Serendipity, Japan-style

I don’t think the word ‘vegan’ exists in Japanese. While my English-to-Japanese phrase book does have an entry that explicitly says, “I am a vegan”, I think the literal translation of “wa-ta-shi wa gen-ka-ku na sai-sho-ku-shu-gi-sha des” is more along the lines of, “Bring me a salad, please.” Every time I showed that Japanese statement to a restaurant server and asked them to bring me food, they inevitable delivered a plate with lettuce, two cherry tomatoes, one black olive, one green olive, and lemon-sesame dressing. (Apparently this is the standard ‘house salad’ in Japan…?) While I enjoy raw vegetables, after my eighth serving of them in a mere two days, I began to crave a meal comprised of warm, filling food. So for our next dinner out, my sweetie did his best to locate a vegan restaurant in Tokyo. However, since neither of us know the city (and since we can’t read the local Japanese maps), those efforts were unsuccessful. Still, we had other resources available to us. I went to our hotel’s front desk, and asked the attendant (who spoke pretty solid English) if he knew of any vegan restaurants in the city. “Veegun?” he asked. “Is that name of restaurant?” I explained that no, it’s a style of food – and I wrote the word ‘vegan’ on a piece of paper. “Ah, okay,” he nodded, taking the piece of paper from me. “One moment please.” He hurried to a room tucked behind the main desk area, and was gone for over five minutes.   When he returned, he had a single sheet of paper in his hand that was covered in Japanese characters. He asked me, “Veegun, is lots of vegetables?” I nodded my head, smiling broadly. “Yes!” I responded enthusiastically. He smiled. “Ah, okay! There is one restaurant, Ainsoph Journey,” he stated, handing me the sheet of paper. He then pulled out a city map, and traced the path from the hotel to the restaurant. While the route was semi-direct (just two main roads to follow), it looked like it covered a lot of ground. I asked the front desk clerk, “How far is it to walk to the restaurant?” He looked at me with a concerned expression, and said, “Fiv-tea.” I wasn’t sure if he looked concerned because he thought I was a lazy American who didn’t want to walk 15 minutes, or because he thought I was a reasonable human who wouldn’t want to walk 50 minutes (one way) for a meal. So I asked him, “One-five, or five-zero?” He answered, “One-five.” I responded, “Oh, okay! Fifteen minutes is fine. Thank you so much!” The attendant looked relieved, and smiled and nodded to me as I turned to collect my sweetie and leave the hotel.

Once outside, my sweetie successfully navigated us to the block where the restaurant was supposed to me. However, finding the specific destination was a challenge. All of the store front signs were in kanji (which we don’t know how to read), and every city block houses no less than 30 businesses (literally). My sweetie and I could have spent an hour trying to match the kanji on our map with all of the signs on that street, and still might have come up empty-handed. But I wasn’t going to let that deter us. Employing my resourcefulness once again, I found a server standing on the street at a nearby open-air restaurant. I smiled at her, and extended the piece of paper that the hotel desk clerk had given me (which presumably contained the name and address of the restaurant) towards the server. I asked the young woman, “Can you please help us find this?” pointing to the sheet of paper. She looked at the page, then whipped out her cell phone. After a flurry of swipes and clicks, she locked on the location of the restaurant relative to where we were standing. She tried to point directions to us, but quickly realized they were too complicated for us to easily follow. So she ducked her head into the kitchen of her restaurant, quickly told the chef something, and then started walking down the street, motioning for us to follow her. She was going to literally walk us to the restaurant; how amazing is that?! So, so nice!!

She got to the same block my sweetie and I had been moments before, and she also struggled to find the location. However, after a few minutes of reading lots of signs, she smiled, said, “Ah!” and pointed to a small door with the words ‘Ain Soph.Journey’ etched in tiny frosted letters. My sweetie and I never would have found it on our own. I turned to the young woman, smiled broadly, and said, “Arigato! You are a very nice girl, thank you, thank you!” “So so so,” she responded, the Japanese version of “of course, it’s no problem, you are welcome, it was my pleasure.” She turned and walked back to her post, and my sweetie and I walked into the vegan restaurant.

Once we arrived at the hostess station, a very pleasant server asked us in perfect English, “Do you have a reservation?” Uh oh. “No,” I replied. “Do we need one?” She nodded her head. “Unfortunately, we are completely booked up tonight. I’m sorry.” I looked at my sweetie, and we both shrugged our shoulders. We left the restaurant, and returned to the street.

Assessing our options, I said, “You know, we should go back to the restaurant where the young woman was working, and have dinner there! I have no idea what they serve, but that gal was so kind and helpful, we could at least have a drink, if nothing else.” My sweetie though that was a terrific idea, so we walked back to the small bistro we had been at just moments before.

When the young woman saw us seated at the counter, she looked very surprised, then smiled at us broadly – but also quizzically. “No?” she asked, clearly inquiring why we weren’t at the restaurant she walked us to. I answered, “They are closed,” and crossed my arms in an “X” (the universal symbol for ‘no more/closed’), then continued, “so we want to be here with you!” I motioned my hands back and forth between my sweetie and I for “we”, pointed towards the restaurant for “here”, and pointed to her for “you”. “Ah, so so so!” she nodded and smiled, clearly flattered that we wanted to dine at her establishment. She quickly brought us menus, which had both pictures and English descriptions – a big win! What’s more, the restaurant offered several dishes that were vegan! (Not intentionally; just coincidentally. Still, amazing.)

My sweetie ordered a sausage pizza, and I got an order of ratatouille and an order of grilled vegetables. All three of our dishes were fantastic. Hot, fresh, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked… yum.

At the end of our meal, I said to the young woman, “owari” (finished), then, “kanjo kudasai” (bill please). She nodded her head, clearly delighted that I attempted to speak some Japanese. A few moments later she returned with our bill, then timidly asked, “Where you from?” Apparently my willingness to speak mangled Japanese gave her the confidence to attempt some English. I smiled broadly at her, so proud of her efforts. “Minnesota,” I responded. “In the United States.” She nodded her head vigorously, and cried out, “Minnesota! I know, I know! I stay there seven year back for one mun [month], Minnesota shoe!” [For those not from the state, I am confident the girl was trying to explain that she had been to Red Wing, Minnesota.] I now nodded my head vigorously. “Wow, that’s amazing!” I exclaimed. “You know Minnesota! Wow!” She and I nodded our heads at one another and each smiled broadly at each other, clearly thrilled that we two strangers, from opposite sides of the world, had more in common than we realized.

After my sweetie and I settled the bill, we returned to the hotel. The front desk attendant was still there, and before my sweetie and I went to our room I approached the attendant and said, “Thank you for your help with the restaurant.” He responded, “You are welcome. Did you like?” I nodded my head and smiled. “It was wonderful.”

beer bistro tokyo

Stef

Posted in postaday, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

#8: Visit the Minnesota Zoo

Several years ago, my employer made a significant financial contribution to the Minnesota Zoo to help fund an exhibit – and all employees were encouraged to go to the location and check out the new space. At the time, I thought visiting the zoo sounded like a great idea; but then life got busy, and I never made my way there. I simply never made the trek to the zoo a priority. So when I created my 101 list, I added #8 to ensure that I would visit the zoo within the next 1001 days.

However. From the time I initially made my 101 list to now, several things in my life have changed. One personal change that occurred last year that is relevant to this discussion is that I now adhere to a vegan diet and lifestyle. In other words, I don’t consume animal products as part of my daily food intake, and I do my best to avoid purchasing items that have involved any sort of animal harm or exploitation. I know I do not live anywhere near a 100% “cruelty-free” existence (I’m semi confident that some of my purchases [vitamins, medications, clothing, etc.] have involved some element of animal harm), but I do my best to avoid engaging in practices or supporting companies/products that hurt animals for human gain.

So when I recently reviewed the few not-yet-completed items on my original 101 list, I paused when I arrived at #8. I’m just not sure how I feel about zoos these days. On one hand, ethical zoos do provide some benefits for animals: these institutions raise both awareness and funds for animal-related issues, they help ensure continued survival of animals facing extinction, and they assist in cultivating positive curiosity about (and respectful appreciation for) all sorts of animals in some children (and even some adults). After all, how many environmental advocates, veterinarians, park rangers, ecologists, etc. entered their profession because of a positive childhood experience at a zoo? I’m guessing a good many.

