Tag Archives: animals

A Visit to Oz

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We were overly dressed for the zoo due to our plans to head to the Palmyra LDS temple following our visit. Ozzie just wanted to dress up for the occasion. The result: A sweet Amish family stopping us at the zoo to inquire if we were Mennonites. 🙂 

Last Wednesday was our first off-grounds visit with Ozzie since his placement at Harborcreek Residential Treatment Facility back in May. This is his second stay there and it has been an immense blessing. The facility is astounding and Ozzie thrives under the structure, care, and therapies offered there. In an ideal world we would be able to meet Ozzie’s extreme therapeutic needs at home through outpatient services, but his history of extreme abuse and neglect prior to adoption, coupled with his multiple diagnoses, make the level of therapeutic care needed for healing unrealistic in an outpatient form. Our hope is that an extended stay at this RTF, with its many forms of therapy and its superb staff, will facilitate a level of healing that his therapist at home can’t achieve in two hours a week.

At Harborcreek Ozzie is eagerly involved and engaged in multiple therapeutic groups daily in addition to art therapy, music therapy, trauma release yoga, EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma therapy and family therapy weekly. He also attends school on campus for a half day and participates in work release program at the carpentry workshop a few days a week where he has the opportunity to learn carpentry skills. With other boys that qualify for this privilege, he is learning to build picnic benches which are then sold to local businesses and organizations. He loves his time with the work release team.

Every Wednesday I drive 2 1/2 hours up to Erie to have a family session with Ozzie. This is not required. In fact most parents participate in these weekly therapy sessions over the phone, as families are scattered across the state of Pennsylvania,  but I have found Ozzie makes more progress in his healing with one-on-one, face-to-face support and accountability. We have turned these family therapy days into weekly social visits. Rather than taking advantage of open visiting hours for family every Sunday from 1-4 pm (which is what we did each week during his last stay there,) I piggyback a social visit following these weekly family therapy sessions. It has worked out well, as it was always a challenge to fit in church and get up to Erie before visiting hours were over. It made Sundays stressful and took us away from our other kids on the one day of the week we have everyone home together for family time. With this new routine I am able to focus on Ozzie that day and enjoy an extended visit with him following therapy where our time is spent playing the board games I bring with me.

Now that he has been at Harborcreek for three months, and is doing so well there, the next step is transitioning those skills to the home environment. This is especially important for Ozzie, as his ability to self manage is far more challenging when he is around family and is being shown love than it is for him in an institutionalized setting that is more structured, disconnected and impersonal. The first step in this transition process (which will probably occur over the course of six months) is to begin introducing short off campus visits with siblings. These short visits give everyone a chance at reconnection while also allowing us to increase Ozzie’s emotional discomfort and observe his reaction to emotional triggers so that when he returns back to Harborcreek at the conclusion of the off-grounds visit he can process through the experience (and the resulting behaviors) with his trauma therapist and come up with strategies to implement next visit.

It was decided that for his first off-grounds visit with siblings we would just bring Molly and Grace. Both girls are well versed in how to manage Ozzie in an emotionally healthy way without being triggered themselves, so we thought it best to set everyone up for success and just bring the girls. It was especially important for Molly to attend as she will be leaving for school in Idaho in two weeks and I felt it important that she and Ozzie have a visit before an extended separation. There were hurts that needed healing in their relationship with Molly being one of Ozzie’s primary targets before he was admitted to the RTF. We were granted a two-hour off-grounds visit and we chose to head to the Erie Zoo.

The zoo was the perfect choice for the girls’ first visit with Ozzie since seeing him in his dysregulated state last spring. I could tell both were apprehensive and a bit nervous, but hopeful that healing was possible. I felt a visit to the zoo would be a good environment for their first visit together. My thought was that at the zoo wee would have the benefit of being able to move around as we talked and have plenty of conversation starters as we experience the zoo. Also, I have found that animals have an emotionally calming/therapeutic effect on all my kids, so I figured it would increase the likelihood of everyone staying regulated, thus ensuring a positive visit among siblings.

We arrived at the zoo following a family therapy session that included all of us and Ozzie’s trauma therapist. We started our visit with a picnic lunch that we packed and brought along with us.

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Once everyone’s bellies were full we started our exploration of the zoo.

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The charm of the Erie zoo is found in its historic roots. Opened in 1929 it has a charm that isn’t seen in modern zoos. It is on the smaller size which made it perfect for the amount of time allotted for our visit with Ozzie, and there were just enough exhibits to entertain us during those two hours.

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We all enjoyed strolling through the zoo looking at the animals and watching them interact with each other.

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The Orangutans were especially charming as they had a little one in the group who was a delight to watch. I could have spent all day at that exhibit!

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Ozzie’s favorite animal was of course the donkey. He has a thing for donkeys!

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He also loved the train display set up in the center courtyard.

