Happy Easter!

It’s Easter – a time for new life! A time to rejoice and celebrate!!

My boys hunted around the yard this morning for Easter eggs. We hung up some homemade bird feeders in the yard. We enjoyed playing games as a family this afternoon. What a great day! I have been marveling at how much these guys have been growing recently. Just yesterday I put a size 6 pair of pants on my 4 year old…that still kind of fit my 8 year old. It’s crazy how bit they are getting.

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Here’s my story: My boys, 8 and 4, need yearly checkups like all kids. So I make appointments, pile them into my SUV, and drive them all of five minutes to our medical clinic. While my health insurance can be frustrating and hard to understand, it pays for most of their care. My boys are evaluated – blood pressure, pulse, say “Ahhhhh”, and all that. And then they receive appropriate vaccinations during their appointment if it is time. They pick out a sticker and a lollypop, and we all head home.

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There. Done. I hardly even had to think about all of this. I even had my iPhone remind me 30 minutes prior to the appointment so I wouldn’t forget.

So far, so good. Each year the doctor has deemed my boys perfectly healthy. Aside from the occasional cough or stomach virus picked up at school (or at Walmart, or at the mall), or some stitches from one of the many times my guys have tried to ignore the laws of Physics, my boys really haven’t had much go wrong in their lives.
I tend to think of all of this as being “normal” – an average experience for an average family…IN AMERICA.
I was startled to learn that 1 in 5 children in the world DIE from a vaccine-preventable disease. PREVENTABLE. Why? There are a number of reasons, but the bottom line is that these kids don’t have access to vaccinations. I’m a big believer in the idea that all kids are the same everywhere – all kids deserve the same shot at life as every other child.

We need to get vaccinations to these kids! Shot@Life, UNICEF, the GAVI Alliance, and other organizations are all working hard to make this happen. The United Nations Foundation has made childhood health a priority, and people like Ted Turner and Bill and Melinda Gates have all put large sums of money into this issue.

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You don’t have to give a billion dollars to change a child’s life. Did you know that $20 will cover vaccinations for four diseases for one child? Measles, pneumonia, diarrhea, polio – all can be prevented. 1.5 million lives could be saved each year by people like you and me. $20 to save a child’s life.

You can also sign up on Shot@Life’s webpage: www.shotatlife.org. Lend your voice to those who need to be heard! Or put your information here so that your congresspeople will hear about how important global health is to you, their constituent.

What are you willing to do for a child today?

Emily, Doer of Stuff

My Issue With the Latest Issue of ‘Popular Science’

PopSciCig

The March 2014 edition of Popular Science, a magazine I subscribe to for the benefit of my children, ages 4 and 8, contains a hard-to-miss ad for cigarettes. Because ‘Popular Science’ is bedtime reading material at our house, I decided to tear out the ad and mail it back to the editors of ‘Popular Science’ with a note of explanation.

If you don’t like something, DO STUFF.

 

Emily,

Doer of Stuff

My Food Network Thanksgiving

As a foodie, I am usually quite excited to plan out a menu for a major holiday. It is not uncommon to find me sitting, weeks prior, at the dining room table with twenty cookbooks surrounding me as I furiously scribble notes about what I might want to cook, what recipes can be thrown together the day before, what dishes can be baked at the same time in the oven…. On occasion I get lost in my pursuit of NOM and wind up planning Christmas dinner as well with all of the “extra” dishes that I’ve way-over planned for Thanksgiving.

This year was a little different. Because I have been traveling recently, I had not given much time to thinking about Thanksgiving dinner. My ‘Food & Wine’ Thanksgiving edition sits unread, my seasonal cookbooks still have dust build up from the past twelve months. And while I have been fixing Autumn dinners for my family this year, they have been the quiet, old standards – easy to remember, tasty without fuss.

