A Day in St. Francisville

On Ash Wednesday, my daughter and I went to spend the day in St. Francisville. We started with a visit to the Audubon State Historic Site. It is a beautiful Louisiana State Park. Oakley House is a nice plantation home. John James Audubon lived there for a short time when he worked as a tutor. There is a museum dedicated to information about both the plantation and Audubon. He did 32 of his famous bird paintings while here.

My daughter and I learned lots of things both visiting the museum and on the tour. We were the only guests on the tour, and so had a personalized experience.

Sketching a bird, just like Audubon
Travelling with an 8 year old. “A butt!”

After our visit to the Audubon site, we had lunch at Magnolia Cafe, a popular spot with the locals.

Next, we visited the Myrtles Plantation. It is known as a very haunted spot, so my daughter was very interested in finding a ghost. The tour was very interesting.

A collection of earrings stolen by the ghost, Chloe
“Mom, take my picture and let’s look for a ghost in the background”

The last thing we did on our day visit to St. Francisville was a hike at Mary Ann Brown Nature Preserve. We intended to do just the main trail, but at some point, I think we accidentally went on one of the other loops. When we made our way back to a point we recognized, we decided to walk back the way we came instead of finishing the loop. The trail was interesting with some ups and downs (which is unusual in Louisiana) but a few of the trail markers were hard to understand. We got in some extra exercise that we hadn’t intended on!

My first year of birding

2021 was the year that I got into birds. I spent the whole year looking for birds, trying to identify as many as I could. It all started with the pair of cardinals that nested in my backyard. I became obsessed with my little cardinal family.

I learned about lots of different birds that I didn’t know anything about. I took pictures of every bird that I identified. They were all taken with my phone and many are blurry and zoomed in a bunch. I use the Merlin app to help me identify the birds.

I started going to the bird store. I bought bird feeders and baths to draw more birds to my house. I planned special outings, both in town and on vacation, to look for birds.

I only counted birds that I saw in the wild, was able to take a picture of, and was able to identify to the best of my ability. I ended the year with 56 different wild species added to my life list in Merlin, and 3 domestic species that don’t count in Merlin. Here is my 2021 list of birds:

Black-bellied whistling ducks in my neighborhood
Mute swan at the country club
Mallard ducks
Bottoms up. A ring-necked duck.
Female lesser scaup, I think.
Anhinga, flying through the sky.
Laughing gull
Wood stork in the sky
Great blue heron
Snowy egret in my neighborhood
Little blue heron on Amelia Island
Tricolored heron in Orlando
Blurry pic of cattle egret
Green heron on Amelia Island
White ibis
American coots at University Lake
Wild turkeys in Great Smoky Mountains national park
Rock pigeon
Mourning dove
Turkey vulture
Only identified this as an osprey, because the boat guide told me so. It was very far away.
Mississippi kite in my backyard
Ruby throated hummingbird in my backyard
Really faraway picture, but a red-headed woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Blue jay
Eastern kingbird at University Lake
Loggerhead shrike
Brown thrasher
American robin
Cedar waxwing at Hilltop Arboretum
Song sparrow (I think) at Velvet Cactus
House finch
An indigo bunting in Pigeon Forge
Red-winged blackbird
Brown-headed cowbirds
Common grackle
Boat-tailed grackle
European starlings
Pekin duck
Domestic geese

I wonder what birds I will find in 2022!

Disney World in the Fall

I just don’t have it in me to do several blog posts for our Disney World trip last month like I normally do. But I would like to share a few of my pictures. This trip was a lot of firsts for me. First of all, we were there at the very start of the 50th anniversary celebration.

There were special decorations, treats, shows, and more. One of my favorite things to find were the 50 golden statues spread around the parks.

It was also my first time to ever attend Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. I love trying new foods and you can try so much more when they come in small portions!

This was also my first time to Disney World during the Halloween season. We attended the Boo Bash, which is a special after hours event in Magic Kingdom. Not only were their fun character calvacades and spooky decorations, but it was an excellent way to go on rides without waiting in line.

