Feeding Giraffes at Columbus Zoo

Friday, 23 May 2014
Giraffes have long, grey tongues! I learned this cool fact on Sunday during a preview of the Columbus Zoo's newest exhibit: Heart of Africa. We went to the preview celebration and enjoyed food, drinks, African music and dancing and had some awesome up-close encounters with animals.

The day was beautiful but people who worked on the exhibit explained that it was difficult to finish everything and get the animals into their new habitats early. The weather has been fairly brutal in Columbus with quite a bit of rain and very cold temperatures - even in May! Apparently the lions were just introduced to their home on the day of the preview event so they seemed nervous. Still, can you believe how gorgeous these big cats are? The exhibit is designed to allow patrons to watch them at a close (albeit safe) distance.

Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the zoo, was on hand to talk about his passion for Africa and give details on the unique features of the African exhibit. I appreciated his talk on why exhibits like this are important - education of course - but they also offers an opportunity for people who may never have the resources to go to Africa to see what the plains there look like as well as the animals that live there.

The best part of the day for me was standing eye to eye with the zoo's tallest animal. Zoo staffers stood with us offering lettuce that we could feed to the giraffes. The experience left me in awe of these odd looking creatures. Close up, their heads sort of resemble horses and their coats feel like a horse's as well but with shorter and finer hair. 

The below photo shows how the exhibit is designed with a platform for feeding the animals. 

The cheetah habitat was fascinating because the handlers told us about how the zoo raises their cheetahs: with domestic dogs. This is apparently because cheetahs are naturally skittish and when they are raised with dogs, they learn to be more laid back. For instance, if there is a loud noise, a cheetah would naturally startle and run (at 70 mph!) but a labrador would probably just look in the direction of the noise. If the dog isn't upset, the cheetahs are chill too. In the picture below, you can see the lab in the habitat with the cheetah.

These cats are so elegant and we were able to watch a demonstration where the cheetah chased after a toy that was pulled on a string in a large enclosure. It moved like a FLASH and was quickly given meat as a prize so it would drop the toy. Impressive! 

Another handler brought out a 29 day old cheetah that was abandoned by a mother in another zoo. The cheetah director is rehabilitating the kitten. It is being raised with other young cheetahs and of course two dogs. 

Africa Preview

Wednesday, 21 May 2014
James and I along with his mom and dad are heading to Africa to celebrate our 35th birthdays! I am so excited. Right now we are going over our packing lists and buying things like: safari shirts with SPF in them (!!). I've been to South Africa (Port Elizabeth, Gansbaai, Knysna) but not to places like Botswana.

First, we'll be staying at Selinda Camp in canvas tents with thatch roofing. (I'm not sure how I feel about this but it will be an ADVENTURE. That's for sure.) We'll also go to Xigera Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve on Paradise Island and another camp that is south-east of the Okavango Delta. This is what the "rooms" look like in the camps.

Image from The Wild Source.

Our guide for the photography safaris is Grant Atkinson. He has an amazing website and you can like him on Facebook if you love seeing cool photos of wild animals. James has met Grant before and chose him because of his expertise on the behavior of African animals. My pictures will look like they are taken by a 2nd grader compared to James' but I hope to snap some fun ones of the "big kitties" to share with you here.

After the safaris, James has booked a little beach-time relaxation (woohoo!) for just the two of us in the Bazaruto National Park on Benguerra Island in Mozambique. I cannot express my excitement about this trip. I have a journal at the ready to write about the sounds, sights, thoughts, feelings, that come up during our trip. Of course, I'll keep you updated. I am so thankful to James for arranging such a special celebration! 

Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond

Sunday, 11 May 2014

I really like Scotland. Edinburgh is green, the old part of the city is beautiful, and the people are very friendly. We took a tour (with Highland Tours) outside of the city yesterday to visit the country side. Our first stop was at Stirling Castle. It is one of Scotland's most significant castles because people have fought over territory and who rules from here for centuries. This site first held a chapel, built by Alexander I in 1107. 

