Zoo Snoozin’ – Part 2 – And Then Some

Posted in Everyday Life on May 6th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , ,

Bright and early at 7am last Friday at the Toledo Zoo, we were gently awakened by one of our guides (or not-so-gently awakened at 5am by the screaming parrots if you were in the Michigan group sleeping in Nature’s Neighborhood) after hitting the pillows at 1am just hours earlier.  No problem, what better motivation could I have to get out of bed than already being IN the zoo?  We got dressed and packed up our gear and headed to the Carnivore Cafe for a generous breakfast of bagels, cereal, yogurt, applesauce, juice, and coffee (thank goodness for that, and I chugged two cups for fuel).  Oh yeah, if you’re not a regular reader and  happened upon this post unintentionally, then you probably don’t know that I’m talking about the Zoo Snooze my daughters and I went to last week –  see installment one here.

After breakfast, we headed over to the gorilla exhibit, but we got stopped halfway there because there was mis-communication – we were supposed to be at the primate exhibit instead.  So we did an about-face, and headed over to the primates to watch them play with our tubes we had made the night before.  THEN we headed over to the gorilla exhibit, and we had to take the long way since they were re-doing the sidewalk between the primate and gorilla exhibits.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Toledo Zoo, there is A LOT of walking.  Not as much walking between exhibits as other zoos, such as Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, but still a lot of walking.  As frequent visitors to the Toledo Zoo, we’ve found ways of cutting down the mileage, especially when pushing the double stroller.  But on the second day of the Zoo Snooze, we were all over the place.  And I loved it.  It was a nice day.  My kids were tired, but I was rarin’ to go, so I didn’t even mind any of the detours.  So  we watched the gorillas play and tussle over their enrichment treats, and we listened to the gorilla keeper tell us about their personalities.  The gorilla troupe of Toledo holds a special place in my heart – their silverback (male gorilla leader) Kwisha, was born at Brookfield Zoo in 1988 – right about the time when I was a frequent visitor there as a child.  I remember ogling the gorillas and especially the babies in the (then) new Tropic World exhibit, and it’s quite probable that I admired Kwisha (who is the youngest and last son of Samson, a famous Brookfield silverback) way back when he was a gorilla tot.

After the gorillas, we had to walk across the zoo to the elephant exhibit (the long way, remember, because of the construction) to watch Louie play with  our enrichment treats.  Louie is the zoo’s baby elephant – well, not so much anymore…  he was celebrating his 7th birthday last week when we were there.  I have a video of Louie popping our treat bags into his mouth – whole thing, bag and all without even opening it – but I put that in my previous post, so refer to the link above if you’d like to see it.  And then it was time for the Zoo Snooze to end, and the gates to open and let the real visitors come into  the zoo.

So we hiked back to the car, and we got many a strange look from regular zoo-goers who were wondering why we were carrying sleeping bags and backpacks and pillows.  We stashed our stuff and spent some time in the gift shop, which is not normally something I do on zoo trips, but it was a nice change of pace.  Besides, I was missing my little ones so much, and I had that zoo membership card burning a hole in my pocket – I just had to buy them something.  At this point, it was starting to get rather warm outside, and my kids were exhausted.  The rest of the group was going quite well, but my kids kept asking if we had to go back into the zoo.  Keep in mind that we come often, so they were old hats at the zoo who were extremely tired.  I patiently explained that we were going to do whatever the people who we were riding with were going to do, and that was that.  As it was though, everyone was exhausted and the people we rode with seemed to be asking us for permission to not go back into the zoo.  FINE with us!  I explained – not because I had had enough of the zoo – that would never happen, no matter how little sleep I’d had…  but I wanted to  be on their schedule, plus I had the potential for two very tired and crabby kids on my hands AND a trip to Illinois scheduled for the next day.  We ended up staying on the side of the zoo where our car was parked (Toledo Zoo straddles the Anthony Wayne Trail – a major thoroughfare, and the zoo has a walkway above it.  But it requires a lot of walking to get from side to side, and most of the exhibits are located on the opposite side of the parking lot), so stayed on the one side and still got to see the Polar Bears, Wolves (who were passed out because of the heat), giraffes, and zebras.  And then it was time to go.

