Getting away from it all!

Last weekend my parents came down to Florida to visit. I haven’t seen my family since we moved down last August, so it was really nice to spend some time together. Guests are always a great excuse to get out and explore someplace you’ve never been before. We have heard about Cabbage Key and thought this might be the perfect adventure all of us would enjoy.

Cabbage Key is accessible only by boat, so we headed down to Pine Island to take the ferry over. Since all of us had skipped breakfast, we were ready for a bite to eat in the famous Dollar Bill Bar. After a delicious meal, we checked out the room with all the dollar bills, learned the story behind why dollar bills are taped to the walls (fishermen would tape an autographed bill guaranteeing an ongoing bar tab), then headed out to explore the rest of the island. I climbed the water tower and took in the spectacular view. We walked the trail counting all the gopher tortoises we saw - I believe the final number was 8. I kept my eye out for sea otters, but had no luck spotting one.

We did however get get to say hello to two manatees! I have always loved these sea cows and was thrilled to finally see some in the wild.I visited Blue Springs years ago, the only time I have ever seen manatees in the wild. After checking out the gift shop and waving bye to the manatees, it was time to get back on the boat.

Stops to North Captiva resulted in watching dolphins swimming close by. They hung around for a bit before swimming away, but it was delightful to watch these seemingly happy creatures enjoy themselves. When we arrived at the dock, a gentleman and his golden retriever came over to greet his family who had arrived for a visit. My husband and I shouted “We Are” and received the correct response - “Penn State!”. As you already know, I’m a sucker for golden retrievers, the fact that this one’s owner was a Penn State fan made me love her even more! We fussed over Cheyenne (the dog), and chatted about Penn State, Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania. It’s always fun to meet new people and talk about home and our favorite college football team, the Penn State Nittany Lions.


Our next stop brought a family with a yellow lab on board. A young pup, she was part of a family with 4 children. I have no doubt this girl is living a dog’s dream life! Cuddling two dogs - I definitely got my dog fix on this adventure! We arrived safely back on land and went in search of ice cream - my all time favorite treat!

It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday - with family, wildlife, nature, a quaint island and view that simply can’t be described as anything but paradise! I understand now why so many folks rave about what a gem Cabbage Key is. While we chose to only spend the afternoon there, you can rent cottages or stay at the local inn. While there are television, there is no cable, satellite or DVD players. Cell phone reception is spotty and no landline phones are provided in any of the rooms. It really is a quiet and tranquil. Sometimes the simple things are the best experiences!

Here are a few of my cell phone shots I captured from this wonderful day!

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Cabbage Key
Water tower at Cabbage Key
Dollar Bill Bar at Cabbage Key
Water Tower view at Cabbage Key
Cabbage Key
Shower with a friend - Cabbage Key
Cabbage Key

Springtime at Selby Gardens

This past weekend, a few of my co-workers and I met at Selby Gardens in Sarasota to photograph the flowers. I was really excited about getting there as I’ve heard wonderful things about these gardens. And I was itching to see some flowers in bloom. By now, up north, we’re starting to see some new growth as the earth comes alive after a long dormant winter. I miss seeing the change of the seasons, so I welcomed the opportunity to feast my eyes on some color. Indeed, the gardens did not disappoint! There was eye candy everywhere you turned. Here are some of my favorite images I captured.

orchid flowers
orchid flower
Selby Gardens
unusual orchid flower
leaves on plants
abstract of leaf

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xoxo

 
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Outdoor Adventure: Myakka River State Park

I’ve always loved spending time in Myakka River State Park. One of the oldest and and largest parks in the state, I’ve been coming here ever since my husband’s parents took me and the rest of the family on a boat tour one holiday season. Even though it was a cold winter day (when the northerners are wearing parkas, it’s definitely cold!), the beauty of the mostly undeveloped land left a huge impression on me.

Myakka River State Park Spanish moss canopy

We didn’t see any alligators that day, but the experience was enough to make me want to go back and visit again. Each time I went, I discovered something new I hadn’t seen before. Now that I’m living in southwest Florida, it’s been fun exploring the 37,000 acre park. Recently my husband and I brought our bikes so we could hop on and off the many trails to hike giving us a new and different perspective on scenes we had only glanced at before.

Myakka River State Park spanish moss

I’m fortunate that several of my co-workers are also photographers. We’ve chatted often about getting together to shoot one day and quickly settled on Myakka for our first adventure. None of us had been to the Deep Hole - a place in the park I had only recently learned about. It involves getting a permit as soon as the park opens and hiking about 4.5 miles round trip. The day of our photoshoot, it was a cloudy morning, something we were all grateful for as the day quickly became hot and humid. This is an adventure you definitely have to plan for, which unfortunately I had not done. But at least now I know what to expect and how to make this a better experience the next time I visit.

Myakka RIver State Park Deep Hole

The hole is known for dozens of alligators that congregate on the water’s edge. It’s estimated that the sinkhole is about 140 feet deep which is why the alligators come here when the waters recede in the dry season. We didn’t stay long enough to see what others have photographed, but we did see the alligators moving toward land during the time we were there. One fellow was close enough to the edge that we were able to get some really great shots without needing a super long telephoto lens.

Myakka RIver State Park alligator

We made sure to get a group shot before we left the park. It’s not like we saw a lot of folks out here, they only give out 30 permits a day, so dragging a tripod on the entire hike was worth it! Now that I’ve learned more about this mysterious Deep Hole, I can’t wait to go back!

women photographers
 

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xoxo

 
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Update: Life in Florida

It’s hard to believe that just over 6 months ago my husband and I packed up our house, moved to the sunshine state and started a new chapter in our lives. While change has been hard for me, I can’t help but admit, it was just what I needed. Last year I was dealt some curve balls, having experienced some things I wasn’t sure if or how I would get through. But in the midst of feeling lost, I truly believe I found my way to living a more meaningful and authentic life. 

Life is funny that way. In this day and age we’re always striving to live without suffering any pain - physical or emotional. Yet, the older I get, the more I realize it’s in those moments we probably learn our best lessons. We tend to grow, become more in touch with who we really are and stop listening to everyone who has an opinion about what we should or should not be doing. Often, the greater the pain, the greater the reward. 

I didn’t realize how much I needed to slow down, be quiet and simply just be. I longed to spend more time in nature, become one with the world and really listen to what my heart was telling me. My husband and I decided to rent a house that is half the size of the one we own in PA, but is also just a mere 2 miles from the beach. My favorite thing to do is head down to the ocean to sit and watch the sunset. Sometimes I read, sometimes I write, but mostly I just do nothing. I have no doubt this is what helped me find my way back to my creative self. Listening to the sound of the ocean, watching the birds and reveling in the beautiful show Mother Nature put on night after night - simple things really - helped me clear all the clutter in my brain. I had so much noise - all the “shouldn't", “couldn’t", “ought not", “can’t", “won’t" thoughts I finally reached the point where I, well, just couldn’t anymore. Should I be so surprised? 

My thinking is much more clear now. I am photographing again and creating my best work ever. I don’t doubt myself like I once did. I’m less afraid of chasing my dreams because I believe the universe intends for them to come true. Instead, I am dreaming up even bigger dreams to chase. 

There are days that I long to be back in PA. Living closer to my family, in my own home doing the same things I did for so many years. Familiarity is comforting. But it doesn’t encourage growth. I see that in so many people I know who aren’t living their best lives. Who are afraid to do something different because maybe they’ll fail. That was me too. Instead, by taking this leap of faith, I may have just started the best chapter of my life.

golden retriever on beach at sunset
 

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xoxo

 
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How my dogs helped me cope

“Change is the only constant in life.” ~ Heraclitus of Ephesus

Some people adapt to change well, while others are slow to adjust. I’d like to think I cope easily, but honestly, change is very hard for me. While the idea of moving to Florida was very exciting (what’s not to love about living just a mere 2 miles from the beach?), it was also very scary for me. After all, I’ve spent virtually all of my life in State College, a small town in the middle of cow country Pennsylvania. I left my family, my home and the business I built up behind. All to chase a dream of mine. 

There’s nothing wrong with rolling hills, farm lands and lush forests. But the beach resonates with me more. The soft lapping of the waves on the shore, the endless ocean and the oh so beautiful colors of the sunset is where I find myself most at home. So when the opportunity presented itself for my husband, our dogs and I to move to the sunshine state, it was hard to say no. 

The two day drive was exhausting. When we crossed the Florida state line, it suddenly hit me - I can’t just run back home anymore. Well, I can, but it’ll take me over 24 hours to get there. I truly am stuck here now. No problem, right? I have my husband and our dogs to lean on.

Unlike me, my husband copes well with change. Well, much better than I do anyways. His family has lived in Florida off and on for decades. For him, this wasn’t exactly new territory. Sure, he may not know all the street names and restaurants, but he had a general idea where everything is. He’s spent extended periods of time growing up and even living in Florida early in his career. I’d hop on the road and couldn’t figure out how to get to the grocery store which yesterday I swore I drove by a short mile down from our home. Unless I used a GPS, I’d get lost. My husband would tell me, just head to the wawa, stay left and then turn right. I’d go to wawa another way, stay left and end up in front of a pond with an alligator staring me down, not the grocery store I intended to shop at. 

At first it wasn’t so awful. It kind of felt like being on vacation - except with my furniture. As the days went by, I started to feel discombobulated. Nothing was familiar - my house, my routine, my meals, my work. My husband got impatient with me because he couldn’t relate. I found myself in tears more than once. Wondering if perhaps I had made the worst decision of my life. 

But I kept plugging away. At least I could watch the same shows on TV, wash my hair with the same shampoo and sleep in the same bed I had for years. But even sleep began to elude me. I started to experience mini panic attacks. Tears fell easily, Suddenly, I didn’t care about my dreams. All I wanted to do was to go back home. 

My dogs picked up on my sadness and anxiety. Izzy, who has always been able to read me like a book, especially noticed. They became my shadow, sat beside me, pawed me to pet them and in general just asked for more attention. I found comfort in their fur, their pleading eyes, their hugs. The more anxious I got, the more needy they became. They helped me feel better, reminding me it’s all going to be ok. And slowly, day by day, hour by hour, I felt like myself once again. I’m sure I would have gotten there in time anyways, but I have no doubt knowing they were there for me - waiting for me to come home from work, encouraging me to take them for walks, cuddling with me before I fell asleep helped me not feel so overwhelmed with all the changes in my life. 

I’m happy to report life is good here in Florida. As I write this, I’m listening to the waves, watching the sunset, enjoying my view. After the death of my friend, I’ve felt lost for much of this year. But my heart is happy again. I have much I want to do and explore, however long I’m in the sunshine state. I look forward to what each day brings, thankful for this experience. But I’m especially grateful for my furry kids who helped me get through one of the biggest transitions in my life. 

Florida summer sunset