Looking For The Llama

I wrote this October ’19, but didn’t have the heart to publish it at the time. I slept under Grandma Anne’s quilt last night and thought it was time. We all still miss her.

My grandmother died last week at age 94, leaving her husband of 73 years behind. I thought I was fine saying goodbye since we all knew it was coming, since Grandma herself had been ready.

The night she went into hospice care I dreamt of their old house. I could hear every familiar creak of steps and doors and tinkle of M&Ms in a glass jar and the constancy of the grandfather clock on the mantle, smell the dill in the kitchen and tobacco that my grandfather had quit smoking before I was born, feel the texture of the sofa cushion embroidery and the claws from that mean, fat Tabby when I sat on his davenport.

Everything was there. Every last plastic Donald Duck juice cup and glass jar of spoons and iron cat doorstop and tiny, embroidered foot stool. Everything except my grandparents.

My grandfather will turn 97 in December. Ninety-seven. Imagine a life that began in 1922. Imagine a family that started with an offer to drive the Homecoming queen in the parade, which lead to a 73-year marriage, 3 daughters, 8 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren.

Eight cousins
The 8 grandkids, then
Now

*****
Grandpa had a small fall at the funeral reception and my aunt and I got him back up and resettled, but the worry about his well-being and safety wrecked me and continues to eat at me now that I’m home. I’m laying plans to kidnap him and take him home with me or to my aunt.

*****

My dad’s mother died when I was in college, but I still had three biological grandparents until I was 41. Four decades of simple, easy acceptance and unconditional love. There are no foundations better than that.

*****

When all the guests and most family had left, my brother and I sat in the sun, waiting to leave for the airport. And I suddenly remembered the llama: My grandparents had a piece of driftwood in their garden that looked just like a llama sitting patiently. Grandpa put a dog collar on it for a couple years. I don’t know the llama’s origin story.

My brother, two cousins and I trooped the half block to the old house, now sold and filled with someone else’s things, but uninhabited and unchanged. It was overgrown, but I found the fallen-down, rotted wood llama in the weeds that used to be a sweet little patio garden. No collar. I don’t what I was expecting. I didn’t take a picture.

Man and dog
Grandpa and Sadie. The llama lived just out of frame.

I tried the doors and windows while the other three reminisced. I got a glimpse of the porch we spent late nights on the few days a year we got to visit, for my efforts, and an idea of what it would have been like to be the grandkid who lived just up the street instead of 800 miles away, from their conversation. Both were mildly bittersweet discoveries.

*****

The kids and I were drained from the week, so I kept them home today, watched some of the Hobbit, and went through pictures. I know I never had one, but I was still hoping to find a picture of the llama. Grandma wasn’t sentimental and gave away all her pictures over a year ago. It meant there were just a handful to show at the funeral, and that now I have 80 years worth, all jumbled together. Mom’s baby picture next to my prom and graduation photos. I went through them all. I did find some gems, but no llama. Somethings, there just is no finding once they’re lost.

Grandpa and Grandma
Three Generations: Two grandfathers, Dad and two brothers
Mom
A baby, my mom, now Grandmother herself
and her Granddaughter

