I love photography. Learning to capture good photos is a process and it trains one to look at the world in a whole new way. Have you ever noticed how light falls on an object and how that can either enhance or ruin a photo? Have you seen the gorgeous colors nature sometimes throws together, details one might miss otherwise if they didn’t stop to look? The intricate, symmetrical patterns on a flower, the glimmer in a wild cat’s eye, or the fleeting, mischievous smile of a child are too precious not to capture through a lens. Here’s my journey to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens not once, but twice, this week with my family and my trusty camera. We had family in town twice and this is one of my favorite places to take guests. There is always something interesting to see. This time, we ogled over the adorable baby ant-eater and bonded with our aunts and cousins.
I can’t believe that the last days of summer vacation are upon us! School starts in August in the South and our little cousins go back next week. While we homeschool year round, the official start of the school year means no more long, impromptu visits with our cousins for a while. Piano lessons start next week. Classical Conversations is about to begin for the 2013-2014 school year too. Where has time gone? This summer was a blast, brimming with travel, vacation Bible schools, camps, and camping. We’re so acclimated that the 100 degree heat doesn’t even feel that bad anymore. Summer is such a magical time. Yet a part of me also longs for the days to get cooler and have more structure, to plant some gorgeous mums and decorate the house with chains of colorful leaves. While we don’t enjoy stark differences each season in Florida, there are still changes and wonders to behold. The rest of me wants to bottle up the splendid warmth and spirit of adventure the summer brings and keep it somewhere safe forever. Nothing beats romping through nature and discovering the world with your cousins. For some reason, cousin are way more fun than your sibling of the same age. Friends may be forever, but cousins are for life. You also don’t see them as often as your pesky siblings, so they’re even better!
This weekend’s visit with our Carolina cousins was way to short, but still fun. They were here for less than 24 hours! A was thrilled that they drove down to see her first big play and the little kids were thrilled to spend the following morning exploring the zoo with their best pals. Our local library is giving zoo tickets to children who turn in their summer reading log! While we have a membership, those tickets are great for bringing friends and relatives along! Our outing was free apart from the extras we splurged on, like feeding the giraffes and petting the sting rays.
While I know that there are those that hate zoos and think they are inhumane, I personally love a well-cared for zoo.The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is one of the best. The animals are thriving, the grounds are sprawling and immaculately cared for, and one can walk for hours. The kids have learned so much about animals and truly care for them. Where else can one develop a deep respect for the world’s animals? Seeing them in a book doesn’t cut it. We’ve had a membership there for 5 years and will continue to do so until we move. It’s one of Jacksonville’s best hangouts for families. If you’re in the area, you simply must go!
There are some new babies at the Jacksonville Zoo and we couldn’t wait to check them out. The baby ant-eater was our favorite by far. He’s so darn cute! There is also a 6-foot-tall baby giraffe and a baby zebra too. We love babies! Our Auntie A treated the kids to giraffe feeding and that was ton of fun. Each child got a handful of leaves and, one by one, fed a friendly giraffe. The giraffe meandered to the edge of her enclosure and extended her 18-20 inch-long tongue, wrapping it around the leaves and pulling them into her mouth. The kids loved it! The giraffe overlook is one of our favorite parts of the zoo. D’s favorite animal has always been the giraffe. He’s always excited to watch them for a while.
Another treat for the kids was Stingray Bay. We don’t do it often because it’s another extra one must pay for. Our cousins had never before petted a sting ray, though, so we did it! The kids loved it. They had to be patient and wait for the sting rays to come close enough to reach. When thy finally did, the kids’ eyes absolutely lit up. They were soaked by the end! Absolutely drenched. Their smiles were huge.
We made some awesome memories with our cousins this weekend. It’s awesome living 4-5 hours away now. I hope that we continue to spend as much time as possible with them and don’t let life get in the way, because who knows where our next duty station will bring us. Childhood memories built with cousins are like a glorious foundation. I have such great memories of days with my cousins and still love keeping up with their adventures today. I hope it is the same for my kids. The military has spread our family to the farthest reaches of the US. All the more reason to rejoice for shared moments.
Our Auntie L arrived Sunday, her first trip out here in 4 years. Last time, D was turning 1. Now he’s 5! What a difference 4 years makes in all of us. We packed a picnic lunch and hit the zoo yesterday for some outside time. It was ridiculously hot but we had fun. We petted and brushed goats, visited the baby zebra, and enjoyed chocolate covered frozen bananas. They were weird but good! A family of squirrels crept closer and closer to swipe our lunch. Peacocks strolled through the garden and my sister loved the aviaries where the birds and other small creatures walk about freely. The kids loved connecting with their aunt. We live so far away they don’t get to see her often. The zoo is the perfect place to bond and tire those kids out!
B and her auntie loved the goats and couldn’t get enough of them. Those plump, pot-bellied goats are so cute and friendly! They let B give them all the hugs she wanted. I wish we had the space to raise a little goat or two. I remember doing so as a young child and it was an awesome experience. The closest thing we’ll get to that now is a visit to the petting zoo but that’s just fine too. It’s something different to do.
I love capturing our adventures and visits so that we can remember them for years to come. I know that memories can be fleeting, especially for the younger kids, and through pictures and writing we can keep them fresh and alive for years to come. I love making picture books about our adventures. There is so much beauty to be found in the small moments, the little time we get. It’s a shame not to capture it the best we can.
If you can, take a picture today! It may not seem like much and you don’t have to be doing anything out of the ordinary, but one day you’ll be able to look back and remember your life at this moment. What did the kids look like? What were their personalities like? How have things changed? For me, a picture sparks a thousand memories. Photographer Dorothea Lange once said, “Photography
takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” How true that is. There is so much about these moments that I want to hold still forever.