My AFFs (Animal Friends Forever) at the San Diego Zoo!

My AFFs (Animal Friends Forever) at the San Diego Zoo!

When we first pulled into the parking lot of the San Diego Zoo, I could hardly wait to step out of the door of the truck. I have been waiting to come here since before we even left Maine.

After we went in and got our tickets, we headed to the zoo tour bus. We decided to go on the bus first because it covered 75% of the zoo and we would know where everything is. It was a double decker bus and we got to sit on top!

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When we got off the bus we made our way over to the “big cats.” On the way there, we passed an exhibit with TONS of monkeys in it.  My favorite ones are the Capuchins. They are the cutest monkeys you could ever imagine, and they were definitely the most entertaining! They would pick the bugs out of each others fur and eat it, and the way they eat is so human-like!

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I really liked the gorillas too. The troop leader is always a male and called a silverback. The silverback of the troop we saw was sleeping the whole time with his foot pressed against the glass. I felt kind of bad for all of the gorillas, because how would you like it if millions of people came to see you all day, everyday?

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My favorite animal there was the cheetah. It would just pace along the fence watching your every move. Did you know that every cheetah at the San Diego Zoo has a dog as a companion? Well, when we were there the cheetah we saw was paired with a husky mix. River explained to me that they do this so the cheetah is more calm around people. Sadly we didn’t see the dog, but the cheetah was absolutely amazing! The tiger was also one of my favorites, but it didn’t do much except sit on top of a rock and look down on everyone. I was half expecting it to lick it’s lips thinking we would all make a great meal, but it didn’t.

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There were also two different kinds of leopards, the black leopard and snow leopard. We saw the snow leopard, but not the black one because it was inside it’s little “house” the whole time. The snow leopard was not white it was grey, and had a tail that looked almost as dangerous as the claws. It was really long and very fat at the end.

After a while we finally got to the pandas. There was a mom and a cub. The baby was a lot more active than the mom. He would roll around, climb on stuff, and run around the pen. All the mom did was sit there, eat bamboo and watch her son.

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When you think of polar bears do you think of big, white bears? Well that’s basically true except the “big” part. They are not just big, they are HUGE! Did you know that full grown polar bears can get up to 10 feet?! I don’t know how big the one we saw was but it looked pretty close to 10 feet! The way they get their food is very interesting. They’ll wait outside of a seals breathing hole for hours until a seal comes up, then they will grab it. They must be so patient! If I tried to do that I’d be getting up within 5 minutes trying to find food elsewhere.

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On the way over to the elephants we passed more monkeys. This time there was an otter in the same exhibit as the monkeys. It was funny to see an otter and a monkey living together. Just like the Capuchins he was very entertaining, and happened to be my Dad’s favorite animal there. He was super cute especially when he would float on his back down the river, and catch the food the monkeys threw him.

Then we got to the elephants. There were about 3 of them and we were watching one of them eat hay. It’s really interesting how they use their trunks to take the food then put it in their mouth. The San Diego Zoo has 2 different types of elephants, the African and Asian. Two ways to tell them apart are the shape of their ears and their tusks. African elephants have bigger ears that are the shape of the continent of Africa and both males and females have tusks. Whereas Asian elephants have much smaller ears and only the males have tusks.

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After, we went over to the giraffes. There were a few adults and a few babies. They were all so cute and a lot bigger than I thought they would be. A giraffes neck can be 6 feet long and weigh 600 pounds! Imagine having a neck that tall weighing that much!

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I thought the oddest looking animal there were the rhinoceroses. They have a protective layer of skin on the outside which looked like a huge layer of fat, it was very weird. Well I can’t say the rhino is the oddest looking animal there was, because the camels came pretty close. One of them was very old and had a lopsided hump. Through my research I found out that his hump is like that because he is old and his activity level is low, therefore he uses all his stored energy (which is in his hump) causing it to droop. He also had spit coming out of his mouth. I mean literally hanging out of his mouth, it looked like toothpaste. YUCK! The reason camels do spit is to surprise, distract, or bother whatever the camel thinks is threatening it.