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As we walked around the zoo he was able to point out some of the picnic tables they make in the Harborcreek carpentry shop and sell to the Erie Zoo. He was quite proud to claim some ownership in finished project.

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It was a beautiful day and everyone had a good time. The interactions were positive and the kids enjoyed getting time together.

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We are one step further down the road to healing past hurts.

Philadelphia Zoo

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One of the three sites we chose to visit as part of our sightseeing pass was the Philadelphia Zoo.

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The Philadelphia Zoo is the oldest zoological park in America. The zoo was slated to open in 1859, but it was delayed for 15 years because of the Civil War. Finally, the zoo opened in 1874 with 1,000 animals, not too many fewer than they have today.

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Over 140 years later, the Philadelphia Zoo still welcomes millions of visitors a year, and this weekend Toby and I joined them for our first visit to Philly’s zoo.

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My first impression of the zoo was that it was nicely laid out, with reasonably sized enclosures for the animals.  It does have a bit of an urban feel to it, most likely because of the close proximity to roads and railroad tracks, but that doesn’t distract much from the overall experience. It actually reminded me a lot of the Erie Zoo, due in part to the age of the zoo.

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Aside from the surprising lack of elephants, the zoo featured most of the animals that you would expect to find at a large American zoo. Animals like giraffes, gorillas, and big cats, could be found roaming their enclosures or simply laying around enjoying the day.

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We did find that the Philadelphia Zoo offered one particularly unique feature that we had never before experienced in all of our zoo experiences: Zoo360.

Zoo360 is a campus-wide network of see-through mesh trails that afford the animals within the enclosures more opportunities to roam around and above Zoo grounds.  Zoo360 is the first of its kind at any zoo worldwide.

There are several components of this innovative experience: Treetop Trail, Great Ape Trail, Big Cat Crossing, and Gorilla Treeway, with more on the way. The trails link existing animal habitats with similar habitat requirements so animals can utilize each other’s spaces in a time-sharing system, and take advantage of having more room to roam. New destination exhibits will be created and designed to accommodate all of the species that would use each trail type.  We found that the Zoo360 experience enhanced our experience, creating a more dynamic engagement as animals moved around us, 360 degrees — along, above and across visitor pathways.

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It was pretty cool getting to watch the animals walk right above us as we strolled through the zoo.

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In addition to making the zoo experience more engaging to visitors, Zoo360 benefits the animals by offering more opportunities for long-distance travel, a greater variety in their environments and an increased ability to determine their own experiences.

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In addition to the thrill of seeing some big cats stroll above our heads, we also got to experience the delight of watching monkeys frolic above us along the Treetop Trail. The Treetop Trail is an elevated trail for small primates like the red-capped mangabey, black and white colobus monkeys, white-faced sakis, blue-eyed lemurs and mongoose lemurs, who love to travel and explore among the treetops.

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A momma with her baby.

My favorite stop was the PECO Primate Reserve, which featured two-and-a-half acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits.

We were drawn to this yard by the sight of the orangutans in the outdoor yard sporting pizza boxes and towels over their heads. Initially we thought that someone’s choice to litter resulted in some mischievous monkeys getting ahold of contraband, but soon discovered that their collection of “trash” was actually provided by the zoo staff as enrichment objects for the animals. This family of orangutans had ingeniously created sun blocks for themselves to battle the intense heat of the day. It was pretty cool to see how their minds work.

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The PECO Primate Reserve houses some of the world’s most endangered primates. We got to see gorillas, Sumatran orangutans, white-handed gibbons, black and white ruffed lemurs, golden lion tamarins and more. The best part was the sprinkling of babies through the exhibit that tickled us with their delightful antics. I could have spent all day in the ape house watching them play.

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Overall we found the Philadelphia Zoo to be a fun stop but not at the top of our list when it comes to the best zoos we’ve toured. In our opinion the Pittsburgh Zoo has it beat, but we had to admit that the Zoo360 experience was incredibly cool and worth the trip to check it out!

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Day 4 of Christmas: Christmas Eve!

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On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

A Christmas Eve with George, the donkey!

IMG_5036 (2)The next round of Christmas fun came the following day when we loaded up two cars with gifts, stocking stuffers, appetizers and children to drive out to my parents’ home.

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Christmas at the Homestead is nothing short of magical and all the kids were eager to share this special tradition with Brandon.

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The tradition of spending Christmas Eve with my parents, and waking up to Santa’s gifts at their home the next day, is an annual tradition. My Mom always makes the holiday so special.

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The kids love the predictability of the traditions that repeat themselves year after year and couldn’t wait to show Brandon why they love Christmas at the Homestead!

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This year was a little different than past years, however. This year my brother and his new bride were celebrating Christmas in Texas with Krista’s family.  My grandmother, now an Ohio resident, is living minutes from my parents’ home, so rather than staying at their home over Christmas, she traveled back and forth from her apartment to the Homestead to join in the activities that she felt up for participating in. This meant for a portion of the Christmas holiday it was just Toby, the kids and I at the Homestead with my parents.