Thanks, Grandma Anne for you and all that happened because of you. ❤

Beware of the Leopard

“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’ “

-Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

A month ago, my neighbor had a heart attack on a run while out of town and died. It isn’t my tragedy, but, it is devastating. He died and left behind two young kids, a wife, everything. I don’t really even have empathy for her because I simply can’t imagine it. It still hasn’t registered. I am trying to be the good neighbor and village mom my best, brightest, toughest, and scattered-to-the-winds, mom-friends have taught me to be. That part is easy.Looking at my own life through the lens of impermanence is hard.So. Fill out the forms. Put the stuff in both your names. Grant power of attorney and make a living will. Fill out the DNR and make it okay to donate your organs. Or not.These things have been on our someday list for years, and specifically for me to do last September once the kids were in school. We have basic wills and a plan for the kids, but not all those other things adults are supposed to have.Did someone sit you down and tell you the things you need to seek out and take care of as an adult? Where is the media campaign for The Hassles of Probate? Well, consider this your sit-down.*****There’s only a week left in school, so it is time for me to tick off the to-dos that have been on the list since August anyway. But…..I forgot that schools want parents so involved now. Here’s a question. Did your mom, or anyone’s mom except Katrina Kohlmeyer’s mom, who came on Halloween to adjust Katrina’s stupid, elaborate, princess costume and sneer at your too-big blue tights and girl smurf costume, EVER show up at your elementary school?No. They did not. They left in the morning and you got up and ate cereal and got dressed and brushed your teeth or didn’t, and you tried to keep the dog from escaping, and you left and walked to school. By yourself.Parents didn’t come for sundae parties or rocket launches or tapping maple trees or to listen to you rap or pretend to be Abe Lincoln. Because we didn’t do any of that stuff, for one. And there was separation of church and state, home and school, for another.

Come June, I miss those days, every year. I need the long, quiet minutes to think clearly. I don’t want to be in your hot, germ-filled, stinky classroom. I don’t want to cry in an elementary gymnasium at how you turned into an amazing human when I wasn’t watching. I need exactly 117% of the instructional minutes they get to see the big picture. I think. I’ve never gotten either.

Next week, I have one day I can run to the state records office to file papers without taking children with me into the waitlist of bureaucracy. Like a pioneer. And write a check, like a frontiersman. As if computers are still the size of rooms and not, say, here in my hand.I used a program to create all the documents yesterday (eForms. Do it. So easy. Free week trial should be all the time you need to get your house in order), made an appointment with a Notary Public, and am apparently just a long line and a fee away from full adulthood.I filled out these things yesterday, at my dining room table as the day turned hot and summer arrived. Window, by window, I closed the house from the creeping heat wave and turned on the air conditioning. Every year, this is a day I dread. When the sound of outside gets shut out and flooded over by humming of fish tank filters and fans and appliances and forced air. It added to the sense of existential uncertainty filling out a healthcare power of attorney creates.********What I’m trying to say is that I got drunk last night.And snuck up and hug-attacked the kids, and put the tooth-fairy money under Yoda on the dining table instead of under a pillow, and laughed too hard at Brooklyn 99 and held hands with my husband and ran through the list in my head of our separation of duties. Electric bill? Water softener? Did I ever close that account? This is 40.And today I spilled all the coffee and limped in, drooped my hungover self over a cart and oozed my way through Target buying supplies to last us a summer/week, whatever comes first. That employee was sure the kid ibuprofen was in the baby aisle. The one with all the rockers and Bumbos and playmats that is exhausting to even look at, and it was not. And I wanted to hunt her down and revenge-fart in her aisle, but really was already dangerously close to needing a lie down in the patio area. This is apparently also 40.*****Hug your kids. File the papers. Do your best. Godspeed.

Time to be That Mom

There’s a literary device where a character is killed off once his usefulness has been tapped out. (Spoiler: Dumbledore). The less dramatic version is when they move to a new town or perhaps do a sabbatical year in Norway. And then the other characters have to figure it out, use what they learned and win the day on their own.

I lucked into two different “mom” groups as my kids have grown from itty-bitty to big, and now the moms who recruited me out of my hermitage in the first place have left.

I tried an official MOMS group, and found two of my tribe amongst them. The MOMS group was a dud, but the three us made our own group and bonded while our kids played next to each other in my dirt pile. When those two left, one for Canada and one for Puerto Rico, in the same month, I was bereft. From a distance, they are still teaching me about patience, presence and perseverance.

When my son was a few months old, a family friend asked me to welcome a new mom to town, so I crawled out of my cave and tried. And then she was the one who brought me to a Mom and Baby club before moving back east. I walked into this house up the street from me, called the mom who would become a personal safety net the wrong name, and I was in.

