Sunday, March 31, 2013

Just Some Big Cats

I'll be honest, hubs is just a little bit of an adrenaline junky. Anything that is even a little bit dangerous, he is all for. On our honeymoon, there was a day that he went snorkeling while I stayed on the beach. He came running onto the beach yelling 'There's a shark in the coral! You've got to come check it out!' before running right back into the water. I remember thinking 'that is definitely not the way to get me in the water.' (I ended up going and seeing the harmless black tip reef sharks and it was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had, but that's beside the point) The point is, when we found out that there was a place in Chiang Mai where we could get up close and personal with baby and full grown tigers, we couldn't resist. 
When you arrive at Tiger Kingdom, you get to pick the age group you want to see. They have babies (2-3 months), small (4-8 months), medium (9-12 months) and large tigers (13-30 months). TIP: Go early! Tigers are most active when it first opens, the temperature hasn't skyrocketed yet, and they haven't been handled by a swarm of tourists. Also, when all of the tour groups come, the wait can take over an hour. We showed up just before nine and only waited a few minutes to get into each cage. 
He was just two months old and kept trying to climb into my lap and up my shoulder to be cuddled
The next age group we saw were the 4-6 month olds and they were also definitely the most active of them all. The ones that weren't napping were busy running around jumping and playing with each other. 
With each age group you are accompanied by a trainer that leads you from area to area and watches out for any tigers that want to 'play' with you. This came in handy when hubs made fast friends with a young 5 month old tiger by the name of Michael. He would follow hubs around the cage and try to 'play' with him. Aka, sneak up behind him and try to swat or bite his leg. Even after the trainer would lead us to the other side of the cage, it wouldn't be long until Michael was back. He managed to swat at him once but because he was wearing jeans, it only left a red mark, much to hubs disappointment (he's the weird type that wants a scar from a tough animal).
Hubs and his buddy Michael
I have to admit that when we went into the last cage and rounded the corner to see this:
I was a bit nervous. I've seen tigers through a cage and a long distance away before but when we saw it up close and personal, it was a little intimidating.  Good thing these kitties were pretty tired by the time we got there and slept majority of the time. 

The topic of drugging and punishment often comes up when talking about these animals. Before we went, I was extremely skeptical. I had heard stories of other tiger parks that taser their animals or give them drugs during open hours so the tigers will remain docile. My concerns disappeared when we arrived and they had numerous pieces of literature about what they believe and how they treat the animals. Not only that, but when we walked in, we could see into the full grown tigers cage as they ran after each other, tackling, playing and jumping in the water. The trainer was walking around in the cage working and the tigers took no notice to him. 

They explain that these tigers are born into captivity since the park is used for breeding and preservation of the endangered Indo-Chinese species of tiger. They are used to being around humans from a young age and therefore people coming and petting, hugging or patting them does not phase them. Another factor is the fact that tigers are mainly active during night time and less active during the mid-day heat. This is the reason that the older tigers are asleep in the majority of our photos. 

However, precautions must still be taken. For example, when the trainer is approaching a tiger, he takes a stick and bangs it against the ground to warn the tiger that he is approaching so as not to startle him. Also, we must approach the tiger from behind, if approached head on, they will think we want to play with them. Lastly, when we do pet or touch them, we must do so firmly. If we touch too lightly, they may think it's just a fly and react accordingly. 
My favorite part of Thailand, and specifically Chiang Mai, is the fact that you can get up close and personal with so many different animals. The city keeps you going with the endless possibilities of activities that it has to offer. Don't worry, there's lots of Redbull to help keep you awake so you don't miss a thing (and at just 35 cents a bottle, how can you resist?!)

Linking up with MollyMegLeannBrookeLoganCarissa, Rachel

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It’s gobbling time on the refuge

I’ve got a little over two weeks left at Okefenokee, and I’m getting short timer’s attitude.  Some people call it hitch itch, but I have noticed that as the time for me to move on nears, I become less tolerant of minor irritations.  Same thing happened just before I retired almost seven years ago.  The excitement of new horizons builds, and the attitude turns to “What can they do?  Fire me?”  I’ve been at this volunteer assignment longer than any other I’ve had, and I guess I’m ready to move on.  It seems to happen every time as the departure date nears. 

IMG_2308I’ve spent the last two days between roving and working the VC.  This is the busy season here, and work in the VC is non-stop as hundreds of visitors come in.  Roving and observing the wildlife is a welcome break from all the harried activity.