This year I chose to rely soley on internet recipes. Quite a change for me. I even took things a step further (since I like a culinary challenge) and limited my dishes to recipes that had been featured on TV (for what reason, I don’t know; too much caffeine that day, I suppose). I eventually settled on choosing from the Food Network mostly because that’s where I thought to start. I found some fantastic recipes right off the bat from some of my favorite chefs with a simple search of key ingredients that I had already chosen for this meal.

Here is what I served my family this year….

1. Roasted Winter Vegetables
‘Barefoot Contessa’ Episode “Friend In Need”

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2. Cranberry Wild Rice Dressing
‘Semi-Homemade Cooking’ Episode: “Cabin Fever”

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3. Homemade Applesauce
‘Barefoot Contessa’ Episode: “Halloween for Grownups”

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4. Cranberry Orange Sauce
‘Tyler’s Ultimate’ Episode: “Ultimate Thanksgiving”

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5. Sweet Potatoes and Sweet Potato Balls
‘Food Network Specials’ Episode: “Paula’s Southern Thanksgiving”

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6. Date and Walnut Loaf

by M.S. Milliken and S. Feniger, 1996

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The table:

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Notes:

1. If you suddenly realize that you don’t have a zester, you can always get all handy and grab a keyhole saw (normally used for drywall). Works well. WASH IT FIRST.

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2. Sometimes if helps if you have Batman as your sous chef.

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And here are some changes that I made to the recipes.

1. Roasted Winter Vegetables: While the recipe called for drizzling good olive oil over the veggies prior to baking, I also added a tbsp. of butter and a couple squeezes of honey for good measure. What sounds better to you: “Roasted”, or “Honey Roasted”?

2. Cranberry Wild Rice Dressing: I made significant changes to this recipe. Outlined as a “Quick and Easy” dish online, I switched out the instant rice with a long-grain wild rice mix from Minnesota. This meant that the cooking time was about an hour longer than what the recipe suggests. I also added some ginger and some curry powder, and I sautéed some leeks prior to toasting the rice as well.

3. Homemade Applesauce: I’m not sure what the reason is for leaving 2 apple’s worth of red skins in the recipe, but the red apples I got from the store were a little bruised, so the peels didn’t really look all that great. I threw them in anyway, to what effect, I don’t know.

One thing to really think about with a recipe like this (or others that require zesting) is that you really want to scrub the skin of your fruit thoroughly with soap and water since who knows what kinds of pesticides and dirt may reside thereon. For this specific recipe, I bought organic red apples, just to add one more level of safety. I realize that buying organic can be expensive, but choosing your use of organics wisely makes a lot of sense to me.

4. Cranberry Orange Sauce: I didn’t change the recipe at all, though I would suggest adding a little more sugar. This dish came out a bit tart for my personal taste.

5. Sweet Potato Balls: I made these as suggested, only I set aside a portion of the mashed sweet potatoes because I have one anti-marshmellow family member. The recipe makes enough mashed potatoes for both dishes.

6. Date and Walnut Loaf: Made as intended. This is a wonderful bread! I plan on making a lot more of this over the winter. Everyone in the family liked the texture. I was tempted to throw in more walnuts initially, and this would have been fine, but I have to say that the finished product was great with the amount suggested by the recipe.

7. That’s right, no turkey.

Go. Do. BAKE.

Emily, Doer of Stuff

Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel

* This post has been declared a “Hotel Review of the Month” Nominee by HotelsReviewed.com  @hotrev  for the month of November. Check it out! [Happy Dance!]            

I was recently obliged to stay at the impressive Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel, part of the Marriott family of hotels. I had a meeting at this facility and it made sense to stay here while I was in town. Located just across the line into Virginia from Washington’s Reagan International Airport, this hotel offers close proximity to everything Downtown D.C. has to see and do, but remains out of the hustle and bustle of D.C.’s infamous traffic. I spent very little time trying to figure out how to find my way from the airport – both Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines serve Reagan, and the Renaissance runs a shuttle bus about every 20 minutes with free and easy door-to-door service.

