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Scaly Alligators, Pink Spoonbills and Theatrical Turtles, Oh Yeah!

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Amazing, beautiful wonders waited for me around every turn. We glided upriver with the ease of sharp skates on ice, paddling just enough to keep our canoe’s forward momentum steady. It only took a few minutes on the river to forget unfinished chores, dinner plans and upcoming jobs. As the thumping road noise from the highway faded away behind us, so did my routine cares and concerns. At first there wasn’t much to see. In the middle, where passage was easy, the river was deep and dark. The brewed tea color water hid any aquatic life that might be lurking beneath our canoe. Wildlife that might have been along the riverbank, was hidden in the murky shallows, or guarded from view behind tightly clustered congregations of cypress knees.

Right in my own back yard, a short drive from my home, is a small minimally appointed park. It’s a secluded treasure brimming with a wealth of exotic wildlife and lush, tropical landscapes. You won’t believe the incredible number of mysterious creatures that thrive just fifteen minutes away from downtown Tampa.

I missed the entire thirty minute drive from home to the park because I was nose deep in my cell phone. I was checking important emails and staying up-to-date with social media. When the truck bounced off the pavement onto the gravel road, I looked up. The dirt road was uninspiring. One side was fringed with spotty patches of thin grass and the other side was fenced with a dense stand of sand pines. There was a lot of green and the angular spikes of random palmettos, but nothing of interest to capture my artistic eye.

When you pull into the Trout Creek parking lot, you’re struck by the starkness of the park. At first glance there’s nothing to do. There’s not a playground, or picturesque view in sight. This park, like many in Florida, requires deeper investigation to see their true and unique beauty.

The facilities aren’t fancy, but the amenities are not why people flock there. Nature lovers visit the park seeking peace, quiet and a glimpse of wildlife in its native habitat. Fitness junkies frequent the park looking for freedom from conformity and demanding screens. They visit to get a workout that includes real navigation, rhythm, timing and cooperation with the elements. Families and senior citizens visit the park for the spiritual lift that comes from fresh air, wide open spaces and the free flowing river.

We slid our canoe into the river at the park’s small boat launch. I stepped into the water alongside the boat and was surprised by the cold water temperature. Floridian’s always expect the water to be warm even in winter. Tiny brown minnows darted along the shore around my bare feet. We sat down in our canoe and began our journey upstream.

To the inexperienced visitor the river appears muddy and lifeless. Once you pocket distractions and really look around, you’re transported to a whole new world. If you scan the open water and study the banks, you’ll find plenty of camouflaged inhabitants.

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Once we were on the move, I trained my eyes to look for irregular shapes, like the saw-tooth ridge of an alligator’s back and subtle movement, like the splash of a turtle sliding off a mossy log. The wildlife that call the river home are masters of disguise. Blending in and stealthy maneuvers are key to their survival in this unforgiving wetland. It’s that harsh reality that makes seeing so many different species thriving in their natural habitat such a thrill.

 

Prehistoric looking alligators are in abundance on this stretch of the Hillsborough River, but that didn’t stop me from gasping every time I saw one. On one visit upstream we stopped counting after spotting 30 gators. I found this to be equally exciting and unnerving. In the back of my mind, I know how easily these agile reptiles blend into the murky water and cluttered riverbank. Meaning that while we were spotting them, there were a lot more than 30 alligators watching us. It’s likely, more than double that number eluded our searching eyes.

When I see an alligator my heart jumps and my mind races to conclusions. If they’re sunning themselves on the bank, I’m glad they’re not in the water and can’t approach our small canoe. The disconcerting part is, I can see just how big they are. I worry about the strength of their powerful legs and thick tail. Even though they appear to be docile and bored, I know in reality they’re fast and on high alert.

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When I see an alligator floating in the water, they’re less intimidating at first. You can only see the top of their head and bulging black eyes. Then there’s a gap filled with water followed by the zigzag ridge of their tail behind. Like an iceberg, the bulk of their body is submerged below the dark water line. And so, we guess how big they are based on the size of the head and it’s distance from the tail. I humor myself and guess they’re smaller than they might actually be. While my hubby, Joe is the opposite. He guesses they’re much larger in size which does nothing to improve my comfort level.

The floating alligators present a different kind of angst. They’re not shy. They don’t turn away. They’re not deterred by our presence. In fact, they lock their round black eyes on us in a way that says, I rule here. This is my home. I have the advantage of speed, strength and agility so don’t mess with me.

Whether they’re sunning on land or drifting in the water, these magnificent prehistoric decedents demand respect, and I’m happy to oblige. I’ve seen enough TV shows about these large reptiles to know we should be extremely cautious in their company. Their imposing and majestic presence makes seeing these creatures in their natural environment, in such healthy numbers, so thrilling and artistically inspiring.