The Edinburgh Castle is more interesting because it is still in it's ancient form, but Stirling Castle has a lot of history and guests can learn so much by visiting the various exhibitions. The castle was built on volcanic rock and allows for breathtaking views of the country side and village.

From the castle, we ventured on to the quaint village of Callander where we had lunch at Callander Meadows. This was a precious little town and as we were talking down the sidewalk after lunch the sun came out and things warmed up. The weather has been mostly fabulous during our time in the UK. We got lucky!

One of my favorite parts of any trip is to see the wildlife. There are something like one million sheep in Scotland and this is the season when lambs are born! They are so tiny and we would see them mostly curled up on the grass in fields next to their mothers or with other lambs. I also saw a grouse while we were on the train going from London to Scotland. Certainly the highlight, however, was the Highland Cow. Our driver said Scots call them "hairy coos." 

These animals do not have much fat to protect them from harsh winters but they do have an additional layer of long fur. Long hair over their eyes helps to protect them from wind and driving rain. Moo.

After visiting the cow we went to Loch Lomond to board the Silver Marlin and take an hour long cruise on the beautiful lake. 

In a (very) small way, the landscape reminded me of East Tennessee: beautiful, large, large lakes with green rolling hills in the distance. 

Our cruise ended in Luss, a tiny village of just 700 people right on the water. It is lovely and I can imagine coming back to visit and stay in a bed and breakfast. 

I wish we would have had more time to explore here. Supposedly a settlement was established 2,000 years ago and Vikings brought their boats up the loch via access from the river and pillaged and plundered the entire way. One grave in the only Luss graveyard has a sort of "hog" design (symbol of the Vikings) and dates to the 11th century.

This is just cute (sign below). Appropriately we saw a man walking a Scotty dog nearby.

Approaching 35

Saturday, 10 May 2014
I cannot believe that I'm about to turn 35 and I'm not where I'd originally planned to be at this age.

Does that really matter? What does it actually mean to be 35? I'd guess it means different things, at different ages, in different cultures.

In my culture (good 'ole US of A) it means that you can be who you are and who you want to be but there are boundaries. Do you plan on being a single woman? Then you should count on many people asking you about your status: "Are you ever going to settle down?" "Is the guy you are dating the ONE?" If you are single and also working on your PhD it is probably more complicated than that.

Your family wants to make sure that even though you are earning a higher degree you are well on your way to getting married and having children. (My family is thankfully supportive of my advanced education.) If you're not sure that you want to do so, there will still be pressure from different sources such as: magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites, television shows, billboards, signs in department stores, neighbors...

How to combat the reality of the pressure? We need to continue working on embracing how we are and discovering what makes us happy. That's the great part of being in your 30s, you start to really get to know yourself and what you want.

London Town

We spent a great day on Tuesday visiting a few of the hot spots in London that neither of us have been to. I lived in London while earning my Master's Degree and James studied at Oxford for a summer while earning law degree so we have both been around the city. Because of that, we decided to go Southwark Cathedral which is the oldest cathedral in London. It is believed that there was a church on the site since 605 AD.

James and I also decided to take a boat ride from Camden to Little Venice. It was so much fun. We learned about a different culture while on the water. There are entire communities living on the waterways and the boats are adorable. 

The best part of the day (besides seeing new corners of London) was meeting up with my sweet friends that are colleagues from my graduate degree days. Michiel, Kerry, and Jocelyn came after work to have drinks with me and James at a great pub off of Oxford street. We enjoyed catching up and hearing about everyone's careers and life plans. 

Jocelyn suggested a very fun place for dinner: Bubble Dogs (the website is super cute if you have time to check it out). We went there for champagne and tater tots! What a great combination. It was crowded but we got in for a taste and then went off to dinner at another spot. London is busy and full of high-energy that is catching.

The Glamper (Serro Scotty, 1964)

Friday, 9 May 2014
I completely blame the online site, Pinterest for my growing obsession with vintage travel trailers. On the site, you can create a "board" (just like a real life bulletin board) and then "pin" pictures and ideas on it. I started a "secret" board for vintage campers and shopped Craigslist (online want ads) every day for weeks before I found this little beauty, located in Chattanooga:

It was "born" in 1964 and is the classic sort of "canned ham" style originally designed with a full size bed, a fold down table, small refrigerator, sink, and stove. I was lucky to get it for a fair price and even took pictures of the exciting delivery! (That's my back yard.)

Right off the bat, I had plans to redesign and renovate the interior. This was a great project for me because besides when I'm on campus teaching, I working on my dissertation and research all day in my home office by myself. This gave me an excuse to take a break and get out for at least two hours a day to work on the camper. 

The interior was painted a dark tan color throughout and had linoleum flooring. I ripped up the floor on the first day and was excited to open the windows and feel how breezy it can be inside. There's even a "sun roof" or window  in the ceiling. I don't have a ton of "before" pictures but here's one:

There is a movement that is sort of trendy across the U.S. with women buying vintage travel trailers like this one and renovating them into "Glampers." "Glamper" stands for glamorous camper. :) That was what I was going for when I found white, airy curtains, painted the interior white, used fun fabric to bring texture to the walls, and added stainless steel lamps. I painted the fold out table silver and added these cute folding chairs. (They can even be used outdoors when necessary as they are synthetic material.)

The bedroom area still has some work to do. I'd like to create a more "fitted" cover for the futon mattress and I have ordered pillows in coral to give it a pop of color. I am also working on the same bunting (see above picture) to hang on the other side of the space and above the door that is designed of white, coral, and turquoise felt triangles, hung on a sisal cording with clothes pins. 

The best part is that my mom came up with an idea for my dad to build a new, oak countertop for the Glamper with an under-mount stainless steel sink and new faucet. Can you believe that!? He has already finished it and I'm in the process of staining it. I'm so excited to install it all! (Below picture doesn't show the new countertop or sink but I've already purchased a new microwave. The stove was removed already and I'd rather not have a stove inside the unit because of fire. 

The automotive paint for the project also came in and I took a day to tape off and paint the exterior. Supposedly this is a popular and appropriate color for the 1964 models. A couple of my good girlfriends are sort of "outdoorsy" and supportive of the Glamper. We hope to spend a couple of weekends with it on one of East Tennessee's beautiful lakes this summer. They have kayaks and a paddle board as well as tents so it should be fun. My idea is to be sure and camp at a park on the water that has a full bath house so we can still shower. Glamping can go only so far. 

A Favorite Escape

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Earlier this year, my mom and dad went to Bald Head Island and invited me to join them. Because of school, I was able go over for the weekend. This is one of my favorite places to escape to! While the island now gets fairly busy around the marina and country clubs in the summer, late spring and early fall is fantastically private and serene. 

As soon as I disembark from the ferry and see "Old Baldy" (the lighthouse), I have a sense of calm. The lighthouse has stood here since the 1800s, alerting ships to the shallow water on the other side of the island. 

My mom and I really enjoy walking the beach and during this trip, we only passed two or three people the entire time we were out there. We picked up seashells and driftwood (I'm into driftwood art and have tried my hand at a few designs… maybe I'll share them here later) and just enjoyed the sounds of the waves. When the tide was out, we found a patch of hundreds of seashells. Many were broken but we carefully looked through them, saving a few. 

The weather wasn't perfect but it was warm enough and slightly overcast so we didn't suffer any sunburns.

Another favorite activity on Bald Head Island for my family is the evening "nature walk" or drive. This time we were staying on the golf course so just after the golfers were finished for the evening, we would walk a few holes toward the Bald Head Island Club to check on an osprey nest. The nest had hatchlings that would tweet when the parents were fishing nearby. They sounded hungry! The other regularly spotted wildlife (besides deer) are the alligators on the island. Dad was being brave and walked up fairly close to one. 

I was able to snap a closeup shot of the fascinating creature. We did keep our distance because even though this one was probably less than five feet long, I wasn't going to take any chances! I'm looking forward to visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina again soon. 

Casey's wedding

Wednesday, 7 May 2014
Highlight of the year: my best friend Casey's wedding at Sea Island, Georgia. She hosted a luxurious, intimate dinner party for 20 people after a gorgeous ceremony in a private chapel at a sea side resort. I loved every minute and wish I could go back and experience the cocktail hour and dinner in the wine cellar with friends again and again. 

Here's a picture of the gorgeous bride ready for photographs (can you believe that dress!?!?):

She asked us to wear a navy blue, short, bridesmaid dress and luckily all of the maids (3 of us) chose similar styles. I wore a dress from JCrew's bridal line and donned a lovely new necklace from James (blue tanzanite from Africa - love…) as well as dark grey, shimmer, open-toed vintage heels with little blue clip-on ribbons with rhinestones ordered from an artist on Etsy. 

The ceremony was intimate and romantic. I cried the entire time because I was so struck by Casey's beauty and the love that this sweet couple have for each other. 

Look at those two! I wish I could communicate properly via blog how stylish Casey and Ryan are. Alas… back to my own reality. James had fun over the weekend too. He was able to walk on the beach at the resort and relax until the festivities. Loved that he wore a blue tie that matched the wedding party!  (He was so handsome and charming!)

The wedding reception dinner was beyond words. We found specialized menus at all of our places and napkins that matched the colors of the wedding party. 

We ate dinner in the wine cellar located in the main building (The Cloister) of the resort. It was absolutely spectacular. The ambiance was beyond perfect, the service impeccable, and the chef even came out between courses to explain the menu. Swoon…. 

Ryan and Casey will be living in Nashville. She is an Oncologist at a special practice and Ryan works as a Physicist at Vanderbilt (Is there a more perfect couple?). I am so proud of my friends and VERY thankful that they included us for their special day and weekend. 

Rochester, UK

I'm so happy to have a little bit of time before the summer class I teach to visit the UK with James. We're in London and heading to Scotland later this week. Today we took a day trip to Rochester and visited the cathedral and castle. The weather has been glorious so of course that just heightens the loveliness of this country.

Our first stop in Rochester was The Six Poor Travelers' House. The name comes from the fact that poor travelers stayed here as they were coming through. They were provided one night's lodging, a pint of beer, 1/2 a portion of beef, and 1/2 a portion of poultry. Six bedrooms were built at the rear of the house in the 16th century. 

The house also has a garden in the back where travelers would spend time working to help with the free lodging and food. 

My favorite part of this place is that Charles Dickens visited here and wrote about The Poor Travelers' House. His Christmas story was called "The Seven Poor Travellers" (English spelling) and he based the story on his visit to the house in May 1854.

Another spectacular place in Rochester is the cathedral that has been a place of worship since 604 AD. In the 1100s, parts of the cathedral were constructed in the Romanesque style. The place of worship's mix of architecture is inspiring. You can see Victorian versions of medieval "Green Men" on the wooden roof. 

Later, doing some research I found out that this cathedral is the second oldest in all of England. The present building dates back to 1060 and is mentioned in the Domesday book. 

It is amazing just to walk along the exterior and see how it is "cobbled" together. The stones are either hand made or collected from near the river and crudely placed together with some type of mortar. It was very well constructed, however, because it still stands with no problem and worship services are still held here: a corner stone of life in Rochester. 

We were able to visit the portion of the chapel that became a major place of pilgrimage in the 13th century. A Scottish baker, William of Perth was murdered nearby and because his body was immediately brought to this cathedral, some say miracles happened here. Modern pilgrims still journey to this spot. 

The castle, while basically just a crude structure now,  is breathtaking. We climbed more than 200 steps to see the views from the top. It was destroyed and repaired many times but thought to have been built originally in 1127. 

May is certainly the right time of year to visit the castle as we only saw one other family touring when we were. I stood quietly and just imagined what the royal parties would have been like. 

In 1215 King John attacked the castle. He ordered his troops to dig under one of the outside towers. When they found it was held up internally by wooden beams, he used fat from 40 pigs to star a fire. Parts of the tower fell and eventually the group surrendered from starvation.. 

Henry III and Edward I rebuilt the castle and it was a fortress until the 16th century.