Despite missing our loved ones who were far away this Christmas, we enjoyed another magical Christmas Eve at the Homestead, made all the more special by the addition of our newest son.

We arrived and Brandon got settled in, with the kids showing him where he would be sleeping and explaining what to expect.

The first event of the evening was dinner, with our usual meal of appetizers and hors d’ oeuvers.

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While Dad left with Ozzie to pick up G.G., the rest of the crew began laying out the feast!

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It was another AMAZING spread and when Dad, Ozzie and G.G. returned we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore!

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After a quick clean-up, it was time to convene in the living room, for the talent portion of the evening.

Tyler, Ozzie, and Brandon chose to be audience members, rather than perform, but the oldest three all came with prepared talents to share.

Rusty had prepared two musical pieces to play on the keyboard.

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Molly provided a repeat performance of the musical number she had performed at church on Sunday,

And then the girls both signed to a song they had been working on all month. The musical numbers all brought a sweet spirit to the Homestead, and we all found ourselves wiping away tears, moved by the beauty of the songs.

Tears were quickly followed by laughter as we followed the talent part of the night with the game portion of the evening.

Mom and Dad had purchased a new game for the holidays:

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The premise of this game, developed by Jeff Foxworthy, is to pick a punchline to the start of a joke. Played much like “Apples to Apples,” everyone has a pile of responses that they can pick from and the “comedian” reads them all out load and chooses their favorite.

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The game is rated for 14 and up and we soon discovered why. It was a bit saucy but downright hilarious. I don’t know when I have laughed so hard.

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After getting our ab workout from an hour of belly laughs, my Dad left with G.G., Brandon and Tyler to take Grandma back home for the night. She would return in the morning for all our Christmas fun but would enjoy the comfort of her own bed in her own home overnight.

When Dad and the boys returned, we headed out to the barn for my very favorite part of Christmas…

There in cold and quiet barn, lit only by the luminaries and lights of a small tree, we took our places on bales of hay and listened to the melodious voice of my father as he opened his Bible and read the story of Jesus’ birth.

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The only sound was the shuffling of animals in their stalls.

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There in the barn we reflected on the greatest miracle of humankind that occurred in a similar place 2000 years ago.

There in a dusty stable long ago, surrounded by animals much like these, Mary brought the Savior of the world into this world.

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What a powerful experience it was to reflect on that night, and all it entailed, as we sang the words of “Silent Night,” in the darkness of my parents’ barn.

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When we were done, the animals were all tucked into the stalls.

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We bid them good night.

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And headed for bed…

Eager to see if Santa would make a showing.

 

This Place is a ZOO!

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In honor of life at Patchwork Farm and the ZOO we lovingly call “everyday life” in the McCleery household, we decided to take a field trip over Thanksgiving break to the Pittsburgh Zoo.

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In the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving the Pittsburgh Zoo was offering free admission to all its visitors as a way of expressing gratitude to the people of Pittsburgh for their patronage.

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We decided to take advantage of this incredible deal and take the kids to the zoo for a day of free fun.

It was just what we all needed after a highly emotional holiday weekend.

The fact that all members of the family were able to visit made the day even more special.

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It was a cold and rainy day so we were one of only a few families visiting the zoo that day, despite the incredible deal of free admission. It was lovely to be able to meander along the paths without having to push through any crowds.

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Because of the chilly weather some of the animals were put away, but we enjoyed watching those whose thicker coats allowed them to stay outside and soak up the few rays of sun that were breaking through the clouds.

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Tyler, like the big cats, was unaffected by the cold as he enjoyed some time in the islands!

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We timed our visit just right and entered the elephant house just as bath time commenced. We took our place at the railing and watched with delight for a half an hour while this beautiful lady was scrubbed and shined.

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Many animals in the zoo were unaffected by the cold temperatures due to their inside habitats. We enjoyed visiting the monkey house because the hot humid interior temps allowed us to warm up a bit.

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As we moved from the monkeys to the aquarium Molly spotted a few exhibits that spoke to her tender heart. The first was a display of sculptures that an artist creates from snare traps, repurposing something destructive into something beautiful. The artist then donates the proceeds to help with the conservation effort.

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As we neared the aquarium Molly spotted another exhibit that spoke to her tender heart. This one was a sea turtle second chance facility where injured turtles are rehabilitated. After her summer trip to the Sea Turtle Initiative in Costa Rica she has a heart for these special animals.

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Then it was time for the PPG Aquarium. This was the busiest part of the Pittsburgh Zoo that day. It seemed everyone had the same plan for getting out of the cold rain and we found the crowds significantly denser within this building…

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But that didn’t affect our enjoyment of this beautiful aquarium in the least. The kids all enjoyed checking out the vast variety of fish, crustaceans, sea birds, and large marine predators that call Pittsburgh PPG Aquarium home.