And yet, I can’t “get over” the fact that to me, a zoo feels like a large animal prison. No matter how well the animals are treated, they still aren’t free to live in the wild like their peers, to be independent and autonomous creatures. But at the same time, the exact same ‘argument’ can be made about household pets. The two puppies my sweetie and I have at home probably have less space to roam than most of the animals housed in a zoo – so am I a total hypocrite for keeping pets? I don’t feel like I am, but…? I do know our dogs would have died long ago if they were required to fend for themselves in the wild, and that they have a much more comfortable life than their feral peers … and I suspect this same line of reasoning can be applied to zoo animals, too. So maybe zoos aren’t harmful to animals?

Man. When I plunked down item #8 on my list, I had little idea I would be addressing such a contentious topic! Three years ago, a trip to the zoo seemed like a lighthearted, enjoyable way to spend a day. Now, though, things feel different. I know there is no single ‘right’ answer to any of the questions I have posed in these few paragraphs; I guess the only way to resolve these issues for myself is to go to the zoo, and see how I feel during and after the experience. So… off I go.

I arrived at the zoo a few minutes after 9 am on a gloriously beautiful Saturday morning. After finding a space to park (which was a very easy task; the zoo provides a sizable lot in front of their entrance), I made my way to the main entrance:

01_MN Zoo entrance

While walking down the winding path from the parking lot to the main entrance, I passed by multiple statues like this one, each showcasing a different animal.  R, of course this one is for you.  :)

While walking down the winding path from the parking lot to the main entrance, I passed by multiple statues like this one, each showcasing a different animal. R, of course this one is for you. :)

Once I got to the ticket counter, I told the college student staffing the space that I would like one adult ticket, please.  He asked me, “Did you park in the lot out front?”  I answered yes, and he replied, “Okay, so one adult ticket plus parking… $25 please.”  Um, what?  Twenty-five dollars for one person to visit the zoo?!  Ouch.  That seemed like an awfully high price to pay for a few hours of activity. I was also saddened when I realized that a mindless night out at the movies is cheaper than a day of education.  But, I set those thoughts aside, handed over my credit card, and walked through the turnstile into the main lobby of the zoo.  Still, after that steep entrance fee, I’m expecting this place to be spectacular

The very first thing I noticed was the semi-pungent smell of animals.  Uh oh… am I going to be inhaling nastiness all day?  I got a little anxious.  However, after a few minutes in the zoo, the smell dissipated, and I felt a lot more comfortable for the bulk of the visit.  (Of course there were a few places in the zoo that were more odiferous than others, but for the most part foul animal smells were minimal.)

After taking just twenty steps or so, I passed by an exhibit: monkeys!  Perfect greeters to the zoo.  After taking another twenty steps, I saw that the monkeys were in an open-air space; the glass I had been behind was for the benefit of humans (so that the humans could eat in restaurants that were positioned on the opposite side of the glass); the monkeys were viewable from a skybridge-type structure opposite the glass window.  I walked through an exit to get outside, and watched the monkeys with only air and space separating us:

03_monkeys playing

The monkeys were fascinating to watch.  There were some juveniles who were running around like crazy chasing one another all over the place, some adolescents who were intent on doing ‘work’ around the space, and some adults who were calm and stately.  Yet no matter their age, each of the monkeys were incredibly expressive.

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The stately elders.

The stately elders.

I could have hung out with all of these guys for an hour.  Alas, I had other animals to visit…

As I continued following the main zoo path, I passed by a tank of penguins – where I saw quite an unexpected sight:

A human 'on display' amid the penguins!

A human ‘on display’ amid the penguins!  The little boy shown here was more fascinated by the woman than by the animals.  (His dad repeatedly tried to get the boy to look at the penguins, but all he wanted to do was watch the lady clean…)

This penguin is also very curious about the woman's efforts.  Either that, or he's supervising to make sure she does a good job.  It's his home, after all.  ;)

This penguin is also very curious about the woman’s efforts. Either that, or he’s supervising to make sure she does a good job. It’s his home, after all. ;)

The rest of the penguin crew.

The rest of the penguin crew.

Quizzically, after exiting the penguin area, I found myself entering a space called the “Tropics Trail”:

10_tropics sign

The tropics area of the zoo was sizable; I saw a whole host of interesting animals – and they were quite active, too!

Watching these tortoises eat broccoli was wonderful.  These two guys were very calm, yet very persistent.  Seeing their little mouths go 'chomp, chomp, chomp' honestly felt meditative.  And, I loved that these guys were eating the same veggies that humans eat.  Interconnectedness, I'm tellin' ya...

Watching these tortoises eat broccoli was wonderful. These two guys were very calm, yet very persistent. Seeing their little mouths go ‘chomp, chomp, chomp’ felt almost meditative. And, I loved that these guys were eating the same veggies that humans eat. Interconnectedness, I’m tellin’ ya…

This guy was about as active an an alligator gets.  :)

This guy was about as active an an alligator gets. :)

Gotta have a fish shot for my dad!

Gotta include a tropical fish shot for my dad!

The zoo provided lots of nooks and crannies designed specifically for small kids to walk (or run) through, and allowed the children to get a unique perspective on the animals.  For example,  a small cutout was made near the above fish tank, so that kids could see these swimmers from the bottom-up as well as at traditional standing eye level.  Those kid-friendly spaces were placed throughout the entire zoo – and each one of them was really cool.  (I’m not ashamed to state that I maneuvered into nearly all of them.)  :)

Continuing with the tropical tour:

These are bats feeding on apples.  (I know the animals are probably difficult to see in this image; since their cave was so dark, this was the best that I could do.)   Watching these bats feed and interact with one another was interesting - but also creepy, I'm not gonna lie.  Bats were always my LEAST favorite part of spelunking.

These are bats feeding on apples. (I know the animals are probably difficult to see in this image; since their cave was so dark, this was the best picture that I could manage to take.)  Watching these bats feed and interact with one another was interesting – but also creepy, I’m not gonna lie. Bats were always my LEAST favorite part of spelunking.

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A red river hog.  Even the most odd looking creatures look wonderful to me if I connect with their eyes.

A red river hog. Even the most odd looking creatures look wonderful to me if I am able to connect with their eyes.

A komodo dragon.

A komodo dragon.

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This small section of the zoo literally looked like an oasis.  So pretty.

This small section of the zoo literally looked like an oasis. So pretty.

A group of otter pups all huddled together.  Awwww….

A group of otter pups all huddled together. Awwww….

Though this image is dated (1980s, anyone?) the concept is solid.  Hand cleaning was a must throughout the day.

Though this image is dated (1980s, anyone?) the concept is solid. Hand cleaning was a must throughout the day.

Still on the Tropics Trail, I saw this new-to-me creature.  He's a tapir.

Still on the Tropics Trail, I saw this new-to-me creature. He’s a tapir.

26_tapir description

A group of warthogs that were mellow (versus aggressive).

A group of warthogs that were mellow (versus aggressive).

This panda looked like a stuffed animal.  Seriously, s/he looked almost "not real".

This panda looked like a stuffed animal. Seriously, s/he looked almost “not real”.  (Rest assured, s/he was real – s/he moved around, ate some leaves, and scratched a bit.)

As I turned around a bend in the trail, I came to a sudden halt when I saw this:

An escapee!

An escapee!

A bird out in the open, mingling with zoo visitors.  What the…?

Turns out that the bird aviary is an open-air space where the birds are free to go wherever the heck they want.  And since they are pretty familiar with people, one of them was more than willing to let me come close.  Really close:

First this little guy peeked at me from the safety of a rock.

First this little guy peeked at me from the safety of a rock.

But as I stood still, he popped up in full view - and let me come closer, and closer, and closer…. until I was literally inches away from him.  (This photo is the actual image I took - no artificial zoom or post-processing cropping is in place here.)  I think he might have let me touch him if I wanted to… but I refrained.