A few minutes paddle upstream, the river doubled in size. Ancient cypress trees towered over the banks and accentuated the gradual curves of the dark water and the blue sky overhead. Spanish moss hung from the outstretched limbs linking the trees like a silver chain.

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At the first sign of movement in the sky, I’d abandon my paddle and reach for my camera. We rounded a bend and I caught a glimpse of something in the distance flying in our direction. I thought the sun was playing tricks on my eyes. As the bird flew toward us, I couldn’t believe it was pink.

A sign back at the park entrance indicated this was a birding site. But I expected the ordinary herons, kingfishers and egrets that inhabit Florida’s waterways. I didn’t anticipate seeing a roseate spoonbill in the wild especially here, so close to major city like Tampa. I thought it was a fluke. Perhaps the bird was a clever escapee from the zoo.

I raised my camera, zoomed in and took a rapid-fire string of pictures using sport mode. I wanted to capture the exhilaration that charged through me in that first moment of surprise and wonder. I managed to take a few shots before the bird glided out of range. It was a magical, unbelievable experience, like something out of a fairy tale. It was the equivalent of seeing a unicorn.

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To my delight, it wasn’t an isolated sighting. There were more roseate spoonbills upriver. We spotted groups of three and four pink spoonbills gathered in the trees. Then later, as we floated back to the boat launch, we had the pleasure of casually watching an unhurried group feed in the shallow water along the riverbank.

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It was such a treat to watch those birds. In the time we spent idly floating there, I saw beyond the absurdity of their pastel color. I grew to admire the beauty of their unique physical characteristics. Sitting there I gained a greater appreciation for what it takes for them to survive in such a demanding environment. The roseate spoonbills were beautiful and graceful in their own awkward, oddly designed way.

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Turtles, also known as river cooter, are another fascinating resident of Florida’s tributaries. I watch for bubbles in the open water in anticipation of a turtle’s head breaking the surface. Once in view, they float without direction for a few minutes. Then, as if called to action by a secret assignment, they submerge and disappear back into the brown water. They leave only a ring of ripples behind as evidence they were ever there.

A quiet patient crew can paddle up on these slippery conspirators sunning themselves on fallen trees. Turtles gather on logs that stretch out of the river along its banks. It’s fun to move in close and see how they balance precariously on their bonny underside with their head, legs and tail stretched out to the limit. They look staged like a display at a museum. I find their poses silly and amusing. I love capturing pictures of them with my camera from all their ridiculous angles. As entertaining as it may be, their rigid posture is actually key to the survival of these cold blooded reptiles. Their outstretched extremities act like solar panels; they absorb heat and energy from the sun.

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Vultures give me the creeps. They’re the grim reapers of the animal kingdom, summoned to dispose of bodies after death has collected the souls. Seeing their daunting huddled forms congregating, usually means the passing of an unfortunate creature. Given the chance, I turn away from the flock to avoid seeing the messy details of their cleanup. But here, along a specific stretch of the Hillsborough River, their presence is more fascinating than fearsome. Upriver around a particular corner, turkey vultures gather in mass. They fill the treetops like giant black angles. They soar in grand, synchronized circles overhead. They flap their wings and hop around in a cooperative group along the sandy shoreline. You’d think, like I did the first time I saw them, there must be a huge feast hidden in the woods for so many birds to be together in one place, at one time. Or you might have thought, this unexpected gathering of efficient carnivores must’ve been a random event. We canoed this river for the first time more than 30 years ago, and we’ve glided down its dark, life-giving waters several times since. The turkey vultures have consistently been in that same location in large numbers every time.

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Our presence didn’t appear to alter their behavior. We were irrelevant passers-by not worthy of their attention. The massive birds followed their natural habits as if we didn’t exist. They’d drop to the ground one-by-one and then fly away with an unannounced rhythm that kept the mysterious balance of power in harmony.

Every ecosystem has its unique apex predators, its exotic beauties, its theatrical posers and its shadowy dwellers. However, this river is home to so many more animals than the ones we saw on our afternoon visit. Deer, otters, turkeys, wild boar, squirrels, all kinds of insects and snakes live in the surrounding woods. At the same time, a surprising number of fish species and other water born creatures live in the river itself. Plus, there’s a stunningly beautiful variety of tropical plants that support and protect the healthy ecology.

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The real attraction of this local treasure is the more you look the more you see. It never gets boring. With each visit I’ve experienced a growing and increasingly intimate connection with the river, the land and the wildlife. I’m thankful to have access to this rare, undeveloped slice of heaven, where I can enjoy the natural beauty and wonder of nature.