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I had such a good time at the San Diego Zoo and it is definitely on my list of places to come back to.

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Sugar Beet Harvesting in Montana

Sugar Beet Harvesting in Montana

I write this post for three reasons…..to admit guilt, to redeem myself and to spread awareness.

As a family of four, traveling (living) on only one income is very challenging at times, most times. Brian averages 32 hours per week working remotely.  We always seem to make ends meet as we are simple people and know where our priorities lie. That being said, there are sacrifices that I refuse to make, especially when it comes to keeping myself and my family healthy. I’m talking about food choices.  Yes, perhaps we would have a little extra in the budget if we lived solely off of processed, pesticide ridden or genetically modified foods.   Then again, perhaps that little extra would end up going to remedying the illnesses I’d expect one (or all) of us to contract from eating such foods.

It became inevitable after the first couple of months of being in areas not conducive to our eating habits that we would have to try and pick up some short-term work along the way. So, with the help of  FB, Craigslist, and RV forums, we have managed to supplement our income enough to keep our bodies (as well as our truck) fueled.

Back in June, I came across a thread on the Fulltime Families FB page, one of the on-line family travel groups I belong to.  Folks were talking about working a sugar beet harvest in Montana and how insanely lucrative it had been for them in the past. Upon doing my research, I learned that the job required little experience, the commitment was for roughly one month during September and October, the employment agency put you up in an RV park with full hook ups, and the pay was indeed desirable.  Perfect for us!  We planned on visiting Glacier in early September so we’d be in the area anyway.  Not to mention we had just spent a chunk of cash on RV and truck repairs, setting us back quite a bit. Applied. Hired. Happy.  Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure what a sugar beet was.  Nonetheless, the idea of working outside, in the fall, in the dirt was quite appealing . I bookmarked the company’s website and forgot about it.

Until…  sometime after arriving in Montana I came across information that sugar beets were amongst the top GMO foods in the country… not good!  GMOs are food products that have had their DNA altered in a lab to make them drought, herbicide and pesticide resistant.  Sometimes referred to as “Frankenfoods”, they have been altogether banned in many other countries.

Red flag went up.  I panicked. I researched. Suspicions confirmed.

I had signed us up to work for the devil…otherwise known, in this case, as Monsanto!

I was discouraged, the kids were horrified, and Bri , well, let’s just say he’s the reason to my rhyme.   After a fairly lengthy discussion we decided to honor our commitment and show up to the job.  Yes, we were compromising our principles and going against our beliefs.  But, as Bri pointed out, it was a necessary evil. We had already counted on the money to get us to California.  And, in my defense, none of our earnings would be knowingly spent on Monsanto supported foods.   Furthermore, we could use this opportunity to spread awareness.

We pulled in to Sidney, a remote town situated in northeastern Montana with relatively low expectations.   We learned that the area was currently in the midst of an oil boom, which was clearly evident by the shoddily constructed “man camps” we observed along the way.  We had also heard that there had been a fairly recent murder in the community, which, once again, made us rethink our decision.  We decided that we would show up to the RV park (aka county fairgrounds) and if at that point things appeared overly sketchy, we’d skip town. Fortunately, that was not the case and upon our arrival we were greeted by our camp host and security guard who assured us that we had nothing to be concerned about, safety wise. Aside from the two other families there with kids, the majority of the RVers in the lot were retired couples with fancy rigs and small dogs.  If it was safe enough for them, then we had nothing to worry about in our 04 model 5th wheel guarded by our ferocious watch dog Daisy May.

Nearly half of the world’s sugar production comes from sugar beets and in Montana it is a $60 million industry.  Local farmers are contracted to grow the beets  and are paid based on yield and  sugar content.  Here is where my issue lies. The farmers are only allowed to plant approved seed varieties.  And guess what?  Ten out of the twelve approved varieties are “Roundup Ready” seeds.  Yes indeed, a Monsanto product.  I’m not quite sure about the other two varieties but that really doesn’t matter.  If some growers did plant the other varieties, and if they aren’t GMO seeds, cross pollination would contaminate those fields anyway.  So, it is my knowledgeable assumption that all of the sugar beets that Bri and I worked with were genetically modified. Very bad!

Beet field
Beet field

During the harvest, the beets were delivered by truckloads to a factory yard where they were weighed and piled and random samples were collected for testing. I was part of a 6-7 member crew who worked in the factory yard for 7 hours a day.  We kept the piler running, the area clear of all stray beets and collected the samples. From that shift, I went to work inside the factory with Bri for another 4-5 hours.  It was more or less an assembly line job where we weighed, washed and dried the samples before the pulp was extracted and sent into the lab for sugar content. Neither position was difficult but the hours were long and went by ever so slowly.

Beet factory
Beet factory

We worked with many interesting people, toting quite diverse backgrounds during our time there. Aside from our fellow RVers, we fraternized with a group of transient 20 something year olds ,a train hopper, a retired local schoolteacher (who came to our RV bearing fresh, produce from her garden), a car salesman (who brought us fresh, local eggs)  and “Cowboy John” (who provided us entertainment via song and ferrets).  I’m pretty confident in saying that I don’t believe many of these people are even aware of Monsanto and their evil ways. I do know that most are aware of my affection for kale which did prompt some words of healthy living from me. And though I do feel a bit hypocritical, I’m glad we had this experience.  Especially, if it adds more members to the Millions Against Monsanto campaign.

Piling beets
Piling beets
Weighing beets
Weighing beets
Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Have you ever experienced the majesty of Glacier National Park in Montana? I have, but my plan for the first day we were there did NOT include throwing up outside the visitor center, the Ranger telling me to move into the grass, and spending the whole day sprawled across the back seat reminding my family every 5 minutes that I didn’t feel good. Besides all that, Glacier was amazing! The second day there we planned to do a hike, but the one we wanted to do was along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which we already went on, so it would be the same view. (Not to mention it was really windy!) The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the most famous road in Glacier. It runs from the west to the east entrances. On that road we saw 2 mountain goats and 2 bighorn sheep.They were so cute!!!

Big Horns
Big Horns

So that day we just drove around the park and stopped to take pictures and admire the views. Scientists predict that all the glaciers will be gone by the year 2030. They are all melting faster than they normally would, because of Global Warming. One of the glaciers we saw was called Jackson Glacier, it was absolutely breathtaking!

Jackson Glacier
Jackson Glacier

There were also unbelievably clear lakes. My favorite was called Lake McDonald, which is the largest lake in Glacier. It was formed during the last ice age ten thousand years ago. Huge glaciers slowly pushed down the mountain taking rock, dirt and other debris with it, when the ice melted it became Lake McDonald.

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald

The last day we were there we finally did a hike. It was called Avalanche trail because it leads to Avalanche Lake. The hike was 4.8 miles round trip and it was very cool. When we come off the trail we saw a big lake surrounded by mountains and one of the mountains had a massive waterfall flowing off of it. On our way back down, the people in front of us said there was a bear that had just crossed the trail 4 minutes ago. I guess we were too late because we didn’t see it.

Avalanche
Avalanche

On all 3 days we were there we went on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The weather there was nice, but I would’ve liked it a lot better if it wasn’t so windy. 

Going to the Sun
Going to the Sun
A Day in the Life of a True Blue Southerner

A Day in the Life of a True Blue Southerner

I once told my kids that when the genie asks for my 3 wishes, one of the three would include the chance to live a day in the life of everyone.  It certainly wasn’t the answer they expected to hear and definitely made for some interesting conversation.   That was a few years ago. Truth be told, I frequently ponder that wish, most often while traveling.   Passing through cities I may glance upon a high-rise and wonder;  Who lives there?  What do they do?  What have they experienced?  Who do they love?  Are they happy?  Or, it may be while passing by an immaculate country home,  a gated mansion, a working farm, a run-down trailer in a low-income trailer park.  Up until we set out on this trip, I always imagined my wish taking place in the present lives of ordinary and extraordinary people (well, with the exception of maybe Janis Joplin). But now, I am taking my wish back in time.

Traveling through the south has been a very eye-opening experience for me personally. From Indian burial grounds to slave territory, civil war battlegrounds to the civil rights movement, the birthplace of jazz to the heart of  blues, I am constantly envisioning and imagining myself in the skin of those who experienced life during these different eras and events.

Highway 61

The historical road running north and south following the Mississippi River from Louisiana to Minnesota.  Also referred to  as “The Great River Road”  or the more familiar, ” Blues Highway”.  We did travel north along a portion of this road, and unlike Bob Dylan, I don’t feel the need to re-visit. Perhaps my expectations were too high.( After all, I was just coming from New Orleans where I was wishfully in a smoke-filled bar on Bourbon Street witnessing  Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday wow the crowd.) Expecting to see an abundance of jukejoints and the likes, I was disappointed and saddened to bear witness to the undesirable sites along the way. Factories spewing fumes into the air, run down homes and boarded up family businesses made for some depressing scenery.  Not to mention acres and acres of unkept fields, capable of providing enough crops to feed an army.  Through it all though, I found myself sitting on a  front porch,  slapping my knee to the beat of the weathered instruments being played by my neighbors while belting out some melodic bluesy songs about life in the south.

Natchez Trace Parkway

A 444 mile historical path running from Mississippi to Tennessee. First created and used  by Native Americans, later to be the travel route for traders and explorers, the parkway is now a scenic drive devoid of modern-day necessities and conveniences.  The fact that the campgrounds along the Trace are all free made it even more enticing and we spent a few days exploring the trails and the surrounding towns.  One historical landmark that the kids particularly enjoyed was an old Inn, built in the late 1700s, much of it still preserved.   Run by a woman widowed twice with 10 kids, travelers were charged 25 cents for a place to sleep and a hot meal.  I  immediately removed myself from that scenario once the number of children she bore was mentioned!

A short distance off The Trace we encountered an incredible site seemingly very out-of-place today, yet still a reminder of  the changes our country has gone through. The ruins of an Antebellum Home, constructed by slave labor, Gothic in structure and set back in the woods was breathtaking. How fun to host and entertain  in my own mansion. I’m guessing I wouldn’t really have to break a sweat as I am the wife of a wealthy landowner, in Mississippi, during the slave years.

Montgomery

The capital of Alabama and a  major site of events in The Civil Rights Movement, we spent a day there so River could complete a project for English class.  The museums, along with a self guided tour through the city provided us with more than enough education about the struggles for equality in the 1960s.  MLK spent his time there during the bus boycott and The Freedom Riders encountered a violent mob scene upon their arrival. Try as I may, I can’t fathom being consumed with that much hatred.  Likewise, I may be second guessing my decision to stand up for what is right as my life is in great danger.  

Nashville

Not being much of  country music fans, and having been to Nashville before, our stay was short. Apparantly, there are two sites for The Grande Ole Opry.  We happened to be camped by the “out of season” one.  In addition, due to major flooding in 2010, many areas were still closed or being re-built. Nonetheless, I was gracing the stage as Lorretta Lynn singing” Coal Miners Daughter” while Mercy was hoping to bump into Miley Cyrus somewhere outside the Gaylord Opreyland Hotel.

Just north of Nashville is where Mercy and I went hunting for Civil War relics.  Although the finds were absolutely amazing, I was holding out for some more personal belongings. Like the wedding band of my young husband or the family keepsake I gave to my son barely old enough to fight in the war between the states.

Memphis

The music, the legends, the food, the fun!  Sometimes I think that it’s a good thing  that we’ve experienced places like New Orleans and Memphis in the off-season, for the kids’ sake. As fun as it would be for Bri and I, I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t enjoy the nightlife when the streets are lined with young tourists taking advantage of the fact that you can order ‘ to go’ beverages in the bars. Furthermore, I don’t know how proud they’d be of their Mom….the gin-soaked bar room queen in Memphis.  You know, the one that tried to take Mick Jagger upstairs for….something!

Good Times in Texas

Good Times in Texas

We are currently at a state park in Texas and a few weeks ago we spent the night in a town called Stockyard Stations in Fort Worth. It is a real historic cowboy town with a lot of stores that sell western clothing and items. I bought a $40 hat at one of them and saw some hats that cost $900! There was also a maze that was featured on The Amazing Race. It was a lot harder than I thought and it took me 15 minutes to complete it, but it took Mercy 28.

I could easily picture what it looked like back then; everyone walking around carrying revolvers.

Twice a day they herd cattle called Longhorns down the street. Their horn span is about six feet, I’m not even that tall! There was also a famous gunfight that was going to be reenacted in a few days but we couldn’t stay that long. I was really disappointed about that, but the live rodeo we saw the night before the Superbowl made up for it. It was at the Cowtown Coliseum, site of  the world’s first indoor rodeo. Let me just tell you, I would go to a rodeo over a football game any day. I think they are much more entertaining. They did things like bull riding, cattle roping, and barrel racing. The rodeo clowns were funny, but I don’t think I would want their job, which is trying to get the bull to go after them. The bull riding was my favorite part. It’s hard to believe how they actually hang on, I don’t think I could. Some of the people in the rodeo are only older than me by a few years. There was even someone there who was younger than me.

That night we stayed at a parking lot that allowed overnight parking. There were a lot of people who were part of the rodeo also staying there. It was different, but fun, and I hope to see some more places like that.

Treasures in Tennessee

Treasures in Tennessee

A week ago we went to Tennessee. It was so much fun! We stayed with some friends who live just outside of Nashville. They live on a hill so we had to back the R.V. up the hill. While my dad was driving and my mom and River were directing him, I got to sit inside watching.

We wound up sleeping inside their house (for four nights) because it was freezing outside in the R.V. The majority of the things we did in Tennessee was at their house. First we went panning for gold in the creek they have in the back woods, and found a lot!

Then we went metal detecting with our friend who goes a lot. We got someone’s permission to go on their property but only my mom and I went. We found lots of Civil War relics! We found two bullets one was fired and one was not (I was the first person to touch them in 150 years!!), a square bolt from a wagon wheel or a cannon wheel, a lead poker chip which is just a melted and flattened bullet, a nail, a wire hook (it was used to hold the wire on a fence in place on the so the livestock wouldn’t escape), a clip to hold a soldiers sleeping bag in place, and a piece of a camp tool. We also saw rocks that were arranged in a circle and we were told that they used to be camp fires. They were all from the Civil War!!

The next day we went in the back woods to explore. We saw three caves and I went in two of them. One of them was a coyote den! We knew because there was coyote scat everywhere! In that one there was also stalactites in it! I was a little bit scared to go in it and I kept saying can we get out now? Our friend told us that the caves were used for the early settlers to hide from the Indians. 

I liked Tennessee a lot. It sort of reminded me of Maine in the Fall. 

The Everglades

The Everglades

 A few days ago we spent 3 nights in the Everglades National Park in Florida. We stayed at a campground called Flamingo, on Florida Bay. The visitor center was all pink which I thought made it look hideous, but other than that the campground was great. It is in a very open area and it was nice and quiet. During our stay we canoed down the Buttonwood Canal and hiked a few trails. We also participated in ranger lead programs which educated people about manatees, crocodiles, and pythons. What I found interesting was that pythons are not native to the Everglades. They ended up there from people releasing them. What also was said is that most differences between alligators and crocodiles is in the color and the snout. Alligators tend to be dark green or black in color and have a broad, U-shaped snout. Whereas crocodiles are more gray and have a V-shaped snout that is more narrow than the alligator’s. The Everglades is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles coexist, I think that is particularly awesome.

Alligator
Crocodile

 

One night we went to an outdoor amphitheater and watched a presentation about the limestone that makes up the base of the Everglades. It was so interesting that even our dog Daisy was watching it.

 We saw a lot of wildlife there including manatees, alligators, crocodiles, and birds, mostly vultures. People said that the vultures would sometimes attack the rubber around the windows of cars, luckily that didn’t happen. Around this time of year is the dry season. There are more visitors during this season because there are less mosquitoes and more opportunities for viewing wildlife. This makes camping, hiking, and canoeing more enjoyable.

We are currently staying in another area of Florida.