Monday, July 28, 2014

Some Days You Just Need To Get Outside!

For most people summer vacation is what they look forward to all year long. Summer vacation means no school, staying up late, and sleeping in past 7 a.m. I'm just like most people, summer vacation can't get here soon enough! However, I have a love-hate relationship with summer.

Summer means keeping Dylan busy all day long.
Summer means double grocery bills because Dylan is a growing boy.
Summer means making the paycheck stretch for 2 months.

Thankfully we have some great trails within walking distance of our home and we can spend the day enjoying nature, free of charge ... because some days, you just need to get outside!

The path is paved for walkers, runners, bicyclist, and even horseback riders, but sometimes it's nice to get off the path and take one of the many hiking trails. You never know what you will find.

Like this hidden spot under a tree that let us get right next to the water and explore the biodiversity of the ecological reserve ... or the flowering buckwheat that is a beautiful shade of peach this time of year.

Getting outside is something that we all need to do more often. Connecting with nature does wonders for the mind and body ... not to mention my love-hate relationship with summer.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How One Boy Made Lots of Zoo Keepers Smile

National Zoo Keeper Week is celebrated every year as a way to honor the thousands of animal care professionals who dedicate their lives to animal care, conservation, and education. In the past, Dylan and I have each written open thank you letters to our zookeeper friends, but this year Dylan wanted to do something more. He wanted to be able to thank them all in person and let each zookeeper know how much he appreciated everything that they were doing for the animals.

Wow, this would require lots of brainstorming and some creativity on my part. Dylan wanted to actually give them something. How could we possibly thank all of the zookeepers in person and give them a token of appreciation?  Dylan had some great ideas, but I needed to fine tune them and figure out a way to keep the cost down. Thanks to Pinterest I found my answers and we started making some little gifts.

With mailing labels and washi tape that I had at home, we made some cute labels that we could attach to individual size m&m bags. In no time at all we had 75 gifts for zookeepers - and all for under $10.

Now the trick was getting the candy to the zookeepers. I knew we would see a few here and there, but often the keepers are behind the scenes.

Ironically, my friend Nicki let me know that there was an ice cream social planned for all the zookeepers on the same day we were planning on being at the San Diego Zoo. This was our lucky day!

When we first arrived at the zoo, we had a plan to visit some places we knew keepers would be. First stop was the Children's Zoo. The reaction I witnessed from one keeper when Dylan handed her the small bag of m&m's was priceless. She then proceeded to take us around her area, making sure that we saw each zookeeper working that day.

Soon after, another friend who was not working that day shared a Facebook post with me via twitter. It said, "So a young boy, probably 10 or 11, came to my area of the zoo and passed out personal size m&m's to all the keepers. There was a note that said happy national zookeeper week and thank you for all you do. It's amazing how something so small can cause such a big impact!! It just made me realize that we are making an impact on people. I love my job!!!"  I almost started crying right then and there.

I also found out that one of the zookeepers has a picture of her and Dylan on her locker as a reminder that she is making a difference. There were several more posts like this that I saw when I got home and some Instagram pics as well. This was not the reaction I expected.

After handing out a few more, it was time to crash the ice cream social. This was something I will never forget, nor will Dylan. He was in a room filled with zookeepers and all eyes were on him. Dylan was with "his people" and the smile on his face was just as bright as the smiles on their faces.

Nicki walked Dylan around to each table and introduced him to the zookeepers. She told them about his philanthropy work and how he wanted to be a zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo when he was older. Some recognized him and gave handshakes or hugs, others simply appreciated the gift and smiled.

Aside from thanking the keepers, Dylan had the opportunity to meet some people face to face that he only knew through email. Meeting Aimee (a tiger keeper) and seeing Julian again may have been the highlight of this event for Dylan. The ice cream social was put on by the San Diego American Association of Zoo Keepers and they shared a lovely post about Dylan with some pictures on their Facebook page too.