I got a call on the radio this morning that fellow fulltimers and bloggers, Randy and Pam, had arrived at the VC.  I headed in, picked them up, and gave them a tour of the refuge on a couple of the back roads and out to the Chesser Homestead.  Little did I know at that time, that they had already been out there a couple of days ago.  I don't know smile  It’s always nice to spend some time with people of similar interests.  The last time I saw them, they visited me at Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR in Mississippi when I was pretty much under the weather.  This was a much more pleasant experience.


Before heading in to pick them up, I had made a stop at the secret pond.  Love is still in the air, and the tom turkeys were gobbling away and showing their finery.


I had thought that this flock only had two toms, but today I’m thinking there may be four.  At this point, most of the females had headed for the woods, but one was left.  I think all four birds on the right are males.  Two of them just couldn’t help themselves from displaying to the fullest every couple of seconds.  They seem to be helpless to the effects of spring fever!  Surprised smile


It’s always nice to spot one of our endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers along the way.  Notice the two yellow and one blue bands on its left leg?  I believe this bird hatched here on the refuge. 


Nearby was one of the much more numerous red-bellied woodpeckers working the longleaf pine branches for tasty morsels.  I had a minor accomplishment today, as I had decided to not rely on using my cane all day at work.  I felt I needed to push myself a little to get past the recuperation plateau that I seemed to have reached.  Things went well, so I will concentrate on not using the cane.  I think it became too easy to use it.  I want to move on to more normalcy. 

IMG_2332                                                                                THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Dear Work, 7.30 am classes? Is that really necessary? My body hates me and my 6 am wake up calls. Dear Readers, I am so incredibly excited to announce a new link up that I will be a part of! Rachel, from one of my favorite blogs, Postcards from Rachel, contacted me with the idea of a link up all about expat life, including advice, photos, questions and travel stories and asked if I would be interested. I immediately thought 'well...duh'. We will be going live with the link up on the first Thursday of every month starting on April 4th. We would love for you to link up your travel stories, expat experiences, questions or advice. Whether your a fellow expat, want-to-be expat or fellow travel lover, we'd love to hear from you! Come link up with us next Thursday! Read more about it here.
Dear Chingu, I'm so glad you decided to extend your birthday celebration to all week long. I love celebrating, even if it's someone's else's birthday.
Dear Closet, you're being put to good use now that I have to dress up for work. I can't lie, it's nice getting all fancy and wearing heels for the first time in two years. I bet when it's hot and humid this summer though, I'm going to miss my old uniform for school of shorts and sandals.
Dear Spring, you've officially arrived on the island! I absolutely love this time of year when the flowers, and especially the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and lining every street, and the sun is brightly shining over the ocean every day. Can this weather stick around all year?
Dear Parents, you come in one week! I can't believe how quickly your trip has come! I can't wait to see you and I'm so glad that scares from the North haven't scared you away! Pretty bad a if you ask me.  Dear Easter, I can't even begin to express how thankful I am for you and for Jesus to come and die for our sins so we can enjoy eternal life through Him. What a blessing. We're looking forward to a day of church, friends, Easter egg hunts and WESTERN FOOD! Can't wait.

  Linking up with AshleyJeanLaurenKerryChrissy

I’ll be heading to the ‘Land of Ten Thousand Lakes’!

We had 400 high school forestry students at the refuge today, so it was “all hands on deck” to handle a crowd like that.  They were here to compete in some practicum forest tests this morning, and then they were free to participate in four venues that we offered for their education and enjoyment on the refuge.  I was stationed at the beginning of the Cane Pole Trail to direct them where they needed to go for an alligator presentation.  It was a busy day with that many young people descending on us, but lots of fun besides.  All of us senior volunteers are pretty well worn out tonight.

When I staggered back to the rig late this afternoon, I turned on the computer to check my email just in case there was a message from Tamarac NWR in northwest Minnesota.  I had that interview yesterday, but wasn’t expecting to hear anything until tomorrow.  Lo and behold, there was an email, and I crossed my fingers before opening it. 

Judith-- I would like to offer you the position here at Tamarac. I think you are a great fit for our needs - you have the  skills and experience we are looking for. Let me know if you would like to spend the summer with us and the loons, wolves, trumpeters and eagles etc... and then we'll go from there.

thanks so much!

Hmm… should I think about this??  Ha Ha!  I was doing a happy dance!  My response:

You Betcha!!  I'll try to be there a little before the bird festival with "Bells" on!  (pun intended)  :)  Let me know what I need to do next...