Included in the ticket price is unlimited drinks, popcorn, and ice cream.

Halloween parties are also the only time that adults are allowed to wear costumes, and we saw some really great ones. We did not go all out, however. Just wore some dalmatian accessories to match our little Cruella.

I also rode several rides for the first time ever on this trip, some new and some old.

This trip was the first time that I ever got to ride the Avatar ride, Flight of Passage, even though we have been to Disney World a few times since it has opened. I never got a fast pass for it, however, and this was the first time it didn’t have a 3 hour wait for us. It is truly an amazing ride.

I also rode Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for the first time ever. I know, I know. Why? Because I’m scared of roller coasters, even the smaller ones. But I decided that I had better visit Splash Mountain before it was re-imagined into a Princess and the Frog ride, since it is such an iconic Disney attraction. It wasn’t even bad. I had just built it up in my head. Here is me with my eyes closed on the drop.

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure had just opened when we arrived.

I’ll share some pictures from each park. We spent two days in Hollywood Studios. We accomplished a lot in the first day of our trip. By the last day (our 2nd HS day), it was too crowded to do much, as it was the start of the Columbus day weekend.

Walt Disney Presents is an interesting museum all about Walt himself.

We went to the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater for the first time. It is a truly unique dining experience, eating in the cars and watching the movies. Food is good too!

Some pictures from our day in Animal Kingdom

We did the Animation Experience at Conservation Station. We drew Ed the hyena from Lion King.

We spent two half days in Epcot.

We visited Magic Kingdom twice. Once during the Boo Bash and one other day. It was more crowded on our full day in the park, so I was glad that we had the opportunity to ride a bunch during the party.

We had a great trip. We even had a bit of swim time at our off-property resort.

For King and Country Concert

I haven’t posted a blog post since July. Life is busy, as always. Eventually, I will get around to posting some highlights from our trip to Disney World in October. Today, I wanted to share a little about the For King and Country concert that my daughter and I attended on Thursday in Baton Rouge.

Last year, I remember seeing an awesome performance of For King and Country doing the Little Drummer Boy on some TV or Christmas special. It was one of those intense and interesting performances that stick with you, so I knew that this wouldn’t be just any ordinary concert.

For King and Country is a duo of two brothers from Australia, who currently live in Nashville. They are a very popular Christian band. The concert was so interesting and different. It is extremely high energy. They and the band use so many different instruments, including a lot of percussion.

There were moments where there at least 5 different people drumming on different sets. They would pull out all kinds of different instruments, running around the stage.

At one point in the show, the whole band moved to another stage closer to where I was sitting, giving people even closer access.

At some points, the concert would pause and it would be like being at church. The two brothers were preaching about God’s love for all of us. At one point, they stopped completely to talk about sponsoring children through Compassion International, and I left this show with a monthly commitment to an 8 year old boy in Uganda. They are truly using their fame to make a difference in the world. Anyone who committed to a sponsorship during the intermission received a bag with their Christmas CD, an autographed picture, and a leather keychain.

I would definitely recommend For King and Country shows to any Christian music fan and also anyone who appreciates a good show. It was fun, entertaining, and inspiring. I had some reservations about taking my daughter to a concert on a school night (and we did end up having to leave before it was over, since she was tired), but I’m so glad that she got to have this experience with me. We have been doing her family homework to prepare for her sacrament of first reconciliation, and part of her goal this week was supposed to be doing some sort of giving to those in need. I think that our sponsorship of a boy her age will be enlightening and powerful. We wrote our first letter to him today.

If you ever get the opportunity to see For King and Country live, go for it!

Beautiful Hope

I recently read Beautiful Hope:  Finding Hope Every Day in a Broken World which is a small essay collection put out by Dynamic Catholic.  I am a lover of quotes, and I was reading, I found myself highlighting a few, so I thought I would share some of them here today. 

Optimism disappoints, but hope does not.