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The sting ray tank was a family favorite as the kids jostled for a spot near the tank to pet these soaring skates as they flew by just below the surface of the water.

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From there we headed back into the cold to visit Brandon’s favorite zoo animal: the polar bear.

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Unfortunately he wasn’t out so we moved onto the sea otters who put on a delightful display of playful charm that kept us enthralled for 20 minutes. The kids laughed with delight at the silly antics of these personable critters.

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By the time we were done watching the sea otters it was time to start heading for the exit. Grace had work that afternoon and everyone was ready to warm up and dry off, so after a quick stop back at the tiger enclosure to get a photo of the tiger for Brandon (Go Beaver Falls Tigers!), we were gone.

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It was a wonderful day!

Thank you, Pittsburgh Zoo, for your generosity…

My “crazy zoo” had a delightful time visiting yours!

 

 

Treasured Memories at Living Treasures

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Ever since our visit to the subpar animal park we visited while in Virginia I had been itching for a visit to Living Treasures Animal Park. With Brandon visiting for a few days we thought it the perfect excuse to visit.

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It is a bit of a tradition in our family. It seems with pre-placement visits with both Tyler and Ozzie, Living Treasures was on the agenda and one of both of their first memories of time with our family. I treasure this because Living Treasures holds a special place in my heart and has since I first visited almost 2 decades ago. It was our go-to outing adventure with the older three when they were too little for the miles of hiking at the zoo, and as a result I feel a sense of nostalgia when I enter its gates.

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Having special “firsts” memories of Ozzie and Tyler there, when they first entered our lives as 6 and 10-year-olds, makes this place all the sweeter.

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Now I will have equally sweet “firsts” memories of Brandon strolling down the same gravels paths that have been the source of much joy as a momma.

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We arrived and purchased some feed buckets and carrots and headed to the deer yard:

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The wonderful thing about Living Treasures that sets it apart from larger zoos is the proximity to the animals and the opportunity to interact with the wildlife so closely.

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The chance to feed animals from the palm of our hand or through a gravity fed feeding tubes produced larger than life smiles and numerous giggles.

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Everyone has their favorites whom they have come to know and love over seasons of visits.

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The giraffes are always a hit!

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Another favorite area is the goat pen/ nursery area. This area has changed a lot in the past decade. It used to be on large pen with goats and baby animals running free. It was fun to navigate your way through the chaos of tongues and fur as critters fought for attention.

Unfortunately this area is now very tame (thanks to liability risks I’m sure) with only a small petting area for the goats…

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And a separate pen for the babies of the park.

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Despite not being able to climb in the pen with them and “shnuggle ’em” like I’d like, we still had a wonderful time getting kisses from these ADORABLE slime monsters.

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The kangaroo/wallabies yard is another favorite area of the park due to the incredible fertility of the mommas that call this area home.

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It seems each and every one of them have a leg or two sticking out from her pouch. If one lingers long enough a baby sometimes will pop its head out to say “hello.”

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Tyler’s favorite section of the park is, and always has been, the aviary. Here the kids purchased a small container of seed to split. That $1.00 purchase provided a good 45 minutes of entertainment as the kids lured in these flying beauties with a sprinkling of seed on their hands.

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Turns out the seed wasn’t needed…

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The colorful string bracelets that adorned their wrists were the real bait!

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It was such a delight watching the kids find such delight in the animals and in each other’s company. It was fun to hang back and observe as our kiddos shared a beloved family tradition with Brandon,

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And an even bigger joy watching him let down his guard and just be a kid…

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Something he hasn’t been able to do for a long time.

Another special day for this momma’s “Living Treasure memory book!”

 

Molly in Costa Rica #1

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At the airport at 4:30 am.

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After braving the adventure of international travel, Molly arrived in Costa Rica.

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While transferring planes in Houston, Texas she was thrilled to see another young lady wearing the identifying t-shirt of the GLA and got to become acquainted with a fellow Sea Turtle Initiative participant before arriving in Costa Rica. Both girls were glad to see each other. Their seats weren’t together but upon departing they were able to navigate customs together, making the process a little less intimidating.

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Students trickled into the airport through the afternoon from all corners of the globe. Once everyone had arrived GLA staff helped everyone securely exchange their dollars into colones,

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And then they headed to Hotel Pacande to freshen up and settle into their next 10 days of Pura Vida!

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After enjoying lunch at the hotel, students had the option to rest, or participate in activities to break the ice and get to know their new GLA family.

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Because the trip to home base involved a 6 hour trip via car then boat, the group spent the night at this local hotel and left for the remote village of Parismina the following morning.

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Day 2 involved a long drive, followed by a boat ride to arrive at the organic fruit farm where they would live and work for the next 10 days.

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Along the way there was a planned stop at the first adventure of the trip: Ziplining through the jungle of Costa Rica.