But as I stood still, he popped up in full view – and let me come closer, and closer, and closer…. until I was literally inches away from him. (This photo is the actual image I took – no artificial zoom or post-processing cropping is in place here.) I think he might have let me touch him if I wanted to… but I restrained myself.

How is it possible to let dozens of birds fly around in the open?  What keeps them 1) in the zoo, and 2) not being eaten by the other wild animals in the tropics area?  Here’s the ‘secret':

34_bird instructions

I say good bye to the birds, and walked through the bamboo curtain to finish up the Tropics Trail.  One of the last animals I saw in this section of the zoo was a terrific turtle:

This little guy was swimming all over the place!  Because he was so active, I could only get one mostly-in-focus shot of him.  :)

This little guy was swimming all over the place! Because he was so active, I could only get one mostly-in-focus shot of him.  But what a shot it is – I love his smile!

Cool fact.

Cool fact.

Leaving this area of the zoo, I reflected on all of the information displayed for each animal.  Signs explaining each creature’s behaviors, food choices, friends and foes, and any unique qualities the animal possesses educated kids and adults alike.  But equally importantly, the zoo also posted ample signage about the importance of conservation and protection – and clearly stated the tragic results of failing to care for vulnerable beings:

37_save the black rhino

Humans can still make a positive difference here.

Sadly, it's too late for us to prevent this loss.  Extinction is forever.  :(

Sadly, it’s too late for us to prevent this loss. Extinction is forever. :(

After leaving the Tropics Trail (which is an enclosed area of the zoo), I decided to use the restroom before I ventured outside.  Now usually, I keep details about my bodily functions private (with one notable exception) – but in this particular bathroom I saw a sight that struck me as funny and that served as a good reminder:

Apparently animals aren't the only ones that have an odor about them - we humans can stink pretty good, too (as evidenced by the need for this fan). A good reminder for us to not get too haughty about our 'superiority' over other living beings.

Apparently animals aren’t the only ones that have an odor about them – we humans can stink pretty good, too (as evidenced by the need for this fan). A good reminder for us to not get too haughty about our ‘superiority’ over other living beings.

Once outside, the next animal area I approached was the Northern Trail – where I encountered animals I’m more used to seeing (in my previous visits to ‘standard’ zoos):

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As I exited the bear cave, I saw an empty stage:

44_close encounters

Though I could reasonably guess what “Close Encounters” were, I did a tiny bit of research anyway, and learned, that yes, “Close Encounters provide guests with one-on-one opportunities to interact with zookeepers, animal training demonstrations, and a chance to observe and touch fascinating critters… Close Encounters occur every day, throughout the day, in all areas of the zoo.”  Obviously a presentation wasn’t occurring at this particular moment – but I kept an eye open for a similar experience in a different part of the zoo.

After walking a few more feet, I approached a seemingly random part of the zoo:

45_russia's grizzly coast

I mean, why Russia?

Then again, why not?

If the zoo focused on the tropics (read: South America and Africa), the “Northern Trail” (i.e., North American and European animals), and penguins (hello Antarctica), I guess the only areas of the world not covered are Australia and Asia.  And since the map in the above image includes the coast of China and Japan, I guess this is an attempt to include Asia into the global mix…?

Curious about what animals might be classified as “Russian” (aka Asian), I wandered into the Grizzly Coast space:

A wily fox.  Someone among the zoo staff has a clever sense of humor.  :)

A curious fox. Someone among the zoo staff has a clever sense of humor. :)

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The zoo had an open space where some of the big cats got to roam "freely".  The patrons were on a skybridge structure several stories above the cats.  This image was as close as any of us were able to get to the cats.  Feels like a good distance to me.

The zoo had an open space where some of the big cats got to roam “freely”. The patrons were on a skybridge structure several stories above the cats. This image was as close as any of us were able to get to the cats. Feels like a good distance to me.

One group of animals in the Russian Coast space that I didn’t get a chance to photograph were the sea otters – because they were totally showing off for all of the patrons walking past them!  These zippy little animals followed people as they walked past their tank, performed summersaults for anyone who lingered, and dove underwater to get down to eye level with smaller kids.  These buggers were complete clowns.  I laughed at their antics, and delighted at the way the kids responded to positively to them.  Who doesn’t like a comedian, after all?

[If you want to see a professional photo of the sea otters, you can find it on the zoo’s website (along with much clearer and closer photos of all the animals the zoo houses, as well as various facts about each animal).  The zoo people have better access to the animals than I do, and their images reflect this fact.]  :)

Back on the Northern Trail, I continued to encounter a variety of animals:

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Just before I left the camels, I looked over to the right of them – and saw this scene:

62_beautiful day

What a stunningly gorgeous fall day.  Mmmm….

Continuing on with my tour of the zoo, I arrived at the “Family Farm” area.  This section of the zoo is only open seasonally (May-Oct) – so I was really glad I came in time to experience it!

The entire zoo is designed primarily for children (understandably); still, I loved seeing this quote near the start of the Family Farm path:

63_einstein quote

A great reminder by a great man.

A paved trail about a tenth of a mile long led to the farm space.  To help prevent little legs get annoyed before they arrived at the farm, fun signs were placed along the path:

64_chicken joke

Just one of many examples. Clever.

But if the kids (or their adult companions) were simply too tired to walk any more, a tractor ride was another available option:

Sorry it's not red D; they didn't consult me on this one.

Sorry it’s not red D; they didn’t consult me on this one.

After a 5-minute walk, I arrived at the farm:

zoo farm

The first animal I saw at the farm was a horse.  But apparently this is no ordinary horse:

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As I continued walking toward the heart of the farm, I learned that many babies had been born just weeks before.  So not only did I get to see adult animals, but I got to see cutie babes, too!  Like this curious cow:

The white structure is a mini-barn for the baby cows to rest in; like a dog house, but for cows.  If you look VERY closely, you might be able to see a black baby cow resting inside.

The white structure is a mini-barn for the baby cows to rest in; like a dog house, but for cows. If you look VERY closely, you might be able to see a black baby cow resting inside.

Across from the cow area was a big pen and barn space for goats.  And it was interactive!

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This guy was an older goat, and wasn't getting much love from the crowd.  He looked at me with those big eyes, and my heart melted.  I put $.50 into the kibble dispenser, and spent a few minutes feeding my new friend.  We shared a few good moments.  :)

This guy was an older goat, and wasn’t getting much love from the crowd. He looked at me with those big eyes, and my heart melted. I put $.50 into the kibble dispenser, and spent a few minutes feeding my new friend. He took the small food bits out of my hand SO politely and gently; awww, buddy. We shared some good moments. :)

After the goats came the pigs – and baby piglets!

One baby piglet got startled by an adult pig that the babe didn’t see – and the little guy let out a high-pitched fearful squeal.  But then junior got his wits about him, and went over to senior to investigate:

Two generations saying hello.

Two generations saying hello.

But as cute as the babies are, and as kindly as they are treated, it’s important to remember that they do grow up – and once they become “less cute”, people don’t always treat them well:

My heart sank when I saw this mama pig.

My heart sank when I saw this mama pig.  Poor honey.

And my stomach clenched when I saw this display:

WTF?  Let me clue you all in on a little fact: pigs don't grow footballs in their stomachs, nor do they poop out SPAM.  I was partially appalled at seeing this display IN THE PIG BARN.  It's like showcasing a human corpse in a a nursing home.  And yet, at the same time I was a little glad that the zoo decided to put this display in front of kids - maybe (hopefully) they will ask some hard questions of their parents, and both humans will realize the tough facts behind the products they consume (and maybe now, won't consume any longer?  I can only hope…).

WTF? Let me clue you all in on a little fact: pigs don’t grow footballs in their stomachs, nor do they poop out SPAM.

I was partially appalled at seeing the above display IN THE PIG BARN. It’s like showcasing a human corpse in a nursing home. And yet, at the same time I was a little glad that the zoo decided to put this display in front of kids – maybe (hopefully) the children will ask some hard questions of their parents, and both parties will realize the tough facts behind the products they consume (and maybe now, won’t consume any longer? I can only hope…).

Oh, P.S. – the pig in the above photo should not be smiling!