The moms and kiddos I met that day are still the backbone of my Madison community. Our kids have grown up together. The mom-est mom of that group is the one everyone counted on for emergency babysitting, fruit drop-offs, school snacks, play dates, beach parties, hot meals and everything else. She made my kids eat vegetables and go grocery shopping and be responsible and kind. She got me to join Facebook. Aaaand…She moved away this summer. Because this is a town of transients and jetsetters. It shouldn’t be a surprise any longer that people who come here often move on, but it still stings. I still almost let myself into her old house to use the bathroom or get some chocolate on a run. One of her many ‘jobs’ was spending quality time at the school and sending fresh snacks. I feel as though someone has to step up and do the things she did.

When my daughter went through her unsleeping phase, we bonded with the owls in the neighborhood. We’d be up and hear barred and Great Horned owls night after night. She wanted so badly to hold an owl chick. So I found that great class at Aldo Leopold and she imitated an owl horking up pellets for ages after and all was well.

Another great class at Aldo Leopold Nature Center was all about scat and tracking animals. With no preamble, the teacher sat down and read the greatest book I’ve ever come across, “The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit” (Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlfrbruch). Poor mole comes out and something craps on his head. He wanders around with this turd hat asking WHO DID THIS?!? And each animal he comes across says “Not me. Mine looks like this…” I won’t give away the end, but Mole gets some help from a couple friends, solves the mystery and gets revenge. Sorry, I gave it away after all! Brilliant. And I look over to see four bored moms and one woman who is crying with laughter. She couldn’t even stand up straight, and I thought “AHA. A tribe member.”

the Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit
You will never regret buying yourself and everyone you know a copy of this masterpiece.

This was another in a long line of moms, who made my life richer, easier and better. Amongst her many redeeming qualities, she would come over on cold, dark mornings and tell me it was time to go running. She’s a joiner and got me involved in official school activities. She too, brought in snacks and volunteered at school and made things better. She introduced me to people and made my circle bigger and better. Aaaaand…..she’s gone for the year doing quiet things with her kids and long runs in mountains.

Time to step up. Time for me to buy snacks and be there and do the things and make things better. It’s been a challenge. Truth be told, I’m still a homebody. I loathe field trips. My kids are weird about bringing in snacks. And I can’t do the PTA meetings. I just can’t. I went for years, not because it is the responsible, connected, involved thing to do, but because sometimes you just need to show up for a friend. Welp, that friend is out of the country and I’m done being talked over and down to and I can.not.do.a mock code red drill for parents. Hooray for Safety Night: A special PTA meeting wherein you get to have questions go unanswered, be told you’re concerns are invalid, AND find out precisely what your kids will be told in an active shooter situation. Hard pass.

But I can buy snacks and hassle my kids to bring them in. And I can sit on a bus with a horde of shrieking germ vectors. I can help with math and I can reshelve books. And I will. Because my mom friends taught me how.

On Endurance

There’s a new employee at the cat store. She doesn’t yet know that I’m there every three weeks to buy lots of food and even more litter. She stood there, a little slack-jawed when I scooped up two 50-pound bags and walked out. “You’re stronger than you look!”

Uh. Oh.

With the post-race blues I sometimes get, Tuesday I got run over with the twin semis of “Not Enough” and “TOO DAMN MUCH”. I don’t usually pay any heed to those messages, like it’s a weird radio station and I can just change the channel, but this time the words stuck.

I planned ahead this fall. I planned to be BUSY. On purpose. So, I had two sprint triathlons on the schedule in September and October. I scheduled all the dentist and check-up appointments and flu shots. I even got to add a mammogram to the mix! Hello 40! I volunteered to chaperone ALL the fall field trips. I made meal plans and stocked the cupboards. I made weekend plans of Ironman WI volunteering, Forced Family Fun time trips to the orchard and camping and mud runs. I signed up for a trial fitness sampler and tried out boxing (NOPE), a rave/cycling class (more NOPE), and yoga in a new studio (eh, if it’s not Ruthie, it’s not Ruthie.) I helped build the school playground and went kayaking and found the one Chinese bakery in town and actually bought moon cakes in time for the Harvest Moon festival.