During the entire Zoo Snooze, I had planned on  napping the whole way home, but I found myself having an intriguing conversation with our drivers instead.  We arrived home about 5pm, and I unpacked and then I re-packed for the trip to Illinois the next day and made up some lost time with my little ones.  By the end of the night, I was seeing things and not making much sense because I was so tired, but it was well worth it!

We awoke bright and early Saturday morning and left at 8am headed for Chicago, and wouldn’t you know it – a traffic snarl.  It was too early for the kids to nap, and they were awesome in the car – at least until  we hit stop and go traffic just outside the Loop.  An hour and 4 miles later (yes, you read that right – it took us an hour to go four miles!), we discovered the reason for our delay –  a bridge had begun to crumble, so  they had to close down 2 lanes to repair it, which left all the traffic to merge into ONE lane.  Ah, Chicago traffic, don’t you love it?  NOT!!!

The kids were pretty great during all of this, as was I for running on fumes – I think I was still high off my Zoo Snooze.  They did start to lose it a little, but luckily I had some powdered donuts packed, so between those and the Veggie Tales dvds I put into the car’s player, we managed to not kill each other.  We arrived at my mother-in-law’s house 55 minutes late, even after Jill the GPS had predicted us getting there an hour early all morning.  This would have been fine, except that my mother-in-law had previous plans, so we got to see her for a whopping 15-minute-hi-goodbye-here’s-this-here’s-that-I-love-you-hug-kiss-goodbye session while my husband’s sister and brother-in-law managed to avoid us completely…  long story, there’s bad blood there, but I thought we were over it by now.  Guess not.  Whatever.  We moved on to a local Chicago beef place (NOTE to non-Chicagoans – just because you call it Chicago Beef, a French Dip IS NOT CHICAGO BEEF no matter how hard you try!!)  where we shared great food and even better conversation with a friend from way back, Derek – SO glad he called us and that the traffic jam didn’t ruin this part of our trip!

Our next stop was my Grandpa’s nursing home, and that was awesome.  It’s pretty much on the way from my husband’s family’s house to my family’s house, and I wouldn’t dream of going to Illinois without seeing him, especially since my grandparents do not travel and have never been to our home in Ohio.  Going to Hellinois Illinois is the only way I can see them and so every time I’m in the area, I make sure to stop by and let our kids have a  visit with their great-grandparents.  My little boy, who will be 2 in July, had a special buddy in my grandmother; it was really sweet, and I don’t even know why.  But we were there for over an hour, and the whole time, he kept saying “Grandma!  Grandma!”  making sure that she was doing everything right along side him.  My grandpa made me a bet – will the Chicago Cubs (my team – he is a St. Louis Cardinals fan) or the Chicago Bears (a football team, also a favorite of his and my husband’s, for that matter) win their respective championship first –  World Series or Superbowl?  Stay tuned to find out…  😉

Next it was on to my sister’s house, where there was a birthday party for my nephews who both have April birthdays -they turned 2 and 7 this year.  It was a great party; a wonderful chance to see family; immediate and also my sister’s in-laws who are very nice and interesting people to chat with.  My sister’s nephew is my oldest daughter’s age (10), and he has been interested in the weather since he was about 3 years old.  His hero is Tom Skilling, a local Chicago WGN weatherman, one whom I’ve always liked also.  Tom always teaches about the weather and its systems and patterns rather than just simply forecasting it.  But anyway, my sister’s nephew has his own weekly weather newsletter that  he writes and send electronically himself, so I put myself on his mailing list.  When I got the newsletter this week, I was impressed – just as I was when talking to the little guy and being dwarfed by his weather knowledge.  As is usual, my kids had such a wonderful time with their cousins that they hid when it was time to leave, and we had to dig them out, this time out from under my sister’s bed.  I’m done with being embarrassed about this; especially since my sister dug up some memories of us hiding from our parents while playing with our cousins!  I don’t remember this, but I’ll take her word for it…

Anyway, time got away from us, and we left my sister’s house at 9pm –  which was 10pm Ohio time.  Arrived home at 2:30 in the morning and had two crazy dogs and some kids to  put to bed, and we begrudgingly gave up our church dreams for Sunday.  But lo and behold,  we were all up and ready for church on Sunday, so we went, and almost one busy week later, I’m still catching up on sleep as I write this, no surprise there.  But thanks for reading my rambling, and may this Mother’s Day find you blessed, happy, and healthy – hope you have a good one!!

A New Favorite

Posted in animals, Cool Internet Stuff, Travel on December 13th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

I am a fan of many of the wordpress blogs, especially those written by my wonderful friends here on tangents.org.  But recently, I came across a previously undiscovered (to me)  blog that is right up my alley, and I was surprised to find out that it’s a wordpress blog: designingzoos.com – does that sound like my cup of tea or what?!?

This woman blogs blogged (she hasn’t written since July – disappointing!) about her job, which is far from boring – she designs zoos, aquariums, theme parks, etc. for a living!  My dream job calling?  Well, not really, I’m working my dream job taking care of my 4 wonderful kids.  And besides, zoo designers sometimes have to compromise their grand zoo visions, and they go to a lot of meetings.  But it’s certainly fun for me to read about zoo design!  I found this site while researching the history of  Brookfield  Zoo near Chicago, a place I was quite familiar with as a kid.  I ended up finding this, which is a re-design master plan map of the zoo.  If you are at all familiar with Brookfield Zoo, you might find it interesting, along with this designingzoos.com blog post about the proposed map.  Many other zoos have re-design master plans, but unfortunately, these plans are forced to be nothing but pipe dreams while this economy has forced zoo visits to be much lower on the priority list for many families.

Zoo Traveler

Posted in animals, Travel on January 26th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I really like to travel (NO FLYING THOUGH!), and we were fortunate enough to do lots of it – before we had so many little kids, of course.  We still try to make a yearly trip to Florida, especially while we can still fit the entire family in one car – something that soon won’t be easily accomplished as the kids grow older.  At each travel destination, I have to admit that my favorite tourist attraction is always the local zoo.  I made a list of all the zoos and/or wildlife parks I have visited, and I hope to add to it soon!  Here is the list by state, country, or territory, followed by the city in which it’s located.  An asterisk following the zoo means it no longer exists.  I put notes about some of the places in italics as sort of a guide in case you’re interested in visiting one of those particular attractions and want some info straight from a tourist’s mouth.

California:
Sea World San Diego
San Diego Zoo

Canada:
Bird Kingdom Niagara Falls Aviary, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario – this place is very cool.  You can hand-feed deer, Beluga Whales or even Orcas (Killer Whales).  You can throw food down to bears who beg and do tricks.  There are also a variety of amusement park rides for the whole family.  Look at me petting the Orca!

niagara-falls-6-04-032

Washington, DC
National Zoo

Florida:
Wooten’s Wilflife Park, Florida Everglades – a cool, family owned place where you can see animals on display; including alligators, crocodiles, and Florida panthers.  You can also hold and feed baby alligators!  I wonder if they still exist; their website hasn’t been updated since ’06!
Sea World, Orlando
Gatorland, Orlando
Animal Kingdom, Orlando

Idaho:
Zoo Boise, Boise

Illinois:

Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield – this is the zoo I grew up going to.  In the 80’s when I was a frequent visitor, they had many ‘celebrity’ animals, with interesting stories to match.
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
Peoria Wildlife Park, Peoria
Cosley Zoo, Wheaton
Glen Oak Zoo, Peoria
Henson Robinson Zoo, Springfield
Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington – yuck, not one of my favorite places.  Their tiger exhibits consisted of teeny tiny cages, and they had a really scrawny, terrible looking tiger, at least in the late ’90’s when we lived in the area.  Hopefully they’ve cleaned the place up.
Scovill Zoo, Decatur

Indiana:
Ft Wayne Children’s Zoo – a perfectly sized zoo to visit with kids.  They have a wide variety of animals and some nice exhibits.  They just recently built a chair-lift type ride that will take you over the lion exhibit once it’s finished – cool and scary at the same time!
Potawatomi Zoo,  South Bend
Fun Spot, Angola

Michigan:
Binder Park, Battle Creek

Minnesota:
Minneapolis Zoo, Minneapolis

Missouri:
St Louis Zoo, St. Louis

Nebraska:
Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha – I know they’ve since rebuilt it, but when I visited back in 2001-2002, they had a teeny-tiny exhibit for the gorillas, which made them none too happy.  I actually witnessed a huge male gorilla charge a kid and beat on the glass from his small exhibit – scary!
Henry Doorly safari park, Omaha
Folsom Children’s Zoo, Lincoln – a very nice little zoo located in the heart of Lincoln.  It’s so well-laid out that you can forget you’re in the middle of a capital city, and they have lots of animals in a variety of nice exhibits.

Ohio:

African Safari Wildlife Park, Port Clinton – I love this place!  You can feed deer, elands, huge buffalo and a variety of hoofed mammals from the comfort of your own vehicle.  In season, they have pig races, animals shows, and camel and pony rides for the little ones.
Akron Zoo, Akron – I was really impressed with the layout, exhibits, and the happiness of the animals – a very impressive little zoo!
Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland
Columbus Zoo, Columbus – a zoo no one had heard about until my favorite celebrity, Jack Hanna got ahold of it and made it a world-reknown facility.  Huge zoo, and the only place to see my favorite animals, manatees in my home state of Ohio!
*Sea World Ohio, Aurora – we actually lived in Illinois at the time we visited here, but I’m glad we got to see it before they sold it to Six Flags, who sold it to Cedar Fair.  Any of the other Sea Worlds are quite a hike from IL or OH for that matter, especially for a non-flyer such as myself.
Toledo Zoo, Toledo

Pennsylvania:
Pittsburgh Zoo – very impressive zoo!  Lots of kid-friendly playgrounds and interactive areas. The polar bear habitat looked really cool – people go through a tunnel that the bears can swim over – but we didn’t see it since the bears weren’t in the pool.  I NEED a second look at this zoo and will definitely allow more time when I get back there!
ZOOAMERICA North American Wildlife Park, Hershey – We did not care for this zoo at all.  We visited in the late ’90’s, so maybe they’ve added more to it by now.  But at that time, they only had animals indigenous to North America, and let’s face it, those are easy to spot in most areas of the U.S.  And let’s face it, the real star tourist destination in Hershey is the chocolate factory!

South Dakota:
Great Plains Zoo and Museum, Sioux Falls – I visited here with my family when I was 15.  This place was amusing to us because attached to the zoo is the museum, which has many taxidermied specimans.  We joked that this zoo had more dead animals than live ones!
*Marineland, Rapid City – note the asterisk, this place doesn’t exist anymore, thank goodness.  When we visited in the summer of ’93, they had dolphins and sea lions held in such tiny cages and pools, it was sickening.  I haven’t been able to find much info on this place, but I’m sure they were shut down because of poor treatment of their animals.  I can only hope the animals found a better home.
Bear Country USA, Rapid City – a cool drive-thru bear habitat experience – keep those windows rolled up!!!  And check out the baby bear nursery – so adorable!

Wisconsin:
Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison
*Serpent Safari, Wisconsin Dells

GRAND TOTAL AS OF 2009:

41 animal-themed places in 2 countries, 13 states, 1 district…  and counting!

Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My

Posted in Kids, Uncategorized on March 18th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am greatly anticipating our scheduled visit to the Toledo Zoo next week.  My daughter needs a specialty dentist in the big city, so we’ve decided to throw some fun in there as well with a trip to the zoo.  It will probably be my last one until after I have the baby, unless they have a wagon available for rental that’s big enough for very pregnant me AND the 3 kids.  Since it’s only March and I’m not due until July, I think I can still handle the large amount of walking it takes to get around the zoo – we’ll see anyway.  I naively thought that pregnancies would get easier with experience, but it seems that I forgot to factor in my increasing age – I am almost 10 years older than I was the first time I was with child – and I feel it!

Toledo Zoo is very large.  It’s a very nice zoo, but there is lots of walking.  It remains one of my favorite zoos in the country however, and I’ve visited at least 20.  Toledo has lots of animals, but they are pretty spread out.  Also, because the zoo straddles a major road, you have to trek up and down a ramp and across a long pedestrian bridge; all of which is not so much fun if pregnant or in the heat of the summer.  But overall, it is one of my favorite zoos.  Even though the gorilla’s indoor exhibit is pretty small, I really enjoy how close you can see them, and they don’t seem unhappy being in a small exhibit…  unlike a gorilla at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.  He had a really small indoor enclosure, and we witnessed him charge at a little boy – it was very scary and thank goodness that glass was thick!  This was years ago, and I think Henry Doorly has since re-built their gorilla exhibit.  Another zoo with a lot of walking is the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, Illinois.  Brookfield has lots of walking, but unlike Toledo, the animals are spaced further apart, so much of the walking is without seeing animals.  It’s been a few years since I’ve been there, so maybe they’ve changed this, but it’s not one of my favorite zoos, unless we’re talking about sentimental reasons – it was the site of my husband’s and my first “unofficial” date.  One zoo that sticks out in my memory as one of my favorites is the Folsom Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The name is misleading, they had quite an array of animals there; including red pandas, camels, reindeer, leopards, monkeys, a variety of reptiles, seals, sloths, emus that like to be pet, and there are still many more I haven’t named.  All in only 19 acres, nestled right in the city.  Which sounds large, but once you get in there, it was really the perfect size.  Not much walking at all, lots of animals who all had lots of room in their environments, and it was very nicely landscaped with mature trees and such so that you forgot you were in the middle of the city.  We used to live close enough to walk there, but the only problem with this great little zoo is that it was only open from April – October.  If you are ever in Nebraska, the Folsom Children’s Zoo is a must-see.  Being a native Chicagoan, it’s strange that I’ve never visited the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is also in the middle of a city, albeit a much larger one than Lincoln.  But I’ve heard good things about it, and maybe one of these days, during one of our bi-yearly visits to the area, we will give Lincoln Park a whirl so I can add it to my zoo resume.

Before our trips to the zoo, I like to visit a really cool website to brush up on my animal facts.  It really makes zoo trips more interesting if you know a little more about what you’re looking at.  Check out this online database that is maintained by the University of Michigan:  http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/index.html

And finally, if you are still reading this, you must be an animal lover like me.  If you also like to read, I highly recommend my favorite book written by my favorite celebrity: Jack Hanna, called “Monkeys on the Interstate”.  If you ever watch The Late Show with David Letterman, you know that poor Jack often comes across as a bumbling fool when he’s on the show.  He is an animal expert however, and he is much more entertaining to watch than most animal experts.  He and Letterman tease each other mercilessly, and there is almost always some sort of animal mishap that occurs when Jack is involved, always with hilarious results.  His book is a narrative of the same sort of episodes, all taken from his life as he was growing up and also from when he went on to become the director of the Columbus Zoo.  By the way, being an Ohioan, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Columbus Zoo, and I will say that it did not disappoint.  If you read Jack’s book, you will read about how he brought the zoo from anonymity (he notes in his book that when he first arrived in Ohio, people would always ask him,”there’s a zoo in Columbus?!?”) to one of the most renowned facilities in the world.  There was a lot of trial and error involved in acheiving this, and again, many hilarious hijinks, all of which are detailed in the book – it is really entertaining reading.  And it’s not just a clever title – there really were Monkeys on the Interstate, thanks to Jack and one of his hare-brained ideas!  Maybe I will take another look at it on the long ride to Toledo next week…