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They also stopped at a village store to purchase munchies before heading into the wilds of Costa Rica.

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Located on the Caribbean coast the farm they were staying at was quite remote. Travel to the closest town involved a 45 minute walk through the jungle, but was only about 10 minutes from the beach.

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This beach is known for being the prime location for four species of sea turtles to nest.

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While in Costa Rica, as part of the Sea Turtle Initiative, Molly and the other participants spent their days helping protect and improve conditions for the sea turtles through night patrols with ASTOP (an anti-poaching organization,) beach clean-ups, surveying nesting sites, and raising community awareness.

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After a long day of travel, the students and staff arrived at the eco-lodge Friday night and settled in for a week’s worth of adventures. As parents we were privy to some of their adventures through blogs written by the students and posted every few days on the GLA website. Since they can better express the experiences they enjoyed than I can retell, I will be posting their recaps of their days in Costa Rica. (Because internet access is spotty in the jungle there were not blogs posted every single day, but I will share what they shared.)

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Here is their first blog entry:

This morning we all woke up in our new rooms in our lodge here on Parismina. A lot of us learned an important lesson about tucking our mosquito nets into our beds, because we woke up with upward of ten bites.

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We then had some morning free time and many of us headed downstairs to rest in the hammocks.

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The “living room.” This open area, filled with hanging hammocks, was the gathering area of the home.

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After our breakfast we got ready for our first walk of our organic farm tour led by our house leader Jason.

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The “dining room.” Molly said she loved the sand floor.

Here we saw various plants, fruits (some of which we got to taste!) and insects.

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The tour of the organic fruit farm.

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The students got to taste many of the fruits grown on the farm.

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Molly sampling the fruits…

During our nature walk we got to see a sloth, some iguanas, grasshoppers, a ribbon snake, and a nest of biting fire ants.

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A Sloth!

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Molly said this plant felt and smelled like soap.

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After some free time we got to see a presentation from ASTOP, an organization for the preservation of sea turtles. This group taught us the reasons poaching of sea turtles occurs here in Costa Rica and what they have been doing to stop poaching.

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This information got us very excited for our first night patrol. The very nice man left and then we were given time to go swim in the ocean.

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The ocean was gorgeous, and had black sand which many of us had not seen before.

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After we passed a swim test (which we all did AWESOME at) we got to swim.

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About half-way through swimming, more and more people went off to go play in the sand. Some people were buried while others of us just relaxed on their towels. The heat of the day was wiped off of us while swimming.

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After that, we came back where we all rinsed off and then had some downtime to relax and talk with everybody. All in all we had a great day and are looking forward to hopefully seeing a turtle on our night patrol.

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If not, at least it will be an awesome week!

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Living Treasures Animal Park

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While Molly and Rusty were hiking with the school’s Adventure Club, Tyler, Ozzie and I went on an adventure of our own.

Just down the road from McConnells Mill State Park is Living Treasures Animal Park. This park has a special place in my heart, as it is home to so many sweet memories. Our first visit here was with Gracie as a baby. We have visited it with my sister and her kids, my parents, my brother, my grandfather and many friends. Over the years we have created many sweet memories at this special place, and Thursday we created a few more.

It has been over a year since we visited Living Treasures. We were long overdue for a trip to our favorite animal park. Having just the little boys with me afforded me the opportunity to spend some special one on one time with the two youngest and give them the chance to create some special memories together as brothers.

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We arrived as the doors opened and I bought animal feed for both boys to feed the animals. The fun thing about this park is the many opportunities to interact with all the animals more intimately than you can at a zoo.

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The animals that you can pet and feed by hand include deer, cattle, alpaca, goats, and the giraffes.

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The giraffes are some of our favorite friends at Living Treasures.

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Currently there is a new addition in the giraffe house. Baby Calvin, a one month old calf, was recently born at Living Treasures weighing in at 145 pounds and standing 6’3″tall. He is now making daily appearances with mama a few times a day.

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What a doll he was!

Bigger animals are fed through feeding tubes that drop their treats into a food dish that they eagerly wait beside, hoping for a handout. This system allows kids to interact with the animals up close without the risk of losing fingers.

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The monkeys and apes at Living Treasures are fed with a bucket system. Visitors can place carrots or special monkey pellets in a bucket attached to a chain, and the monkeys can pull the bucket to the cage and fish out their treats.

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Other animals, like the alligators, can only been viewed from a safe distance away.

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 Two of our favorite exhibits in the park were the aviary, where guests are invited to feed the birds, and the petting zoo, where the goats and baby animals are housed.

At the aviary the boys had a wonderful time feeding their bright, feathered friends. Never have we experienced that level of interest from the birds. Being the first visitors of the day paid off, as the birds all had empty stomachs and were eager to eat. The result reminded me of a certain Alfred Hitchcock classic.

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It made for a lot of squeals and giggles, and some awesome photo opportunities.

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We experienced a different sort of swarm when we entered the petting zoo area to feed the goats. They too acted as though they hadn’t been fed in months and were all over the boys and their buckets.

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The best part of visiting this area of Living Treasures, however, is the baby animals. Here we were able to feed and pet two baby camels, and various baby cattle. Oh, how sweet they were. Oh, how tempted I was to smuggle one home!

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Especially this sweet thing, that looks like a hoofed version of a Basset Hound.

There were also a few baby pot belly pigs that reminded us of our own Pot Belly Pig, Harley D. Hog, when we first brought him home as a bottle fed baby.

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All too soon, it was time to leave and pick up the other kids from their Adventure Club outing. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to create some special memories with my two youngest.

It is a day I will treasure.

 

 

Fort Worth Stockyards

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Fort Worth, Texas is known as the City of Cowboys. One of the most popular things for families to do is spend a day at the Fort Worth Stockyards. With its brick lined streets, historic buildings, a weekly rodeo and twice daily cattle drive, this is the place where tourists come to experience the American West.

And this is where we spent the day on Wednesday.

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When we asked for suggestions of something fun to do with the kids in the Dallas, Texas area a friend suggested the Fort Worth Stockyards. I looked into it and knew at once that it was a must-see stop on our Texas journey.

The girls were excited to have an excuse to pull their cowboy hats out again.

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We arrived and easily found parking near the end of Exchange Ave. Tyler loved the parking payment system at the Stockyards that involved pushing your folded dollar bills in the slot that corresponded to your parking spot. I’ve never seen a system quite like it.

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Our first stop was the Visitor’s Center where a helpful young lady gave us the low down on the Fort Worth Stockyards. She explained the cattle drive, including what time to line up along the road and the best spots to stand to best see the longhorn cattle (and view them from the shade. A key tip in the 100 degree heat!). She also went over the various activities available and her recommendations for the best BBQ joint in town. All were helpful tips that helped structure our day and determine what we ended up seeing and doing.

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We found the Visitor’s Center to be a worthwhile stop before beginning our day at the Stockyards.

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It  had the added appeal of giant misting fans out front…another huge perk in the 100+ degree heat.

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Our first stop was the Cattle Pen Maze. It too was recommended by my friend. The cost was $6.00/ child but ended up being one of the highlights of our day at the Stockyards. The kids each received a ticket that was marked with their starting time. They then had to race the clock, seeking out the four hidden stations to punch their card, before finding their way out of the maze.

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It proved to be far more challenging than they thought it would be.

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There was a covered observation deck that extended above the maze, allowing us to look down at our kids and watch them scramble through the blind twists and turns of the maze.

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Rusty was the first one to find the four punch stations and get out of the maze. He did it in 10 minutes.

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Grace was next with a time of 13 minutes.

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Molly came in third with a final time of 16 minutes,

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And Tyler brought up the rear with a time of 20 minutes. I will say, though, that Tyler lost time because of his kind heart and willingness to backtrack and help a lost mother find her way through the maze.

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Then we walked over to the petting zoo. At $2.00/person this was a fun and affordable experience for all of us animal lovers. Once again, for the second day in a row, Molly got her goat fix and loved it.

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Tyler also LOVED feeding the goats and sheep.

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Rusty made a special friend while we were there.

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We all enjoyed this nice little petting zoo.

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Then it was time to get in position for the cattle drive.

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“The Old West comes to life before your eyes during the Fort Worth Herd’s twice-daily cattle drive. Genuine Texas cowhands drive a herd of Texas longhorns down Exchange Avenue in the Stockyards national Historic District every day at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Every detail of the cattle drive—from the saddles and chaps to the boots and hats – is authentic and historically true.”

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It was incredible to see these iconic Texan Longhorn cattle up close as they walked down the main street of town.

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What a thrill!

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It was the highlight of the day for me!

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After the cattle drive we had fun exploring the stockyards and seeing the pens where the Longhorns are held,

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And catching a glimpse of the cowboys at work.

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We also stopped in Billy Bob’s- The World’s Largest Honky Tonk.

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This 6000 person capacity nightclub is open during the day for families who want to grab a bite to eat or buy a Fort Worth souvenir. It was fun to check out the bull riding ring and the huge nightclub that becomes a line dancing haven when the sun goes down.

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I best this place gets crazy at night!

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We didn’t eat at Billy Bob’s, but walked over to Risky’s Bar-B-Q instead, as suggested by our new friend at the Visitor’s Center.

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Toby, Rusty and I followed the recommendation of the waiter and ordered the specialty: Beef Bar-B-Q ribs. The girls ordered the brisket sandwiches.

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The ribs were incredible, made all the tastier by their awesome sauce.

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We ended our day at the Stockyards with a little shopping at Stockyards Station,

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and some horseback riding…

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Hang on kiddos! Those are some wild stallions!

Next stop: San Antonio, Texas

 

Oklahoma City Zoo

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The next stop on our journey towards Texas took us to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

We woke early this morning for a quick “fill-up” at the hotel’s complimentary continental breakfast before we were on the road again. From Springfield, Missouri we had a  4 hour stretch of road to drive before reaching Oklahoma City…the next stop on our itinerary. We left by 8:00am with the goal of reaching Oklahoma City by noon.

When researching things to see and do in Oklahoma City we had a few options. I really wanted to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial which stands in remembrance of those whose lives were lost in the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, but felt that given everyone’s emotional state it was probably too heavy a place at this time, so instead we decided to spend the day at the zoo.

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After reading many reviews online I was excited to explore this zoo that received high accolades for their affordable price and awesome exhibits.

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We arrived to find the zoo empty. We had the place to ourselves, which was shocking given the fact it was the summer season. Our “out-of-town visitor” status soon became apparent when we realized that the locals, who are more familiar with Oklahoma City summer temperatures, were all home enjoying their air conditioning.

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But we didn’t let the 97 degree heat (103 degree heat index) dampen our day…although it did dampen our shirts!

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Luckily there were water misters and industrial fans sprinkled throughout the zoo.

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Each cooling spot became an oasis for these “desert travelers.”

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The nice thing about visiting Oklahoma City Zoo in July is that you have the place to yourself. There were no lines and no fellow visitors to maneuver around.

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We were so impressed with this zoo. They had such a fun variety of species that we hadn’t seen in other zoos, particularly in the reptile house and the aviary.

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Some of our favorite exhibits included:

The Pygmy Hippo:

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The Galapagos Tortoise:

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The Elephants:

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The Tiger:

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But the best exhibit, hands down, were the Gorillas.

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We spent the longest part of our day sitting at this window, interacting with this amazing group of Gorillas.

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There was a beautiful Silverback, a few female Gorillas and two babies. There was a four year old male named, “Liom,” and a two year old female named, “Rubi.”

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And they were hilarious to watch!

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It was just like we were watching preschool siblings.

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Rubi killed us. She is just starting to interact with the public and spent much of her time at the window interacting with us.

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We died when she ran along the window with her tongue to the glass, licking it all the way to the other side.

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Both babies would follow the big silverback anytime he would move across the yard, but unlike her big brother that moved in a straight line from point A to point B, Rubi would spin like a two year old doing pirouettes across the living room.

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Then she’d tip over and roll on her back when she got too dizzy.

We could have stayed there all day!

The thing that really set this zoo apart from its counterparts was the staff. We were amazed by the amount of staff that were positioned at the various exhibits around the zoo to answer the visitor’s questions and educate the public on each animal. With so few visitors, it was like having our own private, backlot tour of the zoo. They were all so informative and it greatly enhanced the experience to have an employee who personally works with the animal, telling us about that animal and answering any questions we had. It was so much more engaging than simply reading plaques on the sides of exhibits.

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There were also employees stationed at the intersections of the various sections of the zoo to direct you to your destination if you were turned around, to inquire if you needed anything, and to remind visitors to drink  water.

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The staff at the Oklahoma City Zoo was amazing!

Although we really enjoyed all the cool exotic critters, my kids were inevitably drawn to the farm animals that were so familiar. There was a nice little petting zoo area where the kids could brush goats, sheep and miniature donkeys.

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Molly, my goat whisperer, was in heaven.

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Tyler also really enjoyed the lake where you could purchase a handful of fish feed for a quarter and feed the catfish, ducks and turtles that congregated at the edge of the dock.

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The heat was intense enough that Toby indulged in a way we don’t normally, at places like the zoo, and bought everyone ice cream cones. They tasted so good. I don’t know if it was especially good ice cream or if it just tasted exceptionally good because we were so hot. Either way, our cones were delicious!

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We stayed until 4:30 pm and then drove over to Five Below. Toby’s uncle, Dave, lives in Oklahoma City with his wife and manages the Five Below store there. Since he was working, and couldn’t meet us at the zoo, we decided to come to him.

It was so great to see him and catch up, even if just for a short time.

He generously gave the kids each $5.00 to purchase a souvenir. The kids loved it, and it was so sweet of Dave.

Grace bought a cute hat, Molly purchased a new backpack, and both boys picked a Heliball after Dave told them it was the coolest toy they sold in his store.

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He was right! The boys have had a blast with their new toys. Thank you, Dave!

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It was a very hot, but VERY FUN day, in Oklahoma City.

Next Stop: Ft. Worth, Texas.

 

 

 

Penguins and Sharks and Seals…Oh My!

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Yesterday we woke up to a forecast of 90% chance of rain and a high of 55 degrees…a little to chilly for a beach day, even for Tyler and Ozzie!

So we decided to head 15 minutes north to Point Pleasant Beach.

In researching fun things to do in the area I stumbled across another blogger’s review of Jenkinson’s Aquarium, located right along the boardwalk of Point Pleasant beach. The cost was very reasonable, the reviews were great, and since all my kids love any experience involving animals or wildlife we thought it would be a fun, (warm) way to spend the day.

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And we weren’t disappointed!

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This privately owned aquarium was smaller than what you would see associated with a larger zoo or what you might find in a big city, but it was beautifully and skillfully put together. The displays were arranged artfully, making the most of the small space they had to work with. It was amazing the amount there was to see but the tanks were arranged in a way that it didn’t feel crowded or sterile. The entire building was really a feast for the eyes and so well done.

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We arrived at 11:00 am, just as the African penguins were being fed. They were such a kick to watch with their bigger than life personalities. The trainer was feeding them a bucket of small fish which they swarmed around her to receive. Then she pulled a small squid out of the bucket and it was like watching a momma try to feed her toddlers broccoli. They would run up to her, beaks open, eager for a bite…until they saw the squid. Then they would shake their heads with a firm “no” and run away from her. It was quite comical to watch. In the end she couldn’t convince any of the penguins to give the squid a try and it ended up back in her bucket.

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Each of the penguins were sporting fancy bracelets, like the ones we used to make with plastic cord and pony beads in middle school. The trainer explained they were for identification so visitors could learn each penguin’s name and a little about them. Hanging beside the exhibit was a tv screen, flashing pictures and bracelet codes for each penguin. I thought this was a fun tool for visitor interaction.

On the first floor were the large tanks, housing the bigger fish. There was a large freshwater tank, a shark tank, and a smaller saltwater fish tank. All the tanks had seating in front of them, allowing visitors to just sit and observe. We could have all sat and watched the fish for hours, but were maneuvering around 200 kindergarteners who were all there for an end of the year school trip. The benefit to shadowing these dozens of groups, however, was the great informative information we could glean from the tour guides by listening in.

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All the kids were enthralled, but none more than Tyler who LOVES fish. Today he is with Toby on a special father/son deep sea charter fishing excursion, so yesterday his question, as we walked through the aquarium, was “So, do you think we will see one of those, Dad?”

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One of our favorite characters in the big tank was this silly puffer fish that could not get enough of Miss Grace. He kept circling back around to swim past Gracie’s head and when he did he would press against the glass like a little kid smooshing their face against a window trying to get a better look. It was so funny and it was hard to walk away! We could have watched him for hours.

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In the center of the first floor sat a pirate ship and a surrounding pier that was home to small tanks of fish and a running stream to house various turtles. It was such a beautiful exhibit to walk through and the kids had fun watching the turtles swim.

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The second floor of the aquarium was where the smaller tanks were located.

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It was here that Molly found a tank of her favorite sea creatures…jellyfish!

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And we had the unique experience of watching Nautilus being fed. Although a relative to the octopus, these animals are unlike any other I have ever seen. They basically float around, moving in reverse, and seem to struggle seeking out the food the trainer drops in the tank because she hand fed each critter. It was fascinating to watch as I have never seen these guys up close before.

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It was up on the second floor that we found the touch tank. Although after seeing “Finding Dory” I find myself looking at touch tanks in a whole new way, as I remember  that humorous scene from the movie when all the animals retreated in fear as little fingers moved in from above.

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In this touch tank we were able to touch a sea star, sea urchins, sea snails, horseshoe crabs and sting rays.

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Ozzie found it fascinating to learn a bit more about horseshoe crabs like the one  we saw at the beach.

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And of course the sting rays are always the biggest hit in any touch tank with their outgoing personalities and cheerful waves as they swim by.

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We ended our day at Jenkinson’s Aquarium with the seal feeding. At this aquarium they have one seal by the name of LuSeal, who was rescued after being injured off the coast. It is unknown whether her injuries were sustained by a passing motor boat or a shark but after rehabilitation her remaining injury is blindness in both eyes, which is why she lives at the aquarium rather than being released back into the wild.

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For feeding time LuSeal showed off her “tricks” for the crowd as the trainer explained the work they do with LuSeal. She explained that every “trick” LuSeal is taught are behaviors natural to seals and beneficial for her care by the trainers or the vet that cares for her. She is never trained to do anything that she wouldn’t do in the wild. (For example: balance a ball on her nose)

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We were amazed at how well LuSeal maneuvers around, using only her whiskers for spatial reference and the sound of the trainer’s voice as cues.

At the end of her meal she opened wide for her daily teeth brushing, something they do after each meal to prevent gum disease. I couldn’t help but point out to Tyler how willingly and happily she gets her teeth brushed without fighting…hmm!

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We had so much fun at Jenkinson’s aquarium and highly recommend it to anyone in the Jersey area. It is small but beautifully done and well worth the price…

especially on a cold, grey day.

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Molly, Grace, Rusty and Toby…Can you spot him?

Jenkinson’s Aquarium, thanks for the fun day!