Moon cakes
It only took four years of poor planning to find moon cakes in town. Thank you Asian Sweet Bakery!

Yesterday was the day I ran out of stuff. My races are over, and I’ve slowed my half-marathon training to head off injury. So….that unsettling emptiness finally caught up to me. There’s nothing on the schedule but absorbing more of the news. The stuff we’re all inundated with that is all so disgusting and terrible and haunting and disappointing.

Honestly, my heart is still broken from the first day I dropped my son off at 4K. It never healed. Back-to-school open house was last night and we walked through his fifth-grade classroom, then caught his kindergarten teachers in the hall. And he got a hug from them. I didn’t know he still wanted hugs from Mrs. B and Ms. F. Oh, my heart.

Fifth grade sucks, guys. State capitals are okay, but learning division amidst a bunch of turd blossoms is exhausting. And, one of his classmates put another in a headlock in P.E. yesterday, and while I admire her spirit, more than one kid was scared to go to school today for fear they would be next. There were tears last night and this morning from my son, saying fifth grade has pushed him too far, and can we have a serious discussion about homeschooling.

There were tears at bedtime from my daughter wondering if she’s always going to be in pain, if she’s always going to be sick. That black hole in my heart is now so deep it’s no longer a separate entity.

This is our standard. I miss them terribly and they don’t want to go. The needle is still tipping to public school, but goddamn it for being so stressful.

And my old cat, my first true love, is getting, well, older. He’s getting thinner and pretty ratty looking. His face is shrinking away from his eyes and his fur has stopped growing in. In his heart, he is wild, and once he escapes the house, he’s in the wind. Two nights ago I made the half-hearted attempt to call him in at dark, knowing I’d either hear from him at three in the morning when he ‘sings the song of his people’ at the patio door, or two days from now. BUT he came. He slowly walked out the bushes and into the house. My son witnessed this and said solemnly, “Stuart has retired.” oh, Stuart.

Do you have a list of what you’re handling at the moment? And is some or most of that list things you can’t actually talk about? And it’s not the real thing, but the last thing that gets you?

For example, I could tell you that Infinity War broke me. I got into Marvel heros just two years ago, and mainlined them, and then curled up in a ball and sobbed in my theater lounger last spring. All seven of us who were in there sat, and sniffled and walked out, absolutely shattered. Screw you, Marvel. We’re done here.

Three times this week, someone has asked me what to do now. As if I know. I had to pull over and throw up while listening to Dr. Ford’s testimony. I meant to sign up for a Mindfulness in Motion class, but by the time I remembered AND found my password, I had lost my debit card. I was dressed like a teenage slob when I went to my mammogram last week. There was a piece of foam pipe insulation by the front door for a week before I realized it was actually cat shit.

But….

I have been reading books about endurance. It started with “Born to Run”, and then “Natural Born Heroes”(both by Christopher McDougall). Then a post by The Oatmeal that drove a sad, yet hopeful spike into my heart, then “Life’s Too Short to go so Fucking Slow,” (Susan Lacke), “RUN! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss” and “Ultramarthon Man” (both by Dean Karnazes) and finally, “Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek. I find it compelling to know not why people do amazing feats of endurance, but how.

Because I’d sure like to know.

There are lots of reasons I do sprint tris, most which I can’t even articulate, but the one I’ve been thinking about most lately is that it’s good practice for the everyday. And I need the practice. You work hard. You put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes you just do things. You wanted a challenge. No one said it would be easy…. You get the idea.

I don’t know what your list is right now, but I hope you’re enduring.

Me? I’m going to take a shower, go to a going-away party, collect my kids from the bus stop in the hopes that no one got put in a headlock or had their soul crushed or feels terrible, and keep going.