Pope Francis

This one stuck out to me because it started the description of the difference between optimism and hope.  I’m a naturally optimistic person and a proponent of positive thinking.  But I know a lot of people are turned off by what they view as toxic positivity.  Hope in God and His plan for us is so much deeper and more powerful than mere optimism though.

Hope is never still; hope is always journeying, and it makes us journey.

Pope Francis

Those with hope are willing to act.  Those without hope are content to wish.

Fr. Mike Schmitz

When hope dwindles, love also dies down; the heart is invaded by uneasiness and worry, which stifle charity.  Hope keeps the heart free to love, and to give itself.

Fr. Jacques Philippe

There was a lot about how hope should influence our actions and the choices that we make each day of our lives.

Hope is not merely a wish that something good might happen – it is the firm confidence and desire that the promises of God will be fulfilled.  It is the expectation that “he who began a good work among you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

Sr. Miriam James

Hope is the theological virtue that enables us to keep our eyes on heaven – even during those times when our sufferings and trials make our lives here on earth seem like a living hell. 

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez

A reminder that hope is not about what we want and desire, but what God wants and desires for us.

In my mind, hope and purpose are directly tied to one another.  Without an understanding of purpose, there can be no hope.

Marguerite Brambani

Prayer is the great school for growing in hope.  When we pray, we realize that we are never alone.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez

The saints are beacons of hope in the world.  They show us that ordinary men and women can be the living hands of Jesus acting in the world.  Saints show the world that God does powerful things through those that make themselves available to him.

Grandpa Paul Hess

Hope helps us to be the people that God wants us to be.  The best versions of ourselves.

Amelia Island

We recently spent two whole weeks on Amelia Island in northeastern Florida. We rented an AirBnB, took the dogs on the road, and had a great home base to explore the area. We have had good experiences with our AirBnB’s on our last few trips. It ends up being cheaper than a hotel and with all the amenities of home, such as a fully stocked kitchen, washer and dryer, and yard for the dogs. The house was great and a short walk from the beach. Our hosts were great, and very responsive to any concerns. I know the dogs appreciate coming on vacation with us, rather than being boarded at home.

One cool thing about the neighborhood that we stayed in was that it is directly behind Fort Clinch State Park. This meant that there were often deer hanging out in the neighborhood, which was great fun to watch.

As I stated before, the beach was a short walk from our house. Fernandina Beach (which is the name of the town where we stayed) is known for shells and shark teeth that wash up on the shore. We spent a lot of time looking for shark teeth, but never found anything that we could definitely identify as one. We found plenty of triangular shaped things that could have possibly been shark teeth, but may have just been shell fragments. My daughter chooses to believe they were shark teeth.

The beach was dog-friendly, so even though I have two senior dogs (aged 14 and 15), it was their first ever trip to a beach! Thankfully, the beaches were usually pretty empty, because our dogs get a little too wound up when they see other people and dogs. We took them down there at a particularly down time so that they could explore a little.

One of the benefits of staying in a home on vacation is the money saved on eating out. There are a couple of grocery stores on the island and it was easy to buy things to cook. We did eat out at several restaurants during our two week stay, however.

Arte Pizza
Macarons from Nana Teresa’s Bake Shop

Another benefit of staying on the island for two whole weeks is that it leaves plenty of time for relaxing (I’m a big napper) and regular activities. My husband always likes to continue playing tennis on vacation. He found people to play with at the local park, and my daughter could hang out at the playground. Young children have a great ability to just make friends and play with anyone, so she had lots of fun playing with different children throughout our several trips to the park. She really appreciated having some kid friendly interactions, and I could sit on a bench and read (or end up pushing her and her new friends on the twirly playground equipment).

We were not far from downtown Fernandina Beach and visited several times on our trip. There are historic buildings, shops, restaurants, etc.

We visited this delightful little bookstore one night when walking around later than usual for us (the power was out at our house). It was one of the few stores open at night.

We visited the Amelia Island Museum of History. It is a small museum, but well done and interesting. There were some hands on things and a scavenger hunt to keep kids interested. The museum is housed in an old jail. Amelia Island is called the Isle of 8 Flags, because it is the only place in the U.S. which has been under 8 different flags of rule during its history.

