skiing, Biloxi Beach

…and even found a small crab which Beatriz had accidentally taken for a ride throughout the entire jet skiing experience. After a couple more pictures…

…it was soon time to head back to the hotel to prepare for the day’s next event.

Opening Reception at Jones Park, by Beatriz Martinez

Thirty minutes later, the LEAP Ambassadors were headed on their way to Jones Park where the Opening Reception for the Southern Legislative Conference of 2017 was being held. Music reached our ears as we walked across the “Front Yard of Mississippi”. We were greeted by a very Southern “Welcome Y’all” sign at the main entrance of the Barksdale Pavilion.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Jones Marina and Municipal Park, Gulfport MS

Of course, we could not help but take a picture with it. As famished as we were, we decided to explore the tantalizing food options available. With a very Southern theme mixed with some of the more coastal delicacies, we were served Bayou rice, a variety of local seafood (no oysters this time), and of course some good old-fashioned barbecue. In the meantime, we were enjoying the night music by Bobby Rush.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Bobby Rush. Blues Music

With over 17 blues awards in his lifetime, 364 records, and 66 years in the musical career, Bobby Rush was a sight to behold. At his early age of 84, he had the crowd grooving to his music pulling in people of all ages.

Not only did he present himself like the “King of the Chitlin’ Circuit” that he is…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Bobby Rush

…but also did other king impersonations such as the “King of Pop” (Michael Jackson)…

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Bobby Rush. Blues Music

and the “King of Rock and Roll” (Elvis Presley).

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, Bobby Rush. Blues Music

To end the evening with a bang, we were dazzled by a firework display that lighted the dark, night sky.

After celebrating the beginning of the Southern Legislative Conference, the Leapsters headed home to rest for the upcoming days filled with adventure.

Southern Legislative Conference, Biloxi MS, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors

It’s a Wrap: Sunday at Caddo Lake

Brian- Sunday Sunrise Tour

The sun slowly peeked its rays through the cypress trees, and the glow from the horizon steadily became warmer and stronger. As the light spread across the land below, the Leap Ambassadors began waking up from their groggy states–as did the wildlife that surrounded them. It was the LEAPsters’ second sunrise at Caddo Lake. This time, Mr. Burns and the others sat in the still water, waiting for the golden-hour (actually about 20 minutes) of warm lighting.

Suddenly, red, orange, and purple flooded the sky.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

The perfect lighting was upon us. Mark reached for his Nikon and began to shoot.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

As the sun emerged from the horizon, Mark continued to shoot…

Caddo Lake, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, Photography, Documentary, Caddo Lake

…and we joined in, pausing to enjoy the prettiest of the tours on which we had gone.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

Mark then directed the captain to a new destination…

Surprisingly, Chocolate Pecan won the most votes in favorite flavor.

…one we had seen several times with productive results. Once we arrived at the spot, the area’s salvinia invasion was noticeably present. Benign as these water herbs may seem, they pose a true threat to the ecosystem of the lake. This floating fern has endlessly propagated itself throughout the lake causing many problems over the past years. Stealing precious oxygen from the waters, making boat travel impossible in some areas, and having them at every corner has created an overall nuisance for the prosperity of the locals. Wes, enthusiastically explained how local and state entities are currently attempting to develop an effective method to eradicate this pest. Although it is our hope to see this threat neutralized the next time we visit Caddo Lake, it seems that a successful extermination strategy has yet to surface.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography
Egret Surrounded by Salvania

However, Caddo Lake perseveres, and is in fact, teeming with life of all shapes and sizes, even wing spans!

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

As we were wrapping up our tour, we pleaded to our captain to take us to a location where we could catch one last glimpse at the wildlife. It didn’t take much pondering before Wes quickly turned his boat and lead us to the perfect location.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

Crossing an archway of cypress, the woods resembled an aviary sanctuary. A blue heron soaring over the water one second, a white egret creeping through trees the next, or the vanishing sight of flying black-bellied whistling ducks, made for sights begging to get photographed. With cameras to spare, everyone was quick to photograph or record this bountiful wildlife.

Wes also provided more of his knowledge of the lake, showing the students lily pads, and the way that they react to water.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake Tours, Wes Holland, Photography, Caddo Lake

We really can’t say enough good things about Wes or his Caddo Lake Tour Co.  We heartily recommend his tours to anyone contemplating a Caddo Lake visit.

After a couple hours of floating on the river…

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

…we stopped our photography, enjoyed the ride…

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography, Sierra Dolch

…and we returned to terra firma and drove to our next shooting location: the Caddo Lake State Park.

Although Burns was not going to shoot any film this time, but instead be filmed as he walked us through the process to prepare a shot with his 4X5 camera. He explained that, on average, this procedure lasts around 15 minutes.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

Every component should be set with extreme caution as it is imperative that the camera stand absolutely still. With a self-deprecating smile, Burns told us how after tedious preparation of this same camera for a photo session of Reliant Stadium, it all went to waste when his leg got tangled with the camera, knocking everything into a state of disarray. As Burns had no film or intentions to photograph anything, he was comfortable letting us approach the camera to look through the view-finder.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

Under the hood of the camera, we all took turns to look at this upside-down, inverted image of the scene created by the optics. Walking through every step in how the camera functions and how to set it, Mark Burns held the attention of the Leap Ambassadors captive. Even, Sierra was fascinated, as she approached the camera to record the aperture in motion.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

Finally, it was time to depart from Caddo Lake.

Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Photography

After carrying the bags of camera gadgets and lenses, we said farewell to Mark. Although our scouting trip at Caddo Lake was temporarily over, we looked forward to seeing Mr. Burns again soon. He had opened up a whole new world to us. One in which we did not just gaze at the wonders the world had to offer, but were able to capture it.

Caddo Lake, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, Photography, Documentary, Caddo Lake

We were sad to leave this magical place, but we had to perk up as our adventures was far from over!

Kaitlyn- The Grove

This trip has been full of many new and exciting experiences. Our next stop was no exception.  We traveled a short distance from Marshall to Jefferson to visit the Grove, also known as the Stilley-Young House. Registered in the National Registry of Historic Places and recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark, the Grove was built in 1861 as a wedding gift for Frank and Minerva Stilley. Small, this home had the exterior of a Greek Revival architecture, while the interior was in a French Creole style.

However, it was not necessarily the architecture, or its age that lead us here. No, it was something much more than that. You see, the Grove was one of the top Haunted Houses in the Lone Star State. For the first time in LEAP history, the ambassadors were going on a historic home/ghost tour!Jefferson Texas, LEAP Center, SHSU, The Grove

Our tour began on the front porch, where Mr. Mitchel Whitington, the current owner of the house, greeted us. He briefly introduced us to the history of the different generations of families that had lived at the Grove. Everyone waited outside semi-impatiently. We were about to enter in a widely-rumored haunted house. It didn’t help that it was scorching hot outside and we were dripping in sweat. Thankfully, after putting our medical booties on, we were moved out of the East Texas heat and into the formal dining room and parlor of the home. Not only did the tour guide describe the history of the Grove’s numerous owners, but he also discussed interesting ghost stories during the first stop of our tour.  Although any mention of ghosts made some LEAP Ambassadors uneasy, the tour guide tried to put us at ease by explaining that all the ghosts in the home so far have been friendly.

Jefferson Texas, The Grove, SHSU, LEAP Center

Since the home is over 150 years old, it’s history is rich and fairly-well documented. Throughout its entire life, the home only had two major renovations completed throughout which helped preserve the original style of the home. Each room of the home, was particular to a family member. Throughout the tour Mr. Whitington enthusiastically told us the ghost stories and tales which allowed visitors to gain a sense of understanding about the homeowners who had cherished their home so much that they still returned to this day (now as ghosts) to make sure that their beloved home was still in good hands.

Jefferson Texas, The Grove, SHSU, LEAP Center

We toured the informal dining room, family room, and utility room before finishing our tour in the kitchen addition.  Interestingly enough, the house surprised us with two different items. One of them being an art piece by George Rodrigue, the Blue Dog. This particular Blue Dog was depicted in a dark, gloomy forest to go along with the theme of the haunted house. The second item was a statuette nicknamed the “Bird Girl”. The Bird Girl was first introduced to the LEAP ambassadors, Brian Aldaco and Kaitlyn Tyra, when they read the book “Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil” as preparation for their Savannah trip. Rumored to only be 4 original statues created, finding even a replica was astounding.

Jefferson Texas, The Grove, SHSU, LEAP Center, Bird Girl

It’s safe to say the Ambassadors had never visited a haunted historic home before and certainly not one that was recognized in by magazines such as Texas Highways, or the Dallas Morning News! Although some enjoyed the tour more than others, we left with much to talk about and an appetite ready to be fulfilled by lunch!​

Jefferson Texas, The Grove, SHSU, LEAP Center

Christina- Downtown Jefferson and the General Store

Just before heading home we decided to visit the City of Jefferson, Texas. Jefferson is a small town perfect for a leisure-filled weekend. Its architecture is, in places, similar to New Orleans, with its shops, antiques, and family-owned restaurants. Our lunch stop was Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar, which is known for its diverse options of Cornbread Sandwiches. My sandwich was called “The Irish” and contained corned beef, tomatoes and onions in between two slices of cornbread. We couldn’t leave without trying one of the many pies listed on the menu. We ordered chocolate pecan pie, very berry pie, and bread pudding all with a scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream. Surprisingly, Chocolate Pecan won the most votes in favorite flavor.

It’s also worth noting, that we saw a Charlie Chaplin image, of note because Brian dresses as Chaplin each year for Halloween.  Aldaco good-naturedly posed with the sign, contorting himself to cover “restrooms.”

Brian Aldaco, Kitts Kornbread, Charlie CHaplin

We also decided to stop at the Jefferson General Store before getting back to Huntsville. The General store sold many old school items including Candy, socks, shirts, toys, home décor, and many other objects. Some of us bought candy to cure our aching sweet tooth, while others bought toys. Overall, our stop in Jefferson was a success and finally it was time to go to our own small town of Huntsville.

Caddo Lake, SHSU, LEAP Center, Mark Burns, Photography, Documentary