I’m also going to refill the calendar with fuel for the perpetual motion machine of coping. Other ideas:

*Offer to do dishes or laundry for a new mom, but don’t be upset if she wants you to hold the baby instead,

*Walk your dog, or someone else’s,

*Get a kitten,

*Cut up and roast the damn vegetables already and eat like a grownup already,

*Go for a run,

*Volunteer at the polls, or for Meals on Wheels, or in your local school library, or at the next local event,

*Call my dad. Or your dad, but my dad is pretty great,

*Watch Trevor Noah, or The Good Place, or Superstore or The House,

*Drink something warm, or at least hold something warm in your hands, like a kitten. Or a baby.

*Sign up for ice skating or ukelele or bike maintenance lessons to fill November and December and beyond with,

*Hug your kids. Play their games, let them put up garbage decorations, read them the Winnie-the-Pooh story where Owl contemplates pushing Rabbit off a branch, put together puzzles, build a fort,

*and remember what Tom Hanks once said, about waking up each day and reminding yourself to breath in and out until you don’t have to remind yourself anymore.

You might just be stronger than you look.

Catching Ironman Finishers Makes Me A Better Person

I’ve watched dozens of Ironman races and I’ve volunteered at full and half IMs here in Madison five times now. Each time has been an incredible experience.

Sunday was Wisconsin IM 70.3 and instead of handing out water as I have in the past, I was convinced to work the finish line with some friends. We were trained in “catching” participants: You and another volunteer come from each side of the runner to physically help/escort him or her through the next 50 feet of the finish area, stopping for timing-chip removal, getting medal-ed, handing off water, and then checking with them one last time before releasing them back to the world. We learned how to make a two- and three-person “net” to catch and carry wilted athletes in, if necessary. We learned how to stop them if they were running too fast and how to shadow them if they didn’t want to be physically helped.

I love this sport so, so much. I find the mass swim nauseating to watch, but everything else about triathlon just awes me and makes me feel alive. Having done a handful of sprint triathlons and knowing friends who train for 70.3 and 140.6 mile races, I have a basic idea of how much planning and training and perseverance it takes to get to race day (i.e. lots and lots and lots.) The weather, as always, was a factor in the day and while rain delayed the start and made for slick bike conditions, I was happy for the cooler temperatures and cloudy skies. Cooler means safer, and cloudy also meant lots fewer sunglasses, and lots more eye contact with the athletes. It makes a difference to be able to see their eyes. You can see the triumph, the pain, the disbelief. Some are dazed. Some look like this is just a day in the park. It’s an incredible array of emotions at the finish line.

The first wave of finishers looked and felt great crossing the line, with only one person throwing up. To be honest, puke doesn’t phase me. I threw up from conception through delivery for all pregnancies, I have two kids and four cats. Vomit is a part of our lives. Two years ago at an aid station about ten miles into the run, a woman came up, grabbed some gels then gracefully turned and threw up, hard, in a garbage can. And then she apologized. Oh, honey. You have no idea how proud I am of you. Ironman, sure. Throwing up IN THE CAN?!? Way to go!

You get invested in these strangers, and it is thrilling to be so near, watching them work their hearts out. My favorite aid station at the full Ironman is on an out-and-back portion, and since they run the course twice, you can see someone four times. You mentally keep track of people as they come and go, silently praying for them, especially those who are struggling, while continuing to cheer the people in front of you, hawking your Gatorade or water, apologizing for being out of ice or chicken broth. Every year, we end up closing down the aid station, cheering the last person on the course through, then driving up to the finish to make sure “our” last people make it. Sometimes they don’t get there in time. Believe me, if I’ve seen you finish that race at 12:01, you’re still an Ironman to me.

This Sunday, I got to catch a friend after he finished his best HIM yet. His knees buckled a little, but he found his legs quickly and after passing him off to his brother, I rushed back to the twin lines of volunteers waiting for the next athletes.

Like all the races I’ve volunteered at, most of it is a blur that left me wired and tired, but there were a handful of finishers who had an impact. Some lean on you more than others. My last “catch” of the day before my shift was over was a young guy who started to hyperventilate. The station director gave him a good, long look, asked him if he was okay, and told us to keep walking and breathing. We did. At the finish area exit, the other volunteer raised his eyebrows at me, and I said I had it. Then, with arm still around my athlete, I asked him quietly if he was okay, and he cracked and started to cry. Oh buddy. Have you come to the right place. I happen to know someone who sobs at finish lines. She only does sprints, but she’s a real gem.

I walked him out of the mud pit and found him a spot to sit a ways away in the grass. He’s from Chicago. He doesn’t have anyone here except a friend who’s still out on the course. He’s had too much sugar and caffeine. He didn’t expect to cry. He doesn’t have to drive back tonight and plans to have a Spotted Cow or two. I listen and sit next to him and agree that RedBull is the worst, and when I notice he’s stopped shaking I get him up and ask if he wants a hug and tell him how truly proud I am of him. I leave him in the food line, in better shape than I found him.

I tell my leader I’m leaving, then head home on my bike.

Here’s the secret: Volunteering is good for me. My well had run dry. I had almost nothing left for my family. And yet giving and being present at that finish line was easy. You need someone to lean on and get you a soda? You got it. You’re still shaking and you need an escort to the med tent? I’m here. I’ll walk with an arm around you the whole way and won’t leave until I know you’re being taken care of. It’s simple, easy, necessary help that I can give. And then I wipe my hands off and I go help someone else.

Perhaps I haven’t felt useful in quite some time. Perhaps it’s nice to be needed? I’m needed all the time. All. The. Time. The seven-year old has pneumonia for the third time in three months. She felt good for a week? A few days? There is no respite. There is no cavalry. I left the kids home watching videos to pick up her antibiotic, and despite the urgency, I found myself stalled out in front of a magazine rack, in the middle of an interview of …Anna Faris?I don’t know how long I had been standing there.

But… I left that finish area restored. I helped. I did my best. I reminded people to stop their watches and congratulated them on their hard work and achievement. I gave hugs and high-fives and sodas and foil blankets and, it was enough. I can’t explain why helping strangers makes it easier to continue to help my own child, but I don’t need to. I’ll just see you at the finish line at WI IM, this September.

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Wrist band given to IM athletes to give to volunteers. Also, a reminder of my best self. She’s not that far away.

Zoo Atlanta, March 2018

Last, but not least, we made it to Zoo Atlanta on our recent trip. I’d heard good things about their great panda program, and then we read “The One and Only Ivan” by K. A. Applegate together and found out that the real Ivan spent the last 18 years of his life at Zoo Atlanta, and we had to go. The zoo has a large (the largest?) number of western lowland gorillas in North America and what seemed like incredibly large and lush habitats. (Also, apparently this is where Dwayne Johnson did research for Rampage, and has since adopted a bachelor male, calling him Dwayne Jr. I am sad to report I didn’t see either Dwayne.)

Amongst the four of us, almost every animal in the zoo was a priority to see, so we waded through all the school groups, refueled with Dippin’ Dots when necesssary, and took in as much as we could.

Something I’ve been looking forward to was seeing the great pandas. I know some people who are vehemently opposed to zoos, and I see their point when we look at history. I also appreciate the focus on conservation modern zoos, especially Zoo Atlanta, have adopted. Zoos are now key to species preservation for so many. Plus…..it gives so many people the chance to see just how large and amazing this world is. And whether pandas are really as dumb as rocks, or not.

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You’ll have to go decide for yourselves.

Here are some of our other favorites:

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Baby tamarin!
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The elusive clouded leopard, or a stuffed animal tossed over the fence
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Two little kids were taunting him. And he ate them. Respect.
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drooling Sun Bear! ❤
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Naked mole rats
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Komodo, thankfully behind glass
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I don’t know. As a midwesterner, let’s call these wombats or raccoon dogs.
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Red panda

After the raccoon-dog encounter, we ran across another shaggy, grizzled animal we’ve never heard of before lounging in a hammock. If the Wild Kratts haven’t told me about it, I’d be pretty sure we’re just making stuff up now. Look at this guy, a binturong. Now before you claim him as your ‘spirit animal’ just know that I’ve already claimed this particular one, so go find your own.

We saw all we could handle, leaving out maybe a quarter of the zoo (and forgetting to photograph any of the elephants). We’ll have to go back some day. Other amazing encounters:

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pretty bird, what are you?
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Eastern ibis
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Black-and-white ruffed lemur
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The lions in the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin have heated rocks to lounge on. Hotlanta lions probably don’t need that, do they?
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Young photographer at work
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Go eyeball Zoo Atlanta for yourself!

Fernbank 3.0, March 2018

Time for a visit to our home away from home, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. This was our third visit, (check out the first)and this time we allowed ourselves to stay as long as we wanted without having to rush off to drive another ten hours.

Argentinosaurus in main lobby
Argentinosaurus still presides
Hands on bugs exhibit
Nature Quest exhibit still enraptures
Belemnite fossil
Belemnite in Solnhofen quarried marble still amazes

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Giganotasaurus fossil model
Giganotasaurus still looms large

I was happy to see the Halls of Georgia timeline hasn’t changed, and that you can still watch an 8-minute video on the creation of earth, get right up to the point where single-cell organisms appear…..and it ends, and you walk out to see taxidermied turkeys. Such a great juxtaposition.

I mistakenly didn’t record all the many blooming glories of the city as I did last time. I wrongly assumed spring would soon arrive here in Madison and we’d have our own flowering trees and tulips to ogle. Here’s just a taste of what we’re still waiting for…

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The newest addition to Fernbank (not including the special exhibit on the body’s microbiome which did NOT have hand sanitizer at the end, ugh) is an incredible series of boardwalks and paths winding around and through the wooded swampland behind the building. There are about 2 1/4 miles of walkways beautifully arranged and engineered to be an extension of the landscape. We were all enchanted. The area to the right is intended for younger kids with a nature-inspired playground and a manufactured waterfall complete with boats, simple dams and obstructions kids can manipulate to change the water flow.

Another section of the boardwalk is designed for a bit older group ready to climb through/over/under/down a bunch of rope bridges and tunnels. You can test yourself (dominated the rope bridge, thank you), or lurk at the only entrance/exit and tell your kids you ‘just love to watch them play’ (which I did a lot more of.)
Then, you have a beautiful, screened in building for nature talks and what-not, and paths through gardens and the forest floor and old mill (?) or church (?) foundation stones (I couldn’t find any information but was intrigued.) A cool, cloudy day, but no mosquitoes, and lots of fun.

I figured this would be our last time visiting Fernbank, but with the boardwalk addition, we might find our way back again sometime. Go see for yourself!

Georgia Aquarium, March 2018

Our second trip to Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta was no less amazing than the first.  What a gem.

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We arrived right as the doors opened and were lucky to have the place almost to ourselves for a half hour or so.  We skipped the dolphin show this time, remembering it as too loud and too Vegas for us, but instead had a penguin encounter (<3) and took the moving walkway through the Ocean Voyager exhibit (the huge tank with the whale sharks) twice.

We saw everything we wanted (me–jellyfish behind acrylic and African penguin up close, son–reef exhibit, daughter–above-mentioned walkway, husband–potato grouper), waded through the mob to eat, then ransacked the gift shop and went happily on our way.  All of us were excited to see the belugas and penguins Jeff Corwin talked about in his Ocean Mysteries series and three of us are ready to get SCUBA certified and go swimming with those giant rays and whale sharks next time.