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New Orleans

New Orleans, oh my, a place that instantly reaches inside your chest and pulls a little bit of your heart out. Maybe it’s from growing up with Disneyland as a huge part of your childhood or maybe it’s not, Liam asked to move there a dozen times at least, and he’s only been to Disneyland a couple of times as far as his recollection goes. Needless to say, New Orleans is just as magical as Disneyland leads you to believe it is.  At least it is in November, when the humidity is low and the tourists are gone.  I can really see why people have so much pride being from NOLA, it just feels so special,  you can feel their history pouring out of the walls, radiating up out of the sidewalk, much more than any other historical city in America that I’ve ever been to.  Also, cemeteries!

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The city came up on my search for insectariums, and I knew that we were going to begin studying reptiles, so I figured we could make use of their alligators along with their bug museum.   New Orleans was one of our favorite school excursions to date.

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We studied John James Audubon, this man alone falls into many subjects, History, Art, Nature/Science. He spent much of his adult life in New Orleans, he doesn’t have a museum or a house that you can tour, but he has a giant statue of himself outside of the Audubon Zoo, which is really lovely.  The zoo, not the statue, okay the statue is really great as far as statues go, but the zoo is ranked one of the top in the nation.  The ornithologist was really instrumental in the discovery that birds migrate back to the same place, and identified many new species of birds.  Our favorite fact on Audubon was every year he would draw and paint the birds he’d see and he’d keep them all year long until his birthday when he’d wake up a year older and he’d set fire to all of his paintings from that year before. He did this every year until he felt his work was ready to show publicly.  We checked out the Audubon aquarium, and the insectarium is also named for him. I keep trying to decide which insectarium was more impressive, New Orleans’ or Montreal’s, and it’s a close one. I’m going to say New Orleans, though, because Beignets, but then Montreal has poutine.  So there you go!  You must have both on the list. Do the French not have the best food or what? I think so.

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Edgar Degas was another artist study leading up to our trip.  Although Degas was from France he actually lived in New Orleans for a while and this residence is the only home of his that you can tour.  The boys and I fell in love with Degas’ work, and we frequently, even months later, pull out our books on him to look at his pretty dancers and horses!

And lastly, reptiles!  We went on an alligator tour and viewed a large selection of reptiles at the zoo and the aquarium, including white alligators, which were beyond cool!  We used Cajun encounters for our swamp tour, and it was really, really enjoyable. The guide was really informative, we saw houses that were once flooded by the waters of Katrina (gut-wrenchingly sad), swimming Louisiana pigs, and fed marshmallows to alligators.  Because as the tour guide said, who doesn’t love marshmallows?

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Our favorite memory of our trip was our evening at the Preservation Hall.  Everyone is stacked into this tiny little room, most are standing in the back of the room, all pressed into the strangers around you.  And it’s so hot, even late at night when the sun has set for the evening.  And inside that terribly sticky, humid room is the most powerful experience, like church, like coming home after being gone away too long.  The music so loud, it pulsates right through you and you can no longer feel where your arm is touching the lady next to you, but just the horns calling you home again.  And the great thing about having children with you is you may be offered the front row seats and your newly six year old might be chosen to drum along with the band.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is all of the places you find God.  I mean, I know He’s everywhere, but you know those moments where you feel Him?  Where you know you’re in His presence?  You can find Him waiting for you on a mountain, who’s strong enough to carry all those trees upon its back.  You can find Him standing by the sea, as the waves billow up to you and then recede back again.  You can find Him on horseback, in strangers faces, on a public bus or in a graveyard.  And you can find him in a secular music hall, filled with the stale scent of alcohol and sweat, listening right alongside you.  It is the reason why we long to show our children the world, because it’s His, and He is in every nook and cranny of the place.

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Sources:

We stayed | Omni Riverfront |

Books on John James Audubon | The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon  | Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book  |

Books on Edgar Degas | Edgar Degas  | Chasing Degas | Degas and the Little Dancer | Color Your Own Degas Paintings |Edgar Degas: Coloring Book |

Books on reptiles | Animalium: Welcome to the Museum | Alligators and Crocodiles | DK Eyewitness Books: Reptile | Natural History  | The Practical Naturalist | Sea Turtles | Dinosaurs! | Snakes |

Books on insects | this blog post, at the very bottom |

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