Sunday, February 23, 2014

Everything Elephant

I recently joined a wonderful organization called Local First Arizona, and through them I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes of the elephant exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo!  I wasn't sure what to expect.  In my mind I thought I would be hanging out with the elephants, side by side, petting them, maybe riding them.  That is not even close to the experience I had...but what an informative experience it was!

Sheena on exhibit
First of all, the Phoenix Zoo currently houses three female Asian elephants who are "rescue" elephants from the circus.  Their names are Indu, Sheena, and Reba.  Typically, female elephants get along in the wild.  However, perhaps due to their abusive backgrounds, these three do not get along, so they are kept separate at the zoo but still able to have contact with one another.  On the day we were visiting Sheena was in the exhibit (on display to the public), and Reba and Indu were in the back where we were able to interact with them.

Our guide was elephant-keeper, Corey; I will do my best to recount all that she taught us!

Elephants do lie down to sleep, but only for about 2 to 4 hours at a time. They are so heavy that their own weight begins to crush their organs so they have to get up and at least turn if not stay up.  In the recent past most zoo's had their elephants sleeping on concrete.  The Phoenix Zoo is among the first to bring in a special kind of sand for the elephants to sleep on.  Much more comfortable than cement, right?!  The keepers have to shovel out the wet spots on a daily basis and put fans on the sand to help dry it out.  They also haul the sand outside to dry out for weeks at a time and put new sand inside.  Lots of hard work to keep these elephants comfy!

A little blurry...but to the right of the shovel is an elephant butt print from the previous night's sleep

Next Corey showed us the "crusher".  This is a set of bars that they can tighten up to the elephant's body when they need to do injections or weigh them.  The elephants are walked through these bars every single day just so they are used to going inside of them.  There is a scale on the floor that can weigh these 8000 pound animals!  Corey mentioned that one of the elephants had lost 800 pounds and they didn't notice until the scales showed them.  Can you imagine not noticing an 800 pound weight loss?! 

Kimber, founder of Local First Arizona, and Corey, elephant keeper outside of the "crusher"

We were next led into a sort of room where the keepers do husbandry on the elephants on a daily basis.  The elephants are brought into the main portion of the room and bathed and have their feet soaked in Epsom Salts (because they have abscesses).  Corey said that if any of the elephants aren't feeling up to a bath or a foot soak on any given day the keepers do not force the issue.  The overall feeling is that these girls have had a hard enough life being forced to do things against their will...this is now their time to live the life they want. (Here is a link to Corey bathing Sheena Using Google Glass while bathing Sheena the elephant)

Corey in front of the eye and foot doors
  After a nice bath and foot soak the girls are led into another type of cage with two little doors.  In here the keepers can use one (larger) door to check the elephants' eyes and ears and one (smaller, lower) door to check their feet.  They get their nails trimmed one foot per week.  Again, they are led through this cage every day so that they are used to the confinement.  The keepers even do fake blood draws on the elephants every day so that it's easier when they have to do true blood draws (which are every two weeks).  The keepers rub the back of the elephants' ears with alcohol and then poke their finger behind their ears and wipe again with alcohol.  While it's a great idea to keep them used to the blood draws, Corey laughed that they are likely giving the elephants too little credit...she knows the girls are not fooled by the finger poke...they are very smart; not to mention that whole 'memory of an elephant' thing!

On our way out to meet Indu and Reba, Corey showed us a tooth that one of them had lost.  Remember the 800 pound weight loss?  It was due to a lost tooth that kept one of the girls from being able to eat as much.  Typically their teeth break and fall out in pieces; but this one came out all at once.  We got to hold was really heavy!  I would guess around 20 pounds.

Me feeding Reba
 Finally we got to meet Indu and Reba.  Of the three, Reba is the most aggressive. She has bitten the ends of the tails off the other two girls. She even killed one of her trainers before coming to the Phoenix Zoo.  So, my idea of being up close and personal was a crazy one!  I mean, we were close, but with bars in between.  First we got to feed Reba; she loved the attention and even made a little roar when we stopped feeding her.  Then we got to feed sweet Indu.  She tried to give us pieces of straw in exchange for more food.  She whined when we stopped feeding her and even tried to do little tricks like putting her trunk up really high for us. (When all three elephants arrived at the Phoenix Zoo they had been fed on the ground for so long that they didn't have strength in their trunk muscles to lift their trunks.The zookeepers began slowly raising the height on their food until,eventually, their trunk muscles were strong enough to lift above their heads).

Indu...the stuff on the ground was her offering to us in exchange for more snacks!

At one point Indu loved the attention so much she threatened to spray us with water!  She got a trunk full of water from her trough and acted like she was gong to spray...we all took 10 steps backward and Corey told her "No" and she just let out a gentle stream of water instead.  We all laughed which encouraged her to do this trick 2 or 3 more times. 

It was so eye-opening to hear how these elephants have been cared for here at the Phoenix Zoo.  Corey and her co-workers do a lot of hard work every day to keep these girls in good shape and keep them comfortable in their old age (they are all in their 40's and elephants can live into their 60's). It was an experience I won't soon forget.

And before leaving I, of course, checked out the rest of the zoo. 

Squirrel monkey encounter...always my favorite!

This guy had his face right up against the glass

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours

Squirrel monkeys just hanging out

What did the fox say?!

Nap time for tiger

Nap time in funny poses!

Both lions were napping with a leg in the air!

Here is a great article about all they are doing for the elephants at the Phoenix Zoo: Phoenix Zoo Elephants

“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.”
Robert R. McCammon, Boy's Life

To see more of my photos go to Bee Photography

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Valentine's Day in My 40's

I remember a lot about my childhood.  When I ask others about their memories not everyone can remember a lot from being a kid.  My memories start as young as 3 or 4.  I was always outdoors.  In grade school years we would play outside well past dark.  We lived out in farmland so there really wasn't a lot of worry about traffic and such.  My mom had an iron bell mounted to the front of our house and when it was time for us to come in and get in our pj's she would ring the bell. I can remember the other neighborhood kids saying "Brittany, it's your bell."  LOL  Funny to me now, but it did the job.  I'd say my goodbyes and hop on my Big Wheel (in younger times) or bicycle (in older times) and ride home.

As I got into high school my grandparents got me a 10 speed.  My friends and I would hop on our bikes and cruise the back country roads for hours. We'd bike down to Flat Rock River or up to Tri High School.  Flying past the cows and the cornfields, the barns and silos.  Those were some carefree times.

  As I grew up and out of my parents home I left the bicycle behind for cars and boys.  I worked at the local Hallmark store so Valentine's was an even bigger deal to me.  I always hoped for my boyfriend to bring me flowers, candy, and the mushiest Hallmark card I knew was out there.  Over the years I have received my fair share of such Valentine loot.  I still have a couple of cute teddy bears I just can't part with.

But of course, now that I'm older, these are things that are not as important to me.  Don't get me wrong, I still like some recognition on Valentine's Day.  In recent years it's become a tradition for Eric and I to go out and enjoy a nice dinner (almost always at Tomaso's).  But this year Eric brought my childhood rushing right back in!  Eric bought me a bicycle.

Well, to be more precise, Eric gave me a beautiful and romantic homemade card where he said he wanted to take me out and buy me a bike. So that's what we did today.  We went bike shopping. My knowledge of bikes is red 10 speeds with a kickstand.  That's it.

 Luckily Eric knows a lot about bikes and was able to offer me some pointers and advice.

 I didn't go with the long bike, or the tandem bike, or the fat wheel bike that Eric liked.

I didn't go with a road bike or a hybrid bike or the REALLY cute cruisers.

I ended up finding my bike at a local Phoenix store, Landis Cycles.  
A Trek Cali 29er mountain bike - black and hot pink!

 And here she is!  These photos are not the best because we had just gotten home and I was dying to hop on and go for a ride!

WITH a matching hot pink and black helmet!

 Me on my first ride...just like when I was 14!

 And some critters I spotted along the way:

It's going to be a fun summer!  An activity Eric and I can do together.  :0)
Happy Valentine's Day to us!

And this week's quote is from one of my favorite authors!
It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle. 
--Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Winter" in Phoenix

Tulips in my front yard
I'm sorry to rub it in.  I do feel bad for all of you digging out of the snow, building fires, scraping windshields, putting on layers.  I do!  I used to be you!  I endured the cold Indiana winters for 35 years of my life!  And I hated Every. Single. Minute!  So, am I really gloating??  Or am I just verbally (annoyingly?) thankful for what I have now?!  And thankful, I am!  Driving down the road today I reminded Eric how very lucky we are to live where we do: in the United States; in the beautiful and varying terrain of Arizona; and in the warm, entertaining city of Scottsdale. 

Beer and sangria
And I tried to make the best of this beautiful weekend...because goodness knows ya'll will be gloating to me in the middle of summer when I'm dealing with 115 degree heat!

Our Friday ended (and our weekend began) with a lovely tapas dinner with our friends, Scott and Johanna.  There was live salsa music, great food, and fun company!

Paella at Tapas Papa Frita

On Saturday I finally made it to the visiting Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Heard museum.  My friend, Jennie, and I were surprised to learn that it was also the weekend of the Native American Hoop Dancing contest at the Heard.  What a fun and unexpected photo-op!

Unfortunately they did not allow photos in the O'Keeffe exhibit but trust me when I tell you it was wonderful.  It was unlike any of her work I had seen previously.  I have seen a lot of her southwest themed pieces...but there were several Kachina doll paintings I wasn't aware of.  Jennie and I shared the same favorite painting of a Kachina doll in the snow.  Afterward, we enjoyed a wonderful brunch at Switch where we got a chance to catch up on each others lives.  Much needed.

Finally, today, on this beautiful Sunday, Eric and I went to OHSO Brewery (along with 200 other Phoenicians) and had brunch.  Again, good food, good sangria, and good company!  We ended our lovely afternoon with a cocktail at the old inn, Lon's at the Hermosa, and took a stroll on their beautiful grounds.

And I can't forget to mention that I had the chance to catch up on the phone with my BFF this weekend as well!  I can it get any better??  A weekend of sunshine, friends, food, adult beverages, and hoop dancing!  I hope you all stay warm or book a trip to visit me!!

The hoop dancer dances within what encircles him, demonstrating how the people live in motion within the circling spirals of time and space. They are no more limited than water and sky. At green corn dance time, water and sky come together, in Indian time, to make rain.
~ Paula Gunn Allen

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Meatless Month

Well, that title is not entirely true.  I ate fish.  Lots and lots of fish.  I became a pescatarian for the month of January and I'm glad that I did it.

Veggies at AJ's

However I should first start with the 'why'.  I'm sure you've all seen the videos that PETA puts out.  The chickens shoved into tiny cages, never to see the light of day.  The pigs made to give birth and nurse for their entire (short) lives.  The cattle being led to slaughter.  Those videos always bothered me.  Always made me think...'Could I be a vegetarian?'  But never enough to actually go through with it.  Because I love meat.  I love seared duck breast with cherry glaze; braised lamb shank with creamy polenta; medium rare filet mignon.  Oh...and of course I love a good In-N-Out burger, the occasional Taco Bell burrito, even some greasy McDonalds.

NOT In-N-Out
But recently I saw some videos that were beyond what I had seen from PETA.  Beyond what I ever wanted in my head.  They were awful, horrible, inhumane, scary, disgusting, sad, brutal, horrific videos that have burned their way into my brain.  And I decided to try to stop eating meat for one month just to see how I did.

It was an interesting month, sometimes even challenging.  I ended up eating a lot of sushi and a lot of pizza.  But I never really missed eating meat.  There were a couple of nice restaurants where my eyes lingered on some delicious sounding meat dishes.  But I was never disappointed with my fish selections. And I even felt better, my conscious that is, felt better.

Sushi at Yasu

Soft Shell Crab Roll

Now, I know the arguments about farmed fish and wild fish and radioactive fish and mercury, etc.  But baby steps!!  I had to have some form of protein!  

Pizza at Pomo

So, what I determined from this month is, I'm not willing to cut meat completely out of my diet.  I am prepared to eat much less of it, though.  In fact, yesterday was my first day off the pescatarian diet and I only had a bit of salami on some bruschetta and some pepperoni on a pizza.  I am prepared to be more conscious of where my meat comes from.  I've learned that many of my favorite restaurants get their meat from local, grass fed farms.  I've learned that I can, yes, pay a premium, and shop at Whole Foods where I can also buy organic, grass fed, free-range meat.

Shrimp and Burrata Salad at Shady Lady

Crab Legs at Little Cleo

Does this mean that I will never again have an In-N-Out burger?  Weeeeeell, probably not.  I'm not Superwoman.  I get cravings.  But then again, perhaps my body will get used to this new diet and maybe I won't crave such 'crap'.  We'll see.  What I can say is that it's nice to know that I can do it.  I just keep those curly-tailed pigs, those big-eyed cows, and those roaming chickens in my mind...that makes it easier.  

“The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.”
Julia Child


 "Animals are my friends, and I don't eat my friends."
- George Bernard Shaw