Overall, the day was a success and we accomplished our mission of thanking as many zookeepers as possible in person. Seeing the smiles of so many zookeepers was awesome, but to be honest, it saddened me that they were so shocked by his small gift. These men and women work hard, and not in cushy offices, but out in the heat and rain, to care for the animals that we often take for granted. It made me realize that thanks need to be given more often. Dylan's wish to thank zookeepers taught both of us a valuable lesson - It really is the thought that counts and not the gift itself.

Thank you to all of the wonderful zookeepers for doing what you love!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Exploring Summer of Wonder at the Aquarium of the Pacific

This summer is all about spending time at some of our favorite places close to home. Getting outside and exploring to find new things is not only fun, but a great way to spend time together as a family. Last week Dylan and I spent the day in Long Beach at the Aquarium of the Pacific. We love living so close to one of the top aquariums in the United States. Each time we visit there is something new to see and of course old friends to see too. Like our penguin pals Avery and Kate - they are parents now! Congratulations guys!

The Aquarium of the Pacific always has wonderful exhibits to explore year round, but this visit was to celebrate the newest experience, Summer of Wonder.

Summer of Wonder gives kids of all ages (even parents) a chance to get a closer look then ever before at some animals with more interactive experiences and special behind-the-scenes look at animals feedings.

Visiting the new bonnethead shark and cownose ray touch pool in Shark Lagoon was Dylan's favorite part of the day. We learned all about target feeding during a training session and then had the opportunity to touch the sharks and rays.

Over in the Molina Animal Care Center we touched Atlantic horseshoe crabs. These guys are super unique because their blood turns blue when exposed to air due to the presence of a copper containing molecule called hemocyanin. Pretty cool if you ask me.

There is also a new exhibit at the very back (past Shark Lagoon) where you can learn all about the Southern California Steelhead fish. These endangered fish are fascinating and I will be sharing their story soon.

After seeing the outside exhibits of the aquarium we headed upstairs to see the penguins and start exploring the inside exhibits.

No matter how many times we visit Aquarium of the Pacific, the tanks never cease to amaze me.

I could sit and watch the marine life all day - especially the jellies!

Out of all the memories made this day, I think Dylan buying this squid hat topped them all. He wore it all day and got so many compliments too!

To learn more about Summer of Wonder and for general aquarium information visit

Friday, July 18, 2014

Baby Black Rhino Charges Into Our Hearts

Once again, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is doing their part to bring species back from the brink extinction. Last week a critically endangered black rhino calf was born at the Safari Park and has quickly charged into the hearts of rhino lovers all over the world.

The unnamed male calf was born on Saturday July 12, 2014. This is the fifth calf for Lembe and father Jambia and the 15th black rhino born at the Safari Park.

Last Wednesday I was at the Safari Park and knew the chances of seeing the baby rhino were slim. Lembe is very protective and has been keeping him hidden among the rocks. Nevertheless, I got on the tram  ... I just wanted a glimpse of the then 4-day-old baby rhino. Well, I got more than a glimpse.

The tram driver was just as excited as we were. She said that we were very lucky because nobody had seen Lembe walk the calf across the exhibit. All I could do was start clicking my camera in hopes of getting something that resembled a rhino. I was so honored that the Safari Park used my photo to announce the birth of the black rhino calf on social media.

In a press release from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, keepers stated that Lembe runs around her exhibit with her tail pointed up, a cue that lets her calf know she is on alert and watching over him. The young calf trots closely behind, sometimes fumbling over his footing, as he is still getting comfortable keeping up with his mother.

We have been watching Lembe has she grew bigger and bigger, anticipating the birth of this precious black rhino. Words cannot explain the excitement or the joy Dylan and I felt when we saw him running through the exhibit. Both mother and calf are visible to guests taking the Safari Park's Africa Tram tour, so get out there and see this little guy for yourself. The cuteness factor is off the charts!

Black Rhino Calf - Photo taken on July 18, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Playtime with Shadow

When most people think of a wolf, cute and cuddly are not the first words that come to mind. However, when Dylan and I met Shadow last week, the San Diego Zoo’s newest animal ambassador, those were the exact words I thought of.