Ya-Hoo!  Besides the fact that I love the north woods, and haven’t been there in seven years, I also have two sons and three grandchildren that live in Minnesota.  They’re not exactly next door to where I’ll be (Minnesota is a big state), but I’ll only be working three days/week so some trips down to Rochester will be occurring.  I’m a happy camper tonight, and that’s about all that was important to me today…


                                                                                THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The rest of the story…

Tonight I’m continuing the rest of the day we spent on the western side of the refuge yesterday.  After visiting Billy’s Island, we back tracked a bit to find the passage to Minnie Lake.

IMG_2233Along the way, we noticed the first blooms of the water irises.  In a week or so, the swamp on this side will be blessed with their vibrant blue/purple color all along the canoe trails.  There never seems to be a month that goes by that doesn’t have some flowers blooming.


Even though it was a Tuesday morning, we did pass a few folks out enjoying the solitude in their canoes and kayaks.  Though chilly and windy, it was a great day for being out and about on the swamp.


Shortly before the cutoff for Minnie Lake, Kathy noticed an American bittern skulking in the dried grasses and reeds along the edge of the trail.  I’m sure glad she spotted this secretive bird so we could turn around to get some pictures of it.

IMG_2256 IMG_2244 IMG_2245

As we approached, it apparently noticed us and went into it’s defensive mode.  The idea behind this behavior is that no one will see it if it stretches its neck out skyward to look like the dried reeds.  “Now you can’t see me!”  We cruised back and forth for a bit, and I was thrilled to get quite a few pictures.  I’ll sprinkle them out in future posts.


We stopped at the Minnie Lake shelter for lunch and a much needed potty break.  Interestingly, it was much colder up on the shelter than it was in the boat on the water.  Even so, what a magnificent place to savor a picnic lunch!  A red-shouldered hawk went screaming overhead, and the shrubs along the trail were bubbling with warblers. 


I looked for the turtle we had freed from the fish hook a few weeks ago, but it was nowhere to be seen.  It may have been cold, but the yellow-bellied sliders were out catching rays where ever they could.  Our return trip to the dock was slow and easy going.


We chuckled at all the alligators that were draped along fallen trees.  I think these survivors from the dinosaur age must have not become extinct because of their laid back lifestyle.  Just flop yourself out in the sun somewhere and meditate, and occasionally grab a bite to eat.  Reminds me of some retired RVers I know. Winking smile

Today, Jack and I headed for Kingsland so he could gas up his one ton dually truck, and I could do my grocery shopping.  He will depart for Indiana in the morning, and plans to be there by Sunday.  Safe travels my friend!  Upon my return to the rig, I dashed to the VC to do the phone interview for Tamarac NWR.  I thought it went well, but then I always do.  I should know by Friday if I’m heading for a summer in the north woods of Minnesota.  If I get that position, Jack will probably visit again sometime in May for our next episode of adventures.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Perspective Series- To Tanzania

This week I'm happy to introduce Erica from the blog Way to the Sea for the next installment of the Perspective Series. This is a series about expats sharing their experience of living and traveling abroad and how it inevitably changed their outlook and perspective on life. I'm a new follower to Erica's blog and I can't speak highly of it enough. She posts about inspiring posts and gorgeous pictures about her life in Africa, her world travels and of course, her adorable little girl. 

Aloha! My name is Erica and I blog over at To the Sea. I never thought I’d live on the African continent. When my husband told me we had the opportunity to move overseas for his military carreer, I quickly said yes. Yes. YES. I had dreams of returning to Central or South America, where I spent a summer studying Evolutionary Biology in the Galapagos Islands. I loved life abroad. I loved being able to work on the Spanish I grew up speaking in South Texas. I was convinced we’d luck out and get to live there again. Or at least I was willing to take my chances. You see, the catch was we didn’t get to choose where we’d be going. We knew it could have been anywhere. Still, when I received the text from my husband saying we were moving to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania within the month, my response was “You’re f***ing with me, right?” But he wasn’t; and a few weeks later my husband, my 8-month old baby, my two cats, and I made the 36-hour journey to East Africa.
As far as expectations go, I’ve been both pleasantly surprised and shocked since moving here. Before arriving, I was told it wouldn’t be safe for me to walk around alone. “Sure, whatever,” I said, recalling my solo journeys through the streets of Manila, Paris, and Guayaquil. I had always dismissed that advice as paranoia, for stupid people who walk around in dark alleyways with purses and expensive cameras. But when I got here I realized how real the threats are. I constantly hear about muggings, and even sexual assaults, of female expats walking alone in broad daylight, on main roads. I almost can’t blame people for stealing with the intense poverty that exists here. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but it makes poor people in America look pretty well off. It has been truly eye-opening for me, even more-so than I thought it'd be.
I don’t mean to paint Dar in a negative light. For the most part, the locals I’ve met here are awesome and extremely friendly. I’ve been taking Kiswahili classes and trying to practice with them as much as possible. Normally this ends up in laughter, which is never a bad thing.
The beaches here are gorgeous and there are even waves for my husband and I to surf. The surfing community is small, which is also pretty awesome. Unfortunately I can't go to the surfing beaches alone, but my husband and I are able to make it there couple of times a week.
I've been able to find a couple of volunteer opportunities, and I have more in the works. This is probably the coolest thing about living in East Africa.
We haven't had a chance to go on safari yet (because our vehicle still hasn't arrived from Hawaii), but there are a lot of cool animals I can't wait to see just a few hours away. I'm also looking forward to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, if we can find something to do with the baby in the meantime (come visit me, mom!).
I'm optimistic about the next year (or so) that I'll be living here. I know there will be hardships and days that homesickness creeps in and overwhelms me with melancholy. But there will also be moments when the light comes on and I realize THIS. This is why it is all worth it: to learn, to discover, to grow... to not only see what the world has to offer, but to live it.