Okay, stepping down from soap box, and moving on…

Just before leaving the farm, I saw a flock of baby chicks feeding.  As I approached their cage, I heard them utter the gentlest little “cheep, cheep, cheep” sounds.  Melt my heart.

77_chicks

By this time it was just after 11 am, so I started making my way back to the main entrance of the zoo.  When I returned to the primary path, I saw this fun water feature:

Even though it was late September, the day was turning into a warm one - which provided great conditions for kiddos to splash around without turning blue afterwards.  :)

Even though it was late September, the day was turning into a warm one – which provided great conditions for kiddos to splash around.

And as luck would have it, on my return pass of the Close Encounters space, I saw a show just wrapping up!

81_revisiting close encounters

I don’t know what animal was being showcased; something smallish and white (being held by the zoo staffer on the left).

When I finally returned to the main entrance of the zoo (a good 20-minute walk from the family farm area), I had one exhibit left to explore: the Discovery Bay Marine Education Center.

Photographing moving animals is a challenge for me; snapping good images of moving animals in water is even more difficult.  So I did my best to try and capture a few semi-decent pictures to help convey a sense of this part of the zoo; try to not judge too harshly.  :)

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All of the tanks I walked past in the marine center were both colorful and well lit – so I was surprised when I walked past this dark display:

88_shrimp

A lone shrimp. Odd.

Upon closer examination, I saw that there was a reason for this dark, seemingly forgotten, tank:

89_bycatch sign

When I pressed the button, the tank lit up – and I was able to see ALL of the animals inside it:

90_bycatch

This photo only captures one fish – but the tank had close to ten different animals in it. Apparently when a human chooses to eat one shrimp, they also end up harming some innocent bystanders.

Once again, I felt sad – but also appreciative.  One thing this zoo does is share a variety of facts with the patrons – even facts that people may not want to learn.

Still, I didn’t want to leave my zoo experience with a cloud over my head; so I spent my last few minutes watching a moving body of water enter a bay, then recede.  Waves came, then went.  Arrived, then departed.  In, out.  Yin, yang.

91_water feature

Ahhh.

Feeling a bit more peaceful, I walked towards the zoo’s exit – which is the same location as the entrance.  So the last creatures I saw on my way out were those silly monkeys – who were still as active in the early afternoon as they had been in the morning:

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With my zoo adventure officially complete, I reflected on what I thought of the total experience.  Here are my final thoughts – as well as my tips and recommendations for anyone who might choose to visit the zoo for the first time.  In no particular order:

  • It took me just over 3 hours (and 7500 steps) to walk the entire zoo, including the Family Farm (which is only open seasonally).
  • Arrive right when the zoo opens.  The animals are most active then, and the crowds are at their lightest.
  • Start out by visiting Russia’s Grizzly Coast, then make your way to the Family Farm.  After the farm, loop back to the entrance area.  Once back at the entrance, take a break, use the restrooms, get a drink/snack, etc.  Then visit the enclosed exhibits: Tropics Trail, Minnesota Trail, Penguins of the American Coast, and Discovery Bay Marine Center.
  • Don’t bypass the family farm – it’s definitely the most interactive part of the zoo, and will likely be a favorite section for kids (and adults who are kids at heart).  :)
  • Allow a good 3-4 hours for the total visit (and even more time if anyone in your party is “pokey” [read: very old, very young, or very curious]).
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes and sunglasses (and a hat if you are very sensitive to sunshine).  Bring a bottle of water (or other beverage of your choosing) to sip on as you walk, and bring your own snacks/lunch (the zoo’s food is quite junky, and absolutely over priced).  If you are a germaphobe, consider bringing hand sanitizer or wet wipes (or both).
  • Take advantage of the free lockers in the food court area.  They are a great place to stash snacks, lunches, unneeded jackets/hats, etc.
  • While the zoo is technically open year-round, I would advise visiting from late spring (or early summer, depending on the year) to late fall.
  • The zoo planners did a great job of including lots of shade along the main outdoor walking path; there were very few places that were exposed to full sun for an extended stretch (which is very important on a warm/hot day).
  • I appreciate that the zoo planners tried to make as many exhibits as open air and “natural” as possible.
  • I still think the admission cost is high.  I’d be willing to pay $12-15 for an adult – but honestly, even $15 feels like a stretch.  And I think charging for parking at all is an outright scam.  So there you go.

As I started to drive out of the zoo’s parking lot, I passed by this car:

94_zoo car

I couldn’t have planned that ending any better if I tried.

Stef

Posted in 101 in 1001, day zero project, postaday, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A passing suggestion, long remembered

Eight years ago I traveled to India. As part of the trip preparations, I was required to get a series of vaccinations – which ultimately involved me receiving five different injections at one office visit. Let me say that again: five different injections at one office visit. When the nurse told me what needed to happen, I’ll admit that my jaw dropped. I’m actually fine with needle sticks (except in my mouth – but that’s a whole other story for a different time…); what I was anxious about was the dull ache that follows a vaccination. After nearly every shot I receive, my limb aches for 24-48 hours afterwards. Aches. So when I learned that I would have to get five shots in my poor scrawny arms, I sincerely wondered how I would be able to drive home that night.

When I expressed my concerns to the nurse responsible for administering the injections, she nodded her head compassionately. She agreed that my twiggy arms would probably be pretty stressed by the multi-vaccination process; after thinking for a second, she said, “Hmm… I wonder… I bet we could administer the vaccinations in your legs. If you wanted to. That way the medicine would be distributed through your muscles a lot faster – since you walk more than you do pushups – which would most likely minimize your post-injection soreness…” Her voice trailed off, her mind continuing to process the possibility. “I mean, when we administer vaccinations to babies, we stick them in their legs; so I don’t know why we couldn’t do the same with you…” The nurse seemed to be talking herself through the scenario as much as she was conveying information to me. Her logic made sense in my mind; with no hesitation I told her, “Stick me in the legs!” That was the only nudge she needed. She nodded her head as she prepped the syringes, I dropped my pants, and a minute later my legs got the appropriate doses of medicine. (Three shots in my right thigh, two shots in my left.)

While I did experience soreness later that day/evening, it was minimal compared to the sustained ache I usually felt whenever I received an injection in my arm. The next morning, my legs were a little tender, but on the whole not terrible. I was really impressed by how well the injection-in-the-leg procedure worked! I felt like the nurse had just shared a secret insight with me – and I deeply appreciated the new knowledge.

From that day on, every time I have had to receive a shot of some kind (tetanus, influenza, etc.), I have requested that the individual responsible for delivering the immunization stick me in the leg. I have received a few questionable looks, but no provider has ever refused to comply with the request – and every shot I have received using that method has been much less traumatic than the traditional in-the-arm route.

I am pretty confident that the nurse from eight years ago has long forgotten me, my situation, and our conversation. But I still remember her. While I don’t know her name, and while the image of her face is fuzzy in my mind’s eye, I absolutely remember her compassion, her thoughtful consideration of my ‘plight’, and her willingness to seek a solution that would address my concerns. Now, every time I get a shot in the leg, I think about her. I remember her kindness. I appreciate her empathy. I value the ‘extra’ few minutes she spent problem-solving with me. I feel grateful for her. And I smile.

Always share as much kindness, generosity, and love as you are able; you just never know what tiny action you take that may have a lasting impact on another person.

nurse kindness

Stef

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Beyond 101: Attend the State Fair

Fifteen years ago, my work team decided that a summer outing was in order. After brainstorming a few ideas, our supervisor declared that we would all spend a day at the State Fair. I had never been to the state fair, so I happily agreed with the plan. (Not that I had much choice.) While I never actually voted to go to the fair, I was fine to visit it; after all, I’m usually willing to try a new experience.

My colleagues and I were instructed to arrive at the fairground at 8 am sharp. As soon as we passed through the main gates, we were handed a massive list of various inane tasks to complete (things like “Take your picture with three strangers,” and “Determine who can stuff the most mini donuts into their mouth,” etc. etc. etc.). We were required to complete our list amid massive crowds of people, surrounded by thoroughly oppressive smells (clue: frying oil + animal manure = Stef nausea), under quickly-intensifying summer sun and heat, and were allowed to rest only for lunch (which was a disgusting pulled pork/coleslaw/French fry ‘picnic’). At the end of the day I was sunburned, frustrated, angry, and hungry (I was so repulsed by the smells and total scene that I didn’t eat anything on the premise). In short, I did not have fun at the fair.

Five years after that day of fair perdition, a different work group suggested a summer outing – and again, the collective group decided a day at the state fair would be swell. (What the heck is it with these people and their damn fair?) I bit my tongue, forced a tight smile on my face, and as I told my peers that a day at the fair would certainly be something, I told myself that perhaps my first fair encounter was a fluke. Maybe this new work group would opt for a more leisurely, self-directed fair experience; perhaps the fair could be enjoyable (or at least tolerable).

While my second trip to the fair was slightly better than my first visit, the day was still not a pleasurable one for me. Again the crush of humanity, repugnant smells, nasty food, and summer heat left me feeling depleted, depressed, despondent, and dispirited. At that moment, I vowed that I would not return to the state fair. Not for family, for friends, or for the firm. I had given the fair two chances, and was burned each time (physically, emotionally, and psychologically). As a wise person once said, “Hurt me once, shame on you; hurt me twice, shame on me.” The state fair had abused me twice now; so the state fair and I were through.

Fast forward ten years. A month ago my current work team (whom I genuinely adore) started kicking around the idea of a day of team building away from the office; a chance for us all to spend some time together as people versus professionals. I nodded my head in agreement in the early stages of the conversation – until someone mentioned the word “fair”. As in, State Fair. I quickly chimed in about how I loathe the state fair – and was met with a glance and nod of acknowledgement. The conversation then moved to other topics. I felt heard – and relieved. I had dodged the state fair bullet.

Ha. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. The very next day, my work group made plans for us all to take an afternoon away from the office so that we could experience the state fair together. As soon as the meeting hit my online calendar I balked, and re-iterated how much I genuinely loathe the state fair. A few of my colleagues lightly chided me (which I took in stride – gentle teasing is how we all show affection for one another [kind of like close siblings]), but then one chimed in with a different approach. She said, “Let’s play a game: Who Can Get Stef To Like The State Fair?”

In that moment, everything shifted. The state fair no longer became the devil’s playground, but instead transformed into a challenge. Could this clan of business colleagues create such a compelling case to cause me to countermand my current convictions about the calamitous carnival known as the state fair? Given how crafty and convincing these folks can be, I became genuinely curious….

Minutes later, I hung a large 2′ x 3′ piece of paper outside of my office, and invited people to write their most compelling reasons for why *I* should embrace the state fair.  (I.e., knowing that I am an introverted vegan, suggestions like “eating cheese curds” and “talking with TV personalities” were not going to woo me.)  Over the next two weeks, my team embraced the challenge fully – and by the day before the state fair, these enthusiastic individuals had generated a massive list!

Look

Look at all of these suggestions!  I gave 1 point to every idea I liked. (If you want to read the details, click on the image to make it larger.)

With my team so committed to me genuinely enjoying the state fair, I decided to go all in on this task and give the fair one more shot – with all of the gusto I could muster.  I took my colleague’s list and documented all of the ideas that looked intriguing, interesting, and/or inspired. I researched the fair ahead of time and wrote down all of the “must try” vegan foods from a local blogger (whose website was located for me by one of my non-vegan colleagues!).  I put on running shoes and stretchy pants, and threw schedules and caution to the wind.  I was going to do/eat/experience whatever looked interesting when I arrived onsite, no matter how silly, crazy, or bizarre it seemed.  I was going to do the fair like a native.  Bring it.

Now of course, not every variable is within my control.  Certainly Ma Nature could easily throw a wrench into the works.  Fortunately, she was a kind woman on Fair Day:

Thanks Ma.

Perfection.  Thanks Ma.

Bus service to the fair started at 8 am.  (Which is actually quite a deal: For $5, riders get direct transport to and from the fair, with buses leaving every 15 minutes.  This option saved me $5 in parking expense, eliminated headaches associated with driving in rush-hour traffic, and helped the environment as well.  Win-win-win.)  I arrived at the passenger pick-up area at 8:10 am; as I walked to the specific State Fair stop, I wondered if many other people would be present at this relatively early hour.  When I turned the corner, I saw this:

Clearly I was not alone.  People here love the fair!

Clearly I was not alone. People here love the fair…

My stomach immediately (and reflexively) tightened.  The crowds are starting already! Oh no!!  However, I immediately caught myself, and forced a deep breath.  “You’re fine, Stef,” I cooed internally.  “Just relax.”

After four minutes of waiting, the next scheduled bus pulled up and opened its doors.  I handed over my fare, climbed up the vehicle’s steps, and found a seat next to a nice woman.  As the bus crossed the city the lady and I made pleasant but limited small talk, and about 20 minutes later the bus doors opened once more, and I found myself outside the fairground’s main gate.

My work colleagues had encouraged me to purchase my admission ticket in advance – and once I arrived onsite, I was grateful for their suggestion:

Buying a ticket in advance was *such* a smart idea - no waiting in this line for me!  Thanks for the tip, team!

Buying a ticket in advance was *such* a smart idea – no waiting in this line for me! Thanks for the tip, team!

After handing my pre-purchased ticket to the gentleman at the gate, I crossed the threshold and saw the ‘official’ State Fair entrance:

It looks so unassuming.  I wonder what this day will hold...

This archway looks so innocent and calm. It gave me hope for the day ahead.

As I walked under the archway, I was at a loss for where to begin.  Fortunately, immediately to my left I saw a place where I could get some assistance:

Information? Yes, please.

Information? Yes, please.

The pleasant woman staffing the information station handed me a map of the fair grounds.  I tried to make some sense of the environment, but as I walked the streets while also trying to reference my place on the paper, I got disoriented.  I decided to stuff the map in my purse, and just start exploring.

The very first things I experienced were:

  • Food booths of every kind (giant pickles, tiny cookies, fried everything, and lots of food on a stick…)
  • Multiple radio stations broadcasting live
  • People eating ice cream and drinking beer (at 9 am).

I felt like I was in a very polite and family-friendly version of Las Vegas.  Apparently, anything goes at the State Fair (as well as in Sin City)…

After about 20 minutes of walking around the site, I felt like I had a semi-‘reasonable’ handle on my bearings.  At this point I started to get a little hungry (I had eaten breakfast three hours earlier), so I figured, “When in Rome…” – and at 9:30 am, I consumed my first fair food item:

It was DELICIOUS.

I’m not gonna lie – it was DELICIOUS.

This corn was hot, juicy, slightly salty and slightly sweet – and I found myself smiling as I ate bite after juicy bite.

Already my fair experience was trending in a different direction from years past.  I felt increasingly hopeful about the day ahead…

After I finished my corn (and disposed of the remnants appropriately)

008_corn cobb recycling

I made my way to one end of the fairgrounds.  As I walked, I passed by several scenes that reminded me of local county fairs I attended as a child:

This was one of my favorite rides.  I adore the feeling of flying.

This was one of my favorite rides. I adore the feeling of flying.

I like anything that can provide a unique perspective.

I like anything that can provide a unique perspective.

Love the view.  Perhaps I was a bird in a past life?

Love the view. Perhaps I was a bird in a past life?

Watching old men lovingly care for their tractors made me smile.  I have a big spot in my heart for old, hard-working, gruff-on-the-outside-but-tender-on-the-inside "everyday" folk.

Watching old men lovingly care for their tractors made me smile. I have a big spot in my heart for old, hard-working, gruff-on-the-outside-but-tender-on-the-inside “everyday” folk.

The building at the edge of the fairground focused on pets.  As I walked into the space, I saw what looked to be like a pop-up surgical room off to one side:

test

Looks like a doctor is scrubbing in… A new fair feature?

Indeed, it really was an operating theater.  The man in the green scrubs was a vet who was about to neuter a dog – for all of us to watch.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.  The scene felt both informative and exploitive.  Since I felt conflicted, I decided to stay for the first little bit of the procedure and see if/how things shifted within me as the surgery went along.

Before the surgery, a second vet (who was going to explain the various surgical steps as they occurred in front of us) gave us lots of medical and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering pets.  We also learned that the dog being neutered in the surgery we were about to witness was available for adoption by the Humane Society.  Aww…. I felt a lot better about the ‘exhibition’ after this introductory presentation; my sentiments definitely shifted more towards “informative” and away from “exploitive”.

I sat down on one of the observation seats, fully prepared to watch the surgery.  As we waited for the vet to bring in the pup who was about to be neutered, I saw a video monitor that was showing the surgical steps from a previous operation.  When the vet in the video lifted the dog’s testicles and moved a scalpel towards the animal’s skin, I reflexively jumped out of my chair and walked away.  I think I can pass on this experience, thanks anyway.

I continued to walk around the Pet Barn, and had a chance to interact with a variety of local purebreds who had recently won various awards; all of them were absolutely awesome:

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After walking through the Pet Barn, I made my way outside to a nearby ring where trainers were showcasing their very skilled animals.  These dogs were light-years past the basic “sit/stay/come” commands; below is just one example of the incredibly impressive level of performance the animals mastered:

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While many of the animals at the fair were highly skilled, some people on site were less so.  One example was the Giant Sing Along:

The concept.

The concept.

The playlist.  A nice mix of tunes.

The playlist. A nice mix of tunes.

The big ol' field of microphones.  Each one of these babies was 'live'; unfortunately, the people who stood behind them were less so.

The big ol’ field of microphones, with a huge karaoke-type monitor up front. Each one of these mics was ‘live'; unfortunately, the people who stood behind them were less so.

I really like the concept of a Giant Sing Along; but the citizen involvement in the interactive space left quite a bit to be desired.  However, I imagine the experience would be better later in the day, when more people are present and singing.

After spending a few minutes taking in the sing-along site, I continued my walk amid the fair grounds, where I encountered my second food item:

Fried green tomatoes.

Fried green tomatoes.

The only time I ever had these babies was in Atlanta, GA – and those green tomatoes were delicious!  So I was really excited to see a vendor providing a sizable serving of this tasty (vegan!) food.

Glamour shot.

Glamour shot.

Unfortunately, the fried green tomatoes I experienced here were a poor substitute for the gems I had down south.  I still ate every last one that was in my paper basket, but it just wasn’t the same… :)

As I licked the grease off my fingers and continued my site exploration, I walked past this building:

Oh, the irony.

Oh, the irony.

I went inside, but did not get my weight, blood pressure, or cholesterol levels assessed.  Instead, I strolled past a variety of booths – and paused at this scene:

033_cpr

As soon as I saw these kids pumping on Rescue Annie, the memory of my own CPR experience immediately surfaced in my brain – and without even realizing it, I started humming the tune “Stayin’ Alive”.  I guess the training I completed two years ago really worked!

Leaving the health building, I continued my transition from animals to people, and walked through a space designed to support older adults (and their care givers):

Clever.

Clever seating for this venue.

Interesting how the messages we share with the elderly are strikingly similar to the messages we try and impart in the young.  Circle of life, I guess….

Interesting how the messages we share with the elderly are strikingly similar to the messages we try and impart in the young. Circle of life, I guess….

I then poked my head into the 4H building

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but I didn’t stay there long.  The space was (understandably) overrun with hyper pre-teen adolescents, and I just wasn’t in the mood to try to navigate among them or contend with them.  So I continued on my journey – and quickly found a building that was more in line with my preferences:

Hooray for education!

Hooray for learning!

This building was one of the larger ones at the fair, and was set up as part creative exhibit, part vendor expo.  I casually strolled through the creative section

All of these pieces were created by students in grades K-12 - and the vast majority were incredibly impressive.  (Certainly far better than anything I have ever made!)

All of these pieces were created by students in grades K-12 – and the vast majority were incredibly impressive. (Certainly far better than anything I have ever made!)

These are remote-controlled robots that will engage in "Battle Bot" style competitions.  Cool.

These are remote-controlled robots that will engage in “Battle Bot” style competitions. Cool.

and navigated through the vendor portion at a more brisk pace.

I promised one of my colleagues I would stop at the 'gavel hat' booth.  M, this is for you!

I promised one of my colleagues I would stop at the ‘gavel hat’ booth. M, this is for you!

I had never heard of an "Optimist Club" before.  I love the concept!

I had never heard of an “Optimist Club” before. I love the concept!

(The Optimist Creed.)

(The Optimist Creed.)

Support local theater.

Support local theater.

The exit from the Education Building flowed seamlessly into the entrance for the Creative Activities Building:

I didn't do the walking tour.  I really wanted to, but ran out of time.  Maybe in a future visit?

I didn’t do the walking tour. I really wanted to, but ran out of time. Maybe in a future visit?

As the sign states, this building was full of assorted entries from a wide variety of crafts:

We have quilting,

We have quilting, woodworking, toy making…

…s

…doll making, wood carving, painting, and musical instrument creation.  And this was just the tip of the ice burg.

At this point in the day my work team arrived on site, and we all found some foods we could enjoy.  It was 1 pm, and I was ready for some substantial food – so I dug into this bad boy:

Island noodle and veggie stir fry.  A sizable portion that I polished off with no problem; it was SUPER tasty!

Island noodle and veggie stir fry. A sizable portion that I polished off with no problem; it was SUPER tasty!

After enjoying our lunches, my colleagues and I visited the Agriculture Building (a must-see for any respectable Midwestern fair).  While I was expecting to see the infamous crop art

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I’ll admit that I was surprised by how classy the main atrium was.

This honestly reminds me of the Bellagio hotel.  (A little bit, anyway.)

This honestly reminds me of the Bellagio hotel. (A little bit, anyway.)

Of course, there were some surprises if one took a bit of time to look a little more closely at some of the details:

050_do you see the monkey?

As my peers and I continued walking through the space, we entered the land of fruit and veg – a vegan delight!  ;)

I enjoy a good apple...

I enjoy a quality local apple…

…but I enjoy an apple cider popsicle even more!  This was super refreshing; I could have eaten these all day long.  (Makes me think that I should make some of these on my own…)

…but I enjoy an apple cider popsicle even more! This frozen treat was super refreshing; I could have eaten these all day long. (Makes me think that I should make some on my own…)

Turning the corner from the apple stand, my work team maneuvered through the heart of the Ag Building: the ribbon-worthy crops.

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Just before leaving the space, we got educated on the dominant local crops:

Corn is fun!

Corn is fun!

Apparently soybeans are boring.  (They don't even get their own kind displayed beneath their sign!  Poor soybeans.  So misunderstood…)

Apparently soybeans are boring. (They don’t even get their own kind displayed beneath their sign! Poor soybeans. So misunderstood…)

As we left the Agriculture Building, we just happened to run across the daily fair parade – what great timing!

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(The parade was a lot larger than what these quick images reflect; if you want to see a [poor-quality] video of this year’s actual parade, check out this link.)

At this point in the day, it was time to head over to the Food Building (yes, there is a structure at the fair solely dedicated to food) and consume more fair goodies.  This was when my team dug into a bucket of cheese curds; I opted for falafel with tahini.

My first food-on-a-stick!  I shared this item with some of my colleagues, and they all agreed it was surprisingly tasty.  (Well, THEY were surprised; I knew it would be awesome all along.)  ;)

My first food-on-a-stick! I shared this item with some of my colleagues, and they all agreed it was surprisingly tasty. (Well, THEY were surprised; I knew it would be awesome all along.) ;)

From here, I made my way to the other side of the fair grounds to explore the “Animal Agriculture” area of the space.  I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to enter this area; I suspected I wouldn’t feel very good seeing all of the animals treated like commodities instead of like living beings.  But I decided that even if I didn’t ‘want’ to visit the space, I probably needed to – so I did.

067_miracle of birth center

I love the irony of a stroller parking lot located immediately outside this animal barn.

068_miracle of birth center decription

As I walked around the “birth center”, I saw lots of children (and their parents) cooing at the various animal babies (some who had been born that very morning).  It gave me hope that maybe the next time these people were in the grocery store buying eggs, they might think about the baby chick whose life was ended so that humans could eat an omelet.

069_chicks

Or that they might appreciate how the steak they were eyeing used to be a caring mama.

071_mama cow

That maybe, people might begin to see animals as living beings that can experience love, joy, pain, and loneliness – just like we humans can.

070_sheep

072_pregnant cow

As the afternoon winded down, I left the animal barn (bye babies) and entered one more exhibit building:

074_DNR

Department of Natural Resources: Providing information on birds, fish, and Smokey the Bear! :)

I will admit that at this point in the day, I was starting to get tired.  I half-heartedly walked past outdoor fish ponds and indoor aquariums, skimmed over information about hawks and loons, and was about to call it quits when I saw this disgusting-yet-interesting display:

075_zebra mussels

Take a minute and read the placard. Ew.

076_zebra mussels close up

A sign on this side of the cart read, “For your own safety, DO NOT TOUCH” – but they didn’t say what would happen if a person came in direct contact with these zebra mussels. Anyone know the answer?

At this point in my state fair adventure, I was quite proud of myself for having given the event a very solid effort.  I was about to leave the site when I remembered one ride that everyone said I needed to go on: the Giant Slide.

One of my colleagues told me a story about a woman he knows who visits the fair every year just to stand in front of the Giant Slide and watch the riders come down.  She described it as "witnessing moments of pure joy."

One of my colleagues told me a story about a woman he knows who visits the fair every year just to stand in front of the Giant Slide and watch the riders come down. She described it as “witnessing moments of pure joy.”

For $2.50, each rider selects a burlap rug, climbs a series of steps to the top of the slide, sits down on their piece of fabric, and enjoys a 15-second ride down the very slick, smooth, and surprisingly speedy slide.  A rider can certainly go alone; but just as many people ride as a couple, a parent-child pair, or as a grandparent-grandchild duo.

Before I paid my money and made my way to the top of the ride, I spent a few minutes simply watching the scene.  My colleague’s friend was spot on: watching people be so happy with such a simple experience absolutely filled my heart with joy.  Observing the scene was almost like watching a moving meditation.

Yup, this is me.

Yup, this is me.

After returning my burlap sack to the appropriate bin, I began walking toward the fairground exit.  As I neared the main gate, I saw this:

080_my happy place

I wouldn’t go THAT far; but the State Fair is no longer “My Personal Hell,” either.

I approached the bus headed for home just before it pulled away from the station.  A lovely ending to an all-around good day.

During the ride home, I reflected on my state fair experience.  Having no schedule and no agenda was a lot of fun, and felt very freeing.  There were quite a few things I didn’t get to experience at the fair that I kind of wanted to, including:

  • Completing the walking tour.
  • Checking out the Eco Experience.
  • Watching demonstrations at the X-Zone.
  • Attending an amateur talent show.
  • Riding the giant swing.
  • Being flung into the sky via the big bungee spring.
  • Tasting the Chickpea Roti, vegan scone, and fresh fruit and veg at the Produce Exchange.

But I also know that if I had stayed on site any longer, my newly-cultivated mostly-positive feelings towards the fair would have eroded rapidly.  So I guess it’s good that I have a list of things I am still interested in exploring.  I don’t know that I need to revisit the state fair any time soon – but should I find myself there again (at the behest of a friend, family member, or professional colleague), I can embrace the invitation instead of resist it.  Talk about a transformation!

Stef

Posted in beyond 101, postaday, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

#34: Visit the Minnehaha Depot (a Minnesota Historic Site)

I’ll be honest: item #34 only made my 101 list because it is a state historic site. When I created my “101 things to do in 1001 days” itinerary, I knew I wanted to include every historic site in the metro area. Why? Because I wanted to finally learn the stories behind my environment; I wanted to ‘hear’ the tales of the men and women who had come before me, and the influences they all infused into the place I now call “home” – even if those retellings could only be shared via past journals and abandoned architecture.

I wasn’t entirely certain what the Minnehaha Depot might have to share with me – and when I asked native Minnesotans about the place, none of them could really comment about the depot, either. Researching the site online didn’t exactly fill in any gaps; through the sparse depot website, I learned that the site was built in 1875 on the first railroad line west of the Mississippi River, and that it is now open just four hours every Sunday – and only from Memorial Day to Labor Day. So if I wanted to get this item checked off my dwindling list of items-still-to-do, I better hurry up and get there.

So this past Sunday, after a morning of yoga and a picnic lunch, I drove to the east side of town and pulled my car into a current-day parking spot to visit a relic from the early days of machine-enabled transportation: the passenger train.

The day was forecasted to be rainy; but when I arrived at the park that the depot is in the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the air was warm and breezy. In other words, the outdoor conditions were beautiful! Which is especially nice for visiting the depot, as the interior of the space is not climate-controlled: what happens outdoors dictates the comfort (or discomfort) of the indoors.

As I walked around the exterior and interior of the depot, I found many things were just as I ‘expected’ them to be. [Interestingly, I really do try to approach every new-to-me situation with no expectations – but invariably I find that even when I thought I was being completely open to whatever lay before me, I actually did have preconceived ideas about how the space/scene “should” be.] Yet while many sections of the depot contained traditional finds for a train station, I did encounter quite a few cool surprises. Here are some images from the time I spent there:

00a_Minnehaha Depot sign

00b_Minnehaha Depot introduction

In a corner of the depot was a small book.  I flipped it open, not entirely sure what I might find.  I’m glad I took the initiative to check it out – I found a treasure trove of images from the past:

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Moving from past to present…

… and spending some time exploring the present-day structure.

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As I took in various scenes from the past, the thing that surprised me the most at the depot was how powerfully I connected with memories of my grandfather during the time I spent there.

Apart from four years of military service in his early 20s (he was a Sargent in the Marine Corps [Semper Fi]), my grandfather (on my dad’s side) was a railroad man his entire life. He started his career as a grunt shoveling coal into train engines; but worked his way up the railroad employment system one job at a time. By the end of his career was a master locomotive engineer – and he was damn proud of that.

As I walked around the depot and sat in the tiny station, I wondered how many small-town platforms just like this one my grandfather must have passed by during his multiple decades of railroad service. How many people did he transport from one place to another? How much freight did he ship across the Midwest? What interesting stories did he hear in his travels? What interesting stories did he create that other people still tell about him?

Immersed in the railroad environment, I felt – truly felt – a sense of my grandfather close by. So after taking pictures in and around the depot and reading all of the informational literature, I sat on the lone bench by the window overlooking the small segment of remaining railroad track, and spent some time connecting with my grandfather. I remembered his gruff demeanor: his loud voice, his too-strong-for-little-girls rough housing, his lack of tact and diplomacy (i.e., he said anything and everything that was on his mind). I reflected on his rebellious nature: he seemed to be driven to break every stated rule, to perform the opposite act of every requested action. (Example: If a sign placed on a lawn read, “Please keep off the grass,” he would march directly through the yard with gleeful defiance.) I mused about his boisterous (read: dangerous) antics: he had a strong love for guns, fire, explosives, fast cars, alcohol, and everything else that could get a person into trouble. I contemplated the deep, powerful, palpable love he had for his wife, children, and family as a whole: every time he talked about my dad [his son], my uncles [his boys], my grandma [his wife], fierce pride and vigorous admiration infused every pore of his being. He knew he was surrounded by incredible people, and he was genuinely grateful for that blessing. I thought about all of the acts of kindness he shared with others: he was always willing to give some of what he had to someone else who needed it more. He had a soft spot for disabled and disadvantaged people, and tried his best to be gentle and generous with them. I remembered the walks and talks we shared: secrets he confided in me, philosophies he offered me, and scenes from the past he recounted for me. My grandfather was a complex man – often frustrating (and sometimes downright infuriating), but also deeply loving. He had many flaws, but at his core he was truly generous and charitable. His type is a dying breed; indeed, he was one of the last Great Depression railroaders that inhabited this country. I treasure that I got to share so many years with him, and that I got to know him both as his granddaughter and as an adult peer. I love you Sarge; I hope that you and Grandma are having fun in heaven, and that you aren’t giving God too much trouble.  :)

We shall hug again one day.

I’ll wait for you to pick me up at the station when my time comes.

Much love.

In the meantime, much love.

Stef

Posted in 101 in 1001, day zero project, postaday, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s in a name? Plenty.

Picking up my standard prescription refill at the pharmacy, the new technician asked for my name. I replied, “Last name ‘J-O-N-E-S-hyphen-S-M-I-T-H’, first name ‘S-T-E-F-A-N-I-E’.” The tech clicked the corresponding letters on the keyboard, then paused while the online system retrieved my information. Looking at the monitor, then at me, the tech asked, “Um, do you live on either Zenbrook Lane, or Cucaburrough Court?” I laughed, then answered, “Well, before I was married I lived on Cucaburrough Court, but I’ve been with my husband for about 13 years, so…” my voiced trailed off while my smile persisted. The tech grinned back at me. “No worries,” she said, “I can fix our system. We’ll just get rid of Stefanie Jones. After all, she doesn’t exist any more.”

My smile quickly left my face, and I felt as though the tech had just punched me in the stomach. While she meant no offense by her comment, her words stung me nonetheless. Her two brief sentences implied that my life as a single woman was null and void once I said, “I take you to be my husband”; that the act of professing my love for another meant that I had to kill a part of myself. Accepting the bag of medicine from the pharmacy tech, I felt myself experiencing a minor existential crisis as I stood amid bottles of vitamins and boxes of pregnancy tests.

If a part of me ceased to exist when I changed my marital status, what was to become of me when I changed my living status? Once I drew my last breath, did that mean that every act that preceded it simply vanished forever? With a few simple keystrokes a store employee deleted a part of me; what other simple actions could other complete strangers take to erase the whole of me?

And what about the implication that once I allowed my name to reflect a partnership with another human (in my case, a man – but the same applies to any committed relationship), I became less of a human? While my husband could retain rights to his full past, the first 26 years of my life had to be set aside in order to accommodate the most recent 13? When I applied for our marriage license over a decade ago, I intentionally chose to hyphenate my name, because I couldn’t bear to ignore my childhood and my family of origin for the remainder of my life. Those Jones people had a significant part in helping me become the person that I am; to set them aside in favor of the Smiths felt genuinely painful to me. If my husband wouldn’t agree to co-adopt a brand new name with me (neither Jones nor Smith, but something completely new – like Adams, or Banes, or Carras….[which he told me he was simply not going to do {which was his choice to make, and which I respected <after a brief period of pouting>}]), then I would create a blended name for myself. A coming together of past and present, a continuation of my story as I progressed in my evolution of child to adult. Yet, clearly not everyone saw things this way. For some, the arrival of Jones-Smith meant the departure of Jones alone…but I’m not ready to simply turn my back on that young self that still lives inside of my current being.

Like I said, the experience was one of mini-existential angst. As I walked towards the exit of the store, I tried to shake the uneasiness I still felt in my core. Of course I won’t be forgotten the day after I die. Of course my actions of today will persist in some way into tomorrow. Of course my childhood, college years, and early 20s were valuable times worthy of honor and integration. Of course the letters that comprise my name don’t define the human that I am.

Still, I’m glad that all of my official documents reflect all of my given names, as well as all of my chosen ones. Both are deeply precious to me – even if they are ‘just’ letters on a page.

baby name bracelet

Stef

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Beyond 101: Try logrolling

When I crafted my 101 list, logrolling was nowhere in the realm of activities I thought about trying – but when I unexpectedly discovered a Community Education class offering to teach this very skill, how could I possibly resist? Answer: I couldn’t.

Once I had secured my place in the class, I asked my friends if anyone wanted to join me for an afternoon of attempted logrolling. I fully expected everyone to reply with a quick, “No thanks” – but one of my friends surprised me and said, “Sure, I’d love to!” She registered for the class that same day, and two months later, both of us received instructions intended to prepare us for the adventure that lay ahead:

logrolling invite

That Sunday afternoon, my friend and I met up at a local lake on a stunningly hot and sunny July day. Away from the water, the day would have been exceedingly uncomfortable; but the conditions were absolutely ideal for an afternoon spent in a lake. After checking our names on the class roster, my friend and I waited for the other 16 participants to arrive. We greeted another adventurous woman in her 30s – then watched the remaining 15 class slots fill one-by-one with: children.

After the two instructors (only two for a class of 18?!) provided basic instructions to us all on the mechanics of logrolling, eight boys and seven girls (ages 5-15) eagerly took to the water, while we three adult women looked at the scene a bit less optimistically. The two instructors placed three logs (note: not real wood logs, but garish red-and-yellow plastic things shaped like a log) into the shallow edge of the lake, then looked at one another. It takes two people to ‘staff’ a single log – so how did these two instructors think they would be able to manage three logs between them? Answer: Use all of the class adults (and the sole 15-year-old boy) as their unpaid help.

So let me get this straight: The class organizers thought it would be a good idea to provide a measly three logs for 18 people, and less than a third of the staff necessary to successfully manage those devices? And they expected me not only to work during their class, but to pay them for that “privilege”? What is wrong with this scenario??

So what was supposed to be a fun excursion with my friend turned into me serving as a camp counselor for two hours, with only a handful of breaks in my newly assigned responsibilities to actually attempt the task I signed up to try, i.e., getting on a log and actually trying to walk on it while it rolled!

Grr.

Though I was irked inside, I suppressed my emotions (as best I could) and helped the two instructors manage the enthusiastic hoard of children who all wanted to get on the log RIGHT NOW! Once each child had a turn, I made sure that my friend and I (and the other adult woman and the 15-year-old boy who had been recruited to ‘help’ [read: work]) also slid into the rotation, so that we received as much ‘log time’ as everyone else.

Facing the log for the first time, I found that I was able to stand up on it with relative ease. Staying on it, though, was another matter altogether. As my feet hugged the curved surface, I looked at the far edge of the log (which the instructors said was supposed to help us maintain our balance) and quickly pitter-pattered my feet up-and-down. Only, I made one ‘pitter’ – and before my other foot could ‘patter’, I realized it was struggling in mid-air – and a second later, my entire body was in the water. I had walked exactly half a step before I fell off the log. Hmm… I put both of my feet on the sandy lake bottom, then re-mounted the log. I stood, looked at the far edge of the log, moved my feet pitter-patter – and then wound up in the lake again. During my first round of logrolling, I never completed more than two consecutive steps.

When my next turn to attempt the task at hand arrived (ten minutes later), I didn’t have much more success than I experienced during my first round of logrolling. In fact, by the end of the day, I had only managed to achieve about seven consecutive steps. (I maintain that had this event occurred on real logs [you know, the items made of wood that are encased in natural grippy bark] I likely could have done better; but even then, I suspect my “personal best” would have maxed out around a dozen consecutive steps.) Meanwhile, many of the little kids were doing amazingly well on the logs! (Now, to be fair, some of them went to a camp last summer where one of their daily activities was logrolling – so I didn’t feel too bad about my relative ‘poor performance’ when compared to their minute-long turns on top of the log.)

My friend on the log. She had also done this once before, and gave some of the little kids a run for their money! [Okay, so since the kids probably only have paper-route money, that analogy probably doesn’t carry a ton of weight… but still. You get the idea.] :)

My friend on the log. She had also done this once before, and gave some of the little kids a run for their money! [Okay, so since the kids probably only have paper-route money, that analogy probably doesn’t carry a ton of weight… but still. You get the idea.] :)

Yet despite not having natural proficiency at logrolling, and in spite of effectively being taken advantage of by the class organizers, I still managed to have a decent time at this event. I found myself laughing every time I fell off the log, and eager to pop back up and give it another go. I also thoroughly enjoyed playing in the water at the beach. (While I have visited this park a few different times, I never took the initiative to actually venture into the lake – but now that I have done it once, I will be much more inclined to splash around this site in the future!) All in all, I was glad I tried logrolling. That being said, I don’t think I need to do it again. One afternoon of this activity feels like enough for me. :)

Stef

[To see expert logrollers in action, check out the video below. They make it look so easy!]

Posted in beyond 101, postaday, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments