Field Notes From Mongolia

The Mongolian steppe can be massively windy, rainy, hot, cold, dry, sunny and cloudy all during the same afternoon. During my time in Mongolia, mid June of 2019, a long winter had delayed the greening up of the grasses, and the unending rolls of hills seemed barren. This was amplified by the constant blowing of dirt – always in my face, my eyes, my ears. I took to wearing a buff at times so that I could breathe.


My ger camp; notice the lack of green grasses.

The steppe ecosystem is in decline due to overgrazing. While we saw a number of stubby bushes with yellow flowers called Karagara in many places, it turns out that cattle will not eat them unless they absolutely have to, and stinging nettle, which the cattle won’t eat. What looks like plenty of food on the landscape is actually not.


The only green on the landscape was scrub brush that were not ideal for grazing.

Nomadic tradition has herding families migrating to different pastures throughout the year to feed their animals – goats, sheep, cows, horses. This system has worked for generations as cattle herders raised a sustainable number of animals. In the past 15 – 20 years, however, there has been a multiplication of herd numbers across the country due to a lifting of livestock limits with the recession of communism from Mongolia (Bruegger, et al. 2014). Thinking that they could make more money, herders grew their herds many fold. Seemed like an excellent idea at the time, as extra income meant more opportunities for each nomadic family. In 1991, there were an estimated 28 million livestock in Mongolia. As of 2018, there are over 88 million, two times the number that can be sustainably raised with existing resources (Munkhtsog 2019). 


So many sheep!

All of this grazing has left the Mongolian steppe severely overgrazed. But this doesn’t have to be the end of the story of the Steppe grasslands. A successful conservation effort would have to put some limits on the number of livestock an individual can own. Getting community members on board with this would take effort, but helping them to understand that the viability of their future is threatened by current livestock practices seems like a necessary start to this process. Forming Community Based Conservation groups in areas with livestock might help mitigate some issues (Souto, et al. 2014). Pooling the knowledge resources of the community would also be wise; herders have their own traditional knowledge of the land, their animals, and ecological changes in the environment (Bruegger, et al. 2014). It would be wise to tap into this knowledge while addressing sustainability issues. The government could help by enforcing restrictions on livestock numbers, grazing areas, and offering incentives for those that comply (Brueger, et al. 2014). New sources of income need to be investigated: more exporting of meat, traditional arts and crafts, eco-tourism, etc. Ultimately, though, the change has to come from within the community or the steppes of Mongolia will continue to decline.


A herd of horses

While I was visiting Mongolia this summer, I had the opportunity to visit with a traditional herding family in their ger. We showed up unannounced, and were welcomed with lunch and an afternoon of friendly visiting. I asked if the family had to travel further now to find good land for grazing than in the past, and they responded that this was indeed true for them. They were feeling the pressure of overgrazing and were, in fact, packing up everything the next day to move on to their next grassland area for the next season of grazing. They mentioned that all grazing lands were public lands, so there was some competition for good grazing lands each season. While they like to move to the same locations year after year, sometimes this wasn’t possible. Like all of the Mongolians that I met, this family was happy, gracious, and very kind. Despite the possibility of hard times, they were eager to talk about their family, and were very proud of their herd animals. 


Bruegger, R.A., Jigjsuren, O., Fernandez-Gimenez, M.E. (2014) Herder observation of rangeland change in Mongolia: indicators, causes, and applications to community. Rangeland Ecology & Management 67:119-131.

Munkhtsog, B. (2019), personal correspondence

Souto, T., Deichmann, J.L., Nunez, C., Alonzo, A. (2014) Classifying conservation targets based on the origin of motivation: implications over the success of community-based conservation projects. Biodiversity Conservation 23:1331-1337.


Emily Thinks About Pollination Again

Last post I couldn’t find any active pollinators outside, so I bought flowers, cut them apart, and investigated their innards and labeled their parts. This week I tried again to find any evidence of active pollinators and also came up empty. I did, however, have two great outdoor adventures with my guys, so not all was lost. Last Sunday I drove us all about an hour south to the Mary Jo Wegener Arboretum in East Sioux Falls, SD, and today we hiked around the Dakota Nature Park in Brookings, SD.