This two-month old gray wolf pup is just as playful as any domestic puppy dog ... Playing with toys, waiting patiently for treats, and even chewing on shoes. 

Shadow really does love his keepers. So much, that he wants to play with them all the time - especially when they are trying to get work done!

Although Shadow would not make a good pet, he will make a wonderful animal ambassador. Even as a pup, you can already see the differences between a wolf and a domestic dog. Shadow has a long nose, large ears and huge paws - all important traits for a wolf. Shadow plays like a puppy, but it is important to remember that he is a wild animal.

After Shadow completes the 30-day quarantine period, he will move from the Children’s Zoo to his new home at Wegeforth Bowl and serve as an animal ambassador. Shadow will make appearances as part of the educational presentations and help to bring awareness to the public about the gray wolf species. Knowledge is the key to respecting animals in the wild. If we know more about the gray wolf, then maybe we will be more inclined to protect them. Educating people about wild animals is another way that San Diego Zoo Global helps to ensure the survival of endangered animals like Shadow.

If you plan on visiting the San Diego Zoo this month, I highly recommend stopping by the nursery in the Children's Zoo and meeting Shadow. The glass window can make it difficult to get pictures without a glare or reflection sometimes, but just watching him play will leave a lasting memory in your heart. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Australian Tree Huggers are the Best!

Eleven month old joey hugs a eucalyptus tree while he naps at the San Diego Zoo Australian Outback. Now this is a tree hugger that everyone can love!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

5 Simple Ways to Help Your Local Zoo or Aquarium

Spending the day at your local zoo or aquarium is a wonderful way to learn more about animals and the conservation efforts being made to ensure these animals are around for future generations. No matter how often you visit the animals, there is always something new to learn about them. Zoos and aquariums have so much to offer -  listening to fascinating keeper talks, seeing a new fact on an exhibit sign, or reading about progress made on a conservation issue.

Most zoos and aquariums are non-profit organizations and depend on us, the general public, to keep the doors open. Everything we purchase, whether it be admission tickets, food, or a stuffed animal, is helping to give the animals the best care possible. There are so many ways that you can make a difference and help, but not everyone knows how or where to start. 

Here are few simple things you can do to help your local zoo or aquarium:

  1. Get a membership. Instead of just buying a ticket for the day, why not buy a ticket for the entire year? Annual memberships are often the lifeblood of these organizations. If animal conservation is something you feel strongly about, why not upgrade from the basic membership? Check with your local zoo or aquarium and see what types of membership options are available. 
  2. Adopt an animal. Most animal adoptions start at only $25 and make great gifts for birthdays and holidays. Animal adoption can be done through the mail, or from my experience, many offer digital adoption certificates. This makes it very convenient when adopting an animal for someone who lives out of the area. 
  3. Give your change. That's right, give away all those loose coins that get lost in the bottom of your purse. You would be amazed at how fast those add up and every little bit helps! Next time you visit, look around for a donation spot by the exit or near your favorite animal exhibit.
  4. Support them online. Nine times out of ten, your favorite zoo or aquarium is on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumbler ... do a search and start following them, spread the word. Sharing a post or a picture goes a long way. You probably aren't the only one who thinks that baby panda is adorable!
  5. Think globally. Many zoos and aquariums are a small piece in a very big puzzle working together to end extinction. Do your research and check out their website. I bet your local zoo or aquarium is affiliated with a much larger global organization that could use your help too. For example, the Tiger Conservation Campaign was started by the Minnesota Zoo, but is supported by many other zoos.   

Whatever you decide to do, know that you are making a difference for the animals. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Exploring the Environmental Nature Center

Sometimes adventure can be in your own backyard, or in this case your neighborhood, and you didn't even know it. Getting outside is easier than you think - you just need to know where to look.

One of the things on our summer to-do list was visiting the Environmental Nature Center (ENC). We are lucky enough to live about 10 minutes from the ENC and always have fun exploring the grounds.

The ENC covers a little over five acres and has a combination of 15 native California plant communities, wildlife habitats, and walking trails. You can easily spend 2-3 hours exploring the trails. From the desert to the redwoods to the marsh, you never know what you will find.

As beautiful as everything is, don't get so lost in the trees that you forget to take a closer look. We found this little guy soaking up the sunshine near the meadow. Yes, the ENC even has a meadow!

In my opinion, the ENC is like a sanctuary - it is the perfect escape from the daily grind when you need a good dose of nature.

Dylan and I spent most of the afternoon walking the trails and exploring. Since he has attended nature camp here for several years, he knows the area well. He enjoys being the guide and letting me know where the spiders nest, where the wasps are, and of course where the poison oak is along the path. Armed with sunscreen, walking shoes and my camera, I was more than happy to follow Dylan's lead.

The ENC is more than just walking trails - It is a world filled with the simple beauty of flora.

Oh, and while your walking, don't forget to look up. 
The ENC is home to lots of little critters too!

For more information on the ENC, visit and to see more of our adventures, you can view our Exploring the ENC album on Flickr.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July!

Our national bird since 1782, the bald eagle is a symbol of great strength and freedom. Whether nesting high atop the majestic mountain ranges or soaring over the crystal blue waters, the bald eagle is an American treasure that deserves our respect and appreciation. 

Happy Fourth of July! 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When Nature Becomes a Symbol of More

I remember walking down the path and seeing this tree stump. It caught my attention. The shape, the coloring against the green foliage, something about this old tree fascinated me.

No longer a symbol of strength, but a symbol of what once was.
Yet still a symbol of nature, conservation, and the hope of saving the environment.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
 - John Muir

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Breakfast with the Tigers? Yes please!

Imagine walking along a bamboo lined pathway in the quiet of the morning. You hear faint animal calls off in the distance and the moist dew in the air feels cool on your face. As you round the corner, you see green foliage resembling the lush tropical forest of Sumatra. Then out of the trees comes not one tiger, but two tigers, ready to welcome you to their home. It's as if they are saying, "Welcome, come in and join us for breakfast."

Well, that is exactly what they are saying. Last Saturday, Dylan and I had the pleasure of being some of the first guests to have breakfast with the Safari Park's Sumatran tigers, and it was magical. If you thought sipping coffee on a tropical beach was relaxing, then you need to try it with the tigers. Sitting at a table sharing good food, my morning coffee, and friendly conversations with others was nothing short of blissful for me. Why you ask?

What makes this so special you ask?

Well, because it isn't every day that a tiger is roaming just a few feet away from you while you sip coffee and eat your breakfast. This new experience, Breakfast with the Tigers, is being offered as part of the Summer Safari Asian Celebration.

Every Saturday, from June 28 through August 16, you are invited to have breakfast with the tigers before the park opens to the public. Held in the Tull Family Tiger Trail's Sambutan Longhouse from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., the new dining experience gives guests a chance to see the tigers interacting with keepers and exploring their habitats filled with enrichment items.

The traditional American breakfast buffet includes eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, pancakes, fresh fruit, cereal, assorted pastries, coffee, tea, juice, and water.

There is something for everyone and remember, it is a buffet so you can go back for more!


Not only does this new dining experience allow you to enjoy your breakfast in a tropical Sumatran setting, but you also have the opportunity to speak with tiger keepers, who are walking around during breakfast to share stories and answer any questions you may have about the tigers. The keepers will also invite one of the six Sumatran tigers to the interactive wall to demonstrate what goes on during a training session.

What I enjoyed most about having breakfast with the tigers was the intimate setting. I was told that only 50 tickets are sold for each Saturday dining experience, so you won't have an issue with crowds. When breakfast is over, you can continue exploring Tiger Trail for about 20 minutes before the general public starts arriving.  

Tickets are $45 for Breakfast with the Tigers - Admission is separate and required for non-members, but may be added at checkout.

Come, join the tigers for an experience you will never forget. Teddy sends his personal invitation and recommends the pancakes. He says the syrup is lip-smacking good!