The physical building itself is quite handsome with its light blue glass plates and exposed metal surfaces. Everything about the design choices invites the guest into the lobby from the drop-off area. The entrance gives off a cool, smooth, and relaxed feeling.

Juxtapose this nice, peaceful feeling with that of the interior lobby – constant movement and motion, bright colors that “pop”, abrupt and angular furniture pieces – I found the lobby to be a little “too much” in terms of its assault on my brain. I also couldn’t figure out the direction of the check-in desk upon moving into the building and had to ask. Of course it was nearby (See it there? It’s that light-colored desk that blends right into the walls surrounding it. The only thing to set the check-in area off is the large blue art behind it.), but was visually blocked by this:

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Which, by the way, at night turns into this:

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This is a kinetic wood sculpture by Charlie Whinney, called “Dance of the Forest”. Luckily it moves very slowly so as not to be startling. Those tall, white textured pillars, while clearly a nod to falling water, are still large blind areas for the guest. There was just too much going on right here for my personal comfort level.

Another criticism with the area is that the width of the immediate reception area, just inside the front door of the hotel, is entirely too narrow for large incoming or outgoing groups. When I arrived, mid-afternoon, this area was calm enough. I was able to greet other people from my meeting as we straggled in. But as the day went on and larger numbers of people came and went, this area of high-traffic tended toward being clogged.

It is clear to me that there is a theme of “motion” inside this hotel. This makes total sense if you consider the hotel’s location. From various points throughout, a guest can see airplanes taking off and landing at Reagan International Airport, Washington’s Metro system, commercial and passenger trains whizzing by, the waters of the Potomac River flowing, cars zooming past on the highway – motion is inseparable from the D.C./Arlington area.

At this point, I’ve gotten all of the negative out of the way. I enjoyed my stay here immensely. The offered amenities were appropriate for the price point of this facility, the meeting rooms were spacious and comfortable, and my personal hotel room was wonderful.

Here are some photos taken of elements of my room. I realized afterwards that I hadn’t really focused much photo-attention on this area, mostly because I wasn’t really in my room very much.

The blue shade coloring here is my own add-on, but this is exactly how the room felt – cool, calm, and peaceful. I think that my stripy socked feet say it all – truly comfortable. And that bed – WOW. Had I the opportunity, I would have spent more time here. Even the pillows were right (and I am a very picky pillow person – I like MY pillow). My roommate said that the coffee service was of good quality. I totally loved the Aveda products in the bathroom – some kind of mint-herb scent.

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Here I am, ready to face the day. You can see the nice plush carpeting. While I have a slight inhibition to walking barefoot in hotels, I ignored my anxiety-prone brain and put my toes down on these threads. And, while no different really than any other hotel room – 2 double beds, TV and TV stand, mini-desk with lamp and chair, comfy chair with little table, etc., the overall feeling was open and airy. The huge plate glass window was a large part of this feeling, but even at night when the curtains were closed, my roommate and I never felt like we were in each other’s way.

This shot is from the day I was leaving:

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I really like this little side table. Totally says ‘The Jetsons’.

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But…. I was here for a meeting, remember? Ah – there I am! (And yes, I do have a Jack Skellington iPhone case. What can I say – always mature and responsible, that’s me.)

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This is a general area for mixing and milling about:

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So, water droplets, right? Yes, but those are also very large ceramic plates.

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Next is the main ballroom where we had our group meetings and food service. You can see that the idea of water droplets is carried through to this area.

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This is a sitting area at the far end of one of the main hallways – a great place to sneak off during breaks. Interesting choice of furniture, though. (And this is where my lack of skill as an interior designer shows….) I couldn’t help but think to myself that those white chairs would be hard to keep clean, and the blue sparkle pleather looked like, well, material used on banana bicycle seats in the 1970s.

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Yes, I said “sparkle pleather”:

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The business amenities were great and the catering was WONDERFUL! Very good food, every meal. No complaints here at all.

Now let’s talk about flooring. And here, I fear, I must explain that I generally can’t stand the bizarre and overly-busy-borderline-one-of-Dante’s-plains-of-hell carpeting usually found in hotels. What gives, hotel industry? Why the need to startle people who are just trying to walk?!? I, the carpet freak, actually got along pretty well with the varying carpet designs throughout this hotel. Here are some samples (Geographer’s foot for scale.)

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I actually liked the color choices here and the way that the overall design flowed. There was nothing abrupt about this walking surface.

I also liked this floor inset. I’d have it in my own house if I had a floor that would work with something like this.

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Lighting:

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Caged overhead lighting:

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I’ll probably get in some kind of trouble for saying this, but I thought these looked a little like a toilet paper explosion of some kind, or perhaps a TP roll clawed by a cat. Clearly I don’t understand a certain modern element of interior design.

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And here we have the Star Wars space ship docking station. My oldest son would love to have a fixture like this in his room. And, to be honest, I think this would go well in our stairwell, despite the age of my home.

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Okay, now what is this supposed to be? Here are a few suggestions overheard at my meeting – slugs, seagulls, birds in formation, fat people diving…. Each figure was so lopsided and lumpy that the whole “flight” pairing really didn’t work for me.

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I was told by a friend who had stayed at this hotel before that I was in for a real treat if I went to the ladies room off the main lobby. Here we go!

The Enchanted Forest hallway to the loos:

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Now, having most recently made my home in South Dakota, this wall really works, right? Like, for a men’s room during hunting season? Well…this is the ladies room. That was a lot of orange right there, my friend.

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Then all of that lovely orange was reflected right back on itself with this backlit-mirror – the white birds are cuts outs in the mirror’s surface. Intriguing use of LED lights in the water fixtures, too. Again, Thing1 would love this sort of thing. All of this located within convenient arm’s reach of a truly massive pyramid of paper towels. I…I…um, well.

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I hope this little airplant guy likes orange.

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Other sightings:

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The Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel totally wins my admiration with this last amenity offered for FREE to guests – Trek Allant bikes for use around town! I’ve never been to a hotel with free bike use before. This is a very smart and healthy way to encourage guests to see the town and get in some exercise while visiting.

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And then I was gone….

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Did I like the hotel? YES.
Would I ever stay here again? YES.
Would I recommend this hotel to my friends? YES. Absolutely and without hesitation!

You can book your next stay at a Marriott hotel by clicking here.

Go. Explore. Do.

Emily, Doer of Stuff

Adventure at the Outdoor Campus East in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

I took the boys to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Park’s Outdoor Campus East not too  long ago. We were all looking for a little fresh air and something to do on the weekend. The Outdoor Campus East is FREE, which makes this location an highly recommended spot in Sioux Falls, SD for families who don’t want to blow a wad of cash on a weekend activity.

There are multiple parts to the Outdoor Campus East. There are both indoor and outdoor activities. We started with the indoor learning center, called the Outdoor Skills and Nature Center, complete with a walk-through fish for kids to go through and learn about the innards of a fish that they might then go outside and learn to catch at the Campus’ pond.

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I suppose this display is to help kids develop motor skills? I took a photo to send to my hunting friends so they can see what they can do with their extra antlers. :)

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“The Outdoor Campus’ mission is to provide education about outdoor skills, wildlife, conservation and management practices of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to all ages in order to preserve our outdoor heritage.

Here Thing2 observes a wetland display complete with muskrat hut. The indoor museum has displays of many natural habitats of South Dakota – prairie, woodland, agricultural, and backyard. This is located in a stunning 3,000 gallon water tank display. Native fishes inhabit the tank: Bluegill, Walleye, Northern Pike, and so on.

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There is a whole camping set up complete with tent, pretend campfire, canoe, and fishing gear. Kids can get a feel for what a camping trip might feel like (minus the bugs).

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Here is a stream to run along.

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There are a number of educational information boards around, all placed at a height that kids could see.

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Here you can see some cool cats hanging out.

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This display board features pelts from a number of native South Dakota species. Visitors can touch and feel each pelt as they try to guess which animal each pelt belongs to. Thing2 lifts a pelt flap to discover the answer underneath. I love activities that lead people to compare and contrast similar things so that a person has to use their ability to notice sometime subtle differences in order to arrive at the right answer. This is more engaging than straight Q and A format.

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Hands on learning! Thing1 turns over a large shelf fungus that has been preserved for all to enjoy. Objects on display at the Campus are a YES in terms of touching. This is what kids need!

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Thing2 isn’t so sure about this skull.

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Of course, one of the best features of the Outdoor Campus East is…the Outdoors!! Here the boys run through the butterfly garden. We saw a number of Monarch butterflies this day.

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Again, everything here is a YES. Kids are encouraged to experience the outdoors in any way possible. Super-active kids, like my Thing1, can find plenty of ways to learn while running around and climbing on things.

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And less-active (at least in the “doesn’t act like shot out of a cannon”) kids, like my Thing2, can enjoy things at their pace, too.

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Thing2 gets framed.

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I’m not sure that this is what the Campus intended, but here we are….

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Isn’t this a great idea? We could do this in our back yard at home.

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Boys and their forts.

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I was glad to see that the Campus was actually directing their signage at the real perpetrators here! And they provide a way to clean up, too. Very user-friendly, and very conscious of the fact that Fido is a part of the family, too.

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My husband always comments on the fact that I take photos of signage. He understood, finally, when I explained to him that I learned long ago to snap a digital photo of the map whenever I go hiking. This way I always have the map with me. Take note, readers – this is a really good idea for many reason, first of which is, of course, the whole idea of not getting lost. Along this line of thinking, look behind you periodically when you hike because that is what the landscape is going to look like when you hike back. And take photos of different landmarks along the way.

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The Outdoor Campus East was holding a family fishing day at the pond this day. We didn’t participate in this, but the boys enjoyed watching for a little while. The Campus also offers archery, gun safety sporting days, seasonal hikes with interpreters, classes for kids, and many other educational and fun experiences, many of which are FREE.

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I encouraged Thing1 to get his big energy out now so that he could be a little quieter when we got to the woods. We were all hoping to see some wildlife along the trail.

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Seems like a rare moment these days, but a blissful one to be sure. :)

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In another rare moment, Thing1 stands still. You can see from his right leg and his lean, though, that he is about to take off.

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The boys said, “Mama, show us some animals!” And not two seconds later, I present what I like to call A RABBIT.

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“Show us something bigger, Mama!” And here I present THE ELUSIVE DOE.

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She is a pretty little girl.

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She put up with us oogling at her for a little while then hopped off into the woods. She didn’t bolt, though.

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Best buddies.

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I love little surprises like this one. Note the Norwegian flag over the door.

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I learned from Take Along Guide Rabbits, Squirrels and Chipmunks by Mel Boring that this little guy is a Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel. Beautiful markings!

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We went back into the museum after we hiked. Everyone needed a drink of water from the fountains located near the restrooms.

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As a book and nature nut, I appreciated the great library that is kept at the Outdoor Campus East. There were hundreds of titles about nature, education, ID-ing, regional habitats, and many other topics.

Thing2 loves turtles. [Favorite turtle story: Thing2 runs up to me from the tv and announces loudly, "Mama, there are these turtle guys on tv AND THEY FIGHT BAD GUYS! I didn't know that turtles fight bad guys!" Can anyone guess what cartoon he saw?] Here a turtle poses behind Thing2′s shoulder.

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Thing1 gets real close to a native snake.

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Thing1 sports some hunting shades. Looks a little like Bono, I think.

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One last ride before we hop in the car for the drive home.

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The Outdoor Campus East in Sioux Falls, SD is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (closed on state holidays).
Admission is FREE!!

Go! Do!!

Emily, Doer of Stuff

P.S. If you’d like to see my recent post with all of my nature photos from this trip, click here and enjoy!

Bramble Park Zoo, Watertown, SD

Bramble Park Zoo’s current advertising campaign encourages folks to “Come Closer”. This is what my family likes most about this small zoo – a visitor can get really close to the animals and have a real experience with them. None of my photos here were taken with a Zoom lens, by the way.

Featuring many native plant species as well as over 800 animals, this 15-acre park is an ideal place for families to visit in one day or less. The Bramble Park Zoo had its 100 Year Anniversary in 2012, and the collection has been housed at its present location since 1940.

It was a little chilly when we most recently visited this Zoo, but the boys were up for some fresh air and some running around.

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I love the fact that I can get up close to the animals here. While all of the enclosures are designed with safety in mind, a visitor can really see what is going on in each exhibit.

Here is a reindeer (a.k.a. caribou). We were feeding corn kernels to some ducks that were hanging out with the reindeer inside their area when this guy came over to see what was going on. Turned out that he wanted some corn, too. He reminded me so much of my old collie dog, Bentley, who would patiently wait for a hand out – not exactly begging, but it was hard not to notice him standing there all the same. We tossed this guy some treats.

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These little foxes are usually not seen in their enclosure. They have been hiding or sleeping other times when I’ve been to this Zoo. Here they are! The fox on the left kept trying to poke and nip at the fox on the right who was trying to sleep in a sunspot.

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Here is another guy who is trying to nap in a sun spot. This is a new bear enclosure. Honestly, he looks pretty comfortable. I also took a shot of a bear statue that was nearby. There are some very nice works of art throughout the Zoo and this is one of them.

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Now, because I had my boys with me and we were running zig zag all over the Zoo, I didn’t write down what this guy is. He is either a very small wolf or a very well-fed Coyote. My guess is the later. Keep in mind, coyotes in the wild are rarely so plump and well cared for.

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There are many interactive learning areas near related animal enclosures. Here Thing1 compares his own wing span against those of other bird species. He also hangs out in a rather large nest.

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My family’s favorite area of any Zoo is the Big Cat area, and Bramble Park Zoo does not disappoint!

Sleepy kitties? Well, not so much. The white tiger was resting peacefully until he heard a bird fluttering around the outside of his cage. When it landed close on some brush, this little kitty-guy suddenly leaped to catch the bird – leaped higher than my 5’7″ height, in fact! I have to say, watching the tiger…be a tiger…was truly awesome.

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And then there was this snow leopard. Have you ever seen one of these cats before? Usually not, I suspect. They are very shy about being seen, even in Zoos where they are used to people milling about. This guy was right up front and center, and “played” with us a little bit. Thing2 ran alongside the snow leopard’s enclosure and the snow leopard ran right along side of him. Back and forth they went. And yeah, maybe Snow Leopard was thinking that Thing2 was lunch, but I don’t think that his body language said this. My best guess is that he was being playful at the time.

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After running with Thing2, this snow leopard hopped up to about my height. I made cat purring sounds to him and he started rubbing his face on the enclosure mesh and purring back – just like a house cat. He was a lot of fun. This moment was really special for me because I used to walk past snow leopards every day when I worked at the Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia (a part of the National Zoo, Washington, D.C.) and all I ever wanted was to see a snow leopard! This guy was wonderful.

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The Zoo offers an indoor Discovery Center experience as well, which includes the Terry Redlin Environmental Center (completed in February of 2010), which highlights the unique geography of northeastern South Dakota. Redlin, a native of Watertown, SD and a highly regarded wildlife artist, and helped support the newest center at the Park. [You can also stop by then Redlin Art Center, also located in Watertown, S.D. just off I-29.]

Thing2 loves elephants and zebras and thought that these “models” were great. I didn’t mention to him that they were…real. Also, am I the only one who is weirded out by the fact that this elephant doesn’t have a body?

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The Bramble Park Zoo is open during the Winter from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and during the Summer from10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is cheap! 2 years and younger are FREE, 3 to 12 years are $5 +tax, and 13+ are $7 +tax. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Emily, Doer of Stuff