Thanks so much for writing Erica! Be sure to stop by her blog and show her some love! 

If you have lived abroad and would like to be featured please email me at I would love to hear from you!

You can read more of the Perspective Series here.

Linking up with Rolled Up Pretty and ShannaRekita

Anchors Aweigh!

After driving the 75 miles over to the west entrance of Okefenokee NWR in 30 something degree temperatures, we rented a small motorboat at the Stephen Foster State Park to start our adventure in the swamp this morning.  After explaining that we were all volunteers for the refuge on the east side (yes, Jack qualifies after helping with the canoe trail maintenance last week), I was charged a price for a two hour rental even though I said we might be out for six hours.  Sweet!!  I would have been willing to pay the full price for this outing, but I’m not one to pass up a bargain either.


It wasn’t long before we were all bundled up and made our way out onto Billy’s Lake.  The west entrance is really my favorite as that area has the big cypress trees draped in Spanish moss.  That’s what a southern swamp means to me.


I had invited intern Kathy to go with us as she enjoys getting out into the swamp as much as I do.  Between the cold temps and the hat that Jack was wearing, I felt like I was a voyageur working for the Hudson’s Bay Company plying the waters looking for beaver back in the day. Who me?

IMG_1824Our first destination after making it through Billy’s Lake was to arrive at Billy’s Island.  There’s a nice docking area there, and I wanted to do a little exploring since I’d never been there before.

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-1350

Back in the early 1900’s, there was a town with 800 inhabitants on this third largest island in the swamp.  They were all there to harvest the old growth cypress trees.  After harvesting just about all of the old trees, they had to leave once the area became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937.  Some old rusty machine things remain along with the Lee Family Cemetery.  The Lee’s were early homesteaders on the island.  Mother Nature has done a good job reclaiming this area.  Most of the island is off limits to visitors except for the half mile trail.

IMG_2226 IMG_2230

Before we reached Billy’s Island, we were in for a few great sightings.  Because of the cold temperatures, all of the tree swallows in the area were flying low in massive formations.  You’ll have to enlarge the above pics, but on the left there are at least 15 tree swallows in that one frame coursing over the lily pads.  The pic on the right shows just a little snapshot of them resting in the short trees and hunting over the water.  I’ve never seen so many of these swallows in such masses.  There were literally thousands of them wheeling around.  Their iridescent blue bodies were just glistening in the cold rays of the sun.


Then, we were able to get pretty close up and personal with a little blue heron.  I like that little ‘pony tail’ it develops for the breeding season.  I sure wish I could have shown this side of the swamp to my brother, Nurse Ratchet (Kurt), while he was here in January.

IMG_1841 (2)

After Billy’s Island, we began to make our way deeper into the cypress swamp towards Minnie Lake.  I’ll post about that tomorrow, but I wanted to point out that the boat driving was more challenging down this trail.  Sometimes you really have to weave the boat slowly through closely spaced cypress trees.  This is where Jack proved to be a Navy man at heart.  He guided our little boat through a particularly tricky maneuver through the closely growing cypress.  I was impressed, and told him so.  Then, in a rather wide open area, he whacked us into a cypress tree.  What’s up with that?  Hmm… I wonder what rank he reached in the Navy?  Confused smile

IMG_2187                                                                                 THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy