Safari Adventures: It’s like the Lion King or Discovery Channel -only real and unedited.

Best photo bomb ever with the giraffes; a sand tornado, our safari jeep & all 25 volunteers on safari
Can you spot the BEST PHOTO BOMB ever? (with the giraffes); a sand tornado, our safari jeep & all 25 volunteers on safari

In Swahili “safari” means trip or vacation. Not crazy-cool-awesome-African-animal-wildlife-adventure as we know it to mean. How much more rad would it be if every time you got away, even on a weekend trip to say Wisconsin, you said you were going on safari? I mean, even in Europe they call it “holiday.” Both sound so much more like a mystical fantasy getaway than “trip” does.

Immediately after arriving in-country, a group of 25 of us volunteers booked a weekend safari with Pristine Trails. Pristine was simply wonderful and I highly recommend them! Adam our coordinator was fantastic (and adorable) and made everything so easy for us! On our way to the safari parks, we stopped to visit the Maasai Tribe. They are the only tribe (of over 140 tribes) that still completely lives by and follows tradition. They believe they get all the nutrients they need from the cow so they only eat cow meat and drink cow blood. I actually felt scammed and pressured to buy jewelry. Tourists come to see them all the time, so they profit off of us. But seeing their tribal dances and their homes were really neat. I guess the cow method works for them – they live long lives, are all over 6 feet tall, and when they jump vertically, man do they get air!

maasai
The Maasai

To see animals in the zoo is fun for a little while but then you are reminded they are trapped in captivity and you feel bad for them. To see the animals in their natural habitat, roaming completely free and wild in nature is unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. The animals and terrain – it is literally a live version of The Lion King. It felt very much like an out-of-body experience for me, as if I was watching Nat Geo or Discovery Channel only real and without a TV screen to protect me from the wild animals. This was up close and personal with nature at its best.

We got to visit two National Parks: Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park. Between the two, we saw four out of five of The Big 5 (cape buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant and rhino). I was bummed that the only one we didn’t see was a leopard. There are only about 4,000 black rhinos left in the world and we saw 3 of them! We also saw a family of about 30 elephants bathing (one of the highlights!), tons of giraffes and wildebeests, water buffalo, a hyena, a jackal eating a gazelle, a baby gazelle just minutes after it was born and struggling learning to walk, zebras, so many gorgeous and vibrantly colorful birds, hippos, ostriches, baboons and monkeys that even stole our chocolate and cookies from our lunches. The zebras seemed to always be posing for photos. They are very photogenic! One of my favorite, most symbolic photos is of a water buffalo standing besides a skull of another water buffalo.

My group for the safari was so much fun. We took dirty photos of the animals and scenery and kept playing songs from The Lion King; even our driver sang along to Hakuna Matata! Whenever I saw the warthogs, all I could think about was Pumba singing, “I clear the savanna after every meal.” 

One of the highlights: seeing the elephants bathe

 My driver spotted two figures out in the distance about a mile away that appeared to be approaching us. It turned out to be two brother lions that walked right up to our jeeps (and peed on the jeep behind me), and then kept walking. As they passed us, I saw two warthogs notice the lions strolling towards them and they took off in the other direction faster than their little legs could carry them. It was adorable and amusing but a reminder that this wasn’t a movie, it was real life, and I was witnessing the power of the food chain. Lions are cool in a zoo, but in the wild, they are absolutely stunningly beautiful and extremely majestic. I was mesmerized by their beauty. These brothers were slowly strutting towards us with such an arrogance kind of like they were saying, Yeah, look at us you silly tourists, we’re The Kings of this savanna, so we’re going to pee on your jeep just to prove it to you.

The progression of them coming closer and closer.
Beautiful brothers. (All photos here are mine except the one where I am clearly not taking it)                                                            Maybe Bert’s? If it is yours and you want photo credit, please let me know and I’ll gladly update it.

The monkeys were everywhere, on the street and in the trees. It was really neat to see the female cleaning the male, just as I’d seen in videos but this was IRL! During lunch, Chris was enjoying his cookie, when suddenly a monkey came from the trees and snatched it straight from his hand. Another one came towards me, I grabbed my lunch and ran. He grabbed the chocolate I accidentally left behind. He was fascinating to watch and he knew to unwrap it just like humans do. Another group went back to their jeep after lunch only to find a monkey sitting in the backseat eating their food. #cuterascals

Baboons
Bottom middle: the monkey eating Chris’s cookie. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have gotten that close.
Baby Gazelle, Jackyl & Gazelle, warthog, Water buffalo alive & dead, hyenas, hippos & zebras
Baby Gazelle, jackal & gazelle, warthog, water buffalo alive & dead, hyenas, hippos & zebras

This is already photo heavy as it is – so if you want to see more pictures click here.

I wish we could have stayed in tents in the national parks but we didn’t. I think it would be have been so neat to sleep in their territory, listening to them howl before you go to sleep. But we slept at a much safer campsite. I smile every time I look at these photos and still am in disbelief that I did it and am able to cross it off my Life List. There will be a next time because I know I will do another safari at some point. The joys of witnessing nature, no one trip will ever be the same.

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Winter? What winter? The seasons are a changin’

I loved Halloween as a kid. It was that time you could escape reality and become whatever you wanted. I was a bride, a cat, a witch, a flapper girl, a baby, the I Dream Of Jeannie character, and so many more. I remember many Halloweens in Chicago where it was so frigidly cold and/or snowing buckets outside so that all the kids trick-or-treating had to bundle up and wear their heavy winter coats, mittens, hats and scarfs over their costumes which covered the cuteness and took away half the fun of asking for candy.

The seasons are clearly changing, though. Not only do I go to bars instead of going trick-or-treating now, I also recall that two out of three of the past Halloweens have been warm enough to go to the bars without wearing a coat.  If my memory serves me right, the first snow fall of 2010 was on December 1st.  It wasn’t until Feb 2, 2011 when the city had its first HUGE blizzard of the season. The city completely shut down because of the Thundersnow & Snowpocolypse Blizzard of 2011 which dumped over 20 inches of snow in about 24 hours.

Now, here we are again in the middle of winter. Accuweather & Farmers Almanac predicted that the winter of 2011-2012 in Chicago was going to be the coldest and worst winter in the nation. Because of last year’s horrible record-breaking winter, they warned us that, “Bitter cold is expected to come on strong early in the season during December and below normal temps in January.” Turns out, we’ve had two real snow falls so far and a winter so warm that this year is being dubbed the year without a winter. Our first snowfall was not until December 9th but it didn’t stick around long.  The calendar says February, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. It was 45°F on Christmas, making this Christmas the warmest here in 17 years. On January 31st it was almost 60°F, and currently, as I type this on February 25, it is 49°F with the forecast predicting the next few days to follow suit.

It was recorded that last winter O’Hare got 57.9 inches of snow and 67 days with an inch or more of snow on the ground. This winter, as of February 14, O’Hare has reported 15.7 inches of snow with only 10 days with an inch or more of snow on the ground. Granted, last year we had the blizzard so clearly that accounts for more inches, but the day count is notable too.

Some statistics according to Tom Skilling of WGN: (He is THE weatherman of Chicago. If you are a Chicagoan, you know who he is.)

“We have the numbers to back it up.  This has been the 8th warmest winter in Chicago to date.  To find a winter this warm you have to go back 80 years to 1932! We’ve had an uncommonly skimpy 1.7 inches of snow on the books for January 2011.  This is the mildest December in 13 years- December finished nearly 13-degrees warmer than a year ago.  The 2011 reading is warm enough to place the month among the mildest 10 percent of Decembers which have occurred here since records started in 1871.”  That’s some crazy shit, no?

Changes aren’t only occurring in Chicago.  I heard on the news that even Fargo, North Dakota hit 55°F in January, breaking a more than a century year old record.  Across the midwest, temps have been higher than normal with many cities averages being several degrees warmer than last yearWhile we may be enjoying this unusually and pleasantly warm winter here, France is freezing.  The news is reporting that this is the harshest winter Europe has seen since almost 30 years and that over 500 people across Europe have died as a result of this unusually frigid winter.  

Usually when schools get out in June and kids are singing Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s out for the summer’ it is not just because they’re celebrating being out of school (which they clearly are), it is also because the weather is sunny and warm and they can spend their days doing nothing but lounging poolside or at the beach. But not last year. I didn’t go to the beach once. 2010-2011 season seemed to skip Spring – there were no “April Showers Bring My Flowers” – it was still cold and snowing in March & April of 2011. My mother’s annual plants budded and died super early.  It seemed we went from a long drawn out winter straight into rainy weather, in what is usually thought of as ‘the summer months.’ It wasn’t until August through October that we had really warm summer-like weather in Chicago.

This change is making people into wusses.  It was predicted that we were going to get 4-8″ of snow this past Friday.  As a preventive measure, both Midway & O’Hare cancelled flights as early as 6PM the night before.  It would have been one thing if it was even snowing at that point, but it wasn’t. It was barely raining! To cancel 300 flights for nothing is absolutely stupid.  Last year the city of Chicago came under attack for not being prepared for Snowmaggedon, so my gut says they were being over-cautious this time and didn’t want that to happen again. While places close to Wisconsin did get snow, the city didn’t even come close to getting a full inch.  Some schools closed on Friday which would have been unheard of in my day. IT IS WINTER IN CHICAGO, PEOPLE!  It is supposed to snow. No need to cancel flights. That is why we have technology to de-ice planes! 20″ in 24 hours; yes, I can see canceling flights. But at least wait for it to start snowing! Grow a pair, people.

Effects on Mother Nature: I have very mixed feelings about the unseasonably warm weather we’re having. While no one is complaining about the warm weather, warmer winters are dangerous for Mother Nature.  It scares me to think about what is happening and how this will affect the climate and animals. It also scares me that very few people seem concerned.  Temperatures like this can cause the glaciers and polar ice caps to melt and that water has to go somewhere…  The polar bears are dying because their ice platforms are melting.  Great Lakes are not freezing which is causing ice fishing huts to collapse (see slide 18). The unseasonable weather is doing weird things to plants and animals too. It is February 26 and tulip buds are already breaking ground. This is way too early for those perennial spring flowers to survive as it is likely we’ll have some nights where the temps will fall to single digits, killing the plants. Birds are confused and some species haven’t flown south for the winter yet. Dry warm weather increases the risk of forest fires, and short winters can end up exacerbating the spring-allergy season. The flu season is off to a slow start with less reports of people getting sick. The flu transmits faster when people stay inside away from the cold and avoid fresh air but people have been more active thanks to the warmer weather. Weather patterns are unusual – even Texas was under a Tornado watch on January 25th this year.

My Theory/Prediction: This trend might be just a fluke this year. But maybe it’s not.  I have my own theory about what is happening.  Despite the fact that after mid February it is harder for snow to remain on the ground due to increasing sunlight, I believe that Chicago may still get cold & snowy days in the days to come. Even if the snow doesn’t stick around long, I think we still may get a winter storm after the usual winter period is over.  I think it appears the seasons are shifting to start later.  It seems that Summer is  July – Mid October,  Autumn is Mid October to December, Winter is Mid December to Late April and Spring is Late April – July.   And if my theory is correct, we can continue to get winter weather into April. I hope that because we had such a mild winter that doesn’t mean we’ll have a cold or rainy summer.But gosh, if there is ever a time to be wrong. I do I hope it is now!

Technically weather is what happens day-to-day, but climate is what happens over years and decades. I think the climate is changing.  Maybe someday we’ll be telling our children – when I was your age, it was common to wear snow suits over our Halloween costumes and we used to have white Christmases.

{UPDATE: There was a thunderstorm in Chicago, a tornado in Southern Illinois last night and a blizzard in Minnesota yesterday.  For those unfamiliar – it is HIGHLY unusual to see a thunderstorm or tornado in the winter months, let alone all happening in a 24 hour period. It is frightening to watch these Global Warming effects (or as I prefer to call it- Global Changes) continue to happen because things are clearly changing and the future is uncertain. Are we not taking Mother Nature’s warning serious enough?? }

{UPDATE #2: An astonishing 97 tornadoes ravaged the midwest on March 1st killing at least 30 people.  The weatherman on TV said that usually there is an average of 80 for the entire month of March and day 1 surpassed that already. My fear is that this is only the beginning. I predict that this is a warning that this years tornado/hurricane season along with earthquakes and tsunamis will be brutal and that there is a lot of destruction heading our way. I have never wanted to be so wrong in my entire life. It has been about a year since Japan was devastated by an earthquake that then triggered a tsunami. I pray that nothing that tragic happens this year.}

Happy Channukah, Merry Xmas & Happy Holidays. Warning: the adorable videos may make you smile

‘Tis the season! The holiday season is upon us, and tonight marks the first night of Channukah (which means my birthday is quickly approaching)!  On a personal note, it is also a memorable night for Mr. Fiancé and I, as tonight marked the first time we have lit the candles on our own menorah that we bought together and the last time we will celebrate Channukah as a dating couple.   A big Happy Channukah goes out to all my fellow heebs.

“Oh Channukah Oh Channukah, Come light the menorah, let’s have a party, we’ll all dance the hora. Gather round the table, we’ll give you a treat…”

To help spread the holiday cheer, I thought I would share with you some awesome holiday goodies that I came across today.

Lastly, I want to share these three videos that come to us from Jessica. They are just way too cute not to spread around the smiles and cheer. Thanks for sharing Jessica! She has a few more holiday videos, so be sure to check them out!  These are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and bring out the holiday spirit.  Enjoy!

Puppies’ first Christmas, it really doesn’t get any more precious than this. I love the one that gets stuck in the Santa hat. I just want to wrap them up and take them all home! But can you imagine training them all?

Great parody/mashup of the Channukah story with songs like Stayin’ alive, Born to Be Wild, Can’t touch this, and Move Like Jagger and more.

These sailors look like they are fun people who sure know how to get in the holiday spirit. I want to be friends with them!

People always say Merry Christmas this time of year, but for those of us who don’t celebrate it, it can get kind of old. Since you don’t always know the person’s religion, I prefer saying Happy Holidays, across the board to everyone. Happy Channukah, Happy Kwanza, Merry Christmas & of course Happy Holidays to all!

Happy Holidays to all!

Being responsible sucks sometimes

Being a grownup officially sucks! Yea, that’s right. I’ve always considered myself a responsible practical and realistic person.  Usually I am the one who shares the voice of reason with friends. However, today that responsible person in me was challenged when I was faced with the cutest brown eyes that were almost impossible to say no to.

When Mr. Fiancé and I headed out for lunch, Paws Chicago was on our block with two of the most precious Black Lab/Terrier mix puppies.  Adorable just doesn’t begin to give justice to these two. All we know is that they are 13 weeks old and are expected to be about 30 lbs.  My family has always had non shedding little dogs and Mr. Fiancé’s family has a chocolate lab – aka huge and sheds like crazy. We have discussed dogs before and this Lab/Terrier is exactly what our compromise came to.

Pro:

  • She is adorable with the cutest floppy ears.
  • We live on a dog friendly floor in a dog friendly building.
  • She is the perfect compromise to what we each are looking for.
  • I work really close to home and could come home for lunch daily to take care of her.
  • She is a perfect size.
  • She is a rescue and needs a home. So why not ours?
  • We live by a grassy park.
  • She had little tiny paws so she wouldn’t get very big.
  • She already has her shots.
Cons:
  • It is a huge responsibility.
  • We live in a high-rise, so it is harder to train a dog.
  • We live in a high-rise, so it isn’t exactly fair to have a dog in an apt.
  • We have to train her.
  • It is a huge responsibility.
  • We’re getting married next year and dogs add a lot of expense.
  • It is like having a child, which I am not ready for yet.
  • It is a long-term commitment.
  • I like being a Doggie Aunt – caring for my parent’s dog for a bit and then returning him, but there is no passing off your own dog.
  • It is harder to travel.
  • You don’t have as much freedom or independence.

Sorry, I didn’t take a picture and the photo of her online just doesn’t do her justice. She was so much cuter in person.

Deep deep deep down, I know I am not ready to be responsible for a child dog 24/7.  It was really very difficult to be a grown up, walk away and say no. I know there will be other adorable dogs that need to be rescued and I’m just as confident that someone will rescue her. I hate being practical and realistic. I so badly want to be five again, stomp my feet and say “but I want her!” or call my mom and have her buy her, but I am realistic and I know the time isn’t right for us and that would be unfair to the puppy.

Damn, being an adult sucks.