Running at the Mary Jo Wegemen Arboretum

Exploring some of the less-flooded areas of the Dakota Nature Park

Both locations grow native plant species in order to help mitigate habitat loss and fragmentation.

The Mary Jo Wegener Arboretum is fairly new and not as established as the Dakota Nature Park, so there are fewer plant species available to host pollinators there. It is located on the eastern edge of a city of 176,888 (2017) people.

The well-manicured gardens at the Mary Jo Wegemen Arboretum

The Dakota Nature Park has existed for many years and has native species of forbs and grasses replanted to recreate the tallgrass prairie habitat conditions. The park is located on the southern edge of a city of 23,938 (2017) people.

Restored tall grass prairie species at the Dakota Nature Park

Both Sioux Falls and Brookings are located in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the upper Midwest. This region is known for its many wetland areas due to poor drainage conditions left by the last receding glaciers from 8,000-10,000 years ago. The PPR provides habitat for many migratory bird populations in addition to other bird species that rely on the seasonal variations in water levels for their nesting sites. Most of this area has been converted to agricultural row crops, and the original tallgrass prairie has been broken up into little bits of fragmented prairie habitat. Destroying or degrading the natural ecosystem is a major cause for the loss of biodiversity globally (Haddad, et al. 2015), and pollinators and the plants that they rely on for food sources are affected negatively as well (Mader, et al. 2011). In the PPR, pollinators and other native species are also being affected by pesticide pollution and agricultural runnoff into the wetlands and other waterways. The natural drainage of the wetlands of the PPR have been altered by agricultural tiling, which is a process where underground drainage channels are placed under fields to drain water from ag land. This has caused some areas of the PPR to lose water, and other areas to take on more water than can be contained. All of these influences are causing negative effects to the native plants and animals that rely on the resources of the PPR for survival.

The PPR is being affected by climate change as well. According to Johnson and Poiani (2016), a rise in temperature in the PPR could cause this region to move eastward into agricultural areas that are unsuitable for maintaining the number of wetland species supported by the PPR, and causing further habitat loss. Numerical modeling predicts that there could be either an increase or a decrease in precipitation, meaning a rise in water level, inundating available nesting habitat, or a draining of the wetlands, leaving less habitat for fish fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, etc. Potts et al. (2010) suggest that climate change will have a negative effect on pollinators and cause a global loss of species richness.

Interestingly, South Dakota is the #2 state in honey production in the United States. Much of this honey is produced here in eastern South Dakota in the PPR. This particular bee, Apis mellifera, is not a native species. I wonder how many native pollinators in South Dakota have been displaced due to resource competition from this non-native species.

One really obvious similarity shared by both the Mary Jo Wegemen Arboretum and the Dakota Nature Center is the flooding. Though these locations are about an hour apart driving, they are both located in the Big Sioux River watershed.

Flooded forested area at the Mary Jo Wegener Arboretum

Flood area near the Larson Nature Center at the Dakota Nature Park

Are we witnessing the effects of global climate change locally? I can’t definitively say that this flood was caused directly by climate change, but it is likely that we will see more flooding of this nature as temperatures continue to climb. In my search for pollinators, I found instead a series of flooded restored habitats. This spring, the pollinators have a lot of work to do in Eastern South Dakota.

Emily, Doer of Stuff



Haddad, N.M., Brudvig, L.A., Clobert, J., Davies, K.F., Gonzalez, A., Holt, R.D., et al. (2015) Habitat fragmentation and its lasting impact on Earth’s ecosystems. Science Advances 1, e1500052.

Johnson, C.W., Poiani, K. (2016) Climate change effects of Prairie Pothole Wetlands: findings from a 25 year numerical modeling project. Wetlands 36:273-285.

Mader, E., Shepherd, M., Vaughan, M., Hoffman Black, S., LeBuhn, G. (2011) Chapter 4, Threats to pollinators. In Attracting native pollinators: protecting North America’s bees and butterflies: the Xerxes Society guide (pp. 73-83). Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA.

Potts, S.G., Biesmeijer, J.C., Kremen, C., Neuman, P., Schweiger, O., Kunin, W.E. (2010) Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts, and drivers. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25:345-353.

Emily Takes a Look at Flowers

I have an assignment due today for a class that I am taking through Miami University called “Pollinator Biology”, and I’m a little stuck because my plans have been foiled by a blizzard and illness, as in, I’m too sick to go out, but it doesn’t really matter anyway because there are six more inches of snow on top of the already existing three feet on the ground. I wanted to drive down to Sioux Falls to the Sertoma Butterfly House to shoot some photos of butterflies and moths using their unique adaptations to feed and transfer pollen. Maybe next time.

Instead, I bought some fresh flowers from the grocery store and dissected them to take a closer look at how they are each set up by evolution to function. Here are the tools of the Conservation Biologist for today’s experiment:


On the left is the Gogo Robots Macro Lens clip on, to attach to my iPad, and on the right is my Calphlon filleting knife from my kitchen.

Here are my specimens:


We have a daisy, a lily, a rose, and what we’ll call #4 because I don’t know its name.

Let’s take a look at each one.

#1 – the Daisy


All of my flowers came from a store, so I do not know the history of their development like I would a flower from my own garden. Daisies would normally be pollinated by bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other incidental animals. You can see here that my daisy sample seems to be missing its anthers and filaments (male parts), and we are left with just the female parts – the stigma and ovary. Interestingly, daisies are not singular flowers. Instead, the center disk is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers, similar to a sunflower.

#2 – the Lily


Lilies are great to observe because they are complete – you can see the male (androcium) and female (gynoecium) parts very clearly. Having both sex parts, or being hermaphrodites, enable lilies to self-pollinate. They don’t necessarily need insects and other animals to transfer pollen from one plant to another, although this kind of cross-pollination can also occur. You can see some of the pollen grains still attached to the anthers. Pollen grains contain the plant’s male sex cells, or gametes.

#3 – the Rose


This particular rose was grown in a greenhouse somewhere, probably far, far away from South Dakota where I bought it. Rose are unusual in that they are actually woody plants that can be cut and bread plants propagated from these cuttings. They can be cross-pollinated via wind, birds, and insects. Bees and butterflies are common pollinators, but many beetle species also like to hang out in roses, transferring some pollen from one flower to another as the pollen sticks to their bodies. Bees are most effective at pollinating roses, Their hairy bodies make for a perfect pollen collector as the pollen sticks to the bees legs and other parts. Interesting fact – roses do not actually have thorns!   Real thorns are extensions of the stem material, so roses actually have prickles.

$4 – This guy

I sent photos of this flower to my Master Gardener friend and she didn’t know what it was either. She tends to focus on native plants in her work, and this one isn’t a native flower. In fact, none of these flowers come from native plants in South Dakota. They have all been grown in greenhouses to protect them from insects and diseases so they looked perfect when I picked them up this weekend.


#4 grew as a singular flower but there were a number of flowers on each stem. The surrounding petal was all one solid piece. #4 is beautiful in its radial symmetry, or actinomorphis. I think you can see its parts most clearly of all of the flowers I cut open. Look at the last photo that I labeled. Both male and female parts are all laid out there for us to see, and there is still pollen attached to the style.

Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you more about each flower’s pollination syndrome (the collective traits of flowers, like shape, size, color, scent, etc. and for these traits attract specific pollinators with matching adaptations) or pollination ecology (seeing how pollen is transferred by watching the interactions of pollinators and flowers, which is what I had hoped to do at the Sertoma Butterfly House) because I am not looking at these plants in their natural habitats.

Emily, Doer of Stuff


Mader, E., Shepherd, M., Vaughan, M., Hoffman Black, S., LeBuhn, G. (2011) Attracting native pollinators: protecting North America’s bees and butterflies: the Xerxes Society guide. Storey Publishers, North America, MA.

Shivanna, K.R.,  Tandon, R. (2014) Chapter 7, Pollination ecology. In Reproductive ecology of flowering plants: A manual (pp. 63-96). Springer India, Bangladesh, India.

Earth Expeditions: Belize

I traveled to Belize this summer as part of Project Dragonfly’s Earth Expeditions graduate program (part of Miami University’s Global Field Program), where I’ll be completing a degree in Conservation Biology over the next couple of years. My mind was open to any kind of experience as I went; all I knew I had read in books prior to leaving. I’d never traveled to Central America before.

Flying in over Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula made me realize that I was almost there. The trip didn’t seem real to me until this point.

It hit me very early on that I didn’t know if I was in the rain forest or not. I later learned that my idea of a rainforest was a “cloud forest”, which is located in much higher elevations than where we were staying at the Tropical Education Center in central Belize.

My classmates and I took an evening tour of the Belize Zoo on the first night. My preconception was that I would need to be wary of snakes, bugs, and other biting creatures. This wasn’t an issue at all. A little bug spray was enough to keep insects at bay, and I learned that the local snake population really wants nothing to do with me and would more than likely take off at the sound of my approach.

It turns out that my trip to Belize was as more about personal learning and growth than about content learning. While I learned facts about jaguarundis, black howler monkeys, termites, and iguanas, my real learning experience occurred as my understanding of Belize’s natural elements grew to an appreciation, and then to a deep connection. Part of what made this connection real for me was my experiences at the Belize Zoo.

The Belize Zoo tries very hard to allow its guests, primarily Belizians, to come to know their own national animals in a personal way. Unlike American zoos, where patrons have to observe animals from a safe distance, the Belize Zoo offers its collection to people with little obstruction. One might argue that this isn’t safe (sometimes I wonder if we Americans are actually too protected from ourselves), but I really love the way I was able to see Junior Buddy, a jaguar, exist in his enclosure.


To say that Junior is a beautiful creature is certainly an understatement.

I pushed my limits during a night hike, because I wasn’t going to let my discomfort keep me from seeing everything I could see in Belize. I have a deep dislike of walking into spider webs, for example. And all of the glowing eyes at night probably had fangs behind them. But I realized that this experience would help define my trip to Belize. If I hadn’t gone on this hike, I wouldn’t have seen a Pygmy Owl dive down and catch a mouse right in front of my group.

In his book The Value of Life, Stephen Kellert argues that there is an actual biological connection between humans and nature (Kellert 1997). Author Richard Louv (Last Child In the Woods, The Nature Principle, Vitamin N) expresses concern about kids not getting outside enough, that they are actually lacking some part of their human development because they are remaining separate from nature. My personal reading experience concerning a person’s connection to nature comes from a less scientific place – nature writers like Aldo Leopold, Sigurd F. Olson, John Muir, and others. There is a similar idea between all of these authors: humans and nature are a natural combination.

The question now is, how do I bring my experiences from Belize home and share my deep connection to nature with other people?

What do you think? Questions, comments, joys and concerns?

Doer of Stuff


Kellert, S. (1997) The value of life: biological diversity and human society. New York: Island Press.

Emily Blogs Again

Ok, so it has been a crazy long time since I have written anything on this blog. I created ‘Emily Does Stuff’ to chronicle all of my adventures in life, and then…life got too adventurous or something, because I have not found time to blog about anything for years.

I’ve recently been given an assignment in one of my grad school classes (yes, I’m in grad school) that has asked me to create a blog post, so here I am. I’ve gone back and read through all of my posts and I’ve been wondering where I got the time and energy to put all of those posts together. It looks like the publishing interface here on WordPress is easier to manage, but then there are ads which I will have to pay to remove.


Since my last post, Thing 1 and Thing 2 have become young men, 12 and 9 years old now. I have worked for National Geographic for 8 years (the photo above was taken at the 2017 National Geographic Explorers Festival in Washington, D.C.). I am in grad school at Miami University’s Dragonfly Program, studying conservation biology. I sub part time in my sons, school district. Still married. Still living in South Dakota. Still doing Stuff.

More to come.

Emily, Doer of Stuff


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.


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.


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.

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: 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’


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.



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”



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




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:



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.


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


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  @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:


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


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.


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:


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


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.)


This is a general area for mixing and milling about:


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


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.


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.


Yes, I said “sparkle pleather”:


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.)




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.




Caged overhead lighting:


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.


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.



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.


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:


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.


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.


I hope this little airplant guy likes orange.


Other sightings:






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.


And then I was gone….


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.


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. 🙂


“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.


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).


Here is a stream to run along.


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


Here you can see some cool cats hanging out.


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.


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!


Thing2 isn’t so sure about this skull.


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.


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.


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.


Thing2 gets framed.


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


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


Boys and their forts.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


She is a pretty little girl.


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


Best buddies.


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


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!


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


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.


Thing1 gets real close to a native snake.


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


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


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!