One morning we took a boat tour with Amelia River Cruises to see Cumberland Island in Georgia. I love boat rides and the captain did a great job keeping us entertained with funny jokes and lots of history. We saw birds, dolphins, and the wild horses that live on the island. On the way back, my daughter got to take a turn driving the boat.

During our time on the Island, we visited a few different state parks. Fort Clinch State Park is the one directly behind the neighborhood where we stayed. There are trails, beaches, and also the fort, which we climbed and explored.

Little Talbot Island State Park is on the other side of the island. It is mostly just a beach. But I saw some cool birds and tortoises.

We also visited Big Talbot Island State Park. This one required a hike to get to the driftwood beach. We would have spent more time here, but it was quite hot.

One morning of our trip, we took a kayaking trip of Lofton Creek through Amelia Adventures. We had it scheduled for Father’s Day, but the weather cancelled our trip. We went the next day, however, and it was great, because we were the only ones on the tour. Another couple didn’t show up, so it was just us and the guide. My husband and daughter took a tandem kayak, and I had my own. The water is extremely still, so it was easy to navigate. I only got stuck on two trees. Ha! We saw alligators.

We played putt-putt one evening at Island Falls Adventure Golf. This was a fun putt-putt course with pretty backdrops.

One morning, we visited the Jacksonville Zoo. This was truly a great zoo. There were fun, interactive experiences. There was a wide variety of animals, and it was all very nicely set up. The zoo was a large loop. I highly recommend visiting this zoo if you are in the area.

Egan’s Creek Greenway was a park very close to our house. We visited different sections of it at different times. There were lots of trails and wildlife. We even happened upon a lane full of rabbits one evening, which was very special!

You may remember from previous posts that I have gotten really into birding lately. I had an opportunity to see so many birds on this trip! I added 12 new species to my 2021 bird list!

Overall, we had a great visit to Amelia Island. It’s a wonderful place to visit with lots to see, especially if you love nature.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

A few days ago, I posted about my visit to Parrot Mountain in Pigeon Forge. I wanted to share a few other pictures from my trip. We have been there several times over the years. My parents rent the cabin, and my siblings and I spend a week with them in the Smoky Mountains.

The cabins available for rent are really fun to stay in. The one we got this time had three levels, each with a balcony overlooking the mountains. I love to sit on the rocking chair, reading a book, and just listening to the sounds of the birds chirping.

Our cabin also had an indoor swimming pool, a hot tub, games such as air hockey and pool, a movie theater, and more. The cabin was in a neighborhood, so we also had access to the community pool.

There are lots of things to do in the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area. Parents could spend a lot of money entertaining their children in the array of arcades, amusement parks, shops, etc.

Of course, the best thing to do in the area is to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a huge park full of hiking and driving trails. On this particular visit, we did the Cades Cove Loop Road and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Both of these are driving tours with many places to stop and hike or explore the buildings left behind from the communities that lived there.

We saw wild turkeys, deer, and a momma black bear with her cubs.

Momma bear and cubs

The park is gorgeous. I definitely recommend a visit. There is so much to see and do.

Parrot Mountain

My absolute favorite thing that I did on my recent trip to Pigeon Forge was my visit to Parrot Mountain. No one else in my extended family seemed particularly interested in going, so I borrowed my sister’s car and drove myself and my daughter up the mountain to see the parrots! I love any kind of animal encounter experience. These gardens are full of tropical birds to see, hold, and feed. It was heaven!

As you walk the paths, you come across so many different birds. Some just sitting on their perches, others in large cages.

They were all so beautiful and full of personality.

The place is clearly run by Christians with many spots throughout the gardens having Scripture quotes or religious statues. A reminder that we are among God’s creations.

Eventually, we came across an entrance to a “Secret Garden.” This led to a small enclosed aviary.

Next, we came across the first truly interactive portion of the gardens. There is a designated area with lots of parrots sitting on their perches. You can buy seeds from what looks like a candy dispenser for 25 cents per handful. Then you can walk around and hold your hand out flat and allow the parrots to eat seeds directly from your hand!

This was exciting enough until I came across one parrot who wanted to leave her perch and come onto my arm! I was so excited to hold her, even if she did try to eat the buttons on my shirt and take a little nibble at my purse!

She (or he) was so pretty and pink! I believe the name was Valentine!

We continued on to visit more birds.

Next, we went into another little aviary where you could feed the lorikeets. We had purchased tickets to get small cups of nectar for this experience. As soon as you walk in with the nectar, the birds are all over you. I loved it!

The gardens are so beautiful, as are the gorgeous birds.

The end of our visit was in the baby nursery. You walk inside and there are baby birds everywhere, hanging out in their little boxes. Many like to be held.

If you can’t already tell, I had a great time at Parrot Mountain. I highly recommend visiting if you are ever in Pigeon Forge. I would go back again and again to see the beautiful birds.


This is my review of the new Disney film, Cruella. I love Disney. I enjoy watching all of the live-action remakes or retellings. Villian origin stories are particularly compelling, because I love the idea of hearing the stories we know and love from a different point of view. It is also important to remember, that unlike in the movies, people are not all good or all bad. We all fluctuate on the same continuum.

My absolute favorite recent live action Disney film is Maleficent. Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of a different kind of fairy who’s story is much more complicated than Sleeping Beauty would you have you believe is captivating.

Although I love a good villian origin story, I was a little leery of Cruella. How are they going to make someone who desires to kill puppies sympathetic? I absolutely hate movies with any type of animal cruelty. Thankfully, Cruella focuses very little on the dogs. It’s a much more human story with dogs as the side story. A 101 Dalmatians purist may not like that, but for me it made the story much more palatable. Although, this entire movie takes place prior to the story line we see in 101 Dalmatians, so who knows where it could go if they make a second movie.

The movie was really fun. It was full of drama and fashion and fun characters and revenge. I highly recommend it to all Disney movie fans. I enjoyed it more than I expected to and give it a full 5 stars!

The option to see the movie in a theater or through premier access through Disney Plus is great for large groups. It was much cheaper to purchase the Premier Access and watch it with my whole family. We were staying in a cabin in the mountains near Pigeon Forge. Our cabin had a movie room (with old movie seats, not the fancy recliners of today’s theaters and a projector. The perfect way to feel like we were at the movies, while still being able to pause the movie for bathroom breaks or more popcorn!

Avery Island

Today is Mother’s Day, and I told my family that I wanted to visit Avery Island. I hadn’t been since the 8th grade on our Louisiana History Tour. Avery Island is in Iberia Parish and home to Jungle Gardens and the Tabasco Factory. It’s a great tourist stop for anyone visiting Southern Louisiana. I also knew that I could add a few birds to my 2021 list, which was exciting!

The Jungle Gardens can be a driving or walking tour. It is easy to drive and stop at different sights along the way. We saw lots of the nature of Louisiana, including mossy oak trees, egrets, and lots of alligators!

My daughter got me binoculars for Mother’s Day, allowing me to up my bird watching game.

Avery Island was developed by E.A. McIlhenny, who also started the Tabasco company. He received this 900 year old Buddha statue as a gift.

Bird City is an awesome roosting spot for egrets. I saw Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Anhingas.

Next, we went to the Tabasco factory, where the famous hot sauce is made. It consists of a self-guided tour showing different parts of the process. We also had lunch at the on-site restaurant.

Avery Island is actually a salt dome. The topography is very unique in southern Louisiana, including hills and is well above sea level.

After leaving Avery Island, we had a brief stop at another salt dome, Jefferson Island. We did not visit all of Rip Van Winkle Gardens, but did stop to see the peacocks and peahens.

Our last stop was at Rips Rookery, where I risked my life by walking along the water with large alligators swimming in order to try and get pictures of the roseate spoonbills that I could see in the distance. My phone couldn’t zoom very well to get good pictures, but my husband’s was a bit better.