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!

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.

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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