Zena takes her first vacation and Darwin is left in charge. There’s a first for everything.

Have you heard of snowbird season? Typically a snowbird is a retiree, or anyone with a schedule flexible enough to allow an escape from harsh winter weather by adopting a temporary home in a warmer climate.

In Southern California the snowbirds usually adopt Palm Springs. If you live in one of the coldest parts of the country right now, 90° F in February probably sounds unbelievable.

I really do wish I could at least temporarily transfer some of the warm and dry Southern California conditions to blanket those of you in the extreme cold right now. Between multi-state storm-related power outages and the flooding and ferocious winds in Southern England I think I had best just make peace with drought conditions.

I’ll kick that problem down the road and be grateful I’m not freezing.

After this weekend perhaps I’ll share just the right photos to entice you to come and visit next winter.

Cameras-in-hand, we are headed north to unwind in a beautiful part of our state. Only a couple of hours up the road, but a world away, we will be enjoying ourselves in the gorgeous Santa Barbara County wine country.

It’s one of those long Presidential holiday weekends, and not only was I able to arrange my schedule for some welcome rest and relaxation, but two little girls are also on holiday.  Recent family events have prevented me from fulfilling my time-with-granddaughters-quota, and I plan to make up for that deficit.

One week ago I wasn’t certain we would be able to follow through with our plans.

Thank you very much for the many lovely messages of concern for my father’s recovery. He is doing so well that I feel comfortable leaving town for a few days while he safely continues his physical therapy.

About the time my mother assumes mastery of their many electronic devices, each with unique idiosyncrasies, dad should be home to assume his supervisory role.

So I’m free to move forward, eager for long walks with spacious views and hopefully a beautiful sunset or two.


I think it’s likely we will be entirely off the information highway for the long weekend. Truly unplugged? I don’t remember the last time I was fully disconnected from the Internet. I wonder how that will feel?


Oh, and did I mention we will be taking Zena with us?


She doesn’t look like she really needs a vacation, does she? She’s a very smart dog, so I think she’s wisely resting up for the weekend adventure.

On our way up the coast we’ll stop in Santa Barbara so she can get her toes wet with her good buddy, Obi at the only off-leash dog beach in the area. I do have some concerns about this, thinking specifically of the car interior, but I’m assured by my son that it will be wet and smelly fun.


I think Jay will have to drive because as soon as we reach the coast I won’t be able to take my eyes off the ocean.

I will miss my time visiting with each of you, but I will come home with lots of stories, and be refreshed and eager to share them.

In case you were wondering, Darwin will be left behind to take care of things at home. He is very independent and at the moment he isn’t eating much at all. I think he’s a bit confused by the current weather fluctuations.

I’m sure he won’t miss us very much. And how much trouble can he really get into over just one weekend?


Please don’t answer that. I’m trying to stay positive.

Oh, and did I tell you that the property brochure mentioned goats?  Maybe I’ll come home with a new pet.

An average day in the life of a very cold African Spurred Tortoise. A Darwin update!

I have just enough time to give you a little Darwin update. Last week when it was so cold here in Southern California a few of you kindly asked about him. Thank you.

African Spurred Tortoises do not hibernate. It is important that they stay warm, so he has a year-round indoor home with lots of space in one corner of our greenhouse.  We make sure he has plenty of fresh timothy hay for burrowing and a basking spot lamp providing added heat.

Darwin can come and go as he pleases.

Typically he walks out of his overnight sleeping area just as soon as the sun begins to warm the greenhouse.

Then he’ll slowly meander around the yard, spending the entire day doing whatever  pleases him most.

Munching on plants…

Darwin eating succulents

Climbing and exercising…

Darwin climbing

and visiting with his garden friends.

Darwin visits a friend

Occasionally he gets a bit too adventurous and escapes! He’s disappeared in the past, although he eventually turns up. He’s a big guy and the neighbors are getting to know him, too.

Darwin on the lam

But when the temperature plummets, our adventurous tortoise barely moves. In fact, I get a little concerned. When I knock on his shell coaxing, “Darwin, are you okay? Can you just give me a little sign that you aren’t in distress?” and he doesn’t answer me, I do get worried.

In years past we’ve brought him into the house, but he’s now so big and heavy it’s not practical and our best inclination is to maximize the warmth and comforts found in his little housing area and assume he’ll be fine.

But good news this past weekend.

After one solid week of very cold weather and noting that Darwin barely moved, it was a relief when the weather significantly warmed us up. All of us!

And as I looked out the kitchen window I was surprised to see two of our little buddies deep in conversation.

Darwin and ZenaI think Darwin must have been hungry. He did seem to be eyeing Zena’s food, so he was given his own head of romaine. It didn’t take him long to devour it.