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It’s a real thrill to share my incredible journey of discovery with you through my pictures. I hope you enjoyed seeing this wildlife up close, with new and different perspectives that reveal their true splendor.

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Do you have a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered in your area?
Check out your local parks to see what you can find. Maybe you’ll see a unicorn too. They do exist.

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About my images.
My first rosette spoonbill sighting on the Hillsborough River reminded me how much I loved taking high-quality pictures of nature and wildlife when I was younger. That single event inspired me to take up photography again. I took over 800 pictures on the trip described here. It wasn’t enough. It never is. But I do feel I captured some really good, rare and unique compositions of several fascinating animals and tropical plant life.

My camera is a Nikon D3500. I use a telephoto, 70-300mm lens to get close pictures of subjects that are far away. For fast moving subjects like birds, I use sport-mode to capture their fluid moves in sequence. Some of the really vibrant images, like the ones of the river cooter and the lily pads, are taken with an effect that accentuates natural color making it more vivid. All of my spoonbill images are raw, without any touch up or effect. The bubblegum pink color you see is all their own.

I mention this because I’m having so much fun that I can’t contain myself. You can take equally as exciting pictures too. It’s not necessary to have a fancy camera. All you need is an adventurous spirit and a curious eye. Just get out there, shoot and have fun!

Trout Creek Park, Hillsborough County, Florida
For information visit here:
https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/trout-creek-park

Fun facts about alligators courtesy of this website.
https://defenders.org/wildlife/american-crocodile-and-alligator

An estimated 5 million American alligators are spread out across the southeastern United States. Roughly 1.25 million alligators live in the state of Florida. There are more than 1,000 American crocodiles, not including hatchlings, in Florida.

More fun facts about alligators courtesy of this website.
https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/alligator/facts/

The most recent evidence indicates that crocodilians (which includes alligators) and dinosaurs evolved from a common ancestor that existed subsequent to the common ancestor that they share with other reptiles. So, even though alligators are classified as reptiles along with lizards, snakes, and turtles, they are actually more closely related to birds, whose direct ancestors were dinosaurs!

Alligators are opportunistic feeders. Their diets include prey species that are abundant and easily accessible. Juvenile alligators eat primarily insects, amphibians, small fish, and other invertebrates. Adult alligators eat fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, and birds.

Fun facts about the roseate spoonbill courtesy of this website.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roseate_spoonbill

Like the American flamingo, the roseate spoonbill’s pink color is diet-derived, consisting of the carotenoid pigment canthaxanthin. The colors can range from pale pink to bright magenta, depending on age, whether breeding or not, and location. Unlike herons, spoonbills fly with their necks outstretched. They alternate groups of stiff, shallow wingbeats with glides.

Roseate spoonbills feed in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging its bill from side to side as it steadily walks through the water, often in groups. The spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud. It feeds on crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, newts and very small fish ignored by larger waders.

Fun facts about the river cooter (silly turtles) courtesy of this website. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_cooter

The river cooter basks on logs or sun-warmed rocks and is frequently found in the company of other aquatic basking turtles (sliders and painteds) sometimes piled up on top of each other.

The species P. concinna is highly omnivorous and will eat anything, plant or animal, dead or alive. Diet seems to be determined by available food items. While some writers feel that this species of turtle will not eat meat, predatory behavior has been observed. Although it can’t swallow out of water, it will leave the water to retrieve a tasty bug or worm, returning to the water to swallow.

If you’re dying to know fun facts about turkey vultures visit here.
https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/birds/raptors-and-vultures/vultures/

 

Thanks for joining me.

Follow my blog for more fun, photographic trips.
Lisa

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Voodoo Queen and Artist’s Dream

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Magic and mystery mingled together in this fascinating city. Treasures and untold secrets were free to discover for the curious explorer.

What inescapable force pulled me down that special side street, I may never know. Perhaps, it was the work of the Voodoo Queen, who’s tomb I’d visited the day before.

It was invisible from the street corner. I was unaware that a delightful surprise was hidden behind store front windows cluttered with ornaments, strings of beads and sequined masks. I came upon the playfully crowded lot by accident. I absentmindedly walked down the street looking for more of the unique compositions, rich textures and interesting subjects I’d come to expect from exploring the city. A gap opened up between two stores, and there it was. A literal wonderland for tourists with a keen eye for unusual finds.

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To the more practical minded person it was a tragic waste of prime real estate. A vacant lot littered with tacky junk that ought to be hauled away. The cluttered array of mismatched merchandise was likely seen as an insult to the majestic beauty and long, rich history of the surrounding area. But to me, a photographer with a new camera and unlimited storage, it was paradise.

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I entered slowly, savoring layer upon layer of adornments piled high around the perimeter of the lot. Street noise faded away. The only sound was the crunch of gravel under my sandals. I expected to be harassed by a salesperson or a resident begging for privacy, but I was left gloriously alone.

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Mirrors with weathered frames scattered here and there reflected bits and pieces of unfinished stories wishing to be told. Discarded doors mounted to the block walls whispered promises of secret passageways to magical realms. I imagined exciting new worlds were waiting to be explored behind each splintered doorway. Antique signs scattered throughout the assemblage screamed for attention. Their messages still urgent even though rust and age scared their faces.

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I wandered around visually striping away the initial chaos digging deeper into the clutter, looking for buried treasures. I tried to make sense of the madness, to understand the designer’s master-plan hidden in plain sight. Because despite the superficial disorder, I knew down to my core, there was a master-plan.

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With every step I became more enchanted by the depth of care, the attention to detail, invested in the meticulous arrangement of such an odd and unusual collection of useless junk. The longer I looked the more purposeful and focused the arrangements became. With every step I fell deeper under the enchanted spell of playful vignettes.

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Time slowed. I was lost in a fantasy-land where dinosaurs and flamingos paired up to drive a snow sled. A peculiar place where a ghostly man impatiently waited, imprisoned in a screen door with an ax in hand. I wondered, what held his cynical stare? What was he going to do with the ax? Chop wood? Behead a chicken? Maybe confront his daughter’s boyfriend when she tried to sneak back in after curfew. Marvelous stories unfolded in my head.

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I took dozens of pictures trying to capture the whimsical essence of the thoughtful scenes displayed so carefully in the secluded lot. Framing particular compositions revealed an artful mischievousness that had previously gone unnoticed. Was it intentional on the part of the designer to amuse visitors with such outrageous poses? Or, had the dinosaurs magically moved around on their own for the pleasure of their own entertainment. In a city where people seek the advice of a Voodoo Queen, believe in ghost stories and celebrate haunted houses, surely anything was possible.

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Roaming the ornate lot, I was strangely energized. It was different from the pounding rush of the Mississippi I experienced while walking along the riverfront. It was unlike the sweet and spicy flavors I tasted in the air while strolling through the French Market. It was nothing like the jubilant flash of horns and the rumble of drums that spilled out of bars onto Bourbon Street. There, in the quiet company of whimsical creatures, rusting signs and cast-away doors I felt the flirty buoyancy of inspiration.

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The elaborately staged lot was a peculiar place that didn’t belong in the middle of a typical city with building lined streets. It was the kind of quirky gem you’d expect to come across in the low-rent district of a decaying suburb. But of course, I should have known, New Orleans was no typical city. This small treasure was just another jewel in the regal crown of a city built on wide ranging influences. This city had a long history of strong traditions infused by different beliefs. The robust blend brewed a hybrid culture and lively ecosystem of acceptance for different ways of life. It was a city where you felt comfortable being yourself in all your splendid, colorful, weird glory. This was my first visit, but thanks to New Orleans’ impassioned vibe for the eccentric, I was right at home.

 

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I entered the cluttered lot to take pictures, but I left with so much more than captivating images. I came away with revitalized inspiration for creating art that challenges my current state of contentment. That dusty lot full of started stories stirred my mind and spoke to my soul. It revealed new pathways and opened previously closed doors that sparked new creative ideas and directions.

I found myself wondering what inescapable force lead me down that special side street and lured me to the magical lot. Was it the work of the Voodoo Queen granting my wish for inspiration? What made a seemingly ordinary event extraordinary, impressionable and so memorable? I believe it was a gift. A mind-expanding experience to take me to new artistic revelations. I was ready for fresh inspiration and it came. It was that simple. I had to let go and allow myself to be moved.

We’re all presented with spectacular possibilities and choices all the time. Will you follow the safe old path at the risk of missing a life shifting thrill? Or will you venture down the path less traveled in search of wild adventures?

Me? I’m looking for more opportunities to go exploring. In New Orleans I discovered excitement lingers in everyday places, thanks to the legend of a Voodoo Queen who revived this artist’s dream.

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Some details I thought were fascinating about New Orleans. 

Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau was a black priestess of astounding beauty. According to legend Laveau wielded tremendous power in her community and rumors of her magical abilities were so persistent that visitors still visit her grave to leave tokens in exchange for small requests.

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Voodoo is as big a part of New Orleans’ history, although it is vastly different from the pop-culture perception. While zombies and dolls do make up part of voodoo beliefs, in reality, voodoo is a combination of West African religions brought over by slaves, the Christianity they adopted, and traditions of indigenous people blended together.

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Laveau’s powers reportedly included healing the sick, extending altruistic gifts to the poor, and overseeing spiritual rites. Marie Laveau was a devoted Catholic all her life, and to her voodoo was not incompatible with her Catholic faith.

“Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” Marie Laveau, born 1801, New Orleans, Louisiana died June 15, 1881, New Orleans.

Details about Marie Laveau were compiled from this website. Marie Laveau

 

 

 

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St. Louis Cemetery #1 is New Orleans’ oldest grave site. Established by Spanish royal decree on August 14th, 1789, St. Louis Cemetery #1 remains the oldest cemetery that locals and tourists alike can visit.

It’s also considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in all of the United States. In the span of just one block, this burial ground holds over 700 tombs and over 100,000 of the dead–and counting, as it is still an active grave site. Is it any surprise that it is rumored to be very haunted? For over 200 years, there have been reports of people having run-ins with the ghosts which call St. Louis Cemetery #1 home.

 

The most famous ghost which is seen within St. Louis Cemetery #1 is that of  Marie Laveau.

Get more ghost stories here.

https://ghostcitytours.com/new-orleans/haunted-places/haunted-cemeteries/st-louis-cemetery/

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New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz. New Orleans was the only place in the New World where slaves were allowed to own drums. Voodoo rituals were openly tolerated, and well attended by the rich as well as the poor, by blacks and whites, by the influential and the anonymous. It was in New Orleans that the bright flash of European horns ran into the dark rumble of African drums; it was like lightning meeting thunder.

https://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/music/musichistory/jazzbirthplace.html/

Jazz developed in the United States in the very early part of the 20th century. New Orleans, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, played a key role in this development. The city’s population was more diverse than anywhere else in the South, and people of African, French, Caribbean, Italian, German, Mexican, and American Indian, as well as English, descent interacted with one another. African-American musical traditions mixed with others and gradually jazz emerged from a blend of ragtime, marches, blues, and other kinds of music. At first jazz was mostly for dancing. (In later years, people would sit and listen to it.) Jazz spread from the United States to many parts of the world, and today jazz musicians–and jazz festivals–can be found in dozens of nations. Jazz is one of the United States’ greatest exports to the world.

https://americanhistory.si.edu/smithsonian-jazz/education/what-jazz

New Orleans is the city of Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Pete Fountain, Harry Connick, Jr. and the Marsalis family.

Read more about the jazz scene here. https://www.neworleans.com/things-to-do/music/history-and-traditions/

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Photo Credit http://mikestravelguide.com/things-to-do-in-new-orleans-visit-saint-louis-cathedral/

The St. Louis Cathedral is one of New Orleans’ most notable landmarks. Few cities in the world are so identified by a building as is New Orleans. The city is instantly recognized by its cathedral and its position overlooking Jackson Square.

The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States.

The Saint Louis Cathedral is the oldest Cathedral in North America, founded as a Catholic Parish in 1720 along the Banks of the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

For more on the Cathedral visit here. https://www.stlouiscathedral.org/

For visitor info about New Orleans visit here. https://www.neworleans.com/

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About the photos. These photos were taken at Second Line Arts & Antiques, 1209 Decatur St., New Orleans, LA 70116. Second Line Arts and Antiques prides themselves on having something for everyone! Find a variety of European furniture and antiques perfect for you and your home!

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SecondLineArtsandAntiques/

For more info visit Second Line Arts Website http://codebymatt.biz/secondlinenola/

New Orleans Second Line Arts Listing Website https://www.neworleans.com/listing/secondline-arts-%26-antiques/32439/

I hope you enjoyed this stretch of imagination. Join me on my adventures and look for new and exciting places and people (living or deceased) to inspire your creativity.

Happy Haunting!

Lisa

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A New and Better Life

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When I see the Statue of Liberty I think about my grandparents. My dad’s parents came into this country from Germany through Ellis Island, an immigration station located near the Statue of Liberty. My mom’s father came in through the same immigration station from Spain. My mom’s mother came here from Puerto Rico. They all settled in New Jersey.

I look at the huge statute, a symbol of freedom and democracy and wonder what my grandparents were thinking and feeling when they saw Lady Liberty for the first time. I imagine they were a wreck of emotions, both overjoyed and scared to death at the same time. At that moment, they likely questioned if they’d made the right decision. But there was no turning back for my stubborn, committed ancestors.

What had prompted them to leave their home, family and lifestyle behind for an uncertain future? I wonder, could I ever be driven away from the life I know? What would it take for me to consider uprooting my family and moving to another country? It would have to be the pursuit of a new and better life for myself and my family.

I look at the statue and think about my grandparent’s jobs. I was young when they passed away, but I still have some vague memories of them. My memories, their occupations and brief stories told by my dad and mom help me piece together the story of who my grandparents were and what they represent to me.

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My dad’s father painted trucks in a hot, dusty garage in West New York for a living. Dad’s mom was the resident manager of the of the low-rent apartment building they lived in. I remember visiting there once. The cramped stairways were dark and musty. The vinyl flooring was worn thin. Inside their small apartment the plaster walls were cracked and in need of a fresh coat of paint. The only light in their dark hallway came from an exposed light bulb hanging from a wire in the ceiling.

Dad’s father, Grandpa Julius smoked cigarettes and drank beer from the bottle. After he retired and after Grandma Martha passed away, he’d sometimes came to stay at our house for the weekend. It seemed to me that he spent the entire weekend sitting in the blue armchair in the living room smoking and drinking.

I don’t remember Grandpa paying much attention to me when he came to visit. He liked to play cards with my older brother and challenge him to arm wrestling. Grandpa was old but he was strong. He had huge biceps. He liked to roll up his sleeve to show off his muscles after he beat my brother at arm wrestling. It’s one of those nonsense memories that sticks with me. It helps me appreciate who he was, his modest way of life and how his influence, in part, shaped who I am and where I am now.

My grandparent’s lived simple lives. They could only afford the basics. I don’t know a lot of the details; they’re lost to me now that my dad is gone. But I do know Grandpa and Grandma were hard workers. They provided for my dad and made it possible for him to go to college, to get an education and to better himself. My Dad actually went on to earn his master’s degree in education. He was a high school teacher.

Thanks to my grandparent’s determination, courage and sacrifice, my dad lived a better, more financially stable life than they did. My grandparents had very little to give, but their combined efforts made a huge difference. My Dad built his own house complete with an above-ground pool. No more cramped apartments for him. And my parents happily lived in that house, enjoying home-ownership, a huge accomplishment they were both proud of, their entire adult lives.

Following my grandparents example, my parents did the best they could with a modest budget to instill a sense of purpose and a strong work ethic in me. My parents worked hard to give me and my two brothers a good foundation we could build on so we could live even more financially healthy lives than they had. My parents’ constant pursuit of improvement and their creative ways of solving problems gave me the confidence to pursue my dream and become an artist and writer.

When I look at the Statue of Liberty, I wonder why Grandpa and Grandma left Germany. Who and what did they leave behind? It couldn’t have been easy to move to a new country with a different culture, where everyone spoke a foreign language. When they arrived, they had no jobs, no money and no education. It’s a miracle they survived and succeeded in raising a successful and ambitious son.

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My husband and I are carrying on the tradition and repeating what we learned from our parents. We’re doing our best to create a positive, nurturing environment for our daughters so they can live healthy, happy, fulfilling lives.

We all make ripples. Our lives touch others every day. Making a measurable difference isn’t exclusively for parents or grandparents. We impact friends, coworkers and students choices. We shepherd the directions they take, and we influence their attitudes. We’re helping them realize their potential, take action and reach their goals.

I wish my grandparents could meet my kids. In part, my grandparents played a role in their success. I try to imagine what Grandpa and Grandma would think of all the opportunities young people have today. They’d likely be overwhelmed, and hopefully overjoyed by the number of choices and directions that are accessible and obtainable for young people today. Our kids can dream, and they have the ability and resources to actually make their dreams a reality. If they’re confident, dedicated and willing to work hard, it’s within their power to do whatever they want to do. Our kids are capable of making their own happiness.

Likewise, I am, and you are capable of making our own happiness.

I’ll keep pursuing new experiences and a deeper understanding of art to improve my skills. And, I’ll work hard to enrich the lives of those around me by sharing my artistic talents. I’ll carry on the tradition of encouraging, providing and teaching, that my grandparents started.

It’s heartwarming to think about the changes and witness the transformation my family has undergone over the past 50 years. We’re living the dream. Each new generation has grown in strength and we prosper from our previous generations achievements.

Looking ahead, what will the lives of my great grandchildren be like? With the advances we’ve seen in technology in the past 20 years, it’s impossible to guess what their future in 20 years will resemble. Still I wonder, will my actions yesterday, today and tomorrow have an influence on their lives? I think, yes. It makes me feel small, insignificant and powerful at the same time. It inspires me to be more purposeful in my work and more supportive of groups, events and causes I’m passionate about. As I now know from personal experience, from the efforts of my grandparents, all our contributions matter.

When I see the Stature of Liberty I think about my grandparents. I picture their modest home and wonder if it was an upgrade from where they came from. Maybe their dreams came true in that small apartment where they found freedom and gained control of their future.

Here’s to all the brave men, women and children, the pioneers, who took bold action to better themselves for the benefit of future generations.

When I see the Stature of Liberty I think about my grandparents. I’m thankful for their adventurous spirit and for coming to America to seek a new and better life.

Cheers!

Lisa

What comes to mind when you see the Statue of Liberty? 

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Fun Facts About the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a joint effort between France and the United States, intended to commemorate the lasting friendship between the peoples of the two nations.

The French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi created the statue itself out of sheets of hammered copper, while Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the famed Eiffel Tower, designed the statue’s steel framework. The Statue of Liberty was then given to the United States and erected atop an American-designed pedestal on a small island in Upper New York Bay, now known as Liberty Island, and dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. Over the years, the statue stood tall as millions of immigrants arrived in America via nearby Ellis Island.

In 1892, the U.S. government opened a federal immigration station on Ellis Island, located near Bedloe’s Island in Upper New York Bay. Between 1892 and 1954, some 12 million immigrants were processed on Ellis Island before receiving permission to enter the United States. From 1900-14, during the peak years of its operation, some 5,000 to 10,000 people passed through every day.

Looming above New York Harbor nearby, the Statue of Liberty provided a majestic welcome to those passing through Ellis Island. On a plaque at the entrance to the statue’s pedestal is engraved a sonnet called “The New Colossus,” written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus as part of a fundraising contest. Its most famous passage speaks to the statue’s role as a welcoming symbol of freedom and democracy for the millions of immigrants who came to America seeking a new and better life: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Today the Statue of Liberty remains an enduring symbol of freedom and democracy, as well as one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks

These fun facts about the Statue of Liberty are from this website: Statue of Liberty

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Telling Stories with Pictures

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For as long I can remember, I’ve loved taking pictures. My parents gave me my first camera, a Pentax 35mm when I was in middle-school. It was winter in NJ. There wasn’t much in the way of colorful scenery to photograph at that cold, gray time of year. My parents took me on a special day trip to the shore, a 2 hour drive each way, just to take pictures. Up north we called the beach the shore. Don’t ask me why. It’s a Jersey thing.

It tuned out the shore was just as disappointing as home. The sky was low, and cloud covered. The water was a lifeless steel gray and the beach was barren of any ocean treasures worth focusing on. But that didn’t stop me from composing my own creative story in pictures.

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There happened to be a random cement, three-step staircase dumped in the middle of the beach. There was no hint that a building had ever stood on that stretch of public beach. I wondered how the heavy steps had gotten there and why the unsightly debris hadn’t been hauled away. But then I studied it closer and saw beauty in the pattern of the pitted concrete sides. I admired the sharp, angular shape and how it contrasted to the soft sand banked around the base.

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I wondered about the massive storm, and the incredible energy that delivered the heavy steps here. I speculated about the heartbreaking loss that likely accompanied such an unfortunate incident. With that backstory in mind, the lonely giant became fascinating and a worthy focal point for my beach photo shoot.

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I’d gotten away from taking pictures for artistic purposes. Instead, I’d been putting all of my creative energy into making glass art and writing. We recently started canoeing rivers and mangrove mazes. The abundant wildlife and natural beauty of the water has inspired me to start taking pictures again. I see photography as another way to connect and share experiences.

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Now that I’ve unleashed the monster, every moment and event is a photo opportunity. This awakening lead to the purchase of a new camera. My new Nikon D3500, far exceeds the quality of my previous equipment in clarity, sharpness and color. The increased depth and precision is like having a brand new, educated vocabulary to express myself and tell stories. With this expanded language, I’m motivated to compose pictures that impart emotion, pulse with positive energy and spark a sense of wonder.

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It’s no surprise that my first choice for my first outing with my new camera was the beach. That’s what we call the shore here in sunny, Florida. This time it was my hubby, Joe who sat patiently while I took more than 600 pictures. I’ve come full circle. But I’m not done. Let’s go around again…

I hope you enjoy these recently written photo stories.

Lisa

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Born Experts Don’t Exist – My Writing Journey Journal

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We all have to start somewhere. Knowledge, skills and success are hard earned by doing. When it comes to my creative writing I still feel like a beginner. I keep at it though, relentlessly trying and pursing the confidence and comfort I enjoy when I’m working with glass.

I’m not new to the writing scene. I’ve been publishing a glass related newsletter since 1986 and writing how-to articles for magazines since 1999. I love to share artsy news and describe new glass handling techniques. And so, writing about art comes easily to me.

There’s a very clear intent when I write non-fiction about art. I strive to educate, inspire and motivate artists to grow and develop their talent. Through my trial and error, I hope to give them confidence to try new things.

When it comes to fiction, my intent is entertainment. A great writer hooks you at the beginning of the story. Then they take you by the neck on a wild ride through an imaginary world that exists only in their head. It’s an amazing gift I hope to cultivate and eventually thrill readers with.

You have to risk it all and put yourself out there.

In my experience, the best way to become proficient at something new, is to study the craft and then practice what you’ve learned. Another way to grow artistically is to put yourself and your work out there for people to see and experience your unique spin on your invented reality.

It’s not easy to expose myself and share how I struggle to understand and fine tune my fiction writing process. But if I just keep spinning my wheels here in the sand pit, and sit on everything I write until it’s perfect, I’ll never get any traction.

I started a writing journal to free my cluttered mind of all the noise that slowed down my creativity. I write in my journal without a filter or editor. This is where I’m honest with myself. It’s not all rainbows, butterflies and lollypops, but I hope you find my journey of discovery interesting and maybe even enlightening. Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences honing your craft. Maybe you’ll recognize some of my triumphs mirror your own. Perhaps you can relate to the crippling effects I struggled to overcome by not surrendering to my fears. If nothing else, you’ll see that I have gained momentum and some small measure of confidence that I hope inspires you to keep going and face your challenges.


My Writing Journal

How to Write a Book in a Month

November 2018

NaNoWriMo fans unite!

No, I’m not speaking some bizarre foreign language or writing in tongues. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a worldwide writing event that takes place every November. During the thirty days of the month, participants are challenged to write 50,000 words of fiction, an average of 1,667 words per day. This annual self-guided, self-inspired writing competition has no winners and no prizes. The reward is writing the first draft of a book in one month.

The very first NaNoWriMo took place in July 1999, in the San Francisco Bay Area. That first year there were 21 writers. Over the years, the number of participants steadily increased. In 2017, 402,142 participants, including 95,912 students and educators participated in the event. Hundreds of NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.

This sounds crazy, right? I’ve been working on a few books for years. Years! Something always gets in my way. Mostly it’s me. I tried participating in NaNoWriMo last year and mildly thought about doing it the year before, but I failed. I never got off the ground.

What’s different this year? It’s my birthday month and I listened to Scorpio’s reading on YouTube. The medium said that Scorpio’s always take care of everyone else. And this month, we should be selfish and take care of ourselves. I took that to mean I should commit to writing my book. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long, but life got in the way.

This year I didn’t tell anyone I was going to try again. And this time I’m going to follow my own rules. Which are to work on my current, in progress novel and to write words on this book every day. I was afraid I’d screw up again, so I kept it a secret.

On day 1 I learned to use my time wisely. I didn’t have the luxury to wait for inspiration or ideas. But instead, went to where the ideas were and wrote those scenes no matter where that content might fall in the book. I wrote 500 plus words. It wasn’t 1,700 but it was forward progress and more words than I had the day before.

On day 2 I learned to ignore my inner critic and just lay down words without prejudice. I let the ideas flow and ran with wild abandonment. It was a real challenge to relax my rigid need for perfection and let the crappy sentences fly. I wrote another 500 plus words.

On day 3 I learned to keep all of my words even if the story would be tighter and possibly stronger with less words. I was, in affect padding my word count. For years, I’ve read advice from pros who frequently recommend making your work succinct. A well-known phrase is, kill all your darlings. But that advise doesn’t apply this month. I’m keeping all of my darlings.

This morning I stayed in bed till 3:00pm and wrote 1,250 words! Of course, I can’t do that all month.

After three successful days I told my family about my writing goal for November. They understand the importance of this to me and are supporting my efforts by respecting my writing time.

On day 4 I didn’t want to write. I’d cleaned the house, did laundry and other routine maintenance around the house. By 5:00pm I didn’t want to tax my brain. Watching a mindless TV show appealed to me, and I had no new ideas for the next chapter. But I forced my self to open the document and just write anything. Primarily because I didn’t want to face myself the next morning without an increased wordcount. I can be brutally hard on myself. Plus, if I missed one day, would it be easier to skip a second or a third day. So, I wrote.

I learned that I can pump out 500 plus words of slop without a formal plan. Amazing! And the slop wasn’t really all that bad. There were some terrific gems mixed in with the rubble.


More to come.

I hope you enjoyed this behind closed doors look into the writing life.

All the best,

Lisa