Darwin eating romaineNotice the little bits of timothy hay stuck to his shell? He has been buried underneath the warmth of that protection for several days.

Mid-afternoon, when the sun is setting, Darwin heads home. His instincts are strong, and as soon as he senses the day’s end, he puts himself to bed.

Back to bed

It’s a good thing, because on the rare occasion he chooses to sleep under bushes instead of the greenhouse, I do try to “dig him out” and put him under cover, but it isn’t easy! He must weigh about 50 pounds at this point.

I admit that I worry about him this time of year.

I’m not crazy about the cold either, but for him, it can affect his overall health. Reptiles can contract pneumonia. He’s healthy and strong; however, and he is definitely provided regular warmth if he’ll just follow his instincts to stay indoors near the heat lamp.

However, if he doesn’t behave himself and adventures out on a cold and blustery day, I could provide him some added protection. Click HERE to see what I could consider!

Maybe in 2014 I could take up another hobby?

Just imagine Darwin with even MORE style and panache!

Prehistoric Pets at the Reptile Zoo–and some baby Darwins.

There was actually a point when I believed summer hadn’t been quite as full of adventure as I had originally intended. It’s true we didn’t actually leave town except for one week at the beach, but after a quick review of my photos it was clear to me we’d been very busy with many small adventures.

I simply moved from one spot to the next so quickly I hadn’t fully absorbed how many different day-long activities we’d enjoyed.

And many of our little field trips included adventurous companions.

I recently found a very challenging and thought-provoking quote attributed to Mark Twain.

“We are always too busy for our children; we never give them the time or interest they deserve. We lavish gifts upon them; but the most precious gift, our personal association, which means so much to them, we give grudgingly.”

Well, I would be miserable if I thought this quote true of us–the very best outings include time with our two favorite little girls. And sometimes those adventure require a little extra energy!

Papa is a good sport. He really, really, really doesn’t like snakes. But he has granddaughters who do. So off we went to the Fountain Valley location of Prehistoric Pets, The Reptile Zoo, home to more than 100 exotic species of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids collected from around the world.

Albino Reticulated Python
Albino Reticulated Python

We met Twinkie, the World’s Largest Snake–according to the zoo literature. Twinkie weighs in at 350 pounds and is over 20 feet long. I don’t think Jay spent a lot of time admiring her beautiful markings.

Then there was Thelma and Louise.

Two-headed Texas ratt Snake
Two-headed Texas Rat Snake

Unfortunately for this photographer, Thelma, or maybe it was Louise, was camera shy. Two heads and two brains–one stomach. I did my best to wait for both heads to look at the camera…maybe next time!

Sophia and Karina don’t remember when Darwin was a little guy. They were really curious about the baby African Spurred Tortoises. Five years ago Darwin looked just like these little cuties.

Baby African Spurred Tortoises
Baby African Spurred Tortoises

This is a remarkable place for anyone who enjoys reptiles…or adults willing to conquer their personal phobias to share a special experience with their little ones.

The terrarium habitats are floor to ceiling, and there was one moment when even Sophia became a bit overwhelmed. I think claustrophobia set in…as well as her hyper-sensitive imagination.

After she reached out to stroke one of the snakes carted about the room by one of the young attendants, I noticed a change in Sophia’s demeanor. I asked her if she was doing alright.

“Nan. I think I felt that snake’s fangs touch the back of my head. Was it venomous?”

“No Sophia. All the venomous snakes are in their cages. They can’t take them out and let us touch them. And I was watching you the whole time. I know it didn’t touch you—you touched it.”

“Are you sure? Did you ever take your eyes off me?”

I finally reassured my imaginative granddaughter–the one who spends time watching documentaries on prehistoric animals and trying to understand what happened to animals during the Ice Age– that under our care we had not permitted her to suffer a venomous snake bite.

But there was a definite decline in her enjoyment. She and Papa retired to another part of the zoo to watch the giant two-hundred pound “Darwins” and waited for me to conclude my photo shoot. Karina kept me running company, making sure I noticed every detail on each and every snake, tortoise or alligator. She has an artist’s eye for detail and made sure I could compare and contrast coloring, spots and stripes on every caged creature.

It’s amazing what I learn from these two girls!

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So tell me…

How would you have fared? Do you like reptiles? How about hundreds of them in close quarters?

We’ll never have a snake in our home. Of course, Jay would be miserable. But in addition to his phobia, I can’t handle rodents! I have been known to be quite hysterical if a mouse is loose anywhere near me. And you know what snakes eat…EEEK!

But I loved these beautiful reptiles!

I’ll tell you what I don’t love, however! I drove home tonight in the dark…and it was all of 7:30. So I’m going to keep talking summer until I’m mentally prepared to make the fall transition.

So next stop on the summer retrospective? Hint: there’s music!